Reading John Owen's meditations On the Glory of Christ is one of the greatest pleasures that I have enjoyed so far in life - no exaggeration. As I've been revisiting it recently, one of the things that has struck me is that the preface is largely about death. The author was himself not long for this world: "My principal work having been now for a long season to die daily, as living in a continual expectation of my dissolution..."
What will enable us to face death? How can we die well? How "may we be able to encounter death cheerfully, constantly, and victoriously"?
Owen proposes three things. Firstly, we must be prepared to surrender our spirits to God, after the example of Christ - something which is very difficult for us, both on account of our sinfulness and on account of the natural constitution of a human being as body and soul conjoined. Secondly, we must be prepared to let go of the flesh and everything that goes with it, good and bad. Thirdly, we must be happy to resign ourselves to God's management of time, and not to resent his timing. How are these things, which are admittedly desperately difficult, to be achieved?
For Owen, these "cannot be attained unto, without a prospect of that glory that shall give us a new state far more excellent than what we here leave or depart from. This we cannot have, whatever we pretend, unless we have some present views of the glory of Christ." We cannot expect to enjoy Christ hereafter unless we have enjoyed him in this life. And we cannot have any expectation of dying well unless we have that future glory to look forward to.
Since unless the Lord comes (Maranatha!) I will certainly die, there is nothing better for me to do with my time now than to meditate on the glory of Christ, to acquire a taste for his goodness, to learn to value him above everything else. In so far as I do this, I will be prepared to surrender to death.
"This is the last victorious act of faith, wherein its conquest over its last enemy death itself doth consist" - namely, to be so delighted by the prospect of seeing Christ in his glory that I can be comforted in death and happily surrender my spirit into his hands.
God help us so to do.