The True Charter of the Human Body
Students of the New Testament have often remarked how much mention is made of the body. Our text is only one of many passages which arrest us with this unusual emphasis. Of all the books in the world’s literature, there is none which insists upon the soul so urgently; yet there is no book in the world’s literature which has done so much to dignify the body. One of the errors of popular evangelism is that it thinks of nothing but the soul. That too was one of the errors of monasticism, and indeed ultimately proved its overthrow. It was false to the noble proportions of the Bible and tried to spurn what Scripture never spurns, and in the long run had to pay for that by being swept into oblivion. It is extraordinary how many people want to be a little wiser than the Bible. It is extraordinary how many people want to be a little more spiritual than Christ. They take the part and treat it as the whole; they are blind to everything except the spirit; they never seem to have caught the flash of glory that the Bible has cast upon the body. “We ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting for…the redemption of our body” (Rom_8:23). “Know ye not that your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost who is in you?” (1Co_6:19). “I beseech you, therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye pre sent your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God” (Rom_12:1). Such words, and they might be multiplied by ten, are not at all impertinent intrusions. They are inwrought into the web of Scripture, and they are part and parcel of its mess age; until at last, by such recurrent whispers and by a hundred other hints and shadowings, we came to see that the Word of God in Christ is the true charter of the human body.
The Pagan Versus Christian Attitude
Now I question if we always realize the importance of this Gospel emphasis. For we have never known the outlook of the heathen, nor have we been “suckled in a pagan creed.” To know what Christianity has done for women, we should need to have lived before Jesus Christ was born; and we should need to have lived before Jesus Christ was born to know what it has accomplished for the body. It is true that among the ancient Greeks, whose worship was just the worship of the beautiful, the charm of physical beauty was appreciated as perhaps it has never been appreciated since. But a nation, like an individual, may be exquisitely sensitive to beauty, and yet may wallow, as I fear the Greeks wallowed, in horrible and disgusting sin. To the pagan the body was a slave, and no one could care less how to treat a slave. To the pagan the body was a curse, for evil had its seat and center in the flesh. Or at the best the body was a clog, a sorry prison for an immortal spirit, a scaffolding that would be knocked in pieces when the palace-courts within were perfected. You cannot wonder that with attitudes like these, the pagan world was sunk in immorality. You cannot wonder at what we read in Romans when you remember what the Romans held. And what I say is that you must remember it—you must remember the depth and the disgrace—if you would understand what Christ has done in rescuing the body from dishonor. No longer can we treat the body as an alien. We have learned that it is a friend and not an enemy. It is no prison house with grated windows; it is a temple where the Spirit dwells. And such is the honor that has fallen upon it that even the bodies of our dead are precious and are clothed in new garments and laid in a quiet grave with a certain gentle reverence and respect. It was one of the first effects of Christianity that it put a stop to the burning of the dead. Men felt that it was a kind of sacrilege to burn a temple of the Holy Ghost. And that alone, which everywhere and always accompanied the preaching of the Gospel, will show you what a change had been effected in the popular concept of the body. Now this is the question which I want to ask, How did the Gospel of Jesus work that change? How did it lift the body from the mire and crown it with glory and with honor? What are the new facts, or what are the doctrines, which have given to the body such high dignity that we may say of Christ unhesitatingly, He is the Savior of the body?
The Incarnation Provided Dignity for the Body
The first is the great fact of the Incarnation. It is the coming of the Son of God in human form. The Son of God dwelt in a human body, and that has clothed it forever with nobility. If human flesh and sin were indistinguishable, do you think the Word would have become flesh? Had the flesh been ineradicably vile, would the Son of God have worn it as a garment? Wherever sin may have its source and spring, it is not in the human body, else when Christ took a body to Himself, He would have taken to be His comrade what was vile. So long as you think of God as far away, so long it is possible to degrade the body. For the spirit is willing but the flesh is weak, and every sense may be a road to ruin. But if the Son of God has tabernacled here—if perfect purity and love have dwelt here—if the immortal King has stooped to earth and taken to Himself the seed of Abraham, then the body never can be despised again. It was that fact which altered the world’s standpoint and cast a glory on the human frame. The body had been the instrument of sin; now it was made the instrument of Christ. Through human lips the voice of God had spoken. Through human eyes the pity of God had looked. The love of God had wrought through human hands and gone its errands upon human feet.
We may throw a certain light upon that change by remembering what has happened in other dwellings. If someone whom we reverence has been born there, the place is never ordinary to us again. There is a house in Stratford built of common brick, not differing outwardly from other houses, yet in that home the poet Shakespeare lived, and to it thousands of pilgrims turn their feet. There is a cottage in Ayrshire, just an old clay building, low-roofed, confined and damp, yet in the fulness of the time Burns was born there, and it is not a mean place to Scotland now. It is the genius who adorns the house. It is the saint who glorifies the dwelling. Wherever the home has been of one we love, there forever is a hallowed spot. And when we think of all we owe to Christ, when He became poor for our enriching, it helps us to realize a little better how His coming has glorified the body. He took upon Himself the seed of Abraham. Can you dishonor the seed of Abraham now? He passed through the doorway of this little cottage. And will you spit upon the cottage wall? The flesh is vile, said the old pagan thinker—the flesh is the great enemy of the spirit. And John, looking that old world in the face, said, “The Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us” (Joh_1:14).
Christ’s Compassionate Care for the Body
The second factor in this change of view was the compassionate care of Jesus for the body. And I sometimes think we scarcely realize what is meant by the healing miracles of Christ. We study the separate miracles apart till we almost forget the import of the whole. We treat them as isolated incidents or as witnesses of Christ’s divinity. But the miracles are really more than that. They are a revelation rather than an argument. They are not added to confirm the mission, but are themselves a vital part of it. They teach us that this despised body is part of the manhood which the Lord redeems. They teach us that the love of God for man is love for the body as well as for the soul. They teach us that there is no part nor organ, nor any faculty nor sense nor limb, but has a share in that redeeming work which brought our Savior from the throne to Calvary. Do you remember how Christ refused to interfere when one wanted Him to interpose about his property? “Master, speak to my brother, that he divide the inheritance with me”—and Jesus refused to speak a word. But tell me, did He ever refuse to interfere when the blind eyes looked up to Him for sight?—or when the foot was lame or when the arm was helpless or when the tongue was sealed within the lips? Always remember that the love of Christ encompasses every organ we possess. It is the love of God touching the human frame that it might never be bestial any more. We have a beautiful hymn which we are fond of singing. It is “Jesus, lover of my soul.” But I want someone to write me another hymn, beginning “Jesus, lover of the body.”
I think, too, that when we remember this, we see more clearly why miracles have ceased. I daresay to some of you it has seemed strange sometimes that there are no such miracles today. Have you not longed for a miracle of healing when someone whom you loved was very ill? Have you not thought how all the world would sing if that cold face would only smile again? And if Christ is the same today in love and power as when He moved along the ways of Galilee, why, you wonder, should it not be so? Still in the world are eyes that cannot see and lips that crave for utterance in vain. Still in the world are little suffering children and loved ones whose brows are drawn in anguish. And Christ—where is His hand of healing, and where is His touch that brought the strength again, and where is His voice that spoke and men were cured and the light of life came thrilling to the dead? Now will you just remember what was the deep purpose of these miracles? Will you remember that they were wrought to teach us that the body is the temple of the Holy Ghost? And if that lesson has been learned by Christendom so that Paul could say “He is the savior of the body” (Eph_5:23), then the work of the healing miracles is done. Nay, I beg of you, say not it is done. Its spirit is moving in a thousand channels. It has founded the hospital and built the infirmary, and inspired the science and the skill of Christian medicine. It has passed into the life of every doctor who is walking worthy of his high vocation. It has possessed the heart of every true nurse. The lesson of the miracles was mastered, and the great Teacher laid aside the lesson-book. But when a lesson has been learned—what then? Does it not mean that we are fit for greater things? So “greater works than these shall he do” (
Joh_14:12) said the Lord—greater things even than a miracle; and in the sympathy and skill and care of Christendom that promise has been abundantly fulfilled.
The Resurrection of the Body
Then the third factor in that change of view was the doctrine of the resurrection of the body.
One of the greatest thinkers of the ancient world, in what is perhaps his choicest dialogue, has given us in his own matchless way some of the reasons why men should welcome death. He felt that the fear of death was an unworthy fear, and he tried to combat it by quiet argument, and one of his strongest arguments is this, that at death we are done forever with the body. We shall never more be clogged and troubled by it. It will never hamper the bright soul again. Death is the bird escaping from its cage. Death is the prisoner breaking from his cell. The kindliest attribute of death, for Plato, was not just that a man would be at rest then. It was that a man after his weary battle would be done forever with a body.
Brethren, who name the Name of Christ with me, do you always remember that that is not our faith? We believe in the Holy Ghost and in the Catholic church and in the resurrection of the body. That is one thing which Jesus never doubted. That is one mystery He never questioned. And now it has passed from the consciousness of Christ into the consciousness of ail His people. If there is any meaning in His empty grave and if our bodies are a living sacrifice, then in the future, body, soul, and spirit, we shall be forever with the Lord. It was that mystery, touching a thousand hearts, which set a halo of glory on the body. It was the thrill of resurrection-doctrine, and the open secret of the empty grave. It was the certainty that the glad day was coming when the body of our humiliation would be changed and would be fashioned by the power of God into the likeness of the body of Christ’s glory.
Watch the Sins of the Body
And so I ask you, as I close, to think again of sins against the body. In the light of all I have been trying to say, I ask you to set aside these sins you know so well. No one could think that much harm was done if the scaffolding round some temple were defaced; and when the Roman sinned against his body, it was only the scaffolding he seemed to touch. But the Gospel has banished forever that conception, for in the light of Christ the temple is the body, and hence the heinousness of all such sins for every man who calls himself a Christian. If the body after all were but a cage, it might not be very wrong to be a sensualist. If the body after all were but a prison, the guilt of drunkenness might not be great. But if the body was the home of Jesus—if it is the temple of the Holy Ghost—if Christ has come to ransom and redeem it—if it is to be raised incorruptible and glorious—then drunkenness and uncleanness and excess, and every defiance of the laws of health, are sins not easily to be forgiven. Young men, keep yourselves pure. Young women, be scrupulously modest. You can train your body to be the best of comrades. You can train it to be the deadliest of enemies. What multitudes there are in this great Babylon who have presented their bodies to the devil! I call you to present yours to God, a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable.