( Originally Published 1879 )
No SEX is spared, no age exempt. The majestic and courtly roads which monarchs pass over, the way that the men of letters tread, the path the warrior traverses, the short and simple annals of the poor, all lead to the same place, all terminate, however varied in their routes, in that one enormous house which is appointed for all living. One short sentence closes the biography of every man, as if in mockery of the unsubstantial pretensions of human pride, "The days of the years of Methuselah were nine hundred and sixty-nine years, and he died." There is the end of it, "And he died." Such is the frailty of this boasted man. "It is appointed unto men"—unto all men-"once to die,," No matter what station of honor we hold, we are all subject to death.
As in chess-play, so long as the game is playing, all the men stand in their order and are respected according to their places —first the king, then the queen, then the bishops, after them the knights, and last of all the common soldiers; but when once the game is ended and the table taken away, then they are all confusedly tumbled into a bag, and haply the king is lowest and the pawn upmost. Even so it is with us in this life; the world is a huge theater, or stage, wherein some play the parts of kings, others of bishops, some lords, many knights, and others yeomen; but death sends all alike to the grave and to the judgment.
Death comes equally to us all and makes us all equal when it comes. The ashes of an oak in a chimney are no epitaph of that, to tell me how high or how large that was, it tells me not what flocks it sheltered when it stood, nor what men it hurt when it fell. The dust of great men's graves is speechless too: it says nothing; it distinguishes nothing. "As soon the dust of a wretch whom thou wouldst , not, as of a prince whom thou couldst not look upon, will trouble thine eyes if the wind blow it thither ; and when a whirlwind hath blown the dust of a church-yard into a church, and the man sweeps out the dust of the church into the church-yard, who will undertake to sift those dusts again and to pronounce: This is the patrician, this is the noble flower, and this is the yeoman, this is plebeian bran?"
Look at that hero, as he stands on an eminence and covered with glory. He falls suddenly, forever falls. His intercourse with the living world is now ended, and those who would hereafter find him must seek him in the grave. There, cold and lifeless, is the heart which just now was the seat of friendship there, dim and sightless, is the eye whose radiant and enlivening orb beamed with intelligence; and there, closed forever, are those lips, on whose persuasive accents we have so often and so lately hung with transport.
From the darkness which rests upon his tomb there proceeds, methinks, a light, in which it is clearly seen that those gaudy objects which men pursue are only phantoms. In this light, how dimly shines the splendor of victory—how humble appears the majesty of grand- 4 eur! The bubble, which seemed to have so much solidity, has burst, and we again see that all below the sun is vanity.
True, the funeral eulogy has been pronounced, the sad and solemn procession has moved, the badge of mourning has already been decreed, and presently the sculptured marble will lift up its front, proud to perpetuate the name of the hero and rehearse to the passing traveler his virtues—just tributes of respect, and to the living useful—but to him, moldering in his narrow and humble habitation, what are they? How vain! how unavailing !
Approach, and behold, while I lift from his sepulchre its covering ! Ye admirers of his greatness-ye emulous of his talents and his fame—approach and behold him now. How pale ! how silent ! No martial bands admire the adroitness of his movements; no fascinating throng weep, and melt, and tremble at his eloquence! Amazing change! A shroud, a coffin, a narrow, subterraneous cabin!—this is all that now remains of the hero!. And is this all that remains of him? During a life so transitory, what lasting monument, then, can our fondest hopes erect!
My brethren, we stand on the borders of an awful gulf, which is swallowing up all things human. And is there, amidst this universal wreck, nothing stable, nothing abiding, nothing immortal, on which poor, frail, dying man can fasten? Ask the hero, ask the statesman, whose wisdom you have been accustomed to revere, and he will tell you. He will tell you, did I say ? Hé has already told you, from his death-bed, and his illumined spirit still whispers from the heavens, with well-known eloquence, the solemn admonition: "Mortals hastening to the tomb, and once the companions of my pilgrimage, take warning and avoid my errors; cultivate the virtues I have recommended; choose the Savior I have chosen; live disinterestedly, live for immortality; and would you rescue 'anything from final dissolution, lay it up in God."
Ah, it is true that a few friends will go and bury us; affection will rear a stone and plant a few flowers over our grave; in a brief period the little hillock will be smoothed down, and the stone will fall, and neither friend nor stranger will be concerned to ask which one of the forgotten millions of the earth was buried there. Every vestige that we ever lived upon the earth will have vanished away. All the little memorials of our remembrance—the lock of hair encased in gold, or the portrait that hung in our dwelling, will cease to have the slightest interest to any living being.
We need but look into the cemetery and see the ten thousand upturned faces; ten thousand breathless bosoms. There was a time when fire flashed through those vacant orbs; when warm ambitions, hopes, joys and the loving life pushed in those bosoms. Dreams of fame and power once haunted those empty skulls. The little piles of bones, that once were feet, ran swiftly and determinedly through twenty, forty, sixty, seventy years of life, but where are the prints they left? He lived—he died—he was buried—is all that the headstone tells us. We move among the monuments, we see the sculpturing, but no voice comes to us to say that the sleepers are remembered for any thing they have done. A generation passes by. The stones turn gray, and the man has ceased to be, and is . to the world, as if he had never lived.
Thus is life. Only a few years do we journey her( and we come to that bridge—Death-which trans. ports us as the road we have traveled, either virtue, happiness and joy, to a happy paradise of. love, or the road of passion, lust and vice to destructive wretchedness.
A proper view of death may be useful to abate most of the irregular passions. Thus, for instance, we may see what avarice comes to in the coffin of the miser; this is the man who could never be satisfied with riches; but see now a few boards enclose him, and a few square inches contain him. Study ambition in the grave of that enterprising man; see his great designs, his bound-less expedients are all shattered and sunk in this fatal gulf of all human projects. Approach the tomb of the proud man; see the haughty countenance dreadfully disfigured, and the tongue that spoke the most lofty things condemned to eternal silence. Go to the tomb of the monarch, and there study quality; behold his great titles, his royal robes, and all his flatteries—all are no more forever in this world. Behold the consequence of intemperance in the tomb of the glutton; see his appetite now fully satiated, his senses destroyed and his bones scattered. Thus the tombs of the wicked condemn their practice and strongly recommend virtue.
Death reigns in all the portions of our time. The autumn, with its fruits, provides disorders for us, and the winter's cold turns them into sharp diseases; and the spring, brings flowers to strew our hearse; and the summer gives green turf and brambles to bind upon our graves. Calentures and surfeit, cold and agues are the four quarters of the year, and all minister unto death. Go where you will and it will find you. Many dread it and try to flee from it as the king of terrors.
Is he an enemy, when God sends him to deliver us from pains, follies, disappointments, miseries and wo? Is he an enemy, who transfers us from delusive dreams, from the region of bubbles and corroding cares, to a region where all is pure, substantial, enduring joy and endless felicity? It is a libel on DEATH to call him our foe, a king of terrors, an enemy.
Frail man comes into the world crying, cries on through life, and is always seeking after some desired thing which he imagines is labelled HAPPINESS, or is mourning over some loss, which makes him miserable; a restless mortal body, with an immortal soul, that requires something more than earth can give to satisfy its lofty desires; the soul that hails death as the welcome messenger, to deliver it from its ever changing, ever decaying prison-house of clay, called man; on which time wages a perpetual war; whitening his locks, furrowing his cheeks, stealing his ivory, weakening his nerves, paralyzing his muscles, poisoning his blood, battering his whole citadel, deranging the whole machinery of life, and wasting his mental powers; until he becomes twice a child; and then delivers him over to ,his last and best friend, DEATH, who breaks the carnal bondage, sets the imprisoned spirit free, closing a toilsome career of infelicity; opening the door of immortal happiness, returning the soul to its own, original, and glorious home; to go no more out forever. Not to become familiar with death, is to endure much unnecessary fear, and add to the myriads of the other imaginary woes of human life.
Death to them that be God's dear children is no other thing than the despatcher of all displeasure, the end of all travail, the door of desires, the gate of gladness, the port of paradise, the haven of heaven, the entrance to felicity, the beginning of all blissfulness. It is the very bed of down for the doleful bodies of God's people to rest in, out of which they rise and awake most fresh and lusty to everlasting life. It is a passage to the Father, a chariot to heaven, the Lord's messenger, a going to our home, a deliverance from bondage, a dismission from war, a security from all sorrows, and a manumission from all misery. And should we be dismayed at it ? Should we trouble to hear of it ? Should such a friend as it be unwelcome ? Death is but life to a true believer ; it is not his last day, nor his worst day, but in the highest sense his best day, and the beginning of his better life. A Christian's dying day will be his enlarging day, when he shall be freed from the prison in which he has long been detained, and be brought home to his Father's house. A Christian's dying day will be his resting day, when he shall rest from all sin and care and trouble ; his reaping day, when he shall reap the fruit he has sown in tears and faith ; his conquering day, when he shall triumph over every enemy, and even death itself shall die ; his transplanting day, from earth to heaven, from a howling wilderness to a heavenly paradise ; his robing day, to put off the old worn-out rags of flesh, and put on the new and glorious robes of light; ,his marriage day ; his coronation day ; the day of his glory, the beginning of his eternal, perfect bliss with Christ.
We at death leave one place to go to another; if godly we depart from our place here on earth, and go to heaven ; we depart from our friends on earth and go to our friends in heaven ; we depart from the valley of tears and go to the mount of joy ; we depart from a howling wilderness and go to a heavenly paradise. Who would be unwilling to exchange a Sodom for a Zion, an Egypt for a Canaan, misery for glory?
What a superlatively. grand and consoling idea is that of death ! Without this radiant idea, this delightful morning star, indicating that the luminary of eternity is going to rise, life would, to our view, darken into midnight melancholy. Oh, the expectation of living here, and of living thus always, would be indeed a prospect of overwhelming despair ! But thanks be to that fatal decree that dooms us to die ! thanks to that gospel which opens the vision of n endless life ! and thanks, above all, to that Savior friend who has promised to conduct all the faithful through the sacred trance of death, into scenes of paradise and everlasting delight !
Oh, that all may be prepared for this awful change, but how often we hear the mournful exclamation, " Too late!" from men who come up to the doors of a bank just as the key has turned in the lock; or ùp to the great gates of a railway terminus just as they swing to, and tell the tardy traveler he has lost his train ; or up to the post office just as the mail has been despatched ; but how should we tremble if our ears could hear the despairing cry of souls whom the stony gaze of that grim messenger has fixed in sin forever. How would our hearts thrill with horror to accompany one, without hope of heaven, to the portals of death. How do men dread such death scenes as that' of a young skeptic called suddenly from time to eternity. "Begone !" he cried to the clergyman ; "I want none of your cant," when he showed him the great need of repentance. "I am not going to die; and if I were I would die as I have lived." The physician came, to whom he said: "Oh! tell me I am not dying; I will not die!" "My poor friend, I cannot speak falsely to you ; your soul will, ere long, be with your God." "My God !" he said, "I have no God save the world; I have stifled conviction, I have fought against God, I have resisted my mother's pleadings, and now you tell me that I must die. Do you know," he added, in an awful whisper, "all that means? If I die to-day I shall go to hell ! Take it back; tell me I'm not going to die. Father," he said," twas you who taught me this; you led me on in this way, and now you say I'm to aie. Stand back!" he shrieked; "I will not die!" and a torrent of invectives issued from his fever-parched lips, so terrible in their madness that it seemed like a wail from the sea of woe. No wonder the poor mother was borne fainting from the room, and the father's brow was corrugated, while great drops of agony rested there. Ah, that infidel father! how must his heart have bled in that dreadful hour, when in the midst of dire cursings, his gifted son fell back a corpse.
What a striking contrast between such' a death and the following:
One of Martin Luther's children lay on her death bed; the great man approached her and said to her: "My little daughter, my beloved Margaret, you would willingly remain with your earthly parents, but if God calls you, you will go with your heavenly Father." "Yes, dear father, it is as God pleases." He then said: "My daughter, enter thou into thy resting place in peace." She turned her eyes towards him and said, with touching simplicity, "Yes, father." How resignedly could the believing Luther part with his dying child, and methinks the sentiment of his heart was very like the inscription on a child's tombstone in an English churchyard, as follows : " `Who plucked that flower?' cried the gardener, as he walked through the garden. His fellow servant answered, ' The Master.' And the gardener held his peace."
When this hand of mine shall be pulseless and cold, and motionless as the grave wherein it must lie; when the damp, dewy vapors shall replace "this sensible, warm motion," and death shall spread my couch and weave my shroud; when the winding-sheet shall be my sole vesture, and the close-sealed sepulchre my only home, and I shall have no familiar companion, and no rejoicing friend but the worm; O, thou cold hand of death, unlock for me then the portals of eternal life, that whilst my body rests in its bed of earth, my soul may recline in the bosom of God!
Life ! we've been long together,