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be firmness and dignity of mind, but rather a brutal callousness of heart; and where there is no cause of personal alarm, who would wish to witness without anguish, the last moments of a dying friend; or to press his chill hand, and gaze on his fixed immoveable features, without experiencing the most solemn emotions ?
The feeling, however, will always be modified by the particular circumstances of the case. When death closes a life of virtuous exertion, guided by just sentiments of religion, and supported by a belief in the infinite mercies of God; by a conviction that his providence extends through all his works, and that the living and the dead are alike the objects of his merciful regard, we view it as the harbinger of a blessed immortality. Age, too, which blunts the keenness of every feeling ; which gradually loosens all our connections with society, since we can no longer take a part in its active pursuits; which places us among those whose schemes and prospects, whose habits of thought and action have little sympathy with ours, and makes us in some degree the inhabitants of another world before we are removed from this—to age, when sinking under its infirmities, the grave seems to afford a secure and quiet harbour from the restless storms of life. From the same pitiless and pelting storms, long before time has deadened the capacity for action or for enjoyment, the grave may be a blessed place of refuge for merit withered and blighted by neglect; for persecuted virtue ; for the anguish of hopeless bodily disease ; and for those sons and daughters of misfortune to whom the world affords no prospect but that of houseless and friendless indigence.
“ In the grave the wicked cease from troubling, and the weary are at rest.” In these, and in many other cases, in which we can see nothing good in life, except that it is the gift of a good God-except that it is the path through which the immortal mind of man must move to heaven, death is rather to be welcomed as a friend than to be dreaded as an enemy. And in every case, one stern consolation is afforded by the uncertainty of what is future; for though at an early period, and in the ordinary circumstances, of life, the future may justly take its colouring rather from hope than from fear; yet in the impenetrable gloom that rests upon it, who can tell what severity of misery may be awaiting him? If the Captain of our salvation, pure and holy as he always was, still was “ perfected by suffering,” who can tell what degree of suffering the wisdom of Almighty God may judge necessary in this probationary state, for a frail and erring creature ?
I have mentioned some cases in which we can discern that mercy with which this afflictive dispensation of God's providence is tempered. From the multitude of instances in which we find infinite power and wisdom the ministers of goodness, alike infinite, it is a clear dictate of reason to conclude, and a delightful exercise of faith to believe, that were our capacities adequate to the grandeur of so vast a prospect, we should in every case discover the same gracious exercise of mercy. But the capacity of man is limited, and though it furnishes matter for astonishment, for admiration, and for gratitude, that his bodily senses should enable him to explore so ample an extent of the material universe, and that the wonderful powers of his mind, aided as they have been by the blessed light of revelation, should qualify him to comprehend, in some faint degree, the great and glorious schemes of Providence; yet, these, in innumerable instances, must for ever mock the utmost acuteness of hunian penetration. And we are never more sensible of this than when we see the bright hope and promise of earthly happiness blasted by the stroke of death.
In such a calamity, let the thoughtless and the dilatory hear a warning voice. Sensible as we all are of the frailty of that uncertain tenure by which life is held, our presumption still relies upon the future, and we neglect alike what prudence enjoins for the arrangement of our temporal affairs, and what religion commands as a necessary preparation for the awful solemnities of judgment. The true preparation for death, and for the glorious or tremendous scenes to which it will conduct us, is a life directed by the rules of religion and of virtue. We are not to hope that future blessedness can be purchased by the pangs and fervours of a momentary repentance. Let those, therefore, who have left that undone which conscience tells them should be done, feel in every bereaving dispensation, a motive to rouse them to the earnest and vigorous discharge of all their duties, before they descend into that grave where is “ neither working, nor knowledge, nor device.”
REFLECTIONS ON DEATH.
(jonin FOSTER, AUTHOR OF
THE records of time are emphatically the history
of death. A whole review of the world, from this hour to the age of Adam, is but the vision of an infinite multitude of dying men. During the more quiet intervals, we perceive individuals falling into the dust through all classes and all lands. Then come floods and conflagrations, famines, and pestilence, and earthquakes, and battles, which leave the most crowded and social scenes silent. The human race resemble the withered foliage of a wide forest: while the air is calm, we perceive single leaves scattering here and there from the branches; but sometimes a tempest, or a whirlwind, precipitates thousands in a moment. It is a moderate computation which supposes a hundred thousand millions to have died, since the exit of righteous Abel. Oh! it is true that ruin hath entered the creation of God! that sin has made a breach in that innocence which fenced man round with immortality! and even now the great spoiler is ravaging the world. As inankind have still sunk into the dark gulf of the past, history has given buoyancy to the most wonderful of their achievements and characters, and caused
* “I have read, with the greatest admiration, the Essays of Mr. Foster. He is one of the most profound and eloquent writers that England has produced.”—Memoirs of Sir James Mackintosh, vol. i. p. 371.
them to float down the stream of time to our own age. It is well; but if, sweeping aside the pomp and deception of life, we could draw from the last hours and death beds of our ancestors, all the illuminations, convictions, and uncontroulable emotions of heart, with which they have quitted it; what a far more affecting history of man should we possess ! Behold all the gloomy apartments opening, in which the wicked have died; contemplate first the triumphs of iniquity, and here behold their close; witness the terrific faith, the too late repentance, the prayers suffocated by despair, and the mortal agonies ! These once they would not believe, they refused to consider them, they could not allow that the career of crime and pleasure was to end. But now truth, like a blazing star, passing through a midnight sky, darts over the mind, and but shows the way to that “ darkness visible,” which no light can cheer. Dying wretch! we say in imagination to each of these, Is religion true? Do you believe in a God, and another life, and a retribution? O yes! he answers, and expires ! “But the righteous hath hope in his death.” Contemplate through the unnumbered saints that have died; the soul, the true and unextinguishable life of man, charmed away from this globe by celestial music, and already respiring the gales of eternity! If we could assemble in one view all the adoring addresses to the Deity, all the declarations of faith in Jesus, all the gratulations of conscience, all the admonitions and benedictions to weeping friends, and all the gleams of opening glory; our souls would burn with the sentiment,