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S E R M O N III.
DEATH WITHOUT ORDER.
FUNERAL OF MR. DANIEL THURSTON, who DIED November 7, 1802, AGED 54.
WITHouT any order. — JoB, x 22.
While Job was under the bereaving hand of God, his thoughts were naturally turned upon the frailty of man, the shortness of life, and the gloomy scenes of mortality. He considered death as fast approaching, to cut off all his earthly prospects, and to remove his body to the dreary grave, from which he should never return. “Are not my days few 7 cease then, and let me alone, that I may take comfort a little, before I go whence I shall not return, even to the land of darkness, and the shadow of death ; a land of darkness, as darkness itself; and of the shadow of death, without any order.” This last circumstance of death struck his mind with peculiar force. It had come into his numerous family with the greatest appearance of irregularity. It had taken the servants and left the master; it had taken the children and left the parents; and it appeared to be approaching to put a period to his own life, in the midst of his days. He could see no order in such instances of mortality, which led him to conclude that God meant to discover no order, in calling mankind from the stage of life. Though he does not mention the hand of God in reducing the body to dust, yet it appears from what he had before observed, that he viewed death as under the divine direction. Upon hearing of the death of his servants and children, he immediately acknowledged the hand of God in his bereavement. “The Lord gave, and the Lord hath taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord.” According to this humble and submissive expression, his meaning in the text cannot be that death is really without any order, but only that it appears so in the view of short-sighted creatures. This then is the plain and interesting truth which he meant to express, and which we are to consider on the present occasion : That God discovers no order in calling men out of the world by death. To illustrate this serious observation, it will be proper to show in the first place, that God does call men out of the world without any discernible order; and then inquire why he discovers no order in this important event. I. I am to show that God discovers no order in sending death among mankind. Job believed, and we have reason to believe, that there is perfect order in the divine mind, respecting death, as well as every other event. He acknowledged before God, that he had limited the life of man, and precisely fixed the time of his death. “Seeing his days are determined, the number of his months is with thee, thou hast appointed his bounds that he cannot pass: turn from him that he may rest, till he shall accomplish, as an hireling, his day.” And with respect to himself he said, “All the days of my appointed time will I wait, till my change come.” The names of all men stand in order in death's commission, together with all the circumstances of their leaving the world. God hath not left so important a change as death is, to the direction of chance, but determined every thing respecting it, in infinite wisdom. In relation to God, death is perfectly regular; but this regularity he has seen proper to conceal from the view of men. He has not been pleased to tell any person, when or where, or how he shall die. All we know concerning these things, we collect from the providence of God, which is, in this respect, a great deep, and past finding out. Though God has passed a sentence of mortality upon all mankind, yet he never discovers any order in the execution of it. For, 1. He sends death without any apparent respect to age. There is no stage of life, from infancy to old age, in which God does not call some of the human race out of time into eternity. This is taught us by every grave-yard. There we may see that God pays no respect to days, or weeks, or months, or years, in destroying the hopes and lives of men. Nothing can be more irregular than the dates of death. There is not the least order in the congregations of the dead. They exhibit as great a diversity of ages, as the congregations of the living. God appears to have no regard to the length of life, in putting a period to it. He cuts off multitudes in infancy, before they have arrived at childhood. He cuts off multitudes in childhood, before they have arrived at manhood. He cuts off multitudes in manhood, before they have arrived at three-score years and ten. He is so absolutely sovereign in the disposal of life, that we are always uncertain how long the aged shall live, or how soon the young shall die. Hence we can never discover the order of death, by the order of age. 2. God takes men out of the world, without any apparent . to their bodily strength or weakness. There is almost an infinite variety in the frame and contexture of their bodily constitutions. Some are formed strong, and vigorous, and healthy; while others are continually weak, and frail, and sickly. But though we are ready to mark out the latter for an early death, and the former for a long life, yet God discovers no such order in executing the sentence of mortality. This affecting thought deeply impressed the heart of Job, who expresses it with peculiar force and tenderness. “One dieth in his full strength, being wholly at ease and quiet. His breasts are full of milk, and his bones are moistened with marrow. And another dieth in the bitterness of his soul, and never eateth with pleasure.” The strong often fall into the grave before the weak, and the healthy before the sickly. When God sends death into a city, or a society, or a family, he discovers no order in respect to the strength or weakness of those whom he lays in the dust. 3. God brings men to their end without any apparent respect to the place of their dying. No place is too grand or too mean, too public or too private, too sacred or too profane, for death to enter. Death enters the palaces of princes and the cottages of peasants. Death enters the houses of feasting and the houses of prayer. Death meets men at home and abroad, on the land and on the sea, where they meet for amusement, or retire for devotion. No place is sacred to life, and secure from death. Though men generally desire and expect to die in one place rather than another, yet God often counteracts their desires, and disappoints their expectations. He fixes the bounds of life which they cannot pass, and appoints the place of death which they cannot avoid. He causes some to die where they were born, some where they had spent the most of their days, and some where they never had resided, nor had thoughts of residing. Many are so unhappy as to die strangers in a strange land, where they have no opportunity of conversing with their friends, and of giving and receiving the last tokens of love and respect. The living never know where they shall finish the course of life, and lay their bodies in the dust. 4. There is no order apparent in the means of death. God connects means and ends together; and as he appoints when and where all shall die, so he appoints all the means to bring them to their end. These are extremely numerous and various. Who can enumerate all the casualties and all the diseases which have been or which may be the means of mortality? God may commission the moth or the mote, the air or the earth, or any of the elements, in their turn, to destroy the lives of men. But in all the means of death he discovers no order. Those who expect to die by one disease may die by another. Those who fear the iron weapon may fall by the bow of steel. Those who imagine they shall certainly die by the decays of nature, may eventually perish by the hand of the assassin. The arrows of death are continually flying in all directions, without the least appearance of order; and none can foresee whether their lives shall be cut off by the pestilence which walketh in darkness, or by the destruction that wasteth at noondav.
#. God pays no visible regard to the characters of men, in calling them off the stage of life. The wise and learned, the pious and useful, are as much exposed to the stroke of death, as those of the lowest capacities and of the loosest characters. “We see that wise men die, likewise the fool and brutish person perish.” How many amiable children and youth are cut down like morning flowers, and disappoint all the hopes and dependence which had been placed upon them How many men come upon the stage of life with shining talents and benevolent purposes, and yet are called out of the world in the midst of rising prospects and extensive usefulness! God takes away, without any visible distinction, “the mighty man, and the man of war, the judge, and the prophet, and the prudent, and the ancient, the captain of fifty, and the honorable man, and the counsellor, and the cunning artificer, and the eloquent orator.” Though virtue, religion, learning, and all the interests of mankind, unitedly plead in favor of such amiable and useful characters, yet they are just as liable as the meanest of the human race, to fall by the stroke of death.
6. God appears to pay no regard to the circumstances of men, in putting an end to their days. Those who are surrounded with all that their hearts can desire are no more secure from death than the poorest and most miserable wretches who move upon the earth. The rich and the poor meet together in the grave. The rich man as well as Lazarus died. Those who spend their days in ease and affluence, go down to the grave as suddenly and unexpectedly as other men. Death pays no more respect to the rich and great, than to the poor, and mean, and miserable. He cannot be awed by power, nor bribed by wealth. “They that trust in their wealth, and boast themselves in the multitude of their riches; none of them can by any means redeem his brother, nor give to God a ransom for him; —that he should still live for ever, and not see corruption. Their inward thought is, that their houses shall continue for ever, and their dwelling-places to all generations. Nevertheless man being in honor abideth not: he is like the beasts that perish.” Death lays his irresistible hand upon the high or the low, the rich or the poor, exactly according to his divine commission. I may add, 7. God does not appear to consult the feelings of men, in calling them to leave the world. They have very different feelings in the view of this great and interesting event. Some are weary of the cares, and trials, and labors of life, and long for death to dismiss them from these tiresome scenes. Others are fond of the world and of the things of the world, and dread nothing so much as the approach of death. But though God perfectly knows all the hopes and fears of men with respect to dying, yet he pays no regard to their different feelings. He often leaves those to labor and suffer, who are wishing and waiting for the grave; while he sends death to seize others who are fond of living, and feel quite too happy and too busy to die. In a word, God discovers no order in calling men out of the world. As he gave them life, so he takes it away at his pleasure, without discovering any rule by which he governs this important part of his conduct. This leads us to show, II. Why God sends death through the world without any discernible order. He has, indeed, a fixed order in his own mind, according to which he calls every person from the stage of life; and this order he might have made known to our dying world. But he is pleased to keep this, like many other of his purposes, entirely to himself. And though we cannot discover all the reasons of his holding mankind in profound ignorance of the time and other circumstances of dying, yet we may mention some, which appear very obvious, and sufficient to justify him in this instance of his particular providence. 1. God may discover no order in death, to make men sensible that he can do what he pleases, without their aid or instrumentality. He often employs them as visible instruments of accomplishing the designs of his providence and grace. And in some cases, their agency appears more conspicuous than his own; so that their conduct is observed and admired, while his is overlooked and disregarded. But to convince the world, that all human agents are dependent on himself, and that what he can do with them, he can do without them, he often throws them aside, or lays them in the dust, at the very time when they supWOL. III. 5