And the time of need is the day of death, when I am to pack up all to be gone from hence, the way of all the earth. Now the greatest trial is come, except that of the day of judgment. Now a man is to he stripped of all but that which cannot be shaken. Now a man grows near the borders of eternity. Now he begins to see into the skirts of the next world. Now death is death, and the grave the grave indeed. Now he begins to see what it is for soul and body to part, and what to go and appear before God. Now the dark entry and the thoughts of what is in the way from a death-bed to the gate of the holy heaven, come nearer the heart than when health and prosperity do compass a man about.
Some men are cut off like the tops of the ears of corn, and some are even nipped by death in the very bud of their spring; but the safety is when a man is ripe, and shall be gathered to his grave as a shock of corn to the barn in its season.
DEATH OF THE SINNER.
Death is the axe which God often useth, therewith to take the barren fig-tree out of the vineyard, out of a profession, and also out of the world at once. But this axe is now new-ground; it cometh well edged to the roots of this barren fig-tree. It hath been whetted by sin, by the law, and by a formal profession, and therefore must and will make deep gashes, not only in the natural life, but in the heart and conscience also of this professor. The wages of sin is death, the sting of death is sin. Wherefore, death comes not to this man as he doth to saints, muzzled, or without his sting, but with open mouth, in all his strength; yea, he sends his first-born, which is guilt, to devour his strength and to bring him to the king of terrors.
The dark entry which the barren professor is to go through will be a sore amazement to him, for "fears shall be in the way," yea, terrors will take hold on him when he shall see the yawning jaws of death gape upon him, and the doors of the shadow of death open to give him passage out of the world. Now, who will meet me in this dark entry? How shall I pass through this dark entry into another world?
There is no judgment to be made by a quiet death of the eternal state of him that so dieth. Suppose one man should die quietly, another should die suddenly, and a third should die under great consternation of spirit; no man can judge of their eternal condition by the manner of any of these kinds of death. He that dies quietly, suddenly, or under consternation of spirit, may go to heaven, or may go to hell; no man can tell whither a man goes by any such manner of death. The judgment, therefore, that we make of the eternal condition of man, must be gathered from another consideration, to wit, Did the man die in his sins? Did he die in unbelief? Did he die before he was born again? He that is a good man, a man that hath faith and holiness, a lover and worshipper of God by Christ, according to his word, may die in consternation of spirit; for Satan will not be wanting to assault good men upon their death-bed. But they are secured by the word and power of God, yea, and are also helped, though with much agony of spirit, to exercise themselves in faith and prayer; the which he that dieth in despair can by no means do.
DEATH OF THE CHRISTIAN.
Let dissolution come when it will, it can do the Christian no harm, for it will be but only a passage out of a prison into a palace; out of a sea of troubles into a haven, of rest; out of a crowd of enemies to an innumerable company of true, loving, and faithful friends; out of shame, reproach, and contempt, into exceeding great and eternal glory.
Another improvement of Christ's death for us was this: by it he slew for us our infernal foes; by it he abolished death; by death he destroyed him that had the power of death; by death he took away the sting of death; by death he made death a pleasant sleep to saints, and the grave for a while an easy house and home for the body.
We change our drossy dust for gold, From death to life we fly: We let go shadows, and take hold Of immortality.
Blood takes away the guilt; inherent grace weakens the filth; but the grave is the place, at the mouth of which sin and the saved must have a perfect and final parting. Not that the grave of itself is of a sin-purging quality, but God will follow Satan home to his own door, for the grave is the door or gate of hell, and will there, where the devil thought to have swallowed us up, even there by the power of his mercy, make us shine like the sun and look like angels.
THE CHRISTIAN WISHING TO DEPART.
"I have a desire to depart, and to be with Christ."
The strength of this desire is such that it is ready, so far forth as it can, to dissolve that sweet knot of union that is betwixt body and soul -- a knot more dear to a reasonable creature than that can be which is betwixt wife and husband, parent and child, or a man and his estate; for even all that a man hath will he give for his life, and to keep body and soul firmly knit together. But now, when this desire comes, this silver cord is loosed, is loosed by consent. This desire delightfully grants to him that comes to dissolve this union, leave to do it. "We are confident and willing rather to be absent from the body, and to be present with the Lord."
The strength of this desire shows itself in this, that it is willing to grapple with the king of terrors, rather than to be detained from that sweet communion which the soul looks for when it comes into the place where its Lord is. Death is not to be desired for itself; the apostle chose rather to be clothed upon with his house which is from heaven, that mortality might be swallowed up of life.
But yet rather than he would be absent from the Lord, he was willing to be absent from the body. Death, in the very thought of it, is grievous to flesh and blood; and nothing can so master it in our apprehensions as that by which we attain to these desires. These desires do deal with death, as Jacob's love to Rachel dealt with the seven long years which he was to serve for her. It made them seem few, or but a little time; so do these desires deal with death itself. They make it seem little, nay, a servant, nay, a privilege, because by that a man may come to enjoy the presence of his beloved Lord. I have a desire to depart, to go from the world and relations, to go from my body, that great piece of myself -- I have a desire to venture the tugs and pains, and the harsh handling of the king of terrors, so I may be with Jesus Christ. These are the desires of the righteous.
Are not these therefore strong desires? Is there not life and mettle in them? Have they not in them power to loose the bands of nature, and to harden the soul against sorrow? Flow they not, think you, from faith of the finest sort, and are they not bred in the bosom of a truly mortified soul? Are these the effect of a purblind spirit? Are they not rather the fruits of an eagle-eyed confidence? Oh, these desires! they are peculiar to the righteous.
Christ in glory is worth the being with. If the man out of whom the Lord Jesus cast a legion, prayed that he might be with him notwithstanding all the trials that attended him in this life, how can it be but that a righteous man must desire to be with him, now he is in glory?
To see Jesus Christ, to see him as he is, to see him as he is in glory, is a sight that is worth going from relations and out of the body and through the jaws of death to see; for this is to see him Head over all, to see him possessed of heaven for his church, to see him preparing mansion-houses for those his poor ones that are now by his enemies kicked to and fro like footballs in the world: and is not this a blessed sight?
Secondly, I have a desire to be with him, to see myself with him; this is more blessed still: for a man to see himself in glory, this is a sight worth seeing.
Sometimes I look upon myself and say, Where am I now? and do quickly return answer to myself again, Why, I am in an evil world, a great way from heaven, in a sinful body, among devils and wicked men; sometimes benighted, sometimes beguiled, sometimes fearing, sometimes hoping, sometimes breathing, sometimes dying. But then I turn the tables, and say, But where shall I be shortly? Where shall I see myself anon, after a few more times have passed over me? And when I can but answer this question thus: I shall see myself with Jesus Christ; this yields glory, even glory to one's spirit now.
Thirdly, I have a desire to be with Christ: there the spirits of the just are perfected; there the spirits of the righteous are as full as they can hold. A sight of Jesus in the word; some know how it will change them from glory to glory. But how then shall we be changed and filled, when we shall see him as he is? "When he shall appear, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is."
Moses and Elias appeared to Peter and James and John, at the transfiguration of Christ, "in glory." Hew so? Why, they had been in the heavens, and came thence with some of the glories of heaven upon them. Gild a bit of wood, yea, gild it seven times over, and it must not be compared, in difference from wood which is not gilt, with the soul that but a little while has been dipt in glory.
Glory is a strange thing to men that are on this side of heaven; it is that which eye hath not seen nor ear heard, nor hath entered into the heart of man: only the Christian has a word and Spirit that at times give a little of the glimmering thereof unto him.
But Oh, when he is in the Spirit and sees in the Spirit, do you think his tongue can tell? But if the sight of heaven at so vast a distance is so excellent a prospect, what will it be when one is in it?
No marvel, then, if the desires of the righteous are to be with Christ.
There is a man upon a bed of languishing; but Oh, he dares not die, for all is not as he would have it betwixt God and his poor soul; and many a night he lies thus in great horror of mind; but do you think that he doth not desire to depart? Yes, yes; he also waits and cries to God to set his desires at liberty. At last the visitor comes and sets his soul at ease, by persuading him that he belongs to God; and what then? Oh, Now let me die; welcome death!
THE DYING CHRISTIAN.
When men are faithful to God in this world, to do the work he hath appointed for them, by this means a dying bed is made easier.
1. By reason of that present peace such shall have, even in their time of languishing.
2. By reason of the good company such shall have at their departure. The angels of heaven shall wait upon them, as they did upon the blessed Lazarus, to carry them into Abraham's bosom. I know all that go to paradise are by these holy ones conducted thither; but yet, for all that, such as die under the clouds for unchristian walking with God, may meet with darkness in that day -- may go heavily hence, notwithstanding that; yea, their bed may be as uncomfortable to them as if they lay upon nothing but the cords, and their departing from it, as to appearance, more uncomfortable by far.
But as for those who have been faithful to their God, they shall see before them; shall know their tabernacle shall be in peace; "the everlasting gates shall be opened unto them:" in all which from earth they shall see the glory of heaven.
DEATH OF MR. BADMAN'S WIFE.
ATTENTIVE. "And how did his good wife take it when she saw that he had no amendment, but that he returned to his old courses again?"
WISEMAN. "Why, it broke her heart; it was a worse disappointment to her than the cheat that he gave her in marriage; at least she laid it more to heart, and could not so well grapple with it. You must think that she had put up many a prayer to God for him before, even all the time that he had carried it so badly to her; and now when he was so affrighted in his sickness, and so desirous that he might live and mend, poor woman, she thought that the time was come for God to answer her prayers; nay, she did not fail with gladness to whisper out amongst her friends that it was so. But when she saw herself disappointed by her husband turning rebel again, she could not stand up under it, but fell into a languishing distemper, and in a few weeks gave up the ghost."
ATTENTIVE. "Pray how did she die?"
WISEMAN. "Die! she died bravely; full of comfort in the faith of her interest in Christ, and by him in the world to come. She had many brave expressions in her sickness, and gave to those that came to visit her many signs of her salvation. The thoughts of the grave, especially of her rising again, were sweet thoughts to her. She would long for death, because she knew it would be her friend. She expressed herself like one that was making herself ready to go to meet her bridegroom. 'Now,' said she, 'I am going to rest from my sorrows, my sighs, my tears, my mournings, and complaints: I have heretofore longed to be among the saints, but might by no means be suffered to go; but now I am going, and no man can stop me, to the great meeting, 'to the general assembly and church of the first-born which are written in heaven.' There I shall have my heart's desire; there I shall worship without temptation or other impediment; there I shall see the face of my Jesus whom I have loved, whom I have served, and who now I know will save my soul. I have prayed often for my husband that he might be converted, but there has been no answer of God in that matter. Are my prayers lost; are they forgotten; are they thrown over the bar? No; they are hanged upon the horns of the golden altar, and I must have the benefit of them myself that moment that I shall enter into the gates, in at which the righteous nation that keepeth truth shall enter: I say, I shall have the benefit of them. I can say as holy David -- I say, I can say of my husband as he could of his enemies, 'As for me, when they were sick, my clothing was of sackcloth; I humbled my soul with fasting, and my prayer returned into my bosom.' My prayers are not lost, my tears are yet in God's bottle; I would have had a crown and glory for my husband, and for those of my children that follow his steps; but so far as I can see yet, I must rest in the hope of having all myself.'
"When she drew near her end she called for her husband, and when he was come to her, she told him that now he and she must part; and, said she, 'God knows, and thou shalt know, that I have been a loving, faithful wife unto thee; and as for all the abuses that I have received at thy hand, those I freely and heartily forgive, and still shall pray for thy conversion, even as long as I breathe in this world. But, husband, I am going thither where no bad man shall come; and if thou dost not turn, thou wilt never see me more with comfort. Let not my plain words offend thee; I am thy dying wife, and of my faithfulness to thee would leave this exhortation with thee: Break off thy sins, fly to God for mercy while mercy's gate stands open: remember that the day is coming when thou, though now lusty and well, must lie at the gates of death, as I do; and what wilt thou then do, if thou shalt be found with a naked soul to meet the cherubims with their flaming swords? Yea, what wilt thou then do if death and hell shall come to visit thee, and thou in thy sins and under the curse of the law?'
"When she saw that she was not regarded, she fetched a deep sigh and lay still. So he went down; and then she called for her children, and began to talk to them. And first she spoke to those that were rude, and told them the danger of dying before they had grace in their hearts. She told them also, that death might be nearer than they were aware of; and bid them look, when they went through the churchyard again, if there were not little graves there. 'And ah, children,' said she, 'will it not be dreadful to you, if we only shall meet at the day of judgment, and then part again and never see each other more?' And with that she wept; the children also wept. So she held on her discourse: 'Children,' said she, 'I am going from you. I am going to Jesus Christ; and with him there is neither sorrow nor sighing, nor pain nor tears, nor death: thither would I have you go also; but I can neither carry you nor fetch you thither. But if you shall turn from your sins to God, and shall beg mercy at his hands by Jesus Christ, you shall follow me, and shall, when you die, come to the place where I am going, that blessed place of rest; and then we shall be for ever together, beholding the face of our Redeemer, to our mutual and eternal joy.' So she bade them remember the words of a dying mother when she was cold in her grave, and themselves were hot in their sins, if perhaps her words might put a check to their vice, and they might remember and turn to God.
"Then they all went down but her darling, to wit, the child that she had most love for, because it followed her ways. So she addressed herself to that: 'Come to me,' said she, 'my sweet child, thou art the child of my joy; I have lived to see thee a servant of God; thou shalt have eternal life. I, my sweetheart, shall go before, and thou shalt follow after, if thou shalt hold the beginning of thy confidence steadfast to the end. When I am gone, do thou still remember my words. Love thy Bible, follow my ministers, deny ungodliness still, and if troublesome times shall come, set a higher price upon Christ, his word and ways, and the testimony of a good conscience, than upon all the world besides; carry it kindly and dutifully to thy father, but chose none of his ways.
"'I would have thee also, my dear child, to love thy brothers and sisters, but learn none of their naughty tricks; 'Have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather reprove them.' Thou hast grace; they have none. Do thou therefore beautify the way of salvation before their eyes, by a godly life and conversation conformable to the revealed will of God, that thy brothers and sisters may see and be the more pleased with the good ways of the Lord.'
"Thus she talked to her children and gave them counsel; and after she had talked to this a little longer, she kissed it and bid it go down.
"Well, in short, her time drew on, and the day that she must die. So she died with a soul full of grace, a heart full of comfort, and by her death ended a life of trouble."
DEATH OF STANDFAST.
When Mr. Standfast had thus set things in order, and the time being come for him to haste him away, he went down to the river. Now there was a great calm at that time in the river; wherefore Mr. Standfast, when he was about half way in, stood a while and talked to his companions that had waited upon him thither: and he said, "This river has been a terror to many; yea, the thoughts of it also have often frightened me: now, methinks, I stand easy; my foot is fixed upon that on which the feet of the priests that bare the ark of the covenant stood, while Israel went over this Jordan.
"The waters indeed are to the palate bitter and to the stomach cold; yet the thoughts of what I am going to, and of the convoy that waits for me on the other side, doth lie as a glowing coal at my heart. I see myself now at the end of my journey; my toilsome days are ended. I am going to see that head that was crowned with thorns, and that face that was spit upon for me. I have formerly lived by hearsay and faith, but now I go where I shall live by sight, and shall be with him in whose company I delight myself. I have loved to hear my Lord spoken of; and whenever I have seen the print of his shoe in the earth, there I have coveted to set my foot too. His name has been to me as a civet-box, yea, sweeter than all perfumes. His voice to me has been most sweet, and his countenance I have more desired than they that have most desired the light of the sun. His words I did use to gather for my food, and for antidotes against my faintings. He has held me, and hath kept me from mine iniquities, yea, my steps have been strengthened in his way."
Now while he was thus in discourse, his countenance changed; his "strong man bowed under him;" and after he had said, "Take me, for I am come unto thee," he ceased to be seen of them.
But glorious it was to see how the open region was filled with horses and chariots, with trumpeters and pipers, with singers and players on stringed instruments, to welcome the pilgrims as they went up, and followed one another in at the beautiful gate of the city.
DEATH OF CHRISTIAN AND HOPEFUL.
They then addressed themselves to the water, and entering, Christian began to sink, and crying out to his good friend Hopeful, he said, "I sink in deep waters; billows go over my head, all his waves go over me."
Then said the other, "Be of good cheer, my brother; I feel the bottom, and it is good."
Then said Christian, "Ah, my friend, the sorrow of death hath compassed me about. I shall not see the land that flows with milk and honey." And with that a great darkness and horror fell upon Christian, so that he could not see before him; also he in a great measure lost his senses, so that he could neither remember nor orderly talk of any of those sweet refreshments that he had met wilh in the way of his pilgrimage. But all the words that he spake still tended to discover that he had horror of mind, and heart-fears that he should die in that river and never obtain entrance in at the gate.
Here also, as they that stood by perceived, he was much in troublesome thoughts of the sins that he had committed both since and before he began to be a pilgrim. It was also observed that he was troubled with apparitions of hobgoblins and evil spirits; for ever and anon he would intimate so much by words.
Hopeful therefore here had much ado to keep his brother's head above water; yea, sometimes he would be quite gone down, and then, ere a while, he would rise up again half dead. Hopeful did also endeavor to comfort him, saying, "Brother, I see the gate, and men standing by to receive us; but Christian would answer, "It is you, it is you they wait for; you have been hopeful ever since I knew you."
"And so have you," said he to Christian.
"Ah, brother," said he, "surely if I was right, he would now arise to help me; but for my sins he hath brought me into the snare, and hath left me."
Then said Hopeful, "My brother, you have quite forgot the text, where it is said of the wicked, 'There are no bands in their death, but their strength is firm: they are not troubled as other men, neither are they plagued like other men.' These troubles and distresses that you go through in these waters, are no sign that God hath forsaken you, but are sent to try you whether you will call to mind that which heretofore you have received of his goodness, and live upon him in your distresses."
Then I saw in my dream that Christian was in a muse a while. To whom also Hopeful added these words: "Be of good cheer; Jesus Christ maketh thee whole."
And with that Christian broke out with a loud voice, "Oh, I see him again, and he tells me, 'When thou passest through the waters, I will he with thee; and through the rivers, they shall not overflow thee.'"
Then they both took courage, and the enemy was after that as still as a stone until they were gone over. Christian therefore presently found ground to stand upon, and so it followed that the rest of the river was but shallow; thus they got over.
Now upon the bank of the river, on the other side, they saw the two shining men again, who there waited for them. Wherefore, being come out of the river, they saluted them, saying, "We are ministering spirits, sent forth to minister to those that shall be heirs of salvation." Thus they went along towards the gate.
FROM THE FIRST BIOGRAPHY OF BUNYAN.
"He comforted those that wept about him, exhorting them to trust in God, and pray to him for mercy and forgiveness of their sins; telling them what a glorious exchange it would be, to leave the troubles and cares of a wretched mortality to live with Christ for ever, with peace and joy inexpressible; expounding to them the comfortable scriptures by which they were to hope and assuredly come unto a blessed resurrection in the last day. He desired some to pray with him, and he joined with them in prayer; and his last words, after he had struggled with a languishing disease, were these: 'Weep not for me, but for yourselves. I go to the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who will, through the mediation of his blessed Son, receive me, though a sinner; where I hope we ere long shall meet to sing the new song, and remain everlastingly happy, world without end.'"