Reflecting the other day upon the sad state of the churches at the present moment, I was led to look back to apostolic times, and to consider wherein the preaching of the present day differed from the preaching of the apostles. I remarked the vast difference in their style from the set and formal oratory of the present age. I remarked that the apostles did not take a text when they preached, nor did they confine themselves to one subject, much less to any place of worship, but I find that they stood up in any place and declared from the fulness of their heart what they knew of Jesus Christ. But the main difference I observed was in the subjects of their preaching.
Surprised I was when I discovered that the very staple of the preaching of the apostles was the resurrection of the dead. I found myself to have been preaching the doctrine of the grace of God, to have been upholding free election, to have been leading the people of God as well as I was enabled into the deep things of his word; but I was surprised to find that I had not been copying the apostolic fashion half as nearly as I might have done. The apostles when they preached always testified concerning the resurrection of Jesus, and the consequent resurrection of the dead. It appears that the Alpha and the Omega of their gospel was the testimony that Jesus Christ died and rose again from the dead according to the Scriptures.
When they chose another apostle in the room of Judas, who had become apostate (Acts 1:22), they said, “One must be ordained to be a witness with us of his resurrection;” so that the very office of an apostle was to be a witness of the resurrection. And well did they fulfil their office. When Peter stood up before the multitude, he declared unto them that “David spoke of the resurrection of Christ.” When Peter and John were taken before the council, the great cause of their arrest was that the rulers were grieved :because they taught the people and preached through Jesus the resurrection from the dead” (Acts 4:2). When they were set free, after having been examined, it is said, “With great power gave the apostles witness of the resurrection of the Lord Jesus: and great grace was upon them all” (Acts 4:33).
It was this which stirred the curiosity of the Athenians when Paul preached among them, “They said, he seemeth to be a setter forth of strange gods, because he preached unto them Jesus and the resurrection of the dead.” And this moved the laughter of the Areopagites, for when he spoke of the resurrection of the dead, “Some mocked, and others said, we will hear thee again of this matter.” Truly did Paul say, when he stood before the council of the Pharisees and Sadducees, “Concerning the resurrection of the dead I am called in question.” And equally truly did he constantly assert, “IF Christ be not risen from the dead, then is our preaching vain, and your faith is vain, and ye are yet in your sins.”
The resurrection of Jesus and the resurrection of the righteous is a doctrine which we believe, but which we too seldom preach or care to read about.
Though I have inquired of several booksellers for a book specially upon the subject of the resurrection, I have not yet been able to purchase one of any sort whatever; and when I turned to Dr. Owen’s works, which are a most invaluable storehouse of divine knowledge, containing much that is valuable on almost every subject; I could find, even there, scarcely more than the slightest mention of the resurrection. It has been set down as a well known truth, and therefore has never been discussed. Heresies have not risen up respecting it; it would almost have been a mercy if there had been, for whenever a truth is contested by heretics, the orthodox fight strongly for it, and the pulpit resounds with it every day.
I am persuaded, however, that there is much power in this doctrine; and if I preach it this morning you will see that God will own the apostolic preaching, and there will be conversions. I intend putting it to the test now, to see whether there be not something which we cannot perceive at present in the resurrection of the dead, which is capable of moving the hearts of men and bringing them into subjection to the gospel of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.
From his sermon on Acts 24:15.