The Grace of Christ, or,
Sinners Saved by Unmerited Kindness
William S. Plumer, 1853
"We believe it is through the grace of our
Lord Jesus that we are saved." Acts 15:11
THE BELIEVER'S VICTORY OVER DEATH
As we can die but once, we should seek to die well. The
honors which Christ and his gospel have won from the field of the last
battle of the saints, have been vast, peculiar, and effective of much good.
To glorify God in death is both a duty and a privilege. For this end we
should labor and pray at all times. A pious death is a noble end of a well
spent life. It crowns a consistent profession of piety with appropriate
honors. It proves that God is still faithful. It evinces the tenderness of
Christ to his chosen people. It soothes the bitter anguish of loved and
loving survivors. In itself and for the manifold blessings which follow in
its train, it is every way desirable. And yet how depressing to the spirits
of many devout servants of God is the thought of lying down in the grave.
That house is so narrow, so damp, and so dark, that they shrink from
entering it. We naturally love and cherish our own bodies, and dread the
pains of dissolution. Yet believers need not be dismayed at the prospect of
exchanging worlds. Death is indeed our greatest enemy—but he is our
last enemy. He is the king of terrors and the terror of kings; but it
is, and was, and ever shall be true, that "The chamber where the godly man
meets his fate, is privileged beyond the common walks of life—quite on the
verge of heaven."
The wicked still have cause to say, "Let me die the death
of the righteous, and let my last end be like his." Inspiration still cries:
"Mark the perfect man, and behold the upright, for the end of that man is
peace." The timid and desponding should lay fast hold of all the
encouragements of God's word on this whole subject. In it we learn that
"there remains a rest to the people of God." Heb. 4:9. Jesus Christ himself
said: "There are many rooms in my Father's home, and I am going to prepare a
place for you. If this were not so, I would tell you plainly. When
everything is ready, I will come and get you, so that you will always be
with me where I am." God's word abounds in strong consolations on this
subject. Treasure them up. "Though death is the enemy of nature, it is the
friend of grace." "Death is the day-break of eternity."
Let us not foster our natural dread of pain. Sufficient
unto the day is the evil thereof. Many die with very little bodily
suffering. When our systems can bear no more, they will sink in death, and
so we shall be at rest. Dissolution and corruption are painful subjects, but
our blessed Lord has hallowed the tomb with his own sacred body. Let us
follow him even into the grave. Besides, he has taken away the sting of
death—which is the guilt of sin—and so has forever disarmed that enemy. Let
no one afflict himself with needless fears of coming short of eternal life,
simply because the prospect of death is not always pleasant. "Even a strong
believer may be afraid to die. We are not in general fond of handling a
serpent, or a viper, though his sting is removed and we know it to be so."
It powerfully tends to preserve human life and to prevent
acts of self destruction, and so is a great mercy to our race, that men
should have a natural dread of death. Nor is this commonly taken quite away
until God is about to set his chosen people free from the bondage of the
flesh. That is soon enough for all the best ends of the covenant of grace.
Many have confirmed the testimony of Dr. Gill, who says: "Though a believer
may have his darkness, doubts, and fears, and many conflicts of soul, while
on his dying bed; yet usually these are all over and gone before his last
moments come, and death does its office and work upon him. From the precious
promises of God to be with his people, even until death; from the scriptural
account of dying saints; and from the observations I have made during the
course of my life, I am of opinion that, generally speaking, the people of
God die comfortably; their spiritual enemies being made to be as still as a
stone, while they pass through Jordan, or the stream of death."
The prevailing sentiment of every Christian community is,
that in death Christ shows great grace to his elect, and fulfills the
promise, "As your days—so shall your strength be." Every child of God may
embrace this good word, and pray like him who said: "Lord, I am called to a
work I never did—Oh, give me grace I never had." If men would more
frequently visit the beds of dying Christians, they would better know the
amazing mercy of Christ to departing saints. It is truly wonderful, and
surpasses the love of women. And here it gives me great pleasure in a public
and solemn manner to record my testimony for the glory of God, and the
comfort of all his people, who may peruse these pages. It is this—that the
tenderness of Christ to his sick and dying servants is great, and that in
the hour of their last trial, he does not leave them, nor forsake them.
For a long time I have visited, as I had opportunity, the
sick and suffering people of God, without regard to age, gender, rank, race,
or denomination. The result is that I have never known one who had made so
credible a profession of love to Christ, as to secure the general confidence
of Christians of the vicinity, left to die an undesirable death. Some
endured great bodily pain. but God was with them. Some left the world in a
state of unconsciousness, but their last moments of rationality were cheered
by blessed rays of light from heaven. Early in their sickness some were
sorely tempted, but the victory came at last. Some had been subject to
mental derangement, but they were permitted to enter eternity without a
cloud over their reason. Yet had they died maniacs, the promises would not
have failed. Some were young in years, and in Christian experience; but the
good Shepherd gathered them like lambs in his arms, and carried them in his
bosom. Some were in middle life, and left helpless children behind them; but
I have seen the dying mother kiss her little babe, and bid the world
farewell with entire composure. The peace of God ruled her heart by Jesus
Christ. Some were old, nervous, and, on other subjects, full of fancies; but
Christ, the Rock, followed them to Canaan.
What God has done for his people in days past, should
encourage those who live at the present time. God's faithfulness to the
departed should invigorate the faith, and expel the fears, of the waiting.
God's people have left the world in various ways. Some have died violent and
ignominious deaths, and some have died in their beds. Some have had long
notice, and others hardly any. Some have died old, some in the midst of
their days, and some in the morning of existence—yet they have commonly
agreed in leaving an animating testimony to the power of Christ's grace to
their departing spirits. The great advantages of good examples are that they
express with clearness the duty to be done, that they show the possibility
of doing it, and that they incite us to imitation. These advantages are
fully realized in the examples of dying saints. The following sayings of
God's people have been collected in the hope that they may encourage the
faint, embolden the timid, confirm the strong, and animate all classes of
real Christians. Most of them were uttered in a dying hour, and many of them
were last words. Let us begin with the sayings of some of the martyrs.
Stephen said, "Lord Jesus, receive my spirit;" and "Lay
not this sin to their charge."
Paul, the aged: "I am now ready to be offered, and the
time of my departure is at hand. I have fought a good fight, I have finished
my course, I have kept the faith; henceforth there is laid up for me a
crown, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, shall give me at that day, and
not to me only, but also to all those who love his appearing."
Polycarp: "O Father of your beloved and blessed Son,
Jesus Christ! O God of all principalities and of all creation! I bless you
that you have counted me worthy of this day, and this hour, to receive my
portion in the number of your martyrs, in the cup of Christ." "He who gave
me strength to come to the fire, will give me patience to endure the flame
without your tying me."
Ignatius: "I die willingly for God." "I am God's wheat,
and shall be ground by the teeth of the wild beasts, that I may be found the
pure bread of God." "Now I begin to be a disciple." "It is better for me to
die for Jesus Christ than to reign over the ends of the earth."
Cyprian: "Let him fear death, who must pass from this to
the second death." "I thank God for freeing me from the prison of this
Justin Martyr, with six other Christians, stood before
the prefect, who examined each one, and then turned to Justin, saying, "Hear
you, who have the character of an orator, and imagine yourself in possession
of truth. If I scourge you from head to foot, do you think that you shall go
to heaven?" Justin said: "Although I suffer what you threaten, yet I expect
to enjoy the portion of all Christians; as I know that the divine grace and
favor is laid up for all such, and shall be while the world endures."
Rusticus asked: "Do you think that you shall go to heaven and receive a
reward?" "I not only think so, but I know it, and have a certainty of it,
which excludes all doubts," was the reply. Here the prefect insisted that
they should all sacrifice to the gods. "No man," said Justin, "will desert
true religion for the sake of error and impiety." Urbicus said: "Unless you
comply, you shall be tormented without mercy." Justin replied: "We desire
nothing more sincerely than to endure tortures for our Lord Jesus Christ,
and be saved. Hence our happiness is promoted, and we shall have confidence
before the solemn tribunal of our Lord and Savior, before which by divine
appointment, the whole world must appear." The others assented, and said: "Despatch
quickly your purpose; we are Christians, and cannot sacrifice to idols." The
sentence was, that they should be scourged, and then beheaded. They heard it
with joy, and bore the scourging without a murmur, nay with ecstacy. They
were then beheaded, and their bodies were decently interred by their
John Huss: "In these flames, I offer to you, O Christ,
this soul of mine."
Jerome of Prague: "Kindle not the fire behind me, but
before my face; for if I had been afraid of it, I had not come to this
place, having had so many opportunities offered me to escape."
When Mrs. Jane Askew was offered her life at the stake,
if she would recant, she said: "I came not hither to deny my Lord and
Mrs. Joyce Lewis said: "As for death, I fear it not; for,
when I behold the amiable countenance of Jesus Christ, my dear Savior, the
ugly face of death does not much trouble me."
John Nisbet: "Now, farewell all true friends in Christ;
farewell Christian relations; farewell sweet and holy Scriptures; farewell
prayer and meditation; farewell sinning and suffering. Welcome heaven;
welcome innumerable company of angels, and the church of the first-born, and
the spirits of just men made perfect; welcome Father, Son, and Holy Spirit;
welcome praises for evermore. Now, dear Father, receive my spirit, for it is
yours; even so, come Lord Jesus."
Donald Cargill: "This is the most joyful day that ever I
saw in my pilgrimage on earth. My joy is now begun, which shall never be
interrupted. I see both my interest and His truth, and the sureness of the
one, and the preciousness of the other. I have been a man of great
sins—but he has been a God of great mercies. And now, through his
mercies I have a conscience as sound and quiet, as if I had never sinned. It
is long since I could have adventured on eternity, through God's mercy and
Christ's merits, and now death is no more to me, but to cast myself into my
Husband's arms, and to lie down with him."
Indeed so wonderfully has God been with the faithful
martyrs in all ages, making them joyful in all their tribulation, that the
effect has been truly astonishing. In the early ages it was often said, "The
blood of the martyrs—is the seed of the church." It is stated that at the
close of the martyrdom of one young woman in Rome, five hundred people were
induced to offer themselves as victims to the rage of the persecutors.
Similar effects have been noticed in modern times. Tillotson says, "that
catechizing and the history of the martyrs have been the two main pillars of
the Protestant religion."