Practical Hints from a Father to His Daughter
William Sprague, 1835
Preparation for Death
There is scarcely anything in human experience which at first view strikes the mind as so difficult to be accounted for — as the utter insensibility which the mass of mankind manifest on the subject of death. That death is an event of most solemn and momentous import, whether it be regarded in its physical or its moral bearings — no rational mind can question. Nature herself renders a testimony to this truth in that shrinking and shuddering which the spirit feels, when it is actually entering into communion with this king of terrors. But who, with an eye upon the world, can fail to perceive that death is but little thought of? And though the grave itself is continually speaking forth its rebuke to human thoughtlessness and foolishness; and though friendship, strong and tender in death, often pours out its earnest expostulations to the living to prepare to die — yet the mass of the world slumber on, until they are startled by the footsteps of that messenger whose mandate they cannot resist!
This surely is not wisdom. It shows the desperate madness of the human heart. It shows that man is guilty, that he is afraid to think upon the future, to enter into the secret chambers of his own soul, and ponder the prospect of a final retribution.
But if the great majority of mankind manifest an absolute aversion to the contemplation of death — it must be acknowledged that even those who profess to be the disciples of Christ, and to regard death as gain — do not live as might be expected, in view of it. They think of it too little, converse about it too little, and prepare for it too little. Here again, the secret of this is — that they love this world too well, and even though they are partially sanctified, they have too little sympathy with the objects, and interests, and glories of the world which the eye of faith sees beyond it.
You cannot fail to perceive that it is a matter of infinite importance, that you are prepared to die — prepared in such a sense that the thought of death shall never be unwelcome, and the approach of it, however unexpected, instead of filling you with alarm, shall be hailed as the harbinger of heavenly glory. I am sure that you aim at something higher, than even to die safely; you desire that your death may speak forth the all-sustaining power of the gospel; that in dying you may bring some honor to Him whose death is the price of all your hopes and joys, of your entire redemption. Let me then give you two or three brief DIRECTIONS to aid you in making this most desirable attainment.
Meditate frequently and solemnly upon death. If it comes up before the mind only occasionally, and at distant intervals, the certain consequence will be, that it will be regarded with chilling apprehension; and your thoughts will be likely to fly from it, even though reason and conscience strive to detain them. Let no day, especially let no evening pass — which does not witness to your visiting 'death' in thought. Endeavor to become familiar with this subject in its various parts and bearings. Meditate on the certainty of the change; on the nearness of its approach; on the circumstances which will probably attend it — the parting with friends, the dropping of the earthly tabernacle, the pains, the groans, the dying strife, which may be crowded into the last hour; and on the amazing scenes which must open upon the spirit, the moment death has alone its work, and on the riches of that grace which secures to the believer a complete victory in his conflict, and a triumphant entrance into Heaven.
Let this course of meditation be conducted in the most practical manner possible; let it all come home to your own bosom as a matter of personal concern; and the effect of it will be to make the world appear in its true light, and to transfer from time to time, some new affections from earth to Heaven.
Beware of the world! Beware of its seductive flatteries, its pestilential maxims, its unhallowed practices. Remember that the spirit of the world is directly opposed to the spirit of the gospel; and that both cannot find a permanent lodgment in the same bosom. If the world attempts to seduce you by its smiles — do not dally with the tempter for a moment! If the world attempts by its frowns to wither your holy purposes and bring you into subjection — then in the strength of almighty grace, march forward to the conflict, and the world will retire and leave you the victory. Have as little to do with the groveling and polluted scenes of earth as you can, in consistency with your duty. Rise above the world, and try to breathe the pure atmosphere of Heaven. Thus you will use the world, as not abusing it; and all that you have to do with it, instead of retarding, will actually advance your preparation for the grave!