BY THE AUTHOR OF
"AGNES AND THE LITTLE KEY."
[Transcriber's Note: Nehemiah Adams]
BOSTON: J.E. TILTON AND COMPANY. LONDON. KNIGHT AND SON. 1859.
Entered, according to Act of Congress, in the year 1859, by J.E. TILTON and Co., In the Clerk's Office of the District Comm. of the District of Massachusetts.
PRINTED BY GEORGE O. RAND & AVERY.
ELECTROTYPED AT THE BOSTON STEREOTYPE FOUNDRY.
TO THE YOUNG LADIES OF MY CONGREGATION, FRIENDS AND ACQUAINTANCES Of CATHARINE, AND TO EVERY FATHER, HAVING A DAUGHTER IN HEAVEN, These Pages ARE AFFECTIONATELY INSCRIBED.
MORE THAN CONQUEROR, 9
THE FEAR OF DEATH ALLEVIATED, 58
THE SEARCH FOR THE DEPARTED, 89
THE SILENCE OF THE DEAD, 119
THE REDEMPTION OF THE BODY, 144
MORE THAN CONQUEROR.
Is that a death-bed where the Christian lies? Yes,—but not his: 'Tis death itself there dies.
She was not an infant—an unconscious subject of grace. But the Saviour has led through a long sickness, and through death, a daughter of nineteen years, and has made her, and those who loved and watched her, say, We are more than conquerors. To speak of Him, and not to gratify the fondness of parental love, to commend the Saviour of my child to other hearts, and to obtain for Him the affections of those to whom He is able and willing to be all which He was to her, is the sole object of these pages. Listen, then, not to a parent's partial tale concerning his child, nor concerning mental nor bodily suffering, but to the words of one who has seen how the presence of Christ, and love to Him, can fill the dying hours with the sweetest peace, and even beauty, and the hearts of survivors with joy.
Wishing to dwell chiefly on the last scenes of this dear child's life, the reader will not be delayed by any biographical sketch. Nine years before her death, when she was between ten and eleven years of age, she gave the clearest evidence that she was renewed by the Holy Spirit. We had since that time been made happy by the growing power of Christian principle in her conduct, the clearness and steadfastness of her faith, her systematic endeavors to live a holy life, her deep regret when she had erred, and her resolute efforts to improve in every part of her character.
Through a long sickness, with consumption, for two years and three months, she felt the soothing power of unfaltering Christian hope, which was evidently derived from a very clear perception of the way to be saved through Christ, and complete trust in the promises made to simple faith in him.
He who gave me this child, and crowned my hopes and wishes by the manifest signs of his love towards her, merits from me a tribute of gratitude and praise to which I desire and expect that eternity itself may bear witness. They who read the story, which I am about to relate, of her last few days, and think what it must be for a father to see his child made competent to meet so intelligently and deliberately, and to overcome, the last enemy, and, in doing so, helping to sustain and to comfort those who loved her, will perceive that it is a gift from God whose value nothing can increase. Bereavement and separation take nothing from it, but, on the contrary, they illustrate and enforce our obligations. For since we must needs die, and are as water that is spilled upon the ground, which cannot be gathered up again, such a death as this amounts to positive happiness by the side of a contrasted experience in the joyless, hopeless death of a child, or friend. But without further preface, I proceed to the narrative.
* * * * *
Never before had it fallen to my lot to bear that message to one who was sick, "The Master is come, and calleth for thee." In previous cases of deep, personal interest, this has been unnecessary. But in the present case there was a resolute purpose, and an expectation, of recovery, till within a week of dissolution, and, on our part, a belief that life might still be lengthened. Such cases involve nice questions of duty. Where the patient has evidently made timely preparation to die, it is needless to dispel that half illusion which seems to be one feature of consumption—an illusion which is so thin that we feel persuaded the patient sees through it, while, nevertheless, it serves all the purposes of hope. To take away that hope where no beneficial end is to be secured, is cruel. A mistaken, and somewhat morbid, sense of duty to tell the whole truth, and a conscientious but unenlightened fear of practising deception, sometimes lead friends to remove, from a sick person, that power which hope gives in sustaining the sickness, in prolonging comfort, and in helping the gradual descent into the grave. When a sick person is resolute and hopeful, it is surprising to see how many annoyances of sickness are prevented or easily borne, and how life, and even cheerfulness, may be indefinitely extended. But when hope is taken away, or, rather, when, instead of looking towards life with that instinctive love of it which God has implanted, we turn from "the warm precincts of the cheerful day," and look into the grave, it is affecting to see how the disease takes advantage of it, and sufferings ensue which would have been prevented by keeping up even the ambiguous thoughts of recovery. Sick people have reflections and feelings which exert an influence upon them beyond our discernment, and which frequently need not our literal interpretations of symptoms, and our exhortations, to make them more effectual. But where there is evidently no preparedness for death, and the patient, we fear, is deceiving himself, no one who has suitable views of Christian duty will fail to impress him with the necessity of attending to the things which belong to his peace, even at considerable risk of abridging life.
Waiting, therefore, for medical discernment to signify when the last possible effort to lengthen out the days of the sufferer had been made, one morning I received the intimation that those days would, in all probability, be but very few. After the physician had left the house, and I had sought help and strength from God, I lost no time, but took my place at the dear patient's side, to make the announcement.
God help those on whom he lays such duty. The hour had virtually come in which father and child must part, and the father was to break that message to his child. But how could mortal strength endure the effort?
Before I left my room for hers, there came to my mind these words—"But now, thus saith the Lord that created thee, O Jacob, and he that formed thee, O Israel, Fear not, for I have redeemed thee; I have called thee by thy name; thou art mine. When thou passest through the waters, I will be with thee; and through the rivers, they shall not overflow thee; when thou walkest through the fire, thou shalt not be burned, neither shall the flame kindle upon thee." Trusting in that promise, I sat down, as it were, over against the sepulchre, to prepare my child for her entrance into it,—nay, for her departure into heaven.
The gradual arrival of the truth to her apprehension, through questions which she began to ask, and my answers to them, finally led her to inquire if I supposed she could not live long. I told her that the physician thought that she was extremely weak, and that we must not be surprised at any sudden event in her case. She said, without any change of countenance, "Why, father, you surprise me; I thought that I might get well; is it possible that I cannot live long? I have thought of recovering much more than of dying... It seems a long space to pass over between this and heaven, in so short a time. I wonder how I can so suddenly obtain all the feelings which I need for such a change." These expressions I wrote down immediately after the interview. I told her, in reply, that she had been living at peace with God through his Son; that it had hitherto been her duty to live, and to strive for it; but now God had indicated his will concerning her, and she might be sure that God will always give us feelings suited to every condition in which he sees fit to place us.
On seeing her again towards evening, I found that the expression of her sick face—the weary, exhausted look of one grappling with a stronger power—had passed away, and, in exchange, there was peace, and even happiness. She began herself to say, "When you told me this forenoon that I could not live, it surprised me; but I have come to it now, and it is all right. Every thing is settled. I have nothing to do—no fear, no anxiety about any thing. More passages of Scripture and verses of hymns have come to my mind to-day, than in all my sickness hitherto." Wishes respecting some family arrangements were then expressed, particularly with reference to the younger children, and these wishes were uttered in about the same tone and manner as though we were parting for a temporary absence from each other. The mother of my youngest child had, at her death, given her in special charge to this daughter, and she wished to live that she might educate her. She made the transfer of her little trust with calmness, and then her "Good night" was uttered with a gentle playfulness, like that of her early days.
Nor was her frame of mind an excitement, or a fictitious experience, to end with sleep. The next forenoon she renewed the conversation. She said, "In the night I awoke many times, and always with this thought—I am not going to live. Instead of fear and dread, peace came with it. Names of Christ flowed in upon my mind; and once I awoke with these words in my thoughts—'And there shall be no night there.' Now I know that I am to die, I feel less nervous. I have a calm, unruffled feeling." She expressed some natural apprehensions, only, about the possibility of dissolution not having occurred when we should suppose that she was no more. I told her how kindly God had ordered it that we do not all die together, but one by one, the survivors doing all that the departed would desire—which satisfied her, and removed her only fear.
She asked leave to make a request respecting her grave; that, if any device were placed upon the stone, it might be of flowers, which had been such a joy and consolation to her in her sickness. She named the lily-of-the-valley and rose buds. "I love the white flowers," said she. "If you think best, let them be represented in some simple way... One great desire which I have had was to assort some leaves of flowers into forms for you. As my bouquets fell to pieces; I gathered the best petals, and leaves, and sprigs, and I have them in a book;" which, at her request, I then reached for her. I turned the pages. The book was full of beautiful relics from tokens of remembrance which kind friends had sent to her, and among them were some curiously mottled, green and rose-colored, petals, which she had designed for a wreath, on the first page of the little herbarium, which it was her intention to prepare; and then, with great hesitancy, and protesting their unworthiness, she repeated these simple lines, which she had composed for an inscription within the wreath. I wrote them down from her lips:
TO MY FATHER.
These flowers, which gave me such comfort and hope, I pressed, in my sickness, for you; Accept them, though faded; they never will droop; And believe that my heart is there too.
They who showered these tokens of their regard upon her, will be pleased to know that their gifts did not wholly perish, but that they will constitute an abiding memorial of her friends, as well as of her.
"I know," she continued, "that I am a great sinner; but I also believe that my sins are washed away by the blood of Christ." The way of justification by faith was clear to her mind. She knew whom she believed, and was persuaded that he was able to keep that which she had committed to him against that day.
In her whispering voice, which disease had for some time so nearly hushed, she said, "I shall sing in heaven." Her voice had been the charm of many a pleasant circle. But she added, "I shall no more sing—
'I'm a pilgrim, and I'm a stranger; I can tarry, I can tarry but a night.'"
And in a moment she added,—
"Of that country to which I am going, My Redeemer, my Redeemer is the light."
"Some people," she said, "wish to die in order to get rid of pain. What a motive! I am afraid that sometimes they get rid of it only to renew it. There was—" And here she checked herself, saying, "But I will not mention any name," a feeling of charitableness and tenderness coming over her, as though she might be thought to have judged a dying person harshly.
The day before she died, as I was spending the Sabbath forenoon by her, she breathed out these words:—
"O, how soft that bed must be, Made in sickness, Lord, by thee! And that rest, how soft and sweet, Where Jesus and the sufferer meet!"
In almost the same breath, she said, "O, see that beautiful yellow,"—directing my attention to a sprig of acacia in a bunch of flowers; all showing that her religious feelings were not raptures, but flowed along upon a level with her natural delight at beautiful objects. To illustrate this, I have mentioned several of the incidents already related.
She spoke of a young friend, who has much that the world gives its votaries to enhance her prospects in this life. I said, "Would you exchange conditions with her?" "Not for ten thousand worlds," was her energetic reply. "No!" she added; "I fear she has not chosen the good part."
Sabbath afternoon, the mortal conflict was upon her. The restlessness of death, the craving for some change of posture, the cold sweats, the labored respiration, all had the effect merely to make her ask, "How long do you think I must suffer?" That labored breathing tired her; she wished that I could regulate it for her. "How long," said she, "will it probably continue?"
I told her that heaven was a free gift at the last as well as at first; that we could not pass within the gate at will, but must wait God's time; that there were sufferings yet necessary to her complete preparation for heaven, of which she would see the use hereafter, but not now. This made her wholly quiet; and after that she rode at anchor many hours, hard by the inner lighthouse, waiting for the Pilot.
The last words which she uttered to me, an hour before she died, were, "I am going to get my crown." I wondered at her in my thoughts, (O, help my unbelief!) to hear a dying sinner so confident. I said to myself, "O woman, great is thy faith." She knew that her crown was a free gift, purchased at infinite expense; a crown, instead of deserved chains, under darkness. All unmerited, and more than forfeited, yet she spoke of her crown, because she believed with a simple faith, taking Christ at his word, and being willing to receive rewards and honors from him without projecting her own sense of unworthiness to stay the overflowings of infinite love and grace towards her. So that, in her own esteem as undeserving as the chief of sinners, thinking as little as possible of her own righteousness, and being among the last to claim any thing of God, she could say with one who would not admit that any sinner was chief above him, "Henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, shall give me at that day; and not to me only, but unto all them also that love his appearing."
Between two and three o'clock on Monday afternoon, January 19, she was quietly receiving some food from the nurse, when suddenly she said, "The room seems dark." She then made a surprising effort, such as she had been incapable of for some time, and reached forward from her pillow, saying, "Who is that at the door?" The nurse was with her alone, and at her side, the family being at the table. Coming to her room, we found that she was apparently sinking into a deep sleep, as though it were only a sleep, profound and quiet.
I asked her if she knew me.
She made no answer.
I said, "You know Jesus." A smile played about her mouth. We rejoiced, and wept for joy.
I then said, "If you know father, press my hand." She gave me no sign—that smile being her last intelligent act.—And so she passed within the veil.
I was able to relate all this from my pulpit the Sabbath after her decease, not merely because the period of the greatest suffering under bereavement had not come, but chiefly because the consolations of the trying scene, and hopes full of immortality, had not lost their new power. I was therefore like those who, on the first Christian Sabbath morning, "departed quickly from the sepulchre with fear and great joy, and did run to bring his disciples word."
It is intimated above that the greatest suffering at the death of a friend does not occur immediately upon the event. It comes when the world have forgotten that you have cause to weep; for when the eyes are dry, the heart is often bleeding. There are hours,—no, they are more concentrated than hours,—there are moments, when the thought of a lost and loved one, who has perished out of your family circle, suspends all interest in every thing else; when the memory of the departed floats over you like a wandering perfume, and recollections come in throngs with it, flooding the soul with grief. The name, of necessity or accidentally spoken, sets all your soul ajar; and your sense of loss, utter loss, for all time, brings more sorrow with it by far than the parting scene.
* * * * *
She who was the sweet singer of my little Israel is no more. The child whose sense of beauty made her the swiftest herald to me of every fair discovery and new household joy, will never greet me again with her surprises of gladness. She who, leaning upon my arm as we walked, silently conveyed to me such a sense of evenness, firmness, dignity; she whose child-like love was turning into the womanly affection for a father; she who was complete in herself, as every good child is, not suggesting to your thoughts what you would have a child be, but filling out the orb of your ideal beauty, still partly in outline; her seat, her place at the table, at prayers, at the piano, at church; the sight of her going out and coming in; her tones of speech, her helpful spirit and hands, and all the unfinished creations of her skill, every thing that made her that which the growing associations with her name had built up in our hearts,—all is gone, for this life; it is removed like a tree; it is departed like a shepherd's tent.
And all this, too, is saved. It survives, or I would not, I could not, write thus. There comes to my sorrowing heart some such message as the sons of Jacob brought to their father, when they said, "Joseph is yet alive, and he is governor over all the land of Egypt."
Jesus of Nazareth has been in my dwelling, and has done a great work of healing. He has saved my child; saved her to be a happy spirit; forever saved her for himself, to employ her powers of mind and heart in his blissful service; saved her for the joyful welcome and embraces of her mother, and of a second mother, who laid deep and strong foundations in her character for goodness and knowledge. He has saved her for me, through all eternity. She will be my sweet singer again; she will have in store for me all the wonderful discoveries which her intense love of beauty will have made her treasure up, to impart, when the child becomes, as it were, parent, for a little while, to the soul of the parent in heaven, new-born. I said to her, a day or two before she died, "Those mothers will show you things in heaven; for we read, 'And he shewed me a pure river of water of life, clear as crystal, proceeding out of the throne of God and the Lamb.'"
But John mistook this heavenly saint for an angel, so glorious was his appearance, and he fell down to worship him, but was told, "See thou do it not; for I am thy fellow-servant, and of thy brethren the prophets, and of them which keep the sayings of this book." Then what will she herself be, when these eyes behold her again? And what will she have treasured up to tell me? she, who always brought rare things for me from the woods and the shore, surpassing those of her companions. If He who redeemed her, and has presented her faultless before the presence of his glory with exceeding joy, will bestow that nurture and culture upon her which are implied in leading her to living fountains of waters, what will she be? and how good it will seem that she left earth so early, since it was the will of God, to enter upon such a career of bliss!
A few years ago, I appropriated a wedding gift from a friend to the purchase of a guitar for her, as a birthday gift in her early sickness. To assist her in learning to play upon it, I first gained some knowledge of the instrument. We kept it in its case in my study; and sometimes, on coming home, and feeling in the mood of it, I wished to handle it, and instead of unlocking the case to see if the instrument were there, I would knock upon it; and straightway what turbulence of harmonies rang from all the strings. Now, it is so with every thing connected with her memory; every thing associated with her, even though outwardly sombre and dreary, like those black cases for musical instruments, being appealed to, or accidentally encountered, sings of her still, with a troubled and a pathetic, pleasing music.
In her very early childhood, she and two of the children were sick with a children's epidemic. The crisis had passed; an anxious day with regard to one of the children had been followed by entire relief from our fears. As we sat at table that evening, we heard music from the chambers of the sick children; we opened the door and listened. This daughter was singing, and the chorus of her little school song was, "All are here, all are here." She did not think of the signification which those words had to our hearts. It was one of those household pleasures which have so much of heaven in them. I can sometimes hear her singing to me now, from those upper skies, in the name of the four who have gone there from my dwelling, "All are here, all are here." She bequeathed her guitar, but her voice and hand now join with "the voice of harpers harping with their harps."
We sometimes think that they miss great good who depart from us in early years; that one who has arrived at the entrance to the world's great feast must be sadly disappointed to be led away, never to go in. Now, it is true that we must not shrink from the battle of life; we must take upon ourselves, if God ordains it, the great jeopardy of disappointment and sorrow, and the chance of life's joys; we must each stand in his lot; we must send children forth into the harvest of the earth for sheaves, and whether they faint and die under their load, or deck themselves with garlands,—still, let them be laborers together with God, and let us not seek exemption for them. But if God ordains their early translation to heaven, what can earth afford them in the way of pleasure, granting the cup to be full and unalloyed, to be compared with fulness of joy? Fair maidens in heaven,—and O, how many of them has consumption gathered in!—fair maidens there are like the white flowers, which are sacred to peculiar times and scenes. How goodly must be their array! What a perpetual spring tide of vivacious joy and delight do they create in heaven. It is pleasant to have a child among them.
It has been my privilege to see, in this child, an example of true preparation for death, which begins before the expectation of dying brings the least discredit, or breath of suspicion, upon our motives in attending to the subject of religion. Preparation for death consists in justification by faith, extending its influence into the whole character, to bring us under the rule of Christ. The fruit of this is friendship with God, the confidence of love, knowing whom we have believed, with the persuasion of our having committed to him an infinite trust, and that he will keep it with covenant faithfulness. So when death comes and knocks at the door, it is true the heart beats quicker, as it is apt to do whoever knocks there; for, to give up one's hold on life, to turn and look eternal things full in the face, to think of meeting God, and of having your endless condition fixed, summons the whole of natural and acquired fortitude; and only they who have an unseen arm to lean upon at such a time, endure in that trial. Then past experience comes in with her powerful aid: "I have fought a good fight;" "the wise took oil in their vessels with their lamps;" "remember, O Lord, how I have walked before thee." Thus there is something to make you feel that your justification, by free grace, has the evidence afforded by its fruits; and the preparation to die may be likened to that of which the Saviour speaks when he says, "He that is washed needeth not save to wash his feet, but is clean every whit." I have seen it, have watched it, have studied it, in the dying scenes of this child. Hers was not the experience of the sinner, pulled suddenly from the waves by a hand which he had for a long time, nay, always, spurned; but her dying was an arrival at the end of a voyage, the coming home of a good child to long-expecting hearts and arms. We said one to another around her dying bed,—yes, we had composure to say, as we watched that parting scene, that fading cloud, that sinking gale, that dying wave, that shutting eye of day,—"Think of such a poor, helpless, dying creature, if, in the sense intended by those words, she should 'fall into the hands of the living God.'" And we glorified God in her. Never did I see and feel more deeply, by contrast, the folly of trusting to a death-bed repentance, to repair the errors of a wasted life. It is a deliberate attempt at fraud upon the Most High; it is folly; for the risk is fearful, and could we obtain salvation, how mercenarily!—and what a memorial would it be in heaven of loss, instead of being "a crown of righteousness!" They who are all their lifetime ignorant, being unfortunately deprived of opportunity for religious instruction, may with wonder and joy accept the surprising news of pardon, through Christ, on a dying bed, and soar to the same heights with apostles in their praises of redeeming love. But if we hear of salvation by Christ all our life long, and know our duty, but prefer the pleasures of sin for a season, and think that in the swellings of Jordan we shall find peace and safety, our conduct deserves all the opprobrious names which are heaped upon it by inspired tongues and pens. We who are parents must teach our children that religion does not consist merely in being pardoned, and, if pardoned, no matter whether early or late; but that it is the first, the constant, the all-pervading rule of life, God and his service the chief end of man, and that the pleasures of religion are the sweetest pleasures, hallowing all others which are innocent, and leading us to reject those, and only those, which would be unsuitable or injurious, even if religious custom did not forbid them. We must know this, and practise upon it, ourselves; else, how can we expect the children to believe it?
The exceeding relief which a timely preparation for death by an early consecration of herself to God, imparted to this child and to us, was felt in this, that she and we had no distressing thoughts at her total inability, for a long time, to join in prayer with others, or to be conversed with in any way that excited much feeling. The diseased throat, where, as we all know, our emotions, even in health and strength, make such interference with our comfort, prevented her from joining in any religious exercises, because she would then be liable to the excitement of feelings which, in the way just intimated, would have injured her. With such affections of the bronchial passages, efforts of mind which are not spontaneous are sometimes agony. Connected endeavors to follow conversation and prayer were impossible, and she told me, on saying this, that she took great comfort from a remark, in a book, addressed to a sick person—"Do not think, but pray." She prayed much herself; her thoughts, too, were prayers, in certain cases. Now, in that weakened condition, what could she have done, and what would have been her father's feelings, had she not, in health and strength, arrived at such a state of religious knowledge and experience as to remove anxiety for her spiritual welfare, and to make us feel that she had Christ in her, the hope of glory? When the cry was made, "Behold, the bridegroom cometh," she arose and trimmed her lamp, and had oil in her vessel with her lamp. Wealth could not purchase the relief and satisfaction which this gave to her friends;—so truly is religion called the "pearl of great price;" so literally true are the Saviour's words, "But one thing is needful." It is the greatest blessing which a young person can bestow on Christian parents, to be a Christian; and what its value is to surviving parents, ask those who sorrow as they that have no hope. When a young Christian comes to die, he testifies that he lost nothing, but gained every thing, with eternal life, by being a Christian in his early years. I can imagine what this child would say to one and another of her young friends who may read these pages, and how she would seek to persuade them, as the first great duty of their existence, and for their best good here, and for their everlasting peace, to choose the good part, which will never be taken away from them.
Her funeral was a scene from which many went away rejoicing in God; and not a few date new progress in the Christian life from it, by means of the new and striking illustration which they there had of the Saviour's power and love. The Choir struck the key note of heaven in their opening strains, by chanting, "Worthy is the Lamb that was slain, to receive power, and riches, and wisdom, and strength, and honor, and glory, and blessing." They gave us, too, her favorite song, by which she was remembered in several circles, at home and abroad, before she was sick, and the words of which, now, seem to have had a prophetic meaning from her lips:—
"I'm a pilgrim, and I'm a stranger; I can tarry, I can tarry but a night;"—
which was sung at the funeral with a sweetness which added much to the associations with it in our minds; and in the closing hymn, how strange it seemed, at a funeral, to hear the singers, though by our own request and though in accordance with all which had passed, bid us
"Proclaim abroad his name, Tell of his matchless fame, What wonders done! Shout through hell's dark profound, Let the whole earth resound, Till the high heavens rebound, The victory's won;"—
and to hear them, as they cried one to another, saying,—
"All hail the glorious day, When, through the heavenly way, Lo, He shall come; While they who pierced him wail; His promise shall not fail; Saints, see your King prevail; Come, dear Lord, come."
For those ministrations of love and tenderness in the last, sad offices to the dead, which no wealth could buy, repeated now by some of the same hands several times in my dwelling, there are no words of gratitude adequate to the great debt of love. The mothers of my church, who met weekly with her mother for prayer, remembered her child, and provided nurses for her, to her own unspeakable comfort and our great relief. Friends and strangers, touched with her protracted sickness, poured blessings around her couch; fruits, in their season, and when out of their season, of what almost unearthly beauty! and flowers which, with the fruits, made that sick room seem like the garden which the Lord planted in Eden. Such have been the alleviations of pain and suffering, the comforts, and even the pleasures, and above all the rich spiritual consolations and joys, and the more than conquering faith of the dying hour,—such a union in all this of Jesus and his friends,—that I have made the case of the ruler of the synagogue mine, of whom, as he went to his afflicted house, it is said, "And Jesus arose and followed him, and so did his disciples." They will go wherever Jesus leads the way; and he will lead the way wherever there is a lamb to be folded in his bosom.
There were not wanting those who lent me their sepulchre, in the city, for a season—a kindness always peculiar and affecting, but also needful in this instance, because of the great snows which made the roads to Mount Auburn impassable for several days. Nor can I forget that, when Saturday evening closed upon us, words and tokens of kindness came from the younger members of my congregation, who had provided for the last earthly things which the precious dust of their young friend required; and so they seemed to bid me rest from all care and thoughtfulness, upon the "Sabbath day, according to the commandment." All which should increase my feelings of sympathy and kindness for the sick, and especially for the sick poor, whose rooms, and whose dying hours, and whose griefs, are oftentimes in such contrast to those into which divine and human loving kindness seem striving to pour their abundant consolations. As the family retired from the dying scene, and were weeping together, a father came to my door, in that great snow-storm, to say that his son, the young man, not a member of my congregation, whom I had several times visited, was near his end, and would like to see me. Stranger comparatively though he was, and impassable as the streets were by any vehicle, and almost by foot passengers, my gratitude for the sweet and peaceful end of my own dear child, and for her undoubted admission to the realms of bliss, was such, that, within an hour or two, I forced my way to a distant part of the city, to assist another departing spirit for its flight. This heart has no more fortitude, nor has it less of natural affection and sensibility, than ordinarily falls to the lot of men; hence those consolations must have been great, that support and strength equal to the day, that hope concerning my child an anchor sure and steadfast, which enabled me thus to go from her clay, just cold, to aid a passing spirit in obtaining like precious faith with hers, and the same inheritance. My motive in thus lifting a little of the veil, or in placing a light behind the transparency, of my private feelings, I trust will be seen to be, that I may comfort others with the comfort wherewith I was comforted of God.
But there awaits me a blessing, with a joy, surpassing all that has gone before. "My daughter is even now dead; but come and lay thy hand upon her, and she shall live." From her grave, which was soon made by the side of kindred dust, Jesus will raise her up at the last day; her voice will come to that body; her youthful beauty will be reestablished by her likeness to Christ's own glorious body; she will lean upon my arm again; the separation and absence will enhance the joy of meeting; we shall say, How like a hand-breadth was the separation! We shall see reasons full of wisdom and love for the sickness and the early death. We shall part no more. All this has more than once made me say, and sing,—
"O, for this love, let rocks and hills Their lasting silence break, And all harmonious human tongues The Saviour's praises speak."
Young friend, you will need him as the great Physician, the Friend in sorrow, the Forerunner in the dark passages of life, the Conqueror of death, the Lord our Righteousness, and, all endearing names in one, Immanuel, God with us.
Parents, you will need him for your children. Children, you will need him when father and mother, one or both, have forsaken you, or, if alive, can only make you feel how little their fond love can do for you. When the name of father, cannot rouse you, nor your cold hand return the pressure of your father's hand, you will need a nearer, dearer friend, in the person of Him who loved you, and gave himself for you.
It has been one of the richest joys of my pastoral life, that I have sent to her mother in heaven her child, whom God had prepared for so early a departure out of this world. This ministry of reconciliation has been blessed to the salvation of my child. It should make me love the children of my pastoral charge more than ever, seek to gather them into the fold of Christ, that whole families, each like a constellation, may rise together in the firmament of heaven; and, in the mean time, that the members of every household, as they desert us one by one, may call back to us, and say, for the departed, "All are here."
God takes a family here and there, in a circle of acquaintances and friends, and greatly afflicts them; and thus he teaches others. As we look, therefore, upon the afflicted, we ought to say,—
"For us they languish, and for us they die; And shall they languish, shall they die, in vain?"
God is the same when he takes away the child, as when he laid that gift in our hands. Perhaps, indeed, the removal is really a greater exercise of love than the gift. It must seem good and acceptable in the sight of God, if, when we are bereaved, we employ ourselves occasionally in rehearsing before him the circumstances in his past goodness, which, at the time, made it exceedingly sweet and precious. Our debt of obligation for it is not yet fully paid; nor is it diminished at all by the removal of the blessing. Instead of abandoning ourselves to grief, we do well if we commune with God more frequently respecting his signal acts of favor in connection with the lost blessing.
But the memory of lost joys is always apt to depress the mind inordinately. We question whether it is really better to have
"loved and lost Than never to have loved at all."
Taking a future life into the account, surely no doubt can remain as to that question; but one who has really loved, will not be long in coming to the same conclusion, irrespective of the future. Must God abstain from making us exceedingly happy, because, forsooth, we shall be so unhappy when, in the exercise of the same goodness and wisdom which dictated the gift, he sees it best to take it away? If we love him more than we love his gifts, then the removal of them will make us love him more than ever.
"Though now He frowns, I'll praise the Almighty's name, And bless the source whence past enjoyments came."
We often hear it said, that every thing which happens to us is for our good, even in this world.—Many things happen to men, even to Christians, which are plainly not for their good in this life, though all things will, eventually, work together for good to them that love God. Some things, then, even here, are intended to be life-long sorrows and trials. Their object is reproof and constant admonition. We need another state of existence to explain the present. If that future state does not prove that earthly discipline has had its designed effect, the sorrows of this life show that God can bear to see us suffer, even when he foresees that no good will result to the sufferer. For while men suffer excruciatingly under bereavements, these sufferings often fail to make them better. God foresees all this. Hence God is able to look upon suffering which he sees will not be for the good of the afflicted.
If, now, his design in our trials (which pierced his heart before they reached ours) is utterly frustrated by our sins, the question will arise, whether the God who can bear to see us suffer for our good, which, nevertheless, he foresees will not be effected, will not be able to see us suffer as the fruit of our sins, and of our resistance to his designs. One who has endured much mental suffering cannot have failed to see, that God's parental relation to us is not analogous to that of parent and child among men. It terminates in the relations of governor and of judge; being, indeed, from the first, included in those relations. This is not so in our earthly relationship. God sees men suffer as no earthly parent could; he inflicts pain as no earthly parent should. All is for our profit; but if that object fails through our perverseness, we are instructed, by our experience, that if God can look on mental anguish and not relieve it, because he seeks an ulterior good, the punishment of sin, the natural and just consequences of disobedience to the great laws of the universe, may be, in their extended impression, another ulterior good, which will warrant the same mental sufferings after death, and forever.
Could I be permitted, therefore, I would take by the hand every bereaved father whom so great an affliction as the death of a child has not succeeded in bringing into a state of preparation for heaven, and kindly ask how he expects to bear a final and endless separation. "If thou hast run with the footmen, and they have wearied thee, then how canst thou contend with horses? and if in the land of peace, wherein thou trustedst, they wearied thee, then how wilt thou do in the swelling of Jordan?" God describes to his ancient people one of the great sorrows which will happen to them, if they forsake him, in their separations, by captivity, from their children: "Thy sons and thy daughters shall be given unto another people, and thine eyes shall look, and fail with longing, for them all the day long; and there shall be no might in thy hand." Pains of absence, sudden convulsions of feeling at the remembered looks, form, words, and motions of a loved one, sometimes are as when men feel the earth quaking under them; and then, again, they entirely prostrate us, for the moment, like a tornado. Homesickness in a foreign land,—an ocean stretching between us and the objects of our love—is an admonition to us with respect to future, endless separations. The hopeless death of a child has sometimes had the effect to change the long-established faith of a parent with regard to future retribution; all the acknowledged principles of interpretation, all the results of meditation and prayer, the theory of the divine government which has been built up in the soul, till it became identified with personal consciousness, the whole analogy of faith,—all, have been swept away by the overmastering power of parental love for one who, when he died, left his friends to sorrow as they that have no hope. Now, supposing a parent to fail of heaven, and to retain his instinctive parental feelings, the endless separation between him and his family will be a source of sorrow which needs only to be kept up, by an ever-living memory, to constitute all which is pictured in the boldest metaphors of inspired tongues and pens. A father in disgrace, or under ignominy, suffers intensely when he sees or thinks of his children, provided his natural sensibilities are not destroyed. A father punished, hereafter, by his Redeemer and Judge, a father banished from the company of heaven, knowing that his family are there, and that if his influence had had its full effect, they would all have perished with him,—or a father with a part of his children with him in perdition, the wife and mother with one or more of the children in heaven,—is a picture of woe which nothing but timely repentance and faith in Christ may prevent from being a reality in the experience of some who read these lines. Can it be true, as Bishop Hall says, that "to be happy is not so sweet a state as it is miserable to have been happy"? O man, if you have a child in heaven, think that, among the sweet influences of divine love, there probably is no more powerful motive to draw your affections towards God, than that glimpse which you sometimes seem to have of this child's face, on which heaven has traced its lineaments of peace and bliss; or that sudden whisper of a gentle, child-like voice, now and then heard by the ear of fancy, persuading you to be a Christian. Do not let the world, or shame, or procrastination, lead you to resist such efforts of almighty love to save you. He who has had a child saved by Christ, and will not be himself a Christian,—what more can God do to save him?
The breaking up of our homes is one of the mysteries of God's providence. The last thing, perhaps, which we might suppose would be allowed, is, the removal of a mother from a family of young children. This being so frequent, we cease to wonder at any other dispensations; we conclude that separations are to be made, regardless of any and every seeming necessity and endearment. "Sirs, I perceive that this voyage will be with hurt and much damage, not only of the lading and ship, but also of our lives." The conviction is forced upon us that there is another world, for which we must make all our calculations. "There is a better world," said the distinguished William Wirt, after the death of his daughter, in 1831,—"there is a better world, of which I have thought too little. To that world she has gone, and thither my affections have followed her. This was Heaven's design. I see and feel it as distinctly as if an angel had revealed it. I often imagine that I can see her beckoning me to the happy world to which she has gone. She was my companion, my office companion, my librarian, my clerk. My papers now bear her indorsement. She pursued her studies in my office, by my side, sat with me, walked with me, was my inexpressibly sweet and inseparable companion,—never left me but to go and sit with her mother. We knew all her intelligence, all her pure and delicate sensibility, the quickness and power of her perceptions, her seraphic love. She was all love, and loved all God's creation, even the animals, trees, and plants. She loved her God and Saviour with an angel's love, and died like a saint."[A]
[Footnote A: Kennedy's Life of William Wirt—letter to Judge Carr.]
About the same time, he writes to his wife,—
"I want only my blessed Saviour's assurance of pardon and acceptance to be at peace. I wish to find no rest short of rest in him,—Let us both look up to that heaven—where our Saviour dwells, and from which he is showing us the attractive face of our blessed and happy child, and bidding us prepare to come to her, since she can no more visibly come to us. I have no taste now for worldly business. I go to it reluctantly. I would keep company only with my Saviour and his holy book. I dread the world, the strife, and contention, and emulation of the bar; yet I will do my duty—this is part of my religion."
In December, 1833, another daughter died; but he writes,—
"I look upon life as a drama, bearing the same sort, though not the same degree, of relation to eternity, as an hour spent at the theatre, and the fictions there exhibited ... do to the whole of real life. Nor is there any thing in this passing pageant worth the sorrow that we lavish on it. Now, when my children or friends leave me, or when I shall be called to leave them, I consider it as merely parting for the present visit, to meet under happier circumstances, when we shall part no more."[B]
[Footnote B: Kennedy's Life of William Wirt—letter to Judge Cabell.]
* * * * *
"All my children," said the venerable John Eliot, of Roxbury, "are either with Christ or in Christ." Happy, happy man! The little ones, blighted soon by the touch of death, surely are with Christ; "for of such is the kingdom of God." The cherub boy, and the blooming, broken flower, the young daughter,—the young man in his strength, the young maiden in her beauty,—are there. As we commune together, in the pages which follow, on themes touching this subject, God grant that every one who has not yet gladdened the heart of parent, and pastor, nay, of that infinite Friend, our Saviour, by the surrender of the heart to God, and every father and mother who is yet unprepared to join the growing circle of the family in heaven,—('how grows in Paradise their store!')—may, as we reach the last page, find that with cords of a man, with bands of love, He who made Pleiades, and Arcturus and his sons, has united them in eternal fellowship with their departed loved ones, through faith in Christ. This, while it hallows the remainder of life with the rich, mellowed beauty of the changing leaf, and ripening grain, and shortening days, lays the foundation of that perfect happiness for which our homes are intended to prepare us; their joys alluring, their separations pointing, us to heaven.
THE FEAR OF DEATH ALLEVIATED.
Yea, and moreover this full well know I: He that's at any time afraid to die Is in weak case, and (whatsoe'er he saith) Hath but a wavering and a feeble faith.
Unless we know the customs of the wandering shepherds with their flocks, one verse in the twenty-third Psalm, so often quoted in view of death, appears abrupt, but otherwise appropriate and very beautiful. One of a flock is expressing his confidence in God, his Shepherd: "When I have satisfied my hunger from the green pastures, he makes me to lie down in them; and the still, clear streams are my drink." Then a thought occurs which appears as though a dying man were speaking, and not a sheep: but it is still the language of a sheep. Keeping this in mind, let it be remembered that the shepherds wandered from place to place to find pasture. In doing so, they were sometimes obliged to pass through dark, lonely valleys. Wild beasts, and creatures less formidable, but of hateful sight, and with doleful voices, made it difficult for the flocks to be led through such passages. There was frequently no other way from one pasturage to another but through these places of death-shade, or valleys of the shadow of death,—which was a term to express any dark and dismal place.
Now, let us imagine a flock reposing in a green pasture, and by the side of still waters, conversing about their shepherd, their pastures, and streams. One of them says, "In the midst of all this peace and contentment, there is a thought which spoils my comfort. We cannot stay here forever; we are to go, presently, beyond the mountains; they say that there are valleys, in those regions, full of dangers. My expectation is, that we shall be torn to pieces. My enjoyment of these pastures and waters is nearly destroyed by my forebodings about those valleys."
Another of the flock replies, "Have we not an able, faithful, experienced shepherd? Have we not seen his ability to defend us in past dangers? Is he not as much concerned for our defence and safety as ourselves? While he is my shepherd, I shall not want.—Yea, though I walk through those valleys of death-shade, I will fear no evil; for he is with me; his rod and his staff they comfort me."
The shepherd carried with him two instruments—the staff, for his own support, and to attack a beast or robber; and the crook, or rod. By this crook, the shepherd guided a sheep in a dangerous pass, placing the crook under the sheep's neck, to hold him up and assist his steps. When a sheep was disposed to stray, the shepherd could hold him back with his crook. When the sheep had fallen into the power of a beast, the crook assisted in drawing him away. A good sheep loved the crook as much as the staff,—to be guided, as well as to be defended. Both of the shepherd's instruments were a great comfort to the sheep, while passing through a frightful and dangerous valley.
The interpretation usually given to the words, "thy rod and thy staff"—as though they meant "thy gentle reproofs and thy severe rebukes"—is erroneous. A sheep would hardly tell his shepherd that his chastising rod, and the heavy blows of his staff, comforted him. The meaning is, It is a comfort to me to feel the crook of thy rod helping me in trouble, and to know that thy staff is my defence against wild beasts.
* * * * *
Through fear of death, many who are truly the followers of Christ, are, nevertheless, all their lifetime subject to bondage. On whatever mountains, into whatever pastures, and by whatever streams, their Shepherd leads them, they know that there is a valley into which they must go down, and the imagined darkness and horrors of the place make them continually afraid.
A fear of death, without doubt, is frequently permitted, as a means of religious restraint. Some, who have wondered at this trial all their life long, find that its influence is great in keeping them near to the Shepherd and Bishop of their souls. If a flock could reason, no doubt the shepherd would make use of the fears of the sheep, in many instances, to keep them from going astray. If one of them were inclined to wander, it would be natural for the shepherd to caution that sheep against the dark valley, warning him of its terrors, and making him feel how necessary it would be to have a shepherd there, with his crook and staff. It may be that apprehensions with regard to death are the most powerful means, with some, of keeping them from going astray, and of holding their minds to the contemplation of spiritual things.
It has often been observed that those Christians whose fears of death were very great for a large part of their life, frequently die with triumph. The reality is not such as they feared; they found support and consolation which they did not anticipate.
One of the most trying anticipations with regard to death, in the minds of many, long before the event arrives, is, separation from those whom we love. And yet, there is probably nothing in human experience more remarkable, than the singular resignation, and even cheerfulness, with which some, who have had every thing to make life desirable, have left all and followed Christ when he came to lead them through the valley. The young wife and mother, in her dying hours, becomes the comforter of her husband; she turns and looks at the infant who is held up to receive her farewell, and the mother alone is calm, sheds no tear, gives the farewell kiss with composure. "Thy rod" is supporting her; "thy staff" is keeping at bay the passions and fears of the natural heart. So a widowed mother leaves a large family of young children, with a peace which passes all understanding. And the father of a dependent family, which never could, in a greater measure, need a father's presence, looks upon them from his dying bed, and says to them, with the serenity of the patriarch, "Behold, I die; but God shall be with you." Nothing is more true than this, that dying grace is for a dying hour; that is, we cannot, in health and strength, have the feelings which belong to the hour of parting; but as any and every scene and condition, into which God brings his children, has its peculiar frames of mind fitted to the necessity of each case, we need not make the useless effort to practise all the resignation, and experience all the comforts, which come only when they are actually needed. We do not often hear the first part of the following passage quoted; but in such rocky and thorny paths as we are often made to pass through, how good it is to read: "Thy shoes shall be iron and brass; and as thy days, so shall thy strength be." If God is our Shepherd, he will cause us to pass, one by one, through the valley which is before us, leaving some most dear to us on the hither side. Suppose that when a shepherd is employed in removing his flock from one mountain to another, through a valley, one of the flock should mourn his separation from companions, or from its young. The shepherd would say, "You cannot all pass together; leave your companions and the young to me; I will restore them to you on the other side." He might also remonstrate and say, "Am I not, as their shepherd, interested in protecting and removing them? You can add nothing to my strength and wisdom; let me take you safety through the valley, and trust me to do the same for them."
The ancient shepherd was specially careful of the lambs; he carried them in his arms, and sometimes folded them beneath his shepherd's coat. We can imagine the feelings of some of a flock when, leaving them at a short distance, but within sight, the shepherd would take a lamb, carry it down into the valley, and disappear with it for a little while. With all their confidence in their shepherd, some of the flock would manifest uneasiness at the separation, especially if the valley looked dark and dangerous. If it were the only lamb of its mother, it was natural for that mother to be distressed, and to lament. Though the young creature had gone safely to the other side, and was at play in the new pasture, and the mother believed it, this could not always quiet her. The good Shepherd has taken some of our lambs through the valley. They are safe upon the other side. They have joined the flock of Christ. Let us give our lambs to the Shepherd's care, to bear them through the valley, whenever he sees fit that they should be removed. We must all pass through that valley. If, from special love to our young, he will see them safely on the other side before he calls for us, we will intrust them to Him who claims our confidence by saying to us, I am the Good Shepherd. One of the prophecies concerning Christ reveals that tender love and care, on his part, for children, which characterized him while on earth: "He shall gather the lambs with his arm, and carry them in his bosom."
The fear of death is owing, in many cases, to the dread of dissolution.
The previous sickness prepares the soul and the body for their separation, so that, in very many cases, it is the greatest relief to die. We are, perhaps, mistaken if we suppose that those Christians who are in great bodily pain in their last hours, suffer in mind. The effects of death on the frame do not necessarily disturb the tranquillity of the soul. The body may be in spasms while the soul is at peace; and the reverse is true;—as in nightmare, when the mind is distressed while the body sleeps. A Christian has nothing to fear in this respect. To die will not be—as in full health we suppose it is—a violent rending asunder of the soul from the unyielding grasp of the body; but the preparation of the mortal frame for dissolution, by the sickness, however rapid, also fits the mind for the event. Even in cases of death by accidents, this appears to be true.
* * * * *
But many feel that to die is to be transferred suddenly, and with violence, into strange scenes, which must overwhelm and distract the senses. It seems to them that it must be like being whirled instantly into a distant, unknown city, and waking up amidst the confusion and strangeness of that place. We cannot believe that such is the experience of dying Christians. It would rather seem that there is, at first, a perception of spiritual forms, of ministering spirits, whispering peace to the soul, and assuring it of safety, and bidding it fear not. It is said of angels, "Are they not all ministering spirits, sent forth to minister for them who shall be heirs of salvation?" When can we need their ministry more, than in the passage from this world to the world of spirits? Perhaps the disclosure is made of some departed friends; and the fancy of those who thought that they saw beloved ones beckoning them away, may have had its foundation in truth. There is much of probability in that well-known piece, "The dying Christian's address to his soul;"—and no part of it is more probable than this:—
"Hark! they whisper; angels say, Sister spirit, come away."
It is not improbable—it seems accordant with divine goodness—that such methods should be employed to relieve the anxiety of the departing spirit. Sometimes the dying Christian has declared that he heard enrapturing music. It is possible that voices were employed to soothe him to sleep, and to soften the transition, from the full consciousness of life, to the revelations of the heavenly world. Perhaps the effect of disease upon the organs of hearing was such as to produce something like sounds, which, in a joyous state of mind, were pleasurable. During the siege of Jerusalem in 1836, the wife of an American missionary sung while dissolution was actually taking place. The tones of her voice, they said, seemingly more than mortal, were far different from any thing which they had ever heard, even from her. God is often pleased to use these natural effects of dissolution on the body, to comfort the passing spirit of his child. Whether visions or real voices are actually seen or heard, is of no consequence, so long as the soul has a rational and assured hope. Some means are unquestionably used in every case to make the dying believer feel that he is safe. He is not compelled to wait in uncertainty and fear for a moment. His fears are anticipated; he is among other friends, the moment that he grows insensible to those who watch his departing breath. Neither are we to suppose that heaven breaks upon the senses of the spirit with such an overpowering brightness, as to excite confusion and pain. No doubt the revelation is gradual and most pleasant. Perhaps the celestial city appears at first in the distance, having the glory of God most precious; the approach to it is gradual; voices are heard afar off, and from the convoy of ministering spirits, such information and instructions are received as prepare it for the full vision of heaven. Every thing is calm and serene; the light is attempered to its new and feeble vision. He who makes the sun to rise by slow degrees, and does not pour straight, fierce rays upon the waking eyes even of sinful men, certainly will not torment the soul of his child with any such revelations of unseen things as will give pain. The same care which has redeemed and saved him, will order all these things in covenanted love.
Some of the preceding thoughts are well expressed in the following anonymous lines, written on seeing Mr. Greenough's group of the Angel and Child ascending to Heaven:—
"CHILD. Whither now wilt thou proceed? ANGEL. Come up hither; I will show thee. Follow me with joyful speed; Leave thy native earth below thee. CHILD. Stop! mine eyes cannot contain Such a wondrous flood of light. ANGEL. Come up hither. Thou shall gain, As thou risest, stronger sight. CHILD. Lost in wonder without end, Joyful, fearful, longing, shrinking, Lead me, O thou heavenly friend; Keep a trembling child from sinking. O, I cannot bear this glory! Angel brother! how canst thou? ANGEL. I will tell thee all my story; I was once as thou art now. CHILD. When some sorrow did befall me, Or I felt some strange alarms, Then my mother's voice would call me, To the shelter of her arms. Now what bids my heart rejoice, Clasped in arms I cannot see? Hark, I hear a soothing voice Sweetly whispering, Come to me. ANGEL. Yes, it calls thee from on high; Come to God's most holy mountain; Thou hast drunk the stream of life;— I will lead thee to the fountain."
Some dread the thought of being out of the body and finding themselves spirits. This is wholly without reason. The soul will not suffer from losing this body of sin and death; it will have as perfect a consciousness, it will know where it is, and what is passing before it, as seems to be the case in a vivid dream when the bodily senses are locked in slumber.
As to the natural repugnance which we have to the thoughts of burial and the grave, it is probable that the soul of a redeemed spirit thinks and cares as little concerning these things, so far as painful sensations are concerned, as we do about our garments when we are falling asleep. The vesture which we formerly wore gives us no solicitude. It is wonderful to hear the sick, long before they die, give directions, or express desires, respecting their burial. So far from thinking of the grave as a melancholy place, no doubt the departed spirit will often think of it in the separate state with pleasure, as the place where it is hereafter to receive a form like Christ's; and the thought of resurrection adds greatly to the joys of heaven.
* * * * *
There is something still which affects the minds of many Christians with fear as they think of dying; and that is, their appearing before God. They cannot imagine the possibility of seeing him without distraction; his infinite majesty, and their own sense of unworthiness, make them afraid.
But who is God? Is he the Christian's enemy? Will he sit like a king on his throne, and see his subject come trembling into his presence? Is this the God who loved him? Is this the Saviour that died for him? Is this the Holy Spirit who awakened, converted, sanctified, comforted him, and promised to present him faultless before the presence of his glory with exceeding joy? God will not have done so much to bring him to heaven, and, when he comes there, make his appearance before his throne a matter of fear and uncertainty. He who fell on the neck of the returning prodigal and kissed him, will not keep him at a distance when, with the best robe, and the ring, and the shoes, he comes into his father's house. Our first apprehensions of God will be happy beyond our present comprehension. What an image have we, in these words, of a man helping a child, by the hand, through a dangerous or dark way: "For I the Lord thy God will hold thy right hand, saying unto thee, Fear not; I will help thee." If "I will be with thee," is the reason, which he himself assigns why we should not be afraid, why should we fear to come into his presence?
As to a consciousness of guilt, there is no doubt that he who falls asleep in Jesus, with reliance on his blood and righteousness, will immediately, at death, receive such a consciousness of being purified from all taint of sin, as now is beyond our conception. In the language of Scripture, we shall be presented faultless before the presence of his glory with exceeding joy. For the sake of Christ, in whom we trust, we shall be received and treated as though we had never sinned; we shall say, in the full assurance of pardon, righteousness, and peace with God, without waiting for the question to be asked in our behalf, "Who is he that condemneth?" "It is Christ that died."
And if this be so, as it surely is, why may not Christians in this world before they die, nay, from the first hour of justification by faith in Christ, triumph thus in him? Why should their remaining sinfulness, their poor, frail, erring nature, which they must carry with them to the grave, prevent them from having the same joy in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom also we have received the atonement? Every true believer in Jesus Christ is warranted in having the same consciousness of pardon and peace with God, now, as after death; the justifying righteousness of Christ is as powerful now as it will be then. Some tell us, "Live a sinless life, and you may have this perfect peace." That is self-righteousness. It will not be a sinless life which, in the moment after death, will make us to be openly acknowledged and acquitted; it will be the righteousness of Jesus Christ which is by faith; and he who has faith in that righteousness may, living as well as dying, here as well as in heaven, say, 'There is, therefore, now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus, who walk not after the flesh, but after the spirit.'
There are several things which may reconcile us to the thought of dying:
* * * * *
All the people of God since the creation, with two exceptions, have died. Of the two who were excepted, neither of them was his only begotten Son. Those whom God has loved peculiarly have not been exempted from the stroke of death. Shall we ask exemption from that which, all the good and great have suffered? Let me die the death of the righteous. If he must find the grave, there will I be buried. We would not go to heaven but in the way which prophets, apostles, martyrs trod. The footsteps of the flock lead through the valley; we will seek no other, no easier, way.
* * * * *
Surely we should be willing to follow our great Forerunner. He tasted death for every man; and he could enter into his triumph only by dying. We should be more than resigned to follow our blessed Lord into the tomb. Christ conquered death by dying; we shall be more than conquerors in the same way. If we suffer great pain, we cannot suffer more than Christ suffered on our account. Sufferings borne in the spirit of Christ are counted as sufferings borne for Christ. "If we suffer, we shall also reign with him." "If so be that we suffer with him, that we may be also glorified together."
* * * * *
Death is a part of the penalty of sin. We should, therefore, submit to it, giving up our bodies to be destroyed, in fulfilment of that sentence which we have so justly incurred—"and unto dust shalt thou return." He who hates sin, and condemns himself for it, and is willing to have fellowship with Christ in his sufferings for it, as it is most graciously represented that we may, will bear the execution of God's righteous sentence with a willing mind.
* * * * *
Death is the perfecting of our redemption. It is the last act of redeeming grace. When the Saviour, who says, "I have the keys of—death," (i.e., no one can die but at the time and manner prescribed by me,) takes us out of the world, it is to finish the work of our personal salvation. All the circumstances attending it will be as deliberately appointed, and as carefully watched and directed, as the first great act of grace towards us in our regeneration. He, too, who has provided such pastures and streams for us here, in removing us to living pastures and to living streams, will, of course, see that we go safely through the valley which must be passed to reach them. It will not be a new thing to Christ to see us die. He has watched the dying beds of millions of his friends, he has had great experience as a Shepherd in bringing them through the valley.
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See that chamber in yonder mansion, where all the comforts, and some of the luxuries, of life, have contributed to prepare for some mysterious event. The garden of Eden failed to possess such joys as are there in anticipation, and are soon to be made perfect. Every thing seems waiting, with silent but thrilling interest, for the arrival of an unknown occupant. And there is raiment of needle-work, and of fine twined linen, and gifts of cunning device, from the looms of the old world, and from graceful fingers and loving hearts here, every want being anticipated, and some wants imagined, to gratify the love of satisfying them. And now God breathes the breath of life, and a living soul begins its deathless career, amidst joys and thanksgivings, which swell through the wide circles of kindred and acquaintanceship. The Holy Spirit, in the process of time, renews and sanctifies the soul through the blood of the everlasting covenant; and having, through life, walked with God, the day arrives when the spirit must return to God who gave it. You saw how it was received here, at its entrance into the world. You have seen what the atonement, and regeneration, and sanctification, and providence, and grace, have done for it, and with what accumulated love the Father of Spirits, and Redeemer, and Sanctifier, must regard it. And now do we suppose that the shroud, and coffin, and the funeral, and the narrow house, and the darkness, and the solitude and corruption, and the whole dreary and terrible train of death and the grave, are symbols of its reception into heaven, the proper pageantry of its arrival and resting place within the veil? Believe it not! If God prepared in our hearts such a welcome for the infant stranger, that even its helpless feet were thought of and cared for, surely when those feet, wearied in the pilgrimage of the strait and narrow way, arrive at heaven's gate, it must be, it is, amidst rejoicings and ministrations of love to which earth has no parallel. Let kings and queens prepare a royal room for the new-born prince: "In my Father's house are many mansions: if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you unto myself; that where I am, there ye may be also."
Could we look into that place, as it stands waiting for its occupant from earth, we should behold sights which would instantly clothe even death with beauty, and make it seem now, as it will seem then, a blessed thing to die.
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To miss of dying would no doubt be a calamity. Dying will be an experience to the believer which will be fraught with inestimably good things; that is, the act of dying, and not merely the being dead. It is no doubt as necessary to the nature of the soul, to its psychology, its soul-life, as the changes of the worm, chrysalis, and butterfly, are to the insect. And thus, as in all other things, where sin abounded, grace much more abounds, and even death, like a cross, is turned into a ministration of infinite blessing.
It is not unsuitable for a dying Christian to consider, that he is compassed about with a great cloud of witnesses, who themselves have died, and who are watching his departure. We ought to die with such faith in Jesus, such confidence in God, such confident expectation and hope, that they will rejoice to see us conquer death. Our last conflict should be fought in a manner worthy of the company and scenes into which we are immediately to pass.
We should not anxiously seek to remove entirely from any one, in the course of his life, his fears with regard to death, except as we may substitute faith for those fears. God probably intends them now for the increase of faith. Moreover, when the event of death happens, it will be mingled with so much mercy as to make the Christian smile at his fears. The exhortation of the apostle in view of his great discourse of death and resurrection is noticeable: "Therefore, my beloved brethren, be ye steadfast, unmovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord; forasmuch as ye know that your labor is not in vain in the Lord."
There are cases in which the clouded faculties, or delirium, prevent the full enjoyment of a peaceful, happy death. Such cases seem painful to friends, but the Shepherd knows when it is best to hide the face of a sheep which he carries through the valley, and that it is sometimes better for the sheep to pass the valley in the black and dark night, than when daylight, by revealing the horrors of the place, would excite fear. All this may safely be left to those hands which spoiled death of his sting, and to that love which is stronger than death. Wherever, and whenever, and in whatever manner we may die, it will be under the care and direction of Him who will no more see us in the power of the enemy, than a strong and faithful shepherd would suffer a beloved member of his flock to fall into the power of the lion.
The last lines of a hymn by Doddridge—
"Then speechless clasp thee in my arms, The antidote of death"—
are altered, by some compilers, who substitute the word conqueror for antidote. But the author saw the truthfulness of his own chosen language, though the word in question be not convenient for musical expression. When we are already stung by a poisonous creature, we take something which proves an antidote to the effect of the sting. This medicine is not so much a conqueror, as an antidote; for the poison is not developed. But the sting is inflicted, and before the poisonous injury is felt, the antidote prevents it. These words of Christ correspond to this: "Verily, verily I say unto you, If a man keep my saying, he shall never see death." How often we behold this verified! The spectators "see death," in his approach, in his effects; they weep and tremble, while the dear patient does not "see" it; for something else absorbs his thoughts, fixes his attention; he is stung, indeed, by the monster; but Christ is an antidote to death, causes it to pass by without inflicting pain upon the mind, or in any way hurting its victim. Dr. Watts illustrates and confirms all this:—
"Jesus, the vision of thy face Hath overpowering charms; Scarce shall I feel death's cold embrace, If Christ be in my arms."
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The piece of paper which would suffice to write the twenty-third Psalm upon it, would not be large enough for a common title deed; and yet that Psalm, if it expresses our experience, is worth infinitely more than is conveyed, or secured, by all the registries of deeds under the sun. We are each of us to see a time when we shall feel the truth of this. If but these first few words of the Psalm are true in my case, if "the Lord is my Shepherd," all the rest of the Psalm is a record, a promise, a pledge, of past, present, and future good.
There are six things declared by Christ to be characteristic of the relation which he and his people sustain to each other, as Shepherd and the sheep:
1. "My sheep hear my voice;
2. And I know them;
3. And they follow me;
4. And I give unto them eternal life;
5. And they shall never perish;
6. Neither shall any pluck them out of my hand."
Here we find directions to duty, as well as promises of future good.
Since it is more important how we live than how we die, and since death is merely the arrival at the end of a journey, the beginning, progress, and history of the journey determining what the arrival is to be, we shall do well to dismiss our borrowed trouble with regard to the manner of our departure out of the world, and be solicitous only with regard to the right discharge of present duty. We read, "Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his saints." The death of every child of his is, with God, an object of unspeakable interest; his own honor is concerned in it; its influence on survivors is of great importance; it will be among the means by which God accomplishes several, it may be many, purposes of providence, but especially of his grace. "No man dieth to himself." Great interests are involved in his death, beyond his own personal welfare. Now, if we have lived for God, he will make our death the object of his especial care, and will honor it by its being the means of promoting his glory. Instead, therefore, of gloomy apprehensions as to dying, we should cherish the noble wish and aim that Christ may be magnified in our body, whether it be by life or by death. If our life has been a walking with God, "THOU ART WITH ME" will be a perfect warrant, now, and in death, to "FEAR NO EVIL."
THE SEARCH FOR THE DEPARTED.
No bliss mid worldly crowds is bred, Like musing on the sainted dead.
We seek in vain, on earth, for one who has gone to heaven. Though better informed as to the objects of our love than they who lingered about the deserted tomb of the Saviour, and were asked, "Why seek ye the living among the dead," we nevertheless find ourselves, in our thoughts, searching for them; so difficult is it at once to feel that they are wholly and forever departed. There is an affecting and beautifully simple illustration of our thoughts and feelings, in this respect, in the search which was made for Elijah after his translation. Fifty men of the sons of the prophets went and stood to view afar off, when Elijah and Elisha stood by the Jordan. Elisha returned alone, and these men could not feel reconciled to the loss of their great master. They were not persuaded that he had gone to heaven, no more to return; they sought leave to seek him, and to recover him: "Peradventure," they said, "the Spirit of the Lord hath taken him up and cast him upon some mountain, or into some valley." Elisha peremptorily refused to grant them leave. They were importunate; and when, at last, it would, perhaps, seem like obstinacy in him, or like jealousy of their superior love for Elijah, to forbid the search, which at the worst would only be fruitless, he yielded. Three days they explored the valleys, ransacked the thickets, groped in the caves, traversed hills, followed imaginary trails and footprints, but found him not. When they came again to Elisha, "he said unto them, Did I not say unto you, Go not?"
We cannot become accustomed at once, nor for a long time, to the absence of our friend. If his death was sudden, or if it took place away from home, or during our absence, we expect to see him again; if a vehicle stops at the door, the heart beats with an instantaneous hope which dies with its first breath, bringing over us a deeper and stronger refluence of sorrow. We catch a sight of articles familiarly used by a departed friend; they are identified with little passages in his history, or with his daily life: is it possible that he is altogether and forever disconnected from them? They are the same; those perishable things, those comparatively worthless things, having no value at all except as his use of them made them precious, retain their shapes and places; but where is he? and must not he return and abide, like them?
No, he is gone to heaven. The places which knew him shall know him no more forever. Those things, which have an imperishable value in being associated with his memory, are, to him, like the leaves of a past autumn to a tree now filled with blossoms. The mention of every valued possession once indescribably dear to him, would awaken but slight emotions; even the recent history of the dwelling which he built and furnished, would be no more to him than the rehearsal to a grown person of that which had happened to a block house, or card figure, which amused his childhood. We walk and sit in the places identified with our last remembrances of the departed; but he is not there; we hallow the anniversaries of his birth and death; but he gives us no recognition; we read his letters; they make him seem alive; his voice, his smile, his love are there; and when we have finished, nature, exhausted with its weeping, sighs, "And where is he?"
He is gone to heaven. Even the earthly house of his tabernacle is dissolved; that part of him which was all of which we were cognizant by our senses, is no more. We could not recognize it; to the earth, out of which it was taken, it has, by slow degrees, returned,—as though every thing earthly, belonging to him, 'must needs die, and be as water spilt on the ground, which cannot be gathered up again.' We travel to his birthplace; there is the house where he was born; we meet those who grew with him side by side; we are among the scenes which were most familiar to him; he planted those trees; he collected those pictures; there is his portrait, he rested here, he studied, he worked, he rejoiced, he wept, in these consecrated places; but did we go thinking to find him there? "Did I not say unto you, Go not?"
We shall surely make him real to our thoughts, if not to our senses, where he lies buried. But we may as well stand upon the sea shore, where we had the last look of a sea-faring friend, and think that those waters, and those sands, and that horizon, will restore him. They only serve to open farther the path of his departure; they lead our thoughts away to dwell upon him where we imagine him to be. Nowhere does heaven seem more real than at the grave of a friend; for we know that he has not perished, and as we stand on that verge of all our fruitless search and expectation, we are compelled to fix him somewhere in our thoughts; but as he is nowhere behind us, we look onward and upward.
Our desire for departed friends, however natural and innocent, if it resulted as we sometimes would have it, would prove to be unwise.
Suppose that those "fifty strong men" had found Elijah, or in any way could have prevented his translation to heaven. With exultation, they would have led him back across the Jordan to the company of their friends, amidst the thanksgivings of the people. But, alas! for the prophet himself, this would have been his loss, even had it proved to be their gain. The opening Jordan, cleft in twain by his rapt spirit, pressing its way to the skies, had returned to its course; and now the fords of the river, with its rocky bed, would have required his laboring feet to grope their way back to his toil; or the arms of men, instead of the chariots of fire and horses of fire, would have borne him again to the dull realities of life; and there, rebuking Ahab, and fleeing from Jezebel, punishing the prophets of Baal, and upbraiding the people of God in their idolatries, fasting and faint under junipers, or covering his face with his mantle at the still small voice of the Lord his God, he would again have prayed, "O Lord God, take away my life, for I am no better than my fathers." 'Let me not wait longer for my promised translation; let me die as my fathers did; for wherein am I better than they?' So weary had he grown of life. Blind and weak do these fifty strong men seem to us, in searching for this ascended prophet, this traveller over the King's road in royal state, one of the only two who might not taste of death; the companion, in heaven, of Enoch, with a body which fills all the ransomed spirits there with joyful expectation, because it is a pledge and earnest of "the adoption, to wit, the redemption of their bodies." If, amid the new wonders and raptures of the heavenly world, he had had one moment to look down upon those "fifty strong men," as they searched for him, he might well have used, in cheerful irony, something like his old upbraidings of the priests near Baal's altar: "Search deeper, ye 'strong men,' in the thickets and caves; peradventure I sleep in the brakes, and must be awaked; call, with your fifty voices together, that I may be startled from my trance; will ye give over till ye bring me back to Jericho? Will ye search but three days? Shall I lose the remnant of my life on earth?"