As we are approaching the end of another year, we have no certainty whether we will live to the end of the next year. Will death come and remove us from this earth soon? No one can tell for sure. We had better be prepared for the end of our journey on earth.
I would like to share with you the perspectives of the devout Anglican bishop J. C. Ryle (1816–1900) on preparing for death by living well. The following article is the concluding section of his chapter on “Sickness” in his book, “Practical Religion”.
“Sickness” by J. C. Ryle
I conclude with a word of exhortation to all believers, which I heartily pray God to impress upon their souls. I exhort you to keep up a habit of close communion with Christ, and never to be afraid of “going too far” in your religion. Remember this, if you wish to have “great peace” in your times of sickness.
I observe with regret, a tendency in some quarters to lower the standard of practical Christianity, and to denounce what are called “extreme views” about a Christian’s daily walk in life. I remark with pain, that even religious people will sometimes look coldly on those who withdraw from worldly society, and will censure them as “exclusive, narrow-minded, illiberal, uncharitable, sour-spirited,” and the like. I warn every believer in Christ who reads this paper to beware of being influenced by such censures. I entreat him, if he needs light in the valley of death, to “keep himself unspotted from the world,” to “follow the Lord fully,” and to walk very closely with God (James 1:27; Num. 14:24).
I believe that the lack of “thoroughness” about many people’s Christianity is one secret of their little comfort, both in health and sickness. I believe that the “half-and-half, keep-in-with everybody” religion, which satisfies many in the present day, is offensive to God, and sows thorns in dying pillows, which hundreds never discover until too late. I believe that the weakness and feebleness of such a religion never comes out so much, as it does upon a sick bed.
If you and I want “strong consolation” in our time of need, we must not be content with a bare union with Christ (Hebrews 6:18). We must seek to know something of heart-felt, experimental communion with Him. Never, never let us forget, that “union” is one thing, and “communion” another. Thousands, I fear, who know what “union” with Christ is, know little of “communion”.
The day may come when after a long fight with disease, we shall feel that medicine can do no more, and that nothing remains but to die. Friends will be standing by, unable to help us. Hearing, eyesight, even the power of praying, will be fast failing us. The world and its shadows will be melting beneath our feet. Eternity, with its realities, will be looming large before our minds.
What shall support us in that trying hour? What shall enable us to feel, “I fear no evil” (Psalm 23:4)? Nothing, nothing can do it but close communion with Christ. Christ dwelling in our hearts by faith—Christ putting His right arm under our heads—Christ felt to be sitting by our side—Christ can alone give us the complete victory in the last struggle.
Cleave to Christ more closely,
Love Him more heartily,
Live to Him more thoroughly,
Copy Him more exactly,
Confess Him more boldly,
Follow Him more fully.
Religion like this will always bring its own reward. Worldly people may laugh at it. Weak brethren may think it extreme. But it will wear well. At even time it will bring us light. In sickness it will bring us peace. In the world to come it will give us a crown of glory that fadeth not away.
The time is short. The fashion of this world passeth away. A few more sicknesses, and all will be over. A few more funerals, and our own funeral will take place. A few more storms and tossings, and we shall be safe in harbour. We travel towards a world where there is no more sickness—where parting, and pain, and crying, and mourning, are done with for evermore.
Heaven is becoming every year more full, and earth more empty. The friends ahead are becoming more numerous than the friends astern. “Yet a little time and He that shall come will come, and will not tarry” (Heb. 10:37). In His presence shall be fulness of joy. Christ shall wipe away all tears from His people’s eyes. The last enemy that shall be destroyed is Death. But he shall be destroyed. Death himself shall one day die (Rev. 20:14).
In the meantime let us live the life of faith in the Son of God. Let us lean all our weight on Christ, and rejoice in the thought that He lives for evermore. Yes: blessed be God! Christ lives, though we may die. Christ lives, though friends and families are carried to the grave. He lives who abolished death, and brought life and immortality to light by the Gospel.
He lives who said, “O death, I will be thy plagues: O grave, I will be thy destruction” (Hos. 13:14). He lives who will one day change our vile body, and make it like unto His glorious body. In sickness and in health, in life and in death, let us lean confidently on Him. Surely we ought to say daily with one of old, “Blessed be God for Jesus Christ!”