Preparation for Death!
William Nicholson, 1862
"Therefore you also be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect!" Matthew 24:44
In this chapter Christ foretells the destruction of Jerusalem. Though that event would certainly transpire — yet the exact time was hidden from man, "No one knows about that day or hour," verse 36.
The statements made by Christ have been regarded by eminent commentators as having a reference to the day of judgment — that day of solemnity and dread, the coming of which will be sudden and unexpected. Yet the words may with the strictest propriety be applied to the day of death. Its approach may be sudden and unexpected, involving solemn and eternal consequences. The text therefore calls upon all to prepare for the hour of death, so uncertain, and yet absolutely sure. Death will be to us as if the last trumpet had sounded, and the Son of God had appeared in all his glory to judge the living and the dead — because the quality of our hearts, and of our conduct throughout life, will determine the nature of our everlasting abode. The day of judgment will only be the confirmation of that state of eternal existence, with the addition of the body united to the soul by the resurrection, to partake of its pleasures — or share in its woes.
I. The Event for Which We Are to Be Ready.
The event is the dissolution of the body. "It is appointed to man once to die." "We must needs die," etc. Death is the effect of sin. "Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all men, because all sinned." Romans 5:12
1. At death, the body returns to its original dust. "By the sweat of your brow you will eat your food until you return to the ground, since from it you were taken; for dust you are and to dust you will return." Genesis 3:19. "Then shall the body return to dust," etc. Ecclesiastes 12:7.
Death, then, as the effect of sin, is the cessation of human existence. It is ended by disease, by sudden violence or casualty, or the human machine is worn out by oppression, punishment, affliction, or by protracted old age.
The lungs heave no more;
the pulse ceases to beat;
the blood is congealed in the veins;
the organs of sight are dimmed;
the tongue is silent, and
the hand forgets its dexterity.
Such is the end of the human structure, so fearfully and wonderfully made. And however stately, well-formed, athletic, strong, and beautiful before — it must be consigned to the dust from whence it came. Its tendency to corruption causes even its once adorers to exclaim, "Bury my dead out of my sight!" It is deposited in the silent tomb, worms feed upon it, and it is hidden from mortal sight.
How loved, how valued once, avails you not,
To whom related, or by whom begot:
A heap of dust alone remains of thee,
Tis all you are, and all the proud shall be.
2. At death the soul and body separate. They have been companions together. The soul has invented, projected, and devised plans and schemes, either for good or for evil — and the body has been the instrument of its actions. But they will act together no more in time. Their next connection will be in eternity. The tie is broken, and cannot be reunited here.
This separation to the sinner must be deeply affecting; for all his pleasures arise from the gratification of his bodily senses.
To the saint this separation is pleasing; for the body is one great impediment to his devotions and spirituality, either annoying him incessantly by its lusts, or indisposing and thwarting him by its tendency to lassitude, sickness, and death.
3. At death the soul appears before God. "It is appointed for men to die once — and after this comes judgment!" Hebrews 9:27. Man is not a mere animal, but a spiritual being. He has a soul which must live forever. "But there is a spirit in man," etc. Job 32:8. "The spirit shall return to God who gave it."
To the eye of sense, death appears annihilation. But to the eye of faith, it is dissolution, and that for an infinite purpose. Death conducts the soul to the immediate inspection and scrutiny of God, and its everlasting state is fixed according to the result of that investigation. "Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows. The one who sows to please his sinful nature, from that nature will reap destruction; the one who sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life!" Galatians 6:7-8. See the parable of the rich man and Lazarus in Luke 16.
Think then of the momentous results of death. It . . .
mars the beauty and strength of the body,
casts it into the abhorrent grave,
tarnishes all its glory,
terminates its happiness, and
closes the period of accountability.
It is the last of time, and the commencement of eternity! It is a complete change . . .
and of feeling.
Death is the crisis of man's fate — the seal of his destiny.
It encounters either a smiling Father — or a frowning judge!
It conducts to the crown of life — or the regions of death!
It conducts to eternal glory — or to everlasting perdition!
"Therefore you also be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect!"
II. What Is Implied in Being Ready?
Great events require suitable preparation. No event is so important as death — but how little is it regarded! "They are destroyed from morning to evening — they perish forever, without any regarding it." The subject is gloomy and solemn; and the whole study of sinners is to banish it, and keep it from the mind.
OBSERVE: Preparation for death implies,
1. A perception of unfitness for death without a saving interest in the favor of God. Man must feel himself to be vile — a transgressor — a rebel against God. Can a sinner unconvinced, unsubdued, unregenerated, and unforgiven — die in peace with God? Can he meet God with calmness and satisfaction? Impossible! "Without holiness no man shall see the Lord!" etc. The sinner must be brought to this concession, "I am unfit to die!" or he will never "be ready."
2. Faith in Christ which is instrumental in obtaining pardon of sin, and exemption from the accusation of the law. Christ must be known as . . .
the sacrificial atonement,
the end of the law for righteousness,
the sinner's surety, whose blood can cleanse from all sin,
and as the Resurrection and the Life.
There must be dependence upon Christ to reconcile to God, and to secure from the wrath to come. "Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us, for it is written: Cursed is everyone who is hung on a tree." Galatians 3:13. His death was equivalent to the destruction of all believers. There was such a value in his suffering and death, derived from his dignity, that, instead of their perdition, it was accepted as "an offering and a sacrifice to God of a sweet-smelling savor." Every moral purpose that could have been answered by the punishment of the redeemed sinner, has been better subserved by the death of the Redeemer.
Oh, then, repent and believe in Christ, and you shall be saved. Your sins and guilt, which make death terrible, and its sting so poignant, shall all be rolled away, Hebrews 2:14, 15. Then you will be preparing for death.
If sin be pardoned, I'm secure,
Death has no sting beside;
The law gives sin its damning power,
But Christ my ransom died!
3. Holiness of life. This is absolutely necessary, and it is the effect of regeneration. Hence, "You must be born again!" John 3:3. "You He has made alive, who were dead in trespasses and sins!" Ephesians 2:1
As "new creatures," all believers hate sin, and follow after holiness. They hunger and thirst after righteousness; they pant for a greater conformity to Christ their Head. "They have their fruit unto holiness, and the end everlasting life."
4. Punctual attention to public and private means of grace. These will, through Divine grace, prepare for death.
The House of God,
the ministry of the word,
— enlighten, sanctify, and detach the mind from the world, and direct it to Christ and Heaven.
Private communion with God,
reading the Scriptures,
the visits of faith to the cross
— advance the work of God in the soul, and tend to give an assurance of an actual interest in the covenant of Infinite Love, Romans 8:14, 17.
Love to God — and an intense desire to promote his glory in the salvation of man, will be the fruit of a vital faith — and a token of preparation for death.
III. Motives To Urge Us To Be Ready.
1. Death is sure to come. Nothing can prevent it. Every expedient has been tried, but there can be no discharge in this war. Therefore be ready.
2. The time of Death's approach is uncertain. "So you also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him!" Matthew 24:44
It may come when . . .
you are young and in health, and calculating on long life,
deeply immersed in worldly cares and business,
your mind is not the least directed towards it,
in the hour of festive enjoyment,
at a time when your departure would apparently inflict deep injury on your business, on your families,
and at a time when you would not be at all prepared for it, unpardoned, unrenewed, and without love to God.
Awful thought! — Be ready therefore.
3. Abundant provision is made to induce this preparation.
4. The present life is the only period in which we can prepare for death. There is no middle state. There are no purgatorial fires. "As the tree falls, so it lies."
5. To be ready, indicates true wisdom, and gives peace. While not to be ready betrays the most egregious folly, and produces painful suspense and uncertainty.