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quiet rest. This gate of destiny, like the doors of the retiring day, lies ever westward, and we are all, whether consciously or not, yet surely and continually travellers towards the land of the setting sun and of the dying light, where the mists hang heavily and the horizon of life ends in a thin undistinguished line upon the borderland of death. Yes, we are all ever passing westwards, and the feet of the young child in the cradle, as of the old man upon his bed, are alike* towards the dim, uncertain west. It is the dead only, who are laid to sleep in the churchyard with their feet towards the East, as resting thus, in the hope of our charity, to awake again in the resurrection upon the morning of the last Advent. Yet this we know, that even in the first moment of death, when each one of Christ's true pilgrim-train reaches the dividing-line of day and night, and the journey westward is done, the gate of the sunset becomes the gate of the Sunrise, and the pale western twilight an eastern glory of eternal Vision.
For death is like a gate set upon the top of a hill, and the ascent exhausts all the strength and wastes the breath. It is a hill hard to climb, and in lingering deaths the way seems long and far to go. Always are we travelling on wards towards this gate over the wide plains of life, a doomed procession of human souls, passing at last into, and disappearing within its shadow; a shadow which deepens into an endless midnight of gloom, or brightens suddenly into the eternal light of God. There seems an allusion to this image in those consolatory words of the risen and glorified Jesus : ‘I have the keys of death and of Hades.' This is, at least, the order of the words in the best MSS., +
* It is remarkable that the book of man's creation, where also his fall and sentence are written, ends with the significant words, ' in a coffin.' Gen. xlix. 26.
+ Cf. the digest of various readings in Alford, Greek Testament,
and thus a proper sequence is preserved, death being the gate into the invisible world. That gate opens continually for the awful procession of the dying, for it is calculated that with each beat of time several souls are passing from earth. Is it not our consolation that the pitiful Eyes of Jesus watch the ceaseless cloud of frightened souls, and that the Christ of the pierced hands holds the fateful keys of this tremendous gate of destiny, from whence He directs their onward path, who enter where the forked and divided way leads still onwards into unending day or perpetual night.
There is a silence ever haunting this gate. As the traveller ascends to the top of a hill, and gradually climbs higher and higher, the sounds and voices of earth become fainter and still fainter to his ear, until even the high song of the lark is half-lost in the wide distances beneath, and all the sullen swirl and roar of the world reaches him only in a subdued and dying murmur. But what a silence must always enfold in its woollen mantle the gate where the souls of the dead enter without knocking! Sometimes the silence of a sudden swoon or of a gradually falling unconsciousness, sent and given in God's tender compassion to soften the unique pains of dissolution, falls around the passing soul; sometimes the peace of a tranquil ecstasy, in which only the feet of angels drawing near are heard, and the soul is withdrawn from all the memories of earth, that it may be alone with Him with whom it is being called to dwell eternally, dying rather (as the sweet Jewish legend tells of the death of Moses) by the kiss of God,'* and by that mystical embrace rather enticed from the flesh than cast out a homeless, shivering, fearful thing by the rude ejectment of the iv. 559; and cf. John Howe's treatise 'On Christ's Dominion over the Invisible World,' Works, iii., p. 17.
Targum of Palestine on Deut. xxxiv. 5.
death - convulsion. Then, in the last moment, a deep stillness, unbroken by any remaining footfall of earth's presences, receives the dying, and they can give no token nor the sign of any remaining recognition. The shadow of the solemn gate has fallen upon them, and its silence has claimed them for ever. There are priceless moments in life when memories of eternity come to cast their spell over our idle, fugitive thoughts; when they will make themselves felt in the interior sensibilities of the soul, perhaps as we si in the twilight with the fading away around us of the seen into the unseen, or perhaps when the house is still and our wakeful eyes stare into the dark, which seems to throw back the soul's active powers upon itself and to summon and compel it to unwontedly serious reflection. These moments are as rare as they are precious. They are 'silences of God' in the soul, that may not be violated without sacrilege. But let us, in very charity to the dying, keep yet more inviolate this last and most sacred silence. Let us beware how, by any intrusive words or ill-timed ministries, we make the soul turn again to us when it is already turning wholly to God. The ministries of love to the sick and the dying are, indeed, among the holiest of the offices of charity; but be entreated, in God's Name, never to intrude unnecessarily upon this most Divine silence by any needless interferences. It is well, if the dying have made so Christian a disposal of all their earthly goods, that justice and charity may appear in their last acts to those they leave, and that they can claim an unhindered leisure in their latest hours for Divine and sacred influences. There is, indeed, a blessed poverty, breathing its own benediction, which has few preparations to make for its last farewell to life, having little but its example of faith, poverty, and patience to bequeath. Leave, then, we entreat you, the dying to themselves and to God, lest you unknowingly withdraw them from holy thoughts.
We cannot be sure if, even when the soul seems unconscious
it may not be most conscious to God; and if, when dulled, in that pathetic deafness of death, to the weak wailing voices of our love and sorrow, it may not be listening to One Voice from heaven. Who can certainly tell if the echoes of the blessed life may not be already in its hearing, sounding more sweetly—for is not all music heard sweetest over the waters ?-across the wide, dark floods of death? Is it not, indeed, one of those painful self-gratifications which sorrow too often claims indulgence to exact, that we desire to concentrate so unduly the thoughts and the love of our dying upon ourselves to the necessary exclusion of all interior conferences of the soul with God? Already the shadowy hand is beckoning them, already immortality possesses them.
Let us, then, in a reverent silence_love passing into faith and awe-look upon the brightening dawn of eternity in the eyes that are already shining with a light not of earth. Then, thanking God that the quiverings of pain at last are being stilled, as sometimes a great hush falls on the torn trees and palpitating woods after the nightrain and the storm, let us, when the peace of death is coming very near, leave the weary heart, like a tired child, to rest, with prayer and resignation, and so meekly give them to God.
Ah, and how dim a shadow always envelops this gate ! A darkness descends like a veil upon the eyes of the dying, which renders them blind to all the old and familiar scenes of earth and to all home-like faces, just as one, travelling amidst the mountains and overtaken by the mists, which fall suddenly in high altitudes, will find those soft yielding folds impenetrable to his unhelpful sight; for the gate of death has a curtain of mist-like mystery hanging perpetually before it. How often, even before the instant of death, there is a strange fixedness of look and gaze in the widely-opened eyes, almost a stare, so intense in its energy that it seems to penetrate the secrets of the other world while yet the soul is still walking, though but the last mile or two, in this mortal life; a look that haunts us afterwards for many days, and seems the visible sign of the eternal realities that must now command, though too often they appealed but weakly and uncertainly before, the whole contemplation of the soul, when it lies at the extreme edge of time and so close to eternity. An impenetrable, unsolved mystery hangs for us all over this tremendous gate, the desire to pierce which is all in vain, until our own death make us wise for ever with this fearful knowledge. No eye can intrude upon the inviolable secrets of death; for though on the further side of the gate all is everlasting light to the faithful, on this side a shadow-veil is dropped by unseen hands behind each departing soul. It is almost a pathetic sign of the soul's passing through this veil of immortality that our hands veil and cover the face of the dead with the white covering hiding the features, that were all our life on earth, on which dear features the veil lies now without movement
any stirring of the breath, and we know they do not dream or sleep when all is so infinitely, sadly still. Our lamp has been quenched, our one star has sunk beneath the cloudy horizon, and, this act of veiling the face done, we seem to stand facing the night so fearfully alone, and scarcely comforted in our great poverty even by the knowledge of the rich gift of an eternal peace, with which death has dowered them. In the drooped eyelids, which were closing to all the weariness and vanity of this world, we may see yet another pathetic image of the falling of that curtain of mystery, which has enclosed them for ever within the sanctuary of the unseen life, and the softness of which is more inviolable than iron bars or brazen gates.