From “The Life of the World to Come”
by Henry Barclay Swete, 1835-1917
In some way which Saint Paul does not explain, but which his words imply, the present body is connected with that which is to be. It is the seed out of which the new plant of life is hereafter to spring. We cannot pursue this analogy, or say how our present bodies supply the germ from which the risen body is to spring; but we are sure of this, that as certainly as we commit the body of a faithful Christian to the grave, so certainly will God raise up a splendid and deathless companion for the redeemed spirit.
In the hymn, “Light’s Abode,” we sing:
“Oh, how glorious and resplendent,
fragile body, shalt thou be,
when endued with so much beauty,
full of health, and strong, and free,
full of vigour, full of pleasure
that shall last eternally.”
The poet (who is said to be Thomas à Kempis) goes beyond the Apostle; but the Apostle does teach that this frail mortal body is to the body that shall be as the seed is to the plant that springs from it. There is enough in this thought to put us on our guard against sins of the flesh, for they gravely endanger our prospect of resurrection to life.
“Guard ye the flesh!” writes the earliest of post-apostolic preachers, “that ye may partake of the Spirit.”
A life which is given over to the indulgence of the flesh cannot issue in a life in which the body will be the servant of the spirit. On the other hand, all labour now expended on the work of the Lord, all suffering patiently borne for Christ and his church, is definitely leading up to the spiritual body. Like comes from like, wheat from wheat, tares from tares. God gives to every seed its own body; the spiritual body to those who live to the Spirit. The hymn is right when it continues :
“Now with gladness, now with courage,
bear the burden on thee laid:
that hereafter these thy labours
may with endless gifts be paid.”
Those who suffer bodily pain or weariness may well, if they are sincere Christians, take courage as they think of the resurrection body for which suffering is preparing them.
“We suffer with Christ,” as Saint Paul has taught us, “that we may be glorified together and the suffering body will partake in the glory.”
There should be no greater comfort to Christian persons than to be made like unto Christ by suffering patiently adversities, troubles and sicknesses. For he himself went not up to joy, but first he suffered pain. So truly our way to eternal joy is to suffer here with Christ. So the Church comforts the sick in her visitation office and the beautiful words apply to many persons who are not lying on a bed of sickness and are not “visited,” but who carry about with them some burden of bodily pain or imperfection. This suffering, this tired-out body, let them remember, is the seed of incorruption, of a painless immortality, of an endless life.
The hope of the resurrection body calls us to cultivate what Saint Paul describes as “the mind of the Spirit.” For nothing is more certain than that the spiritualising of the mind must precede the spiritualising of the body. It would be vain to clothe in a body adapted for the life of the Spirit a mind which was not in sympathy with the things of the Spirit. The natural man has no use for the spiritual body. Therefore those who would have the spiritual body, who would bear the external image of the heavenly, must lift up their hearts to spiritual and heavenly things. They must seek things above, where the risen Christ sits on the right hand of God.
Our Lord did not take our flesh in order to suppress or abolish any part of our composite human nature. He took body, soul, and spirit. He still has, and will ever have, body, soul, and spirit. He has not himself abandoned any element of human nature, nor will he do away with any in us. But he will restore the proper balance in our nature; he will restore to the spirit the leadership, the preponderance in power which is its right. He will make the personal life of the soul and the animal life of the body both subordinate to the life of the spirit, quickened and led by the Spirit of God. He will, in the end, make even the body, that least spiritual part of a human being’s nature, “spiritual” (i.e., the willing and effective helpmeet for the spirit). But he will sacrifice no true part of our nature; he will preserve all in their completeness for the life beyond. He will make us “equal to angels,” yet not angels; people still, but angelic people, whose very bodies are instruments of the spirit, taking their proper, subordinate, yet not unimportant, part in the eternal service of God.
It is for us to co-operate with our Lord in this restoration of our nature to its true aim as an ordered whole.
“As we have borne the image of the earthy, let us also bear the image of the heavenly.”
Whether we shall be accounted worthy to attain to that world, whether we shall bear our part, not at our earthly Eucharist alone, but in the eternal, heavenly Eucharist, with angels and archangels and all the company of heaven in lauding and magnifying the glorious name, depends under God on our own personal effort. We refuse the spiritual body if we refuse to live by the Spirit. On the other hand, every genuine effort to live by the Spirit brings us a step nearer to the life of the resurrection.
“He that soweth unto his own flesh shall of the flesh reap corruption; but he that soweth unto the Spirit shall of the Spirit reap eternal life, both of body and spirit.