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their hearts, their lamps would not go out in the dying hour, when the lamps of the righteous continue to burn, and to give light to themselves and to all around them.
2. If none but the righteous have hope in their death, then there is reason to fear that multitudes will be fatally disappointed in their dying hour. The unrighteous, as well as the righteous, generally entertain a secret hope of escaping the wrath to come, and of obtaining eternal life. But they all build their hopes of heaven upon some false and sandy foundation, which will finally give way, and involve them in disappointment and ruin. Some hope to be saved, because they imagine that their hearts are naturally pure and virtuous; some, because they have lived a sober and regular life; some, because they have had a sense of their depravity and guilt, and been constrained to seek and strive for mercy; some, because they believe that Christ died for them in particular; some, because they have named the name of Christ, and maintained the form of religion, without the power of it; some, because they think that God is too merciful to punish any of his sinful creatures for ever; and some, because they believe Christ died with an intention to save all mankind. But all who build their hopes of future happiness upon these foundations, will find that they are refuges of lies, which death will finally destroy. Our Saviour has described self-deceivers, and solemnly warned them of the fatal disappointment to which they are exposed. " Every one that heareth these sayings of mine and doeth them not, shall be likened unto a foolish man, which built his house upon the sand: And the rains descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and beat upon that house, and it fell
, and great was the fall of it.” This is a figurative representation of the character and fate of self-deceivers ; but there is a literal one far more striking and impressive. “ Strive to enter in at the strait gate: for many, I say unto you, will seek to enter in, and shall not be able. When once the master of the house is risen up, and hath shut to the door, and ye begin to stand without, and to knock at the door, saying, Lord, Lord, open unto us; and he shall answer and say unto you, I know you not whence ye are: Then shall ye begin to say, We have eaten and drunk in thy presence, and thou hast taught in our streets. But he shall say, I tell you, I know you not whence ye are; depart from me, all ye workers of iniquity. There shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth, when ye shall see Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob, and all the prophets in the kingdom of God, and you yourselves thrust out.” Such will be the awful disappointment of all those who die without repentance toward God, and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ.
3. If the righteous have hope in their death, then their hope
may be the strongest and brightest in that solemn season. We know that the hopes of the ancient saints were unusually enlivened as they approached nearer and nearer to the eternal world. You recollect how Jacob, and Joseph, and David, and Simeon, and Stephen, and Paul, appeared and conversed, in some of their last moments. They seemed to have an uncommon discovery of invisible and eternal realities, which removed the darkness of the grave and the terrors of death. And it is easy to believe that if death does not destroy, it must naturally tend to enlarge the views and enliven the hopes of the righteous. It certainly brings God, and Christ, and heaven, and all the glorious objects of eternity, into view, which are suited to gratify their hearts, and raise their hopes and joys to the highest degree. How often have we seen pious christians appear more holy, more heavenly, more joyful, on their dying beds, than they ever did before! There is nothing mysterious, nor incredible, in the numerous accounts we have read of the joyful and triumphant deaths of eminent saints. It was only necessary that God should remove from their view all the vain scenes and concerns of this world, and fix their whole hearts and attention upon heavenly and divine objects, and their holy souls must have been filled with joy and their mouths with praise.
The path of the just is as the shining light, that shineth more and more unto the perfect day."
4. If it be peculiar to the righteous to die in a sure and joyful hope, then their death may be peculiarly instructive and beneficial to the living. The righteous and the wicked die under the same external circumstances, but their internal views and feelings are extremely different. The wicked are driven away in their sins, and leave the world with reluctance and remorse ; but the righteous have light and joy and hope in their last moments. In the death of the wicked we see the dreadful consequences of the want of religion ; but in the death of the righteous we see the reality and importance of religion. The death of the wicked excites our pity and compassion towards them ; but the death of the righteous awakens a serious concern about ourselves. The death of the righteous, therefore, naturally tends to make better impressions on the minds of men, than the death of the wicked. Saints, in the view of the peaceful death of the righteous, rejoice with them, and feel comforted, strengthened, and animated to run the christian race with patience, and to prepare for their own dissolution. And the joyful death of the righteous may be still more instructive and beneficial to sinners. When they see or reflect upon the joyful and triumphant death of the godly, they are constrained to reproach and condemn themselves for not fixing their affections and hopes upon the same solid foundation. They realize themselves to be guilty, mean, and contemptible creatures, in comparison with the godly, and deeply regret that they have lived so stupidly, so negligently, and so unwisely, as to be unprepared for that solemn and awful change which they must unavoidably experience. It gives them much keener convictions to hear the dying christian declare his joyful hopes and prospects, than to hear the dying infidel utter his last words of remorse and despair. There is nothing which both good and bad men are more inquisitive to know about the dead, than how they died. And to gratify this proper inquiry, volumes and volumes have been written, to exhibit the last scenes, the last words, and the last hopes, of dying christians. The Bible abounds with instances of the peaceful and joyful end of the righteous; while Judas stands a solitary and solemn monument of a sinner dying in despair. No instruction, no admonition, no reproof, can be more tender and impressive, than that which flows from the lips of him who dies in hope. How pertinent and affecting were the last words of that great and good man, who said to his young friend,“ See in what peace a christian can die!” The living are under peculiar obligations to pay a sacred regard to the peaceful and joyful death of the righteous. Their last and most noble act upon the stage of life deserves and invites universal attention. “ Mark the perfect man, and behold the upright; for the end of that man is peace.”
You will now, my hearers, see the propriety of applying this discourse to the melancholy occasion for which it was requested.
The late sudden and unexpected death of Mr. Oliver ShepHERD has sensibly affected the minds, not only of his relatives and friends, but of all the people in this town. You have been acquainted with him from his earliest days. You have seen his amiable disposition, his pleasing manners, his social qualities, his sprightly talents, his peculiar activity in business, and his rising reputation and usefulness. But though you have known how he lived, yet many, perhaps, have still to learn how he died. Notwithstanding he died at a great distance from his family, and from most of his friends and acquaintance, I have received such verbal and written information concerning his decease, that I am able to give some imperfect account of the closing scenes of his life.
He set out on his journey to Philadelphia in usual health, and with promising worldly prospects, though it seems that his mind was not wholly at ease. For some time before he left home, he had felt an unusual anxiety and solicitude about his spiritual concerns. These religious impressions rather increased, than abated, from day to day; but he pursued his intended course, and safely reached Philadelphia. There he was taken sick, far from home, and in the midst of strangers. Though he felt no peculiar anxiety about the danger of his disorder, nor about the uncertainty of his ever returning to his native place, yet his convictions grew deeper and deeper. A sense of danger, but more especially a sense of guilt, became almost insupportable, until God was pleased to remove the burden from his mind, and give him joy and peace in believing. On a Sunday evening, at an early period of his sickness, a christian friend and acquaintance* called to see him, and spent about two hours with him. The account which he gives of that interview is, in substance, as follows: “ He appeared overjoyed to see me, as he said he had something of importance to communicate, to relieve his mind. He was quite composed, and appeared lost to all pain and to every worldly concern, except when our conversation led us into it. He seemed very anxious to relate the manner in which it had pleased the Almighty to raise him from the pit of destruction ; but was sensible that it was out of his power, by reason of the disturbance which he had received from his disease. He said, that previously to his leaving home, he had at times been under convictions; that these impressions became more and more lively during his journey, particularly at New York; and that since he had been confined, they had been increased by a clearer view of his horrid, wicked heart. He said that he continued under this load of sin, (which appeared to him heavier than the whole world with all its contents,) for about two days, when God saw fit to show him mercy through the precious blood of Christ. Here he stopped and paused — as if lost in wonder that Jehovah should condescend to bestow mercy on such a guilty rebel! Being asked whether he had any doubts as to his standing with God, he answered, that, setting aside the remaining selfishness of his heart, (which at times returned,) he had no doubts. His inclination for prayer was incessant, when free from pain. He felt so well that he was quite encouraged, and seemed to cherish the idea of contributing, as far as words and prayer could go, to the conversion and salvation of some of his young friends, whom he mentioned by name.
He wished me to write to them, stating the glad tidings respecting his new and happy turn of mind; for he thought it was a pity for them to mourn when they ought to rejoice.” This same friend paid him another visit, found him in a calm and serene state, and says, “ I am happy to have it in my power to say, that I believe him to be a new man."
Soon after this, his own minister,* being at New York, and hearing of his sickness, hastened to see him, and staid with him as long as he lived. He was then reduced very low, but frequently attempted to relate the new views and feelings which he had lately experienced, though he was never able to go through with the relation. His mind seemed to be absorbed in the constant contemplation of the great and glorious objects of eternity. · At one time he observed of his own accord, “ I have enjoyed comfort to-day.” When he was told that his case appeared desperate; after a short pause, he replied, “ It does not strike me very disagreeably.” Being asked whether he had
unsettled secular business which he wished to have taken care of, he answered, “ No." And immediately added, “ If iny accounts stood as well with God, as with men, I should be happy.” He said some other things also respecting his temporal concerns, which discovered the sound state of his mind until a very little while before he expired. It is impossible to know the hearts of men in this world; but if we duly consider what has been said concerning the decease of Mr. Shepherd, we must be inclined to believe that he had hope in his death, and has fallen asleep in Jesus.
How happy would it have been for his disconsolate widow, his fatherless child, his aged 'parents, his brothers, his sisters, his friends and acquaintance, had he been permitted to recover his health, and to return to them a new man, having all his natural excellences adorned with the beauties of holiness! But this was a favor which infinite wisdom and goodness saw fit to deny them. Alas! he is gone to his long home, from whence he will never return. They shall see his face and hear his voice no more in the land of the living! But if they believe that he became a new man, that he died the death of the righteous, and that it is far better for him to be absent from the body and present with the Lord, this ought to mitigate their sorrows, and melt their hearts into unreserved and grateful submission. Though God knew the loss they would sustain, and the pains they would feel, under such a sudden, unexpected and heavy bereavement, yet he did not afflict and grieve them willingly, but wisely and benevolently designed to teach them that in adversity which they could not learn in prosperity. And what better method could he have taken to teach them that they never know, when they go out of their houses, that they shall ever enter into them again; when they leave their friends, that they shall ever see them again; when they undertake any business of importance, that they shall ever be able to accomplish it; when they sincerely desire to promote the spiritual
* Rev. Elisha Fisk