« PreviousContinue »
experience! They should feel and act like good old Barzillai, who renounced all the trifles, vanities, amusements, and minor concerns of life, that he might set his house and his soul in order, and be duly prepared to leave this, for a better world. And who will say that he did not act wisely? And who among the aged can excuse himself, if he refuses or neglects to follow his pious and dignified example? The hoary head is always a crown of glory, if it be found in the way of righteousness.
2. If God acts as a sovereign in taking away the lives of men, then they ought to maintain a constant and realizing sense that their lives are uncertain. God has designedly and graciously concealed from them everything future. They never know the year, or the month, or the day, God has appointed to call them out of time into eternity. No place where they are, no circumstances they are under, no employments in which they are engaged, and no precautions which they or others can take, can secure them a day or moment from the stroke of death. If they are alive to-day, to-morrow they may be dead. They are dying creatures, and absolutely in the sovereign hand of Him who gave, and who has a right to take away life, whenever, and wherever, and however, he pleases. This God has frequently and solemnly forewarned them of, both in his word and in his providence. He says to every one, “ Boast not thyself of to-morrow, for thou knowest not what a day may bring forth.” Our Saviour forewarned men to stand in expectation of death, like servants waiting for the coming of their lord. He said, “ Be ye also ready: for in such an hour as ye think not, the Son of man cometh.” He warned men against the forgetfulness of death, by the folly and fate of the man who said to his soul, Thou hast much goods laid up for many years; take thine ease, eat, drink, and be merry; to whom God said, Thou fool, this night shall thy soul be required of thee. The apostle James
says, “ Go to now, ye that say, to-day or to-morrow we will into such a city, and continue there a year; whereas ye know not what shall be on the morrow. For what is your life? it is even a vapor that appeareth for a little time and then van
For that ye ought to say, If the Lord will we shall live, and do this or that.” How often, not to say how constantly, is God enforcing these solemn warnings and admonitions in his word, by the dispensations of his providence ! How often is he taking one and leaving another of the same age, and in the same circumstances ! How often does he take the well before the sick, the strong before the weak, the useful before the useless, and the young before the old! Such signal acts of his sovereignty speak louder than words, and admonish
all the living to be ready also to go to the dead at the most sudden and unexpected call. They ought to acknowledge God in all their ways, that he may direct their paths, and crown all their labors, enterprises and pursuits with success.' They ought to form every design, and undertake every business, with a deliberate proviso, “ If we shall live, we will do this or that." But how often is this duty neglected! and what great and lasting evils may flow from it! that men were wise, that they understood this, that they would consider the uncertainty of life, and act under a realizing sense of it, in all their temporal and eternal concerns !
3. If God acts as a sovereign in taking away the lives of men, then they ought to avoid every mode of conduct which tends to stupify their minds, and create an insensibility to the uncertainty of life. Mankind are naturally averse from contemplating the shortness and uncertainty of life, and very reluctant to carry their thoughts into the invisible and eternal world. They love life and temporal ease and prosperity, and they have devised a vast many ways to banish from their minds future, invisible and eternal scenes and objects, which disturb their carnal peace and security. But all such ways ought to be constantly and resolutely shunned and avoided, because they have a fatal tendency to unfit every person both for living and for dying, and to expose them to lose their own souls. The uncertainty of life in the hand of a holy and sovereign God, is a proper criterion to determine the nature and tendency of the spirit
, the customs and manners of the world. According to this criterion every thing must be wrong, and ought to be avoided, which tends to prevent or destroy a realizing sense of the uncertainty of life. Here then, let me ask, do not vain thoughts, and vain hopes of long life and prosperity, have this tendency? Do not cards, and balls, and parties, and idle conversation, have this tendency? Do not all set times for mere amusements and diversions, have this tendency? Do not idleness and prodigality of every species have this tendency? I appeal to both observation and experience on this subject. None will presume to say, that the spirit, the customs and manners of the world which have been mentioned, do not tend to stupify the mind, and exclude from it a realizing sense of the uncertainty of life and the reality of invisible and eternal objects. How then can any justify themselves in pursuing any mode of conduct which they know, both by experience and observation, tends to endanger their future and eternal interests? It is in vain for them to say, that they have a right to pursue this, or that, or the other, mode of conduct, which they know by experience and observation has a fatal tendency, merely because every sinful mode of conduct is not expressly forbidden in the word of God. God requires them to show themselves men, and act agreeably to the infallible dictates of their own consciences, which forbid them to be conformed to this world, and require them to be conformed to the heart and the will of God. It is the pursuit of lying vanities that has the most general and fatal tendency to stupify the hearts and consciences of the young and the old, and to dispose them to put far away the evil day of death, till they are suddenly, and unexpectedly, and unpreparedly, hurried into eternity. Let all then be entreated, as they value their precious and immortal souls, to avoid every mode of thinking and acting, which tends to sink them into a state of stupidity and of fatal forgetfulness of their dying hour.
4. If God acts as a sovereign in taking away the lives of men, then it is not strange that he causes so many sudden and unexpected deaths. The unusual and extraordinary circumstances of death generally make a deeper impression on the minds of the living, than death itself, brought on by the decays of nature, and the more common causes of mortality. When one and another die by the infirmities of age, or by diseases and casualties which frequently prevail all over the world, we scarcely consider them as premonitions of the frailty and uncertainty of life. It is the design of God, therefore, to awaken men out of their stupidity, by more sudden and striking instances of mortality. When he would awaken a family, he sends a sudden death into it. When he would awaken a city, he sends the pestilence into it. When he would awaken the world, he sends desolating calamities among the nations of the earth. Hence says the prophet to God, “ When thy judgments are in the earth, the inhabitants of the world will learn righteousness.” Sudden and unexpected deaths are principally designed and calculated for the benefit of the living. It is sometimes for the good of the dying, to be called suddenly and instantaneously from the evils and sorrows of the present life into the abodes of the blessed; but much more commonly sudden deaths are designed for the spiritual benefit of the living. And they have often produced this desirable effect. But God never displays his amiable and awful sovereignty in a more visible and instructive manner, than when he takes one and leaves another, while thousands are falling together in a bloody battle ; or when he takes one and leaves another, while numbers are sinking together in the mighty ocean. Who can describe or even conceive of the hopes and the fears, the anguish and distress, the cries, the prayers, and despair of those unhappy mortals who were lately sinking together in a watery
grave ? Such instances of sudden and unexpected death, one would hope, God designed should make a deep, a lasting and salutary impression on many of the living. But,
5. It appears from what has been said, that there is a solid foundation for the most cordial and unreserved submission under the heaviest bereavements. They come from the hand and heart of a holy, wise, and benevolent Sovereign, who has a right to take one, and leave another, and who never afflicts willingly, or grieves the children of men. He always counts their tears and weighs their sorrows, before he causes them to exist. He never strikes a heavier blow, or wounds in a tenderer part, than he originally and, benevolently intended. There are, indeed, grades of sorrow, and some are higher and heavier than others. But as none are too light, so none are too heavy. Thousands of parents have been bereaved of a son, or a daughter, who expired under their eyes, or in their arms; but such were light bereavements, in comparison with some that have fallen to the lot of others. You have heard of the bereavements of Job, whose servants were slain by the sword, and whose sons and daughters were destroyed by a tempest. You have heard of Jacob's troubles, when he believed, and had reason to believe, that his beloved Joseph was torn in pieces by wild beasts, and when he expected to lose his darling son Benjamin. You have heard of Aaron's bereavement, when his two sons were instantly smitten by the fire of heaven. These were emphatically heavy bereavements, but not too heavy for the bereaved to bear. You have heard of the patience of Job under his heavy and complicated afflictions. “ Then Job arose, and rent his mantle, and shaved his head, and fell down upon the ground, and worshipped, and said, Naked came I out of my mother's womb, and naked shall I return thither: the Lord gave, and the Lord hath taken away: blessed be the name of the Lord. In all this Job sinned not, nor charged God foolishly.” You have heard of Jacob's language in the midst of his extraordinary trials. He said, “ If I am bereaved of my children, I am bereaved." That is, I am reconciled to have it so. You have heard of the calm, serene, and silent submission of Aaron. “And Aaron held his peace.” God displays more wisdom, more goodness, as well as more sovereignty, in heavy than in light bereavements. For in all such cases, his wisdom appears superior to the wisdom of man; his goodness appears superior to the goodness of man; and his sovereignty appears superior to the sovereignty of all created beings. He does his work, his strange work, while the greatest, the wisest and best of his intelligent creatures look on and tremble. “ The Lord reign
eth, let the people tremble,” and let the afflicted and bereaved submit, though their breach is great like the sea.
Those who are called to mourning this day, are not solitary mourners. They have fellow-sufferers not only in America, but in France and Britain. The awful fate of the Albion, wrecked on the coast of Ireland, has deeply affected the hearts of thousands, who lament not merely a private but public calamity. But they ought to be dumb, and not open their mouths, because the Lord hath done it, who had a right to do what he would with his own. We have heard of the number that sailed in that unfortunate ship. There were fifty: among these about forty perished. Among those that perished, were about twenty passengers. Among these, there were some very eminent and respectable characters, and in particular, Mr. ALEXANDER METCALF FISHER. Though he was young, and had not arrived at thirty years of age, yet he had arrived at more than common literary distinction. The Father of spirits gave him a clear discriminating mind, and endued him with superior intellectual powers, which were equally strong and well proportioned. These he early, constantly and assiduously cultivated and improved, and made rapid advances in every branch of knowledge to which he turned his attention. He read and studied upon a broad scale, after he left the place of his public education. He first paid attention to the theory of religion, and became accurately and extensively acquainted with the great and fundamental principles of theology. But he was called to relinquish his principal attention to this study, and to fill first one, and then the next to the highest office in Yale College; and in that department he shone with preëminent lustre. In mathematics and astronomy he left no superior, and perhaps no equal of his years, either in America or Great Britain. His profound knowledge and researches in these sciences have been very extensively known and admired. Professor Fisher was a young man of extraordinary promise. He had excited strong expectations of raising the literary character of his native country; and had his valuable life been spared, there is no ground to doubt but he would have fully answered these high expectations. But alas! his hopes, the hopes of his friends and of country, all sunk together in that awful night in which he sunk in the mighty deep! This was the Lord's doing, and who may say unto him, “ What doest thou?" The father and mother, and brother and sisters of this highly fortunate and unfortunate young man, are now, and will be as long as they live, the principal mourners. They will never forget what was beautiful, amiable, dutiful, virtuous or pious in his short life. Though he never professed, yet