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LUKE XX. 27, 28, 29, 30, 31, 32, 33, 34, 35, 36, 37, 38.
Then came to him certain of the Sadducees (which deny that there is any resurrection) and they asked him, saying, Master, Moses wrote unto us, if any man's brother die, having a wife, and he die without children, that his brother should take his wife, and raise up seed unto his brother. There were therefore seven brethren: and the first took a wife, and died without children. And the second took her to wife, and he died childless. And the third took her; and in like manner the seven also. And they left no children, and died. Last of all the woman died also. Therefore in the resurrection, whose wife of them is she? for seven had her to wife. And Jesus answering, said unto them, The children of this world marry, and are given in marriage: but they which shall be accounted worthy to obtain that world, and the resurrection from the dead, neither marry, nor are given in marriage. Neither can they die any more; for they are equal unto the angels, and are the children of God, being the children of the resurrection. Now that the dead are raised, even Moses shewed at the bush, when he calleth the Lord the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob. For he is not a God of the dead, but of the living: for all live unto him.
ONE of the most obvious and natural consolations of reason, under the loss of those whom we dearly loved, and one of the most abundant consolations furnished by religion, is the belief that our departed friends are, at their death, tlisposed of infinitely to their advantage. We weep and mourn while we reflect upon the deprivation of comfort which we have sustained; but we wipe the tears of sorrow from our eyes, when we consider that our loss is their unspeakable gain. "Rachel weeping for her children," refuses to be comforted so long as she thinks "they are not;" but her soul is tranquillized and comforted when her eyes, in faith, look within the veil, and behold them softly and securely reposing in the bosom of their Father and God. It is an humbling and a mortifying employment to visit churchyards, to step from grave to grave, to recal the memory while we trample upon the ashes of the young, the beautiful, the wise and the good; but we find immediate relief, we rise into joy, we tread among the stars, when aided by religion, we transport ourselves in thought to those blessed regions where all the faithful live, and reign, and rejoice; where "they that be wise shine as the brightness of the firmament, and they that turn many to righteousness as the stars forever and ever."* Distance is then swallowed up and lost, and we mingle in the noble employments and pure delights of the blessed immortals who encircle the throne of God.
It is astonishing to think, that there should have been men disposed willingly to deprive themselves of this glorious source of comfort; men ready to resign the high prerogative of their birthright, and by a species of humility strange and unnatural, spontaneously degrading themselves to the level of the brutes that perish. And yet there have been in truth such men in every age
* Dan. xii, 3,
But it is no wonder to find those who satisfy themselves with the pursuits and enjoyments of a mere beastly nature while they live, contented to lie down with the beasts in death, to arise no more. They first make it their interest that there should be no hereafter, and then they fondly persuade themselves that there shall be none.
Error of every kind, both in faith and morals, prevailed in the extreme, at the period when, and in the country where, the Saviour of the world appeared for our redemption. The nation of the Jews was divided, in respect of moral and religious sentiment, into two great sects or parties, who both pretended to found their opinions upon the authority of the inspired books, which were held in universal estimation among them; and particularly the writings of Moses. But they drew conclusions directly opposite from the same facts and doctrines; and both deviated, in the grossest manner, from the spirit and design of that precious record which they both affected to hold in the highest veneration.
The Pharisees, earnestly contending for the strict observance of the law, confined their attention to its minuter and less important objects, and paid "the tithe of mint, and anise and cummin," but omitted "the weightier matters of the law, judgment, mercy and faith:" and, raising oral tradition to the rank and dignity of scripture, found a pretence for dispensing with the plainest and most essential obligations of morality, when these contradicted their interests and opinions. Heinously offended at the neglect of washing of hands previous to eating, they were wicked enough to establish, by a law of their own, neglect of, unkindness and disobedience to parents; thus, according to the just censure which our Lord passed upon them, "straining out a gnat, and swallowing a camel."
The Sadducees, on the other hand, the strong spirits of the age, disdaining the restraints imposed on mankind by a written law, thought fit to become a law unto themselves. They left the austerities of a strict religion and morality to vulgar minds; and that they might procure peace to themselves in the enjoyment of those sinful pleasures to which they were addicted, they denied the existence of spirit, the immortality of the soul, and a future state of retribution. They alleged that the law was silent on those points, and that this silence was a sufficient reason for rejecting the belief of them. They went farther, and contended, that were such doctrines contained in the law, they ought not to be admitted, because they implied a contradiction, or at least involved such a number of difficulties as it was impossible satisfactorily to solve. The chief of those difficulties they propose to our blessed Saviour in the passage which I have read; and they do this, not in the spirit of docility and diffidence to have it removed, but in the pride of their hearts, vainly taking for granted that it was insurmountable.
My principal intention in leading your thoughts to this subject at this time. is the occasion which it afforded to the great Teacher who came from God, of discoursing on a theme nearly connected with the design of these Lectures; and of disclosing to us sundry important particulars, respecting the venerable men whose lives we have been studying, and those which we are still to examine; and respecting that world in which we, together with them, have a concern so deeply, because eternally, interesting. To these we shall be led by making a few cursory remarks on the preceding conversation which took place between Christ and the Sadducees. And this shall serve as an Introduction to the farther continuation of a Course of Lectures on the history of the memorable persons and events presented to us in the holy scriptures of both the Old and New Testaments.
The Sadducees insidiously begin their attack by professing the highest respect for the authority of Moses and of his writings: "Master, Moses wrote
unto us." The most pernicious designs, the most malevolent purposes, are frequently found to clothe themselves in smiles; often while mischief lies brooding in men's hearts, "their words are smoother than oil." The father of lies himself can have recourse to truth if it be likely to serve his turn; and the enemy of all goodness will condescend to quote that scripture which he hates, if it can help him to an argument for the occasion. With this affected deference for Moses, the Sadducees are aiming at the total subversion of every moral and religious principle, by weakening one of the strongest motives to virtue, and undermining the surest foundation of hope and joy to man. They allege, that obedience to the law might eventually lead to much confusion and disorder and they suppose a situation, for none such ever existed, in which compliance with the revealed will of God in this world would infallibly lead to discord and distress in that which is to come. In this we have an example of a very common case; that of men straining their eyes to contemplate objects at a great distance, or totally out of sight, and wilfully neglecting or overlooking those which are immediately before them: troubling themselves about effects and consequences of which they are ignorant, and over which they have no power, while they are regardless of obvious truth and commanded duty, though these are their immediate business and concern. The Sadducees in order to cloak their licentiousness and infidelity, affect solicitude about the regularity and peace of a future state, which in words they denied, if they did not from the heart disbelieve.
I make but one remark more before I proceed to our Lord's reply. Eagerness and anxiety to bring forward and to establish an opinion, betray an inward doubt or disbelief of it.-Truth is not ever proclaiming itself from the house tops, is not forward to obtrude itself upon every occasion, but is satisfied with maintaining and defending itself when assaulted; but falsehood is eternally striving to conceal or strengthen its conscious weakness by a parade of words, and a shew of reason. The zeal of the Sadducees to explode and run down the doctrine of the resurrection, plainly betrays a secret dread and belief of it.
Our Lord, in his answer, points out directly the source of all error and infidelity, "ye do err, not knowing the scriptures, and the power of God." Not knowing the scriptures, ye suppose a doctrine is not in them, because ye have not found it there: because ye have wilfully shut your own eyes, ye vainly imagine there is no light in the sun; and take upon you to affirm there is none. Not knowing the power of God, you call that impossible which you cannot do, deem that absurd which you do not comprehend, and pronounce that false which you wish to be so. The whole force of the objection to the truth of the resurrection, goes upon the supposition, that the future world is to be exactly constituted as the present; that the relations and distinctions which subsist among men upon earth, are to subsist in the kingdom of heaven. But the supposition is founded in ignorance and falsehood; and, the moment it is denied, the mighty argument built upon it falls to the ground. "In the resurrection," says Christ," they neither marry, nor are given in marriage, but are as the angels of God in heaven."
In these words, the condition of men in the world to come, is described, first, negatively, "they neither marry, nor are given in marriage." The power which created the heavens and the earth, and all the host of them, might undoubtedly, had it pleased him, have created the whole human race at once, as easily as he formed the first of men, Adam, and as easily as he rears up one generation of men after another, in the course of his providence. But, thinking it meet to people the earth by multiplying mankind gradually upon it, difference of sex, and the institution of marriage, were the means which he was pleased to employ. In the resurrection, the number of the redeemed being
complete at once, that difference, and that institution, being unnecessary, shall be done away. Our Saviour adds, "neither can they die any more." Death, too, enters into the plan of Providence for the government of this world. Men must be removed, to make room for men. But because this sphere is narrow and contracted, and unable to contain and support the increasing multitudes of many generations, is the Lord's hand shortened, that he cannot expand a more spacious firmament, and compact a more spacious globe, to contain, at once, the countless nations of them that are saved? O how greatly do men err; not knowing the power of God! Death is no part of the plan of Providence for the government of that world of bliss. In our Father's house above there are many mansions; there is bread enough, and to spare; there is room for all, provision for all the father need not to die, to give space to the son, nor the mother to spare, that the child may have enough. For they are" as the angels of God," says our Lord, according to Matthew, "equal to the angels," says our evangelist, "and are the children of God."
This describes their happiness positively. Men on earth "see in a glass darkly; know in part, prophesy in part," are encompassed with infirmity; but the "angels in heaven" excel in strength, stand before the throne of God, serve him day and night in his temple, without wearying, see face to face, "know as they are known." Their number is completed, their intercourse is pure and perfect, without the means of increase, and union which exist here below.
Having thus reproved their ignorance and presumption, respecting the "power of God," our Lord proceeds to expose their ignorance respecting "the scriptures," and produces a passage from Moses, in whom they trusted, which they had hitherto overlooked or misunderstood, wherein the doctrine in dispute was clearly laid down; and which we had principally in view in leading your attention to this passage on the present occasion.
The passage quoted, is that noted declaration of God to Moses, from the midst of the burning bush, "I am the God of thy father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob." ""* That God should have condescended to hold this language concerning Enoch, "who was translated that he should not see death," had been less wonderful; for that holy man, who walked with God upon earth, was exalted immediately to a more intimate union with God in Heaven. But to speak thus of men who were long ago mouldered into dust, of whom nothing remained among men but their names, conveys an idea of human existence, before which the life of a Methuselah dwindles into nothing, an idea which swallows up mortality, and gives a dignity and a duration to man that bids defiance to the grave. That God should say to Abraham, while he lived, "I am thy shield, and thy exceeding great reward," was a miracle of grace and condescension; but to speak thus, more than three centuries after he had been consigned to the tomb, "I am the GoD of Abraham," this exhibits a relation between God and the faithful, which perfectly reconciles the mind to the thoughts of dissolution. Indeed it is impossible to conceive any thing more elevating, any thing more tranquillizing to the soul, than the view of future bliss with which the text presents us. And this tranquillity and elevation are greatly heightened by the consideration, that Jehovah from the midst of flaming fire, under the Old Testament dispensation, and Jehovah, in the person of the great Redeemer, under the New, taught the same glorious truth to the world. And what is it? "I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob."
When God was pleased to express his favourable regard to Abraham upon, earth, what did it amount to? He led him through a particular district of
*Exod. iii. 6.
Gen. xv. 1.