The Right Improvement Of Life
Adapted from a Sermon By
Whether… life or death…all are yours. 1 Cor 3:22
It is a large and fair inheritance that belongs to the children of God. They have no need to divide themselves into little parties, and to quarrel about their particular interest in one minister or another, in one blessing or another; for whether Paul or Apollos, or Cephas, whether life or death, all things are theirs.
Recent sermons have explained in what sense Christians possess all things, and that is, that all things present or to come, that can any way affect or concern them, will certainly turn to their benefit, and work towards their great and final interest. We go on now more particularly to enlarge on the words whether life or death all are yours.
The first doctrine arising from the words is this: "Life itself, and its continuance in the saints, is for their advantage."
Now to draw some practical lessons and encouragement from this proposition we will approach it as follows:
I. We will consider, under a variety of instances, how it is that life is designed for the benefit of Christians. This we will do this morning. In future weeks we will go on and:
II. The doctrine will be further amplified and confirmed, by discovering what a variety of graces may be exercised on earth, which can have no place in heaven; and show that, in some respects, a saint below has advantages above the saints that are in heaven.
III. A considerable objection or two that seems to rise against the doctrine will them be addressed,
IV. And, lastly, some inferences will be drawn from the whole discourse.
I. First then, let us look into how life appears to be a benefit to true believers. Life is yours, true believer in Christ, for
1) This is the time that was given you for your reconciliation to God, and securing your everlasting interest. All the elect of God are born into this world sinful and miserable, by their relation to the first Adam, therefore the apostle Paul seems to include himself, as well as the heathen infidels, when he speaks of the iniquity of their nature, and the guilt of their state. Eph. 2. 3. We all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. Now this life is the time given to seek deliverance from the wrath to come, to fly to the hope that is set before us; now is the favorable time; behold, now is the day of salvation; 2 Cor. 6. 2. now, while we are in our state of trial, before the gates of the grave have closed upon us, and before the gates of hell have been opened to receive us.
We are all by nature strangers to God, enemies in our minds by wicked works, and under sentence of condemnation: Remember this is the time to come to the knowledge of God, to return to his service, and obtain his special favour. We are defiled and guilty creatures: This is the hour of cleansing, while the fountain of the blood of Christ stands open, to wash us from sin and uncleanness. We are, by nature, utterly unfit for heaven, and all the works and the joys of it, because of the vicious inclinations that govern us. This is the day of repentance as well as pardon: This is the day given us to insure those blessed mansions in heaven, and to obtain preparing graces. This temporal life is the only season in which the sentence of our condemnation can be reversed, and in which we may obtain eternal forgiveness, and a right to everlasting life. The blood and righteousness of the Son of God are not proposed nor offered to guilty creatures in the other world. Now is the time to acquire a conformity for the inheritance in light through the sanctifying influences of the blessed Spirit.
After death there is nothing of this kind to be done: "There is no work, nor device, no knowledge nor wisdom, no faith or repentance to be exercised, no such duty to be performed among the dead, no opportunity to rectify the mistakes of life: There is no grace to be obtained for sinners in the grave, towards which we are all travelling;" Eccles. 9. 10. What is left undone at that awful moment must be forever undone. At the voice of the summons we must go, whether pardoned or unpardoned, whether holy or unholy, whether hoping or despairing. And a dreadful spectacle it is, as your eyes ever beheld, to see a sinner passing from this world to the next in full and raging despair.
But what infinite advantage has it been to Christians, that they have enjoyed this golden hour of grace, and been taught to improve it well! What had become of you, believers in Christ, if you had been interrupted some years ago by the angel of death, and hurried away into eternity? Where had your portion been, if you had been sent down to the grave in the midst of your sins, before you were awakened or convinced of your folly and danger, before you had felt inward repentance, or had been acquainted with Jesus that bought and bestows forgiveness; before you had known the virtue of his reconciling blood, or seen the face of a reconciled God? While your hearts and life were all unclean and unholy, your death must have been dreadful, and your soul forever unhappy. What infinite honours are due to the patience and long-suffering of your God, and to the mercy and mediation of Jesus your Saviour! Glory be to divine patience and divine grace, for life prolonged, and a sinner saved!
2) Life is yours; it is your opportunity of doing much service for Christ, and manifesting your gratitude for his redeeming love. 2 Cor. 5. 15. That those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised.
Here on earth you may speak of the wonders of his grace that has saved you, and publish his love that is unspeakable. You may tell sinners of the infinite dimensions of this love, to invite them to partake of the same salvation. Here your lips and your tongues may be delightfully occupied, in declaring what you have tasted of the blessings of the gospel, and the grace of Christ; and call others to taste and see that the Lord is good, and how blessed the man is that takes refuge in him! Psalm 34. 8. Here you may make it known, for the support of poor convinced wretches that are ready to despair, what heights and what lengths, what breadths and what depths there are in the love of Christ; for it reached your soul even at the borders of hell, it spread wide to cover all your great and heinous iniquities; it rises high, for it has lifted your hopes to heaven, and it stretches its kind and sovereign influence beyond the length of time, and provides for your life and happiness that will measure out eternity. Here you may proclaim the praises of your Redeemer to an ignorant world, you may promote his interest a hundred ways on earth, and thus glorify your Saviour which is in heaven.
This is not to be done in the same way, nor for the same blessed purposes, amongst the saints above. When the body lies senseless and mouldering in the grave, the tongue cannot praise the Lord; The living, the living, they praise you as we do this day; as Hezekiah did when he was recovered from sickness, and had a sense of pardoned sin. Isaiah 38. 17-19. In love you have delivered my life from the pit of destruction, for you have cast all my sins behind your back. For Sheol does not thank you; death does not praise you; those who go down to the pit do not hope for your faithfulness. This is the proper work of the living saint, to make known to sinners the grace of salvation.
Life is the only time for such work and service. "Opportunity (said a writer on this subject) is like a golden instrument to dig for heavenly treasure: Do not wear it out as many have done in digging for pebbles, and at your latter end become a fool. Plead not your small capacity: Kings of the earth, and all people, old men and children, may praise the Lord; Psalm 148. 11, 12. Serve your age according to your talent; Matt. 25. 15. He that had but one talent, but a single capacity, was called to account for it, and cast into outer darkness. Think how many opportunities you have outlived, which will never come back: Redeem lost time, by improving what remains. Work on improvements of life, since your light is near extinguished. Make up in affection what may be wanting in action. If you cannot do much, yet love much. Stir up others to work for God, that you may do by their hand what you cannot do by your own." Thus wrote this pious author.
Let us consider what glorious services have been done for God, by the long life of saints in this world. Survey the labours and the sufferings, the ministry, the zeal, and the success of the blessed apostles, who planted the first Christian churches. What monuments of honour did they raise among Jews and strangers, among Greeks and barbarians, the savage and the polite heathens, to their crucified and exalted Saviour! What multitudes of subjects were brought to bow the knee to Jesus by their preaching! What a large harvest of souls was gathered to Christ, when the apostle scattered the seed of the gospel all round the countries, from Jerusalem through the provinces of the lesser Asia, and through the southern parts of Europe, as some have supposed, as far as Spain. And the Redeemer was glorified by his labours where the name of the true God the Creator was hardly known before.
What an extensive blessing to the world was the life of Paul! It is to this that the following ages of Christianity, as well as the early saints, owe the unspeakable benefit of his writings. How honourable was it for the apostle Paul himself, and how happy for us, that he was made an instrument of such service to Christ, such a glorious service, as spread itself around the nations, and reached to distant ages of mankind. His long life was an illustrious blessing both to himself and to the Christian world.
3) Life is yours, believers in Christ, for it allows many a proper opportunity for giving examples of holiness to mankind. And it is an honour to a saint to be made an example of religion amongst a nation of sinners, or a pattern of holiness among the churches of believers. In this you become followers and imitators of the blessed Lord your Master: He is the first pattern, he is the most glorious example; for in all things he must have the pre-eminence.
If you become a public and shining example of virtue, and piety, and goodness, you may attain these four very valuable ends at once.
1. By this means you pay great and just honours to the blessed gospel by which you are saved, and confound and silence the impious accusations and slanders of the wicked: And especially if your station and rank in the world make you the object of more public notice, either in a city, in a town, in a neighbourhood, or in any society of men, then like a candle or a beacon set on a hill, you diffuse light and honour far around you, and God and the gospel are glorified on your account. And not only in the higher stations of life, but even those of the lowest character, if they are but saints, may adorn the doctrine of God their Saviour in all things; Titus 2. 10. It is a great credit to our holy religion, when the men of this world, seeing our good works, are forced to confess that there is something divine in Christianity, that God is truly among us; and by these means they are constrained to glorify our Father, and our Redeemer, and our holy religion. This is the command of Christ; Matt. 5. 16.
2. In this way sinners are not only convinced that there is a power and glory in the doctrine of Christ, but many a soul has been converted to the faith of Jesus, by beholding the pious conversation, the heavenly graces, the holy love, the divine zeal, the constancy, the patience, and the sufferings of Christians. The good women in the apostle Peter's days were exhorted to invite and draw their unbelieving husbands to the faith and love of the gospel, "when they see your respectful and pure conduct, … with the imperishable beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit" 1 Pet. 3. 1-4. Look forward, believer in Christ, to the last great day, and think with what a pleasing joy you will hear those who have been converted by your example, and reformed from a doomed way of life, declare this to your public honour before men and angels: Your holy example, though long buried in silence, will have a glorious resurrection in that day, and the Judge himself will proclaim it to your praise, that he used your piety here on earth as an instrument of his grace to enlarge his kingdom.
3. In this way, weak Christians, and those that are infants in Christ, are awakened to a holy imitation of your superior virtues and graces. It was the continuance of the apostle Paul in this life, through the various stages of it, that recommended him as a pattern to the believers of his day, in all the various circumstances of their lives; and the longer he lived, the more glorious example he left behind him, for the benefit of the saints, that they might be followers of him as he was of Christ; I Cor. 11. 1. And it may be added in the
4. Fourth place, Where a Christian of shining virtues, and of expansive goodness, is blessed with a long life, the memory of his example, and the sweet savour of his graces, remain the longer on earth, after his own departure to heaven. It is like a rich perfume that has been some considerable time among garments , it communicates a pleasant fragrance to the clothing long after the perfume itself is removed. Thus many a saint, by the sweet odour of his name, has done honour to the gospel in the place where he lived, while his bones are mouldering in the dust: The history of his various virtues has dwelt long on the lips of the surviving neighbours, and perhaps has awakened others to an imitation of such a pattern many years after his passing away.
Whether there be any use in heaven for this kind of example, or whether the saints of lower rank there may be excited to holy imitation, by the superior graces or glories of more eminent saints, is not so well known to us; but this we may be well assured of, that the example of Christians can have no use in that happy world, to guard the doctrine of Christ from profane reproaches, or to convince or convert sinners and infidels. It is the living, and the living alone, that can do this service for Christ, and glorify his gospel in such instances as these.
But we go on to another advantage of our continuance in this world.
4) Life is yours; for it gives opportunity for abounding in good works to the great benefit of mankind. The longer a saint lives, if he maintains his character with honour, he becomes so much a greater blessing to the world. But what a deal of good ceases when a good man passes away!
Christians, you are required to maintain good works for the honour of your Father, and for the glory of your Saviour, who has purchased you to be a peculiar people, zealous for good works: But there is yet another reason for these good works, and that is, These things are excellent and profitable for people; Titus 2. 14. (compared with the third chapter, verse 8.) Every day of life opens some new scenes, in which you may be serviceable to your neighbours, your relatives, your fellow-creatures, and so make the world the better by your presence in it.
The days and years of life should be numbered by the multitude of good works, as much as by the revolutions of the sun and moon: For lost and wasted time should not come into the account of life. But if this were our way of counting, what should we say of thousands who have lived to no other purpose but to eat and drink, and to make up the number of mankind? It is a mean and pitiful thing only to be old in time, and not in duties to God, or benefits to men. And, as an author speaks on this subject, "All the good works of many who die in physical old age will amount to very little: To be an ancient man or woman of two or three years old sounds like a contradiction," and it is, indeed, a matter of great shame, and ought to awaken deep repentance.
How many are there that live to no purpose at all, and the world will not miss them when they are gone! How many that live to wicked purposes, and the world is glad to be rid of them! Some are mere encumberers of the ground, and some are perfect nuisances and public mischiefs. Such should never pretend to the name of Christians. Let us remember it was the character of our blessed Lord, that he went about doing good; and he was willing to work those works while it was his day of life; for the night was coming on him in which he should have no such sort of work to do; John 9. 4. And so may our Saviour be our pattern, and let us be followers of the holy Jesus! What a noble pattern we have! what slow and distant followers we are!
It was this desire of service to the world, that made the great apostle to be hard pressed between two options, as in Philip, 1. 23. He knew not what to ask for; "Shall I pray for death and glory? my heart has a wish that way. It is far better for me to depart, and to be with Christ: Or shall I desire to continue in life? This is for the service of your faith, and furtherance of your joy; therefore I am content, said he, to have my crown and glory deferred, that my longer life may be your advantage." What an illustrious spirit of zeal and love reigned in the heart of this apostle
You are the light of the world, said Christ to his disciples; Matt. 5. 13, 14. What a dark dungeon would this world be, if it had not one saint in it! You are the salt of the earth! What corruption of manners would overspread the face of the earth! What vile communications and abominable practices would defile the world in a few years, if every Christian were dead! What shameful and abominable works had overrun the heathen nations before Christ and his gospel appeared, and the idolaters were made Christians. A saint in a family, is like the ark of Lord in the house of Obed-edom; 2 Samuel 6. 12. For the Lord blessed the house of Obed-edom, and all that pertained to him, because of the ark of God. A pious soul is a Joseph in the family of Potiphar. Gen. 39. 5. When the LORD blessed the Egyptian's house for Joseph's sake; the blessing of the LORD was on all that he had, in house and field.
A number of saints in a city, or a nation, are many times like Noah, Daniel, and Job, in the midst of them. They guard the public by their prayers from mighty ruin and wide desolation. Sodom itself had been saved, if there had been ten righteous souls in it. And it is certain that North America had been a kingdom of idolaters and slavery, or a heap of confusion and slaughter, and a field of blood long ago, because of the provoking wickedness in the midst of it, had it not been for the few righteous that have always stood in the gap: There have always been some powerful pleaders at the mercy-seat when the wrath of God and the destroying angels have been breaking in like a flood upon us.
How many unknown blessings do these sinful nations enjoy, because of the lives and the prayers of the saints that are in it! Holy souls, who, though they are divided into different parties, and practise their different forms, yet worship the same God, through the same Mediator, and by the same Spirit, who are ever welcome to the throne of grace, who are all saints in the esteem of God, and in the language of Scripture. Strange that the name of a saint should be used as a term of reproach amongst anyone, when these are the persons of every party who are the most excellent in the earth; these are the guards and walls of defence to the nation, the chariots of our Israel, and its horsemen spoken of in second Kings; 2 Kings 2.12. 13.14.
5) Life is yours; for it gives occasions for brightening your evidence for heaven, and improving your own preparation for glory. Surely you are not willing to depart from this world, until you have good hope of an interest in a better state, and a comfortable expectation that it will be well with you forever. Does God prolong your days on earth? See then that the principles of piety and goodness be well rooted in your hearts, and that your graces grow up under the influences of heaven. See that they bud and blossom to the honour of your profession, and to the joy of your own consciences. Let the sacred fruits of your love and zeal break out on all just occasions: Shine brighter in holiness every day of your mortal life, and produce fruits conforming to life everlasting, that you may know and be assured that the seeds of glory are sown within you, such divine seeds as will bear a rich and blessed harvest in the great day.
And everyone who thus hopes in him purifies himself as he is pure; 1 John 3. 3. and his increasing purity will confirm his hope. Believe it, Christians, as your life and practice grows more divine and undefiled, the image of Christ will appear in you with clearer evidence, and raise your hopes of dwelling with him to the joys of assurance. Many a soul has gone to heaven as in a triumphant chariot, after some years of their practice of Christianity, who, at their first profession of it, were oppressed with many doubts and fears, and were often trembling on the borders of despair. Life was their blessing indeed, when it taught them to die with faith and honour, and enter into the world of spirits with divine joy.
Let it be said then concerning you, believer in Christ, that you sensibly approach nearer to heaven every month that you continue on earth, and that you look more like the inhabitants of that upper world, by how much the longer you continue in this lower state; that when you depart from here, you may be assured of a joyful admission into paradise. May your graces shine bright, and your evidences for heaven appear so glorious and uncontested, that there may be no tremblings about your heart in that solemn and important hour; no doubtful hesitations or frights on a death-bed, but that you may find the gates of glory open before you, that you may see your way clear through the dark valley, and have a rich and abundant entrance into the kingdom of your God on high.
6) Life is yours, that, by a due improvement of it, your crown of glory may be enlarged, and your seat advanced in heaven.
That there are different degrees of honour and joy conferred on the saints above, according to their different characters and capacities, is a doctrine that is so well supported and evidenced in Scripture, that we cannot justly doubt of it. If you are zealous for the cause of Christ, and active in his service through all the stages of life, and your old age be crowned with abundant fruits of righteousness, your reward in glory will bear a proportion to these labours, and the length of your time on earth will give a glorious addition to your recompence in the heavenly world; 1 Cor. 15. 58. Be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain. What a shame and pity is it, that you or I should have a long life on earth, and but a low rank or a little portion of reward in heaven!
But to awaken your zeal, consider yet a more surprising advancement in glory, you who would diligently improve life and grace. What if the services you do for God on earth should still bring forth new fruit among men long after your death? and what if your happiness should be ever increasing in this proportion? When the great Judge comes, he will surely reward every one according to their works; But in Jer. 17. 10. it is said, God will not only give to every man according to his ways, but also according to the fruit of his deeds! What if our labours, our prayers, our pious works and words, or our examples on earth should go on to produce this divine fruit, even the conversion of souls when we are in heaven? And what if the rich and overflowing grace of God should reward us on this account with growing glories? And those who turn many to righteousness in this manner, should shine as stars with increasing brightness?
Some commentators have supposed, that the mischievous influence of the works and lives of the wicked will increase their torment: And perhaps, Jeroboam, who set up the calves at Dan and Bethel, and who made the land of Israel to practise idolatry for some hundreds of years after his own death, might feel yearly more intense agonies of conscience, and his hell grow seven times hotter. This is a dreadful thought, and should terribly awaken and impress those sinners who have spread their iniquities far and wide, who have corrupted whole families, and cities, and nations, and spread their poison through succeeding ages.
And why may not the joy and crown of the apostle Paul increase and brighten by the conversion of sinners, through two thousand years, by the influence of his holy writings amongst all the Christian nations? And so, not the Thessalonians alone, but some inhabitants of Canada will be the matter of his glory and his joy? It is surely a blessed thing to multiply good instructions, and counsels, and exemplary practices of holiness; and to hear of them after we have gone to heaven, either by ministering angels, or by souls newly arriving there, that they still yield on earth a further crop and harvest of honour to Christ, and profit to men. Such good news as this cannot but raise and advance our own joys.
As your zeal and labour in active service will have their just reward, so your patience under sufferings will meet with a proportionable reward. 2 Cor. 4. 17. For our light momentary afflictions are preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison. Life is the only season, as will be shown afterwards, for this sort of exercise; and the longer we endure sorrows here honourably, the richer will our future reward be, though the reward is not of merit but of free grace.
How many saints are there in heaven exalted to eminent stations in that upper world, and some who wear, perhaps, the crown of martyrdom, and enjoy the prizes of victory over a thousand temptations, after they have run a long race in Christianity! And yet many of these, it may be, would have possessed but a low station, and a little share of honour and happiness in those heavenly regions, if they had been cut off from the earth in their younger days, and been called away to heaven immediately after their conversion. Surely if you have spent many years in public labour for Christ, and zealous devotion, you have endured cruel mockeries, imprisonments, and sharp sorrows, for the sake of Christ and his gospel, and through the course of a long life, have borne a constant testimony to the faith of Jesus, there are superior glories suited to your character in heaven, which await your arrival there.
And so we have seen, in various instances, that temporal life itself, and the continuance of it, becomes a real advantage to a true Christian, which was the first thing proposed.
We will close this morning with these two reflections and leave the second general heading proposed to the second part of this sermon.
First Reflection.—What a rich advantage is put into the hands of a young convert! When a sinner, in his younger years of life is changed into a saint, what a blessed privilege is granted him by divine grace! And what a glorious opportunity is put before him, the improvement of which may reach to everlasting ages!
Happy is the soul who is reconciled to God early, and a thousand sins in the following course of his life are hereby prevented! Happy soul, to whom Christ has manifested his love in the beginning of life, and saved early from eternal death! According to the course of nature, this soul has the prospect of doing long service for his Lord and his God. He ought to awaken all his thoughts; consult, contrive, and seek divine advice what he will do for his honour, who has given him so early a salvation. He ought to pray for the direction of the blessed Spirit, to mark out his paths, and to use his head, his hands, and his tongue, in the most honourable manner for his God, and the most usefulness for the good of men.
If this is your case, remember, every hour of your time is a part of your treasure: Let it not be said at last, it was a prize put into the hands of a fool that had no skill nor heart to use it. God, even your God, expects a daily revenue of glory, as the just improvement of this treasure. Let a holy zeal be kindled within you, to do glorious services for your Creator and your Saviour, and to show your large returns of love to him who has first loved you. Let a pious ambition set all your powers at work to do some uncommon good for men, and to be made an extensive blessing to all that are near you.
Arise, and shine long, as a fair example of holiness in a dark and wicked world, and let every year of life brighten your character on earth, and enlarge your reward in heaven. Do not be content merely to get safe within the walls of paradise; the thief on the cross, who was called at the last hour of life, obtained this privilege; but let your ambition rise higher, and reach at some of the more exalted stations in that kingdom. Then will it appear that life is yours in the sweetest sense, when every stage and period of it will add new honours to the name of your God, give new blessings to the world, and advance the joys of your own eternity.
Second Reflection.—If life is such a privilege to a Christian, and be a part of his treasure in this sense, then what a dismal account has an old sinner to give, who has wasted life and time in folly and guilt, and no part of it has been improved for his eternal happiness!
Sad and miserable creature! Neither life nor death is yours. Reflect with yourself a little, and review the dismal scene: Say to your soul, "What have I been doing these fifty or sixty years? I came into life guilty and unclean, and am now upon the borders of death unclean and guilty still. I was born a child of wrath, and am a son or daughter of wrath still. I was by nature an enemy to God, and I am an enemy to God still, and have no interest in his love. Life was given me that I might seek reconciliation and grace; but I have neglected and abused offered grace, and am not yet reconciled to my almighty and offended Maker. The Judge is just at hand, I think I hear the sound of his chariot-wheels, and a dismal account have I to give of all my wasted life. I have done no real service for God, nor have given an example of holiness to men: but sadly! I have been a pattern of iniquity, or at least, I have followed the multitude to do evil: Every year I have heaped up to myself new treasures of wrath in hell, instead of securing a crown in heaven, and advancing my station and my joy there. Is there any hope for me in the poor remains of life that may yet be allotted me? Is the grace of the gospel sufficient to save such a wretch as I am?"
Yes, it is sufficient, for Jesus Christ came into the world to save sinners, even the very foremost of them. There is grace in the heart of the Father to receive you; there is sufficient virtue in the blood of Christ to cleanse away all your guilt; there is influence enough in the blessed Spirit to soften your heart, and renew your nature, though you are an old hardened rebel, and a transgressor from your very infancy. Do not lose one more moment, but earnestly begin the work; no longer toy with grace, you who are on the borders of the grave; run to the hope that is set before you; earnestly beg salvation of God by day and by night, and give him no rest until he has heard you.
Such insistence is likely to be successful; and then, though your temporal life has been no benefit to you up until now, yet the last moments of it may possibly be accepted, and prevent your everlasting death; God who is rich in mercy, may bestow on you some humble place in heaven, but you cannot expect to shine amongst the brightest saints. You may be blessed among the dead who die in the Lord, and rest from your sorrows and your sins; but you have scarce any good works to follow you. Your works in all the vigorous years of your life, have been matter of guilt and shame, and it is infinite mercy, that they will be remembered no more.
But if your heart is broken for sin, and healed by the blood of Christ, your humble repentance, and your holy faith in the few remaining days of old age and death will be accepted through the abounding grace of the gospel. The dying thief on the cross forbids you to despair utterly, though you have run a terrible risk, and ventured on the borders of destruction: And if you are saved at last, it is so as by fire, it is like a brand plucked out of the burning, or as a man escaping naked out of the flames, and passing on the very brink of hell into everlasting life.
The Recollection of the doctrinal part.—And now, as we close, is life the only time given you to be reconciled to God, and are you still a stranger and an enemy? Have you wasted away so many years of this golden season of hope, this day of mercy, and have not yet received this mercy, nor laid hold on this hope set before you? Search, examine, enquire, what is your state! And if you are yet a child of wrath, and unreconciled to God, hurry and run for refuge to the grace of the gospel. Cry out for repentance and forgiveness in the name and blood of Jesus. Let no more days of your life pass away in such a dangerous and dreadful state, for fear that life should come to a sudden end, and then you are banished from grace and hope forever.
But if the character of a sincere penitent, and a holy Christian is found within you; if you are a partaker of the love of God, through the grace of Jesus, then bless the Lord… and let all that is within you praise his holy name, that he has not cut you off in the days of your enmity to God, unsanctified, and unpardoned; that he has lengthened out your life and the time of his mercy, until he has changed your sinful nature, and secured you in the covenant of his grace.
Is life given to you as an opportunity of serving your Lord Jesus? It is he that has redeemed you: it is he that has laid out his valuable life for you, what shall you do to make some humble returns of acknowledgment and love? Let your useless and unserviceable years be forgiven, and let the remains of life, whether long or short, be all devoted to the interests and honours of your Redeemer.
Were it possible for the saints, after they have dwelt sometime in heaven, to come down and dwell on earth again, how would they multiply their efforts, and lay out their new life in more activity and service for their God and Saviour! When they have found and tasted what a heaven of happiness comes after the short labours of life, how would they double all their zeal and diligence, and be grieved they could do no more! When they have seen and conversed with their beloved Lord, and beheld him face to face, with how much warmer love would they engage in his service! Surely they would all cry out, that the longest life on earth is much too short to show their zeal, affection, and gratitude to so divine and glorious a friend. Think of this and remember, if you ever arrive safe at heaven, you will wish you had done more for your beloved Lord here on earth.
Is this mortal life of yours prolonged that you may spread a savour of piety amongst your fellow-creatures, and set a religious example to men? Do nothing then that may lead sinners astray. Beg forgiveness for all the evil examples you have ever given, and let your future conduct shine in holiness, as a pattern to those that are round about you. Strive to convince the world that religion has something excellent and divine in it, and encourage them to the practice of strict godliness.
Is life prolonged that you may be profitable to mankind, and have you lived so long already to so little purpose? Plead with God for help that your fellow-creatures may be the better for you while you continue amongst them. May the God of Abraham bestow on you that rich favour which Abraham received in those divine words of promise, I will bless you, and I will make you a blessing; Gen. 12. 2. 1 What a shameful thing is it when you go out of the world, that those who knew you should say, "He is gone, and he will not be missed."
Have your days been prolonged so far that your hopes of heaven might be daily increasing, that your evidences of adoption might grow stronger daily, and your soul be more prepared for heaven? Look inward then, and ask yourself: Have you acquired a more divine and heavenly disposition than in years past? are you advanced to a greater conformity to the inheritance above? Are your desires, your appetites, and all your powers more fitted for the business of heaven, and attuned to the blessedness of the upper world? are you growing fitter still for the sight of God, for communion with Christ, for the company of saints and holy angels? How are your days and months, and years run out to waste, if you are so much nearer death, and yet are not so much riper for heaven!
And is it possible that a length of life should be so improved, as that your crown of glory, and your portion of happiness maybe enlarged in heaven? Let your holy ambition awake at such a hint as this, and aspire to a superior rank among the blessed, by using every part of life to the most noble and excellent purposes for which life is granted.
And ever abound in the work of the Lord, since you are assured that no part of your efforts will be in vain in the Lord, or will be without its proper reward. Though it is the blood of your Redeemer that has purchased all the prizes and crowns in heaven; yet if you are a swift runner in the Christian race, and the race itself is long, you are in line to receive the better prize: And if you are an active and victorious soldier in the army of Christ, and have served faithfully through a tedious war, you may have reason to hope for a brighter crown.
We may humbly wait for a reward in proportion to the work, according to the encouragements of the Bible, while we still acknowledge that it is free and sovereign grace that both enables us to persevere in our working, and bestows the rich reward.
For all things are yours, whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas or the world or life or death or the present or the future—all are yours, and you are Christ's, and Christ is God's