2917. The Doors Of The Shadow Of Death

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The Doors Of The Shadow Of Death

No. 2917-51:13. A Sermon Delivered On Lord’s Day Evening, September 24, 1876, By C. H. Spurgeon, At The Metropolitan Tabernacle, Newington.

A Sermon Published On Thursday, January 5, 1905.

Have you seen the doors of the shadow of death? {Job 38:17}

1. Last Sabbath evening our spirits flew forward as far as the judgment day. {See Spurgeon_Sermons No. 2910, “The Harvest and the Vintage” 2911} We stood with wondering awe to gaze at the great white throne and the fillet of gold around the head of the reaper who gathered in the harvest of the earth; we trembled as we saw the other angel take the sharp sickle and reap the world’s vintage and hurl it into the wine-press of Jehovah’s wrath, where it was trampled underfoot until the blood of men flowed out in torrents. Our excursion at this time will not take us so far in human history. We shall halt at a closer stopping place. We shall not journey even to the resurrection: only to the doors of the shadow of death.

2. The question is, “Have you seen the doors of the shadow of death?” and the answer implied is — “No.” In this chapter God is questioning Job, in order to show him his inability and his ignorance; to each question which the Lord asks the patriarch a negative answer is expected. “Have you entered into the springs of the sea?” “Have you walked in the search of the depth?” “Have the gates of death been opened to you?” “Have you perceived the breadth of the earth?” Job had done none of these things.

3. Well, then, Job, “Have you seen the doors of the shadow of death?” The only answer the patriarch could have given or that we can give is “No.” We can get as far as the gates of death, but we cannot pry within. Apart from revelation we have no information about the dreary land beyond, that land which lies enshrouded, as far as we are concerned, in perpetual gloom. We cannot tell when or how we ourselves shall die, so little do we know of the dread mystery. The message will some day come to us that the pitcher is to be broken at the cistern, but when it shall come we little dream: it may be much nearer than we think, and, on the other hand it may be farther off than we have feared. We are all in this life, something like the prisoners confined during the dreadful French revolution. They were shut in, so that they could not escape; and every morning there came a man with a little slip of paper who read out the names of that day’s victims, who were then hurried to the tumbrel {cart} which was in waiting outside to drag off its weary load to death. So every morning comes the death angel into the world, and he reads out the names of such a one and such a one; we miss our comrade who has been called, and we grow so accustomed to the routine that, alas! we think too little of having missed him. But we are waiting, each one of us, until the missive shall come for us, yet we know no more when we shall die than does the ox in the pasture, or the sheep in the fold.

4. Neither do we know what it is to die. We know, in a certain sense, what the act of death is; but what is the strange feeling with which the soul finds itself homeless, forsaken by the body which falls around it like a crumbling tenement, — what it is to have the link severed which keeps the mortal bound to the immortal — the spiritual caged within the material, — what that is, we do not know; neither has anyone told it to us. We have watched others passing; we have stood by the beside of the dying; we have witnessed the last gasp; and still it remains a secret what it is to die. We only know that these gates of the shadow of death are so shut on us that we cannot hold any communion whatever with the world beyond, except only as there is an everlasting fellowship in the person of Christ between all who are in him; so that

    The saints on earth, and all the dead,
    But one communion make.

5. Indeed, we are so shut off from the other world that we never even dare to pry behind the curtain which God has thrown across the abode of spirits. There have been necromancers in all ages who have desired to intrude into these mysterious regions, and they have pretended to have done so. Their craft is to be abhorred as hell; woe to the man that comes near to them! They are, as far as Christians are concerned, to be utterly loathed, for, where the Lord has hung up a curtain and shut the door, it is not for you and me to interfere, lest in eating those sacrifices of the dead we are found to be having fellowship with demons, and be cast down to share their doom.

6. “Have you seen the gates of the shadow of death?” We are content to give the answer which Job must have given, that we have not seen them and do not wish to see them. Between those iron bars we do not wish to pry. What the Lord reveals we are content to learn from his Word, but we wish to know nothing more.

7. Now, dear friends, that being the case, we shall only in meditation go down to those gates as far as we may lawfully go, and speak only about what we may actually know, not dreaming or doting about things beyond our knowledge. There have been some poets who have sung of descents to Avernus {a} and of the circles of the Inferno. You do not need me to go through Dante’s majestic conceptions, or tell how Milton sings of worlds unknown. Ours is a far less ambitious business. We have no poetry to make: we have simple facts to state.

8. I. First, then, we ask you to come down as near to the gates of death as we may, in meditation, VIEWING DEATH IN GENERAL for a few minutes.

9. Look up in vision to these terrible portals; and do you not observe, as you stand before them, that these gates are always open! Never, day and night, are those gates of death shut, for at all hours there is traffic through them. Men die at midnight, as they did in Pharaoh’s palace, and men die at noon, as the child did who said, “My head, my head,” and whose father said, “Take him to his mother,” and who then fell asleep on her lap. They die in spring-time, and the flowers sweetly waking from the earth adorn the mound which marks their tomb, and they die in summer, and know nothing of the sweet flowers that bloom and perfume all the air. They drop like autumn leaves, and the winter, howling their requiem, bears many of them away. There is never a moment, I suppose, at any time when the fall of feet may not be heard by listening ears that are close by the gates of the shadow of death. The dead have always been coming since Abel led the way — one perpetual stream, never ceasing day nor night.

10. Let us remember also that multitudes have now passed through those iron gates! You cannot count the hosts who have entered. The calculating machine might fail, and the powers of mind utterly quail before the mighty total. We speak of them as the great majority, and earth with her more than billions has only a small congregation of living people compared with the congregation of the dead. What multitudes, I say, have passed through from the first day until now. Sometimes there has been a rush when death’s jackals, the kings and princes of the world, have driven their prey in troops through them by means of bloody wars. At other times, men in hosts have rushed through those gates pursued by plague or famine; and always by human decay or disease men have come up to these gates, always, always, always passing through. The stream of passengers through the gates of death goes on, on, on. While you and I are sitting here, they are stepping between the posts. Perhaps some dear to us are nearing the portals. We ourselves are, certainly, on the way, and at all times our fellow creatures are being swallowed within the gaping jaws which never shut.

11. If you will wait here for a minute, and look, and have eyes strong enough in the shadows to notice who they are who come, you will see there a man leaning on his staff. But did you notice that there also went by him little children who had not yet learned to speak? You see the strong man come suddenly, running away from life; and you see the invalid who had long waited for his summons: you may count his bones as he passes down to his grave. Do you see that man? There is nothing special about him; he looks just like another. He was a king once; there is little royalty about him now. Do you see that other man? He was once a beggar; he does not now seem a bit more beggarly than did the monarch. Neither of them have brought any possessions with them; they come here penniless — all of them, and they pass through with empty hands. Titles, grandeur, estates, position, fame, all are left behind. They come a great crowd in a liberty, equality, and fraternity of death, a common brotherhood that will never be formed in life. Do you see them going? In view of this general levelling, you may set little value on the distinctions of this world. I have come to consider that nothing is worth seeking after but what will survive the tomb.

12. Through that gate you have seen many go in thought tonight. Will you please remember that no one has ever returned, with the exception of a few restored by a miracle. Through that way they go, but there are no steps backward. Gone, gone for ever. Once the breath has left the body, I think that the soul shall not revisit its old haunts, or know anything of all that is done under the sun. But whether that is so or not, it is certain that they will not come back in the old familiar form. They are gone. They cannot return. It is idle to weep and wish them among us again: floods of tears cannot restore them. As for the tree that is cut down, at the scent of water it will bud; but rivers of precious water from weeping eyes cannot make these dead ones to live again.

13. Now, concerning these gates of the grave, we may say further that, though they are so thronged, there are very few who ever come there as voluntary travellers. Man dreads to die. It is right that he should, as long as it does not come to a fear that is bondage. Understand this — that God has implanted within us all the desire to live, for right ends and purposes. There are a few who pass that way in a hurry or by their own consent. Ah, dreary souls that take away their lives! To what has a man come when he dares to contemplate such an insult to his Maker? He who gave you breath may take it back, but you may not give it up yourself. To die by your own hand is not to escape from suffering, but to plunge yourself into it for ever; for we know that no murderer has eternal life in him. Therefore he who murders himself, if he knows what he is doing, gives sure evidence that eternal life is not in him. We must all go through those gates, but we must gallantly bide our time, and take arms against the sea of trouble that now awaits us; then at last, if we are Christ’s, and all of us may be his, and know we are his, when our captain tells us to come to him, we will bow our heads and pass through the gates of iron, not fearing for a moment. Our Lord will come to meet us, and our soul will stretch her wings in haste, and fly fearless through the shadowed portals, nor feel anything of terror as she passes them.

14. Those thoughts may suffice about death in general.

15. II. Now, in the second place, let us go down to the doors of that shadow of death, and stand for a few moments VIEWING SAINTLY DEATHS. I wish only to speak simply about them.

16. First, I remark that all saintly deaths are not pleasant to look at. Some of the grandest men who ever lived have died in a storm. Martin Luther’s death-bed was troubled. I do not wonder that when a man has done such glorious mischief to Satan’s dominions, he should not be allowed to enter into his rest without one more struggle with his foe. John Knox, again, had a fierce battle when he came to die. He found it hard, though he triumphed at the last even as Luther did. And many who have served their Master well, instead of shoutings of joy and singing of hymns in their departure, have had to lay hold with all their might on their crucified Saviour in order to sustain their hope. There is something right about this too, it becomes a lesson for us all. “If the righteous scarcely are saved, where shall the ungodly and the sinner appear?” And if to die is sometimes hard work for a man who is known to be a true believer and who has shown to others that he is really saved, what shall they expect in the hour of death who have no such confidence in God?

17. Yet, beloved, standing at the doors of death tonight, I must confess that, as far as I am concerned, of those I have seen passing through, who have believed in Christ, most of the saints have passed through gladly. They have entered the gates with a cheery note, with a song, or with a Hallelujah. I cannot forget the times in which I have been asked to sing at death-beds when I could not possibly have done it for very choking of sympathy with those around me. But the dying man has sung, and the dying woman has joined sweetly in the hymn, and when we seemed to feel as if it might be too much for the failing strength we have been asked by the saint who was ready to depart that we might sing another verse. While they have been

    “Sweeping through the gates of the new Jerusalem,”

they have wanted us to sing them home. If I had to tell where I have seen the most joy on earth, I should certainly not say at the bridal feasts, for that joy has much that is flimsy about it; in many who partake in that festival the sentiments are often unreal. But the joy of the dying man — the joy of the expiring saint — has something so deep, so sublime, yet so simple in it, that I do not know where to equal it, whether I am permitted to search in the palaces of kings or in the homes of the contented. The greatest joy on earth is, after all, the joy of departing saints. So you may stand at the gates of the shadow of death, and hear them sing as they pass through. Some of them you may hear saying extraordinary things. Haliburton cried, “Have at thee, death! Have at thee, death!” — as if he fought and conquered the grim foe without a fear; others have shouted, “Victory, victory, victory, through the blood of the Lamb!” in their last moments. There has been sorrow, but there has been joy far more often.

18. Concerning the doors of the shadow of death, let me say that there are supplies of grace laid up close by those gates of the grave for saints when they come there. You must not expect, dear friends, to have dying grace in living moments. You must not expect at this time to have grace to die with, when, perhaps, God intends you to live another fifty years. What would you do with such grace? Where would you put it? You shall have it when you come to die. Only trust in Christ today, and do his bidding; when the dying time shall come the dying grace shall be afforded to you.

19. In addition to this, I believe that God not only gives his people grace to die, but, in their last moments, some of the saints get visions of another world before they enter its gates. I am persuaded that the glow and the glory that I have seen on some men’s faces when they have been dying have not been from earth; that the strange light that lit their features, and the wonderful smile of ineffable delight with which they have fallen asleep, have not been things of time. They could not have been created by their present circumstances, for their surroundings have been all to the contrary. The radiance from the world beyond has been on them. What strange things, too, they have said! Some of them have been hard to comprehend, for the expiring saints have spoken a language more of heaven than of earth, as if they knew things which were unlawful for them to utter, and must not speak so as to be understood. They have caught stray notes from harps of seraphim, and they have tried to sing them here below, but have failed. Yet we have heard enough to let us know that God has partly drawn up the blinds, and permitted them to see through the lattice and to behold the King in his beauty. Angels, too, we do not doubt, come to those gates of death. Why should they not? They came to Jesus in Gethsemane. They are told to take care of the Lord’s people, lest they dash their foot against a stone. I have no doubt that they minister to the heirs of salvation, for it is written that, when Lazarus died, angels carried him into Abraham’s bosom. The angelic bands wait, I believe, at these gates of death to help the righteous in their last extremity.

20. Best of all, I should like you, as you come with me to these doors of the shadow of death, to notice that there is a blood-mark right across the entrance. If you look down there is the print of a footstep unlike that of all the rest, for it is the print of a foot that once was pierced. Ah! I recognise that mark; my Lord has gone that way. I have not yet myself been down to the doors of the shadow of death, but he, my Saviour, has been there; he has passed through them indeed, and yet, he lives. Hence, the joy of the believer is, that when he passes through, because Christ lives he shall live also, and because Christ is risen he shall rise too. I could not believe the resurrection if it were not certain that Christ has risen. But if ever there was a fact in history that is so well attested to beyond all conceivable doubt, it is the fact that he who was put into the grave by the Jews, and whose tomb was sealed, rose again from the dead on the third day. All his people shall also rise, because he has led the way. Oh gates of the shadow of death, we dread you no longer, since Christ has passed through your portals.

21. And see, brethren, for the believer, all around those gates of the shadow of death bright lamps are burning. Do you not see them? They are lamps of promise. “When you pass through the waters I will be with you, and through the rivers they shall not overflow you.” “Oh death, I will be your plagues.” You know how the Lord of the pilgrims has given the assurance over and over and over again, in all forms and ways, that he will not leave nor forsake his people, but that he will help them even to the end, and cause them when they walk through the valley of the shadow of death to fear no evil because he is with them.

22. The gates of the grave, then, as far as believers are concerned, are not places of gloom at all. We ought often to go there. It is greatly wise to be familiar with our last hours — to anticipate them and to die daily. Make a friend of death. Oh, go to the graves, not to weep there, but that you may not weep when you go there. Often strip yourself and go through the rehearsal of your death, that when the time shall come it may be no strange work for you to die since you shall have died daily for, it may be, fifty years at a stretch.

23. III. Now, lastly, and very sorrowfully, a few words VIEWING THE DEATH OF SINNERS. Down to these grim gates the ungodly must go as well as the people of God. To every one of them the lot is appointed. Let us speak the truth about them solemnly and tenderly, with tears in our heart, though sad words are on our lips.

24. The death of ungodly people is not always terrible. There are many who die and are lost, of whom David says in the psalm, “Like sheep they are laid in the grave.” They never cared for the house of God nor regarded the Sabbath; they knew nothing of prayer, or of faith. Their consciences have become seared. They played bravado with God, and he has given them up, so when they come to die they take it coolly enough. They “shuffle off this mortal coil” almost without a fear, and those who stand around say, “Oh, he died so sweetly — such a happy death.” Ah me! ah me! ah me! Saints often die struggling, and sinners often die in dreadful peace. I say “dreadful,” for have you never noticed the stillness — the awful silence — of nature before a tempest, when there is not a breath of air, and not a leaf stirs on the trees; the very clouds seem to hang still in mid-heaven, and earth and sky get more quiet and still more quiet, and our very breath becomes intensely stifling in the dread stagnation, until with peal after peal at last the dread artillery of heaven begins to shake heaven and earth. Such is the death of many an ungodly man — a treacherous calm. Oh, what an awakening for him when in hell he shall lift up his eyes, far from every hope of mercy! Pray God you may not die like this. I should not like to die stupefied; I would prefer to be in my senses. Presumption is a drug which stupefies the soul and because of it men often die at peace, very many of them. But it would have been far better that they had never taken that dire drug, but could really look into the future, if perhaps even at the last moment, while their feet were sliding, they might find grace enough to turn back and lay hold on everlasting life so that they might not descend into the abyss below. Because their eyes are blinded there are many who die peaceably enough, and are lost.

25. Of impenitent men I may say that, when they come to die, many of them are not at peace: a very large number of such people shrink back from the doors of death, because, in the quiet room, memory begins to work. Then the evil deed, then the midnight scene, then the neglected Sabbath, then the unread Bible, then the throne of grace forsaken, all claim to speak; and as the clock goes tick, tick on the wall, the mind begins to go over childhood, youth, manhood, married life, and to remember and to reflect on sin. It is not every sinner who is such a fool as to be able to remember a wasted life without some terror or regret. Fear, too, is generally busy, for the mind begins to ask, whether the thought is pleasant to the dying person or not, “Where am I going?” and there is something in man that does not let him believe that he is a mere animal. Look at your wife, man — you who believe all living men to be mere beasts. What is that dear body of your wife whom you have loved for these many years? Well, principally so much water and so much gas; when that is taken away there is a small residuum of earthy ash — that is all. And that is what you have loved — so many pounds of water and gas and earth! No, sir, you have not. You have loved a woman. You have loved a thing infinitely better than dead earth and water and gas. You know that. You do not believe that your mother is only mere water and gas and earth, nor your child, nor even yourself. You cannot persuade yourself to accept such materialism as that. There is something in this body that is better than this water, and gas, and earth, something that will consciously exist when these have been dissolved: and there is something within all of us that makes us believe it whether we want to or not. Hence, at the portals of death there comes into the mind the question, “Where am I going?” And if the heart cannot answer that question by saying, “I am going where Jesus is: I am going to my Saviour, in whom I have trusted, who has washed me from my sin,” — then fear comes up and the man begins to say, “Oh, how can I go forward? The Bible tells me I am going to judgment, and I am unfit for judgment, — that I am going to resurrection, and what must it be for a sinful body like mine to rise from the dead? I am going to condemnation, and already in my conscience I am condemned. How can I go? How can I stop? Ah, must I leave you, oh earth, and can I not enter you, oh heaven? Then where must I flee?” Not many ungodly men can manage to shake off such thoughts as these in the dread prospect of departure.

26. Let me say, further, that near these gates of the shadow of death is a very difficult place in which to seek the Lord. When a man gets troubled with memory and fear, and his body is racked with pain, he is very ill prepared to listen to the voice of Jesus. I would not discourage a dying man for a moment from looking to Jesus. If he desires salvation, if he will only believe in the Christ of God, he shall have eternal life even at the last. But speaking from what I have seen, most men in the article of death are quite unfit for thought; quite unable to feel anything beyond the stabs of physical anguish, and quite incapable of faith. No man knows how far God’s mercy goes; but, if that mercy is given to faith, I cannot see how it can be extended to some dying men. Delirium, a wandering mind, an aching head — oh, these will give you quite enough to do in dying, without having to seek your peace with God then. It is hard enough only to die, to take a tearful farewell of those babes and of the partner of your life; it is enough to die, without then having to begin to cry, “God be merciful to me a sinner.” Have you seen the doors of the shadow of death? If you have, you will not choose them as a place to repent in, you will rather choose the present time to seek the Lord — now while your mind is still fresh and vigorous, and he is waiting to be gracious.

27. I must not detain you more than another minute or two, but let me remind you that at the doors of the shadow of death is the place of testing and the place of stripping. The man comes there, who has professed to be a Christian, and if he is not, how the rags of his self-righteousness are torn off! Or he says, “I was no professor of religion. I was better than that, I was an honest man” Now it turns out at last that he was not even true to his God, and his imagined honesty drops off him like a garment. Build castles in the air, if you wish, but death is an amazing dissipater of all your magic. At the shadowy gates nothing will do for you or for God but reality. If the religion you have and the hope you have will not stand the test of self-examination and heart-searching sermons, certainly it will not stand the test of a dying hour. What a stripping time it will be! Now, my lord, you must take the last look at your crown: that will never rest on your brow again. Now, look through the window at your broad estates: you will not be able to call a foot your own. Even the six feet of earth in which you lie will only be yours as long as the charity of your successors will permit you to slumber in peace. Good-bye to your money-bags. Farewell to the market and the exchange! You have gotten your wealth with much labour, but you are forced to leave it now — every penny of it. None of it can go with you.

28. Worse still, the gates of the shadow of death are the places of farewell. An ungodly man sometimes have to bid farewell to a Christian wife. Kiss her cheek, man: you will never see her again. You have a Christian child, a dear child that has recently joined the church, but you are no follower of Christ, when you come to die, they will bring her to your bedside, and you will have to say, “Good-bye, Mary. I shall never see you again, or if I do it will be only as the rich man, who looked up and saw Lazarus far away in Abraham’s bosom, but with an awful gulf between.” Some of you unconverted brothers, how will you like to be separated from your Christian sisters? Some of you daughters — how will you like to be separated from your father and your mother, who will be in heaven? Oh, all of you say, “We would like to meet in heaven as unbroken families.” Young girl, young man, what if your name should be left out when Christ shall summon home his own? It is certain that the gates of the shadow of death are the places of everlasting farewell. May God grant that you may never have to take such a farewell from any of your kin who are in Christ, but may you soar up to heaven and be raised with them when the trump of the archangel sounds.

29. So I have, as best I could, talked about the end of the earthly life. Oh souls, prepare to meet your God, for you may have to meet him before another sun has risen. I beseech you, by the living God, whose servant I am, do not postpone repentance and faith; but now, while mercy’s white flag is flying, and God waits to be gracious to you, bow before the cross of Christ, trust in Jesus, and be saved. May the Lord bless you, for Christ’s sake. Amen.

{a} Avernus: The infernal regions. OED.

Exposition By C. H. Spurgeon {Ps 49}

The chief musician here tells us not to fear the ungodly. However high they may be placed, they are only dying men, and when they die their hope shall perish with them. He gives a very graphic description of the death-bed and of the perdition of ungodly men.

1, 2. Hear this, all you people; give ear, all you inhabitants of the world: both low and high, rich and poor together.

Whenever God has a voice for men, it is meant for all kinds of men. No Scripture is of private interpretation. No warning is intended only for a few. Hear this, then, all you people. Whether you are low, you are not too low to listen to his voice; or, whether you are high, you are not too high to be under his supremacy.

3, 4. My mouth shall speak of wisdom; and the meditation of my heart shall be of understanding. I will incline my ear to a parable: I will open my dark saying on the harp.

Mysteries are to be preached, but they are to be preached with an earnest endeavour on the preacher’s part to make them plain. If it is a dark saying, yet let it be open; and, if music will help, so let it be. Whatever there is to be taught, let it be plainly taught to the sons of men.

5. Why should I fear in the days of evil, when the iniquity of my heels shall surround me?

We may read it: “The iniquity of my supplanters shall surround me.” There may come dark days when the wicked seed, whose delight it is to bite at the heel of the seed of God, will gather around us; and we think, perhaps, that they will be too many for us. But why should we fear them? Who are they? They are great and mighty, perhaps, but if they are only an iniquity — iniquity embodied — we need not to be afraid of them. Our righteous God is our defender.

6, 7. Those who trust in their wealth, and boast themselves in the multitude of their riches; none of them can by any means redeem his brother, nor give to God a ransom for him:

They may be rich as Croesus, {b} but they cannot save a comrade from the grave. They may pay the physician’s fee, but they cannot bribe death. How little is the power of wealth, after all! The rich man cannot save even his babe whom he loves so well. He certainly cannot save his fellow sinner.

8. (For the redemption of their soul is precious, and it ceases for ever:)

There is no redemption but one, and if a soul is unredeemed, its hope ceases for ever.

9. That he should still live for ever, and not see corruption.

For the bodies of the great are fed on by the worm as readily as the bodies of the paupers. They may embalm the body, if they wish, to cheat the worm, or put it into a coffin of lead, but little can they do with it. It is a costly business after all, and is the exception to the rule. Even the wisest cannot live for ever, so as not to see corruption.

10. For he sees that wise men die, likewise the fool and the brutish person perish and leave their wealth to others.

Whatever men may have gathered, the wisest cannot find an invention which will enable him to take his treasure with him. He must leave it behind. “Naked I came out of my mother’s womb, and naked I shall return there.”

11. Their inward thought is, that their houses shall continue for ever, and their dwelling-places to all generations; they call their lands after their own names.

Man is so fond of immortality that, while he foolishly rejects the reality of it he clings to the name of it; and he builds a house which he legally secured for his heirs, and his heirs’ heirs, “for ever,” as he calls it. And then he calls the land by his own name, so that it may never be forgotten that such a worm as he once crawled over that portion of the earth.

12. Nevertheless man being in honour does not continue:

He passes away. His grace, his lordship, his reverence, must lie in the grave. How ridiculous grand titles seem when once it is said, “Earth to earth; dust to dust; ashes to ashes.” “Vain pomp and glory of the earth,” indeed we may say, in the presence of the shroud and the mattock, and the grave and the worm. “Man being in honour does not continue.”

12. He is like the beasts that perish.

Not like any one beast, but like any beast that perishes. He only just lives, and, as far as this world is concerned, he is gone.

13. Their way is their folly: yet their posterity approve their sayings. Selah.

When men have lived only for this world, and die and pass away, without any future worth the having — without any hope of heaven — yet still they report it in the papers that he died “worth” — so much, as if it were wonderful to have so much to leave. And they speak of the shrewd things he used to say — mostly very greedy things, and very grasping things; and though he was a fool, after all, for striving for the “best opportunity,” as he called it, while he missed the best thing, namely, the salvation of his soul, yet his posterity inherit his folly with his blood, and they approve his sayings.

14. Like sheep they are laid in the grave;

They lead a worldly life, and die a worldly death — quiet, contented with this world, — no thought of the world to come.

14. Death shall feed on them; and the upright shall have dominion over them in the morning;

That everlasting daybreak shall shed a light on many things; and then the master and the lord, who tyrannized over the poor and needy, shall find himself under the foot of those he trod on. “The upright shall have dominion over them in the morning.”

14, 15. And their beauty shall consume in the grave from their dwelling. But God will redeem my soul from the power of the grave: for he shall receive me. Selah.

What a happy confidence! Blessed are those who, by a living faith in a living God, know that their soul shall be received into its Maker’s hands. But woe to those whose confidence lies in the treasure they have accumulated and the acres they have purchased.

16, 17. Do not be afraid when one is made rich, when the glory of his house is increased; for when he dies he shall carry nothing away: his glory shall not descend after him.

They will not know him in the next world to be the squire, the peer, the prince. Death is a dreadful leveller. Do not envy the great man of this world. “His glory shall not descend after him.”

18. Though while he lived he blessed his soul: and men will praise you, when you do well for yourself.

Not “when you do good,” notice; for often when you do good, men will criticize and censure; and, the better the deed, the more sure it is to provoke the contempt of many. But “men will praise you when you do well for yourself.” “A shrewd man, that! That is the kind of man. See how he prospers! A smart, pushy fellow! Oh, yes, he is the man for a friend.” Whenever there is an aggravated selfishness that accumulates to itself like a rolling snowball, men are sure to praise. It is the irony of life.

19. He shall go to the generation of his forefathers; they shall never see light.

They are sleeping in the grave. So shall he, and beyond the grave there is nothing but darkness for him whose heart is set on this world.

20. Man who is in honour, and does not understand, is like the beasts that perish.

Understanding, and the fear of the Lord which is the beginning of it, and not earthly honour, is our only help in the day of death.

{b} Croesus: The name of a king of Lydia in the sixth century B.C., who was famous for his riches, used allusively in phrases, as Croesus’ wealth, as rich as Croesus, and hence typically for “a very rich person.” OED.

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