« Prev Lecture XXVIII. Preached April 28, 1704. Next »

LECTURE XXVIII.4343   Preached April 28, 1694.

2. Now it remains to speak of what is consequent upon this sinful state, to wit, death passing upon all; that which ensues upon this universal diffusion, and is, in great part, (as you will hear by and by,) complicated therewith. Now in speaking to this death that is said “to have passed through all, or over all,” it must be in substance the same with that death which we have spoken to in the former part of the verse, that which befel that one first man. I shall, therefore, speak, first, of what is common under this notion of death; and then, secondly, come to consider the gradual differences afterwards.

(1.) For what this death signifies here in common, the larger discourse whereof I referred to this place. Why,

[1.] We must consider in it, that bodily death which (in common experience) all do undergo according to divine appointment. “It is appointed to all men once to die.” There is a statute law in the case, that hath not been repealed, and that admits of no repeal; this lies upon the world: in the virtue of that law it is, that death hath reigned. As the strength of sin, so the power of death, even of this death, is in the law; that is, in the sentence of it, or in the commination annexed by way of sanction thereunto. If there were no law first, no man should die. And most plain it is, that this same bodily death, unto which all are subjected, it must be within the meaning of this death. “Death hath passed over all.” For,

First. We find it to be, most expressly, in the sentence itself that was laid upon Adam, and as a comment upon the commination, that was at first given. The commination was before his fall: “In the day thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die,” die the death; the sentence was after his fall: and this 407death is fully enough signified by the sentence—“Dust thou art, and unto dust thou shalt return.” It cannot but be meant, as being so expressly mentioned, both in the commination and in the sentence. And,

Secondly. The actual execution shews it to be meant, to be meant as one part of the penalty unto which transgressors are adjudged under the name of death. For though it be very true, that, abstractly considered, it may be looked upon only as a misery, or as a physical evil, yet considering, that God hath vouchsafed to govern his reasonable creatures, by a law, and according to the tenor of a covenant, he would never lay any thing of afflictive evil upon them, which was not legally due. He will herein not go above the legal constitution, by laying any more than was due by law, though he might go as much below it as he would.

A righteous ruler will never exceed the law in punishing, though he may exceed it, without any injury, in shewing favour. And the difference in these two cases, is manifest, be cause that these promises of favour, make those, to whom such promises are made, creditors, and make the promiser a debtor. But in the inflicting of punishments, the person to be punished is the debtor, and he that is injured and wronged, being the sovereign ruler, is the creditor poenae, which also the common phrase signifies, and shews it to be agreeable to the reason of man kind, to look upon the ruler as the creditor poenae, and the offender as the debtor poenae; to wit, that phrase of Dare paenae. It is the person that is to be punished, who gives satisfaction to law and justice, and so, thereupon, is said to owe it; and it is the government that is the creditor he owes it to.

There would be, then, no such thing as this bodily death in the world, if the violation of the law of God had not made it a debt to divine justice, and to the divine government, as the proper wages of sin. God will not lay upon man more than is right, (more than is just and due according to law,) that he should enter into judgment with God. Job xxxiv. 23. Where upon, the execution, (of which all the world hath experience from age to age; for we see the world hath been continually and actually under death, and we still daily behold death round about us,) this actual execution, I say, shews that this must be part of the designed penalty signified here by “death.”

And unto this head we may very well refer all those corporeal evils and miseries that men in this world are liable to, and lie under, which are so many tendencies unto death, or which we may look upon as death begun; so much of a man’s 408time as is past over with him, so much death hath eaten up: as the heathen moralist expresseth it: Quicquid nostrae aestatis retro est mors habet; death hath devoured all that of our age which is already past; so that men may be said to have be gun to die as soon as they begin to live, which makes it seem congruous enough, or less strange, that Ecclesiastes the preacher, speaking of the events or purposes for which there is a season, unto every one a time, he speaks of a time to be horn, and a time to die, without any mention of the intervening time of life: and fitly enough, or it is not strange, because, indeed, men do begin to die as soon as they begin to live.

Death is wrought with the very primordia of our sensitive nature; so that well might that prince say, upon the loss of his son; Novi me genuisse mortalem; I begot him and mortality in him, both together. I begot him a mortal thing. Death is working in us. (as the apostle’s phrase is,) all our days, all our time, between our birth and the grave, still working in us. And so the longer any man lives in this world, he is hut so much the longer a dying. Death did for a great while work more gradually and slowly, where a man’s life extended to some hundreds of years. It hath since come to work a quicker dispatch with men; but still they are dying, tending towards the grave, even from their first entrance into the world; and this is part of what is signified by death here. But yet it is, in comparison, but a small part, though it be a real one, a true part. Therefore,

[2.] Spiritual death is, without doubt, more principally in tended, as it is in itself a far more principal evil; that is, all those miseries which do now in this present state infest the spirits of men. Arid this needs a little more to be insisted on. Herein, therefore, I intend (as God shall enable) these two things: first, to shew you that such spiritual evils as these, are very fitly comprehended as part of the penalty under the name of death; and then, secondly, I shall shew you, what this death doth comprehend in it; namely, spiritual death.

First. That the spiritual evils to which the souls of men are generally subject, are very fitly comprehended under the name of death here. That death that is said to have passed over all.” is a real and great part, even the more principal part of the penalty under which they lie: and this doth need some explication, the rather for this, that this spiritual death is in itself a sinful evil, and, therefore, that it should be a punitive one, may seem strange to some. I shall explain the whole matter to you, therefore, in some distinct heads and particulars. As,


i. We are to consider, that though sin be principally an injurious evil against God, yet it is also by consequence, and collaterally, a mischievous evil to the sinner. And thereupon are we said to be “dead in trespasses and sins.” Ephes. ii. 1. Death is certainly a horrid and afflicting evil to him that must suffer it. But such a death as this, to wit, to be dead in sin, it is primarily an injurious evil against God. For we are to consider what sin is. It is a transgression of the law; therefore, considered in strict propriety, it must be chiefly and principally against the Law-Maker, a transgression against him that made the law; to wit, as a wrong to him. But yet, for all that, it is a hurt to ourselves. It lies both against the Object and the subject. Against the Object: “Against thee, thee only have I sinned,” have I offended. It works upward even against heaven: but that, it cannot reach to do any real hurt there; but a wrong is done against heaven. “I have sinned against heaven and in thy sight.” But then it works downward so as to hurt and do mischief; that is, as it works in its subject, corrodes, and envenoms, and poisons that, and so carries a self-punishing malignity in it. “Thine own wickedness shall correct thee.” Again,

ii. Consider, for the clearing of this matter, that that life unto which this death is opposite (as it is in us, or as it is in an intelligent subject) is, both a principle of action, and perception. I pray mark this, for it is obvious in the meaning of it to every one’s understanding and experience. By that life that we generally live, we are enabled to act what we do act, and we are enabled to enjoy what we do enjoy. It is both a motive and active; and it is both a perceptive and a fruitive principle. Now consider this life, as it is an active principle, so it makes us the subjects of duty, of all duty which we owe to him who made us, and gave us breath and being: but as it is also a perceptive and fruitive principle, so it makes us capable of enjoying what is good for ourselves. And, again,

iii. This being plain in itself, we are to consider, that both our duty, which we owe to God, and out felicity, which we enjoy in ourselves, they are substantially and radically the same thing, and do only differ in distinguishing respects; they meet in one and the same root, and which is the principal thing in the moral life, (that life we are now speaking of; and it is death in the moral sense, and not in the natural sense, that we are now speaking of too; for in the natural sense, the soul cannot die,) I say, that moral life doth carry, as the principal thing in it, both our duty and our felicity, in the same common root; to wit, love to God; that is, both radically and 410virtually, all our duty, and all our felicity too. And it is the main thing to be considered in moral and spiritual life.

The love of God, I say, comprehends both these in it. It comprehends duty; “If ye love me, keep my commandments.” We can never do that which he will interpret obedience, but from a principle of love. It is no obedience to him, if it do not proceed from love. And, again, the same love, our love to God, is that by which we enjoy him, as well as that by which we obey him. We can enjoy what we love; but what we love not, we can never enjoy. And so that life to which this death stands opposed, carries in it that one principle of love, which sums up our duty and our felicity both together, and is radically both of them; upon which account they are in substance the same thing.

But they differ only in the different respects that love hath, as it respects God, the Ruler of all this world, (and so whom we ought to obey and be subject to as our Ruler,) so this love is the principle of duty: but then, as it respects ourselves, so it is the principle of enjoyment; that is, it eyes God, pitches and terminates upon him, but with a reference to ourselves. And,

iv. These acts, proceeding from this principle of love, which have a more direct tendency unto God, do yet involve and carry in them a gainfulness and gratefulness to ourselves, so as that our felicity and duty will still be complicated in those consequential acts. As, for instance, where our felicity is most complete in the heavenly state, the eternal adoration of God, which is the immediate and perpetual product of the highest and most perfect love to him, it cannot but infer perpetual pleasure to them that do so adore. And though that act be carried directly towards God, yet it infers a delight, a pleasure, (as it cannot but do,) to perfectly right minds, to them who are everlastingly so employed and taken up. And I can apprehend nothing higher than that, in the pleasure of the heavenly state; to wit, the felt congruity of everlasting worship, the soul apprehending and feeling within itself, and relishing, with delight, its own act in adoring and worshipping God for ever, and finding how congruous a thing it is, how comely a thing. And so that which is a right to God, is also a satisfaction and delight to the soul itself, that renders it, and is continually paying that homage.

And again, too, in this our present state, wherein felicity can be but begun; and if you look to the very beginning of that, the first turn of the soul towards God by repentance which enters it into a holy and happy state. It is called “repentance towards God,” it directly terminates upon him; 411but when once it comes to be true, genuine, evangelical, vital, even that itself cannot but carry a sweetness and pleasure in it to the penitent soul. For it is not a forced thing, but an act that flows freely from a vital, connatural principle, the soul pleaseth itself, in abasing itself, in humbling itself, before him; in pouring out itself in free confessions and acknowledgments to him. And then, consider further,

v. That for such acts as do more directly respect ourselves, they do involve and carry still in them, homage and duty to God too, though they do more directly respect ourselves: as trust and joy in God, they have a manifest reference to our own safety, and a direct reference thereunto. By trust in him, it is, that we secure ourselves, and, by which, we become safe from wrath and ruin. Joy, or delight in God, it is that by which we entertain, and receive into our own souls, positive good, by which we are to be happy and satisfied. As by the other, (trust,) we decline and avoid the evil by which we were otherwise, to have been miserable, these have a direct reference to ourselves; but, they have a consequential reference, too, unto God, or, a conjunct reference, as carrying in them, a homage to him, while, at the same time, they carry in them, an advantage to us.

For we cannot render to God higher homage than that trust. It is vital trust, by which the soul unites with him, comes into union, enters into a state of union with him. By that trust, we give him the highest glory creatures are capable of giving him; we, thereupon, acknowledge him to be the First Truth. We give him the glory of that great attribute of his faithfulness; we acknowledge him to be a God that cannot lie, with whose nature it is inconsistent not to be true; we honour him, and advantage ourselves, at once, in that very act. And so, delight and joy in him, there the case is the same: it is we that are satisfied by our delight in God; but it is God that is glorified: for thereby we acknowledge him to be an all-sufficient Good, an all-comprehending Good, when our souls do centre and rest in him as such; which is the true notion of delight; Quies appetitus in appetibile, the rest of the desiring faculties in the object desired: it is the rest of our love: that by which our love doth move towards its object, till it attain and possess it. And then,

vi. It is hereupon, most plain, that the death which is opposite to this life, (that I have so far opened to you,) while it is an injury to God, it is also a hurt to ourselves: for the same reason that life doth involve these two things in it, even in all the several acts of it; by the same reason, it must needs be 412so, on the opposite hand; to wit, that death must comprehend in it, opposite things; and that the same evils that are sinful against God, cannot but be hurtful, and pernicious, and mischievous to ourselves. And,

vii. Those evils, that are so said to be signified by this name, are very fitly signified by it, very aptly: for, though such a death of the soul be not death in the absolute sense; for, if it were death in the absolute sense, then would the soul be said naturally to die, which would not consist with the doctrine of its immortality; but, it is death, in a respective sense only;—yet it is, however, properly, death, inasmuch as that respective sense must needs mean the principal respect, that such a thing is capable, or can any way admit of; to wit, a respect to the end. A respect to the end is always the most principal respect of any thing whatsoever, though it be clothed with various respects besides its own simple nature: its respect that it bears towards its proper adequate end, is always to be reckoned its principal respect. Now, look upon man, principally as to his soul or spirit, (which is the subject of our present discourse, and the subject of this death, which we are now speaking of, spiritual death,) and it is to be considered this is a created being. He that made it, made it for somewhat. What is the end of such a being as the spirit of man? What was it made for? It is a mind, an intellective thing, an intelligent being, unto which belongs the power of thought, and that of vast compass, extending to multitudes, even to all sorts of objects, and to the very highest of all objects; for, God hath made us capable, even of thinking of himself, of having an idea of him, a notion of him, which all have, more or less, in their minds; now it is to be considered, I say, What hath God made such a creature as this for? This mind, or spirit of man? Why, principally to converse with himself. For he hath made all things for himself; and the spirit of man, more immediately for himself, as, he is said, to have fashioned the spirit of man within him. That must be, with design, that it should be employed immediately upon him, as the principal and most noble End for which it was made: but, to this End, it is become useless, the spirit of fallen man, apostate man, unconverted man, yet remaining in the state of apostasy, not regenerate, not renewed in the spirit of his mind, (the great seat and subject of that regenerating work,) it is altogether unapt for the end that it was made for, nothing can be plainer.

Therefore, though it be not simply dead, yet, it is dead quoad hoc, it is dead to this purpose, it is dead in this respect; and 413that is the principal respect that such a thing is capable of: for the principal respect is, the respect it bears to its end, its great and ultimate end, the end that it was made for. Any man that will understand himself to be God’s creature, especially that he hath a mind and spirit in him, that God hath, himself, fashioned immediately, he must needs presently apprehend this mind, this spirit, was made for some more principal purpose, than only to mind the things of this earth, than only to serve a brutal flesh for a few days, that must, at last, rot in the dust: no man, that communes with himself, and considers his own nature, that hath such a thing as a mind and spirit about him, but must presently apprehend, “Sure this mind and spirit of mine, which is impressed with the natural image of God, and, which, immediately proceeds from him, (who is, therefore, called the Father of spirits,) must be made principally to converse with him, to employ itself principally upon him, by acts of love, and trust, and adoration, and subjection, and the like.”

But, most plain it is, that the spirits of men are become altogether inhabile, unapt, to serve this end, for which they are made, and, so, are truly said to be dead in this respect; that is, dead to the principal use and end for which such a being is said to be made. And, therefore, when once the great regenerating turn, and change, comes to be made upon the souls of men, this is the effect of it,—they are “dead to sin, but alive to God, through Jesus Christ,” as Rom. vi. 11. intimating, that before, they were only alive to sin, but dead towards God and Christ. And what! Do we think that God ever made an intelligent and immortal mind and spirit, only to live to sin? they are only alive to sin before; but, when this change comes to be made, then, they are alive to God: before, quite dead to God; and, so they are dead, in reference to their principal end, and the proper design of their creation, that they were made for.

And so, it is a death in equivalence, it is an equivalent death; it is the same thing in reference to the end they were made for, as if they were not. As if we speak of a human maker of any thing: if an artist have made such a thing as a clock or watch, he considers the end of it, that which it is to serve for; it is to measure time, to let me know the hour of the day, as it passeth. Why, suppose such an instrument as this made, and elaborated by a curious hand: What hath this in it? it hath in it motion, and the regularity of that motion. Motion alone would not make it serve this end, if that motion had not a regularity belonging to it. There is, in that instrument, 414(a watch,) such a thing as a balance, wheels that regulate that motion; so as that it shall not move at random: if it move at random, the design is lost, the use of it frustrated, though it should retain motion, and there were still a motive power in it: if its motion were nothing else but an uncertain hurry, you could never know how the time passeth by it. And, therefore, it were all one, though the thing remain, and though the motion remain; it were, I say all one in reference to its end, as if there were no such thing, or as if it had no motion at all;

Take the needle of a compass—it has a mobility, it is put in such a posture as it may be easily moveable; but then, with all, it hath a verticity, that is, an aptness to turn and stand directly towards the north. If it retained never so much its mobility, and loseth its verticity, it serves not its end, it is unuseful so, and useless, as the needle of a compass; and it were all one as if it were not.

Suppose these instruments, that are mechanical, were someway vital; suppose a watch were a vital thing, and its motion vital; as it is but mechanical, when it hath lost all kind of the regularity of the motion, the motion itself remaining, it were all one as if it were dead; if it had been a living thing, it would no more serve its purpose now, than as if it were dead.

And so it is with reference to the spirits of men: if they do not serve the principal design for which they were made, then it is all one as if they were dead. God may say of them, “I have no more service from them than if they were dead, no more of love, no more of adoration, no more of dutiful observance are paid me by them, than as if there were no such things.” It is to be considered, therefore, that that which makes the name of death, in this case, proper, is, that that life that doth remain to the spirits of men, that is, by which they live naturally, it no more serves the end and purpose for which such a mind and spirit were created and made, than if such a thing were quite extinct, and there were no such thing. And, thereupon,

viii. Though this, in itself, be a sinful thing, as an offence to God, it is never a whit the less a punishing thing to them that do offend, a punishment upon them, that is, they are left to punish themselves, because that they do injure God by that violation which they have made even of their own frame and natures: and, so the same thing may very well be a sin, and a punishment too. And it is most reasonably so: for, do but consider the parity of the case, to what is obvious to our notice in human governments. If a man be a self-murderer, a 415 felo de se; this is the very case, as a man cannot be dead in trespasses and sins, (sin being his own act,) but lie must be a self-destroyer. In human governments, he that doth destroy himself, it is very true, he suffers this evil first, immediately, directly; he is the person that is killed, and hath lost his life; but here is, in the mean time, a wrong done to the prince, a wrong done to the community; the prince hath lost a subject, the community hath lost a member; and this is the case with every self-destroying sinner, in reference to God. And, he is liable thus to be impleaded: “Thou hast destroyed my creature.” This interest of God, in all, is superior to any interest we have in ourselves: and this the sinner is to be accountable for. “Why hast thou undone my creature? Why hast thou made my creature a miserable creature, that was capable of being a happy one?” Yea, the whole heavenly community have a just plea against any such one that perisheth, and so is eternally cut off from them by his own iniquity. “Duly, and by original right, you ought to have been a partaker with us; you ought to have been of our chorus, in worshipping, adoring; in loving and enjoying God eternally. But, you have cut yourselves off from God, and us.” Therefore, it is lib strange thing that this same death which carries in it the greatest hurt and mischief that we are capable of suffering in ourselves, should yet be also complicated with sin, as it is an offence against God, and an offence against the rest of his creatures,—especially those of the sinner’s own order in the creation. So fitly is all that doth concern us, the whole of man, summed up in the fearing of God, and keeping of his commandments, as in that 12 of Ecclesiastes. This is the whole of man; the fear of God is nothing else but reverential love, carries love in it; that is the principle from whence we keep the commandments of God; these commandments are all summed up in love to God, and love to ourselves, and to our neighbours as ourselves. Where sin, therefore, comes to obtain, and take place, and be in power, there must be, at the same time, an injury done to God, an injury done to ourselves, and an injury done to the whole community to which we belong; so as that death, even spiritual death, is nothing the less capable of being intended here as a penalty and punishment, for that it is also complicated with sin: for, in the very nature of the thing, it cannot but be so, even in the very nature of the things themselves.

More is yet to be said in reference to what we further promised to shew, that this is a real part of the penalty here meant, by the name of death, spiritual death, as it is the hurt and evil 416that does mischief to ourselves, to our own souls, to shew that it must lie in the compass of that penalty, which, under the name of death is here said to pass over all. And then, for the extent and comprehension of that, the several things that this spiritual death doth involve in it, that we are to speak of afterwards. But, in the mean time, from what hath been hinted of these two things—corporeal death, and spiritual death, it should entertain our thoughts with, and a little fix them upon the prospect we have before our eyes. Now, by way of Use,

1. It is a doleful state that this world lies under, as it lies under that which is fitly to be called death; men, in a continual succession, lately sprung up here in this world, swept away presently from it, sooner or later, but soon all; one generation coming, and another going, but the earth abides. For persons that are capable of using thoughts, to behold themselves in this plight, and to look round about them, and to behold this to be the common case; “Here we are, lately sprung up into being in this world, and we know we are to stay but a little while: Dust we are, and unto dust we shall return.” A most melancholy theme for a man’s thoughts, if he have not some what beyond all this, to support his spirit, and to afford light, and lustre, and sweetness, and pleasure, to it; “life and immortality brought to light in the gospel” of Christ.

Alas! it is strange, amazing stupidity that is upon the spirits of men, that this common case is so commonly slighted and made so little of. If death did make quicker dispatches, (though we are certain of it, it can make no surer, for it reaches to every one sooner or later, but if it did make quicker dispatches,) it would set towns and countries presently upon a lament, upon bemoaning themselves, and put them into a panic, dread and fear. If the plague were (as sometimes it hath been in this city, sweeping away thousands in a week) in what a consternation would the minds of men generally be? You cannot have forgot, (many of you,) how it was. But let this matter be rationally considered, and whether it be so many thousands, or so many hundreds, it is the same; persons are still mortal, and must as certainly die; it is, therefore, an irrational stupidity to be so little apprehensive of this.

When the plague came upon the people of Israel, (in that of Numbers, 36.) see what an outcry is raised among them! “Behold we die, we all die. How are we consumed with dying!” What a fright were they in! And yet, this case is no way different at all from the common case of all mortals, more than only this—dying a little sooner, or dying more 417together, more numerously. It is strange there should be a dying world always in view, and we should find death working in us, and yet we live so unmindful of it from day to day, and are so little apprehensive, that, in this respect, death hath passed, and is passing, over all. We do not speak to one another at such a time as this; we do not hear; we do not look upon one another’s faces as so many mortal creatures; sure there is not an apprehension suitable to the state of such a case, in this respect, that we are all subject to corporeal death. And then,

2. For the other part of our prospect, sure we should stay a little upon it, in our deepest reflections; that is, thus, in sum, that the soul of an unregenerate man is a most miserable creature; dead, dead to the principal purposes for which such life was given, any such creature made. It were as good never to have lived; better, (upon many accounts better,) to have been an untimely birth, and never have seen the sun, than not to live to God; than to have a total indisposition in my soul towards him, to think of him, to love him, to delight in him, to make him my life and my all. This is strange, that it should be the common case, and so little understood, and so little considered, so little taken to heart. O! the restless thoughts that would continually possess such a breast, if the matter were but understood, till the regenerating work come to obtain, and take place: “I am one that lives to as little purpose, as if I had never lived; as if no such creature had ever been.”

As if we should consider the matter in reference to an inferior thing, belonging to our nature, to wit, the power of speech. Suppose a man should retain the power of speech, but hath quite lost his reason, which should govern his speech, so that he can speak still, but to no purpose; the use of speech were lost; for the design of speech was to convey the sense of one man’s mind to another; but, when the reason is gone, which should form that sense in the man’s mind, speech serves for nothing. It is just so with the souls of men, in reference to the principal end and purpose for which God hath made such a creature. They can think, they have a power of thought be longing to them, but to no purpose: thought is internal speech, the speech of the mind within itself; there they can speak; that is, they can form thoughts, connect thoughts, but all to no purpose: for religion, that which should govern the motion of the mind, that, is wanting, there is no such thing; this makes the soul of man a most miserable thing: it can move, it hath a principle of motion in it, which is essential 418to it; but it hath no principle of rest, no inclination towards God, the true rest of the soul. Do but illustrate that to yourselves, by the case of a bodily motion. Suppose your bodies had the power of bodily motion in them, without the power of rest: O! what a miserable thing were man, in respect of his bodily frame and constitution! to be in an everlasting hurry: he can move, and he must move, perpetually; but he cannot sistere se, cannot stop his motion, he can never take any rest. It is just so with the unregenerate soul. God is the true rest of the soul. It is in perpetual motion, in continual desires, in everlasting cravings; but hath nothing by which it can satisfy itself. It never comes into its mind, “Return unto thy rest, O my soul.” Such a creature, one would think, made for torment, that can everlastingly move, must be perpetually in motion, but can never rest, can never take up any rest in any thing that is agreeable and suitable to it, that can satisfy it.

« Prev Lecture XXVIII. Preached April 28, 1704. Next »
VIEWNAME is workSection