The Fear of Death!
Francis Bourdillon, 1864
"Forasmuch then as the children are partakers of flesh and blood, He also Himself likewise took part of the same — that through death He might destroy him that had the power of death, that is, the devil; and deliver them who through fear of death were all their life-time subject to bondage."
It is a solemn thing to die. Yet a Christian need not fear death. For Jesus Christ has taken away its sting. "The sting of death is sin; and the strength of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ."
"Flesh and blood" means here our human nature, which is subject to death. The Lord Jesus Christ took our nature upon Him and became man, and so He became subject to death. But it was that He might overcome death for us. He did overcome it. He overcame it through death itself; for He died.
But the grave could not keep Him. He rose again from the dead. And so, by His dying and rising again — He overcame death, took away its sting, and made it such that the believer need not fear it any more. For the death of Jesus atoned for sin — and sin is the sting of death. When sin is gone — then the sting of death is gone. Thus Jesus has delivered us from the fear of death. He who believes with the heart, need not be afraid to die.
Nothing else can really take away fear. At least nothing else can take away the cause for fear. For some do not fear — who ought to fear! They look forward to death without fear — only because their hearts are hard, and they do not feel their sins; and false friends perhaps tell them that they have done no one any harm, and that God is merciful — but without speaking to them of the blood of Jesus, the only thing that can take away sin. But this is a false peace.
True peace can only come by believing in Christ. He has taken away our guilt and made our peace by dying for us. By His death He has overcome death. It is only in Him that true peace is to be found. And these have not fled to Him to take their sin away, and so to take away the sting of death. Oh, let them seek Him while yet they may! Nothing else will bring them true peace.
But, while some are without fear who have good reason to fear — there are others who live in fear from which they might be free. They are not careless or hardened; they think seriously; they are alive to the deep importance of their souls; they are sorry for their sins; and they do in a measure look to Christ. Yet they are still in bondage to fear — the fear of death.
Nor is this a passing feeling. They have it continually, in health as well as in sickness. It might be said of them, that through fear of death they are all their lifetime subject to bondage. Why is this? Because they do not look to Christ with a full and simple faith. Though they have some little faith in Him — yet they do not cast aside all else and rest their souls entirely on Him. They have need to pray thus, "Lord, I believe; help mine unbelief." For it is unbelief which keeps them in fear. They need a clearer view of the all-sufficiency of Christ's atonement — and a closer and more personal application of it to themselves by faith. He died to deliver them from this fear. Let their faith lay hold on Him more simply and firmly — and they will be delivered; for it is a true deliverance that He has wrought.
This fear is a different feeling from that natural shrinking from the moment of death which some Christians experience — some who have yet been truly delivered from bondage through faith in Christ. God has planted in us all a love of life, and this kind of fear of death seems naturally joined to it. It is not that he doubts his pardon and salvation through Christ; it is not that he does not enjoy the peace of God and a sure hope. He believes. He believes fully. Yet, even while believing, many a Christian feels a shrinking from the moment of the great change.
Did not even Paul feel it in a measure? "Not that we would be unclothed, but clothed, that mortality might be swallowed up by life." Yet he said also, "Having a desire to depart and to be with Christ — which is far better." Probably there are many Christians who feel the same. They desire to depart and to be with Christ. They feel that to be far better than anything here below. Yet they have a natural shrinking from the actual unclothing, the putting off of this mortal body.
Sometimes the Christian is distressed at finding in himself such a feeling. Yet it is not in itself a wrong feeling. Only let it not be allowed to get the mastery; rather let Christ's great salvation and full deliverance so fill the mind as to swallow up even this natural shrinking.
It often is so. Often one who has in times past suffered much from this natural fear — quite loses it as the hour of his departure draws near. He who delivered us from all cause of fear — takes away the last lingering remnant of the fear itself; and one who is worn and weakened with suffering — is able to look forward with perfect calmness to that which he shrank from when strong and well. Even the parting struggle has no longer anything terrible in his eyes.
And how graciously and compassionately does God deal with even the weakness and the fears of His people! Often the dreaded struggle does not take place. All is tranquil and painless. A faltering of the breath, a last sigh — and all is over! A true falling asleep in Jesus.
Such, indeed, is the death of the Christian always. In whatever way it pleases God to order the dying moment — the death of the Christian is but a falling asleep in Jesus. Stephen died a violent death — yet it is written of him that "he fell asleep." And Paul writes in like manner of those Thessalonian Christians who had died, and of all Christians who shall have died before the coming of the Lord. "Those who are asleep," he calls them; "those also who sleep in Jesus." Even when he does speak of them as dead — he calls them "the dead in Christ."
Let us not be afraid to die, then — let us not fear to fall asleep in Jesus. Have we not believed in Him? Have we not fled to Him to wash away our sins? Then why fear? The sting of death is taken away. Jesus, our Savior, has delivered us. The strong man armed, has been overcome by a stronger. There is nothing to fear from a conquered enemy. Even the last moment, the parting of soul and body — need not be feared. For it is said, "When you pass through the waters — I will be with you; and through the rivers — they shall not overflow you!" We need fear nothing in which God will be with us — our Savior, our Father; to cheer, help, and strengthen. "I will be with you!" The promise is sure. We need no more. He will never leave us nor forsake us. Never! Not even in the last moment.
And oh! What a happy shore, when that river is crossed! What a blessed and glorious change will that short passage bring! "For to me to live is Christ — and to die is gain." "Having a desire to depart, and to be with Christ — which is far better." "In My Father's house are many mansions — I am going to prepare a place for you."