Charles Naylor, 1920
We stood on the brow of the hill gazing out over the valley beneath us. In the distant west the sun sank quietly and serenely toward the horizon. The purpling shadows of the hills grew longer in the valley. The clouds overhead, which scarcely seemed to move — were in broken, fluffy masses. As we gazed upon the scene, the sun as a mighty king in stately majesty and resplendent glory, sank to his evening repose. The clouds caught the afterglow, looking as if a gigantic brush had swept across the sky scattering gold and orange and crimson and purple. The sun had gone — but the glory of his vanished presence still lingered in the beauty of the clouds.
At the close of another day we stood on the same hill-top. The sun was hanging low. The purpling shadows lengthened in the valley. The sun did not sink in glory tonight — but passed out of sight into a bank of dark and threatening clouds. The voices of the day were stilled. A solemn and foreboding hush seemed over all, and our spirits felt the general gloom. There was no afterglow. There was no resplendent painting of the sky. All was somber and gloomy; in expectancy and awe, nature seemed to await what would come. And as the darkness fell, we saw a gleam of lightning play across the distant cloud.
How like the sunsets of some lives, were these two sunsets! In my mind, unfading while I live, are the memories of two life-sunsets. When but seven summers had passed over my head, my little sister and I were at a neighbor's two or three miles from home. In the early twilight a horseman came galloping down the road bearing the fateful news that Mother was dying. Quickly placing me behind him on the horse and taking my little sister in his arms, he galloped away through the early twilight.
When we arrived at home, we found the house filled with neighbors. Upon her bed, lay Mother with pallid face. Through the hours of the night, we watched by her bedside. About three o'clock in the morning she asked them to sing that old song "Shall We Gather at the River." With choking voices and tear-dimmed eyes, the little band of neighbors sang the song. The eyes of the sufferer gazed steadfastly above. A heavenly light beamed forth from her countenance. A smile of joy was upon her face. Presently she called the sorrowing relatives one by one and bade them a last good-by. I fell upon my knees by her bedside and sobbed out my childish grief. She turned and looked fondly down upon me and, laying her hand upon my head, said, "Charlie, be a good boy — and meet me in Heaven."
A little while she was quiet. Then her life's sun sank to its rest. But the afterglow of that beautiful life still shines in that community. Circumstances later took me far away; but after sixteen years, I again stood upon the scene, and over and over during my stay, the neighbors told me of her beautiful Christian life. Many a time during those years when I was tempted to do evil, I would behold that scene again, and those last words of my sainted mother would ring in my ears; they stood as a bulwark between my soul and evil.
The same afternoon that the message so dreadful came to me — my grandmother visited a neighbor who was drawing near to his life's sunset. When she came back, she told what passed while she was there. The man was a skeptic. There was no life beyond the grave for him. There was no hope of reunion around the throne of God. Grandmother spoke to him of his approaching end and asked him if he was prepared to die. His answer I shall never forget. Young as I was, it struck me with terrible force. With a look of deepest melancholy on his face he said, "It is taking a leap into the dark."
A few days later he passed away. Now he and mother lie there in the little country cemetery, waiting until the voice of the Son of God shall call them forth. But ah, the difference between those two life-sunsets! One left the glorious hope of a Christian shining forth, tinting the sky with beauty; the other's sun sank into a dark cloud of despair, lighted only with the lurid glare of the lightning of God's wrath!
Reader, what will be your life's sunset? Will it be serene and calm and peaceful, lighted up with glory from the throne of God — or will it be dark, without a promise or ray of hope?
You are fast hastening to that hour! It may be nearer than you think. If you live without God — then you will die without God. Take a view of yourself now. Would you like for your life's sunset to find you as you now are? If not, what assurance have you that it will be different? Good intentions will never change it. Good desires will never change it. God alone can make you ready for that hour. Unless you seek him, you too will take a "leap into the dark"; for you there will be only the "blackness of darkness forever." "If you will hear his voice — then do not harden your heart."