One of John Newton’s greatest hymns, alongside Amazing Grace, is Glorious Things of Thee Are Spoken. At the very end of the hymn, he has these powerful lines:
Fading are the worldlings’ pleasures,
All their boasted pomp and show;
Solid joys and lasting treasures
None but Zion’s children know.
The fact that some people’s lives are too intimately caught up in the fading joy and pleasure of this life, only makes them fear the one thing that can deprive them of all their happiness: death. Yet the Christian, a citizen of heaven and child of God, has something far greater and more real to enjoy: eternal life.
The Church of England’s official sermons, the Homilies, have something to say on this subject. Here’s how their “exhortation against the fear of Death” begins:
It is not to be marvelled at, that worldly people are afraid to die. For death deprives them of all worldly honours, riches, and possessions, and the worldly person counts themselves happy in the fruit of these things, so long as they may enjoy them at their own pleasure. On the other hand, if they are dispossessed of such things without hope of recovery then they cannot but think of themselves as unhappy, because they have lost their worldly joy and pleasure.
“Alas!” thinks this carnal person, “shall I now depart for ever, from all my honours, all my treasures, from my country, friends, riches, possessions, and worldly pleasures, which are my joy and heart’s delight? Alas that ever that day shall come when I must bid farewell to all of these at once, and never enjoy any of them again.” Wherefore, it is not without great cause spoken by the wise man: “O death, how bitter is the reminder of you to one who lives at peace among his possessions, to a man without distractions, who is prosperous in everything, and who still has the vigour to enjoy his food!” (Ecclesiasticus 41:1-2 RSV).