And at a ripe old age he breathed his last and died, old and contented, and was gathered to his people.
Although Abraham has many descendants, he carefully distinguishes the line of the Divine blessing. His peaceful end at 175 years set the seal upon a long life of faith and fellowship with God. His two sons, Isaac and Ishmael, met at their father's grave, although living apart. The influence of such a character as Abraham's is very elevating and healing, even in the sphere of the world. Ishmael is not entirely forgotten, but Isaac, as the true heir of Abraham, hands on the blessing of the covenant. - R.
The inscription on his tomb, if I may so call it, was " He died in a good old age." On this I have two remarks to offer —(1) It was according to promise. Upwards of four-score years before this, the Lord told Abraham in vision, saying, "Thou shalt go to thy fathers in peace: thou shalt be buried in a good old age." In everything, even in death, the promises are fulfilled to Abraham.(2) It is language that is never used of wicked men, and not very commonly of good men. It is used of Gideon, and of David; and I know not whether of any other. The idea answers to what is spoken by the Psalmist, "They shall bring forth fruit in old age"; or that in Job, "Thou shalt come to thy grave in a full age, like as a shock of corn cometh in his season."
Then Abraham gave up the ghost, and died in a good old age, an old man, and fall of years; and was gathered to his people.
"Full of years" is not a mere synonym for longevity. The expression is by no means a usual one. It is applied to Isaac at the close of his calm, contemplative life, to David at the end of his stormy and adventurous career, to the high priest Jehoiada, and to the patriarch Job. We shall understand its meaning better if, instead of "full of years," we read "satisfied with years." The words point to a calm close, with all desires granted, with hot wishes stilled, and a willingness to let life go, because all which it could give had been attained. We have two main things to consider.
1. The tranquil close of life.(1) It is possible, at the close of life, to feel that it has satisfied our wishes. Abraham had had a richly varied life. It had brought him all he wished. Satisfied, yet not sickened, keenly appreciating all the good and pleasantness of life, and yet quite willing to let it go, Abraham died.(2) It is possible at the end of life to feel that it is complete, because the days have accomplished for us the highest purpose of life.(3) It is possible, at the end of life, to be willing to go as satisfied.
2. Consider the glimpse of the joyful society beyond, which is given us in that other remarkable expression of the text, "He was gathered to his people." The words contain a dim intimation of something beyond this present life:(1) Dimly, vaguely, but unmistakably, there is here expressed a premonition and feeling after the thought of an immortal self in Abraham, which was not in the cave at Machpelah, but was somewhere else, and was for ever.(2) Abraham had been an exile all his life; but now his true social life is begun. He dwells with his own tribe; he is at home: he is in the city.(3) The expression suggests that in the future men shall be associated according to affinity and character.
1. The peaceful close of a long life.
2. The close of a satisfied life.
3. An introduction to a new and better life.
II. HIS BURIAL.
1. An honourable one.
2. An occasion for peace among the members of his family.
3. The occasion of further blessing to the living (ver. 11).
The Congregational Pulpit.I.
1. The best of men die.
2. The conquest pilgrimage ends.
3. Abraham was brought down to the grave in honour and peace.
4. He being dead, yet speaketh.
II. MARK HIS FAITH (See Hebrews 11:13, &c.).
1. His faith related to his posterity and the land of promise. Hence his interment in this particular cave. The field of his sepulchre was his own possession.
2. It related to himself. Though losing the earthly Canaan, he was sure of the heavenly Canaan. He was confident of a future life; and knew that his faith and piety would not go unrecognized or unrewarded in the world to come. So when we die, let it be in faith.
()1. God records the time of His saints' lives to set out the continuance of their faith and patient waiting for God and His promise (ver. 7).
2. Saints give up spirits to God; they are not snatched away.
3. It is good dying in an age full of goodness.
4. Saints, as Abraham, depart full and satisfied with life below.
5. Saints are gathered to their own people in their death (ver. 8).
6. Honourable burial is due to saints deceased by their surviving seed, or friends.
7. God was as good as His word to Abraham in his death (ver. 9).
()We are as immortal as the angels until our work is done, and, that finished, the best thing that can happen to us is to be called home to rest at once rather than to be here, weak and worthless, in our tents waiting on the plains of Moab. When Dr. Bees preached last in North Wales a friend said to him — one of those who are always reminding people that they are getting old — "You are whitening fast, Dr. Bees." The old gentleman did not say anything then; but when he got to the pulpit he referred to it, and said, "There is a wee white flower that comes up through the earth at this season of the year — sometimes it comes up through the snow and frost; but we are all glad to see the snowdrop, because it proclaims that the winter is over and that the summer is at baud. A friend reminded me last night that I was whitening fast. But heed not that, brother; it is to me a proof that my winter will soon be over, that I shall have done presently with the cold and east winds and the frosts of earth, and that my summer — my eternal summer — is at hand."
()A young man came to a man of ninety years of age and said to him, "How have you made out to live so long and be so well?" The old man took the youngster to an orchard, and, pointing to some large trees full of apples, said, "I planted these trees when I was a boy, and do you wonder that now I am permitted to gather the fruit of them?" We gather in old age what we plant in our youth. Sow to the wind and we reap the whirlwind. Plant in early life the right kind of a Christian character, and you will eat luscious fruit in old age, and gather these harvest apples in eternity.
()A distinguished Oneida chief, named Skenandon, having yielded to the instructions of the Bey. Mr. Kirkland, and lived a reformed man for fifty years, said just before he died, in his hundred and twentieth year, "I am an aged hemlock; the winds of one hundred years have whistled through my branches; I am dead at the top" (he was blind); "why I yet live the great good Spirit only knows. Pray to my Jesus that I may wait with patience my appointed time to die; and when I die, lay me by the side of my minister and father, that I may go up with him at the great resurrection."To an acquaintance who inquired about his welfare, he gave this account: "I am but weak; but it is delightful to find one's self weak in everlasting arms; oh, how much do I owe my Lord! What a mercy, that once within the covenant, there is no getting out of it again; now I find my faculties much impaired." His relations answering that it was only his memory which seemed to be effected with his disease: — "Well," said he, "oh, how marvellous that God hath continued my judgment, considering how much I have abused it; and continued my hope of eternal life, though I have misimproved it!"... Speaking on the same topic afterwards he said very beautifully, "Were I once in heaven, a look of Christ would cure my failing memory, and all my other weaknesses. There I shall not need wine nor spirits to recruit me; no, nor shall I think of them, but as Christ was through them kind to me."
()Dimly, vaguely, veiledly, but unmistakably, as it seems to me, is here expressed at least a premonition and feeling after the thought of an immortal self in Abraham that was not there in what "his son Isaac Ishmael laid in the cave at Macpelah," but was somewhere else and was for ever. That is the first thing hinted at here — the continuance of the personal being after death. Is there anything more? I think there is. Now, remember, Abraham's whole life was shaped by that commandment, "Get thee out from thy father's house, and from thy kindred, and from thy country." He never dwelt with his kindred; all his days he was a pilgrim and sojourner, a stranger in a strange land. But now he is gathered to his people. The life of isolation is over, the true social life is begun. He is no longer separated from those around him, or flung amidst those that are uncongenial to him. "He is gathered to his people"; he dwells with his own tribe; he is at home; he is in the city. Further, the expressions suggest that in the future men shall be associated according to affinity and character. "He was gathered to his people," whom he was like and who were like him; the people with whom he had sympathy, the people whose lives were shaped after the fashion of his own. Men will be sorted there. Gravitation will come into play undisturbed; and the pebbles will be ranged according to their weights on the great shore where the sea has cast them up, as they are upon Chesil beach, down there in the English Channel, and many another coast besides; all the big ones together and sized off to the smaller ones, regularly and steadily laid out. Like draws to like. Our spiritual affinities, our religious and moral character, will settle where we shall be and who our companions will be when we get yonder. Some of us would not altogether like to live with the people that are like ourselves, and some of us would not find the result of this sorting to be very delightful. Men in the Dantesque circles were only made more miserable because all around them were of the same sort, and some of them worse than themselves. And an ordered hell, with no company for the liar but liars, and none for the thief but thieves, and none for impure men but the impure, and none for the godless but the godless, would be a hell indeed. "He was gathered to his people," and you and I will be gathered likewise. What is the conclusion of the whole matter? Let us follow with our thoughts, and in our lives those who have gone into the light, and cultivate in heart and character those graces and excellences which are congruous with the inheritance of the saints in light. Above all let us give our hearts to Christ, by simple faith in Him, to be shaped and sanctified by Him. Then our country will be where He is, and our people will be the people in whom His love abides, and the tribe to which we belong will be the tribe of which He is Chieftain. So when our turn comes, we may rise thankfully from the table in the wilderness, which He has spread for us, having eaten as much as we desired, and quietly follow the dark-robed messenger whom His love sends to bring us to the happy multitudes that throng the streets of the city. There we shall find our true home, our kindred, our King.
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