- Sermon I. the Rising Generation Exhorted to Adopt the Religion of Their Christian Forefathers.
- Sermon II. Hope In God.
- Sermon III. On the Means and the Importance of Grace.
- Sermon IV. Corruption of Heart the Source of Irreligion and Immorality.
- Sermon V. Against Despair and Suicide.
- Sermon VI. On the Folly and Danger of Thoughtlessness.
- Sermon VII. Perseverance In the Religious Principles Taught In Youth, and Particularly In Faith and Hope, Recommended.
- Sermon VIII. Good Intentions the Least Fallible Security For Good Conduct.
- Sermon IX. Religion the Chief Concern of Life.
- Sermon X. On Conformity to Fashion and the Customs of the World
- Sermon XI. On Seeking a Remedy For Sorrow, In Vice and Dissipation.
- Sermon XII. Christian Politeness
- Sermon XIII. On the Duty of Preventing Evil, By Actual Coercion, As Well As By Advice and Remonstrance.
- Sermon XIV. On Pursuing Visionary Schemes of Happiness, Without Attending to Scripture, and Revealed Religion
- Sermon XV. the Pride of Human Learning and False Philosophy, a Great Obstacle to the Reception of Christianity.
- Sermon XVI. On the Duty of Servants.
- Sermon XVII. On the Wickedness and Misery of Envy and Contention.
- Sermon XVIII. the Cunning Oe the Wicked Inconsistent With Wisdom.
- Sermon XIX. On the Snares of the Devil, and Means of Escaping Them.
- Sermon XX. Moderation Necessary to All Solid and Durable Enjoyment.
- Sermon XXI. Happiness to Be Found Rather In the Enjoyment of Health and Innocence, Than In the Successful Pursuits of Avarice and Ambition.
- Sermon XXII. On the Duties of the Preacher and the Hearer.
- Sermon XXIII. * On the Benefits to Be Derived From the Sight of a Funeral.
- Sermon XXIV. a Preparatory Persuasive to the Sacrament of the Lord's Supper.
- Sermon XXV. the Prospect of Perpetual and Universal Peace to Be Established On the Principles of Christian Philanthropy.
- Sermon XXVI. On the Necessity of Increasing the Places of Public Worship On the Establishment; and On the Duty of Supporting the Objects of the Philanthropic Society.
- Sermon XXVII. the Support of the Magdalen Hospital Recommended.
- Sermon XXVIII. the Education of the Poor Recommended.
on the benefits to be derived from the sight of a funeral.
Psalm cii. 23.—He brought down my strength in my journey, and shortened my days.—
It was the particular manner of our blessed Saviour, when he had assembled the multitude, to derive topics of moral instruction from the objects which were immediately before him, and which unavoidably obtruded themselves on the eyes of his audience.
It was the spring season, when he gave them the sermon on the mount. Observe it, and you will find almost all the allusions are to things which, at that time, and from that place, a mount, offered themselves to his view, and to the notice of those whom he addressed.
Thus when he taught them to trust in God, he bade them behold the fowls of the air, which were then gaily on the wing, or melodiously chanting their carols around them, fed by divine Providence, though they did not sow, nor reap, like the husbandmen, who were probably sowing their fields in his sight at that moment. He desired them to notice the lilies, that is, all the gay flowers of the field, which were then blooming around them in the meadows, and were so beautifully clothed by the Almighty; and yet toiled not, like the labourers in the field, who were then busy in their vernal husbandry. You will find, in like manner, that on whatever subject he discoursed, he attended to the prospect immediately before him, or to the profession and circumstances of those who heard him. Thus were his instructions better attended to; they became lively and picturesque; they entertained while they improved, and they had nothing of the dull manner of a formal harangue.
In humble imitation of our blessed Saviour, the ministers of the Gospel endeavour to instruct their hearers from the passing scene. A funeral is one of those spectacles which cannot fail to afford a striking lesson. Look at that coffin, in which are deposited the poor remains of a human being. Pause, and reflect. It affords a sermon of itself, and, to a thinking mind, renders the admonitions of the pulpit entirely superfluous.
Yet the affectionate regard of surviving relations requires, on the occasion, a discourse from the pulpit. It is a wish that does honour to the filial piety of those who entertain it. And it is the rather complied with, as it affords an opportunity of conveying some instruction, which might not rise spontaneously in the minds of those who, from various motives, attend in crowds this funeral ceremony.
You who know the circumstances of the last illness which brought our departed sister to her end, will not be at a loss to account for the choice of my text. He brought down my strength in my journey, and shortened my days. The cold hand of death first caught hold of her in one of those journles which she usually took, with her industrious partner, to gain an honest maintenance. Death grasped her on her journey, nor let her go again till he had gained dominion over her; brought her in triumph, as you now see, and placed her on that bier, in her passage to his empire, the grave.
I find not any thing particularly calamitous, or singularly remarkable, in the circumstances of her dissolution. She had arrived at a good old age. She is going to her grave, as Job beautifully expresses it, “in a full age, like as a shock of corn cometh in its season.” Her disease was not long, or peculiarly painful. She lived esteemed in her sphere for industry and sobriety, and she died with a character unimpeached.
In a series of three-score years and ten, I find her name free from any stain; and silence, in a censorious age, is praise. To have been a good wife, is surely a most honourable character.
Far be it from me, to prostitute the pulpit to indiscriminate praise. I shall not attempt to deck a plain character in the gaudy colours of rhetoric. To her cold ear, praise and dispraise are alike indifferent. Exaggerated and extravagant encomiums cannot be agreeable to her relatives. She is before the tribunal of her God. There let us hope and pray, that she will receive the reward which we have reason to think will be bestowed on industry, honesty, sobriety, and all the unostentatious virtues of humble life.
Be it our wisdom to derive advantage from all such scenes as this; not only from this, for there is nothing particularly to be remarked in it, but from the sight of every burial train which slowly paces up the churchyard-way.
All require to be admonished of what all allow to be true. Every man living knows that he shall die; but many live as if they were assured that they should never die. The truth is so familiar, it ceases to affect. Our inattention becomes a habit; some striking image is necessary to rouse us. Such surely is the dead body of one we lately knew alive, just going to be put into the dark, cold, and solitary grave, where the tongue that now speaks, and the ear that now hears, must shortly moulder and decay. Think of these sad scenes and sombrous prospects, and let a way be opened to the heart, through the imagination.
Be assured, that sentence is already passed upon every one of us. Though the execution is a little delayed by the mercy of the dread sovereign; yet the sentence irrevocable is passed on us all. It is appointed unto man once to die.
I observe many attend the corpse. It is not uncharitable to suppose, that some at least are influenced by motives of mere curiosity. They come to see a sight, to hear the dirge, to be amused, to pass away an idle interval. They look on the main business of the meeting totally unaffected, totally regardless of the common lot of humanity. They view the pall and the coffin with the same vacant stare, as they would behold a pageant or procession at the theatre. They view it as if it did not concern them, any farther than as the sight passes away a few minutes of leisure. The carelessness of their looks seems to say, What is this to me?
But let not such fine opportunities for improvement in every virtue be lost to you. Compose your minds to seriousness, and let the scene make its genuine and natural impression. That poor pale corpse, with a shroud upon it, that lies screwed up in the narrow coffin, cold, stiff, and motionless, little more than a week ago breathed, eat, drank, walked about, performed all the offices requisite in its station; felt the warm vernal sun; saw the blossoms open that promised a fruitful year; went forth cheerful in the morning to an useful employment, journeying in all the ease of contented industry, thinking to return in health and comfort, and sit over the little blazing hearth, and enumerate the profits, or discourse of the events of the journey with its partner; but God brought down its strength on its journey and shortened its days. And there it lies, after a very few days illness, differing only in appearance from the clay and dust with which, after the worms have rioted on it, it will at last mingle, and be no more distinguished.
And now let the youngest, the healthiest, the gayest among us all, say, whether it is not possible, that in the very next journey he shall go, the very next undertaking he shall engage in, God may bring down his strength in his journey, and shorten his days. He may set out in the morning, rejoicing as the lark to soar and sing, and he may be brought home in the evening a lifeless corpse. And shall he stand round that pall, and stoop and look into yonder grave, and see the sculls and bones of those that were a few years past as gay and happy as himself, and say, What is this to me? I am young and strong, and have many years to live. Shall he not rather lay his hand on bis pensive bosom, and say, Soon, very soon, a solemnity similar to this with which I am now carelessly diverted, shall be held for me. Yes, the earth over which I run with careless feet to see this sight, shall yawn, open her greedy mouth, and swallow me up. I may be next week pent up within a few boards, brought into the church, and gazed at for a few minutes, by mortals as unthinking as I should have been without this admonition. God can bring down my strength in the journey of life at first setting out in the morning, and shorten my days in my early youth. I will therefore take heed to my ways. I will go home thoughtful, and on my pillow consider my life and conversation; correct what is wrong, and make resolutions for the regulation of my future behaviour; and then shall I live in comfort and security, and when it shall please the Giver of life to take it away, then shall I die in peace. And then shall I be glad, and rejoice that I improved this scene; that, when I was hurried on with a crowd to see a funeral, I was led by it to a most important means of grace.
But since that dumb mouth is capable of giving us lessons so serious, and in so eloquent and persuasive a manner, let us not yet leave it. In imagination I will draw aside the pall, and lift up the lid of the coffin. Nay, fair maiden, that art looking on, start not back with horror. To this thou must come, though thy cheeks are now like the vermil rose. Thirty or forty years ago, that scull now covered with grey locks, and adorned with a shroud, had comely tresses like thine own, and was decked out in as gay attire; those sunken hollow sockets were filled with eyes that shone perhaps as bright as thine; those emaciated fallen cheeks were no less ruddy pleasing than thine; those pale lips smiled as agreeably, and that tongue, now silent, talked as fluently as thine∗ Only a few days ago, those hands were active in laudable industry, and those feet were able to move in the duties of the good housewife∗
And canst thou come here only to while away the time in gazing at an empty spectacle, while so much instruction may be derived from it? Hence you may learn to value something besides external ornament and external appearance; besides, as the Apostle says, “the plaiting the hair, the wearing of gold, or the putting on of apparel; the hidden man of the heart is that which is not corruptible, even the ornament of a meek and quiet spirit, which is in the sight of God of great price.” Hence you may learn to value a good honest heart, an active mind and body, and all the useful qualities of a good mother, a good wife, a good mistress of a family, above the showy graces which frequently lead to nothing but vanity, vice, and misery. Look at that form, and see in it, as in a mirror, thine own at some future day, perhaps an early day. Such a sight is well adapted to fix your roving, volatile, thoughtless minds, and cause you to value the things that are useful in life, above those that are only showy, glossy, and unsubstantial.
When you go home and lie down on your pillow, you will consider, that the bed on which you sleep so softly and so comfortably, may soon be your death-bed, on which you may be stretched a cold corpse, confined in a coffin, and then removed into a dark, damp, lonely, desolate hole in the earth! And why should you think of these things? Merely to make you melancholy? By no means, but to make you serious, thoughtful, and considerate; that you may apply your hearts unto wisdom, live an useful life, foe an honour and comfort to your friends while you live; and when you die, die with hope and in perfect peace with God, with man, and with your own conscience.
But before we take leave of the corpse, and bid a last adieu to our dear sister, whom many of us have known so many years; before we put on the lid of the coffin, and draw the pall over it, let me invite you all, without distinction, young and old, rich and poor, to look on and learn a lesson. Death, indeed, is common, and funerals are common: and because they are common, it may be, you have neglected to pay them that attention which, as those that must die, and be buried, you might be expected to pay. I do not wish you to be always gloomy; but sometimes it is highly salutary to go to the house of mourning, and to be conversant with death, and all its sable scenes. Let this half hour be spent to your souls' improvement. There is time enough for gaiety, time enough for pleasure, time enough for business. “There is,” says the wise man, “a time for every thing;” and surely the time spent at a funeral, should be spent in thoughts suitable to the occasion; and let us remember, that there is a sadness by which the heart is made better, there is a sorrow that worketh joy.
Ye rich, if any such are here, on you I call. Look at your sister. Be not too proud to acknowledge the relation. She indeed was not rich; but despise her not. Riches would do her no good now; and very shortly you shall lie on that very bier, in this very aisle, and your riches shall avail you as little. You may, indeed, have a more splendid coffin; but you will be as cold, as insensible to the splendour of the nails and the handles and the plates, as she. The rich man also, we read, died, and was buried; and Lazarus was as well accommodated in the grave; though perhaps not attended thither with so much purchased pomp, and all the affectation of venal sorrow. Here high and low, rich and poor, meet together; for the Lord is the maker and destroyer of them all. Since the great leveller makes us all equal, learn hence to subdue your pride; learn charity as well as humility; and remember, that what you give away, that only will you carry with you, when you are stretched in your coffin, and tarry a few minutes here in your way to the tomb, and to the country whence no traveller returns.
Ye poor, of whom there is always a numerous train, approach, and look into the coffin. This poor woman was a pattern of contented industry, and kept herself from distress by unwearied labour. By night and by day, in wet and in cold, she regularly went through the business of her occupation. She lived respected, in consequence of it; and now she is dead, you see how her remains are honoured. If you are disposed to complain of your situation, see there an assurance that your grievances cannot last long. Death is a safe retreat for the wretched. Many a time has she been as weary as you, but now she is at rest. There the wicked cease from troubling, and there the weary be at rest. There the prisoners' rest together; they hear not the voice of the oppressor. The small and the great are there; and the servant is free from the master. Death hath no respect of persons; he knocks at the door of the great man's mansion house, with as little ceremony and as great violence, as at the thatched cottage of the pauper.
Ye old, be not afraid to view your aged sister, whose day is closed; and see to what you must shortly come; for your day is far spent, and your night at hand. Peradventure you are racked with pain. There you observe pain no more. The stone, the gout, the asthma, the fever, the palsy, those harbingers of death, enter not the coffin. Perhaps you find it difficult to earn a livelihood by your labour. See there a home, where they neither hunger any more, neither thirst any more.
Thus one generation passeth away, and another cometh. It was always so; your fathers made way for you, and you must soon depart to leave a place for a rising train, who, in their turns, must all follow you to their long home. Learn resignation; learn to submit with decency, and seek comfort in the decays of nature by the growth of grace.
Set thine house in order, reverend father, whose hoary head shakes; for thou must shortly die, and not live. God has brought down thy strength in thy journey. But after descending into the grave, and going through the gates of death, thou shalt emerge and flourish in immortal youth. Thy grey hairs are an ornament, if they be found in the way of wisdom. Ye young, ye who are but children in age, and who are attracted hither by the desire of seeing a sight, go to the side of the coffin, look in, and learn a lesson for your lives. Death you have never considered seriously. It seems at present to be something in which you have no concern. But a few years ago, comparatively speaking, and that pale corpse was as one of you, young, blithe, and active; and but a few years, or a few hours hence, you may be as she, cold, lifeless, a corpse. Learn wisdom from the solemn scene. Can you, at your age of sensibility, hear the clods of earth falling with a hollow murmur on the coffin, and not feel a pulsation? do they not knock at the door of your heart? Can you hear the ropes grate against the coffin as it goes down into the grave, and not receive a deep impression? Whatever gives you a good idea, value and cherish. It is never too early to be wise. The bud is as often blasted, and falls from the tree, as the mature fruit. Many a flower is cropt before it is full blown. The scythe sweeps down the opening cowslip, as well as the mature, expanded poppy. Man cometh up, and is cut down, like a flower. It is probable that not half of you will reach the age of our departed sister; it is probable that a very great portion of you will disappear, in a very few years, from the face of the earth; like the snow-drop and primrose at the advance of spring and the approach of summer. Death hangs over you in youth as well as age, like a sword suspended by a single hair. How many are gone in the year that is past, that entered upon it as full of life and hope as you? Say not with the ungodly, represented in the book of Wisdom, as reasoning with themselves, but not aright, Our life is short and tedious, and in the death of a man there is no remedy. We are born at all adventure, and we shall be hereafter as though we had never been; for the breath of our nostrils is as smoke, and a little spark in the moving of the heart, which being extinguished, our body shall be turned into ashes, and our spirits shall vanish as the soft air. Come on, therefore, let us enjoy the good things that are present, and let us speedily use the creatures like as in youth. Let us fill ourselves with costly wine and ointment, and let no flower of the spring pass by us. Let us crown ourselves with rose-buds before they be withered. Let none of us go without his part of voluptuousness, for this is our portion, and our lot is this. Say not so, but learn to remember thy Creator in the days of thy youth, before the evil day comes, and thy feet stumble on the dark mountains.
And now let us close the coffin, bid an everlasting farewell to that face, which we shall never see any more, and turn a moment to the train of affectionate mourners. Weep on. Grief is itself a medicine. It is nature opens the floodgates of the eyes, and gives the relief she wants. The heart is eased by the effusion of tears. But O, weep not as those that weep without hope. I would not have you to be ignorant, brethren, says the Apostle, concerning them which are asleep, that ye sorrow not, even as others which have no hope. For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so also them that sleep in Jesus, will God bring with him. Let this event make a due impression upon you. It will wear off sufficiently soon, in the concerns of a busy world; but for your own sakes, let religious hope blend itself with your pious sorrow: hope, I mean, of a resurrection, and a happy immortality, both for your lost relative and for yourselves; that you may meet again in a better state and purified bodies, and be happier together than ever you were before; happy for ever and ever in the kingdom of Jesus Christ. And he said unto me, can these bones live? and I answered, 0 Lord God, thou knowest
And now what remains? We have endeavoured to profit by the scene before us, by the lifeless corpse presented to our view, as anatomists dissect the dead for the benefit of the living. Pardon us, thou relique of what once was woman, pardon this liberty; but I need not ask it. Thy spirit, if it hover over these scenes, must approve and rejoice, that even when dead, thou art made to speak, and promote the happiness of thy kinsfolk and neighbours, by affording-them a striking lesson on their own mortality.
But the sand of the hour-glass flows swiftly away, and reminds us of our duty to attend thee to the repository of the dead, where thy mother earth has opened her arms to take thee to her bosom. Farewell, farewell for ever. Yes; we shall follow thee now with our feet, and soon we shall follow thee, borne like thee, on the feet of others. Many of us have had warnings already. One is deaf, another lame, a third nearly blind. The grey hairs, the wrinkles, the pale, emaciated, yellow cheeks, demonstrate, that death is pulling many of us down to his domain, to his dark realms in the caverns of the vaulted charnel-house. Yes; we shall all follow thee in a few years. Thou hast only set out on thy journey a little before us. Be it ours to be ready according to thy example, in life and death, whenever the hour appointed for setting out on our journey shall arrive.
As I hinted before, we have warnings sufficient within us as well as without us. The seeds. of death are in us all. Daily food and nightly rest recruit us from time to time, but the hour will come, when we shall have no appetite for food, and when we shall not be able to rest; when we shall count the long watches of the night, and turn from side to side weary of ourselves. The pillars will be gradually taken away, and the building must fall. “Life itself,” it has been justly said, “is but a reprieve from death.” “Our bodies are indeed most curiously formed, but they are still but dust; as the finest and most beautifully painted china is but clay.”
Since life is brittle as glass, and slender as the spider's most attenuated thread, shall we live on from year to year, and depend on the continuance of life, and hear the bell toll, and see the funeral procession, and look down into the grave, and think, that none of these things concern us? No; every time the bell flings out its slow and solemn sound, a serious thought should arise in our hearts; not indeed a panic fear, an unmanly timidity, but a serious thought, that the very next time it sounds, it may sound for us, or those whom we love as our own souls. Thoughtlessness is more frequently the cause of our ruin, than intentional wickedness; and the church has wisely instituted the solemnity of funeral ceremonies, the tolling of the bell, and the other mournful rites, in order to impress a seriousness on the minds of those who must shortly be in the same condition with the dead body that passes by our door in its last journey; its journey to the church-yard, or the damp vault, where corruption sits victoriously on her mouldy throne, and the very worm we tread upon, triumphs over the proud lord of the creation.
O, let me conjure you, by all that is dear to you, by the regard that you entertain for your own souls, not to suffer such solemnities to be neglected by you, or attended merely as amusing spectacles∗ Endeavour to receive a deep impression from them; such as may give strength to your reason during the residue of your lives, and assist you in regulating the disorders of your fancy and your passions, the sources of all human misery.
The heart is apt to be strangely hardened by long commerce with the world, by indolence, by thoughtlessness, by luxury and sensuality, against all tender sentiments, and all religious impressions. But endeavour to open them to such scenes as this, by dwelling upon them with attention, by making the case before you your own, or that of your dearest friend or relation. Suppose, in order to impress the image the deeper, your own tender father, the mother that dandled you in her arms, the infant, the child whom you have delighted in, suppose yourself in. that coffin, with your face adorned with that mockery of human ornament, a pinked shroud; and above all, pray to God to soften your bosom by the influence of his grace, that he may be enabled to convert the funeral of your neighbour into a means of grace; that ye may learn from it, at least, in this your day, the things that belong unto your peace, before they be hid from your eyes for ever.
And now the day is far spent, and the evening shades descend; and soon after we return from the church and the brink of the grave, we shall probably retire to our chambers, shut out the world, and prepare to throw ourselves into the arms of that image of death, sleep; but before we close our eyes, let us endeavour to impress upon our minds, by prayer and meditation, a just idea of human life, its shortness, its misery, and its want of divine assistance. And let not the impression be transient or momentary. But when we rise again in the morning, let us go forth to our various employments, resolved to walk worthy of our Christian vocation; our loins girded, and our lights burning, not knowing but our Lord and master may call us, (before we return again to our slumbers in bed,) to our slumbers in the grave, out of which we shall not be awakened till the last trump. A thousand disorders within, and accidents without, may bring us to our long home, before we approach the good old age of our sister who lies dead before us. Small is the number that reaches so good an old age.
But we have dwelt long enough on the dark and shadowy prospect. Brighter scenes invite. I see the clouds divide, and a glorious light beaming from the fountain of all happiness. Vanish, thou king-of terrors, with all thy mournful train. See life and immortality dawning on the grave. How beautiful upon the mountains, are the feet of him that bringeth glad tidings∗ Jesus Christ has risen, and overcome death, and we also shall arise and subdue our last grand enemy.
Yes, pale corpse∗ we are taught to believe, that thou shalt burst the confines of the tomb, emerge in a glorified body, capable of higher degrees of improvement and happiness than thou hitherto hast known, and shine in youth and beauty immortal∗ Faith and hope point out delightful scenes of future happiness to us all after death; and O, let not unbelief and doubt chill the warm blood that flutters in the heart, at the idea of meeting those we loved here, in a better world; never more to be rent asunder, but to be blessed, and blessing, for ever, under the immediate eye and government of God, and in the company of just men made perfect∗ If, indeed, by warm hope and strong faith, we could preserve this prospect constantly in our minds, then might we exult in that fine triumph, O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory?
But let me hasten to a conclusion, with an ardent wish that this warning, which may be the last to many of us now assembled within these walls, may not be given in vain. It is possible, that some among us may never enter the church again, till we are brought into it upon that bier, with ears insensible as the clod, and bosoms cold and hard as the marble that may cover them. He who can hear this warning voice, and look into the grave of the deceased before us, without receiving one good impression, may possibly, which God avert, fall into his own grave without repentance and without reformation. Take heed, how you neglect the means of grace and improvement. This is certainly a powerful call from the dead to the living. It is not I only who speak. It is a voice issuing from that coffin; a voice issuing from the tombs around, and the graves below, that ought to penetrate the hearts of every one here, and will pierce like a two-edged sword, unless they are petrified, steeled, case-hardened, by unrepented lust and pride. Go, therefore, to your homes, pensive and considerate. Say to yourselves, Should God require my soul of me this night, can I expect mercy at his hands? Make your peace with God, be at peace with man, be at peace with your consciences. Reform whatever is wrong in your lives, prepare rationally and cheerfully for your death; that when disease, or accident, or violence, shall destroy the life of your bodies, your souls may be received into the bosom of your father and your God; and that you may rest in him, as our hope is, this our sister doth; and that you may smile even in the arms of death, and say to those who love you, and stand weeping round the curtains of your beds, in the words of our Saviour, “I am going; but it is to my Father and to your Father; to my God and to your God.”