Through Death and Judgment
(3) It yet remains to shew that this purpose of God, wrought by Him through successive worlds or ages, is only accomplished through death and dissolution, which in His wisdom He makes the means and way to life and higher glory; for it is "by death," and by death only, that He "destroys him that has the power of death, that is the devil, and delivers them who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage" (Heb. 2:15). Nature everywhere reveals this law, though the divine chemistry is often too subtle to allow us to see all the stages of the transformations and the passages or "pass-overs" from life to death and death to life, which are going on around us everywhere. But the great instance cited by our Lord, that "except a corn of wheat fall into the ground and die, it abideth alone, but if it die, it brings forth much fruit" (John 12:24), forces the blindest to confess that all advance of life is through change, and death, and dissolution. The seed of the kingdom, which is above all kingdoms, and the seed of the Son, who is above all sons, does not, any more than the seed of wheat or the seed of man, come to perfection in a moment or without many intermediate changes, but "goes from strength to strength" (Psalm 84:7), from the bursting of one shell of life to fuller life, from the opening of one seal to another, and "from glory to glory" (2 Cor. 3:18), till all is perfected. Christ has shewn us all the way, from "the lowest parts of the earth" (Psalm 139:15), from the Virgin's womb, through birth, and infant swaddling clothes, to opened heavens, through temptation, and strong crying and tears, and the cross, and grave, and resurrection, and ascension, till He sits down at God's right hand to judge all things. And the elect yield themselves to the same great law of progress through death, and "faint not though the outward man perish, that their inward man may be renewed day by day" (2 Cor. 4:16). Others may think they will be saved in another way than that Christ trod. His living members know it is impossible. To them, as the Apostle says, "to live is Christ" (Phil. 1:21); and they cannot live His life without being "partakers of His sufferings" (2 Cor. 1:5; Phil. 3:10; Col. 1:24). Therefore "we which live are alway delivered unto death for Jesus' sake, that the life also of Jesus might be made manifest in our mortal flesh" (2 Cor. 4:11). Because this is so little seen,—because so many take or mistake Christ's cross as a reprieve to nature, rather than a pledge that nature and sin must be judged and die, seeming to think that Christ died that they should not die, and that their calling is to be delivered from death, instead of by it and out of it;—(Note: Our translators have sometimes rendered ἐκ θανάτου by the English words "from death;" as in Heb. 5:7; but the force of the original is always "out of death.") because in a word the meaning of Christ's cross is not understood, but rather perverted, and therefore death is shrunk from, instead of being welcomed as the appointed means by which alone we can be delivered from him that has the power of death, who more or less rules us till we are dead, for "sin reigns unto death" (Rom. 5:21), and only "he that is dead is freed from sin" (Rom. 6:7);—because this, which is indeed the gospel, is not received, or if received in word is not really understood, even Christians misunderstand what is said of that destruction and judgment, which is the only way for delivering fallen creatures from their bondage, and bringing them back in God's life to His kingdom.
As this is a point of all importance, lying at the very root of the cross of Christ and of His members, and giving the clue to all the judgments of Him, who "killeth and maketh alive," who "bringeth down to the grave and bringeth up" (1 Sam. 2:6; Deut. 32:39), I would shew, not the fact and truth only, that for fallen creatures the way of life is and must be through death, but also the reason for it, why it must be thus, and cannot be otherwise. For the cross is not a fact or truth only, but power and wisdom also, even God's power and wisdom (1 Cor. 1:18-24); as power, meeting the craving of our hearts for deliverance; as wisdom, answering every question which our understanding can ask as to the mystery of this life. For both to head and heart life is indeed a riddle, which neither the Greek nor Jew, the head and heart of old humanity, could ever fully solve, though each people by its special craving shewed its wants; the Jew, as St. Paul says, requiring signs of power, for the heart wants and must have something to lean upon; the Greek, man's head or mind, seeking after wisdom, for it felt the darkness and asked for some enlightening. To both God's answer was the cross of Christ, which gave to each, to head and heart, what each was longing for; power to the one to escape from that which had tied and bound it, for by death with Christ we are freed from the bondage of corruption and from all that hinders the heart's best aspirations; wisdom to the other to see why we must die, and what is the reason for all present suffering.
As to the fact and doctrine, a few words may suffice, for in one form or another it is the creed of all Christendom, that for fallen man the way of life is and only can be through death and judgment. The cross the way to life—this is confessedly the special teaching of the gospel. But what is the cross? Does Christ's death save us unless by grace we die with Him? Our Lord distinctly says, "If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me; for whosoever will save his life shall lose it; and whosoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it" (Matt. 16:25). "This is a faithful saying, If we be dead with Him, we shall live with Him: if we deny Him, He also will deny us" (2 Tim. 2:11-12). The saint must say, "I am crucified with Christ, nevertheless I live, yet not I, but Christ liveth in me" (Gal. 2:20). "We are debtors, not to live after the flesh, for if we live after the flesh we shall die; but if we through the Spirit do mortify the deeds of the body, we shall live" (Rom. 8:12-13). In baptism therefore we profess our death with Christ, that dying with Him we may also live with Him (Rom. 6:3-4).
Such is the doctrine we all receive. But what is the reason for it? Why is the way of life for us through the cross, that is through death? Why cannot it be otherwise? If we see the way by which man got away from God, we shall see the way of his return, and why this must be through death; for indeed the way, by which we came away from God, must be retraced if by grace we come back to Him.
How then did man depart from God, and die to Him, and fall from His kingdom? By believing a lie. By the serpent's double lie,—a lie about God, that God grudges and is not true, and a lie about man, that in disobedience he shall be as God,—the divine life in man's soul was poisoned and destroyed, and man was separated from God, and died to God's world (Gen. 3:1-5). And because to a being like man, made in God's image, death cannot be the end of existence, but is only a passing out of one world into another, by this death to God man who is a spirit lost the place which God had given him, the Paradise, called by Paul "the third heaven" (2 Cor. 12:2-4), (Note: Paradise is the word used by the LXX. in Gen. 2:8-9. Compare Rev. 2:7.) and was driven out, and fell into the kingdom of darkness, his inward life turned like sweet wine to sourest vinegar, into a life of ceaseless aching restlessness; to escape which he turns to outward things, hating to come to himself even for a moment, unconsciously driven by his own inward dissatisfaction to seek diversion from himself in any outward care, pleasure, or vanity; while his body became like that of the beasts, subject to the elements of this world, and to all the change and toil which make up "the course of this world."
Such was the fall of man, and it explains why death is needful for our return to God. Death is the only way out of any world in which we are. It was by death to God we fell out of God's world. And it is by death with Christ to sin and to this world that we are delivered in spirit from sin, that is the dark world, and in body from the toil and changes of this outward world. For we are, as Scripture and our own hearts tell us, not only in body in this outward world, but in our spirits are living in a spiritual world, which surely is not heaven, for no soul of man till regenerate is at rest or satisfied; and being thus fallen, the only way out of these worlds is death: so long as we live their life, we must be in them. To get out of them, therefore, we must die: die to this elemental nature, to get out of the seen world, and die to sin, to get out of the dark world, called in Scripture "the power of darkness" (Col. 1:13). And since the life of the one is toil and change, and the life of the other is dissatisfaction and inward restlessness, we must die to both if we would be free from the changes of this world, and from the restlessness and dissatisfaction in which by nature our spirits are. Christ died this double death for us, not only "to sin" (Rom. 6:10), but also "to the elements of this world" (Col. 2:20). And to be free, we also must die with Him to both. Only by such a death are we delivered.
In pressing this point however, that death is needful for the sinner's deliverance, I need scarcely add, that death, alone, and without another life, is not and cannot of itself be enough to bring us back to God's world. We need death to get out of this world and out of the power of darkness; but we also need and must have the life of God, which is only perfected in resurrection, to live in God's world (John 3:3, 5). Just as without the life of this world, we could not enter this world, or without the life of hell, enter or live in hell; so without the life of heaven we cannot enter or live there; for we cannot live in any world without the life of it. And therefore as the serpent's lie kindled the life of hell in man, before he could fall into the power of darkness, so God's life must be quickened again in man, before he can live again in God's kingdom. And, blessed be God, as the life of hell was quickened by a lie, so the life of God is quickened by the truth, even by the Word of God, who came where man was to raise up God's life in man, in and by which through a death to sin and to this world man might be freed perfectly. (Note: Not without a deep and wondrous reason is בשר both Good-news and Flesh in the Hebrew; for by the one as by the other the captive creature is reached and quickened. Great indeed is the mystery of the flesh of Christ, touching which there are indeed many unspeakable words, which it is not lawful for a man to utter. Yet the mystery is revealed from faith to faith.) In Christ the work has been accomplished. In Him by God's Word and Spirit God's life has been again raised up in man; and in the power of this life man in Christ has died both to sin and to the world, and so, through death, resurrection, and ascension, by steps we yet know little of, has come back out of darkness to God's right hand. Through Christ the self-same work is yet accomplished, to bring lost man by the same process to the same blessedness. But whether in Christ, or in us, the work is only wrought through death. Man to be saved must not only be quickened by God's life, but must also die to that which keeps him far from God. And the way to bring about this death is God's judgment, who, because He loves us, kills to make alive, and "turneth man to destruction," that He may say, "Return, ye children of men." (Psalm 90:3. See also Job 19:10; 9:22.)
And this explains why God alone of all teachers has had two methods, and must have them, namely, law and gospel, which appear opposed, for law condemns while the gospel justifies, each to meet one part of our need and of the devil's double lie. For man is yet held by both parts of this old lie, that God grudges and is untrue, and that man by self-will may be as God; and he needs not only to have God's life quickened again in him, whereby he may be prepared to live in God's world, but no less to have the life of hell and of this world slain in him, by which he may be delivered out of that power of darkness and of this present world, which hold him captive, that so he may come back again to God's kingdom. To meet the first, we have the promise or gospel, long before the law, though only fulfilled after law has done its work; to meet the second, we have the law which condemns, and proves that man is not as God, but a fallen, ruined creature. By the one, God's life is quickened in man; by the other, through present or future judgment, the hellish and earthly life is slain and overcome. Does not God love? The gospel is the answer. Is man as God? The law settles this. Christ's cross is the seal of both, revealing that God is love, for He gives His Son for rebels; and that man is not as God, but a sinner under death and judgment.
But while the law condemns and shews what man is, this "ministry of condemnation," needful in its place, is not and cannot be God's end. The gospel, the "ministration of righteousness and life," is God's proper work, and, therefore, as St. Paul says, "remaineth" (2 Cor. 3:11); but the law, the "ministration of death and condemnation," God's "strange work" (Isa. 28:21), is only a means to the end, and therefore "to be abolished" and "done away" (2 Cor. 3:11-13). St. Paul's teaching on this point is most express, though spite of his teaching, and spite of the gospel, not a few even of the Israel of God cannot yet steadfastly look to the end of that which is abolished. No less clear also is his witness as to God's promise to Abraham's seed, that it is not and cannot be altered or disannulled by the law, or by that curse and wrath and judgment which the law worketh (Rom. 4:15; 5:20; 7:9-11; Gal. 3:10, 19). So in his Epistle to the Galatians, having first shewn that God's promise to Abraham included all nations, and that the law necessarily could only bring judgment, he proceeds to argue that "this covenant of promise which was confirmed before of God in Christ, the law, which was four hundred and thirty years after, cannot disannul, that it should make the promise of none effect; for if the inheritance be of the law, it is no more of promise; but God gave it to Abraham by promise" (Gal. 3:8, 15-18). The law, which is and must be judgment to men, is needed to slay and overthrow them in their own eyes. But this killing is to make alive. The judgment or condemnation cannot in any case disannul the previous covenant. "Though it be but a man's covenant, yet if it be confirmed, no man disannulleth or addeth thereto." Judgment therefore must issue in blessing, not blessing in judgment. But for most the veil is yet on Moses' face, so that in looking at the "ministry of condemnation" men cannot see "the end of the Lord," and that the Lord is very pitiful and of tender mercy (2 Cor. 3:13; James 5:11).
I have dwelt the more on this, because so few now seem to see why for us the way of life is and must be through death; and because, if this be seen, God's end and purpose and the reason of His judgments will be more evident. God our Father judges to save. He only saves by judging what is evil. The evil must be overthrown; and through death God destroys him that has the power of death. A new creation, which is only brought in through death, is God's remedy for that which through a fall is held in death and bondage. Therefore both the "earth and heavens" must "perish and be changed" (Heb. 1:10-12). Therefore God Himself "turns us to destruction" that we may "return" as little children (Psalm 90:3). And God's elect accept this judgment here, that their carnal mind may die, and the old man be slain with all his enmity. The world reject God's judgment here, and therefore have to meet it in a more awful form in the resurrection of judgment in the coming world. For while here, through the burdens and infirmities of "this vile body" (Phil. 3:21; τὸ σῶμα τῆς ταπεινώσεως), our fallen spirit is more easily broken, and we die to sin more quickly; though even here we need both fires and waters, to make us die to that self-willed life which is our misery. Who can tell how much harder this death may be to those, who, having gone hence, have not the burden of "this vile body" to humble the pride of that fallen spirit, which, while unbroken, is hell, and which must die in us if we would reach God's rest.
Such is the reason for salvation by the cross, that is through death; but the great illustration here as elsewhere is to be found in the law, that appointed "shadow of good things" (Heb. 10:1), which in all its varied forms of sacrifice asserts the same great truth, that only by the fire of God and through death can the earthly creature be changed, and so ascend to God. The offerings were indeed of different kinds, some of a sweet savour, which were offered on the altar in the tabernacle (Lev. 1, 2, 3); while others not of a sweet savour were burnt on the earth, in some place outside the camp of Israel (Lev. 4, 5, 6); figuring the varied relations in which men's works and persons might stand to God, and the varying place and manner of their acceptance by Him. But in either case, whether offered in obedience voluntarily, or required penally for trespass and disobedience, the offering ever was made by fire, and so perished in its first form to rise in another, as pillars of smoke before God. If then all this was "the pattern of things in the heavens" (Exod. 25:40; Heb. 9:23), we have another witness that a transformation wrought by fire is yet being carried on in the true heavens, that is the spiritual world. For no divine change can be wrought even on God's elect, save by "passing through the waters and through the fires" which are appointed for us, waters and fires as real, though not of this world, as those which burnt on the altar of old, or moved in the laver of the tabernacle. Our Lord can no more spare our nature than the animal was spared of old by the priest who offered it. And as He in His own body, made under the law, did not shrink from, but fulfilled, the types of suffering, so will He fulfil the same in the bodies of those who are His members, that "being made conformable unto His death, they may attain unto the resurrection from among the dead" (Phil. 3:10-11).
In any case the way for all is through the fires, for fire is the great uniter and reconciler of all things; and things which without fire can never be united, in and through the fire are changed and become one. Therefore every coming of Christ, even in grace, is a day of judgment. Therefore there are fires even for the elect both now (1 Pet. 1:7; 4:12), and in the coming day (1 Cor. 3:13-15); for "our God is a consuming fire" (Heb. 12:29); and to dwell in Him we must have a life, which, because it is of the fire, for fire burns not fire, can stand unhurt in it. Therefore our Lord "came to cast fire into the earth," and desired nothing more than "that it should be already kindled" (Luke 12:49); therefore He says, "Every one shall be salted with fire, and every sacrifice shall be salted with salt" (Mark 9:49). For this is the very "baptism of the Holy Ghost and fire" (Matt. 3:11), that "spirit of judgment and of burning," promised by the prophet, "with which the Lord shall purge away the filth of the daughters of Zion, and cleanse the blood of Jerusalem; after which He will create on every dwelling place of Mount Zion, and on all her assemblies, a cloud of smoke by day, and the brightness of a flame of fire by night; and upon all, the glory shall be a defence" (Isa. 4:4-5); for "He is like a refiner's fire, and like to fuller's soap; and He shall sit as a refiner and purifier of silver, and He shall purify the sons of Levi as gold and silver are purged, that they may offer to the Lord an offering of righteousness" (Mal. 3:3). (Note: Luther's well-known words are to the purpose here, for though originally written by him as a test of prophets, they are no less true in their measure of all who are taught of God:—"Quaerendum num experti sunt spirituales illas angustias, et nativitates divinas, mortesque, infernosque. Si audieris blanda, tranquilla, devota, (ut vocant,) et religiosa, etiamsi in tertium coelum sese raptos dicant, non approbabis. Quia signum Filii Hominis deest, qui est Basanos, probator unicus Christianorum, et certus spirituum discretor. Vis scire locum, tempus, modum, colloquiorum divinorum. Audi:—'Sicut leo contrivit ossa mea,' et 'Projectus sum a facie oculorum tuorum:' 'Repleta est malis anima mea, et vita mea inferno appropinquavit.' Tenta ergo, et ne Jesum quidem audias gloriosum, ni videris prius crucifixum."—Epist. lib. ii. p. 42.) And as by the hidden fire of this present life, shut up in these bodies of corruption, we are able by the wondrous chemistry of nature through corruption to change the fruits and flesh of the earth into our blood, and from blood again into our flesh and bone and sinew; so by the fire of God can we be changed, and made partakers of Christ's flesh and blood. In and through Christ we have received this transmutation (Rom. 5:11; τὴν καταλλαγήν); and through His Spirit, which is fire, is this same change accomplished in us. (Note: It is surely a significant fact, that the two words, תמם and כלה, used in Hebrew to express destruction, signify also, and are used to express, perfection; and that the word for a sacrifice by fire, אשה, is the same as that for a bride or wife; e.g. Numb. 28:6. By this double sense a veil covers the letter, veiling yet revealing God's purpose; for His purpose to the creature is through destruction to perfect it, and by fire to make it a bride unto the Lord. For a kindred reason some of the angels are called Seraphim, that is burning ones; for like the Lord, whose throne is flames of fire, (Dan. 7:9-10,) they also are as fire; as it is written, "He maketh His angels spirits, His messengers a flame of fire." Heb. 1:7, and Psalm 104:4.)
And as with the first-fruits, so with the harvest. The world to be saved must some day know the same baptism. For "the Lord will come with fire," and "by fire and by His sword will He plead with all flesh, and the slain of the Lord shall be many" (Isa. 66:15-16). The promised baptism or outpouring of the Spirit must be judgment, for the Spirit cannot be poured on man without consuming his flesh to quicken a better life; (Note: Isa. 40:7; and compare Rev. 8:6-7, which describes the effect produced by the breath or spirit of the Lord sounding through the trumpets of the heavenly sanctuary.) and "His sword, which cometh out of His mouth" (Rev. 19:13-15), is that Word, which kills to make alive again. God is indeed "a man of war" (Exod. 15:3); but His warfare and wrath, unlike the "wrath of man, which worketh not the righteousness of God" (James 1:20), works both righteousness and life, and is set forth in that "warfare of the service of the tabernacle" (See Numb. 4:23, 30; 8:24-25; margin: and compare 1 Tim. 1:18), by which that which was of the earth was made to ascend to God through fire a sweet sacrifice.
The view therefore which has been accepted by some believers, as more in accordance with Scripture than the popular notion of never-ending torments, that those who abuse their day of grace will, after suffering more or fewer stripes, according to the measure of their transgressions, be utterly annihilated by the "second death," (Note: I refer to the view advocated in such works as Eternal Punishment and Eternal Death, by the Rev. J. W. Barlow; and Endless Sufferings not the Doctrine of Scripture, by the Rev. T. Davis.) though a great step in advance of the doctrine of endless woe, is not a perfect witness of the mind of God, nor the true solution of the great mystery. God has not made man to let him fall almost as soon as made, and then, in a large proportion of his seed, to sin yet more, and suffer, and be annihilated; but rather out of and through the fall to raise him even to higher and more secure blessedness; as it is written, "As in Adam all die, so in Christ shall all be made alive" (1 Cor. 15:22); not all at once, but through successive ages, and according to an appointed order, in which the last even as the first shall be restored by the elect; for Christ is not only the "First," but also "with the last" (Isa. 41:4), and will surely in the salvation of "the last" bring into view some of His glories, not inferior to those which are manifested in the salvation of "the first-born," who are "His Body" (Eph. 1:23). He is the "First," both out of life and out of death (Col. 1:15, 18), and as such He manifests a peculiar glory in His elect first-born. But He is also the "Last" (Isa. 44:6; Rev. 1:11, 17), and "with the last," and as such He will display yet other treasures hid in Him, for "in Him are hid all treasures" (Col. 2:3), and "riches unsearchable" (Eph. 3:8), which He will bring to light in due season. Their own conversion ought to give believers hopes of this. But indeed the whole mystery of regeneration and conversion, and the absolute needs-be for the cross, in its true ground and deep reason, is so little seen even by converted souls,—so ignorant are they, that, as first-fruits, they are called, not only to be "fellow-workers with God" (1 Cor. 3:9; 2 Cor. 6:1), but to be a pledge and pattern of the world's salvation,—that they misunderstand the plainest words which are spoken as to God's dealings in judgment with those who miss the glory of the first-born. For what is conversion but a passage, first through waters, then through fires (Isa. 43:2; Matt. 3:11); a change involving a "death unto sin and a new birth unto righteousness;" the death not annihilating the fallen spirit, but rather being the appointed means for bringing forth and perfecting the new life. And though the harvest may, and does, need a greater heat than the first-fruits,—the one being gathered in autumn, in the seventh (Lev. 23:39),—the other in spring, in the first and third months (Lev. 23:6, 10, 12, 16, 17),—there is but one way to bring forth seed out of the earth, and but one means of ripening that which is brought forth. Nothing is done without the waters and the fires. Conversion is only wrought through condemnation. The law condemns and slays us (Rom. 7:9-11), not to annihilate, but to bring forth a better life. And those souls, who do not know this condemnation, never fully know the "justification of life" (Rom. 5:18) in resurrection. Why then should the judgment of the "second death," which is the working of the same ministry of condemnation on the non-elect, be annihilation? Will not the judgment, because God changes not, in them, as in the elect, be the means of their deliverance? To me all Scripture gives but one answer; that there is but one way; "one baptism for the remission of sins;" that "baptism wherewith we have to be baptized," and of which we may each say with our Head, "How am I straitened until it be accomplished" (Luke 12:50); that "burning in us, which," St. Peter teaches, "is made to prove us," and at which we should "rejoice, inasmuch as we are thus partakers of Christ's sufferings" (1 Pet. 4:12—τῇ ἐν ὑμῖν πυρώσει, κ.τ.λ.); that "therefore we are buried by baptism into death" (Rom. 6:4); and therefore we look to be "baptized with the Holy Ghost and fire" (Matt. 3:11); not surely to annihilate, but rather through judgment to perfect us; and that, therefore, and to the same end, those not so baptized here must know the last judgment, and "the lake of fire, which is the second death" (Rev. 21:8). And indeed if one thinks of the language of the true elect, and of all the "fiery trial" which they are called to pass through,—when we hear them say, or say ourselves, "Thou hast laid me in the lowest pit, in darkness, in the deeps; thy wrath lieth hard upon me, and Thou hast afflicted me with all thy waves" (Psalm 88:6-7),—we shall not so easily misunderstand what is said of that judgment, which is required to melt the greater hardness and impenitence of the reprobate. (See Appendix, Note A.)
It is therefore simply because God is what He is, that He is, though love, and because He is love, the curse and destruction of the impenitent. But as even in this fallen world He is able, not only to turn our blessings into a curse (Mal. 2:2), but curses into blessings;—as we see strength, and health, and wealth, and talents, which are blessings, all turned to curses through disobedience; and pain, and want, and sorrow, and death, which are curses, turned to real blessings;—so in other worlds, because God changes not, curses by Him may yet be turned to blessings; and they who now are turning blessings into a curse may, and, I believe, will, find that God can make even curses blessings. Paul's words should help us here. He who could say, "To me to live is Christ" (Phil. 1:21), and whose ways were therefore a true expression of God's mind, bids the Church "to deliver some to Satan, for the destruction of their flesh and saving of their spirit" (1 Cor. 5:5), and further tells us that he himself has done this, and "delivered" certain brethren "to Satan, that they may learn not to blaspheme" (1 Tim. 1:20). Oh wondrous ways of God! Souls are taught not to blaspheme, by being delivered to Satan; and the spirits of Christian brethren are saved, and their flesh destroyed, by being put into the hands of God's adversary. What does this not teach us as to God's purpose towards those whom He also delivers to Satan, and disciplines by evil, since they will not learn by good. "Whoso is wise and will observe these things, even they shall understand the loving-kindness of the Lord" (Psalm 107:43).
I cannot even attempt here to trace the stages or processes of the future judgment of those who are raised up to condemnation; for if "the righteousness of God is like the great mountains, His judgments are a great deep" (Psalm 36:6); but what has here been gathered from the Word of God, as to the course and method of His salvation, throws great light on that "resurrection of judgment" (John 5:29), which our Lord speaks of. Of the details of this resurrection, of the nature and state of the bodies of the judged,—if indeed bodies in which there is any image of a man, and therefore of God, (for man's form bears God's image, 1 Cor. 11:7,) then are given to them,—and of the scene of the judgment,—very little is said in Scripture; but the peculiar awfulness of the little that is said shews that there must be something very fearful in it. And indeed, when one thinks of the eternal law, "To every seed its own body" (1 Cor. 15:38), one can understand how terrible must be the judgment on all that grows in a future world from the seed which has been nourished here of self-love and unbelief; a judgment in comparison with which any present pain is light affliction. It is thus described:—"And I saw a great white throne, and Him that sat on it, from whose face the earth and the heaven fled away; and there was found no place for them. And I saw the dead, small and great, stand before God; and the books were opened; and another book was opened, which is the book of life: and the dead were judged out of those things which were written in the books, according to their works. And the sea gave up the dead which were in it; and death and hell delivered up the dead which were in them; and they were judged every man according to their works. And death and hell were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death" (Rev. 20:11-14). And yet, awful as it is, who can doubt the end and purpose of this judgment, for "God, the judge of all" (Heb. 12:23), "changes not" (Mal. 3:6), and "Jesus Christ" is still "the same, yesterday, to-day, and for the ages" (Heb. 13:8). And the very context of the passage, which describes the casting of the wicked into the lake of fire, seems to shew that this resurrection of judgment and the second death are both parts of the same redeeming plan, which necessarily involves judgment on those who will not judge themselves, and have not accepted the loving judgments and sufferings, which in this life prepare the first-born for the first resurrection. So we read,—"And He that sat upon the throne said, Behold, I make all things new. And He said unto me, Write: for these words are true and faithful. And He said unto me, It is done. I am Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end. I will give to him that is athirst of the fountain of the water of life freely. He that overcometh shall inherit all things; and I will be his God, and he shall be my son. But the fearful, and unbelieving, and the abominable, and murderers, and whoremongers, and sorcerers, and idolaters, and all liars, shall have their part in the lake which burneth with fire and brimstone; which is the second death" (Rev. 21:5-8). What does He say here but that "all things shall be made new," though in the way to this the fearful and unbelieving must pass the lake of fire. And does not the fact that the threatened judgment comes under, and is part of, the promise, "I make all things new," shew that the second death is not outside of or unconnected with it, but is rather the appointed means to bring it about in some cases. Those who overcome inherit all: they are God's sons and heirs. Like Abraham, they are "heirs of the world" (Rom. 4:13); "the world is theirs" (1 Cor. 3:22), to bless it. But the judgment of the wicked, even the second death, is only the conclusion of the same promise, which, under threatened wrath, as in the curse of old upon the serpent, involves the pledge of true blessing (Gen. 3:14-19). (Note: "How mysterious are God's ways. ... Neither to Adam nor to Eve was there one word of comfort spoken. The only hint of such a thing was given in the act of cursing the serpent. The curse involved the blessing."—The Eternal Purpose of God, by A.L. Newton, p.10.) What but this could make Paul, who so yearned over his brethren that he "wished himself accursed for them," "have hope," not fear, "that there should be a resurrection of the dead, both of the just and unjust." (Compare Rom. 9:3, and Acts 24:15.)
The "second death" (Rev. 20:14) therefore, so far from being, as some think, the hopeless shutting up of man for ever in the curse of disobedience, will, if I err not, be God's way to free those who in no other way than by such a death can be delivered out of the dark world, whose life they live in. The saints have died with Christ, not only "to the elements of this world" (Col. 2:20), but also "to sin" (Rom. 6:10), that is, the dark spirit-world. By the first they are freed from the bondage of sense; by the second, from the bondage of sin, in all its forms of wrath, pride, envy, and selfishness. The ungodly have not so died to sin. At the death of the body therefore, and still more when they are raised to judgment, because their spirit yet lives, they are still within the limits of that dark and fiery world, the life of which has been and is the life of their spirit. To get out of this world there is but one way, death; not the first, for that is passed, but the second death. Even if we have not the light to see this, ought not the present to teach us something as to God's future ways; for is He not the same yesterday, to-day, and for ever? We know that, in inflicting present death, His purpose is through death to destroy him that has the power of death, that is the devil. How can we conclude from this, that, in inflicting the second death, the unchanging God will act on a principle entirely different from that which now actuates Him? And why should it be thought a thing incredible that God should raise the dead, who for their sin suffer the penalty of the second death? Does this death exceed the power of Christ to overcome it? Or shall the greater foe still triumph, while the less, the first death, is surely overcome? Who has taught us thus to limit the meaning of the words, "Death is swallowed up in victory"? Is God's "will to save all men" (1 Tim. 2:4) limited to fourscore years, or changed by that event which we call death, but which we are distinctly told is His appointed means for our deliverance? All analogy based on God's past ways leads but to one answer. But when in addition to this we have the most distinct promise, that "as in Adam all die, so in Christ shall all be made alive,"—that "death shall be destroyed,"—that "there shall be no more curse," but "all things made new," and "the restitution of all things;"—when we are further told that "Jesus Christ is the same," that is a Saviour, "yesterday, to-day, and for the ages;"—the veil must be thick indeed upon man's heart, if spite of such statements "the end of the Lord" is yet hidden from us.
To me too the precepts which God has given are in their way as strong a witness as His direct promises. Hear the law respecting bondmen (Deut. 15:12-15), and strangers (Exod. 22:21; Lev.19:33-34), and debtors (Deut. 15:1, 2, 9), and widows and orphans (Exod. 22:22; Deut. 24:17), and the punishment of the wicked, which may not exceed forty stripes, "lest if it exceed, then thy brother should seem vile unto thee" (Deut. 25:2-3); yea even the law respecting "asses fallen into a pit" (Exod. 21:33-34; 23:4-5):—hear the prophets exhorting to "break every yoke," to "let the oppressed go free," and to "undo the heavy burdens" (Isa. 58:6):—hear the still clearer witness of the gospel, "not to let the sun go down upon our wrath" (Eph. 4:26), to "forgive not until seven times, but until seventy times seven" (Matt. 18:22), "not to be overcome of evil, but to overcome evil with good" (Rom. 12:21): to "walk in love as Christ has loved us," and to "be imitators of God as dear children" (μιμηταὶ Θεοῦ, Eph. 5:1-2):—see the judgment of those who neglect the poor, and the naked, and the hungry, and the stranger, and the prisoner (Matt. 25:41-43);—and then say, Shall God do that which He abhors? Shall He command that bondmen and debtors be freed, and yet Himself keep those who are in worse bondage and under a greater debt in endless imprisonment? Shall He bid us care for widows and orphans, and Himself forget this widowed nature, which has lost its Head and Lord, and those poor orphan souls which cannot cry, Abba, Father? Shall He limit punishment to forty stripes, "lest thy brother seem vile," and Himself inflict far more upon those who though fallen still are His children? Is not Christ the faithful Israelite, who fulfils the law; and shall He break it in any one of these particulars? Shall He say, "Forgive till seventy times seven," and Himself not forgive except in this short life? Shall He command us to "overcome evil with good," and Himself, the Almighty, be overcome of evil? Shall He judge those who leave the captives unvisited, and Himself leave captives in a worse prison for ever unvisited? Does He not again and again appeal to our own natural feelings of mercy, as witnessing "how much more" we may expect a larger mercy from our "Father which is in heaven" (Matt. 7:6-11; and compare Psalm 103:8-14)? If it were otherwise, might not the adversary reproach, and say, Thou that teachest and judgest another, teachest Thou not thyself? Not thus will God be justified. But, blessed be His Name, He shall in all be justified. And when in His day He opens "the treasures of the hail" (Job 38:22), (Note: The two questions of the book of Job are, How can man, and How can God, be justified? Job's complainings, in substance, amount to this,—How can God be justified in treating me as He does? His three friends, who cannot answer this, urge him rather to ask, How can man be justified? Elihu answers this latter question; and God then answers Job's question by asking him if he knows what God can bring out of things which at present are dark and crooked. Job's question is not the sinner's question, but that of the "perfect man;" (Job 1:8) a question not unacceptable to God, who declares of Job's three friends, that "they have not spoken of me the thing which is right, like my servant Job." Job 42:8.) and shews what sweet waters He can bring out of hard hailstones; when He unlocks "the place where light now dwells" shut up, and reveals what light is hid in darkness and hardness, as we see in coal and flint, those silent witnesses of the dark hard hearts, which God can turn to floods of light; when we have "taken darkness to the bound thereof" (Job 38:19-20), and have seen not only how "the earth is full of God's riches," but how He has "laid up the depths in storehouses" (Psalm 104:24; 33:7); in that day when "the mystery of God is finished," and He has "destroyed them which corrupt the earth" (Rev. 11:18),—then shall it be seen how truly God's judgments are love, and that "in very faithfulness He hath afflicted us" (Psalm 119:75).
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