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Death terminates the Christian life, as it respects its probationary character in the present world.
Judgment terminates it, as it respects its final rewards or punishments, by which it is fixed in the unchanging periods of eternity.
1. Death terminates the Christian life, with respect to its probationary character in the present world.
Its duties are finished, its trials ended, its sorrows terminated, its probation closed, and death seals it up to the judgment of the great day. What is the state of the Christian at this awful period, when, as it regards the probationary character of the Christian life, he beholds it terminated? what are his views as it regards the past? and what are his supports under the present conflict?
In the retrospect of his past life, does the view of his sins afflict him? Alas! he perceives them numerous, and perhaps aggravated. Even if the first exercise of his reason acknowledged the obligations of that Christian covenant into which he was entered at baptism, and the first feelings of his heart were directed in grateful affection to the God who made and blessed him, and the Saviour who redeemed him; and if, in no subsequent period of his course, did he relinquish that service of his God and Redeemer on which he entered in the season of youth; if manhood found him zealous in every good work, and old age shed forth the mild but steady lustre of the Christian graces,― still, he could not live and not sin. There have been omissions of duty, if not actual violations of the divine law; there have been defects in his best intentions, coldness in his warmest affections,
wanderings (O how many!) in his most devout supplications, and imperfections in his most holy works.
But perhaps the retrospect of his life affords a picture more strongly marked with the dark colours of imperfection and sin. The early desires and affections of his heart, instead of being offered to his God and Saviour, were occupied with the pleasures of the world; manhood found him still careless of the things that belong to his eternal peace, and in the indulgence of the sinful passions of his nature, habitually violating, if not the laws of honesty, and of justice, and of truth, the dictates of piety, of purity, and of sobriety; and perhaps not until he approached the last stage of life did he awake to a sense of his Christian obligations, and, turning from the ways of sin and folly, devote himself to the service of God.
At that solemn hour when the world is receding from his view, and the scenes of judgment and eternity opening upon him, conscience brings before the Christian the imperfections and sins of his past life; but they do not shake his serenity nor destroy his peace. He has humbled himself on account of them, repeatedly and deeply, at the footstool of his God; he has confessed and deplored them with lively contrition; he has renounced them with shame and abhorrence; faith in the blood of his Saviour has restored peace to his soul; rejoicing in the view of the fulness of divine mercy, he has silenced the accusations of conscience, and evincing, in his humble and faithful devotion to God, the sincerity of his penitential emotions and resolutions, he has confided in the gracious acceptance of his sincere but imperfect
services. Though then, in the weak and agonizing moments of death, the deficiences and sins that marked his course rise to the view of the Christian, he knows that he has secured his interest in the intercession of the all-powerful Advocate with the Father, and that he will be accepted, not on account of his own righteousness, but on account of the merits of that Redeemer to whom he hath committed, in humble penitence and faith, the salvation of his soul.
In that retrospect of his past life which death brings before the Christian, does, he dwell on the numerous temptations that have assailed him? He lifts his soul in thanks to that God who hath given him victory over them. Sometimes, indeed, he may have been seduced (who has not been thus seduced?) by their treacherous blandishments, sometimes cast down by their violent assaults; but for a moment only he left the path of duty, for a moment only was he held captive to sin; he returned with redoubled vigilance and activity to that service of his God which constituted his duty and his delight; he rose from his temporary fall with renewed ardour, to repair, by increased zeal and holiness, the injury which he inflicted on his Christian profession, and to restore, by more signal acts of piety and virtue, the brightness of his Christian character, which temptation had tarnished. Through the grace of his divine Master, he has overcome-he has resisted the temptations of the world, the flesh, and the devil, and with a pure heart followed his God and Saviour; and now he rejoices that death will terminate his conflicts, and give him rest.
Is the meditation of the Christian, at the hour of VOL. II. 14
death, directed to the conquest which he has made over his sinful passions? They have, indeed, been but imperfectly subdued; perhaps conscience, if faithful to her trust, will admonish him that some favourite passion he has not sedulously watched and controlled, and that still, in a degree, it holds dominion over his soul. He will be humbled in penitential sorrow, but not in despair; for his Christian course witnessing his faithful struggles, through divine grace, with all the evil passions that contended for mastery over him, and his success in bringing them into subjection to those holy principles and spirit by which he is supremely regulated, he confides, that the Master who knows whereof he is made, and remembers that he is but dust, will not condemn him because he has not fully obtained that victory, which cannot be complete until, the body of sin being destroyed, his corruptible has put on incorruption, and his mortal immortality.
In those serious reflections which approaching death suggests to the Christian, does he review the progress which he has made in the cultivation of the Christian graces? This progress is indeed imperfect; in no respect has he fully attained perfection. Alloy diminishes the lustre of his brightest virtues; yet, kindled by the Spirit of God, and cherished by his sincere, and continued, and faithful exertions, they have shone forth with increasing splendour, and conforming him to the image and example of his divine Lord, now furnish him with the joyful confidence that this Lord will not cast him off.
And a further confidence of his acceptance is inspired by the review which, at the solemn mo
ment of his departure, the Christian is led to take of his fidelity in the service of God. Here, too, there is much to confess and to lament; for, alas! the service which the most holy Christian renders, is imperfect in degree, sometimes inconstant, and always more or less contaminated by false and worldly motives. Yet still, animated by a lively sense of love and duty to his Almighty Maker, Preserver, and Benefactor, the God who hath redeemed him by the blood of his Son, and sanctified him by the grace of his Spirit, and conferred on him a title to the heavenly inheritance, it has been the supreme desire of his heart to glorify, by the devoted service of his life, his God and Saviour. In the emotions of deep humility he will indeed exclaim, 'In many things, O my God, I have offended thee; the homage which I have rendered has been divided between thee and that world which has possessed too strong a hold on my affections; my love to thee has not been equal to the infinite excellence of thy nature, and has fallen short of my own desires and resolutions; my obedience to thy commands has been sometimes interrupted by the seductions of the world, and always more or less weakened by its erroneous principles and corrupt spirit; my gratitude has been far from adequate to the claims of thy goodness, displayed in the countless blessings which thou hast bestowed upon me, and utterly unequal to that entire and lively tribute demanded by thy unspeakable love for me, in my redemption by thy beloved Son.' Yet, while a sense of imperfection and unworthiness thus draws forth from the Christian-in that serious moment when, about to leave the scenes that have occupied him in the world,