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1 Cor. xv, 56, 57.
The sting of death is sin ; and the strength of sin is the
law. But thanks be to God, which giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.
The chapter from which my text is taken, is one which no Christian can peruse without feelings of the deepest emotion and the purest comfort. The great apostle of the Gentiles seems therein to have been blessed with the fullest inspiration of divine grace, to have exceeded his own wonted
powers of eloquence, and to have spoken of the glorious theme of a future resurrection, in language worthy of a subject so exalted. His immediate object in treating of this most solemn topic, was to refute some heretical opinions, wbich had, even in those early times, crept into the Corinthian church, and endangered its internal peace by the divisions to which they gave
rise. These false notions appear to have been of two kinds, the one relating particularly to the Jewish, and the other to the Gentile converts. Several of the former, having been of the sect of the Sadducees, still retained a portion of their old leaven of error and falsehood, and denied, or at least doubted, the resurrection from the dead. The Gentiles on the other hand, having imbibed the spirit of curious and useless discussion, so common amongst the philosophers of their own age and country, although they did not dispute the fact of a resurrection, yet perplexed themselves with vain and subtle disquisitions on the manner in which the body was to be raised up at the last day. The apostle, in the first thirtyfour verses of this chapter, replies to the fallacies of these contending parties, by arguments drawn from the resurrrection of Jesus Christ. He addresses himself first to the Sadducean cavillers, and proves to them that the dead shall rise, because Jesus Christ,“ who was made in all things like as we are, sin only excepted,” was raised up,
, and had “ become the first fruits of them that slept;" and he then sbews how every religious obligation depends upon this most important truth. 6 If Christ be not risen, then is our preaching vain, and your faith is also vain.”
He proceeds, in the 35th and following verses, to refute those Gentile errors, which had origi
nated in a system of restless and unhealthy disputation, that delighted in casting doubts and difficulties around every subject on which it was exercised. Two objections were started. It was thought impossible that the mouldering tenant of the tomb could again be raised to light and life ; it seemed almost beyond the power, even of an almighty arm, to give back the bloom and vigour of existence to the body, on which the worm of corruption had fed and fattened. The difficulty thus insidiously brought forward, St. Paul removes by a single simple instance drawn from the vegetable world. He shews, that in the growth of the blade of corn from the patrescent and buried grain, our own senses are in the constant habit of beholding life and beauty springing from dust and decay. The second objection, referring to the kind of body with which the dead are to be raised, he obviates by an illustration derived from the same operation of nature: that as the seed sown springs up in a different dress from that in which it was placed in the ground, but in matter really not different; so shall our bodies be raised again, in a fairer and brighter form, though in substance still the same. Having enlarged upon this happy comparison, he describes in words of divinest beauty, the glorious tabernacle in which our souls shall be enshrined, when the last trumpet shall summon
the spirits of the just. Wrapt in this vision of immortal splendour, he adverts for a moment to the fear and anxieties which men so often display at the approach of death, and the little real cause the Christian has to tremble at his coming; and concludes by shewing what it is that clothes this king of terrors with his garments of dread; and how we may await his call without apprehension. or dismay. “The sting of death is sin ; and the strength of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, which giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.”
In reviewing this passage, the two points which particularly offer themselves to our notice are the first and concluding clauses,—“the sting of death is sin,” and, "thanks be to God, which giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.” But the intermediate sentence, “ the strength of sin is the law,” demands a portion of our attention, and ought not to be passed over without comment. This expression, which is somewhat remarkable, will be best illustrated by referring to other observations of St. Paul upon the same subject, especially to those contained in the seventh chapter of his epistle to the Romans. In the 7th and 8th verses of this chapter he says, “I had not known sin, but by the law; for I had not known lust, except the law had said, Thou shalt not covet. But sin, taking occasion by the
commandment, wrought in me all manner of concupiscence. For without the law, sin was dead.” In these and other similar
passages, St. Paul is generally understood to signify, that it is the law which has pointed out those actions wbich are sinful and those which are not; and that before the law was given, men, not being able to distinguish between things forbidden and things unforbidden, were not culpable in committing offences of which they did not know the guilt. But this explanation does not appear to express all the apostle's meaning. He intended, probably, rather to set forth the hideous nature of sin, than to find an excuse for those who had transgressed, in ignorance of their duty. In this view, then, of the expressions above quoted, we conceive St. Paul's argument to have been, that sin is of so detestable and desperate a character, that it places itself in determined opposition to every thing that is holy, to every commandment of God: and takes no delight in any gratification, except inasmuch as such gratification is contrary to the precepts of religion. For he declares, that he should not have known lust, except the law had said, Thou shalt not covet. Thus, when the serpent accosted our first parent in the garden of Eden, he invited her to taste, not those fruits of which she might freely partake, but the produce of that very tree which