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I. The scripture gives an account of death's entrance into the world, in a threefold respect.
1. As the desert of sin. 2. As the effect of the divine decree. 3. As the sentence of the law.
1. As the desert of sin. The first design of the Creator was his own glory in conjunction with the happiness of man. He was made accordingly holy in perfection, placed in paradise, and his state contained all the ingredients of felicity proper to his nature. He was capable of dying, as sad experience proves ; yet no accident from without, no distemper from within had impaired his vigour, and made him actually subject to death without sin. · Whilst innocent he was immortal, not from everlasting principles of nature, but by divine preservation, of which the tree of life was the ordained means and sacramental pledge. For God unchangeably loves his own image: and though by his sovereignty and absolute power he may resume the being he gives, yet his goodness and covenant were a sacred assurance that man's happy life should run parallel with his perseverance in his duty. This immortality was not the singular privilege of Adam's person, but had been the inheritance of all his progeny. But he soon revolting from his just obedience, of immortal became mortal, and according to the original establishment of propagation, transmitted his nature with the guilt and poison of sin to all his posterity. “ Thus by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin, and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned.” Rom. 5. 12. As his obedience had been rewarded, so his rebellion is punished in all that naturally descend from him. From hence it is, that so numerous a part of mankind are cut off before the commission of actual sin. Death enters into the forge of life, and destroys the conception that newly began to live. And what is more righteous than that man when he disobeyed the Author of life, should forfeit his life and blessedness? * The soul voluntarily lost the spiritual life by forsaking God, therefore unwillingly loses the natural life by expulsion from the body. The apostle says, “the wages of sin is death,” Rom. 6. 23. not only that of the body, but the death of the soul, which is a dreadful concomitant of it. And from hence we may dis
* Anima volens perdidit vivere, nolens ergo perdat & vivificare, VOL. III.
cover the false philosophy of the wisest heathens in their opinion of death. * They judged it to be the primary necessity and condition of nature, fixed by irresistible fate : and not understanding the true and just reason of its coming into the world, they could not apply a sufficient remedy against its evil.
As the effect of the divine decree respecting sin. This is discovered by revelation in the word of God, and by the real execution of it. “ It is appointed to men once to die.” Heb. 9. 27. This decree is universal and unrepealable. “One generation passeth away, and another generation cometh :” Eccles. 1. 4. like the ebbing and flowing of the sea in its stated periods. Nothing can interrupt or frustrate this appointment. There are divers conditions of men, and various ways of living in the world; some are high in dignity, others are level with the earth : some walk in a carpet-way, smooth and easy, others in a thorny and troublesome : some walk on the golden sands, others on the mire: but the same uncontrolable necessity of dying involves all. And whatever the way be, whether pleasant or doleful, yet every one passes in it with equal steps, measured by the same invariable spaces of hours and days, and arrives at the same common end of life. Those who are regarded as visible deities amongst men, that can by their breath raise the low, and depress the lofty, that have the lives of millions in their power; yet when the ordained time is come, as they cannot bribe the accusing conscience for a minute's silence, so neither delay death. “ I have said ye are gods, but ye shall die like men.”.
3. Death is to be considered as the sentence of the law. The reasonable creature was made under a law, the rule of his actions. The moral law directed him how to continue in his holy and blessed state: to which was annexed the precept of not eating of the tree of knowledge of good and evil, only as a mark of his subjection, and for the trial of his obedience. This precept had an infallible sanction by the most high Lawgiver : “ in the day thou eatest thereof, thou shalt die the death." Gen, 2. 17. Man did not keep this command of so easy observation, and justly incurred its doom. As sin is the violation of the law, so death is the violation of the sinner in his nature and felicity retorted from the law.
* Hac lege intraverant, ut exirent, Senec,
The deaths of men are very different in their kinds; and are comprised in the words of David concerning Saul : “ the Lord shall smite him, or his day shall come to die, or he shall descend into the battle, and perish.” I Sam. 26. 10. Sometimes they are cut off by the immediate flaming hand of God, for the more exemplary revenge of sin ; sometimes by surprising accidents; sometimes by bloody contentions; sometimes by consuming diseases. But though death be not uniform, yet it is always the execution of the law upon offenders. As of those who are condemned by human justice, some suffer a more easy and honourable death, others a more disgraceful and torturing; some are beheaded, others are crucified, vet all die as malefactors. Thus -some die a natural death, others a violent; some by a gentle preparing sickness without reluctation, others die upon the rack by sharp pains : some die attended with their friends, and all supplies to sweeten their passage, others forsaken of all comforters : yet death is the same sentence of the law upon all men. And this, if duly considered, makes it terrible in whatever shape it appears.
What the fear of death includes, The passion of fear in general considered.
The special causes that make death so fearful. It is an evil universally known. It is certaioly future. The bondage of men from the fear of death. The reasons why men are not always under the actual fear of death.
11. THE next
HE next thing to be considered is, what the fear of death includes, and the bondage that is consequent to it. This I shall explain and amplify, by considering four things. I. The nature of fear in general, as applicable to the present subject. 2. The particular causes that render death so fearful. 3. The degree of this fear expressed by bondage. 4. How it comes to pass that men are not always under the actual fear of death, but subject to the revolutions of it all their lives.
1. I will consider the nature of fear in general, as applicable to the present subject. Fear is a passion implanted in nature, that causes a flight from an approaching evil. Three things are requisite to qualify the object, and make it fearful.
(1.) The evil must be apprehended. Knowledge, or at least suspicion, excites fear, by representing an evil that is likely to seize upon us.
Till the mind discern the danger, the passions are unmoved : and imaginary evils by the mere apprehension, are as strongly feared as real.
(2.) The evil must be future. For the naked theory of the most pernicious evil does not wound the soul, but the apprehension of falling under it. If reason can open an expedient to prevent an evil, this passion is quiet. And fear precisely regards its object as to come. Present evils induce grief and sorrow: past evils by reflection affect with joy, and give a quicker relish to present felicity. Approaching evils alarm us with fear.
(3.) The evil must be apprehended as prevalent to make it fearful. For if by comparison we find our strength superior, we either neglect the evil for its levity, or determine to encounter it; and resistance is the proper effect of anger, not of fear. But
when an impendent evil is too hard for us, the soul shrinks and recoils from it.
Now all these qualifications that make an object fearful, concur in death.
Ist. It is an evil universally known. The frequent funerals are a real demonstration that speaks sensibly to our eyes, that death reigns in the world. On every side death is in our view, and the shadow of it darkens our brightest days.
2dly. It is certainly future. All the wretched accidents of this life, such as concern us in our persons, relations, estates and interests; a thousand disasters that a jealous fear and active fancy will extend and amplify; as they may, so they may not happen to us. And from this mixture of contrary possibilities, from the uncertainty of event, hope, that is an insinuating passion, mixes with fear, and derives comfort. For as sometimes a sudden evil surprises, not forethought of; so, often the evil that was sadly expected, never comes to pass.
" But what man is he that lives, and shall not see death ?" Psal. 89. 4. Who is so vain as to please himself with an imagination of immortality here? Though men are distinguished in the condition of living, yet all are equal in the necessity of dying. Human greatness in every kind, nobility, riches, empire cannot protect from the sudden and sovereign hand of death, that overthrows all. The most conspicuous difference in this world is between the victorious, and the vanquished prostrate at their feet : but death makes them equal. Then the wretched captive shall upbraid the proud conqueror, “ art thou become weak as me? Art thou become like us?” The expressions of scripture concerning the frailty of man, are often literally and precisely verified : “he is like the grass, in the morning it flourishes and groweth up, in the evening it is cut down and withereth.”
3dly. Death is a prevalent insuperable evil : hence the proverbial expression, “strong as death that subdues all, cruel as the grave that spares none." It is in vain to struggle with the pangs of death. No simples in nature, no compositions of art, no influence of the stars, no power of angels can support the dying body, or retain the fitting soul. “ There is no man hath power over the spirit to retain the spirit; neither hath he power in the day of death: and there is no discharge in that war.”