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TRIUMPH OVER DEATH.
Undamp'd by doubt, undarken'd by despair,
It was very much the study and employment of some antient philosophers, to reason themselves into a contempt of death; and it was considered as a point of the noblest heroism, sometimes with no reasoning at all, to rush without fear into eternity. Cicero, in the first book of his Tusculan Questions, treats upon this subject with his usual eloquence, and gives us many examples amongst the heathens of persons, who have encountered the king of terrors without dread; some from the principles of philosophy, and others from mere resolution and vain glory. For my own part, I confess, that I never read this book without emotions of concern. While I pity the weakness of philosophy in some, by the daring brutality of others I am grieved. The very brightest example of death among the Gentiles, which Cicero gives us from Plato, has something in it of so
gloomy an uncertainty, as renders the steadiness, with which it was carried through, rather less rational than resolute. But Socrates had only his natural wisdom and powers to trust in, unblest and unsupported by the evidences of divine grace and revelation. He makes a great figure, it is true, for a Gentile; but yet a very pitiable one indeed, if compared with an example of Christian departure, which I will beg leave to offer in this essay.
Montaigne, the modern Epicurean, and the classical Addison, profess to be charmed with the death of Socrates. The witty rhapsodies of the former upon this subject, shall be omitted, as well as his loose translation of the story: and though, with great veneration for Socrates, I must hesitate to believe, that he was (as Mr. Addison stiles him) “ the greatest mere man that ever breathed,” (and much less to call upon him, with an old and eminent writer, O sancte Socrates, ora pro nobis !) I will present the reader however with his elegant version from Cicero of the noble appeal made by that illus trious philosopher to his judges, when they had condemned him to die.
“I have great hopes, O my judges, that it is greatly to my advantage, that I am sent to death: for it must of necessity be, that one of these two things must be the consequence: death must take away all these senses, or convey me to another life. If all sense is taken away, and death is no more than that profound sleep without dreams, in which we are sometimes buried; O heavens! how desirable is it to die? How many days do we know
in life preferable to such a state? But if it be true, that death is but a passage to places, which they wbo lived before us do now inhabit; how much still happier is it to go from those, who call themselves judges, to appear before those that are really such, and to meet men who have lived with justice and truth? Is this, do you think, no happy journey? Do you think it nothing to speak with Orpheus, Musæus, Homer, and Hesiod? I would, indeed, suffer many deaths, to enjoy these things. But let not those among you, who have pronounced me an innocent man, be afraid of death. No harm can arrive at a good man whether dead or living; his affairs are all under the direction of the gods; nor will I believe the fate, which is allotted to me myself this day, to have arrived by chance; nor have I ought to say either against my judges or accusers, but that they thought they did me an injury. But I detain you too long: it is time that I retire to death, and you to your affairs of life. Which of us has the better is known to the gods, but to no mortal man.”
Here is doubtless great magnanimity; but what is its foundation, and where is its hope? The only foundation alledged is a self-approbation of innocence and goodness --a plea which we will candidly allow that Socrates had a right to make in his unenlightened situation, and upon a comparison of himself with all the world about him; but that it was an erroneous plea for eternal happiness, every man must own, who knows and believes in the gospel of salvation. If Socrates he saved, certainly he was saved upon a very different ground from that, which
he he rested on. As to his hope, alas, how poor a one is, it, which terminates wholly, like his, in the wish for the company and conversation of men, and of poets too, who, whatever may be said of their ingenuity, defiled even heathenism itself (and even in the judgement of heathens, Plato, Varro, &c.) with the most monstrous absurdities and lies ? Besides, poor man! wretched as this kope was, he seems to give it up, as it were, in the last desponding clause; “which of us has the better, is known to the Gods, but to no mortal man.” If he had not doubted of inmortality itself, he could not have doubted upon so obvious a matter. The only wonderful thing is, how he could support himself, as he did, by. absolute conjectures, and face death with calmness, having no other comforter but despair. Cicero's apology o for this, " that it was his principle to affirm nothing,” does not, in my opinion, at all mend the matter. Perpetual doubt, or scepticism, is neither the friend of truth, por the supporter of man.
The foundation of a Christian for eternal life is laid in everlasting certainty and righteousness, and not in himself, nor in his own sinful or death-deserving deeds. JEHOVAHI-Jesus, the rock of ages, is the basis of his salvation, and the consummation of his glory. And as to his positive enjoyments and company hereafter, the inimitable description of the apostle throws into shade the poor expectation of the best of heathens : “ Ye are come unto Mount Sion, and unto the city of the living God, the beavenly Jerusalem, and to an innumerable company of angels, to the general assembly and church
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of the first-born which are written in heaven, and to God the judge of all, and to the spirits of just men made perfect, and to Jesus the Mediator of the new covenant."
I could oppose a thousand instances of divine dying to the philosophical exit of Socrates; but I will only take, for the present occasion, the departure of a very young minister, as it is related by his pious brother, a minister likewise, who was present with him.
“O (said he to his friends) that I could but let you know what I now feel! O that I could but show you what I now see! O that I could express the thousandth part of the sweetness, which I now find in Christ.—My friends, we little think what Christ is worth upon a death-bed. I would not for a world be to live any longer. The very thought of a possibility of a recovery makes me even treinble. Come, Lord Jesus, come quickly! Death indeed has lost its terror. Death is nothing; I say, death is nothing through grace to me. I long to be with Christ. I long to die. O that glory! that unspeakable glory I behold! My heart is full, my heart is full. Did you but see what I see, you would all cry out with me, How long, dear Lord, how long! Come, Lord Jesus, come quickly!—0 my friends, stand and wonder: come, look upon a dying man, and wonder. Was there ever a greater kindness! Was there ever more sensible manifestation of rich grace! O why me, Lord! why me! Sure, this is akin to heaven!- If this be dying, dying is sweet. Let no Christian be afraid of dying. Death is sweet to me! This bed is soft!