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OCTOBER, 1827. [No. 10. Vol. XXVII.
For the Christian Observer.
wise and amiable; we may live
without reproach, and meet death TRUE AND FALSE REPOSE IN without a pang; yet, amidst all, if DEATH *.
we know not practically the necesIF the conduct of men be a just sity and the value of a Redeemer,
criterion of their feelings, it and have not obtained a scriptural would appear to be the first desire hope of an interest in his salvation, of human nature that death might
we are venturing defenceless and never arrive; the second, we might
exposed upon a wide ocean of therefore conclude, would be, that,
storms and uncertainties, and are seeing death is inevitable, we may without a single well-founded ex
braving all the terrors of eternity become duly prepared for its reception. This, however, though a
pectation beyond the grave.
The importance of procuring acvery natural desire, is by no means always followed by a corresponding the mode of salvation,
curate ideas respecting religion and system of conduct ; so that while with the safety and repose of a men in general wish, with Balaam, death-bed, is by no means univerto“ die the death of the righteous," death-bed, is by no means univerfew live that life which they ima- sally considered in its full extent. gine ought to be attended with so
There is a vague, unmeaning sort auspicious a result.
of piety—or, at least, of what unThere is but one modification of justly bears that sacred name, human existence which we have
which persons in general are too any good reason to believe will be
often willing to consider as all that accompanied with either safety or
is required for sustaining with parepose at our departure into ano
tience the approach of affliction or ther world. What is the nature of
death. Thus, a constitutional sweetthat peculiar modification cannot
ness of disposition, or the negative assuredly be doubtful; for, if Chris- blessing of not having been pertianity be a Divine revelation fitted mitted to fall into any gross vices, to the wants of man, and the only sufferer and the spectators, as suffi
is frequently viewed, both by the system which teaches him how he cient to render the hour of dissomay obtain acceptance with God, then nothing short of the full effects
lution easy, and the prospect of of the Gospel upon a human soul futurity welcome. If tranquillity can fit that soul for its eternal be but obtained, it is of little conchange. We may be moralists or sequence, in the estimation of the philosophers ; we may be esteemed
world at large, in what manner it
was procured, or whether it be true The following Essay is taken from a
or false ; and thus that spiritual work entitled " Christian Essays," by the insensibility, which, both in itself Rev. S. C. Wilks. The writer has been and its results, is the greatest of frequently requested to print this Essay evils, is boasted forth as the natural the character and death-bed of our great and proper effect of a well-spent British Moralist, Dr. Johnson.
life. CHRIST. Obsery. No. 310.
The propriety of such a con- the intrusion of that religious inclusion is more than questionable ; struction and advice which were for who, that is conversant with the necessary to open the eyes of the effects of sickness, has not observed unconscious sufferer. how often there supervenes (inde- Moral causes may likewise compendently of religious considera-' bine with physical as a sedative in tions), a languid indifference to life death. Ignorance, or unbelief, or or death, to the world and to eter- “ hardness of heart, and contempt nity, which is evidently nothing of God's word and commandment,” more than the natural effect of may spread a deceitful calm, which affliction long sustained, and of a will but end in a sad reverse of mind weakened and worn out by eternal bitterness and disappointthe near approach of dissolution ? ment. Allowing, however, for every The faculties, almost subdued by limitation and exception, it may the pressure of natural causes, still be laid down as a universal oftentimes leave scarcely a suffis proposition, that, where there visicient degree of capacity for re- bly exists a firm belief in a future flection, to make it appear to the state of retribution, with a due sufferer a subject of any importance sense of human sinfulness and guilt, what is the fate of either body or nothing but the means of salvation soul. Thus the mind is said to revealed in the Gospel can give have been tranquillized, when, in peace and satisfaction to the soul. fact, it was only benumbed, and if the powers of mind are worn rendered incapable of summoning down by disease, this vivid percepits natural energies even to a con- tion may not exist ; but where it templation so important and press- really does exist, there is assuredly ing as that of an eternal world. but one means of obtaining repose.
Whether this gradual insensibi- If this proposition be correct, it lity, so often attendant upon sick- follows, that, wherever a death-bed ness, is to be viewed as a merciful has been really calm without any provision of the Almighty, in order specific dependence upon the Reto divest the physical circumstance deemer, the effect has been proof dying of a part of its terrors; duced either by ignorance or unor whether it was intended as a belief ; either by not knowing and warning to early and deep repent- believing in a future state of retriance, before the approach of so bution, or by not duly considering precarious a season, it is not at that guilt and sinfulness of man present necessary to inquire. The which ought to render the idea of only inference intended to be de- retribution alarming to the fallen duced is this; That, if all the terrors mind *. of futurity, all the moral pains of These two primary causes may, dissolution, all the hopes and fears however, branch out into various of an unknown world, are so often subordinate ones; but all these found incapable of arousing a dying may be again traced back to their man from the natural lassitude and original sources of ignorance or indifference attendant upon the scepticism. The various causes of slowly-approaching hour of mor- falsely-happy deaths have been so tality, the mere circumstance of well pointed out by a revered audying in calmness is by no means thor of the present age, that no a sufficient evidence of a wellgrounded hope of the felicities of • It will be seen, that in this and the heaven. The inference is still more following remarks it is taken for granted forcible, if surrounding friends, as
that the mind is capable of due reflection, too often happens, have anxiously disease, or kept from serious thought by
and not become languid or indifferent by guarded every avenue, to prevent any external artifice.
apology is necessary for the quo- under consideration. The greater tation.
number of these cases are evidently “ The blind are bold; they do those of apparent, and not real not see the precipice they despise, tranquillity; cases in which a mask -Or, perhaps, there is less unwil- is worn to deceive the spectator, lingness to quit a world which has, while the mind is fully conscious so often disappointed them, or of its own suppressed agitations. which they have sucked to the last There are but three modes in which dregs. They leave life with less a real calm in death can be proreluctance, feeling that they have duced ;-by ignorance respecting exhausted all its gratifications.— human guilt and a future state ; by Or it is a disbelief of the reality of scepticism concerning them; or by the state on which they are about a knowledge that guilt has been to enter.-Or it is a desire to be expiated and punishment sustained released from excessive pain ; a on our behalf. It may not be imdesire naturally felt by those who proper to illustrate and confirm calculate their gain rather by what this remark by a few distinct referthey are escaping from, than by ences and observations. what they are to receive.-Or it is If we look back to the Heathen equability of temper, or firmness of world, we shall, it is true, discover nerve, or hardness of mind. Or it almost innumerable instances of is the arrogant wish to make the tranquil
, and even triumphant, dislast act of life confirm its preceding solution ; but in the majority of professions. Or it is the vanity of these cases ignorance was evidently perpetuating their philosophic cha- the parent of this false peace. A racter.-Or, if some faint ray of human being wholly unconscious light break in, it is the pride of not of spiritual subjects, unacquainted retracting the sentiments which with his own immortality, with the from pride they have maintained nature of God and of himself, with the desire of posthumous renown his aggravated offences against his among their own party; the hope Creator, and with the awful retributo make their disciples stand firm
tion which his offences merit, may by their example; ambition to give die at ease, because he “ dieth as their last possible blow to Reve- the fool dieth." Amongst persons lation-or, perhaps, the fear of ex- of this class the best and most enpressing doubts which might beget lightened individuals of the heathen a suspicion that their disbelief was world must be included. not so sturdy as they would have it Ignorance sometimes assumes a thought. Above all, may they not, different form; so that persons, conas a punishment for their long neg- scious of part at least of the truths lect of the warning voice of truth, just mentioned, may still die in be given up to a strong delusion, to false peace through their ignorance believe the lie they have so often of the remainder. One single inpropagated, and really expect to correct idea, whether it be refind in death that eternal sleep specting the supposed indiscrimiwith which they have affected to nate mercy of God, or the innoquiet their own consciences, and cence of man, or any other subject have really weakened the faith of intimately connected with repose others?
in death, may, by its lethargic inAmong the various particulars fluence, prevent the salutary effect included in this statement, there of every other article of belief. А are several which do not exactly person may fearlessly plunge into apply to the question at present an overwhelming stream, either Mrs. H. More's Practical Piety, vol. I. from not knowing its rapidity and
depth, or from a false opinion that
he can stem its torrent; but in ligious feelings and sentiments to neither case is his rash security to which persons of seriously disposed be envied.
mind attach the highest importance. The example, therefore, of a hea. If men, we are told, can die thus then, however enlightened, ought happily by means of their present not to be cited as a sufficient proof general views of Christianity, there that a person ignorant of Christ, can be no particular necessity for yet conscious of a future retribu- entering niore deeply into its petion, may nevertheless die in un- culiar disquisitions. affected peace; for though the In this objection it will be seen person in question might know that the knowledge and belief of much, he could not possibly know the individual in Christianity are all that was necessary to render the taken for granted from the mere experiment complete. Allowing, circumstance of his having been for the sake of illustration, that he born of Christian parentage and fully believed in the immortality of educated in a Christian country, his soul, and in a judgment to come, Should it, however, appear, as will still he could not be duly sensible be hereafter shewn, that, notwithof his own corrupt nature and per- standing these advantages, he may sonal demerits, without being made very possibly be still ignorant or first acquainted with the original unbelieving respecting some importcondition of man, his subsequentant points revealed in the Gospel, fall, the strictness of the Divine law, it will follow, that, amidst all his his own personal transgressions of presumed light and information, he it, and, in short, with all those is but a heathen with the name of circumstances which rendered an a Christian ; and may therefore be Atonement necessary for human re- but too justly included in the redemption. It is only, therefore, in marks already made respecting the cases in which these points are nations who know not, or believe fully undersood and believed, that not, those truths which made an we can correctly ascertain whether atonement indispensable. any consolation, short of a genuine In the mean time it should be ob. faith and dependence upon Jesus served, that that objection may be Christ, can give satisfaction to a carried much further than the obtruly enlightened mind.
jector himself might be disposed to Let us, then, turn from the heroes allow. For if the single circumand philosophers of the classical stance of calmness in death is to world, to that large class of persons determine the sufficiency of a perwho, educated within the limits of son's religious belief, heathenism itChristendom, are seen to pass into self will not be without its triumphs, eternity without manifesting fear and all the calm and heroic deaths or perturbation, though evidently of classical antiquity must hencedestitute of any
realizing views of forth be narrated as proofs of the that salvation, a knowledge of adequacy of the systems beneath which is indispensably necessary for whose influence they originated. the repose of every well-informed Had this calmness been connected and tender conscience. Instances with a due knowledge and belief, of this kind, which are, alas ! suffi- the case would have been far more ciently numerous, may be urged as relevant and convincing. irreconcilable with the doctrine laid It would be, perhaps, considered down in the preceding remarks; as a somewhat barsh assertion, and, in point of fact, are so urged though it is perfectly true, that the every day, with a view to prove, that, deaths of a large portion of proafter all our speculations, there is in fessed Christians are tranquil only reality no great need for those re- on the very same grounds as those of many heathens were tranquil ticular viciousness of character, also. Men are oftentimes accus- calmness in death, even though 'untomed to bring forward the generic, connected with any peculiar reliance rather than the specific, idea of piety. on the atonement of Christ, would In proof of this remark, it is by no be nevertheless not a deceitful, but means unusual to find professedly a rational and well-founded repose, Christian writers selecting examples grounded on general views of the of happy deaths almost indiscrimi- Creator's mercy, though not specinately from heathens, heretics, and fically dependent upon any idea of true believers, with, perhaps, scarce. the merits and propitiation of the ly a single warning to point out the Redeemer. important specific differences be- Here, then, we return to the pretween the religious systems of the cise point of discussion; and" in various persons whose characters every view of the subject it is far are discussed. Thus, under one from an idle speculation: for if what generic name, we are told of the is currently applauded and envied pious and happy death of Cyrus, or as an easy and hopeful death, be in Socrates, or some other favourite of truth oftentimes nothing more than antiquity, in nearly the same terms the natural consequence of igno. which are elsewhere mployed to rance or infidelity, or both in concharacterize that of a Christian junction, nothing surely can be more martyr or Apostle. The features evident than the necessity of carewhich are common to all are minute- ful self-examination, in order that ly pourtrayed, while those which are our tranquillity in dissolution may peculiar to the latter are overlooked. not be followed by a far more dreadIt is the frame of mind simply con- ful death than the one whose terrors sidered, and not as connected with we had thoughtlessly despised. Christian truth, that is pointed out How often do we hear it remarkto our attention. The marked and ed, respecting a person most heedimportant difference, not merely less and irreligious, that “ he died between the hopes of these classes like a lamb.” Impossible, if, in the of persons, but also between the full possession of his mental faculgrounds on which shose hopes de- ties, he seriously contemplated his pend, is quite overlooked, amidst Maker and himself, as they are both the spurious catholicism of a uni- exhibited in Scripture, without at versal creed. The worshipper of the same time taking fully into his Jehovah and of Jove are placed side account the redemption that is in by side ; and because the one found Christ Jesus. Impossible, if he in an awful ignorance of his moral adequately saw and felt the disease, condition that calm, which the other without being enabled to apply the derived from a well-founded hope remedy. Impossible, if he knew in his Redeemer, it is predicated of and believed his guilt, without reboth alike that they expired in piety posing by faith in Him who alone and peace.
can take away the sin of the world. It would, however, .be very pro- If, dying ignorant of Christ Jesus, bably urged by the objector in re- he died in comfort, or at least in turn, that his argument was intended what unjustly bears that name, he to apply solely to professed Chris- could not assuredly credit the detians. He would, perhaps, allow, that nunciations of Divine wrath; or, in a heathen, or even in a vicious believing them, he did not see how man, a peaceful death must of justly they applied to himself. Here, course be connected with a con- then, existed some degree of igsiderable degree of ignorance or norance or unbelief; and, in fact, unbelief; but he would add, that there is no subject upon which men where the individual was a baptized in general, even in a Christian person, and there existed no par country, are so sceptical as on that