To a young gentleman, a candidate for the work of the ministry, for whom he had a special friendship; also written at the same time of his great illness and nearness to death in Boston.
VERY DEAR SIR,
HOW amazing it is, that the living who know they must die, should notwithstanding “put far away the evil day,” in a season of health and prosperity; and live at such an awful distance from a familiarity with the grave, and the great concerns beyond it! and especially it may justly fill us with surprise, that any whose minds have been divinely enlightened, to behold the important things of eternity as they are, I say, that such should live in this manner. And yet, Sir, how frequently is this the case! how rare are the instances of those who live and act from day to day, as on the verge of eternity; striving to fill up all their remaining moments in the service and to the honour of their great Master! We insensibly trifle away time, while we seem to have enough of it; and are so strangely amused, as in a great measure to lose a sense of the holiness and blessed qualifications necessary to prepare us to be inhabitants of the heavenly paradise. But oh, dear Sir, a dying bed, if we enjoy our reason clearly, will give another view of things. I have now, for more than three weeks, lain under the greatest degree of weakness; the greater part of the time, expecting daily and hourly to enter into the eternal world: sometimes have been so far gone, as to be wholly speechless, for some hours together. And oh, of what vast importance has a holy spiritual life appeared to me to be at this season! I have longed to call upon all my friends, to make it their business to live to God; and especially all that are designed for, or engaged in, the service of the sanctuary. O, dear Sir, do not think it enough to live at the rate of common Christians. Alas, to how little purpose do they often converse, when they meet together! The visits even of those who are called Christians indeed, are frequently extremely barren; and conscience cannot but condemn us for the misimprovement of time, while we have been conversant with them. But the way to enjoy the divine presence, and be fitted for distinguishing service for God, is to live a life of great devotion and constant self-dedication to him; observing the motions and dispositions of our own hearts, whence we may learn the corruptions that lodge there, and our constant need of help from God for the performance of the least duty. And oh, dear Sir, let me beseech you frequently to attend the great and precious duties of secret fasting and prayer.
I have a secret thought from some things I have observed, that God may perhaps design you for some singular service in the world. Oh then labour to be prepared and qualified to do much for God. Read Mr. Edwards’s piece on the affections, again and again; and labour to distinguish clearly upon experiences and affections in religion, that you may make a difference between the gold and the shining dross. I say, labour here, if ever you would be a useful minister of Christ; for nothing has put such a stop to the work of God in the late day as the false religion, and the wild affections that attend it. Suffer me therefore, finally, to entreat you earnestly to “give yourself to prayer, to reading, and meditation” on divine truths: strive to penetrate to the bottom of them, and never be content with a superficial knowledge. By this means, your thoughts will gradually grow weighty and judicious; and you hereby will be possessed of a valuable treasure, out of which you may produce “things new and old,” to the glory of God.
And now, “I commend you to the grace of God;” earnestly desiring that a plentiful portion of the divine Spirit may rest upon you; that you may live to God in every capacity of life, and do abundant service for him in a public one, if it be his will; and that you may be richly qualified for the “inheritance of the saints in light.”--I scarce expect to see your face any more in the body; and therefore entreat you to accept this as the last token of love, from
Your sincerely affectionate dying friend,
P.S. I am now, at the dating of this letter, considerably recovered from what I was when I wrote it; it having lain by me some time, for want of an opportunity of conveyance; it was written in Boston.--I am now able to ride a little, and so am removed into the country: but have no more expectation of recovering than when I wrote, though I am a little better for the present; and therefore I still subscribe myself,
Your dying friend, &c.