Why would anyone read a book on dying if death is not imminent for oneself or loved ones?
Well, in my case, I saw a few quotes that I liked from O Love That Will not Let Me Go: Facing Death with Courageous Confidence, complied by Nancy Guthrie, in Aging with Grace. I’ve read and enjoyed some of Nancy’s other compilations (Come Thou Long Expected Jesus about Christmas and Jesus, Keep Me Near the Cross about Good Friday and Easter). I had not known about this one, but when I did, I wanted to get it, too.
And then, I’ve always dreaded death, even as a Christian. I knew heaven was something to look forward to, with the presence of Jesus and the absence of sin, sickness, sorrow, and crying. I assumed that God would give me grace to die when the time came, and I just tried not to think about it much. So I thought this book might provide some help in that regard.
As with Nancy’s other compilations, this book is made up of excerpts from the writings or sermons of Christians as far back as the Puritans and as modern as Joni Eareckson Tada, John Piper, and Randy Alcorn.
The book is divided into four parts:
- A Reality That Will Not Be Denied
- An Aim That Keeps Me Pressing On
- A Hope That Saves Me From Despair
- A Future That Will Not Disappoint
Ecclesiastes reminds us, “It is better to go to the house of mourning than to go to the house of feasting, for this is the end of all mankind, and the living will lay it to heart. . . . The heart of the wise is in the house of mourning, but the heart of fools is in the house of mirth” (7:2, 4).
J. I Packer writes:
In every century until our own, Christians saw this life as preparation for eternity. Medievals, Puritans, and later evangelicals thought and wrote much about the art of dying well, and they urged that all of life should be seen as preparation for leaving it behind. This was not otiose morbidity, but realistic wisdom, since death really is the one certain fact of life. Acting the ostrich with regard to it is folly in the highest degree (pp. 15-16).
John Owen says in “Hope Is a Glorious Grace” that we’re like travelers. Some are so busy about other things, they don’t give much thought to the place they are going. Others learn as much as they can about their destination so that they are better prepared and know what they are looking forward to through the discomforts of the journey.
Thomas Boston says, “The less you think on death, the thoughts of it will be the more frightful– make it familiar to you by frequent meditations upon it, and you may thereby quiet your fears. Look at the white and bright side of the cloud– take faith’s view of the city that has foundations; so shall you see hope in your death. Be duly affected with the body of sin and death, the frequent interruptions of your communion with God, and with the glory which dwells on the other side of death– this will contribute much to remove slavish fear” (p. 115).
Several themes came up in many of the selections: Jesus has taken away the sting of death by His own death for us and His resurrection (1 Corinthians 15:53-56). Death is “the last enemy” (1 Corinthians 15:26), but it is a defeated enemy. This world is our temporary home: we’re just strangers and pilgrims here (1 Peter 2:11). God is preparing us for “a better country, that is, a heavenly” (Hebrews 11:16). God will accompany us through the pangs of death and usher us into His presence. Keeping this end in mind should affect how we live here.
One of the best chapters is “Comfort against Fears in the Dying Hour” by Thomas Boston. It’s excerpted from a longer sermon here. The part in this book starts near the end where he talks about different “cases” and gives help for them—fear of leaving loved ones and friends behind, of the sad state of one’s spiritual condition, of dying too soon, of pain or losing one’s senses at the end
I have multitudes of quotes marked, much more that I can share here. But I’ll try to leave you with some I found most helpful.
Death’s sting has been removed, but its bite remains. It does not have the last word for believers, but it remains the believer’s antagonist until the resurrection of the body. The good news is never that one has died, but that death has ultimately been conquered by the Lord of Life (Michael Horton, pp. 23-24).
“And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another” (2 Corinthians 3:18). You become like what you choose to behold. Behold Christ, you become Christlike. Gaze upon superficiality and immorality, and it’s equally predictable what you’ll become. Who you become will be the cumulative result of the daily choices you make (Randy Alcorn, pp. 55-56).
Our witness for Jesus is frequently manifested in our absolute weakest moments rather than when we are at full strength (John Eaves, p. 71).
We forget that throughout biblical history, trials, hardship, and death are equally a part of our witness to an unbelieving world as are healing and deliverance and divine blessing (John Eaves, p. 73).
In sickness the soul begins to dress herself for immortality. . . The soul, by the help of sickness, knocks off the fetters of pride and vainer complacencies (Jeremy Taylor, p. 79).
Richard Baxter says God uses sickness “to wean us from the world, and make us willing to be gone” (p. 97).
What more should God do to persuade you to accept death willingly and not to dread but to overcome it? In Christ he offers you the image of life, of grace, and of salvation so that you may not be horrified by the images of sin, death, and hell. Furthermore, he lays your sin, your death, and your hell on his dearest Son, vanquishes them, and renders them harmless for you. In addition, he lets the trials of sin, death, and hell that come to you also assail his Son and teaches you how to preserve yourself in the midst of these and how to make them harmless and bearable (Martin Luther, p. 108).
You say that you cannot abide the thought of death. Then you greatly need it. Your shrinking from it proves that you are not in a right state of mind, or else you would take it into due consideration without reluctance (C. H. Spurgeon, p. 148).
O Lord, when the hour comes for me to go to bed, I know that thou wilt take me there, and speak lovingly into my ear; therefore I cannot fear, but will even look forward to that hour of thy manifested love. You had not thought of that, had you? You have been afraid of death: but you cannot be so any longer if your Lord will bring you there in his arms of love. Dismiss all fear, and calmly proceed on your way, though the shades thicken around you; for the Lord is thy light and thy salvation (C. H. Spurgeon, p. 152).
I appreciated that a couple of writers put words to something I had not been able to express: dread of the “strangeness to the other world” (Owen, p. 100). It’s always a little nerve-racking to go to a new place, but it seems silly to feel that way about heaven. But I’m glad I am not the first person who has. Thomas Boston reminds, “Your best friend is Lord of that other world” (p. 113).
This book was a great blessing to me many mornings as I read it. I’m sure I’ll read it again in the future. I heartily recommend it.
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