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Such dreadful events are of very rare occurrence. But what imports it, whether the circumstances of your death be of the same appalling kind or not? Your death itself is certain; it may perhaps be sudden; in all probability it will be unexpected; the blow is struck, and then, in what respect will your condition be better than that of the sufferers whom you now pity, if your peace be not made with God? Unless ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish; that is, under circumstances of equal danger to your souls; not under Siloam's tower, but under the heavy hand of God; which, if now it strikes to the right and left, and permits you to be a spectator of its inflictions, waits perhaps only until another day, or another hour of unrepented sin, shall fill up that measure of time which is appointed for the going forth of the sentence, Cut it down, why cumbereth it the ground?
The suddenness of that destruction, which cometh upon a man unawares, fearfully aggravates its horror, if he is unprepared to meet it. The gradual withdrawing, first from the pleasures, then from the cares of life; the silence, and meditation, and devotion of the sick man's chamber; the farewell looks of mournful friends; all these conspire to smooth his downward
passage to the grave, while they constrain him to set his house in order; and at last the summons comes, as the whisper of a gentle friend, who calls him to his home. Happy is that servant, whom the Lord, when he cometh, shall find so doing. But how many are surprised by the sudden stroke of death, in the midst of engagements and pursuits which have no reference to eternity; but which too commonly are likely to unfit them for eternity; pursuits which, if these wretched sinners were quite certain that their last hour was at hand, they would lay aside with all readiness, nay, with eager precipitation, lest the Lord should find them so employed, unrepentant, unreconciled, unsanctified; and assign them their portion with the hypocrites.
So it was in the days of Noah. Men wanted not a preacher of righteousness, nor a knowledge of God's will. They encouraged one another to go on; and paid more regard to mutual example than to inspired warnings; they ate, they drank, they planted, they builded, they bought and sold, they married, they were given in marriage: and knew not, till the flood came, and took them all away. And so, undoubtedly, it is now, with by far the greater portion of those who bear the
10 Luke xvii. 27.
Christian name. Their life is a continued alternation of worldly business and worldly pleasure; commencing from the close of the Lord's day, and pursued up to its returning dawn. The whole business of religion is crowded into a few hours; and by a fearful number of persons altogether neglected and forgotten. And if the hand of death were to fall upon them at any moment, except those which are given to the forms of devotion, would there be a thought of God and of Christ in their souls, at the instant of their passage into the eternal world?
Such awful events as that, which has called forth these reflexions, like the stone falling into the stagnant pool, disturb the unhealthy calm which mantles over the surface of society; awaken the sleeping consciences of careless sinners; and ought to prepare them for receiving the salubrious influences of the Holy Spirit of God. And the same hour there was a great earthquake, and the tenth part of the city fell: and in the earthquake were slain of men, seven thousand and the remnant were affrighted, and gave glory to the God of heaven." But a more constraining motive than that of fear, ought to be gratitude. Thousands fall beside us, and ten
11 Rev. xi. 13. .
thousand at our right hand, and yet we are spared. Who, as the Apostle asks, hath made us to differ? Not our own superior merit; but the free mercy of God. O let us not overlook nor abuse it. Let us not despise the riches of his goodness, and forbearance, and long-suffering, but rather know, that the goodness of God leadeth us to repentance; lest, after our hardness and impenitent hearts, we treasure up for ourselves wrath against the day of wrath, and revelation of the righteous judgment of God.12 To you, who have learned, in the school of Christian wisdom, how to improve his wonderful providences, his awful warnings, and his countless mercies, all things, however unaccountable or alarming, are working together for your good: Life or death, things present or things to come, all are yours; and ye are Christ's, and Christ is God's.13
12 Rom. ii. 4.
13 1 Cor. iii. 22, 23.
PENANCE AND PENITENCE.
PSALM LI. 17.'
The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit: a broken and a contrite heart, O God, thou wilt not despise.
How affecting must have been the spectacle, when, in the earlier ages of the Christian Church, at the commencement of the solemn fast of Lent, bands of penitents, clad in sackcloth, barefooted, and with downcast eyes, in the presence of God's ministers, confessed their sins, and in token of their humiliation, covered their heads with ashes; and were put to open penance in this world, that their souls, being awakened and humbled, might be converted and saved, through faith, in the day of the Lord. The spectacle, I say, must
Preached on Ash-Wednesday, 1825.