Maintaining Continual Communion With God
1. Reflections on the sincerity with which the preceding counsel has been given.–2, 3. The author is desirous that (if Providence permit) he may assist the Christian to die honorably and comfortably.–4. With this view, it is advised–to rid the mind of all earthly cares.–5. To renew the humiliation of the soul before God, and its application to the blood of Christ.–6. To exercise patience under bodily pains and sorrows.–7. At leaving the world, to bear an honorable testimony to religion.–8 To give a solemn charge to surviving friends.–9. especially recommending faith in Christ.–10, 11. To keep the promises of God in view.–12. And to commit the departing spirit to God, in the genuine exercises of gratitude and repentance, faith and charity, which are exemplified in the concluding meditation and prayer.
1. THUS, my dear reader, I have endeavored to lead you through a variety of circumstances, and those not fancied or imaginary, but such as do indeed occur in the human and Christian life. And I can truly and cheerfully say, that I have marked out to you the path which I myself have trod, and in which it is my desire still to go on. I have ventured my own everlasting interests on that foundation on which I have directed you to adventure yours. What I have recommended as the grand business of your life, I desire to make the business or my own; and the most considerable enjoyments which I expect or desire in the remaining days of my pilgrimage on earth, are such as I have directed you to seek and endeavored to assist you in attaining. Such love to God, such constant activity in his service, such pleasurable views of what lies beyond the grave, appear to me (God is my witness) a felicity incomparably beyond anything else which can offer itself to our affection and pursuit; and I would not for ten thousand worlds resign my share in them, or consent even to the suspension of the delights which they afford, during the remainder of my abode here.
2. I would humbly hope, through the divine blessing, that the hours you have spent in the review of these plain things, may have turned to some profitable account; and that, in consequence of what you have read, you have been either brought into the way or life and peace, or been induced to quicken your pace in it. Most heartily should I rejoice in being further useful to you, and that even to the last. Now there is one scene remaining, a scene through which you must infallibly pass, which has something in it so awful, that I cannot but attempt doing a little to assist you in it: I mean the dark Valley of the Shadow of Death. I could earnestly wish, that, for the credit of your profession, the comfort of your own soul, and the joy and edification of your surviving friends, you might die, not only safely, but honorably too; and therefore I would offer you some parting advice. I am sensible, indeed, that Providence may determine the circumstances of your death in such a manner, as that you may have no opportunity of acting upon the hints I now give you. Some unexpected accident from without, or from within, may, as it were, whirl you to heaven before you are aware; and you may find yourself so suddenly there, that it may seem a translation rather than a death. Or it is possible the force of a distemper may affect your understanding in such a manner, that you may be quite insensible of the circumstances in which you are; and so your dissolution (though others may see it visibly and certainly approaching) may be as great a surprise to you as if you had died in full health.
3. But as it is, on the whole, probable you may have a more sensible passage out of time into eternity, and as much may, in various respects, depend on your dying behavior, give me leave to propose some plain directions with relation to it, to be practiced, if God give you opportunity, and remind you of them. It may not be improper to look over the 29th chapter again, when you find the symptoms of any threatening disorder. And I the rather hope that what I say may be useful to you, as methinks I find myself disposed to address you with something of that peculiar tenderness which we feel for a dying friend; to whom, as we expect that we shall speak to him no more, we send out, as it were, all our hearts in every word.
4. I would advise, then, in the first place, “that as soon as possible, you would endeavor to get rid of all further care with regard to your temporal concerns, by settling them in time, in as reasonable and Christian a manner as you can.” I could wish there may be nothing of that kind to hurry your mind when you are least able to bear it, or to distress or divide those who come after you. Do that which in the presence of God you judge most equitable. and which you verily believe will be most pleasing to him. Do it in as prudent and effectual a manner as you can; and then consider the world as a place you have quite done with, and its affairs as nothing further to you, more than to one actually dead, unless as you may do any good to its inhabitants while yet you continue among them, and may by any circumstance in your last actions or words in life, leave a blessing behind you to those who have been your friends and fellow-travelers, while you have been despatching that journey through it which you are now finishing.
5. That you may be the more at leisure, and the better prepared for this, “enter into some sermons review of your own state, and endeavor to put your soul into as fit a posture as possible for your solemn appearance before God.” For a solemn thing indeed it is, to go into his immediate presence; to stand before him, not as a supplicant at the throne of his grace, but at his bar as a separate spirit, whose time of probation is over, and whose eternal state is to be immediately determined. Renew your humiliation before God for the imperfections of your life, though it has, in the main, been devoted to his service. Renew your application to the mercies of God as promised in the covenant of grace, and to the blood of Christ as the blessed channel in which they flow. Resign yourself entirely to the divine disposal and conduct, as willing to serve God, either in this world or the other, as he shall see fit. And sensible of your sinfulness on the one hand, and of the divine wisdom and goodness on the other, summon up all the fortitude of your soul to bear, as well as you can, whatever his afflicting hand may further lay upon you, and to receive the last stroke of it, as one who would maintain the most entire subjection to the great and good Father of spirits.
6. Whatever you suffer, endeavor to show “yourself an example of patience.” Let that amiable grace “have its perfect work;” (Jam. 1:4) and since it has so little more to do, let it close the scene nobly. Let there not be a murmuring word; and that there may not, watch against every repining thought. And when you feel any thing of that kind arising, look by faith upon a dying Savior, and ask your own heart, “Was not his cross much more painful than the bed on which I lie? Was not his situation, among blood-thirsty enemies, infinitely more terrible than mine amidst the tenderness and care of so many affectionate friends? Did not the heavy load of my sins press him in a much more overwhelming manner than I am pressed by the load of these afflictions ? And yet he bore all, `as a lamb that is brought to the slaughter.'” (Isa. 53:7) Let the remembrance of his sufferings be a means to sweeten yours; yea, let it cause you to rejoice, when you are called to bear the cross for a little while, before you wear the crown. Count it all joy, that you have an opportunity yet once more of honoring God by your patience, which is now acting its last part, and will, in a few days, and perhaps in a few hours, he superseded by complete, everlasting blessedness. And I am willing to hope, that in these views you will not only suppress all passionate complaints, but that your mouth will be filled with the praises of God; and that you will be speaking to those who are about you, not only of his justice, but of his goodness too. So that you will be enabled to communicate your inward joys in such a manner as may be a lively and edifying comment upon those words of the Apostle, “Tribulation worketh patience; and patience, experience; and experience, hope; even a hope which maketh not ashamed, while the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost, which is given unto us,” (Rom. 5: 3-5)
7. And now, my dear friend, “now is the time, when it is especially expected from you, that you bear an honorable testimony to religion.” Tell those that are about you, as well as you can, (for you will never be able fully to express it) what comfort and support you have found in it. Tell them how it has brightened the darkest circumstances of your life: tell them how it now reconciles you to the near views of death. Your words will carry with them a peculiar weight at such a season: there will be a kind of eloquence, even in the infirmities with which you are struggling, while you give them utterance; and you will be heard with attention, with tenderness, with credit. And therefore, when the time of your departure is at hand, with unaffected freedom breathe out your joy, if you then feel (as I hope you will) a holy joy and delight in God. Breathe out, however, your inward peace and serenity of mind, if you be then peaceful and serene:others will mark it, and be encouraged to tread the steps which lead to so happy an end. Tell them what you feel of the vanity of the world, and they may learn to regard it less. Tell them what you feel of the substantial supports of the Gospel, and they may learn to value it more; for they cannot but know that they must he down on a dying bed too, and must then need all the relief which the Gospel itself can give them.
8. And to enforce the conviction the more, “give a solemn charge to those that are about you, that they spend their lives in the service of God, and govern themselves by the principles of real religion.” You may remember that Joshua and David, and other good men did so, when they perceived that the days drew near in which they should die. And you know not how the admonitions of a dying friend, or (as it may be with respect to some) of a dying parent, may impress those who may have disregarded what you and others may have said to them before. At least, make the trial, and die, laboring to glorify God, to save souls, and generously to sow the seeds of goodness and happiness in a world where you have no more harvest to reap. Perhaps they may spring up in a plentiful crop, when the clods of the valley are covering your body: but if not, God will approve it; and the angels that wait around your bed to receive your departing soul will look upon each other with marks of approbation in their countenance, and own that this is to expire like a Christian, and to make a glorious improvement of mortality.
9. And in this last address to your fellow-mortals, whoever they are that Providence brings near you, “be sure that you tell them how entirely and how cheerfully your hopes and dependence in this season of the last extremity are fixed, not upon your own merits and obedience, but on what the great Redeemer has done and has suffered for sinners.” Let them see that you die, as it were, at the foot of the cross: nothing will be so comfortable to yourself, nothing so edifying to them. Let the name of Jesus, therefore, be in your mouth while you are able to speak, and when you can speak no longer, let it be in your heart; and endeavor that the last act of your soul, while it continues in the body, may be an act of bumble faith in Christ. Come unto God by him: enter into that which is within the veil, as with the blood of sprinkling fresh upon you. It is an awful thing for such a sinner (as you, my Christian friend, with all the virtues the world may have admired, know yourself to be) to stand before that infinitely pure and holy Being who has seen all your ways, and all your heart, and has a perfect knowledge of every mixture of imperfection which has attended the best of your duties: but venture in that way, and you will find it both safe and pleasant.
10. Once more, “to give you comfort in a dying hour, and to support your feeble steps while you are traveling through this dark and painful way, take the word of God as a staff in your hand.” Let books, and mortal friends, now do their last office for you. Call, if you can, some experienced Christian, who has felt the power of the word of God upon his own heart, and let him bring the Scripture, and turn you to some of those precious promises which have been the food and rejoicing of his own soul. It is with this view that I may carry the good office I am now engaged in as far as possible, that I shall here give you a collection of a few such admirable scriptures, each of them “infinitely more valuable than thousands of gold and silver.” (Psa. 119:72) And to convince you of the degree in which I esteem them, I will take the freedom to add, that I desire they may (if God give an opportunity) be read over to me, as I lie on my dying bed, with short intervals between them, that I may pause upon each, and renew something of that delightful relish which, I bless God, I have often found in them. May your soul and mine be then composed to a sacred silence, (whatever be the commotion of animal nature) while the voice of God speaks to us in the language which he spake to his servants of old, or in which he instructed them how they should speak to him in circumstances of the greatest extremity!
11. Can any more encouragement be wanting, when he says, “Fear not, for I am with thee; be not dismayed, for I am thy God: I will strengthen thee, yea, I will help thee, yea, I will uphold thee with the right hand of my righteousness?” (Isa. 41:10) And “he is not man that he should lie, or the son of man that he should repent. Hath he said, and shall he not do it ? Or hath he spoken, and shall he not make it good?” (Num. 23:19) “The Lord is my light and my salvation, whom shall I fear? The Lord is the strength of my life, of whom shall I be afraid?” (Psa. 27:1) “This God is our God for ever and ever:he will be our guide even unto death.” (Psa. 48:14) Therefore, “though I walk through the valley of the Shadow of Death, I will fear no evil; for thou art with me, thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.” (Psa. 23:4) “I have waited for thy salvation, O Lord.” (Gen. 49:18) “O continue thy loving-kindness unto them that know thee, and thy righteousness to the upright in heart! For with thee is the fountain of life; in thy light shall we see light.” (Psa. 36:9,10) “Thou wilt show we the path of life; in thy presence is fullness of joy, at thy right hand there are pleasures for evermore,” (Psa. 16:11) “As for me, I shall behold thy face in righteousness: I shall be satisfied when I awake with thy likeness.” (Psa. 17:15) “For I know in whom I have believed, and am persuaded that he is able to keep what I have committed to him until that day.” (2 Tim. 1:12) “Therefore my heart is glad, and my glory rejoiceth; my flesh also shall rest in hope.” (Psa. 16:9) “For if we believe that Jesus died, and rose again; those also that sleep in Jesus will God bring with him.” (1 Thess. 4:14) “I give unto my sheep eternal life,” said Jesus, the good Shepherd, “and they shall never perish, neither shall any pluck them out of my hand.” (John 10:28) “This is the will of him that sent me, that every one that believeth on me should have everlasting life; and I will raise him up at the last day.” (John 6:40) “Let not your heart be troubled; ye believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many mansions; if it were not so, I would have told you: I go to prepare a place for you; and if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you to myself, that where I am, there ye may be also.” (John 14:1-3) “Go tell my brethren, I ascend unto my Father and your Father, and to my God and your God.” (John 20:17) “Father, I will that they whom thou hast given me be with me where I am, that they may behold my glory which thou hast given me; that the love wherewith thou hast loved me, may be in them, and I in them.” (John 17:24,26) “He that testifieth these things saith, “Surely I come quickly; Amen: even so come, Lord Jesus.” (Rev. 22:20) “O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory? Thanks be to God, who giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ!” (1 Cor. 15:55,57)
12. Thus may that God, who “knows the souls of his children in alt their adversities,” (Psa. 31:7) and in “whose sight the death of his saints is precious,” (Psa. 116:15) cheer and support you and me in those last extremities of nature! May he add us to the happy number of those who have been more than conquerors in death! And may he give us those supplies of his Spirit which may enable us to pour out our departing souls in such sentiments as those I would now suggest, though we should be no longer able to utter words, or to understand them if they were read to us. Let us, at least, review them with all proper affections now, and lay up one prayer more for that awful moment. O that this, and all we have ever offered with regard to it, may then “come to remembrance before God!” (Acts 10:4,31)
A Meditation, or Prayer, suited to the case of a Dying Christian.
“O thou supreme Ruler of the visible and invisible worlds! thou Sovereign of life and of death, of earth and of heaven, blessed be thy name, I have often been taught to seek thee. And now once more do I pour out my soul, my departing soul unto thee. `Bow down thy gracious ear, O God! and let my cry come before thee with acceptance.’
“The hour is come, when thou wilt separate me from this world, with which I have been so long and so familiarly acquainted, and lead me to another, as yet unknown. Enable me, I beseech thee, to make the exchange as becomes a child of Abraham, who being `called of thee to receive an inheritance, obeyed and went out,’ though he knew not particularly whither he went: (Heb. 11:8) as becomes a child of God, who knows that, through sovereign grace, `it is his Father’s good pleasure to give him the kingdom.’ (Luke 12:32)
“I acknowledge, O Lord! the justice of that sentence by which I am expiring! and own thy wisdom and goodness in appointing my journey through this gloomy vale which is now before me. Help me to turn it into the happy occasion of honoring thee, and adorning my profession! and I will bless the pangs by which thou art glorified, and this mortal and sinful part of my nature dissolved.
“Gracious Father! I would not quit this earth of thine, and this house of clay, in which I have sojourned during my abode upon the face of it, without my grateful acknowledgments to thee for all that abundant goodness which thou hast caused to pass before me here: (Exod. 33:19) with my dying breath I bear witness to thy faithful care: I have `wanted no good thing.’ (Psa. 34:10) I thank thee, O my God! that this guilty, forfeited, unprofitable life, was so long spared; that it hath still been maintained by such a rich variety of thy bounty. I thank thee that thou hast made this beginning of my existence so pleasant to me. I thank thee for the mercies of my days and nights, of my months and years, which are now come to their period: I thank thee for the mercies of my infancy, and for those of my riper age; for all the agreeable friends which thou hast given me in this house of my pilgrimage, `the living and the dead;’ for all the help I have received from others, and for all opportunities which thou hast given me of being helpful to the bodies and souls of my brethren of mankind. `Surely goodness and mercy have followed me all the days of my life,’ (Psa. 23:6) and I have reason to rise a thankful guest from the various and pleasant entertainments with which my table has been furnished by thee. Nor, shall I have reason to repine, or to grieve at quitting them; for, O my God! are thy bounties exhausted? I know that they are not. I will not wrong thy goodness and thy faithfulness so much as to imagine, that, because I am going from this earth, I am going from happiness. I adore thy mercy, that thou hast taught me to entertain nobler views through Jesus thy Son. I bless thee with all the powers of my nature, that I ever heard his name, and heard of his death; and would fain exert a more vigorous act of thankful adoration than in this broken state I am capable of, while I am extolling thee for the riches of thy grace manifested in him, for his instructions and his example, for his blood and his righteousness, and for that blessed Spirit of thine which thou hast given me, to turn my sinful heart unto thyself, and to bring me `into the bonds of thy covenant,’ of that covenant which `is ordered in all things and sure,’ (2 Sam. 23:5) and which this death, though now separating my soul from my body, shall never be able to dissolve.
“I bless thee, O Lord! that I am not dying in an unregenerate and impenitent state; but that thou didst graciously awaken and convince me, that thou didst renew and sanctify my heart, and didst, by thy good Spirit, work in it an unfeigned faith, a real repentance, and the beginning of a divine life. I thank thee for faithful ministers and for gospel ordinances: I thank thee for my Sabbaths and seasons of communion at the table of my Lord; and for the weekly and monthly refreshments which they gave me. I -thank thee for the fruits of Canaan which were sent me in the wilderness, and are now sent me on the brink of Jordan. I thank thee for thy blessed word, and for those exceeding rich and precious promises of it, which now lie, as a cordial, warm at my heart in this chilling hour: promises of support in death, and of glory beyond it, and of the resurrection of my body to everlasting life. O my God! I firmly believe them all, great and wonderful as they are, and am waiting for the accomplishment of them through Jesus Christ; `in whom they are all Yea and Amen.’ (2 Cor. 1:20) `Remember thy word unto thy servant, on which thou hast caused me to hope.’ (Psa. 119:49) I covenanted with thee, not only for worldly enjoyments which thy love taught me comparatively to despise: but for eternal life, as `the gift of thy free grace through Jesus Christ my Lord:’ (Rom. 6:28) and now permit me, in his name, to enter my humble claim to it. Permit me to consign `this departing spirit to thine hand; for thou hast redeemed it O Lord God of truth!’ (Psa. 31:5) `I am thine: save me, and make me happy’ (Psa. 119:94)
“But may I indeed presume to say I am thine? O God! now I am standing on the borders of both worlds, now I view things as in the light of thy presence and of eternity, how unworthy do I appear that I should be taken to dwell with thy angels and taints in glory! Alas! I have reason to look back with deep humiliation on a poor, unprofitable sinful life, in which I have daily been deserving to be cast into hell. But I have this one comfortable reflection, that I have fled to the cross of Christ; and I now renew my application to it. To think of appearing before God in such an imperfect righteousness as my own, were ten thousand times worse than death. No, Lord, I come unto thee as a sinner; but as a sinner who has believed in thy Son for pardon and life: I fall down before thee as a guilty, polluted wretch; but thou hast made him to be unto thy people for `wisdom and righteousness, for sanctification and redemption.’ (1 Cor. 1:20) Let me have my lot among the followers of Jesus! Treat me, as thou treatest those who are his friends and his brethren! For thou knowest my soul has loved him and trusted in him, and solemnly ventured itself on the security of his Gospel. And `I know in whom I have believed.’ (2 Tim. 1:12) The infernal lion may attempt to dismay me in the awful passage; but I rejoice that I am `in the hands of the good shepherd,’ (John 10:11,28) and I defy all my spiritual enemies, in a cheerful dependence on his faithful care. I lift up my eyes and my heart to him, who `was dead and is alive again; and behold he liveth for evermore, and hath the keys of death and of the unseen world.’ (Rev. 1:18) Blessed Jesus, I die by thine hand, and I fear no harm from the hand of a Savior! I fear not that death which is allotted to me by the hand of my dearest Lord, who himself died to make it safe and happy. I come, Lord, I come, not only with a willing, but with a joyful consent. I thank thee that thou rememberest me for good; that thou art breaking my chains, and calling me to `the glorious liberty of the children of God.’ (Rom. 8:21) I thank thee, that thou wilt no longer permit me to live at a distance from thine arms; but, after this long absence, wilt have me at home, at home for ever.
“My feeble nature faints in the view of that glory which is now dawning upon me; but thou knowest, gracious Lord, how to let it in upon my soul by just degrees, and to `make thy strength perfect in my weakness.’ (2 Cor. 7:9) Once more, for the last time, would I look down on this poor world which I am going to quit, and breathe out my dying prayer for its prosperity, and that of thy church in it. I have loved it, O Lord! as a living member of the body; and I love it to the last I humbly beseech thee, therefore, that thou wilt guard it, and purify it, and unite it more and more. Send down more of thy blessed Spirit upon it, even the Spirit of wisdom, of holiness, and of love; till in due time `the wilderness he turned into the garden of the Lord,’ (Isa. 51:3) and `all flesh shall see thy salvation!’ (Luke 3:6)
“As for me, bear me, O my heavenly Father! on the wings of everlasting love, to that peaceful, that holy, that joyous abode, which thy mercy has prepared for me, and which the blood of my Redeemer has purchased! Bear me `to the general assembly and church of the first-born, to the innumerable company of angels, and to the spirits of just men made perfect.’ (Heb. 12:22,23) And whatever this flesh may suffer, let my steady soul be delightfully fixed on that glory to which it is rising! Let faith perform its last office in an honorable manner! Let my few remaining moments on earth be spent for thy glory, and so let me ascend, with love in my heart, and praise on my faltering tongue. to the world where love and praise shall be complete! Be this my last song on earth, which I am going to tune in heaven: `Blessing, and honor, and glory, and power, be unto Him that sitteth on the throne and to the Lamb for ever and ever.’ Amen!”
DR. DODDRIDGE was born in London, June 26, 1709. He was of a consumptive habit from infancy, was brought up in the early knowledge of religion, and was left an orphan before he arrived at the age of 14. At 16 be made a profession of religion; at 20 commenced preaching the Gospel; and at 21 was settled over a small congregation, in an obscure village, where be devoted himself to the acquisition of useful knowledge with indefatigable zeal. At 27 he was removed to the pastoral care of the church in Northampton, where, for 22 years, amidst other diversified labors, he acted as an instructor of youth preparing for the ministry, having had under his charge, during that period, upwards of 200 young men. At the age of 37 and 38 he published two volumes of his Family Expositor; and about the age of 43 wrote “The Rise and Progress of Religion in the Soul.” At 46 he published the third volume of the Family Expositor, and two Dissertations.–1. On Sir Isaac Newton’s System of the Harmony. 2. On the Inspiration of the New Testament. In December, 1750, in the 49th year of his age, he went to St. Albans and preached the funeral sermon of his early patron and benefactor, Dr. Clark, in which journey he contracted a cold that laid the foundation for his death. In July, 1751, he addressed his flock for the last time from the pulpit; and having found all medical aid ineffectual, embarked, in October, for Lisbon, as the last resort in so threatening a disorder, at which place he died on the 26th of October, aged 49 years.
He was not handsome in person; was very thin and slender, in stature somewhat above the middle size, with a stoop in his shoulders; but when engaged in conversation, or employed in the pulpit, there was a remarkable sprightliness in his countenance and manner, which commanded general attention.
This volume is stereotyped and perpetuated, through the liberality of Col. Henry Rutgers and Col. Richard Varick, of New-York; Nicholas Brown, Esq. of Providence; and Hon. Stephen Van Rensselaer, of Albany.