You Are Going to Die!
A New-year's Sermon
Edward Griffin, 1770-1837
"In those days Hezekiah became ill and was at the point of death. The prophet Isaiah son of Amoz went to him and said, "This is what the LORD says: Put your house in order, because you are going to die; you will not recover." 2 Kings 20:1
O that every worldly care might be banished from this house — that it might be to us as solemn as the curtains of our dying bed, and that for a little season we might feel that we must die.
A message has come from the eternal world, to me, to each of you, "This is what the LORD says: Put your house in order, because you are going to die; you will not recover."
It is with trembling that I bring the message to you — I tremble under a sense of its solemn importance. I tremble lest it should not be delivered in a skillful and faithful manner. And I tremble lest it should fail to produce the desired effect on you, the dear people of my charge. Alas, what reason have I for such a fear. I have, in my feeble manner pressed you with all the arguments and entreaties which anxious concern for your eternal welfare could suggest. But ah, how little does it avail. Perhaps there never was a season since the Gospel was preached to this congregation, when its effects were so little felt as at the present time.
Did I know, my dear hearers, in what new method I could, with better effect, address you this day — what arguments or persuasions, hitherto untried, the Holy Spirit would bless to your conviction — my sad heart would gladly seize them and present them to you in all the eagerness of anxious love. Had I but one prayer to offer, it would be that this message may produce on you the same effect that it did on the good Hezekiah.
One great reason that the entreaties of Heaven have so little influence to arrest men in the pursuits of ambition and the world, is that they do not realizingly believe that they shall ever die. Could a deep sense of this solemn truth take possession of their minds, our expostulations would then gain admission to their ears, and perhaps to their hearts. Away then with every unbelieving thought, and leave us for a little season to reflect on our approaching fate.
It will be but a few days, when weeping relatives will follow to the grave every person in this assembly. It will be but a few days, and the voice of your minister shall be no more heard in this sacred place. Another will follow — but he may not find one of you present to hear his awakening tones. You may be where an angel's voice would not break your slumbers, where nothing shall make you hear until the trumpet of God shall sound.
Where are those who formerly used to hear the Gospel in this congregation? Their seats are filled by others, and you must seek your fathers among the cold clods of the valley, where your children will presently weep as they read the inscriptions on your monuments.
Often, in the solemn dusk of evening, they may stray among the graves, and pointing to a decayed monument may say, "There lies our ancestor, long since moldered to dust. On his bosom sleeps a favorite child, and around him are gathering the last remains of his house." A tear and a sigh may escape them — but strangers will tread upon your dust with the same indifference with which you walk over the graves of those who died a century ago.
Soon it may be unknown on earth, that you ever existed! A new generation will occupy your places without a thought of you, while your spirits will be either enrapt in the vision of God and spreading their wings on the air of paradise — or shrieking with tormented fiends and pouring on the ears of Hell the horrid tones of despair.
"It is appointed unto all men once to die." Neither youth nor vigor nor piety nor usefulness can avert this fate. "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
In the full tide of health, in the midst of our mirthful pleasures, our ambitious pursuits, our long calculations for worldly happiness — still our dying hour is before us all. Unless we are cut off by a sudden stroke, each one of us, however unused to suffering, however our vital energies may have formerly resisted disease — each one of us must endure pain, must feel the attack of our last sickness, and must be thrown upon a dying bed. An anxious pulse through all our frame shall beat the time to death's approach. A burning fever, panting lungs, racking pains, shall gradually loosen the bands of life.
Do we boast of a vigorous constitution? This will only render the struggle still more severe. We must all endure pain enough to break the cords which hold the soul confined, and by a fearful disruption it must be torn from its vital place. Whether this shall be by a sudden rack of pain, or by more gradual and wasting sickness — the event is unavoidable, and we must meet it. But whether more gradual or sudden, it will require a fearful conflict to drive the soul from its beloved tenement. This conflict we must endure, until we can no longer bear it — until we faint and die. No degree of piety will exempt us. Our "fathers, where are they? and the prophets," did "they live forever?"
This is a terror to nature; but there is one thing which can extract the sting of death — and support and cheer the soul under its approach. This is faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. This made the martyrs triumph and hug the stake around which the fires were kindling. This will render death more welcome than our bridal hour. Look between the curtains of a dying saint, and mark his prospects glistening in his uplifted eye. True, his feeble flesh pants and languishes — but he knows that his pains will not endure forever. His weary soul shall soon rest upon his Savior's bosom!
Go into the next room, and behold the distorted features of a dying sinner. He has done with the world; he has done with pleasure and health; he is trembling and tossing under a struggle with the king of terrors. O for the repose of a single hour! But repose has fled. There is no more rest for him in this world. He is sliding down a slippery hill into eternity — and nothing can check his course!
"O for a little rest!" he cries. He tries one posture and then another, but finds no rest in either. My God! Is there no pillow on which he may rest a moment beyond the grave? Is there no repose for him any more through the ages of eternity? "The silver cord is loosened — and the golden bowl broken." He opens his eyes among tormented fiends. I hear him cry, "O to return to a dying bed! I would hug it as a bed of down! I would welcome it like Heaven."
My soul turns from the horrid scene and cries, "Let me die the death of the righteous, and let my last end be like his!"
My beloved hearers, one more year has run its course — one more period of time is now with the years beyond the flood. A new epoch reminds us with what silent, rapid speed time steals along. We are all one year older — one year nearer to the eternal world — and have one year more to answer for.
We imperceptibly grow old and approach our dying hour without being aware how rapidly we advance. The boy, the youth, the man, is looking forward to life — until he suddenly awakes from his dream and finds his life is chiefly spent! This I can attest by melancholy experience. I have been looking forward to life until now; but this day, this very day, measures to me just one-half of threescore years and ten. The illusion has now vanished, and I am at length convinced that my life is not before me — but behind me; that I must look back to find it — rather than forward.
Doubtless there are others in this house whose life stands nearly at the same point. I cannot resist the propensity I feel to offer a few thoughts to them. You have probably, my dear friends, been involved in the common delusion of men, and have until now been calculating that you were young — and that the principal part of life and its enjoyments was before you. But how stands the account? Fifteen years more and you are fifty — and must probably begin to feel the infirmities of age. Little can you promise yourselves after that period.
In addition to the commencing decays of nature, you must expect to find the companions of your youth thinned around you, and probably breaches made in your domestic relations which will change the appearance of the world and render it a solitary scene to you the rest of your days. You may possibly reach the summit of fourscore years; but really you have little prospect of enjoying the world more than ten, fifteen, or twenty years longer. The season of enjoyment has been chiefly spent before you were aware. It is now time to begin to make provision for the eternal world? "This is what the LORD says: Put your house in order, because you are going to die!"
It is my wish to preach this day as a dying man to dying men. I am, I think, in some measure sensible that I must shortly appear with you, my dear hearers, at the judgment bar of Christ. I therefore shall address you as a collection of people about to enter the world of spirits. I will speak to you in some such sort as though I was standing by your dying bed. "This is what the LORD says: Put your house in order, because you are going to die; you will not recover." I pray that you may now hear, and that you may hereafter feel and act — as people who are about to die. There are two points which it is here proper to consider.
I. What views and feelings naturally possess a man who is conscious that his end is near.
II. What measures he will take to set his house in order.
I. What views and feelings naturally possess a man who is conscious that his end is near.If his mind has an ordinary share of sensibility, he will dismiss his worldly cares — and turn his thoughts to the contemplation of eternity. He is no longer interested in a world he is so soon to leave. The plans and pursuits of men, their joys, their griefs, their disappointments, their success, their hurry, their hopes, their fears — all appear as trifling as the sports of children. The world is lighter to him than a feather. Neither losses, nor disappointments, nor prosperity — has power to affect him. You do not see him pressing from business to business in a rage to be rich. You do not see him stretching after advancement. His pride is reduced. You see him no longer assuming haughty airs, no longer fretted at every supposed neglect. Meekness and gentleness mark his deportment.
No longer can unbelief or the world hide the prospect of death, or seduce his thoughts from God. He looks death in the face. He turns his anxious eye to explore eternal objects. He raises an earnest look to Heaven. He ardently betakes himself to prayer and to reading his Bible. All his concern is to prepare for his approaching fate. You all perceive that these are rational exercises for a dying man — why then not for you? It is to dying men, that I am speaking. I can say to you all: As the Lord lives, and as your soul lives, there is but a step between you and death!
II. Let us consider what measures a man will naturally take to set his house in order, who, with proper views, is conscious that his end is near.
1.It would be natural for him, as an honest man, to wish to settle all his accounts. This might be necessary to secure his creditors and to prevent insolvency.
My dying friends, allow me to press it upon you to lose no time in looking over your long and complicated account with your Maker, and get it settled before you die — for as surely as it is left to be settled after death, you will prove everlasting bankrupts.
I fear that there may be some who hear me, who never seriously considered that they have any account with their Maker. This is a sad mistake. God has a long and heavy account against every man. In looking over this account, there are four points to be particularly considered.
First, what is due to God for His own glorious perfections, as the most holy, just, and good God — as the infinite Majesty of Heaven and earth, the rightful Sovereign of His creatures, who has strictly commanded every man to love Him with all the heart and soul.
Secondly, what is due to God as your Creator, Preserver, Benefactor — for your reason and health; for your food and clothing; for your friends and possessions; for His mercies, which have been "new every morning" and repeated every moment, through a long succession of years.
God, your Lord and Master, your Creator and Preserver, has sent you into His world to labor for Him. He has given you faculties of soul and body. He has given you time and the means of grace, and many opportunities of doing and getting good. And all these talents He has strictly commanded you to "occupy" until He shall come.
Do not imagine that you were sent into the world to serve yourselves. No, you were sent, like servants into a vineyard, to labor for your Master. So many years you have been in the vineyard — and now your Master is about to call you to account; and what account are you prepared to render? What have you ever done for your Maker?
This is the third count which you are to examine. What have you ever done for Him who has given you all these talents? I do not ask whether you have led moral lives, from the mere influence of education or natural principles. I do not ask whether you have done acts of charity, or contributed to support the Gospel, from similar principles. But I ask what you have ever done from a sincere regard to the glory of God, and from a tender love for His Church and for the souls which He has made. If you have done anything in this way — it is well; but if nothing — then enter it thus in the account and remember it.
Remember that for so many years you have lived in God's world and had the use of His talents — and have never employed them at all in His service! It is a fearful conclusion. But it will be of no use to deceive yourselves.
The fourth count which you are to examine is, what you have done against God, in thought, word, and deed.
In THOUGHT. How many vain thoughts? How many proud, envious, revengeful thoughts? How many hard thoughts of God and His government? How many unseasonable thoughts, as worldly thoughts on the Sabbath, or wandering thoughts in prayer? How many selfish feelings? How much idolatry, worldly-mindedness, and unbelief?
Examine also your WORDS — for "every idle word" shall be brought into judgment. How many vain words? How many deceitful and false words? How many profane or irreverent expressions respecting God or the Bible? How many angry or defamatory words?
Examine also your ACTIONS. How many unprofitable actions which only wasted precious time? How many unjust actions? How many undutiful actions towards parents? How many unkind actions towards husbands or wives? How many unfaithful actions towards children and friends? How many improper actions towards superiors, inferiors, enemies, domestics, the poor? How many of the ten commandments have you broken — and how frequently?
How many sins in thought, word, and deed have you committed in the course of twenty, forty, sixty years? One sin deserves everlasting fire — and how many millions of sins have you committed?
Ah, my friends, if the sentence has gone out that this year you shall die — I fear the accounts of some of you will be found in wretched disorder! Are you prepared for judgment? You are just about to be called to a solemn account by your Maker — and are you prepared? How does your account stand with God? Is it settled — or is it not? If not, settle it, I beseech you, without delay! Loaded as you are with debt, you must be cast into prison unless your Surety undertakes for you — and He never will do this unless you earnestly apply to Him by faith. Go to Him and engage His intercession. Rest upon Him as the only hope in a dying hour. Do not delay — your breath is departing — the next hour may be too late!
As dying men, it befits you to settle all your accounts with your fellow-creatures, and not leave them to be settled at the day of judgment. If you hold grudges against any, or suppose they hold grudges against you — then come to an explanation. Forgive and be forgiven — that you may die in peace with all men. Have you defrauded any, whether by downright knavery or hard dealings — then make restitution as soon as you are able. Have you defrauded your families by withholding pious instructions and examples, by neglecting to pray with and for them — then hasten to repair the injury in the best manner you can. Hasten, for the time is short!
2.A dying man, in setting his house in order, would be desirous to dispatch all important, unfinished business, which could not be accomplished by others after his death. So must you do. There is much to be done of the great business of life which another cannot do for you after your decease, and which, if you do not hasten to dispatch it — must be left undone to eternity.
How far you have completed the business of life, you will judge for yourselves. This business is to subdue the evil passions, to learn the character of God and the way of life through His Son, to obey His will, to promote His kingdom, to advance the present and eternal interests of men, to acquire the Christian graces, to catch the notes and learn the praise of Heaven. How much of this vast business remains to be done? Is it half finished? Is it even begun?
It is to be feared that some of you have lived thirty, forty, and fifty years in God's world, breathing His air and living on His bounty — without even beginning the great work for which He sent you into the world. And now you are just about to be called out of the world, and still have all this momentous business to perform! Perhaps you are still asleep, and do not intend to awake until some future day. Had a dying man so much business on hand, and of such a nature , that he could attend to it — then with what anxious haste would he set about it. Sinners, awake and hasten for your lives! Pious parents, awake! You will soon be called from your children — whatever you do to fit them for Heaven, you must do quickly!
3.It is common for dying Christians to call their families around them, and impart to them their final counsel. Thus do you. While you are walking on the brink of the grave, and eternity is opening upon your sight; while about to take leave of your dear families, to resign them into the hands of strangers, to grow up, it may be, without any friend to form them for Heaven — call them, O, call them quickly around you, and with all the pity in your heart, warn them, plead with them, and press them into the kingdom of God.
Look into the streets; behold men all around you about to launch into eternity, and many of them into everlasting fire! Have you no dying charge to give them? Yes, cry unto them and press them until your breath fails. "Whatever your hand finds to do — do it with your might; for there is no work, nor device, nor knowledge, nor wisdom, in the grave, where you are going."
4.It is customary for men, when setting their house in order, to make their wills. I have no advice to give as to the disposition of your worldly estate. But I solemnly charge you to bequeath to God your immortal souls with all their faculties, and your bodies, to sleep in His arms, in expectation of a joyful resurrection.
5.It is not uncommon for people, when they view their end approaching, to prepare their shroud, and make every provision for their funeral plans, that nothing may be left to be done in the distress and confusion of the mournful day. And sometimes they prepare beforehand a casket to receive their remains. And I pray God that you may all make such full preparations for your latter end, that when the time comes — you may have nothing to do but to die, and find that you have prepared a resting-place in the vaulted heavens for your repose after the struggles of a dying bed.
Dear youth, on whom the flush of health is shed, in whose veins the tide of life rapidly flows — do not boast yourselves of youth and health. That youth and health will soon decay. Those smiling eyes will be suffused with tears; those active limbs will move no more. While yet the morning of life is bright upon you — come, like dutiful children, and dedicate the first fruits of your years to your heavenly Father. It will be an offering of sweet incense to Him. Secure His favor before "the evil days come, and the years draw near, when you shall say: I have no pleasure in them. For know, dear youth, that neither your fondest hopes nor a parent's tears, can avert from you the stroke of death. In all your sportive prime, a message from the eternal world salutes you: "Thus says the Lord: Put your house in order, because you are going to die; you will not recover."
You middle aged, it is high time for you to begin your provision for the eternal world. You have probably traversed more than half your course. Should I address each one of you by name — I would tell you that the chance is greatest that you will never see the end of twenty years. Ay, my friends, the companions of my course, who are pressing on with me to the eternal world — how long shall business and ambition steal your hearts away, and no preparations be made to meet your God! Pause one moment in your hurried career; step aside with me from the din of the shouldering crowd; I have a secret message to whisper in your ear from the King of kings: "Thus says the Lord: Put your house in order, because you are going to die; you will not recover."
My aged hearers, it seems needless to announce to you the approaching event. You cannot doubt that it is at the door. I approach you with reverence; but coming in the name of such a Master, I must not hesitate to deliver His message to you also. My venerable fathers, one by one, "Thus says the Lord: Put your house in order, because you are going to die; you will not recover."
To all who are mortal, this message, as ponderous as eternity, is addressed. O let it not be delivered in vain! Were its weighty import felt, what a solemn scene would this house present! The general inquiry would speak in every eye, "What must I do to be saved?" Ah, then the eternal God! O be persuaded, be entreated (as though my hands clasped your feet), not to rush to judgment unprepared. It will be a dreadful scene. Turn, turn, and have compassion on your precious souls. I earnestly pray that not a person may leave this house without this message ringing, as the voice of God, in his ears, "Put your house in order, because you are going to die; you will not recover!"