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though he pardons the sins of his own people, so as to secure them from eternal vengeance, yet they must pass through death, that they may learn what an evil and bitter thing it is to have offended against their Maker and their God.
When we see a church-yard filled with little hills of more tality, the ruins of a parish, or a spacious town, and the dust of many generations, we naturally cry out, as in Deut. xxix. 24. “ Wherefore hath the Lord done thus unto this land, and what meaneth the heat of all this great anger ?” The next verse will give you an answer to it; yea, every man may answer himself, because they have forsaken the Lord their God; they have forsaken his covenant of life and sinned against him. Those dreadful words, In the day thou eatest, thou shalt die; have been putting into execution almost six thousand years, and the Lord's anger is not yet turned away, but his hand is stretched out still; Is. v. 25. the vengeance of the Lord is not yet fully executed according to the just demerit of sin. Though saints are saved from the dismal consequences of death, yet God would not rescue them from dying, that they might always remember what sin deserved. Thus the death of all mankind discovers to us the awful Majesty of God our Maker, who will not be affronted by his creatures, without terrible resentment; he is a holy and jealous God.
(3.) It teaches us the high value that God has for his own law, that he will rather dash a whole creation to pieces, than sufler his holy law to be insulted and broken, without some reparation of the lionour of it. The race of Adam is doomed to death, for the sake of sin against this law, and mortality and a curse spread over this lower world. Let us inure our thoughts to such reflections as these, that we may ever keep our souls in awe of the Majesty of God, and dread the thoughts of breaking his law, which he values above a whole world of men. O that sin may become the most hateful object in our eyes; it is this that has laid cities desolate, and fills the graves; it is this that has corrupted and destroyed our natures ; it has turned millions of strong and well-formed bodies into dust : It has ruined the most beautiful part of God's lower creation, and is sending thousands daily to the pit of corruption and noisome darkness. It is sin has filled our nature with diseases, and sown the poisonous seeds of mortality and death in every son and daughter of Adam. A malignant and fatal poison, that has destroyed all the nations upon earth, and buried them under ground, heaps upon heaps, in above a hundred successions ! But I now go on to another distinct lesson, that the death of all mankind teaches us.
3. It informs us, in a very sensible and affecting manner,
that we ourselves must shortly die, and awakens the soul to actual preparation for its departure. Heb. ix. 27. It is appointed for all men once to die, and after death the judgment, Joshua and David, saints and kings, tell us they go the way of all the earth : “ The grave is the house appointed for all the living;" Job xxx. 23. When we behold one after another, made of the same flesh and blood as we are, going down to the dust in a long continual succession, we have a solemn warning, that we must shortly follow : There is no ransom in this case, no hope of safety, no door of escape, and as Solomon expresses it, there is no discharge in this war; Eccl. viii. 8.
A true christian takes notice of this with a pious awe upon his spirit; and when he is ready to grow drowsy and secure, the sight of a funeral, or a grave, shall rouse him out of his sleepy temper, and awaken religion into life again : When he hears of a neighbour's death, he asks his own soul, “Art thou ready? For the next summons may come to call thee away into the world of spirits, to stand before God the Judge of all."
Thus a child of God reaps some advantage by the spreading empire of death over all mankind; he makes a sacred improvement of the terrible waste that the king of terrors has made over all the earth: He learns the vanity and emptiness of man in his best estate : He grows humble and dependant on the eternal God : He reads the dreadful evil of sin on every tombstone : The death of every man calls him aloud to prepare for his own, and to be in actual readiness for his entrance into the invisible world. Happy souls, who take this warning, and stand ever prepared !
But I proceed to the next general head which I proposed;
Secondly, As the death of mankind in general, gives these divine lessons to a saint, so the death of impenitent sinners, which hath something in it very terrible, may be turned to the advantage and profit of believers, these three or four ways :
1. If we are true christians, and persecuted and injured here on earth, then the death of the wicked delivers us from our enemies, and releases us from the wrath of our oppressors. In the grave “ the wicked cease from troubling, as well as the weary are at rest;" Job iii. 17.
Look back to the distance of three thousand years, and see the children of Israel on the banks of the Red-sea, rejoicing in the Lord their deliverer, when an army of Egyptian carcases floated on the waters, or were cast up in heaps upon the shore: These were the cruel oppressors of the people of God: They were drowned in the evening, and the morning light discovered the havoc that death had made, and the salvation it wrought for Israel, in the xiv. and xv. of Exodus. See the whole city of Jerusalem, and Hezekiah at the head of them, triumphing in the Lord, when he sent the angel of death, and destroyed the besiegers : “ A hundred and four score and five thousand Assyrians lay dead on the borders of the city;" Is. xxxvii. 36. “ By terrible things in righteousness God answered the prayer of his saints;" Ps. lxv. 5. And at the death of Herod, the father and mother of our blessed Lord were glad, for they returned from their flight; they came from the land of Egypt, and dwelt in their own land again ; and the child Jesus was saved from the murderous designs of that cruel man ; Mat. ii. 19.
Such examples of advantage which the saints receive from the death of the men of violence, their impious and bloody enemies, are frequent in sacred history : And we may remark in our day, how many a time God hath saved us in Great Britain, when we have been on the borders of destruction, by the death of persecutors at home and abroad. The monarchs of the earth, have been turned down to their graves, one year after another, and the churches of God, in many nations, have found rest and deliverance.
2. The death of impenitent sinners has been many a time, the happy occasion of the conversion of a saint. There is many a holy soul, now in heaven, that was first awakened to fly from the wrath to come, by the death of some of his wicked companions in his younger years. When a snare falls suddenly, and seizes a little bird or two of the flock, the rest take wing toward heaven, and fly for safety. And happy are those souls, wbo take the terrible warning, who fly to the sacred refuge, and lay hold on offered grace.
When a vile wretch is scized in the midst of his companions, and his sins, and sent down to hell and destruction in a moment, the very gates of hell seem to open before our faces, to receive the rebel; such a spectacle fills the hearts of those that are near him, with amazement and terror, and hath often been the first means of sending them to the throne of grace; and, by degrees, to the gates of heaven. The story of Peter Valdo is famous on this occasion, who was a rich merchant at Lyons in France, but had no sense of inward religion, or true piety. When in the midst of feasting and merriment, he saw one of his companions struck with sudden death, he was awakened to serious thoughts of eternity : Upon this he applied himself to study the scripture, and discover the errors of the Roman church; he acquainted his friends with them, and instructed the poor, who were continual partakers of his bounty. Then being excommunicated by the
popish clergy, he retired, with some of his disciples, to the vallies
Piedmont, where he found me christians of an ancient and primitive stamp, and joining with them, established those churches which are called the Vaudois, and are famous in history, even to this day.
Bishop Burnet also tells us, in the life of the Lord Chief Justice Hale, that in his younger years he gave himself up to much frolic and vanity, till one of his loose companions fell down on a sudden, and they thought him dead: which surprizing providence sent Mr. Hale to his knees, to pray earnestly for the recovery of his companion, and laid a foundation for that life of eminent virtue and religion, which is described in those memoirs. Thus not only the death of profligate sinners, but even the appearance of their death, has been blessed to gracious purposes for the conversion and salvation of others.
3. The death of the wicked gives the children of God glorious matter for praise to his distinguishing grace. When they see or hear of a hardened and impenitent sinner cut off in his guilt and obstinacy, and in the pursuit of his lusts, the holy soul cries out with thankfulness and zeal, “ Glory be to that grace which has made the difference betwixt him and me !"
And this is still more remarkable, when a sinner dies with all the terrors of God upon him, when the sting of death enters into his heart, and sharpens all his last agonies, when conscience is awakened with all its horrors, and the soul is plunging with its eyes open into a gulf of everlasting misery. "how sensibly does this affect the heart of a true christian! Ile stands and wonders, and adores that rich mercy that has snatched him as a brand out of the burning. “ What am I,” says he, “ by nature more than another, that God should have called me by his grace, and given me repentance unto life, while this poor wretch continued obstinate and impenitent? We were both sons of Adam the sinner, alienated from the life of God, and enemies to all that is holy: We were both favoured with the means of grace, and sat under the ministrations of the same gospel. Who, or what am I better than my neighbour, that God should powerfully incline my heart to accept the offered salvation! That he should have prepared me as a vessel of mercy, to be filled with glory, while my old companion has now made himself a complete ressel of wrath, and fitted himself for swift destruction ; Rom. ix. 22, 23, By nature I was a child of wrath, as well as he, a rebel, and a vile transgressor, without God, without Christ, and without hope: And why was not I seized by divine justice, in those days of my rebellion, and made a sacrifice to the indignation of God? What merit was there in me, that I should be spared, while my companion sufferod 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. xiv. 32.
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 hiin 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 acquaintanoe 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. [HIere 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