« VorigeDoorgaan »
feel their hearts rising in opposition to his great and amiable character. This is often felt by those who lie on a sick or dying bed; but so long as they feel this, death looks as terrible as eternal destruction, and appears to be inseparably connected with it. They are conscious of the moral impossibility of their enjoying God, either in this life or the life to come, without a moral conformity to his moral image. They have a clear conviction that they must love God for what he is in himself
, and be pleased not only with his goodness and grace, but with his justice and sovereignty, before they can be truly happy in any part of the universe. But as soon as they renounce their enmity, and become heartily reconciled to God, then they may be said to be in God and God in them. For " he that dwelleth in love, dwelleth in God, and God in him.” Such a union of heart to God is one thing essentially necessary to prepare men to go into his immediate presence, and to be forever happy in the contemplation of his glory.
3. To die in the Lord implies love to Christ, and entire des pendence on him for pardon and acceptance in the sight of God. Love to God is previous to love to Christ, and lays the only proper foundation for it. This appears from his own declaration in the sixth of John. “Every man that hath heard, and hath learned of the Father, cometh unto me.” True faith in Christ springs from love to the true character of God, which Christ loved, and displayed by his sufferings on the cross. Those who love God, love Christ for loving God, and opening the door of mercy to sinners. It is only for Christ's sake, that God can consistently receive the penitent and broken-hearted. But when these look to God for forgiveness by faith in Christ, they are justified freely by his grace, and entitled to eternal life.
To believe in Christ is to be in Christ, and to be in Christ is to be in the Lord, and to be in the Lord is to be prepared to die in the Lord. Faith in Christ disarms death of its sting and the grave of its terrors. This the apostles and primitive christians knew by happy experience. Hence they could say, “ O death, where is thy sting? Ograve, where is thy victory? The sting of death is sin, and the strength of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ." Though all who are united to Christ and accepted of God, are really in the Lord, and shall die in safety, yet is proper to observe still farther,
4. That to die in the Lord, in the full sense of the text, implies dying in a lively and well-founded hope of the favor of God, and the enjoyment of heaven. As God knows that his children stand in peculiar need of light and comfort in a dying hour, so he often manifests himself unto them as he does not to the world, gives them the spirit of adoption, and opens to their view a joyful prospect of the holiness and happiness of the kingdom of glory. We find many instances of this kind recorded in scripture, for the consolation of his friends in the close of life. He seems to have given David such divine views and feelings when he said, " As for me, I will behold thy face in righteousness; I shall be satisfied when I awake with thy likeness.” “ Thou wilt show me the path of life; in thy presence is fulness of joy, at thy right hand are pleasures for evermore.” Paul experienced the same hope and confidence, under a lively view of future and invisible realities. “For me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.” “ I am in a strait betwixt two, having a desire to depart, and to be with Christ; which is far better." It was a proverb in Israel, “ The righteous hath hope in his death.” And it has often been seen since, “in what peace a christian may die.” Many pious souls have smiled in death, and with joy unspeakable and full of glory bid adieu to the world, and taken possession of the inheritance of the saints in light. Those, therefore, who expire in a clear view, in an ardent desire, and a well-grounded hope, of the joys of heaven, do most eminently and visibly die in the Lord.
II. Let us now consider why those who die in the Lord are blessed. And here the first thing that occurs is,
1. Because they have a solid foundation to die in peace. This is peculiar to them, in distinction from all the rest of mankind. How many millions of the human race have found all their hopes perish in the near prospect of the grave, and the scenes that lie beyond it! Death is commonly the king of terrors to such as are not prepared to leave the world, and sometimes to those who are. The pains of the body are often much less distressing, at the hour of dissolution, than the fears of death, and the awful apprehensions of an opening eternity. It is indeed a fearful thing for the wicked to see themselves falling into the hands of the living God, who is about to pour out the vials of his wrath upon them without mixture and without end. But how happy are those who are satisfied with living, reconciled to dying, and longing for admission into the mansions of bliss ! How happy were the patriarchs in their last moments, who, after finishing their weary pilgrimage, died in faith of future and eternal felicity beyond the grave! Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob, and Joseph, left the world in peace. Moses died in the full prospect of the heavenly as well as earthly Canaan. The last words of David were, “ God hath made with me an everlasting covenant, ordered in all things and sure; for this is all my salvation and all my desire.” Good old Simeon said, in the view of his approaching decease, “ Lord, now lettest thou
thy servant depart in peace, according to thy word.” Stephen being filled with the Holy Ghost, at the moment of death, “ looked up steadfastly into heaven, and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing on the right hand of God,” and expired with these words on his lips, “ Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” Paul's prospect of death was joyful and triumphant, when, looking back upon his past, and looking forward to his future life, he said, " I am now ready to be offered, and the time of my departure is at hand. I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith : Henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord the righteous Judge shall give me at that day : and not to me only, but unto all them also that love his appearing.” Certainly it is much to be desired, then, to escape the terrors of the grave, and to enjoy peace and serenity of mind in the dark and trying hour of death; and this is very frequently the happy lot of those who die in the Lord.
2. Those who die in the Lord are blessed, because they immediately enter into the heavenly state. This is suggested in the text. “ Blessed are the dead which die in the Lord, from henceforth.” The moment they leave the world, they pass into glory. Enoch, Moses, and Elijah, were carried directly from earth to heaven. Lazarus was conducted by angels to Abraham's bosom. The poor penitent malefactor was raised from the cross to the paradise above. And all who have died in the Lord, have entered into that rest which is provided for the people of God. Were the souls of the righteous struck out of existence at death, or thrown into a state of total insensibility, they could not be said to be actually happy; but if they survive the body, and immediately ascend to heaven, then they must be immediately and unspeakably blessed.
For, first, they are completely released from all the sufferings of the present life. Here they were born to trouble as the sparks fly upward. Here all the seasons and all the elements were armed against them. Here they suffered by innumerable pains, infirmities, and diseases of the body. Here they endured public calamities as well as personal afflictions. Here they were subjected to mental and manual labor and fatigue, from day to day and year to year, in every situation of life. Here they were called to fight the good fight of faith, and surmount ten thousand obstacles which were thrown in the way of their duty by themselves and others. Here they lived and died in a state which was designed and calculated to fill their eyes with tears, and wring their hearts with sorrow. But they shall never suffer, nor sigh, nor weep any more.
No natural evil shall ever give them another painful sensation. They have arrived at a perfect and perpetual rest from all the labors, sorrows and sufferings, which they once endured in this vale of tears. And this prepares them for the pure and positive enjoyments of heaven.
Secondly. They are freed from all moral, as well as natural evil. Their sinning as well as their suffering is come to a final period. Though they sincerely loved God and all their fellow creatures while they tabernacled in flesh, yet their holy and devout affections were often interrupted by the world and the things of the world, as well as by the great adversary of souls. But their pious and benevolent affections shall now roll on for ever, without the least interruption from any thing past or future. They shall feel perfectly right towards God, towards Christ, towards the Holy Ghost, towards angels, towards saints, and towards all the intelligent creation. There shall never exist in their breasts a single purpose, desire, or wish, that they would not be willing the whole universe should know. They will lay their hearts open to the perfect friendship of all the inhabitants of heaven, which will afford them the purest felicity that can be enjoyed by intelligent and holy beings. They will constantly feel and constantly express entire complacency in each other's character, situation and enjoyments, which will put every individual, as far as possible, into the possession of the whole happiness of heaven.
Thirdly. They will be united not only in their affections but in their happy employments. Though they will entirely rest from their past earthly labors and painful exertions, yet they will be continually employed in holy and devout exercises. The heavenly inhabitants are represented as in a state of perpetual activity. They rest not day nor night from praising him who sitteth on the throne, and him who died for them, and made them kings and priests unto God. Heaven is incessantly resounding with the prayers and praises which flow from the love and admiration of those who have safely reached the haven of everlasting rest.
Besides, fourthly, their happiness is greatly augmented by immediately reaching the perfection of their nature. In this world they were in a state of minority, where all their intellectual powers were restrained and obstructed in their growth and operation. But as soon as they throw off all the clogs and obstructions of the body, and leave this dark and cloudy world, their noble faculties will expand, and reach their proper vigor and maturity. Every natural and moral excellence which they possessed in this life will be carried to perfection in the next. Though every soul will not be equally great, equally good, and equally happy; yet each individual will be perfectly great,
perfectly good, and perfectly happy. The infant, the child, the youth, the man, the middle-aged, and the aged, will each arrive at the perfection of his nature, as soon as he first enters into the heavenly world, where no imperfection ever comes. This the apostle Paul, who was caught up into heaven, plainly represents as the state of the blessed. “We know in part, and we prophesy in part. But when that which is perfect is come, then that which is in part shall be done away.
When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child; but when I became a man, I put away childish things. For now we see through a glass darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known.” We are, in the present state, totally unacquainted with the maturity of human nature. We have never seen any mind brought to its natural or moral perfection. But those who die in the Lord, will immediately find their own perfection, and the perfection of others, who arrived before them to the mansions of the blessed. And when they have come to the perfection of their nature, and all the natural excellences are adorned with the beauty of holiness, how glorious must they appear! how happy must they be! What rapid advances must they make in divine knowledge and holy love, in the world of light! There is Adam, and Moses, and the prophets, and the apostles, and Christ himself, to pour instruction into their inquisitive and full-grown minds. There the history of God and of man will be completely laid open; and there will be nothing within, and nothing without, to divert their attention, or impede their progress in divine knowledge and divine enjoyments. Such abundant evidence do we find in the scriptures of truth, of the consummate blessedness of those who die in the Lord.
It now remains to close the subject, by some serious and suitable
1. What has been said, naturally leads us to reflect upon the absurdity, as well as criminality, of imbibing and propagating the principles of infidelity. Those who deny the existence of God, and reject the revelation of his will, destroy the only solid foundation of their own peace and comfort in the view of mortality. They know they must die and leave the world, like all other men.
But while they persist in denying the being and the word of God, they plunge themselves in utter darkness respecting their existence and condition in a future state. It is the word of God only, which has brought life and immortality VOL. III.