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ISAIAH lvii. 1. The righteous perisheth, and no man layeth it to
have been the particular occasion of this complaint, its immediate purport requires little explanation. In the preceding chapter, the Prophet gives some striking proofs of the deplorable state of religion and morals in the kingdom of Judah. In this, he begins with noticing the strange apathy and indifference of the people, with respect to events (then probably of recent occurrence) calculated to awaken them to serious reflection :-“ The righteous perisheth, “ and no man layeth it to heart.”
Preached before the Honourable Society of Lincoln's Inn, on Sunday, May 31, 1812, on the occasion of the Assassination of the Right Hon. Spencer Perceva and printed at the request of the Treasurer and Masters of the Bench, June 1812.
Conjectures have been formed, whether the Prophet here adverts to the death of any particular person of distinguished eminence; or whether he speaks, in general terms, of some unexpected and extraordinary diminution in the number of good and faithful men. This point cannot now, perhaps, be ascertained by historical evidence. But the force of the reproof, that no man laid the event to heart, is, in either case, the same; and the admonition resulting from it is of equal weight, to all for whose learning these Scriptures were written.
The Prophet, however, can hardly be understood to mean, that the death of such persons was universally disregarded, or that the event excited no degree of sympathy or concern among their fellow-countrymen. It will suffice, to justify his complaint, that there was a general want of consideration as to the
probable design of Providence in occurrences so deeply affecting the public welfare.
man layeth it to heart:”—no man duly reflects upon it as a Divine visitation. Absorbed in their own personal interests, or given up to the pursuits of the moment, they regard not the hand of the Almighty, however visibly lifted up; nor recognise His purpose, though written in characters legible to all who will take the pains to read them.
This will ever be the case, when the sense of religion is deadened by an habitual neglect of its duties, or by that perverse turn of mind which ascribes every thing to time and chance, and to circumstances independent of the Divine will. It is indeed one principal feature in the contrast between the faithful servant of God and the careless or unbelieving man of the world, that the former “ sets God always “ before him,” endeavouring to perceive and understand His will in the occurrences of this lower world: while the latter takes no cognizance of them in a religious view, “ nei“ ther is God in all his thoughts.”
When such insensibility or inconsideration becomes general, (as appears to have been the case with the people of Judah,) the moral decay of the body politic may be considered as far advanced. For, it is impossible that indifference in this respect can consist with that regard for religious principle, on which depends the vital strength of every community, and which can alone give a reasonable expectation of the Divine favour. That “ the righteous should be had in ever“ lasting remembrance “,” is not only a tribute due to the virtues of good men deceased; but it is a duty we owe to our country and ourselves, who are to profit by their examples; and to God, whom we are to “ bless for all “ his servants departed this life in His faith “ and fear.” According to the disposition, therefore, that is shewn, when“ the right
b Psalm cxii. 6.
eous perisheth” to “ lay it to heart,” in the full and proper acceptation of that phrase, we may be led to hope, or to despond, respecting the national character. And more especially shall we be inclined to regard this as a just criterion of the public feeling, when persons of this description, filling the most important public stations, are suddenly and fearfully taken away from us.
Such events, however, will affect in different ways the minds of different observers. They will awaken feelings of sympathy, of grief, of indignation, or of terror, correspondent with the prevailing tempers and circumstances of the parties affected. They will be viewed, with reference to their public or their private consequences, according to the degree of importance attached to either of those views. But under every
different aspect, some scope will necessarily be afforded for spiritual edification.
With reference to its private or personal consequences, the death of the righteous affords at all times, and under all circumstances,
the most solid grounds of hope and consolation. Their removal, however sudden or violent, is not to be regarded as the act of Divine wrath or judgment upon themselves. The chastisement, if it be such, is inflicted, not on them, but on those who survive them. They “ are taken away,” says the Prophet,
from the evil to come, that they may enter “ into peace.” Though they appear to be prematurely cut off, their departure even in the prime of life is but a more speedy entrance into that state, “ where the wicked
cease from troubling, and the weary be at 6 rest." To them, “ to die is gain d.” Neither can they be said to “perish,” in any other sense than as disappearing from this earthly scene. Their bodies are indeed “com“ mitted to the ground, earth to earth, ashes “ to ashes, dust to dust." But it is “ in sure “ and certain hope of the resurrection to eter“ nal life, through our Lord Jesus Christ.” In the mean while, “ the keeping of their “ souls is committed unto God in well-doing, as unto a faithful Creator."
“ The spirit “ returns unto God who gave it f.” In the intermediate state provided for it till its reunion with the body, it rests not in an un