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CHAPTER XXIX.

THE CHRISTIAN REJOICING IN THE VIEWS OF DEATH AND JUDGMENT.

1. Death and judgment are near: but the Christian has reason to welcome both.—2. Yet nature recoils from the solemnity of them.—3. An attempt to reconcile the mind to the prospect of death.—4. From the considerations of the many evils that surround us in this mortal life.—5. Of the remainder of sin which we feel within us.—6, 7. And of the happiness which is immediately to succeed death.—8. All which might make the Christian willing to die in the most agreeable circumstances of human life.—9. The Christian has reason to rejoice in the prospect of judgment.—10. Since, however awful it may be, Christ will then come to vindicate his honor, to display his glory, and to triumph over his enemies.—11. As also to complete the happiness of every believer.—12, 13. And of the whole church.—The mediation of a Christian whose heart is warm with these prospects.

1. WHEN the visions of the Lord were closing upon John, the beloved disciple, in the island of Patmos, it is observable that he who gave him that revelation, even Jesus, the faithful and true witness, concludes with these lively and important words: “He who testifieth these things saith, Surely I come quickly:” and John answered with the greatest readiness and pleasure—"Amen, even so come, Lord Jesus!” Come, as thou hast said, surely and quickly. And remember, O Christian! whoever you are that are now reading these words, your divine Lord speaks in the same language to you—"Behold, I come quickly.” Yes, very quickly will become by death, to turn the key, to open the door of the grave for thine admittance thither, and to lead thee through it into the now unknown regions of the invisible world. Nor is it long before “the Judge who standeth at the door,” (Jam. 5:9) will appear also for universal judgment; and though, perhaps, not only scores, but hundreds of years will lie between that period and the present moment, yet it is but a very small point of time to him who views at once all the unmeasurable ages or a past and future eternity. “A thousand years are with him but as one day, and one day as a thousand years.” (2 Pet. 3:8) In both these senses, then, does he come quickly. And I trust you can answer, with a glad Amen, that the warning is not terrible or unpleasant to your ears; but rather that his coming, his certain, his speedy coming, is the object of your delightful hope, and of your longing expectation.

2. I am sure it is reasonable it should be so; and yet perhaps nature, fond of life, and unwilling to part with along known abode, to enter on a state to which it is entirely a stranger, may recoil from the thoughts of dying; or, struck with the awful pomp or an expiring and dissolving world, may look on the judgement-day with some mixture of terror. And therefore, my dear brother in the Lord, (for such I can now esteem you) I would reason with you a little on this head, and would entreat you to look more attentively on this solemn subject; which will, I trust, grow less disagreeable to you, as it is more familiarly viewed. Nay, I hope that, instead of starting back from it, you wilt rather spring forward toward it with joy and delight.

3. Think, O Christian! when Christ comes to call you away by death, he comes—to set you at liberty from your present sorrows—to deliver you from your struggles with remaining corruption—and to receive you to dwell with himself in complete holiness and joy. You shall “be absent from the body, and be present with the Lord.” (2 Cor. 5:8)

4. He will indeed call you away from this world; but oh! what is this world, that you should be fond of it, and cling to it with so much eagerness? How low are all those enjoyments that are peculiar to it, and how many its vexations, its snares, and its sorrows! Review your pilgrimage thus far; and though you must acknowledge that “goodness and mercy have followed you all the days of your life,” (Psa. 23:6) yet has not that very mercy itself planted some thorns in your path, and given you some wise and necessary, yet painful intimations, that “this is not your rest?” (Mic. 2:10) Review the monuments of your withered joys, of your blasted hopes, if there be yet any monuments of them remaining more than a mournful remembrance they have left behind in your afflicted heart. Look upon the graves that have swallowed up many of your dearest and most amiable friends, perhaps in the very bloom of life, and in the greatest intimacy of your converse with them, and reflect, that if you continue a few years more, death will renew his conquests at your expense, and devour the most precious of those that yet survive. View the living as well as the dead: behold the state of human nature under the many grievous marks of its apostacy from God, and say, whether a wise and good man would wish to continue always here. Methinks, were I myself secure from being reached by any of the arrows that fly around me, I could not but mourn to see the wounds that are given by them, and to hear the groans of those that are continually falling under them. The diseases and calamities of mankind are so many, and (which is most grievous of all) the distempers of their minds are so various, and so threatening, that the world appears like a hospital; and a man whose heart is tender, is ready to feel his spirits broken as he walks through it and surveys the sad scene; especially when he sees how little he can do for the recovery of those whom he pities. Are you a Christian? and does it not pierce your heart to see how human nature is sunk in vice and in shame? To see with what amazing insolence some are making themselves openly vile, and how the name of Christ is dishonored by too many that call themselves his people? To see the unlawful deeds and filthy practices of them that live ungodly; and to behold, at the same time, the infirmities, at least, and irregularities of those, concerning whom we have better hopes? And do you not wish to escape from such a world, where a righteous and compassionate soul must be vexed from day to day by so many spectacles of sin and misery? (2 Pet. 2:8)

5. Yea, to come nearer home, do you not feel something within you, which you long to quit, and which would embitter even Paradise itself? Something which, were it to continue, would grieve and distress you even in the society of the blessed? Do you not feel a remainder of indwelling sin, the sad consequence of the original revolt of our nature from God? Are you not struggling every day with some residue of corruption, or at least mourning on account of the weakness of your graces? Do you not often find your spirits dull and languid, when you would desire to raise them to the greatest fervor in the service of God ? Do you not find your heart too often insensible of the richest instances of his love, and your hands feeble in his service, even when “to will is present with you?” (Rom. 7:18) Does not your life, in its best days and hours, appear a low, unprofitable thing, when compared with what you are sensible it ought to be, and with what you wish that it were ? Are you not frequently, as it were, “stretching the pinions of the mind,” and saying, “O that I had wings like a dove, that I might fly away and be at rest!” (Psa. 55:6)

6. Should you not then rejoice in the thought, that Jesus comes to deliver you from these complaints? That he comes to answer your wishes, and to fulfill the largest desires of your hearts, those desires that he himself has inspired? That he comes to open upon you a world of purity and joy; of active, exalted, and unwearied services?

7. O Christian! how often have you cast a longing eye toward those happy shores, and wished to pass the sea, the boisterous, unpleasant, dangerous sea, that separates you from them! When your Lord has condescended to make you a short visit in his ordinances on earth, how have you blessed the time and the place, and pronounced it, amidst many other disadvantages of situation, to be “the very gate of heaven!” (Gen. 28:17) And is it so delightful to behold this gate? and will it not be much more so to enter into it ? Is it so delightful to receive the visits of Jesus for an hour? and will it not be infinitely more so to dwell with him for ever ? “Lord,” may you well say, “when I dwell with thee, I shall dwell in holiness, for thou thyself art holiness; in love, for thou thyself art love: I shall dwell in joy, for thou art the fountain of joy, as thou art in the Father, and the Father in thee.” (John 17:21) Bid welcome to his approach, therefore, to take you at your word, and to fulfill to you that saying of his, on which your soul has so often rested with heavenly peace and pleasure: “Father, I will that they whom thou hast given me, be with me where I am, that they may behold my glory which thou hast given me.” (John 17:24)

8. Surely you may say in this view, “The sooner Christ comes the better.” What though the residue of your days be cut off in the midst ? What though you leave many expected pleasures in life untasted, and many schemes unaccomplished ? Is it not enough, that what is taken from a mortal life, shall be added to a glorious eternity; and that you shall spend those days and years in the presence and service of Christ in heaven, which you might otherwise have spent with him and for him, in the imperfect enjoyment and labors of earth?

9. But your prospects reach, not only beyond death, but beyond the separate state. For with regard to his final appearance to judgment, our Lord says, “Surely I come quickly,” in the sense illustrated before; and so it will appear to us, if we compare this interval of time with the blissful eternity which is to succeed it; and probably, if we compare it with those ages which have already passed since the sun began to measure out to earth its days and its years. And will you not here also sing your part in the joyful anthem, “Amen; even so come, Lord Jesus!"

10. It is true, Christian, it is an awful day; a day in which nature shall be thrown into a confusion as yet unknown. No earthquake, no eruption of burning mountains, no desolation of cities by devouring flames, or of countries by overflowing rivers or seas, can give any just emblem of that dreadful day, when “the heavens, being on fire, shall be dissolved; the earth also, and all that is therein, shall be burnt up;” (2 Pet. 3:10-12) when all nature shall flee away in amazement “before the face of the universal Judge,” (Rev. 20:11) and there shall be a great cry, far beyond what was known “in the land of Egypt, when there was not a house in which there was not one dead.” (Exod. 12:30) Your flesh may be ready to tremble at the view; yet your spirit must surely “rejoice in God your Savior.” (Luke 1:47) You may justly say, “Let this illustrious day come, even with all its horrors!” Yea, like the Christians described by the apostle, (2 Pet. 3:12) you may be looking for, and hastening to that day of terrible brightness and universal doom. For your Lord will then come, to vindicate the justice of those proceedings which have been in many instances so much obscured, and because they have been obscured, have been also blasphemed. He will come to display his magnificence, descending from heaven “with a shout, with the voice of the Archangel, and the trump of God,” (1 Thess. 4:16) taking his seat upon a throne infinitely exceeding that of earthly, or even of celestial princes, clothed with “his Father's glory and his own,” (Luke 9:26) surrounded with a numberless host of “shining attendants, when coming to be glorified in his saints, and admired in all them that believe.” (2 Thess. 1:10) His enemies shall also be produced to grace his triumph. The serpent shalt be seen there rolling in the dust, and trodden under foot by him and by all his servants; those who once condemned him shall tremble at his presence; and those who bowed the knee before him in profane mockery, shall, in wild despair, “call to the mountains to fall upon them, and to the rocks to hide them from the face of that Lamb of God,” (Rev. 6:16) whom they once led away to the most inhuman slaughter.

11. O Christian! does not your loyal heart bound at the thought? And are you not ready, even while reading these lines, to begin the victorious shout in which you are then to join ? He justly expects that your thoughts should be greatly elevated and impressed with the views of his triumph; but at the same time he permits you to remember your own personal share in the joy and glory of that blessed day; and even now he has the view before him, of what his power and love shall then accomplish for your salvation. And what shall it not accomplish? He shall come to break the bars of the grave, and to re-animate your sleeping clay. Your bodies must indeed be laid in dust, and be lodged there as a testimony of God's displeasure against sin, against the first sin that ever was committed, from the sad consequences of which the dearest of his children cannot be exempted. But you shall then have an ear to hear the voice of the Son of God, and an eye to behold the lustre of his appearance; and shall “shine forth like the sun” arising in the clear heaven, “which is as a bridegroom coming out of his chamber.” (Psa. 19:5) Your soul shall be new dressed to grace this high solemnity, and be clothed, not with rags of mortality, but with the robes of glory; for he “shall change this vile body, to fashion it like his own glorious body.” (Phil. 3:21) And when you are thus royally arrayed, he shall confer public honors on you, and on all his people, before the assembled world. You may now perhaps be loaded with infamy, called by reproachful names, and charged with crimes, or with views which your very soul abhors; but he will “then bring forth your righteousness as the light,” (Psa. 37:6) “and your salvation as a lamp that burneth.” (Isa. 62:1) Though you have been dishonored by men, you shall be acknowledged, by God; and though treated “as the filth of the world, and the off-scouring of all things,” (1 Cor. 4:13) he will show that he regards you “as his treasure, in the day that he makes up his jewels.” (Matt. 3:17) When he shall “put away all the wicked of the earth like dross, (Psa. 119:119) you shall be pronounced righteous in that full assembly; and though indeed you have broken the divine law, and might in strict justice have been condemned, yet, being clothed with the righteousness of the great Redeemer, even “that righteousness which is of the great God by faith,” (Phil. 3:9) justice itself shall acquit you, and join with mercy in “bestowing upon you a crown of life.” (2 Tim. 4:8) Christ will “confess you before men and angels,” (Luke 12:8) will pronounce you good and faithful servants, and call you to “enter into the joy of your Lord:” (Matt. 25:21) he will speak of you with endearment as his brethren, and will acknowledge the kindnesses which have been shown to you, as if he had “received them in his own person.” (Matt. 25:40) Yea, then shall you, O Christians! who may perhaps have sat in some of the lowest places in our assemblies, to whom, it may be, none of the rich and great of the earth would condescend to speak; then shall you be called to be assessors with Christ on his judgment-seat, and to join with him in the sentence he shall pass on wicked men and rebellious angels.

12. Nor is it merely one day of glory and triumph. But when the Judge arises, and ascends to his Father's court, all the blessed shall ascend with him, and you among the rest: you shall ascend together with your Savior, “to his Father and your Father, to his God and your God.” (John 20:17) You shall go to make your appearance in the new Jerusalem, in those new shining forms that you have received, which will no doubt be attended with a correspondent improvement of mind; and take up your perpetual abode in that fullness of joy, with which you shall be filled and satisfied “in the presence of God,” (Psa. 16:11) upon the consummation of that happiness which the saints, in the intermediate state, have been wishing and waiting for. You shall go from the ruins of a dissolving world, to “the new heavens and new earth, wherein righteousness for ever dwells.” (2 Pet. 3:13) There all the number of God's elect shall be accomplished, and the happiness of each shall be completed. The whole society shall be “presented before God, as the bride, the Lamb's wife,” (Rev. 21:9) whom the eye of its celestial bridegroom shall survey with unutterable delight, and confess to be “without spot or wrinkle, or any such thing,” (Eph. 5:27) its character and state being just what he originally designed it to be, when he first engaged to “give himself for it, to redeem it to God by his blood.” (Rev. 5:9) “So shall you ever be” with each other, and “with the Lord,” (1 Thess. 4:17) and immortal ages shall roll away and find you still unchanged: your happiness always the same, and your relish for it the same; or rather ever growing, as your souls are approaching nearer and nearer to him who is the source of happiness, and the centre of infinite perfection.

13. And now look round about upon earth, and single out, if you can, the enjoyments or the hopes, for the sake of which you would say, Lord, delay thy coming; or for the sake of which you any more should hesitate to express your longing for it, and to cry, “Even so, come, Lord Jesus, come quickly!"

The Meditation or Prayer of a Christian whose Heart is warmed with these Prospects.

“O blessed Lord! my soul is enkindled with these views, and rises to thee in a flame.” (Jud. 13:20) Thou hast testified, thou comest quickly; and I repeat my joyful assent, “Amen, even so, come, Lord Jesus.” (Rev. 22:20) Come, for I long to have done with this low life; to have done with its burdens, its sorrows, anti its snares! Come, for I long to ascend into thy presence, and to see the court thou art holding above.

“Blessed Jesus, death is transformed, when I view it in this light. The king of terrors is seen no more as such, so near the King of Glory and of Grace. I hear with pleasure the sound of thy feet approaching still nearer and nearer. Draw aside the veil whenever thou pleasest. Open the bars of my prison, that my eager soul may spring forth ‘to thee, and cast itself at thy feet;’ at the feet of that Jesus, ‘whom, having not seen, I love,’ and ‘in whom, though now I see thee not, yet believing, I rejoice with joy unspeakable and full of glory.’ (1 Pet. 1:8) Thou, Lord, ‘shalt show me the path of life;’ thine hand shall guide me to thy blissful abode, where ‘there is fullness of joy, and rivers of everlasting pleasure. (Psa. 16:11) Thou shalt assign me a habitation with thy faithful servants, whose separate spirits are now living with thee, while their bodies sleep in the dust. Many of them have been my companions in thy laborious work, and in the ‘patience and tribulation of thy kingdom,’ (Rev. 1:9) my dear companions, and my brethren. O show me, blessed Savior, how glorious and how happy thou hast made them. Show me to what new forms of better life thou hast conducted them whom we call the dead! In what nobler and more extensive services thou hast employed them! That I may praise thee better than I now can, for thy goodness to them. And O give me to share with them in their blessings and their services, and to raise a song of grateful love, like that which they are breathing forth before thee!

“Yet, O my blessed Redeemer! even there will my soul be aspiring to yet a nobler and more glorious hope; and from this as yet unknown splendor and felicity shall I be drawing new arguments to look and long for the day of thy final appearance, There shall I long more ardently than I now do, to see thy conduct vindicated, and thy triumph displayed; to see the dust of thy servants re-animated, and ‘death, the last of their enemies and of thine, swallowed up in victory.’ (1 Cor. 15:26,54) I shall long for that superior honor that thou intendest me, and that complete bliss to which the whole body of thy people shall be conducted. Come, Lord Jesus, come quickly, will mingle itself with the songs of paradise, and sound from the tongues of all the millions of thy saints whom thy grace hath transplanted thither

“In the meantime. O my divine Master, accept the homage which a grateful heart now pays thee, in a sense of the glorious hopes with which thou hast inspired it! It is thou that hast put this joy into it, and hast raised my soul to this glorious ambition whereas I might otherwise have now been groveling in the lowest trifles of time and sense, and been looking with horror on that hour which is now the object of my most ardent wishes.

“O be with me always, even to the end of this mortal life. And give me, while waiting for thy salvation, to be doing thy commandments. May ‘my loins be girded about, and my lamp burning,’ (Luke 12:35) and my ears be still watchful for the blessed signal of thine arrival; that my glowing soul may with pleasure spring to meet thee, and be strengthened by death to bear those visions of glory, under the ecstasies of which feeble mortality would now expire!”

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