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reflects upon those who live in the exercise of it, is instanced in, “that by it the elders obtained a good report -:" And one of the first acts and articles of faith which has a great influence on all the rest, and which is common to all believers, in every age and part of the world, is particularly mentioned, as a proof and demonstration of part of the description which is given of it; by it we understand that the worlds were framed by the word of God; so that the things which are seen, were not made of things which do appear.”
And the apostle having given us this more general account of the grace of faith, proceeds to set before us, some illustrious examples of it in the Old Testament saints. And the instance in our text comes in the front of them. Righteous Abel the younger son of Adam, an eminent believer, and the first martyr for religion in the world; he is mentioned first in that catalogue of worthies, “ who had obtained a good report through faith.” “ By faith Abel offered unto God a more excellent sacrifice than Cain, by which he obtained witness that he was righteous, God testifying of his gifts : and by it he being dead, yet speaketh.” The history of Abel's holy life and tragical death, we have in the fourth chapter of the book of Genesis. And the story of Abel, though he be dead, yet speaks to us, that fallen men have leave to worship God with hope of acceptance; that if our persons and offerings are accepted, it must be through faith in the Lord Jesus; for to him had Abel a special regard, as the great sacrifice of atonement, in bis offering: That acceptance with God is a peculiar and distinguishing favor; he obtained it, when his brother was denied it: That those who obtain the favor of God, must expect the envy and malice of the world; it was upon this account that Cain hated him. And in a word, that God will not suffer the injuries done to his people, to remain unpunished, nor their sufferings unrewarded. You have read of the punishment of Cain, and have seen the justice of God in punishing the sinner, also his grace and goodness in rewarding the righteous.
And now is this Scripture of private and single interpretation ? Is it Abel only, the first martyr, " that being dead yet speaks to us?”. No verily : God would not suffer Abel's faith to die with him, but has raised up others, that have obtained like precious faith, who being dead do also yet speak to us. Enoch, Noah, Abraham, and many others are of this character; yea and in some measure all the godly who are dead, do yet speak to us : But some more strongly and cogently than others. Some of the faithful in Christ Jesus act in a more private sphere, others in a more exalted and enlarged orb; but all according to their distinct characters, when dead, do yet speak to us.
The GENERAL OBSERVATION from the words may be this,
That the sincerely godly, even when dead, may be lively preachers to the living, and ought to be looked upon by them, as speaking to them.
There are two propositions in the doctrine to be distinctly considered.
1. That the sincerely godly, even when dead, may be lively preachers to the living.
2. That the living ought to look upon them as speaking to them.
Prop. I. That the sincerely godly, even when dead, may
be lively preachers to the living. — By lively preachers to the living,' I mean very instructive, pathetical and profitable exciters and quickeners to duty, and urgers against sin and vice ; and this the godly may be, by what they leave behind them worthy of observation, and invitation ; by the manner and circumstances of their being called out of time ; and by the improvement which others, that they leave behind them, may make of what was worthy of note and regard in them, whether ministers, or more private Christians, in recommending their example to others for their imitation, and in pressing it upon them to take notice of the counsels and cautions, which they gave while living, and to observe the dealings of Heaven towards them, either in the course of their life, or immediately relating to the circumstances of their death.
That the young man lately gone fron) us, to the world of spirits, may though dead yet speak to us, in the instances of this nature, for our profit and advantage, is what I hope for in my endeavors this day. And may the Spirit of grace make what shall be offered, serviceable for these purposes !
But here in a more general way for the illustration and confirmation of this proposition, I shall endeavor to answer the following inquiries, viz.
1. After what manner, or in what respects, may the godly departed, be said to be lively preachers to the living ?
2. What are the instructions which as lively preachers, though dead, they deliver to the living ?
Quest. 1. After what manner, or in what respects may the godly departed, be said to be lively preachers to the living ?
Here before I give a particular answer to this inquiry, it may be necessary to premise, that the godly departed may be considered in a three-fold capacity-in a civil, ecclesiastical, and private state. There are godly men in the civil government; godly men who wait at God's altar; and godly persons among the people of a private capacity, who are not exalted above their brethren in any of the forementioned respects: And there are distinct articles, wherein the two former when dead, may be said to speak to us; which are not predicable of the latter, and some articles wherein persons of all three denominations, unite in the instructions, which as lively preachers though dead, they deliver to the living. And yet as I hinted before, there may be some difference as to the power and energy of these instructions, because there is a difference among good men of a common character, for their life and zeal and eminency in religion; and the weight of their instructions to the living, when they are deceased, is greatened or lessened according thereunto.
And then those who are exalted above their brethren either in church or state, they have a more enlarged opportunity of doing good—and the talents they are betrusted withal, capacitate them, if they will faithfully improve them, to leave behind them more bright and cogent instructions and motives to the living, even in those things, wherein as to the essence of religion they are not superior to their brethren in Christ of a more low and contracted character. Thus the eminent holiness of one of superior state shines brighter, than the holiness of one of a lower rank, because it is more observed and taken notice of, and then such have a more enlarged opportunity to do service for God in their day and generation. Thus for instance, in the magistracy, those who hold the sword of civil justice, have a more enlarged opportunity to serve God, and their generation, by encouraging of virtue, and discountenancing of vice, than those who are not set up in such exalted seats, and if they are faithful therein even to the death, they are when dead (in this article) more lively preachers to the living, than those who were never in a capacity to do so much for God and his people : for in their eminent sanctity they shine with a greater lustre and glory than others, even as the sun among the lesser planets. So in the ministry, such as are the skilful guides of souls, and who improve their powers, and show all good fidelity to ful6l the ministry committed to them in instructing and counselling and warning the people of God, according as the case and circumstance of the people over whom the Holy Ghost has made them overseers, does require, — I say, such when they have finished their course, do yet though dead remain more lively preachers to the living, than those who were never advanced to that capacity. And in a word, among private Christians, some having superior gifts, and some having more of this world's goods than others, are put thereby into a capacity to do more for the honor of God than others; which if they are wise and faithful to improve, they will when dead be more lively preachers to the living, of the great duties of private counselling, exhorting and admonishing their brethren, and of distributing to the necessity of the saints, than those who were not under equal advantages with them for these things. But to return, and with all possible brevity to make answer to the inquiry, it may be said,
1. Those who have been exalted in the civil state, and have been wise and faithful in the management of the trusts committed to them, are when dead, lively preachers to the living of the great and necessary duties of justice and righteousness, of using their utmost endeavors to discountenance and discourage all vice and immorality, and to encourage and promote religion and virtue, and of laying out themselves to seek the peace and prosperity of God's people all their days. Those civil rulers who are the faithful ministers of God for good to his people, they are great benefactors unto them, in executing justice and righteousness among a people, and in employing all their powers to weaken the kingdom and interest of Satan, and to establish and further the kingdom and interest of our great Redeemer in the world, and using all the likely methods to advance the peace and prosperity of their people under their care and government. Thus should civil rulers be benefactors to their people : and they who do thus faithfully discharge the trust committed to them by God, by it they being dead, will yet speak, they will be lively and powerful preachers to the living ; in general unto all, but in an especial manner unto rulers, bespeaking and exciting their care to imitate them in doing justice, in loving mercy, and walking humbly with their God, in seeking his honor, and the good of those they are over and concerned for.
2. Those who have been exalted in the church to minister at God's altar unto his people in holy things, who have been wise to win souls, and faithful to the solemn charge they have received from God, do still remain, even when dead, very lively preachers to the living, of the great things they taught in their ministry, of life and zeal for God in the administration of his ordinances, and in personal applications to souls, and in discourses which they may have in the hands, as well as in the minds of those who have been their charge and watch. The ministers of religion, who are worthy that name and character, are men of skill and will to serve God and bis people in the important articles of his honor, and in the great and weighty concerns of their souls. They use their utmost endeavors, and lay out themselves in this work, that they may fulfil the ministry they have received. They look well to their stewardship, and do not wittingly and willingly neglect any part of the duty of that religion ; they duly consider the instructions which Christ the king and head of the church has given them as his ambassadors, and they carefully endeavor to demean themselves accordingly; and do therefore in their doctrine show uncorruptness, gravity, sincerity, sound speech which cannot be condemned. The design of their preaching is purely to advance the honor of God, the interest of Christ and his kingdom, and the happiness and welfare of precious souls. As they did not take this office upon them from secular views, so they did not prosecute it through ambition or covetousness, but with a pure aim at the spiritual ends of its institution. They preach as becomes the oracles of God, delivering nothing for doctrine which is the commandment of men, but delivering the message of God with all fidelity, and all seriousness and solemnity ; considering the nature of their message, and who it is that they represent; remembering that in the name of the great God, they are offering conditions of peace to the children of men, proclaiming unto them the mercies of God, to invite and draw them into a compliance with their duty, and denouncing the terrible threatenings of the Almighty against the disobedient and rebellious to affright them, “that they may flee from the wrath to come.” And they do not shun to deliver the whole counsel of God, the precepts of the law, as well as the promises of the gospel, both the doctrines of faith and the rules of life ; faithfully giving to every one his portion in due season. And not only in the ministry of the word, but also in the administrations of the sacraments and special ordinances of religion. They show life and zeal for the glory of God, and the benefit of precious souls, and are careful to perform all the parts of their ministry, according to the pattern delivered in the Mount, according to the pure instructions of Heaven, without any mixture of human inventions. And in their personal applications, they show all good fidelity to the souls of their charge, reproving, rebuking, and exhorting with all long-suffering and doctrine. They are also examples to believers in word, in conversation, in charity, in spirit, in faith, in purity. And some serve the interest of religion, both among their own people, and in other places, by giving them the benefit of their labors from the press. The world becomes debtors to them for their printed discourses, tending to make people the wiser and the better; and these, people have in their hands and in their houses, to have recourse to at any time, to inform and instruct their minds, to regulate their manners, and to inflame their devotion. Now by these things the faithful ministers of the gospel, when dead, do yet remain lively preachers to the living. Their people “ remembering them who have had the rule over them, who have spoken unto them in the name of the Lord, whose faith they ought to follow, considering the end of their conversation.” Such ministers of religion were the holy apostles, and such has the church of God been blessed withal in ages since. And