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dreadful tribunal: and after the terrible sentence is pronounced, he will be cast into a sea of fire, where his body will be tormented with the most exquisite pains, and his soul will eternally suffer the vengeance of an injured conscience, and an offended God,
[THOMAS NEWLIN, M.A.]
FIFTH SUNDAY AFTER EPIPHANY.
MORTALITY OF MAN.
ISAIAH lxiv. 6.- -We all do fade as a leaf.
[Text taken from the First Evening-Lesson.]
MANY are the descriptions of the shortness and uncertainty of life in the holy Scriptures. They compare our present state to clouds dispersed by the wind; to a dream; to a shadow; to the flowers and the grass of the field, which flourish in the morning, and in the evening are cut down and withered; to smoke; to a vapour which appeareth for a little time, and vanisheth away; to a tale that is told; to the remembrance of a guest who tarrieth but a day; to the path of a ship through the waves; to the flight of a bird, and of an arrow through the air.
To dwell upon these images of our mortality with the feelings of grief and despair serves to no good purpose, and tends rather to relax and weaken the mind, and to make us discontented and dispirited. But there is a way of considering this subject, which is rational, and Christian; which justifies these dispensations of providence, and arms us with fortitude and patience against all events, and teaches us to possess our souls in peace; I. By proving, that our present state of mortality is convenient and useful to us, upon many accounts; II. By pointing out to us the most proper means which we can use, to cure ourselves of an immoderate fear of death.
I. Let us then, first, endeavour to prove that our present state of mortality is, upon many accounts, convenient and useful.
I. 1. It is convenient that we should die, because this world is a state of trial.
God hath given us an immortal soul; he clothes it with a body; and he first places us here, where we feel a succession of pain and pleasure, of satisfaction and uneasiness. From the uneasiness, we are taught to desire a better state; and from the satisfaction, we are warned to fear, lest we should fall into a worse. Thus is our condition neither completely good nor bad, but suitable to a time of probation; inciting us to hope more happiness, and to dread more evil, than we have hitherto experienced.
The end for which we are sent into this world, is, to serve God; to be useful to mankind; to cultivate and improve our mind; and to make a constant progress in knowledge and in virtuous habits: which if we do, God will reward us; if we do not, we must expect to lose his favour, and consequently to be miserable. This is our business, this is our work; a work of the utmost importance; and a work of some difficulty, because there are obstacles and temptations which lie in our way, and interpose between us and our duty, and conspire to deprive us of our recompense, and to draw upon us a future punishment. Such are our own inclinations and passions, which, unless discreetly governed, degenerate so as to become vices, and persuade us to make an ill use of the good things of this world. Such is bad example, with which we are constantly surrounded; the seeming prosperity of many wicked persons; and their endeavours to corrupt us by persuasion, flattery, or rewards, and to discourage us from virtue by ridicule or ill usage.
In this state and situation, whilst these affections are within us, and these objects round about us, if we were not subject to mortality, and to bodily infirmities which accompany it, we should probably be more prone to evil than we now are: so that, amongst the assistances which God affords us to conquer the enemies to our salvation, we may reckon death as none of the least. There are seducing, infatuating pleasures in vice, and there are sometimes inconveniences and hardships in virtue: but there is such a thing as death; and, in that one word, are contained many motives to us to despise those pleasures, and not to be disheartened at those inconveniences.
I. 2. Again: as the consideration of death hath a tendency to deter us from vice, it consequently prevents some disorders,
and makes us live together in society better, than we else should pass our days.
As it is, though we are weak and infirm creatures, and through pain and sickness and decays, often dead to this world before we leave it; though our stay here be always uncertain, and short at the very longest; yet, forgetting the future state to which we are hastening, and fixed upon the follies of the present, we multiply transgressions against God and our neighbour, and are no less deficient in our duty to ourselves. Hence we may conjecture, that the behaviour of men would be worse, if the fear of pain, and death, and of other evils, to which mortality exposes us, did not restrain many, upon whose stubborn and base tempers gentler methods and more generous motives would prove ineffectual. This may keep several from some enormities, which their inclinations would teach them to commit, if they were sure to continue here for ever in health and vigour, or even to have their life protracted to a considerable length. We read in Genesis, that, before the flood, the wickedness of men was exceeding great, and the thoughts of their hearts only evil continually; that the earth was filled with violence; and that Noah and his small family were the only persons who escaped destruction. By the extraordinary punishment, with which God visited that generation, we may conclude, that their offences were as extraordinary and this excess of impiety might, perhaps, be partly occasioned by the usual length of life at that time, which so far surpassed the present period.
I. 3. It is also convenient, that we should die, because the future recompenses of obedience are of a spiritual nature.
If we perform our duty here, God promiseth us a great reward in the kingdom of heaven: but this is a reward, in the expectation or possession of which none, besides a virtuous person, can take delight. It consists in love and friendship, and in the society of good beings; in a great improvement in knowledge; in a release from evil affections and temptations to sin; in praising and serving God. Now let it be considered, that our senses here are employed before our understanding; that outward objects get the first possession of our minds, and engross too large a share of our affections; and that some, who abstain from heinous offences, and have many virtues and good qualities, are often too fond of the things of this life, too careful
Hence it evi
about them, too unwilling to leave or lose them. dently appears, that when such is the disposition of our mind, death and the usual forerunners of death are useful to us. The world appears too amiable, and steals upon our hearts. Here we would willingly stay; here we would fix our abode, if we might. But the pains of a body tending to dissolution, decays, and infirmities, reminding us that we must think of going hence, and lessening the satisfaction which we take in temporal blessings, and in all earthly things,-unloose, by gentle degrees, the bonds that hold us too fast to outward objects; teach the mind to look out for something else, on which it may fix its desires; and from things sensible and transitory, raise it to things spiri tual and eternal.
I. 4. Another reason why it is convenient that we should die, is, that our obedience at best being defective, death prepares us for the next state, and excites in the soul thoughts and inclinations which ought to accompany it at its entrance into the world of spirits, and into the presence of its Maker.-If we consider God, how just he is, how great, how holy and pure, and ourselves how imperfect and unworthy to stand before him; how numerous our offences have been, and how many spots our soul hath contracted during its union with the body, we shall find many reasons to fear him, to be filled with a religious dread and confusion at the thought of appearing in his presence, and of giving an account of ourselves to our great judge.
It is, therefore, very reasonable that we, sinful creatures, should enter into our future state through the dark and melancholy and humbling passage of death and the grave; that we should lie down in our Mother's bosom, and mix with the dust from which we were taken, and where we should lie for ever, if God were not as merciful as he is powerful. It may be observed of those who, through the course of their lives, have preserved a sober regard to their duty, and a desire of pleasing God, and who, therefore, may entertain a reasonable hope of forgiveness, that their good dispositions exert themselves most at the close of their days, and that the last acts of religion are usually the best performed. When the time of their departure approaches, they are more perfectly sensible of the vanity of all earthly things, and of the value of God's favour; they humbly acknowledge their trespasses; they put their whole trust in the mercy of God, and in the mediation of Christ; they submit to
the divine will with a pious resignation, and depart hence with thoughts and dispositions, acceptable in the sight of God.
I. 5. It is not only convenient, but indeed it is desirable and profitable that we should die, if death conducts us to life eternal. Death, at first, was inflicted as a punishment; but our Lord hath considerably mitigated it; hath, in a great measure, disarmed it of its terrors; and, having first conquered it himself, puts it in our power to follow his triumph, and to partake of his victory. We may, therefore, if we be wise and good, so spend our few days here, that death shall be to us the end of trouble, and the beginning of peace and happiness. If, by obedience and perseverance, we secure to ourselves an inheritance in the kingdom of God, when that promised time shall come, and this corruptible shall put on incorruption, the remembrance of our former earthly state, and of all its inconveniences, may, probably, add to our happiness: and then it will be good for us, that we once were mortal creatures. Certain it is, that we are now disposed to receive pleasure from thinking of the evils through which we have passed, after we have escaped them. There is not a person living, who, to make his fortunes, or to perform his duty, hath taken great pains, and exposed himself to many dangers, and endured great hardships, and whose honest labours have been rewarded with success, who is not also delighted with the recollection of the toil and peril, which he has undergone in those days. Such may be our temper hereafter; and they who, having overcome the vices and temptations of the world, are safely arrived at those blessed mansions where no evil of any kind is permitted to enter,-may find no small satisfaction in remembering their troublesome passage through this vale of tears; and in comparing the vain world, which is passed away, and is no more, with the eternal kingdom, into which God hath graciously received them.
II. Let us now, secondly, consider the methods, which we must use to allay and restrain those immoderate fears of death, which are blameable, and which also render life itself, with all its conveniences, dull and comfortless.
II. 1. Frequent thoughts of our latter end will assist to produce this good effect. As timorous persons are observed, in danger, to shut their eyes, and shun the sight of the evil which they dread, though thereby they often only expose themselves the more, and lose the opportunity of saving their lives; so it