Delivered on Sabbath Morning, December 6, 1857, by
"That through death he might destroy him that had the power of death, that is the devil"Hebrews 2:14.
N GOD'S ORIGINAL empire everything was happiness, and joy, and peace. If there be any evil, any suffering and pain, that is not God's work. God may permit it, overrule it, and out of it educe much good; but the evil cometh not of God. He himself standeth pure and perfect, the clean fountain out of which gusheth forth ever more sweet and pure waters. The devil's reign, on the contrary, containeth nought of good, "the devil sinneth from the beginning," and his dominion has been one uniform course of temptation to evil and infliction of misery. Death is a part of Satan's dominion, he brought sin into the world when he tempted our mother Eve to eat of the forbidden fruit, and with sin he brought also death into the world, with all its train of woes. There had been likely no death, if there had been no devil. If Satan had not tempted, mayhap man had not revolted, and if he had not revolted he would have lived for ever, without having to undergo the painful change which is caused by death. I think death is the devil's masterpiece. With the solitary exception of hell, death is certainly the most Satanic mischief that sin hath accomplished. Nothing ever delighted the heart of the devil so much as when he found that the threatening would be fulfilled, "In the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die," and never was his malicious heart so full of hellish joy as when he saw Abel stretched upon the earth, slain by the club of his brother. "Aha!" said Satan, "this is the first of all intelligent creatures that has died. Oh how I rejoice! This is the crowning hour of my dominion. It is true that I have marred the glory of this earth by my guileful temptation; it is true the whole creation groaneth and travaileth in pain by reason of the evil that I have brought into it; but this, this is my masterpiece; I have killed man; I have brought death into him, and here lieth the firstthe first dead man." Since that time Satan hath ever gloated over the death of the human race, and he hath had some cause of glory, for that death has been universal. All have died. Though they had been wise as Solomon, their wisdom could not spare their head; though they had been virtuous as Moses, yet their virtue could not avert the axe, All have died; and therefore the devil hath boasted in his triumph. But twice hath he been defeated; but two have entered heaven without dying, but the mass of mankind have had to feel the scythe of death; and he has rejoiced because this, his mightiest work, has had foundations broad as earth, and a summit that reached as high as the virtues of mankind could climb.
A dread eternity; a dreary gulf."
You may tell him of the promises; you may try to cheer him by reminding him of the certain revelations of the future; but apart from the death of Christ, I say, even the Christian himself would look forward to death as being a dreary goal, a dark cloudy end to a life of weariness and woe. Whither am I speeding? An arrow shot from the bow of God's creation! Whither am I speeding? And the answer cometh back from blank nothingness thou camest, and thou art speeding to the same; there is nought to thee; when thou diest thou art lost. Or if reason has been well tutored it may perhaps reply to him, "Yes, there is another world, but reason can only tell him that it thinks so. It dreams of it. but what that other world shall be, what its tremendous mysteries, what its gorgeous splendors, or what its horrible terrors, reason cannot tell." And the sting of death would be to such a man, who had no view of immortality in Christ, the thought that he was to be annihilatednot to existor if to exist that he knew not how, or where. But, beloved, by the death of Christ all this is taken away. If I lie a-dying, and Satan comes to me and says, "Thou art to be annihilated, thou art now sinking beneath the waves of time, and thou shalt lie in the caverns of nothingness for ever; thy living, leaping spirit, is to cease for ever and be not." I reply to him, "No, not so: I have no fear of that; O Satan, thy power to tempt me here faileth utterly and entirely. See there my Saviour! He diedhe died really and actually, for his heart was pierced, he was buried, he lay in his grave three days; but, O Devil, he was not annihilated, for he rose again from the tomb on the third day, and in the glories of the resurrection he appeared unto many witnesses, and gave infallible proofs that he was risen from the dead. And now, O Satan, I tell thee, thou canst not put an end to my existence, for thou couldst not put an end to the existence of my Lord. As the Lord the Saviour rose, so all his followers must. 'I know that my Redeemer liveth,' and therefore I know that though the 'worms destroy this body, yet in my flesh shall I see God.' Thou tellest me, O Satan, that I am to be swallowed up, and be a thing of nought, and sink into the bottomless pit of nonenity. I reply to thee, thou liest. My Saviour was not swallowed up, and yet he died, he died, but could not long be held a prisoner in the tomb. Come, death, and bind me, but thou canst not destroy me. Come on, O grave; open thy ghastly mouth, and swallow me up; but I shall burst thy bonds another day. When that all-glorious morning shall dawn, I having a dew like the dew of herbs upon me, shall be raised up and shall live in his sight. Because he lives I shall live also." So, you see, Christ, by being a witness to the feet of the resurrection, has broken the power of the devil in death. In this respect he has prevented him from tempting us to fear annihilation, because, as Christians, we believe that because Christ rose again from the dead, even so they that sleep in Jesus will the Lord bring with him.
But now for a more common temptationanother phase of the devil's power in death. Full often the devil comes to us in our life-time, and he tempts us by telling us that our guilt will certainly prevail against us, that the sins of our youth and our former transgressions are still in our bones, and that when we sleep in the grave our sins shall rise up against us "They have many of them," saith he, "gone before you unto judgment, and others shall follow after." When the Christian getteth weak, and his heart and his flesh do fail him, were it not, I say for the great doctrine of the death of Christ the devil would be able to tempt him thus "Thou art about to die. I dare not tell thee that there is no future state, for if I do thou replies to me, 'There is, for Christ rose from the dead and therefore I shall,' but I will tempt thee another way. Thou hast made a fine profession, but I charge upon thee that thou hast been a hypocrite. Thou pretendest that thou art one of the Lord's beloved: now look back upon thy sins: remember on such-a-day how thy rebellious lusts arose, and thou wast led if not quite to indulge in a transgression, yet to long after it. Recollect how often thou hast provoked him in the wilderness, how frequently thou hast made his anger wax hot against thee." The devil takes up our diary, and he turns over the page, and with black finger points to our sins; and he reads scornfully, with a leer upon his countenance. "See here saint" he says. "Saint! Aha! a fine saint you were. There! Sabbath breaking. There! evil thoughts of unbelief. There! departure from the living God." And he turns over page after page, and he stops over some very black page, and says, "See here!" And he twits the Christian with the thing. "Ah!" saith he, "David, remember Bathsheba. Lot, remember Sodom and the cave, Noah, remember the vineyard and the drunkenness." Ah! and it makes even the saint quiver, when sin stares him in the facewhen the ghosts of his old sins rise up and stare upon him. He is a man that has got faith indeed that can look sin in the face, and still say, "The blood of Jesus Christ cleanseth me from sin." But were it not for that blood, were it not for the death of Christ, you can easily conceive what power the devil would have over us in the hour of death, because he would fling all our sins in our teeth just when we came to die, But now see how through death Christ has taken away the devil's power to do that. We reply to the temptation to sin, "In truth O Satan thou art right; I have rebelled, I will not belie my conscience and my memory; I own I have transgressed. O Satan, turn to the blackest page of my history, I confess all,
His righteous law approves it well.'
But O fiend, let me tell thee my sins were numbered on the scape-goat's head of old. Go thou, O Satan, to Calvary's cross, and see my substitute bleeding there, Behold, my sins are not mine; they are laid on his eternal shoulders, and he has cast them from his own shoulders into the depths of the sea. Avaunt, hell-hound! Wouldst thou worry me? Go thou and satisfy thyself with a sight of that Man, who entered the gloomy dungeons of death, and slept awhile there, and then rent the bars away, and led captivity captive as a proof that he was justified of God the Father. and that I also am justified in him." Oh! yes, this is the way that Christ's death destroys the power of the devil. We can tell the devil that we care not for him, for all our sins are passed away, covered in the thick cloud, and shall not be brought against us any more for ever, "Ah!" said an aged saint once who had been much teased by Satan, "at last I got rid of my temptations, sir, and I enjoyed much peace," "How did you do it?" said a Christian friend who visited him, "I showed him blood, sir; I showed him the blood of Christ." That is a thing the devil cannot endure. You may tell the devil, "Oh! but I prayed so many times." He will sniff at your prayers. You may tell him, "Ah! but I was a preacher" He will laugh in your face, and tell you you preached your own damnation You may tell him you had some good works, and he will lift them up and say, "these are your good worksfilthy rags: no one would have them at a gift." You may tell him, "Ah! but I have repented." He will sneer at your repentance. You may tell him what you like, he will sneer at you, till at last you say,
Simply to the cross I cling;"
And it is all over with the devil then; there is nothing now that he can do, for the death of Christ has destroyed the power that the devil hath over us to tempt us on account of our guilt. "The sting of death is sin:" our Jesus took the sting away, and now death is harmless to us, because it is not succeeded by damnation.
Once more, you may suppose a Christian who has firm confidence in a future state. The evil one has another temptation for him.."It. may be very true," saith he, "that you are to live for ever and that your sins have been pardoned; but you have hitherto found it very hard work to persevere, and now you are about to die you will be sure to fail. When you have had troubles you know you have been half inclined to go back again to Egypt. Why, the little hornets that you have met have worried you, and now this death is the prince of dragons; it will be all over with you now. You know that when you used to go through a cart-rut you were crying for fear of being drowned: what will you do now that you have got into the swellings of Jordan? "Ah!" says the devil, "you were afraid of the lions when they were chained: what will you do with this unchained lion? How will you come off now? When you were a strong man and had marrow in your bones, and your sinews were full of strength, even then you trembled at me: now I shall have at you, when I get you in your dying-time and your strength fails, and if I once get the grip of you
Through bars of brass and triple-steel.'
Ah! you will then be overcome." And sometimes the poor feint-hearted Christian thinks that is true; I shall surely fall one day by the hand of the enemy. Up gets the Arminian divine, and says, "that is a very proper sort of feeling, my friend; God often does desert his children and cast them away." To which we reply "Thou liest, Arminian; shut thy mouth, God never did desert his children, neither can he, nor will he."
And having answered the Arminian we turn to answer the devil, and we say to him, "O fiend, thou temptest us to think that thou wilt conquer us; remember Satan, that the strength that has preserved us against thee has not been our own; the arm that has delivered us has not been this arm of flesh and blood, else we had long since been overcome. Look thou there, fiend, at him that is Omnipotent: his Almightiness is the power that preserves us to the end; and, therefore, be we never so weak, when we are weak then we are strong, and in our last hour of peril we shall yet overcome thee."
But please to notice, that this answer springs and arises from Christ's death. Let us just picture a scene. When the Lord Jesus came down to earth, Satan knew his errand. He knew that the Lord Jesus was the Son of God, and when he saw him an infant in the manger, he thought if he could kill him and get Him in the bonds of death what a fine thing it would be! So he stirred up the spirit of Herod to slay him; but Herod missed his mark. And many a time did Satan strive to put the personal existence of Christ in danger, so that he might get Christ to die. Poor fool as he was, he did not know that when Christ died he would bruise the devil's head. Once, you remember, when Christ was in the synagogue, the devil stirred up the people, and made them angry; and he thought, "Oh! what a glorious thing it would be if I could kill this man; then there would be an end of him, And I should reign supreme for ever." So he got the people to take him to the brow of the hill, and he gloated over the thought that now surely he would be cast down headlong. But Christ escaped. He tried to starve him, he tried to drown him; he was in the desert without food, and he was on the sea in a storm; but there was no starving or drowning him, and Satan no doubt panted for his blood and longed that he should die. At last the day arrived; it was telegraphed to the court of hell that at last Christ would die. They rung their bells with hellish mirth and joy. "He will die now," said he, "Judas has taken the thirty pieces of silver. Let those Scribes and Pharisees get him, they will no more let him go than the spider will a poor unfortunate fly. He is safe enough now." And the devil laughed for very glee, when he saw the Saviour stand before Pilate's bar. And when it was said, "Let him be crucified," then his joy scarce knew bounds, except that bound which his own misery must ever set to it. As far as he could he revelled in what was to him a delightful thought, that the Lord of glory was about to die. In death, as Christ was seen of angels, he was seen of devils too; and that dreary march from Pilate's palace to the cross was one which devils saw with extraordinary interest. And when they saw him on the cross, there stood the exulting fiend, smiling to himself. "Ah! I have the King of Glory now in my dominions, I have the power of death, and I have the power over the Lord Jesus." He exerted that power, till the Lord Jesus had to cry out in bitter anguish, "My God, my God, Why hast thou forsaken me?" But ah! how short-lived was hellish victory! How brief was the Satanic triumph! He died, and "It is finished!" shook the gates of hell. Down from the cross the conqueror leaped, pursued the fiend with thunder-bolts of wrath; swift to the shades of hell the fiend did fly, and swift descending went the conqueror after him; and we may conceive him exclaiming
Though under hell's profoundest wave thou div'st,
To find a sheltering grave."
And seize him he didchained him to his chariot wheel; dragged him up the steps of glory; angels shouting all the while, "He hath led captivity captive, and received gifts for men." Now, devil, thou saidst thou wouldst overcome me, when I came to die. Satan I defy thee, and laugh thee to scorn! My Master overcame thee, and I shall overcome thee yet. You say you will overcome the saint, do you? You could not overcome the saint's Master, and you will not overcome him. You once thought you had conquered Jesus: you were bitterly deceived. Ah! Satan, thou mayest think thou shalt overcome the little faith and the faint heart; but thou art wondrously mistakenfor we shall assuredly tread Satan under our feet shortly; and even in our last extremity, with fearful odds against us, we shall be "more than conquerors through him that loved us."
You see that thus, my brethren, Christ's death has taken away from Satan the advantage which he has over the saint in the hour of death; so that we may joyfully descend the shelving banks of Jordan, or may even, if God calls us to a sudden death, glide from its abrupt cliffs, for Christ is with us, and to die is gain.
II. But now, I want just a moment or two, whilst I try to show you that not only has Christ by his death taken away the devil's power in death; but HE HAS TAKEN AWAY THE DEVIL'S POWER EVERYWHERE ELSE OVER A CHRISTIAN. "He hath destroyed," or overcome, "him that had the power of death, that is, the devil."
Death was the devil's chief intrenchment: Christ bearded the lion in his den, and fought him in his own territory; and when he took death from him and dismantled that once impregnable fortress, he took away from him not only that, but every other advantage that he had over the saint. And now Satan is a conquered foe, not only in the hour of death, but in every other hour and in every other place. He is an enemy, both cruel and mighty, but he is a foe who quakes and quails when a Christian gets into the lists with him; for he knows that though the fight may waver for a little while in the scale, the balance of victory must fall on the side of the saint, because Christ by his death destroyed the devil's power.
Satan, my brethren, may to-morrow get much power over you, by tempting you to indulge in the lusts of the flesh, or in the pride of life; he may come to you and say, "Do such-and-such a thing that would be dishonest, and I will make you rich; indulge in such-and-such a pleasure, and I will make you happy. come," saith Satan, "yield to my blandishments; I will give you wine to quaff that shall be richer than ever came from the wine-vats of Holy Scripture; I will give you bread to eat that you know not of. Eat thou the tempting fruit; it is sweet; it will make thee like a god.". "Ah!" saith the Christian, "but Satan, my Master died when he had to do with thee, and therefore I will have nothing to do with thee. If thou didst kill my Lord, thou wilt kill me too if thou canst, and therefore away with thee! but inasmuch as thou layest down silver for me, and tellest me I can have it if I do wrong, lo, Satan, I can cover thy silver with gold, and have ten times as much to spare afterwards. Thou sayest I shall get gain if I sin. Nay, but the treasures of Christ are greater riches than all the treasures of Egypt. Why, Satan, if thou wert to bring me a crown, and say, 'There! thou shalt have that if thou wilt sin.' I should say, 'Poor crown! Why, Satan, I have got a better one than that laid up in heaven, I could not sin for that, that is a bribe too paltry," In he brings his bags of gold. and he says, "Now, Christian, sin for them." The Christian says, "Why fiend, that stuff is not worth my looking at. I have an inheritance in a city where the streets are paved with solid gold; and, therefore, what are these poor chinking bits to me? Take them back!" He brings in loveliness, and he tempts us by it. but we say to him, "Why, devil, what art thou at? What is that loveliness to me? Mine eyes have seen the King in his beauty and the land that is very far oft; and by faith I know that I shall go where beauty's self, even in her perfection, is excelledwhere I shall see my Saviour, who is 'the chief among ten thousand, and the altogether lovely.' That is no temptation to me! Christ has died, and I count all these things but dross, that I may win Christ and be found in him." So that you see, even in temptation, the death of Christ has destroyed the devil's power
"You will not yield, will you?" says the devil "You cannot be tempted! Ah! well," says he, "if you cannot be drawn aside, I'll pull you aside. What are you, that you should stand against me? A poor puny man! Why, I have made angels fall, and I am not afraid of you. Come on!" And he puts his foot to our foot, and with his dragon yell he frights the echoes till they dare not reply. He lifts his blazing sword, and thinks to smite us to the ground. You know, my brethren, what the shield is that must catch the blow. It is the shield of faith in Christ that died for us. He hurls his darts, but his darts hurt not, for lo, we catch them also on this all-powerful shield, Christ and his cross. So that, let his insinuations be never so direful, the death of Christ has destroyed the devil's power either to tempt or to destroy. He may be allowed to attempt either the one or the other, but he can be successful in neither. The death of Christ has "destroyed him that had the power of death, that is, the devil."
Some people say they don't believe in a devil. Well, I have only to tell them I don't believe in them because if they knew themselves much they would very soon find a devil. But it is quite possible that they have very little evidence of there being any devil; for you know the devil never wastes his time. He comes up a street, and he sees a man engaged in business, hoarding, covetous, grasping. He has got a widow's house in his throat, he has just swallowed the last acre of a poor orphan's lands. "Oh," says the devil, "drive by, I shall not stop there; he does not need me; he will go to hell easily enough." He goes to the next house: there is a man there, a drunkard. spending his time in riotousness: he marches by, and says, "There's no need for me here; why should I trouble my own dear friends? Why should I meddle with those whom I am sure to have at last? There's no need to tease them." He finds a poor saint upon his knees, exercising but very little power in prayer. "Oh!" says the devil, "I shant have this creature at last; I'll howl at him now." There is a poor sinner just returning from his evil ways and crying, "I have sinned and done evil in thy sight; Lord, have mercy upon me " "Losing a subject," says Satan; "I'll have him; I'm not going to lose my subjects like this." So he worries him. The reason why you don't believe there is a devil, very likely is, that the devil very seldom comes to you because you are so safe that he does not take any trouble to look after you, and you have not seen him, because you are too bad for him to care about, and he says, "Oh no, there's no need for me to waste time to tempt that man, it would be carrying coals to Newcastle to tempt him, for he is as bad as he can be, and therefore let him alone." But when a man lives near to God, or when a man's conscience begins to be aroused, then Satan cries, "To arms! to arms! to arms!" For two good reasons: first, because he wants to worry him, and secondly, because he wants to destroy him. Well, we bless God that though the devil may direct his utmost scorn and craft and malice against the Christian, the Christian is safe behind the rock Christ Jesus, and may rest secure.
And now, in conclusion, suffer a word or two of comfort to the people of God, and a warning to those that know him not.
O children of God! death hath lost its sting, because the devil's power over it is destroyed. Then cease to fear dying. Thou knowest what death is: look him in the face, and tell him thou art not afraid of him. Ask grace from God, that by an intimate knowledge and a firm belief of thy Master's death, thou mayest be strengthened for that dread hour. And mark me, if thou so livest, thou mayest be able to think of death with pleasure, and to welcome it when it comes with intense delight. It is sweet to die: to lie upon the breast of Christ, and have one's soul kissed out of one's body by the lips of divine affection. And you that have lost friends, or that may be bereaved, sorrow not as those that are without hope; for remember the power of the devil is taken away. What a sweet thought the death of Christ brings us concerning those who are departed! They are gone, my brethren; but do you know how far they have gone? The distance between the glorified spirits in heaven and the militant saints on earth seems great; but it is not so. We are not far from home.
We scarce can say 'tis gone,
Before the ransomed spirit takes
Its station near the throne."
We measure distance by time. We are apt to say that a certain place is so many hours from us. If it is a hundred miles off and there is no railroad we think it a long way; if there is a railway, we think we can be there in no time, But how near must we say heaven is? For it is just one sigh and we get there. Why, my brethren, our departed friends are only in the upper room, as it were, of the same house; they have not gone far off; they are up stairs, and we are down below.Yea, more as the poet says,
This solemn moment fly,
And we are to the margin come,
And soon expect to die."
And then he describes them.
There they are, on the other side the banks. Here is another part, deep in the stream. Here are we on the margin, just about to step down. They are all one army; there is not one gap, right down from Abel to the one that is now departing; and they never shall be but one, till the pearly gates are shut for ever, and they are all secure.
With those that went before,
And greet the blood-besprinkled bands
Upon the eternal shore."
And now I close by saying this word to the sinner O thou that knowest not God, thou that believest not in Christ, death is to thee a horrible thing. I need not tell thee that; for thine own conscience tells it to thee. Why, man, thou mayest laugh sometimes at religion; but in thine own solitary moments it is no laughing thing. The greatest brags in the world are always the greatest cowards. If I hear a man saying, "Oh, I am not afraid of dying, I don't care about your religion," he does not deceive me; I know all about that. He says that to cover up his fears, when he is alone of a night. You should see how white his cheek is if a leaf falls against the window When there is lightning in the air you should look at him. "Oh that flash" he says. Or if he is a strong man perhaps he does not say a word, but he feels in such horror all the time the storm is on. Not like the Christian man: not like the man who has courage. Why, I love the lightnings; God's thunder is my delight. I never feel so well as when there is a tremendous thunder and lightning storm. Then I feel as if I could mount up, and my whole heart sings. I love then to sing
My Father and my love,
He shall send down his heavenly powers
To carry me above.
Yes, you are afraid of dying I know; and what I shall say to you is this _ You have good need to be afraid of dying, and you have good need to be afraid of dying now. Because you have escaped many times you think you shall never die. Suppose we should take a man and tie him to that pillar, and a good marksman should take bow and arrows and shoot at him. Well, one arrow might glance and strike some one that sits at the right, and another might glance and strike some one that is to the left; one might go above his head, and another beneath his feet, but you cannot suppose that man would laugh and mock, when the arrows were flying about his ears, and if he was quite certain that it only wanted the marksman to take an aim at him, and he would be shot, then, my friends, you cannot conceive how he would tell you what terror he would experience. But certainly there would be no laughter. He would not say, "Oh! I shall not die, see, the man has been shooting all these others." No, the risk of dying would be enough to steady him and the thought that that marksman had an eye so true and a hand so steady that he had but to pull the string, and the arrow would certainly reach his heart, would be enough at least to sober him, and keep him always watchful; for in a moment, when he thought not that arrow might fly. Now, that is you to-day, God puts the arrow to the string: your neighbor is dead on the right, and another on the left; the arrow will come to you soon, it might have come before, if God willed it. Oh, mock not at death, and despise not eternity, but begin to think whether you are prepared for death, lest death should come and find you wanting. And remember, death will make no delays for you. You have postponed the time of thought: death will not be postponed to suit you, but when you die, there will be no hour allowed for you in which then to turn to God. Death comes with its first blow; damnation comes afterwards, without the hope of reprieve. "He that believeth and is immersed shall be saved; he that believeth not shall be damned." Thus do we preach the Gospel of God unto you as God would have us. "Go ye into all the world and preach the Gospel to every creature." "Go ye and teach all nations, immersing them in the name of the Father, of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost." Behold, I tell you, faith in Jesus is the soul's only escape; profession of that in immersion is God's own way of professing faith before men. The Lord help you to obey him in the two great gospel commandments, for Jesus' sake. Amen.