« PreviousContinue »
In this chapter the infallible author largely treats concerning that capital article of the christian creed, the resurrection of the dead. Having proved, by irrefragable arguments, that as Jesus, the great head of the church, arose and left the tomb, so all the saints, all the members of his mystical body, shall rise at the last day; having shown, that as the Lord Redeemer overcame death, and the grave, and every enemy, so all his followers shall be finally victorious and everlastingly happy; he breaks out in the language of triumph. Having the once formidable enemies full in his view, or rather under his feet, he loudly exclaims; O death! where is thy sting? O grave! where is thy victory? The sting of death is sin, and the strength of sin is the law; but thanks be to God, which giveth us the victory, through our Lord Jesus Christ !—In handling these remarkable words, on the present occasion, I shall take notice, of the various powerful enemies and malignant evils, bere mentioned, from which the real christian is, or shall be, completely delivered the way in which he obtains the deliverance-his triumph over his vanquished foes--and his gratitude to God for the wonderful favour.-And, .
First, The various powerful enemies and malignant evils, here mentioned, from which the real christian is, or shall be, completely delivered, come under our consideration. The awful evils and the destructive enemies, which are here more expressly mentioned, are, death and the grave; but with them, sin and the law are closely connected. That death is a formidable foe, the general consent of mankind, the common feelings of humanity, in the prospect of it, and the voice of divine revelation, loudly de
clare. By death, the union between soul and body is entirely dissolved, and the earthly tabernacle is brought down to the dust. Death reigns *, says the oracle of heaven. He reigns as a king, and enslaves as a tyrant. His empire is ancient, and his dominions are large. So ancient his empire, as to be almost coeval with human existence: so large his dominions, as to extend to all the posterity of Adam, two individuals excepted f. All the past generations of men have bowed to his sceptre, and all that now survive must soon feel the weight of his hand.
But whence has death his terrific appearance, and from what is his power derived ? Our text in- forms us; for he is described as armed with a sting. He is compared to the venomous hornet, or the more baneful scorpion; which wound, emit their poison, and give the keenest sensations of pain, by their stings. It is from hence these creatures become, either hurtful or terrible.--Nor does the apostle leave his reader to a doubtful conjecture, what the sting of death should be; for be immediately and expressly tells us, that it is sin. To the truth of this the consciences of men bear witness. Death owes his existence to sin. On sin his empire is founded, and by it he maintains his dominion - over mankind.-To this the word of fevelation agrees : Sin entered into the world, and death by sin. It is sin that arrays death with all his terrors. By sin only, he stings the conscience and wounds the heart. Had we not been transgressors; were our hearts perfectly pure in the sight of God, and our whole conduct unblemished * Rom, v: 14.
+ Enoch and Elijah.
in the eye of his law, we should have no reason to fear the haggard monarch: we should then be free from his dominion, and beyond the reach of his power.—But, having rebelled against our Eternal Sovereign, and transgressed his righteous precepts; having subjected ourselves to the most dreadful forfeiture, and being exposed to everlasting ruin; we shudder at his appearance, and stand aghast at his approach. Sin makes death a curse, and renders us obnoxious to future pains. Death, therefore, when possessed of his sting, is no other than the minister of Divine Justice, to lay the delinquent under an arrest, and to drag him to prison and judgment. Hence it is, that mighty monarchs tremble on their thrones, in the presence of this king of terrors; and the most hardy, if conscience be not seared as with an hot iron, cannot forbear emotions of slavish fear, when he approaches. This we know; this we feel. Sin, therefore, is a dreadful evil, as it subjects us to death, and arms the tyrant with all his terrors.
As sin is the sting of death, so the law is the strength of sin: as death received his being and all his authority from sin, so sin derives its condemning power from the law. The law which is here intended, is that which the apostle designs, when he says; The law entered, that the offence might abound-By the law is the knowledge of sin I had not known sin, but by the law.* This, it is evident, is the moral law; and this law is the strength of sin. How? Not because it requires it, or inclines to the practice of it; no, it is holy, and just, and good. Its precepts are pure, its sanction
* Rom. v, 20. üi. 20. yü, 7.
is equitable, and its whole design is good. It is every way worthy of the Great Legislator, and was perfectly suited to the nature of man, while in his original state of rectitude: for it is a transcript of the Divine holiness, and a pattern of moral excellence.--How comes it, then, to give strength to sin, to that which is our greatest enemy? The answer is easy: it is the formula of that covenant which was made with our first father; which covenant he brake, and, by one offence, involved all his posterity in guilt and ruin. In the eye of this law, we are all transgressors, and all stand con, demned. As a broken covenant, therefore, as a violated law, it is called the strength of sin: and so it is denominated, because it exposes the evil of sin. By the law we learn, that sin is an infinite evil; as it shows us, that every transgression is an absolute contrariety to God's holiness, and a bold opposition to his revealed will—that it involves in it an impious rejection of Jehovah's authority, and brings the greatest disorder into the rational creation.—But the law does not merely declare the intrinsic evil of sin: for it cites the offender-let the careless sinner hear and tremble!-it cites the offender to answer for his conduct at the bar of God. It fixes a charge of guilt on the conscience, and fills the soul with a sense of deserved wrath. So pure are its precepts, that it requires a perfect obedience; so awful its sanction, that it condemns, without mercy, for the least defect. It insists upon absolute rectitude, both of heart and life, and denounces fiery pains against the least deviation. Such are its high commands, and such the tremendous
sanction with which they are guarded.* In these respects and thus considered, the law is the strength of sin.
But we have another enemy mentioned, and that is the
grave is one of those things that are never satisfied. Her language is that of the horse-leech's daughters, Give, give. She devours thousands at a meal, yet never says, “It is enough.' Death with his javelin in his hand, stalks along our streets; and, commissioned from above, levels the mortal blow, and the destined victim falls, a prisoner to the grave and a prey to the vilest insects. Or, more agreeably to the apostle's metáphor, death, like the insidious viper, fästens his invenomed tooth in our vitals; like the malignant scorpion, penetrates the heart with his impoisoned sting; and we sicken, we faint, we die—the grave receives us into her close confinement, and pours upon us the utmost contempt. She loads her prisoners with the deepest disgrace, and glories in it. The human frame, though once beautiful to admiration, is, wlien under her power, quite the reverse. The sparkling eye, and the blooming cheek; the comely countenance and the elegant form, are lost in darkness and laid in ruins; are covered with putrefaction, and food for worins.—What a mortifying reflection this, to the haughty fair one! to all who value themselves on their external beauty! Nor let the masculine, or the most robust, imagine themselves exempted from the depredations and dishonours of the grave. For her power is equally extensive with the empire of death, and of the same
* Roin. iii. 19, 20. iv. 15. vi. 23. Gal. iii. 10.