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must not expect that God will set death in our view, to fright and terrify us ; as if the only design God had in requiring our obedience, was not that we might live like reasonable creatures to the glory of their maker and redeemer, but that we might repent of our sins time enough to escape hell. God is so merciful, as to accept of returning prodigals, but does not think fit to encourage us in sin, by giving us notice when we shall die, and when it is time to think of repentance.
2ly. Though I doubt not, but that it would be a great pleasure to you to know that you shall live till old age ; yet consider a little with yourselves, and then tell me, whether you yourselves, can judge it wise and fitting for God to let you know this !
I observed to you before, what danger there is in flattering ourselves with the hopes of long life, that it is apt to make us too fond of this world, when we expect to live so long in it ; that it weakens the hopes and fears of the next world, by removing it at too great a distance from us ; that it encourages men to live in sin, because they have time enough before them to indulge their lusts, and to repent of their sins, and make their peace with God before they die ; and if the uncertain hopes of this undoes so many men, what would the certain knowledge of it do! Those who are too wise and considerate to be imposed on by such uncertain hopes, might be conquered by the certain knowledge of a long life.
This would take off all restraints from men, and give free scope to their vicious inclinations, when they know, that how wicked soever they were, they should not die before their time was come, and could never be surprised by death, since they certainly knew when it will come ; which destroys one great motive to obedience, that sin shall shorten men's lives, and that virtue and piety shall prolong them : that the wicked shall not live out half their days ; that the
fear of the Lord prolongeth days, but the years of the wicked shall be shortened, Prov. X. 27. Such promises and threatenings as these, must be struck out of the bible, should God let all men know the time of their death.
Nay, this would frustrate the methods and designs of providence for the reclaiming sinners : sometimes public calamities, plague, and famine, and sword, alarm a wicked world, and summon men to repentance; sometimes a dangerous fit of sickness awakens men into a sense of their sins, and works in them a a true and lasting repentance; but all this would be ineffectual, did men know the time of their death, and that such public judgments, or threatening sick. ness, should not kill them.
The uncertainty of our lives, is a great motive to constant watchfulness, to an early and persevering piety ; but to know when we shall die, could serve no good end, but would encrease the wickedness of mankind, which is too great already; which is a suf
ficient vindication of the wisdom of God, in leaving the time of our death unknown and uncertain to us.
SECT. VII. That we must die but once ; or that death
translates us to an unchangeable state with the improvement of it.
THE last thing to be considered is, that we must die but once : it is appointed for men once to die. There are from exceptions from this rule, as there are some dying ; that as Enoch and Elias did not die, so some of us have been raised again from the dead, to live in this world, and such men died twice : but this is a certain rule in general, that as all men must die once, so they must die but once; which needs no other proof, but the daily experience and observation of mankind.
But that which I intend by it is this ; that once dying determines our state and condition for ever ; when we put off these mortal bodies, we must not return into them again, to act over a new part of this world, and to correct the errors and miscarriages of our former lives : death translates us to an immutable and unchangeable state ; that in this sense, what the wise man tells us is true, if the tree fall towards the south, or toward the north, in the place where the tree falleth, there it shall be, Eccles. xi. 3. This is a consideration of very great moment, and deserves to be more particularly explained, which I shall do in these following propositions :
1. That this life is the only state of trial and probation for eternity: and therefore, 2. Death whenever it comes, as it puts a final period to this life, that we die once for all, and must never live again as we do now in this world ; so it puts a final end to our work too, that our day of grace, and time of working for another world ends with this life. And 3dly, as a necessary consequence of both these, once dying puts us into an immutable and unchangeable state.
1. That this life only is our state of trial and probation for eternity ; whatever is to be done by us, to obtain the favor of God, and a blessed immortality, must be done in this life.
I observed before, that this life is wholly in order to the next ; that the great, the only necessary business we have to do in this world, is to fit and prepare ourselves to live for ever in God's presence;
To finish the work God has given us to do, that we may receive the reward of good and faithful servants, to enter into our master's rest, I now add, that the only time we have to do this in, is while we live in this world. This is evident from what St. Paul tells us, that we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that every one may receive the things done in his body, according to that he hath done, whether it be good or bad, 2 Cor. v. 10. Now if we must be judged, and receive our final sentence according to what we have done in the body, then our only time of tri
al and working is while we live in these bodies ; for the future judgment relates only to wliat is done in the body.
The gospel of Christ is the rule, whereby we must be judged, even that gospel which St. Paul preached, Rom. ii. 16, and all the laws and precepts of the gospel concern the government of our conversation in this world ; and therefore if we be judged by the gospel, we must be judged only for what we have done in this world.
This life, throughout the scripture, is represented as the time of working; as a race, a warfare, a laboring in the vineyard ; the other world, as a place of recompence, of rewards or punishments; and if there be such a relation between this world and the next, as between fighting and conquering, and receiving the crown, as between running a race and obtaining a prize, as between the work and the reward ; then we must fight and conquer, run our race, and finish our work in this world, if we expect the rewards of the next.
Many of those graces and virtues, which our Savior has promised to reward with eternal life, can be exercised only in this world : faith and hope are peculiar only to this life, while the other world is absent and unseen. And these are the great principles and graces of the christian life, to believe what we do not see, and to live and act upon the hopes of future rewards : the government of our bodily appetites