The Soul After Death

John Calvin published a tract in 1534. He was twenty-five years old. With the exception of his Commentary on Stoic philosopher Seneca’s exhortation to Emperor Nero known as On Mercy, published in 1532, this was the earliest of Calvin’s writings, and two years earlier than the Institutes, the first known edition of which appeared in 1536. Called Psychopannychia, derived from Greek words which signify “the sleep of the soul,” the tract disproved the contention of the Anabaptists that the soul of man sleeps between physical death and the Judgment. Calvin wrote,

…Our controversy, then, relapses to The Human Soul. Some, while admitting it to have a real existence, imagine that it sleeps in a state of insensibility from Death to The Judgment-day, when it will awake from its sleep; while others will sooner admit anything than its real existence, maintaining that it is merely a vital power which is derived from arterial spirit on the action of the lungs, and being unable to exist without body, perishes along with the body, and vanishes away and becomes evanescent till the period when the whole man shall be raised again.

We, on the other hand, maintain both that [human soul] is a substance, and after the death of the body truly lives, being endowed both with sense and understanding.

Though the tract is a tour-de-force rebuttal of this doctrinal error, that is not what attracted my attention. It was the detailed exposition of our state between death and the Judgment. I had never read such a clear, complete, and consoling description. What is amusing is that Calvin, in accommodation to his adversaries, references apocryphal texts, the Book of Revelation, and quotations from trusted New Testament theologians.

The following are excerpts from Calvin’s arguments which present the condition of the human soul after death. We’ve reordered portions to clarify the soul’s condition since Calvin intended a different goal, rebutting Anabaptist error. Even though Calvin assiduously supports all his claims with scripture, were we to quote all but his summary statements, we would present not a summary but the arguments in full. Please refer to the text for these arguments.

Those who place their trust in Christ’s finished work are at peace, Calvin says, quoting the scriptures,

“My people will walk in the beauty of peace, and in the tents of trust, and in rich rest.” (Isaiah 32:18,) “O Lord, you will give us peace: for you have performed all our works for us.” (Isaiah 26:12,)

Believers have this PEACE on receiving the gospel, when they see that God, whom they dreaded as their Judge, has become their Father; themselves, instead of children of wrath, children of grace; and the bowels of the divine mercy poured out toward them, so that now they expect from God nothing but goodness and mildness.

But since human life on earth is a warfare, (Job 7:1,) those who feel both the stings of sin and the remains of the flesh, must feel depression in the world, though with consolation in God – such consolation, however, as does not leave the mind perfectly calm and undisturbed. But when they shall be divested of flesh and the desires of the flesh, (which, like domestic enemies, break their peace,) then at length will they rest and recline with God: For thus speaks the Prophet,

“The just perish, and no man lay it to heart; and men of mercy are gathered: for the just is gathered from the face of wickedness. Let peace come, let him who has walked under his direction rest in his bed.” (Isaiah 57:1-2)

Does he not call those to peace who had been the sons of peace? Still, as their peace was with God, and they had war in the world, he calls them to a higher degree of peace.

Now, here on earth, we war with our corrupt “mass of sin,”

…Our confession, which is sufficiently established, is this,

“In Adam all die, but in Christ are made alive.” (1 Corinthians 15:22.)

These things are splendidly and magnificently handled by Paul. “If the Spirit of Christ dwell in us, the body is dead because of sin, but the Spirit is life because of righteousness” (Romans 8:10.)  He no doubt calls the body the mass of sin, which resides in man from the native property of the flesh, and the spirit the part of man spiritually regenerated. Wherefore, when a little before he deplored his wretchedness because of the remains of sin adhering to him, (Romans 7:24) he did not desire to be taken away altogether, or to be nothing, in order that he might escape from that misery, but to be freed from the body of death, i.e., that the mass of sin in him might die, that the spirit, being purged, and, as it were, freed from dregs, he might have peace with God through this very circumstance; declaring, that his better part was held captive by bodily chains and would be freed by death.

I wish we could with true faith perceive of what nature the kingdom of God is which exists in believers, even while they are in this life. For it would at the same time be easy to understand that eternal life is begun. He who cannot deceive promised thus,

“Whoso hears my words has eternal life, and does not come into condemnation, but has passed from death unto life.” (John 5:24.)

Speaking of Noah’s, Abraham’s, Jacob’s, Job’s, and Moses’s reaction to death, Calvin says,

…All, as far as we can see, embrace death with a ready mind. The words in which the saints answer the call of the Lord uniformly are, “Here I am, Lord!”

There must, therefore, be something which compels Christ and his followers to [shun and deplore death as something horrid and detestable.] There is no doubt that Christ, when he offered himself to suffer in our stead, had to contend with the power of the devil, with the torments of hell, and the pains of death. All these things were to be done in our nature, that they might lose the right which they had in us.

In this contest, therefore, when He was satisfying the rigor and severity of the Divine justice, when he was engaged with hell, death, and the devil, he entreated the Father not to abandon him in such straits, not to give him over to the power of death, asking nothing more of the Father than that our weakness, which he bore in his own body, might be freed from the power of the devil and of death.

The faith on which we now lean is that the penalty of sin committed in our nature, and which was to be paid in the same nature in order to satisfy the Divine justice, was paid and discharged in the flesh of Christ, which was ours. Christ, therefore, does not [deplore] death, but that grievous sense of the severity of God with which, on our account, he was to be seized by death.

Would you know from what feeling his utterance proceeded? I cannot express it better than he himself did, in another form, when he exclaimed, “Father, Father, why have you forsaken me?”

Then, discoursing on death’s sting blunted, Calvin says,

…Again, when he elsewhere says, that “the sting of death was sin,” (1 Corinthians 15:56,) how can death longer sting us, when its sting has been blunted, nay, destroyed? The whole scope of several chapters in the Epistle to the Romans is to make it manifest that sin is completely abolished so as no longer to have dominion over believers.

…The Apostle confidently declares, (Romans 8:1,) that “there is now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit.” …Where is grace, if death still reigns among the elect of God? Sin, as the Apostle says, indeed reigned unto death, but grace reigns unto eternal life, and, overcoming sin, leaves no place for death. Therefore, as death reigned on entering by Adam, so now life reigns by Jesus Christ. And we know that:

“Christ, being raised from the dead, dies no more: death shall no longer have dominion over him: For in that he died, he died unto sin once; but in that he lives, he lives unto God.” (Romans 6:9.)

…Man, if he had not fallen, would have been immortal. What he began to be, he once was not; and what he is by punishment, he is not by nature. Then the Apostle exclaims that sin is absorbed by grace, so that it can no longer have any power over the elect of God; and hence we conclude that the elect now are such as Adam was before his sin; and as he was created inexterminable, so now have those become who have been renewed by Christ to a better nature. There is nothing at variance with this in the Apostle’s declaration,

When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written: “Death is swallowed up in victory.” (1 Corinthians 15:54.)

…That shall be fulfilled in the body which has now been begun in the soul; or rather, that which has only been begun in the soul will be fulfilled both in the soul and the body: for this common death which we all undergo, as it were by a common necessity of nature, is rather to the elect a kind of passage to the highest degree of immortality, than either an evil or a punishment, and, as Augustine says, (De Discrimine Vitae Human. et Brut., c. 43,) is nothing else than the falling off of the flesh [(Col. 2:9-14)], which does not consume the things connected with it, but divides them, seeing it restores each to its original.

Speaking of our soul’s assurance in death, Calvin says,

…He promises us two things – Eternal life, and the Resurrection…Another expression of Christ is still more decisive. He says,

“I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes on me shall live though he were dead. And whoso lives and believes in me shall not die forever.” (John 11:25, 26.)

It will not do to say, that those who are raised do not die for ever. Our Lord meant not only this, but that it is impossible they can ever die. This meaning is better expressed by the Greek words equivalent in Latin to in seculum: for when we say that a thing will not be in seculum, we affirm that it will never be at all. Thus, in another passage, “Whoso will keep my word shall not see death forever.” (John 8:51.) This invincibly proves, that he who will keep the word of the Lord shall not see death… This is our belief, this our expectation.

And from an earthly viewpoint, Calvin quotes Paul,

…“We know that if the earthly house of this tabernacle were dissolved, we have a building of God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. For in this we groan, desiring to be clothed upon with our house which is from heaven; if [indeed] being clothed we shall not be found naked. For we who are in this tabernacle do groan being burdened, not because we wish to be unclothed, but clothed upon, that mortality may be swallowed up of life.” (2 Corinthians 5:1-4.)

A little afterwards he says,

“Therefore we are always of good courage, and know that while we are at home in the body we are absent from the Lord; (for we walk by faith, not by sight;) we are confident, and would rather be absent from the body and present with the Lord.” (2 Corinthians 5:6-8)

…The simple and obvious meaning of the Apostle is, We desire indeed to depart from this prison of the body, but not to wander uncertain without a home: There is a better home which the Lord has prepared for us; clothed with it, we shall not be found naked. Christ is our clothing, and our armor is that which the Apostle puts upon us. (Ephesians 6:11.) And it is written, (Psalm 45:13,) “The king will admire the beauty of his spouse, who will be richly provided with gifts, and all glorious within.” In [short], the Lord has put a seal upon his own people, whom he will acknowledge both at death and at the resurrection. (Revelation 7)

…It is, that both in the body and out of the body we labor to please the Lord; and that we shall perceive the presence of God when we shall be separated from this body – that we will no longer walk by faith but by sight, since the load of clay by which we are pressed down, acts as a kind of wall of partition, keeping us far away from God.

…In regard even to the present life, it is said of the righteous, “They shall walk, O Lord, in the light of thy countenance,” (Psalm 88) and again, “The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are the children of God,” (Romans 8:16.)

Reflecting on our soul’s state after death, Calvin says,

…We are better taught by the Sacred Writings. The body, which decays, weighs down the soul, and confining it within an earthly habitation, greatly limits its perceptions. If the body is the prison of the soul, if the earthly habitation is a kind of fetters, what is the state of the soul when set free from this prison, when loosed from these fetters? Is it not restored to itself, and as it were made complete, so that we may truly say, that all which it gains is so much lost to the body?

…When we put off the load of the body, the war between the spirit and the flesh ceases. In short, the mortification of the flesh is the quickening of the spirit. Then the soul, set free from impurities, is truly spiritual, so as to be in accordance with the will of God, and not subject to the tyranny of the flesh, rebelling against it.

In short, the mortification of the flesh will be the quickening of the spirit: For then the soul, having shaken off all kinds of pollution, is truly spiritual, so that it consents to the will of God, and is no longer subjected to the tyranny of the flesh; thus dwelling in tranquility, with all its thoughts fixed on God.

Then, elaborating on what it will be like in heaven prior to Judgment Day,

…The souls of the martyrs under the altar, who with loud voice cry,

“How long, O Lord, do you not avenge our blood on those who dwell on the earth? And there were given unto them white robes, and it was told them still to rest for a season, until the number of their fellow-servants and their brethren who were to be slain like them should be completed.” (Revelation 6:10-11.)

The souls of the dead cry aloud, and white robes are given unto them!

…These white robes undoubtedly designate the commencement of glory, which the Divine liberality bestows upon martyrs while waiting for the day of judgment.

Having described our rest, Calvin turns to the resurrection of the body sown in corruption and raised better than it died,

…”The first Adam was a living soul, the last Adam a quickening spirit.” (1 Corinthians 15:45.)

His answer here corresponds to the question of those who could not be persuaded of the Resurrection. They objected, How will the dead rise again? With what body will they come? The Apostle, to meet this objection, thus addresses them: If we learn by experience that the seed, which lives, grows, and yields fruit, has previously died, why may not the body after it has died rise again like a seed? And if dry and bare grain, after it has died, produces more abundant increase, by a wondrous virtue which God has implanted in it, why may not the body, by the same divine power, be raised better than it died?

And that you may not wonder at this: How is it that man lives, but just because he was formed a living soul? This soul, however, though for a time it actuates and sustains the bodily mass, does not impart to it immortality or incorruption, and as long even as it exerts its own energy; it is not sufficient by itself, without the auxiliaries of food, drink, sleep, which are the signs of corruption; nor does it maintain it in a constant and uniform state without being subject to various kinds of inclinations.

But when Christ shall have received us into his own glory, not only will the animal body be quickened by the soul but made spiritual in a manner which our mind can neither comprehend nor our tongue express. (See Tertullian and August., Ep. 3, ad Fortunat.)

You see, then, that in the Resurrection we shall be not a different thing, but a different person, (pardon the expression.) These things have been said of the body, to which the soul ministers life under the elements of this world; but when the fashion of this world shall have passed away, participation in the glory of God will exalt it above nature.

Next, Calvin explains the culmination of our journey in the revealed Kingdom of God,

…Our blessedness is always in progress up to that day which shall conclude and terminate all progress, and that thus the glory of the elect, and complete consummation of hope, look forward to that day for their fulfillment. For it is admitted by all, that perfection of blessedness or glory nowhere exists except in perfect union with God.

Here we all tend, here we hasten, here all the Scriptures and the divine promises send us. For that which was once said to Abraham applies to us also, (Genesis 15:1,) “Abraham, I am thy exceeding great reward.” Seeing, then, that the reward appointed for all who have part with Abraham is to possess God and enjoy him, and that, besides and beyond it, it is not lawful to long for any other, there must our eyes be turned when the subject of our expectation is considered.

…That kingdom, to the possession of which we are called, and which is elsewhere denominated “salvation,” and “reward,” and “glory,” is nothing else than that union with God by which they are fully in God, are filled by God, in their turn cleave to God, completely possess God – in short, are “one with God.” For thus, while they are in the fountain of all fullness, they reach the ultimate goal of righteousness, wisdom, and glory, these being the blessings in which the kingdom of glory consists.

For Paul intimates that the kingdom of God is in its highest perfection when “God is all in all.” (1 Corinthians 15:28.) Since on that day, only God will be all in all, and completely fill his believers, it is called, not without reason, “the day of our salvation,” before which our salvation is not perfected in all its parts. For those whom God fills are filled with riches which neither ear can hear, nor eye see, nor tongue tell, nor imagination conceive.

…That day is called “the kingdom of God,” because he will then make adverse powers truly subject, slay Satan by the breath of his mouth, and destroy him by the brightness of his coming, while he himself will wholly dwell and reign in his elect. (1 Corinthians 15:24; 2 Thessalonians 2:8.) God in himself cannot reign otherwise than he reigned from the beginning. Of his majesty there cannot be increase or diminution. But it is called “His kingdom,” because it will be manifested to all.

When we pray that his kingdom may come, do we imagine that previously it [did not] exist? And when will it be? “The kingdom of God is within you.” (Luke 17:21) God, therefore, now reigns in his elect whom he guides by his Spirit. He reigns also in opposition to the devil, sin, and death, when he bids the light, by which error and falsehood are confounded, to shine out of darkness, and when he prohibits the powers of darkness from hurting those who have the mark of the Lamb in their foreheads.

He reigns, I say, even now when we pray that his kingdom may come. He reigns, indeed, while he performs miracles in his servants, and gives the law to Satan. But his kingdom will properly come when it will be completed. And it will be completed when he will plainly manifest the glory of his majesty to his elect for salvation, and to the reprobate for confusion.

And what else is to be said or believed of the elect, whose kingdom and glory it is to be in the glorious kingdom of God, and, as it were, reign with God and glory in him – in short, to be partakers of the Divine glory? This kingdom, though it is said not yet to have come, may yet be in some measure beheld. For those who in a manner have the kingdom of God within them, and reign with God, begin to be in the kingdom of God; the gates of hell cannot prevail against them. They are justified in God, it being said of them,

“In the Lord will all the seed of Israel be justified and praised.” (Isaiah 45:25.)

Drawing upon the Old Testament, Calvin shows how the exodus from Egypt to the establishment of the Jerusalem Temple pictures our journey from salvation to resurrection,

…As Paul, in speaking of the passage of the Israelites across the Red Sea, allegorically represents the drowning of Pharaoh as the mode of deliverance by water, (1 Corinthians 10:1,) so we may be permitted to say that in baptism our Pharaoh is drowned, our old man is crucified, our members are mortified, we are buried with Christ, and removed from the captivity of the devil and the power of death, but removed only into the desert, a land arid and poor, unless the Lord rain manna from heaven, and cause water to gush forth from the rock. For our soul, like that land without water, is in want of all things, till he, by the grace of his Spirit, rain upon it.

We afterwards pass into the land of promise, under the guidance of Joshua the son of Nun, into a land flowing with milk and honey; that is, the grace of God frees us from the body of death, by our Lord Jesus Christ, not without sweat and blood, since the flesh is then most repugnant, and exerts its utmost force in warring against the Spirit. After we take up our residence in the land, we feed abundantly. White robes and rest are given us. But Jerusalem, the capital and seat of the kingdom, has not yet been erected; nor yet does Solomon, the Prince of Peace, hold the scepter and rule overall.

The souls of the saints, therefore, which have escaped the hands of the enemy, are, after death, in peace. They are amply supplied with all things, for it is said of them, “They shall go from abundance to abundance.” But when the heavenly Jerusalem shall have risen up in its glory, and Christ, the true Solomon, the Prince of Peace, shall be seated aloft on his tribunal, the true Israelites will reign with their King.

Or – if you choose to borrow a [similarity] from the affairs of men – we are fighting with the enemy, so long as we have our contest with flesh and blood; we conquer the enemy when we put off the body of sin, and become wholly God’s; we will celebrate our triumph, and enjoy the fruits of victory, when our head shall be raised above death in [glory,] that is, when death shall be swallowed up in victory. This is our aim, this our goal; and of this it has been written,

“I shall be satisfied when I awake with beholding thy glory.” (Psalm 17:15.)

Lastly, Calvin exhorts those who cleave to Christ,

…Brethren, let no man rob you of this faith though all the gates of hell should resist, since you have the assurance of God, who cannot deny his truth! There is not the least obscurity in his language to the Church, while still a pilgrim on the earth:

“You shall no more have the sun to shine by day, nor shall the moon illumine you by her brightness, for the Lord shall be your everlasting light.” (Isaiah 60:19.)

…Let us ever call to mind what the Spirit has taught by the mouth of David, (Psalm 92:12-14) “The just shall flourish like the palm-tree, he shall be multiplied like the cedar on Lebanon. Those who have been planted in the house of the Lord will flourish in the courts of our God, they will still bud forth in their old age, they will be fat and flourishing.”

Be not alarmed because all the powers of nature are thought to fail at the very time when you hear of a budding and flourishing old age. Reflecting within yourselves on these things, let your souls, in unison with David’s, exclaim, (Psalm 103:5,) “O my soul, bless the Lord, who satisfies your mouth with good: your youth shall be renewed like the eagle’s.”

Leave the rest to the Lord, who guards our entrance and our exit from this time forth even for evermore. It is he who sends the early and the latter rain upon his elect. Of him we have been told, “Our God is the God of salvation,” and “to the Lord our God belong the [deliverances from] death.” Christ expounded this goodness of the Father to us when he said, “Father, with regard to those whom you have given me, I will that where I am they also may be with me, that they may behold my glory which you have given me.” (Psalm 121:8; Joel 2:23; Psalm 68:20; John 17:24.)

In summary, then, consider,

The faith thus sustained by all prophecies, evangelical truth, and Christ himself, let us hold fast – the faith that our spirit is the image of God, like whom, it lives, understands, and is eternal. As long as it is in the body it exerts its own powers; but when it quits this prison-house it returns to God, whose presence, it meanwhile enjoys while it rests in the hope of a blessed Resurrection. This rest is its paradise.

On the other hand, the spirit of the reprobate, while it waits for the dreadful judgment, is tortured by that anticipation, which the Apostle for that reason calls fearful. To inquire beyond this is to plunge into the abyss of the Divine mysteries. It is enough to have learned what the Spirit, our best Teacher, deemed it sufficient to have taught. His words are,

“Hear me, and your soul shall live.” (Isaiah 55:3.)

And to sum up our position in Christ from the scriptures,

“…They shall not die, but live, and show forth the works of the Lord.” “Those who dwell in His house will praise him for ever and ever.” (Psalms 118:17; 84:5.)

Don’t You Weep When I Die, July 22, 2016, YouTube, Kerosene Halo – Topic

Triptych on The Judgment Seat of Christ

The previous three posts, though posted in time order, should be read from beginning to end.

The beginning is: “All Will Be Revealed.”

The middle is: “The Reckoning.”

Finally, the end is: “Who Can Stand?

The three concern our humanity, the Judgment to come, and what our response should be, respectively.

Who Can Stand?

What should be our response to God’s impending Judgment?

O God, you know my folly;

    the wrongs I have done are not hidden from you.

Psalm 69:5 English Standard Version (ESV)

Even more, we should say,

If you, O Lord, should mark iniquities,

   O Lord, who could stand?

But with you there is forgiveness,

   that you may be feared.

Psalm 130:3-4 English Standard Version (ESV) 

John Calvin says to these verses,

If thou, O God! should mark iniquities …Should God determine to deal with us according to the strict demands of his law, and to summon us before his tribunal, not one of the whole human race would be able to stand… “All the children of Adam,” he [essentially] says, “from the first to the last, are lost and condemned, should God require them to render up an account of their life.” …Further, …since no man can stand by his own works, all such as are accounted righteous before God, are righteous in consequence of the pardon and remission of their sins. In no other manner can any man be righteous in the sight of God.

But with thee there is forgiveness. …How few are persuaded of the truth …that the [unmerited favor which they] need shall [be given to] them? …The consequence of this [lack] of hope [within] men …is an indifference about coming into the Divine presence to [ask] for pardon.

When a man is awakened with a lively sense of the judgment of God, he cannot fail to be humbled with shame and fear. Such self-dissatisfaction would not however suffice, unless at the same time there were added faith, whose office it is to raise up the hearts which were cast down with fear, and to encourage them to pray for forgiveness…

“As soon as I think upon You,” [the psalmist] says in [effect], “Your clemency also presents itself to my mind, so that I have no doubt that You will be merciful to me, it being impossible for You to divest Yourself of Your own nature: the very fact that You are God is to me a sure guarantee that You will be merciful ” [This unmerited favor] of God… enables the sinner to conclude with certainty, that as soon as he seeks God he shall find him ready to be reconciled towards him. …The first step to the right serving of God unquestionably is, to submit ourselves to Him willingly and with a free heart.

What does God say of the forgiven Man?

Blessed is the one whose transgression is forgiven,

    whose sin is covered.

Blessed is the man against whom the Lord counts no iniquity,

    and in whose spirit there is no deceit.

Psalm 32:1-2 English Standard Version (ESV) 

If you haven’t been forgiven, yet, consider God’s free offer,

If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.

Romans 10:9 English Standard Version (ESV)

If you’ve made this solemn profession of faith and now walk with your Savior and Lord in obedience, then, you too will be counted among the blessed.

Will Christians Who Have Been Forgiven Answer for Their Sins in Judgment? Nov 30, 2018, YouTube, Ligonier Ministries

The Reckoning

There will be a reckoning, a judgment, or as Spurgeon said, a Great Assize:

Why do you pass judgment on your brother? Or you, why do you despise your brother? For we will all stand before the judgment seat of God; for it is written,

“As I live, says the Lord, every knee shall bow to me,

 and every tongue shall confess to God.”

So then each of us will give an account of himself to God.

Romans 14:10-12 English Standard Version (ESV)

John Calvin says to these verses,

But thou, why dost thou, etc. …It is an unreasonable boldness in any one to assume the power to judge his brother, since by taking such a liberty he robs Christ the Lord of the power which He alone has received from the Father.

As I live, etc. …All flesh ought to be humbled while expecting that judgment; and this is expressed by the bending of the knee. …This prophecy …is far from being completed and will not be so until the day of the last resurrection shall shine forth, when Christ’s enemies shall be laid prostrate, that they may become his footstool. But this cannot be except the Lord shall …ascend his tribunal to judge the living and the dead; for all judgment in heaven and on earth has been given to Him by the Father.

Every tongue shall swear to me. As an oath [this] is a kind of divine worship. …All men should not only acknowledge his majesty, but also make a confession of obedience, both by the mouth and by the external gesture of the body, which he has designated by the bowing of the knee.

Every one of us, etc. This conclusion invites us to humility and lowliness of mind: and hence he immediately draws this inference, — that we are not to judge one another; for it is not lawful for us to usurp the office of judging, who must ourselves submit to be judged and to give an account.

What, then, should be our response to this impending Judgment?

O God, you know my folly;

    the wrongs I have done are not hidden from you.

Psalm 69:5 English Standard Version (ESV)

God’s Glory in Judgment, Nov. 22, 2011, YouTube, Ligonier Ministries, Transcript

Death’s Duel

In the preface to John Donne ’s sermon “Death’s Duel,” the original editor said that Donne delivered this sermon at White Hall, before the King’s Majesty, at the beginning of Lent, 25 February, 1631. This Sermon was considered the author’s own funeral sermon because it was preached so few days before his death. Donne died on 31 March, 1631. This unnamed editor observed of Donne, that his preaching skills continually increased, “in that he exceeded others at first, so, at last he exceeded himself.” And, “A dying Mans words, if they [be of concern to us], do usually make the deepest impression, [since they are] being spoken [with depth of feeling] and [sincerity].”

Donne chose to speak on the scripture verse:

Our God is a God of salvation,

   and to God, the Lord, belong deliverances from death.

Psalm 68:20 English Standard Version (ESV)

In his sermon’s introduction, Donne says:

“… The [framework] and knitting of this building, that He that is our God is the God of all salvations, consists in this, Unto this God the Lord belong the [deliverances from] death; that is, that this God the Lord having united and knit both natures in one, and being God, having also come into this world in our flesh, he could have no other means to save us, he could have no other [deliverance] out of this world, nor return to his former glory, but by death.

“And so in this sense, this exitus mortis, this [deliverance from] death, is liberatio per mortem, a deliverance by death, by the death of this God, our Lord Christ Jesus. And this is Saint Augustine’s [understanding] of the words, and those many and great persons that have adhered to him.

“In all these three lines, then, we shall look upon these words, first, as the God of power, the Almighty Father rescues his servants from the jaws of death; and then as the God of mercy, the glorious Son rescued us by taking upon himself this [deliverance from] death; and then, between these two, as the God of comfort, the Holy Ghost rescues us from all discomfort by his blessed impressions beforehand, that [whatsoever] manner of death be ordained for us, yet this exitus mortis shall be introitus in vitam, our [deliverance from] death shall be an entrance into everlasting life.

“And these three considerations: our deliverance à morte, in morte, per mortem, from death, in death, and by death, will abundantly do all the offices of the foundations, of the buttresses, of the [framework], of this our building; that he that is our God is the God of all salvation, because unto this God the Lord belong the [deliverances from] death…”

Paraphrasing Donne’s second point, no matter what manner of death is ordained for us by the God of comfort, yet our deliverance from death shall be an entrance into everlasting life. To this he says:

“…And so we pass unto our second accommodation of these words (unto God the Lord belong the [deliverances from] death); that it belongs to God, and not to man, to pass a judgment upon us at our death, or to conclude a dereliction on God’s part upon the manner thereof.

“Those indications which the physicians receive, and those [predictions] which they give for death or recovery in the patient, they receive and they give out of the grounds and the rules of their art, but we have no such rule or art to give a [prediction] of spiritual death and damnation upon any such indication as we see in any dying man; we see often enough to be sorry, but not to despair; we may be deceived both ways: we use to comfort ourselves in the death of a friend, if it be testified that he went away like a lamb, that is, without any [hesitation]; but God knows that may be accompanied with a dangerous damp and stupefaction, and insensibility of his present state.

“Our blessed Savior [struggled] with death, and a sadness even in his soul to death, and an agony even to a bloody sweat in his body, and expostulations with God [(e.g., Luke 22:40 – 45)], and exclamations upon the cross [(e.g., Luke 23:34-46, John 19:26-30)].

“He was a devout man who said upon his deathbed, or death-turf (for he was a hermit), Septuaginta annos Domino servivisti, et mori times? Have you served a good master threescore and ten years, and now are you [unwilling] to go into his presence? Yet Hilarion was [unwilling.] Barlaam was a devout man (a hermit too) that said that day he died, Cogita te hodie caepisse servire Domino, et hodie finiturum, Consider this to be the first day’s service that ever you did [for] your Master, to glorify him in a Christianly and a [faithful] death, and if your first day be your last day too, how soon do you come to receive your wages! Yet Barlaam could have been content to have stayed longer forth.

“Make no ill conclusions upon any man’s [unwillingness] to die, for the mercies of God work momentarily in minutes, and many times insensibly to bystanders, or any other than the party departing. And then upon violent deaths inflicted as upon malefactors, Christ himself hath forbidden us by his own death to make any ill conclusion; for his own death had those impressions in it; he was [judged], he was executed as a malefactor, and no doubt many of them who concurred to his death did believe him to be so.

“Of sudden death there are scarce examples be found in the Scriptures upon good men, for death in battle cannot be called sudden death; but God governs not by examples but by rules, and therefore make no ill conclusion upon sudden death nor upon [illnesses] neither, though [perhaps] accompanied with some words of [self-doubting] and distrust in the mercies of God. The tree lies as it falls, it is true, but it is not the last stroke that fells the tree, nor the last word nor gasp that qualifies the soul.

“Still pray we for a peaceable life against violent death, and for time of repentance against sudden death, and for sober and modest assurance against [illness racked] and [self-doubting] death, but never make ill conclusions upon persons overtaken with such deaths; Domini Domini sunt exitus mortis, to God the Lord belong the [deliverances from] death.

“And he received Samson, who went out of this world in such a manner (consider it actively, consider it passively in his own death, and in those whom he slew with himself) as was subject to interpretation hard enough. Yet the Holy Ghost hath moved Saint Paul to celebrate Samson in his great catalogue, and so doth all the church.

“Our critical day is not the very day of our death, but the whole course of our life. I thank him that prays for me when the bell tolls, but I thank him much more that catechizes me, or preaches to me, or instructs me how to live. Fac hoc et vive, there is my security, the mouth of the Lord has said it, do this and you shall live. But though I do it, yet I shall die too, die a bodily, a natural death.

“But God never mentions, never seems to consider that death, the bodily, the natural death. God doth not say, Live well, and you shall die well, that is, an easy, a quiet death; but, Live well here, and you shall live well for ever. As the first part of a sentence [fits] well with the last, and never respects, never hearkens after the parenthesis that comes between, so does a good life here flow into an eternal life, without any consideration what so manner of death we die.

“But whether the gate of my prison be opened with an oiled key (by a gentle and preparing sickness), or the gate be hewn down by a violent death, or the gate be burnt down by a raging and frantic fever, a gate into heaven I shall have, for from the Lord is the cause of my life, and with God the Lord are the [deliverances from] death. And further we carry not this second [understanding] of the words, as this [deliverance from] death is liberatio in morte, God’s care that the soul be safe, what agonies so ever the body suffers in the hour of death…”

Though Donne’s sermon continues to his third point, it is this second one that captured my attention.

I had witnessed a respected missionary face death. He was solid in the faith, having led many others to our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, I was shocked by his timidity towards his soon departure. I had expected a flint-like resolve and saw a man broken, grasping at remedies for his fatal illness.

Donne’s sermon was the first that I had read that addressed this very concern. Restated, Donne’s thesis is that it belongs to God, and not to man, to pass judgment upon us at our death; nor does it belong to man to conclude a dereliction on God’s part upon the manner thereof.

Donne concludes his exposition of his second point with three statements, first,

“Our critical day is not the very day of our death, but the whole course of our life.”

Second,

“God never mentions, never seems to consider that death, the bodily, the natural death. God does not say, Live well, and you shall die well, that is, an easy, a quiet death; but, Live well here, and you shall live well forever.”

And finally,

“But whether the gate of my prison be opened with an oiled key (by a gentle and preparing sickness), or the gate be hewn down by a violent death, or the gate be burnt down by a raging and frantic fever, a gate into heaven I shall have, for from the Lord is the cause of my life, and with God the Lord are the [deliverances from] death.”

Therefore I have my answer concerning that dear departed saint, for with God the Lord are the deliverances from death and our deliverance from death shall be an entrance into everlasting life.

F. Handel: Messiah HWV 56 (fantastic performance), April 7, 2014, YouTube, two hours seventeen minutes duration, classicalplus

Death, Be Not Proud

John Donne, who faced illness and tragedy during his life, wrote an almost whimsical taunt in sonnet form. Donne included ‘Death, be not proud’ in his collection, Holy Sonnets, as sonnet #10.  This is his poem in updated English:

DEATH be not proud, though some have called you

Mighty and dreadful, for, you are not so,

For, those, whom you think, you do overthrow,

Die not, poor death, nor yet can you kill me.

***

From rest and sleep, which but your pictures be,

Much pleasure, then from you, much more must flow,

And [as] soon [as] our best men with you do go,

Rest of their bones, and souls deliver.

***

You are a slave to Fate, Chance, kings, and desperate men,

And do with poison, war, and sickness dwell,

And poppy, or charms can make us sleep as well,

And better [than] your stroke; why swell [yourself] then?

One short sleep past, we wake eternally,

And death shall be no more; death, you shall die.

Each of the two quatrains and the sestet clearly point to the scriptures.

In quatrain one, death is called mighty and dreadful, both attributes that provoke pride in creatures that possess them. Yet, Donne calls death ‘poor,’ because he has no power over those saved by God’s mercy and unmerited favor. We read from the scriptures:

Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life. He does not come into judgment but has passed from death to life. John 5:24 English Standard Version (ESV)

And,

He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” Revelation 21:4 English Standard Version (ESV)

In quatrain two, Donne compares death with rest and sleep, both of which are pictures of death. Therefore, death provides only pleasure for those whose trust is in Christ. We read from the scriptures:

And I heard a voice from heaven saying, “Write this: Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on.” “Blessed indeed,” says the Spirit, “that they may rest from their labors, for their deeds follow them!” Revelation 14:13 English Standard Version (ESV)

And:

For you have delivered my soul from death,

   yes, my feet from falling,

that I may walk before God

   in the light of life.

Psalm 56:13 English Standard Version (ESV)

Finally, in the sestet, death is called a slave to the intentions of those who would perpetrate murder and is dependent on such means both deadly and narcotic. Therefore, Donne asks, why should death swell with pride? Not only do those who die in Christ live eternally, but death’s death sentence is foreordained. We read from the scriptures:

He will swallow up death forever;

and the Lord God will wipe away tears from all faces,

and the reproach of his people he will take away from all the earth,

for the Lord has spoken.

Isaiah 25:8 English Standard Version (ESV)

And:

The last enemy to be destroyed is death. 1 Corinthians 15:26 English Standard Version (ESV)

And, finally:

In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed. For this perishable body must put on the imperishable, and this mortal body must put on immortality. When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written:

“Death is swallowed up in victory.”

  “O death, where is your victory?

   O death, where is your sting?”

The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.

1 Corinthians 15:52-57 English Standard Version (ESV) 

Please take Donne’s sonnet and these scriptures to heart.

Bruderwald_Sunrays_150265

Sunrays in the Bruderwald, Bamberg, Bavaria; 15 October 2017; Photo by Reinhold Möller; licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International; Unmodified; Usage does not imply endorsement.

Now This Bell, Tolling Softly for Another, Says to Me, You Must Die

We, in the twenty-first century, rarely hear church bells in our neighborhoods, if ever. Noise ordinances silence or reduce the volume of church bells, whether from century old bells or electronic surrogates. Typically, it’s a matter of neighborhood negotiation embodied in formal local ordinances or informal agreements; though, sometimes it rises to the federal courts where churches have found protection under the Constitution’s free exercise clause. However, these bells used to call us to consider higher things than our personal peace and affluence.

This post’s title is the title of Meditation #17 from Devotions upon Emergent Occasions by John Donne (1623.) Donne was touched by suffering and illness throughout his life. His meditation reflects his deep thinking on a topic that we desperately avoid, death. Researchers believe he had been penning this text while suffering from a deadly illness. The text says:

Perchance, he for whom this bell tolls may be so ill, as that he knows not it tolls for him; and, [by some chance,] I may think myself so much better than I am, as that they who are about me, and see my state, may have caused it to toll for me, and I know not that.

The church is catholic, universal, so are all her actions; all that she does belongs to all. When she baptizes a child, that action concerns me; for that child is thereby connected to that body which is my head too, and ingrafted into that body whereof I am a member.

And when she buries a man, that action concerns me: all mankind is of one author, and is one volume; when one man dies, one chapter is not torn out of the book, but translated into a better language; and every chapter must be so translated; God employs several translators; some pieces are translated by age, some by sickness, some by war, some by justice; but God’s hand is in every translation, and his hand shall bind up all our scattered leaves again for that library where every book shall lie open to one another.

As therefore the bell that rings to a sermon calls not upon the preacher only, but upon the congregation to come, so this bell calls us all; but how much more me, who am brought so near the door by this sickness.

There was a contention (in which both piety and dignity, religion and estimation, were mingled) [as to] which of the religious orders should ring to prayers first in the morning; and it was determined, that they should ring first that rose earliest. If we understand aright the dignity of this bell that tolls for our evening prayer, we would be glad to make it ours by rising early, in that application, that it might be ours as well as his, whose indeed it is.

The bell does toll for him that thinks it does; and though it [discontinue for a time] again, yet from that minute that this occasion [worked] upon him, he is united to God. Who casts not up his eye to the sun when it rises? But who takes off his eye from a comet when that breaks out? Who bends not his ear to any bell which upon any occasion rings? But who can remove it from that bell which is passing a piece of himself out of this world?

No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main. If a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as well as if a [house] of thy friend’s or of your own were: any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind, and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for you.

Neither can we call this a begging of misery, or a borrowing of misery, as though we were not miserable enough of ourselves, but must fetch in more from the next house, in taking upon us the misery of our neighbors. Truly it [would be] an excusable covetousness if we did, for affliction is a treasure, and [few have] enough of it. No man has affliction enough that is not matured and ripened by it and made fit for God by that affliction.

If a man carry treasure in bullion, or in a wedge of gold, and have none coined into current money, his treasure will not defray him as he travels. Tribulation is treasure in the nature of it, but it is not current money in the use of it, except we get nearer and nearer our home, heaven, by it.

Another man may be sick too, and sick to death, and this affliction may lie in his bowels, as gold in a mine, and be of no use to him; but this bell, that tells me of his affliction, digs out and applies that gold to me: if by this consideration of another’s danger I take mine own into contemplation, and so secure myself, by making my recourse to my God, who is our only security.

To encapsulate Donne’s sentiment, we can say, perhaps: “All mankind is of one Author, and is one volume… Any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind, and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for you… If by this consideration of another’s danger I take mine own into contemplation, and so secure myself, by making my recourse to my God, who is our only security.”

I urge you, if you have not “made recourse to God,” please consider your own sinfulness and how it is that you must be saved. When the bell tolls, it does toll for you.

If you have made God your Lord and Savior, consider, whether in illness or in health, that when the bell tolls, it tolls for you as well.

Max Richter – On the Nature of Daylight, YouTube, May 1, 2012

Perilous Times in the Age of SARS-CoVID-19

The USN aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt offloaded the majority of its crew in Guam where they went into quarantine. At the time, around 5 percent of the sailors tested positive for CoVID-19. The captain sent a letter, dated March 30, 2020, to many but not all of those in his chain of command and some that weren’t.

The letter was leaked to the San Francisco Chronicle and published March 31, 2020.

The captain was relieved of his command because of poor judgment.

On April 1, 2020 the Global Times posted an article titled, “Fate of virus-hit US aircraft carrier worsened by Cold War mentality,” An excerpt reads:

The US is putting the lives of its sailors under the unnecessary threat of the coronavirus due to an outdated Cold War mentality, and there is no need to maintain the carrier’s combat readiness, Chinese experts said.

The Theodore Roosevelt was in the South China Sea to carry out provoking military actions in mid-March, but these actions were not necessary to the US’ national security, and no one would launch an attack on the US in the first place, Zhang Junshe, a senior research fellow at the People’s Liberation Army Naval Military Studies Research Institute, told the Global Times on Wednesday.

“The US is not facing the threat of war, but it is seeking enemies everywhere it goes with a Cold War mentality, looking for unnecessary trouble,” Zhang said.

“Even if all crew members on the aircraft carrier disembark and go into quarantine, no other country will wage war on the US,” Zhang said.

From a Claremont Review of Books editorial written in October 2018 about tensions in the South China Sea:

“The Chinese strategist Sun Tzu admonished that “to win one hundred victories in one hundred battles is not the acme of skill. To subdue the enemy without fighting is.” China seems to be taking Sun Tzu at his word as it moves towards strategic goals without provoking an armed response from the United States, or anyone else.”

Ponder that somber warning in our current situation.

You might think this pandemic can’t be deliberate. I say, you must rethink what “deliberate” means. Here’s an interesting nine-minute video from Vox that discusses “How Wildlife Trade is Linked to Coronavirus.” Consider carefully what is said from just before the 3-minute mark to the end.

Then, you decide.

“How Wildlife Trade is Linked to Coronavirus,” March 6, 2020, Vox  via YouTube

We’re Not Dead Yet

Hi! We’re back. We’re not dead yet (warning: video ends a little violently.) A lot of things have happened over these past twenty months. Among other things we’ve moved about ten miles from where we once were. The necessity of the move fell upon us like the water streaming from our roof, running down our office walls, and drenching our carpeting. Sorry we never uploaded those promised posts, we were treading water at the time. We hope to upload a few posts in this time of SARS-CoVID-19. These will be centered on our planned books (yes, we still plan on those) and will be, as always, mostly harmless.