Dr. Samuel Johnson: An Extraordinary Eulogy
In This Vale of Tears
There were, doubtless, at all times, as there are now, many who lived with very little thought concerning their end; many whose time was wholly filled up by public, or domestic business, by the pursuits of ambition, or the desire of riches; many who dissolved themselves in luxurious enjoyments, and, when they could lull their minds by any present pleasure, had no regard to distant events, but withheld their imagination from sallying out into futurity, or catching any terror that might interrupt their quiet; and there were many who rose so little above animal life, that they were completely engrossed by the objects about them, and had their views extended no farther than to the next hour.
What Lies Beyond the Grave
All cannot live in the perpetual dissipation of successive diversions, nor will enslave their understandings to their senses, and seek felicity in the gross gratifications of appetite.
The approach of age, and the certainty of death; the approach of that time, in which strength must fail, and pleasure fly away, and the certainty of that dissolution which shall put an end to all prospects of this world.
Death has no man escaped, and therefore no man can hope to escape it.
This leads man to the consideration of his end; and accordingly we find, that the fear of death has always been considered as the great enemy of human quiet.
Beyond the Great Divide
This unwelcome conviction, which has been continually pressed upon the mind, every art has been employed to oppose.
The general remedy, in all ages, has been to chase it away from the present moment, and to gain a suspense of the pain that could not be cured.
To bring life and immortality to light, to give such proofs of our future existence, as may influence the most narrow mind, and fill the most capacious intellect, to open prospects beyond the grave, in which the thought may expatiate without obstruction, and to supply a refuge and support to the mind, amidst all the miseries of decaying nature, is the peculiar excellence of the gospel of Christ.
Thoughts After Attending a Funeral
It would not indeed be reasonable to expect, did we not know the inattention and perverseness of humankind, that anyone who had followed a funeral, could return home without new resolutions of a holy life; for, who can see the final period of all human schemes and undertakings, without conviction of the vanity of all that terminates in the present state?
For who can see the wise, the brave, the powerful, or the beauteous, carried to the grave, without reflection on the emptiness of all those distinctions which set us here in opposition to each other?
And who, when he sees the vanity of all terrestrial advantages, can forbear to wish for a more permanent and certain happiness?
Such wishes, perhaps, often arise, and such resolutions are often formed: but, before the resolution can be exerted, before the wish can regulate the conduct, new prospects open before us, new impressions are received; the temptations of this world solicit, the passions of the heart are put into commotion; we plunge again into the tumult, engage again in the contest, and forget, that what we gain cannot be kept, and that the life, for which we are thus busy to provide, must be quickly at an end.
The Altar Call
But, let us not be thus shamefully deluded!
Let us not thus idly perish in our folly, by neglecting the loudest call of Providence; nor, when we have followed our friends, and our enemies, to the tomb, suffer ourselves to be surprised by the dreadful summons, and die, at last, amazed and unprepared!
Let everyone whose eye glances on this bier, examine what would have been his condition, if the same hour had called him to judgment, and remember, that though he is now spared, he may, be tomorrow among the separated spirits.
The present moment is in our power: let us, therefore, from the present moment, begin our repentance! Let us not, any longer, harden our hearts, but hear, this day, the voice of our Saviour and our God, and begin to do, with all our powers, whatever we shall wish to have done, when the grave shall open before us.
Life is Short
Let all remember, that the day of life is short, and that the day of grace may be much shorter; that this may be the last warning which God shall grant us, and that, perhaps, he who looks on the grave unalarmed, may sink unreformed into his own!
Let it, therefore, be our care, when we retire from this solemnity, that we immediately turn from our wickedness, and do that which is lawful and right; that, whenever disease or violence, shall dissolve our bodies, our souls may be saved alive, and received into the everlasting habitations by God.
Dr Samuel Johnson
When the beloved wife of Dr. Samuel Johnson, Tetty, died in March of 1752, he wrote a eulogy for her. I have published selective quotes from it above. It is meant to make us think of what lies Beyond the Great Divide. After writing it, he couldn't bring himself to speak it. It was never used.
Dr. Samuel Johnson was the greatest intellectual, as well as the eminent literary critic, in the history of England. He created many aphorisms that are widely quoted today, e.g., "'Tis better to remain silent and be thought a fool, than open one's mouth and remove all doubt." But he is best known for his preternaturally sublime achievement—indeed unsurpassed in the history of world scholarship—the Dictionary of the English Language, which he published in 1755.
Lesser known is that Johnson also wrote dozens of sermons. He was not a preacher. But it was not uncommon in those days for a high-profile minister to have a professional writer author sermons for him.
The original eulogy was much longer, including many personal reflections about his wife, but I have edited it for brevity, and for a more general audience. I find this eulogy to be a sharp reminder that there is more than this Vale of Tears. It might behoove us to think about what lies Beyond the Grave.
Dr Samuel Johnson said he based this eulogy on the Gospel of John 11:25-26:
"I am the resurrection and the life: those who believe in me, will live, even though they die; and whoever lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?"