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HEBREWS ix. 27. FIRST CLAUSE.
“ And as it is appointed unto men once to die."
THESE words present to us a solemn subject, and one in which we are all most deeply concerned. For all must die. In this warfare there is no discharge. This is as certain as that we now live. To this truth the word of God bears uniform testimony. And however little many of mankind may be affected with it, the truth itself is readily acknowledged by all; for all have the melancholy proofs of it constantly before their eyes.
The object of the ensuing discourse is to consider the subject of death, in a doctrinal point of view.
This doctrine is contained in our Catechism in the answer to the 37th question.
“ What benefits do believers receive from Christ at their death?
The souls of believers are at their death, made perfect in holiness, and do immediately pass into glory; and their bodies being still united to Christ do rest in their graves till the resurrection.'
This answer relates especially to believers. It supposes their death; and is principally intended to point out their condition, and the benefits which they receive from Christ, in the state of separation of the soul and body. But although the answer mentions only believers, we may suppose the death of the wicked to be implied ; and also their state after death, during the separation of the soul and body, previous to the resurrection. And this supposition is confirmed by the consideration that in our
Larger Catechism, in this place, the state of the wicked, after death, is mentioned, as well as that of the righteous. We shall therefore in the ensuing discourse consider death, in reference to both the righteous and the wicked.
In treating the subject we shall enquire,
II. What is the state of the soul immediately after death?
III. What is the state of the body?
Death is the consequence of sin, and was denounced asja pranishment for sin. It is a part of the sentence of côndemnation which the law denounces for transgression. But, “there is no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus.” Rom. viii.l. Why then do believers die?
It is certain, it is not because God could not bring his people to heaven without dying. He might consistently do this; for Enoch and Elijah were taken there without passing through death; and if the Lord pleased, he might consistently take more and even all of his people in the same way. However he has not pleased so to do; but has appointed that they, as well as others, should dic; and that they should pass to glory through death.
It is evident also that, although death happens to the believer in consequence of sin, yet it is not inflicted upon him as a part of the curse of the law. For Rom. viii
. 1. 6 There is no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus"-And Gal. iii. 13. “Christ hath redeemed us from the curse of the law being made a curse for us.” Death is therefore not a curse to the believer; it is not inflicted in wrath upon him, as it is upon the wicked. But still death is painful, human nature shrinks back from it, and it is distressing to the christian. Why then must he die, seeing he is under no condemnation-is redeemed from the curse of the law-God loves him, and it would be consistent with his perfections to take him to complete blessedness in heaven, without requiring him to pass through the agonies of death? This is a question which we must resolve into the sovereignty of God—a sovereignty which is exercised agreeably to infinite wisdom. God has doubtless infinitely wise reasons, for what he does in this respect as well as every other. But we shall probably not be able fully to understand them, until the plans of infinite wisdom, in bringing his chosen to glory, be fully unfolded in a future world. We may however offer some probable reasons why the people of God die.
1. God would have his children conformed to their great Head, and Forerunner Christ Jesus; and he passed to his glory through suffering and death. And this may be one reason why God hath ordained, that believers though delivered from the curse of the law through the death
of Christ, should nevertheless die, that they might be, in this respect, conformed to their great Head, and Forerunner, and pass to glory as he did through suffering and death.
2. Another reason may be, that God has not intended to make a full manifestation of his children in this world ; but has reserved such manifestation for a fùture world. We know from the whole of his dispensations towards his children in this world, that he does not intend fully to discover by his dealings towards them here, who are his children. “For he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust.” Mat. v. 45. One event happeneth to all. He has intended that in this world, we should walk by faith, and not by sight. 2 Cor. v. 7. But if the righteous were to pass from this world to another, without dying, it would always fully appear in the end, who were God's people, and who were not; and thus the manifestation of the sons of God would take place in this world, which he has not intended; and we should constantly have a kind of evidence of the truth of religion, which God has not intended to give the world. We would then walk by sight rather than by faith; which would be altering the plan by which the Lord has intended to glorify himself in the salvation of sinners.
3. Another reason may be that believers die in mercy to his surviving people. For if believers passed into heaven without dying, it would always be known, when persons came to leave the world, whether they were christians or not, and what is their future state. In this case whenever persons died, it would be certainly known that they had gone to misery. And in our present state, in the exercise of natural affection, what dreadful disappointments, would many suffer, who had entertained hopes of the piety of their friends, when they saw them die! They would by this event assuredly know that they had gone