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Great God, Is Life Such an Uncertain Thing?


In the late 1800s, there were few American preachers who were better-known than De Witt Talmage (who spend most of his ministry at Central Presbyterian Church in Brooklyn, New York). He was known as an orator and was perhaps second only to Henry Ward Beecher when it came to his ability to hold a crowd at rapt attention. Logos recently released a collection of 500 of his sermons and I’ve been enjoying reading my way through them. This excerpt, one of many in which he expresses concern for the souls of his listeners, recently caught my attention:

There are some who gave me a farewell shake of the hand when I went off two months ago who are not here today. Where are they? When in the closing service I opened my hymn-book and found the place, they opened their hymn-book and found the same place. I open my book today; they do not open theirs.

Great God, is life such an uncertain thing? If I bear a little too hard with my right foot on the earth, does it break through into the grave? Is this world which swings at the speed of thousands of miles an hour around about the sun going with tenfold more speed towards the judgment day? Oh, I am overborne with the thought, and in the confusion I cry to one and I cry to the other; “O time! O eternity! O the dead! O the judgment day! O Jesus! O God!”

But catching at the last apostrophe, I feel that I have something to hold on to; for “in God is thy refuge, and underneath thee are the everlasting arms.” And exhausted with my failure to save myself, I throw my whole weight of body, mind, and soul on this Divine promise, as a weary child throws itself into the arms of its mother; as a wounded soldier throws himself on the hospital pillow; as a pursued man throws himself into the refuge: for “in God is thy refuge, and underneath are the everlasting arms.”

I can speak no more for the gladness. Oh for a flood of tears with which to express the joy of this eternal rescue!

Note: If you decide to dabble in Talmage’s sermons, I’d recommend beginning with volume 3 rather than 1 or 2. By my assessment, the collection begins with some of his weakest sermons and only later turns to some of the strongest.

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