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It may be we have got their pictures drawn by some skilfurt 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 furniture, 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 peeuliar 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;
a but the instructions that I received from hier 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 sct before me, recur to my thoughts with double efficacy since their death: I shall hear them speak no more, I shall sce 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, fo 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 wails 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? 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 pot sorrow for the dead, as those that mourn without hope; i 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 ineet 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 hone and confidence from every thing beneath and beside God? VOL 1.
Have I past through this solemn hour of trial well, and shewn my supreme love to God, and my most entire subniission to his sovereignty, by resigning so dear a comfort at his demand? llave 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 tauglit 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.
MU'ST friends and kindred drop and die? O may our feet pursue the way,
Our pious fathers led?
The counsels of the dead. Be thou our comfort, mighty God, Let us be weap'd from all below; Our helper and our friend:
Let hope our grief dispel; Nor leave us, in this dang'rous road, Death will invite our souls to go, Till all our trials end.
Where our best kindred å fell.
Death a Blessing to the Saints.
I 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 cousecrated 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 withi 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 hurries 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 with various lustre. So the sun paints the fairest colours upon the blackest cloud, and while the thick dark shower is descending it entertains our eyes with all the beauties of the rain-bow; a most glorious type and seal of the covenant of grace, that can give a pleasing aspect to death itself, and spread light and pleasure over the darksome grave.
If we are believers in Christ, death is ours as well as life. These two contrary states may each of them derive peculiar benefits from the new covenant. The christian may be taught so to value and improve life, that he may be not only patient, but chearful and thankful in the continuance of it. This has been made evident in a large discourse already: And yet it must be confessed, that the advantages which death brings to a believer are still greater and more glorious, and this will appear in the following particulars :
I. Death finishes our state of labour and trial, and puts us im possession of the crown and the prize. St. Paul was appointed to die by the sword of Nero, and to end his labours and his race in blood; yet he rejoices to think that his race was just at an end, and triumphs in view of the glorious recompence; 2 Tim. iv. 7, 8. I have fought the good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith, henceforth is laid up for me a crown of righteousness
. There is a voice from heaven that proclaims the dead happy; upon this account, that their toil and fatigue is come to an end. Rev. xiv. 13. Blessed are the dead that die in the Lord, for they rest from their labours, and their works follow them; that is, the prize of everlasting happiness which Christ has promised to his labouring saints. Rev. ii. 10. Be thou faithful unto death, and I will give thee a crown of life. So the weary traveller counts the last hour of the day the best ; for it finishes the fatigue and toil of the day, and brings him to his restingplace. So the soldier rejoices in the last field of battle ; he fights with the prize of glory in his eye, and ends the war with courage, pleasure, and victory.
II. Death frees us for ever from all our errors and mistakes, and brings us into a world of glorious knowledge and illumination. The vale of death is a dark passage indeed, but it leads into the regions of perfect light. Now we know but in part, says the apostle; 1 Cor. xiii. 12. Now we see but through a glass darkly, then we shall see God and our Saviour face to face, and know them even as we are known; not in the same degree of perfection indeed, but according to our measure and capacity, we shall know them, in a way of vision, or immediate sight, as God knows his creatures, as one man knows his friend, whose face he beholds with his eyes; or as one spirit knows another, by some unknown ways of perception which belong to spirits.