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 The life and letters of John Angell James

The life and letters of John Angell James

(Choice excerpts)


You who are poor—with this 'pearl of great price' to enrich you, with a title to a priceless inheritance, reserved in heaven for you, pure and undefiled, beyond the reach of change and decay—to animate and comfort you; all the privations of your earthly poverty can be borne—not only with patience, but with cheerfulness.

The grace of God in the heart, the promise of God in the hand, and the glory of God in the eye—are enough to reconcile us to the longest life of the most dire poverty.

But poverty, without true piety—is to be poor indeed! To be both poor and wicked, is to have a double hell—a hell here, and a worse hell hereafter!

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Consider that the eternal loss of the soul is not a rare—but a very common occurrence! So far from being a rare thing for a soul to go to hell—it is a much rarer thing for them to go to heaven! Jesus tells us that the road to eternal destruction is thronged, while the way to eternal life is traveled by few. Hell opens its mouth wide—and swallows up multitudes in eternal perdition! Every day brings you nearer to everlasting torments—or everlasting bliss. You may die at any moment; and you are as near to heaven or hell—as you are to death. Some who read these lines will very likely spend their eternity in hell.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

If your experience . . .
strengthens your faith in the Lord Jesus,
increases your love to Him,
gives you more exalted views of Jesus,
enflames your love to the brethren,
weans you from the world,
makes you more humble,
then it is genuine Christian experience.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Who is able to talk of controversies, or fine theological points—while he sees a multitude of ignorant, carnal, miserable sinners before him—who must either be converted—or damned! What little matters men will quarrel about—when they leave the great things of God's truth!

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Is our concern for Christ, and for souls—or for ourselves? No 'titles of distinction' are to exist among Christian ministers. They suggest the idea of superiority—and foster pride and vanity. What an exorbitant extent of mischief has this love of distinction done in Christianity! It is the base ambition of many ministers—to be contented with an admiring crowd. "Everything they do is done for men to see: They make their phylacteries wide and the tassels on their garments long; they love the place of honor at banquets and the most important seats in the synagogues; they love to be greeted in the marketplaces and to have men call them 'Rabbi.'" Matthew 23:5-7.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

It is the gospel addressed in simple earnestness to the soul—which will move it.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Everything related to the worship of God which is not commanded in Scripture, or implied in a command—is forbidden.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

The thought is very dreadful to me, that any should go from beneath my ministry—to the worm which never dies, to the fire which is never quenched. I can scarcely bear to dwell upon the reflection that my sermons should be forgotten on earth—only to be remembered in hell.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Adorn the doctrine of God your Savior in all things. There is such a thing as disfiguring, deforming this doctrine. Fly not only from what would be vice in a wicked or worldly man, but what would be a spot upon the character of a Christian.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

If you are parents, let your profession lead you to instruct your children in the fear of God, especially by the impressive admonition of a good example. Be very attentive to the education of your children—let them neither hear nor see anything in you that would hinder true religion. Example is more powerful than precept. It is vain to teach them religion by your words—unless you show it to them by your actions. Teach them to obey you. Be firm, but mild. Govern them in love. Subdue them by kindness.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

In the death of our dear friend Elmore, the church has lost a very valuable member, and I a most affectionate friend. Cut off in the prime of his life—his death speaks loudly to us all. What now is the world, or any of its concerns, to him? Let our hearts be more in heaven! We are too earthly and sensual. We are too much elated by the comforts of life; and too much depressed by the sorrows of life—forgetting how close at hand is the event which will render them both alike indifferent to us—and us to them. Eternity, eternity is before us—and what earthly trifle should greatly affect those who are speedily traveling to eternity?

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

The love of God, in sending Jesus Christ die upon the cross for our sins, is the greatest wonder that we shall ever hear of—on earth or in heaven, in time or through eternity! How constantly should we think of it; how much should we talk of it; how great should be our gratitude to God; how strong should be our love to Jesus!

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

What a change has the gospel produced in your customs, manners, and feelings!

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

The sins of the people, are the deepest afflictions of a true minister's heart.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

There is in the present day, a proneness to depend upon organized systems of human religious energy—more than upon God's own Spirit and grace.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

We have no right to live in opulent houses, and feast at tables covered with luxuries—while the souls of men are famishing for lack of the Bread of Life. A showy and lavish profusion in our habits, is not only injurious to our own spiritual interests, but also to the interests of others. Frugality is the best financier of Christianity.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Time is the best expounder of Prophecy. I could never make up my mind on the precise meaning of the Apocalypse, except as to its general design. No expositor I have ever read—and I have read many—has yet satisfied me. As they all disagree among themselves, I presume that none of them fully understand the subject.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

All my time and all my strength, I intend to devote to the great work of stirring up my people's hearts to serve the Lord more fully.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Most professing Christians are sunk deep in the mire of worldly-mindedness. Mammon is the wicked and shameful idol of the church. Our churches are, in my opinion, far from a state of sound healthy piety. We have but little of what constitutes the essence of experimental religion. Everything is superficial. Our repentance, our faith, our love, our devotional habits—are all superficial! The world has . . .
engrossed men's minds,
absorbed their feelings,
starved their piety.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Attention has been drawn off from the heart and the closet—to public meetings and bustle and activity. I am persuaded that Satan has taken advantage of them, to divert men's minds from the state of their own souls. Professing Christians are so entangled with the world in various ways, that I do not look at present for any great increase of spirituality in their devotional habits. I am afraid that the tone of personal piety is not likely to be much raised. The generality of our church members appear to be in a state of much lukewarmness. I wish I could see more spiritual feeling apparent in our meetings. They appear too much like religious amusements.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Modern practice tends to throw the door of entrance into our churches too widely open. We are too much in haste to swell the number of church members. Multitudes find their way into our churches without the wedding garment. Admission into our churches is generally considered by the individuals, as a certificate of saving religion; and should they be still in an unconverted state, in that state they will, in all probability die. Therefore the admission of unconverted people into the church is, in effect, to be accessory to their self-deception, and therefore to their destruction.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Oh, what a mercy to be kept sound in the faith!

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

What a word is salvation! It is uttered in a moment—but it will require an eternity to understand it; and if lost—an eternity to deplore it! Salvation is our great business in this world—and whatever else we gain, yet if we miss salvation—the end of life is lost, existence is thrown away, and, to all valuable purposes—we have been made in vain. Eternity, eternity is before you—and that eternity must either be spent in heaven—or hell!

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

The best ornaments of piety; and loveliest fruits of saving faith—are humility and love.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Oh, for more prayer, faith, and deadness to the world! Christians must return to simpler habits!

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

What humbling lessons we learn by being laid aside by sickness, from labor! How the world goes on without us! And when we are silent forever—it will be the same.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Prayer is the very soul of all religion; and privacy is the very life of prayer. Prayer is the first step in the divine life; prayer is the second; prayer is the third; and indeed, it is necessary through the whole Christian course.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

All true piety in the heart is the work of the Holy Spirit. Not a single really holy feeling will ever come into the mind, or be kept there—but by God.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~


It is sometimes a matter of surprise to me, to think upon how small a stock of moral excellence—I am keeping up so respectable an appearance. Of one thing I am certain—that, if I do any good to my generation, the work is not only to be ascribed to grace, but will prove in the eternal world, how much of Divine agency and how little of human instrumentality there was in anything done by me. I am sure, that if others thought of me as I think of myself—I would soon be forgotten and unnoticed. I blush over my own fame—from an entire consciousness how little I deserve it. I have all along been sensitive and jealous for the honor of God, and was alarmed and afraid lest the Master should be robbed of His glory—and the servant invested with sinful spoils.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Men are now so busy, either with their own secularities, or with church work—that they have but little time, and therefore little opportunity, to read a profitable Christian book.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

"God disciplines us for our good, that we may share in His holiness." Hebrews 12:10. God must set a high value upon holiness when, in order to produce it, He puts His children whom He loves, to so much pain. It is a great mercy to grow in grace, and, when nothing else will promote it—we should be thankful even for afflictions.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Don't puzzle yourself about the mystery of the death of your dear wife. It is God who has done it! He never does a foolish or unkind action. Submission and occupation will be the best balm for your wounded spirit. Christ's service will be your best cordial. May God comfort, sanctify and bless you in this dark dispensation. God knows what He has done; why He has done it; and how to comfort you under it.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

We cannot, for the sake of union and peace, sacrifice truth. There must be no compromise.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Our principle defects as ministers, lie chiefly in our character as Christians. We would be better preachers, and better pastors—if we were holier men.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

I am sure that it is the gospel in all its fullness—earnestly, feelingly, and powerfully preached—which God will bless to the conversion of souls.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

My habits of social interaction have been somewhat restrained. To sit three hours in mere chit-chat, or hearing young ladies play the piano and sing—was a waste of time which I could not endure.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

That Christian laymen may be useful in the cause of the gospel, cannot be questioned; and that many of them do far more good than some preachers—is quite clear.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

We preach too little from the heart—and to the heart. We need more pathos, which flows out of intense earnestness. I am more than ever convinced that this is the kind of preaching that is needed today—a combination of the intellectual, doctrinal, experimental, and practical—sermons coming from the head through the heart; or from the heart through the head.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

There is a richness and fullness of divine truth in the old writers, which, with all their antiquated style—the modern writers lack. And oh! Their devotion—their communion with God—their sustained and elevated piety! This is what we lack—this is our deficiency!

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

I intend on preaching a series of very rousing, searching sermons—"Four Last Things"—Death, Judgment, Heaven, Hell.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

It is a great thing to live and labor for God and souls. This alone, is to work for immortality. But how difficult to keep the waters pure—to live for Christ alone.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Men's minds are wholly engrossed by the things which are seen and temporal. In general, the church partakes of the spirit of the world. Worldliness, in various forms, is eating out the core of personal godliness.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

The state of individual piety is undevout and feeble. A spirit of worldliness characterizes the church; and its separation from the ungodly is less conspicuous than it ought to be. Men's minds, hearts, and hands are so full, that it is difficult, even with the themes of eternity, to gain a serious hearing—and arrest the torrent of worldliness that is flowing through society.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

I dwell much alone—but He whose company is a substitute for all others, is with me.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

What a mercy it is—that others do not know us, as we know ourselves!

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

How sweet and sacred a thing, is Christian friendship. And how blissful a reflection, that it is to be perfected in heaven—and perpetuated through eternity!

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

By God's grace, you are to derive spiritual benefit from your dire affliction. Have you communed with your own heart upon your bed? Have you been taking the candle of the Lord—which is His Word—and gone down into the depths of your soul, searching for besetting sins and defects? Has the gold shone in the furnace? Has the dross of earthliness been consumed? God's design in afflicting us, is that we may be partakers of His holiness. An affliction sanctified—is better than an affliction removed. Oh, let us long, intensely long, to be made more holy, spiritual, heavenly.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

We all know far more of the Bible—than we practice. The head is far in advance of the heart. It is no easy thing to be a Christian—however easy it is to be called one.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Be eminently holy, spiritual, and heavenly men. Be examples in all these things, to the flock. You will need much wisdom, grace, and a mixture of firmness and kindness.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

It is a great mercy for me to be brought nearly to sixty years of age—without any serious mistake. I often think and say, that in looking back, I see many things which, if I could go over life again, I would correct and do better. But then again, perhaps I would commit still greater blunders; so that while I am humble—and there is much to make me so—I am thankful.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Oh, what a life of unmerited and unexpected mercy I have enjoyed! Never, no, never was so much favor shown to one so undeserving of it! My lengthened affliction has caused me to search my heart—and oh, what strange and humbling disclosures! I thought I knew myself, but I find now, at age seventy, I have much to learn. How humbling the discoveries I have made! I need no other argument for Sovereign Grace, than the knowledge of myself—compared with the multitudinous and wondrous blessings showered upon me.


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CHRISTIAN

 2007/2/8 3:40Profile
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 Re: The life and letters of John Angell James

This is absolutely wonderful. Thanks for sharing it. You would probably like " The Imitation of Christ" by Thomas a'Kempis.

Blessings to you.


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KLC

 2007/2/8 8:50Profile
hmmhmm
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 Re: The life and letters of John Angell James

What a change has the gospel produced in your customs, manners, and feelings!


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CHRISTIAN

 2007/2/8 15:08Profile
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Posts: 9192
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 John Angell James

Quote:
Oh, for more prayer, faith, and deadness to the world! Christians must return to simpler habits!



Brother, how fascinating that never hearing of John James I would alternately come across by sheer accident in a search an incredibaly timed piece of his work and then find all this as well.

Hope to post it a bit later.


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Mike Balog

 2007/2/8 15:25Profile
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 Re:

Quote:
The life and letters of John Angell James


The book that carries this title is of utmost value. Thank you for sharing these excerpts.


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SI Moderator - Greg Gordon

 2007/2/8 15:40Profile
hmmhmm
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 Re:

i never heard of this man before, but i found some sermons and some other writings from him, i must say we could use a few more preachers like this today, i posted a sermon called YOUTH WARNED! under other speakers, its quite long but its well worth the time.... how many youths could have been spared from walking astray into the world if they where raised whit preaching like that!


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CHRISTIAN

 2007/2/8 16:15Profile
hmmhmm
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 Re:

take time to read this and be blessed


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CHRISTIAN

 2007/2/12 15:34Profile
crsschk
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 Re: The life and letters of John Angell James

Quote:
Oh, what a life of unmerited and unexpected mercy I have enjoyed! Never, no, never was so much favor shown to one so undeserving of it! My lengthened affliction has caused me to search my heart—and oh, what strange and humbling disclosures! [b]I thought I knew myself, but I find now, at age seventy, I have much to learn. How humbling the discoveries I have made![/b] I need no other argument for Sovereign Grace, than the knowledge of myself—compared with the multitudinous and wondrous blessings showered upon me.



Quote:
In the death of our dear friend Elmore, the church has lost a very valuable member, and I a most affectionate friend. Cut off in the prime of his life—his death speaks loudly to us all. What now is the world, or any of its concerns, to him? Let our hearts be more in heaven! We are too earthly and sensual. We are too much elated by the comforts of life; and too much depressed by the sorrows of life—forgetting how close at hand is the event which will render them both alike indifferent to us—and us to them. Eternity, eternity is before us—and what earthly trifle should greatly affect those who are speedily traveling to eternity?


Brother you cannot know how much these priceless gems mean right now ... My head is somewhere near this mans thoughts on death ... as a constant consideration, well before recent events, will get that other post up tonight.

Bless you for these brother.


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Mike Balog

 2007/2/12 16:44Profile
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 Re: SORROW FOR THE DEATH OF FRIENDS

SORROW FOR THE DEATH OF FRIENDS


By John Angell James, on the death of his wife


"Naked I came from my mother's womb, and naked I
will leave this life. The Lord gives, and the Lord
takes away. Praise the name of the Lord! (Job 1:21)

"See, I am the only God! There are no others. I kill,
and I make alive! I wound, and I heal, and no one
can rescue you from My power!" Deuteronomy 32:39


I hope I shall not be thought by any to be indelicately obtruding my personal sorrows upon public attention. I allude to the situation in which I am placed by a mysterious but all-wise Providence. If I refer to the event that has now befallen me, it is not to move your sympathy, for this has already flowed towards me in full tide, and in every variety of soothing attentions, both before and since the stroke of separation; and for which I thus publicly return you my sincere gratitude—but it is for a still higher and holier purpose, to promote your spiritual welfare. If the ordinary afflictions of life should be improved by us for our good, surely the deeper sorrows of the grave should be eminently conducive to our soul's present and eternal welfare. When it is not possible for us to derive any further benefit from the life of our friends, we should be tremblingly solicitous to receive it from their death. When their own vital selves are no longer before us in all the beautiful form and activity of a holy example, and nothing remains of them but their tomb and their memory—we should render these precious remains subservient to our spiritual improvement. This is the best, the only compensation for their loss.

When a holy and beloved object of our affection is removed by death, we ought to sorrow. Humanity demands it, and Christianity, in the person of the weeping Jesus, allows it. The man without a tear, is a savage or a Stoic—but not a Christian. God intends when he bestows his gifts—that they should be received with smiles of gratitude; and when he recalls them—that they should be surrendered with "drops of sacred grief." Sorrow is an affection implanted by the Creator in the soul, for wise and beneficent purposes; and it ought not to be ruthlessly torn up by the roots—but directed in its exercise by reason and piety. The work of grace, though it is above nature—is not against it. The man who tells me not to weep at the grave, insults me, mocks me, and wishes to degrade me. I do weep. I must weep. I cannot help it. God requires me to do so—and has opened a fountain of tears in my nature for that purpose. And it is the silent, pure, unsophisticated testimony of my heart to the excellence of the gift he gave in mercy; and in mercy, no doubt, as well as judgment, has recalled.

Without sorrow we would not improve by his correcting hand; chastened grief is like the gentle shower, falling first upon the earth to prepare it for the seed, and then upon the seed to cause it to germinate. Wild, clamorous, passionate sorrow is like the thunder shower of inundation—which carries away soil and seed together. Can we lose the company of one whose presence was the light and charm of our dwelling, whose society was the source of our most valuable and most highly valued earthly comfort; whose love, ever new and fresh, was presented daily to us in full cup by her own hand; who cheered us with her conversation; bore with our infirmities; solved our doubts; disclosed to us in difficulty the path of duty; and quickened us by her example—is it possible, I say, to lose such a friend—and not sorrow?

But, then, though we mourn—we must not murmur. We may sorrow—but not with the passionate and uncontrolled grief of the heathen, who have no hope. Our sorrow must flow, deep as we like, but noiseless and still—in the channels of submission. It must be a sorrow so quiet, as to hear all the words of consolation which our heavenly Father utters amidst the gentle strokes of his rod. It must be a sorrow so reverential, as to adore him for the exercise of his prerogative in taking away what and whom he pleases. It must be a sorrow so composed, as to prepare us for doing his will as well as bearing it. It must be a sorrow so meek and gentle, as to justify him in his dispensations. It must be a sorrow so confiding, as to be assured that there is as much love in taking the mercy away—as there was in bestowing it. It must be a sorrow so grateful, as to be thankful for the mercies left, as well as afflicted for the mercies lost. It must be a sorrow so trustful, as to look forward to the future with hope, as well as back upon the past with distress. It must be a sorrow so patient, as to bear all the aggravations that accompany or follow the bereavement with unruffled acquiescence. It must be a sorrow so holy, as to lift the prayer of faith for Divine grace to sanctify the stroke. It must be a sorrow so lasting, as to preserve through all the coming years of life the benefit of that event, which in one solemn moment changed the whole aspect of our earthly existence.

When grief impairs the health and preys upon the constitution, it is "the sorrow of the world which works death;" when it closes the ear to the words of consolation, and the eye to mercies left; when it paralyzes the energies, and benumbs and stupefies the soul, so that incumbent duties, personal and relative, domestic and social, civil and sacred, are neglected, and the soul does nothing but lie down upon the sepulcher to weep; when it refuses to be comforted, even with all the consolation of the gospel—then it is a sorrow unworthy of the honorable name which the Christian bears.

But it is not against too long and too deep a sorrow that some need to be admonished, but against a too short and too superficial sorrow. Nothing promises more, and, too generally, yields less improvement and benefit, than the death of friends. At their decease life loses its charm; society, occupation, and favorite tastes, give up their attraction; the pall that covers their dear remains extends its dark folds over all other things; and every hope is entombed in their grave. Temporal things fade, and are lost amidst the glory and grandeur of eternal things. Invisible realities displace from imagination the vain shows and shadows of the visible world! The tie that binds us to earth is cut, and our spirit seems set loose to rise to heaven and glory. For a while we hear the voice which comes from the tomb. The edifying and exemplary life; the triumphant death; the kind and pious counsels, and the tender or affectionate farewell of a beloved companion—for some days or weeks employ our thoughts or engross our conversation. We can talk and think of nothing else, as long as our sorrow remains.

But, by degrees, the world which seemed dead, corrupted, and loathsome—recovers its life, its health, its attractions, and its power. Time abates the violence of grief; "by degrees new associations are formed, new projects are devised, new pleasures are pursued; the stream of reflection is diverted into other and far different channels; the heart plunges as deeply as ever into worldly hopes and fears; the fondness for what was lately pronounced vanity and vexation of spirit, is revived. Thus the tears shed for departed friends have been shed in vain, and they who were stricken by God and afflicted, hearken no longer to the voice of the rod, and reap no lasting fruit from correction.

It is wisely ordered, I know, that the poignancy of sorrow should be abated by the lapse of time, and that the mind by its elastic power should rise from beneath the first pressure of overwhelming calamity—or else death would smite with paralysis the whole framework of society. Still it must be confessed and lamented, that in too many cases the grief of the mourner is too evanescent, either for a just tribute to the memory of 'departed excellence', or for his own spiritual improvement. If departed spirits could be spectators of what is going on upon earth, and were susceptible of the frailties of their mortal sojourn, it would surprise and grieve them, in some cases, to see how soon the grass grows around their sepulcher, and the foot turns from it into another path! It would check our vanity and curb our expectations of posthumous honor and affection—to think how soon our names will be pronounced without a tear, and our history be forgotten amidst the new objects that rise to occupy our place!

But it is now time to consider the LESSONS to be learned by the death of Christian friends.


1. How dreadful is the nature of SIN! Sin is the parent of death; and death the first-born of sin. What must be the parent—when so hideous and so dreadful is the offspring? Who can have watched the harbingers of death—"the groans, the pains, the dying strife," and have seen all this in the dying Christian too, without being struck with the fearful nature of man's revolt from God? True, "the mortal paleness on the cheek" is associated, almost irradiated, with "a glory from the soul," just as the rays of the sun, falling upon a base and even unsightly object, may conceal its deformity from an observer at a little distance. But death in itself, and by itself—is horrid and revolting! To see all this inflicted, I repeat, upon a Christian, a saint, a child of God, an heir of glory; to see no way even to the kingdom of God, to the realms of immortality—but this dark valley of corruption, earth, and worms—this gives us a most impressive idea of the dreadful nature of sin!

Grace triumphs, I admit. The soul rises superior to its situation, sees the glimpses of glory in that low, dark situation, and echoes amidst the groans of expiring nature the song of the redeemed. Yes, but then this is the victory of faith over death; this is grace triumphing over sin. Take away what grace does—and all that pertains to death itself, is as awful in the most eminent believer, as in the most confirmed and blaspheming infidel. Death, as to its physical effects, cannot change its nature, though, in the death of the Christian, sin and grace, in their effects, are often presented in wondrous conflict and in glorious contrast. How such scenes should enlarge our views of the malignity of sin, and embitter our hearts against it! O sin, sin—what have you done!


2. But what a glorious view does the death of Christians give us of the work of our Lord JESUS Christ, as the great peace-maker with God through the blood of his cross; as the destroyer of death; the Prince of life; the restorer of immortality; the compassionate High Priest of his people; their companion and helper in the mortal conflict; and their conductor to celestial glory! There it is—his mediatorial office; his redeeming work; his soul-saving power; his abounding mercy; not in a sermon, not in a book, no, not even in a verse or page of the New Testament—but in the glorious result and reality, embodied in that dying saint, set forth in that dissolving yet imperishable believer.

Hear the comfortable words that fall from the lips of the departing Christian, as his voice, almost lost in death, still praises God, and sends forth expressions which seem more like the first sounds of the cherubim's song than the last words of mortal man. See the peace which spreads over the countenance, and the sparkle which lights up with joy the eye that is growing dim in death. What is it all? How does this come to pass? Why that tranquility on the verge of the grave—that confidence in the near prospect of meeting a holy God—that voluntary surrender of life—that fearless tread down into the dark valley—that resolute plunge into the vast abyss of eternity—that act of the soul herself in loosening all the ties which bound her to earth, and laying hold of a hand that is lifting her up to the heavens? Why that that longing after holiness, as if the atmosphere, not only of the world but of the church, was not pure enough for her to breathe—that reaching after the presence of a glorified Savior—that sweet spirit of ineffable charity, which casts back its smiles on the world it is leaving, and which covets to be in a world of pure unmixed love?

I say, what is this? "O Redeemer of our lost, and sinful, and miserable world—this is your love's redeeming work—the glory of your cross—the fruit of your agonies—the travail of your soul!" Yes, this is true religion—it is faith, hope, love! It is a scene that presents the work of grace on earth, and as much of the work of glory as can be seen on earth. Does it not prove the reality of religion? Is it not an evidence of the truth of the Bible? Is there anything like it, can there be anything like it, in the region of imposture? Is it not—too holy for falsehood; too elevated for delusion; too sober for mere enthusiasm? What a view does it give us of the excellence and power of religion! Never does true piety shine brighter than in such a dark scene as this! Never does it appear stronger than in this scene of weakness! Never does piety appear more beautiful, than when thus surrounded with all that is repulsive in disease and death! Next to a seraph spirit before us in the robes of light and immortality—the dying believer, triumphing by faith and hope over the last enemy—is the brightest specimen of our holy religion!

My dear friends, do not be afraid to die! Trust the Conqueror of death with your soul—not only for 'living duties' but for 'dying agonies'. Seek more and more of that piety for your living scenes, which you saw putting forth its power and beauties amidst the dying scenes of your friends. It is a mistake, and a dangerous error, to suppose that God intentionally reserves the joy and peace of believing, for a death bed. He is willing to give us grace to enjoy all this peace now. It is our own fault that we are not thus blessed as Christians, while engaged in the affairs of life. If faith, and hope, and love—which can do all this for dying saints—and they can do the same things for living ones.

And this is one use we should make of such scenes—to quicken our graces, to shame us for our lukewarmness, to cure us of our worldly-mindedness! Dying saints are patterns, not only for other dying saints, but for living ones. Our exclamation, on witnessing such, should not only be, "Let me die thus," but—"Let me live thus." "Let me be thus holy, thus heavenly now. I cannot wait until I die for this grace—I want it now! I will seek for it now! I must have it now!" And you may.


3. The death of Christian friends should impress us with, even as it shows us—the vanity of the WORLD. All that poetry ever wrote—even the most mournful, beautiful, and pensive of its strains—all that philosophy ever argued—all that morality ever taught, conveys no such view, and is calculated to produce no such impressions, of the emptiness of the world—as the desolate chamber, the vacant place, the deserted chair, the picture of some dear object of our heart's affection. It is at the tomb of that loved, lost friend, the world stands stripped of its false disguise, and is presented to us as a shadow! Gloom now covers everything. Scenes that once pleased, please no more. Favorite walks are shunned, or re-trodden only to remind us of the dear companion that once shared their beauties with us. Seasons return, but not to bring with them the delights with which the presence of one beloved object associates them. We go about in the bitterness of our spirit, crying, "Vanity of vanity—all is vanity and vexation of spirit!" We are ready to sigh for death to relieve us from the tedium of existence, and the sense of emptiness!

Be it so! It is all true! The world is empty—and it was intended by God that it should be! The world contains no satisfying bliss! It is a cistern, a broken cistern, which can hold no water. God told us so, but we would not learn this by His word—so now we must learn it by painful experience! If we cannot be taught by 'faith', since we must learn—we are in mercy taught by feeling it to be empty! Oh let us go to the fountain that is full, flowing, open! Let us go to the fountain of living waters! If there is emptiness, nothingness, in the world—there is fullness in God. He makes angels happy; he makes perfect spirits happy; he makes Christ's human nature happy; he makes himself happy—and cannot he make us happy? Is there enough in Him to satisfy millions of millions, and not enough to satisfy us? Let us crucify the world—there is more happiness in a crucified world, than in an idolized one.

How, then, we should die to the world! I know that faith is the consecrated means of gaining this victory. I know that it is amidst the glory of the cross and of heaven—that all the twinkling and artificial lights of this world, like the gaudy luster of an candle, expiring as the sun rises in splendor upon the earth, should fade away and become invisible. I know that one clear, impressive, heart-satisfying view of a crucified and glorified Christ, does more to wean our affections from seen and temporal things, than the bleakest and dreariest aspect of this sublunary scene. But still, it is well to press everything into the work and service of our mortification to seen and temporal things. It is well to feel how much less there is on earth to love. It is well to feel how impoverished and disfigured and unattractive it has become by the removal of that which constituted its loveliest charm; and, therefore, how much less worthy it is of our regard than it was. If our hearts cannot die to the world anywhere else—let them be crucified at the tomb of those we love.


4. From the death of our friends, we learn how important it is to discharge well our duty to those who remain. Perhaps no one ever yet committed to the tomb an object of his dear affection, without some reproach for not having duly appreciated its value while the blessing was possessed—or for not having treated it with sufficient tenderness and attention. The magnitude of our mercies seems to be best seen by the shadows they cast behind them as they retire from us! And our obligations to promote the happiness of our friends are never so well understood—as when the opportunity for discharging them is forever gone. The most sincere, ardent, and unvarying affection, when its object is removed, finds out how much more could have been done for its happiness than was done.

Many and sad are the regrets which we pour out at the sepulcher of our friends—for unrequited proofs of regard, which at the time made little or no impression upon us; for acts of unselfish and devoted service which were received with too much coldness or ingratitude; for duties neglected, which might have been performed; for opportunities to give pleasure, which were allowed to pass by unimproved; for words too sharply spoken, or unkind feelings too hastily indulged. Such injuries, often more imaginary than real, though sometimes true, can never be repaired—and it is the sting of sorrow that they cannot; for the grave has closed over the subject of them. That grave, however, sends forth a warning voice—Go perform every duty in love, in season, and in measure to the friends that remain! Do now what you will certainly wish you had done, when the time for acting is at an end! Perform every office of benevolence, discharge every duty of affection, while it can be performed! Beware of being guilty of that neglect, or of doing that hurt to another, which his death may make it impossible for you to redress. Whatever your hand finds to do for the good of your friend—do it speedily with your might! For your friend may die, and there is no work nor action in the grave. Your tears of regret, your confession of unkindness, your wishes for reparation—will not reach him there!


5. We should curb the selfishness of our sorrow, by rejoicing in the PRESENT FELICITY of our departed friends—and thus make their decease a means of promoting the virtue of unselfish benevolence. They are with the Lord, where they longed to be, and are fully blessed in the enjoyment of his love! Have we not love enough for them, to choose that they should remain in that blissful place where they now are? They have looked on the beauties of the New Jerusalem! They have fallen in humble adoration and ecstatic joy before the throne of God! They have seen the glory of the Lamb! They have eaten the fruit of the tree of life, and drunk from the crystal stream that flows from the living fountains of waters! They are perfect in holiness, happiness, and knowledge! Would we pluck them from such bliss, and imprison them again in our world and in the flesh, merely to solace us, to wipe away the tears from our eyes, and to weep with us when we weep? Let us better discipline our hearts. Let us go up in faith and in imagination to rejoice with them—since they cannot come down to weep with us. This is cultivating the generous, unselfish, and benevolent affections. It is high and difficult virtue; the last triumph of affection; and the profoundest exercise of love!


6. Let us learn the duty of sending our hearts after our friends—to heaven. If their removal has impoverished earth, it has enriched heaven! And though the presence of Christ is the sun of the celestial world, and the Lamb is the glory thereof—yet the apostle speaks with joy of our gathering together unto Jesus, of our coming to the spirits of just men made perfect, and of the joy and crown of rejoicing which our friends will be to us on the day of our Lord. Surely, it will be no small joy to meet those in heaven, whom we loved on earth! And though Christ is the great magnet that draws all holy hearts to paradise, yet even our blessed and glorified friends are not without a certain and legitimate, though inferior influence of the same kind.


7. We should imitate their virtues. It is a lovely propensity of our nature, which leads us to forget the failings of departed friends, and hold fast their excellences. And those whom we were perhaps but too apt to censure while they lived, we are willing to canonize when they are dead. Their decease has invested their character with new beauty; and their virtues appear to us, even as they are presented to us by memory, to have caught and to reflect some of the light of heaven, to which they have ascended. And, indeed, this in many cases is the fact, for we see such a maturity of spiritual graces, such a measure of the beauties of holiness in their last days, as plainly shows that the rays of the excellent glory have fallen upon them before they have emerged from the dark valley. Oh let us follow their footsteps!

When the first tears of sorrow are wiped away from our eyes, through which it is difficult to see anything clearly, and the stupor or the tumult of the mind has subsided into the reflective silence of acquiescence—let us set their pattern before us, and learn what we ought to be, and what we ought to do. Let us, while the recollection of them is fresh, and before the tints of their picture are faded upon the memory—copy into our character all the excellences of their character. Let ours not only be a sorrowing, but an imitating love; assured that no remembrance of them is so honorable to their character, or would please them so well—if they could know it in their celestial sphere—as an attempt to resemble them, in all that is worthy of imitation.


8. Let us comply with their holy wishes, and their devout requests. One wish there was, not only cherished in the heart, but expressed with the dying accents of that dear saint who has recently departed from the midst of us, and that was, that her decease might be a dispensation of love to us, in the way of increasing our spiritual attainments. "Give my love to the church—that church I so much love. Tell them to be a pattern and example of holiness to all the churches around." How often, in the privacy and fellowship of grief and prayer in her sick chamber, have I wrestled for this. Amidst what tears and sobs have I implored that her approaching death, might be as life to the church. Shall it not be? Ought we to let so much spiritual wealth be taken from us, without endeavoring to make up the loss by an increase of our own piety? Members of my church, sheep of my flock, souls committed by the Holy Spirit to my spiritual oversight, let us all seek to have the dispensation sanctified for our spiritual good. Let the sepulcher of your pastor's wife unite with his pulpit, to give emphasis to the admonition, "Be holy in every detail of your lives!" You loved her, and you still honor her; gratify her dying wishes. The last wishes of dying friends, you know, and especially such wishes, of such a friend, are sacred—fulfill her parting request, and be a holy people. Let us seek a revival of true piety among us. Let each of us purpose to have the affliction eminently blessed to our own souls. Look regularly at her grave, from which she being dead yet speaks, and says, "Be a pattern of holiness to all the churches around." Be every heart her monument, and this her epitaph.

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Mike Balog

 2007/2/13 23:22Profile
Koheleth
Member



Joined: 2005/11/10
Posts: 530
NC

 Re: The life and letters of John Angell James

Like others, I have never heard of this man, but it is amazing how readily the spirit of Christ can be recognized. Surely, as we know in our own day, words can be fabricated, but what a stream of heavenly thoughts! All to much profit for the Christian reader.

 2007/2/14 11:06Profile





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