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What is Death?
By John Dunlop
The Sword and the Trowel, 1866
Charles H. Spurgeon, Editor
      WHATEVER death may be, it is the same in its grandeur, to rich and poor alike. When the fall is from a great eminence, the difference betwixt the highest and the humblest of our species is but the inappreciable ratio of a few feet more or less to infinity. It matters little whether the spirit at death leaves the gloom of a prison or the glory of a palace; the all-important thing is, whether it lived a godly or an ungodly, a disinterested or a selfish life. This is the one test that determines for kings and subjects alike a destiny far more momentous than if a world were lost or won. How peaceful is the chamber where the dead lies! The stillness is almost insufferable. No voice comes forth to break the awful silence, and tell us what is going on beyond the flood and before the throne. And yet there and then the soul's bliss or woe is fixed for ever and ever. Death is not a change of character. A man can no more change his character by death than he can do so by going out of one room into another. It is a change of costume. It is more. It is a departure. It is the first step in an endless progress. The cage is broken, but the immortal bird, still pulsing with life, either sinks in despair or soars aloft in rapture, and sings at unknown height. The tent falls, but the immortal pilgrim holds on his way through eternal night or through eternal day.

      What is death? Death is a silent river that rolls round all the world. Its black waves break upon the threshold of the cottage, and dash over the summit of the throne. Death is a mystic steed, that knocks with an impartial foot at the dwellings of the poor and the palaces of kings; strikes alike through sordid rags and imperial purple. You may escape the terrible power of the lion, you may avoid the brilliant edge of the sword, barbarous tribes may be moved to pity and spare your life, but nothing can shield you from the stroke of death. Country, clime, class, condition, creed, character and conduct, are all one to him. Money cannot bribe him; eloquence cannot charm him; tears cannot melt him; beauty cannot win him; strength cannot overcome him. Noble titles, ducal coronets, regal diadem sparkling with gems could not secure from him even a moment's respite: --

"He passes over the necks of kings
And over common things,
And into earth's green orchard making way
Halts, where the fruits of human hope abound,
And shakes their trembling ripeness to the ground."
      Death, then, is certain; and yet men seldom think that sooner or later they must die. They look forward to many quiet resting-places in the future, but they seldom look into their last, their long homes in the city of the dead, and their long homes in the great eternity.

"'Tis a stern and startling thing to think,
How often mortality stands on the brink,
Of its grave without any misgiving;
And yet in this slippery world of strife,
In the stir of human bustle so rife.
There are daily sounds to tell us that life
Is dying, and death is living."

      Dear reader, sooner or later you must die. You may build a house in the finest spot in the world, you may erect walls and towers round it, and plant sentinels to keep watch and ward night and day, but these would be no security against the stroke of death. Sooner or later he would quietly enter in, change your countenance, and send you away. What then? Are you prepared for this solemn change, this momentous movement? If not, why not? If not, oh prepare now! "Put ye on the Lord Jesus." By faith put on now his righteousness, and gentleness, and love, and zeal. And in due season you shall pass away
"As sets the morning star, which goes not down
Behind the darken'd west, nor hides obscured
Among the tempests of the sky, but melts away
Into the light of heaven."


[From Charles Spurgeon, editor, The Sword and the Trowel, 1866, p. 370-71. Scanned and formatted by Jim Duvall.]

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