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beloved object: but Revelation tells us, that all occurrences of life must be borne with patience and moderation, (otherwise we lay a greater weight on our own souls, than external accidents can do, without our concurrence :) with humility, because from the offended Justice of God we might well have expected he would have inflicted much worse; and with resignation, because we know, whatsoever happens is for our good: and although it were not, we are not able to contend with, and should not, therefore, provoke him that is stronger than we.
Against this fault, which is inconsistent with those virtues, and, therefore, tacitly forbidden in the precepts that enjoin them, St. Paul warns us in express words, "I would not have you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning them which are asleep, that ye sorrow not, even as others who have no hope. For if we believe that Jesus died, and rose again, even also them who sleep in Jesus will God bring with him:-Wherefore comfort one another with these words," 1 Thess. iv. 13, 18. And these, indeed, are the only words which can give lasting comfort to a spirit, whom such an occasion hath wounded. Why should I be so unreasonable, so unkind, as to desire the return of a soul, now in happiness, to me, to this habitation of sin and misery; since I know that the time will come, yea, is now at hand, when in spite of the great gulf fixed between us, I shall shake off these chains and go to him?
What he was, I am both unable to paint in suitable colours, and unwilling to attempt it. Although the chief, at least the most common argument, for those laboured encomiums on the dead, which for many years have so much prevailed among us, is, that there can be no suspicion of flattery: yet we all know, that the pulpit, on those occasions, has been so frequently prostituted to those servile ends, that it is now no longer capable of serving them. Men take it for granted, that what is there said, are words of course: that the business of the speaker is to describe the beauty, not the likeness of the picture: and so it be only well drawn, he cares not whom it resembles.
In a word, that his business is to show his own wit, not the generosity of his friend, by giving him all the virtues he can think on.
This, indeed, is an end that is visibly served in those ill-timed commendations; of what other use they are, it is hard to say. It is of no service to the dead, to celebrate his actions: since he has the applause of God, and his holy angels, and also that of his own conscience. And it is of very little use to the living. Since he who desires a pattern, may find enough proposed as such in the sacred writings. What, must one be raised from the dead to instruct him, whilst Moses, the Prophets, and the blessed Jesus, are still presented to his view in those everlasting Tables? Certain it is, that he who will not imitate these, would not be converted, though one literally rose from the dead.
Let it suffice to have paid my last duty to him, (whether he is now hovering over these lower regions, or retired already to the mansions of eternal glory,) by saying, in a few plain words, such as were his own, and were always agreeable to him, that he was to his parents, an affectionate dutiful son; to his acquaintance, an ingenious, cheerful, good-natured companion: and to me, a well-tried, sincere friend.
At such a loss, if considered without the alleviating circumstances, who can blame him that drops a tear? The tender meltings of an heart dissolved with fondness, when it reflects on the several agreeable moments, which have now taken their flight, never to return, gives an authority to some degree of sorrow. Nor will human frailty permit an ordinary acquaintance to take his last leave of them without it. Who then can conceive, much less describe, the strong emotion, the secret workings of soul, which a parent feels on such an occasion? None, surely, but those who are parents themselves: unless those few who have experienced the power of friendship, than which, human nature on this side of the grave, knows no closer, no softer, no stronger tie!
At the tearing asunder of these sacred bands, well may we allow, without blame, some parting pangs: but the difficulty is, to put as speedy a period to them, as reason and religion command us. What can give us sufficient ease, after that rupture, which has left such an aching void in our breasts? What, indeed, but the reflection already mentioned, which can never be inculcated too often; that we are hastening to him ourselves: that,-pass but a few years, perhaps hours, which will soon be over, and not only this, but all other desires will be satisfied! When we shall exchange the gaudy shadow of pleasure we have enjoyed, for sincere, substantial, untransitory happiness!
With this consideration well imprinted in our minds, it is far better, as Solomon observes, to go to the house of mourning, than to the house of feasting. The one unbraces the soul, disarms our resolution, and lays us open to an attack. The other, cautions us to recollect our reason, and stand upon our guard, and infuses that noble steadiness, and seriousness of temper, which it is not in the power of an ordinary stroke to discompose. Such objects naturally induce us to lay it to heart, that the next summons may be our own! and that, since death is the end of all men, without exception, it is high time for the living to lay it to heart.
If we are, at any time, in danger of being overcome, by dwelling too long on the gloomy side of this prospect, to the giving us pain, the making us unfit for the duties and offices of life, impairing our faculties of body or mind, which proceedings, as has been already shewn, are both absurd, unprofitable, and sinful: let us immediately recur to the bright side, and reflect, with gratitude as well as humility, that our time passeth away like a shadow; and that, when we awake from this momentary dream, we shall then have a clearer view of that latter day, in which our Redeemer shall stand upon the earth: when this corruptible shall put on incorruption, and this mortal shall be clothed with immortality: and when we shall sing, with the united choirs of men and angels, "O Death, where is thy sting? O Grave, where is thy victory?"
ON CORRUPTING THE WORD OF GOD.
THE FOLLOWING SERMON WAS PREACHED ABOUT THE YEAR 1728.
2 COR. II. 17.
"We are not as many, who corrupt the Word of God; but as of Sincerity, but as of God, in the sight of GoD speak we in CHRIST."
MANY have observed, that nothing conduces more to a Preacher's success with those that hear him, than a general good opinion of his Sincerity. Nothing gives him a greater force of persuasion than this; nothing creates either a greater attention in the hearers, or a greater disposition to improve. When they really believe that he has no other end in speaking, but what he fairly carries in view, and that he is willing that they should see all the steps he takes for the attainment of that end,-it must give them a strong presumption, both that what he seeks is good, and the method in which he seeks it.
But how to possess them with this belief, is the question. How shall we bring them to take notice of our sincerity, if they do not advert to it of themselves? One good way, however common, is frankly and openly to profess it. There is something in these professions, when they come from the heart, strongly insinuating into the hearts of others. Persons of any generosity that hear them, find themselves almost forced to believe them; and even those who believe
them not, are obliged in prudence, not to let their incredulity appear, since it is a known rule-The honester any man is, the less apt is he to suspect another. The consequence whereof is plain. Whoever, without proof, is suspicious of his neighbour's sincerity, gives a probable proof, that he judges of his heart, from the falseness of his
Would not any man be tempted to suspect his integrity, who, without proof, suspected the want of it in another, that had fairly and openly professed the principles on which he acted? Surely none, but such as had corrupted the Word of God, or wished that it were corrupted, could lightly suspect either St. Paul of doing it, or any that after him should use his generous declaration, "We are not as many, who corrupt the word of God; but as of sincerity, but as of God, in the sight of God speak we in Christ.'
Not that the Apostle, any more than his followers in preaching the gospel, desires the people wholly to rely on his words. For afterwards he appeals to his actions to confirm them. And those who in this can imitate him, need not to intreat men to believe their sincerity. If our works bear the stamp of it, as well as our words, both together will speak so loudly and plainly, that every unprejudiced person must understand that we speak in Christ, as in sincerity, and that in so doing we consider we are in the sight of that God, whose commission we bear.
Those whom the Apostle accuses of the contrary practice, of corrupting the word of God, seem to have been Jews, who owned Jesus to be the Christ, and his gospel to be divine, yet adulterated it, by intermingling with it the Law of Moses, and their own traditions. And in doing this, their principal view was to make a gain of Christ; which, consequently, laid them under a necessity of concealing the end they proposed, as well as the means they used in order to obtain it. On the contrary, those who intend the good of mankind, are by no means concerned to hide their intentions. If the benefit we propose in speaking be to ourselves, it is often our interest to keep it