Matt Dillon is dead!

A sad bit of news came last week.  Marshall Dillon of Dodge has died!  James Arness, who played the role of Matt Dillon on TV’s “Gunsmoke” for twenty years (1955-1975), died on June 3, 2011, at the age of eighty-eight.

I was a freshman at Freed-Hardeman College in the fall of 1955 when “Gunsmoke” debuted.  A bunch of us would gather in the game room located upstairs over the college cafeteria on Saturday nights to watch the show.   The cast of Matt, Chester B. Goode, Miss Kitty, Festus Haggen, Doc Adams and assorted others was an interesting assembly of characters.  While each had their shortcomings, they all were “good guys,” dedicated to the protection of the innocent and the punishment of the guilty, the latter often with a fatal plug to a vital organ of the villain delivered by Marshall Dillon’s lightening fast draw of his six-shooter!

I have always loved Westerns!  As a young boy, the highlight of my week was to go to the Ritz Theatre in my hometown of DeFuniak Springs, Florida on Saturday afternoons and see a good cowboy “picture show.”  I loved the “macho” (I don’t recall hearing that word back in my childhood) cowboys—Hopalong Cassidy, the Durango Kid, Sunset Carson, Lash Larue, Red Ryder (and his sidekick, Little Beaver), et al.  Roy Rogers, Gene Autry, and Tex Ritter were okay, but in my mind they were not in the same league with my favorites, though later in life I did enjoy a cup of coffee and some conversation with Tex Ritter in a Lebanon, Tennessee cafe.

In the old black and white Westerns, the good guys always won and the bad guys always lost.  The same was true of “Gunsmoke.”  Though it does not always work out that way in the real world (at least where the here and now is concerned), I think the reinforcement of the notion that “crime does not pay” was a good thing.  The cowboy “stars” of both the big screen and small screen were good role models for the youth of their day.

The reality, however, is that none of us is invincible.  James Arness, at 6′ 7″ and well over 200 pounds of muscle and blood and bones, grew old and died.  A few weeks ago, Elizabeth Taylor, a woman of exquisite beauty and tremendous acting talent, died.  Every year a long list of “notables” who have passed away during the year is rehearsed and we are reminded once again that “it is appointed for men to die once, but after this the judgment” (Hebrews 9:27).

The Bible speaks of two “births” as well as of two “deaths.”  All humans experience one birth, the natural one of our earthly parents.  But Jesus spoke of the possibility of being “born again”—”born of water and the Spirit” (John 3:3-5).  Likewise, we all are appointed to die once (Hebrews 9:27).  But we are warned of a “second death”—the lake of fire and brimstone—otherwise known as hell (Revelation 20:14-15).

In the light of these realities, one can be born once (of flesh and blood) and die twice (physically and eternally), or one can be born twice (of flesh and blood and later of water and Spirit) and die only once (physically), thus avoiding the second death—the one experienced by those who know not God and do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ, and who, as a consequence, “will be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of His power” (II Thessalonians 1:6-9).

For the thinking person it is not a terribly hard choice to make.  Life in this world does have an expiration date, even for Marshall Dillon.

Hugh Fulford
hugh’s news & Views
June 7, 2011

#gunsmoke, #hughfulford, #james-arness