Preparing to Die Well
by Gary C. Kerr
via Expository Files 1.6; June, 1994
One of the advantages of taking a vacation is that you can do some things you don't normally have time to do. Since I love to read, I did a lot of "recreational" reading on a recent vacation. I especially enjoyed getting to finish a book I had started some time ago entitled, Andrew Jackson and the Course of American Freedom, 1822-1832, by Robert V. Remini. This is volume two of Remini's massive three-volume work on the life of "Old Hickory," our eighth president. I ran across one story in the book that I thought was interesting.
In June, 1832, a massive cholera epidemic hit the United States, having been transported to this country from Europe. It has been estimated that between June 1st and November 1st, three-thousand people died from this disease, and one of the hardest hit cities in the U.S. was Washington D.C. Nearing the end of his first term, President Andrew Jackson, already in poor health at age 65, was warned by his family back in Tennessee to get out of Washington and return to the Hermitage, his plantation home near Nashville, to ride out the epidemic. Jackson eventually did return to Tennessee, but not until July 22nd.
Prior to his departure (June 21st), Jackson wrote a letter to his beloved daughter-in-law, Sarah, to calm her fears for his health. In that letter, he said, in part:
"My Dear Sarah, Knowing that we have to die we ought to live to be prepared to die well, and then, let death come when it may, we will meet it without alarm, and be ready to say, 'The Lord's will be done.'" (Remini, p. 387).
To be honest, this statement took me by surprise. Jackson spent most of his life a skeptic at best, believing most if not all organized religions were out to take money from the masses, and were harmful to society. He did profess to accept Christ, on the urging of his wife Rachel, just prior to her death in 1828, and he "professed" religion from then until his death in 1845.
However, even his admiring biographer Remini refers to the above statement as "pious fatalism," the last hope of an old man who desperately missed his wife and wanted some hope that he might be with her again. Whatever Jackson's spiritual condition might have been, I believe he expressed poignantly and accurately a Scriptural truth that we all must accept. The author of the book of Hebrews says, "And as it is appointed for men to die once, but after this the judgment" (Hebrews 9:27). Jackson was right! We all have to die, and we will all stand before God in judgment. How much calmer, how much more serene, how much more composed could we be approaching our own deaths than knowing that we had "lived well," and that we were prepared to face that judgment of God and hear Him say, "Come, you blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world" (Matthew 25:34).
What about you? Are you striving to "live well" so that you can go to Heaven? If not, then you are, in the words of a wonderful old song, "unprepared to meet your God," and face the prospect of your own approaching death with alarm! Why not correct that situation while you have opportunity? When you do, you will know what Jackson was talking about, what Paul called that "peace of God, which surpasses all understanding" (Phil. 4:7).