Page images

posed to treachery, and escaped; but the fourth time he said, " I will arise,” but was surprized by his enemies, and lost his strength, and sight, and liberty. How justly will the wilful neglect of salvation so long, and so compassionately offered to sinners, render the divine mercy inexorable to their prayers and tears at last? When a Roman gentleman that was wont to revel in the night, and sleep in the day, had wasted a great estate by luxury, he petitioned the emperor Tiberius to relieve his poverty, and was dismissed with this upbraided answer, Sero experrectus es, you are risen too late. He never opened his eyes to see his condition, till it was past remedy. This is the sad case of many that waste the seasons of grace, and are careless of their duty, till upon the point of perishing, and then address themselves to God for his favor and pardon, but are justly rejected with the reproaches of their obstinate neglect of salvation in the time of their lives. I doubt not that some are wonderfully converted and saved at last ; but these special mercies are like our Saviour's miraculous healing the two blind persons, as he was passing in the way, when great numbers of the blind remained uncured. We read a prodigious story in the Book of Kings, that a captain, and his fifty men, commanded Elias to come to the King, and immediately a tempest of lightning destroyed them. Now who would think that another captain with his fifty should be so desperate, having the ashes and relics of those miserable carcases before their eyes, as to make the same citation to the prophet? Yet they did, and provoked the justice of heaven to consume them. And this madness is exemplified in thousands every day; for notwithstanding they see sinners like themselves, cut off in their evil ways, they continue unreformed, as if they were fearless of hell, as if resolved to secure their own damnation.

I would not from what has been represented in this matter so universally useful, discourage any that have lived in a course of sin, from earnest seeking to God in their last hours: For even then they are not utterly destitute of hope. The gospel sets forth the mercy of God to returning sinners, in various representations and expressions of admirable tenderness. When the lost sheep was recovered, there was joy as is a treasure had been found. The prodigal had wasted his estate in lasciviousness and luxury, and by a harsh reduction came to himself, reflecting with shame upon his folly and rebellion; and the sense of his misery (not a more ingenuous or noble principle at first) compelled him to go to his father, to try what his affection would do. And it was not a vain presumption, for he found the effects of fatherly and compassionate love: “When he was a great way off, his father saw him, and had compassion, and ran and fell on his neck, and kissed him. And the son said, father, I have sinned against heaven, and in thy sight, and am no more worthy to be called

thy son. But the father said to his servants, bring out the best robes, and put a ring on his finger, and shoes on his feet; and bring hither the fatted calf, and kill it; let us eat and be merry, for this my son, was dead, and is alive again ; was lost, and is found.” The design of Christ was to represent his heavenly father in that 'parable : And to wounded spirits that feel the intolerable weight of sin, the mercy and mildness of the gospel is to be exhibited. God is rich in mercy to all that call upon him in truth. But to tell sinners who securely proceed in their sinful ways, that they may be saved at last, and notwithstanding their presumptuous repulses of God's calls to his service, yet think they may come into the vineyard at the eleventh hour, and be rewarded, is to give countenance and protection to sin, and to harden them to destruction. Poison is not cured by giving food, but antidotes, that put nature into a passion till it be expelled. The terrors of the Lord can only prove medicinal to such depraved souls.

To conclude this argument, let us seriously consider the revelation God has afforded of himself in the gospel. He is a father and a judge ; justice and holiness as well as mercy are essential to his nature, that our affections may be accordingly moved towards him. “ If ye call on the father, who without respect of persons judgeth according to every man's work, pass the time of your sojourning here in fear.” Presumption and despair are very dishonorable to God, and pernicious to the soul : The one destroys the fear, the other the love of God. But hope contempered with fear, has an excellent influence in the christian life, as the ballast and the wind are both necessary that the ship may sail safely ; without the wind the ship can make no way; and without ballast, it is in danger of oversetting by every gust. Thus hope and fear are necessary to bring us safely to heaven. Fear without hope, chills and stupifies the vigor and alacrity of the soul, that it cannot come to God: and hope without fear, makes it vain and careless of its duty, and liable to be overthrown by every pleasing temptation. Briefly, let us rightly understand the tenor of the evangelical promises of pardon and grace ; they are conditional, and applicable only to penitent believers. And unfeigned faith purifies the heart, works by love, and is the living principle of universal obedience. And repentance unto life, is productive of all good fruits in their season. Without faith and repentance we can neither be justified in this world, nor glorified in the next. “Be not deceived, God is not mocked as a man sows, so shall he reap. He that sows to the flesh, shall of the flesh reap corruption : he that sows to the spirit, shall of the spirit reap life everlasting."


The preserving ourselves from presumptuous sins, a means to render death

comfortable. The zealous discharge of the duties of our callings, and endeavors to glorify God, and do good according to our abilities, will sweeten the thoughts of death. An indifference of mind and affections to earthly things makes death less fearful. Frequent converse with God in holy duties, makes death desirable. A steadfast belief of future happiness makes death desirable. An excitation to the saints to die with courage and cheerfulness. It is our duty to die with resignation and with patience, and earnest desires to be with Christ. It is very becoming a christian to die with joy and thanksgiving.

[2.] The careful preserving ourselves from wilful presumptuous sins, is a happy means to render death comfortable to us. Sins of ignorance and infirmity, of sudden surreption and surprise, the best men are not freed from in the present state: And being the daily motive of our grief, and serious circumspection to prevent them, are consistent with the regular peace of conscience, and the friendship and favor of God. But great sins in their matter being so contrary to natural conscience, and supernatural grace, or sins presumptuous in the manner of their commission, such as proceed from the choice of the perverse will against the enlightened mind, whatever the matter or kind of them be, are direct rebellion against God, a despising of his command, and provoke his pure eyes, and make the aspect of death fearful. The Spirit seals our pardon and title to heaven as the holy Spirit; his testimony, that we are the children of God, and heirs of glory, is concurrent with the renewed conscience, and distinguished from the ignorant presumptions, blind conjectures, and carnal security of the unholy. As the sanctifying Spirit he distinguishes true christians from the lost world, appropriates them to God, confirms their present interest in the promises of the gospel, and their future hopes. Briefly, grace is the most sensible effect and design of God's special favor, the fruit of election, and the earnest of glory: And the truth of grace is most clearly and certainly made evident by the continual efficacy of it in the conversation. The observation of our hearts to suppress unholy affections, and of our senses to prevent them, a constant course of holiness in our lives (though many frailties will cleave to the best ) is usually rewarded with great peace here.

God has established a connexion between our obedience and his comforts. Those that keep themselves pure from the de




filements of the world, have the white stone promised, the bright jewel of assurance of God's pardoning and rewarding mercy. We read of Enoch, that he walked with God, was a star shining in a corrupt age; the tenor of his life was holy, and he was translated to heaven without seeing death. Though this was an extraordinary dispensation, yet there is a peculiar reward analogical to it; for those who walk circumspectly, they shall not see death with its terrors, but usually have a holy cheerfulness, a peaceful joy in their passage through the dark valley to heaven. But presumptuous sins against external and internal restraints, the convincing law of God, and the directions of conscience, (to which even the saints of God are liable here, as appears by David's earnest prayer to be preserved from them) such sins grieve the Holy Spirit, and wound our spirits, and, if continued, sequester us from the comfortable privileges of the gospel, and render us unfit for the kingdom of heaven. And when they are retracted by repentance, yet there often remains a bitter remembrance of them; as deep wounds, though cured, yet are felt in change of weather. And sometimes a spring-tide of doubts and fears breaks into humble penitent souls, in the last hours: though death brings them safely, yet not comfortably to heaven.

[3.] The zealous discharge of the duties of our place and calling, the conjunction of our resolutions and endeavors to glorify God; and do good according to our abilities and opportunities of service, sweetens the thoughts of death to us. For the true end and perfection of life is the glory of God, and when with fidelity it is employed in order to it, death brings us to the blessed rest from our labors. Our Saviour when he was to leave the world, addressed himself to his Father, I have glorified thee on earth, I have finished the work thou gavest me to do. . And now, Father, glorify me with thyself, with the glory which I had with thee before the world was, John 17. A christian that imitates and honors Christ, and with diligence perseveres in well-doing, may with a humble confidence in the divine mercy expect the promised reward. The reflection upon a well-spent life is joined with a joyful prospect of God's favor and acceptance above. But for the careless and remiss, to those who are wilfully negligent of their duty, how fearful is death that summonses them to give an account of their talents to the righteous Lord ?

[4.] A holy indifference of affection to present things, makes it easy to part with them, and death less fearful to us. David, though a king, declares he was a stranger on earth not only with respect to his transient condition, but his inward disposition ; and that he was as a weaned child from the admired vanities of the world. Chrysostom in a letter to Ciriacus, who was tenderly sensible of his banishment, wrote to him, “You now begin to “lament my banishment, but I have done so for a long time : “ For since I knew that heaven was my country, I have esteem"ed the whole earth a place of exilement. Constantinople, “ from whence I am expelled, is as distant from Paradise as the “ desert to which they send me.” But when our affections are set upon external things, and we are irregular in our aims, intemperate in our use, and immoderate in our delights, how sensible and cutting is the division from them? How bitter is death that deprives a carnal wretch of all the materials of his frail felicity? What a storm of passions is raised, to lose all his good things at once? For it is a rule in nature, what is possessed with transporting joy, is lost with excessive sorrow. As the ivy that twines so closely about the tree, and is intimately fastened by so many roots as there are branches, cannot be plucked away without rending the bark with it ; so when the world, that was as it were incarnated with the heart, is taken away, the heart itself is grievously rent by the violent separation." And the infelicity of carnal and worldly persons is heavily aggravated, in that the guilt in procuring or abusing those treasures and delights that they leave here with so great sorrow, will cleave to them, and give testimony against them before their judge. But when the affections are loose to the world, and set upon heaven, our leaving the earth is no loss but gain, and our separation from the body of flesh is with that alacrity, as the putting off a vile garment to be clothed with a royal robe. It was the wise counsel of Tertullian to the women of the first ages of the church, not to value and love the jewels and ornaments of gold, that they might be more ready and resolved to obtain by death, martyrdom, and by martyrdom, eternal glory. And that we may disentangle our souls from those voluntary bands that fasten us to present things, we must have a sincere uncorrupted judgment of their meanness. The apostle exhorts christians to moderation in their temper and conversation, with respect to the business and enjoyments here; that“ they who have wives, be as though they had none; that those that rejoice, be as though they rejoiced not; and they that buy, as though they possessed not; and they that use the world, as not abusing it: For the fashion of the world passeth away." To a wise and pondering observer, what comparison is there between shadows and dreams, and substantial everlasting blessedness? If men had the same opinion of this world whilst they live, as they will have when they are to die, they would not inordinately seek it. They who have magnified temporal honors and riches, and lived in pleasures without remorse, yet in their dying hours, when men speak

*Hæc enim est infælicitas hominum, propter quæ peccant. Morientes hic dimittunt, et ipsa peccata secum portant. Aug.

#Stemus expeditæ ad omnem vim, nihil habentes quod relinquere timeamus; Retinacula ista sunt spei nostræ. De Cult. Fem.

« PreviousContinue »