Part 1 of An Exhortation Against The Fear Of Death

At the time of the 16th century English Reformation, biblical sermons were provided to be read to congregations. Called 'Homilies', number 9 in the first Book of Homilies is 'An Exhortation against the Fear of Death'. It is still relevant today, with death so well-publicized but without any answer to its sad reality.

Two Reasons Why Death Is Feared

You should not be surprised that worldly men [or women] fear to die. For death deprives them of all worldly fame, riches, and possessions. Benefitting from these, the worldly man counts himself happy, so long as he may enjoy them as he wishes. By contrast, if he loses these with no hope of recovery, then he can only think of his unhappy state because he has lost his worldly joy and pleasure. "It's terrible," thinks such a man; "will I now be separated forever from all my fame, all my wealth; from my country, friends, money, possessions, and worldly pleasures, which are my joy and heart's delight? It will be terrible whenever that day comes when I must say 'goodbye' to all these and never enjoy any again." That is why it is not without reason that the Wise Man says: "O Death, how bitter and sour is the thought of you to a man that lives in peace and the prosperity of his possessions – to a man living without worry, living exactly as he pleases, without trouble and over-indulged and over-fed!" (Sirach. 41.1 [Apocrypha]). Then, there are other men on whom this world does not smile so kindly. Rather it distresses and oppresses them with poverty, sickness or some other adversity.
Yet they fear death, partly because the body naturally abhors its own dreadful disintegration that death threatens, and partly by reason of illnesses and painful conditions that mean great physical suffering. These can often come to those who are sick before they die, or may accompany dying when it comes.

A Third And Greater Reason Why Death Is Feared

These two reasons seem significant and weighty to a worldly man to make him fear death. However, there is another reason much greater than any of those already mentioned that, indeed, make him rightly fear death. And that is the state and condition to which, at the ultimate end, death brings all those who have their hearts fixed upon this world without repenting or amending their lives. This state and condition is called the Second Death (Rev 21.8). To this all such people will be heading after their bodily death. And this is that death which, indeed, ought to be dreaded and feared. For it is an everlasting loss, without the relief of the grace and favour of God and of everlasting joy, pleasure and happiness. It is not only the loss forever of all these eternal pleasures. But also it is the condemnation to everlasting pains in hell both of body and of soul without either appeal or hope of redemption.

To this state death sent the unmerciful and ungodly rich man, that Luke speaks of in his Gospel. Living in great wealth and pleasure in this world, and supplying himself daily with delicious food and expensive clothes, he despised poor Lazarus who lay pitifully at his gate, miserable, diseased and full of sores and also desperately needing food. Both these two men were arrested by death. It soon sent Lazarus, the poor miserable man, by angels to Abraham's embrace – a place of rest, pleasure, and support. But the unmerciful rich man went down into hell. And being in torment, he called for comfort, crying out from the intolerable pain that he suffered in that flame of fire. But it was too late (Luke 16.19-31). So to this place physical death sends all those who in this world have their joy and happiness - all those who in this world are faithless towards God and loveless towards their neighbours - and so die without repentance and hope of God's mercy. Therefore, it is no wonder that the worldly man fears death; in fact he has much more cause to do so than he reckons. Thus we see three reasons why worldly men fear death. One, because by it they will lose their worldly fame, wealth, possessions, and all their hearts' desires. Another reason is because of painful diseases and the suffering from a physical condition either before or at the time of death. But the chief reason above all is the dread of the miserable state of eternal damnation both of body and soul, which they fear will follow after their departure from the worldly pleasures of this present life. For these reasons all mortal men who are given to the love of this world are both in the fear and in the state of death through sin, as the holy Apostle says, so long as they live here in this world (Heb 2.15).

The Wonderful Christian Hope

But we must eternally give everlasting thanks to Almighty God. Neither one of these three reasons, nor all three together, can ever make a true Christian man afraid to die – a Christian who is the very member of Christ, the temple of the Holy Spirit (1 Cor 3.16; 6.19), the Son of God, and a very inheritor of the everlasting kingdom of heaven. But quite the contrary: he reckons there are many good reasons, undoubtedly grounded on the infallible and everlasting truth of the Word of God, that move him, not only to put away the fear of physical death, but also that move him positively: that is from the many benefits and unique blessings that come to every faithful person.

These are the reason for wishing, desiring and longing heartily for death. For it will be to him no death but a true deliverance from death - from all pains, cares and sorrows, miseries, and unhappiness of this world. It is the very entry into rest and a beginning of everlasting joy - a tasting of heavenly pleasures so many that neither tongue is able to express, neither eye to see (1 Cor 2.9), nor ear to hear them, no, nor any earthly man's heart to conceive of them. So exceedingly great benefits are they which God our heavenly Father, by his mercy alone and for the love of his Son Jesus Christ, has laid up in store and prepared for those who humbly submit themselves to God's will, and evermore truly love him from the bottom of their hearts.

And we ought to believe that death, being slain by Christ, cannot keep any man that truly trusts in Christ under its everlasting tyranny and subjection. Rather he will rise from death again to glory at the last day, appointed by Almighty God, just as Christ our Head rose again according to God's appointment on the third day. For St Augustine says: "The Head going before, the members trust to follow and come after" (Enarrationes in Psalmos, 65.1). And St Paul says, "If Christ be risen from the dead, we shall also rise from the same" (1 Cor 15.20-23). And all Christian persons are comforted by this, that Holy Scripture calls this bodily death "a sleep", in which man's senses are, as it were, taken from him for a season; and yet, when he awakes, he is more fresh than he was when he went to bed (John 11.1,13; Acts 7.60; 1 Thess 4.13-18). So, although we have our souls separated from our bodies for a season, yet at the General Resurrection we shall be more fresh, attractive and perfect than we are now. For now we are mortal; then we shall be immortal; now infected with various infirmities; then clearly without all mortal infirmities; now we are subject to all carnal desires; then we shall be entirely spiritual, desiring nothing but God's glory and things eternal.

Death The Door To Life

So this bodily death is a door for entering into life, and therefore not so much to be dreaded, if it be rightly considered, as something for our comfort. It is not an evil, but a remedy for all evils - no enemy, but a friend; not a cruel tyrant, but a gentle guide; leading us not to mortality, but to immortality; not to sorrow and pain, but to joy and pleasure. And all that is to continue forever, if death is thankfully taken and received as God's messenger, and patiently borne by us loving Christ, who suffered most painful death loving us to redeem us from Eternal Death. Regarding this St Paul says, "Our life is hid with Christ in God, but when our life shall appear, then shall we also appear with him in glory" (Col 3.3-4).

Why then shall we fear to die, considering the manifold and comfortable promises of the Gospel and of Holy Scripture? "God the Father hath given us everlasting life," says St John, "and this life is in his Son. He that hath the Son hath life; and he that hath not the Son hath not life." And, "this I wrote," says St John, "to you that believe in the name of the Son of God, that you may know that you have everlasting life and that you do believe upon the name of the Son of God" (1 John 5.11-13). And our Saviour Christ says, "He that believeth in me hath life everlasting, and I will raise him from death to life at the last day" (John 6.40,47). St Paul also says, that "Christ is ordained and made of God our righteousness, our holiness and redemption, to the intent that he which will glory should glory in the Lord" (1 Cor 1.30-31). St Paul rejected and set little store by "all other things, esteeming them as dung, which before he had in very great price, that he might be found in Christ" (Phil 3.7-11) for the sake of everlasting life, true holiness, righteousness and redemption.

St Paul's Conclusion

Finally, St Paul argues plainly like this: "If our heavenly Father would not spare his own natural Son, but did give him to death for us, how can it be that with him he should not give us all things" (Rom 8.32)? Therefore, if we have Christ, then we have, with him and by him, all those good things that in our hearts we can wish or desire, such as victory over death, sin and hell; and we have the favour of God, peace with him, holiness, wisdom, justice, power, life, and redemption; and we have by him everlasting health, wealth, joy and bliss everlasting.

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