Writing to another old man, Rutherford points out to him the gracious purpose of God in appointing him his death in old age. ‘It is,’ says Rutherford, ’that you may have full leisure to look over all your accounts and papers before you take ship.’ What a tangle our papers also are in as life goes on; and what need we have of a time of leisure to set things right before we hand them over. Rutherford, therefore, makes us see old Carlton on his bed with his pillows propping him up, and a drawer open on the bed, and bundles of old letters and bills spread out before him. Old love letters; old business letters; his mother’s letters to him when he was a boy at Edinburgh College; letters in cipher that no human eye can read but those old, bleared, weeping eyes that fill that too late drawer with their tears. The old voyager is looking over his papers before he takes ship. And he comes on things he had totally forgotten: debts he had thought paid; petitions he had thought answered; promises he had thought fulfilled; till he calls young Carlton, his son, to his bedside, and tells him things that break both men’s hearts to say and to hear; and commits to his son and heir sad duties that should never have been due; debts, promises, obligations, reparations, such that, to remember them, is a terrible experience on an old man’s deathbed. But what mercy that he was not carried off, and his drawer unopened!
Now, speaking of taking ship, when we are preparing for a voyage, and a visit to another country and another city, we ‘read up,’ as we say, before we set sail. Before we start for Rome we read our Tacitus and our Horace, our Gibbon and our Merivale. If it is Florence we take down Vasari and Dante, Lord Lindsay and Mrs. Jamieson, and so on. Now, if Eternity holds for us a new world, with cities and peoples that are all new to us, should we not prepare ourselves for them also? Have you, then, laid in a library for your old age, when, like old Carlton, you will be lying waiting at the water-side? What books do you read when you wish to put on the mind of a man who intends to die well? ’Read to me where I first cast my anchor,’ said John Knox, when dying, to his weeping wife. Does your wife know where you first cast your anchor? Does she know already what to read to you when you are preparing for the last voyage?
And then, having prepared for, and practised dying well, play the man and perform it well when the day comes. ‘Die as your father died,’ says Rutherford to Kennedy. Now, that is too much to ask of any man, because old Hugh Kennedy’s deathbed was what it was by the special grace of God. You cannot command any man to die in rapture. But Rutherford does not mean that, as he is careful to explain. He means, as he says, ’die believing.’ It will be your last act as a believer, therefore do it well. You have been practising faith all your days; show that practice makes perfection at the end. As Rutherford said