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Man that is born of a woman is of few days.
The brevity and burden of life
The knowledge and the conduct of mankind are very frequently at variance. How general is the conviction of the brevity of human life and of the certainty of death! How wise, virtuous, and happy would the human species be were their conduct conformable to this conviction! But how rarely is this the case! Do not the generality live as if their life were never to have an end?
1. Our life is of short duration. Many are snatched away by death while children. A considerable portion of mankind fall a prey to the grave in the liveliest period of their youth. Many are taken off by sudden disease. If a man lives long, how short life appears to him on review of it.
2. Our life is full of trouble. To how many evils and dangers, how many calamities are we not subject from our birth to our death! How often are our joys converted into sorrows! Our life is interwoven with many perils and distresses. Let us never add to their number by a disorderly and criminal conduct. If life then be so short and so insecure, how irrational is it to confine our hopes to these few moments, and to seek the whole of our happiness here on earth! We impose upon ourselves in thinking to build our felicity on the unstable possession and enjoyment of these fugacious objects. We are formed for eternity. Our present condition is only a state of preparation and discipline; it only contains the first act of our life which is never to terminate. The blessed, undecaying life should be the object of our affections, our views and our exertions; it should be the principal ground of our hopes and our comfort. (G. J. Zollikofer.)
The brevity and troubles of human life
I. Man’s days are few. Time is a word of comparison. Time is a portion of eternity, or unlimited duration. But who can form a just conception of eternity? That which we call time we may attempt to illustrate by observing that when one event has reference to and is connected with another which precedes it, the distance between them is marked, and the portion of duration is designated time. Eternity was, before the sun and moon were made, eternity is now, and eternity will continue to be, when suns and moons shall have finished their course. To aid our meditations on the shortness of time, we may endeavour to contemplate eternity. We may draw a circle, place our finger upon any part of it, then follow by tracing the line, but when shall we reach the termination of that line? Round and round the circle we may move, but we shall come to no end. Such is eternity, it has no limits. Turning from the thought of the vastness of eternity, while contemplating which we cannot but feel our own insignificance, let us see if, in comparison, time be not a very little thing, less than a drop of water compared with the ocean, or a grain of sand with the dimensions of the globe. In the short period of a few years one generation passes away, and another and another succeed. Few are man’s days, but long and important is the train of events dependent upon the manner in which they are spent.
II. The days of man are full of trouble. The troubles of man commence at a very tender age. In man’s daily movements he is liable to many personal dangers. He is brought through distressing scenes. No stage of life is exempt from troubles, from infancy to grey hairs; but although this is a state and condition of sorrow, it need not be one of despair. Trials and troubles are our portion, but there is a state to which we may attain which will far more than compensate for all we may be called to endure here below, and true wisdom consists in securing to ourselves this inestimable blessing. (Sir Wm. Dunbar.)
The brevity and burden of life
That life is of short continuance and disquieted by many molestations every man knows, and every man feels. But truth does not always operate in proportion to its reception. Truth, possessed without the labour of investigation, like many of the general conveniences of life, loses its estimation by its easiness of access. Many things which are not pleasant may be salutary, and among them is the just estimate of human life, which may be made by all with advantage, though by few, very few, with delight. Since the mind is always of itself shrinking from disagreeable images, it is sometimes necessary to recall them; and it may contribute to the repression of many unreasonable desires, and the prevention of many faults and follies, if we frequently and attentively consider--
I. That man born of a woman is of few days. The business of life is to work out our salvation; and the days are few in which provision must he made for eternity. Our time is short, and our work is great. We must use all diligence to make our “calling and election sure.” But this is the care of only a few. If reason forbids us to fix our hearts upon things which we are not certain of retaining, we violate a prohibition still stronger when we suffer ourselves to place our happiness in that which must certainly be lost; yet such is all that this world affords us. Pleasures and honours must quickly fail us, because life itself must soon be at an end. To him who turns his thoughts late to the duties of religion, the time is not only shorter, but the work is heavier. The more sin has prevailed, with the more difficulty is its dominion resisted. Habits are formed by repeated acts, and therefore old habits are always strongest. How much more dreadful does the danger of delay appear, when it is considered that not only life is every day shorter, and the work of reformation every day greater, but that strength is every day less. It is absolutely less by reason of natural decay. In the feebleness of declining life, resolution is apt to languish. One consideration ought to be deeply impressed upon every sluggish and dilatory lingerer. The penitential sense of sin, and the desire of a new life, when they arise in the mind, are to be received as monitions excited by our merciful Father, as calls which it is our duty to hear and our interest to follow; that to turn our thoughts away from them is a new sin.
II. That man born of a woman is full of trouble. The immediate effect of the numerous calamities with which human nature is threatened, or afflicted, is to direct our desires to a better state. Of the troubles incident to mankind, everyone is best acquainted with his owe share. Sin and vexation are still so closely united, that he who traces his troubles to their source will commonly find that his faults have produced them, and he is then to consider his sufferings as the mild admonitions of his Heavenly Father, by which he is summoned to timely repentance. Trouble may, sometimes, be the consequence of virtue. In times of persecution this has happened. The frequency of misfortunes and universality of misery may properly repress any tendency to discontent or murmuring. We suffer only what is suffered by others, and often by those who are better than ourselves. We may find opportunities of doing good. Many human troubles are such as God has given man the power of alleviating. The power of doing good is not confined to the wealthy. He that has nothing else to give, may often give advice. A wise man may reclaim the vicious and instruct the ignorant, may quiet the throbs of sorrow, or disentangle the perplexities of conscience. He may compose the resentful, encourage the timorous, and animate the hopeless. (John Taylor, LL. D.)
The brevity and uncertainty of man’s life
Man’s life is short.
1. Comparatively. Our fathers before the flood lived longer. Compared with the duration of the world. Compared with the years that some irrational creatures live. Eagles and ravens among birds, stags and elephants among beasts. Compared with those many days that most men abide in the grave, in the land of oblivion. Compared with the life to come.
2. Absolutely. It is a great while before he really lives, and he is a long time alive before he knows it, and understands where he is. When he comes to five, the whole work of life has to be dispatched in a short compass. Man is made of discordant elements, which jar and fall out with one another, and thereby procure his dissolution. So that it is no wonder that he drops into the grave so soon.
3. Man’s life is thus short by the just judgment of God. By reason of Adam’s sin and our own.
4. Man’s life is abbreviated by the mercy and favour of God. Apply--
(1) Be thoroughly convinced of this truth, and often revolve it in your minds.
(2) Complain not of the shortness of life.
(3) Make this doctrine serviceable to all holy and religious purposes.
Seeing life is so short and uncertain, how absurd a thing is it for a man to behave himself as if he should live forever! Do not defer repentance. (J. Edwards.)
The proper estimate of human life
Job’s beautiful and impressive description of human life contains no exaggerated picture. It is a just and faithful representation of the condition of man on earth.
I. Man is of few days. The short duration of human life, and its hasty progress to death and the grave, has in every age been the pathetic complaint of the children of men. If he escape the dangers which threaten his tenderer years, he soon advances to the maturity of his existence, beyond which he cannot expect that his life will be much prolonged. He must fall, as does the ripe fruit from the tree. No emblem of human life can be finer than this used in the text, “as a flower”; “as a shadow.” How rapid the succession of events which soon carry man into the decline of life! How frequently is the hopeful youth cut off in the very pride and beauty of life!
II. Man’s days are full of trouble. Trouble and distress are our inevitable inheritance on earth. In every period, and under every circumstance of human existence, their influence on happiness is more or less perceptible. Some reflections--
1. Since man is of few days and full of trouble, we should sit loose to the world and its enjoyments; we should moderate our desires and pursuits after sublunary objects.
2. Instead of indulging in immoderate sorrow for the loss of relations or friends, we should rejoice that they have escaped from the evils to come.
3. We should rejoice that our abode is not to be always in this world. The present state is but the house of our pilgrimage.
4. We should prepare for the close of life by the exercise of faith, love, and obedience to our Saviour; by the regular discharge of all the duties of piety; by the sincere and unremitting practice of every Christian grace; and by having our conversation at all times becoming the Gospel. (G. Goldie.)
On the shortness and troubles of human life
I. The shortness. When God first built the fabric of a human body, He left it subject to the laws of mortality; it was not intended for a long continuance on this side the grave. The particles of the body are in a continual flux. Subtract from the life of man the time of his two infancies and that which is insensibly passed away in sleep, and the remainder will afford very few intervals for the enjoyment of real and solid satisfaction. Look upon man under all the advantages of its existence, and what are threescore years and ten, or even fourscore? “He cometh up like a flower, and is cut down.” An apt resemblance of the transient gaieties and frailties of our state. The impotencies and imperfections of our infancy, the vanities of youth, the anxieties of manhood, and the infirmities of age, are so closely linked together by one continued chain of sorrow and disquietude, that there is little room for solid and lasting enjoyment.
II. The troubles and miseries that attend human life. These are so interspersed in every state of our duration that there are very few intervals of solid repose and tranquillity of mind. Even the best of us have scarcely time to dress our souls before we must put off our bodies. We no sooner make our appearance on the stage of life, but are commanded by the decays of nature to prepare for another state. There is a visible peculiarity in our disposition which effectually destroys all our enjoyments, and consequently increases our calamities. We are too apt to fret and be discontented under our own condition, and envy that of other men. If successful in obtaining riches and pleasures, we find inconveniencies and miseries attending them. And whilst we are grasping at the shadow, we may be losing the substance. And we are uneasy and querulous under our condition, and know not how to enjoy the present hour. Substantial happiness has no existence on this side the grave. The shortness of life ought to remind us of the duty of making all possible improvements in religion and virtue. (W. Adey.)
Job’s account of the shortness and troubles of life
Never man was better qualified to make just and noble reflections upon the shortness of life and the instability of human affairs than Job was, who had himself waded through such a sea of troubles, and in his passage had encountered many vicissitudes of storms and sunshine, and by turns had felt both the extremes of all the happiness and all the wretchedness that mortal man is heir to. Such a concurrence of misfortunes is not the common lot of many. The words of the text are an epitome of the natural and moral vanity of man, and contain two distinct declarations concerning his state and condition in each respect.
I. That he is a creature of few days. Job’s comparison is that man “cometh forth like a flower.” He is sent into the world the fairest and noblest part of God’s work. Man, like the flower, though his progress is slower, and his duration something longer, yet has periods of growth and declension nearly the same, both in the nature and manner of them. As man may justly be said to be of “few days,” so may he be said to “flee like a shadow and continue not,” when his duration is compared with other parts of God’s works, and even the works of his own hands, which outlast many generations.
II. That he is full of trouble. We must not take our account from the flattering outside of things. Nor can we safely trust the evidence of some of the more merry and thoughtless among us. We must hear the general complaint of all ages, and read the histories of mankind. Consider the desolations of war; the cruelty of tyrants; the miseries of slavery; the shame of religious persecutions. Consider men’s private causes of trouble. Consider how many are born into misery and crime. When, therefore, we reflect that this span of life, short as it is, is chequered with so many troubles, that there is nothing in this world which springs up or can be enjoyed without a mixture of sorrow, how insensibly does it incline us to turn our eyes and affections from so gloomy a prospect, and fix them upon that happier country, where afflictions cannot follow us, and where God will wipe away all tears from off our faces forever and ever. (Laurence Sterne.)
Man’s state and duty
I. Man’s present state.
1. Its limited duration, expressed by the term “few days.” How short life often is! In sleep alone one-third is consumed. The period of infancy must be deducted, and the time lost in indolence, listlessness, and trifling employment, in which much of every passing day is wasted. The varied employments in which men are compelled to labour for the bread that perisheth rarely furnish either pleasure or spiritual improvement.
2. The frailty of man’s state. “He cometh forth like a flower and is cut down.” The allusion is to man’s physical origin and condition.
3. It is full of trouble. It has been remarked that man enters the present life with a cry, strangely prophetic of the troubles through which he must pass on his way to the grave. No stage of life is exempted from trouble.
II. Man’s duty. His chief business on earth is--
1. To prepare for death.
2. To dread sin.
3. To be humble.
4. To be grateful to the Saviour. (Peter Samuel.)
The shortness and misery of life
We should hardly imagine this verse to be correct if we were to judge of its truth by the conduct of mankind at large. The text is more awfully true, because men willingly allow their senses to be stupefied by the pleasures, or distracted by the cares of this their fleeting existence. Ever and anon, however, we are startled from our stupor, and awake in some degree to our real position.
I. The shortness of life. In the first ages of the world, the term allotted to man was much longer than it is at present. In the sight of God, the longest life is but, as it were, a handbreadth. Life is compared to a vapour, or fog, which is soon scattered by the rising sun; to a swift ship; to an eagle hastening to its prey. “Lord, teach us to number our days, that we may apply our hearts unto wisdom.”
II. The troubles of life. These come alike to all. All may say, “Few and evil have the days of the years of my life been.” Man is “full of trouble.” But we must discriminate between the saint and the sinner. When we think and talk of death, we should ever connect it with that which follows. We must stand before the judgment seat of Christ. May you all be found standing with your lamps burning, and with your loins girded, “like men that wait for the coming of their Lord.” (C. Clayton, M. A.)
The fragility of human life
I. The important ideas suggested.
1. That human life is flattering in its commencement. Man “cometh forth like a flower.” Imagery more appropriate could not have been selected. Children are like flowers in the bud, unfolding their beauty as days and months increase; the expansion of the mind, and acquisition of new ideas, fascinate and involuntarily allure the affections of their parents, who watch over them with the tenderest anxiety. The flower is cut down (Psalms 103:15-16; Isaiah 40:6-7; James 1:10-11; 1 Peter 1:24).
2. Disastrous in its continuance. “Full of trouble.”
3. Contracted in its span. “Few days.” Life, in its longest period, is but a short journey from the cradle to the tomb (Genesis 47:9). Various are the figures employed to illustrate the shortness of human life; it is compared to a “step” (1 Samuel 20:3), “a post” (Job 9:25), “a tale that is told” (Psalms 90:9), “a weaver’s shuttle” (Job 7:6), and a “vapour” (James 1:14).
4. Incessant in its course. “Fleeth as a shadow.” Human life is measured by seconds, hours, days, weeks, months, and years. These periodical revolutions roll on in rapid succession. Some suppose it the shadow of the sun-dial; but whether we consider it as the shadow of the evening, which is lost when night comes on; or the shadow on a dial plate, which is continually moving onward; or the shadow of a bird flying, which stays not; the figure fully represents the life of man, which is passing away, whether we are loitering or active, careless or serious, killing or improving time.
5. Eventful in its issue. Death introduces us into the fixed state of eternity, and puts a final period to all earthly enjoyments and suffering; the soul, dismissed from its clay tabernacle, is introduced into a world of spirits, from whence there is no return.
II. Improve them by practical inferences. Such being the character of human life, it is the duty and wisdom of piety--
1. To enrich the juvenile mind with religious instruction. “Man cometh forth as a flower,” therefore let instruction drop as the rain and fall as the dew: no time must be lost.
2. Improve the dispensations of providence.
3. Be diligent.
4. Maintain a noble detachment from the world.
5. Live in a constant readiness for your change. (Sketches of Four Hundred Sermons.)
Human life troublous and brief
Goethe was considered by his compeers a man highly favoured of providence. Yet, what said he, as he drew near his end, and passed in review his departed years? “They have called me a child of fortune, nor have I any wish to complain of the course of my life. Yet it has been nothing but sorrow and labour; and I may truly say that in seventy-five years I have not had four weeks of true comfort. It was the constant rolling of a stone that was always to be lifted anew. When I look back upon my earlier and middle life, and consider how few are left of those that were young with me, I am reminded of a summer visit to a watering place. On arriving one makes the acquaintance of those who have already been some time there, and leave the week following. This loss is painful. Now one becomes attached to the second generation, with which one lives for a time and becomes intimately connected. But this also passes away, and leaves us solitary with the third, which arrives shortly before our own departure, and with which we have no desire to have much intercourse.”
And is cut down.--Never a day passes but we are presented with objects which ought to make us reflect on our final exit. And serious reflections on this important event would never fail to have a due influence on our conduct here, and, consequently, on our happiness hereafter. But such is the depravity of our nature, that, regardless of the future, wholly engrossed by the present, we are captivated by the vain and empty pleasures which this world affords us. If man were capable of no higher happiness than what arises from the gratification of his carnal appetites, then to vex and torment himself with the thoughts of death would serve no other purpose but to interrupt him in the enjoyment of his sensual pleasures. But if, on the contrary, man is not only capable of but evidently designed by his Creator for a happiness of the most lasting and durable, as well as the most noble and exalted nature, then it is the greatest madness not to lay to heart and seriously to consider this great event, which is big with the fate of eternity. There is nothing in nature so full of terror as death to the wicked man. But to the righteous man death is divested of all its terrors; the certainty of the mercy of God, and the love of his blessed Redeemer, fill his soul with the most entire resignation, enable him to meet death with the most undaunted courage, and even to look upon it as the end of his sorrow and vexation, and the commencement of pleasures which will last when the whole frame of this universe shall be dissolved.
1. Some particulars that ought to make us reflect on death. Such as the decay of the vegetable world. There seems to be a surprising resemblance between the vegetable and animal systems. The Scriptures make frequent allusions to this resemblance, e.g., the grass. Sleep is another thing which ought to make us mindful of death. Death and sleep are equally common to all men, to the poor, as well as to the rich. We ought never to indulge ourselves in slumber till we have laid our hand on our breast, and in the most serious manner asked ourselves whether we are prepared alike to sleep or die.
2. The decay of our bodies, by sickness or old age, ought to make us reflect on our last change. The life of every man is uncertain; and the life of the aged and infirm much more than that of others; they, therefore, in a peculiar manner, ought to devote their meditations to this subject.
3. The death of others is another circumstance which ought to lead us to reflect on our own. From attending to these circumstances, and improving the feelings described, we may be enabled to appreciate the discoveries and embrace the consolations of the Gospel, which alone can enable us to conquer the fear of death, and to look forward with devout gratitude to that happy state where sorrow and death shall be known no more. (W. Shiels.)
Frailty of life
Some things last long, and run adown the centuries; but what is your life? Even garments bear some little wear and tear; but what is your life? A delicate texture; no cobweb is a tithe as frail. It will fail before a touch, a breath. Justinian, an Emperor of Rome, died by going into a room which had been newly painted; Adrian, a pope, was strangled by a fly; a consul struck his foot against his own threshold, his foot mortified, so that he died thereby. There are a thousand gates to death; and, though some seem to be narrow wickets, many souls have passed through them. Men have been choked by a grape stone, killed by a tile falling from the roof of a house, poisoned by a drop, carried off by a whiff of foul air. I know not what there is too little to slay the greatest king. It is a marvel that man lives at all. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
Who can bring a clean thing out of an unclean?
On the corruption of human nature
The disobedience of our first parents involved their posterity, and entailed a depravity of nature upon their descendants; which depravity, though it is not a sin in us, till the will closes with it, and deliberately consents to it; yet is certainly sinful in itself, and therefore is styled original sin. Adam was formed in the image of God, in righteousness and true holiness; but it is plain that we who are born with strong propensions to vice are not created in righteousness and true holiness. It is clear that we are fallen from our original and primitive state of innocence. Far be it from me to vilify human nature, as if it were totally bad, without any remains or traces of its primitive greatness. But no creature could come originally from God’s hand but what was perfect in its kind; no rational creature can be perfect in his kind, in whom there is a strong propension to vice, that is, to what is unreasonable, and a great irregularity of the appetites and affections. There is a latent stock of corruption in us, though sometimes unsuspected by us, which often discovers itself as soon as there are suitable objects to call it forth. We see the wisest of men, in their unguarded hours, betrayed into unaccountable follies. Reason was originally given us to govern the passions in all cases. It does not now regulate and govern them in all cases; it is certain, therefore, that we are in a fallen, disordered state. If men proceed to action while their passions are warm, they do not see things justly, and therefore are apt to act too hastily; if they stay till their passions are cool, they are apt not to act at all. Moreover, we do not love or hate, rejoice or grieve, hope or fear, so far as is consistent with reason, and no further. We love the things of this world beyond the proportion of good which is in them. The love of virtue and heavenly happiness does not keep pace with the worth of the objects beloved. The truth is that ever since the fall, the body clogs the native energy of the soul, and pins it down to this low, ignoble sphere. Into what can this universal depravation, which prevails everywhere among the sons of men, be resolved, but into an universal cause, the inborn corruption of nature, and an original taint, derived from our first parents? Can it be resolved into education? If mankind were in a state of integrity and primitive uprightness, there could scarce be, one would think, so much evil in the world as there really is. Man was originally formed for the knowledge and worship of God only; yet in all countries men are immersed in idolatry and superstition. Man was formed for loving his neighbour as himself; yet the world is generally inclined to the ill-natured side. Again, we were designed for an exact knowledge of ourselves; and yet we see ourselves through a flattering glass, in the fairest and brightest light. Lastly, we were formed for the attainment of beneficial truth; yet there are not many certain truths, demonstrable from intrinsic evidences, from the abstract nature of the thing; though reason can prove several, by the help of external evidences. Setting revelation aside, mankind would have reason to wish that they did not know so much as they do, or that they knew a great deal more . . . It is one thing to say that God was, or could be, the author of evil; and another to say that when evil was introduced by man, He did not work a miracle to prevent the natural consequences of it; but suffered it for the sake of bringing a greater good out of it; and that, by redemption, He has advanced man to much superior happiness than he could have had any title to, if he had continued in a state of innocence. This is the scriptural solution of the difficulty. What remains but that we strive to recover that happiness, by our humility and meekness, which our first parents lost by pride? The consideration and sense of unworthiness will dispose a man to accept the offers of salvation by Jesus Christ, and make him endeavour to fulfil the terms of it. (J. Seed, M. A.)
Out of nothing comes nothing
Job had a deep sense of the need of being clean before God, and indeed he was clean in heart and band beyond his fellows. But he saw that he could not of himself produce holiness in his own nature, and, therefore, he asked this question, and answered it in the negative without a moment’s hesitation. The best of men are as incapable as the worst of men of bringing out from human nature that which is not there.
I. Matters of impossibility in nature.
1. Innocent children from fallen parents.
2. A holy nature from the depraved nature of any one individual.
3. Pure acts front an impure heart.
4. Perfect acts from imperfect men.
5. Heavenly life from nature’s moral death.
II. Subjects for practical consideration for everyone.
1. That we must be clean to be accepted.
2. That our fallen nature is essentially unclean.
3. That this does not deliver us from our responsibility: we are none the less hound to be clean because our nature inclines us to be unclean; a man who is a rogue to the core of his heart is not thereby delivered from the obligation to be honest.
4. That we cannot do the needful work of cleansing by our own strength. Depravity cannot make itself desirous to be right with God. Corruption cannot make itself fit to speak with God. Unholiness cannot make itself meet to dwell with God.
5. That it will be well for us to look to the Strong for strength, to the Righteous One for righteousness, to the Creating Spirit for new creation. Jehovah brought all things out of nothing, light out of darkness, and order out of confusion; and it is to such a Worker as He that we must look for salvation from our fallen state.
III. Provisions to meet the case.
1. The fitness of the Gospel for sinners. “When we were yet without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly.” The Gospel contemplates doing that for us which we cannot attempt for ourselves,
2. The cleansing power of the blood.
3. The renewing work of the Spirit. The Holy Ghost would not regenerate us if we could regenerate ourselves.
4. The omnipotence of God in spiritual creation, resurrection, quickening, preservation, and perfecting. Application--Despair of drawing any good out of the dry well of the creature. Have hope for the utmost cleansing, since God has become the worker of it. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
But man dieth . . . and where is he?
Am I to live forever
I. The belief indicated that man’s nature is two fold. There are two distinct processes ever going on within our frame. We may lose our physical organs, but the soul may think, wish, or purpose, as energetically as ever. The brain is the organ of the mind; but this does not warrant our saying that the brain and the mind are of the same material, or that they are only different sides of that material thing. If there are manifestations in our constitution which matter cannot give account of, it would be absurd to follow that up by saying that man goes out of life altogether when he dies and wastes away. We should rather believe that as our nature is two fold, that part which is spiritual may survive that which is material.
II. A doubt expressed as to what becomes of the man when he dies. Death tells us nothing. There is no evidence in it of what becomes of the man. Death fails to prove anything as to the survival of the soul. Yet the belief has been general, that those who have passed away are still somewhere. Why should men have believed that the soul still had a place? Every sense was against it.
III. The grounds on which the conviction is built that man lives after death. I go behind the Bible, and look at the action of our own nature.
1. The indestructibility of force or energy. When once a force has begun to be in operation that force continues. It is never blotted out.
2. The incompleteness of man’s life here. God is a teacher who sets us a task which we cannot prepare in school.
3. The best affections which distinguish this life speak of continuance beyond this present state.
4. When man dieth, we forecast a judgment for the deeds done in the body. It may be, indeed, it will be, that the judgment shall not be such as we pass upon one another. We look upon the outward appearance, God looks on the heart. We are to be judged. What are we to be judged for? (D. G. Watt, M. A.)
“Where is he?”
The certainty of the general truth referred to in our text, “Man dieth and wasteth away; yea, man giveth up the ghost.” And then we shall take up the concluding inquiry, “And where is he?” Now, the words translated “man” are different. There are two different words to express man in the original. The first properly means a mighty man: the second is Adam, man of the earth; implying that the mighty man dieth and wasteth away,--yea, man because he is of earth giveth up the ghost. It is quite unnecessary to attempt any proof of the solemn truth that man dieth. You all know that you must die. Yet how often does a man’s conduct give a denial to his conviction. Hence it is needful for the ministers of the Gospel frequently to bring forward truths which are familiar to our minds, but which on that very account are apt to be little regarded. We are not unwilling to feel that others must die, but we are indisposed to bring the same conclusion home to ourselves; and yet it is the law of our being. “It is appointed unto men once to die.” The first breath we draw contains the germ of life and of destruction. The stem of human nature has never yet put forth a flower without a canker at the bud, or a worm at its heart. Why is this? “By one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned.” It is of the greatest importance for us all to know that through the infinite merits of our gracious Redeemer the power of death has been broken and subdued, and the sting of death which is sin has been extracted, and thus may death become not an enemy but a welcome friend to introduce us to new, to holy, to immortal life. There are a thousand different ways by which mortals are hurried hence the lingering disease, the rapid fever, the devouring flames, the devastating tempest. But now our text suggests to us an important inquiry, “And where is he?” You must at once see that this is a question of the last importance to you and to me. We ought to be able to answer it. What has become of him? A short time since he was here in health and vigour, but where is he now? Where shall we seek for information on this interesting point? Shall we turn to some of our modern philosophers? Alas, they will afford but poor comfort! They will probably answer, “Why, he is no more; he is as though he had never been.” And do all the boasted discoveries of the present age which refuse to believe in the annihilation of matter, tend to raise our hopes no higher than annihilation for the soul? Shall we ask the Romanist, “Where is he?” We shall be told he is in a state of purgatory, from whence, after having endured a sufficient degree of fiery punishment and after a sufficient number of masses have been said on his behalf, he will be delivered and received into heaven. Truly it may be said of all such, “miserable comforters are ye all.” Revelation alone can cherish and support in us a hope of glory hereafter. It replies to our inquiry thus, “The dust shall return to the earth as it was, and the spirit shall return to God who gave it.” Accordingly we are exhorted to “fear not them which kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul; but rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell.” Now these passages are sufficient to show that the body and soul in man are distinct, the one from the other, and that while the one is in the grave mingling its dust with the clods of the valley, the other is in eternity, in happiness or misery. We therefore now ask your attention to the Word of God for an answer to the inquiry, “Where is he?” And here we must observe that however different individuals may appear to their fellow men, yet the Scriptures divide all mankind into two classes only, those who serve God, and those who serve Him not. Hence the reply given to the inquiry will have distinct reference to one or other of these classes. With respect to the question as relating to the righteous, “Where is he?” the Bible comforts us with the cheering answer, that absent from the body he is present with the Lord. “For we know,” says the apostle, “that if our earthly house of this tabernacle were dissolved, we have a building of God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. Therefore we are always confident, knowing that whilst we are at home in the body, we are absent from the Lord.” In accordance with this representation was our Lord’s promise to the penitent thief, “Today shalt thou be with Me in paradise.” “Where are the righteous?” In that happy place with the spirits of just men made perfect, waiting for the glorious time when the whole redeemed family shall be gathered in to celebrate the marriage supper of the Lamb. “I go to prepare a place for you,” said the Saviour, “and I will come again and receive you to Myself, that where I am there ye may be also.” “So shall we ever be with the Lord.” But then there is another class--the wicked, the impenitent. Where is he? The Scriptures afford a sad, though not less faithful answer. They inform us that “the wicked is driven away in his wickedness,”--that “their condemnation slumbereth not.” In order that we may bring the subject practically home to ourselves, let me put the question in a slightly altered form. Where are you now? What is your relation to God, and what preparation are you making for the period of death and judgment? We ask those who have never broken off their sins by true repentance and faith in Christ, where are you? Why, you are simply exposed to the vengeance of God’s law, which you know you have broken a thousand times. If you die as you have lived, God’s enemies--you must be condemned. You know that the Word of God says, “The soul that sinneth, it shall die.” “The wages of sin is death.” The Judge says, “Except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish.” But I put the question, next, to those who seem to have got a step in advance,--who have heard the call to repentance, and are striving to forsake those sins which before had dominion over them. Where are you? It is a common deceit of Satan, when he sees that the sinner is really alarmed at his state and begins to cry to God for mercy, to persuade him that his altered life must needs be pleasing to God, and that his good deeds will certainly merit heaven for him. This is a delusion which I believe to be far more common than is supposed. People seem to think that by a moral life they are doing God service, forgetting that repentance is not the condition of our salvation, but faith. “He that believeth not the Son shall not see life,” said our blessed Lord. “The wrath of God abideth on him.” “He that believeth not is condemned already.” “Oh, but,” says one, “are we not to repent?” Assuredly! Repentance and a life of piety will be sure to be the necessary result of faith in Jesus as our Saviour. But, then, repentance can never undo a single sin you have committed, or pay the penalty of God’s broken law. But come with me to a death bed or two, and we will put the question there, “Where is he?” A death bed is a detector of the heart. “Men may live fools, but fools they cannot die.” No; the scene is then changed. The infidel then drops his mask. The hypocrite who through life has deceived himself and his fellow creatures, trembles as he draws near the valley of the shadow of death. Now, behold that pale emaciated wretch. That is the notorious infidel Thomas Paine. Where is he? He is dying, a victim of profligacy and of brandy. He is horrorstruck to be left alone for a minute. He dares not let those who are waiting upon him be out of his sight. He exclaims incessantly so as to alarm all in the house, “O Lord, help me. Lord Jesus, help me.” He confesses to one who had burned his infidel Age of Reason, that he wished that all who had read it had been as wise; and he added, “If ever the devil had an agent on earth, I have been that one.” And when the terror of death came over this most unhappy man, he exclaimed, “I think I can say what they make Jesus Christ to have said, ‘My God, my God, why hast Thou forsaken me?’” In that state of mind he died, a stranger to penitence, in all the horrors of an accusing conscience. Infidelity has no support for its deluded followers on a death bed. The apostle when contemplating his end said, “I have a desire to depart, and to be with Christ, which is far better. I have fought the good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith. Henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, shall give me; and not to me only, but unto all them that love His appearing.” This blessed experience is as much the inheritance of Christians now as it was in the apostle’s time, for there is the same Saviour, and the same sure word of promise on which to rely. The Rev. Holden Stuart when smitten with a sickness unto death, said to his medical attendant, “Doctor, don’t be afraid to tell me the truth, for the day of my death will be the happiest day of my life.” Someone who had great experience of human nature, once remarked, “Tell me how a man has lived, and I will tell you how he will die.” (W. Windle.)
Where are the dead
Man was originally formed to be a representative of God’s moral perfections--His wisdom, goodness, holiness, and truth. By the apostasy of our first parents the scene is changed, and holiness and happiness must now be sought after “in fairer worlds on high.” Death is said to be of three kinds--natural, spiritual, eternal.
I. A most solemn and humiliating declaration. It cannot be questioned. What lessons may be deduced from it?
1. It is a very affecting truth.
2. Here is an instructive lesson--man should be humble.
3. Learn also the value of time.
4. Learn the nature of sin, the infinite evil, and the awful consequences of it.
5. God will most surely execute the judgments which He threatens in His most Holy Word.
II. A most momentous inquiry. It relates not to the body, but to the soul, to the man himself. The soul is still in existence, still thinks and feels. Guided by the light of Scripture, we may safely find an answer to the solemn inquiry, “Where is he?” For the very moment the soul bids farewell to this world he enters the world of spirits, enters upon a state of everlasting happiness or woe. (John Vaughan, LL. D.)
The great question
I. The solemn scene which is before us.
1. Man giveth up the ghost, not by an option, but by an obligation; not by a deed at will, but by the stern and just necessity of law. The surrender of life in the blessed Jesus was an option. But man gives up the ghost, and there is a Divine will in that surrender, a surrender which is resistless when that will makes it so. Death is just the absence of life--and what a mysterious thing is life! I do not stop to show that man has a ghost, an immaterial and immortal spirit. One’s own consciousness contradicts the materialist, and the Bible is in harmony with what one observes in nature, and human consciousness teaches.
2. The manner of the surrender is uncertain. Though its occurrence is mysterious, its actual occurrence is certain. There is but one mode of entering life, but there are a thousand methods of leaving it.
II. The inquiry of anxious affection when the scene is over. “Where is he?”
1. Death brings a change of condition, never a change of character.
2. Though death is a change of condition, it is not a change of companionship. The same style of company it is a pleasure to him to keep on earth, a man must expect to keep in eternity. (C. J. P. Eyre, A. M.)
Man is a dying creature
1. This is spoken of man twice in the text. In the original two different words are used, one meaning the strong man, and the other the weak man. In the grave they meet together.
(1) Man dies though he be (geber) a mighty man.
(2) Man dies because he is a man of the earth (Genesis 2:7; Genesis 3:10).
2. Man is a dying creature. He dies daily, some or other going off every day.
(1) Before death, he “wasteth away.” He is weakening. Even in health, certainly in sickness and old age, we are wasting away. Inference--
1. See how vain man is.
2. How foolish they are who waste any part of their short lives upon their lusts.
(2) In death man giveth up the ghost. Man expires by a sudden stroke. He breathes out his last.
(3) After death, where is he? He is not where he was. He is somewhere. Think where the body is. Think where the soul is. It is gone into the world of spirits to which we are so much strangers. It is gone into an unchangeable state; it is gone into eternity. After death the judgment. (M. Henry.)
The state of the dead
The stage of human existence which intervenes between death and the resurrection is naturally regarded by us with great curiosity and solicitude. On this subject nature is silent, and revelation does but whisper faintly and vaguely. We are able to form a much more distinct conception of the heavenly state than of that which immediately precedes it. The final condition of man is much more analogous to his present state than that which intervenes between the two. At death we enter upon a disembodied state of being, a state of life purely spiritual and immaterial. Of this we have no knowledge from experience or observation; and we can form no clear and satisfactory conception of it. We are so accustomed to the use of material organs and instruments, that we cannot understand how we can do without them. Incorporeal life seems to us impotent, cheerless, naked, unreal. The souls of men after death remain conscious, still percipient and active.
1. We seem warranted in regarding the interval between death and the resurrection as a period of repose. It is the sleeping time of humanity. The repose that awaits us there will be all the more welcome and delightful from contrast with the turmoil and vexation of the life that precedes it.
2. The intermediate state will be a condition of progress. Progress is the law of life, and we cannot reasonably suppose that its operation will be suspended during that long period which is to elapse between death and the resurrection.
3. To the clearer vision of spirit, purged from fleshly films and earthly obstructions, will truth unfold itself with increased clearness, certainty, and power.
4. The separate state will be a condition of hope. It is a season of waiting, the vestibule only of a more glorious state to which it is introductory. But there is nothing in this waiting that is wearisome or tedious. I have spoken only of the holy dead, of those who “sleep in Jesus.” The subject--
(1) Gives consolation to the bereaved.
(2) In it we find comfort in the prospect of our own approaching departure. (R. A. Hallam, D. D.)
The momentous event
Men generally live as though they should never die.
I. The solemn statement. “Man dieth, and giveth up the ghost.”
1. An event peculiarly affecting. The removal of man from society; from all the ties of kindred and friendship. Dissolution of the union between body and soul.
2. An event absolutely and universally certain. The seeds of death are in our nature.
3. It is an event to which we are liable every moment. We live on the borders of the grave, on the margin of eternity.
4. An event irreparable in its effects. Its melancholy results no power can repair.
5. An event which demands our solemn consideration. We should consider its certainty, its possible nearness, its awful nature.
II. The important interrogation. “Where is he?” Apply the question to--
1. The infidel.
2. The profane.
3. The worldling.
4. The afflicted Christian.
(1) That death will surely come.
(2) That an interest in Christ can alone prepare us for the event.
(3) That eternal things should have in our hearts the constant preeminence. (J. Burns, D. D.)
Immortality of the soul
The people of France once wrote over the gates of their burial places, “Death is an eternal sleep,” but this was only when the nation had run mad. The ordinary mode of proving the immortality of the soul is simple enough.
1. It is argued from the nature of the soul itself--especially from its immateriality. The nature of God seems also to favour the idea that He who made the soul capable of such vast improvement, and such constant advances towards perfection, would never suffer it to perish.
2. Belief in man’s immortality is universal. No race of savages can be found, so debased and blind, as not to have some glimmerings of this truth.
3. We claim immortality as the heritage of man, because, on any other supposition, all the analogies of nature would be violated.
4. Man must be immortal, because this is indispensable to explain certain inequalities of happiness and misery on earth--inequalities which a just God would never allow, unless it was His good pleasure to make them right. Man is generally called a rational being; but he hardly deserves the name, while attempting to undermine our faith in that consoling which alone renders life worth having, and robs death of its terrors. (John N. Norton.)
The mystery of death
This is one of Job’s discontented and querulous utterances. It is tinged, too, with all that indistinctness of view which is characteristic of the eider dispensation. Job expresses the general feeling in a somewhat exaggerated form. He speaks as if the hour of dissolution were the hour of extinction. Then he craves for himself that oblivion of anguish which he thinks is only to be obtained in the solitude and silence of the grave. The words of the text express a very natural feeling, of which we have all had more or less experience. “Man giveth up the ghost, and where is he?” “Gone,” say some, “into absolute nothingness. The individual perishes.” “Gone,” say others, “into final felicity. All lives, whatever they have been, lead to one bourne, and that the bourne of happiness.” These are daydreams, and dangerous daydreams too. Christianity knows nothing about them. She tells us that when life is over, we pass into a conscious but a fixed and unalterable condition. Gone, we say, to reap what he has sown. The life we are living here below is a seed. Eternity is only the development of this puny, petty life of ours. The Divine laws are immutable. Every seed bringeth forth after its kind. We are all of us gravitating towards a certain centre. We move to join our own companions. Gone to give account of himself before God. Human life is like a stage; there are many actors and many parts. When the play is ended, the question will be about the manner of playing it. Men will be seen, not in their circumstances but in themselves. An hour will come to us when all the world will seem absolutely nothing, and when Christ, and interest in Christ, will seem to be everything. (Gordon Calthrop, M. A.)
An anxious query answered
After all, this is a question. Reason and revelation leave it such. The speculations of the ancients, where Catholic sentiments prevailed and the voice of poetry, which is but the plaint of philosophy, leave it a question. It is obscure, spectral, vaporous and ghostly as an apparition, the figure of a restless, undeveloped being, beyond our knowledge, crude, cloudy, vague. “Where is he?” There runs a yearning through our nature, as the autumn breeze steals through the trees. It is the question. Its intensity is proportioned to its obscurity. “Where is he?” Other data are needed. We may ask, as we do in reference to a stranger of stately form or commanding voice, whom we meet on the sidewalk, “Who is he?” The question may be of eager interest and concern, of sympathy or of opposition. Or we may say of man, “What is he?” and institute a metaphysical analysis into the nature of matter and mind; then push the query, What is man, and what am I?” All these problems depend on the disclosure of the ultimate destiny of man. “Where is he at last?” Now we may mistake the shadow for the substance, a ship in the distance for a cloud, a meteor for a star. Walking in the edge of a wood, looking out upon the water, I may see a forest of masts, and for an instant take them for dry trees, until I see those tall, quivering masts move and the vessels floated out upon the bosom of the bay. Human life cannot be distinctly defined until we find out all there is of a man. We want facts. Oftentimes we answer one question by asking another. So let us turn to history and seek a famous or infamous man, a Cyrus or a Caligula, a Washington or a Robespierre. Each may now be but a heap of ashes, but what was the real distinction all the way through the careers of these men? What is love, and what is honour? We cannot answer until we get the data. Notice, then, two things, the unsettled element, and the point of solution where light breaks in.
1. The unsolved question, “Where is he?” You have lost a child. Whither has he gone? You do not say that you have lost a treasure until you have gone to the place where you feel sure it is, and do not find it. You are bereaved because you are bewildered. You were talking to a friend by your side. Unexpectedly he vanished without your knowledge, and you find yourself talking to vacancy. The mother bends over and peers into the vacant cradle, takes up a little shoe, a toy, a treasure, and says, “He was here, he ought to be here, he must be here! Where is he?” “Not here,” is all the answer that nature gives her. She is bewildered. The same query touches scepticism. Though there be an intellectual, logical assent to the doctrine of immortality, there is a difficulty in entertaining the idea. We cannot see the spirit or its passage upwards. We enter the chamber of death. We see that still body, white and limp; the garments it wore, the medicines administered, and the objects it once beheld. We look out and see that the sky is just as blue as ever, and the tramp of hunting feet is heard, as usual, in the street. We cry aloud, “Ho! have ye seen a spirit pass?” “Not here,” comes back again. Where, where is he? This is the unsettled element.
2. Here is the point where light breaks in upon the bewildered soul. It is found in the revelation of a flesh form and a spirit form revealed in Christ, the risen one. Science tells us of material elements, unseen by natural vision, globules of ether, and crystals of light to be detected by instruments prepared by the optician. The microscope reveals atoms that the unaided eye never could find. So the New Testament reveals what nature and science cannot make manifest. Dissolution is not annihilation. We read, “In Him was life.” He came, He descended, and ascended again. When a candle goes out, where goes the light? Christ went out and back, to and fro, as you show a child the way by going into and out of a door. He came forth from God, and His first life was a glorious disclosure; but we must not forget His second life after His death, burial, and resurrection. He gave up the ghost, and He lay in the tomb; then stood up, walked and talked with the disciples, a human being. He showed the fact that because He lives we shall live also. “I will that they whom Thou hast given Me be with Me, where I am. Let not your heart be troubled. I go to prepare a place for you.” Now light, refluent and radiant, breaks upon our way. He is not here, but risen, and “this same Jesus” shall return again. I may ask a mother, “Where are your children?” She may say that they are at school, or at play, or somewhere on the premises. They are not lost, though she may not exactly locate them. Or, “Where is your husband? He went out awhile ago,” or, “The children went out with him; their father took them from home early.” So with our dear departed. Out of sight they are not out of mind; not out of your mind, of course, and,, you are not out of their mind, nor out of their sight, I think. They are “somewhere about the premises,” the many-mansioned universe of God, expanding, radiant everywhere. It is one abode. (Hugh S. Carpenter, D. D.)
The query of the ages
This interrogatory has Sounded down all the centuries, and thrills today every thoughtful heart. Hence, if Job uttered these words in a moment of doubt, it was because he sat in the twilight hour of revelation. Hence, also, we must seek our answer to the question from Jesus, rather than from Job, from the full and final revelation of the New Testament, rather than from the types and shadows of the Old.
I. He is somewhere. Death is not annihilation.
1. Jesus taught man’s existence after death so often and in such emphatic terms that it became an essential in Christian doctrine. In His words to the Sadducees, in the parable of the rich man and Lazarus, when speaking to Mary and Martha, when comforting His disciples who were mourning His near departure, in His last prayer with and for them--everywhere He clearly implied that man continues to exist somewhere after death.
2. To this revelation of life and immortality our hearts gladly assent.
3. Reason, likewise, adds its sanction. Thus we believe the dead are somewhere, they have not ceased to be.
II. But where? This is the emphatic word.
1. Where surroundings correspond with character. In this life man finds the earth prepared for his occupancy, as a house that has been erected, furnished, heated, lighted. Believing in the universality and continuity of law, we expect the same provision and adaptation hereafter. It is the “law of environment” of the scientist, the “Divine providence” of the Christian. Revelation makes this expectation a certainty, The righteous enter a kingdom “prepared for them from the foundation of the world”; the wicked depart to a place “prepared for the devil and his angels.”
2. Where the law of spiritual gravitation carries him. In the United States Mint are scales constructed with an ingenuity and delicacy that are wonderful. In them all coins are finally tested. Each one is weighed by itself. From the balance every coin glides into one of several openings, according to its weight; if it is too light, into this one; if too heavy, into that; if it is right, into the third.
III. Where justice and mercy unite to place him. Justice and mercy unite to determine the destinies of both wicked and righteous. Redemption manifests both; so does retribution. Conclusion--It is not so much “where,” as “what”; for the “what” determines the “where.” We are ourselves determining the “what,” in our acceptance or rejection of Christ. (Byron A. Woods.)
A four-fold view of man alter death
1. Man is still on earth, as to his influence. The full amount of good or evil which anyone effects will not be ascertained till the end of the world.
2. Man is in the grave, as to his body. In this respect, all things come alike to all. As the saint, so is the sinner.
3. He is in eternity, as to his soul. Man consists of two parts-of soul and of body. At death these for a season separate. The body returns to its native dust; the soul returns to God, who gave it.
4. He is in heaven or hell, as to his state. What a solemn thought is this! (C. Clayton, M. A.)
The shortness and vanity of human life
1. Man is subject to decay, though he suffer neither outward violence nor internal injury. In the midst of life we are in death.
2. Numbers die by accident--suicide, violence, intemperance.
3. The mortality of the human race is universal.
4. Human life is so short and uncertain that it is invariably compared to those things that are most subject to change.
5. What a specimen we have of the ravages of death since the time of Adam.
6. Death is attended with painful circumstances. “He giveth up the ghost.”
1. This expression implies that after man has died and wasted away, the soul still remains in a separate state. This is one of those truths that even reason itself teaches.
2. That the soul remains in a separate state is certain, from Scripture passages and facts. Such as Samuel’s appearance to Saul. Moses and Elias at the Transfiguration.
At the resurrection of Christ many of the dead arose and appeared. “And where is he?”
1. This is a question very frequently and very naturally asked, when those are missing whom we constantly saw or heard speak of, or with whom we were wont to converse.
2. The affecting answer is, “They have died and wasted away--they have given up the ghost.” What is become of the soul? We only know that the final destiny of man depends upon his state and character at the hour of death, It is true that neither the righteous nor the wicked enjoy or suffer their happiness or misery until after the resurrection. The intermediate space affords ample time for reflection.
3. But what will be the subject of their reflection?
(1) Things present: the good; the blessings, the enjoyments, the company of paradise. The bad the horrors, the sorrows, the companions of the dark pit.
(2) Things absent: the godly, the departure of all evil; the ungodly, the absence of all good.
(3) Things past: the righteous, a long and perilous pilgrimage; the wicked, a useless and wicked life.
(4) Things to come: the saved, the glories of the last great day, the acquittal of the Judge, the union with the body, the prospect of never-ending felicity; the lost, the terrors of the great day, the presence and sentence of the Judge, the consciousness of having to endure eternal torments. (B. Bailey.)
Till the heavens be no more, they shall not awake, nor be raised out of their sleep.
The sleep of death
1. Death is like sleep in its outward appearance. This likeness should remind us, when we lie down to sleep, of that death which sleep resembles. It should teach us to look upon it without dismay.
2. Sleep and death are both a refuge from the ills and cares of this life, and a rest from its labour.
3. In both the soul is conscious still. The soul never sleeps, and hence the phenomena of dreams.
4. Each is followed by an awakening. The consideration that you must shortly “sleep in the dust,” and you know not how soon, should constrain you to seek for the pardon of your sins, and the removal of your iniquity, ere it be too late. (G. Cole.)
If a man die, shall he live again?
The one question of humanity, and its many answers
I. The one question.
1. It has always been asked. In all periods of history it has been proposed; time has not diminished its interest; it will always spring naturally from man’s heart.
2. It is asked everywhere. It is the question of all nations and of all conditions of men. It is universal--an eminently human question.
3. It arises in varied circumstances. The brevity and the vicissitudes of life, the sufferings of the good, and the prosperity of the wicked; premature deaths, bereavement, and the expectation of our own dissolution suggest it.
4. It is asked with different feelings. With despair. The atheist. With hope and desire. “To be or not to be? that is the question.” “Whence comes this pleasing hope, this fond desire, this longing after immortality?” With terror. The murderer, the tyrant, the impenitent, the backslider. It is asked in triumph, “Art Thou not from everlasting to everlasting, O God, mine Holy One?”
II. The many answers. There are three different answers.
1. The negative, or that of atheism. “There is no God, and there can be no immortality.” This is an assertion without proof. Who can prove it?
2. The neutral, or that of secularism. “We do not know, but it matters not.” However, it does matter. Then we cannot help feeling interested in it.
3. The affirmative, or that of Christianity. Most men have answered yes. But the affirmative responders have greatly varied in tone and import. The answer of Christianity alone is full and assuring.
(1) It is calm and dignified. “I am the resurrection and the life.”
(2) It proclaims a complete immortality. According to it, the whole of man is to be perpetuated and perfected in eternity. We shall be like Him. There is a spiritual body.
(3) It is practical. “We look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen.”
(4) It is holy in its influence. “He that hath this hope in Him, purifieth himself, even as He is pure.” (Richard Hancock.)
The human lien on the immortal life
It is a real trouble to the most of us to imagine ourselves out of the body, but still the same man or woman. This touch of trouble is entirely natural, because we are in the body and belong to the life that now is, and find that in proportion to the wealth of our human life is this deep loyalty to the things one can touch and see. I do not think this trouble is met by the perpetual exhortation to consider these conditions of our human life as so many incumbrances we ought to shake off, to treat this nature God gives us as if it were in quarantine; a place to be done with the sooner the better, so that we may attain the fair pleasures of the everlasting rest. Such a feeling may come to be natural through a perpetual brooding over the meanness and poverty of the best there is for us down here if we take that turn; or to those who have had a sore fight, and are quite worn out; or who have drained the world of all its pleasant things, and would toss it away like the skin of an orange. Or it may seem natural to some who have been trained from their childhood to fix their whole heart on the world to come, and so think of this as a stepping stone, and no more, between the eternities. But the men who have talked in this strain were out of sorts with the world, or had got down with it; or else they were men who did not practise what they preached. Neither is this trouble met by the suggestion men make, out of a certain despair one thinks, that there may be infinite blessing through our passing again into the infinite life, losing our identity in that mystery out of which we came, forgetting all about it for evermore, and becoming one with God. No one thing in this universe can be of a deeper moment to a whole man than his own proper personal life. You may talk to him until doomsday about being lost in the infinite, but he clings to himself as the true factor. To me the solution of this problem lies where it has always lain,--in the Gospels, and in our power to catch their noble meanings, and make the truth they tell our own. To feel the powers of the world to come we must come close to this Christ who has brought life and immortality to light. This is what those can rest on who trust in these old, simple Gospels, and believe in Jesus Christ as the most human being the world has ever known, and therefore the most Divine. That this change, when it comes, will not wrest us out of the sweet verities of our own existence, and land us utter strangers in a life so separate from this we love that we had better never been born than encounter such a sad frustration. The solution of this question of the immortal life does not lie, as it seems to me, in metaphysics, in evolution, or even in the ascertained verities of philosophy. It lies where it has always lain, in the truth as it is in Jesus, who assures us that we cannot love what is worthy the love of these human hearts to no purpose. So let us take this to our hearts--that it is all right, and right in the line of the life we have to live, drawn here, if we will but make it as noble and good as we can. (Robert Collyer, D. D.)
Resignation to the Divine will
I. We have the prospect of a change. Many changes are incidental to human beings, but there are three which stand out with prominence above the rest. One extraordinary change occurs when human beings become rational. A change more momentous occurs when human beings become religious. Above all, the great consummation is reserved for the time when human beings become immortal. Then will the term of our minority expire, and we shall receive our best inheritance. Is it, however, merely the soul of a believer in Jesus Christ that enters the kingdom? Must its ancient partner--the body, lie always in the dust, or roam in a separate and less splendid province of the Divine empire?
II. The influence of this prospect.
1. The prospect of our change may be viewed in connection with the current of our thoughts.
2. In connection with our estimate of all earthly good.
3. In connection with our individual exertions and supplications.
4. In connection with all our intervening pains and distresses.
5. In connection with all that is grand and joyful. (J. Hughes.)
The true argument for immortality
I. Reason fails to answer. So men say there is no positive proof; “but wait,” says science, “I have unravelled mysteries before”; so the anxious question.
II. Science answers--
1. The body dies, but the soul lives.
(1) Body prepared for soul, not soul for body.
(2) But soul has longings, hopes; can science satisfy these?
2. In nature is the law of co-relation--incompleteness completed. But we are conscious that soul has not reached highest perfection; but, says science, See how nature supplies her creatures’ demands.
(1) But can nature satisfy longing for unending being? No. Science’s testimony does not fully satisfy. Her speculations are but born of the finite. We seek the sure foundation--the true argument for immortality. Whence can it come?
III. A voice familiar falls upon our hearts. “I give eternal life.” “I am the Life.” Yes, in the testimony of Jesus Christ is the mystery of being made clear. Science can give nothing so positive. Therefore, finally--
1. What is your responsibility as an immortal being?
2. How are you meeting that responsibility? (Homiletic Monthly.)
The two questions about death
I. Of this truth we have hints in nature.
1. The soul’s longing is a promise and prophecy of immortality. The bird’s wing and fish’s fin prophesy air and water; the eye and ear, light and sound. If man’s hope has no object it is the single exception in nature.
2. Force is never lost. It is invisible and indestructible. It passes from body to body, changes its form and mode of manifestation, but never lost or even lessened. No energy is ever lost.
3. Life, the grandest force, is therefore indestructible. Even thought cannot die; how, then, the thinker himself? Death is dissolution, decay. What is there in mind to dissolve or decay?
4. Metamorphosis in nature hints and illustrates life as surviving changes of form and mode of existence.
II. Hints in the word of God.
1. Man’s creation, Made of dust. Living soul inbreathed. Death penalty inflicted on the body; but soul never said to die in same sense. (Luke 15:1-32, where death is alienation of son from father; Romans 8:1-39, where carnal-mindedness is death.)
2. Man’s death as described in Ecclesiastes 12:1-14. Dust returning to the earth. Spirit unto God. Plain reference to the story of creation. The breath is given up, but does not die, and symbolises the Spirit.
3. This truth is inwrought into the whole structure of the Scriptures. The blood of Abel represented his life that was vocal even after he was dead. (Comp. Revelation 6:9, where the souls or lives of martyrs cry unto God.) The great incentive to righteousness in both testaments is union with God here, merging into such union perfected yonder, as illustrated in Enoch and Elijah.
4. Immortality is assumed. (Matthew 22:23, when Christ confronts the Sadducees.) He teaches that souls in heaven live under new and unearthly conditions; and so God is the God of the living, not the dead.
III. But there is distinct teaching on this subject. Examples--The Transfiguration, where Moses represents saints who have died, and Elijah saints that pass into glory without death, but both equally alive. The words to the penitent thief, “Today with Me in paradise.” Stephen’s dying vision and exclamation, “Receive my spirit.” Paul (Php 1:23-24; 2 Corinthians 5:6; 2Co 5:9; 1 Thessalonians 4:14-16; 1 Corinthians 3:1-23), where a future life is shown to be necessary to complete the awards of this life. (Comp. Luke 16:1-31., the parable of rich man and Lazarus.) (Arthur T. Pierson, D. D.)
The immortality of the soul
Though the doctrine of the soul’s immortality is peculiar to Christianity, yet it has engaged the thoughts and attention of the wisest men in all times. Prior to the advent of Christ, the doctrine was but dimly known even to the wisest of mankind, whether Jew or Gentile. Our present faith rests upon the Word of God. Death is not an eternal sleep, man shall live again.
1. The death of the soul cannot be reconciled with the justice of God. Justice in this life holds but an ill-balanced scale. Vice is seldom punished as it deserves, and rarer still does virtue meet its due reward. If death is an eternal sleep, and man’s life ends with the tomb, how shall we reconcile his present condition with the justice of God? This question presents an argument for the immortality of the soul which philosophers and sceptics cannot answer, a moral proof which almost partakes of the nature of demonstration.
2. The death of the soul cannot be reconciled with the wisdom of God. In the providence of God nothing happens without an end, without a reason. The human mind does not act without a purpose or end, however wrong or weak that end may be. If this be true of the finite mind of man, imperfect as it is, how much more is it true of the infinite mind of God, as powerful to execute as it is perfect to conceive. Man is capable of infinite improvement. Though man’s mind is constantly progressing, it never wholly matures. We never say his destiny is fulfilled. How, then, can we reconcile man’s history and condition with the wisdom of God?
3. The death of the soul cannot be reconciled with the goodness of God. The desire for another life is an universal one, bounded by no geographical lines, limited by no clime or colour. Man is shocked at the very idea of annihilation. If death is an eternal sleep, why should man fear to die, why heed the reproaches of conscience? Did a God of goodness plant this desire in the heart of man merely to mock him with a phantom? Did He create hopes and longings which could never be realised? It needs not to reply. (G. F. Cushman, D. D.)
When a man dies
Do they live in other lands, or has the grave closed over them forever?
I. The heathen answer; or the light of reason on this subject. The heathen looked forward to the future with grave misgivings. Even the most enlightened could do little more than form conjectures. In the absence of positive information, they based their arguments on the principles of reason. They felt, as we all feel, a natural desire for immortality. This universal instinct receives confirmation in many ways.
1. By the analogy of nature. All nature dies to live again.
2. By the anomalies of existence.
(1) Social irregularities.
(2) Unsatisfactory surroundings,
(3) Early deaths. In the light of nature, we can only say that a future life is a possibility.
II. The Jewish answer. Here we pass from darkness into twilight. The Jews had the first faint streaks of Divine revelation. Their information, confined as it was to predictions and promises, was imperfect and unintelligible to the great mass of the people on whose conduct the doctrine exercised little or no practical influence. Such obscurity was in keeping with the temporary and progressive character of their dispensation.
III. The Christian answer. Here we come into daylight. In the light of the Gospel, the question of the text presents no difficulty. The Christian replies, in the full assurance of faith, “Yes, he shall live again.” This is true of the soul, but what of the body? Modern science is apt to run away with a mistaken impression of what is meant by the resurrection. St. Paul meets the modern objection by his analogy of the seed. We are not left in uncertainty as to what takes place when a man dies. After death, the judgment. The human race will gather at the call of the last trumpet. All will live again after the long sleep of the tomb. (D. Merson, M. A. , B. D.)
Does death end all
This, it need not be said, is not an hypothetical inquiry as to what may be in this life, as if it was a possible thing that a man might not die; for a little before, he said of man in relation to the law of his appointed mortality, “his days are determined, the number of his months are with Thee, Thou hast appointed his bounds that he cannot pass” (verse 5). The inquiry has reference to what shall be, or shall not be, after death. And what, it has been asked, was Job’s own view? Directly opposite opinions have been entertained in regard to it. One writer of considerable note says, “The answer which Job’s consciousness, ignorant of anything better, alone can give is, No, there is no life after death. It is, however, no less a craving of his heart that gives rise to the wish; it is the most favourable thought--a desirable possibility--which, if it were but a reality, would comfort him under all present suffering, ‘all the days of my warfare’ (of my appointed time) ‘would I wait until my change came.’” Farther on he says “even Job is without any superior knowledge respecting the future life. He denies a resurrection and eternal life, not as one who has a knowledge of them, and will not however know anything about them, but he really knows nothing of them: our earthly life seems to him to flow on into the darkness of Sheol, and onward beyond Sheol man has no further existence.” Entertaining such views, it is not at all to be wondered at, that in these words Job is viewed as asserting his belief that death is the extinction of being, and that for man there is no waking and no rising for evermore (verses 7-12). Others have entertained a very different opinion as to the answer which Job would have given to the question, “If a man die, shall he live again?” Crushed as Job was by his afflictions, both in body and in mind, I do not think that he entertained such a cheerless view of death, and of a future state. Possibly they mistake Job’s hope and prospects for the future, not less than his three friends did his character and the probable design of his sufferings, who do not know, or who are unable to perceive, that it was his hope of a future life, and of complete vindication, implying honour and happiness in a future state, which almost alone sustained him under his unusual load of troubles. There are several arguments that might be urged to show that Job believed in a future state, both of rewards and of punishments, or generally, of a life beyond the grave. First, Job’s sacrifices, when he was afraid that his children had sinned in their feasting, show that he both knew the evil of sin, and had faith in the only atoning sacrifice of a Redeemer. Second, Job showed that he knew of, and believed in a future state of retribution and in the last judgment, when he said, “Be ye afraid of the sword; for wrath bringeth the punishments of the sword, that ye may know there is a judgment” (Job 19:29). And again, when he said, “The wicked is reserved to the day of destruction, they shall be brought forth to the day of wrath” (Job 21:30). Third, Job’s words cannot be explained in any consistency with his aspirations, unless we admit that he believed in the resurrection of his body, when he said, “I know that my Redeemer liveth,” etc. In the context preceding that inquiry, “If a man die, shall he live again?” we readily admit that Job asserts the incontrovertible truth that when a man dies, he lives no more at all again in this world, when he says, “But man dieth, and giveth up the ghost, and where is he?” Yet at the same time we maintain that as Enoch the seventh from Adam was enabled to speak of, “the Lord coming with ten thousand of His saints to execute judgment upon all,” so might Job be enabled by the same spirit of inspiration, to use words which expressed his belief in the resurrection of the dead at the dissolution of all things, and that probably he did so when he said, “Man lieth down, and riseth not; till the heavens be no more, they shall not awake, nor be raised out of sleep” (verse 12). What has been said indicates what must be our ultimate conclusion in respect of the inquiry, “If a man die, shall he live again?” But there are some things which would suggest a negative answer to the inquiry. As for example--
1. The structure and development of man’s body do not give us reason to think that if a man dies he shall live again. There are many expressions in Scripture which are fitted to remind us of the frailty of our bodies. Thus it is declared “that all flesh is as grass, and all the goodliness thereof as the flower of grass.” So in like manner, our bodies are not formed of the harder substances in nature, such as stone and iron, but they consist of flesh, and blood, and bones, which are perishable in their own nature. They are also not only very susceptible of injury, but are very liable to be crushed, or destroyed by accident or by disease. There is not in our bodies any self-sustaining energy of power. We need food, and clothes, and sleep, to nourish and refresh them, and to repair their wasted energies; but all these suffice only for a short time. The gradual development of man’s body also, through infancy and manhood, to old age, with its sure and unavoidable decay, seems to indicate a completed existence, which being fulfilled can have no continuance.
2. Observation and experience generally, say, No, in answer to this question, or that if a man die he shall not live again. Temporal death is the cessation of life in the present state of being. And who is there, that upon looking at the lifeless frame of one who is dead, at the motionless limbs that were once so active, and at the pale countenance once so full of intelligence and expression, but now so ghastly and so changed, could from anything that appears, entertain the slightest, hope that such an one shall ever live again? But personal observation in regard to this matter is confirmed by the general experience of mankind, from age to age. As a matter of fact, if a man dies he does not live again. None of those also whom death has gathered during all the ages that are past, are to be found restored to life again as mingling, with the inhabitants of this world, for “from that bourne no traveller returns.”
3. The original cause and nature of death afford no reason to think that if a man die he shall live again. There is no information to be obtained from the light of nature as to the original cause and origin of death, although reason may arrive at the conclusion that it may be, and indeed must be, a penal evil. It is the Word of God alone, that is our only sure guide and instructor in regard to the original cause of death, and the circumstances and manner in which it entered into our world. “By one man,” it is said, “sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death hath passed upon all men, for that all have sinned.” Again we are told that “the wages of sin is death.” It is then manifest from the Word of God, that death is the penalty of sin, of man’s disobedience to the only Righteous Lawgiver, and of his rebellion against his Creator and King. An attentive consideration of death, might lead us, to the conclusion that it is and must be a penal evil inflicted upon our race. Man is dying from the moment of his birth. Does not “every circumstance bespeak the wrath of God against the work of His hands? He destroys it as if it were loathsome in His sight. This is not the chastisement of a father, but the vengeance of a judge.” The original cause therefore, and the penal nature of death, do not afford ground to think that if a man die he shall live again.
4. The testimony of nature is not equal, and therefore while there is a possibility there is no certainty that if a man die he shall live again. It must be granted that in nature there are many deaths, and resurrections, which are very closely connected together. In the light of God’s Word, we may view some of them at least as emblems of the resurrection of our bodies. But the simple occurrence of these conveys of itself no certainty to us that if a man die he shall live again.
5. The powers and faculties of the soul render it not improbable that if a man die he shall live again. Man is constituted in his present state of being, of a body and of a soul. These mutually act upon each other, but they have distinct properties. Man is capable of the knowledge of God, and of His will, or of moral and religious truth and duty. He can entertain the conception of glory, honour, and immortality, in a higher and future state of being. Man has a conscience, which can be presently actuated in the discharge of the duties he owes to himself, and to his fellow men, and above all to God, by conceptions of God, and of what is right and wrong towards Him. Conscience can be presently filled with the dread of His wrath, or tranquillised by assurances of His favour, based upon grounds which are rational and not upon the imagination or fancy. It is probable, therefore, that though the body dies, the soul must live forever, for all these powers would be useless if the soul were at death to “lie down in everlasting darkness, and mingle with the clods of the valley.”
6. The Word of God gives us the most explicit assurance of the future existence of the soul.
7. That the Word of God declares to us not only the immortality of the soul, but the certainty of the resurrection of the body. (Original Secession Magazine.)
Annihilation in death
In the opinion of the pantheists, the individual is only a transitory manifestation of the collective life of humanity; he appears for a moment like the waves on the ocean’s surface, and then he vanishes, and one thing alone survives, humanity! There is, consequently, no eternity but that of the species. Annihilation! See that ancient doctrine which seduced the Hindoo race and hilled it into a secular sleep, see it now extending its gloomy veil over us! At the very moment when we are sending missionaries to preach resurrection and life to the nations of the East, we ourselves are being enveloped, as it were, in the very error which lost them. Annihilation! We often hear it proclaimed with singular enthusiasm. Men tell us, “Lay down your pride, give up your selfish hopes; individuals pass away, but humanity remains: labour, therefore, for humanity; your afflictions, your sufferings form part of the universal harmony. Tomorrow you shall disappear, but humanity shall keep on progressing; your tears, your sacrifices contribute to its greatness. That is enough to inspire you with a generous ambition; besides, annihilation is sweet for whoever has suffered.” Notwithstanding, these doctrines would fail to affect the masses if they did not appeal to instincts now everywhere awakened; I mean, to those complex desires for justice and immediate enjoyment, for reparation and vengeance which stir the suffering classes so deeply. It is in the name of the present interests of humanity that men combat all hope of a future life. “Tell us no more, they say, of a world beyond. Too long has mankind been wrapped in enervating and ecstatic contemplation. Too long it has wandered in mystical dreams. Too long, under the artful direction of priests, it has sought the invisible kingdom of God, whilst from its grasp was being wrenched the kingdom of earth which is its true domain. The hour of its manhood has at length struck for it; it must now take possession of the earth. Enslaving faith must now give way to emancipating science. When has science entered upon that era of conquests which have veritably enfranchised humanity? From the hour when it has firmly resolved to free itself from the dominion of all mystery, to consider all things as phenomena to be solved. When has man begun to struggle victoriously against oppression? From the hour when, renouncing the idea of an uncertain recourse to future justice, he was revindicated his rights already upon earth. This task must be achieved. The invisible world must be left to those who preach it, and all our attention must be centred on the present. Equality in happiness upon earth must be revindicated more and more strongly. Away, then, with those who speak to us of future life, for whether they know it or not, they stand in the way of progress and of the emancipation of nations!” You have all heard such language, and you have, perhaps, seen it received with enthusiastic applause. Who would dare to affirm that the idea of a future life has never been placed at the service of inequality? Recall to mind the days when the Church with its innumerable privileges, possessing immense portions of territory, exempt from the taxes under which the masses groaned, comforted the poorer classes with the prospect of heavenly joys and compensations. I denounce and repudiate this iniquity; but let none trace it back to the Gospel, for the Gospel is innocent of it. Ah, if it were true indeed that the Gospel had been opposed to justice and equality, explain to me how, notwithstanding the manifold abuses of the Church, it happens that it is in the midst of the Christian nations that the idea of justice is so living and ardent? By proclaiming the complete triumph of justice in the world to come, Christianity has prepared the advent of justice in this life. Do not, therefore, set these two teachings in opposition to one another, for the one calls for the other, for they complete each other by an indissoluble bond of solidarity. And yet, in another respect, annihilation attracts us. If it be true that all human beings yearn after life, is it not equally true that life weighs heavily upon us at times; and is it not the privilege and the sorrow of the noblest minds to feel most painfully the weight of this burden? Men sneer at the idea of a future life. Again, do you know why? Ah! here I come upon the hidden and unavowed, but most powerful of all reasons. They scoff at it and deny it because they fear the meeting with the holy God. I see that those who endeavour to believe in it do not give it its real name. They recoil from annihilation, and when they come in presence of death, they borrow our language and use it as a brilliant mantle to cover the nakedness of their system. They too speak of immortality, but this immortality, where do they place it? Some place it in the memory of men, and with ofttimes stirring eloquence they lay before us this memory preserved as a sacred thing and becoming a worship destined to replace that of the heathen gods. A man of genius, the founder of positive philosophy, Auguste Comte, has made of this idea a veritable religion.
1. We live in the memory of others! And pray are they many, those whose deeds have escaped oblivion? There are but few who are called to accomplish glorious actions; the life of the great majority is composed of small, insignificant, humble, yet most necessary duties. The great mass of humanity is sacrificed to the privileged few, and inequality abides forever. If only these favoured beings all deserved this honour! What justice, great God, is the justice of men! The day will come when, in the words of Scripture, these last in the order of human admiration shall be the first elect of Divine glory. So much for this eternity of memory.
2. Another more elevated, more worthy, is placed before us--the eternity of our actions. Men tell us, “We pass away, but our deeds remain; we bye on in those good actions which have contributed to the advancement of humanity; we live on in the truths which we have boldly proclaimed without fear of man, and which we thus hand down to future generations to be translated into noble deeds. This eternity of our works is most truly eternal life.” We who are Christians, will not deny this solidarity, this action of the individual upon the whole, this spiritual posterity which we all leave after us; we believe it, moreover, to be most clearly expressed in the Gospel. Howbeit, I question the truth of this grand thought if the future life be denied. I grant that many of our actions are profitable for the whole and stand as stones in the universal edifice. On the other hand, how many are there, of our afflictions in particular, which find no explanation here below, and which remain forever fruitless if we look only to their earthly consequences. What shall you say to that afflicted one who has been lying for years upon a bed of torture? We Christians, we tell them that they are known of God, that not one sorrow is left unnoticed by Him who is love and who sees their life; we tell them that their sufferings have a still unexplained but certain end of which eternity shall reveal the secret. But if the Lord be not there, if no eye has seen their silent sacrifice, what right have you to tell them that their works shall live after them? That is not all. We shall live again in our works, say you; and the wicked, what of them? Is that the eternity you reserve for them? If you mean by this that, though dead, their iniquities remain and continue to pollute the earth, ah! we know this only too well. Now when you tell me that the wicked are punished by the survivance of their actions, are you well aware of what you affirm? You affirm that this man who has died happy and blest is punished in the victims he has smitten, in the innocent ones whom he has dishonoured. These souls upon which his crimes and vices shall long and heavily weigh, will feel that he survives in his works, they will bear the fatal consequences of the iniquities of which he has only tasted the fruit; and you would teach them that this is God’s chastisement upon him, and that eternal justice finds sufficient satisfaction in this monstrous iniquity? This, then, is what the theory of the eternity of actions leads to! No wonder that the most serious of our adversaries take no pains to defend it, and prefer passing the question of eternity under silence. They tell us, “What cares the upright man for the consequences of his actions! in his actions he looks neither to heaven nor to earth: the approbation of his conscience is all he seeks.” Conscience is sufficient! Proud words these, which our modern Stoics have inherited from their Roman ancestors. Do they mean that they only do that which is truly good, who do it without calculation and without the interested attraction of reward? Do they mean that the noblest deed becomes vile if prompted by a mercenary motive? If so, they are right; but the Gospel has said this long since. Conscience is sufficient! Ah! if by the approbation of this conscience was meant the approbation of God Himself, whose voice conscience is, then I would understand this affirmation, without, however, approving it fully; but that is not the meaning attached to it. What is meant is simply this: man applying into the law to himself and constituting himself, his own judge; man approving and blessing himself. Well! I affirm that this is false, because man, not being his own creator, cannot be self-sufficient. Well! are we mistaken when we rise from our conscience to Him who has made it, and when we invoke God as our aid and witness? No; conscience is not sufficient; we need something more, we call for the reparation which this conscience proclaims. Conscience is the prophet of justice; but it must not utter its prophecies in vain. It tells us that eternal felicity is attached to good, and suffering to evil. This belief is not merely a response to interested desires, it is the expression of that eternal law which Christians call the faithfulness of God. Moreover, have you reflected on the other side of the question? You say conscience is sufficient. Will you dare assert that it suffices for the guilty? Reality shows us conscience becoming gradually more and more hardened as sin is indulged in, and more and more incapable of pronouncing the verdict we expect of it. You speak of leaving the guilty wretch face to face with his conscience; but he knows how to bribe this judge, he knows how to silence its voice, he knows that the best thing he can do to stifle and bewilder it completely is to degrade himself more and more deeply. You will not admit the punishment which Christianity holds in reserve for the sinner, and you replace it by a gradual debasement. Which of you two respects humanity most? I have pointed to the consequences of all the theories which affirm the annihilation of the individual soul. After conscience I would interrogate the human heart, and show how the notion of annihilation little answers to that infinite yearning after love which lies at the depths of our being. But is it needful to insist on this point? Do not these two words, love and annihilation, placed in opposition to one another, form a distressing and ridiculous contrast? Does not the heart, when it is not deformed by sophisms, protest against death? (E. Bersier, D. D.)
Immortality and nature
It is a strange fact that the human mind has always held to the immortality of the soul, and yet has always doubted it; always believing, but always haunted by doubt. Yet this throws no discredit upon the truth. Were the belief not true, the doubt would long since have vanquished it, for nothing but truth can endure constant questioning. This truth takes up and sets forth the antagonism found in man’s own nature, as a moral being put under material conditions, a mind shut up in a body. The consciousness of mind and moral nature is always asserting immortality; the sense of our bodily conditions is always suggesting its impossibility. It is the same thing that has always showed itself in philosophy; idealism denying the existence of matter, and materialism denying the reality of spirit. But the true philosophy of the human mind is both idealistic and materialistic. Nearly all doubt or denial of immortality comes from the prevalence of a materialistic philosophy; nearly always from some undue pressure of the external world. Great sinners very seldom question immortality. Sin is an irritant of the moral nature, keeping it quick, and so long as the moral nature has a voice, it asserts a future life. Just now the doubt is haunting us with unusual persistence. Certain phases of science stand face to face with immortality in apparent opposition. The doctrine of continuity or evolution in its extreme form, by including everything in the one category of matter, seems to render future existence highly improbable. But more than this, there is an atmosphere, engendered by a common habit of thought, adverse to belief. There is a power of the air that sways us, without reason or choice. Science is rapidly changing its spirit and attitude. It is revealing more and more the infinite possibilities of nature. True science admits that some things may be true that it cannot verify by result, or by any test that it can use. Evolution does not account for the beginning of life, for the plan of my life, for the potency that works in matter; for the facts of consciousness, for moral freedom and consequent personality. In considering immortality, it is quite safe to put science aside with all its theories of the continuity of force, and the evolution of physical life, and inwrought potentiality and the like. We are what we are, moral beings, with personality, freedom, conscience, and moral sense; and because we are what we are, there is reason to hope for immortal life. In any attempt to prove immortality, aside from the Scriptures, we must rely almost wholly upon reasons that render it probable. Our consciousness of personality and moral freedom declare it possible, but other considerations render it also probable and morally certain. Let us allow no sense of weakness to invest the word probability. Many of our soundest convictions are based on aggregated probabilities. Indeed, all matters pertaining to the future, even the sunrise, are matters of probability. Give some of the grounds for believing that the soul of man is immortal.
1. The main current of human opinion sets strongly and steadily towards belief in immortality.
2. The master minds have been strongest in their affirmations of it.
3. The longing of the soul for life, and its horror at the thought of extinction.
4. The action of the mind in thought begets a sense of a continuous life. One who has learned to think finds an endless task before him. Man reaches the bounds of nothing.
5. A parallel argument is found in the nature of love. It cannot tolerate the thought of its own end.
6. There are in man latent powers, and others half revealed, for which human life offers no adequate explanation.
7. The imagination carries with it a plain intimation of a larger sphere than the present. It is difficult to conceive why this power of broadening our actual realm is given to us, if it has not some warrant in fact.
8. The same course of thought applies to the moral nature. It has been claimed by some that they could have made a better universe . . . The step from instinct to freedom and conscience, is a step from time to eternity. Conscience is not truly correlated to human life. The ethical implies the eternal. Turn from human nature to the Divine nature.
We shall find a like, but immeasurably clearer group of intimations. Assuming the theistic conception of God as infinite and perfect in character, this conception is thrown into confusion if there is no immortality for man.
1. There is failure in the higher purposes of God respecting the race; good ends are indicated, but not reached. Man was made for happiness, but the race is not happy.
2. The fact that justice is not done upon the earth involves us in the same confusion. The slighting of love can be endured, but that right should go forever undone is that against which the soul, by its constitution, must forever protest. The sentiment of righteousness underlies all else in man and in God. But justice is not done upon the earth, and is never done, if there be no hereafter.
3. Man is less perfect than the rest of creation, and, relatively to himself, is less perfect in his higher than in his lower faculties.
4. As love is the strongest proof of immortality on the manward side of the argument, so is it on the Godward side. The probabilities might be greatly multiplied. If stated in full, they would exhaust the whole nature of God and man. (Theodore Munger.)
Is there a future life
There is scarcely a religion known to us of which belief in a future life does not form part of its creed. The most notable exception is that of Buddhism. Our natural instincts are against the denial of immortality. Immortality is believed in, altogether apart from the revelation of it in the Christian Gospel, by civilised and savage races alike. At the most this amounts to no more than a probability; but probabilities count for something. The two chief causes of unbelief are bad morals and bad philosophy. By bad morals I mean such a way of living the life that now is as either not to want the doctrine of a future life to be true, or not to keep in activity those higher elements of our nature to which the doctrine more particularly appeals. Sincerely and practically to believe that we are immortal, we must more or less feel ourselves immortal. But this feeling of immortality will seldom visit the bosom of the man who does not honestly try to live on earth the life of heaven. Spiritual things are not likely to be discerned by the animal man. The disbelief also springs from bad philosophy. Many who are living right lives, have no faith in immortality as Christians believe in it. All the immortality they look for is to live in hearts they leave behind them, “in minds made better by their presence.” They are agnostics or materialists. Against this unbelief we set the assertion of the Christian Gospel that man is destined to a life beyond the grave. The future life is not in the nature of things a matter of present experience. It is almost entirely a matter of direct revelation from God. We must accept it because it is an essential part of the Christian faith. There are, however, some considerations which render the truth of a future life eminently reasonable.
1. The fact of human personality. The most impressive of the works of God is the soul of man. A soul--a self! Is it possible to exhaust the meaning of those mysterious terms? Our physical frames are ever changing, yet our personalities are preserved. Is the one change we call death going to destroy us? The very suggestion is absurd.
2. A future life is demanded by our feeling of the symmetry of things. The extinction, the utter extinction of one single human soul would shake my belief in God to its foundations.
3. Our conscience demands a future life. To speak as though good men enjoyed here the fulness of reward, and bad men suffered here the fulness of penalty, is not accurate. There are moral inequalities, moral inconsistencies, which need a future life for their removal and redress. Thus, when Christianity comes to us with its magnificent revelation of immortality it finds us already prepared, on such grounds as we have been just noticing, to welcome the revelation, because it accords with some of the deepest convictions both of our heads and of our hearts. The witness without is confirmed by the witness within. Still, it is not on our reason, nor on our feelings that the Christian revelation of a future life is based. It is on the “resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.” All the teaching of Christianity on the question is pivoted there. (Henry Varley, B. A.)
I. The direct teachings of the Bible. The predictions of resurrection in the Old Testament partake of the general character of prophecy, containing much that could not be understood even by the prophets themselves. God, who spoke unto the fathers by prophets, has spoken unto us by Christ. And Christ knew what He Himself said. The disciples preached, through Jesus, the resurrection from the dead. As the Lord Jesus was raised up, so should all His followers be. He was the first fruits of them that slept. The Bible teaches the doctrine of the resurrection by the instances which it records.
II. The indirect teachings of the Bible. There is one truth which is involved in almost every principle of morality which the Bible sanctions, that fully confirms the idea of the resurrection of the body--the future and eternal existence of man. Man will live hereafter, and live forever. The living soul the infinite spirit, is the real man; but from the earliest period of time to the present, personality has been ascribed alike to soul and body, though, in strictness of speech, neither has any personal existence. A proper humanity supposes the union of both body and spirit. That man is the heir of an eternal existence corresponding to his present existence in the union of spirit and body, appears from the doctrine of the eternal humanity of Christ. We believe that, at the last day, the Almighty will raise the bodies of the dead, reunite them with the spirits which formerly animated them, and so, once more, make man a living soul. Deal with the objection, that death involves decomposition. In what consists personal identity? The identity of the body is not to be found in the aggregate of its particles, nor in any precise arrangement of them. Identity cannot be ascribed to a mode of being, only to being itself. Identity does not consist in gross materiality. With what fearful interest does the doctrine of the resurrection invest the cause of the sensualist. But we have in this doctrine a ground of hope, as well as of fear. (J. King Lord.)
Nature and immortality
Man’s mind is something essentially different from his body, and that, therefore, the death of the body does not imply the destruction of the mind. There are those who are materialists. They hold that there is nothing in existence but matter. Mind they regard as a function of the brain. If this were so, some serious consequences would follow.
1. Man would then be only a machine. There would be no specific difference between him and the brutes. The brain certainly is the organ of the mind; but physical science has left unexplained the nature and origin of our mental and moral being. There is yet a great chasm between dead and living matter. Scientists cannot prove that dead matter can originate life. In consciousness there is nothing common with matter. A thought cannot be weighed and measured; nor can love; nor can our power of will. What has materialism to say to conscience? Materialism cannot account for man’s mental, moral, and religious nature. Mind is not secreted by the brain, but is an entity distinct from it, and immaterial. This does not prove the soul immortal, but it turns aside one argument of those who would prove that the soul is not immortal.
2. In the moral government of the world there are such inequalities that there must be a future state of conscious existence in which these inequalities will be rectified. Do we see in the world an absolutely perfect system of rewards and punishments? Does every man receive in this life his deserts? It is true that the way of transgressors is hard, and that godliness is profitable for the life that now is. It is inseparable from any proper conception of God, that His righteousness rules the world. We may ,be sure that He will complete His plan; and in His perfected work He will vindicate His righteousness, and show that all His ways are equal.
3. The soul’s capacities and aspirations are such as point to immortality. The lower animals are adapted to the place they occupy. Death rounds off their life, and is the natural termination of it, there is no indication of capacity for a higher life. It is otherwise with man. Look at man’s power of gathering knowledge. There is no limit to man’s power of acquiring, if only he had life. There is an indication of man’s immortality in his natural and ineradicable yearning after it. That a man may desire some blessing is no proof that he is destined to obtain it; but in this case you must consider how this desire is inwrought into the very nerve and fibre of our spiritual being. We shrink appalled at the very thought of annihilation. God has made this desire of immortality part and parcel of our being. It is born with us, and grows with us. Then also, man is the only creature on earth that has risen to the knowledge of God, and has a nature leading to the worship of God. Nay, God is the want of the human soul. If man’s conscious existence is to terminate with death, I can see no reason for these high endowments which lead him to know and worship God.
4. In the workings of the conscience we have prophetic fore-shadowings of immortality. Look at the prophetic action of conscience. It urges us to prepare for certain eventualities in the future. Conscience urges us to shun the wrong and to do the right, that it may be well with us hereafter. Take two classes of men--those who are upheld by their conscience, and those who are tormented by their conscience. We analyse their feelings and convictions, and find that those take hold on eternity, and look forward to judgment. The man who meets death to keep his conscience unstained, is impelled by a high moral instinct, which needs an eternal future to approve its wisdom and to vindicate its sacrifices. But when conscience is violated, the anguish it causes also points to the future. Conscience distinctly foreshadows a future life of conscious being.
5. The universality of the belief in immortality is an evidence of its truth. Among barbarous and civilised nations, everywhere, is found this belief in a future state of conscious existence. Bring these different arguments together. What is it that Jesus has done? Made known a future existence not known before? Nay; but brightened, or made clear what was imperfectly understood, and shown that only through Him can be obtained a glorious immortality. (A. Oliver, B. A.)
Shall we live again
The question is the question of one who doubts. In Job’s days men could not pierce the darkness of the grave. Hence the gloomy views men had of death. There is much in the visible aspect of death to lead to the saddest conclusion.
1. The resurrection is not impossible. Can anything be too hard for Him who made us? If God gave us life, He can restore us to life.
2. Resurrection is to be expected--it is in keeping with the instinct implanted in us by our Maker. Man has everywhere a yearning after immortality. Consider the place man holds here ca earth amongst God’s creatures. He alone is a responsible creature. But reward and punishment are not always meted out according to a man’s doings at present. While this is the case, does it not seem a denial of God’s justice to say that this life is all? Then we have God’s Word of promise for it, that “though a man die, he shall live again.” And we have the resurrection of God’s own Son, Jesus Christ, for our example. This it is that gives us the victory over our doubts and fears. This is the rock on which we build our hope of rising again. If these bodies of ours are appointed to immortality, does it need a preacher to enforce the necessity of a pure, and sober, and godly conversation? Look at the strong support and comfort which belief in a resurrection can give the heart. (R. D. B. Rawnsley, M. A.)
Life beyond the grave
Faith in a life beyond the grave is the real, though often unrecognised basis of all stable peace and happiness for us. Without this underlying belief our present existence can have no real coherence, purpose, or meaning. Faith in a future life is the unseen foundation of all that is fairest and noblest in humanity. Even the joy and careless vivacity of the unreflecting seem to me to be ultimately based on the rational and thoughtful faith of deeper souls. Beneath the superficial happiness of trivial natures lies stratum after stratum of profound human thought, extending far down towards the very core of the universe. Ordinary mundane happiness really depends on convictions which its owners do not themselves gain, or even hold consciously. The deeper spirits of our race are often in gravest bewilderment and grief, and their sorrow even now threatens the continuance of man’s ordinary satisfactions. It really seems as if, even though in reality there should be no future life, we must invent one, in order to make this life tolerable. Hence, perhaps, the fantastic doctrine of immortality taught by the positivists. The best service a thoughtful spirit can now render is to face the haunting spectre of modern life, doubt of a future existence, to grapple honestly with all besetting difficulties, to seek to know the very actual truth. Sorrowful indeed must ever be this lonely quest of the venturesome pilgrim soul. Nor must it expect much sympathy from man. But the resolute inquirer may still find some comfort from God. I do not think that Christianity is committed to any particular theory as to the natural immortality of the finite soul, or as to its absolute independence of matter in any form. The Christian view is, that the life of the finite soul is entirely dependent upon the uncreated and undying life of God. Ours is a derived, and not a natural immortality. I do not think that St. Paul held at all Bishop Butler’s doctrine of the absolute independence of the spiritual or mental principle within us. The apostle’s views were nearer to those favoured by modern science. Butler scarcely thought a body a real necessity at all; St. Paul yearned after a “spiritual body.” I am glad to think, that, if I live beyond the grave, it is not necessary that I should be a mere ghost, or else a grossly material being as I am on earth. Mill argues that the idea of extinction is “not really or naturally terrible” from the fact that it is held out as a reward in the Buddhist creed. He here entirely ignores the fact that the deep pessimism, which makes the Buddhist hate a future life of consciousness, also makes him hate the present life. Curiously enough, in Mill’s essay, the misery of the present life is regarded as inducing men to dislike and disbelieve in a future life, and also as disposing them to demand it and believe in it. Mill teaches that if man’s life on earth were more satisfactory, he would probably cease to care for another existence. On the whole, considering John Stuart Mill’s nature and early training, he came as near to the great Theistic faith as we could reasonably expect. I think we shall find that, on the whole, our position today is a somewhat stronger one than that occupied by the defenders of immortality in earlier days, though we may have to encounter some new obstacles to belief. We must admit that the merely physical phenomena of death point to annihilation. The difficulty of conceiving that our individuality will survive the shock of separation from its organism, probably arises from our ignorance, and might be no difficulty if we had fuller knowledge. To a very great extent, science now heals the wounds which it inflicted on the human spirit in earlier days. The highest science does not tell us that a future life is impossible for us; it only says that it cannot guarantee it to us; it leaves us quite free to consult our moral and spiritual nature. We Christians can still believe in a future existence on grounds derived from reason. I see no grounds for disbelieving in a future life, if the moral arguments in its favour are cogent and conclusive. One strong moral argument is the unsatisfactory nature of our present life. This is a very real argument, if we believe in a benevolent God. Another argument is derived from the fact that God’s moral government is only incipient here on earth. The inchoate condition of many of our highest faculties seems also to suggest faith in a continuance, and development of life beyond the grave. Progressiveness is the distinguishing mark of man. The glorious instinct of worship seems also to vindicate for us a reasonable hope of a grander life in God’s nearer presence. Our present moral nature is full of suggestions of a future life. The affections of men plead most eloquently of all for a future life. God has set eternity in our hearts, though our heads may question it. The deepest human love is saturated with faith in immortality. It cannot even speak at all without implying the eternal hope. The loftiest affections, being born of God, are accredited prophets of true religion. (A. Cranford, M. A.)
Our immortality God’s will
The common arguments for the immortality of man are irrelevant. We are not immortal, because we wish to be so, or think we are so, or because immortality befitteth us as lords of the creation, or because we love life, and the thought of annihilation is disagreeable to us, or because there is within us a craving after endless existence. All these arguments, though powerless with those old pagans of whom we have been speaking, are frequently adduced by such as have the Gospel in their hands, as if they were all powerful. But the Gospel, as it needeth them not, ignoreth them. One of the pagans, and he agreeing with others, would tell us that “whatever beginneth, endeth” (Panaetius). And another (Epicurus) that “mind ceases with dissolution.” Hence we, as we had a beginning, despite all our reasonings to the contrary, beside or beyond the Gospel, might cease to be. We may not like the thought, it is hard, cheerless, chilling; but if it put us into our right place before God,--if it serve to check that pride of immortality, which is the purest hindrance to preparation for it,--let us not disregard the truth, that we, as we began to be, like all other things might, were it God’s will, cease to be . . . But God hath willed it otherwise. If with Job we ask, “If a man die, shall he live again?” the reply is direct, he shall. And why? Not because we, having a better insight into what is called Natural Theology and the laws of life, and being more mindful of the dignity of our nature than the men of old, are better able to reason ourselves into a belief of this truth. No; our immortality doth not depend upon natural arguments, or upon sensuous predilections. We are immortal because God hath told us so. It is His will. And as if to bring down our pride, the immortality of the soul hath been testified unto us by the resurrection of the body. The proof of the one is in the other. The Gospel of Christ knoweth nothing of the immortality of the soul apart from the immortality of the whole man. And if we regard the one to the neglect of the other, we do but endanger the blessedness of both. We have begun to exist, but not for this reason, but because it is God’s decree, and Jesus Christ hath been raised from the dead, and hath ascended into heaven in our nature, we shall exist forever. This is the solemn thought, which should never be long absent from our minds. We live, and bye we must. The destruction of the present order of the globe will affect our being no more than the fall of a raindrop, or a shooting star. Too dreadful is the truth of our immortality, even though the hope of saints should render it lovely, to permit it to make us proud. The gift may raise us beyond the brutes, but if its alternative he the hopeless land, it will sink us below them. (Alfred Bowen Evans.)
Yes and no
I. We answer the question first with a “No.” He shall not live again here; he shall not again mingle with his fellows, and repeat the life which death has brought to a close.
1. Shall he bye for himself? No; if he hath lived and died a sinner, that sinful life of his shall never be repeated. Let the cup be sweet; it is the last time thou shalt ever drink it. Once thou shalt insult high heaven, but not twice. The long suffering of God shall wait for thee through thy life of provocations; but thou shalt not be born again into this world; thou shalt not a second time defile its air with blasphemies, nor blot its beauties with impiety. Thou shalt not live again to forget the God who hath daily loaded thee with mercies. If you die you shall not live again to stifle the voice of your conscience, and to quench the Spirit of God. Solemnly let us say it, awful as it appears, it is well that the sinner should not live again in this world. “Oh!” you will say, when you are dying, “if I could but live again, I would not sin as I once did.” Unless you had a new heart and a right spirit, if you could live again, you would live as you did before. In the case of the child of God, it is the same, so far as he himself is concerned, when he dies he shall not live again. No more shall he bitterly repent of sin; no more lament the plague of his own heart, and tremble under a sense of deserved wrath. The battle is once fought: it is not to be repeated.
2. Shall he live for others? No. The sinner shall not live to do damage to others. If a man die, he shall not live again to scatter hemlock seed, and sow sin in furrows. What, bring back that thief to train others to his evil deeds? Bring back that self-righteous man who was always speaking against the Gospel, and striving to prejudice other men’s minds against Gospel light? No. no. And now, let me remind you that it is the same with the saint, “If a man die, shall he live again?” No. This is our season to pray for our fellow men, and it is a season which shall never return. Hasten to work while it is called today; gird up your loins and run the heavenly race, for the sun is setting never to rise again upon this land.
II. “If a man die shall he live again?” Yes, yes, what he shall. He does not die like a dog; he shall live again; not here, but in another and a better or a more terrible land. The soul, we know, never dies. The body itself shall live again. This much cometh to all men through Christ, that all men have a resurrection. But more than that. They shall all live again in the eternal state; either forever glorified with God in Christ, blessed with the holy angels, forever shut in from all danger and alarm; or in that place appointed for banished spirits who have shut themselves out from God, and now find that God has shut them out from Him. Ye shall live again; let no one tempt you to believe the contrary. And hark thee, sinner; let me hold thee by the hand a moment; thy sins shall live again. They are not dead. Thou hast forgotten them, but God has not. And thy conscience shall live. It is not often alive now. It is quiet, almost as quiet as the dead in the grave. But it shall soon awaken. Remember that your victims shall live again. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
Belief in immortality
The great Roman orator, Cicero, said, “Yes, oh yes! But if I err in believing that the soul of man is immortal I willingly err, nor while I live would I have the delightful error extorted from me; and if after death I shall feel nothing, as some philosophers think, I am not afraid that some dead philosopher shall laugh at me for my mistake.” Socrates declared, “I believe a future life is needed to avenge the wrongs of this present life. In the future life justice shall be administered to us, and those who have done their duty here in that future life shall find their chief delight in seeking after wisdom.” Yes, the soul is in exile. Like the homing pigeon released, it hurries back to the bosom of the Father. Man is not satisfied with his humanity! As one writer has put it, our race is homesick. (Homiletic Review.)
All the days of my appointed time will I wait, till my change come.--
The resuscitation and its time appointed
We are informed of Columbus, that visions of the mighty continent he was afterwards to reveal rose upon his mind long before he set out on the voyage which conducted him thither. He was convinced that such a continent existed, and he burned with an ardent desire to explore its hidden wonders. We are told that he wandered often by the shores of the mighty ocean, or climbed aloft some rocky steep, that he might gaze over the world of waters. There must be a western continent; and who would not brave the dangers of the deep, if, haply, the enterprise would terminate in so wonderful a discovery? The discoveries of Columbus, however wondrous the exhibition there made of human sagacity and perseverance, did, after all, relate but to a portion of this fallen world; a world in which the great discoverer himself could be permitted to go to the grave neglected, impoverished, persecuted. But every man who has his station on the shores of the ocean of eternity, must ere long embark on its heaving waters, prosecute for himself the dangerous navigation, and occupy a place in the mysterious world beyond. In that region of mystery there are employments, sufferings, joys. Tremendous are the results which ensue from crossing that ocean of eternity. Oh, well, therefore, may we stand on our Atlantic cliff, straining our eyeballs over the deep, as the shades of evening are coming on; listening to the roar of the waters, if haply we may gather thence some intelligence regarding the distant world. What shall be my destiny yonder?
I. Job evidently lived in the hope of a coming resurrection. He speaks of a tree cut down, yet, under the influence of heat and moisture, sprouting again; and expresses his wonder that man, when “he dieth and giveth up the ghost,” should be utterly “wasted away” and become a nonentity. He speaks of rivers and pools of water drying up by the heats of summer; but he leaves the impression that he did not forget that the returning rains would restore them to their former state. He prays that God would “hide him in the grave,” and there “keep him in secret” until His wrath was past, when, at a time appointed, he would be remembered and restored. “All the days of my appointed time will I wait, till my change come.” Is this, as if he had said, the destiny of man, the order of God’s providence in dealing with him, first to die and then to revive? Must the seeds of death be purged out of his body in the grave? if so, then I need not fear death; I may rather welcome it with joy, looking forward into the future with confidence, waiting with patience for the resurrection day, and “knowing that my Redeemer liveth.” It becomes us, in these latter times, to dwell with special interest on the doctrine of a resurrection. It is a fact that we have been born; it is a fact that we shall die; and it is another fact, just as certain, that we shall rise again from our graves. God is able to do it, and has issued the promise. Oh, wonderful exhibition to be thereby afforded of Jehovah’s might! So have I seen one of our Scottish mountains invested with its wintry mantle of snow, and incrusted on all sides with thick-ribbed ice. Not a green leaf or tiniest flower broke the uniformity of the snowy waste. What desolation, dreariness, and death! Who would suppose that underneath that icy covering, life, and warmth, and beauty, were lying entombed, awaiting their glorious resurrection! Yet so it is. The months of winter passed away, the snow and ice disappeared, the streamlets flowed and sparkled again in the sunshine, and the whole landscape, once so chill and dreary, was lighted up with a thousand sights of loveliness and joy. The winter too of the grave has its returning spring, and while faith points the finger to the glorious epoch, hope fills the soul with an earnest of future gladness. “If a man die, shall he live again?” Thus saith the Lord, “Rejoice”; “I am the resurrection and the life; he that believeth in Me, though he were dead, yet shall he live.”
II. Job was evidently convinced that the years of his life were fixed and numbered. He speaks, you perceive, of a “time appointed.” And this idea is repeatedly suggested elsewhere, when we find him declaring that the Almighty has “numbered his steps,” “determined his days and the number of his months,” and caused him to “fulfil his days like a hireling.” These expressions not only imply, but in distinct terms affirm, the sovereignty of God in fixing the duration of human life. Every individual man lives his “appointed time,” and not one moment longer. There are many other utterances of Scripture which make the same affirmation. The Royal Preacher tells us that there is “a time to be born, and a time to die,” as if the two grand limits, at least, of human existence, were positively fixed by Divine decree. The Psalmist speaks of the “measure of his days,” and compares it to “an handbreadth”; expressions which are not only indicative of the shortness of human life, but also of its precise and actual amount. The Apostle Paul speaks of “finishing his course,” and of a “race being set before us”; terms borrowed from the measured racecourse in the gymnastic games of the ancient Greeks, which, as fully as language can express it, affirm the doctrine we have just announced. And, indeed, the same doctrine flows, as a necessary consequence, from all we know of the perfections of God. If it be a truth that Almighty God determines in every case the duration of human life, and fixes the hour and circumstances of our dissolution, we ought to give Him credit for the exercise of supreme wisdom in this part of His procedure. No life is either prolonged or shortened without good cause. We ought to reflect that permanent or even lengthened existence in this world is not the end for which we were created. This world is the great seed bed or nursery for those souls who are destined to occupy diverse places and perform different functions hereafter. Our residence, accordingly, in this world, is not an end, but a means; and as the Almighty has ordained that this shall be the case, we may rest assured that not a single removal occurs, from the visible into the spiritual, but in the exercise of supreme wisdom. The time during which the spirit of every man must be submitted to the influences of this world, and the special influences to which it is submitted, are things of Divine appointment; and not merely the glory of God, but the welfare of all creation, is contemplated in every such appointment. It is incumbent on us, accordingly, habitually to feel and to act upon the truth of the Patriarch’s saying: There is a time appointed for us all. We may not know the hour of our departure from this sublunary scene; the season, the place, and the circumstances of our dissolution may not be revealed to any created intelligence. But all is known to God, and is matter of previous arrangement and ordination. Moreover, the eternal interests of the whole universe are therein consulted. The Judge of all the earth is doing what is wise, and good, and right. Let us, accordingly, cherish the spirit of contentment and submission; filling the place assigned us with meekness, humility, and faith; prosecuting the duties before us with perseverance and godly zeal; holding ourselves in readiness, whensoever the summons reaches us, to arise and go hence.
III. Job formed a resolution to wait with patience the evolution of the Divine purposes. “All the days of my appointed time will I wait, till my change come.” He might have to endure for a season; but the vindication of his character, and the eternal re-establishment of his happiness, were future events, as certain of occurring as the rise of tomorrow’s sun, or the budding of the flowers of the ensuing spring. What he felt called upon to do was to exercise patience in waiting for them. The trial, though severe and of long duration, would some time or other come to an end; the distress, though protracted, would not last forever; the eternal weight of glory which was approaching would far more than counterbalance the sufferings by which it was preceded. Oh, how different this from the faith and hope of the world! History has recorded the deathbed incidents and sayings of one of the infidel leaders of the great French Revolution. “Sprinkle me,” said Mirabeau, as he was dying--“sprinkle me with odours, crown me with flowers; for I am sinking into eternal sleep.” Oh, what a contrast!--the dying infidel on the one hand, the agonised patriarch on the other! The former had no God in whom he could trust; no Saviour to whom to resort when heart and flesh were fainting; no hope but the eternal sleep of annihilation. Peace he had none, nor the hope of it. And yet he was a dying man, and felt it. The roar of the dark waters was in his ears, and all he hoped for and desired was to be swallowed up in them, and be no more. And is this all that Reason, the boasted deity of French Atheism, can suggest to encounter the King of Terrors, the destiny of the grave?--a few drops of perfume, that speedily will exhale, and leave this poor clay tabernacle putrifying and noisome!--a chaplet of flowers, which ere tomorrow will be withering, and mock the brow it has been gathered to adorn! Poor preparation this for the soul’s entrance into the presence chamber of Almighty God!--miserable comfort, when the heart-strings are bursting! See, however, yonder sorely distressed patriarch. Accumulated sorrows are wringing his spirit with anguish. He has lost all that the world values,--wealth, children, health, and even the good opinion and sympathy of his friends. He is a predestined heir of glory; his name is in the book of life. He is a saint amid all his sorrows; and God loves him, though bodily and mental anguish are making of him a prey. Oh, for the faith and hope of the servant of God! (J. Cochrane, M. A.)
The triumph of patience
Job makes use of the fact, that human life is so short and so sorrowful, as an argument why God should let him alone, and not chasten him. Life, he seems to say, is short enough without being cut shorter, and sorrowful enough Without being embittered by God’s judgments. What Job seems to mean is, that when we once die, we cannot resume our earthly life. There is much that is solemn in this truth. There are many things on earth which we can do a second time; if done imperfectly the first time, a failure is not altogether fatal. But we can only die once. If our short life is wasted, and we die unprepared, we cannot make up for lost opportunities--cannot come back to die again. It is easy to see what Job means by his “appointed time,” and also by the “change” for which he waited. But in applying these words to ourselves, we may take a wider range; for there is an appointed time to many different events and periods of human life, as well as to life itself; and corresponding to each of these there is a change, for which the true Christian ought to wait.
1. There are seasons of special temptation and conflict in the Christian life. But temptation endured, is a great furtherance to the spiritual life.
2. It is a law in God’s kingdom that we must have trouble. There is sin in our hearts, and where there is sin, there must be chastisement sooner or later. It is well, therefore, to make up our minds that we shall be tried, so that, when it comes, we may not count it a strange thing. Some trials we may be spared, if we live near to God. But some trials we shall still need. How much there is to comfort us under them, if only we are Christ’s. (George Wagner.)
Life a warfare
First, let us hear the warning, “If a man die, shall he live again?” The lives of other men,--their blindness to the changes and decay in themselves which are so evident to their fellows,--the experience of our own hearts, above all, which have so lightly retained many strong impressions, may make us feel the necessity of this caution. We shall indeed live forever. Our souls cannot lose their consciousness. But a deathless eternity will offer no period similar to this life on the earth. There will be no new trial, no new place of conflict with evil, no time to seek the Lord, and to do good to our own souls. In this consists the true value, and inestimable importance of life; it is the one time of probation for an external judgment; it is the time to fit ourselves “for the inheritance of the saints in light.” We are able in some respect to see that the allowing to those who waste the present life a second trial upon earth, would have produced incalculable evil. Even as it is, with death and judgment in view, how many live carelessly. If men knew that after death comes the entrance into a further period of preparation, repentance would be far more rare, and the number of those who are treading the narrow way heavenward greatly diminished. In the ease supposed, those who revived from death would enter on their second time of trial, not with a childish proneness to evil, but with hearts inured to sensuality, and we may say, inflexibly hardened in disobedience. Would not the amendment of sinners, and the constancy of the godly then become well-nigh impossible? These considerations may teach us that it is a method at once necessary, righteous, and merciful, by which “it is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment.” This is the hour in which God hath appointed you, not to wrath, but to obtain salvation by Him; to be fellow workers with Him in accomplishing your renovation. If we consider our ways, how much is there to correct and amend! How much remains for the Spirit of God yet to work in us Such reflections may prepare us to adopt Job’s resolution, “All the days of my appointed time will I wait till my change come.” The word rendered “appointed time” has in the original a peculiar signification. It almost always signifies “an army,” as in the expression, “Lord God of Sabaoth,” or “Lord God of hosts.” The word warfare is the same as the word Job employs; so we may read, “All the days of my warfare I will wait till my change come.” With great propriety Job might speak of himself as enduring a great fight of afflictions. But to each of us this word “warfare” is most significant. The term impresses on us the duty of self-denial. Without forgetfulness of things behind, without submission and prompt obedience to the general’s command, no soldier, however excellent might be his personal qualities, however high his courage, would be of any service to the army he had joined, but rather an incumbrance. How much more does this renunciation of our own will and pleasure become us, who follow such a Leader! Our warfare is an especial act of faith; for it is a spiritual combat. Our enemies do not show themselves. He who has made any real efforts to live a godly life, knows that “the weapons of our warfare are not carnal.” This figure of our warfare represents to us, above all, the necessity of patience. “All the days of my warfare will I wait.”. . .To him who is emulating the resolve of Job, there is not only caution, but abundant comfort in his reflection that if a man die, he will not live again any such life as the present. Human life is the day in which we are to rejoice and labour. (M. Biggs, M. A.)
The advantages of religious resignation
Job grounded his resignation on the principle, that though God was pleased to make so severe a trial of his virtues and innocence, He would, in His due time, restore him to his former prosperity here, or reward him with inconceivable happiness hereafter.
I. In what latitude we are to understand Job’s notion of an appointed time. As fixed for the period of human life. The period of our lives is not peremptorily determined by God; but every particular person has it in his option to prolong or shorten it, according to his good or bad conduct. God’s foreknowledge hath, in itself, no influence at all upon the things foreknown; nor is it inconsistent with the freedom of man’s will; nor doth it determine our choice. Length of life depends very much on the regularity or irregularity of conduct. Even common observation furnishes us with the fatal consequences that inseparably attend intemperance and lust. Religion and virtue naturally conduce to the lengthening of life, by affording us the advantage of fixed rules of conduct.
II. It is our indispensable duty to wait, with patience, all the days of this appointed time. Our disappointments and calamities are under the inspection and at the disposal of wise providence, and therefore they ought to be endured without the least discontent or complaint. A consciousness of acting in concert with the supreme governor of the universe, cannot fail affecting a human mind with the liveliest transports of joy and tranquillity.
III. Rules to settle in our mind this great duty of resignation.
1. Keep a firm belief that the universe is under the superintendence of an all-powerful Being, whose justice will finally distribute rewards and punishments according to our virtues and vices.
2. An effectual restraint must be laid upon our impatience and fretfulness.
3. Keep confident that afterward joy will spring up.
4. The inward tranquillity of mind, that proceeds from a consciousness of fidelity in our duty, is inexpressible. (W. Adey.)
Good men wait for the day of their death
Mutability cleaves to all mankind from the cradle to the grave.
I. Death is an appointed change. It was in consequence of man’s first offence that a sentence of mortality was passed upon the whole human race. It was then appointed to all men once to die. Many allow that God has appointed death to all men; but deny that He has appointed the time, or place, or means, of any particular person’s death. But it seems difficult to conceive how it was possible for God to appoint death to every individual, without appointing the time, the place, and the means of his death.
II. What is implied in the Godly man’s waiting for their appointed change.
1. The habitual expectation of their dying hour. Waiting always carries the idea of expectation.
2. An habitual contemplation, as well as expectation of death.
3. That they view themselves prepared for their great and last change.
4. That they desire the time to come for them to leave the world. We wait for what we desire, not what we dread.
III. They have good reasons for this waiting all the days of their appointed time, till their change come.
1. Because it will put them into a state of perfect holiness.
2. And into a state of perfect knowledge.
3. And into a state of perfect and perpetual rest.
4. It will not only free them from all evil, but put them into possession of all good. Improvement--
(1) It must argue great imperfection in Christians, not to hope and wait for the day of their decease.
(2) It is of great importance to make their calling and election sure, because without this they cannot properly wait for the day of death.
(3) If good men do thus wait, then they derive a happiness from their religion to which sinners are strangers. (N. Emmons, D. D.)
Waiting for death
We are all, like Job, mortal; like him, we may be assailed by severe afflictions, and tempted to wish impatiently for death; but we ought, like him, to check these impatient wishes, and resolve to wait till our change comes.
I. Consider death as a change. The word is impressive and full of meaning. It strongly intimates Job’s belief in the immortality of the soul, and in a future state of existence. Though death is not the extinction of our being, it is a change.
1. It is the commencement of a great change in our bodies.
2. In our mode of existence. Until death, our spirits are clothed with a body, but after death they exist in a disembodied state, the state of separate spirits. This change will be accompanied by a corresponding change in our mode of perception. Then we shall see without eyes, hear without ears, and feel without touch.
3. In the objects of perception we shall in effect experience a change of place. Death removes us from one world to another. We shall then most clearly, constantly, and forever, perceive God, the Father of spirits, and of the spiritual world.
4. In our employments, and in the mode of spending our existence.
5. In our state and situation. This world is a world of trial. While we remain in it, we are in a state of probation. Our days are days of grace.
6. A great change with respect to happiness and misery.
II. The appointed time allotted to each of us on earth, at the expiration of which the change will take place. The number of our months is with God; He sets us bounds which we cannot pass. We must allow that God has set to every man an appointed time, or deny the providential government of the universe.
III. What is implied in waiting the days of our appointed time?
1. Waiting till God shall see fit to release us, without voluntarily hastening our death, either in a direct or indirect manner.
2. An habitual expectation of it. No man can be said to wait for an event which he does not expect, nor can we be properly said to wait all our days for death, unless we live in habitual expectation of it.
3. Habitual care to preserve and maintain such a frame of mind as we should wish to be in when it arrives. Whatever preparation is necessary, the good man will take care to make.
4. Waiting for our change may be justly considered as implying some degree of desire for it.
Some reasons why we should wait for it in a right manner.
1. The perfect reasonableness of so doing. Consider the certainty and importance of death.
2. The command of Christ, with its attending promises and threatenings. Stand, says he, with your loins girt about, and your lamps trimmed. Be ye like servants who wait for their Lord, that when He cometh ye may open to Him immediately; for ye know not at what hour the Son of Man cometh. Blessed is that servant whom He shall find so doing. (E. Payson, D. D.)
The Christian waiting for his final change
There is much holy feeling in these quiet words.
I. A change which is coming. Job had already experienced many and great changes: yet he speaks here as one waiting for a change, just as though he had hitherto never experienced a single vicissitude. He means death.
1. To the righteous, death is a change of worlds.
2. A change of society. Man’s social feelings will doubtless follow him to heaven.
3. We ourselves shall be changed by death. This is needful to give us the full enjoyment of our change of worlds and society. Our souls will be changed. They will be enlarged, strengthened, and, above all, purified. Our bodies as well as our souls will be changed ultimately. Change will take place in our outward condition and circumstances as well as in our ourselves.
II. The duty of the people of God with reference to this change. The text says they must wait for it. This waiting is the highest and holiest frame of mind into which Divine grace can bring us with reference to our future change. It is a great thing to be kept living in the constant thought and expectation of it. This waiting is a triumph over, not merely the worldly-mindedness of the human heart, but the fear and unbelief of the human heart. It seems a high attainment to feel a desire for death; the desire which is a longing to be with Christ. This frame of mind, even when attained, often in deep trouble gives way. Let me call on you to cultivate this patient, waiting disposition. It is good for its own sake. It is good as it redounds to God’s honour. It is good in its influence on the whole Christian character. It is only for a little while that we can need this grace. (C. Bradley.)
A coming change
Here we have reflected before us the character of the true Christian, who will not even in the lowest depths of adversity, throw aside his confidence in God, knowing that afflictions come not forth of the ground, but of him without whom not a sparrow falleth thither.
I. The question proposed. “If a man die, shall he live again?” The truth of a resurrection may be impressed on us by analogy from nature, and by word of revelation. The same power that bids the earth bring forth abundantly for the use of man, shall hereafter cause the sea, death, and hell, to deliver up the dead which are in them. Revelation would seem to enforce what creation would silently invite us to contemplate.
II. The chance to which allusion is made. It is one class of persons, and one only, of whom it may be said, that they will wait till their change come--those who have put on the Lord Jesus while here, and who are continually longing and looking for His glorious appearing. It is to be a glorious change. It will introduce us into glory; that glory we can here know but in part, for its fulness shall be revealed hereafter. Another distinguishing feature in its character is that of its being unchangeable. For He that shall bring this to pass is Himself without variableness, or shadow of turning; and they who shall be fashioned like unto Christ’s glorious body shall be so likewise; age shall roll on after age in rapid succession, and signs of decay shall not make their appearance on these glorified bodies, but they shall ever be the same, and their years shall not fail. (E. Jones.)
Awaiting God’s time to die
In their moments of despair, even good men have desired to be in the grave, but like Job, when they have returned to calmness and confidence in God, each has said, “All the days of my appointed time will I wait, till my change come.” No good man will ever deliberately wish merely to die. The true servants of God will never dishonour Him by proclaiming that the task He set them is so intolerable that it were better to be as the clods of the valley than engaged in its performance. The true soldiers of Christ, who have been placed by Him in positions of especial difficulty, danger or hardship, that they may peculiarly distinguish themselves, and win for Him peculiar glory, will never long merely for the ending of the campaign. Victory, not ease, will be the supreme object of their desire. They will hate the wish to desert their post, just as they would actually to desert. Until the captain of their salvation summons them to Himself, they will cheerfully endure hardships. Even those of Christ’s followers to whom life seems one prolonged furnace of affliction, will never forget that God placed them in it, and that His eye is upon them as a refiner and purifier of silver. Not one of them would wish to have the fire quenched before their Heavenly Father Himself sees fit to do so. (R. A. Bertram.)
Death a great change
What a transition it was for Paul--from the slippery deck of a foundering ship to the calm presence of Jesus. What a transition it was for the martyr Latimer--from the stake to the throne. What a transition it was for Robert Hall--from agony to glory. What a transition it was for Richard Baxter--from the dropsy to the “saints everlasting rest.” And what a transition it will be for you--from a world of sorrow to a world of joy. John Hollard, when dying, said, “What means this brightness in the room? Have you lighted the candles?” “No,” they said; “we have not lighted any candles.” “Then,” said he, “welcome heaven”; the light already beaming upon his pillow. (T. De Witt Talmage.)
The last change
The patriarch may be referring to the resurrection of the body from the state of the dead; or to the change which takes place at death.
I. Death to a good man is a change as to the soul itself. A man may be called a good man, compared with many around him; yet the difference is vast between what he now is and what he shall become, when death shall transfer his soul from earth to heaven.
II. It will also be a change in regard to the soul’s habitation. The soul’s habitation, in the life that now is, is not very convenient for its enjoyment. An apostle calls this tabernacle “a vile body,” vile relatively, vile morally, and vile mortally.
III. Death to a good man is a change as to human intercourse. The very best of men in this world are imperfect. The Christian has not only here to do with men who are good, though imperfect, but with men who make no profession of religion at all; with the openly profane, and with insincere professors. From all such relations a good man is delivered when his connection with time terminates. His glorified spirit is then introduced into that high and holy place where there are no imperfect or wicked men. Its companions now are the spirits of just men made perfect.
IV. It is a change also as to the good man’s intercourse with God. In this world such intercourse is often interrupted. To no interruption or privation is the soul of a good man subjected after death. The soul will be prepared to dwell in God’s immediate presence. The change indicated takes place at an appointed time. The change which takes place in death is one for which all good men wait. All good men wait for death by preparing for it. (Thomas Adam.)
Our life, our work, our change
I. First, let us observe the aspect under which Job regarded this mortal life. He calls it an “appointed time,” or, as the Hebrew has it, “a warfare.”
1. Observe that Job styles our life a time. Blessed be God, that this present state is not an eternity! What though its conflicts may seem long, they must have an end. The winter may drag its weary length along, but the spring is hard upon its heels. Let us then, my brethren, judge immortal judgment; let us not weigh our troubles in the ill-adjusted scales of this poor human life, but let us use the shekel of eternity.
2. Job also calls our life an “appointed” time. Ye know who appointed your days. You did not appoint them for yourself, and therefore you can have no regrets about the appointment. Neither did Satan appoint it, for the keys of hell and of death do not hang at his girdle. To the Almighty God belong the issues from death.
3. You will observe also that Job very wisely speaks of the “days” of our appointed time. It is a prudent thing to forbear the burden of life as a whole, and learn to bear it in the parcels into which Providence has divided it. I must not fail to remind you of the Hebrew: “All the days of my warfare will I wait.” Life is indeed a “warfare”; and just as a man enlists in our army for a term of years, and then his service runs out, and he is free, so every believer is enlisted in the service of life, to serve God till his enlistment is over, and we sleep in death. Taking these thoughts together as Job’s view of mortal life, what then? Why, it is but once, as we have already said--we shall serve our God on earth in striving after His glory but once. Let us carry out the engagements of our enlistment honourably. There are no battles to be fought, and no victories to be won in heaven.
II. Job’s view of our work while on earth is that we are to wait. “All the days of my appointed time will I wait.” The word “wait” is very full of teaching.
1. In the first place, the Christian life should be one of waiting; that is, setting loose by all earthly things.
2. A second meaning of the text, however, is this: we must wait expecting to be gone--expecting daily and hourly to be summoned by our Lord. The proper and healthy estate of a Christian is to be anticipating the hour of his departure as near at hand.
3. Waiting means enduring with patience.
4. Serving is also another kind of waiting. He would not be a servant sometimes, and then skulk home in idleness at another season, as if his term of service were ended.
5. Moreover, to close this aspect of Christian life, we should be desirous to be called home.
III. Now comes Job’s estimate of the future. It is expressed in this word, “Till my change come.”
1. Let it be observed that, in a certain sense, death and resurrection are not a change to a Christian they are not a change as to his identity. The same man who lives here will live forever. There will be no difference in the Christian’s object in life when he gets to heaven. He lives to serve God here: he will live for the same end and aim there. And the Christian will not experience a very great change as to his companions. Here on earth the excellent of the earth are all his delight; Christ Jesus, his Elder Brother, abides with him; the Holy Spirit, the Comforter, is resident within him; he communes with the Father and with His Son Jesus Christ.
2. To the Christian it will be a change of place.
3. Specially will it be a change to the Christian as to that which will be within him. No body of this death to hamper him; no infirmities to cramp him; no wandering thoughts to disturb his devotion; no birds to come down upon the sacrifice, needing to be driven away. Right well, good patriarch, didst thou use the term, for it is the greatest of all changes. Perhaps to you it will be a sudden change. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
Thou shalt call, and I will answer Thee.
God calling in death
Mr. Moody used to say, “Some day you will read in the papers that Dwight L. Moody is dead. Don’t you believe it. When they say I am dead, I shalt be more alive than I ever was before.” Now, it is very easy to say that when one is well and strong, but the last hours Mr. Moody had on earth he lay looking death right in the eye without a quiver. Early in the morning of his last day on earth, before daylight, his son Will, who was keeping watch beside his bed, heard him whispering something, and leaning over the bed, caught the words, “Earth is receding, heaven is opening, God is calling!” Will was disturbed, and called the other members of the family into the room. “No, no, father,” he said; “not so bad as that.” His father opened his eyes, and, seeing the family gathered round, said, “I have been within the gates. I have seen the children’s faces”--those of his two grandchildren who had died during the summer and spring. In a little while he sank into unconsciousness again, but again became conscious, and opened his eyes and said, “Is this death? This is not bad. There is no valley. This is bliss!--this is sweet!--this is glorious!” Then his daughter, with breaking heart, said, “Father, don’t leave us!” “Oh,” he replied, “Emma, I am not going to throw my life away. If God wants me to live, I will live; but if God is calling me, I must up and off!” A little while later, someone tried to arouse him; but he said faintly, “God is calling me; don’t call me back. This is my Coronation Day; I have long looked for it!” And so he went up for his coronation! (A. R. Torrey, D. D.)
Thou wilt have a desire to the work of Thine hands.--
Confidence in the Creator
The Book of Job seems to me the most daring of poems; from a position of the most vantageless realism it assaults the very citadel of the ideal. Job is the instance type of humanity in the depths of its misery. Seated in the heart of a leaden despair Job cries aloud to the might unseen, scarce known, which yet he regards as the God of his life. But no more than that of a slave is his cry. Before the Judge he asserts his innocence, and will not grovel--knowing, indeed, that to bear himself so would be to insult the holy. He feels he has not deserved such suffering, and will neither tell nor listen to lies for God. Prometheus is more stoutly patient than Job. Prometheus has to do with a tyrant whom he despises. Job is the more troubled, because it is He who is at the head and the heart, who is the beginning and the end of things, that has laid His hand upon him. He cannot, will not, believe Him a tyrant. He dares not think God unjust; but not, therefore, can he allow that he has done anything to merit the treatment he is receiving at His hands. Hence is he of necessity in profoundest perplexity, for how can the two things be reconciled? The thought has not yet come to him, that that which it would be unfair to lay upon him as punishment, may yet be laid upon him as a favour. Had Job been Calvinist or Lutheran the Book of Job would have been very different. His perplexity would then have been--how God, being just, could require of a man more than he could do, and punish him as if his sin were that of a perfect being, who chose to do the evil of which he knew all the enormity. From a soul whose very consciousness is contradiction, we must not look for logic; misery is rarely logical; it is itself a discord. Feeling as if God had wronged him, Job yearns for the sight of God, strains into His presence, longs to stand face to face with Him. He would confront the One. Look closer at Job’s way of thinking and speaking about God, and directly to God. Such words are pleasing in the ear of the Father of spirits. He is not a God to accept the flattery which declares Him above obligation to His creatures. Job is confident of receiving justice. God speaks not a word of rebuke to Job for the freedom of his speech. The grandeur of the poem is that Job pleads his cause with God against all the remonstrance of religious authority, recognising no one but God, and justified therein. And the grandest of all is this, that he implies, if he does not actually say, that God owes something to His creature. This is the beginning of the greatest discovery of all--that God owes Himself to the creature He has made in His image, for so He has made him incapable of living without Him. It is not easy at first to see wherein God gives Job any answer. I cannot find that He offers him the least explanation of wily He has so afflicted him. He justifies him in his words. The answers are addressed to Job himself, not to his intellect; to the revealing, Godlike imagination in the man, and to no logical faculty whatever. The argument implied, not expressed, in the poems seems to be this--that Job, seeing God so far before him in power, and His works so far beyond his understanding, ought to have reasoned that He who could work so grandly beyond his understanding, must certainly use wisdom in things that touched him nearer, though they came no nearer his understanding. The true child, the righteous man, will trust absolutely, against all appearances, the God who has created in him the love of righteousness. God does not tell Job why He had afflicted him; He rouses his child heart to trust. (George Macdonald, D. D.)
The believer’s confidence
It would seem as if in using these words Job had reference to the resurrection of the body. We may regard them, in a more general way, as an assertion of the patriarch’s confidence in God; of his assurance that he should be kept unto everlasting life. Believers are invariably witnesses that the more cause a man has to be full of hope and of confidence, the more diligent will he be in the use of appointed means of grace. The privileges of true religion have no tendency to the generating presumption. The man who has the strongest scriptural warrant for feeling sure of heaven is always the man who is striving most earnestly for the attainment of heaven. Never venture to appropriate to yourselves the rich assurances which are found in the Bible, unless you have good reason to believe that you are growing in hatred of sin, and in strivings after holiness. Fear not to take to yourselves all the promises made by God to His Church, so long as it is your honest desire, and your hearty endeavour, to become more conformed to the image of your Saviour.
1. The language of confidence. “Thou wilt call, and I will answer thee.” Remember in how many ways God calls. Job’s words indicate great confidence of final salvation. We should greatly rejoice to know that you had all been able to cast away doubt and suspicion, and to feel yourselves “begotten again to an inheritance incorruptible and undefiled.” But we do dread your resting your assurance on insufficient grounds. These are two great features of genuine piety--the not being content with present acquirements, and the resting for the future on the assistances of God.
2. Job strengthens himself in the persuasion that God will have “a desire to the work of His hands.” Amid all the reasons which Job might have urged why God should watch over him, he selects that of his being the work of God’s hands. There is, however, a second creation more marvellous, more indicative of Divine love, than the first; and on this, probably, it was that Job’s thoughts were turned. The human soul was formed originally in the image of God, but lost that image through the transgression of Adam. So marvellous is its restoration, so far beyond all power but the Divine, that it is spoken of as actually a new creation, when reimpressed with the forfeited features. (Henry Melvill, B. D.)
The rights of creation
Such a chapter as this does not stand by any means alone in the Old Testament. Nature then, as now, lent but ugly dreams to the inquirer after immortality. For one hint from nature, which tells in favour of immortality, you may find a hundred from the same quarter which tell against it. In his search for a solid ground upon which to build some hope, however scanty, for the unknown future beyond death, the writer is driven at last to the simplest and most solid ground of all--the fact of creation, and what is involved in creation. Every chapter of his work is pervaded with the feeling of mystery, vastness, and awe, whenever he speaks of God. But he holds firmly by his faith in a Creator, whose creature--made in His likeness--he himself is. His argument is this--“The creature simply as a creature, by virtue of creation, has a Claim upon the Creator, which the Creator will be the first to avow.” It may, perhaps, sound bold to speak thus of creation, as giving a title to the Creator’s care. If the Creator were an unfaithful, an unrighteous Creator, there would indeed be no limit to the power of dealing with, and disposing of His creatures. It is our happiness to know that might is not right with Him; that the Almighty is also the All-righteous and the All-merciful. Every created thing or person has certain rights and claims as towards the Creator. These rights and claims are determined by his or its capacities. Man is capable of knowing and doing his Creator’s wilt He who is capable of fellowship with God will never be suffered by the Creator to perish in death. We are in the hands of a Father, a Creator, who knows what He would do with us, knows what we are capable of, knows what He created us for; and who assuredly will not leave us until He hath done that which He hath spoken to us of. Job’s confidence in God was justified to the uttermost. (D. J. Vaughan, M. A.)
For Thou numberest my steps.
God compassing our paths
Some people think this idea is oppressive. They shrink from it. It contracts their being, and depresses their energy. You have seen a ripe apple that has been kept in the storeroom all the winter until all its juices have evaporated, and its skin becomes dry and wrinkled, and it has shrunk in size to a fourth of what it was. Take that withered, wizened apple, and place it under the bell glass of an air pump, and as you withdraw the air that presses on it from the outside, the air within itself causes it to expand, smooths out its wrinkles, and makes it once more the plump, fresh apple it was when newly plucked. A similar effect, they suppose, would be produced upon their being were the oppressive compassing by God removed. They would move more easily under their own indulgent eye than they could under the strict eye of God’s righteousness. But this is a vain expectation. A heavier burden would press upon them than the compassing of their path by God. The apple swells mechanically only with its own internal gas, and not with the fresh juices of life. It is empty and without substance. And so is the life from which the conscious pressure of God upon it is removed. To be without God in the world is to be without hope. There may be the appearance of living, but the soul is dead. (Hugh Macmillan, D. D.)
My transgression is sealed up in a bag.
The figure here employed to denote the certainty of a future investigation into all the secret transactions of a man’s life is drawn from the peculiar manner in which payments, for convenience sake, were sometimes made by oriental merchants. A certain sum of money, or weight of gold, having been securely sown up in a bag, the seal of the banker was impressed upon it, and it passed current from hand to hand without being opened to be counted or weighed for the purpose of ascertaining the exact sum to be contained in it when it was first put into circulation. This custom is used to teach the doctrine of a day of account with every individual soul. The bag must at last be unsealed and unsewn, that the contents hidden from the eye may be made manifest. Look upon yourselves during the time of your trial upon earth, as though the secrets of your life, the life of your soul before God, all the busy multifarious emotions of your existence, were “sealed up,” and, as it were, “sewn” within yourself, as money in the bag; preserved there by the memory, and by the memory also to be produced, at a set time, for inspection and judgment. The memory is a wonderful faculty of the mind; where consciousness exists, there also the memory; it dies not with the body, but is active in the soul when emancipated from the flesh. Its instrument is the brain. The memory, which is the power of retaining what we have once grasped, and of recalling it at pleasure, makes the brain the seat of its operations, its busy workshop, its mechanical centre, where it sets all the wheels and intricate motions of the machinery of the intellect. Though our several faculties act upon the physical system, yet they reside essentially in the soul. If this be the relation between matter and spirit, between body and soul, we can understand their joint action, while we are able to distinguish the agent from the instrument, the cower from the machine, the soul from the body. Take an individual, and analyse the working of his memory upon his spiritual history. (G. Roberts.)
The waters wear the stones.
Silent action of rain
The most conspicuous agent employed (in the disintegration of rocks) is rain. Rain is not chemically pure, but always contains some proportion of oxygen and carbonic acid absorbed from the atmosphere; and after it reaches the ground organic acids are derived by it from the decaying vegetable and animal matter with which soils are more or less impregnated. Armed with such chemical agents, it attacks the various minerals of which rocks are composed, and thus, sooner or later, these minerals break up . . . In all regions where rain falls the result of this chemical action is conspicuous; soluble rocks are everywhere dissolving, while partially soluble rocks are becoming rotten and disintegrated. In limestone areas it can be shown that sometimes hundreds of feet of rock have thus been gradually and silently removed from the surface of the land. And the great depth now and again attained by rotted rock testifies likewise to the destructive action of rain water percolating from the surface. (Dr. Geikie’s “Earth Sculpture.”)
And surely the mountain falling cometh to nought.
The law of nature and of life
If the patriarch of Uz could listen to all the criticism of his commentators, his patience would be more severely tried than by his contemporaries.
1. Job intentionally uttered a solemn truth. He speaks of the changes to which human life is subjected--great and sudden revolutions and changes--and the changes that result from the slow and silent operation of trivial causes.
(1) Many things in life are fixed and stable as the mountains, but are nevertheless suddenly removed. The only abiding and permanent objects are spiritual.
(2) Many things in life receive their impress and derive their character from the operation of trivial causes. There is a power in the slow, uniform operation of little things. The present is the result of the past.
(3) Many things in life that are most precious, and singularly frail, are nevertheless swept away by some flood. Changes are constantly taking place before our eyes.
2. Job unconsciously stated a great fact. There are laws by which all changes and convulsions in nature are regulated. There is in nature a provision against the waste which appears to follow change. The things which grow out of the dust owe their beauty or fruitfulness to the soil, which is constantly being renewed. There is no soil so miraculously prolific as sorrow,--the seed sown there will bring forth the peaceable fruits of righteousness. Life seems to have its birth in death. There is one great change produced directly by Divine agency. It is indispensable that we should experience this.
3. Our days have a definite end. If life is so brief, make the most of it, use all its opportunities, seek to be prepared for death. (H. J. Bevis.)
Thou changest his countenance, and sendest him away.
I. The change. The human countenance an instructive book. All its changes are not of God’s working, or ordering. The sharp lines of greed, the curves of pride, the flush of sensuality, etc. These are the brands of sin and Satan; sin ploughs furrows as well as time.
1. There is the change made by time. From infancy to age the face is continually undergoing alteration. Smoothness gives place to wrinkles; freshness to the worn, wan hue of age. The mirror is a solemn teacher.
2. The change made by care. Job’s friends did not recognise him; sorrow dims the eye; anxiety makes its woe mark on features. Nehemiah before the king. Hezekiah.
3. The change by sickness. Pain prints the proofs of its presence there; in sunken eye and snowy pallor, sickness sets its seal upon the face.
4. The change by death. Death is a sculptor who carves his own image in the white marble of the dying frame.
5. The change by grace. The influence of religion on the countenance. The surface of a lake, when overspread with clouds or reflecting the shining of the sun. Who does not know some dear and saintly face, with little of earth and much of heaven in it, waiting at the Beautiful Gate until God opens the temple door for them, and they pass into the glory that excelleth? Stephen’s face before the Jewish council.
6. The change in glory. Resurrection glory. “We shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is.” But the change of grace, and the change in glory are only consequent on a “change of heart.”
II. The sending.
1. Who sends him? “Thou.” In God’s hands are the issues of life. When He says, “Go,” none may resist His mandate. Man’s folly in using life, ay, wasting it as though it were his own, and at his own disposal. “O spare me, that I may recover strength,” etc.
2. From what is he sent? From probation. Now is the day of salvation, only now. From possessions. We brought nothing into the world, and it is certain, etc. From privileges. Prayer, Word, Sanctuary, Sabbaths, etc. From pleasures. Rejoice, O young man, in the days, etc. From mercies. That flower does not bloom beyond the river. Let the Christian remember also that he is sent from--
3. Whither is he sent? “He giveth up the ghost, and where is he?”
(1) To the grave.
(2) To judgment.
(3) To heaven. To hell.
(4) To a fixed and final destiny. In order to answer this question we must inquire, How he died? For “them that sleep in Jesus will God bring with Him.”
4. Where is he sent? “If the goodman of the house had known,” etc. (J. Jackson Wray.)
But his flesh upon him shall have pain, and his soul within him shall mourn.
Physical sensation after death
Was it not the opinion of the ancient Jews that the soul retained somewhat of the sensation of the flesh until the body had entirely dissolved? It would not be strange if such were the fact, considering the proximity of the Jews to the Egyptians; since the Egyptians held the notion that the continuance of the soul’s existence depended upon the preservation of the bodily organism, a notion which led to the embalming and secure burial of the corpse. Tacitus distinctly ascribes this notion to the Jews as its originators. There are also some Old Testament texts which at first glance seem to convey such a belief, e.g., verse 22, speaking of a man as dead, it adds, “But his flesh upon him shall have pain, and his soul within him shall mourn”; and Isaiah 66:24, “They shall go forth, and look upon the carcasses of the men that have transgressed against. Me; for their worm shall not die, neither shall their fire be quenched.” Dillman and others regard these texts as proving that the Jews held to the doctrine of physical consciousness in the grave. Delitzsch regards the pain of the soul as merely sentimental, “The process of the corruption of the body casts painful reflections into the departed soul.” Professor Davidson admits thus much to have been the Jewish notion. “There are two ideas expressed--
(1) That the body in the grave, being that of a still existing person, feels the gnawing and the wasting of corruption, and that the soul in sheol leads a mournful and dreary existence; and
(2) That these elements of the person, though separated, still belong to the person.” Professor Evans says, “By poetic personification the mouldering flesh is here represented as sharing the aching discontent, the lingering misery of the imprisoned soul.” Similarly Dr. Barnes, “It is by the imagination that pain is here attributed to the dead body.” Professor Lochler inclines to the opinion that the Jews believed “that man carries with him to sheol a certain corporeality (a certain residue, kernel, or some reflex of the earthly body).” These passages, taken in view of the after revelation through Christ, may serve as illustration of how He delivered those “who all their lifetime were in bondage through fear of death,” as well as of the growing dawn light of the historic Scriptures. (Homiletic Monthly.)
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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on "Job 14". The Biblical Illustrator. https://studylight.org/
the Sixth Week after Easter