My heart is disquieted within me, and the fear of death has fallen upon me.--Ps. iv. 4.
My flesh and my heart faileth, but God is the strength of my heart.--Ps. lxiii. 25.
Yea though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for Thou art with me.--Ps. xxiii. 4.
Thou hast delivered my soul from death, mine eyes from tears, and my feet from falling.--Ps. cxvi. 8.
What will become of us after we die? What will the next world be like? What is heaven like? Shall I be able to enjoy it? Shall I be a man there, or only a ghost, a spirit without a body?
To this St. Paul answers, that Christ, the Son of God, after that He was manifested in the flesh, was received up into glory. He does not tell us what heaven is like, for though he had been caught up into the third heaven, yet what he saw there was unspeakable. Neither does he tell us what the next life will be like; all he says is, the Man Christ Jesus, who walked this earth like other men, was received up into glory, and He did not leave His man's mind, His man's heart, even His man's body behind Him. He carried up into heaven with Him His whole manhood, spirit, soul, and body, even to the print of the nails in His hands, and in His most holy feet, and the wound of the spear in His most holy side. That is enough for us; because the Man Christ Jesus is in heaven, we, as men, may ascend to heaven. Where He is we shall be. And what He is, in as far as He is Man, we shall be. And this we do know, that we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is.
Men are afraid of dying, principally, I believe, because they fear the unknown. It is not that they are afraid of the pain of dying. It is not that they are afraid of going to hell. Neither is it that they are afraid of not going to heaven. But when they think of actually dying, they feel as if to go into the next world was to be turned out into the dark night, into an unknown land, away from house and home, and all they have known and loved; and so they shrink from death.
All Saints-Day Sermons.
When you are in terror, trouble, and affliction, ay! and in the black jaws of death, and know not where to turn, that blessed thought, "Christ is risen from the dead," will be a shield and a strength to you which no other thought can give. The Lord is risen--a man, with His man's body, and His man's spirit, His human love and tenderness; He has taken them all up to Heaven with Him. He is a man still, though He is very God of very God, He rose from the dead as a man, and therefore He can understand me and feel for me still--now--here in England in the nineteenth century just as much as He could when He was walking upon earth in Judea of old.
When this world is vanishing from our eyes, and we are going we know not whither, leaving behind us all we know, and love, and understand; then the thought of all thoughts--"Christ is risen from the dead" is the only one which will save us from sad, dark thoughts, from fear and despair, or from stupid carelessness, and the death of a brute beast, such as too many die. "Christ is risen and I shall rise. Christ has conquered death for Himself, and He will conquer it for me. Christ took His man's body and soul with Him from the tomb to God's right hand, and He will raise my body and soul at the last day, that I may be with Him for ever, and see Him where He is." In life and in death this is the only thing which will save us from sin, from terror, from the dread of the hereafter.
Why did he die, we ask? There must be a final cause, a purpose for each death of every son of man, or the fact would be altogether hideous--a scribble without a meaning--a skeleton without a soul. Why did he die? "I became dumb, I opened not my mouth; for it was Thy doing." So says the Burial Psalm. So let us say likewise. "I became dumb:" not with rage, not with despair; but because it was Thy doing, and therefore it was done well. It was the deed, not of chance, nor of necessity. Not so. For it was the deed of the Father, without whom a sparrow falls not to the ground; of the Son who died upon the Cross in the utterness of His desire to save; of the Holy Ghost, who is the Lord and Giver of Life to all created things. It was the deed of One who delights in Life and not in Death; in bliss and not in woe; in light and not in darkness; in order and not in anarchy; in good and not in evil. It had a final cause, a meaning, a purpose; and that purpose is very good. What it is, we know not; and we need not know. To guess at it would be indeed to meddle with matters too high for us. So let us be dumb. Dumb, not from despair, but from faith; dumb, not like a wretch weary with calling for help which does not come, but dumb like a child sitting at its mother's feet, and looking up into her face and watching her doings, understanding none of them as yet, but certain that they are all done in love.
Christ is risen! What a thought was that for the blessed martyrs, for poor creatures in the agony of fear and shame, expecting presently to be torn to pieces or burnt alive. "Death, this horrible death, cannot conquer me, weak and fearful as I am, for my Lord and Master, for whom I am going to suffer, has conquered death, and He will not let it conquer me. He is stronger than hell and death, and He will not suffer me in my last hour, for any pains of death, to fall from Him. He is King of Heaven and Earth, and He will care for His own." What comfort to be able to say: "Ay, I am torn from wife and child and all which I love on earth; but not for ever, not for ever; for Christ rose from the dead, and I, who belong to Christ, shall rise as He did. This poor flesh of mine may be burnt in flames, devoured by ravenous beasts. What matter? Christ the King of men has risen from the dead, and become the first fruits of them that slept. That same Spirit which brought back His body from the grave and hell, will bring my body also from the grave and hell, to a nobler, happier life with Him in joy unspeakable, where Christ now sits on God's right hand defending me, pitying me, and blessing me, holding out to me a crown of glory which shall never fade away."
These things are most bitter, [147: Deaths on the battlefield.] and the only comfort that I can see in them is, that they are bringing us all face to face with the realities of human life, as it has been in all ages, and giving us sterner and yet more loving, more human, and more divine thoughts about ourselves, and our business here, and the fate of those who are gone, and awakening us out of the luxurious, frivolous, unreal dream (full, nevertheless, of hard judgments) in which we have been living so long, to trust in a Living Father, who is really and practically governing this world and all worlds, and who willeth that none should perish; and therefore has not forgotten or suddenly begun to hate and torment one single poor soul which is past out of this life into some other. All are in our Father's hands; and, oh! blessed thought, though they "go down into hell, Thou art there also."
Letters and Memories.
Jesus is the Saviour, the Deliverer, the great Physician, the healer of soul and body. Not a pang is felt, or a tear shed on earth, but He sorrows over it. Not a human being on earth dies young but He, as I believe, sorrows over it. What is it which prevents Him healing every sickness, soothing every sorrow, wiping away every tear now, we cannot tell. But this we can tell, that it is His will that none should perish. This we can tell, that He is willing as ever to heal the sick, to cleanse the leper, to cast out devils, to teach the ignorant, to bind up the broken-hearted. This we can tell, that He will go on doing so more and more, year by year, and age by age. This we can tell, from Scripture, that Christ is stronger than the devil. This we can tell, that Christ and all good men, the spirits of just men made perfect, the wise and the great in God's sight, who have left us their books, their sayings, their writings, as precious health-giving heir-looms, have been fighting, and are fighting, and will fight to the end, against the devil, and sin, and oppression, and misery, and disease, and everything which spoils and darkens the face of God's good earth. And this we can tell, that they will conquer at the last, because Christ is stronger than the devil; good is stronger than evil; light is stronger than darkness; God's Spirit, the giver of life and health and order, is stronger than all the evil customs and carelessness and cruelty and superstition which make miserable the lives, and, as far as we can see, destroy the souls of thousands. Yes; I say Christ's kingdom is a kingdom of health and deliverance for body and soul; and it will conquer, and it will spread, and it will grow, till the nations of the world have become the kingdoms of God and of His Christ. Christ reigns, and will reign, till He has put all enemies under His feet, and the last of His enemies which shall be destroyed is Death. Death is His enemy which He has conquered by rising from the dead; and the day will come when Death will be no more--when sickness and sorrow shall be unknown, and God shall wipe tears from all eyes. I say it again--never forget it--Christ is King, and His kingdom is a kingdom of health, of life and deliverance from all evil. It always has been so from the first time our Lord cured the leper in Galilee; it will be so to the end of the world.
What did the spiritual glory of Christ's countenance at His transfiguration show His disciples, but that He was a spiritual King, whose strength lay in the spirit of power, and wisdom, and beauty, and love, which God had given Him without measure; and that there was such a thing as a spiritual body--such a body as each of us some day shall have if we be found in Christ at the resurrection of the just--a body which shall not hide a man's spirit as it does here, when it becomes subject to the wear and tear of life, and disease, and decay; but a spiritual body--a body which shall be filled with our spirits, which shall be perfectly obedient to our spirits--a body through which the glory of our spirits shall shine out, as the glory of Christ's spirit shone out through His in the transfiguration. "Brethren, we know not what we shall be, but this we do know, that when He shall appear we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is."
I believe, says the Creed, in the Resurrection of the Flesh. The Bible teaches us to believe, that we, each of us, as human beings, men and women, shall have our share in that glorious day; not merely as ghosts, disembodied spirits (of which the Bible, thanks be to God, says little or nothing), but as real live human beings, with new bodies of our own, on a new earth, under a new heaven. Therefore, says David, my flesh shall rest in hope; not merely my soul, my ghost, but my flesh. For the Lord, who not only died, but rose again with His body, shall raise our bodies, according to the mighty working by which He subdues all things to Himself; and then the whole manhood of each of us, body, soul, and spirit, shall have our perfect consummation and bliss in His eternal and everlasting glory. That is our hope.
Those who die in the fear of God and in the faith of Christ do not really taste of death; to them there is no death, but only a change of place, a change of state; they pass at once into some new life, with all their powers, all their feelings, unchanged; still the same living, thinking, active beings which they were here on earth. . . . Rest they may--rest they will, if they need rest. But what is their rest? Not idleness, but peace of mind. To rest from sin, from sorrow, from fear, from doubt, from care; this is true rest. Above all, to rest from the worst weariness of all--knowing one's duty, and not being able to do it. That is true rest--the rest of God, who works for ever, and is at rest for ever; as the stars over our heads move for ever, thousands of miles a day, and yet are at perfect rest, because they move orderly, harmoniously, fulfilling the law which God has given them. Perfect rest, in perfect work; that surely is the rest of blessed spirits, till the final consummation of all things, when Christ shall have made up the number of His elect. And if it be so, what comfort for us who must die, what comfort for us who have seen others die, if death be but a new birth into some higher life; if all that it changes in us is our body--the mere husk and shell of us--such a change as comes over the snake when he casts his old skin, and comes out fresh and gay, or even the crawling caterpillar, which breaks its prison, and spreads its wings to the sun as a fair butterfly? Where is the sting of death then, if death can sting, and poison, and corrupt nothing of us for which our friends love us; nothing of us with which we could do service to men or God? Where is the victory of the grave, if so far from the grave holding us down, it frees us from the very thing which does hold us down--the mortal body?
Water of Life--Sermons.
Consider the lilies of the field. We must take our Lord's words exactly. He is speaking of the lilies, the bulbous plants which spring into flower in countless thousands every spring over the downs of Eastern lands. All the winter they are dead, unsightly roots, hidden in the earth. But no sooner does the sun of spring shine upon their graves, than they rise into sudden life and beauty, as it pleases God, and every seed takes its own peculiar body. Sown in corruption, they are raised in incorruption; sown in weakness, they are raised in power; sown in dishonour, they are raised in glory; delicate, beautiful in colour, perfuming the air with fragrance; types of immortality, fit for the crowns of angels.
Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow. For even so is the Resurrection of the dead. Yes, not without a divine providence--yea, a divine inspiration--has the blessed Eastertide been fixed, by the Church of all ages, as the season when the earth shakes off her winter's sleep; when the birds come back, and the flowers begin to bloom, when every seed which falls into the ground and dies, and rises again with a new body, is a witness to us of the Resurrection of Christ; and a witness, too, that we shall rise again; that in us, as in it, life shall conquer death; when every bird that comes back to sing and build among us, every flower that blows, is a witness to us of the Resurrection of the Lord and of our Resurrection. . . . They obey the call of the Lord, the Giver of Life, when they return to life, as a type and a token to us of Christ their Maker, who was dead and is alive again, who was lost in hell on Easter eve, and was found again in heaven for evermore. And so the resurrection of the earth from her winter's sleep, commemorates to us, as each blessed Eastertide comes round, the Resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ, and is a witness to us that some day life shall conquer death, light conquer darkness, righteousness conquer sin, joy conquer grief; when the whole creation, which groaneth and travaileth in pain until now, shall have brought forth that of which it travaileth in labour--even the new heavens and the new earth, wherein shall be neither sighing nor sorrow, but God shall wipe away tears from all eyes.
Discipline and other Sermons.
Death is not death if it kills no part of us save that which hindered us from perfect life. Death is not death, if it raises us in a moment from darkness into light, from weakness into strength, from sinfulness into holiness. Death is not death, if it brings us nearer to Christ who is the fount of life. Death is not death, if it perfects our faith by sight, and lets us behold Him in whom we have believed. Death is not death, if it gives us to those whom we have loved and lost, for whom we have lived, for whom we long to live again. Death is not death, if it joins the child to the mother who was gone before. Death is not death, if it takes away from that mother for ever all a mother's anxieties, a mother's fears, and lets her see, in the gracious countenance of her Saviour, a sure and certain pledge that those whom she has left behind are safe, safe with Christ and in Christ, through all the chances and dangers of this mortal life. Death is not death, if it rids us of doubt and fear, of chance and change, of space and time, and all which space and time bring forth, and then destroy. Death is not death; for Christ has conquered death for Himself, and for those who trust in Him.
Water of Life--Sermons.
Out of God's boundless bosom, the fount of life, we came; through selfish, stormy youth and contrite tears--just not too late; through manhood not altogether useless; through slow and chill old age, we return from Whence we came; to the Bosom of God once more--to go forth again, it may be, with fresh knowledge, and fresh powers, to nobler work. Amen.
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