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EARLY DEATH, OR THE REVIEW OF LIFE IN OLD AGE.
One dieth in his full strength, being wholly at ease, and
quiet. Job xxi, 22. Now when he came nigh to the gates of the city, behold,
there was a dead man carried out, the only son of his
mother, and she was a widow. LUKE vii, 12. We spend our years as a tale that is told.
The days of our years are threescore years and ten :
and if by reason of strength they be fourscore years, yet is their strength labour and sorrow : for it is soon cut off, and we fly away. Psalm xc, 10.
You remember, perhaps, the incident recorded of Xerxes, the Persian monarch, that when reviewing the mighty host, with which he was then invading Greece, and which numbered more than two millions of men, he burst into tears upon the reflection that when far less than a century had passed, not an individual of all those multitudes would remain alive. Pity that he had not thought how many myriads of them his mad ambition was hurrying to the grave by the devastation of war! With like pensive, but more practical feelings, let us look over the population of our globe, and consider that, according to the average term of human life, nearly a thousand millions of immortal beings pass from our world to their eternal doom every thirty years.
What a conqueror is death! What an evil is sin, which is the cause of this mortality! What a world is that beyond the grave, where all these countless millions assemble! And what a being is God, who is the author of their separate exis
tences, pursues each one through his whole individual history, and will not suffer one to be left forgotten in the grave, overlooked in the judgment, or left without his just and appropriate doom in the retribution of eternity! Are you in want of subjects for reflection and useful moralising? What themes are these ! Man is born to die ; death is ever doing its work; and the tide of mortality is ever setting in upon the shore of eternity, bearing with it all that belong to the human species. In looking at the race of Adam only in this aspect of it, in seeing one generation follow another to the grave in endless succession, like the various vegetable and animal tribes, we are ready to ask the question of the Psalmist, “ Wherefore hast thou made all men in vain P” And truly if there were no other state of existence than this, there would be reason in the inquiry ; for apart from immortality life is a dream, and man a shadow. Comparing the nobleness of his faculties, with the shortness and uncertainty of his life, and the vanity of his pursuits, he would, if this world only were the sphere of his existence, seem to cast a reflection upon the wisdom of his Creator, who had invested him with the powers of an angel and yearnings after immortality, merely to mind earthly things. But with the eternal world thrown open to our view, and its state of rewards and punishments disclosed to our faith, how momentous are that term and condition of existence which are granted us here as our discipline and probation for immortality! With far other feelings than those of contempt or complaint, I now echo the inquiry, “What is
Death is an agent that works by no rule or order with which we are acquainted ; sometimes passing by the aged to take the young: leaving the sickly to seize upon the healthy: removing the useful and sparing the worthless. This brings me to the subject of the present chapter, Early Death, or the Review of Life in Old Age.
Let us consider the first alternative. The young man may die. Indeed the fact recorded in the text is often
your life po
repeated. It is in the order of nature for the aged to die, and for the young to live: but this order is not always observed More deviations from it take place in the human race than in any other tribe of creatures. But few of the young of the inferior animals die of disease, compared with those of the human race. Life seems to be precarious in proportion to its value. What multitudes of young people die annually in this country of consumption, that bane of English youth! It is mournful to me to recollect how many beautiful flowers I have seen thus cut down in spring. I have during my ministry followed to the grave young persons in sufficient numbers, were they all still living, to form a congregation of no inconsiderable size. And what has been, still is, and ever will be, in respect of the mortality of youth. There is always something affecting in the death of a young man. In some cases it realises the scene described by the evan. gelist in one of the texts at the head of this chapter, “Now when he came nigh to the gate of the city, behold there was a dead man carried out, the only son of his mother, and she was a widow." Her only comfort is removed, and the last light of her tabernacle is put out; her one tie to life is cut, and she feels left alone upon a bleak and desolate shore. In other cases it is the son of wealthy parents, whose brightest prospects hung suspended upon that one precious life, the termination of which causes them to repeat in sorrow, not perhaps unmixed with complaint, the words of Job, “He destroyeth the hope of man.” In other instances it is the death of a youth of great promise ; he had finished his education, served his apprenticeship, and with talents that excited the liveliest hopes of success, and with virtues that had already ensured admiration, was just about to step upon the stage of active life. He had formed, perhaps, a connection of chaste and tender love with one worthy of him, and with whom he expected soon to share the cup of connubial happiness; and then, when all was smiling around
him, and he was returning so joyously its smiles, he is smitten down by death. Oh, to see that noble flower, when nearly full-blown, droop its head upon its stalk, wither, and die ! How many tears are shed, how many hopes are disappointed, how many sorrowful voices exclaim, “What would he not have been had he lived !! When the aged man, who has lived out his term, expires, we are not surprised; we expected it, and were prepared for it. But for the young to die, for whom no fears or dread anticipations were cherished, strikes us, not only with grief, but with astonishment.
I will now put two cases before you.
I. That of the young man who dies a true Christian. He has remembered his Creator in the days of his youth, repented of sin, believed in Christ, lived in the fear of God. He has not forgotten or neglected religion. This was his mode of life when death came upon him. For the king of terrors pays no more respect to piety than to talent. Many a bright blossom of the church, as well as of the world, is nipped off by his relentless hand. The christian youth has often been removed, as well as the irreligious one. Such a young man, when he found he must die, felt serious, solemn, and at first somewhat sorrowful, on looking round on all he was parting from, on seeing the mists of the dark valley rising over the landscape which he had been accustomed to survey with so much delight, and on witnessing all his prospects suddenly fading before his eyes.
But when his faith came to his relief, bringing with it the "everlasting consolation" of the Gospel, and "a good hope through grace, a hope full of immortality,” he recovered his tranquillity, and in the prospect of that glory, honour, and eternal life, to which he believed he was going, he could then serenely look “On all he's leaving, now no longer his.” We are ready to say, what hopes are buried in his tomb, what expectations of himself, his parents, and his friendş ! permitted to see, and even to touch, many things that
were attractive and alluring, but to grasp nothing. He was conducted to an eminence whence he could survey a beautiful prospect as his seemingly destined possession, and then closed his eyes in death. He had but a fragment of existence, and what made it all the more mournful was, that the fragment indicated how pleasant the whole would have been, had he been spared. Did he not live in vain ? No, he did not live in vain. He answered the highest end of existence, as certainly as if he had lived out the threescore years and ten, or fourscore years, of man's existence; as if he had entered upon business and succeeded in obtaining wealth ; as if he had married and had raised a numerous and respectable family; as if he had obtained rank, station, and influence in society, or re
For what is the highest end of human life? The salvation of the immortal soul, a preparation and a portion for eternity, a meetness for heaven. Man's chief end is to glorify God and enjoy him for ever. Now, the truly pious person has accomplished this end, has secured this object as completely, though he die at the age of twenty, as if he had lived to that of seventy. He says on his death-bed, “ True there are some things I could have wished to live for, and I feel that in not being permitted to remain and accomplish them, I am giving up some of the secondary and inferior ends of existence, but I have fulfilled the one great end of life. I have obtained the one thing needful, even the salvation of my soul. I have accomplished the loftiest and most benevolent purpose of God in sending me upon earth. I have not lived in vain. He who is made for immortality, and has everlasting ages of pure delight before him, need not regret the loss of a few
years of pleasure mixed with pain. I am upon the threshold of eternity, and have attended to that which will prepare me for an eternity of bliss. I am disappointed in the hope of some little things, but I am not disappointed in the pursuit of far greater ones, and in the eternal fruition shall forget the momentary pain.