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The Shadow of Death.
Pictures, andJww they may help us is the subject I am speaking about this week. On Tuesday, I spoke about the subject generally, and then I said that the remaining three sermons should be about three pictures in particular, showing how they may help us onwards and upwards. Think to-day of Holman Hunt's Shadoiv of Death. Very great indeed, in more ways than one, is the help to be got from that picture. I shall, before I have done, press two lessons, (i) from the shadow of the figure ; (2) from the figure : and then one resolve. Most of you will have seen an engraving of this wellknown and most interesting painting. Some of you will have seen the original. It was given by the Messrs. Agnew to Manchester about nine years ago, and now hangs in the Art Gallery of that city.
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The Shadow of Death is a picture that some people consider one of Holman Hunt's very best works. It is a picture that Mr. Ruskin calls " magnificent." It is a picture which, to my mind, is full of interest and of teaching. Mr. Hunt began his work in connection with this picture in 1868, twenty-four years ago. He went off to Bethlehem and lived there, because of the supposed likeness of its inhabitants to the earlier members of the house of David. At first he painted a smaller picture, working partly in a carpenter's shop, and partly on the roof of a house in the village. Before he started on his large picture he made a journey to Nazareth ; but his task was made much longer than he expected by very many changes of weather, sudden risings of the wind, and mists hiding the sun, so that it was four years (1872) before he was able to bring his picture home to England. The work was exhibited here in London in 1873, and ten years afterwards went to Manchester, where it now is. The carpenter's shop that you see is, of course, at Nazareth — the mountain village of Nazareth, twelve hundred feet above the sea level, only to be reached by a tedious climb. This Nazareth was the earthly home of Jesus Christ ; for nearly thirty years there He mostly lived —
" Jesus of Nazareth." Joseph, the husband of Mary, our Lord's mother, was a carpenter ; and in the sixth chapter of St. Mark, Jesus Christ is Himself
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called "the Carpenter." When, where, and howJoseph died, we know not ; it is practically certain that he died before the Crucifixion. Tradition says that he died when our Lord was nineteen ; and last Saturday, March 19th, is the day that of old was appointed to be observed in his memory. It is the carpenter's shop that was Joseph's that you see. There now is Jesus Christ. You will recollect that our Lord visited Jerusalem when He was twelve years old ; after His return on that occasion to Nazareth, for eighteen years, until He was thirty, until His baptism in the river Jordan, we hear nothing about Him, save this, that "Jesus advanced in wisdom and stature, and in favour with God and man," and that He was by some people called " the Carpenter." On some occasion, then, during those unknown eighteen years, probably towards the end of them, this picture is intended to represent our
Lord. You see Him there as the Carpenter in the workshop at Nazareth. If you were to go to Nazareth now, you would be shown a chapel called the workshop of Joseph. It is a modern building, but a portion of an old well is seen inside. And above the altar is a picture representing Joseph at work, assisted by Jesus Christ. Well, here in this picture of ours to-day Jesus is in the workshop. The sun is setting and lights up through the windows, one of which is cleverly arranged so as to form a glory round our Lord's head, a fine
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landscape outside. The day's work is over. The Toiler has had a long afternoon, busy with His ploughs and yokes. He finishes, thankful to think of the coming rest. He stretches Himself and throws apart His arms, thus relaxing His muscles, so long on the stretch. The saw still rests in the plank, and the floor is strewn with shavings. On the rack behind — notice them — are His tools, — drills, plumb-line, frame-saw, half-square, and the like, — all, I believe, faithfully painted from ancient and
modern Eastern objects. Now notice, upon the toolrack rests a shadow ; the tools and rack are so arranged that they form the likeness of a cross ; and thus the shadow of Christ, as it were nailed on the cross, is visible for an instant on the wall behind our Lord. Mary, our Lord's mother, kneels on His right, looking at a richly decorated casket which contains a crown of gold and an incense burner with golden ornaments for holding the frankincense and myrrh, gifts of the wise men. It is a case containing the rich presents of the wise men, and mayhap of others too, that Mary is examining. Mary's past life and experience had indeed been strange and full of wonder ; her future looks as though it might be still more strange and wonderful. Suddenly she looks up, and as suddenly she seems to be startled by what she sees. What is that awful shadow upon the wall } What can that be "i Tools and rack and shadow make up what resembles a
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man crucified. A sword pierces through her soul ; for there is the shadow of death, even the death of
the Cross. Is that mother that evening startled by a momentary accidental shadow, cast before, of the death of her son Jesus } Startled indeed, and what wonder! Oh, Mary, mother of our Lord, what experiences were thine ! what thoughts, wonderings, bewilderments ! what a dread ! The shadow of the death that was before that Son was on the wall before that mother.
But surely the shadow of death, noticed or unnoticed, is before every mother. But that was the shadow of such a death, for such a Son ! I told you that one of my lessons from this picture should be from the shadow of the Figure. Well, listen. Good people, have you any of you before you shadows of the death of those you love } Have you any of you before you shadows of the death of yourselves > Mayhap it is so ; mayhap it is well that it is so. Those shadows are not to spoil your lives ; those shadows are to sober your lives. Oh, then, get not out of sight of the shadow of death, if so be you can see it, of those you love, of you yourself; realise it, look at it, live near it, so that when of a truth you and yours must perforce go down and walk without flinching through the valley of the shadow of death indeed, of death now come, you may fear
no evil, God with you, His rod. His staff comforting you. Realise this, " Death will come one day to me."
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Mostly, as far as I can tell from my own feelings and the expressions used by others, we consider that all the world is mortal except ourselves ; other people die of this or that, but we seldom suppose that we shall. Probably they are much older, or younger, or more delicate than we are, or much poorer and weaker, or live amidst more unwholesome surroundings. In reading the list of deaths in the newspaper, he dies, she dies ; but we constantly notice, for our so-felt consolation, their age greater than ours, or very much less indeed : and even if the age should be just ours, probably there are good reasons, which do not apply to us ; and so on, comfortably, to the next paragraph. A railway accident, — but not on our line, or by our usual trains. Oh, friends, away with all this ; face your death, the shadow of your death ! There is every reason why you should ; you know as well as I do that the feeling "We must all die" is an altogether and
entirely different feeling from that feeling " I am going to die." Seeing every day of our lives death coming to others, we in imagination put a ring round ourselves, and think that we shall remain. And I do not think that it is any easier for old people than for anybody else to realise their own death. You would expect that growing old would make it easier. I fancy it does not. The mere coming on of age does not seem of itself to have anything to do with making a man live more entirely
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for another world, or wind up his accounts with this. Indeed, as to its being easier by-and-by to do what I am recommending to be done now, I don't believe it at all. Do you find it any easier to realise the thought of your own personal death now, than you did five or ten years ago ? I mean do you think that you can honestly say that you can face the shadow of your death less shrinkingly now than five years ago .? Well, if not, why should the next five years be any different } As a rule, the next five years do not work the wonders that the
last five years have failed to do. No, no, no ; that would be a brittle reed to rely on. I see nothing for it but facing up, and realising, " Go I shall, and possibly before long, whatever my age, whatever my health."
In Thomas a Kempis we read, " If to-day I am not prepared somehow or other, I wonder how I shall be so to-morrow. Unfortunately, length of days more often makes our sin the greater than our lives better. If to die be accounted dreadful, to live long may perhaps prove more dangerous. Happy the man who always has the shadow of death before his eyes, and daily prepares himself to die." Oh, good people, I do pray you take this at least as one lesson from our picture to-day, and look upon the shadow of death yourselves ; to see it in some form or another in what you read, hear ; to see it constantly before you ; not to turn
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your eyes away from it ; like Mary there, to face it ; and if, like her, you sometimes face it on your
knees, then when the shadow is past and the reality comes, it will be — do you remember in Sintramy do you remember in the Heir of Redely ffe ? —
" Death comes to set thee free j Oh, meet him cheerily,
As thy true friend ; And all thy fear shall cease, And in eternal peace Thy penance end."
" Peace, perfect peace, death shadowing us and ours ? Jesus has vanquished death and all its powers."
The other lesson from this picture was to be, not from the Shadow, but from the Figure itself.
Again look at the picture, and be lazy if you dare ! Where else can you point me to a picture representing Christ in full manhood, enduring the burden of common toil ? Jesus Christ a workman : see there the dignity of labour, the nobleness of labour ; see there condemned the man who worships idleness as aristocratic, who lives for pleasure, or who speaks of business, honourably conducted, with
contempt. Jesus Christ laboured, working with His own hands, fashioning ploughs and yokes for those who needed them. Then —
" Thou, Who in the village workshop, Fashioning the yoke and plough, Didst eat bread by daily labour, Succour them that labour now."
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And He will. And then, thus labouring, the man Christ Jesus got tired, tired. Tradition has it that St. Peter once said, " The weary soul is near God." There is comfort in that.
" We are weary of lifelong toil, Of sorrow, of pain, and sin ; But there is a city with streets of gold, And all is peace within."
There is comfort in that.
" Peace, perfect peace, by thronging duties press'd ?
To do the will of Jesus, this is rest."
There, again, is comfort.
Our Lord is wearied. You and I know what it is to get wearied. You look at this picture, and then come up the words of that old Greek hymn, twelve hundred years old — a hymn which comes to us from the distant island of Crete in the Mediterranean Sea, a hymn which Dr. Neale translated for the help of thousands of Englishmen, a Lent hymn which you know well enough, and which ends with these ever-to-be-remembered words, giving strength, cheer, hope —
" Well I know thy trouble,
My servant true ; Thou art very weary —
1 was weary too.
But that toil shall make thee
Some day all Mine own, And the end of sorrow
Shall be near My Throne."
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Truly, whichever way I look at this picture of The Shadow of Deaths I find it a help onwards and upwards. It helps me to face the shadow of death myself, and to face it for those I love. It helps me to work on, to work away ; and, when tired out, it helps me as no other picture ever did.
Now, lastly, a resolve. It must be fifty years, I should say, since Mr. Adams published his Allegory of the Shadow of the Cross. I dare say some of you have seen the writer's grave at Bonchurch in the Isle of Wight, with the cross so arranged above the grave as, in the sunlight, to cast over it there a literal shadow of the cross. Whenever you see any picture where is the Cross or the shadow of the Cross, make this rule, of set purpose never to look upon anything, anywhere, upon which the shadow of the Cross might not rest ; upon no picture, no print, no paper, no book, upon which
the shadow of the Cross might not rest.
You must make this rule. Is there not a cause ? Four years ago a member of parliament succeeded in startling an empty House by the statement that there are rooms kept here, in town, to which young girls may and do go for the express purpose of reading indecent books and looking at prints unfit — a hundred times unfit — for their eyes. Oh, you must make this rule, of set purpose never to look upon anything anywhere upon which the shadow of the Cross might not rest. Whatsoever things are
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honourable, pure, lovely, of good report, think on these things. Therefore, if you are wise you will, for example, make a resolution never, on purpose, to sit down and read in the newspapers — what newspapers are only too fond of reporting— divorce court intelligence. If you do not curb your curiosity in the matter of this sort of reading, if you let such dirt come before your eyes willingly, you run as big a risk as you can well set yourself to run, of
getting your whole self lowered into a very ditch of mud ; of getting your heart hardened ; of getting, imperceptibly at first, separated from God, and of living without God in the world ; and if so, what will you do in the end thereof.? We are bound, I think, to lay this restraint upon ourselves, let others make what sport of us they choose. We dare not read these things. We say the Lord's Prayer, " Lead us not into temptation ; " and knowing well what a temptation this is, what an alluring temptation, what an attractive temptation, we dare not do it, and we will not. Anywhere, God helping me, anything upon which the shadow of the Cross might not rest, my eyes shall not willingly, without sufficient reason, rest upon. As a man makes before him every morning the sign of the Holy Cross, and says, " May the Cross of Christ be between me and all evil to-day, be between my children and all evil to-day, be between all I love and all evil to-day," so to-day let him make this his prayer, "May
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my eyes, may their eyes, rest upon nothing upon
which the shadow of the Cross might not also rest."
May the mighty power of that Cross go before you, be before you, warding, shielding, guarding you, whatever you do, wherever you go.
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