... Great and marvellous are thy works, Lord God Almighty; just and true are thy ways, thou King of saints.—Revelation 15.3.
TRANSLATED FROM THE LATIN
C.W. HEISLER, A.M.
The Lutheran Publication Society.
CONSOLATION IN THE DEATH OF FRIENDS.
To Die is Gain.
O DEVOUT soul, keep Christ, thy blessed Saviour, always in mind, and thou wilt have no dread of death. If thou art distressed at the thought of the agonies of death, be comforted in view of the mighty power of Christ thy Lord. The Israelites could not drink the waters of Marah, because of their bitterness, until the Lord showed Moses a tree "which when he had cast into the waters, the waters were made sweet" (Ex. 15.25). And if thou dreadest the bitterness of death, fear not, for God shows thee a tree, which will change its bitterness into sweetness, that is the Branch sprung from the root of Jesse (Is. 11.1). That Branch is Christ, who said, "If a man keep my saying he shall never see death" (John 8.51). Our life here is full of burdens; it is a blessed thing then to find any comfort and alleviation of its miseries. After all it is not the Christian himself, but only his trouble that dies. This departure of the soul, which we think of as death, is not an exit, but a transition. We do not lose our departed loved ones, we simply send them on before us; they do not die, they rise into a higher life; they do not forsake us, they are not forever parted from us, they have just preceded us to the glory-world; they are not lost to us, rather only separated from us for a time. When the good man dies it is to live a new life; and whilst we in tears lay away his body, he rejoices in the unspeakable gains of the world of glory. Our friends die; but in truth that means that they cease to sin, and all their disquietudes, their struggles, their miseries also cease. They die in faith; and that means that from what is only, as it were, the shadow of a life here, they pass over into the true life beyond; out of the darkness and mystery of this world they are transferred to the glorious light of heaven; and from sojourning among men they depart hence to dwell forever with God.
Life is a voyage o'er a troubled sea; death is the port of safety to which we are bound. We ought not grieve then that our dear ones have died, but we ought to rejoice that from the stormy sea of life they have safely passed into the haven of eternal rest. This life is a long and weary imprisonment, and death is glorious liberty; for this reason old Simeon on the verge of death exclaimed, "Lord, now lettest Thou Thy servant depart in Peace" (Luke 2.39). He desired to be permitted to depart, as though he were here confined in a prison-house. Let us rather rejoice that our departed loved ones have been released from this prison, and have now attained unto perfect liberty. And so the Apostle had a desire to depart and be with Christ (Phil. 1.23), as if sensible that while he dwelt in the body he was miserably fettered. Shall we repine and grieve, then, that our friends have struggled out of these corporeal fetters, and are even now rejoicing in true liberty? Shall we array ourselves in sable garments of mourning for them, when they have put on the white robes of the redeemed? For it is written that to the elect have been given white robes in token of their innocence, and palms in their hands as emblems of victory (Rev. 7.9). Shall we torment ourselves with tears and groans, when "God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes" (Rev. 7.17; Is. 25.8)? Shall we grieve for our loved ones, thus adding fresh burdens to our lives, when they are in that place of blessedness where there is neither sorrow, nor crying, nor pain (Rev. 21.4), and where they rest from their labors (Rev. 14.13)? Shall their departure from us plunge us into excessive sadness, when they, in the company of the angels of God, are exulting in true and lasting joy? Shall we indulge in cries of lamentation for them, while they, before the Lamb, are singing that new song, having harps and golden vials full of odors, which are the prayers of saints (Rev. 5.8,9)? Shall we grieve for their departure from this world, when their departure is a matter of so much joy and blessedness to them?
How blessed it is to depart from this world, Christ plainly indicated when He replied to His disciples, whose hearts were filled with sadness because He had told them that He was about to go away from them, "If ye loved Me, ye would rejoice, because I said, I go unto the Father: for My Father is greater than I" (John 14.28). Suppose thou wert in a raging storm at sea, and the waves violently agitated by the winds were dashing over thy ship, every moment threatening to engulf it, wouldst thou not seek the nearest harbor with all possible haste? Behold, the world is tottering and laboring to its fall; it testifies to its impending ruin, not only by its old age, but also by the signs that "the end of all things is at hand;" and wilt thou not give thanks to God, wilt thou not congratulate thy departed loved ones, that they, now safe with God, have escaped the awful ruin, the terrible shipwreck, and the horrible plagues that threaten this world with destruction? In whose hands can the salvation of thy departed be safer than in the hands of Christ? Where can their souls dwell more securely than in the heavenly kingdom? Hear the words of the holy Apostle"Death is gain." Ah! it is a great gain to have escaped from the increasing burden of sin here; it is a gain to have fled from the distressing evils that here afflict us; it is a gain to have passed over into the possession of the better things that God has laid up for those who love Him. If those whom thou hast lost by death were very dear to thee, let God now be all the dearer to thee, because He was pleased to take them to Himself in glory. Do not chide the Lord, for He hath taken away nothing but what He gave; He hath simply taken His own, not thine (Job 1.21). Do not be angry that the Lord has been pleased to take back again to Himself what He had simply entrusted to thee as a loan. The Lord only sees the evils that are to come, and He lovingly took away thy dear ones from the calamities that He saw impending.
Those that die in the Lord rest from their labors, while those whom they left behind in this world suffer grievous afflictions and torments, and that even in circumstances of material comfort and greatness, as in the palaces of kings. If thou hast lost dear ones by death, be persuaded that by and by thou wilt be with them again, and then they will be dearer to thee than ever; for a brief time they are separated from thee; but through a blissful and unending eternity thou wilt be re-united to them. For we cherish the sure and blessed hope that we shall soon depart hence, as some of our dear ones have, whom we have sent on before us, and that we shall come to that life, where as we know our loved ones better we shall love them better than we ever loved them here, and that, too, without the least fear of anything to mar our perfect love. No matter how many there will be, nor how many there have been, yet that great assembly in the heavenly world will receive our souls in its glad embrace. There, with joy unspeakable, shall we be permitted to recognize the faces of our loved and lost, and hold sweet converse with them through eternal ages. There the sister shall walk hand in hand with her brother, and children with their parents; and no night shall ever interrupt the glad festivities of that eternal day. Dwell not, then, so much upon that sad hour when thy friends left thee, as upon that glad time when they shall be restored to thee on the morning of the resurrection. When our faith in the resurrection is strong and firm, death loses much of its terror; we look upon it rather as a quiet sleep. We may find hints of the resurrection in all nature about us. The sun daily sets to usher in the splendor of a new day. The plant that lies dead through the long winter springs into new life at the approach of spring. The fabled phnix even in death reproduces itself. As the seasons end they begin again, keeping on in constant succession. The fruit comes to maturity and dies to reproduce other fruit from its seed. Unless the seed decay and die it will not spring up into fruitfulness. Thus in nature all things perpetuate themselves by dying; and out of death evermore comes a new life. Shall we suppose that God has to no purpose placed such types as these before us in nature? Shall we ascribe more power to nature in these natural resurrections than to God, who promises to raise our bodies at the last day? He who gives life to dead and putrid seeds (1 Cor. 15.37), so that they furnish sustenance for thy life here, will much rather raise from the dead thine own body and the bodies of thy friends, and with them thou shalt live eternally. God hath called thy beloved to their own beds (Is. 57.2); do not, I beseech thee, begrudge them the holy rest they there enjoy; it will be but a little while, and they shall rise again.
Perchance it was thy hope that thy loved ones would be useful members of the Church militant here on earth; but it has pleased God to transfer them to the Church triumphant above, and as it has pleased God, let it please thee as well. Perhaps it was thy hope that they would acquire vast stores of worldly wisdom. But it pleased God that they should rather in the heavenly school learn true wisdom; and as it pleased God, let it please thee also. Perhaps it was a fond hope of thy heart that thy departed loved ones would "be raised out of the dust and be set with princes" (Ps. 113.8); but it pleased God to exalt them to companionship with the princes of heaven, even the holy angels; and as it pleased God, oh, let it please thee also. Perhaps it was thy hope that they would lay up great riches upon earth. But it pleased God that instead of this they should come into possession of the inconceivable delights of the heavenly kingdom; and as it pleased God, let it please thee also.
O righteous God, Thou gavest; Thou hast taken away; blessed be Thy holy name forever and ever (Job 1.21).