Early Death
Acts 12:1-19
Now about that time Herod the king stretched forth his hands to vex certain of the church.…

1. This is one of those incidents in sacred story which had we lived in the apostolic age would have moved our wonder if it did not shake our faith. The Church is yet in its infancy, and already a chief pillar is moved, leaving the edifice deprived of what was certainly one of its best supports and fairest ornaments — one, in fact, of its twelve precious foundations. What token was there here of Divine love watching over a Divine institution? How shall such a dispensation be reconciled with what we believe of the power, and wisdom, and mercy, and justice, and love, and truth, and faithfulness of God?

2. On the Festival of St. James, we never can do amiss if we refresh our memories by recalling the events of the apostle's life. And this is soon done. Originally a disciple of the stern Baptist, and therefore a man of no common earnestness, James was brought to Christ by the report of his brother John — and therefore was the fourth to become a member of the apostolic band. Subsequently, we are shown his former call to apostleship. On him, with his brother, our Lord bestowed the title "son of thunder"; and (no unapt illustration of the name!) the two proposed to call down fire from heaven on the inhospitable Samaritans. But subsequently there is nothing characteristic recorded of St. James, with the single exception of his ambitious desire for a chief place in the kingdom of Messiah. He was indeed highly distinguished on other occasions — as when he was made a witness of the raising of Jairus' daughter, and yet more of our Lord's transfiguration. Again, he was with our Lord during His agony, and lastly, he was one of the four who heard His prophecy on the Mount of Olives. But of the characteristic events of his life none are recorded — save his call; the token of a fiery spirit alluded to; his ambitious aspiration; and his death.

3. When we say something similar of other members of the apostolic body and rehearse the meagre chronicle of the recorded lives of the other apostles, we all secretly feel that their unrecorded history must have made full amends, by its fulness and variety, for the scantiness of the gospel record. Thomas in India; Matthew in Ethiopia; Andrew in Scythia; Philip, Bartholomew, and the other James — the life must have been most varied, and doubtless was most eventful. But in the case of James we know that this was not the ease. His history brings home to us the familiar phenomenon of a precious life early shortened — a burning spirit suddenly quenched — a large and a brave heart, which was willing to do and to dare all in his Master's service, early laid to rest; the goodly promise of his youth and early manhood all unfulfilled — the work which he longed to do left unaccomplished — a legacy of tears left to friends and kindred; a subject of wonder and perplexity to all.

4. I do not pretend to have anything of importance to say on this difficult problem.

(1) The uses of bereavement to the survivors have been often insisted upon. No doubt it is a salutary medicine — just as salutary as it is inexpressibly bitter and repugnant to the natural taste. In this way we speak of the death of children especially; but the wonder is greater when men of grand promise are taken away in their prime, especially at any great crisis of affairs. We are more perplexed at the sight of a John Baptist imprisoned at the end of a year's ministry, a James beheaded before his ministry on a great scale had begun. Add that the first was slain at the instigation of a dancing girl, and the other at the caprice of a cruel tyrant — and the wonder is complete. "Where is the Lord God of Elijah?" Will not the wrath of heaven fall on the head of the guilty? Rather — Why was not this prevented, and the life prolonged to the full term of years allotted to man?

(2) But do we not, in all our reasonings on this and similar subjects, confine our regards much too exclusively to this world? — think of time and its concerns, too much; the things of eternity and of God, too little? Since, however, this life is inappreciably short in comparison of the life to come — and the concerns of this world inconceivably petty if contrasted with the concerns of the next; we should, in our meditations on the subject now before us, never fail to give a considerable place to the possible share which the concerns of the other life may have in determining the affairs of this. What shall we say, then, of the deaths of the young and the promising — nay, of those whose promise has begun to ripen into performance — so reasonably as this; that it would certainly appear that they were wanted elsewhere? that their appointed work in another world could no longer be kept waiting for them? that they had done quite enough here below to warrant their removal; and that therefore, and only therefore, they were removed?

(3) Shall we not, too, further open our hearts to the comfortable thought that the race, however brief, may yet have been fully run? that the spirit may have been perfected, although in an increditably short space of time? that the allotted work may have been accomplished, although the bud of life has scarcely yet expanded into a blossom? and that wondering angels may have already carried away the subject of so many tears to the enjoyment of an imperishable crown?

(Dean Burgon.)

Parallel Verses
KJV: Now about that time Herod the king stretched forth his hands to vex certain of the church.

WEB: Now about that time, King Herod stretched out his hands to oppress some of the assembly.

A Short-Lived Triumph
Top of Page
Top of Page