Introductory Chapter

"Brothers and sisters, we want you to know the truth about those who have died, so that you will not be sad, as are those who have no hope. We believe that Jesus died and rose again, and so we believe that God will take back with Jesus those who have died BELIEVING in Him. So then, comfort one another with these words." 1 Thes. 4:13-14, 18

And I heard a voice from heaven saying, "Write this: Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on." "Blessed indeed," says the Spirit, "that they may rest from their labors, for their deeds follow them!" Revelation 14:13

"He will wipe all tears from their eyes—and there will be no more death, suffering, crying, or pain! These things of the past are gone forever! He who OVERCOMES will inherit all this, and I will be his God and he will be my son." Revelation 21:4, 7

"All who BELIEVE in God's Son have eternal life. Those who don't obey the Son will never experience eternal life, but the wrath of God remains upon them." John 3:36

"Even so, Father—for so it seemed good in your sight."
—Matthew 11:26

I heard these words uttered but the other day, under affecting circumstances, at a young Christian's deathbed.

Pulpit themes should take their hue and color, if possible, from events and impressions of the hour. I have accordingly thought it might not be unprofitable to select this beautiful saying as suggestive of a few appropriate meditations. I separate it from its connection in the passage where it occurs. I shall not even regard the verse, in what is its highest and holiest meaning, as an utterance of the Savior; but look at it as it stands, the simple expression of devout submission to the mysterious decrees of God on the part of all His true people.

The words necessarily, and on the face of them, imply that in this world of ours there are deep perplexities; that on human realities, there are unsolvable problems—that things do not appear "good" in our sight—that if we had the world in our own hands we would order events far otherwise—our own lot and that of others we should mold far differently. But all that concerns us is happily in other and better keeping. Falling back on the Fatherhood of the Great Supreme, in the only true sense of that paternal relation, it is for us to say, humbly and devoutly, accepting the mysteries we cannot explain—"Even so, Father—for so it seemed good in Your sight!"

These perplexities and dilemmas are manifold. The long, pining, wasting sickness; and especially, as is often seen, arresting the active and the good in the midst of careers of usefulness and beneficence; health and strength that can ill be spared; days of suffering and nights of weariness appointed—that never seems "good" in our sight.

Take another case, that of worldly impoverishment; the loss of a man's substance—not a selfish, not a penurious hoarder, but a generous giver; one alike with a full purse and an open one, whose delight was to relieve distress, and discharge liberally the responsible stewardship of his wealth to the Great Giver. How strangely mysterious to see the cringing worshiper of Mammon permitted, unhindered and unimpeded to pile up the golden heap, while this noble-hearted almoner of Jehovah's bounty is crippled with disastrous loss and bankruptcy, for which, too, perhaps he is not personally responsible—the innocent victim, it may be, of cruel wrong and heartless deception. That cannot seem "good" in our sight!

But I shall confine myself now to the one illustration which comes home to many, very many among us, and to some with exceptional impressiveness—the death of the young and promising. I do not refer to those who were so intellectually alone, but to not a few who, in addition to mere natural acquirements, had given evidence of better spiritual gifts, and felt within their youthful bosoms the throbbings and aspirations of the higher nature.

How often do lives of greatest lovableness—the best of the household—appear to be the first taken—the choicest blossoms the first prematurely to fall! Is this a mere illusion, a natural and pardonable fantasy? It may at times be purely sentimental. The bereft heart, like the shepherd of the parable, may at times be blamable in forgetting the ninety and nine, and going in longing parental fondness and partiality after "that which was lost." Yet, explain it as we may, neither can what is a very generally accepted article in the creed of the bereaved be relegated to this domain of mere sentiment. It too often really is the favorite child, or the youth of greatest promise, that is the missing one; one of those whose names are described by a pathetic writer as "always on gravestones; and their sweet smiles, their heavenly eyes, their singular words and ways among the buried treasures of yearning hearts. In how many families do you hear the legend that all the goodness and graces of the living, are nothing to the peculiar charms of one who is not!" (Mrs. H. B. Stowe.) It was an old saying, even of Pagan antiquity, "Those whom the gods love die young."

Be this, however, as it may, there are few, at all events, who will not allow that among the most mysterious of Providences is the mystery of early death. When we think of the possible future of our dear departed had they been spared—their possible, their probable usefulness in the Church and in the world, we cannot see 'good' in their removal. There is little to perplex in the case of the aged Christian's death; for with him the battle is fought and life's mission fulfilled. But the young warrior, full of elastic hope and bright anticipations, suddenly to fall before he has had time to buckle on his armor—the young, it may be the boyish soul, filled with noble yearnings to make the world the better for him while he lived, and to miss him when he died! In vain, in the presence of the King of Terrors, as he lays his icy finger on the brow, do we ask, "Why is this?"

But "it seemed good in YOUR sight!" There are reasons (shadowy, partial, undefined they may be); but there are such reasons for this apparently premature departure of the youthful Christian, which may lead us in calm faith and submission to breathe that "divinely taught" utterance. Let me proceed, with God's blessing, to specify one or two of these.

I. The young Christian is thereby saved many unforeseen perils. We never like to think of evil in connection with the juvenile, the innocent, the happy. And in the case of a life that has early consecrated itself to God, we can surround it only with sunshine—sunshine in the present, and with a halo of future hope and blessing. But who can tell, if this life of promise had been prolonged, what might have overtaken it? Who that knows the treachery of the human heart can forecast the coming years of the most loving and beloved? Life's shores, alas! are strewed with the wrecks of many a vessel which began its course on the early river with all that a parent's fond heart could desire! How many a father would have been grateful had his prodigal boy been summoned in youth, instead of being spared, not as a blessing, but as a curse! In the quaint often-quoted words of an old writer, "Better David's dead child—than his living Absalom!" Better for the green and tender vine, even with its unripe or undeveloped clusters, to be transplanted, than left for "the boar of the woods to destroy it and the wild beast of the field to devour it." We cannot anticipate or foresee; but there is an omniscient Eye which can—which does! He may discern mercy and kindness in the early removal, unknown and undiscerned by us. "Even so, Father—for, so it seemed good in Your sight!"

II. The young Christian is often early taken away, because in his case the great end of existence is fulfilled. That end is not to be measured by days or months or years. "Man's chief end is to glorify God." That glorious consummation may be attained in ten years, or twenty years, as well as in fifty, or threescore and ten. The child may die "a hundred years old!" It is a promise of God given in one of the Psalms, "With long life will I satisfy him." What is truly long life? Men may survive to the age of Methuselah, and yet the life of many centuries may be a blank. They may live all the while like the men of Meroz, "doing nothing," and sink into their graves unremembered and forgotten—the world no gainer by them during their barren and profitless existence, and no tear to spare for them at their departure.

While a truly "long life"—the life which is measured and calculated not by arithmetic but by deeds—by virtue and worth, may be compressed within a few brief years. The world has its conventional time for celebrating what is called coming of age; but in the sight of God that life attains its majority when, within a far briefer period, the owner of it can lay his head on a death-pillow, and in humble reverence say, in the spirit at least of the words of the Great Master, "I have glorified You on the earth; I have finished the work which You gave me to do." Even in the case of human genius this is true. Raphael died in comparative youth, and yet, in the earthly sense of the term, he is immortal. He compressed the lives of a thousand into a few brief years, and gave an impulse to art and to the creation of all that, pictorially at least, is devoutest and purest in religious sentiment, which is felt to this day.

So, in a far higher acceptance, morally and spiritually, there are young lives, early taken, of those who, in the truest, grandest sense, have been the Methuselahs of the world; who lived briefly yet nobly here, whose existence is perpetuated in a more glorious sphere above. "He asked life of You, and You gave him a long life, even forever and ever." "Even so, Father—for so it seemed good in Your sight!"

But this suggests—

III. The young Christian is frequently summoned to an early grave, in order to draw survivors and friends to heaven. He or she, the early removed, are often thus set as beacon-lights on "the farther shore." Many a heart that resists other influences—sickness, worldly loss, and similar providential dispensations, has been won to God and heaven and happiness by the glorified voices of the departed! The sheep (to use a well-known simple illustration) which no force could drive into the fold—which sternly resisted going through the wicket-gate, is induced to do so by the bleat of her own lamb. The lamb is taken first by the shepherd, and then the other follows with willing and obedient step. Ah! how many who have now reached their thrones and their crowns can testify—"But for that sainted child early taken from me, I never would have been here! It was that voice which first stole down upon my ear in the soft whisper of celestial love, and made me first listen to the words of the sublime vision in the Book of Revelation, 'Come up here!'"

Several present, have sons who are abroad in a foreign land. What a new interest their going there has given you in that distant country! Kingdoms and colonies perhaps you scarce knew of previously, and which you could not have pointed to on the map, now how familiar! So with many a bereft parent. Your child has emigrated—set sail to the celestial shores. You have an interest in that unseen world you never had before. Heaven is brought near you with all the strength of a home feeling. It is no longer "the land that is very far off." You cannot help, in thought, being drawn to those mansions from which the angel message is ever coming from a voice silent on earth—"If you loved Me, you would rejoice because I said I go unto the Father!"

"Even so, Father—for so it seemed good in Your sight!"

Once more—

IV. The young Christian is removed; but he is with you still. Though in one sense taken from your sight; in another and better sense he is not so. I speak not of heaven; I speak now of earth. Even in regard to this world he is not "gone." The poet beautifully says—
"'Tis better to have loved and lost,
Than never to have loved at all."

Yes, far better; for love is an unquenchable thing. No, love, in the truest meaning of the term, is life; and that love never dies. If you think of it for a moment, it is not the mere bodily presence of a child, or brother, or sister, that is 'life.' If that child grows up to be the prodigal I spoke of a little ago, his life and his love are alike really cut off from his parent; whereas there is true life and love in those memories which cluster round the grave of the sainted dead. That son or brother we have also just referred to, who went to the distant colony or settlement, and who with a smile on his lip and the tear in his eye, gave us the last waive of his hand when the vessel was leaving the harbor, he is not dead. Though separated from us, there is life and love still in that land of adoption. We think of him as living. It is our daydream to see him and welcome him again.

On the other hand, that friend, that relative, though he may live next door, is virtually 'dead,' who by unkindness and ingratitude is estranged from us; passing and repassing in life's thoroughfares without the nod of recognition. He may be living in the literal sense of the word, but he is "dead while he lives." His personal presence is not life; he is truly "the dead one." While the other, whose memories of holy affection are enshrined in the heart, who spoke words of imperishable kindness and comfort in passing through the dark valley, and pointed, when the tongue was unable to speak, to the land and the ties which know no dissolution, he is truly the living one. The link in the one case is snapped; the other, though invisible, is a golden chain which binds and rivets, now and for all eternity.

"No longer here," says Hawthorn, in the first hours of parental grief; "she is there; gazing, seeing, knowing, loving, as the blessed only see, and know, and love. Earth has one angel less, and heaven one more, since yesterday. Already, kneeling at the throne, she has received her welcome, and is resting on the bosom of her Savior. If human love has power to penetrate the veil—(and has it not?)—then there are yet living here a few who have the blessedness of knowing that an angel loves them!"

Let bereaved fathers and mothers ponder often this elevated and elevating truth. The casket has perished, but the jewel is still safe. Just as in that appalling railway catastrophe the other day, amid the charred ashes of death the gems and diamonds were found untouched and uninjured. Yes; I repeat it. That silent portrait on the wall is not your child. That face in your photographic collection is not your child. That white bust of marble which the chisel has wrought for you is not your child. These are speechless, mute, inanimate—mere semblances, no more; loved and treasured indeed as memorials and souvenirs. But it is a nobler living image and reality on which your heart can repose; the example which was bequeathed to you, the loving thoughts and elevated motives, and the words and ways and deeds which death never can extinguish. The beautiful action of the Savior of old may become, with another sacred meaning, an habitual one with you—"And He took a child and set him in the midst." With such-like memories, and with so noble a reversion, may all sorrowing parents who have been called to mourn blanks in their households, lives of virtue and promise so apparently quenched in darkness, gather around the 'early grave;' and with these gleams of holy radiance left lingering behind, breathe the word of devout and loving submission, "Even so, Father—for so it seemed good in Your sight!"

If I have a remark in closing, it would be to the young—to those who are still spared in life and health and strength—that they might remember what life is, and how sacred is its mission, whether the period of their natural existence be long or short. You who are still in the morning of youth, try to know and to realize what a blessed thing early piety is. And if there be, now and then, those among your playmates and companions who love God and serve Him, that are cut down, may you have grace to take their places in the heavenly course. Those of you who are older may recall, that in the torchlight races of the ancient Greeks, when one young torch-bearer had finished his allotted part in the running, he handed on the lighted torch to another; this to another; and this to another still. Be it so with you in a higher, nobler race. When young torch-bearers we may be mourning today have finished their course and kept the faith, may their example animate you to follow their steps—to take the torch from their dying hands, and bear it on until you reach, like them, your heavenly crowns. The mansions are filling, the cloud of young witnesses is increasing. "So run that you may obtain!"

"Even so, Father—for so it seemed good in your sight."
—Matthew 11:26