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Alexander, Rev. Archibald


Rev. Archibald Alexander, D.D.,


posted 8 Jul 2014, 15:23 by Stephen OldPaths   [ updated 8 Jul 2014, 15:24 ]


IT is a matter of serious regret that young persons are commonly so little disposed to listen to the advice of an aged. This prejudice seems to have its origin in an apprehension that austerity and rigour naturally belong to advanced years, and that the loss of all susceptibility of pleasure from those scenes and objects which afford delight to the young produces something of an ill-natured or envious feeling toward them. Now, it cannot be denied that some of the aged are chargeable with the fault of being too rigid in exacting from youth the same steady gravity which is becoming in those who have lived long and have had much experience in the world — not remembering that the constitutional temperament of these two periods of human life is very different. In youth the spirits are buoyant, the susceptibilities lively, the affections ardent and the hopes sanguine. To the young everything in the world wears the [[@Page:525]] garb of freshness, and the novelty and variety of the scenes presented keep up a constant excitement. These traits of youthful character, as long as irregularity and excess are avoided, are not only allowable, but amiable, and would in that age be badly exchanged for the more sedate and grave emotions which are the natural effects of increasing years and of long and painful experience. But it is greatly to be desired that the lessons of wisdom taught by the experience of one set of men should be made available to the instruction of those who come after them. We have therefore determined to address a few short hints of advice to the rising generation on subjects of deep and acknowledged importance to all; but previously to commencing we would assure them that it is no part of our object to interfere with their innocent enjoyments, or to deprive them of one pleasure which cannot be shown to be injurious to their best interests. We wish to approach you, dear youth, in the character of affectionate friends, rather than in that of dogmatical teachers or stern reprovers. We would therefore solicit your patient, candid and impartial attention to the following counsels.

I. Resolve to form your lives upon some certain [[@Page:526]] principles and to regulate your actions by fixed rules. Man was made to be governed by reason, and not by mere accident or caprice. It is important, therefore, that you begin early to consider and inquire what is the proper course of human conduct, and to form some plan for your future lives. The want of such consideration is manifest in the conduct of multitudes. They are governed by the impulse of the moment, reckless of consequences. They have fixed no steady aim, and have adopted no certain principles of action. Living thus at random, it would be a miracle if they went uniformly right. In order to your pursuing a right path you must know what it is, and to acquire this knowledge you must divest yourselves of thoughtless giddiness — you must take time for serious reflection. It will not answer to adopt without consideration the opinions of those who may be about you, for they may have some sinister design in regard to you, or they may themselves be misled by error or prejudice. Persons already involved in dissipation or entangled in error naturally desire to keep themselves in countenance by the number of followers whom they can seduce into the paths of vice. As reasonable creatures, therefore, judge for yourselves what course it is [[@Page:527]] right and fitting that you should pursue. Exercise your own reason independently and impartially, and give not yourselves up to be governed by mere caprice and fashion or by the opinions of others.

II. While yon are young avail yourselves of every opportunity of acquiring useful knowledge. Reason should guide us, but without correct knowledge reason is useless — just as the most perfectly formed eye would be useless without light. There is in every man a natural thirst for knowledge, which needs only to be cultivated and rightly directed. All have not equal opportunities of obtaining important knowledge, but all have more advantages for this object than they improve. The sources of information are innumerable; — the principal, however, are books and living men. In regard to the former, no age of the world which has passed was so favoured with a multiplicity of books as our own. Indeed, the very number and diversity of character and tendency of authors now create one of the most obvious difficulties to those who are destitute of wise advisers. It would be an unwise counsel to tell you to read indiscriminately whatever comes to hand. The press gives circulation not only to useful knowledge, but to [[@Page:528]] error dressed up plausibly in the garb of truth. Many books are useless, others are on the whole injurious, and some are impregnated with a deadly poison. Waste not your time in works of idle fiction. Touch not the book which exhibits vice in an alluring form. Seek the advice of judicious friends in the choice of books.

But you may also learn much from listening to the conversation of the wise and good. There is scarcely a person so ignorant, who has lived any time in the world, who cannot communicate some profitable hint to the young. Avail yourselves, then, of every opportunity of learning what you do not know, and let not pride prevent you from seeking instruction, lest by this means you should betray your ignorance. Cherish the desire of knowledge, and keep your mind constantly awake and open to instruction from every quarter.

But especially I would recommend to you the acquisition of self-knowledge. “Know thyself” was a precept held in such high esteem among the ancients that the honour of inventing it was claimed for several of their wisest men; and not only so, but on account of its superlative excellence, it was believed by many to have been uttered by the oracle of Apollo at Delphos; at [[@Page:529]] which place, as Pliny informs us, it was conspicuously written in letters of gold over the door of the temple.

And this species of knowledge is also inculcated in the Christian Scriptures as most useful and necessary. “Examine yourselves,” says Paul, “whether ye be in the faith; prove your own selves; know ye not your own selves?” And in the Old Testament the value of this knowledge is also fully recognised, where we are exhorted “to commune with our own hearts,” and “to keep our hearts with all diligence.” And the possession of it is made an object of fervent prayer: “Search me, O God, and know my heart; try me, and know my thoughts.” — “Examine me, O Lord, and prove me; try my reins and my heart.”

As this knowledge is necessary to all, so it is placed within the reach of all. But it cannot be acquired without diligent self-examination. To this duty there exists in human nature a strong repugnance, partly from natural and partly from moral causes; so that by most it is entirely neglected, to their exceeding great detriment, But when it is attempted we are in great danger of being misled by self-love and prejudice. To acquire any true knowledge of ourselves some good degree [[@Page:530]] of honesty and impartiality is essentially requisite. But an honest desire to arrive at the truth is not the only prerequisite to self-knowledge. The mind must be enlightened in regard to the standard of rectitude to which we ought to be conformed. “The entrance of thy word giveth light.” The word of God should dwell richly in us, and by the rules and principles of the sacred volume we should form all our sentiments respecting ourselves. This is the candle of the Lord which searcheth the inward parts of man; and without such a lam]) it would be as impossible to obtain any considerable degree of self-knowledge as to distinguish the objects in a dark room without a light. Self-examination, accompanied with a careful perusal of the Holy Scriptures, will lead us daily to a more thorough knowledge of our own character.

Beware of the common illusion of forming your estimate of yourselves from the favourable opinions of those around you. They cannot know the secret principles from which you act; and flattery may have much influence in leading them to speak in your praise.

Seize favourable opportunities >f judging of the latent strength of your passions. The fact is, that [[@Page:531]] until some new conjuncture or occasion elicits our feelings we are as ignorant of what is within us as other persons.

Study also your constitutional temperament, and consider attentively the power which particular objects and circumstances have over you. You may often learn even from your enemies and calumniators what are the weak points in your character. They are sagacious in detecting faults, and generally have some shadow of pretext for what they allege against us. We may therefore derive more benefit from the sarcasms of our foes than from the flattery of friends.

Learn, moreover, to form a correct estimate of your own abilities, as this is necessary to guide you in your undertakings.

III. Be careful to form good habits. Almost all permanent habits are contracted in youth; and these do in fact form the character of the man through life. It is Paley, I believe, who remarks that we act from habit nine times where we do once from deliberation. Little do young persons apprehend the momentous consequences of many of their most frequently repeated actions. Some habits are merely inconvenient, but have no moral quality; others affect the principles of our conduct, and [[@Page:532]] become sources of good or evil to au incalculable degree. As to the former, they should be avoided, as detracting from our comfort and ultimately interfering with our usefulness; but the latter should be deprecated, as laying the foundation of a wicked character and as standing in the way of all mental and moral improvement.

IV. Be particular and select in the company which you keep and the friendships which you form. “Tell me,” says the proverb, “what company you keep, and I will tell you what you are.” “Evil communications corrupt good manners.” Vice is more easily and extensively diffused by improper companions than by all other means. As one infected sheep communicates disease to a whole flock, so one sinner often destroys much good by corrupting all the youth who fall under his influence. When vicious men are possessed of wit and fascinating manners their conversation is most dangerous to the young. We would entreat you, dear young friends, to form an intimacy with no one whose principles are suspicious. The friendship of profligate men is exceedingly dangerous. Listen not to their fair speeches and warm professions of attachment. Fly from contact with them as from one infected with the plague. Form [[@Page:533]] no close alliance with such. No more think ol taking them to your bosom than you would a viper. Gaze not on their beauty, nor suffer yourselves to be charmed with their fascination of manners. Under these specious appearances a deleterious poison lurks.

“Be not unequally yoked together with unbelievers,” is the exhortation of Scripture. And what can be more unseemly and incongruous than for an amiable and virtuous woman to be indissolubly united to an unprincipled debauchee? Or for a good man to be connected with a woman destitute of piety and virtue? Be especially careful, therefore, in forming alliances for life. Seek a connection with the wise and good, and you will become wiser and better by converse with such.

V. Endeavour to acquire and maintain a good reputation. “A good name is rather to be chosen than great riches.” A ruined fortune may be recovered — a lost reputation never. Young men are often laying the foundation of an unenviable reputation while they are thinking of no such thing. They never dream that the character which they attain at school or college will probably be as lasting as life. The youth who is known to be addicted to falsehood, knavery, treachery, etc., when [[@Page:534]] arrived at the age of man will be viewed by those who know him with distrust. A stain on the character is not easily washed out; at a distant period the faults and follies of youth may be revived to a man’s confusion and injury. But especially is the female character exquisitely delicate. A small degree of imprudence will often fix a stigma on the gay young lady which no subsequent sobriety can completely erase.

We do not mean that the young should cherish a false sense of honour, which would lead them to fight and contend for reputation. No man ever secured or increased a good name by shedding the vital blood of a human being. The reputation which we recommend must arise from a life of consistent and uniform well-doing. Prize such a character as of inestimable value to your own peace and as a most powerful means of usefulness. The most potent human engine of utility is influence, and this depends entirely on reputation.

VI. Manage your worldly concerns with economy and discretion. Avoid the inconvenience, embarrassment and vexation of being in debt, Conduct your business with attention and diligence, and have your accounts in such a condition that yon will be at no loss to ascertain the true [[@Page:535]] state of your affairs. Men often become unjust and injurious to others, without having intended any such thing, merely by a confused and careless manner of transacting their business. Such a man after a while feels an unconquerable aversion to a scrutiny into his affairs. He shuts his eyes against the ruin which he is bringing on himself, and heedlessly rushes forward in the path which habit or fashion has rendered agreeable. When at length an exigency arrives which constrains him to adopt some measure to extricate himself from his difficulties, he is placed under strong temptation to resort to a course which is not strictly honourable. He persuades himself that if he can save his credit for the present, he will be able to rectify everything by diligence and good fortune, and to preserve his friends from suffering on his account. But these efforts to recover lost ground commonly prove ineffectual, and render the situation of the person more involved than before. He finds, at length, that he is sinking, and this discovery often produces a desperate recklessness. He plunges deeper and deeper into debt, and often drags to ruin not only his own family, but some of his friends who have confided too implicitly in his truth and integrity. It is also too common for [[@Page:536]] men who have failed in trade to resort to means for the support of a helpless family which a sound moral faculty never can approve. The temptation arising from the tender love of wife and children is indeed very strong, but not invincible. In the commercial world there are many illustrious examples of merit, honour and the strictest probity in men who had it in their power to defraud their creditors or to deeply involve their confiding friends, but who chose rather to look haggard poverty in the face, and to see their beloved families descending from affluence into the vale of obscurity, than to be guilty of a dishonourable act. And in the long run this turns out more to the benefit of those persons than any advantage obtained by a resort to shifts and evasions not entirely consistent with the highest integrity. He who sacrifices reputation for present comfort buys it at too dear a rate. The merchant who, when he fails, loses his reputation for truth and integrity will meet with but little favour from the world, and will have very little chance of rising again. But he who has been unfortunate, and yet maintains his integrity and preserves his character unsullied, is often able to enter again into business under favourable auspices, and is encouraged and [[@Page:537]] aided in his attempts to gain a living by men of wealth and standing; so that such a man is often successful to such a degree that he has it in his power to compensate those from whom benefit was derived in the day of his calamity.

Beware of being governed by ambition in your commercial enterprises. The pride of doing a large business and of being considered as at the head of the profession seduces many aspiring young merchants: and greediness of gain tempts still more to engage in hazardous speculations and to trade to an extent not authorised by the capital which they have at command. In this way bankruptcies become so common that they cease to excite much surprise. Families delicately educated, and long accustomed to the luxuries as well as the comforts of life, are reduced to poverty. Multitudes of such families are found in our large commercial cities, who are really more properly the objects of benevolence than the common beggar who clamorously solicits your charity. The real privations and sufferings of such are not fully known; for, from the desire of avoiding the con tempt and the pity of vulgar minds, such persons spread a decent veil over their indigence, and prefer to pine secretly in want rather than to seek [[@Page:538]] relief by a public disclosure of their necessities. The Christian philanthropist will, however, seek out such sufferers, and will contrive methods of bestowing relief upon them in a way consistent with the delicacy of their feelings.

The above remarks are particularly adapted to those who engage in commerce, but they are not inapplicable to others. It is true, integrity is the soul of a merchant, but it is a sterling quality which every man ought to possess; and all men are liable to be reduced to a state of indigence by a long series of untoward events. My counsel then is, that you commence and pursue business with prudence, and, when unfortunate, that you so act as to preserve your integrity and your reputation by resorting to no equivocal means of relief, but resolve to act in conformity with the strictest rules of justice and honour.

VII. Aim at consistency in your Christian character. There is a beauty in moral consistency which resembles the symmetry of a well-proportioned building, where nothing is deficient, nothing redundant. Consistency can only be acquired and maintained by cultivating every part of the Christian character. The circle of virtues must be complete, without chasms or obliquities. A character [[@Page:539]] well proportioned and nicely balanced in all its parts we are not very frequently permitted to witness; for while in one branch there is vigour, and even exuberance, in another there may he the appearance of feebleness and sterility. The man who is distinguished for virtues of a particular class is apt to be deficient in those which belong to a different class. This is so commonly the fact that many entertain the opinion that the same person cannot excel in every virtue. Thus, it is not expected that the man of remarkable firmness and intrepidity should at the same time be distinguished for meekness and gentleness. But after making due allowances for a difference of constitutional temperament, we must maintain that there is not, nor can there be, any incompatibility between the several virtues of the Christian life. They are all branches of the same root, and the principle which affords nourishment to one communicates its virtue to all. As all truth is harmonious, however it may, on a superficial and partial view, seem to be contradictory, so all the exercises of moral goodness are not only consistent, but assist and adorn each other. This is so much the case that symmetry of Christian character has by some distinguished casuistical writers [[@Page:540]] been laid down as a necessary evidence of genuineness; and it has been insisted on as probable that where one virtue seems to exist in great strength, while others are remarkably wanting, it is a mark of spuriousness.

There is much reason in this view of the subject, for men are frequently found whose zeal blazes out ardently and conspicuously, so as to leave most others far back in the shade, while they are totally destitute of the humility, meekness and brotherly kindness which form an essential part of the Christian character. Some men are conscientious and punctilious in the performance of all the rites and external duties connected with the worship of God, who are inattentive to the obligations of strict justice and veracity in their intercourse with men; and on the other hand many boast of their morality, and yet are notoriously inattentive to the duties of religion. Real Christians, too, are often chargeable with inconsistency, which arises from a want of clear discernment of the rule of moral conduct in its application to particular cases; for while the general principles of duty are plain and easily understood by all, the ability to discriminate between right and wrong in many complicated cases is extremely rare. This [[@Page:541]] delicate and correct perception of moral relations can only be acquired by the divine blessing on our assiduous exertions.

It is too commonly taken for granted that Christian morals are a subject so easy that all close study of it is unnecessary. This is an injurious mistake. Many of the deficiencies and inconsistencies of Christians are owing to a want of clear and correct knowledge of the exact rule of moral conduct. On no subject will you find a greater diversity of opinion than in regard to the lawfulness or unlawfulness of particular practices; and even good men are often thrown into difficulty and doubt respecting the proper course to be pursued. But while many cases of inconsistency arise from ignorance of the exact standard of rectitude, more must be attributed to heedlessness and forgetful-ness. Men do not act sufficiently from principle, but too much from custom, from fashion and from habit. Thus many actions are performed without any inquiry into their moral character. There is an obtuseness in the moral sensibility which permits evils to pass without animadversion.

Another cause of the inconsistency so commonly observed is the prevalence which certain passions or appetites may obtain in the time of temptation.

[[@Page:542]] The force of the internal principles of evil is not perceived when the objects and circumstances favourable to their exercise are absent. As the venomous adder seems to be harmless while chilled with cold, but soon manifests his malignity when brought near the fire, so sin often lies hid in the bosom as though it were dead until some exciting cause draws it forth into exercise; and then the person himself is surprised to find the strength of his own passions above anything which he had before conceived. Thus men often act, in certain circumstances, in a way altogether contrary to the general tenor of their conduct. It is by no means a fair inference from a single act of irregularity that the person who is guilty of it has acted hypocritically in all the apparent good actions of his former life. The true explanation is, that principles of action which he has commonly been able to govern and restrain, acquire, in some unguarded moment or under the power of some strong temptation, a force which his good principles are not at that moment strong enough to oppose. The man who is usually correct and orderly may thus be overtaken in a fault; and as all are liable to the same frailties, there should exist a disposition to receive and restore an offending brother when he [[@Page:543]] gives sufficient evidence of penitence. Man, at his best estate in this world, is an inconsistent creature. The only persons in whom this defect is not observed are the men who by grace live near to God and exercise a constant jealousy and vigilance over themselves. But when faith is weak and inconstant, great inconsistencies will mar the beauty of the Christian character. Young persons ought, therefore, to begin early to exercise this vigilance, and to keep their hearts with all diligence, lest they be ensnared by their own passions and overcome by the power of temptation. I counsel you, then, my young friends, to aim at consistency. Cultivate assiduously every part of the Christian character, so that there may appear a beautiful proportion in your virtue.

The reflections to which I have been led in speaking of consistency of Christian character suggest the importance of urging upon you the government of your passions. A man who has no control over his passions is justly compared to a ship at sea, which is driven by fierce winds, while she neither is governed by the rudder nor steered by the compass. By indulgence the passions gain strength very rapidly, and when once the habit of indulgence is fixed, the moral [[@Page:544]] condition of the sinner is most deplorable and almost desperate. To preserve consistency it is necessary to be well acquainted with the weak points in our own characters, to know something of the strength of our own passions, and to guard beforehand against the occasions and temptations which would be likely to cause us to act inconsistently with our Christian profession. Many men have successfully contended with their own passions, and although naturally of a hasty and irritable temper, have, by constant discipline, brought themselves into an habitual state of equanimity; so that however they may be conscious of the stragglings of the natural passions, they are kept so completely under restraint that to others they do not seem to exist. The anecdote which is related of Socrates and the physiognomist is instructive on this point. When the latter, upon examining the lines of the philosopher’s face, pronounced that he was a man of bad temper and exceedingly irascible, the disciples of Socrates laughed him to scorn, as having betrayed the weakness of his art by so totally mistaking the true disposition of their master; but he checked their ridicule by acknowledging that his natural temper had been truly represented by the physiognomist, but that by the discipline of philosophy [[@Page:545]] he had been able to acquire such a mastery over his passions that their existence was not apparent.

To achieve a victory of this kind is more honourable than to conquer in the field of battle; according to the saying of the wise man: “He that is slow to anger is better than the mighty; and he that ruleth his spirit than he that taketh a city.” And again: “He that hath no rule over his own spirit is like a city that is broken down and without walls.” Learn, then, my young friends, to bridle your passions and govern your temper from your earliest days.

VIII. Be contented with the station and circumstances in which Providence has placed you. Never repine at God’s dealings toward you, nor envy those who are above you in worldly advantages. Consider not so much what you want as what you have, and look less at those above you than at those in inferior circumstances. Accustom yourselves to look on the bright rather than the dark side of the picture. Indulge not in unreasonable fears nor give way to feelings of despondency. Exercise fortitude and maintain tranquillity of mind. Be not ruffled and disconcerted by every little cross event which may occur. Place not your [[@Page:546]] happiness at the disposal of every one v, ho may be disposed to speak an unkind word or to do an unhandsome thing. Learn to possess your souls in patience, believing that when appearances are darkest the dawn of a more comfortable day is near.

IX. Let your intercourse with men be marked by a strict and conscientious regard to truth, honour, justice, kindness and courtesy. We should certainly have recommended politeness as a happy means of polishing social intercourse and affording pleasure to those with whom you are conversant, but many are accustomed to connect an unpleasant idea with this word. But surely genuine politeness, if not itself a virtue, spreads a charm and a beauty over that which is virtuous, and certainly there is no merit in awkwardness and clownish-ness. But our chief object under this particular is to urge upon you a constant and punctilious regard to the social virtues. Be honest, be upright, sincere, men of your word, faithful to every trust, kind to everybody, respectful where respect is due, generous according to your ability, grateful for benefits received, and delicate in the mode of conferring favours. Let your integrity be unsuspected. Never resort to any mean or underhand measure, [[@Page:547]] but let your conduct and conversation be characterised by frankness and candour, by forbearance and a spirit of indulgence and forgiveness. In short, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto yon.”

X. Live not merely for yourselves, but also for the good of others. Selfishness contracts the soul and hardens the heart. The man absorbed in selfish pursuits is incapable of the sweetest, noblest joys of which our nature is susceptible. The Author of our being has ordained laws according to which the most exquisite pleasure is connected not with the direct pursuit of our own happiness, but with the exercise of benevolence. On this principle it is that he who labours wholly for the benefit of others, and as it were forgets himself, is far happier than the man who makes himself the centre of all his affections, the sole object of all his exertions. On this principle it was that our Saviour said, “It is more blessed to give than to receive.” . Resolve, therefore, to lead lives of usefulness. Be indifferent to nothing which has any relation to the welfare of man. Be not afraid of diminishing your own happiness by seeking that of others. Devise liberal things, and let not avarice shut up your hand from giving to him that [[@Page:548]] needeth, and from promoting the cause if piety and humanity.

XI. Be faithful and conscientious in the dis charge of all duties which arise out of the relations which you sustain to others. Relative duties are far more numerous than all others, because the occasions requiring their performance are constantly occurring. The duties of parents, of children, of brothers and sisters, of neighbours, of masters and servants, of teachers and pupils, of magistrates and citizens, of the learned professions, of trade, of the rich and the poor, occupy a very large portion of the time and attention of every man. And these furnish the proper test of character. “He who is faithful in little is faithful also in much.” And he who is not attentive to the daily recurring duties of his station in vain claims the reputation of virtue or piety by splendid acts of public beneficence. “Though I give all my goods to feed the poor, and have not charity, it profiteth me nothing.”

XII. Exercise incessant vigilance against the dangers and temptations by which you are surrounded, and by which you will certainly be as sailed. These dangers are too numerous to be specified in detail, but I will mention a few. [[@Page:549]] Guard solicitously against all approaches toward infidelity. Reject unbelieving thoughts and skeptical doubts from the beginning. Even if the system of infidelity were true, it promises no comfort, and cannot possibly be serviceable to you. But the best security will be to study diligently the evidences of religion, and to be ready to meet the cavils of infidelity at all points. Make yourselves well acquainted with the best authors on this subject, and let your faith rest on the firm ground of evidence.

Another danger against which you must be watchful is pleasure — sensual pleasure. Worldly amusements, however innocent they may appear, are replete with hidden dangers. These scenes exhilarate the spirits and excite the imagination, until reason and conscience are hushed and the real end of living is forgotten. For the sake of pleasure everything important and sacred is neglected, and the most valuable part of human life wasted in unprofitable engagements. Beware, then, of the vortex of dissipation, and especially of the least approach toward the gulf of intemperance. On that slippery ground many strong men have fallen, never to rise. The trophies of this insidious and destructive vice are widely spread on [[@Page:550]] every side, and the wise and the good have come to the conclusion that there is no effectual security against this enemy but in a resolute and persevering abstinence from inebriating drink. Taste not, touch not, handle not the unclean thing. Seek your happiness, dear youth, in the pursuit of useful objects and in the performance of duty, and then you will be safe, and will have no reason to envy the votaries of sensual pleasure.

XIII. A counsel near akin to that which has been just given is, “Govern your tongue.” More sin, it is probable, is committed, and more mischief done, by this small member than in all other ways. The faculty of speech is one of our most useful endowments, but it is exceedingly liable to abuse. He who knows how to bridle his tongue is therefore in Scripture denominated “a perfect man;” and again of him “who seemeth to be religious and bridleth not his tongue,” it is declared that “that man’s religion is vain.” The words which we utter are a fair index of the moral state of the mind. “By thy words,” saith our Lord, “shalt thou be justified, and by thy words shalt thou be condemned.” Not only are sins of the tongue more numerous than others, but some of them i re the most heinous of which man can be [[@Page:551]] guilty — even that one sin which has no forgiveness is a sin of the tongue.

Not only should all profaneness, obscenity and falsehood be put far away, but you should continually endeavour to render your conversation useful. Be ever ready to communicate knowledge, to suggest profitable ideas, to recommend virtue and religion, to rebuke sin and to give glory to God. Beware of evil-speaking. A habit of detraction is one of the worst which you can contract, and is always indicative of an envious and malignant heart. Instead of prostituting this active and useful member to the purposes of slander, employ it in defending the innocent and the injured.

Permit me to suggest the following brief rules for the government of the tongue: Avoid loquacity. “In the multitude of words there wanteth not sin.” If you have nothing to communicate which can be useful, be silent. Think before you speak. How many painful anxieties would be prevented by obeying this simple common-sense precept! Especially be cautious about uttering anything in the form of a promise without consideration. Be conscientiously regardful of truth, even to a tittle, in all that you say. Never speak what will be likely to excite bad feelings of any kind in the minds of [[@Page:552]] others. Be ready on all suitable occasions to give utterance to good sentiments, especially such as may be useful to the young. Listen respectfully to the opinions of others, but never fail to give your testimony modestly but firmly against error. “Let your speech be always with grace, seasoned with salt. Let no corrupt communication proceed out of your mouth, but that which is good to the use of edifying, that it may minister grace unto the hearers.”

XIV. Keep a good conscience. If wickedness had no other punishment than the stings of conscience which follow evil actions, it would be reason enough to induce every considerate man to avoid that which is productive of so much pain. No misery of which the human mind is susceptible is so intolerable and so irremediable as remorse of conscience. And it is liable to be renewed as often as the guilty action is distinctly recollected. It is true, the conscience, by means of error and repeated resistance to its dictates, may become callous, “seared as with a hot iron;” but this apparent death of moral sensibility is no more than a sleep. At an unexpected time, and in circumstances the most inconvenient, conscience may be aroused, and may exert a more tremendous power [[@Page:553]] than was ever before experienced. The long arrearages of sins committed while no notice seemed to be taken of them now demand and enforce consideration. Joseph’s brethren seem to have almost forgotten their unnatural and cruel conduct in sell-ing him as a slave into a foreign country; but when many years had elapsed, and they found themselves environed with difficulties and dangers in that very land, the remembrance of their crime painfully rushed upon their minds, and extorted from them mutual confessions of their guilt. “God,” said they, “hath found out the iniquity of thy servants.” “And they said one to another, We are-verily guilty concerning our brother, in that we saw the anguish of his soul when he besought us, and we would not hear; therefore is this distress come upon us.” Men often endeavour to escape from the stings of a guilty conscience by a change of place, but the remedy is ineffectual. The transgressor may traverse the widest ocean and ascend the loftiest mountains, and may bury himself in the dark recesses of the desert, but he cannot fly so far nor conceal himself so effectually as to escape from his tormentor. In some cases the agonies of remorse have been so intolerable that the guilty perpetrator of great [[@Page:554]] wickedness has preferred “strangling and death” to a miserable life, and has rushed uncalled into the presence of his Judge. And in other cases men guilty of bloody crimes have found the pangs of remorse so intolerable that they have voluntarily given themselves up to justice, and by a voluntary confession have convicted themselves, when no human witnesses were competent to prove their guilt. But what man is there who has not committed sins the recollection of which gives him sensible pain? And such acts often stand out in strong relief in the retrospect of the past. No effort can obliterate such things from the memory. We may turn away our eyes from the disagreeable object, but the painful idea will return again; and thus men whose consciences are not seared are haunted by guilt as by a troublesome ghost, and often their sins find them out and stare them in the face when danger threatens or when calamity has overtaken them.

Why moral sensibility should be so much more exquisite at some times than others cannot be easily explained, but the fact is certain, and is probably familiar to the consciousness of all. There may indeed exist a morbid susceptibility, an unreasonable scrupulousness and terror of conscience, which [[@Page:555]] is a real and distressing disease, and which yields only to physical remedies judiciously applied. Melancholy is not the effect of religious impressions, but is a state of mind of a most unhappy kind, produced by a derangement of the physical system, and which leads the subject of it to fix his thoughts on those things which are most awful and gloomy. The same is true in regard to insanity. Many people entertain strong prejudices against experimental religion, because they apprehend that it endangers the reason and drives the timid and weak-minded into mania.

Now it is no doubt true that any strong emotion or passion may, when there exists a predisposition to the disease, disturb the regular exercise of reason; but that this danger is greater to persons deeply exercised about religion than to others is utterly without foundation. Fanaticism, it may be conceded, has a tendency to insanity. Indeed, it has long appeared to me that fanaticism, especially in its mildest forms, is nothing else than a species of insanity. I have upon no other hypothesis been able to account for the opinions and conduct of some persons who have been led away into the excesses of enthusiasm. But what is the most effectual preservative from this kind of mental [[@Page:556]] derangement? Is it irreligion, vice and infidelity? By no means. Persons who take refuge in such things find them to be “refuges of lies.” The only effectual remedy against the misery of a disturbed mind and a guilty conscience is true religion. For this wound the balm of Gilead is the only medicine which is proved by experience to be efficacious. He who is able to cherish a lively hope of happiness beyond the grave, who can look up to God as a reconciled Father, and who feels good-will to all men, has surely within him the ingredients of a settled peace of mind. When I counsel you, my young friends, to keep a good conscience, I mean that you should, in the first place, endeavour to obtain this inestimable blessing by an application to “the blood of sprinkling.” Until the soul is justified and sin pardoned there can be no true peace of conscience. While the law remains unsatisfied for us, and denounces vengeance against us for our sins, what in the universe can give us peace? But when by faith the soul apprehends the atonement, and sees that it is commensurate to all the demands of the law, and that in the cross justice is not only satisfied, but gloriously illustrated, it is at once relieved from the agony of guilt, and the peace of God which [[@Page:557]] passeth understanding pervades the soul. The great secret of genuine peace is, therefore, living faith in the blood of Christ. But if you would preserve your conscience pure and enjoy peace, you must not only obtain forgiveness for the past, but must be very careful to sin no more in future. The law of God is exceeding broad, and if we would preserve peace of conscience we must conform our actions to its precepts with assiduous and holy diligence.

A good conscience is always an enlightened conscience. Through error a man may believe that he is doing God service when he is persecuting his people, but such a conscience is not good. Men may act conscientiously and yet act very wickedly. I suppose that all the devotees of the most absurd and impious superstition act according to the dictates of conscience, even when they sacrifice human beings and expose to death their own offspring or themselves; but who would say that such a conscience was good? The correct knowledge of truth, therefore, lies at the foundation of a good conscience. Nothing is more important to man than the truth; therefore “buy the truth and sell it not.” But too often conscience is not regarded when it correctly dictates what should be done [[@Page:558]] avoided. Amidst the cravings of appetite, the storm of the passions and the incessant bustle of the world the whispers of conscience are not heeded. In multitude of instances where persons do wrong they have a premonition of the evil, or at least a suggestion that it is proper to inquire and consider what duty is. Some persons are conscientious in great matters who, in comparatively small concerns, seem to have no moral discernment. The habit of consulting the moral sense in all things is of great importance. Before you act, consider; and beware of the false colouring which passion and self-interest throw around the subjects of duty. Lean to the safe side. Where an action is of dubious character do not venture upon it. Be fully persuaded in your own mind, “for whatsoever is not of faith is sin.” Some persons are conscientious and punctilious about little things, but careless about the weightier matters of the law. This is the conscience of a hypocrite. Others have a mind ill at ease, because the festering wound of guilt has never been thoroughly probed and cleansed, but merely externally healed. Their repentance has not been deep enough nor universal enough: some secret siu is still too much indulged. Now, while these are the facts a good conscience is [[@Page:559]] an impossible thing. Sincere penitence, humiliation and confession are God’s prescribed remedy, and where these are wanting the conscience will not be at peace.

Now, whatever may be the infirmity or moral defect which cleaves to us, it is odious in the sight of God and tends to grieve the Holy Spirit. In just judgment we are left to darkness, barrenness and misery, because we have not sufficiently desired deliverance from sin, but have made vain excuses for our own faults. I would then counsel you especially to cherish the motions of the Holy Comforter. By his divine influences alone a good conscience can be maintained. And if you are sensible that you have grieved the Spirit, so that you are left comfortless, never rest until you again experience the peace and joy which are the fruit of his indwelling.

XV. Cultivate peace. Next to the blessing of peace with God and in our own conscience is that of peace with our fellow-men. “As much as lieth in you, live peaceably with all men.” And again, “Follow peace with all men.” The true source of all the wars, contentions and disturbances which are in the world is the pride, the envy, the covetousness and other evil passions of our nature,[[@Page:560]] Eradicate these, and in their place introduce pure and kind affections, and you will experience a double peace — peace within and peace without. Every Christian temper is friendly to peace. I know, indeed, that Christ says that he came not to bring peace, but a sword; but he refers not to the nature of his religion, but to the events which he foresaw would occur from the perverse opposition of men to that which is good. The genuine spirit and tendency of the gospel is beautifully and emphatically expressed in the angelic anthem sung by the celestial choir at the nativity of our Saviour: “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth PEACE; good-will to men.” All the adopted sons of God are sons of peace and are peace-makers. “Live in peace,” says Paul, “and the God of peace shall be with you.” Humility, meekness and benevolence must, from the nature of the case, have a mighty influence in producing and maintaining peace. For, as the apostle Peter argues, “Who will harm you if ye be followers of that which is good?” No system was ever so well adapted to produce universal peace as Christianity; and the only reason why this effect has not followed its reception everywhere is, that its true spirit has not been imbibed. Just so far as this [[@Page:561]] blessed system is cordially embraced, it cuts up by the roots all causes of contention, except that which has for its subjects sin and error. It teaches us not only to love our friends and brethren, but also our bitterest enemies — to return blessing for cursing and kindness for ill-treatment. Endeavour, then, to cherish habitually those kind affections which lead to peace; and while you seek peace in your own souls, make it an object to promote peace in the world, and covet the blessedness which is pronounced to belong to peace-makers. Their high honour it is to be denominated “THE SONS OF GOD.”

XVI. As “man is born to sorrow as the sparks fly upward,” as no situation is exempt from the arrows of adversity, I would give it as a necessary counsel to learn to bear affliction with fortitude and resignation. To dream of escaping what is appointed unto all would he to fall wilfully into a dangerous delusion. Every man is vulnerable in so many points that nothing short of a perpetual miracle could shield any one from the strokes of adversity. Indeed, piety of the most exalted kind does not secure its possessor from affliction and persecution. Christ himself suffered while in the world, and has left his followers a perfect example [[@Page:562]] of holy fortitude and filial submission to the will of God. When sorely pressed with the inconceivable load of our sins, so that his human soul could not have sustained it unless supported by the divine nature, his language was, “Not my will, but thine be done.” Those afflictions which are allotted to the people of God are necessary parts of salutary discipline, intended to purify them from the dross of sin and to prepare them for the service of God here and his enjoyment in the world to come. They are, therefore, to them not penal judgments, but fatherly chastisements, which, though “not joyous but grievous” for the present, “afterward work for them the peaceable fruits of righteousness.” But whatever may be our moral and spiritual condition, whether we are friends or enemies to God, we must be subject to various afflictions. This is a dying world. The nearest and dearest friends must part. Death sunders the tenderest ties, and often pierces the susceptible heart with a keener anguish, by directing the mortal stroke to a dear companion or child, than if it had fallen on our own head. When I see youth rejoicing in the sanguine hopes and brilliant prospects which the deceitful world spreads out before them, I am prevented from sympathising with [[@Page:563]] their feelings by the foresight of a speedy end to all their earthly pleasures. Their laughter will be converted into mourning. Their day of bright sunshine will soon be overcast with dark clouds, and all their brilliant prospects will be obscured, and the overwhelming gloom of sorrow will envelop them.

It is indeed no part of wisdom to torment our minds with vain terrors of evils which are merely possible. Many persons suffer more in the apprehension of calamities than they would if they were present. The imagination represents scenes of adversity in a hue darker than the reality. In regard to such evils our Saviour has taught us not to yield to useless anxieties about the future, but to trust to Providence. “Let the morrow take care of itself.” But that to which I would bring my youthful readers is a state of mind prepared for adversity, of whatever kind it may be, that they may not be taken by surprise when calamity falls upon them. And when the dark day of adversity arrives, be not dismayed^ but put your trust in the Lord, and look to him for strength to endure whatever may be laid upon you. Never permit yourselves to entertain hard thoughts of God on account of any of his dispensations. They [[@Page:564]] may be dark and mysterious, out they are all wise and good. What we cannot understand now we shall be privileged to know hereafter. Exercise an uncomplaining submission to the will of God as developed in the events of Providence. Believe steadfastly that all things are under the government of wisdom and goodness. Remember that whatever sufferings you may be called to endure, they are always less than your sins deserve, and consider that these afflictive dispensations are fraught with rich spiritual blessings. They are not only useful, but necessary. We should perish with a wicked world if a kind Father did not make use of the rod to reclaim us from our wanderings. Besides, there is no situation in which we can more glorify God than when in the furnace of affliction. The exercise of faith and humble resignation, with patience and fortitude, under the pressure of heavy calamity, is most pleasing to God, and illustrates clearly the excellency of religion, which is able to bear up the mind, and even render it cheerful in the midst of scenes of trouble. Bear, then, with cheerful submission the load which may be laid upon you; and learn from Paul to rejoice even in the midst of tribulation. And not only bear your cross with cheerful [[@Page:565]] resignation, but endeavour to extract from sorrow a rich spiritual blessing. While enjoying such an effectual means of grace improve it to the utmost to promote growth in the divine life. Be willing to suffer any pain which will render you more holy. Although we naturally desire uninterrupted prosperity, yet if the desire of our hearts was always given to us, it would prove ruinous.

And when schooled in adversity you will be better qualified to sympathise with the children of sorrow, and better skilled in affording them comfort than if you had no experience of trouble.

XVII. My next counsel is, that you set a high value upon your time. Time is short, and its flight is rapid. The swiftness of the lapse of time is proverbial in all languages. In Scripture the life of man is compared to a multitude of things which quickly pass away after making their appearance; as to a post, a weaver’s shuttle, a vapour, a shadow, etc. All the works of man must be performed in time, and whatever acquisition is made of any good, it must be obtained in time. Time, therefore, is not only short, but precious. Everything is suspended on its improvement, and it can only be improved when present; and it is no sooner present than it is gone; so that whatever [[@Page:566]] we do must be done quickly. The precious gift is sparingly parcelled out by moments, but the succession of these is rapid and uninterrupted. Nothing can impede or retard the current of this stream. Whether we are awake or asleep, whether occupied or idle, whether we attend to the fact or not, we are borne along by a silent but irresistible force. Our progressive motion in time may be compared to the motion of the planet on which we dwell, of which we are entirely insensible; or to that of a swift-sailing ship, which produces the illusion that all other objects are in motion while we seem to be stationary. So in the journey of life we pass from stage to stage — from infancy to childhood, from childhood to youth, from youth to mature age, and finally, ere we are aware of it, we find ourselves declining toward the last stage of earthly existence. The freshness and buoyancy of youth soon pass away; the autumn of life, with its “sere leaf,” soon arrives; and next and last, if disease or accident do not cut short our days, old age, with its gray hairs, its wrinkles, its debility and pains, comes on apace. This period is described by the wise man as one in which men are commonly disposed to be querulous, and to ac-know edge that the days draw nigh in which they [[@Page:567]]

have no pleasure. “The keepers of the house tremble, and the strong men bow themselves, and the grinders cease because they are few, and those that look out of the windows are darkened. When men rise up at the noise of the bird, when all the daughters of music are brought low, and there shall be fears. And the almond tree shall flourish, and the grasshopper be a burden.”

Time wasted can never be recovered. No man ever possessed the same moment twice. We are, indeed, exhorted “to redeem our time,” but this relates to a right improvement of that which is to come, for this is the only possible way by which we can redeem what is irrevocably past. The counsels which I would offer to the young on this subject are: Think frequently and seriously on the inestimable value of time. Never forget that all that is dear and worthy of pursuit must be accomplished in the short span of time allotted to us here. Meditate also profoundly and often on the celerity of the flight of time. Now you are in the midst of youthful bloom, but soon this season will only exist in the dim shades of recollection, and, unless it has been well improved, of bitter regret.

If you will make a wise improvement of your time, you must be prompt. Seize the fugitive [[@Page:568]] moments as they fly, for otherwise they will pass away before you have commenced the work which is appropriated to them.

Diligence and constancy are essential to the right improvement of time. “Whatsoever thy hand findeth to do, do it with thy might.” “Work while it is called to-day.” Walk while you have the light, for the dark night rapidly approaches when no work can be done.

Let everything be done in its season. There is a time for all things, and let all things be done in order. The true order of things may be determined by their relative importance and by the urgency of (he case, or by the loss which would probably be sustained by neglect.

If you would make the most of your time, learn to do one thing at once, and endeavour so to perform every work as to accomplish it in the best possible manner. As you receive but one moment at once, it is a vain thing to think of doing more than one thing at one time; and if any work deserves your attention at all, it deserves to be well done. Confusion, hurry and heedlessness often so mar a business that it would have been better to omit it altogether.

Beware of devolving the duty of to-day on [[@Page:561]] tomorrow. This is called procrastination, which is justly said to be “the thief of time.” Remember that every day and every hour has its own appropriate work; but if that which should be done this day is deferred until a future time, to say the least there must be an inconvenient accumulation of duties in future. But as to-morrow is to everybody uncertain, to suspend the acquisition of an important object on such a contingency may be the occasion of losing for ever the opportunity of receiving it. The rule of sound discretion is never to put off till to-morrow what ought to be done to-day.

XVIII. Cherish and diligently cultivate genuine piety. “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.”

Early piety is the most beautiful spectacle in tire world. Without piety all your morality, however useful to men, is but a shadow. It is a branch without a root. Religion, above every other acquisition, enriches and adorns tire mind of man, and it is especially congenial with the natural susceptibilities of the youthful mind. The vivacity and versatility of youth, the tenderness and ardour of the affections in this age, exhibit piety to the best advantage. How delightful is it to see the [[@Page:570]] bosoms of the young swelling with the lively emotions of pure devotion! How beautiful is the tear of penitence or of holy joy which glistens in the eye of tender youth! Think not, dear young people, that true religion will detract from your happiness. It is a reproach cast upon your Maker to indulge such a thought. It cannot be. A God of goodness never required anything of his creatures which did not tend to their true felicity. Piety may indeed lead you to exchange the pleasures of the theatre and ball-room for the purer joys of the church and prayer-meeting. It may turn your attention from books of mere idle fancy and fiction to the word of God, which to a regenerated soul is found to be sweeter than honey and more excellent than the choicest gold; but this will add to your happiness, rather than diminish it. We would then affectionately and earnestly exhort and entreat you to “remember now your Creator in the days of your youth.” This will be your best security against all the dangers and temptations to which you are exposed; this will secure to you “the favour of God, which is life, and his loving-kindness, which is better than life.” Delay not your conversion; every day is lost time which is not spent in the service of God. Besides, [[@Page:571]] procrastination has proved ruinous to many. Eternity is at hand; the judgment day must be met, and bow can we appear there without piety? This is our only preparation and passport for heaven. Dear youth, be wise and secure an inheritance among the saints in light. God invites you to be reconciled. Christ extends his arms of mercy to secure you. Angels are waiting to rejoice at your conversion and to become your daily and nightly guardians. The doors of the Church will be opened to receive you. The ministers of the gospel and all the company of believers will hail your entrance and will welcome you to the precious ordinances of God’s house. And finally, remember that “now is the accepted time and the day of salvation.”

XIX. Seek divine direction and aid by incessant, fervent prayer. You need grace to help you every day. Your own wisdom is folly, your own strength weakness, and your own righteousness altogether insufficient. “It is not in man that walketh to direct his steps.” But if you lack wisdom, you are permitted to ask, and you have a gracious promise that you shall receive. Whatever we need will be granted if we humbly and believingly ask for it. “Ask and ye shall receive, [[@Page:572]] seek and ye shall find, knock and it shall be opened unto you.” “Be careful for nothing, but in everything with prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known unto God.”

Faith and prayer are our chief resources under all the various and heavy afflictions of this life. When all other refuges fail, God will hide his people who seek him in his secret pavilion, and shelter them under the shadow of his wings. Prayer is essential to the existence and growth of the spiritual life. It is the breath of the new man. By this means he obtains quick relief from innumerable evils, and draws down from heaven blessings of the richest and sweetest kind. Possess your minds fully of the persuasion that prayer is efficacious, when offered in faith and with importunity, to obtain the blessings which we need. God has made himself known as a hearer of prayer: yea, he has promised that we shall have, as far as may be for his glory and our good, whatever we ask. The most important events may be brought about by prayer. One righteous man by fervent and effectual prayer has been able to shut up heaven and open it again. How often did Moses by his prayers avert the divine wrath from the [[@Page:573]] people of Israel! That man who has access to a throne of grace will never want anything which is really needful. “God will give grace and glory, and no good thing will he withhold from them that walk uprightly.” “But he will be inquired of by the house of Israel for this thing, that he may do it for them.”

Banish, as most unreasonable, the idea that prayer is a dull or melancholy business. Such a sentiment must have been invented by Satan, for it never could have been suggested by reason or taught by experience. Intercourse with the greatest and best of all Beings must be a source of exalted pleasure; and surely man can have no greater honour and privilege conferred upon him than to be admitted to converse intimately and confidentially with the God whom angels adore. The experience of every saint attests that “it is good to draw near to God,” and that “one day in his courts is better than a thousand.” I need not be afraid, therefore, to counsel the young to cultivate the spirit of prayer and to be constant in its exercise. “Pray without ceasing;” “Be instant in prayer.” It will not spoil your pleasures, but will open for you new sources of enjoyment, far more refined and satisfactory than any which prayerless [[@Page:574]] persons can possess. Prayer is the only method by which intercourse between heaven and earth can be kept open. Often, too, in the performance of this duty a taste of heaven is brought down to earth, and the pious worshipper anticipates, in some degree, those joys which are ineffable and eternal. Prayer will, moreover, be your most effectual guard against sin and the power of temptation:

“For Satan trembles when he sees

The weakest saint upon his knees.”

XX. I conclude my counsels to the young by a serious and affectionate recommendation to every one who reads these pages to make immediate preparation for death. I know that gay youth are unwilling to hear this subject mentioned. There is nothing which casts a greater damp upon their spirits than the solemn fact that death must be encountered, and that no earthly possessions or circumstances can secure us from becoming his victims on any day. But if it is acknowledged that this formidable evil is inevitable, and that the tenure by which we hold our grasp of life is very fragile, why should we act so unreasonably — and I may say, madly — as to shut our eyes against the danger?

[[@Page:575]] If, indeed, there was no way of preparing to meet this event, there might be some reason for turning away our thoughts from immediate destruction; but if by attention and exertion it is possible to make preparation for death, then nothing can be conceived more insane than to refuse to consider our latter end.

How often are we called to witness the decease of blooming youths in the midst of all their pleasures and prospects! Such scenes have been exhibited within the observation of all of you. Dear friends and companions have been snatched away from the side of some of you. The grave has closed upon many whose prospects of long life were as favourable as those of their survivors. Now, my dear young friends, what has so frequently happened in relation to so many others may take place with regard to some of you. This year you may be called to bid farewell to all your earthly prospects and all your beloved relatives. The bare possibility of such an event ought to have the effect of engaging your most serious attention and of leading you to immediate preparation. Do you ask what preparation is necessary? I answer, reconciliation with God and a meetness for the employments and enjoyments of the [[@Page:576]] heavenly state Preparation for death includes repentance toward God for all our sins, trust in the Lord Jesus Christ and reliance on his atoning sacrifice, regeneration of heart and reformation of life; and. finally, a lively exercise of piety, accompanied with a comfortable assurance of the divine favour. In short, genuine and lively piety forms the essence of the needed preparation. With this your death will be safe and your happiness after death secure; but to render a deathbed not only safe but comfortable, you must have a strong faith and clear evidence that your sins are forgiven and that you have passed from death unto life. Be persuaded, then, before you give sleep to your eyes to commence your return unto God, from whom like lost sheep you .have strayed. “Prepare to meet your God.” “Be ye also ready, for in such an hour as ye think not the Son of man cometh.”

Seek deliverance from the fear of death by a believing application to Him who came on purpose to deliver us from this bondage. With his presence and guidance we need fear no evil, even while passing through the gloomy valley of the shadow of death. He is able by his rod and his staff to comfort us, and to make us conquerors over this last enemy. 


posted 8 Jul 2014, 15:22 by Stephen OldPaths   [ updated 8 Jul 2014, 15:22 ]



O MOST merciful God! I rejoice that thou dost reign over the universe with a sovereign sway, so that thou dost according to thy will in the armies of heaven and among the inhabitants of the earth. Thou art the Maker of my body and Father of my spirit, and thou hast a perfect right to dispose of me in that manner which will most effectually promote thy glory; and I know that whatsoever thou dost is right, and wise, and just, and good. And whatever may be my eternal destiny, I rejoice in the assurance that thy great name will be glorified in me. But as thou hast been pleased to reveal thy mercy and thy grace to our fallen miserable world, and as the word of this salvation has been preached unto me, inviting me to accept of eternal life upon the gracious terms of the gospel, I do cordially receive the Lord Jesus Christ as my Saviour and only Redeemer, [[@Page:517]] believing sincerely the whole testimony which thou hast given respecting his divine character, his real incarnation, his unspotted and holy life, his numerous and beneficent miracles, his expiatory and meritorious death and his glorious resurrection and ascension. I believe also in his supreme exaltation, in his prevalent intercession for his chosen people, in his affectionate care “and aid afforded to his suffering members here below, and in his second coming to receive his humble followers to dwell with himself in heaven, and to take vengeance on his obstinate enemies.

My only hope and confidence of being saved rest simply on the mediatorial work and prevailing intercession of the Lord Jesus Christ; in consequence of which the Holy Spirit is graciously sent to make application of Christ’s redemption, by working faith in us and repentance unto life, and rendering us meet fur the heavenly inheritance by sanctifying us in the whole man — soul, body and spirit. Grant, gracious God, that the rich blessings of the new covenant may be freely bestowed on thy unworthy servant. I acknowledge that I have no claim to thy favour on account of any goodness in mc by nature; for, alas! there dwelleth in me — that is, in my flesh — no [[@Page:518]] good thing; nor on account of any works of righteousness done by me, for all our righteousnesses are as filthy rags. Neither am I able to make atonement for any one of my innumerable transgressions, which I confess before thee are not only many in number, but heinous in their nature, justly deserving thy displeasure and wrath; so that if I were immediately sent to hell thou wouldst be altogether just in my condemnation. Although I trust that I have endeavoured to serve thee with some degree of sincerity, yet whatever good thing I have ever done, or even thought, I ascribe entirely to thy grace, without which I can do nothing acceptable in thy sight. And I am deeply convinced that my best duties have fallen far short of the perfection of thy law, and have been so mingled with sin in the performance that I might justly be condemned for the most fervent prayer I ever made. And I would confess with shame and contrition that I am not only chargeable with sin in the act, but that there is a law in my members warring against the law of my mind, aiming to bring me into captivity to the law of sin and death. This corrupt nature is the source of innumerable evil thoughts and desires, and damps the exercise of faith and love, [[@Page:519]] and stands in the way of well-doing, so that when I would do good, evil is present with me. And so deep and powerful is this remaining depravity that all efforts to eradicate or subdue it are vain without the aid of divine grace. And when at any time I obtain a glimpse of the depth and turpitude of the sin of my nature, I am overwhelmed, and constrained to exclaim with holy Job, “I abhor myself and repent in dust and ashes.”

And now, RIGHTEOUS LORD GOD ALMIGHTY, I would not attempt to conceal any of my actual transgressions, however vile and shameful they are, but would penitently confess there before thee; and would plead in my defence nothing but the perfect righteousness of the Lord Jesus Christ, who died, the just for the unjust, to bring us near to God. For his sake alone do I ask or expect the rich blessings necessary to my salvation; for, although I am unworthy, he is most worthy; though I have no righteousness, he has provided by his expiatory death and by his holy life a complete justifying righteousness, in which spotless robe I pray that I may be clothed; so that thou, my righteous Judge, wilt see no sin in me, but wilt acquit mc from every accusation and justify [[@Page:520]] me freely by thy grace, through the righteousness of my Lord and Saviour, with whom thou art ever well pleased.

And my earnest prayer is, that JESUS may save me from my sins, as well as from their punishment; that I may be redeemed from all iniquity, as well as from the condemnation of the law; that the work of sanctification may be carried on in my soul by thy Word and Spirit, until it be perfected at thine appointed time. And grant, O Lord, that as long as I am in the body I may make it my constant study and chief aim to glorify thy name, both with soul and body, which are no longer mine, but thine; for I am “bought with a price” — not with silver and gold, but with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot. Enable me to let my light so shine that others, seeing my good works, may be led to glorify thy name. Oh make use of me as a humble instrument of advancing thy kingdom on earth and promoting the salvation of immortal souls. If thou hast appointed sufferings for me here below, I beseech thee to consider my weakness, and let thy chastisements be those of a loving Father, that I may be made partaker of thy holiness. And let me not be tempted above what [[@Page:521]] I am able to bear, but with the temptation make a way for escape.

O most merciful God! cast me not off in the time of old age; forsake me not when my strength declineth. Now, when I am old and grey-headed, forsake me not, but let thy grace be sufficient for me, and enable me to bring forth fruit, even in old age. May my hoary head be found in the ways of righteousness! Preserve my mind from dotage and imbecility, and my body from protracted disease and excruciating pain. Deliver me from despondency and discouragement in my declining years, and enable me to bear affliction with patience, fortitude and perfect submission to thy holy will. Lift upon me perpetually the light of thy reconciled countenance, and cause me to rejoice in thy salvation and in the hope of thy glory. May the peace that passeth all understanding be constantly diffused through my soul, so that my mind may remain calm through all the storms and vicissitudes of life.

As, in the course of nature, I must be drawing near to my end, and as I know I must soon put off this tabernacle, I do humbly and earnestly beseech thee, O Father of mercies, to prepare me for this inevitable and solemn event. Fortify my [[@Page:522]] mind against the terrors of death. Give me, if it please thee, an easy passage through the gate of death. Dissipate the dark clouds and mists which naturally hang over the grave, and lead me gently down into the gloomy valley. O my kind Shepherd, who hast tasted the bitterness of death for me, and who knowest how to sympathise with and succour the sheep of thy pasture, be thou present to guide, to support and to comfort me. Illumine with beams of heavenly light the valley of the shadow of death, so that I may fear no evil. When heart and flesh fail, be thou the strength of my heart and my portion for ever. Let not my courage fail in the trying hour. Permit not the great adversary to harass my soul in the last struggle, but make me a conqueror, and more than a conqueror, in this fearful conflict. I humbly ask that my reason may be continued to the last, and, if it be thy will that I may be so comforted and supported, that I may leave a testimony in favour of the reality of religion and thy faithfulness in fulfilling thy gracious promises; and that others of thy servants who may follow after may be encouraged by my example to commit themselves boldly to the guidance and keeping of the Shepherd of Israel.

[[@Page:523]] And when my spirit leaves this clay tenement, Lord Jesus, receive it. Send some of the blessed angels to convoy my inexperienced soul to the mansion which thy love has prepared. And oh let me be so situated, though in the lowest rank, that I may behold thy glory. May I have an abundant entrance administered unto me into the kingdom of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ; for whose sake and in whose name I ask all these things. Amen.

Page 495. Chap. XXII. Preparation for death — The state of the soul after death.

posted 8 Jul 2014, 15:19 by Stephen OldPaths   [ updated 8 Jul 2014, 15:19 ]


Preparation for death — The state of the soul after death.

IT was intended to have added the deathbed experience of the Rev. Dr. Andrew Fuller and of some others, but it seemed that this part of the subject had been extended far enough. Indeed, some may be ready to inquire why so much is said respecting the thoughts and speeches of dying persons. To which we would reply that there is no subject in the world which ought to be more interesting to all men, since all men are appointed to die. Whatever other evils we may escape, “in this war there is no discharge.” It is a scene of which we can have no previous experience, and therefore it is prudent to learn what we can from the experience of those who have gone before us. It is an important and an awful scene, and should therefore occupy many of our thoughts. If due preparation has been neglected in life and health, there is small probability that it will be made on a dying bed. If I had set down all that I have [[@Page:496]] witnessed and read of the dying exercises of unconverted sinners, it would have presented an appalling object for our contemplation. Such scenes have often been exhibited in print, and are not without their use, but such narratives did not fall in with the scope of these essays. But, however insipid or even disgusting these accounts of the dying exercises of believers may be to some readers, there is a class, and a large one too, who will take a deep interest in these things, because they are now waiting till their change come, and are looking forward with intense interest to that inevitable event of which we have been writing so much. These are the persons whom the author has had principally in view in selecting these experiences of departing saints; and as the hopes and comforts of the children of God in life are very various, so he has endeavoured to show that a like variety is found in their views and exercises at the time of their departure out of the world.

The writer confesses also that in dwelling so long on this subject he had some regard to his own edification and preparation for death. As he knows from infallible evidence that he will soon be required to put off this tabernacle and to emigrate from this lower world, be was solicitous to [[@Page:497]] acquire as much information as he was able from those who have gone before what were the difficulties, sufferings and encouragements of pilgrims in this last stage of their journey. And, however it may be with others, he has derived instruction and encouragement from the contemplation of such scenes as are here described. It appears to him supremely reasonable that during the short time which remains of his life he should be chiefly concerned in the meditation of the things of another world and in making actual preparation for his own departure. He once supposed that the near approach of death would of itself be sufficient to arouse the mind and impress upon it the reality and awful importance of eternal things; but he finds by sad experience that, however his judgment is convinced of the certainty of death and its consequences, nothing will bring these things to bear on the heart but the illumination of the Holy Spirit. He wishes, therefore, to engage in such reading, meditation and writing as may have a tendency to fix his thoughts on the solemn scene before him, when he must close his eyes on the light of this world and bid adieu to all friends and objects with which he has been conversant here. He is not of opinion, however, that the [[@Page:498]] best way to make preparation for death is to sit down and pore over the condition of our own souls, or to confine our exertions to those things which are directly connected with our own salvation.

We are kept here to do our Master’s work, and that relates to others as well as ourselves. We have a stewardship of which we must give an account; and the faithful and wise steward is careful and diligent in dispensing the blessings committed to him to others; this is especially the case in regard to ministers of the gospel. We have a responsible office, and our account before the tribunal of Jesus Christ must be solemn and awful; and it will not do to relinquish the proper work of our calling upon the pretext of seeking our own salvation. Our own seeking will be entirely unavailing without the aid and blessing of God, and this we may expect most confidently when we are diligently engaged in doing his work, which is always the duties of our station and calling. Active duty must be performed as long as we have strength for the work; and, like the Levites, we must attend around the tabernacle and altar when we are too old for more laborious services. Many of the faithful servants of God have expressed a strong [[@Page:499]] desire no: to outlive their usefulness, and some have wished that their departure might occur in the very act of preaching. These things we may better leave to the wisdom of God, who directs all the circumstances of the death of his people as well as of their lives. Even when by bodily infirmities the servants of God are obliged to desist from public labours, they do not cease from serving their Master; their lives are not useless. His name is as much honoured by patient submission and cheerful resignation as by zealous public exertion; and the greatest and most effectual work which can be performed by any on earth they can perform — I mean the offering of prayers and intercessions day and night at the throne of grace. Let not the infirm and aged say that they can now do nothing for God. They can do much, and, for aught they can tell, more than they ever did in the days of their vigour.

It is a beautiful sight to see men laden with fruit even in old age. Such fruits are generally more mature than those of earlier days, and the aged saint often enjoys a tranquillity and a repose of spirit which are almost peculiar to that age. David — or whoever is the author of the seventy-first Psalm — prays most earnestly a prayer which [[@Page:500]] should be daily on the lips of the aged: “Cast me not off in the time of old age; forsake me not when my strength faileth.” And again: “Now, when I am old and grey-headed, forsake me not until I have showed thy strength to this generation, and thy power to all that are to come.” Let the aged, then, tell to those that come after them the works of divine grace which they have witnessed or which their fathers have told them. Let them be active as long as they can, and when bodily strength faileth let them wield the pen; or if unable to write for the edification of the Church, let them exhibit a consistent and shining example of the Christian temper, in kindness and good-will to all, in uncomplaining patience, in contented poverty, in cheerful submission to painful providences, and in mute resignation to the bereavement of their dearest friends. And when death comes let them not be afraid or dismayed; then will be the time to honour God by implicitly and confidently trusting in his promises. Let them “against hope believe in hope.” It is by faith that the last enemy must be conquered. He that believeth shall not be confounded in this trying hour. The Great Shepherd will not forsake his redeemed flock for whom he has shed his blood; [[@Page:501]] and though the adversary may rage and violently assault dying saints, he shall not overcome them. Each one of them may say with humble confidence, “Though I walk through the valley and shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff, they comfort me.” Let us not desire to make a parade and ostentatious display on a dying bed. Death has been called the honest hour, but hypocrisy may be practiced even on a dying bed. Although this event often reveals secrets, and brings deceived souls to a conviction of the sandy foundation on which they have built their hopes, yet some keep on the mask to the last moment. More, however, suppress the expression of their fears and distress of mind. So much is said often about the manner in which persons meet death that some good men have wished and requested to be left very much alone: they have feared lest they should be tempted to vain glory, even on a dying bed, or they have feared lest their courage should fail them in the last struggle, and they should, through pain and imbecility of mind, be left to bring dishonour on their profession. The late excellent and evangelical Simeon of Cambridge seems to have been under the influence of a feeling of this [[@Page:502]] kind. But the best and safest way is submissively to commit all the circumstances of our death unto God.

We have no conception of the soul but as a thinking, active being. The body is merely an organ or instrument by which the soul acts while connected with it; indeed, it cannot be demonstrated that the soul performs all its acts here by the use of this organ. But whether or not is of little consequence. We know that activity belongs to the soul, not to the body; and it would be a strange conclusion that that which is essentially active should cease to act because it had been deprived of one set of organs. The only legitimate inference is, that when separated from the body the mode of action is different from what it was before. As we learn the various operations of the soul only by experience, it is plain that we cannot fully understand or explain the precise mode of its action after it is separated from the body. Paul teaches us that the soul may exist and have conscious exercises of a very exalted kind; for he says, speaking of his rapture into heaven, “Whether in the body or out of the body, I cannot tell.” Now, if the soul could not act without the body, he could have told certainly that he was in the body when [[@Page:503]] he witnessed in the third heavens things which it is not lawful for a man to utter. But this truth is taught more clearly and directly by Christ himself, when he said to the penitent thief on the cross, “This day shalt thou be with me in paradise.” This testimony is of itself abundantly sufficient, and there is no evasion of its force but by an interpretation so frigid and far-fetched that it only serves to betray the weakness of the cause which it is brought to support.

Paul in another passage speaks clearly and explicitly on this point: “Therefore we are always confident, knowing that whilst we are at home in the body we are absent from the Lord. We are confident, I say, and willing rather to be absent from the body and to be present with the Lord.” In the previous context this apostle intimates that when the clay tabernacle is dissolved the soul will not be found naked, but that there will be another house ready to receive it, so that it will not be unclothed, but clothed upon. “For,” says he, “in this we groan, earnestly desiring to be clothed upon with our house, which is from heaven; if so be that, being clothed, we shall not be found naked. For we that are in this tabernacle do groan, being burdened, not that we would be [[@Page:504]] unclothed, but clothed upon, that mortality might be swallowed up of life.” It would seem, then, that the soul is never without a suitable dwelling: it will not be unclothed; it only passes from one house to another — from an earthly to a heavenly habitation. But what this celestial clothing will be of course we cannot now tell. When Stephen was dying he cried, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” The Lord Jesus is everywhere near to his saints; and as he watches over his sheep during their whole passage through the wilderness, so he is especially near to them when they come to the “valley and shadow of death,” so that they may then sing with the sweet Psalmist of Israel, “Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil; for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff, they comfort me.” But as Jesus the Lord has his residence in heaven, where he occupies a place on the throne of God at the right hand of the Father, and is surrounded by an innumerable host ready to execute all his commandments, so he commissions messengers to attend at the dying beds of believers and receive the spirits of the just and conduct them to his presence. It is evident that the departing soul will need a guide and convoy, for, utterly ignorant of the glorious world [[@Page:505]] into which it has entered, it would not know which way to direct its course or where to find its allotted mansion. For heaven is a wide domain — the house of the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ has MANY MANSIONS, and every redeemed soul has provided for it an appropriate residence, for Christ says, “I go to prepare a place for you.” And that guardian angels are sent to perform these kind offices for departed saints we are not left to conjecture, for we read that as soon as Lazarus died he “was carried by the angels into Abraham’s bosom.” There is no reason for supposing that the privilege now conferred on the beggar was peculiar to him; every saint needs the guidance and guardianship of angels, as well as Lazarus; and we may conclude, therefore, that angels will attend on every departing saint.

Although we cannot now understand how the soul will act in the future world when divested of the body of clay, we cannot doubt that its consciousness of its identity will go with it. The memory of the past, instead of being obliterated, will, in all probability, be much more perfect than while the person lived upon earth. It is by no means incredible that memory in the future world will present to men everything which they have [[@Page:506]] ever known, and every transaction in which they were ever engaged. The susceptibility of joyful emotions will also accompany the soul into the invisible world; and one of the first feelings of the departed saint will be a lively sense of complete deliverance from all evil, natural and moral. The pains of death will be the last pangs ever experienced. When these are over the soul will enjoy the feelings of complete salvation from every distress. What a new and delightful sensation will it be to feel safe from every future danger, as well as saved from all past trouble! But the most important change experienced at this time will be a perfect purification of the soul from sin. The soul, heretofore struggling with inbred corruption, which damped its ardour, darkened its views and stupefied its feelings, now can act without any moral obstruction. Who that has often complained, like Paul, “Oh, wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death?” but will feel this to be indeed heaven begun, when there will no more be felt any secret workings of pride, or envy, or selfishness, but when it shall be pure, and sweetly conscious of its own purity?

As perfection in holiness supposes a clear [[@Page:507]] knowledge of spiritual objects, so we know that we shall no more see the divine glory, as it were, by reflection from a glass, but directly, or “face to face.” The soul of man, though probably greatly enlarged in its powers, may have new faculties developed for which there was no use here, and of which it had no consciousness; yet the field of knowledge being boundless, and our minds being capable of attending only to one thing at a time, our knowledge of celestial things will be gradually acquired, and not perfected at once. Indeed, there can be no limit set to the progression in knowledge; it will be endless. And no doubt the unalloyed pleasures of the future state will be intimately connected with this continual increase of divine knowledge. And as here knowledge is acquired by the aid of instructors, why may not the same be the fact in heaven? What a delightful employment to the saints who have been drinking in the knowledge of God and his works for thousands of years, to communicate instruction to the saint just arrived! How delightful to conduct the pilgrim who has just finished his race through the ever-blooming bowers of paradise, and to introduce him to this and the other ancient believer, and to assist him to find out and recognise, among [[@Page:508]] so great a multitude, old friends and earthly relatives.

There need be no dispute about our knowing in heaven those whom we knew and loved here; for if there should be no faculty by which they could at once be recognised, yet by extended and familiar intercourse with the celestial inhabitants it cannot be otherwise but that interesting discoveries will be made continually; and the unexpected recognition of old friends may be one of the sources of pleasure which will render heaven so pleasant. But as the fleshly bond of relationship is dissolved at death, it seems reasonable to think that the only bond of union and kindred in heaven will be the spiritual bond which unites all believers in one body and to Christ their living Head; therefore we may presume that there will be felt an ardent desire to form an acquaintance with the most remarkable personages who have lived from Adam downward. Who, if admitted into paradise, could repress his curiosity to see, and, if possible, to converse with, the progenitor of our race? Doubtless he could tell us some things which we do not fully understand. And who would not wish to see the first person who ever entered those blessed abodes from our earth? Ay, and Enoch too, who never [[@Page:509]] tasted death, and who still possesses his original body, changed and glorified, it is true, but still substantially the same? We might expect to find him in the company of Elijah, who is similarly circumstanced; and some think that the body of Moses, though it was dead and buried, was raised again, as he seems to have appeared in his own proper body on the Mount of Transfiguration. And where is Abraham, that venerable saint, who in faith and obedience exceeded all other men, and obtained from God the honourable appellation of “the father of the faithful” and the friend of God? And who would be in heaven ever so short a time without desiring to see Paul, the apostle of the Gentiles; and not him only, but Peter and John and all the college of the apostles?

But methinks we are in danger of indulging our imaginations too far, and of transferring to a heavenly state too many of the feelings and associations of our earthly condition. And I am reminded also that as the twinkling stars are lost in the blaze, of the rising sun, so there is one Person in the highest heavens, visible to all who enter that place, whose glory irradiates all the celestial mansions, whose love and smiles diffuse ineffable joy through all the heavenly hosts, and in whom every believer [[@Page:510]] has an absorbing interest with which no other can be compared. On his head he wears many crowns, and in his hand he holds a sceptre by which he governs the universe; but yet he exhibits visibly the marks of a violent death, which for us he once endured. His name is, THE WORD OF GOD, KING OF KINGS AND LORD OF LORDS, THE ALPHA AND OMEGA, THE ALMIGHTY. And behold, all the angels of God worship him. And the host of the redeemed, which no man can number, sing a song of praise to the LAMB which no man can learn, except those that are redeemed from among men; for the burden of their song is, “Unto Him that loved us and washed us from our sins in his own blood. These are they that have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.” Every redeemed soul upon being admitted into heaven will, for a while, be so completely absorbed in the contemplation of that DIVINE PERSON that he will be incapable of paying much attention to any others; like that Armenian princess of whom Xenophon gives an account, who, after all the rest of the company had been expressing their admiration of Cyrus, one praising one thing and one another, upon being asked what about this royal personage she admired most, [[@Page:511]] answered that she did not even look at him, because her whole attention had been absorbed in admiring him (her young husband) who had offered to die for her. But the saved sinner may say that his attention was completely absorbed in gazing upon Him who not only said that he would die for him, but who actually did die in his place, and by this sacrifice redeemed him from the curse of the law and from all iniquity. The sweet and intimate intercourse which the redeemed soul will have with his. Saviour cannot now be conceived: it will far transcend all the ideas which we now can form, and will be a perfection of bliss so great that nothing can be added to it in any other way than by an increase of the capacity of the soul.

But still, all that is enjoyed in this intermediate state between death and judgment is but a part of that felicity to which the redeemed of the Lord are destined hereafter. It- is only the enjoyment of a separate soul; but “the exceeding great and eternal weight of glory “laid up in heaven for the children of God is for the whole man, made up of soul and body; and as even in this world many pleasures are enjoyed by means of bodily organs, who can tell what new and ever-varying delights may be let into the soul by means of bodies of a [[@Page:512]] celestial mould — bodies fashioned after the model of the glorious body of Jesus Christ? If our senses now bring to our view so many glorious objects both in the heavens and the earth, how rich and delightful will be the vision of the upper heavens by the eyes of the resurrection body! Then shall we see Jesus with our bodily eyes; then shall we behold what now no tongue can describe nor even heart conceive. The departed saints, therefore, though blessed to the full amount of their present capacity, yet are living in joyful expectation of a more glorious state.

We should not think that the redemption and resuscitation of the body is a small matter. The body is an essential part of human nature, and the glorified body will add to the felicity of the redeemed in a degree which we have no means of calculating. The inspired writers, therefore, when they speak of the blessedness of heaven, speak sparingly of the state of the separate soul, but when they describe the resurrection, they seem to be enraptured. Hear Paul drawing a comparison between this mortal, corrupt and earthly body and that immortal, pure and spiritual body which will be possessed by every saint: “It is sown in corruption; it is raised in incorruption. It is sown [[@Page:513]] iii dishonour; it is raised in glory. It is sown in weakness; it is raised in power. It is sown a natural body; it is raised a spiritual body. As we have borne the image of the earthy, so shall we bear the image of the heavenly. For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality.”

No sooner shall these resuscitated bodies open their immortal eyes than they shall behold the Son of man coming in the clouds of heaven. And no sooner is the judgment set than all these shall be caught up to meet the Lord in the air, and shall be so highly honoured as to have a place, as assessors, on the judgment-seat with him. And when the awful transactions of that day are ended, the redeemed shall accompany their Lord and Saviour to heaven, where they shall be put in full and eternal possession of that felicity and glory which Christ has purchased for them by his precious blood. In this sublime temple their songs shall mingle with those of the holy angels for ever and ever. It need not be supposed that saints in heaven will be continually employed in nothing but praise. This, indeed, will be their noblest employment, and the anthems of praise to God and the Lamb will never cease; but may we not [[@Page:514]] reasonably suppose that the exercises and pursuits of the saints will be various? The wonderful works of God will open to their contemplation. They may be employed, as angels are now, as messengers to distant worlds, either as instruments of justice or mercy; for we find that the angels are employed in both these ways. While, then, one choir surrounds the throne and elevates the celestial song of praise for redemption, others may be employed in executing the commands of their Lord; and then, in their turn, these last may keep up the unceasing praise while the first go forth on errands of mercy or wrath. Some have divided the angels into assisting and ministering: the first are supposed to be always engaged in acts of worship, while the last are always employed in other services. But it would be much more reasonable to suppose that they all, in turn, take their part in both these, services. Here, however, it becomes us to pause, and in deep humility, on account of our ignorance and unworthiness, to put our hands on our mouths and our mouths in the dust. We are slow to learn earthly things; how then can we comprehend those which are heavenly? But if we are the children of God, we shall have experience of these celestial employments and never-ending [[@Page:515]] joys. Soon, very soon, these things which are now dimly discerned by means of faith will be realised, when every humble saint shall appear with Christ in glory, and shall never be exposed any more to danger or suffering. Let us, then, now begin the song which shall never cease to Him that loved us and washed us from our sins in his own precious blood.

Page 474. Chap. XXI. Deathbed exercises of Mr. Baxter and the Rev. Thomas Scott, D.D.

posted 8 Jul 2014, 15:18 by Stephen OldPaths   [ updated 8 Jul 2014, 15:18 ]


Deathbed exercises of Mr. Baxter and the Rev. Thomas Scott, D.D.

DR. BATES, in his funeral sermon, occasioned by the death of Mr. Baxter, has given us an interesting account of his last days, some part of which I will extract, as furnishing an example not of a highly excited state of feeling, but of a truly pious, calm, submissive frame of mind. Few persons who ever lived have given more convincing evidence of fervent piety throughout a long life than this devoted servant of God. His end corresponded with the tenor of his life, and with the religion which he inculcated in his sermons.

“He continued,” says Dr. Bates, “to preach so long, notwithstanding his wasted and languishing body, that the last time he almost died in the pulpit. It would doubtless have been his joy to be transfigured in the mount. Not long after he felt the approaches of death, and was confined to his sick bed. Death reveals the secrets of the heart: then words are spoken with most feeling and least [[@Page:475]] affectation. This excellent saint was the same in his life and his death; his last hours were spent in preparing others and himself to appear before God. He said to his friends who came to see him, ‘Ye come hither to learn to die. I am not the only person that must go this way. I can assure yon that your whole life, be it ever so long, is little enough to prepare for death. Have a care of this vain, deceitful world and the lusts of the flesh. Be sure you choose God for your portion, heaven for your home, God’s glory for your end and his word for your rule, and then you need never fear but we shall meet in comfort.’ Never was penitent sinner more humble, never was a sincere believer more calm and comfortable. He acknowledged himself to be the vilest dunghill worm (it was his usual expression) that ever went to heaven. He admired the divine condescension to us, often saying, ‘Lord, what is man — what am I, a vile worm — to the great God?’ Many times he prayed, ‘God be merciful to me a sinner,’ and thanked God that this was left on record in the gospel as an effectual prayer. He said, ‘God may justly condemn me for the best duty f ever performed. All my hopes are from the free mercy of God in Christ.’ After a slumber, he awoke and said, ‘I [[@Page:476]] shall rest from my labour.’ A minister present said, ‘And your works shall follow you.’ To whom he replied, ‘No works: I will leave out works if God will grant me the other.’ When a friend was comforting him with the good which many had received by his preaching and writing, he said, ‘I was but a pen in God’s hand, and what praise is due to a pen?’

“His resigned submission to the will of God in his sharp sickness was eminent. When extremity constrained him earnestly to pray to God for his release by death, he would check himself: ‘It is not fit for me to prescribe: when thou wilt, what thou wilt and how thou wilt. ‘Being in great anguish, he said, ‘Oh how unsearchable are his judgments, and his ways past finding out! the reaches of his providence we cannot fathom.’ And to his friends, ‘Do not think the worse of religion for what you see me suffer.’ Being often asked how it was with the inner man, he replied, ‘I have a well-grounded assurance of my eternal happiness, and great peace and comfort within.’ He .said, ‘Flesh must perish, and we must feel the perishing of it,’ and that though his judgment submitted, yet sense would still make him groan. He derived great comfort from that description in [[@Page:477]] Hebrews xii. 22, that he was going to the innumerable company of angels and to the general assembly and Church of the first-born, whose names are written in heaven, and to God the Judge of all, and to the spirits of just men made perfect, and to Jesus the Mediator of the new covenant, and to the blood of sprinkling that’ speaketh better things than the blood of Abel. ‘That Scripture,’ he said, ‘deserved a thousand and a thousand thoughts.’

“At another time he said he derived great comfort and sweetness in repeating the Lord’s Prayer, and was sorry some good people were prejudiced against the use of it, for there were all necessary petitions for the soul and body contained in it. He gave excellent counsels to young ministers who visited him, and earnestly prayed to God to bless their labours and make them very successful in turning many souls to Christ — expressed great joy in the hopes that God would do a great deal of good by them, and that their spirits might be moderate and peaceful. He often prayed that God would be merciful to this miserable, distracted world, and that he would preserve his Church and interest in it. He advised his friends to beware of self-conceit, as a sin that was likely to ruin the nation.

[[@Page:478]] “I visited him with a very worthy friend, Mr. Mather, from New England, the day before he died. I said to him, ‘You are now approaching your long-desired home.’ He answered, ‘I believe, I believe.’ He expressed great willingness to die, and during his sickness, when asked, ‘How he did,’ his reply was, ‘Almost well.’ His joy was most remarkable when, in his own apprehension, death was nearest; and his spiritual joy was at length consummated in eternal joy. On the day of his death a great trembling and coldness extorted strong cries from him for pity and relief from heaven; which cries and agonies continued for some time, till at length he ceased and lay in patient expectation of his change. The last words he spoke to me, on being informed that I was come to see him, were, ‘Oh, I thank him, I thank him;’ and turning his eyes to me, said, ‘The Lord teach you how to die.’ To the last I never could perceive his peace and heavenly hopes assaulted or disturbed. I have often heard him greatly lament that he felt no greater liveliness in what appeared so great and clear to him and so much desired by him. He told me he knew it should be well with him when he was gone. He wondered to hear others speak of their sensible and passionately [[@Page:479]] strong desires to die, and of their comforts of spirit when sensible of their approaching death; when, though he thought he knew as much as they, and had as rational satisfaction as they could have that his soul was safe, he never could feel their sensible consolations. I asked whether much of this was not to be resolved into bodily constitution: he told me he thought it must be so.”

A wicked and groundless report was circulated that he was greatly troubled with skeptical thoughts before he died. Mr. Sylvester, who was with him during his whole sickness, declares there was not the least foundation whatever for such a report. But the devil seems to be greatly envious at the comfortable death of God’s people, and therefore his agents are busy in circulating slanders against the saints in regard to this matter. So, although Calvin ended his days in great tranquillity and in the full exercise of faith and enjoyment of reason, his enemies circulated the report that he died in all the horrors of despair. Thus, also, when the Rev. Augustus Toplady was near his end it was circulated that he had renounced all those doctrines of grace for which he was so zealous in his life. Happily, the report reached him before his decease, which gave him the opportunity of contradicting [[@Page:480]] it, and leaving his dying testimony in favour of those doctrines. His dying experience was of the most joyful and triumphant kind, and would do to be classed with those of John Janeway, Edward Payson and Dr. Samuel Finley, but we have not room for it and many others.

The two Henrys, father and son, so eminent for their piety and usefulness, were carried off by sudden and painful diseases, which afforded little opportunity for much conversation. They experienced, however, much of the divine aid and support. John Howe’s death was exactly in character with his life and writings.

It may be thought that all the specimens of the experience of believers during their last illness have been of the favourable kind, and far above what is witnessed in the greater number of Christians on their dying bed. It may be so. But I wish to remark that in all my life I have known few persons who lived like Christians when in health who did not in their approach to death manifest as much hope and fortitude in that trying hour as could reasonably have been expected from the character of their piety. In many cases, as I have before stated, the comfort and assurance of some timid and desponding believers have risen [[@Page:481]] far above what any of their friends dared to hope. In general, the result of my observation is, that the pious find death less terrible on their near approach to the event than when it was viewed at a distance.

Some persons have naturally a much greater dread of death than others, though their piety may be more lively. Of this class was the late Dr. Thomas Scott, the author of the Commentary on the Bible. Few men of the last age gave stronger evidence of deep-rooted and constant attachment to the Saviour than this devoted man. In the service of his Master he was most laborious and faithful, and it would be difficult to name any man whose evangelical labours have been attended with happier results. He contributed much, in conjunction with such men as Romaine, Newton, Cecil and others, to extend the influence of vital religion far and wide through the Established Church of England; and his usefulness was not confined to his own country or to the period of his life, but in these United States I know no writings which have been so extensively circulated, and which have so powerful an effect in correcting prevailing errors in religion and promoting sound, evangelical views of scriptural truth. I have [[@Page:482]] selected the dying experience of this man, of undoubted and eminent piety, for the reason hinted at in the beginning of this chapter — because his exercises, though deeply serious, were not, for the most of the time, remarkably comfortable, and in no part of his illness did he express much elevated joy. I think it right to view God’s people in their various states and frames as they approach the end of their pilgrimage.

A pious clergyman remarked, in relation to the exercises of Dr. Scott, that men of profound thought and deep reflection are not commonly so joyful on a dying bed as Christians of less understanding and less experience; and he referred to Bunyan as of the same mind, who represents Christian, his chief pilgrim, as almost overwhelmed with the waters of Jordan, while the less experienced pilgrim, Hopeful, goes over with little difficulty or danger. I cannot say that I can altogether concur in this remark. It may often happen that the unlettered Christian has a livelier faith than the profoundly learned theologian, and of course will be likely to have a calmer, happier exit from the world. But if men of talents and learning possess a vigorous, evangelical faith, they are as likely to rejoice on a dying bed as any [[@Page:483]] others, as is evinced by the examples of Rivet, Baxter, Howe, etc. The difference between the comforts of dying saints may be attributed, first, to divine sovereignty, which distributes grace and consolation as seemeth good unto him; secondly, to bodily temperament, some persons being more fearful than others and more prone to suspect their own sincerity; and thirdly, to the nature of the disease by which the body is brought down to the grave. It is the tendency of some diseases, while they do not disturb the intellect, to exhilarate the spirits and enliven the imagination, while a distressing depression or perturbation is the effect of others; to say nothing of the different degrees of pain experienced by different persons; and we know that some diseases have a deplorably stupefying effect. A fourth and frequent cause of difference in the exercises of dying persons is produced by the medicine which is administered. When physicians can do nothing to cure, they think it right to lull their patients by opiates or excite them by alcohol. I have, when sick, been more afraid of nothing than these intoxicating and stupefying or even exhilarating drugs. Oh let no artificial means be ever used with me, in that dread hour, to interrupt sober and deliberate reflection!

[[@Page:484]] But to return to Dr. Scott. His disease was a violent fever, so that the range of his pulse was from one hundred and fifty to one hundred and seventy-five in a minute. Under such a disease it is not wonderful that he was often restless and uncomfortable in his feelings. The Rev. Daniel Wilson (now bishop of Calcutta) in his funeral sermon observes, “That for several years preceding the event itself his bodily infirmities had been increasing. His strength and natural spirits at times sensibly failed. His own impression was, that his departure was approaching, and he contemplated it with calmness and tranquillity.” Mr. Wilson with great propriety remarks, “Before I proceed to give some particulars of his most instructive and affecting departure, I must observe that I lay no stress on them as to the evidence of his state before God. It is the tenor of the life, not that of the few suffering and morbid scenes which precede dissolution, that fixes the character. We are not authorised from Scripture to place any dependence on the last periods of sinking nature through which the Christian may be called to pass to his eternal reward. But though no importance is to be attached to these hours of fainting mortality with reference to the acceptance and final [[@Page:485]] triumph of the dying Christian, yet where it pleases God to afford one of his departing servants, as in the instance before us, such a measure of faith and self-possession as to close a holy and most consistent life with a testimony which sealed, amidst the pains of acute disease and in the most impressive manner, all his doctrines and instructions during forty-five preceding years, we are called on, as I think, to record with gratitude the divine benefit, and to use it with humility for the confirmation of our own faith and joy.”

His second son writes from his bedside: “His gloom, of which I had heard a good deal in an indistinct manner, by no means relates to the prospects which lie before him. He is perfectly calm and cheerful in the view of dissolution, and seems disappointed at the symptoms of recovery. He thought his trials were almost over; and said that yesterday morning he had hoped to end the sacred services of the day in heaven. Indeed, his wish is decidedly to depart, in the confidence that he shall be with Christ, which is far better. His dejection is manifestly nothing more than the feeling of a mind exhausted by its own exertions. His feelings on Sunday were very distressing both to himself and others, and were clearly aggravated [[@Page:486]] by a degree of delirium arising from fever. Yesterday and to-day he has been quite calm, and, though too weak to speak much, is evidently in a tranquil state. I brought my eldest boy with me, that he might once more see his grandfather and receive his last blessing. He spoke to him this morning for a few minutes in a most affecting manner, and pronounced his blessing upon him in a way which I trust he will never forget. May God grant that he may walk in the steps which are leading his grandfather to glory!” In another letter, a few days afterward, he says, “Though I can say nothing favourable respecting his health, for he appears approaching very near to his end, yet, thanks be to God! the clouds which overspread his mind are breaking away, and he talks with a placidity and cheerfulness greater than I have before seen since I came.” “Just as we had assembled for family worship he sent to say that he wished us to meet in his room and join in the Lord’s Supper, as a means of grace through which he might receive that consolation that he was seeking. The whole family, with one exception, was present, and an old parishioner. It is impossible to describe the deeply interesting and affecting scene. The fervour displayed by my dear father, [[@Page:487]] the poor emaciated form, the tears and sobs of all present, were almost more than I could bear with that degree of composure which was requisite to enable me to read the service so as to make him hear.” (Dr. S. had become very deaf.) “But it was a delightful feeling, and has done more to cheer our downcast hearts than can well be conceived. It was, moreover, a cordial to my father’s spirits, who adopted the words of the venerable Simeon in the prospect of dissolution: ‘Now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace.’“

The Rev. D. Wilson in his funeral sermon, of which a number of editions were published, makes the following just remarks: “The remarkable sufferings of so eminent a saint in his last sickness may perhaps at first perplex the mind of a young Christian. But such a person should remember that the way to heaven is ordinarily a way of tribulation, and that the greatest honour God puts on his servants is to call them to such circumstances of affliction as display and manifest his grace. What would have crushed a weak and unstable penitent, with immature knowledge of the promises of salvation, only illustrated the faith of the venerable subject of this discourse. God adapts the burden to the strength. As to the [[@Page:488]] darkness and anguish which at times rested on his mind, they were clearly the combined effects of disease and the temptations of the adversary. The return of comfort as the fever remitted made this quite certain, and he was himself able, at times, to make the distinction. But even in the midst of his afflictive feelings it is manifest to every real judge of such a case that a living and a strong faith was in vigorous activity. For consolation is one thing, faith another. This latter grace often lays hold of the promises made in Christ with the firmest grasp at the very time when hope and comfort are interrupted by the morbid state of the bodily and mental powers. Our feelings and powers, thank God! are not the foundation on which we build. Never, perhaps, was stronger faith exhibited by our Saviour himself than when he uttered those piercing words, ‘My God! my God! why hast thou forsaken me?’“

His daughter, in giving an account of the condition of her dying father, says: “In the time of his darkness and gloom he prayed without ceasing and with inexpressible fervour. He seemed unconscious of any one being near him, and gave vent to the feelings of his mind without restraint. And, oh what holy feelings were they’ What [[@Page:489]] spirituality! what hatred of sin! what humility! what simple faith in Christ! what zeal for God’s glory! what submission! Never could I hear him without being reminded of Him’ who, being in an agony, prayed the more earnestly.’ ‘I think nothing,’ said he, ‘of my bodily pains — my soul is all. I trust all will end well, but it is a dreadful conflict. I hope — I fear — I tremble — I pray. Satan tries to be avenged of me in this awful hour for all that I have done against his kingdom through life. He longs to {duck me out of Christ’s hand. Subdue the enemy, O Lord. Silence the accuser. Bruise Satan under my feet shortly.

“Hide me, O my Saviour, hide,

Till the storm of life is past,

Safe into the haven guide,

Oh receive my soul at last.

Other refuge have I none.”

Oh to enter eternity with one doubt on the mind! — O eternity — eternity — eternity! Oh what a thing sin is! Who knoweth the power of his wrath? If this be the way to heaven, what must be the way to hell? If the righteous scarcely be saved, where shall the ungodly and sinner appear?’“ [[@Page:490]] He mentioned the wonderful way in which his prayers for others had been answered, and seemed to derive some comfort from it. He rejected every attempt to comfort him by reminding him of the way in which he had served and glorified God. “Christ is all,” he said; “he is my only hope.” His wonderful knowledge of Scripture was a source of great comfort, and the exactness with which he repeated passage after passage was amazing. The manner in which also he connected one with another was admirable. His first clear consolation was after receiving the Lord’s Supper, of which an account has been given. He had previously observed, “An undue stress is by some laid on this ordinance as administered to the sick; and others, I think, are in danger of undervaluing it. It is a means of grace, and may prove God’s instrument of conveying to me the comfort I am seeking.” After he had partaken of this divine ordinance he said to his son-in-law, “It was beneficial to me; I received Christ and he received me. I feel a composure which I did not expect last night. I have not a triumphant assurance, but something which is more calm and satisfactory. I bless God for it.” And then he repeated, in the most emphatic manner, the twelfth chapter of Isaiah;[[@Page:491]] “‘O Lord, I will praise thee: though thou wast angry with me,’ etc. Oh to realise the fulness of joy! — oh to have done with temptation! ‘They shall hunger no more, neither thirst any more; neither shall the sun light on them nor any heat; for the Lamb which is in the midst of the throne shall feed them, and shall lead them unto living fountains of waters, and God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes.’ ‘They are come out of great tribulation, and have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb; therefore are they before the throne of God.’ ‘We know not what we shall be, but we know that when he shall appear we shall be like him; for we shall see him as he is.’ ‘The righteous hath hope in his death;’ not driven away — no, no, not driven away!

“There is one feeling,” said he, “which I cannot have if I would. Those that oppose my doctrine have slandered me sadly, but I cannot feel any resentment. I can only love and pity them, and pray for their salvation. I never did feel any resentment against them. I only regret that I did not more ardently long and pray for the salvation of their souls. I feel most earnest in prayer for the promotion of Christ’s kingdom all over the [[@Page:492]] earth. There are two causes in the world — the cause of God and the cause of the devil; the cause of our Lord Jesus Christ and the cause of the devil. The cause of God will prevail all over the world, among all kindreds and people and tongues. It shall fill the whole earth. ‘Hallowed be thy name,’ etc.”

Walking, after a short sleep, in great calmness, he said, “This is heaven begun; I have done with darkness for ever — -for ever. Satan is vanquished. Nothing now remains but salvation with eternal glory — ETERNAL GLORY.” But the conflict was not yet over, for another paroxysm came on with great violence; his sufferings were extreme and confusion and gloom prevailed. He cried earnestly to God, and said, “All my calm and comfort are gone; nothing remains of them but a faint recollection. Well, after all, God is greater than Satan. Is not Christ all-sufficient? Can he not save to the uttermost? Has he not promised to save? Lord, deliver me! suffer not Satan to prevail. Pity, pity, Lord, pity me!” But during all his severe sufferings of mind and body not a word of repining or murmuring ever escaped his lips. He said, with reference to his dying in this gloom, “I cannot help it. ‘Thou art righteous! [[@Page:493]] Father, glorify thy name.’ “And then he repeated those affecting lines of Watts’ paraphrase of the fifty-first Psalm:

“And if my soul were sent to hell, Thy righteous law approves it well. Yet save a trembling sinner, Lord, Whose hope, still hovering round thy word, Would light on some sweet promise there, Some sure support against despair.”

To his wife he said, “God be your Father and your husband. I trust all mine will be kind to you. You have been a great blessing to me. We shall, I trust, meet in heaven. I have less doubt of you than of myself.”

A message was received from the Rev. D. Wilson, his highly-esteemed friend, expressing among other things the great benefit he had been to the Church. “Now this,” said he, “is doing me harm. ‘God be merciful to me a sinner,’ is the only ground on which I can rest. If I am saved, God shall have all the glory.” Having talked too much, he was again distressed, but having obtained some rest, he awoke in the night and said to his youngest son, who sat up with him, “What is the world and the glory of it? I would not change my hope, lean and meagre as it is, for all [[@Page:494]] the kingdoms of the world and the glory of them, were I sure of living a thousand years longer to enjoy them.”

His daughter asked him on Sunday if she should stay from church and attend on him. “Oh no,” he replied; “nothing gives me pleasure but what is for your good and the thought that you pray for me.”

On Monday he said to the servant who attended him, “I thank you for all your kindness. You have been a faithful domestic, and I hope a conscientious one. If at any time I have been hasty and sharp, forgive me and pray to God to forgive, but lay the blame upon me, not on religion.” A similar address and request he made to his curate. Thus his feelings continued to alternate for several days, until death closed the scene. But whatever were his pains, his prayers were unceasing and most earnest. During the whole scene his patience, his kindness, his submission, his humility and his faith were most manifest.

Page 457. Chap. XX. Remarks on deathbed exercises, with several illustrative examples.

posted 8 Jul 2014, 15:16 by Stephen OldPaths   [ updated 8 Jul 2014, 15:16 ]


Remarks on deathbed exercises, with several illustrative examples.

THESE cases of religious experience at the close of life which have been presented. to the reader furnish much reason for encouragement and hope to the real Christian. We learn from them that death, however terrible to nature, may be completely divested of its terrors; that the Christian religion, when it has been cordially embraced, has power to sustain the soul in the last conflict; that the supplies of grace may be so rich and abundant that the bed of death may be the happiest situation which the child of God ever occupied, and his last hours the most comfortable of his whole life; that it is possible for such a flood of divine consolation to be poured into the soul that the pains of the body are scarcely felt, by which we may understand how it was that the martyrs could rejoice in the midst of flames and on the rack. We learn also that these blessed communications of the [[@Page:458]] joy of the Holy Ghost are derived to the soul through the promises of God, and that all that is necessary to fill it with these divine consolations is a firm and lively faith. There is in all these ecstatic and triumphant feelings nothing miraculous, nothing different from the common mode of God’s dealing with his people, except in the degree. The things of eternity are more clearly apprehended, confidence in the promises is more unshaken, submission to the will of God is more unreserved, and gratitude for his goodness more fervent.

Another thing suggested by such happy deathbed exercises is, that the dying saint never entertained a more humble sense of his own unworthiness than during this season of the anticipation of the joys of heaven. These experiences, therefore, furnish strong evidence of the truth of the doctrines of grace; indeed, free grace is the predominant theme in the minds of these highly-favoured servants of God. It is also highly worthy of our marked attention that the Lord Jesus Christ is precious to the dying believer in proportion as his consolations abound. He attributes all that he enjoys or hopes for to this blessed Redeemer. And He who loved him and died for him is most [[@Page:459]] faithful to his gracious promises at this trying moment. Now, when heart and flesh fail he will be the strength of their hearts. Now he enables them to say with confidence, “Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff, they comfort me.” Death is indeed a formidable enemy when armed with his envenomed sting, but when this sting is extracted death is harmless; death comes as a friend to release us from a body of sin and misery. “The sting of death is sin, and the strength of sin is the law;” but when the law has received a full satisfaction, and all sin is pardoned through the blood of Christ, the sting exists no longer. There is no condemnation to them who are in Christ Jesus. It is God that justifieth; who is he that condemneth? It is Christ that died; yea, rather who is risen again. “Precious in the sight of God is the death of his saints.” The meek shall sing even on a dying bed. Here often the timid grow bold, the feeble strong. Here doubts and fears which harassed the weary pilgrim all the journey through are dismissed for ever, and that joyful assurance is realised which had long been ardently desired and hoped for. Where else but among real Christians do we witness such [[@Page:460]] happy scenes at the near approach of death? Can the infidel point to any of his associates who could thus exult in the prospect of death? Can the man of the world exhibit anything like this? Alas! they are driven away from all they love; they may die stupidly; they may be under an awful, blinding delusion; but the positive joys of the believer they cannot experience.

Now, as we must all die, and that soon, ought we not to take all pains and use all possible diligence to be ready to die the death of the righteous? When that awful hour shall arrive worldly honours and worldly possessions will be nothing to us. Royal sceptres and crowns and treasures will be utterly unavailing; but the humble believer, however racked with pain of body, is safe in the hands of a kind Redeemer, who, having himself experienced the pangs of death, knows how to sympathise with and succour his beloved disciples when they are called to this last trial. He. will not then forsake those whom he has supported through their whole pilgrimage. His everlasting arms of love and faithfulness will be placed underneath them, and he will bear them as on eagles’ wings. Truly, then, for them to die is gain! They rest from their labours — exchange darkness, sin and [[@Page:461]] sorrow for perfect light, perfect purity and perfect felicity. Lift up your heads, then, ye servants of God, for the day of your redemption draweth nigh. The night is tar spent, the day is at hand. With some of us it must be near the dawn. The darkness will soon be past fur ever. Let us then rejoice in the hope of the glory of God, and wait till our salvation cometh. Now is our salvation nearer than when we believed.

But it may be asked, Do all real Christians die in such joy and triumph as those whose experience has been related? No; this is not pretended. Some, no doubt, die under a cloud, and go out of the world in distressing doubts respecting their eternal destiny. It is to guard against such an event that we would exhort all professors of religion — and include ourselves in the number — to begin in time to make preparation for death. Dear brethren, let us look well to the foundation of our hope; we cannot bestow too much pains and diligence in making our calling and election sure. We shall never regret on a deathbed that we were too much concerned to secure the salvation of our souls, or that we were too careful in making preparation for another world. Let us remember that our time on earth is short, and that whatever is [[@Page:462]] done must be done quickly. There will be no opportunity of coming back to rectify what has been done amiss or to supply what is wanting. “Now is the accepted time, now is the day of salvation.” Let us work while it is day, knowing that the dark night cometh when no man can work. Let us then awake to righteousness. Let us watch and be sober. Let us put on the armour of light, and especially let us see to it that we have on the wedding garment, else we shall never find admittance to the marriage supper of the Lamb. The only robe which can bear the scrutinising inspection of the King is the perfect and spotless robe of Christ’s imputed righteousness. This will render us acceptable in the Beloved. With this we must put on the robe of inherent righteousness, for “without holiness no man shall see the Lord;” and these two, though distinct, are never separated. Only, the latter is never perfect until we come to the end of our course; and this single consideration should reconcile us to the thoughts of death, that then we shall he freed from all sin. Oh how blessed is that state where we shall see no more darkly through a glass, but face to face — where we shall know no more in part, but as we are known! Oh bright and delightful vision of the glory of [[@Page:463]] God in the face of Jesus Christ! Surely this is worth dying for.

But it may be asked, Is there not evidence of too much excitement in the experiences which have been narrated? May not a part at least of the elevated and exhilarated feelings be the effect of an accelerated circulation? People who die of pulmonary consumption are apt to be sanguine and to indulge buoyant hopes even in regard to recovery. In answer, I would say that this may be admitted to have some effect in increasing the degree of excitement, but it never can account for the bright views and unspeakable joys which some experience. And the truth is, we are poor judges of the degree of elevated excitement which the sense of God’s love will produce.

It must be confessed that while we may admire and breathe after such an elevated and triumphant state of mind as was experienced by those of whom some account has been given, yet we cannot so readily sympathise with such high emotions as with a more calm and deliberate frame of spirit. Indeed, it is here as in health: when we see persons much excited in regard to religion or anything else, we do not place such entire confidence in what they utter as when the same persons calmly [[@Page:464]] and soberly express their sentiments. The reason is, that in all great excitements the imagination and feelings predominate over the judgment; and experience teaches that in all such cases there is a tendency to exaggeration and to the use of strong expressions; and it cannot be doubted that in some cases the religions exaltation experienced is somewhat delirious. The nervous system loses its tone, and although its agitations are violent, they are somewhat irregular and excessive, so as to produce an irrepressible thrilling through the soul. It is not wonderful that while the mysterious connection between soul and body is coming to an end there should be something in the emotions new and — in the looks, tones and gestures — out of the common way. This does not alter or vitiate the nature of the pious exercises of the soul, though it may modify them and give them n peculiar aspect and expression. If any person chooses to suppose that in some of the cases specified, while faith was triumphant and hope full of assurance, there might be superadded an exhilaration arising out of the peculiar state of the body, he will not have me objecting. The last exercises of that useful and devoted man, Jeremiah Evarts, were very remarkable for the degree of powerful excitement [[@Page:465]] manifested; and the more remarkable because his mind was highly intellectual and very little subject to excitement, in common. Still it was well known to those intimate with him that when he was aroused his feelings were very strong.

Often, officious friends and physicians are extremely averse to have anything said to their friends on the subject of religion when they are sick, lest it should disturb their minds and so increase the violence of the disease. I would not, it is true, admit every loquacious old man or woman into the chamber of a friend dangerously ill, but a discreet and pious counsellor is of great value at such a time. If the patient is hopefully pious, none can doubt the propriety and comfort of aiding such by holding forth to their view the rich promises of a faithful God. But even when the character of the sick is different, it often gives relief to have an opportunity of conversation with a pious friend or minister. Anxious feelings, pent up in the soul and finding no vent, are far more injurious than a free expression of them; and if the person is in danger of death, will you, can you, be guilty of the cruelty of debarring him from the only opportunity of salvation which he may ever have? If you do, his blood will be [[@Page:466]] found in your skirts. To show how erroneous the opinion is that religious conversation tends to injure the sick by increasing his disease, I will relate a fact which fell under my own observation. A young gentleman of fortune and liberal education had been for some months thinking seriously about his soul’s salvation, but the work had not come to any maturity, when by making too great an exertion of his bodily strength he ruptured a large blood-vessel in the lungs, and was brought to death’s door, not being able to speak above a low whisper. Having been a pupil of mine, I was permitted to see him, and upon asking the state of his mind he whispered in my ear that he was overwhelmed with the most awful darkness and terror; not one ray of light dawned upon his miserable soul. I prayed with him and presented to him a few gospel invitations and promises, and left him, never expecting to see him alive. Next day I called; the physician coming out of his room informed me that while they were waiting for his last breath a favourable change seemed unexpectedly to have taken place, and that he had revived a little. When I approached his bed he looked joyfully in my face, pressed my hand and said, “All is well; I have found peace. This morning, [[@Page:467]] about the dawn, I had the most delightful view of Christ and of his ability and willingness to save me.” And upon inquiry I found that that was the moment when the favourable change took place in his symptoms. Faith and joy accomplished what no medicine could, and acted as a reviving cordial to his dying body. He so far recovered as to live a number of years afterward, though his lungs were never sound; and his consistent walk and conversation attested the reality of his change. He soon joined himself to the communion of the Church, and died in her communion.

While spending a summer in Germantown, near Philadelphia, I was sent for to visit a young man whom I had often seen. He did not belong to my charge, but two pious ladies who did were his friends, and had come out of the city to nurse him. He had a haemorrhage of the lungs which left little room to hope for recovery. As he was a mild and moral man, I did not know but that he might be a professor of religion; but upon asking him a question respecting his hope, he frankly told me that he had been skeptical for many years, and had no belief that the gospel was divine. I never felt more at a loss. The man was too weak to [[@Page:468]] attend to argument, and if I could by reasoning convince him of his error it would not be a saving faith, and he must die before this process could be gone through. I found that his infidelity afforded him no comfort in a dying hour, and that he wished he could believe in Christ. It occurred to me that the word of God contained light and energy in itself, and that if he could not attend to the external evidences the beams of truth might shine in upon his soul, and thus generate a saving faith by the efficient aid of the Spirit. After pointing out the probable sources of his skepticism, I requested the ladies who were attending on him to read certain portions of the gospel to him as he could bear it, for he was very low. This was done; and next day when I came to see him he declared that his doubts were all scattered and that he had hope in Christ. Afterward he was never able to converse, but, as far as is known, died in hope.

I never saw any one approach death so deliberately and composedly as the late Rev. Robert Ray, pastor of the church of Freehold, in New Jersey. He had spent a winter at St. Augustine with the hope of restoring his health, but came home more diseased than before he went. His [[@Page:469]] lungs were deeply affected, and he foresaw that his end was approaching. But as long as he was able to speak he caused himself to be carried to the church and to be assisted into the pulpit, where he would preach and exhort until his breath failed, when he would pant as if about to die, and then be conveyed home as he came. This was done not once or twice, but for many weeks; for he said as he must die he might as well die preaching; and he felt a strong desire to be the means of saving the people committed to his charge, and he hoped that a voice of affectionate warning from the grave might have the effect of awakening some of them. As he suffered but little acute pain, he appeared until his dying day as calm and cheerful as a man long absent from home would when the time came to return to his friends. He conversed as familiarly and composedly about his approaching change as if there was nothing formidable in it. Indeed, it had no terrors for him. For him to die was gain. Even when death was upon him, having observed some of his neighbours coming in, he said, “Well, you have come to see your pastor die.” He then remarked that his feelings were very peculiar, such as he had never experienced before; and without any [[@Page:470]] perturbation of mind or bodily agony he gently fell asleep.

Wishing in these experiences of dying saints to give as great a variety as is compatible with my limits, I will now extract an account of the last illness of Mrs. Susan Huntington, of Boston, taken down by her pastor, the Rev. Dr. Wisner, after his visits to her sick room:

“Tuesday, October 28, 1823. — Called on Mrs. Huntington about half-past nine in the morning. Found that she had failed considerably since my last visit. To an inquiry respecting the state of her mind, she said, ‘I think I have felt more of the presence of Christ than when I saw you last. I have not had those strong views and joyful feelings with which I have sometimes been favoured. My mind is weak; I cannot direct and fix my thoughts as I once could. But I think I have fled for refuge to lay hold on the hope set before me in the precious gospel; and He who is the foundation of that hope will never forsake me.’ Then, with a most interesting expression of countenance, she said, ‘I trust we shall meet in heaven and spend an eternity in praising our dear Redeemer.’ ‘I feel,’ said she, ‘that I have been very, very unfaithful; but he is merciful, his blood [[@Page:471]] cleanseth from all sin, and I trust he has blotted out my sins from the book of his remembrance. Oh what should we do without Christ?’ ‘As much debtors to free grace at the end of our course as at the beginning/ observed her pastor. ‘More, far more/ she replied, ‘for we sin against greater light and love after we are born again. Yes, it is all free grace; if it were not, what would become of me?’ It was answered, ‘You would have perished — justly perished.’ ‘Yes/ she replied; ‘what a glorious plan! what a precious Saviour! Oh that I could love him more! Pray that I may love and glorify him for ever!’

“On Friday, October 31, found her more comfortable. She said, ‘My mind has generally been in a peaceful frame since I saw you; but I want to realise the presence and preciousness of Christ more distinctly and constantly than my great weakness permits me to do.’ In answer to some remarks on the covenant of grace, she said, ‘Glorious covenant! precious promises! I have given myself and my body to Him in whom they are yea and amen, and I do not fear; I desire him to do with me as it shall please him.”

“Tuesday, November 3. — To the usual inquiry, she replied, ‘Mrs. Graham accurately describes my [[@Page:472]] feelings when she says, “Thus far the Lord hath brought me through the wilderness, bearing, chastising, forgiving, restoring. I am near to Jordan’s flood. May my blessed High Priest and Ark of the Covenant lead on my staggering steps the little farther I have to go.”’ And on December 4 she breathed her last, in the faith and hope of the gospel.”

As in the preceding account of Mrs. Huntington mention is made of Mrs. Graham, of New York, it may be in place to give a few particulars of this wise woman, as she may properly be called, during her last illness. Foreseeing that her end was near, she sent for Mrs. Chrystie, a dear friend, between whom and herself an agreement had been made that whichever was first summoned away should be attended in her last moments by the other. To her son-in-law, Mr. Bethune, whom she saw standing by, she said, “My dear, dear son, I am going to leave you; I am going to my Saviour.” He answered, “I know that when you do go from us it will be to the Saviour; but, my dear mother, it may not be the Lord’s time now to call you to himself.” “Yes,” said she, “now is the time; and oh I could weep for sin!” Her words were accompanied with her tears. “Have [[@Page:473]] you any doubts, then, my dear friend?” asked Mrs. Chrystie. “Oh no,” replied she, “I have no more doubt of going to my Saviour than if I were already in his arms. My guilt is all transferred. He has cancelled all my debt; yet I could weep for sins against so good a God. It seems to me there must be weeping even in heaven.” When her dear friend and pastor, Dr. Mason, came to see her, they had a very interesting interview, at the close which he inquired if there was anything, in particular, for which he should pray. She said, “The Lord will direct,” and immediately offered up this short prayer, “Lord, direct thy servant in prayer.” During her sickness she was for much of the time lethargic, and it was often difficult to arouse her. But when at any time waked up for a moment she would utter some sweet word, such as “Peace,” indicating the happy state of her mind. Dr. Mason, in his funeral sermon, said, “This may truly be called falling asleep in Jesus.” All terror seemed to be removed, and her countenance was placid and looked younger than before her illness. At a quarter-past twelve o’clock on the 27th of July, 1814, without a struggle or a groan, her spirit winged its flight from a mansion of clay to the realms of glory.

Page 436. Chap. XIX. Dying experiences of Mr. John Janeway, the Rev. Edward Payson, and Rev. Samuel Finley, D.D.

posted 8 Jul 2014, 15:14 by Stephen OldPaths   [ updated 8 Jul 2014, 15:15 ]


Dying experiences of Mr. John Janeway, the Rev. Edward Payson, and Rev. Samuel Finley, D.D.

MR. JANEWAY was a young man who had just entered the holy ministry when he was called away and exchanged earth for heaven. He was never permitted to preach more than two sermons before his lungs were so affected that he was obliged to cease from his earthly labours. During his last days he was absorbed in the contemplation of Christ and heaven. His meditations, his discourses, his whole deportment made it evident that he was ripening for glory. His faith had grown up to a full assurance, and he often feasted on the rich provisions of God’s house and enjoyed many foretastes of future blessedness. The Lord often called him up to the mount and let him see his glory. In the midst of earthly comforts he longed for death, and his thoughts of the day of judgment were refreshing to him. He would say, “What if the day of judgment were come, even this hour?

[[@Page:437]] I would be glad with all my heart. I should behold such lightnings and hear such thunderings as Israel did at the mount, and I am persuaded my heart would leap for joy. The meditation of that day hath even ravished my soul, and the thoughts of its certainty and nearness are more refreshing to my soul than all earthly comforts. Surely nothing can more revive my spirit than to behold the blessed Jesus, who is the life and joy of my soul.” When he began to sink rapidly under his complaint his soul was so devoutly occupied in the contemplation of Christ and heaven that he almost forgot his pains and sickness. His faith, his love and his joy exceedingly abounded. He would frequently exclaim, “Oh that I could let you know what I feel! Oh that I could show you now what I see! Oh that I could express the thousandth part of that sweetness which I now find in Christ! You would then all think it worth while to make religion your chief business. Oh, my dear friends, you little think what Christ is worth upon a deathbed. I would not now for a world — nay, for a million of worlds — be without Christ and pardon. I would not for a world live any longer, and the very thought of a possibility of recovery makes mc tremble. I do tell you that I so long to be [[@Page:438]] with Christ that I could be content to be cut in pieces and put to the most exquisite tortures, so I might die and be with Christ. Oh how sweet Jesus is! ‘Come, Lord Jesus, come quickly.’ Death, do thy worst. Death has lost its terrors. Through grace I can say, Death is nothing to me. I can as easily die as shut my eyes. I long to die — I long to be with Christ.” He charged his friends most earnestly not to pray for his life. “Oh the glory, the unspeakable glory which I behold! — my heart is full — my heart is full. Christ smiles, and I am constrained to smile. Can you find it in your hearts to stop me, now I am going to the complete and eternal enjoyment of Christ? Would you keep me from my crown? The arms of my blessed Saviour are open to receive me. The angels stand ready to carry my soul into his bosom. Oh did you see but what I see, yon would cry out with me, ‘Dear Lord, how long?’ ‘Come, Lord Jesus, come quickly.’ ‘Oh why are thy chariot wheels so long in coming?’“ A minister having spoken to him of the joys of heaven, he said, “Sir, I feel something of it. My heart is as full as it can hold in this lower state. I can hold no more. Oh that I could but let you know what I feel! Who am I Lord, who am I, [[@Page:439]] that Lion shouldst be mindful of me? Why me, Lord, why me? and pass by thousands to look on such a wretch as I? Oh what shall I say unto thee, thou Preserver of men? Oh blessed, and for ever blessed, be free grace! Why is it, Lord, that thou shouldest manifest thyself unto me and not to others? ‘Even so, Father, because it seemed good in thy sight.’ Thou wilt have mercy because thou wilt have mercy. And if thou wilt look on such a worm, who can hinder? Who would not love thee, O blessed Father? Oh how sweet and gracious hast thou been to me! Oh that he should have me in his thoughts before the foundation of the world!”

On one occasion, after his brother had been praying with him, his joys became unutterable; lie broke out in such exclamations as these: “Oh, he is come — he is come: how sweet, how glorious, is the blessed Jesus! He is altogether lovely. How shall I speak the thousandth part of his praise? Oh for words to set forth a little part of his excellency! Come, look on a dying man and wonder. Was there ever greater kindness? Were there ever more sensible manifestations of grace? Oh why me, Lord, why me? Surely this is akin to heaven, and if I were never to enjoy [[@Page:440]] more than this, it is more than a sufficient recompense for all that men and devils could inflict. If this be dying, it is sweet. The bed is soft. Christ’s arms and smiles and love surely would turn hell into heaven. Oh that you did but see and feel what I do! Behold a dying man more cheerful than you ever saw a man in health in the midst of his sweetest worldly enjoyment. Oh, sirs, worldly pleasures are poor pitiful, sorry things, when compared with this glory in my soul.” He often exhorted those around him to assist him in his praises. “Oh,” said he, “help me to praise God. Henceforth, through eternity, J have nothing else to do but to love and praise the Lord. I cannot tell what to pray for which is not already given me. I want only one thing, and that is a speedy lift to heaven. I expect no more here. I desire no more — I can bear no more. Oh praise, praise, praise that boundless love which hath wonderfully looked upon my soul, and hath done more for me than for thousands of his children! Bless the Lord, O my soul, and all that is within me bless his holy name. Oh, my friends, help me, help me, to admire and praise Him who hath done such astonishing wonders for my soul. He hath pardoned all my sins and filled me with [[@Page:441]] his goodness. He hath given me grace and glory, and no good thing hath he withheld from me. All ye mighty angels, help me to praise God. Let everything that hath being help me to praise him. Praise is my work now, and will be my work for ever. Hallelujah! hallelujah! hallelujah 1”

A few hours before his death he had his mother and brothers and sisters called around his bed, when in a most solemn and affecting manner he addressed himself in turn to each and took leave of them. To his mother he offered his thanks for her tender love, and expressed his desire that she might see Christ formed in the hearts of all her children, and meet them all with joy at the day of judgment. Then he took his brothers and sisters in order and offered an appropriate petition for each. He then said, “Oh that none of us may be found among the unconverted in the day of judgment! Oh that we may all appear with our honoured father and dear mother before Christ with joy! Oh that we may live to God hero and live with God hereafter! And now, my dear mother, brothers and sisters, farewell 1” His last words were, “Thy work is done — I have fought a good fight,” etc. “Come, Lord Jesus, come quickly.” After which he immediately expired.

[[@Page:442]] No man in our country has left behind him a higher character for eminent piety than the E,ev. Edward Payson. His views and exercises when near death will answer well to be placed by the side of those of Mr. John Janeway.

When this faithful pastor found that his end was approaching he felt a strong desire to address some advice to his flock. He therefore had it announced from the pulpit that he would be pleased to see as many of them as could make it convenient to come to his house, and appointed them a time. To them, when assembled, he spake nearly as follows: “It has often been remarked that people who have gone to the other world cannot come back to tell us what they have seen; but I am so near the eternal world that I can see almost as clearly as if I were there; and I see enough to satisfy myself, at least, of the truth of the doctrines which I have preached. I do not know that I should feel at all surer had I been there. It is always interesting to see others in a situation in which we know we must shortly be placed ourselves; and we all know that we must die. And to see a poor creature, when, after an alternation of hopes and fear.s, he finds that his disease is mortal, and death cones to tear him away from everything he [[@Page:443]] loves, and crowds him t< the very verge of the precipice of destruction, and then thrusts him down headlong;: there he is cast into an unknown world; no friend, no Saviour to receive him. Oh how different is this from the state of a man who is prepared to die! He is not obliged to be crowded along, but the other world comes like a great magnet to draw him away from this; and he knows that he is going to enjoy — and not only knows, but begins to taste it — perfect happiness, for ever, forever, and ever. And now God is in this room. I see him, and on how unspeakably lovely and glorious does he appear! — worthy of ten thousand hearts, if we had so many. He is here, and hears me pleading with the creatures that he has made, whom he preserves and loads with blessings, to love him. And how terrible does it appear to me to sin against this God — to set up our wills in opposition to his! It makes my blood run cold to think how miserable I should now be without religion — to lie here and see myself tottering on the verge of destruction! — oh I should be distracted. And when I see my fellow-creatures in this situation, I am in an agony for them, that the} may escape the danger before it be too late. Suppose we should hear the sound of some one [[@Page:444]] pleading earnestly with another, and we should inquire, What is that man pleading for so earnestly? Oh, he is only pleading with a fellow-creature to love his God, his Saviour, his Preserver, his Benefactor. He is only pleading with him not to throw away his immortal soul — not to pull down everlasting wretchedness on his own head. He is only persuading him to avoid eternal misery and accept eternal happiness. ‘Is it possible,’ we should exclaim, ‘that any persuasion can be necessary for this?’ And yet it is necessary. Oh, my friends, do, do love this glorious Being. Do seek for the salvation of your immortal souls. Hear the voice of your dying minister while he entreats you to care for your souls.”

On another occasion he said, “I find satisfaction in looking at nothing that I have done. I have not fought, but Christ has fought for me. I have not run, but Christ has carried me. I have not worked, but Christ has wrought in me. Christ has done all.” The perfections of God were to him a well-spring of joy, and the promises were breasts of consolation whence his soul drew aliment and comfort. “Oh,” exclaimed he, “the loving-kindness of God! His loving-kindness! This afternoon, while I was meditating, the Lord [[@Page:445]] seemed to pass by and proclaim himself, ‘THE LORD GOD, MERCIFUL AND GRACIOUS.’ Oh how gracious! Try to conceive of that — ‘his loving-kindness,’ as if it were not enough to say kindness, but loving-kindness! What must be the loving-kindness of the Lord, who is himself infinite in love! It seemed as if Christ had said to me, ‘You have often wandered and been impatient of the way by which I have led you; but what do you think of it now?’ And I was cut to the heart when I looked back and saw the goodness by which I had been guided, that I could ever for a moment distrust his love.”

To a minister who called upon him he said that the point in which he believed ministers failed most, and in which he had certainly failed most, was in doing duty professionally and not from the heart. He said also, “I have never valued as I ought the doctrines which I have preached. The system is great and glorious, and is worthy of our utmost efforts to promote it. The interests depending will justify us in our strongest measures. In every respect we may embark our all upon it; it will sustain us.” “I was never fit to say a word to a sinner except when I had a broken heart myself, when I was subdued and melted into [[@Page:446]] penitence, and felt just as if I had received pardon to my own soul, and when my heart was full of tenderness and pity.” He seemed to be greatly affected with a view of the grace of God in saving lost men; and especially that it should be bestowed on one so ill-deserving as himself. “Oh how sovereign! Oh how sovereign! Grace is the only thing that can make us like God. I might be dragged through heaven, earth and hell, and I should still be the same sinful, polluted wretch, unless God himself should renew and cleanse me.”

In conversation with his eldest daughter, being asked whether self-examination was not a very difficult duty for young Christians, “Yes,” he replied, “and for old ones too, because it is displeasing to the pride of the heart, because wandering thoughts are then most apt to intrude, and because of the deceitfulness of the heart. “When a Christian first looks into his heart, he sees nothing but confusion — a heap of sins and very little good mixed up together; and he knows not how to separate them or how to begin self-examination. But let him persevere in his efforts and order will arise out of confusion.” She mentioned to him a passage in the life of Alleine, which led him to [[@Page:447]] say, “We never confess any faults that we really think disgraceful. We complain of our hardness of heart, stupidity, etc., but we never confess envy, covetousness and revenge, or anything that we suppose will lower us in the opinion of others; and this proves that we do not feel ashamed of coldness and stupidity. Jn short, when young Christians make confessions, unless there is an obvious call for it, it commonly proceeds from one of the following motives: either they wish to be thought very humble and to possess great knowledge of their own hearts; or they think it is a fault which others have perceived, and they are willing to have the credit of having discovered and striven against it; or they confess some fault from which they are remarkably free, in order to elicit a compliment.”

His solicitude for the welfare of his people was so great that though he had given them one solemn address, he was not contented with that, but sent for particular classes of them. On one day he had the young men of the congregation assembled around him, when he delivered to them a peculiarly solemn, tender and appropriate exhortation. He also sent an affectionate valedictory address to the association of ministers with which he [[@Page:448]] had been connected. The substance of it was a hearty assurance of the ardent love with which he remembered them even in death — an exhortation to love one another with a pure heart fervently — to love their work — to be diligent in it — to expect success and to bear up under discouragements — to be faithful unto death, and to look for their reward in heaven.

While speaking of the rapturous views which he had of heaven, he was asked if it did not appear like the clear light of vision rather than that of faith. He said, “I don’t know; it is too much for the poor eyes of my soul to bear; they are almost blinded with the excessive brightness. All I want is to be a mirror, to reflect some of those rays to those around me.” “My soul, instead of growing weaker and more languishing, as my body does, seems to be endued with an angel’s energies, and to be ready to break from the body and join those around the throne.” When asked whether it was now incredible to him that the martyrs should rejoice in the flames and on the rack, “No,” said he, “I can easily believe it. I have suffered twenty times as much as I could in being burnt at the stake, while my joy in God so abounded as to render mv sufferings not only tolerable, but [[@Page:449]] welcome. The sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us.”

At another time he said, “God is now literally my all in all. While he is present with me no event can in the least diminish my happiness; and were the whole world at my feet, trying to minister to my comfort, it could not add one drop to the cup.” “It seems as if the promise to wipe away all tears is already accomplished as it relates to tears of sorrow. I have no tears to shed now but tears of love, and joy, and thankfulness.” Shortly before his decease he was heard to break forth in a soliloquy, of which the following is a specimen: “What an assemblage of motives to holiness does the gospel present! I am a Christian; what then? I am a redeemed sinner — a pardoned rebel — all through grace and by the most wonderful means which infinite wisdom could devise. I am a Christian; what then? Why I am a temple of God, and surely I ought to be pure and holy. I am a Christian; what then? Why I am a child of God, and ought to be filled with filial love and reverence, joy and gratitude. I am a Christian; what then? Why I am a disciple of Christ, and must imitate Him who was meek and lowly of heart, [[@Page:450]] and pleased not himself. I am a Christian; what then? Why I am an heir of heaven, and hastening on to the abodes of the blessed.” “It seems as if my soul had found a pair of new wings, and was so eager to try them that in her fluttering she would rend the fine network of the body to pieces.” He had the choir to come in and sing for him, and chose the hymn, “Rise my soul,” etc.; soon after which he expired, October 21, 1827.

The Rev. Dr. Samuel Finley, who had been for some time president of New Jersey College, upon being informed by his physicians that his disease was incurable, expressed his entire resignation and exclaimed, “Welcome, Lord Jesus!” On the Sabbath preceding his death, Dr. Clarkson, one of his physicians, told him that he observed a manifest alteration and that he could not live many days. He said, “May the Lord bring me near himself! I have been waiting with a Canaan hunger for the promised land. I have often wondered that God suffered me to live. I have more wondered that he ever called me to be a minister of his word. He has often afforded me much strength, which I have abused. He has returned in mercy. Oh how faithful are the promises of God! Oh that I could see him as I have seen him before, in his [[@Page:451]] sanctuary! Although I have as earnestly desired death as the hireling pants for the evening shade, yet will I wait all the days of my appointed time. I have often struggled with principalities and powers, and have been brought to the borders of despair. Lord, let it suffice.” He then closed his eyes and sat up and prayed fervently that God would show him his glory before he departed hence — that he would enable him to endure patiently to the end, and particularly that he might be kept from dishonouring the ministry. He then resumed his discourse and said: “I can truly say that I have loved the service of God. I know not in what language to speak of my own unworthiness: I have been undutiful; I have honestly endeavoured to act for God, but with much weakness and corruption.” Then lying down again, he said, “A Christian’s death is the best part of his experience. The Lord has made provision for the whole way — provision for the soul and provision for the body. The Lord has given me many souls as the crown of my rejoicing. Blessed be God! eternal rest is at hand. Eternity is but long enough to enjoy my God. This, this has animated me in my severest studies. I was ashamed to take rest here. Oh that I could be filled with the [[@Page:452]] fulness of God! — that fullness which fills heaven.” Being asked whether he would choose to live or die, he said, “To die, though I cannot but feel the same strait that Paul did when he knew not which to choose: ‘For me to live is Christ, but to die is gain.’ But should God, by a miracle, prolong my life, I would still continue to serve him. His service has been sweet to me; I have loved it much. I have tried my Master’s yoke, and will never shrink my neck from it. ‘His yoke is easy and his burden is light.’“

One said to him, “You are more cheerful and vigorous, sir.” “Yes, I rise or fall as eternal life seems nearer or farther off.” It being remarked that he always used the appellation, “Dear Lord,” in his prayers, he answered, “Oh he is very dear, very precious indeed. How pretty is it for a minister to die on the Sabbath! I expect to spend the remainder of this Sabbath in heaven.” One said, “You will soon join the blessed society of heaven; you will for ever hold converse with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, and with the spirits of the just made perfect — with old friends and many old-fashioned people.” “Yes, sir,” he replied, with a smile, “but they are a most polite people now.” He expressed great gratitude to his friends around [[@Page:453]] him, and said, “May the Lord repay you for your tenderness to me! may he bless you abundantly, not only with temporal but with spiritual blessings.” Turning to his wife, he said, “My dear, I expect to see you shortly in glory.” Seeing a member of the Second Presbyterian Church present, he said, “I have often preached and prayed among you, my dear sir, and the doctrines I preached are now my support, and, blessed be God! they are without a flaw. May the Lord bless and preserve your church! He designs good for it yet, I trust.” To a person from Princeton he said, “Give my love to the people of Princeton, and tell them that I am going to die, and that I am not afraid to die.”

He would sometimes cry out, “The Lord Jesus will take care of his cause in the world.” Upon waking next morning he exclaimed, “Oh what a disappointment I have met with! I expected this morning to have been in heaven.” On account of his extreme weakness he was unable to speak much during the day, but all that he said was in the language of triumph. Next morning, with a pleasing smile on his countenance, he cried out, “Oh I shall triumph over every foe — the Lord hath given me the victory. Now I know that it [[@Page:454]] is impossible that faith should not triumph over earth and hell, I exult, I triumph. Oh that I could see untainted purity! I think I have nothing to do but die; yet perhaps I have: Lord, show me my task.” He then said, “Lord Jesus, into thy hands I commit my spirit; I do it with confidence; I do it with full assurance. I know that thou wilt keep that which I have committed to thee. I have been dreaming too fast of the time of my departure for I find it does not yet come; but the Lord is faithful, and will not tarry beyond the appointed time.”

In the afternoon the Rev. Mr. Spencer came to see him and said, “I have come, dear sir, to see you confirm by facts the gospel you have been preaching. Pray, sir, how do you feel?” To which he replied, “Full of triumph; I triumph through Christ. Nothing clips my wings but the thoughts of my dissolution being prolonged. Oh that it were to-night! My very soul thirsts for eternal rest.” Mr. Spencer asked him what he saw in eternity to excite such vehement desires in his soul. He said, “I see the eternal love and goodness of God. I see the fulness of the Mediator. I see the love of Jesus. Oh to be dissolved and to be with him! I long to be clothed with [[@Page:455]] the complete righteousness of Christ.” He then requested Mr. Spencer to pray with him before they parted, and said, “I have gained the victory over the devil; pray to God to preserve me from evil — to keep me from evil in this critical hour — and to support me with his presence through the valley of the shadow of death.”

He spent the remainder of the day in taking an affectionate and solemn leave of his friends, and exhorting such of his children as were with him.

On the next day, July 16, the conflict was terminated. He was no longer able to speak, but a friend having desired him to give a token by which his friends might know whether he still continued to triumph, he lifted up his hand and uttered the word, “Yes.” About nine o’clock he fell into a sound sleep, and appeared much more free from pain than he had been for many days before. He continued to sleep, without changing his position, till about one o’clock, when he expired without a groan or a sigh. During his whole sickness he was never heard to utter a repining word; and in taking leave of his dearest friends he was never seen to shed a tear or exhibit any sign of sorrow.

His remains were interred in the Second Presbyterian Church, on the corner of Milberry (or [[@Page:456]] Arch) and Third streets, by the side of his dear friend, the Rev. Gilbert Tennent. From this resting-place their dust and bones were removed to the burying-ground on Arch street, when the church was removed. Mrs. Finley survived her husband many years, the latter part of which time she was entirely blind, but bore the affliction with meek and cheerful submission.

Page 420. Chap. XVIII. Death bed exercises and speeches of the Rev. Thomas Halyburton.

posted 8 Jul 2014, 15:11 by Stephen OldPaths   [ updated 8 Jul 2014, 15:12 ]


Death bed exercises and speeches of the Rev. Thomas Halyburton.

HAVING in a former chapter given an account of Halyburton’s conversion, written by himself in mature age, it will be gratifying to the pious reader to learn how he ended his course and how his religion sustained him in the last trying conflict. And here, as in the case of Rivet, much opportunity was given to this holy man to leave behind him an ample testimony of the preciousness of the Lord Jesus Christ, and of the power of divine grace to support and comfort the true believer even in the pangs of dissolution. When first seized with mortal sickness, he experienced, for a while, a terrible conflict in which he was afraid that his faith would fail; but his God was merciful and faithful to his promises and came to his relief. To one who came to see him he said, “I have a great conflict, and my faith is like to fail. Oh that I may be kept now in this last trial [[@Page:420]] that is ensuing from being an offence to God and his people!” When some of his brethren came to see him he said, “I am but young, and have but little experience, but this deathbed now makes me old, and therefore I use the freedom to exhort you to faithfulness in the Lord’s work. You will never repent this. He is a good Master; I have always found him so. If I had a thousand lives, I would think them all too little to employ in his service.” But for several days he was under a cloud and his spiritual joys had deserted him; and when a friend came in he said, “Oh what a terrible conflict I had yesterday! but now I can say, ‘I have fought the good fight, I have kept the faith.’ Now he has filled my mouth with a new song. ‘Jehovah-jireh, in the mount of the Lord.’ Praise, praise is comely for the upright. Shortly I shall get a different view of God from what I have ever had, and shall be more qualified to praise him than ever. Oh the thoughts of an incarnate God are sweet and ravishing! And how do I wonder at myself that I do not love him more! Oh that I could honour him! What a wonder that I enjoy so much composure under all my bodily trouble and in view of approaching death! Oh what a mercy that I have the use of my [[@Page:421]] reason till I have declared his goodness unto me!” To his wife he said, “He came to me in the third watch of the night, walking UJJOU the waters, and he said unto me, ‘I am Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end. I was dead and am alive, and live for evermore, and have the keys of hell and death.’ ‘He stilleth the tempest, and oh there is a sweet calm in my soul.’“ To one who requested him to be careful of his health, he replied, “I’ll strive to last as long as I can, and I’ll get my rest ere it be long. I have no more to do with time but carefully to measure it out for the glory of God.” Then he said, “I shall see my Redeemer stand on the earth at the last day; but I hope to see him before that, the Lamb in the midst of the throne. Oh it will be a beautiful company! — ‘The spirits of just men made perfect, and Jesus the Mediator of the new covenant. Oh for grace, grace, to be patient to the end!’“ When one said, “Keep the light of the window from him,” he said, “Truly light is sweet, and a pleasant thing it is to behold the sun — the SUN OF RIGHTEOUSNESS. Oh glorious light, when the Lamb is the light of the temple! Wc cannot have a conception o” it now — eye hath not seen, nor ear heard,” etc.

[422]] Seeing his youngest child, he caused them to bring her to him, and said, “Mary, my dear, the Lord bless you! The God of your father and of my father bless you! The God that fed me all my life, the Angel that redeemed me from all evil, bless you and the rest, and be your portion! That is a goodly heritage, better than if I had crowns and sceptres to leave you. My child, I received you from him and I give you to him again.” To his wife he said, “Encourage yourself in the Lord. He will keep you; even though you come into enemies’ hands, surely he will cause the enemy to treat you well.” He then declared his willingness to part with his dearest relatives, and said, “For this is the practical part of religion, to make use of it when we come to the strait. This is a lesson of practical divinity.”

When the physician came in he addressed him in the following solemn and pungent language: “Doctor, as to this piece of work you are nearly at an end with it. I wish you to lay it to heart — death will come to your door also. And it is a business of great moment to die like a Christian, and it is a rare thing. Christ himself has told us that there are few that shall be saved, even among them who are outwardly called. I wish [[@Page:423]] the Lord himself may show you kindness. The greatest kindness I am now capable of showing you is to recommend serious religion to you. There is a reality in religion, doctor, but this is an age that hath lost the sense of it. ‘He has not said to the house of Jacob, Seek ye my face in vain.’ Atheists will one day see whether it be so or not. I bless God that I was educated by godly parents in the principles of the Church of Scotland. I bless him that when I came to riper years I did, on mature deliberation, make these principles my choice. I bless the Lord I have been helped ever since to adhere to them without wavering. I bless him that I have seen that holiness yields peace and comfort in prosperity and adversity. What should I seek more or desire more to give me evidence of the reality of religion? Therefore I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth. I am so far from altering my thoughts of religion by reason of the present contempt thrown on it and opposition made to it that these things endear it the more to me.” After much more of the same kind he said, “Well, doctor, the Lord be with you and persuade you to be in earnest. I return your [[@Page:424]] thanks for your attention.” After a pause he proceeded: “Every one that is in Christ Jesus must be a new creature: he must have union with Christ and a new nature. That is the ground-work of religion. The Christian religion is little understood by the most of us. Oh the gospel of Christ! how purely was it preached in this place when I was at the university! though I found not the sweetness of it at that time as I have found it since. It has fallen on me like showers on the mown grass. Verily there is a reality in religion. Few have lively impressions of it. Now get acquaintance with God. The little acquaintance I have had with God these two days has more than ten thousand times repaid the pains I have in all my life taken about religion. It is a good thing to have God to go to when we are turning our face to the wall. ‘He is known for a refuge in the palaces of Zion, a very present help in trouble.’ Oh there is a strange hardness in the heart of man!”

To his children, he said, “My children, I have nothing to say to you but that ye be seekers of God. Fulfil my joy. Alas! that I was so long in beginning to seek God! and yet I was touched with convictions that God was seeking me before I arrived at the years of some of you.” To his [[@Page:425]] eldest daughter he said: “Margaret, you seem sometimes to have convictions: beware of them — they are the most dangerous things you ever meddled with; for although you may seek not God, every one of them is God’s messenger; and if you despise God’s messenger, he will be avenged on you. My dear, seek the Lord and be your mother’s comfort.”

He requested that the one hundredth and thirty-eighth of Mr. Rutherford’s letters should be read to him, and then said, “This is a book I would recommend to you all; there is more practical religion in that letter than in some large volumes.”

When the three ministers of the place came to Bee him, he addressed them with great fidelity and affection: “Dear brethren, it is not from any confidence in myself, but out of a sincere love to you, and from what I myself have experienced, that for your encouragement I presume to say when the Lord helped me to diligence in studying and meditating I found him then remarkably shining upon me and testifying his approbation of a sincere mind. There is nothing to be had with a slack hand.” And to one of them who had recently entered tie ministry: “Your entry into the [[@Page:426]] ministry is likely to fall on an evil day; but there is one thing for your encouragement — you have a call. The times will make hard work for you in this place; but that which makes your work the harder is, that the people are hardened under a long course of pure gospel ordinances. However, be faithful and God will strengthen his own work. I will not say that you will get things brought to the state you would desire; but I’ll tell you I have one thought, and I’ll abide by it — if ministers will ply their work, though they cannot bring sinners to the Lord, they may make their consciences that a prophet has been among them speak for the Lord, whether they will or not.”

“Now, brethren, give diligence — hold fast what ye have. I must say a word unto my brethren; it is on my heart. I am young, but I am near the end of my life, and that makes me old. It becomes me to take advice from you; however, I only wish to exhort you to diligence in the common salvation. I repent I did no more, but I have peace in reflecting that what I did I did sincerely. He accepts of the mite. It was the delight of my heart to preach the gospel, and it made me sometimes neglect a frail body. I ever thought if I could contribute to the saving of a soul, it would [[@Page:427]] be to me a star, a crown, a glorious crown. I know this was the thing that I aimed at; I desired to decrease, that the Bridegroom might increase, and to be nothing, that he might be all; and I rejoice in his exaltation.” To two ministers who came from the country, he said, “Brethren, we have need to take care, with the great apostle, lest when we have preached Christ to others we ourselves should be castaways. We have need to fear lest it be so. Happy is the man that feareth always. Be diligent in preaching the gospel: let it be your care not only to be diligent in composing sermons, but, above all, to scan your own hearts, to enable you to dive into consciences, to awaken hypocrites and to separate the precious from the vile; and to do it with such accuracy as not to make sad the hearts of those whom God would have made glad. The great point in religion and in the management of your ministry is, that you may obtain the testimony of the Great Shepherd when he shall appear. As to the work of the ministry, it was my delight and my deliberate choice; and were my days lengthened out much more, and the times as troublesome as they are likely 11 be, I would rather be a contemned minister of God than the greatest prince on earth.

[[@Page:428]] I preached the gospel of Christ with pleasure, and loved it, for my own soul’s salvation was upon it; and since I lay down I have not changed my thoughts about it. I commend it to you all to double your diligence. There may be hard conflicts; you have a prospect of difficulties between you and the grave. We all appear good when untried, but we have need to have on the whole armour of God, to watch and be sober.”

To his successor in the parish which he had served before he came to the university, he said, “I have this to say as to my congregation — that the people were my choice. With much peace and pleasure I preached as I could — though not as I should — the gospel of Jesus Christ. Though in all things I own myself to have sinned exceedingly before the Lord, yet I have the consolation that I anxiously aimed at leading them to the Lord Jesus, and another foundation can no man lay. I hope you will build on that same foundation, for, as you will in that way save your own soul, so it is the way to save them that hear you. From experience I can say that the pursuing this sincerely is the way of salvation. Signify to them that if it please the Lord to’ take me away, I die rejoicing in the faith and in the profession of what I [[@Page:429]] preached to them under a low state of body, and that without this I could have no comfort. I would have my people understand that the gospel which I recommended to them if not received will be a witness against them.” His successor remarked, “I am persuaded you have seals to your ministry in that parish.” He answered, “We are like our Master, set for the tall and rising again of many, though we can do no more; if we are faithful, they shall know that a prophet has been among them.”

Mr. Halyburton conversed much with his friends, and most of his discourses have been preserved, but we have only room for a small part of what he uttered on his deathbed. A specimen, however, will serve to show the spirit of the man and the state of his mind as well as the whole. There are still some of his dying speeches so excellent that I cannot think that their insertion will appear tedious to the pious reader. But besides his discourses with his friends and visitors, he drew up a paper in the form of a last will or testimony, in which he gives at large his views of doctrine and worship. The whole of this paper is highly worthy of attention, but we can only insert the following extract: [[@Page:430]] “Everything in God’s way and in his word is glorious, honourable and like himself. He needs none of our testimonies, but it is the least that we can do to signify our wishes to have his praises celebrated. And I, being so many ways obliged, take this solemn occasion to acknowledge, before I leave the world, these among my other innumerable obligations; and I desire to bequeath this as my last, best legacy to my family, even my serious and solemn advice that they should make choice of God for their God. He has been my father’s God, the God both of my wife’s predecessors and mine; and he has been, we hope, our God; and I recommend him to my children for their God; solemnly charging them, even all of them, as they will be answerable on the great day, to make it their first care to seek after peace with God and reconciliation through Christ crucified; and, being reconciled, to make it their constant care to please him in all things. I beseech them with all the bowels of a father, as they love their souls, that they sit not down short of a saving acquaintance with him; that they wait diligently upon the means of grace and attend the worship of God in all duties, especially secret and family duties, and that they carefully attend public ordinances. Beware [[@Page:431]] of contenting yourselves with the mere form of these duties, but cry to the Lord for communion with him in them, and for the outpouring of the Spirit, whereby ye may be enabled to worship God, who is a Spirit, in spirit. It is my charge to you, and that in which I am more concerned than in anything relating to you, that you follow him fully, without turning to the right hand or to the left. In this way I dare promise you blessedness. If you follow this way, I do bless you all, and pray that He who blesses and they are blessed may bless you all. I have, often as I could, devoted all of you to God; and there is nothing I have so much at heart as that ye may indeed be the Lord’s. And if ye turn aside from this way, I would have this be a standing witness against you in the day of the Lord. Oh that God himself, by his grace, may, in a day of his power, determine your tender hearts to seek him early, for then will he be a good portion unto you I”

When some people came in to see him he said, “For these fourteen or fifteen years I have been studying the promises, but I have seen more of the book of God this night than in all that time. Oh the wisdom that is laid up in the book of God! I know a great deal that comes from a dying man [[@Page:432]] will go for canting and raving, but I bless Goo! that he has preserved to me the little judgment that I had, and I have been enabled with composure to reflect on his dealing with me. I am sober and composed if I ever was so. And whether men will hear or forbear, this is my testimony. The operations of the Spirit of God are ridiculed in this day, but if we take away the operations and influences of the Spirit of God in religion, I know not what is left. He promised the Spirit to lead us into all truth. Oh that this generation would awake to seek after the quickening influences of the Spirit! Oh for a day of the down-pouring of the Spirit from on high in a work of conversion! — for such a day as that when the Spirit of God effectually reached our fathers and brought forth great men, and caused others to be conquered by them! ‘The residue of the Spirit is with him.’“

The state of the Church was much on his mind, and he was greatly concerned for Scotland, lest a dry, formal and merely rational religion should prevail; of which he saw some symptoms. He expressed also strong apprehensions that the judgments of God were about to be inflicted on his country. The welfare of his pupils also engaged [[@Page:433]] much of his attention. He often expressed a desire to have them around him, that lie might give them one practical lecture from his deathbed. But as this could not be done, it being vacation, he dictated a letter to the students of theology, in which he gives them solemn and useful advice. He recommended to them the perusal of the writings of the great Dr. Owen, but immediately added, “But the Word of God, in dependence on the Spirit of God, must be your study and meditation day and night. Words cannot express what I have found of God since I came to this bed of languishing. I am bold to recommend to you this work as the most noble, honourable and advantageous you can be employed in. And I am this day sure, from experience, that it is better to serve the Lord in the gospel of his Son than to serve the greatest princes on earth in the highest station. If God help you in this service, the reward is too great to be expressed. My thoughts, my words are swallowed up, and my affection toward you is such that my body would quite sink to speak what is in my heart of love to you, and desire to have yon acquainted with my dearest Lord, to whom I was always deeply obliged, but am now so much indebted that I fear to mention how good he has [[@Page:434]] been to my soul. Oh choose him — cleave to him — serve him — study to know him more and more — live in communion with him. Never rest until you reach eternal communion with him. I have desired my brother-in-law to sign this in my name. I wish nothing more than that when you have done much service to the Church here, I may have the happiness of hearing you approved by the Great Shepherd.”

As his disease was pulmonary consumption, he lasted long and retained the uninterrupted exercise of his reason, and after the first severe conflict, of which mention has been made, he enjoyed peace and joy without intermission, and manifested in various ways, and particularly by bis heavenly discourse, the power of divine grace and the eminence of that faith in Christ by which he was so remarkably supported to the end. He lost no opportunity of seeking to benefit all who approached him, and often addressed himself to his wife and children individually in the most tender and earnest manner. And as many ministers came to see him, he exercised great fidelity in his solemn exhortations to them to he diligent and faithful in the work of the Lord. At length the powers of nature were exhausted, and for some days he was [[@Page:435]] in a dying state. Among his last words were, “Free grace, free grace — not unto me.” And when his speech had utterly failed, when one said, “I hope you are encouraging yourself in the Lord,” he lifted up his hands and clapped them.

Page 377. Chap. XVI. Death bed of the believer.

posted 8 Jul 2014, 15:09 by Stephen OldPaths   [ updated 8 Jul 2014, 15:09 ]


Death bed of the believer.

WE have arrived now at a very solemn part of our subject. The writer feels that it is so to himself, as he knows that he must soon be called to travel the road which leads to the narrow house appointed for all living. If after having gone through this scene he were permitted to return and finish these papers on Religious Experience by narrating what the soul suffers in passing the gate of death, and more especially what are its views and feelings the moment after death, he would be able to give information which at present no mortal can communicate. The thought has often occurred, when thinking on this subject, that the surprise of such a transition as that from time to eternity, from the state of imprisonment in this clay tenement to an unknown state of existence, would be overwhelming even to the pious. But these are shortsighted reflections. We undertake to judge of eternal things by rules only suited [[@Page:378]] to our present state of being and our present feelings. That the scene will be new and sublime beyond all conception cannot be doubted, but what our susceptibilities and feelings will be when separated from the body we cannot tell. Is it not possible that our entrance on the unseen world may be preceded by a course of gradual preparation for the wonderful objects which it contains, analogous to our progress through infancy in the present world? That knowledge of future things will be acquired gradually, and not instantaneously, we are led to believe from the constitution of the human mind and from all the analogies of nature. The soul may therefore have to go to school again to learn the first elements of celestial knowledge; and who will be the instructors, or how long this training may continue, it would be vain to conjecture. Whether in this gradual progress in the knowledge of heavenly things our reminiscences of the transactions in which we were engaged upon earth will be from the first vivid and perfect, or whether these things will at first be buried in a sort of oblivion, and be brought up to view gradually and successively, who can tell us? But I must withdraw my imagination from a subject to which her powers are entirely inadequate.

[[@Page:379]] Though I have been fond of those writings of Dick, Taylor and Watts which give free scope to reasonings from analogy in regard to the future condition of the believer, yet I am persuaded that the}’ add nothing to our real knowledge. Their lucubrations resemble the vain efforts of a man born blind to describe to his fellow-sufferers the brilliance of the stars, the splendours of the sun or the milder beauties of a lovely landscape. When he seems to himself to approach nearest to the object he in fact is most remote from any just conceptions of it. This brings to recollection what has often appeared highly probable in regard to the development of our mental powers — that as in infancy some of our most important faculties, as, for example, reason, conscience and taste, are entirely dormant, and gradually and slowly make their appearance afterward, so probably this whole life is a state of infancy in relation to that which is to come, and there may exist now in these incomprehensible souls of ours germs of faculties never in the least developed in this world, but which will spring into activity as soon as the soul feels the penetrating beams of celestial light, and which wi’I be brought to maturity just at the time when they are needed. The capacity if the beatific [[@Page:380]] vision may now be possessed by the soul, deeply enveloped in that darkness which conceals the internal powers of the mind even from itself, except so far as they are manifested by their actual exercise. How shallow, then, is all our mental philosophy by which we attempt to explore the depths of the human mind! But are these conjectural speculations for edification? Do they bring us any nearer to God and to our beloved Redeemer? I cannot say that they do. At the best, they are no more than an innocent amusement, and in indulging them we are in great danger of becoming presumptuous, and even foolish, by supposing that we possess knowledge, when in fact our brightest light is but darkness. Vain man would be wise. Let us then cease from them — let us cease from our own unsubstantial dreams, and lay fast hold of the sure word of prophecy as of a light shining in a dark place. “To the law and to the testimony; if they speak not according to these, there is no light in them;” or, as some render the passage, “light shall never rise to them.” One simple declaration of the word of God is worth more to a soul descending into the valley and shadow of death than all the ingenious and vivid imaginings of the brightest human minds.

[[@Page:381]] Considering the absolute and undoubted certainty of our departure out of life, it seems passing strange that we should he so unconcerned. If even one of a million escaped death, this might afford some shadow of a reason for our carelessness, but we know that “it is appointed unto men once to die.” In this warfare there is no discharge, and yet most men live as if they were immortal. I remember the foolish thought which entered my childish mind when my mother informed me that we all must die. I entertained the hope that he-fore my time came some great change would take place, I knew not how, by which I should escape this dreaded event. I have nothing to do with the death of the wicked at present. The dying experience of the believer is our proper subject, and we read that one object of Christ’s coming into the world was “to deliver such as were all their lifetime in bondage through fear of death.” Death, in itself considered, is a most formidable evil, and can be desirable to none. The fear of death is not altogether the consequence of sin; the thing is abhorrent to the constitution of man. Death was held up in terror to our first parents when innocent to prevent their transgression; and having entered the world by their sin in whom we [[@Page:382]] sinned, this event has been ever since a terror to mortals — “THE KING OF TERRORS.” Man instinctively cleaves to life; so docs every sentient being. There are only two things which can possibly have the effect of reconciling any man to death. The first is, the hope of escaping from misery which is felt to be intolerable: the other, an assurance of a better, that is a heavenly country. The Captain of our salvation conquered death — that is, the devil — -by dying himself. By this means he plucked from this monster his deadly sting, by satisfying the demands of God’s holy law. “For the sting of death is sin, and the strength of sin is the law.” All those, therefore, who are united to Christ meet death as a conquered and disarmed enemy. Against them he is powerless. Still, however, he wears a threatening aspect, and although he cannot kill, he can frown and threaten, and this often frightens the timid sheep. They often do not know that they are delivered from his tyranny, and that now he can do nothing but falsely accuse and roar like a hungry lion disappointed of his prey. There are still some who all their lifetime are subject to bondage “through fear of death.” Their confidence is shaken by so many distressing doubts that, [[@Page:383]] though sincerely engaged in the service of God, they can never think of death without sensible dread; and often they are afraid that when the last conflict shall come they will be so overwhelmed with terror and despair that they shall prove a dishonour to their Christian profession.

I recollect a sickly but pious lady, who with a profusion of tears expressed her anxiety and fear in the view of her approaching end; and there seemed to be ground for her foreboding apprehensions, because from the beginning of her profession she had enjoyed no comfortable assurance, but was of the number of those who, though they “fear God and obey the voice of his servant, yet walk in darkness and have no light” of comfort. But mark the goodness of God and the fidelity of the Great Shepherd! Some months afterward I saw this lady on her deathbed, and was astonished to find that Christ had delivered her entirely from her bondage. She was now near to her end, and knew it, but she shed no tears now but those of joy and gratitude. All her darkness and sorrow was gone, and her heart glowed with love to the Redeemer, and all her anxiety now was to depart and be with Jesus. There was, as it were, a [[@Page:384]] beaming of heaven in her countenance. I had before tried to comfort her, but now I sat down by her bedside to listen to the gracious words which proceeded from her mouth, and could not but send up the fervent aspiration, “Oh let me die the death of the righteous, and let my last end be like hers!” Then I knew that there was One who had conquered death and him who has the power of death; for Satan, to the last moment, was not permitted to molest her.

No arguments have ever so powerfully operated on my mind to convince me of the reality and power of experimental religion as witnessing the last exercises of some of God’s children. Some of these scenes, though long past, have left an indelible impression on my memory, and, I hope, a salutary impression on my heart.

Another lady, and a near relative of the former, I had often observed passing along her way, humble, gentle, silent, evidently not seeking to be conspicuous, but rather to remain unnoticed and unknown. She had a few chosen female friends, with whom she freely communicated, for her heart was affectionate and her disposition sociable: to these she poured out her inmost soul, and received from them a similar return. She was crushed under an [[@Page:385]] habitual feeling of domestic affliction, but not of that kind which freely utters its complaints and engages the sympathy of many; but her sorrows were such as her delicacy of feeling did not permit her even to allude to. The conduct of an imprudent father weighed heavily on her spirits; but toward him — and, her mother being dead, she kept his house — she was assiduously respectful, and while he made himself the laughing-stock of his acquaintances, she endeavoured to make his home comfortable. But often I thought that her lively sensibility to the ridicule and reproaches which fell upon him would be an injury to her delicate constitution; and the more so because this was a subject on which she would not converse, even with the intimate, confidential friends before mentioned. It was evident that her health was slowly giving way, and that the disease which carries off nearly one-half of the adults in this land was secretly consuming her vitals. But she never complained, and seemed rather to become more cheerful as her eye became more brilliant and her cheeks more pallid. She was for a long time after this seen occupying her humble, retired place in the house of God, and still went her accustomed rounds among her poor and sick neighbours, while [[@Page:386]] doing everything to render home comfortable to her restless, unhappy parent.

At length, however, her strength failed, and she was obliged to confine herself to the house, and before long to her bed. Being informed of this, being her pastor, I visited her. Hitherto her extreme modesty and retired habits had prevented me from having much personal acquaintance with this excellent woman. I was accompanied to the house by one of her intimate friends, who still lives, and if she should see this paper will readily recognise the portrait of her beloved friend. The house was a cottage, and all its furniture of home manufacture; but upon the whole there was impressed a neatness and order which indicated a superior taste in her who had long had the sole management. I did not know but that from her habitual reserve and silence she would be embarrassed in her feelings and reserved in her communications, but I was happily disappointed. She received me with an affectionate smile and a cordial shake of the hand, and said that she was pleased that I had thought it worth my while to come and see a poor dying woman. Not many minutes were spent in compliments or general remarks: she entered freely and most intelligently [[@Page:387]] into a narrative of her religious exercises, which had commenced at an early period of her life, but expatiated in the sweetest manner on the divine excellences of the Saviour; not as one who was speaking what she had learned from others or from the mere exertion of her own intellect, but as one who felt in the heart every word which she uttered. There was a gentleness, a suavity and a meek humility expressed in every tone of her vice, and the same depicted on every lineament of her countenance. Though when in health she was never reckoned beautiful, yet there was now in her countenance, animated with hope and love and religious joy — or rather peace — a beauty of countenance which I never saw equalled. It was what may without impropriety be called spiritual beauty. I found, what I had not known before, that her mind had been highly cultivated by reading, and this was manifest in the propriety, and, indeed I may say, elegance of her language. Not

that she aimed at saving fine things. Such an idea never entered her humble mind; but possessing, naturally, a good understanding, which she had carefully improved by reading, especially the best religious authors, and being now animated with a flow of pious affection which seemed never [[@Page:388]] to ebb, all these things gave her language a fluency, a glow and a vividness which were truly remarkable. I have often regretted that I had not put down, at the time, her most striking expressions, but the mere words could convey no more than the shadow of such a scene.

It has often been remarked that the speeches of great orators, when written and read, have scarcely a resemblance to the same speech’ delivered with all the pathos, the grace and the varied intonations and gestures of the orator. The same may more truly be said of the sayings of the dying Christian; we may catch the very words, but the spirit, the sacred and solemn tones, free from all affectation, the heavenly serenity of countenance, and the nameless methods of manifesting the pious affections of the heart, never can be preserved nor distinctly conveyed by words to others. The mind of this young lady possessed a uniform serenity, undisturbed with fears, doubts or cares. Everything seemed right to her submissive temper. It was enough that her heavenly Father appointed it to be so. For many weeks she lay in this state if perfect tranquillity, as it were in the suburbs of heaven; and I believe no one ever heard a complaint from her lips. Even that grief which had [[@Page:389]] preyed on her health when able to go about had now ceased to cause her pain. Hers was, in my apprehension, the nearest approximation to complete happiness which I ever saw upon earth, yet there was no violence of feeling, no agitation, no rapture. It was that kind of happiness which from its gentleness and calmness is capable of continuance.

As it was her request that I should visit her often, I did so as frequently as the distance of my residence and the pressure of my avocations would permit; not, as I often said, with any expectation of communicating any good to her, but of receiving spiritual benefit from her heavenly conversation. Oh how often did I wish that the boldest infidels — and they were rampant at that time — could have been introduced into the chamber of this dying saint! I often, especially after witnessing this scene, endeavoured to describe to such as attended preaching the power of religion to sustain the soul in the last earthly conflict; but they were incredulous as to the facts, or ascribed them to some strange enthusiasm which buoyed up the soul in a preternatural manner. but here there was no enthusiasm — nothing approaching to what may be called a heated imagination. All [[@Page:390]] was sober — all was serene — all was gentle — all was rational; and although five-and-forty years have passed since this scene was witnessed, the impression on my mind is distinct and vivid. The indescribable countenance, calm but animated, pale with disease, but lighted up with an unearthly smile — the sweet and affectionate tones of voice — the patient, submissive, cheerful, grateful temper, are all remembered with a vividness and permanence with which I remember nothing of recent occurrence. When I think of such scenes, I have often thought and said, “If this be delusion, then let my soul for ever remain under such delusion.”

If the foregoing was a sample of the deathbed exercises of every Christian, then would I say that his last days are his best days, and the day of death happier than the day of birth. This, however, is far from being a true view of the general fact. It is a select case — one of a thousand; upon the whole, the happiest death I ever witnessed. I have, indeed, seen dying persons agitated with a kind of delirious rapture, in which the imagination has been so excited that the person looked and spoke as if the objects of another world were actually present to the view. In such case the nervous system loses its tone and when the general [[@Page:391]] feelings are pious and the thoughts directed heavenward the whole system is thrilled with an indescribable emotion. And we have a number of recorded death-scenes which partake of this character, and are greatly admired and extolled by the injudicious and fanatical. Scenes of this kind are frequently the effect of disease, and sometimes of medicine operating on the idiosyncrasies of particular persons. Such persons may be pious, but the extraordinary exhilaration and ecstasy of which they are the subjects ought not to be ascribed to supernatural influence, but to physical causes. Between such experiences and the case described above there is no more resemblance than between a blazing meteor which soon burns itself out and the steady, genial beams of the vernal sun. I once witnessed an extraordinary scene of this kind in a skeptic who neglected religion and scoffed at its professors till very near the close of life, and then seemed to be agitated and exhilarated with religious ideas and feelings, leading him to profess his faith in Christ, and to rejoice and exult in the assurance of salvation; and all this without any previous conviction of sin, and un-mingled at the time with deep penitential feelings. Well, why might it not have been an instance of sovereign [[@Page:392]] grace, like that of the thief on the cross? It is possible. As in life that piety which is founded on knowledge, and in which the faculties of the mind continue to be well balanced and the judgment sound, is by far the least suspicious, so those deathbed exercises which are of a similar character are much to be preferred to those which are flighty, and in which reason seems to regulate the helm no longer, but an excited and irregular imagination assumes the government of the man. According to this rule, some glowing narratives of death-scenes will be set aside as, if not spurious, yet not deserving to be admired and celebrated as they often are.

Page 360. Chap. XV. The rich man and the poor — The various trials of believers.

posted 8 Jul 2014, 15:07 by Stephen OldPaths   [ updated 8 Jul 2014, 15:07 ]


The rich man and the poor — The various trials of believers.

THEY are not the happy whom the blinded world think to be such. The man of successful enterprise and increasing wealth had some enjoyment while busily occupied in making a fortune, but now, when he has arrived at a higher pitch of wealth than his most sanguine hopes had anticipated, he is far from being happy or even contented. The desire of acquisition has grown into an inveterate habit, and he cannot stop in his career; he must find out some new enterprise; he must engage in some new speculation; and before all is over it is well if he loses not all he had gained; and being accustomed to live high, he is unprepared to meet poverty, and to preserve his family from such a mortifying change of.circumstances he contrives ways and means to defraud his creditors. This man is not happy in his prosperity, and under a reverse of fortune he is truly miserable. He has put away a good conscience, [[@Page:361]] which is the most essential ingredient in that peace which Christ gives to his disciples. His reputation, too, if not tarnished, remains under a dark cloud of suspicion which never can be removed. Abroad, he meets with neglect, and sometimes contempt, from those on whom he once looked down; at home, he has before him the sad spectacle of a family degraded from their former rank, and under all the feelings of mortified pride struggling to conceal their poverty from the gaze and contempt of an unpitying world. But even if no reverse is experienced, and the man continues to be successful in all his enterprises, and if at the close of his career he can calculate millions in the bank or in real estate, his only remaining difficulty is how to dispose of such a mass of wealth. He has a son, it is true, but he is a base profligate, and in a single year would, by reckless speculation or at the gaming-table, dissipate the whole which has been so carefully hoarded up. And yet this man could scarcely be induced to give a dollar to any benevolent object, lest he should lessen the amount which he was by every means raking together for this unworthy son. He has daughters, too, whose husbands in selecting them had more respect to their fortunes than to any personal qualifications, [[@Page:362]] and these are impatient that the old man should live so long and hold the purse-strings with so close a grip. Though they will go through all the ceremonial of deep grief and mourn as decently and as long as fashion requires, yet no event is heard with more heartfelt pleasure than that their aged relative is at last obliged to give up all his possessions.

Are the rich happy? Not such as have been described. But there are a favoured few who seem to have learned the secret of using wealth so as to do much good and to derive from it much enjoyment. They are desirous of making increase too, but it is all for the Lord; not to be hoarded until they are obliged to leave it, and then to be distributed among benevolent societies. No; they are continually contriving methods of making it produce good now. They are parsimonious to themselves that they may be liberal to the poor and may be able to enrich the treasury of the Lord. Such men are blessed in their deed, and, though unostentatious in their charities, their light cannot be hid. A few rich men of this description have lived in England, and even our new country records with gratitude the names of a few benefactors of the public; and we trust in God [[@Page:363]] that the number will be multiplied. Reader, go and do likewise.

But more commonly the elect of God are not called to glorify him in this way. Wealth is a dangerous talent, and is very apt so to block up the way to heaven that they who do press in have, as it were, to squeeze through a gate as difficult of entrance as the eye of a needle to a camel; and, alas! many professors who bid fair for heaven when in moderate circumstances, after becoming rich are found “drowned in perdition” — “pierced through with many sorrows.” Poverty and suffering are by infinite wisdom judged best for the traveller to Zion. Let the Lord’s people be contented with their condition, and thankful that they are preserved from snares and temptations which they would have found it difficult to withstand. God will not suffer them to be tempted above what they are able to bear, but with the temptation provides a way for their escape. The rich are exposed to suffering as well as the poor, though their sufferings may be of a different kind. The poor man may be forced by necessity to live on coarse bread; the rich man also, while tantalised with the daily sight of the finest of the wheat, is obliged for the sake of his health to live upon [[@Page:364]] bran. The poor man lies on a hard bed, because he can afford to get no better; the rich man lies as hard to preserve himself from aches and pains which are the natural fruit of luxury. The poor man has little of the honours of the world, but then he is envied by none and passes along in obscurity, without being set up as a mark to be shot at by envy and malignity, which is often the lot * of the rich. When sickness comes the rich man has some advantages, but when oppressed with painful sickness neither a bed of down nor rich hangings and carpets contribute anything to his relief; and in such a time of distress the privations of the poor, though the imagination readily magnifies them, add not much to the pain produced by disease.

But we have dwelt too long on this comparison between the real sufferings of the rich and the poor. More, after all, depends upon the submission and patient temper of the mind than upon external circumstances; and indeed so short is the time of man’s continuance upon earth, and so infinite the joys or miseries of the future world, that to make much of these little differences would be like estimating the weight of a feather when engaged in weighing mountains. Who thinks it a matter of [[@Page:365]] any concern whether the circumstances of persons who lived a thousand years ago were affluent or destitute, except so far as these external enjoyments and privations contributed to their moral improvement or the contrary? If we could be duly impressed with the truths which respect our eternal condition, we should consider our afflictions here as scarcely worthy of being named. Thus the apostle Paul seemed to view his own sufferings and those of his fellow-Christians when he said, “For I reckon that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us.” Compared with the sufferings of others, those of the apostle were neither few nor small, but in the view of eternity by faith he calls them “these light afflictions which are but for a moment;” and he had learned the happy art not only of being contented in whatever state he was, but of rejoicing in all his tribulations — not that tribulation, considered in itself, could be a matter of rejoicing, for who ever found pain and reproach to be pleasant? But he rejoiced in these things on account of their salutary effects, “for,”says he, “tribulation worketh patience, and patience experience, and experience hope, and hope maketh not ashamed, because the love [[@Page:366]] of God is shed abroad in i ur hearts by the Holy Ghost.”

The primitive Christians were encouraged to bear patiently and joyfully their present sufferings, on account of the rich and gracious reward which awaited them in the world to come. Upon the mere principle of contrast our earthly sorrows will render our heavenly joys the sweeter. But this is not all. Hear the words of Jesus himself: “Blessed are they who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are ye when men shall revile you and persecute you, and say all manner of evil against you, falsely, for my sake: rejoice and be exceeding glad, for great is your reward in heaven.” Peter also testifies to the same effect: “And if ye suffer for righteousness’ sake, happy are ye,” “for it is better, if the will of God be so, that ye suffer for well-doing than for evil-doing. For Christ once suffered, the just for the unjust.” He was also of the same opinion with his brother Paul, that Christians ought to rejoice in all their sufferings for righteousness’ sake. “Beloved,” says he, “think it not strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened unto you; but rejoice, inasmuch as ye are partakers of Christ’s [[@Page:367]] sufferings, that when his glory shall be revealed ye may be glad also with exceeding joy. If ye be reproached for the name of Christ, happy are ye, for the Spirit of God resteth on you.” “If any man suffer as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but let him glorify God on his behalf.” Let Zion’s mourners lift up their heads and rejoice, for though weeping may endure for a night, joy cometh in the morning. Let all Christians manifest to others the sweetness and excellency of religion by rejoicing continually in the Lord. The perennial sources of their spiritual joy can never fail, for while God lives and reigns they ought to rejoice. Since Christ has died, and ever lives to make intercession for them, they have ground of unceasing joy. While the throne of grace is accessible let the saints rejoice; let them rejoice in all the promises of God, which are exceeding great and precious, and are all yea and amen in Christ Jesus to the glory of God.

In one sense all our sufferings are the fruits of sin, for if we had never sinned we should never have suffered; but in another sense the sufferings of believers are produced by love: “whom the Father loveth he chasteneth, and scourgeth every son whom he receiveth.” As in the economy of [[@Page:368]] salvation God leaves his chosen people to struggle with the remainders of sin in their own hearts, so he has ordained that their pilgrimage to the heavenly Canaan shall be through much tribulation. From the beginning the saints have generally been a poor and an afflicted people, often oppressed and persecuted; and when exempt from sufferings from the hands of men they are often visited with sickness or have their hearts sorely lacerated by the bereavement of dear friends, are punished with poverty or loaded with obloquy and reproach. There seems to be an incongruity in believers enjoying ease and prosperity in this world, when their Lord was a “man of sorrows and acquainted with grief.” It seems, indeed, to be a condition of our reigning with him that we should suffer with him. When James and John, under the influence of ambition, asked for the highest places in his kingdom, he said to them, “Can ye drink of the cup which I drink of, and be baptised with the baptism that I am baptised with?” They seem not to have understood his meaning, for with self-confidence they answered, “We are able.” He replied, “Ye shall indeed drink of the cup that I drink of, and be baptised with the baptism that I am baptised with.”

[[@Page:369]] For the Christian to seek great things for himself here does not become the character of a disciple of the meek and lowly Jesus. The early Christians were called to endure much persecution, but they did not count their lives dear unto them, When the apostles after our Lord’s ascension were publicly beaten for preaching that the Saviour was risen, they rejoiced together that they were counted worthy to suffer such things for his name’s sake. It is a striking peculiarity in the religion of Christ that in the conditions of discipleship “taking up the cross” is the first thing. He never tempted any to follow him with the promise of earthly prosperity or exemption from suffering. On the contrary, he assures them that in the world they shall have tribulation. He does, indeed, promise to those who forsake father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, houses and lands, a compensation of a hundred-fold more than they had left; but he permits them not to fall into the delusion that this hundred-fold was to consist in earthly good things, for he immediately adds, “with persecution.” Whosoever will not take Christ with his cross, shall never sit with him on his throne. “No cross, no croton” holds out an important truth in few words. Christ, in his [[@Page:370]] intercessory prayer, does request for his disciples that they may be kept from the evil which is in the world, but he means from the “evil one” — from the evil of sin and from temptations above their strength to endure.

The reasons why Christ has chosen that his people should be afflicted, and often sorely persecuted, are not difficult to be ascertained. In the former essay it was shown that the rod is one of God’s means for recovering backsliders from their wanderings, but afflictions are also employed to prevent Christians from backsliding. In prosperity pride is apt to rise and swell, carnal security blinds their eyes, the love of riches increases, spiritual affections are feeble and eternal things are viewed as far off and concealed by a thick mist. These circumstances are, indeed, the common precursors of backsliding, but to prevent this evil, and to stir up the benumbed feelings of piety, the believer is put into the furnace. At first he finds it hard to submit, and is like a wild bull in a net. His pride and his love of carnal ease resist the hand that smites him, but severe pain awakes him from his sleep, and he finds himself in the hands of his heavenly Father, and sees that nothing can be gained by murmuring or rebelling.

[[@Page:371]] His sins rise up to view, and he is convinced of the justice of the divine dispensations. His hard heart begins to yield, and he is stirred up to cry mightily to God for helping grace. Although he wishes and prays for deliverance from the pressure of affliction, yet he is more solicitous that it should be rendered effectual to subdue his pride, wean him from the love of the world and give perfect exercise to patience and resignation, than that it should be removed. He knows that the furnace is the place for purification. He hopes and prays that his dross may be consumed, and that he may come forth as gold which has passed seven times through the refiner’s fire.

Paul attributes a powerful efficacy to afflictions, so as to place them among the most efficacious means of grace. “For,” says he, “our light affliction, which is but for a moment, worketh out for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory.” “Furthermore, we have had fathers of our flesh which corrected us, and we gave them reverence; shall we not much rather be in subjection to the Father of spirits and live? For they, verily, for a few days, corrected us after their own pleasure; but he for our profit, that we might be partakers of his holiness. Now, no chastening for [[@Page:372]] the present seemeth to be joyous, but grievous; nevertheless, afterward it yieldeth the peaceable fruit of righteousness unto them who are exercised thereby.” When faith is in very lively exercise believers can rejoice even in tribulation. Not that they cease to feel the pain of the rod — for then it would cease to be an affliction — but while they experience the smart they are convinced that it is operating as a salutary though bitter medicine, and they rejoice in the prospect or feeling of returning health. But again God pours not the rich consolations of his grace into a heart that is not broken. “He sendeth the rich empty away.” “The whole need not a physician;” but when by affliction he has broken the hard heart and emptied it of self-confidence, he delights to pour in the joy of the Holy Ghost. Therefore, it often occurs that the believer’s most joyful seasons are his suffering seasons. He has, it is true, more pungent pain than when in prosperity and ease, but he has also richer, deeper draughts of consolation. Though sorrow and joy are opposite, there is a mysterious connection between them. Sorrow, as it were, softens and prepares the heart for the reception of the joy of the Lord.

As the dispensations of God toward his [[@Page:373]] children are exceedingly diverse in different ages, so his dealings with individual believers who live at the same time are very different. Why it is so we cannot tell, but we are sure that he has wise reasons for all that he does. In some cases pious persons appear to pass through life with scarcely a touch from his rod, while others, who to us do not appear to need more chastisement than those, are held the greater par of their life under the heavy pressure of affliction with scarcely any intermission. Here is a Christian man who has nearly reached the usual termination of human life, and has hardly known what external affliction is in his own experience. Prosperity has attended him through his whole course. But there is a desolate widow who has been bereaved of her husband and children, and has neither brother nor sister, nephew nor niece, and for eight years has been confined to bed by wasting and painful disease, and has no hope of relief on this side of the grave. Such a disparity is striking, but we see only the outside of things. These are sore afflictions of the mind while the body is in health. That man may have had severer chastisements than this afflicted, desolate widow. I have heard an aged Christian declare that though he [[@Page:374]] had experienced much sickness, lost many dear friends and met with many sore disappointments in life, his sufferings on these accounts were not to be compared with the internal anguish which he often endured, and of which no creature had the least conception. This shows that we are not competent to form an accurate judgment of the sufferings of different persons. Besides, when affliction has been long continued we become in a measure accustomed to it, and as it were hardened against it; but when we judge of such cases we transfer our own acute feelings to the condition, which are no correct standard of the sufferings of the patient under a lingering disease.

The widow, to whom I referred, was not a fictitious, but a real person. I once visited her and conversed with her, and found her serene and happy, desiring nothing but a speedy departure, that she might be absent from the body and present with the Lord; but she was not impatient; she was willing to remain and suffer just as long as God pleased. Her heart was truly subdued to the obedience of Christ. There was only one earthly object for which she seemed to feel solicitude, and that was the little forsaken and almost desolate church of which she was a member. For a [[@Page:375]] series of years disaster after disaster had fallen upon this little flock. Their house of worship had been accidentally burnt, they had been so long without a pastor that they dwindled down to a few disheartened and scattered members, and only one aged elder remained. Seldom was there an occasional sermon in the place, as they had no convenient house of meeting on the Sabbath. Now, although this poor widow could not have attended if there had been preaching every Lord’s day, yet that little church lay as a burden on her mind; and I heard a minister who knew the circumstances say that as once a poor wise man saved a city, so this poor pious widow by her prayers saved a church from extinction; or before her death a neat, new church was erected and a pastor settled, and a number of souls hopefully converted and gathered into the church.

I was once on a visit to a friend who requested me to accompany her to see a sick woman supposed to be near her end. The house was not a cabin, but a mere wreck of a once comfortable dwelling. Every appearance of comfort was absent. The partitions appeared to have been taken down, and the whole house was turned into one large room. There was no glass in the windows; but that [[@Page:376]] mattered net — it was summer. Upon entering this desolate place, I saw the sick woman lying on a miserable bed, unable to raise her head from the pillow, and attended only by an aged mother above eighty years of age and a little daughter about seven or eight. Here, indeed, seemed to be the very picture of wretchedness; and I was told that her brutal husband generally came home drunk, and never gave her a kind or soothing word. Hear the conclusion. I verily thought before I left the house that this was the happiest woman I ever saw. Her devout and tender eye was sweetly fixed on heaven. Her countenance was serene and illumined with a heavenly smile.

Page 127. Chap. VI. Erroneous views of regeneration — The correct view — The operation of faith — Exercises of mind, as illustrated in President Edwards’ narrative — The operations of faith still further explained.

posted 8 Jul 2014, 14:50 by Stephen OldPaths   [ updated 8 Jul 2014, 14:52 ]


Erroneous views of regeneration — The correct view — The operation of faith — Exercises of mind, as illustrated in President Edwards’ narrative — The operations of faith still further explained.

IT is proper now to inquire what are the precise effects of regeneration or the exercises of a newly-converted soul? As the restoration of depraved man to the image of God, lost by the fall, is the grand object aimed at in the whole economy of salvation, it can easily be said in the general that by this change a principle of holiness is implanted, spiritual life is communicated, the mind is enlightened, the will renewed and the affections purified and elevated to heavenly objects. Such general descriptions do not afford full satisfaction to the inquiring mind; and as we have taken into view many of those circumstances which diversify the exercises of grace in different subjects, let us now endeavour to ascertain, with as much precision as we can, what are those things which are essential to the genuineness of this work, [[@Page:128]] and which therefore will be found in every sincere Christian. But in this attempt great difficulty must be met in conveying our ideas with precision. Even those terms which are most used in the Holy Scriptures to designate the essential exercises of piety are differently understood, and when used convey different ideas to different persons. I will endeavour, however, to avoid this difficulty as much as possible by defining the terms which I employ.

I have all along admitted that the mode of the Spirit’s operation in regeneration is altogether inscrutable, and an attempt to explain it is worse than folly. We may, however, without intruding into things unseen or attempting to dive into the unsearchable nature of the divine operations, say that God operates on the human mind in a way perfectly consistent with its nature as a spirit and a creature of understanding and will. On this principle some suppose that there can be no other method of influencing a rational mind but by the exhibition of truth or the presentment of motives: any physical operation, they allege, would be unsuitable. Their theory of regeneration, therefore, is, that it is produced by the moral operation of the truth contemplated by the understanding, and [[@Page:131]] influencing the affections and the will according to the known principles of our rational nature. But respecting what is necessary to bring the truth fairly before the mind the abettors of this theory divide into several parts.

The Pelagian, believing human nature to be un-contaminated, and needing nothing but a correct knowledge of the truth, rejects all supernatural aid, and maintains that every man has full ability to perform all good actions, and to reform what is amiss, by simply attending to the instructions of the Word, and exercising his own free will, by which he is able to choose and pursue what course he pleases.

The semi-Pelagian agrees with the views given, except in one particular. He believes that the truth, if seriously contemplated, will produce the effects stated, but that mankind are so immersed in the world of sensible objects, and so occupied and filled with earthly thoughts and cares, that no man will or ever docs contemplate the truth so impartially and steadily as to produce a change in his affections and purposes until he is influenced by the Holy Spirit; and according to him the only need of divine agency in regeneration is to direct and fix the attention on divine things. This being [[@Page:130]] done, the truth, as contained in the divine Word and as apprehended by the natural understanding, is adequate to produce all the desired effects on the active principles of our nature.

There is still a third party, who attribute regeneration to the simple operation of the truth on the mind, whose views are neither Pelagian nor semi-Pelagian. They hold that the natural man cannot discern the things of the Spirit of God, and that if a man should ever so long contemplate the truth with such views as natural reason takes of it, it would never transform him into the divine likeness; but that by the illumination of the Holy Spirit the sinner must obtain new spiritual views of divine things, by which he is renovated or regenerated; yet these deny that any operation on the mind itself is necessary, as they allege that these spiritual views of truth will certainly draw after them the exercise of those affections in which holiness essentially consists.

Now, in my judgment, this theory is defective only in one point, and that is, it supposes the mind, which is already in possession of doctrinal knowledge of the truth, to have this same truth presented to it in an entirely new light, without any operation on the soul itself, dust as if a man was [[@Page:131]] blind, but standing in the clear shining of the sun’s rays. These he feels, and can talk philosophically about, the sensation of light and colour, while he has not in his mind the first simple perception of any object of sight. Could this man be made tu perceive the visible objects around him without any operation on the eyes to remove the obstruction or to rectify the organ? The ease of the soul is entirely analogous. Here is light enough; the truth is viewed by the intellect of unregenerate man, but has no transforming efficacy. The fault is not in the truth, which is perfect, but the blindness is in the mind, and ran only be removed by an influence on the soul itself; that is, by the power of God creating “a new heart,” to use the language of Scripture. The apostle Paul was sent to the Gentiles “to open their eyes and to turn them from darkness to light.”

Two things are always necessary to distinct vision — the medium of light and a sound organ; either of these without the other would be useless, but combined, the-beauties of nature and the glory of God in the visible world are seen with delight. It is so in the spiritual world. The truth is necessary, but until the mind is brought into a state in which it (•an perceive it in its beauty and glory, [[@Page:132]] it is heard and read and contemplated without any transforming effect — without drawing the affections to God or subduing the power of selfish and sensual desires The fault existing in the percipient being, there must be such an exertion of divine power as will remove it; and this is regeneration. Then all the effects of the truth will take place, as according to the former theory. But I seem to hear the common objection, that if the soul be the subject of any operation, this must he physical, and what is this but to make man a mere machine or to deal with him as if he were a block? I believe that a more ambiguous, unhappy word could not be used than physical: the best way to get clear of the mists which surround it is to drop its use altogether in this connection. Indeed, it is a term which properly belongs to another science — to natural philosophy. W the operation must have a name, let it receive it from the nature of the effect produced; this being spiritual, let it be called a spiritual operation; or, as the effect produced is confessedly above the powers of unassisted nature, let us call it supernatural, which is the precise technical term used by the most accurate theologians. Can the Almighty, who made the soul, operate upon it in no other way than by a mechanical [[@Page:133]] force? Cannot he restore its lost power of spiritual perception and susceptibility of holy feeling without doing any violence to its free and spiritual nature? But I shall be told that there neither is nor can be any moral or spiritual nature, or disposition prior to volition, in the mind; for morality consists, essentially, in choice, and to suppose morality to have any other existence than in the transient act is an absurdity. If this be sound moral philosophy, then my theory must fall. This is a question not requiring or admitting of much reasoning. It is a subject for the intuitive judgment of the moral faculty. If there are minds so constituted that they cannot conceive of permanent, latent dispositions in the soul, both good and evil, I can do no more than express my strong dissent from their opinion and appeal to the common sense of mankind.

Some of my most serious readers, I know, will object to my theory of the mind’s operations in one important particular. They are so far from thinking that any illumination of the mind will produce holy affections that it is a radical principle in their philosophy of religion that light always increases or stirs up the enmity of an unregenerate heart; that the more unholy beings know of God [[@Page:134]] the more they will hate him, as is supposed to be proved by the experience of thousands under conviction of sin, and by the case of the devils, who believe and tremble, but never love. The difference between me and these persons is not so great as at first view it seems. Their error consists, if I am right, in making too wide a severance between the understanding and the will, between the intellect and the affections. I am ready to admit that all the knowledge which you can communicate to a man remaining unregenerate may have the tendency of increasing or stirring up his enmity to God and his law; but, observe, that I make illumination the first effect of regeneration. And I hold that no unregenerate man is, while in that state, any more capable of spiritual perception than a blind man is of a perception of colours. The blind man, however, has his own ideas about colours, and may understand their various relations to each other, and all the laws which regulate the reflection and refraction of light, as well as those who see. This was remarkably exemplified in the case of Dr. Sanderson, who, though blind from his early infancy, delivered an accurate course of lectures on light and colours in the University of Oxford. Just so an unregenerate man may be [[@Page:135]] able to deliver able lectures on all the points in theology, and yet not have one glimpse of the beauty and glory of the truth with which he is conversant.

The sacred Scriptures represent all unconverted men as destitute of the true knowledge of God. If there be a clear truth in the laws of mental operation, it is that the affections are in exact accordance with the views of the understanding. If men are unaffected with the truth known, it must be because they do not know it aright: neither can they perceive it in its true nature until they are regenerated. Did any man ever see an object to be lovely and not feel an emotion corresponding with that quality? And what unconverted man ever beheld in Christ, as represented in Scripture, the beauty and glory of God? Hence that doctrine is not true which confines depravity or holiness to the will, and which considers the understanding as a natural and the will as a moral faculty. The soul is not depraved or holy by departments; the disease affects it as a soul, and of course all faculties employed in moral exercises must partake of their moral qualities. There is, however, no propriety in calling either of them a moral faculty; for although both understanding [[@Page:136]] and will are concerned in every moral act, yet not one-hundredth part of the acts of either partakes of a moral nature. The will is just as much a natural faculty as the understanding, and the understanding is as much a moral faculty as the will. But in strict propriety of speech the only faculty which deserves to be called a moral faculty is conscience, because by it only are we capable of moral perceptions or feelings.

I am afraid that I have gone too far into abstruse distinctions for most of my readers; but there are thousands of plain, private Christians in our country who not only enter into such disquisitions, but will relish them.

I come now to what I intended when I began this subject — to describe, as exactly as I can, what are the exercises of the new heart or the regenerate man. And here my appeal is to no theories, but to experience combined with the word of God. Every man on whom this divine operation has passed experiences new views of divine truth. The soul sees in these things that which it never saw before. It discerns in the truth of God a beauty and excellence of which it had no conception until now. Whatever may be the diversity in the clearness of the views of different persons, or in the [[@Page:137]] particular truths brought before the mind, they all agree in this that there is a new perception of truth — whether you ascribe it to the head or heart, I care not. It is a blessed reality, and there are many witnesses of sound mind and unquestionable veracity who are ready to attest to it as verity known in their own delightful experience. But as the field of truth is very wide, and divine things may be perceived under innumerable aspects and relations, and as there is no uniformity in the particular objects which may first occupy the attention of the enlightened mind, it is impossible to lay down any particular order of exercises which take place. The case may be illustrated by supposing a great multitude of blind persons restored to sight >y an act of divine power. Some of them would be so situated that the first object seen would be the glorious luminary of day; another might receive the gift of sight in the night, and the moon and stars would absorb his wondering attention; a third might direct his opened eyes to a beautiful landscape; and a fourth might have but a ray of light shining into a dark dungeon, without his knowing whence it came. Of necessity, there must be the same endless variety in the particular views of new converts, but still they all partake of new views [[@Page:138]] of divine truth; and the same truths will generally be contemplated sooner or later, but not in the same order, nor exhibited to all with the same degree of clearness.

Now, according to the views which I entertain, this spiritual knowledge granted to the regenerated soul is nothing else but saving faith, for knowledge and belief involve each other. To know a thine; and not believe it is a contradiction, and to believe a thing and not know it is impossible. Faith is simply a belief of the truth when viewed as distinct and discriminated from all other mental acts. Some will be startled at this nakedness of faith, and many will be ready to object that it is to make faith to be no more than a bare assent of the understanding to the truth. Well, if it be uniformly accompanied by all holy affections and emotions, what is the difference? But I deny that, as described, it is a naked assent of the understanding, as those words are commonly understood. The wide distinction between the understanding and will, which has very much confounded our mental philosophy, has come down to us from the schoolmen. But in making the distinction, they made simple verity the object of the understanding. And that is what we commonly mean by bare [[@Page:139]] assent: it relates to the simple truth; but the will has respect, they said, to good — every species of good. Now, the faith of which I have spoken at the same time contemplates the truth and the beauty, excellency and goodness of the object, and also its adaptedness to our necessities: all these things are comprehended in the views which the Holy Spirit gives to the mind. Therefore, though faith be a simple, uncompounded act, a firm belief or persuasion, it comprehends the objects ascribed both to the understanding and the will. Here I shall be met by a definition of faith which makes the act simple also, but considers that act to be trust or confidence. This, the reader will remember, is Dr. Dwight’s definition of faith. And the only objection to it is, that it is too narrow to comprehend all that belongs to the subject. Trust is nothing else than the firm belief or persuasion of the truth of a promise. When we say that we trust or have confidence in a person, it relates to some promise. This definition comprehends all acts of faith which have a promise of God for their object; and these are certainly the most important acts and accompanied with the most sensible emotions. But all divine truth is not in the form of a promise. The whole word of God is  [[@Page:140]] the proper object of a true faith, and a large part of divine revelation is taken up with histories, prophecies, doctrines and precepts. The Christian believes all these as well as the promises.

Here faith is the first act of the regenerated soul; and the most important act, for it draws all holy affections and emotions in its train. But though it sweetly mingles with every other grace, it is distinct from them all. All its diversified acts arise from the nature of the truths believed, and men may enumerate and name as many of these acts as they please; still, the nature of faith remains simple. It is a firm persuasion or belief of the truth, apprehended under the illumination of the Holy Spirit. It necessarily works by love and purifies the heart, for divine things thus discerned cannot but excite the affections to holy objects, by which sinful desires and appetites will be subdued; and when we are persuaded of the truth of God’s gracious promises, there will always be a sweet repose of soul, because the promises contain the very blessings which we need; and to be assured that there are such blessings for all who will receive them, and especially if the soul is conscious that it Is exercising faith, will produce sweet consolation. There are “joy and peace in believing.”

[[@Page:141]] According to the view of faith now given there is nothing mysterious about it. To believe in divine truth is an act of the mind, precisely the same as to believe in other truth; and the difference between a saving faith and an historical or merely speculative faith consists not in the truths believed, for in both they are the same, nor in the degree of assent given to the proposition, but in the evidence on which they are respectively founded. A saving faith is produced by the manifestation of the truth in its true nature to the mind which now apprehends it, according to the degree of faith in its spiritual qualities, its beauty and glory and sweetness; whereas an historical or speculative faith may rest on the prejudices of education or the deductions of reason, but in its exercise there is no conception of the true qualities of divine things. The humblest, weakest believer possesses a knowledge of God hidden from the wisest of enlightened men, according to that saying of Christ, “I thank thee, O Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that thou hast hid these things from the wise and prudent, and hast revealed them to babes.”

On the subject of experimental religion our dependence must not be on the theories of men, but on the unerring word of God, and on the facts [[@Page:142]] which have been observed in the experience of true Christians. In the exercises of new converts there is in some respects a remarkable similarity and in others a remarkable variety. All are convinced of sin, not only of life but of heart. All are brought to acknowledge the justice of God in their condemnation, and to feel that they might be left to perish without any derogation from the perfections of God, and that they have no ability to bring God under any obligations to save them by their prayers, tears or other religious duties. All true Christians, moreover, love the truth which has been revealed to their minds, and are led to trust in Christ alone for salvation; and they all hunger and thirst after righteousness, and resolve to devote themselves to the service of God, and prefer his glory above their chief joy. But, besides those varieties already described as arising from several causes, there is often much difference in their exercises, arising from the particular truths which they are led to contemplate when their eyes are first opened.

I do not mean to go over the ground which we have already passed, otherwise than by a statement of facts from authentic sources, which may serve to corroborate and illustrate the statements already given. Perhaps no man who has lived in modern [[@Page:145]] times has had a better opportunity to form an accurate judgment of tacts of this kind than President Edwards, and few men who ever lived were better qualified to discriminate between true and false religion. It is a thing much to be prized that this great and good man has left a record of that most remarkable revival which took place in Northampton, New England, in the year 1734 and onward. This narrative was written soon afterward, and was communicated to Dr. Watts and Dr. Guyse, who united in a preface which accompanied the narrative when published in London. In this account, carefully drawn up, we have a satisfactory account of the exercises of the subjects of the work, with the varieties which were observed in the experience of different persons. The leading facts have here been selected from the narrative, so as to occupy the least possible room. To any who take an interest in this subject these facts cannot but be gratifying; and however the narrative may have been perused by some, yet it will not be disagreeable to them to have some of the prominent traits of the religious exercises at that time presented to them in a condensed form.

Mr. Edwards informs us “that there was scarcely a singG person in the town, old or young, left  [[@Page:144]] unconcerned about the great things of the eternal world;” and although he does not pretend to know the precise number of converts, he is of opinion that it could not be less in the judgment of charity than three hundred. Our object is not to abridge the narrative, but merely to select the account of the variety of exercises experienced as there given.

“There is a great variety,” says he, “as to the degree of trouble and fear that persons are exercised with before they attain any comfortable evidence of pardon and acceptance with God. Some are from the beginning carried on with abundantly more hope ami encouragement than others. Some have had ten times less trouble than others, in whom the work yet appears the same in the issue. . . . The awful apprehensions persons have had of their misery have, for the most part, been increasing the nearer they have approached to deliverance. Sometimes they think themselves wholly senseless, and fear that the Spirit of God has left them, and that they are given up to judicial hardness, yet they appear very deeply exercised with that fear, and in great earnestness to obtain con -viction again. Many times persons under great awakenings were concerned because they thought [[@Page:145]] they were not awakened, but miserably hardhearted, senseless, sottish creatures still, and sleeping on the brink of hell. . . . “Persons are sometimes brought to the borders of despair, and it looks as black as midnight to them a little before the day dawns on their souls. The depravity of the heart has discovered itself in various exercises in the time of legal convictions. Sometimes it appears as in a great struggle, like something roused by an enemy. Many in such circumstances have felt a great spirit of envy toward the godly, especially toward those thought to have been recently converted. As they are gradually more and more convinced of the corruption and wickedness of their hearts, they seem to themselves to grow worse and worse, harder and blinder, more desperately wicked, instead of growing better. . . . When awakenings first begin, their consciences are commonly more exercised about their outward vicious courses, but afterward are much more burdened with a sense of heart-sins, the dreadful corruption of their nature, their enmity against God, the pride of their hearts, their unbelief, their rejection of Christ, the stubbornness of their will, and the like. . . Very often, under first awakenings, they set themselves to walk [[@Page:146]] more strictly, confess their sins, and perform many religious duties with a secret hope of appeasing God’s anger. And sometimes, at first setting out, their affections are so moved that they are full of tears in their confessions and prayers, which they are ready to make much of, as if they were some atonement, and conceive that they grow better apace and shall soon be converted; but their affections and hopes are short-lived, for they quickly find that they fail, and then they think themselves to be grown worse again. When they reflect on the wicked working of their hearts against God, they have more distressing apprehensions of his anger, and have great fears that God will never show mercy to them; or perhaps that they have committed the unpardonable sin, and are often tempted to leave off in despair. . . . When they begin to seek salvation, they are commonly profoundly ignorant of themselves. They are not sensible how blind they are, and how little they can do to bring themselves to see spiritual things aright, and toward putting forth gracious exercises in their own souls. When they see unexpected pollution in themselves, they go about to wash their own defilements and make themselves clean; and they weary themselves in vain, till God shows [[@Page:147]] them that it is in vain, and that their help is not where they have sought it.

“But some persons continue to wander in such a labyrinth ten times as long as others, before their own experience will convince them of their own insufficiency; so that it is not their own experience at last that convinces them, but the Spirit of God. There have been some who have not had great terrors, but yet have had a very quick work. Some who have not had very deep conviction before their conversion have much more of it afterward. God has appeared far from limiting himself to any certain method in bis proceedings with sinners under legal convictions. There is in nothing a greater difference in different persons than with respect to the time of their being under trouble — some but a few days, and others for months and years.

“As to those in whom legal convictions seem to have a saving issue, the first thing that appears after their trouble is a conviction of the justice of God in their condemnation from a sense of their exceeding sinfulness. Commonly, their minds, immediately before the discovery of God’s justice, are exceedingly restless — in a kind of struggle or tumult, and sometimes in mere anguish; but commonly, as soon as they have this conviction,[[@Page:148]] it immediately brings their minds to a calm and unexpected quietness and composure; and most frequently then, though not always, the pressing weight upon their spirits is taken off; or a general hope arises that some time God will be gracious, even before any distinct, particular discoveries of mercy. Commonly, they come to a conclusion that they will lie at God’s feet and wait his time. . . . “That calm of spirit which succeeds legal conviction, in some instances continues some time before any special and delightful manifestation is made to the soul of the grace of God as revealed in the gospel. But very often some comfortable and sweet views of a merciful God, of a sufficient Redeemer, or of some great and joyful things of the gospel, immediately follow or in a very little time. And in some, the first sight of their desert of hell, of God’s sovereignty in regard to their salvation and a discovery of all-sufficient grace are so near that they seem to go together. The gracious discoveries whence the first special comforts are derived are, in many respects, very various. More frequently, Christ is distinctly made the object of the mind in his all-sufficiency and willingness to save sinners; but some have their thoughts more especially fixed on God in some of [[@Page:149]] his sweet and glorious attributes manifested in the gospel and shining faith of Jesus Christ. Some view the all-sufficiency of the grace of God — some chiefly the infinite power of God and his ability to save them and to do all things for them — and some look most to the truth and faithfulness of God. In some, the truth and certainty of the gospel in general is the first joyful discovery they have; in others, the certain proof of some particular promise. In some, the grace and sincerity of God in his invitations — very commonly in some particular invitation — are before the mind. Some are struck with the glory and wonderfulness of the dying love of Christ; and others with the sufficiency of his blood as offered to make an atonement for sin; and others again with the value and glory of his obedience and righteousness. In many, the excellency and loveliness of Christ chiefly engage their thoughts, while in some, his divinity — being filled with the idea that he is indeed the Son of the living God; and in others the excellency of the way of salvation by Christ and the suitableness of it to their necessities. . . . “There is often in the mind some particular text of Scripture holding forth some particular ground of consolation; at other times, a multitude of texts, [[@Page:150]] gracious invitations and promises, flowing in one after another, filling the soul more and more with comfort and satisfaction. Comfort is first given to some while reading some portion of Scripture, but in others it is attended with no particular Scripture at all. In some instances many divine things seem to be discovered to the soul at once; while others have their minds fixed on some one thing, and afterward a sense of others is given — in some, with a slower, in others, a swifter succession.

“It must be confessed that Christ is not always distinctly and explicitly thought of in the first sensible act of grace — though most commonly he is; but sometimes he is the object of the mind only implicitly. Thus, when persons have evidently appeared stripped of their own righteousness and have stood condemned as guilty of death, they have been comforted with a joyful and satisfactory evidence that the mercy and grace of God are sufficient for them- — that their sins, though never so great, shall be no hindrance to their being accepted — that there is mercy enough in God for the whole world, etc.; while they give no account of any particular or distinct thought of Christ; but yet it appears that the revelation of mercy in the [[@Page:151]] gospel is the ground of their encouragement and hope; yet such persons afterward obtain distinct and clear discoveries of Christ, accompanied with lively and special actings of faith and love toward him.

“Frequently, when persons have had the gospel ground of relief opened to them, and have been entertaining their minds with the sweet prospect, they have thought nothing at that time of their being converted. The view is joyful to them, as it is in its own nature glorious; gives them quite new and delightful ideas of God and Christ, and greatly encourages them to seek conversion, and begets in them a strong resolution to devote themselves to God and his Son. There is wrought in them a holy repose of soul in God through Christ, with a secret disposition to fear and love him, and to hope for blessings from him in this way, yet they have no conception that they are now converted; it does not so much as come into their minds. They know not that the sweet complacence they feel in the mercy and complete salvation of God as it includes pardon and sanctification, and is held forth to them through Christ, is a true receiving of this mercy or a plain evidence of their receiving it. Many continue a long time in a [[@Page:152]] course of gracious exercises and experiences, and do not think themselves to be converted, but conclude otherwise; and none know bow Ions; they would continue so were they not helped by particular instructions. There are undoubted instances of some who lived in this way for many years together. Those who, while under legal convictions, have had the greatest terrors, have not always obtained the greatest light and comfort, nor has the light always been most speedily communicated; but yet I think the time of conversion has been most sensible in such persons. Converting influences commonly bring an extraordinary conviction of the certainty and reality of the great things of religion, though in some this is much greater some time after conversion than at first.”

The religious exercises contained in the preceding statement will not be new to those who have been at all conversant with revivals. Such will recognise in the account what they have observed, and will be gratified to find the same facts they have observed recorded and published by such a master in Israel. Almost the only remark which I feel disposed to make is, that it is too commonly supposed that the time of receiving comfort is always the time of regeneration, whereas this might  [[@Page:153]] rather be termed the time of conversion; for then the exercises of the renewed soul come to a crisis, and faith, which was before weak and obscure, shines forth with vigour. Perhaps it is the prevalent opinion among orthodox writers that the first views of the renovated soul are views of Christ, and when mere legal convictions are immediately followed by such views and their attendant consolations this opinion maybe correct; but in many cases it is reasonable to believe that the convictions experienced are those of the true penitent. And as, in almost all cases here recorded and observed by others, there is a distinct view and approbation of God’s justice in the condemnation of the sinner, I cannot but think, agreeably to what was stated in a former chapter, that the soul has passed from death unto life before these feelings are experienced; and that may help to account for the remarkable c<i!m which now succeeds the dark and stormy night. This revelation of Jesus Christ in the believer may be compared to the birth of a child into the light of this world, but its conception was long before. And so this interesting point in experience is the new birth, but the principle of spiritual life commonly exists before. Besides, comfort is no sure evidence of a genuine birth; some who [[@Page:154]] become strong men in the Lord are born in sorrow. They weep before they are able to smile, but in the spiritual birth joy and sorrow often sweetly mingle their streams.

There are two reasons why faith, though one of the simplest exercises of the mind, is represented as having so many different acts: the one is the great variety in the truths believed; and the other, that commonly various exercises are included in the account of faith which do always accompany or follow a true faith, but do not appertain to its essence. As faith has all revealed truth for its object, the feelings produced in the mind correspond with the particular nature of the truth which is, at any time, in the contemplation of the mind. If by the soul under the illumination of the Holy Spirit the law is viewed in its spirituality and moral excellence, while there will be experienced an approbation of the will of God thus expressed, yet a lively sense of the sinfulness of our hearts and lives must be the predominant feeling. This discovery of the purity of the law and this deep feeling of the evil of sin commonly precede any clear view of Christ and the plan of salvation; and this has given rise to the prevalent opinion that repentance goes before faith in the natural [[@Page:155]] order of pious exercises. But according to our idea of faith, as given above, it must necessarily precede and be the cause of every other gracious exercise. Commonly, indeed, when we speak of faith wc describe its maturity, but there are often many obscure but real acts of faith before the soul apprehends the fulness and excellency and suitableness of Christ. And in many cases, when some view of the plan of salvation is obtained, the single truth believed is the ability of Christ to save; and even the full persuasion of this gives rise to joy when the soul has been long cast down with gloomy forebodings of everlasting misery and with the apprehension that for such a sinner there was no salvation.

As faith does no more than bring the truth before the mind in its true nature, every act of faith must, of course, be characterised by the qualities of the truth thus presented, and by its adaptation to the circumstances and convictions of the sinner. All those acts of faith which bring the extent and spirituality of the law of God fully into view must bo accompanied with painful emotions, on account of the deep conviction of disconformity to that perfect rule which cannot but be experienced when that object is before the mind. But all those [[@Page:156]] invitations, promises and declarations which exhibit a Saviour and the method of recovery, when truly believed under a just apprehension of their nature, must be accompanied not only with love, but joy and hope and a free consent to be saved in God’s appointed way; and when the previous distress and discouragement have been great and the views of gospel truth clear, the joy is overflowing, and as long as these views are unclouded peace flows like a river.

But even in the discoveries which faith makes of Christ there is a great variety in the extent and combination of divine truth which come before the mind at any one time. Probably no two persons in believing have precisely the same truths in all their relations presented to them; and not only so, but it is hardly credible that the same believer in his various contemplations of divine truth takes in exactly the same field of view at different times. Hence it appears that the whole power of faith is derived from the importance, excellence, amiable-ness and suitableness of the truths believed. And when faith is “imputed for righteousness,” it is not the simple act of faith which forms a righteousness If any exercise of the renewed mind could constitute a righteousness, it would be love, which, [[@Page:157]] according to its strength, is “the fulfilling of the law;” but when the soul by faith is fully persuaded that Christ is the end of the law for righteousness, this righteousness of the Surety when received by faith is imputed; and by this alone, which is perfect, can God be just in justifying the ungodly. “Faith, thus receiving and resting on Christ and his righteousness, is the alone instrument of justification; yet is not alone in the person justified, but is ever accompanied with all other saving graces, and is no death faith; but worketh by love.” “By this faith a Christian believeth to be true whatsoever is revealed in the Word for the authority of God himself speaking therein, and acteth differently upon that which each particular passage thereof containeth; yielding obedience to the commands, trembling at the threatenings and embracing the promises of God for this life and that which is to come. But the principal acts of faith are, accepting and resting upon Christ alone for justification, sanctification and eternal life, by virtue of the covenant of grace.” This quotation, taken from a formulary known to many of my readers, contains as just and comprehensive a view of the nature of saving faith as could be given in words.

[[@Page:158]] But another reason why so many divine acts are attributed to faith is, because other exercises are included in the description of faith, which, though they always accompany it, ought not to be confounded with it. It was, two hundred years ago, a question much agitated among the divines of Holland whether love or charity entered into the essence of faith? And in our own country faith and love have not been kept distinct. A very prevalent system of theology makes the essence of faith to be love. Much evil arises from confounding what are so clearly distinguished in the word of God. If faith and love were identical, how could it be said that “faith works by love?” The apostle Paul speaks of faith, hope and charity, or love, as so distinct that, although they are all necessary, they may be compared as to excellency — “The greatest of these is charity.” The celebrated Witsius, in his “Economy of the Covenants,” in describing faith, among the various acts which he attributes to this divine principle reckons “love of the truth” and “hungering and thirsting after Christ.” Now, it is an abuse of language to say that faith loves or desires; faith works by love, and excites hungering and thirsting desires after Christ.

[[@Page:159]] But it may be asked, If these graces are inseparably connected, why be so solicitous to distinguish them? First, because in so doing we follow the sacred writers; secondly, because it has a bad effect to use a scriptural word to express what it was never designed to express; and, thirdly, because of the special office of faith in a sinner’s justification; in which neither love nor any other grace has any part, although they are the effects of faith. When love is confounded with a justifying faith it is very easy to slide into the opinion that, as love is the substance of evangelical obedience, when we are said to be justified by faith the meaning is, that we are justified by our own obedience. And accordingly, in a certain system of divinity, valued by many in this country, the matter is thus stated: faith is considered a comprehensive term for all evangelical obedience. The next step is — and it has already been taken by some — that our obedience is meritorious, and when its defects are purged by atoning blood it is sufficient to procure for us a title to eternal life. Thus have some, boasting of the name of Protestants, worked around until they have fallen upon one of the most offensive tenets of Popery. But it would he difficult to bring a true penitent to entertain the [[@Page:160]] opinion that his own works were meritorious or could in the least recommend him to God. The whole of God’s dealings with the souls of his own people effectually dispel from their minds every feeling of this kind. The very idea of claiming merit is most abhorrent to their feelings.

But while it is of importance to distinguish faith from every other grace, yet it is necessary to insist on the fact that that faith which does not produce love and other holy affections is not a genuine faith. In the apostles’ days a set of libertines arose who boasted of their faith, but they performed no good works to evince the truth of their faith. Against such the apostle James writes, and proves that such a faith was no better than that of devils, and would justify no man; that the faith of Abraham and other believers, which did justify, was not a dead faith, but living — not a barren faith, but productive of good works; and proved itself to be genuine by the acts of duty which it induced the believer to perform. While, then, faith stands foremost in the order of gracious exercises, because it is necessary to the existence of every other, love may be said to be the centre around which all the virtues of the Christian revolve, and from which they derive their nature.

[[@Page:161]] Love, of some kind, is familiar to the experience of all persons; and all love is attended with some pleasure in its exercise, but it varies on account of the difference of the objects of affection. Divine love is itself a delightful and soul-satisfying exercise. The soul which has tasted the goodness of God is convinced that nothing more is necessary to complete felicity than the perfection of love. This supposes, however, that our love to God is ever accompanied with some sense of his love to us. Love, unless reciprocated, would not fill up the cup of human happiness. But to love and be beloved, this is heaven. And “we love him because he first loved us.”

In the first exercises of a renewed mind, love to God and love to man are both brought into action, but often the prospect of deliverance from eternal misery which threatened may absorb the attention. It is indeed a marvellous deliverance, to be snatched from the vergers of hell and assured of everlasting-life. What a tumult of feeling must it create! But notwithstanding this, it frequently happens that in the first discoveries of the plan of salvation, the soul loses sight of its own interest and is completely occupied in contemplating and admiring the wisdom, love and justice of God as exhibited [[@Page:162]] iii the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ. Indeed, the believer, when these spiritual discoveries are afforded, thinks nothing of the nature of those acts which he is exercising, and it may not be till long afterward that he recognises these outgoings of soul to be true love to the Saviour.

There are two affections, distinct from each other in their objects, which are included under the term love. The one terminates on the goodness or moral excellence of its object, and varies according to the particular view at any time enjoyed of the divine attributes. This comprehends all pious affections and emotions arising from the contemplation of the perfections of God; and some of them, such as reverence and humility, would not fall under the name of love when taken in a strict sense, but when used as a general term for our whole obedience, it must comprehend them all. This may, for convenience, be called the love of complacency, in which the rational soul delights in the character of God as revealed in his word. . The other affection called love has not the character of the person beloved for its object, but his happiness. It may be intensely exercised toward those in whose moral qualities there can be no complacency, and is called the love of benevolence. God’s love to sinners is [[@Page:163]] of this kind; and this is the kind of love which Christians are bound to exercise to all men in the world, even to those that hate and persecute them. Though the love of benevolence may exist without the love of complacency, yet the converse cannot be asserted. No one ever felt love to the character of another without desiring his happiness. Before conversion the soul is sordidly selfish, but no sooner does this change take place than the heart begins to be enlarged with an expansive benevolence. The whole world is embraced in its charity. “Good-will to man” is a remarkable characteristic of the “new creature;” and this intense desire for the salvation of our fellow-men, and ardent w;-h that they may all become interested in that Saviour whom we have found to be so precious, are the true source of the missionary spirit, and are the foundation often of laborious and long-continued exertions to prepare for the holy ministry, and prompt and incline delicate females to consent to leave all the endearments of home for arduous labour in a foreign and sometimes a savage land.

But, however lively the affection of love in the exercises of the real Christian, he never can lose sight of his own unworthiness. Indeed, the brighter his discoveries of the divine glory, and [[@Page:164]] the stronger his love, the deeper are his views of the turpitude of sin. The more he is elevated in affection and assured hope, the deeper is he depressed in humility and self-abasement. His penitential feelings, from the nature of the case, keep pace with his love and joy; and when his tears flow in copious showers he would be at a loss to tell whether he was weeping for joy or for sorrow. He might say, for both; for in these pious exercises these opposite emotions sweetly mingle their Streams; and so delightful is this mingling of affections naturally opposite that the person could hardly be persuaded that the sweet would be as agreeable without as with the bitter. One hour spent under the cross while the soul is thus elevated, thus abased — thus joyful and thus sorrowful — is better than a thousand of earthly delights. Observe, Bunyan does not make the burden of Christian fall off instantly on his entering in at the strait gate, but when, as he travelled, he came in sight of the cross. Then in a moment those cords which had bound it to his back, and which none could loose, were burst asunder, and his burden fell off and never was fastened on him again, although he lay so long in the prison of Giant Despair.

[[@Page:165]] The feelings of a renewed heart are never afterward the same as under legal conviction. There are scenes in the experience of the lively Christian of which the wise men of the world never dream, and which, if they were told of them, they would not believe; and these things, while they are hidden from the wise and prudent, are revealed unto babes.

The secret of the Lord is with them that fear him. The soul which has thus returned from its wanderings to the Bishop and Shepherd feels under the strongest obligations to live for God — to deny itself — to forsake the world — to do anything, be anything, or sutler anything which may be for the honour of its divine Master. Hence a new life commences — a new spirit is manifested — and the new man, maugre all his remaining ignorance and imperfection, gives lucid evidence to all who carefully observe him that he has been with Jesus and has been baptised with the Holy Ghost; and the more frequently these views and exercises are reiterated the more spiritual and heavenly is his conversation. This is a light which cannot be hid, and which ought to shine more and more unto the perfect day. Hear, then, the exhortation of the apostle Jude: “But, ye beloved, building up [[@Page:166]] yourselves on your most holy faith, praying in the Holy Ghost, keep yourselves in the love of God, looking for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ unto eternal life.”

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