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scurity, in which they have no friends to compassionate them, they remove to a state of glory, honour, and immortality, to a mansion in the realms of light, to a seat near the throne of God. In the language of mortals, this ineffable honour and happiness is shadowed out to us, by the emblems of a white robe, a golden harp, a palm branch, (the token of victory,) and a crown, not of oak or laurel, of gold or diamonds, but a crown of life.' Such honour have all the saints. However afflicted or neglected, despised or oppressed, while upon earth, soon as their willing spirits take their flight from hence, they shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. Thus Lazarus lay for a time, diseased, necessitous, and slighted, at the rich man's gate. Yet he was not without attendants. A guard of angels waited around him, and when he died conveyed his spirit into Abraham's bosom.'* The Jews thought very highly of Abraham, the father of their nation, the father of the faithful. Our Lord therefore teaches us, by this representation, that the beggar Lazarus was not only happy after death, but highly exalted by him who seeth not as man seeth; for he was placed in Abraham's bosom,' a situation which, according to the custom of the Jews, was a mark of peculiar favour, intimacy, and distinction. Thus the beloved disciple was seated in the bosom of our Lord when he celebrated his last passover with his disciples.+
3. Their dead bodies shall be raised at the great day, not in their former state of weakness and corruption, but that which was 'sown in weakness shall be raised in power,' and the mortal shall put on immortality. He shall change our vile body, that it may be fashioned according to the likeness of his own glorious body.' So that his own resurrection is both the pledge and pattern of theirs. I have only further to observe upon this subject at present, that as Adam is the root and head of all mankind, from whence they all derive a sinful and mortal nature; so Jesus, the second Adam, is the root of a people who are united to him, planted and ingrafted in him by faith. To these the resurrection, considered as a blessing, is to be restrained. There will be a resurrection of the wicked likewise, but to condemnation, shame, and everlasting contempt.' But the connexion is close and indissoluble between Christ the first-fruits, and them that are Christ's at his coming.
May we be happily prepared for this great event, that when he shall appear we may have confidence in him, and not be ashamed before him.'|| Happy they who shall then be able to welcome him in the language of the prophet, 'Lo, this is our
* Luke, xvi. 22. John, xiii. 22-25. || 1 John, ii. 28.
+ John, v. 29.
Dan. xii. 2.
God, we have waited for him, and he will save us; this is the Lord, we have waited for him, we will be glad, and rejoice in his salvation.** But how awful the contrast of those (many of them once the great, mighty, and honourable of the earth) who shall behold him with horror, and in the anguish of their souls shall call (in vain)' to the rocks and mountains to fall on them and hide them from his presence, saying, The great day of his wrath is come, and who shall be able to stand?'†
THE GENERAL RESURRECTION.
1 CORINTHIANS, XV. 51, 52.
Behold, I show you a mystery. We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed. In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump, for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed. For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality.
An object in itself great, and which we know to be so, will appear small to us if we view it from a distance. The stars, for example, in our view, are but as little specks or points of light; and the tip of a finger, if held very near to the eye, is sufficient to hide from us the whole body of the sun. Distance of time has an effect upon us, in its kind, similar to distance of space. It diminishes in our mind the idea of what we are assured is, in its own nature, of great magnitude and importance. If any of us were informed that we should certainly die before this day closes, what a sudden and powerful change would take place in our thoughts? That we all must die, is a truth, of which we are no less certain, than that we are now alive. But, because it is possible that we may not die to-day, or to-morrow, or this year, or for several years to come, we are often little more affected by the thoughts of death, than if we expected to live here for ever. In like manner, if you receive the Scripture as a divine revelation, I need offer you no other proof that there is a day, a great day, approaching, which will put an end to the present state of things, and introduce a state unchangeable and eternal. Then the Lord will descend with a shout, with the voice of an archangel, and Rev. vi. 16, 17.
* Isa. xxv. 8.
with the trump of God. The earth, and all its works, will be burnt up.' The great Judge will appear, the tribunal be fixed, the books opened, and all the human race must give an account of themselves to God, and according to his righteous award, be happy or miserable in a degree beyond expression or conception, and that for ever.
If we were infallibly assured that this tremendous scene would open upon us to-morrow; or if, while I am speaking, we should be startled with the signs of our Lord's coming in the air, what confusion and alarm would overspread the congregation? Yet, if the Scripture be true, the hour is approaching, when we must all be spectators of this solemn event, and parties nearly interested in it. But, because it is at a distance, we can hear of it, speak of it, and profess to expect it, with a coolness almost equal to indifference. May the Lord give us that faith which is the evidence of things not seen, that while I aim to lead your meditations to the subject of my text, we may be duly impressed by it; and that we may carry from hence such a consideration of our latter end, as may incline our hearts to that which is our true wisdom!
Many curious inquiries and speculations might be started from this passage, but which, because I judge them to be more curious than useful, it is my intention to wave. I shall confine myself to what is plainly expressed, because I wish rather to profit than to amuse my hearers. The principal subject before us is the resurrection of the dead, in the most pleasing view of it; for my text speaks only of those who shall change the mortal and corruptible, for incorruption and immortality.
I. The introduction, Behold I show you a mystery.'
II. What we are taught to expect, ' We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed.'
III. The suddenness of the event, 'In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye.'
IV. The grand preceding signal, 'The trumpet shall sound.' 1. The apostle apprizes the Corinthians that he is about to 'show them a mystery.' As the word mystery,' has been treated with no small contempt, I shall embrace this occasion of offering you a short explanation of it, as it is used in the Scriptures. We are allowed to say, that there are mysteries in nature, and perhaps we may be allowed to speak of mysteries in Providence; but, though an apostle assures us that great is the mystery of godliness,* many persons will scarcely bear the application of the word to religion. And a late ingenious writer, who has many admirers in the present day, has ventured to affirm, in print, that
* 1 Tim. iii. 16.
where mystery begins, religion ends. If the frequency of the case did not, in some degree, abate our wonder, this might seem almost a mystery, that any persons who profess to believe the Scripture, should so openly and flatly contradict what the Scripture expressly and repeatedly declares or that while, as men of reason and philosophy, they are forced to acknowledge a mystery in every part of creation, and must confess it beyond their ability to explain the growth of a blade of grass; they should, in opposition to all the rules of analogy, conclude, that the Gospel, the most important concern of man, and which is commended to us as the most eminent display of the wisdom and power of God, is the only subject so level to our apprehensions, as to be obvious, at first sight, to the most careless and superficial observers. That great numbers of people are very far from being accurate and diligent in their religious enquiries, is too evident to be denied. How often do we meet with persons of sense who talk with propriety on philosophical, political, or commercial subjects, and yet, when they speak of religion, discover such gross ignorance, as would be shameful in a child of ten years old, and amounts to a full proof that they have not thought it worth their while to acquire even a slight knowledge of its principles. Can we even conceive the possibility of a divine revelation that should have nothing in it mysterious to persons of this character?
A mystery, according to the notation of the Greek word, signifies a secret. And all the peculiar truths of the Gospel may justly be styled mysteries or secrets, for two reasons.
1. Because the discovery of them is beyond the reach of fallen man, and they neither would nor could have been known without a revelation from God. This is eminently true of the resurrection. The light of nature, which we often hear so highly commended, may afford some faint glimmerings of a future state, but gives no intimation of a resurrection. The men of wisdom at Athens, the Stoic and Epicurian philosophers, who differed widely in most parts of their respective schemes, united in deriding this sentiment, and contemptuously styled the apostle Paul a babbler for preaching it.* But this secret is to us made known. And we are assured, not only that the Lord will receive to himself the departing spirits of his people, but that he will give commandment concerning their dust, and, in due time, raise their vile bodies to a conformity with his own glorious body.
2. Because, though they are revealed expressly in the Scripture, such is the grossness of our conceptions, and the strength of
* Acts, xvii. 18.
our prejudices, that the truths of revelation are still unintelligible to us, without a further revelation of their true sense to the mind, by the influence of his Holy Spirit. Otherwise, how can the secret of the Lord be restrained to those who fear him,* when the book which contains it is open to all, and the literal and grammatical meaning of the words is in the possession of many who fear him not?
Books in the arts and sciences, may be said to be full of mysteries to those who have not a suitable capacity and taste for them; or who do not apply themselves to study them with diligence, and patiently submit to learn gradually one thing after another. If you put a treatise on the mathematics, or a system of music, into the hands of a ploughman or labourer, you will not be surprised to find that he cannot understand a single page. Shall the works of a Sir Isaac Newton, or of a Handel, be thus inexplicable to one person, while another peruses them with admiration and delight? Shall these require a certain turn of mind, and a close attention; and can it be reasonably supposed, that the Bible is the only book that requires no peculiar disposition, or degree of application, to be understood, though it is designed to make us acquainted with the deep things of God? In one respect, indeed, there is an encouraging difference. Divine truths lie thus far equally open to all, that though none can learn them unless they are taught of God, yet all who are sensible of their own weakness may expect his teaching, if they humbly seek it by prayer. Many people are, perhaps, incapable of being mathematicians. They have not a genius for the science. But there is none teacheth like God. He can give not only light, but sight; not only lessons, but the capacity necessary for their reception. And, while his mysteries are hidden from the wise and prudent, who are too proud to wait upon him for instruction, he reveals them unto babes.
It may, perhaps, be thought that a belief of the doctrine of the resurrection does not require the same teaching of the Holy Spirit that is necessary to the right knowledge of some other doc trines of the Gospel. But such a belief as may affect, cheer, and animate the heart, must be given us from above, for we cannot reason ourselves into it. Nay, this divine teaching is necessary to secure the mind from the vain reasonings, perplexities, and imaginations, which will bewilder our thoughts upon the subject, unless we learn to yield, in simplicity of faith, to what the Scripture has plainly revealed, and can be content to know no further before the proper time.