By Charles Kingsley
"By one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men, because all have sinned."--ROMANS v. 12.
All death is a solemn and fearful thing. When it comes to an old person, one cannot help feeling it often a release, and saying, "He has done his work--he has sorrowed out his sorrows, he has struggled his last struggle, and wept his last tear: let him go to his rest and be peaceful at last."
But when death comes suddenly to people in the prime of life, who but yesterday were as busy and as lively as any of us, and we are face to face with death, and see the same face we knew in life--not wasted, not worn, young and lusty as ever, seemingly asleep,--something at our heart as well as in our eyes, tells us that there is more than sleep in that strange, sharp, quiet smile--and we know in spite of ourselves that the man is dead. And then strange questions rise in us, "Is that he whom we knew? that still piece of clay, waiting only a few days before it returns to its dust? It is the face of him, the shape of him, it is what we knew him by. It is the very same body of which when we met it on the road we said, "He is coming." And yet is it he? Where is he himself? Can he hear us? Can he see us? Does he remember us as we remember him? Surely he must. He cannot be gone away--there he lies still on that bed before us!"
And then we are ready to say to ourselves, "It must be a mistake, a dream. He cannot be dead. He will wake. We shall meet him to-morrow in his old place, about his old work. He dead? Impossible! Impossible to believe that we shall never see him again--never any more till we too die!"
And then when such thoughts come over us, we cannot help going on to say, "What is this death? this horrible thing which takes husbands from their wives, and children from their parents, and those who love from those who love them? What is it? How came this same death loose in the world? What right has it here, under the bright sun, among the pleasant fields, this cruel, pitiless death, destroying God's handi-work, God's likeness, just as it is growing to its prime of beauty and usefulness?"
And then--there--by the bedside of the young at least, we do feel that death must be God's enemy--that it is a hateful, cruel, evil thing--accursed in the sight of a loving, life-giving God, as much as it is hated by poor mortal man.
And then, we feel, there must be something wrong between man and God. Man must be fallen and corrupt, must be out of his right place and state in some way or other, or this horrible death would not have got power over us! What right has death in the world, if man has not sinned or fallen?
And then we cannot help going further and saying, "This cruel death! it may come to me, young, strong, and healthy as I am. It may come to-morrow; it may come this minute; it may come by a hundred diseases, by a hundred accidents, which I cannot foresee or escape, and carry me off to-morrow, away from all I know and all I love, and all I like to see and to do. And where would it take me to, if it did take me? What should I be? What should I see? What should I know, after they had put this body of mine into that narrow house in the church-yard, and covered it out of sight till the judgment day?" Oh, my friends, what a thought for you, and me, and every human being! We might die to-night, even as those whom we know of died!
But perhaps some of you young people are saying to yourselves, "You are trying to frighten us, but you shall not frighten us. We know very well that it is not a common thing for a young person to die--not one in a hundred (except in a war time) dies in the prime of his years; and therefore the chances are that we shall not die young either. The chances are that we shall live to be old men and women, and we are not going to be frightened about dying forty years before our death. So in the meanwhile we will go our own way and enjoy ourselves. It will be time enough to think of death when death draws near."
Well then, if you have these thoughts, I will ask you, what do you mean by chance? You say, the chances are against your dying young. Pray what are these wonderful things called chances, which are to keep you alive for thirty or forty or fifty years more? Did you ever hear a chance, or see a chance? Or did you ever meet with any one who had? Did any one ever see a great angel called Chance flying about keeping people from dying? What is chance on which you depend as you say for your life? What is chance which you fancy so much stronger than God? For as long as the chance is against your dying, you are not afraid of neglecting God and disobeying God, and therefore you must suppose that chance is stronger than God, and quite able to keep God's anger off from you for thirty or forty years, till you choose to repent and amend. What sort of thing is this wonderful chance, which is going to keep you alive?
Perhaps you will say, "All we meant when we said that the chances were against our dying was that God's will was against our dying."
Did you only mean that? Then why put the thought of God away by foolish words about chance? For you know that it is God and God only who keeps you alive. You must look at that, you must face that. If you are alive now, God keeps you so. If you live forty years more, God will make you live that time. And He who can make you live, can also let you not live; and then you will die. God can withdraw the breath of life from you or me or any one at any moment. And then where would our chances of not dying be? We should die here and now, and know that God is the Lord and not chance . . .
But think again. If God makes you alive He must have some reason for making you alive. For mind--it is not as you fancy, that when God leaves you alone you live, and when He puts forth His power and visits you, you die. Not that, but the very opposite. For in Adam all die. Our bodies are dead by reason of sin, and in the midst of life we are in death. There is a seed of death in you and me and every little child. While we are eating and drinking and going about our business, fancying that we cannot help living, we carry the seeds of disease in our own bodies, which will surely kill us some day, even if we are not cut off before by some sudden accident. That is true, physicians know that it is true. Our bodies carry in them from the very cradle the seeds of death; and therefore it is not because God leaves us alone that we live. We live because God, our merciful heavenly Father, does not leave us alone, but keeps down those seeds of disease and death by His Spirit, who is the Lord and Giver of Life.
God's Spirit of Life is fighting against death in our bodies from the moment we are born. And then, as Moses says, when He withdraws that Spirit of His, then it is that we die and are turned again to our dust. So that our living a long time or a short time, does not depend on CHANCE, or on our own health or constitution, but entirely on how long God may choose to keep down the death which is lying in us, ready to kill us at any moment, and certain to kill us sooner or later.
And yet people fancy that they live because they cannot help living, unless God interferes with them and makes them die. They fancy, thoughtless and ignorant as they are, that when they are in health, God leaves them alone, and that therefore when they are in health they may leave God alone.
My friends, I tell you that it is God, and not our constitution or chance either which keeps you alive; as you will surely find out the moment after the last breath has left your body. And therefore I ask you solemnly the plain question, "For what does God keep you alive?" For what? Will a man keep plants in his garden which bear neither fruit nor flowers? Will a man keep stock on his farm which will only eat and never make profit; or a servant in his house who will not work? Much more, will a man keep a servant who will not only be idle himself, but quarrel with his fellow servants, lead them into sin and shame, and teach them to disobey their master? What man in his senses would keep such plants, such stock, such servants? And yet God keeps hundreds and thousands in His garden and in His house for years and years, while they are doing no good to Him, and doing harm to those around them.
How many are there who never yet did one thing to make their companions better, and yet have done many a thing to make their companions worse! Then why are they alive still? Why does not God rid Himself of them at once and let them die, instead of cumbering the ground? I know but one reason. If they were only God's plants, or His stock, or His servants, He might rid Himself of them. But they are something far nearer and dearer to Him than that. They are His children, and therefore He has mercy on them. They are redeemed by the blood of the Lord Jesus Christ, the Lamb slain before the foundation of the world; and therefore for the sake of the Lord Jesus Christ, God looks on them with long-suffering and tender loving-kindness. Man was made in God's likeness at first, and was the son of God. And therefore howsoever fallen and corrupt man's nature is now, yet God loves him still, even though he be a heathen or an infidel. How much more for you, my friends, who know that you are God's children, who have been declared to be His children by Holy Baptism, and grafted into Christ's church. You at least are bound to believe that God preserves you from death, because He loves you. He protects you every day and every hour, as a father takes care of His children, and keeps them out of dangers which they cannot see or understand.
Yes! this is plain truth--your heavenly Father is keeping you alive! Oh, do not make that truth an excuse for forgetting and disobeying your heavenly Father!
Why does He keep you alive? Surely because He expects something of you. And what does He expect of you? What does any good father expect of his children? Why does he help and protect them? Not from mere brute instinct, as beasts take care of their young when they are little, and then as soon as they are grown up cast them off and forget them. No. He takes care of his children because he wishes them to grow up like himself, to be a comfort and a help and a pride to him.
And God takes care of you and keeps you from death, for the very same reason. God desires that you should grow up like Himself, godly and pure, leading lives like His Son Jesus Christ. God desires that you should grow up to the stature of perfect men and women, which is the likeness of Jesus Christ your Lord.
But if you turn God's grace in keeping you alive into a cloak for licentiousness and an excuse for sinning--if, when God keeps you alive that you may lead good lives, you take advantage of His fatherly love to lead bad lives--if you go on returning God evil for good, and ungratefully and basely presume on His patience and love to do the things which He hates, what must you expect? God loves you, and you make that an excuse for not loving Him; God does everything for you, and you make that an excuse for doing nothing for God; God gives you health and strength, and you make that an excuse for using your health and strength just in the way He has forbidden. What can be more ungrateful? What can be more foolish? Oh, my friends, if one of our children behaved to us in return for our care and love a hundredth part as shamefully as most of us behave to God our Father, what should we think of them? What should we say of them?
Oh, beware, beware! God is a righteous God, strong and patient, and God is provoked every day, and bears it according to His boundless love and patience. But "if a man will not turn," says the same text, "He will whet His sword." And then--woe to the careless and ungrateful sinner. God will cut him down and bring him low. God will take from him his health, or his money, or his blind peace of mind; and by affliction after affliction, and shame after shame, and disappointment after disappointment, teach him that his youth, and his health, and his money, and all that he has, are his Father's gifts and not his own property--and that His Father will take them away from him, till he feels his own weakness, till he sees that he is really not his own but God's property, body and soul, and goes back to his heavenly Father and cries, "Father, I have sinned against heaven and before Thee, and am no more worthy to be called Thy son. I have taken Thy gifts and gone away with them from Thy house unto the far country of sin, and wasted them in riotous living, till I have had to fill my belly with the husks which the swine did eat. I have had no profit out of all my sins, of which I am now ashamed. I have robbed Thee and abused Thy gifts and Thy love. Father, take me back, for I have sinned, and am not worthy to be called Thy child."