No sex is spared, no age exempt. The majestic and courtly roads which monarchs pass over,
the way that the men of letters tread, the path the warrior traverses, the sort and simple
annals of the poor, all lead to the same place, all terminate, however varied in their routes, in
that one enormous house which is appointed for all living. One short sentence closes the
biography of every man, as if in a mockery of the unsubstantial pretensions of human pride,
"The days of the years of Methuselah were nine hundred and sixty-nine years, and he died."
There is the end of it. "And he died." Such is the frailty of this boasted man. "It is appointed
unto men" - unto all men - "once to die." No matter what station of honor we hold, we are all
subject to death.
As in chess-play, so long as the game is playing, all the men stand in their order and are
respected according to their places - first the king, then the queen, then the bishops, after them
the knights, and last of all the common soldiers; but when once the game is ended and the table
taken away, then they are all confusedly tumbled into a bat, and haply the king is lowest and
the pawn upmost. Even so it is with us in this life; the world is a huge theatre, or stage,
wherein some play the parts of kings, others of bishops, some lords, many knights, and other
yeomen; but death sends all alike to the grave and to the judgment.
Death comes equally to us all and makes us all equal when it comes. The ashes of an oak in a
chimney are no epitaph of that, to tell me how high or how large that was; it tells me not what
flocks it sheltered when it stood, nor what men it hurt when it fell. The dust of great men's
graves is speechless too: it says nothing; it distinguishes nothing. "As soon the dust of a wretch
whom thou wouldst not, as of a prince whom thou couldst not look upon, will trouble thine
eyes if the wind blow it thither; and when a whirlwind hath blown the dust of a church-yard
into a church, and the man sweeps out the dust of the church into the church-yard, who will
undertake to sift those dusts again and to pronounce: This is the patrician, this is the noble
flower, and this is the yeoman, and this is plebian bran?"
Look at that hero, as he stands on an eminence and covered with glory. He falls suddenly,
forever falls, His intercourse with the living world is now ended, and those who would
hereafter find him must seek him in the grave. There cold and lifeless, is the heart which just
now was the seat of friendship; there, dim and sightless, is the eye whose radiant and
enlivening orb beamed with intelligence; and there, closed forever, are those lips, on whose
persuasive accents we have so often and so lately hung with transport.
From the darkness which rests upon his tomb there proceeds, methinks, a light, in which it is
clearly seen that those gaudy objects which men pursue are only phantoms. In this light, how
dimly shines the splendor of victory - how humble appears the majesty of grandeur! The
bubble, which seemed to have so much solidity, has burst, and we again see that all below the
sun is vanity.
True, the funeral eulogy has been pronounced, the sad and solemn procession has moved, the
badge of mourning has already been decreed, and presently the sculptured marble will lift up
its front, proud to perpetuate the name of the hero and rehearse to the passing traveler his
virtues - just tributes of respect, and to the living useful - but to him, moldering in his narrow
and humble habitation, what are they? How vain! how unavailing!
Approach, and behold, while I lift from his sepulchre its covering! Ye admirers of his greatness
- ye emulous of his talents and his fame - approach and behold him now. How pale! how silent!
No martial bands admire the adroitness of his movements; no fascinating throng weep, and
melt, and tremble at his eloquence! Amazing change! A shroud, a coffin, a narrow,
subterraneous cabin! - this is all that now remains of the hero! And is this all that remains of
him? During a life so transitory, what lasting monument, then, can our fondest hopes erect!
We stand on the borders of an awful gulf, which is swallowing up all things human. And is
there, amidst this universal wreck, nothing stable, nothing abiding, nothing immortal, on
which poor, frail, dying man can fasten? Ask the hero, ask the statesman, whose wisdom you
have been accustomed to revere, and he will tell you. He will tell you, did we say? He has
already told you, from his death-bed, and his illumined spirit still whispers from the heavens,
with well-known eloquence, the solemn admonition: "Mortals hastening to the tomb, and once
the companions of my pilgrimage, take warning and avoid my errors; cultivate the virtues I
have recommended; choose the Savior I have chosen; live disinterestedly; live for immortality;
and would you rescue anything from final dissolution, lay it up in God."
Ah, it is true that a few friends will go and bury us; affection will rear a stone and plant a few
flowers over our grave; in a brief period the little hillock will be smoothed down, and the stone
will fall, and neither friend nor stranger will be concerned to ask which one of the forgotten
millions of the earth was buried there. Every vestige that we ever lived upon the earth will
have vanished away. All the little memorials of our remembrance - the lock of hair encased in
gold, or the portrait that hung in our dwelling, will cease to have the slightest interest to any
We need but look into the cemetery and see the ten thousand upturned faces; ten thousand
breathless bosoms. There was a time when fire flashed through those vacant orbs; when warm
ambitions, hopes, joys and the loving life pushed in those bosoms. Dreams of fame and power
once haunted those empty skulls. The little piles of bones, that once were feet, ran swiftly and
determinedly through twenty, forty, sixty, seventy years of life, but where are the prints they
left? He lived - he died - he was buried - is al that the headstone tells us. We move among the
monuments, we see the sculpturing, but no voice comes to us to say that the sleepers are
remembered for any thing they have done. A generation passes by. The stones turn gray, and
the man has ceased to be, and is to the world, as if he had never lived.
Thus is life. Only a few years do we journey here and we come to that bridge - Death - which
transports us as the road we have traveled, either virtue, happiness and joy, to a happy
paradise of love, or the road of passion, lust and vice to destructive wretchedness.
A proper view of death may be useful to abate most of the irregular passions. Thus, for
instance, we may see what avarice comes to in the coffin of the miser; this is the man who could
never be satisfied with riches; but see now a few boards inclose him, and a few square inches
contain him. Study ambition in the grave of that enterprising man; see, his great designs, his
boundless expedients are all shattered and sunk in this fatal gulf of all human projects.
Approach the tomb of the proud man; see the haughty countenance dreadfully disfigured, and
the tongue that spoke the most lofty things condemned to eternal silence. Go to the tomb of the
monarch, and there study quality; behold his great titles, his royal robes, and all his flatteries -
all are no more forever in this world. Behold the consequence of intemperance in the tomb of
the glutton; see his appetite now fully satiated, his senses destroyed and his bones scattered.
Thus the tombs of the wicked condemn their practice and strongly recommend virtue.
Death reigns in all the portions of our time. The autumn, with its fruits, provides disorders for
us, and the winter's cold turns them into sharp diseases; and the spring brings flowers to strew
our hearse; and the summer gives green turf and brambles to bind upon our graves.
Calentures and surfeit, cold and agues are the four quarters of the year, and all minister unto
death. Go where you will and it will find you. Many dread it and try to flee from it as the king
Is he an enemy, when God sends him to deliver us from pains, follies, disappointments, miseries
and wo? Is he an enemy, who transfers us from delusive dreams, from the region of bubbles
and corroding cares, to a region where all is pure, substantial, enduring joy and endless
felicity? It is a libel on DEATH to call him our foe, a king of terrors, an enemy.
Frail man comes into the world crying, cries on through life, and is always seeking after some
desired thing which he imagines is labeled HAPPINESS, or is mourning over some loss, which
makes him miserable; a restless mortal body, with an immortal soul, that requires something
more than earth can give t satisfy its lofty desires; the soul that hails death as the welcome
messenger, to deliver it from its ever changing, ever decaying prison-house of clay, called man;
on which time wages a perpetual war; whitening his locks, furrowing his cheeks, stealing his
ivory, weakening his nerves, paralyzing his muscles, poisoning his blood, battering his whole
citadel, deranging the whole machinery of life, and wasting his mental powers; until he
becomes twice a child; and then delivers him over to his last and best friend, DEATH, who
breaks the carnal bondage, sets the imprisoned spirit free, closing a toilsome career of
infelicity; opening the door of immortal happiness, returning the soul to its own, original, and
glorious home; to go no more out forever. Not to become familiar with death, is to endure
much unnecessary fear, and add to the myriads of the other imaginary woes of human life.
Death to them that be God's dear children is no other thing than the despatcher of all
displeasure, the end of all travail, the door of desires, the gate of gladness, the port of paradise,
the haven of heaven, the entrance to felicity, the beginning of all blissfulness. It is the very bed
of down for the doleful bodies of God's people to rest in, out of which they rise and awake most
fresh and lusty to everlasting life. It is a passage to the Father, a chariot to heaven, the Lord's
messenger, a going to our home, a deliverance from bondage, a dismission from war, a security
from all sorrows, and a manumission from all misery. And should we be dismayed at it?
Should we trouble to hear of it? Should such a friend as it be unwelcome? Death is but life to a
true believer; it is not his last day, nor his worst day, but in the highest sense his best day, and
the beginning of his better life. A Christian's dying day will be his enlarging day, when he shall
be freed from the prison in which he has long been detained, and be brought home to his
Father's house. A Christian's dying day will be his resting day, when he shall rest from all sin
and care and trouble; his reaping day, when he shall reap the fruit he has sown in tears and
faith; his conquering day, when he shall triumph over every enemy, and even death itself shall
die; his transplanting day, from earth to heaven, from a howling wilderness to a heavenly
paradise; his robing day, to put off the old worn out rags of flesh, and put on the new and
glorious robes of light; his marriage day; his coronation day; the day of his glory, the
beginning of his eternal, perfect bliss with Christ.
We at death leave one place to go to another; if godly we depart from our place here on earth,
and go to heaven; we depart from our friends on earth and go to our friends in heaven; we
depart from the valley of tears and go to the mount of joy; we depart from a howling
wilderness and go to a heavenly paradise. Who would be unwilling to exchange a Sodom for a
Zion, and Egypt for a Canaan, misery for glory?
What a superlatively grand and consoling idea is that of death! Without this radiant idea, this
delightful morning star, indicating that the luminary of eternity is going to rise, life would, to
our view, darken into midnight melancholy. Oh, the expectation of living here, and of living
thus always, would be indeed a prospect of overwhelming despair! But thanks be to that fatal
decree that dooms us to die! thanks to that gospel which opens the vision of an endless life! and
thanks, above all, to that Savior friend who has promised to conduct all the faithful through
the sacred trance of death, into scenes of paradise and everlasting delight!
Oh, that all may be prepared for this awful change, but how often we hear the mournful
exclamation, "Too late!" from men who come up to the doors of a bank just a s the key has
turned in the lock; or up to the great gates of a railway terminus just as they swing to, and tell
the tardy traveler he has lost his train; or up to the post-office just as the mail has been
despatched; but how should he tremble if our ears could hear the despairing cry of souls whom
the stony gaze of that grim messenger has fixed in sin forever. How would our hearts thrill
with horror to accompany one, without hope of heaven, to the portals of death. How do men
dread such death scenes as that of a young skeptic called suddenly from time to eternity.
"Begone!" he cried to the clergyman; I want none of your cant," when he showed him the
great need of repentance. "I am not going to die; and if I were I would die as I have lived," The
physician came, to whom he said: "Oh! tell me I am not dying; I will not die!" "My poor
friend, I cannot speak falsely to you; your soul will, ere long, be with your God." "My God!"
he said, "I have no God save the world; I have stifled conviction, I have fought against God, I
have resisted my mother's pleadings, and now you tell me I must die. Do you know," he added,
in an awful whisper, "all that means? If I die to-day I shall go to hell! Take it back; tell me I'm
not going to die. Father," he said, "t'was you who taught me this; you led me on in this way,
and now you say I'm to die. Stand back!" he shrieked; "I will not die!" and a torrent of
invectives issued from his fever-parched lips, so terrible in their madness that it seemed like a
wail from the sea of woe. No wonder the poor mother was borne fainting from the room, and
the father's brow was corrugated, while great drops of agony rested there. Ah, that infidel
father! how must his heart have bled in that dreadful hour, when in the midst of dire cursings,
his gifted son fell back a corpse.
What a striking contrast between such a death and the following:
One of Martin Luther's children lay on her death bed; the great man approached her and said
to her: "My little daughter, my beloved Margaret, you would willingly remain with your
earthly parents, but if God calls you, you will go with your heavenly Father." "Yes, dear
father, it is as God pleases." He then said: "My daughter, enter thou into thy resting place in
peace." She turned her eyes toward him and said, with touching simplicity, "Yes, father."
How resignedly could the believing Luther part with his dying child, and methinks the
sentiment of his heart was very like the inscription on a child's tombstone in an English
churchyard, as follows: "'Who plucked that flower?' cried the gardener, as he walked through
the garden. His fellow servant answered, 'The Master.' And the gardener held his peace."
When these hands of ours shall be pulseless and cold, and motionless as the grave wherein they
must lie; when the damp, dewy vapors shall replace "this sensible, warm motion," and death
shall spread our couch and weave our shrouds' when the winding-sheet shall be our sole
vesture, and the close-sealed sepulchre our only home, and we shall have no familiar
companions, and no rejoicing friends but the worm; O, thou cold hand of death, unlock for us
then the portals of eternal life, that whilst our bodies rest in their beds of earth, our souls may
recline in the bosom of God!
"Life! we've been long together,
Through pleasant and cloudy weather;
'Tis hard to part when friends are dear;
Perhaps 'twill cost a sign, a tear;
Then steal away, give little warning,
Choose thine own time;
Say not, Good night, but in some brighter clime
Bid us good morning."
The Royal Path of Life - Aims and Aids to Success and Happiness - 1882 by T.L. Haines & L.W. Yaggy