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To Meditate upon Death is Life

Johann Gerhard

(Translated by Rev. C. W. Heisler, A.M.)

O FAITHFUL soul, be thou ready for the approach of death at any hour, for every hour death is lying in wait for thee. In the morning when thou arisest from thy couch, think that this perchance may be the last day of life for thee; and in the evening hour when thou liest down to sleep, think that this night may be thy last upon the earth. Whatever thou doest, or whatever thou dost contemplate doing, always consider beforehand whether thou wouldst do it if thou knewest that this very hour thou shouldst die, and be summoned to the judgment bar of God. Dost thou suppose, that simply because thou art not always mindful of death, it is not all the time coming nearer and nearer to thee? Or dost thou suppose that thou wilt summon it the sooner by thinking of it? Whether thou thinkest of it or not, whether thou speakest of it or not, death is always threatening thee. Life has been given not as an absolute possession, but as a loan in trust; as thou hast come into the world, so shalt thou leave it; naked camest thou hither, naked shalt depart hence (Job i. 21). Life is a pilgrimage, and after thou hast walked about here and there in this world for a time, thou must at length return to God. Thou dwellest in this world merely as a tenant, a sojourner, not as a master in perpetual possession. Every hour consider whither thou art moment by moment so rapidly hastening.

We deceive ourselves sadly if we think of death only as taking place with the last breath of life here; on the contrary, day by day, hour by hour, moment by moment, we are dying. Step by step the future of life approaches us, and at the same time, step by step death advances towards us. And every moment added to life is at the same time a moment subtracted from it. Death really never comes suddenly, but we always approach it gradually, step by step. This life of ours is a path upon which we journey; every day we complete a part of it; life and death seem to be far distant from each other, when in fact they are as near as possible to each other. Life is always gliding along as if on swift wing, while death is ever hovering near to strike us down. Like voyagers on the ocean, who are coming nearer and nearer to port, although as they are being borne along swiftly by the vessel, they often feel it not or think not of it, so on the voyage of life, whatever we do, whether we eat, or drink or sleep, we are always coming nearer and nearer to death. Many have passed through life seeking only the means and the supplies to support it.

No one can cheerfully meet death unless he has for a long time been looking forward to it with calm composure. Die daily to thyself whilst thou art living, so that when thou diest thou mayest live with God. Before thou diest, let thy sins die in thee; in thy life let the old Adam die in thee, so in thy death Christ shall live in thee; in thy life let thine outward man perish day by day, so in thy death the inward man shall be renewed in thee. Death simply transfers us from time to eternity as we are, for “where the tree falleth, there it shall be” (Ecc. xi. 3). How anxiously then ought we to consider the hour of death! Time is quickly passing, and the infinite reaches of eternal ages stretch out before us; in time then prepare thyself for eternity! What shall be our portion in eternity, whether the blessedness of the redeemed or the torments of the lost, is determined in that one hour of death; aye, in that single moment, eternal happiness is either won or lost. What careful and anxious preparation, O faithful soul, oughtest thou make for the hour of thy death! It will not be hard to think lightly of all these perishing earthly things, if thou art constantly mindful of thy mortality. Just think of thine eyes becoming obscured in the darkness of death, and thou wilt easily “turn them away from beholding vanity” (Ps. cxix. 37); think how thine ears will become deaf in death, and easy will it then be for thee to close them to all ungodly and impure words; think of thy tongue stiffening in death, and surely thou wilt be more careful of thy vain prattle. Consider the struggles and agonies of the death hour, so wilt thou easily despise worldly delights; consider how all who depart hence must lay aside all their possessions, and then poverty here will not seem so grevious to thee. Think of how ghastly the whole body becomes in the embrace of death, and then the splendors and glories of this world will not so attract thee. Behold with what grief and wailing the soul is driven from its home in the body, and thou wilt the more easily avoid the guilt of sin. Think how thy poor body will yield to corruption in the grave, and little difficulty wilt thou have in humbling the disposition to pride, so manifest in thy flesh. In death thou shalt be left alone, bereft of all creature comforts and companionships; consider this, and then thou canst easily turn thy love from them to thy Creator. Just think how anxiously death will watch and search thee, lest thou carry anything out of this life with thee, and then thou wilt easily despise the riches of this world. He who in this life is daily dying in sin, will pass through death to the awful punishment of eternal death; and no one will enter into eternal life who begins not here to live in Christ Jesus. That when thou comest to die thou mayest live, implant thyself now in Christ by a living faith.

As then thou art sensible that death is to be expected at any time, let it continually be in thy mind. We always carry about with us our sins, why not then carry about with us constantly the thought of death, for “the wages of sin is death” (Rom. vi. 23)? If thou wouldst escape the bitterness of death, then observe Christ’s saying (John viii. 51). Faith unites us to Christ, and if we are in Christ we shall not die, for Christ Himself is our life. “He that is joined unto the Lord is one spirit” with Him (1 Cor. vi. 17), and thus the faithful soul shall not die eternally, because the eternal God Himself is its life. The children of Israel passed safely through the Red Sea to the Promised Land, while Pharoh and his host were drowned in its depths (Ex. xiv). And so death to the godly is really the beginning of their true life and the open door into the glories of Paradise. But death to the wicked is not the end of their ills; it is simply a transition from the ills they suffered here to the greater ones that shall follow death; a passage from the first death to the greater horror of the second death (Rev. xx. 14). So intimate and close is this union between Christ and believers that death cannot dissolve it (Rom viii. 38, 39); but in the awful shades of death divine grace attends them, lighting up the way to glory; and for that trying hour Christ Himself provides convoys of angels to attend and protect His loved ones. The bodies of saints are temples of the Holy Ghost (1 Cor. vi. 19); and the Holy Spirit will never permit these temples of His to be entirely destroyed by death. The Word of God is an incorruptible seed (1 Pet. i. 23); death does not destroy that seed, but it is hidden in the hearts of God’s people and in His own good time He will quicken it into new life.

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