and who had neither hopes nor fears, but of some near advantage, of some pressing danger.

But multitudes there must always be, and greater multitudes as arts and civility prevail, who cannot wholly withdraw their thoughts from death. All cannot be distracted with business, or stunned with the clamours of assemblies, or the shouts of armies. All cannot live in the perpetual dissipation of successive diversions, nor will all enslave their understandings to their senses, and seek felicity in the gross gratifications of appetite. Some must always keep their reason and their fancy in action, and seek either honour or pleasure from intellectual operations; and from them, others, more negligent or sluggish, will be in time fixed or awakened; knowledge will be perpetually diffused, and curiosity hourly enlarged.

But, when the faculties were once put in motion, when the mind had broken loose from the shackles of sense, and made excursions to remote consequences, the first consideration that would stop her course must be the incessant waste of life, the approach of age, and the certainty of death; the approach of that time, in which strength must fail, and pleasure fly away, and the certainty of that dissolution which shall put an end to all the prospects of this world. It is impossible to think, and not sometimes to think on death. Hope, indeed, has many powers of delusion; whatever is possible, however unlikely, it will teach us to promise ourselves; but death no man has escaped, and therefore no man can hope to escape it. From this dreadful expectation no shelter or refuge can be found. Whatever we see, forces it upon us; whatever is, new or old, flourishing, or declining, either directly, or by a very short deduction, leads man to the consideration of his end; and accordingly we find, that the fear of death has always been considered as the great enemy of human quiet, the polluter of the feast of happiness, and embitterer of the cup of joy. The young man who rejoiceth in his youth, amidst his musick and his gaiety, has always been disturbed with the thought that his youth will be quickly at an end.

The monarch, to whom it is said that he is a god, has always been reminded by his own heart, that he shall die like man.

This unwelcome conviction, which is thus continually pressed upon the mind, every art has been employed to oppose. The general remedy, in all ages, has been to chase it away from the present moment, and to gain a suspense of the pain that could not be cured. In the ancient writings, we, therefore, find the shortness of life frequently mentioned as an excitement to jollity and pleasure; and may plainly discover, that the authours had no other means of relieving that gloom with which the uncertainty of human life clouded their conceptions. Some of the philosophers, indeed, appear to have sought a nobler, and a more certain remedy, and to have endeavoured to overpower the force of death by arguments, and to dispel the gloom by the light of reason. They inquired into the nature of the soul of man, and shewed, at least probably, that it is a substance distinct from matter, and therefore independent on the body, and exempt from dissolution and corruption. The arguments, whether physical or moral, upon which they established this doctrine, it is not necessary to recount to a Christian audience, by whom it is believed upon more certain proofs, and higher authority; since, though they were such as might determine the calm mind of a philosopher, inquisitive only after truth, and uninfluenced by external objects; yet they were such as required leisure and capacity, not allowed in general to mankind; they were such as many could never understand, and of which, therefore, the efficacy and comfort were confined to a small number, without any benefit to the unenlightened multitude.

Such has been hitherto the nature of philosophical arguments, and such it must probably for ever remain; for, though, perhaps, the successive industry of the studious may increase the number, or advance the probability, of arguments; and though continual contemplation of matter will, I believe, shew it, at length, wholly incapable of mo

tion, sensation, or order, by any powers of its own, and therefore necessarily establish the immateriality, and, probably, the immortality of the soul; yet there never can be expected a time, in which the gross body of mankind can attend to such speculations, or can comprehend them; and, therefore, there never can be a time in which this knowledge can be taught in such a manner as to be generally conducive to virtue or happiness, but by a messenger from God, from the Creator of the world, and the Father of Spirits,

To persuade common and uninstructed minds to the belief of any fact, we may every day perceive, that the testimony of one man, whom they think worthy of credit, has more force than the arguments of a thousand reasoners, even when the arguments are such as they may be imagined completely qualified to comprehend. Hence it is plain, that the constitution of mankind is such, that abstruse and intellectual truths can be taught no otherwise than by positive assertion, supported by some sensible evidence, by which the assertor is secured from the suspicion of falsehood; and that if it should please God to inspire a teacher with some demonstration of the immortality of the soul, it would far less avail him for general instruction, than the power of working a miracle in its vindication, unless God should, at the same time, inspire all the hearers with docility and apprehension, and turn, at once, all the sensual, the giddy, the lazy, the busy, the corrupt, and the proud, into humble, abstracted, and diligent philosophers.

To bring life and immortality to light, to give such proofs of our future existence, as may influence the most narrow mind, and fill the most capacious intellect, to open prospects beyond the grave, in which the thought may expatiate without obstruction, and to supply a refuge and support to the mind amidst all the miseries of decaying nature, is the peculiar excellence of the Gospel of Christ. Without this heavenly instructor, he who feels himself sinking under the weight of years, or melting away by the slow waste of a lingering disease, has no other remedy

than obdurate patience, a gloomy resignation to that which cannot be avoided; and he who follows his friend, or whoever there is yet dearer than a friend, to the grave, can have no other consolation than that which he derives from the general misery; the reflection, that he suffers only what the rest of mankind must suffer; a poor consideration, which rather awes us to silence, than soothes us to quiet, and which does not abate the sense of our calamity, though it may sometimes make us ashamed to complain.

But so much is our condition improved by the gospel, so much is the sting of death rebated, that we may now be invited to the contemplation of our mortality, as to a pleasing employment of the mind, to an exercise delightful and recreative, not only when calamity and persecution drive us out from the assemblies of men, and sorrow and woe represent the grave as a refuge and an asylum, but even in the hours of the highest earthly prosperity, when our cup is full, and when we have laid up stores for ourselves; for, in him who believes the promise of the Saviour of the world, it can cause no disturbance to remember, that this night his soul may be required of him; and he who suffers one of the sharpest evils which this life can shew, amidst all its varieties of misery; he that has lately been separated from the person whom a long participation of good and evil had endeared to him; he who has seen kindness snatched from his arms, and fidelity torn from his bosom; he whose ear is no more to be delighted with tender instruction, and whose virtue shall be no more awakened by the seasonable whispers of mild reproof, may yet look, without horrour, on the tomb which encloses the remains of what he loved and honoured, as upon a place which, if it revives the sense of his loss, may calm him with the hope of that state in which there shall be no more grief or separation.

To Christians the celebration of a funeral is by no means a solemnity of barren and unavailing sorrow, but established by the church for other purposes.

First, for the consolation of sorrow. Secondly, for the

enforcement of piety. The mournful solemnity of the dead is instituted, first, for the consolation of that grief to which the best minds, if not supported and regulated by religion, are most liable. They who most endeavour the happiness of others, who devote their thoughts to tenderness and pity, and studiously maintain the reciprocation of kindness, by degrees mingle their souls, in such a manner, as to feel from their separation, a total destitution of happiness, a sudden abruption of all their prospects, a cessation of all their hopes, schemes, and desires. The whole mind becomes a gloomy vacuity, without any image or form of pleasure, a chaos of confused wishes, directed to no particular end, or to that which, while we wish, we cannot hope to obtain; for the dead will not revive; those whom God has called away from the present state of existence, can be seen no more in it; we must go to them; but they

cannot return to us.

Yet, to shew that grief is vain, is to afford very little comfort; yet this is all that reason can afford; but religion, our only friend in the moment of distress, in the moment when the help of man is vain, when fortitude and cowardice sink down together, and the sage and the virgin mingle their lamentations; religion will inform us, that sorrow and complaint are not only vain, but unreasonable and erroneous. The voice of God, speaking by his Son and his apostles, will instruct us, that she, whose departure we now mourn, is not dead, but sleepeth; that only her body is committed to the ground, but that the soul is returned to God who gave it; that God, who is infinitely merciful, who hateth nothing that he has made, who desireth not the death of a sinner; to that God, who only can compare performance with ability, who alone knows how far the heart has been pure, or corrupted, how inadvertency has surprised, fear has betrayed, or weakness has impeded; to that God, who marks every aspiration after a better state, who hears the prayer which the voice cannot utter, records the purpose that perished without opportunity of action, the wish that

« ElőzőTovább »