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SLEEP AN EMBLEM OF THE DEATH OF
Acts vii. 60.
Forbear, my soul, to weep like those
And of his victory sing:
THIS is said of Stephen to express the serenity of his mind, the solidity of his faith, and the repose of his soul in God, while his enemies were stoning him to death. The God of grace, who hath ever distinguished between the lives of the righteous and those of the wicked, continues that distinction unto death. Therefore it is, that while the impenitent die the death; that is, death in all its terrible nature and consequences, the believer is described as falling asleep. In this Lecture I shall explain to you a few reasons, why the death of the righteous is described under the emblem of sleep. And may the benediction of God crown my efforts with success.
1. SLEEP is the shadow, and not the substance of death. There is nothing which nature possesses; no change or state incident to man that so strongly exhibits the state of death as sleep. For although the person under the power of sleep has his senses suspended, and bears the highest appearance of death, yet he still exists in animal life; he is not really dead. This perfectly
corresponds with the nature of the death of the righteous taught by Jesus. He that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live : and whosoever liveth and believeth in me, shall never die. The nature of death to them that believe is astonishingly changed; so that eternal life shall be their portion. As this is a subject of such great importance, I will explain to you the manner how this change is produced.
Death was one of those enemies with whom the Son of God came to combat and to destroy, for the sake of his people. Death is the king of terrors. He ascended his throne on the commission of transgression. By sin came death. Death has reigned from Adam to Moses, down to the present hour. Sin has armed death with an envenomed sting, which receives its force from the holiness and justice of that divine law which we have so repeatedly transgressed. Christ, by the shedding of his blood, satisfied divine justice, and thus disarmed death of his sting. Christ hath redeemed us from the curse of the law, being made a curse for us. And although he en tered the territories of the grave, it was to vanquish death in his own dominions, and then to arise to demonstrate the perfection of his redemption, and that he was the Son of God with power. Thus we are assured our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ hath abolished death, and brought life and immortality to light by the Gospela In the obedience, sufferings, and death of Jesus, the law of God is honoured, its penalties satisfied, death conquered, mercy and truth meet together, righteousness and peace embrace each other.
I said sleep was the shadow, not the substance of death. A shadow you know is the faint resemblance of a substance produced by a luminous body shining upon
it. Thus the shadow of a tree is formed on the earth by the rays of the sun or moon shining upon it. Now, Christ, the SUN OF RIGHTEOUSNESS, shines upon death, whom he hath conquered, and the shadow only remains for the righteous to pass. And what is more admirably expressive of that shadow than sleep? Well might David say, Though I pass through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for thou art with
Give me leave now to assure you, that it is of the highest consequence for you to obtain an appropriating knowledge of the conquest of death by the Son of God. It certainly forms a material part of the experience and hope of the righteous. The death of Christ for sin lays the foundation of conversion from sin. We must either meet the substance of death clothed with inconceivable terror, or pass through its shadow by faith in the Son of God. The Bible assures of no peaceful death, but of those who die in the Lord, and sleepin Jesus. United by faith to the Saviour's person, your sins washed in his blood, your soul covered with his righteousness, and enriched with his grace; these Gospel realities, made known to you by the light and power of the Holy Ghost, can alone form the basis of a certain hope of meeting death as a friend, to conduct you to bliss. Then, with confidence and triumph you may say, To me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain. And when your time of departure shall arrive, you shall feel no more evil than passing through the shade of an ample grove, or reclining in softest slumbers.
2. SLEEP is the well known medium of rest after the labour of the day is ended. Such rest the Christian anticipates by sleeping in Jesus, when he shall.close this:
inortal life of sin and sorrow. Life is a journey, attend. ed by numberless cares. The children of God, as they have a new life, so they have a new path to tread, of which the world are unacquainted. Under the weighty experience of this, Job, when pointing to the grave, exclaimed, there the wicked cease from troubling, and there the weary are at rest. The life of man at best: is a laborious day; but the life of a Christian is more abundantly so. In common with other men, they have their losses, disappointments, and vexations. In the circle of their own breast, they have a seat of greater sorrow.. 'The remains of a depraved nature, an heart prone to depart from the God they wish to love, unnum.. bered temptations, which, like arrows from the infernal regions, produce such extreme labour and sorrow, were they not supported by the power of the Saviour, they would sink in despair! God, however, has provided ample support, and though faint, they are enabled to. pursue. In this tabernacle they groan, being burdened ; and the hope they possess of immortality makes them ardently desire to depart and to be with Christ in glory, which, as Paul expresses it, is far better. Truly just is the observation of Solomon, The sleep of the labouring man is sweet. This is eminently realized in the death of the righteous, who are favoured with such views of death, as unstung by the death of Christ, that with the prophet Isaiah, they look upon death as a bed, on which they shall rest. Some of you may have your fears, how it shall be with you, in a dying hour. Remember, God hath said, At evening time it shall be light. He, said Jesus, that followeth afler me, shall not walk in darke. ness, but shall have the light of life. Let me, therefore, exhort you to follow near the Saviour, carry the cross of affliction with patience, and trust him for illuminating grace, whenever he shall put you to the bed of death. 18 thy day, thy strength shall be. With dying Stephen you shall see the heavens open, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God to receive you. Then, let the time, the place, the external circumstances of your death be what they may, you shall embrace your happy rest, and know what it is to fall asleep in Jesus !
3. A time to go to sleep you know is a time of un. DRESS; the apparel of the day is thrown off. Such a time of undress is the dying hour! To a thoughtless youth, a busy worldling; or an old sinner, this must prove an alarming undressing time indeed! Not the gay apparel only which may have elated their pride, and introduced them into the paths of dissipation; but all their false hopes, their associates, their very flesh, must submit to be undressed by the cold hand of death: For naked came we into this world, and naked must we go out of it. But, what adds to the solemnity of sinners' undress by death, is that their souls, more naked thantheir bodies, must pass away without a righteousness to stand in judgment before the tribunal of the great God. Solemn thougħt indeed! if sufficiently received, would make the stoutest heart to tremble, and seek a covering by that glorious robe of righteousness provided by Jesus, of which death, in no possible form, can rob the possessor.
To a Christian, however, this time of undress is received in a very different manner. Paul said, when in near prospect of his death, Shortly I must put off this my tabernacle, even as our Lord Jesus Christ hath shows So far from the robes of mo
lity being torn off with regret or despair, Christians cordially undress, and