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"...The church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth."
I Timothy 3:15
A sermon preached at Union Chapel, Barton Mills, Suffolk, on the death of Joseph Tubbs
From The Baptist Magazine, 1858
"Thou shalt come to thy grave in a full age, like as a shock of corn cometh in in his season." (Job 5:26)
In immediate connection with these words we have several "exceeding great and precious promises," (II Pet. 1:4) having reference to the blessings which God has engaged to give to his people in the present life, teaching that “godliness is profitable unto all things, having the promise of the life that now is, and of that which is to come.” (I Tim. 4:8)
Under the Patriarchal and Mosaic dispensation, temporal blessings were specially assured as the reward of obedience to the Divine laws; and Eliphaz, in what he here promises to Job, has a direct reference to the well-known engagements of the faithful Creator.
Let us come at once to the direct consideration of the words of the text, and endeavour to illustrate and establish the two following propositions:
I. That the belief of the doctrines and the practice of the precepts of the Bible tend to prolong man's life, and to promote his happiness in the present world.
II. That a death in a "full age" is to the godly a distinguished honour and privilege.
I. That the belief of the doctrines, &c. &c. Permit me, however, to observe, that I undertake to prove the truth of this only in a qualified sense. Many bodily infirmities and weaknesses are inherited from progenitors, and many influences unfavourable to health are brought to bear upon the physical frame in connection with employments and circumstances which are beyond our control. Still, as a general truth, I am fully prepared to maintain this proposition.
Under the Old Testament dispensation, as has already been hinted, the chosen people of God were assured of "length of days," and domestic and national prosperity, if they "observed all God's statutes, to do them." Hence the enjoyment of earthly prosperity and the coming to the grave in a ripe old age were regarded as proofs of God's special loving kindness. But, it may be asked, have we any right to expect long life under the present economy? And is it proper that we should desire it?
I have no hesitation in answering both these questions in the affirmative. Whatever comes from God ought to be highly prized, and as life is his great gift, it ought to be prolonged to the utmost limits. It is given for the most high and sacred purposes—to show forth the Creator's praise, to promote his glory, to secure the inestimable blessings of redemption, and to be devoted to the extension of the Saviour's kingdom.
Its prolongation is "most devoutly to be wished," because when it is even extended to the longest assigned period, it seems far too short for the full accomplishment of the great work for which is intended—to be a proper preparation for life in its highest form before the eternal throne. How short is life even at the longest! How swiftly our days and years pass away! How much precious time we waste even when we redeem time the most! And what momentous results depend upon the manner in which our earthly existence is spent!
We conclude, therefore, that it is a fit and proper thing to desire length of days. Our text implies that we shall secure this by living in accordance with God's holy Word.
A great number of the diseases with which the human frame is afflicted are produced by the practice of those things which it emphatically condemns:
1. Such, for instance, as indolence. Many whose position enables them to procure the necessaries and luxuries of life without labour sink into a state of idleness and inactivity. Hence it need not excite wonder that their vigour declines, that their energies become paralysed, and that they drop into a premature grave. But there is nothing in the Word of God which sanctions such a mode of life as this. Nay, there is everything to denounce and condemn it. The Bible enjoins diligence. It will not allow any to be idle. All are to be usefully employed, and in proportion as they are so, life and health will be enjoyed.
2. Many of the ills which afflict the frame and bring it to an early grave are produced by intemperance. Gluttony and drunkenness sow the seeds of innumerable diseases. But who does not know that the precepts of Holy Writ are particularly strict on the subject of temperance? We are not to make "provision for the flesh, to fulfil the lusts thereof." (Rom. 13:14) We are to “live soberly, righteously, and godly” (Titus 2:12); and were the divine laws obeyed in this respect, many of the worst forms of disease which now destroy the children of men would disappear, and the term of human existence be greatly extended.
3. Many persons bring themselves to an untimely end by habits of impurity and licentiousness. Thousands are annually slain by these aggravated sins. But if the gospel of Jesus Christ were made the rule of men's thoughts and lives, the frightful desolation and havoc which these transgressions produce would give place to enduring loveliness, beauty, and strength.
4. Others rob the bodily frame of its vitality by the indulgence of evil tempers and passions. Let a man make himself a slave to covetousness, to pride, to envy, to dark suspicions, to deadly enmities, and to fierce and angry contentions; and he will inevitably sap the foundation of his health and render his earthly life a desolation and a curse. How expressive the language of Peter touching this important matter! "For he that will love life and see good days let him refrain his tongue from evil and his lips that they speak no guile. Let him eschew evil and do good; let him seek peace, and ensue it." (I Pet. 3:10-11)
Would anyone then live long honourably, usefully, and joyfully? Would he have health and reputation? Would he spread an influence that shall enlighten, cheer, and bless? Would he have his memory revered? Would he come to his grave attended by "devout men," and be greatly "missed" when his place knows him no more? If he would, then let him enter into peace with God at the beginning of life and make it his constant effort to live as the gospel directs; and all these rewards and honours will be obtained.
II. Let us now advance to the second proposition, viz., that death in a "full age" is to the godly a special honour and privilege. Such a death is frequently spoken of in this light in the word of God. It was promised as a reward to Abraham, and Eliphaz here promises it to Job. The hoary head found in the way of righteousness is an honour; and for such an one calmly to lie down and die is a peculiar privilege. There is in such a case a perfect willingness to die.
The aged saint is not dragged to the grave. How terrific the language addressed to the rich sinner in the gospel, "this night thy soul shall be required of thee!" (Luke 12:20) But different the language which is applied to the venerable saint, "thou shalt come to thy grave." (Job 5:26) That is "thou shalt die willingly and peacefully. Thou shalt come to thy grave in a full age." "A full age" is an age which has reached the utmost period assigned to human existence. The patriarchs were satisfied with “length of days;" and when they had served God "in their generation" they were mercifully preserved from the protracted agonies of death and quietly "fell on sleep," and were buried with their fathers.
Then we must not overlook the beautiful figure which our text employs in reference to the "shock of corn coming in in his season." A man full of days and full of the fruits of righteousness, holiness, and benevolence, is like the corn fully ripe and ready to be gathered into the garner. Those who are cut off when young in years may be said to resemble the green corn; but the aged saint is the golden grain brought to maturity, and only waiting to be "safely housed."
But let us consider the distinguished honour and privilege of coming to the grave in a ripe old age. Look therefore at the venerable saint when he arrives at the close of a long and useful life, and stands on the verge of the "world to come." What are his views of the past, and what his prospects of the future?
1. He is cheered and consoled with the assurance that he has in some good sense performed with diligence and success the duties of the station in which God's providence placed him. Having set out in life with the determination to secure by righteous means such an amount of temporal good as should supply his own need and meet the wants of those dependent upon him, and having obtained all necessary supplies, he cannot but feel when the labours of life are ended that his Heavenly Father has shown him special favour and crowned him with special honour. He knows that integrity and uprightness have guided and preserved him, that he has sought to "provide things honest in the sight of all men," (Rom. 12:17) and that notwithstanding his many failings and imperfections he has by the grace of God glorified his Creator, Preserver, and Benefactor. Hence when he has finished his career on earth he "cometh to the grave like as a shock of corn cometh in in his season."
2. The aged saint after a long and godly life is peculiarly favoured and honoured in his religious experience and usefulness. He has seen much of the ways of God, felt much of the presence of God, and has tasted largely of the goodness of God. Goodness and mercy have followed him all the days of his life. (Ps. 23:6) The peace of God has kept his heart and mind. (Phil. 4:7) He has not been held in bondage to slavish and tormenting fear. Having never failed to commit the interests of his spirit unto God in Christ Jesus, he has not doubted that all necessary earthly blessings would be given him. In all his relationships and responsibilities, and in all his trials and difficulties, he has looked to the mighty God of Jacob, for help.
If he has been cast down, it was only that he might be lifted up again. If he has been heavily burdened, it was only that he might be sustained. If his name has been cast out as evil, it was only that his righteousness might be brought forth as the sun. He has confided in the Divine care, trusted in Divine counsel, looked for the displays of the Divine power; and being made joyful and happy in the blessings of the Divine love, he has feared no earthly ill and dreaded no earthly enemy. He has not been overwhelmed by any earthly calamity, neither has he been swallowed up by any earthly sorrow. He has feared God, loved Christ, held communion with the blessed Spirit, read the Divine Word, crucified the lust of the eye, the lust of the flesh, and the pride of life; been rich in good works, ready to distribute, willing to communicate, and thus he has laid up for himself a "good foundation against the time to come" (I Tim. 6:19) for the hour of his departure hence; and when that hour arrives he is "as a shock of corn coming in in his season."
3. When the child of God, "full of days," receives the summons to resign his connection with the present life, he is sometimes surrounded by children and children's children, and loving friends who mourn his loss. This, too, is an honour and privilege. He who has been beloved in life is always doubly beloved in death. His defects are forgotten, and nothing is thought of or remembered but his goodness, his benevolence, and his manifold excellencies. Does he leave behind him a faithful and beloved wife? She loves him now as she never loved him before. Has he left behind him sons and daughters and was it his privilege, ere he departed, to hear the laugh and to receive the kiss of their sons and daughters? They all feel a reverence and affection for him which neither time nor distance can destroy. His name is as music in their ears, or as "ointment poured forth." (Song of Sol. 1:3) They lift up their heads more confidently in the world because they have such a progenitor; and they know that wherever their lot may be cast they will be esteemed and trusted if they walk in his footsteps.
How great, too, is the honour and affection in which such a servant of God as I am describing is held by society and the church. He has won "golden opinions" from the men of the world. They have observed his ways, heard his words, known his manner of life, and they esteem him as one of the "excellent of the earth," and regret that so much worth has been taken out of a world so full of deceit and villainy. The righteous is known as a man "more excellent than his neighbour" (Prov. 12:26)—his ungodly neighbour—and while the memory of the latter sinks into contempt, the memory of the former is held in everlasting honour and esteem.
When the good man dies, after having sustained a long connection with the church of Christ, he is deeply lamented by those who are fellow heirs with him of the "grace of life." His "works of faith and labours of love" are not forgotten. "He being dead yet speaketh." (Heb. 11:4) His posthumous influence shall pervade the minds of individuals and families yet unborn, and through them send a holy and saving power which will be felt to the latest periods of time.
Such are the fruits of a godly and useful life! Such is the peerless glory which surrounds the righteous in and after death. The crown which adorns his head is more illustrious than that which sits on the imperial brow of the earthly monarch. The laurels which he has won in the "good fight of faith” are incomparably nobler than those which the most successful earthly conqueror ever secured. The spiritual riches which he has obtained are of more value than the wealth of the globe. The satisfaction and happiness which he has, both in possession and prospect, are a treasure beyond all price.
Death is conquered. The darkness of the grave is illuminated. The future is bright with glory; and he leaves the world in the hope of immortality and eternal life. "Let me die the death of the righteous, and let my last end be like his!" Let me come to the "grave in a full age, and like as a shock of corn cometh in in his season!" Let me leave behind me the fragrance of a well-spent life! Let me live in the affection of the beloved ones who will close my eyes and carry me to my burial! Let the "day of my death be better to me than the day of my birth!" (Eccl. 7:1) And when life's duties are done, when life's conflicts are over, when life's sorrows are swallowed up, and when life's connections are finally severed, then
"Let heaven and earth combine to say,
How blest the righteous when he dies."
The sentiments of the passage thus expounded and applied are strikingly applicable to the beloved friend whose death we deplore. All the honours and privileges I have described were largely enjoyed by him. I may be allowed to say a few words as to his most prominent and characteristic excellences, hoping on the one hand to minister consolation to survivors, and on the other to stimulate many to follow his example.
[The following heads were each of them enlarged upon at some length in the delivery of the discourse. Our space only allows us to give the outline.]
1. Our departed brother was an earnest believer in the great doctrines of evangelical religion, and he lived under their influence. His religion was a faith, a life, a power. Sin was his .greatest burden, holiness his happiest element, and godliness his most satisfying portion.
2. Though admired and beloved by all, he was remarkably humble, and ever regarded himself "as the least of all saints."
3. He was no less characterised by a grateful, thankful spirit. He always felt, and was ready to acknowledge, that God had done great things for him. Unlike those who receive the gifts of heaven as the thirsty sand of the desert drinks up the shower, making no return, he always acknowledged that he could not sufficiently praise God for his goodness.
4. Another prominent excellence was his Christian benevolence. He looked on himself as being simply a steward of his wealth, and endeavoured to be found faithful in using it for God and man.
5. His love to the church of Christ, especially to that portion of it with which he was connected, deserves special mention. One great aim in life was the welfare of the Church and the happiness of the pastor. No one heard the Word and took part in the ordinances with more interest and profit. As an occasional preacher, his services were always acceptable and useful.
6. In reviewing his whole life and character one cannot but be struck by its completeness. In every relationship of life, and in the discharge of all his duties he was uniformly consistent, and manifested the deportment of a man and a Christian. Faults he must have had, for he was human, but few men have more lived as "becometh the gospel" (Phil. 1:27) in all things.
Remembering these things, let bereaved relatives find consolation and seek reunion with him in a better world, striving to meet, an undivided family, is heaven. Let the officers and members of this church and congregation, whilst we bewail our loss, endeavour as far as we can to fill up the void which the death of our beloved friend has caused among us. Let those who shared "like precious faith" (II Pet. 1:1) with him, be stirred up to greater devotedness.
And may God grant that many young persons may learn, from his example, to "seek first the kingdom of God.” (Matt. 6:33) Be sure that godliness is the only true wisdom. "Length of day is in her right hand, and in her left hand riches and honour." (Prov. 3:16) Thus may we hope to "come to the grave in a full age like as a shock of corn cometh in in his season."