« PreviousContinue »
sickness, not hastened on by disease or accident; but the spirit is surrendered at the command of God, in the fulness of health, in the composure of perfect recollection, without a hesitation of reluctant nature, without regret, without a pang: When sentence of death was pronounced upon Moses himself, and for the self-same transgression which shortened the life of Aaron, we find the fondness of nature, and the fervour of religion, repeatedly uniting, to crave a reprieve at least, if not a total remission: but Aaron, when summoned to depart, whether it was from superior fortitude of mind, from the consciousness of greater demerit, or that the historian has charitably drawn a veil over a brother's infirmity, while he frankly exposes his own, prepares instantly and cheerfully for the event.
Were we to follow the impulse of imagination, we might, without overleaping the modesty of nature, represent to you the deep concern wherewith the good man's own family was affected when the award of death was pronounced, the concern of all Israel at the thought of being deprived of the labours, the advices, the example and the prayers of their venerable high-priest: the concern of Moses in being made the messenger, almost the executioner of death, upon his much beloved brother, associate and friend; himself too lying under the same condemnation. If after he received the command to ascend the mountain, that he might die, he was permitted to minister in the priest's office any more, to pour out the blood of the sacrifice, to burn incense upon the altar, to lift up his hands and bless the people, with what holy fervour may we suppose these sacred services performed! with what devout attention would they be listened unto and waited upon, when both minister and people knew for certain they were to meet no more! May we not suppose the good man in strains such as these, taking a last, long farewell of those to whom he had for so many years stood in a relation so tender and so intimate. ** The time of my departure, O Israel, it is at length come, and I am ready to be offered up. That God who appointed me to serve you in holy things, permits me to wait at his altar no longer. I have fulfilled my day. I have finished my course. I have survived the greatest part of my cotemporaries, but must die at length. I leave you with remorse, because I accuse myself of many failures in point of duty towards you; I leave you with regret, because I sincerely love you; I leave you with joy, because I can with confidence commit you to a guardian Providence, even to the God of your fathers, who can easily supply my place, by one wiser, holier and more faithful than me; and who, I trust, will continue still to rule and to lead you by that best of men, of brothers, and of friends. My body leaves you, but my spirit connot be separated from you; in death it will cleave unto you; and when set free from the clogs of sense, it will still hover' over you, attend your journeyings, and, finally, rest in peace when Israel rests in the promised land. These forty years have I borne your names engraved on jewels, upon my heart, and I will carry you with me in my heart, to the regions of eternal day. Farewell, my sons; Eleazer, the heir of my dignity and anxiety, and Ithamar, my youngest hope. Think of the dreadful fate of your elder brothers, and serve the Lord with reverence and godly fear. Think of your father's errors, and learn wisdom. Ponder his approaching dissolution, and learn the nothingness of human grandeur. Call to your remembrance what Providence has done to and for me, and rejoice with trembling. Again I am summoned away; it is the voice of Moses, of my brother; it is the voice of God I hear. The Lord bless thee, and keep thee; the Lord make his face to shine upon thee, and be gracious unto thee; the Lord lift up his countenance upon thee, and give thee peace. I come, my brother; I know whose
command thou bearest; I know that I must obey. But to part with thee is the bitterness of death; endeared as we are to each other by friendship, as allied by blood-conjoined in office, knit together by habits of affection, united in life, and, blessed reflection, not to be long divided by death. Thou wilt bury all my unworthiness in the grave; thou hast already buried it in the profounder, silenter tomb of a gentle and forgiving heart. I come, O my God, at thy call; I de. sire not to live, if thou biddest me to die. Yet I mourn to think that my death is a mark of thy displeasure. But I see the sun shining through the cloud; it is not wholly in anger, thou art summoning me away; thou art graciously putting an end to my painful labours, my anxious thoughts, my imperfect services, to my weaknesses and wanderings, and exalting me to a dignity far beyond what I have hitherto enjoyed. I shall see thee as thou art. I shall serve thee without wearying. I shall offend no more. Henceforth is laid
me, a diadem for glory and for beauty, a crown of righteousness that fadeth not away. O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory? Arise, let us go hence. Arise, let us ascend to the top of the moun. tain."
Having, in whatever language, bidden a final adieu to wordly connexions; in the sight of all the people, the high-priest, in all the splendour of his official habit, sad and solemn, climbs up the hill, from which he never was to descend. What were the emotions of Israel in gradually losing sight of their venerable patriarch, to see him no more again for ever? What were the feelings of the patriarch in surveying from the summit of the mountain the goodly tents of Jacob, in which he had an earthly concern no longer? Nature casts many “a longing, lingering look behind;” but faith looks forward, and beholds mortality swallowed up of life. Nature regrets a promised land; unseen, unpossessed, unenjoyed, because of unbelief: faith stretches the wing, and aims a bold but not uncer. tain flight, to a heavenly Canaan, where “ the wicked cease from troubling, and the weary are for ever at rest.'
The spirit fails as we proceed. The death-warrant. is again recited. The justice of the sentence is acknowledged, and the prisoner prepares for death. The golden crown, the mitre, the girdle, the ephod, the breast-plate, are one after another deposited, and human glory is patiently surrendered. As they were severally yielded up by the father, they are severally assumed by the son. Stripped of all that covered the body, the body itself is at length laid down, and the mortal blow is at length struck by Him who saith, “I make alive, and I kill.” Aaron dies, but Eleazar lives. The priest expires, but the priesthood is immortal. Three ascend, only two return.
What matters it how the poor pershing clay tabernacle was disposed of? About the spirit of the man whom God thus called away, we can be under no anxiety nor apprehension. A general, and I doubt not, an unaffected mourning of thirty days takes place; and all Israel lament when dead, the man whom many had envied, maligned and persecuted through life.
This is one of the many happy consequences and effects of death! It shuts the mouth of scandal; it brings to light unnoticed or obscured virtues; it draws the veil over blemishes and imperfections.
Let the son of pride, who is rising into spendour, and bears “his blushing honours thick upon him," turn his eyes to the top of yonder mountain, and learn the nothingness of all the glory of man. Is his station higher than that of the high-priest of Israel? Are his vestments more magnificent, is his character more sacred, is his dignity more permanent, flow his honours from a higher source? Behold Aaron laid low: retir. ing from the world, naked, as naked he came into it; the head which once wore the mitre, levelled with the dust; the tongue which once spoke so well, for ever dumb.
The hour of rest nightly admonishes us of the last fatal hour. We strip ourselves of our garments one by one, and lay them down; we are reduced to the image of death; the eye is closed; our faculties are absorbed; the form of the man only remains. And the time is at hand, we know it, when we must put off this body, as an uneasy, worn-out, useless vestment, fit only for the moth or the dunghill. « Man must say to corruption, Thou art my father; and to the worm, Thou art my sister and mother.” “ All flesh is grass, and all the goodliness of man as the flower of the field.”
Our very children are the harbingers of our dissolution. They are the pleasantest, but the plainest monitors. Every step they rise brings us a little lower; as they grow stronger and stronger, we grow weaker and weaker. They wait to assume our name, our place, our robes, our office; they are ready to array themselves in our spoils. The elevation of Eleazar is the fall of Aaron. The public life of the son, is the death of the sire.
Look to that mountain, Oman, and reflect that he whom now you hate, envy, oppose, malign, will speedily be changed into a clod of earth, and rendered incapable of feeling or returning thy animosity; and learn to die betimes to these wicked and odious passions. Suppose him laid on the bed of death; stript of those honours, talents, advantages, successes which render him the object of jealousy and malignity to thee. How you are disarmed! Pity and tenderness awake in your breast. You now hate yourself, that ever you could hate your brother. Let the reflection of what may soon happen, reconcile thee to him now. Mar not thy own comfort, by seeking to disturb his repose. The cold hand of death will speedily extinguish the angry flame.