"This is the resting place, let the weary rest; and this is the place of repose"—
"Death has been swallowed up in victory." 1 Corinthians 15:54
"Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for You are with me; Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me." Psalm 23:4
"Rest." "Refreshment."—How can such words be employed regarding Death? How can the shade of Elim-palm be spoken of with reference to that dark valley, in connection with which the willow and the cypress have always been accepted as the appropriate symbols? In the oldest Epic poem of the world, indeed, the grave is spoken of as the place where "the weary are at rest." But with death itself, there is usually associated no such restful, reposeful thought. Though the last enemy—it is still an enemy! Nevertheless, thanks be to God, there is here, too, a palm-grove for His true people. These fronds have no louder or more tender whispering of the name of Jesus, and His exceeding great and precious promises, than at a dying hour! A traveler in Palestine remarks literally, what we may take allegorically, that "the finest and best palm-trees are along the banks of the Jordan."
"I am persuaded that… death shall not separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord." "Thanks be to God! He gives us victory through our Lord Jesus Christ." Bunyan represents even the timid pilgrim Much-Afraid, as "going through the stream singing." Yes, there is a real companionship in that closing scene. There is a Tree which can make these bitter waters of Marah sweet. The column of cloud and fire, which has gone before in the wilderness, will not forsake in the swelling of the Border river of death.
And this is no mystical figure—no mere poetical or sentimental illusion. It is a wondrous fact. Thousands who have passed through the final conflict can bear witness to it—the felt nearness of the Savior. No one who has had any experience of deathbeds but can testify, that there is often the sublime consciousness of a PRESENCE there—as if the dying pilgrim rested on a living Arm, and the place became a Peniel, where, like the patriarch, the wrestling soul saw God face to face!
How can we, with lowly confidence and hope, look forward to a similar hour? It is by having Christ as our portion now, if we would have Him as our portion then. What was it that gave David this confidence in the prospect of treading the final Valley? It was the conscious nearness—the realized presence of Jehovah his Shepherd, in life. He was even then rejoicing in this companionship and love. See how near he felt Him to be! Observe the phraseology of the second of our motto-verses—the form of utterance. It is not "I will fear no evil, for You are to be with me," nor is it "for God is with me," but "You are with me." He seems to look up with trustful faith to Him who was even then at his side. He speaks not of a remote Being, who would meet him at the valley-entrance—a mere guide through the gloom of that strange gorge at the end of the journey, but who at other times is unknown and distant. It is the Friend he has known and confided in so long. It is the Shepherd of whom, in the opening strain of the song, he said, that Shepherd is mine—"The Lord is my Shepherd." It is He whose guiding hand had led him by "the green pastures," and "the still waters," and "the paths of righteousness."
And was the Psalmist deceived? Did this song of life prove a delusion when the hour of death came? Could he sing it so long as his journey was carpeted with flowers, and radiant with sunshine? but did his faith forsake him, and his rod and staff give way, and his song melt into a wail of terror, when the shadows fell around? We have his last words recorded. We have the very hymn which this Hebrew minstrel sang, when the valley-gloom was beginning to darken his path, and the sound of the waters of death fell on his ear: "He has made with me an everlasting covenant, ordered in all things, and sure. This is all my salvation, and all my desire!"
So also was it with him who uttered the triumphant exclamation of the former verse placed at the head of this meditation. He who had so fondly loved and prized the shelter of the Elim-grove in life, could exult, even amid the lowering clouds which shrouded the closing hours of a consecrated existence—"I am not ashamed: for I know Whom I have believed, and am convinced that He is able to guard what I have entrusted to Him for that day!" And God is ever faithful who promised, "As your days, so shall your strength be." "You are with me," says Lady Powerscourt, "is still the rainbow of light thrown across the Valley."
Nor will that solemn, mysterious hour be allowed to overtake us until the Lord of life sees fit. This is surely a comforting reflection (which we had occasion also to dwell upon in the immediately preceding meditation), that life and death are in His hands: that what appears to us to be the most wayward and capricious of occurrences—the departure of a human being from this world—is directly under His sovereign control; that He gives the lease of existence; and, when He sees fit, revokes the grant. Sweetly sings one of the minstrel-band of German hymn-writers—
"My God, I know not when I die:
"My God, I know not how I die:
"My God, I know not where I die;
"Then comes it right and well to me,
Death has no terrors, when it comes thus as a message from death's great Conqueror. He sends His angels—glorious beings who delight to do His pleasure—to the bedsides of His saints, to bear their spirits on wings of light and love upward to heavenly mansions.
"For them the silver ladder shall be set—
"Father, I will" (is His last and closing intercessory prayer in behalf of every member of the Church on earth), "that those also, whom You have given Me be with Me where I am; that they may behold My glory."
Death is but the entrance and portico of "our Father's house." As we stand under the porch, the archway over our head projects a shadow. We are for a moment out of life's sunshine. But the next! the door opens; and better than the blaze of earthly sun is ours. The darkness is past, and the true light shines. In an instant, from the gloomy Valley of the Weeping Willows, we are among THE PALMS OF PARADISE!
"In the stillness and the starlight,
"How gracious, too, had been the dews,
"But now we pitched our final tent,
"A river—the Border river—
"We sit under Heavenly palm-trees
"The great and dreadful land
"The great and dreadful river
For the Lord has 'brought us through.'"
"Praise be to the Lord, who has given rest to His people Israel just as He promised. Not one word has failed of all the good promises He gave."
"There remains, then, a Sabbath-rest for the people of God."
"Return unto your rest, O my soul; for the Lord has dealt bountifully with you." Psalm 116:7