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plies thereby, that all other sinners, of what- | advantages we design. Have patience with the soever kind, may be renewed. Let us therefore interpreter, though he may not be able fully to repent. Let us break these hearts. Let us elucidate every inquiry you may make on a subsoften these stones. Let us cause floods of tears ject obscure, singular, and in some respects imto issue from the dry and barren rocks. And penetrable. Open also the avenues of your after we have passed through the horrors of re- heart to the preacher. Learn to support sepapentance, let our hearts rejoice in our salvation. rations; for which you should congratulate yourLet us banish all discouraging fears. Let us selves, when they break the ties which united pay the homage of confidence to a merciful God, you to persons unworthy of your love; and never confounding repentance with despair. which shall not be eternal, if those called away Repentance honours the Deity; despair de- by death were the true children of God. May grades him. Repentance adores his goodness; the anguish of the tears shed for their loss, be despair suppresses one of his brightest beams of assuaged by the hope of meeting them in the glory. Repentance follows the example of same glory. saints; despair confounds the human kind with demons. Repentance ascribes to the blood of the Redeemer of the world its real worth; despair accounts it "an unholy thing." Let us enter into these reflections; let this day be equally the triumph of repentance over the horrors of sin, and the triumph of grace over the anguish of repentance. God grant us this grace; to him, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, be honour and glory for ever. Amen.
We have said that this text is difficult; and it is really so in four respects. The first arises from the doubtful import of some of the terms in which it is couched. The second arises from its reference to certain notions peculiar to Christians in the apostolic age, and which to us are imperfectly known. The third is, that it revolves on certain mysteries, in regard of which the Scriptures are not very explicit, and of which inspired men had but an imperfect knowledge. The fourth is the dangerous consequences it seems to involve; because by restricting the knowledge of the sacred authors, it seems to level a blow at their inspiration. Here is an epitome of all the difficulties which can contribute to encumber a text with difficulties.
ON THE SORROW FOR THE DEATH
1 THESS. iv. 13-18..
But I would not have you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning them which are asleep, that ye sorrow not even as others which have no hope. For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so them also which sleep in Jesus will God bring with him. For this we say unto you by the word of the Lord, that we which are alive, and remain unto the coming of the Lord, shall not prevent them which are asleep. For the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first: then we which are alive and remain, shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord. Wherefore, comfort one another with these words.
THE text we have now read, may, perhaps, be contemplated under two very different points of view. The interpreter must here discover his acumen, and the preacher display his pow
It is a difficult text; it is one of the most difficult in all the epistles of St. Paul. I have strong reasons for believing, that it is one of those St. Peter had in view, when he says, "that there are some things in the writings of St. Paul, hard to be understood, which they that are unlearned wrest-to their own destruction," "2 Pet. iii. 16. In this respect it requires the erudition of the interpreter: It is a text fertile in instructions for our conduct: it illustrates | the sentiments with which we should be inspired in all the afflictive circumstances through which Providence may call us to pass in this valley of misery, I would say, when called to part with those who constitute the joy of our life. In this respect it requires the eloquence of the preacher. In attending to both those points, bring the dispositions without which you cannot derive the
I. The first is the least important, and cannot arrest the attention of any, but those who are less conversant than you, with the Scriptures. You have comprehended, I am confident, that by those who sleep, we understand those who are dead; and by those who sleep in the Lord, we understand those in general who have died in the faith, or in particular those who have sealed it by martyrdom. The sacred authors in adopting, have sanctified the style of paganism. The most ordinary shield the pagans opposed to the fear of death, was to banish the thought, and to avoid pronouncing its name. But as it is not possible to live on earth without being obliged to talk of dying, they accommodated their necessity to their delicacy, and paraphrased what they had so great a reluctance to name by the softer terms of a departure, a submission, destiny, and a sleep.-Fools! as though to change the name of a revolting object would diminish its horror. The sacred authors, as I have said, in adopting this style, have sanctified it. They have called death a sleep, by which they understand a repose: "Blessed are the dead which die in the Lord; for they rest from their labours," Rev. xiv. 13. In adopting the term, they had a special regard to the resurrection which shall follow. If the terms require farther illustration, they shall be incorporated in what we shall say when discussing the subjects.
II. We have said, that this text is difficult, because it refers to certain notions peculiar to Christians in the apostolic age, which to us are imperfectly known. The allusion of ancient authors to the peculiar notions of their time, is a principal cause of the obscurity of their writings; it embarrasses the critics, and often obliges them to confess their inadequacy to the task. It is astonishing that the public should refuse to interpreters of the sacred books, the liberty they so freely grant to those of profane
authors. Why should a species of obscurity, which has never degraded Plato, or Seneca, induce us to degrade St. Paul, and other inspired men? But how extraordinary soever, in this respect, the conduct of the enemies of our sacred books may be, it is not at all astonishing; but there is cause to be astonished at those divines who would be frequently relieved by the solution of which we speak, that they should lose sight of it in their systems, and so often seek for theological mysteries in expressions which simply require the illustration of judicious criticism. On how many allusions of the class in question, have not doctrines of faith been established? "Let him who readeth understand." We will not disturb the controversy.
We have said that there is in the words of the text, probably some allusion to notions peculiar to the apostolic age. St. Paul not only designed to assuage the anguish excited in the breast of persons of fine feelings by the death of their friends; he seems to have had a peculiar reference to the Thessalonians. The proof we have of this is, that the apostle not merely enforces the general arguments that Christianity affords to all good men in those afflictive situations, such as the happiness which instantly follows the death of saints, and the certainty of a glorious resurrection: he superadds a motive wholly of another kind; this motive, which we shall now explain, is thus pressed: "We which are alive and remain at the coming of the Lord, shall not prevent them which are asleep," &c.
cerning which St. Paul has the words of the Psalmist, "That their sound went forth to the ends of the earth:" these ideas had persuaded many of the primitive Christians, that the coming of the Messiah, the destruction of Jerusalem, and the end of the world, must follow one another in speedy succession; and, the more so, as the Lord had subjoined to those predictions, that "this generation should not pass away until all these things be fulfilled;" that is, the men then alive. This text is of the same import with that in the xvith of St. Matthew: "Verily I say unto you, there be some standing here which shall not taste of death till they see the Son of man coming in his kingdom," ver. 28.
What might there be in the opinion, peculiar to the Christians of that age, which could thereby assuage their anguish? Among the conjectures it has excited, this appears to me the most rational;-it was a sentiment generally received in the apostolic age, and from which we cannot say that the apostles themselves were wholly free, that the last day was just at hand. Two considerations might have contributed to establish this opinion.
The ancient Rabbins had affirmed, that the second temple would not long subsist after the advent of the Messiah; and believing that the Levitical worship should be coeval with the world, they believed likewise that the resurrection of the dead, and the consummation of the ages, would speedily follow the coming of Christ. Do not ask how they reconciled those notions with the expectation of the Messiah's temporal kingdom; we know that the Rabbinical systems are but little connected; and inconsistency is not peculiar to them.
But secondly; the manner in which Jesus Christ had foretold the destruction of Jerusalem, might have contributed to persuade the first Christians, that the last day was near. He had represented it in the prophetic style, as a universal dissolution of nature, and of the elements. In that day "the sun shall be darkened; the moon shall be turned to blood; the stars shall fall from heaven; the powers of heaven shall be shaken; and the Son of man himself as coming on the clouds, and sending his angels with the sound of a trumpet to gather together his elect from the four winds," Matt. xxiv. 29. 31. These oriental figures, whereby he painted the extirpation of the Jewish nation, and the preaching of the apostles, con
These are the considerations which induced many of the first Christians to believe that the last day would soon come. And as the Lord, the more strikingly to represent the surprise that the last day would excite in men, had compared it to the approach of a thief at midnight, the primitive Christians really thought that Jesus Christ would come at midnight; hence some of them rose at that hour to await his coming, and St. Jerome relates a custom, founded on apostolic tradition, of never dismissing the people before midnight during the vigils of Easter.
But what should especially be remarked for ex-illustration of the difficulty proposed, is, that the idea of the near approach of Christ's advent, was so very far from exciting terror in the minds of the primitive Christians, that it constituted the object of their hope. They regard it as the highest privilege of a Christian to behold his advent. The hope of this happiness had inflamed some with an ardour for martyrdom; and induced to deplore the lot of those who had died before that happy period.
This is the anguish the apostle would assuage when he says, "I would not have you ignorant, brethren, concerning them that are asleep, that ye sorrow not as others;" that is, as the heathens, who have no hope.
III. But the consolation he gives, to comfort the afflicted, constitutes one of the difficulties in my text, because it is founded on a doctrine concerning which the Scriptures are not very explicit, and of which inspired men had but imperfect knowledge. This is the third point to be illustrated.
The consolation St. Paul gave the Thessalonians, must be explained in a way assortable to their affliction, and drawn from the reasons that induced them to regret the death of the martyrs, as being deprived of the happiness those would have who shall be alive, when Christ should descend from heaven to judge the world. St. Paul replies, that those who should then survive, would not have any prerogative over those that slept, and that both should enjoy the same glory: this, in substance, is the sense of the words which constitute the third difficulty we would wish to remove. "This we say unto you, by the word of the Lord, that we which are alive and remain unto the coming of the Lord, shall not prevent them which are asleep. For the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first:
then we which are alive and remain, shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air; and so shall we ever be with the Lord." Concerning these words various questions arise, which require illustration.
Lord Jesus, shall raise up us also," chap. iv. 14. But in my text he seems to associate himself in the class of those who shall not be raised, being alive when Christ shall descend from heaven; "we that are alive, and remain at the coming of the Lord." Emphasis, then, should not be laid on the pronoun we, it signifies, in general, those who; and it ought to be explained, not by its general import, but by the nature of the things to which it is applied, which do not suffer us to believe, that the apostle here meant to designate himself, as I think is proved. 3. In what respects does St. Paul prove, that those who die before the advent of the Son of God, shall not thereby retard their happiness; and that those who shall then survive, shall not enjoy earlier than they the happiness with which the Saviour shall invest them?
1. What did St. Paul mean when he affirmed, that what he said was by the word of the Lord? You will understand it by comparing the expression with those of the first epistle to the Corinthians, chap. xv. 51, where, discussing the same subject, he speaks thus: "Behold I show you a mystery; we shall not all sleep, but we shall be changed." These words, "Behold I show you a mystery," and those of my text, are of the same import. Properly to understand them, let it be observed, that besides the gift of inspiration, by which the sacred authors knew and taught the things essential to The apostle proves it from the supremacy of salvation, there was one peculiar to some pri- Christ at the consummation of the age. The vileged Christians; it was a power to penetrate instant he shall descend from heaven, he shall certain secrets, without which they might be awake the dead by his mighty voice. The bosaved, but which, nevertheless, was a glorious dies of the saints shall rise, and the bodies of endowment wherever conferred. Probably St. those that are alive shall be purified from their Paul spake of this privilege, when enumerat-natural encumbrance, according to the assering the gifts communicated to the primitive tion of St. Paul, already adduced; "we shall church, in the xiith chapter of the above epis- not all sleep, but we shall be changed." And tle. "To one," he says, "is given by the same it must also be remarked, that this change, he Spirit, the word of knowledge." This word adds, shall be made "in a moment, in the of knowledge, he distinguishes from another, twinkling of an eye;" that is, immediately on called just before, "The word of wisdom." the coming of Jesus Christ: and after this The like distinctions occur chap. xiiith and change, the saints who shall rise, and those xivth, in the same epistle. Learned men, who who shall be yet alive, shall be caught up tothink that by the word of wisdom, we must gether to meet the Lord in the air, and shall be understand inspiration, think also, that by for ever with the Lord. The survivors, there"the word of knowledge," we must under- fore, shall have no prerogative over others; so stand an acquaintance with the mysteries of is the sense of the text: "We which are alive which I have spoken. Many mysteries are and remain at the coming of the Lord shall mentioned in the sacred writings. The mys- not prevent them which are asleep. For the tery of the restoration of the Jews; the mys- Lord shall descend from heaven with a shout," tery of iniquity; and the mystery of the beast. like that of sailors to excite to unity of labour, The passages to which I allude are known to as is implied by the Greek term, "with the you, and time does not allow me to enlarge, voice of the archangel, and the trumpet of nor even a full recital. God;" I would say, with the most vehement shout; for in the sacred style, a thing angelic, angelical, or divine, is a thing which excels in its kind: "The Lord shall descend, and the dead in Christ shall rise first. Then we who are alive and remain, shall be caught up together with them in the clouds."
2. Why does St. Paul, when speaking of those who shall be found on earth when Christ shall descend from heaven, add, "We which are alive, and remain at the coming of the Lord?" Did he flatter himself to be of that number? Some critics have thought so: and when pressed by those words in the second Epistle to Timothy, "The time of my departure is at hand; I am ready to be offered up;" they have replied, that St. Paul had changed his ideas, and divested himself of the illusive hope that he should never die!
But this is a very extraordinary kind of consolation: St. Paul still left the Thessalonians in their old mistake, that some of them should still live to see the last day; why did he not undeceive them? Why did he not say, to console them in their trouble, that the consummation of the ages was, as yet, a very distant period; and that the living and the dead should rise on the same day! This is the fourth, and most considerable difficulty in the words of my text.
But how many arguments might I not adduce to refute this error, if it required refutation, and did not refute itself? How should St. Paul, who had not only the gift of inspiration, but who declared that what he said was by the word of the Lord, or according to his miracu- IV. The apostles seem to have been ignolous gift, fall into so great a mistake in speak-rant whether the end of the world should haping on this subject? How do they reconcile pen in their time, or whether it should be at this presumption with what he says of the re- the distance of many ages; and it seems that surrection in his epistles, written prior to this, by so closely circumscribing the knowledge of from which we have taken our text? Not to inspired men, we derogate from their claims multiply arguments, there are some texts in of inspiration.-A whole dissertation would which St. Paul seems to class himself with scarcely suffice to remove this difficulty; I those who shall rise, seeing he says "we." Let shall content myself with opening the sources us next attend to that in the second Epistle of its solution. to the Corinthians: God, "who raised up the
1. Ignorance of one truth is unconnected
with the revelation of another truth; I would say, it does not follow that the Holy Spirit has not revealed certain things to sacred authors, because he has not revealed them to others. We are assured he did not acquaint them with the epoch of the consummation of the ages. This epoch was not only concealed from the apostles, but also from Jesus Christ considered as a man; hence when speaking of the last day, he said, that neither the angels in heaven, nor even the Son of man, knew when it should occur; the secret being reserved with God alone, Mark xiii. 32.
2. Though the apostles might be ignorant of the final period of the world, though they might have left the Christians of their own age in the presumption that they might survive to the end of the world, the point however they have left undetermined. The texts which seem repugnant to what I say, regard the destruction of Jerusalem, and not the day of judgment; but it is not possible to examine them here in support of what I assert.
3. But though the apostles were ignorant of the final period of the world, they were confident, however, that it should not come till the prophecies, respecting the destiny of the church, were accomplished. This is suggested by St. Paul in his second Epistle to the Thessalonians: "Now, we beseech you, brethren, by the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, and by our gathering together unto him, that ye be not soon shaken in your mind," or troubled, "neither by spirit, nor by word, nor by letter, as from us, as though the day of Christ was at hand. Let no man deceive you in any way whatever; for the day of the Lord shall not come until the revolt shall have previously happened, and till that man of sin, the son of perdition, shall be revealed," chap. ii.
4. In fine, the apostles leaving the question undecided respecting the final period of the world; a question not essential to salvation, have determined the points of which we cannot be ignorant in order to be saved; I would say, the manner in which men should live to whom this period was unknown. They have drawn conclusions the most just and certain from the uncertainty in which those Christians were placed. They have inferred, that the church being ignorant of the day in which Christ shall come to judge the world, should be always ready for that event. But brevity obliges me to suppress the texts whence the inferences are deduced.
II. Having sufficiently discharged the duties of the critic, I proceed to those of the preacher. Taking the words of St. Paul in all their extent, we see the sentiments with which we should be animated when called to survive our dearest friends, which we shall now discuss.
St. Paul does not condemn all sorts of sorrow occasioned by the loss of those we love; he requires only that Christians should not be inconsolable in these circumstances, as those who have no hope. Hence, there is both a criminal and an innocent sorrow. The criminal sorrow is that which confounds us with those who are destitute of hope; but the innocent sorrow is compatible with the Christian hope. On these points we shall enter into some detail. First, The sorrow occasioned to us by the VOL. II.-43
death of those we love, confounds us with those that have no hope, when it proceeds from a principle of distrust. Such is sometimes our situation on earth, that all our good devolves on a single point. A house rises to affluence; it acquires a rank in life; it is distinguished by equipage; and all its elevation proceeds from a single head: this head is the mover of all its springs: he is the protector, the father, and friend of all: this head is cut down: this father, protector, and friend, expires; and by that single stroke, all our honours, rank, pleasures, affluence, and enjoyments of life, seem to descend with him to the tomb. At this stroke nature groans, the flesh murmurs, and faith also is obscured; the soul is wholly absolved in its calamities, and contemplating its own loss in that of others, concentrates itself in anguish. Hence those impetuous passions; hence these mournful and piercing cries; hence those Rachels, who will not be comforted because their children are no more. Hence those extravagant portraits of past happiness, those exaggerations of present evils, and those gloomy augurs of the future. Hence those furious howlings, and frightful distortions, in the midst of which it would seem that we were called rather as exorcists to the possessed, than to administer balm to afflicted minds.
It is not difficult to vindicate the judgment we have formed of the grief proceeding from this principle. When the privation of a temporal good casts into despair, it was obviously the object of our love; a capital crime in the eye of religion. The most innocent connexions of life cease to be innocent when they become too strongly cemented. To fix one's heart upon an object, to make it our happiness and the object of our hope, is to constitute it a god; is to place it on the throne of the Supreme, and to form it into an idol. Whether it be a father, or a husband, or a child, which renders us idolaters, idolatry is not the less odious in the eyes of God, to whom supreme devotion is due. Religion requires that our strongest passion, our warmest attachment, and our firmest support, should ever have God for their object; and being only in the life to come that we shall be perfectly joined to God, religion prohibits the making of our happiness to consist in the good things of this life. And though religion should not dictate a duty so just, common prudence should supply its place; it should induce us to place but a submissive attachment on objects of transient good. It should say, "Let those that have wives be as though they have none; and they that weep, as though they wept not; and they that rejoice, as though they rejoiced not; and they that use this world, as though they used it not, for the fashion of this world passeth away.-Put not your trust in princes, nor in great men, in whom there is no help: his soul goeth forth, he returneth to the earth, and in that very day his purposes perish," 1 Cor. vii. 29; Ps. cxlvi. 3, 4.
Hence, when driven to despair by the occurrence of awful events, we have cause to form a humiliating opinion of our faith. These strokes of God's hand are the tests whereby he tries our faith in the crucible of tribulation, according to the apostle's idea, 1 Pet. i. 7. When in affluence and prosperity, it is difficult
to determine whether it be love for the gift, or the giver, which excites our devotion. It is in the midst of tribulation that we can recognise a genuine zeal, and a conscious piety. When our faith abandons us in the trying hour, it is an evident proof that we had taken a chimera for a reality, and the shadow for the substance. Submission and hope are the characteristics of a Christian.
The example of the father of the faithful here occurs to our view. If ever a mortal had cause to fix his hopes on any object, it was undoubtedly this patriarch. Isaac was the son of the promise; Isaac was a miracle of grace; Isaac was a striking figure of the blessed Seed, in whom all the nations of the earth were to be blessed. God commanded him to sacrifice this son; who then had ever stronger reasons to believe that his hopes were lost? But what did Abraham do? He submitted, he hoped. He submitted; he left his house; he took his son; he prepared the altar; he bound the innocent victim; he raised his arm; he was ready to dip his paternal hands in blood, and to plunge the knife into the bosom of this dear son. But in submitting, he hoped, he believed. How did he hope? He hoped against hope. How did he believe? He believed what was incredible, rather than persuade himself that his fidelity would be fatal, and that God would be deficient in his promise; he believed that God would restore his son by a miracle, having given him by a miracle; and that this son, the unparalleled fruit of a dead body, should be raised in a manner unheard of. Believers, here is your father. If you are the children of Abraham, do the works of Abraham. I say again, that submission and hope are the marks of a Christian. "In the mountains of the Lord he will there provide. For the mountains shall depart, and the hills be removed; yet my kindness shall not depart from thee; neither shall the covenant of my peace be removed. But Zion said, The Lord hath forsaken me; and my Lord hath forgotten me. Can a woman forget her sucking-child, that she should not have compassion on the son of her womb? Yea, they may forget, yet will not I forsake thee. When my father and mother forsake me, the Lord will take me up. Though thou slay me, yet will I trust in thee," Isa. xlix. 14; liv. 10; Ps. xxvii. 10; Job xiii. 15.
that most Christians draw improper consequences, and act in a manner wholly opposed to the faith they profess. We believe the soul to be immortal; we are confident at the moment of a happy death that the soul takes its flight to heaven; and that the angels who are encamped around it for protection and defence, carry it to the bosom of God. We have seen the living languish and sigh, and reach forth to the moment of their deliverance; and when they attain to this moment, we class them among the unhappy! Was I not right in saying, that there are no occasions on which Christians reason worse than on these, and act more directly opposite to the faith they profess? While the deceased were with us in this valley of tears, they were subject to many complaints. While running a race so arduous, they complained of being liable to stumble. They complained of the calamities of the church in which they were entangled. They complained when meditating on revelation that they found impenetrable mysteries; and when aspiring at perfection, they saw it placed in so exalted a view, as to be but imperfectly attained. But now they are afflicted no more; now they see God face to face; now they "are come to Mount Zion, to the city of the living God, to the heavenly Jerusalem, to the myriads of angels, to the assembly of the first-born." Now, as the Holy Spirit has said, "Blessed are the dead which die in the Lord; for they rest from their labours, and their works do follow them," Heb. xii. 22; Ps. xvi. 11; Rev. xiv. 13.
II. We have reprobated the affliction of which despondency is the principle. A man judges of the happiness of others, by the notion of his own happiness; and estimating life as the supreme good, he regards the person deprived of it, as worthy of the tenderest compassion. Death presents itself to us under the image of a total privation. The deceased seems to us to be stripped of every comfort. Had he, by some awful catastrophe, lost his fortune; had he lost his sight, or one of his limbs, we should have sympathized in his affliction; with how much more propriety ought we to weep, when he has been deprived of all those comforts at a stroke, and fatally sentenced to live no more? This sorrow is appropriate to those who are destitute of hope. This is indisputable, when it has for its object those who have finished a Christian course; and it is on these occasions more than any other, we are obliged to confess
These remarks concern those only who die the death of the righteous: but should not piety indulge her tears, when we see those die impenitent to whom we are joined by the ties of nature; and shall we call that a criminal sorrow when it is the death of reprobates which excite our grief? Is there any kind of comfort against this painful thought, that my son is dead in an unregenerate state? And can any sorrow be immoderate which is excited by the loss of a soul? This is the question we were wishful to illustrate, when we marked, in the third place, as a criminal sorrow, that which proceeds from a mistaken piety.
III. We answer first, that nothing is more presumptive than to decide on the eternal loss of men; and that we must not limit the extent of the divine mercy, and the ways of Providence. A contrite heart may, perhaps, be concealed under the exterior of reprobation; and the religion which enjoins us to live in holy fear of our own salvation, ever requires that we should presume charitably concerning the salvation of others.
But people are urgent, and being unable to find any mitigation in a doubtful case, against which a thousand circumstances seem to militate, they ask whether one ought to moderate the anguish excited by the eternal loss of one they love? The question is but too necessary in this unhappy age, where we see so great a number of our brethren die in apostacy, and in which the lives of those who surround us afford so just a ground of awful apprehensions, concerning their salvation.
I confess it would be unreasonable to censure tears in a situation so afflictive; I confess that