What’s the most important thing we can learn from Billy Graham’s passing? “Billy Graham tackled the topic of death often and with surprising frankness”. This is how the Washington Post began one of the more unusual reflections on his passing. Quite an unusual theme for a secular newspaper. “When Graham preached, he said that death was, of course, inevitable”. How do we prepare for the inevitable? First, he said, “accept the fact that you will die.” Second, “make arrangements.” Third, “make provision for those you are leaving behind”. And finally, “make an appointment with God.” Whatever else might be said about Billy Graham nothing was more important than how he approached this. He faced this reality with all seriousness. To do so depends on treating life itself with all seriousness too. “Each of us is given the exact same amount of seconds, minutes and hours per day as anyone else. The difference is how we redeem [them]”.
Graham got this from the Shorter Catechism that he memorised perfectly as a boy. It begins “Man’s chief end is to glorify God and to enjoy him forever”. “My mother did just that”, he wrote. While Graham may not have held onto the whole of the Catechism, he certainly held onto this amongst other points. We can expand much further on these thoughts in relation to preparing for the inevitable. James Durham has some vital considerations in relation to what it means to prepare for eternity.
(a) Flee to Christ
Flee to Christ by faith and make peace with God through Him.
(b) Make your Calling and Election Sure
We must endeavour to make our calling and election sure by well doing. Although our justification before God does not depend on this, much of our comfort and confidence does depend on it. It is no doubt our duty to labour to make it sure.
(c) Live in Holiness
There must be a holy walk. we may have a good conscience at Christ’s appearing though this. There can never be boldness and confidence where there is a stinging conscience within and accusations for sinning against light.
1. Live with Faith in Eternal Realities
Seek to establish yourselves in believing the general truths that concern your death. Be established and confirmed in faith concerning death, judgment and eternity – for your eternal good or ill. Do not have a mere general conviction that these things are true. Apply them specifically to yourself by meditation. You will die and after death you will come to the Judgement and be eternally happy or miserable.
One of the great evils that encourages Atheism is people living as if they were never to die
Solid belief about death, judgement and eternity is thus a foundation for living well. Those who do not lay this foundation can never live well. They must consider how conscience will accuse them at death and how they can deal with this now. They need to see what trials and temptations they will have then and how to guard against them.
Endeavour to draw death and judgement near to you,, meditate closely upon them. Suppose death were approaching you this very night. Consider whether you would be ready to appear before God’s tribunal to be judged. Thinking more about this would help us, through God’s blessing, to put sin to death and have little to do when death comes.
But the truth is, most never think on death seriously. They do not desire any other life than the present, they shun thoughts of death. How few hours are taken to think upon it? Suppose you were to come before a human court with a matter that greatly concerned you in the world. Would you not think about it again and again beforehand? Yet even the most momentuous of such matters are but trifles compared to this great matter of how you will die and appear before the great God and His Judgement seat.
2. Live in Gospel Duties
There are particular du∣ties that have a special influence on preparing for deat.
Do you think it possible to die with comfort if you are not acquainted with the state of your spiritual affairs? If you do not endeavour to have your accounts with God reckoned up? Neglect of this is a great plague. That which makes death so terrible to many is having lived thirty, forty, fifty, sixty years without having ever endeavoured to reckon their accounts with God, let alone have them cleared.
Repentance is a rare thing even among Christians in these days. It is a special duty related to dying in Christ. When we see ourselves wrong in anything (many may be easily found in self-examination) we must not leave it there. We must be earnest with God until are conscious of forgiveness, this cannot be had until repentance is exercised. Repentance and faith always go together.
Repentance makes the heart tender and removes the accusations that make death terrifying. It is also a great enemy to complacency, presumption and pride. It keeps the heart melting and pouring itself out before God. The lack of repentance in our day is obvious in the coldness of our worship and in the worldliness of our walk. Those who desire to die in the Lord must exercise this grace and duty. There is nothing more requisite then a penitent heart when we are to meet with Christ at death.
(c) Putting Sin to Death
This is a painful but profitable duty. Be crucified to the world, die to your lusts and carnal delights. Pull up the roots of sin and kill its activities. Weed it out of the heart. Put to death envy, anger, pride, inordinate desires etc. Seek to have your affections heavenly which prepares us for dying in the Lord.
“Let your moderation be known to all men” (Philippians 4:5). Many are so glued to the things of this world and delights and pleasures which are lawful in themselves, that they are entangled and fettered with them and made unfit for dying. They do not use them in moderation. Inordinate love for children, friends, lands, houses, farms and the married wife unfits them for dying. We must gird up the loins of our mind and be sober (1 Peter 1:13). Those who do not use lawful pleasures in moderation are like those with long garments which trip them up and impede them in walking and work. When our affections hang loose and drag on the earth and the things that are in it and the mind wanders after these things, the man cannot be busy at his main work. He cannot make progress in his journey to heaven.
Moderation fits a man for his work and makes the way easy. It makes him content with his house and whatever is his condition and lot in the world. It does not allow his affections to be entangled with them, it makes him use this world as not abusing it (1 Corinthians 7). Our blessed Lord Jesus powerfully dissuades us from giving ourselves too much to the things of this life (Luke 21:34). This makes us as indisposed for death and judgement as overeating or drunkenness make us indisposed in general.
3. Live with Thoughts of Death
Those who desire to die in the Lord should carry the thoughts of death along with them. They should be as if every day and moment were their last. They should be as if they were just now to appear before God and as if they were indifferent (in a holy way) what hour or moment He would call them. God has not let us know the precise time of our life here. Some have observed that in Ecclesiastes chapter 3 that there is a time for everything, a time to be born, a time to die, a time to laugh and a time to weep but there is none for living. No one can say I must or I shall live until tomorrow. Do now what you would be found doing when death comes.
Some may ask if it is possible always to have these things in mind. But it is like doing everything to the glory of God, it is not to be understood as if we could actually keep it in mind in everything we do. Our minds are only finite and are therefore unable to keep many things in mind or different things at the same time.
4. Live with Adversity
Those who desire to die in the Lord should not seek after a pampered life but learn to submit to difficulties and troubles. We should neither go out of our way to seek such things nor to avoid them. Solomon says that it is better to be in the house of mourning than in the house of feasting (Ecclesiastes 7:2). This is because few living in prosperity are content and disposed to die and adversity works best to loosen our grips from the world. It is hard to be glutted with the things of the world and live in a prosperous and plentiful condition and not be drawn away from spiritual things.
5. Live but Die Daily
Paul could say “I die daily” (1 Corinthians 15:31). This is not just to do with his daily dangers but his seeking to anticipate death, in dying while he was living and before death came. This involves:
(a) a conviction that death is certain
(b) considering the continual potential for dying;
(c) preparing for and being in continual readiness to die; and
(d) anticipating what it will be like to die before death comes.
We must consider how we will answer death’s call. Every day we should be doing what we would want to be found doing when death comes. We should endeavour to have all things in order
When praying in the morning we should be ready as if we were never again to go out into the world. When we lie down at night it should be as if we might not rise againe in the morning. When we speak or act we should speak and act like those who do not have a long time to live.
6. Live According to Conscience Echoing Scripture
Put into practice what your own conscience according to the Scriptures show is necessary for making and keeping your peace with God. Ordinarily, this is one of the main accusations of conscience that meets people at death, that they have have not put into many things they were convinced of. They have evaded, delayed and put off opportunities for duties. They have not reformed the faults they were convinced of.
Do whatever your hand finds to do with all your might (Ecclesiastes 9:10). Be serious and diligent in doing without delay what you know to be right. Do not neglect this as a thing of little concern. Death is the door to heaven and death is at the door. Living well is the way to dying well. If you would live and die in the Lord, give weight to these directions and practice them in the strength of God’s own grace.