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Eccles. 8. 8. The body sinks in the conflict; and “Death feeds on its prostrate prey in the grave.
2. I shall consider more particularly the causes that render death so fearful to men: 1. In the apprehension of nature. 2. In the apprehension of conscience.
1. In the apprehension of nature, death hath this name engraven in its forehead, ultimum terribilium, the supreme of terrible things, upon several accounts, ',
(1.) Because usually sickness and pains languishing and tormenting, make the first changes in the body, and the natural death is violent. This Hezekiah complained of with a mournful accent, “ He will cut me off with pining sickness: from day even to night thou wilt make an end of me. I reckoned till morning that as a lion, so will he break all my bones.” Isa. 38. A troop of diseases are the forerunners of this “ King of terrors.” There is a preceding encounter, and sometimes very fierce, that nature feels the cruel vietory before it yields to this enemy. As a ship that is tossed by a mighty tempest, and by the concussion of the winds and waves loses its rudder and masts, takes in water in every part, and gradually sinks into the ocean: so in the shipwreck of nature, the body is so shaken and weakened by the violence of a disease, that the senses, the animal and vital operations decline, and at last are extinguished in death.
(2.) Death considered in the strictest propriety, as destructive of the natural being, that is our first and most valuable good in the order of nature, is the just object of fear, The union between soul and body is very intimate and dear, and like David and Jonathan they part unwillingly. Nature has a share in the best men, and works as nature. St. Paul declares, “ we would not be unclothed," not finally put off the body, but have it glorified in conjunction with the soul. Our blessed Saviour, without the least impeachment of the rectitude and perfection of his nature, expressed an averseness from death, and with submission to the divine will desired a freedom from it. His affections were holy and human, and moved according to the quality of their objects. (3.) The natural consequents of death render it fearful.
Life is the foundation of all natural enjoyments; and the loss of it induces the loss of all for ever,
It is from hence that such evils as
are consistent with life, and deprive us only of some particular content and pleasure, are willingly chosen rather than death. The forfeiture of estate, the degrading from honour, the confinement to a perpetual prison, the banishing from our native country, are less penalties than death.
There is a natural love of society in man, and death removes from all. The grave is a frightful solitude. There is no conversation in the territories of darkness. This also Hezekiah in his apprehensions of death speaks of with tears: “I shall see man no more in the land of the living.” Isa. 38. 11. As in the night the world is an universal grave, * all things are in a dead silence; palaces, courts of justice, temples, theatres, schools, and all places of public conversation are shut up; the noise and rumour that keeps men in continual observation and action cea
Thus when the sun of this present life is set, all the affairs and business, all the vain joys of company, feasting, dancing, music, gaming, cease! Every one among the dead is confined to his sealed obscure cell, and is alone an entertainment for the worms.
The psalmist saith of princes, “ Their breath goeth forth, they return to the earth, in that very day their thoughts,” their glorious compassing thoughts, “perish." This the historian observes was verified in Julius Cesar: after his assuming the imperial dignity, he thought to reduce the numerous laws of the Romans into a few volumes, comprising the substance and reason of all; to enrich and adorn the city of Rome, as was becoming the regent of the world; to epitomize the works of the most learned Grecians and Romans for the public benefit. † And whilst he was designing and pursuing these, and other vast and noble things, death surprised him, and broke off all his enterprises.
At the terrible gate that opens into eternity, men are stripped of all their honours and treasures, “and as naked as they come into the world, go out of it. Be not thou afraid when one is made rich, when the glory of his house is increased. For when
* Dies moritur in noctem, & tenebris usquequaq; sepelitur; funestatur mundi honor, omnis substantia de nigratur, sordent, silent, stupent cuncta, ubiq; justitium est. Tertul. de Resurrect. Car. + Talia agentem atq; meditantem, mors prævenit. Sueton,
he dieth, he shall carry nothing away; his glory shall not descend after him.” Psal. 49. 16, 17. Death equally vilifies, makes loathsome and ghastly the bodies of men, and reduces them to sordid dust. In the grave the * dust is as precious and powerful of one as of another. Civil distinctions are limited to the present time. The prodigious statue in Nebuchadnezzar's vision, Dan. 2. 32, 33, 34, 35. while it was upright, the parts were really and visibly distinct : “ The head was of fine gold, the breast and arms of silver, the belly and thighs of brass, the legs of iron, the feet part of iron and part of clay: but when the stone cut out without hands, smote the image upon the feet, then were the iron, the clay, the brass, the silver, and the gold, broken to pieces together, and became like the chaff the wind carries away.” Who can distinguish between royal dust taken out of magnificent tombs, and plebean dust from common graves ? Who can know who were rich and who were poor, who had power and command, who were vassals, who were remarkable by fame, who by infamy? “ They shall not say this is Jezebel,” 2 Kings 9. 37. not know this was the daughter and wife of a king. The king of Babylon, styled Lucifer the bright star of the morning, that possessed the first empire in the world, was degraded by death, humbled to the grave, and exchanged all his glorious state for worms and putrefaction.
66 The worm is spread under thee, and the worms cover thee.” Isa. 14. 11. In short, death separates men from all their admired charming vanities. Now considering man merely in the order of nature, what reflection is more fearful and tormenting, than the necessity, that cannot be overruled, of parting for ever with all the delights of life? Those who have ascended to the throne, that are arrived at the height of temporal happiness, what a melancholy prospect is before them of death and the dark grave ? When all things conspire to make men happy here, the sensitive faculties and their fruitions are ebbing and declining, till they
* As our divine poet expresses it.
The brags of life are but a nine days' wonder;
And after death the fumes that spring
sink into death, the whirlpool that will shortly swallow them up
This renders the thoughts of mortality so frightful, and checks the freest enjoyments of carnal pleasures.
2. Death is fearful in the apprehension of conscience, as it is the most sensible mark of God's wrath, that is heavier than death, and a summons to give an account of all things done in this life, to the Righteous Judge of the world. “ It is appointed to all men once to die, and afterward the judgment.” Heb. 9. 27. The penal fear is more wounding to the spirit than the natural. When the awakened sinner presently expects the citation to appear before the tribunal above, where no excuses, no supplications, no privileges avail, where the cause of eternal life or death must be decided, and the awards of justice be immediately executed; O the convulsions and agonies of conscience in that hour! when the diseased body cannot live, and the disconsolate soul dare not die, what anxieties surround it? This redoubles the terrors of death, that the first transmits to the second that was figured by it. O the dismal aspect of Death riding on a pale horse, with hell the black attendant following. This fear surprised the sinners in Sion. “Who among us can dwell with devouring fire? who among us can remain with everlasting burnings?” This made a heathen, the governor of a province, to tremble before a poor prisoner : “While Paul discoursed of righteousness, temperance, and judgment to come, Felix trembled.” Acts 24. 25. “ It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God, who lives for ever, and can punish for ever.” Heb. 10. 31. None is so powerful as God, nothing so fearful as the guilty conscience.
3. The degrees of this fear are expressed by bondage. This passion, when regular in its object and degree, is excellently useful: it is a wise counsellor and faithful guardian, that plucks off the mask from our enemies, and keeps reason vigilant and active to prevent a threatening evil, or to sustain it in the best manner. It is observable in the brute creatures, that the weak and fearful are most subtile and ingenious to secure themselves, and supply the want of strength with artifice. But when fear is inordinate, it is a tyrannous master, that vexes the weary soul, and hinders its free and noble operations. Cesar chose rather to be exposed to sudden death, than to be continually harassed with fear how to avoid it. * The Greek word implies the binding of the spirit, that causes an inward slavery. And in the apostle's writing “the spirit of fear, and the spirit of bondage,” Rom. 8. 15. + 2 Tim. 1. 7. I are equivalent. Ishbosheth, when Abner provoked by the charge about Saul's concubine, imperiously threatened to translate the kingdom to David, was struck “with such a fear, that he could not. answer Abner a word.” 2 Sam. 3. 10, 11, The sudden passion stifled his reply, and reduced him to a defenceless silence. Now the fear of death, as it is remiss or vehement, such are the degrees of bondage from it.
(1.) It imbitters the enjoyments of the present life, and makes the most prosperous in the world, “ even in the fulness of their sufficiency, to be in straits.” Though the senses are pleased with the quick sweetness of change from one object to another, yet the soul cannot have a delightful undisturbed fruition, foreseeing that the stream of pleasure will issue into the dead sea. “ Truly light is sweet, and it is a pleasant thing to behold the sun." Eccles. 11. 7. But how short is this life with all its pleasures, in comparison of “the days of darkness” that follow. Now though it is our best wisdom and truest liberty to rejoice “ in this world as if we rejoiced not,” and frequently to meditate on the cooling doctrines of " death and judgment,” to repress the transports of the voluptuous appetite; yet since the comforts of this life are liberally indulged to us by the love of God, to be the motives of our grateful and affectionate obedience, to sweeten our passage to heaven, we may with tranquillity of spirit make a pure and cheerful use of them in his service: and it is an oppressing bondage when the disquieting anxious fears of death hinder our temperate enjoyment of his favours and blessings.
(2.) The fear of death oppresses the souls of men under a miserable bondage to the devil; for his dominion is maintained by the allurements and terrors of the world. Though men do not explicitly acknowledge his sovereignty, yet by voluntary yielding to his pleasing temptations, they are really his slaves. And the apprehension of temporal evils, especially of death, dressed up in
* Præstat semel mori quam semper timere.
Δεος from δεύ. .
+ Πνεύμα δελείας.
1 Πνευ μα δειλείας.