And all the days that Adam lived were nine hundred and thirty years: and he died.
A man, who lived in forgetfulness of God and of his soul, went one day into a church while the chapter which has furnished us with our text was being read there. When he heard that long and monotonous catalogue of the names and ages of the patriarchs, his first inclination was to smile; he said to himself that there might have been chosen for the reading a less dry and a more edifying subject. He remained, however, and continued to listen, compelled to attention in spite of himself. Soon a thought struck him. He could not long listen with indifference to that solemn refrain, which came back always the same after these lives, so lengthened, of the patriarchs, "And he died." That is, he said to himself, what all these men had to pass through who lived so long on earth; they have all finished by dying. What happened to the patriarchs, happens also to all men without exception. All finish with death. What happens to all men must, therefore, happen to myself. I also shall finish with death. How am I prepared to receive that death which every day advances towards me, and from which no power in the world can shield me? What will be its consequences in my case? Will they be happy or unhappy? Will it be a heaven? Will it be a hell? Solemn question, which I have lost sight of till the present, but which I can no longer let remain unsolved. And from that moment he became as serious as he had hitherto been careless, with regard to his eternal interests.
I. The first way of acting with regard to death, is NOT TO THINK ABOUT IT AT ALL; that is the way of men of the world. They can so occupy themselves with the things of this life, that they forget, in some sort, that this life is to have an end.
1. Such a young man thus forgets death in the stupefaction of pleasures.
2. Another young man is thus brought to forget death in the preoccupation of work.
3. The old man himself often comes to conceal from himself the death which is already so near him. He can no longer work; he can no longer deliver himself up to the noisy pleasures of youth, but he can still procure distractions for himself, which beguile his ennui, and remove from him the thought of death; he can stir throw the dice, or hold the cards, and the game will make him forget the flight of time. Or in the moments of idleness; say, when he is thrown back upon his own reflections, he will transport himself in idea into the past; he will turn over in his memory, and with inward satisfaction, too, the scenes of his youth and of his riper age, and that preoccupation with the past will hinder him from thinking about the future. And, in a word, there are many means of diverting one's thoughts, and deceiving one's self with regard to death; but is such conduct wise and reasonable? is it really for our interest?
II. A second manner of acting with regard to death consists in PERSUADING ONE'S SELF THAT EVERYTHING ENDS AT DEATH; this is the way of infidels. The men whom I have in view do not at all divert their thoughts from the necessity which is laid upon them to die; they do not fear (at least, to judge from their pretensions), to look in the face the thought of death; they speak voluntarily and coolly of it; they believe that they possess the secret of not fearing it. They mock the people simple enough to trouble themselves with what is to follow death. As regards themselves — more enlightened and freed from those vulgar prejudices — they are convinced that what is called our soul is but a result of physical organization, and that, in consequence, it cannot survive the dissolution of the body; that judgment to come, heaven, hell, and life eternal, are so many idle fancies of weak minds. By means of such a conviction they pretend to live tranquilly, and not to fear death. Annihilation is a sad prospect; there is in the thought of annihilation something which horrifies our nature, and which we cannot look at without shuddering. What strange consolation to oppose to the trials of life is the future expected by the infidel! There is another existence after this, and the infidels themselves are forced, sooner or later, to do homage to that truth. At the approach of death they see the fragile stage of their infidelity fall in pieces like a house of cards at the breath of a child; and the anguish of their conscience becomes then an argument, tardy but terrible, in favour of a life to come. It is not, then, in the ranks of infidels that we shall find the best way of preparing for death.
III. A third way of conducting one's self with regard to death consists in MAKING AN EFFORT TO MERIT BY ONE'S WORKS FUTURE HAPPINESS; it is the Way with self-righteous men. If, then, a man observed the law of God perfectly, he could wait fearlessly for death, assured beforehand that the consequences will be happy in his case; he could present himself with confidence at the judgment of God, and ask from Him eternal life as a recompense which he has merited. But, as there is not a single man that has perfectly observed the law of God, there is not one who can procure for himself by that means a solid peace in view of death.
IV. But that peace which we seek in vain in ourselves, might it not be found in CONFIDENCE IN THE GOODNESS OF GOD? It is there at least that many persons seek it. Here again, we are forced to overthrow that pretended peace as dangerous and illusive. No! it is in vain that you pretend to found your peace in presence of death on the goodness of God, while leaving in the shade His justice. The goodness of God, separated from His justice, is but a frail reed, which will pierce the hand of the imprudent one who rests on it.
V. We shall need, you see, in order to our being able to die tranquilly, A MEANS OF PREPARING FOR DEATH THAT WOULD SATISFY THE JUSTICE OF GOD, AT THE SAME TIME THAT IT WOULD DO HOMAGE TO HIS GOODNESS. It would be necessary that at the very time when His goodness displayed itself in the pardon of the sinner, His justice should preserve its rights in the punishment of the sin. If there existed a System founded on truth, and satisfying that double condition, it would assuredly be the best means, or rather the only means, of preparing us to die tranquilly. Now, that system exists, that means is found, and you have already named it in your thought; it is faith in Jesus Christ. After all human systems have been tried in succession, and been found false and powerless, how joyfully the means which God Himself has proposed, and which is the only one that can give peace to our hearts, is returned to; that system, simple as well as Divine, which is summed up in the words, "Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved!" Faith in Christ presents the secret of satisfying at once the justice of God and His goodness. The Cross of Christ unites what an eternal abyss seemed to separate.
(A. Monod, D. D.)
Parallel VersesKJV: And all the days that Adam lived were nine hundred and thirty years: and he died.