The Course of Faith, or
The Practical Believer Delineated

By John Angell James, 1852



If the man who trembles at death is a coward; he who trifles with it is a fool! There is a thousand times more rationality in the trembler--than in the trifler! There is a phenomenon in the rational world well worthy of consideration, inquiry, and solution--the strange and fatal insensibility of men to the grand fact that they are mortal! Since it is infallibly certain that they must and will die, and since death is so solemn an event--how does it happen that so few ever seriously think of it, or really prepare for it? One would think that so grand and solemn a fact as death, especially viewed in connection with the events which are to immediately follow it--heaven, hell and eternity--along with the uncertainty how soon it may be realized--might operate with an unlimited and altogether overpowering influence upon men's minds and hearts!

But then if this really be the case, that it is necessary for death and eternity to be thus partially counteracted in their influence, yet wholly to throw off all regard to them is the reproach, the madness, and the ruin of our race. Men wish to forget death! They try to forget it--and alas, too often succeed in accomplishing this fatal oblivion! Yet we can scarcely wonder at this, when we consider what is their spiritual condition--and what death is! It is the commonness of death, which deprives it of its extreme dreadfulness. If death happened in our world only once in a century, it would be felt like the shock of an earthquake; and would hush the inhabitants of earth into a breathless silence, while the echoes of the knell of the departed soul were reverberating around the globe!

Death is the moment of destiny—the seal of eternity—the cessation of probation—the commencement of retribution and judgment! The antecedents of death are dreadful—so are the accompaniments—so are the consequents! To every sense, death is revolting—to every social affection crucifying—to reason perplexing—to everything but saving faith overwhelming. Faith--and faith alone can change death’s dreadful aspect, extract its sting, or soften its stroke—and this can. This is faith's last battle, and its brightest triumph. Yes, faith has gone on from conquering--to conquer through life, and now completes the conquest by subduing its last enemy in the dark valley of the shadow of death; and then having achieved its final victory, faith expires like a hero on the field of conflict and glory. Thus ends the great fight of faith. There the shout of victory is heard from the dying believer, when he catches the strain from the lips of his Lord, and like him leaves the scene of contest as a conqueror, exclaiming– "It is finished!"

But we must now consider what faith has to do with death. Much, very much, it has to do with it.

First, faith receives from the Word of God, the account of the true nature and cause of death. Human reason here is all perplexity; philosophy is nonplussed; and science dumbfounded. They see the generations of men, like other animals, rise, flourish, and decay, and are prone to resolve all, as we have seen they do human sorrows--into the mere operation of the fixed, unalterable ‘laws of nature’. Human reason says, "Man was made to die—it is his nature and destiny!"

Such is not the view of the believer—he thinks more worthily of the wisdom, power, and goodness of the Creator. Man was made to live! Immortality was his birthright—and had he not sinned, would have been his undisputed and undisturbed inheritance. He was placed under a law, of which the penalty was death—he broke it and he died. Death is man's own work, rather than God's. "Sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men, for all have sinned." Rom. 5:12. It was in the ‘womb of sin’ that death was conceived—and therefore the horrid monster is the offspring of its still more horrid mother! This invests death with additional terror, since the progress of natural decay is less terrible than the infliction of a sentence. Hence it is that Christians who believe this have a more solemn sense of dying than the hardened skeptic, for while the latter considers it merely as the order of ‘unintelligent nature’, the former sees in it the retributions of offended justice.

The tendency of atheism is to harden the heart into absolute insensibility, and to tear out from the soul all those finer principles which render it susceptible to the emotions of sublimity, in the contemplation of eternity. The atheist has first degraded himself in his own view of his mortality to the level of a brute, and now with almost as little emotion as his fellow-brute contemplates his approaching end. He has steeled his heart against all those feelings of awe, concern, and holy fear with which the believer anticipates the disclosures of eternity; and therefore, though a stranger to the consoling power of a believer's hopes, has blotted from his nature, the beneficial influence of a believer's sensibilities to death and eternity. It is the Christian alone who has a due appreciation of what it is that makes death either dreadful in one view, or joyful in another--and this makes the triumph of his faith over it the more illustrious.

He recognizes the subjugation of death by the work of Christ. Among the enemies over whom Jesus triumphed openly upon the cross, was death. It was then he abolished it, and "destroyed him who has the power of death, that is the devil; and delivered them who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage." Heb. 2:14, 15.

Satan is said to have the power of death, not because he has or ever had any absolute or sovereign power over it, or authority to inflict it at his will. No—the keys of death are in the hand of Christ, and are never trusted out of his hands—but this power is ascribed to Satan because he tempted our first parents, and by his lies brought them and all their race under the law of mortality. His object was to destroy them. He was aware of the penalty with which the law of Paradise was guarded; and he imagined if he could get them to break that, it would be all over with them, and that either annihilation of the guilty pair would follow, or their eternal punishment and that of their race. But the Son of God, who was "manifested to destroy the works of the devil," frustrated this malicious design by assuming human nature; and in that nature which was capable of dying, made atonement for human guilt; and thus dissolved their obligation to suffer the punishment of eternal death, procured them acceptance with God, and a restoration from the grave by a glorious resurrection to the enjoyment of eternal life in heaven! Thus did Jesus Christ "overcome the sharpness of death, and open the kingdom of heaven to all believers." Death is therefore "abolished," 2 Tim. 1:10; not that it is set aside even in the case of believers—they must die as well as others; but by the pardon of that sin which gave death its sting--the sting is plucked out, and though so dreadful in form, it is harmless in itself. Thus by the promise and prospect of eternal life, and of the resurrection of the body, the very nature of death is changed! That body, without which the work of Christ would have been immense, eternal, and irreparable loss--is now infinite gain. This is the blessed truth which, upon the testimony of God in his Word, the believer receives; and thus by a faith and hope full of immortality, overcomes the last enemy.

Faith is assured of a Divine interposition as regards all the circumstances of death--as to time, place, and manner. We are informed by the Word of God that even these are all under the appointment or permission and wise direction of God's over-ruling Providence. There is chance in nothing that concerns us or happens to us during our pilgrimage upon earth. How much less in death--that event which closes life! Even a sparrow falls not to the ground without the knowledge of our heavenly Father. How much less an immortal man! The hour of each man's death is as certainly fixed--as the day of judgment. God as much concerns himself about each one, as if there were only one to be the object of his care. It is true that to all appearance the death of man is as casual or undetermined as the fall of the autumnal leaf in the pathless forest; but it is not so! There is a time to die—a fixed time—an unalterable time, and each man is immortal until his time comes! "Is there not an appointed time to man upon earth? Are not his days also like the days of an hireling?" Job 7:1. "Seeing his days are determined, the number of his months are with you, you have appointed his bounds that he cannot pass." Job 14:5.

This fact is declared not to make us indolent or rashly adventurous; nor to take us off from all the proper means for preserving life; but to deliver us from all undue solicitude about death. How soothing is the idea that infinite wisdom has fixed the time for death--and which must be the best time. How calmly yet how confidently may we go forward amid the dangers and difficulties of our present situation, remembering there is one who has fixed the hour of our departure, whose eye is ever on his own Divine timepiece, waiting and watching for the moment he himself has fixed to arrive, and extending his arm of protection over us to guard us until then. What power can crush us until he gives the signal? and what skill can preserve us when he determines our decease? Who should fear he shall die before God calls him to depart? Who would wish to live one moment longer than God sees fit for him to continue? Many have been comforted by this even amid the carnage and slaughter of the battlefield. "Every bullet has its commission," they have exclaimed– "and I am invulnerable to them all--until God sends one to strike me!" So in the time of pestilence, the same faith has said to its possessor,

"Go, and return, secure from death,
 Until God shall call you home."

As with the TIME so with the PLACE of death—that too is fixed, whether at home or abroad; on the railway, at sea, or in the bed chamber. So also the MANNER, whether sudden or slowly; whether by accident or disease. All is of God—all in the plan of Providence. Oh most consoling thought! There is an infinite mind that with marvelous condescension has arranged all these matters for us beforehand. Omniscient wisdom, at the impulse of infinite love, has laid down for itself the plan of mercy--and will allow nothing to counteract its working. ‘Scoffing skepticism’ and ‘proud philosophy’ may laugh at the idea of the Infinite God descending to such trifles; but it is for the glory of his LOVE to be willing to do it, and equally for the glory of his WISDOM and POWER to be able to do it. What a view does it give us of his greatness, to think of him as creating a world, and also appointing the time, the place, and the manner in which each individual shall die! There are some who are ever speculating, fearing, or hoping about--the circumstances of their death. One dreads this kind of death, and another dreads that. One deprecates a sudden death, and another a slow one. Faith leaves it all to God--and submits to his wisdom the appointment of that precise death by which we shall most glorify God.

Faith is the great principle which delivers the believer from the immoderate FEAR of death. This was one end of the Savior's death– "To deliver those who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage." Heb. 2:15. The reference here is to the Jews, who, in consequence of the comparatively dim light which in their case was shed upon the subject of immortality, were in great and constant dread of dissolution.

Our situation is far and delightfully different from theirs. Through the ‘rent veil’ we see more clearly into the holy of holies, and thus learn to rise above that excessive fear of death which characterized these ancient believers. True it is, that there is a ‘natural fear of death’ common to humanity, and which is necessary to self-preservation; for who would care to perpetuate that existence which had nothing to render it desirable– except existence itself? How many would throw off life as an intolerable burden—but for the inherent dread of its termination by death! This natural dread of dissolution is in some cases much increased by a constitutional and somewhat morbid tendency to look at everything through a darkened medium; to anticipate imaginary evils; and to magnify such as are real concerns. In very many cases however, we may perhaps say in most--the fear of death arises from the low state of religion and the weakness of faith. Were the mind of the Christian more employed in the contemplation of celestial objects; did he habituate himself to meditate upon the partially revealed glory; did he more often rise above the world to the mount of Pisgah, and look by faith over the promised land; did he possess more of that faith which is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen; did he instead of limiting his view to the dark boundary line of the grave, cast his eye over into the realms of light, and life, and immortality--how would his fears of the dying hour abate! It is remarkable how little the writers of the New Testament say about death--compared with what they do about heavenly glory. It would seem as if they scarcely saw death, and as if it were lost amid the blaze of the celestial splendor, and appeared only like a dark spot floating upon the edge of the heavenly luminary. A more familiar acquaintance by the power of faith with the many mansions in his Father's house which the Savior has gone to prepare--would raise us above the dread of the ‘dark avenue’ that leads to them!

As the fear of death in many, perhaps in most cases, arises from the love of this present life, the best way to destroy the effect--is to remove the cause. The immoderate dread of leaving the world, is the dark shadow passing over the soul, of the immoderate love of the world. We dread extremely to part from a beloved object. And what then is this world that we should be so unwilling to leave it? It is, as regards its natural scenery--a beautiful world. But is it not under a curse however, for man's sin? Do we not see some proofs everywhere that sin, the mighty spoiler, has been there--and left his dirty footprints behind?

Is it because of the pleasures of sense and appetite--that you are unwilling to depart? What! Is there anything in having the flesh indulged and pleased—the sense gratified—the imagination amused, so important as to be reluctant to give it up? What so great, so good, so worthy of an immortal spirit--can you find in foods, drinks, and dress, in full barns and coffers, in vulgar fame and applause--that should make these things so attractive? Are you desirous to live for these things? Is it not a low and worthless spirit that had rather be so employed--than see your Maker's face; that chooses thus to entertain itself on earth rather--than partake of the effusions of divine glory above; that had rather creep with worms--than soar with angels; associate with the brutes--than with the spirits of just men made perfect?

Then think of all the pains of body to be endured in the world, which so often make us groan in this tabernacle, being burdened. Is it to drag about that poor, infirm, and diseased body, that you would remain—that hospital of disease—and thus hold fellowship with all the illnesses that flesh is heir to? Or if you have bodily health, what fears, cares, anxieties, oppress the mind! Are there not thoughts continually disturbing us, which leave a deeper sting than even disease? What bitter disappointments, what corroding solicitudes, what aching hearts, what gloomy forebodings, enter into our mental history. Is it this we so love that we are unwilling to lay down the load? "Ah—but our friends." Well, are these all, and always to us what we could wish or desire? Is there no frustration of hope from that quarter? No ingratitude, inconstancy, unkindness--sharper than a serpent's tooth, from them? How rare is a ‘perfect friendship’ and an ‘unmixed affection’. Your possessions perhaps draw your hearts to earth; you do not like to part with houses, lands, money. Poor, sordid, earthly soul--to find more on earth to attract--than there is in heaven!

But look at the world in another aspect—as the scene of man's apostasy—the region of sin—the territory of Satan, or at least that which he claims as the god of this world. Are you a Christian, then you must be aware of the narrowness of your knowledge—the darkness of your minds—your feeble, uninfluential apprehensions of spiritual and eternal things—your incoherent, shattered thoughts of Divine truth! You must know how blemished is your sanctification—how strong your corruptions—how slow your mortification of sin—how ineffectual your resistance of temptation. You cannot be ignorant of the sorrow, the complaint, the dejection, the doubts, the fears, and all-but despondency--which these things occasion. Are there not times when the apostle's language seems to suit us– "O, wretched man that I am, who shall deliver me from this body of death!" Is this a state from which we should be unwilling to go away?

And then extending our views beyond ourselves to the world around us--do we not see on every hand the reign of SORROW as the result of the reign of sin? What tears flow in our path, what groans enter into our ears. What a mass of misery do we behold, which is beyond our power to relieve. How often do we feel a wish we could go somewhere to escape the sights and sounds of wretchedness which infest our path--and which by sympathy entail misery upon ourselves. What! Reluctant to leave this--and go where all tears are wiped from our eyes?

Nor is it the sorrows of humanity only—nor chiefly those, that afflict the Christian—but its SINS. O the aboundings of iniquity—the overflowings of ungodliness—the infidelity, immorality, heresy, and Popery, which are to be found here; and the idolatry and Mahomedanism abroad! O the sight of a world where Satan reigns and sin covers the earth! Where tyranny, slavery, oppression, and injustice trample upon the rights of humanity, and man becomes a wild beast—a fiend to man! How can we love such a world, polluted as it is by crime, vocal by misery, stained with the blood of millions of martyrs; which is the haunt of devils; the slaughterhouse of the saints; the scene of ruin to countless hosts of immortal souls; the spot where Christ was murdered; and where God is perpetually insulted? What a reproach is it to our love to God—to holiness—to heaven, that we should be unwilling to die and depart from such a scene as this!

And what do we mean by this unwillingness to die? Is it that we are not willing to die now--or not at all? Is it death itself, or only the time of death? If merely the time of death, you may be sure that you will be just as unwilling at some future time as now. When would you like to die? How long would you like to live? Be assured that the longer you live, the more earthly you will grow in such a frame as this. So that it is evident it is the thing itself, and not the time you dislike, and would put off. You reverse Job's expression, and say of death what he did of life– "I loathe it and would live always." What! wish ever to be kept out of heaven! Wish to be eternally united to a clod of earth! Wish to subvert the laws of nature and overturn the constitutions of heaven--to let you remain perpetually upon earth! Live forever away from your Father in heaven--and an exile upon earth from his home above! Can this comport with a supreme love to God and a conversation in heaven?

Subdue then your love of life by a frequent meditation on these things. As Johnson said to Garrick, when the latter was displaying his beautiful house and gardens to him at Hampton Court– "Ah David, these are the things that make a deathbed terrible." Conquer the love of the world by looking not at its beauties—but at its deformities—not by dwelling on its comforts—but on its crimes; not by perpetually taking your fill of enjoyment at its purest spring—but by tasting its bitter waters. It is your love of this world which makes you unwilling to die. Wean yourself from it. Die daily, as the apostle did, by anticipation, and the dread reality of death will not, when it comes, terrify you. Familiarize yourself with the shape, presence, and step of the monster--and it will soon cease to be monstrous. Turn not away from death with horror and affright, as children and timid women do from some supposed spectral forms; but look it in the face, examine it, and you will cease to dread it.

We ought not to acquire an infidel indifference or a paganish stupidity, or a brutal insensibility—such a hardness of heart as leads by a loss of all sense of the value of life, to an utter recklessness about death. We desire no such frame as this—but a state of mind in which a deep and somewhat solemn sense of the solemnity of dying, is moderated by a hope full of immortality. The true Christian frame of mind is, an entire willingness to die or live as God shall see fit, accompanied with a leaning, so far as we ourselves are concerned--towards death. Not however in order to get rid of trouble, or find in the grave a sanctuary for sorrow—but from a desire to be with Christ and to attain to the perfection of our glorified nature.

Still we concede that there is a natural fear of death, which even faith does not totally subdue and eradicate. Mr. Jay beautifully compares it, as I have elsewhere observed, to the dread of the sea, which a person may feel who is separated from his family by the ocean. He longs to be with them—but still he is afraid to cross the great boisterous gulf which is between them. A believer loves his Savior, and thinks with delight of being forever with him; but he must die to reach him, and he does still think with some degree of dismay of the dark valley through which he must pass to reach him. It is sometimes a trouble, at any rate a solicitude to him, to consider how he shall conduct himself in that solemn hour of conflict with his last enemy. Often he turns an anxious eye to that scene when he shall feel himself, and be seen by others, confronted by the King of Terrors, and in earnestness and trembling, not however unmixed with faith and hope, he prays,

"When I tread the verge of Jordan
 Bid my anxious fears subside."

And generally the prayer is answered.

It is the part of faith now, to expect God's promise to be fulfilled, and his presence to be granted in that solemn hour. This is its language– "Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff--they comfort me."* Even the timid believer may and should believe in Christ for his death. I say he may, for Christ has promised to come and meet him. "In my Father's house are many mansions—I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you unto myself." John 14:1-3. Wonderful language! Mysterious condescension! He is like one friend saying to another upon the road– "I will go and get all ready for your reception—and when all is complete, I will come and meet you and welcome you." Will not this dismiss your fears? What need you fear--if Jesus is with you? And he has promised his intimate presence with you when you go through that dark valley. Why, his glory will throw a radiance over the dark form of death itself; and in his presence the last enemy will be transformed into an angel of light! I am persuaded from long observation, that there is nothing about which the true Christian has less need to be worried about, than his dying hour. If his God has promised to make his bed in his sickness, how much more will he make his bed for his death!

* This passage from the twenty-third Psalm, though quoted above, according to the usual meaning attached to it, does not really refer to death. A reflecting reader will observe that David does not speak of the valley of death—but only the valley of the shadow of death. The reference is to danger, exigency, and trouble, so great as to be the very shadow of death itself. The expression is to be interpreted by the subject of which it is a part. In continuance of the beautiful pastoral idea of the Psalm, David intended to say, that as a sheep when it wanders through deep ravines and dark valleys, is secured by the presence of its shepherd with his rod and staff against the assaults of wild beasts and other dangers, so he, as often as he was in a situation of danger, had a sufficient protection in the shepherd care of God.

There is also another passage, in Psalm 116, which by ordinary readers is misapplied. It is there said– "Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his saints." This is usually understood to mean that the Lord is especially present to his dying saints, and causes his consolations peculiarly to abound at that season of their trial. But the true meaning, as the context and tenor of the whole Psalm proves, is that the Lord watches over the lives of his saints, and guards them from death. David had experienced this in a dangerous disease by which he had been brought near to death—but from which he had been delivered by God's providence, and it was to celebrate this deliverance this Psalm was written. It is of rescue from death, and not of consolation in it, that he speaks.

Secondly, there is also faith in death, as well as faith for it, and before it comes.

It is said of the patriarchs by the apostle– "These all died in faith," an expression which in their case had reference to their belief in God's promise of the land of Canaan which they were assured would be inherited by their descendants, though they themselves possessed not a foot of it. But their belief was not of this merely, for it is said they "desired a better country, that is a heavenly one," and in the expectation of this they met the last enemy. Nor is it their privilege only, thus to pass through the dark portals of the tomb—but also of all true believers.

Faith brings the believer into a certain state—a habitual and permanent condition. It changes his relations, and from an enemy and a criminal makes him a friend, yes, a child of God; thus introducing him into a state of reconciliation and adoption. He is accepted of God into a lasting relationship, which follows him through life, death, and eternity. So that he does not depend for his safety upon the actual exercise of faith in the hour and article of his departure. He may die by accident, and have no opportunity for a single mental exercise—or he may be suddenly smitten down by apoplexy, or some other disease which extinguishes life in a moment; or his sun may set with his intellect under a cloud of morbid melancholy, like the poet Cowper. But he is still in a state of faith, and is as safe as though he died in the very triumph of actual faith. Yes, there have been instances in which Christians of undoubted piety have died by their own hands in a fit of insanity. These also were in a state of faith, though from a disordered brain, they were unable to exercise it. The luminary was there—but it underwent a total eclipse. Hence the necessity of coming into this state in health, by a cordial reception of the Gospel, and an entire change of heart through the power of the Spirit of God.

But dying in faith means also, in the case of those who are of sound mind and have the unfettered use of their intellectual powers--the actual exercise of belief in God's truth at the time—a continuance to the end, according to the words of the apostle– "We are made partakers of Christ--if we hold fast the beginning of our confidence steadfast unto the end." Heb. 3:4. "We are not of those who draw back to perdition; but of those who believe to the saving of the soul." Heb. 10:39. They are faithful unto death; and then are believing in death. Blessed is the privilege of believing then. Never do we more need it than in this great conflict with our last enemy. Then, when heartstrings are breaking, and friends weeping, and the world receding, and eternity opening--what can be of the smallest service to us but faith? We are literally shut up to faith. And what we need is generally granted. They who went all their days feeble and desponding are often mighty then.

It is wonderful and delightful to see how God strengthens the confidence of his doubting children, when he is about to remove them to himself. Their faith, which had been only as a spark amid much smoke of gloom, doubts, and fears, blazes out then into a bright and cloudless flame. God seems to have reserved some of his richest cordials of assurance until that season; and they who went mourning here below, and often wet their couch with tears--have departed, like the fabled swan, with a song of soft and heavenly music. What scenes, transcending all that poetry describes or fiction imagines--are to be witnessed in the chambers of dying saints. How often has it seemed as if the veil were drawn aside and the scenes of the celestial world were actually visible to the eye of sense; so that some have gone so far as to suppose it possible that visions of the heavenly state have been granted to those who at the time were treading upon its threshold!

We should rather conclude, however, that these are only the realizing apprehensions of that faith which then beyond what it ever did before, penetrates the veil of mortality, and roams abroad amid the realms of celestial glory! But how precisely does the faith of the dying Christian exercise itself then? By as simple a reliance as ever on Christ for salvation—and never is the reliance of the Christian more simple than in that moment when the soul is about to appear in the presence of a holy God! Then the mind looking back upon the past is more deeply sensible than ever of its sins, corruptions, and imperfections. Instead of feeling any disposition to depend with pride or complacency upon the longest life and the greatest measure of service--it never renounced all confidence of this kind with such emphatic detestation as it now does. The last lingering remain of self-righteousness then departs, and the believer with a new depth of humility exclaims,

"Nothing in my hand I bring,
Simply to your cross I cling;
When I draw my fleeting breath,
When my eyelids close in death,

When I soar to worlds unknown,
When I stand before your throne,
Rock of Ages, cleft for me,
Let me hide myself in Thee!"

Belief exercises itself in death by expecting, according to his promise, the presence of our Divine Lord. "Has he not," says the Christian– "engaged to be with me? Is he not with me? Do I not feel him near? What means this holy calm, which has stolen into my bosom? How is it I am so peaceful, when I feared once I should be so anxious and agitated? Is it not the presence of my Lord? Can I doubt that he is upholding me? Was I not always tremulous, timid, and doubting? and behold! now I am serene, hopeful, and even cheerful! I am in the gloomy valley, and yet it is not dark! Surely Jesus is near, and it must be the light of his countenance which irradiates the scene."

The believer resigns his soul into the hands of Christ for the hour of departure—for the solemn transition—for the passage to eternity! The death of the godly is not a mere passive state of mind—but an active one. They do not die violently as it were, or by force of a mere necessity. Beasts when they die, yield to force; and so do wicked men who are "driven away in their wickedness," torn out of life by a wrench—but it is not so with the Christian, when his faith is truly in exercise. He may, as we have considered, have some natural fear of death; yet when he sees it is the will of God, that he should depart, even this natural fear of death yields, and he resigns himself up to the Divine command. He sweetly resigns himself to death.

In what soft terms does the Scripture speak of the death of believers--a desire to depart (to be dissolved) and to be with Christ." It is a sleep. "Those who sleep in Jesus will God bring with him." 1 Thess. 4:14. So that dying is to a Christian, settling himself to sleep—a sweet and gentle action--as well as passively yielding himself up to this gracious and unresisted as well as irresistible power. Hence the primitive Christians called their graveyards the sleeping-place; a term from which our English word "cemetery" is derived. "Into your hands, O Jesus, I commit my spirit, for you have redeemed me." This is the language of the dying believer. He is about to make the plunge into the abyss of eternity; and he can do it, for he confides his soul to him who has invited, encouraged, and even commanded him to make the depart. He does not stand lingering and shivering on the brink, and trembling to lose his hold; but launches into the deep with a confidence of safety.

His soul is sustained by a hope full of immortality. The pulse of life is feeble and fluttering, and each stroke of the heart seems as if it would be the last; but the expectation of eternal life becomes each moment stronger as the soul draws nearer and nearer to the region in which there is no more death. Through the dark vista which intervenes he sees the lights in his Father's house, and they are close at hand; the beams of which are beautifully reflected from the dark waters of Jordan's intervening stream. It is now all reality. "I know," he says– "that if the earthly house of this tabernacle be dissolved, I have a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. Mortality will soon be swallowed up of life."

Nor are the interests of the poor frail body left out from the meditation of the dying Christian. There is a testimony from God in the Bible concerning these; revelation has broken the silence and irradiated the shades of the sepulcher--by the doctrine of the resurrection. It has left us in no doubt concerning the future history of the base and mortal part of our nature. The secrets of the grave are divulged. The body, whatever mystery envelopes the subject of its identity, shall be raised. Such is the hope of him who has learned his religion from the Bible. Many a dreary hour of sickness and pain, which occurs during the wearisome nights of sickness and months of vanity which are appointed to him, is rendered tolerable, if not comfortable, by the words of the apostle– "From whence we look for the coming of the Savior, who shall change our vile body, that it may be fashioned like unto his glorious body, according to the working whereby he is able to subdue all things to himself." Phil. 3:21. With this hope he watches the progress of disease; feels his attenuated frame growing weaker and weaker; endures racking pain; is conscious oftentimes of much that is loathsome and annoying to others--until at length he longs to throw off the burden of the flesh, exulting in the words of Job– "I know that my Redeemer lives, and that he shall stand in the latter day upon the earth. And though after my skin worms destroy this body, yet in my flesh shall I see God!" Job. 19:25, 26.

And cheering his heart with the beautiful assurance of that wonderful chapter which shall be read at his funeral, and with which he often anticipates his own burial"It is sown in corruption; it is raised in incorruption—it is sown in dishonor; it is raised in glory—it is sown in weakness; it is raised in power—it is sown a natural body; it is raised a spiritual body," 1 Cor. 15:42-44. "Take your victim, O death!" he exclaims– "I calmly and willingly surrender this poor, diseased, emaciated body to your arrest. But rejoice not against me, O my enemy; for though I fall, I shall arise!"

"Corruption, earth, and worms,
Shall but refine this flesh,
Until my triumphant spirit comes,
To put it on afresh.

"God my Redeemer lives,
And often from the skies
Looks down and watches all my dust,
Until he shall bid it rise."

Faith's work in death is not yet complete--for it is exercised in reference to those that are to survive. The dying husband and father feels that much of the bitterness of death consists in separation from those loved ones who stand weeping around his bed, especially when leaving them with slender or no provision for their support. "I die—but God lives," he says to them. "I am departing from you—but he remains with you. I have now nothing to comfort myself with—nor to comfort you—but his promises; and has he not said, 'A Judge of the fatherless and widows--is God in his holy habitation.'—Psalm 68:5. 'Leave your fatherless children with me, and let your widows trust in God.'—Jer. 49:11. I believe him, and can trust you to his providential care and covenant engagements. I have nothing to leave you but his promise, and with that I can leave you in hope and in comfort. I can do nothing for you any longer but pray for you and believe for you; and having done this, painful as it is for me to be separated from you, I go to my grave with confidence for you and in peace for myself."

What an exercise of faith does it sometimes require in the mother, who is leaving, and perhaps in perilous circumstances--a large family, and of course unable even to imagine into whose hands they may fall, when her successor shall be chosen, to believe that somehow or other they will be taken care of. And oh! the still stronger confidence in God needed by the widow on her decease, to cherish a hope that her orphan family will find friends; and to believe that when father and mother have forsaken them, the Lord will take them up. The dying pastor also, who during his decline was so anxious concerning his church, loses now his fears and his solicitude, and cherishes the faith and the feelings of the celebrated Dr. Owen, who on his deathbed said– "I am leaving the ship of the church in a storm—but what is the loss of a poor under-rower, while the Divine Pilot is himself on board!" This is faith, truly as well as nominally, and comfortably as well as truly, to commit these objects of our affection into the hands of God with a cheerful expectation that he will take care of them.

Such then is the exercise of this grace in reference to death.

We cannot reach heaven unless we persevere in our belief of God's truth, to the end of life. It becomes us for our caution to ponder the words of the prophet– "When the righteous turns away from his righteousness, and commits iniquity, and does according to all the abominations that the wicked man does, shall he live? All his righteousness that he has done shall not be mentioned." Ezek. 18:24. And it is well at the same time to remember for our comfort the declaration of the apostle– "Being confident of this very thing, that he who has begun a good work in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ." Phil. 1:6. And it is only amid the salutary fear and trembling produced by the former passage, that the comfort of the latter can be, or ought to be enjoyed.

Perseverance to the end is matter of God's promise, and therefore should be matter of man's belief—but then if perseverance be the end—holy fear, care, and watchfulness are the means. As Elisha would not leave his master until he was taken up into heaven; so faith must not, will not leave us, until our ascension comes. We see many, who appeared to have true religion in life, losing it by the way, and coming to death without it. Past experience in life, when it is lost, will not do to rest upon in death. We cannot die in safety, if we do not die, as well as live, in the belief of God's Word.

While those who live in faith should also seek to die in faith; those who would die in faith must live in faith. So did the patriarchs, and so must we. Men generally die as they live. We had need make trial of the faith we would die by. It is the most perilous thing in the world to trust for our religion to the last hours of life. Deathbed repentances are little to be depended upon. The Scripture contains the history of four thousand years, and there is but one instance—the thief on the cross—of a sinner's being a true penitent in death. And there were special reasons for that. It was the first-fruits of Christ's death and merits, and at the time when the great oblation was made. It was the first proof of the magnetic power of the cross. No such season ever did occur, or ever can again; therefore no encouragement can be derived from it for any other case—for Christ was then performing his great redeeming work, and it seemed fit that it should be signalized by some extraordinary act of grace.

And even professing Christians should be much concerned to provide a dying faith for a dying hour. Manton has well said, in the quaint language of his day– "We had need to get promises ready, evidences ready, and experiences ready--against a dying hour." By which he meant, that in life we should be intelligently, habitually, and felicitously acquainted with our Bibles; that we should read much, meditate much, and apply much, the promises of Scripture; that there should be especially a very intimate acquaintance with those parts of Scripture which relate to death and heaven. This is getting promises ready. As to evidences, he meant that there should be all those states of mind and habits of life in holy walking, spiritual affections, and the work of the Spirit, which are the fruits of faith and the proofs of its existence, and which are so necessary in a dying hour to assure us that all is right. It is a fearful thing to come to a deathbed, as many do, with a religion so feeble as to leave the poor trembling soul in dreadful doubt as to its state.

And then experiences mean, that habitual living upon the power, wisdom, faithfulness, and love of God, which shall enable us not only to rely upon him with peace and comfort in our last and closing scene—but shall also help us to bear testimony to others of his glorious perfections and covenant mercies. How encouraging is it to survivors to hear such testimony—how comforting to the dying saint to bear it. How many have become preachers in death, who never aspired to the office in life—whose deathbed became a pulpit, and their dying experience more powerful than the most impressive eloquence. Then let us get promises ready, evidences ready, and experiences ready--for a dying hour. We would have many more beautiful instances of faith in death, had we more instances of strong and influential faith in life.