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PAROCHIAL SERMON S.
THE END OF MAN'S EARTHLY HISTORY.
ECCLESIASTES XII. 7.
form that common, but mysterious piece of workmanship, which we call man.
1. By the dust we are undoubtedly to understand the body, that part of us which may be seen and felt.
And it is called by Then shall the dust return to the earth as it was, this humiliating name partly on account of and the spirit shall return unto God who gave its origin. “Of the dust of the ground"
did the Lord God form man. He could Tuus, brethren, does old age end; and have formed him without this dust, without not old age only—thus will soon end the any materials whatsoever; but to keep him history of us all. The former part of this low, to mortify the pride of his vain descendchapter may be applicable to very few of ants, he took the meanest substance that us. It exhibits a picture of man in his latter the earth could furnish, and moulded that days. It describes him as gradually sink into the shape of man. Hence we are said ing under the weight of years, and the in- to dwell “ in houses of clay;" the habitafirmities of dissolving nature. These we tion of our spirit is called an “ earthly may never experience; for we may die house;" its “ foundation is in the dust, before the “evil days” come, which bring and of dust are its walls composed. them. But die when we may, this will be This expression may refer also to the the close, the winding up, of our earthly perishable nature of our bodies. They are history, “ The dust shall return to the earth not formed of materials that are strong and as it was, and the spirit shall return unto lasting, of brass, or iron, or stone. Then God who gave it.”
we might have defied the hand of violence We have here for our consideration, first, and of time. But we are dust, one of the the two parts of which we are all com- lightest and most unstable of all substances. posed, and, secondly, their different destina. One moment, it lies before us in our path; tions when they are separated.
the next, a breath of wind renoves it, and 1. What is man? Have you ever asked scatters it at its will. yourselves this question? If you have se- And what are we, but creatures born to riously done so, it has perplexed and bewil- perish? so liable to frailty and change, that dered you. We know not what we are. we are said to be “ made subject” to vaniAll that we can learn about ourselves, is ty? Vanity has a dominion over us, and no more than the simple fact with which we are every moment feeling its power. every child is acquainted, that we are Nay, we are vanity itself, and that not in our made up of a body and a soul; that we worst condition only, amidst the ravages
of are composed of two very different parts, disease and the weakness of age, in our which became connected we know not best estate” we are “altogether vanity.” when, and affect one another we know not A wind passes over us, and we are gone. how. They are called in the text “the Hence Job connects our frailty with our dust” and the spirit." These two united earthly origin. No sooner has he spoken
of our "houses of clay,” than he says of origin, brought into existence by the imme.
“ They are crushed before the moth. diate act of God. If formed of any mate. They are destroyed from morning to even- rials, they are such as lie far beyond the ing. They perish forever without any re-reach of man's discovery or conception ;
they are such perhaps as angels cannot But there is one idea more comprehended comprehend. under this term-mcanness, worthlessness. It is immortal. The body is of short du. Nothing is of less value than dust. It is ration. It soon arrives at its perfection, rudely trodden on by every foot. It is and soon decays: it may speedily be worn sometimes removed as a nuisance out of out. But the soul never dies. It may our path.
change; it may be enfeebled, or polluted, And what is the worth of these bodies of or degraded; but it cannot be destroyed. ours, which we pamper and adorn with so Even sin, which has withered its beauty, much care? True, they are the workman- cannot put an end to its existence. Cor. ship of God, monuments of the omnipotence ruption and the worm cannot touch it. which could build so wondrous a fabric Amidst all the generations of time, all the from materials so vile; but they still are ravages of death, all the vicissitudes of hu. dust, composed of the same elements as the man things, it lives and acts. The wreck body of the meanest reptile, or a blade of of a world can no more injure it, than the grass. They are of importance to us now, fall of a leaf in a distant forest can wound because they are the tabernacles of the im- the eagle that is soaring in the skies. mortal soul; but separate them from that Is not man then a mysterious being ? soul, take them when the spirit has forsaken Look at his body. How “fearfully and them—what is their value then? Our wonderfully” is it made! Composed of friends will tell—they will bury us out of dust, and yet so contrived and framed, that their sight. In the very houses which we the wisest of the sons of men cannot per. now call our own, we shall be denied a fectly learn its structure! He owns him. lodging Loved or hated, a grave will be self bafiled as he studies it; and the more dug for us, and we shall be left in it in he studies it, the more is he lost in admiradarkness and alone, valued only by the tion at the number and variety of its parts. worm which takes us for its prey.
Every limb, every vessel, every movement 2. But man is not all dust. “ There is within it, is an amazing proof, we might a spirit in him.” And it is his own spirit; almost say, an amazing effort, of almighty it forms a part of him. And what is the power and skill. spirit ? None but the living God can tell. But this is nothing when compared with It is that strange something within us, which the spirit. The one excites our admiration no human eye' has ever seen, but without as we think of it; the other will not let us which we can do nothing and are nothing, think of it. It is out of our reach. It at least no more than a clod or a stone. It mocks our efforts. dwells in the body, animates and rules it; And then the union that exists between but is not confined to it. Spurning the this moulded dust and the immortal spirit, limits of time and space, it roves among how close is it! To affect the one is, in the ages that are gone, as though it had some degree, to affect the other. And this lived in them. By the wings of its power- union is as strange as it is close. What is ful imagination, it flies to the remotest parts the tie which connects these two parts of of the earth, it ranges through the orbs of us? They are held together by the breath the sky; nay, it soars beyond them; it which is every moment passing to and fro rises to the great God himself, penetrates from our nostrils; at least, when that into that invisible eternity which he in- breath ceases to pass, their union ends. habits, and elevates, and expands, and We need not then look around us for transforms itself, by contemplating those wonders. We ourselves are wonders. The glories which are at his right hand. youngest child within these walls is enough
In its nature, it is altogether different to confound and humble an inquiring from the other part of us. We know not world. how it was made, but we know that noth- II. But the two parts of which we are ing on the earth was employed in the creation composed, though closely united, are not of it. It was altogether heavenly in its inseparable. A trifle can at any time sever
them. Sooner or later, they must be part of death as coming in what we call “ the ed. If disease or violence do not rend order of nature," and seem to regard it as them asunder, as though weary of their a thing of course, as a part of the original union, they will separate of themselves. portion and destination of our race. Thus Let us then consider, in the second place, we endeavor to conceal our shame. But their destinations when we die.
as long as man continued sinless, death had We must not enter on this consideration, no more power to touch his body, than it without remembering that we have now be- has now to destroy his soul. He became fore us the most important inquiry which mortal when he became sinful. Dust he can possibly engage our thoughts. Be we was; but it was not till he became rebelin what state we may, it is certain that we lious dust, that he heard a voice saying to cannot long continue in it. It must soon him, “ Unto dust shalt thou return.' come to an end. We must undergo a When therefore we see the shrouded change. And if the question, What will corpse and the opened grave, it is vain, it is this change be ? does not interest us, where worse than vain, it is deceptive, to say, is the question that ought to affect us? “ See there the work of nature." Nature
1. We are reminded of the change which abhors the charge. That havoc is the our bodies are destined to undergo. “ Then work of sin. Yes, brethren, the pride, the shall the dust return to the earth as it was;" sensuality, the worldly-mindedness, the that is, the body shall become just what it self-will, the forgetfulness of God, which was before the hand of God modelled, and we make so light of—these are the things the living soul animated it. It was dust, which laid our fathers in the grave, and will and it shall turn to dust again. A humili- soon lay us there. Their vileness, their ating and loathsome process shall mingle it guilt, their destructive power, are written with the clods of the valley, and give it to in the ashes of all the dead, and will soon the winds of heaven.
be written in our own. Such is the acAnd must it really come to this? Must count scripture gives us of the matter; the forms that move around us, must the “By one man sin entered into the world, frames of our children and friends, that and death by sin ; and so death passed upseem so firm, thus perish? They must. on all men, for that all have sinned.” They may be very dear to us; as we look It is in vain that we object to this stateon them, they may appear so lovely and ment, that we charge this dispensation with strong, that we can hardly deem it true severity; the stubborn fact remains-all that death can harm them; but they will that ever lived, have died; and we, in the soon be gone, gone as a dream of the night midst of our objections and cavils, are hast. or a shadow of the morning. We our. ening to the tomb. There is only one conselves shall follow them. We may go be- clusion to which a rational inquirer can fore them. Ere we are aware, weariness come; it is this—Sin is a greater evil in and pain may be exchanged for rottenness the sight of God, than it is in mine. I have and dust
. Our time is appointed,” our yet to learn its malignity. No heart can * months are numbered,” even our “ days conceive aright of its terrors. are determined ;” and when they are spent, Such is the destination of the body, and we shall all lie cold at the root of the rocks, such the cause of it. at the foot of the mountains.
2. Let us look now at the destination of But why is this? Why must the body, the soul. “ The spirit shall return unto so curiously and exquisitely wrought, so God who gave it." much loved and cherished, be thus broken Here we are again baffled. Where is in pieces? We say, because it is mortal ; God? How does the spirit find him? By but how came it mortal ? Though but what strange means does it ascend to his dust, yet it is not therefore of necessity per- abode ? We may ask these questions, but ishable dust. The same Being who wrought none answer them. Probably the it into the shape of man, could as easily spirit itself could not, even after it has trapreserve it in that shape, as he now de- velled this mysterious journey. It is cer. stroys it. The power which gave it life, is tain that we, on this side of the grave, know surely able to sustain it in never-fading nothing of the matter. We may think and vigor.
talk about it, we may amuse ourselves and We often err in this matter. We talk ! perplex others; but as for comprehending
it, we might as easily scale the heavens. , consequence ? He knew that he should be We must end where we began—this is the “present with the Lord.”. extent of our knowledge-" The spirit shall O what a solemn thought is this! Who return to God."
has not been thrilled by it, as he has heard The Lord Jehovah always claims the the breath go forth from some fellow-worm! spirit as his own. “All souls,” he says, And who can resist its power, when he ap“are mine.” If they are in a limited plies it to himself ? Brethren, you are liv. sense ours, they are so only because he has ing just as near to eternity as you are të given them to us. He was at first “the the grave. The hour of your entering into Father of our spirits,” for they came from heaven or being cast into hell, is not one his hand; and he is still their Lord. moment further off than the hour of your Hence when our bodies are about to turn to own death. If you die to-day, where will corruption, he recalls them to himself. He to-morrow find your spirit ? Not hovering might still confine them in their wretched over its deserted clay; not mingling unseen habitations; force them to linger among with your children and friends, to soct their mouldering ruins, and to witness their itself with their sorrow for your loss. No: desolation; imprison them in a dead, as it will be among eternal joys or eternal sor. well as in a living frame: but he spares rows; far from all the abodes of men ; ir even the guilty this degradation. The body the midst of the pardoned and glorified, it goes to the dust alone. The liberated spirit among the condemned and lost. It will be spurns the dust.
Death beats down its one of these inhabitants of eternity ; taking prison walls, and then, like a captive exile, its share either in their wailings or in their it hastens to be free, and a moment takes it triumphant songs. to its native skies.
Hence we may observe that it is no light For mark—the return of the spirit to God or trifling purpose, for which “ the spirit reis represented here as immediate. It takes turns to the God who gave it.” It goes to place at the very instant when the “silver him to give an account of all it has though: cord” is loosed, and “the wheel" of life and felt, and done, while in the flesh; stopped. Superstition, or vanity, or affec- the use it has made of its own powers, and tion, may for a long time keep the body, at of the powers of that body over which it has least a part of it, from its destined home; ruled. He sent it here that it might know, but nothing can detain or delay the soul. and love, and serve him; he sends for i
“ Return !" and ere the word again at death, to inquire whether it has has gone forth from his mouth, he sees it fulfilled its work. It goes to him therefore naked before his throne. This truth should to be judged, to appear at his bar and re correct an error into which many of us are ceive its sentence; and then to enter on its very prone to fall. We often look on the final home. If found in Christ, clothed is realities of eternity as very distant from us. his righteousness and purified by his Spirit We think that between us and the awful it will dwell in a world where it shall sor. scenes we have heard of, many hundred row no more, fear no more, be unsatisfia years of insensibility and nothingness will no more. If found out of Christ, risinu intervene; that our souls will sleep in from its earthly tenement with the stains á. some unknown land, till the close of all sin polluting it, and the guilt of unpardone things. But where have we learned this sin testifying against it, it will be driver' notion ? Not from the Bible. There is away in its wickedness,” far from th; not a single declaration in that sacred book,“ presence of the Lord and the glory of bis which can sanction it. On the contrary, power." there are many passages
directly We see then that each part of us goes:0 against it.
“ This day shalt thou be with its own place when we die; each “ returns." me in paradise,” said our Lord to the mal. is restored to its original source. Th efactor who was dying at his side; and in earth opens its bosom to receive its due. ! what state there ? Senseless and lifeless ? and it does receive it; earth is given to No; alive to its glories, transported with earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust. The ! its blessedness. And when Paul thought great God claims the spirit; it goes to him of being “absent from the body," what did he takes it, and disposes of it as he will
. he connect with his absence ? What did And in the destination of both, he magnifies he look on as its immediate and necessary | his own great name. The body, as it per
ishes, declares his holiness in one world, world a thing of naught? If not, what can while the soul, if lost, reveals it in another. we say to you? What does conscience If saved, it is saved " to the praise of the say? “ Thou fool!" glory of his grace.” It shines forth in the There is something awful in the prospect heavens, the brightest monument there of of eternity even to the man who has been his unsearchable love.
all his life long preparing to enter it, and This then is the view which this text af. who knows that, in any world or in any fords us of our approaching destination. It state, he is safe in Christ. This very day, warrants us in coming to this conclusion, as he has thought of it, he has prayed, if There are events about to take place in our not trembled. And yet you, unprepared, history, of far greater importance to us than unready, are at ease. There is something any we have yet experienced. I speak not far more appalling in this unconcern, than of the success or failure of our earthly in any scene which an open grave could schemes, of changes in our worldly condi- show. That is the triumph of sin over a tion or circumstances, of sudden riches or heap of dust ; this is its triumph over an sudden poverty, of the loss of children, or immortal spirit. And if this victory be so parents, or kindred. I speak of what this dreadful here, in a world of mercy, judge text foretells, of the falling into dust of the for yourselves, what will it be in a world of very bodies which are here assembled, of wrath? O that we may seek of the living the departure of your soul and my soul in God a heart to fear its terrors ! to the presence of its Judge.
But what is the language of this text to And who can tell us what this presence the faithful servants of Christ? It says to is? As we think of it, the sinking of the them, Be serious, be sober, be in earnest. body into dust is forgotten. To appear be. Sit loose to the world. Think much of fore the great and hitherto unseen Jehovah death. Look for it. Be every hour pre--to see him eye to eye and face to face, pared to meet your God. “Let your loins who formed the worlds and all that dwell be girded about, and your lights burning, in them—to stand before infinite majesty, and ye yourselves like unto men that wait and purity, and justice—to be in a world of for their Lord.” spirits, and we ourselves also to be spirits, But this is not all. Though it does not to hear a voice consigning us, and that for- speak expressly the language of consolation, ever, to happiness we have never yet been yet it reminds us of many things that ought able to conceive of, or to misery that even to cheer us. guilty man, in his wretchedness here, has True, the dust must “return to the earth never known—who is not bewildered at the as it was ;” and we may be content to let thought? And yet this very appearance it go there.
Our Bibles tell us that it is before God we must experience ; this be a vile body," a body of humiliation; and wildering, overwhelming thought we must such we have found it. Its weakness and realize. There is no prospect, no possi- disease bave often chilled, and fettered, and bility, of our escaping it. "We shall as clogged our souls; and what have its lusts surely face our Judge in eternity, as we and vile affections done? They have now behold one another here. And we forced us to hate ourselves; they have may be called on to face him in an instant. I made us weep and groan.
And shall we Our soul is kept from returning to him—by repine at the prospect of escaping from such what? by a little dust; by a body so frail, a body as this ? O no, not if we were so easily dissolved, and liable to so many never to see it again. But we shall see it dangers, that they who know its structure again, and dwell in it again. To the earth best, wonder the most that it holds together it must go, and lie there for a time in disfor an hour.
honor and ruin; but what says the scripBrethren, what think you of these things ? ture ? “This corruptible shall put on inthese certain, and important, and probably corruption, this mortal shall put on immornear events which are coming on you? tality.” In some mysterious manner, these Are you prepared for them ? Have they frames of ours, which death shall break occupied your attention, and interested your down, and worms destroy, and winds scat. feelings, and influenced your conduct ? ter—these very bodies shall be raised; Have they made the gospel most welcome they shall live again, as really and as to you, the Saviour most precious, the vigorously as they are living now. The