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Objection 3. But is not death a punishment of God for sin ? Does not Scripture call it the king of terrors, and does not nature abhor it above all other evils ?
Answer. Though death, considered in itself, may be called an evil, as being the dissolution of the creature, yet being sanctified to us by Christ, and being the occasion of so great a good as our introduction into heaven, it may be welcomed with glad submission, if not with desire. Christ affords us grounds enough to comfort us against this natural evil; and therefore endues us with the principle of grace, to raise us above the reach of nature.
To conclude: You must remember that in what I have said, I refer simply to the godly. I dissuade not the ungodly from the fear of death. It is a wonder rather, that they fear it no more, and spend not their days in continual horror of it. One would think such men should eat their bread with trembling; that the thoughts of their danger should keep them awake in the night; for it is no wonder that a man should quake at the thoughts of death, who expects to be dispossessed by it of his happiness, and knows not whither he is next to go; but for the saints to fear their passage by death to everlasting rest, this is a strange unreasonable fear.
AN EXHORTATION TO THOSE THAT HAVE GOT ASSUR
ANCE OF THE HEAVENLY REST, TO DO ALL THEY CAN TO HELP OTHERS TO IT.
Use Seventh.-Has God set before us such a glorious prize as is this everlasting rest of the saints, and has he made man capable of such an inconceivable happiness? Why then do not all the children of the kingdom bestir themselves more to help others to the enjoyment of it? Alas! how little are poor souls around us, beholden to the most of us! We see the glory of the kingdom, and they do not: We see the misery and torment of the unconverted, and they do not: We see them wandering out of the way, and know if they hold on, they can never come there, and they discern not this themselves : And yet we will not speak to them seriously, and show them their error and danger, and help to bring them into the way that they may live!
But because this is a duty which so many neglect, and yet a duty of such high concernment to the glory of God, and the happiness of men, I will speak of it somewhat the more largely, and show you,
1. Wherein it consists. II. What are the causes why it is so much neglected:
III. State some considerations to persuade you to the performance of it.
Lastly, Apply this more particularly to some persons whom it very nearly concerns.
The Nature of this Duty. The duty that I would press upon you consists in the things following.
I. Get your hearts affected with the misery of your brethren's souls; be compassionate towards them; yearn after their salvation. If you earnestly long for their conversion, and your hearts are fully set on doing them good, it will excite you to the work, and God will usually bless it.
II. Embrace all opportunities which you possibly can, of conferring with them privately about their state, and instructing and helping them to attain salvation; and, lest you should not know how to manage this work, let me tell you more particularly what you are to do.
If he be an ignorant person with whom you have to deal, who is an utter stranger to the principles of religion, the first thing you have to do is, to acquaint him with the primary truths of the gospel. Labour to mako him understand wherein man's chief happiness consists, and how far he was once possessed of it, and what covenant God then made with him, and how he broke it, and what penalty he incurred, and into what misery he brought himself thereby. Teach him what need men had of a Redeemer, and how Christ in mercy interposed, and bore the penalty, and what is the only way in which salvation can now be attained ;
and what course Christ takes to draw men to himself, and what are the riches and privileges that believers have in him.
If, when he understands these things, he be not moved by them; or if you find that the defect lies in his will and affections, and in the hardness of his heart, and in his devotion to the flesh and the world, then show him the excellency of the glory which he neglects; and the extremity and eternity of the torments of the damned, and how certainly he must endure them; and how heinous a sin it is to reject the free offer of divine mercy, and to tread under foot the blood of the covenant. Show him the certainty, the nearness, and the terrors of death and judgment, and the vanity of all things below, with which he is now taken up, and how little they will avail him in the time of his extremity. Show him that, both by nature and practice, he himself is an enemy of God, and a child of wrath. Show him the vile and heinous nature of sin, the absolute necessity in which he stands of a Saviour, the fulness of Christ, the sufficiency of his satisfaction, his readiness to receive all that come to him, and the authority and dominion which he has purchased over us. Show him the absolute necessity of regeneration, faith, and holiness; how impossible it is to have salvation by Christ without these; and what is their true nature.
If, when he understands all this, you find his soul enthralled in presumption and false hopes, persuading himself that he is a true believer, pardoned and reconciled, and that he shall be saved by Christ, and all this upon false grounds, then urge him to examine his state. Show him the necessity of trying, the danger of being deceived, the commonness and easiness of mistaking, through the deceitfulness of our hearts, the extreme madness of putting it to a blind venture, or of resting in negligent or wilful uncertainty. Assist him in trying himself
. Produce from Scripture some undeniable evidences of a state of grace; and ask him, whether he ever found such workings or dispositions in his heart. Urge him to a rational answer. Do not leave him till you have convinced him of his misery, and then wisely and seasonably show him the remedy.
If he produce some common gifts, or duties, or works, ascertain to what end he alleges them. If to join with Christ in constituting a righteousness, show him how vain and destructive they are in this respect : if it be by way of evidence to prove his title to salvation, show him how far a common work may reach, and wherein the life of Christianity consists, and how much further he must go, if he will be Christ's disciple. In the mean time, that he may not be discouraged with hearing of so high a measure, show him the way by which he may attain it; be sure to draw him to the use of all the means of grace; urge him to hear and read the word; persuade him to give up his sins, to get out of the way of temptation, and especially to forsake ungodly company; and show him the strong hopes, that in thus waiting on God in the use of means, he may have of a blessing, this being the way in which God is usually to be found.
If you perceive him possessed with any prejudices against the godly, and the way of holiness, show him their falsehood, and with wisdom and meekness answer his objections.
If he be addicted to delay the duties he is convinced of, or if indolence and stupidity endanger his soul, then lay it on the more powerfully, and set home upon his heart the most piercing considerations, and labour to fasten them as thorns in his conscience, that he may find no ease or rest till he change his state.
But because, in all works, the manner of doing
them is of peculiar moment, and the right performance of them greatly furthers the success, I will here add a few directions, which you must be sure to observe in this work of exhortation ; for it is not every advice that succeeds, nor any manner of doing it that will serve the turn.
1. Set about the work with right intentions. Let thy aim be the glory of God, and the salvation of your
fellow men. Do it not to get a name or esteem to thyself, or to bring men to depend upon thee, or to get thee followers. Be sure that thy main end be to recover them from eternal misery, and to bring them to eternal rest.
2. Do it speedily. As you would not have them delay their return, so do not you delay to seek their return. You have been long purposing to speak to such an ignorant neighbour, or to deal with such a scandalous sinner, and yet you have never done it. Alas! while you delay, he runs on the score all the while; he gets deeper and deeper in debt: wrath is heaping up; sin is taking root; conscience grows seared, and the heart hardened; the devil rules and rejoices; Christ is shut out; the Spirit is repulsed; God is dishonoured; the law is violated ; time runs on; the day of visitation hastes away; death and judgment are even at the door; and what if the man die, and fall short of heaven, while you are purposing to teach him and help him thither? What if he drop into hell, while you are purposing to prevent it? Delay in duty is a great degree of disobedience, even though you should afterwards perform it. It shows a heart that is indisposed to the work. O how many poor sinners grow rooted, and next to incurable in sin, and at last perish, while we are purposing to seek their recovery! Opportunities last not always. When thou hearest that the sinner is grown obstinate, or is dead, will not conscience say to thee, How knowest thou but thou mightest have prevented the damnation of a soul? Lay aside thy excuses then, and obey God's command, « Exhort one another daily, while it