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the important condition, and death, contingent indeed, but unlooked for and kept out of sight; that living as we do on the débris of other lives, poring delighted over the memoirs of their extinct passions and long-past toils, we yet so faintly anticipate our own certain change, when all the "thirsty cares” which to-day “drink up the spirit” will become ridiculously obsolete, and all the events of our lives but the dim remembrance of a once interesting tale. Oh! let us to-day, while it is called to-day, think seriously what death will do!
Death and life are sometimes compared to sea and shore ;—but the waves bring to our feet some portion of their acquisitions; of their wrecks they show some sign. The dead do not so; they go from us, and of them we know absolutely nothing more.
“ The myriads swarming on the earth
Are few beside its dead;
Must solve death's problem dread.
Dumb are the graves beneath ;
To wed one life with death."*
The dark, still night, into which a person goes out from a house full of light and movement, gives one a better image of our ignorance of all that follows upon dying; would that we might perceive even as much of the dead as we do of retreating footsteps !
While we live, the conjunction of soul and body seems so perfect, they appear in action so truly one, that the mind can hardly believe such union only transient companionship; to the embodied, the rupture of this intimate conjunction must ever appear wonderful and terrific. And when any one among us dies suddenly, we who are left are ready to suppose that it was not so sudden a death as it appeared to be; we persuade ourselves, in spite of all evidence to the contrary, that there was some secret notice of the approaching change, some foreboding, some alarming sensation, warning the soul to prepare for death. So will our friends speak, guessing about us, who now plan what we shall do next summer, and forecast the anxieties of an after year, if, while we talk of these things, some tiny part of our intricate bodily mechanism goes wrong'unperceived, and the heart stops, and the breath and the spirit pass away without a moment's notice; and those who look on ask curiously one of another if any difference of look or manner had been observed ? Ah! what difference need be waited for while we live in such bodies as these, and who can plead any want of warning ? Could the word of our Maker be more explicit than it is upon this point
* H. Schütz Wilson.
of man's mortality? or could experience be more emphatic in giving its alarm than the common experience of our day ? For with the increase of all other knowlege, how greatly increased is our knowledge of the variety and frequency of death!
“You that are now so idly busie in gathering together the treasurie of your ant-hillock, and building children's tottering piles, doe you forget that the foot of death is coming to spurn it all abroad, and tread down you and it together? You spend the day of life and visitation in painting your phantasies with the images of felicity, and in dressing yourselves, and feathering your nest, with that which you impiously steal from God; and doe you forget that the night of blacknesse is at hand, when God will undresse you of your temporary contents, and deprive you of your borrowed bravery? How easily ! how speedily ! how certainly will He doe it!"*
From the position taken by this eloquent writer, declamation is easy; but when we wish to make his argument, bear upon every heart, we find some difficulty in separating the effects of panic-stricken ignorance from those of just alarm.
The most devout person is often startled when observing the incongruity of every-day life with that day when this life ends ;—the vain absorption, as it appears, in all that death will make insignificant—the fearful abruptness of transition from a thousand mundane cares to a state with which (as we suppose) they have no connexion. And even when piety sanctifies every employment, this transition still seems so awful, that it is a common thing for those to whom disease bas showed their death-warrant, to try and alienate themselves from earthly interests, and to avoid all that is likely to distract their attention from the coming change. This is called preparing for death. I know not if those who thus endeavour to make ready find it possible to keep ever in sight that unimaginable crisis ; or whether they can release the heart from its worldly affections, by seclusion and a strict regimen of mental abstinence. Except for those who can no otherwise gain undisturbed time for thought and prayer, and searching selfexamination, I should not think that this mode of preparation was the best. “Set thy house in order, for thou must die, and not live," admonishes us what to do when death is close at hand; but if the affairs of this life are arranged, and all in our power is made ready for departure, I doubt if a continual dwelling upon it is to be desired. If it be, and if in order to prepare for death we ought to have less interest in the things of this life, let us not lose an hour in trying to reduce this interest: while we are in health, let us labour to keep death steadily in view. What holds good of the invalid, languishing from fatal malady, is equally applicable to the strongest and youngest among us.
But let us consider whether it be true that the business of this life is a bad preparation for another. Could the God who “knoweth our eternal life”-its nature and duration have placed us under a necessity of attending to earthly things, if these were to unfit us for that life eternal ? And might we not complain, if we did think so, that He who calls Himself a loving Father, betrays His poor helpless ones, when we see how He calls them away when most busily engaged in secular concerns—when the mind is evidently immersed in thoughts of this life ? Can He who orders all things in perfect wisdom summon them when least prepared ? This cannot be.
A fatal error clings to the idea of any special preparation for death: the error of anxiously attending to what we do, and madly neglecting that we are. It is the real being to which God ever looks, and to this death will oblige us also to look. This may be more or less disguised all through our earthly life; and therefore does the Word of God so urgently counsel us to purify and reform the heart—to "worship Him in spirit and in truth.”
The constant tendency of human nature is to hide inward being by outward observances; but oh ! let us remember in time, that if religious observances are the main part of our worship, they will be of no avail nay, they may fearfully harm us as a means of self-deception; for when we die we can carry none of our forms away with us, nor can the pomp of our devotions follow us. Unless meek obedience and humble love to the God we so worship bas actuated our external religion, it will then prove to have been worse than useless; unless our spirits cleave stedfastly to Him, all professed adherence must be fruitless, when that spirit is stripped of every disguise.
It is vain to arrest the will in the midst of common and innocent action, with the inquiry, “How will this employment bear upon my eternity ?” for that is a question which we cannot answer; and in one sense we cannot prepare for that, being wholly ignorant of the kind of existence upon which the disembodied enter. We are in truth unable to conform the employments of this life to any ideal standard of what will best harmonize with a future state. And in our gross darkness about that future, it seems to me a hazardous risk to contemn any part of that complicated nature which God has bestowed for our welfare on earth.
The cominon notion of heaven is so made up of negatives, and of hopes which only imagination can grasp, that we are too prone to think of it as a state of sacred quiescence-blissful form, sinlessness and holy love, and the Divine presence—but not answering to the manifold powers which we are conscious of possessing here. But such a notion is unwarranted, for in another world all pure aspirations may be gratified-all, of which we now feel the germs, may find objects and due expansion; it may be for our eternal good that-to the very
verge of life—we cultivate and enlarge the intellect which feels so homeless here.
It is not of varied interests and many-ended occupation that we need be afraid, if these are directed by the master motive, which studies how to satisfy the will of God; for a principle is strengthened by varied adaptation, and enfeebled by uniform exercise.
Whatever is the fault which we most frequently commit, the weakness to which we so often yield, that we sometimes feel ashamed to mention it again in our prayers—of that we may well be afraid ; for that, without anything worse, may fill us with dread when death flashes insight through us.
We have no reason for thinking that death interferes with any mental habit. We can take nothing away with us but what we are. So that the really momentous question is not what follows after death, but what is our spiritual state now; for this at any instant may be made manifest and incurable. What are our opinions and sentiments, what our habits of inner life ? Opinion may be modified by increase of knowledge; sentiments altered by circumstances over which we have no control ; but habit, that appears to resist every influence, even the Almighty's; and in accustoming ourselves to any course, good or evil, we doom ourselves to a perpetual inclination in that same direction, so long as it is possible for the will to find means to perform its habitual purpose. If we remember that no habit can be improvised, and remember too what the mind suffers, even in its muffled condition here, when we are in a sphere for which we are quite unprepared, the dread importance of habits will be seen. How are we now feeling? Is God our God, owned by inward devotion and careful obedience ? and do we follow Jesus daily, entreating Him to give us that eternal life which may be shared with Him now, among all our miseries and imperfections ? and do we find proof of that life being kindled, by the unfeigned love of our hearts for all His creatures ?
Unless we have confidence towards Him on these grounds we are in danger; not because we enjoy this seeming life, and busily occupy ourselves with this world's interests—since for that we were evidently intended—but because we will not come to Him, and have life indeed. When we dwell in Him, and He in us, we can sincerely say, “Let come on me what may-be it death, slow or sudden—in that unknown world I shall find Him whom my soul loveth; for He has said, “Where I am there shall my servant be :' when He calls He will have prepared a place for me, and meanwhile I will be busy here: not wrapped in aimless meditation, like a Bhuddist devotee, but active and joyous, doing my Father's business in my own generation. And when He calls, doubtless it will be for a peculiar purpose; what happens after death can be no exception to the usual course of His wise providence (* for of His kingdom shall be no end'). He will have gracious need
of my powers beyond the short span of this unexplained earthly being. Death will but shut up and seal my doings and words here, while it sets me free for a new career, invisible to those I leave behind, but none the less actual, and full of intenser life.” Thus to a Christian who is conscious of being truly one with Christ, a very member of His mystical body, that from its head receives directing influence, and on all its fellow-members bestows-in a small measure, but willingly, the faintest reflection of the sympathy of Christ-death is not fearful. From that blessed union nothing can divide us contrary to our own will : and though all externals are doomed to perish, the spirit is no longer
poor and blind, and naked and miserable,” for Jesus clothes it with His fulness, and in nature's most awful conflict His power will give us victory. Oh! you who read these words, arrest, I pray you, all other thoughts, till that time is imagined when He only can be your strength and your salvation. Consider betimes, now-for to-morrow you may feel what to-day you merely think of—consider if you could dare to find yourself without God in the unexplored world, to which every morning brings you closer ? It may have proved very possible-disastrously easy-here to live estranged from the God who hideth Himself; but when all worldly friends, and all worldly distractions vanish, and you are alone with God and an immortal memory of all His mercy and past forbearance, and unwearied entreaties to believe, and obey, and trust in Him, and you see at last why omniscient love so besought you to have mercy on your own soul-oh! how will it be then? Do not flinch from the question. If the thought so pains that you recoil from it, what will the experience be ? You will be the same spirit then that you are now; those habits of mind which characterize you will fix your fate then, and every minute you are making for yourself an eternity either more blissful or more agonizing.
“Now! It is gone--our brief hours travel post,
Each with its thought or deed, its why or how;
To dwell within thee-an eternal Now.” * If bodily death is fearful, wbat must that death be of which it is the image, and what must a spirit be and appear that has cut itself off from the living God?
You may come to a terrible knowledge of this, when the merest trifle you now look at—the inkstand you use, the carpet you tread, the plant whose lovely blossoms please your eye-are remaining where they were; and you, who can now 'seek the forgiveness of God by prayer—by doing His will, and laying hold of eternal life—may have vanished out of your place, leaving all your dearest treasures to the power of survivors. Therefore I plead, therefore I entreat, do not say