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plies thereby, that all other sinners, of what- | advantages we design. Have patience with the
which inspired men had but an imperfect know
ledge. The fourth is the dangerous conse-
quences it seems to involve; because by restrict-
seems to level a blow at their inspiration. Here ON THE SORROW FOR THE DEATH is an epitome of all the difficulties which can OF RELATIVES AND FRIENDS.
contribute to encumber a text with difficulties.
I. The first is the least important, and cannot 1 Thess. iv. 13-18..
arrest the attention of any, but those who are
less conversant than you, with the Scriptures. But I would not have you to be ignorant, brethren, You have comprehended, I am confident, that
concerning them which are asleep, that ye sorrow by those who sleep, we understand those who not even as others which have no hope. For if are dead; and by those who sleep in the Lord, we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even we understand those in general who have died so them also which sleep in Jesus will God bring in the faith, or in particular those who have with him. For this we say unto you by the sealed it by martyrdom. The sacred authors word of the Lord, that we which are alive, and in adopting, have sanctified the style of paganremain unto the coming of the Lord, shall not ism. The most ordinary shield the pagans opprevent them which are asleep. For the Lord posed to the fear of death, was to banish the himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, thought, and to avoid pronouncing its name. with the voice of the archangel, and with the But as it is not possible to live on earth without trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise being obliged to talk of dying, they accommofirst: then we which are alive and remain, shall dated their necessity to their delicacy, and pabe caught up together with them in the clouds, raphrased what they had so great a reluctance to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever to name by the softer terms of a departure, a be with the Lord. Wherefore, comfort one ano- submission, destiny, and a sleep.-Fools! as ther with these words.
though to change the name of a revolting obThe text we have now read, may, perhaps, ject would diminish its horror. The sacred aube contemplated under two very different points thors, as I have said, in adopting this style, have of view. The interpreter must here discover sanctified it. They have called death a sleep, his acumen, and the preacher display his pow. by which they understand a repose: ers. It is a difficult text; it is one of the most are the dead which die in the Lord; for they difficult in all the epistles of St. Paul. I have rest from their labours," Rev. xiv. 13. In strong reasons for believing, that it is one of adopting the term, they had a special regard to those St. Peter had in view, when he says, the resurrection which shall follow. If the “that there are some things in the writings of terms require farther illustration, they shall be St. Paul, hard to be understood, which they incorporated in what we shall say when disthat are unlearned wrest—to their own destruc- cussing the subjects. tion," 2 Pet. iii. 16. In this respect it requires II. We have said, that this text is difficult, the erudition of the interpreter: It is a text fer- because it refers to certain notions peculiar to tile in instructions for our conduct: it illustrates Christians in the apostolic age, which to us are the sentiments with which we should be inspired imperfectly known. The allusion of ancient in all the afflictive circumstances through which authors to the peculiar notions of their time, Providence may call us to pass in this valley of is a principal cause of the obscurity of their misery, I would say, when called to part with writings; it embarrasses the critics, and often those who constitute the joy of our life. In this obliges them to confess their inadequacy to the respect it requires the eloquence of the preacher. task. It is astonishing that the public should In attending to both those points, bring the dis- refuse to interpreters of the sacred books, the positions without which you cannot derive the liberty they so freely grant to those of profane
authors. Why should a species of obscurity, cerning which St. Paul has the words of the which has never degraded Plato, or Seneca, in- Psalmist, “That their sound went furth to the duce us to degrade St. Paul, and other inspired ends of the earth:” these ideas had persuaded men? But how extraordinary soever, in this many of the primitive Christians, that the respect, the conduct of the enemies of our sacred coming of the Messiah, the destruction of Jebooks may be, it is not at all astonishing; but rusalem, and the end of the world, must follow there is cause to be astonished at those divines one another in speedy succession; and, the who would be frequently relieved by the solu- more so, as the Lord had subjoined to those tion of which we speak, that they should lose predictions, that “this generation should not sight of it in their systems, and so often seek pass away until all these things be fulfilled;"! for theological mysteries in expressions which that is, the men then alive. This text is of the simply require the illustration of judicious cri- same import with that in the xvith of St. Matticism. On how many allusions of the class in thew: “Verily I say unto you, there be some question, have not doctrines of faith been esta- standing here which shall not taste of death blished “Let him who readeth understand.” till they see the Son of man coming in his We will not disturb the controversy.
kingdom,” ver. 28. We have said that there is in the words of These are the considerations which induced the text, probably some allusion to notions pe- many of the first Christians to believe that the culiar to the apostolic age. St. Paul not only last day would soon come. And as the Lord, designed to assuage the anguish excited in the the more strikingly to represent the surprise breast of persons of fine feelings by the death that the last day would excite in men, had of their friends; he seems to have had a pecu- compared it to the approach of a thief at midliar reference to the Thessalonians. The proof night, the primitive Christians really thought we have of this is, that the apostle not merely that Jesus Christ would come at midnight; enforces the general arguments that Chris- hence some of them rose at that hour to await tianity affords to all good men in those afflic- his coming, and St. Jerome relates a custom, tive situations, such as the happiness which in- founded on apostolic tradition, of never disstantly follows the death of saints, and the missing the people before midnight during the certainty of a glorious resurrection: he super- vigils of Easter. adds a motive wholly of another kind; this But what should especially be remarked for motive, which we shall now explain, is thus ex- illustration of the difficulty proposed, is, that pressed: “We which are alive and remain at the idea of the near approach of Christ's adthe coming of the Lord, shall not prevent them vent, was so very far from exciting terror in which are asleep,” &c.
the minds of the primitive Christians, that it What might there be in the opinion, pecu- constituted the object of their hope. They reliar to the Christians that age, which could gard it as the highest privilege of a Christian thereby assuage their anguish? Among the to behold his advent. The hope of this happiconjectures it has excited, this appears to me ness had inflamed some with an ardour for the most rational;—it was a sentiment gene- martyrdom; and induced to deplore the lot of rally received in the apostolic age, and from those who had died before that happy period. which we cannot say that the apostles them This is the anguish the apostle would asselves were wholly free, that the last day was suage when he says, “I would not have you just at hand. Two considerations might have ignorant, brethren, concerning them that are contributed to establish this opinion.
asleep, that ye sorrow not as others;" that is, The ancient Rabbins had affirmed, that the as the heathens, who have no hope. second temple would not long subsist after the III. But the consolation he gives, to comfort advent of the Messiah; and believing that the the afflicted, constitutes one of the difficulties Levitical worship should be coeval with the in my text, because it is founded on a doctrine world, they believed likewise that the resur- concerning which the Scriptures are not very rection of the dead, and the consummation explicit, and of which inspired men had but of the ages, would speedily follow the coming imperfect knowledge. This is the third point of Christ. Do not ask how they reconciled to be illustrated. those notions with the expectation of the Mes The consolation St. Paul gave the Thessasiah's temporal kingdom; we know that the lonians, must be explained in a way assortable Rabbinical systems are but little connected; to their affliction, and drawn from the reasons and inconsistency is not peculiar to them. that induced them to regret the death of the
But secondly; the manner in which Jesus martyrs, as being deprived of the happiness Christ had foretold the destruction of Jerusa- those would have who shall be alive, when lem, might have contributed to persuade the Christ should descend from heaven to judge first Christians, that the last day was near. He the world. St. Paul replies, that those who had represented it in the prophetic style, as a should then survive, would not have any preuniversal dissolution of nature, and of the ele- rogative over those that slept, and that both ments. In that day "the sun shall be darken- should enjoy the same glory: this, in substance, ed; the moon shall be turned to blood; the, is the sense of the words which constitute the stars shall fall from heaven; the powers of hea- third difficulty we would wish to remove. ven shall be shaken; and the Son of man him “This we say unto you, by the word of the self as coming on the clouds, and sending his Lord, that we which are alive and remain unto angels with the sound of a trumpet to gather the coming of the Lord, shall not prevent together his elect from the four winds,” Matt. them which are asleep. For the Lord himself xxiv. 29. 31, These oriental figures, whereby shall descend from heaven with a shout, with he painted the extirpation of the Jewish na- the voice of the archangel, and with the trump tion, and the preaching of the apostles, con- l of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first:
then we which are alive and remain, shall be , Lord Jesus, shall raise up us also,” chap. iv. caught up together with them in the clouds, 14. But in my text he seems to associate himto meet the Lord in the air; and so shall we self in the class of those who shall not be raisever be with the Lord.” Concerning these ed, being alive when Christ shall descend from words various questions arise, which require heaven;" we that are alive, and remain at the illustration.
coming of the Lord.” Emphasis, then, should 1. What did St. Paul mean when he affirm- not be laid on the pronoun we, it signifies, in ed, that what he said was by the word of the general, those who; and it ought to be explainLord? You will understand it by comparing ed, not by its general import, but by the nature the expression with those of the first epistle to of the things to which it is applied, which do the Corinthians, chap. xv. 51, where, discuss not suffer us to believe, that the apostle here ing the same subject, he speaks thus: “Behold meant to designate himself, as I think is proved. I show you a mystery; we shall not all sleep, 3. In what respects does St. Paul prove, that but we shall be changed." These words, “Be- those who die before the advent of the Son of hold I show you a mystery," and those of my God, shall not thereby retard their happiness; text, are of the same import. Properly to un- and that those who shall then survive, shall derstand them, let it be observed, that besides not enjoy earlier than they the happiness with the gift of inspiration, by which the sacred au- which the Saviour shall invest them? thors knew and taught the things essential to The apostle proves it from the supremacy of salvation, there was one peculiar to some pri- Christ at the consummation of the age. The vileged Christians; it was a power to penetrate instant he shall descend from heaven, he shall certain secrets, without which they might be awake the dead by his mighty voice. The bosaved, but which, nevertheless, was a glorious dies of the saints shall rise, and the bodies of endowment wherever conferred. Probably St. those that are alive shall be purified from their Paul spake of this privilege, when enumerat- natural encumbrance, acoording to the assering the gifts communicated to the primitive tion of St. Paul, already adduced; "we shall church, in the xiith chapter of the above epis- not all sleep, but we shall be changed.” And tle. "To one,” he says, “is given by the same it must also be remarked, that this change, he Spirit, the word of knowledge.” This word adds, shall be made “in a moment, in the of knowledge, he distinguishes from another, twinkling of an eye;" that is, immediately on called just before, “The word of wisdom." the coming of Jesus Christ: and after this The like distinctions occur chap. xiiith and change, the saints who shall rise, and those xivth, in the same epistle. Learned men, who who shall be yet alive, shall be caught up tothink that by the word of wisdom, we must gether to meet the Lord in the air, and shall be understand inspiration, think also, that by for ever with the Lord. The survivors, there“the word of knowledge,” we must under- fore, shall have no prerogative over others; so stand an acquaintance with the mysteries of is the sense of the text: "We which are alive which I have spoken. Many mysteries are and remain at the coming of the Lord shall mentioned in the sacred writings. The mys- not prevent them which are asleep. For the tery of the restoration of the Jews; the mys- Lord shall descend from heaven with a shout," tery of iniquity; and the mystery of the beast. like that of sailors to excite to unity of labour, The passages to which I allude are known to as is implied by the Greek term," with the you, and time does not allow me to enlarge, voice the archangel, and the trumpet of nor even a full recital.
God;" I would say, with the most vehement 2. Why does St. Paul, when speaking of shout; for in the sacred style, a thing angelic, those who shall be found on earth when Christ angelical, or divine, is a thing which excels in shall descend from heaven, add, “We which its kind: “The Lord shall descend, and the are alive, and remain at the coming of the dead in Christ shall rise first. Then we who Lord?” Did he flatter himself to be of that are alive and remain, shall be caught up togenumber? Some critics have thought so: and ther with them in the clouds." when pressed by those words in the second But this is a very extraordinary kind of conEpistle to Timothy, “The time of my depar- solation: St. Paul still left the Thessalonians ture is at hand; I am ready to be offered up;" in their old mistake, that some of them should they have replied, that St. Paul had changed still live to see the last day; why did he not his ideas, and divested himself of the illusive undeceive them? Why did he not say, to conhope that he should never die!
sole them in their trouble, that the consummaBut how many arguments might I not adduce tion of the ages was, as yet, a very distant peto refute this error, if it required refutation, riod; and that the living and the dead should and did not refute itself? How should St. Paul, rise on the same day! This is the fourth, and who had not only the gift of inspiration, but most considerable difficulty in the words of my who declared that what he said was by the text. word of the Lord, or according to his miracu IV. The apostles seem to have been ignolous gift, fall into so great a mistake in speak- rant whether the end of the world should haping on this subject? How do they reconcile pen in their time, or whether it should be at this presumption with what he says of the re- the distance of many ages; and it seems that surrection in his epistles, written prior to this, by so closely circumscribing the knowledge of from which we have taken our text? Not to inspired men, we derogate from their claims multiply arguments, there are some texts in of inspiration.-A whole dissertation would which St. Paul seems to class himself with scarcely suffice to remove this difficulty; I those who shall rise, seeing he says “we.” Let shall content myself with opening the sources us next attend to that in the second Epistle of its solution. to the Corinthians: God, “wbo raised up the 1. Ignorance of one truth is unconnected
with the revelation of another truth; I would death of those we love, confounds us with those say, it does not follow that the Holy Spirit has that have no hope, when it proceeds from a not revealed certain things to sacred authors, principle of distrust. Such is sometimes ou: because he has not revealed them to others. situation on earth, that all our good devolves We are assured he did not acquaint them with on a single point. A house rises to affluence; the epoch of the consummation of the ages. I it acquires a rank in life; it is distinguished by This epoch was not only concealed from the equipage; and all its elevation proceeds from a apostles, but also from Jesus Christ considered single head: this head is the mover of all its as a man; hence when speaking of the last day, springs: he is the protector, the father, and he said, that neither the angels in heaven, nor friend of all: this head is cut down: this father, even the Son of man, knew when it should protector, and friend, expires; and by that single occur; the secret being reserved with God stroke, all our honours, rank, pleasures, afflualone, Mark xiii. 32.
ence, and enjoyments of life, seem to descend 2. Though the apostles might be ignorant with him to the tomb. At this stroke nature of the final period of the world, though they groans, the flesh murmurs, and faith also is might have left the Christians of their own age obscured; the soul is wholly absolved in its cain the presumption that they might survive to lamities, and contemplating its own loss in that the end of the world, the point however they of others, concentrates itself in anguish. Hence have left undetermined. The texts which seem those impetuous passions; hence these mournrepugnant to what I say, regard the destruc- ful and piercing cries; hence those Rachels, tion of Jerusalem, and not the day of judgment; who will not be comforted because their chilbut it is not possible to examine them here in dren are no more. Hence those extravagant support of what I assert.
portraits of past happiness, those exaggerations 3. But though the apostles were ignorant of present evils, and those glooniy augurs of of the final period of the world, they were con- the future. Hence those furious howlings, fident, however, that it should not come till and frightful distortions, in the midst of which the prophecies, respecting the destiny of the it would seem that we were called rather as church, were accomplished. This is suggested exorcists to the possessed, than to administer by St. Paul in his second Epistle to the Thes- balm to afflicted minds. salonians: “Now, we beseech you, brethren, It is not difficult to vindicate the judgment by the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, and we have formed of the grief proceeding from by our gathering together unto him, that ye this principle. When the privation of a tembe not soon shaken in your mind," or troubled, poral good casts into despair, it was obviously “neither by spirit, nor by word, nor by letter, the object of our love; a capital crime in the as from us, as though the day of Christ was at eye of religion. The most innocent connexe hand. Let no man deceive you in any way ions of life cease to be innocent when they whatever; for the day of the Lord shall not become too strongly cemented. To fix one's come until the revolt shall have previously heart upon an object, to make it our happiness happened, and till that man of sin, the son of and the object of our hope, is to constitute it perdition, shall be revealed," chap. ii.
a god; is to place it on the throne of the Su4. In fine, the apostles leaving the question preine, and to form it into an idol. Whether undecided respecting the final period of the it be a father, or a husband, or a child, which world; a question not essential to salvation, renders us idolaters, idolatry is not the less odihave determined the points of which we can ous in the eyes of God, to whom supreme denot be ignorant in order to be saved; I would votion is due. Religion requires that our say, the manner in which men should live to strongest passion, our warmest attachment, whom this period was unknown. They have and our firmest support, should ever have God drawn conclusions the most just and certain for their object; and being only in the life to from the uncertainty in which those Christians come that we shall be perfectly joined to God, were placed. They have inferred, that the religion prohibits the making of our happiness church being ignorant of the day in which to consist in the good things of this life. And Christ shall come to judge the world, should though religion should not dictate a duty so be always ready for that event. But brevity just, common prudence should supply its place; obliges me to suppress the texts whence the it should induce us to place but a submissive inferences are deduced.
attachment on objects of transient good. It II. Having sufficiently discharged the duties should say, “Let those that have wives be as of the critic, I proceed to those of the preacher. though they bave none; and they that weep, Taking the words of St. Paul in all their ex as though they wept not; and they that rejoice, tent, we see the sentiments with which we as though they rejoiced not; and they that use should be animated when called to survive our this world, as though they used it not, for the dearest friends, which we shall now discuss. fashion of this world passeth away.—Put not
St. Paul does not condemn all sorts of sor- your trust in princes, nor in great men, in whom row occasioned by the loss of those we love; he there is no help: his soul goeth forth, he returnrequires only that Christians should not be in- eth to the earth, and in that very day his purconsolable in these circumstances, as those who poses perish,” 1 Cor. vii. 29; Ps. cxlvi. 3, 4. have no hope. Hence, there is both a criminal Hence, when driven to despair by the occurand an innocent sorrow. The criminal sorrow rence of awful events, we have calise to form is that which confounds us with those who are a humiliating opinion of our faith. These destitute of hope; but the innocent sorrow is strokes of God's hand are the tests whereby he compatible with the Christian hope. On these tries our faith in the crucible of tribulation, acpoints we shall enter into some detail.
cording to the apostlo's idea, 1 Pet. i. 7. First, The sorrow occasioned to us by the When in affluence and prosperity, it is difficult
to determine whether it be love for the gift, that most Christians draw improper consequenor the giver, which excites our devotion. It ces, and act in a manner wholly opposed to is in the midst of tribulation that we can recog- the faith they profess. We believe the soul to nise a genuine zeal, and a conscious piety. be immortal; we are confident at the moment When our faith abandons us in the trying hour, of a happy death that the soul takes its flight it is an evident proof that we had taken a chi- to heaven; and that the angels who are enmera for a reality, and the shadow for the sub- camped around it for protection and defence,
Submission and hope are the charac- carry it to the bosom of God. We have seen teristics of a Christian.
the living languish and sigh, and reach forth The example of the father of the faithful to the moment of their deliverance; and when here occurs to our view. If ever a mortal had they attain to this moment, we class them cause to fix his hopes on any object, it was un- among the unhappy! Was I not right in saydoubtedly this patriarch. Isaac was the son ing, that there are no occasions on which of the promise; Isaac was a miracle of grace; Christians reason worse than on these, and act Isaac was a striking figure of the blessed Seed, more directly opposite to the faith they proin whom all the nations of the earth were to be fess? While the deceased were with us in this blessed. God commanded him to sacrifice this valley of tears, they were subject to many comson; who then had ever stronger reasons to be plaints. While running a race so arduous, lieve that his hopes were lost? But what did they complained of being liable to stumble. Abraham do? He submitted, he hoped. He They complained of the calamities of the submitted; he left his house; he took bis son; church in which they were entangled. They he prepared the altar; he bound the innocent complained when meditating on revelation that victim; he raised his arm; he was ready to dip they found impenetrable mysteries; and when his paternal hands in blood, and to plunge the aspiring at perfection, they saw it placed in so knife into the bosom of this dear son. But in exalted a view, as to be but imperfectly attainsubmitting, he hoped, he believed. How did ed. But now they are afflicted no more; now be hope? He hoped against hope. How did they see God face to face; now they “are come he believe? He believed what was incredible, to Mount Zion, to the city of the living God, rather than persuade himself that his fidelity to the heavenly Jerusalem, to the myriads of would be fatal, and that God would be defi- angels, to the assembly of the first-born.” cient in his promise; he believed that God Now, as the Holy Spirit has said, “ Blessed would restore his son by a miracle, having are the dead which die in the Lord; for they given him by a miracle; and that this son, the rest from their labours, and their works do folunparalleled fruit of a dead body, should be low them,” Heb. xii. 22; Ps. xvi. 11; Rev. raised in a manner unheard of. Believers, xiv. 13. here is your father. If you are the children These remarks concern those only who die of Abraham, do the works of Abraham. I say the death of the righteous: but should not piety again, that submission and hope are the marks indulge her tears, when we see those die imof a Christian. “In the mountains of the Lord penitent to whom we are joined by the ties of he will there provide. For the mountains shall nature; and shall we call that a criminal sordepart, and the hills be removed; yet my kind- row when it is the death of reprobates which ness shall not depart from thee; neither shall excite our grief? Is there any kind of confort the covenant of my peace be removed. But against this painful thoughi, that my son is Zion said, The Lord hath forsaken me; and dead in an unregenerate state? And can any my Lord hath forgotten me. Can a woman sorrow be immoderate which is excited by the forget her sucking-child, that she should not loss of a soul? This is the question we were have compassion on the son of her womb? Yea, wishful to illustrate, when we marked, in the they may forget, yet will not I forsake thee. third place, as a criminal sorrow, that which When my father and mother forsake me, the proceeds from a mistaken piety. Lord will take me up. Though thou slay me, III. We answer first, that nothing is more yet will I trust in thee,” Isa. xlix. 14; liv. 10; presumptive than to decide on the eternal loss Ps. xxvii. 10; Job xiii. 15.
of men; and that we must not limit the extent II. We have reprobated the affliction of 1 of the divine mercy, and the ways of Proviwhich despondency is the principle. A man dence. A contrite heart may, perhaps, be conjudges of the happiness of others, by the notion cealed under the exterior of reprobation; and of his own happiness; and estimating life as the the religion which enjoins us to live in holy supreme good, he regards the person deprived fear of our own salvation, ever requires that of it, as worthy of the tenderest compassion. we should presume charitably concerning the Death presents itself to us under the image of salvation of others. a total privation. The deceased seems to us But people are urgent, and being unable to to be stripped of every comfort. Had he, by find any mitigation in a doubtful case, against some awful catastrophe, lost his fortune; had which a thousand circumstances seem to milihe lost his sight, or one of his limbs, we should tate, they ask whether one ought to moderate have sympathized in his affliction; with how the anguish excited by the eternal loss of one much more propriety ought we to weep, when they love. The question is but too necessary he has been deprived of all those comforts at a in this unhappy age, where we see so great & stroke, and fatally sentenced to live no more? number of our brethren die in apostacy, and in This sorrow is appropriate to those who are which the lives of those who surround us afford destitute of hope. This is indisputable, when so just a ground of awful apprehensions, conit has for its object those who have finished a cerning their salvation. Christian course; and it is on these occasions I confess it would be unreasonable to censure more than any other, we are obliged to confess tears in a situation so afflictive; I confess that