Victory over Death
Love (1757-1825) was a Church of Scotland minister at London and Glasgow, and an organizer of the modern foreign missions movement. John Macleod wrote of him, "In his early spiritual experience he was very thoroughly searched by the teaching of Jonathan Edwards and the men of the older New England introspective school. This left its mark on his teaching in turn." When "Rabbi" John Duncan was ordained at Milton Church, Glasgow, in 1836, those who had admired Love's ministry turned to Duncan as "the Elisha on whom the mantle of their master had fallen." These two sermons are dated 1799, Greenock, Scotland, and were published in Love's Discourses on Select Passages of Scripture (Edinburgh 1829).
"He will swallow up death in victory: and the Lord God will wipe away tears from off all faces; and the rebuke of his people shall he take away from off all the earth: for the Lord hath spoken it." Isaiah 25:8.
The groves of the original paradise were fair and pleasant, fragrant and fruitful; but, through the instability and ingratitude of man, sin found its way into that paradise, and death immediately followed.
The land of Canaan was prepared by Divine goodness for the posterity of Abraham, as a kind of second paradise; but, behold the effects of sin! See, in the preceding chapter of this book, what denunciations of wrath issued forth from the God of Israel, against his favorite land. Death and desolation did overspread the consecrated territory.
It is, my brethren, the universal lot of mankind, to be subject to the empire of death, the king of terrors; therefore, wherever the salvation and happiness of man are spoken of, attention must be paid to this capital evil; if provision be not made against this calamity, nothing is done.
The Israelitish nation and church, residing in Canaan, was the theater, on which the great anointed Deliverer of mankind was now to be exhibited to the view of all nations. So hateful to Satan and his angels, was the prospect of His appearance, that they could not refrain from gnashing their teeth upon that nation and church, wherein he was to display his glory. On the other side, amidst all provocations and calamities, the zeal of the Lord of hosts, for the Messiah and his work, watched over that chosen country and people; and, for preserving the situation of things, adapted to the manifestation of the Savior, executed those judgments on the presumptuous heathen, which are celebrated by the prophet in the first five verses of this chapter.
But, in what inviting strains, verses sixth, seventh, and eighth, doth he describe the fruits of the long-expected arrival of the Redeemer of perishing men! A feast for the guilty immortal souls of men of all nations; a feast divinely prepared, unspeakably rich and satisfying! In order to the enjoyment of this spiritual banquet, -- the removal of unbelieving darkness from the beclouded mind! In consequence of having tasted these life-inspiring refreshments -- victory over death! Blessed tidings! "Blessed is the people that know the joyful sound!"
In attempting to illustrate so precious a subject, let me, first, make some remarks on the meaning of the singular expression, "He will swallow up death in victory. Second, I will take a comprehensive view of the methods whereby the God of salvation raises his people to victory over death. Third, I will attend to the different situations and periods of this important victory.
I. I propose to make some remarks on this singular expression, -- an expression full of meaning and of energy, -- "He will swallow up death in victory."
1. The very sound of the words conveys the idea of a solemn and terrible conflict. A poor expiring worm of the dust is the occasion and subject of the contest. But who are the conflicting parties? On the one side, appears the King of glory, Jehovah, the God of armies, clothed with majesty, arrayed in power, rousing up Omnipotent might, to overwhelm the opposing foe. From the solemnity of the encounter, on the part of God, we learn the formidable nature and qualities of Death, the king of terrors. He who said at the beginning, "ye shall not surely die," still deceives the children of folly, by teaching them to scoff, with insolent disdain, at that death which they know to be inevitable, and to flatter themselves, with Agag, that its unexperienced bitterness will soon be past. Even the children of wisdom are sometimes lulled into sleep, by indulging shallow thoughts of their final conflict with this enemy. But let us not deceive ourselves. The declaration of the text, rich in grace and salvation, teaches us to think of death with awe, as a formidable adversary, in subduing whose terrors, and in annihilating whose dominion, the Almighty appears in serious contest, and gains to himself "a glorious, an everlasting name."
2. But, while we awaken and humble ourselves, by just views of the formidable nature of death, let us rise to confidence, by observing how the expression of the text brings into this conflict the Infinite zeal of Deity. "He will swallow up death in victory." With what Divine impetuosity doth the God of compassion burst into the field, while death assails the children of his love! As a parent, beholding his child seized by a wild beast, or serpent, or human ruffian, rushes at once on the enemy, and, if his strength fail not, tears him in pieces; so will the blessed God come down, "terrible, out of his holy places," to fight for his children, when the iron hand of death lays hold on them. Such are the ideas which God condescends to suggest by this expression; and still more explicitly, Hosea 13:14, "I will ransom them from the power of the grave; I will redeem them from death: O death, I will be thy plagues; O grave, I will be thy destruction: repentance shall be hid from mine eyes."
3. Thus we see, my brethren, how "precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his saints." Still farther, the same words, which exhibit the greatness of the love of God, lead us to contemplate the glory of his eternal power, as being infinitely more than sufficient to create this important victory over death. "He will swallow up death in victory." His arm shall be strong enough to crush this enemy: having overwhelmed all the might of death, his right hand shall appear glorious in power, possessing a boundless redundancy of vigor, beyond that which is actually exerted. The terrific force of death shall fall before the approach of the merciful power of Jehovah, as a giant sinks in the vast ocean, sufficient to be the grave of millions on millions beside.
That you may fully believe this, (and practically to believe it, in dying circumstances, will be very important,) remember, brethren, the majestic energy of the quiet and peaceful movements of Omnipotence, in the creation of the universe, when no resistance of an enemy was to be overcome. Who, then, can conceive the triumphant efficacy of Omnipotence, agitated, incensed, inflamed by the jealousy of love?
Such are the views, which, speaking after the manner of men, the Spirit opens to us in the text, and in other passages. At the same time, laying aside the figurative personification of death, we strengthen our faith, by considering, that whatever alarming, distressing power may belong to this evil, that power is from God. Death is the work of God; it is God frowning upon the sin of man. It follows, that the evil which comes from God, in the way of holy severity, must be completely under his control, and easily conquered and absorbed by his triumphant love.
4. If the cause of victory be thus all-sufficient, the effect, in the experience of dying Christians, must be an abundant sensation of victory. Rom. 8:37. "In all these things, we are more than conquerors, through him that loved us." When God comes forth to fulfill the language of the text, an overflowing fullness of victory shall be joyfully felt by the departing soul. Receiving a sufficiency of present strength, the believer shall see an infinite treasure behind; his dying graces, faith, patience, resignation, hope, and love, shall be richly invigorated; the joy of felt conquest shall surpass all that he ever anticipated, and, with an inexpressible burst of delight, overflow into the ocean of eternity. "To him that is able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power which worketh in us. To him be glory in the church by Christ Jesus, throughout all ages, world without end. Amen."
II. Having considered the particular manner of expression in the particular manner of expression in the text; let us, my brethren, go forward, as we proposed, to take a more comprehensive view of the subject, and inquire, by what methods the wise and merciful God raises his people to the possession of victory over death.
1. This is done by a clear and powerful revelation of the glory of God.
Stephen the martyr, entering into this victory, began his dying speech with this observation; and who can conceive how he felt the majesty of his own words? "The God of glory appeared unto our father Abraham, and said unto him, Get thee out of thy country, and from thy kindred, and come into the land which I shall show thee." These words of the inspired sufferer point out the efficacy of Divine illumination, in a case analogous to that under our consideration. The object in view was to reconcile the mind of Abraham, to a final parting with all the comforts of his native country, and to make him willing to follow the conduct of the invisible God, into a unknown and undescribed territory. A thousand reasonings and questionings might rise in his mind against the proposal. But, to preclude them all, and at once to give decision and firmness to the patriarch's mind, "The God of glory appeared to him." The transcendent excellency of Jehovah was impressed deeply on his soul: beholding God, and captivated by Divine love, he hesitated not to make the required sacrifice, and, at every step from his home, he glorified his God.
Paul speaks of tedious and severe sufferings, as light, and as momentary; he represents the avenue through death, to the tribunal of Jesus Christ, as shining with a sweet, inviting luster. How did he rise to such ideas? Hear him, my beloved brethren, explain the origin of his magnanimity: "God, who commanded the light to shine out of darkness, hath shined in our hearts, to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God, in the face of Jesus Christ." Compare II Cor. 4:17-18, and 5:1-10, with II Cor. 4:6.
A powerful discovery of the glory of God raises the soul to victory over death. That it is sufficient to produce such an effect, will appear manifest, whether we consider the excellency of the glory discovered to the soul, or the majestic clearness and evidence of the light which makes the discovery, or the sweet, commanding influence of that light, on him who receives it.
The glory of God, including the essential perfections of Jehovah, his holy moral attributes, his mysterious love, his boundless all-sufficiency, is an object so sublime and splendid, that its luster eclipses all earthly excellency; and, according to the bold language of the prophet, in the preceding chapter, verse 23, makes the sun and moon ashamed to appear.
But the revelation of this astonishing object, in Divine light, carries the soul far out of the cold region of opinion and conjecture. That light, justly denominated in Scripture, "marvelous light," shines from on high with majestic evidence, demonstrating its heavenly origin, abolishing doubt, and emboldening the soul to rest, on the sealed truth of God, its all for eternity.
So vast, so glorious an object, presented to the soul in such light, must have an irresistible, attractive force; must command the heart away from the inferior system of things; must engage the immortal spirit to take up its everlasting abode in God himself. This is the language, not of enthusiasm, but of Scripture. "Thou hast been our dwelling place in all generations." "Thou hast made Jehovah, even the Most High, thy habitation." "He that dwelleth in love, dwelleth in God, and God in him." Pss. 90:1, 91:9, I John 4:16.
The consequence, in relation to death, is obvious. The removal from world to world is no longer an essential change; it is only an alteration of circumstances; it is an ascent from God imperfectly known, to the same God seen as he is.
2. In close connection with this illumination in the knowledge of God, victory over death is produced by a powerful application of the sacrifice of Jesus Christ to the conscience.
Abstracted from this, the view of the glory of God would be too awful for the sinful creature; it would overwhelm him with terror. Blessed be God, the mystery of the cross is to us the central medium of revealing Divine glory. The influence of this mystery, applied to conscience to subdue the terror of death, is unbounded.
Such has been the uniform experience of Christian martyrs, grappling with Satan, and with death in every terrific form. Rev. 12:11. "They overcame him by the blood of the Lamb; and they loved not their lives unto the death." Such is the universal experience of the children of God, including the most timid and feeble of them. Heb. 2:14-15. "Forasmuch as the children are partakers of flesh and blood, he also himself likewise took part of the same; that through death, he might destroy him that had the power of death, that is the devil; and deliver them, who, through fear of death, were all their lifetime subject to bondage." The sublime sweetness of that triumph over death, which is derived from the death and resurrection of Jesus the Son of God, is at once exhibited and explained in those memorable words: I Cor. 15:55-57. "O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory?" There is the triumph: the explication follows. "The sting of death is sin; and the strength of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who giveth us the victory, through our Lord Jesus Christ."
For giving birth to so serious a triumph of soul, more, it must be remarked, is requisite, than speculative ideas of redemption by the cross, however distinct, plausible, and well-arranged such ideas may be. It is the powerful application, to the conscience, of this mystery, which creates the true victory over death: application not of man to man, not of a man to himself; but an application by the agency of the Spirit of the living God. This Divine Agent performs the work, which, in vain the deceiving priest mimics, brandishing his crucifix before the swimming eyes of the dying. HE glorifies the crucified Savior, enlightening the eyes of the understanding to see his transcendent excellency. He impresses on the trembling conscience, the purity and immense worth of the obedience and sufferings of Immanuel. He, operating by the word of truth, assures the soul hastening to the Supreme tribunal, that it is accepted before the Judge of all in the Beloved; that the Holy God is pacified and well-pleased; that the claims of hell are canceled; that the inheritance of glory is secured.
The Spirit of truth -- the Comforter -- imparts this evangelic light, in full proportion to every just view of the glorious perfections of God; in full proportion to every deep alarm of conscience; in full proportion to all the solemnities of an entrance, through death and judgment, to a boundless and unalterable eternity. See John 16:7-14; Eph. 1:17 etc., 3:16 etc.
3. But what new, surprising beams of light are these, which dawn in my distant horizon, which snatch the world from my languid eyes! What glory is this which rapidly encircles me! What sounds do I hear! What countenances, what spotless forms, sweep along! What invisible arms embrace me! What majestic splendors attract me, and, with an instinctive, mighty impulse, draw forth the throbbing, panting, groaning cry of my heart, "Let me die, that I may enter into this amazing life!"
These, my soul, are the approaching glories of the New Jerusalem; this is the King of glory, passing through thy everlasting doors; this is Jesus, thy Shepherd, giving thee eternal life: "None is able to pluck thee out of his hands."
Yes, beloved brethren, the heavens are opened over every dying believer. Your God swallows up death in victory, by showing you the fair fields, rivers, fruits, of his paradise in the heavens.
Here let us pause, and arrest the current of our ideas. Other views of this victory remain to be considered. In the meanwhile, let every soul think of the preciousness of the Divine feast proclaimed in the context, which brings with it victory over death. Let every soul inquire, Hath God destroyed the face of the covering, spread over me by sin and unbelief, and the veil which hides such glories from the benighted mind? Till this is manifestly done, let me give myself, let me give the God of mercy, no rest. To him be glory for ever.
"He will swallow up death in victory: and the Lord God will wipe away tears from off all faces; and the rebuke of his people shall he take away from off all the earth: for the Lord hath spoken it." Isaiah 25:8.
"Have the gates of death been opened unto thee? or hast thou seen the doors of the shadow of death?" This question, along with others, the Almighty proposed to the holy and patient Job, in order to his deeper and more complete humiliation. There are awful mysteries in the nature of death, which baffle the inquiries of the wisest, and appall the spirit of the boldest of mankind. Man, standing alone, is unequal to the conflict with an enemy whose nature and powers surpass his investigation.
Blessed be God, there are opposite mysteries of love and power, exhibited in behalf of dying Christians, by which the least of the Redeemer's flock becomes a mighty conqueror in this solemn warfare.
It is not, however, by shallow and trivial thoughts and emotions, that the soul ascends into the strength which prevails over death: It is by profound, deep-felt, and, in most cases, long-continued meditation, that the soul, invigorated by grace, hath access to this light of victory and of joy.
For your assistance, my brethren, in such meditation, I have attempted to show you, by what methods and discoveries God is pleased to raise his people to victory over death. He manifests to them his own glory. He applies the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, with majestic evidence and power, to their consciences.
He opens to their view the glories of the heavenly state. "Hereafter," said Christ to his disciples, "ye shall see heaven open, and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man." John 1:51. "Our Savior Jesus Christ," said Paul, when hastening to the crown of martyrdom, "hath abolished death, and hath brought life and immortality to light by the gospel." The martyr Stephen, crushed in his body with murdering stones, but inwardly mighty and full of the Holy Ghost, "looked up steadfastly into heaven, and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing on the right hand of God." Describing the general privilege of illuminated Christians, the apostle speaks thus: "Ye are come unto mount Sion, and unto the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to an innumerable company of angels, to the general assembly and church of the first-born, which are written in heaven; and to God the Judge of all; and to Jesus, the Mediator of the new covenant; and to the blood of sprinkling, that speaketh better things than that of Abel."
Wonderful elevation! Shall the partakers of it hesitate any longer about dying? You know, brethren, there are hesitations, even after some beginnings of such experience. You know what the fetters are, which check the aspiring flight of the soul, and shamefully pull it back to the delights of such a world as this.
But God will not leave you under this thralldom. That you may be willing to die, and may be disentangled and disencumbered for the final combat,
4. He discovers to you the vanity of all earthly objects, he impresses you with the unavoidable imperfection and misery of your sojourning condition.
In that new birth, which brings the sinner near to God through Christ, the soul rises into a new world, and is no longer capable of grossly idolizing earthly objects, as it once did. At the same time, the true enjoyment of lawful, created things commences. Through the power of the bodily senses, and the connection of present things with even our spiritual pleasures, and especially, through the deceitfulness of remaining depravity, it becomes a work of great difficulty, to reconcile even a renewed soul to a final parting with all that is seen and temporal. In the example of Solomon, it is manifest, what dangerous backslidings, and disgraceful pursuits of worldly gratification, may follow after very near and solemn communion with God.
The infinite patience, wisdom, power, and mercy of the blessed God, are, however, equal to the work of bringing the heaven-born soul to assert its own dignity, and voluntarily to renounce all idolatrous dependence on earthly good, acquiescing joyfully in the decision of the Spirit of wisdom, "Vanity of vanities, vanity of vanities, all is vanity." When this is accomplished, the difficulties of the conflict with death are greatly diminished.
But, besides the view of emptiness and insignificancy attached to the whole system of earthly things, the children of light are weaned from their sojourning condition, and made weary of it, by the experience of miseries more spiritual and pungent. Their taste and capacity of spiritual enjoyment are, by grace, formed and invigorated. They, therefore, hunger and thirst after God himself, his holy presence and fellowship, conformity to his image and will, the joys of his worship, the delights of his family. But, in these pursuits, they are much baffled and disappointed. The body of death within, the desolations of God's sanctuary, the imperfections of Christian brethren, the treachery of hypocrites, the withdrawing of Divine light, the assaults of infernal spirits, depress, molest, and retard them in their progress. They find, that so it must be with them, more or less, while they live; and, therefore, they learn to turn a wistful, longing eye towards the period of dissolution, as the appointed glorious season of full deliverance, of complete emancipation, and of perfect access to God, and to all that is excellent, joyful, and desirable.
5. Here, however, we must take an opposite view of God's gracious work in the children of his love. In order to the final triumph, the Lord grants to his people a blessed finishing of their sanctified desires, respecting objects within time.
"Ye shall not go out with haste, nor go by flight." Christians, who walk worthy of their heavenly calling, amidst all the vanity and suffering of the present scene, are engaged in pursuits of high importance, and occupied with prospects and hopes, which God condescends graciously to regard. He will, in these respects, fulfill their desire and their petitions, in some satisfying measure, that they may joyfully follow his call into eternity.
This fulfillment of desires within time, relates either to particular points of inward, spiritual attainment, or to subjects of special concern respecting the cause and kingdom of Christ upon earth; and, in some cases, to blessings and deliverances, bestowed in reference to individuals with whom the Christian is peculiarly connected. Of the last of these, the patriarch Jacob is an example. Having fallen on the neck of his long-lost son, he wept a good while. "Then Israel said to Joseph, Now let me die, since I have seen thy face, because thou art yet alive." But the feelings of Simeon were more sublime, when, embracing the infant Savior, "He blessed God and said, Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace, according to thy word: for mine eyes have seen thy salvation." Concerning some of those who stood around him, the Lord Jesus expressly declared, "that they should not taste of death, till they had seen the kingdom of God come with power."
Indulgencies of these kinds, either in a clearer or more obscure form, often attend the preparation of the children of God for their departure hence, and illustrate various parts of the covenant of his peace; such as these: "He will fulfill the desire of them that fear him"; "Length of days is in the right hand of wisdom"; "Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his saints."
And now, what farther remains to prevent the soul, espoused as a chaste virgin to Jesus Christ, from rushing into the arms of his love, through the vale of death? That this work of God may become perfect,
6. The soul is raised up above the pains of the body.
The bitterness of death, the sharpness of its pangs, the severity and fierceness of its agonies, still appear formidable, and produce, in feeble nature, fainting, recoil, and dismay. But the Spirit of the Lord, dwelling in the believing soul, puts forth his conquering energy. He rouses the soul to feel its independence on the clog of earth, its capacity to subsist and to be happy apart from the mass of flesh and blood, and its superiority to bodily distress and pain. He diffuses new vigor and ardor, through all the powers of the immortal principle, and makes it conscious of exaltation and dignity; yet, with lowly abasement before God, to set at defiance the worst that death can do, and to welcome its unknown sorrows.
7. The uncouth strangeness of the world of spirits is taken off, by faith's piercing views of the invisible God, -- the Mediator reigning in human flesh, -- the character of redeemed spirits, -- and of spotless angelic beings, with whom the Christian, about to be unloosed from earth, feels a kindred alliance, an intimate association, an overcoming attraction. The angels of light, with sweet familiarity, hovered around the prophet about to ascend undismayed their chariot of fire. I Kings 19:5, 7; II Kings 2:11. The attention of the beloved apostle was closely fixed on his future companions in glory. "What are these which are arrayed in white robes; and whence came they? -- These are they which came out of great tribulation, and have washed their robes, and made them white in the blood of the Lamb." Rev. 7:13-14.
Having taken this view of that Divine work, whereby the God of salvation creates this victory, let us, my brethren, dwell a little longer on the important subject, by considering, as was proposed,
III. The different periods and situations in which victory over death is enjoyed by the saints of the Most High.
1. This blessed victory is enjoyed, by a gradual anticipation, from the day of their effectual calling and conversion to God. It belongs to the wisdom of the righteous, to look forward habitually with a serious eye to death: hereby they are distinguished from the multitude of the foolish, whose false comfort and cheerfulness depend on a forgetfulness that they are mortal.
The solemn thoughts of death mingle themselves with the first awakening views of the regenerate, and give an unutterable terror to the alarms of conscience, and the fears of falling short of salvation. In those days of trembling, it is no unusual thing, for the person, filled with anxiety about his eternal state, to say to himself, What if death overtake me in this gloomy condition? Then the imagination rushes forward into futurity, and realizes the horrors of dying without interest in Christ, and of going down, condemned, by the sides of the everlasting pit.
But, in proportion to the wormwood and anguish of such prospects, is the sweetness and joy of reconciliation with God, and of the sure hope of eternal life, arising from the believing knowledge of Christ, and of him crucified. Then the solemn thoughts of death are sweetened, and begin to be welcome to the soul. And, though the mind be conscious that much is yet wanting in its actual preparation for the conflict, from time to time in the progress of communion with God, the secrets and furniture are disclosed, "of that everlasting covenant, which is ordered in all things and sure." There, the believer sees secured for him, the communication of "that grace which is sufficient, and of that strength which is made perfect in weakness." Advancing in the improvements of the spiritual life, he finds his anticipation of victory over death brightening, like the shining light, more and more, unto the perfect day.
2. This anticipated enjoyment of victory is tenderly and powerfully impressed on the Christian soul, by sympathy with his dying friends and brethren. It is within the compass of the fruits of Christian love to lead the child of God to lay down his life for the brethren, much more to exercise a generous sympathy with them in dying circumstances. True disciples of Jesus Christ experience a mutual union and adherence to each other, in the face of the king of terrors, to which others are strangers. "Ye are in our hearts," saith the great apostle, II Cor. 7:3, "to die and to live with you." The Christian looks round on his afflicted brethren, he bears their burdens, he sustains their shock of calamity, he is bound with them by the cords of affliction, he goes down with them to the dust. The precious reward of grace, connected with such communion of love, is a witnessing and sharing that victory over death, which they enjoy before him. "Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy."
3. At length, the solemn, appointed period arrives, when death no longer is to be viewed at a distance, but sends forth such harbingers as announce that "the sound of their master's feet is behind them." It is the happiness of the established Christian, to know, that no new, untried course, is now to be sought for. He has only to go over his old exercises of faith, resignation, patience, and spiritual desire. These, however, must be renewed with new energy and solemnity. To this, therefore, he is roused, and his cries to heaven become more frequent, piercing, and importunate. And the answer of these cries, surpassing all that faith could anticipate, attends the approaches of the enemy up to the fatal stroke, gilding the gloomy vale with luster, and investing each succeeding wound with sweetness and victory. The whole progress, -- for it is unnecessary to state over again the particulars already suggested, -- may be summed up in the words of David. Ps. 18:4-9, 16-17, 19. "The sorrows of death compassed me about; the snares of death prevented me. In my distress I called upon the Lord, and cried to my God: he heard my voice out of his temple, and my cry came before him, even into his ears. Then the earth shook and trembled; -- there went up a smoke out of his nostrils, -- he bowed also the heavens and came down: -- he took me, he drew me out of many waters, -- he delivered me from my strong enemy, -- he brought me forth also into a large place; he delivered me, because he delighted in me."
4. This victory over death is enjoyed by the soul, during the period of its separation from the body. "He passed safely, even by the way which he had not gone with his feet," -- words spoken by the Prophet respecting Abraham's remarkable expedition against the kings, but capable of expressing the safety and victory of the soul, in its passage through death. Amidst the pains, and under the stroke of the enemy, there is victory. But, immediately on its being parted from the body, the soul ascends into that light and joy of the presence of God, into which no imagination can follow it. There, in an inexpressible manner, it reviews its late conflict, and gives glory to him to whom belong the issues from death. What was transacted under a cloud of darkness, now appears manifest in the light. The nature of death, -- the work of God in conducting through it, -- the display of Divine love and wisdom respecting all its circumstances, and surveyed in the light of heaven, -- fill the soul with wonder, gratitude, and complacency: it blesses those pains, which are now gone for ever, but the joyful reflection whereon shall continue to all eternity.
From that lofty and luminous situation, in the high presence of God, the soul at once looks down with triumphant confidence and hope, on the dust it hath forsaken; upward to the incomprehensible power which holds fast that dust, and will gloriously revive it; and forward to the appointed period of the blessed resurrection. Thus, the souls of the righteous rest and rejoice under the altar, in the sanctuary of glory, uttering, in the manner of spirits, the song of victory, and "waiting for the adoption, even the redemption of their bodies," while, every moment, they behold the pattern of the future building, in the glorious body of the Lord Jesus.
5. We now advance to that scene of victory, which the tongues of men and of angels cannot describe. The appointed ages will speedily revolve; the morning, marked with bright characters in the book of the decrees of Jehovah, will dawn. "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. When this corruptible shall have put on incorruption, and this mortal shall have put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written, Death is swallowed up in victory." The majesty, power, and love of the Savior, -- the glory of his attending armies, -- the beauty, felicity, number, union, and order, of those who rise immortal at his call, and encircle his throne, -- their sense of victory, -- their prospect of eternal enjoyment, -- I leave, my brethren, to your silent, illuminated thoughts. Realize the scene as fully as you can; go as far into its great depths as the light of God, given by his word and Spirit, will conduct you: and having done so, believe that the reality shall exceeding abundantly surpass your loftiest ideas, your sweetest and most transporting expectations. "It doth not yet appear what we shall be, but we know that when he shall appear, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is."
But how weighty is the application of this subject! Let us summon up all that is within us, to attend to it with the utmost seriousness, earnestness, impartiality. Woe to them, who are contented with barren, fabulous speculation, on such a subject!
1. I beseech you, brethren, beware of a false victory over death. "The heart is deceitful above all things." I will warn every man, therefore, against delusion. O enemy of souls, how cruel are thy wiles! Wilt thou not retire from the scene of death, where poor mortals cast the die for eternity, for the last time? "The Lord rebuke thee, O Satan!" The Lord turn thy counsel into foolishness, respecting him or her who now reads or hears these words! Get thee behind us, thou blood-stained murderer.
We have seen, that victory over death is a singular work of God, a work, wherein his right hand and his holy arm is eminently revealed. It must, therefore, be arrogance, presumption, and folly, for the poor sinner to imagine himself capable of delivering himself from death by any power of his own, and to attempt to achieve the work of God: Yet, such audacity is almost universal among miserable mortals.
How many simple ones are there, who maintain cheerfulness, and keep themselves easy respecting death, merely because they have learned to forget that they are mortal? They are airy, pleasant and joyful, and presume that the bitterness of death is past; because they never spent one hour in serious consideration of the subject. "How long, ye simple ones, will ye love simplicity?" You think to elude the frown of death by mere levity and petulance. What a surprise is preparing for you! What solemn, dying hours will conclude thy gay life, and deliver thee over into the sullen agonies of the second, endless death! Awake, now, thou that sleepest, if thou hast the least spark of reason, the least regard to thy own safety. There is victory over death to be enjoyed in Christ, but not by those who continue giddy, careless, and trifling. Sleep on a little longer, and the merciful Savior of the world will "laugh at thy calamity, and mock when thy fear cometh."
In others, the folly of the disobedient assumes a more daring and dignified form, and strikes a bolder note. Blind to all that is invisible, -- confiding in a courage, the result of bodily constitution and of worldly principles, -- having actually escaped from many dangers, and surmounted difficulties, -- the sinner imagines himself a hero in the warfare with death. Fed by the applause of other sinners, he presumes on farther dangers, and, under the first approach of the grisly king, supposes himself falling gloriously, and sinking into a happy repose. Among the heathen, such characters were sometimes invested by survivors with the honors of deity; and no hesitation remains among modern, nominal Christians, of their finding a place in heaven. But the ungodly here overcame only the frown and shadow of death; he saw not, till too late, the sting of death, -- the hell which follows him, -- the arrows of vengeance from the throne of the Almighty. The tremendous disappointment of such sinners, whether on their beds, or in the scene of military exploit, shall be disclosed at the morning of the resurrection; when, at the feet of Jesus Christ, millions on millions of such men shall be seen weeping like children, but weeping in vain. He, who spared not the angels who sinned, will exhibit terrors sufficiently awful to tame, and depress, and overwhelm the whole host of heaven-defying ruffians.
But, how various and manifold are the delusions of the heart of man! Others procure to themselves a false ease, by indulging a rebellious sullenness and despondency, in relation to death. They think to pass quietly over the precipice, by shutting their eyes, and wrapping themselves in the sable mantle of despair. Dislodged from the lurking holes of carnal security, instead of looking towards the Divine city of refuge, they rush to the opposite extreme. But stand! stand, O sinner! trust not in thy wickedness; think not that mere obstinacy will shelter thee, or procure for thee a bed of ease, amidst those punishments which are directed by Infinite wisdom, and enkindled by the fire of Divine indignation! Turn thy face another way: Turn quickly "to the strong hold, thou prisoner of hope."
It is still more afflicting to think of the dismal surprise, at the hour of death, of men serious, decent, partially diligent in religion, "almost, but not altogether Christians." Time would fail me to enter into all the varieties of their delusions. I will say in a word, they may all be reduced to one or other of these classes: -- Idolatrous confidence in man, his counsel, authority, and merit, -- self-righteousness, or a presumptuous application of the merit of Jesus Christ. And, in proportion as false assurance intoxicates and elevates the poor sinner, so is the bitterness which surprises him when death, -- not he, -- proves the conqueror. See Luke 13:24-28.
2. This subject commends to our attention those precious discoveries of God, and exercises of soul, which lead to the real, unfallacious victory over death. These have been distinctly stated. Lay it to heart, O man, whosoever thou art. Death and thou must have a meeting ere long. And if thou desirest to part a conqueror, know that the foundation of thy strength must be laid in a supernatural knowledge of God, -- a true application of the sacrifice of Jesus Christ to thy conscience, -- a spiritual acquaintance with heaven, -- and weanedness of heart from this world.
3. From this subject, various duties open to view, which peculiarly bind those who are in any degree assured that they are in the way towards such victory.
With what grateful meltings of soul doth it become such of them to say, "I will bless the Lord who hath given me counsel." Ps. 16:7 compared with verses 8-11.
Let them also faithfully regard the voice of that heavenly counsel, which places spiritual diligence in close connection with the joyful issue of peace and triumph amidst the terrors of the last conflagration. II Pet. 3:14. "Beloved, be diligent, that ye may be found of him in peace, without spot and blameless."
Let them put on the strength of supernatural courage. Though thy heart be faint and timid, O Christian, Jesus Christ, will make thee like a lion. "God hath not given us the spirit of fear, but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind." Have it as thy object, that Christ may be magnified in thy death. And, for this end, learn thy death-song before-hand, as the poor Indians, on miserable carnal principles, do from their youth. And while thou singest it, cast a pitying look on sinners around and near thee, wandering, under the curse, towards the chambers of death. Do thy utmost to warn and save them, while they are yet in health, and in the day of trouble, before their feet stumble on the dark mountains.
To Jesus Christ, the faithful witness, and the first begotten of the dead, and the Prince of the kings of the earth, be glory and victory for evermore. Amen.