THE FEAR OF DEATH AND HOW TO OVERCOME IT
Sermon by Dr. J. Frank Norris, March 17, 1934
DR. NORRIS: The text I want to call your attention to tonight is found in Hebrews second chapter and fifteenth verse: “And deliver them, who through fear of death were alt their lifetime subject to bondage.” I read it to you again: “And deliver them, who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage.”
Now that is exactly what every soul wants tonight; namely, to be delivered from the fear of death.
“The fear of death and how to overcome it,” is my theme for a brief discussion.
The Scriptures tell us, “The last enemy that shall be destroyed is death.” And it is man’s worst enemy, and most powerful.
Here the Apostle calls the roll of the enemies of the soul, and at the last he names the grim monster of death. It knows no class. It knows no rich, knows no poor. It comes to the hovel of the poor and to the palace of the rich. It comes to the royal house and to the peasant’s home. It is no respecter of age, strikes down the old man who has run his last race, snatches the Babe from the mother’s arms. It cruelly smites the bread winner and defender when he is needed most and leaves fatherless children on the world without a crust of bread. Indeed death is the last, and man’s greatest enemy.
The history of the world may be written in the one tragic word “death.” For all man has achieved, invented, discovered, accomplished, all end in the one word “death.” If time permitted we could go through the annals of the past and study the remains of all the proud splendid civilization that ever ruled the world, and we would find one verdict written over their sky, “death.”
We can go and sit at the feet of the world’s greatest thinkers, philosophers, scientists of today and all the past ages, hear them as they try to answer the three-fold question of life’s destiny, the whence? why? and whither? and we find the one verdict over their lives, one word, “death.”
We can go through the halls of Parliaments, Senates, Congresses. past and present, where men have held the world in the palms of their hands, we find inscribed over their sanctums the one word, “death.”
We can hear marching armies going to war, men writing their names high on the scroll of fame, men who vanquish empires, building other larger and greater empires, at the last it is found that they bow to the grim monster, “death.”
Over each man’s name, opposite of which may be the title of “Great,” is written the word “death,” here is absolutely no exception.
Men who can change the maps of the world in one generation, change the destiny of empires over night, have met powerful enemies and vanquished them – the one word that sums up all achievements is, “death.”
No wonder the Word of God says the last enemy is death.
We boast at our achievements, what we have invented – we talk of the marvelous discoveries of science, how we have scanned the heavens, gone to the farthest, remotest point of the universe, gone into the secrets of the molecule, the atom, but all we have discovered, all we have invented, all the books we have written, all the theories of philosophy and science, when we come to the grave, there is the one question we cannot answer.
Man with all his wealth can buy luxuries, build buildings, write his name in marble and stone, but he lies down, and the hand that builds cannot control them. Man may amass a fortune up into the countless millions, he may control projects, but when he lies molding in the grave he cannot direct the destiny of the millions he left behind.
One of the greatest merchants that ever lived, A. T. Stewart, he was succeeded by John Wannamaker, when the inevitable hour came, with tense faces, the greatest doctors in New York, attending him, said to Mr. Stewart:
“Don’t be alarmed, but you had better lose no time – if there is anything you want to attend to.”
The world’s greatest merchant looked into their faces and said:
“Doctors, if you can spare my life twenty-four hours I will give you a thousand dollars an hour.”
They said, “Mr. Stewart, it is not in our power to give you one second’s time; all the money in the world could not spare your life one hour’s time.”
The Scripture sums up the whole destiny of man in these three tragic words: “These all died.”
Last week I had this experience: two leading business men in Fort Worth, the same day, both these men brought up the question of death, I didn’t present it. I had to wait at a place for a little while and this man was sitting there – he said, “Isn’t it terrible the way people are dying – look how fast they are passing away.” They are not dying today at a greater rate than before, but man comes to a stage in life when he notices it. This man said, “Men who started with me are gone, and I often think, my turn will come next.”
I said to him, “Why it is not terrible the way people are dying, it would be terrible if they didn’t die.”
He looked at me, and said, “Why?”
“Suppose you and I should be condemned to live in this world forever? Who would want this old body with its aches, its sins, its pains, its trials, its temptations, its tears? Would you want that forever? Do you want to live in a world of sorrows, bread lines, injustice, crime? Would you want to live in it forever?”
Why, friends, it would be a terrible thing if such a judgment should come from God Almighty, that we should have to live forever in this flesh, this old world forever.
Before answering the question on how to get on top of our fears, get out of them and have faith take the place of fear. I want to make bold to say, the greatest blessing that can come to the soul of man, first of all, is his salvation. I mean by salvation, not simply a resolution to live a better life; I mean saved from something to something, with something, and I believe by salvation, that there is only one way given under heaven by which we may be saved. “I am the truth” – “I am the way” – “I am the light” – “I am the good shepherd” – “I am the resurrection and the life” – There is no other way. How solemn the word, “It is appointed unto man once to die.”
Now the question of death – here is what most people do, avoid it, and I believe it can come to pass in life with many people, with the majority of people, I don’t know how to express it, except to say, man becomes so indifferent, so calloused, until he is dead to all sense of eternal destiny. Now that is the most pitiable condition man can be in. If you are concerned and aroused – I’ll put it stronger, if you are alarmed about where you are to spend eternity, you ought to be congratulated. The man who has no concern needs the prayer of everybody.
A young sceptic, whose father was immensely rich – his health failed, he went to the greatest specialists in America, but they failed to heal him – he found no remedy. He crossed the Atlantic to sec the specialists of Europe. He finally came to a great specialist in London. He examined him very carefully – he said, “Young man I want to ask you one question, do you believe there is a God?”
“God!” “What do you mean by God?” “Who is God?” “What is God? answered the young man.
“Answer my question, do you believe there is a God?” “And I want to ask you another question, are you satisfied to die as you are?” Ah, he put his finger on the nerve that was troubling him. The young man confessed that he was like a ship out in a storm, every star had gone out of his sky, and there was no light to guide. that he was tossed about by every wind that blows. And this great Christian physician, who believed in the Bible said, sympathetically, That is your trouble.” When his faith was settled, then his body was healed.
I am persuaded more people think they have ill health when the real trouble is soul trouble, mental trouble: “Thou wilt keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on thee.” “As a man thinketh,” say the Scripture – “so he is.”
It is not work that is killing the world, it is worry. Why there have been 101,000 suicides in the last four or five years. Ve worry – Why? Misplaced faith. Why? Placing our faith in things that perish. Why? Building our houses on foundations of sinking sand, instead of on the eternal Rock of Ages. That’s why we had as well face the question.
I say the first great blessing that comes to man is to be saved, saved from sin, past, present and future. I wouldn’t want any salvation which just took care of part of it. I don’t want any part payment in this business. I don’t want any monthly installment plan. I got enough of that the first several years I was married – if a fellow begins to talk to me about buying anything on the installment plan – there is nothing doing. Book agents – house sweepers, they all got me. I think I bought the first three phonographs ever invented – they rattled like a tin pan – and I bought the first Ford car on the installment plan. This installment business is what has wrecked the world’s finances.
I am talking about salvation – not on the installment plan – God writes a receipt in full:
“Jesus paid it all.
All to Him I owe;
Sin had left a crimson strain.
He washed it white as snow.”
The salvation I am talking about, Jesus paid it all – doesn’t look reasonable that the God who paid part of it would pay it all.
I love to think that the God whom I serve, who created the universe, laid the foundation of the everlasting hills, set the metes and bounds of the seven seas, made of one blood all nations that dwell on the face of theecarth, I love to think He can cancel all my sins. I love to think, He is able to keep me to the end.
I wouldn’t want to risk my salvation one day. There are two classes of people, those who if they have salvation, are afraid they are going to lose it, and those who are afraid they haven’t got it and never can get it. I don’t want to belong to either class. I am glad that my salvation does not depend on whether I believe I can keep it – it depends upon the eternal God!
A friend and I were standing. on top of Pike’s Peak one day – there was a marvelous view; the whole earth was covered with clouds, there was a perfect rainbow, the cities were shut out there we stood 15,000 feet above the sea level – suppose my friend had pulled out a post card and said, “I am afraid this thing is going to fall – I will fix it so I will be secure – I will put this postcard under my feet and stand there, and now I am satisfied that I won’t fall, I am standing on this postcard.” You know that old rock goes down to the center of the earth and has withstood many storms.
My friends, we are standing on the Rock, therefore, I say:
“On Christ the Solid Rock I stand,
All other ground is sinking sand.”
If you are depending on man for your salvation, or depending on yourself to get to heaven when you die, you had as well blow out the light now, there is not a ghost of a chance for you.
When old Simon Peter was walking to the Lord on the sea – and I have always commended him for trying it, the rest didn’t have the courage – as long as he looked to the Lord he was all right, but when he took his eyes off the Lord he went down, and cried out, “Help, Lord, help or I perish.” And the hand that made the Sea of Galilee, reached over and took Peter by the hand and he walked with the Lord back to the boat.
Many times our feet have been going down and He reaches out His omnipotent hand and says, “I will take you through the deep waters.”
Many a man has felt discouraged, in the grip of drink and sin, and said, “I would make the start, but I am afraid I can’t hold out.” Listen, you have been holding out a long time for the devil, turn loose and let God hold out for you. He will hold you fast. As old Simon Peter wrote, after he knew how Jesus could take care of him in the boat he wrote “I am kept by the power of God ready to be revealed in the last day.”
Therefore, the first great blessing is to know you are saved, and it is a blessing and a privilege to get rid of this old body and go home. Why, who would want to live forever in this old body? You get to where you can’t see, and have to wear glasses and your teeth all come out and you put in false ones and they drop out – your hair comes out, and you get stiff in the joints, have rheumatism, and there are two or three thousand diseases you have to have, doctors keep inventing some more, and you have got to have them all, and then when you come to die it costs all you can borrow, or beg, and everybody you can get to go on your notes, for money you can’t hope to pay back, to get enough to bury you. I was talking to an undertaker the other day and he said, “These times are mighty bad, and they are not getting any better.”
I said, “Is that so? There are just as many people dying now as ever.”
“Yes,” he said, but they are buying a great deal cheaper funerals.”
I said, “Praise the Lord for that.”
“But,” he said, “We are going broke.”
“You ought to go broke,” I said.
Why you contrast how you used to live – I remember when my first baby was born, my wife stayed at home, didn’t go to any hospital, but now a woman can’t have a baby at home – she stayed home and it cost ten dollars. When my daughter’s first baby was born it cost two hundred dollars! Friends, it costs you $200.00 to get here, all you can make every year while you are here and look what it costs to get out of here – God knows we need a depression if we can get the undertakers and doctors – if they have gone broke there is some chance for the rest of us. (Voices, Amen.) Go a little louder on that “amen.”
Now it is a privilege to get rid of this old body. Suppose tonight I could tell everybody in Fort Worth who has got rheumatism, I can give you a dead shot remedy – all you rheumatics in town would be out to see me; suppose I could tell everybody who has got asthma, “I can tell you how to get rid of it,” you would be up here before I got out of the pulpit. Suppose I said to everybody tonight that has a set of false teeth, “I can guarantee to grow you a new set” – Man alive, how you would be coming! Suppose I told all you baldheads, “I can grow you a head of hair” – every last one of you would be out to my house before daylight. Suppose I should tell the women how to get rid of the wrinkles under her ears – good night – I’d break up the beauty parlors.
Sure – well now, friends, thank God that’s what death does and the resurrection does to old bald heads, rusty joints and asthma and rheumatism – why, the body never grows old, you never get sick – we won’t have any doctors in heaven, no undertakers there, thank God.
Now we can dress up this old body and make it look the best we can – but it makes no difference what we do, we are all on the way to the graveyard just as fast as we can walk.
A friend and I were standing on the street corner the other day, and there walked by a very frail looking man – this friend said, “He is going to be dead soon.” “Yes,” I said, “but you and I may have our funerals before he does.”
A fellow who grew up in our neighborhood was twelve years dying. He knew how to take care of himself; they had lots of funerals before he went.
When I came to Fort Worth there wasn’t a grave in Greenwood Cemetery; there wasn’t a grave in Mount Olivet – well some are there now!
What will we do about it? There is one thing certain, there is no avoiding it, neither is there any remedy.
Suppose we try to find hope for the fear of death. I’11 tell you what to do – go to Modern Science – and the world is worshipping science today, its bowing down to it – go to some little pin whiskered scientifce professor and say, “I have got to die, what are you going to tell me to do, what can you give me, what remedy can you give me?”
I go into the field of philosophy – take the different theories of philosophy – I go back to Athens, and I say “Listen, I have got to die, tell me what hope have you go to offer ?”
We go to the world’s mansions, the world’s wealth, gold and silver, and go to the world’s greatest banker and we say, “Mr. Banker and Mr. Millionaire, we have got to die, what remedy have you to offer?”
“None, we haven’t any for ourselves.”
We can go sit in the halls of Parliament, hear the statesmen of the world – we haven’t any left, we used to have – and we say, What remedy have you for me, I have got to die?”
They wil say, “None.”
I will go to the past, and call for the warriors, the men who were great – I will say, I have got to die, what remedy can you offer me?
Go yonder to the tomb of Napoleon, where there are 81 flags exhibited from battles he fought and won – there is a great line of people gathered there – there is a hush, not a word is said, you can see tears course down their faces now and then – there are more people who go to the tomb of Napoleon than to any other spot on earth. Call on him who held the Continent of Europe in his hand for twenty years, and say, “I have got to die, what remedy have you to offer me?”
I will go to the various schools of science of the world – I will say, “I have got to die, what remedy have you to offer?”
I will go to Moscow, Russia, to the tomb of Lenin, where they propose to build the highest building in the world to mark the resting place of Lenin, the founder of Soviet Russia – indeed he was a great and brilliant man – he is dead – millions march by his tomb to pay him homage – call Lenin from that silent tomb, and say to him, “I have got to die, what remedy have you?”
I will go to the various forms of Pagan religions of the world take the greatest of all Pagan religions, Buddhism – the nearest approach to Christianity, whose end, Nirvana is absolute negation – no pain, no joy, perfect negation – go sit at the feet of Buddha’s Temple in China, made of pure gold, and costing a fourth of a billion dollars, before the silent idol and say, “I have got to die, what remedy have you for me?”
That hopeless, helpless, friendless, idol would say, “I have none.”
Where, oh, where then can man go? Go into all the long past, throughout the wide world, take down the books of civilization, listen to eloquent men speak, hear them as they solved questions of state, listen to the keen minds of the past, and say, “can you give me the answer, I have got to die, what can I do?”
Their one answer will be the same, “There is no remedy.”
Where can you find a remedy ?
Their one answer will be the same. Do you believe the Creator would have created man, put something in his breast that reaches out beyond the narrow confines of this little life, and let that man go on a short journey and find no hope beyond? Do you believe that the great and wise God would endow us with something that reaches out for fellowship beyond the grave; longs for a companionship never found on earth, with aspirations that reach beyond the stars? – Tell me that I must end in the grave, that there is nothing beyond.
Now that is the question I want to ask – I want that question answered – man has tried to answer that question ever since he has been in the world. No prophet, priest or king, no patriarch or philosopher – none could answer that question, but I find one coming, the God-man who shows the world the answer to the grave – He answered it by a demonstration, gives you an example: He comes, submits to the death we all feel, and He dies like we do – He was born like man, lived like man, except sinless, wept as men weep, hungered as a man, suffered as a man, died as a man, was buried as a man – I am glad the expression is in the Word of God, that he had a grave – a graveyard is a place of horrors – you can fill it with cloud reaching marble, cover it with flowers, but it doesn’t remove the sting – you can make it a beautiful spot, but it is still the place of ours tears.
I am glad that we had one who made a grave and went into that grave, and all the powers of hell sealed that tomb, and the greatest government of all time guarded that sealed tomb for three full days and nights – He is now dead in that grave, His body is, but wait a minute, there is a first day of the week coming! Vithout any noise, peal of thunder, something happened – he arose from that grave, burst asunder the bars that held Him, rolled back the stone that sealed His tomb – the Roman soldiers who never met defeat on the field of battle, fell like dead men, and all the graves gave up their righteous dead, and He stood forth in glory and power and majesty, robbed the grave of its vietory, death of its sting, and now He is King of kings and Lord of lords over death, hell and the grave, and some day we shall see Him as He is!
We are not afraid to die with a Saviour like that!
Thank God for old doubting Thomas. The first time when He appeared to the disciples in the upper room, and they looked on him, Ile came into their midst without opening a door, and said “lush, peace be still,” Thomas was not present, and when they told him, he said, “I won’t believe unless I see the nail prints in His hands and the spear scar in His side, and put my finger in those prints.” Fight days afterwards, Jesus stood in their midst again, nobody told Him what Thomas had said – Jesus didn’t need anybody to tell Him – He pulled aside His robe and said, “Thomas, come put your finger in the nail prints.” Thomas didn’t have to put them there, when He saw it, he fell prostrate at His feet and cried, “My Lord!”
Afraid to die when we have a Saviour who went to the deepest depths of the grave and hell, robbed it of its sting, came up with victory!
Do you know what John on the Isle of Patmos says, “And when I saw him, I fell at his feet as dead. And he laid his right hand upon me, saying unto me” – What?” – “Fear not; I am the first and the last:” – “Fear not” – Why? “I am he that liveth, and was dead; and, behold, I am alive for evermore,” – and what else? “and have the keys of hell and of death,” dangling from my girdle in victory. glory and power!
Are we afraid? I am not afraid if we have a Man like that for the Captain of our salvation – who has finished the course, got a diploma from every school of suffering and death!
The world, right now is looking to the Mediterranean Sea to see whether Insull gets across on that dirty, greasy freighter. When I read that account this morning I remembered crossing there and we had an awful storm, and I thought of Paul’s fourteen-day journey when he didn’t see a star in the sky. I began to search my memory to see if my insurance policy had a double indemnity clause in it – the waves washed over that boat and it looked to me several times that we were gone. I had become acquainted with the old captain – his name was Frank Cunningham, an old Scotch man – one night I saw him in his office – his face was gray – he had a white beard, reminded me of a picture of Robert E. Lee. I said, “I wish I could speak to him” – That old boat was rocking and plunging, you could hardly keep on your feet – I went up to the window and looked in, saw him sitting there – after awhile he raised up – he had a kindly look – the door wasn’t locked, so I knocked – he said, “Come in,” with a smile – I said, “Captain, its a terrible storm.” “Oh, yes, yes, it’s a bit stormy, it’s a bit stormy” – I said “Captain, did you ever see a storm like this?” “Oh, Oh. many times.” He said, “You are from America?” I said, “Yes,” and he asked me to sit down; I forgot the storm as I sat there and listened to him, and looked at that gray beard, and he smiled and said, “We ‘1l make it all right.” And we did – the next morning the sun was shining, the waves were quiet, the bands were playing. everybody was singing, everybody was feeling fine and happy, and in a good humor, and that old captain walked around with us.
Oh, my friends, sometimes it looks like our little boat is going down, but look at the Captain, look at the Captain! Why, one night the disciples went to Jesus, asleep in the little boat, and said to Him, “Master, do you care if we perish ?” He arose, looked out upon the tossing, plunging waves and said, “Peace be still.” And the next verse says, “They were at the shore” – and the disciples didn’t know it. It shows, my friends, that we are anchored against the shore before we know it.
That’s my answer to how we can solve the fear of death. Have you that fear of death? Get over it by simple faith in Jesus Christ – by linking yourself with the Captain of the universe. That’s how.
Do you have that fear of death? – let faith take its place – smile as you grow older and you will grow stronger as you grow older.
Let us stand.