You have often assembled with pleasure in company with your beloved friend and faithful pastor; but that pleasure is over, and you are now met together with very different feelings, to take your last farewell of his remains!
What can I say to you, or wherewith shall I comfort you? The dissolving of the union between near relations, and the breaking up of long and intimate connexions, are matters that must needs affect us. That providence which at one stroke separates a husband from his wife, a father from his children, a pastor from his people, and a great and greatly beloved man of God from all his connexions, cannot do other than make us feel. Indeed we are allowed to feel on such occasions in moderation; at the grave of his friend, Lazarus, “Jesus wept.”
But should we exceed the bounds of moderation, should our mourning under the hand of God border upon murmuring against it or thinking hard of it, there are many considerations that might be urged to alleviate our grief; so many, indeed, that under the heaviest afflictions of the present state we may well weep as though we wept not.
In this instance, we may not only comfort ourselves with the consideration that it is the common lot of men, the greatest and the best as well as others, and therefore no more than might be expected: but with what affords infinitely greater satisfaction—that this lot is a real and substantial advantage to our deceased brother. There is a pleasure even in the very pain that we feel for those who die in the Lord. Our Redeemer has walked the road before us; and, by so doing, has abolished death, and brought life and immortality to light. Where the sting of death is extracted, there is little else but the name, the shadow of death to encounter; and the prospect of a glorious resurrection to eternal life more than annihilates even that. Your husband, your father, your pastor, is not dead, but sleepeth, and his Redeemer will come ere long that he may awake him.
Nor is this all; he lives already among the spirits of the just made perfect. Though the earthly house of this tabernacle is dissolved, yet the inhabitant is not turned out, as it were, naked and destitute;. but has a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. It was that which reduced the apostle to “a strait betwixt two,” having a desire on the one hand to be profitable to the church of God, and on the other to depart and be with Christ, which, so far as concerned himself, was far better. Could we but be governed by faith instead of sense, we should rejoice even while we mourned. What our Lord said to his apostles might be said by his faithful followers to their surviving friends, “If ye loved me, ye would rejoice, because I said, I go to the Father;” and the reason which he alleged, “for my Father is greater than I”—that is, the glory and happiness which my Father possesses, and which I go to possess with him, is greater than any thing I can here enjoy—would also apply to them. To be with our Father above is much greater and better than to be here.
Such considerations as these may moderate our grief, and reconcile us to the will of God: but this is not all; there are other things that require our attention. As the aged and the honourable are called off the stage, there is the more to be done by us who are left behind. God has said to this his servant, as he said to the prophet Daniel, “Go thou thy way;” let another, as if he had said, come and take thy place, and acquit himself as well as thou hast done! Our venerable deceased father had embarked for life, and so have we; he has finished his course, but we have yet to finish ours. We are apt to feel discouraged at the loss of eminent men, and to think the interests of religion, in their particular connexions, must needs suffer, and it may be so; but it may be of use to consider that when Moses died the Israelites were not to stand still, but were commanded to go forward; and it is no small consolation that God’s cause is still in his own hands, “The government is upon his shoulder.”
One thing more deserves our serious attention.—Though the relations before-mentioned are now extinct, yet what has taken place in those relations is not. A great part of the actions of the present life are either those of parents to their children or children to their parents, of husbands to their wives or wives to their husbands, of pastors to their people or people to their pastors, and these are matters that must all come over again. In this point of view, relationship, though of but a few years’ duration, is of the utmost importance; it sows, as I may say, the seeds of eternity, and stamps an impression that will never be effaced!
Consider, dear friends, the events of that relationship which is now dissolved. The various labours of your worthy pastor will not be lost, not even his more private instructions, prayers, and counsels in your families, or his own; they will not return void, but accomplish the end whereunto they were sent. The great question with you is, Does that end include your salvation? Can you look back and bless God for the life which is now finished, as having been a blessing to you? Can you remember the sermon, the visit, the reproof, the warning, the counsel, the free conversation, from whence you began to cry, “My father, thou art the guide of my youth?” Or has this valuable life, which thousands have acknowledged as a public blessing, been nothing to you? You have heard him, and have talked with him, and have witnessed the general tenor of his life, how holily, how justly, and how unblamably he behaved himself among you; and is all of no account? Is the harvest past, and the summer ended, and are you not saved? Alas! if this should be the case with any of you in this congregation, (and it is well if it is not,) you may never have such opportunities again; and, if you should perish at last, the loss of your souls will be greater, and attended with more aggravating circumstances, than that of many others. Those of Bethsaida and Chorazin, who rejected or neglected the gospel, were in a worse situation than even the inhabitants of Sodom and Gomorrah. When the books come to be opened, at the great day, they will contain a long dark list of slighted opportunities, abused mercies, despised counsels, and forgotten warnings!
Dear friends, call to remembrance the labours of your minister, and pray to the Lord that none of these things may come upon you. If any of you have been deaf to the various calls of God during his life, yet hear this one which is addressed to you by his death! If the seed which this dear servant of God has been sowing for nearly forty years among you should yet spring up—if to a future and happy pastor of this church it should be said, in the language of Christ to his apostles, “Another has laboured, and you have entered into his labours“—it would afford us no small pleasure, that would serve to counterbalance the painful providence with which at this time we are afflicted.
Oration delivered at the graveside of Rev. Robert Hall of Arnsby, March, 1791.
Fuller, A. G. (1988). The Complete Works of Andrew Fuller: Expositions—Miscellaneous. (J. Belcher, Ed.) (Vol. 3, pp. 813–814). Harrisonburg, VA: Sprinkle Publications.