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Heaven, the cause on the people's part, of those terrible calamities, under which our ancestors groaned so long; and were made to learn righteousness, not as we, by the experience of others, but by heavy sufferings of their own. To these, however, God in his good time graciously put an end : and re-establishing our ancient form of government, hath, by a wonderful succession of kind providences, preserved it, through innumerable dangers, from abroad and at home, to this day. Nor perhaps, with all the faults of the present age, which God knows are neither few nor small ones, would it be easy for us to fix on almost any other time or country, in which we could, with reason, rather have made it our choice to live. Let us therefore join gratitude for his mercies with fear of his judgments; and be moved by both, 'to piety and virtue, public and private. He hath given us great and frequent proofs of his readiness to save and protect us; together with some few, most deserved instances, of displeasure and punishment : thus placing before our eyes, and leaving to our choice, the happiness of a religious, loyal, and moral people, or the miseries of a profane, rebellious, and wicked one. Now therefore, to conclude in the words of the prophet Samuel, if ye will fear the Lord, and serve him, and obey his voice ; then shall both ye, and the king that reigneth over you, continue, following the Lord your God. But if ye will not obey the voice of the Lord, but rebel against his commandment; then shall the hand of the Lord be against you, as it was against your fathers *
* 1 Sam. xii, 13, 14, 15.
(PREACHED IN THE PARISH CHURCH OF ST. JAMES,
WESTMINSTER, NOVEMBER 27, 1737, BEING THE SUNDAY AFTER THE DEATH OF HER MAJESTY THE LATE QUEEN CAROLINE.]
ECCLES. vii. 4.
The heart of the wise is in the house of mourning.
The providence of God is one great instrument, which he uses for our instruction : and every dispensation of it is fitted to convey very useful admonitions to persons of attentive minds. But the mournful events of things have a peculiar force to excite recollection and serious thought: to place our condition here, in a just and strong light before our eyes; to awaken sentiments within us, of piety and resignation, humanity and compassion; and prompt us to make these the rule of our conduct. So long as nothing alarms us, we grow too commonly negligent and inconsiderate; forget our dangers, forget our mercies; give up our hearts to every passion that seizes on them; and thus are often led to do great harm, both to others and ourselves. But when the judgments of God are in the earth, then the inhabitants of the world learn righteousness *. When the voice of the Lord crieth unto the city, Hear ye the rod, and who hath appointed itt: then the ears of them, that hear, shall hearken ; the heart also of the Isa. xxvi. 9.
+ Mic. vi. 9.
rash shall understand knowledge *. But of all the strokes of God's hand, that which carries the greatest awe with it, is death; the sentence of the Lord over all flesh f. The sight or the thought of that important change, from the constitution of our nature, makes very strong impressions upon us : and the longer we revolve the subject in our minds, the more reason we find to be deeply affected by it, and act with a continual view to it. Nothing therefore would influence us more effectually to apply our hearts unto wisdom I; if it were not for this one circumstance, that being surrounded with daily instances of mortality, they are familiarized to us in such a manner by their frequency, that though in reason they ought to have the greater effect upon us for their number, yet in fact they have usually little or none; unless there be something, either in their nearness to us, or their public importance, to distinguish them from common cases, and engage a more interesting attention to them. We should therefore be very careful never to miss the opportunity of improving ourselves within, by due refleetions on such deaths, as our own particular concern in them, or the general one, makes considerable : but, how great soever our loss be otherwise, resolve to gain this advantage notwithstanding, that by the sadness of the countenance our heart shall become better §.
For so valuable a purpose, it is well worth while to bear with all the gloominess of the house of mourning ; to place ourselves voluntarily in it, a while, and return thither from time to time; deliver ourselves up to such meditations, as we find it fitted to inspire; and dwell upon them somewhat longer, than * Isa. xxxii. 3, 4.
+ Ecclus. xli. 3. # Psa. xc. 12.
§ Eccles. vii. 3.
the first, unavoidable impressions oblige us. For most useful lessons will the heart of the wise be able to learn there, and excellent rules of conduct, with respect to himself, to the memory of those who are deceased, and to such as they have left behind them.
I. With respect to himself. Death is the end of all men, and the living will lay it to his heart *. It is because we do not lay it to our hearts, that we most of us go on just as if we imagined there was to be no end at all: and though we do not indeed speculatively think so, yet we live and act upon that supposition : and our knowing it to be a false one hath no manner of influence, for want of reflecting upon it as such. Hence we indulge our souls in vehement desires, and fill our days with endless projects : every point gained, opening an inlet for more to be aimed at; every failure redoubling our earnestness to recover our lost ground : and we never recollect how life is wasting under us all the while. Even to the departure of others before our eyes we attend, only as an opportunity of framing and following new schemes: and thus the death of our fellow-creatures proves an occasion of our forgetting the more entirely, that we shall ever die ourselves. This could not be, would we but stop a little at the house of mourning ; and make the most obvious of all reflections there, from contemplating the end of others, how very quickly our own end may come, and how soon it must. Such thoughts will enliven our diligence in performing our duty here: in working, while it is day, the works of him that sent us t. For how suddenly soever the night may overtake us thus employed; blessed is that servant, whom his Lord, when he comes, shall find so doing 1. But the same sort of meditations must surely moderate, beyond all things, our warmth in every other pursuit : and dispose us, instead of plunging inconsiderately forwards, till in the midst of our bustle we drop unexpectedly into the grave; rather to secure the present time, for recollecting, before we go out of the world, what our behaviour hath been hitherto in it: that so we may endeavour to correct our mistakes, supply our omissions, perfect our faith and repentance; and through God's grace, which alone can enable us, form ourselves into such a temper of mind, that we may be found of him in peace, without spot and blameless *
* Ecclus. vii. 2. + John ix. 4. Matt. xxiv. 46.
And as the thoughts of death are excellently fitted to compose the vehemence of our other passions, so they are fitted particularly to check that very sinful kind of vehemence, which we are exceedingly prone to express, one against another. Whoever will but consider of how short a duration our existence here is, and with how great a number of unavoidable sufferings it is filled, will be thoroughly convinced, that there is no manner of need for us to load the few and evil days t of our fellow-creatures with additional uneasiness, but great occasion to give one another all the comfort we can; and live as friendly as possible, whilst we stay together, with those from whom we are to part so soon, and appear before the Father of all ; who will treat us as we have treated our brethren.
Another instruction, which the heart of the wise will learn in the house of mourning, is, never to flatter himself with expectations of any lasting good in a state so uncertain as this. For let the prospect appear as fair as it will; yet besides a multitude of other things to destroy it, every single instance of * 2 Pet. üi, 14.
+ Gen. xlvii. 9.