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ON EASTER DAY, 1667.
Ὃν ὁ θεὸς ἀωέστησε, λύσας τὰς ὠδῖνας τοῦ θανάτου, καθότι οὐκ ἦν δυνατὸν κρατεῖσθαι αὐτὸν ὑπ᾽ αὐτοῦ.
Whom God hath raised up, having loosed the pains of death: because it was not possible that he should be holden of it.
IT is of infinite concern to mankind, both as to their welfare in this world and the next, to preserve in their minds a full belief of a future estate of happiness or misery, into which, according to the quality of their actions here, they must for ever be disposed of hereafter; the experience of all ages having found the insufficiency of bare human restraints to control the audacious sinfulness of some tempers and dispositions, without holding them under the awe of this persuasion. From which, though some by much and long sinning, and perverse ratiocinations caused thereby, have in a great measure disentangled their consciences, yet these are but few and inconsiderable, compared with the rest of the world, in whose minds education and better principles, grafted upon the very instincts of nature, have fixed this persuasion too deep to be ever totally rooted out. And it is from 497the victorious influence of this, that the common peace of the world has been maintained against those bold invasions, which the corruption of man’s nature would otherwise continually make upon it. But now, as highly necessary as it is for men to believe such a future estate, yet it must be acknowledged, that with the generality of the world this belief has stood hitherto upon very false, or at the best very weak foundations; and consequently, that it is of no small import to state and settle it upon better. For the doing of which, the most effectual ways, I conceive, may be these two:
1. By revelation.
2. By exemplification.
First. As to the first whereof, it must needs be, either by an immediate declaration of this great truth (not discoverable by reason) by a voice from heaven, or by God’s inspiring some certain select persons with the knowledge of it, and afterwards enabling them to attest it to the world by miracles. And as this is undoubtedly sufficient in itself for such a purpose, so Providence has not been wanting, partly by revelation, and partly by tradition there upon, to keep alive amongst men some persuasion at least of this important truth all along; as appears even from those fabulous accounts and stories which the heathen world still clothed, or rather corrupted it with. Nevertheless, such has been the prevalence of human corruption and infidelity, as in a great degree to frustrate all the impressions that bare revelation or tradition could make upon men’s minds, while they chiefly governed their belief by the observation of their senses, which, from the daily occurring instances of mortality, shew them, that as 498the tree fell, so it lay: and that nobody was ever seen by them to return from the mansions of the dead; but that, for any thing they could find to the contrary, all passed into dust and rottenness, and perpetual oblivion.
Secondly. The other way therefore of convincing the world of this momentous truth, (in comparison of which all science and philosophy are but trifles,) must be by exemplification; that is to say, by giving the world an instance or example of it in some person or persons, who having been confessedly dead, should revive, and return to life again. And this, one would think, should be as full and unexceptionable a proof that there may be a resurrection of men to a future estate as could be desired; nothing striking the mind of man so powerfully as instances and examples; which make a truth not only intelligible, but even palpable; sliding it into the understanding through the windows of sense, and by the most familiar as well as most unquestionable perceptions of the eye. And accordingly this course God thought fit to take in the resurrection of Christ, by which he condescended to give the world the greatest satisfaction, that infidelity itself could rationally insist upon: howbeit, notwithstanding so plain an address both to men’s reason and sense too, neither has this course proved so successful for convincing of the world of a resurrection from the dead, and a future estate consequent thereupon, but that unbelief has been still putting in its objections against it. For it is not, I confess, the interest of such as live ill in this world to believe that there shall be another; or that they shall be sensible of any thing, after death has once done its work upon them: and therefore let truth 499and scripture, and even sense itself, say what they will for a resurrection, men, for ought appears, will for ever square their belief to their desires, and their desires to their corruptions; so that, as we find it in St. Luke xvi. 31. though they should even see one rise from the dead, they would hardly be persuaded of their own resurrection. Such a sad and deplorable hardness of heart have men sinned themselves into, that nothing shall convince them but what first pleases them, be it never so much a delusion. Nevertheless the most wise and just God is not so to be mocked, who knows, that by raising Christ from the dead, he has done all that rationally can or ought to be done for the convincing of man kind that there shall be a resurrection, whether they will be convinced by it or no. But now, if after all it should be asked, How is Christ’s resurrection a proof that the rest of mankind shall rise from the dead too? I answer, that, considered indeed as a bare instance or example, it proves no more, than that there may be such a thing, since the same infinite power which effected the one may as well effect the other; but then, if we consider it as an argument and a confirmation of that doctrine, (whereof the assertion of a general resurrection makes a principal part,) I affirm, that so taken it does not only prove that such a thing may be, but also that it actually shah 1 be, and that as certainly as it is impossible for the divine power to set a seal to a lie, by ratifying an imposture with such a miracle. And thus as Christ’s resurrection irrefragably proves the resurrection of the rest of mankind, so it no less proves Christ himself to have been the Messiah; for that, having all along affirmed himself to be so, he made good the 500truth of what he had so affirmed by his miraculous rising again, and so gave as strong a proof of his messiahship, as infinite power, joined with equal veracity, could give. And upon this account we have his resurrection alleged by St. Peter for the same purpose, here in the text, which was part of his sermon to the Jews concerning Jesus Christ, whom he proves to be their true and long expected Messiah, against all the cavils of prejudice and unbelief, by this one invincible demonstration.
In the text then we have these three things considerable.
First, Christ’s resurrection, and the cause of it, in these words, whom God hath raised up.
Secondly, The manner by which it was effected, which was, by loosing the pains of death. And,
Thirdly and lastly, The ground of it, which was its absolute necessity, expressed in these words, it was not possible that he should be holden of it. And,
1. For the first of these, the cause of the resurrection set forth in this expression, whom God hath raised up. It was such an action as proclaimed an omnipotent agent, and carried the hand of God writ upon it in broad characters, legible to the meanest reason. Death is a disease which art cannot cure; and the grave a prison which delivers back its captives upon no human summons. To restore life is only the prerogative of him who gives it. Some indeed have pretended by art and physical applications to recover the dead, but the success has sufficiently upbraided the attempt. Physic may repair and piece up nature, but not create it. Cordials, plasters, and fomentations cannot always stay a life when it is going, much less can they remand it when it is gone. 501Neither is it in the power of a spirit or demon, good or bad, to inspire a new life: for it is a creation, and to create is the incommunicable prerogative of a power infinite and unlimited. Enter into a body they may, and so act and move it after the manner of a soul; but it is one thing to move, another to animate a carcass. You see the Devil could fetch up nothing of Samuel at the request of Saul, but a shadow and a resemblance, his countenance and his mantle, which yet was not enough to cover the cheat, or to palliate the illusion. But I suppose nobody will be very importunate for any further proof of this, that if Christ was raised, it must be by God who raised him. The angel might indeed roll away the stone from the sepulchre, but not turn it into a son of Abraham; and a less power than that which could do so, could not effect the resurrection.
2. I come now to the second thing, which is to shew the manner by which God wrought this resurrection, set forth in these words, having loosed the pains of death. An expression not altogether so clear, but that it may well require a further explication. For it may be inquired, with what propriety God could be said to loose the pains of death by Christ’s resurrection, when those pains continued not till the resurrection, but determined and expired in the death of his body? Upon which ground it is, that some have affirmed, that Christ descended into the place of the damned; where during his body’s abode in the grave, they say, that in his soul he really suffered the pains of hell; and this not unsuitably to some ancient copies, which read it not ὠδῖνας θανάτου, the pains of death, but ὠδῖνας ᾅδου, the pains of hell: and this also with much seeming consonance 502to that article of the Creed in which Christ is said to have descended into hell. But to this I answer, that Christ suffered not any such pains in hell, as the forementioned opinion would pretend, which we may demonstrate from this, that if Christ suffered any of those pains during his abode in the grave, then it was either in his divine nature, or in his soul, or in his body: but the divine nature could not suffer, or be tormented, as being wholly impassible: nor yet could he suffer in his soul; forasmuch as in the very same day of his death, that passed into paradise, which surely is no place of pain: nor, lastly, in his body, for that being dead, and consequently for the time bereaved of all sense, could not be capable of any torment. And then, for answer to what was alleged from the ancient copies, it is to be observed, that the word ᾅδου (which some render hell) indifferently signifies also the grave, and a state of death. And lastly, for that article of the Creed in which there is mention made of Christ’s descent into hell, there are various expositions of it; but the most rational and agreeable is, that it means his abode in the grave, and under the state of death, three days and three nights, or rather three νυχθήμερα, viz. part of the first and third, (so called by a synecdoche of the part for the whole,) and the second entirely; whereby, as his burial signified his entrance into the grave, so his descending into hell signified his continuance there and subjection to that estate. And thus the three parts of his humiliation in the last and grand scene of it, do most appositely answer to the three parts of his exaltation. For first, his death answers to his rising again. Secondly, his burial answers to his ascending into heaven, And thirdly, 503his descending into hell answers to his sitting at the right hand of God, in a state of never dying glory, honour, and immortality. But however, that his descending into hell mentioned in the Creed cannot signify his local descent into the place of the damned, the former argument disproving his suffering the pains of hell, will by an easy change of the terms sufficiently evince this also. For first, Christ could not descend according to his divine nature; since that which is infinite, and fills all places, could not acquire any new place. And as for his soul, that was in paradise, and his body was laid in the grave; and being so, what part of Christ could descend into hell, (the whole Christ being thus disposed of,) needs a more than ordinary apprehension to conceive.
We are therefore in the next place to see, how we can make out the reason of this expression upon some other or better ground. In order to which, it is very observable, that the same word which in the Greek text is rendered by ὠδῖνας, and in the English by pains, in the Hebrew signifies not only pain, but also a 1515 See Dr. Hammond’s Annot. on the place.cord or band, according to which it is very easy and proper to conceive, that the resurrection discharged Christ from the bands of death: besides that this rendition of the word seems also most naturally to agree with the genuine meaning of some other words in the same verse; as of λύσας, having loosed, which is properly applicable to bands, and not to pains; as also of κρατεῖσθαι, which signifies properly to be bound with some cord or band: so that undoubtedly this exposition would give the whole verse a much more natural and apposite construction, and withal remove the difficulty. But,504
Secondly, Because the evangelist St. Luke follows the translation of the Septuagint, (who, little minding the Hebrew pointings, rendered the word חֶבְלֵי not by σχοιωία, cords or bands, but ὠδῖνας pains,) we are therefore not to balk so great an authority, but to see how the scheme of the text may be made clear and agreeable even to this exposition.
To this therefore I answer,
First, That the words contain in them an Hebraism, viz. the pains of death, for a painful death; as it is said, Matth. xxiv. 15. the abomination of desolation, for an abominable desolation; and so the resurrection loosed Christ from a painful death, not indeed painful in sensu composito, as if it were so at the time of his release from it, but in a divided sense, (as the logicians speak,) it loosed him from a continuance under that death; which, relating to the time of his suffering it, was so painful.
2. But secondly, I answer further, that though the pains of death ceased long before the resurrection, so that this could not in strictness of sense be said to remove them; yet, taking in a metonymy of the cause for the effect, the pains of death might be properly said to have been loosed in the resurrection, because that estate of death into which Christ was brought by those foregoing pains was then conquered and completely triumphed over. Captivity under death and the grave was the effect and consequent of those pains; and therefore the same deliverance which discharged Christ from the one, might not improperly be said to loose him from the other. And thus Christ was no sooner bound, but within a little time he was loosed again. He was not so much buried, as for a while deposited in the grave for a small 505inconsiderable space: so that even in this respect he may not inelegantly be said to have tasted of death; for a taste is transient, short, and quickly past. God rescued him from that estate, as a prey from the mighty, and a captive from the strong: and though he was in the very jaws of death, yet he was not devoured. Corruption, the common lot of mortality, seized not on him: worms and putrefaction durst not approach him: his body was sacred and inviolable; as sweet under ground as above it, and in death itself retaining one of the highest privileges of the living.
3. Come we now to the last and principal thing proposed; namely, the ground of Christ’s resurrection, which was its absolute necessity, expressed in these words, because it was not possible that he should be holden of it: and that according to the strictest and most received sense of the word possible. For it was not only par et aequum, that Christ should not always be detained under death, because of his innocence, (as Grotius precariously, and to serve an hypothesis, would have the word δυνατὸν here signify,) but it was absolutely necessary that he should not, and impossible that he should continue under the bands of death, from the peculiar condition of his person, as well as upon several other accounts. And accordingly this impossibility was founded upon these five things:
1. The union of Christ’s human nature to the divine.
2. God’s immutability.
3. His justice.
4. The necessity of Christ’s being believed in.
5. And lastly, the nature of his priesthood. First of all then, the hypostatical union of Christ’s 506human nature to his divine, rendered a perpetual duration under death absolutely impossible. For how could that which was united to the great source and principle of life be finally prevailed over by death, and pass into an estate of perpetual darkness and oblivion? Even while Christ’s body was divided from his soul, yet it ceased not to maintain an intimate, indissolvable relation to his divinity. It was assumed into the same person; for according to the Creed of Athanasius, as the soul and body make one man; so the divine nature and the human make one Christ. And if so, is it imaginable that the Son of God could have one of his natures rent wholly from his person? His divinity, as it were, buoyed up his sinking humanity, and preserved it from a total dissolution: for, as while the soul continues joined to the body, (still speaking in sensu composito,] death cannot pass upon it, forasmuch as that is the proper effect of their separation; so, while Christ’s manhood was retained in a personal conjunction with his godhead, the bands of death were but feeble and insignificant, like the withes and cords upon Sampson, while he was inspired with the mighty presence and assistance of God’s Spirit.
It was possible indeed that the divine nature might for a while suspend its supporting influence, and so deliver over the human nature to pain and death, but it was impossible for it to let go the relation it bore to it. A man may suffer his child to fall to the ground, and yet not wholly quit his hold of him, but still keep it in his power to recover and lift him up at his pleasure. Thus the divine nature of Christ did for a while hide itself from his humanity, but not desert it; put it into the chambers of death, but not lock the everlasting doors upon it. 507The sun may be clouded, and yet not eclipsed, and eclipsed, but not stopped in his course, and much less forced out of his orb. It is a mystery to be ad mired, that any thing belonging to the person of Christ should suffer; but it is a paradox to be exploded, that it should perish. For surely that nature which, diffusing itself throughout the universe, communicates an enlivening influence to every part of it, and quickens the least spire of grass according to the measure of its nature, and the proportion of its capacity, would not wholly leave a nature, assumed into its bosom, and, what is more, into the very unity of the divine person, breathless and in animate, and dismantled of its prime and noblest perfection. For life is so high a perfection of being, that in this respect the least fly or mite is a more noble being than a star. And God has expressly declared himself, not the God of the dead, but of the living: and this in respect of the very persons of men; but how much more with reference to what belongs to the person of his Son! For when natures come to unite so near, as mutually to interchange names and attributes, and to verify the appellation by which God is said to be man, and man to be God; surely man so privileged and advanced, can not for ever lie under death, without an insufferable invasion upon the entireness of that glorious person, whose perfection is as inviolable as it is incomprehensible.
2. The second ground of the impossibility of Christ’s continuance under death, was that great and glorious attribute of God, his immutability. Christ’s resurrection was founded upon the same bottom with the consolation and salvation of believers, 508expressed in that full declaration made by God of himself, Malachi iii. 6. I the Lord change not: therefore ye sons of Jacob are not consumed. Now the immutability of God, as it had an influence upon Christ’s resurrection, was twofold.
First, In respect of his decree or purpose.
Secondly, In respect of his word or promise.
And first for his decree. God had from all eternity designed this, and sealed it by an irreversible purpose. For can we imagine that Christ’s resurrection was not decreed as well as his death and sufferings? and these in the 23d verse of this chapter are expressly said to have been determined by God. It is a known rule in divinity, that what soever God does in time, that he purposed to do from eternity; for there can be no new purposes in God: since he who takes up a new purpose, does so because he sees some ground to induce him to such a purpose, which he did not see before; but this can have no place in an infinite knowledge, which by one comprehensive intuition sees all things as present, before ever they come to pass: so that there can be no new emergency that can alter the divine resolutions. And therefore it having been absolutely purposed to raise Christ from the dead, his resurrection was as fixed and necessary, as the purpose of God was irrevocable; a purpose which commenced from eternity, and was declared in the very beginnings of time; a purpose not to be changed nor so much as bent, and much less broke, by all the created powers in heaven and earth, and in hell besides. For though indeed death is a great conqueror, and his bands much too strong for nature and mortality; yet when overmatched by a decree, 509this conqueror, as old as he has grown in conquest, must surrender back his spoils, unbind his captives, and, in a word, even death itself must receive its doom. From all which it is manifest, that where there is a divine decree, there is always an omnipotence to second it; and consequently, that by the concurrence of both, no less a power was employed to raise Christ out of the grave, than that which first raised the world itself out of nothing.
2. Let us consider God’s immutability in respect of his word and promise; for these also were engaged in this affair. In what a clear prophecy was this foretold, and dictated by that Spirit, which could not lie. Psalm xvi. 10. Thou shalt not suffer thy Holy One to see corruption. And Christ also had frequently foretold the same of himself. Now when God says a thing, he gives his veracity in pawn to see it fully performed. Heaven and earth may pass away sooner than one iota of a divine promise fall to the ground. Few things are recorded of Christ, but the rear of the narrative is still brought up with this, that such a thing was done, that it might be fulfilled what was spoken by such or such a prophet; such a firm, unshaken, adamantine connection is there between a prophecy and its accomplishment. All things that are written in the prophets concerning me, says Christ, must come to pass. And surely then the most illustrious passage that concerned him could not remain under an uncertainty and contingency of event. So that, what is most emphatically said concerning the persevering obstinacy and infidelity of the Jews, John xii. 39, 40. that they could not believe, because that Esaias had said, that God blinded their eyes, and hardened 510their hearts, that they should not see with their eyes, nor understand with their hearts, and so be converted, and he should heal them: the same, I affirm, may, with as great an emphasis, and a much greater clearness to our reason, be affirmed of Christ, that therefore death could not hold him, because the kingly prophet had long before sung the triumphs of his glorious resurrection in the forementioned prediction. In a word, whatsoever God purposes or promises, passes from contingent and merely possible into certain and necessary: and whatsoever is necessary, the contrary of it is so far impossible.
But when I say that the divine decree or promise imprints a necessity upon things, it may, to prevent misapprehension, be needful to explain what kind of necessity this is, that so the liberty of second causes be not thereby wholly cashiered and taken away. For this therefore we are to observe, that the schools distinguish of a twofold necessity, physical and logical, or causal and consequential; which terms are commonly thus explained, viz. that physical or causal necessity is when a thing by an efficient productive influence certainly and naturally causes such an effect: and in this sense neither the divine decree nor promise makes things necessary; for neither the decree nor promise, by itself, produces or effects the thing decreed or promised; nor exerts any active influence upon second causes, so as to impel them to do any thing; but in point of action are wholly ineffective. Secondly, logical or consequential necessity is, when a thing does not efficiently cause an event, but yet by certain infallible consequence does infer it. Thus the foreknowledge of any event, if it be true and certain, does certainly 511and necessarily infer, that there must be such an event: forasmuch as the certainty of knowledge depends upon the certainty of the thing known. And in this sense it is, that God’s decree and promise give a necessary existence to the thing decreed or promised, that is to say, they infer it by a necessary infallible consequence: so that it was as impossible for Christ not to rise from the dead, as it was for God absolutely to decree and promise a thing, and yet for that thing not to come to pass.
The third reason of the impossibility of Christ’s detention under a state of death, was from the justice of God. God in the whole procedure of Christ’s sufferings must be considered as a judge exacting, and Christ as a person paying down a recompence or satisfaction for sin. For though Christ was as pure and undefiled with the least spot of sin as purity and innocence itself; yet he was pleased to make himself the greatest sinner in the world by imputation, and rendering himself a surety responsible for our debts. For, as it is said, 2 Cor. v. 21. he who knew no sin was made sin for us. When the justice of God was lifting up the sword of vengeance over our heads, Christ snatched us away from the blow, and substituted his own body in our room, to receive the whole stroke of that dreadful retribution inflicted by the hand of an angry Omnipotence.
But now, as God was pleased so to comport with his justice, as not to put up the injury done it by sin without an equivalent compensation; so this being once paid down, that proceeding was to cease. The punishment due to sin was death, which being paid by Christ, divine justice could not any longer detain 512him in his grave. For what had this been else, but to keep him in prison after the debt was paid? Satisfaction disarms justice, and payment cancels the bond. And that which Christ exhibited was full measure, pressed down and running over, even adequate to the nicest proportions, and the most exact demands of that severe and unrelenting attribute of God. So that his release proceeded not upon terms of courtesy, but of claim. The gates of death flew open before him out of duty; and even that justice which was infinite, was yet circumscribed within the inviolable limits of what was due. Otherwise guilt would even grow out of expiation, the reckoning be in flamed by being paid, and punishment itself not appease, but exasperate justice. Revenge indeed in the hands of a sinful mortal man is for the most part vast, unlimited, and unreasonable; but revenge in the hands of an infinite justice is not so infinite as to be also indefinite, but in all its actings proceeds by rule and determination, and cannot possibly surpass the bounds put to it by the merits of the cause and the measure of the offence. It is not the effect of mere choice and will, but springs out of the unalterable relation of equality between things and actions. In a word, the same justice of God which required him to deliver Christ to death, did afterwards as much engage him to deliver him from it.
4. The fourth ground of the impossibility of Christ’s perpetual continuance under death was the necessity of his being believed in as a Saviour, and the impossibility of his being so without rising from the dead. As Christ by his death paid down a satisfaction for sin, so it was necessary that it should be declared to the world by such arguments as might 513found a rational belief of it; so that men’s unbelief should be rendered inexcusable. But how could the world believe that he fully had satisfied for sin, so long as they saw death, the known wages of sin, maintain its full force and power over him, holding him, like an obnoxious person, in durance and captivity? When a man is once imprisoned for debt, none can conclude the debt either paid by him or forgiven to him, but by the release of his person. Who could believe Christ to have been a God and a Saviour while he was hanging upon the tree? A dying, crucified God, a Saviour of the world who could not save himself, would have been exploded by the universal consent of reason as an horrible paradox and absurdity. Had not the resurrection followed the crucifixion, that scoff of the Jews had stood as an unanswerable argument against him, Mark xv. 31. Himself he cannot save; and in the 32d verse, Let him come down from the cross, and we will believe in him. Otherwise, surely, that which was the lowest instance of human weakness and mortality could be no competent demonstration of a Deity. To save is the effect of power, and of such a power as prevails to a complete victory and a triumph. But it is expressly affirmed, 2 Cor. xiii. 4. that Christ was crucified through weakness. Death was too hard for his humanity, and bore away the spoils of it for a time. So that, while Christ was in the grave, men might as well have expected that a person hung in chains should come down and head an army, as imagine that a dead body, continuing such, should be able to triumph over sin and death, which so potently triumphs over the living. The discourse of the two disciples going 514to Emmaus, and expecting no such thing as a resurrection, was upon that supposition hugely rational and significant, Luke xxiv. 21. We trusted, said they, that this had been he who should have redeemed Israel: thereby clearly implying, that upon his death they had let that confidence fall to the ground together with him. For they could not imagine that a breathless carcass could chase away the Roman eagles, and so recover the kingdom and nation of the Jews from under their subjection; which was the redemption that even the disciples (till they were further enlightened) promised themselves from their Messiah. But the argument would equally, nay, more strongly hold against a spiritual redemption, supposing his continuance under a state of death, as being a thing in itself much more difficult. For how could such an one break the kingdom of darkness, and set his foot upon principalities and powers, and spiritual wickednesses in high places, who himself fell a sacrifice to the wickedness of mortal men, and remained a captive in the lower parts of the earth, reduced to a condition, not only below men’s envy, but below their very feet?
5. The fifth and last ground of the impossibility of Christ’s perpetual continuance under a state of death, was the nature of the priesthood which he had took upon him. The apostle, Heb. viii. 4, says, that if he were upon earth, he should not be a priest. Certainly then much less could he be so, should he continue under the earth. The two great works of his priesthood were, to offer sacrifice, and then to make intercession for sinners, correspondent to the two works of the Mosaical priesthood; in which 515the priest first slew the lamb, and then with the blood of it entered into the holy of holies, there to appear before God in the behalf of the people. Christ therefore, after that he had offered himself upon the cross, was to enter into heaven, and there, presenting himself to the Father, to make that sacrifice effectual to all the intents and purposes of it. Upon which account the apostle, to express his fitness for the priesthood infinitely beyond any of the sons of Aaron, states it upon this, Heb. vii. 25, that he lives for ever to make intercession for us, and upon that very score also is able to save to the uttermost. But surely the dead could not intercede for the living, nor w r as the grave a sanctum sanctorum. Had not Christ risen again, his blood indeed might have cried for vengeance upon his murderers, but not for mercy upon believers. In short, it had spoke no better things than the blood of Abel, which called for nothing but a fearful judgment upon the head of him who shed it. Christ’s death merited a redemption for the world, but Christ while dead could not shew forth the full effects of that redemption. He made the purchase at his death, but he could not take possession till he was returned to life. Ever since Christ ascended into heaven, he has been pursuing the great work begun by him upon the cross, and applying the virtue of his sacrifice to those for whom it was offered. It is affirmed by some, and that not without great probability of reason, that the souls of the saints who died before Christ’s resurrection did not actually enter into a state of complete glory, till Christ, the great captain of their salvation, upon his ascension first entered into it himself, and then made way for others. So that, according to that divine 516anthem of the church, after that he had overcome the sharpness of death, then at length, and not till then, he opened the kingdom of heaven to all believers. And thus I have given five several reasons, why it was not possible that a state of death should finally prevail over Christ, which was the thing to be proved. And I have nothing further to recommend to your consideration, but only two things, which the very nature of the subject seems of itself to imprint upon all pious minds.
1. The first is a dehortation from sin, and that indeed the strongest that can be. For can we imagine, that the second Person in the glorious Trinity would concern himself to take upon him our flesh, and to suffer, and die, and at length rise again, only to render us the more secure and confident in our sins? Would he neither see nor endure any corruption in his dead body, that we should harbour all the filth and corruption imaginable in our immortal souls? Did he conquer and triumph over death, that we should be the slaves and captives of that which is worse than death? Christ has declared that he will dwell in those whom he assumes into the society of his mystical body: but can we think, that he who passed from a clean new sepulchre into an heavenly mansion, will descend from thence to take up his habitation in the rotten sepulchre of an heart possessed and polluted with the love of that which he infinitely hates? It will little avail us, that Christ rose from a temporal death, unless we also rise from a spiritual. For those who do not imitate as well as believe Christ’s resurrection, must expect no benefit by it.
2. Christ’s resurrection is an high and sovereign consolation against death. Death, we know, is the 517grand enemy of mankind, the merciless tyrant over nature, and the king of terrors. But, blessed be God, Christ has given a mortal blow to his power, and broke his sceptre. And if we, by a thorough conquest of our sins, and rising from them, can be but able to say, O sin, where is thy power? we may very rationally and warrantably say thereupon, O death, where is thy sting? So that when we come to resign back these frail bodies, these vessels of mortality, to the dust, from whence they were taken, we may yet say of our souls as Christ did of the damsel whom he raised up, that she was not dead, but only slept; for, in like manner, we shall as certainly rise out of the grave, and triumph over the dishonours of its rottenness and putrefaction, as we rise in the morning out of our beds, with bodies refreshed, and advanced into higher and nobler perfections. For the head being once risen, we may be sure the members cannot stay long behind. And Christ is already risen and gone before, to prepare mansions for all those who belong to him under that high relation, that where he is, they (to their eternal comfort) may be also, rejoicing and singing praises and hallelujahs to him who sitteth upon the throne, and to the Lamb for ever and ever.
To whom be rendered and ascribed, as is most due, all praise, might, majesty, and dominion, to eternal ages. Amen.518
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