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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 endeavours to glorify God, and do good according to our abilities, will sweelen the thoughts of death. An indifference of mind and affections to earthly things makes death less fearful. Frequent converse with God in boly 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.
i. 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 favour 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 enlightenend 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 sign of God's special favour, 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 defilements 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.
iii. The zealous discharge of the duties of our place and calling, the conjunction of our resolutions and endeavours 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 labours. 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 honours Christ, and with diligence perseveres in well-doing, may with a humble confidence in the divine inercy expect the promised reward. The reflection upon a well spent life is joined with a joyful prospect of God's favour and acceptance above. But to the careless and remiss, to those who are wilfully negligent of their duty, how fearful is death that summons them to give an account of their talents to the righteous Lord ?
iv. 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 esteemed 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 tran
sporting 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 Aesh 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 honours and riches, and lived in pleasures without remorse, yet in their dying hours, when men speak with most feeling and least affectation, how have they vilified those empty appearances of happiness? with what moving expressions
* Hæc enim est infælicitas hominum, propter quæ peccant. Morientes bic dimittunt, & ipsa peccata secum portant. Aug.
+ Stemus expeditæ ad omnem vim, nihil babentes quod relinquere timeamus; retinacala ista sunt spei nostræ. De cult. Fæm.
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 above, 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.
v. 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 honour. 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 favour 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 favour 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,
Ad instar montis intumescentis, apparebant procul.