Your fathers, where are they? and the prophets, do they live for ever?
1. The first thing that the words suggest is obviously the great law, under which we receive and possess existence — that we must die; the law of mortality, under which we were born. We will not enter into the curious question, whether man would have died if he had not sinned. It is better to look at death in its moral and spiritual aspect. It is thus continually represented to us in Scripture. It is not a part of God's plan; it is a thing engrafted upon His original constitution. Death is the shadow of sin. This great, black, dark substance, that we call sin, comes in between man and the bright light of God's countenance, and casts its shadow over man. That shadow is death. Death is but the symptom of a spiritual disease; it is not so much the grand disease of our nature, as it is the symptom of a deeper-seated disease. And God applies His remedy to the core of the disorder. He redeems from sin.
2. Apply remarks specially to the death of a very aged person. Note the amazing power of the principle of life in man. It is so wonderful to think that a human body, with its nice and delicate organisation, should go on sleeping and waking, toiling and working, without intercession and without rest, for ninety or a hundred years. What a thing it would be if any man constructed a piece of mechanism that should go on in that way! But the individual man, though he is a wonderful, complex machine, considered in himself, is only one little wheel in a greater and a larger structure, that is, the whole species; and the species — such is the wonderful power of life — death cannot touch. However we may talk about death, the power of vitality is greater; even in man, and in the present world, life is stronger than death. Another thought is, that though there be this wonderful power of vitality, old age in general is not in itself very desirable. In general, very great age is only an additional affliction put to the ordinary ills of life. Nature does a great deal, independent of religion, to bring men to be willing to die. But where there is religion, and a "good hope through grace," and a trust in the Divine mercy, the language and feeling of a man often is, "I would not live alway." The very aged man stands alone. He outlives his friends; and what is worse, he outlives the capacity of forming new attachments. The fact is, that second childhood is very much like the first. The child is interesting but to a few. The aged cannot very well sympathise with new hearts and new persons, new modes of thought and feeling. How different it is with God! Generation after generation cometh, and He has His fresh and young affection for every generation as it comes. And every generation may come to Him, and look up to Him, with the same cordiality and the same confidence as the first. The last thought is, that we are struck by the death of a very aged person being uncommon. We speak of it as extraordinary. It throws us back upon the general law, that men do not all die at one particular time. There is no day, no fixed date, up to which all men are to live, and beyond which none can survive. If a fixed date for each individual had been assigned, the punishment of sin would have been made unendurable. It is a most beneficent dispensation that there is no fixed date. But the price to pay is that we must be prepared to see death occur at all ages.
2. There are limits to human probation and the Divine forbearance. You will see this by referring to the context. Your fathers and the prophets are dead; their probation terminated. The agents and the objects of the Divine mercy equally die. There is something very affecting in this. Zechariah says, "Remember, you are living under the same law. Probation has limits; forbearance has limits."
3. The power and perpetuity of God's truth, in contrast with the mortality of man. This is seen by connecting the words that follow. The prophet lives in his utterances. A true thought is a Divine and immortal thing. What has come from the breast and bosom and mind of God, and has been uttered, lives, and there is power in it. Men change, their feelings change, their minds alter, their sensibilities and sympathies pass away; but the Gospel is fresh to every generation. The Word of God, in its substantial essence, continues, and is the life and food of the Church.
Parallel VersesKJV: Your fathers, where are they? and the prophets, do they live for ever?