The Fear of the Grave
The fear of death is natural—but to fear the grave appears fanciful. Death is the enemy of nature. It is the first-born of sin. "By one man SIN entered into the world—and DEATH by sin." Death severs all ties—but one. The band that unites us to Jesus—defies the power of death. It is demanded by justice, and assented to by grace. We must die, except Jesus should come before death. The grave follows death. It receives the body which the soul has forsaken. The poles and canvass of the old tabernacle are laid up there. It is a merciful provision to conceal corruption, and prevent disease. "The grave is my house!" said Job. "Oh, that you would hide me in the grave!" So ho sighed under his sorrows. He did not fear the grave, though the lamp of the gospel was not burning in it then as now.
In the grave, the poor body will be free from all illnesses, aches and pains. There will be no gout, rheumatism, fevers, or cholera there. There will be no strung nerves or weak muscles there. There will be no hunger or thirst there. "For in death the wicked cause no trouble, and the weary are at rest. Even captives are at ease in death, with no guards to curse them. Rich and poor are both there, and the slave is free from his master." Job 3:17-19
It is a quiet resting-place for the poor body which has finished its work, suffered its Lord's will, and is not at present necessary for the soul's happiness or the Lord's service.
"Jesus came to the grave." It was to the grave of Lazarus, in company with Martha, Mary, and his disciples. O Savior, whenever we visit the grave of our friends, or, in thought, visit our own—may you come with us, dissipate the gloom, and surround us with your glory!
Why should we fear the grave? Can it injure us? Will it rob us? Is it really an enemy to us? The effect that the cold clay or damp vault has upon our nerves—is occasioned by the false idea of life or feeling within it. The clay is not colder than the body which it covers, nor the vault more dreary than the corpse which it conceals. We choose our graves; we imagine the elevated spot from which the waters run, on which the sun brightly shines, where the green sward is kept smooth, where the flowers blossom, and the wind sighs through the trees. We direct the inscription to be placed on our headstone; it may refer to the sufferings endured, the station filled, the grace that saved, or, which is perhaps best, it may be a pointed appeal to the reader, hoping to benefit his soul. We exercise our thoughts on these subjects, we sigh, the nerves tremble, and an indefinable but unpleasant sensation is experienced, and a fear of the grave is produced.
But again we ask, Why should we fear the grave? What is there in it to fear? Perhaps it should be the object of desire; I am sure that it should not be the object of fear. We should turn our thoughts from it, and leave it with the Lord. When, how, and by whom we shall be buried, or where our graves shall be—ought not to trouble us for one moment! There are matters of greater importance to engage our attention and occupy our thoughts. If the grave receives us—it cannot hold us, for Jesus is pledged to destroy every grave. His word is, "Oh, grave, I will be your destruction!" Therefore with the apostle we may demand, "Oh, grave, where is your victory?"
But being harassed with fears of the grave, how shall we conquer them? Keep the conscience clear of the guilt of sin. As soon as sin is committed or discovered, lay the hand of faith on Jesus as the great sacrifice for sin, confess it before God, and ask for an immediate pardon for the sake of what Jesus suffered. Ask the Father to honor the blood and obedience of his own Son, by pardoning the sins you have just committed, and to remove the guilt that lies upon your conscience. Guilt is at the root of all slavish fear. You cannot look at death with peace, or into the grave without fear, if there is any guilt upon the conscience. And guilt is like some colors, the longer it lies—the deeper it stains, and the more difficult it is to eradicate it. Therefore never allow guilt to lie upon your conscience—but as soon as ever you detect it—fly to the precious blood of Christ at once, exercise faith in it while you confess your sins, and expect a free and hearty pardon on the ground of it.
Live in the daily realization of your union to Christ. Never rest until you know that you are one with Christ; and having obtained the witness of the Spirit to this great fact live daily realizing it. If you dwell in Christ, and Christ dwells in you; if you are a member of his body, of his flesh, and of his bones, what have you to fear from the grave? If you live, you live in the Lord; or, if you die, you die in the Lord; living or dead, therefore, you are one with Christ.
"I heard a voice from heaven saying unto me, Write this down: Blessed are those who die in the Lord from now on. Yes, says the Spirit, they are blessed indeed, for they will rest from their hard work; for their good deeds follow them!" They die under the Lord's blessing; they are buried under the Lord's blessing; what then is there to fear?
Death or the grave cannot affect our union to Christ. The body is as much united to Christ when moldering in the grave—as when animated by the immortal spirit, and employing its senses and powers in the Lord's service, or as it will be on the resurrection morning, when it rises the exact replica of his own. Glorious truth this! Unspeakable privilege to be one with Jesus—one with him in health and sickness, in life and death, on earth and in the grave, in time and eternity! May I daily live realizing that I am one with Jesus, and I shall never fear either death or the grave.
Seek to have the fact deeply impressed upon the mind, that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit. This is your privilege as a believer in Jesus. The Holy Spirit takes possession of us as the property of Jesus. We become his constant residence, his settled dwelling-place, his consecrated temple. When he has once taken possession, he never abandons it. The house may be pulled down, the materials may for a time be laid in the grave; but he claims every dust, and it shall be restored or rebuilt. The materials are the same—but, oh, the change that passes upon them! The temple is the same—but how wonderfully it will be improved!
Let us for a moment or two listen to his inspired apostle on this subject: "But someone may ask, "How are the dead raised? With what kind of body will they come?" So will it be with the resurrection of the dead. The body that is sown is perishable, it is raised imperishable; it is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory; it is sown in weakness, it is raised in power; it is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body! Listen, I tell you a mystery: We will not all sleep, but we will all be changed—in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. For the perishable must clothe itself with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality!"
This change will be effected by the Holy Spirit when Jesus comes, as we read, "And if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit, who lives in you!" Now he stamps the likeness of Jesus on our souls; then he will stamp the likeness of Jesus on our bodies! Now we are made like Christ morally or spiritually; then we shall be made like Christ physically. Body and soul will be like Jesus, perfectly and eternally!
If my body is the temple of the blessed Spirit, may I not leave it to him to take care of it? Or, if my body is the Spirit's temple, shall I fear its being laid in the grave, when He will keep possession of it, watch over, and raise it up again? Remember, also, that Jesus has said, "I will ransom them from the power of the grave; I will redeem them from death. Oh, death, I will be your plague! Oh, grave, I will be your destruction!" He ransomed us once by his blood—he will ransom us by and bye by his power.
Though the grave receives us, it will not be able long to hold us. We do but fall asleep, and the grave is the dark chamber where we quietly slumber, "until the day dawns, and the shadows flee away."
Do we fear our bedroom? Are we alarmed because the shutters are closed and it is dark? No! Why not? Just because we are used to it. Now we have no more cause to fear the grave than we have to fear our bedroom. There we shall sleep soundly and sweetly, while the storms rattle overhead, and death and destruction ride in triumph all around. We shall not be disturbed by the sound of the trumpet or the alarm of war. There are no head-aches or heart-aches there. There are no deep sighs or heavy groans there. There are no briny tears or bitter sorrows there. There are no sleepless nights or longings for the morning there. All is calm and quiet. All is rest and repose. All is safety and security.
Well might the poor afflicted patriarch cry out, "If only you would hide me in the grave and conceal me until your anger has passed! If only you would set me a time and then remember me!"
Instead of fearing the grave, one rather wonders that many of the Lord's people do not long for it. As when one goes tired to rest after a long wearisome journey on a cold winter's evening, sleeps soundly all night, and awakes the next morning at broad daylight, with a feeling that the night has been exceedingly short; so will it be with us, when on the morning of the first resurrection we open our eyes, with a feeling that only a short time before, a very short time, we fell asleep in Jesus.
Once more, learn to look beyond the grave, to the soul's residence, or the Redeemer's glorious advent. Absent from the body—we shall be present with the Lord. The moment the soul leaves the body—its worries and pains are all over; and the emancipated spirit, like the bird which has escaped from its narrow, wiry prison—ascends to its Redeemer's throne, to enjoy freedom, perfect freedom, and everlasting joy. It is only the casket that is left behind—the jewel sparkles in the Savior's diadem. It is only the tent that lies prostrate—the inhabitant has arrived at his journey's end, and has finished his pilgrimage through the desert. It is only the outer garment that is laid in that stone wardrobe—the wearer is safe, and clothed upon with a covering which is from heaven.
Let me think, then, of my happiness which I shall enjoy in my disembodied state. Let me even look forward with pleasure to the time when I shall "depart and be with Christ—which is far better!" With Christ! What will it be to be with Jesus? With Christ! Oh, delightful idea! To be with Christ, to be like Christ, to enjoy Christ, and eternally to honor Christ! "Oh, that will be heaven to me!"
And suppose the body that has so long shared my sorrows and my joys, with which I have lived in such close and intimate fellowship, is left for a time in the cold, dark grave. It is not for long. Jesus will soon come and call for it; he will raise it, fashion it like unto his own glorious body, and then receive it unto himself. He is coming on purpose to raise the dead bodies of his saints, and to change the living ones. He will have us with him. Body and soul were both alike purchased by his blood, and are both destined to share in his glory! He will soon come. The intermediate space between our death and the resurrection of the godly, is scarcely worth a thought. We shall be fully employed in heaven as far as our spiritual and immaterial part is concerned; and our poor bodies will be safe and unconscious in the grave.
Blessed be God for his holy Word! Blessed be the Lord Jesus for bringing life and immortality to light by the gospel! I will not look at the grave with the naked eye any more; I will look at it through the gospel. Precious gospel, which plants the flowers of Paradise around the graves of the saints, and pours the light of glory into the otherwise dark chamber of the tomb! The Sun of Righteousness Himself was confined in it, and exhaled all its unwholesome damps. When he arose, he left his shroud to cover us, and his napkin to wipe away the tears of our weeping friends.
Shall I fear to lay where Jesus has laid before me? Shall I object to be wrapped up in the linen which covered his sacred flesh? He assures me that I shall rise again. His own resurrection was the pledge of it. The morning is shortly coming, in which all who are in their graves shall hear his voice. Oh, what a morning will that be! How bright, how rosy, how balmy! To what a day will that introduce us! What light will shine on us; what breezes will fan us; what fragrances will perfume us; what sounds will ravish us; what sights will delight us; what sensations will thrill through us; what delightful enjoyments will be realized by us!
"No longer will you need the sun to shine by day, nor the moon to give its light by night, for the Lord your God will be your everlasting light, and your God will be your glory. Your sun will never set; your moon will not go down. For the Lord will be your everlasting light. Your days of mourning will come to an end!" Isaiah 60:19-20
Must we pass through the valley of the shadow of death? Must our bodies be laid in the grave? It may be so. Thousands are there before us, and thousands will follow after us; but "Those who have been ransomed by the Lord will return. They will enter Zion with singing, crowned with everlasting joy. Sorrow and mourning will disappear, and they will be filled with joy and gladness!"
Let us, then, be willing to be conformed to Jesus in his humiliation, even to the laying of the body in the grave; and live in the sweet expectation of sharing with him in all his glory; for "when Christ who is our life shall appear—then we also shall appear with him in glory!"