The Body

Eph. 5:23.---' He is the savior of the body.'

A FAIR test of the various schools of opinion which are claiming to instruct us on the highest of all questions is this: What place do they assign to the bodily part of man? It is so easy, on the one hand, to make too much of the physical life, to regard ourselves as essentially a growth of Nature, immersed in the animal life of the globe, dominated wholly by its conditions, and fitted, therefore, to share, we may presume, in its destinies. It is, on the other hand, so natural for a religion which, being a religion, must protest against this materialistic teaching that men are like the beasts that perish---it is so like religion in making that protest to go to the other extreme, and to overlook our close connection with the physical life of the globe; so to be ashamed of it, so to place man's highest hope in a stern subjection to his fleshly desires. And between these two extremes the pendulum of human thought, and of practice too, has never ceased to oscillate since first men began to speculate upon their own position upon this earth.

Now one cannot fail to notice the place that is given to the body in Scripture. 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 is there 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 it 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.' 'Know ye not that your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost which is in you? 'I beseech you, therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God.' Such words, and they might be multiplied by ten, are not at all impertinent intrusions. They are worked into the web of Scripture, and they are part and parcel of its message; until at last, by such recurrent whispers, and by a hundred other hints and shadowings, we come to see that the Word of God in Christ is the true charter of the human body.

Yet on what soil, and amid what surroundings, was it that this Scripture doctrine on the subject grew up, this marvelously well poised and reasonable doctrine? It grew up on Asiatic soil; and in Asia men may be said to have incessantly swung betwixt the most extreme positions on this subject, between the bestial idolatry of their own physical nature and a frantic effort to rid themselves of their physical part altogether. The Nature-worship of Asia in the midst of which the Hebrews lived, the worship of the fertile earth and the sun that quickens it, springs out of a too keen sense of man's participation in the animal, of that animal life of Nature that we see for ever propagating and renewing itself. Think what obscene objects of adoration and what shameless forms of worship this exaggeration of the physical life produced, till outraged decency itself revolted against worship, and the very land was ready to vomit out its inhabitants. Now, would it have been at all surprising, when the children of Israel were planted among a people that were seething with the conception of man and his relation to Nature---would it have been surprising if, in their grim fight against such abominations, bound at all risks to teach by frequent repetitions a purer morality and a more spiritual faith, the Hebrew prophets had done as all other great teachers and reformers have done---swung right off to the opposite extreme, preaching the inherent evil of the flesh, and summoning men to an ascetic contempt for all kind of animal enjoyment, if they would be pure and holy? So have done the powerful religious philosophies of India. They have striven to save men, they have been ascetic, and their aim has been, not to provide a savior for the body, but to save man from his body, and restore him to the pure realm of spirit. Thus it was with the idealism of Zoroaster, the transmigration of Brahminism, the Nirvana of Buddha, the old sects of the Essenes, the Gnostics, the Manichaeans, and other forms of religious thought that have sprung out of that home of religion, the far East.

The gospel may be said to constitute a new virtue, the virtue of bodily holiness---that just and reverent use of one's own and other people's bodies as redeemed members of Christ and temples of the Holy Ghost which is quite familiar to the Christian religion, and is a direct outcome of Christian teaching. 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, what the doctrine, which have given to the body such high dignity that we may say of Christ unhesitatingly, He is the Savior of 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 for ever with nobility. 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 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.

The whole series of wonderful events which began with the Annunciation was a practical vindication of the truth that matter is good, not evil; that man's material constitution is not a contemptible thing, a thing to be ashamed of and got rid of, but is a worthy vehicle for the very noblest, the very purest type of spiritual life. That was a holy thing that was born of the Virgin's womb. It was a human nature redeemed indeed from its stains, restored to its innocence, and become thereby fit shrine for Deity---although on its physical side it was feeble with the feebleness of a wailing babe.

Can anyone despise infancy after that, or think meanly of human nature? The eternal Father, whom we picture as surrounded by pure spirits, looked down, well pleased, not only on the infant in the cradle, but on the handicraftsman of Nazareth, on the itinerant preacher of Galilee, on the agonized petitioner of Gethsemane, on the martyr of Golgotha. Thereby He showed that poverty is not despicable; no, nor toil; no, nor tears, nor strong cries in need, nor pangs of dying anguish. O rare endorsement of man's humiliation! O sweet sufficiency of the Son of God! which forbids us to think meanly of any sufferer, or grow ashamed of human nature, even in its utmost extremity and helplessness and despair.

The second factor in this change of view was the compassionate care of Jesus for the body. There is no part or organ, no faculty or sense or limb, but has a share in that redeeming work which brought our Savior from the throne to Calvary. Christ refused to interfere when one wanted Him to interpose about his property. 'Master, speak to my brother on the matter'---and Jesus refused to speak a word. But 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.

Jesus the physician and liberator is not what His disingenuous modern enemies, in their efforts to revive easy paganism in opposition to asceticism, will have us believe Him to be. They tell us that He is the God of the diseased, the weak, the unclean, the miserable, the impotent, the slave. But Jesus' whole work is a gift of saving [salute], of strength, purity, riches and freedom. He comes to the sick to rid them of their illness, to the weak to strengthen them, to them who are unclean that they may be purified, to slaves that they may be set free. He does not love the diseased merely because they are such; like the ancients He loves health, and would rather restore it to all who have lost it.

But it is not in His incarnation only or in His care for the body that we learn from Jesus the inherent honorableness of the body, the dignity of it as the seat of a Divine life. We learn it in His resumption of that slain body, His redemption of it when He ascended far above all heaven. We learn it in the personal union of even this fickle and material humanity of ours with the Lord of all creation. We learn it in the strange and unknown metamorphosis which passed over His flesh to adapt to celestial conditions. We learn it in the descent of the Holy Spirit to rest upon the heads or redeemed men and dwell within them, making their bodies temples. We learn it in the promise of the final resurrection of the dead. An awful series of Christian facts, this, instinct from first to last with the startling thought---'He is the savior of the body.' Yes. He saves it. He does not destroy it. He saves it by making it the organ of the highest life---saves it by restoring to it its divineness, its honor, transforming it into a spiritual 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 have done for ever with the body. We shall never more be clogged and fretted 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 have done for ever with a body. That is not the faith of those who name the name of Christ.

In Christ, timothy. maranatha