Posts Tagged ‘death’
These are fearful words to most of us, and rightly so. To be told that you have heart disease is to be told of a fundamental threat to life. Sometimes the only options are radical surgery and a complete revolution in our lifestyle. Most of us – were we or one of our family members in such a position – would be very quick to do whatever was necessary to put the situation right. After all, our life would be on the line.
But there is a yet more terrible heart disease which we are often all too ready to ignore, but which kills us all. Even as you read, you are suffering from this heart disease, and you need to know the symptoms, diagnosis and cure.
Its symptoms are very evident. Are you self-centred? Are you envious of what others have? Do you lie and cheat? Do you curse and blaspheme? Do you get drunk? Have you ever stolen? Do you want or have you had a sexual relationship with someone who is not your husband or wife? Are you often angry? Do you hate someone? Do you never go to worship God? Do you ignore Sunday, God’s day, and do whatever you like? Do you think nothing of Jesus Christ? Are you disobedient to your parents? If any or all of the above symptoms are present, then you suffer from this heart disease
The diagnosis is equally plain. “From within, out of the heart of men, proceed evil thoughts, adulteries, fornications, murders, thefts, covetousness, wickedness, deceit, licentiousness, an evil eye, blasphemy, pride, foolishness. All these evil things come from within and defile a man” (Mark’s Gospel, chapter 7, verses 21-23). In other words, you have a sinful heart that is contrary to God and his law, and for which you deserve to be condemned and punished. In one sense, you are already dead: dead in trespasses and sins.
Critically, then, is there a cure? Yes! God has provided a means to be healed from this most terrible disease of sin, but it requires radical surgery and a complete revolution in lifestyle. In Psalm 51, verse 10, we find a man with a sinful heart crying out to God, “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me.” Only this can save you from your sins. You need a new, clean heart from God, and you need to depart utterly from all your sinful ways.
Consider what is at stake: with your terrible heart disease of sin, you have only misery and condemnation to come. Get a new heart from God: he is rich in mercy to make men who are dead because of sin alive together with Christ. Come, then, to Jesus Christ, and you shall have everlasting life.
I appreciated David Murray’s letter to a beloved friend on the eve of that friend’s death, ending:
My heart fills with love and my eyes well up with tears as I bid you a last farewell from this sin-sick world.
I will never forget you.
See you “in the morning.”
It is no small thing so to live as to be worthy of such parting words.
Kevin DeYoung passes on a description of the death of Sarah Hodge, wife of Charles:
The next death that visited Hodge was infinitely dearer to him. On Christmas Day 1849, just four months after her return to Princeton with her daughter and grandchild, Sarah “softly & sweetly fell asleep in Jesus.” She most probably fell victim to uterine cancer.
Sarah’s health had begun to deteriorate soon after her return, and by December her condition was such that Hodge had lost all hope of recovery. In her final weeks, he personally nursed Sarah, spending countless hours simply lying next to her. During these times, he held her hand, and conversed with her when she had the strength. The depth of their love remained so intense that Hodge later commented that “to the last she was like a girl in love.” During her final weeks, Sarah asked Hodge to tell her in detail “how much you love me,” and they spent time recounting the high points of their life together.
Hodge’s last hours with his wife were particularly poignant. As her life ebbed away, Sarah looked at her children gathered around her bed and quietly murmured “I give them to God.” Hodge then asked her if she had thought him a devoted husband to which she replied as “she sweetly passed her hand over” his face: “There never was such another.” (Charles Hodge, 258)
Kevin then asks a good question:
Married couples, if you imagine that your final moments together will be like this, rejoice and again I say rejoice. Let the thought of such bittersweet sorrow put your present troubles and conflicts in perspective. But if this scene feels like an impossible dream, what must you change now so you and your spouse can die like this later?
Though I live in these days
Why should I evil fear,
When sin and death around me tread,
When wicked men draw near?
The wealth of earth will fade,
And life cannot be bought,
The godless soul will boast in vain,
And riches come to nought.
Both fool and wise will die,
Their wealth will be passed on,
Their works, their goods, their dwelling place,
From father down to son.
Like flowers in the field
Their glory dies and fades;
The foolish man says, “This is all:”
His words are swept away.
Fools go down to the grave
And in death’s shadow lie;
The upright man dominion has
When worldly men must die.
The beauty of the world
Consumed within its graves;
But God shall be my dwelling place,
My soul received and saved.
So as I walk this world
I fear not evil men.
Their power, their wealth, their glory here
Shall not pass on with them.
Like beasts that perish they,
Not blessed by God above,
Who gives to us his lasting gifts,
And true, eternal love.
See all hymns and psalms.
1. I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.
2. I wish I didn’t work so hard (expressed by every male patient)
3. I wish I’d had the courage to express my feelings.
4. I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends.
5. I wish that I had let myself be happier.
It is a list that rather reveals the fears with which we live. I recall words from the deathbed of Major-General Sir Henry Havelock (not because I was there, you understand): “I have for forty years so ruled my life that when death came I might face it without fear.” If that will be so for us, alongside of gospel hope expressed in a life of righteousness, we would do well to consider whether or not we are living in fear.
Robert Bruce, the disciple of John Knox and Andrew Melville, died at Kinnaird on July 27th, 1631. He had come to breakfast and his younger daughter sat by his side. As he mused in silence, suddenly he cried, ‘Hold, daughter, hold; my Master calleth me.’ He asked that the Bible should be brought, but his sight failed him and he could not read. ‘Cast me up the eighth of Romans,’ cried he, and he repeated much of the latter portion of this Scripture till he came to the last two verses: ‘I am persuaded that neither death nor life nor angels nor principalities nor powers nor things present nor things to come nor height nor depth nor any other creature shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.’ ‘Set my finger on these words,’ said the blind, dying man; ‘God be with you, my children. I have breakfasted with you, and shall sup with my Lord Jesus this night. I die believing these words.’
Marcus L. Loane, The Hope of Glory (Waco, 1968), page 160.
It is worth remembering that we do not get to die like this if we do not pursue the call to live like this.
HT: Ray Ortlund.
What can I do for him now? What can I still give?
Flowers? No, the hospital will not permit them in his room, and he would not be able to appreciate them.
Books? No, for he lacks the strength to hold them and the sight to read them.
Food? No, for he can no longer eat, and only drips of water have gone into his body over the last ten days.
Clothes? No, for his emaciated frame will not need them for much longer.
What can I give? The only things I have left to give are truth and love. I can speak of the love of God in Christ and show love by being there and caring as I can. Not to deny the other things, of course, but this actually helps to set priorities for those who are not on their deathbeds. What do men need more than truth and love? We should not wait until death looms before we give these gifts. The only time to prepare for death is life. Not only must I prepare others, God helping me, but I myself must so live as to be ready to die.
William Carvosso, chronicler of the Cornish revivals of the early 19th century, records a conversion and death with a godly grandfather’s perspective. How honouring to God when grandfathers, fathers and (grand)sons can acquiesce in the Lord’s merciful dispensations!
My dear grandson, William Rundle, so recently brought to God, and so hopeful in the church, has been snatched away from us by the hand of death. He was ill only a very short time; but glory be to God, he died in sure and certain hope of a glorious resurrection to eternal life. How merciful are the dispensations of God! His conversion took place about six weeks before his removal from hence. He did not long groan under the burden of guilt, and his evidence of pardon and adoption was very clear. At a prayer-meeting two or three weeks before his death, he received an overwhelming manifestation of the Spirit, in which every doubt and fear was utterly put to flight. He attended his class a few days before his death, and seemed to be filled with unspeakable joy: ‘My soul,’ he said, ‘is like a ship in full sail, on the boundless ocean of redeeming love.’ His death was occasioned by the rupture of a blood vessel. In all the conflict, he was perfectly tranquil and serene; fear was not permitted to come near him. This was the more striking, because, in every little indisposition before, he was much alarmed and distressed at the thought of death. But now he seemed at once ready-winged for the flight. To his father, who had fondly hoped that he would be the help and comfort of his advancing years, he said, ‘Father, you can do very well without me; and I would rather die than live.’ The Lord whom he had so heartily chosen for his portion in the vigour of health, was now his abundant support in the struggle of pain and death. Just before he expired, he said to me, ‘I used to be struck with terror at the thought of dying, but now I can meet death with a smile.’ He died in his nineteenth year.
Quoted by Paul Cook, Fire From Heaven (91)
Death is in the headlines. Michael Jackson seemed to think he was God. Bobby Robson was, in his time, as much the Geordie Messiah as Kevin Keegan. At a Swiss clinic, Dignitas clients play God with their own lives. And, up and down the UK, and in many other countries (some far less equipped to deal with the problem), disease runs rampant, and men panic over the pursuit or lack of God-like control over their health.
In a culture increasingly obsessed, at least in popular media, with doomsday scenarios, the swine flu statistics and reaction can be bewildering. The country is generally described as “unprepared” (sometimes the adjective “woefully” is thrown in for good cheer). The government seems to veer between crying “We’re coping” on the one hand, and “We’re doomed” on the other: the net effect is the agitated cry of a frantic Corporal Jones: “Don’t panic!”
In a climate of fear and uncertainty, of panic and ignorance, how should a Christian respond? God’s voice cuts through the white noise of conflicting cries for attention and tells us how to think clearly and prepare properly.
Firstly, remember that the Lord God remains in control of all things (Eph 1.11; Heb 1.3; Ps 135.6). This may be general and basic, but it is still true and needful. God’s knowledge and power are absolute on the grandest and most minute scales. Isaiah 40 is true in every regard even when – like Jeremiah when ordered to buy a field in the face of the advancing armies of Chaldea (Jer 32.16-25) – we remain ignorant and confused. Even unbelievers who would never bless God when receiving mercies are quick to blame him when trouble comes (Rev 16.9, 21) – their fallen hearts still know that someone is in charge. God’s absolute control includes all disease and plague (Ps 39.10). He remains the sovereign, gracious, merciful and compassionate God of Jonah 4.10-11: nothing is an aberration from his plan, there are no surprises to him, and he makes no mistakes.
Secondly, know that the Lord God has sovereignly determined the spread, effect and toll of this disease. Scriptures often show the Lord employing disease to accomplish his purposes. The common thread running through every instance is his absolute control over it (see Ex 6.6-7; 7.5; 9.16; Num 16.41-50; 25.1-9; Dt 28.21, 61; 2Sam 24.13-25). Whether among peoples or with regard to individuals (Jb 2.1-10), God sets the bounds always. His actings and permissions are absolute. His knowledge of and control over all aspects of life is total (Ps 139.15-16). All the days of our lives, and all their experiences, are appointed for us. Disease is God’s creature, and he holds the reins.
Thirdly, rejoice that the Lord God in mercy and goodness has provided means to promote and secure the health of his creatures. It is a demonstration of God’s fatherly care (Mt 5.44-45). It is an instance of common grace. God has put certain means of health within our hands to be gratefully received and trustingly employed. So, in Isaiah 38 we find Hezekiah granted fifteen extra years of life, but the divinely-appointed ends are accomplished by divinely-appointed means (v21). Had Hezekiah despised or ignored the means of securing his health, it would not have been restored to him. Christians sometimes demonstrate what is imagined to be a super-spirituality. In doing so, some neglect God’s means: “This is all in the providence of God!” True, but so are the physicians who have concocted medicines, and so is its availability to you, and so may be the fact that your life will be secured by the use of them. Others despise God’s means: “God can heal or preserve me without resorting to medicines!” Yes, he can, but he also often uses regular means for the accomplishing of his sovereign purposes, and you will be the sadder for despising them. Without overreaction to, obsession with, or idolisation of the means God provides, use them soberly, seriously, wisely, diligently and appropriately as the divinely-appointed route, in most instances, to the promotion and securing of health.
Fourthly, consider that the Lord God has particular regard for his people, and is able to preserve and protect them by any means he chooses. Our use of means is never a reliance on men, but must be joined with trust in God alone. It is God who provides and blesses those means, and apart from him the doctors can accomplish nothing in us (2Chr 16.12). God cares for his own (Ex 12.13; Ps 91.10). Our times are appointed by him (Ps 31.15). To the Lord belong escapes from death (Ps 68.19-20) whether those escapes are immediate and vivid or slow and unremarkable. This is no guarantee of health or healing to all or any of God’s children (2Cor 12.8-10; 2Tim 4.20). It may require the believing and responsible use of less usual means (Jas 5.14-15). It certainly is not a call to a foolish fanaticism that tests God by demanding his care for an irresponsible and unrighteous walk (Mt 4.6-7). It simply means that, in the believing, trusting, wise, careful and legitimate use of means for securing our health, we can go about our God’s appointed business without crippling fear. Our times are in his hands, our days appointed by him, and our end secure with him: our present and final confidence lies in the God of our salvation (Rom 14.8). In the Black Death that devastated Europe during the 1660s it was a noticeable fact that when many others fled London, many faithful preachers remained to serve the sick and dying, and some enjoyed a preservation of life and health inexplicable apart from God’s superintendence of them.
Finally, remember that the Lord God will glorify his name in this, whether or not we ever understand how. Who can trace his intricate designs and multiplied purposes? Who can counsel God as to the warnings, punishments, callings, testings and proving that this pandemic will accomplish? When we can answer God’s questions in Job 38-41 then we can challenge his wisdom in governing the world he has made. We do know this: that whether in life or death, mercy or judgment, sickness or health, gratitude or anger, God will be glorified. His power will be demonstrated (Ex 19.6); his love will be proved (Dt 4.37); his sovereignty will be manifest (1Chr 29.11); his people will be stirred up (Ps 78.34-25); his enemies will be cast down (Ex 11.6-8). His name will be made known. One way in which that will occur is through the gracious living and believing dying of his saints (Mt 5.16; Is 43.2-3, 21).
Think clearly, then, and – in the light of these things – prepare properly.
Prepare to live. Be ready to serve (Eph 2.10), especially those who may be lonely and needy in the face of sickness (see Ps 38.11). Whom others neglect, the Christian remembers. When others run from danger, the Christian runs to the endangered, not taking our life in our hands, but putting it in God’s hands. Like Christ, we are to go about doing good. It is an opportunity to demonstrate true discipleship (Gal 6.10). Be ready to preach. Let your deeds be matched and explained by words. Be unashamedly Christian as you care for others, and do not deny God even when you cannot explain all his ways. Many may be on the brink of eternity, many might listen now when otherwise they would have scorned: declare Christ as the only one who can secure life forever. Speak of Jesus as the one name under heaven, given among men, by which sinners like us can be saved. Be ready to pray. Begin now. Pray for God’s glory, man’s blessing, and your own faith of body and soul. Come to God for the grace and strength you will need to serve him in these days. Ask that he might be honoured in your life and in your death. Pray for the salvation of many. Be ready to shine: “Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven” (Mt 5.16). Plan for, pray for, prepare for, and pursue God’s honour in all these things.
Prepare to die. John Donne wrote, “Never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.” Take these things as intimations of your own mortality. Heed them as a call to readiness. Your time may be at hand; your days are expiring: learn to number them, that you may gain a heart of wisdom (Ps 90.12). The wise man will turn to and walk with Jesus as the Christ of God when he considers these things. There is no other sure preparation for death (Ps 49.5-15). Sooner or later all will die and afterward face judgment (Heb 9.27). If not today, perhaps tomorrow; if not tomorrow, then soon. If not this disease, then something else will quickly snatch you away. Life is brief, and eternity beckons. That eternity will be spent by every one of us either in the hell where all sufferings here will appear light by comparison with those imposed there, or in the heaven where all sufferings here will be past, and no sorrow, pain nor tears can come, where Christ is its light, and where the exceeding weight of glory will far surpass whatever trials and tribulations the world has laid on us.
The gospel writers tell us of a woman who came sick and full of suffering to the Lord Jesus. She reached out a trembling hand and merely touched the hem of his garment. When Jesus turned and spoke with her, he assured her of this: “Daughter, your faith has made you well. Go in peace, and be healed of your affliction.” There is an affliction far worse than any disease, the affliction of sin. The one who touches the Lord Christ’s garment in faith shall indeed be made well. That is preparation both for life and for death.
Listen to a sermon on this topic here.
Imagine that you are drowning. It is not a pleasant thought. The water is closing over you once again . . . the waves still sweep over you as you flounder in a raging sea . . . you can feel the current sucking you under . . . a record of your life rushes through your head . . . you can hear the surf pounding the rocks not far away, and threatening to pound you too . . . and you begin to sink for what may be the last time. But wait! All of a sudden a hand reaches out to you, and a strong voice bids you grasp that hand, and be raised up. With what tears of relief would you grasp that hand, and what joy would be yours when you realise that, exhausted as you are, there is enough strength in that hand to hold on to you even when your grip fails again.
Many men and women are in a similar situation every day of their lives. The storms of life wash over them, and waves of violence beat them, and rocks of distress pound them, and the current of grief drags them down, and they feel that they are sinking forever. In a raging sea like this, there is nothing to keep you afloat: all that the world has to offer is like a lead weight that only draws you under all the more quickly, and you become weary of fighting any longer. And yet a hand reaches out to you, and a strong voice bids you to grasp that hand, and be raised up . . . and many men and women turn away, and struggle on in their own fading strength, until they are swept away into darkness.
The hand belongs to the Lord Jesus Christ, and he hears the desperate cries for help that go up from poor sinners struggling in the stormy waters. The sea in which you are drowning is the sea of sin, and there will come a day when you will sink for the last time, and the record of your life that passes before you on that day will be no comfort as you sink to death and judgement. Christ sends his people to warn those who are drowning of the danger they are in, and to point them to the way of salvation, but so many ignore the help at hand, and some even refuse to see the wind and waves that threaten to overwhelm them. And yet if you would only grasp Christ’s hand, then you would find that he is able to bear you up and to keep you safe. The storm may not be over immediately, but his hand that holds you will never let you go, and you shall be eternally safe.
That hand is offered to you this day. Christ reaches down and says to you: “Poor struggling sinner, weary and laden with pain and grief, will you not trust me? Will you not put your faith in me? Will you not put your hand in mine?”
The Bible tells us that Jesus Christ is “able to save to the uttermost those who come to God through him” (Hebrews chapter 7, verse 25). Those whom Christ does not save will not be saved – there is no other hope. Will you not therefore come to him now, that you might be saved from sin and have eternal life? Will you not take the hand that he offers before you sink for the last time?
John Bunyan, having been committed to jail following his trial, was powerfully assaulted by Satan with doubts and fears concerning his condition after death (a death threatened in no uncertain terms by the magistrates who had imprisoned him). He records something of his experience, and God’s grace to him in it, in the following paragraphs of Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners:
337. I thought also, that God might choose, whether he would give me comfort now or at the hour of death, but I might not therefore choose whether I would hold my profession or no: I was bound, but he was free: yea, it was my duty to stand to his word, whether he would ever look upon me or no, or save me at the last: wherefore, thought I, the point being thus, I am for going on, and venturing my eternal state with Christ, whether I have comfort here or no; if God doth not come in, thought I, I will leap off the ladder even blindfold into eternity, sink or swim, come heaven, come hell, Lord Jesus, if thou wilt catch me, do; if not, I will venture for thy name.
338. I was no sooner fixed upon this resolution, but that word dropped upon me, “Doth Job serve God for nought?” As if the accuser had said, Lord, Job is no upright man, he serves thee for by-respects: hast thou not made a hedge about him, &c. “But put forth thine hand now, and touch all that he hath, and he will curse thee to thy face.” How now, thought I, is this the sign of an upright soul, to desire to serve God, when all is taken from him? Is he a godly man, that will serve God for nothing rather than give out? blessed be God, then, I hope I have an upright heart, for I am resolved, God giving me strength, never to deny my profession, though I have nothing at all for my pains; and as I was thus considering, that scripture was set before me (Psa 44:12-26).
339. Now was my heart full of comfort, for I hoped it was sincere: I would not have been without this trial for much; I am comforted every time I think of it, and I hope I shall bless God for ever for the teaching I have had by it. Many more of the dealings of God towards me I might relate, but these, “Out of the spoils won in battles have I dedicated to maintain the house of the LORD” (1 Chron 26:27).
May God grant to more of his people in this day, facing often lesser and sometimes equal trials, the same stripped-down and ready faith that he gave his sensitive servant, John Bunyan.