The Fear Of Death
“ Forasmuch then as the children are partakers of flesh and blood, He Himself likewise shared in the same, that through death He might destroy him who had the power of death, that is, the devil, and deliver those who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage.”
Hebrews 2:14, 15
This name of “the children” is such a blessed one, it seems to indicate a simple, sweet and gracious character. “Be not children in understanding,” but in all else be–
Humble, teachable and mild,
Like unto a little child."
- But this is only by the by–the main theme on which I am going to speak is the fear of death. And, first, I observethat THE FEAR OF DEATH IS NATURAL TO MAN AS A SINNER. So long as there was no sin in the world, there was no death and no fear of death, but as soon as sin entered, God said to Adam, “Dust you are and unto dust shall you return.” The echo of these words still rings throughout the world and Adam’s children, as sinners, fear death, but this is rather a blessing to them than otherwise. To most unconverted men, the fear of death has often been made to subserve the highest purpose of Divine Mercy. Many a man would, at least outwardly, have been more guilty than he is if the fear of death had not, to some extent, held him in check. The knell from the old church tower has often spoken to those who other preachers could not reach–and an open grave has had an eloquent voice which has been more alarming than the polished sentences of the golden-mouthed orator.
It is well that there should be such a thing as the fear of death in the world! But for it, sinners would be more outrageously wicked than they already are. This earth would soon become like Sodom and Gomorrah if men were not restrained by the fear that they must soon depart this life. No doubt, too, the fear of death answers very wise and important purposes in the economy of humanity. If men were in peril, they would probably give themselves up without making any strenuous exertions for their preservation if there were not an indefinable dread of death which creeps over them and makes them put forth what strength they have in order, if possible, to prolong their lives. Being afraid to die, they tug, toil, labor and strive so as to put off the dreaded day as long as they can! Even Satan spoke the truth when he said, “All that a man has will he give for his life.” Our streets might be crowded with idlers who would starve rather than work if the fear of death did not drive them unwillingly to their labors!
Certainly the fear of death has often been the means of preventing the crime of suicide. You know how Shakespeare represents Hamlet as talking of a man making his quietus with a bare bodkin–
But that the dread of something after death,
The undiscovered country, from whose bourn
No traveler returns, puzzles the will,
And makes us rather bear those ills we have,
Than fly to others that we know not of."
No doubt it has often been the case that this “dread of something after death” has prevented men from rushing into the presence of their Maker red-handed with their own blood! The fear of death, though itself part of the punishment of sin, is a wise and beneficent arrangement in the commonwealth of humanity.
II. But, secondly, while the fear of death is natural to the sinner, IT IS NOT NECESSARY TO THE SAINT. For all the purposes of which I have spoken, the fear of death is not necessary to a Christian. He does not need it to restrain him from sin, for he hates sin with a perfect hatred. Other checks, of far greater importance here, in the hand of Infinite Love, restrain the Christian from going into sin. Nor does he need the fear or death to keep him from suicide–why should he have any desire to commit that terrible crime? Christians have, even here, joy and peace through believing and though their best portion is in the world to come, yet even now it may be said of them, “Happy are you, O Israel: who is like unto you, O people saved by the Lord?” The clanking fetters of the fear of death are not intended for God’s freemen to wear! Let the slave of sin and Satan wear them if they will restrain them from suicide and other evils, but the true born child of God needs no such check as this. He lives the life of faith upon the Son of God and the love of Christ so graciously constrains him that it both holds him back from sin and urges him on to duty.
But though the fear of death is not necessary to Christians and the Grace of God has been manifested in giving Christ to deliver them from it, yet it is true that some of them are still subject to bondage through this wholly unnecessary fear! They not only fear death, but they fear it to such an extent that it brings them into bondage. It is not merely a dark cloud that passes over them and is soon gone, but it abides with them–they are, “All their lifetime subject to bondage” through the fear of death! They shall not perish, neither shall any pluck them out of Christ’s hands, but they have not that restful assurance of safety which Christ’s sheep ought to enjoy. I am sorry to say that I know some who profess to have been Christians for years, but who still, at times at any rate, are in bondage through fear of death. I do not speak of this as a phenomenon, or an experience that is uncommon–I wish it were, but I am obliged to say that there are very many whom one must judge to be the children of God–who are frequently, if not always, in a state of despondency, doubt and dread through this fear of death which seems to rest upon them like a pall.
Many of these persons have been so long in this sad state that they have almost come to believe that it is impossible for them to escape from it. There is such a thing as sitting so long on the cold stone of despair that you and the stone almost seem to be one. There is such a thing as wearing the yoke of despondency until that yoke and your shoulders become so closely united that you cannot take it off. Just as valor fights till its sword grows to its hand, so despair burdens you till it grows into your spirit. I would not roughly tear it out, but if I might kindly perform an act of spiritual surgery, I would be glad to be made the instrument through which the Master would perform His blessed work of delivering those who are in bondage through fear of death!
Beloved Brothers and Sisters in Christ, there is no need that you should be afraid to die! It is even possible for you to look upon death as your best friend! You may yet come to be familiar with the shroud, the mattock, the grave–and find the cemetery to be no place of gloom and may even rejoice in the prospect of death and–
Long for evening to undress
That you may rest with God."
According to our text, it appears that in order to remove this fear of death from His people, our Lord Jesus Christbecame Man–“Forasmuch then as the children are partakers of flesh and blood, He Himself likewise shared in the same.” And as flesh and blood have about them the element of mortality, the flesh and blood of Christ partook of the same character. It is true that in Him was no sin, but in all other respects His flesh was like ours and, therefore, was liable to death even as ours is. Now, the very fact that Jesus Christ became Man should remove from us the fear of anything which is incidental to humanity because it was incidental to Christ as well as to ourselves–
He takes us through no darker rooms
Than He went through before."
“Fear not,” said Caesar, to the trembling boatman, “you carry Caesar and all his fortunes.” And, in like manner, standing in the vessel of our mortality, Christ says to us, “Fear not, you carry Christ and all His fortunes; you are partakers of flesh and blood and He Himself likewise shared in the same.” If one had to be a soldier on the field of battle, it might be a very great assistance to one’s courage to stand side by side with the hero of a thousand fights who had always been victorious! If tonight you had to journey along some dark and lonely road and an angel came from Heaven to walk beside you–and you were quite sure that it was an angel–I should think you would be altogether free from fear! With such a companion you might even wish that the way were still more dangerous so that you might have the delightful experience of passing through it unharmed under the care of such a glorious protector!
But you have a better Protector than any angel could be, even the Lord of the angels, your Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, so what cause have you for fear? He will be with you all through life. He will be with you when you are called to die and the pledge of that is that He is a partaker of that very flesh and blood which will bring you down to death. But we not only know that Jesus partook of flesh and blood–we have this further comfort–Jesus did actually die. TheCross of Calvary was a witness to no phantom grief, no sham expiring. The Roman soldier with his spear pierced Christ’s side and so proved the fact of His death. He went through the valley; He ascended the mountain on the other side and He, in due time, went up into Heaven–and all this He did as the Representative of His people! Whatever Christ did, He did for His whole Church and for each one who, believing in Him, is a member of that Church! So, if you are a Believer, you died in Christ and you rise in Christ. Christ died, you, too, must die. As Christ rose, you, too, must rise. What Christ has done, He has done for you in such a way that you, also, do it–
As Christ the Savior rose,
So shall His followers must."
Their is further cause for comfort in the fact that, through death, Christ destroyed the devil. The persons who alwaysinterpret the word, “destroy,” as meaning, “annihilate,” would do me a very great favor if they could really prove to me that Jesus Christ annihilated the devil! I have very mournful proof in my own experience that he is not annihilated andmany of you, also, know that “your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walks about, seeking whom he may devour.” Alas, the devil is still alive, but his power in this world has received its death blow! Jesus Christ has trodden on the old serpent’s head and, to the Christian, in the matter of death, the devil is completely destroyed, for he that believes in Christ shall never die! Death seemed to be all black and evil, like Satan, himself, seething into which he had put his most venomous sting! But now, to Believers in Jesus, death is an angel from our Father in Heaven calling us home to Him–not a black angel, striking terror in our heart–but one who is exceedingly bright and fair, coming to bid us fly away to realms of light and love!
Remember, Christian, “the sting of death is sin,” but that has been destroyed for you. And remember, too, “the strength of sin is the Law,” but that has been fulfilled for you! Rejoice, therefore, that both are gone so far as you are concerned–and that your greatest causes for fear are entirely removed!
III. Now let us spend a few minutes in thinking of THOSE THINGS CONNECTED WITH DEATH WHICH USUALLY CAUSE DREAD.
I borrow the list of them from a popular commentator. There are some things connected with death which even the best of men naturally fear and the first is the death-pang. It is generally supposed that there is exquisite pain associatedwith the act of death, but I am persuaded that this is mistaken and that there is no pain whatever in dying–the pain is in living. The man who has a long sickness previous to his departure must not lay the pain he has to endure at the door of death, for the pain afflicts the living, not the dying. If life would but give way, death would inflict no pain. The departure out of life is, one would judge, the cessation of pain, the ending of the strife. But if we take the popular view forgranted–that death involves some extraordinary pain–then Jesus Christ partook flesh and blood, died and destroyed the devil, so far as we who believe in Him are concerned, in order that we might not have any fear of this pain.
He says to each one of us, “My child, whatever pain there may be about your death, I have endured it with an emphasis. I died, not as you probably will, on your bed, but upon a Cross. Instead of sympathizing friends around Me, I had mocking foes. Instead of soft pillows, I had cruel thorns–and tearing nails instead of cooling draughts and sustaining cordials. Men gave Me vinegar to drink mingled with gall. I died under far more trying circumstances than can possibly surround your deathbed, so now, My child, are you now willing to do at your Fathers' bidding what I have done? The cup passed not from Me, I drained it to the dregs–why, then, should it pass from you–why should you wish it to pass from you?”
I have sometimes seen a mother, when her child has had medicine to take which it could not bear, sip of the cup and then say, “Drink it, my child, it is for your good and it is not so bad as you think. Mother has tasted it herself.” And then the little one, not always with cheerfulness, but still with submission, drinks it up. “So Jesus brings us the cup and says to each one, "Drink, My child. I drank of this cup, so why should you fear to drink of it? There can be nothing deadly in it, for it has not destroyed Me. It has been to Me a gain and it shall be a gain, also, to you, for it shall take you from your humiliation to your Glory even as it took Me.”
But to some others this may not be their particular phase of death that they dread. They fear the darkness and gloomwhich sometimes attend departed out of this life. There are different ways of taking down the earthly atonement. There are certain forms of disease which seem rather to increase the sufferer’s joy than to diminish it, while there are others which so affect the brain and the whole nervous system that depression is a melancholy symptom of the disease. Some are constitutionally so nervous that they are afraid that when they come face to face with death they will be easily vanquished. But many of us must have noticed that the very people who are most depressed in anticipation of trouble are frequently those who bear it best when it does come! So it may be with you, my poor nervous Friend. My observation warrants me in remarking that the most of Christians, when they die, are either in a deep calm or else triumphant in an ecstasy of delight.
But if it should not be so with you, if gloom surrounds your spirit, yet remember that Jesus Christ became a partaker of flesh and blood in order to deliver you from the dread of death. It is flesh and blood that fear the gloom. It is flesh and blood that shrink from the despondency–and Jesus Christ passed through that experience when He said, “My soul is exceedingly sorrowful, even unto death”–and later, when He cried, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?” You cannot possibly have such gloom surrounding you as He had to pass through! He went down deeper than you will ever have to go and you will always have His almighty arm to sustain you! Besides, the remembrance that Christ suffered for you, that He has destroyed Satan’s power over you and that He has opened the gates of Resurrection and of Glory for you should take away from you all the gloom that you dread! You are making the mistake of looking at that part of death which belongs to this world. I pray that the Holy Spirit may anoint your eyes with Heavenly eye salve so that youmay see that death is but the gate of Life, the porch to Paradise and may no longer fear to enter the portals through which you shall pass into the Presence of your Lord who went that way before you!
I know other Believers who do not so much dread the pain as they do the mystery associated with death. Thehandwriting upon the wall troubled Belshazzar, not only because of the appearance of the fingers that wrote the message, but also because no one could interpret the writing until Daniel came. It was the mystery that terrified the impious monarch! When traveling among the Alps in a dense mist, we have seemed to see vast lakes without a shore, crags that appeared like the battlement of Heaven and awful depths that thrilled us with horror! Yet much of that mystery was only caused by the mist, for, when we journeyed the same way on a bright morning, the great lake proved to be only a little pond! The mighty battlement was a crag that a child could climb and the vast depths that had made us shudder with terror were gentle slopes which we could have descended with ease.
It is the mysteriousness of death that alarms you. That the soul should be divorced from the body to which it has been so long united is something that startles you. Yes, but as the light dissipates the terrors of the mountains, so the fact that Jesus Christ has brought life and immortality to light will scatter all your gloom! There is no “undiscovered country” to you, Christian, for your Master has returned from the land of Death-Shade and He has told you all you need to know concerning it! He has come back to tell you that, for you, there is no such thing as death! Everything that constitutes death has been abrogated so far as you are concerned and your portion is to be everlasting life! If you would only believe all that is revealed in the Word concerning believers in Jesus, the mystery associated with death would no longer alarm and terrify you.
There are some Christians who are afraid of the grave. I must say that I like the thought of sleeping in the cemetery,with green grass and flowers and shrubs growing all around–and winding walks upon the rising ground far away from the busy city! I say I like the thought of all that, yet, when I stand by an open grave, as I so often do, and see the cold clods of clay and think of the chill and silence of the night, the cemetery appears in another light! But, after all, what does it matter where the poor body is laid? If it could lie in state, surrounded with light and music, you know that very soon even the chief mourner would have to say, “Bury my dead out of my sight!” When we think of those who are sleeping in Jesus–I speak, of course, only of their bodies–it does seem appropriate that they should be wrapped in theirwhite robes, as men are when they go to their beds, and lovingly committed to the care of mother earth from which they sprang. I do not think there is any need to be troubled about all this–much of it is mere sentimentalism and certainly, as far as Christians are concerned–when we remember that the blessed body of Jesus was laid in the tomb, we are quite content in that matter to be even as He was.
I am afraid that I have not hit the center of the target even yet, for some of are afraid of the Judgement Seat of God. for a child of God to tremble at the thought of meeting his Father anywhere! Why is it that some of us are thus afraid? It is, Beloved, because they have a dark suspicion that they are not really saved–and this indicates a greater evil than thedread of death–while it also point out the remedy for that evil. If I have the Divine Assurance that I am washed from every sin and that, clothed in the righteousness of Christ, I am without spot, or wrinkle, or any such things, how can I give way to fear? It is the dreadful doubt, the doubt whether it is so, that causes the dread of death and of judgment! It is unbelief that is at the bottom of it!
If we would take such Scriptures as these–“He that believes on the Son has everlasting life.” “By Him all that believe are justified from all things.” “Being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ”–and if we really trusted in the Savior of whom they speak, we would have no fear of either death or judgement, but would cry with the Apostle, “Who shall lay anything to the charge of God’s elect? It is God that justifies. Who is he that condemns? It is Christ that died, yes, rather that is risen again, who is even at the right hand of God, who also makes intercession for us.” No doubt there are some professing Christians who ought to be afraid of death–there are some membersof Christian Churches who ought totremble at the thought of the world to come because their profession of Christianity is a mere profession without any real work of the Spirit of God at the back of it!
When you have doubts about your eternal state, do not say that they come from the devil! It may be that the Spirit of God is striving with you to bring you to see the hollowness of all the religion in which you have put your confidence! Never be afraid of self-examination, but obey the Apostolic injunction, “Examine yourselves, whether you are in the faith; prove yourselves.” Better still, pray David’s prayer, “Search me, O God, and know my heart: try me, and know my thoughts: and see if there is any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.” Those who have only a name to live, but who are spiritually dead. Those who talk about believing, but who have not believed. Those who talk about regeneration, but who have not been born again have good cause to be afraid of death! If that is your condition, Friend, I pray that you may become still more afraid of death and that God’s gracious Spirit may make you so afraid of it that you may turn from it and fly to Him who, by carrying away your sin, shall also take away from you the fear of death.
But as for you, dearly Beloved, who are really in Christ Jesus, you ought not to have any fear of death. There is no condemnation for you, for Christ has borne, on your behalf, all the punishment that was due to your sins! The sword of Justice has no terrors for you, for it was plunged in the heart of Jesus on purpose that He might die in your place. You need not fear the possibility of being cast away from Christ, for you are members of His body, of His death and of His blood! And unless He were to dismember Himself, He could not cast away any who are thus vitally united to Him. Let the thought that He became a partaker of flesh and blood, died to put away your sin and to destroy your great adversary, the devil, be a quietus to all your fears of death!
It may not be long before some of us will have our faith tested in our dying hour. The preacher may be called away or you may receive the summons first. It would be well if we were all so familiar with death that we could say as one old saint did, “Dying? Why, I have died daily for the last 20 years, so I am not afraid to die, now!” Or, as another said, “I dip my foot in Jordan’s stream every morning before I take my breakfast, so I shall not be afraid to go down into the stream whenever my Lord bids me enter it.” May that be your experience and mine, Beloved, and then we shall have no fear of death!
I have told you before of that godly woman who fell asleep in Jesus one night and on her table were found these lines–
Since Jesus is mine, Ill not fear undressing,
But gladly put off this garment of clay!
To die in the Lord is a Covenant blessing,
Since Jesus to Glory through death led the way."
May we all have like precious faith, for Jesus sake! Amen.