THE CERTAINTY OF DEATH; A FUNERAL SERMON.
" O wicked man, thou shalt surely die."—Ezek. xxxiii. 8.
Men love themselves, and therefore delight to hear things favorable to themselves; and a benevolent mind, that feels
S>ain whenever he occasions pain to the meanest of his fellow-creatures, would delight to dwell upon such pleasing subjects. And as to the happy few, who are really the sincere servants of God, and are holy in heart and life, I may safely gratify this benevolent inclination, and publish the most joyful tidings. I am authorized to " say to the righteous, it shall be well with him." " Comfort ye, comfort ye, my people ; speak ye comfortably to Jerusalem." This is the gracious command of God to all his ministers. And, oh! how delightful an office to perform it! This only should be the pleasing business of this hour, could I stretch my charity so far as to conclude that -all this promiscuous crowd, without exception, are indeed the dutiful people of God. But was there ever such a pure assembly upon our guilty earth? upon our earth, where an accursed Ham was found in the little, select family of Noah, the best in the whole world; where a Judas mingled among the chosen twelve, the first followers of Jesus; where the tares and the wheat grow together in one field till the harvest ; and where we are expressly told " many are called but few chosen." In such a corrupt world, the most generous charity, if under any scriptural limitations, must hesitate at the sight of such a mixed multitude as this— must be jealous over them with a godly jealousy; must fear, lest there be one—yea, more than one, wicked man among them. That there is too much reason for this suspicion, and that even a benevolent mind is constrained to admit it, however unwilling, will appear evident, I presume, to yourselves before I have finished my discourse. And if there be so much as one wicked man among us, I would,
as it were, single him out from the crowd, and discharge this pointed arrow from the quiver of the Almighty against his heart, to give him not a deadly but a medicinal wound. " O wicked man, thou shalt surely die." I am obliged, at my peril, to denounce this doom against thee; and I dare not flatter thee with better hopes, unless I would be accessor}' to thy death, and at once ruin both myself and thee. For observe the context, which contains the instructions of the great Jehovah to his minister Ezekiel, which are equally binding upon all the ministers of his word in every age. " O thou son of man, I have set thee a watchman unto the house of Israel; therefore thou shalt hear the word at my mouth, and warn them from me. When I say unto the wicked, O wicked man, thou shalt surely die; if thou dost not speak to warn the wicked from his way, that wicked man shall die in his iniquity; but his blood will I require at thy hands." This phrase, " I will require his blood at thy hand," signifies " I will look upon thee as guilty of his murder, and I will punish thee accordingly." Therefore, if I would not incur the guilt and punishment of murder, soul-murder, the most shocking kind of murder; if I would not destroy you and myself, that you may enjoy the sorry pleasure of flattery, and that I may enjoy the short-lived, trifling reward of a little popular applause, I am obliged to tell such of you as are wicked, in the most pungent manner, and as it were by name, " O wicked man, thou shalt surely die;" whoever thou art, however rich, or powerful, or honorable; however bold and presumptuous; however full of flattering hopes ; however sure of life in thine own conceit; if thou be wicked, thou shalt die ; thou shalt surely die ; or, to use the force of the Hebrew phrase, dying thou shalt die. It is the declaration of eternal truth, which cannot fail; it is the sentence of the Lord of hosts, who is able to carry it into execution. But here two interesting questions occur, Who are the wicked? and What kind of death shall they die ?
If we should not first inquire, who the wicked are, I should but speak to the air; for hardly any would apply the character to themselves. It is an odious character; and that alone is the reason why many try to persuade themselves it is not theirs. Let us submit ourselves to an impartial trial, and endeavor to discover whether the " aracter of the wicked man belongs to us or not.
The first class of wicked men that I shall take notice of, are profane and gross sinners, who indulge themselves in notorious immoralities. Instead of particularizing them myself, I shall produce to you a list of them, which the apostle has given long ago. " Know ye not, that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God." He seems surprised any should be ignorant of so plain a point as this. " Be not deceived," says he ; do not flatter yourselves with better hopes; but who are the unrighteous ? He tells you particularly, " Neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate," soft, luxurious creatures, unmanned with sensual pleasures, " nor abusers of themselves with mankind," Sodomites, " nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners, shall inherit the kingdom of God." You see the apostle is fixed and peremptory in it, that sinners of this class are universally excluded from the kingdom of heaven—not one of them all shall ever be admitted there, if they continue such. All such shall certainly perish, or else St. Paul was an impostor. To the same purpose he speaks, " the works of the flesh are manifest, which are these, adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lasciviousness, idolatry, witchcraft, hatred, variance, emulations, wrath, strife, seditions, heresies, envyings, murders, drunkenness, revelings, and such like ; of the which I tell you before," that is, I honestly forewarn you, "as I have told you in times past, that they which do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God." As sin is a monster of so many heads, he does not enumerate them all, but comprehends them in a lump; declaring that they who practised the vices mentioned, or such like, though not exactly the same, shall be excluded from heaven. He denounces the same doom against these vices in his Epistle to the Colossians: "fornication, uncleanness, inordinate affection, evil concupiscence, and covetousness,"—for which things' sake the wrath of God cometh on the children of disobedience. I shall add but one testimony more, " the fearful," the cowardly in the cause of God, " and unbelieving, and the abominable, and murderers, and whoremongers, and sorcerers, and idolaters, and all liars shall have their part in the lake that burnetii with fire and brimstone, which is the second death." These you see are the certain symptoms of the heirs of hell; and if they be admitted into a state of everlasting happiness, while they continue such, it is certain your religion must be false; for the Bible, which is the foundation of your religion, repeatedly declares they shall not be admitted there. It is also observable, that in this black list you not only find such gross vices as are scandalous in the common estimate of mankind, but also such as are secret, seated in the heart, and generally esteemed but lesser evils. Here you find not only murder, whoredom, idolatry, theft, and such enormous and scandalous sins, but also covetousness, wrath, strife, envyings, unbelief, and such like latent sins, which men generally indulge themselves in without feeling much guilt upon their consciences, or apprehending themselves ,"n great danger of punishment.
I should be very sorry so much as to suppose there are any among you of this abandoned character. But I must propose the matter to your decision; and at so favorable a tribunal you will no doubt be acquitted, if you be clear. I say, I propose it to yourselves, whether some of you be not drunkards, swearers, liars, extortioners, sabbath-breakers, and the like ? Or, if you are free from these grosser forms of vice, do not some of you live in wrath, strife, reveling and carousing, covetousness, secret uncleanness, and the like ? If this be your character, I have another thing to propose to you; and that is, whether it be most likely that you shall be excluded the kingdom of heaven, or that Christ and his apostles, and the other writers of the Holy Scriptures, were deceivers ? one or the other must be the case; if you be admitted into heaven, then they were certainly deceivers; for they have declared you shall not be admitted.
Thus far you are assisted to judge who are the wicked; and whether some of you do not belong to this unhappy class. And now I proceed to another class.
Secondly: All those are wicked who knowingly and willfully indulge themselves habitually in any one sin, whether it be the omission of a commanded duty or the practice of something forbidden. Every good man is of the same opinion as the apostle Paul, " I delight in the law of God after the inner man." And, consequently, they who do not delight in his law are of a spirit and character directly contrary to Paul; in other words, they are wicked. The willful and habitual practice of any known sin, and the willful and habitual neglect of any known duty, are repeatedly mentioned in the Scriptures, as the sure signs of a wicked man. Our Lord himself has repeatedly assured us, that all pretensions to love him are vain, unless we keep his commandments. What is it to be a wicked man, but to work iniquity ? and what is it to work iniquity but to neglect what God has commanded, or practice what he has forbidden ?
« ^t5is,/Sfref^^n1ownto y°u all'as an undoubted truth, that the willful habitual indulgence of any known sin is the inseparable character of a wicked man. You may plead the infirmity of human nature, the strength of temptation, or the innocence of your hearts and intentions even in the midst of your sins; you may plead that the best have their infirmities as well as you; and that many around you are much worse than you—you may plead these and a thousand other such excuses; but plead what_ you will, all your excuses are in vain; and this still remains an unchangeable truth, that all the habitual practices of sin are the servants of sin. It matters not whether the sin be secret and clandestine, or public and avowed; whether it be a greater or smaller size; whether you are stung with remorse for it afterwards, or not; whether you intend to forsake it hereafter, or not; such circumstances as these will not alter the case; in spite of such circumstances if you indulge any one known sin, you bear the infernal brand of wickedness upon you. I grant that good men sin and that they are far from perfection of holiness in this life. I grant also that some of them have fallen, perhaps once in their life, into some gross sin. But
R +la ' •um,U8i 2?sist ,that the^ do not indulge themselves in the willful habitual practice of any known sin, or the willful habitual neglect of any known duty. St. John expressly tells us, that " he that is born of God, neither doth nor can sin,' m this sense. He cannot sin habitually; the
TonZaSZ\ f Tn?n S° °Vn ^ °ne sin as his usua* course but if he fall it is by surprise; and taking one
time with another, he is generally, and for the most part, under he influence of holy principles. Again, he cannot sin willfully; that is, with full bent of soul? The prevailing inclination and tendency of his soul is not towards sin • but, on the other hand, he really hates it, and resists it even in its most tempting forms; and it is his incessant struggle and honest endeavor to suppress it. He never
can abandon himself more to the free uncontrolled indulgence of the sweetest sin, though it should be only in heart. Both Scripture and reason renounce those crowds of pretended Christians we have among us, who are under the habitual power of some sin or other, and live in the neglect of some known duty.
And now, are not sundry of you convicted of the character of wicked men, who might not come under the former class of profane sinners ? Do not some of you know in your conscience there is some little sweet sin (so you esteem it) which you cannot bear to part with ? Is there not some duty, which is so disagreeable to you, so contrary to your inclination, to your reputation in the wicked world, or to your temporal interest, that though you are secretly convinced it is your duty, yet you omit it, you put it off, and think God will dispense with your obedience in so slight a matter ? If so, you must be ranked in the numerous class of wicked men. There, indeed, you have company enough; but company is no security in a combination against Omnipotence.
Thirdly, all those are wicked who are destitute of those graces and virtues which constitute the character of positive goodness. Wickedness is a moral privation, or the icant of real goodness. The want of faith, the want of love, repentance, benevolence, and charity, does as really constitute a wicked man as drunkenness, blasphemy, or any notorious immorality. Certainly I need not particularly mention to you those passages of Scripture which declare those graces essential to a good man, and the want of them the grand mark and constituent of a bad one. A good man that does not love God or mankind, a good man without faith or repentance, is as great a contradiction as a hero without courage, a scholar without learning, a righteous ruler without justice, or a fire without heat. Therefore, if any of you be destitute of the grace of repentance, if you have not a clear conviction and deep sense of your sinfulness in heart and life, by nature and practice; if you be not deeply sorry at heart for your sins, and hate them— hate them all without exception; if you do not forsake your sins, as well as sorrow for them; and if you do not fly to the mere mercy of God in Jesus Christ for pardon, and place all your dependence upon his righteousness; I -, unless this be your daily experience and practice, you are entirely destitute of true evangelical repentance, and consequently come under the unhappy class of wicked men. If you do not love God with all your hearts, that is, if you have not frequent affectionate thoughts of him; if you do not delight in his service, and in communion with him in divine ordinances; if your love do not produce cheerful universal obedience, which is the infallible test of love, then you are certainly destitute of the heavenly grace of love; and sure, without this, you will not pretend to the character of good men! Now if all who are destitute of these qualifications should walk off to the left hand, as they must do another day, would it not thin this crowd ? Oh ! how few would be left behind! I beseech you to examine yourselves impartially, that you may know your true character.
Fourthly, to sum up the whole, all those are wicked who still continue in their natural state; who have never been regenerated, or experienced a thorough change of their views and dispositions towards God, and divine things. Even our own observation of the natural temper of mankind is sufficient to convince us, though the Scriptures were silent, that they are from their very birth wicked, disinclined to God and holiness, and bent to that which is evil. Alas! you are stupidly ignorant of yourselves, if you do not know, by experience, that this is your case. To this the Scriptures also bear abundant testimony. " That which is born of the flesh is flesh; and they that are in the flesh cannot please God." " We were by nature the children of wrath, even as others;" we and others, that is, all, without exception, are by nature children of wrath, and consequently wicked; for certainly those who are not wicked cannot be children of wrath. Upon this corruption of human nature is founded the necessity of that change of temper which the Scripture calls, and which therefore, we dare to call the new birth or new creation. And since this corruption of human nature is universal, it follows that all are wicked who have never experienced this divine change.
This must suffice, at present, in answer to the first question, Who are the wicked ? And I hope sundry of you, if you honestly make use of the light you have, have discovered that whatever flattering hopes you have entertained, you must really place yourselves in the class with wicked men. This is an alarming consideration at any time; but it is much better to receive it now, when the case may be remedied, than in the eternal world, where it will be too late. And now, O wicked man, who ever thou art, as Ehud said to Eglon, " I have a message from God to thee;" a message not unlike to his; and that is, " Thou shalt surely die." Profane sinner, drunkard, swearer, whoremonger, " thou shalt surely die." You that knowingly, willfully, and habitually indulge in any favorite sin, " you shall surely die." You that are destitute of genuine faith, love, and the other graces and virtues, essential to a good man, " you shall surely die." You that are still the same in temper and disposition that you were by nature, "you shall surely die. This is the invariable decree of Heaven, that you shall die. You may cast death out of your thoughts; but for all this you shall die; you may continue unprepared for it, but you must die prepared or not. You may be young, gay, presumptuous, rich, or
Eowerful, but you must die. Were you as high and as right as Lucifer, as rich as Croesus, as powerful as Alexander, you must die. Your wickedness cannot immortalize you. Though you are wicked men now, you shall be dead men ere long. Yes, as surely as you now live, you shall die. But }'ou will, perhaps, reply, " What is this that you tell us? Is death the lot only of the wicked? Must not all men die, the good as well as the bad ? How then can death be threatened as the peculiar doom of the wicked ?" The answer to this naturally leads me to the second question. What kind of death shall the wicked man die? It is true, natural death is the universal doom of all the sons of men. " How dieth the wise man ? as the fool ?" The highest attainments in piety cannot secure an earthly immortality. Peter and Paul are dead as well as Judas. But though there be no difference in this respect, there is a wide difference in another, and that is, the death of the wicked is quite another thing, or comes under quite a different notion from the death of the righteous. The death of the wicked, like an officer from the offended sovereign, strikes off the fetters of flesh, that they may be carried away to the place of execution; but the death of the righteous, like a friendly angel, only opens the door of
their prison, and dismisses them from their bondage in
~~"Minful flesh. The righteous, in death, enjoy, more or less, the consolations of an approving conscience, of the sweets of the love of God, and the kind supports of an Almighty Saviour's hand. But the wicked die as criminals by the hand of justice, their guilt is unpardoned, and this gives death its sting; they have no Almighty friend in death, but Jesus, who alone can relieve them, is their enemy; they have no reviving sensations of divine love, but guilty reflections and shocking prospects; or, if they entertain hopes of happiness, which most of them probably do, alas! they are but short-lived delusions, which will vanish like a dream in the morning, as soon as the light of eternity flashes upon them. Death dismisses the righteous from all their sins and sorrows, and conveys them into a state of perfect and everlasting holiness and happiness; but the death of the wicked cuts them off from all enjoyments, from the means and hopes of salvation, and fixes them in an unchangeable, everlasting state of sin and misery. Then, farewell, a long, an everlasting farewell to the comforts of this life ; farewell to friends; farewell to hope and peace; farewell to all the means of grace; farewell God, and Christ, and angels, and all the blessedness of heaven. Now, nothing awaits them but wrath and fiery indignation. Thus, O wicked man, you shall die; and is not this a very different thing from the death of the righteous ?
Realize this prospect, sinners, and sure it must startle you. The time is just at hand when the cold hand of death shall arrest you ; when the vital pulse shall cease to beat and your blood to flow, a ghastly paleness overspread your countenances, and a deadly numbness creep over your frame and stupefy your active limbs ; when the unwilling, lingering soul must be torn from its old companion of flesh, must bid adieu to all the enjoyments and pursuits of this mortal life, and shoot the gulf of eternity, and launch away ; when it must pass into the immediate presence of God, mingle among the strange, unacquainted beings that inhabit the unseen, untried world, and be fixed in an unchangeable state ; when you must leave your riches, your honor, your pleasures, which are pursued with so much labor and eagerness, and go as naked out of the world as you came into it: when you are reduced to this extremity, think, O wicked man, think seriously how miserable your condition will be ! Then no comfortable reviews of past life! no supporting whispers of conscience within! no God, no Jesus, no Saviour to support you! no encourgaging prospect before you! or none but the delusive, evanishing, confounding encouragements of a false and flattering hope! no relief, no gleam of hope from heaven or earth, from God or his creatures! But a guilty life behind you! a corrupt heart, utterly unfit for heaven, and a clamorous, gnawing conscience within you! an angry God, a frowning Saviour, and a lost heaven, above you! a boundless burning ocean below you! O! what a tragical exit, what a melancholy end is this! This is to die indeed! And thus, " O wicked man, thou shalt surely die." Such a death will be the certain doom of persisting, impenitent wickedness. I need make no exception at all, but only that which I have already hinted at, namely, that many a wicked man dies with a self-flattering apprehension that he is not wicked, and with sanguine hopes of heaven. This is a common case, especially with persons who have not lived under a faithful ministry, to inform them honestly of the nature of religion, and the prerequisites of salvation. But, alas! what a sandy foundation is this! what avails it to enjoy a little delusive relief in the hour of death, when the first entrance into the eternal world will cause the dream to vanish for ever, and leave }rou to perish without hope, in all the confusion and consternation of a disappointment! with this trifling exception, which indeed is rather an aggravation than a real mitigation, I denounce from the living God, that thus shall every wicked man among you die, if you still continue such.
But even this, dreadful as it is, is not all; there is, besides this, that dreadful something, called the second death, which thou, O wicked man, must die. Besides that death, which will put an end to this transitory life, you will have another death to suffer; a death, which will immediately commence when the other is over; a death which will not be over in a few moments, like the other, but the agonies of which will continue—an everlasting death—a state of misery, which will render life worse than death, or being worse than annihilation. Then the soul will be for ever dead to God and holiness—dead to all the means of grace, and all the'enjoyments of this life—dead to all happiness and all hope—dead to all the comfortable purposes of existence—• and every thing that deserves the name of life; in short, dead to every thing, but the torturing sensations of pain; to these the soul will be tremblingly alive all"over to eternity; but, alas! to be alive, in this sense, alive only to suffer pain, is worse than death, worse than annihilation. This is the import of that dreadful phrase, " the second death."
And now, when you see the dreadful import of this denunciation, may it not spread terror through this assembly to hear, " O wicked man, thou shalt surely die?" Are your hearts proof against the thunder of his threatenings ? Are you so foolhardy as not to be concerned whether eternal life or eternal death be your doom ? Is there no wicked man in this assembly so much affected as at least to inquire, " Is there no way of escape ? Must I die without relief? Is the sentence passed beyond repeal ?" No; blessed be God, you are yet alive; and while there is life there is hope. The gates of eternal despair are not yet shut and barred upon you. Therefore, in the name of God, I assure you there is hope, there is a possibility of escaping. But in what way? Suppose you sin on, as you have done hitherto, and herd in the crowd of wicked men; suppose you still continue thoughtless about the great concerns of eternity, neglect the Lord Jesus, and attend upon the means of grace in a careless, formal manner; suppose your hearts should never be changed by the almighty power of divine grace, but still remain hard, impenitent, in love with sin and the world, and destitute of the love of God; suppose you resist the strivings of the Holy Spirit and your own consciences, flatter yourselves with vain hopes of safety, and shut your eyes against the light of conviction; suppose you should abandon yourselves to the pursuit of this world with your usual eagerness, and drown all serious thoughts in the bustle and confusion of secular affairs: I say, suppose you should take this course, is there any hope ? No; in this way there is nothing but despair. If you should live as long as Methuselah, and continue in this course, you would still continue wicked, and never become more fit for heaven than you now are; nay, like a body tending to corruption, you would corrupt and putrefy more and more. Consult your reason, consult your Bible, consult any thing, except the self-flattering heart of man, and the father of lies; and they will all tell you, that if you persist in this course, you shall surely die. Not one that ever went on in this course has entered into heaven; but in this downward road those crowds persisted, who are now with Judas and Dives, in the place of torment; and if you tread in their steps, you shall certainly be among them.
But, if you will attend, I will endeavor to show you what you must do to be saved, and point out to you the way of life and hope. Hear me, O wicked man! who art under the sentence of death; hear me, and I will direct thee how thou mayest procure a repeal of the sentence, and live for ever. Blessed Spirit ! we need thy assistance in this attempt. Oh! bear home my feeble words with resistless energy upon the hearts of sinners, that this day they may pass from death to life. If you escape death in its most dreadful form, and enter into life, then,
First, Betake yourselves immediately to serious thoughtfulness. No mere of your levity and froth; no more of your mirth and vanity, and dissipation of thought. But now, at last, begin to think; to think seriously and sadly of your sins, of your guilty and wretched condition, of your danger of being for ever miserable, and of the best means of deliverance.
Secondly, Break off from those things that hinder your conversion. No more of your drunkenness, swearing, and other vices. No more mingle in the company of sinners, nor run with them in the same excess of riot. Break off from your over-eager pursuit of the world, and act as if you thought it infinitely worse to be lost for ever than to be mean and poor in this life. Bead the Scriptures, and other good books, and attend upon the most faithful preaching as you have opportunity. Earnestly pray to God. If you have hitherto had prayerless families or prayerless closets, let them be so no longer; this evening, consecrate them to God by prayer. Pray, particularly, for the Holy Spirit, who alone can thoroughly convert and sanctify you.
Thirdly, Endeavor to receive and submit to the Lord Jesus as your Saviour. It is through him alone you can be saved; therefore make use of him as your only mediator, in all your transactions with God.
Finally, Do not delay to follow these directions. Alas! if, with Felix, you put it off to a more convenient season, there is very little hope. " To-day, if ye will hear his voice, harden not your hearts. Now is the accepted time; now is the day of salvation." Therefore now, this moment, begin the work. Now dart up a prayer to heaven, " Lord, here is a poor, wicked creature, that must die ere long, unless thou have mercy upon me: have mercy upon me, O thou God of mercy." Thus pray, and keep your souls, as it were, always in a praying posture until you are heard.
And now, my dear brethren, what is your resolution upon the whole r Are you resolved to use these means for your deliverance, or are you not ? If you are, you have great reason to hope for success. But if not, I defy you to find one encouraging word in all the Bible. On the other hand, I am commanded, upon my peril, to warn you ; and therefore would once more sound this dreadful alarm in your ears, " O wicked man, thou shalt surely die." And if, when you hear the words of this curse, you bless yourselves in your hearts, and hope better things, God foresaw there would be such self-flattering, presumptuous sinners in the world, and he hath prepared his terrors against them. If " there shall be among you a man, or
woman, or family, or tribe a root that beareth gall and
wormwood, that when he heareth the words of this curse, shall bless himself in his heart, saying, I shall have peace, though I walk in the imagination of my heart: the Lord will not spare him; but then the anger of the Lord and his jealousy shall smoke against that man, and all the curses that are written in this book shall lie upon him; and the Lord shall blot out his name from under heaven; and the Lord shall separate him unto evil out of all the tribes of Israel."* What a tremendous threatening is this! and you see it stands in full force against those that presumptuously flatter themselves with false hopes of impunity, whether they be men or women, family or tribe: and it will certainly have a dreadful accomplishment upon such of you as disregard this repeated warning, " 0 wicked man, thou shalt surely die."
For a more immediate improvement of this funeral occasion I would suggest a few solemn reflections.
First: How uncertain and frail are the nearest ties of relation, and all our domestic and relative happiness! therefore, how much should we be concerned to contract immortal friendships, and secure a never-dying happiness!
* Deut. xxix. 18-21.
Secondly : Such bereavements should be made occasions of exercising resignation to the will of God.
Thirdly: Let this instance of mortality put us in mind of our own. Shall others die to warn us that we must die; and shall the warning be in vain ?
Fourthly: Let us rejoice, that though our friends die, yet the Lord liveth, and blessed be our rock!