Life and Immortality Revealed in the Gospel
Adapted from a Sermon by Samuel Davies
A sermon preached at the funeral of a young man, on September 1, 1756
“Who saved us and called us to a holy calling, not because of our works but because of his own purpose and grace, which he gave us in Christ Jesus before the ages began, and which now has been manifested through the appearing of our Savior Christ Jesus, who abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel.” 2 Timothy 1:9-10
So extensive has been the havoc and devastation which death has made in the world for nearly six thousand years, ever since it was first introduced by the sin of man, that this earth has now become one vast graveyard, or burying-place for her sons. The many generations that have followed one after another, in so quick a succession from Adam to this day, are now in their underground dwellings. And there must we, and all the present generation sleep, before long.
Some make a quick journey from the womb to the grave. Like a bird on the wing, they perch on our globe, rest a day, a month, or a year, and then fly off to their eternal destination.
Others spring up and bloom for a few years; but they fade away like a flower, and are cut down.
Others arrive at the prime or height of human life; but in all their strength and gaiety, and amid their hurries and schemes, and promising prospects, they are surprised by the arrest of death, and laid silent, senseless, and pale in the grave.
A few creep into their beds of dust under the burden of old age and the gradual decays of nature.
In short, the grave is the place appointed for all living; the general rendezvous of all the sons of Adam. There the prince and the beggar, the conqueror and the slave, the giant and the infant, the scheming politician and the simple peasant, the wise and the fool, Heathen, Jews, Moslems, and Christians; all lie equally, and mingle their dust without distinction. Their beauty in all its charms decays into corruption, and becomes food for worms. There the once sturdy arm of youth lies powerless against the process of decay. There lie our ancestors, our neighbors, our friends, our relatives, with whom we once spoke, and who were united to our hearts by strong and endearing ties.
This earth, in short, is overspread with the ruins of human life; it is a huge cemetery, undermined and filled with the graves, the last dwelling places of mortals.
And will this never be remedied? Is this the final state of human nature? Are all these millions of creatures, who were so intricately formed, who could think, and act, and exercise the superior powers of reason, are they all utterly extinct, annihilated and absorbed into nothingness, and never again to emerge into life and activity? If this is the case, the complaint of the psalmist on this idea, seems unavoidable; "For what vanity you have created all the children of man!" (Ps 89:47) It was not worthwhile to come into being, if it must be given up so soon. The powers of reason were thrown away upon us, if they were given only for the low purposes of the present fleeting life.
But our text revives us with heavenly light to scatter this tremendous gloom. Jesus has abolished death, overthrown its empire, and delivered its captives; and he has brought life and immortality to light through the gospel. Life and immortality here seem to refer both to the soul and the body, the two parts of our person.
As applied to the body, life and immortality mean, that though our bodies are dissolved at death, and return to dust, yet they shall be formed anew vastly improved, and raised to an immortal existence; so that they shall be as though death never had any power over them! And so, death shall be abolished, annihilated, and all traces of the ruins it had made forever disappear, as though they had never been! It is in this sense chiefly that the word immortality or incorruptibility is made use of in our text.
But then the resurrection of the body supposes the perpetual existence of the soul, for whose sake it is raised: therefore, life and immortality, as referring to the soul, imply that it is immortal, in a strict and proper sense.
That is, that the soul cannot die at all, or be dissolved like the body; but it lives after the dissolution of our physical body in a separate state; it lives at the resurrection to re-animate the newly formed body; and it lives forever, and shall never be dissolved nor annihilated. In this complex sense, we may understand the immortality of which our text speaks.
Now it is to the gospel, God’s revelation of these things in the Bible, that we owe the clear unveiling of immortality in both these senses. As for the resurrection of the dead, which attaches a kind of immortality to our mortal bodies, we discover this only by divine revelation.
The light of nature, that is natural reasoning from what we see around us, could not so much as give a hint of it to the ablest philosophers in the heathen world. They did not hope for it as possible, much less believe it as certain. And when, among other important doctrines of pure revelation, it was first preached to them by Paul, their pride couldn’t bear the mortification of being taught by a tent-maker what all their studies had not been able to discover; and therefore, they rejected it with scorn, and ridiculed it as a new-fangled notion of the superstitious Jews!
Except for the Jews, the fact of the resurrection, seems to have been an entire secret to all nations, until the light of Christianity dawned upon the world. They all bade an eternal farewell to their bodies, when they dropped them in the grave. They never expected to meet them again in all the glorious improvements of a happy resurrection. But that divine revelation from where we learn our religion, opens to us a brighter prospect; it strengthens our eyes to look forward through the gloom of death, and behold the many who sleep in the dust, as awaking and rising, "Some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt!" (Dan 12:2) It assures us, that "an hour is coming when all who are in the tombs will hear his voice and come out, those who have done good to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil to the resurrection of judgment!" (John 5:28-29)
Therefore, know this, O Death, you king of terrors, that though we can’t resist your power nor escape your grip now, yet we do not surrender ourselves to you as helpless, irredeemable prisoners. We surely will yet burst your shackles, and be victorious over you! And when we commit the dust of our friends or our own to you, O grave! Know that, it just a deposit in your custody, to be faithfully kept until called for by Him who was once a prisoner in your territories, but regained His liberty, and triumphed over you, and put that song of victory into the mouths of all his followers, "O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?" (1 Cor 15:55)
As for the immortality of the soul, Christian philosophers have no difficulty establishing it using plain principles of reason. To those who apply themselves to these things, using logical thinking and unbiased observation of the natural world, the immortality of the soul can clearly be established but it is the gospel alone that makes this important reality plain and obvious to all.
Also, it must be considered, that men may be able to understand a truth when the hint is but once given, which they would never have discovered, nor perhaps suspected, without that hint. So, when the gospel of Christ has brought immortality to light, Christian philosophers may support it with arguments from reason; but had they been destitute of this additional light from Scripture, they would have been lost in perplexity and uncertainty, or at best have been advanced to no farther than plausible or probable conjectures.
People may be assisted in their searches, by the light of Scripture revelation; but, being accustomed to it, they may mistake it for the light of their own reason; or they may not be so honest and humble as to acknowledge the assistance they have received.
Unassisted by God’s Word, the great philosophers of the heathen world, after all their searches, were more perplexed on this point, about immorality and the soul, than a plain common Christian at the earliest stages of his Christian life in our times when the truth is readily accessible.
And so, let us be thankful for the accessibility of Scriptural knowledge, and let us prize and build upon that precious gospel, which gives us full information in this important point, and makes the lowest Christian wiser, in this respect, than the wisest philosopher of this world!
Our plan this morning is to consider the Scriptural view of immortality of both the body and the soul, and then expand on it.
Let us first look through the wastes and glooms of death and the grave, to the glorious solemn morning of the resurrection. At the all-alarming call of the last trumpet, Adam, and the sleeping millions of his posterity, suddenly jump to life! "An hour is coming when all who are in the tombs will hear his voice and come out, those who have done good to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil to the resurrection of judgment!" (John 5:28)
And so it will be that your dust and mine will be organized, and reanimated; and then, in the words of Job, "after my skin has been thus destroyed, yet in my flesh I shall see God, whom I shall see for myself, and my eyes shall behold, and not another. My heart faints within me" (Job 19:26-27) "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." (1 Cor 15:52-53)
And should this not alarm us, and lead us to earnestly prepare for this all-important scene? Will we take so much care of our bodies in this mortal state, where after all our care, they must soon fall to dust, and become food for worms! And will we take no care that they may have a happy and glorious resurrection and eternity? What does it matter how our bodies are fed or dressed, while they will so soon return to the earth? What does it matter how our bodies are fed or dressed, in comparison with their destiny at the great rising day, and their state through eternity?
And clearly, you must not let sin reign in your mortal bodies now, that you should obey its passions, if you would have them raised holy and happy in that solemn morning! Can you think that bodies polluted with filthy lusts and sensual gratifications, will ever be admitted into the regions of perfect purity? Heaven would be a completely unnatural place for such depraved hearts and bodies.
Therefore, be warned in time! One would think that this consideration might have some weight, even with those who delight in the pleasures of the senses, who, as it were, consider themselves as mere animals, and make it their only concern to provide for and gratify the flesh! Unless you are holy now, unless you now deny yourselves of your guilty pleasures, not only your soul, (that neglected, disregarded trifle,) must perish; but your body, your dear body, your only care, must be eternally wretched too; your body must be hungry, thirsty, pained, tortured, hideously deformed, a mere system of pain and anguish!
But if you now keep your bodies pure and serve God with them, and with your hearts too, they will be made perfect in glory; they will flourish in immortal youth and vigor! they will forever be receiving the most wonderful sensations of pleasure! And will you not deny yourselves the sordid pleasures of a few years, for the sake of those of a blessed immortality?
But let me give you a view of immortality of a more noble kind, the proper immortality of the soul. And here, what an extensive and amazing prospect opens before us!
Look a little way backward, and your sight is lost in the darkness of non-existence. A few years ago, you were nothing. But at the creative will of the Almighty, that little spark of being, the soul, was struck out of nothing; and now it enlivens this machine that is your flesh. But shall this glimmering divine spark ever be extinguished! No! it will survive the ruins of the universe, and continue on into immortality! The duration of your souls will run on from its first beginnings, in parallel lines with the existence of God. What an amazing inheritance this is, bestowed on the children of dust, the creatures of yesterday!
Here let us pause, stand up, as it were, and view this majestic prospect in panorama! This body must soon return to dust, but the soul will live unhurt, untouched, amid all the dissolving struggles and convulsions of animal nature.
“But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a roar, and the heavenly bodies will be burned up and dissolved, and the earth and the works that are done on it will be exposed. Since all these things are thus to be dissolved, what sort of people ought you to be in lives of holiness and godliness, waiting for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be set on fire and dissolved, and the heavenly bodies will melt as they burn!” (2 Pe 3:10-12) But this soul will live securely as to its existence in the universal desolation, unhurt amidst the wreck of matter, and the crush of worlds! And now, when the present system of things is dissolved, and time will be no more, then eternity, boundless eternity, follows; and on this, the soul enters as on its proper duration.
Now look forward as far as you will, your eyes meet with no obstruction, with nothing but the immensity of the prospect extending infinitely beyond its view.
What is eternity? What good it would do if you would only let yourself meditate on eternity for just one hour. How would you answer this question? What is eternity?
Men of great projects and optimistic hopes are apt to sit and pause, and take an imaginary survey of what they will do, and what they will be in the progress of life. But then death, like an ghost, jumps up at them, and threatens to cut them off in the midst of their pursuits. But in eternity, no death threatens to extinguish your being or end your existence; but it runs on in one continued everlasting note. What a vast inheritance is eternity, which is unchangeably bestowed upon every child of Adam! What importance, what value, does this consideration give to that neglected thing, the soul! What an astounding being it is!
Immortality! What emphasis, what majesty in the sound! Immortality is so vast an attribute, that it adds a kind of infinity to anything to which it is associated, however insignificant it might be in other respects: and on the other hand, the lack of eternity would degrade the most exalted being into a trifle. The highest angel, whether he was the creature of a day, or of a thousand years, what would he be? A fading flower, a vanishing vapor, a flying shadow! When his day or his thousand years are past, he is then as truly nothing as if he had never been. It matters little what becomes of him while in this present world: let him stand or fall, let him be happy or miserable, it is all the same in a little time; he is gone, and there is no more of him, no traces of him left!
But an immortal being, a creature that will never, ever, ever cease to be, that will expand his capacities of action, of pleasure, or pain, for ever and ever! What an astonishing, important being this is! And is my soul such a being? I wonder at myself! I stand in awe of my own dignity, and am struck with a kind of pleasing horror to view what I must be! And is there anything so worthy of the care of such a being, as the happiness, the everlasting happiness, of my immortal part?
What is it to me, who am formed for an endless eternity, what I enjoy, or what I must suffer in this vanishing time on earth? Seventy or eighty years bear not the least imaginable proportion to the duration of such a being; they are too inconsiderable a point to be seen! They vanish into nothing!
And what shall become of me through this eternal duration? This, and this alone, is the grand concern of an immortal being! And, in comparison with this, it does not deserve one thought what becomes of me while in this vanishing mist of a world.
Because consider this, your existence in immortality will not be a state of insensibility, without pleasure or pain; you will not drone out a useless, inactive existence, in an eternal daze, or a dead sleep. But your souls will be active as long as they exist; You will either advance from glory to glory in heaven, or plunge from depth to depth in hell.
And so here then, I must ask you to pause and say to yourselves, "What is likely to become of me through this long eternity? Am I likely to be eternally happy, or eternally miserable?
And though you are rich, honorable, healthy, merry, and joyful now! Consider this! Earthly enjoyments are not proper food for an immortal soul. And besides, these things are not immortal, as your souls are. If these earthly trifles are your only portion, then what will you do for happiness millions of ages from now, when all these things have long ago passed away?
Are you provided with a happiness which will last as long as your souls will live to desire it? Have you a saving interest in God? Are you prepared to enter into heaven? Do you delight in God above all? Have you a deep love for the refined pleasures of true religion? Is God, the supreme good, the principle object of your desire? Do you now accustom yourselves to the service of God, the great employment of heaven? and are you preparing yourselves for the more exalted devotion of the church on high, by earnestly applying yourselves to the humbler forms of worship in the church on earth? Are you made pure in heart and life, that you may be prepared for the regions of untainted holiness, to breathe in that pure air, and live in that holy climate, so warm with the love of God, and so near the Sun of Righteousness?
Do not some of you know that this is not your prevailing character? And what then do you think will become of you without a change in your character and conduct?
Is it so, that your immortality, the grand privilege of your nature, must become your eternal curse? Have you convinced yourself that you will die like a brute? That is, that you will perish entirely, and your whole being be extinguished in death? That you simply cease to exist after death? But consider this! Your atheistic principles may lull your consciences into a senseless quiet for a little while, but they cannot annihilate you! Though you may live like a beast, you cannot die like a beast! No, you must live, live to suffer righteous punishment, whether you believe it now or not.
As you did not come into being by your own consent, so neither can you go out of life as you please. And will you not work to make your immortality a blessing? Is there anything in this world that can be a temptation to you to give up such an immense blessing? If only you were wise and you would seriously consider this!
Consider those who have gone before us. They have already received their just and unchangeable portion at a superior court. And this ought to lead us to an awakened sense of our own mortality, and to a prepare for it.
"It is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment!" Hebrews 9:27
There are many in youth, in the prime of their strength, healthy, who seemed as secure from the stroke of death as any of us; with, no doubt, the usual projects and expectations of a happy old age. But where are they now? Look, but you will not find them, they have returned to dust.
Visit a cemetery, come to their grave, you young and joyful ones, you lively and strong ones, you men of business and bustle; come and learn what must shortly be your own portion! In the same way, will your limbs stiffen, your blood stop flowing, your faces wear the pale and ghastly aspect of death, and your whole frame dissolve into dust and ashes!
In this way, shall all your plans be broken off, all your schemes vanish like smoke, and all your hopes from this world perish. Death perpetually lurks in ambush for you, ready every moment to spring upon his prey!
Death spoils all your thoughtless enjoyments, all your foolish amusements, and all your great schemes.
It seems reasonable to think that you should prepare for what you cannot avoid! that among your many schemes and projects, you should form one to prepare for eternity. You may have some poor excuses to live without piety, but you really can have none to die without it.
And were those who have gone before us nothing but mere animals, mere machines of flesh and bones? Is the whole of them returned to earth? No! They were surely immortal; and no sooner did they take their last breath, than their soul took flight, and made its way into the eternal realm. There they now dwell. And what amazing scenes now present themselves to their view! What extraordinary, unknown beings do they now interact with!
And there also, you and I must go before long be. We too must be initiated into those grand mysteries of the invisible world, and mingle in this assembly of immortal beings. We must share with angels in their bliss and glory, or with devils in their agonies and terrors! And our eternal destiny shall be according to our present character. "An hour is coming when all who are in the tombs will hear his voice and come out, those who have done good to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil to the resurrection of judgment!" (John 5:28)
And do you, all here in this small assembly, do you make it your main concern to secure a happy immortality? Do you live as expectants of eternity? Or do you live as though this world were to be your eternal residence, and as if your bodies, not your souls, were immortal?
Does your conscience approve of such conduct? Do you really think it is better for you, on the whole, to remain fashionably wicked, or perhaps ringleaders in fraud, deception and infidelity, in a country overrun with all manner of vice?
Is this better than to live a godly life, and die the death of the righteous? Which do you think you will approve of in the hour of death, that honest hour, when things will appear in a true light? And of which, will you be able to give the most encouraging account at before the supreme judge?
I appeal to you to look impartially into this comparison, and let it guide your conduct. Behave as “strangers and aliens” (Eph 2:19) who “here ... have no lasting city.” (Heb 13:14) Behave as expectants of eternity, as candidates for immortality; as "seeing him who is invisible,” (Heb 11:27) and “looking forward to the city that has foundations,” (Heb 11:10) “eternal in the heavens." (2 Cor 5:1)
In that celestial city may we all meet at last, through Jesus Christ!