MS 67. Literal transcription – misspellings are left intact, xxx denotes illegible word, italicized items are my own comments for clarification. Please note that in some instances the letter “s” may have been replaced with the letter “f,” as was the custom at that time – TG.
Script: 22d Martin 773.
Preach’d at the Funeral of Mrs. Rounsauell
Numbers XXXIII. 10.
Let me die the death of the righteous,
And let my last end be like his.
Whatever difficulties or discoragements the wicked may find or fancy, in setting about the works of righteousnefs, they would all gladly participate of the recompence or reward of it; - how unwilling soever they be to live the life, they neither have, nor can have any objection against dying the death of the righteous; and tho’ there may not perhaps any of them much care to spend their youth and vigor – as the good Man does, yet there is no one of them, but what must needs earnestly and importunately with – that his last end may be like his: - a good wish, which even the worst of Men can scarce help making, whether they will or no. Balaam, we know, was far enough from being a good man; yet when he was compelled by an over-ruling providence, to enumerate the blefsings, which God had vouchsafed unto his chosen people; whilst he was describing the happinefs and the reward of the righteous, he falls of course, necefsarily and unavoidably, into the most pafsionate exprefsions of the desire that he himself had to have a share in that happinefs. Whilst his thought were raised, warmed and enlivened with the clear view of the future blefsednefs of God’s chosen servants, he could not suffer himself to go on any farther in his description of that blefsednefs, untill he had first made a stand, and desired earnestly that it might be his own. He had but just begun to reckon up the privileges of the righteous; he had mentioned only their external and temporal advantages, - their wonderful increase above other nations, and their being distinguished and separated from them by God’s peculiar favor; but he could not make an end of blefsing them, till he had first declared how heartily he desired that he might not be shut out from blefsednefs, which he was there so elegantly describing; he had not patience to stay, till he could regularly connect this his desire to the description he was upon; but in the midst of it abruptly breaks out into this pafsionate wish – “Let me die the death of the righteous, and let my last end be like his.”
In speaking to which words, I shall not, because I trust I need not, urge any arguments to convince you – how much every one is concerned, both in point of duty and interest, to make Balaam’s wish his own, that he may die the death of the righteous. I shall rather choose to point out what are the proper qualification of such a death, and to consider what we are to do, what is incumbent on us, and of necefsity require, that we may die the death of the righteous, and that our last end may be like his. Now the proper qualifications of a good death – the death of the righteous, are
IV. A willingnefs to part with this world.
And first, if we would die the death of the righteous – we must pofsefs our souls with a stedfast and a lively faith in God.
“He that comes unto God, says the Apostle, “must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him.” The only prospect that can make death tolerable, is a firm we may find almost all sorts of judgments executed upon the Jews, because they believed not: - It was for this reason that”God swore in his wrath, that they should not enter into his rest:” It was because of unbelief, that the whole body of them “were broken off,” as the Apostle exprefsly afsures us in 11th to Romans & 20th verses.
Since therefore infidelity will undoubtedly render men obnoxious to God’s displeasure, if we would qualify ourselves for such a death, as is the distinguishing privilege of his faithful servants, we must be careful to keep to keep at the utmost distance from this sin; we must confirm, improve, and quicken our belief of all God’s gracious promises; we must, as the Apostle advises us, take unto ourselves the shield of faith, whereby we shall be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked; whereby we shall overcome the world, and the prince of it; we must put on the breaft-plate of faith, and for an helmet the hope of salvation – which is the
Second Qualification of a good Death.
And certainly he who stedfastly believes in God, cannot well be supposed destitute of a lively hope in him: for there is a near resemblance between these graces; and however they may in thought be distinguished, they cannot well in fact be separated from one another. The weaker & the more imperfect our faith is, the fainter & the more wavering will be our hopes; and the more stedfastly we believe in God, the more confidently, the more afsuredly – shall we trust in him. For we therefore hope in God, because we know and believe him to be a Being, upon whom we may securely depend for a deliverance from all the evil which we either suffer or fear; and for the attainment of all the good which we can either desire or enjoy. From the consideration of God’s omnipotence we must needs be satisfied, that it is in his power to make us perfectly happy; and from those gracious promises that he hath been pleased to make us in the Gospel, we may comfortably conclude, that that happinefs, which his power enables him to confer upon us, his goodnefs and faithfulnefs will incline him to vouchsafe us. These hopes thus grounded upon the power, the wisdom, the goodnefs, and veracity of God, the sincere Christian may joyfully oppose against all the miseries of life, and against all the terrors of death. No danger, no fear, no temptation can be of force enough to shake his refolutions, whilst his confidence is in heaven, whilst his hopes are in the Lord his God. If, indeed, in this life only he had hope, he would have reason to say with the Apostle, that he was of all men most miserable: but the righteous hath hope in his death, hath hope beyond it: and it is he alone who is entitled to this glorious privilege: there is no room, there is no pofsibility for the wicked to entertain any such hopes as these. “The hopes of the hypocrite shall perish, his hope shall be cut off, his trust shall be a spider’s web.”
If therefore we would die the death of the righteous, we must be careful to have our hope in that God, who only can support us in that trying tie of need; but if we would have this hope abiding in us, “we must cleanse ourselves from all filthinefs of flesh and spirit, perfecting holinefs in the fear of God.” For that hop which alone can qualify us for a good death, must be founded upon God’s gracious promises; and these are made only to such as shall obey his commandments; we must be sure that our own hearts condemn us not, if we would have this confidence towards God. And to this purpose we are instructed, in a very lively manner, in the 5th. Ch. Of the Book of Wisdom, 14, 15, & 16, verses. “The hope of the ungodly is like dust that is blown away with the wind; like a thin froth that is driven away with the storm: like as the smoke that is dispersed here and then with a tempest, and pafseth away, as the remembrance of a guest that tarrieth but a day: but the righteous live for evermore; their reward is also with the Lord, and the care of them is with the most high. Therefore shall the receive a glorious Kingdom, and a beautiful crown from the Lord’s hand: for with his right hand shall he cover them, and with his arm shall he protect them.” These inestimable promises are a firm foundation for a rational and well grounded hope; and such an hope is the inseparable attendant upon an holy life, and the necefsary qualification for a happy death.
The 3d. qualification of a good death is Charity. And this a qualification, the necefsity of which, men, whatever they may have thought in their lifetime, do at their death readily acknowledge. Then are few tempers so unmerciful, so morose and revengeful, but what appear compafsionate, “gently, and easy to be entreated,” upon the near prospect of approaching death. The inexorable Miser is then usually disposed to bestow some part of his uselefs riches upon the poor; and they, whose whole life hath been spent in envy, Malice, and revenge, make so little difficulty of exprefsing an universal Charity, and love, and goodwill to all men; - this it would almost look like a breach of Charity to think, or say, that they had ever been envious, malicious or revengeful. But it were to be wished, that what all men find so necefsary, at their death, they would more easily be persuaded to practise in their life. A death-bed Charity, tho’ by no means to be discoraged, must yet be allowed to fall infinitely short of the much greater merit of a life spent in acts of mercy & charity. For surely it must be much the greater satisfaction to a dying Man, to be abe to say – that he gave his money to the poor, when he might have spent it upon himself; that he was kind & beneficent to all, when he had the power as well as the will, to do them good; and that he generously forgave his offending brother, even then, when the injury was fresh upon his mind, and he might have had the opportunity of revenging it. Charity hath a present reward annexed to it; - there is an unspeakable satisfaction that goes along with it, even whilst we are performing it; but this satisfaction never so strong imprefsions upon us, as it is in the day of danger and distrefs, in the time of sicknefs, and at the hour of death.
If therefore we would die the death of the righteous, we must be eminent for that Charity, which is the distinguishing character of the righteous; if we would entitle ourselves to God’s mercy, we must now, as we have opportunity, be merciful unto our brethren; if we would have God to forgive us our trespafses before we go hence, and be no more seen, we must, whilst we are here, forgive our brethren their trespafses; if we would depart out of this world in the peace of God, we must be careful to live peaceably with all men so long as we continue in it; if we desire hereafter to be admitted to the afsembly of just men made perfect, we must live constantly in the communion of saints here; if we would be members of the Church triumphant in heaven, we must continue ourselves members of the Church militant here on Earth. And this certainly is an instance of Charity, which, how little so ever it be regarded by some men, deserves our serious consideration, and our utmost care. For how willing soever we may be to hope charitably of those otherwise good men, who have departed from the communion of the Church, how loath soever we may be to think – that they are peremptorily excluded from the benefits of Christs death and pafsion; yet this however we may venture to affirm – that their condition is not so safe, whilst the wilfully exclude themselves from the communion of the Church, as whilst they continue in it. We may not say, that by such a withdrawing of themselves they do certainly forfeit their Salvation; but we may say, that they act very uncautiously in putting it to so great a hazard. We will not afsert that they have no title to the joys of heaven; but we may, we must affirm – that they are not so well able to make out their title. They have not, they cannot have, the same evidences of it – the same comfort, the same satisfaction and afsurance, whilst they rend the Church of Christ by their divisions, as they might have, if they kept the unity of the Church in the bond of peace.
Sure we are, the primitive Christians were fully convinced of the necefsity of continuing in the unity of the Church, and had very terrible apprehensions of the unspeakable danger of being excluded from its communion. Why else was there such care taken at excommunicated persons should, at the point of death, be admitted to communion, that they might have the comfort of dying in the Church? Why else are we told by an iminent Father, and that not as his own particular judgment, but as the general opinion of all good Christians in that Age, that “none have God for their Father, but such as have the Church for their Mother?” I would not be willing to apply this severe censure, in the utmost rigor of it, to all those who have carelefsly withdrawn themselves from the communion of our Church; I would rather pity and pray for, than reproach or condemn them.- But let us who have the happinefs to be members of a truly primitive and Apostolical Church be duly sensible of this valuable privilege, and make the proper use of it. Those who die in her communion, if their lives have been of a piece with their profefsion, may rest afsured that they die in the Lord; that they die the death of the righteous, and that their last end is like his.
The last thing I mentioned, as a proper qualification of a good death, is a willingnefs to part with this world.
And certainly he who hath pofsefsed himself of the qualifications I before mentioned, will be at little or no difficulty to make himself Master of this. He who heartily and sincerely believes the Gospel, and hath led a life answerable to his belief, will be under little temptation of being inordinately fond of continuing in this present World. He hath always considered himself here as a stranger and sojourner in his way to a far better Country; and is therefore at all times, prepared to leave it with the same indifference, with the same chearfulnefs – that a traveller does his inn. By the eye of faith he views death as a pafsage only to a better life: he hath no doubt – but that the state he is now entering upon will be infinitely for his advantage; that he shall exchange pain for pleasure, misery for happinefs, slavery for freedom, wearinefs for rest, earthly sorrows for heavenly and everlasting joys. The heathen indeed might well be allowed to be uneasie under the apprehension of death, because he was so much at a lofs to know what would be his condition after it; but the Christian, who hath a certain, clear, and distinct prospect beyond the grave into another world, may easily, by the afsistance of his most holy faith, support himself under the thoughts of going thither.
Tho’ death be the just judgment of God upon us for our sins, and should not therefore be despised by us; yet neither out it immoderately to terrify and dismay us: tho’ we cannot, without some natural reluctance, entertain the thoughts of our difsolution; yet neither ought we to be overwhelm’d by the fears of it. We must not suffer ourselves to be unmanned, dispirited and cast down by them. For what is there In death so very terrible and shocking, that we should not be able to bear ourselves up with decency upon the view of it? Is it so very hard to be willing to part with the pleasures and satisfactions here below? It cannot certainly be so to the righteous, who hat always made it his businefs to sit loose from these things, and, in obedience to the directions of the Apostle, hath been without carefulnefs in these matters.
It may perhaps be, at first view, some little uneasinefs to a good man, should he be called out of the world, just as he is in the midst of some great and noble design for the good of it; but this uneasinefs will soon abate, when he considers that the all-powerful and all-wise God stands in no need of his weak afsistance, and that he can effect, if he sees it necefsary to effect, the same or a much better design, by, or even without, any other human methods. If a concern to promote his friends or his family’s good should make him the lefs willing to depart hence, this unwillingnefs will soon be removed, when he considers – that he leaves them in the hands of a gracious and a merciful God; and that they will be much safer and happier under his care and protection, than they could pofsibly have been under his own.
If lastly, the consideration of his own frailties and infirmities makes even the good man tremble to appear before the judgment seat of Christ, let him remember that he hath a merciful high priest at the right hand of God, to mediate and interceed for him; and what tho’ he be now conscious of many frailties and infirmities, yet he is not sure, that, should he be permitted to live longer, he should have fewer of these infirmities to account for. Of this he may unquestionably be sure, that if he hath sincerely begged God’s pardon for these infirmities, and used his utmost endeavor to get rid of them, they shall never rise up in judgment against him, nor bring him in the trial to shame and confusion of face.
And this I have endeavored to represent to you some of the chief and necefsary qualifications of a good death; faith, hope, charity, and a willingnefs to part with this world. Let it therefore be our chief care and businefs early, and betimes, to arm our souls with these necefsary qualifications: so shall we live happily, and die comfortably; so shall we e always ready to go out and meet the bride-groom, whenever he shall be pleased to call us; In a word, so shall we have nothing else to do, when we come to die, but to recommend our spirits into the hand of God & to depart joyfully out of this world, in sure and certain hope of our resurrection to eternal life in that which is to come.
Which God of his infinite mercy grant.