Naked to Return

In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread, till thou return unto the ground; for out of it wast thou taken: for dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return.
~ Genesis 3:19

For when he dieth he shall carry nothing away: his glory shall not descend after him.
~ Psalm 49:17

As he came forth of his mother’s womb, naked shall he return to go as he came, and shall take nothing of his labour, which he may carry away in his hand.
~ Ecclesiastes 5:15

Then shall the dust return to the earth as it was: and the spirit shall return unto God who gave it.
~ Ecclesiastes 12:7

For we brought nothing into this world, and it is certain we can carry nothing out.
~ 1 Timothy 6:7

But he said unto her, Thou speakest as one of the foolish women speaketh. What? shall we receive good at the hand of God, and shall we not receive evil? In all this did not Job sin with his lips.
~ Job 2:10

Every man also to whom God hath given riches and wealth, and hath given him power to eat thereof, and to take his portion, and to rejoice in his labour; this is the gift of God.
~ Ecclesiastes 5:19

Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and cometh down from the Father of lights, with whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning.
~ James 1:17

The Nakedness of Job, by Jonathan Edwards.

Naked came I out of my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return thither.
—Job 1:21 a-c

We have an instance in this chapter of one of the greatest men in the world, in the most prosperous worldly estate and condition, brought to be externally one of the meanest of men; brought from seven thousand sheep, and three thousand camels, and five hundred yoke of oxen, and five hundred she-asses, and a very great household, all at once—to nothing at all, as poor as the meanest beggar: a most remarkable instance of the vanity of worldly honor, riches, and prosperity. How soon is it gone and lost; how many hundred, yea thousands of accidents, may deprive the most prosperous of all in a little time, and make him most miserable and forlorn!

Here is a man that sat like a king and dwelt as a prince, but, as yesterday and today, is become a miserable and forlorn beggar. Before the messenger had finished his bad news, another came with more of the like upon the back of it. First, he has the news of his servants’ being killed and his oxen and asses being taken, as you may see in the fourteenth and fifteenth verses; but before he had done telling this sad news to Job, there comes in another and brings him tidings that fire from heaven had burnt up all his sheep, and servants that kept them; and before he had done speaking there comes in another, and tells him that the Chaldeans had carried away all his camels and killed his servants; and before he had done, there came another with the yet more dreadful news that his children were all suddenly killed, as they were feasting together in their eldest brother’s house.

And in what circumstances is this man that just now was one of the richest men in the world brought to. Now most of the readers here this remarkable history will doubtless acknowledge that—if such a catastrophe was to happen to every man’s estate, it would be enough quite to wean him from the world. Almost every man will doubtless say that if they knew they should lose all their great estate and be deprived entirely of all their outward prosperity, as Job was—they would entertain no thought of striving and laying themselves out for a estate in the world—seeing them I certainly in this manner, be deprived of it. And they know not how soon. If it were so men would not be so eager in earnest after riches, but would strive only for that they could not be deprived of. All would grant that it would not be worth a while to do more. But we may speak of it not only as a thing supposed, but as a thing that shall certainly be. For thus, every man, however rich, shall certainly be deprived of all of its goods—whether sheep or oxen, or camels are assets are servants or children. They shall be deprived of them as much as Job was, and they know not how soon. Perhaps when you read the history of Job you read that it is a strange thing that happened, but once in the world. But for the time to come, these are things that happens daily and frequently. For every man at death is as much deprived of all of his worldly goods, as Job was. The great men in the world as kings, princes and lords—when they die, are as much deprived of all their outward prosperity, as Job was. To have lost all at once and gone forever, never to be possessed more. Job’s losses came indeed suddenly, in a little time when messengers came after another, in a very strange manner. But the dying man is deprived of all of its external prosperity and worldly good at once. It’s one breath, even his last breath. This history of Job is only a shadow of death. It is no more than what happens to every man in the world. This poverty, that Job was reduced to, puts in mind of death—of which this was a shadow, whereby he and all men must be stripped of all the things in return. Possess the nothing into the earth from whence they come. It also reminds him of the state he was born in, how he was born, naked and helpless, having nothing and depending entirely on others. Job, of the news of his losses, shaved his head and rent his mantle—it is said in the verse. So that now he has become literally and properly naked. Is this also helped to put him in mind of the estate he was born in, and of the estate he must die in. The three useful doctrines may be deduced from the words—

1. That we bring nothing of our own into the world with us. By coming naked from our mother’s womb, can’t be meant only that we come unclothed—but we come poor, miserable, helpless creatures without either power, or possession, spiritual or temporal. So that hereby we are taught that all we receive, we received from God because we bring nothing with us. This appears to be Job’s meaning—by this improvement Job makes of it in the ensuing part of the verse: the Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away, blessed to be the name of the Lord.

Secondly—

The second doctrine is that the earth is a common mother of mankind. Job says, he came naked out of his mother’s womb, and he shall return naked into his mother’s womb again. What mother’s womb she’ll Job return into again, but the bowels of his mother earth out of which every man is made. Our bodies are made of the substance of the Earth as appears because when the body is rotten, it returns into the substance of the earth. God says to Adam, dust thou art, and then to dust out shall return. God was Adam’s Father in the earth was his mother, and by the same mother, out of whose bowels we come, and we nourish of her breast. For a man lives by what he digs out of the earth by tillage. Now this doctrine in the consideration of our mean original out of the earth ought to teach us humility, and so submission to God’s will in all dispensations. The wise man would have us to see that we are but beasts. What shall man whose body is made out of the ground, be proud of that body—whether of its beauty or its riches or honor? Or shall man that is made out of Earth proudly insult one another, for who makes us to differ from others? We are all born of the same mother earth and thither shall we all return, Ecclesiastes 3:18-20. To this use, it is that Job improves it, to teach him submission under God’s hand. That he, who is made out of the earth as well as the meanest beggar, ought not to murmur when his estate is made as mean and low as their’s. The last doctrine upon which we shall at this time insist is this: when man dies, he is forever stripped of all earthly enjoyment. This must be what Job means when he says, that naked shall I return that there again. That he should return to the earth stripped clean of all manner of worldly goods and possessions. This doctrine is full of useful improvements, and is plain and certain. And needs little proof or explanation. All the world knows the truth of this doctrine perfectly well. But though they know it, yet it doesn’t seem at all real to them. For assuredly if it seemed a real thing to them, that in a little time they must certainly have no more to do with the world, they would certainly act wholly otherwise, and they do. We very much need to be put in mind to the things. Wherefore, my business at this time is only to jog our memories. For we cannot think too often of our latter end. There are these two things implied in the doctrine.

First, that man when he dies, can carry none of these earthly things out of the world with him.

Second, that he shall never enjoy any more of the like nature.

First. Man, when he dies can carry none of these earthly things out of the world with him. If he possesses all the riches of the Indies, and governed the largest empire in the world, and the lives and fortunes of all men upon earth in his hands. Yet when death comes, he will strip them as naked as he was born, and will carry him out of the world with no more in his possession and the meanest beggar. Death serves all alike. As he deals with the poor, so he deals with the rich. He is not awed at the appearance of a proud palace, a numerous attendance or a majestic countenance. (He) pulls the king out of a throne and summons him before the judgment seat of God. With a few compliments and as little ceremony, as he takes a poor man out of his cottage. Death is as rude with Emperor’s as with beggars, and handles one with as much gentleness as the other. They are all alike and death territories one is no richer, no more honorable than another in the grave—Job 3:14-19,

With kings and counsellors of the earth, which built desolate places for themselves; Or with princes that had gold, who filled their houses with silver: Or as an hidden untimely birth I had not been; as infants which never saw light. There the wicked cease from troubling; and there the weary be at rest. There the prisoners rest together; they hear not the voice of the oppressor. The small and great are there; and the servant is free from his master.

Death, when it comes into kings’ courts to perform his office, to fetch away kings and princes that used as it were to roll themselves and millions of money, and drown themselves in pleasure, to carry them into the other world. He rents them away by force from all of their money, and from all of his pleasure. He will not allow him to carry away so much as one farthing out of all of his shining treasures, forever shuts him out from any more earthly pleasures. His time for those things is ended. A poor creature, one drop of blood would be better than all—the least spark of true grace would be preferable to his kingdom.

Second. Man, after death, shall never more enjoy anything of the nature of these earthly things. He not only leaves all these goods and possessions in this world, but he shall never find any more such like possessions. Never leaves house and land in one world, to inherit the like in another. Never when he leaves his bags of silver and gold here, to receive the like treasure elsewhere. No, but when once the soul has departed this life he leaves all such like things to all eternity. He shall never fix his eyes on things, anything like these anymore at all. He is gone. He has taken a final farewell of all things of an earthly human appearance. He shall never any more be pleased with eating and drinking. Nevermore have the pleasure of conversation of terrestrial friends. If ever they enjoy any pleasures after death, and be not fixed and eternal misery, they will be quite of another nature—exceeding different from them. The pleasures of another world are spiritual pleasures. The possessions are spiritual possessions, and the food is spiritual food without any gross mixtures of flesh or earth. As for the body, they will be in a condition and capable of all enjoyment, as much as any common lump of clay. It shall be shut up in the silent grave and quickly molder away to dust—and then of what advantage will pleasures, profits and honors be to that. What does the dead body of a king better for is having ruled a large and opulent kingdom, for has having been honored and respected in the world. For its once having been decked with jewels of gold and precious stones. And as for the soul, the souls of the godly shall be brought to those enjoyments that are purely spiritual—Jesus Christ will be to them riches, honors, pleasures, and friends and all things, and they shall forever feed on him as a food of eternal life. And as for the souls of the wicked, their dwelling place will be the lowest hell, where there is weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth, and blackness of darkness forever. Instead of their former central pleasures or anything like them, they shall feel incessant terrors. Instead of their married conversation, he will have fury surrounding them, tearing and tormenting them instead of eating and drinking, chambering and wantonness, rioting and drunkenness. They shall drink the dregs of the cup of God’s fiery vengeance, and shall roar out for ever being enwrapped in eternal flames.

Application I.

Use for information.

From this doctrine, we may be instructed and informed that earthly riches and pleasures are not true riches and pleasures. Now all the worlds of good and bad are seeking after riches and pleasure. No man is to be blamed for seeking to be rich or thirsting for pleasure, so that it be for true riches and true pleasure. But here’s the case, some men are fools and pursue after shadows of riches and shadows of pleasures—that the devil represents to them instead of the substance. And there are about a few that distinguish themselves from the common herd of human beasts. Or rather beastly men by seeking for true riches and true pleasures. Now earthly riches and pleasures cannot be the true riches and pleasures, because they presently leave us disappointed and ashamed, and we can never obtain them more. These riches, which so suddenly leave us, cannot be called true riches any more than a shadow of a man that vanishes away, as we attempt to lay hold of them, can be called a man. Neither can those vanishing pleasures be called true pleasures, anymore than the pleasure of a dream that leaves a man of sorrow as ever when he awakens. The best locks and keys will not keep a man silver and gold for him when he dies. He cannot hold it, as all slips between his fingers. Now that is true riches that will stick by one, that there is no danger of losing, that one can hold by assured tenor in spite of death, and all the world and that is a true pleasure, whose delights never cease, and not that short seventy years dream that returns no more to all eternity.

Second. Hence we have learned that we are not made for an earthly happiness. God certainly never made man for that sort of happiness which he cannot hold. He was never made for that happiness, which almost as soon as enjoyed flies from us, and leaves us disappointed. If this is the highest happiness we were made for, that happiness that would be unavoidably accompanied with those disappointments and frustrations that do more than counterbalance it. If we were made for this happiness, it would be our greatest wisdom to set our hearts upon it. For it is our wisdom to set our hearts upon that which we are made for. That is the case now stands so more we set our hearts on those things, the more troubling vexation and the less satisfaction that we find in them. This a wise he has plainly saw, and for that reason, taught it as a great part of the wisdom of man to abstract thoughts and affections from all earthly things. Though they had no other knowledge of a future happiness than what naked reason taught them. Even they discovered so much unsatisfactoriness and vexation of these enjoyments that many of them of their own choice, sequestered themselves from the things, and deny themselves even the common comforts of life.

Application II

Of exhortation.

Not to use the things as if we were to carry them out of the world with us.

Worldly things are most commonly so used. The children of men are so full of madness and folly is to love the things as much, instead as much by them and rejoice the attainment of them, and mourn for the loss of them, as much as if they were to enter here to all eternity. Or is if the acquisition or loss of them affected their eternal state. Now what madness and folly is it so to do. Such persons only make to themselves torment and vexation when there is no need of it. They fill themselves with the tormenting fears of death and which they must leave the things that they so dearly love. And when the time comes, that they must be rent away from them, how does it even tear their very heartstrings to be violently separated from that, to which they cleaved, and even grow so fast to. Whereas those that don’t set their affections upon them are easily separated from them. What folly is it for a man when he finds something that pleases Him that He can enjoy but for a few moments, to please themselves with it as if it were to possess it always. And then when it is taken from him, he is left disappointed and ashamed. They that would not be a torment to themselves here and lay up torment for a deathbed, must follow the apostle’s direction First Corinthians 7:29-31,

But this I say, brethren, the time is short: it remaineth, that both they that have wives be as though they had none; And they that weep, as though they wept not; and they that rejoice, as though they rejoiced not; and they that buy, as though they possessed not; And they that use this world, as not abusing it: for the fashion of this world passeth away.

Such as a folly of this world—they pursue violently after the world, slave and tire themselves for a little of it, are exceeding anxious and careful about it. Their minds are possessed with care and anxiety. They undergo abundance of difficulties for it and will often violate their consciences disobey their God and go very near hellfire—so nearest to scorch them come so near to the pit that their feet are every moment ready to slip. When they lose the world, they mourn as if they had met with a loss that is impossible should be repaired, either in this world or the next. And when they have gotten a little of the world, they pleased himself with the thoughts of it as much as if they were sure they can never lose it, neither by death or otherwise. And then as soon as they’ve gotten a little of the world into their hands, death comes and lays hold of them and hails them away from an all—naked and stripped of everything into a state as seldom as never thought of. Before, they were careless and at ease as if death were not want to come into their parts of the world. But now they’re in the greatest confusion imaginable. Now they see and tremble. Now they are not in the better for all their prosperity. Now they mourn because they must leave their beloved estate, and must not carry any of it with them. How they wish they had not been so worldly, and had taken a little more pain for that which will stand by them. Thus, the fools of this world act. But as for the wise man, he will not be a self-tormentor. He neglects and despises the world, and cares little for it. For he knows that can last about a little while. And if he could keep it forever, it would do him little good. Wherefore he seeks out for something better, that he doesn’t fear losing. And then when death comes, he smiles in his face and says, O, death! Where’s your sting? O grave, where is your victory?

Exhortation.

2. Let all set themselves with the greatest seriousness and diligence to make sure of goods, that death is not able to deprive them of. Every man knows he shall die, he cannot be ignorant of that. But yet they set themselves to the violent pursuit of earthly things as vigorously, and about heavenly things, if at all, as negligently and remissly, as if they were going to remain here forevermore, just as if they had made a league with death and a covenant with the grave. Just as this they secretly hope that although everybody else died, yet, they might be an exception from the general rule. Their strange folly is excellently represented in Psalm 49, verse 11 a,b,

Their inward thought is, that their houses shall continue for ever, and their dwelling places to all generations.

How many men are so foolish, who inwardly to entertain this foolish thought. Not that any or so void of all sense, and reason to think they shall never die, when they really seriously think of it. But there is a thing they sell them think of it. It hardly ever starts into their thoughts. It is but a little while, and I must die and never live heremore. They very seldom think, where and how and what their bodies will be a few years from now. They’re now in life and health, stirring and moving about the world amongst the rest of the crowd of mankind. But they little think how on a little time they must live buried in the ground in the dark, still and silent grave—rotting and putrifying, loathsome and filthy by degrees turning to dust, and none taken notice of them. Their flesh by degrees, rotting off from their bones, leaving nothing but the ghastly skeleton. They know all this, but when do they seriously think of it? They continue to act just as if they intended to live upon this earth always. And it is but seldom, they seriously think otherwise. Surely if they did, they would be something concerned about something else, than how to live prosperously here. The question, ‘what shall I do to be saved’ would be more frequently asked than it is. They know that in all former generations that used to make the greatest stir in the world as they, are gone. They have no more to do here. They make no more noise in the world. They are no more seen walking about and taking pleasure in earthly things. Zechariah 1:5,

Your fathers, where are they? and the prophets, do they live for ever?

Be persuaded for your own safety to look a little forward and be concerned about your welfare in an age hence. And not only what you shall eat and what you shall drink and were with all shall you be clothed. For that little time you are to remain here, frequently ask yourself the question what you intend to do if death comes and summons you out of the world, and from all your earthly good things. If you are not prepared to die, you cannot resist a summons—none are able to grapple with the King of Terrors. When death comes he will hail you from all your dear enjoyments—whether you will or not. Never to set your eye on those things more. And as there will be no encountering death, do neither will there be any intriguing it. He’ll not be wrought upon by cries and tears, and is altogether inexorable. He’ll not wait for you one minute, that you may have a little opportunity to better be fitted and prepared to go with him.

Consider whether you are now in such a state that you need not fear to meet death, if he should come immediately, should you meet him with terror and horror under dreadful apprehensions of going into another world, and leaving all the things, forevermore? Or should you be able to look him cheerfully in the face, knowing that although you must be stripped of these enjoyments, yet death cannot take from you your heavenly happiness—knowing that although he takes you away from your earthly possessions, he cannot deprive you of your heavenly inheritance. Though he takes you from your earthly friends, yet he is not able to separate you from your heavenly Father, nor from Jesus Christ, a spouse and bridegroom of your soul. How would it be with you if Death could not lay hold of you. Would he find you asleep or diligent at your work with your loins girt and your lamp, burning.

Do you live circumspectly and watchfully, and keep the commands of God—as strictly as if he knew death would seize you tomorrow. Let all examine themselves and know whether they use this world just as if they were to carry their earthly enjoyments into the other world with them, or whether they sit in their heart chiefly on things which are not seen, and let all be exhorted to apply themselves immediately to the preparations for eternity. Set about it with the greatest seriousness and diligence, with the utmost vigor and most fixed resolution. For such things that concerns of eternal happiness or eternal misery, are not to be trifled with, nor to be trusted to a mere per adventure. For what shall it profit you have you gain the whole world, and lose your own soul?

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