« PreviousContinue »
It will also remember, with deep regret, how often and how long the word of God has been left on the shelf, or in the closet, unopened, unread, forgotten, and despised; how many religious instructions it has cast away, ridiculed, and disobeyed; and how many good resolutions it has formed only to be violated, and to be left as mere memorials of its folly and its sin.
At such a time it is apt to feel how little it has done, and how much it has had to do; how barren a fig tree it has been in its master's vineyard; and how strongly it has provoked him to say, Cut it down; why cumbereth it the ground?
To the Christian all these instructions, so far as they are applicable to him, are also given by afflictions. In addition to them, he is most affectingly reminded how cold, stupid, and unfruitful he has been in the service of his Lord; how much of his heart, his labours, and his time, he has given to the world, and sin, and folly, and shame; how many opportunities of improving in all Christian graces, and in the divine life, he has either wholly or chiefly lost; how many opportunities of doing good to the souls of men, of honouring Christ, of glorifying God, of adorning Christianity, of proving a blessing to himself and to mankind. Every such opportunity will now naturally recur to him, as of value mightily enhanced; as most diligently and earnestly to be employed; as eagerly to be seized, and carefully to be husbanded. He will see the world, and life, and talents, in a light which, in various respects, is new, and of increased importance. The voice of affliction is to him the voice of God, calling upon him for renewed diligence; to consider life as only a time of doing good; and to feel that his duty is all for which he was sent into the world, and all for which his residence in it is continued. Hence he will be quickened to greater and greater efforts; to lose no time; to neglect no talent; to pass by no opportunity of doing all the good in his power; and especially of promoting the salvation of his fellow-creatures.
Religion, and all the means, instructions, precepts, and duties of it will now appear invested with a character and importance peculiarly solemn and affecting. Religion he will, with new and enlightened vision, behold to be all for which life is
worth having or enjoying; the end of his creation, preservation, and blessings; the source of his happiness, and his worth; and the foundation of all his hopes in the future world. Religion is, therefore, seen and felt to be his all. The world, to him more empty and worthless than before, appears now almost merely as a stage of action, a scene of duty. In performing this duty, he will more than ever intend to find his enjoyment; and will fully realize that it is more blessed to give than to receive, to do good, than to gain it.
All these instructions affliction also writes with a pen of iron, and the point of a diamond. They are engraved on the heart, and are, therefore, long, and often indelibly, legible. They are accordingly read daily and efficaciously. Like the instructions of childhood, which survive all the changes of life, which are remembered and powerful when all succeeding instructions have vanished, they remain in strong and glowing characters, and produce mighty effects long after they would be naturally supposed to have been forgotten. Time, which effaces all other images, often makes these brighter and stronger. The soul feels them in every variation of its circumstances, in every change of human events, and recognis ing them in their full power on a dying bed, carries them into eternity. There, not improbably, they assume new force, are remembered as means eminently kind and merciful, of its escape from sin, its assumption of holiness, its attainment of a title to endless life, its renewed vigour and faithfulness in the service of God, its increased beneficence to mankind, and its supreme enjoyment of the divine favour and celestial glory, throughout ages which cannot end.
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.
2dly, Their procuring cause.
3dly, The end for which they were sent; and,
4thly, The instructions communicated by them.
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 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
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