This sermon is a paraphrase of part 2 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 20, 2021.
It has been discussed with you, that there are three causes why death is commonly feared. First, the sorrowful departing from worldly goods and pleasures. Second, fear of the pangs and pains that come with death. The last and principal cause is, the horrible fear of extreme misery, and perpetual damnation in the hereafter. And yet none of these three causes troubles the saints, because they steady themselves by true Faith, perfect Love, and sure Hope of endless joy and bliss everlasting.
We have great cause to be full of joy if we are joined to Christ with true Faith, steadfast Hope, and perfect Love, and not to fear death nor damnation. For death cannot deprive them of Jesus Christ, nor any sin can condemn them that are grafted safely in him. He is our principle joy, treasure, and life. Let us repent our sins, amend our lives, trust in his mercy and satisfaction. You see, death can neither take him from us, nor us from him. As Saint Paul says whether we live or die, we are the Lord’s own. Again he says, “Christ did die, and rose again, because he should be Lord both of the dead and the living.” Then if we are the Lords own when we are dead, it follows that such temporal death, not only cannot harm us, rather it shall be much to our profit, and join us to GOD more perfectly. Of this the Christian heart may surely be certified by the infallible truth of holy Scripture. Now the one who has fashioned us for this very purpose is God, who has given us the Spirit as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come -2 Corinthians 5.5. Therefore let us be always of good comfort, for we know that so long as we are in the body, we are (as it were) far from GOD in a strange country, subject to many perils, walking without perfect sight and knowledge of Almighty GOD, only seeing him by Faith in the holy Scriptures. But we have a courage and desire rather to be at home with GOD and our Saviour Christ, far from the body, where we may behold his Godhead as he is, face to face, to our everlasting comfort. These are S. Paul’s words in effect, whereby we may perceive, that the life in this world, is like a Pilgrimage and that death, sends us straight home into our own country, and makes us to dwell presently with GOD for ever, in everlasting rest and quietness: So that to die, is no loss, but profit and winning to all true Christian people. What lost the thief that hanged on the Cross with Christ, by his bodily death? yea, how much did he gain by it? Did not our Saviour say to him, “This day thou shalt be with me in Paradise,”? And Lazarus that pitiful person, that lay before the rich man’s gate, pained with sores, and pined with hunger, did not death highly profit and promote him, Angels sending him to Abraham’s bosom, a place of rest, joy, and heavenly consolation (Luke 16.22)? Let us think not elsewise, good Christian people, but that Christ has prepared and made ready before, the same joy and felicity for us, that he prepared for Lazarus and the thief. Therefore, let us stick to his salvation, and gracious redemption, and believe his word, serve him from our hearts, love and obey him, and whatsoever we have done heretofore contrary to his most holy will, now let us repent in time, and hereafter study to correct our life. Doubt not, we shall find him as merciful to us, as he was either to Lazarus, or to the thief, whose examples are written in holy Scripture for the comfort of we sinners, and all who are subject to sorrow, misery, and calamity in this world. We should not despair in GOD’S mercy, but ever trust by it to have forgiveness of our sins, and life everlasting. Thus I trust every Christian perceives by the infallible word of GOD, that bodily death cannot harm nor hinder those that truly believe in Christ. Contrarily they shall profit and promote the Christian soul, which being truly penitent for their offences depart hence in perfect Love, and in sure trust, that GOD is merciful to them, forgiving their sin for the merits of Jesus Christ his only natural born Son.
Remembering the second cause why some fear death, sore sickness and grievous pain, which comes before death. This fear is the fear of the frail flesh, and a natural passion belonging unto the nature of a mortal man. But true faith in GOD’S promises, and regard of the pains and pangs which Christ upon the cross suffered for us miserable sinners will mitigate and assuage those pains and moderate this fear. This fear should never be able to overthrow the hearty desire and gladness, that the Christian soul has to be separated from this corrupt body, that it may come to the gracious presence of our Saviour Jesus Christ. If we believe steadfastly the word of GOD, we shall perceive that such bodily sickness, pangs of death, or whatsoever pangs we suffer, either before or with death are nothing else in the saints but the rod of our heavenly and loving Father. With such pains he mercifully corrects us, either to try and declare the faith of his patient children, that they may be found laudable, glorious, and honourable in his sight, when Jesus Christ shall be openly revealed as the Judge of all the world, or else to chastise and amend in them whatsoever offends his Fatherly and gracious goodness, lest they should perish everlastingly. And this his correcting rod is common to all men that are truly his. Therefore let us cast away the burden of sin that lies too heavily on our necks, and returns to GOD by true penance and amendment of our lives. Let us with patience run this course that is appointed, suffering for his sake that died for our salvation all sorrows and pangs of death, and death itself joyfully, when GOD sends it to us, having our eyes fixed and set fast ever upon the head and Captain of our faith, Jesus Christ. He cared neither for the shame nor pain of death, but willingly conforming and framing his will to his Father’s will, most patiently suffered the most shameful and painful death of the cross, being innocent and harmless (Philippians 2.8). And now therefore he is exalted in heaven, and everlastingly sits on the right hand of the throne of GOD the Father. Let us call to our remembrance therefore the life and joys of heaven, that are kept for all them that patiently do suffer here with Christ, and consider that Christ suffered all his painful passion by sinners, and for sinners. Then we shall with patience, and the more easily suffer such sorrows and pains, when they come. Let us not set at light the chastising of the Lord, nor grudge at him, nor fall from him, when of him we are corrected:”because the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and he chastens everyone he accepts as his son- endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as his children. For what children are not disciplined by their father? If you are not disciplined—and everyone undergoes discipline—then you are not legitimate, not true sons and daughters at all.” Hebrews 12:6,8.
Therefore seeing that when we have in earth our carnal fathers to be our correctors, we do fear them, and reverently take their correction: shall we not much more be in subjection to GOD our spiritual Father, by whom we shall have everlasting life? Our carnal fathers sometimes correct us unjustly based on their sinful perception or their own evil: but this Father justly corrects us, either for our sin, to the intent we should amend, to make us thereby partakers of his holiness. Furthermore, all correction which GOD sends us in this present time, seems to have no joy and comfort, but sorrow and pain. Yet it brings with it a taste of GOD’S mercy and goodness, towards us and a sure hope of consolation in heaven. If then these sorrows, diseases, and sicknesses, and also death itself is nothing else but the Good Shepherd’s crook, whereby he makes real his love and gracious favour, whereby he tries and purifies us, whereby he gives us holiness, and reminds our souls that we are his children, and he is our merciful Father: shall not we then with all humility, as obedient and loving children, joyfully kiss that Shepherd’s crook and ever say in our heart, with our Saviour Jesus Christ, Father, if this anguish and sorrow which I feel, and death which I see approaching may not pass, but that your will is that I must suffer them, thy will be done.
This is the end of the second part of the exhortation against the fear of death, there will be a third and final portion.