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a frightful representation with its bloody pomp, is the strongest 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 more brutish than the horse, that starting at his shadow, springs over 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 and judgment dejects and discourages the soul from the use of means to prevent eternal misery, and induces a most woful bondage. Fear anticipates and exasperates future evils: for as knowledge excites fear, so fear increases knowledge, by the incessant workings 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 endeavours to escape are cut off. * What a philosopher observes of an earthquake, compared with other destructive evils, is true in this case. There
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 flight from the imminent danger: t so the vehement impressions of fear from the approaches of death, and the severe executions upon the sinner after it, distract the
* Nullum milum sine effugio. Senec,
+ Timor fugam perdidit,
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 favour 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 Egyptians, 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 endeavours : despair blunts the edge of our 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, no 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 fear 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 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 surprise 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 neighbours, 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 valour, 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 straightway 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 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 has 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 horror!
(2.) The continual succession of the pleasures and business of the world divert the mind from the attentive strong contemplation of death and the consequences of it. Pensive thoughts are unwelcome, and we studiouly endeavour 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, chaunted 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, 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 charmed 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 desires fail the man, then conscience that spoke with a low voice before, is loud and terrible, and like the rigid exacter in the parable that took his debtor by the throat, requires them to pay what they owe.
(3.) 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, that 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 entrance into life, and live like the angels, “with a joy unspeakable and glorious." The others are 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 de
clares, “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.
We read of Noah, “That being warned of God of things not seen as yet, moved with fear, he prepared an ark for the saving of his house.” Heb. 11. His fear was the native issue of his faith. But the profane world, in whom sense was predominant, that despised the oracle, and trembled at no judgments but what were acting on the visible stage, "they ate and drank, married and were given in marriage,” till swept away by the unfeared inundation. We read that Lot being certified by an embassy of angels, that a deluge of fire would in a few hours pour down from heaven upon Sodom, he most earnestly solicited his sons in law, “ Arise, depart out of this place, for the Lord will destroy this city :" but they entertained his compassionate advice with derision, " he seemed to them as one that moeked,” and were surprised by those fearful flames that dispatched them from a temporal hell to that which is eternal. Thus it was prophesied, “That in the last days there shall come scoffers, walking after their own lusts, and saying, where is the promise of his coming?" But let them blaspheme and scorn the most sacred and terrible truths, let them perpetuate their excess of riot, and wild mirth while they live ; death will come, and judgment as sure as death,