THE GENERAL RESURRECTION.
" The hour is coming, in the which all that are in the graves shall hear his voice, and shall come forth; they that have done good, unto the resurrection of life; and they that have done evil, unto the resurrection of damnation." —John, v. 28, 29.
Ever since sin entered into the world, and death by sin, this earth has been a vast graveyard or burying-place for her children. In every age, and in every country, that sentence has been executing, Dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return. The earth has been arched with graves, the last lodgings of mortals, and the bottom of the ocean paved with the bones of men. Human nature was at first confined to one pair, but how soon and how wide did it spread! How inconceivably numerous are the sons of Adam! How many different nations on our globe contain many millions of men, even in one generation! And how many generations have succeeded one another in the long run of near six thousand years! Let imagination call up this vast army: children that just light upon our globe, and then wing their flight into an unknown world; the gray-headed that have had a long journey through life; the blooming youth and the middle-aged, let them pass in review before us, from all countries and from all ages; and how vast and astonishing the multitude! But what has become of them all ? Alas! they are turned into earth, their original element; they are all imprisoned in the grave, except the present generation, and we are dropping one after another in quick succession into that place appointed for all living. There has not been, perhaps, a moment of time for five thousand years, but what some one or other has sunk into the mansions of the dead. The greatest number of mankind beyond comparison are sleeping under ground. There lies beauty mouldering into dust. There lies the head that once wore a crown, as low and contemptible as the meanest beggar. There lie the mighty giants, the heroes and conquerors, the Samsons, the Ajaxes, the Alexanders, and the Caesars of the world! There they lie—stupid, senseless, and inactive. There lie the wise and the learned, as helpless as the fool. There lie some that we once conversed with, some that were our friends, our companions; and there lie our fathers and mothers, our brothers and sisters. And shall they lie there always? Shall this body, this curious workmanship of Heaven, so wonderfully and fearfully made, always lie in ruins, and never be repaired ? Shall the wide-extended valleys of dry bones never more live? This we know, that it is not a thing impossible with God to raise the dead. He that could first form our bodies out of nothing, is certainly able to form them anew, and repair the wastes of time and death. But what is his declared will in this case? On this the matter turns; and this is fully revealed in my text. The hour is coming, when all that are in the grave, all that are dead, without exception, shall hear the voice of the Son of God and shall come forth. And for what end shall they come forth ? O! for very different purposes: some to the resurrection of life; and some to the resurrection of damnation ! And what is the ground of this distinction ? Or what is the difference in character between those that shall receive so different a doom ? It is this, They that have done good shall rise to life, and they that have done evil to damnation. It is this, and this only, that will then be the rule of distinction.
I. They that are in the grave shall hear his voice. The voice of the Son of God here probably means the sound of the archangel's trumpet, which is called his voice, because sounded by his orders and attended with his allquickening power. This all-awakening call to the tenants of the grave we frequently find foretold in Scripture. For Hie Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of tlie archangel, and with the trump of God.
My brethren, realize the majesty and terror of this universal alarm. When the dead are sleeping in the silent grave; when the living are thoughtless and unapprehensive of the grand event, or intent on other pursuits; some of them asleep in the dead of night; some of them dissolved in sensual pleasures, eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage: in short, when there are no more visible appearances of approaching day, than of the destruction of Sodom on that fine, clear morning in which Lot fled away; or of the deluge, when Noah entered into the ark; then, in that hour of unapprehensive security, then suddenly shall the heavens open over the astonished world; then shall the all-alarming clangor break over their heads, like a clap of thunder in a clear sky. Immediately the living turn their gazing eyes upon the amazing phenomenon : a few hear the long-expected sound with rapture, and lift up their heads with joy, while the thoughtless world are struck with the wildest horror and consternation. In the same instant the sound reaches all the mansions of the dead, and in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, they are raised, and the living are changed. O what a surprise will this be to the thoughtless world! Should this alarm burst over our heads this moment, into what a terror would it strike many in this assembly ? Such will be the terror, such the consternation, when it actually conies to pass, sinners will be the same timorous, self-condemned creatures then as they are now. And then they will not be able to stop their ears, who are deaf to all the gentle calls of the gospel now. Then the trump of God will constrain them to hear and fear, to whom the ministers of Christ now preach in vain. Then they must all hear, for,
II. My text tells you, all that are in the graves, all without exception, shall hear his voice. Now the voice of mercy calls, reason pleads, conscience warns, but multitudes will not hear. But this is a voice which shall, which must reach every one of the millions of mankind, and not one of them will be able to stop his ears. Infants and giants, kings and subjects, all ranks, all ages of mankind shall hear the call. The living shall start and be changed, and the dead rise at the sound.
III. They shall come forth. Then, my brethren, your dust and mine shall be re-animated and organized. And what a vast improvement will the frail nature of man then receive ? Our bodies will then be substantially the same; but how different in qualities, in strength, in agility, in capacities for pleasure or pain, in beauty or deformity, in glory or terror, according to the moral character of the persons to whom they belong ? And now when the bodies are completely formed and fit to be inhabited, the souls that once animated them, being collected from heaven and hell, re-enter and take possession of their old mansions. They are united in bonds which shall never more be dissolved ; and the mouldering tabernacles are now become everlasting habitations.
O the glorious, dreadful morning of the resurrection! What scenes of unknown joy and terror will then open! Methinks we must always have it in prospect; it must even now engage our thoughts, and fill us with trembling solicitude, and make it the great object of our labor and pursuit to share in the resurrection of the just.
But for what ends do these sleeping multitudes rise? For what purposes do they come forth ? My text will tell you.
IV. They shall come forth, some to the resurrection of life, and some to the resurrection of damnation. They are summoned from their graves to stand at the bar, and brought out of prison by angelic guards to pass their last trial. And as in this impartial trial they will be found to be persons of very different characters, the righteous Judge of the earth will accordingly pronounce their different doom.
See a glorious multitude, which no man can number, openly acquitted, pronounced blessed, and welcomed into the kingdom prepared for them from the foundation of the world. Now they enter upon a state which deserves the name of life. They are all vital, all active, all glorious, all happy. They shine brighter than the stars in the firmament; like the sun for ever and ever. All their faculties overflow with happiness. They mingle with the glorious company of angels; they behold that Saviour whom unseen they loved; they dwell in eternal intimacy with the Father of their spirits; they are employed with ever-new and growing delight in the exalted services of the heavenly sanctuary. They shall never more feel the least touch of sorrow, pain, or any kind of misery, but shall be as happy as their nature can admit through an immortal duration. What a glorious new creation is here! what illustrious creatures formed of the dust! And shall any of us join in this happy company, O shall any of us, feeble, dying, sinful creatures, share in their glory and happiness ? This is a most interesting inquiry, and I would have you think of it with trembling anxiety.
The prospect would be delightful, if our charity could hope that this will be the happy end of all the sons of men. But, alas! multitudes, and we have reason to fear the far greater number, shall come forth, not to the resurrection of life, but to the resurrection of damnation ! What terror is in the sound ! If audacious sinners in our world make light of it, and pray for it on every trifling occasion, their infernal brethren that feel its tremendous import are not so hardy, but tremble and groan, and can trifle with it no more.
These shall go away into everlasting punishment. If they might be released from pain, though it were by annihilation, after they have wept away ten thousand millions of ages in extremity of pain, it would be some mitigation, some encouragement; but, alas! when as many millions of ages are passed as the stars of heaven, or the sand on the sea-shore, or the atoms of dust in this huge globe of earth, their punishment is as far from an end as when the sentence was pronounced upon them. For ever! there is no exhausting of that word; and when it is affixed to the highest degree of misery, the terror of the sound is utterly insupportable. See, sirs, what depends upon time, that span of time we enjoy in this fleeting life. Eternity! awful, all-important eternity depend upon it. All this while conscience tears the sinner's heart with the most tormenting reflections. " O what a fair opportunity I once had for salvation, had I improved it! I was warned of the consequences of a life of sin and carelessness: I was told of the necessity of faith, repentance, and all the necessary means of salvation, and universal holiness of heart and life; but, fool that I was, I neglected all, I abused all; I refused to part with my sins; I refused to engage seriously in religion, and to seek God in earnest; and now I am lost for ever without hope. O! for one of those months, one of those weeks, or even so much as one of those days or hours I once trifled away; with what earnestness, with what solicitude would I improve it! But all my opportunities are past beyond recovery, and not a moment shall be given me for this purpose any more. O what a fool was I to sell my soul for such trifles! to set so light by heaven, and fall into hell through mere neglect and carelessness !" Ye impenitent, unthinking sinners, though you may now be able to silence or drown the clamors of your consciences, yet the time, or rather the dread eternity is coming, when they will speak in spite of you; when they will speak home, and be felt by the most hardened and remorseless heart. Therefore now regard their warnings while they may be the means of your recovery. You and I, my brethren, are concerned in the solemn transactions of the day I have been describing. You and I shall either be changed in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, or while mouldering in the grave, we shall hear the voice of the Son of God, and come forth, either to the resurrection of life, or to the resurrection of damnation. And which, my brethren, shall be our doom ? Can we foreknow it at this distance of time ? I proposed it to your inquiry already, whether you have any good reason to hope you shall be of that happy number who shall rise to life ? and now I propose it again with this counterpart, Have you any evidences to hope you shall not be of that wretched numerous multitude who shall arise to damnation? If there be an inquiry within the compass of human knowledge that demands your solicitous thoughts, certainly it is this. Methinks you cannot enjoy one moment's ease or security while this is undetermined. And is it an answerable inquiry ? Can we know what arc the present distinguishing characters of those who shall then receive so different a doom ? Yes, my text determines the point; for
V. They that have done good shall come forth to the resurrection of life, and they that have done evil to the resurrection of damnation. These are the grounds of the distinction that shall then be made in the final states of men, doing good and doing evil. And certainly this distinction is perceivable now; to do good and to do evil are not so much alike as that it should be impossible to distinguish between them. Let us, then, see what is implied in these characters, and to whom of us they respectively belong.
1. What is it to do good? This implies, 1st, An honest endeavor to keep all God's commandments; I say, all his commandments, with regard to God, our neighbor, and ourselves, whether agreeable to our natural constitution or not, whether enjoining the performance of duty or forbidding the commission of sin, whether regarding the heart or the outward practice. I say a uniform impartial regard to all God's commandments, of whatever kind, in all circumstances, and at all times, is implied in doing good ; for if we do any thing because God commands it, we will endeavor to do every thing that he commands, because where the reason of our conduct is the same, our conduct itself will be the same. I do not mean that good men in the present state perfectly keep the commandments of God in every thing, or indeed in any thing; but I mean that universal obedience is their honest endeavor. Their character is in some measure uniform and all of a piece; that is, they do not place all their religion in obedience to some commands which may be agreeable to them, as though that would make atonement for their neglect of others; but, like David, they are for having a respect, and, indeed, have a respect to all God's commandments. My brethren, try yourselves by this test,
2d. To do good in an acceptable manner presupposes a change of nature and a new principle. Our nature is so corrupted that nothing really and formerly good can be performed by us till it be renewed. To confirm this I shall only refer you to Eph. ii. 10, and Ezek. xxx. 26, 27, where being created in Christ Jesus to good works, and receiving a new heart of flesh, are mentioned as prerequisite to our walking in God's statutes. As for the principle of obedience, it is the love of God: that is, we must obey God because we love him; we must do good because we delight to do good; otherwise it is all hypocrisy, constraint, or selfishness, and cannot be acceptable to God. Here again, my brethren, look into your hearts and examine what is the principle of your obedience, and whether ever you have been made new creatures.
3d. I must add, especially as we live under the gospel, that your dependence for life must not be upon the good you do, but entirely upon the righteousness of Jesus Christ. After you have done all, you must acknowledge you are but unprofitable servants, and renounce all your works in point of merit, while you abound in them in point of practice. This is an essential characteristic of evangelical obedience, and whether ever you have been made new creatures.
I might enlarge upon this head, but time will not permit; and I hope these three characteristics may suffice to show you what is implied in doing good. Let us now proceed to the opposite character.
2. What is it to do evil ? This implies such things as these: the habitual neglect of well-doing, or the performance of duties in a languid, formal manner, or without a right principle, and the willful indulgence of any one sin; the secret love of sin, though not suffered to break forth into the outward practice. Here it is evident at first sight that profane sinners, drunkards, swearers, defrauders, avowed neglecters of religion, &c, have this dismal brand upon them, that they are such as do evil. Nay, all such who are in their natural state, without regeneration, whatever their outside may be, must be ranked in this class; for that which is born of the flesh is flesh, (John, iii. 6,) and they that are in the flesh cannot please God, nor be rightly subject to his law. (Rom. viii. 7, 8.) And now who is for life, and who for damnation among you? These characters are intended to make the distinction among you, and I pray you apply them for that purpose.
As for such of you, who, amidst all your lamented infirmities, are endeavoring honestly to do good, and grieved at heart that you can do no more, you also must die, you must die, and feed the worms in the dust. But you snail rise gloriously improved, rise to an immortal life, and in all the terrors and consternation of tha tlast day you will be secure, serene, and undisturbed. The Almighty Judge -will be your friend, and that is enough. Let this thought disarm the king of terrors, and give you courage to look down into the grave, and forward to the great rising day. O what a happy immortality opens its glorious prospects beyond the ken of sight before you! and after a few struggles more in this state of warfare, and resting awhile in the bed of death, at the regions of eternal blessedness you will arrive, and take up your residence there for ever.
But are there not some here who are conscious that these favorable characters do not belong to them? that know that well-doing is not the business of their life, but that they are workers of iniquity ? I tell you plainly and with all the authority the word of God can give, that if you continue such, you shall rise to damnation. That will undoubtedly be your doom, unless you are greatly changed and reformed in heart and life. And will this be no excitement to vigorous endeavors ? Are you proof against the energy of such considerations ? Ye careless sinners, awake out of your security, and prepare for death and judgment! this fleeting life is all the time you have for preparation, and can you trifle it away ? Your all, your eternal all is set upon the single cast of life, and you must stand the hazard of the die. You can make but one experiment, and if that fail, through your sloth or mismanagement, you are irrecoverably undone for ever. Therefore by the dread authority of the great God, by the terrors of death and the great rising day, by the joys of heaven and the torments of hell, and by the value of your immortal souls, I entreat, I charge, I adjure you to awake out of your security, and improve the precious moments of life. The world is dying all around you. And can you rest easy in such a world, while unprepared for eternity? Awake to righteousness now, at the general call of the gospel, before the last trumpet give you an alarm of another kind.