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really desired it, as a most agreeable as well as important event. David says to God, “As for me, I will behold thy face in righteousness: I shall be satisfied when I awake with thy likeness.” And Paul expresses still more fervent desires to be in heaven. “For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain. For I am in a strait betwixt two, having a desire to depart, and to be with Christ; which is far better.” Those who thus desire to depart out of the world, and live longing for immortality, are happily prepared to meet and conquer the king of terrors. I may add, 3. The constant discharge of the duties of life is implied in a constant preparation for death. This is plainly intimated in our Lord's admonition to prepare for his coming. “Take ye heed, watch and pray: for ye know not when the time is. For the Son of Man is as a man taking a far journey, who left his house, and gave authority to his servants, and to every man his work, and commanded the porter to watch. Watch ye therefore: for ye know not when the master of the house cometh, at even, or at midnight, or at the cock-crowing, or in the morning.” The sovereign Lord of life has placed all men here in this world, in the station of servants. He has given every one a work to perform, and commanded all to do with their might whatsoever their hands find to do. If they are slothful or unfaithful in his service, they are unfit to meet him at his coming. But while they are active, diligent, and faithful in discharging the duties assigned them, they are properly prepared, at any moment, to leave their work, and to give an account of the talents they have received. In this way, our Saviour himself lived in a constant preparation for death. “I must work the works of him that sent me while it is day: the night cometh, when no man can work.” And by living agreeably to this maxim, he was prepared to leave the world at the time appointed. “These words spake Jesus, and lifted up his eyes to heaven, and said, Father the hour is come; glorify thy Son, that thy Son also may glorify thee. I have glorified thee on the earth: I have finished the work which thou gavest me to do.” All ought to follow this example of Christ in the discharge of the duties of life, that they may be constantly prepared to die in peace. There are both secular and religious duties to be performed in the present state. We must faithfully pursue our secular employments, which are necessary to promote the temporal good of ourselves and others. These employments are numerous and various; but whatever a man's proper business is, he must be diligent and persevering in the performance of it. No one has a right to be idle in any lawful calling. Whether he acts in a public or private capacity, he ought to exert his best abilities in discharging the duties of his station. Nothing short of performing day by day the proper business of the day, will properly prepare men for the night of death. But no secular concerns ought to supersede or obstruct the duties of devotion. The performance of these has a direct and powerful tendency to prepare men for dying. Hence says our Lord in the text, “take ye heed, watch and pray.” Circumspection and watchfulness, meditation and prayer, are always proper for dying creatures, who are every day, every hour, and every moment, liable to be called out of time into eternity. These duties bring God, and Christ, and heaven, and the great realities of the invisible world into view, and directly tend to prepare the mind to appear in the presence of the Deity, and to join the company of the blessed in all their holy and delightful employments. Those who live in the daily and delightful performance of the duties of devotion, are constantly and practically prepared for the coming of their Lord, and for a joyful entrance into his heavenly kingdom.
1. Since all men are uncertain when they shall die, it is extremely absurd for any to expect that they shall live a great while in the world. Not only the young and the healthy, but even the aged and infirm, often cherish the hope of seeing many days more in the land of the living. Though every one knows that it is appointed to all men once to die, yet because he is uncertain of the day appointed for his own death, he is ready to imagine that his mountain stands strong, and though others may be called to die, yet he shall be allowed to live. All who have not lived to old age, are apt to indulge a strong expectation of reaching that period of life, because they are uncertain of dying before. And even those who have seen three-score years and ten, are still apt to lot upon four-score years. This is reasoning in direct opposition to the voice and providence of God. He has concealed from mortals, the day of their dissolution, to excite and keep up a constant expectation of dying; but they absurdly and presumptuously improve this very circumstance, to cherish a constant expectation of living. God says to every man, “boast not thyself of to-morrow : for thou knowest not what a day may bring forth.” But most men are prone to draw a very different conclusion from their ignorance of futurity, and to say in their hearts, “to-morrow shall be as this day, and much more abundant.” How absurd and dangerous is such presumptuous language in the mouths of those who know not but the next moment may be their last!
WOL. iii. 4
2. If all men are uncertain when they shall die, then there is as a great propriety in their preparing to die, as in their preparing to live. There is the same uncertainty with respect to living, as with respect to dying. But notwithstanding the uncertainty of living, all feel the propriety of providing food and raiment, and the necessaries and conveniences of life. Though they know not how soon they may be called to leave the world and all its enjoyments, yet they do not consider the uncertainty of life as any reason to neglect or prepare for living. Why then should any consider the uncertainty of dying as any reason to neglect preparing for that serious and important event 2 They may die in any future moment; and therefore not a moment is to be lost, which may be improved in a preparation for death. A preparation for living ought never to supersede a preparation for dying, which is of all things of the most importance to the probationers for eternity. If some neglect to provide the necessaries of life for themselves, yet the care, and labor, and kindness of others, may prevent their suffering the fatal consequences of their folly and negligence. But if any neglect to prepare themselves for dying, none of their friends can prepare them for it, or prevent them from falling into the pit of destruction. Why should so many build houses, plant vineyards, and lay up goods for many years, rather than set their houses and their souls in order for that great and last change to which they are every day and every moment exposed? If an uncertain prospect of living prompts men to prepare for living, why should not an uncertain prospect of dying prompt them to prepare for dying? All men are equally blind to futurity, and none can be more certain that they shall live to any future period than that they shall die before that period arrives. Why then should they not improve every day in preparing to die as well as in preparing to live 2 It is much more proper, because it is much more important, to prepare for a sudden death than for a long life.
3. If it equally concerns all men to be in preparation for death, then it argues extreme folly in any to be more ashamed to prepare for dying, than to die. Mortality is inseparably connected with humanity, and no man has any reason to be ashamed of the law of his nature. But though neither the young nor the old, neither the rich nor the poor, are ashamed to die, yet multitudes are ashamed to prepare for dying. A due preparation for death requires men to live holy, devout, heavenly, prayerful lives; to realize the vanity of all earthly enjoyments, and to derive their supreme happiness from the love and enjoyment of God. But how many of our dying race are ashamed to perform the proper and important duties of dying creatures' How many are ashamed to read the Bible, to call upon God in secret and private, to converse upon religious and divine subjects, and to name the name of Christ! How many are ashamed to conform to the spirit and precepts of the gospel, in their common intercourse among mankind' How many are ashamed even to be thought serious, devout and religious ! How many are ashamed to give their children a pious education, and to do as much to prepare them for dying, as to prepare them for living ! But what reason have dying creatures for being ashamed to live, and for teaching others to live, as dying creatures 2 Will they not rather bewail their neglect of these things when time shall be no longer ? “Ask death-beds, they can tell.” How many miserable creatures have bitterly lamented, with their dying breath, their past negligence to prepare for eternity And who can expect to escape such a miserable end, unless they “watch and pray,” and make it their constant concern to prepare for the coming of their Lord 7 4. If all men are uncertain when they shall die, then they ought to beware of placing too much dependence upon one another. It is folly and presumption in dying creatures to make each other the object of truth and confidence. But it is the natural disposition of all mankind to run into this dangerous error. Rulers and subjects, ministers and people, parents and children, husbands and wives, and all who have formed intimate connections, are extremely prone to forget that death may, at any moment, dissolve their tenderest ties, and blast their fondest hopes and expectations. Such misplaced and presumptuous confidence is naturally calculated to prepare the human heart for the keenest anguish and distress. hat multitudes have made themselves unspeakably wretched, by placing that dependence upon dying creatures, which ought to have been placed upon the ever-living God! Let us beware of the danger, which the experience of ages so clearly discovers, and which the Father of mercies so kindly and solemnly warns us to avoid. “Cease ye from man, whose breath is in his nostrils: for wherein is he to be accounted of 2 His breath goeth forth, he returneth to his earth: in that very day his thoughts perish.” But there is not only folly, but guilt and danger, in distrusting God and confiding in man. Hence says the prophet, “Cursed be the man that trusteth in man and maketh flesh his arm, and whose heart departeth from the Lord.” Our duty and safety lies in renouncing all dependence upon our frail fellow mortals, and in placing our entire trust and confidence in our great Creator. For we are assured, “Blessed is the man that trusteth in the Lord, and whose hope the Lord is.” Such a firm and constant reliance upon God is the only ground of hope, and the only source of consolation to any of mankind, while they are passing through this dying world, where they are born to sorrows and bereavements, as the sparks fly upward.
How often and how suddenly does God destroy the hopes and expectations which we place upon our fellow mortals! And what a striking instance of mortality and bereavement now lies before us! We are called to perform the last sad office to one who but a few days, and perhaps but a few hours, before his death, had not the least apprehension of being so near the close of life and the verge of eternity. The sudden decease of Mr. Rockwood is a very solemn and instructive event. His sobriety, his integrity, and his serious regard to divine things, rendered him an amiable and useful man. And hence his aged mother, his dear consort, his rising family, and all his acquaintance, had good reason to desire that his life might have been prolonged, as a blessing to them, and a benefit to society. But the sovereign Lord of all has seen fit, for wise and holy reasons, to cut him down in the midst of his days and of his usefulness, by a sudden and unexpected stroke. And who knows but that his unexpected death may do more good to his friends and others, than his expected life could have done? God has often made use of sudden deaths to awaken sinners, and quicken saints, to attend to the things which belong to their everlasting peace. And it is worthy of particular remark, on the present occasion, that he has once and again made use of this method to pierce the hearts and awaken the attention of this bereaved family. About twenty-eight years ago, the father of the deceased expired alone in his field; and his sudden, unexpected death made a lasting if not a saving impression upon the mind of his eldest son, who has now left the world in a manner awfully, if not equally solemn and instructive. May this alarming instance of mortality be sanctified to us all, and especially to the near relatives and friends of the deceased! May we all “take heed, watch and pray,” lest it should be our miserable lot to be hurried into eternity unprepared!