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Psal. 39. 13. And this is becoming the servants of God. But if God by his providence show it his will they should die, submission to his decreeing providence is entirely their duty; and this is the lowest step that we can go.
(2.) To ascend higher; it becomes a saint to receive death not only patiently, but joyfully, as it is that which shall bring him to the sight of God, to the perfect love of God, to the enjoyment of the blessed society above: I say a saint should receive death joyfully. It is that which is the end of his faith, and of his hope; and that which if he be a true saint, hath been the supreme object of his desire, for in truth, no man can pray in sincerity, “thy will be done and thy kingdom come,” but in that very petition, he desires God to fit him for heaven, and to take him to it. Therefore he should receive death joyfully when ever it comes. We read in the 42 psalm, a very passionate expression of David, “My soul thirsteth for God, for the living God: when shall I come and appear before thee?” He was then banished from the tabernacle. How much greater reason have we to say, 0 when shall I appear before God in his temple above, and see his unveiled glory, and love him as much as I am capable of loving? O consider when the body dies, the soul is not oppressed in its ruins, but is delivered by it. The soul hath an immediate entrance into glory, and a full possession of the kingdom prepared for it. And the joyful reception that the holy soul hath when it comes to heaven. Therefore with what joy should it go thither: it is welcomed by its God and Jesus Christ, the fruition of whom is its blessedness for ever. Christ will pronounce the blessed sentence and say, “Well done good and faithful servant enter thou into the joy of thy Lord," o what an ecstacy will a holy soul be in when it hears those life-breathing words from the mouth of Christ! All the angels and saints above, have, as it were, an overflowing joy, when the people of God are brought safe to the everlasting kingdomn. You know when there is a great feet of ships, that are all designed for one harbour and port, some come in before the other into the harbour ; how do they welcome the rest that come after! What expressions of joy, what caressing and feasting between friends, when they are safely arrived in the same harbour! This is a little emblem of the joy that is above. With what triumphant joy do the saints welcome one another after they are passed through these dangerous seas,
the troubles and temptations of this wicked world, and are arrived safe to the bosom of God. But you will say there are many of the people of God, that do not feel this joy when they come to die. I answer it is their own fault. They do not only lose a privilege, but they neglect a duty. It may be, that they have not lived with that holy care, and circumspection, and accuracy as becomes those that made it their business to finish their course with joy. Yet nevertheless the saints of God, where there' is true grace, though they may experience fears, and doubts, and troubles, yet their happiness is secured. It is with them as it is many times with a setting sun, that is obscured with thick vapours; but it ariseth in the morning in a beautiful horizon. So many a saint may set in a cloud, and be afraid of appearing before God; but when they come into the other world, they are received with joy and triumph. We should labour so to live, that we may die joyfully. There are two things which are causes of joy to the dying saints.
1st, A reflection upon a life sincerely spent in the service of God, though attended with infirmities and failings. For thus saith the apostle, 2 Cor. 1. 22. “For our rejoicing is this, the testimony of our conscience, that in simplicity and godly sincerity, not with fleshly wisdom, but by the grace of God we have had our conversation in the world.” The reflection upon a life that hath been pleasing to God in the main course of it, and a conscienee sprinkled with the blood of Christ, О it makes death desirable, it makes a man joyful in death. And this joyful reflection upon our past works, is an imitation of God. For when God looked back upon his works of creation, and saw that they were all very good, he rejoiced in them, he delighted in the review of them; then he appointed a sabbath, and a day of rest, so when a christian looks back upon a life regulated by the gospel according to that acceptance that God declareth there; O the peace and joy that is in the soul !
2dly, Another cause of a christian's joy in death, is the prospect of eternal blessedness that is before him : it was the saying of a holy man in a dying hour, there is no man can overcome death, but he that looks beyond death. Now a christian by faith looks through the dark cloud; he sees that when the natural life shall be extinguished, the spiritual life shall come to its perfection. This prospect makes the saints joyful. I read of the fa
mous astronomer Hipparchus, one speaks in praise and admira tion of him; O the divine wisdom of Hipparchus, he freed the world from a double darkness and inconvenience, of ignorance and fear, when he discovered the causes of the eclipses. For the people thought that they should lose the sun and moon when there was an eclipse of them. Thus death is an eclipse; it eclipseth this natural life for a time: but he that hath an enlightened faith and hope of an eternal rest, knows a better life shall be restored to the body, and the soul shall enter immediately into the possession of eternal life. Therefore although the body of a saint may sigh and groan for the pangs and agonies it endures in a dying hour, yet he can rejoice and lift up his head, because the day of his redemption draws nigh.
(3.) It becomes a saint not only to die joyfully, but thankfully, with solemn praises to God that he will be pleased to take him to himself. “Father I will, saith Christ, that those whom thou hast given me, may be with me where I am, that they may behold my glory." This may make a saint to die triumphantly, considering that divine grace hath made him persevere to the end. For perseverance is that which qualifies him for heaven, and entitles him to it by the promise, “ Those that patiently continue in well-doing, shall have honour, glory, immortality, and eternal life.” O with what thankfulness should a saint of God leave the world, seeing God hath pleased to fortify his spirit against all those temptations that have ruined so many souls, and to keep his love alive acting and governing in the breast of a saint, and that he is pleased to take him immediately to himself. A saint should die with hymns of praise in his mouth, and begin his heaven here. It is observed, that when great rivers near the sea break forth and overflow the banks, the sea meets them and mixeth with them: so when a saint ascends to heaven, many times it descends to him and refresheth him in his dying aganies. A dying saint should begin the work of praise here, that shall be his employment and blessedness for ever. We are never more indebted to God, than when we come to die. When he hath carried us through a sinful tempting world, and hath conveyed us safe to eternal felicity.
Thus I have shown you how it becomes a saint of God to die. O that you would labour so to die, for it will be your unspeakable advantage. I am sure you will be of my mind then, unless you are under a fatal stupidity, and a damnable delusion. You will wish you had prepared yourselves to die comfortably. O that we could despise all the terrors and allurements of this world, that we may die a happy death!
4. I shall show you how dishonourable a thing it is for the people of God to be unwilling to die; how it doth reflect upon them and argues that which should be matter of continual sorrow and grief.
(1.) It argues a strange defect in his faith. We have a double apprehension of death, the apprehension of nature, and the apprehension of faith. Indeed in the apprehension of nature, there is nothing to sweeten it, considering it in itself. He that looks upon a dying or dead person merely with a carnal eye, will see matter enough of dread; to behold a body labouring under agonies, and either painful or languishing distempers; to see it, as we read of the possessed person in the gospel, sometimes cast into the fire, and sometimes into the water; sometimes it may be in a burning fever, and sometimes in a cold sweat; here is nothing to make it desirable. To see a dead body, pale, cold and stiff, without motion or life, this is still matter of terror. But if you look upon it with the apprehension of faith, it gives you another prospect of it. For death is that which is ordained by the Father of mercies, to put us into a state beyond dying. In the apprehension of faith, death is so far from wanting consolation, that it is the greatest consolation in the world to a believer, because faith tells him that after death we shall sin no more; weep no more; and be above all afflicting evils. Faith assures a believer that his soul shall immediately enter upon a blessed immortality as soon as he leaves the body. It shall be transported by a guard of angels, those immortal warriors, through the devil's kingdom, safely to eternal rest. And for the body that indeed falls to the dust; but faith assures me, that this shall be transformed and made like unto Christ's glorious body, and shall be re-united to the soul, and be its consort in everlasting happiness.
We read in the book of Leviticus, concerning the house that was infected with the fretting leprosy, God ordered that it should be pulled to pieces and demolished: and we read of the order of God concerning the tabernacle, that it should be taken down when it was to be removed. Now the death of the wicked man, and the saint may be compared to these two, as to the difference of them. When a wicked man dies, his body is like the house infected with the leprosy, all the parts of it, after being pulled down are thrown into ruins and rubbish with execration. But when a saint dies, his body is taken down as the tabernacle was, with a great deal of care, to be preserved tiil it be raised a glorious temple, for the Spirit to dwell in for ever. Now since faith giveth us an assurance of these things what a dishonour is it to a christian, that he should be unwilling to die. We read of the disciples, that when our Lord came unto them upon
the waters, they said it is a spectre, it is a spirit : they could not bear the apparition : but our Saviour said unto them, “Be not afraid it is 1;” It is I that am your merciful Saviour. A strange thing that we should be afraid of death! It is Christ that comes by death to take us to himself. The reason why a saint dies, is this, because Christ will have those souls, which cost him so dear, to reign with him in glory above, that he may obtain his purchased possession. Do but then consider with yourselves, how dishonourable it is to a christian, one that hath made it his business and work to glorify and please God; what a shame it is to be unwilling to die! It argues as if there were some relics of infidelity in him too powerful for his faith. Is it not a shame to a christian to read what is reported concerning a philosopher among the heathens, when Antigonus the emperor threatened to put the philosopher to death; threaten this, said he, to your insolent courtiers, that are softened with sensuality, for I am prepared for death. Is it not a shame to a christian that he should not be above the fear of death, when a heathen philosopher speaks thus with courage and bravery, unmoved at the threatenings of it? What a shame it is for a christian to be afraid of death, when God hath given him assurance, that there is eternal rest above.
(2.) It argues the coldness of our love to God and Christ. Love is an affection of union; it is that which is always aspiring and acting in desire, after the full fruition of the person beloved. And if there be the least degree of holy love in the soul, it is that which causeth it to ascend in its desires towards God, to be with him. You know as soon as the fire is kindled, the sparks will be ascending, and the flame arising ; so where there is a sincere love to God and Christ, it is always in a tendency and incli