This Year Thou Shalt Die

Sketch of a Sermon by Rev. H. M. Turner, L. L. D., Delivered in the Tabernacle, SUNDAY, January 2, 1876, 7 1-2 o’clock, P. M.—The New Year.

The Colored Tribune: March 4, 1874

“This year thou shalt die”—Jeremiah, xxviii: 16. The decree has gone out from God that all men shall die. It may therefore be said, that death is the common lot of man, ad yet, no truism has taxed Almighty wisdom more than this, to force its recognition among the inhabitants of the earth. Everybody gives a bague assent to death, yet how few realize the magnitude of that assent. The great bulk of humanity only entertain dreamy ideas of it. ask a man if he does not know he has to die and he will tell you yes, but its practical effects seldom if ever, enters his mind; he has been accustomed to hearing it said, everybody must die, and he yields a kind of traditional concession without ones in ten thousand times thinking of what he is saying, while at the very moment he is speaking death is undermining his constitutionality and the golden moments of life are flying away in swift succession, for
“Death rides in every breeze

And lurks in every flower.”

The words of my text is the sentence of God against Hananiah, a false prophet, who, in the days Zedekiah, king of Judah, endeavored to mislead the chosen people of God by lies, and even dared to contend with Jeremiah, the prophet. Hananiah withstood Jeremiah, the prophet, and publicly prophesied in the temple that within two years Jeconiah and all his fellow captives, with the vessels of the Lords house, which Nebuchadnezzar had taken to Babylon, an indication what treacherous negotiations were already secretly open with Pharaoh--….. He corroborated his prophecy by taking the yoke from the neck of Jeremiah, a yoke he wore by divine command to symbolize the subjection of Judea and the neighboring countries to the Babylonian empire and braking it. But Jeremiah was ordered to tell the prophetic impostor, that for the wooden yoke which he had broken, iron yokes should be made and substituted, so firm was the dominion of Babylon destined to be for seventy years. This rebuke was accompanied by a prediction of Hananiah’s death, which took place in two months after it was made. This galse prophet unconditionally promised prosperity to an abandoned and unrepentant generation, and did not so much as exhort them to a ….. It was just such abominable trash as some men call the pure gospel in this day. All encouragement, promise, privilege, cheer, and hallelujah, without the least warning, discrimination of character, exhortation, or precept. There are preachers in the land by scores, who had rather deliver a fantastic sermon, coined out of an ignorant imagination, and raise a shout, than to utter the sober word of truth and have God’s endorsement—time servers and men pleasers were never made to hear the message of heaven. One “Thus saith the Lord,” is of more value than a thousand whimsical fancies. Man needs truth, stripped of all its caprices, however servers or terrific it may be.

“This year thou shalt die” was the appalling message which froze the heart of the rebellious prophet. And if we could but part the veil of the future and look through a few weeks or months of the near hereafter we might find ourselves in awful agony too. This is the first Sabbath of the new year—the second day of the year—we have started out to contend with 1876, the great centennial year. The whole nation is jubilant, the expectation of millions are high and gleeful. How many anticipations cluster around the future of thousands, yes, tens of thousands, who will never realize them, for God has said: “This year thou shalt die.” It may be me, it may you, but be sure it will be some of us, possibly several of us, for all of us cannot weather the storms of life another twelve months. Rev. Daniel Watts, the celebrated blind preacher, told us this morning from this pulpit, that it would be a wonder to himself should he live to enjoy the first Sabbath in another year—we all might say the same. But for the special care that God takes of us, we might write despair upon our every brow. I believe there are a thousand chances to die where there is one to live. Not that death in itself is natural—death is unnatural, abnormal, man was not made to die but to live; his probation should have terminated with an ……, like Enoch and Elijah; no blighting frost should have withered his brow or horrified his change of worlds. But sin gave birth to death, and death, like a hungry vulture, eventually eats us up. His greed is insatiable, his avarice knows no bounds; in search of his prey he darts swifter than lightning, his circuit is from pole to pole, the world is his slaughter house and the earth his cemetery. Millions and billions have fell beneath his stroke, and still the world of mankind is startled at the dread exclaim, “This year thou shalt die!” What a host of us too, will never see a new years Sabbath again. Let us see if we can adumbrate the multitude that will be gone twelve months from to-day. It is estimated that seventy persons die every minute; then four thousand two hundred die every hour, over a hundred thousand every day, seven thousand every week, three million and twenty four thousand every month; but oh! my God, listen at this, will you? Thirty-six million, seven hundred and forty-two thousand die every year; a multitude too great for the human mind to span. There is not a man on earth who could concieve of what such a concourse of men and women would be. They would reach in single file, twenty one thousand miles, three feet apart—almost around the globe; and at arms length, they would belt the entire world, and the same number could belt it two or three times at speaking distance. Yet such is the number that must die this year. And should we be visited with the ……, or some other fearful epidemic, this number may be greatly augmented; or suppose we should be visited with such earthquakes, or volcanic eruptions, as have swept tens of thousands away in the twinkling of an eye? For these dreadful calamities may happen at any time. Look how ……, Pompeii, and ….. were flooded with burning lava, and destroyed thousands in one fearful blast.

Look how quick two hundred and fifty thousand perished at Antioch in 526. Think of the terrible destruction that came upon ….. in 1755, when in six minutes sixty thousand men and women as good as we are were numbered with the dead. Think of the total destruction of Epuhemia, a city in Calabria, where five thousand were swallowed up in a moment, leaving nothing to mark the place but a dismal lake. Think of the volcanic eruptions at Jorullo(?) in Mexico in 1759, when ten miles of level earth were dashed up five hundred feet, burying everything in its ruins. Think of Skaptar Jokul in ……, which poured forth two streams of burning lava, one sixty miles long and twelve wide, and the other forty miles long and seven wide, and boh forty miles long and seven side, and both averging a hundred feet thick. Again, around a mountain in Java in 1772, forty villages reposed in peace, but the mountain sank, carrying the cities and inhabitants with it, leaving a lake fifteen miles long and six broad. Who that ever read, can forget the …… catastrophe, the greatest on record? The explosions were heard nine hundred and seventy miles one way and seven hundred and twenty the other. So heavy was the fall of ashes at the distance of forty miles, that houses were crushed and destroyed. The darkness at Java three hundred miles from the place was deeper than the blackest night and twelve thousand souls perished. Is there any reason we should not be visited with similar judgments? Are we miserable rebels against God any better than those sinners? May not the same judgment come upon some of our cities?—such as New York, Washington City, and God-defying and heaven-daring Savannah, a large majority of the inhabitants of which seem to think of but little else than pic-nics, ball rooms and blaspheming around grog-shops.

Oh, my friends, pause, pause a moment, the mandate of the eternal is, “This year thou shalt die.” Could we but see the streams of tears death will wring from our eyes this year, or hear the screams, groans and lamentations death will exhort before next new year, we would all exclaim, “woe is me.” But let me tell these husbands, some of you will follow your wives to the grave this year; wives some of you will weep over your coffined husbands and chrilden before next New Year’s day. God only knows who it will be, and well it is for us that God does only know, for if we knew it would paralyze the nations of earth and palsy the energies of the world; ships would stop sailing, railroad cars would stop running, commerce would go down, business would be stagnant, stores would be closed, fields would grow up in grass and weeds, while the early victims of death would become frantic with despair; and a wail unlike any since the world began, would be heard through the land, weeping for ourselves and weeping for one another. But while we may all not die this year, it is our every duty to keep a look out for death and prepare for it—life is uncertain death certain. Take this text home with you, write it upon your mantle-piece, post it upon the walls of your house and keep it, before you. Oh that God may save us, is my prayer.


Turner, Henry McNeal. This Year Thou Shalt Die. The Henry McNeal Turner Project.  (1876, March 11th).

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