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THE SORROWS OF THE BEREAVED SPREAD BEFORE JESUS.
MATTHEW xiv. 12.—And his disciples came and took up the body and buried it, and went and told Jesus.
CONCERNING these words I would observe three things.
1. On what occasion that was, that we have an account of in the text.—It was on occasion of the death of John the Baptist, who was a person whose business it had been to preach the gospel of the kingdom of God. He was a minister of Jesus Christ, and had been improved to great service, was an instrument of much good to many in Judea and Jerusalem, in his lifetime. He was cruelly murdered by Herod, at the instigation of Herodias, having exposed himself to her malice by faithfully reproving them for their incestuous wickedness.
2. We may observe who the persons were spoken of in the text; they were those that had been the disciples of John the Baptist, that had sat at his feet to hear him preach the gospel, that were his constant followers, that were with him as those that received great benefit by his ministry, and were as it were his children.
3. We may observe their behavior on this occasion, consisting in two things. (1.) That whereby they showed their regard to the remains of the deceased, They took up the body and buried it: it had been used in a barbarous manner by others, that had also been his hearers, and were under special obligations to have treated him with honor. They cruelly murdered him, by severing his head from his body; and his head was carried in a charger to Herodias, that she, instead of paying that respect that was due to the remains of so venerable a person, might have her malice and cruelty gratified by such a spectacle, and that she might thence take occasion to insult the dead. While that part of the dead body was thus used by Herodias, his disciples, out of respect and honor to their master and teacher, decently interred the rest.
2. That which they did, consequent on this, for God's glory and their own good, They went and told Jesus. Him they knew to be one that their master John, while he lived, had testified a great regard to. Jesus was he whose forerunner John was; whom he had preached, and of whom he had said, "Behold the Lamb of God that taketh away the sin of the world:" and, "This is he, of whom I said, After me cometh one that is preferred before me ;" and whom he saw, and bare record that this is the Son of God. And probably they knew that Christ was one that had put great honor upon John their teacher in his lifetime. For he, though he was the Son of God, and John's Maker and Saviour, yet came to him to be baptized of him, and had said of him, that 66 among those that are born of women, there had not risen a greater than John the Baptist.
It was now a sorrowful time with John's disciples; when they were thus bereaved of him whose teachings they had sat under. And the manner of his death was doubtless very grievous to them. They were like a company of sorrowful, distressed, bereaved children; and what do they do in their sorrows, but go to Jesus with their complaint. The first thing that they do, after paying
Preached at Hatfield, September 2, 1741, being the day of the interment of Rev. Mr. William Wil
proper regards to the remains of their dear master, is to go to Christ, to spread their case before him, seeking comfort and help from him. Thus they sought their own benefit.
And probably one end of their immediately going and telling Jesus was, that he being informed of it, might conduct himself accordingly, as his wisdom should direct, for the interest of his own kingdom. When so great a person as John the Baptist, the forerunner of Christ, was thus martyred, it was a great event, in which the common cause in which both Christ and he were engaged, was greatly concerned it was therefore fit that he that was at the head of the whole affair should be informed of it, for his future conduct in the affairs of his kingdom. And accordingly we find that Jesus seems immediately to be influenced in his conduct by these tidings; as you may see in the next verse: "When Jesus heard of it, he departed thence by ship into a desert place apart." Thus John's disciples sought God's glory.
The observation from the words that I would make the subject of my discourse at this time is this:
When any one is taken away by death, that has been eminent in the work of the gospel ministry, such as are thereby bereaved, should go and spread their calamity before Jesus.
Though in handling this subject I might particularly speak to several propositions that are contained in this observation, and many things might profitably be insisted on under it, if there were room for it within the compass of a sermon; yet I shall only give the reasons of the doctrine, and then hasten to the application.
The following reasons may be given why, in case of such an awful dispensation of Providence, those that are concerned in it, and bereaved by it, should go and spread their sorrows before Jesus.
1. Christ is one that is ready to pity the afflicted. It is natural for persons that are bereaved of any that are dear to them, and for all under deep sorrow, to seek some that they may declare and lay open their griefs to, that they have good reason to think will pity them, and have a fellow feeling with them of their distress. The heart that is full of grief wants vent, and desires to pour out its complaint; but it seeks a compassionate friend to pour it out before.
Christ is such a one, above all others. He of old, before his incarnation, manifested himself full of compassion towards his people; for that is Jesus that is spoken of, Isai. lxiii. 9: “In all their affliction he was afflicted; and the angel of his presence saved them; in his love and in his pity he redeemed them; and he bare them, and carried them all the days of old." And when he was upon earth in his state of humiliation, he was the most wonderful instance of a tender, pitiful, and compassionate spirit that ever appeared in the world. How often are we told of his having compassion on one and another! So Matt. xv. 32," Then Jesus called his disciples, and said unto them, I have compassion on the multitude." So he had compassion on the man possessed with devils, Mark v. 19: "Go home to thy friends, and tell them how great things the Lord hath done to thee, and hath had compassion on thee." So we read of his pitying the mother, that was bereaved of her son, Luke vii. 13. There we have an account, when Christ went into the city of Nain, and met the people carrying out a dead man, the only son of his mother, that was a widow, that when he saw her he had compassion on her. So when the two blind men that sat by the way-side, cried to Jesus, as he passed by, saying, "Have mercy on us, O Lord, thou Son of David," we read that Jesus had compassion on them, Matt. xx. 39. So we read of his being moved with compassion, Matt. xiv. 14: "And
Jesus went forth, and saw a great multitude, and when he saw them he was moved with compassion." His speeches to his disciples were full of compassion; especially those that he uttered a little before his death, of which we have an account in the 13th, 14th, 15th, and 16th chapters of John. His miracles were almost universally deeds of pity to persons under affliction.
And seeing such a pitiful heart appeared in him on all occasions, no wonder that John's disciples, when bereaved of their dear guide and teacher, and their hearts were full of sorrow, came to him for pity: which likewise induced Mary and Martha to come and fall down, pouring out their tears at Jesus' feet, when their dear brother Lazarus was dead: other Jews came to comfort them, before Jesus came, whom they little regarded, but when they heard that Jesus was come, they soon go and spread their sorrows before him; they were assured that he would pity them; and their expectation was not frustrated; for he was most tenderly affected and moved at their tears: we are told that on that occasion he groaned in spirit and was troubled, John xi. 33. And when he came to the grave, it is observed, and a special note seems to be set upon it, that he wept, verse 35.
He was one that wept with those that wept: and indeed it was mere pity that brought him into the world, and induced him not only to shed tears but to shed his blood: he poured out his blood as water on the earth, out of compassion to the poor, miserable children of men. And when do we ever read of any person coming to him when on earth, with a heavy heart, or under any kind of sorrow or distress, for pity or help, but what met with a kind and compassionate reception ?
And he has the same compassion now he is ascended into glory: there is still the same encouragement for bereaved ones to go and spread their sorrows before him.
Afflicted persons love to speak of their sorrows to them that have had EXPERIENCE of afflictiion, and know what sorrow is: but there is none on earth or in heaven that ever had so much experience of sorrow as Christ: therefore ne knows how to pity the sorrowful, and especially may we be confident that he is ready to pity those that are bereaved of a faithful MINISTER, because such a bereavement is a calamity that concerns the souls of men; and Christ hath especially shown his pity to men's souls; for it was chiefly for them that he died: to relieve the miseries of the soul especially, is it that he hath provided; and it was from pity to the souls of men that he made that provision for them that he hath done, in appointing such an order of men as GOSPEL MINISTERS, and in sending them forth to preach the gospel: it was because he had compassion on men's souls, that he hath appointed ministers to watch for souls.
2. Christ has purchased all that persons need under such a bereavement. He has purchased all that miserable men stand in need of under all their calamities, and comfort under every sort of affliction; and therefore his invitation to those that “labor and are heavy laden," to come to him for rest, may be understood in the most extensive sense, to extend to those that labor under any kind of burden of sin or sorrow, and to all that are "heavy laden" with either natural or moral evil. He has purchased divine cordials and supports for those hearts that are ready to sink. He has purchased all needed comfort and help for the widow and the fatherless. He has purchased a sanctified improvement and fruit of affliction, for all such as come to him, and spread their sorrows before him. He has purchased those things that are sufficient to make up their loss, that are bereaved of a great blessing in an eminent minister of the gospel. It is he that has purchased those divine blessings, those influences and fruits of the Spirit of God, that the work of the ministry is appointed to be the means of. Faithful 78
ministers themselves are the fruits of his purchase; and he has purchased all those gifts and graces whereby ministers do become faithful, eminent and suc cessful; and therefore when he "ascended up on high, he received such gifts for men," Eph. iv. 8, &c. So that he has purchased all that is needful to make up for the loss that is sustained by the death of an eminent minister.
3. Christ is able to afford all that help that is needed in such a case. His power and his wisdom are as sufficient as his purpose, and answerable to his compassions. By the bowels of his mercies, the love and tenderness of his heart, he is disposed to help those that are in affliction; and his ability is answerable to his disposition. He is able to support the heart under the heaviest sorrows, and to give light in the greatest darkness. He can divide the thickest cloud with beams of heavenly light and comfort. He is one that gives songs in the night, and turns the shadow of death into the morning. He has power to make up the loss of those that are bereaved by the death of the most eminent minister. His own presence with the bereaved is sufficient; if the great Shepherd and Bishop of souls be present, how much more is this than enough to supply the want of any under-shepherd? And then he is able to furnish others with like gifts and graces for that work.
Persons under sorrowful bereavements are ready to go and lay open their sorrows to them that they think will be ready to pity them, though they know they can but pity them, and cannot help them. How much more is here in such a case to induce us to go to Jesus, who is not only so ready to pity, but so able to help, able abundantly more than to fill up the breach, and able to turn all our sorrows into joy?
4. The consideration of the special office of Christ, and the work that he has undertaken for his people, should engage them to go and spread such a calamity, as the bereavement of a faithful and eminent minister, before him. For he is the Head of the body, the great Shepherd of the sheep, and Lord of the harvest; that has undertaken the care of the whole church, and has the absolute government of it in his hands, and the supreme disposal and management of all ecclesiastical affairs, to whom belongs the care of the universal church, and every part of it, with respect to its supply with such guides, officers and ordinances, as it stands in need of. In case of bereavement of an eminent minister, it was he that sent forth such a minister, appointed him his charge and furnished him for his work, continued and assisted him in it, and in his own time removed him; and it is he that, in such a case, by his office, has the care of filling up the vacancy, and furnishing, establishing, and assisting successors, and supplying all the wants of bereaved churches. It is surely therefore suitable and natural to go to him in such a case, and spread such a calamity before him.
I come now to apply what has been said to the SORROWFUL OCCASION of our being thus assembled at this time, even the death of that aged SERVANT of God, who has long been eminent in the work of the gospel ministry in this place.
There are many that may well look on themselves as nearly concerned in this awful providence, and sharers in the bereavement; all of whom should be directed by this doctrine, to go and spread their affliction before Jesus, that compassionate, all-sufficient Head of the church, and Saviour of the body, that merciful and faithful High Priest, that knows how to pity the afflicted.
And particularly it now becomes and concerns you, that belong to this
church and congregation, that are bereaved of your aged and eminent PASTOR and FATHER, that has so long been a great blessing to you, now to go and tell JESUS.
The disciples of John, spoken of in the text, were those that were ordina rily under his instruction, and were his constant hearers, as it has been with you with respect to your aged PASTOR, that is now taken from you. Therefore be exhorted to do as they did. Do not think that you have finished your duty, when you have taken up his body and buried it, and have shown respect to his memory and remains at his funeral. This is the least part of your duty. That which mainly concerns you under this awful providence, is between Christ and your own souls.
God has now taken away from you an able and faithful minister of the New Testament, one that has long been a FATHER to you, and a FATHER in our Israel, a person of uncommon natural abilities, and distinguished learning, a great divine, of very comprehensive knowledge, and of a solid, accurate judgment. Judiciousness and wisdom were eminently his character. He was one of eminent gifts, qualifying him for all parts of the work of the ministry; and there appeared a savor of holiness, in his exercise of those gifts in public and private. So that he improved them as a servant of Christ, and a man of God. He was not negligent of the talents which his Lord had committed to him; you need not be told with what constant diligence he improved them, how studious at home, and how laborious in his public work. He ever devoted himself to the work to which he was called. The ministry which he had received of the Lord, he took heed to fulfil, and pursued it with a constant and steadfast, even mind, through all its difficulties.
You know his manner of addressing heaven in his public prayers with and for you, with what sanctity, humility, faith and fervency, he seemed to apply himself to the FATHER of lights, from time to time, when he stood in this desk as your mouth to God, and interceding for you, pleading with God through the grace and merits of a glorious MEDIATOR. And you know his manner of applying himself to you, when he came to you, from time to time, in the name of the Lord.
In his PUBLIC ministry, he mainly insisted on the most weighty and important things of religion; he was eminently an evangelical preacher; evangelical subjects seemed to be his delight. CHRIST was the great subject of his preaching; and he much insisted on those things that did nearly concern the essence and power of religion; and had a peculiar faculty of judiciously and clearly handling the doctrines he insisted on, and treating properly whatever subject he took in hand; and of selecting the most weighty arguments and motives to enforce and set home those things that concern Christian experience and practice. His subjects were always weighty, and his manner of treating them peculiarly happy, showing the strength and accuracy of his judgment, and ever breathing forth the SPIRIT OF PIETY, and a deep sense of the things he delivered, on his heart. His sermons were none of them mean, but were all solid, wise compositions. His words were none of them vain, but all were weighty.
And you need not be told with what weight the welfare of your souls seemed to lie on his heart, and how he instructed, and reproved, and warned, and exhorted you, with all authority, and with a fatherly, tender concern for your eternal good. And with what wisdom he presided in the house of God, and guided its affairs; and also counselled and directed you in private, under your particular soul exercises and difficulties. You know how he has brought you