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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 favours, we preserve a lively sense of God's love, and a humble familiarity with his majesty, 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 exigeney, 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 God that
vi. Let us strengthen our belief of the blessed state after 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, numerous, open, and beneficial, not merely to surprise 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 pro
perty 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 honour 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;" honours 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 welldoing, 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. 1. 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 murderers ? 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 Saint 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 upon his earnest prayer, “ 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 honourable 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 liquor, that mixing in company with other doves, 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 with out hope.” 1 Thess. 4.
When Jacob saw his beloved son's coat rent and stained with blood, he abandoned himself to desperate sorrow, and continued 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 im mortality by the gospel.”
Now in three things I shall propound the duty of dying christians.
* Epist. Jul.
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 life is his most
. free favour, 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 reluctance 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 readiness 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 life 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 old” is remarkable, † and intimates the natural unwillingness to die, when there was little time to live. But his rational sanctified will was superior and prevalent. The universal desire of the saints is to be happy in the presence of God: for the divine nature communicated to them is intelligent, and inclining towards its chief good : and if the obtaining it were not by“ being un
* Ille exerit gladium, ille cirvicem, uno voto una devotione ; sub tanto non dicam humanitatis, sed potius naturæ ipsius metu, læti sunt.
+ Secutus a corpore volebat esse cum Chrisio, sed si sieri posset præter mortis molestiam. Nolens ad eam venit, sed volens eam vicit. Aug. Tract, 123. in Joan,
clothed, but clothed upon” by an immediate translation to heaven, how willingly would they leave this world? But there is a bitterness in death that makes it unpleasant; and many holy souls that desire the glorious liberty in heaven, yet are loath to leave their prison. Now there are so many arguments to make the saints desirous of dying, that methinks since life is chiefly valued and dear to them, as it is the way to heaven, when they are come to that blessed end, it should not be longer desirable. What is this lower world that chains us so fast? It is the devil's circuit wherein he ranges, seeking “ whom he may devour :" it is the theatre of contentions. The low aspire to rise; the exalted fear to fall: the poor envy the rich, and the rich despise the poor. It is a foreign country to the saints, and as pilgrims and strangers, they are liable to reproaches, injuries, and hard dealings from the wicked, the natives of the earth. What is the present momentary life that so enamours us ?. It is surrounded with temptations, oppressed with fears, ardent with irregular desires, and continually spent in vanity or vexation. In adversity it is depressed and melancholy; in prosperity foolish and proud. It is a real infelicity under the deceitful appearance of felicity. But above all other motives, the evil of sin from which we can not be clearly exempted here, should render death desirable. The best suffer internal divisions between the law of the flesh, and the law of the mind;" as Rebecca felt the twins, Esau and Jacob, repugnant in her womb. How hard is it to be continually watching the heart that corruptions do not break out, and the senses that temptations do not break in? How difficult to order the affections, to raise what is drooping, and suppress what is rebellious ? For they are like the people of whom the historian speaks, qui nec totam servitutem pati possunt, nec totam libertatem. How many enemies of our salvation are lodged in our own bosoms? 'The falls of the saints give sad evidence of this. If the body were unspotted from the world, as in the creation of man, there might be a just plea of our unwillingness to part with it; but since it is the incentive and instrument of sin, we should desire to be dissolved, that we might be perfectly holy. Death is the final remedy of all the temporal and spiritual evils to which we are liable here. And the love of Christ should make us willing to part with all the endearments of this life, nay
desirous to enter into the celestial paradise, though we must VOI. III.