Preached in The First Church of Otago,By the Rev. Stephen Smith
Dunedin: T. H. Snowdon, General Printer, Princes St.
Death is universally the lot of fallen humanity. "It is appointed to all men once to die." Death is the wages of sin, and "all have sinned and come short of the glory of God." We must needs die—there is no discharge in that warfare. Our fathers—where are they?—and the prophets, do they live for ever? Sooner or later—prepared or unprepared—we must go the way whence we shall not return, and take up our dwelling in the narrow grave—the house appointed for all living. We must shut our eyes on all the scenes that now surround us. We must relinquish all the pursuits that now engage us. We must leave the blessed sun and the cheering light of heaven. We must bid a last and long farewell to all that is loved and valued on earth, and pass away into the land of dark forgetfulness, and the place that now knows us shall know us no more. But though there be no exemption from the stroke of death—no escape from the universal law of mortality—blessed be God, there is hope in Israel concerning us. Death is not the end of our being—the grave is not an eternal prison-house for our mortal bodies. Life and immortality are brought to light by the gospel, and to as many as believe the record that Ged hath given us of His Son. That God hath given to us eternal life, and this life is in His Son, there is a lively hope—a blessed assurance—an undoubted certainty of deliverance from all that is final in death—from all that is fitted to clothe it with terror.
I need not take up time in proving that it is the Lord Jesus Christ of whom the prophet is speaking in the text. The glorious things spoken of this personage, both in the text and in the context, cannot, with the least shadow of propriety, be applied to any other than the glorious Conqueror of Death and Hell. And we find the Apostle Paul declaring that, in the resurrection of the bodies of believers redeemed from the darkness and silence, from the corruption and dishonor of the grave, and fashioned like unto Christ's glorious body, this saying of the prophet has its fulfilment; while the Apostle, sharing prospectively in the glory of the triumph, exultingly exclaimed—"Thanks be to God who giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. He will swallow up death in victory." In further addressing you, from these words, I propose to set before you the completeness of the Redeemer's triumph over death. I. In respect of Himself. 2. In respect of His ransomed people. The prophet's language is strong and beautifully expressive. He speaks as if his eye were fixed, not only on the death and resurrection of the Great Deliverer, but on the glorious consummation of the work of redeeming love and mercy, when the ransomed of the Lord in their glorified bodies shall stand with the Lamb that was slain on the Holy Hill of the heavenly Zion. The metaphor may be taken from the sea—the all-devouring sea, which swallows up and never restores everything that sinks. page 2 into it; or, it may be taken from the consuming fire, that fearful and thorough destroyer. But whether it be taken from the flood or from the flame, it is fitted to give us a vivid idea of the truth designed to be conveyed by it, that the Redeemer's victory over death will be manifestly and undeniably complete; that death will not only be vanquished and driven from the field, but so thoroughly crushed that he will never again even appear in hostile attitude to Christ himself or to His ransomed people. And in further illustration of this glorious and soul-cheering truth, I remark—First, Christ conquered death by submitting to its stroke in His own person. It was the violated love of God that gave to death all its power over fallen man. The sting of death is sin, and the strength of sin is the law, and so death reigned over all the generations of men since the time of the fatal apostacy—since the fearful penalty was incurred. "In the day thou eatest thereof, thou shalt surely die." Two alone of all the sons of fallen Adam (Enoch and Elias) passed into the regions of bliss without entering through the dark valley of death; but they were exceptions, translated to heaven as earnests of victory over death, which, in the fulness of time, Christ would accomplish—pledges of that resurrection to eternal life, the blessed hope of which the Old Testament Saints were taught to cherish. Over all peoples and kindreds, to the remotest ends of the earth, death's domain had extended. That mighty conqueror—that irreconcilable foe of Adam's fallen race—was not wearied in the least by the long-continued conflict. Victory was easy as it was sure over the guilty. His arm was not weakened—his strength was not impaired, and his thirst for destruction was not satiated by the countless numbers of the slain. His power was in no degree diminished to render miserable all who should fall under his dominion—yea, power is not exhausted in the temporal death of the unbelieving and the impenitent. Dying under the curse of the law, the separation of the soul and body, instead of delivering from death, brings them more completely and eternally under its dominion. Even in the resurrection, death has power even then, for theirs is the resurrection of damnation. Before the awful tribunal the unsatisfied claims of the law shall meet them, and, driven, from Divine presence, the curse of the law shall pursue them, down through never-ending ages. "The worm dieth not, and the fire is not quenched." Temporal death to them, is just the prelude to the second, death—even the death that is eternal. But in Him whom God has set forth as the propitiation for sin—in Him who gave His life as a ransom for the guilty, death had not to deal with a sinful mortal. In His Divine nature, as the only begotten of the Father, the law had no claims upon Him. He was above the law—He was the maker of the law. But, "for as much as the children were partakers of flesh and blood, he also himself likewise took part of the same, that through death he might destroy him that had the power of death, that is the Devil." The just One died for us, the unjust. He who knew no sin was made a sin-offering for us. He was made of a woman—he was made under the law; and in His death the strength of the law was spent—all the fury of the curse was exhausted. He finished transgression—He made an end of sin offering—He brought in everlasting righteousness; and God is well pleased for His righteousness sake. In the death of Christ, sin is expiated—Divine justice is satisfied—God's holy law is magnified. The stroke by which the Redeemer fell left no remaining strength in the enemy. In that encounter death's spear was shivered—his dart was broken—the last arrow in his quiver was spent. The cup full of mixture, to the very dregs, was drained, and the king of terrors lies pros- page 3 trate—a crushed and disarmed foe, bereft of all power to injure God's ransomed people. But I remark, secondly, Christ conquered death in His resurrection and ascension.
In dying, the Redeemer conquered. It was in His death that the victory was gained; but that victory could not be proved and proclaimed till He rose from the dead and ascended up on high. "For this purpose was the Son of God manifested that he might destroy the works of the Devil." And it was on the cross that the works of the devil were destroyed.
"I sing the Saviour's wondrous death—
He conquered when He fell—
'Tis finished, said His dying breath,
And shook the gates of hell."
It was on the Cross that He spoiled principalities and powers, and made a show of them openly. The power of death .was destroyed for ever in that Very moment, when the Great Mediator—the surety of God's chosen—cried with a loud voice, "It is finished," and then lowered his head and gave up the Ghost. But the glory and the triumph of the achieved victory could not be published and celebrated so long as the Saviour's lifeless body lay in the grave. These three days continuance within the dark domain of death might not be necessary to the perfection of His sacrifice, but in that arrangement we can see clearly enough the wisdom of God. It afforded irresistable evidence that His death was real—that in very deed He poured out His soul unto death—that he met and exhausted the curse of the law, not by a seeming, but a real and veritable endurance of its penalty. But When all the purposes to be served by His death and by His remaining under the power of it for a time had been fully accomplished—when the third, the appointed morn had dawned—the bonds of death were loosed—the tyrant's grasp was unfastened—the barriers of the tomb were burst asunder, and the Great Redeemer came forth, crowned with victory and covered with glory, the acknowledged Conqueror of Death and Hell. He ascended up on high, attended and heralded by the hosts of heaven, who had gazed in silent astonishment and awe on His assumption of human nature, when, in the fullness of time, He veiled His glory and descended to earth.
He led captivity captive, dragging at His chariot-wheels the principalities of darkness, and amid the hallilujahs of seruphim and cherubim, He sat down on the mediatorial throne, all power in heaven and in earth, being committed into His hand. The power of fallen man's relentless enemy was not only destroyed, but the utter destruction of his power was published, and to all the intelligent creatures of God. "Death is swallowed up in victory." "Who shall lay anything to the charge of God's elect? It is Christ that died—yea, rather who is risen again—who is even at the right hand of God—who also maketh intercession for us." If we look now to the sepulchre of Jesus, hallowed in the estimation of all the redeemed as the resting place of a lifeless human body that saw no corruption, we see only what the disciples saw—the linen that enwraped His sacred body, and the napkin that bound his blessed head; and we can hear the language of those shining ones, the messengers from heaven. "He is not here—He is risen, as He said. Come see the place where the Lord lay." And the evidence of the resurrection of the Church's great and living head, and of His acension to the right hand of power has been abundantly manifest in every age—in His presence in the Church, according to His promise—in the enlightening and quickening influences of page 4 His Spirit whom He promised to send, and whom he did send in visible and mighty power on the day of Penticost, and who has at no time ceased. His saving and sanctifying power in quickening dead souls—in melting hard and stony hearts—in leading perishing sinners out of darkness into God's marvellous light—in strengthening the faith and nourishing the graces of God's believing people—in the abundance of grace, mercy, and peace, which His people have drawn, and are daily drawing out of the fulness that is treasured up in Him, it is openly proclaimed and clearly demonstrated that He is not a dead, but a living Saviour—that the redeemed of the Lord can rest with unhesitating confidence on His own announcement to the beloved disciple, "I am He that liveth and was dead, and behold I am alive for evermore—Amen; and have the keys of hell and of death."
But let us notice the completeness of the Redeemer's victory over death. In respect of His believing people. And on this point I remark—First, He raises them above the fear of death. The Apostle Paul, in writing to the Hebrews, tells us that Christ assumed human nature, "that through death He might destroy him that had the power of death, and deliver them who, through fear of death, were all their life-time subject to bondage." I do not mean to say that all God's people are raised above fear in the prospect of the conflict with the last enemy. They do not all see in death as they might do,—a thoroughly vanquished foe—for ever disarmed of power to injure them. Through the weakness of their faith, or the strength of their corruptions, or the imperfections of their graces—through inadequate views of the perfection of the Saviour's mediatorial work and the provisions of the everlasting covenant—there are many who still continue subject to bondage—painful forebodings trouble and darken their Spirits as the valley of the shadow of death is seen in the distance; and, sometimes as they enter it, their hearts fail them—they recoil from the swellings of the dark river of death. But that is their infirmity—their fears are groundless—distressing to their own souls, and dishonoring to Him who has destroyed death. The faith of God's people is not always so weak and fearful. It has often surveyed the sure approach of the last enemy without one sign of fear—yea, a living and lively faith in Christ has enabled many a dying believer to welcome death as a messenger of peace—as a blessed deliverer. Was not Paul raised above the fear of death when, with that holy courage with which a lively faith inspired him, viewing the bonds and afflictions that in every city awaited him, he exclaimed, "None of these things move me; neither count I my life dear unto me." Death had not a single terror to a man who could say, "Having a desire to depart and to be with Christ." "Absent from the body present with the Lord." What ground of fear have they who are able to say, "We know that when the earthly house of this tabernacle is dissolved, we have a building of God—a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens." Yea, friends, look back to a darker age, when life and immortality were but obscurely revealed, when the light of divine truth was shining but dimly, and hear the ancient patriarch triumphing over the fear of death and the dissolution of his mortal body, "I know that my Redeemer liveth, and that He shall stand at the latter day upon the earth, and though after my skin, worms destroy this body, yet in my flesh shall I see God." And with perfect composure—with a hope full of immortality—a hope that was to him an anchor of the soul, sure and steadfast, did the sweet singer of Israel comtemplate the mortal strife. page 5 "Yea, though I walk through the valley and shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for thou art with me." Thou wilt guide me by thy counsel while I am here, and afterwards receive me to glory. But I remark, secondly, though God's people may fear death, and though they must submit to its stroke, it cannot injure them. Saints, as well as sinners, must die. The mansions on high, which the Saviour has prepared, are certainly awaiting them; but they must pass through the gloomy portals of death in order to reach them. Their feet shall stand within the gates of the new Jerusalem, but the Holy City stands on the farther bank of the Jordan of death. In their case, too, death will sever the closely-linked pair, the body and the soul. The former it will strike into insensibility and turn into corruption, consign to the silence and gloom of the grave and give it up as a prey to the worms of the earth. But what is that after all, only letting it drop into repose after the pains and struggles of this weary life. It is only laying it down on that bed of rest on which, in peaceful slumber, it shall remain till the dawn of the blessed resurrection. And, as for the immortal spirit, death cannot reach it. To the renewed and sanctified soul there is no sting in death, and no strength in the law; and, therefore, to it death brings a glorious deliverance. It sets it free from the body of sin and death—from all that is carnal—from all that is corruptible. It puts an end for ever to all the temptations that assailed it—to all the doubts that have perplexed it—to all the cares and fears of this imperfect state. It bursts the fetters of its mortal captivity—it snaps asunder the last link that connected it with sin and all its painful results, and permits it to wing its happy flight to regions of immortality and endless day. It just draws aside the veil that conceals the risen Saviour and the unclouded vision from their views. Yes, believers, that event so terrible to the wicked, and to them justly terrible, is an event to be desired and hailed by you rather than feared. It ends your sorrows—it is the begining of eternal joys—joys which it has not entered into your hearts to conceive. It is a messenger to call you out of the land of the foe and the stranger to His own blessed and eternal home above, where there is fulness of joy and pleasures for evermore. But I remark, Thirdly, Christ's victory over death is seen to be complete in respect of His people in the resurrection of their bodies at the last day. The rescuing of the bodies of his ransomed people from the grasp of death was a most important part of the Redeemer's mediatorial work. In the days of His flesh he said, "This is the Father's will which hath sent me that of all which He hath given me I should lose nothing, but should raise it up again at the last day." The bodies of believers, though mouldering in the dust, are united to the risen Saviour. Their dust is redeemed, and it is precious in the sight of Him who redeemed it. "Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of His saints." The grave cannot always retain that which is so intimately connected with the living Saviour. The resurrection of the Head secures the resurrection of all the members. Christ is risen from the dead and become the first fruits of all that sleep. Because He lives, they shall live also. That same power which raised Christ from the dead shall quicken the mortal bodies of the redeemed, and fashion them like unto His glorious body. Death's present dominion over the bodies of the saints is only temporary—it is but a seeming triumph, and it will issue in a real and eternal defeat. Christ's victory is the pledge and the security of theirs. He will fully make good what the prophet declared in His name centuries before He appeared in page 6 the flesh. "Thy dead men shall live; together with my dead body shall they arise. I will redeem them from death. I will ransom them from the power of the grave. O, death! I will be thy plague! O, grave! I will be thy destruction." Yes, dear friends, the time is coming when the voice of the Son of Man will pierce the deepest caves of earth and the deepest caverns of ocean, and the sleeping saints shall be awakened from the long dark slumber of ages—they shall burst the prison-house of the grave, and shake off the fetters imposed by death. "That which was sown in corruption, shall be raised in glory; that which was sown in weakness, shall be raised in power." The Redeemer has changed the shroud into a robe, and mellowed death into a sleep. You remember the circumstances in which He first identified death with sleep. It was in the chamber of Jairus. The maiden is lying still and pale upon the white death-bed—the women and the minstrels are expressing, in barbarous music, their forced or exaggerated sorrow—calm and majestic the Prince of Life enters, and says, as he leans over the beautiful and spirit-like corpse, "The maid is not dead, but sleepeth." And although that word was received with scorn, and the wild lamentation became wilder laughter, as he spake, it yet sounded the doom and dissolved the sleep of death. It proclaimed that the key of the grave was found. And though the minstrels laughed, death laughed not, as in gloomy submission—he returned at Christ's bidding, and without ransom, this fair young captive. And now, does not the low wind, as it passes over the grave-yard grass, seem to whisper, "They are not dead-they only sleep?" And does not the sunshine, as it falls more sweetly on the grave than on the garden, seem to smile down the tidings, "They are only sleeping?" And, as of old, there was a garden where there was a sepulchre, in which the body of Jesus was laid; so now, in every burial ground almost, is there not a garden where the flowers and budding branches and ever-renewing green seem silently to testify that, as Jesus rose and revived, those that sleep in Jesus shall the Lord bring with him? "So when this corruptible shall have put on in corruption, and this mortal shall have put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written, death is swallowed up in victory." Then shall the completeness of the Saviour's victory be acknowledged both in heaven and hell. The sceptre has fallen from the hand of him that had the power of death—his rule is ended—his power is for ever gone, and the ransomed of the Lord have come to Zion with songs and everlasting joy upon their heads. They have obtained joy and gladness, and God himself has wiped away all tears from their eyes. Believers in Christ, what is there in death that you need to fear? To you He is a conquered foe. It is not the substance, but the shadow you have to encounter. Death is to you, not a curse, but a blessing. When you shut your eyes on this vain world, darkened by sin and polluted by vice, you will open them on scenes of immortal beauty and never fading bloom. You may have to mourn over the breaking asunder of close and tender earthly tics, but the ties of grace shall never be dissolved. You will meet again in the region of spotless purity and perfect peace, those who have fallen asleep in Jesus before you—those with whom you have taken sweet counsel on earth, and gone to the house of God in company—those with whom you have encompassed the Holy Table and sung the songs of Zion. And as for those whom you may leave behind you, He that keepeth Israel will watch over them. He will keep them as the apple of His eye. The good shep- page 7 herd will guide and guard them—Ho will protect them and provide for them. Your Father and their Father will supply all their need out of His riches in glory by Christ Jesus. And when a few more years shall have passed away, or when a few more suns shall have risen and set, death shall do for them the same friendly office that it hath done for you—set them free from mortal cares and toils, and introduce them to the general assembly and Church of the first-born on high. You will welcome them into the heavenly mansions—your sanctified earthly friendships will be renewed where there will be no remains of sin and imperfection in yourselves or in them to embitter the streams of your perfect bliss; and as you look together from the high battlements of heaven on all the way by which a redeeming God has led you, will not your hearts burn within you and kindle into fresh and higher rapture your songs of praise? Instead of trembling with apprehension at the prospect of dissolution, or at the approach of death, are you ready rather to welcome it.? When you know and are persuaded that to be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord, are you not ready to say with the great Apostle, "I have a desire to depart and be with Christ, which is fur better? Or, with a beautiful Christian writer,
"My father's house,
There was I born and bred,
'Tis there I have been taught
And there I have been fed.
There have I seen thy power and glory shown,.
And there e'en days of heaven on earth have known;
But one attraction can more draw my heart,
To be with Christ, 'tis better to depart."
Oh, when will the day break and the shadows flee away?—Amen—even so come Lord Jesus! The absolute certainty of death, and the proverbial uncertainty of the time at which it will overtake us, and the eternal consequences of weal or of woo which that event involves to every son of Adam, might well be expected to keep it ever before our minds, and lead us to daily and earnest preparation for its approach, to awaken in every heart the prayer of the Psalmist, "Lord, teach me so to count my days as to apply my heart unto wisdom." But such is man's insensibility to his own best and highest interests, that he puts the evil day far from him. Though he sees multitudes falling around him like leaves in autumn—though the devouring grave is ever and again opened in his sight—though he feels in his own frame the harbingers of approaching dissolution, still he says to every one of these salutary warnings, go thy way for this time. But sometimes, in the inscruitable providence of God, the bolt of death falls suddenly, striking down in a moment one at our very side. In such events, the Lord's voice is heard in solemn and impressive accents, "Be still, and know that I am God." "Be ye also ready, for in such an hour as ye think not, the Son of Man cometh." Such an event this congregation has just witnessed. May God give grace to us all, to learn the lessons of heavenly wisdom which it is fitted and designed to teach us. The pulpit is not the place to pass high praise upon any man, and especially on him who disliked it himself. Yet I may say he became the minister of civilisation to this country. He was distinguished by an enlightened and benevolent activity in all that concerned the social progress of his adopted country. He has been page 8 a kind and devoted husband, an affectionate father, and universal testimony is borne to the admirable way in which he discharged all the relationships of life. He warmly approved of the truly Evaugelical Ministers of the day, and, for himself, more highly appreciated those sermons which, according to the model of Paul, most simply and most fully set forth Jesus Christ and Him crucified. And in this I rejoice more than all, and give thanks to God on his behalf. May we not hope that he realised the crucified One as the conqueror of death—as mighty to save—that his departed spirit is realising at this moment all the truth and glory and blessedness of our text, "He will swallow up death in victory."
We mourn for the dead. Let us mingle our sympathies with the living bereaved. May the God of all comfort be indeed the husband of the widow—may He give her access to that river whoso screams make glad the city of the living God.
The author of this Sermon, while engaged both in preparation and delivery, had no idea of its being published; but, after much entreaty, consented to furnish it.
Through the Divine blessing, may its reading inspire more exalted and consolatory views of Him who "hath abolished death, and hath brought life and immortality to light through the Gospel."
Port Chalmers, February, 1871.
T. H. Snowdon, Printer, Princes-street, Dunedin?