Victory Over Death and the Grave Through Jesus. *
O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory? The sting of death is sin: and the strength of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. - 1 Corinthians xv:55-57.
When the soldier, amid the roar of cannon and the clangor of arms, fixes his thoughts on ultimate victory over his foes, he is inspired with animation and courage. He is content to submit to present inconvenience, privation and labor for the sake of future triumph. This triumph he enjoys in anticipation while on the field of battle, expecting to enjoy it in reality when the toils of warfare are over. There is an analogy between the soldier's life and the life of the Christian. Indeed, the Christian is represented as a soldier in the army of Immanuel, the Captain of salvation, and is exhorted in his martial character to endure hardness as a good soldier of Jesus Christ. To him, also, is presented the prospect of overcoming
* Substance of a Sermon preached May 30th, 1858, on occasion of the death of Mrs. V. J. Jordan, consort of E. L. Jordan, Esq., Murfreesboro', Tenn.
at last, and this prospect cheers his heart, enlivens his spirits, and banishes his fears. All the soldiers of the cross will eventually adopt the language of the text: "Thanks be to God, who giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ." This victory implies, no doubt, the vanquishment of every enemy; but in the words before us two enemies are specified - death and the grave. Perhaps I ought to say one enemy - death - for the grave is only the prison-house in which death shuts up his victims. And from this chapter we learn that death is the last enemy.
I. LET US CONTEMPLATE DEATH AND THE GRAVE.
It has been the custom of civilized and of savage man to personify death. Familiar with this personification, we, without expecting our meaning to be misunderstood, at one time place in the hands of death a dart, at another, we arm him with a scythe; again we fill his quiver with arrows, representing him as doing execution among mortals accordingly. In the text, death is spoken of in connection with a sting. "O death, where is thy sting?" We are told in what this sting consists - sin. The sting of death is sin. The expression is truly emphatic. The idea is not simply that sin furnishes death with a sting, but that it is itself the sting. We are elsewhere informed that death is the wages of sin - that by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men. Sin not only introduced death into the world, but everything
terrible in death is ascribable to sin. But why is it that sin possesses such power, the power of supplying death with a sting infinitely more to be dreaded than that of the venomous adder? We are told that the strength of sin is the law. The law gives sin its power - its strength. The law invests sin with the prerogative to condemn. The reason is obvious. Where there is no law there is no transgression; for sin is a transgression of the law. The existence of sin, therefore, implies the previous existence of law. I presume the term law is, in the text, used in a very comprehensive sense, and includes our obligations to God, founded on the relatiori we, as creatures, sustain to him. It may be called the great law of creation, which distinctly recognizes it as the duty of man to love God with all his heart, soul, mind, and strength. The violation of this law entails condemnation, ruin and misery on the transgressor.
The holiness, the spirituality and the penalty of God's law may be considered as combining to give strength to sin.
1. Its holiness. - Such is the purity of this law that it enjoins whatever is right, and prohibits whatever is wrong. It partakes of the nature of its Author. As he is holy and just, so is his law. As he is of purer eyes than to behold iniquity, his law disallows every species of evil. The holiness of the law results necessarily from the holiness of the Lawgiver. The strength of sin is in proportion to the holiness of the law. As
the law is stamped with immaculate purity, the strength of sin must be unspeakably great.
2. Its Spirituality. - The law is spiritual. Its requisitions extend farther than to external performances - even to the heart. Human law comprehends within its operation, actions and words. Nothing else is tangible. The heart may cherish the most rancorous malice, and entertain the most murderous purposes, but if the malice and purposes are not developed in words and acts, human law takes no cognizance; for it can not. It is the province of divine law to inspect motives from which words and actions proceed. It takes cognizance of intentions and feelings which lead to developments in conduct, and even if they lead to no developments. Numerous as may be the sins of the life, doubtless the sins of the heart are, in the divine estimation, far more numerous. It was the spirituality of the law which specially convinced Saul of Tarsus of sin; "I had not known sin," says he, "except the law had said, 'Thou shalt not covet.'" In this case the spirituality of the law gave strength to sin.
3. Its Penalty. There can be no law without a penalty. Death is the penalty of God's law. That death is the wages of sin, is an axiom in the administration of. the divine government. And death, in its threefold sense - temporal, separating the soul and body - spiritual, separating the soul from God - eternal, another name for all the miseries of hell - is included in the penalty of the law. Think not, oh man, that the death
of the body exhausts the penalty of the law. Far from it. Angels, who have no bodies, sinned, and this penalty fell with its mountain-weight upon them, and sank them to hell. Is it not true that the penalty of the law, in connection with its holiness and spirituality, gives strength to sin? What fearful topics engage our attention! Here is the law giving strength to sin, and immediately upon the reception of this strength, sin gives to death a sting, and death at once employs it, and infuses the poison of mortality into Adam's apostate children, bringing them down to the darkness of the sepulcher, and commanding the grave to rejoice in its victory over them. Inspiration terms death an enemy, and who has not felt the truth of the declaration? It is his province to transmit poor mortals from time to eternity. At his approach the old and the young fall like the withered leaves of autumn; nor does helpless infancy escape the stroke of his arm. There is no union which he does not dissolve - no tie he does not sever. What alliance is so striking a symbol of the connection between Christ and the Church as the conjugal union? And before us we see how death has sundered this union. He is the great separator. He not only separates the dearest friends and kindred, but disunites, if I may so say, man from himself; sunders the mortal from the immortal part, sending the spirit into eternity, and the body into the grave.
Yes, as soon as death has performed his work
the grave opens its devouring jaws to receive its prey. It has the victory over the pale multitudes inhabiting its dark empire. How numberless the millions in its custody! How complete its triumph - how perfect its victory! What appalling silence reigns throughout its vast domain! Not a voice is heard! Not a whisper is uttered! There is not the feeblest protest against the dominion of the grave, on the part of those under that dominion - a fact fully proving the completeness of the grave's triumph. Effectually to humiliate and disgrace the dead, the grave permits crawling worms to devour them. And these worms make no discrimination. They luxuriate, in the flesh of the most exalted monarch, and in that of the most abject beggar. They distinguish not between the bodies of philosophers and peasants, the rich and the poor, the wise and the ignorant, the bond and the free. They claim as their heritage all that is mortal of man. Alas! not only has the grave the victory over the dead, but worms have it also. Now, the questions arise: Can death be deprived of its sting? Can the grave be dispossessed of its occupants? Is there a propriety in the inquiries of the text, O death, where is thy sting? oh grave, where is thy victory? This leads us to consider,
II. THAT GOD GIVES HIS PEOPLE THE VICTORY.
But thanks be to God who giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ, As the
sting of death is sin, 'tis manifest that a removal of sin is the extraction of the sting of death. But as the law violated by transgressors, gives sin its strength, enabling it to furnish death with a sting, and as the law can not relax its demands, it follows that sin can not be removed, unless the claims of the law can be satisfied. If these claims can be met, then sin can be pardoned, and the sting of death can be extracted. I am happy to announce the joyful tidings, that in the fulness of time God sent forth his Son, made of a woman, made under the law to redeem them that were under the law, that we might receive the adoption of sons. Jesus is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. He came to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself. He came to make atonement. To accomplish this great work the preceptive obedience of his life, and the penal agonies of his death were indispensable. The obedience he rendered - the agonies he endured. He was set forth as a propitiation that God might be just and the justifier of him that believeth in Jesus. Mercy, in strictest harmony with justice, reigns in the salvation of sinners through the blood of the cross. And the law, which gives strength to sin, is so effectually magnified that it makes no protest against, but cordially consents to the pardon of transgressors through the atoning sacrifice of Calvary.
"O, the sweet wonders of the cross,
Where God, the Savior, loved and died."
Faith in Christ is "faith in his blood;" that is, faith which relies on the atonement made by his blood; for "it is the blood which maketh atonement for the soul." Whenever faith embraces the atoning Mediator, guilt is canceled - sin is pardoned. "To him give all the prophets witness, that through his name, whosoever believeth in him shall receive remission of sins." The believer is justified. He has passed from a state of condemnation to a state of acceptance with God. In the economy of redemption, a change of state and a change of heart, though not identical, are inseparable. I mean to say that regeneration as certainly changes the heart as justification changes the state. The germ of holiness, deposited in the soul in the regenerating process, is developed in sanctification.
Now, when the guilt of sin is removed by the blood of atonement, its power broken in regeneration, and its pollution taken away by the sanctifying agency of the Holy Spirit, death loses its sting. I do not mean that Christians are exempt from death, but that death can do them no injury. They die a natural death; but this is so small a matter, as compared with eternal death, that the Savior seems scarcely to notice it. Hence he says, "If a man keep my saying he shall never see death," literally, shall not see death forever. Again, "Whosoever liveth and believeth in me shall never die" - literally shall not die forever. Such a person may die physically, but, in
the true and fearful import of the term, death shall never die - shall never endure the death which is perpetuated through endless ages. Salvation from sin is salvation from the horrors of eternal death. If saved from this death, the death of the body is a mere circumstance, poetically and scripturally defined as falling asleep. There is no violent disruption, but a gentle severance of the ties binding the soul and body together. Death, in this sense, does the believer no harm. Its sting is gone, so entirely taken away, the expiring saint can inquire in a tone of triumph, O death, where is thy sting? Where? where? And echo repeats, Where?
Moreover, the grave is only the temporary dwelling-place of the dead. Its victory will be taken away. Thanks be to God who giveth us the victory. The victory is taken from the grave, and given to the saints. Jesus died and rose again. His resurrection procures that of his followers. He is the resurrection and the life. Glorious will be the day when his voice shall be heard in the mansions of the dead. How instantly will the dust of the redeemed be reanimated! How bright and beautiful the forms emerging from the ruins of the tomb! Corruption will put on incorruption, mortality will put on immortality, and death will be swallowed up in victory. Death itself will die, and the grave will be tenantless. Then will the myriad voices of the saints, like the sound of many waters, and
of mighty thunderings, he heard, saying, Thanks be to God who giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ!
Among those voices will he heard, I doubt not, the voice of our departed sister, to whom we now pay our last tribute of respect and affection. The body which lies motionless before us to-day will then rise up in the image of the Redeemer. We shall see her again, not emaciated by disease, nor tortured with pain, but glowing in the freshness of immortal youth, and exulting in the fullness of celestial joy. She lived by faith on the Son of God. She died in the arms of his love. She will rise in his likeness, and reign in heaven, Beloved sister, farewell!
"Thou art gone to the grave, but we will not deplore thee;
Since God was thy Ransom, thy Guardian, thy Guide;
He gave thee, he took thee, and he will restore thee;
And death has no sting, since the Savior hath died."
[From J. M. Pendleton, Short Sermons on Important Subjects, 1859. This book is from Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary Library, Wake Forest, NC via ILL through Boone County Public Library, Burlington, KY. This sermon was first published in the Tennessee Baptist on June 26, 1858. Scanned and formatted by Jim Duvall.]
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