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- The Water of Life and Other Sermons - 5/29 -
makes it all the more shocking. We may not be so much shocked at seeing the old die. We say, 'They have done their work, why should they not go?' That is not true. They have not done their work. There is more work in plenty for them to do, if they could but live; and it seems shocking and sad, at least to him who loves his country and his kind, that, just as men have grown old enough to be of use, when they have learnt to conquer their passions, when their characters are formed, when they have gained sound experience of this world, and what man ought and can do in it,--just as, in fact, they have become most able to teach and help their fellow-men,--that then they are to grow old, and decrepit, and helpless, and fade away, and die just when they are most fit to live, and the world needs them most.
Sad, I say, and strange is that. But sadder, and more strange, and more utterly shocking, to see the young die; to see parents leaving infant children, children vanishing early out of the world where they might have done good work for God and man.
What arguments will make us believe that that ought to be? That that is God's will? That that is anything but an evil, an anomaly, a disease?
Not the Bible, certainly. The Bible never tells us that such tragedies as are too often seen are the will of God. The Bible says that it is not the will of our Father that one of these little ones should perish. The Bible tells us that Jesus, when on earth, went about fighting and conquering disease and death, even raising from the dead those who had died before their time. To fight against death, and to give life wheresoever He went--that was His work; by that He proclaimed the will of God, His Father, that none should perish, who sent His Son that men might have life, and have it more abundantly. By that He declared that death was an evil and a disorder among men, which He would some day crush and destroy utterly, that mortality should be swallowed up of life.
And yet we die, and shall die. Yes. The body is dead, because of sin. Mankind is a diseased race; and it must pay the penalty of its sins for many an age to come, and die, and suffer, and sorrow. But not for ever. For what mean such words as these--for something they must mean? -
'If a man keep my saying, he shall never see death.'
And again, 'He that believeth in Me, though he were dead, yet shall he live; and he that liveth and believeth in Me shall never die.'
Do such words as these mean only that we shall rise again in the resurrection at the last day? Surely not. Our Lord spoke them in answer to that very notion.
'Martha said to Him, I know that my brother shall rise again, in the resurrection at the last day. Jesus said unto her, I AM the resurrection and the life;' and then showed what He meant by bringing back Lazarus to life, unchanged, and as he had been before he died.
Surely, if that miracle meant anything, if these words meant anything, it meant this: that those who die in the fear of God, and in the faith of Christ, do not really taste death; that to them there is no death, but only a change of place, a change of state; that they pass at once, and instantly, into some new life, with all their powers, all their feelings, unchanged,--purified doubtless from earthly stains, but still the same living, thinking, active beings which they were here on earth. I say, active. The Bible says nothing about their sleeping till the Day of Judgment, as some have fancied. Rest they may; rest they will, if they need rest. But what is the true rest? Not idleness, but peace of mind. To rest from sin, from sorrow, from fear, from doubt, from care,--this is the true rest. Above all, to rest from the worst weariness of all--knowing one's duty, and yet not being able to do it. That is true rest; the rest of God, who works for ever, and yet is at rest for ever; as the stars over our heads move for ever, thousands of miles each day, and yet are at perfect rest, because they move orderly, harmoniously, fulfilling the law which God has given them. Perfect rest, in perfect work; that surely is the rest of blessed spirits, till the final consummation of all things, when Christ shall have made up the number of His elect.
I hope that this is so. I trust that this is so. I think our Lord's great words can mean nothing less than this. And if it be so, what comfort for us who must die? What comfort for us who have seen others die, if death be but a new birth into some higher life; if all that it changes in us is our body--the mere shell and husk of us-- such a change as comes over the snake, when he casts his old skin, and comes out fresh and gay, or even the crawling caterpillar, which breaks its prison, and spreads its wings to the sun as a fair butterfly. Where is the sting of death, then, if death can sting, and poison, and corrupt nothing of us for which our friends have loved us; nothing of us with which we could do service to men or God? Where is the victory of the grave, if, so far from the grave holding us down, it frees us from the very thing which holds us down,--the mortal body?
Death is not death, then, if it kills no part of us, save that which hindered us from perfect life. Death is not death, if it raises us in a moment from darkness into light, from weakness into strength, from sinfulness into holiness. Death is not death, if it brings us nearer to Christ, who is the fount of life. Death is not death, if it perfects our faith by sight, and lets us behold Him in whom we have believed. Death is not death, if it gives us to those whom we have loved and lost, for whom we have lived, for whom we long to live again. Death is not death, if it joins the child to the mother who is gone before. Death is not death, if it takes away from that mother for ever all a mother's anxieties, a mother's fears, and lets her see, in the gracious countenance of her Saviour, a sure and certain pledge that those whom she has left behind are safe, safe with Christ and in Christ, through all the chances and dangers of his mortal life. Death is not death, if it rids us of doubt and fear, of chance and change, of space and time, and all which space and time bring forth, and then destroy. Death is not death; for Christ has conquered death, for Himself, and for those who trust in Him. And to those who say, 'You were born in time, and in time you must die, as all other creatures do; Time is your king and lord, as he has been of all the old worlds before this, and of all the races of beasts, whose bones and shells lie fossil in the rocks of a thousand generations;' then we can answer them, in the words of the wise man, and in the name of Christ who conquered death:-
'Fly, envious time, till thou run out thy race, And glut thyself with what thy womb devours, Which is no more than what is false and vain And merely mortal dross. So little is our loss, so little is thy gain. For when as each bad thing thou hast entombed, And, last of all, thy greedy self consumed, Then long eternity shall greet our bliss With an individual kiss, And joy shall overtake us as a flood, When everything that is sincerely good And perfectly divine, And truth, and peace, and love shall ever shine About the supreme throne Of Him, unto whose happy-making sight alone When once our heavenly-guided soul shall climb, Then all this earthly grossness quit, Attired with stars, we shall for ever sit Triumphant over death, and chance, and thee, O Time!'
SERMON IV. THE WAGES OF SIN (Chapel Royal June, 1864)
ROM. vi. 21-23.
What fruit had ye then in those things whereof ye are now ashamed? for the end of those things is death. But now being made free from sin, and become servants to God, ye have your fruit unto holiness, and the end everlasting life. For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.
This is a glorious text, if we will only believe it simply, and take it as it stands.
But if in place of St. Paul's words we put quite different words of our own, and say--By 'the wages of sin is death,' St. Paul means that the punishment of sin is eternal life in torture, then we say something which may be true, but which is not what St. Paul is speaking of here. For wages are not punishment, and death is not eternal life in torture, any more than in happiness.
That, one would think, was clear. It is our duty to take St. Paul's words, if we really believe them to be inspired, simply as they stand; and if we do not quite understand them, to explain them by St. Paul's own words about these matters in other parts of his writings.
St. Paul was an inspired Apostle. Let him speak for himself. Surely he knew best what he wished to say, and how to say it.
Now St. Paul's opinions about death and eternal life are very clear; for he speaks of them often, and at great length.
He considered that the great enemy of God and man, the last enemy Christ would destroy, was death; and that, after death was destroyed, the end would come, when God would be all in all. Then came the question, which has puzzled men in all ages--How death came into the world. St. Paul answers, By sin. He says, as the author of the third chapter of Genesis says, that Adam became subject to death by his fall. By one man, he says, sin entered into the world, and death by sin, and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned. And thus, he says, death reigned even over those who had not sinned after the likeness of Adam's transgression.
That he is speaking of bodily death is clear, because he is always putting it in contrast to the resurrection to life,--not merely to a spiritual resurrection from the death of sin to the life of righteousness; but to the resurrection of the body,--to our Lord's being raised from the dead, that He might die no more.
Then he speaks of eternal life. He always speaks of it as an actual life, in a spiritual body, into which our mortal bodies are to be changed. Nothing can be clearer from what he says in 1 Cor. xv., that he means an actual rising again of our bodies from bodily death; an actual change in them; an actual life in them for ever.
But he says, again and again,--As sin caused the death of the body,
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