SERMON BY REV. R.J. CAMPBELL.
Rev. R.J. Campbell continues to make notable sermons at the City Temple (London).
His latest hinged on a question asked him whether he had any real belief in personal immortality. He wished to assure them, not only that he held that belief, but that that very belief was the basis of his earnest desire to see the Kingdom of God realised on earth. He could not see how there could be any breach of continuity in this respect. No miracle could turn a criminal into a saint, because of a death-bed repentance, and any man who lived an ignorant and degraded life here would begin degraded and ignorant on the other side after the great change called Death. And so a man who lived a wise and honourable life here would begin honourably and wisely on the other side.
To say would-be saviour of the race, he would say, "You will be all the stronger in your services to your kind if you realise the eternal significance of every individual soul with whom you have to deal."
"The fact is," proceeded Mr. Campbell, "that what these New Testament Christians thought about the Resurrection is not and cannot be held by any ordinary Christian man to-day. It is true that there is a fundamental identity of thought, but we have to look beneath the form in order to find what it is."
Looking, therefore, "beneath the form" of the words, Mr. Campbell stated Paul's argument to be that, "although the human body might die and decay the life within it will come back in a newer form." This was what the first Christians thought and others besides them, especially in the circles in which Paul had been trained. It was held by these people that if everything had continued all right with humanity nobody would ever have had to die, but would have gone on living for ever and ever. But this ideal state of affairs was upset by the appearance of an intruder called Sin, which Paul says must have been due to a primitive ancestor.
"No sensible man at the present day," declared Mr. Campbell emphatically, "takes that view. We know that physical death did not enter the world because of sin. It was here before man, and we know that the world never has been an ideally happy place, the abode of an immaculate humanity. It is to-day just as happy as it ever has been, perhaps happier."
The New Testament Christians believed that the soul of the dead were waiting in an underworld, a Hades (which was not necessarily a place of torment), until allowed to return. Mr. Campbell contrasted this with the modern idea that those who have gone before have gone to Heaven, and are going to stay there. From this the preacher passed to the passage in the First Epistle to the Thessalonians iv., 16: "For the Lord Himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God, and the dead in Christ shall rise first."
"Does any ordinary, sensible man to-day believe," he asked, "that the Lord will descend from Heaven? From what Heaven? From what point of the compass? Or does any sensible man believe that 'we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so shall we ever be with the Lord'? That is what Paul says in the next verse. I believe the dignitaries of the Anglican Church, to say nothing of the Nonconformists, would be rather perturbed at such an occurrence.
"But Paul was so convinced that the grand catastrophe was near at hand that he actually advised people not to marry. Imagine any preacher standing up and giving that advice to a Christian congregation to-day!
"Our whole outlook has changed, and we may as well recognise it at once. We do not take the view that these New Testament Christians did about death. Seeing that it is impossible for us to think the same thing nowadays, where is the good of taking a text from these words and asking our hearers to put the same meaning on it that Paul did? If we cannot believe in resurrection as Paul did, where is the good of trying to treat his words as infallible? I am convinced that the time has come when, in common honesty, we preachers must stop pretending that we believe as Paul did in this matter. We do not; and we may as well say so at once."
Mr. Campbell next proceeded to argue that there was something in the words of the Apostle Paul which held good for us to-day - something which was as true for a modern congregation as it was for Paul. It was not something unimportant; it was a great spiritual principle, which had been enunciated over and over again in the history of religious thought. It was that the true resurrection was the uprising of the Christ-life, of the ideal manhood within the human soul, and this was the true resurrection-body. It was this body which we should take with us to the other side of the great change called Death.
"The body in which the soul awakens after death," he continued, "is that which God has prepared in accordance with His own desires. We do not go to a mysterious Hades and come back again in order to take possessions of that body. You are not going to die, you cannot die, for that which is really you is eternal. The death of the body is not the death of the man. That is just as much a simple fact as that you are listening to me here, and before long it may be brought overwhelmingly home to the conscience of the modern world.
"It is an awful thought," concluded the preacher, "that what you and I are doing at this moment is helping to form the habitation of the soul in the mysterious world which may be nearer to us than we think."
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