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S E R M O N II.
FUNERAL OF MR. SAMUEL ROCKWOOD, WHO DIED APRIL 25, 1801,
TAKE ye heed, watch and pray; for ye know not when the time is. – MARK, xiii. 33.
OUR Saviour was perfectly acquainted with futurity. All the objects and events of time lay open to his all-comprehensive view. This qualified him to instruct his disciples, and through them all succeeding generations of mankind, upon the most solemn and interesting subjects. At a certain time when he was going out of the temple, one of his disciples desired him to observe the beauty and magnificence of that ancient and venerable building. But instead of admiring its materials and structure, he only foretold its speedy and final ruin. This prediction made a deep impression upon the minds of Peter, James and John, who asked him privately, “when shall these things be 2 and what shall be the sign when all these things shall be fulfilled ?” These questions led him into a free and familiar discourse with his disciples, in which he told them, that false Christs should arise and deceive many; that fiery trials and bloody persecutions should fall to their lot, and to the lot of those who should embrace the gospel; that wars, and famines, and earthquakes, should involve whole nations and kingdoms in confusion and distress; and that these desolating judgments should come suddenly and unexpectedly, even in their day. In the view of these fatal evils, which he was about to bring upon the earth, and which would sweep multitudes into eternity, he exhorted all to stand constantly prepared for the solemn and uncertain hour of death. “Take ye heed, watch and pray: for ye know not when the time is.” This is the connection of the text, and in this connection, it suggests this serious truth to our present consideration: Since all men are uncertain when they shall die, it concerns them to live in a constant preparation for dying, I shall show, I. That all men are uncertain when they shall die. II. That it concerns all to live in a constant preparation for dying. III. What it is to live in such a manner. 1. Let us consider, that all men are uncertain when they shall die. Ye know not, says our Lord, when the time is. He could have informed every man when he should die; but he never gave this information to any of the human race, not even to his most dear and intimate *d. All the inspired writers are equally silent upon this solemn subject. Though the Bible reveals many great and important events, yet it draws a dark veil over the grave, and entirely hides the day of death from all the living. Nor can any, by the aid of reason, learning and observation, determine the time of their departure from the stage of life. After all the calculations which have ever been made upon the subject of mortality, the grave still appears without any order. Though providence gives us many signs of the times, and enables us to form many probable conjectures concerning futurity, yet providence gives us no signs of life, nor symptoms of death, upon which either the young or the old, the strong or the weak, the wise or the unwise, may safely rely. There are innumerable diseases and accidents which no human wisdom can foresee, and which no human power can resist; and to these instruments of death we are all continually exposed. Who in this assembly can discover, with the least degree of certainty, which of our names stands next in death's commission ? The present instance of mortality is instead of a thousand arguments, to demonstrate the total ignorance of all men respecting the day of their decease. No man ever knows whether there be more than a single step between him and eternity. Those who are boasting of to-morrow, and flattering themselves with the hopes of long life, may be the very first to meet the king of terrors. “As the fishes that are taken in an evil net, and as the birds that are caught in the snare; so are the sons of men snared in an evil time, when it falleth suddenly upon them.” Divine providence concurs with divine revelation, to teach all men that they are utterly uncertain when they shall die. Hence, II. It concerns all to live in a constant preparation for dying. All come into the world unfit to go out of it. All are by nature destitute of that holiness, without which they cannot see nor enjoy God. This life is designed to be a state of preparation for the next; and the great business of living is to prepare for dying. And could men only be brought to realize what a great and interesting change death will be, they would feel the importance of being duly and constantly prepared to meet it. Here, then, let all consider some of the solemn effects and consequences of dying. When death comes, it will take down and destroy their clayey tabernacles, in which they have dwelt from their earliest existence. It will separate the soul from the body, and reduce the latter to a mass of corruption and a heap of dust. It will pay no more respect to the prince than to the peasant, to the rich than to the poor, to the most lovely than to the most unlovely forms of human nature. It will completely level all the outward, visible, admired distinctions of mankind, in the loathsome grave. And though the deceased will be altogether regardless of their mortal part, yet they cannot be insensible of losing all the happiness which they once derived from their bodily senses. The dissolution of the body must therefore be an amazing shock to the mind, and too heavy for those to endure, who have made no preparation for the world of spirits. When death comes and destroys the body, it will put a final period to all the pursuits and employments of the present life. In the day that death seizes the sons of men, in that very day all their worldly thoughts must perish, and all their earthly employments cease. “If a man die, shall he live again?” No: he shall never return to his house or to his farm, to the bar or to the pulpit, to the seat of justice or to the throne of power. Men of every order and profession are naturally attached to the business in which they are habitually employed. All the concerns of life exercise the powers and faculties of the mind, and prevent it from preying upon itself by contemplating those things which create uneasiness, disgust, or remorse. Many are perpetually forming worldly schemes of a public or private nature, which they view as highly important, and in the prosecution of which they take peculiar satisfaction. And while their heads and hearts are deeply engaged in accomplishing the objects of their wishes, they cannot bear the thought of dying and leaving their agreeable designs unfinished. What a great and distressing change, therefore, must death be to those who have been wholly absorbed in the cares and pursuits of the present life! When all these objects of their former attention shall forever cease to employ their thoughts, what can they discover in the invisible world, to fill the mighty void which death has made in their capacious and active minds? It must be extremely painful to contemplate, without interruption and without end, their past schemes, and hopes, and expectations, which are completely and forever disappointed. When death comes, it will destroy all earthly possessions and enjoyments. As men bring nothing into the world with them, so they can carry nothing out. When they are called to quit the body, they must leave their treasures, their relations, their connections, and all their outward distinctions, behind them. Death will deprive them of all these sources of earthly enjoyment. When the master shall die, he will cease to be a master; when the parent shall die, he will cease to be a parent; when the minister shall die, he will cease to be a minister; when the ruler shall die, he will cease to be a ruler; and when the rich man shall die, he will cease to be rich. Persons of all orders and ages must meet together in the grave, stripped of all their outward distinctions, and deprived of all their earthly enjoyments. And when all these idols are taken away, what will they have left, to satisfy the desires of a selfish and sinful heart? Death will produce another and more serious and solemn effect. It will put a final period to the day of grace and the space for repentance. When it comes and proclaims that time shall be no longer, then the motions of the Spirit, the offers of mercy, and the promises of salvation, will forever cease. He that is unholy, must be unholy still. He that is filthy, must be filthy still. No mistakes can be rectified, no neglects can be retrieved, beyond the grave. As the soul leaves the body, so it must appear before God, and receive its final doom. Death will open or shut the gates of heaven for ever. There will be no alteration in the state of the dead. They shall never pass from heaven to hell, nor from hell to heaven. This our Saviour hath clearly taught us, in the parable of the rich man and Lazarus. Death will forever separate the sinner from the saint; and whither death first conveys the naked soul, there it must remain to all eternity. Whenever death comes, it will produce such great and lasting effects. And for this reason, it highly concerns all to live in a constant preparation for their dying day, which will be the most important day in the whole period of their existence. III. It only remains to show what it is to live constantly prepared for this great and last change. There is both an habitual and actual preparation for death. The habitual preparation for dying essentially consists in believing in Christ. So he expressly tells us himself. “I am the resurrection and the life; he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live: and whosoever liveth and believeth in me, shall never die.” Saving faith forms a vital union between Christ and believers, which effectually secures their future and everlasting happiness. Hence Christ told his disciples when he was about to leave them, “Because I live ye shall live also.” Those who repent, and cordially embrace the divine Redeemer, are habitually prepared to pass out of time into eternity. They are truly in Christ, and those who are in him, may die in peace and safety. For we read, “Blessed are the dead which die in the Lord.” They “rest from their labors, and their works do follow them.” But it is a practical preparation for death, which Christ more especially inculcates in the text. “Take ye heed, watch and pray.” In illustrating this practical preparation for dying, I would observe, 1. That it implies living constantly mindful of death. Taking heed and watching plainly denote a strict and constant attention to an object. To watch for death is to keep it in mind, and live in actual expectation of its certain and near approach. We find the ancient saints lived under a realizing sense of the shortness and uncertainty of life, and of the certainty and nearness of death. They felt like dying creatures, walking upon the verge of time and the borders of eternity. This appears from the description which the apostle gives of their holy and heavenly lives. “These all died in faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them afar off, and were persuaded of them, and confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth.” And Paul, speaking of the uncertainty of life, solemnly protests, “I die daily.” Such a daily and lively apprehension of leaving the world belongs to a practical preparation for death. By keeping the great and serious event in view, the mind becomes familiar with it, and better prepared to meet it. When men go out and come in, lie down and rise up, with a realizing sense of their own mortality, death loses its power to surprise them, and affords them an excellent antidote against itself. 2. To be properly prepared for death, it is necessary to desire, as well as to expect it. Death may be expected without being desired. We read of those, “who, through fear of death, are all their life time subject to bondage.” A painful apprehension of leaving the world unfits men for a dying hour. But, on the other hand, sincere desires to be absent from the body and present with the Lord, prepare the soul for the day of dissolution. Many of the people of God have expressed their sincere and ardent desires to be removed from the scenes of mortality, and placed in the presence and enjoyment of God. Job says, “I would not live alway.” And this agrees with what he says again, “All the days of my appointed time will I wait till my change comes.” He not only expected death, but