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“ If death is inevitable,” says another, “let us make the most of life ; let us live while we live : yea, eat, drink, and be merry. A long life without such gratifications were not to be endured ; and if they cannot be enjoyed but at the expense of shortened days, we shall not regret the forfeit. “A merry life, though a short one,' is our maxim. What a fool is man to trouble himself about death. Drown the thought in the bowl, the dance, the song, or the whirl of fashion ; and let it be your ambition, if you have any, to die in a sensual revel, or after you have tasted life's sweetest cup.”
Or, say others, “ Let us work while life is prolonged ; let us amass treasures that we may raise our families above the ignoble throng, and secure their gratitude, while astonishing others by the magnificence of our bequests : or let us fathom science, gather knowledge, sway the multitude by the tongue of eloquence or the sceptre of power; and when we die, leave our names on some imperishable brass, or more enduring page."
The language of a fourth class is that of dissatisfaction and complaint. “Why then was I born? why endowed with these powers and these susceptibilities, and surrounded by so many objects to excite desire and secure affection? Why wither the arm that has just seized the prize ? why dash the cup that has just reached the lip? Why must I give up these houses and lands, these honors and pleasures, and part, too, with the dear ones of home? Better not to have been born, than not live to enjoy the fruit of my labors—be torn, too, from all that I have, and all that I love! () death! thou art in appalling truth mine enemy! I fear, I hate ye! Thou wouldst hurry me from these hard-earned possessions, and this loving home, and lay me naked and alone in that dark and cold and narrow house."
But the text justifies the sentiments of neither of these classes. It does not encourage Stoicism, nor Epicurianism, nor posthumous ambition, nor complaint and repinings. Its language rather is,—Thou shalt not regard death with indifference because it is inevitable ; nor banish the thought of it by surrendering your being to sensual pursuits ; nor revenge the shortness of life by endeavoring to perpetuate a name; nor murmur at the dispensations of an all-wise and righteous Providence. Set thine house in order : prepare for death, by answering life's great purposes ; be ready for this inevitable encounter ; and as you know not the day, nor the hour, so live as to be always ready.
We are God's rational creatures—the proper subjects of his moral government-amenable to his tribunal-placed here by
him, and ere long to be removed by him to another state of existence, where we shall be happy or miserable, according as we either answer or frustrate the end of our being. We were made not to heap up dust, not to gather the world's plaudits, not to sacrifice our manliness to fashion, not to bury our thoughts in grovelling interests, and waste our energies in selfish gratifications ; but to glorify God and enjoy him forever. And as we have all sinned and come short of his glory, his Word tells us that if we would regain his favor, and be hereafter admitted to the blessedness of his presence, we have a work to perform-a work from which no one can be excused, and which admits of no delay but at the imminent risk of the soul! It is the work of repentance toward God and faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. This is the work of God that we believe on him whom he hath sent;" and until it is begun, each hour is pregnant with a thousand perils ; until it is done, we are not prepared to go hence. Our house is not in order : the solemn account between God and the soul is not settled. It is a work that must be done now, or never. Hence it is that our lives have been protracted; and that God, in richest mercy, has continued to us the blessings of his providence, and the privileges of his grace. As he has “no pleasure in the death of the wicked,” and “would not that any should perish,” he has given unto us space to repent, and to do works meet for repentance. Beyond the grave there will be no such opportunity afforded, -no voice of inviting mercy ever heard. Beyond the grave stretches out in measureless expanse a vast eternity-a state as unalterably retributive as it is necessarily unending : yes, heaven, with its effulgent light, and angels of love, and harps of gold, and rivers of joy-hell, with its worm that never dieth, its fire that is never quenched, its ever ascending smoke of torment !
The present life, therefore, is fraught with momentous issues. It sustains an unutterably solemn relation to the future ; and death, what is it ?—the separating stream between time and eternity—the step between probation and retribution —the night between our day of grace and the day of wrath ! “ It is appointed unto all men once to die, and after death the judgment.” Hence the idea is so frequently conveyed by the scriptures, and in different forms and relations, that as the tree falls, so it will lie ; that there there shall “in no wise enter any thing that defileth, neither worketh abomination, nor maketh a lie”—that eternity will on every hand present to the immediate view of the disembodied soul, in deep, and broad, and burning characters, the immutable decree of eternal justice : “ He that is unjust, let him be unjust still ; and he that is filthy let him be filthy still; and he that is righteous,
let him be righteous still ; and he that is holy, let him be holy still.”
But these truths are most familiar to your thoughts. Again and again have you heard them proclaimed from the sacred desk; yea, they have been pressed upon you by every argument and the most weighty appeals. I shall, therefore, confine myself to one of the many reasons which might be assigned for the solemn duty enjoined by the text; and it is this, that the hour of death is not the hour of preparation.
To illustrate the force of this consideration, let it be supposed that you will not be cut off suddenly,—though you cannot fail to perceive that many are : let it also be supposed that you will not be deprived of your reason, nor subjected to excruciating pains of body,-though the supposition is but little warranted, since we may often witness in the last hours of expiring humanity, the tortures of disease, and the ravings of delirium.' To present our idea in as strong a light as possible, we shall, in imagination, lay you on the easiest couch ; in circumstances the most favorable for calm and serious thought, if consistent with any sickness that is unto death.
On such a bed, fellow sinner, most probably you will not repent with a godly sorrow : it may not be amiss to remark that .very probably you will not have the most remote idea that you are going to die. Placed in these very circumstances which we have supposed to be the most favorable for you, how many have thought that they would soon recover, and hence their impatience, and their only apprehension that their business would suffer from their confinement. You think, perhaps, that friends will inform you : they may not be aware of your condition ; or, as is not unfrequently the case, their wishes for your recovery may restrain them from giving utterance to their fears, until any announcement of your danger would be unavailing. But your physician will, you are sure, if he be, as you suppose, worthy of your confidence. No; in all probability he will not, unless he believes in God's word, and that it is an awful thing to die and face the Judge. He wishes you to recover, and so feeble and sensitive have you become, he is apprehensive that you could not endure the shock which a communication of such a nature, and so unexpected, might occasion. Mistaken kindness ! dread responsibility! thus to blind the eyes of a dying sinner to his actual condition ! Ah! how many, through want of timely notice, may have gone unprepared into eternity!
Neither can your pastor tell you of your state ; for you do not wish him to visit you, as you have yet no idea of giving up the world, and never intended to give religion any earnest
night without weigh in the mysterious
thought until you perceived that your own end was drawing nigh. But aside from these prefatory considerations, which are not without weight, we shall suppose that you betale yourself to that bed with the mysterious presentiment that you will never rise.
We assert that to all human view, you are incapable of duly attending to the concerns of your soul. Why is it that you have left the busy throng? why are you no longer intent on those worldly matters which you have always deemed so urgently important ? why lie you there within that curtained tent so pale and still ? You are sick unto death! You cannot put forth a steady thought towards those schemes which have engrossed all the years of your manhood : you cannot lift an infant's finger to your accustomed work : your friends keep silence lest they should disturb you : the most ordinary occurrences must not be alluded to in your hearing: you must be kept perfectly still and quiet.
And now, if this be your condition, how are you to address yourself to the great work of your salvation? If you are utterly unable to attend to the most trivial of your worldly affairs, to what you have been long accustomed, what is perfectly familiar and easy, how can you attend to a matter which requires the mightiest effort of your whole moral being? which is incomparably more difficult than any of the business you have been necessitated to lay aside ?
The mind, through sympathy with the sickand dying body, is enfeebled, and cannot grasp a subject to which, when most vigorous, it is hardly equal ; it is readily distracted, and cannot fix its undivided thoughts on any subject. Think not that I am magnifying the nature of the work which every sinner has to do before he can be saved. Oh no; religion is something more than a sigh, a tear, or a “God have mercy :” it is a great and difficult and trying work. Jesus Christ said that it was difficult, and that if the kingdom of heaven were taken, it would be by violence : the awakened sinner, says, it is difficult : the experience of every Christian, says, it is difficult; while the world itself knows that it is difficult,-contrary to the whole drift and current of its thoughts,-or it would at once close in with the gospel overtures. To drive sin from the heart, to give that heart to God in penitence and faith, to set up a new empire in the affections which have become so wedded to earth, cannot be a facile task : it requires a struggle, a moral struggle to which a dying man seems most unequal; which even the strongest might sink under, if left to himself.
But however certain one may be of his own speedily approaching death, he may have no disposition to repent. Has not the man through a long course of years loved sin, and will he now perceive its odiousness ? has he not lived to the world ? are there not still there all the objects of his fondest thoughts, and will he now see aught attractive in the employments and interests of a spiritual world ? All the days of his life, has he not sinned against the knowledge of the truth, and against the monitions of his own conscience ? and is it to be expected that conscience will then speak in louder tones ? or that the motives to which he has been so long impervious, will then be felt? What says an enlarged observation of death-beds? That conscience, in some instances, seems to be seared as with a hot iron ; that in others, the dying man wraps himself in a covering of self-righteousness of which no scripturál reasons can divest him ; or quiets his fears by a formal confession of faith and trust in Jesus ; or again shows too plainly by the words which now and then escape from his lips, that his heart is still among the world's soul-destroying idols. Alas! many a sick-room has witnessed blindness of mind and hardness of heart-a fatal security, or the hope of the hypocrite!
Say you that you cannot now change your heart, and that you will then look up to a merciful God? We stop not to remark that your present inability is your criminality. Do you perceive the import of your reply?— Because I will not love God now, and am resolved for the present to resist his claims, I shall then be able to cast myself with the greater confidence on his mercy! He is so full of compassion that I may dishonor him, and live unto myself until I can live no longer !" And what will then be your plea ? “I have sinned ignorantly.”—(No, yours is not the enviable lot of the poor heathen ;) “I determined to sin away my whole life ; and though my submission to thee now is not voluntary, and only because I can no longer gratify my lusts, yet, for thy goodness' sake, thou wilt not disappoint my hope of heaven !" Oh ! how can any one thus impose on himself! God is abundant in mercy ; but can he be mocked ? God is long-suffering ; but has he no regard for the honor of his Name and interests of his kingdom? Are we to presume that he will then hear you, however piteous and importunate may then be your cry?—you who are now intentionally, deliberately procrastinating compliance with his claims? Rather, may he not then say, “ Because I called and ye refused, I now laugh at your calamity and mock at your fear.” He has warned us, and in the strongest terms, of the consequences of setting at nought his counsels, and despising his reproofs ; and is he “a man that he should lie, or the son of man that he should repent ?" O sinner ! if your hope of a death-bed repentance be