“SUBJECT TO BONDAGE”
I shall mention one other fear common to many of God’s redeemed, viz. the fear of death. Some true believers are apt to cry out (as the human nature of Christ Himself did) ‘Father, save me from this hour.’
But why are you so dismayed at the prospect of getting home? Are you afraid of dying, or of what you may suffer in your last conflict? Turn again to your rest; for the Lord will deal bountifully with you, and be better to you than your fears.
None returns from the grave to tell us what it is to die. Some believers have indeed sung in their last moments, “O death, where is thy once-imagined sting? Can this be termed dying?” And, very probably, the passage is both sweeter and smoother than living imagination is apt to suppose. I lost an excellent parishioner in the year 1765. Though he had not the least doubt of his salvation, but, as far as spiritual and eternal things were concerned, lay for many weeks triumphing in the full assurance of faith, he still dreaded the separation of soul and body, from an apprehension of what nature must endure at the parting stroke. Some little time before the knot was actually untied. God was pleased to indulge him with a foretaste of death. He was, for nearly an hour, quite gone in appearance: and his family began to conclude, that the final struggle was over. By degrees, however, he came to himself: and on my asking him how he did, he answered, that God had given him a specimen of death, and he found it not so terrible as he apprehended. From that period all his dread of dying vanished away; and he continued without any shadow of fear, filled with the peace which passeth all understanding, until his disimprisoned spirit flew to the bosom of God. Oh then, whoever thou art, that art troubled in like manner, cast thy burden on the Lord. You have found him faithful in other things, and you may safely trust him for this. He has delivered you in six troubles, and in the seventh He will be nigh unto you. The waterfloods shall not overflow thee, neither shall the deep swallow thee up. The rock of ages lies at the bottom of the brook; and God will give you firm footing all the way through.
Toplady, “An essay on the various fears to which God’s people are liable.”
“Death” is “yours; and ye are Christ’s; and Christ is God’s.” (1 Corinthians 3. 22, 23).
Now, I further saw, that betwixt them and the gate was a river, but there was no bridge to go over; the river was very deep. At the sight, therefore, of this river, the Pilgrims were much stunned: but the men that went with them said. You must go through, or you cannot come at the gate.
The Pilgrims then began to enquire if there was no other way to the gate; to which they answered. Yes; but there hath not any, save two, to wit, Enoch and Elijah, been permitted to tread that path, since the foundation of the world, nor shall, until the last trumpet shall sound. The Pilgrims then, especially Christian, began
to despond in their minds, and looked this way and that, but no way could be found for them, by which they might escape the river. Then they asked the men if the waters were all of one depth. They say. No; yet they could not help them in that case; for, said they, you shall find it deeper or shallower, as you believe in the King of the place.
They then addressed themselves to the water; and entering, Christian began to sink, and crying out to his good friend Hopeful, he said, I sink in deep waters; the billows go over my head, all his waves go over me! Selah.
Then said the other. Be of good cheer, my brother, I feel the bottom, and it is good. Then, said Christian, Ah! my friend, ‘the sorrows of death have compassed me about’; I shall not see the land that flows with milk and honey; and with that a great horror fell upon Christian, so that he could not see before him. Also he in great measure lost his senses, so that he could neither remember, nor orderly talk of any of those sweet refreshments that he had met with in the way of the pilgrimage. But all the words that he spoke still tended to discover that he had horror of mind, and heart fears that he should die in the river, and never obtain entrance in at the gate. Here also, he was much in troublesome thoughts of the sins that he had committed, both since and before he began to be a pilgrim. It was also observed that he was much troubled with apparitions of hobgoblins and evil spirits; for ever and anon he would intimate so much by words. Hopeful, therefore, here had much ado to keep his brother’s head above water; yea, sometimes he would be quite gone down, and then, ere awhile, he would rise up again half dead. Hopeful also would endeavour to comfort him, saying. Brother, I see the gate, and men standing by to receive us; but Christian would answer, it is you, it is you, that they wait for; you have been Hopeful ever since I knew you. And so have you, said he to Christian. Ah, brother! said he, surely if I was right he would now arise to help me; but for my sins he hath brought me into the snare, and hath left me. Then said Hopeful, My brother, you have forgotten the text, where it is said of the wicked,’ There are no bands in their death; but their strength is firm. They are not in trouble as other men, neither are they plagued like other men.’ These troubles and distresses that you go through in these waters are no sign that God hath forsaken you, but are sent to try you, whether you will call to mind that which heretofore you have received of his goodness, and live upon him in your distresses.
Then Christian was in a muse for a time. To whom also Hopeful added this word. Be of good cheer, Jesus Christ maketh you whole; and with that Christian brake out with a loud voice, O! I see him again, and he tells me,’ When thou passest through the waters, I will be with thee; and through the rivers, they shall not overflow thee.’ Then they both took courage, and the enemy was after that as still as a stone, until they were gone over. Christian therefore presently found ground to stand upon, and so it followed that the rest of the river was but shallow. Thus they got over.
Bunyan, Pilgrim’s Progress.