What Is Death?

 •  10 min. read  •  grade level: 5
For the unbeliever nothing can be more terrible than death. It is justly and scripturally called “the king of terrors” (Job. 18:14). It is the judicial close of the life of the first Adam. What is beyond? It is not merely so for the animal nature, though that be true, but the more it is considered in connection with man’s moral nature, the more terrible does it become. Everything in which man has had his home, his thoughts, his whole being employed, is closed and perished forever. “His breath goeth forth ... .his thoughts perish” (Psa. 146:44His breath goeth forth, he returneth to his earth; in that very day his thoughts perish. (Psalm 146:4)). Man finds in it an end to every hope, every project, to all his thoughts and plans. The spring of them all is broken. The being in which he moved is gone: he can count upon nothing more. The busy scene in which his whole life has been, knows him no more. He himself fails and is extinct. None have to do with him any more as belonging to it. His nature has given way, powerless to resist this master to which it belongs, and who now assert his dreadful rights. But this is far from being all. Man indeed, as man alive in this world, sinks down into nothing. But why? Sin has come in; with sin, conscience; with sin, Satan’s power: still more with sin, God’s judgment. Death is the expression and witness of all this. It is the wages of sin, terror to the conscience, Satan’s power over us, for he has the power of death. Can God help here? Alas, it is His own judgment on sin. Death seems but as the proof that sin does not pass unnoticed, and is the terror and plague of the conscience, as witness of God’s judgment, the officer of justice to the criminal, and the proof of his guilt in the presence of coming judgment. How can it but be terrible? It is the seal upon the fall and ruin and condemnation of the first Adam. And he has nothing but this old nature. He cannot subsist as a living man before God. Death is written on him, for he is a sinner, he cannot deliver himself. He is guilty withal and condemned. The judgment comes. But Christ has come in. He has come into death—O wondrous truth, the Prince of life! What is death now for the believer?
Now mark, reader, the full force of this wonderful, unspeakable, intervention of God. We have seen death to be man’s weakness, the break-up of his being, Satan’s power, God’s judgment, the wages of sin. But all this is in connection with the first Adam, whose portion, because of sin, death and judgment are. We have seen the double character of death; the failure of life, or living power, in man, and the witness of and conductor into the judgment of God. Christ has been made sin for us; He has undergone death, passed through it as Satan’s power and as God’s judgment. Death with its causes, has been met in its every character by Christ.
The judgment of God has been fully borne by Him before the day of judgment comes. Death, as the wages of sin, has been passed through. It has, as a cause of terror to the soul, in every sense, wholly lost its power for the believer. The physical fact may take place; for so wholly has Christ put away its power that that is not necessarily the case. We shall not all sleep, though we shall all be changed. Desiring, says the apostle, not to “be unclothed, but clothed upon, that mortality might be swallowed up of life” (2 Cor. 5:44For we that are in this tabernacle do groan, being burdened: not for that we would be unclothed, but clothed upon, that mortality might be swallowed up of life. (2 Corinthians 5:4)). Such is the power of life in Christ.
But death has much more than passed away. Death is ours, says the apostle, as all things are. By the blessed Lord’s entering into it for me, death and judgment too is become my salvation. The sin, of which it was the wages, has been put away by death itself. The judgment has been borne for me there. Death is not terror to my soul; it is not the sign of anger, but the blessedest and fullest proof of love, because Christ came into it. The very power of the law against me, I am freed from, for it has power over a man only as long as he lives; but in Christ I am dead to the law already. God has, by death, met sin and judgment already. In a word, Christ, the sinless One, having come in the likeness of sinful flesh, and for sin, my whole condition, as in the first Adam, has been dealt with—dealt with so that all its consequences have been righteously undergone; and by death the old man, Satan’s power, sin, judgment, mortality itself, which are connected with the old (or sinful) man, are passed and done with forever. I live before God now in the One who is risen, after enduring all that belonged to the old for me. God has dealt with the old man, and all its fruits and consequences for me, in the new, who has taken even the natural consequences attached to it, and gone through its power as in the hand of Satan. Death has freed me forever from everything that belonged to, and awaited the old man, as alive.
First, condemnation and judgment are entirely over, as a question of the soul’s acceptance. The dreadful ordeal is passed; but by another—so that it is my deliverance from it according to the righteousness of God. The floods which destroyed the Egyptians were a wall to Israel on the right hand and on the left, the path of safety out of Egypt. The salvation of God was there. Egypt and its oppressive power were left behind them. Death is deliverance and salvation to us.
Secondly, what is it become in practice? In the power of Christ’s resurrection, I am quickened. He is become my life. I can dispense, if I may venture so to speak, with the life of the old man; I have that of the new. But He who, now risen, is my life, passed through death. I reckon myself dead. Hence it is never said that we are to die to sin. The old man does not and would not; the new man has no sin to die to. We are said to be dead, and commanded to reckon ourselves dead. Romans 6:1111Likewise reckon ye also yourselves to be dead indeed unto sin, but alive unto God through Jesus Christ our Lord. (Romans 6:11)—“Likewise reckon ye also yourselves to be dead indeed unto sin, but alive unto God through Jesus Christ our Lord.” Colossians 3:33For ye are dead, and your life is hid with Christ in God. (Colossians 3:3)—”For ye are dead, and your life is hid with Christ in God”; and then we are directed to mortify our members which are on the earth, in the power of this new life, and of the Holy Spirit which dwells in us. I have the title, then, to reckon myself dead.
What a gain is death to me in this respect, if really the desires of the new man are in me! yea, what deliverance and power! What is dead for faith is the old, hindering, harassing, sinful man; in which, if responsible to God, I was lost, and unable to meet Him. “When,” says the apostle, “we were in the flesh, the motions of sins, which were by the law, did work in our members to bring forth fruit unto death” (Rom. 7:55For when we were in the flesh, the motions of sins, which were by the law, did work in our members to bring forth fruit unto death. (Romans 7:5)). But, “Ye are not in the flesh, but in the Spirit, if so be that the Spirit of God dwell in you” (Rom. 8:99But ye are not in the flesh, but in the Spirit, if so be that the Spirit of God dwell in you. Now if any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of his. (Romans 8:9)). The flesh is not our place of standing before God. We have acknowledged ourselves lost and ruined in it. That was the standing of the first Adam, and we were in it. Law applied death to it, judgment, but I am not in it, now, but in the last Adam.
So as regards ordinances, the apostle says, “If ye be dead with Christ from the rudiments of the world, why, as though living [or alive] in the world, are ye subject to ordinances?” (Col. 2:2020Wherefore if ye be dead with Christ from the rudiments of the world, why, as though living in the world, are ye subject to ordinances, (Colossians 2:20)). For faith, we are dead, not alive, in the world. Hence, also, everything that practically makes us realize this—trial, suffering, sorrow—is gain. It makes morally true and real in our souls that we are dead, and thus delivers from the old man. “In all these things is the life of my spirit.” It is disengaged and delivered from the obscuring and deadening influence of the old man. These sorrows and breaches in life are the details of death morally. But of the death of what? Of the old man. All is gain.
Thirdly, if death comes in fact—the death of what? Of what is mortal, of the old man. Does the new risen life die? It has passed through death in Christ, and this has been realized in us. It cannot die. It is Christ. Hence, in dying, it simply leaves death behind. It quits what is mortal. We are absent from the body and present with the Lord. It was previously outwardly connected with what is mortal; it is no longer so. We are absent from the body, and present with the Lord. We depart and are with Christ. It is true faith that looks for a greater triumph—we shall be “clothed upon”: still this is God’s power. The old man, thank God, never revives. God, because of His Spirit that dwells in us, will quicken even our mortal bodies. The life of Christ will be displayed in a glorious body. We shall be conformed to the image of God’s Son, that He may be the first-born among many brethren. This is the fruit of divine power. But meanwhile death itself is always deliverance, because, having a new life, it is our being disencumbered from the old man which hinders and hems in our way. It is our being with Christ. How sweet and refreshing is the thought! When once we have seized the difference of the old and new man, the reality of the new life we have received in Christ, the death of the old will be known and felt to be true and real gain. No doubt, God’s time is best, because He alone knows what is needed in the way of discipline and exercise to form our souls for Himself, and He may preserve us to know the power of this life in Christ, so that mortality should be swallowed up without our dying.
But if death is the ceasing of the old man, it is but the ceasing of sin, hindrance, trouble. We have done with the old man, in which we are guilty before God—righteously done with it, because Christ has died for us—forever done with it, because we live in the power of the new. Such is death to the believer. “To depart, and to be with Christ; which is far better” (Phil. 1:2323For I am in a strait betwixt two, having a desire to depart, and to be with Christ; which is far better: (Philippians 1:23)). As judgment, Christ has taken it; as to the power of sin, it is the death of the very nature it lives in. As actual mortality, it is deliverance from it to be with Christ in the new man which enjoys Him. Who as to the proper gain of it, would not die?
If we live to serve Christ, the sorrow of this world is worth while; but it is not the less sorrow in itself, whatever blessing may cheer us through it. To us to live, is Christ; to die, gain. It is but the old man that dies; our misery first, our enemy afterward. Of course this supposes divine life, and in practice the heart to be elsewhere than in the things the old man lives in.