« السابقةمتابعة »
intelligence ever formed: If God be for us,, be encountered, of a cross to be borne, of cru-
And, to conclude this discourse by repre-
Christians! let our eyes settle on this ob-
Thus it is that the cross of Christ forms us to the sentiments of our apostle; thus it is that we are enabled to say, 'The world is crucified unto us, and we are crucified unto the world' thus it is that the cross conducts us to the true glory. O glorious cross! thou shalt ever be the object of my study, and of my meditation! I will propose to myself to know nothing, save Jesus Christ and him crucified! God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world is crucified unto me, and I unto the world! May God grant us this grace! Amen.
ON THE FEAR OF DEATH.
HEBREWS ii. 14, 15.
Forasmuch then as the children are partakers of flesh and blood, he also himself likewise took part of the same; that through death he might destroy him that had the power of death, that is, the devil; and deliver them who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage.
To know what death is, without being ter-death without fearing it; and it is in the union rified at it, is the highest degree of perfection of these two things we are to look for that efattainable by the human mind; it is the high-fort of genius so worthy of emulation, and that est point of felicity which a man can reach, perfection of felicity so much calculated to while in this valley of tears. I say, to know kindle ardent desire. For to brave death
without knowing what it is; to shut our eyes against all that is hideous in its aspect, in order to combat it with success, this is so far from indicating a superior excellency of disposition, that it must be considered rather as a mental derangement; so far from being the height of felicity, it is the extreme of misery. We have seen philosophers shaking off (if after all they did so in reality, and if that intrepid outside did not conceal a trembling heart), we have seen philosophers shaking off the fear of death; but they did not know it. They viewed it only under borrowed aspects. They figured it to themselves, as either reducing the nature of man to a state of annihilation, or as summoning him before chimerical tribunals, or as followed by a certain imaginary felicity.
We have seen heroes, as the world calls them, pretending to brave the terrors of death; but they did not know it: they represented it to themselves as crowned with laurels, as decorated with trophies, as figuring on the page of the historian.
We have seen, and still see every day, libertines pretending to brave the terrors of death, but they know it not. Their indolence is the cause of that assumed firmness: and they are incapable of enjoying tranquillity, but by banishing the idea of a period, the horror of which they are unable to overcome. But not to disguise this formidable object; to view it in its true light; to fix the eye steadily on every feature; to have a perception of all its terrors; in a word, to know what death is, without being terrified at it, to repeat it once more, is the highest degree of perfection attainable by the human mind; it is the highest point of felicity which a man can reach while in this valley of tears,
Sovereign wisdom, my brethren, forms his children to true heroism. That wisdom effects what neither philosophers by their false maxims, nor the heroes of the world by their affected intrepidity, nor the libertine by his insensibility and indolence; that wisdom effects what all the powers in the universe could not have produced, and alone bestows on the Christian the privilege of knowing death without fearing it. All this is contained in the words which I have read as the subject of the present discourse through fear of death, men were all their lifetime subject to bondage:' there is the power of death; there his empire; there his triumph. Jesus Christ, through his death, has destroyed him that had the power of death, that is the devil, and delivers them who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage:' Behold death vanquished! there are his spoils; there is the triumph over him: salutary ideas! which will present themselves in succession to our thoughts in the sequel of this exercise. Forasmuch then as the children are partakers of flesh and blood, he also himself likewise took part of the same; that through death he might destroy him that had the power of death, that is the devil: and deliver them who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage.'
With respect to the first words, forasmuch
as the children are partakers of flesh and blood, he also himself likewise took part of the same,' I shall only remark, that by the children referred to, we are to understand men in general, and believers in particular: and by that flesh and blood we are not to understand corruption, as in some other passages of Scripture, but human nature; so that when it is said, 'as the children are partakers of flesh and blood, Jesus Christ likewise took part of the same,' the meaning is, he assumed a body such as ours is.
Having made these few short remarks on the first words, we shall confine ourselves to the two ideas which have been indicated, and shall employ what remains of our time, in proving this fundamental truth, that Jesus Christ, by his death, has destroyed him that had the power of death, that is, the devil, in order that he might deliver them who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage.'
The terrors of death are expressed in terms powerfully energetical, in this text. It represents to us a mighty tyrant causing death to march at his command, and subjecting the whole universe to his dominion. This tyrant is the devil. He is the personage here described, and who, through the fear of death, subjects men to bondage.'
You stand aghast, no doubt, on beholding the whole human race reduced to subjection under a master so detestable. The fact, however, cannot be called in question; this great enemy of our salvation unquestionably exercises a sort of empire over the universe. Though the Scriptures speak sparingly of the nature and functions of this malignant spirit, they say enough of them to convey a striking idea of his power, and to render it formidable to us. The Scripture tells us, I. That he templa men to sin; witness the wiles which he practised on our first parents; witness that which St. Paul says of him in chap. ii. of the Epistle to the Ephesians, the spirit that worketh in the children of disobedience;' witness the name of Tempter given to him in the gospel history, Matt. iv. 3. The Scripture informs us, II. That he accuses men before God of those very crimes which he solicited them to commit; witness the prophet Zechariah, who was showed Joshua the high-priest, standing before the angel of the Lord, and Satan standing at his right hand to resist him;' or, as it might have been rendered, to be his adversary or accuser: witness the descriptive appellation of calumniator or accuser given him by St. John in the Apocalypse. The Scripture tells us, III. That he sometimes torments men; witness the history of Job; witness what St. Paul says of his delivering up unto Satan' the incestuous person at Corinth. This power of delivering up to Satan, to mention it by the way, was a part of the miraculous gifts conferred on the apostles; gifts transmitted to the immediately succeeding ages of the church, at least if Pauliness is to be credited on this subject, who relates that an abandoned wretch was, by St. Ambrosius, delivered up to Satan, who tore him in pieces. Finally, IV. We find
Paulin. de Vit. Ambros.
Jesus Christ restores confidence and joy, for it is the expiation of all our sins. The devil clothes death with terror, by rendering us sensible to the loss of those possessions of which death is going to deprive us; the death of Jesus Christ tranquillizes the mind, because it is a pledge to us of an eternal felicity. The first of these ideas represents Jesus Christ to us as a martyr, who has sealed with his own blood a doctrine which rests entirely on the immortality of the soul. The second represents him as a victim, offering himself in our stead, to divine justice And the third represents him as a conqueror, who has, by his death, acquired for us a kingdom of everlasting bliss.
Had we nothing farther in view, than to pre
the devil designated in Scripture, the god of the world,' 2 Cor. iv. 4, and the prince of the power of the air,' Eph. ii. 2. You likewise see him represented as acting on the waters of the sea, as raising tempests, and as smiting the children of men with various kinds of plagues. But if the devil be represented as exercising an influence over the ills of human life, he is still more especially represented as exerting his power over our death, the last and the most formidable of all our woes. The Jews were impressed with ideas of this kind. Nay, they did not satisfy themselves with general notions on this subject. They entered into the detail (for, my brethren, it has been an infirmity incident to man in every age, to assert confident. ly on subjects the most mysterious and conceal-sent you with vague ideas of the sentiments of ed), they said that the devil, to whom they the sacred authors, on this subject, here our gave the name of Samuel,* had the empire of discourse might be concluded. But these death' that his power extended so far as to truths, treated thus generally, could make but prevent the resurrection of the wicked. St. a slight impression. It is of importance to press Paul, in the words of our text, adopts their them one by one, and, opposing in every partimode of expression, as his custom is, without cular, the triumph of the Redeemer, to the propagating their error: he describes the evil empire of the wicked one, to place in its clearspirit as the person who possesses the empire of est point of light, the interesting truth containdeath, and who, through the fear of death, ed in our text, namely, that Jesus Christ, subjects men all their lifetime to bondage.' 'through his own death, has destroyed him whe had the power of death, that is, the devil; that he might deliver them who, through fear of death, were all their lifetime subject to bondage.'
But Christians, be not dismayed at beholding this fearful image. Surely there is no enchantment against Jacob, neither is there any divination against Israel,' Numb. xxiii. 23. Now is come salvation and strength, and the kingdom of our God, and the power of his Christ; for the accuser of our brethren is cast down, which accused them before our God day and night. And they overcame him by the blood of the Lamb,' Rev. xii. 10, 11. Let us, how ever, reduce our reflections on the subject to method. Three considerations render death formidable to man; three considerations disarm death in the apprehension of the Christian; 1. The veil which conceals from the eyes of the dying person, the state on which he is about to enter: 2. The remorse of conscience which the recollection of his guilt excites: 3. The loss of titles, honours, and every other earthly possession. In these respects chiefly, he who has the power of death subjects men to bondage:' these are the things which render death formidable.
I. The first consideration which renders death formidable: the first yoke imposed on the necks of the children of men, by that tremendous prince who has the power of death,' is the fear of falling back into nothing, which the prospect of death awakens. The greatest of all the advantages which we possess, and that which indeed is the foundation of all the rest, is existence. We accordingly observe that old people, though all their faculties are much impaired, always enjoy a certain nameless superiority over young persons. The reflection that there was a time when they existed, while as yet the young did not exist, constitutes this superiority; and young persons, in their turn, feel a superiority suggested to them by the thought, that a time is coming when they shall exist, whereas the others shall be no more. Death terminates, to appearance, an advantage which is the foundation of every other. And is it any wonder that the heart of man should sink under such a consideration?
In opposition to this, the death of Jesus Christ, 1. Removes the veil which concealed futurity from us, and constitutes an authentic proof of the immortality of the soul: 2. The death of Jesus Christ is a sacrifice presented to divine justice for the remission of our sins: 3. The death of Jesus Christ gives us complete assurance of a blessed eternity. These are the three considerations which disarm death in the apprehension of the dying believer. And this is a brief abstract of the important truths deli-existence are barbarous and unintelligible. To vered in this text.
The devil renders death formidable, through uncertainty respecting the nature of our souls; the death of Christ dispels that terror, by demonstrating to us that the soul is immortal. The devil renders death formidable by awakenng the recollection of past guilt; the death of
* Thalm, in Libo. Capht.
In vain will we flee for refuge from this depressing reflection, to the arguments which reason, even a well-directed reason, supplies. If they are satisfying of themselves, and calculated to impress the philosophic mind, they are far beyond the reach of a vulgar understanding, to which the very terms spirituality and
no purpose will we have recourse to what has been said on this subject, by the most enlightened of the pagan world, and to what, in particular, Tacitus relates of Seneca, on his going into the bath which was to receive the blood, as it streamed from his opened veins: he besprinkled the by-standers with the fluid in
* Annal. Lib. xv.
which his limbs were immerged, with this memorable expression, that he presented those drops of water as a libation to Jupiter the Deliverer. In order to secure us against terrors so formidable, we must have a guide more safe than our own reason. In order to obtain a persuasion of the immortality of the soul, we must have a security less suspicious than that of a Socrates or a Plato. Now that guide, my brethren, is the cross of Jesus Christ: that security is an expiring Redeemer. Two principles concur in the demonstration of all-important truth.
1. The doctrine of Jesus Christ establishes the immortality of the soul.
2. The death of Jesus Christ is an irresistible proof of the truth of his doctrine.
1. That the doctrine of Jesus Christ establishes the immortality of the soul is a point which no one pretends to dispute with us. A man has but to open his eyes in order to be convinced of it. We shall, accordingly, make but a single remark on this head. It is this, that the doctrine of the immortality of the soul ought not to be considered merely as a particular point of the religion of Jesus Christ, independent of which it may subsist as a complete whole. It is a point without which Christianity cannot exist at all, and separated from which the religion of Jesus Christ, the fullest, the most complete, and the most consistent that ever was presented to the world, becomes the most imperfect, barren, and inconsistent. The whole fabric of the gospel rests on this foundadation, that the soul is immortal. Wherefore was it that Jesus Christ, the Lord of universal nature, had a manger for his cradle, and a stable for his palace? because his kingdom was not of this world,' John xviii. 16. This supposes the immortality of the soul. Wherefore is the Christian encouraged to bid defiance to tyrants, who may drag him from a prison, from a dungeon, who may nail him to a cross, who may mangle his body on a wheel? It is because their power extends no farther than to the "killing of the body,' Matt. x. 28, while the soul is placed far beyond their reach. This supposes immortality. Wherefore must the Christian deem himself miserable, were he to achieve the conquest of the whole world, at the expense of a good conscience? Because it will profit a man nothing to gain the whole world, if he lose his own soul, Matt. xvi. 26. This supposes immortality. Wherefore are we not the most miserable of all creatures? Because we have hope in Christ not for this life only,' 1 Cor. xv. 19. This supposes immortality. The doctrine of Jesus Christ, therefore, establishes the truth of the immortality of the
2. But we said, in the second place, that the death of Jesus Christ is a proof of his doctrine. He referred the world to his death, as a sign by which it might be ascertained whether or not he came from God. By this he proposed to stop the mouth of incredulity. Neither the purity of his life, nor the sanctity of his deportment, nor the lustre of his miracles had as yet prevailed so far as to convince an unbelieving world of the truth of his mission. They must
have sign upon sign, prodigy upon prodigy. Jesus Christ restricts himself to one: Destroy this temple, and within three days I will build it up again,' Mark xiv. 58. An evil and adulterous generation seeketh after a sign; and there shall no sign be given to it, but the sign of the prophet Jonas,' Matt. xii. 39. This sign could not labour under any ambiguity. And this sign was accomplished. There is no longer room to doubt of a truth demonstrated in a manner so illustrious.
Our ancestors devised,* with greater simplicity, it must be allowed, than strength of reasoning, a very singular proof of the innocence of persons accused. They presented to them a bar of hot iron. If the person under trial had the firmness to grasp it, and received no injury from the action of the burning metal, he was acquitted of the charge. This proof was, as we have said, devised with more simplicity than strength of reasoning: no one having a right to suppose that God will perform a miracle, to evince his innocence to the conviction of his judges. I acknowledge at the same time, that had I been an eye-witness of such an experiment; had I beheld that element which dissolves, which devours bodies the most obdurate, respecting the hand of a person accused of a crime, I should certainly have been very much struck at the sight of such a spectacle.
But what shall we say of the Saviour of the world, after the proof to which he was put? He walked through the fire without being burnt,' Isa. xliii. 2. He descended into the bosom of the grave: the grave respected him, and those other insatiables which never say it is enough,' Prov. xxx. 16, opened a passage for his return to the light. You feel the force of this argument. Jesus Christ, having died in support of the truth of a doctrine entirely founded on the supposition of the immortality of the soul, there is no longer room to doubt whether the soul be immortal.
Let us here pause for a few moments, and before we enter on the second branch of our subject, let us consider how far this position, so clearly proved, so firmly established, has a tendency to fortify us against the fears of death.
Suppose for an instant that we knew nothing respecting the state of souls, after this life is closed, and respecting the economy on which we must then enter; supposing God to have granted us no revelation whatever on this interesting article, but simply this, that our souls are immortal, a slight degree of me. ditation on the case, as thus stated, ought to operate as an inducement rather to wish for death, than to fear it. It appears probable that the soul, when disengaged from the senses, in which it is now enveloped, will subsist in a manner infinitely more noble than it could do here below, during its union with matter. We are perfectly convinced that the body will, one day, contribute greatly to our felicity; it is an essential part of our being, without which our happiness must be incomplete. But this necessity, which fetters down the functions of
* Rasquier Recher. de la France, Liv, iv. 2.
the soul, on this earth, to the irregular move- are susceptible of a thousand unknown sensaments of ill-assorted matter, is a real bondage. tions; but they receive them not, in this econoThe soul is a prisoner in this body. A prisoner my of imperfection and wretchedness, because is a man susceptible of a thousand delights, it is the will of God that they should perceive but who can enjoy, however, only such plea-only through the medium of those organs, and sures as are compatible with the extent of the that those organs, from their limited nature, place in which he is shut up: his scope is limit- should be capable of admitting only limited ed to the capacity of his dungeon: he beholds sensations. the light only through the aperture of that dungeon: all his intercourse is confined to the persons who approach his dungeon. But let his prison-doors be thrown open; from that moment, behold him in a state of much higher felicity. Thenceforward he can maintain social intercourse with all the men in the world; thenceforward he can contemplate an unbounded body of light; thenceforward he is able to expatiate over the spacious universe. This exhibits a portrait of the soul. A prisoner to the senses, it can enjoy those delights only which have a reference to sense. It can see only by means of the cuticles and the fibres of its eyes: it can hear only by means of the action of the nerves and tympanum of its ears: it can think only in conformity to certain modifications of its brain. The soul is susceptible of a thousand pleasures, of which it has not so much as the idea. A blind man has a soul capable of admitting the sensation of light; if he be deprived of it, the reason is, his senses are defective, or improperly disposed. Our souls
But permit the soul to expatiate at large, let it take its natural flight, let these prison walls be broken down, O, then! the soul becomes capable of ten thousand inconceivable new delights. Wherefore do you point to that ghastly corpse? Wherefore deplore those eyes closed to the light, those spirits evaporated, that blood frozen in the veins, that motionless, lifeless mass of corruption? Why do you say to me, My friend, my father, my spouse is no more; he sees, he hears, he acts no longer.' He sees no longer, do you say? He sees no longer, I grant, by means of those visual rays which were formed in the retina of the eye; but he sees as do those pure intelligences which never were clothed with mortal flesh and blood. He hears no more through the medium of the action of the ethereal fluid, but he hears as a pure spirit. He thinks no longer through the intervention of the fibres of his brain; but he thinks from his own essence, because, being a spirit, the faculty of thought is essential to him, and inseparable from his nature.
ON THE FEAR OF DEATH.
HEBREWS ii. 14, 15.
Forasmuch then as the children are partakers of flesh and blood, he also himself likewise took part of the same: that through death he might destroy him that had the power of death, that is, the devil: and deliver them who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage.
IN discoursing from these words we observed, that death is rendered formidable to man, by a threefold consideration, and that three considerations of an opposite nature strip him of all his terrors, in the eye of the believer in Christ Jesus. Death is formidable, 1. Because of the veil which conceals from the eyes of the dying person, that state on which he is about to enter. 2. From remorse of conscience, which the recollection of past guilt excites. 3. From the loss of titles, honours, and all other earthly possessions.
In opposition to these, the death of Christ, 1. Removes the veil which conceals futurity, and constitutes an authentic proof of the immortality of the soul. 2. It is a sacrifice presented to divine justice for the remission of sin. 3. It gives us complete assurance of a blessed eternity. These are the considerations which
disarm death of his terrors to the dying believer.
We have finished what was proposed on the first particular, and have shown, 1. That the doctrine of Jesus Christ fully establishes the soul's immortality; and, 2. That the death of Jesus Christ is an irresistible proof of the truth of his doctrine.
But to no purpose would it be to fortify the mind against the apprehension of ceasing to exist, unless we are delivered from the terror of being for ever miserable. In vain is it to have demonstrated that our souls are immortal, if we are haunted with the well-grounded apprehension of their falling into the hands of that God who is a consuming fire.' In this case, what constitutes a man's greatness would constitute his misery. Let us endeavour, II. In the second place, to dissipate the dread