« AnteriorContinuar »
N the banks of the river Gambia dwells the heathen
tribe of the Jolas, whose funeral rites are somewhat remarkable, and worthy of a passing notice.
The body, washed, and robed in a country cloth, is brought out from the dwelling and propped upright against a tree; all the possessions of the deceased are then placed around it, while the relatives range themselves on the ground in front.
The nearest of kin then rises, and solemnly addresses the corpse.
“What makes you die? What has annoyed you? What has so vexed you as to make you leave the world and home and family ?” No answer. Then again
“Look at these goods, the riches you have got together by your own industry! Why do you die? Why do you die?”
Past experience having doubtless proved the uselessness of waiting long for a reply, those who have guns fire a volley, and after burying the inanimate goods with the body, proceed to feast upon the live stock, usually consisting of goats and pigs.
We smile, perhaps, at the simplicity of the question, and pity the ignorance it betrays; but let the learned professors of all the sciences from all the universities in cultivated Europe attempt to enlighten this heathen inquirer, and how will they do it? Who can answer this question with authority worthy of belief? How account for the change which has come over the lately active frame, stolen away the strong will that ruled it, closed the eyes that flashed with animation and intelligence, and robbed the now senseless form of ail that made it man, none know how, none saw whither ?
“Ah," saith one," he was old, the thread of life was spun out; he had lived long enough, and the condition called death must of necessity occur.”
Or,“ If not old, he had some disease, and was not strong enough to resist its influence.”
Or,“He was wounded in battle, and fighting bravely had won all the honours life could give, and so he departed.”
But the further questions naturally arise, “How happens it that the thread of life cannot spin on-on-on, always ? How came disease to invade a healthy body? Wherefore arose ill-will and strife to make men careless of a possession so wonderful as human life? Why do you die?”
Is there an answer on any tombstone? Can anyone teil from observation, scientific investigation, philosophical research, natural phenomena, why and how these things began, and why every country, nation, tribe, and family on the face of the globe has its sad obituary, why no salubrious clime, no loving care, no hereditary vigour, no medicinal panacea, avails to hinder, sooner or later, the triumph of this destroyer ?
If all lived a comparatively equal term, some plausible theory might have been invented to account for the cessation of life; but when side by side lie the hoary head of age and the curly locks of youth, the sickly invalid to whom life has long been a burden, and the young wife and mother, so bitterly deplored by those who need her love and care, the same event happening alike to all, surely the question has no answer from any natural cause; it seems altogether unnatural, and baffles human ideas of the fitness of things. Why do you die, O man, with your grand powers of usefulness and progress? O woman, with your beauty and love, and self-denial, born to bless and comfort ! O child of many hopes, heir, perhaps, to great possessions, centre of fond affections, why do you die? Ah, why?
Does any one presume to give a reason for this arbitrary law to which the human system is doomed, even in its fairest, highest development ?
Yes, one, and but one; and if that reason be rejected death is a mystery, the grave a blank, and those who die had better never have lived at all.
Let us turn from the scene where the dead chieftain stands propped against the tree, with his worldly goods around him, and the perplexed inquiries of his friends are drowned in the noise of their guns for want of some better answer, to a bereaved home in a Christian land, where the same question trembles on the lips of childhood, brought for the first time face to face with death.
“Oh, father, why is she gone from us—why did she die?” And half shrinking, half eager with natural fear and strong affection, the warm lips kiss the cold cheek for the last time before the fair form of the young mother is carried to its last resting-place. Even the Christian father, in that desolate hour, has no voice to give the answer; but by-andby, after the last rites are paid, and father and child are left to mourn together, and the agony of grief has given place to calmer endurance of the inevitable, the answer comes, and, like many a sweet reminder, comes from the faith of the little child
“ Father, I know now why she is gone away; I remember the texts she taught me, ‘Absent from the body, to be present with the Lord ;' To depart and to be with Christ is far better. God loved her, and so He took her to be always happy with Him. Isn't that it, dear father?" And the father clasped closer his little comforter, and blessed God for the triumphant faith which had realised the meaning of those inspired words, and left their beautiful impression on the hearts of those whom she loved next to Christ, and for whose sakes she was content to live or to die, as He judged best.
Yes, "that is it," indeed, for the children of God, for believers in His Son, who know the whole of the wonderful secret that “the wages of sin is death,” that “ by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin ; and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned ;"2 and not only so, but who know also the bright sequel to the dark story, that "the gift of God is eternal life, in Christ Jesus our i Romans vi. 23.
2 Romans v. 12.
Lord;” that “by the obedience of one shall many be made righteous ;” that “
as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive,"1 first, spiritually, as regards the soul, quickened to newness of life by the power of the Spirit of God, and united to Him by faith ; and then materially and visibly, by the same Spirit that raised up Jesus from the dead, when “this mortal shall put on immortality,” when the sting of death is gone, for sin is pardoned; when the grave is rifled of its prey, for Jesus rose “the resurrection and the life,” and where the Head of the new creation goes the members follow; “ because I live,” He said, “ye shall live also," and so “death is swallowed up in victory." This is the Divine account that revelation gives of a mystery that nothing else explains; this is the answer to a question that only the believer in that revelation can contemplate without alarm, without distress, with perfect peace and joyful hope.
But what of those who reject the testimony and ignore the facts—who live on, trying to forget they must die, or if they are forced to remember it sometimes, try hard to believe there ends their history: no hereafter, no happiness, no misery, no reaping as they have sowed, no justice, no God.
Man in Eden dared God to a proof of His own sincerity, and found Him true; the miserable dupe of Satan's malice and his own presumption found that what God said He would surely do, and it was done. And as “He is faithful that promised," so is He faithful that threatened. And there is no escape from His hand outstretched for judgment on wilful rebels, but in His bosom of pitiful love and welcome for repentant sinners.
And now, in the higher sense of man's spiritual being, God Himself puts the same question, “Why will ye die?" In this aspect you need not die. God has made a way by which where “ sin has abounded” grace may “much more abound." God so loved the world that He gave What? Who? Another world? An archangel? A legion
1 1 Corinthians xv. 22.
of angels? No, something higher, nearer, dearer than all. Part of His own eternal Being : “His only-begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” “ He made Him to be sin who knew no sin, that we might be made the righteousness of God in Him."
There was no other way, and there is no other explanation of that death of the only just and holy man who ever trod the earth in perfect unsinning obedience and purity from the cradle to the grave; and He alone won the right to rise, the new creation's glorious Head.
This is the light that Divine love has cast across life's otherwise dreary path, the ray that shines into the very tomb, and writes on coffin-lids the Christian's burial motto, “My flesh also shall rest in hope," while the released spirit wings away to the full development of eternal life," hid with Christ in God.”
Say, sceptic, have you any theory to exceed in wisdom this? Unbeliever, is there anything preferable for the high cultivation of your manly reason, in the blackness of darkness that shrouds your conclusions about the future?
What hope have you for sick beds ? What comfort for mourners? Annihilation! What! is that the best you can promise for your deified reason, your mighty intellect, your proud superiority over the beasts that perish? Oh, how are the mighty fallen! Or universal restoration to perfected eternal existence? Where is the lever to raise from beneath the incubus that sits in triumph on doomed humanity ? Who can touch the spring polluted at its source, bid it leave behind its poison, and of itself grow pure again? There is no element of restoration left in human nature; it is corrupt, it has no hold on anything but what must crumble with itself.
Or possibly you may say that the wonderful thing called the soul of man must of necessity be an immortal principle, godlike, and in its ethereal existence perfect.
But what, then, is the stimulating power that makes men