This is a paraphrase of the third part of the Anglican Exhortation Against the Fear of Death in the Reformation Book of Homilies. It was preached in the Parish of the North Peace June 27, 2021.
IN the earlier parts of this Sermon against the fear of death, two causes were declared, which commonly move the worldly to be afraid to die. Yet we saw the same do nothing trouble the faithful when death comes, but rather gives them occasion to rejoice. The faithful consider that they shall be delivered from the sorrow and misery of this world and be brought to the great joy and felicity of the life to come.
Now the third and special cause why death indeed is to be feared, is the miserable state of the ungodly after their death. This is no cause at all, why the godly and faithful should fear death. To the contrary their conversion in this life, and belief in Christ by which they cleave continually to his mercies, should give them a longing desire for what undoubtedly follows bodily death. We look forward to an immortal state, after this transitory life where we shall live evermore in the presence of GOD, in joy, and rest. There we shall receive the victory Christ has won over all sickness, sorrow, sin, and death. Holy Scripture plainly confirms our weak consciences against the fear of sickness and bodily death, to assuage trembling and ungodly fear. God’s word speaks to encourage us with comfort and hope of a blessed state after this life. St Paul wished unto the Ephesians, that GOD the Father of glory would give unto them the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, that the eyes of their hearts might give life to know him, and to perceive the great things he had called them to, and how rich an inheritance he has prepared after this life, for his holy people (Ephesians 1.17-18). And St Paul himself declares the desire of his heart, which was to be dissolved and loosed from his body, and to be with Christ, which (as he said, was much better for him, although to them it was more necessary that he should live, which he refused not to, for their sakes, Philippians 1.23-24). From tradition we remember what St Martin said: Good Lord, if I be necessary for your people to do good to them, I will refuse no labour: but else for my own self, I beg you to take my soul from this world.
Now the holy Fathers of the old law, and all the faithful and righteous who departed before our Saviour Christ’s ascension into heaven, did by death depart from troubles unto rest, from the hands of their enemies, into the hands of GOD, from sorrow and sicknesses, to refreshing in Abraham’s bosom, a place of all comfort and consolation, as the Scriptures doe plainly by manifest words testify. The book of Wisdom in the apocrypha says, that the souls of the righteous are in the hands of GOD, and no torment shall touch them (Wisdom 3.1, 3). They seemed to the eyes of the foolish to die, and their death was counted miserable, and their departing out of this world wretched, but they are in rest. And in another place says, That the righteous shall live forever, and their reward is with the Lord, and their minds are with GOD, who is above all: therefore they shall receive a glorious Kingdom, and a beautiful crown at the Lords hand. And in another place the same book says, The righteous, though he is seized with sudden death, nevertheless he shall be where he shall be refreshed (Wisdom 4.7). Of Abraham’s bosom, Christ’s own word’s are so plain, that a Christian needs no more proof. Now then, if this were the state of the holy Fathers and righteous men, before the coming of our Saviour, and before he was glorified: how much more then ought all we to have a steadfast faith, and a sure hope of this blessed state after our death? Seeing that our Saviour now has performed the whole work of our redemption that the patriarchs faith reached for, and is gloriously ascended into heaven, to prepare our dwelling places with him, and said unto his Father, Father, I will that where I am, my servants shall be with me (John 17.24). And we know, that whatsoever Christ wills, his Father wills the same. Therefore it cannot be otherwise, if we are his faithful servants, those he calls friends, our souls shall be with him, after our departure out of this present life. Saint Stephen when he was stoned to death, even in the midst of his torments, what was his mind most upon? When he was full of the Holy Spirit as scripture says his eyes lifted up into heaven, and he saw the glory of GOD, and Jesus standing on the right hand of GOD. This came after he had confessed the truth boldly before the enemies of Christ. Then they drew him out of the City, and there they stoned him, and he cried unto GOD, saying, Lord Jesus Christ, take my spirit (Acts 7.55, 59). Does not our Saviour say plainly in Saint John’s Gospel: Very truly I say unto you, The one that hears my word, and believes in him who sent me, has everlasting life, and comes not into judgement, but shall passe from death to life (John 5.24)? Shall we not then think that death is precious, by which we passe unto life? Therefore it is a true saying of King David, The death of the holy and righteous, is precious in the Lords sight (Psalms 116.15). Holy Simeon, after he had his heart’s desire in seeing our Saviour, that he longed for his whole life, embraced, and took him in his arms, and said, “Now Lord, let me depart in peace, for mine eyes have beheld that Saviour, which thou hast prepared for all Nations (Luke 2.29, 31).
It is true that the death of the righteous is called peace, and the benefit of the Lord, as the Church says, in the name of the righteous departed out of this world: My soul turns you to your rest, for the Lord has been good to you, and rewarded you (Psalms 116.7). And we see by holy Scripture, and other ancient histories of Martyrs, that the holy, faithful, and righteous, ever since Christ’s ascension, or going up, in their death did not doubt, but that they went to Christ in Spirit. This going to Christ is our life, health, wealth, and salvation. John in his holy Revelation, saw an hundred forty and four thousand virgins and innocents, of whom he said: These follow the Lamb Jesus Christ wheresoever he goes. And shortly after in the same place John says: I heard a voice from heaven, saying unto me: write, happy and blessed are the dead, which die in the Lord: from henceforth they shall rest from their pains and labours (Revelations 14.4, 13). Then they shall reap with joy and comfort, that which they sowed with labours and pains.
They that sow in the spirit, of the spirit shall reap everlasting life. Let us therefore never be weary of doing good, for when the time of reaping or reward comes, we shall reap without any weariness everlasting joy. Therefore while we have time, as Saint Paul exhorts us, let us do good to all (Galatians 6.8-10), and not lay up our treasures in earth, where rust and moths corrupt it (Matthew 6.19). Saint James says that very dust shall bear witness against us at the great day, condemn us, and shall torment our resurrected flesh (James 5.3). Let us beware therefore as we tend our own wealth that we are neither miserly nor covetous. Saint James bids us to mourn and lament our tendency for greedy gathering, and ungodly keeping of goods. Let us be wise in time, and learn to follow the wise example of the wicked Steward Jesus spoke of in a parable. Let us so wisely order our goods and possessions, committed to us here by GOD for a season, that we may truly hear and obey this commandment of our Saviour Christ: I say unto you make such friends with your perishing wealth, that they may receive you into everlasting tabernacles, or dwellings (Luke 16.9). Riches are called wicked, because the world abuses it in wicked ways. Wealth otherwise is a good gift of GOD, and a tool by which GOD’S servants extend the mercy and love of God in their gardens. He commands us not to zealously make rich friends, to get high dignities and worldly promotions. He commands us not to give great gifts to the rich that have no need of them, but to make friends of the poor and miserable, to whom, what is given, Christ takes it as given to himself. To these friends Christ in the Gospel gives great honour. He says that He shall receive them that do good to the poor into everlasting houses: that our good work should be rewarded not by the world but by God.
Thus making poor wretches our friends, we make our Saviour Christ our friend, whose members they are: whose misery he takes for his own misery. Their relief and help, he takes also as if it were he himself that was relieved and helped. Jesus will as much thank us and reward us for our goodness shewed to them, as if he himself had received the benefit at our hands. He witnesses to this in the Gospel, saying, “Whatsoever you have done to any of these simple persons, who do believe in me, that have you done to myself (Matthew 25.40). Therefore let us diligently foresee, that our faith and hope which were conceived in Almighty GOD, and in our Savior Christ wax not faint, nor that the love which we bear in hand to bear to him, wax not cold. Let us study daily and diligently to show ourselves to be the true honourers and lovers of GOD, by keeping of his commandments, by doing of good deeds to our needy neighbours, relieving as we can their poverty with our abundance, their ignorance with our wisdom, and comfort their weakeness with our strength and authority, calling all back from evil by godly counsel and good example, persevering still in doing good, so long as we live.
So shall we not need to fear death for any of those three causes we have discussed nor yet for any other cause that can be imagined. Rather, considering the manifold sicknesses, troubles, and sorrows of this present life, the dangers of this perilous pilgrimage we know that our Spirit is encumbered by this sinful flesh, frail body, sorrows, the dangerous deceits of this world, our own intolerable pride, covetousness, and lechery. In time of prosperity we have the impatient murmuring of the worldly, in time of adversity, the murmuring of them that would pluck us from GOD, our Saviour Christ. Consider also the innumerable assaults of our Spiritual enemy the Devil, with all his fiery darts of ambition, pride, lechery, vainglory, envy, malice, detraction, backbiting, and other deceits and snares. He goes busily about to catch all under his dominion, like a roaring Lion, by all means searching whom he may devour (1 Peter 5.8). The faithful Christian considering all these perils must always fix their soul on the meditation of that blessed and comfortable state- of the heavenly life to come, and the sweet condition of them that depart in the Lord.
Remember how the saints are delivered from the continual encumbrances of their mortal and sinful body, from all the malice, crafts, and deceits of this world, from all the assaults of their Spiritual enemy, to live in peace, rest, and endless quietness. Our eternity is to live in the fellowship of innumerable Angels, and with the congregation of the perfect and just, the Patriarchs, Prophets, Martyrs, and Confessors, and in the presence of Almighty GOD, and our Saviour Jesus Christ. He that considers all these things, and believes them assuredly, from the bottom of his heart, through the merits of Jesus Christ shall not only be without fear of bodily death, when it comes, but certainly, shall happily desire that he may be rid from all these occasions of evil, and live ever to GOD’S pleasure (Philippians 1.23), in perfect obedience of his will, with our Saviour Jesus Christ, to whose gracious presence the Lord of his infinite mercy and grace bring us, to reign with him in life everlasting: to whom with our heavenly Father, and the holy Ghost, be glory in worlds without end. Amen.
This is the end of the third and final Exhortation against the fear of death.