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HEB. II. 15.
And deliver them, who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage.
The coherence of the text opened; wherein the proofs of the Eternal Deity of Christ are clearly alledged from scripture. An account given of the reasons of his incarnation. In what respects the Devil is said to have the power of death. The death of Christ frees his people from the tormenting fear of death. An account of death's entrance into the world, in a threefold respect.
In the first chapter of this epistle, the proofs of the eternal Deity of Christ are produced with that evidence of scripturelight, that only a veiled heart, obstinate infidelity can resist. The medium which the inspired penman makes use of, is, the comparing him with the angels, the most noble flower of the creation, and shewing that he is infinitely dignified above them. This he does by a strong connexion of arguments: First, by his title that is divinely high and peculiar to himself. He is declared by the testimony of the eternal Father to be his Son, ver. 4, 5. in the most proper and sublime sense: begotten of him, and therefore having the same essential perfections of the Godhead in their uncreated glory. But the angels are not dignified with this name in any places of scripture, where the excellency of the angels is in the fullest terms expressed. And that this name is taken from his nature, is clearly proved: because adoration is due to him upon this account, even from the angels of the highest order. When he bringeth in the first begotten into the world, he saith, and let all the angels of God worship him, ver. 6.
Divine worship is a prerogative inseparably annexed to the Deity, both upon the account of the supreme excellencies of the nature of God and his relation to angels and men as creator and preserver, the fountain of their being and happiness. This, Vol. J. 42
without the most open defiance of his authority, cannot be given to a mere creature; and by the command of God himself is to be performed as a respect due to the filial Godhead, Deut. 6. 13. and 10. 20. The argument proceeds from the name to the offices. Of the angels he saith, Who maketh his angels spirits, and his ministers a flame of fire, ver. 7. They are the prime instruments of his providence, most zealous and active to accomplish his pleasure. But the Son is God, not by analogy and deputation, as princes are, nor with a limitation and diminution, as Moses was made a God to Pharaoh, but absolutely and really as subsisting in the divine nature: and consequently he is the supreme king, and to him the ensigns of majesty divinely royal are ascribed: But unto the Son he saith, Thy throne, 0 God, is for ever and ever; a sceptre of righteousness is the sceptre of thy kingdom, ver. 8. Whereas the sceptres of earthly kings are often unrighteously managed, and their thrones ruinously fall. There is a further confirmation from his works, that are divinely great and glorious, wherein no creature has any share of Efficiency. The making of the world is ascribed to him: Thou, Lord, in the beginning hast laid the foundation of the earth, and the heavens are the works of thy hands, ver. 10.
The divine attributes, the peculiar character of the Deity, belong to him: eternity and immutability. The most solid parts of the visible creation shall perish and be changed: But thou remainest, and art the same. His life is an entire, uniform, unchangeable perfection. His glory and felicity are in the same invariable tenor for ever possessed by him. Lastly, the Son sits in that quality at the right hand of the Father, ver. 13. in the society of empire, as equal to him in power and honor, commanding all in the visible and invisible world, most easily and irresistibly, though gradually, subduing his enemies to a consummate victory. But the angels, so numerous and powerful, are ministering spirits, ver. 14. employed for the defence and benefit of the Church.
From this summary account we may understand how firmly the Divinity of Christ is established in the scripture. For those passages of the prophets, that speak of the God of Israel as creator, and the sole object of adoration, are directly referred to Jesus Christ. And the name Jehovah, Psal. 97. 9. the majesty of which consists in its being incommunicable, is attributed to him. This is the foundation upon which the whole fabric of the gospel is built. The office of mediator in the prophetical, priestly, and regal administration, is necessarily joined with the divinity of his person. And the revelation of it from heaven, is as clear as the sun is visible in the firmament. All the difficulties in our conceiving this great mystery of Godliness, are but like the shadows that attend the light. And all the heretical subtilties to pervert the sense of such plain and positive texts, are as impertinent as impious.
This being established, the apostle proceeds to give an account of the Son of God's assuming the human nature, and submitting to sufferings and death. This is a divine secret so miraculously strange, that the contrivance was without the compass of the angelical minds, and the discovery of it is only by supernatural revelation; but when revealed, the account of it is so open and consentaneous to reason, as being the most congruous means for the illustration of God's glory in the saving lost men, that the human mind, if not deeply corrupted with the tincture of prejudice, must consent to it as "worthy of all acceptation."
The substance of his reasoning is this: That it was the product of the most wise, merciful, and righteous counsel of God, that the Saviour of men should have communion with them in their nature, that he might have a right to redeem them by his alliance and propinquity: for he that sanctifies, and they that are sanctified, are all one, Chap. 2. 11. and that he might undergo sufferings, even to death, for the price of their redemption, and the remedy of their infirmities. "Forasmuch as the children are partakers of flesh and blood, he also 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 lives subject to bondage."
The devil is said to have the power of death:
1. Because he induces men to commit sin, that meritoriously renders them liable to death. He tempted the first man cum effectu, and "<was a murderer from the beginning."
2. In that he inspires them with furious thoughts, and inflames their passions, from whence proceed strifes and wars, that efficiently cause death. He is supreme in all the arts of mischief, and always intent upon evil. It is by his instigation that men become more like raging beasts, animated and bent on mutual slaughter.
3. Because he is many times the executioner of God's wrath, and inflicts death upon rebellious and incorrigible sinners. It is recorded by the Psalmist, That God cast upon the Egyptians the fierceness of his anger, wrath, indignation, and trouble, by sending evil angels, Psal. 78. 49. those princes of the air, the instruments of the thunder, and fiery storms of hail that destroyed them.
4. Because he makes death more foimidable to sinners, by heightening their guilty fears of God's tribunal. The false spirit tempts men to sin by many blandishments, but afterward he is a severe accuser of them to God, and to themselves.
Lastly, This title may signify his tormenting sinners with unrelenting cruelty in hell, which is the second death.
Now these evils being the penal consequence of sin, our Saviour by his death appeased the injured justice of God, and thereby destroyed the cruel tyranny of the Devil. As the lamb of God, in the notion of a sacrifice, he overcomes our spiritual enOF DEATH.
emies. Sin, Satan and death, lie vanquished at the foot of his cross. Besides, our Saviour having felt such sorrows and infirmities as are usual to his people, by that correspondence and resemblance between them, is compassionately inclined to relieve them.
I shall now insist upon the blessed privilege of believers set down in the text, viz.
That Jesus Christ by his death frees his people from the servile, tormenting fear of death.
In prosecuting the point, I shall, 1. Consider the account the scripture gives of death's entrance into the world. 2. Shew what the fear of death includes, and the bondage consequent to it. 3. How the death of Christ frees us from the thraldom of that fear. 4. Who are partakers of this blessed privilege. And then apply it.
I. The scripture gives an account of death's entrance into the world, in a threefold respect. 1. As the desert of sin. 2. As the effect of the divine decree. 3. As the sentence of the law.
1. As the desert of sin. The first design of the Creator was his own glory in conjunction with the happiness of man. He was made accordingly holy in perfection, placed in Paradise, and his state contained all the ingredients of felicity proper to his nature. He was capable of dying, as sad experience proves; yet no accident from without, no distemper from within had impaired his vigor, and made him actually subject to death without sin. Whilst innocent he was immortal, not from everlasting principles of nature, but by divine preservation; of which the tree of life was the ordained means and sacramental pledge. For God unchangeably loves his own image: And though by his sovereignty and absolute power he may resume the being he gives, yet his goodness and covenant were a sacred assuiance that man's happy life should run parallel with his perseverance in his duty. This immortality was not the singular privilege of Adam's person, but had been the inheritance of all his progeny. But he soon revolting from his just obedience, of immortal became mortal, and according to the original establishment of propagation, transmitted his nature, with the guilt and poison of sin to all his posterity. Thus by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin, and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned, Rom. 3. 12. As his obedience had been rewarded, so his rebellion is punished in all that naturally descend from him. From hence it is, that so numerous a part of mankind are cut off before the commission of actual sin. Death enters into the forge of life, and destroys the conception that newly began to live. And what is more righteous than that man, when he disobeyed the author of life, should forfeit his life and blessedness? The soul voluntarily lost the spiritual life, by forsaking God, therefore unwillingly loses the natural life, by