By James Caughey
Forasmuch, then, as the children are partakers of flesh and blood he also himself likewise took part of the same; that through death he might destroy him that had the power of death, that is, the devil. Hebrews 2:14.
Many persons in this congregation will remember that I preached from this text last Sunday; but the subject is of such tremendous importance, so closely connected with the weal or woe of our souls: the sin of neglecting a preparation for death involves consequences of so fearful a nature, and leaves the soul to encounter terrors so appalling: the sin is so prevalent: the number of persons committing this soul-murdering crime so fearfully great, that I am perfectly justified in again lifting up the voice of warning, and calling upon you to prepare to meet your God.
Look! look! at the end of the rugged passage along which you are walking, there is a dark river, dark as midnight, black as the blackest night. See! as the lurid lightning plays over it, how rugged its entrance! how frowning and terrible its precipices! See how the waves swell, and the billows dash! Hark! hark! hear wild the screams of the shivering wretches, as they step into the bitter flood! O! how needful a friend at that hour, one that can carry poor shivering humanity through the swelling Jordan! Our text points you to that friend.
The First proposition is, that unconverted men and women are afraid to die.
That you must die at some time or another, in some place or another, in some state or another, is a settled fact, is an unalterable decree of Heaven. When you think about being torn sway from friend, from home, from your possessions, your amusements, of being housed up in the coffin, and laid low in the deep grave, -- you shudder. When you think about the paleness, the pain, the fight for breath, the mortal conflict,-- your fearful enemy rushing upon you at that hour of weakness, grasping you in his cold, chilly embrace, mocking your supplications, laughing to scorn the tears and agonies of your friends, quenching your vital principle, turning your deathless spirit out on the domain of a boundless eternity, -- when you think of that, you sicken at the thought. But, ah! you follow your soul, as, like a little twinkling light, it trembles on through the dark valley; there you see it rising into the presence of that God who is so awful in purity that the bright seraphim veil their faces and fall in deep adoration when they worship. Ah! when you think of that meeting, of having your life overhauled, and all your principles, motives, and conduct, weighed in the balances, before a being of purity so awful, and to "hide the audit," -- when you think of the consequences of that decision, that you will lose or gain heaven, escape or rush into hell, ah! it is that future, that unseen world, those great and awful realities, that lie hid there, -- you are afraid of God -- afraid of the future! You feel the truth of the proposition , you are a wicked man, and you are afraid to die!
When I was in Yorkshire, I heard a person ask this question . "Which impels to seek salvation most, the fear of death, or a desire to be happy?" I think that is hardly a fair question; these two should not be separated. There are multitudes or people who have no idea that religion can make them happy. Still they think it a good thing to die with. Have you not had that idea yourselves, friends? -- that religion is a good thing, that I may die happy; but not a very good thing to get through life with. No wonder; that is what Satan suggests. The sacred writers say, there is a time to be born, and a time to die. What then, is there no time between? Yes, there is; but he makes no account of it, there is such an uncertainty about human life. If a man does not think of dying, he is a brute in human shape; he must have sent his judgment away.
I have heard missionaries, on the missionary platform, exalt the Bible, and say that it is a blessing. I say, men make it a curse. Don't misunderstand me. It is one of the greatest blessings that has ever been given to man. It is a torch. It will light him to a knowledge of his sins; it will light him to the foot of the cross; it will light him to heaven. But it may be a double torch; and if a man will not be lighted by it to heaven, it will light him to hell.
It was said of Hipparchus, that he saved the people from two evils, or, that he bestowed upon them a double rod. Before his time, they did not understand the nature of eclipses, and when the sun disappeared, they thought they were going to lose him altogether. When the moon was eclipsed, they could not tell what would be the result; but Hipparchus pointed out the cause, and thus delivered them both from their ignorance and fears. We have the Gospel; and the blessed Gospel is a double good, -- it benefits both body and soul. The heathen, when he dies, is afraid of losing soul and body; the Christian sees he has his soul and body safe. Look at old Diogenes. When near his end, he was very drowsy; he said to those about him, "One brother is delivering me over to another; that is, brother sleep is delivering me over to an eternal sleep." When a wicked man dies in a Christian country, he may say, one brother is delivering me over to another brother; death is delivering me over to the second death, -- that is, damnation.
When Socrates was going to drink the cup of poison and to die, he said, " What will become of me, the gods only know." Poor Socrates! he had not the light of the Gospel. You know what will become of you. Jesus Christ, when crucified by the Jews, lifted his eyes to heaven, and said, "Father, forgive them; they know not what they do." Jesus Christ could not offer this prayer for you. You are not ignorant in reference to your future prospect; you know you are not prepared to die.
The emperor Adrian, when about to die, addressed his soul thus:
"O! my pretty soul, thou pleasant guest and companion of my body, into what place art thou now going, naked, cold and trembling?" One of your own English poets has taken up the subject very expressively -
"Poor little fluttering thing,
Must we no longer dwell together!"
Then concludes: "Thou hopest and fearest, Thou knowest not what." a dying sinner in Christendom hopes and fears, he knows what!
The poet in our land of Bible light sings:
"And am I born to die,
To lay this body down?
And must my trembling spirit fly
Into a world unknown?"
So far he appears on a level with Adrian; but hear him:
"Will angel bands convey
Their brother to the bar?
Or devils drag my soul away,
To meet its sentence there?
Who can resolve the doubt
That tears my anxious breast?
Shall I be with the damned cast out,
Or numbered with the blest?
I must from God be driven,
Or with my Saviour dwell;
Must come, at his command, to heaven,
Or depart to hell!"
The emperor Adrian did not think of these things; he hadn't the light of the Gospel. Poor trembling sinner! don't let the devil make a fool of you. You may as well try to pull down the moon, or pluck away the stars, or blot out the sun, as try to blot out the light of the Bible. You cannot blot it out, though it condemns you. You do not wrestle with God in secret; the Bible condemns you. You do not love God; -- the Bible condemns you. You do not pray in your families; the Bible condemns you. You are a whoremonger, an adulterer, you have no excuse. The poor heathen, on whose mind the light never shone, may find some excuse; but you have none. There is light in the Gospel. Bless God!
It would light you to pardon, -It
would light you to liberty, -It
would light you to heaven.
But that light, rejected, abused, and trifled with, will become a torch to light your feet down to the shades of a dark, dark, eternal night.
Let any one of you be in debt; -- you are at liberty, but you are liable to be arrested. There is a man there in debt; the police follow him along the streets of Nottingham, it may be, -into a shop, it may be. The police seizes him by the collar; he says, "You are my prisoner. Come along with me." It may be the man is unwilling to go, but he must. Through the streets of Nottingham, it may be, he takes him to the judgment-seat to be tried. Death is God's police-officer. He may come and seize you when you least expect him. He may say, "Come away to the judgment-seat, you are God's prisoner;" and the poor fellow must go.
God's police, a very short time ago, fetched away an infidel in the still hour of night, in the town of _____, while the inhabitants were wrapt in profound slumber. An infidel felt his final hour approaching; his infidelity vanished before the upbraidings of his guilty, awakened conscience. "Go," said the dying man, "to such a local preacher, and beg him come and give me some advice about my soul." The messenger hastened away, and, though the preacher had been laid up with a bad arm, he dressed himself and paced his way through the silent streets, and, by the aid of the lamp that gleamed on his path, soon found his way to the door of the poor dying infidel. As he entered the room, the eyes of the dying man turned towards him, lit up with an unearthly luster; his very soul seemed gleaming in his eyes; he cried, "O, sir, save me, save me, do save me!"
"My friend, I cannot save you; God alone can save you. Cry to him for salvation."
"O, sir, do you save me!"
Said the preacher, "God sometimes makes man the instrument of enlightening a dark mind like yours, but he alone can save your soul." The preacher knelt down and pleaded with God that he would save the man, pleaded with unusual liberty; pleaded, read, and exhorted him for two hours. The expiring man listened with the deepest attention and appeared to drink in every word that fell from the lips of the man of God. At length, the devil seemed to make his last effort, and we are grieved to add we fear a successful one. When the preacher expected symptoms of penitence, he roused himself up as though a fiend had taken possession of him; he began to swear in a most horrible manner, and to blaspheme the name of God. He turned his eyes upon the preacher and said, "Out, out of my room! If I could reach you, I would dash your brains out!" The preacher said, "I knew he was too weak to leave his bed to reach me. I felt resolved, however, not to give up the contest; I therefore knelt down again, and pleaded with God for his salvation. As death approached, -- as the dimness of the grave began to gather over him, -- as the room was growing dark to his fading sight, -- he became more and more furious. The tones of agonizing prayer and the horrible ravings of the infidel blended in wild confusion, and doubtless presented to heaven and hell a scene of fearful conflict, of intense interest. The closing scene was evidently fast approaching, -- the struggle was reaching its climax. The moment that was to fix him in heaven or hell was just at hand. The scene was intensely exciting. The quiet that reigned without in the street, the solemn hour of midnight, added to the solemnity of the scene. Nothing was heard now but the two voices, -- that of prayer and swearing vying with each other in energy. The fatal moment now arrived, -- the whole frame of the infidel was convulsed in the agonies of death. He fixed his two elbows on the pillow, raised himself up in the bed, and, with a wild and frightful scream, cried, 'O God, this moment damn my soul!'" -- he fell back upon the pillow, and expired. The scene on earth closed, and the eyes of another world looked upon the sequel. Such was the death of this infidel, and that too only a very short time ago. Let me tell you, you sinners, that if you reject Jesus Christ, you have no guarantee that your death will not be an equally horrible one. It may not exhibit all the tragic scenes of the one to which I have referred; but, if you neglect the religion of Jesus Christ, you will be as really damned as the infidel. The case we have referred to above is another proof of the truth of our proposition, that unconverted men are afraid to die. Death, we said, is God's police-officer, and he is abroad. He may seize you at any moment, and say, "Come away; you are God's prisoner!" and you must go. O! if you are not ready.
The second proposition is, that a Christian is not afraid to die. Death to him is a physical dissolution; it is a spiritual victory. We have visited death beds where the poor fellows could not move an arm or a foot, -- but it was peace. He is going to die like a little child; and in death he triumphs.
There was a dying Chief in Scotland, belonging to one of the Scottish Clans. A friend wanted to see him. No! he could not be seen; he did not want to be seen but in armor. The friend was importunate; he must see him. Well, if he must see me, buckle on my armor. They raised him up in bed, and buckled on his armor. He saw his friend, had lay down to die. The Christian dies in armor.
Addison, when he was about to die, said to a young man (a young libertine, I believe he was), "Come and see how a Christian can die." The Christian dies in confidence.
There is a monument erected to General Wolfe, and on it are inscribed the words, "Here died Wolfe victorious!" If they would put up a monument where every Christian dies, the earth would be full of monuments. He dies victorious! Hallelujah! hallelujah!
There is sometimes hard struggling about death. I knew a blessed woman about to die, yet she was afraid. A friend said to her, "Why, what are you afraid of?" She replied, "I am not afraid to die. But the death struggle." "Why, mother, your hands are cold; the blood is going away from under your nails; you are just now dying!" She praised God, and died peacefully and triumphantly. Bless God!
Many children in the Sunday-schools which are to be found in this land, as nurseries for heaven, are saved from the fear of death. The Sunday-school children can play with the lion's mane. Isa. 11:8, "And the sucking child shall play on the hole of the asp, and the weaned child shall put his hand on the cockatrice's den." Old men have been saved from the fear of death. When the almond-tree flourishes, the grasshopper is a burden, desire fails, and they are afraid of that which is high, and of things that may be in their way. But they are not afraid to die; some of them die gloriously.
In the State of Massachusetts there was an old saint. He had preached the truth for thirty years. This old servant of God went to die among his own children. One day he looked very solemn. No wonder, it is a solemn thing to die. His son came to him, and said, "Father, are you afraid to die?" "No, Samuel," said he, "I have been prepared for death for thirty years." When he was brought near to the verge, in the last conflict, foot to foot with the enemy, he cried out, "O glorious! glorious!
In Baltimore there was a physician, one of God's saints. He was not afraid to kneel down by his patients; he gave medicine for the soul, as well as the body; and when he lay down to die, he said, "I am as happy as I can live! Hallelujah! hallelujah!" The room was ringing with the praises of God. One of the physicians came to him and said," Doctor, we know you are happy; but we think you will shorten life, if you shout, so whisper, whisper, doctor." "Let angels whisper! Let angels whisper! Let angels whisper! But if I had a voice as loud as seven thunders, I would make the world hear."
Females are saved from the fear of death. Delicate and nervous females have had the mind braced up for the last conflict. One of them, when brought near the close of life, said, "I am not afraid; I see the grave; I see the worm, but I see my Jesus. I am happy; bless God, my soul is happy!" That is how females can die, bless God!
There was a disease in North America, an epidemic. Some thought the Lord would save our pastor; but oh! the epidemic spread, the pastor was seized, and his wife too. For a good man some would even dare to die, and there were those who would have been willing to die that the pastor might live; but the Lord did not see good that it should be so. But the servant of God was willing to die, and oh! how triumphant as he lay! He exclaimed, "They are coming! they are coming! they are coming! Glory! glory! glory!"
His wife was in the other room; she appeared to be dozing. They heard a voice coming out of the room, and she was saying, "Is that he? Is that he? Is he gone ?"
They replied, "Yes, he is gone."
"When did he die? Was he triumphant?"
"He's gone! Now I am happy; I have done my work. I will follow now," she cried, and died. Bless the Lord! Amen.