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2. Besides, this hypothesis, instead of solving any difficulty there may be in the text, or casting any peculiar light upon it, only tends to render it more obscure, and to involve the subject in greater difficulties. For one may naturally inquire (as a judicious and pious writer has justly observed) why the apostle does not directly tell them that there was no “particular room for such lamentations on this account, as they themselves, and many succeeding generations, were to die before the coming of Christ.” To answer this objection, M. Saurin is driven to acknowledge, that “ the apostle did not urge that, because he did not then exactly know whether Christ's appearance would be in that age, or at some much more remote distance of time."
3. But though we should allow that the apostle's ignorance as to that point, might be very consistent with the knowledge of all that was necessary to the preaching of the gospel, and the full and proper execution of his office ; yet we have no authority from his own epistles, or from any accounts that antiquity has handed down concerning him, to suppose that he was ignorant respecting it. It is true, from the following words in the 15th verse, We who are alive and remain unto the coming of the Lord, some have inferred that the apostle expected himself to be found alive at our Lord's second coming. But this inference they would hardly have drawn, had they observed how common it is with all the inspired writers to speak as if they included themselves, when in reality they did not intend it.
Thus Hosea says, There (viz. in Bethel) God spake with us. Surely, Hosea was not at Bethel, nay, was not in existence, when God spake with Jacob there. The Psalmist, speaking of the dividing of the Red Sea,* says, There did we rejoice in him. And yet he could not be present when the Red Sea was divided. In like manner, the apostle James, speaking of the tongue, says, Therewith curse we men. Certainly he did not_curse men. Just so St. Paul did not mean to be understood strictly in these words, as if he asserted that he should be alive when Jesus should appear to judgment! but he speaks of those who should be found alive at that time.
4. That this is the true interpretation of the apostle's words, appears from hence, that in several of his epistles he plainly expresses his expectation of dying before the coming of Christ, (see Phil. i. 20. 1 Cor. vi. 14. 2 Cor. iv. 14. 2 Tim. iv. 6.) And in the 2d epistle to this people, assures them that the “ day of the
* Psalm lxvi. 6.
Lord was not at hand, and would not come, except there came a falling away first, and the man of sin were revealed, the son of perdition,'* of whom he prophesies such things as were not likely at all to be fulfilled in that pure age of the church. Add to this, that what he said on this occasion, he said by the word of the Lord, that is, by an express revelation from him, and surely the Lord could not be mistaken, He knew his apostle would not be found alive at his second coming. * 5. The above-mentioned hypothesis, therefore, is not to be admitted. And there is no need of it. The text is easily explained without it. We have only to suppose, that the apostle had observed himself while at Thessalonica, op had been informed by Timothy, after he left that city, how tenderly many of his new converts had been affected by the departure of such as had been taken from them since they had embraced Christianity, and that he intended in these words, to suggest considerations, which, if believed and laid to heart, would be effectual, if not entirely to' remove, yet greatly to moderate their sorrow. And at the same time, foreseeing what a temptation to excessive grief among the tender-hearted and benevolent followers of Jesus, the death of their brethren, especially of such as were peculiarly dear to them, would be in every age; he might also, in this admirable passage, consult the benefit of future ages, éven of as many as should read his excellent epistles to the end of time.
And, as the pious writer quoted above, justly observes, " Who can be sufficiently thankful for the strong consolation these divine words administer!" How many drooping hearts have been cheered by them in every age, while successively mourning over the pious dead! How often have we ourselves been driven to them, as to a sacred anchor, when our hearts have been overwhelmed within'us ! And, if God continue us a few years longer, what repeated occasions may arise of our flying to them again!".
6. Let us fly to them at this time, my brethren, in our distress for the foss, sudden and unlooked-for, of one dear to many
in the bloom of youth; and in the pride of her years, from a mourning and disconsolate husband, (to whom I hope the severe stroke will be sanctified,) and from a rising progeny, who are yet too
young to be sensible of the loss they have sustained, or to shed one tear on the mournful occasion! I doubt not, my brethren, but you will join with me in praying that their mother's God, the pa
* 2 Thess. ii, 2:
rent of the orphan, and the helper of the helpless, may be the pro. tection of their infancy, the guide of their youth, and the supportand consolation of their riper age! And that many years hence, when her prayers have been heard for them, and they are born of the Spirit of God, made new creatures in Christ Jesus, and have long served God and their generation faithfully, according to the divine will, they may be welcomed by her that bare them, (and who in giving life to them suffered death herself) into everlasting habitations ! It is true, she was hardly spared long enough with them to know them all on earth, and much less to give them an opportunity of knowing her; yet, I doubt not, but she will acknowledge them in that day for her children, while they also are divinely instructed to look up and call her mother! Then the present breach will be more than made up! The husband will again receive his wife, and the mother will embrace her children! But, oh! how changed ! All immortal! All glorious! and in a world where pain and parting, sin and sorrow, are no more! There in those bright realms, no tender and dying mothers, with bleeding hearts, weep over the helpless infants from whom they are about to be torn, and whom they are to leave behind in an ensnaring and troublesome world. And, no affectionate, inconsolable husbands cling to the cold remains of departed wives ! There pious friends and relatives, separated for a season, are united again to be parted no more. And there, their felicity is pure without alloy, full without measure, and lasting without end !
In discoursing further from this important, comfortable, and I think not obscure passage, I wish to call your attention,
1. To the Character of those who may properly be said to sleep in Jesus.
II. To the Hope which we entertain concerning such, with the foundation and certainty of this hope, and,
III. To the proper Fruit of it, if not entirely to remove, yet greatly to moderate our sorrow, and turn it into a lasting mean of good.
And, 1st, we are to consider who they are that sleep in Jesus.
1. Upon this head I shall say but little, for I consider myself as discoursing to a congregation who are frequently addressed on such topics, and who certainly, in general, are not ignorant concerning them. You know, my brethren, that a man cannot, with any propriety,
be said to sleep in Jesus, unless he first be in Jesus, that is, unless he be possessed of a reál, vital union with him. This union with Christ is much spoken of, and frequently inculcated in the New Testament, and is illustrated by our Lord in the xvth chapter of St. John's gospel, by the union which subsists between the vine and its branches. Now the branch is not only supported by the vine, and adheres to it, but it derives sap, and of consequence growth and fruitfulness from it. Just so, they that are united to Jesus not only depend upon and cleave to him, but “receive out of his fulness grace to help in time of need.” And their knowledge in divine things, their holiness and happiness, yea, and their usefulness too, in a great measure, depend hereupon. “I am the Vine, (says he,) ye are the branches. Abide in me, and I in you ; for as the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, except it abide in the vine; no more can ye, except ye abide in me. He that abideth in me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit, for without me ye can do nothing." A most express
and important declaration. Would to God it were laid to heart by all professors of religion !
2. St. Paul' uses another comparison. In divers parts of his epistle, he illustrates the union which a believer has with Christ, by that which the members of the human body have with the head of it. “As the body is one, (says he,) and hath many members, and all the members of that one body, being many, are one body; so also is Christ. For by one Spirit are we all baptized into one body, and have been all made to drink of one Spirit."*
And again, “Ye are the body of Christ, and members in particular."| Now the human body is not only guided and governed by the head, but has life and nourishment communicated therefrom. - In allusion to this, the apostle exhorts us to “grow up into Christ, who is the head, in all things ; from whom, (adds he,) the whole body, fitly joined together and compacted, by that which every joint supplieth, according to the effectual working in the measure of every part, maketh increase of the body.”! He speaks to the same purpose in the epistle to the Colossians. “ He is the head of his body, the church ;—the head from which all the body by joints and bands having nourishment ministered, and knit together, increaseth with all the increase of God.”'S
3. The Lord Jesus, therefore, our living Head, not only instructs:
1 Cor. xii. 12. + Ver. 27. | Eph. ir. 15. $ Col. i. 18. and ii. 19.
and guides us as our prophet, and commands and governs us as our King; but as the High Priest of our profession, who ever liveth to make intercession for us, he receives of the Father, and communicates to us those supplies of grace, those influences of the Holy Spirit, whereby we not only grow up into him our living Head in all things, and in due time arrive at the measure of the stature of his fulness ; but are enabled to act the part assigned us as particular members of the body for the good of the whole. And then, as there is a real and sensible sympathy between the head and its members, so we are assured that the High Priest of our profession is “touched with the feeling of our infirmities," and tenderly sympathizes with us; while, on the other hand, we have“ fellowship with him in his sufferings," and are affected with the wants and distresses of every fellow-member of his mystical body.
4. It appears from all this, 2dly, that those who have union with Jesus, have also an interest in him, just as a branch has an interest in the tree in which it grows, such as it has in no other tree in the world; and the member an interest in the head of the body to which it belongs, such as it has in the head of no other body, For My beloved is mine," says
66 and I am his.' Christ is theirs, and they are his. They are his, being dedicated to him in faith and love, and employed for him in duty and service, living no longer “unto themselves but unto him that died for them and rose again.” And he is theirs, being “made of God unto them wisdom, righteousness, sanctification, and redemption." As their wisdom, he teaches them by his word and Spirit to know both their duty and their happiness, and though they were once darkness, they are now light in him, the Lord. As their righteousness, he justifies them from all things, and through bim they have peace with God. As their sanctification, he communicates that grace, whereby they are not only delivered from the power, but at length purged from the defilement of sin, and restored to the “ image of him that, created them,” even righteousness and true holiness. And as their redemption, he will, in due time, rescue them from all the consequences of the fall, will ransom their very bodies from the grave, and fix them in glory and felicity for ever,
5. As to the means whereby we obtain this high privilege, and the marks whereby we are satisfied ourselves, and give proof to others that we possess it, I need say but little. It is manifest from what has already been advanced, that it is not the being baptized with water, and making a profession of Christianity, that can either entitle us to, or put us in possession of such an inestimable bless