I Am Afraid To Die, What Shall I Do?
January 31st, 1982 @ 7:30 PM
Dr. W. A. Criswell
1-31-82 7:30 p.m.
It is a joy to welcome the multitudes of you who are rejoicing with us in the First Baptist Church of Dallas. This is the pastor bringing the message. In the evening services at 7:00 o’clock, they follow the theme: "What shall I do?"
I Am Lost: What Shall I Do?
I Am Full of Guilt: What Shall I Do?
And tonight: I Am Afraid of Death – I Am Afraid to Die: What Shall I Do?
Turn with me in your Bible to the thirty-eighth chapter of Isaiah. Isaiah, chapter 38, and we’re going to read the first five verses; and we’ll read it out loud together. Isaiah, chapter 38, verses 1-5. If we have it, let’s read it out loud together – 1 through 5, chapter 38 in Isaiah:
In those days was Hezekiah sick unto death. And Isaiah the prophet, the son of Amoz, came unto him and said unto him, "Thus saith the Lord: ‘Set thine house in order, for thou shalt die, and not live.’"
Then Hezekiah turned his face toward the wall, and prayed unto the Lord,
And said, "Remember now, O Lord, I beseech Thee, how I have walked before Thee in truth and with a perfect heart, and have done that which is good in Thy sight." And Hezekiah wept sore.
Then came the word of the Lord to Isaiah, saying,
"Go, and say to Hezekiah, ‘Thus saith the Lord, the God of David thy father, "I have heard thy prayer, I have seen thy tears; behold I will add unto thy days fifteen years."’"
And the background text: "Thus saith the Lord: ‘Set thine house in order, for thou shalt die, and not live.’ And Hezekiah turned his face toward the wall . . . and wept sore" [Isaiah 38:1-3]. I face death. Shall I be afraid?
There is an instinctive reaction in all animal life – the fear of death – and it is for the preservation of life itself. There’s no animal but that facing death will either run, or fight, or bite, or sting. It is an in-built, instinctive, intuitive characteristic; and we are no less like that. There is an instinctive revulsion and repulsion in us against death; and being human and intelligent, death has for us an horrible visage. The dissolution, and the corruption, and the disorder, and the disarray of our physical frame is awesome to behold. We hide it away. We put it out of sight and out of mind.
Death is an horrible visitor. He has no respect of persons. No matter who or how or why we are, death is just the same – universal: we never rise above it.
I said in mine heart, "Concerning the estate of men . . . that they see themselves as beasts."
For that which befalleth the sons of men befalleth beasts; even one thing befalleth them: as one dieth, so dieth the other. They have all one breath; man has no preeminence above a beast . . .
All go into one place: all are of the dust, and all to dust return.
Thus the preacher in Ecclesiastes 3:18-20 lamented over our universal fate. No matter who we are, we’re like animals. They die and we die.
The boast of heraldry, the pomp of power,
All that beauty, all that wealth e’er [ever] gave,
Await alike the inevitable hour.
The paths of glory lead but to the grave.
["Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard," Thomas Gray, 1751]
When we die, we die alone. We die for ourselves. Nobody dies for us. We are shut off, and cut off, and isolated from the entire creation – the family, the friend, all that we’ve ever known in our lives. A man stands at the door of eternity every day that he lives. He is every day building his own sepulcher; and the stones of his grave, cruel and inexorable, finally fall upon him.
In all of the manifestations of life, we see the evidence of our mortality. Do you live in a house? Death knocks at the door to destroy and disrupt the family – tear it apart. Do you live in a town? Death visits and increases and enlarge its cemeteries. Do you go to the marketplace? There are new faces and new companies there all the time as the old die away. Do you go to church? In one decade, one out of every four will be gone. Do you live in a nation? You live in a nation then of a shifting and changing population.
We have no lease. Our occupancy is but for a moment [Job 7:6-7, 9:25-26, 14:1-2; Psalm 39:5; James 1:10, 4:14; 1 Peter 1:24]. There is a despair in death with its dark plumes of midnight and with its skull and its crossbones. There is a despair in death that is universal.
But the Holy Scriptures bring to us a hope for the child of God:
And the Word of the Lord came unto Ezekiel saying,
"Son of man, I take away the love of your heart, the desire of your eyes with a stroke; yet neither shalt thou mourn nor weep, neither shall thy tears run down.
Forbear to cry, make no mourning for the dead; bind the tire of thine head upon thee, and put on thy shoes upon thy feet; and cover not thy lips, and eat not the bread of men."
So I spake unto the people in the morning, and at eve my wife died; and I did in the morning as I was commanded.
"Ezekiel, you’re to stand before the people as My prophet, and My preacher, My emissary, My plenipotentiary; and while you stand delivering God’s message, your wife – the love of your heart and the desire of your eyes – will be taken away." She will die, as the Scriptures say, "at one stroke" [Ezekiel 24:16]. And Ezekiel stood before the people and did as he was commanded [Ezekiel 24:18]. His wife died in the [evening], and he refused under the commandment of God to lament or to cry [Ezekiel 24:18].
There’s several things about that that are very apparent. Number one is this and the most flagrant is this: religion is no insurance against illness, sickness, disease, suffering, and death. This is no accident. This is not in the permissive will of God. This is an act of the Almighty Himself: "Your wife will die while you stand to preach" [Ezekiel 24:16].
A second thing very apparent about that: there is not to be a deviation or a cessation in your work because of death. Other men of the world become bitter or cynical or rebellious against the mortalities of life, the lessening of power, or age, or the dimming of influence, and finally dissolution and death. But not the child of God. He is to continue on in great commitment and force even though death visits either him or his people.
Will you look again? It is God that chooses the day of our decease. It is His hands that open those gates to glory and none other. It will not be an accident. It will not be fortuitous or adventitious. When the day of our death comes, it will be in the choice of the elective purpose of God. It will be His kindness, and goodness, and elective choice when we’re taken away.
Will you notice again in our passage in Isaiah? The Lord God sent Isaiah to Hezekiah saying, "Set thine house in order, for thou shalt die and not live" [Isaiah 38:1]. This was God’s will for Hezekiah.
The Lord is tender, and merciful, and moved by our intercession and by our praying; and when Hezekiah turned his face to the wall and wept before God because of the sentence of death, God changed His heart and His purpose and turned Isaiah around and sent him back saying, "I give to you, Hezekiah, fifteen more years. I have heard your prayers. I have seen your tears, and I add fifteen years to your life" [Isaiah 38:2-5].
What happened in that fifteen years was Manasseh was born [2 Kings 20:1-21]. Manasseh followed Hezekiah as king of Judah [2 Kings 20:21; 2 Chronicles 32:33]; and the Scriptures say, several times, because of the wickedness, because of the vile reign, because of the blood on his hands, because of the sins of Manasseh [2 Kings 21:1-18; Chronicles 33:1-20], God destroyed Judah from His sight – delivered the nation into the hands of the Chaldeans, burned the temple, and carried the people away into slavery and captivity [2 Kings 21:10-15]. It is better for God’s will to be done than for us ever to interfere or to plead or to pray or to cry against it.
When I was a boy, I heard of a woman whose baby boy was sick unto death, and she cried and lamented before God; and the Lord heard her prayers, saw her tears, and gave life to that little baby boy. And she lived to see the day when he was electrocuted in the state penitentiary – a criminal of the vilest kind. How much better had it been if God had taken the little baby boy when it was innocent – before it fell into a life of felonious crime?
Let God’s will be done; and our prayer always is, "Lord, if life and length of days can glorify Thy name, then, God, let me live; but if in my death, I am better with Thee than down here in this earth, Thy will be done" [Matthew 26:36-46; Mark 14:32-42; Luke 22:39-46; Philippians 1:21-26; James 4:15]. Always.
Do you know another thing as we face death? In the light of the Scriptures of the revelation of God, there is, of course, in us an instinctive revulsion against the horror of corruption and decay; but the Bible over and over and over again will repeat to us that oft-repeated refrain – repeated more than a hundred times in the Bible – "Do not be afraid. Fear not."
God has a message for us. Death is in His hands, and we’re not to fear [Matthew 10:28]. In the first chapter of the Book of the Revelation when the Apostle John falls at the feet of Jesus, he became as one dead [Revelation 1:17]; and the Scriptures say in verses 17 and 18, Jesus reached forth and put His right hand upon him and said, "Fear not . . . I am He that liveth, and was dead, and behold, I am alive forevermore. And I, I have the keys of hell and of death, of the grave and of death." They are in His almighty hands. There is no inclination on the part of the Bible to cover over the horror of death. It is just that God says, "I am with you in it, and I preside over it" [Psalm 23:4].
The Bible has such a different attitude toward death than other religions and poetry. The Bible never seeks to gloss over the terror of death. It never seeks by cosmetic covering to make it appear beautiful or acceptable. It never speaks of it in poetic sentimentality as though we wrap our robes around ourselves into pleasant dreams. The Bible presents death as an enemy [1 Corinthians 15:26; 2 Timothy 1:10; Hebrews 2:14], as an interluder, and it never deviates from that presentation.
For example, did you ever consider the ideal of the Greek as he died and the way Jesus died? Did you ever consider the way the Buddhist in idealism faces death and the way Jesus faced it?
The ideal of the Greek is found in Socrates of whom Plato constantly writes; and when time came for Socrates to drink the hemlock and to die, he did it with supercilious scorn for the effects of the poison. And as the poison began to numb his feet and his legs and come up to the vital parts of his body, just before he dies, Socrates turns to Crito, his friend, and says, "Crito, by the way, I owe to Asclepius, the god of healing, a cock. Be sure and pay it" [Phaedo, Plato, 360 BCE]. That’s the last word that he said with scorn and disdain. That’s the Greek.
Did you ever think about Buddha – Gautama the Buddha? As he faces death and teaches his people, he speaks of it in terms of Nirvana. We just waft away in our high poetic, sentimental thoughts – entering Nirvana now.
Look how Jesus faced it: in an agony, in an agony. To Jesus, death was a horrible thing. It was a terrible thing. It was an enemy, and He cried out against it [Matthew 27:45-50; Mark 15:33-37; Luke 23:44-46; John 19:28-30].
The Bible of all of the books in the world is realistic, and the Bible’s presentation of death is our experience. Death is a horrible thing. I’ve seen people die. I don’t know how many. It is a horrible thing. The dissolution of the body, the decay, the set of the eyes – O God, it is a terror, the king of terrors! The Bible doesn’t hide that away nor does it seek by sentimental expressions to cover it up.
But the Scriptures say to us, "Don’t be afraid. I am the One who lived, and was dead, and behold, I am alive forevermore. And I – I have the keys of death and of hell" [Revelation 1:18].
The Lord presents Himself as one with us. Never does He present Himself as on a pedestal, separated and apart from us, but always as one with us. The Lord is never presented as being righteous and we’re unrighteous, or as being strong and we’re weak, or as being fortunate and we’re unfortunate. But the Lord always presents Himself as one with us.
Do we struggle? He struggled [Hebrews 12:1-4]. Do we descend into the depths? He descended into the depths [Ephesians 4:9-10]. Did He cry in agony? [Matthew 27:46; Mark 15:34]. We do too. Do we have frustration and humiliation and shame and heartache and tears? He did too [Isaiah 50:6, 53:1-12; Hebrews 12:2]. He never sets Himself apart from us. He is one with us. He stands by our sides [Matthew 28:20; Hebrews 2:9-18]. He’s as close as a prayer. He’s as near as our breath [Isaiah 53:2-5; Hebrews 4:15]; and as such, He says to us, "Do not be afraid. I have been there. There are no depths into which I have not descended, and there’s not any agony that I haven’t endured. I have been there, and I will stand by you."
This passage in 2 Timothy 1:10 is such a marvelous, victorious word: "He hath abolished death and brought life and immortality to light." That word "abolished" means He’s made it of none effect. He has taken the sting out of it and the victory out of it [1 Corinthians 15:54-57]. He has abolished death. That’s one of the most tremendous passages in the Bible. Jesus our Lord is King over the king of terrors. He is Lord over the law of universal death [Mark 2:1-13; 5:21-43; Luke 7:11-17, 8:40-42, 8:-56; John 11:1-44]. Did you ever think of the Lord Jesus as being superior to all the laws of nature?
We think nature runs its course, inexorable and inevitable, and we cringe before it; but He is superior to the laws of nature – our Lord is [Matthew 21:18-22; Mark 11:12-14, 20-22]. He spoke to the winds as they roared and they ceased, to the waves as they rose, they were quiet [Mark 4:37-41; Luke 8:22-25]. He spoke to the diseases and the disasters of life [Matthew 4:24, 9:1-8, 10:7-8, 11:2-6; Mark 1:34; Luke 4:40, 6:17-19, 7:1-17, 7:18-22, 9:1, 17:11-19], and He’s superior to all of the laws of nature, and He is superior to the law of universal death. He is King over the king of terrors.
And our lives, because of Him, and our bodies, because of Him, are not confined forever to the dust. Never. Never. This body is "sown in corruption, it is raised in incorruption. It is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory. It is sown in weakness, it is raised in power. It is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body" [1 Corinthians 15:42-44]. And this body shall someday – if Christ delays and I fall into the dust – this body shall hear the sound of the trumpet and shall rise from the dead [1 Thessalonians 4:16-17].
In this last terrible World War, there was a great German poet and pastor and theologian; and when the awesome Holocaust destroyed his country and his nation, on a Easter Sunday morning, he closed his sermon with this:
When I die and someone finds my skull, may this skull preach to him as follows: I have no eyes, but I see Him. I have no brain nor understanding, yet I know Him. I have no lips, but I kissed Him. I have no tongue, but I praise Him with all of you who call upon His name. I am a hard skull, yet I am softened and melted in His love. I lie without in the churchyard, yet I am within paradise. All suffering is forgotten because of His great love when, for us, He bore His cross and went to Calvary.
[from H.F. KohlbrÃ¼gge, "Passionspredigten," 1875]
Death has no sting for the child of God [1 Corinthians 15:55]; and if my body turns to the dust of the ground, yet it shall rise to praise His name. "Though through my skin worms destroy this body, yet in my flesh shall I see God" [Job 19:26]. And these ears shall hear His voice, and these eyes look upon His glory, and these hands fold in adoration before Him, and these very knees bow in love and worship.
"Set thine house in order, for thou shalt die and not live" [Isaiah 38:1]. What is God’s order? How shall I set my life in order that I might face death? Here’s one way: I can do it by trying to offer to God good works. My problem in that is this: how do I ever know that they’re good enough, and how do I know if I am good enough all the way through the years of my life? How do I know but that at the end I will finally fall? That kind of a faith and that kind of a religion leads to nothing but agonizing anxiety. "Lord, Lord, am I saved? Dear God, am I righteous enough? Am I good enough?"
And I prepare for that final and ultimate day. I can’t do it by my good works [Ephesians 2:8-9]. I’ll never know whether they were good enough. Nor can I prepare for that day – "Set thine house in order, for thou shalt die and not live" – nor can I prepare for that day by braggadocio and scorn of the inevitable judgment. I can’t prepare for that day by words of fearlessness and human bravery. That’s one of the strangest things that you’ll ever find in human life – how men deign, supposedly, to scorn the day of death. But when you look at it closely, how do those men die?
David Hume, a philosopher and infidel – a famous one – ranted against the cross, ridiculed Christ, and at the same time confidently claimed that when his time came to die, he would face death fearlessly. Now, that’s David Hume, one of the great philosophers of all history. He’s a Scotsman. Now, I’m going to read from his housekeeper who was with him to the day that he died who wrote this:
When he was alone – this great infidel who said he wasn’t afraid of death – when he was alone the scene was different. His mental agitation was so great as often to alarm me greatly. He struggled to appear composed even before me. But to one who had attended his bedside for many days and nights, who witnessed his disturbed sleep and more disturbed workings, who frequently heard his breathings of remorse and frightful startings, it was no difficult matter to determine that all was not right within. This continued and increased until he became insensible. I hope I may never be called upon to witness a similar scene.
["On the Death-Bed of Hume the Historian," The Christian Observer, Vol. 30, No. 11, 665.]
On the outside brave, but on the inside cowering in infinite and indescribable agitation.
I read from Warden [Lewis E.] Lawes of Sing Sing prison who for a generation presided over that awesome penitentiary. He spoke of the years that he had witnessed the electrocution of sinners – vile murderers, hardened criminals – in that penitentiary, and he said, "Though they seemed to be brave and tried to assume a front of fearlessness," he said, "when the day of their execution came, they had to be dragged to the electric chair. They were terror struck."
I was amazed to read in the life of Adolph Hitler, he lived his days in mortal fear of death; and when his highest, closest, finest officers came to visit him, they were all carefully searched before they entered into his presence.
Did you read this? I hold in my hand this latest book that the pastor has published. It’s called Abiding Hope. It is a devotional guide; and Dr. and Mrs. Paige Patterson went through the thirty-nine books, or forty, that I have published and cut out pericopes of little incidents in my life that illustrate Scriptures, and they made a devotional book out of it. We read it each morning at our breakfast table. This is the one for January 25 on the Scripture: "I know that my Redeemer liveth, and that He shall stand in the latter day upon the earth" [Job 19:25].
Did you read it? This is my word: "Once I stood" – your pastor –
Once I stood before the baptistery of the William Carey Memorial Baptist Church in Calcutta, India. Beside the baptistery was a large, white, marble plaque which bore an inscription identifying this as the place where Adoniram Judson, his wife, Anne Hasseltine Judson, and Luther Rice were baptized into the Baptist communion.
They had been sent out as missionaries – the first missionaries ever to be sent from America. They had been sent out as missionaries by the Congregational Board of Missions. Now, when they became Baptists, they were cut off from support, and it was agreed that the Judsons would go on to Burma while Luther Rice would return to America to raise support, and that was the beginning of the Baptist denomination – when Luther Rice came back to America to raise support for Adoniram Judson and his wife in Burma over there in the Orient.
Now, this man Adoniram Judson:
As a young man, Adoniram attended Brown University, our oldest Baptist institution. During his college days, he returned home and announced to his parents, ‘I am an infidel. I do not believe in God, and I certainly do not believe in Christ and less do I believe in the church.’
The announcement shocked his godly father and broke the heart of his mother. He went out from his father’s house, leaving the faith and the church, intending to live a prodigal and debauched life. As he journeyed, he came to a country inn and asked the landlord for a night’s lodging. The landlord said, ‘Yes, I have a room, but in the room next to it is a man dying. Would that bother you?’
Judson replied, ‘Ha! I’m not afraid of death! I will take the room.’
Through the hours of the night, he listened to the agony, the cries, and the convulsions of the man in the next room. He wasn’t able to get that man out of his heart thinking, ‘Is he ready to die? Is he ready to meet God?’
The next morning, Judson sought out the landlord to ask about the dying man. The landlord replied, ‘Sir, he is dead.’
Judson asked, ‘Did you know he was?’
‘Yes,’ said the landlord, ‘he was a young fellow from Brown University.’
Judson cried, ‘Brown University? What was his name?’
And the landlord answered, ‘His name was Elbert Winthrop.’
Adoniram Judson astonished and awestruck for that was the very young man who had introduced him to infidelity.
He fell on his face and asked God to forgive him. He returned to his mother and father. He made a confession of faith in the Baptist church and was received into membership. He enrolled in the seminary and became our first missionary.
It’s all right to be an infidel. Just don’t die. It’s all right to scorn the cross. Just be sure you’re immortal. It’s fine to make fun of the faith, and the church, and the grace and mercy and love of the Lord Jesus. Just be sure you’re able to face the forever without God’s help and God’s grace and God’s mercy.
I am afraid to die: what shall I do? This is what I shall do. I shall take my poor soul and my decaying body to the Lord Jesus.
Lord Jesus, I’m not equal to these things. Death is stronger than I; and the vast, unmeasured eternity that is yet to come, Lord, be my pilot and my fellow pilgrim and my friend and my advocate, my guide and my Savior. And through those troubled waters of death and the judgment, Lord, stand by me.
It’s a remarkable thing in the Bible. You’ll find very little in the Bible about the lamenting of families in death, but you’ll find a lot in the Bible about the singing of the saints, about the glory of God’s children, about the promises of the Lord for His people in heaven.
And I close as the Bible closes: "He which testifieth these things saith, ‘Surely I come quickly’" [Revelation 22:20] – either as He descends for us, or as we arise to meet Him – one or the other [1 Thessalonians 4:16-17]. There’s no difference. Whether I fall into His arms in death or whether He reaches down to rapture me to heaven, it’s just the same. It’s Jesus, my Lord.
And as the closing prayer of the Bible: "Even so, come, blessed Jesus" [Revelation 22:20]. If I know my heart, I’m ready. Any day. Any time. Come, precious Savior. May we stand together?
Our Lord in heaven, the Lord of life and the Lord of death, all of us live in the presence of that terrible enemy. In the morning, we shall bury one of our men – a minister of the gospel. In the afternoon, we shall bury one of our sweetest, dearest mothers. Ah, Lord, we live in the presence of that cruel, heartless terror; but, our Lord, in our weakness we find strength in Thee. God be praised that Jesus is stronger and superior to the laws of nature and to the law of death. Death is no equal to the blessed Jesus. He went into the very grave itself and conquered death and the grave and rose victorious, and He won that war for us. He is our Savior. He’s our victor. He’s our King forever. O blessed be His wonderful name. And, our Lord, when time comes for me to die, and when the time comes for us to die, Master, may we face that inexorable moment with joy and with praise and with triumph – in life, loving Thee; in death, committing our souls to Thee; in the great resurrection day, rising to magnify and worship Thee.
And in this moment that our people pray just for you, come. Come to the Lord. Come to be with us. We’re your fellow pilgrims walking with the Savior. Make that decision now in your heart; and in a moment when we sing our song, down one of those stairways, down one of these aisles, come. Welcome. Come. A family you, a couple you, or just one somebody you: "I am opening my heart to the Lord Jesus, and here I stand." God speed you in the way. Angels attend you as you walk down that stairway or walk down that aisle. Do it. God bless you in the answer of your life.
And, our Father, make us quiet and happy in Thee. O what a Savior, what a Lord, what a great King. God, stand by us, see us through, save us to Thyself forever – in Thy wonderful Name, Amen.
I AM AFRAID TO DIE, WHAT SHALL I DO?
Dr. W. A. Criswell
I. The natural fear of death
A. A mechanism to preserve life
B. Death, a terrible visage (Ecclesiastes 3:18-20)
C. The loneliness of dying
D. Evidence of our mortality
II. Death to the child of God
A. In God’s hands and will
1. An act of God (Ezekiel 24:15-18)
a. Religion is not insurance against suffering and death
b. No deviation or cessation of your work
B. God’s will isâ€¦but
1. Hezekiah’s life extended fifteen years
a. Manasseh is born
C. God’s message of "Fear not"
D. Victory in Jesus (Revelation 1:17-19)
1. He has abolished death (2 Timothy 1:10)
2. We are not confined to dust (1 Corinthians 15:42-44)
III. Preparing for death
A. Good works will not prepare us
B. Human bravery, braggadocio and scorn will not prepare us