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These lines of the poet are not more beautiful than true; nor more applicable to truth and error than to the good and evil influences of men, while the latter are met, and, in a measure, counteracted by the power of the gospel, the former will live with the spread of the gospel and every form of Christian society, when the authors of those good influences slumber in their graves, No marble monument perpetuates the memory of the venerable Genevan Reformer. Even the spot where his ashes repose cannot now be pointed out to the traveller. But where civil liberty exists, where there is a pure and living Christianity, where intelligence and piety pervade the masses of the people, there his influence lives.
III. It is true also that death, in some respects, enhances the influences of the good. There can be no doubt that we have a more vivid sense of the Christian virtues of the dead, and are more ready to acknowledge them, than we are those of equal worth in the living. Qualities of the living, which are merely accidental and superficial, often have the effect, in some degree, to hide from our view the deeper excellencies of their beauty. Deficiencies sometimes mar the beauty of Christian character, and detract from its power over us as a living example. Not unfrequently the piety of the living Christian has to contend with bitter prejudices. It is blackened by the tongue of envy. Besides there are sometimes, even in the minds of good persons, those petty rivalries and jealousies, which operate as a hidrance to Christian influence. But at death, all that is trifling and evanescent pertaining to the Christian, passes away, and the good alone stands out to view. That is a beautiful and benignant law of our nature which leads us to tread lightly on the ashes of the dead. The good had their faults while living, but we forget them, and think only of their virtues when they slumber in death. Even prejudice and envy abate something of their rancor at the grave. In the words of another, "O the grave, the grave! It buries every error, covers every defect, extinguishes every resentment. From this peaceful bosom spring none but fond regrets and tender recollections." Thus death, by removing obstacles in the way of Christian influence actually enhances it. Death, too, tends to recall the memories of the past, and thus gives increased power to Christian influence. Acts of kindness, words of instruction and reproofs, that had long been forgotten, come thronging up from the sepulchre. What increased influence, for example, does the grave give to all the kindnesses, prayers and tears, of a sainted mother. As the child bends over that grave, and weeps there the tears of affection; with what grief does he remember all his unkindnesses to that parent, his disregard of her wishes, disobedience of her commands, his fretful and angry words that have wounded her spirit. He cannot now
breathe the prayer of forgiveness into her ear, nor repay the debt of gratitude he owes her. But his confessions can be poured into the ear of his Heavenly Father. Thus, not a few wanderers have been reclaimed from their sinful ways through the posthumous influence of a pious parent. We can hardly over-estimate the value of that influence, operating not only as a wholesome restraint on men, but also as an incitement to the practice of all that is good. The circumstances attendant on death often give additional force to pious posthumous influence. The chamber of sickness, the bed of death, with its "stifled griefs and noiseless attendants," the pale but expressive countenance, the parting words, the last look of the glazed eye as it turns with lingering affection towards the living, are all remembered, and help to enhance the influence of the dead over us. We sometimes think, too, of the pious dead as constituting, in part, that great cloud of witnesses whom the Apostle speaks of as having an interest in our welfare. And we can adopt the language of the poet:
"Ungrateful shall we grieve their hovering shades,
IV. Moreover, the perpetuity of good influence accords with the revealed purpose of God. The Abrahamic covenant rests, in a measure, on this influence. "I know Abraham, my servant, that he will command his household after him." That household will have been educated under his authority, have imbibed something of his spirit, feel his salutary influence when he is gone; and thus will have chosen the God of Abraham for their portion. It is on the same principle that God fulfills those memorable words of the decalogue, "Visiting the iniquities of the fathers upon the children of the third and fourth generation of them that hate me, and showing mercy unto thousands of them that love me and keep my commandments." When, therefore, God set the solitary in families, and entered into covenant with men as families, he provided for this law of Christian influence in his kingdom. Thus he would increase and perpetuate religion in the earth. Accordingly, piety is in a sense hereditary. It descends as a rich legacy from pious parents to their children. Impiety, too, descends from generation to generation; but not as does its opposite. The one passes on to the third and fourth generation, the other to the thousandth generation. It is true, that depravity is a friendly soil, into which seeds of wickedness fall and luxuriate; but, on the other hand, God, by his providence and word, and Spirit, and that conscience which he implanted in every human breast, is on the side of righteousness, and conspires for its perpetuity. It is worthy of notice, that death never enhances the influences of the wicked. While the righteous shall be had
in remembrance, "the name of the wicked shall rot." They shall be written in the earth. Succeeding waves shall wash out the traces of their work. Time will despoil their monuments. Posterity will weigh their actions, and arrive at a juster estimate of their character. God, too, will counteract their influence. He often sets a mark on the wicked, which warns us to shun the evil of their corrupting influence. Thus, the loathsome vices, the miserable life and death of the infidel Paine, do something to destroy his influence on society. His name, so far from giving currency to his pernicious sentiments, is, to some extent, an antidote to their poison.
V. But the posthumous influence of the good is evident from acknowledged instances of it. Christ's example is an instance of such influence. If it be said he was God, so also was he man. And his example, so far as imitable and influential on us, was that of one who possessed all the innocent infirmities of our nature. But leaving the example of Christ, take that of Paul, who was confessedly an imperfect Christian, not counting himself to have attained. And yet, who can fully estimate the power of his example of faith and devotedness to God on all that have and will come after him. There is no Christian in heaven or on earth, that has not felt its quickening influence. And, to the end of time, it will continue to deepen and diffuse the work of God in the hearts of men. Into how many hearts has his spirit of martyrdom breathed the same noble confession of Christ. Much of the spirit of missions that has ever existed in the church, must be traced to the surviving influence of this one individual Christian.
But, not to dwell on the numerous instances which the Bible affords illustrative of our position, take that of the late Jonathan Edwards. Long since dust returned to dust; but he being dead yet speaketh. His influence lives. We, to-day, feel its power. are different persons in our religious sentiments and moral characteristics, from which we should have been, had that holy man never lived. It would be difficult fully to estimate the degree and extent of his influence on the moral condition of our world, now something over a century since it first commenced. Consider the power of his preaching, the extensive influence of his writings, the effects of his eminent piety on all who have come within the sphere of its influence, contemplate his numerous lineal descendents, most of them pious, and a large number eminent and useful ministers of Christ. Suppose that Edwards had never been converted, and had, consequently, lived and died an irreligious person, how different, and how much worse, might have been the moral condition of our country and the world from what they now are. Then his posterity might have been irreligious, living a worldly life, and leaving behind them a corrupting influence. Then his clear and
searching sermons had never been preached and published; his availing prayers had never been offered; his written life of Brainard had never enkindled and increased the missionary spirit in the bosom of a Mills and a Martyn, and a thousand missionaries scattered over the globe. His writings had never exerted their influence to destroy infidelity, perpetuate a purer form of Christianity, and deepen the work of grace in a multitude of souls. Abstract all the good that has reached our world through the posthumous influence of that one man, and what an amount would you take away. What a frightful chasm would you make in the amount and material of our Christian literature; in the number of churches, ministers and holy men that have lived to bless mankind. What a chasm would you make in the ranks of the redeemed in heaven, and how swell the number of the lost. Now the measure of every good man's posthumous influence, is not that of an Edwards, or a Baxter, or a Payson. And yet, if the surviving influence of these men be greater, it is not more real than that of any good man that has lived a life of faith and prayer and devotedness to God.
1. If what has been now said be true, then, obviously we are under obligation to live for the future. It has been truly said we are the pupils of the past, the teachers of the future. We feel the influence of those whose bodies have long since mingled with kindred dust. We inherit, not merely the possessions of the dead, their dwellings, their lands and property, but, in a sense, also their principles and moral habits, their creeds and their religion, and the future will inherit ours. Can we then, any of us, avoid responsibility in reference to the future. Has any one a right to entail curses instead of blessings on posterity? Or live " creation's blot, creation's blank?"
2. Life is something more than a present experience of good and evil, prosperity and adversity.
"It is not all of life to live."
It passes over in its effects to those that come after us, either for their benefit or their injury. The poet says,
"The evil which men do lives after them,
The good is often interred with their bones."
But neither the good nor the evil which men do necessarily descends with them to the grave. Men of infidel sentiments, through their writings, have exerted an astonishing influence to corrupt society. Voltaire poisoned France with his Atheistic principles, and prepared the way for that Reign of Terror which deluged the land with blood. Nor has his influence yet passed away, or been confined to the limits of that one country. It is
felt in every civilized country on the globe. Even missionaries find his, and other infidel works, in the hands of the heathen, prejudicing them against the truth, and pre-occupying their minds with error. Such is the posthumous influence of one wicked man. "One sinner destroyeth much good."
3. The question arises, how may we so live, that when we have passed away, the influence we shall leave in the world may be a salutary one. I answer, we must live by faith. By faith Abel offered a more acceptable sacrifice than Cain, and by it he being dead, yet speaketh. The faith of the gospel is the most powerful principle that can influence the human heart and conduct. It is the substance of things hoped for. It fills the mind with solemn thoughts of God, of heaven, and of eternity, with its awful retributions
"Wide it unveils celestial worlds,
Where deathless pleasures reign."
What changes of character has this principle wrought in men! When once an individual, with the heart, believes in the Son of God, he is renewed unto holiness. Old things have passed away, and he becomes a new creature in Christ Jesus. A new life begins in the soul. He lives no longer unto himself, but unto Him who died for him. Now, the possession of this principle of faith, is the pre-requisite of a surviving salutary influence. Abraham, Moses, Paul, had it as the controlling principle of their lives. "The life I now live," says Paul," is by faith on the Son of God." My hearers, if you would so live, that the savor of a good influence shall ascend from your graves to bless those that shall come after you, then live by faith. Let the objects of faith-the things unseen and eternal, be felt realities. Faith will alone enable you to rise above the world, and live for God and the good of others. Whatever natural gifts and advantages you may enjoy, however high the station you may occupy in life, however many your charitable and philanthropic deeds, except all are sanctified by faith, you will come short of that high and holy influence, which will ever live to do good in the earth. In the possession of this principle, and the life that must flow from it, you shall find a glorious immortality of being and influence. In the words of another, "Thousands of men breathe, move and live, pass off the stage of life, and are heard of no more." Why? They did not a particle of good in the world; and none were blessed by them; none could point to them as the instruments of their redemption; not a word they spoke could be recalled, and so they perished; their light went out in darkness, and they were not remembered more than the insects of yesterday. Will you thus live and die, O man immortal? Live for something. Do good and leave behind you a monument of virtue that the storm of time can never destroy. Write your name in kindness, love and