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xiii. 14. “And I heard a voice from heaven saying unto me, Write, blessed are the dead that die in the Lord, from benceforth.” -The words from henceforth, I take it, are intended to express their blessedness, from the day of their death.
The phrase—to inherit the promises, is also expressive of the nature of the saints' blessedness, immediately after death. You are sensible that the blessings of the heavenly state, are made the matter of gospel promises : Of these, the saints are heirs now. Rom. viii. 17. At death, they come into possession ; they inherit the happiness contained in the promises. That there are promises of perfect holiness, in a conformity to our Saviour-of admission into the mansions which he is gone to prepare for us—of seeing God-of being with Christ-of joining the general assembly, and church of the first born, in the delightful employments of the heavenly world; those must know, who are acquainted with the word of revelation. The accomplishment of these promises constitutes the felicity of the saints after death. Their spirits are released from the dark prison of Aesh and blood ; they are freed from all pain and sorrow ; from all sin and temptation : Their sanctification is complete ; their faculties enlarged, and brightened. They enjoy the constant manifestations of God's love : His face always smiles upon them. The communications of light and glory to them are without intermission ; and they are “ filled with all the fullness of God.” Eph. iii. 19.
But we conceive very imperfectly, what they enjoy, who are now inheriting the promises.“ Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him.” i Cor. ii. 9. Their felicity is fixed, and can never be taken away from them; an assurance of which completes it. Changes there may be in it, but these will be by way of improvement: And who can conceive to what an height it may be carried, when God is the author, and eternity the measure of it? But we must leave the saints inheriting the promises, and go on in the third place,
III. To consider the duty enjoined us in the text, of imitating those who through faith and patience, are gone to inherit the promises.
Whatever we have seen virtuous and praiseworthy, in the tempers and lives of any saints, now with God, we should endeavor to copy into our own. Examples of eminent piety and religion may be many ways useful to us. They teach us not to despair of making high attainments in the Christian life. The same grace that enabled others to do it, is ready to be imparted to
They may be improved as a motive to quicken us to duty, and to make us abound in the work of the Lord. They may be
used by way of direction, to guide us in the practice of pure religion and undefiled. The best examples of men, however, are not to-be imitated without caution. It is only the example of Christ, that is a copy without a blot, or flaw. Saints are to be followed, so far as they followed Christ.
The faith and patience of saints are especially recommended to our imitation, in the text. We should consider their usefulness and importance in the Christian life. They tend to raise us above the frowns and flatteries of this world ; to carry us calmly through the hardest trials of life; to render our duty, otherwise difficult and painful, easy and pleasant; to purify our hearts ; to sublimate our affections ; to conform us to God; and to make us meet for the enjoyment of him in glory. We should earnestly desire and endeavor to be possessed of, and exercise them, not only in the beginning, but through the whole course of the Christian life. We should labor to keep the great objects of faith constantly in view, that our conduct every day, may be influenced thereby, till we come to a state of vision, when the occasion for faith will be no more. We should endeavor to maintain a vigorous exercise of this grace, to the last hour of life. We should not lower our sails, when we come near the port, but stretch them to the utmost, that they may carry us into it with full speed, to cast anchor there. Our need of patience, as well as faith, will follow us to the very gates of heaven. Our trials and sufferings will not be at an end, till our last breath. The saints have found it so. “ Be patient therefore, brethren, unto the coming of the Lord.” James v. 7. This is the best way to smooth the rough passages of life; and to lighten the gloomy vale of death. This is the way to follow those, who are now joyfully inheriting those promises, which they long viewed by faith, and for the accomplishment of which, they long waited with patience; till we become joint sharers with them, in the heavenly inheritance.
" All men
Some practical improvement of the subject is what now remains.
1. Are faith and patience essential to the life of a Christian, in his way to heaven? We may make this a rule of trial, to determine whether we are Christians indeed, or not. have not faith :" All men have not patience : But no real Christian is destitute of either. I mean not to put you upon inquiring, whether you have a general belief of the truths of Christianity. This many have, who receive no advantage by their faith, and have not taken one step towards heaven. The inquiry should be, whether you "believe with your hearts” the truths of the gospel, so as to feel the powerful influence of them on your affections and lives. Whether you have that “ faith which purifies your hearts ”—that " works by love”-that “overcomes the world”—and that produces patience, and every other Christian grace and virtue. This is the faith which is the great and governing principle of a Christian's life—the faith by which he embraces the promises of the gospel now, and advances forward to that state, in which he shall inherit all the blessings which they contain.
The great inquiry for us all to make is, whether we have this faith, with its companion and product, patience; and whether our hearts and lives are regulated and governed thereby? A true answer to this inquiry determines our state and character, whether we are in the way to heaven or hell. Nothing therefore can excuse our passing over this inquiry slightly, and carelessly, without sincere desires to “know ourselves, whether we be in the faith."
If upon considering the nature of these graces, with their genuine fruits and effects, you find reason to conclude yourselves destitute of them; the conclusion may well alarm you. “Without faith it is impossible to please God ;' impossible to live a Christian life ; impossible, according to the constitution of the gospel, to get to heaven. But is your case hopeless, because it is so sad and dangerous ? This I am far from asserting. You yet enjoy those means of grace and religion, by the instrumentality of wbich, faith is produced. Christ, who is both the object and author of faith, is offered to you in the gospel, and you are invited to come to him, that you might have life. You have the same motives and encouragement to faith, which others had, who have believed, to the saving of their souls. You should labor and pray, that you may obtain like precious faith—that "God would fulfill in you all the good pleasure of his goodness, and the work of faith with power." 2 Thess. i. 2.
As to you who conclude yourselves the subjects of the faith of the operation of God, and of Christian patience ; you are no doubt sensible, of the too weak and unsteady exercise hereof. If this gives you no concern or uneasiness ; if you think you can be content with the lowest degrees of these graces, which are found in any true Christian : this is a sign you are mistaken, in thinking yourselves the subjects of them at all: For it is one of their certain properties, to desire growth and increase. But if you are not mistaken in this ; yet certainly you are not in the way to enjoy much comfort in religion, while you content yourselves, with the low, feeble and unsteady exercise of these graces. Fears, doubts and darkness, will cloud and distress your minds; and
you will make but slow progress towards heaven. It is your duty and interest to strive after high and eminent degrees of faith and patience. Pray as Christ's disciples, “ Lord, increase our faith.” Luke xvii. 5. Covet the character of the Christians, at Thessalonica, of whom the apostle testified, “ that their faith grew exceedingly.” 2 Thess. i. 3. Labor to have it grow extensively, by taking in all the objects of it—by being exercised on all the truths of God's word. Seek also to have it grow intensively, by the more vigorous and lively actings of it. Let it be your earnest desire also, " that patience may have her perfect work, that ye may be perfect and entire, wanting nothing. And if you lack this wisdom, ask it of God.” James i. 4, 5. The strength and vigor of those graces will add much to the comfort and usefulness of your lives—to your support under trials, and in the near views of death, and to the brightness and weight of your crowns, in the coming world.
2. Do those that live a life of faith and patience come, at the close of it, to inherit the promises ? This consideration may well reconcile true Christians to the thoughts of dying, and make them willing to leave this world.
In this life, they are heirs, for whom the heavenly inheritance is reserved, till they arrive at mature age. We do not generally find heirs to an earthly inheritance, unwilling to come into possession. They think of the day when they are to do it, with great satisfaction; and anticipate it by desire. Is it not strange that the glorious inheritance reserved for the saints in light should be viewed by them with coldness ? That they should feel little of its attractive influence; and reluct at the thought of entering upon it? When the apostle said, he knew that if the earthly house of this tabernacle were dissolved, he had a building of God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens;" he said he had “ a desire to depart and to be with Christ." 2 Cor. v. beg. Death is indeed a gloomy valley to be passed through. Some true Christians are “all their lifetime subject to bondage, through fear of it.” Heb. ii. 15. · A strong, a lively and appropriating faith will do much towards removing this fear. Such a faith we should labor to cultivate ; that we may be able to say as David, “ Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil." Psalm xxiii. 4.
3. Do Christians, through faith and patience, go to inherit the promises? This may give great support and comfort to those who have been bereaved of pious friends and relations.
As for such to live was Christ, so for them to die is gain.' What they leave behind when they die is of small worth, and able to give little satisfaction, compared with what they go to take possession of. Their faith, exercised on the promises here, gave them some foretaste of the joys of heaven; but these were transient entertainments, and the pleasures of them greatly allayed, by the sinful imperfections which attended them in their devoutest hours, and most delightful seasons of communion with
God. But now they are gone to have all the promises accomplished upon them, one of the most comfortable articles of which is, “that they shall behold God's face in righteousness, and be satisfied with his likeness.” Psalm xvii. ult. They are gone“ to inherit all things," as is promised to bim that overcometh, Rev. xxi. 7.
The removal of such friends may be a great loss to us, as they are “the excellent ones of the earth.” We may greatly miss their improving company, and quickening conversation : We may justly entertain an affecting sense of our loss. But at the same time our affection to them must lead us to rejoice in their gain. Could they address us from their celestial abode, would they not tell us to dry up our tears, and not to weep for them, who have conquered the last enemy, and are beyond the reach of all sorrow and trouble ? Would they not exhort us to the more constant and lively exercise of those graces of faith and patience, through which they went to their present state of glory and blessedness ?
4. If it is only through faith and patience that persons go to inherit the promises : what do they go to inberit, who live and die strangers to these graces? They do not go to inherit the promises, but what is opposite to them, the curses. Depart, ye cursed, is the sentence, which will fix them in a state of endless misery. “Upon the wicked God shall rain snares, fire and brimstone, and an horrible tempest : this shall be the portion of their cup." Psalm xi. 6. A dreadful portion and inheritance !
While we are treating of the happiness of those that live in faith, and die in faith ; methinks, the person that is sensible, that his life is governed, by other and opposite principles-sensible that, instead of walking by faith, he walks in the way of his own heart, and in the sight of his own eyes, has reason sadly to reflect with himself : “Alas! I am like to have no share in the happiness of the saints, at death : I am not in the way to inherit the promises of the gospel, but to fall under the curses of the law. İnstead of looking for the mercy of God to eternal life, I have reason to expect his wrath and justice to sink me down to the regions of eternal death. But how can I think of dwelling with devouring fire, and inhabiting everlasting burnings !” Would to God, that every one whose character it is to " walk by sight and not by faith,” would cultivate such serious reflections, till he is awakened to a due sense of his danger, and brought to a change of temper and life!
5. Is it incumbent on us to be followers of those, who through faith and patience inherit the promises ! We should take pains to be intimately acquainted with their manner of life, and Christian conversation.
We have reason to be thankful, that the lives of so many