A Rotten Canvas

I am only after finishing George Marsden’s magisterial biography on Jonathan Edwards.

Throughout the biography Marsden repeatedly makes reference to the remarkable health that the Edwards family enjoyed.  Jonathan’s parents lived long beyond the average age of expectancy, Jonathan himself lived well into his 50s and the majority of his children made it out of childhood (a remarkable feat in the eighteenth century).

Yet in the concluding chapter Marsden notes ‘Edwards spent his whole life preparing to die’ (pg. 490).

rotten canvas

As Edwards’ himself put it, life is a rotten canvas, which may give way to our weight at any moment and plunge us into eternity.

Jonathan Edwards knew that life could not be kept.  For Edwards death was not only a reality but a certainty.

The reality is death comes to us all.  It is something indiscriminate and certain.  Look at these references from the book of Ecclesiastes:

2:14 – The wise person has his eyes in his head, but the fool walks in darkness. And yet I perceived that the same event happens to all of them.

2:16 – For of the wise as of the fool there is no enduring remembrance, seeing that in the days to come all will have been long forgotten. How the wise dies just like the fool!

3:1-2 – For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven: a time to be born, and a time to die.

3:19-20 – For what happens to the children of man and what happens to the beasts is the same; as one dies, so dies the other. They all have the same breath, and man has no advantage over the beasts, for all is vanity. All go to one place. All are from the dust, and to dust all return.

8:8 – No man has power to retain the spirit, or power over the day of death.

9:2-3 – It is the same for all, since the same event happens to the righteous and the wicked, to the good and the evil, to the clean and the unclean, to him who sacrifices and him who does not sacrifice. As the good one is, so is the sinner, and he who swears is as he who shuns an oath. This is an evil in all that is done under the sun, that the same event happens to all. Also, the hearts of the children of man are full of evil, and madness is in their hearts while they live, and after that they go to the dead.

9:5 – For the living know that they will die, but the dead know nothing, and they have no more reward, for the memory of them is forgotten.

Now, you may be forgiven for writing off the Preacher in Ecclesiastes as a manic depressive.  Yet, this is not a message which is only found in Ecclesiastes.  Paul in Romans 5:12 says ‘sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned’.

I know that as a 25 year old, 5’ 11”, 12 stone, male, who is relatively fit, I often feel invincible.

Now, don’t get me wrong.  I know, intellectually, that one day I will die – but I don’t really believe that I may die today, tomorrow, or very soon.

But, this is not what the Bible teaches us.  The Bible teaches us that life cannot be kept; death cannot be held at arm’s length forever and may indeed come unexpectedly (Lk. 12:20).

Jonathan Edwards’ illustration of the rotten canvas helps us to picture this truth vividly.

There is however a safety net that lies below that rotten canvas.

Paul continues in Romans 5 saying, ‘For as by the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous…so that, as sin reigned in death, grace might also reign through righteousness leading to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord’ (19; 21).

The reality remains, death cannot be escaped.  However, through Jesus Christ righteous and obedient act there is the hope of eternal life for those who believe in him.

All of us will face death at least once.  After death there will be judgement (Heb. 9:27) – this will result in some enjoying a ‘second’ life, an eternal life, because they are found believing in Jesus Christ.  It will also result in some being sentenced to a second death (Rev. 21:8), an eternal death, because they rejected Christ.

As a son or daughter of Adam we will all die, but as a brother or sister of Jesus we all can, by faith, repeat with Paul, ‘Death is swallowed up in victory.  O death, where is your victory?  O death, where is your sting?’ (1 Cor. 15:54-55).

Thanks be to God who gives us the victory through Jesus (1 Cor. 15:57).


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