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they. If christians maintain family prayer, attend public worship, and hear the word of God with seriousness and attention, so do they. But if christians do really desire and wait for their appointed change, here they fail, and shrink from the comparison. They are conscious to themselves, that they have not lived in the habitual expectation of death; that they have not lived in the habitual contemplation of it, but have endeavored to banish it from their minds; and that they never have desired to be absent from the body and present with the Lord, in order to enjoy that holiness, that knowledge, and that rest which remaineth for the people of God. In a word, they are conscious to themselves, that they never have been willing to leave this world, and go to any other. Here they are constrained to acknowledge the reality and importance of vital piety, which prepares men to live comfortably, die victoriously, and enjoy everlasting blessedness in the world to come. Here they are constrained to feel, if not to say, “The righteous are the excellent of the earth.” Here they feel their inferiority, and are conscious, notwithstanding all their worldly attainments and enjoyments, that they are wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked. They are totally destitute of and strangers to that permanent source of happiness which those enjoy who live by faith in the great and precious promises of God. Their path is growing darker and darker, while the path of the just is shining brighter and brighter unto the perfect day. “There is no peace, saith my God, to the wicked,” either in life, or in death; “for the ungodly shall not stand in the judgment, nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous. For the Lord knoweth the way of the righteous: but the way of the ungodly shall perish.”
4. If good men have good reasons to hope and wait for their appointed change, then, if they do not properly and habitually wait and hope for it, they have reason to expect that they shall die in darkness and distress. It may be one of the criminal imperfections of real christians to be so much attached to the world, and so much absorbed in its cares and concerns, as to forget that the grave is their house, and that they are constantly and rapidly hastening to their long home. Many, like Martha, are careful and troubled about many things which are unworthy of their supreme regard, and inattentive to the one thing needful. Though they believe that they shall die, yet they do not set their hearts nor their houses in order, in a practical preparation for their dying hour. As their forgetfulness of death, judgment and eternity is highly displeasing to God, so he may justly leave and forsake them, when their appointed change comes. And there is reason to think that God often does deny his gracious presence and the light of his countenance to those christians who have lived too unmindful and unprepared for their great and last change. It is a just remark, founded upon general observation, that good men as well as bad commonly die very much as they lived. If they have lived in stupidity, they die in stupidity. If they have lived in darkness, they die in darkness. If they have lived in hope, they die in hope. If they have waited for death, they die in peace and joy. If real christians, therefore, neglect to keep their hearts with all diligence, and to consider seriously and habitually their latter end, they may expect to meet the king of terrors with dismay, and have their sun go down in a cloud. 5. If good men alone have good reasons to hope and wait for death, then it concerns one person as well as another to become good. It is appointed to all men once to die, and there is no discharge in that war. All must sooner or later leave this world and go into another, where their state will be irreversibly fixed during the interminable ages of eternity; and nothing can prepare them for their future and final condition, but repentance towards God, and faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. It will be as fatal to the rich as to the poor, to the high as to the low, to live and die in impenitence and unbelief. Every person has every thing to gain by godliness, and every thing to lose by ungodliness. Godliness is profitable to all things, having the promise of the life that now is, and of that which is to come. But ungodliness exposes every one to temporal and eternal ruin. What then shall it profit a man if he should gain the whole world, and lose his own soul? or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul? Hear divine wisdom describe the folly, the guilt and despair of the ungodly in their dying moments: “Because I have called, and ye refused; I have stretched out my hand, and no man regarded : but ye have set at nought all my counsel, and would none of my reproof; I also will laugh at your calamity; I will mock when your fear cometh. When your fear cometh as desolation, and your destruction as a whirlwind; when distress and anguish cometh upon you ; then shall they call upon me, but I will not answer; they shall seek me early, but they shall not find me.” 6. If good men have good reasons to hope and wait for death, then they are prepared to bury themselves, or their christian friends. They are prepared to go first or to follow after. If their lives are preserved, they are prepared to wait their appointed time, and then go to their pious friends in the world of glory. And the thought of their soon meeting them in that blessed state, serves to reconcile them to their short separation. May not the aged and lately bereaved widow derive consolation from the hope and expectation of soon following her dear departed husband? . It certainly becomes her to wait patiently and submissively for her own appointed time, which cannot be far distant. The death of good men is certainly a source of sorrow, whether they are called away in an earlier or later period of life; and their departure out of the world is a loss to the world. The death of Capt. DEAN, though in a very advanced age, is a loss to others as well as to his friends. He early made a public profession of religion, and externally performed the various duties of it in his family, and in the house of God, where he uniformly appeared an attentive, serious and intelligent hearer of the gospel, which we have reason to think had a happy influence to form him for usefulness in his day and generation. He filled every relation and station of life with dignity, and secured the esteem and respect of every society in which he resided, and of every circle in which he moved. He was a warm, staunch and bold friend to his country in the most trying times. He professed and maintained sound principles in religion, morality and government. He was, in a word, a very useful and respectable citizen, whose decease, even in the latest stage of life, his friends and acquaintance have reason to lament; for he sustained the infirmities of age and the reverses of fortune with uncommon vigor, activity, fortitude and magnanimity. But they ought not to mourn as those who have no hope. It must be a consolation to all his pious friends, who are waiting and hoping for their appointed time to follow him where they hope he has found eternal rest. Nor can it be long before all his brothers and sisters, relatives and friends must follow him into eternity. His death loudly admonishes them to stand in the happy posture of waiting for the coming of their Lord. And what it says to one, it says to all: “Be ye also ready.”
I shall go to him, but he shall not return to me. — 2 SAMUEL, xii. 23.
While David's child was sick, he put on sackcloth, lay in the dust, fasted, and besought the Lord to spare his life. But as soon as he perceived the child was dead, he arose from the earth, and washed and anointed himself, and changed his apparel, and came into the house of the Lord, and worshipped: then he came to his own house; and when he required, they set bread before him, and he did eat. This sudden change in his appearance and conduct was surprising to his servants, who expected that the death of his child would increase rather than abate the anguish of his heart. They accordingly said unto him, “What thing is this that thou hast done? thou didst fast and weep for the child while it was alive; but when the child was dead thou didst arise and eat bread. And he said, while the child was yet alive I fasted and wept; for I said, who can tell whether God will be gracious to me, that the child may live? But now he is dead, wherefore should I fast! can I bring him back again ' I shall go to him, but he shall not return to me.” Such a reflection as this ought to strike the minds of the living, whenever they see any of their relatives, friends or acquaintance called out of this into another world. We are much more apt to realize that our departed friends will not return to this world, than that we shall follow them into another. The truth, therefore, which lies upon the very face of the text, deserves a very serious consideration:
That the dead will not return to the living, but the living will go to the dead.
The subject naturally divides itself into two branches, which I shall distinctly consider. I. Let us consider, that the dead will not return to the living. We know there is often a strong desire in the living, that the dead might return to them in this world. They want to see them and converse with them about both temporal and eternal things. This is more frequently the case when they have lost their friends at a distance, and had no opportunity of making or receiving communications of serious and weighty importance. And there is another more common motive for desiring the deceased to return, which is, to know their final condition. Many who would not wish to go into the eternal world to see their departed friends, would yet be highly gratified to see them once more in this life. And it is very probable, on the other hand, that many or all the deceased would be very glad to return to the living, either to say or do something, that they did not or could not say or do before they left the world. But such mutual desires of the living and of the dead to meet again in this world, will not be indulged, because the dead will not be allowed to revisit the earth, where they finished their course, and performed the last act on the stage of life. “As the cloud is consumed, and vanisheth away: so he that goeth down to the grave shall come up no more. He shall return no more to his house, neither shall his place know him any more.” God has placed a barrier between this and the other world; but what that barrier is we know not: we only know that it is completely sufficient to prevent all intercourse between the living and the dead. The living have sometimes requested the dead, before they left the world, to break over this barrier and appear to them again; and they have engaged to do it if it should be in their power. But there has been no well authenticated instance of the dead returning from the world of spirits. In this case, as well as in many others, God confirms by his providence what he has declared in his word. He says the dead shall not return, and he does not allow them to return. It is true, in several instances he has raised the dead miraculously, to answer some important purpose. But such instances serve to confirm the general truth, that the dead shall not return to this world again. Why God will not suffer the dead to return, we can only conjecture. It may be, as the apostle Paul suggests, because neither the happy nor the miserable can communicate to the living what they have seen or known among the dead; or it may be because, as Christ intimates, that no communications that either the happy or the miserable could make, would be of any real service to convince WOL. III. 55