News had come to Rutherford’s ears of an almost fatal accident that Kennedy had had through his boat being swept out to sea; and that was too good a chance to lose of trying to touch his correspondent’s heart yet more deeply about death, and the due preparation for it. Read his letter to John Kennedy on his deliverance from shipwreck. See with what apostolic dignity and sweetness he salutes Kennedy. See how he lifts up Kennedy’s accident out of the hands of winds and waves, and traces it all up to the immediate hand of God. See how he speaks of Kennedy’s reprieve from death; and how the spared man should make use of his lengthened days. Altogether, a noble, powerful, apostolic letter; a letter that must have had a great influence in making Bailie Kennedy the choice Christian that he was and that he became. We have only three letters preserved of Rutherford’s to Kennedy. But we have sufficient evidence that they were fast and dear friends. Rutherford writes to Kennedy from Aberdeen, upbraiding him for forgetting him; and what a letter that also is! It stands well out among the foremost of his letters for fulness of all the great qualities of Rutherford’s intellect and heart.
But it is with the shipwreck letter that we have to do to-night; and with the expressions in it we have taken for our text: ’Die well, for the last tide will ebb fast.’ ‘It is appointed to all men once to die,’ says the Apostle, in a most solemn passage. Think of that, think often of that, think it out, think it through to the end. God has appointed our death. He has our name down in His seven-sealed Book; and when the Lamb opens the Book, and finds the place, He reads our name, and all that is appointed us till death, and after death. The exact and certain time of our death is all appointed; the place of it also; and all the circumstances. Just when it is to happen; to-night, to-morrow, this year, next year, perhaps not this dying century; we shall perhaps live to write A.D. 1901 on our letters. Near or afar off, it is all appointed. And all the circumstances of it also. I don’t know why Rutherford should say to Kennedy that it is a terrible thing to ‘die in one’s day clothes,’ unless he hides a parable under that. But whether in day clothes or night clothes; whether like Dr. Andrew Thomson, our first minister, in Melville Street, and with his hand on the latchkey of his own door; or, like Dr. Candlish, his successor, in his bed, and repeating, now Shakespeare, and now the Psalmist; by the upsetting of a boat, the shape in which death came near to Kennedy, or by the upsetting of a coach, as I escaped myself, not being ready. ‘The Lord knew,’ writes Rutherford, ’that you had forgotten something that was necessary for your journey, and let you go back for it. You had not all your armour on wherewith to meet with the last enemy.’ By day or by night; by land or by sea; alone, or surrounded by weeping friends; in rapture like Hugh Kennedy, or in thick darkness