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On the Sorrow for the Death of Relatives and Friends.
1 THESS. iv. 13-18.
But I would not have you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning them which are asleep, that ye sorrow not even as others which have no hope. For if we believe that Jesus died, and rose again, even so them also which sleep in Jesus will God bring with him. For this we say unto you by the word of the Lord, that we which are alive, and remain unto the coming of the Lord, shall not prevent them which are asleep. For the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first: then we which are alive and remain, shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord. Wherefore, comfort one another with these words,
THE text we have now read, may, perhaps, be contemplated under two very different points of view.The enterpreter must here discover his acumen, and the preacher display his powers. It is a difficult text;
it is one of the most difficult in all the epistles of St. Paul. I have strong reasons for believing, that it is one of those St. Peter had in view, when he says, that there are some things in the writings of St. Paul, hard to be understood, which they that are unlearned wrest
-to their own destruction. 2 Pet. iii. 16. In this respect, it requires the erudition of the interpreter. It is a text fertile in instructions for our conduct: it illustrates the sentiments with which we should be inspired in all the afflictive circumstances through which Providence may call us to pass in this valley of misery, I would say, when we are called to part with those who constitute the joy of our life. In this respect, it requires the eloquence of the preacher. In attending to both those points, bring the dispositions without which you cannot derive the advantages we design. Have patience with the interpreter, though he may not be able fully to elucidate every inquiry you may make on a subject obscure, singular, and in some respects impenetrable. Open also the avenues of your heart to the preacher. Learn to support separations; for which you should congratulate yourselves, when they break the ties which united you to persons unworthy of your love; and which shall not be eternal, if those called away by death were the true children of God. May the anguish of the tears shed for their loss, be assuaged by the hope of meeting them in the same glory.
We have said that this text is difficult; and it is really so in four respects. The first arises from the doubtful import of some of the terms in which it is couched. The second arises from its reference to cer
tain notions peculiar to Christians in the apostolic age, and which to us are imperfectly known. The third is, that it revolves on certain mysteries, in regard of which the scriptures are not very explicit, and of which inspired men had but an imperfect knowledge. The fourth is the dangerous consequences it seems to involve; because by restricting the knowledge of the sacred authors, it seems to level a blow at their inspiration. Here is an epitome of all the difficulties which can contribute to encumber a text with difficulties.
I. The first is the least important, and cannot arrest the attention of any, but those who are less conversant than you, with the scriptures. You have comprehended, I am confident, that by those who sleep, we understand those who are dead; and by those who sleep in the Lord, we understand those in general who have died in the faith, or in particular those who have sealed it by martyrdom. The sacred authors in adopting, have sanctified the style of paganism. The most ordinary shield the pagans opposed to the fear of death, was to banish the thought, and to avoid pronouncing its name. But as it is not possible to live on earth without being obliged to talk of dying, they accommodated their necessity to their delicacy, and paraphrased what they had so great a reluctance to name by the softer terms of a departure, a submission, destiny, and a sleep.-Fools! as though to change the name of a revolting object would diminish its horror. The sacred authors, as I have said, in adopting this style have sanctified it. They have called death a sleep, by which they understand