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The law of christianity, not to say of nature itself, requires that we should not only be silent and composed, but chearful and thankful under our afflictions. This indeed is what the generality of christians are wanting in; but that is no proof, that it is an irrational or impossible demand, but rather a sublime attainment in religion. It is evident that nothing can be more grateful to God, and edifying to the world, than to see, that a christian, under the heavy pressure of calamity, can not only restrain the excess of sorrow and suppress those indecent complaints, which the corruption of nature would be too ready to suggest, but can mingle praises with his tears, and love and rejoice in, his heavenly father, even when he feels the smart of his correcting rod. Let me suggest a few hints upon this head, which you will easily enlarge upon in your own thoughts to greater advantage.
"God hath seen fit to take away your brother; and is not this a proper season to be thankful, that you so long enjoyed him? No doubt, you have been thinking of his character in the most advantageous particulars of it; and perhaps have considered it as a great aggravation of your affliction, that you have lost so excellent a brother. But may you not now press in each of these afflicting thoughts to subserve the purposes of thankfulness and joy? Do you not reflect, that the more excellent he was, the more surprising was the goodness of God in bestowing him upon you and continuing him so long to you? When you say, it may be with tears in your eyes,' How few are there in the world that could have sustained such a loss!' What is it but to say in other words, how few are there in the world, on whom God ever bestowed so valuable a friend, as he gave to me? Let common sense judge, whether that be matter of complaint or praise.— You should be thankful to God, that for so many years you had a constant share in his prayers. The more religious he was, the more frequently and earnestly he prayed, and the more favourably did God regard him. No doubt but his prayers are still in remembrance before God; and as he most frequently asked those blessings for you, which are of the most excellent and permanent nature, much of the good effect of these addresses may be still behind. You know not how many refreshing visits of his grace, how many favourable interpositions of his providence, how high a degree of holiness in this world and of happiness in the next, God may now be preparing to bestow upon you, in answer to the prayers of this excellent man.-Once more, let the providence of God in removing your brother be improved to a more thankful sense of his goodness in continuing your surviving brother, whose lot is cast so much nearer to you
If you take the matter in this view, it brings your passions to a balance for you can never imagine, that we are to lament any degree of affliction in a greater proportion than we rejoice in an equal degree of comfort.
"You see, Madam, you have cause of thankfulness, though your brother be dead; and that many of the considerations, with which you feed your sorrows, are capable of being made subservient to the nobler exercises of gratitude and love. But what if I should advance still further, and say, that the death of your brother should not only allow you to be thankful for your other mercies, but itself should be made the matter of praise? I think I should say no more than the apostle hath said, when he exhorts us, in every thing to give thanks: Nay I should say no more, than I am confident, your deliberate reason must subscribe to. Are you not the servant of God, and have you not yielded yourself to him? Was it not the business of the last sacrament-day? And are you not renewing the dedication every day of your life? When you consecrate yourself to God, you give up every separate interest of your own; and resolve all into this one great petition, that his name may be glorified, particularly in all you are and all you have. Now, do you imagine, that God would have removed so eminent a saint, so useful a minister, and afflicted a numerous and religious family, as well as a multitude of sympathizing friends, if he had not known that it was for his glory? When you have been saying, as you have daily said, Father, thy will be done, were you not then praying for the loss of your dearest comforts, even for the death of your brother, and of every other friend you have, upon supposition that it were the will of God? You certainly were; unless you meant to say, Let thy will be done, so far as it is agreeable to my own. Now I leave you to judge, whether the answer of prayer be the matter of complaint or of praise. I know it is very difficult to apprehend, how such a dispensation as this should be for the glory of God. But have we known so little of the nature of the great God, as to question the wisdom of his providential dispensations, merely because they appear unaccountable to us? We use ourselves to a contracted way of thinking and reasoning upon this head; much like a small congregation in the country, that fancy the interest of religion is very much damaged, by the removal of a useful minister from them, though it be to a sphere of much more extensive service. Because this earth is our habitation, we fondly imagine it to be a place of very great importance; whereas if we consider the number and excellency of the inhabitants of heaven, we must be forced to confess, that it is very probable,
those revolutions may be very serviceable to the whole creation, which are detrimental to some particular part, in its highest and most important interest. And of this nature, I take the removal of excellent ministers to be; especially in the prime of their strength and usefulness.
"I may add, that there are certain views both with relation to him and yourself, which will further evince your obligations to thankfulness. With regard to your brother, you easily apprehend a foundation for thankfulness, though perhaps you have not considered his present happiness in that particular view. You believe, with the greatest reason, that death was inconceivably advantageous to him, and that now he is absent from the body, he is present with the Lord. Now, with all your tender friendship, can you question, whether it be your part to rejoice with him in that glory and felicity, which he now enjoys? Or, can you imagine, that you are to be so much concerned that he is not with you, as to forget to rejoice that he is with God? Was it more for you to lose a brother, than for the apostles to part with Christ himself? And yet he says the very same thing, which shocked you so much a few lines above; if ye loved me ye would rejoice, because I go to the Father. When your brother was alive, you did not only take pleasure in him, when he was in the same house and room with yourself, but at the distance of above a hundred miles. You rejoiced to think that he was well; and that he was surrounded with agreeable friends, furnished with plentiful accommodations; and, above all, laying himself out with vigour and success in the service of our great common Master. And will you entertain so mean an idea of the preparation, which the God of heaven and earth has made for the supreme happiness of his beloved children, as to question, whether he be now raised to more valuable friends, more delightful entertainment and a sphere of more extensive service? I am confident, madam, you would have been thankful from your heart for your brother's recovery: And would it have been a greater mercy to him, to have been raised from a languishing illness, to a state of confirmed health, amidst the vanity and misery of this state of mortality, than to be exalted to immortal health and vigour, amidst the entertainment of angels, and the enjoyment of God? Or has so generous spirited a person as yourself begun now to imagine, that you are to be thankful on the account of none but yourself? So far from that, you think it a great matter of thankfulness, and no doubt you are frequently praising God for it, that you have an excellent brother left, so agreeably settled, so
universally respected, and so zealously and successfully engaged in the most honourable service. But is it not more, that you have another brother among the blessed angels in heaven? How different are the services, which the one is paying to the throne of grace and the other to the throne of glory! When they are both engaged, it may be at the very same moment, in the contemplation of God and divine things, how vastly do you think the younger brother has now the advantage of the elder? May there not be the same difference in accuracy, solidity and manly pleasure between the thoughts of the blessed saint in heaven and the philosopher upon earth, as between the sublimest thoughts of that philosopher, and the roving imagination of a little infant, in which reason is but just beginning to dawn? Certainly it should be a constant source of delight to us, amidst all the disturbances and calamities of life, that we have so many friends in heaven, whose joy and glory should be to us as
"You must now give me leave to add, that you have reason to be thankful for this dispensation of providence, not only from a principle of zeal for God and friendship to your brother; but from a regard to your own personal interest. The gospel teacheth its sincere professors to regard every providence as a mercy, when it tells them, that all things shall work together for good to them that love God: And therefore though you could not see mercy in this particular stroke, religion would nevertheless require you to believe and acknowledge it. But cannot you yourself perceive some mercy in it? Has it not, as you are pleased to intimate in your letter, an apparent tendency to wean your affections from this world, and to raise them to the heavenly felicity? Do you not find the thoughts of death more tolerable, more delightful to you, since God has removed so powerful an attractive from earth, and translated it to heaven ? Nay, do you not find it a considerable exercise of patience to be absent, it may be for seve ral years from this dear, happy brother, whose image continually presents itself to your mind in so much the more charming a light, as your heart is melted with grief for his death? Now, if indifference to this world, and a most affectionate desire of a happy immortality, be a very important branch of the christian temper; if the scriptures are so frequently inculcating it upon us, and we so continually praying for the increase and lamenting the deficiency of it, how reasonable is it that we should be thankful for those providences, which, of all others, have the greatest tendency to promote it?—I write these things,
Madam, not with the coldness of a stranger, but with the tender sympathy of a friend, and with so much the greater sympathy, as, since I began this letter, I have lost a very agreeable and valuable person out of my congregation, with some circumstances, which render the stroke peculiarly surprising and afflicting. May God teach us so to bear and improve all our afflictions, both in ourselves and our friends, that we may have reason to reflect upon them, as the most valuable mercies of our lives; and that they may fit us for that happy world, where we shall be above the need, and then, undoubtedly, above the reach of them."
His Humility and Dependence on divine Assistances.
DR. DODDRIDGE, with all his furniture, esteem and success, was truly humble. He thought, to use his own words, "the love of popular applause a meanness, which a philosophy, far inferior to that of our divine Master, might teach men to conquer. But to be esteemed by eminently great and good men, to whom we are intimately known, is not only one of the most solid attestations of some real worch, but, next to the approbation of God and our own consciences, one of its most valuable rewards." This happiness he enjoyed. He was solicitous to secure the esteem of others, out of regard to his usefulness in the world; and this he sought, not by destroying or disparaging the reputation of others; nor by any sinful or mean compliances, but by a friendly, condescending behaviour to all, and faithful endeavours to serve them. He disliked the temper of those, who indulged their own humour and pursued their own schemes, without caring what the world said or thought of them. He reckoned this an affront to mankind, and such an evidence of pride, as not only defeated the ends they intended to answer, but exposed them to general contempt. A sensible writer hath so well expressed what I know were his sentiments on this head, and which he often inculcated upon his pupils, that I shall insert his words. "Reputation is in fact the great instrument, by which a man is capable of receiving any good from the world, or doing any good in it. His most generous, tenderest designs will be censured, his best actions suspected, his most friendly advices and gentlest reproofs misconstrued and slighted, unless his person be esteemed and his
Risc and Progress, Ded.