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That which I have been treating upon from these words is, to declare the ways and duties whereby a believer may come to die, not only safely, which all believers shall, but also cheerfully and comfortably, — so as to have a free and abundant entrance into the kingdom of God in glory.
I have spoken but to one thing; which is, the exercise of faith in the resignation of a departing soul entering into the invisible world into the sovereign hand and pleasure of God, to be disposed of according to the tenor of the everlasting covenant.
There are two things yet remaining necessary to the same end, — at least I find them so; which, if God will, I shall despatch at this time.
II. There is required, unto this great end, a readiness and willingness to part with this body which we carry about us, and to lay it down in the dust. The soul’s natural aversation to let go this body, is that which we call an unwillingness to die; that hath made some say, like him of old, “Mori nolo,” etc., — “I can be content to be dead, but I would not die.”
There are two reasons why the soul hath a natural unwillingness to part with the body:—
1. Because it is, and hath been ever since it had a being, the only instrument of all the operations and actings of its faculties and powers. 347The whole privilege of a being consists in its powers and acts. Now, from the first moment of its being, the soul hath had no instrument to act by but the body; and that not only in the outward actions that the body performs, but in all its internal, rational actings, it cannot act without the instrumentality of the body. Therefore we know a hurt in the body, as oftentimes in the head, hath utterly deprived the soul of the exercise of all its powers and faculties during life. It cannot act rational, internal actings but by the body, and how it can act without the body it knows not. This hath ingrafted a natural unwillingness in the soul to let go the body, whereby, from the first instant of its being, it hath constantly acted. This is but one reason of it; there is yet a greater.
2. The other reason is, that strict, near, unparalleled union and relation between the soul and the body. There is a near union between parents and children, a nearer between husband and wife; but they are nothing to this union between the soul and body. There is an ineffable, inconceivable union between the two natures, the divine and the human, in the person of the Son of God; but this union was eternally indissoluble from the first moment of it: when the body and soul of Christ were separated, yet they continued in their union with the person of the Son of God as much as before, or as now in heaven. But here is a union that is dissoluble between a heavenly spirit and an earthly, sensual body; that is, two essential parts of the same nature. Pray give me leave to speak a little to it. I have considered what it is to die, and examined whence ariseth the difficulty. Now, I say it ariseth from this peculiar constitution of our nature; there being no such thing in all the works of God, in heaven above, or in the earth beneath. The angels are pure, immaterial spirits; they have nothing in them that can die. God can annihilate an angel, — he that made all things out of nothing, can bring all things into nothing; but an angel cannot die, from the principles of his own constitution; — there is nothing in him that can die. A brute creature hath nothing in it that can live when death comes. “The spirit of a beast” Solomon speaks of as that which “goeth downward.” It is not the object of almighty power to preserve it, because it is nothing but the act of the body in its temperature and constitution. But now man is “medium participationis;” — he hath an angelical nature from above that cannot die, and a nature from beneath that cannot always live, since the entrance of sin, though it might have done so before. And therefore, in the product of man there was a double act of creation, and but a single act in any other creature’s. The creation of angels is not mentioned, unless in that, “Let there be light, and there was light;” but in all other things there was but one single act for its production. But when God came to make man, 348there were two distinct acts of creation. “God made man of the dust of the earth.” And what then? “And breathed into him the spirit of life.” Here is something that is not in all God’s creation beside. And now, upon this dissolution, all the actings of this nature, as it was one person, must cease unto the day of the resurrection. A wonderful change it is, that there shall be no more acting of the entire nature of man until the resurrection; only one part of this nature continues to act itself, according to its own powers. And one end of God’s work upon us in the grave is, to free our bodies from all alliance, and relation, and likeness unto the bodies of beasts. So our Saviour tells us, Luke xx. “Do not mistake,” saith he, “ ‘you shall neither marry nor give in marriage,’ nor have any one action common to brutes; but the whole man shall be ἱσάγγελοι, — ‘like unto the angels.’ ” This is the great privilege of our nature, as the wise man declares, Eccles. iii. 19, where he answers the objection of an epicure: “That which befalleth the sons of men befalleth beasts; even one thing befalleth them: as the one dieth, so dieth the other; yea, they have all one breath; so that a man hath no pre-eminence above a beast: all go unto one place; all are of the dust, and all turn to dust again.” “As far as I can see it is so,” saith the man. But what saith the wise man? “Who knoweth the spirit of man that goeth upward, and the spirit of the beast that goeth downward to the earth?” “Alas! you are mistaken: the difference doth not lie in this outward nature, wherein man and beast have a near alliance one to another; but in the spiritual, heavenly nature, that is from above; — and unless you know that, you will think all are as beasts indeed.” This, then, is the foundation of the unalterable aversation in the mind and soul to part with the body, — this strange constitution of our nature, which has nothing like it in the whole work of God, nothing to give us any representation of it, but it is peculiar unto us. And then this dissolution is but once to be made. They observe of the old heroes, who would freely venture their lives, and cast them away in any great attempt, that when they came to die, when they had killed themselves, or were killed by others, their souls went away with groaning and indignation: they knew not how to bear the dissolution of the union.
And therefore this is in us all, brethren; it is our first desire, which we have upon a prospect that we cannot continue here, “to be clothed upon;’ and, as the apostle says, “that mortality may be swallowed up of life,” — that the body and soul together may go into immortality and glory. But this is not God’s way; this is that he will bring us to, — that we be ready and willing to part with these bodies of ours, not withstanding this union, or we cannot die cheerfully and comfortably.
349Upon what grounds, then, can a man be ready and willing to lay down his tabernacle in the dust?
I shall fix upon two reasons, both given us by the same apostle:—
(1.) The first is that which he gives us, Phil. i. 23, “Having a desire to depart, and to be with Christ.” Ἐπιθυμίαν ἔχω, “I have a strong bent and inclination of spirit.” The word is that which in Scripture is used for “lust” and “concupiscence;” that is, always working with strong bent and inclination. “It is not a desire that sometimes befalls me, now and then, when in trouble, sickness, or pain; but I have an habitual, constant inclination.” Unto what? Ἀναλῦσαι, “to depart,” to leave this body. “It is usually translated in the passive; “I have a desire to be dissolved.” But the plain meaning of the word is this, “I do desire that the contexture of my nature may be reduced unto its distinct principles, — may be analyzed.” Now, analysis is the reducing of a speech from the present contexture into its proper, distinct principles. Then, here lies the difficulty. I told you the soul hath an aversation to this dissolution; and yet the apostle saith, “I have a continual, strong inclination to it.” To what? Pray observe it, — “To be with Christ.” I have no inclination to be dissolved as the end, but only as the means for another end, that without it I cannot be with Christ. There is my end. And so far with respect unto that end, that which is in itself no object of inclination becomes an object of desire. Brethren, I know no man dies willingly, — no man living can have an habitual inclination to close cheerfully with this dissolution, — but by looking upon it as a means to come to the enjoyment of Christ. I tell you, your bodies are better to you than all the world, than all your goods, or any thing else; but Christ is better to the soul than any thing: and therefore, unless it be for the enjoyment of Christ, let men pretend what they will, there is no man willing to part with the body, — to be dissolved. Grow in that desire of coming to Christ, and you will conquer the unwillingness of death.
(2.) The second reason is given us, Rom. viii. 10, “The body is dead because of sin; but the Spirit is life because of righteousness.” The body is not only doomed to death by reason of original sin, as death entered upon all on that account; but the body must be brought to death, that sin may be rooted out of it. Sin hath taken such a close, inseparable habitation in the body, that nothing but the death of the body can make a separation. The body must be dead because of sin. Saith the sincere soul, “God knows that I have a thousand times attempted a thorough and absolute mortification of every sin, and God hath helped me to endeavour that it should abide no more in me. I have sometimes thought myself near an attainment, but I have found a disappointment; and I am perfectly satisfied in it, that 350as long as I have this body I shall never be without sin: it must be dead by reason of sin, or the fibres and roots of it will never be plucked up, — the nature of it can never be extinguished, — it can never be separated utterly from it.” Here lies the great mystery of the grave under the covenant of grace, and by virtue of the death of Christ. What is it? worms and corruption? No; it is God’s fining-pot, his way to purify: and there is no other way to make an eternal separation between sin and the body but by consuming of it in the grave. A secret virtue shall issue out from the death of Christ unto the body of a believer laid in the grave, that shall eternally purify it, at its resurrection, from every thing of sin. I will not say what apprehensions some have had concerning the state of souls upon the consumption of the body in the grave; because I will speak nothing unto you that is questionable.
This, then, is the second reason, — that all other attempts to eradicate sin have failed, and not had their issue; they have brought me to be ashamed of myself, in the forwardness, darkness, and unbelief of my nature; I will therefore be willing to part with my body. Such a one, then, will say, “This is that which God calls me unto. Go, then, thou poor, mortal, sinful flesh, ‘Dust thou art, and unto dust thou shalt return.’ I give thee up unto the doom of the Holy One, whose mouth hath spoken it, that thou must return to the dust. And there he will refine thee, and purify thee; [so] that notwithstanding this departure, ‘my glory shall rejoice,’ and thou, ‘my flesh, shalt rest in hope;’ for the time will come when ‘he will have a desire to the work of his hands;’ and ‘will call, and thou shalt answer him’ out of the dust;” — as Job xiv. 15, “Be not afraid to enter into darkness: as there is no sting in death, so there is no darkness in the grave, whither thou art going. It is but lying so long in the hands of the great Refiner, who will purge, purify, and restore thee. Therefore, lie down in the dust in peace.”390390 There is a similar strain of exhortation and reasoning, in which Christian faith and hope shine triumphant over the fears natural to all men in the prospect of dissolution, in the author’s preface to his “Meditations on the Glory of Christ,” vol. i., p. 280. The reader will find the paragraph to which this note is appended on p. 283, wrought up and refined, with the author’s last touch and corrections, into a high degree of Christian eloquence. — Ed.
This is the second thing that is required in men that would die with their eyes open, that would die cheerfully and comfortably, according to the will of God, — to be willing to leave the body to God’s disposal, to be laid up in the dust; because thereby it shall come to see Christ, and likewise shall have an end of sin.
I shall name but one thing more, and that very briefly; but it is the great thing that I would give in charge to my own soul: I pray God help me so to do; and it is this:—
351III. Let us take heed of being surprised with death.
This is that peculiar wisdom which God calls us all unto at this day. We know not how soon we may be called upon by death. It may not come in an ordinary course, by long sickness, and give us warning; nor when we have lived to the age of a man, which is “threescore years and ten,” as the psalmist speaks; but we may be surprised with it when we look not for it. He that hath not learned it for himself from the dealings of God at this present in the world, and in this congregation, will not believe it if one should come from the dead and tell him so. Let this, then, be fixed upon our minds, that whatsoever be our state and condition, some are strong, young, and healthy, and some of us are old and feeble, going out of the world; but there are none of us but may be surprised with it. Take heed, therefore, that you be not surprised in an ill frame. I hope there are none of you but do understand that there is great variety in the frames of believers; sometimes they are in a good frame, — grace is active and quick, — they are ready to take impressions by the word and warnings, delighting in holy thoughts; and sometimes, again, it may be the world, temptations, or self-love, comes in, or over-valuation of our relations, and indisposes them again, and they are very unfit and lifeless for the performance of duties with delight and vigour of spirit; and these they lose, though they keep up to all their duties. I persuade myself you will confirm this with your own experience. There is no maintaining (though there may be impressions) of a quick, holy, lively frame, but by a sedulous contemplation and constant view of things that are above. Many will tell you, that when God hath been pleased to keep up their minds unto the thoughts of things above, and draw out their affections to cleave unto them, all things have gone well with them, — every prayer had life in it, and every sermon and duty, pleasure and joy; and their hearts have lain down and arisen in peace. But when they have lost their view of spiritual things, all other things continue, but there is a kind of deadness upon them. Why, then, our wisdom in this case is, to labour to keep up this spiritual view of eternal things, in a holy contemplation of and cleaving to them in our affections, or death will be surprising; come when it will, you will be surprised by it. But if this be our frame, what comes this messenger for? Death is a messenger sent of God; he knocks at the door, and what comes he for? To perfect the frame you are in, that you may see heavenly things more clearly. He is come to free you from that deadness you are burdened withal, that darkness you are entangled with, and to set you at perfect liberty in the enjoyment of those things your souls cleave unto. How, then, can your souls but bid this messenger welcome? Pray, then, that God would keep up your souls, by fresh supplies of his Spirit, unto a 352constant view of heavenly things. And you must do it by prayer, that God would give you fresh oil, to increase light in your minds and understandings. Some can tell you by experience, that, having made it their business with all their strength and study to live in that frame, they have found their own light decay, so that it would not be so fixed and constant towards heavenly things, nor so affect the heart as it had done before. Their light would work no more, until fresh supplies from the Holy Ghost gave quickness to it, and fresh oil to increase, to discern the beauty of spiritual and heavenly things. In plain terms, I speak to dying men, that know not how soon they may die. God advise my own heart of this thing, that I should labour and watch, that death might not find me out of the view of spiritual things! If it do, — if our bellies cleave unto the dust, and our eyes are turned to the ground, — if we are filled with other things, and death approaches, — do you think it will be an easy thing to gather in your minds and affections to a compliance with it? You will not find it so. When David was in a good frame, he could say, “Thou hast redeemed me, O Lord God of truth: O Lord, into thine hand I commit my spirit;” — “I am willing to come and lay down my tabernacle, and embrace this messenger. But David falls from his good frame, under some decays of spirit, Ps. xxxix., and there makes great complaint of it. Where is the readiness now of the good man, and where is his willingness of giving up his spirit into the hand of God? “Spare me a little, that I may recover my strength,” verse 13. Not his outward strength, but a better frame, fit to die in. And if death overtake us in such a frame, the best of us will be found to cry so: “O spare me a little, to recover my strength.” — “O the entanglements that have been brought upon me by this and that temptation, and diversion; by this coldness and decay! O Lord, spare me a little.” There is mercy with God for persons in this frame; but if it were the will of God, I had rather it should be, “Lord, into thy hands I commend my spirit; for thou hast redeemed me, O Lord God of truth.”
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