Death: Comfort As The Dying Hope For Heaven
Something that truly sets the secular world apart from that of Christianity is the belief in life after death. Throughout the Sunday School books collection, death is often used as a vehicle which brings us home to heaven. Although this world is an uncertain and unstable place, if we have hope in God, heaven is our eternal home, and we can rejoice in the prospect of eternity with God. From the perspective of the secular works, death is an unknown. Christians, however, can die in the peace of God, knowing that their soul will enter the gates of heaven.
This theme works throughout the Sunday School books often, specifically within The Better Home. Speaking of a sickly young woman who mentioned how delighted she is to be going home, the main character discusses her own perspective and thoughts on heaven:
If she finds at home all that she hopes to find, she cannot be certain of its continuance for a day, or even an hour. How soon may sorrow, how soon may death enter her happy home! How soon might she be deprived of those whose society makes it home to her: how soon may she herself be snatched from them! But it is the happiness of the blessed in heaven that their home is unchangeable and eternal.
The blessings of heaven are available to all who put their trust in God, and heaven means all thoughts of life after death are pleasant for Christians. It is through the hope of heaven that christians are able to die peacefully. Death is a scary concept. Trying to help children wrap their minds around it is a feat in itself, but through remaining positive and insisting that there is still life, even in death, the Sunday School books clearly comfort and educate their readers on salvation that Jesus provides through his death on the cross.
In contrast, in the secular works of that time period, thoughts about life after death are grave and solemn. Some, such as Emily Bronte’s Wuthering Heights, present the peace of nature and the grave as suggestive of peace after death: “I lingered round [the three headstones] under that benign sky; watched the moths fluttering among the heath and harebells; wondered how anyone could ever imagine unquiet slumbers, for the sleepers in that quiet earth” (Wuthering Heights). Meanwhile, others are more solemn, silent, and respectful even when mentioning the grave, suggesting that since it is a place completely unknown to which we will all go, we ought to visit it with gravity. In James Harvey’s Meditation Among the Tombs, he speaks of those who think of graves and of visiting the homes of the dead:
[they]... must be sensible that [the Earth] is the ‘house appointed for all living’ and, that they themselves are shortly to remove into the same solemn mansions - and who would not turn aside, for a while, from the most favourite amusements, to view the place where his once loved companions lie? Who would not sometimes survey those apartments, where he himself is to take up an abode till time shall be no more?
There is an air of irresolution about these secular texts. Death, in this case, is entirely unknown, perhaps because there is no faith to provide answers. Eery and questioning, the tone here is is very solemn whereas the tone within the Sunday School books is full of hope for heaven. In contrast with the unknown described by the secular texts, the Sunday School books provide answers to hard questions about death. While the topic of death brings about fear and anxiety for all, the lessons within the books of our dataset strive to comfort those who are weary and to provide hope for heaven for all who believe in Christ.
For other Sunday School books that exemplify this theme, in addition to those mentioned above, see The Sin of Cruelty Exposed and Rebuked, The History of Eleanor Vanner, Who Died, April 26, 1839, Aged Ten Years, The Fretful Girl, The Birthday Party: A Story for Little Folks, and Biography of Two Little Children in the collection here:
Brontë, Emily, Fritz Eichenberg, and Bruce Rogers. Wuthering Heights. New York: Random House, 1943. Print.
James Harvey. Meditations and Contemplations. London. 1851. Print.
Unknown. The Better Home. American Sunday-School Union. 1835. Print.