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No. 1, VOL. XXVII.]
BY R. W. DICKINSON, D. D.,
New York City.
[WHOLE NO. 313.
TIMELY PREPARATION FOR DEATH.
Set thine house in order, for thou shalt die and not live. 2 KINGS, XX. 1,
Bur a few days before this message was addressed to Hezekiah, he was trembling in mortal apprehension. Sennacherib, king of the Assyrians, was approaching the gates of the holy city his mighty hosts intimidated all thought of resistance an overthrow, at once inevitable and exterminating, threatened all Judah. But the prayer of Hezekiah is heard. The angel of the Lord passed by night over the camp of the Assyrians, and "in the morning, behold, an hundred, fourscore, and five thousand, were all dead." In vain does Sennacherib betake himself to flight: he meets his death at the altar of his idol-god, and by the hands of his own sons! Jerusalem is again restored to tranquility, and Hezekiah rejoices in the midst of his people.
But how uncertain our prosperities! how short-lived our joys! Behold the king who but yesterday was so miraculously rescued from the destruction which threatened both him and his people. The sounds of joy and rejoicing have ceased. Silence deep and ominous, reigns throughout the palace. Some within its spacious halls move to and fro with noiseless steps; others sit apart with downcast looks; while throughout the city, the people seem anxious and depressed.
It is true: Hezekiah, king of Judah, is sick unto death; and the message which has just been sent unto him, by the
prophet, is" Set thine house in order, for thou shalt die and not live."
My hearers, the same God that made and preserved, and at last removed Hezekiah from the land of the living, made, and sustains us; and our times are in his hands. He is the Lord God omnipotent-the Creator, Preserver, and Disposer of all existences. It is his skill that we perceive in our frames, so curiously and wonderfully made; his invisible agency that rescues us from danger, and conducts us in safety; his mighty arm that lights up for us the sun in the firmament so that we may pursue our avocations, and again that draws around us the curtains of darkness that we may rest; his goodness that gathers comforts around our habitations, and strews our pathway with flowers-and when he takes away our breath, this most wonderful mechanism falls to pieces, and crumbles into dust. Amazing change! though familiar to observation, yet no less painful and affecting to contemplate. The eye cannot look out on the objects of its pleasure; the ear cannot take in the voice of love, nor the strains of melody; the hand cannot put itself forth to its wonted task; the tongue cannot move in utterance, nor the countenance reflect the varying hues of thought. The heart has ceased to beat: paleness overspreads the face that once bloomed with health; stiffness, and coldness, and dissolution are fast creeping through the frame that so lately glowed with life and warmth, and moved in the dignity of strength, or the gracefulness of action. The man is dead: the dust returns to the earth as it was, and the spirit to him that gave it.
Were it God's good pleasure, he might put to flight the diseases which lurk around our path; might revive our languishing breath, and renovate our decaying frames; might even close the mouth of the pit, and clothe our lives with immortality on earth, with the same facility that he now crowns them with loving kindnesses and tender mercies; but in the sovereign councils of his own will, he has otherwise ordered.
It is he, and he alone, that has preserved your lives through another year; and the message which he sends unto you, by the lips of an unworthy servant, on this the first Sabbath of a new year, is the same message that was sent by the Prophet, to the king of Judah: Set thine house in order; for thou shalt die and not live.
It is true that neither the hour, nor the day, nor even the year, of our decease can be known by us. At what stage of human existence we shall breathe our last, has been concealed from us, and for what reasons, we need not inquire; but it is certain that we must all die. The decree has gone forth against our apostate race Dying thou shalt die. "Death
has passed on all men, for that all have sinned;" and every thing around us, as well as the Word of truth proclaims this solemn lesson. O mortal! you may build your walls broad and high; you may flee from clime to clime-summon to your aid the imposing phalanx of art and science, or stand impiously sublime in single-handed defiance of the king of terrors: you may think yourself too obscure for the notice of Death, or too elevated for his reach, or of too much importance to the community to be in danger of his shafts ;-'tis all in vain! that position will not secure you; those honors will not dazzle the Argus-eyed monster; that goodness will not disarm his rage; those possessions will not bribe him; those loud prayers will not pierce his leaden ears; the, tears of those helpless children will not touch his heart; the united petitions of a prostrate community will not change his fell purpose: "Thou shalt die and not live." That is the destiny thou canst not shun, and towards which thou art driven with a rapidity thou canst not resist. "Thou shalt say unto corruption, Thou art my father, and to the worm, Thou art my mother, and my sister." Thou shalt at last go down into the dark, cold sepulchre. On its threshold, thou shalt part with all thy possessions-there take thy last look of all that is glorious in those heavens, and beauteous in this earth, and dear amid the objects of time and sense then drawing thy winding sheet about thee, thou shalt lay thy head upon earth's damp lap, and sleep the sleep of death!
What follows? is the question naturally suggested.
"If there is no alternative," says one, why, I must die, and there is an end of me. The light and comforts of this warm and well-known home are indeed to be preferred to the cold, dark grave, and the endurance of any present ills rather than of those of which we are ignorant; but then death is an event to which man must submit alike with the beasts of the field, the fowls of the air, and the fish of the sea. If thus regarded, the mind will become familiarized to its aspect, as it does to the general phenomena of nature. Or, if viewing it as a physical necessity cannot divest it of terror to the mind, then banish all thought of it; and when you obviously can live no longer, screw your courage up,' and make the best of a necessary evil. It is your vain imaginings that cause you so much concern. Look at the grave through the perspective of reason. There you can neither regret nor fear, neither think nor feel. You revert to your original nothingness; or should your spirit live hereafter how will it rejoice in all the ecstasy of recovered freedom from a body which cramped its motions and enfeebled its powers!"
"If death is inevitable," says another, "let us make the most of life; let us live while we live yea, eat, drink, and be merry. A long life without such gratifications were not to be endured; and if they cannot be enjoyed but at the expense of shortened days, we shall not regret the forfeit. . A merry life, though a short one,' is our maxim. What a fool is man to trouble himself about death. Drown the thought in the bowl, the dance, the song, or the whirl of fashion; and let it be your ambition, if you have any, to die in a sensual revel, or after you have tasted life's sweetest cup."
Or, say others, "Let us work while life is prolonged; let us amass treasures that we may raise our families above the ignoble throng, and secure their gratitude, while astonishing others by the magnificence of our bequests or let us fathom science, gather knowledge, sway the multitude by the tongue of eloquence or the sceptre of power; and when we die, leave our names on some imperishable brass, or more enduring page."
The language of a fourth class is that of dissatisfaction and complaint. "Why then was I born? why endowed with. these powers and these susceptibilities, and surrounded by so many objects to excite desire and secure affection? Why wither the arm that has just seized the prize? why dash the cup that has just reached the lip? Why must I give up these houses and lands, these honors and pleasures, and part, too, with the dear ones of home? Better not to have been born, than not live to enjoy the fruit of my labors-be torn, too, from all that I have, and all that I love! O death! thou art in appalling truth mine enemy! I fear, I hate ye! Thou wouldst hurry me from these hard-earned possessions, and this loving home, and lay me naked and alone in that dark and cold and narrow house."
But the text justifies the sentiments of neither of these classes. It does not encourage Stoicism, nor Epicurianism, nor posthumous ambition, nor complaint and repinings. Its language rather is,-Thou shalt not regard death with indifference because it is inevitable; nor banish the thought of it by surrendering your being to sensual pursuits; nor revenge the shortness of life by endeavoring to perpetuate a name ; nor murmur at the dispensations of an all-wise and righteous Providence. Set thine house in order: prepare for death, by answering life's great purposes; be ready for this inevitable encounter; and as you know not the day, nor the hour, so live as to be always ready.
We are God's rational creatures-the proper subjects of his moral government-amenable to his tribunal-placed