LIFE AND IMMORTALITY REVEALED IN THE GOSPEL*
" And hath brought life and immortality to light by the gospel."
2 Tim. i, 10.
So extensive have been the havoc and devastation which death has made in the world for near six thousand years, ever since it was first introduced by the sin of man, that this earth is now become one vast grave-yard, or buryingplace for her sons. The many generations that have followed upon each other, in so quick a succession from Adam to this day, are now in the mansions under ground. And there must we and all the present generation sleep ere long. Some make a short journey from the cradle to the grave ; they rise from nothing at the creative fiat of the Almighty, and take an immediate flight into the world of spirits, without an intermediate state of probation. Like a bird on the wing, they perch on our globe, rest a day, a month, or a year, and then fly off to some other regions. It is evident, these were not formed for the purposes of the present state, where they make so short a stay; and yet we are sure they are not made in vain by an all-wise Creator, and therefore we conclude that they are young immortals, that immediately ripen in the world of spirits, and there enter upon scenes for which it was worth their while coming into existence. Others spring up and bloom for a few years, but they fade away like a flower, and are cut down. Others arrive at the prime or meridian of human life, but in all their strength and gayety, and amid their hurries and schemes and promising prospects, they are surprised by the arrest of death, and laid stiff, senseless, and ghastly in the grave. A few creep into their beds of dust under the burden of old age and the gradual decay of nature. In short, the grave is the place appointed for all living; the general rendezvous of the sons of Adam. There the prince and the beggar, the conqueror and the slave, the giaut and the infant, the scheming politician and the simple peasant, the wise and the fool, Heathens, Jews, Mahometans, and Christians, all lie equally low, and mingle their dust without distinction. There lie our ancestors, our neighbors, our friends, our relatives, with whom we once conversed, and who were united to our hearts by strong and endearing ties; and there lies our friend, the sprightly, vigorous youth, whose death is the occasion of this funeral solemnity. This earth is overspread with the ruins of the human frame; it is a huge carnage, a vast charnel-house, undermined and hollowed by the graves, the last mansions of mortals.
* This Sermon -was preached at the funeral of Mr. William Yuille, and is dated Sept. 1, 1756.
And shall these ruins of time and death never be repaired ? Is this the final state of human nature ? Are all these millions of creatures, that were so curiously formed, that could think, and will, and exercise the superior powers of reason, are they all utterly extinct, absorbed into the yawning gulf of annihilation, and never again to emerge into life and activity ?
My text revives us with heavenly light to scatter this tremendous gloom. Jesus hath abolished death, overthrown its empire, and delivered its captives; and he hath brought life and immortality to light in the gospel. Life and immortality here seem to refer both to the soul and the body, the two constituents of our person. As applied to the body, life and immortality signify, that though our bodies are dissolved at death, and return into their native elements, yet they shall be formed anew with vast improvements, and raised to an immortal existence; so that they shall be as though death never had had any power over them; and thus death shall be abolished, annihilated, and all traces of the ruins it had made for ever disappear, as though they had never been. It is in this sense chiefly that the word immortality or incorruptibility is made use of in my text. But then the resurrection of the body supposes the perpetual existence of the soul, for whose sake it is raised; therefore life and immortality, as referring to the soul, signify that it is immortal, in a strict and proper sense; that is, that it cannot die at all, or be dissolved like the body; it lives after the dissolution of the animal frame in a separate state; and it lives at the resurrection to reanimate the new-formed body; and it lives for ever, and shall never be dissolved nor annihilated. In this complex sense we may understand the immortality of which my text speaks. My present design is not to propose arguments for the conviction of your judgments, which I hope you do not so much need; but I shall give you some idea of immortality, in both the senses I have mentioned, and then improve it.
Let us look through the wastes and glooms of death and the grave to the glorious dreadful morning of the resurrection. At the alarming clangor of the last trumpet, Adam, and the sleeping millions of his posterity, start into sudden life. The hour is coming, in which all that are in the graves shall hear the voice of the Son of man, and shall come forth ; they that have done good to the resurrection of life, and they that have done evil to the resurrection of damnation.— John, v. 28.
Then, my brethren, your dust and mine shall be organized and reanimated ; and though after our skin worms destroy these bodies, yet in our flesh shall we see God. Then this corruptible shall put on incorruption, and this mortal shall put on immortality. And may not the prospect alarm us, and set us upon earnest preparation for these important scenes ? Shall we take so much care of our bodies in this mortal state, where, after all our care, they must soon fall to dust, and become the prey of worms, and shall we take no care that they may have a happy and glorious resurrection! My brethren, you must not let sin reign in your mortal bodies now, that you should obey it in the lusts thereof, if you would have them raised holy and happy in that awful morning; but you must consecrate your bodies, and keep them holy as the temples of the Holy Ghost, and yield your members as instruments of righteousness unto God. Can you flatter yourselves that bodies polluted with filthy lusts and sensual gratifications shall ever be admitted into the regions of perfect purity ? It would be an unnatural element to such depraved constitutions. Shall those feet ever walk the crystal pavement of the New Jerusalem, which have been accustomed to run into the foul paths of sin ? Shall those tongues ever join the songs of heaven, which have been oftener employed in swearing and imprecation, the language of hell, than in prayer and praise? Shall those ears ever be charmed with celestial music, which have not listened with pleasure and eagerness to the joyful up; but this soul shall live secure of existence in the universal desolation;
" Unhurt amidst the war of elements,
The wreck of matter, and the crush of worlds."—Addison.
And now, when the present system of things is dissolved, and time shall be no more, eternity, boundless eternity, succeeds, and on this the soul enters as on its proper hereditary duration. Now look forward as far as you will, your eyes meet with no obstruction, with nothing but the immensity of the prospect; in that, indeed, it is lost, as extending infinitely beyond its ken. Come, attempt this arithmetic of infinites, and exhaust the power of numbers; let millions of millions of ages begin the vast computation; multiply these by the stars of heaven; by the particles of dust in this huge globe of earth; by the drops of water in all the vast oceans, rivers, lakes, and springs that are spread over the globe; by all the thoughts that have risen in so quick a succession in the minds of men and angels, from their first creation to this day; make this computation, and then look forward through this long line of duration, and contemplate your future selves: still you see yourselves in existence ; still the same persons; still endowed with the same consciousness, and the same capacities for happiness or misery, but vastly enlarged; as much superior to the present as the capacities of an adult to those of a new-born infant. Still you will bloom in immortal youth, and as far from an end as in the first moment of your existence. O, sirs, methinks it may startle us to view our future selves so changed, so improved, removed into such different regions, associated with such strange, unacquainted beings, and fixed in such different circumstances of glory or terror, of happiness or misery. Men of great projects and sanguine hopes are apt to sit and pause and take an imaginary survey of what they will do, and what they will be in the progress of life. But then death, like an apparition, starts up before them, and threatens to cut them off in the midst of their pursuits. But here no death threatens to extinguish your being, or snap the thread of your existence; but it runs on in one everlasting tenor. What a vast inheritance is this, unalienably entailed upon every child of Adam ! What importance, what value, does this consideration give to that neglected thing, the soul! What an awful thing is it! Immortality! What emphasis, what grandeur in the sound! Immortality is so vast an attribute, that it adds a kind of infinity to any thing to which it is annexed, however insignificant in other respects; and, on the other hand, the want of this would degrade the most exalted being into a trifle. The highest angel, if a creature of a day, or of a thousand years, what would he be ? A fading flower, a vanishing vapor, a flying shadow. But an immortal! a creature that shall never, never, never cease to be! that shall expand his capacity of action, of pleasure, or of pain, through an everlasting duration! What an awful, important being is this! And is my soul, this little spark of reason in my breast, is that such a being? I tremble at myself. I revere my own dignity, and am struck with a kind of pleasing horror to view what I must be. And is there any thing so worthy the care of such a being as the happiness, the everlasting happiness, of my immortal part ? What is it to me, who am formed for an endless duration, what I enjoy, or what I must suffer in this vanishing state ?
And what shall become of me through this immortal duration ? This, and this only, is the grand concern of an immortal; and in comparison of it, it does not deserve one thought what will become of me while in this vanishing phantom of a world. For consider, your immortality will not be a state of insensibility, without pleasure or pain; you will not draw out an endless inactive existence in an eternal stupor or a dead sleep. But your souls will be active as long as they exist; and as I have repeatedly observed, still retain all their capacities; nay, their capacities will perpetually enlarge with an eternal growth, and for ever tower from glory to glory in heaven, or plunge from depth to depth in hell. Here then, my fellow-immortals! here pause and say to yourselves, " What is like to become of my soul through this long space for ever ? Is it likely to be happy or miserable ?" What though you are now rich, honorable, healthy, merry, and gay ? Alas! terrestrial enjoyments are not proper food for an immortal soul; and besides this, they are not immortal as your souls are. If these are your portion, what will you do for happiness millions of ages hence, when all these are fled away like a vapor ? Are you provided with a happiness which shall last as long as your souls will live to crave it? Have you an interest in God? Are you prepared for the fruition of the heavenly state ? Do you delight in God above all ? Have you a relish for the refined pleasures of religion ? Do you now accustom yourselves to the service of God, the great employment of heaven ? and are you preparing yourselves for the more exalted devotion of the church on high, by a serious attendance on the humbler forms of worship in the church on earth ? Do not some of you know that this is not your prevailing character? And what then do you think Avill become of you without a speedy alteration in your temper and conduct ? Alas! must your immortality, the grand prerogative of your nature, become your eternal curse ? Have you made it your interest that you should be a brute ? that is, that you should perish entirely, and your whole being be extinguished in death ? Then it is no wonder you strive to disbelieve the doctrine of a future state, and your own immortality. But alas! in vain is the strife. The principles of atheism and infidelity may lull your consciences into a stupid repose for a little while, but they cannot annihilate you. They may lead you to live like beasts, but they cannot enable you to die like beasts; no, you must live, live to suffer righteous punishment, whether you will or not. As you did not come into being by your own consent, so neither can you lay down your being when you please. And will you not labor to make your immortality a blessing? Is there any thing in this world that can be a temptation to you to forfeit such an immense blessing ? O that you were wise! that you would consider this!
I shall now accommodate my subject to the present melancholy occasion, and endeavor to make a particular improvement of it.
Do you expect a character of our deceased friend ? This is not my usual practice; and I omit it, not because I can see nothing amiable in mankind, nor because I would enviously deny them their just praises, but because I have things of much greater importance to engage your attention. The dead have received their just and unchangeable doom at a superior- tribunal; and our panegyrics or censures may be often misapplied. My business is with the living—not to flatter their vanity with compliments, but awaken them to a sense of their own mortality, and to a preparation for it. However, if you must have a character, I will draw it to you in the most important and interesting light. Here was a youth in the bloom of life, in the prime of his strength, with a lively flow of spirits, who seemed as secure from the stroke of death as any of us; a youth that had escaped many dangers by sea and land; a youth launched into the world with, no doubt, the usual projects and expectations of that sanguine age. But where is he now ? In yonder grave, alas! lies the blooming, promising flower, withered in the morning of life. Come to his grave, ye young and gay, ye lively and strong, ye men of business and hurry, come and learn what now may, and shortly must be, your doom. Thus shall your purposes be broken off, your schemes vanish like smoke, and all your hopes from this world perish. Death perpetually lurks in ambush for you, ready every moment to spring upon his prey. " O that death ! (said a gentleman of a large estate, strong constitution, and cheerful temper,) I do not love to think of that death; he comes in and spoils all." So he does indeed; he spoils all your thoughtless mirth, your idle amusements, and your great schemes. Methinks it becomes you to prepare for what you cannot avoid. Methinks, among your many schemes and projects, you should form one to be religious. You may make a poor shift to live without religion, but you can make none to die without it.
But was our departed friend nothing but an animal, a mere machine of flesh ? Is the whole of him putrefying in yonder grave ? No; I must draw his character further. He was an immortal; and no sooner did he resign his breath, than his soul took wing, and made its flight into the regions of spirits. There it now dwells. And what amazing scenes now present themselves to his view! what strange, unknown beings does he now converse with! There also, my brethren, you and I must ere long be. "We, too, must be initiated into those grand mysteries of the invisible world, and mingle in this assembly of strangers. We must share with angels in their bliss and glory, or with devils in their agonies and terrors.
And do you, sirs, make it your main concern to secure a happy immortality? Do you live as expectants of eternity ? Or do you live as though this world were to be your eternal residence, and as if your bodies, not your souls, were immortal? Does your conscience approve of such conduct? Do you really think it is better for you, upon the whole, to commence fashionably wicked, or, perhaps, ringleaders in debauchery and infidelity, in a country overrun with all manner of vice ? Is this better than to retain the good impressions you might, perhaps, receive in youth, and to act upon the model built for you in a religious education ? Which do you think you would approve of in the hour of death, that honest hour, when things begin to appear in their true light ? And of which, think ye, will you be able to give the most comfortable account at the supreme tribunal ? Brethren, form an impartial judgment upon this comparison, and let it guide your conduct. Behave as strangers and pilgrims on earth, that have no continuing city ; behave as expectants of eternity, as candidates for immortality; as beholding Him that is invisible, and looking for a city which has foundations, eternal in the heavens. In that celestial city may we all meet at last, through Jesus Christ. Amen!