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THE MEMORY OF THE EARTHLY SUFFERINGS OF OUR DEPARTED FRIENDS.
THE MEMORY OF THE EARTHLY SUFFERINGS OF OUR DEPARTED FRIENDS.
IT appears a strange result of experience, my brethren, that notwithstanding the natural repugnance of human nature to pain and mourning, many purposely nourish, often for years, not unfrequently during their whole life, the very bitterest grief,—lamentation for the dead whom they loved. Whilst their hearts in general struggle against melancholy sensations, they are ever tearing open these old wounds afresh, and they studiously cherish their remembrance of those loved ones, whom no longing nor complaining can recal. It is true, such recollections must necessarily be often involuntarily awakened. Connexions, which formed our happiness in life, father and mother, who prepared for us the first refreshing tokens of love on earth; benefactors and friends, who had a favourable influence on our destiny, and acquired the strongest claims to our 346gratitude; dear children, who opened to us bright hopes of the future; it seems scarcely possible to forget these: and had they not raised a lasting monument in our hearts, the visible world, and what passes immediately around us, will be sufficient to remind us at times, and renew our remembrance of them.
But in the mean time the apparent contradiction in our experience is not yet explained; because certainly the better sort of persons are not carried away by the blind force of natural affections, nor by the changes of external appearances, but even here are masters over themselves, and act according to their own choice and determination. They do not leave it to the chance, that a passing thought of their dear deceased may arise; they rather purposely invoke it, and study to retain a lively impression in their minds. The picture that they set up in their daily-place of abode, the predilection with which they frequent places that were once witnesses of their happiness, the anxious care with which they preserve and guard any precious gift; the deep feeling with. which they repeatedly visit the grave, as a holy place, and the pleasant decoration of flowers, with which, full of tender affection, they distinguish it; all this forbids us to doubt, that they will not extirpate their melancholy; much as their hearts may be opposed to it, they purposely maintain their grief wakeful and 347vivid. But this experience, if closely examined, bears in itself, my friends, the solution of the apparent contradiction. It makes it, namely, incontrovertibly certain, that these repeated reminiscences of the departed, notwithstanding the melancholy which they renew, cannot be afflicting, but must have in them something very pleasing and grateful. For that it is possible to suppress them, and when they are involuntarily obtruded, to banish them again, we learn from many a living example. There are children of the world in plenty, who know how to indemnify. themselves for domestic solitude, in the, diversions of life, to comfort themselves after the most painful loss in the diminution of their cares, or even quickly to forget their severed alliances in the charms of new connexions. That which is removed out of sight, is soon absent from the mind. Their. volatile unsteady tempers cannot be fixed; their hearts cannot be moved; deep and lasting affections of the mind are foreign to them; they view the seriousness of life as their enemy, and employ all means to drive it from them; and should they be compelled to go to the burial-place itself, they would leave it without being more deeply impressed, and perhaps would succeed the very next hour in laughing away the superficial emotion. Better men justly scorn such worldly-mindedness, as unworthy, and such conduct may appear to feeling affectionate souls quite inexplicable. But still 348they are men, and cannot as such naturally like pain. The melancholy which they entertain and cherish, must be sweet, must be of a pleasing nature. Agreeable recollections of the past, views full of hope of a glorious futurity, a blissful foretaste of heaven, mix with his painful remembrances, and impart to them the most refreshing consolation for the gloomy present.
What the world calls pleasure, is not, in general, an object of their desire. Their’s rests with their beloved in the grave. Their mind has become more heavenly, their faith more lively, their hope firmer through their loss. Because they gain much for this higher aim of their mind and heart by thinking of the deceased, they, therefore, often and cordially renew their remembrance. And thus is the experience above spoken of completely explained. Yes, it is exactly the most painful recollections which here most strikingly prove their beneficial power. A true blessing on our spiritual life is to be gained by the remembrance of the earthly sorrows of our glorified friends. Our attention is drawn to-day to this truth. Let it be a sacred employment to us to consider it devoutly. May the God of all comfort give peace to our minds, that the voice of his truth may resound, and good resolutions be matured amongst us!349
I have glorified thee on the earth, I have finished the work which thou gavest me to do. And now, O Father, glorify thou me with thine own self, with the glory which I had with thee, before the world was.
JESUS’ last evening was come, and the last supper with his disciples finished, and the solemnity, fruitful in blessing, in remembrance of him already instituted, my hearers! when he uttered the prayer so full of mind and spirit, from which the words of our text are taken. They transport us, therefore, to that terrible night, when the Lord went forth to meet the most dreadful agonies of sorrow. It may surprise many of you, that we should just now return to this subject. We had ascended the glorious summit from which we saw him that is risen again come forth, as the bright and genial sun; and soon again we shall be witnesses of a solemn ascension into heaven. ‘Why then,’ you might ask, ‘why again bring him to our view, in this calm interval of time, as the suffering and the dying? Why remind us of his humiliation in the days consecrated to his exaltation?’ But consider, yourselves, the words which we have this day to examine. Not depressed and humiliated, but truly exalted, Christ stands before us. His work is finished, the glorification of God on earth is completed, the victory 350over the world is won, he has past in the spirit beyond the hour of death, as if it were already undergone, and the glory which he implores of the Father, already shines round him with its heavenly splendour. Thus he stands celestially glorified before our eyes. It may then prove very beneficial to us to look back on his afflictions. Thus the text and the season unite in leading our meditation to a very fruitful subject, the remembrance of the earthly sorrows of those who are now glorified in heaven. To what are we to direct it? And how are we to profit by it? Each deserves a particular consideration.
First. If the remembrance of the earthly sorrows of our friends now glorified is to be of a beneficial and elevating character, we must, above all things, be careful that it takes a right direction: and for this we have sufficient instruction, in our text. We learn, namely, from it, that we should, first, regard the glorification of God through their painful trials. Secondly, diligently inquire into their efficiency by means of pious endurance and, lastly, devoutly consider the connexion between earthly abasement, and heavenly exaltation. “I have glorified thee on the earth,” thus says Jesus, my brethren, with noble. self-confidence in his prayer to God. And, in fact, all his worldly labours had been directed to this great end. The covering was to be taken from the eyes of 351men, and the unknown God, whose real nature was hidden, even from the chosen people, to be made manifest to all mortals in his pure celestial brightness. To make known his eternal power and unlimited perfection, his infinite paternal love to men, his mercy to the fallen, his law and his promises, was his first and highest purpose in all that he taught and accomplished. God’s greatness and glory should be exhibited with bright perspicuity; the Father should be glorified through him. And this was effected chiefly by his last afflicting trials. He had always inculcated this, and these are his sentiments even now in his prayer. He is still among the living, yet he calls his work finished; but he does it for this reason, because in this moment of devout elevation, already entirely with God in heaven, he imagines his sorrows ended, his mortal conflict fought out. “I have glorified thee on the earth,” he says, and it cannot be mistaken, that he directly and especially alludes to his earthly trials. Blessed is he, whosoever can say with him at the end of his course, “I have glorified thee on earth, my Father!” None indeed of his mortal brethren can reach the heights of the Only-begotten. But to follow him at a distance; those beloved ones who slept in the Lord, laboured; we could not else conceive of them as glorified in heaven. And if they have succeeded in doing any thing on earth towards the glorification of God, it will become most visible and 352perceptible to us in the recollection of their worldly afflictions.
As tribulation forms us most surely for heaven, and best developes and proves what is divine in us, so the power of a pious communion with God is most visibly displayed in the days of sorrow, as well as the beatific presence and protecting love of our Father in heaven. Alas, my brethren, it is a bitter lot and one of the most poignant griefs of affection, to see one’s dearest suffer, perhaps hopelessly suffer. When we witness their misery and distress, painful feelings so violently assault us, that, incapable of all composed thought, we not seldom entirely lose sight of the higher tendency and full signification of their trials, and often are nearly wavering in our faith, and disputing with the Deity. But when the struggle is over, and they have entered into the mansions of the glorified, how much softer and more truly glorious their hard lot on earth then appears! That which, when viewed separately, was inexplicable to us, is now satisfactorily solved, when we regard it in connexion with the whole. But, the light which clears up the darkness comes from above. To whatever point we look in their night of sorrow, there arises every where a radiant sun in God, the All-merciful. We admire the composure and peace of mind, with which they bore the terrible calamity that overtook them but it soon becomes evident to us, that their pious disposition, their filial submission to their Father in heaven 353supported them. They saw death before them and knew themselves to be his certain prey; but that they did not dejectedly despond, nor inconsolably lament, was the effect of a devout communion with God, and an upward look of faith towards their heavenly Father’s habitation. They saw many a fair wish frustrated, many a sweet hope annihilated, the truest affection repaid by treacherous ingratitude, and their hearts were lacerated by the death of a dear, fervently loved child, or more painfully still by a prodigal son; but a superior, invisible Power stood friendly at their side, that they should not sink under their trouble. The blissful presence of him, who is least distant from us in the greatest need, was manifested at one time by an exhilarating prospect of futurity, at another by a sympathizing, consoling friend, now by unlooked-for help in distress, now by the invisible thriving of the good seed they have sown on earth, now by the warm attachment of a faithful one, and now again by an unexpected favourable turn in their fortune. O bow beneficially must the remembrance of our glorified friends operate upon us, if we studiously reflect on this glorification of God through their tribulations!
Secondly. They were, however, by no means lost to the world. Blessed effects are often wrought, not merely by showy and noisy activity, but also by pious endurance; into which we have now to inquire further, whilst considering the earthly trials 354of the departed. Thus says Jesus in the text, “I have finished the work which thou gavest me to do.” We all know that the crowning termination of this work was his painful death. His object was to reconcile the children with the Father, to bring rest and peace to their souls, to expel fear through love, and to raise them to the confident belief, that God is merciful to the fallen, and is willing to receive the lost again into his favour, when they return to him with faith and repentance; and this redemption he has established by his death.
It was to be made manifest, that there was something in our race on which the eye of the Most Holy could rest with satisfaction; and be has exhibited it in his obedience even unto death, and his virtue perfected at the cross. Mankind stood in need of a guide, an unspotted model and pattern, that should go before and lead them to the sublime object of their wishes; and he has become that guide by his trials and sufferings. “In that he himself hath suffered, being tempted, he is able to succour them that are tempted4545 Heb. ii. 18..” Thus his work of redemption is completed in his afflictions and death. Our departed friends also, my brethren, have not in vain struggled and suffered. We are all born to active duties, and some work is given to every one to do. But many a one has done greater and more 355lasting good by pious endurance and an exemplary death, than by a long and happy life.
Thou once thoughtest little or not at all on God and judgment, and heaven was to thee a strange unknown land; thou wert a worldling totally absorbed in visible things, and reposed thy whole heart on what is vain and perishable; but behold, God led thee to the death-bed of one that belonged to thee; then thou sawest with alarm his daily torture; it was evident to himself that death only could release him; but yet his faith held him up, he trembled not, he despaired not; he calmly awaited his last hour, and his eyes closed in peace as his life had been peaceful; then wert thou surprisingly affected, and perhaps for the first time hast opened thy heart towards heaven, and from that period halt more and more allied thyself to it. Thy wife perhaps attended thee for years, patient and submissive, without thine heart being warmed with gratitude and love, and thou hast always persisted in thy inflexible disposition, and every apparent or trivial offence has excited in thee irreconcilable hatred: but when painful disease seized her, when thou sawest her suffer calmly and without murmuring, when in the agony of death she tenderly and conciliatingly held out her hand to thee—then wert thou powerfully affected, and thy soul was softened to gentle and generous affections, and thou becamest from that time milder and more friendly, more indulgent 356and conciliating towards thy companions through life. Anxious doubts once interposed between thee and the future better world, thou lookedst not on high with joy and confidence, because thou hadst not yet felt a lively faith; but when thy warmly loved child smiled to thee sweetly even in death, and lay before thee in the coffin with the angel face of innocence; then wert thou wonderfully affected, as if thou hadst seen the heavenly glory visibly displayed; and, since that, the gates of the home above stand more open to thee, and the ardent wish of affection has firmly rivetted thee to the bright world of re-union. O what blessed effects ye work upon us from above, ye glorified spirits, when we duly reflect on the noble and lasting efficacy of your earthly trials!
But, thirdly, they themselves, having glorified God on earth and promoted his work in pious endurance, cannot go unrewarded; there must be a necessary and intimate connexion between earthly humiliation and- heavenly exaltation. To this Jesus lastly adverts, “I have glorified thee on the earth, and now, O Father, glorify thou me with thine own self, with the glory which I had with thee before the world was.” “Thine eyes beheld me before I came into this world; yea, before it was founded, it was from eternity thy will, that I should enter into thy glory. Now I have finished thy work and glorified thee; do thou also glorify me in thine 357heaven.” And thus he every where represents his humiliation as the way to celestial exaltation. Christ, he says, must “suffer these things, and enter into his glory.” And with the cry of anguish, “It is finished,” he joins the prayer of confidence, “Into thy hands I commend my spirit.”
And the Apostle expressly says, “Because he was obedient unto death, even the death of the cross, therefore God hath highly exalted him, and given him a name which is above every name4646 Philippians ii. 9..” We cannot imagine it otherwise, my beloved, in a sacred order of things. If already in the visible world no seed consciously sown is entirely unproductive, surely abundant sheaves of joy must be the fruit of the precious seed of tears. A man of noble mind, indeed, will not live, nor strive, nor labour, nor suffer, nor die for the sake of the reward: but the less eagerly he seeks it, the more certainly will it be given him. Whilst we call to mind your earthly trials, ye perfected in heaven! we see you adorned with glorious, imperishable crowns of victory. Your souls were more and more purified from earthly dross in the furnace of affliction, your view was directed more steadily and fixedly to the treasures of heaven, your hearts reposed more ardently on the Father of love, and the stronger was the sense in calamity of the insufficiency of your own power, 358with so much the more filial submission ye resigned yourselves to the care and will of the Eternal. Ye took this heavenly maturity with you, as a rich reward of worldly trials. And he who sent you to the conflict, whose eyes beheld you when ye wept and sighed here below without murmuring, when ye endured and suffered, without abandoning the paths of light, the witness of your last struggle and your deserving death; he himself opened to you the everlasting mansions, and led you, his faithful servants, to the joys of the blessed, for which this earth has neither words nor signs. O how salutary must your memory be to us, when we devoutly consider the heavenly exaltation, which has sprung from your earthly abasement!
The remembrance of the worldly trials of our friends now glorified may certainly operate most beneficially upon us, if we give it this high direction. Let me now point out, in a few words, the blessing of it: for a detailed representation is needless; your own hearts bear witness to it: such recollections must mitigate the pain of separation, must console and raise us above the troubles of earth, and must incite and strengthen us to a courageous contest for the crowns of glory beyond the grave. It often seems, my dear hearers, as if we thought we could testify and cherish our affection for the deceased solely by our mourning. They have entered into a sanctuary, whither our view 359and our tenderest care cannot penetrate. Tears, bitter tears, are the only poor gift which we are yet able to offer them. Like that mother who would not be comforted, because her children were no more, we often purposely sharpen the stings of our grief. We think vividly of many a fair wish, which they longed to see fulfilled on earth. Whenever any good fortune occurs to us, we form a lively imagination of the joy they would have felt, and paint with the freshest and most glowing colours the blissful hours, which we. could now have passed in their society. But are we right in this? Is it an honour to our beloved, when we degrade their memory into an instrument of our distress? Can it enhance their heavenly happiness, if they know us to be disconsolate on earth, and devoid of all strength and. fortitude whilst inconsolable? Christ prays in the text with his disciples, with the friendly intention of raising them above the pain of separation. He therefore reminds them of the conflicts which he would now soon have surmounted, of the laborious work, which he would soon have finished. Our departed ones have also suffered and contended to the end. Our joys perished, but our sorrows also and all afflictions and storms of this earth reach them no more. Let us often, very often, remind ourselves of this. Let us frequently recal a lively remembrance of the troubles of life which they had to contend against in various ways. The 360cares which formerly so painfully disturbed them; the anxious contests, in which their own hearts engaged them, because they aimed. at the highest virtue; the fear with which the vicissitudes of earth, and anxiety respecting the future often filled them; the tears which they wept, the losses they lamented; when we think often and deeply on all this„ how much is our grief for the beloved dead alleviated! how happy shall we esteem them, that, exalted above mortal tribulation, they have arrived at those blissful heights, where it is eternally calm and serene, where the refreshing, unalloyed peace of heaven reigns, where the victor-crowns of the just are their portion, remunerating them for sublunary trials!
At the same time there falls from above a cheering ray of light upon our own path of sorrow. In the ocean of life, my brethren, are frequent agitations and storms. The passage is to no one always easy and gentle, always safe and free from peril. “Man that is born of a woman is of few days and full of trouble.” Alas! how often are we all painfully sensible of this! Whence do we derive strength and courage for the conflict? Thou must seek them from high, in the land of celestial glory. The angels of peace come from above to refresh thee. Call them down to thee with a heartfelt remembrance of thy glorified friends. Think of the difficulties which once obstructed their 361course. How soon were they ended, and the haven of rest disclosed to them! Beautiful fields of light spread themselves before their blissful view, on emerging beyond the dark labyrinth of life. When earth’s gloomy gates closed upon them, the doors of heaven were opened to them. ‘Up, weary wanderer,’ they cry to thee from above, ‘up, be of good cheer!’ It is worth the trouble to strive for heaven, to suffer for heaven. A Father’s eye numbers all tears, and those which thou weepest with irreproachable heart, thou wilt find again as unfading pearls in the wreath of victory, which is kept for every honest combatant. Thy soul now soon becomes calm in God, thou bearest afflictions more resignedly, and angels of comfort, in thy sainted dead, beckon to thee from their distant eminence, when thou rememberest their earthly trials. But they must also prove angels of strength to thee, must serve as models, and summon and invigorate thee for the arduous contest. Yes, whoever knows but one dear being in heaven, whom be once called his own on earth, true love fills him with a longing desire not to be eradicated. His most fervent wish, and the aim of his life and conduct, is once again to be with them at all times, to find them again and to possess them for ever. They have won the crown of celestial glory in their earthly warfare. They had honestly finished their work, and worthily sustained their share of affliction, 362therefore God has heard their last groans, and glorified them with heavenly glory. Thus they are amicably united with us, as guardians of our virtue. Lively zeal in honourable actions, cheerful fortitude to struggle and endure, cordial love and tender care towards the companions of our pilgrimage, who yet walk by our side,—all come to us, when we look up with eager desire to our friends in bliss. What is the glory of life? What are temporal sorrows? They are not worthy to be compared. with the blessedness which awaits us on the other side. Your delights flow round you, ye beloved, whom our hearts still designate with a tender name. They yearn to pass over to you with an inextinguishable longing, and will be fondly mindful of you, as long as they beat. Steep and thorny was your path through mortal life. To sigh, to suffer, to struggle, was your lot. But ye entered through tribulation into the Lord’s glory. The thorns of life are now made less painful to us, the temptations of worldly pleasure less dangerous. Ye have been proved on trial; and we will also seek the same approval. So shall we think of you with joy in our last conflict, and whilst we quit the earth, you will extend to us a hand from above. Father, receive then our spirits, and lead us. into communion with our beloved. Amen363
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