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it will bite like a serpent. For all these things God will assuredly bring you into judgment, unless in this day of grace you humble yourselves to implore that mercy which is still proposed to you, if you will seek it sincerely and with your whole heart; and which I once more entreat, charge and adjure you to seek, by the great name of MESSIAH, the Saviour; by his agonies and bloody sweat, by his cross and passion, by his precious death, and by the consideration of his future glorious appearance, to subdue all things to himself.
TRIUMPH OVER DEATH AND THE GRAVE.
1 CORINTHIANS, xv. 55, 56, 57.
O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory? The sting of death is sin; and the strength of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, which giveth us the victory, through our Lord Jesus Christ.
THE Christian soldier may, with the greatest propriety, be said 'to war a good warfare.'* He is engaged in a good cause; he fights under the eye of the Captain of his salvation. Though he be weak in himself, and though his enemies are many and mighty, he may do that which in other soldiers would be presumption, and has often been the cause of a defeat; he may triumph while he is in the heat of battle, and assure himself of victory before the conflict is actually decided; for the Lord, his great Commander, fights for him, goes before him, and treads his enemies under his feet. Such a persuasion, when solidly grounded upon the promises and engagement of a faithful, unchangeable God, is sufficient, it should seem, to make a coward bold. True Christians are not cowards; yet, when they compare themselves with their adversaries, they see much reason for fear and suspicion on their own parts; but when they look to their Saviour, they are enlightened, strengthened, and comforted. They consider who he is, what he has done; that the battle is not so much theirs as his; that he is their strength and their shield, and that his honour is concerned in the event of the war. Thus out of weakness they are made strong; and however pressed and opposed, they can
* 1 Tim. i. 18.
say, Nay, in all these things we are more than conquerors, through him that loved us !'* The whole power of the opposition against them is summed up in the words' sin,' and' death :' but these enemies are already weakened and disarmed. It is sin that furnished death with his sting: a sting sharpened and strengthened by the law. But Jesus, by his obedience unto death, has made an end of sin, and has so fulfilled and satisfied the law on their behalf, that death is deprived of its sting, and can no longer hurt them. They may therefore meet it with confidence, and say, Blessed be God, who giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.'
We have here two unspeakably different views to take of the same subject: Death armed with its formidable sting; and Death rendered harmless, and its aspect softened by the removal of the sting.
I. The first is a very awful subject. I entreat your attention. I am now about to speak upon a point of speculation. It is a personal, a home concern to us all. For we must all die. But should any of you feel, not only the stroke, but the string of death when you leave this world, it were better for you that you had never been born.
The love of life, and consequently a reluctance to that dissolution of the intimate union between soul and body which we call death, seems natural to man. But if there was no hereafter, no state of judgment and retribution to be expected; if there was no consciousness of guilt, no foreboding of consequences upon the mind; if we only considered death as inevitable, and had no apprehensions beyond it; death would be divested of its principal terrors. We see that when conscience is stupified, or when the mind is poisoned with infidelity, many people, notwithstanding the natural love of life, are so disgusted with its disappointments, that a fit of impatience, or the dread of contempt, often prevail on them to rush upon death by an act of their own will; or to hazard it in a duel, rather than be suspected of wanting what they account spirit. But death has a sting, though they perceive it not till they feel it, till they are stung by it past recovery.
But usually, and where the heart is not quite hardened, men are unwilling and afraid to die. They have some apprehension of the sting. Death can sting at a distanee. How often and how greatly does the fear of death poison and embitter all the comforts of life, even in the time of health! Perhaps some of you well know this to be true. But in health people can in some measure run away from themselves, if I may so speak. They
*Rom. viii. 87.
fly to business, company, and amusements, to hide themselves from their own reflections. Their fears are transient, occasional, and partial they would tremble, indeed, if they knew all; or if they were steadfastly and deliberately to contemplate what they do know. How sin is the sting of death, is best discovered when conscience is alarmed in a time of sickness; when the things of the world can no longer amuse, and death is approaching with hasty strides. These scenes are mostly kept secret; and very often they are not understood by those who are spectators of them. Perhaps the unhappy, terrified sinner, is considered as delirious, because the sting of death in his conscience extorts from him such confessions and complaints as he never made before. What was once slighted as a fable, is now seen and felt as a reality. Such cases, I am afraid, are more frequent than we are in general aware of. But they are suppressed, ascribed to the violence of the fever, and forgotten as soon as possible. Yet they do sometimes transpire. I believe there is no reason to doubt the truth of what we have heard of one who, in the horrors of despair, vainly offered his physicians many thousands pounds to prolong his life but a single day. The relation is in print of another, who, pointing to the fire in his chamber, said, if he were only to lie twenty thousand years in such a fire, he should esteem it a mercy compared with what he felt, and with what he saw awaiting him. It is not always thus. Many persons die insensible as they lived, and can perhaps trifle and jest in their last moments. But the Scripture assures us, that when they who die in their sins breathe their last in this world they open their eyes in the other world in torments. For the sting of death, the desert of sin, unless timely removed by faith in Jesus, will fill the soul with anguish for ever. It derives a strength, and efficacy, and a continuance from the law.
This law, which gives strength to sin, and sharpens the sting of death, is the law of our creation, as connected with the penalty which God has annexed to the breach of it. Our relation to God, as we are his creatures, requires us, according to the very nature of things, supremely to love, serve, trust, and obey him who made us, and in whom we live, and move, and have our being.'* And our revolting from him, and living to ourselves in opposition to his will, is such an affront to his wisdom, power, " authority, and goodness, as must necessarily involve misery in the very idea of it, if his perfections, the capacity of our souls, and our absolute dependence upon him, be attended to. And they must be attended to, sooner or later. Though he keep
long silence, and the sinner presumes upon his patience, thinks him such a one as himself,' he will at length reprove him ;'* and set his sins in order before him, in contrast with the demands of his law. The nature, authority, extent, and sanction of his law, all combine to give efficacy to the sting of death.
1. The law, to which our tempers and conduct ought to be conformed, is not an arbitrary appointment; but necessarily resuits from our state as creatures, and the capacities and powers we have received from our Creator. It is therefore holy, wise, and good; indispensable, and unchangeable. To love God with all our heart and strength, to depend upon him, to conform to every intimation of his will, was the duty of man from the first moment of his existence; was the law of his nature, written originally in his heart. The publication of it, as it stands in the Bible, by precepts and prohibitions, would not have been necessary, had he continued in that state of rectitude in which he was created. It became necessary, after his fall, to restrain him from evil, and to convince him of sin; but this could not properly increase his primitive obligation to obedience.
2. We are bound to the observance of this law by the highest authority. It is the law of God, our Maker, Preserver, and Benefactor, who has every conceivable right to govern us. His eye is always upon us, and we are surrounded by his power; so that we can neither avoid his notice, nor escape his hand. Men are usually tenacious of their authority; they seldom allow their dependants to dispute or disobey their commands with impunity. It is expected that a son should honour his father, and a servant his master. And when men have power to execute the dictates of their pride, they frequently punish disobedience with death. But how will these haughty worms, who trample upon their fellow-worms, and think they have a right to the most implicit obedience from their inferiors; how will they tremble when they shall appear before God, who is no respecter of persons, to answer for their contempt of the authority of the sovereign Lawgiver, who, alone, is able to save or to destroy? That we ought to obey God rather than man,'‡ will, perhaps, be allowed as a speculative truth; but whoever will uniformly make it the rule of his practice, must expect, upon many occasions, to be deemed a fool or a madman by the world around him. But sovereignty, majesty, authority, and power, belong to God. He is the Governor of the universe, and his throne is established in righteousness. He is long-suffering, and waits to be gracious; but he will not forego his right. Sin is the sting of death indeed, when the authority Acts, v. 29.
*Psalm 1. 21.
† Mal. i. 6.
of him against whom it was committed is perceived by the con
3. The extent of the law adds to the strength by which sin acts as the sting of death. Human laws can only take cognizance of words and actions. But the law of God reaches to the thoughts and inward recesses of the heart. It condemns what is most specious and most approved amongst men, if not proceeding from a right intention, and directed to the right end, which can be no other than the will and glory of him who made us. It condemns the sinner, not only for the evil which he has actually committed, but for every sinful purpose formed in his heart, and which was only rendered abortive for want of opportunity.* It likewise takes exact notice of every aggravation of sin, arising from circumstances, from the abuse of superior light and advantages, and from the long train of consequences, increasing in proportion to the influence which the rank, wealth, or extensive connexions of the offender give to his example.
4. The sanction of the law, which thus strengthens the malignity of sin, is the very point, if I may so express myself, of the sting' of death. This is the displeasure of the Almighty. His holy, inflexible love of order will exclude those who violate it, from his favour. They must be miserable, unless they are reconciled and renewed by the grace of the Gospel. They must be separated from him, and they cannot be happy without him. They are not so even in this world, which they love. How miserable then must they be, when torn from all their attachments, pleasures, and possessions; having no longer any thing to divert them from a fixed attention to their true state, they shall be made keenly sensible of what is implied in that sentence, Depart from me, ye accursed, into devouring fire.' We cannot now conceive what it will be to lose the only good which can satisfy a soul: to be shut out from God, whose favour is life, and in whose presence there is fulness of joy; and to be shut up where neither peace nor hope can enter. The images of fire unquenchable, and a never-dying worm, are but faint emblems of that despair and remorse which will sting the sinful soul in a future state. This is the second death: this is eternal death; for the wicked, and all they who forget God, when thurst into hell, will forever desire. to die, and death will for ever flee from them.†
II. Let us turn our thoughts to a more pleasing the ne, and attempt to take a view of death as softened into a privilege by him who has brought life and immortality to light. Jesus died. His death was penal; he died for sin, though not for his own,