MR. JOSEPH SWAIN,
PASTOR OF THE BAPTIST CHURCH AT WALWORTH,
Who departed this life, April 14,1796.
By Abraham Booth
AN ADDRESS, &c. &c
IN the long list of human evils, which every one beholds, the most prominent, the most certain, and the most solemn, is death-death, which is called the king of terrors. It is the common lot of mankind ; nor is there any discharge in that war. The hour of our departure hence, though perfectly known to God, is to us a profound secret: nor, when the time allotted for us on earth is expired, can any one prevail on the last enemy to suspend the fatal stroke. No: the aids of medicine, the tears of relatives, and the prayers of pious friends, are all in vain.
Since, therefore, death is confessedly so awful and so certain, while the moment of its arrival is to us absolutely unknown; to stand prepared for it, must be of the highest importance. The general inattention of mankind to an article of such consequence, affords very striking evidence of human depravity. But, thoughtless as men in common are about their approaching dissolution, and the consequences of it; yet, when they follow their deceased friends to the grave, they can hardly forbear to anticipate, more or less, the solemnities of their own departure.
The circumstances attending death are such as plainly show, that God considers our world as a rebellious province of his dominions. Nay, the conscience of every man testifies, that he is an offender against the. Divine Majesty; and the scripture informs us, that death comes upon all men, because all have sinned. What, then, is the immediate consequence of death? Do we cease to exist? or, do we lose our consciousness ? By no means; for both scripture and reason enforce the belief of a future state of conscious existence. As, when dissolution takes place, the body returns to the dust, whence it was taken ; so the spirit returns to God who gave it; and shall be for ever happy in the smiles of his countenance ; or everlastingly miserable in a state of entire separation from him. The former is to be considered as the gift of divine grace through the Redeemer: the latter, as a righteous punishment of un-expiated crimes. For thus it is written, The wages of sin is death: but the gift of God is eternal life, through Jesus Christ our Lord.-Surely, then, an occasion of this kind should rouse reflection. For it is the voice of Providence: it is a warning from God himself: and its import is, Life is uncertain : death is at hand : be ready.'
Here, then, let us impartially examine the state of our souls. That we are sinners, we must confess. That God is the Sovereign of the world; we cannot deny: and that he is a righteous governor, is equally clear. For wisdom, power, and goodness, are not more essential to his character, than holiness, truth, and justice. A supreme governor without rectitude, is a disgrace to the throne on which he sits : nor would a virtuous man choose to live in any secular kingdom, where public delinquents are generally suffered to escape with impunity. The Sovereign of the world, therefore, must be just, and that justice must be manifested in punishing disobedience, either in the person of the criminal himself, or in that of a substitute, supposing a substitute to be admitted.
Now, it is one main design of the gospel, to reveal a substitute for the guilty; who, by obeying and suffering in the stead of sinners, delivers them from the wrath to come. Yes, in the doctrine of salvation, Jesus Christ is exhibited as a propitiation through faith in his blood; to demonstrate the justice of God in the punishment of sin, equally as to display the mercy of God in pardoning the guilty. An interest in the atonement of Christ is essential to our happiness ; because, without shedding of blood in sacrifice, there is no remission of any offences.
As our sins must be pardoned through the atonement, and our persons accepted in the Beloved, before we can enjoy that peace which passeth all. Understanding; so the general turn of our hearts must be suited to the heavenly state, or we cannot enter the abodes of eternal blessedness. As it is written, Ye must be born again - Without holiness no one shall see the Lord. For no man could be happy even with God, if be did not love him.-How necessary, then, it is to inquire, whether we treat the death of Christ as an all-sufficient expiation of sin; and whether we have just ground to conclude, that the prevailing disposition of our hearts is in any measure suited to the nature of celestial happiness? For, as the nature of that felicity will never be altered to suit our carnal inclination; so the disposition of our hearts must either be agreeable to: that felicity, or we must for ever perish.
Solemn and sorrowful is the occasion of our assembling together at. this time. For it is an event by which a beloved wife is bereaved of her affectionate husband ; a family of small children of their tender father; and a numerous church of its laborious, endeared, and successful pastor. This event is rendered the more affecting, by a consideration of our deceased Brother being cut off in the midst of his days, of his labors, and of his usefulness. Yes, he was removed by death, not when hoary with years, or debilitated by age ; not in the decline of his Christian character, of his ministerial gifts, or of his public usefulness ; but when they were all, apparently, on the advance. Yet he is called away. His decease, therefore, is one of those numerous events in the course of divine providence, the reasons of which we cannot perceive: an event under which we may innocently feel, and over which we may lawfully mourn; but we must not repine. For, were we disposed so to do, the language of Elihu, and that of Jehovah too, would administer sharp rebuke: Why lost thou strive against him? for- he giveth not account of any of his matters-he that reproveth- God, let him answer it-Be stall, and know that I am God. [Job xxxii..13. xl. 2. Psalm xlvi. 10.] The Christian course of our departed brother was run; his ministerial work was finishes! ; and his divine Master has taken him home.
But, very affecting as the death of our Brother is, we do not, we cannot sorrow for him, as those who have no hope, respecting the final state of one that is deceased. His body; indeed, being now a corpse, is consigned over to darkness and to worms ; to dust and putrefaction: where, under the care of Providence, it must continue, until the resurrection at the last day. But his immortal spirit, we doubt not, is now in the bosom of eternal bliss: and, with cheerful expectation we look forward to that grand period, when this corruptible shall put on incorruption; and when this mortal shall put on immortality; when all the dishonors of this grave shall be wiped away; when the separate spirit of our departed Brother shall be united to his new-raised body ; and when, in his whole person, lie shall be for ever with the Lord.
These considerations are big with consolation to the weeping widow, and the sorrowful relatives ; to the destitute congregation, and surviving friends. What remains, then, but that each, under these different characters, he careful to improve the solemn event, by living more to God, and by endeavouring to be more useful in their different stations? Ye relatives of the deceased, and ye that were the objects of his pastoral care, should consider yourselves as, in a more particular manner, addressed by Providence in this event. Ye have had his private converse, his public instructions, and his edifying example. For you, more especially, he studied ; for you he labored ; for you he prayed ; and for you he lived. You have statedly heard him proclaim the excellency of Jesus Christ, the un-searchable riches of his grace, and the all-sufficiency of his work, for the salvation of those who are most guilty. You have heard him describe the sacred pleasures of true godliness, and the sublime delights which are to be enjoyed in communion with God. You have heard, from time to time, his cautious, his warnings, and his reproofs. Watch and pray, therefore, that the salutary impressions' made on your minds under his ministry, may not wear off; but, rather, that they may be increased, by a consideration of his decease, and of your seeing his face no more.
To you, my ministering brethren, and to me, this event is pregnant with admonition, and replete with motives to diligence and faithfulness; to circumspection and spiritual-mindedness, in the course of our ministry, and of our lives. Let us, then, in the language of Jesus, work while it is day; while we have capacities, time, and opportunities, for being useful to our fellow-mortals. Is it our sincere desire, in the course of a public ministry, to 'be the hououred instruments of instructing the ignorant and of alarming the careless; of converting' sinners to Jesus, of edifying believers, and of glorifying the Lord Redeemer? I trust it is; for woo to us, if it be- not so! Let us, then, be habitually mindful of our own immortal concerns. Because it cannot be justly expected, that holy zeal for God, and genuine love to man ; that ministerial wisdom, diligence, and fidelity, should appear in our pastoral character ; if, as private individuals, we neglect our own souls. He who preaches evangelical truths to others, and -is not habitually careful to live under their influence in a daily walk with God, is ripening apace for aggravated ruin. I have long thought, that one of the most comprehensive, useful, and import ant admonitions which can be given to any minister, is that of Paul: Take heed to thyself. Cultivate the spirit of true godliness in thy own heart. For no pastor who pays a wise regard to the affairs of his own soul, can be habitually negligent of the flock of God which is committed to his care as you and I, my brethren, are loudly reminded by this grave, that Providence -will quickly summon us to give an account of our ministry, and of the manner in which we have employed the talents entrusted to us; we should earnestly endeavor to improve our time, and to be followers of those who, through faith and patience, inherit the promises.
To you, also, with whom our deceased Brother had no connection ; to you I say, that were, either his merely occasional hearers, or not at all acquainted with his ministry and conversation, this event speaks. It admonishes to a serious consideration of your latter end ; to think of your final state. You have, it may be, thought little about it; have put far front you the evil clay; and have habitually neglected the things which belong to your peace. Some of you, it is probable, are dreaming of long life, and with rapture anticipate the pleasures of many years to come. Infatuated and unhappy creatures! your lives are wasting, and fatal disease awaits you. Death is at hand, and that graves are ready for you. Your immortal souls must quickly enter the invisible state, and to you eternity will soon disclose its awful secrets. An everlasting heaven, or an eternal hell, may have received your separate spirits before to-morrow's dawn. It is high time, therefore, to awake out of sleep, and to cry for mercy. Do ye call yourselves Christians, and rest in the mere name - Did the Son of God become incarnate, and expire on a cross, merely to lay the foundation of a new religious denomination in the world, and to become the subject of occasional conversation ? Or was it that he might be the hope of the guilty, and the Saviour of sinners-the object of their confidence, of their love, and of their unreserved obedience? Are your immortal souls. of no value, or is there no danger of damnation? If Christ be not yours; if your hearts be not devoted to him; and if you die in that condition, you had better never have been born. May the Lord save you from the wrath to come, and prepare you for the heavenly state! Amen.