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CONSIDERATIONS IN ADVERSITY.
ECCLESIASTES VII. 14.
“ In the day of adversity consider."
In the former discourse I proposed to notice,
I. Some of the proper subjects of consideration in the day of adversity
II. The motives to a faithful performance of this duty.
Under the first head I considered,
1st, The source of our afflictions.
Among these I noticed,
First, That the world was not designed to be a place of happiness.
Secondly, That life is frail, uncertain, and momentary.
In pursuing this subject, I shall mention, as another important instruction communicated by afflictions,
Fourthly, That the day of death, though always near, is still absolutely uncertain. This is a most profitable theme of consideration.
« Boast “ not thyself of to-morrow,” says Solomon, “ for thou knowest “ not what a day may bring forth.” No rule of life can be more obviously just and reasonable than this; yet no rule is more generally disregarded. We are always boasting of tomorrow ; always promising ourselves long life and good days.
How foolish and unreasonable is this overweening! Were o an enemy at hand, prepared and determined to attack us, could we justify ourselves in sleeping at our posts, under the expectation that, because the time of assault was unknown to us, a long period would of course intervene ? What soldier would be excused by his commander in such conduct, for such a reason ?
In the present case, infinitely more is depending. Our life, our souls, our eternity, are at hazard. The arrival of death determines the destiny of them all, and determines it finally.
Precisely the contrary conduct ought to be pursued by us to that which we actually pursue. As death is always near, we ought always to feel deeply this amazing concern. As death is always uncertain, we ought always to believe and to feel that it is near; that, instead of being more remote, it is nearer than we most naturally believe; that it may arrive today, to-morrow, or the next day; and that we are inexcusable and mad, if we neglect to prepare ourselves for it a single moment.
To this end it is not necessary that we should neglect any part of our worldly business, which our duty demands of us. Every day we waste time enough in unreasonable care about the world, about riches, honours, or pleasures, or in idle loitering or useless amusement, to furnish ample opportunity for attending efficaciously to the great business of preparing for death. This wasted time, wasted in that which is of no profit to us, we ought to devote to religion. Every day furnishes
sufficient opportunities for this purpose. The business of religious men is not more apt to be neglected, or to decline, than that of other men ; nor are they apparently more hurried or perplexed; nor are they more uncomfortable, or more destitute of enjoyment. But they husband life better, and aim at more rational and sincere enjoyments. If we comprehended the meaning of that memorable precept, “ With all thy get“ ting, get understanding,” and were willing to obey it, we should see that the salvation of the soul might be easily secured, without neglecting any useful worldly object.
To enforce this great duty upon ourselves, we ought steadily to remember, that as death leaves us, so the judgment will find us: that it is appointed unto men once to die, and after that cometh the judgment. The judgment is immediately beyond death. When the dust returns to earth as it was, the spirit shall return to God who gave it. No intervening period will then respite the soul, and allow it to make further preparation for this stupendous event, not made in the present world. How overwhelming and dreadful will it be to a dying sinner, to see himself still a sinner when his Lord shall call him to his final reckoning; and to find that all the terrors of his dying-bed are only increased beyond measure the moment he opens his eyes in the invisible world!
Fifthly, Afflictions teach us, that a dying-bed is a most improper place to begin the work of repentance.
The body on a dying-bed is either wasted with disease or racked with pain. With the weakness and distress of the body the weakness of the soul usually keeps pace. He who has lost almost all his bodily strength, is unfitted for solemn, or even clear and just contemplation. In a languishing body, all the thoughts and affections of the soul usually languish ; and, if exerted at all, are exerted to no valuable end. How few men are able, on such a bed, wisely and properly to arrange and direct even their worldly affairs ? affairs which they may be said to have gotten by heart, and all the parts of which are habitually familiar. How much less fitted must they be to enter on the great work of salvation ; a new and vast work, to no part of which they have hitherto paid any proper attention? This demands clear and comprehensive thought, strong affections, vigorous resolutions, and complete self possession.
When the body is distressed, and sinking under pain, the soul, beside its weakness, is forced to attend to its sufferings, and is of course engrossed by them. It then becomes, in a sense, impossible for it to turn its views, with either strength or success, to any other object. In the paroxysms of the gout, or cholic, or in the labourings of the asthma, who could properly take care of the simplest business ? But how much more intense, in many instances, are the pains of death than these ? And how often are these the very pains of a dying
The terrors also under which the mind of a sinner must sink on his death-bed, cannot fail to prevent him from that steady, firm, serene, and just thinking, indispensable to a due preparation for death. Death is now near ; beyond it immediately is the judgment; and beyond that the recompense of reward.
Or, if we suppose the sinner unalarmed concerning these things, we must also suppose him stupid, and unconcerned about his salvation.
The time spent on a dying-bed is usually short, and in a sense momentary. This is an unhappy circumstance for him who has so much to do, and that of such high importance. The continuance of life, too, is now felt to be uncertain ; and this fact alarms the soul too much, to leave it a full possession of this short period.
There is also dreadful reason to fear that God, after a life of revolt and impiety, will refuse to be reconciled to the sinner, who has given himself to rebellion throughout all his days, and now, when he can sin no longer, is anxious to be reconciled to his Maker. “Be not deceived,” says St. Paul, “ God “ is not mocked; for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he “ also reap.” What is mocking God, if the consecration of a whole life to sin, and making the proffers of repentance and reformation at the last hour, is not ? The man has sown to the flesh through life: is there not every reason to believe that of the flesh he will reap corruption only? All these solemn things we are affectingly taught by the death of our friends. We see few persons hopefully repent on a deathbed. We see them then hurried, enfeebled, alarmed, distressed; unable to command their thoughts and affections, and very rarely accomplishing, or even beginning the work of salvation. Nay, we see even the good, the religious, often thus embarrassed and distressed, and possessing less bright and comforting views of their good estate, and their reconciliation to God, than at other times. In this there is nothing strange, nothing discouraging concerning them. Their former views and lives furnish us with abundant consolation ; yet even they strongly teach us this great truth in a very affecting manner, that a dying-bed is not the proper place to begin the work of repentance.
The same truth is also taught by the deaths of such Christians as then enjoy abundant peace and consolation. In them we behold how wise and supporting it is to have begun and finished this mighty work, while it was called to-day; to have seized the spring time to cast in the seed, and to have the summer before them to mature the harvest.
When sinners die quietly, we are not less forcibly taught the same lesson. There is an immense difference between the quiet of a dying sinner, and the peace of an expiring Christian. The latter is the result of clear conviction; of sweet, resigned, obedient affections; of divine consolation, and support, and of heavenly anticipations. The former is the offspring of mere stupidity; of hardness of heart, and blindness of mind; of wretched self-righteousness, and of a total insensibility to what the sinner is, and to what he is soon to be. Nothing can more awfully show how dangerous it is to leave the life of the soul to such a dismal and unprofitable death.
All these facts, and facts too of the most interesting and solemn nature, press this great truth upon the survivors, and especially upon the surviving and afflicted friends, with a force wholly peculiar; a force which can be felt, but which cannot be described. Every man, in the full view of them, ought to believe, that, although a death-bed repentance is sometimes