Portrait of a Christian
by JOSEPH IRONS
Delivered in Grove Chapel, Camberwell, Sunday Morning, Dec. 17th, 1848
The delivery of what are called funeral sermons is usually, to me, one of the weightiest tasks that I have to perform; and that on a variety of accounts: sometimes because being a real mourner, as in the present instance, the deep feelings of my own heart render me utterly unfit for the labour. Then, again, the fear of extremes, lest I should say so much about the creature as to leave little or no room for my Master, God forbid! I generally err, if error it be, on the other side; and then I have the apprehension lest I should omit stating in full, what mighty grace has done for departed worth. These conflicting exercises render the task the most weighty of all that I have to perform; and therefore I crave an interest in your fervent breathings at the throne of grace. If the language of my text were to be explained by a stranger to the grace of God, or a man not well instructed in the mysteries of the kingdom of God, I dare say he would be looking for uprightness in the creature, and commend and uphold a multitude of things that might exist, or be supposed to exist; but sure I am, if I were to take that course, could my departed brother look from heaven and rebuke me, he would beg permission to do so.
That course I cannot take; and yet if I might take such a course with regard to any human being I have ever known, it would be with regard to my beloved and endeared deacon, who is now departed and gone. But no, I must take higher ground; and whatever may be the excellencies of creatures, and however endeared to my heart, my Master must have the throne; my Master must be honoured and glorified; and I can only tell of what there is in the creature, or has been in the creature, as that which He has mercifully and graciously condescended to work. Having this idea in the text before me, when I mark the perfect man, I will describe to you what that perfection is; when I describe to you the upright man, I hope to have liberty to set forth the scriptural sense of the word; and when all this description of character is developed, I trust my hearers will have grace to examine diligently whether they possess it. Well assured I am, that the end of such must be peace, for my text says so, and God cannot lie. We shall do well, therefore, to see how far we are advancing in the description of character here given. I am fully aware also, that commentators have delivered some strange, and vague, and even extravagant things on the language of my text, and would fain make it to personate Christ. Now I do not hesitate for a moment to admit that Christ was a perfect man, that Christ was an upright man; but I cannot believe that the language of my text refers exclusively to Him, because of the contrast with which it stands connected. The language immediately preceding the text marks the character of the ungodly thus, "I have seen the wicked in great power, and spreading himself like a green bay-tree:" I should not like to be of that description of character, even if no sense of blame could be attached to me, because it approximates so much to the wicked, "Yet he passes away, and, lo, he was not: yea, I sought him, but he could not be found." Then comes my text, after which it follows with, "But the transgressors shall be destroyed together: the end of the wicked shall be cut off." So that my text stands in contrast with a description of character going before, and coming after; the wicked in great power, spreading like a green bay-tree, to be cut off and destroyed among the transgressors; but between them both occurs the description in my text, "Mark the perfect man, and behold the upright: for the end of that man is peace."
Let me, first of all, invite your attention to the sacred character drawn, a perfect and an upright man. Then, secondly, to the exhortation, to mark and behold such. And then, thirdly, to the end experienced by such, "the end of that man is peace."
O Holy Ghost! help me to speak in accordance with the oracles of truth, and apply what I shall advance, with invincible power, to the hearts of my hearers.
1. First of all, let us glance at the sacred character that is drawn, "a perfect man," "an upright man." There are two senses in which these words are to be understood. The first is, as the man appears before God; and the second, as he appears before his fellow men; and we shall touch upon both. But let that which is of the highest importance go first, a man, perfect and upright before God, viewed by the eye of Omniscience, sinless and complete. Why, say you, where is such a man to be found? Is it not said expressly, that God looked down from heaven to find such, and found not one, not one, but in whom there were blemishes, not one, but in whom there was sin, all gone out of the way, altogether become abominable, and that "there is none that doeth good, no not one?" And yet, with that appalling description of human nature in its fallen state, my text talks about a perfect and an upright man in the sight of God!
Now I will give all that is due to the hint contained in my exordium
of the glory belonging to Christ, as perfect and sinless in His humanity,
and as upright and full of integrity and faithfulness
In order to obviate this, it has been my object, for years, many years, and shall be, God helping me, to my last breath, to insist upon the headship of Christ over His Church, as constituting the perfection of all its members. Viewed in Adam, they have Adam's ruin, Adam's pollution, Adam's corruption, Adam's evil heart, Adam's rebellion, and, consequently, Adam's curse! Viewed in Christ, they have His merits, His righteousness, His powerful operative grace in their souls; and virtual, and then a vital union with His person, their souls accepted in His merits and perfect obedience, and that oneness and that union which was constituted in the council of peace determined upon in the predestinating enactments of the Most High God, never to be dissolved, giving them to be viewed by Jehovah as Jehovah views Christ. Not only as He is so are we in this world, but as no spot, blemish, or any such thing is in Christ, and Jehovah the Father is well please in Him, so it is written expressly, "He hath not beheld iniquity in Jacob, neither hath He seen perverseness in Israel" (Num. 23:21). And why? Because seen in the covenant Head, because seen complete in Christ. This is the perfection of which we speak. If a man talks to me about attaining to perfection in the flesh, I have no hesitation in telling him he is deceived by the devil; if he talks to me about attaining to perfection in the flesh, I have no hesitation at once in saying, that he is a stranger to God and godliness. Such ridiculous nonsense never was trumped up anywhere but at Rome: nay, rather, in hell, and sent to Rome, to be stamped and distributed all over the world.
The perfection of the child of God is in his covenant Head; and it follows, as an unavoidable inference, and a blessed Bible truth, that all the members of Jesus Christ have been from eternity eyed as pure, and perfect, and holy, and sinless in Christ, as they will be when they get home to glory. Their pristine beauty was beheld with sacred delight by the Majesty of heaven from everlasting. The fall marred their humanity; the fall separated between them and their God, as regards real communion, but never altered the view which God took of them in Christ, never changed the affection concerning them, nor made a line of difference in the book of life; from everlasting to everlasting they were loved, accepted, and seen complete in Christ. And this is the perfect man. So that when they tell me there is no perfect man on the earth, I tell them the contrary. I can find hundreds of perfect men, in the sight of God, and viewed as such.
Now as to the other character, the upright. You have seen his completeness
in the headship of Christ, and his perfection in the sight of God, by reason
of his union with Christ. You have seen, consequently, he is perfectly saved,
perfectly pardoned, perfectly justified, perfectly secured, and shall have
perfect glory. Look at the word "upright." You know that, among
mortals, it means simply integrity, a straightforward honesty. But what
does it mean before God? Upright before God, for it is on that point we
are now dwelling; and sure I am, if my departed brother had not understood
this point he would not have had the peace of mind which I was favoured
to witness. Upright before God! It can be nothing else than the imputed
righteousness of Christ put upon the sinner, and dwelling in him. He must
have them both. The imputed righteousness of Christ put upon him is his
justification, and that is the ground of his acceptance and welcome. The
imparted righteousness of Christ put within him is his sanctification, and
that makes him sincere before God, to mean what he says and say what he
means. This is what I understand is meant by that passage in which the Holy
Ghost taught the apostle to say, that the righteousness of God, which is
by faith, is unto all, and upon all them that believe. It is placed unto
their account for their uprightness, their justification before God; and
it is put upon them, yea, dwelleth within them as the very mind, and spirit,
and life of Christ, by which they are made sincere and honest before God.
Our beloved Lord said, concerning Nathanael, "Behold an Israelite indeed,
in whom there is no guile." I like the phrase as it stands, though
I know some who are not fond of the doctrine I preach, and who translate
the word "guile," as "guilt," no guilt, because it is
removed. I like it best as it is. Guilt and guile are two distinct things.
Guilt is the result of sin. Guile is the disposition to hide it. There is
no guile in the Israelite; he is upright before God; he does not attempt
to deceive; he never comes before God and says, "I thank thee I am
not as other men;" he is not disposed to cloak his guilt and manifold
transgressions; he is not disposed to give the best appearance of himself
before God, as if God were not omniscient: but he comes before God and openly
confesses, "Lord, I am guilty;" he comes before God in his real
character, as a sinner; he comes before God acknowledging he has no hope
from the creature, or anything the creature can do: he comes before God
pleading the perfect work of Jesus Christ and His perfect righteousness,
and humbly asks to be accepted in it; he means what he says when he confesses
his sins, he means what he says when he pleads the merits and righteousness
of Christ, he means what he says when he appeals to God about His covenant
promises in Jesus Christ as "yea and amen." And then, if he is
called to speak for God, he says what he means. There is no flattery, there
is no fawning, no betraying, no saying what he really does not mean in his
heart; but he lets out what God has put into his soul, and speaks with faithfulness
Now let us glance at the manifestation of this. I have given you, thus far, my view of this sacred character as he appears before God. I must also view him as he appears before the Church, and before the world, or else I cannot allow his pretensions to this character before God. The perfect and upright man manifests his real state and standing before God by his circumspection before men. That grace of God which bringeth him salvation, teaches him the denying of "ungodliness and worldly lusts, and to live soberly, righteously, and godly in the present evil world." What he does among men, and before men, and in transacting business with men, is done with the fear of God before his eyes, with awe for the Divine character, with deep jealousy of his own heart, lest he should dishonour the holy name by which he is called, and with an ardent concern to do good to all men, especially to them who are of the household of faith. Such a man you will find walking circumspectly. He loves to walk to the house of God in company with the Lord's people, he loves to walk with wise men, that he may be wise, he loves to walk by faith, that his step may be firm, he loves to walk in love, even as Christ loves him, for that is like walking in heaven, he loves to walk wisely towards them that are without, that no reproach may be brought upon the gospel of Jesus Christ, and he loves to walk in familiar communion and fellowship with the followers of the Lamb, so that he may be a helper of their joy, and they may be helpers of his. He will not be inquiring how much time he can steal from God to throw into the service of the world, but, rather, how much he can take from the world to throw into the service of God and His glory. You will not find him in love with the world, because it is written expressly, "If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him." You will not find him having his hope and portion below, along with the ungodly worldling, because he says, my soul is weaned as a weaned child from this; my treasure is in heaven, and my heart is there, my affections are set on things above, aspiring after God and trampling upon things of time and sense as too mean to engage the attention and absorb the affections of heaven-born souls.
Now all this is very true with regard to our dear departed brother; probable to a greater extent than in the case of most Christians that we can set our eyes upon. But mark, before we quit this part of the discourse, that we must not allow these three things to be separated. I could find many men of the world, men of moral integrity, who have, in their very constitution, such principles of uprightness before men, that they could not be known to do a dishonourable thing. You may trust them in all their transactions, and in the technicality of an employer, it may be said, "That man's word is his bond." This is their manifestation before men; but where is their uprightness before God? where is their perfection in Christ? I can also find men, who, with flippant talk, will represent themselves as perfect and complete in Christ, and descant upon the doctrines of grace at greater length than I can, and even claim an interest in them. But what are they before the Church, and before the world? Their very walk gives the lie to all their pretensions; and therefore in this sacred character, here drawn, I beseech you suffer none of these three things to be dispensed with. The man must be perfect in Christ, before God, as his head. He must have imputed righteousness upon him, and implanted within him, to make him honest before God and with God; and he must then be able, by mighty grace, to manifest before the world, that while he believes, he believes in his heart, and that he is not merely the possessor of a little head knowledge.
2. Let me now invite your attention to the exhortation to mark and behold such. I beseech you, beloved, keep that foremost and uppermost still, as it is with God. Mark and behold them, just to discover and acknowledge that Divine grace has made them what they are. I am sure that if my dear departed brother were now permitted to say to what he attributes all he enjoyed on earth, and is enjoying in heaven, he would adopt the apostle's language, "By the grace of God I am what I am." I could detain you an hour, to speak of his personal excellencies, and his experimental attainments. They are too well known to need my eulogies, and forgive me if I omit them, while I insist upon this one point, that all that he was as a Christian, and all that he is as a glorified saint, is the result of Divine grace. It is indeed true, that the God of nature created him with an amiable natural disposition, but that would never have taken him to heaven. It is indeed true, that he had a constitutional moral rectitude, which exceeded that of most men; but that could not have taken him to heaven. Mighty grace took him there; and oh, what a pleasing reflection! mighty grace began early with him. You young folks think of this seriously. Our dear departed deacon was met with by Divine grace, when he was only about eighteen years of age. Blessed be God for beginning with him so young, and for keeping him standing firmly so long, and enabling him to end so well. My prayer for you is, that you may be followers of them who, through faith and patience, inherit the promise.
Now, if we look for a moment at what any Christian is, in point of talent, usefulness, activity, Christian sympathy, and especially in the possession and manifestation of the mind of Christ, it is all the result of mighty grace. Not one sinner of Adam's race would ever reject all human excellence, to accept of completeness and perfection in Christ, but for mighty grace conquering the heart. The mind of man recoils from this doctrine. It is supposed to be the most offensive that we can deliver; and yet it is the only doctrine that can save a sinner. All confidence in creature excellencies must be abandoned, that the perfect work of Christ may be claimed in the exercise of living faith; and mighty grace must bring the man to a state of willingness to receive the righteousness of Christ, imputed to him and implanted in him, that he may stand complete therein before God. Let this sacred truth be deeply impressed on your minds, that Divine grace does everything in the poor sinner's heart, and fits him alike for a position in the Church of Christ on earth, or a position in the glorified state of the Church in heaven.
This is contrary to modern divinity, from which, as long as I live, I hope to be as far removed as the east is from the west; and when I am gone, I shall be still further from it, for modern divinity cannot enter heaven, it dishonours God. "What," say you, "is modern divinity?" A philosophical system, a something attainable by the powers of the human mind without regeneration, a something that man's intellect can compass, a something that learning and science can receive, and mould according to their own caprice, just to suit the free-will of man. It may have embodied with it many Scripture phrases that seem correct and true: perhaps some even well-placed in its creed; yet, after all, it is of man, and not of God; it is of the earth, earthy, and will never take its recipient to eternal glory. But, on the contrary, every real Christian is brought to admit the statement of our beloved Lord, "A man can receive nothing, except it be given him from above:" and the grand difference between the worldling's religion and the Christian's is this, (perhaps there may be no difference in creed and in words), that the one gets his religion from the earth, and the other gets his from heaven: the one derives it from catechisms, ministers, and mortals, (I find no fault with these things in their proper places), but the other, the real Christian, gets his religion from God. It comes down from on high; the first convictions are arrows shot from the throne of God; the first hopes are created by the power of the Holy Ghost; the first sparks of faith and love are enkindled by the Holy Ghost; and all the communications of grace, and growth in Divine life, are by the fresh look, the fresh touch, and the fresh operations, of the Holy Ghost, going on in the Christian's personal experience. Our beloved Lord put to silence the Pharisees by this criterion when they asked him, by what authority He did these things. In reply He said "I will ask you one question, ' The baptism of John, whence was it? from heaven, or of men?'" Did it come from the throne, or spring out of the earth? Is it corrupt, and tarnished, and tainted with Adam's fall, or is it pure and holy from the bosom of Jesus, and implanted in the soul in the new nature? This is all we ask, is your Christianity from heaven or of men? Thus we shall come to attribute all that we find in the creature to Divine grace. Nevertheless, we must admit, that bright examples ought to be looked at and marked, as my text says, "mark," and "behold" such. A variety of examples, such as the one we are referring to this morning, ought to be looked at; and if I were to draw a picture of the brightest and best example, it would be that of my Lord and Master, for He has left us an example, in His own conduct, that we should tread in His steps.
But, if we may come to bright examples among His followers, and members of His mystical body, I should not know where to look for a brighter example than in the person we have been called to part with in this Christian Church. If you look at him as a man, if you look at him as a Christian, if you look at him as a member of a Christian Church, if you look at him as a deacon, and follow him through his career, as I have done for nine years, you would say, "Let his spirit be mine, let his motives be mine, let his footsteps be mine, let his meek and Christ-like spirit be mine; let his activity and concern for the cause of God be mine." I think it fairly implied in my text, "mark, and behold" such. And, while adverting to my dear departed friend, you must allow me just to give a little outline concerning what the Lord had done for him. After it pleased the Lord to meet with him, which I find was at Hoxton Chapel, under the ministry of a Mr. Ralph, it was the will of the Lord to remove him to another part of the town; and he heard, and received some profit at Surrey Chapel, and also at Romney Street Chapel, Westminster, until the late period I have named; when it was the pleasure of the Lord to bring him as a blessing to us, within these walls. Somewhere about nine years ago, he joined in Christian fellowship with us. Again and again did he acknowledge that he had found a blessed home, and in instances, not a few, has he sat where his beloved son now sits, till his soul has been ready to leap out of his body. He was unanimously chosen to the office of deacon amongst us, in the year 1843; and from that time, nay, even at that time, his fervent prayer was, I had it from his own lips, as well as from his survivor's, that he might never be suffered to grieve his pastor's heart, nor to lay a stumbling block before any of his brethren and sisters in the Lord: and I can testify that his prayer was answered.
This much must suffice here. This house has been a blessed place to his soul, in numberless instances, and all this he ascribed to grace. Seldom, I think I may say never, was he absent from his post on the Lord's Day twice, and on Tuesday and Friday evenings, except by absolute necessity, and unavoidable demands upon his time. His heart was set on the prosperity of God's cause here; and sure I am that, while he lived on earth, there was no spot in creation so dear to him as this hallowed place. Indeed, but a few days before he departed, he said these words to me: "I firmly believe there is scarcely a Christian Church in this kingdom where there is so much Christian affection and brotherly love, and real fellowship, as within Grove Chapel." I believe it to be a true testimony; and being the testimony of a dying man, it is well worth recording; and I wish there were no exceptions to this rule among us. I have one thought to drop here: take heed that you never lose that character; take heed that there never comes a chill over that brotherly affection; take heed that there never be an interruption allowed to that holy harmony which God has preserved amongst us these thirty years. I will just pass on, lest I fall into one of the extremes which I mentioned in my exordium. Behold such men, and mark such, as examples worthy of your imitation, as examples, the imitation of which will be more valuable to you than ten thousand worlds, and certainly of great importance to the Church of the living God on earth.
Now glance at a fundamental fact here, that principles produce corresponding practices. This is signally manifest in our departed brother. Principles, if erroneous, will produce erroneous practices. For instance, take the free-will Arminian principles: they always lead to a loose life. Take the vain, formal, yea-and-nay sort of Christianity: it leads to the degrading practice of utter carelessness about the interest of Christ's cause, and the advancement of His kingdom spiritually. Its professors run right wild into Republicanism or Infidelity, and are as fond of Popery as Protestantism; or, if they are not fond of nursing it, they are kind and good-natured to it, and coax the serpent till it stings them to death. Who are the men who loathe self? Who are sick of the world? Who oppose Popery? Who glorify Christ with their bodies and spirits? They are the very men who are dubbed high-doctrine men in our day, and more beside: they are the very men who are pre-eminent and conspicuous for their principles; who can rely upon the covenant faithfulness of Israel's God; who are rooted, and grounded, and settled in the truth; who can say, with the dear departed, "I know who I have believed." Tell me not, then, of your practices. I could say a great deal upon this point; but this morning I wish to forbear. Do not imagine that principles are of as little consequence as people say. I have heard it flippantly thrown out, "Do not talk to me of a man's principles, but tell me what are his practices." That is to say, it is of no consequence what the tree is, whether it is a crab or an apple, a bramble or a vine, only let me see the artificial fruit. How absurd! My Master says, "First make the tree good, then the fruit will be good also." I must first have principles, founded, rooted, settled principles; the grand doctrines of God's eternal grace, such as the electing love of God the Father, the Divine substitution of God the Saviour, and the Divine and invincible operation of God the Spirit; and all the rest of the doctrines which emanate from these three prominent ones, and are given in God's precious Word. Then we follow with the practice; and sure I am that this perfect and upright man will be so concerned to manifest it before the world, that he will make a conscience of all he does. You cannot beguile him with "It is a common practice; and if I do not do it, somebody else will." This is generally the argument of free-willers; but when we come to a perfect and an upright man, he stands beside the old Antinomian Nehemiah, falsely so called, and says, "This did not I, because of the fear of the Lord." "Tell me not, then, of what formal and flippant professors will allow me to do, but tell me what my Bible directs, and what my conscience, with that for its guide, instructs me is right or wrong." That is the man whose principles will produce a practice corresponding therewith. You will find him at home, an example of godliness; you will find him in the Church walking circumspectly with men; you will find him in business full of integrity and uprightness, and transacting that business as in the fear of the Lord; you will find him living a life of faith, walking "wisely towards those who are without," glorifying God in body and spirit; making even his eating and drinking, and whatsoever he does, subservient to the glory of God. That is the man whose conduct we want, in order to exhibit the character of a Christian; that is the man whose principles bring forth such fruits and practices as will honour God, and profit man. It is needless to say, that all this was exemplified in our dear departed brother. God enabled him, by His mighty grace, so to keep on to the end circumspectly.
3. And now let us have a word or two relative to the end of such. "The end of that man is peace." This, all who witnessed the departure of our beloved brother, will bear testimony to. Almost his last prayer was, "Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace." He waited for it; and though his afflictions were excruciating, with regard to pain, and lengthened beyond what most, even medical men, expected; yet a holy patience, a sacred fortitude, a believing confidence, in a word, a heavenly peace, was possessed by him all through. I was amazingly struck with the coincidence of his departure, with the departure of my long-esteemed friend and brother, David Denham. If my information is correct, they were both interred on the same day, and at the same hour. The letter which brought me intelligence of his departure, closes with "His end was peace." Then I said, "Here are two at once, 'whose end was peace.'" There might, however, be this difference between them; for both were taught the same truths, and rested on the same Saviour, and the Divine faithfulness; but our dear brother, Denham, died a martyr to the abominable Church-meeting system; while our dear brother Bigg, lived and died in the bosom and affections of all the Church here. There lay the difference between them; and if I had never hated that Republican system before, I should have hated it since I saw the ruin which its cabals brought on my dear brother Denham's constitution and happiness. You most of you know to what I refer; and I believe he never afterwards lifted up his head in public. But he is now far beyond all that, no cabals disturb him; he is as peaceful as our dear brother Bigg, and they are singing together the song of Moses and the Lamb, which can never know interruption, and never admit of a discord. Oh, the vast importance of marking such examples! Oh, the vast importance of viewing the end of such!
We will now proceed to ask, what it is that constitutes the peace of
such? You must forgive me this little tribute of affection to my brother
Denham; for, having known him thirty years, I could not help adverting to
him. But what constitutes the peace of such? First of all, I should say,
his acceptance before God, and his being sensible of it. Let me here remind
you, that you can never have peace, solid, uninterrupted peace, living and
dying, without this one great requisite: you must have acceptance with God,
and you must have a sweet consciousness of it. How can a sensible man have
peace, while it is a matter of uncertainty with him whether he is to go
to heaven or hell? How can a man, who thinks he has a soul, have peace,
when he does not know whether God accepts or rejects him? The fact is, acceptance
before God is in Christ, but the peace depends upon our being conscious
of it. Our dear departed brother knew, and said he knew, whom he believed;
and, as I parted with him one evening, when he was very near his end, he
said, with a look of inexpressible confidence, "I am resting in the
Bear with me, I will detain you only a few minutes longer, just to mark his reconciliation to the Divine will, in all things. Why this is the sum and substance of gospel work, reconciliation, not reconciling God to man, but reconciling man to God; "for God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto Himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them." God is called the God of unchanging love, and the mighty grace of God brings man first to a state of reconciliation as to God's method of saving him. He is then content, not only to bow to the method, but is well pleased with it; and not only is he well pleased with it, but his soul rejoices in it; and not only does his soul rejoice in it, but he blesses and praises God for it. God has left nothing uncertain, contingent, or dependent, but has provided a salvation, planned from eternity, entrusted to Christ, embodied in His Person, accomplished on the cross, revealed and applied by the Holy Ghost, and received and embraced by faith. And when man is reconciled to God's method of saving him, he may well have peace, he may well look forward to peace. Moreover, he is reconciled to God's will in His providential dealings; and this brings him peace. He says, in the most trying circumstances, "I was dumb, and opened not my mouth, because thou didst it:" and adopts the language of one of our poets:
So that this reconciliation brings peace into the soul, a heavenly calm, a sacred, uninterrupted enjoyment, a peace, which is the gift of Christ, which the world cannot take away, or even disturb, a peace which will survive and outlive all the storms, the wars, the conflicts, the trials, and the crosses of this wilderness state, and triumph even in death. Oh, this is a blessed peace to enjoy! This is "the peace of God which passeth all understanding," and will last to the end.
This leads me to remark, that this reconciliation to God's will, relates to the time and manner of departing out of the wilderness, "Thy will be done," is the heartfelt desire of the departing Christian who is enjoying this peace of God. Paul felt it, and expressed it in this manner, "To me to live is Christ, to die is gain." I am sure our departed brother could have adopted this language fully; yet, adds Paul, "What I would I wot not, for I have a desire, if I might have my own choice, to depart and be with Christ, which is far better;" but to show his reconciliation to the Divine will, he says, "Nevertheless, to abide in the flesh is more needful for you;" and therefore he was just willing to live or die, to go or stay, to fall asleep or be awake, to be active for Jesus here, or to sit down in glory with Jesus, just as the Lord would. That is a blessed state of mind to be brought to; and this I am sure was the mind of him of whom we speak, and "whose end was peace." Moreover, the peace which the perfect and upright man thus enjoys, triumphs over death and the grave. Hence Paul could exult, and many beside him, have exulted, "Oh death, where is thy sting? oh grave, where is thy victory?" Not a few, besides our departed brother, have been, in the closing scene of life, waiting, desirous, willing, anxious, to sit down with Jesus on His throne. He almost counted the hours, and thought each striking of the clock would be the last, that each painful hour would be the last, that each paroxysm would be the last. He was waiting for eternal rest. He had nothing to dread, nothing that he foreboded, nothing to make the dark valley gloomy, nothing to cause the soul to be depressed or cast down; but all was calm, peace, joy, bright prospects, sweet anticipations, and heavenly preparations for the enjoyment thereof. Oh, that my soul may enjoy all which that peace can impart while in health and vigour! Oh, that the perfect work of Christ may be kept in view as my own! Oh, that uprightness in Christ, dressed in His righteousness, may be my constant glory! And may it always be manifest before the world. Then, when I come to pass over Jordan, which I am anticipating cannot be long, I shall be at peace also. You know that I have outlived six beloved deacons, for all of whom I bless the Lord; for their usefulness, and for their departure into everlasting bliss. I know not how many more I may outlive, or whether any. But this I wish above all things, just to stand on the brink of Jordan continually, just to be so near to that which constitutes my prospects, as to be able at the last moment to look backward and look forward; to look backward to the Church I leave behind, and say, "Be ye followers of them who, through faith and patience, inherit the promises;" and then, forward, to the glory which I am about to grasp, and the crown I am about to wear, so as to triumph over death and the grave, and pass from time to eternity, with the holy, peaceful calm, that nothing but the grace of God can afford.
I cannot sit down, without saying a word or two to my dear friends, who appear in the character of mourners. They are conscious that they have nothing to mourn for on behalf of their departed friend. Much as he was beloved, and useful as he was, both among them and among us, they see clearly that he is so blissfully seated upon his throne, that I can hardly imagine they can wish him back again. But one thing I do desire, and pray for, on your behalf, and that is, that the spirit of an Elijah may rest upon an Elisha. I still will pray that the widow's heart may be gladdened, that her cares may be cast upon the Lord, that her soul may be supported by mighty grace, communicated from above. I will pray for his endeared and beloved children, that they may never forget his example, but be emulous to tread in his steps, as I firmly believe they will, by the grace of God. Dry up your tears, then, and live in anticipation of the scene, when the glory, and the honour, and the immortality, which now constitute his eternal life, shall be yours.
I cannot allow myself to close, without speaking one word to the children's children. There is a third generation here. Do not forget, dear children, do not forget that your dear grandfather's soul was the temple of the Holy Ghost, at an early age; and my prayer is, that you may every one be an habitation of God through the Spirit. Remember it is written in the Word of God, "A good man leaveth an inheritance to his children's children;" and if the religion of the departed good man, for whom you mourn, should be possessed by you, as his children's children, it will enrich you for time and for eternity, for "godliness is profitable unto all things, having promise of the life that now is, and of that which is to come."
To the Church, I cannot help saying, stand fast in the Lord: look well to the high and holy character which our dear brother himself pronounce of you, and take heed never to lose it. Cleave to one another with "purpose of heart;" love one another "with pure hearts fervently." And do not forget the opinions expressed by our brother, within a few hours of his departure, that the peace and prosperity which we have realized for thirty years, may be attributed, under God, to our Scriptural discipline; for if, after my departure, you should be so bewitched as to abandon that discipline for Republicanism, anarchy, discord, and ruin must ensue; and this warning will be remembered amidst bitter lamentations.
To the deacons, I would say, beloved brethren, gird up your loins; we know not what the morrow is to bring forth. Only let us act our part as in the sight of God, as officers in His Church, while we are permitted to stay upon the earth. And to every one of the members, I would give this solemn charge: do pray that we may be wisely directed of God, to make choice of such officers, for such we must have, as shall seek not their own glory, but the glory of Christ, and the welfare of His Church. And if you will all make that the subject of fervent prayer, I know we shall be wisely and properly directed.
May the eternal Spirit put life Divine into the truths now delivered, and by His mighty power bring forth serious self-examination, and so get a revenue of praise to the Divine name, while lasting advantage is communicated to our souls, and He shall have all the glory. Amen.