The Death of the Young
When one dies in old age we quite easily reconcile ourselves to the departure. We say that it is according to the course of nature. The old person has fulfilled the allotted years of life, the threescore and ten, or fourscore, which mark the limit of human expectation. We are quite likely to quote the words about a shock of corn coming in its season.
But when a young person dies, we do not feel and act in the same way. It is not so easy to reconcile ourselves to the departure. We had expected our friend to live to be old, and we are sadly disappointed at his early death.
Yet, when we think more deeply of the matter, should a death in bright, sunny youth, or in middle life be regarded as too early? Should the life thus cut off be considered as an incomplete or unfinished one? Why may we not speak of his life, if it has been noble and true, as a shock of corn coming in its season?
If every life is a plan of God—then is not the time of its ending a part of that plan? We would not call the life of Jesus incomplete, though he died at thirty-three. Indeed, he said as he neared the end; "I have finished the work you gave me to do," and with his expiring breath he cried aloud in triumph, "It is finished!"
It does not, therefore, need years to make a life complete. One may die young, and yet not depart too soon. Certainly no one should want to die and leave an incomplete life. Nor is it wrong to desire to live to ripe old age. The love of life is natural. Our friends need us. There is work to do. We want to be a blessing to as many as possible. Paul himself had a desire to depart and be with Christ, which was far better—but he felt that the Church of Christ needed him and therefore he was willing to stay. It seems to our thought that every good life should stay in the world just as long as it can be useful, for earth can ill spare any life that is a blessing to it. Yet we must not make the mistake of thinking that only a long life is complete, and that every short life is incomplete. It is possible for a life to be in this world but a short time, and yet be complete according to God's plan for it. We may not dread to die young—yet we should dread to die with our life incomplete. And we may do this though living fourscore years.
When is a life, long or short, complete?
For one thing, no life is complete which has not found divine mercy and been reconciled to God through Christ. A man may live a hundred years and do great things and fill the world with his name—yet if he is not a Christian, if his life is not lifted by Christ out of spiritual death unto spiritual life—then he has not really begun to live.
The old man of a hundred years old, when asked his age replied, "Just six months." He was right; he had been a Christian for six months, and all the long years before that amounted for nothing.
One who dies unsaved is cut oft in the midst of his days; though he has reached the outermost limit of earthly years. On the other hand, the earliest death of one who is a Christian is not untimely; he has passed from earth to Heaven, and no life can ever be a failure that reaches heavenly glory. This is the first element in a complete life—that it is saved.
Another element is that the life has left some blessing in the world. One who has not done anything for Christ, to prove his gratitude and the reality of his new life—has not lived a complete life.
A young man who, only in his last illness had found Jesus and learned to rejoice in him, was one day when alone heard to exclaim, "Lost, lost, lost!" The friend who heard his lamentation went to him and asked what he meant. "Do you not believe you are saved?" "Yes," he replied: "but my whole life is lost. I have never done anything for Christ."
It is the first impulse of a renewed life to desire to be a blessing in the world and to do good to others. The one Bible example of conversion in the dying hour shows us the penitent eagerly interested in the saving of the other man who was dying beside him.
We each have our mission—some work assigned to us, something we should do. To die at the end of a useless life—whether thirty years or one hundred in length; is to leave an incomplete life and to die too soon.
But if the years, many or few, are filled with earnest, loving service, with lowly ministry, with sweet helpfulness—the life is complete and we may speak of it as a shock of ripe wheat.
Another element of completeness in life, is that it is ruled and directed by the divine will as revealed in Scripture. If our lives are planned by God, then there is a particular work for which he made each one of us to do. If, therefore, we would accomplish that which is the object of our existence, then our lives must be under divine direction—we must take our work day by day from the hand of God.
The most absolutely complete life ever lived in this world, was that of Jesus Christ; and the way he made it complete was by each moment doing the Father's will. In early childhood we find him "about his Father's business." As the years increase and he enters his public ministry, the same sweet constraint is ever upon him. We hear him speak continually of the work which the Father had given him to do. Both in service and suffering, he was directed by the Father's will. It was in this way that he made his life perfectly and absolutely complete.
In no other way can any life be rendered complete. No matter how long we live and how many other things we do, even great and conspicuous things—if we do not fulfill God's will for us, then our life will be incomplete at the last. We must learn to look up to him moment by moment with the question in our hearts, "What will you have me to do?" Then taking our duty from his hand as he gives it, we must quietly and sweetly do it. Thus shall we finish our work as we go along. Each day's close will leave nothing incomplete; and when the end comes we shall have nothing to do but to depart.
One other element of a finished earthly life, is its anticipation of Heaven and immortality. No human life can be complete, if earth is all. But it is the glory of our redemption, that the life that has found mercy with God and has done the Father's will, passes at death into eternal life. The full blessedness of that immortal existence, we cannot understand while we dwell in the
world. Yet we know that it is the perfection of life in God's immediate presence, and that it is endless.
Here on earth, nothing is really finished. The best work is marred with imperfection. The holiest service is stained with sin. Our lives are full of disappointments and sorrows. We suffer wrongs and injustice. Our hearts are torn, our plans are thwarted, our hopes perish like summer flowers. But in the long yearless ages before us, there is time and room for adjusting all these fragments of earthly living, setting right all that has gone wrong here, healing all heart-wounds and restoring all losses. Without Heaven the longest and fullest life of earth is incomplete; but with Heaven to follow, the shortest life will come into glorious fullness and completeness!
Thus the matter of years becomes an element of very slight importance in a finished life. We do not need to mourn the death of the young as if by dying so early they had lost the opportunity of living a full life. If they are reconciled to God, if they live "not to be served, but to serve and to bless the world; if by obedience and submission they do the will of God and fulfill his purpose in their creation—then their lives are complete in Christ—though they stay on earth but the shortest time. Not years, but grace and fidelity make a life beautiful in God's sight.
It is not wrong to ask for long, full years—if it is God's will. But it is a better prayer to ask that we may make our lives complete, whether dying in youth, in middle life or in old age. This we can do only by making each day beautiful and complete as we go.
Life's work is always too large to be done in any less than the full time allotted; it is just large enough—never too large—to fill every day and every hour from birth to death. Faithfulness all the days will leave nothing unfinished when the last moment comes. Then Heaven will crown the shortest life with fullness of blessing. An eloquent Scotch preacher said, "Our night candle lasts long enough if it lets in the eternal day."