There is a special and ordained connection between the incarnation and the death of our blessed Lord. Other men die in due course after they are born; he was born just that he might die. He came "not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give" his "life a ransom for many." It is therefore evident that the theology which magnifies the incarnation at the expense of the atonement is fundamentally, fatally defective. The brotherhood of Christ with every son of Adam is a blessed truth, but it is by no means the whole truth, nor can it be practically available and influential apart from the offering of his body upon the cross as a sacrifice for sin. This is very clearly and strongly put in the text. The incarnation of the Son of God is proved from the Old Testament, and shown to have had reference to his redeeming death. Many purposes were answered by his becoming partaker of flesh and blood. His influence as a teacher, the power of his spotless example, his identification with the needs and sorrows of humanity, and the deep sympathy resulting therefrom, -- these and similar ends were contemplated and fulfilled. But the grand purpose was disclosed and accomplished on the cross, where God made his soul an offering for sin. "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 lifetime subject to bondage."
The death of Jesus, then, and the end to be accomplished by it, constitute the central, vital, culminating truth of Christianity. The apostle puts the death of Christ in a striking point of view, -- as a work done, rather than a calamity suffered. And it was a double work, -- a work of destruction on the one hand, and of deliverance on the other, -- of destruction in order to deliverance. That is the conception of his mission embodied in the first promise. The bruising of the serpent's head by the bruised heel of the Saviour, in order to repair the ruin wrought by the tempter, suggests very significantly the truth which is so explicitly announced here. And a similar combination runs through the ancient providential history. The destruction of the old world in order to the salvation of the righteous, and the fulfilment of the promise of redemption; and the destruction of the first-born of Egypt in order to the deliverance of Israel, are instances in point. But the death of Christ upon the cross in order to the emancipation of the slaves of Satan is the most glorious and perfect illustration. Let me ask your attention to the work of Christ's death,
I. -- AS IT IS A WORK OF DESTRUCTION.
II. -- AS IT IS A WORK OF DELIVERANCE.
I. AS IT IS A WORK OF DESTRUCTION. "That He might destroy him that had the power of death, that is, the devil."
1. Satan, then, is a person, and the enemy of Jesus, who died to destroy him.
(i.) The personality of the devil is necessarily implied in the words of the text. The theory which seeks to divest all that is said about the devil in Scripture of everything like personality, and to refine it away into figurative representation of "the principle of evil," is as unphilosophical as it is unscriptural. How can we conceive of moral evil in the abstract? How can we think of it apart from the depraved will of some intelligent being? Whatever theories may be held respecting the difficult question of the origin of evil, it is surely inconceivable that it should exist independently of some living, conscious, intellectual author. No truer or more philosophical solution can be found than that of the Bible, which attributes it to the devil, -- a being originally good, who fell from his first estate, broke his allegiance to the Creator, and so became the leader of a vast and fearful rebellion against Almighty God. The case of man shows us the possibility of a being existing in a holy but mutable state, and lapsing, under certain inducements, into sin. What the inducements were in the instance of the prince of darkness we are not told; and thus the question of the origin of evil seems to be insoluble by us. But the identification of it with the personal defection of Satan is far more intelligible and reasonable than the attempt to treat it as a metaphysical abstraction. All the representations of the Bible on the subject are instinct with the awful personality of the devil. He is our "adversary;" he is "the accuser;" he is "the God of this world;" he is "the prince of the power of the air, that wicked one that now worketh in the hearts of the children of disobedience;" he that hath "blinded the minds of them that believe not;" he "leadeth" sinners "captive at his will." Surely that is a bold and unscrupulous theology which resolves all these clear and strong expressions into the mere ideal impersonation of a principle. O no! Satan is a being of subtle intelligence, with a depraved, unconquerable, malignant will; a dread living power, with whom we have continually to do, who "desireth to have us, that he may sift us as wheat," and with whom, if we wish to get to heaven, we must be prepared to fight at every step of our way.
(ii.) And he is emphatically the enemy of Jesus, who came to "destroy" him. "I will put enmity between thee and the woman, and between thy seed and her seed." It was in pursuit of his designs against the living God that Satan persuaded our first parents to commit sin; it was by lying insinuations against God that he deceived her who was "first in the transgression." Of course, he is the enemy of man. Of course, his design is to inflict ruin and misery on men, and to bring them to his own state and place of torment. But he does this by seducing them into rebellion against the Most High. Hatred of God is the spring of all his conduct, the motive of every enterprise which he undertakes. And Jesus, the Son of God, the vindicator of the divine honour, is necessarily the sworn eternal foe of the devil; and He has come into our world as into the arena of a supreme conflict for the defeat and overthrow of Satan; has assumed the very nature which the foul fiend seduced and degraded, in order that, in that same nature, he might avenge the wrong done to the being and government of God, and put an eternal end to the usurpation and tyranny of his enemy.
2. The devil "had the power of death."
(i.) We must not understand this as meaning that Satan has direct, independent, and absolute control over death, inflicting it how, and when, and where, and on whom, he will. The later Jewish writers taught the horrible doctrine that the fallen angels have power or authority generally in reference to life and death. But this never was the case. Death was the sentence pronounced by God upon man, and it could only be inflicted by his appointment and concurrence. The power of life and death is necessarily in God's hands, and his only.
(ii.) But Satan had the power of death, in this sense; namely, that he tempted man to commit the sin which "brought death into the world, and all our woe." He enticed Eve to sin, partly by denying that her offence would be visited with the punishment of death. "Ye shall not surely die," was the lie by which he contradicted and defied the God of truth, and induced the woman "to eat of the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil." And so, he was "a murderer from the beginning." "God made man to be immortal, an image of his own eternity; nevertheless, through envy of the devil came death into the world." In this sense, then, as the author and introducer of that sin whose "wages" is death, Satan "had the power of death."
(iii.) Moreover, it is the work of Satan to invest death with its chief terrors. We shrink indeed from the humiliating prospect of corruption and decay; we cling fondly to those companionships, associations, and pleasures, from which death for ever separates us; we deprecate and dread the blighting of our earthly hopes, and the ruthless frustration of our schemes. These are very painful accessories of death; but they are not its sting; they do not make it a poison for the soul as well as for the body. "The sting of death is sin." That sting has been drawn for the Christian, and death hath no terrors for him. But, had the power of the devil in death been unassailed and uncounteracted, the dissolution of the body and the eternal ruin of the soul would have been alike complete and irrecoverable. By the consciousness of guilt, Satan has infused an element of insupportable terror into death. For it is that consciousness which makes death dreadful. It is quite probable that, if man had not sinned, his body would have undergone some great change, that it might be fitted for that "kingdom of God," which "flesh and blood cannot inherit;" but such change would have inflicted no pain, and involved no humiliation; it would only have been a change "from glory to glory;" and would have been anticipated with no sentiments contrary to desire and hope. But death, besides its own inherent ghastliness, is rendered dreadful through the malice of the devil, and the guilty fear of the penal hereafter which haunts all those who are in his power.
3. Jesus died to destroy "him that had the power of death." He has indeed provisionally destroyed death itself for all "the sons of God." "Death, the last enemy, shall be destroyed." But it is not absolutely and immediately abolished. The death of the body remains, even for God's people, as a sad and humiliating monument of the evil of sin; but to them it is not now a punishment, but the mode of their birth into a new and more glorious life.
"Mortals cry, 'A man is dead!'
It may be truly said of the hour when a good man dies, that it is the hour when he enters into life. And this is because Jesus destroyed "him that had the power of death." He did not annihilate him, the word does not mean that, but He neutralized, counteracted, stripped him of his power. The whole design and effect of death, when in the power of the devil, has been defeated and reversed by the death of Christ. Though the bodies of his people be consigned to the grave, it is in sure and certain hope of the resurrection to everlasting life. That melancholy seed-time in which we cast the dust of our beloved into the earth, is the prelude to a glorious harvest; that when "He giveth his beloved sleep," is preparatory to their awaking to glory and immortality. "It is sown in corruption, it is raised in incorruption; it is sown in weakness, it is raised in power; it is sown in dishonour, it is raised in glory; it is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body." This is what Christ's death has done for the bodies of his people; and is it not an entire breaking of the power of the devil over death? As to their souls, death delivers them from the burden of the flesh, that they may be in joy and felicity with God. "Absent from the body," they are for ever "present with the Lord." Death is no longer a dark and dreadful phantom, rising from the abyss, to drag down his victims and gorge himself upon them. He is an angel, pure and bright, sent to summon God's beloved to their Father's house above. That which men naturally dread as the crown and climax of all evils, becomes an object of wistful longing, for God's servants have "a desire to depart and be with Christ, which is far better." This stripping away of Satan's power, this destruction of "him that had the power of death," is due to the death of Jesus. He thus redeemed us from the debt of death, "acknowledging the debt in the manner in which he removed it." "Christ, by giving himself up to death, has acknowledged the guilt, and truly atoned for it; He has, in one act, atoned for the sinner and judged the sin." By dying for sins, He expiated that which gives to death its "sting," its power to injure and to terrify. He
"Entered the grave in mortal flesh,
that He might put an end to Satan's power in and over death. Some sound and excellent divines are of opinion that, in the interval between his death and resurrection He literally "descended into hell," and there, in personal conflict, grappled with and overthrew the devil. However this may be, it is certain that the bruising of his heel by Satan was the chosen means for his bruising of Satan's head. Our enemy, who brought death into the world, is entirely baffled and defeated, as to the purpose and effect of that calamity, in the case of all who believe in the death of Christ. Their last act of faith gives them "the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ." Then the God of peace "finally beats down Satan under their feet." Death is "swallowed up of life." What power over death has the devil in such a case? Is it not wholly counteracted? Is not death a wholly different, nay, opposite thing to what he intended, when by tempting and conquering our first parents he brought it into the world? The body of the good man "is buried in peace, and his soul is blessed for evermore." He shall never more, through the long eternity of bliss, be assailed or injured by "him that had the power of death:" nor shall he see his enemy again, unless it be to triumph openly over him, in that day when "death, and hell shall be cast into the lake that burneth with fire and brimstone." Many good people are unduly afraid of the devil, and especially they are in dread of his possible power in their last moments. But we may dismiss this fear as altogether needless and unworthy. Christ has not only rendered our great enemy utterly powerless for evil, but has, by his own most precious death, compelled even Satan into the service of the sons of God. He has turned the supreme calamity brought into the world by the arch-fiend into the supreme glory and joy of all who believe in himself. To all those who are by Jesus' death "to life restored," the day of death is infinitely preferable to the day of birth, for then beginneth that new life which shall never die. "I know whom I have believed, and am persuaded that He is able to keep that which I have committed unto Him until that day."
II. LET US NOW CONTEMPLATE THE WORK OF JESUS, IN HIS DEATH, AS A WORK OF DELIVERANCE. "And deliver them who, through fear of death, were all their lifetime subject to bondage." If we ascertain the import of this description of those whom Christ died to deliver, we shall easily understand the nature and mode of the deliverance wrought out for them.
1. They were in bondage. They were in fact enslaved by "him who had the power of death." This is a very fearful view of our natural state, and one which contradicts all the conclusions of our own vanity and self-complacency. Unconverted men believe that Christians are slaves, fettered by doubts, scruples, self-accusations; bound in the bands of moral routine, and able only to move in certain prescribed grooves; afraid to do as they list. According to their notion, true liberty consists in throwing off religious restraints, and following as much as may be "the devices and desires of our own hearts." But this is a terrible delusion, which only serves to show the depth and subtlety of him who, besides having "the power of death," is also "the father of lies," the great deceiver and ensnarer of mankind. History is full of analogous examples among men. In how many instances have the most cruel and remorseless tyrants made use of the passions and brute force of the multitude to secure their own elevation to absolute power, inducing their victims to forge and rivet their own chains. And it is so in this case. Sinners are the slaves of Satan; those evil desires and inclinations which they so recklessly obey are but the tools and bonds of the great oppressor. The wicked man sells his soul to the devil for the price of indulgence in "the pleasures of sin, which are but for a season." There is a very easy way of testing this question of freedom or bondage in sin. If you are really free, free to do as you like, you can do good as well as evil; you can give up your companionship with iniquity, and break your covenant with darkness, as readily, and with as little difficulty, as you made the compact. Let the man who rejoices in his liberty to sin try to abandon iniquity; he will surely find it an impossible task. However clearly he may discern the purity, justice, and goodness of God's law, however passionately he may long, and however earnestly he may strive, to regulate his life by it, he will find himself "carnal, sold under sin;" he will "find another law in his members warring against the law of his mind, and bringing him into captivity to the law of sin and death." It is easy to float with the stream, and the stronger the current the more buoyantly and exultingly it bears you on. But try to breast the current. You will soon find that you have undertaken a task which is "impossible with men," and will sink exhausted and undone with the vain endeavour. Alas! Satan is in very truth the lord of every enslaved soul, not rightfully, only by virtue of the foulest usurpation; but he is so in fact, and he "binds our captive souls fast in his slavish chains." And by this bondage unto sin he holds us captive to death. His law is "the law of sin and death;" and till Christ redeem and actually deliver us, we are bound over to endure "the bitter pains of eternal death." It is an awful thought, but it is as true as it is awful. Our cruel and relentless jailer keeps us in the prison of sin, shut up under his power, with a view to our everlasting death. May we be made conscious of our enslavement, for till we become so, we are not likely to seek for deliverance!
2. The sure sign of bondage to Satan is continual subjection, or rather liability, to the fear of death. It would scarcely be true to say of the great mass of the unconverted, that they are continually haunted and incommoded by the fear of death. Their general condition is one of thoughtless and careless ease, but they are always, even through their whole life, liable to be thus haunted and incommoded. Whenever the thought of death is brought home to them, as in the course of events it is ever and again sure to be, they are appalled and terrified. They then feel that death has a sting, and they have some foretaste of its sharpness and venom. They see nothing in death but the ruin of all their earthly hopes and schemes, and nothing after death but "a certain fearful looking for of judgment and fiery indignation which shall devour the adversaries," and when they seem to be themselves stricken by the hand of death, how do the terrors of hell make them afraid!
"O death, how shocking must thy summons be,
There is a difference however, and a very great one, between the fear of death and the fear of dying. Many good people are often tormented by the latter kind of fear. It is frequently the result of a sensitive organization, or ill health, or a naturally gloomy temperament; and many who have been much troubled by it through life have found it to vanish completely when the supreme moment came. But the fear of death is founded on the consciousness of unpreparedness for it, and on the anticipation of the punishments which it will bring. Every unsaved sinner has abundant reason for the fear which, however he may laugh it off, will assuredly at times gain the mastery over him. The brooding sense of insecurity; the secret sudden pang, stabbing him in the midst of his wildest joys; the desperate effort never to think, and the resolute refusal ever to speak of death; tell their tale, and show that the slaves of Satan are always liable to the fear of death. O, if this be your case, it is high time to look to yourselves! If you cannot bear the thought of death; if the great and solemn hereafter is haunted by images that scare and threaten you; if you "put far away the evil day;" be sure there is something radically wrong. Be sure, by that token, that you are the slave of the devil. Be sure that you "are in jeopardy every hour." Never rest, never for a moment be satisfied, till you can look death calmly in the face, and discern for yourself the life to come, and your inheritance in heaven.
3. For we all may have deliverance from our bondage to Satan, and from this characteristic effect and sign of it. The death of Jesus has provided this deliverance for us. By depriving Satan of his power over death, by expiating that sin which is the sting of death, and so entirely reversing and counteracting its penal efficacy, Christ hath wrought out for us a great salvation. And when we commit ourselves to Him, relying on the efficacy of his atonement, our chains are broken, and our craven fears are banished. Among the "first words" of newly-converted souls none are more common or triumphant than these, "I am not afraid to die now! I have a hope beyond the grave!" It is indeed a mighty deliverance. What calm, what security, what blessed hope does it inspire! To lose all fear of the last and greatest of human calamities; to look into the face of that which was "once an uncouth hideous thing," and to find that through our Saviour's death it hath become "most fair and full of grace;" to see no longer a dark and shrouded fiend arrayed in mortal terrors, and poising an envenomed dart for the purpose of laying us low, and compassing our lasting ruin; but a shining and smiling messenger from the King of kings, bidding us to an everlasting banquet in his royal palace; is not this true, priceless, boundless liberty, -- worth toiling, striving, suffering, dying for? This flower of immortal hope blooms for each of us at the foot of the cross. If by the death of Jesus we gain spiritual life, we shall rejoice in hope of the glory of God, and shall look forward to the day of our death as the day of our eternal marriage with the King of glory. Let us not lose this unspeakable privilege! Let us, by faith in the death of our Lord, secure our freedom and our birthright! And, as we think of our smitten friends, let us thank God for their final deliverance from the power of death, and their admission into everlasting life. Finally, let us more and more glory in that cross whereby our Saviour Christ "hath abolished death, and hath brought life and immortality to light."