Such was the message sent from God to a pious king of Israel. "In those days," says the sacred historian, "was Hezekiah sick unto death. And the prophet Isaiah, the son of Amoz, came to him, and said unto him, "Thus saith the Lord, Set thine house in order; for thou shalt die, and not live." It was a solemn and a startling message. Which one of us could hear without dismay its pointed, pregnant sentence? Upon whose ear that listens to me, upon whose heart that beats before me now could its appalling admonition fall, divinely uttered, and not arouse him by the sense of his immediate danger to the conviction, to the discharge of his immediate duty? Alas, my brethren, it should be, but it is not so. God does so speak to us. The knell of our whole nature rings out continually with the voice of the still eloquent heavens, through all [3/4] the earth, and to the ends of all the world, and there is no speech nor language where it is not heard. There is not a day that does not bring to pass in all our eyes that solemn scripture, "It is appointed unto men once to die." The sentence of old time, "dust to dust," is ever going out against some member of our common family. The poor unprofitable pageantry of some funereal train is passing hourly by, to warn us that we be always ready, to beseech of us with that imploring importunity which the eloquent stillness of the grave so fitly urges that we should up, and set our house and set our heart in order, for we too must die!
Now surely it would seem that of an appointment so momentous, men would, need to be but once, reminded. That the dread secret of their mortality, impacted, to them, once, should haunt with ceaseless constancy their thoughtful breasts. That they would find their sentence legible on every perishing object that besets their path, and hear it in the quick pulsations, of their anxious hearts. But far indeed, from, such an expectation is the fact, that meets, our eye. To look around upon mankind, and mark the cold indifference with which, the most tremendous of all temporal events, is disregarded, without amazement at their, fatal, dulness and stupidity is utterly impossible. An acre of land, or a ship's cargo, or a point of precedence in rank, will engage every affection of the heart, sharpen every faculty of the mind, and put in the [4/5] strain the utmost energy of their whole nature,--forgetful all the while that death may bring the matter in a single moment to an end, and wasting in the profitless pursuits of earth and time, that life which was but lent to them, that they might lay up in it treasures for eternity and heaven. One, in the bloom and fragrance of her sunny youth counts with undoubting confidence that she has yet to pass the summer and the autumn and the winter of her being. Another, in the strength and lustihood of man's estate, thinks not at all upon the subject, or fondly ventures, that, while yet the outworks are so strong, the citadel need apprehend no danger. While, with a third, the machinery of life has run so long without a pause or jar, that all is matter of mere habit, and he notes but little how the springs are wearing and the cords untwining, till by and by the golden bowl be broken and the wheel lie useless by the dusty cistern. Now all this is not, as we have seen, for want of ample warning. There is no page of God's inspired book that does not, like the herald of the old Egyptian kings, proclaim, "O man, remember thou art mortal." There is no line of nature's radiant page that does not bear its testimony to the perishableness of every earthly thing. There is no day that from our side or heart takes not some loved one that we leaned on or that leaned on us. There is no hour that does not throw across our path the darkling shadows of the coffin and the pall. And yet to all these warnings ears are deafened, eyes axe darkened, hearts made [5/6] hard. Almost men flatter themselves that the old serpent spake the truth, "Ye shall not surely die!" At least they will believe that wheresoever else the bolt may fall, it shall not yet come near to them; and boast not only of much goods laid up in store for many years, but many years in store for their possession and enjoyment. Vain-glorious boasters, could the silent coffin find a tongue it would expose the folly of their calculations and the rashness of their confidence! And could its prisoned tenant gain their ears, he would proclaim in tones that must arouse the dullest and subdue the hardest heart, Set thine house in order, for thou shalt die. Dust thou art, and unto dust thou shalt return.
But this is not the end. The soul can never die. The body returns unto the dust whence it came, but the spirit must return to God who gave it. Who can describe the preparation requisite for such an interview! What awful terror at the thought of such a meeting must fill the guilty soul! And with what trembling hope must even the purest spirit prepare to meet its God! All hearts will then be open, all desires be known,--no secrets can be hid. We dare not lay open our whole hearts to the best and dearest of our friends. Nay, we dare not look quite down ourselves into their dark and secret places. And yet they must be all laid open to the All-Seer. Their sinful desires must be disclosed to Him who cannot look upon iniquity without abhorrence. Their shameful secrets all made bare [6/7] before Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell. Brethren, is it not reason that since we must die, and since after death the judgment cometh,--is it not a work of infinite moment, can the longest life be adequate to its discharge,--to prepare to meet our God? And yet, how very little is it in all our thoughts! How faint the influence it exercises on all our lives! We are absorbed in the cares or in the pleasures of the world. Our plans of business are first of all to be pursued. Our purposes of worldly advancement are first of all to be promoted. The air-drawn visions of present enjoyment are first of all to be realized. So wholly occupied with living, what time is left us to prepare to die! So perfectly engrossed with this present world, what room to entertain the thought of that which is to come! The convenient season is still postponed. The creature still retains in our attentions its precedence of the Creator. The things of eternity must still wait until the things of time and sense have been grasped after and exhausted. And by and by we shall be compelled to leap in the dark the gulf that separates the present from the eternal world, and rush with all our sins upon our heads into His presence who will by no means clear the guilty.--My brethren, if of all that have been summoned to that awful presence, one could come back and speak to us, how deep would be his deprecation of this impious, this self-destructive carelessness of God and of soul. Be not yours then, I beseech [7/8] you, such base ingratitude, such miserable folly. While there is time wake to a true sense of your condition and of your danger, of your relation to God, and of your duty to yourselves. Begin at once that preparation for the final audit which the longest life must leave unfinished. By daily and habitual self-examination seek for your last moments the treasure of a quiet conscience, the inestimable possession of that peace of God which passeth understanding. By repentance for every past sin, by a true and living faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, by constant and determined efforts, in the strength of God, of evangelical obedience, so pass the time of your sojourning here, that after death, accepted in the Beloved, you may be forever with the Lord. After death, remember, without time for repentance, or opportunity for change, the judgment cometh* The wicked shall go away into everlasting punishment. The righteous, accepted for Christ's sake, washed in his blood and welcome in his merits, shall enter into life eternal.
The train of these reflections, appropriate at all times, and always incumbent upon us, has been suggested now, you scarcely need be told, by the lamented loss of him whose funeral obsequies we yesterday attended. That venerable man, the patriarch of this our household of the faith, whose honored name, generation after generation, has. given strength and perpetuity to our peculiar institutions, whose presence in this sacred place for nearly four-score [8/9] years has been as constant almost as the preacher's, is gathered to his fathers to be seen no more. The accustomed seat is vacant. The accustomed voice swells not as it was ever wont, full and distinct above the general strain of prayer and praise. His place is with the dead, that sleep beneath us. His fervent tongue shall keep its silence, till it join in light and glory the blessed company of the redeemed, in that eternal song which to the Lamb that took away our sins, forever rises new before the throne. In his lamented death the whole community unites its sympathies with his afflicted family; this congregation feels itself bereaved as of a prudent counsellor, a faithful guardian, a venerated father; I mourn in him, endeared to me by recollections and associations too sacred for expression here; and now, but to be cherished ever in my bosom's inmost core, I mourn in him a kind, a constant, a beloved friend. It will be permitted then, nay, it will be expected, that on this occasion I depart from what has been my custom in this pulpit, and speak by name of Gardiner Greene. And, though the modesty of his respected relatives has preferred not to supply such facts as would enable me to sketch his character at length and in detail, to commemorate briefly but from the heart, those public services, those private virtues, and above all those Christian graces, which rendered him a pillar and an ornament to this community; and especially, so far as it becometh Christians, and is consistent with humanity, the stay and pride of this society.
 The name of Greene is honorably identified with this community. As private citizens and public benefactors, several of those who have borne it will go down to future generations in connection with its most valued and important institutions. The Greene foundation in Trinity Church will stand, I trust in God, so long as time shall last, solid and impregnable, a bulwark of the faith once delivered to the saints.
The subject of our present notice was born in Boston, in the year of our Lord 1753, and though connected intimately, both by business and affection, with other portions of the world, the place of his birth has been chiefly the place of his residence and the place of his pride. An eminent merchant, in a city whose merchants have long been known as princes, the blessing of God upon his singular talents for business, his industry, economy, and perseverance, enabled him early to complete the foundations of a very ample fortune. Pursuing steadily its increase, and following the saying of the wise man, that the hand of the diligent maketh rich, it was no part of Mr. Greene's character to be diligent for himself alone. In the exercise of a constant and generous hospitality, the ready and liberal patron of all enterprises of public improvement or of individual benevolence, and the stay and solace to an extent which none but his own eye and the eye divine were allowed to measure, of a numerous circle of relatives and friends, the time, the [10/11] toil, the talents of Mr. Greene were continually in the service of the public, in the management and advancement of those noble institutions which seek the improvement, promote the comfort, or relieve the infirmities of our nature. I have no data before me from which an accurate statement can be formed. But that magnificent monument of Christian philanthropy, the Massachusetts General Hospital, the Asylum for indigent boys, an humbler but not less laudable labor of love, and the Saving's Bank, a moral engine of incalculable power, shared largely in his interests and efforts, and owed much of their usefulness to the exertion of his rare abilities, and to the exercise of his kind and constant patronage. While in the important charitable foundations connected with Trinity Church, and in the supervision of its temporal interests, he continued to the very last of his nine-and-seventy years to exert himself with the most scrupulous and attentive fidelity, and with an energy, an engagedness, and a zeal which might well put men of less than half his years to shame.
But of the public character of our departed friend, why should I speak to you who have all known him so much longer and so much better? How much you valued his judgment, how much you relied upon his firm and manly devotions to our interests, my eyes have seen, and my ears have heard, and my heart has long responded to [11/12] your fullest tribute of respect and confidence. Nor was the reputation of Mr. Greene for ability, for tried fidelity and unspotted integrity in all private and all public trusts confined to his own city or to his own state. Every where, he was known, confided in, and honored. From such a community the withdrawal of such a man is a great public calamity. For long as our friend lived, he did not survive his usefulness. And the day of his resignation of the responsible station which he held as President of the Branch Bank of the United States was but a few days prior to the day of his decease. May his example be remembered, appreciated, and followed. May younger men emulate his industry, his punctuality, his fidelity. May the possessor of ability, of experience, of wealth, of influence like his wherever found, never be ashamed, never be unwilling, like him to turn aside from the greatest financial operations of the day, to the administration of the temporal interests of the church, whether in her public legislatures or her parochial meetings, to the dispensation of a monthly stipend to cheer the widow's heart, or to supply to the poor orphan boy a parent and a home.
But it was at home,--I tremble when I name that dear delightful word, and shall adventure with no rash foot within its sacred precincts,--it was at home that Mr. Greene appeared in his best aspects. The affectionate husband, the tender father, the [12/13] kind master, the faithful friend, the finished Christian gentleman, courteous, hospitable, always sincere and frank, yet always mild and gentle--these are the lights in which a numerous and exemplary family long felt it their happiness to live; these were the relations in which he attached to him with an affection never surpassed, the inmates of his bosom, the domestics of his household, the friends of his youth, and manhood, and old age; and these are the aspects in which as it was most lovely to behold him, so it is the saddest now to think him as gone from us forever. The secret of the whole was a kind and affectionate heart. In Mr. Greene's disposition love was the prevailing principle. The charity which vaunteth not itself, which thinketh no evil, which is always considerate and kind, ruled in his bosom and was radiant in his life. Let us remember, though it makes us sad to lose him, it is the liveliest evidence to us that while we lose he gains. Well as it fitted him for the intercourse of the earth, it is the indispensable preparation, let none of us forget, for the society of heaven.
Above all, and as the source of all that made him lovely in his life and lamented in his death, Mr. Greene was an humble, devout, and conscientious Christian. His was that true, peaceful and practical Christianity which without noise or pretension pursues in quiet the path of God's commandments, tad relies in humble confidence upon the merits of the [13/14] Son for acceptation with the Father.--At home and abroad, in his public duties and in the devotions of the sanctuary, his light shone before men: not with that fitful crackling flame which attracts most attention from mankind, but with that pure, and mild, and steady lustre which burns the longest and is most acceptable to God. Possessed of abundant wealth he was a pattern of moderation and humility. Confided in and depended on by hundreds, he was meek, gentle, and unassuming. He was forgetful of no propriety and intentionally neglectful of no duty of life. A churchman of the old school, and attached to his principles from his birth, supporting her institutions by practice and by example, he was still kind and courteous to all--and all, whatever were their Christian name, were welcome to his house and heart. In all his engagements he was integrity itself. And the humblest pensioner that received her stipend at his hands was served as faithfully as the Bank of the United States. Whatever he had, whatever he was, he referred explicitly to God, and held it as in trust for him.
In my last conversation with him, the very day before I left the city, he spoke, for he was then very feeble, firmly and cheerfully of his approaching end,--acknowledged with fervent gratitude the goodness of God, which had so richly crowned him with its choicest blessings, and kept him in health and happiness beyond the lot of man,--and humbly but confidently referred his whole reliance to the merits [14/15] of his Saviour. None who knew him will doubt that such was the habit of his life. His going out and coining in among us admits of no distrust of his simplicity and godly sincerity. His religion was of the heart, and it was radiant in his life. His religion was his solace and his joy, and he never was ashamed of it before men. It characterized his social intercourse. It colored, without severity or ostentation, the stream of his conversation. It brought him a constant, a devout, a fervent worshipper to the sanctuary of his God. With the frosts of fourscore winters on his head he still was here. His place was never filled by another when he could fill it, and in the voices of them that offer praise and thanksgiving to God, he never failed to bear his part. You all remember how, less than three years ago, he knelt with youths and maidens to receive from apostolic hands the rite of confirmation, that he might follow the example of his Saviour in fulfilling all righteousness, and be himself an example to all others of humility and piety; while daily as the table of the Lord was spread, he came, obedient to his Saviour's call, an humble, we believe, and faithful, and therefore an accepted guest. We shall miss him from among us. We shall no longer find him by his cheerful hearth. We shall no longer see him in the throng of worshippers. We shall no longer kneel beside him at the holy supper. Blessed be God, we need not sorrow for him as others who have no hope. Blessed be God, we are allowed to think of him as gone [15/16] before, not lost. Weeping relatives, bereaved children, afflicted friends, brethren beloved, one and all, listen as he did to the voice of admonition, Set thine house in order, for thou shalt die. Blessed are the dead--thanks be to God who giveth us the victory through Jesus Christ!--blessed are the dead who die in the Lord, for they rest from their labors, and their works follow them.
NOTES. Note A.
At the annual meeting of the Provident Institution for Savings, in the town of Boston, held at the hall of the United States Bank, December 19, 1832,
After the reading of a letter from the Hon. S. Hubbard, communicating the afflicting intelligence of the death of the President of the Institution,
On motion of the Hon. Mr. Quincy, it was unanimously
Voted, That the Corporation entertain a deep sense of the great loss this Institution and the community have sustained by the death of Gardiner Greene, Esq. who for many years gratuitously devoted himself in the office of its Treasurer, with equal zeal, intelligence, and fidelity to its service, and who subsequently in the office of its President, by the constant and unwearied application of his talents and vigilance has been greatly instrumental in extending a confidence in it, and promoting its best interests and prosperity.
Voted, that a copy of the foregoing Vote be sent by the Secretary to the Hon. Mr. Hubbard. A copy from the Record,
BENJAMIN GUILD, Secretary to the Provident Institution in the city of Boston.
At a meeting of the Directors of the Office of the Bank of the United States, at Boston, Dec. 10, 1832,
The Cashier read a letter from Mr. Greene to the Directors, resigning the Presidency of this office, in consequence of his increasing years and infirmities,
Whereupon the following resolution was on motion adopted.
Resolved, That the Cashier be requested to express to Mr. Greene, the sincere regret of this Board for the continued ill state of his health, which has led to his resignation as President of this Office, and the high sense they entertain of his services and devotion to the interests of the Institution for the nine years last past, during which he has presided over the proceedings of this Board, that their best wishes accompany him, and that it is their desire that he would continue to act as President until the annual appointment of Directors of this Office, which has now been some days delayed, shall be received from the Parent Board. Extract from the Records.
Office Bank U. S. Boston, Dec. 10, 1832.
In pursuance of the order of the Directors, I have now to enclose to you a copy of a Resolution adopted unanimously at their meeting to-day, in consequence of your letter resigning the Presidency of this Office, in the sentiments of which I add my cordial concurrence, and improve the occasion to add my thanks for your kind expressions of regard for myself in the discharge of my official duties, and for the support you have always given me during the term you have had the supervision of the concerns of this office.
The other officers also wish me to make their grateful acknowledgments to you for the kind manner in which you have spoken [18/19] of them, and join me in requesting your acceptance of our respectful and best wishes.
With great respect and regard,
Your obedient servant,
Gardiner Greene, Esq.
Mr. Greene's domestics were always much attached to him.--His man Harry, speaking of him a few days after his death said, "I have lived with him since the year 1784. He has always been kind, and I have endeavored to serve him faithfully--he has been a good husband, a good father, a good friend, and a kind master, and I love him, and shall always love him----"