Sermon XXI

SERMON XXI.

PREPARATION TO MEET GOD.
Amos iv. 12. Prepare to meet thy God.

From these impressive and solemn words, I propose to give an answer to the following enquiries:

I. To whom may the command be considered as addressed?

II. Why should a preparation be made to meet God?

III. In what way are we to prepare for it? and

IV. When should it be done?

I. To whom may the command be considered as addressed? The general answer to this enquiry is obvious. It is to be regarded as addressed to all those who have made no preparation for meeting God; I mean those who have never made this a specific and settled part of their plans, or who have not devoted their attention to it so as to have that done which is needful to be done. This class comprises a large portion of the human family; a large portion of those to whom the gospel is preached. The idea is, that they have done nothing which can be considered as having been performed with reference to the future interview with their final Judge. They have done many things—and done them very well—with reference to other matters, but they have done nothing with a distinct desire and intention to be prepared to stand at his bar.

This general description comprises several classes who may be regarded as especially addressed.

{1.) Those who have designedly crowded the whole subject from their minds, and who have been unwilling to bestow any thought on it as a personal matter. They may have listened respectfully to the preaching of the gospel; or they may have bestowed some attention on religion as a speculative enquiry, but they have intentionally resisted all its appeals to them personally. Whenever they have reasoned or conversed on the subject of religion, it has been with an intention that it should make no personal impression on them. They have never allowed the warnings and appeals of truth to have any direct bearing on themselves; nor in the whole course of their lives have they ever done one thing with a distinct and simple intention to be prepared to meet God. They have dene nothing which cannot be accounted for on some other supposition, and they are conscious that they have never spent one half hour in their lives in doing any thing with a sole desire to be prepared to meet their Maker.

(2.) This description embraces also those who have deferred the subject with an intention to prepare at a future time. They have some sense of the importance and necessity of making preparation. They see and admit that something more is to be done than has been done. It is not their design that it shall be wholly neglected. But they have deferred doing what is necessary to be done—whatever they may suppose that to be—to a future period;—one till he shall have finished his education; another till he shall be more at leisure, and less burdened with cares; another to abed of sickness; another to old age, or the hour of death. Whatever may be the motives which lead them to delay it; or whatever may be their views of what is necessary to be done, they agree in this, that it is not yet done, and that a preparation is yet to be made.

(3.) There are embraced in this general class, also, those who have spent their time in preparing for other things, so as to crowd this subject out, though without any specific or settled intention to do so. They have been anxious to get ready for this life, and they have unconsciously, almost—or thoughtlessly, at any rate—neglected a preparation for a life to come. At one time they have been occupied in preparing for a journey or a voyage— and then it was crowded from the mind. Or the.youth has been fitting for college, or for a profession; or the young female has been engaged in acquiring skill in music, or solid learning, or preparing to adorn the refined circle; or the young man has been preparing to be a merchant, or a mechanic; and a preparation to meet God has been—not exactly with design, but insensibly neglected. It has not come before his mind as a matter of distinct enquiry, what is necessary to be prepared to. meet God, as it has what is necessary to prepare him to act his part well in life—or if it has, it has been a momentary suggestion, and the solution has been deferred to a future period, and he is now unprepared.

(4.) The general description embraces, also, those who have given some slight attention to the subject, but who have settled down on that which will in fact constitute no preparation when they come to appear before God. They are relying on some delusive views and hopes; some erroneous doctrine, or opinions; some vague, unsettled, and unsubstantial feelings; something that is different from what God has declared to be essential to a preparation to meet him. It is immaterial to my purpose what that may be; nor will I run the risk of exciting prejudice against what I am yet to say, by attempting to speeify what I mean. The general remark is all that is needful here—that it is not every thing which will prepare a man to meet God. On some things we should agree—on others we might differ. We should agree that it is not a man's height or color; not beauty or strength; not talent or learning; not wealth or adorning; not external- accomplishments or professional eminence; not splendid mansions or equipage, that constitute a preparation to meet God. We might differ as to the point whether amiableness and honesty; whether a fair character and a life of integrity; whether,if we do right to men, though we neglect our Maker, some or all of these things would be a sufficient preparation. It is not needful to argue that point here. The general observation will be undisputed—that there is something which is required to prepare us to meet God, and that it is possible that we may be depending on something else rather than on what God demands. If it is not beauty that is required, it is; something else; if it is not wealth, it is something else; if it is not accomplishment, it is something else; if it—is not amiableness, it is something else; if it is not external morality, it is something else; and we may be mistaking that which is not required for that which is. But in such a case it is clear that there would be in fact no preparation to meet God.

These classes, it will be seen at once, embrace a large portion of the human family. What with those who intentionally crowd the whole subject from the mind, and those who designedly postpone it to a future period, and those who in preparing for other things neglect a preparation to meet God, and those who make a false preparation—in the church and out of it—no one can doubt that a very large proportion of the community is embraced. For the most solemn and important moment of existence no preparation is made, and the mass of men live as if it were never to occur. The use to be made of this fact belongs to another part of this discourse. I proceed to the

II. Second point of my discourse—to show why preparation should be made to meet God. Why may it not be left without special solicitude as an event where preparation would be needless? The answers to this question will probably at once occur to every reflecting mind ; but though obvious, they are such as in the hurry and bustle of life we are prone to forget, and I will recall some of them to your recollection. They are such as the following.

(1.) Because it is to be our first interview with him, face to face. Here we do not see him. We attempt to trace the proofs of his existence in his works, and look "through nature up to nature's God"; or we listen to his commands and threatenings in his word. But he is unseen still, and the conception is faint and obscure. "No man hath seen him, or can see him and live." We trace along the proofs of his existence in his works from point to point; but we do not see God. We stretch our eyes over the vast ocean, and see the proof that he is great; but we do not see God in the distance. We follow the lightning's rapid flash as the clouds are covered with a blaze of light; but that flash does not enable us, through the openings of the clouds, to see God. We seize the telescope and point it to the heavens, and look on rolling worlds, and penetrate into the unfathomable abyss where no numbers can compute the distance; but still amidst those distant worlds and systems we have not seen God. We close our eyes in prayer, and address the invisible and the great God, and attempt to form in our imaginations an image of what he is; but we have not seen him. When we die we shall meet him face to face. It will be the first interview where the veil of flesh and sense will not obscure the vision; and for such an interview with the Almighty God man should be prepared.

(2.) We should make preparation because we shall meet him in very solemn circumstances. It will be away from friends; from the body; from the familiar scenes with which we have been conversant here. It will be when we shall be alone with God. It will be the next act that shall succeed the solemn act of dying. A man who is to meet God as soon as he dies, should make some preparation for it. If he were to meet him on a lonely mountain, like Moses,amidst cloudsand tempests—though he had left many friends at the base—as he clambered up its steep ascent, he would feel that he ought to be prepared for that solemn interview. How much more when he leaves his friends weeping around his pale, lifeless body; when he travels alone and disembodied, the untrodden, dark way up to God; when he goes there without a friend or an advocate; when he goes to come back no more!

(3.) We should make preparation because we go there on a very solemn errand. We go there not as idle spectators; not to behold the glory of the divine dwelling and throne; not as We often travel to other lands to see the works of nature, or the monuments of art; but we go on the final trial, and with reference to the irreversible doom of the soul. A man who is soon to be put on trial for his life, fe3ls that much must be done with reference to that important day in his existence; and makes the preparation accordingly. Every thing about the kind of testimony on which he can rely; every thing in the law, in the character of the judge and of the jury, becomes to him a matter of moment, and he looks .it all over with most anxious solicitude. He who should have the prospect of such a trial before him. and who should evince the same unconcern on these points which the mass of men do in reference' to their trial before God, would be regarded as a fool or a madman. Should we go into his cell and find him engaged in bio wins up bubbles, or m some other trifling employment, manifesting the utmost indifference to all that we could say of the character of the judge or jury, or to the importance of being prepared for the arraignment, we should regard him as bereft of the characteristics of a rational being. On the issue of that interview with God depends every thing that is dear to us hereafter. There will not be a moment in all.that boundless eternity before us which Avill not be affected by the results of that day's investigation. To us, it will be the most solemn moment of our existence—a period to be remembered in all the days of our future being—as it should be anticipated with anxious solicitude in all the days that precede it.

(4.) -We should make preparation, because he has solemnly commanded, it. With the utmost clearness and solemnity, he has required us to be ready. No part of the Saviour's instructions was more plain and solemn than to make this the first business of life. . Every thing else was to give way to it. Not even love to a parent; not the care of a family 5 not the duty of hospitality to friends; not even attendance on the funeral obsequies of a deceased relative were to interfere with this. First in our affections; first in our efforts, we were to seek God;—and whatever else was neglected, that was not to be deferred for one moment. My friend, you value yourself on the fact that you are not an open violater of the law of God. "You do not worship idols; you do not profane the name of God; you do not curse father and mother ^ you are not a murderer, an adulterer, a thief, a liar. But here is a command as positive, as direct, as solemn, and I add as important as any one of these—a command which you are habitually and of design neglecting. It is not mere counsel or advice; it is the. solemn command of the Most High, to be ready to meet him, to. be prepared to give up your account, to be fitted for the final trial, to settle the great question of the soul's salvation as the first thing in life. No one can doubt that he meant to be understood as saying that this is his first claim on the heart, and that your first duty is there.

(5.) We should make preparation to meet him, because when we are brought before him it will be too late to do what is necessary to be done. The path up to the judgment-seat is not a way of preparation; nor at his bar is it a place to prepare for eternity. It is no time to prepare for battle when the enemy is in the camp; no time to make ready to meet a foe when he has broken open your door. There is such a thing as putting off preparation until it is too late. A man may neglect the care of his health, until it is too late. A student may suffer the proper time to prepare for a profession to glide away, until ft is too late. A farmer may neglect to plough and sow, until it is too late. A man on a rapid stream near a cataract may neglect to make efforts to reach the shore, until it is too late. And so in religion. It is easy to put it off from childhood to youth; from youth to manhood; from manhood to old age; until it shall be too late. Beyond that interview with God, there is no preparation. Your eternity is not to be made up of a series of successive probations; where,.though you fail in one,you may-avail yourself of another. There is but one probation—0 how short; how fleeting; how soon gone! The shuttle of the weaver flies not swifter; nor do the shadows move more rapidly over the plain.. Each day leaves the number less—and not one of them can be recalled. Life is passed through not to be travelled over again; and each footprint is made to be seen by us no more. He that comes after us may track our way nearer and nearer to the beach where the ocean of eternity rolls; he;may see step^after step in the sand—till he comes to the last print, half washed away by the tide, where we plunged into the vast ocean and disappeared forever. You go not back again. This day, this hour, you live but once—and this setting sun will have taken one irrecoverably from the allotted days of your probation. I wonder at man. The earth is our place of probation—and it is all—literally, absolutely all. In that probation, if ever, you and I are to be prepared for that vast eternity on which we enter in a few days. If not prepared then, we are never to be prepared. Point me, fellow-mortal, to the slightest proof whatever, or to the slightest presumption—I will not ask for proof— that another season of probation is to be granted to you beyond the judgment of the great day, and I will never urge this point again. But if there is none, my dving fellow-man, you ought to be prepared to meet God. It is not a thing of privilege, it is a thing of obligation. Your conscience, your reason, your sober judgment all respond to the claim which I urge upon you, that yon should be ready to meet God. You who have adopted it as a settled purpose that you will not enter a profession without being prepared for it; you who will not appear in the gay assembly without hours spent, under skilful hands, at the toilet, that you may he prepared for it, ought to be prepared to appear before God. You ought to have on a brighter than any earthly array; you ought to have on the garments of salvation—the pure and spotless robes wrought by the "Redeemer's hands and dyed in his blood." Not as you are now, sinful, unforgiven, gay, worldly, thoughtless, ambitious, should you stand before the great and pure Jehovah to receive the sentence which will seal your eternal doom.

III. I proceed, in the third place, to show what is necessary to be done in order to be prepared to meet God. I shall do this in the fewest words, and in the plainest manner possible.

I would observe then, that mere bravery or courage is not a preparation to meet God. The soldier meets the cannon's mouth; the duellist meets his foe on the field; the strong man meets danger without shrinking; the dying man on a bed of pain summons all his strength, and neither trembles nor is alarmed—and bravely dies. Strong in physical courage, bis cheek is not blanched with fear, nor do his knees tremble at the approach of danger.; and friends and eulogists, patriots and historians, send the brave man to heavem But I take it, God is not to be met with mere bravery or heroism. It is not physical courage that is to carry the point against the Almighty. The battery may be approached by the brave man; murderer may meet murderer in the field, and look each other in the eye without quailing, but this is not the way in which man is to meet God—face to face, and eye to eye. Nor are courage, and defiance, and the fearless bearing which faces the cannon's mouth, that by which the kingdom of heaven is to be taken. The conquests of Caesar, Alexander, Napoleon, and Nelson stopped far this side

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the eternal throne; nor will bravery ever make an impression on the Almighty God.

Not more is he prepared to meet God who bids defiance to death; who can jest at the dying pang; who summons all his vigor to maintain his infidel principles to the last, and who secures the eulogium from his friends, 1 He died like a man. He shrank not; he feared not; he trembled not; and firm in his principles and integrity, he died like a man.' Like a man, exactly:—a proud, selfconfident, sinful man. He has his reward. Some friend will rear a stone over his tomb, or pen a lying obituary notice that assures the world that he has gone to heaven; and the lying epitaph shall delude hundreds, while his soul shall be in hell. But God is not thus deceived. Nor does forced and unnatural calmness, or miserable stupidity at the approach of death, beguile him with the belief that the man proud as Lucifer, though in death, has a claim to an admission to heaven. The indecent jesting of Hume when he died did not move God any more than the ravings and blasphemies of Paine or Voltaire. Nor is a studied insensibility in death the proper .preparation to meet God. Insensibility is not what God has any where, either by reason or his" word, required. It is no more manly than it is religious, to be insensible at the prospect of appearing at the bar of God. He who can sport on death's brink, and laugh at the idea of being brought on trial before the eternal bar, or cultivate a studied insensibility at the idea of eternity, has no more the spirit of a man than he has of a Christian. It is a place where man ought to feel; where God meant he should feel; and where all his nature commands him to feel.

What is then necessary to prepare us to meet God? I answer,

(1.) It is necessary to be reconciled to him. No one is prepared to meet him to whom he is a stranger or a foe. No one can be prepared to meet him who has been at no pains to enquire into his character, or who has never sought to please him. No one can be prepared to meet him who has resisted his claims, and who has during his life put himself into an attitude of hostility to him. The man who has made it a point to resist every impression which God would make on his heart; to crowd from his mind all the appeals which He has made to him; to have as little to do with him as possible; never to think of him if he could avoid it, and, when it could not be avoided, to think of him only as severe, and harsh, and unjust in his claims, is assuredly not prepared to meet him. Could he avoid it, he never would meet him. Had he his own choice, he would prefer never to think of him again. But in order to meet him in peace, it is needful that the heart be reconciled to him. Enmity must be laid aside. He must be regarded as a friend; and whatever there is in the heart of hostility to him, or of dissatisfaction with his government and claims; whatever disposition there is to disregard or oppose him, must be laid aside. No man can be prepared to meet him who in form or in fact, in heart or in public conduct, regards him as an enemy. When we come to stand before God we shall wish to look on him as a friend, and not as an Almighty Foe. Hence, with the utmost propriety, the whole of the gospel is regarded as an exhortation to men to be reconciled to God. 2 Con v. 19, 20.

(2.) It is necessary in order to be prepared to meet God, to be bom again; to be renewed by the Holy Ghost. A higher than man—he who is to decide our eternal destiny —has settled this without any ambiguity. "Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born again, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God." John iii. 3. No matter what else a man may have, unless he has experienced this change, he will be excluded from heaven. It would be impossible to make a statement more explicit, or more alarming to large classes of men. The heart is deceitful. It betrays itself. And it is on this point constantly practising a deception. You do not mean to be regarded as infidels—and you are not; you are not disposed to be ranked with scoffers; you are not disposed to be the open enemy of any of the doctrines of the Bible; but here there is a constant delusion playing around the heart, and a secret and most withering unbelief of the words of the Saviour. 'You must be born again,' is the Redeemer's language,' or you cannot be saved.' Yet the feeling of the heart is, 'there may be an exception' in my case. My character for integrity or amiableness is such that it cannot be indispensable for me, and the heart is,.unconsciously almost, substituting something in place of the new birth. You do not depend on the fact that you have been born again as the evidence that you will be saved. You depend on something else—something which in your case will render such a change unnecessary. And when you think of meeting God, it is not with the evidence that the heart has been changed, but with something else that may then answer the purpose, or may be substituted in its stead.

(3.) There must be true repentance for sin, and true faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. On this point, no one here will doubt what are the teachings of the Bible. "He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved, and he that believed not shall be damned." No declarations can possibly be more explicit than those which occur respecting the necessity of repentance and faith. They are addressed to all classes of mankind; they admit of no exceptions. The man who, in the fair sense of the word, is a true penitent, and has true faith in the Lord Jesus, is prepared to meet God; the man who is not a penitent, and who has not that faith, is not prepared to meet him. He may be prepared for other things, but he is not prepared for that hour when he will stand at his bar. He may be prepared to adorn a profession; to charm in the social circle; to preside on a bench of justice; to occupy an exalted'office; to go as an ambassador to foreign courts; but he is not prepared to meet his Maker. "He may be rich, honored, beloved, talented, learned, but he is not ready to meet God. You may be amiable, accomplished, admired, flattered; but you are not prepared to meet God. For the truth of this,.I plant my foot not on human reasoning or conjecture; not on philosophy or fancy; but on the authority of the Bible.

The sum of what I say is this: To be prepared to meet God, we must comply exactly with what he requires. We must meet his terms. It is not what we would have supposed would constitute a preparation; it is not what we may fancy will answer the purpose; it is not what we may choose to substitute in its place. Arsenic will not supply the place of bread in supporting life, or oil the place of water in putting out a fire; nor will amiableness, and accomplishments, and learning, and external morality supply the place of what God requires. You can find no substitute for reconciliation with God. You can find no declaration that you may be saved by morality, or amiableness, or integrity, and that / must be saved by faith in the Lord Jesus. You can find no evidence that you may be saved by an upright life, and by your rank in society, and the poor and the down-trodden only by faith in the Lord Jesus. God makes no such distinctions among mankind. There are no such classes and grades in his kingdom. There are no royal paths to heaven: There are but two classes of people on earth— the righteous and the wicked. There are but two paths that mortals travel—the way to heaven and the way to hell. There are but two places at the judgment bar— the right and the left hand of the Judge. There are but two worlds beyond—heaven and hell—one the abode of the penitent and believing—the other of the impenitent and the unbelieving. There are no Elysian fields—where the proud, the gay, the fashionable, the impenitent may dwell—fields of faney, of amusement, of poetry, of the dance and the song—or -realms of irreligious literature and science, where those may dwell who do not like to retain God in their knowledge.

No one ever need to have made any mistake on this point. If any one is ignorant of what is necessary in order to enter heaven, it is his own fault. It is not needful that any one should live without hope; it is not needful that any one should meet God unprepared. So plain is the account of this matter in the Bible that he may run that reads; and if any man comes to a bed of death unprepared, he does it with his eyes open. There is not a child here who cannot tell what is needful to be prepared to meet God; and I am not mentioning any new thing to you when I remind you that what you are relying on for salvation is not what God requires. Your amiableness is not the love of God. Your morality is not religion. Your accomplishments are not faith in Jesus Christ. Your pride of heart and character; your dependence on your own righteousness, is not repentance. Your indifference to religion is not the peace resulting from reconciliation with God; your cultivated stoicism when you think of death, is not the Christian victory over the grave. Physical and moral courage; the bravery which defies death, is not the qualification with which to meet God.

IV. It remains only to add a remark on the fourth point proposed—the enquiry when we should prepare to meet God? You anticipate what I would say. You know what is the requirement in the Bible on that point. You have heard, to painful satiety, the arguments and commands which require us to do it now;—to attend to it to-day; to defer it no longer. You are familiar with the fact that the Bible requires it to be done at once; that it demands that every thing else should give way for that; that this day may end your probation, and that there is slender probability that preparation will be made on a dying bed. I might content myself with laying this command across your.path—'Prepare to meet thy God.' I might go to the Bible, and bring appeals and commands almost without number, all pressing the point, 'Prepare to meet thy God.' I might take you to the sinner's deathbed, and describe his dying horrors, and pointing you to that sad scene, say to you, '. Prepare to meet thy God.' I might ask you to recall the cases of sudden death—when the young, the vigorous, and the lovely, die-—and pointing you to their solemn warnings, say, 'Prepare to meet thy God.' I might ask you to go and walk among the tombs; to measure the length of the graves there, to find out whether any die as young as you; or to recall, as you stand there, the image of some dear departed friend, or the last accents and warnings of a mother, and say to you in that solemn scene,' Young man, prepare to meet thy God.' Or I might attempt a description of the scenes of the last day —of the rising dead; of the descending Saviour; of the throne of judgment; of the alarm and horror of the sinner there; of the awful doom which awaits him—and, standing by anticipation amidst these solemn scenes, might say, 'Prepare to meet thy God.' I had thought of a different line of remark with which to close my appeal. I had thought of making your own sentiments speak out, and of exhibiting the reasoning which is passing through your mind; and when the command comes, 'Prepare to meet God,' I had thought to say to you, as you say to yourself, 'No—do not obey it now. It is doubtful whether it is for you. It is for that miserable wretch—the outcast of society. It is for that profane and drunken man. It is for the miserable heathen; that poor slave; the weather-beaten seaman; the prisoner doomed to die; the profligate young man; the bold blasphemer. It cannot be for you, so amiable, so upright, so moral. Regard it not—at least now. Enjoy that party which you have in anticipation; go into that gay circle where God is forgotten; refuse to be found among the anxious and the troubled, who enquire the way to life. Not for you, so young, so vigorous, so full of hope, so loved, so anxious to please all; not for you with such a chance of life, and with a character so amiable, can such a command be intended; not for you certainly now, whatever may be in future years. Enjoy the world. Make much of it. Drive on its pleasures and its gains; and forget the God that made you, and forget that there is a Saviour that died for you, and that there is a grave, a heaven, a judgment, and an eternity.' But I must not speak-so. Ye young of either sex; ye children, youth, men; ye amiable, upright, accomplished, moral, there is a grave; a God; a heaven; a hell. I solemnly warn you as a minister of religion—myself soon to die—to be ready for death; and were it my dying message, Would say with the last lisping accents of my lips, 'Prepare Now to meet thy God' Let not that sun set, I solemnly conjure and charge you, in view of the judgment of the great day, without having done something—without having at least once prayed— that you may be prepared to meet God I