For it is by grace you have been saved...

Friday, May 9, 2014

Consider Death

In the late 18th and early 19th Centuries in London, there were published items called Bills of Mortality.  It was a log, a list, of those who had died in the local area.  I guess it might be somewhat similar to the obituaries we have in our modern newspapers.

At one point, the well known poet William Cowper was asked to write a verse or two to accompany these lists.  Most folks may only know Cowper as the hymn writer (ie God Moves in a Mysterious Way), but in his day and even after, he was considered one of the foremost poets in England.

Cowper obliged the request, and several more after.  He penned half a dozen poems to be attached to these Bills of Mortality.  And while it may seem a bit morbid, Cowper used the opportunity to remind us that we all face this inevitable end.  And since that’s the case, we should consider our end now, and look to Christ to ensure that we end well.

Cowper was well acquainted with this juxtaposition of death and despair with hope in Christ.  He himself struggled with depression and melancholy, and is known to have attempted suicide.  His friendship with John Newton was one of his encouragements, and Newton always helped him look back to Christ. 

Here is one of those poems on mortality, with the wonderful “punchline” at the end. Far from being morbid, I hope it encourages us to think of our own mortality and our desperate need for Christ and the hope He gives.

Thankless for favours from on high,
Man thinks he fades too soon;
Though 'tis his privilege to die,
Would he improve the boon.

But he, not wise enough to scan
His blest concerns aright,
Would gladly stretch life's little span
To ages, if he might;

To ages in a world of pain,
To ages, where he goes
Galled by affliction's heavy chain,
And hopeless of repose.

Strange fondness of the human heart,
Enamoured of its harm!
Strange world, that costs it so much smart,
And still has power to charm.

Whence has the world her magic power?
Why deem we death a foe?
Recoil from weary life's best hour,
And covet longer woe?

The cause is Conscience :-- Conscience oft
Her tale of guilt renews;
Her voice is terrible though soft,
And dread of death ensues.

Then anxious to be longer spared,
Man mourns his fleeting breath:
All evils then seem light compared
With the approach of Death.

'Tis judgement shakes him; there's the fear
That prompts the wish to stay:
He has incurred a long arrear,
And must despair to pay.

Pay! --follow Christ, and all is paid;
His death your peace ensures;
Think on the grave where he was laid,
And calm descend to yours.

No comments: