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when he shall come to shut up all the scenes of this frail life, to put an end to the present world, to finish all the works of this mortal state, and to decide and determine the eternal states of all mankind by the general judgment.
Yet Christ comes to each of us in the hour of death also, for he hath the keys of death and of hell, or of the invisible world; Rev. i. 18. It is he who appoints the very moment, when the soul shall be dismissed from this flesh, he opens the doors of the grave for the dying body, and he is Lord of the world of spirits, and lets in new inhabitants every minute into those unseen regions of immortal sorrow, or immortal peace. And, as Christ may be said to come to us by the message or summons of death, so the many solemn writings and commands of watchfulness, which attend these parables of Christ, have been usually, and with good reason applied to the hour of death also, for then the Lord comes to shut up the scene of each of our lives, our works are then finished, our last day is come, and the world is then at an end with us.
Let it be observed also, that there is a further parallel between the day of the general judgment, and that of our own death : The one will as certainly come as the other, but the time when Christ will come, in either of these senses, is unknown to us, and uncertain : And it is this, which renders the duty of perpetual watchfulness so necessary to all men. The parable assures us, that our Lord will certainly come, but whether at the second, or third watch, whether at midnight, or at cock-crowing, or near the morning, this is all uncertainty; yet whensoever he.comes, he expects we should have our loins girded, like servants fit for business, and our lamps burning, to attend him at the door, and that we be ready to receive him as soon as be knocks.
Were the appointed hour of judgment, or of death, made known to us for months or years before-hand, we should be ready to think constant watchfulness a very needless thing: Dankind would persuade themselves to indulge their foolish and sinful slumbers, and only take care to rub their eyes a little, and bestir themselves an hour or two before this awful event : But it is the suddenness and uncertainty of the coming of Christ to all mankind, for either of these purposes, that extends the charge of watchfulness to all men, as well as to the apostles ; Mark xiii. 37. and that calls upon us aloud, to keep our souls ever awake, lest, as our Lord there expressesit, lest, coming suddenly, he should find us sleeping. And remember this, that if we are unprepared to meet the Lord at death, we can never be ready when he comes to judgment : Peace and blessedness attend the watchful chris. tian, bensoever his Lord cometh. Blessed is that servant, whom, when his Lord cometh, he shall find watching. This leads me to the sccond general head.
Secondly, What is implied in watchfulness. Answer. 'In : general it is opposed to sleeping, as I have already hinted ; in Mark xii. 35, 36. And, in the language of scripture, as well as in common speech, sleep and slumber denote an unpreparedness to receive whatever comes, for this is the case with those who are asleep : On the other hand, watchfulness is a preparation and readiness for every event, and so it is expressed in some of these parables, verse 40. Bc ye therefore ready. But to eater into a few particulars.
1. There is a sleep of death ; Ps. xiii. 3. Spiritual death, as well as natural, is sometimes called a sleep. Such is the case of a soul dead in trespasses and sins ; Eph. v. 14. compared with ii. 1. Awake thou that sleepest, and arise from the deud, and Christ shall give thee light.
Watchfulness, therefore, implies life, a principle of spiritual life in the soul : Surely those, who are dead in sins, are not pr pared to receive their Lord : He is a perfect stranger to them, they know him not, they love him not, they obey him not; and a terrible stranger he will be, if he come upon thein before they are awake. But those, who are awakened by divine grace into a ---spiritual life, have seen something of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ ; they are acquainted with their Lord, they love him, and have some degree of preparation to nieet their Saa - viour, when he suminons them to leave this world. This is therefore, a matter of highest consequence, that we awake from a state of sin and death, that we be made alive to God, begin the christian life, and set upon religion, in good earnest, according to the rules of the gospel, before Christ calls us away. It is only the divine life begun in us, that can secure us from eternal death; though even christians may be found slumbering in other respects, and expose themselves to painful evils, if that hour surprize them at unawares.
2. There is a sleep of indolence and thoughtlessness : When - a man is insensible of his own circumstances, and too careless of the things which most concern him, we say, “the man is asleep." Such a sleep seems to be upon the church of Israel ; Isai. xxix. 10, 11. a spirit of deep sleep, when the law, which contained the great things of God, and their salvation, was to them as a sealed book, they read it not, their eyes were closed, their spiritual -senses were bound up. Many a christian, who bath been raised from a death in sin, bas been seized with this criminal slumber, and bas had the image of death come again upon him: He has grown too careless and unconcerned about his inost important and eternal affairs ; and, in this temper, he hardly knows what his state is toward God, nor keeps up a lively sense or notice of divine and eternal things upon his spirit. Watchfulness, in opposition to this sleep, implies a holy solicitude and diligence to
know our own spiritual state ; a consciousness of what we are ; a keeping all the spiritual senses in proper exercise, and maintaining a lively perception of divine things. It implies an acute, painful sense of indwelling sin, and the irregular propensities of the heart, a delightful relish of heavenly objects, frequent thoughts of death and eternity, constant waiting for those awful events, with a quick apprehension and resentment of all things, that help or hinder the spiritual life. This is the character of a wakeful christian, and such an one as is ready to receive his returning Lord.
3. There is a sleep of security and foolish peace, when a person is not apprehensive of imminent danger, and is much unguarded against it. Such was the sleep of Jonah in the storm, of Sampson on the lap of Delilah, when the Philistines were upon him, and of the disciples, when Judas, and the band of soldiers, were just ready to seize their master. This is the case of many a slumbering christian : He is not upon his guard against his inward lusts and passions, nor against those outward temptations and perils to which he is continually exposed, while he dwells in flesh and blood. Watchfulness, in this respect, is when a christian hath his eyes open, and turns them round on every side, to foresee approaching evil, and prevent it; when he is prepared for every assault of every adversary, whether sin or the world, whether death or the devil; he hath his spiritual armour girt upon him, and is ready for the combat. He is every hour guarding against the powers of the flesh, and watching against its allurements and attractions, lest he be defiled thereby, and unfit to meet his returning Lord : He is daily loosening his beart from all sensual attachments, and weaning himself from the world and creatures, because he knows he must quickly take his long farewell, and part with them all, at the call and appointment of his great Master. He is like a centinel upon his watch-tower, ever awake, because dangers stand thick round him.
4. There is a sleep of sloth and inactivity ; Prov. xix. 15. Slothfulness casteth into a deep sleep. A little more sleep, a little more slumber, saith the lazy christian, who turns upon his bed, as the door upon its hinges, and makes no progress or advance in his way to heaven. We are sleepy christians, when we do little for God, or our own souls, in comparison of the vast work, and important varieties of duty that lie upon us : When our zeal is cold, and our efforts of service slight and feeble : When the light of grace sbines so dim, and the spark of holiness is so covered with ashes, that it is hard to say, whether it burn or no. As in natural things, so in spiritual, it is a difficult matter, sometimes, to distinguish between a dead man and a lethargic sleeper. Watchfulness, in opposition to this slumber, is a lively and vigor. ous exercise of every grace, and a diligent attendance on every duty, both toward God and man, a constant converse with heaven by daily devotion, an active zeal for God in the world, a steady faith in the promises, a joyful hope of heavenly blessedness, a longing expectation of the returning Saviour, which makes the soul stretch out the wings of desire and joy, as though it were going forth to meet him. This is the meaning of the apostle Peter's expression ; 2 Pet. iii. 12. Looking for, and hastening to the coming of the day of God.
Put all these things together now, and they make up the character of a watchful christian : He is awake from the sleep of death, and made spiritually alive; he hath the work of vital religion begun in his heart. He is awake from the sleep of thoughtlessness and indolence, he is solicitous to know his own state, and hath good hope through grace, he lives in the view of heavenly things, and keeps his eye open to future and eternal glories. He is awake from the sleep of security, he is upon his guard against every danger, and ready to receive every alarm. He is awake from the sleep of slothfulness, and is active in the pursuit of the glory of his God, and his own eternal interest, and still pressing toward the mark to obtain the prize. This is the soul that is ready to meet a returning Saviour, and to receive his Lord when he comes, either at the hour of death, or to the general judgment.
Thirdly, Let me propose some special considerations, which discover the blessedness of the watchful christian at the hour of death.
Consideration I. That moment dispossesses us of every en. joyment of thesh and blood, and divides us from the commerce of this visible world, but the wakeful christian is happy, for he is ready to be thuis divided and dispossessed. Death breaks the band at once, between us and all the sensible things round about us, by dissolving the frame of this body, which bad united us to them ; aud the watchful saint is coutent to have that bond broken, these unions dissolved. Ilis heart and soul are not torn away from the dear deliglits of this mortal state with that pain, anguish, and horror that attend the sinner, when death summons him off the stage, and divides him froin his fleshly idols. The christian hath been untying his heart, by degrees, from the dear. est delights of sense, and disengaging it from all that is not immortal: With boly pleasure he can bid farewell to sun, moon and stars, and to all things, which their liglit can shew him, for he is going to a world, where the sun of righteousness ever shines in unclouded glory, and discovers such sights as are infinitely superior to all that the eyes of flesh can behold : He can part with friends and kindred with a composed spirit, for he is going to meet better friends, and diviner kindred, as we sliall shew immediately: He can leave his dying flesh behind him, and commit it to the dust, in joyful hope of the great rising-day, and he hath a better mansion at present provided for him on high in his Father's house, while he lives far separate from all earthly dwellings; 2 Cor. v. l. We know that if this earthly house of our tabernacle be dissolved, we have a building of God, -not made with hands, eternal in the heavens.
II. The moment of death finishes our state of trial, and fixes us upchangeably in the state of sin or holiness, in which we are then found ; and blessed is the watchful christian, for he is prepared to have bis trial thus evded, and his state thus fixed, and made unchangeable. As the tree falls so it lies, whether to the north or the south ; Ec. xi. 3. Aš the soul parts from the body, so it remains, whether fitted for heaven or hell. It is therefore a matter of the last importance to be prepared, and ready for such an eternal sentence and unchangeable determination, Were any of us to be surprized some moment this day, and forced to continue all our lives in that very posture of body in which we are then found, should we not be awake, and keep ourselves in the most natural and easy gestures all that day, lest webe seized at once, and fixed in some distorted, painful, and uneasy situation all our months and years to come? Or, if we were to be bound down to one single thought or passion all the remnant of our life, in which we were found in any uncertain minute in this hour, should we not watch with utmost care, and guard against every unpleasing thought, and every fretful and vexing passion, lest it should be fixed upon us till we die?
Now this is the case at death : The almighty voice of God then pronounces, He that is unclean and unholy, must for ever be unholy and unclean; but he that is righteous, let him be righteous still, and he that is holy, shall be for ever holy. Rev. xxii. 11. I will not precisely determine, that this is the sense of that text, yet since the apostle speaks there concerning the coming of Christ, it may be very applicable to the present case. Now how dreadful soever this thought is to a guilty sinful creature, it is no terror to a wakeful christian : He is ready to have these words pronounced from heaven, for they will etablish him in eternal holiness and eternal peace : He hath endeavoured to secure to himself an interest in the love of God through the faith and love of Jesus the blessed Mediator, and at death be is fixed for ever in their love. He hath loved God in time, and in this visible world, and there is nothing in all the unseen worlds, nothing through all the ages of eternity, shall ever separate him from the love of God in Christ Jesus. The moinent of death hath fixed him for ever a holy and beloved soul, beyond the power of creatures to change his temper, or his state. This is the blessedness of the watchful christian.