John Milton, in his “Paradise Lost”, gives a vivid and terrifying description of death and its origin. According to the poem Satan is searching his way out of hell to seek out the created world in order to tempt man. He makes his way to the “gates of Hell” and there he finds:
“On either side a formidable Shape;
The one seemed woman to the waist, and fair,
But ended foul in many a scaly fold,
Voluminous and vast, a serpent armed
With mortal sting: about her middle round
A cry of hell-hounds never ceasing barked
With wide Cerberean mouths full loud, and rung
A hideous peal: yet, when they list, would creep,
If aught disturbed their noise, into her womb,
And kennel there, yet there still barked and howled
Within unseen. . . .
. . . .The other shape,
If shape it might be called, that shape had none
Distinguishable in member, joint, or limb,
Or substance might be called that shadow seemed,
For each seemed either; black it stood as night,
Fierce as ten furies, terrible as hell,
And shook a dreadful dart; what seemed his head
The likeness of a kingly crown had on.”
When Satan and this last described “ghastly Terror” are about to fight, the first described figure steps between them and calls Satan her father and the other her son. She, “the protress of hell-gate”, goes on to explain her statement. Satan is her father for she sprang from his head and is named Sin. She is also the mother of the other beast, by Satan. When she gave birth to this horrible creatures, she relates:
. . . .“I fled, and cried out ‘Death’;
Hell trembled at the hideous name, and sighed
From all her caves, and back resounded ‘Death’!”
At the hearing of Satan’s plan to tempt the human race:
. . . .“both seemed highly pleased, and death
Grinned horrible a ghastly smile, to hear
His famine should be filled,”. . . .
This imaginative and lurid description of death has, perhaps, never been excelled for utter horribleness. It epitomizes the terror of death that has bound men in fear of it since its entrance into this world. It personifies death as a beast, practically beyond description.
In Scripture too, we find that death is often personified as a terrifying figure. John sees in a vision: “And I looked, and behold a pale horse: and his name that sat on him was death, and Hell followed with him.”. And again in : “And death and hell were cast into the lake of fire.” The thought of death, and death itself, has always excited man’s worst fears. Mortals have ever endeavored to banish the thought of death from mind. The ancient Greeks considered death to be a twin brother of sleep and diligently tried to exclude all that is revolting from the idea of death. Throughout the ages the attempt has been made to overcome this fear of death. Today, too, death is beautified and adorned in an effort to forget its essential nature.
Scripture, the book of life, speaks of death throughout. It addresses itself to those who are in themselves dead, lying in the midst of death and travelling to death. It begins with death in Paradise. From then on we read, time and again on its pages: “and he died”; for it is appointed for man once to die. It closes with death: “the lake of fire”, where the worm dieth not and the fire is not quenched. Well may he, therefore, whose name is not written in “The Lamb’s book of life” tremble at the thought and certainty of death.
Death is described with various terms and under many figures in Scripture. It is spoken of as a return to the earth, a regression to the dust: “In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread, till thou return unto the ground; for out of it wast thou taken: for dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return”,, “Then shall the dust return to the earth as it was: and the spirit shall return unto God who gave it”, . According to other passages it is the withdrawing, or removal from us, of the breath of life: “Thou hidest thy face, They are troubled: thou takest away their breath, they die, and return to their dust”, . In many passages death is figuratively pictured as a removal from the body; a being absent; a departure. In these descriptions the body of life is compared to a tent which death destroys: “Mine age is departed and is removed from me as a shepherd’s tent: 1 have cut off like a weaver my life: he will cut me off with pining sickness: from day even to night wilt thou make an end of me”, ; “For we know that if our earthly house of this tabernacle were dissolved, we have a building of God, an house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens”, ; “Yea, I think it meet, as long as I am in this tabernacle, to stir you up by putting you in remembrance; knowing that shortly I must put off this my tabernacle, even as our Lord Jesus Christ hath shewed me”, . Then again death is compared to a tent: “These things said he: and after that he saith unto them, Our friend Lazarus sleepeth; but I go, that I may awake him out of sleep. Then said his disciples, Lord, if he sleep, he shall do well. Howbeit Jesus spake of his death: but they thought that he had spoken of taking of rest in sleep”, . Filially, it is said to be a departure, a going away: “Before I go whence I shall not return, even to the land of darkness and the shadow of death;” ; “. . . .because man goeth to his long home, and the mourners go about the streets”, .
The Scriptures also clearly indicate three phases of death: physical death, spiritual death, and eternal or second death. With physical death we are all acquainted and, therefore, need not quote many passages to confirm it.gives us a rather striking and comprehensive characterization of physical death. We read there: “Whatsoever thy hand findeth to do, do it with thy might; for there is no work, nor device, nor knowledge, nor wisdom, in the grave, wither thou goest.”
Spiritual death is revealed to us most clearly in the New Testament and is definitely implied in the following passages: “Then Jesus said unto them, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Except ye eat the flesh of the Son of man, and drink his blood, ye have no life in you”,; “For to be carnally minded is death; but to be spiritually minded is life and peace”, ; “And you hath he quickened, who were dead in trespasses and sins”, ; “But she that liveth in pleasure is dead while she liveth”, ; “Then when lust hath conceived, it bringeth forth sin: and sin, when it is finished, bringeth forth death”, ; “We know that we have passed from death unto life, because we love the brethren, He that loveth not his brother abideth in death”, ; “And unto the angel of the church in Sardis write; These things saith he that hath the seven Spirits of God, and the seven stars; I know thy works, that thou hast a name that thou livest, and art dead”, .
So, too, eternal or the second death, is also revealed to us in Holy Writ. “And many of them that sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting corruption”,; “And fear not them which kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul: but rather fear him which is able to destroy both body and soul in hell”, ; “Then shall he say unto them on the left hand, Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels”, ; “Who shall be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord, and from the glory of his power”, ; “These are wells without water, clouds that are carried with a tempest; to whom the mist of darkness is reserved for ever”, ; “And death and hell were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death”, ; “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”, .
From these many quoted passages it would seem that the essential element in death is separation from God, the source of Life and all Good, while still in this life; therefore, a living death. Eternal or the second death, incorporates both the elements of physical and spiritual death, and is separation in the ultimate and eternal sense. Next time, the Lord willing, we hope to develop this thought a bit and will make an attempt to synthesize some of the passages here quoted.