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head, placed in the way only to spoil their mirth, and interrupt their prosperity—Therefore they drown the remembrance of it, and fly for refuge to desperation itself; betaking them to that maxim of the Atheist —Let us eat and drink, for to-morrow we die.
The faith of Jacob inverted this Proverb, He reasoned thus-If tomorrow we die, it is not worth our while to make provision for the flesh; nor to run the hazard of eternal damnation for the momentary enjoyment of sin. He could find pleasure in meditating upon death. Out of that well, dark and deep as it may appear, his faith could at all times draw up the waters of life. The nearer Death approached to him, so much the more did the prospect brighten before him: and at the last, we behold him departing in peace, with prayers and blessings in his mouth. We see his body translated by an act of faith, at his own pious request, to be laid with his fathers in the sepulchre of Abraham, and there resting from its labours, till it shall be summoned to enter into the joy of its Lord.
X. Here let us stop awhile, and imagine to ourselves that we stand in the field of Sichem, looking at the cave of Macpelah, and reflecting on the holy family buried within it.
That the days of their pilgrimage are passed away as a vision; themselves turned to dust, with nothing now before them but a spiritual and eternal world! I am sure we shall not think the worse of them, because their condition here was unsettled, and they were led about by the hand of God as strangers in the earth. The only way to form a true judgment of any man's condition taken altogether, is to think upon him a little when he is laid in his grave. While he is alive we are cheated with a false opinion of him : our eyes are smitten with the splendor of his greatness, or our pride disgusted by the poverty of his appearance. But in Death, there is an end of all delusion: and though we may find ourselves disposed to flatter those who have the most of this world (however they come by it), yet we shall generally agree in praising the dead who were rich in faith ; like those who were buried with faithful Abraham. From them let us turn our eyes to ourselves. Our life is a pilgrimage like theirs: the days of it will soon be passed away, and nothing remain for us but things eternal. While our mind is thus intent upon our mortality, and the next world open to our view, it will be natural to cry out, as Balaam did, when he saw the camp of Israel, in which were the bones of Joseph travelling over to Canaan; O let me die the Death of the righteous, and let my last end be like his! But let us consider, that if we would die the Death of the righteous, we must lead the Life of the righteous: there is no other way. If we follow their faith, it will lead us to the same end; and though we are not buried in the same spot of ground, we shall rest in the same hope. The whole earth, or any spot of it, is a sepulchre which will safely preserve the christian against the day of visitation. It has been purchased, not with a sum of money paid by Abraham or Jacob, but with the price of Christ's innocent blood; and hath this resemblance to that cave of Abraham, and that potter's field spoken of in the history of our Saviour's passion, that it is a place to bury strangers in. So that although the ground was cursed for the sin of man, yet through the merits of Christ's Death, this privilege is reserved to the christian, that he possesses it as a resting place, a bed wherein the saints may rejoice in hope of glory: and the earth will last no longer, than till it hath performed the office, first of keeping, then of delivering up its dead : a doctrine, which as it gives us a comfortable prospect of Death, so it yields us an admirable lesson while we are alive; teaching us not to throw away too much of our regard upon a world, whose best use and highest honour it is to answer the end of a sepulchre.