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The Christian's Confidence in Death.
PSALM xxiii. 4.
Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will
fear no evil.
THE contemplation of our mortality is calculated to fill the mind with solemn and appalling thoughts. To be separated from all those things in which we have found occupation, if not enjoyment; to close our ears for ever upon the busy hum of life; to shut our eyes for ever upon the verdant fields of earth, the glorious heavens, and the all enlightening sun; and to lie down in silence and corruption, with the primitive fathers of our race, over whose dust ages have rolled away; this is a trial from which unsupported nature shrinks.
To ponder upon this great change, even at a distance, is often more than our minds can endure. And therefore, the lonely silence of the midnight hour, the dimly lighted chamber, where the messenger of dissolution waits for his expir
ing prey, the evening pathway over the solitary church-yard, and all those scenes which are fitted to suggest ideas of death, are generally avoided by the worldly, and often give rise to fears which press upon the sensibility of the religious. But since to banish the thoughts of death will not hinder the event; since they who shrink from the contemplation of it do not defer the evil, but do in fact defer and neglect the preparation which would disarm it of its terror; there needs no apology for making it the subject of our frequent consideration. More particularly is no excuse necessary on this occasion, when I propose to consider, not the awful horrors which mark the end of the abandoned and profane, not the gloomy insensibility and desperation of those who have neglected the great salvation, but the animating consolations, the triumphant hopes, which belong to those who die the death of the righteous, and whose last end is peace.
There is a composure in the death-bed of a Christian, which, more than any other thing, throws into shade the glories and the splendours of earth. Even when we listen to the rude tale which tells in simple and uncultivated eloquence how the humble child of piety breathed its last in the cottage of lowliness and of poverty, how the fears of dissolution were vanished by the assurance of a heavenly inheritance, how the weakness of a frail and exhausted nature was supported by
the succours of celestial grace, and how the anticipations of eternal blessedness shed a triumphant glory over the abode of sorrow and of destitution, there is a lofty feeling excited in our bosoms, which casts into insignificance all the pride of life, and the vain pomp of worldly illusion.
It is profitable often to recall that feeling, my brethren, and it would be wise to dwell long and intently upon it. The Christian would find his faith strengthened for the combat, when his own turn arrives to die. His love of the world would be weakened or extinguished. His gratitude to his Saviour would be enlivened and confirmed. The man of the world, and he who has not God in all his thoughts, would be instructed and warned. Comparing the restlessness and inquietude of a sinful life with this composed picture of resignation and trust, he might perceive the folly of his own deceitful path, and inspired with admiration and respect for a religion consecrated by such triumphs in nature's darkest hour, he might pray for grace to believe the Gospel, and to live the life of the righteous, that he might die his death.
I have said that to ponder upon death, even at a distance, is generally revolting to the mind. But it is not always so. And though sometimes the hearts of the pious are afraid, yet they do not always shrink from the awful change. Often the Christian includes the idea of death 'among the
privileges which he is permitted to recount. Death is yours, said St. Paul, who himself had a desire to depart that he might be with Christ. Nor is it only at those times when persecution, and affliction, and worldly cares, beset him, that death is ranked among the privileges of the believer. At times, when the sense of God's mercies fills the heart, when every thing around is bright and prosperous, and when the soul, swelling with a feeling of gratitude, overflows in praise and thanksgiving for worldly good; even in times like these, it is possible for the pious man to look forward to death without regret or alarm. It was at such a time as this, when the great and favoured king of Israel surveyed the advantages that he enjoyed, and celebrated the blessings of his lot, that the words before us were uttered. It was when David was enabled by God to triumph in the presence
of his enemies, when his head was anointed with oil, and his cup was made to run over with good, when he felt assured that goodness and mercy should folow him all the days of his life, that he dared to look forward without trembling to the day of his death. “ The Lord “ is my shepherd,” said he, “ I shall not want. « He maketh me to lie down in green pastures. « He leadeth me beside the still waters. He're“storeth my soul. He leadeth me in the paths * of righteousness for his name's sake.” These were the sounds which, in an hour of gladness, VOL. II.
the sweet singer of Israel flung from the chords of his joyful harp: and yet even then, in that hour of gladness, and from that rejoicing harp, were heard, in eqnal triumph, the consolitary strains which belonged to the hour of his departure" Yea, though I walk through the valley of “ the shadow of death, I will fear no evil; for " thou' art with me; thy rod and thy staff, they “ comfort me.” Irreligious men are unable to reconcile this association of the thoughts of death with the joys of life. They can readily conceive that the man who is depressed with cares and troubles, and pain and sorrow, and who flatters himself with exemption from these ills in a future state, should long to lay aside his burden, and be at rest. But that they who are surrounded with riches, and honours, and earthly advantages, can be sincere in looking forward with joyfulness to that solemn change, they will not readily believe. And if they do not impute to them the baseness of hypocrisy, they will not excuse them from the wild delusion of fanaticism and folly. For themselves they put far away the evil day of death, Nor is it strange that they do so, since to them it is an evil day. And if this world and its pleasures could be for ever within their reach, so mean and unambitious are their desires, that they would covet no higher possession.
But, my brethren, such persons seek in vain for solid satisfaction from the world. The very