The Fear of Death
James Smith, 1865
"Free those who were held in slavery all their lives by the fear of death." Hebrews 2:15
There is always something solemn, and generally something appalling — in DEATH. We cannot love it. It is the effect of sin. It is the enemy of our nature. All the circumstances connected with it are painful and trying — and then there is the unseen, the unknown, the eternal world beyond it! When we reflect on these things, the thoughts will arise, "What if I am deceived! What if I should be wrong! What if I should find out my mistake too late!" Dwelling upon such thoughts, naturally makes us sad — they weaken our faith, they dim the eye of hope, and they give Satan an occasion against us. To dwell on them is to strengthen them, and to deepen the gloomy impression which they make. Some dwell on them so much, and so frequently — that they can seldom enjoy their present mercies, and can never look forward to their departure from this world without gloom; it embitters life, and renders the idea of death dreadful. This is wrong, decidedly wrong!
We should look from death — to Jesus; and never look at death — but through Jesus. He has conquered death for us, and has deprived the monster of his sting. Nothing can make death dreadful — but sin; and if sin is pardoned, even that cannot. But if we believe in Jesus, if we have committed our souls to him, if we are living to promote his glory — our sins are most certainly pardoned. God has blotted them out in the blood of his dear Son, and he assures us that they shall never be mentioned against us. We have his word for our security, and he has added his oath, that we might have strong consolation. We should trust in God's faithful word, and do honor to the blood of Jesus by believing that it will save us from all condemnation.
"But my faith is weak!" So it may be — and yet weak faith will lay hold on an omnipotent Savior, and bring everlasting salvation to the soul.
"But my fears are strong." Yes, and so they will be — as long as you nurse them, and look at yourself or at death — instead of looking to Jesus.
"But I find it so hard to believe." So it is, while we attempt it in our own strength — but when we seek the Holy Spirit's aid it is easy enough.
"But I have no assurance of a saving interest in Christ." Perhaps not, nor is it likely that you will, while you look into self, at your sins, or at death: nor even if you make assurance your principal object. Faith is giving credit to God's word, exercising confidence in God's faithfulness, and relying on the perfect work of Christ for life and salvation. Out of this grows our assurance of our saving interest in Christ. Now if, instead of giving credit to God's word, placing confidence in God's faithfulness, and relying on the finished work of Christ — you are hunting about for the sense of your interest in Christ, or for what you call assurance — you are not likely to obtain it. You must renounce self, rely simply on Jesus, and expect him to save you, because he has promised to save all who trust in his name; so doing you are safe, you have nothing to fear from death, and you will be happy. But the moment you look away from Christ to self; place confidence in your evidences; or think of death apart from the infinite sacrifice of Jesus — you get into bondage!
It must be so. It always will be so. Death can do no harm to a believer in Christ. It ought not to be the object of his dread.
His sins are pardoned,
God is his Father,
the Lord Jesus is his Advocate,
the Holy Spirit is his Guide, and
Heaven is his Father's house, and his home.
God is always, and everywhere, his Father; no matter, therefore, whether in the body or out of it, whether in this world or another, he is safe! Death cannot affect his state, it can make no alteration in the relationship. Believe, then, in Jesus, look to Jesus, place your entire dependance on Jesus — and never trouble about death until it comes; it is no business of yours today, it belongs to tomorrow; and when death comes, Jesus will come with it — and he will give you grace to die as a Christian, as he has given you grace to live like one.
But some, from the weakness of the nerves, or a naturally melancholy temperament, or from bad training — are always in bondage from the fear of death. Some fear dying, and some fear the consequences of death. They never look forward but with gloom, thus making themselves sad, and all around them. Now, such seldom fear death when it comes; it is never found to be what they feared. The fear of death is gone — before they come to it; and the dreaded act of dying is comparatively easy.
I have often known this to be true, and my friend Mrs. Chin, who was lately called home to be forever with the Lord, was a remarkable instance of it. She was always fearing death. In vain I told her that Jesus had conquered death, that he would be with her in it, that she would be disappointed when she came to it. In vain I directed her to look to the cross, and not to the grave; to Jesus, and not death; or assured her that at evening-time, it would be light. A gleam of light would sometimes irradiate her dark mind, a little joy would occasionally drop into her troubled soul; but generally a deep sigh would say, "I am in bondage still."
Nothing that I could say, no prayer that I could offer, would give her more than transient relief. But how was it with her at last? A letter from her daughter, in whose house she died, which now lies before me, says, "The fear of death had been removed from her mind for some time past, and she longed," as she said, "To go home to Heaven!" Often and often had I told her that this would be the case — but she could not believe me; she feared that I had mistaken her character, that all her past experience was a delusion, and that her Christian friends thought too well of her. Sad were her days, and often sorrowful her nights, and all for lack of one thing, and what was that? Just giving Jesus credit for being true to his character, and faithful to his word.
But she often feared dying too, and how was it with her in that respect? The same letter says, "She had been ill for nearly a two weeks — but a day or two previous to her decease, we thought her better. She was rising to dress to have her bed made, when she suddenly fell back and said, 'I am faint;' she never spoke after, and in about half an hour after this she ceased to breath, and entered into the presence of that Savior she so many years loved, and whom she so much longed to see."
Reader, are you harassed with the fears of death? Do not encourage them — but confide in the care, kindness, and grace of your Savior, "who has abolished death, and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel." Live upon him now by faith, live for him, endeavoring to promote his cause — and he will never leave you in the article of death, or allow you to be deceived. Thousands have found their fears groundless, and have realized deliverance from them before called to contend with that last enemy. Satan loves to harass you; it is often his suggestions that direct your attention to death — when you ought to be looking to Jesus, and to be rejoicing in his dear name.
Death is yours, if you are Christ's. It cannot injure you. It will only undress you, that you may be clothed with your house which is from Heaven. It will open the cage-door, and let the bird fly and enjoy its native element. It will knock off every fetter, bring you out of the dungeon of clay, and introduce you to the presence of "the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only wise God." Though your faith is weak — it connects you with the Savior, it preserves you from all the terrible consequences of death, and entitles you to everlasting life. If you cannot live without Christ — death will never be allowed to separate you from Christ. If you love Christ here, and long to enjoy his presence and his smile — you will rise to see Christ in glory, and so be forever with him.
Let not death terrify you, you will not find it what you fear; it will not be when near — what it appears in the distance. The grace that sustains you now — will sustain you then, and will make you more than a conqueror over death, through Jesus who has loved you. Jesus, who died for you, will be with you when you are dying, and will give you a glorious and eternal victory over death.