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Death is here represented to us as a venomous serpent; but such a one, as hath lost his sting: so that, though it may hiss against us, yet it cannot wound us.
Where is thy sting? that is, Where is that, which threatened to convey thy noxious and baneful poison into us? where is that, which is thought so formidable, so destructive and pernicious, in death? And this very question intimates to us, that there is nothing left of this venomous quality; that now, to a faithful servant of Christ, there is nothing deadly, no not in death itself. I remember, I have somewhere read of a kind of serpent whose poison is so very virulent and of such quick dispatch, that it doth immediately dissolve the body, and reduce it to dust.
This sting, and this venom in it, death doth indeed still retain, even against the best of men; and those, whom it smites, sball certainly crumble away into dust. This sting, therefore, stil! remains.
And, for its victories, the grave too can boast as many, as it hath trophies erected in the monuments, inscriptions, and scattered bones of those whom it hath slain. But, when omnipotence shall rally every loose and dispersed dust into its former station; when we shall become heavenly from earth, and deathless from death; we may justly, without fear, despise the injuries of death, and tread with triumph upon the earth that must bury us.
Observe, hence, That THE HOPE OF A BLESSED AND GLORIOUS RESURRECTION IS THE ONLY SUFFICIENT SECURITY AGAINST THE DREAD OF DEATH, AND A CHRISTIAN'S MOST GLORIOUS TRIUMPH OVER THE GRAVE.
In prosecuting this, I shall only speak to these Two things.
First. I shall shew, that all other considerations are too weak and feeble, to assure the soul against the rough assaults and violent terrors of death.
Secondly. I shall shew you what there is in the hopes and expectation of a glorious resurrection, that may embolden us to despise death, as a conquered enemy; and to upbraid it with this holy scorn of the Apostle, 0 death, where is thy sting?
I. For the first, That ALL OTHER CONSIDERATIONS ARE TOO WEAK TO ENCOURAGE US; let us consider those fearful and horrid notions, that nature hath imprinted upon us against its enemy; how wan and dismal it represents his visage: so that, though there be nothing more certain, by the statute law of heaven, than that we must die; yet, withal, there is nothing more difficult, than to persuade men to die willingly.
The old philosophers and wise men of all ages have ransacked the whole magazine of reason; and have put into our hands all the weapons they could there find, which they thought might embolden us to encounter this dreadful enemy. But yet, as the Lord Verulam well observes, all their great preparations, instead of diminishing its dread, only served to make it appear the more fearful: all the cost and skill, which they bestowed upon their armour, made them but the richer prey to the victor; and only served to enhance the conquests of death, that could lay such rational and argumentative heads in the dust. And, indeed, whatsoever mere natural reason can put upon us, is rather for pomp than use; more to embellish the mind, than to fortify the heart : for there is not any thing, which these grave moralists do, with so much ostentation and contempt of death, offer unto the world, that, if it be rationally scanned, can prove a solid ground for peace and comfort in a dying hour.
All, that they inculcate in their discourses on this sad theme, may be, I think, reduced to these Three heads : either
The Necessity of Dying; or,
i. What relief is it, to tell us, that DEATH IS NECESSARY? that it is the common lot of all men ? that every compounded being hath those fatal principles wreathed up in it, that will certainly work its dissolution; and that therefore it becomes the reason and the spirit of a man, to entertain that fate which is unavoidable, with a constancy which is unmoveable?
This is frequently urged by Heathen philosophers, in their preparations against the fear of death. Ilpos Tuy avuyuyu su αγριαινεται, εδε απρονοητα ειναι τιθεται τα προς και μας, εαν το θνητον @TOOvytun, saith Hierocles. 6 A wise man will not fret himself at necessity, nor look upon it as some strange unexpected acci
dent: if that, which is mortal, die; and that, which is compounded of parts, fall asunder.” But, alas! what comfort is all this; since that, which they bring for our support, is the very thing that frights us? It is the inevitableness of death, that makes it so exceeding terrible: it were not so dreadful, were it avoidable. And, therefore, to arm men against the fear of death, because it is the common lot of all, is, in my judgment, to as little purpose, as if, to comfort some pitiful wretch, they should bid him be of good cheer, for that he must necessarily be miserable and wretched.
ii. As for the FREEDOM, which they tell us death gives FROM THE CARES, SORROWS, AND TROUBLES OF THIS LIFE; that it is the safest and most secure refuge; the only port we can make, when we are beaten with the storms and tempests of the world: though they insist on it as a principal remedy against the fear of death; yet, if this be all, that we shall no longer suffer hunger, nor cold, nor pain, nor misery; that death is a universal cure for all diseases; that it alone removes the wants which life could not supply; all this will fall very short of being a sufficient encouragement to undergo that last arrest with a becoming temper.
For this, if there be no more, is but like the changing of a fever into a lethargy: and only brings us into a gloomy quiet; in which, as we have no sense of torment, so neither shall we have any of ease and comfort. And to be thus free from the burdens and pressures of life, will be no more a solace to us after death, than it was before we were born. And I am apt to think, that there are but very few, who would not be willing to compound for their beings with their troubles: like the weary traveller in the apologue, who sinking under his burden, cried for death to come and ease him; but when he beheld him
appear so very grim and meagre, asking sourly why he called for hiin, he meekly told him, that it was only to help him up with his load again. So, without doubt, it would fare with most men, if they had no farther hope than merely to be eased of the cares and sorrows of this life: they would rather wish to have them continue upon them to eternity, than to be eased of them at such a privative rate; since being is more dear, than sufferings are troublesome. But,
iii. What human reason alone can discover of a FUTURE REWARD, though it be infinitely mean and sordid, in comparison with those sublime and refined joys which God hath promised to us in his word; yet this, indeed, might be some antidote against the envenómed sting of death, and a support against the dread and terror of it, if reason could as well secure our right unto it, as make discovery of it.
But reason, even in Heathens themselves, hath prepared a place of punishment, as well as of bliss; and the consciences of all men do, doubtless, discover unto them every day that guilt, for which their reason alone could never yet discover a sufficient expiation : so that, instead of arming us against the fears of death, reason, if we pursue it in its closest consequences, redoubles those terrors; and, by proving us transgressors of the natural law that God hath written in every man's heart, argues us all into torments. Hence we read of such strange lustrations, and horrid methods of expiating guilt; that, usually, they then committed the greatest crimes, when they thought to compensate for them, and their very religion was the most abominable part of their sins. If, therefore, mere reason can conclude, that there is a future state of happiness and misery to be proportioned out according to men's demerits, and their consciences tell them that their demerits are such as entitle them only to punishment; when they can find out no likely way of atonement for their guilt, this, instead of encouraging them against the dread of death, must needs make the fear thereof more tormenting and killing, than if they were not at all conscious of any such future state. Besides, all, that our natural understanding can discover to be the reward of just actions, is only a partial bliss to crown the soul of man; which, indeed, some sects of philosophers held to be immortal, and to survive the funerals of the body : but none of them ever believed the resurrection of the flesh; and so give up the one half of man to be lost and desperate. Now, who would not fear that dreadful stroke, that should quite cleave away one half of him, never to be recovered nor reunited ? Who would not fear to undergo that change, after which he must be no longer a man, but only exist a bare and naked soul?
So that you see, all other considerations, which reason and philosophy can afford us, without the expectation of a glorious
resurrection, cannot be a sufficient defence nor security to us against the fears of death : those things are rather flourishes of wit, than armour of proof: and that last encounter, in which we must all be engaged against that last enemy, will prove too rough and boisterous for the fineness of such formal arguments to make good. If men's consolations be no better than these; That death is necessary; That, by it, they shall be freed from the cares and miseries of this life; and, That their souls shall survive, but, whether in weal or woe, they are not well assured: if this be all, when they come to die, it will fare with them as with cunning fencers in the midst of a confused battle, they will soon be put by all their artificial play, and find that their postures and their wardings are all insignificant and useless.
Indeed, that, which alone can enable men to meet death with an undaunted boldness, must be something either much below human reason, as rashness and desperation; or, else, something vastly above it, as divine grace and revelation; and this, Christian Religion only hath made known to the world : discovering a perfect expiation for sin, in the blood of the Immaculate Lamb, the Eternal Son of God; and, withal, giving us ample assurance, upon a pious and holy life, of attaining to a joyful and blessed resurrection, where the entire man shall eternally possess a full and entire happiness. By the former, it takes away the sting of death, which is sin: by the latter, it recovers the victory from the grave, and throws down all its trophies ; letting those out to life and liberty, whom it detained as its captives and prisoners,
And, thus, I have finished the First thing propounded; and have shewn you, that all other considerations, besides that of a glorious and blessed Resurrection, are too feeble to assure and encourage men against the fears of death.
II. The Second is, to shew you, WHAT THERE IS IN THE HOPES AND EXPECTATION OF THIS BLESSED RESURRECTION, THAT MAY EMBOLDEN US TO DESPISE DEATH AND TO TRIUMPH OVER THE GRAVE.
And, here, I shall not speak of the glory, that shall be conferred on the whole man, which is consequent to the resurrection : but confine myself to those advantages, which we shall have in the body only.