tribute of our praise and thankfulness to God is due for those who have, in some degree, been of benefit to the world, either in a civil or religious capacity, and who may be truly said not to have “ lived to them“ selves but for their country–her rights, her laws, " and her liberties, religious and civil; and, there. “ fore, at whatever stage of life they have died, they “ have died unto the Lord”—They have died for us also, so far as we may improve their death to the great public and pious purposes, for which such holy so. lemnities, as the present, were first appointed, by the wisest nations. For

1st. They were appointed for the express purpose of commemorating the public virtues of the dead, nay even their crimes; for if they have been injurious to mankind, they may be held up to censure, with the great intent of leading mankind to imitate the former, and to abhor and shun the latter.

2dly. Such solemnities are intended to bring us into a proper familiarity with ourselves and our mortal condition; that we may be preparing for death, and enabled, through the grace offered us, to overcomc his terrors!

Upon each of these heads, I shall beg leave seriously to address you on the present occasion.

On the first head, I say that to shed a few tears over our deceased friends, and even to set apart some decent and proper part of our time as days of mourning, is not only agreeable to the voice of nature, and the earliest examples of venerable antiquity; but like. wise fully warranted by divine revelation itself.

" It is better, (says the wise man), to go to the “ house of mourning than to the house of feasting." A constant course of prosperity is apt to intoxicate us, and to make us forget either from whence we came, or whither we are going. It is often necessary that misfortune (or what we partially consider as such) should lay to her hand and check us in our wild career, either in depriving us of those we hold dear, or by other visitations. For thus shall we learn lessons which in our more prosperous moments wc should never regard; and while, in veneration of the illustrious dead, we are led to exchange the accustomed walks of pleasure for the house of mourning, and to bedew its sacred recesses with tears of gratitude to their memory-in these serious and enten. dered moments, we are feelingly alive to the charms of virtue and dictates of religion. We strive to cloath ourselves with the mantles of the dead; to copy their laudable examples, and to catch some portion of the divine spirit wherewith they were animated, as it remounts from earth to its native regions in Heaven!

It was not only the manner of the Egyptians and Greeks, the fathers of arts and sciences, and of the chief heathen and moral wisdom, to celebrate the names, but also to embalm the bodies, of their virtu. ous dead, that they might be long preserved in view as public examples to others, and although dead yet speaking. Nor is the private unceremonious man. mer which too much prevails among us in modern times, of huddling our dead into the ground, even without the appointed offices of the church, any good

[ocr errors]

symptom of our regard to them, or to the cause of religion and virtue. On the contrary, it looks as if our whole aim was to succeed, as quickly and quietly as possible, to their estates, their honours or places of employ, with but little regard to their memories, or any due sense of their former usefulness, or the lessons which their deaths should teach.

The hand of a dead man stroaking the part is said to be a cure for a certain unnatural swelling of the body, called the Tympany. But certain it is that the consideration of death is always one of the best cures for the unnatural swellings of the spirit, and of all pride and vain affections in men; since we see that whatever difference there may be among men or women in this world as to birth, education, wealth, honour, beauty, strength, character, and the likedeath levels all, and leaves all alike, as the unpitied victims of his sad devastations.

But I said that the sacred scriptures, as well as the ancient customs of nations, justified funeral rites and eulogies on the deadl.

When Joseph heard of the death of his venerable father Jacob, he hastened to the breathless clay; “fell

upon it, and wept over it, and kissed it, and com“ manded his physicians to embalm the body; and he " and all his brethren, and kinsfolks, with chariots “ and horsemen, a very great company, went up to “ bury him in his own burying ground, as far as the “ land of Canaan, and made a great and very sore " lamentation for their father seven days."*

So likewise, in the book of Ecclesiasticus, we find the following express command

Genesis, Chan. L.

My son, let tears fall over the dead, and begin to lament, as if thou hadst suffered great harm " thyself; and then cover his body according to the

custom, and neglect not his burial;” but“ weep

bitterly and make great moan, and use lamentation, " and that a day or two, lest thou be evil spoken of " and then comfort thyself under thy heaviness."

Here we have a full and exact account of funeral mournings, honours and solemnities, under the old Testament dispensation. In like manner, in the new Testament _" the devout men who carried Stephen to “ his burial, made great lamentation over him; and “ when Peter went to raise Dorcas from the dead

(who had been a woman full of good works and alms" deeds) the widows whom she had relieved in her “ life time, came round him weeping, and shewing " the coats and garments which she had made, while “ she was with them"-"nay, a greater than Peter, “ even Jesus CHRIST, groaned in spirit over Laza. "rus"--or rather, he shed tears of love and sympathy with the weeping relatives of the deceased, at the moment he was preparing to call him forth again from the dead. So far, concerning the duty of funeral solemnities. I come now more particularly

2dly. To speak of commemorating the virtues of the dead, for the example and benefit of the living. This is an advantage, as I said before, which in these days is seldom improved. For the righteous and the good are too often taken away, and no man layeth it to heart; or if they lay it to heart at all, it is perhaps to murmur or complain of the wise dis, pensations of Providence, and say with the wise man—“ All things have I seen in the days of my

vanity. There is a just man that perisheth in his righteousness; and there is a wicked man that

prolongeth his life in his wickedness.” This, indeed, considered by itself, would seem a hard dispensation; to behold the good, the wise, the virtuous, snatched

away in the prime of life, or the full meri. dian of their public usefulness, whilst the wicked, the idle and the useless, sometimes continue in the world to the utmost length of nature's span. This would seem inexplicable, if it were not for the consideration of the world to come, and what the prophet directly adds to alarm and awaken us; namely, that “ the righteous are taken away from the evil to come.” That is to say, the great and gracious God, when they have arrived to the fulness of honour and usefulness, in mercy takes them from all future danger of falling by temptation, or losing the glory they have acquired.

The ancient Christians, besides the solemnity of their funerals, were wont to meet at the graves of their martyrs and saints and holy meń, to recite the history of their sufferings and triumphs, and to bless God for their holy lives and happy deaths, offering up also their prayers for grace to follow their good example. And for this they seem to have had St. Paul's express authority, and especially respecting the preachers and teachers of the word of God. For he exhorts the Hebrews to“ remember them who had spoken unta * them the word of God, whose faith follow, consi. 4 dering the end of their conversation,"

« VorigeDoorgaan »