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Life And Eternity

An Address Delivered At The Funeral Of Mr. John Moss, Who Departed This Life on Monday, The 5th of April, 5607, and Was Buried on Thursday, the 8th.

Brethren and Friends:

When we are assembled, as at this day, over the remains of departed worth, near the last resting-place of a man well known and esteemed in the community of which he was for years an honoured member, thoughts will involuntarily crowd upon the mind, and we will, in the consciousness of human frailty, exclaim with the Psalmist:

מי גבר יחיה ולא יראת מות ימלט נפשו מיד שאול סלה: תהל' פ"ט מ"ט

“Who is the man that can live and not see death, and cause his soul to escape from the power of the grave, Selah.”—(Psalm 89:49.)

From the moment of our birth, our soul will tell us, we are travelling onward to the consummation appointed for us, and everything around us is a pledge that we must return to the dust as we were in the flesh, whilst the spirit will return to God who gave it. Days dawn and they close, they break upon us in health and in sickness, prosperity may be in our dwelling, or we may be oppressed by the weight of adverse fortune; but be they days of joy or sorrow, they cannot be recalled; and with each does, the sand of life ebb in the hour-glass of our earthly existence, and nothing in our power can bring back the moments that are past, and we hasten on toward the end of our days, and we speed hence before we are almost aware that we have lived. And yet we toil as though our labour would be ours for ever; we build as though we imagined our structures would stand unmoved from generation to generation; we heap up as though we fancied that our hold would never relax. And still we see others labour for strangers; we behold their structures fall into rapid decay, and their heaps of treasure given over to the custody of those who came into existence after them. We are amazed at the folly of others for toiling so constantly in vain; but are we wiser? do we ourselves realize our own mortality with the same intensity of feeling which we apply to that of others? I fear not; but that we are so hurried onward by our peculiar avocations, that we lose imperceptibly the knowledge that we are like all other men, mere sojourners on earth like all our fathers have been. Indeed the earth and its pleasures and its glories alone seem to attract us; each one fancies that his neighbour is engaged in the pursuit of vanities: whilst he himself follows in the same career, though perhaps in a different manner. Each one asks for the share of the earth which he claims as his due; but where are they who labour for eternity? who seek to enrich their spirit with the treasures which never decay, with the delights which are never ending? Alas, that we cannot assure ourselves that the number of such wise ones is large, that we cannot meet with many who are thus travelling upward. Ay, it is true we are in the hands of a merciful Father, who will not reject utterly the child of his own creation, who forgives abundantlv, because his mercies are great; but where are they who seek to deserve his favour? where are they who strive to be his ministering angels on earth, to dispense blessings around them, for the reason that they have been blessed themselves? who strive to cause many to depart from sin, because they themselves have received light from above, and knowledge  has entered their souls? On the contrary, how apt are we to fancy, in our vain conceit of self-righteousness, that we have done sufficient in every relation of life, that we have given enough away in charity to the poor, that we have conscientiously discharged our duty in spreading the religion of our God among his creatures, that in short we have fulfilled our duty entirely and truly. Hence we cast not a searching look into our conduct; perhaps we are admonished by various accidents, by a casual word of admonition which reaches our ears, that we are defective, radically sinful in our thoughts and deeds; but we speedily apply the soporific of self-deception to our awkward conscience, we succeed in lulling it again to sleep, and fancy that days, weeks, months, and years will still be ours, that at a future period we shall have more leisure and better opportunities, when we will faithfully labour for heaven, after the demands of the earth are satisfied.

But the years we imagine to be in store for us may never be dispensed; our thread of life may be destined to be cut short; and we are then borne hence with all our imperfections unamended, all our sins unatoned for. We fancy that we shall be favoured with the same opportunities, with the same or more extended means to be a blessing to others; but who warrants us that this will be so? Do we not see that health decays in others, so that they are deprived of the power to labour? do we not often witness that the faculties of the wise depart, so that they are not able to afford instruction? do we not often behold riches escaping from the grasp of their possessors, so that they themselves have to depend on the bounty of others? If in pleasures of carnal nature we are anxious to enjoy the moment, because a worldly philosophy teaches us that to-morrow we may die; if in business matters it is the part of prudence not to let the opportunity slip, which favourable circumstances place at our disposal: how much more intent ought we not then to be where it concerns the affairs of eternity? why should I wait to exert myself in the cause of humanity when I have abundant health to­day, whereas this may not be to-morrow? why shall I omit teaching the law of my God, whilst my faculties are unclouded, when I know not how soon my soul may be dark? why should I close my hand to the needy one, my brother, when I am not assured of a continuance of my days of prosperity?—These are all momentous questions, which  cannot force away from the presence of my soul, without incurring the charge of an unwise slothfulness, and an unwillingness to acknowledge my accountability to a higher Power, a Power which is constantly at work in all my concerns, a Power, the watchfulness of which is not withdrawn, no matter where I may be placed, and that I am supervised by an Intelligence which takes cognizance of all my deeds and knows my words and thoughts. And is it not for all that so often witnessed among the sons of man, that their conduct betokens a perfect recklessness of their perishable state? do they heed the admonition which disease, which reverses, which death inculcate, to turn away from the path of worldly vanities to seek refuge in heaven? do they value eternity? do they believe that their soul is to be judged? O it is a fearful thing, that we have to confess that there are many who if they even do not say in their heart, “There is no God,” still act as though to them there was no Supreme, that they themselves alone of all mankind had received a perfect freedom of action, an exemption from visitation for their transgression. But is it well to trust to this security, which nothing in our whole experience permits us to assume as ours? Yea, our house has stood, unmoved for many summers; the snows of a hundred winters shall have descended on our fields, and their fruitfulness not been diminished; but is is this eternity? are we therefore removed from judgment? established in the possession of what we covet beyond the reach of contingencies? Let it have been well with us ever so long; let us have enjoyed without interruption: the days of evil will to a certainty overtake us in common with other men, and perhaps when too late we will discover that we have clung to a shadow, grasped with unappeasable eagerness at vanity, which flitted away and away from our sight, the nearer we imagined we were about securing it unto ourselves for ever.

Especially is such worldliness reprehensible in a child of Israel, in the descendants of those men who were selected as a people of God from amidst other nations, with signs and with mighty wonders. Unbelief must stand rebuked before a perusal of the history of Israel; there is too legibly impressed the finger of Providence, the guidance of our God, who has conducted us through tribulations without number, to bear witness to his divine rule in the world which He created in his superabundant goodness. And  for what was this selection made? was it that we should live at ease? in the enjoyment of all earthly things unrestrained and unrestricted? The very reverse is the case; we received the laws that we might live by doing them, and we were promised blessing if we would abstain from what God had declared unto us to be unclean; our pleasures were circumscribed, and our days of labour were diminished, in order that we might obtain the approbation of the Lord by yielding obedience to his voice. To judge, therefore from the evident tenor of Judaism, it was to be a religion for exalting the standard of humanity, to teach an erring world to seek for happiness in things not pertaining to earth, since in all matters of this nature we were hemmed round with prohibitions which attach not to the followers of other systems; and accordingly we find that the holy men of the Bible always regarded the favour of their God, to be obtained through obedience, as their highest good, they could and did arise superior to the trials of life, and contemplated their end as an approach to their Creator, as a return of a child, after a long journey, to the hospitable home of its parent. And in truth is it not our Father’s house to which we are journeying? and whilst thus on our road, are we not also in His dominions, shone on by His sun, warmed by His heat, refreshed by His light, fed from His abundant store-house? Yes, labour and toil, think and reflect, and what are you without Him? Can you cause a single blade of grass to grow without His helping hand? And yet how very often do you brave his wrath, by refusing to walk in the way He bids you to go! you will strive incessantly to make yourselves great on the earth, without heeding whether you labour within the circle set unto you by the gracious permission of your God; He in His goodness points out the road to salvation, whereas so many hurry away in their waywardness, and heed not the blessed voice which resounds to them in so many ways to return to the safe enclosure whilst life is spared, and they are permitted to earn beatitude through their own acts of obedience. Yes, again and again is this call renewed; as we read in Job 33, “If he prayeth to God, He will be gracious to him, and he will see his face in joy, and render unto man his righteousness. If he hath acted harshly against men, and he saith, I have sinned and perverted righteousness, and it hath not profited me: He redeemeth his soul from going into the pit, and his life will see the light. Behold, all these things God worketh twice, thrice with man, to bring back his soul from the pit, to shine in the light of life.” The light of the land of life, the bond in which the spirit of the righteous is bound up with the Creator, is the ultimate aim of the religion which he imparted to us from the beginning; for that we are told to be obedient, for that we are told to return if we have sinned. No earthly prosperity, you will easily observe, is promised if we amend our course; but that our soul may be redeemed from corruption to shine in the light of true life, a life where the canker worm destroys not the fruits, where no mildew or rot destroys the harvest. And what is all earthly greatness to this glorious end, where the righteous who induced many to seek their God will shine, according to the prophecy of Daniel, like the stars for evermore? where, though all will be blessed, those will be most exalted who have spread according to the gifts imparted to them the kingdom of God! And who is incapable of acting in the premises? where is the humble brother who cannot lead the humble to prostrate themselves at the footstool of grace? The field is indeed ample, the harvest promises the utmost abundance, and the reward is equally certain, even to the extent of the power of Him who asks to follow Him in his ways, to be merciful as He is merciful, to be gracious as He is gracious, to extend truth and righteousness even as He acts towards all his creatures, none of whom are too high to be reached by his power, none of whom are too humble to receive his paternal regard.

These are some of the reflections which have forced themselves upon my mind whilst I was requested to accompany, with a few words, the remains of the departed Israelite which we have just borne to the grave. He had through his conduct obtained the esteem of the citizens of our community, who frequently sought for his advice in public emergencies, and claimed his participation in deeds of charity in the many cases when distress fell upon those who could not help themselves. In our own congregation, he always took an active part, and without saying of the dead a single word of praise beyond the strictest truth, or flattering the living by ascribing to him a merit not justly due, I must say that he was ever proud of being a Jew, and his last wish was that he might be interred as a son of Israel. Let us hope that his descendants, who are numerous in our midst, may be animated by a true spirit of godliness to imitate their parent’s virtues, and to extend the blessings which ample wealth places in their power. Let us hope that they will feel the sacred obligation which rests upon them as Israelites; the duty which is theirs, to honour the memory of their departed progenitor, by a firm adherence to that faith in which they are born, in which he died a firm believer. And upon us all, who are here at this mournful occasion, let it make a lasting impression, that the end of life is death, and that death will bring life if we have lived as becomes servants of the Most High. Thus will this dispensation, which overtook our brother, at the ripe age of more than seventy years, redound to the advantage of all, and we shall be made wiser and better by assembling here upon the field where sleep so many of our nearest and dearest friends, who repose in peace, in life everlasting, according to the will of the Lord of heaven and earth.—And thou, departed spirit, go thou on thy way and arise to unending life amidst the servants of thy God, on the day when He will open the graves of his people and banish death for ever, and wipe away the tear from every face, as He has spoken. Amen.

O Lord our God, the Author of Life, we pray Thee to remember in mercy the spirit of thy departed servant, and grant him heavenly rest in thy presence, with a forgiveness of sin and a pardon of all his transgressions; and let his memorial ascend before thy judgment seat, and say that Thou hast found a ransom; for it is in thy power to save the living and the dead, inasmuch as all the world is Thine, and the graves are open before Thee, and naught can oppose thy will, or say unto Thee, “What dost Thou?” And teach those who now mourn in the bereavement which thy justice has inflicted, to bow with meek submission to thy all-wise decree, and cause them to look up unto Thee for consolation; for Thou alone art our God who comfortest those who are grieved, and raisest up those who are bowed down; and let the event which humbles them be the means to cause them to seek thy favour by an adherence to thy law, that they may be cleansed from iniquity, and become worthy of thy favour, which is life everlasting.

May also our prayer ascend unto Thee for the mourners of all thy people Israel; and let it be thy will to cause thy spirit to breathe a hope of better things into their. souls, that they may be strengthened in Thee, and bear with meek submission the ills which have been imposed upon them; so that purified through the fire of tribulation, they may be cleansed from sin, and appear before Thee on the day of their separation from this life among those whose transgressions are pardoned, whose delinquencies for ever blotted out from the book of remembrance. Do this not for our sakes, but for the sake of thy covenant with our fathers, and for the sake of thy holy name by which we are called. Amen.

Tuesday, Nissan 20th, April 6th, 5607.