by John MacDuff


If the following pages contained a mere roll and record of death-bed scenes, they would form a gloomy volume.

Such, however, is not their purpose. While the author has occasionally dwelt (as in the two opening chapters) on the closing hours of Scripture worthies--whenever incidents of note in connection with these are recorded--he has, in general, rather sought to make their "last days" the standpoint for a retrospective view of character and history. It has been his endeavor, mainly to inculcate, not so much lessons from death, as lessons from life viewed from this, its solemn termination. As an eloquent writer has remarked--"Death is often at once the close and the epitome of existence. It is the index at the end of a volume. All a man's properties seem to gather round him as he is about to leave the world." There is often, moreover, a mellowed glory surrounding the hour of dissolution. God's saints are like forest trees in their golden autumn tints--grandest in decay when the hand of death is on them. They often hear, like Bunyan's hero, distant bells from the land of Beulah. Ministering angels seem to bring down draughts from the river of life, to refresh their spirits in the closing conflict.

Perhaps, to some, the name selected for the book may require explanation. If we regard the world of nature as a TYPICAL volume, full of suggestive analogies--an exponent and interpreter of the world of spirit--no symbol surely is more striking and appropriate than "SUNSET" is of Death. Every evening, as the sun goes down, we have a permanent type and enduring parable of the close of life, as well as a pledge and prophecy of the rising again in the eternal morning. The God of nature, in this His own hieroglyphic, countersigns the beautiful utterance of His Word--"Mark the perfect man, and behold the upright, for the end of that man is peace," (Ps. 37:37.) In support of these assertions, reference might be made to the motto-verses from some of our best poets which head the following chapters. It will be seen that these masters of sacred song, in their delineations of the believer's death, have fondly clung to the same impressive figure. They have dipped their pencils in the golden hues of a western sky.

Few can have beheld a gorgeous sunset, without the same suggestive association. Incomparably the grandest scene the writer ever witnessed in nature, was a sunset on Mont Blanc. The "monarch mountain" had appeared during the day, under varied, shifting, capricious effects of light and shadow--at one time fleecy vapors, at another, darker masses obscuring his giant form. As evening, however, approached, all these were dispelled--not a cloud floated in the still summer air, when the glowing orb hastened to his setting. The vast irregular pyramid of snow became a mass of delicately-flushed crimson. In a short time, the shadows of night crept up the valley, until nothing but the summit of the mountain retained the hectic glow of expiring life--a coronal of evanescent glory. This, also, in its turn, slowly and impressively passed away. The flaming sun of that long afternoon sank behind the opposite range of Alps; and the colossal mass in front, which, a few minutes before, had been gleaming with ruby splendor, now lapsed into a hue of cold gray, as if it had assumed robes of sackcloth and ashes, in exchange for the glow and warmth and brightness of life. The image and emblem could not be mistaken. Both fellow spectators at the moment gave expression to the same irresistible suggestion--What a sublime symbol--what an dreadful and impressive photograph of DEATH!

Nor was this all. When that last lurid glow was lingering on the summits, lighting up the jewels in this icy diadem, the sun itself had in reality already set--he had sunk behind the line of horizon. The valley beneath had long been sleeping in shadow, and lights were twinkling in the chalets. This, also, had its irresistible spiritual meaning and lesson, a lesson which is again and again noted and enforced in the succeeding pages--that the radiance of the sunset lingers after the earthly course has run--a man's influence survives death! These glorious orbs of the olden time have set for thousands of years, but their mellowed luster still irradiates the world's mountain-tops. Though dead, they yet "speak."

There is no teaching so interesting or so profitable as that of inspired biography. There are no lessons so grand or so suggestive as those derived from the study of the lives and character of the great heroes of the past, who manfully struggled through trial and temptation until crowned with victory. They are truly the world's great "artists." They have molded life. Wondrous as are the conceptions wrought out by the sculptor's chisel in breathing marble--what, after all, are these? Speechless creations--soulless, inanimate expressions of beauty and power. Grander, and more godlike, surely, has been the work of those "great ones of the olden time" who, by their words and deeds, have influenced successive ages--chiseled the moral features of mankind.

It is the humble wish of the writer, to act as guide to his readers through these corridors of hoary time, rich in this noblest sculpture. Amid the hum of a busy industry; amid the race for riches; amid the wheels and shuttles of labor--at the counter--in the exchange--the house--the family--let us learn from these great biographies how to live and how to die. Each character delineated in sacred story, if we read it aright, has some grand individual lesson to teach for this work-day world--some principle, or spiritual grace we do well to ponder; whether it be faith, or fortitude, or patience, or self-sacrifice, or submission, or endurance, or scrupulous honor. In a few of the examples selected, we have beacons to warn; but in the main, they are designed to guide, stimulate, and instruct. Let us watch the life-struggle, and profit by its close. Let us see how these candidates for immortality ran their race and reached their goal, and let us "go and do likewise."

With one exception, for reasons stated in the chapter itself, the author has restricted the "Sunsets" to those on "the Hebrew mountains." Though thereby constrained to exclude several well-known Bible characters, it has enabled him alike to set needful limits to the volume, and also to include some names less known and familiar in the roll of Hebrew worthies. He will not venture to offer any apology for the imperfections of the volume, and the inadequate justice done to a great theme. Such as it is, he commends these "sunset" memories to the Great Head of the Church, with the earnest hope and prayer–
"That often from that other world on this
Some gleams from great souls gone before may shine,
To shed on struggling hearts a clearer bliss,
And clothe the truth with luster more divine."

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