“THE AGES TO COME!” What are they to be to me? How long are
they to last?
We pass into the new year asking these questions; for our days
move on with speed; our life is brief; its end is getting nearer; and
we seem sometimes to get a glimpse of the burying-place where we
may soon be laid, and almost to read our names upon the stone,
with the text beneath: “As for man, his days are as grass; as a flower
of the field, so he flourisheth: for the wind passeth over it, and it is
gone; and the place thereof shall know it no more.” (Psalm 103:15,
Very near has death come to us during the past year. Loud have
been his knocks at our door. His trumpet has given no uncertain
sound. Six hundred sleepers in one minute sink beneath the wave,
as the blast seizes one of our strongest war vessels and plunges it
into the deep as if it were a child’s toy. Some of these sleepers were
ready. From their sinking vessel the eternal life-boat carried them at
once to their desired haven, and the ship was at the land whither
they went (John 6:21); for them that sleep in Jesus will God bring
with Him (1 Thess. 4:14). Others might not be ready, and no time
was left them to prepare; not even the brief time of common shipwreck;
not even the few hours given to the thief upon the cross.
Prepare then, O man, to meet thy God!
The governor of Paris lately requested the German commander to
give notice of the time when the bombardment of the “joyous city”
would begin. The German refused. No warning is to be given. In an
unexpected moment, when Paris is perhaps least expecting it, the
circle of dormant fire will blaze out, and the awful death-shower
commence. So, O man, shall it be with thee. In vain thou askest for
some warning, some intimation of thy coming foe. There shall no
sign be given, but the signs that are common to all; and these,
perhaps, thou art at this moment slighting. It is never too late,
indeed, to look to the brazen serpent, so long as the living eye can,
even dimly, see the glorious Healer. It is never too late to betake
thyself, with all thy sins, to the gracious “Son of the Highest,” so
long as thou art on this side of the deep gulf. It is never too late,
whilst thou art here, to wash in the blood, to put on the
righteousness, to receive the pardon, to drink of the water of life.
But how unlikely is it, that they who have forgotten these things in
life will remember them when the darkness of a dying hour is over
them. How difficult, even if they remember, to deal with divine
things, to realise the grace of the Gospel, to apprehend the peace
and healing of the cross, amid the pain, and weariness, and
weakness, of their dissolving frame!
The ancient heathens erected no altars to death amid their many
altars to their gods, known or unknown. They knew the last enemy
was inexorable. He would not be entreated. He would not be bribed.
He would not spare. Make sure, then, O man, of the life beyond
death, by believing in Him who is “Life eternal.” So shall death be
transformed from an enemy to a friend. It is said that one of old,
seeing an artist painting death as a skeleton with a huge iron scythe,
said, “Friend, should you not rather paint him as an angel with a
golden key?” To the man who knows not the cross, and the
forgiveness finished there, death must be the skeleton with the
scythe. To the man who has found life and peace in believing the
divine testimony to the great Sin-bearer and His work, death is the
angel with the golden key. Which of these two is He to be to you, O
fellow immortal? “He that overcometh shall not be hurt of the
second death.” Is that your hope? Is that a text which you expect to
place beneath your dying pillow? Or, if you are to have no pillow but
the heaving wave, or, it may be, the red turf of the battlefield, shall
you be able to take such a text to rest upon, when called hence,
perhaps in a moment, to receive the eternal judgment?
Horatius Bonar, How Shall I Go to God?