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the morning of life has any good ground to expect that he in particular shall be preserved to such an extraordinary age. It is computed that more than half of the human race are laid in the dust before they come upon the stage of action, and a very large proportion of the remainder are cut down in the midst of their days, and deprived of the residue of their years. God means to execute the sentence of mortality in such a sovereign manner, to make the living sensible of their constant and absolute dependence upon him, for life, and breath, and all things.
3. God may so frequently shorten the lives of men, to teach the living the necessity of being continually prepared for another life. He has plainly taught them in his word, that after death is the judgment; that after their present life expires, their future life will commence; and that as soon as their frail bodies drop into the dust from which they were taken, their incorruptible spirits must return to him who gave them, and exist for ever. Since their future life is as certain as their present, and infinitely more important, it highly concerns them to be always prepared for the day of death, and the eternal scenes that follow. But they are extremely apt to put far away the evil day, and cherish the inward thought that they shall still live for ever, and not see corruption; that their houses shall continue for ever, and their dwelling-places to all generations. It is this fond and groundless hope of long life that leads thousands and millions of mankind to neglect the care of their souls and the things which belong to their everlasting peace, until their feet stumble upon the dark mountains, and the door of mercy is forever shut. To open their eyes and awaken their attention to the one thing needful, God so frequently and suddenly deprives persons of all characters and descriptions of the residue of their years. And it becomes him to use such solemn and powerful means to promote so important an end as the salvation of souls. He sends death into this, and that, and the other family, and cuts off those who expected to live, that their sudden decease may effectually teach others to prepare to follow them into the grave and eternity.
4. God may take away some before they have filled their days, to teach the living the importance of faithfully improving life as long as they enjoy it. All men are naturally slothful, and are strongly inclined to postpone present duties to a more convenient season. How many great and good things have multitudes intended to do, but never did them, because they were deprived of the residue of their years, upon which they presumptuously calculated! The designs which men form for futurity are some of the strongest motives they have for living. How many have ardently desired to recover from sickness, that they might have time to perform those duties to God and man which they had long intended to perform, but had sinfully postponed and neglected! And how many slothful and negligent persons, after they found they must be deprived of the residue of their years, have not only lamented their past barrenness and unfruitfulness, but solemnly warned the living to be more active and diligent in the improvement of precious time! If men would only work while the day lasts, and improve their time to the best advantage, they might do a great deal for God, and the benefit of the world in a few years. Of this many instances might be mentioned. How much good was done by David, and Solomon, and Hezekiah, in the few years of their reign! How many great and wonderful things did Christ do, in the short space of his ministry! How laborious was Paul and every one of the apostles! and how much did they do, in a little time, to enlighten the world and enlarge the kingdom of Christ ! It is of great importance that all men, whether in a public or private station, should make a wise and faithful improvement of life, while it lasts. And nothing can be better calculated to impress this truth upon their minds, than the conduct of God in depriving so many of the residue of their years. By this, he enforces the solemn admonition, , which he has given to every one in his word. 66 Whatsoever thy hand findeth to do, do it with thy might; for there is no work, nor device, nor knowledge, nor wisdom, in the grave, whither thou goest.”
5. God may sometimes cut short the days of the wicked, to prevent their doing evil in time to come. He knows when any have devised evil, and intend to act like Hazael, in spreading misery and destruction all around them. In such cases he sometimes sees fit to cut down the workers of iniquity, and put a final period to their destructive influence in this world. It appears from scripture, that many such evil designing men have been judicially destroyed, just as they were upon the point of executing their malignant purposes. God disappointed the devices of Pharaoh and his hosts, so that their hands could not perform their enterprise, by plunging them in the mighty deep. David says, “ Bloody and deceitful men shall not live out half their days.” Solomon says, “ The years of the wicked shall be shortened.” And to every one of this character he says again, “Be not over much wicked; neither be thou foolish: why shouldst thou die before thy time?” It is mercy to the righteous, and justice to the wicked, when God shortens their days, and puts it out of their power to injure the cause of truth, and destroy the temporal and eternal interests of mankind.
6. God may sometimes shorten the lives of his faithful servants, to prevent their seeing and suffering public calamities. It seems to have been in mercy to Hezekiah, that God added only fifteen years to his life, instead of fifty, which he might have added. Had his life been protracted to such a late period, he would have been involved in the dreadful evils which were coming upon both his family and kingdom. Hence he realized and acknowledged the goodness of God in delaying those judgments till after he should be removed from the world. “ And Isaiah said unto Hezekiah, hear the word of the Lord. Behold the days come, that all that is in thine house, and that which thy fathers laid up in store unto this day, shall be carried into Babylon : nothing shall be left, saith the Lord. Then said Hezekiah unto Isaiah, good is the word of the Lord which thou hast spoken. And he said, Is it not good if peace and truth be in my days ?” When God is about to do his work, his strange work, and punish a corrupt and degenerate people, he often calls his children home, before he pours out the vials of his wrath in public calamities. Caleb, and Joshua, and the elders that outlived Joshua, were laid in the dust, before he visited his backsliding people with the marks of his severe displeasure. The prophet represents this as the usual mode of the divine conduct. “The righteous perisheth, and no man layeth it to heart; and merciful men are taken away, none considering that the righteous is taken away from the evil to come."
It now remains to improve and apply the subject.
1. If God does not always deprive men of the residue of their years, but allows some to reach the bounds of nature, then there is a propriety in praying for the lives of the aged, as well as for the lives of the young. God may have as good reasons for prolonging the lives of the aged, as for prolonging the lives of infants, or children, or youths, or those in the midst of their days. Life is a blessing; and we may pray that this blessing may be continued to those who are in the possession of it. It is true, we have no right to pray that any person may live for ever, because we know that it is appointed to all men once to die; but since we never know that any living person has reached the bounds of nature, we may pray that his life may be still protracted, if it be consistent with the will of Heaven. Some of those who have passed the scripture bounds, and arrived to eighty or more than eighty years of age, appear as likely to live a number of years longer as ever they did, and may still desire and pray for the lengthening out of their days. And even the oldest persons living, though laboring under pains, infirmities and diseases, which seem to indicate the near approach of death, may yet pray for the removal or mitigation of their bodily disorders, and a longer space of life. Some aged persons, when lying on a sick bed, tell their pious friends not to pray for their continuance in this world, but only for their preparation to leave it. This is entirely wrong. No person has a right to desire that God would deprive him of the residue of his years, or to ask another to pray for his death. Hezekiah was undoubtedly a good man, and fit to die; but when he was apprehensive of being deprived of the residue of his years, he turned his face to the wall
, and earnestly prayed for the continuance of life; and his prayer was graciously heard and answered. God added fifteen years to his life. The living never know that they have lived long enough; this ought to be referred to the divine disposal. As we know not the bounds of nature, so we can never determine when a living man's appointed time to die is come. Thousands have been supposed to be struck with death, who afterwards recovered and lived many years. So long as there is life there is ground of hope, and so long as there is ground of hope there is ground to pray for the continuance of life. The will of the sick or the aged, in this case, is not the rule of duty, but the possibility of living. We ought always to pray that God would lengthen out our own lives, and the lives of others, as long as they can fulfil the designs of providence.
2. If God so often deprives men of the residue of their years, then it is extremely unreasonable and dangerous to flatter ourselves with the hopes of living a great while in the world. What ground have any to expect that their days will be greatly prolonged? Is it because the course of nature may carry them to a great age? This is a slender foundation of hope. God has a thousand ways of obstructing the course of nature, and curtailing the lives of men. Is it because they see some around them covered with gray hairs, and bending under the weight of years? How few is this number, in comparison with those who have come on the stage after them, and gone off the stage before them! Is it because they are young, and healthy, and ardently desire to live? How many thousands of this description has God cut down in the morning of life, and deprived of the residue of their years! What ground has any individual to expect that he shall escape all the dangers and diseases which have proved so fatal to others, and live as long as man can live according to the course of nature? It is extremely absurd in the young as well as the old, to calculate on the continuance of life, and place dependence upon the residue of their years, which they may never see.
This vain hope of futurity is no less dangerous than absurd. It stupifies the minds of the godly, and makes them more negligent and unfaithful in discharging the duties which they owe to God, to themselves, and to their fellow men. It strengthens the hands and encourages the hearts of the wicked to continue in their vain and vicious courses, and to neglect their spiritual and eternal concerns. It is the strongest and most fatal practical error that mankind ever imbibed. It has slain its thousands and ten thousands. It proved fatal to millions that were suddenly and unexpectedly swept away by the flood. It proved fatal to the men of Sodom and Gomorrah. It led Felix to stifle conviction, and postpone the care of his soul to a season he never found. And it still has the same hardening and destructive influence upon all impenitent and unbelieving sinners. Let no person, therefore, boast of to-morrow; for he knows not what a day may bring forth. God is every day depriving men of the residue of their years, and destroying their vain and groundless expectations of long life. This is a plain and solemn comment upon Christ's admonition to all : “ Be ye also ready: for in such an hour as ye think not, the Son of Man cometh."
3. Since God deprives so many of the residue of their years, we ought to beware of placing too much dependence upon the lives of others, as well as upon our own.
Others are as liable to leave us as we are to leave them; their lives may be shortened, while ours are prolonged; and we have no more right to place dependence upon their living, than upon living ourselves. We are all exposed to meet death at any future moment, and therefore have no just ground to place absolute dependence upon one another. But we are extremely prone to place such undue dependence upon some of those with whom we are nearly related or connected. We are apt to flatter ourselves that they will live to promote our comfort and support, as long as we shall need to be comforted and supported in the present state. Husbands and wives, parents and children, brothers and sisters, are naturally inclined to place too much dependence upon the lives of each other. Warm and intimate friends are no less exposed to entertain and cherish the same delusion. And sometimes a whole nation place all their hopes of public peace and prosperity upon a wise and faithful sovereign, or upon a young and promising prince. Hence says David, “ Put not your trust in princes, nor in the son of man, in whom there is no help. His breath goeth forth, he returneth to his earth : in that very day his thoughts perish.” This equally applies to the pious parent and dutiful child, to the faithful friend and kind benefactor, and to every person upon whom we place unlimited dependence. Let us, therefore, “cease from man: – for wherein is he to be accounted of?” The residue of life