ASLEEP IN JESUS
"This is the resting place, let the weary rest; and this
is the place of repose"—
"God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep
in Him." 1 Thessalonians 4:14
Another glimpse which Faith, while seated under the Palms
of the Valley, takes of "the Land that is very far off," but which at times,
too, is brought so very near! We may first state the special occasion of the
words at the head of this meditation.
As the great Apostle was now at Corinth, his beloved son
Timothy had brought him from Thessalonica encouraging tidings of the Church
he had there founded. But in that good report there were mingled also
tidings of death. Some of those to whom he had comparatively recently
ministered, had paid the debt of nature and passed from the earthly
scene. Their bereaved friends were, moreover, undergoing needless sorrow,
because the deceased had been removed before the coming of Christ. The
Thessalonians, in common with other infant churches, entertained unfounded
expectations regarding the imminence of the Second Advent. They imagined it
so near at hand that they would live to behold it; and when they saw
their loved relations or fellow Christians taken away, they mourned
specially at their being deprived of sharing in the joy of welcoming a
returning Lord. This Epistle, from which our motto-verse is taken, was
written (among other reasons), to comfort and console the sorrow-stricken.
It is interesting and remarkable that the first letter of Paul is thus a
letter to the bereaved! It is an "afflicted man's companion." The
Spirit of the Lord, by inspiration, was upon him. The Lord anointed him "to
heal the brokenhearted."
And what does he say to these drooping, saddened spirits?
He tells them not to be disheartened, but to rejoice. "Bothers, we do not
want you to be ignorant about those who fall asleep, or to grieve like the
rest of men, who have no hope. We believe that Jesus died and rose again and
so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in
Him." 1 Thes. 4:13-14. There is no more expressive symbol of higher and
diviner truths than the sleep of the body and the subsequent
waking in the morning.
It is beautiful to see the surging waves of daily life
rocking themselves to rest—to note, say, in some vast city, when night has
drawn its curtains around, light after light put out in the windows, the
street lamps paying solitary homage to the stars as they look down from
their silent thrones! What a hush pervades the recent 'stunning tide of
human care and crime!' Why? Because sleep is locking up ten thousand eyes of
those who are dreaming away care and sorrow, fatigue and toil. But again, as
the gates of morning open, and when from the silent monitors of fleeting
time, the hour summoning to labor strikes, in a moment the ring of countless
hammers breaks the trance of night. All is again astir. Sleep has refreshed
the workman's wearied body; sleep has put new pith and sinew in that brawny
arm. The whole world has arisen like a giant refreshed, and sleep has been
the elixir that has soothed its wounds and healed its pains.
We need not wonder, then, that this priceless blessing to
the weary, has been taken by God Himself to describe the quiet rest of His
own people in the grave. David, the man after God's own heart, after he had
served his day and generation, "fell asleep and was gathered to his
fathers." "Our friend Lazarus sleeps," said Christ. Stephen, when
struck down by his murderers, "fell asleep." Following the same
imagery, "Those also," says the Apostle, "who sleep in Jesus will God
bring with Him."
But what does Paul mean by this sleep? Is it the
sleep of the soul? Is it that the spirit, at the moment of dissolution,
falls into a state of inactivity or insensibility, in which it remains until
startled at last by the trumpet of God? No! Let us return to the analogy of
earthly sleep. We know that when the body is in a state of profound rest,
when the eye is closed in seeming unconsciousness on the pillow, it is only
apparently so. The mind is in a state of constant activity; all its
powers are vigorous as ever. Memory is there, bringing up old and treasured
scenes. Imagination is there, combining these in strange fantastic medley.
Gorgeous visions come and go—magnificent combinations, in comparison with
which waking realities are dull, prosaic, and commonplace. So it is with the
soul at death. While the body "sleeps" in its grassy bed, the spirit
is roaming in regions of activity and life. It departs "to be with Christ,
which is far better."
''There is no death—the stars go down
To rise upon some fairer shore;
And bright in heaven's jeweled crown,
They shine for evermore.
"There is no death—an angel-form
Walks o'er the earth with silent tread,
And bears our best-loved things away;
And then we call them dead."
The words of our motto-verse may bear the beautiful
rendering, "Those also, who are laid asleep by Jesus!"—a
rendering which, among others, suggests two comforting thoughts, two most
gracious whispers from these Palm-trees of heavenly consolation.
(1.) That the hour of our death is appointed by Jesus.
We are laid asleep by Him. Just as the mother knows the best hour
to lay her little one in its couch or cradle; undresses it, composes it to
rest, sings its lullaby, and the cherub face, lately all smiles, is now
locked in quiet repose. So Christ comes to His people at His own selected
season, and says, 'Your hour of rest has arrived. I am to take off the
garments of mortality. Come! I will robe you in the vestments of the tomb.'
He smooths the narrow bed, composes the pillow, and sings His own lullaby of
love, 'Fear not, my child, for I am with you, sleep on now and take your
Be comforted with this blessed truth, that the hour of
death cannot come a moment sooner than Jesus appoints. He knows the best
time to bid you and yours the long "good-night." Interesting it is (and a
Bible truth too) to think of troops of angels hovering over the
death-pillow, and watching with guardian care the sleeping dust. But more
comforting still, surely, is it to think of the Lord of angels
closing the eyes and hushing to slumber—Christ Himself leading to the
grave—the robing room of immortality—"unclothing," that His people may be
"clothed upon," and that "mortality may be swallowed up of life."
A second suggested thought is, that the body belongs
to Christ. The soul, indeed, is more specially His. It wings its arrowy
flight up to the Spirit World. Angels carry it into Abraham's bosom, and
from that hour it is "forever with the Lord." But what of the material
framework? What of the marble tenement? Is it left to crumble in dishonor
and corruption? Now that the jewel is gone, is the treasure-chest to
be disowned? Now that the vestal fire is quenched, is the temple left to
decay in oblivion? No, it is the body to which Paul in these words refers.
It is the body that is "laid asleep by Jesus." Every particle of that
dust of the sepulcher was purchased by His blood. The Apostle elsewhere
speaks of "body as well as spirit which are His" (1 Cor. 6:20).
You who have treasures in the tomb, come and seat
yourselves under the shadow of this Elim-palm. Rejoice in the assurance that
these earthly tabernacles are in the custody of Him who has the keys of the
grave and of death. The loving hand of Divine parental love was the last to
close their eyes; and in the prospect of waking on an eternal morrow, you
can go to their graves, and thinking of them as having migrated to the
Better Land, away forever from the harsh jarrings and discords and tumults
of the present, can write the epitaph—"So HE grants SLEEP
to those He loves."
"It is an uncut jewel,
All earth encrusted now;
But He will make it glorious,
And set it on His brow!
'Tis but a tiny glimmer
Lit from the light above,
But it shall blaze through endless days
A star of perfect love."
"I will lie down and sleep in peace."