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and therefore suffered the penalty due to sin, the curse of the broken law. The torment and shame of his crucifixion were preceded and accompanied by unknown agonies and conflicts, which caused him to sweat blood, and to utter strong cries and groans. Death stung him to the heart; but, (as it is said of the enraged bee) he lost his sting. The law having been honoured, and sin expiated, by the obedience and sufferings of the Son of God for us, and in our nature, death has no longer power to sting those who believe in him. They do not properly die,' they fall asleep in Jesus. To them this last enemy acts a friendly part. He is sent to put an end to all their sorrows, and to introduce them into a state of endless life and joy.
1. Dying believers can sing this song before their departure out of the world. We expect it when we are called to attend them in their last hours; and if their illness leaves them in possession of their faculties and speech, we are seldom disappointed. Yet I believe a full knowledge of this subject cannot be collected from what we observe of others, or hear from them, when they are near death. We must be in similar circumstances ourselves, before we can see as they see, or possess the ideas which they endeavour to describe, and which seem too great for the language of mortals to convey.
We know, by the evidence of undeniable testimony, that many faithful servants of God, when called to suffer for his sake, have not only been supported, but comforted, and enabled to rejoice, under the severest tortures, and even in the midst of the flames. We suppose, I think with reason, that such communications of light and power as raise a person, in such situations, above the ordinary feelings of humanity, must, either in kind or degree, be superior to what is usually enjoyed by Christians in the smoother walks of prosperity and outward peace. God, who is all-sufficient, and always near, has promised to give his people strength according to their day, and in the time of trouble they are not disappointed. A measure of the like extraordinary discoveries and supports is often vouchsafed to dying believers, and thus the gloom, which might otherwise hang over their dying hours, is dispelled; and while they contemplate the approach of death, a new world opens upon them. Even while they are yet upon earth, they stand upon the threshold of heaven. It seems, in many cases, as if the weakness of the bodily frame gave occasion to the awakening of some faculty, till then dormant in the soul, by which invisibles are not only believed, but seen, and uņutterables are heard and understood:
* Acts, vii. 60. 1 Thess iv. 15.
The soul's dark cottage, batter'd and decay'd,
Instances are frequent of those who are thus blessed when they die in the Lord; and it does not appear that old age, or great knowledge, or long experience, give any considerable advantage in a dying hour; for when the heart is truly humbled for sin, and the hope solidly fixed upon the Saviour, persons of weak capacities and small attainments, yea, novices and children, are enabled to meet death with equal fortitude and triumph. And often the present comforts they feel, and their lively expectations of approaching glory, inspire them with dignity of sentiment and expression far beyond what could be expected from them; and perhaps their deportment, upon the whole, is no less animating and encouraging, than that of the most established and best informed believers. Thus, out of the mouths of babes and sucklings' the Lord' ordains strength, and perfects his praise.'* In a few hours, under the influence of his immediate teaching, they often learn more of the certainty and importance of divine things, than can be derived from the ordinary methods of instruction in the course of many years. In the midst of agonies and outward distress, we hear them with admiration declare that they are truly happy, and that they never knew pleasure in their happiest days of health equal to what they enjoy when flesh and heart are fainting. For death has lost its sting as to them; and while they are able to speak, they continue ascribing praise to him who has given them the victory, through our Lord Jesus Christ.' Every word in this doxology is emphatical.
First Thanks be to God.' This blessedness is all his work. The means are of his gracious appointment. The application is by his gracious power. He gave his Son for them; he sent his Gospel to them. It was the agency of his Spirit that made them a willing people. The word of promise, which is the ground of their hope, was of his gratuitous providing; and it was he who constrained and enabled them to trust in it.†
Secondly, Who giveth us the victory.' This is victory indeed; for it is over the last enemy; and after the last enemy is vanquished there can be no more conflicts. In this sense, belieyers are more than conquerors. In other wars they who have conquered once and again, may have been finally defeated, or they may have died, (like our long-lamented general Wolfe,) upon the field of battle, and have left the fruits of their victory to be enjoyed by others. But the Christian soldier, though he Psalm cxix. 49.
*Psalm viii. 2.
may occasionally be a looser in a skirmish, is sure to conquer in the last great, deciding battle; and when, to an eye of sense, he seems to fall, he is instantly translated to receive the plaudit of his commander, and the crown of life which he has prepared for them that love him.
Thirdly, This victory is through our Lord Jesus Christ." They gained it not by their own sword, neither was it their own arm that saved them.'* He died to deliver them, who would otherwise, through fear of death, have been always subject to boudage. And it is he who teaches their hands to war and their fingers to fight, and covers their heads in the day of battle. Therefore they gladly say, 'not unto us, O Lord, not unto us, but unto thy name be the glory and the praise.' And this consideration enhances their pleasure; for, because they love him above all, they rejoice not only in the victory they obtain, but in the thought that they are indebted to him for it. For were it possible there could be several methods of salvation, and they were left to their own choice, they would most gladly and deliberately choose that method which should bring them under the greatest obligations to him.
2. This triumphant song will be sung to the highest advantage, when the whole body of the redeemed shall be collected together to sing it with one heart and voice at the great resurrection-day. Lot was undoubtedly thankful, when he was snatched from the impending destruction of Sodom. Yet his lingering‡ showed, that he had but an imperfect sense of the greatness of the mercy afforded him. His feelings were probably stronger afterwards, when he stood in safety upon the mountain, and actually saw the smoke rising, like the smoke of a furnace, from the place where he had lately dwelt. At present we have very faint ideas of the misery from which we are delivered, of the happiness reserved in heaven for us, or of the sufferings of the Redeemer; but if we attain to the heavenly Zion, and see from thence the smoke of that bottomless pit, which might justly have been our everlasting abode, we shall then more fully understand what we are delivered from, the means of our deliverance, and the riches of the inheritance of the saints in light.' And then we shall sing in more exalted strains than we can at present even conceive of, 'Thanks be to God who hath given us the victory, through our Lord Jesus Christ.'
*Psalm xliv. 8.
† Psalm cxv. 1.
Gen. xix. 16.
DIVINE SUPPORT AND PROTECTION.
ROMANS, viii. 31.
[What shall we then say to these things?] If God be for us, who can be against us?
THE passions of joy or grief, of admiration or gratitude, are moderate, when we are able to find words which fully describe their emotions. When they rise very high, language is too faint to express them; and the person is either lost in silence, or feels something which, after his most laboured efforts, is too big for utterance. We may often observe the apostle Paul under this difficulty, when attempting to excite in others such sensations as filled his own heart, while contemplating the glories and blessings of the Gospel. Little verbal critics, who are not animated by his fervour, are incapable of entering into the spirit of his writings. They coldly examine them by the strictness of grammatical rules, and think themselves warranted to charge him with solecisms and improprieties of speech. For it must be allowed, that he sometimes departs from the usual forms of expression, invents new words, or at least compounds words for his own use, and heaps one hyperbole upon another. But there is a beautiful energy in his manner, far superior to the frigid exactness of grammarians, though the taste of a mere grammarian is unable to admire or relish it. When he is stating the advantage of being with Christ, as beyond any thing that can be enjoyed in the present life, he is not content with saying, as his expression is rendered in our version it is far better."* In the Greek another word of comparision is added, which, if our language would bear the literal translation, would be, Far more better, or Much more better. And when he would describe the low opinion he had of himself, great as his attainments were in our view, he thinks it not sufficient to style himself The least of all saints,' but less than the least. 't Such phrases do not imply that he was ignorant of the rules of good writing, but they strongly intimate the fulness of his heart. In the course of the chapter before us, having taken a rapid survey of the work of grace, carried on by successive steps + Eph. in 8.
* Phil. i. 23.
in the hearts of believers, till at length consummated in glory; in this verse, instead of studying for words answerable to his views, he seems to come to a full stop, as sensible that the strongest expressions he could use would be too faint. He makes an abrupt transition from describing to admiring. He has said much, but not enough; and therefore sums up all with 'What shall we say to these things? Surely they who can read, with the utmost coolness and indifference, what he could not write without rapture and astonishment, do not take his words in his sense. If the apostle's phraseology is now become obsolete, and sounds uncouth in the ears of too many who would be thought Christians, is there not too much reason to fear that they are Christian only in name ?
Though this short, lively question is omitted in the musical composition, I am not willing to leave it out. It stands well, as the sequel to what we have lately considered. The sting of death is taken away. Death itself is swallowed up in victory. Sinners, who were once burdened with guilt, and exposed to condemnation, obtain a right to sing, 'Thanks be to God, who giveth us the victory, through our Lord Jesus Christ.' What shall we say to these things?"
It stands well, likewise, as introducing the following question, 'If God be for us;' if his promises, his power, his wisdom, and his love, be all engaged on our behalf, who can be against us?' What shall we,' or can we or need we,' say,' more than this? What cause can we have for fear, or our enemies for triumph,
I. What is implied in the supposition.
I. The form of the question is hypothetical. If the assumption be right, that God is for us, the conclusion that none can be effectually against us, is infallibly sure. Many serious persons will allow, that if God be indeed for them, all must, and will, be well in the end. But they hesitate at the if, and are ready to ask, How shall I know that God is for me? I would offer you a few considerations towards the determining of this point, in the first place.
Sin has made an awful breach and separation between God and mankind. They are alienated in their minds from him, and he is justly displeased with them. The intercourse and communion with God, which constitute the honour and happiness of the human nature, were no longer either afforded or desired when man rebelled against his Maker, except to the few who understood and embraced his gracious purpose of reconciliation; the first intimation of which was revealed in the promise of the 'seed of the woman who