‘Through fear of death … all their lifetime subject to bondage.’
The fear of death has established over the human heart something like a reign of terror. All of us in our place in the world have known at some period of our life what this bondage means. The child in the loneliness of thoughtful childhood shudders with a vague, instinctive fear; the boy, realising in a moment that some day he must die, feels panic; the society idol, in some moment of reaction, collapses under the conviction that the grave is inevitable; the man of affairs, afraid to name death plainly, hides his fear under that euphemistic commonplace, ‘If anything should happen to me.’
What has the Christian to say to all this bondage of death? What has the Christian to do with it? Irresolute children of the dust, no doubt, we are, but we are also children of the Resurrection. What have we, I ask, to say to this instinctive fear of death? The Christian frankly challenges the whole situation. The Christian substitutes for this instinctive reign of terror the revealed reign of Jesus Christ.
If this be so, what is our practical duty towards our King in this connection? In a word, what can I do, such as I am in my place in life—what can I do to deliver the soul of any one, or my own soul, from this bondage of the fear of death?
I. We should frankly accept the punishment, and then death becomes also God’s best blessing.—Yet if death is, in a sense, unnatural, if it has come into the world, so to speak, since God’s original plans were laid so that we naturally shrink from it, it is also true to say that it is now become neutralised, that it has been the punishment so long for all the race, the punishment decreed by the love and unerring wisdom of God, and therefore it is now as natural to die as to be born, and its naturalness robs it of half its pain.
II. We should begin at once to educate children to be familiar with the fact of death, for if we begin to educate children we shall soon educate public opinion, soon educate ordinary talk to a higher level of truth than that along which it usually runs now. If death is one of God’s decrees, it must be right that even His little ones should be taught about it in the right way as soon as they are able to learn.
III. All should become familiar with the phenomena of death.—Learn all you can about it. Sometimes you will go to your doctor, possibly, and ask him, and, if he is strong enough to be something more than a mere naturalist, he can tell you much that will interest you wonderfully and go far to rob you of any fear that you can have; and, even if he is a mere naturalist, he can tell you very much that will help you in this matter. Go to your parish priest, ask him what he has seen with his own eyes, what he has touched, so to speak, with the fingers of his own Gospel. He will tell you very much that will take away largely your fear of death. He will tell you, amongst other things, how wonderfully God softens the approach of death; how, as a rule, before the end comes, the fear of death has passed quite away from those who are passing with it.
IV. Realise that, after all, death only applies to the body; and the body is not the soul. The body must die, no doubt, unless Christ comes back before our call comes; but the body is not the personality, the identity. You cannot die; you will be laid in no grave; you are immortal.
V. To pass to a higher level, I would ask you all, in dealing with the fear of death, if you have ever realised that in the Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper, humbly accepted at the hands of Jesus Christ, lies our guarantee that we must survive the shock of death?
VI. There is a revealed truth which our Creed teaches us to classify under the heading ‘The Communion of Saints,’ the article of our Creed about which most of us know least, and to learn which apparently few of us care very much. But under that heading lies the comfort of Jesus Christ for those who decline any longer to submit their lives to this cruel bondage.
Surely, surely upon the valley of the shadow of death the living, pitiful eyes of Jesus Christ were steadily set on that great day when He said to us, ‘I am come that they might have Life, and that they might have it more abundantly.’
Rev. E. S. Hilliard.
DELIVERANCE FROM BONDAGE
The way in which Christ takes away fear of death is plain, and it is effectual. He does it simply by making application, through the agency of His Spirit, to the individual soul of the truths about death which He came to reveal.
I. Christ teaches us that death is not the end of our being.
II. Christ teaches us that the soul does not wait in the grave for the resurrection of the body.
III. Christ takes away our fear of death, by teaching us, if we are willing to be taught of Him, how we may meet our Maker without fear, in the great day when He will judge the world.
IV. Christ reveals, to those who are willing to be taught of Him, the rest and the blessedness of heaven, and gives to each soul an inward assurance that it shall eternally share in them.
‘The fear of death is a sentiment, a deep feeling, and it can only be exterminated by something which takes a still more profound hold of our moral nature. Religion is competent to eradicate it, if it be received into the heart. And it will do so in the precise proportion that we make such an inward application of its precious truths.’