Master Sermon List
Death: Part I
by Thomas Boston
"For I know that thou wilt bring me to death, and to the house appointed for all living." Job 30:23.
I come now to discourse of man's eternal state, into which he enters by death. Of this entrance, Job takes a solemn serious view, in the words of the text, which contain a general truth, and a particular application of it. The general truth is supposed; namely, that all men must, by death, remove out of this world; they must die. But whither must they go? They must go to the house appointed for all living; to the grave, that darksome, gloomy, solitary house, in the land of forgetfulness. Wherever the body is laid up till the resurrection, thither, as to a dwelling-house, death brings us home. While we are in the body, we are but in a lodging-house, in an inn, on our way homeward. When we come to our grave, we come to our home, our long home, Eccl. 12:5. All living must be inhabitants of this house, good and bad, old and young.
Man's life is a stream, running into death's devouring deeps. They who now live in palaces, must quit them, and go home to this house; and they who have not where to lay their heads, shall thus have a house at length. It is appointed for all, by Him whose counsel shall stand. This appointment cannot be shifted; it is a law which mortals cannot transgress. Job's application of this general truth to himself, is expressed in these words: "I know that thou wilt bring me to death," etc. He knew, that he must meet with death; that his soul and body must needs part; that God, who had set the time, would certainly see it kept.
Sometimes Job was inviting death to come to him, and carry him home to its house; yes, he was in the hazard of running to it before the time: Job 7:15, "My soul chooseth strangling, and death rather than my life." But here he considers God would bring him to it; yea, bring him back to it, as the word imports. Whereby he seems to intimate, that we have no life in this world, but as runaways from death, which stretches out its cold arms, to receive us from the womb: but though we do then narrowly escape its clutches, we cannot escape long; we shall be brought back again to it. Job knew this, he had laid it down as a certainly, and was looking for it.
Doctrine. All must die. - Although this doctrine be confirmed by the experience of all former generations, ever since Abel entered into the house appointed for all living, and though the living know that they shall die, yet it is needful to discourse of the certainty of death, that it may be impressed on the mind, and duly considered.
1. "There is an unalterable statute of death," under which men are concluded. "It is appointed unto men once to die," Heb. 9:27. It is laid up for them, as parents lay up for their children: they may look for it, and cannot miss it; seeing God has designed and reserved it for them. There is no peradventure in it; "we must needs die," II Sam. 14:14. Though some men will not hear of death, yet every man must needs see death, Psalm 89:48. Death is a champion all must grapple with: we must enter the lists with it, and it will have the mastery, Eccl. 8:8, "There is no man that hath power over the spirit, to retain the spirit; neither hath he power in the day of death." They indeed who are found alive at Christ's coming, shall all be changed, I Cor. 15:51. But that change will be equivalent to death, will answer the purposes of it. All other persons must go the common road, the way of all flesh.
2. Let us consult daily observation. Every man "seeth that wise men die, likewise the fool and brutish person," Psalm 49:10. There is room enough on this earth for us, notwithstanding the multitudes that were upon it before us. They are gone, to make room for us; as we must depart, to make room for others. It is long since death began to transport men into another world, and vast multitudes are gone thither already: yet the work is going on still; death is carrying off new inhabitants daily, to the house appointed for all living. Who could ever hear the grave say, It is enough! Long has it been getting, but still it asketh. This world is like a great fair or market, where some are coming in, others going out; while the assembly that is in it is confusion, and the most part know not wherefore they are come together; or, like a town situated on the road to a great city, through which some travelers have passed, some are passing, while others are only coming in, Eccl. 1:4, "One generation passeth away, and another generation cometh: but the earth abideth for ever." Death is an inexorable, irresistible messenger, who cannot be diverted from executing his orders by the force of the mighty, the bribes of the rich, or the entreaties of the poor. It does not reverence the hoary head, nor pity the harmless babe. The bold and daring cannot outbrave it; nor can the faint-hearted obtain a discharge in this war.
3. The human body consists of perishing materials, Gen. 3:19, "Dust thou art, and unto dust thou shalt return." The strongest are but brittle earthen vessels, easily broken in shivers. The soul is but meanly housed, while in this mortal body, which is not a house of stone, but a house of clay, the mud walls cannot but molder away; especially seeing the foundation is not on a rock, but in the dust; they are crushed before the moth, though this insect be so tender that the gentle touch of a finger will despatch it, Job 4:19. These principles are like gunpowder; a very small spark lighting on them will set them on fire, and blow up the house: the stone of a raisin, or a hair in milk, having choked men, and laid the house of clay in the dust. If we consider the frame and structure of our bodies, how fearfully and wonderfully we are made; and on how regular and exact a motion of the fluids, and balance of humours, our life depends; and that death has as many doors to enter in by, as the body has pores; and if we compare the soul and body together, we may justly reckon, that there is somewhat more astonishing in our life, than in our death; and that it is more strange to see dust walking up and down on the dust, than lying down in it. Though the lamp of our life be not violently blown out, yet the flame must go out at length for want of oil. What are those distempers and diseases which we are liable to, but death's harbingers, that come to prepare his way? They meet us, as soon as we set our foot on earth, to tell us at our entry, that we do but come into the world to go out again. Nevertheless, some are snatched away in a moment, without being warned by sickness or disease.
4. We have sinful souls, and therefore have dying bodies: death follows sin, as the shadow follows the body. The wicked must die, by virtue of the threatening of the covenant of works, Gen. 2:17, "In the day that thou eatest thereof, thou shalt surely die." And the godly must die too, that as death entered by sin, sin may go out by death. Christ has taken away the sting of death, as to them; though he has not as yet removed death itself. Wherefore, though it fasten on them, as the viper did on Paul's hand, it shall do them no harm: but because the leprosy of sin is in the walls of the house, it must be broken down, and all the materials thereof carried forth.
5. Man's life in this world, according to the Scripture account of it, is but a few degrees removed from death. The Scripture represents it as a vain and empty thing, short in its continuance, and swift in its passing away.
First, Man's life is a vain and empty thing: while it is, it vanishes away; and lo! it is not. Job 7:16, "My days are vanity." If we suspect afflicted Job of partiality in this matter, hear the wise and prosperous Solomon's character of the days of his life, Eccl. 7:15, "All things have I seen in the days of my vanity," that is, my vain days. Moses, who was a very active man, compares our days to a sleep, Psalm 110:5, "They are as a sleep," which is not noticed till it is ended. The resemblance is just: few men have right apprehensions of life, until death awaken them; then we begin to know that we were living. "We spend our years as a tale that is told," ver. 9. When an idle tale is telling it may affect a little; but when it is ended, it is remembered no more: and so is a man forgotten, when the fable of his life is ended. It is as a dream, or vision of the night, in which there is nothing solid; when one awakes, all vanishes; Job 20:8, "He shall fly away as a dream, and shall not be found; yea, he shall be chased away as a vision of the night." It is but a vain show or image; Psalm 39:6, "Surely every man walketh in a vain show." Man, in this world, is but as it were a walking statue: his life is but an image of life, there is so much of death in it.
If we look on our life, in the several periods of it, we shall find it a heap of vanities. "Childhood and youth are vanity," Eccl. 11:10. We come into the world the most helpless of all animals: young birds and beasts can do something for themselves, but infant man is altogether unable to help himself. Our childhood is spent in pitiful trifling pleasures, which become the scorn of our after thoughts. Youth is a flower that soon withereth, a blossom that quickly falls off; it is a space of time in which we are rash, foolish, and inconsiderate, pleasing ourselves with a variety of vanities, and swimming as it were through a flood of them. But ere we are aware it is past; and we are, in middle age, encompassed with a thick cloud of cares, through which we must grope; and finding ourselves beset with pricking thorns of difficulties, through them we must force our way, to accomplish the projects and contrivances of our riper thoughts.
The more we solace ourselves in any earthly enjoyment we attain to, the more bitterness do we find in parting with it. Then comes old age, attended with its own train of infirmities, labour, and sorrow, Psalm 90:10, and sets us down next door to the grave. In a word, "All flesh is like grass," Isa. 40:6. Every stage or period in life, is vanity. "Man at his best state," his middle age, when the heat of youth is spent, and the sorrows of old age have not yet overtaken him, "is altogether vanity," Psalm 39:5. - Death carries off some in the bud of childhood, others in the blossom of youth, and others when they are come to their fruit; few are left standing, till, like ripe corn, they forsake the ground: all die one time or other.
Secondly, Man's life is a short thing; it is not only a vanity, but a short-lived vanity. Consider,
1. How the life of man is reckoned in the Scriptures. It was indeed sometimes reckoned by hundreds of years: but no man ever arrived at a thousand, which yet bears no proportion to eternity. Now hundreds are brought down to scores; threescore and ten, or fourscore, is its utmost length, Psalm 90:10. But few men arrive at that length of life. Death does but rarely wait, till men be bowing down, by reason of age, to meet the grave. Yet, as if years were too big a word for such a small thing as the life of man on earth, we find it counted by months, Job 14:5. "The number of his months are with thee." Our course, like that of the moon, is run in a little time: we are always waxing or waning, till we disappear.
But frequently it is reckoned by days; and these but few, Job 14:1, "Man, that is born of a woman, is of few days." Nay, it is but one day, in Scripture account; and that a hireling's day, who will precisely observe when his day ends, and give over his work, ver. 6, "Till he shall accomplish as an hireling his day." - Yea, the Scripture brings it down to the shortest space of time, and calls it a moment, II Cor. 4:17, "Our light affliction," though it last all our life long, "is but for a moment." Elsewhere it is brought down yet to a lower pitch, farther than which one cannot carry it, Psalm 39:5, "Mine age is as nothing before thee." Agreeably to this, Solomon tells us, Eccl. 3:2, "There is a time to be born, and a time to die"; but makes no mention of a time to live, as if our life were but a skip from the womb to the grave.
2. Consider the various similitudes by which the Scripture represents the shortness of man's life. Hear Hezekiah, Isa. 38:12, "Mine age is departed, and is removed from me as a shepherd's tent; I have cut off like a weaver my life." The shepherd's tent is soon removed; for the flocks must not feed long in one place; such is a man's life on this earth, quickly gone. It is a web which he is incessantly working; he is not idle so much as for one moment: in a short time it is wrought, and then it is cut off. Every breathing is a thread in this web; when the last breath is drawn, the web is woven out; he expires, and then it is cut off, he breathes no more. Man is like grass, and like a flower, Isa. 40:6. "All flesh," even the strongest and most healthy flesh," is grass, and all the goodliness thereof is as the flower of the field."
The grass is flourishing in the morning; but, being cut down by the mowers, in the evening it is withered: so man sometimes is walking up and down at ease in the morning, and in the evening is lying a corpse, being struck down by a sudden blow, with one or other of death's weapons. The flower, at best, is but a weak and tender thing, of short continuance wherever it grows: but observe, man is not compared to the flower of the garden; but to the flower of the field, which the foot of every beast may tread down at any time. Thus is our life liable to a thousand accidents every day, any of which may cut us off. But though we should escape all these, yet at length this grace withereth, this flower fadeth of itself. It is carried off "as the cloud is consumed, and vanisheth away," Job 7:9. It looks big as the morning cloud, which promises great things, and raises the expectation of the husbandman; but the sun riseth, and the cloud is scattered; death comes, and man vanisheth.
The apostle James proposes the question, "What is your life?" chapter 4:14. Hear his answer, "It is even a vapour, that appeareth for a little time, and then vanisheth away." It is frail, uncertain, and lasteth not. It is as smoke, which goes out of the chimney, as if it would darken the face of the heavens; but quickly it is scattered, and appears no more: thus goeth man's life, and "where is he?" It is wind, Job 7:7, "O remember that my life is wind." It is but a passing blast, a short puff, "a wind that passeth away, and cometh not again," Psalm 78:39. Our breath is in our nostrils, as if it were always upon the wing to depart; ever passing and repassing, like a traveler, until it go away, not to return till the heavens be no more.
3. Man's life is a swift thing; not only a passing, but a flying vanity. Have you not observed how swiftly a shadow runs along the ground, in a cloudy and a windy day, suddenly darkening the places beautified before with the beams of the sun, but as suddenly disappearing? Such is the life of man on the earth, for "he fleeth as a shadow, and continueth not," Job 14:2. A weaver's shuttle is very swift in its motion; in a moment it is thrown from one side of the web to the other; yet "our days are swifter than a weaver's shuttle," chap. 7:6. How quickly is man tossed through time, into eternity! See how Job describes the swiftness of the time of life, chap. 9:25-26. "Now my days are swifter than a post; they flee away, they see no good. They are passed away as the swift ships; as the eagle that hasteth to the prey."
He compares his days with a post, a foot-post; a runner, who runs speedily to carry tidings, and will make no stay. But though the past were like Ahimaaz, who overrun Cushi, our days would be swifter than he; for they flee away, like a man fleeing for his life before the pursuing enemy; he runs with his utmost vigour, yet our days run as fast as he. But this is not all; even he who is fleeing for his life, cannot run always: he must needs sometimes stand still, lie down, or turn in somewhere, as Sisera did into Jael's tent, to refresh himself: but our time never halts.
Therefore it is compared to ships, that can sail night and day without intermission, till they reach their port; and to swift ships, ships of desire, in which men quickly arrive at their desired haven; or ships of pleasure, that sail more swiftly than ships of burden. Yet the wind failing, the ship's course is checked: but our time always runs with a rapid course. Therefore it is compared to the eagle flying; not with his ordinary flight, for that is not sufficient to represent the swiftness of our days; but when he flies upon his prey, which is with an extraordinary swiftness. And thus, even thus, our days flee away.
Death: Part II