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companion suffered under speedy vengeance? Let the freedom and riches of grace be adored for ever: It was rich and sovereign grace that spared me. And now, through the abounding mercy of God, I hope I have fled to lay hold on the refuge set before me; my heart is, in some measure, sanctified, my nature renewed, and my sins pardoned. Blessed be the Lord who hath given me hope in death, while the wicked are driven away in their wickedness, driven far away from hope and heaven; Prov.
4. The death of impenitent sinners does another service also for the saints, in that it sensibly excites their pity and their prayers for the living. It awakens the exercise of pious charity for the souls of their friends, that are yet in the gall of bitterness, and in the bond of iniquity. A true christian, that has tasted of the grace of God, can hardly be supposed to see his impenitent neighbour seized with sudden death, and sent away to darkness, but it touches the springs of holy tenderness within him, and constrains him to speak a word to others in the same danger, and to lift up a cry to God upon their account for grace and salvation. Surely that christian is not in a right temper of mind, who can see or hear of impenitent and guilty souls seized away from his neighbourhood or his acquaintance, and plunging into eternity. with horror and despair, and yet have no compassion awakened in him, no bowels of pity moving for those of his acquaintance that are involved in the same iniquities, and are yet in the land of the living, and on this side hell. Such an awful providence is like a warning-word which heaven puts into our mouths, that we may echo it with solemn horror round the neighbourhood, and try to rouze stupid sinners from their dangerous and fatal lethargy.
[Here is a proper pause in this Sermon, if it be too long to be read at once.]
But it is time now to leave this general head, and go on to the next.
Thirdly, If the death of hardened sinners turns to the advantage of the saint, the death of fellow-christians shall certainly work for his benefit too.
You will be ready to say, "What! Can the loss of good men from the earth ever be turned into a benefit? Can the death of saints bring any advantage to the survivors?" Yes, surely, if they die like christians indeed, in the lively exercises of faith and hope, and this will appear in these four particulars:
1. It confirms our faith in the gospel of Christ, and supports our holy profession. It gives us an assurance of the truth and power of our religion, above all other religions in the world, when
it enables a poor feeble dying creature to face death with courage, to look beyond the limits of life and time, and venture into an unseen world with holy joy and triumph. It gives us a glorious evidence, that the principles of christianity are such, as will justify all the labours of a holy life, and will bear us out in the profession of it, in the midst of ridicule and mockery, of persecution and martyrdom. This surely must be a religion coming down from God, that can give the weak and unlearned such a courage, as to encounter death itself without fear and that not from a stupid and senseless temper of spirit, not from a brutal hardiness, such as carries the horse and the hero into the battle, but with a clear and full discovery of God and his holiness, of our own sins and his forgiving grace, this religion can enable us to venture into his immediate presence. How glorious is our gospel, how divine a doctrine is this! It has wrought ten thousand such wonders by faith in the blood of Christ, as the great atonement for sin, and the only way to the Father.
A saint leaving this world, and putting off mortality, with the light of heaven breaking in upon his soul, and the beams of glory shining round about him, with divine joy and transport in his countenance, and the language of heaven upon his lips, brings the invisible world into present view: The pious spectators grow up to a sensible assurance of the glories and felicities of that invisible world: each of them sits on the borders of paradise, each of them gets a glimpse of the new Jerusalem, and all the heavenly country, and this adds new strength to his faith and hope.
2. The glorious death of our fellow-christians greatly encourages the imitation of their holy life. To see a child of God die from amongst men, leave this world with a holy contempt and sincere pleasure, and enter into the presence of his heavenly Father with a filial confidence; to see him finish his race with joy, and, as it were, lay hold on salvation, and put on his heavenly crown: This calls aloud upon us to tread in the same steps, to pursue the blessed prize, and to be followers of them, who, through faith and patience, inherit the promises; Heb. vi. 12. When we mark the perfect man, and behold the upright, and see that his end his peace; Ps. xxxvii. 37. we are animated to walk with God in the same uprightness, and to press after the same perfection. Having such a cloud of witnesses that have gone before us, and Christ our Lord at the head of them, we run with patience the race that is set before us, till we arrive at the promised glory; Heb. xii. 1.
To stand near the bed of a dying saint, and observe the
sweet serenity of his soul under the agonies of his flesh, would force Balaam himself to say, Let me die the death of the righteous, and let my last end be like his; Numb. xxii. 10. But the christian goes further, and with holy zeal, and humble dependance upon divine grace, establishes himself in the ways of holiness: He resolves that he will live the life of the righteous too, and tread in the paths of piety with utmost watchfulness and care that he may lay a foundation for the same peaceful reflections on his death-bed, and the same joyful prospect.
3. The death of fellow-saints is for our benefit, as it weans us from this world, as it makes earth and this life less pleasant to us, and heaven more desirable. Every holy soul that leaves the world, carries away so much grace and goodness from it. What would this world be if all the saints had left it, but a cage of unclean birds, a nest of serpents, a wilderness of savage beasts, a habitation of Satan, and his sons and daughters; a dwelling of devils, and a region of darkness a-kin to hell? Did not converting grace turn sinners into saints, and make a constant succession of christians, this would be the dismal character of this world in the space of one generation. But, blessed be God, as bad as this world is, divine grace is still at work, and makes it a sort of nursery for heaven by new conversions.
Yet still the death of the saints is the loss of so much of heaven out of our sinful world; and the fewer friends God has here, there will be the fewer communications between heaven and earth. The absence of Christ and his saints, spreads a sort of dim shadow over all the fairest colours of this lower creation; the beauties of it fade, and the flowers of it, in our esteem, languish and hang their head, because Jesus, and so many of his holy ones, are departed. When we see one pious friend after another, tak ing their leave of us, and ascending to the upper world, we are ready to say, "What should we stay here for? Our God is on high, our Saviour is on high, multitudes of our friends are departed from us, and dwell on high. Farewell earth, and -time, and sensible things: We long to be with our best friends, and with our God; we are ready, O Jesus, for thy first summons; take us when thou pleasest into heaven and eternity.
4. The comfortable death of a saint instructs us how to die, and makes death easy. When we see and hear a fellow-christian examining his heart, searching his soul to the bottom, turning all his secret thoughts outward, and looking over the past conduct of his life; when we behold him reviewing his own follies and iniquities, and recalling to mind also all his sacred transactions with God; when we see him surveying all these most important
concerns in the light of the last judgment, and, as it were, under the piercing rays of the great tribunal; when we hear him abasing himself to the dust in the most vilifying expressions, because of his sins, and yet rejoice in the evidences of his graces, and repeating the promises of the gospel with a pleasant hope; this teaches us to converse with our own souls in a more lively manner, about sin and forgiveness, about death and eternity; for it brings these awful themes into open view, and sets them before us in their infinite importance. This reads us a glorious lecture upon the gospel of Christ, and pardoning grace, and the sanctifying Spirit, and the hope of glory, beyond what we ever found before in the best of sermons, and under the warmest preachers.
Come, my friends, come into the chamber of a dying christian, come, approach his pillow, and hear his holy language: "I am going up to heaven, and I long to be gone, to be where my Saviour is. Why are his chariot-wheels so long a coming? Then with both arms stretched up to heaven, I desire to be with God. I hope I am a sincere christian, but the meanest, and the most unworthy: I know I am a great sinner; but did not Christ come to save the chief of sinners; I hope I shall find acceptance in Christ Jesus. I have trusted in him, and I have strong consolation. I have been looking into my own heart, what are my evidences for heaven? Has not the scripture said, He that believeth shall not perish, but shall have everlasting life; John iii. 16. Now, according to the best knowledge I have of what faith is, I do believe in Christ, and I shall have life everlasting. Does not the scripture say, He that hungereth and thirsteth after righteousness shall be satisfied; Mat. v. 6. Surely I hunger and thirst after it, I desire to be holy, I long to be conformable to God, and to be made more like him; shall I not then be satisfied! I love God, I love Christ, I desire to love him more, to be more like him, and to serve him in heaven without sin. I have faith, I have love, I have repentance, yet I boast not, for I have nothing of myself, I speak it all to the honour of the grace of God, it is all grace; I say then, I have faith, and repentance, and love; but faith and repentance are all nothing without Christ; it is he makes all acceptable to the Father, and I trust in him. My friends, I have built on this foundation Jesus Christ, he is indeed the only foundation: Have you not built on the same foundation too? This is my hope. Is it not your hope also? Dear brother, I shall see you at the right-hand of Christ: There I shall see our friends that are gone a little before: I shall be with them first before you. I thank you, my friends, for all your offices of love; you have prayed with me, you have refreshed me. I love
and honour you now, but I shall meet you in heaven, I go to my God and your God, to my Saviour and your Saviour*. Would one think there could be so much pleasure in the dying chamber of a beloved friend? Surely this makes good the words of my text; if we are christians, death is ours. O this is a divine entertainment that refreshes our spirits! And while sorrow trickles from our eyes for the loss of a departing christian-friend; there is a sympathy of joy that works powerfully at the heart, and the heaven within us breaks out and shines through our tears. Then, with a wondrous mixture of the painful and the pleasant, with a sweet confusion of pious passions, we bid our dying brother, "Farewell."
At such a season as this, our thoughts are led upward to heaven, and forward to the great resurrection. We open the eye of faith, and see the holy soul ascending to God; we behold the weak and languishing body rising glorious out of the grave, shaking off the dust, and putting on its immortality: While our faith attends the spirit of our departing friend to heaven, we grow willing and desirous to be gone too; and being brought so near to the gates of glory, we would fain take our leave of mortal things, and accompany the expiring saint to the joyful world of spirits. The memory of such a scene, and such a hour, will dwell upon our thoughts long, and support our own hope of victory, when we shall be called to conflict with the same enemy. Having such a witness gone before us, we shall not only run our race with patience, through all the stages of it, but finish our course with joy.
There is a sacred courage derived many times to a weak believer, by attending the last moments of a dying saint ascending to the upper world. "I was afraid of death, says a feeble christian, till I saw my neighbour die: He was once a sinner as well as I, and he had his imperfections and failings in this life, as I have mine; I humbly hope I have practised the same repentance as he has done, I have trusted in the same Saviour, I have ventured my all upon the same gospel, and travelled on in the same path: surely there is forgiveness for me too; surely the sting of my death shall be taken away also; and, through grace, I shall join in his triumph; O death where is thy sting? O grave where is thy victory; 1 Cor. xv. 55.
This observation has been most gloriously exemplified in the death of martyrs: When the spectators that have been heathens, or but almost christians, have been strangely animated to profess the gospel boldly, while they have seen the most amazing courage
These are some of the dying words of the Reverend Mr. Samuel Rosewell, when, with some other friends, I went to visit him two days before his death, and which I transcribed as soon as I came home, by their assistance.