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In the long list of human evils, which every one beholds, the most prominent, the most certain, and the most solemn, is death-death, which is called the king of terrors. It is the common lot of mankind; nor is there any discharge in that war. The hour of our departure hence, though perfectly known to God, is to us a profound secret: nor, when the time allotted for us on earth is expired, can any one prevail on the last enemy to suspend the fatal stroke. No: the aids of medicine, the tears of relatives, and the prayers of pious friends, are all in vain.
Since, therefore, death is confessedly so awful and so certain, while the moment of its arrival is to us absolutely unknown; to stand prepared for it, must be of the highest importance. The general inattention of mankind to an article of such consequence, affords very striking evidence of human depravity. But, thoughtless as men in common are about their approaching dissolution, and the consequences of it; yet; when they follow their deceased friends to the grave, they can hardly forbear to anticipate, more or less, the solemnities of their own departure.
The circumstances attending death are such as plainly show, that God considers our world as a
rebellious province of his dominions. Nay, the conscience of every man testifies, that he is an offender against the Divine Majesty; and the scripture informs us, that death comes upon all men, because all have sinned. What, then, is the immediate consequence of death? Do we cease to exist? or, do we lose our consciousness? By no means; for both scripture and reason enforce the belief of a future state of conscious existence. As, when dissolution takes place, the body returns to the dust, whence it was taken; so the spirit returns to God who gave it: and shall be for ever happy in the smiles of his countenance; or everlastingly miserable in a state of entire separation from him. The former is to be considered as the gift of divine grace through the Redeemer: the latter, as a righteous punishment of unexpiated crimes. For thus it is written, The wages of sin is death: but the gift of God is eternal life, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Surely, then, an occasion of this kind should rouse reflection. For it is the voice of Providence: it is a warning from God himself: and its import is, Life is uncertain death is at hand: be ready.'
Here, then, let us impartially examine the state of our souls. That we are sinners, we must confess. That God is the Sovereign of the world, we cannot deny: and that he is a righteous governor, is equally clear. For wisdom, power, and goodness, are not more essential to his character, than holiness, truth, and justice. A supreme governor without rectitude, is a disgrace to the throne on which he sits: nor would a virtuous man choose to live in any secular kingdom, where public delinquents are generally suffered to escape with impunity. The Sovereign
of the world, therefore, must be just, and that justice must be manifested in punishing disobedience, either in the person of the criminal himself, or in that of a substitute, supposing a substitute to be admitted.
Now, it is one main design of the gospel, to reveal a substitute for the guilty; who, by obeying and suffering in the stead of sinners, delivers them from the wrath to come. Yes, in the doctrine of salvation, Jesus Christ is exhibited as a propitiation through faith in his blood; to demonstrate the justice of God in the punishment of sin, equally as to display the mercy of God in pardoning the guilty. An interest in the atonement of Christ is essential to our happiness; because, without shedding of blood in sacrifice, there is no remission of any offences.
As our sins must be pardoned through the atonement, and our persons accepted in the Beloved, before we can enjoy that peace which passeth all understanding; so the general turn of our hearts must be suited to the heavenly state, or we cannot enter the abodes of eternal blessedness. As it is written, Ye must be born again-Without holiness no one shall see the Lord. For no man could be happy even with God, if he did not love him.-How necessary, then, it is to inquire, whether we treat the death of Christ as an all-sufficient expiation of sin; and whether we have just ground to conclude, that the prevailing disposition of our hearts is in any measure suited to the nature of celestial happiness? For, as the nature of that felicity will never be altered to suit our carnal inclination; so the disposition of our hearts must either be agreeable to that felicity, or we must for ever perish.
Solemn and sorrowful is the occasion of our assembling together at this time. For it is an event by which a beloved wife is bereaved of her affectionate husband; a family of small children of their tender father; and a numerous church of its laborious, endeared, and successful pastor. This event is rendered the more affecting, by a consideration of our deceased Brother being cut off in the midst of his days, of his labours, and of his usefulness. Yes, he was removed by death, not when hoary with years, or debilitated by age; not in the decline of his christian character, of his ministerial gifts, or of his public usefulness; but when they were all, apparently, on the advance. Yet he is called away.— His decease, therefore, is one of those numerous events in the course of divine providence, the reasons of which we cannot perceive: an event under which we may innocently feel, and over which we may lawfully mourn; but we must not repine. For, were we disposed so to do, the language of Elihu, and that of Jehovah too, would administer sharp rebuke: Why dost thou strive against him? for he giveth not account of any of his matters-He that reproveth God, let him answer it—Be still, and know that I am God.* The christian course of our departed brother was run; his ministerial work was finished; and his divine Master has taken him home.
But, very affecting as the death of our Brother is, we do not, we cannot sorrow for him, as those who have no hope, respecting the final state of one that is deceased. His body, indeed, being now a corpse, is consigned over to darkness and to worms; to dust and putrefaction: where, under the care of * Job xxxii. 13. xl. 2. Psalm xlvi. 10.