"And they shall scourge Him, and put Him to death: and the third day He shall rise again." (Luke 18:33)
ALL hail thou glorious Lord, Redeemer of Thy chosen band, who looked composedly with confidence on such a scene of woe before Thine eyes! The scourgers scourged the Lamb of God, and Christ the Lamb of God looked forward to it feeling no dismay. A death the most terrific, cruel, painful, ignominious, was to be endured, and Jesus never shrank; but meets the solemn scene that darkened yonder brilliant orb, that burst the tombs, that shook the earth, astounded all around, as if He were a lamb. What, must the thongs lie by almost within His view, the rods too plough upon His precious back, and Jesus know it all: and yet press on to bear my load of guilt, redeem my soul, and bring eternal glory to the Father's name and His? I wonder not those around heard with deep dismay. I marvel not that they should cry, this shall not be. I wonder not that all the world around, aghast at such a scene, in breathless watchfulness should wonder what must be the cause of such a death. But Jesus says, they shall do it--Jesus says, "they shall scourge Him"--Jesus says, they shall "put Him to death." What else? Oh blissful news--the news of the day on which we are met--"the third day He shall rise again." We meet to exult with the disciples that the Lord is risen, is risen indeed, and "hath appeared unto many." Has He appeared unto you? Have you come on purpose to see the place where He lay? Have you come on purpose to see the risen glorious Lord manifesting Himself to the souls of His disciples? May the Holy Ghost anoint your eyes with eye salve, that you may see His beauty, adore His person, confide in His official character and perfect work, and then retire from His house, singing, "this is my Lord and my God." He was scourged, He was put to death, He did rise the third day; and now He lives for ever, for death has no more dominion over Him. There is something peculiarly interesting in the fact that our Lord seemed to take so much delight in the contemplation of this last appalling scene of His tabernacling upon earth. How often had He gone to the spot! It is said that Jesus often resorted thither with His disciples; as if He would measure every inch of the ground, and mark each spot where His blood should fall. How often also did He invite the attention of His disciples to it! How emphatical was His language, when He said, "I have a baptism to be baptized with, and how am I straitened till it be accomplished." (Luke 12:50) Now I cannot imagine that a mere bathing could have straitened Him much. But when I view the baptism of which He speaks as the outpouring of the Divine wrath; as the descent of the cataracts of infinite vengeance upon His holy person; as the pouring out of His soul unto death, I can understand how this baptism would exceedingly straiten Him in His humanity. And yet, though He knew the hour, and the scene, and the extent of the suffering, blessings upon His holy name, He often referred to it in His conversations with His disciples, preached of it in His discourses, approached the spot to make it familiar to Himself, and at length went voluntarily forth into the garden, and said, "I am here--I came here for this purpose." In reading your New Testaments, I pray you fix your attention upon this prominent and striking feature of our Lord's character when upon earth; that from the commencement to the close of His ministry He made Himself familiar with the agonizing spot, with the scene on which He should be uplifted upon the cross, that He might draw all men unto Him.
From the words of my text I propose this morning, as the Lord shall give me liberty, to lead on your attention a little further with regard to His death. I beseech you to mark then the solemn statement of my text, so positively asserted, "They shall scourge Him, and put Him to death." Then we will make an inquiry relative to the unparalleled love displayed in this. And lastly come to the point of this day's commemoration, the triumphant resurrection, "He shall rise again;" and that too at a given period, "the third day."
I. Now, first of all, let me pursue the train of thought relative to the death of our precious Christ. And could it not have been avoided? Could it not have been dispensed with? Could not the "only-begotten of the Father," the "express image" of the Father, yea, "the brightness of His glory," have been spared such a scene of woe? No. And why? If I were to view salvation and redemption as promiscuous matters, as some divines do, I should have said that He might have been spared; but if I view the fact that He was held responsible in His own bond for the entire and eternal salvation of His own Church, then I come to the conclusion that thus it must be. Then I come to the conclusion which He spoke after His resurrection, "Ought not Christ to have suffered these things, and to enter into His glory?" (Luke 24:26) It must be so, and it ought to be so, that is His own statement. And however we may censure Pilate for his perfidy, the Jews for their hypocrisy, the Roman soldiers for their cruelty, and our own souls for their sinfulness, which was the cause of it all, yet we must look beyond all this, and see that there were an "ought," a "needs be," and a "must" arising out of the fact that He was held responsible in law and justice to all the persons and perfections of Deity on the behalf of His whole Church, and that there was no being to whom that responsibility could be transferred. We glory in the thought that the covenant bond of Jesus had arranged the whole matter, and that all the sheep were given into His hands; that even when they all went astray, (Isa. 53) and turned every one to his own way, He being held responsible for them, the Lord laid upon Him the iniquity of them all. We cannot find a firm footing for faith anywhere but in the responsibility of Christ. Say as much as you please about man's responsibility; you never hear me deny it. Say as much as you please about the creature's responsibility; I do not mean to utter a single syllable in argument against it. But I must insist upon this, that all the creature's responsibility can do for him is to damn him. Take the responsibility of a poor insolvent debtor, which responsibility renders him liable to imprisonment; apply to him, and tell him he is responsible, and must pay his creditors. "I cannot," he replies, "I have not a shilling in the world." "Think of the wickedness of going into debt then, and the aggravated manner in which it has been done." Will that remove his responsibility? No, still he is responsible; and he cannot, by any act of his own, remove his responsibility. If I went forward as the surety of any man, and said, "I will pay all your debts for you," this would not put an end to his responsibility. He would still be bound to his creditors. His responsibility would still hang over his head. But if his creditors allow me to put myself in his place, and agree to let him off on condition that I become answerable for his debts; and if I, in fulfillment of this engagement, do, in point of fact, pay every farthing he owes them, then, but not till then, there is an end of his responsibility; the responsibility is shifted from his shoulders to mine, and he has no longer anything to answer for--I have answered for all. Now this is precisely the case with our beloved Lord and His Church. We are all by nature conceived in sin and owe an infinite debt of obedience and suffering to the law and justice of God. We have no means of paying that debt; but our insolvency does not remove our responsibility. The eternal prison of hell must be our home, if there be no other responsibility than ours. Forth comes the glorious elder Brother, and allows everything to be laid upon Him, makes everything chargeable to Him; undertakes in covenant bond before sin existed to cancel the debt of His Church, to "magnify the law and make it honourable," (Isa. 42:21) to satisfy justice with infinite payment, to vanquish the powers of darkness, and to work out and bring in perfect redemption and salvation; and that bond being held by Jehovah, and Christ's responsibility being accepted, He must do this--it must be done.
Oh think for one moment of the glorious majesty of God's method of saving sinners; the glorious majesty of God's plan of bringing millions of poor, ruined vessels home to glory, without tarnishing the honor of His own name, without dishonoring one of the attributes of Deity by just accepting His dear Son's covenant bond under solemn responsibility, to do all, to pay all, to conquer all, to secure all, to obtain all, and to protect all that pertains to the entire salvation of His Church. Who would not love Him? Where is the soul that has received those benefits from Him who does not say that He is "the chief among ten thousand, and the altogether lovely?" Moreover, He became incarnate for that express purpose. He took upon Him the likeness of His brethren. It behoved Him to be made in all things like unto them. (Heb. 2:17) What for? That He might "bear their sins in His own body on the tree." And therefore "a body was prepared" for Him for that purpose. "A body hast thou prepared me." Oh, how striking is the Scripture I have just cited--"to bear their sins in His own body on the tree"--as well as "pour out His soul unto death." And this accounts for the appalling circumstances of His death. Well might He ask, "Is it nothing to you, all ye that pass by? Behold, and see if there be any sorrow like unto my sorrow, which is done unto me, wherewith the Lord hath afflicted me in the day of His fierce anger." (Lam. 1:12) Look at the expression--"they shall scourge Him." Perhaps most of my hearers have read of this punishment being practiced among the Jews, in olden times particularly. Sometimes it was inflicted with rods upon the naked back, and sometimes with thongs or other instruments. And when our precious Lord looked forward to the solemn scene of his degradation and torture, as you read in the 129th Psalm, He exclaims, "The plowers plowed upon my back: they made long their furrows." Now I think this passage refers expressly to the scourging of our precious Christ. Behold Him, whose shoulders upheld and supported the heavens and the earth; behold Him, who upholds, and always did uphold, all things by the word of His power, stretched, pinioned, stripped, the "plowers plowing upon His back" with their cruel instruments of torture, and yet He opened not His mouth," but "as a sheep before her shearers was dumb." (Isa. 53:7) What enmity was there in the carnal mind against Him! What savage cruelty was this, both on the part of Pilate and on the part of his agents! What enormity the scene presents to our view when we contemplate the fact, that every one of those cruel stripes of scourging was inflicted by our sins! Oh, I would not blame Pilate; I would not blame the soldiers; I would not blame the Jews; I would not blame the devil, so much as myself, in the infliction of the deep pangs, sufferings, and anguish endured by my Lord. Rather I would say with the hymn--
"'Twas you, my sins, my cruel sins,
His chief tormentors were;
Each of my crimes became a nail,
And unbelief the spear."
Not content with that savage cruelty, my Lord says, in one of His predictions, that "they shall put Him to death." Not only was He to pay the penalty thus far according to His covenant bond, but pay it with His life. They put Him to death, and that too, as many of us have been reading this morning in dear old Dr. Hawker's portion, with cruelties as if studied in the infernal regions, with cruelties which none but Himself could have endured. And how did He meet all this? Oh, I am thoroughly ashamed of myself that ever I should have a complaint to make or a murmur to offer about afflictions, pains, persecutions, or sorrows, of any sort or kind, when I find my beloved Lord, whom I so much long to be like, meeting His infuriated persecutors, meeting His murderers, meeting the scourge, the contempt, the despisings, the revilings, the spittings upon, and the scorn and cruelties which accompany a public death, with holy composure, with "Father, forgive them, they know not what they do," with a "meekly blowing His head;" and then, after being dragged or led from place to place with savage brutality, and at length suspended between two thieves, as if He were the vilest of malefactors, the heavens frowning, the earth trembling, the sun blushing, the tombs bursting, and sinners reviling; Jesus shouting, "It is finished," amidst it all--it is finished." Oh, that this scene may be ever before our eyes until we shall gaze upon His glory, and there witness the scars in His humanity, glorified as it is, in His hands, and His feet, and His side.
II. Let me now pass on to mark the unparalleled love which is here displayed; and upon this in two features only I shall detain you. This scene throughout would not be recognized by carnal minds as an exhibition of love; but it was so--unparalleled love--a testimony of paternal love; for thus it is written, "God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son to die." Here, then, is the highest act of love towards poor worms, coupled with the most awful expression of vengeance against the sins they had committed. The highest act of love lies in immutable attachment to their persons, in Jesus as their covenant Head; and the most awful expression of vengeance lies in transferring all their iniquities and all their sins to Him as their Surety, and punishing them there with unmitigated severity. Oh, the awfulness of sin! Oh, the infinite glories of love Divine! And did the great Eternal so love me from everlasting? Did He so love me as to adopt me into His family, and register my name in the book of life, and commit me to the care and charge of His only begotten Son, His dearly beloved, co-equal, co-eternal Son, that all His merits might be transferred to me, and that all my sins might be laid upon Him? Well may we sing with the poet again--
"Oh, for such love let rocks and hills
Their lasting silence break."
Take the apostle John's advice when he says, "Beloved, if God so love us, we ought also to love one another." "God is love." I want this to be impressed upon the minds of my hearers. And where is our love to Jesus? where our love to the Father? where our love to the Holy Ghost, the Divine Testifier, who made us acquainted with all these things or we had never known them? My hearer, let it be remembered, that if there is no supernatural love to God in our souls, there is no Christianity there; for as the "fulfilling of the law" is love, so the fullness of the glory of the gospel is love--love from first to last; and sure I am that the Lord's family shall all, sooner or later, be able to say with John, "We love Him"--yes, we love Him--"because He first loved us." Now do not reverse this order, I pray you. Never attempt to insinuate, as the proud Pharisees do, that if we love God He will certainly love us in return. But let it stand in the scriptural form, "We love Him because He first loved us." And if you possess the result, and really love God, His truth, His ways, and His people, then trace it up to its first cause, and mark the fact for your comfort and consolation--"the eternal God loved me before the world began." That is the way I get at my comfort. The eternal God had set His love upon me before sin existed, before the rebellious and apostate angels were turned out of heaven, before man fell; and that love is everlasting. "I have loved thee with an everlasting love." (Jer. 31:3) When my covenant God and Father can change, when He can vacillate and vary, when He can of love make hatred in His bosom, then I may expect to perish eternally; for sure I am there is enough in me to provoke it, if anything can do it. But so long as His love is immutable, eternal, everlasting, I am satisfied that it is not possible for the soul that has once tasted that love, and felt its glow, to be cast out from His presence, or banished from His sight.
But not only is it a testimony of paternal love, but it appears to me to be the opening of Jesus' heart of love to our view. In secret contemplation I have been placing myself as near to the Roman soldiers as I could--I say in secret contemplation. I have imagined that I almost felt his spear as he drew back his arm to thrust it into the Redeemer's heart, and catching the precious drops of blood that flowed from thence to wash away my sins and purge my conscience, got a peep into His very heart, exclaiming, "It is all love to me--it is all love flowing from Jesus' heart to me." Read what the apostle says concerning it in the epistle to the Ephesians, when he enjoins upon the believers at Ephesus that they should love one another, "even," says he, "as Christ loved us and gave Himself for us--"even," "even." And in the same chapter (Eph. 5) towards the close, referring to the love enjoined between husband and wife, he says, "Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the Church, and gave Himself for it." So that the giving Himself for His Church, to do and to die, to bear her reproach, and suffer without the camp on her behalf, was an act of love.
And then, what shall we say of the duration of His love? "Having loved His own that are in the world, He loved them unto the end." (John 13:1) But, mark, they are "His own"--"Having loved His own that are in the world, He loved them unto the end." I beseech you to bring this point also to close investigation, for I always like a little examination of conscience as we go on, just to see what part and lot we have in the matter. Do you believe that Jesus loves "His own?" I am sure He does. If He loves you, and has made it manifest, He has created in you so much love towards Him as sets you longing after His company, His presence, His smiles, and His voice; and this is the sweetest and best assurance that you are "His own." Tell me, ye doubting souls. Is it not unto you the most important of all objects to have a sweet assurance from Christ Himself that you are His own, that He loves you as "His own that are in the world," and must therefore "love you to the end?" I know that the most timid believer in the world would not dare to deny this, that the uppermost feeling of his heart is to have Christ's own testimony by the witnessing of His Spirit, so as to enable him to say with Paul, "He loved me and gave Himself for me." Then this grand transaction, solemn and awful as it is, is, after all, the act of love, an appointment of love, the ebullition of love from the very heart of Jesus, a token and testimony of the love of the Triune Jehovah. Otherwise, the Holy Ghost would never have revealed it to our souls' experience. So that the soul at Jesus' feet, that only longs to love Him, may rest assured that all the persons of Deity have been from everlasting in love with it, and cannot retract. Now here I have endeavored to come as low as I possibly can, upon a subject so sublime and important, for the encouragement of the weakest and feeblest believer in the family of God. If you do not love Him you are willing to part with Him. If you do not love Him supremely, you would hear of any other subject in preference to hearing of Him. If you do not love Him, you have no close fellowship with Him. But if these things are in us, or even only beginning in us, by the spark Divine, they are testimony of the fact that "we love Him because He first loved us."
III. Now let us quit this part of our subject for the express purpose of attaining to that which this day's memorial presents to our view; the triumphant resurrection of Christ. He loved, and entered into covenant bond. He loved, and became incarnate to honor that bond. He loved, and met all the cruelties of the scourge and of death as an act of love. He loved, and loves to such an extent that "He withholds no good thing," from the objects of His love. Nor can He withdraw one of the gifts of His love which He has once bestowed upon the soul. And now He ever lives to put forth the expression of that love, and draw by its cords all the purchase of His blood to Himself, to His own footstool.
What, did He really rise? He said that He would; and this prophecy was as literally fulfilled as was the other. No, said the Jews, He shall not rise. We hear that that deceiver said, while He was yet with us, that in three days He would rise again, but we will put an end to any such delusion as that, and prove Him to have been a false prophet. "Command therefore," said they to Pilate, "that the sepulchre be made sure until the third day, lest his disciples come by night and steal Him away, and say unto the people, He is risen from the dead; so the last error shall be worse than the first." So they "had their watch and went their way, making it as sure as they could." The powers of darkness instigated them to the act. Perfidious Pilate, one of the devil's faithful slaves, gave them earthly authority to make it as sure as they could. Soldiers were placed in the little ante-room, or hall, if you please to call it so, that led to the sepulchre, which was dug out of the very heart of the rock. His timid disciples were all fled and departed. A great stone was rolled to the door of the sepulchre, and a seal set upon it, which would have been capital punishment for any one to have dared to remove. But this precious Christ defies earth and hell to hold Him. This precious glorious Redeemer affrights the guards. With an invisible hand He removes the stone. Without the aid of any creature forth He comes from the tomb, and rises the mighty conqueror of sin, death, and hell. The powers of darkness were frustrated, the efforts of mortals were spoiled as well as defied, the malice of the Jews so much more enraged because disappointed, and the hopes of the disciples realized without their touch; for He must come forth and appear unto them. "He appeared first unto Mary Magdalene out of whom He had cast seven devils." "After that He appeared in another form unto two of His disciples as they walked, and went into the country"--going to Emmaus--then to the disciples in an upper room, and afterwards He was seen of five hundred brethren at once. Precious Lord, could nothing hold thee in the grave? Had not the old serpent power enough? No, his head was bruised. Had not Pilate power enough? No, he was panic-stricken. Had not the soldiery power to accomplish it? No, they were affrighted and fled. Had not the law power enough? No, it was paid and satisfied. Had not the justice of God power enough? No, the atonement was sufficient to make it sheath its sword. Not heaven, earth or hell would hold the precious Christ. The work was done. The debt was paid. The enemy was vanquished. And liberty was proclaimed. "The third day He shall rise again."
Remember that beautiful passage in which He predicts--and I want you to view Him as our great Prophet--in which, I say, He predicts the exercise of His power and authority in all this. Before He suffered He gave the solemn challenge, "Therefore doth my Father love me, because I lay down my life, that I might take it again. No man taketh it from me, but I lay it down of myself. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it again." (John 10:17,18) This commandment have I received from my Father. Precious testimony! "Power to lay it down." Yes, for when that ruffian band met Him in Gethsemane's garden, and one of His disciples must draw his sword and cut off Malchus' ear, He said, "Put up your sword. I do not want your assistance. I do not require human aid, and I will not have it. Nor shall it be said that this has frightened my enemies away." Therefore He puts forth His finger and heals the ear. So that all that human power could do was just to cut off the man's ear that Jesus might have the honor of putting it on again. "Then they all forsook Him and fled."
Now the laying down of His life was a perfectly voluntary act on His part. And I pray you, beloved, not to lose sight of this fact; because if you do lose sight of the voluntary nature of His death, there must have been something defective in the fulfilling of His bond, and consequently the whole scheme of grace must have been frustrated. No, my hearers, it was a voluntary act. And observe, that not only had He power to lay down His life, but "power to take it up again." What, our Jesus crucified through weakness, and quickened by the power of God! Our Jesus having laid down His life, a ransom, a sacrifice, and an oblation for all His Church, just at the very moment the acceptance was known in heaven, and the sacred purposes of infinite love were completed and accomplished towards the Church, takes His life again, rises a glorified body, and appears to the disciples and tells them how He had spoiled and conquered sin, death and hell, and how He had made a show of them openly upon the cross! Do not forget this remaining portion of the sentence I have read to you, "This commandment have I received of the Father," which plainly teaches us that that grand transaction was covenanted and engaged for--"This commandment have I received of the Father." He came to the earth entrusted with it. "I came down from heaven," said He, "not to do mine own will, but the will of Him that sent me," (John 6:38) and the commandment was that He should lay down His life and receive it again, all in exact accordance with the Divine will. So that the whole matter of salvation in all its parts brings us back to this point, that the covenant love of the Triune Jehovah, Father, Son and Holy Ghost, is the foundation and source and never-failing spring of all that pertains to our salvation. "This commandment have I received from my Father." I pray you pause a moment here and imagine the legions of angels that waited and attended upon Him; the legions of angels that "desired to look into" this mystery; the legions of angels that had attended the saints of God for ages, as ministering spirits to the heirs of salvation, all waiting the sovereign command of God to appear and assist the precious Christ of God; and yet not one of them was allowed to issue forth upon such an errand--not one, save that mighty angel, and he was invisible, who was commanded to roll away the stone from the mouth of the sepulcher, that Christ might calmly, victoriously and gloriously raise Himself up from Joseph's tomb, and walk out as King of kings, and Lord of lords, the everliving Saviour, the covenant Head of His Church.
Pass on one step further in this sacred scene of His resurrection. "He shall rise again." What for, Lord? To announce the entire acquittal of all my Church. Hence the apostle is commissioned by the Holy Ghost to say, "He was delivered for our offences, but He was raised again for our justification." (Rom. 4:25) So the resurrection of Christ was an announcement of the all-glorious, heart-cheering fact that the iniquities of God's people were for ever done away, the whole debt of the Church eternally cancelled, a justifying righteousness for them all brought in and perfected, the whole realm of bliss, in new songs of rapture, glorying in the completion of Jesus' work. All that had gone before, retained their seats in bliss, and all that were yet unborn of the election of grace were as sure of getting there as those already within the vail; because Jesus announced in His resurrection the actual, entire exoneration, and full and complete salvation of all His Church that the Father had given into His hand.
Let us pause here for a moment just to reprobate those Popish systems which would rob us of all those comforts, and all those blissful secrets. If we are told that Jesus died and rose again that there might be found merit enough in His doing and dying for all the world, and that there might be found encouragement enough in His being risen for all the world to come to Him, and repent, and receive, and believe, and trust Him, but with no certainty for any of them; if such a system as that could be believed by me I would close my Bible and turn Infidel today. I believe it to be a system that has made more Infidels than ever Tom Paine's work did.
What, the Son of God endure all this, and employ His own eternal power and Godhead to lay down His life and take it again upon an uncertainty, at a hazard, at a peradventure! Oh, no; it could not be that! It could not be an uncertainty, for it would be certain ruin to the whole human race. It could not be at hazard, for it would be a fixed decision that every man and woman upon earth would thrust himself and herself into hell. It could not be with any contingency, but with the infallible, awful certainty that destruction and eternal despair must be the lot of all the children of Adam. Therefore, while I am sometimes led to inveigh against the doctrine of contingencies, there is no such thing. It is either certain salvation, or certain damnation, Either saved or eternally perish. Upon a subject like this my soul groans under the insignificancy of the language I can master to talk of such a splendid transaction. Oh, for the tongue of an apostle! Oh, for the tongue of an angel! Nay, even angels do not understand the subject in its immeasurable vastness. Oh, for the tongue of a patriarch! Oh, for the power of the Holy Ghost to enable me to speak of those great, glorious, and unutterable things, so that God may be honored and your souls profited! What! the whole Church exonerated, all the election of grace placed upon such ground, that when their iniquities are sought for, there shall be none; when asked after, they shall not be found! What! may I now take Paul's golden chain, and wear it about my neck as a spiritual, blissful ornament, "whom He did foreknow, He also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brethren. Moreover, whom He did predestinate, them He also called; and whom He called, them He also justified; and whom He justified, them He also glorified? What shall we, then, say to these things?" (Rom. 8:29-31) Why, I may say that they redound to, and reflect immortal honor and eternal glory upon, Him who was scourged and put to death to testify His love unto His Church, and who rise again the third day triumphant over all His enemies.
A word more. When our precious, glorious Lord arose from the dead, He took out the sting of death for all His Church. He took out the sting. Then what have believers to fear? Why should they not exult, and exclaim with the apostle, "Oh, death, where is thy sting? Oh, grave, where is thy victory?" (1 Cor. 15:55) This I understand to be the meaning of the expression, "He hath abolished death," (2 Tim. 1:10) for He has taken away the sting. After all, therefore, it is but the "valley of the shadow of death" to the believer; and shall you and I be such children as to be affrighted at a shadow? God forbid! Only get at this solemn and sacred fact, that He has taken away the sting of death from you, and then you will meet Him as a stingless messenger without fear or dismay, as a kind errand-bearer from the Father's throne, with the welcome message, "Come up hither." Death is not the "king of terrors" to a child of God. He is so, however, to the world, for thus it is written: "The wicked is driven away in his wickedness; but the righteous hath hope in his death." (Prov. 14:32) "Driven away," indeed; and you cannot get a wicked sinner out of the world but by driving him out. He is "driven away in his wickedness;" but of the Lord's own family we read this, that "if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so them, also, which sleep in Jesus, will God bring with Him." (1 Thess. 4:14) So that, in point of fact, it is but a "sleeping in Jesus." The apostle speaks of the greater part of those brethren who were witnesses of His resurrection, as remaining with Him, "but some are fallen asleep." He does not say that they were dead, "but some are fallen asleep." And even of Stephen, the first Christian martyr, who died beneath a shower of stones, pelted to death with all the savage cruelty that the murderers of our precious Christ could muster, it is said that he called upon God, saying, "Lord Jesus, receive my spirit." It was not to be destroyed, and Satan could not touch it or hurt it. The poor fleshly frame might be battered in pieces with their cruelty; but "he kneeled down, and cried with a loud voice, Lord, lay not this sin to their charge. And when he had said this, he fell asleep." It is not said that he groaned deeply; that he cried out with pain and anguish; that his shrieks were terrific. No, not a word of the sort; but "when he had said this, he fell asleep."
Oh, beloved, think, I pray you, of the solemn hour in which you and I shall have to change worlds; and anticipate what it must be to have what the Church says in the Canticles concerning it, "His left hand is under my head, and His right hand doth embrace me," (Songs 2:6) while I fall asleep on His bosom. "Oh, death! were is thy sting?" Jesus has taken it out; and, in order to accomplish His grand work, He went down into the very territories of Death, to grapple with him there, and tear out his sting, that you might meet but a stingless messenger. I want you again to look at your personal interest in this. Is the sting of death gone from me or not? That should be your inquiry. It is, if you are one with Christ. It is not, if you are separated from Christ. "Without me ye can do nothing." (John 15:5) "What!" say you, "is this the criterion? Then, how am I to know that I am in union with Christ?" How would you know?
If you look into your gardens at this period of the year, you will see that the branch, at a remote part of the vine, is so in union with the stem and root, that it is nourished with the very same life, and that the sap which the root contains in throwing out buds and blossoms from the branch; and you are quite sure that, if the twig were not in union with the stock and root, there would be no such appearance of life at the extremity. Bring this comparison to bear upon your own experience. What buddings of life? What goings forth of spiritual desires and emotions, and of ardent affection towards Jesus? What proofs and evidences of your being alive unto Jesus Christ? What fruit brought forth unto His glory? Examine these things, for it would be a frightful matter--God avert it from my hearers--to meet death, with his barbed sting put forth, and amid the clammy sweat that dissolves poor nature, thrust into the soul of the sinner, there to stick fast unto all eternity, and constitute the torment of the damned! Oh, my hearer, bear with me in the solemnity of my appeal to your conscience. I long after you in the bowels of Jesus Christ; and may the Holy Ghost lead you to an investigation of the inquiry, whether you are in Christ, and one with Him in living union, or not. "I in them, they in me," was His own prayer. What! the sting of death taken away, and for ever gone? Then, surely, I have no time to employ in thinking of its terrors. I may have time to adjust, and arrange, and set the house in order before I depart. I may have time to bless, and praise, and glorify death's Almighty Conqueror for the victories He has gained in my behalf. I may have time to shout His glory with my departing breath, and say, "He loved me, and gave Himself for me." But let not my time be absorbed with trifles, or wasted upon toys, whilst so glorious a prospect lies before me as that of "departing to be with Christ, which is far better."
One thought more must close this subject for the present. This precious, glorious Christ holds the keys of hell and of death in His own hand. This He declared unto His servant John, when He communed with him in the isle of Patmos. "I am He," said our glorious, exalted Lord, "that liveth, and was dead; and behold I am alive for evermore, amen; and have the keys of hell and of death;" (Rev. 1:18) and again He said, "I open, and no man shutteth." Then, beloved, our fears may be further dismissed. The time when I shall pass that gate of death must be when Christ thinks proper to lift up His hand with the key, and unlock the door. And shall I draw back? Shall I be reluctant to enter? My God, forbid! "He has the keys of hell and of death;" and no child of God shall be hurried through that gate till Jesus unlocks; no child of Adam can remain a moment longer when Jesus opens with His key, and the departing moment comes. Oh, blissful thought! that that most dreaded enemy of the human race is thus put under our dear Redeemer's power; that He is locking and unlocking as the act of His own sovereign love; and that when He has got ready the mansion for this and for that redeemed soul to occupy--for He is gone to "prepare a place"--all being ready, the angels waiting, earth's word done, and grace perfected and ripened in the soul--Jesus has only to unlock the door, and sweetly whisper, "Come away. Come, my beloved. Come away. Come with me from Lebanon, my spouse, with me from Lebanon. Look from the top of Amana, from the top of Shenir and Hermon, from the lions' dens, from the mountains of the leopards. Thou hast ravished my heart, my sister, my spouse. (Songs 4:8,9) Come away. Come from them all, and enter into rest." I hear Him say, having the keys of hell and death hanging at His girdle, "I will come again, and receive you unto myself. I will not trust even an angel to unlock the door. It shall be my own doing. And I myself will pass with you through the doorway, and accompany you through the valley of the shadow of death." Moreover, He will not part with the keys of hell and of death. The Romish priest, and his stupid devotees, may talk of their keys, and I do not envy their possession of them; but sure I am that the keys of hell and of death are in the hands of my glorious Redeemer, and that He has never, and will never, trust them to any one, be he pope, cardinal, or bishop. Sure I am that He uses them Himself, and that when He unlocks the door to admit the redeemed soul through, the soul is conducted into glory, and, as Noah in the ark, is shut in for ever, for the Lord shuts him in. May I hope that these cursory remarks may be prayed over by you in secret, lead you to close self-inquiry, prompt you to make use of the appeals I have urged upon you relative to personal interest.
The Lord Almighty grant us a "resurrection from dead works to serve the living God," and His name shall be glorified thereby for ever and ever, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.