Preparation for Death

J.R. Miller

There are many misapprehensions regarding preparation for death. It is thought of as something to be done when the physician says that one cannot recover. It is considered as a very solemn business, to be attended to in the gathering shadows of the valley of death. But this is not by any means the Christian teaching about preparation for death. It is not something for the closing days or hours of a life. It is not a hurried or excited work which one must perform while the death messenger waits at the door. It does not consist in the performance of special religious rites, as extreme unction, nor in a series of peculiar experiences of penitence and faith. Nor is it something that requires time, whether days or moments, if the life has been truly Christian.

There is an impression that there is something very terrible about sudden death. One of the petitions in the Litany is, "From sudden death, good Lord, deliver us." If we take this petition as death unprepared for, the death of impenitence—then most should pray this petition.

There have been excellent Christian men who for many years were without doubt fully ready for dying, who have yet shrunk from going away suddenly, without warning. Thomas Fuller recorded this prayer against dying suddenly, "Lord, be pleased to shake my clay cottage before you throw it down. May it totter awhile before it tumbles. Let me be summoned, before I am surprised. Deliver me from sudden death, not from sudden death in respect to itself—for I care not how short my passage may be, so long as it is safe. Never any weary traveler complained that he came too soon to his journey's end. But let it not be too sudden in respect to me. Make me always ready to receive death."

On the other hand, thousands of noble Christians have desired to be taken away without any warning. They desired no time for preparation because they lived in a state of constant preparation. The venerable Professor Sillimon used to say to his students: "Sudden death is never to be dreaded. If it be God's will, let the angel of death come in a flash—only let him find me at the post of duty! He cannot come too quickly."

Such thoughts about death, of course, imply a life of Christian faith and holiness which needs no special preparation of any kind. And there can be no doubt, that such is the ideal of life which is held before us in the Word of God. Our Lord taught in the closing days of his own life that he would come again, that his coming would be sudden and unexpected—without a moment's time to prepare for it. Hence he taught that if people would be ready for his coming whenever it may be—that they must be always ready and must live in a state of constant preparation.

The same is true of death. It is sure to come to each one of us and arrest our busy life and end our probation as to our final account. It is sure to come—but when it will come, or how it will come—no one can foresee. Not to be ready for death, is to pass into the hopeless darkness of eternal damnation. Its coming may be so sudden, that no preparation can possibly be made for it. Hence the only safe way to live, is to be prepared all the time, that we may never be surprised and unready—that when the call comes, we may but to look up into our Lord's face with glad joy and depart with him.

True and real preparation for death, is made therefore, by a faithful and earnest Christian life. To begin with, one must be saved by Christ, and committing one's soul to him for time and for eternity. One who has truly done this, is prepared for death at any moment.

The penitent thief on the cross is an example of this. It was but a few moments after his earnest prayer, "Lord, remember me when you come in your kingdom," that Jesus answered, "this day you shall be with me in Paradise."

Of every believing one, it is true that faith has brought him into the kingdom of God—and he is henceforth prepared for death.

After being saved, each believer should live in a manner suitable for the last day of life. Any day may be to us the last. When we close up the day's work in the evening, and lay our tools down—it may be that we shall return again to fill our places or attend to our duties. Every evening, thousands of people in this world leave their work—and never take it up again. Not one of us know, but that this day may be the last day of our life. This possibility should lead us to make this day such as would be suitable for our last one.

If we knew that this would be our last day—how would we spend it? We would certainly keep it white and clean, unspotted by sin. We would seek to do every duty so as to leave nothing unfinished.

The business man who realizes that he may never come back to his office, will leave nothing in confusion, but will arrange all his affairs in order.

The gentleman who was going abroad for an absence of many months said that it was just as if he were going to die, that he had to put all his matters in such shape that if he should never come back there would be no confusion, no complications in his business.

It should be so with us every evening. We should never leave anything at loose ends, even over one night. All our work should be done, and all our affairs put in order.

Each day's life should be complete in itself, with nothing neglected, nothing left over, but with each duty done. If each day is thus made complete, we shall never be surprised or unprepared for the most sudden death.

Thus we should seek to make every day holy and beautiful enough to be our last day. That means that we should live at peace with all men, especially that we should live in sweet love with the dear ones of our own home. We would not want our last day to be marred by wrangling and strife, but to be made sacred and tender by all love's holiest ministries, by all its kindliest sentiments and most delicate attentions.

Each single, separate little day should be a miniature life, complete in itself. God gives us life by days, and with each day he gives an allotment of duty, a portion of his plan to be wrought out, a fragment of his will to be done.

Says Faber, "Every hour comes with some little portion of God's will fastened upon its back." Our highest mission is to find that bit of divine will, and do it. Well lived days, make completed years; and the years completed as they come, make a life beautiful and full.

In such a life no preparation for death is needed. He who lives thus is always ready. Each day prepares for the next, and the last day prepares for glory. A true life is a ladder, and the days each lift the feet a step higher, and the last one brings us to Heaven's gate!