Page images
PDF
EPUB

their order, hoping that I shall enjoy your devout attention, and with an humble prayer that the blessings of our Father may rest on the exercise in which I invite you to engage.

The Awaking itself comes first to be considered. And, I dare say, you have all gone before me in the statement that this is nothing else but the Resurrection of the body. Some eminent writers, it is true, have expressed a doubt whether righteous men of old were acquainted with this doctrine, and have even not been sure that the immortality of the soul was an article comprehended in their religious creed. We are not meaning to claim for the saints under the earlier economy the same distinctness of information at which a Christian may arrive: for the gospel, we know, has placed in a blaze of light truths which lay previously in comparative darkness. While this is acknowledged, we are far from assenting to the picture which has been drawn of their spiritual ignorance. From many expressions which occur in the books they have left, we can see that the sacred penmen, from Moses to Malachi, believed the soul to be an indistructible essence, and had an impression that their material part was not to lie for ever in the tomb. How far they were indebted for their views to immediate revelation, or to the traditions which had floated down from a still remoter ancestry, we will not take upon us to say, nor is it of importance to determine. In whatever way they gained the knowledge, it is certain they possessed it, and clung to it as a treasure too inestimable to part with; too rare and too precious to be flung heedlessly aside.

That the sweet singer of Israel had the hope of which we speak, no reader of his blessed odes will have any difficulty in concluding; and that the expressions which often fall from him cannot be interpreted on a different principle, all who have weighed their import will be equally ready to own. The text, as I have just hinted, is an instance in point. The sleep from which David here describes himself as waking,

[ocr errors]

is evidently no other than the long sleep of the grave; and his persuasion clearly is, that though he must close his eyes in death, and be carried senseless and unconscious to the house appointed for all living, he shall one day arise from his secluded dormitory, and start up, as it were refreshed, from the narrow bed in which he may repose. Deep as may be his slumbers, he is convinced they shall be broken: protracted as may be the night that must darken around him, he has the animating assurance that the morn shall at length dawn.

This opinion derives confirmation from the figures under which death and the resurrection are represented in Scripture. When one is no more, he is said to be asleep, and the grave is the place in which he is left to take his rest ; and when it is intimated that his flesh or material frame shall be quickened, the phrase is that which the Psalmist has often employed. “Many that sleep in the dust shall awake," are

” the words of Daniel towards the close of his prophecies : in several parts of the apostolical writings the same metaphor occurs: and, to aduce no other passage, our Lord himself gave countenance and sanctity to this mode of expression, when on a memorable occasion he was heard to say, our friend Lazarus sleepeth, but I

go
that I

may

awake him out of sleep." We only give, then, a Scriptural sense to the clause when we explain it in the manner we have done; when we consider the Son of Jesse as looking forward to the triumph which he was ultimately to gain over the power of the last enemy. In saying it is to the resurrection of the body he alludes, we advance, you will perceive, no unauthorized proposition.

Though the analogy is not to be pushed to an undue lengih, we may just stop to observe, that there is considerable resemblance between the two things which the sacred writers bring frequently together. Sleep is a brief abstraction from the world, and he whom it overcomes is as though he were not; insensible to what is passing, unconcerned and

a

still: So is it in death; tbe buried man is done with the events of time, bis senses are locked up, his motions are suspended, he is not affected by the changes that happen in bis neighbourhood, he knows not whether a friend or an enemy be at bis side.-In sleep the son of labour forgets his fatigue, and the pained and distressed person has a temporary relief from the uneasiness and anguish to which he may have long been a victim: So is it in death; the inmates of the sepulcbre bave no toil to encounter, no suffering to agonize them; they carry not the burdens which are imposed on the living: from sickness and oppression they enjoy an exemption.-Sleep does not last beyond a stated period, and when we have had a fitting portion of it, we rise from our beds with invigorated frames, with new life and new energy: So is it in death; as our Bibles assure us there is an hour approaching when the graves shall be opened, and they who repose in them aroused from their slumbers, and brought forth with increased and undecaying strength. In short, the one is an image of the other; and in our common experience we have an emblem of our dissolution, and an intimation that though we must be consigned to the dust from which we were taken, we shall not remain for ever in the bosom of the earth.

To guard against mistake on a subject so important, it may be proper to remind you, that it is only to the body this description can apply. The soul does not expire when its clayey tabernacle has fallen ; nor undergo, as some have fancied, a suspension of its consciousness. In its disembodied state, it is still a living spirit, capable of bliss or misery, with memory and foresight. To hold the contrary tenet—to conclude with the materialist, that at the stroke of dissolution every part of us dies, and that till the peal of the last trumpet, when we shall be raised from the sepulchre, our minds are in the same torpor which has benumbed our visible system; not to mention the metaphysical absurdities which it involves, is to set the plainest declarations of holy writ at defiance. If we are willing to abide by the testimony of this record, we shall believe that the spirit continues to live after the fabric in which it dwelt has mouldered into ruins; and that it receives a foretaste of the recompense which awaits it, when it shall be re-inshrined in the tenement from which it may have been for centuries dislodged. The souls of the just, when absent from the body, are present with the Lord, present with him as active and delighted intelligencies, while the wicked are kept till the day of judgment, wretched and doleful, in remorse and in terror. The first class, in the beautiful language of the Apocalypse, “ rest from their labours," far from evil, free from sin : the second are gone down to the prison of divine justice, with the sure and agonizing knowledge that they are irrecoverably lost.

The Awaking having been ascertained, let us now inquire, in the Second place, into the Likeness which David entertained the hope of wearing. In whose image did he expect to appear in the morn of the resurrection ? Calling to our aid the disclosures of the New Testament, we may presume that it was Immanuel whom he addressed on this occasion, and to whom he indulged the anticipation of being one day conformed: and after revolving the question calmly, I am prepared to avow that I see nothing improbable in this view of the matter. To

my

mind it does appear a likely supposition, that the sacred writer was enabled by the Spirit who moved him, to look to the consummation of all things, and foresee his resemblance to the Messiah. When I turn to the Psalm immediately preceeding, I find a distinct reference to the burial of Jesus; and to the speed with which he should break free from the prison of death: and if David could thus predict the humiliation of his Lord, and the great and decisive victory by which his interment should be followed, is there aught unreasonable in believing, that the future was still farther opened to him, and that he was favoured with a revelation of what should be transacted at the close of time? Might he not be permitted to see, that when the present cycle of providence had completed its round, the Saviour should descend in his glorified humanity, to gather into One the vast company of his elect? and who that pores on his elevating strains will allege, that no glimpse was ever afforded bim of the loveliness with which the faithful are to be hereafter adorned ? For my own part, I should be loath to resign the impression, that the triumph of the redeemed was made to pass before him; and that he was blessed with a vision of the glory which should crown him, when he was to stand with the true Israel, by the side of their great Prince.

But in what respects are David and his fellow-saints to be assimilated to their risen and illustrious Head ? The likeness, we reply, is to be both bodily and mental. When you look at the external structure of man, the remark is drawn from you, that he is wonderfully made. His body is suited to his present station in the universe, and is endowed with properties, which not to admire were a sin. Though this must be granted, who will deny that it is susceptible of vast and decided improvement ? You must all have observed that labour soon exhausts it; that it needs perpetually to be repaired by sustenance and sleep; that its appetites connect us with the beasts which perish, and are often the means of hurrying us into the commission of evil; that it is easily injured; that it is beset with diseases; that in the course of a few years it loses its freshness and its symmetry; and that after being the seat of much pain, and bending under decrepitude, it is bereft of the vital principle, and hastens rapidly to decay. Contemplate the loveliest or the most manly form, and

you will have cause to exclaim, How exquisite the workmanship! But, ah! you must also be conscious that it ill becomes the possessor to assume a high look, to be vain or contemptuous, seeing that he or she is an infirm and sinful

« PreviousContinue »