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THE SECOND DEATH.
REVELATION xxi. 8.
But the fearful, and unbelieving, and the abominable, and murderers, and whoremongers, and sorcerers, and idolaters, and all liars, shall have their part in the lake which burneth with fire and brimstone; which is the second death.
This passage is among the number which have been used to prove a state of intolerable misery in the eternal world, and continually recited in those terrific sermons which were designed to awaken the fears, and operate on the timidity of the ignorant.
Our duty leads us to investigate the use which has been made of this passage, to examine the propriety of its common application, and as plainly as possible refute whatever may appear incongruous with the word of God, and the doctrine of his grace. It will likewise be expected, that suitable labor will be directed to discover the true sense of this, and similar passages.
Our text informs us, that the lake of fire and brimstone is the second death, and as this death is called "the second death," it evidently refers to a first death. The common doctrine of the church supposes that the first death is the death of the natural body, and the second death the eternal condemnation of the soul and body after the resurrection, in a state of the most exquisite torture.
There seems to be no small inconsistency in this opinion, in that it makes the second death to be second to something as entirely different from itself as any thing could be invented. The death of the body consists in a total extinction of animal life, in an entire
destitutioji of all sense, and renders the subject incapable of pleasure or pain. Where then is the propriety of calling a state of the quickest sensation, and the most intolerable misery second to that which is altogether unlike it?
While a person lives in this world, he is subject to sorrow, adversity, sickness, and pain. Why then would it not seem altogether more congruous to call a state of misery hereafter the second life, than to call it the second death, that is, second to the death of the body:
Another very great inconsistency in the common use of our text is, that it supposes that after people shall have ceased from all the sins which are enumerated in the text, and are in a constitution of existence in which no such crimes can ever be committed, they are then and there to be tormented for what they did in this world. No one supposes that there will be unbelievers, whoremongers, idolaters, &c. in the eternal world. What reason then is there in supposing that in a world where no crime can never be committed, crimes will be eternally punished ? In this world we are obliged to punish crimes, and the object is to reclaim the criminal, or to deter others from committing like offences, or both. But what is this punishment for in the eternal world, in which no one pretends that any crime can ever be committed ?
Will the advocate for this hereafter punishment, pretend that it is inflicted on mankind because they have been sinful in this world ? We will then endeayor to show that this is not a correct answer.
Suppose then that a man now commits a crime, say theft, or murder, must he be punished? Yes, he surely must be punished. Why, what necessity is there of this, punishment? Answer ; if he be not punished, he will repeat the crime with impunity, and restraint will be taken from others, and crimes will be multiplied.
This is admitted as a rational answer, and public sentiment yields to the execution of the law. But this answer cannot bè given in relation to this
supposed punishment in the future world; for punishment can be no terror to evil doers, where there are none.
In case of criminality in this world, could it be made to appear, that the relinquishment of penalty would in no way tend to multiply crimes, the humanity and good sense of the public would most surely discontinue to punish.
It is evident that punishment regards the future, and directs its endeavors to reclaim from wickedness and to prevent crimes.
By the prophet Isaiah, God says to sinful Israel; Why should ye be stricken any more? Ye will revolt more and more.' The evident sense of this is, there is no good reason for punishing, unless evil can be prevented by it.
But what evil will be prevented by this endless punishment in the future world ? Its advocates do not pretend that it will either make its subjects better, or restrain others from sin.
But it is said, that it necessary to hold up the terrors of endless punishment to deter people from committing sin in this world. If this be all, there is no necessity of the doctrine's being a truth, if it be believed, though in fact it be false, it has all the effect to deter people from committing sin that it would have were it true.
But we are ready to deny even this utility to the doctrine in question. For the advocate of the doctrine makes provisions which completely nullify its power to produce any such effect." He informs the transgressor that if he repent of his sins any time in this life he will avoid this punishment hereafter; and moreover he certifies him that repentance is within his own power, and that he can repent any time if he will. Now where is the terror ?
We will suppose that our legislature makes a law that if a man steal to the amount of a certain sum, he shall, on conviction thereof, be confined to hard labor for life unless he shall in one week after committing the crime wash his hands in clean water. Would there
be any terror in this law? Would this law prevent wicked men from stealing? No, it would not. Nor does telling them that unless they repent of their sins before they die they will be punished for them in the future world prevent their committing sins.
Having suggested these improprieties in the common use of our text, we may now proceed to inquire for the scripture doctrine concerning it.
As this lake of fire and brimstone is called the second death, we wish to have it kept in mind, that wherever we read of the lake of fire, the same is the second death; and wherever we read of the second death, the same is the lake of fire.
The first passage in which we find the second death mentioned, in these words, is recorded in the 2d of Revelation, and in the epistle to the church of Smyrna;
"Fear none of those things which thou shalt suffer; behold, the devil shall cast some of you into prison, that
ye may be tried : and ye shall have tribulation ten days : be thou faithful unto death, and I will give thee a crown of life; He that hath an ear let him hear what the spirit saith unto the churches : he that overcometh shall not be hurt of the second death."
This was written to a christian church, and plainly indicated that those who should not overcome the trials with which they were about to be tried, but who should be overcome by them, should be hurt of the second death.
If the hearer will use proper caution on this subject, what is meant by the second death will be very plainly seen. This church of Smyrna had been collected from among the Gentile idolaters. The state they were in, before their conversion to christianity is called death in the language of the New Testament. In his epistle to the Ephesians, St. Paul says; “But God who is rich in mercy, for his great love wherewith he loved us, even when we were dead in sins, hath quickened us together with Christ." The blindness of the Jews and the idolatry of the Gentiles are represented as a state of death from which the gospel was designed to raise and quicken the nations. Jesus
said; “The hour is coming and now is, when the dead shall hear the voice of the Son of God, and they that hear shall live." St. John says;
• We know that we have passed from death unto life, because we love the brethren.” And St. Paul again says; “For the law of the spirit of life in Christ Jesus hath made me free from the law of sin and death."
This state of moral death in which the gospel found both Jews and Gentiles, is the first death. From this death the gospel quickened and raised its converts into newness of life, and espoused them to Christ.
To the Romans St. Paul says; “Likewise reckon ye also yourselves to be dead indeed unto sin, but alive unto God through Jesus Christ our Lord. Let not sin, therefore reign in your mortal bodies, that ye should obey it in the lusts thereof. Neither yield ye your members as instruments of unrighteousness unto sin; but yield yourselves unto God, as those that are alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness unto God.”
Being made alive unto God by faith in Jesus, and having turned their backs on the idols they had formerly worshipped, these Gentile christians were exposed to grievous persecutions; and in this epistle, which St. John wrote on the isle of Patmos, they are reminded of certain trials which they were about to encounter, and are told that those, who should overcome, should not be hurt of the second death. That is, if they remained steadfast in the doctrine of Christ, they should not again fall into a state of death, which would be to them a second death.
In the epistle to the church of Sardis we have an account of this death's having actually taken place. The following is the account; “I know thy works, that thou hast a name that thou livest and art dead.” This death had come upon them in consequence of their having defiled their garments. The writer says to the minister of the church ; « Thou hast a few names even in Sardis, which have not defiled their garments; and they shall walk with me in white : for