Do not be afraid! I am the First and the Last, the Ever-living One! I died — but see, I am alive forevermore! And I hold the keys of death and Hades (the realm of the dead). – Revelation 1:17-18
If death is in our cup, that cup has been put into our hands at the time fixed by unerring wisdom and infinite love! When it is affirmed that Jesus holds “the key of death,” it is plainly implied that none can pass out of this present world without His appointment. And, more generally, that He is lord of the living not less than of the dead, and has a thorough control over everything that can in any way affect the lives of men. An absolute power over death, necessarily presupposes a corresponding power over life and its affairs. And it is by the exercise of His providence in sustaining life that He fulfills His purpose as to the time and mode of their departure hence.
Has the Redeemer the keys of death? Then this should mitigate the anxiety which often preys upon the mind when we look forward into the future, and contemplate the prospect of our own death. We should remember, that as the Redeemer alone has the keys of death. Nothing can happen to send us forth from the world before the time which He has appointed for our departure. Neither man nor devils can abridge the term of probation assigned to us by our gracious Master. Nor, until He is pleased to call us away, shall any power on earth or in Hell prevail against us. The Redeemer is possessed of absolute power over the course of our lives on earth and over the time and manner of our departure out of the world.
No accident, no hostile violence, no insidious snare, no dark conspiracy — can touch our life but by His command. And surely, when we reflect on the numerous dangers to which human life is exposed, the frailty of our frame, the diseases to which it is subject, our constant exposure to fatal accidents, the malice of open or concealed enemies, it must be consolatory to know, that the key of Death is in the Savior’s hands, and that, come what may, we cannot be forced out of the world, until He opens the door and bids us to come to Him.
More especially, when we are visited with disease, and threatened with a speedy termination of life, the Savior’s power over the keys of death should repress or assuage those violent anxieties as to the probability of death or of recovery, and those disquieting speculations as to the outcome of disease, and the mode of its treatment. For disease cannot kill, nor can medicine cure — without the appointment of Him who holds in His own hands the keys of life and of death! And if He has fixed the outcome of this disease, then why should we be anxious?
If the door of death is opening for our departure, it is because the tender Savior, whom we love and trust, is summoning us to be forever with Him!
Shall we, then, rebel against His appointment? Shall we doubt the love and wisdom of His determination? Or, as ignorant as we are of what is before us in this world, and of what really concerns our best interests, can we entertain the wish, that the power of determining the time of our death were wrested out of His hands and placed in our own?
True, we may have many ties that attach us to this world. We may be young, and, with the optimistic hope of youth, may cleave to life. We may be prosperous, and surrounded with many comforts. We may have a young and engaging family, whom we are loath to leave behind us to the cold charities of the world. We may have many dependents on our industry or bounty, who will bitterly lament our loss. But do we imagine that these considerations are not known to the Redeemer, or that He has not weighed them all? And if, notwithstanding, it is His will to summon us home, are we not prepared to yield up our faulty judgment to his unerring wisdom?
The duration of each man’s existence on earth is determined by the Redeemer. It belongs to Him to appoint a longer or shorter period to each, as He wills. And in doing so, we have reason to be satisfied, that He determines according to the dictates of His infallible wisdom, although the reasons of His procedure must necessarily be to us, for the present, inscrutable.
We cannot tell why one dies in infancy, another in childhood, a third in the prime of manly vigor, and a fourth reserved to the period of old age. But suffice it for us, that this happens not by chance, neither is it the result of caprice or carelessness, but flows from that unerring wisdom, whose counsels are formed on a view of all possible relations and consequences. The power of death being in the hands of the Redeemer, the duration of human life is, in every instance, determined by Him. And none, therefore, ought to entertain the thought, either that death is, in one case, unduly premature, or, in another, unduly delayed. None live, either for a longer or for a shorter period, than infinite wisdom has assigned to them. Reason teaches, that to His appointment we must submit, however unwilling, it being irresistible, and far beyond our control. So, as Christians, we should learn to acquiesce in it cheerfully, as the appointment of one who cannot err.
– James Buchanan – 1837
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