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On the Fear of Death.
HEBREWS ii. 14, 15.
Forasmuch then as the children are partakers of flesh
and blood, he also himself likewise took part of the same ; that through death he might destroy him that had the power of death, that is, the devil ; and deliver them who, through fear of death, were all their life-time subject to bondage.
To know what death is, without being terrified at it, is the highest degree of perfection attainable by the human mind; it is the highest point of felicity which a man can reach, while in this valley of tears. 1 say, to know death without fearing it; and it is in the union of these two things we are to look for that effort of genius so worthy of emulation, and that perfection of felicity so much calculated to kindle ardent desire. For to brave death without knowing what it is; to shut our eyes against all that is hideous in its aspect, in order to combat it with success, this is so far from indicating a superior excellency of disposition, that it must be considered rather as a mental derangement: so far from being the height of felicity, it is the extreme of misery,
We have seen philosophers shaking off (if af, ter all they did so in reality, and if that intrepid outside did not conceal a trembling heart), we have seen philosophers shaking off the fear of death ; but they did not know it. They viewed it under only borrowed aspects. They figured it to theinselves, as either reducing the nature of man to a state of annihilation, or as summoning hiin before chimerical tribunals, or as followed by a certain imaginary felicity.
We have seen heroes, as the world calls them, pretending to brave the terrors of death; but they did not know it: they represented it to themselves as crowned with laurels, as decorated with trophies, as figuring on the page of the bistorian.
We have seen, and still see every day, libertines pretending to brave the terrors of death ; but they know it not. Their indolence is the cause of that assumed firmness; and they are incapable of enjoying tranquillity, but by banishing the idea of a period, the horror of which they are unable to over
But not to disguise this formidable object; to view it in its true light; to fix the eye steadily on every feature ; to have a perception of all its terrors; in a word, to know what death is, without being terrified at it, to repeat it once more, is the highest degree of perfection attainable by the human mind; it is the highest point of felicity which a man can reach while in this valley of tears.
Sovereign wisdom, my brethren, forms his children to true heroism. That wisdom effects what neither philosophers by their false maxims, nor the
heroes of the world by their affected intrepidity, nor the libertine by his insensibility and indolence; that wisdom effects what all the powers in the universe could not have produced, and alone bestows on the Christian the privilege of knowing death without fearing it. All this is contained in the words which I have read as the subject of the present discourse : through fear of death, men were all their life-time subject to bondage: there is the power of death; there his empire; there his triumph. Jesus Christ,
through his death, has destroyed him that had the power of death, that is, the devil, and delivers them who, through fear of death, were all their life-time subject to bondage:” Behold death vanquished ! there are bis spoils; there is the triumph over him: salutary ideas! which will present themselves in succession to our thoughts in the sequel of this exercise. “ Forasmuch then as the children are partakers of flesh and blood, he also himself likewise took part of the same; that through death he might destroy him that had the power of death, that is, the devil: and deliver them who, through fear of death, were all their life-time subject to bondage.”
With respect to the first words, “ forasmuch as the children are partakers of flesh and blood, he also himself likewise took part of the same,” I shall only remark, that by the children referred to, we are to understand men in general, and believers in particular: and by that flesh and blood we are not to understand corruption, as in some other passages of Scripture, but human nature ; so that when it is said, “ as the children are partakers of flesh and blood,
Jesus Christ likewise took part of the same," the meaning is, he assumed a body such as ours is.
Having made these few short remarks on the first words, we shall confine ourselves to the two ideas which have been indicated, and shall employ what remains of our time, in proving this fundamental truth, that Jesus Christ,“ by his death, has destroyed him that had the power of death, that is, the devil, in order that he might deliver them who, through fear of death, were all their life-time subject to bondage.”
The terrors of death are expressed in terms powerfully energetical, in this text. It represents to us a mighty tyrant causing death to march at his command, and subjecting the whole universe to his dominion. This tyrant is the devil. He is the personage here described, and who, “through the fear of death, subjects men to bondage.”
You stand aghast, no doubt, on beholding the whole human race reduced to subjection under a master so detestable. The fact, however, cannot be called in question; this great enemy of our salvation unquestionably exercises a sort of empire over the universe. Though the scriptures speak sparingly of the nature and functions of this malignant spirit, they say enough of them to convey to us a striking idea of his power, and to render it formidable to us. The Scripture tells us, I. That he tempts men to sin; witness the wiles which he practised on our first parents : witness that which St. Paul says of bim in chap. ii. of the Epistle to the Ephesians, “ the spirit that worketh in the children of
disobedience:" witness the name of Tempter given to him in the gospel history, Matt. iv. 3. T'he Scripture informs us, II. That he accuses men before God of those very crimes which he solicited them to commit: witness the prophet Zechariah, who was “shewed Joshua the high-priest, standing before the angel of the Lord, and Satan standing at his right hand to resist him;" or, as it might have been rendered, to be his adversary or accuser ; witness the descriptive appellation of calumniator or accuser given bim by St. John in the Apocalypse. The scripture tells us, III. That he sometimes torments men ; witness the history of Job ; witness what St. Paul
says of his delivering up unto Satan the incestuous person at Corinth. This power of delivering up to Satan, to mention it by the way, was a part of the miraculous gifts conferred on the apostles; gifts transmitted to the immediately succeeding ages of the Church, at least if Paulinus is to be credited on this subject,* who relates that an abandoned wretch was, by St. Ambrosius, delivered up to Satan, who tore him in pieces. Finally, IV. We find the Devil designed in Scripture, the God of the world, 2 Cor. iv. 4. “and the Prince of the power of the air," Eph. ii. 2. You likewise see him represented as acting on the waters of the sea, as raising tempests, and as smiting the children of men with various kinds of plagues.
But if the devil be represented as exercising an influence over the ills of human life, he is still more
* Paulin. de Vit. Ambros.