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I made an entrance upon this portion of Scripture the last Lord’s day, and I judged the subject very suitable, because of the warnings God hath variously given us to be exercising ourselves unto this 341duty. God hath since increased the seasonableness, by taking away a great and eminent servant388388 The decease to which Dr Owen refers must have occurred between September 26 and October 3. Colonel Desborough, a member of his congregation, brother-in-law to Oliver Cromwell, and one of the heroes of the Commonwealth, died on the 10th September 1680. He refused to sit on the trial of Charles I.; and though so nearly related to Cromwell, opposed him when he sought to become king. But it is evident, from the dates, that the allusion cannot be to him. The quaint and pious Thomas Brooks, a preacher of distinguished pathos and usefulness, and author of some well-known treatises, such as “Heaven upon Earth,” “The Unsearchable Riches of Christ,” “Apples of Gold in Pictures of Silver,” etc., died on the 27th of September 1680. The date would answer to the allusion in the discourse, if the terms of it did not leave an impression that Owen refers to a member of his own congregation. Brooks was a zealous Congregationalist; but this could hardly be all the “church-fellowship” to which Owen refers. In his work, “The Golden Key,” he subscribes himself “late preacher of the word at Margaret’s, New Fish Street.” — Ed. of his from among us; concerning whom I will say this one word, and no more:—
As far as I know by thirty years’ acquaintance and friendship, and half that time in church-fellowship, it may be the age wherein he lived did not produce many more wise, more holy, more useful than he in his station, if any. And so I leave him at rest with God.
I proposed to insist upon those things which are necessary for us, to obtain a peaceable and comfortable departure out of this world. And I have spoken to one head; which was, the daily exercise of faith, in the resignation of a departing soul, to the sovereign power and will of God, to be treated and entertained by him according to the tenor of the covenant of grace.
I will not leave this point till I have made some use of it. And I shall take no other measure of my time but the strength God is pleased to give me.
Use 1. It may be worth our while to inquire into the especial nature of this duty which we are exhorted unto; for we may every day more and more understand the weakness of many, who think, it may be, they know something of it, when they know not what it means. We may, therefore, consider three things in it:— (1.) What is the special and immediate object of this exercise of faith; (2.) What is the form or special nature of it; and, (3.) What is the way and manner of its performance.
(1.) As to the especial and immediate object of this exercise of faith, and which must take with it a special motive, — that, I say, is God, under the consideration of his sovereignty, power, and faithfulness; and this upon the motive of some experience of his kindness and grace. So speaks the psalmist, Ps. xxxi. 5, “Into thine hand I commit my spirit.” What was it that gave him confidence so to do? “Thou hast redeemed me,” saith he, “O Lord God of truth.” A sense of redeeming grace, conveyed by the truth of the promises, is required in all that would commit their spirits into the hand of God. 342And therefore, brethren, when you come to the exercise of this great duty, you must lay this foundation in some sense and experience of the grace and kindness of God, or you can never perform it in a due manner. And, —
[1.] Upon this motive, the first thing we consider in God, in the resignation of our souls to him, is his sovereignty. It is mentioned in two places in the Psalms, in both which this duty is proposed unto us. Ps. xvi. 1, 2, “Preserve me, O God: for in thee do I put my trust. O my soul, thou hast said unto the Lord” (thou hast said unto Jehovah), “Thou art my Lord.” He doth not use the word יְהיָה again, — but אֲדֹנָי, “Thou art my Lord,” (אֲדֹנָי אָתָּה) “who hast the sovereign disposal of me. I am going to give up my spirit to thee; and I do it upon the consideration of thy sovereignty, that ‘thou art my Lord.’ ” So Ps. xxxi. 14, 15, “I trusted in thee, O Lord.” Why so? “I said, Thou art my God. My times are in thy hand.” — “It is because of thy sovereignty. ‘Thou art my God,’ who hast the sovereign disposal of me; therefore I commit myself to thee.” It follows those words, “Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit.” Faith regards the glorious sovereignty of God, as the absolute free disposer of all things here, and unto eternity, without any reserve but his own pleasure, when it makes this resignation of the soul unto him.
[2.] It hath a peculiar respect unto the power of God, 2 Tim. i. 12, “I know whom I have believed, and am persuaded that he is able to keep that which I have committed to him against that day.” It is common for persons to go through it in a customary manner. Die they must; but there is nothing can encourage them to yield up their souls to God, but an apprehension of such an infinite power that is able to preserve them in eternal being in the invisible world, especially to the day of the resurrection.
[3.] It respects the faithfulness of God, as one who hath promised that he will take care of us when we are gone out of this world, 1 Pet. iv. 19, “Wherefore, let them that suffer according to the will of God commit the keeping of their souls to him in well-doing, as unto a faithful Creator;” that is, as a God who is omnipotent, who made all things, and is faithful in the accomplishing of his promises.
So, then, this duty I exhort unto is an immediate address unto God, an exercise of faith upon him, with special respect unto his sovereignty, power, and faithfulness, upon an experience we have, in some measure, of his goodness and grace.
The seat before my eyes is very much changed in a short time, and I know not, brethren, how soon it may be the lot of any of you to stand in need of understanding this thing and bringing it into practice. You may, if you please, remember it, for it is of great importance 343to have immediate converse with God with respect unto those great and awful attributes of his sovereignty, power, and faithfulness. That is the first thing.
(2.) As to the special form of this duty, there are two words wherein it is expressed, and both of the same import: for in one place it is rendered, “commending;” in another, “committing,” Luke xxiii. 46, and Ps. xxxi. 5. But it is a re-commending or committing, as men commit a trust. If a man lay a-dying, and had an only child, and an estate to leave him, with what solemnity would he commit him to the trust of his friend, to take care of him! “I commit this poor child, who is helpless and fatherless, — I commit him to your trust,” saith he, “to your love, care, and power, to look after him.” He doth it with great solemnity. The psalmist calls his soul his “darling,” and “only one:” “Deliver ‘my darling’ from the dog, and ‘my only one.’ ” And now when a person is about to leave this world, he is to commit his soul, and leave it in trust somewhere. Then this exercise of faith is a leaving in trust or committing our “darling,” our” only one,” that is departing out of this tabernacle, unto God, under the consideration of his sovereignty, power, and faithfulness. I do not yet speak unto the life of this duty; which consists in committing the trust of our souls unto God, to be dealt withal, not according to our choice, but according to the terms of the covenant of grace, let it fall where it will, to all eternity: that is the solemn committing.
(3.) As to the manner of it, it ought to be done expressly in words that we should say to God. I do not give instructions to them who are dying, but to them that live, that they may be prepared to die. We should say to God, “Lord, I have been thus long in this world; I have seen much variety in the outward dispensation of things in the world, but a thousand times more in the inward frame of my spirit; and I am now leaving the world upon thy call: I am to be here no more. O Lord, after all, being to enter into a new, eternal state, I commit my soul unto thee, — I leave it with thee, — I put all my trust and confidence in thy faithfulness, power, and sovereignty, to be dealt withal according to the terms of the covenant of grace. Now I can lie down in peace.”
Use 2. What benefit shall we receive hereby, if we do thus exercise our souls? I answer, We shall receive these advantages:—
(1.) I know nothing that is more meet to keep our souls in a constant reverence of God; which is the very life and soul of holiness and obedience. And the best profession, where this is not, is of no value. Now, nothing is more suited to this than an immediate access unto God every day (frequently at least), under the consideration of his glorious sovereignty, power, and faithfulness, as if you were 344immediately going into his presence, and into his hands. The more you abound in it, the greater will your reverence of God be. We have deceitful hearts, and a very crafty adversary to deal withal. We are commanded to draw nigh, and to have our access unto God with boldness, Heb. x.; — to “come boldly to the throne of grace,” Heb. iv. 16. And we should do it frequently. Now, nothing in this world is so suited to take off reverence, as boldness and frequency. Where men make bold, and where they [are] frequent, — as in a multitude of duties many are bold and frequent, — it works off the reverence of God. That is carnal boldness. But the more frequently you make your accesses unto God with spiritual boldness, the more will your hearts be filled with a reverence of God continually. And the more frequently you make your approaches unto God in outward duties without this holy and humble reverence, whatever your gifts be, reverence of God will decay. What poor, slight, withering things, have I seen some men grow to be, under a fair outward conversation, and multiplication of duties! And you may take this measure with you in all your duties; — if they increase a reverence of God, they are from grace; if they do not, they are from gifts, and no way sanctify the soul wherein they are.
(2.) It will support us under all our sufferings. The soul that is accustomed to this exercise of faith, will not be greatly moved in any of its sufferings. The Lord knows we are all moved and shaken, — and ready to be so, sometimes, very unhandsomely and unduly, — as the leaves of the forest; but it will keep us from being greatly moved. “I shall not be greatly moved,” saith the psalmist. And elsewhere it is enjoined, “Let them that suffer according to the will of God, commit the keeping of their souls to God, as unto a faithful Creator.” This will support you under all your sufferings. It is the very case and state in Ps. xxxi., from whence I have taken my principal testimony: “Have mercy upon me, O Lord, for I am in trouble: mine eye is consumed with grief, yea, my soul and my belly. For my life is spent with grief, and my years with sighing: my strength faileth because of mine iniquity, and my bones are consumed,” etc. “For I have heard the slander of many; fear was on every side: while they took counsel together against me, they devised to take away my life.” What course doth he then take in all these distresses, sufferings, and persecutions? Why, saith he, “I said, Thou art my God. My times are in thy hand.” He makes a resignation of himself to the sovereignty of God, and so was at peace.
I have showed you now how you may exercise this duty; and I do reckon myself to be near my account, and speak as one that is sensible of it. Would I could prevail with you to bring it more or less into actual exercise, before you give rest to your eyes, or slumber to your eyelids!
345Use 3. In the next place, who are they that do or can perform this duty as they ought, to live in this exercise of faith?
I am certain that they do not do so who live as if they were to live here for ever. But this is an evident proof of that distemper and confusion which is come upon the mind and soul of man. Truly, if a man of sobriety and reputation did come to such kind of men, who live in their sensuality and wickedness, as the world is full of them, and tell them, “Sirs! what do you do? I am persuaded that there is a death to come, and an eternal state of blessedness or woe near approaching: the way wherein you are will certainly engulf you in eternal destruction;” they would say to him, “This is your opinion.” Yet one would think a wise man should prevail with them to do something according to his opinion. But it is not so. They have convictions in their minds they must die; they will not only say it is mine or your opinion, but they themselves are convinced of a future state, and profess it. But will they do any thing from an influence of this conviction? Nothing at all; no more than if they were brute beasts. These are not able to come to the exercise of their duty.
Nor those who walk at all peradventure. They know they must die; but they are apt to think they have other things to do before they die, and it will be time enough hereafter, at one season or another, to be preparing to die. The apostle did “die daily” indeed; but they have something else to do. When death knocks at their neighbour’s door, and they hear such a one is dead, and it comes to their own families, and takes away this or that person, then they have some thoughts for a little while; but they quickly wear off, and they return to their common frame of spirit again. “ ‘Yet a little more slumber, a little more sleep, a little more folding of the hands to sleep;’ — a little more secure converse in the world, attending unto our affairs.” But death will come as an armed man, and they shall not be able to escape.
There are, therefore, two things required of every one that would be found in the exercise of this duty:—
(1.) That he lay the foundation of it in some comfortable persuasion of an interest in Christ; which alone will enable him to die safely: and having obtained that, he may labour after that which will enable him to die comfortably and cheerfully. Some men die safely; but, upon many considerations not now to be mentioned, they do not appear to die comfortably. And some men die very comfortably, to all outward appearance, that do not die safely. This, therefore, is necessary, that there be this foundation laid, — some comfortable persuasion of our interest in Christ, that we may die safely; or else it is to no purpose to expect to die comfortably.
(2.) Many think a few words at last will do it, and there is an 346end; but let me assure you, not only upon principles of Scripture truth, but of nature, there is no man can do it that hath not a view into the glory of spiritual and eternal things, outbalancing all his soul parts withal in this world. I hear men willing to die, and I find others do; but it is to go contrary to the principles of nature. No man under heaven (it implies a contradiction) can part with that which appears good to him, unless it be upon motives of a greater good. He must part with it; but he cannot willingly and cheerfully part with it. If you would be thus able willingly and cheerfully to resign a departing soul unto God, labour to have a view of those better things which are infinitely more great and glorious, which your souls shall come to the enjoyment of upon this departure.
The calls of God are great upon us, both public and private, and special to this congregation. God expects a special compliance with his calls from us; or else we shall yet be exercised with farther tokens of his displeasure.
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