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ness and corruption ? At the touch of the divine rod, thy visionary horrors have fled. The spell is broken. The dawn of the celestial morning has dispelled thy dismal gloom ; and, instead of the habitations of dragons, appears the paradise of God.
But supposing both the regret of quitting life, and the dread of entering into a future state, to be overcome, there is still one circumstance which renders death formidable to many ; that is, the shock which natire is apprehending to sustain at the separation of the soul from the body. Formidable, I admit, this may justly render it to them whose lan, guishing spirits have no inward fund whence they can then draw relief. Firmness and strength of mind are peculiarly requisite for the support of nature in its last extremity; and that strength is supplied by religion. The testimony of a good conscience, and the remembrance of a virtuous life, a well-grounded trust in the divine acceptance, and a firm hope of future felicity, are principles sufficient to give composure and fortitude to the heart, even in the midst of agony. In what a high degree they can suspend or alleviate the feelings of pain, has been fully demonstrated, by the magnanimious behaviour of
such as have suffered death in the cause of conscience and religion. How often has the world beheld them advancing to meet that supposed king of terrors, not with calmness only, but with joy ; raised by divine prospects and hopes, into an entire neglect and contempt of bodily suffering ?
It is not without reason that a peculiar assistance from Heaven is looked for by good men at the hour of death. As they are taught to believe, that in all the emergencies of their life divine goodness has watched over them, they have ground to conclude, that at the last it will not forsake them ; but that, at the season when its aid is most needed, it shall be most liberally communicated. Accordingly, a persuasion so congruous to the benignity and compassion of the Father of mercies, has been the comfort of pious men in every age. My flesh and my heart faileth ; but God is the strength of my heart. In the valley of the shadow of death I will fear no evil, for thou art with me. When the rod and stuff of the Shepherd of Israel are held forth to his expiring servants, declining nature needs no other support. The secret inflnence of his reviving spirit is sụfficient for their consolation and strength, while the painful struggle with mortality lasts; till at length, when the nioment arrives, that the
silver chord must be loosed, and the golden bowl be broken, their Almighty Protector carries off the immortal spirit unhurt by the fall of its earthly tabernacle, and places it in a better mansion. How respectable and happy is such a conclusion of human life, when one in this manner quits the stage of time, honoured and supported with the presence of his Creator, and enjoying, till the last moment of reflection, the pleasing thought that he has not lived in vain! I have fought a good fight; I have finished my course ; I have kept the faith. Henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord the righteous Judge shall give me at that day. *
After the view which we have taken of the advantages possessed by good men for overcoming the fears of death, the first sentiment which should arise in our minds, is gratitude to Heaven for the hopes which we enjoy, by means of the Christian religion. How depressed and calamitous was the human condition, as long as the terror of death hung, like
dark cloud, over the inhabitants of the earth; when, after all the toils of life, the melancholy silence of the grave appeared finally to close the scene of existence; or, if a future state opened behind it, that state teemed with all those forms of horror which conscious guilt could suggest to a terrified imagination! The happiest change which ever took place in the circumstances of the human race, is that produced by the discoveries with which we are blessed, concerning the government of the universe, the redemption of the world, and the future destination of man. How much dignity is thereby added to the human character and state! What light and cheerfulness is introduced into our abode! What eternal praise is due to Him, who, according to his abundant mercy, hath begotten us again into à lively hope, by the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance incorruptible, undefiled, and that fadeth not away, reserved in heaven!
* 2 Tim. iv. 7, 8.
The next effect which the subject we have considered should produce, is an earnest desire to acquire those advantages which good men enjoy at their death. The road which leads to them is plain and obvious. A peaceful and happy death is, by the appointment of Heaven, connected with a holy and virtuous life. Let us renounce criminal pursuits and pleasures ; let us fear God, and keep bis
com andments; let us hold faith and a good cons ience, if we hope for comfort at our last hour. To prepare for this last hour every wise man should consider as his most important concern. Death may justly be held the test of life. Let a man have supported his character with esteem and applause, as long as he acted on the busy stage of the world, if at the end he sinks into dejection and terror, all his former honour is effaced; he departs under the imputation of either a guilty conscience or a pusillanimous mind. In the other parts of human conduct, disguise and subtlety may impose on the world; but seldom can artifice be supported in the hour of death. The mask most commonly falls off, and the genuine character appears. When we behold the scene of life closed with proper composure and dignity, we naturally infer integrity and fortitude. We are led to believe that divine assistance supports the soul, and we presage its transition into a happier mansion. Mark the perfect man, and behold the upright ; for the end of that man is peace.*
The last instruction, which our subject points out, respects the manner in which a
. Psalm xxxvii