« PreviousContinue »
reasons, he conceals from all the mortal hour till it comes, so conducting his providence in the administration of death, as on the one hand to rebuke the spirit of presumption, and on the other to teach our constant dependence upon his preserving power.
But what is death? Wbat is that event of wbich we have been thus speaking in these general terms? Perfectly to know what it is, and all it is, is the privilege of those only who have died. Our knowledge while living is simply that of observation, and never that of personal experience. What, then, is death as we observe it? You may take a case not unfamiliar to human eyes. There lies, attired and coffined for the grave, a victim of the great destroyer; one of the dearest objects of your earthly love has just fallen; the struggle is over; and your child, or parent, or husband, or wife is dead. For a series of years your conversations, communions of thought, bestowments of affection, mutual care and service, held the rank of merely common-place events, so much like themselves, and witbal so frequent, as to have attracted no special notice. But alas ! what a wonderful change bas just happened. To the living how strange and afflictive, and to the dead how august and amazing! You have done all that you could to avert the fatal blow; you have not only invoked the .skill of man, but also sought the help of God; and yet, in spite of all your efforts, disease has done its deadly work. Life's mysterious and noble mechanism has come to a final pause. W bat is this? You answer: My cherished friend, my child, my father or mother or husband or wife is dead. Yes; but there lies the once living form. I see every feature of a countenance that but yesterday beamed with the expressions of intelligence. You observe the same, and yet you can not speak to that deceased friend; you can no longer exchange thoughis with him; your strongest sympathies awaken no response on his part; you are absolutely shut out, and that, too, forever in this world, from one that has been as familiar to you as your breath, Strange event! Though a single word is its name, it is an aggregate of the most heart-searching solemnities. How vivid our thoughts become at such an hour! Can it be? Is it so ? How is it? What is it? Am I not mistaken? Is not this my own dream? Oh! is it possible that the relation between me and my friend is so changed, that it has in a moment become so stupendously different? Must I ever think of him as the inhabitant of another, and to me a mysterious world ? Let me try to follow his departing spirit. How did it go? Where? How far? What has become of it? What is it doing at this moment? Shall I never meet that friend again ? Will he never know me more? What shall I do with this body, cold, lifeless, motionless ? Must I commit it to the tomb, leaving it in that lonely solitude with the earth-worm for its only companion?
Such, my friends, is death in its relation to human feeling. The sentence of mortality in its fulfillment, while it blasts the dying, addresses the hearts of the living with an amazing power.
We surely want some plan of thought, some data of hope, with which to expound an event that so terribly rends the relations of this life, and drives inquiry with such vehement earnestness into the untried future.
It is estimated, that not less than two hundred thousand millions of human beings have lived and died, since our system began. The sweep of mortality is so great, that, upon an average, there have been about thirty-four millions of deaths in every year, or about three thousand seven hundred and sixty in every hour, or sixty-two in every minute, or more than one in every second of time. Were the entire dying of the globe transferred to this city, a single day would be sufficient to place every man, woman, and child in eternity; and in some five days the same would be true of the great metropolis of the nation. By the same process it would take only about eight months to transmit the whole population of these United States to the world of spirits. Not less than two bundred millions of mourners are the annual witnesses of what death is doing in our world. Recall the scene in which you exchanged the last farewell with your expiring friend, multiply. ing it millions of times; and you will but state the stern experience of your race in a single year. We are so accustomed to mortality as the appointed lot of our species, and withal so strangely insensible, that we need occasionally the shock of severe meditation upon the sentence: “ Dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return." These bodies that we adorn and pamper with so much care, will soon be the food of worms, in a few years undistinguished from common dust. What a rebuke mortality gives to all the pride, and pomp,
and earthly circumstance of life! Low vain, empty, and in the end worthless that life, whose hopes and prospects lie within the narrow limits of time! If this be all of wbich one thinks, and for which he lives, existence is alike a farce and a failure. Mr. Webster never gave forth a truer utterance than when he said: “One may live as a conqueror, a king, or a magistrate; but he must die as a man. The bed of death brings every human being to his pure individuality; to the intense contemplation of that deepest and most solemn of all relations, the relation between the creature and his Creator. Here it is that fame and renown can not assist us; that all external things must fail to aid us; that even friends, affection, human love and devotedness can not succor us." True, every word of it! Solemnly true!
“When down thy vale, unlocked by midnight thought,
In withered laurels glide before my sight!
The wisdom of the wise, and prancings of the great." This picture of Dr. Young sets before us, in its true character, that revelation of life which mortality inscribes on the brow of the mere worldling. Death makes him a complete bankrupt in a world not designed to be his heaven, and for a world which but for his own perversion, might have been his heaven. His sun goes down in starless midnight. When he breathes his last, all is lost, and lost forever.
II. Let us now turn our meditations to the thought contained in the second Scripture-to man as transient.
“For what is your life? It is even a vapor that appeareth for a little time, and then vanisheth away." The object of the inspired penman was to rebuke those who say: "To-day or to-morrow we will go into such a city, and continue there a year, and buy, and sell, and get gain.” Stop a moment, ye thoughtless men, laden with earthly cares! Hear the instructions of heavenly wisdom! “Ye know not wbat shall be on the morrow." Your plans contemplate a year; yet your knowledge does not grasp the events of a single day. Twenty-four hours of future time are too much for you to fathom. Think, too, of yourselves, especially your present life. “What is your life? It is even a vapor that appeareth for a little time, and then vanisheth away.” Look above yourselves to the power that gave and upholds your being, and learn to say: "If the Lord will, we shall live, and do this or that.".
Thus the Apostle reasons with presumers upon future time, selecting the most transient and fleeting object in nature as an image of life. Life is not
Life is not a rock that rests for ages unshaken in its bed; it is not an antique temple that has resisted the wear of centuries; it is not a plant that blooms in the summer and fades in the autumn; but it is a mere vapor—the thing of a moment, just seen, and then gone. The Scriptures compare it to a mere shadow that flits before the eye, and disappears. Its march is said to be swifter than a weaver's shuttle. The whole of its years is likened to a tale that is told. It is like grass which flourisheth in the morning, and in the evening is cut down, and withereth away. By such figures the Bible seeks to convey to our minds an impressive sense of the exceeding brevity of life. God would have us feel, that our stay on earth is very transient, embraced in a period comparatively reduced to a very small compass. He speaks to us and of us as strangers and pilgrims here, men on a journey, not at home. There is a truth, a startling truth, shining through every Scripture figure, whose object is to apprise us of the shortness of life. Poetry baptizing its verse in the thoughts of the Bible, has turned its hallowed eye upon life's scene, and in strains monitory and pensive, often rehearsed what none deny, yet what millions fail practically to appreciate. Let us not despise these truthful songs of the muse. They record the protest of reason against that common folly, by which all men think all men mortal but themselves.
"Opening the map of God's expansive plan,
The first short gasp, the last and long-drawn sigh!"
“ To-morrow ?
Dismiss not these strains as the idle dream of poetry. They are poetry founded upon fact; and this is what I wish you to see. I know that even when we desire to do so, we find a difficulty in impressing our minds with the truth upon which we are reflecting. We can see it, and state it in words, while we fail to feel it. We follow others to the tomb, forgetting that others will soon follow us there. Let us, if possible, break this charm, and at least seek to startle our apathy into a moment's meditation.
Borrowing an illustration from one of the published sermons of Dr. Spencer, formerly an honored pastor in this city, let me suppose this congregation to consist of two thousand souls. Here you are before me in the land of the living, in the house of God, of different ages, and all in good health. Now, estimating your pros. pects by a general average, what is before these two thousand souls ?
"In the course of one year, 66 of them will die
In fifty years, 1922 will be dead men." Think, I entreat you, of this tabular estimate, for it is founded on facts, and states a general law of human mortality. Only seventy-eight of the whole two thousand left after the lapse of fifty years! Nineteen hundred and twenty-two falling victims to death, while half a century is running its course! Hear the words of the excellent man of God, from whom I have borrowed this statement:
“Would that this picture were as efficacious as it is appalling! Would that the hearts of the two thousand in a promiscuous assembly were so affected with the idea that sixty-six of them will die in a single year, tbat sixty-six of them in a single year would hear the voice of the Son of God, and live! My hearers, your days are fast numbering up! The sands in your glass of life are rapidly falling! for you the shroud is weaving! for you the bed of death is spread! Your seat here will soon be vacant, and the ear that now listens to me will be sealed up, till the trump of the arch-angel shall awake the dead. Death is certain. Life is uncertain. To day, if ye will hear his voice, harden not your hearts. To-morrow may be too late to hear."
These earnest words of the faithful preacher are as true and as important to-day, as when first uttered by one who is now sleeping in the tomb.
Let me ask you to keep this supposition before your minds for a moment longer. Of the two thousand persons, all of whom with the exception of seventy-eight, will be dead in the space of fifty years, I wish you to notice
First, the diversity of their present age. Some are little children; some are young people; some are in middle life; and some are advanced in years. You now see them at all ages. What will be the fact when they die? Will they all live up to the same age? By no means. The diversity now is not greater than that which will prevail at the time of their death. Of the sixty-six to be drafted in the first year, some will be children, some in blooming youth, some in manhood, and some in old age, each class furnisbing its quota for the tomb. The same diversity will be seen in the five hundred and eighty-eight, whom the lapse of ten years will remove to the world of spirits. Classify these persons by any rule of which you can think — by their age, their condition, their business, or their character; and you can form no class exempt from death during every year until they are all gone. God in his sovereign pleasure lets the shaft fall where and when he will, filling up the grave with all classes from the living.