Four Ways to Prepare for Death (from John’s Owen’s Glory of Christ)

John Owen wrote The Glory of Christ in the final months of his life. These were his meditations as he prepared for his own death, which he knew to be near. And these meditations were also the final sermons that he preached. In the preface he says these meditations were “intended first for the exercise of my own mind, and then for the edification of a private congregation; which is like to be the last service I shall do them in that kind” (275). In fact, Owen even says that his meditations would have been longer, but “weakness, weariness, and the near approaches of death do call me off from any farther labour in this kind” (284).

Owen, as if in his counseling office, shows how meditating on the glory of Christ alleviates the experience of depressive feelings. And then proceeds to show how “a continual contemplation of the glory of Christ, in his person, office, and grace…will carry us cheerfully comfortably, and victoriously through life and death, and all that we have to conflict withal in either of them” (277). This “continual contemplation” is the duty which Owen addresses throughout Glory of Christ.

He then shows how contemplating the glory of Christ prepares the Christian for death in particular: “With respect unto death itself: It is the assiduous contemplation of the glory of Christ which will carry us cheerfully and comfortably into it, and through it” (279). “There are sundry things required of us, that we may be able to encounter death cheerfully, constantly, victoriously.”

1. Commit Your Departing Soul to Jesus

  • First, Peculiar actings of faith to resign and commit our departing souls into the hand of him who is able to receive them (280)
  • The soul is now parting with all things here below, and that forever… The soul must alone by itself launch into eternity. It is entering an invisible world, which it know no more of that it hath received by faith.
  • How is it like to be after the few moments which, under the pangs of death, we have to continue in this world? It is an annihilation…? Is it a state of subsistence in a wandering condition…? Or is it a state of universal misery…?
  • No man can comfortably venture on and into this condition, but in the exercise of that fiath which enables him to resign and give up his departing soul into the hand of God… Herein is our Lord Jesus Christ our great example. He resigned his departing spirit into the hands of his Father (Lk 23:46).
  • This is the last victorious act of faith.
  • But Jesus Christ it is who doth immediately receive the souls of them who believe in him… And what can be a greater encouragement to resign them into his hands, than a daily contemplation of his glory

2. Be Ready and Willing to Part with Your Flesh

  • Second, It is required in us, unto the same end, that we be ready and willing to part with the flesh (281)
  • The alliance, the relation, the friendship, the union that are between the soul and the body, are the greatest, the nearest, the firmest that are or can be among mere created beings.
  • By reason of this peculiar intimate union and relation between the soul and body, there is in the whole nature a fixed aversation from a dissolution… The body claspeth about the soul, and the soul receiveth strange impressions from its embraces
  • Wherefore, unless we can overcome this inclination, we can never die comfortably or cheerfully.
  • Yet the do believers so conquer this inclination by faith and views of the glory of Christ, as to attain a desire of this dissolution
  • He, therefore, that would die comfortably, must be able to say within himself and to himself…
    • “Die, then, thou frail and sinful flesh: ‘dust thou art, and unto dust thou shalt return.’ I yield thee up unto the righteous doom of the Holy One. Yet herein also I give thee into the hand of the great Refiner, who will hide thee in thy grave, and by thy consumption purify thee from all thy corruption and disposition to evil. And otherwise this will not be. After a long sincere endeavour for the mortification of all sin, I find it will never be absolutely perfect, but by this reduction into the dust. Thou shalt no more be a residence for the least remnant of sin unto eternity, nor any clog unto my soul in its acting on God. Rest therefore in hope; for God, in his appointed season, when he shall have a desire unto the work of his hands, will call unto thee, and thou shalt answer him out of the dust. Then shall he, by an act of big almighty power, not only restore thee unto thy pristine glory, as at the first creation, when thou wast the pure workmanship of his hands, but enrich and adorn thee with inconceivable privileges and advantages. Be not, then, afraid; away with all reluctance. Go into the dust, – rest in hope; ‘for thou shalt stand in thy lot at the end of the days.’” 
    • That which will enable us hereunto, in an eminent manner, is that view and consideration of the glory of Christ which is the subject of the ensuing meditations.

3. Comply God’s Ordained Times and Seasons of Your Death

  • Third, There is required hereunto a readiness to comply with the times and seasons wherein God would have us depart and leave this world. (283)
  • Some desire to live that they may see more of that glorious work of God for his church
  • Other may judge themselves to have some work to do in the world
  • Others rise no higher than their own private interests or concerns
  • But it is the love of life that lies at the bottom of all these desires in men; which of itself will never forsake them. But no man can die cheerfully or comfortably who lives not in a constant resignation of the time and season of his death unto the will of God
  • Our times are in his hand, at his sovereign disposal; and his will in all things must be complied withal. Without this resolution, without this resignation, no man can enjoy the least solid peace in this world.

4. Comply with God’s Ordained Ways and Means of Your Death

  • Fourth, As the times and seasons, so also the ways and means of the approaches of death have especial trials; which, unless we are prepared for them, will keep us under bondage, with the fear of death itself (283)
  • Long, wasting, wearing consumption, burning fevers, strong pains of the stone, or the like from within; or sword, fire, tortures, with shame and reproach from without, may be in the way of the access of death unto us.
  • To get above all perplexities on the account of these things, is part of our wisdom in dying daily. 
  • And we are to have always in a readiness those graces and duties which are necessary thereunto. Such are a constant resignation of ourselves, in all events, unto the sovereign will, pleasure, and disposal of God. “May he not do what he will with his own?” Is it not right and meet it should be so? Is not his will in all things infinitely holy, wise, just, and good? Does he not know what is best for us, and what conduceth most unto his own glory? Does not he alone do so? 
  • Moreover, it is required that we be frequent and steady in comparing these things with those which are eternal
  • There is none of all the things we have insisted on—never the resignation of a departing soul into the hand of God, nor a willingness to lay down the flesh in the dust, nor a readiness to comply with the will of God, as to the times and seasons, or the way and manner of the approach of death—that can be attained unto, without a prospect of that glory that shall give us a new state far more excellent than what we here leave or depart from.

(Taken from Works, 1:279-284)

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