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but upon the principles of Christianity itself. Yet, without detracting from its magnitude, or from the glory of those divine influences which produced it, we may be allowed to question whether we are not prone to look upon the primitive converts as having reached an eminence in knowledge and purity, consistent, under their circumstances, neither with the general laws of our nature, nor with the testimony of holy writ. Falling far short of them in zeal, in love, in promptitude of action, in patience of suffering, we regard them as a sort of human angels with whom we may not venture to claim connection. But when emotion yields to thought, and reason balances facts, we recover from the fond illusion. We see them to have been men of like passions with ourselves; subject to erroneous conceptions, to rash judgments, to groundless fears, to irregular conduct. Let the Thessalonian Christians
. be our example. Collected from Jews and Gentiles, they could not rid themselves, at once, of their old prepossessions. Now and then, the Jewish tradition or the pagan feeling would obtrude into the sanctuary of their consolation in Christ. Some of them, led by a then popular opinion, that their Lord was shortly to appear, and tinctured with the doctrine of the Rabbins, mourned over the supposed diminution of happiness to their friends who had died without be
holding the glorious advent of the Messiah's reign. Others, through the recurrence of early impressions, the objections of their heathen neighbors, and, it may be, the assiduities of false teachers, seem to have been drawn into doubts concerning the resurrection itself, and, of course, the safety of their friends who had died in faith. The native tendency of such apprehensions was to weigh down their spirits; to check their ardor; to shake their constancy under persecution; and to make them, instead of being faithful unto the death, begin to think themselves of all men the most miserable.
To rectify their mistake and establish them under their trial, is the design of the text. And although it was originally addressed to the Thessalonians; yet it is the common property of Christians; and was written for our learning; that we, through patience and comfort of the scriptures, might have hope. Let us, then, ponder its import. In general it contains an affectionate counsel, with the reasons thereof, against depression of heart at the death of believing friends.
I. The counsel of the text is, so to cherish the knowledge of the gospel, as that our hearts shall not be depressed by the death of believers; but that there shall be an immeasurable distance between our grief and the grief of unbelievers. I would not, says Paul, have you to be ignorant,
brethren, concerning them which are asleep; that ye sorrow not even as others which have no hope.
That we may have a correct view of the importance of this counsel, let us briefly develop its leading principle.
Death is, in itself, a most serious and distressful event. It is nature's supreme evil—the abhorrence of God's creation-a monster from whose touch and sight every living thing recoils. So that to shrink from its ravages upon ourselves or upon those whom we love, is not an argument of weakness, but an act of obedience to the first law of being-a tribute to the value of that life which is our Maker's gift.
The disregard which some of old affected to whatever goes by the name of evil; the insensibility of others who yield up their souls to the power of fatalism; and the artificial gayety which has, occasionally, played the comedian about the dying bed of “philosophy, falsely so called,” are outrages upon decency and nature. Death destroys both action and enjoymentmocks at wisdom, strength, and beauty-disarranges our plans-robs us of our treasuresdesolates our bosoms-breaks our heart-strings
-blasts our hope. Death extinguishes the glow of kindness-abolishes the most tender relations of man--severs him from all that he knows and loves--subjects him to an ordeal which thou
sands of millions have passed, but none can explain; and which will be as new to the last who gives up the ghost, as it was to murdered Abelflings him, in fine, without any avail from the experience of others, into a state of untried being. No wonder that nature trembles before it. Reason justifies the fear. Religion never makes light of it: and he who does, instead of ranking with heroes, can hardly deserve to rank with a brute.
Yet it is not the amount of actual suffering inflicted by the loss of those who are dear to us as our own souls that constitutes the chief pain of the privation. Death might come up into our windows; might rend from our embraces, and bear away, amidst our unavailing lamentations, all that our tenderest affections cling to here below; and the stroke would fall with comparative lightness, were its effect but temporary. It is from futurity that Grief, like Consolation, derives her power. The tears of separation will the more easily dry up, and be succeeded by the calm of cheerfulness, when we expect to regain what we have lost. But when there is no such expectation; when the treasure ravished from us can neither be restored nor replaced; it is then that nature sickens, and joy descends to the tomb. Ah! who can paint the anguish of the last look! Who can endure, at parting, the distractions of that word, forever! Who, that has any thought of hereafter-that but inclines to the belief that man dieth not as a beast dieth, can sustain the rackings of wild uncertainty, unable to surmise whither the beloved one is gone, and to what condition of being ?
This was the state of the poor pagans; others the rest, those that are without, as the apostle terms them. In the death of their friends they had no hope. Not that they were altogether without the notion of the existence of a soul detached from its body, or of happiness in a life to come. Tradition, fortified by the yearnings of nature, had preserved among the vulgar, the poets, and a few sober philosophers, something of distant kin to the truth. But all their conceptions were so obscure, so unwarranted, and therefore so unsatisfying, that they were rather the confused images of a dream, than the clear representations of waking vision. They were sufficient to agitate, without convincingthey possessed the torments of anxiety, without the possibility of certainty: and the hope which they fostered, was, for every purpose of consolation and peace, no hope at all.
1. They knew nothing, whatever they might conjecture, of the state of departed man. Whether his soul, his vital and rational principle, survives the body-whether it remains conscious