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less and vanquished death, but death triumphant and terrible, and armed with his sting. God in his mercy avert from us, for Christ's sake, so sad, so alarming a death as this ! Heartily would you join in this prayer, had you ever witnessed the last hours of a sinner's life, and seen his death bed so disturbed. It is a distressing sight, but full of instruction ;-it proves that men cannot die the fools that they have lived, and that religion will find a time to exercise her authority ;—that if the guidance of her peaceful sceptre be refused, she will rule the mind with a rod of iron at the last. When the grave is plainly opened before a man's eyes, and he is on the very point of stepping into it, then she makes him sensible of his folly, and repent of his obstinacy, in turning a deaf ear to her previous calls; then at her voice all his sins rise up at once in judgment against him; then she reveals to his agitated soul an offended God, clothed in terror and in vengeance; and he shrinks back from the prospect of another world, which be cannot escape, but in which he sees nothing but misery and ruin. You may tell him of the mercy of God, and of the merits of his Redeemer, but often this will afford no substantial comfort; he thinks it too late for pardon now. Besides, he doubts his own sincerity,—he questions the truth of his repentance; he fears that he is only alarmed by the terrors of a guilty conscience, and he cannot be sure, that, if his life were spared, he would not relapse into his former sins, as soon as his present fears were dissipated. Nor is it without good reason that he thus suspects himself; for I grieve to say, that the suspicion is often verified in the case of those who recover from what seemed a mortal sickness. I grieve to say, that I have myself seen many instances of persons, who have made the most solemn professions when they believed themselves in a dying state, whose repentance has all vanished again, “ like the early dew," upon their restoration to health, and their return to the temptations of the world. And I know not how any man, who has put off his religion until that which he supposes to be his last hour, can feel confident that this would not be his own case, were the same trial to be made of him. Wayward children, when the rod is held over their heads, will always promise to amend; but you know how commonly these are mere words extorted by present fear. Criminals, when about to suffer for their offences, generally express great sorrow; but what is the real ground of that sorrow? Is it because they have broken the laws? -or is it not rather because they are doomed to die for it? Of the same nature is the expressed repentance of many a dying sinner.-Shall I say
of the greater number? Not that I am denying the possibility or the efficacy of a death bed repentance.- I trust that there is forgiveness, through Christ, whose merits can atone for the accumulated sing of the longest life, at the very last hour, for those who are sincerely penitent. But here is the important question :- When repentance is deferred till that time, are men sincere ?—and have they good grounds to believe that they are so ? The probability is unfavourable to their peace ;'and if they so view their condition, the encouragements of the gospel are offered to them 'in vain--" They die, and make no sign.”
Let'me' now change this dismal scene, (which I have only' dwelt upon in the hope of alarming the thoughtless into timely wisdom), and take you to a death bed of a very different description. Did you ever see what the comfort and consolation of religion can accomplish in such a trying hour?
Did you ever witness a happy death? Were you ever at the bed side of a dying christian, and witnesses of that almost more than human fortitude with which the last struggle for life is supported ? Did you ever see one on the verge of death, with a body tormented by pain and exhausted by weakness, yet with a mind in the perfect possession of all its powers, --serene, and
tranquil, and composed ? , Şuch edifying sights are occasionally to be seen. And what is it that can produce such an effect as this ?-Is it mere indifference to pain? Oh, no. It is impossible for human nature not to feel the affliction which God sends. Is it then the hope of recovery? -I have seen the greatest composure, where no such hope was indulged. Is it then thoughtlessness about death?—I have seen the greatest calmness and tranquility, where nothing but death was thought of, and its vast importance fully understood. Is it then because nothing remains for which it would be desirable to live? I have seen the most humble resignation, and the greatest readiness to depart, .where there was still every earthly reason to make a longer existence desirable : where earthly happiness of the purest kind abounded, and where the heart was open duly to entertain and estimate that happiness. Is it then because old age is arrived, and it would be unreasonable to expect a much longer continuance in the world ?-I have seen death met with a contented and a cheerful mind, where life was hardly in its prime. If then there is happiness on a death bed, without the help of any of these causes, whence does it proceed, and how is its existence to be explained ? My brethren,it is the “ death of the righteous” that I have described. It is the death of one who is supported by the consolations of religion; the death of one who has long before provided against that solemn period, and become familiar with it by prudent anticipation; it is the death of one who is able to repose a well grounded reliance on God's mercy through Christ, and to enjoy a reasonable hope of a joyful resurrection to eternal life. The terrors of death cannot assail a mind so prepared.
There is no awful voice heard, saying, “ Thou fool, thy soul shall be required of thee; ” but a soft and gentle whisper seems kindly to invite the purified spirit to scenes of peace and happiness. “ See how a christian can die,” said a dying man, who had considered for himself, and for his fellow creatures, the evidence of his faith, and kept it to the end ; kept it to the end, amid the tumults of a busy life, the snares of a corrupt society, and the intrigues of a court, and found his sufficient consolation therein. -Surviving friends weep and lament, but for whom? not for him, who has left the pains and troubles of life for the joys of heaven, but for themselves alone; for the rent made in their own hearts by the loss of one who was beloved. Would they recall the free and pure soul that has fled, and confine it again in its former prison, the scene of so much pain and infirmity? Surely not;