The New Zealand Evangelist
The Resurrection Of The Body
The Resurrection Of The Body.
Collateral Proof—From Science.
The doctrine of the Resurrection is one purely of revealed religion. Our belief of it rests solely on Scripture proof. This proof, as we showed in our last number, is clear and abundant. We find it in express declarations—in the unvarying belief of the Church—in recorded facts—and above and beyond all, in the clearly established fact of Christ's resurrection, and the circumstances connected with that event. Science gives no direct proof of this doctrine; such is not needed; but since it can be shown that the ascertained facts of Science do not contradict this doctrine, an important point, indeed all that is necessary, has been established; the materials have been removed, that our ignorance might work up into doubts or objections.
Science teaches us that the resurrection is not impossible; it teaches us that matter is never annihilated; that it may change its form; be solid, liquid, or exist as vapour, but it is never destroyed. Geology, for example, furnishes us with proofs of matter undergoing many changes, of some of it existing ages page 74 ago in vast primæval forests, then decaying, being overturned by tropical hurricanes, carried down by floods, deposited in estuaries and bays, being acted upon by chemical agencies, and finally converted into coal, and by the ups and downs of successive changes, buried deep in the bowels of the earth,—this same matter in our own day is dug up from its subterranean beds, subjected to another process, and instead of solid coal is transformed into a noxious vapour, dangerous to human life. In its next form it shines forth in gas or bude light, with a splendour bright as day, illuminating dwellings and cities, and sending light and gladness through the busy haunts of men. But whether waving in primæval forests,—buried deep in coal formations,—condensed as vapour in a gasometer,—blazing forth in purest light,—or again floating as smoke and melting into thin air,—Science assures us, it is the same matter, existing in different forms and varied combinations, but in every state alike far removed from annihilation.
Science assures us, that the matter composing the body of Abel, the first of our race who was committed to the earth, though possibly so thoroughly decomposed, that no human eye could detect a single particle of it, is still in as complete and perfect preservation, as when he offered the firstlings of his flock upon the altar, or fell a lifeless corpse beneath, the murderous blows of his unnatural brother.
Science assures us, with all the certainty of demonstration, that our bodies may be burnt to ashes,—those ashes may be strewed on the waters,—they may mingle with the earth, moulder in the grave, or float like vapour in the air,—they may be swallowed by fishes, devoured by wild beasts, or eaten by cannibals—the matter of our bodies may mingle with other matter in endless combinations, yet, like all other matter, it must remain undestructible.—Science thus far gives sensible support to our faith, by showing that the resurrection of the body is neither impossible nor absurd.page 75
Science shows us further, that matter may be scattered and seemingly lost and yet be again collected,—may be decomposed and yet restored to its original form. Let the minutest steel filings be mingled among sand, let a magnet be drawn through the sand, and the scattered particles of the steel will be collected around it. Let a piece of solid camphor be put into a glass containing spirits of wine or alcohol, the camphor will be dissolved and the spirits of wine will be as transparent as ever; let water be added, it will unite with the alcohol, and the camphor will fall to the bottom, the most of it being restored. Let a piece of gold be put among compound acid, and it will be dissolved; let a test be added, and the gold will be restored. Let the Galvanic current be applied to a solution of copper, it will re-assemble the particles and make them again into a solid plate. Let fresh or decayed vegetables be buried in the earth, let them remain till they are decomposed and incorporated with the surrounding mould; let a seed of the same kind be planted above them, and in a few weeks or months, as the case may be, the vital principle in the seed will collect around it a portion at least of the decomposed matter, and thus the same matter will spring up again in the same forms of living beauty, delighting the eye with their lovely colours, and filling the air with their fragrant sweets. Science thus goes a step further in giving sensible support to our faith, by showing us that, as mind can and does act upon matter, there is nothing improbable in the soul acting with the same influence, in attracting the scattered, or restoring the decomposed particles of the body, as that exerted by the magnet on the steel filings,— the water on the dissolved invisible camphor,—the test on the apparently lost gold—the Galvanic current on the solution of copper,—or the seed on the vegetables that have undergone decomposition. This is no positive proof, but it obviates some objections, and shows that the doetrine is not improbable.page 76
Science teaches us further that change and progression are the order of nature. The butterfly is at first an egg; in its next stage it is transformed into a rough crawling caterpillar; by and by it throws of its caterpillar skin, languishes, refuses to eat, sinks into a state of torpor, and lies entombed as a chrysalis, its third state; in six or eight months it bursts its prison, and comes forth a gay, gilded butterfly, dressed in richer drapery than the monarchs of the east, and flying from flower to flower in a state of high enjoyment and delight. How sudden and surprising the change! The one day a chrysalis, in a state of deadness, obscurity, and meanness; the next a butterfly, spreading its glittering wings to the sun, and expatiating in another sphere of existence. The change in the resurrection may not be greater in proportion than this. What astonishing changes does man himself undergo in his short but eventful life! In his embryotic state possessed of only vegetable life; a piece of organized matter in a state of growth. In the first stages of infancy possessed simply of animal life, perception and the power of locomotion; next follow intellectual and moral life; the exercise of reason and reflection; the power of acquiring and communicating knowledge; the feelings of love and hatred, hope and fear; the sense of right and wrong, and the developement of all the secret but powerful springs of human action. What an astonishing progress is made, what amazing changes are undergone, what a marvellous developement of physical, intellectual, and moral power is witnessed during the first twenty years of a human being's existence! Need the idea of the resurrection surprise us after what we have seen? But it is objected that we have never seen a dead body restored to life,—that the great object of nature is to preserve the species by constant reproduction, while the individuals are destroyed, buried, and forgotten amid the constant wreck of matter. This is asking a kind of proof which, in the very nature of things, the subject is incapable of affording. The Resurrection is page 77 not to take place till the last day; apart from scripture, there fore, analogical proof is all that can possibly be furnished. Before the creation of man, the intimation to the angelic hosts, that God was about to create a compound being—that he was in some mysterious manner to unite matter and spirit, a portion of the earthly and heavenly nature, in one person,—this intimation to them, supposing their faculties as limited as ours, must have appeared more incomprehensible and impossible, than the revelation to us, that this body, so fearfully and wonderfully made, after being disorganised and decomposed, will be re-organised and, in a higher state of perfection, be reunited to its immortal companion? When Adam planted his first wheat, and saw the seed begin to die and decompose in the ground, was it more likely to him, that the living principle in the seed should develope, and collect around it the disorganised and decomposed matter, and spring up a fully organised plant, first the seed, then the ear, then the full corn in the ear,—than it is to us, that the body will arise from the grave alive and perfect. In neither of these cases had they any previous similar examples; but we have the analogy of nature to direct our views and support our faith.
It is further objected, that as many have been eaten by cannibals, and the matter of their body gone to constitute a part of the body of the cannibal,—that as many have been eaten by fishes or wild beasts, and these in some instances been eaten by men, the same matter may have been a constituent part of two, ten or twenty human bodies. The Sadducean question is then asked, “In the resurrection to which of the two, ten, or twenty bodies, shall this portion of matter belong; for at one time or other it formed a constituent part of all of these bodies?” We answer such, You err not knowing Science, any more than Scripture. Science, yea common sense, teaches us, that neither the same particles of matter, nor the same quantity of matter is necessary to constitute bodily identity. We have not the same particles of page 78 matter in our body that we had yesterday; we are greatly changed in a twelvemonth; we change the nails of our fingers and toes, and the hairs of our head every few months. At twenty years of age, we are possibly twenty times the size we were when twenty days old. Again the quantity of matter in our bodies may be reduced by want of nourishment, sickness, or old age; we may have teeth extracted, have a limb or arm amputated, and still amid all these changes our bodily identity is unquestioned. If as much of the body is left as will contain the soul, it is still regarded as the same body. Identity is not affected by any changes of matter in life, and these are as great as any conceivable changes of matter in or after death. The question of bodily identity is beset with difficulties. It is easier to say what it is not, than what it is. It must be some permanent character in the body; but it is neither the same particles, nor the same quantity of matter. But if bodily identity consist, as seems probable, of some germ or stamen, something like the vital principle in seed, whether solid, liquid, or vapour,—something that remains unchanged, from the moment that the soul is united to the body, till they are dissolved by death, —it may remain unchanged, and never be incorporated with the identity of another body; and if so, those transient, fleeting particles of the body may be devoured by cannibals, eaten by wild beasts, or swallowed by fishes—they may wave in grass, bloom in flowers, or float in thin air—and all that is essential to our identity may remain for ever, without being incorporated with the identity of any other body, till united to their respective spirits, and developed in the glorious or shameful body of the resurrection.*
Rejoice, O Saint, over Death. You will at the last day receive a body; the same body you have now; but immortal, that shall die no more; perfect and without defects; strong and vigorous, “raised in page 79 power;” light and active “as the angels in heaven;” Yea, beautiful and glorious, “like to Christ's glorious body.”
Tremble, O Sinner, you also shall have a body, your own body; it will be immortal; but you will rise last, rise reluctantly, calling on the hills to fall on you; you will rise to shame and everlasting contempt, and have a part in the resurrection of damnation.
Viewed in connection with the resurrection, the body is of vastly greater importance than many Christians suppose, and instead of being spoken of with disparagement, it ought to be appreciated, honoured, and carefully consecrated to the service of him who is “the Resurrection and the life.”
* For a full, philosophical disquisition on this subject see Drew on the Resurrection.