Page images
PDF
EPUB

is with those, who greatly fear death. They industriously fly the thoughts of it at all times; and thereby they only increase that natural dread, and make death insupportable, whensoever it comes. And as courage is improved by repeated approaches to danger, and a long familiarity with it; so, if we have death often in our minds, and contract (as it were) an intimacy with it, we lessen the abhorrence of it. Therefore, if we would quit our present being with decency, and without great consternation, we should always look upon the hour of departure as at hand, and think with ourselves, as often as we go forth to our worldly affairs, that we may never return home again; and as often as we lie down to rest, that we may wake no more to this world.

II. 2. Another way of reconciling ourselves to death, is, to consider it as unavoidable. That we ought to meet with boldness, what we cannot shun; and endure it with all the con. stancy which human nature can summon; and that it is folly to act otherwise, is one of the plainest dictates of reason. Though it must be confessed, that this consideration affords little comfort under extreme pain, or extraordinary afflictions, yet, in many evils, it hath its use; and, in particular, it may help us to lessen the fears of dcath. It has been observed of many persons in great danger, that, so long as there remained hopes and possibility of escaping it, they have been timorous ; but, when all hopes were cut off, they have grown bold; and despair itself has given them courage.

II. 3. Another consideration tending to make us more willing to die, is, that it is common to all.-God hath created beings who never die, as the Angels: but they live in another world, and have seldom shown themselves to men. And it is best that it should be so. If they and we had frequently conversed together, we might perhaps envy their immortality, and die with more reluctance, beholding so many happy and glorious creatures free from that change. But now we inbabit a place, where we see all about us subject to the same fate; and may teach and learn resignation to a law, from which nothing here is exempted. Not only the powerful and the wise, but the most righteous, must undergo it. We read of only two who died not, Enoch and Elias: and we may justly suppose that, not for their righteousness did God deliver them from death, but rather to confirm men in the belief of another life: for though they

were very good men, yet, in the holy Scriptures, there are persons recorded as good as they, and as much in the favour of God.

II. 4. The troubles of life, rightly considered, may help to remove a great dislike of death. The same good and wise Providence, which hath appointed us so few days for our abode here, hath made that abode inconvenient in many respects, that we might be the better disposed to leave it: and to those who are not so disposed, Providence seems to say; Can you bear neither the disease, nor the remedy ? You are unwilling to suffer; you are unwilling to be released. What can be done for you?

Through how many troubles we pass, I need not say, nor reckon up those disagreeable and inseparable attendants on frail mortality. Every one knows them, every one feels them, more or less. Even they who meet with the fewest causes of uneasiness, have often the unhappy art of creating them, and of becoming more wretched than they need to be. I shall, therefore, only observe, that, in our progress here, the evils of life commonly increase upon us, and its pleasures diminish, till we come to a declining age, which has for the most part, to many of us at least, so much to make it unacceptable, that the fear of it, if we have not yet reached it, or the burden of it, if we lie under it, might teach us more indifference to the present world. What Solomon says of knowledge, may as truly be said of life; In much of it, is much grief; and he who increaseth days, increaseth sorrow.'—To outlive our dearest friends and relations, our health, our strength, our memory, in short, every thing except perhaps some follies and weaknesses, this is the prospect, upon which he, who is greedy of many days, sets his heart; this is the state which he who experiences, and is still in love with life, may be said “ to be born again,' not in the Christian sense, but as one who enters into a second childhood.

II. 5. Another remedy against immoderate fears of death, is, a good life. This I mention as the last and best, and indeed the only one to which we can trust; and I barely mention it, because it is an evident truth, which wants no confirmation.

If those various motives, which would dispose us to depart with decency and resignation, have no effect at all upon us,-the reason is that our faith and obedience are defective. Either we suspect, that death is the utter destruction of soul and body; or we fear to go into a state worse than that which we leave. From both these causes of consternation, a Christian life will secure us. He who believes the Gospel, and endeavours to conform himself to it, will find, in his faith, and in the testimony of his conscience, consolations against the terrors of death. It must not be said or expected, that he will entirely overcome the fear of it; because some persons are, by constitution and temper, less resolute than others; and even the most resolute would probably prefer life to death, if they had their choice. But most assuredly he will not have that dread of it, which he would have felt, if he had spent his days in folly and iniquity.

[ARCHDEACON JORTIN.]

SERMON XXIX.

FIFTH SUNDAY AFTER EPIPHANY.

THE NATURE AND INFLUENCE OF THE FEAR OF GOD. ISAIAH lix, 19.- So shall they fear the name of the Lord.

[Text taken from the First Morning-Lesson.] Our passions are the springs, which actuate the powers of our nature: if these are either too weakly or too strongly moved, or misled by false apprehensions of the object, the productions must be proportionably defective or irregular. And since the fear of God is a passion of the first and principal influence in religion, it is of the greatest importance, that it be formed upon such views, as may give it a proper force and direction. Let us, therefore, enquire,

I. What is the proper fear, which is due from man to God: and

II. Observe the influence this affection will have on the conduct of our lives.

Fear, in general, is that passion of our nature, whereby we are excited to provide for our security upon the approach of evil. But when this description is applied to the fear of God, we are not to apprehend that God can be the author of any effect that is evil in itself, though it may by accident be evil to

his severest inflictions are in themselves acts of justice and

righteousness, and flow from the excellences and perfections of his nature; though, with respect to us, they have the evil of punishment, and demand this regard of our fear to him. The frequent mistakes of men in forming their apprehensions of this object of their fear, and consequently of the nature of that respect which is due to him, has given rise to that necessary distinction of the fear of God into a servile or superstitious, and a filial or religious, fear. The former, we are to avoid as a dishonour to God; to the latter we are obliged as an indispensable duty, the true spring and motive of our Christian obedience. When men represent the divine nature to their minds as the author of evil, as a being averse from their happiness, and armed with power only for their destruction; as an austere and rigorous master, easily provoked, and always lifting up his hand to take vengeance ; such conceptions must unavoidably raise in our minds the passion of terror, a dread of the divine nature mixed with abhorrence and aversion, as from an enemy whom we hate, but dare not resist. But this is so far from that fear, which is a duty required by God, that even the devils are constrained to do this homage to his majesty, who believe and tremble. This is no other than that forced respect which a captive pays to his conqueror, a slave to his lord. And the worship we are induced to offer from these mistaken apprehensions of the divine nature, is a blasphemous affront to his perfections; since we worship him not as God, but as a cruel and tyrannical being, the idol of our fears and the creature of our superstition; and we might, for the same reasons, adore the malice and power even of hell itself.

The fear, then, which is acceptable to God, is a filial or religious fear; an awful reverence of the divine nature, proceeding from a just esteem and regard to his perfections, which produces in us an inclination to his service, and an unwillingness to offend him. This is a duty we owe, in some proportion, to all who stand in a superior relation to us, and is in the fifth commandment required towards our prince and our parent under the name of honour ; a respect, which, in the notion of it, implies a mixture of love and fear; and, in the object, equally supposes goodness and power. As a son, though he reverences the authority of his father and is deterred by a just apprehension of his displeasure from daring to offend him, yet forgets not at the same time, that he is concerned with the tenderest affection for his happiness, the protector of his weakness, and the reliever of his wants; one who will look on his failings with mercy, and even correct his offences with compassion ;so, though religion demands our reverence of God, as that sovereign power from whom we derive our being, the judge of all our actions, and the author and disposer of our happiness; though it represents him clothed with majesty and honour, as the supreme ruler of the world, to whose authority all things in heaven and earth do bow and obey; yet it teaches us, at the same time, to adore him as a mild and merciful being, of infinite love and affection to his creatures; as a friend and a father whose care supplies our wants, and defends our impotence ; to whose favour we owe all the happiness we can receive here, and from whose compassion in Christ we hope for eternal glory hereafter. This is the proper character of the Deity : and while we thus represent him to our faith, as his goodness will forbid us to dread him as slaves, so his majesty will command us to reverence him as sons. But from that servile dread which we reprove as criminal, we must be careful to distinguish that terror and astonishment which is spread over the conscience of the sinner, when he first begins to reflect on the danger of his state, and the penalties he has incurred from the justice of God. For though this fear, in its first impressions, be attended with very uncomfortable views of the divine nature, and attends chiefly to the extent of his power, and the rigour of his justice; yet whenever it is effectual to our conversion and engages our application to appease his anger, it cannot be without some confidence in his goodness, and a regard to the more amiable attributes of the Deity; and must consequently have also a less perfect degree of that filial reverence recommended by religion.

For if this terror were merely that servile dread, which represents God as an implacable, inexorable being,—the soul, under such an impression, would sit down unactive, overwhelmed with a horrible despair ; and never engage in a fruitless attempt to appease a power, whom no prayers could entreat, no repentance reconcile. It is plain, therefore, that though this fear be not that composed reverence, with which the soul looks on God in a state of confirmed piety, yet neither is it that servile dread, which flies from him as a hostile, unfriendly being, delighting in the misery of his creatures. And

« PreviousContinue »