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SERMON X X X V.
DEATH IN THE MIDST OF LIFE.
DEATH OF MAJOR ERASTUS EMMONS, MARCH 13, 1820 : AGED 33.
I SAID, O my God, take me not away in the midst of my days.
It is uncertain when David presented this petition to his Creator and Preserver ; but it is natural to suppose that it was at a time when he viewed himself apparently exposed to the stroke of death. It seems by what he said just before he made this request, that he was in a low and languishing state of health, and apprehended that he was gradually drawing near to the grave. He felt that his strength was weakened, and therefore expected that his life would be shortened; and, under this impression, he prayed that God would not take him away in the midst of his days. Though he was a good man, and habitually prepared to leave the world, yet he seems to have been reluctant to dying in the meridian of life. And who is there now in the midst of his days, that feels no reluctance to going the way of all the earth ? Neither the young, nor the old, whether in a state of nature or of grace, are generally so unwilling to go off the stage of life, as those who are in the midst of their days. If those in the decline of life were to look back and compare their past and present feelings upon this subject, they would undoubtedly find that they never had so strong an attachment to life as when they were in their own view in the midst of their days. Since that period, many things have occurred to wean them from the world. But though mankind are so reluctant to being taken away in the midst of their days, yet this reluctance is no security against the stroke of death, even in that stage of life. David knew that God had a right to cut short his life, and take him away from all his fond hopes, and expectations, and prospects, in the midst of his days. This right God sometimes exercises; for what Job says is often verified. “ One dieth in his full strength, being wholly at ease and quiet. His breasts are full of milk, and his bones are moistened with marrow.” It is, therefore, a plain truth, and worthy of our serious consideration,
That God does take away some in the midst of their days, though they are then the most unwilling to die. I shall show,
I. That those who are in the midst of their days are generally the most unwilling to die : and,
II. That nevertheless, God does take away some in the midst of their days, as well as in any other period of life.
I. I am to show, that those who are in the midst of their days are generally the most unwilling to die.
It is not necessary to say, very exactly, who are in the midst of their days. Estimating the period of human life at threescore years and ten, we may consider all those in the meridian of life, whose age is between thirty and fifty years. In these twenty years, mankind are generally the most capable of acting their various parts on the stage of life. And it is in this period that they are generally the most attached to living and the most averse to dying. Generally, I say, because there may be exceptions to this opinion. There are so many changes in the outward and inward state of mankind, that some in the earlier, and some in the later period of life, may be the most unwilling to die. These things being premised, I proceed to observe,
1. That those in the midst of their days have the strongest expectations of living. They have been in deaths oft. They have been sensible of the danger of losing their lives, ever since they can remember; but yet have always escaped the arrow of death. They have often been visibly exposed to accidents; but have always escaped those that are fatal. They have often been sick, and sometimes dangerously so; but have always happily recovered. All these recoveries from sickness, and escapes from danger, have had a natural tendency to create hopes and expectations of living, and still escaping future dangers and diseases. Whether their bodily constitution be slender or robust, they place more dependence upon it in the meridian, than in any other period of life. They have known by experience that they have outlived many who were younger and stronger, and, perhaps, in many respects more likely to live than they. And when they look around them, they find that much the largest class of the living are, like themselves, in the meridian of life. All these circumstances are familiar to them; and they can easily and almost imperceptibly put them together, in order to strengthen and confirm their ardent and
pleasing hopes of living. They are not alarmed, like the aged, at the shortness of life ; nor, like the young, at desolating judgments and contagious diseases. No fatal disorders, or accidents, or calamities, which fall upon those around them, destroy, but rather corroborate their hopes of long life. Now this fond hope of living, naturally creates an aversion to dying. Those who have the highest hopes and expectations of living have the greatest reluctance to leaving the world, in which they wish to live. Whatever the hope of the living be founded upon, whether the prospect of getting or of doing good, that hope must render death a dreaded event. And since those in the morning and meridian of life commonly and habitually cherish the most sensible hopes of living, they are, generally, of all persons the most unwilling to bury their earthly prospects in
2. Those in the midst of their days often wish to do a great deal more good in the world before they die. This was undoubtedly the desire and design of David. As he had defeated the army of the Philistines, and put an end to a dangerous war, while he was but a stripling; so he still desired to serve God and his generation much longer in this world. He was now seated on the throne of Israel, and had an opportunity, if his life was spared, to promote the best interests of a large kingdom. This made him deprecate, like Hezekiah, the cutting off of his life in the midst of his days. Paul was in a strait betwixt two, having a desire both to live and to die. If he had had only a desire to die, he would not have been in any strait betwixt two. But he had a desire to live, as well as to die; and his desire to live arose entirely from his desire to do more good. This desire to do good arises to the highest degree of ardor and vigor in the breasts of good men in the midst of their days, when they have the most clear and extensive view of things, and feel the most capable of promoting the glory of God and the good of mankind. And the desire of doing good creates a desire of living, and a reluctance to dying an early and premature death. Some pious persons in the decline of life express a willingness to die, because they have, in their own apprehension, if not in the view of others, nearly or wholly outlived their usefulness. And when this is the case, it is a good reason why they should be more willing to be dismissed from the cares, the labors, and burdens of life, and have liberty to rest in their graves. While, on the other hand, pious young men are in a measure unconscious of their abilities to do good, when they shall arrive at the meridian of life. They have neither tried their abilities, nor extended their views, nor raised their expectations of doing much good in the world ; and
therefore can be more easily reconciled to being taken away while they have hardly begun to be extensively useful. But while the pious and benevolent are in the midst of their days and usefulness, their feelings are different in respect to dying. The prospect of living, and the desire of doing more good to their fellow men, make them more unwilling to be taken away in the midst of their days. Nature and grace unite in giving them a peculiar reluctance to leaving the stage of action, before they have gratified their benevolent feelings.
3. Those in the meridian of life very often wish, not only to do more good, but to get more good in the world before they die. Mankind generally have the most promising prospects of worldly prosperity in the midst of their days. When we read the history of both the good and bad kings of Israel, we find them at the zenith of their earthly glory in the middle of their lives. This was the case of David and Solomon, the morning and evening of whose lives were dark and gloomy. This was the case of Pompey, Cæsar, Cicero, and most of the illustrious Romans. And this is commonly the case of men in all ranks and stations in life. Few arrive to the height of their prosperity, till they have reached the best part of their days. So long as men are rising in wealth, in reputation and power, their prospects are brightening, and their desires of life are increasing; and these prospects often continue until the decline of life, but seldom any longer. It is, therefore, in this fascinating season, that they most sensibly dread the approach of death, which must necessarily lay all their promising hopes and prospects in the dust. Very few experimentally learn the vanity of the world, until it has painfully disappointed them. It is in the midst of their days and at the height of their prosperity, that they are disposed to form the most undue estimate of earthly happiness; and, of course, it is then they feel the greatest reluctance to being deprived of it by the stroke of death. This is one reason why those in the midst of their days are the most unwilling to die.
4. Those in the meridian of life are the most intimately and extensively connected with their fellow men. These connections are the principal source of human happiness in the present life, and render it the most pleasant and agreeable. The circle of friends, relatives and acquaintance commonly expands wider and wider, until mankind arrive at the meridian of life; and then they diminish, till the aged are left almost alone in the midst of a new world of strangers. There is nothing, perhaps, in the present state, which so sensibly endears life, and so strongly draws the affections to it, as the tender ties which unite the hearts and interests of individuals to each other. These tender ties are often broken one after another before the aged are taken away, which frequently renders death more desirable than life. But the case is far otherwise with those who are in the midst of their days. They are frequently surrounded by rising and numerous families, connected with a large circle of warm and affectionate friends, and deeply interested in the affairs and concerns of life. It is in this period, that the views of men are enlarged, their relative duties are increased, and their public influence widely extended. The cares not only of a family, but of a smaller or larger community, are devolved upon them; and they feel deeply interested in the prosperity of both church and state.
These circumstances, which seem more peculiar to those in the midst of life, ali conspire to create a reluctance to leaving their friends and connections, whose welfare lies so near their hearts. How often do these considerations cause pious parents, dutiful children, affectionate friends, faithful ministers and useful men, to regret being taken away in the midst of their days, and separated from those whom they hold most dear and valuable in life!
5. Those in the meridian of life are often very unwilling to leave the world, because they have not accomplished the designs they have formed, nor obtained the purposes which they have long pursued. The young form very few important designs, and the aged have nearly accomplished theirs. In the decline of life, men commonly lose their enterprising spirit, and endeavor to draw all their purposes into a narrower compass, and rest satisfied with their present attainments. But those in the prime and vigor of their days, expand their desires like the waves of the sea, and exert all their mental powers to lay new plans, to obtain new objects, and to put forth new exertions to accomplish their wishes. They look a great way forward, and form designs which must take years to carry into effect. Their hearts are bound up in their darling designs and pursuits. They ardently desire to live to accomplish their purposes, which must be entirely defeated if death should arrest them in their course. This Job lamented in the days of his bereavement and distress. He said, “ My days are past, my purposes are broken off, even the thoughts of my heart." How many have left their farms uncultivated, their houses unfinished, their merchandise involved, their literary works uncompleted, and their families and friends unprovided for, by being called away in the midst of their days! Death, in such instances, falls upon men in an evil time. And where do we find any in this stage of life, who are not engaged in some worldly design or pursuit; and who would not feel reluctant to leave their designs unaccomplished, and the objects of their pursuit unattained ? The