And Moses called unto Joshua, and said unto him in the sight of all Israel, Be strong, and of a good courage: for thou must go with this people unto the land which the Lord hath sworn unto their fathers to give them; and thou shalt cause them to inherit it. And the Lord, he it is that doth go before thee, he will be with thee; he will not fail thee, neither forsake thee: fear not, neither be dismayed.-DEur. xxxi. 7, 8.

Is it not a presumption and a presentiment of immortality, that men naturally feel, design and act as if they were immortal? In life we are in the midst of death; but it is equally true, that in the very jaws of death, we live; and fondly dream of living longer. Let the fatal moment come when it will, it comes to break into some scheme we hoped to execute, to interrupt some work we had begun, to disappoint some purpose we had adopted. The warnings of dissolution which are sent to others, we seem to understand and feel better than those which are addressed to our. selves. One man is under sentence of condemnation, another labours under an incurable disease; one is daily exposing his life to jeopardy in the high places of the field, another putting the knife of intemperance to his


throat every hour: this man has completed his seventieth year, and his neighbour has lived to see his children's children of the third and fourth generation.

These are all symptoms equally mortal, but none takes the alarm to himself: every one is concerned for his neighbour's case, and flatters himself his own is not quite so desperate. The wretch condemned to death, soothes his soul to rest with the hope of a pardon, and laments the certain doom of his consumptive acquaintance: the declining man, with his foot in the grave, pities and prays for the unhappy creature who must suffer on Wednesday se'nnight. The soldier braves the death that is before his eyes in a thousand dreadful forms, in the presumption of victory; and the voluptuary thanks his kinder stars that he is likely to sleep in a sound skin. The man of seventy reckons upon fourscore; and ten years in prospect are a kind of eternity; and the grandsire amuses himself with the hope of seeing his grandchildren settled in the world. Thus the pleasing illusion goes on: and men are dead, indeed, before they had any apprehension of dying.

The thoughtless and impious insensibility with which many advance to their latter end, is not more mournful and distressing, than the steadiness and composure of piety and habitual preparation are pleasing and instructive. Blessed is the state of that man to whom life is not a burden, nor death a terror, who has "a desire to depart and to be with Christ," but is willing "to continue in the flesh," for the glory of God, and the good of men; who neither quits his station and duty in life in sullen discontent, nor cleaves to the enjoyments of this world, as one who has no hope beyond the grave.

But the cup of death, to the best of men, contains many bitter ingredients. Even to Moses it was far from being unmixed. To the natural horror of dying was superadded the sense of divine displeasure; a sense of death as a particular punishment. It disap

pointed a hope long and fondly indulged in, the hope of being himself, and of seeing Israel in possession of the promised and expected inheritance. And, what was the bitterness of death to such a spirit as his? Moses died in the persuasion, and a melancholy one it was, that the people on whom he had bestowed so much labour, whom he had cherished with such tender affection, whom he was so unremittingly anxious to conduct to wisdom, to virtue, and to happiness, would, after his death, swerve. from the right path, provoke God to become their enemy, and thereby bring down certain destruction upon their own heads. "I know thy rebellion, and thy stiff neck: behold, while I am yet alive with you this day, ye have been rebellious against the Lord; and how much more after my death? Gather unto me all the elders of your tribes, and your officers, that I may speak these words in their ears, and call heaven and earth to record against them. For I know that after my death ye will utterly corrupt yourselves, and turn aside from the way which I have commanded you; and evil will befal you in the latter days; because ye will do evil in the sight of the Lord, to provoke him to anger through the work of your hands," Deut. xxxi. 27-29.

It is pleasant to a dying father to entertain the sweet hope that the children of his care, of his love, will remember the lessons which he taught them, will follow out his views, will support the credit of his name, will instruct and bless the world by the example of their wisdom, their piety, their virtues, though he is not to be the happy spectator of it: but ah! more cruel than the pangs of dissolving nature, the dreadful conviction of approaching folly and disorder: the sad prospect of discord among brethren; of profligacy and licentiousness, no longer restrained by parental gravity and authority: a fair inheritance, and an honourable name ready to be dissipated by profusion, to be covered with shame, to be disfigured by vice, to be forfeited by

treason. It is sweet to a dying pastor to contemplate the success of his ministry, the extent of his usefulness; to cheer his fainting heart with the thought of having been made the humble instrument of bringing many souls unto God, many sons unto glory: and with the well-grounded belief that his doctrine shall survive him: that though dead he shall continue to speak and to instruct. Sweet the prospect of that day, when he shall present himself, and the joyful fruit of all his labours, to his father and God, saying, "Behold, I and the children whom the Lord hath given me, are for signs and for wonders in Israel from the Lord of hosts, which dwelleth in Mount Zion," Isa. viii. 18. It was this which caused the great " Author and Finisher of our faith" himself to rejoice in spirit, on the very eve of his departure out of the world. "Those that thou gavest me I have kept, and none of them is lost but the son of perdition; that the scripture might be fulfilled," John xvii. 12. But O how depressing to reflect, "I have laboured in vain, I have spent my strength for nought, and in vain," Isai. xlix. 4, to look back upon a ministry, not the "savour of life unto life, but of death unto death," and to look forward to the dreadful progress of degeneracy and corruption, from evil to worse, till "sin, being finished, bringeth forth death;" to look forward to the still more dreadful day of doom, and to the prospect of appearing as an accuser and a witness against the despisers of that gospel, which would have saved their souls from death.

The faithful servants of God are not all equally successful, and even a Moses has the mortification of knowing assuredly that all his pains and anxieties should prove ineffectual. The tide of corruption sometimes rushes down so impetuously, that no force can stem it; and Providence is often pleased to put honour upon the meaner and feebler instrument, that the glory may redound, not "to him that willeth, nor to him that runneth, but to God, who showeth

mercy." But every faithful minister, like Moses, has at least this consolation; "having kept nothing back, but declared the whole counsel of God, they have delivered their own souls;" they published the truth of God," whether men would hear or whether they would forbear;" and if they have not been so happy as to persuade, they have at least put to silence wicked and unreasonable men; if they have not prevailed to render them holy, they have at least rendered them inexcuseable; if they have been unable to subdue the pride of the creature, they have displayed the holiness and justice of the Creator.

We find Moses taking refuge in this, when the dearer, sweeter hope was at an end-the hope of being the fa voured, honoured minister of life and salvation. “I am fast approaching to the end of my career; I have already passed the limits which God has prescribed to the life of man. Six score of years are fled away and gone, and these hairs, whitened by time, labour and affliction, feelingly inform me that my last moment is at hand, that no more time remains but what is barely sufficient to give you a few parting admonitions, to breathe over you the blessing of a dying friend, and to bid you a long farewell. After a laborious, anxious and painful ministry of more than forty years; after being honoured of God to perforn before you eyes, and those of your fathers, a series of miracles, which shall be the astonishment and instruction of the whole world till time expire, I was looking for the compensation of all my troubles, the reward of all my labours, the accomplishment of all my wishes, in your sincere return to God, in your gratitude to your friend and deliverer, in your fidelity and obedience to God, and in the prosperity and happiness which must infallibly have flowed from them. The paternal solicitude I have felt, that ardent love which emboldened me, at the hazard of my own life, "to stand in the breach" "between you and a holy and jealous God, to turn away his

« VorigeDoorgaan »