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persuaded of the certainty of it, that every one for himself hopes that rest and happiness shall be his own portion at the last.
Now, if people did not very often deceive themselves in these hopes and expectations, there would be no need of so many cautions in holy Scripture given to Christians, not to deceive themselves with vain hopes.
But the Spirit of God, which knows what is in man, foresaw, that when eternal happiness should be offered to all men, who should qualify themselves for heaven, a great many would think themselves secure of happiness who will have no reason for such expectations, besides a very natural desire of hoping well for themselves.
That I may therefore set this matter in as clear a light as the time will allow me to do it, I will endeavour to explain the meaning of this expression in the text: Blessed are the dead which die in the Lord.
I. And in the first place, it is plain, that the blessedness here spoken of is designed for those, and those only, who die in the Lord. All others are excluded. Neither the tears nor the prayers of their friends, nothing that can be done for them; no, not the goodness and mercy of God, which is so often depended upon even against His express word: none of these will avail us, if we die not in the Lord.
For the same Spirit of truth, who for our support and encouragement has made known to us, that the happiness which God has prepared for His faithful servants is inexpressibly great; the same Spirit of God has declared, that those who in this life have no regard to the commands of God, shall in the next be most miserable, and for ever undone.
“Be not deceived” (saith the Apostle); “neither forni- 1 Cor. 6.9. cators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor abusers of themselves with mankind, nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners, shall inherit the kingdom of God.”
Be not deceived : why, who ever gave such people hopes that they might be happy after death? Nobody: but their own deceitful hearts made them to wish what was impossible, that they might enjoy their lusts in this life, and the happiness of saints and angels in the next.
II. But, secondly, not only wicked men, who depart this XCV.
life in their sins unrepented of, are certainly shut out of the kingdom of heaven; but even such as have nothing else to depend upon but a death-bed repentance, their condition is deplorable beyond expression or remedy.
St. Paul's commission, from Jesus Christ Himself, was
this : that he should endeavour to open the eyes of the GenActs 26. 18. tiles to whom he was sent, “ to turn them from darkness to
light, and from the power of Satan unto God.” Accord. ingly, he preached every where, that people should repent, and turn to God, and do works meet for repentance.
Here are works to be done after we have repented: that is (John 9. 4.) plain. Do but add our Saviour's words to these; the night
cometh, when no man can work; and you will see whether a minister of Christ can speak comfort to such as never think of preparing themselves for heaven tillļ they come to die, or whether such can hope that they die in the Lord.
One would not limit the mercies of God, nor discourage people from detesting their insensibility, their carelessness, their abominable wickedness, their strange unfruitfulness under the means of grace which God has afforded them: one would not discourage people from confessing these, and detesting them even in their last moments.
But this is what we can only say to them after all: they are not within the covenant of grace, they have not done works meet for repentance. The promise is to these and to these only.
If God, who sees their sorrow, and knows what is in man, and what would have been the effects of that sorrow, if He should have given them a longer time; if He will accept of such repentance as this, they will have the greater reason to be eternally thankful; but this is what He has given us no authority to declare in His name, in order to comfort people at the hour of death.
The will of God is, that all who call themselves Christians should honour Him in their lives, should avoid those things that are contrary to their profession, and follow such things as are agreeable to the same; that they should repent when they have done amiss, and repent in time, that they may manifest the sincerity of their repentance, by continuing in the practice of holiness unto their lives' end.
To these He has promised favour and mercy for Christ's sake, though their sins have been many, and their best works imperfect.
As for all others, they have neither grounds for their hopes of pardon, nor promise of any reward, but that of wicked servants.
III. We must add, in the last place, that not only notorious sinners, but even unprofitable servants, will be excluded from entering into the joy of their Lord.
There are people who verily believe that all is well with them, and shall be well with them at the last, because they cannot charge themselves with drunkenness, perjury, whoredom, extortion, violent oppression, and the like crying sins. Or, perhaps, they have repented of these crimes, and resolve to be guilty of them no more. Why, truly, this is very commendable, and a hopeful step towards gaining the favour of God.
But this is not all that is expected from those that hope to die in the Lord. There are things to be done, as well as things which ought not to be done, by the faithful servants of Jesus Christ.
One would wonder how so many people come to be persuaded, that a life retired from the world, and spent in devotions, should be most acceptable to God. Pray what were we sent into the world for? Was it not to try how we would behave ourselves in it? How we would use the talents, or opportunities of doing good, which God has afforded us ?
Now if, instead of doing this, we resolve to get out of the world as much as we can, and do little or no good in our generation, under pretence of avoiding temptations (as if God could not defend us in every state His providence calls us to); or under pretence of serving God more devoutly (as if God were not to be served in works, as well as in words); or lastly, under pretence that God does not expect it from us: 'I am not made for business; I love retirement; if I take care of one, that is all I can do. Such resolutions as these will deceive us at the last, and will stand us in no stead, when we shall appear before God, to be rewarded or punished.
I say not this without good authority.
SERM Do but consider with me the words of the text, and let us XCV.
apply them. Blessed are the dead. What, all the dead? No; but they that die in the Lord. And who are they? Why, those whose works accompany them into the other world.
Then let us every one ask himself this question, What have I done which may witness for me before God, that I loved Him with all my heart ; that I feared to offend Him; that I put my whole trust in Him; that I did Him honour in the world?
These are the duties we owe to God, and it will be expected from us, that we have some proof along with us of our having done these. And it will not be sufficient to say,
We have heard Thy word, and prayed in Thy name. The [Matt. 5. answer is already given, Do not even the publicans the same? 46.]
And if the same questions are asked with respect to the
duties we owe to our neighbour, we shall then be better able (1 John 3. to judge how we shall appear in the presence of God. “For 20, 21.)
if our hearts condemn us, God is greater than our hearts, and knoweth all things; but if our heart condemn us not,” (after we have taken pains to search its state,)“ then may we have confidence towards God,” that He will not be severe against us.
From what has been already said, you will easily perceive, that it is plain folly to expect to die the death of the righteous, when one has not prepared himself by an holy life for such a happy change.
IV. And this brings us to consider what those things are, which, at the hour of death, will make the great difference betwixt the blessed and the miserable.
And though I must not say, it is their good works which will render the righteous acceptable to God, for that is a doctrine very contrary to God's Word; but this I must say, (for so saith the Spirit of God, that their good works must follow them, must attend them, as evidences and testimonies of their repentance, and faith in God, and of their charity to men for Goa's sake.
Having these witnesses of our sincerity, we may plead with God for His promises in Jesus Christ, and hope to be accepted.
For instance: I may depend upon the sincerity of my repentance, if with an honest heart I can say, that I have been truly careful in calling myself to an account, and in examining into the state of my soul; that I have endeavoured to avoid falling into those sins which I have repented of; and taken such methods for avoiding them, as are most likely to secure me against such relapses.
I may with truth say, that I love God, if for His sake, and for securing His favour, I have renounced my own corrupt inclinations, been concerned to do His will, and keep His commandments; if I have been afraid of doing what might displease God, and have been ready to suffer any inconvenience rather than do what I believe will offend or dishonour Him.
I may be assured, that my faith will be approved of God, if it shall appear that I have received all the truths of the Gospel, as coming from God, with great thankfulness and humility; and that I have endeavoured to order my conversation so as to be agreeable to the Gospel I have professed to believe.
As to the duties which I owe to my neighbour : if I have really performed them, I shall have something to witness for me, that I have done so; if I have been poor, for instance, and have not endeavoured to better my condition by unjust ways; or, if I have been rich, and have not assumed such a property in what God has given me, as to neglect to dispense them for His honour, and the good of my fellow-creatures; if God has given me authority, and I have not abused it; or means of doing good, and I have not grudged my time and pains, or laid up my talent in a napkin ; if I have kept my body in temperance, soberness, and chastity, as becomes the temple of God, for so the Holy Spirit is pleased to honour us : all these virtues will be my witnesses, that I lived and died in the Lord, and that I shall be eternally happy with all such as have done so before me, or that shall so live after me.
I shall not say how much of this character belongs to this good man whose remains lie before us. It is so natural to apply every thing said at this time, that is pious, or praiseworthy, or of good report, that I am confident you have all made an application already suitable to his deservings. I shall only add, that he is going to the grave with such a