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ever about the matters of our common salvation, that as iron sharpens iron, so we might have quickened each others zeal and love, and helped each other onward in our way to heaven?
"Surely I have found myself too guilty, in some of these instances. Forgive my criminal negligence, O my God, and through thy grace, I will apply myself to double diligence, with regard to my relatives that yet survive: I will enquire, as far as it is proper, into the state of their souls: I will seek the most powerful and the kindest methods, to awaken the thoughtless sinners amongst them; and I will study, and pray, and ask God what I shall say to make a deep impression upon their hearts: And though I have no office in the church, yet what I have learned there, I will talk over at home: I will preach Christ crucified, and all his gospel to them, as God shall give me proper opportunity. I will converse more freely with my pious kindred about the things of God, and learn their inward sentiments of religion and experimental godliness. Thus will I bring holy discourse into the parlour and the chamber; and every soul in my house shall be a witness of my endeavours to promote the eternal welfare of those that are near me.”
Now when the death of a near relation attains such an end as this, and raises our repentance and holy zeal at this rate, we cannot doubt but that we receive sensible advantage by it.
VI. The death of our friends, who were truly religious, inclines us to review their instructions and their virtues, and sets them before our eyes, in a fresh and lively manner, to influence our own practice.
We are too ready to forget their advice, while they are living and daily present with us, and we take too little notice of those virtues, in which they were eminent. We beheld their humility toward God and men, their condescension to their inferiors, their love and hearty friendship toward their equals, and their sweetness of temper toward all around them. We beheld it, and perhaps we loved and honoured them for it; but we took but little pains to copy after them. We saw their pity to the poor and the miserable, their charity to persons of different sects and sentiments in religion; their readiness to forgive those that offended them, and their good-will and obliging carriage to all men. There was a beauty and loveliness in this conduct, that rendered them amiable indeed, but how little have we transcribed of their example, either into our hearts or our lives? We observed their constant tenderness of conscience, their devotion toward God, and their zeal for the honour of Christ, and his gospel in the world. O that we had made these graces the matter of our imitation! What can we do now more to honour their memory, than to speak, and live, and act like them?
It may be we have got their pictures drawn by some skilful hand, and their images hang round us in their best likeness, as tender memorials of what we once enjoyed, to give us now and then a melancholy delight, and awaken in us the pleasing sadness of love. These we call our most precious pieces of furni-. ture, and our hearts rate them at an uncommon price. But it would be much richer furniture for our souls, to have the best likeness of our pious predecessors and kindred copied out there. Let us now and then reflect what were their peculiar virtues, and the remarkable graces that adorned them; and if we could imagine the spirit of each of them to look down upon us, through those eyes which the pencil has so well imitated, and to speak through those lips, each of them would say, in the language of the softest and most sacred affection; Be ye followers of me as dear children, so far as I was a follower of Christ.
And this thought I would more especially impress on those who were most unhappily negligent of the pious counsel of their ancestors, or ran counter to their holy advice and example in their life-time." I was too regardless, may a young christian say, of the wise and weighty sayings of my father deceased, they return now upon my thoughts, with a fresh and living influence. I have been too ready to neglect what a kind mother taught me; but the instructions that I received from her dying lips, had such an air of solemnity and tenderness in them, that they have made a deep impression upon my heart; and I hope I shall never forget them. The prudent and pious rules that my elder relations have often set before me, recur to my thoughts with double efficacy since their death: I shall hear them speak no more, I shall see their holy examples no more: I will gather up the fragments of their religious counsels, and make them the rule of my conduct: I am well assured their souls are happy, and by the grace of God I will tread in their steps, till I arrive at those blessed regions, where I hope to meet them."
This thought leads me on to the last instance of benefit which we derive from the death of our kindred in the flesh.
VII. The death of dear and near relations calls our thoughts in a more powerful and sensible manner, to converse with the grave and eternity.
When our neighbours, or our common acquaintance die, we attend the funeral, and cast an eye into the grave; we spend a thought or two on the pit of corruption, and the mouldering dust: We awaken a meditation or two on things heavenly and the world to come; and we return quickly, and busily to this world again: But when God sends death into our chambers, and it makes a slaughter there, it awakens us more effectually from a drowsy frame, and it nails our thoughts down to our most important and
everlasting concerns. "Part of me is gone to the dust already, it is not long ere the surviving part shall go also. Death has smitten the desire of my eyes, and the partner of my joys, it will strike me ere long, and am I ready?" This thought dwells upon the heart of a true christian at such a season, and while the Spirit of God assists the work, it is not in the power of all the trifles in this earth to banish the holy thought, and carnalize the mind again. As when a man is seized with the dead palsy, or has a limb cut off, and buried in the dust, how sensibly does this awaken in him the thought of death and futurity?" The sentence of death is begun to be executed on me already, and the whole execution will be quickly fulfilled; it is time now to be ready, for death is in good earnest, and has begun his work."
And if our departed relative were a christian indeed, and gave us comfortable hope in his death, then it leads our thoughts naturally to heaven, and most powerfully touches the springs of our heavenly hopes. It raises our pious wishes to the upper world and we say, as Thomas did at the death of Lazarus, Let us go, that we may die with him; John xi. 16. Let us go to our God and our holy kindred, and enjoy their better presence there. Let us not sorrow for the dead, as those that mourn without hope; 1 Thess. iv. 13. but look upward to things unseen, and forward to the great rising-day, and rejoice in the promised and future glories that are beyond life and time."
Every dear relative that dies and leaves us, gives us one motive more to be willing to die: Their death furnishes us with one new allurement toward heaven, and breaks off one of the fetters and bonds that tied us down to this earth. Alas! we are tied too fast to these earthly tabernacles, these prisons of flesh and blood. We are attached too much to flesh and blood still, though we find them such painful and such sinful companions. We love to tarry in this world too well, though we meet with so many weaning strokes to divide our hearts from it. O it is good to live more at a loose from earth, that we may be ready for the parting hour: Let us not be angry with the sovereign hand of God that breaks one bond after another; though the strokes be painful, yet they loosen our spirits from this cottage of clay, they teach us to practise a flight heaven-ward in holy meditations and devout breathings; and we learn to say, How long, O Lord, how long?
The Recollection.-" Have any of us lately felt such parting strokes as these? Have we lost any of our beloved kindred? God calls upon us now, and enquires, "What have you learned of these divine lessons?" I would ask myself this day, Have I seen the emptiness and the insufficiency of creatures, and recalled my hope and confidence from every thing beneath and beside God? VOL I.
Have I past through this solemn hour of trial well, and shewn my supreme love to God, and my most entire submission to his sovereignty, by resigning so dear a comfort at his demand? Have I been taught by the inward pain which I felt at parting, and by the smart which still remains, how dangerous a thing it is to love a creature too well? Have I duly considered my past conduct toward my relations deceased, and does it improve itself to my conscience at the review? Or have I found matter for self-condemnation and repentance? Have I treasured up the memory of their virtues in my heart, and set them before me as the copy of my life? Have my thoughts followed the soul of my dear departed friend, and traced it with pleasure to the world of blessed spirits; and does my own soul seem to fix its hope and joy there, and to dwell there above? Are my thoughts become more spiritual and heavenly? Do I live more as a borderer on the other world, since a piece of me is gone thither? And am I ready for the summons, if it should come before to-morrow?
"Happy christian, who has been taught by the Spirit of grace to improve the death even of the dearest relative to so divine an advantage! The words of my text are then fulfilled experimentally in you: Death is yours: Death itself is made a part of your treasures. The parting stroke is painful indeed, but it carries a blessing in it too; for it has promoted your heavenly and eternal interest." Amen.
HYMN FOR SERMON XLII.
Death of Kindred improved.
MUST friends and kindred drop and die? O may our feet pursue the way,
Must helpers be withdrawn?
While sorrow, with a weeping eye,
Be thou our comfort, mighty God,
Our helper and our friend:
Our pious fathers led?
The counsels of the dead.
Let us be wean'd from all below;
Where our best kindred dwell.
Death a Blessing to the Saints.
1 COR. iii. 22.-Whether life or death,-all are yours.
WE have already seen many divine comforts, and a rich variety
of blessings derived from the formidable name of DEATH: One would scarce have thought that a word of so much terror should have ever been capable of yielding so much sweetness; but the gospel of Christ is a spring of wonders: It has consecrated all the terrible things in nature, even death itself, and every thing beside sin, to the benefit of the saint.
Death, in all its appearances, may furnish the mind of a believer with some sacred lesson of truth or holiness. When it appears in the extent of its dominion, and bringing all mankind down to the dust; when it lays hold on an impenitent sinner, and fills his flesh and soul with agonies; when it assaults a saint, and is conquered by faith; when it makes a wide ravage among our acquaintance, when it enters into our families, and takes away our near and dear relatives from the midst of us, still the christian may reap some divine advantage by it.
But can our own death be ever turned into a blessing too? Nature thinks it hard to learn such a strange lesson as this, and has much ado to be persuaded to believe it. How dismal are its attendants to flesh and blood! What languishings of the body! What painful agonies! What tremblings and convulsions in nature frequently attend the dying hour even of the best of christians! Can that be a blessing which turns this active and beautiful engine of the body into loathsome clay; which closes these eyes in long darkness, and deprives us of every sense? Can death become a blessing to us, which cuts us off from all converse with the sun and moon, and that rich variety of sensible objects which furnish out such delightful scenes all around us, and entertain the whole animal creation? Can that be a blessing which divides asunder those two intimate friends, the flesh and the spirit, that sends one of them to the noisome prison of the grave, and hurrics away the other into unknown regions? Yes, the gospel of Christ has power and grace enough in it to take off all these gloomy appearances from death, and to illuminate the darkest side of it