In the early days of Methodism it was said of the new brand of Christians that they died well. It is the privilege of every believer to know this victory. One phase of the work of Christ is well epitomized in the second chapter of the Epistle to the Hebrews. Verses 14 and 17 tell of the incarnation and its purpose. The heart of this section says, "That through death he might destroy him that had the power of death, that is, the devil; and deliver them who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage."
One of the young men encouraged into the ministry by the late Dr. William Anderson, of Dallas, Tex., told us this. Dr. Anderson was very ill. He seemed better, but was quite prostrated. His mother was sitting in the room with him. He gently called to her, "Come over here a minute." As she approached his bed he said, "I want to tell you something. I am going to beat you to heaven." And with a smile he shut his eyes and was gone.
The fear of death is banished in the measure that our life is fixed upon the One who tasted death for every man. It is only the person who can say, "For me to live is Christ," who can with joyful anticipation say, "To die is gain." —Courtesy Moody Monthly.
On a Pennsylvania cemetery where President Buchanan is buried, one sees on a grave this inscription (by Felicia Ilemans):
Leaves have their time to jail,
And flowers to wither at the North wind's breath,
And stars to set; but all,
Thou hast all seasons for thine own,
After we have learned the whole vocabulary of life, each one of us at length, at the appointed hour, must learn to pronounce the last and inevitable word, which is "death."
She was a friend in the church who passed over the river last summer. A few days before she received her summons she said to her daughter, "You know I have been thinking about a text that I heard my minister preach on in Scotland when I was a girl."
"And what was it, mother?" asked the daughter.
"It was something about horses and the swelling of the Jordan. Yes, that's it! 'If thou hast run with the footmen, and they have wearied thee, then how canst thou contend with horses? and if in the land of peace, wherein thou trustedst, they wearied thee, then how wilt thou do in the swelling of Jordan?'" (Jer. \2-5).
"What a strange text!" said the daughter. "What could the minister ever get out of that text?"
"What could the minister get out of that text?" said the mother in her soft Scottish voice. "What could he get out of it but this—that when we take our friend, our father, mother, or little child, down to the river, that is as far as we can go with them. And when we ourselves go down, that is as far as they can go with us. Then it is you and your Saviour for it!"
In his autobiographical sketch one of the most notable of American writers. W. H. Hudson, author of Green Mansions and Days in Patagonia, tells of an incident on his early life in South America. The family dog Caesar had died and been lowered into a grave dug for him. The schoolmaster looked around on the boys assembled at the grave and said solemnly: "That's the end. Every dog has its day, and so has every man, and the end is the same for both. We die like old Caesar and are put into the ground and have the earth shoveled over us."
That is the materialist's view of death.
The last enemy, the final riddle, is death and the after death. In the Highland churchyards they usd to play the plaintive ballad "The Mowers of the Forest":
I have seen the smiling of fortune's beguiling,
I have felt of its favors and found its decay,
Sweet was its blessing and kind its caressing,
But now 'tis all fled, 'tis fled far away.
I bare seen the forest adorned the foremost
With flotwers of the fairest, most pleasant, and gay.
Sae bonnie was their blooming, their scent the air perfuming,
But now they are withered and a wede a way.
Yes, we know life's smiling, and th the smile passes. Life has much that delightful and lovely, but it passes. Life is like an autumn scene, as you see it in the landscapes of Inness, rich and beauful, but with the shadow of brevity falling over it—too beautiful to last. What about: tomorrow? Science, knowlegde, knows nothing of tomorrow. Its territory is yesterday. Pleasure knows nothing of tomorrow. Its territory is today. But tomorrow, what of that? The mind can state its reasons and fortify itself in a belief in life to come; and the heart, which hath reasons of its own, can put for its hope: but man dieth and lieth down and giveth up the ghost, and where is he? Who shall tell the secret?
After the wreck of his fortune and reputation, Aaron Burr still retained his most cherished joy and possession—his beautiful and accomplished daughter Theodosia. In 1813 this daughter, who was the wife of Governor Alston of South Carolina, embarked at Charleston on pilot ship sailing for New York. The ship never came to port, nor was it ever heard of again. Had we been in the vicinity of the Battery on almost any day in the years which followed the disappearance of the vessel, we might have seen a man—old and broken, but bearing still the unmistakable mark of determination of mind—walk slowly dow upon the Battery and stand for a long time gazing wistfully down the harbor at the incoming vessels, as if still "cherishing the faint, fond hope that his Theodosia was coming to him from the other side of the world."
So do the bereaved look out toward that ocean of mystery which has swallowed up their beloved, and wonder if no voice, no message, no form, though shadowy and but for a moment, will come to break the long, long silence and to comfort and assure their troubled hearts.
One of the finest passages in English poetry are the lines in Byron's "Cain" where he describes Cain standing over the body of the murdered Abel, astonished at death, then new in the world and now so old. The old, old fashion— and yet something which comes with new wonder and shock to the men of each new generation. Death in some other city, or in some other house down the street, is one thing; but when death invades our own house and family we are forced to look on it with the same awe and surprise and wonder which Byron so splendidly imagines in the mind of Cain.