As the new year approaches, many will look ahead to 2016 and make resolutions. They will want to make changes to make this coming year a better one. Yet as this year ends, what about a sober reflection that truly looks ahead and plans for the future? How about a few resolutions that prepare you for the inevitability of your death?
Being the holiday season, some will view this as morbid, I know. Yet have you not seen one of those lists of celebrity deaths of 2015 that appear in the magazines? Seeing the passing of people who in your mind’s eye seem forever young, such as Kevin Corcoran, the child star of the movie Old Yeller, reminds you of how fleeting this life is. If we packed for a trip this holiday season, should we not also get ready to leave this earth?
John Bunyan reminds us in vivid ways in The Pilgrim’s Progress of the journey those in Christ are on. We travel through the difficulties of this world, headed ever onward toward the Celestial City. However, as Christian and his companion Hopeful found, one great obstacle to arriving there is a deep river, with no bridge to cross it – Bunyan’s picture of death. Christian and his friend’s reaction in encountering this river captures well our own feelings when we contemplate death.
At the sight, therefore, of this river the pilgrims were much stunned…The pilgrims then, especially Christian, began to despond in their mind, and looked this way and that, but no way could be found by them by which they might escape the river.
Perhaps one way to not be so stunned and despondent when we encounter this river is to more actively live knowing we must pass through it.
In his famous seventy resolutions, Jonathan Edwards clearly lived with death in view. Here are five of his practical resolutions summarized, followed by the numbered reference(s) that exhibit his awareness of the need to be prepared for death.
Spend regular time contemplating your own mortality. “9. Resolved, to think much on all occasions of my own dying, and of the common circumstances which attend death. 10. Resolved, when I feel pain, to think of the pains of martyrdom, and of hell.”
Store up vigorously heavenly treasures. “22. Resolved, to endeavor to obtain for myself as much happiness, in the other world, as I possibly can, with all the power; might, vigor, and vehemence, yea violence, I am capable of, or can bring myself to exert, in any way that can be thought of.”
Live like it is your last hour. “7. Resolved, never to do anything, which I should be afraid to do, if it were the last hour of my life. 19. Resolved, never to do anything, which I should be afraid to do, if I expected it would not be above an hour, before I should hear the last trump. 17. Resolved, that I will live so as I shall wish I had done when I come to die. 52. I frequently hear persons in old age say how they would live, if they were to live their lives over again: Resolved, that I will live just so as I can think I shall wish I had done, supposing I live to old age.”
Remind yourself often that you belong to Jesus. “43. Resolved, never henceforward, till I die, to act as if I were anyway my own, but entirely and altogether God’s.”
Practice your union with Christ every day. “48. Resolved, constantly, with the utmost niceness and diligence, and the strictest scrutiny, to be looking into the state of my soul, that I may know whether I have truly an interest in Christ or no; that when I come to die, I may not have any negligence respecting this to repent of.”
As Bunyan relates, and as my own mom reminded me at her passing through the river a few months ago, it is especially that last resolution that will comfort us in the end.
Then I saw in my dream, that Christian was in a muse a while. To whom also Hopeful added these words, Be of good cheer, Jesus Christ maketh thee whole. And with that Christian brake out with a loud voice, Oh, I see him again; and he tells me, “When thou passest through the waters, I will be with thee; and through the rivers, they shall not overflow thee.” Isa. 43:2. Then they both took courage, and the enemy was after that as still as a stone, until they were gone over. Christian, therefore, presently found ground to stand upon, and so it followed that the rest of the river was but shallow. Thus they got over.