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of this work about my precious soul yet undone; but thou knowest the chief is despatched. “I have fought a good fight, finished my course, kept the faith,” 2 Tim. iv. 7; and now my land business is done, let me go to sea, and launch out into that boundless ocean of eternal happiness.
(2.) Temporal work, the business of our callings and particular occasions. This also the dying Christian is drawing into a narrower compass, that he may voluntarily leave the world, before the world leave him. The Christian having had his head and hands full of business in his younger days, when old age comes, is glad of a writ of ease, that he may be at more leisure for God in holy duties. Methinks, saith the believer, I have had my share, both of the employments and enjoyments of this lower world, and am well content to shake hands therewith. I can behold with pity the laborious ants running upon this mole-hill, and busily scrambling for a little dust ; let them take it, God hath made my hands to be sufficient for me; I
; have what will bear my charges to the grave; let it go, I am glad I have so fairly parted with it; I would not be called to enter again upon this busy stage, or put forth to this tumultuous sea; I have now other things to mind; I have now the great work of setting straight my accounts for another world to engage my attention, my peace to make with God, an eternity to provide for, which the affairs of the world have thrust out, or distracted me in. This shall be my employment for the future ; " for what will it profit a man to gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?” I leave all temporal things to others that succeed me.
(3.) Relative work. This also may be in some respects despatched from our hands; and the doing of it maketh more meet for heaven. This is not to be
slighted, for it is needful in its place. When king Hezekiah was sick unto death, God sends him this message, “ Set thine house in order, for thou shalt die and not live,” Isa. xxxviii. 1, that is, make thy will, and dispose of thy domestic concerns, so as to prevent quarrels and contentions in thy family after thy decease; and ver. 3, it is said, that Hezekiah wept sore; why so ? was not Hezekiah a pious man ? was not his soul in readiness for death? Yes, doubtless, for he dared appeal to God that he had walked before him in truth, and with a perfect heart. What then was the matter? Why, Hezekiah had yet no son, Manasseh being not born till three years after this, as if he had said, Lord, if it may be thy will, spare my life, and give me a son, for if I die at this time, I know not how to dispose of the crown, I am likely to leave the church and state in miserable distraction and confusion, through the great uncertainty of a succession, and the proneness of the people to backslide to their false worship. God heard his prayer, gave him a lease of his life for fifteen years. This is the duty of all, though it be more necessary to some than to others. In every case it is useful to tranquillize the mind, and to prevent outward ill consequences, and inward disturbances of spirit; but as that good man was loth to go off the stage heirless, so other circumstances may particularly call for the settlement of families by a last will and testament; especially when children are left young, &c. Others also may say, now God hath lengthened out my days to see my children brought up, and hopeful for religion, settled in callings and families; there was but this child, or that business that I desired to see well circumstanced, as to my family affairs; as Jacob closed up his blessing of Dan, Gen. xlix. 18, “ I have waited for thy salvation, O Lord;” now at last, since God hath wrought on
such a child, I will say with old Simeon, “ Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace according to thy word, for mine eyes have seen thy salvation,” Luke ii. 29, 30.
(4.) Another work to be disposed of, may be of a public nature. This especially concerns men in a public capacity; as when Moses had led Israel out of Egypt, and through the wilderness, he had despatched his work, and having been faithful in God's house he was prepared to die. So when Joshua had conquered many kings in Canaan, divided the land to Israel, he obtained a discharge and fell asleep. Thus David, “after he had served his own generation by the will of God, fell on sleep, and was laid unto his fathers,” Acts xiji. 36. And so Aaron, Samuel, and the rest of the prophets, marched off the field by the order of our great Lord General, when they had despatched their warfare, and delivered their message. “Your fathers, where are they? and the prophets do they live for ever?” Zech. i. 5. And indeed to what purpose should they or we live, when our work is done ? especially when God's servants have not only despatched that work that concerns present, but future generations; for this is also the work of our present day. Thus Solomon built God a house for future times : and the apostle Peter lays in for after ages, 2 Pet. i. 15, “ Moreover, I will endeavour that you may be able after my decease, to have these things always in remembrance.” It is the property of a good man to take care that religion may live when he is dead. Ambrose saith of Theodosius, I loved him exceedingly, who when he died was more solicitous for the church's than his own danger. Then indeed is the Christian meet for heaven when he hath despatched his work on earth, and laid a foundation for good in after times.
But you will say, how can any man be said to des. patch his work till his life be done? Surely work and life, as to their date, run parallel.
Answ. (1.) What is active, may be oft at an end, when what is to suffer is but beginning; for God often reserves suffering to the last, that patience may have her perfect work, that the Christian may be perfect and entire, wanting nothing, James i. 4. The Christian then hath little to do, but patiently wait God's pleasure; and this usually follows on doing God's will: see Heb. x. 36. It is indeed a great thing to bear our burden patiently, cheerfully, thankfully, and usefully; and say, well for the present, and better shortly; the greatest part is over.
(2.) Though something be still to be done or suffered, yet when the greatest part of a Christian's work is done, it may be said to be finished. So it was with
. our Saviour, John xvii. 4, “I have finished the work which thou gavest me to do.” But was not dying upon the cross for the sins of men a principal part of Christ's work? Yes, only it was so nigh, that he speaks of it as already done; so verse 11, “I am not in the world;" for he was just going out of it. Besides, he had done most of his work, and was straitened to do fully the rest that was behind : “ And when our Lord had tasted the vinegar, he said, it is finished,” John xix. 30. This is a closing word, as giving up the ghost was a closing work.
(3.) Sometimes divine providence takes off God's children from much of their work before their days be ended. It is obvious to a rational eye that then their work is done: sometimes it takes place by natural causes; thus Isaac and Jacob could presage their own death by a certain prognostic, namely, old age: some are cut off by sickness or consumptions, which are
usually mortal; others are taken from most of their work by persecutions, prisons, &c.; and others are removed from the stage of the world by violent death. As a dying minister said on the scaffold, “ Isaac was old and knew not the day of his death, I am young, and know the day, manner, and instruments of my death : it is but a nodding the head, and death doth its office. Now my work is ended.”
(4.) Yet once more: some godly ministers and Christians have had a kind of presentiment, that death was approaching even when enjoying the best health and in their younger days; and so consequently of the despatch of their work; as some creatures by natural instinct foresee a falling house. So we read of bishop Jewel, that long before his sickness he foretold it approaching, and in his sickness, the precise day of his death ; he died in the fiftieth year of his age. The like we have been informed of James Andreas, wlio foretold the year, yea, hour of his death. I shall add but another instance of a holy man of God, my dear friend, Mr. Isaac Ambrose : his surviving wife told me of the solemn farewell he gave to his daughter, and some other friends. Yea, the very day of his death several friends from Garstang visited him at Preston, with whom he discoursed piously and cheerfully, telling them he had finished his work, having the night before sent his discourse on “Angels” to the Press, he attended them to their horses, returned, and died that evening in his parlour, where he had shut himself up for meditation. Thus God's children are made meet for heaven by despatching their work on earth.