William Bacon Stevens
"For there was not a house where there was not one dead!" Exodus 12:30
The plagues of Egypt were the most afflictive that ever scourged any nation. They were designed . . .
to humble the pride of Pharaoh,
to secure the release of the Israelites,
to show the terrors of an angry God, and
the vanity of that idolatry which then swayed the Egyptian mind.
By the first plague, all "the waters of Egypt being turned into blood" — God demonstrated His superiority over their imaginary river god, and the baseness of the element which they reverenced.
By the second plague, "the coming up of frogs and covering the land" — the Nile, the object of their worship, was made an instrument of their punishment.
By the third, the "plague of lice" — the superstition of the people was reproved, and the bodies of the boastful priests defiled.
The fourth "plague of flies," showed them the impotence of the god whom they worshiped, that he might drive away the very gad-fly which now stung them in every part.
The fifth plague, "the murrain among cattle," was the manifestation of God's hand against the living objects of their worship; for the sacred bull, the cow, the heifer, the ram, fell dead before their worshipers.
The sixth plague, "the infliction of festering boils," baffled the skill of their physicians, and visited them with a disease, which neither their deities could avert, nor the art of man alleviate.
The seventh plague "of hail, rain, and fire," showed them that neither Osiris who presided over fire, nor Isis who presided over water, could protect them from the thunder, and hail, and fire, of Jehovah.
The eighth "plague of locusts," set at naught the gods in whom the Egyptians trusted to deliver them from these insects.
The ninth plague of "three days of darkness," evinced that the sun and the moon which they worshiped as the soul of the world and the ruler of all things, were but servants and creatures of Israel's God.
But the tenth and last of these plagues, the destruction of "all the first-born in the land of Egypt," was the severest of all. It came nearer to the hearts of the people, produced more general sorrow, and resulted in effecting the deliverance of the Israelites from the tyranny of the king. The former plagues had proved ineffectual — they had rolled over that imperious king, and court, and people — the devastating billows of God's wrath, rising higher, and waxing stronger, as each successive wave swelled and dashed itself against the throne of Pharaoh! Yet the monarch's heart was still hardened, and he refused to let Israel go. Shall God give up the contest? Shall he let Israel remain in the brick-kilns and under taskmasters? Shall Pharaoh exult and say: My heart was stouter than God's arm — I still clutch His people in my grasp, despite His boasted power? No!
"And the Lord said unto Moses: I will bring one plague more upon Pharaoh, and upon Egypt — afterwards he will let you go hence." "About midnight will I go out into the midst of Egypt: and all the first-born in the land of Egypt shall die, from the first-born of Pharaoh who sits on the throne, even unto the first-born of the maid-servant who is behind the mill — and all the first-born of beasts." The sacred record tells us how God made good His word: "And it came to pass, that at midnight the Lord smote all the first-born in the land of Egypt, from the first-born of Pharaoh who sat on his throne — unto the first-born of the captive who was in the dungeon; and all the first-born of cattle. And Pharaoh rose up in the night, he, and all his servants, and all the Egyptians; and there was a great cry in Egypt — for there was not a house where there was not one dead!"
Herodotus informs us that it was the custom of the Egyptians to rush from the house into the street to bewail the dead with loud and bitter outcries, and every member of the family joined in these sad lamentations. What, then, must have been the horror of that scene, when, in the darkness of midnight, that whole nation, roused from their slumbers by the angel of death, rushed forth with the loud shrieks of agony and despair, to wail over their dead, now lying cold and still in every house from the palace to the dungeon! Truly did God say of it, "There shall be a great cry throughout all the land of Egypt, such as there was none like it, nor shall be like it any more!"
Not a house in which there was not one dead! What a record! History furnishes no parallel instance. The terrific pestilence which raged in Athens in the second year of the Peloponnesian War, so minutely and thrillingly described by Thucydides, when the dead and the dying lay piled upon one another, not merely on the public roads — but even in the temples; the terrible epidemic which Livy mentions as desolating Rome; the plague that ravaged Florence in the middle of the fourteenth century; the equally murderous one that decimated London in the latter half of the seventeenth century, so graphically portrayed by De Foe; and that modern scourge, the Cholera, which, born and cradled in Asia, has marched as a pestilence in its strength westward over Europe, and heedless of three thousand miles of ocean, has planted its crushing feet upon these shores, trampling down thousands and tens of thousands in its path!
All these, as direful as they are, and were, can scarcely compare, in the number slain, in the desolation made, in the sorrow produced, in the suddenness of the stroke, in the universality of bereavement, in the nationality of the wailing — with the tenth and last plague of God, when at midnight, the angel of the Lord passed through Egypt and smote all the first-born, wringing from every family and heart a shriek of anguish! "For there was not a house in which there was not one dead!"
Can you conceive such a scene? Can you, by the strongest effort of imagination, picture out the woe of such an hour? No, it must ever lie in the midnight darkness that enshrouded the scene! That wild wail that rose from millions of simultaneously stricken hearts, can neither be imagined nor described. The very consideration of such a subject gives us pain, and we willingly turn away from its scenes of sorrow and death.
Yet, may it not be said of nearly every family in this church, this city, this land: there is not a house where there is not one dead! I answer, Yes! I do not mean that death at some time or other has gone into your midst and taken away one of your family group; for solemn and truthful are those words of the poet:
"There is no flock, however watched and tended,
But one dead lamb is there;
There is no fireside, howsoever defended,
But has one vacant chair."
But I refer to the "dead in trespasses and sins." It is this solemn fact of the prevalence in each household and family of this spiritual death to which I wish to turn your anxious thoughts; and if the Holy Spirit will but enable me to speak as I ought, and seal what you hear upon your hearts — you will soon perceive that, as terrible as was the condition of the Egyptians — more dreadful still is the state of our households in each of which there is at least one spiritually "dead in trespasses and sins."
In the Bible, alienation from God, spiritual ignorance, carnal-mindedness, unbelief, living in worldly pleasures, continuance in trespasses and sins — are each called death — spiritual death. And justly too, for how can the soul that is alienated from the life of God, be alive unto God? And if we are not alive unto God — there is no spiritual life in us; and whoever is devoid of spiritual life — is spiritually dead. How can a soul that is carnally-minded, engrossed with the things of the flesh — have life? So impossible is this, that the apostle with great emphasis declares, "For to be carnally minded is death!" How can he be truly alive, in the spiritual meaning of that word — who has no faith in Jesus, who in his unbelief refuses to receive Christ in any of His offices, or benefits? It is impossible, for John says, "This is the record that God has given unto us, eternal life; and this life is in His Son. He who has the Son — has life; and he who has not the Son — has not life." And a greater than John, Jesus Himself, declared: "Except you eat the flesh and drink the blood of the Son of man, you have no life in you;" showing that unbelief, or the non-receiving of Christ as He is set forth in the gospel, is spiritual death.
How can his soul be termed alive, in its Bible acceptance, whose whole being, mental, moral, physical — is engrossed in the pleasures of this sinful world? Never, until you can revoke Paul's declaration, "She that lives in pleasure is dead, even while she lives." Hence we draw the plain and solemn inference from these and other passages of Scripture, that all those who are living in sin, in mere worldly pleasure, in carnal-mindedness, in spiritual ignorance, in alienation from God — and without that saving faith in Jesus Christ which puts us in possession of all the benefits of His meritorious death and passion — are spiritually dead.
They are dead to all the higher purposes of their immortal souls; dead to their heavenly inheritance; dead to the glory of God; dead to the redemption that is in Christ Jesus — so that, though they live and breathe and have an earthly being; though they move amid the mirthful and business scenes of this world; though they employ their minds about science, art, and literature; though they build cities, and govern kingdoms, and marshal armies, and win the fading crowns which mortals give to mortals; and though they may be loved, and honored, and esteemed for moral worth and social virtues, and the sweet amiabilities of a life spotless to the eyes of men — yet God pronounces them dead — for He sees their hearts, He knows their inner state, and His decision is the sentence of a God of holiness and truth.
You see nothing to distinguish the persons thus said to be dead from any others — but all things rather tell of life, of hope, of joy — and not of death and woe. But this spiritual death is none the less real, because invisible to mortal eye. Could the material film which blears the eye of the soul be removed, and we be permitted to gaze at those around us as they are viewed by God and angels — we would see more doleful evidences of death in the spirit of the impenitent and unbelieving, than we see with the eye of sense in the chamber of physical mortality and beside the opened grave.
I say more doleful evidences, for then would we behold scenes of deepest anguish —
here, a man sleeping the sleep of death, in ignorance;
here, one "dead in trespasses and sins";
here, one inanimate to all the eternal interests of the soul;
here another, lifeless in carnality;
here one wrapped in the winding-sheet of his own hypocrisy;
and there another, lying morally pulseless on the flower-decked bier of worldly pleasure, ready to be buried in the self-dug grave of his deceitful lusts!
This surely is a sad condition. Would that it could be in some measure realized. But such is the carnal-mindedness of our nature, such the deception of the great adversary, such the prevailing influence of seen and temporal things over unseen and eternal things — that though reason, and conscience, and Christian friends, and the Bible unite in telling you your death-like state — you listen only as to the mutterings of far-off thunder; gaze only as to the flashes of distant lightning; and then bend anew — your thought, and mind, and heart, to the concerns of time and sense, to the utter exclusion of the things of the world to come!
But are not the things of the world to come, the paramount things even of this life? For is not this life "the dim dawn, the twilight of an eternal day" which will break fully upon us beyond the grave? The character of that future — is determined by the character of this present. The soul will be in eternity — what it becomes in time. Hence as there is no knowledge, nor work, nor device, in the grave where we go — so the destinies of the immortal soul for eternity — lie within the shaping influences of the present hour.
Life's great work is not to live well and honorably on earth — but to fit yourself to live well and honorably hereafter. Life's great end is not to glorify ourselves here — but to prepare ourselves for glory hereafter, and that can be done only by glorifying God now with our bodies and spirits which are His.
The time is not far distant, when we shall look back upon the years of this mortal life, and be amazed that we could allow our immortal soul to be absorbed in the base, contemptible, babyish, fleeting affairs of this probation-world — and neglect the momentous and eternal interests of our souls! "Fool that I was," you shall exclaim, "to be alive to everything to which I should have been dead — and to be dead to everything to which I should have been alive! To barter the salvation of my soul, the favor of God, the joys of Heaven, and eternal glory . . .
for a few hours of sordid pleasure,
for a few grains of glittering dust,
for a few acclamations of human breath,
for a few treasures of worldly learning —
all of which have now vanished as a dream, and left me hopeless, joyless, peaceless, Heavenless forever!"
Give to this subject but one hour's serious thought, implore upon it light from above, to guide your mind, study it in its Bible truthfulness and be willing to look at it as the greatest interest of your soul, and conscience — and you will not fail to learn that you are indeed spiritually dead, and that if you continue in this state, eternal death, the second death, will be your remediless portion!
Is there any help or escape from this spiritual death? There is! The call of Paul to the Ephesian Christians still rings in our ears, "Awake you that sleep and arise from the dead — and Christ shall give you light." Through Christ, who is the Resurrection and the Life, there is deliverance. He died — that you might not die. He rose again — that you might rise from the death of sin. He lives in glory — that you may live and reign there also. He holds out to you every promise, the Holy Spirit visits you to rouse you from your insensible state, and God is waiting to be gracious. Everything now is favorable to your salvation, every agency on God's part is at work to secure it, nothing is lacking to make eternal life yours — but the bowing of your stubborn will, to the will of God; and even this, the great stone that lies at the door of your moral sepulcher — even this, God will aid you in rolling away, as soon as you yield to the monitions of the Spirit and are made willing in the day of His power.
How imperative, then, is the duty which rests upon Christians to seek the salvation of all with whom they are connected by ties of blood or love. Did you truly believe what the Bible declares concerning your unconverted friends — you would be constrained to mourn over them with a bitter wailing. Were you to see your wife, husband, father, mother, brother, sister, son, or daughter — wasting away in disease, and struggling in the agonies of mortal death — how would your hearts be wrung with sorrow! Yet you see them out of Christ, you know that they are not followers of Jesus, you are assured by God himself that they are dead in trespasses and in sin, and you know that this spiritual death is but a step removed from the second death, the eternal death — and all the while you appear unconcerned about their salvation, unmoved at their perilous condition! You behold them day by day sinking down to everlasting woe — and put forth no helping hand, lift up no warning voice, make no energetic effort to rouse them from their death-like stupor, and point them to Him who alone can give them spiritual life here and eternal life beyond the grave! Does not such conduct virtually give the lie to God? Does it not practically declare that the Bible is not true? Does it not show that you esteem the bodies of your friends more than their souls, and that you regard their temporal interests as paramount to their spiritual? And does not such conduct in professing Christians falsify the teachings of the pulpit, the monitions of conscience, and the declarations of the Scripture?
And can you do this, O Christian — and be guiltless of the blood of those souls whom your indifference and carelessness has laid in the winding-sheet of eternal death? Christian father, mother, husband, wife, brother, sister — weigh well and prayerfully, the responsibilities which rest upon you towards your unconverted children, friends, relatives, and dependents. There is perhaps one dead in each of your houses. It may be that one is near and dear to your heart. Oh, go out then to Jesus like Mary, and say, "I know that even now, whatever you will ask of God — God will give it to you." Go to Him like Jairus, and say, "My daughter is even now dead — but come and lay your hand on her and she shall live!" And He who gave back the breath to Lazarus, and to the ruler's daughter, and to the son of the widow of Nain — will rouse your beloved one from the sleep of spiritual death, will breathe into that dead one spiritual life, and as the "Resurrection and the Life," will raise you up together, and make you sit together in heavenly places to the praise of the glory of His grace — who, when you were dead in trespasses and sins, quickened you into spiritual life here, and ushered you into eternal life hereafter!