Robert Murray McCheyne – do you know that name? McCheyne was a Scottish preacher from the mid-1800s who died at the young age of 32. I read a biography of him long ago. A quote I recall from him was this:
"I am a dying man preaching to dying men."
Some would mark off my remembering such a quote to what they believe is my "death fixation." Maybe they are right. But I like that quote for it so rightly sums up the situation: We ALL are dying. Sometimes people will remark about this person or that person that "they are dying." But the truth is we all are dying. As Hospice has been putting it for decades now: "The mortality rate is still 100 percent."
John Calvin addressed this truth in his Institutes of the Christian Religion. There he talked about how nearly everyone will recognize this as a truth and how, maybe as a funeral procession passes by, we will sober up long enough to actually consider the truth of our own mortality. But then, Calvin writes, like the sound of applause at a concert, it soon passes from our mind.
I experienced this in a very concrete way back at the time of my mother's death in 1983. Ruth and I had only months before moved from Philadelphia to Lancaster and we were more than a little busy working on our house and getting involved in church life while I sold real estate with Century 21. And then, quite suddenly one night, my mother died. It was a shock. Flying out for the funeral and then flying back I resolved in my mind to live differently…with sort of the carpe diem attitude. And I did…for about a week or two. And then, before I knew it, the daily grind had sucked me right back into the business of daily life and I had pretty near totally forgotten my resolve.
There may be some risk of thinking on death too much, but I have not yet reached that point. A simple reading of the gospels will help us to think more on the transient nature of this life. Jesus WANTED his disciples to think on those things that are eternal and to not be consumed with the things of this world.
So, like McCheyne, preach as a dying man to dying men (and women). Be reflective on your own nature and the brevity of this life. For before you know it you, like me, will one day be preparing to pass the baton of pastoral leadership to a younger man. And at that time you will wonder, "Where did the time go? It passed so quickly."
By His Grace, Doug Winne