Many say Isaiah was referring to a mere man; some say this one and some that. Yet, it is clear from the context that Isaiah refers to the Lord Jesus Christ, beyond the immediate circumstances that he was addressing in his own time. How else could it be if God Almighty were to walk among men? His eyes must have been “blind,” and His ears must have been “deaf” to the sins committed by those around Him.
Though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. Philippians 2:5-7 (ESV)
“Go and tell John what you have seen and heard: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, the poor have good news preached to them. And blessed is the one who is not offended by me.” Luke 7:21-23 (ESV)
“Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” Matthew 4:17(ESV)
And, finally, contemplate this,
Just as it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment, so Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to deal with sin but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him. Hebrews 9:27-28 (ESV)
If we go on sinning deliberately after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a fearful expectation of judgment, and a fury of fire that will consume the adversaries. Hebrews 10:26-27(ESV)
It is rare to see any scientist acknowledge God’s ways and the nature of His creation. Our sciences, sadly even the hard sciences, have mostly abandoned the concept of evidential, objective truth. The idea of holding intellectual inquiry accountable to measurable reality very often goes by the wayside.
…Freedom-of-will and destiny can “peacefully co-exist” in a way consistent with the aphorism “All is foreseen, yet choice is given.”
The concept of free-will is mainly that the past may define the future, yet after this future effect takes place, i.e., after it becomes past, then it cannot be changed: we are free from the past, but, in this picture, we are not necessarily free from the future. Therefore, not knowing the future is a crucial requirement for the existence of free-will…
Suppose there is a person who can see into the future, a prophet. Then while we, at the present are making a decision, and have not yet decided, the prophet knows exactly what this decision will be.
At this point, as long as this prophet does not tell us what our decision will be, we are still free to make it, since we know that if the prophet had told us what our decision was going to be, then we would be free to change it and his prophecy would no longer be true.
Therefore, the prophet could be accurate as long as he doesn’t tell us our future decision. [That is,] we are still free to make decisions based on nothing but the past and our own mind. Our decisions stand alone, and the prophet’s knowledge does not affect our free-will.
They argue that reality obeys rules (quantum mechanics) that support this view.
Remarkably, this describes the relationship between God and His creatures. God says of man through Solomon:
[God] has put eternity into man’s heart, yet so that he cannot find out what God has done from the beginning to the end. Ecclesiastes 3:11b(English Standard Version)
As a result of my studies, I’ve concluded, we must pray. The main reason to pray in our circumstances comes from Paul’s remark in his Letter to the Ephesians:
Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. Therefore, take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm.Ephesians 6:11–13, ESV
Clearly, no action in our flesh can prevail in this warfare.
Relative to this struggle, Albert Barnescomments on Daniel’s prayers that are recorded in the Book of Daniel, chapter 10. In this chapter, Daniel discovers that the answers to his prayers are the result of angelic warfare. Barnes has some surprising insights into Daniel’s prayer and the answer he receives. He says in regard to verse 13:
…The great truth is, that the answer to prayer is often delayed, not by any indisposition on the part of God to answer it, and not by any purpose not to answer it, and not by the mere intention of trying our faith, but “by the necessary arrangements to bring it about.”
[Prayer] is of such a nature that it cannot be answered at once. It requires time to make important changes; to influence the minds of men; to remove obstacles; to raise up friends; to put in operation agencies that shall secure the thing desired. There is some obstacle to be overcome. There is some plan of evil to be checked and stayed. There is some agency to be used which is not now in existence, and which is to be created.
The opposition of the “prince of Persia” could not be overcome at once, and it was necessary to bring in the agency of a higher power – that of Michael – to effect the change. This could not be done in a moment, a day, or a week, and hence, the long delay of three “full weeks” before Daniel had an assurance that his prayers would be answered.
So, it often happens now. We pray for the conversion of a child; yet there may be obstacles to his conversion, unseen by us, which are to be patiently removed, and perhaps by a foreign influence, before it can be done. Satan may have already secured a control over his heart, which, is to be broken gradually, before the prayer shall be answered.
We pray for the removal of the evils of intemperance, of slavery, of superstition, of idolatry; yet these may be so interlocked with the customs of a country, with the interests of men, and with the laws, that they cannot be at once eradicated except by miracle, and the answer to the prayer seems to be long delayed.
We pray for the universal spread of the gospel of Christ; yet how many obstacles are to be overcome, and how many arrangements made, before this prayer can be fully answered; and how many tears are to be shed, and perils encountered, and lives sacrificed, before the prayer of the church shall be fully answered, and the earth shall be filled with the knowledge of the Lord.
The duty, then, which is taught, is that of patience, of perseverance, of faith in God, of a firm belief that he is true to all his promises, and that he is a hearer of prayer – though the blessing seems long delayed.
Daniel prayed earnestly for the restoration of his people to their land and received an answer that far surpassed his request. His desire was pure. However, we must check our motives if we are to expect answers. James cautions:
You do not have, because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions. You adulterous people! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God?James 4:2b–4a, ESV
However, if our motives are in line with His commandments, then, whatever the request might be, John reminds us:
And this is the confidence that we have toward him, that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us. And if we know that he hears us in whatever we ask, we know that we have the requests that we have asked of him.1 John 5:14–15, ESV
Then, like Daniel, we persevere and wait patiently, with trust in God, for the answer to come.
I must leave you with a sermon by Pastor Wang Yi. On December 30th, 2019, Pastor Wang Yi was tried in a secret trial and sentenced to 9 years in prison for the crimes of “inciting to subvert state power” and “illegal business operations.” His sermon is titled, “Persecution is a Test.” Unless you understand Mandarin, please read the subtitles; I think it’s worth the effort.
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. For with the heart, one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved. For the Scripture says, “Everyone who believes in Him will not be put to shame.”
Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God.
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,
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,
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,
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,
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?
The fool hath said …However much the world applauds these crafty and scoffing characters, who allow themselves to indulge to any extent in wickedness, yet the Holy Spirit condemns them as being fools; for there is no stupidity more brutish than forgetfulness of God. …They have overthrown all order, so that they no longer make any distinction between right and wrong, and have no regard for honesty, nor love of humanity…
They speak in their heart. …They may not plainly deny the existence of a God, but they imagine him to be shut up in heaven and divested of his righteousness and power; …When God is dragged from his throne, and divested of his character as judge, impiety has come to its utmost height; and, therefore, we must conclude that …those who give themselves liberty to commit all manner of wickedness, in the flattering hope of escaping with impunity, deny in their heart that there is a God…
Jehovah looked down from heaven. …Would to God that this manner of speaking had the effect of teaching us to summon ourselves before his [judgment seat]; and that, while the world are flattering themselves, and the reprobate are trying to bury their sins in forgetfulness by their want of thought, hypocrisy, or shamelessness, and are blinded in their obstinacy as if they were intoxicated, we might be led to shake off all indifference and stupidity by reflecting on this truth, that God, notwithstanding, looks down from his high throne in heaven, and beholds what is going on here below!
To see if there were any that did understand …The commencement of integrity and uprightness of life consists in an enlightened and sound mind. But …the greater part [of humanity] misapply their intellectual powers to deceitful purposes. …True understanding …consists in seeking after God. …Unless men devote themselves wholly to God, their life cannot be well ordered. …The reprobate are utterly destitute of all reason and judgment.
Every one of them has gone aside. …All men are so carried away by their capricious lusts, that nothing is to be found either of purity or integrity in their whole life. This, therefore, is defection so complete, that it extinguishes all godliness. …All of us, when we are born, bring with us from our mother’s womb this folly and filthiness manifested in the whole life …and we continue such until God makes us new creatures by his mysterious [unmerited favor].
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.
“… 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.”
“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.”
“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.