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honourable a thing it is for the people of God to be unwilling to die.
1. Show how we are to consider death. Death may be considered two ways (1.) as it affects nature, as it dissolves the vital intimate union between soul and body, and separates those near and dear friends ; so it hath an aspect that is unpleasing to
Considered thus in itself, death is so far from being an object of ones desire, that our blessed Saviour who was a person holy, harmless, undefiled, who never had an irregular passion, yet when he drew near to death, he prayed, “ Father, if it be possible let this cup pass from me.” There was an aversion to death in the human soul of Christ. You must understand it thus: his death was attended with all those circumstances, that made it truly formidable. Take an instance in one of the holiest persons that ever was in the world, and that is Paul, 2 Cor. 5. 4. after he had expressed his desire to be in heaven, “ for in this we groan earnestly, desiring to be clothed upon with our house which is from heaven.” In the fourth verse he tells us, “ for we that are in this tabernacle do groan being burthened, not for that we would be unclothed, but clothed upon, that mortality might be swallowed up of life.” If it were possible, and if it were matter of a lawful wish, a saint would not desire to be unclothed, but have this body of flesh changed into an immortal body. But if heaven be obtained by dying, if God will take off this vile garment of flesh, that he may put the royal robe upon us, we must be willing to be unclothed.
(2.) Consider death as a means to bring us to everlasting blessedness : so it is the proper object of our desire. Phil. 1. 23. “Having a desire to depart and be with Christ which is far better; yet nevertheless to abide in the flesh is more needful for you.” I desire to depart, as my being present in the body, implies being absent from the Lord. So the apostle desired to be divested of this body that he might see Christ face to face. Though all the saints of God have not such wings of fire as the apostle had, such ardent affections to be with Christ, yet where there is a renewed nature, there will be a tendency and an inclination towards it, that so they may be with God and Christ which is far better, and in this respect the nature of death is changed to the people of God. It is an enemy to nature; but considered by this merciful order of the divine providence, as it is a means to bring us to heaven, so it is reconciled to us. Prov. 14. “ If a man's ways please the Lord, he will make his enemies to be at peace with him.” So if your ways please him, he will make death, your last enemy to be a friend to you; and it will be the best and most blessed friend to remove us from this sinful world to the enjoyment of the most holy and blessed God. 1 Cor. 3. 22, 23. “ All things are yours, whether Paul or Apollos, or Cephas, or the world, or life, or death, or things present or things to come; all are yours, and you are Christ's and Christ is God's. Where you have the scale of subordination the gospel makes ; Christ is God's, and you are Christ's, and all things are yours.
There is such an intimate union between God and Christ, and Christ and believers, that all is theirs, whether life or death; death is for their advantage : Phil. 1. 21. “ for to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain;” but to a carnal man, death is the greatest loss, he loseth all his good things in this world, and his hopes of all good in the next. He loseth whatsoever he values here, and what is valuable in the next life. Death is to a carnal man a fiery stinging serpent, it wounds him and delivers him to eternal death. But to a saint death is an advantage, it brings him to the enjoyment of God, and the blessed spirits above.' And further there is an expression, that is most remarkable to this purpose, to show that the nature of death is changed to a believer, that which in itself is the doom of the law and curse and punishment of sin, yet the death of a saint is of most precious account in God's sight; Psal. 116. 15. “ precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his saints." God never looks upon his people with a more tender compassionate eye, than in a dying hour : suppose their death be attended with all the circumstances of ignominy and scorn, and contumely in the world, it is most precious to him.
Now if it be said, if this be necessary in order to the making of death desirable to us, what is the reason that God doth by dying bring the saints to heaven ? he could if he pleased, change all, as those that shall be found alive at the coming of Christ at the last; God could, if he pleased change them by his infinite power, and give them a blessed immortality instead of death, This leads me to remark,
2. What is the reason of this dispensation, why death is continued to the saints ? For these reasons.
(1.) God is pleased to continue death in the world to saints and believers, because by this he would extinguish all the relics of sin ; which are principally seated in the carnal and sensitive faculties. Death is a mark of God's displeasure against sin, and he continues it so to be to the end of the world to all his people, that he may make death instrumental to abolish sin, that so no root or fibre of it shall remain. It is true, God could abolish it by his infinite power immediately; but he doth it this way to declare what an evil thing sin is. As soon as the soul is sepilrated from the body it is presently freed from all the taint and defilement of sin (1 speak now of the saints.) The body indeed falls to the grave, and God will at last recompose that in honour and glory, and in a state of perfect purity. But this way he hath chosen to extinguish the relics of sin by death. Suppose that a piece of plate be battered and soiled extremnely, so that neither the fashion nor the lustre of it remains, a goldsmith will melt this down and put it into a new figure and form. Thus it is with the body of a saint, it is like a piece of plate soiled and battered by sin, and God melts it down in order to its being refined and made meet for a glorious state.
(2.) Death is a means to bring us to glory; it is the way that our Saviour went in before us; he ascended into heaven by the grave, and is an example of our glorification ; “ our vile body shall be changed by Christ,” that it may be “ fashioned like unto his glorious body, according to the working whereby he is able even to subdue all things to himself.” Phil. 3. 21. We must be the food of worms, and lie in that place which is called the land of forgetfulness. When our Redeemer ascended into heaven, he took the grave in his way; and he hath perfumed the grave, and made it a bed of rest to his people.
(3.) Another reason why death is continued to the saints, is, because this is the order of the divine wisdom in the gospel, that none should receive the prize but those that run the race. Therefore till we have run that race that is set before us by our dying, which is the accomplishment of it, we have not a right to the crown. 5 None are crowned,” saith the apostle, “but those that strive lawfully;” and in our encountering death, the last enemy, we declare our love to God : for “ whether we live or die, we are
the Lord's.” And till we overcome death we are not qualified for the crown of righteousness, Mfe, and glory: therefore God dispenseth his reward after we have persevered in his service. For he hath chose this way to give heaven to us. Although it is a most free favour and gift of his love, and the richest liberality of his hand; yet it is after we have glorified him by perseverance, and that dying as well as living.
(4.) God continues this dispensation to the saints that they shall come to heaven by death; that he may distinguish between the present state and the future. If every saint and holy man should be glorified after such a term of years and ascend to heaven as our Saviour did, we should not then walk by faith, but by sight; and so there would be no distinction between this and the next state. It is ordered by God in the gospel, that we should live by faith. God is therefore pleased to reserve that glory for the saints in the other world, and they must pass to it by dying. He will try their faith, and exercise their reason too, whether they will believe him upon his promise.
(5.) Another reason why God continues death to the saints in all ages is for the greater glorification of his power in raising their dead bodies at the last day; when all that have lain in their repositories for so many ages; all the saints whose bodies have been resolved into their elements, and scattered abroad, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, shall all be re-animated and reunited to their souls, and made possessors of God for ever. The resurrection of the body is a miracle almost equal to the creation; for it is the raising a glorious body out of matter most unprepared and indisposed. The apostle tells us, our Saviour shall come to be “glorified in his saints, and admired in all them that believe," 2 Thes. I. 10. the angels themselves will then be struck with a noble wonder, to see springing out of the dust innumerable glorified bodies. So when the apostle speaks concerning the resurrection of the just, Phil. 3. 21. “Who shall change our vile body, that it may be fashioned like unto his glorious body, according to the working of his mighty power, whereby he his able even to subdue all things to himself.” With what an emphasis doth he speak of the divine power that shall raise our bodies ? Thus I have opened to you the reasons why God is pleased by dying to bring his saints to their everlasting rest.
3. Let us now see with what temper and frame of spirit it becomes the people of God to leave this world. There are three things to which I shall advert,
(1.) That which is the lowest degree of grace is this, a saint should die with submission to the will of God, with an acquiescence in the will of his father.
There may be some stormy affections in our nature, considering death as a natural evil; yet nevertheless, when we consider it is God that gave life and it is God that takes away life, our death should be with resignation and yielding up ourselves to God. Observe that most passionate story concerning Abraham's offering up Isaac. He was commanded to sacrifice his son. Consider what a hard work it was for Abraham to offer up his son, and for his son to be offered up. Yet we do not read of the least reluctancy either in Abraham or Isaac ; for there was a superior consideration both in the one and in the other, that silenced all the motions of nature. Abraham complies with God, and Isaac readily yields up himself to be sacrificed by his father. When God signifies his will to us, that we must die, whatever are the next causes of it, they are but instrumental to his providence, and therefore it becomes us, with the greatest willingness, to resign up ourselves to God. Indeed when a wicked man dies, his soul is often rent from him by an act of violence and force. 'O how unwillingly doth he go! for what is the hope of the hypocrite, when God shall take away his soul; that is, take it away by storm. But a gracious person should deliver up his soul to God. “ Lord now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace, according to thy word: for mine eyes have seen thy salvation.” How voluntarily doth he commend and resign up his soul to God! if you should say it is true, I am willing to yield up my soul to God, but I am afraid to die: many of the most holy servants of God are most sensible, even in a sorrowful manner, of their appearance before the great tribunal, and the account they are to give to the Father of spirits ; and this makes them unwilling to die.' To that I shall only say thus much ; it is a very sad case, though the soul is safe as to its eternal interest, if there be an uncomfortable apprehension of our being in danger, yet even then it is the duty of the creature to submit. This is a duty that must never be violated. You may pray indeed with earnestness, 'as David, “O spare me a little that I may recover strength, before I go hence, and be no more."