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then they would prove too much-they would prove more than they wish: but such is not the effect of these words as relating to the final happiness of the soul at the last day: for when the apostle Paul, writing to Timothy, says, “I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith," he adds, "henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, shall give me at that day." This day refers to the time when the victors who had gained crowns at the Olympic games assembled for the purpose of receiving them; they did not receive the prize when they had just arrived at the goal, but upon a day set apart for that purpose. So the apostle means here to say, there shall be a day, and that shall be the last day, when all the saints shall be made completely happy; on that day their bliss shall be consummated, and they shall not be perfectly happy before. But that the Old Testament saints did go immediately into another state after death is very clear. "Save me, O God, from them that trouble me:" "As for me I shall be satisfied when I awake after thy likeness." Christ promised the thief upon the cross "This day shalt thou be with me in Paradise." He was to be with him that very day; this promise was made before the Saviour died, and was therefore fulfilled before his resurrection. It is said of the ancient Israelites, that when they died they were "gathered to their fathers," and to "their people." This does not mean that they were buried in the same place; for that is not true. Abraham was buried in the cave of Machpelah, in the field of Ephron, the son of Zohar the Hittite, which is before Mamre; and not in Ur of the Chaldees, where Issac was buried. Also it refers not at all to their bodies but to the souls of these good men, who were gathered with the rest of the righteous dead, and their souls were gathered to their own place.
It is, therefore, true, that men at the end of life go into a state of happiness or misery before the final day of retribution. "But," (says the apostle) "ye are come to mount Zion, and unto the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to an innumerable company of angels, to the general assembly and church of the first-born, which 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." This was the state to which the Saviour went from the cross; it is said, "he descended into hell," that is, not into a place of torment according to our sense of the term hell, but into hades, the unknown place. Indeed the word here translated, "hell," does not mean a place of torment in the original signification, it means the unknown world, referring to one or other of its states. Our translators had this idea themselves; and in rendering the word hades by the term "hell," they never meant to say, the Scriptures intended a place of torment, but that he went to paradise, the abode of his Father, as he said unto his disciples, "A little while, and ye shall not see me; and again a little while, and ye shall see me, because I go to the Father." "Three days ye shall not see me; and where shall I be? I go to my Father." And when on the cross he cried unto the penitent convert by his side, "This day shalt thou be with me in Paradise. I will take thee by my side to my Father."
This was the state the apostle Paul was permitted to behold, when he was caught up into the third heaven, or to paradise, when he was "absent from
`the body, and present with the Lord." And this is the state of the Christian directly after death. What this state is, or where it is; whether it is on this earth, or beyond the limits of our system, I cannot tell since God never meant it to be known, therefore he describes it by this word, "Hades." We know, however, that this is the place of happiness; that the spirits of the just are there; that it is a delightful state; that devout exercises are there; and that there exists, in all its fulness, a joyful hope of the great salvation at the last day. But their happiness is not complete, and they are not fully in possession of the fruition of joy, till their purified bodies are again united to their souls; nor is the earth that in which the people are to dwell for ever: for we, according to the promise, look for a new Jerusalem-we look for a new heaven and new earth wherein dwelleth righteousness; and this promise shall be performed, and in this the saints shall dwell: and though I say it is not the heaven, it is a heaven, where the saints shall dwell, for Christ shall be there; and where he is, it must be heaven; and there faith shall be in constant exercise, and hope and joy constantly known. There the saints are full of joy and glorious hope, waiting for the general doom, when the archangel's trumpet shall sound, and they shall rise again to judge the world.
How slender is the tie to bliss which every man possesses; he is always as near to Paradise as to the door of death! How short was this man's journey to heaven! View the thief upon the cross, and hear the declaration, "To-day thou shalt be with me in Paradise!" This was about the ninth hour, or three o'clock in the afternoon, and the Jewish day ended at six o'clock, so that only one short afternoon was to intervene, and he was to be there-the moment after death he was to be in Paradise.
"One gentle sigh the spirit gives,
Quick is the way, and short the road;
How should the thought of this make us feel resigned, when our Christian friends are going from us, when they are summoned hence. It is not going from one company of sinners to another; it is not going from one abode of sorrow and care to another; but it is going from earth to heaven. We are then to turn our backs upon all we know and love below; but that is more than compensated by the knowledge that we are terminating our troubles, and about to partake of eternal joys-that we are going to enjoy the presence of our God, and the society of the saints in glory. How should this thought diminish our regret for our friends who are gone before! The more we love them, the more should we wish for their departure. And how might our dying pious friends, with justice chide us, as we stand weeping round their dying beds; how might their spirits rebuke our sorrow, as we bedew their tombs with our tears! How might they say, "As the Lord Jesus Christ died for me, and loved me, you should rejoice; because I am going to my Father; because I am exchanging earth for heaven; sin and sorrow for joy and eternal glory."
But what a contrast with this is the state of the wicked! "I heard a voice from heaven, saying, Write, blessed are the dead that die in the Lord, even so, saith the Spirit, for they rest from their labours." But if you are not in
the Lord, which is by the operation of the Holy Ghost, effecting faith in our Lord Jesus Christ, you cannot be in a blessed state: but the moment after death you will be in misery, and be certain of your doom. There will be nothing then for you but a fearful looking-for of judgment, and fiery indignation, which is to consume you throughout a long eternity! How near are some believers to their home! Jesus Christ may even now be calling some of you to his arms. Death may even now be commissioned to summon some of you to Paradise! The sinners too, how near may they be to doom! Satan may be saying, to-night, respecting some, "To-morrow you shall be with me, not in Paradise, but in an introductory hell; there you must be with me, until the day of final retribution, when you shall sink to eternal perdition, to rise no more for ever!"
I would fain hope that the consideration of the subject of this night, has made it clear to your understanding, that the whole authority of Scripture goes to shew, that all Christians, all sincere followers of the Lord Jesus Christ, go immediately after death to heaven; and that sinners, upon leaving this world, go into a state of torment. If you are not saved, and die to-night, you will assuredly be lost for ever. Go and seek the Lord this night: read his blessed Word; pray that he will give you repentance unto life, and faith unto salvation: so shall you be rewarded with a crown of life, and become meet for the inheritance of the saints in light. Delay not, O delay not this important duty! Implore salvation, make use of the space now given you to repent; this hour may be your last: on this very moment, to some of you, may salvation depend; on this very moment may hang eternity. Amen.
THE STEADFASTNESS OF THE COUNSEL OF THE LORD.
REV. J. HASLEGREAVE, A.M.
ST. PETER'S CHURCH, ISLINGTON, FEBRUARY 7, 1836.
"There are many devices in a man's heart; nevertheless the counsel of the Lord, that shall stand."-PROVERBS, xix. 21.
"WERE this world," as Jeremy Taylor strikingly exhibits in his "Reasonings with Atheists," "Were this world to be but a chance world, every thing connected with it to be simply the result of mere chance and accident, then truly indeed would the case of many of its inhabitants, nay, most of its inhabitants, be deplorable; and especially of all men would those who have a hope of hereafter be truly most miserable, because, as experience has taught us, they have not had any portion in this life; virtue has generally been depressed, while vice has as often reigned." But "the Lord reigneth" is the consolation of all his faithful servants; and however dark and foreboding may be the times in which we live, and however varied the trials we are called personally to endure, and however severe may be the afflictions through which the church of Christ may be called to pass, "the Lord reigneth, be the people never so impatient; he sitteth between the cherubim, be the earth never so unquiet." The world is continued but for the full and final accomplishment of the one grand subject of prophecy: the world is created for the habitation of another order of beings, whom God in his wisdom has called, and redeemed by the precious blood of Christ, to be spared by the long-suffering and forbearance of God: and though it continues a wandering and rebellious planet, telling to others around the fearfulness of disobedience against their Creator, still is it spared for the mightiest transaction that can take place in the universe of God, in order that God may gain to himself a rich revenue of praise and glory, in its full, final, and perfect restoration to Him whose right it is to reign.
However, therefore, my brethren, at times our faith is darkened, and our fears are within that all is against us, yet this is the truth, though "there are many devices in a man's heart," though there be varied evil in their design and tendency, "nevertheless the counsel of the Lord, that shall stand."
It will be my endeavour, then, relying upon the divine blessing, simply to illustrate the position of our text, in the first place, by recurring to a few past events; and, in the next place, to state the ground on which we rest perfectly assured, that, however many and evil may be the designs and devices in man's heart, the "counsel of the Lord, that shall stand."
The difficulty is in the selection of INSTANCES. If we read the history of the world, or if we turn to the sacred page of divine inspiration, so many and so striking are the illustrations of the truth of our text, that it is difficult to know which to select, where to begin, or where to end. I shall endeavour, however, to fix your attention on a few of the more prominent ones, and in doing so, the case of God's ancient people, in the midst of their tyranny and oppression in the land of bondage, naturally strikes our attention. God had purposed and declared, four hundred and thirty years before he accomplished his purpose, that he would give to a people whom he would choose, even the descendants of his faithful servant and friend, Abraham, the possession of a land flowing with milk and honey: but in the meantime they had to sojourn in a land of captivity, where their oppressors would cruelly ill-treat them. But God in due time, in his own way, in the moment fixed on in his own eternal counsels, would deliver them with a mighty hand and with an outstretched arm. Behold the wondrous counsel of God, then brought to bear! We see, indeed, the many devices that existed in men's hearts. Though God hath planned all his purposes, though his counsel is but one, and the devices of man's heart are many, yet still man is a free moral agent; he doeth according to the devices of his own mind. But God, in his infinite wisdom, and by the exercise of his omniscience and his power, so overrules and controls all the devices and schemes of man, as simply to bring about his own blessed purposes of love to his people.
And here we find that, when the descendants of Joseph began to multiply, there was fear in the heart of a king that arose and knew not Joseph. What does he do? He thinks how he might best stop the progress of the people whom he fears; he says, "Let us deal wisely with them." Hear his devices! He increases their burthens; he makes their life bitter with the bondage wherewith they are oppressed. But God hears their cry from heaven, his dwelling-place and there is another miraculous interference on the part of God. Pharaoh gives his command that their burthens should be made heavier; Pharaoh says, in the devices of his own heart," Still we will deal wisely with them;" and therefore, he gives a positive command that the first-born of the males of those whom he oppressed should be cut off. Mark, my brethren, how singularly the device of the proud tyrant is defeated! Contrary to his mandate, there was a little lovely child, that excited pity and compassion in those who had received the order to destroy it: they could not bear to take away its life; and therefore, fearing, at the same time, the consequences of the disobedience of the king's command, they placed the little babe in a basket, and exposed it on the water. It is just here that the overruling providence of the great God comes in; and just for the accomplishment of his own purposes the child is taken by Pharaoh's daughter, who saw its lovely appearance, and felt for it, and took it home and educated it as her own son; and it was by that very child, thus signally preserved, that God intended to accomplish his own purposes, and thereby to defeat the devices which had been in the mind of the tyrant Pharaoh.
Need we trace this further, my brethren? Need I remind you of the singularly wonderful steps by which that deliverance was wrought-how Pharaoh devised against God, and God overruled all his devices; until at last the proud tyrant, casting off every yoke and defying the Omnipotent, went forth