William Nicholson, 1862
"Only a few years will pass, before I go on the journey of no return." Job 16:22
The sun rises daily, and we think little of it.
Just so, the frequency and commonness of death, causes it to be little thought of. Every day, men go to their long home, and the mourners go about the street; that is an occurrence little thought of.
Yet it is a matter of great concern to every human being. And though the solemn subject may not be pleasant — yet it is the highest wisdom to be prepared for the event, by that method which is prescribed by the Gospel of Christ. While death is gloomy and melancholy to the man of pleasure, to the man overwhelmed with business, and to the devotee of mammon — it is nevertheless sometimes regarded as a welcome messenger by the afflicted, and those who possess a good hope through grace, Job 19:25.
I. The Important Truth Asserted by Job.
He refers to his own death, which, by a figure, he represents as a journey; "Only a few years will pass, before I go on the journey of no return." The body must journey to the grave — the spirit to God the Judge of all. "The dust returns to the ground it came from, and the spirit returns to God who gave it." Ecclesiastes 12:7
Job expected that his death would be immediate, therefore the words translated "a few years," are improper; and that by Mr. Good is preferable, "But the years numbered to me have come, and I must go the way whence I shall not return."
According to the context, Job was expecting death every hour; and the text should be read in connection with verse 1 of the following chapter, "My spirit is crushed, and my life is nearly snuffed out. The grave is ready to receive me!" Job 17:1. He felt himself in the arms of death; he saw the grave already made for him; he believed the time of his departure was at hand.
1. Death is full of solemn import. What is death? It is forever leaving the present scene of existence — it is the cessation of existence here on earth.
The lungs no longer heave;
the heart stops beating;
the blood ceases to flow and congeals;
the tongue is silent;
the hand forgets its skill;
the whole body becomes motionless, pale, and ghastly.
(1.) Death is the separation of body and soul.
(2.) Death is the dissolution of every relative and social tie, however tender and endeared.
(3.) Death is the cessation of all human pursuits and the relinquishment of all human possessions.
(4.) Death is a journey that must be performed alone.
2. Death is a journey that must be taken by all. "Death has passed upon all men, for all have sinned." Romans 5:12. It is in the grave, where the rich and the poor meet together; kings as well as subjects, philosophers as well as fools. A century removes all the inhabitants of the globe to the silent grave. All who now live, in one hundred years to come, will be no more.
Death is unavoidable!
3. Death is an established fact.
(1.) By God's inviolable decree, "Dust you are, and to dust you shall return!" "It is appointed unto men once to die — and after that the judgment!"
(2.) From the rapid advance of life.
(3.) By symptoms of human frailty and tendency to decay, already apparent.
(4.) By the apparent ease with which the course of human existence may be ceased.
Great God! Amid what a mass of perils do we live! A grain may suffocate — a crumb may stop the springs of life! A breath, a cough, a sigh — may prostrate all our vital powers, and fit us for the worms! So various, too, the texture of our bodies, so fine the mechanism, so complex the structure — that every motion has its risk! And all our hours — our very moments, are beset with hazards, perils, fears, and ambushed ills!
What then is life? A bubble that is blown for death to burst!!!
4. Death is a fact characterized by the greatest uncertainty. "Man knows not his time when his hour may come" etc., Ecclesiastes 9:12. "Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes!" James 4:14.
Death may invade us . . .
at a period apparently the most unlikely,
when our thoughts are least turned towards it,
when our circumstances may render it most inconvenient,
when we are not at all prepared for it.
It may come in the spring of life — and mar its strength and vigor and beauty, etc. "One man dies in full vigor, completely secure and at ease, his body well nourished, his bones rich with marrow. Another man dies in bitterness of soul, never having enjoyed anything good. Side by side they lie in the dust, and worms cover them both!" Job 21:23-26
Death may come . . .
to the place of business,
to the hall of pleasure,
to the couch of sensual indulgence, etc., etc.
It may come suddenly, in a moment — or it may come by protracted disease.
"And I'll say to myself: 'You have plenty of good things laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry!'
But God said to him, 'You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?'" Luke 12:19-20
5. Death is an event followed by vastly solemn results. To the individual himself, death . . .
ends his probation,
is the departure of his soul into eternity,
is the apprehension of it either by demons or angels,
is the transmission of it to Heaven or to perdition.
See the parable of the rich man and Lazarus. "The time came when the beggar died and the angels carried him to Abraham's side. The rich man also died and was buried. In Hell, where he was in torment . . ." Luke 16:22-23
Death ends all the conflicts and trials and sorrows of the righteous.
Death is the commencement of all the woes of the wicked.
6. Lastly, Death is a journey from which there will be no return. "But now he is dead; can I bring him back again? I shall go to him, but he shall not return to me." 2 Samuel 12:23. In vain we linger by the corpse — the countenance will no more smile upon us. In vain we go to the grave — it is deaf to our cries, it will not give back its trust.
"At least there is hope for a tree: If it is cut down, it will sprout again, and its new shoots will not fail. Its roots may grow old in the ground and its stump die in the soil, yet at the scent of water it will bud and put forth shoots like a plant.
But man dies and is laid low; he breathes his last and is no more. As water disappears from the sea or a riverbed becomes parched and dry — so man lies down and does not rise. Until the heavens are no more, men will not awake or be roused from their sleep!" Job 14:7-12
II. The Influence Which this Subject Should Produce.
1. It should awaken the soul to reflection. In the midst of danger, we have been sleeping. While the darts of mortality are flying around us, we are calculating on future pleasures, pursuits, plans, life, etc. "It is high time to awake out of sleep!"
2. It should rouse us to action. It is a great journey — it is the last journey we ever shall take! Naturally we are not prepared for it. We need a fitting disposition for it, a passport, suitable attire and provision. In fact, we need a saving interest in the atoning blood of Christ, to make us fit to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in light.
3. It should induce habitual watchfulness. Death may come as a thief in the night! Do not be taken by surprise when the bridegroom comes. When the chariots of God come down, and Christ says, by death, "Come up hither!" — be ready!
4. It should produce humility, and check vanity and pride. What has a frail dying man to boast of?
5. It should alarm the unrepentant sinner.
6. It should animate the saint. "Now is our salvation nearer than when we believed." He shall soon be free from sin and suffering — soon see God and Heaven, and realize the glorious raptures of eternity!
7. Lastly. It teaches the value of the Gospel, which is the sovereign remedy for death, "Our Savior, Christ Jesus, who has destroyed death and has brought life and immortality to light through the gospel!" 2 Timothy 1:10