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II. What we are here taught to expect is thus expressed- We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed.' We are not to suppose that the whole human race will die, and fail from the earth, before the resurrection. Some will be living at the time, and among them some of the Lord's people. Of the living, it cannot properly be said that they will be raised from the dead; but they will experience a change, which will put them exactly in the same state with the others. Their mortality shall be swallowed up in life. Thus we conceive it to have been with Enoch and Elijah. They did not die like other men; but their mortal natures were frail and sinful, like ours, and incapable of sustaining the glories of heaven without a preparation. Flesh and blood, in its present state, cannot inherit the kingdom of God, neither can corruption inherit incorruption; but the dead shall arise, and the living shall be changed. Here is a wide field for speculation, but I mean not to enter it. Curiosity would be glad to know how our bodies, when changed, shall still be the same. Let us first determine how that body, which was once an infant, is the very same when it becomes a full-grown man, or a man in extreme old age. Let us explain the transmutation of a caterpillar or silkworm, which, from a reptile, becomes a butterfly. What a wonderful change is this, both in appearance and in powers! Who would suppose it to be the same creature? Yet who can deny it? It is safest and most comfortable for us, to refer to the wisdom and power of God the accomplishment of his own word.
III. These great events will take place unexpectedly and suddenly In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye.' We have reason to believe, that a part at least of mankind will be employed as they are now, and as they were in the days of Noah and Lot,'* eating, drinking, buying, selling, building, and planting ; having nothing less in their thoughts than the calamity and destruction which shall overwhelm them without warning. For, while they are promising themselves peace, the day of the Lord shall come upon them, like a thief in the night, unlooked for, and, like the pangs of a labouring woman, unavoidable. 'In that day the lofty looks of man shall be humbled, and the haughtiness of man shall be bowed down, and the Lord alone shall be exalted.† So large a part of divine prophecy remains yet to be fulfilled, that I apprehend it is not probable that any of us shall be alive when this great and terrible day of the Lord shall be revealed. But are not some of us exposed to a similar dreadful surprise? If you die in your sins, the consequences will be no less deplorable to you, than if you saw the whole frame of nature perishing * Luke, xvii. 26-30. + Isa. ii. 11.
with you. Alas! what will you do, whither will you flee for help, or where will you leave your glory, if, while you are engrossed by the cares or pleasures of this world, death should arrest you, and summon you to judgment? The rich man in the Gospel is not charged with any crimes of peculiar enormity. It is not said that he ground the faces of the poor, or that he, by fraud or oppression, kept back the hire of the labourers who had reaped his harvest: he only rejoiced in his wealth, and in having much goods laid up for many years, and that therefore be might securely eat, drink, and be merry. But God said unto him, 'Thou fool, this night shall thy soul be required of thee.* Awful disappointment! Thus will it be, sooner or later, with all whose hearts and portions are in this world, but are not rich towards God! Consider this, you that are like-minded with him. Tremble at the thought of being found in the number of those who have all their consolation here, and who, when they die, must leave their all behind them. Now is the acceptable time, the day of salvation. Now, if you will seek the Lord, he will be found of you. Now, if you pray for grace and faith, he will auswer you. But when once the Master of the house shall arise, and' with his own sovereign authoritative hand shall shut the door' of his mercy, it will then be in vain, and too late to say, 'Lord, Lord, open unto us.'†
IV. The great scene will be introduced by a signal: At the last trump for the trumpet shall sound.' Thus the approach of a king or a judge is usually announced; and the Scripture frequently borrows images from our little affairs and customs, and, in condescension to our weakness, illustrates things in themselves too great for our conceptions, by comparing them with those which are more familiar to us.
It will indeed be comparing great things with small, if I attempt to illustrate this sublime idea by local customs which obtain in this kingdom. At a time of assize, when the judges, to whom the administration and guardianship of our laws are intrusted, are making their entrance, expectation is awake, and a kind of reverence and awe is felt, even by those who are not immediately concerned in their inquest. The dignity of their office, the purpose for which they come, the concourse of people, the order of the procession, and the sound of the trumpet, all concur in raising an emotion in the hearts of the spectators. Happy are they then upon whom the inflexible law has no demand! But who can describe the terror with which the sound of the trumpet is heard by the unhappy criminal; and the throbbings of his + Luke, xiii. 25.
* Luke, xii. 20.
heart, if he be already convicted in his own conscience, and knows or fears that there is sufficient evidence at hand to fix the fact upon him, and to prove his guilt? For soon the judge will take his seat, the books will be opened, the cause tried, and the criminal sentenced. Many circumstances of this kind are alluded to in the Scripture, to assist us in forming some conception of what will take place when all the race of Adam, small and great, shall stand before the Sovereign Judge, the one Lawgiver, who is able to save and to destroy. But the concourse, the solemnity, the scrutiny, the event in the most weighty causes that can come before a human judicature, are mere shadows, and trivial as the sports of children, if compared with the business of this tremen- dous tribunal. The Lord himself will descend, with the voice of the archangel, and the trump of God.' What a trumpet will that be, whose sound shall dissolve the frame of nature, and awaken the dead? When the Lord is seated upon his great white throne," the heavens and the earth shall flee from his presence; but the whole race of mankind shall be assembled before him, each one to give an account of himself, to him from whose penetrating knowledge no secret can be hidden, and from whose unerring, inflexible sentence, there can be no appeal. Where then shall the wicked and the ungodly appear?'
But it will be a joyful day to believers. They shall be separated as the wheat from the tares, and arranged at his right hand. When the Lord shall come, attended by his holy angels, his redeemed people will re-assume their bodies, refined and freed from all that was corruptible; and those of them who shall be then living, will be changed, and caught up to meet him in the air. He will then own them, approve and crown them before assembled worlds. Every charge that can be brought against them will be overruled, and their plea, that they trusted in him for salvation, be admitted and ratified. They will be accepted and justified. They will shine like the sun in his train, and attend, as assessors with him, when he shall pass final judgment upon his and their enemies. Then he will be admired in and by them that believe. Their tears will be for ever wiped away, when he shall say to them, 'Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.'+
Beloved, if these things are so, what manner of persons ought we to be in all holy conversation and godliness? Should we not give all diligence to make our calling and election sure,' that we may be found of him in peace? He who will then be seated upon the throne of judgment, is to us made known
*Rev. xx. 11.
+ Matth. xxv. 34.
12 Pet. iii. 11.
as seated upon a throne of grace. It is time, it is high time, and blessed be God, it is not yet too late, to seek his mercy. Still the Gospel invites us to hear his voice, and to humble ourselves before him. Once more you are invited, some of you, perhaps, for the last time; how know you but sickness or death may be at the very door? Consider, Are you prepared? Examine the foundation of your hope-and do it quickly, impartially, and earnestly, lest you should be cut off in an hour when you are not aware, and perish with a lie in your right hand.
DEATH SWALLOWED UP IN VICTORY.
1 CORINTHIANS, XV. 54.
Then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written, Death is swallowed up in victory!
DEATH, simply considered, is no more than a privative idea, signifying a cessation of life; or, that what was once living, lives no longer. But it has been the general, perhaps the universal custom of mankind, to personify it. Imagination gives death a formidable appearance, arms it with a dart, sting, or scythe, and represents it as an active, inexorable, and invincible reality. In this view death is a great devourer; with his iron tongue he calls for thousands at a meal. He has already swallowed up all the preceding generations of men; all who are now living are marked as his inevitable prey; he is still unsatisfied, and will go on devouring till the Lord shall come. Then this destroyer shall be destroyed; he shall swallow no more, but be swallowed up himself in victory. Thus the Scripture accommodates itself to the language and apprehensions of mortals. Further, the metaphorical usage of the word swallow' still enlarges and aggrandizes the idea. Thus the earth is said to have opened her mouth and swallowed up Korab, and his accomplices.* And thus a pebble, a millstone, or a mountain, if cast into the ocean, would be swallowed up, irrecoverably lost and gone, as though they had never been. Such shall be the triumphant victory of MESSIAH in the great day of the consummation of all Rev. xviii. 21.
Numb. xvi. S2.
things. Death, in its cause and its effects, shall be utterly destroyed. Man was created upright, and lived in a paradise, till, by sin, he brought death into the world. From that time death has reigned by sin, and evils abound. But MESSIAH came to make an end of sin, to destroy death, and him that hath the power of it; to repair every disorder, and to remove every misery; and he will so fully, so gloriously accomplish his great andertaking in the final issue, that every thing contrary to holiness and happiness shall be swallowed up and buried beyond the possibility of a return, as a stone that is sunk in the depths of the sea. Thus where sin has abounded, grace will much more abound.'
This victory, however, being the Redeemer's work, and the fruit of his mediation, the Scripture teaches us to restrain the benefits of it to the subjects of his church and kingdom. In Adam all die.' A depraved nature, guilt, sorrow, and death, extend to all his posterity. The All,' who in Christ shall be made alive,' and those who, by faith in him, are delivered from the sting of death, which is sin, and are made partakers of a new nature. There is a second death,' which, though it shall not hurt the believers in Jesus,* will finally swallow up the impenitent and ungodly. We live in an age when there is, if I may so speak, a resurrection of many old and exploded errors, which, though they have been often refuted and forgotten, are admired and embraced by some persons as new and wonderful discoveries. Of this stamp is the conceit of a universal restitution to a state of happiness of all intelligent creatures, whether angels or men, who have rebelled against the will and government of God. This sentiment contradicts the current doctrine of Scripture, which asserts the everlasting misery of the finally impenitent, in as strong terms, in the very same terms, as the eternal happiness of the righteous, and sometimes in the very same verse.'t Nor can it possibly be true, if our Lord spake the truth concerning Judas, when he said, 'It had been good for that man if he had never been born.' If 1 could consider this notion as harmless, though useless, and no worse than many mistakes which men of upright minds have made, through inattention and weakness of judgment, I should not have mentioned it. But I judge it to be little less pernicious and poisonous than false. It directly tends to abate that sense of the evil of sin, of the inflexible justice of God, and the truth of his threatenings, which is but too weak in the best of men. Let us abide by the plain declarations of his word, which assures us, that 'there remaineth no other sacrifice for sin,' no future relief Heb. x. 26, 27.
* Rev. ii. 11. Matth. xxv. 46. Matth. xxvi. 24.