On December 18, 1799 George Washington was laid to rest, and during his funeral an oration was given by Dr. Elisha Cullens Dick (1762-1825) – one of the doctors who tended Washington as he lay dying. This speech moved me in many ways. It opened my eyes to the reality that one day I’m going to die. It’s not something we should be anxious about or worry about. But it is something we should prepare for. Everything we do in this life is vain, it will all turn to dust eventually. It cannot be eternal. But within each of us is an eternal soul – something that has the opportunity to survive death. The only way it can survive is through the truth that is laid out in the bible. Jesus said, “Whoever believes in me shall have eternal life.” But it’s more than just saying “Oh sure, I believe in Jesus!” It must come from the heart, and more importantly one must live their life the right way. This speech by Elisha Cullens Dick really opened my eyes that I need to be far more diligent than I have been with regards to being a disciple of Christ. Life is unpredictable. You can be fine one day, the next you can be dead. George Washington experienced just that kind of death. He was fine and less than two days later was dead from a throat infection that essentially suffocated him.
So here’s that speech that was given. It rings with great truth and a warning that we need to pursue our eternity with greater attention.
Here we view a striking instance of the uncertainty of life and the vanity of all human pursuit. The last offices paid to the dead are only useful as lectures to the living, on them we are to derive instruction and to consider every solemnity of this kind as a summons to prepare for our approaching dissolution, not withstanding the various mementos of mortality with which we daily meet. Not withstanding that death has established his empire over all works of nature. Yet, through some unaccountable infatuation, we forget that we are born to die. We go on from one design to another, add hope to hope, and lay-out plans for the employment of many years until suddenly we are alarmed by the approach of our death, when we least expected him, and at an hour that we probably assumed to be the meridian of our existence. Let the present example excite our most serious thoughts and strengthen our resolutions to amendment. As life is uncertain and all earthly pursuits are vain, let us no longer postpone the important concern of preparing for eternity. Let us embrace the happy moment while time and opportunity offer to provide against the great change, and all the pleasures of this world shall cease to delight, and the reflections of a virtuous life shall yield the only comfort and consolation. Thus our expectations will not be frustrated when we are hurried, unprepared, into the presence of an all wise and powerful judge, to whom the secrets of all hearts are known, and from whom no culprit can escape. Brethren let us, while in this stage of existence, support with propriety the character of our profession, advert to the nature of our solemn ties, and pursue with assiduity the sacred tenants of the order. Then with becoming reverence let us supplicate the divine grace and insure the favor of the eternal being whose goodness and power know no bound. That when the awful moment arrives, be it soon or late, we may be enabled to persecute our journey without dread or apprehension to that far distant country, from which no traveller returns. By the light of the divine countenance we shall pass without trembling through those gloomy mansions where all things are forgotten, and on the great and tremendous day of trial and retribution, when we are arraigned at the bar of divine justice, let us hope that justice will be pronounced in our favor and we shall receive our reward in possession of an immortal inheritance, where joy flows in one continued stream and no mound may check its course. May we be true and faithful, and live and die in love. May we profess what is good, and may we always act agreeably to our profession. May the Lord bless us and prosper us and may all our good intentions be crowned with success. Glory be to God on high, on earth peace and goodwill toward men.