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As death removes us to another world, readiness for death must consist in a due preparation for that world. To this preparation the first thing necessary in fallen creatures, is repentance of sin. Christ came to seek and to save them who are lost. He effects their salvation, not only by expiating their guilt and procuring their pardon, but also by calling them to repentance and preparing them for pardon. “He gave himself for us, that he might redeem us from iniquity, and purify us to himself, a people zealous of good works.”
We must then examine ourselves, gain a knowledge of our sins, humble ourselves before God, seek his grace for the renewal of our hearts, and devote ourselves to him to serve him in newness of life.
This repentance must be accompanied with faith and hope in the mercy and promise of God, and the atonement and intercession of the Redeemer. “For we are redeemed from our vain conversation, not with corruptible things, such as silver and gold; but with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot; who verily was ordained before the foundation of the world, but was manifested in these last times for us, that by him we might believe in God, who raised him from the dead, and gave him glory, that our faith and hope might be in God.”
That we may be in constant readiness for death, we must daily maintain the spirit and practice of religion. The servant who, when his Lord comes, is found ready, is one who watches always, keeps his loins girded and his lights burning, attends to the orders he has received, and when his Lord comes, is still found so doing. Serious christians, in the contemplation of death, sometimes feel an anxiety, lest they should not be able to possess that comfort, and manifest that resignation, which are most to be desired in the closing scene. But, my brethren, we ought rather to be careful how we live, than anxious how we shall die.
Let us live every day as we ought, and then we shall die, at last, as we wish.
We must accustom ourselves to spiritual meditations and exercises; raise our thoughts and affections to the heavenly world; cultivate the temper of that world; live in peace and charity with one another, and in piety and devotion toward God; mortify our earthly members ; watch against temptations; examine ourselves with care; daily renew our repentance; seek pardon for our daily failures, and grace to help our remaining infirmities. Thus we must give diligence to the full assurance of hope to the end, and by improvements in the christian temper, make our calling and election sure.
5. Our subject teaches us the vanity of all worldly interests.
Beings, who have so short an abode, and so uncertain a continuance on earth, can here possess no great and important interests. All that we have is changing and precarious; and we are as precarious and changing as the world. What we call our own to-day, may be claimed by another to-morrow. He too, in his turn, must retire and give place to a successor.
Worldly property, like a ball, is tossed from man to man. The hand which holds it now, will not retain it long, but cast it to another. Yea, it often deceives the person to whom it falls. It proves a bubble, which, as he attempts to grasp it, bursts in his hand. Many who labour all their days to be rich, die in poverty at last.
Let a man realize, how soon he shall lie down in the grave, and how poor he shall be when he is there, and he will see, that the interests of the world are but trifles to him. When he is gone to his long home, what is it to him, whether once he was rich, or poor, and whether he has left behind him much, or little? “We brought nothing into the world, and we shall carry nothing out of it; having, therefore, food and raiment, let us be content." There is one thing needful. He who chooses the better part, will die rich indeed: He will die an heir of the glory and riches of a heavenly inheritance.
6. The uncertainty of life teaches us the reasonableness of daily prayer.
Our obligation to prayer arises from our dependence on God, and the spirit of prayer will be enlivened by an habitual sense of this dependence. That rational creatures ought daily to acknowledge and address that great and good Being, on whom they continually depend, is a truth obvious to every man's understanding, and to every pious man's feeling. Our dependence is visible in
every thing; but nothing gives us such striking demonstration of it, as our mortality. We see mankind going down to the grave: we feel ourselves subject to pain and sorrow, infirmity and death. We know, that no man hath power to retain his own spirit, or to redeem his brother from corruption. Ought not such creatures to live in prayer to that almighty and eternal Being in whose hands is the breath of all? If we are daily exposed to death, prayer should be our daily exercise. Would the man, who rose with an expectation of sleeping no more, until he closed his eyes in death, pass the last morning of his life without prayer? The man who realizes that each day, or each night may be his last, will devote to this holy exercise a portion of every morning and every evening.
Finally : The aged and infirm, who with special propriety may say, “The graves are ready for us," ought, with great care, to examine their state, and with daily concern to look into the future world; and, in the religious improvement of their few remaining days, to keep themselves in readiness for a change, which they may daily expect. Happy, the aged saint, who, in a review of life, can say, “ I am ready to be offered, and the time of my departure is at hand. I have fought a good fight; I have finished my course ; I have kept the faith ; henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will give unto me in that day, and unto all who love his appearing."
THE NATURE AND PROPERTIES OF A GOOD CONSCIENCE.
HEBREWS X111. 18.
We trust we have a good conscience, in all things willing to live
TAE profession which the apostle here makes, is such as every man should be able to make.
As the conscience is the immediate principle of moral conduct, no man, without a good conscience, disposing him in all things to live honestly, can justly be denominated a christian. Sensible of this plain truth, many use the sacred name and authority of conscience to justify themselves in things palpably contrary to the spirit of the gospel; and where real conscience is wanting, they substitute passion, interest, obstinacy and prejudice in its place. And, perhaps, some may really impose upon themselves, and mistake the latter for the former. I shall, therefore, from these words, explain that moral principle, which is often recurred to, but not always well understood. And I shall shew, what conscience is the properties of a good conscience-how far an error of conscience may excuse a wrong conduct--the causes and springs of an erroneous conscience-the rules necessary to be observed, that we may preserve a good conscience and the importance of such a conscience in all things.
I. We are, first, to consider, what the conscience is. This, in the common acceptation of the word, is our judgment, discernment and reflection, in regard of our moral obligations and conduct. The difference between the judgment and conscience is chiefly this; the former is more general, and extends to every thing concerning which we form an opinion; the latter is personal and moral, and is the judgment which we form, and the sense which we feel of our own obligations and actions. It is that principle, or faculty, by which we judge of right and wrong, and determine what, as moral and accountable beings, we ought to choose and refuse, to pursue and avoid.
The office of conscience consists of two branches; the first is to point out our obligations and direct our conduct; the second is to reflect upon our past conduct, and approve, or disapprove it, as it has been right, or wrong.
The first office of conscience is, to stand as a guide of our actions, and to dictate what ought, and what ought not, to be done, in our relations and circumstances. We must not imagine, that this is the law which determines our actions to be good, or evil. If it was the law, then every action would be good, which we thought to be so, and there could be no such thing as an erroneous conscience. The supreme law of our actions is the will of God, in some way, or other, made known to us; and conscience is the principle within us, which, by this law, determines what things are agreeable to the will of God, and by his authority binding upon us; and what things are contrary to his will, and to be avoided by us. This office of conscience is described by St. Paul; “The Gentiles, who have not the law, do, by nature, the things contained in the law. These, having not the law, are a law to themselves, which shew the work of the law written on their hearts, their conscience also bearing witness." The apostle here asserts, that conscience is a natural principle in men, and that, without an external, written law, it is able, by such discoveries and communications as God has otherwise made, to judge, in many cases, what is right, and what is wrong. It is represented