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prepared for you from the foundation of the world." That Holy One, who knows how we see through a glass darkly, shall know the boldness which made men speak for that truth, and shall confess us in the great day before men; and we, seeing the Victor upon His Throne, and hearing His blessed words of love, shall rejoice that we had faith to believe and preach His words: "Whose soever sins ye remit, they are remitted unto them; and whose soever sins ye retain, they are retained."
The Victor, on His Throne, holding the Keys of Hell and of Death.
ACTS vii. 59.
"Lord Jesus, receive my spirit."
IF we can set ourselves to think what it will be to die,
we must feel what a tremendous trial we shall have to pass through at the hour of death. It will be a very sore thing to have to bear the pangs and sufferings of a wasting sickness, to pine away day after day, and at last, all weak, and worn, and feeble, to meet that sharp struggle in which soul and body are parted asunder. And over and above this, we can hardly doubt that for most of us the time when we lie dying will be a time of very great distress for the soul. We must almost expect to be assaulted then by fears, and doubts, and temptations of a peculiar character. If ever the Evil One sets upon us to cut us off from God, he is likely to set upon us then with all his force and craft. He will know that his time is short, and he will try to make sure of our souls before the sand of life is run out. We shall have to do battle with him in a deadly conflict; and so we feel that our last moments in this world will be moments of tremendous trial. We are right. But, my brethren, do we feel that the first moment after death, the first moment in the next world, the first
moment when we have closed our eyes on all that we are used to in this world, the first moment when we have opened the eyes of the soul on all that is new, and strange, and unknown-will be more tremendous still? If we do not in some degree realize how amazing and awful that moment will be, we shall hardly see the need of believing in the power that our blessed Lord has to aid the soul which has passed away from the world.
Let me ask you, then, to begin to-night, by trying to master the thought of a soul passing away from this world. And first, to aid you in this, take the case of St. Stephen, whose last dying moments are described in the history from which the text is taken. What do we think of, as we read that story of the first martyr's death, sketched for us by St. Luke with the power as of a painter, so as to call up the whole scene vividly before us? We seem to see, perhaps, the raging crowd gathering in fierceness round their intended victim. With one mad onslaught they rush upon him, and hurl their stones. at him. The very violence with which they hurl stone after stone seems to be at once a relief to their pent-up fury, and also to lash them into a fiercer cruelty. And there is St. Stephen in the midst of those who are venting their rage upon him, wherever he turns meeting the glare of their rage, not a friend near to comfort or aid him, mangled and wounded as blow follows blow. And then we hear him call upon our blessed Lord, and we think in wonder of the stedfast faith which made him see and feel how near our blessed Lord was to him. He seems to forget all else, the cries, the blows, the noise, the fierceness. His gaze, his heart, his soul, is fixed on our blessed Lord, as if he were alone with Him, and so he speaks to Him, and says, "Lord Jesus, receive my spirit." It is, indeed, a wonderful faith, of
which we have the history here. It shews us the soul of the suffering disciple leaning on the Lord who had suffered. We see that the secret of strength in all trials lies in appealing to the love and power of the blessed Jesus. In the death-struggle, St. Stephen had faith to hang upon his Lord, and his Lord bore him through the agonies of that hour. This is what we are most likely to think of in reading of the martyr's death. But was this the greatest proof of St. Stephen's faith? Was his greatest trial in this world? Did it not lie beyond the world? The life was nearly crushed out of him. The pains of death were coming thick and fast upon him. But was death the end? What was awaiting him after death? He was entering on the unseen state. All was dim, unknown, untried, before him. He must have felt as if his whole being was giving way, as if there were no ground beneath his feet, as if he were sinking into a fathomless abyss. He was going, but whither? And if he was passing into the world of spirits, would he be safe from all enemies there? We think of his falling asleep, and it soothes us to read the words. We feel that the pelting of the bloody storm of stones ceased at last, and that the spirit of the martyr had left his enemies behind. They had killed the body, and they had no more that they could do. But were there not fiercer enemies that were not left behind? Had Satan and his angels lost all power over that spirit? Could the dying martyr be sure that he should escape from these? And then, once more, if his spirit passed away, to whom would it go? It must return to God Who gave it. It must go before God, meet Him, and give up its account to Him. It is such thoughts as these which add so wonderful a power and force to those words, ""Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.' I know not where I go. All