« PreviousContinue »
the living. It is certain, however, that for wise and good reasons God has absolutely determined that the dead shall not return to this world after their spirits are absent from their bodies. They have gone to their long home, where they must abide for ever; and where the living can never see them without going to them. And this,
II. They must all sooner or later do.
Immediately after the apostacy of Adam, God told him, and through him every one of his posterity, "Dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return." This sentence of mortality assures all the living that they must go to the dead. The inspired writers sensibly realized and repeatedly taught this solemn truth. Joshua says, "This day I am going the way of all the earth;" that is, I am going where all mankind have gone and are going. David expresses the thought in the same language. "I go the way of all the earth." Job says, "Man that is born of a woman is of few days, and full of trouble. He cometh forth like a flower, and is cut down; he fleeth also as a shadow, and continueth not. His days are determined, the number of his months is with thee, thou hast appointed his bounds that he cannot pass." As for himself he says to God, "I know that thou wilt bring me to death, and to the house appointed for all living." And speaking of one that was dead, he says, "The clods of the valley shall be sweet unto him, and every one shall draw after him, as there are innumerable before him." David says, "Hear this, all ye people; give ear, all ye inhabitants of the world: both low and high, rich and poor together. They that trust in their wealth, and boast themselves in the multitude of their riches; none of them can by any means redeem his brother, nor give to God a ransom for him:- that he should still live for ever, and not see corruption." And it is said, "There is no man that hath power over the spirit to retain the spirit; neither hath he power in the day of death: and there is no discharge in that war." It does not depend upon the choice of the living whether they shall die and go to the dead. They are under a natural necessity of dying, either by disease, accident, violence, or the infirmities of old age, which none can escape who escape all other causes of death. And when the dust returns to the dust, the spirit must go to God who gave it. All the art of man can do no more than to retard the stroke of death, it cannot prevent its fatal effect. This has been demonstrated by the experience of nearly six thousand years. During such a long period of time, every mineral, vegetable, and animal substance has been explored to discover means of preserving and prolonging life; and yet human life has been gradually shortening from age to age. The word and providence of God have,
therefore, put it beyond the possibility of doubt, that death must come, and all the living must go to the dead. But here a very serious question arises, which deserves a serious attention: What is it for the living to go to the dead?
Though we cannot say any thing upon this question to gratify curiosity; yet we may say some things which we all ought to know and realize. Here then it may be observed,
1. That for the living to go to the dead implies their passing through the change of death. This is undoubtedly in all cases a very great change, and cannot be known any otherwise than by actual experience. I know it is supposed that some have suffered all the anguish or distress of dying, without being dead. They refer to instances of those who have been recovered from long fainting, swooning, and merely apparent drowning. Though persons who have lain long in a fit, or swoon, or trance, or in a state of drowning, may remember and relate their peculiar views and sensations in such circumstances, yet neither they nor others can certainly determine that they really experienced all the pain or pleasure of dying. The pleasure I say, because it is more than possible for God to give some an easy and pleasant passage out of time into eternity. But so far as our observation extends, it appears that death is generally extremely painful. Hence the "agonies of death" has become a familiar expression to denote the exquisite pains of dying. And it is principally on account of what is supposed to be endured in death, that it is called and feared as the king of terrors. The pains of death are usually correspondent to the causes which produce it. Those whose natures are exhausted by old age, often seem to die in more ease than many others. Those who die with a lingering disorder seem to die in nearly the same manner. Those who die in their early days, by acute diseases, often experience greater distress in dying. And those who fall by casualty, or violence, generally suffer the keenest agonies of death. But though the living may be most affected by the apparent distress of the dying, yet they themselves may endure much more than they appear to endure. So that none can know what it is to pass through the great change of death, until they are actually called to endure it. And this all the living must experience, in order to go to the dead. Death is the only door through which the living can go to departed spirits. By whatever means they are brought to their dying hour, it will be a serious and solemn scene to pass through the dark entry which leads out of time into eternity.
2. For the living to go to the dead, implies their committing their bodies to the dust from which they were taken. Whether their bodies are emaciated or full of vigor and activity when
they leave them, they must see corruption, which is the natural and unavoidable effect of death. As soon as the soul departs from the body, the body tends to dissolution, and must be consumed, whether it be laid in a costly tomb, or be deposited in a common grave, or thrown into the ocean, or lie neglected and unburied on the surface of the earth. The ancient heathens were very solicitous about the body after death. They had a strange notion that departed spirits could have no rest so long as their bodies lay unburied. Though this be a groundless and absurd opinion, yet it must be a serious consideration to the living, that they must go to the dead through the grave, that dark and silent and dreary mansion, appointed for all men.. If it be something solemn and revolting to go into a tomb, or a grave-yard, or a field where thousands have been slain and left their bones to whiten in the sun, how much more solemn and striking must be the thought of actually lying in the grave and mouldering into dust, as the dead have done for thousands of years past. How many human bodies have been devoured by monsters in the sea! how many have been devoured by beasts of the desert! and how many have gradually mouldered to dust and mixed with their mother earth! No mark or vestige can be found on the earth, of Adam and Eve, and of their numerous posterity for four or five thousand years past; and were it not for sacred and profane history, we could not have known that they ever existed in this world. And all the living are now constantly following those departed inhabitants of the earth into the land of silence and oblivion. When the living go to the dead, they go to the grave, which will cover them in darkness, and blot out their names from under heaven. They will soon become unknown and forgotten, by those who come after them. Who can tell where Abraham, Isaac and Jacob lie? Who can tell where Moses and Aaron lie? Who can tell where the kings of Judah and Israel lie? Or who can tell where the prophets and apostles lie? They are all gone to the dead through the grave, where all the living must follow them. "One generation passeth away, and another generation cometh." All who are now living will soon be gathered to their fathers, and mingle with the great congregation of the dead, "alike unknowing and unknown."
3. For the living to go to the dead implies, that they must follow them not only into the grave, but into eternity. The Bible gives abundant evidence of the existence and activity of the soul after it leaves the body. Our Saviour spoke of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, as still living. Moses and Elias appeared with Christ on the mount of transfiguration. We read
of the spirits of just men made perfect. We are exhorted to follow those who through faith and patience inherit the promises. Stephen committed his departing spirit into the hands of the Lord Jesus Christ. Christ promised the penitent malefactor that he should that day be with him in paradise. And Paul desired that he might die, in order to be the sooner with Christ. Nor is it less evident that the souls of the wicked exist after death and go into eternity. We have, therefore, just ground to conclude that all who have already died are gone into eternity, where they are in full exercise of all their rational powers and faculties. It clearly appears then, that when the living go to the dead, they go into the world of spirits, where the immense number of the human race that have lived and died, from the beginning of the world to this day, are now collected together in their appropriate mansions. How many of the living would rather never see the dead, than go where they are now to be seen? But they must all go, whether willing or unwilling, and see a world of spirits, which is unspeakably different from this. What an amazing impression must the world of spirits make upon all, when they enter into that untried and before unknown state! This is a serious part of dying, and far more interesting than merely committing the body to the dust. All that we see of death, this side of eternity, looks like sleep and rest; but those who die, see something infinitely more solemn and interesting. They actually go to the dead, and see them in their new and deeply affecting situation. It is sometimes very striking to see how much a person we were once acquainted with, is altered by age, or by sickness, or by adversity, or even by prosperity; but the alteration in the views, and feelings, and appearance in departed spirits, is undoubtedly far greater than any alteration they ever underwent in this life. It is impossible to form a conception of departed spirits until we go to them, and see them in their eternal state. To go from one material world to another, where all the inhabitants are clothed in the same material bodies that we are, would be a very novel and surprising transition; but to go from a material to a spiritual world, where all the inhabitants are immaterial spirits, must be far more astonishing and affecting. And this great transition all the living must make, when they go to the dead. Besides,
4. The living must go to the dead, not merely to see where they are and what they are, but to dwell with them for ever. Many, perhaps, would be really pleased to have a vision of the invisible world, as Isaiah, Paul and John had, and to be permitted to survey the scenes, and objects, and inhabitants, of a happy and miserable eternity, if they might be permitted to
return, as they were. But the living must go into the invisible world, not as mere spectators of it, but as everlasting inhabitants in it. They must go, never to return to the world they have left. They must remain among departed spirits to all eternity. This is the most solemn and impressive idea of death. It struck the mind of Job with peculiar awe and solemnity. "Are not my days few? cease then, and let me alone, that I may take comfort a little, before I go whence I shall not return." Accordingly, men's dying is represented as "their going to their long home." As soon as they reach the world of spirits, they will find a place prepared for them, in which they must remain to interminable ages, whether it be among the happy, or among the miserable. The miserable are, by some means unknown to the living, separated from the blessed. And though all at death will go into the eternal world, yet individuals will go to that part of it which is allotted to them for their final residence. The unholy will go to the unholy, whose abode is in the regions of darkness and despair; and the holy will go and dwell with the spirits of just men made perfect. Every departed soul will immediately know its final destination, the moment it enters the invisible world. It will immediately meet a multitude of spirits like itself, in character and destination, whose smiles or frowns will excite unutterable sensations of hope or fear, of joy or sorrow. When Lazarus died, he was carried by angels into Abraham's bosom. Departed spirits never get lost in their passage from this to another world, however great the distance. They are probably conveyed by those good or evil spirits who attended them through the scenes and changes of their probationary state. Good men are attended by good angels, and bad men by bad angels. They know by their conductors whither they will be conducted. Who can conceive the strong and strange emotions of their hearts, while traversing unknown regions with their new conductors to the places of their final and eternal residence? But their joyful or painful anticipations will be more than realized, when they actually meet the smiles of heaven, or the frowns of hell, which will continue as long as they exist. Thus going to the dead is going into a blessed or miserable eternity beyond the grave; and it is the prospect of such future and eternal consequences of dying, that renders death, of all events, the most solemn and interesting to the living.
1. If the living must go to the dead, then their separation from one another will not be of long duration. The living are