This sermon is a paraphrase of part 1 of the Exhortation Against the Fear of Death in the Anglican Book of Homilies, a formulary text for Anglicanism rooted in the Reformation. It was preached in the Parish of the North Peace June 6, 2021.
It is nothing to marvel at that worldly people are afraid to die. Death deprives us of all worldly honors, riches, and possessions by which the worldly count themselves happy, so long as they may enjoy them at their own pleasure. If they lose them without hope of recovery, then they can not otherwise think of themselves as happy because they have lost the source of their joy and pleasure.
“Alas” thinks the carnal person, “shall I now depart for ever from all my honours, all my treasure, from my country, friends, riches, possessions, and worldly pleasures, which are my joy and heart’s delight? Alas that ever that day shall come, when all these I must bid farewell at once, and never to enjoy them again.”
It is not without great cause spoken of the Wise Solomon, “O death, how bitter and sour is the remembrance of you to a man that lives in peace and prosperity in his substance, to a man living at ease, leading his life after his own mind without trouble, and is comfortable and fed (Ecclesiasticus 41.1)?” There are others, for whom life is less of a laugh, who are vexed and oppressed with poverty, sickness, or some other adversity, yet they do fear death. Partly because the flesh abhors naturally his own sorrowful dissolution, , and partly because painful diseases, strong pangs and agonies in the flesh, and weakness commonly come before death, or at the least accompany death, whenever it comes.
Although these two causes seem great and weighty to the worldly, moving them to fear death, yet there is another cause much greater than any of these. Indeed they have this just cause to fear death, and that is the state and condition whereunto at the last end death brings all them that have their hearts fixed upon this world, without repentance and amendment. This state and condition is called the second death, which all such shall ensue after this bodily death. And this is that death, which indeed ought to be dread and feared: for it is an everlasting loss without remedy of the grace and favour of God, and of everlasting joy, pleasure, and felicity. And it is not only the loss forever of all these eternal pleasures, but also it is the condemnation both of body and soul (without either appellation, or hope of redemption) unto everlasting pain in hell.
To this state of death was sent the unmerciful and the ungodly rich man, that Luke speaks of in his Gospel, Luke 16.19-23, who living in all wealth and pleasure in this world, and cherishing himself daily with dainty fare, and gorgeous apparel, despised poor Lazarus that lay pitiful at his gate, miserably plagued and full of sores, also grievously pined with hunger. Both these two were arrested by death, which sent Lazarus the poor miserable man by Angels to Abraham’s bosom, a place of rest, pleasure, and consolation: but the unmerciful rich man descended down into hell, and being in torments, he cried for comfort, complaining of the intolerable pain that he suffered in that flame of fire, but it was too late. So to this place bodily death sends all them that in this world have their joy and felicity, all them that in this world be unfaithful unto GOD, and uncharitable unto their neighbours, so dying without repentance and hope of GOD’S mercy. It is then, no marvel, that the worldly fear death, for they have much more cause to than they themselves consider.
Thus we see three causes why worldly men fear death. One, because they shall loose thereby their worldly honours, riches, possessions, and all their hearts desires: Second, because of the pain, diseases, and bitter pangs, which commonly are suffered, either before, or at the time of death: Third, but the chief cause above all other, is the dread of the miserable state of eternal damnation both of body and soul, which they fear shall follow, after their departing from the worldly pleasures of this present life.
For these causes all mortals are in fear of the state of death, through sin as the holy Apostle says in Hebrews 2.15, so long as they live here in this world. Everlasting thanks be to Almighty GOD for there is never one of these causes, nor yet them altogether, that can make a true Christian afraid to die. For a Christian is a limb of Christ’s body, the Temple of the Holy Spirit, the adopted child of God, and the very inheritor of the everlasting kingdom of heaven -1 Corinthians 3.16. We conceive great and many causes undoubtedly grounded upon the infallible and everlasting truth of the word of God, which move us not only to put away the fear of bodily death, but also to wish, desire, and long heartily for the end of our pilgrimage in the world. For death shall be to the Christian no death at all, but a very deliverance from death, from all pains, care, sorrow, misery, wretchedness of this world, and the very entry into rest. Death is a beginning of everlasting joy, a tasting of heavenly pleasures, so great, that neither tongue is able to express, neither eye to see, nor ear to hear them: nor any earthly heart to conceive them.
Great benefits are they, which GOD our heavenly Father by his mere mercy, and for the love of his Son Jesus Christ, has laid up in store, and prepared for them that humbly submit themselves to God, and love him without reservation from the bottom of their hearts. We ought to believe that death being slain by Christ, cannot keep any that steadfastly trust in him, under a perpetual tyrrany or subjection. We shall rise from death again unto glory at the last day, appointed by Almighty GOD, as Christ our head did rise again on the third day. St. Augustine puts it this way: “The head going before, the members trust to follow and come after.” St. Paul says it another way: ”If Christ is risen from the dead, we shall rise also from the same.”
To the comfort of all Christians, Holy Scripture calls this bodily death a sleep, wherein our senses are taken from us for a season, and yet when we awake we are more fresh than we were when we went to bed. So although we have our souls separated from our bodies for a season, yet at the general Resurrection we shall be more fresh, beautiful, and perfect than we are now. For now we are mortal, then shall we be immortal: now infected with diverse infirmities, then clearly void of all mortal infirmities: now we are subject to all carnal desires, then we shall be all Spiritual, desiring nothing but GOD’S glory, and things eternal. Thus is this bodily death a door or entry unto life, and therefore not so dreadful if it be rightly considered. Death is comfortable, not a mischief, but a remedy for all mischief, no enemy, but a friend, not a cruel tyrant, but a gentle guide leading us not to mortality, but to immortality, not to sorrow and pain, but to joy and pleasure, and that to endure forever, if it be thankfully taken and accepted as God’s messenger, and patiently borne by us.
For Christ’s love, that suffered most painful death for our love, to redeem us from eternal death. Of this, St Paul says, our life is hid with Christ in GOD (Colossians 3.3-4): but when our life shall appears, then shall we also appear with him in glory. Why then shall we fear to die, considering the manifold and comfortable promises of the Gospel, and of holy Scriptures? GOD the Father has given us an everlasting life to you that believe in the Name of the Son of GOD, that you may know that you have everlasting life (1 John 5.11-13) and that you do believe upon the Name of the Son of GOD. And our Saviour Christ says, “He that believes in me has life everlasting, and I will raise him from death to life at the last day” (John 6.40): St Paul also says, that Christ is ordained and made by GOD to be our righteousness, our holiness and our redemption, to the intent that he which will glory should glory in the Lord ( 1 Corinthians 1.30-31). St Paul set many things aside, esteeming them as dung, things which before he had valued greatly, that he might be found in Christ, to have everlasting life, true holiness, righteousness, and redemption (Philippians 3.8-9). If our heavenly Father would not spare his own natural Son, but did give him to death for us : how can it be, that with him he should not give us all things (Romans 8.32)? Therefore if we have Christ, then have we with him great things. We have with him victory over death, sin, and hell: we have the favour of GOD, peace with him, holiness, wisdom, justice, power, life, and redemption, we have by him perpetual health, wealth, joy, and bliss everlasting.
This is the end of the first exhortation against the fear of death. There will be two more exhortations.