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before detained in a kind of thraldom."—See Leigh's Critica Sacra. Paul expected to. live in a future state, and that death was not an eternal sleep, but that a crown of glory awaited him beyond the grave. That we ought to live in the constant expectation of death, is the point to which our attention is particularly called on the present occasion.
The nature and importance of the duty will be considered. There are many people who, though they have the clearest intimations that they must die, yet do not expect it. Every age of the world affords us painful examples of the truth of this observation. Death often comes and finds us sleeping. Many no doubt will go into eternity within one hour, that have no expectation of dying for years yet to come. Some of you who are now present will doubtless die within a few weeks, who are not looking for such an event. Many of you have more worldly schemes already laid out than you can accomplish to the day of your death. Follow men to their death-bed, and you will generally find that death is an unwelcome and unexpected messenger. Who those are that live in the expectation of death, is a question of serious importance.
People who expect to die will have their thoughts much on the subject, as one who is about to remove to a great distance will think and converse much about the matter. Job called the grave his house, and made his bed in the darkness; and said to corruption, Thou art my father, and to the worm, Thou art my mother and my sister. The man who considers that the time of his departure is at hand, will not be much elated with sublunary objects. Of whatever importance they may be to others, yet to him they are of little consequence, as he is just ready to leave them. 1 Cor. vii., 29, 30, 31. "But this I say, brethren, the time is short. It remaineth, that both they that -have wives be as though they had none; and they that weep, as though they wept not; and they that rejoice, as though they rejoiced not; and they that buy, as though they possessed not; and they that use this world, as not abusing it; for the fashion of this world passeth away." Neither prosperity nor adversity will much affect him who expects every hour to come to the end of his journey, or close his eyes on things below.
The man who expects soon to remove, will have his mind much taken up with the country to which he is going. He will inquire about it, and form as much acquaintance with it as possible; he will attend to the geography of it, and will have it much in his conversation; will wish to know how it is like to fare with him, when lie arrives there. The dying man, who acts in character, will read the word of God—that informs us about eternal things;—will endeavour to obtain a knowledge of the heavenly state—of its laws, inhabitants, and employments. He will look upon the things that are not seen —that are eternal. 1 Cor. iv., 18. And his conversation will be in heaven. Phil, iii., 20..
A man that adopts the sentiment in my text will set immediately about the work of preparation for death,— will, without any delay, set his house in order. Being struck with a sense of the shortness and uncertainty of life, he will summon every faculty of his soul to the most vigorous exertion in this great work; will do with his might what his hand findeth to do: he will not put off that work until to-morrow that should be attended to to-day, since he knows not what a day may bring forth. He will pay a diligent attention to the means of grace. Prayer, reading, meditation, and attending religious institutions, will be matters of serious importance. When men are apprehensive that they are drawing near the eternal world, they commonly have very different views of many external duties that they despise in days of health. Visits from ministers and pious friends, prayer and religious conversation, now appear valuable. The man that really expects soon to die, like Paul in the text, will be solemn, serious, and honest; will not trifle with sacred things; but will act in view of a judgment to come.
Farther: They who are properly looking out for death, look upon it as an event to which they are exposed at any time, at any place, or on any occasion, at home or abroad; and they will endeavour not to engage in any work inconsistent with being called immediately before the bar of Christ. A willingness to depart out of time, and to land on the shores of immortality, comports with the nature of the duty under consideration. With what holy and ecstatic joy does the apostle, in the chapter and verse from which our text is selected, anticipate the approaching moment of his departure. "For I am now ready to be offered, and the time of my departure is at hand. I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith. Henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, shall give me at that day; and not to me only, but unto all them also that love his appearing." In a word: to live as expectants of death, is to do the work of every day in the day; that we faithfully discharge the duties we owe to God, to ourselves, and fellow-creatures; that we live in the daily exercise of Christian graces, and persevere in holy obedience, in a constant dependance on the mercy of God through Jesus Christ. We are now to attend to the importance of the duty, or the propriety of our living in the constant expectation of death.
We argue from Divine injunctions. How constantly and forcibly is the sentiment enjoined in the word of God.—" Watch therefore. Be ye also ready- Let your loins be girded about, and your lights burning," &c.; are the repeated admonitions of him who spake as never man spake. To live in the constant expectation of death, is falling in with the dictates of the written word of God—and with the examples of the people of God, who attained to eminent degrees of piety. They considered themselves as strangers and pilgrims on the earth—that their days were as a shadow—and that the time is short. The dispensations of Divine providence illustrate the same idea, that the time of our departure is at hand, and call for correspondent deportment. The history of mankind—the repeated instances of death within our own observation—point us to the grave, and proclaim, with united voice, that "There is but a step between us and death." Men of every character, station, age, and relation in life, are daily falling victims to the king of terrors, and leave us this kind admonition, that the time of our departure is at hand.
If we were to look round on the various instruments of death, we learn the propriety of constant watchfulness. Almost every thing we behold is armed with deadly weapons, and ready to destroy: even when we think we are fleeing from the enemy, we often run into the arms of death. The feeble and delicate state of our bodies loudly proclaims. our approaching dissolution. The pains and infirmities which have already racked this earthly house of our tabernacle, show us that it cannot be long before it will crumble and fall. When I turn my eyes around on this congregation, I behold evident signatures of death in every countenance, which speak the language in the text, The time of my departure is at hand.
Suitably to imbibe this sentiment would have a happy influence on us in every department of life—on ministers and people, parents and children, friends and neighbours. We should lay hold of every opportunity to admonish, reprove, and instruct. Did we consider on all occasions that it is more than possible that we are giving our last and dying advice, would it not make a great alteration as to the manner of our addresses? Keeping death at too great a distance tends to make us cold and indifferent about the things of religion. It is often the occasion of that foolish jesting and levity, in which we are too prone to indulge; this renders our visits among our friends so very barren, and turns our conversation on subjects of no importance. Were it constantly sounding in our ears, The time of my departure is at hand! it would have a salutary influence on our conduct, and others would derive unspeakable advantage from it. I might further add, as an incentive to the duty under consideration, that to live in the constant expectation of death is the only way to be prepared for it, and obtain a victory over it. The reason that this enemy breaks in upon us with such terror and surprise is, because we do not watch, or keep awake. When our blessed Lord calls upon us to watch, he takes the metaphor from the sentinels that stand on guard, or on the watch-tower. The word signifies to keep awake. If we view death at a great distance, and so fall asleep, should he come at such a moment, we fall an easy prey to the king of terrors. On the other hand, do we stand looking for and hastening to the coming of the Lord, with our loins girded about, and our lights burning, that, when Christ shall come and knock, we may open immediately—we shall have the blessedness of those servants whom the Lord when he cometh shall find so doing. This no doubt supported our reverend father whom God has lately called home; he could say, amid the agonies of dissolving nature, "Death has no terrors to me." This account I lately had from one living in the family at the time of the doctor's death. His usual calmness and fortitude of mind shone conspicuous in his last moments, and astonished spectators. In a word, the magnitude and importance of death, judgment, and eternity, should command the utmost attention, watchfulness, and circumspection.
The subject, thus far illustrated, suggests a number of thoughts, which, if pursued by way of improvement, would afford us useful instruction.
In the first place, it is natural to observe, that it is very- probable that there are many people that will never be saved. They are on the very borders of the grave—they have but a few moments to live—and yet have done nothing to prepare for death—and have no disposition to do any thing. The work is great—and they are fully determined to do nothing by way of preparation. This no doubt is the case with many present.
We may further observe, that there is but a little difference between men's outward circumstances; between the rich or the poor,.the old and the young: