the grave.

pleasing hopes of living. They are not alarmed, like the aged, at the shortness of life ; nor, like the young, at desolating judgments and contagious diseases. No fatal disorders, or accidents, or calamities, which fall upon those around them, destroy, but rather corroborate their hopes of long life. Now this fond hope of living, naturally creates an aversion to dying. Those who'have the highest hopes and expectations of living have the greatest reluctance to leaving the world, in which they wish to live. Whatever the hope of the living be founded upon, whether the prospect of getting or of doing good, that hope must render death a dreaded event. And since those in the morning and meridian of life commonly and habitually cherish the most sensible hopes of living, they are, generally, of all persons the most unwilling to bury their earthly prospects in

2. Those in the midst of their days often wish to do a great deal more good in the world before they die. This was undoubtedly the desire and design of David. As he had defeated the army of the Philistines, and put an end to a dangerous war, while he was but a stripling; so he still desired to serve God and his generation much longer in this world. He was now seated on the throne of Israel, and had an opportunity, if his life was spared, to promote the best interests of a large kingdom. This made him deprecate, like Hezekiah, the cutting off of his life in the midst of his days. Paul was in a strait betwixt two, having a desire both to live and to die. If he had had only a desire to die, he would not have been in any strait betwixt two. But he had a desire to live, as well as to die; and his desire to live arose entirely from his desire to do more good. This desire to do good arises to the highest degree of ardor and vigor in the breasts of good men in the midst of their days, when they have the most clear and extensive view of things, and feel the most capable of promoting the glory of God and the good of mankind. And the desire of doing good creates a desire of living, and a reluctance to dying an early and premature death. Some pious persons in the decline of life express a willingness to die, because they have, in their own apprehension, if not in the view of others, nearly or wholly outlived their usefulness. And when this is the case, it is a good reason why they should be more willing to be dismissed from the cares, the labors, and burdens of life, and have liberty to rest in their graves. While, on the other hand, pious young men are in a measure unconscious of their abilities to do good, when they shall arrive at the meridian of life. They have neither tried their abilities, nor extended their views, nor raised their expectations of doing much good in the world ; and VOL. III.


therefore can be more easily reconciled to being taken away while they have hardly begun to be extensively useful. But while the pious and benevolent are in the midst of their days and usefulness, their feelings are different in respect to dying. The prospect of living, and the desire of doing more good to their fellow men, make them more unwilling to be taken away in the midst of their days. Nature and grace unite in giving them a peculiar reluctance to leaving the stage of action, before they have gratified their benevolent feelings.

3. Those in the meridian of life very often wish, not only to do more good, but to get more good in the world before they die. Mankind generally have the most promising prospects of worldly prosperity in the midst of their days. When we read the history of both the good and bad kings of Israel, we find them at the zenith of their earthly glory in the middle of their lives. This was the case of David and Solomon, the morning and evening of whose lives were dark and gloomy. This was the case of Pompey, Cæsar, Cicero, and most of the illustrious Romans. And this is commonly the case of men in all ranks and stations in life. Few arrive to the height of their prosperity, till they have reached the best part of their days. So long as men are rising in wealth, in reputation and power, their prospects are brightening, and their desires of life are increasing; and these prospects often continue until the decline of life, but seldom any longer. It is, therefore, in this fascinating season, that they most sensibly dread the approach of death, which must necessarily lay all their promising hopes and prospects in the dust. Very few experimentally learn the vanity of the

. world, until it has painfully disappointed them. It is in the midst of their days and at the height of their prosperity, that they are disposed to form the most undue estimate of earthly happiness; and, of course, it is then they feel the greatest reluctance to being deprived of it by the stroke of death. This is one reason why those in the midst of their days are the most unwilling to die.

4. Those in the meridian of life are the most intimately and extensively connected with their fellow men. These connections are the principal source of human happiness in the present life, and render it the most pleasant and agreeable. The circle of friends, relatives and acquaintance commonly expands wider and wider, until mankind arrive at the meridian of life; and then they diminish, till the aged are left almost alone in the midst of a new world of strangers. There is nothing, perhaps, in the present state, which so sensibly endears life, and so strongly draws the affections to it, as the tender ties which unite the hearts and interests of individuals to each


other. These tender ties are often broken one after another before the aged are taken away, which frequently renders death more desirable than life. But the case is far otherwise with those who are in the midst of their days. They are frequently surrounded by rising and numerous families, connected with a large circle of warm and affectionate friends, and deeply interested in the affairs and concerns of life. It is in this period, that the views of men are enlarged, their relative duties are increased, and their public influence widely extended. The cares not only of a family, but of a smaller or larger community, are devolved upon them; and they feel deeply interested in the prosperity of both church and state. These circumstances, which seem more peculiar to those in the midst of life, all conspire to create a reluctance to leaving their friends and connections, whose welfare lies so near their hearts. How often do these considerations cause pious parents, dutiful children, affectionate friends, faithful ministers and useful men, to regret being taken away in the midst of their days, and separated from those whom they hold most dear and valuable in life!

5. Those in the meridian of life are often very unwilling to leave the world, because they have not accomplished the designs they have formed, nor obtained the purposes which they have long pursued. The young form very few important designs, and the aged have nearly accomplished theirs. In the decline of life, men commonly lose their enterprising spirit, and endeavor to draw all their purposes into a narrower compass, and rest satisfied with their present attainments. But those in the prime and vigor of their days, expand their desires like the waves of the sea, and exert all their mental powers to lay new plans, to obtain new objects, and to put forth new exertions to accomplish their wishes. They look a great way forward, and form designs which must take years to carry into effect. Their hearts are bound up in their darling designs and pursuits. They ardently desire to live to accomplish their purposes, which must be entirely defeated if death should arrest them in their course.

This Job lamented in the days of his bereavement and distress. He said, "My days are past, my purposes are broken off, even the thoughts of my heart.” How many have left their farms uncultivated, their houses unfinished, their merchandise involved, their literary works uncompleted, and their families and friends unprovided for, by being called away in the midst of their days! Death, in such instances, falls upon men in an evil time. And where do we find any in this stage of life, who are not engaged in some worldly design or pursuit; and who would not feel reluctant to leave their designs unaccomplished, and the objects of their pursuit unattained? The middle-aged are generally too busy to be willing to die, and too much attached to the world to be willing to leave it. Besides,

6. Those in the midst of their days are more unwilling to die than others, because they are more unfit. This is commonly the case, whether they are saints or sinners. When saints are the most involved in the cares and concerns of the world, they are then the most unfit to leave it, and generally feel so. They find that they have not set their souls and houses in order, so as to be practically prepared to leave this, for another world. It is generally in the midst of their days, that good men sensibly and visibly decline in religion. When they are young, they are all awake and alive to divine things; but the cares and love of the world, as they advance towards the meridian of life, very often cool their religious fervor, damp their religious hopes, weaken their religious exertions, and diminish their religious enjoyments. They feel a greater attachment to temporal, and a less attachment to spiritual and divine objects. They are more unfit and more unwilling to die, than they were in their earlier days. And in respect to sinners, they find their worldly views and affections grow stronger and stronger, as they approach nearer to the meridian of life. The careless become careful, the idle become industrious, the industrious become more and more laborious, and the enterprising become more ardent and indefatigable in their worldly pursuits. Their hearts become more and more wedded to the world. We find that the meridian of life is often very different from the beginning and close of it, both in good and bad men.

Christians frequently brighten up in the decline of life, who had been cold and lifeless in the days of their vigor and prosperity. And on the other side, those who had been stupid sinners in their early days, sometimes become more serious and disposed to think about death and eternity, in the decline of life. But while saints or sinners are in the midst of their days, and borne forward by the wind and tide of prosperity, they are generally indisposed to think much about death, and still more averse to meeting it. Thus there are many things which serve to make those in the midst of their days more unwilling than others to die. Yet,

II. God does take away some in this period of life. It is true, indeed, he more seldom takes away the middle-aged, than either those who have not reached, or those who have passed the meridian of life. Much the largest portion of the human race die before they have arrived at thirty years of age, and the next largest portion die after they have arrived at fifty. between these two periods, the smallest number of mankind go off the stage of action and return to dust. This may be owing


to both natural and moral causes. In the meridian of life, as we have observed, the bodily constitution is generally the most firm and robust, and least exposed to fatal accidents and disorders. The moral cause may be, that God has the most occasion for the exertion of mankind, while they are in the vigor of their mental and corporeal powers and faculties. He employs human agents in carrying on most of his providential designs. He has occasion for strong men, bold men, wise men, and enterprising men, to carry into execution his wise and holy purposes. And for this reason, among others, he preserves such men in particular from the stroke of death, until they have done the work which he has for them to do, in the present state of the world. And sometimes their very reluctance to dying may be a motive, with a merciful God, to spare their lives, and allow them a longer space for trial. It seems that David's desire and prayer in the text was heard and answered. So was that of Hezekiah in a similar case. He who regards the young ravens when they cry, may regard the cries of both his friends and enemies, when they plead for sparing mercy. But still, God does take away some, notwithstanding all their desires and prayers for the continuance of life. He has done this in ten thousand instances in times past; and he has not restrained himself from doing it in time to come, by any promise or encouragement he has given to the middle-aged. He has reserved their lives, as well as the lives of others, in his own power. Though they may resolve to go to their farms, or merchandise ; though they may lay schemes to do good, or to do evil; yet they know not what shall be on the morrow, for their life, like a vapor, may vanish in a moment, and death disappoint all their purposes, desires, and hopes. God may see good reasons for cutting off their lives in the midst of their days. Their calculating upon life, putting far away the evil day, and crying peace and safety, may be a reason in the divine mind for shortening their days, and blasting their hopes and purposes. God may know that they have determined to live to themselves, instead of living to him and seeking his glory, which ought to be their supreme desire and design of living. But when there is no reason for taking away the middle-aged on their own account, there may be reasons on account of others, who may receive great and lasting benefit from their death in the midst of their days. The death of the middle-aged is uncommonly alarming and instructive; and therefore such may be taken away for the saving good of the living, especially of those in the same stage of life. For these, or some such reasons, God does cut down some of the tall, flourishing and fruitful trees in his garden. God took away lovely Jonathan and pious Josiah

[ocr errors]
« VorigeDoorgaan »