David McClure (1748-1820) graduated from Yale in 1769. Though he taught for a time, he was ordained in 1772 and was a missionary to the Delaware Indians for sixteen months shortly after his ordination. McClure was the pastor to a Congregational church at North Hampton (1776-1785) and later a church in East Windsor, CT (1786-1820). He also served as a trustee of Dartmouth (1777-1800). The following sermon was preached by David McClure on the first Sunday in 1799.
Delivered at East-Windsor, first
Society, on the first Lord’s
Day, after the
By DAVID M’CLURE, A. M.
Minister of the Church in said Society
*** The following plain discourse, on an important practical subject, is published at the request of a number of hearers.
Ecclesiastes ix. 10.
Whatsoever thy hand findeth to do, do it with thy might: for there is no work, nor device, nor knowledge, nor wisdom in the grave whither thou goest.
NOTHING is more certain than that man is born to die; yet there is no one important truth, less practically believed!
Altho’ we daily see our fellow men falling around us, victims to death, and mouldering [disintegrating] to dust, it is strange that we who are living are so secure, and unalarmed, and that we do not consider ourselves equally exposed to the arrest of death, as others. “All men think all men mortal but themselves.” Constant experience verifies the solemn truth, THAT MAN’S LIFE IS LIMITED, AND HIS ABODE ON EARTH OF SHORT DURATION. Our life is indeed short compared with the eternal existence on which we must speedily enter. The few days of life, with many, are full of trouble; and all experience more or less sorrow and vexation.
There are a happy few who make the brevity of life, and a preparation for death, the interesting subjects of their daily devout meditation; and earnestly seek for grace, that they may be prepared for a speedy summons from life, and appear with acceptance before God, thro’ the mediation of the great Redeemer. One of the ancient, servants of God, reflecting on the uncertainty and sorrows of life, earnestly prays, “teach us O Lord, so to number our days, that we may apply our hearts to wisdom.” In the right estimation of our days, consists that wisdom by which men are made wise for eternity.
Multiplied and various are the calls which God gives to mankind, by his word and providences, to improve life, in preparation for death and eternal scenes. Among these, let me invite you to the solemn thoughts suggested in the exhortation given by the wisest of the sons of men. “Whatsoever thy hand findeth to do, do it with thy might.”
This life is a scene of labor. We have much to do. And whatever our duty dictates to be done, either of piety and devotion towards God, of goodness to men, or for our own comfort and usefulness in the world, or our eternal benefit beyond the grave; these great duties we are to do with zeal, labor and perseverance. The reason given for the faithful and diligent improvement of life, as a state of labor and probation for eternity, is, that no labor of ours, will avail to secure salvation beyond the grave. There is no DEVICE, nor KNOWLEDGE, nor WISDOM, after this present state of probation is ended, to secure eternal happiness. This life is our only state of trial for immortality. At death, all means of grace will cease, and men will be fixed in a state of happiness or misery, according to their works.
Knowing therefore what our duty is, in the various business of life, and in the momentous concerns of salvation, we are to engage therein willingly, pursue zealously, and finish faithfully, the work assigned us.
Directed by the solemn exhortation contained in the words that have been read, let us,
1. Inquire what we are to do in this life, so as best to answer the end of our creation.
2. Consider particularly the great motive suggested in the text, to hasten our preparation for death and eternity, which is, that this life is our only state of probation for that life which will never end.
1. We are to persevere in the ways of WELL-DOING. All evil doing, either the omission of duty or the commission of sin, is most strictly forbidden.—Whatever our hand findeth to do, in ways of obedience to the divine authority, we are to do with our best ability, and that perseveringly, and to allow no temptation to draw us into sin. The Most High assured Cain, that if he had DONE WELL, he would have been accepted; and if he did not well, but ill, sin lay at the door. The exhortation to do with our might, what we do, is to be understood of well-doing only. The divine law condemns all those evil doings of men which are dishonorable to God, or injurious to men. It condemns all profanation of the name of God, his holy word and ordinances. It condemns the works of unrighteousness, dishonesty, fraud and violence towards any; the indulgence of the vices of intemperance, sensuality, covetousness and every work that is opposed to the purity of the gospel. Multitudes of our fellow men do the works of sin and disobedience to God, with all their might, and turn not from the wickedness which they have imagined to do. They pervert the end of their creation, and prepare for themselves an aggravated condemnation. The important duties which we are to do in a preparation for death and eternity, do not forbid or interfere with those social and relative duties and labors which we owe to mankind and ourselves. These are important ranches of well-doing. The business of both worlds, the present and the future, may be conducted without interference. The person who is wise for eternity, will be careful to perform the duties of the present life. “Diligent in business, fervent in spirit, serving the Lord.” He will do everything in its proper time and place, so far as he has ability and advantages.
The confident Christian will be anxious to fulfill the duties, which he owes to others, as well as to himself. He will be sober, diligent and faithful in his calling; just and merciful to all men. As becometh a good soldier of Jesus Christ, he will be vigilant and fixed in his post. Not unstable or wavering; but established in his principles, and persevering in duty. The duties which he owes to parents, to children, to the poor and afflicted, to government, to society, to religion and sacred ordinances, he will faithfully and cheerfully perform.
Men are to do with their might their whole threefold duty to God, to man, kind and themselves. The duties which men owe immediately to God, essentially consist, in a cordial and perpetual obedience to his will, and dedication of themselves to him, whose absolute property they are. This is the first and great commandment: “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God, with all thy heart, and with all thy might, and with all thy mind.”
2. We are to live under an habitual, and impressive sense of dependence on GOD, and accountableness to him. So to do, in the sense of scripture and agreeably to its familiar language, is, “to walk with GOD.” He who habituates himself to meditate on God as a present witness, and righteous Judge, and his only portion and happiness, will feel a most powerful motive to well-doing, and an effectual restraint from all voluntary evil, in thought, temper and behavior.
3. Men are penitently to confess to GOD their offences, and implore his merciful forgiveness. By nature we are enemies to GOD and to holiness, and prone to sin. Influenced and governed by a depraved principle, they fall under the guilt and condemnation of GOD’s holy law; and laboring under a moral inability, to adopt of themselves a pure principle, they are wholly dependent on grace. And that grace which changes the heart, and turns the soul to GOD, he is ever ready to give to him, who is deeply convinced of sin, of righteousness and of the judgment to come.
Renouncing dependence on ourselves, we are with all the heart, to trust in JESUS CHRIST, “the Lord our Righteousness, who hath loved us, and given himself for us.” By sincere repentance, a cordial faith in Jesus Christ and persevering obedience to his gospel men are to secure a good hope of eternal life. “Whoso confesseth and forsaketh his sins shall find mercy.” Divine assistances are given to men to convince them of the justice of the law, and the grace of the gospel; to prepare their hearts to seek after God, and lead them to the Saviour.
In the performance of the duties which men owe to one-another, they are to have respect to the divine authority. It is this principle which will make the charities and good deeds of the righteous, accepted at the day of judgment. This is implied in the favorable sentence of our final Judge, “inasmuch as you have done it unto one of the least of these, my brethren, ye have done it unto me. From a principle of love and loyalty to JESUS CHRIST, the accepted Christian will do good to men. He will be just and merciful, knowing, that “if he forgives not men their trespasses, neither will his father in Heaven forgive his trespasses.”
The duties which men owe to themselves, they are to do with sincerity and purity. To cultivate the Christian (graces) and virtues, the habits of sobriety, temperance and the government of the appetites and passions; mortified to the (vanities) of the world and every lust.—Man’s threefold duty, is comprised by the apostle, in his direction to Christians, to live soberly, righteously and godly, By sobriety, we are taught the duties of temperance and self-government; by righteousness, the duties we owe to men; and by GODLINESS, those duties which are due immediately to God. This is the whole duty of man: and these duties we are to do, with all our might, in the best and most perfect manner, and which we are capable, as rational, immortal and accountable beings.
2. To the consideration of the powerful motive, so to do, even that this is our only state of trial, for death and the judgment.
“There is no device, nor knowledge nor wisdom in the grave.” This life is man’s harvest-season for eternity. His labor to obtain salvation, will cease at death. This, our Lord hath taught us by precept and example; saying, (“He) must work the works of him that sent me while it is day: the night cometh when no man can work.” We have a great work to do, and a short time to do it. “For we must all appear before the judgment seat of CHRIST, to give account of all things done in the body,” and to receive an eternal sentence. This life is the commencement of an existence which will never end. Our [ineligible] began a few years past, and will never cease; tho’ the body dies, the soul lives, and God has made it immortal.—Most powerful are the motives, which urge and impel us to improve life, in a preparation for that never ending existence; for
1. Death is near. It is nearer than we are aware. Persons in the possession of health know not why they are more exposed to die at the present moment that the past, and flatter themselves with the sure prospect of living many years. But death arrests men suddenly and unexpected. “It is appointed to man once to die;” and the time when, is wisely and kindly concealed from us, that the uncertainty may excite us to be always ready. The body composed of perishable materials, is continually liable to unknown accidents and death. When we look forward to future life, we view the time long; but in the retrospect, our life appears to have passed hastily away. We are deceived in our expectation of the length of time allotted us, to do the business of life, and prepare for eternal scenes. The sacred scriptures warn us of this deception, and in lively figures shew us, how short and vain our life is. It is compared to things of swiftest motion, and shortest duration. To the arrow that cuts the yielding air; to the swollen stream that rushes down the precipice, bearing all before it; to the ship that swiftly passes over the ocean; to the shuttle that flies through the loom; to the eagle that darts upon his prey; to the green and short-lived grass; to the flower which flourishes a moment and dies.
We are speedily brought to the utmost verge of life, and to the boundless shores of eternity. When our departing spirit shall stand upon the narrow isthmus, which separates time from eternity, and look forward to the endless prospect , how short and trifling will the time that has passed appear! And of how small account the cares and amusements of this fleeting world! No part of life will then appear of value, but that which has been spent in wisdom’s ways.
2. We are faithfully to improve life, to do the works assigned us, because after death, a judgment will be passed upon us. What makes life of value to us, is its connection with our future existence; for then a sentence will be pronounced upon us, either of acceptance to endless joy, or banishment to endless sorrow. After death it will be well with the righteous; but it will not be well with the wicked. Then to each candidate for eternity it will be said, either, “well done good and faithful servant;” or, alarming thought, “depart ye workers of iniquity!” At the resurrection, this sentence will be confirmed with circumstances of inconceivable happiness to pious men, and of misery to the wicked; when “they that have slept in the dust of the earth shall arise, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt.”
3. We are faithfully to improve life, because the promises of grace to obtain salvation, are limited to the present state. By all the descriptions given in the sacred scriptures of a future state, this solemn truth is established, that the time of the sinner’s preparation for eternity, and obtaining the great salvation, is confined to this life and world. It cannot be fairly deduced from the general tenor of revelation, that gospel sinners, living and dying in an unholy state, will have another time of trial; or that the punishment of Hell will be disciplinary.—The opposite of this, is repeatedly asserted. It is this consideration that makes time, of such vast moment to men.—This, sirs, should excite our just fears, lest we be found in the unhappy number of misimprovers of that grace, and those means of salvation, which our merciful God now gives to men. How shall we escape if we neglect so great salvation.”
Thus have we taken into consideration, the salutary and solemn exhortation, TO DO with all our MIGHT the various work and labor, which God has assigned us in this life. That we are to be diligent in well-doing, in the conscientious and faithful performance of our whole three-fold duty, to God, to mankind and to ourselves: That we live under an habitual and impressive sense of dependence and accountableness to God: that we penitently confess to God our sins, and implore his merciful forgiveness, thro’ Jesus Christ his son, our Almighty Redeemer: that we believe in Jesus Christ, and live in new obedience to his gospel: that we are to do these works, and obtain this grace, because a judgment for eternity will be passed upon us, when we leave the world.
Some improvement will conclude.
1. We infer the duty and necessity of laboring to obtain an interest in the kingdom of Heaven, and to be accepted in JESUS CHRIST, that it may be well with us at death, and after death. Let me endeavor to bring this solemn subject home to your thoughts.
The different conditions of men in the future world, will be occasioned by sin and holiness. Heaven is a holy place to which without holiness, none will be admitted. Hell is a world of sin, to which the enemies of God will be doomed.
Constant experience, and the word of the eternal JEHOVAH, unite to assure you of the approach of death; and you must be rationally convinced of the importance of a preparation. For in the grave, the precious advantages now enjoyed, will be no more repeated. If, sirs, any of you will not be persuaded to attend to the calls of the word and spirit of GOD, in this state of your trial for eternity, can you expect to find in the world of misery, a more favorable season, or more suitable means? Must you not rationally conclude, that if it is the purpose of GOD, that sinners should come to the knowledge of the truth, and be saved, that he would afford them the most suitable and persuasive means and advantages to obtain in this life? Why should other or better means be denied to men here, if other or better means are possible? Defer not then to a future period, or to a future state, the great work of salvation, “for NOW is the accepted time, and NOW is the day of salvation.”
Every moment brings you nearer to the eternal world. Are you prepared for your final summons? Instances of mortality around you are often repeated. The young, the gay and thoughtless as well as the aged, are called away. Neither the vigor, nor the strength of youth, can ward off the shaft of death. Let every moment be improved in wisdom’s way’s, and in hastening a preparation for that world, to which the immortal spirit will be introduced, on its leaving the body. Thousands have lost Heaven by delay. In youth they have deferred the work of preparation to some more convenient season, which alas, they have never found. Now sirs, is the best, best because it may be the ONLY time. Many think little of a preparation, until sickness arrests them. But wise and happy is the youth, who in the days of health, and bloom of life, remembers GOD his Creator, and his merciful Redeemer. Early piety lays a good foundation for a useful life, for comfort in age, and support in death.—Your time, my fellow immortals, will speedily come, you know not but it will be this night. Should you die in an un-renewed state, how dismal must be your prospects, when your unwilling soul is about to take its departure into the world of spirits, to appear before GOD, your righteous and injured Judge!
Reflect a moment on your present state and danger. Let the text remind you that you are now on your way to death and the grave. “The grave whither thou goest.” It is not a peradventure, whether you will go there at all, or will go at some future period; but you are now on your way to that dark and narrow house, appointed for the living. That you may arrive there, and find it a peaceful rest, let me invite you to JESUS CHRIST, who hath said, “He that believeth on me tho’ he were dead, yet shall he live: and he that liveth and believeth on me, shall never die.”
A weighty motive, urging us to a diligent improvement of our time to prepare for death and eternal scenes, is, “that another year of our short and fleeting life is passed and gone.” And thro’ the good hand of God upon us, we are now entering on the threshold of a NEW YEAR. But who can assure himself that he shall see the end of it? How many have been arrested by the arm of death the year past?
God has loudly called us to prepare to meet him, in the return of mortal sickness, with which some of our populous towns have been visited. While we sympathized with our afflicted brethren under the awful scourge, his goodness spared us, and favored us with uncommon health. In the healthiest seasons, our acquaintance and dear friends leave the world. “There is no order in death,” and every age and condition of life, have abundant admonitions of his approach. This year, no doubt, some of us will be carried to our long home. It is the wise beforehand to be prepared for the solemn moment. To the sinner it will be a day of darkness and gloominess; but to the sincere Christian it will be a good day; the termination of all his sorrows, and the commencement of a happy eternity. Since we, my brethren, both preacher and hearers, have around us, and within us, daily admonitions of our approaching dissolution, let us be stirred up to give diligence to make our calling and election sure: that supported by that grace which God, the father of mercies, gives to every humble soul, we may meet our summons without terror or surprise; and be supported in death, by the gracious promises and presence of our Almighty Redeemer.
The word of God, speaks only of a blessed or miserable eternity. Heaven or Hell, sirs, are before us, and to one or the other, our immortal spirit must go. By sin we are condemned to the world of sorrows; but thro’ the abounding grace of God, may obtain the Heavenly world. How ought we then to improve every moment of time to “escape the wrath to come, and lay hold of eternal life!”
The best preparation for Heaven, is a conformity to God in holiness”—Let us strive to be holy, that our minds may be Heavenly. And may we be prepared for our departure, should it be THIS YEAR, or this day; and “stand with our Redeemer at the latter day, upon the earth.”
In “our hope towards God, that there shall be a resurrection, both of the just, and of the unjust, let us be faithful unto death,” and then we shall with joy, hail the happy morning of the resurrection, and see the face of our judge in peace.
* Originally published: Dec. 26, 2016.