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Son JESUS CHRIST. It is treating yourself and all others with all purity and reverence of heart, for this very reason, because all belong to God. Now, whoever has this mind really, will rejoice most in those places and employments which bring him nearest his God and Saviour: and most of all in that place where Christ has promised to be, and in that holy Eucharistical Service wherein He gives us Himself.
Depend on it, therefore, it is a great mistake to think that you can serve God worthily any where or at any time, as long as you care little about serving Him in His Church, and count it a trifling loss when you cannot come here. Depend on it, again, that our going to church will but condemn us the more severely, if we do not strive to keep up the Church temper through the daily course of our lives. On the one hand, what we may fancy our righteousness will fail us if it be not joined with holiness, if it be not practised as before God: on the other, our occasional religious thoughts and feelings will prove mere self-flattery, if they do not make us strictly righteous, honest, kind, pure, and humble, every day and all day long..
God keep us from all self-deceit, and especially from the snare of setting up one part of duty against another! As in Baptism He delivered us from our enemies, that we might serve Him without fear, so may He grant us a good conscience, that, according to our daily morning prayer, “ we surely trusting in His defence, may not fear the power of any adversaries,” nor fancy any temptation too hard for uş; through Jesus CHRIST our LORD.
BALAAM'S THOUGHTS OF DEATH.
NUMBERS xxiii. 10.
" Let me die the death of the righteous, and let my last end be like his."
This is a thought, I verily believe, in which all the world would agree, if they would speak out their real feelings. Those who are most backward and unwilling to lead the life of the righteous man, even they, if it might be managed for them, would wish to die the righteous man's death.
And when I say the death of the righteous, I do not mean only such a death as naturally comes into men's minds, when a happy end is spoken of; when a man, after a well-spent life, comes to his grave (as Job expresses it) in a full age, shock of corn in his season ; leaving a good name behind him, and affectionate friends to bewail his loss, and imitate his example; and, what is more a great deal, enjoying the comforts of a good conscience, and a Christian hope of everlasting life through the merits and intercession of our only Saviour. I say, in speaking of the death of the righteous, which all men who think at all would be glad to die, I do not mean only such a happy deathbed as this, but any circumstances of death whatever, after an obedient and holy life. Suppose, for example, the very painfullest case of a person hindered by mortal disease from all use of his reason and memory, and haunted to the by frightful images and fancies which he could not keep in order.
What if such were a man's portion, and he were to fall asleep, and wake in Paradise ? as he would do, most assuredly, if he had before his sickness lived like a true believer in Christ Jesus. It would be much both for him and his friends to go through ; but would he not be an infinite gainer in the end ? when coming, by the
mercy of his REDEEMER, into the region of secure and perfect peace, he would begin to understand, what here we can only guess at, how
these light afflictions, which are but for a moment, work out” for all such an exceeding and eternal weight of glory.” Nobody who thinks at all on the matter would hesitate to choose the death of the righteous, even under bitter circumstances like these, rather than the death of the unrighteous, though accompanied, as some bad men's deathbeds have been, not only with outward comforts of all sorts, but also, as they flattered themselves, with positive hopes of everlasting life.
The truth, however, seems to be, that in the generality of those cases, in which we may reasonably, and without presumption, hope, that we see the death of the righteous, neither perfect and entire calm and peace, nor violent distress and terror are found, but something somewhere between the two; leaving on serious and reverent minds a reasonable but pensive hope; a hope in God's mercy for our Saviour's sake, that those whom we have lost out of our sight have entered for ever into His Rest. To cherish a stronger feeling than this—to be very positive about the condition of the dead-savours a little of irreligious presumption. It is much better to take the tone of the holy Church in our Burial Service. She takes not on herself to pass sentence either for or against any of the dead. Of the resurrection to eternal life, to be granted hereafter to all God's faithful people, through our LORD JESUS Christ, she expresses a sure and certain hope;" but she is far indeed from teaching men to affirm, that the person who lies before them at any time will be for his part partaker in that happiness. All that the Church says tending that way, is contained in the following words : " We meekly beseech THEE, O FATHER, to raise us from the death of sin unto the life of righteousness: that when we shall depart out of this life, we may rest in Christ, as our hope is this our brother doth ;" appointed to be read at every Christian's grave. The words, you see, are left on purpose very general. We do not say, sure and certain hope, as we do in speaking of the general resurrection of the dead; we do not say, confident, nor even “ comfortable” hope; we only say, this is our hope ; which may be said by every one who does not absolutely despair of a thing. And who dares despair of a brother's having repented, and finding mercy at last from God's hand ? considering what a deep secret every man's heart is to every other man in the world. We need not then be afraid, with our wise and kind mother, the Church, to “ hope" more or less for every person whom she buries, that is, not to pass absolute sentence on them; and to thank God, at any rate, that their sufferings and temptation in this life are over ; that He has delivered them from the miseries of this sinful world. Thus much she charitably teaches us to say and feel concerning every one whom she commits to the grave; but, with equal charity, she does not encourage us to say any thing more than this, although in our hearts we must of course experience much more lively hope in some cases than we do in others. But whether on any such occasion we judge rightly or no, God only can decide ; for He only can read both our hearts and the hearts of the dead.
Thus much by the way, to guard men from supposing, that when they read of the death of the righteous” in the text, or, in the Burial Service, of their hope of their brethren's salvation, any thing peremptory and personal is meant. Neither the Holy Spirit by the Prophet, nor the Church in her prayers, meant to encourage personal sentences and comparisons; but their meaning was to make men earnestly desirous, each for himself, to die the death of the righteous, whether his death appear such to himself and others at the time or no.
Further, to understand the blessing of such a death, reflect for a moment what its opposite must be :—the death of an impenitent condemned sinner, given up for ever by his offended God. I will not here dwell on those frightful cases, in which despair seems to lay hold of obstinate sinners before the time; nor will I suppose the case (I fear, too common,) of one dying as he had lived, sullenly ; in a dull and irreligious hardness of heart; but let us imagine one prosperously wicked and worldly, deceiving himself so as to die comfortably, with cheerful but erroneous hopes ; hopes not grounded on true faith in Christ, and sincere repentance for all
his sins. Such an one might seem to all human eyes most enviable in his death and life alike ; but think of him after death, and you see at once how it is ; you see that the worst death of those who are accounted righteous before God is infinitely better and more desirable than the best and easiest death to an unrighteous person. And thus you learn seriously to pray, not so much for comfort and hope in your death, as for that which, once obtained, never can fail nor forsake you: pardon, peace, and inmortality after it.
This is so very reasonable, that those who most condemn themselves by it cannot help often speaking thus ; and thinking thus, too, when they do give themselves leisure to think at all on such subjects ; of which the prophet Balaam in the text is surely a very fearful instance. Nothing can exceed the apparent truth and piety of his thoughts concerning death; wishing, as he did, thus passionately, that he might die the death of the righteous, and that his own last end might be like his. Balaam then true and pious in his heart ? Alas ! at this very
time his heart was “ exercised with covetous practices ;” he was full of schemes to secure to himself at any risk the wages of unrighteousness. The history of his sin and self-deceit is this :—The enemies of Gov's people earnestly desired to obtain his help against them, he being a prophet of God; and they offered rewards which he could not resist; they promised to promote him to great honour. He, greatly dazzled by these gifts, does not however consent all at once, but waits to inquire of the Lord about it ; hoping, no doubt, to obtain the permission they desired. But God in a vision positively forbade him. Yet, when the same request was urged on him again, he had not the wisdom and piety at once to decline it, as being a thing which he knew his MAKER could not bear; but still said, “ Lodge here this night, and I will see what the LORD will say unto me.” Here we see too plainly how unchanged his heart was. The voice of God warned him distinctly, “ This is evil; go not near it :" but he could not rest without contriving excuses to approach nearer and nearer to it, Then God in His anger gave him leave : " Go with the men : but only say what I shall put into thy mouth.” And as he was on the way, He warned him by that fearful miracle :
the dumb ass, speaking with man's voice, forbade the madness of