« PreviousContinue »
most courageous, and its promises and annunciations of grace melted the most obdurate hearts, yet these threatenings are heard by you with indifference! these promises are treated by you as unworthy of the slightest regard! The king of Israel humbled himself when temporal calamities were denounced against him. More hardened than he, you slight the denunciations of eternal agonies! Though we uncover the gloomy abyss where the impenitent must for ever abide, and show you the chains of darkness which for ever bind the accursed; though we tell you of that world where groan responds to groan, where shriek echoes to shriek throughout eternity; yet we are not cheered by hearing God declare, “ Seest thou how this people humble themselves ?” On the contrary, we behold you jocund and gay, as though no threatenings had been uttered by God, as though no miseries were in reserve for you! Awake from your lethargy, insensible men! and if you will not emulate the zeal of Christians, at least imitate the piety of the impious Ahab. “ If the word spoken by angels was steadfast,” says the apostle, “ and every transgression and disobedience received a just recompense of reward, how shall we escape, if we neglect” that gospel, “which at the first began to be spoken by the Lord, and was confirmed unto us by them that heard him, God also bearing them witness both with signs and wonders, and divers miracles and gifts of the Holy Ghost?” Think not that, by refusing to listen to the calls of the word of God, you render it inefficacious. Though you resist it, still it displays its power, still it has its effect; if it does not soften, it hardens you; if it does not prepare you for glory, it aggravates your guilt; it increases your condemnation; it heaps up stores of wrath, which shall at last descend upon you, and press you deep into perdition. What alarms and apprehensions should this thought excite in many of you, my brethren! For years the word of God has sounded in your ears; for years the most alluring promises, the most tremendous threatenings, have by turns been exhibited to you ; since by them you have not been converted, you will by them be judged and condemned. Every invitation to holiness, every call from God, that you have enjoyed, and that you have resisted, has been ripening you for destruction. At last then receive the word of God with humility and trembling; acknowledge its authority, submit to its influence, and live in conformity to its precepts.
Finally, the terror and distress of Ahab leads us
IIId. Observation, which we shall most briefly illustrate. Sin is always succeeded by sorrow and remorse. It promises us unvaried delight and pleasure if we will walk in its forbidden paths : but its deceptive' promises are always violated; it always fills the eyes with tears, and the heart with anguish. Ahab flattered himself that his desires would be satisfied could he obtain possession of the vineyard of Naboth; he supposed that the tomb would silence the remonstrances of this pious Israelite, and prevent him from disturbing his festivity and joy. Alas! his sackcloth and his tears, the lashes of his conscience, and the apprehensions of the impending vengeance of God, teach him his error, and prove that no human art or power can associate together sin and felicity. Is it not always thus, my brethren? Speak, ye who, after having indulged in sin, have seen your guilt and danger, and been enabled truly to repent
of your crimes. Did not your deep abasement, when you contemplated your vileness and ingratitude ; did not the quakings of your soul, when the flashes from the infernal pit, and the glitterings of the avenging sword of justice, met your eyes; did not your anguish and apprehension counterpoise, far more than counterpoise, all the unhallowed pleasures of sin? Did they not concur with the humiliation of Ahab, with the agonizing cries of David, with the bitter tears of Magdalen, in proclaiming that the promised joys of sin pierce the soul with sorrows? Speak ye, who, having spent a whole life violating the commandments of God, came at last to your final hour, saw yourselves just about to take the plunge into eternity, beheld death just ready to tear your shuddering and reluctant soul from your body, and bear it to its last account; did ye not, at that terrible moment, when ye saw above you the flaming tribunal of your offended Judge, and below you the seat of misery where you were for ever to dwell: did ye not then curse yourselves for your folly, in listening to the seductive voice of sin? Did ye not acknowledge that its flatteries, its caresses, its promises, lead only to eternal despair. Shall I go further : shall I summon up the damned to attest this truth? Shall I show them to you sinking under almighty vengeance, bound by the chains of darkness, encircled by the consuming flames, and proving, by their agonies, this eternal truth, that sin.and misery are inseparably linked together by the hand of Omnipotence ? Since then, my brethren, we must weep for our sins, in this world or the next, let us, by a salutary and timely repentance, avert eternal despair ; let us enter immediately on those courses which will pro
duce no grief; let us cultivate those pure and holy joys which conscience never embitters, which will smooth the pillow of sickness, cheer the hour of dissolution, and conduct us to the region of unspotted holiness and unmingled joy.
VARIETY IN TŠIE CONDUCT OF MEN AT DEATH.
JOB Xxx. 23.
I know that thou wilt bring me to death, and to the house
appointed for all living.
The certainty of death; the uncertainty of that hour when we shall feel its stroke; and the solemn and eternal consequences connected with the state of our soul when we close our eyes upon the earth : these are subjects on which
have often been addressed in the house of God, and when you stood by the mouth of the grave, open to receive the cold corpses of your relatives and friends. It is not my intention at the present time, to re-urge upon you these important truths; but I have selected these words to lead us to the consideration of a subject which, if properly improved, will tend much to augment our holiness, and prepare us for the inevitable hour of our dissolution. This subject is the variety in the feelings, expressions, and conduct, which we observe both in good and bad men on the bed of death. To illustrate,
explain, and apply this one point, is the sole design of the ensuing discourse.
I. Let us then consider those whom we esteem pious, whom we have reason to regard as the real children of God, through faith in Christ Jesus, and the renewing of the Holy Spirit. Recall the scenes which you have witnessed when you have stood by the deathbed of such persons; and add to your own observation the knowledge which you have derived from the information of others, or the biographies of the pious. You will find three classes, widely differing from each other in their dying experiences; some are agitated by terror, and doubts, and apprehensions ; some are exulting and triumphant ; some, without any extraordinary raptures, have a sweet calm, and tranquillity of spirit, a filial confidence and trust in their Redeemer.
You perceive that I am speaking only of those who have the exercise of their reason; among those who are deprived of it, there are some, who, in the most unconnected wanderings of their mind, show what is the object of their chief affections, and where their heart and their treasure are fixed : and there are others, whose wild ravings give no indication of those sentiments, the truth and strength of which have been attested by their past lives. It is painful indeed to see our pious friends expire in this manner; but it is consolatory to recollect, that our “God knoweth whereof we are made; ever remembereth that we are dust;" and will not impute to us as crimes the involuntary wanderings of delirium.
I return to those whose rational powers are unimpaired. Among them, I have said,
1. There are some whom we believe to be the children of God, whose death-beds are marked by