Page images
PDF
EPUB

the throne, that are arrived at the height of temporal happiness, what a melancholy prospect is before them of death, and the dark grave? When all things conspire to make men happy here, the sensitive faculties and their fruitions are ebbing and declining, till they sink into death, the whirlpool that will shortly swallow them up for ever. This renders the thoughts of mortality so frightful, and checks the freest enjoyments of carnal pleasures.

2. Death is fearful in the apprehension of conscience, as it is the most sensible, mark of God's wrath, that is heavier than death, and a summons to give an account of all things done in this life, to the righteous judge of the world. It is appointed to all men once to die, and afterwards the judgment, Heb. 9. 27. The penal fear is more wounding to the spirit than the natural. When the awakened sinner presently expects the citation to appear before the tribunal above, where no excuses, no supplications, no privileges avail; where the cause of eternal life or death must be decided, and the awards of justice be immediately executed ; 0 the convulsions and agonies of conscience in that hour! When the diseased body cannot live, and the disconsolate soul dare not die, what anxieties surround it? This redoubles the terrors of death, that the first transmits to the second, that was figured by it. ( the dismal aspect of Death riding on a pale horse, with Hell, the black attendant, following ! This fear surprized the sinners in Sion. “Who among us can dwell with devouring fire? who among us can remain with everlasting burnings?” This made a heathen, the Governor of a province, to tremble before a poor prisoner : While Paul discoursed of righteousness, temperance, and judgment to come, Felix trembled ; Act. 24. 25. It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God, who lives for ever, and can punish for ever; Heb. 10. 31. None is so powerful as God; nothing so fearful as the guilty conscience.

[3.] The degrees of this fear are expressed by bondage. This passion, when regular in its object and degree, is excellently useful; it is a wise counsellor and faithful guardian, that plucks off the mask from our enemies, and keeps reason vigilant and active to prevent a threatening evil, or to sustain it in the best manner. It is observable in the brute creatures, that the weak and fearful are most subtile and ingenious to secure themselves, and supply the want of strength with artifice : But when fear is inordinate, it is a tyrannous master, that vexes the weary soul, and hinders its free and noble operations. Cæsar chose rather to be exposed to sudden death, than to be continually harrassed with fear how to avoid it. The Greek word implies the binding of the spirit, that causes an inward slavery; And in the Apostle's writing, the spirit of fear and the spirit of bondage are equivalent. Ishbosheth, when Abner (provoked by the charge about

Saul's concubine) imperiously threatened to translate the king: dom to David, was struck with such a fear, that he could not answer Abner a word ; 2 Sam. 3. 10, 11. the sudden passion stified his reply, and reduced him to a defenceless silence. Now the fear of death, as it is remiss or vehement, such are the degrees of bondage from it.

1. It imbitters the enjoyments of the present life, and makes the most prosperous in the world, “even in the fulness of their sufficiency, to be in straits." Though the senses are pleased with the quick sweetness of change from one object to another, yet the soul cannot have a delightful undisturbed fruition, foreseeing that the streams of pleasure will issue into the dead sea. Truly light is sweet, and it is a pleasant thing to behold the sun ; Eccles. 11.7. But how short is this life with all its pleasures, in conparison of the days of darkness that follow ? Now though it is our best wisdom and truest liberty, to rejoice in this world as if we rejoiced not, and frequently to meditate on the cooling doc. trines of death and judgment, to repress the transports of the voluptuous appetite; yet since the comforts of this are liberally indulged to us by the love of God, to be the motives of our grateful and affectionate obedience, to sweeten our passage to Heaven, we may with tranquillity of spirit make a pure and cheerful use of them in his service : And it is an oppressing bondage, when the disquieting anxious fears of death hinder our temperate enjoyment of his favors and blessings.

2. The fear of death oppre ses the souls of men under a miserable bondage to the devil; for his dominion is maintained by the allurements and terrors of the world. Though men do not explicitly acknowledge his sovereignty, yet by voluntary yielding to his pleasing temptations, they are really his slaves : And the apprehension of temporal evils, especially of death, dressed up in a frightful representation with his bloody pomp, is the strong. est snare to the soul. Prov. 29. The faint-hearted prove falsehearted in the time of trial : For the timorous spirit being wholly intent how to avoid the incursion of a present evil, forgets or neglects what is indispensably to be done, and thinks to find an excuse in the pretended necessity. How many have been terrified from their clearest duty, and resolved constancy? To escape death, they have been guilty of the most insufferable impieties, by renouncing God their maker and Saviour, and worshipping the Devils for Deities. Every age presents sad spectacles of many that choose iniquity rather than affliction, Job 36. 21. that relinquish their duty, and by wicked compliances save their lives, and lose their souls. Carnal desires and carnal fears are the chains of Hell, that retain men Satan's captives : But what folly, what madness is it, for the avoiding the impotent fury of the creature, to venture on the powerful wrath of God, that exceeds all the terrors that can be conceived by fear ? This renders them

over

more brutish than the horse, that starting at his shadow, springs

a desperate precipice. The fearful are excluded from heaven, and cast into the lake of fire and brimstone for ever; Rev. 21.

3. The extreme fear of death aud judgment dejects and dis courages the soul from the use of means to prevent eternal misery, and induces a most wofal bondage. Fear anticipates and exasperates future evils; for. as knowledge excites fear, so fear increases knowledge, by the uncessant working of the thoughts upon terrible objects. The fearful mind aggravates the foreseen evil, and distils the poison from all the circumstances and consequences of it: And when the evil is apprehended as insuperable and indeclinable, all endeavors to escape are cut off. What a philosopher observes of an earthquake, compared with other destructive evils, is true in this case : There may be a safe retreat from fire, from inundations, from storms, from war, from pestilence; but an earthquake astonishes with so violent a perturbation, that stops our fight from the imminent danger. So the vehement impressions of fear from the approaches of death, and the severe executions upon the sinner after it, distract the mind, and disable from flying from the wrath to come. These fears are more heavy by the suggestions of Satan, who represents God so terrible in his majesty, inexorable in his justice, and unchangeable in his threatenings, that all hopes of obtaining his favor are lost. As the Egyptian darkness was not merely from the absence of the sun, but from feculent vapours condensing the air, that it might be felt; so these dark and fearful expectations of the divine wrath, are not only from the withdrawing the light of God's countenance, but from the prince of darkness, that foul spirit. And as we read of the Egyptiaps, that no man arose from his place for three days; as if they had been buried in that darkness, and deprived of all active power and motion : so the despairing soul sits down mourning at the gates of death, totally disabled from prosecuting the things that belong to its peace. It is hope inspires and warms us with alacrity, encourages our endeavors : despair blunts our edge and industry. The soul suffers the hardest bondage, and the condition is inexpressibly sad under the tyranny of this fear. O how enthralled, how desolately miserable! Despair does meritoriously, and effectually ruin the soul. For whereas there is no attribute more divine, ao clearer notion of the Deity than love and mercy; this passion disparages his mercy, as if sin were more omnipotent than his power to pardon ; and all the tears that flow from it, are so far from expiating, that they increase guilt : And whereas the believing view of Christ would as completely and presently recover the soul-wounded sinner, as the Israelites were by looking to the ordained visible sign of their salvation ; despair turns away the eye from our deliverer, and fixes it upon misery as remediless and final.

[4.] How comes it to pass, that men are not always under the actual tear of death, but subject to the revolutions of it all their lives?

The seeds of this fear are hid in the guilty breasts of men, and at times especially in their calamities, break forth and kindle upon them. In their leisure and retirement, intercurrent thoughts of death and judgment sting them by fits, and make them uneasy. The flashes of conscience, like moments of lightning, startle them; but they relapse into their habitual stupidity : And the account of it will be clear, by considering the following particulars.

1. Men are apt to flatter themselves with the hopes of long life, and look upon death at a great distance: though there be a dying disposition in the youngest and strongest persons, though we live in a world of casualties, and death lie in ambush to surprize us every day, yet we are secure; because evils affect us according to their apprehended nearness. A petty constable that is troublesome and vexatious, is more feared by his neigbors, than the Grand Signior with all his executioners. As remote objects though of vast bigness, are lessened to our sight; so through the supposed interval of many years, death is looked on with a diminution of its terror. But when death presents itself before men, ready to dispatch them, how formidable is its appearance ! Saul, though renowned for his valor, yet when he understood by revelation, that to-morrow he and his sons should be in the state of the dead, there was no strength in him, but he fell straitway all along on the earth; 1 Sam. 28. struck through with fear, before he was wounded by the arrows of the Philistines. Belshazzar, in the midst of his luxury and jollity, attended with a thousand lords, and his herd of concubines, Dan. 5. 1. 2. 3. 4. inflamed with wine, and therefore less capable of fear; yet upon the sight of the fatal hand writing on the wall, a few unknown characters, which his guilty conscience (before the prophet Daniel came ) interpreted to be the sentence of the present death, how fearfully was his countenance changed pale as a carcass ? How suddenly did his blood congeal, and his warmest, quickest, spirits die in his heart? His whole body was seized by such a vehement trembling, that his joints were loosed, and his knees smote one against another. This is a representation of those who bid defiance to death at a distance : But when the fatal hour is come, and they hear the sentence decreed against them, God had numbered thy days, and finished them; thou art weighed in the balance, (all thy words and actions, thy thoughts and affections) and art found wanting : and thy soul shall be divided from thy body; the one sent to hell, to suffer the undying worm of conscience ; the other to the grave, to be a prey to the worms of corruption ; how are they overcome with horor !

2. The continual succession of the pleasures and business of the world divert the mind from the attentive strong contempla

tion of death, and the consequences of it. Pensive thoughts are unwelcome, and we studiously endeavor to cancel the memory of such things as afflict us. It is said of the wicked, that God is not in all their thoughts. The consideration of the holy inspector and judge of their actions is tormenting, therefore they fill their minds with earthly imaginations, to exclude the divine presence. We read of those, who to put far away the evil day, chanted to the sound of the viol, and drank wine in bowls, Amos 6. 3. 4. They are rocked asleep with the motion of fantastic vanities. And sleep takes away fear, but gives no safety. It is recorded of Marius, by Ælian, that after his overthrow by Sylla, he was always in consternation, as if he heard the sound of the trumpets, and the noise of the victorious army pursuing him : And his fears were no longer : quiet than whilst cbarmed with wine and sleep; he therefore was continually drunk, that he might forget himself, his enemy, and his danger. Thus men make a pitiful shift to forget their latter end; and whilst they are following either secular affairs, or sensual pleasures, are unconcerned for what is to be hereafter. But this diversion will shortly be at an end; for in their languishing hours, when the wasted body fails the carnal mind, and sensual desire fails the man, then conscience that spoke with a loud voice before, is loud and terrible, and like the rigid exactor in the parable that took his debtor by the throat, requires them to pay what they

1

owe.

4. Some are so hardened in infidelity, that the powers of the world to come make no impression on their hearts. They mind but little, and are less affected with invisible things. They fortify themselves with gross thoughts, that the spirit of man vanishes with his breath, the death is the end of this life, and not the beginning of another, and feed without fear. Place one in the midst of destructive evils, but unseen or not believed, and he is as fearless as a blind person walking on the brink of a deep pit. Indeed there are none-less disturbed with the terrors of death, than the eminently good, or the extremely 'bad: For the one sort have a blessed hope that death: will be to them an en. liance into life, and live like the angels, with a joy unspeakable and glorious. The others are as sensual and secure as the beasts that perish, having extinguished the fear of eternal future evils, which is the proper passion of reason. The apostle declares, that knowing the terror of the Lord, we persuade men to be reconciled to him, before the season of mercy be expired, 2 Cor. 5. 11. But those who have suppressed the natural notions of eternal judgment, as they think it beneath their wisdom to be persuaded by the promises of heaven, so beneath their courage to be terrified with the threatenings of hell, and triumph over the ruins of conscience. But though wicked infidels slight the threatenings, they shall not escape the vengeance of God.

« PreviousContinue »