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128 Divine Goodness & Mystery of Suffering.
from falling, and to present you faultless before the presence of His glory with exceeding joy, to the only wise God our Saviour, be glory and majesty, dominion and power, both now and ever. Amen."
DEATH, AND SORROW FOR THE DEAD.
1 Thessaloniank, iv. 13, 14. — "But I would not have you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning them which are asleep, that ye sorrow not, even as others which have no hope. For if we believe that Jesus died, and rose again, even so them also which sleep in Jesus will God bring with Him."
rpHE most tremendous fact before every man -*- is death. "It is appointed unto men once to die."* The shadows of an unknown future lie upon the brightest activities of existence, and the stillness of " night" awaits all the healthful vigour of the "day." It is not to be wondered at that men have been fascinated by the fact of death, and that they have sought to idealise it in many forms, some dark and gloomy, others cheerful and hopeful; some mirroring their sadness and terror, others their faith and aspiration.
* Hebrews, ix. 27.
It is by no means true that the brighter forms of imagery by which death has been depicted have been confined to Christianity. The winged genius brooding over the dead with thoughtful gaze — the inverted torch — the soaring butterfly,—are all creations of pagan imagination, designed to illuminate the future or to soothe the sorrowing. Euphemistic expressions such as those in the text are as old as literature itself. Sleep and death are twin children both in Greek and Latin poetry.* Yet it will hardly be denied that it is only in Christian literature and art that the full idea of death as one of hopefulness and not of despair—of joy and peace, and not of darkness and terror — has been realised.
Pre - Christian genius rose above the mere gloomy externals of dissolution. It was able to look away from the lifeless body and the darkened sepulchre. It had no love for those insignia of decay which have been rife at various times in Christian sepulture, and pervaded many ruder forms of Christian art. Ideas of rest, and in some degree of welcome, were associated with the grave. To the ancient Hebrew it was the meeting-place of kindred—the last home of fathers who had gone before. Abraham died full of years, and was gathered to his people.* Jacob was buried in the place of his fathers Abraham and Isaac, and where he had buried Leah.f Of David and others it is written that they slept with their fathers.^ The same ideas occur in classical writers—the same thought of a final rest where trouble shall no more come, and of a sleep in which there shall be no dreams. §
* Hesiod, Theog., 212; .Eneid, vi. 278.
But withal, the pre-Christian conception of death was joyless and unhopeful. It embraced rest, but mainly as a negation of existing unrest. There was no brightness nor assured happiness in the prospect. Hades was an abode of desolation, clothed only with the dreary poplar and stunted asphodel, where thin ghosts wandered in misery. The future life of the Hebrews, if it was clear to them at all, was hardly more cheering. "In death," says the Psalmist, "there is no remembrance of Thee: in the grave who shall give Thee thanks ?" || "The dead praise not the Lord, neither any that go down into silence." f "The grave cannot praise Thee; death cannot celebrate Thee: they that go down into the pit cannot hope for Thy truth." * There is not much to comfort or to inspire with hope in such words as these. It is only in the light of the Christian resurrection that the idea of death becomes transfigured, and the image of that sleep to which our mortal life sinks at last becomes significant not merely of relief or insensibility, but of a higher life of blissful activity to which it is destined to awaken.
* Genesis, xxv. 8. t Ibid. xlix. 31. J 1 Kings, xi. 21.
§ Plato, Apolog., xxxii. || Psalm vi. 5. IT Psalm cxv. 17.
I. There is nothing rrfore marvellous in the history of Christianity than the change which it wrought in men's consciousness of the future. The change is one stamped into the very life of humanity, however it may be explained. Whereas men had previously thought of death as only a great darkness, or a dreamless and perpetual sleep, they began to think of it as a change from darkness to light, and as a sleep with a glorious awakening. The brightness and joy were no longer here. This was not the true life from which men should shrink to part. All was brighter in the future; the higher life was above. Death was not only welcome, but joyfully welcome. To die was gain. It was "to depart, and be with Christ; which is far better." This was not merely the experience of an enthu
* Isaiah, xxxviii. 18.