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And I saw the dead, small and great, stand before God; and the books were opened and the dead were judged out of those things which were written in the books, according to their works*.”_
Ah! then, my fellow-christians! how many thousand thousand secrets shall be laid open before an assembled universe! Then, and not till then, shall we thoroughly see and understand the sum and scope of God's eternal plan, without those intricacies wherein it is now involved! Then shall the account between virtue and vice be finally stated and balanced! Then shall hypocrisy be obliged to lay down its mask, oppression his rod, dominion his sceptre; and all to appear naked and on a level, at the bar of the Almighty, to give an account of their stewardship, each for himself, and none by another!
Then shall it be seen how every one of us has used the gifts committed to us in our several spheres. Then shall it be known for what end wealth, or power, or great talents were variously bestowed. If the former was our portion, it will be known, whether we hoarded it up with a mere sordid view of self enjoy. ment? Whether we suffered it to draw off our atten. tion from things celestial, to extinguish the social an: public affections; and to debase us into a literal affinity with the beasts that perish? or whether, if we did bestow any thing out of our abundance, it was done with a spirit of ostentation to be seen of men; or done, in the true Gospel-sense, to feed the hungry and cloath the naked, after answering all the domestic charities of father, son and brother, and the sacred calls of the community, which includes the whole.
• Rev. xx. 11, 12.
Again, if power and government fell to our share, it will be known-Whether we bartered our favours away for vile gain? whether we were open to the allurements of vice, the blandishments of flattery, and the intoxications of party? or whether we made usc of our influence to support justice, to protect innocence, to encourage virtue, and to reward humble mcrit?
If wisdom and great talents were bestowed upon us, it will be known-Whether, with a noble disinterestedness of soul, unawed by power and unbribed by wealth, we have stedfastly exerted these divine gifts for the illumination of mankind, for the advancement of God's glory, for the propagation of civil liberty, and for the support of whatever else is valuable in society?
Then, at length, it shall be known-from what secret motives the labours of the reputed patriot took their rise? Whether the loud declaimer in senates and public assemblies sought his own glory or the glory of the public? Whether his many laboured and popular harangues have flowed from partiality to his friends, opposition to his enemies, or peradventure from both? Whether they were calculated in good carnest to reluminate the dying spirit of virtue and freedom; or to raise himself, on the wings of a temporary fame, to the summit of earthly power?
Then too it shall be known-Whether he that ministrech at the altar, ministred for himself, or for his Lord and master? Whether he was more anxious for the reformation of mankind, or to appear and sparkle, for a moment, in the public eye? Whether
the spirit of the Gospel, entered always into the spirit of preaching? Whether the fierce zeal, often shewn for particular points, was a zeal according to knowledge? Whether it hath tended more to instruct or to distract the world? Whether the divisions, separations and contentions among Christians, have been made leisurely and upon cool reflection? Whether pride, passion, resentment and wilful narrowness of mind, had any share in forming them?
These things, and ten thousand more, which it would be impossible to recount, will be known at that day; in which there is nothing now hid that shall not be made manifest!
Happy the man, then, and thrice happy he, who, anticipating this tremendous scene, can give an account of his stewardship to his own conscience! Happy the man in public life, who shall be able in that awful day to appeal to his past conduct, and say,—“ Whose ox have I taken? Whom have I de. frauded? Whom have I oppressed? Or of whose hand have I received any bribe to blind mine eyes there. with? Even the Lord (my judge himself) is witness this day that ye have not found ought in my hand*!”
Happy too the minister of God's word, who can call his people to witness for him in that day, and say, in the words of the blessed apostle Paul,—“ I take you to record that I am pure from the blood of all men; for I have not shunned to declare to you all the council of God; and I have kept back nothing that was profitable to you; but have shewn you and taught you publicly from house to house; taking
• 1 Sam. xii, 3–5.
heed to the flock over which the Holy Ghost hath made me overseer; feeding the church of God which he hath purchased with his own blood*.”
Such being the case, then, my brethren; and since as the tree falleth, there it will lie; since as death leaves us, judgment will find us; what an aw. ful and important moment must the moment of our dying be? It is like entering, through a dark portal, into the great mansion-house where we must render up our stewardship. Having once passed the threshold, there is no way for retreat left; no way to alter or amend one jot of our account; for “there is nei. ther work nor device in the gravet."
No wonder, then, that to die, should be reckoned a thing exceeding solemn! A day of accounts, and the vast ocean of eternity before us:---Oh, how the soul shudders on the brink, and fain, very fain, would cleave to this evanescent speck of earth, loth to quit her hold, till the God of grace comes with his divine consolations, and cheers the recoiling spirits!
And this leads me, in the third place, to observe, that our only hope in the hour of death, is to be de. rived from the Gospel-prospects and promises.
Before the Christian Revelation was made known, the death of the best of men was only a leap into the dark; a wrench from the precincts of day, and a sorrowful parting with all that they placed their hopes upon. The wisdom of the world could even go but a little way in teaching men how to live, but when it came to lay down lessons how to die, it was found to be perfect foolishness. It gave them no solid assur.
ance of a future state, the remission of sins, and a glorious reward for the just. After all the arguments that unassisted reason and philosophy could bring, the fears of having the body laid down in the clay tomb, and the thoughts of dreary annihilation, startled and astonished the soul on the one hand-or, on the other, if there were any more enlightened, who believed, or rather hoped, the body's resurrection, and the soul's continuance after death, they were still at a loss how to regain the favour of their offended gods. In short, all was doubt and distraction and despair* among them, at that last period, when it behoves the soul to be left easy, tranquil and recollected.
But how different is the matter under the Gospel of Christ! We are there taught, that what we falsely call the hour of our death, is but the hour of our birth to life eternal. We there learn the true meaning of these ancient expressions-“I will ransom them from the power of the grave I will redeem them from death; O Death, I will be thy plaguesGrave, I will be thy destructiont.”
The Gospel lifts our eye to immortal scenes. It shews us a reconciled God, and Jesus the Mediator seated at his right hand. It teaches us a method by which the account of our stewardship may be settled even in this life; by which our sins may be blotted out of the registry of Heaven, even though they be written with a pen of iron, and graven with the point of a diamond.
• " The great, th' unbounded prospect lay before them,
“ But clouds and darkness hung upon it." ADDISOX. 1 Hosca, xiii, 10.