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DEATH COMPARED TO SLEEP.
Our friend Lazarus sleepeth.
In what a mild affectionate manner does our Saviour speak of the decease of his friend! Sleep is an image of death the most impressive, yet soothing; familiar, yet at the same time instructive. There is nothing in his words gloomy or terrifying nothing oppressive to our feelings, or repugnant to our spirits. On the contrary, what more balmy and refreshing to the overwearied traveller in life's. journey, than the sweet repose of innocence; the quiet slumber that succeeds the exertions and endurances of active virtue, and brings on the cheerful morning of a bright and endless day? This is the change of being.
So associated, in the mind of Jesus, was the stillness of the grave, with the grand and delightful prospect of emerging to a scene still more abounding with the riches of the Creator's goodness, that he speaks of death, the most formidable of nature's foes, and of sleep, the most welcome of her blessings, as of things entirely congenial. Under this placid, unforbidding aspect, we are invited to the contemplation of a period which awaits us all; and which forms that momentous, that inevitable crisis of our existence, that we are, above all things concerned to reflect upon, and to prepare for !
On man's present state, rests a considerable degree of darkness and uncertainty. What shall befal us, in this transitory life, we can little foresee. "We know not what a day may bring forth;" no, not an hour; our prospect of earthly things is misty and illusive; and as we travel onwards, in this dubious twilight, new and unexpected scenes are perpetually opening and vanishing. Mean time, however unknown the path we tread, however intricate the windings through which we pass, however unforseen the vicissitudes we experience during the course of our earthly pilgrimage-yet, we all discern, with distinct, unclouded vision, the period when its occurrences will cease to affect, its griefs to wound, and its pleasures to delight us! This is the single point that stands out prominent and conspicuous amidst the darkness of futurity. We are like travellers benighted, journeying towards the sea shore; who by the glimmering of their torches, can just distinguish their immediate path; but, beyond this, can only descry, through the mass of shade, the gleaming lights of the vessel which is to bear them from the land of their nativity-and (intensely listening,) catch at intervals, faint echoes of the incessant dashing of that vast ocean, on which they are so shortly to embark.
How comfortable, at the close of each returning day (before we resign ourselves to sleep, which is the image of death,) to be able to recollect a series of useful, at least well intended actions-and to commit ourselves with humble confidence (during the hours of helpless inaction and insensibility,) to the guardianship of our ever wakeful Protector and Parent! How devoutly then it is to be wished, when the last of those days which God has allotted to us on earth, is drawing to an end-to be conscious, that we have not wholly neglected to prepare for that state, to which we are summoned; and with composure and resignation, to retire at our Father's bidding, to the chambers of the grave, satisfied and acquiescent in his determination, and cheerfully hoping for something greater, happier, and more durable, than we could have looked for here below.
TRANQUILLITY OF MIND.
In the multitude of my thoughts within me, Thy comforts delight my soul-A good man shall be satisfied from himself.
To be at peace with one's self, is above all things desirable. To keep an enemy in our bosoms, is to throw poison into our own cup. We must "study to be quiet," says the apostle. We may obey this command, by controuling our irregular appetites, being always prudent, bridling our tongues, avoiding strife, cherishing a forgiving spirit, by being courteous and by doing good.-But to have tranquillity within, we must make ourselves acquainted with God and his works. Who has greater purity and serenity of mind, than the devout student of nature? In the opening flower, in the embedded crystal, and in the revolving planets, he sees the wisdom, care, and energy of God. There is an immediate connection between the works of nature and sublime mental tranquillity.-To be tranquil we must feel that we are doing good. To be useless is to be unhappy. To be tranquil, we must have an unwavering trust in God. We must feel that all the elements in the natural and moral worlds are subject to his controul, and are ultimately to promote his glory. -Our passions are often opposed to our mental peace. The shortness of life, the approach of eternity, are meditations well calculated to allay tumultuous feelings, and inspire stillness and tranquilliAwed by the stupendous future, every inordinate desire lets go its grasp. Nothing earthly seems big enough to excite much agitation easily the soul drops those precarious honours, those short lived pleasures, of which it was before so much enamoured. Those griefs too, those resentments, those apprehensions and anxieties, once so deeply felt, at length give way. Within the hallowed round of religion, all is peace. As one about to embark, in some high enterprize, upon the great deep, while listening to the incessant dashing of its waves, beholding the vast expanse of undulating waters, and tracing the lessening vessels, one after another, as they vanish from his sight, naturally follows them in imagination to distant regions, where new scenes and objects seem to beckon from afar-stealing away his attention from thoughts of home, from the various concerns by which he was once occupied, and causing him to lose in the great future, the sense of the present, as well as the remembrance of the past; even so the man who, in his daily course of life, walks, as on the shore of eternity, who reflects on the infinite consequences of human action; thinks of appearing before God; cherishes the memory of those who are gone, and views in ever lengthening perspective, the riches of divine wisdom and benevolence, cannot but feel the influence of these grand objects, to arrest his wandering thoughts, to calm his passions, to charm away both the sorrows and the follies of the world, and put an end to the tumults and solicitudes which are too apt to annoy this mortal being. This is the true, the grand remedy of every vain hope, and absurd fear; of every fruitless grief, and frivolous joy; of every idle resentment, foolish vexation, and inordinate desire! Now, this I say, brethren, that the time is short. It remaineth therefore that they who rejoice, be as though they rejoiced not; and they who weep, as though they wept not; and they that use this world, as not abusing it; seeing that the fashion thereof passeth away.
VICE IN PROFESSORS.
Verily I say unto you, one of you shall betray me.
VICIOUS Christian! This is a paradox. How aggravated the guilt of a vicious professor! Let us conceive it possible for a moment, that the beautiful personifications of scripture were all realized; that the trees of the forest clapped their hands unto God, and that the isles were glad at his presence; that the little hills shouted on every side, and the valleys covered over with corn sent forth their notes of rejoicing; that the sun and the moon praised him, and the stars of light joined in the solemn adoration; that the voice of glory to God was heard from every mountain, and from every water-fall; and that all nature, animated throughout by the consciousness of a pervading and presiding Deity, burst into one loud and universal song of gratulation. Would not a strain of greater loftiness be heard to ascend from those regions where the all-working God had left the traces of his own immensity, than from the tamer and the humbler scenery of an ordinary landscape? Would not you look for a gladder acclamation from the fertile field, than from the arid waste, where no character of grandeur made up for the barrenness that was around you? Would not the goodly tree, compassed about with the glories of its summer foliage, lift up an anthem of louder gratitude than the lowly shrub that grew beneath it? Would not the flower, from whose leaves every hue of loveliness was reflected, send forth a sweeter rapture than the russet weed, which never drew the eye of any admiring passenger ? And in a word, wherever you saw the towering eminences of nature, or the garniture of her more rich and beauteous adornments, would it not be there that you looked for the deepest tones of devotion, or there for the tenderest and most ex=quisite of its melodies?
Alas! that we are ever disappointed! Let us not, however, think, that because there is counterfeit money, there is no genuine coin. Were all the disciples false, because one of them was a devil ?— The falling star strikes every eye, while few observe the fixed and regular orbs. The apostacy of one pretender often excites more attention than the lives of many solid and steady christians.
Whatever censures may with reason be cast upon some professors of religion, for the laxity of their usefulness, if not of their morals, it is certain, that neither the principles of christianity, nor the practice of those who first received and preached it, give the least countenance to such remissness. Indeed, if a man of the world act fairly in estimating the worth and utility of piety, with respect to life and manners, he ought to form his judgment, not by the conduct of a few, but by that of persons in general sustaining the religious character. Were that the case, he would find, upon inquiry, numbers who, notwithstanding their imperfections, did honour to their holy profession. But as sloth and prejudice too often prevent such inquiry, every individual christian should so act, as if the reputation of the whole christian church depended upon his proper behaviour. The best of us, in adverting to this obligation, cannot but feel afresh his need of pardon and circumspection; and while he animadverts with just severity on the faults of his brethren, will with humility, godly sorrow, and sincere concern for his amendment, acknowledge his own.
Can the Ethiopean change his skin, or the leopard his spots ? then may ye also do good, who are accustomed to do evil.
EVIL, when long practised constitutes the nature of those addicted to it. As the dark skin of the Ethiopian and the spots of the leopard, are not paint or extrinsic but inherent properties, so vice, when long cherished is more than an adjunct; it becomes the fixed, intrinsick complexion of the mind; it enters into the temperament and composition of the soul. Custom, is second nature. To them accustomed to do evil, it becomes natural to do it. There is no difference, in point of fixedness and settled residence in the mind, between innate and inwrought properties.
To perform any act naturally, is to do it without force upon our propensities; without violence to our inclination; without any struggle, or conflict with ourselves. It is to do it with ease; with readiness; with pleasure. Now, it may be asserted, that those, who have for a long time committed sin, commit it with as much propension to it; as easily fall and slide into the courses of it; and apply themselves to the pursuit of those particular pleasures, which they have been accustomed to reap from it, with as much bent and bias of mind towards them, as any of the various classes of living creatures, which the earth contains, pursue the gratification of those appetites, which nature has implanted in them. He, who has been long in the habit of intemperance, is carried to the table of excess with as powerful an impulse, with a necessity as craving, as any animal in nature has recourse to that particular food, which nature has designed for it. He, whose thoughts have been ever centred in this world, he, who has habitually confined his views and prospects to it, as naturally, with as much confinement of his affection to them, with as steady, and determined direction of will and desire, lays up his treasures upon earth, as the bee carries its honey to its hive, or as the fowls of heaven "have their habitation," and build their nests, "among the branches." To the man, who has been used to subsist upon dishonest practices, it is as natural to seek for subjects of fraudulent imposition, or for victims of lawless violence, as it is to "the young lions to roar after their prey, and to seek their meat" in the forest. And he, who has permitted, by repeated indulgence, the malevolent passions to establish themselves in his breast, as naturally, with as much propensity attacks, the reputation, or injures the interests, of one who excites his envy, or his resentment, as the scorpion puts forth its sting, or as the vulture strikes his talons into his prey. He is, as truly as any of those that are ranked by nature in that class, a noxious animal; he is a man of prey; it is become his nature to "devise mischief."
The current of human thoughts and affections may be compared to that of waters, which, by frequently flowing in that particular line of direction which they chose, when they first descend from the hills, by degrees wear themselves a channel, which confirms and fixes their course; which ever after, with added power, invites the stream to that path, and confines it there. Thus the affections of the human mind, when they have made choice of their direction, by the repetition of their passage along that line of pursuit, seem, as it were, to hollow themselves a bed; to form for themselves a furrow in the breast, which they never afterward forsake, but in which the current rests, and resides for ever,unless it be forced another way by violence.
OUR DUTY TOWARDS THE WICKED.
They that are whole need not a physician.
THE book of psalms has effusions the most pathetic, fervent and generous. There are a few instances of vindictive spirit, such as cannot be supposed to have ascended with acceptance, from the harp of devotion, to the God in whose praise it was tuned. The more enlightened humanized worshipper of christian times must not adopt them. "I hate them with perfect hatred," and "Happy shall he be that shall take thy little ones, and dash them against the stones"Such a sentiment can find no hiding place for its deformity, amidst all the beauties of poetry, by which the piece, where it stands, is embellished; amidst all the injuries of captive Judea, by which it was provoked; or all the patriot tears, on the banks of the rivers of Babylon, and all the pious sighs of absence from the national seat of worship, by which the reader is prepared to receive it with an indulgent eye. Still it stands, an odious and offensive blot, upon an immortal song and the soothed heart, that had passed with a pensive and sentimental delight, through the simple and affecting graces of the piece, is at length shocked and wounded, upon discovering this snake among the flowers. Humanity recals her encomium, and Heaven rejects the hymn.
The bad, as well as the good, are the objects, not indeed of esteem, not of friendship, but certainly of benevolence. It is our duty to wish them well, and to promote their welfare by every method in our power; to survey their moral condition, not with a malignant, but with a melancholy, eye; while we look upon vice with simple and unmingled enmity, to look with lamentation upon the sensitive and rational beings, who are the seats of it; instead of considering them as creatures that have no claim to compassion, when we see them plunged in serious and urgent necessity for the means of subsistence, to.regard them as sufficiently wretched in the want of good conscience to support them, and whether they be the enemies of virtue in general, or our own in particular, if they hunger, to give them bread, if they thirst, to give them drink. We are bound, instead of seeking to extirpate them from the earth, to seek to save them from their sin; and to contemplate the punishment, which Providence may inflict upon them, and from which we cannot deliver them, not with a vindictive delight, as that which they deserve for being so bad, but with a virtuous and generous reconciliation to it, as that which may make them better.
I am not inculcating that undistinguishing behaviour towards persons of all characters, which is expressive of moral indifference, and productive of moral mischief. I do not recommend the criminal part of mankind to your intimate intercourse, to your esteem, to your trust, to your patronage; bestow these upon those that deserve them, but compassion and relief, bestow upon them that want them. Give your smiles to the good give your kind wishes, and humane offices to all. Let approbation look round for worth; let friendship search for excellence; let confidence seek for fidelity; but benevolence lays down the balances. Of an object of charity a sufficient qualification is a sense of pleasure and pain, a capacity of happiness and misery. In thus acting, you do not confound the good and evil characters of mankind, in one undiscriminating conduct towards all-you give to virtue its reward, saying, "all that I have is thine."