George Everard, 1874
Between the life of faithful service on earth, and the glory of Immanuel's land, there flows a river which must be crossed. And we have good reason to ponder what are "the steps across," and what lies in the fair country beyond. One precious promise, illustrated by an historical incident in the history of the children of Israel, seems best suited to answer to the former of these inquiries. The promise is that given in Isaiah 63:2, "When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overflow you."
The narrative which illustrates this promise is that of the crossing of the Jordan, as narrated in Joshua 3:4. The presence of Christ with us, as the Captain of our salvation, must be our one ground of hope, and the resting-place of our souls when the time has come that we must part from all below. He has said it, and will make it good, that in this river, however dark it may appear, He will be by our side.
When Israel passed over into Canaan, the ark went before, and those who carried it stood still in the midst of the stream until all the host had reached the other side. And thus we learn that He, of whose presence the ark was a symbol, will be with us every moment of our last struggle; and while He is by, the waves shall know His power who stilled the rough billows of Gennesaret, and said to them, "Peace, be still!"
Perhaps these pages may be read by some trembling, fearful Christian, who looks ahead with great shrinking and dread, to the day when the summons shall come. But you will probably find Christ beforehand with you, and strengthening your faith; so that a bright and blessed hope of His kingdom will sustain you. It seems to me, the great matter is every day to be living in His presence, resting on His promise, and setting Him before us; and then He who has been so near to us in life, will be doubly near to us in death, and —
When the waves roll full in view,
He will fix their "hitherto."
But we must look beyond the river. Our hope must go forth to survey the land of promise. We must cheer our souls by the firm and steadfast promises of eternal life. We must grasp the blessed assurance that Christ has abolished death and brought life and immortality to light. And here we must distinguish between the joy that awaits believers at death — and the fuller joy that awaits them at His coming.
Not very much is said of the immediate bliss of believers after death. A few bright rays of light pierce through the obscurity of the present condition of those who sleep in Jesus, and, thank God, it is enough to assure us of their blessedness. We have Christ's word to the dying thief: "Today you shall be with Me in Paradise!" We have the prayer of Stephen: "Lord Jesus, receive my spirit;" and the declaration that Christ was standing at the right hand of God to support His faithful servant. We have the word of Paul, that for him to be "absent from the body" was to be "present with the Lord;" and that "to die was gain," and "to depart and be with Christ was far better."
We have, moreover, the parable which tells us that Lazarus, in death, "was carried by the angels into Abraham's bosom." And the statement in the Apocalypse: "Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from henceforth — yes, says the Spirit, that they may rest from their labors; and their works follow them."
And this is about all. We see, at least, that the bliss is immediate. It is no mere sleep of insensibility. It is rest from toil. It is companionship with the saints. It is greater nearness to Christ than we can enjoy on earth.
There seems a special object in the comparatively slight reference in Holy Scripture to the happiness of the blessed dead while in the disembodied state. It seems intended to remind us that this state is but temporary. It is to fix our eye on the glory to be revealed at the coming of the Lord. It is to lead Christians to look onward to that blessed hope of His glorious appearing. And the fullness of statement with respect to this, contrasts very strongly with the brief and few statements with reference to the condition of believers before this period.
In our Lord's discourses, while He passes over almost in silence the period immediately following death, He gives exhortation and promise and parable in almost every one of His discourses, with reference to the day of His appearing. In all the apostolic epistles, the Holy Spirit speaks much of the events which will then transpire, but scarcely anything with respect to death.
There is one chapter unspeakably inspiriting to the Christian in the loss of friends, or in the prospect of his own dissolution. I refer to 1 Corinthians 15, which is so connected in the minds of most of us with the most solemn seasons in life, when we have carried to the grave those nearest and dearest to us.
There is something so cheering in the evident authority with which the Apostle writes. He was not expressing his own opinion; he was not giving the result of a long course of acute reasoning; he was not endeavoring to prove by any arguments that the soul was immortal, or that man would live again. But he speaks as the oracles of God: he brings a message from the faithful covenant-keeping God for the consolation of His people. As only one could do who had been taught from above, he lifts the veil from that which is to come, and tells in no faltering or uncertain accents of that which shall happen when the Lord returns.
He tells how the spoiler shall be spoiled, and the King of terrors vanquished. He tells how death and the grave shall lose their prey, and closes a magnificent and glowing description of the resurrection of the saints, by an appeal to Christians, on the strength of this sure and glorious hope, to be "steadfast, unmovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, forasmuch as their labor should not be in vain in the Lord."
A few elements of resurrection joy are very prominent in the mind of the Apostle.
There will be identity.The resurrection body is compared to the ear of grain, springing from the seed cast into the ground; and we are told, that "to every seed" shall be given "his own body." The very word "resurrection" supposes this — were it otherwise, it would be "creation," not resurrection.
Whatever change there may be, however marvelous the transformation from these bodies which shall soon mingle with their parent dust — yet in everything which constitutes our separate personality, we shall be the same men and women that are now known by the names we bear.
There is great joy in this thought. The faces we miss from our homes we shall see again; the dear friends who have together bent the knee with us in prayer, and have followed the same Savior, we shall by and by recognize among the throng of glorified ones.
After the frightful persecution of the Protestants in France, those who survived and were released from the galleys were brought down to Geneva, and there met by friends and relatives. Great and sorrowful was the change wrought in many by five or ten or more years of suffering — and yet, when recognized by those from whom they had been parted years before, it would not be easy to describe the joy that ensued.
But who can describe what will be the joy of meeting our friends hereafter — when the change will be so blessed, and when we recognize those whom we have loved in this lower world!
Let us remember that a second element of resurrection joy, will be complete freedom from all distressing infirmity. This mortal frame is too often a cause of weariness and suffering: "in this tabernacle we groan, being burdened;" and part of this burden is our liability to numberless infirmities and diseases which we cannot escape from. We are overcome by toil, depressed by care, borne down by many evils and miseries which come upon us from time to time. Constitutional ailments, nervousness, accidents, beside a thousand other things — make men often prefer death to life, and long for the hour when all this will be over.
But in the day when Christ calls forth His faithful ones from the grave, all this will be finished: "This corruptible shall put on incorruption." No pain, no sickness, no sorrow, no fear — shall depress the spirit. The children of the resurrection will be as the angels in Heaven. The entire absence of all that now makes the body too often a clog and a hindrance to the spirit, will be another element of our joy on that day.
And then a third element of resurrection joy. The mighty power of the resurrection body: "It is sown in weakness, it is raised in power." So weak is the body when laid in the tomb, that the greatest Monarch is then weaker than the weakest of his subjects, and the greatest warrior unable to resist the worm that feeds upon him.
But in the risen body there will be power. We may expect that every faculty we now possess will be indefinitely increased — every physical and mental power will be vastly augmented — every talent we now desire to employ will be multiplied many-fold. We often lament now, how little we can say or do in the Master's service, but let us believe that with powers so greatly enlarged there will be blessed fields for service which now we cannot the least imagine!
Then let us consider the glory and beauty of the resurrection body. Sometimes we see now a heavenly beauty in the Christian's countenance. We have seen one whose every look and expression tells of faith and love and unselfish benevolence. We have seen a holy glow of deep and chastened piety in one who for years has been bearing some heavy cross. We have seen, too, the beauteous innocence displayed in the face of a little child, and have thought it the most lovely sight which earth affords.
But in the risen saints, there will shine forth a beauty of holiness and love and joy and rapture beyond all this: "Your eyes shall see the King in His beauty!" And the beauty of Him who is fairer than the children of men will be reflected upon His own: "When I awake in His likeness, I shall be satisfied with it." "Beloved, now we are children of God, and it has not appeared as yet what we will be. We know that when He appears, we will be like Him, because we will see Him just as He is!" 1 John 3:2
Then there is the thought of immortality: "This mortal shall put on immortality." But how can we conceive of this immortality? What one thing is there ever we have seen — but is dying, fading, passing away? How can we think aright of this ever-abiding continuance, never-ceasing life of the glorified? Shall we venture on a thought which may show us, at least, our inability to grasp this tremendous idea of a life which can never have an end? Can we conceive a life as long as the aggregate of all the lives of the men and women that have trodden our globe? Begin with the old patriarchs before the flood; add life to life, each nearly reaching the term of a thousand years. Add to these the lives of all who have ever lived since. Consider but the aggregate years of the people of a single generation — and then, if we could thus add together the years of men in all generations of the world's history, and consider this vast period in reference to eternity, the great clock of eternal existence would scarce have struck its first note!
And this everlasting existence will be assuredly one of ever-increasing joy to those who rise in the image of the Lord!
And this immortality will be spent in companionship with the glorified Redeemer and His glorified and perfected Church. Here is the crowning bliss. To see Christ's glory, to taste the joy of His presence, to be near Him and with Him, and with all who have loved Him forever — then the cup will be full, and we shall have pleasures for evermore at His right hand!
"The Lamb who is in the midst of the throne shall feed them, and shall lead them to living fountains of waters, and God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes." When this glory has been attained, we shall need no more "steps across." Fears, conflicts, difficulties, temptations, sorrows, beset us now, and are our portion while we linger here.
Sometimes we tread the valley of humiliation.
Sometimes we have to climb the hill where every footstep is painful to the flesh.
Sometimes we have to gird on our armor to meet Apollyon who comes out to withstand us.
Sometimes we are terrified by the lions which are in the way.
Sometimes a Red Sea of trouble lies before us, and the recollections of sins in the past are like foes in the rear, so that we want now every help we can obtain to enable us to overcome.
But this is only for a short season. "Yet a little while, and He who shall come will come, and will not tarry." "Weeping may endure for a night — but joy comes in the morning."
Meanwhile, dear reader, may you have peace in Christ — though tribulation in the world may be your present portion. Whatever counsel you may find in this little book that you may need, and that is in accordance with the written Word — endeavor to carry out in daily practice. Make the Book of God your constant companion. Cling with childlike faith to the hand of your faithful Guide — keep very near to Him, and walk only in such paths as He would approve. Cherish the presence of His Spirit in your heart, and work diligently in His vineyard, and hope evermore. The enemy will not be able to triumph over you. The walls of Jericho shall be leveled before you, and you shall go in to possess your inheritance, even "an inheritance incorruptible, undefiled, and that never fades away."
I have a Home above,
From sin and sorrow free,
A mansion which Eternal Love
Designed and formed for me!
My Father's gracious hand
Has built this sweet abode,
From everlasting it was planned
My dwelling place with God.
My Savior's precious blood
Has made my title sure;
He passed through death's dark raging flood
To make my rest secure.
The Comforter is come,
The earnest has been given,
He leads me-onward to the Home
Reserved for me in Heaven.
Loved ones are gone before,
Whose pilgrim days are done;
I soon shall greet them on that shore
Where partings are unknown!