R. M. Benson on the Resurrection of the Lord
The resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ is a truth of the utmost importance for us to dwell upon. It is not merely one of a great series of truths which claim our attention by their own dignity. It is the foundation of all the practical teaching of the Christian Church, for everything that we have to do must be done in the power of Christ’s resurrection. This is an equivalent phrase to the power of the Holy Ghost, for the Holy Ghost by whom Christ was raised operates upon us through His risen Body. Itself implies the Incarnation and the redemption on Calvary, but they would be inefficacious without this further development of the human nature of Christ. The grain of corn would remain alone if it had not died. Yea, rather if had not risen again. The communication of the Divine life for our sanctification until we be glorified according to God’s will is the result of the elevation of Christ personally in a Body of glory to which our bodies of humiliation must be conformed by our reception of this glorified substance into ourselves as a renewing principle of vitality.
Our conception of our relation to Christ depends therefore upon our having, if not a true conception of His risen Body, for it may be said that that is impossible, at least a conception of some of its characteristics and powers, so as to be free from those misconceptions which arise from merely translating earthly thoughts into a new sphere and perpetuating earthly laws which have ceased to bind.
Let us notice at the outset, although the remark need not go for more than it is worth, that the exaltation of our Lord’s Body to a higher mode of action than belonged to Him in his state of humiliation, is thoroughly in accordance with the modern scientific notion of development. The previous stages of development by which some suppose that our body attained its present form may well (if admitted) be supposed to act as a prelude to this final transformation of man’s body by the resurrection of Christ as a fresh germinal principle of life. The whole system of development gains indeed a purpose and a finality if it culminate in the exaltation of Christ to the throne of creation, whereas it is aimless if the highest result be nothing more than our present human form of life upon the earth. There is no reason why this should have been attained. There is no reason why development should cease at this particular stage.
As a matter of fact the Church has always believed in a development of the human organism in the future, although she maintains that man is in himself a distinctly fresh starting point in the creation of God, and whatever developments may have produced the various races of beasts, of fishes, and of birds, she maintains that the flesh of man is in some manner distinct from them. The earth and the waters brought them forth. God made man by His own interposition from above, and He made the first man in order that He, the Lord from Heaven, might become the second man, and raise the nature thus formed to the throne of eternal glory.
The Body of Christ is not merely a pattern to which we must be morally conformed. It is an agent of spiritual power by whose operation the conformity is to be attained. Hence our conception of the risen Body of Christ will affect all our moral teaching. Our mode of approaching Him and recognising His presence in the holy Eucharist; our conception of what the Church of Christ should be, and of what is the importance of Church unity; our regard to one another, and our appreciation of Church government; our thoughts respecting the faithful departed and our missionary enterprise, our belief in the spiritual efficacy of sacraments, and in the eternal character of the loss which those incur who are cut off from Christ by sin – all these and many other matters of theological importance depend for their answer upon our having a right apprehension of ‘Jesus and the Resurrection’. One great purpose of our Lord’s tarrying upon earth for forty days seems to have been just this, that he might give to the Apostles an experimental acquaintance with His risen life. In the very nature of things it was impossible that they could understand what that risen life was. We do not even understand what life in this world is. We only know some of its phenomena. Much less can we understand that life of which we have as yet had no personal experience. One who had never lived out of Lapland could form no idea of what existence would be amidst the surroundings of a tropical climate. The child can form no idea of what will be the interests of matured life. Much less can we in this world form any idea of what the life of glory shall be hereafter.
But our Lord gave His Apostles some practical acquaintance with this higher life, and He eliminated from their minds various erroneous conceptions which the course of this world would necessarily have engendered within them. Each of His appearances seems to have been intended to teach some practical truth respecting the coming life, which they by the Holy Ghost were to communicate from Himself as the Head to all those who should be called by Him from all the nations of the world to the obedience of faith.
It is to be feared that in spite of this we are apt to think of our ascended Lord very commonly as if He were in all points just what He was upon the earth, only surrounded by conditions of glory which were wanting here. We must remember that the glory wherein He dwells is not an atmosphere into which He was translated, but a glory inherent within Himself which manifests itself through His Humanity, and that His Humanity has undergone such changes as to qualify if to be the instrument of such manifestation. We may recur to the illustration which our Lord Himself gave, and use it with equal truth for a somewhat different purpose from that which He cited it. The grain of corn when it has died does not merely attract round itself the substances which may be capable of assimilation, so that both itself and they may shine as with a glow-worm light, remaining otherwise what the seed was when it was put into the ground. The true body which that seed contained was a power which death has developed and which exists in a quite different form as the blade, the ear, the full corn in the ear. […]
Our Lord did not wish to teach what we are not capable of understanding, but He did wish to preclude such false conceptions as would hinder our profitable use of the powers of the resurrection which He meant to give. It is to be feared that we have sadly cast aside His teaching. The phenomena of His risen life in His appearances are too often considered as if they were in themselves miraculous, instead of being acknowledged as proper and natural to the condition which His Body had then assumed. […]
It is to be feared that in the present day we dwell disproportionately on the thoughts of our Lord’s suffering, so that the contemplation of His glory is neglected. The joy of His Humanity and His personal interest in us as His members are to be cherished by us as earnestly as the sense of the anguish with which He bore our sins upon the tree. We must remember that the joy is proportionate to the suffering and is an abundant reward. He did not die merely to satisfy an abstract theory of justice, but with the hope of the joy that was set before Him; and in the great day of His espousals at the marriage supper of the Lamb, He shall see the travail of His soul and be satisfied.
We must use the powers of the risen life in order to give to Him that satisfaction which He desires. The consciousness of living in the risen life to please our risen Lord, will be the true, the noblest, incentive to holiness that we can have. A knowledge of our Lord’s risen life in itself will be the greatest help towards the use of His grace, that we ourselves may live as those who are risen from the dead to the glory of His holy Name. ND
From the preface to Volume IV of Benson’s