The Certainty of Death
Adapted from a Funeral Sermon by Samuel Davies, April 22, 1758.
"O wicked one, you shall surely die!" Ezekiel 33:8
People naturally love themselves, and therefore love to hear good things about themselves. A kind person, rather than cause any pain to his fellow-man, would be happy to dwell on such pleasing things. And as to the happy few, who are really the sincere servants of God, and are holy in heart and life, I may safely take this route, and speak of the most joyful news. I am authorized to "tell the righteous that it shall be well with them!" (Isaiah 3:10) "Comfort, comfort my people, says your God. Speak tenderly to Jerusalem." (Isaiah 40:1, 2) This is the gracious command of God to all his ministers. And oh! how delightful a duty to perform it! This alone would be the happy business of this hour, could I be so hopeful as to believe, that all here present, without exception, are indeed the holy people of God.
But was there ever such a pure assembly on our guilty earth? On our earth, where an accursed Ham was found in the little chosen family of Noah, the best in the whole world? Where a Judas mingled among the chosen twelve, the first followers of Jesus? Where the weeds and the wheat grow together in one field until the harvest? And where we are explicitly told, "many are called, but few are chosen." (Matt 22:14) In such a corrupt world, the most generous thinking, if it is governed by any rational and Scriptural limitations at all, must hesitate at the sight of even as small gathering as this and must be jealous over them with a godly jealousy, (2 Corinthians 11:2,) and stand in doubt of them, (Galatians 4:20,)—must take care, for fear that there is one, yes, more than one, wicked person among them.
And if there be so much as one wicked person among us, I would, as it were, single him or her out, and release this pointed arrow from the quiver of the Almighty against his heart, to give him, not a deadly wound but a healing wound: "O wicked one, you shall surely die!"
I am obligated, at my peril, to declare this doom against you and I dare not flatter you with better hopes, unless I would be an accessory to your death, and at once ruin both myself and you. For observe the context, which contains the instructions of the great Jehovah to his minister Ezekiel, which are equally binding on all the ministers of his Word in every age. "So you, son of man, I have made a watchman for the house of Israel. Whenever you hear a word from my mouth, you shall give them warning from me. If I say to the wicked, O wicked one, you shall surely die, and you do not speak to warn the wicked to turn from his way, that wicked person shall die in his iniquity, but his blood I will require at your hand." (Ez 33:7)
This phrase, "but his blood I will require at your hand!" means, "I consider you to be guilty of his murder, and I will punish you accordingly." Therefore, if I would not incur the guilt and punishment of murder, soul-murder, the most shocking kind of murder; if I would not destroy you and myself in order that you may enjoy the sorry pleasure of flattery, and that I may enjoy the short-lived trivial reward of a little popularity, I am duty-bound to tell such of you as are wicked, in the strongest way, and as it were by name, "O wicked man, women or child, you shall surely die!" whoever you are; however rich, or powerful, or honourable; however bold and presumptuous; however full of flattering hopes; however sure of life in your own conceit, if you are wicked you will die! You will surely die; or, to use the force of the Hebrew phrase, "dying you shall die; in death you shall die indeed!"
You shall surely die, says the Lord, and not man: it is the declaration of eternal truth, which cannot fail: it is the sentence of the Lord Almighty, who is able to carry it out. That it is his sentence, and not man's, you may see by the connection: "The word of the Lord came to me,” saying, “If I say to the wicked, O wicked one, you shall surely die!" If I say, that is, if I, the Lord Almighty, say this.
Let this, therefore, be considered, not as the rash sentence of overcritical mortals but as the unchangeable decree and authentic declaration of a wise and righteous God, which must infallibly stand good, whoever may oppose it; "O wicked one, you shall surely die!"
But here we may ask two important questions:
I. WHO are the wicked? and,
II. What kind of DEATH shall they die?
I. If I should not first ask, WHO the wicked are, I would be speaking to the air; for hardly anyone sees themselves as wicked. It is a repulsive character; and that alone is the reason why many try to persuade themselves that it is not theirs. But, sadly, many things that are very disagreeable, are, notwithstanding, true. And it may be in our best interest to know them, however painful the knowledge may be: for now, while we are in a changeable state, we may, through divine grace, change characters. Those who are now wicked, and consequently exposed to eternal death may yet become righteous, the favourites of heaven, and the heirs of eternal life! And the first step towards such a happy change is, a clear, vivid conviction, that their present character and condition are bad and dangerous.
Let us, therefore, submit ourselves to an impartial testing, and endeavour to discover whether the character of the wicked man belongs to us or not. And I would by no means want or expect, that you would form a judgment of yourselves merely upon my statements. But I refer you to a higher authority, to your own reason and conscience, and especially to the Holy Scriptures. By the Bible, you must be tried at last by the Supreme Judge; and by that infallible test, I would have you try yourselves now.
1. The first class of wicked men and women and children that I will take notice of, are profane and gross sinners, who indulge themselves in notorious immoralities. Instead of describing them myself, I will produce to you a list of them, which the apostle has given long ago. "Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God?" ( 1 Co 6:9) He seems surprised that anyone should not realize so plain a point as this. "Do not be deceived," he says, do not flatter yourselves with better hopes.
But who are the wicked? He tells you particularly; "neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God!" (1 Cor 6:9, 10) You see the apostle is absolutely clear in this, that sinners of this class are universally excluded from the kingdom of heaven; not one of them all will ever be admitted there, if they continue as they are. All such persons will certainly perish, or else Paul was an impostor.
He gives the same message in Galatians 5:19-21: "the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God!" (Gal 5:19) As sin is a monster of so many heads, he does not list them all but summarizes them in that list; declaring, those who practiced the vices mentioned, or similar ones, though not exactly the same, will be excluded from heaven.
This was not a rare declaration but what he had solemnly repeated at various times: "I warn you," he says "as I warned you before." He denounces the same doom against these vices in his epistle to the Colossians; "Sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry. On account of these the wrath of God is coming. In these you too once walked, when you were living in them." (Col 3:5-7)
I will add but one more testimony , "But as for the cowardly, the faithless, the detestable, as for murderers, the sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars, their portion will be in the lake that burns with fire and sulfur, which is the second death.” (Rev 21:8) These, you see, are the certain symptoms of those who are on the path to hell: and if they are finally admitted into a state of everlasting happiness, while they continue as they are, it is certain that our religion must be false; for the Bible, which is the foundation of our religion, repeatedly declares that they will not be admitted there.
It is also noticeable, that in this black list, you not only find the sort of open vices which are commonly denounced by people, but also those that are secret, that live in the heart, and which are generally esteemed to be much less serious evils. Here you find not only murder, immorality, idolatry, theft, and such terrible and shocking sins, but also covetousness, fits of anger, strife, envyings, unbelief, lying, greed and such like hidden sins, which men generally indulge themselves in, without feeling much guilt on their consciences, or thinking themselves in great danger of punishment. These are but small weaknesses and trivial offences; only little, trifling sins, in their esteem. But oh! how different an estimate does God form of them! He pronounces them damnable vices, the practice of which will certainly exclude them from his favour. And his sentence will stand, whether we agree or not.
I would be very sorry to so much as to suppose, there are any among you of this sad character. But I must ask you to make your own decision; and with so favourable a judge, you will, no doubt, be acquitted, if you are clear. If you are free from these grosser forms of vice, do not some of you live in wrath, lying, unbelief, covetousness, secret immorality, and the like?
If this is your character, I have another question to put to you; and that is: whether it is most likely that you will be excluded from the kingdom of heaven; OR that Christ and his apostles, and the other writers of the Holy Scriptures, were deceivers? One or other must be the case; if you are admitted into heaven then they were certainly deceivers: for they have declared that you will not be admitted. Will you disbelieve their evidence, merely because it is against you? Will you believe nothing but what is in your favour? That would be a strange test of truth indeed.
And so you are assisted to judge who are the wicked; and whether some of you do not belong to this unhappy class. And now I proceed to another class.
2. Secondly, All those are wicked, who knowingly, wilfully and regularly indulge themselves in any ONE sin, whether it be the omission of a commanded duty, or the practice of something forbidden.
Every godly man is of the same spirit with David, who could appeal to God himself, Lord, I have “my eyes fixed on all your commandments;" (Psalm 119:6) and with Paul, "I delight in the law of God, in my inner being." (Romans 7:22) And consequently, those who do not have practical respect for ALL of God's commandments, without exception; and who do not inwardly delight in his law, are of a spirit and character directly contrary to David and Paul; in other words they are wicked.
The wilful and regular practice of any known sin and the wilful and habitual neglect of any known duty, are repeatedly mentioned in the Scriptures, as the sure signs of a wicked man. "Whoever says “I know him” but does not keep his commandments is a liar, and the truth is not in him." (1 John 2:4) "Whoever makes a practice of sinning," that is, wilfully, knowingly, and regularly, "is of the devil." (1 John 3:8) "By this it is evident who are the children of God, and who are the children of the devil:" verse 10; this is the great difference between them; "whoever does not practice righteousness is not of God."
Our Lord himself has repeatedly assured us, that all pretensions to love him are vain, unless we keep his commandments. "If anyone loves me, he will keep my word, … Whoever does not love me does not keep my words." (John 14:23-24)
What is it to be a wicked person but to work iniquity? And what is it to work iniquity but to neglect what God has commanded, or practice what he has forbidden. He who does one thing from a regard to God, will endeavour to do everything from the same principle. And wilful disobedience to him in one instance, reveals a disposition which would disobey the divine authority in every instance, if there were the same temptations to it.
Let this, therefore, be known to you all, as an undoubted truth: that the wilful regular indulgence of any known sin, is a sure mark of a wicked man. You may plead the weakness of human nature, the strength of temptation, or the innocence of your hearts and intentions even in the midst of your sins! You may plead that the best have their weaknesses, as well as you: and that many around you, are much worse than you. You may plead these, and a thousand such excuses: but plead whatever you will all your excuses are in vain; and this still remains an unchangeable truth, that all the regular practisers of sin are the servants of sin.
It dies not matters whether the sin is secret and hidden, or public and acknowledged; whether it be of a greater or smaller size; whether you are stung with remorse for it afterwards or not; whether you intend to forsake it hereafter, or not. Such circumstances as these will not change the case. In spite of such circumstances, if you indulge any one known sin, you bear the infernal brand of wickedness upon you.
I grant, that godly men sin, and that they are far from perfection of holiness in this life. I grant also, that some of them have fallen into some gross sin. But, after all, I must insist, that they do not indulge themselves in the wilful, habitual practice of any known sin or the wilful, habitual neglect of any known duty.
John expressly tells us, "No one born of God makes a practice of sinning, for God's seed abides in him; and he cannot keep on sinning, because he has been born of God." (1 John 3:9) That is, he cannot sin habitually; the meaning is, he cannot go on in any one sin as his usual way of life. But if he falls, it is by surprise; and looking at his overall behaviour, he is generally, and for the most part, under the influence of holy principles. These are predominant, or have the mastery within him and from these, he chiefly acts.
Again, he cannot sin wilfully. That is, with full bent of soul. The prevailing inclination and tendency of his soul is not towards sin: but on the other hand, he really hates it and resists it, even in its most tempting forms. And it is his incessant struggle and honest endeavour to suppress it. He never can abandon himself again to the free, uncontrolled indulgence of the sweetest sin, though it should be only in heart. Both Scripture and Reason renounce those crowds of pretended Christians we have among us, who are under the habitual power of some sin or other and live in the neglect of some known duty. A servant of Christ, who does not endeavour to do his Master's will, in every known instance, is a contradiction.
And now, are not some of you convicted of the character of wicked men, women or children, who might not come under the previous description of grievous sinners? Do not some of you know in your consciences, that there is some little sweet sin (as you esteem it) which you cannot bear to part with? Is there not some Christian duty, which is so disagreeable to you, so contrary to your taste, to your reputation in the wicked world, or to your earthly interests that though you are secretly convinced it is your duty, yet you do not do it; you put it off; and think God will overlook your disobedience in so small a manner? Are not some of you conscious that this is your practice? If so, you must be take your place among the numerous class of wicked men, women and children. There, indeed, you have company enough: but company is no security against Omnipotence.
3. Thirdly, all those are wicked, who lack those graces and virtues, which make up the character of a godly person. Wickedness is a lack of Christian graces and virtues. The lack of faith, the lack of love, repentance, benevolence, and charity, does as really make up a wicked man as drunkenness, blasphemy, or any open immorality. Scripture abundantly declares that these graces and virtues are essential to a godly man, and the lack of them the grand mark and substance of a wicked one.
A godly man, who does not love God or mankind; a godly man without faith or repentance is as great a contradiction as a hero without courage, a scholar without learning, a righteous ruler without justice, or a fire without heat.
Therefore, if any of you do not believe, that is, if do not have that inner persuasion of the truth and importance of the things contained in the Word of God, an inner impression that impresses and governs your heart and life; particularly, if you do not believe in Jesus Christ, which is the central requirement of the gospel, if you are not deeply aware of your guilty and helpless condition; and if, as corrupt, helpless sinners, you do not receive Jesus Christ as your only Savior, and trust in his righteousness alone as the only ground of your acceptance with God; I say, if you do not have such a faith as this you are wicked people!
I say, such a faith as this; for, as to the faith which is prevalent in the western world, I mean a mere speculative or historical assent to the truth of the Christian religion, and that Christ is the Messiah; this is but the faith of devils, only with this difference, that devils believe and tremble; whereas, many who have this faith among us, believe and sin without trembling.
If you are without the grace of repentance, if you do not have a clear conviction and deep sense of your sinfulness in heart and life, by nature and practice; if you are not deeply sorry at heart for your sins, and hate them, hate them all without exception; if you do not hate them, not only on account of the punishment they deserve but because of their intrinsic vileness and their opposition to the Divine purity; if you do not forsake your sins, as well as sorrow for them; and if you do not run to the mere mercy of God in Jesus Christ for pardon, and place all your dependence upon his righteousness; I say, unless this is your daily experience and practice, then you are entirely destitute of true evangelic repentance, and consequently come under the unhappy class of wicked men.
If you do not love God with all your hearts, that is, if you do not have frequent affectionate thoughts of him; if you do not delight in his service, and in communion with him in his ordinances; if your love does not produce cheerful, universal obedience, which is the sure test of love then you are certainly destitute of the heavenly grace of love; and surely, without this, you will not pretend to have the character of godly men, women and children! A godly person, without the love of God: this is simply not possible.
Finally, if your hearts are not driven by the generous principle of love and compassion to mankind; if you are not concerned with, and endeavour to promote their good as well as your own, and especially the good of their souls by their conversion to God; if you do not regularly observe the rules of justice and love in your transactions with them, and do to others what you would reasonably desire them to do to you in similar circumstances; if you are destitute of this disposition towards mankind; then you are destitute of an essential quality of a godly man, and therefore your are wicked.
Now if all who do not have these qualifications should walk off to the left hand, as they must do another day, the final judgment, then how would this little assembly look? Would only a few be left behind! I ask you for the good of your souls to examine yourselves impartially, that you may know what is your true character.
4. Fourthly, to sum up the whole, all those are wicked, who still continue in their natural state; who have never been regenerated, or experienced a complete change of their views and attitude towards God and the things of God. Even our own observation of the natural tendencies of mankind is enough to convince us, even without the help of the Scriptures, that they are from their very birth, wicked, uninterested in God and holiness, and inclined to do what is evil. And truly! you are stubbornly ignorant of yourselves, if you do not know, by experience, that this is your case.
To this the Scriptures also bear abundant testimony. "That which is born of the flesh is flesh.“ (John 3:6) And “those who are in the flesh cannot please God." (Rom 8:8) We “were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind;" (Eph 2:3) we and others, that is, all, without exception, are by nature children of wrath, and therefore, by nature wicked: for certainly those who are not wicked, cannot be children of wrath. "Every intention of the thoughts of their (his) heart is (was) only evil continually,” (Gen 6:5) “from their (his) youth!" (Gen 8:21) And nothing good dwells in their flesh. (Rom 7:18)
Based on this corruption of human nature is founded the need of that change of disposition, which the Scripture calls, and which, therefore, we dare to call, the new birth, or new creation. And since this corruption of human nature is universal, it follows, that all are wicked who have never experienced this divine change.
This must do, at present, as an answer to the first question, WHO are the wicked? And I hope some of you here present, if you honestly make use of the light you have, have discovered, that whatever flattering hopes you have entertained, you must really place yourselves in the class with wicked people. This is an alarming thing to discover at any time: but it is much better to see it now, when there is hope of a cure; than in the eternal world, when it will be too late, and your case will be hopeless and desperate.
And now, O wicked man, woman or child, whoever you are, as Ehud said to Eglon in the book of judges, "I have a message from God for you!" (Jud 3:20) I have a message not unlike his; and that is, "You shall surely die!" (Open and proud sinner, "you shall surely die!") You, who knowingly, wilfully, and regularly indulge yourselves in any favourite sin, "you shall surely die!" You who are without genuine faith, love, and the other graces and virtues essential to a godly person, "you shall surely die!" You, who are still the same in the original state that you were born in, "you shall surely die!" This is the invariable decree of God that you shall die!
You may put the thought of death out of your minds: but, for all that you shall die! You may continue unprepared for it, but you must die! Were you as high and bright as Lucifer, as rich as Croesus, the legendary King of Lydia , as powerful as Alexander the great, you must die! Your wickedness cannot make you immortal. Though you are wicked people now, you will be dead people before long! Yes, as surely as you now live, you shall surely die!
But someone might ask, "What is this you are saying? Is death only for the wicked? Must all men not die, the godly as well as the wicked? How then can death be threatened as the peculiar doom of the wicked?" The answer to this naturally leads me to the second question:
II. What kind of DEATH shall the wicked man die?
It is true that natural death is the universal doom of all mankind. "The wise dies just like the fool!" (Ecc 2:16) The highest achievements in holiness cannot earn immortality. Peter and Paul are dead, as well as Judas. But though there is no difference in this respect, there is a big difference in another, and that is, the death of the wicked is quite another thing, or comes under quite a different notion, from the death of the righteous.
The righteous, in death, enjoy, more or less, the consolations of an approving conscience, the encouragement of the assurance of the love of God, and the kind support of an Almighty Saviour's hand. But the wicked die as criminals at the hand of justice; their guilt is unpardoned, and this gives death its sting! They have no almighty Friend in death. But Jesus, who is the only one who can save them, is their enemy! They have no warm feelings of divine love; but only guilty memories and a shocking future; or, if they have hopes of eternal happiness, which most of them probably do, sadly! they are only short-lived delusions, which will vanish like a dream in the morning, as soon as the light of eternity flashes on them.
Death dismisses the righteous from all their sins and sorrows, and leads them into a state of perfect and everlasting holiness and happiness. But the death of the wicked cuts them off from all enjoyments, from all the means and hopes of salvation, and fixes them in an unchangeable, everlasting state of sin and misery!
Death to them is the gate of hell, the door of their infernal prison, and a sad farewell to all happiness! Then, farewell, a long, an everlasting farewell to the comforts of this life, and all its pleasant prospects! Farewell to friends! Farewell to hope and peace! Farewell to all the means of grace! Farewell God, and Christ, and all the blessedness of heaven. Now, nothing awaits them but wrath and fiery indignation. And this is how, O wicked man, woman or child, this is how you will die: and is this not a very different thing from the death of the righteous?
Ponder this, and surely it must alarm you. The time is just at hand, when the cold hand of death will seize you; when your heart will beat for the last time; when your strength will fail; the shadow of death hover over your eyes; a ghastly paleness overtake you; and a deadly numbness take hold of you, and paralyse your active limbs; when the unwilling, lingering soul must be torn from the body, its old companion; must say farewell to all the enjoyments and pursuits of this mortal life, and leap the gulf of eternity, and launch away; when it must pass into the immediate presence of God, mingle among the strange, unfamiliar beings that inhabit the unseen, untried world, and be fixed in an unchangeable state; when your bodies, must be laid in the cold and gloomy grave, to return from the dust from which they came; when you must leave your riches, your honours, your pleasures, which you pursued with so much effort and eagerness, and go as naked out of the world as you came into it!
When you come to this extreme point in time, think, you who are yet wicked, think seriously how miserable your condition will be! Then there will be no pleasurable reviews of your past life! no supporting words of comfort from your conscience within! no God, no Jesus, no Savior to support you! no encouraging hope before you! or none but the delusive, vanishing, confounding encouragement of a false and flattering hope! No relief, no gleam of hope from heaven or earth, from God or his creatures! Nothing but . . .
a guilty life behind you!
a corrupt heart, utterly unfit for heaven, and a aggressive, gnawing conscience, within you!
an angry God, a frowning Savior, and a lost heaven above you!
a boundless, burning ocean below you!
Consider what a tragic exit, what an unspeakably sad and miserable end this is!
This is to die indeed! And so, O wicked one “you shall surely die!" Such a death will be the certain doom of persisting, impenitent wickedness. I need make no exception at all but only that which has already been hinted at, namely, that many a wicked person dies with a self-flattering idea that he is not wicked, and with expectant hopes of heaven. This is a common case, especially with people that have not lived under a faithful ministry, to inform them honestly of the nature of true religion, and the fundamentals of salvation.
But tragically! what a sandy foundation this is! What good is it to enjoy a little delusive relief in the hour of death, when the very first step into the eternal world will cause the dream to vanish forever, and leave you to perish without hope, in all the confusion and consternation of eternal disappointment! This is how every wicked person among you must die, if you still continue such.
But even this, as dreadful as it is, is not all. There is, besides this, that dreadful something, called the second death, which is spoken of in Revelation as we have seen, and which you, O wicked person, must die. Besides that death, which will put an end to this fleeting life; you will have another death to suffer; a death, which will immediately begin when the first is over: a death, which will not be over in a few moments like the other, but the agonies of which will continue; an everlasting death; a state of misery, which will make life worse than death.
Then the soul will be forever dead to God and holiness; dead to all the means of grace, and all the enjoyments of this life; dead to all happiness and all hope; dead to all the pleasurable purposes of existence; dead to everything that deserves the name of life; in short, dead to everything, but the torturing sensations of pain. To these the soul will be tremblingly alive all over, to all eternity! But, sadly! to be alive, in this sense; alive only to suffer pain, is worse than death. Worse than ceasing completely to exist. This is the meaning of that dreadful phrase, "the second death."
As life, in the language of Scripture, frequently stands for a state of perfect, everlasting happiness; so death often stands for a state of misery. And the "second death" stands for that second state that follows the first death; a state of total, everlasting misery! as full of death and misery, as heaven is of life and happiness. Thus, O wicked person, you will surely die! For remember, you do not have the character of those who are safe from the "second death." Their character you have in the book Revelation: "He who overcomes will not be hurt by the second death." (Rev 2:11) It is only the Christian hero, the brave soldier of Jesus Christ, who is enabled by divine grace to conquer his sins within, and all temptations from without. That is the one, the only one, who will escape unhurt by this dreadful kind of death.
As for others, particularly the "cowardly, the faithless, the sexually immoral, and all liars" you are expressly told, "their portion will be in the lake that burns with fire and sulfur." Here, also, you may see a Scripture definition of the "second death," (Rev 21:8) it is to lie in the lake that burns with fire and sulfur. Is this not a shocking image?
And now, when you see the dreadful meaning of this sentence, may it not spread terror through even this little gathering to hear, "O wicked one, you shall surely die!" Are your hearts armoured against the thunder of his threatening? Are you so foolhardy, as not to be concerned, whether life or death, eternal life or eternal death is your destination?
Is there no one in this gathering who takes this seriously as at least to ask, "Is there no way to escape? Must I die without hope? Is the this sentence beyond repeal?"
If the pressure of eternity has finally caught up to you and you are asking this question, the happy answer is :No, blessed be God, you are yet alive; and while there is life there is hope. The gates of hell have not yet been shut and barred behind you! Therefore, in the name of God, I assure you, there is hope, there is a possibility of escaping.
But in what way? Suppose you sin on, as you have done up till now, and follow the herd in the crowd of wicked men; suppose that you still continue thoughtless about the great concerns of eternity, neglect the Lord Jesus, and attend upon the means of grace (that is: reading your Bible, praying, attending the worship of God) in a careless, formal manner; suppose that your hearts should never be changed by the almighty power of God but still remain hard, impenitent, in love with sin and the world, and destitute of the love of God; suppose that you resist the strivings of the Holy Spirit and your own consciences, flatter yourselves with vain hopes of safety, and shut your eyes against the light of conviction; suppose that you should abandon yourselves to the pursuit of this world with your usual eagerness, and drown all serious thoughts in the bustle and confusion of earthly affairs; I say, suppose that you should take this course; then is there any hope? No! in this way there is nothing but despair. However long you should live, if continue in this manner you would still continue wicked, and never become more fit for heaven than you now are; rather, like a body tending to corruption, you would corrupt and putrefy more and more.
Consult your reason, consult your Bible, consult anything, except the self-flattering heart of man, and the father of lies; and they will all tell you, that if you persist in this way of living that you shall surely die! No one who ever went on in this course has entered into heaven: but in this downward road those crowds persisted, who are now with Judas, in the place of torment; and, if you walk in their steps then you will certainly, before long, be among them.
But if you will pay attention, I will endeavour to show you what you must do to be saved, and point out to you the way of life and hope. Hear me, O wicked person! who is under the sentence of death; hear me, and I will show you how you may obtain a cancellation of the sentence, and live forever.
Let me again demand your attention to the following directions:
If you would escape death in its most dreadful form, and enter into life, then:
1. First, Seriously apply yourselves immediately to serious thoughtfulness. No more of your levity and business; no more of your fun, and vanity, and dissipation of thought. But now, at long last, begin to really THINK; to think seriously and sadly of your sins, of your guilty and wretched condition, of your danger of being forever miserable, and of the best means of deliverance.
2. Secondly, Break off from those things that hinder your conversion. Stop mingling in the company of sinners, nor run with them into the same excesses. Break off from your over-eager pursuit of the world; and act as if you thought it infinitely worse to be lost forever, than to be low and poor in this life.
3. Thirdly, Diligently use all means that may instruct you in the nature of true religion, and teach you what you should do to be saved: particularly, read the Scriptures, and other good books, and hear the most faithful preaching you can find.
4. Fourthly, Earnestly pray to God. If you have until now had prayerless families, or never prayed in secret, let this no longer be so: this evening make time to come to God in prayer. Pray, particularly, for the Holy Spirit, who alone can thoroughly convert and sanctify you.
5. Fifthly, Endeavour to receive and submit to the Lord Jesus as your only Savior. It is through him alone, that you can be saved: therefore, make use of him as your only mediator, in all your transactions with God.
Finally, do not delay to follow these directions. If, as Felix did, you put it off to a more convenient time, (Acts 24:25.) there is very little hope. "Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts." (Heb 3:15) "Now is the favorable time; behold, now is the day of salvation." (2 Cor6:2) Therefore, now, this moment, begin the work. Now dart up a prayer to heaven, "Lord, here is a poor wicked creature, who must die before long, unless you have mercy upon me: have mercy upon me, O God of mercy." Pray in this way, and keep your souls, as it were, always in a praying posture until you are heard.
And now, as we come to a close,
what is your resolution regarding all of this? Are you resolved to take the required steps for your deliverance or are you not? If you are, you have great reason to hope for success. But if not, I defy you to find one encouraging word to you in all the Bible. On the other hand, I am commanded, with solemn warnings if I do not, to warn you; and therefore I would once more sound this dreadful alarm in your ears, "O wicked one, you shall surely die!" And if, when you hear the words of this curse, you bless yourselves in your hearts, and hope for better things; then God foresaw there would be such self-flattering, presumptuous sinners in the world, and he has prepared his terrors against them.
These are the words of God in Deuteronomy chapter 29: “Beware lest there be among you one who, when he hears the words of this sworn covenant, blesses himself in his heart, saying, ‘I shall be safe, though I walk in the stubbornness of my heart.’ (20) The LORD will not be willing to forgive him, but rather the anger of the LORD and his jealousy will smoke against that man, and the curses written in this book will settle upon him, and the LORD will blot out his name from under heaven. (21) And the LORD will single him out from all the tribes of Israel for calamity, in accordance with all the curses of the covenant written in this Book of the Law.” (Deut 29:19)
What a tremendous threatening this is! and you see it stands in full force against those who presumptuously flatter themselves with false hopes of exemption from punishment: and it will certainly come to pass upon any of you who have disregard this repeated warning, "O wicked one, you shall surely die!"
I hope that there are some of you to whom the character of the wicked does not belong, and therefore are in no danger of dying their death. To you I would speak a few parting words of encouragement.
You must die; but death to you will be a harmless, stingless thing. Death is only your Father's messenger to take you home so that you may be forever with him. You will have good company in death; Jesus, your faithful and never-failing friend, will be with you then, and support you: and his angels will wait around your dying bed to receive your departing soul, and carry them to eternal rest. Death will be your birthday; then you will be born, not a helpless, weeping infant, into a world of sin and sorrow, but a perfect immortal, into a world of perfect happiness and glory!
Death will be the last enemy that you will ever be in conflict with; after that, you will be conquerors, more than conquerors, forever. Death to you will be a blessing, and not a curse: so that as to you, I may change the threatening in my text, into a promise, "O godly person, you shall surely die!" Yes, blessed be God, you shall die in spite of earth and hell; you shall not be doomed to live always in such a sinful wretched world as this; but death, your friend, will set you free, and carry you to the place where Jesus is, and where your heart is gone before you.
This may, perhaps, seem strange language, that death should become a blessing: but such strange things does Jesus perform for his people. And may we all "die the death of the upright, and our (let my) end be like his!" (Num 23:10.)