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with most feeling and least affection, how have they villified those empty appearances of happiness? With what moving expressions declared the vanity and brevity of worldly things ? As when the Israelites were to go through the river Jordan, that opened itself to make a free and dry passage for them; the lower part of its waters ran into the Dead Sea, and utterly failed, Josh. 3. 16. *but the waters that came from abroad, rose up and appeared like a mountain. Thus when men come to the universal passage from this to the next life, inferior things absolutely fail and are lost in the Dead Sea ; but the things above, that are eternal, then appear in their true greatness, exceeding all human comprehension : from hence is the change of mind and language concerning the one and other.
[5.] Solemn, affectionate, and frequent converse with God in religious duties, will render death not fearful to us. The whole life of a christian, as such, is a continual communion with the Father, and with Jesus Christ, 1 John 1. 3. For he performs all good works by divine grace communicated from above, and refers all to the divine honor. As in a pair of compasses, one foot is fixed in the centre, while the other moves in the circumference; so the heart of a christian is in heaven, his aims are for God, whilst he is active here in the world. His natural and civil actions are heightened to a supernatural end : and thus his conversation is in heaven. But this was spoken of before: and that which is now specified, is the more immediate service of God in holy meditation, prayer, and the ordinances of the gospel, which is the noblest part of the spiritual life.
Our blessed Saviour who was a comprehensor upon earth, always saw the face of God, and invariably sought his glory in all things, yet had his special times of prayer and heavenly communion with God, and the most glorious testimonies of his favor in those times. Our communion with God here is as true as in heaven, but the influence and fruition is different according to our capacity. When the soul feels the vigorous exercise of the thoughts and affections upon God, and the raised operations of grace in holy duties, it is as certain a sign of God's favor and acceptance, as when fire descended from heaven to consume the sacrifice. And often our affectionate duties are rewarded with sensible consolations, and holy souls are dismissed from the throne of grace, as they shall be received at the throne of glory, with the reviving testimonies of God's approbation. Now the assurance of God's love conquers the fear of death.
This communion must be frequent. As love and respects between friends are maintained by constant visits and letters, and mutual confidence arises from acquaintance: so by the interchange of holy duties and divine favors, we preserve a lively sense of God's love, and a humble familiarity with his majesty
*Ad instar montis intumescentis, apparebant procul.
that his presence is not a terror to us. A christian that walks with God here, when he leaves the world, (to use the words of a dying saint) changes his room but not his company. God was always with him on earth, and he shall be ever with God in heaven.
But cold and seldom converse begets strangeness, and that makes us shy of God. When religious duties are performed as a complimental visit without zealous affections, or used only in times of affliction and exigency, as cordial waters in swooning fits, the divine presence is uncomfortable to us. They who prefer carnal sweets before acquaintance with God, cannot with peace and joy think of appearing before him. O how unwelcome is death to such ! " for then the spirit returns to the God that gave it."
[6.] Let us strengthen our belief of the blessed state aster death. Divine truths lose their influence and efficacy, when they are not steadfastly believed. Faith is the substance of things not seen, and the evidence or conviction of things hoped for, Heb. 11. 1. The Spirit confirms our faith, not by a pure physical act, but by convincing reason of the truth of the gospel. The life of Christ so glorious in holiness, his doctrine so becoming the wisdom and other excellent attributes of the Deity ; his miracles so great and numerous, open and beneficial, not merely to surprize the spectators with astonishment, but to touch their hearts; his death foretold by the prophets, and exactly agreeing in all the circumstances of the predictions ; his resurrection the most noble operation of the divine power, are the strongest proofs that what he has revealed as the counsel of God for our redemption, and the preparations of glory for the saints in heaven, are divine truths. And the efficacy of the spirit of Christ in sanctifying his disciples in all ages, is a continual and as satisfying an argument that the gospel is derived from God the fountain of truth, as extraordinary miracles. For holiness is as inseparable a property of the divine nature as omnipotence, and the sanctification of the soul as divine an effect as the resurrection of the body. Now in the gospel God enters into covenant with obedient believers, “to be their God," a title and relation, that supposing them the most happy here, all the enjoyments of this world cannot fulfil. This covenant is not dissolved by death, for he uses this style after the death of his faithful servants : and from hence it follows they are partakers of his glory and joys in the next life. For the honor of his veracity is most dear to him. The Psalmist declares that he has “ magnified his word above all his name.” No perfections of his nature are more sacred and inviolable than his truth. The foundations of nature shall be overturned, and the most solid parts of the creation destroyed, but his promises shall be completely accomplished. We are assured by his infallible authority, that “there remains a
rest for the people of God.” And“ he that receives this testimony sets to his seal that God is true;" honors the truth of God's word, and binds himself more firmly to his service, and is encouraged to leave this sensible world for that which is infinitely better. Our confidence and patience in well-doing, and in suffering the utmost evil to nature, is from the pregnant apprehensions of the reality of eternal things. We know, saith the Apostle, if our earthly tabernacle be dissolved, we have a building not made with hands, eternal in the heavens, 2 Cor. 5. I. This fortified him against the terrors of death. When « Stephen saw the heavens open, and the Son of God ready to receive him,” with what courage and constancy did he encounter the bloody rage of his inurderers ? Faith supplies the want of vision, it pierces the clouds, opens a window in heaven, sees the crowns of righteousness prepared for the saints, and sweetens the bitterest passage to it. But if our faith be weak and wavering, our courage will decline in the needful hour. It is with christians in their last passage from earth to heaven, as with St. Peter walking upon the waters to Christ: whilst his faith was firm in Christ, he went upon the waves, as on the firm land; but upon the rising of a storm, his faith sunk into fear, and he sunk in the waters ; till our Saviour
“ Lord save me,” took hold of him, and raised him with that compassionate reproof,“ O thou of little faith, wherefore didst thou doubt.”
The last use is, to excite the saints to die with that courage and cheerfulness as becomes the gospel of Christ.” The encouragement of Joshua to the Israelites against the giants that terrified them from entering into the land of Canaan, the type of heaven, “be not afraid of them, they are bread for us,” we shall obtain an easy conquest over them, is applicable to this purpose: do not fear death, the enemy that interposes between us and the true Canaan; for our conflict shall be the means of our victory, and triumphant possession of the holy and blessed land above. This is very honorable to our Redeemer, and recommends godliness to the judgment, affections and practice of others. St. Basil * tells of a custom to anoint the tops of doves wings with some fragrant liquors, that mixing in company with other dores, they might by the scent allure them to follow to the dove-houses. Thus when holy persons live and die with peaceful joy, those that converse with them are drawn by that fragrance of Paradise to apply themselves to serious religion.
It is the Apostle's consolatory advice to believers, not to be sorrowful for those that sleep in Jesus, as those that are without hope, 1 Thes. 4.
When Jacob saw his beloved son's coat rent and stained with blood, he abandoned himself to desperate sorrow, and continued
* Epist. Jul.
mourning for his death, when Joseph was advanced in authority and dignity next to Pharaoh, in the kingdom of Egypt. Thus when we see the garment of mortality rent by diseases, we mourn for departed saints, as if death had absolutely destroyed them, when their souls are reigning in glory. This immoderate sorrow is a heathenish passion, suitable to their ignorance of the future happy state, but very unbecoming the plenary assurance the gospel affords us of it. Indeed for the wicked to die with fears and palpitations of heart, to be surrounded with impendent horrors, when such a precipice and depth of misery is before them, is very just and reasonable ; but for the saints to die uncomfortably under inordinate fears, is a disparagement to the blessed hope established upon the revelation of life and immortality by the gospel.
Now in three things I shall propound the duty of dying christians.
1. To submit to the divine pleasure with resigned spirits, as to the means, the manner, and time of death. God has a sovereign right and dominion over us. The present lise is his most free favor, and he may justly resume it when he pleases. His will should be the first and last rule of ours. Whether he gently untwines the band of life, or violently breaks it, we must placidly without reluctation yield up ourselves. By what means soever death comes, all second causes are moved by an impression from above, in what age of life soever; all our times are appointed by the divine counsel: and a saint ought with that readi- : ness and meek submission to receive it, as if he heard an express voice from heaven calling him to God, and say in his heart with Samuel, "here I am, thou didst call me.” This is the last act of our obedience, and very pleasing to God. We read of the marvellous consent of Abraham, and his son Isaac, the father to offer up his son, and the son his life, (that were both the gifts of God) in compliance with the divine command, and from heaven he declared his high approbation of it. This is to make a virtue of necessity, and turn nature into grace. But discontent and reluctancy, as if our lives were our own, and taken from us unjustly or unseasonably, is rebellious unthankfulness, unbecoming a creature, much more a true christian, who exchanges a perishing lise for that which is eternal.
2. To receive death not only with patience, but earnest desires to be with Christ. I know death is naturally unwelcome. Our Saviour tells St. Peter, when thou art old, another shall bind thee, and lead thee where thou wouldst not, John 21. 41. signifying his martyrdom. The circumstance (when thou art
*Ille exerit gladium, ille cervicem, uno voto unâ devotione: sub tanto non dicam humanitatis, sed potius naturæ ipsius metu, læti sunt.
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 sound.” 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 tevelation 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 liv. ing 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.”