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Therefore when the Christians anciently gave to one another the salutation of friendship and chearfulness, it was their custom to say, " The Lord is risen."
And now, lastly, you will take me right, if I venture to give you one admonition at this season, which relates more immediately to ourselves and our affairs.
You will have notice that we are to meet to-morrow morning, for the election of proper persons to serve the church and the parish. Give me leave, my brethren, to remind you, that this congregation was unanimous last year; and that we have enjoyed many comforts and blessings in consequence of it ever since. Your church is in a flourishing state: the duties of divine worship are regularly performed: the children of the poor are instructed; not a few of them are clothed and many of them are greatly improved. Your minister can do little without your kind encouragement and assistance: but with it, he may do much: and your church, which is now a praise in the neighbourhood, may possibly become an example to a considerable part of this kingdom. It is therefore your duty, as members of the church, to act for the good of the church; as citizens and subjects, to act for the preservation of peace; as Christians to act for the praise and glory of God; and, as Englishmen, to act for the security of your own religious rights and liberties; without listening to, and without fearing, any persons, who may feel themselves inclined to deprive you of them.
Follow then your own happiness with wisdom and resolution; but not without that spirit of peace and brotherly love, which will always be attended with the blessing of God.
BLESSED ARE THE DEAD WHICH DIE IN THE LORD FROM HENCEFORTH: YEA, SAITH THE SPIRIT, THAT THEY MAY REST FROM THEIR LABOURS; AND THEIR WORKS DO FOLLOW THEM. REV. XIV. 13:
DISCOURSES at funerals were formerly more common than at present. It is to be lamented they have been so much out of use; because they were intended as much for the edification of the living as the commemoration of the dead. What is then delivered falls into the hearts of the hearers, while they are struck with a solemn scene, and softened by the subject of death, in which they are all so nearly concerned. O that they were wise, that they would consider their latter end.
On such an occasion as this, death is set before their eyes, and they cannot avoid the consideration of it. While that thought is upon them, all men are wise, and then it is our time to speak to them.
I shall therefore make use of the present opportunity to give you some necessary instruction concerning the nature of death: after which, it will be expected that I should say something of the good example we have now before us.
The text saith, blessed are the dead: which words, if taken by themselves, are not true. Death, to man in that state wherein the fall hath left him, is not a blessing but a curse. It is the wages of sin; and as
SER. IV. THE BLESSEDNESS OF A CHRISTIAN'S DEATH. 317
such, it is not an accident of nature, but a punishment. Therefore the progress of man's life is like the journey of a criminal from the gaol to the place of execution. As things are now, life is the road to death; therefore God taught his servants to use it as such, and live only as pilgrims and strangers upon earth.
The death of man being a death in sin, it was accounted unclean; and thence it was ordained, that they who had touched a dead body, should afterwards be washed and purified with water; which, in the moral sense, was a lesson to the people to abstain from such dead works, as are contrary to a life of purity, such as is required in the servants of God.
Death is also a disgrace: for no man can suffer as a malefactor without shame. To be numbered with transgressors, and die by the hand of justice, hath always been accounted infamous: and such is now the death inflicted upon fallen man by the justice of God.
All these things are true of death considered in itself; but to a Christian it is another thing. Blessed are the dead which die in the Lord from henceforth. In the first chapter of the Revelation, Jesus Christ appears to the Evangelist as a conqueror over death, and saith-Fear not-I am he that liveth and was dead; and behold I am alive for evermore, and have the keys of hell and of death. Henceforth, from this appearance and this declaration, we are to date the blessedness of the dead. Jesus Christ hath changed the nature of death by partaking of it for our sakes. In consequence of which, our death is no longer a punishment for sin, but a sacrifice, with a benediction upon it, like that commemorative sacrifice of his own body, which he brake and blessed. Thus our death
is no longer to be abhorred as sinful and unclean, but as attended, like the holy death of Christ, with myrrh, aloes, and frankincense; to signify our acceptance with God, and our preservation to immortality, when the corruptible shall put on incorruption.
The shame and disgrace of our death is removed from us by that shame which Christ endured upon the cross. He suffered such a death as the law of Moses pronounced to be cursed in its kind, that our death might be blessed.
But now we are to remember, this change takes place on those only who die in the Lord; that is, on those who are in the Lord at their death. By which it is to be understood, that they die members of his mystical body, the Church, by baptism: which consideration assures us, that infants, so made members of him, are in the Lord; and if they die, they die in the Lord their death is blessed, and they enter into rest; as the new-born children of the Hebrews passed over Jordan into the promised land, without undergoing the trials of the wilderness. If they grow up to years of discretion, they must live in the other ordinances of God; they must keep the commandments of God, and the faith of Jesus; they must live in private devotion, and in the public worship of the congregation. They must lead the life of soldiers under the captain of their salvation; as the Hebrews fought under Joshua against the enemies of God, before they could obtain a peaceable settlement in the land of Canaan.
If thus prepared, there is no condemnation to them that are in Christ Jesus. For if any man is really in Christ, he is a new creature: he leads a new life, and that ends in a new death: the blessedness of which, according to the text, consists in these two particu
lars; first, that they, who die in this state of renovation, rest from their labours; and secondly, that their works do follow them.
The labours of life, and the rest of death, were signified to us from the beginning of the world: for God worked upon the six days of the creation, and then rested upon the seventh; giving us a promise and a pattern, that if we labour with him, we shall rest with him. No rest was necessary to him; for the holy one of Israel neither slumbereth nor sleepeth: a world cometh forth into being, and is arranged into order and perfection at his word. He rested therefore for our instruction: to teach us, that the labour of this life, if it is for good, like that of God, will certainly end in the rest of heaven. And we learn farther, by plain inference from this example, that there can be no rest for man, properly so called, till the works of this life are done and over.
There is a passage, wonderfully beautiful and instructive, on this subject, in the fourth chapter of the Epistle to the Hebrews-He that is entered into his rest, he also hath ceased from his own works, as God did from his. In which the Apostle means, that the Christian who is departed, and hath ceased from the works of life, and not till then, enters into a state of rest; which is not a mere cessation from labour, but a rest which is blessed and sanctified, and which is also heavenly and eternal, because it is called the rest of God" if they shall enter," saith he, “into my rest.”
Hence again, we have another sure inference, that there will be no rest for those who do not labour: the sleep of a labouring man is sweet: he that will rest with God must work with God. The idle and the unprofitable have their rest here (such as it is) and their trouble is to come after. Lazarus is carried by