The Departure of the Man of God
"And Israel said unto Joseph; Behold, I die; but God shall be with you, and bring you again unto the land of your fathers." Genesis 48:21
We have followed the man of God through some of the most instructive stages of his spiritual course. The last, most important, and solemn one yet awaits our study- his departure to his heavenly rest. We instance the death of Jacob as affording an appropriate and impressive picture of this event. He was a man of God, pre-eminent for his piety, remarkable in his history, and not the less so for the circumstances and manner of his death. So honored was he among saints, that Jehovah condescended to associate his name with His own, and to designate Himself as especially the "God of Jacob."
In all the prominent events of his long and chequered life, the patriarch had the closest dealings with God. And there are, perhaps, but few recorded narratives in which we have so much of God as in the narrative of Jacob's life. Oh, it is blessed and instructive to see Jehovah thus dwelling with men- conversing with men- admitting them to His confidence, and lavishing upon them His love. If thus so close was the intimacy of the saints with God under the old and typical dispensation of the Church- if this was the manner of their walk, the closeness of their communion, how much more filial and confiding should be our fellowship with the Father, who approach Him through the blood and righteousness of Christ! With a new and a living way, so divine, so accessible, so simple- with the blood of Christ in our hand- with the Person of Christ interceding at the right hand of God in heaven- with the name of Christ ever privileged to present as the plea of every petition, and the pledge of every blessing, oh, marvel of marvels, that our walk with God is so distant, our approach so servile, our transactions so few and so distant! But we now turn to the deathbed of the man of God. "And Israel said unto Joseph, Behold, I die; but God shall be with you, and bring you again unto the land of your fathers."
Let us, in the first place, direct our thoughts, devout and solemn, to this picture of the dying patriarch: "And Israel said unto Joseph, Behold, I die." He was nearing that goal of life to which the whole human family are traveling, and at which we must all eventually and inevitably arrive. Some reach it by a short and rapid stage. Early in life their spirits are summoned to eternity; and while it is yet day, their sun goes down. Others reach it in the meridian of life. Immersed in its cares and anxieties, its busy thoughts and enterprises, in a moment they reach the goal, and in that very day their thoughts perish. Others, like the aged patriarch around whose dying bed in imagination we are now gathered, reach it with hoary hairs bowed down under the weight of many long years, they at last arrive at the appointed goal, and the weary wheels of life stand still.
There is a time to die- a time foreordained, fixed, and appointed in each man's individual history. "Man dies and wastes away; man gives up the spirit, and where is he?" We all strangely imagine, that when weave gone hence, a great change will pass over the present scene of life- that the history of the world will change, that the engagements and the pursuits of men will slacken, or terminate altogether. No, my reader, no! When we leave this world, the tide of life will roll on as it rolls on now. The world will fulfil its appointed destiny- man will be as eager in the toil for wealth, and in the chase of honor, and in the pursuit of pleasure, as now. Battles will be fought and won, empires will rise and fall, and all things will go on as now they do, while we are slumbering beneath the sweet clods of the valley.
"The storm that waves the wintry sky
No more disturbs our calm repose,
Than summer evening's latest sigh,
That shuts the rose."
And now let us turn our thoughts to some of the peculiar features in the last scene of the aged patriarch, gathering from those who instruction, comfort, and hope, which, in anticipation of our own departure, may be strengthening and consolatory. The first feature that arrests our attention is, his calm, quiet dignity in death. "And one told Jacob, Behold, your son Joseph comes unto you; and he strengthened himself, and sat upon the bed." He was at that moment in dying circumstances- life was fast ebbing- its weary wheels revolved slower and slower; but when they brought to him the intelligence that Joseph was on his way to pay his last tribute of filial reverence and love, lo; the dying saint acquires new strength, and sits upon his bed.
It is a picture of quiet, holy dignity worthy of the occasion. Oh, if there be true quietness, real dignity, holy sublimity, it is in the departure of the dying believer. With what a new character does death appear invested? In what a new point of light is it viewed? What dignity, composure, and hope clothe that solemn crisis of our being! In the case of a man of God, we may truly say that no act of his life is like that of his departure. For a dying saint to sit erect in his bed, gather up his remaining strength to testify to the supports, to the succourings, and the hopes of that hour, presents a picture of dignity and repose which has no parallel in the history of man!
Observe his dying testimony "God, who fed me all my life long unto this day, the Angel which redeemed me from all evil." What a glorious dying testimony is this! From whose lips but those of a man of God could it breathe? Who could bear such a testimony for God but one who was acquainted with God, who had had during life, close dealings with God. And now that he was about to yield back his spirit to the God who gave it, with his latest breath he testifies to the Divine faithfulness and love, compassion and mercy, which had encompassed him through life.
Be assured of this, that the testimony of a departing saint for God, and his witness for Christ, is the most honoring, as it is the most solemn, of his whole life. And do not for a moment doubt, that, when life's close approaches, grace will be given you to testify to the faithfulness and loving-kindness of your covenant-God, and to the goodness, and graciousness, and tenderness of Jesus, the Angel who redeemed you from all evil. Oh, what an honor conferred upon a dying saint, thus intelligently, calmly, and believing, to confirm the truth of the Bible, in the witness he is enabled then to bear to God's faithful, unchanging love, and to the Divine grace and mighty power of Jesus, the "angel of the covenant," in redeeming the soul and body from all evil.
There is another beautiful feature in this departure which, in its spiritual and gospel import, is truly precious to those who believe. What was it that shed a luster so bright around his dying pillow- which tended so much to smooth and calm his spirit's transit to eternity- which imparted to that death so much elasticity and vigor? It was the presence of Joseph! Joseph was with him, and the sweet assurance that his beloved and faithful son was there to cheer his heart, and to administer to his comfort, to receive his dying blessing, and to assure him of the fulfilment of his latest requests, must have imparted a peculiar soothing and repose to his departing hour. Turn to the gospel viewpoint of this.
To have Christ, the true Joseph, with us when we die- to have the consciousness that the Savior treads with us the valley side by side- to have the Conqueror of death smoothing the dying pillow, quelling every fear, removing every doubt, dissipating every cloud, oh, this will not be dying! Death is no death to a man of God conscious of the Savior's presence. Why should you for a moment doubt that this will be your case? We have now our dreary stages in life-seasons in which we seem not to realize the presence of Christ; but we believe that when one of His precious jewels is about to be gathered into glory, that when one of His ransomed ones is about to go hence, that there is a peculiar manifestation, an especial visitation of the Lord Jesus Christ in that solemn hour; and that no believer in Jesus, not one redeemed with His precious blood, shall pass through that solemn, that awful moment, shall tread that dreary valley, unsustained, uncheered, unconsoled by the voice and smile and presence of the Savior.
My unconverted reader, do not, I beseech you, think of death. Do not anticipate the solemn hour without the certain conviction that you will have Christ with you then. You must have Christ with you now- you must have faith in Jesus now- you must realize union with Him now, order to anticipate with calmness, confidence, and hope that you will have His sustaining an soothing presence then. Oh, postpone not the seeking of Jesus to the solemn moment of the spirit's departure into eternity! Seek to know Christ, and to have union with Christ now; and you may be quite sure that when you die, the Savior will be with you.
And there is something very touching and beautiful in one of the patriarch's dying sayings. He pauses in the blessing he was breathing on his children, and gives utterance to this aspiration and exclamation of his soul: "I have waited for Your salvation, O Lord." Beloved, what will be the spirit's aspiration, and the heart's longing and breathing, when we come to die? Will not this be the sum and substance of all, "I have waited for Your salvation, O Lord I have long looked for this hour; I have anticipated this solemn period of my release from corruption and death; I have panted and thirsted for this full salvation from indwelling sin, from the taint and infirmity of the flesh, and from all the sorrows and trials of this present life; I have waited for Your salvation, O Lord."
Oh, to have a soul waiting for Christ, in the attitude and posture of one looking for and expecting the coming of the Lord. What a holy attitude is this! And should not this be the posture of our soul day by day, "Lord, I am waiting for Your summons, for my full redemption, for my complete salvation, for Your coming to receive Your servant to Yourself?" Oh, cultivate that blessed, holy state of mind, of waiting for God's salvation. When your soul is about to go hence, may the Lord grant that, with like confidence, assurance, and hope, you may be enabled to say with the departing patriarch, "I have waited for Your salvation, O Lord, and now it is come!"
There is something deeply instructive and beautifully touching in the directions the dying patriarch gave with regard to his burial: "And he charged them, and said unto them, I am about to be gathered unto my people: bury me with my fathers." With some individuals it is a matter of but little moment where their own dust, or that of those they love; reposes. But when we remember that the body of the believer is a temple of the Holy Spirit- that the body is as much redeemed by Christ as the soul- that the 'mortal' is as precious to the Savior as the immortal- that it shall be raised again, every particle- that it shall be restored, vivified, and retenanted by the spirit that once made it its home, we feel a sympathy with the desire of the believer that his ransomed dust should slumber with the sleeping dead in Christ. But if we bear in mind that Jacob's soul yearned for Canaan- that the thought of being buried in a heathen land was distasteful, painful, gloomy to his departing spirit- that he was looking forward, in fact, to the goal, the promised land, in that solemn hour, it gives additional force to his dying request, "Bury me with my fathers."
When we depart hence, and the thought of our interment crosses the mind, let it be associated with the blessed anticipation that our body shall rise again in the "first resurrection," and occupy the promised land, the heavenly Canaan. Oh yes, we love to cherish the sacred thought of sleeping among the holy dead! It is a delightful charming reflection, that we shall He side by side with departed Christian heroes; and that when the archangel's trump shall awake the slumbering dust, we shall join the morning song of the first resurrection.
There were two predictions of the dying patriarch worthy of our study. The first one is remarkable and instructive, beautiful and soothing. He sought to comfort Joseph, in the anticipation of his departure, by the assurance, that though he died, God would be with him: "Behold, I die, but God will be with you." Enough? He could desire no more. And may not every departing man of God employ the same language? See how wonderfully it applies to the Church of God. The Church of God is constantly called to mourn the departure of her ministers, her strong and distinguished pillars, her warm and zealous friends and supporters. And when thus a useful minister of Christ dies, when a prominent standard-bearer in the army of Christ falls, and when a strong pillar of the Church is removed by death, our hearts begin to fear and tremble, and we inquire, "Who will, or can, supply his place in the Church of God? Who will uplift that standard and wave it before the foe? Who will be able to carry on that important enterprise thus suddenly arrested? Who will fill this gap, battle for this principle, witness for this truth?"
The answer is-"god will be with you." "Enough, blessed Lord," we exclaim. "You take away ministers, remove earnest and zealous agents, and stern, strong pillars of the Church; but You live still, and will never leave Your Church destitute." Let this always comfort us when we hear of the removal by death of God's servants, the pillars of the Church, the witnesses of the truth, God will be with His Church, will guide His Church, will protect His Church, will lead her on from battle to battle, and from victory to victory, never leaving nor forsaking her in all times of trial, desertion, and bereavement." I die; but God will be with you."
And how replete with comfort and consolation is this assurance in the season of domestic bereavement! How the heart often trembles even in the anticipation of the departure of the head of the family. What can meet that solemn hour, and that irreparable exigency, but an assurance like this? Though God may remove the heads of our families, or its more prominent and useful members, He will still remain, the God of all the families of Israel, the widow's God, and the Father of the fatherless. "I die; but God will be with you."
May we who are parents, and whose spirits are ofttimes shaded and saddened with the thought, "What will become of my family when God calls me home? how will they battle with life? how escape its snares, and temptations? who will be their friend and guardian?" Take hold by faith of this precious truth, "Our covenant-God will guide, counsel, and shield them; be their Friend, Provider, and Father." "I die; but God shall be with you."
With what dignity and composure may the dying parent bequeath this precious legacy to his family weeping around him, "I, your parent, protector, counselor, and friend, am about to die; but my God, my own covenant-God, will be your God, your Father, your Friend; and to that covenant-God, who has led me all my journey through, and to the Angel of the covenant who has redeemed my soul from all evil, I now believingly, confidently, commit you." This is one of the blessings of faith in Christ- this is one of the glorious attributes of Christianity- this is one of the marvelous features of true religion. Oh, take hold of the covenant, Christian patent; often comfort your heart with this precious truth; it will uplift that leaden load that presses you to the earth, in anticipation of your departure from the loved ones of earth. God will be with them, and this involves every blessing.
This consolatory truth will apply equally to the death of friends. How often are we filled with sadness and fear when we think what a vacancy the death of such and such a one would produce, what a void in human life would be created, what a spring would be dried! These are common occurrences- how are we to meet them? By taking hold of God, and in no other way. There is not another being in the universe, who can supply this vacancy but God in Christ. And if our faith will but take hold of the covenant-promise of the covenant-God, we may with confidence and calmness anticipate these vacancies, these sad changes, when God sees fit in His providence to make them.
We must dwell for a moment on the second prediction of the dying patriarch: "And bring you again into the land of your fathers." Now, here we see a striking illustration of the power of real faith. The dying patriarch looked down through the vista of years to the deliverance of Israel out of the land of Egypt; and though it was foreshadowed years before the prediction would be accomplished, yet his faith clung to it, looked forward to it, rested in it, that God would appear on behalf of the Israelites, and bring them out of Egypt, through the wilderness, into Canaan. And God did it. And what is the spiritual import of that prediction? Most blessed!
God will bring His whole Church out of this Egypt, this iron furnace, this land that is strange to us, this place of exile, into the good, the promised land above. Yes, faith can look forward to that blessed hour, that glorious day, when He will deliver His Church from her present Egyptian exile and bondage, and bring her home to heaven. We no equally apply this precious truth to our pious relatives and friends who survive us. Oh, is it not a reflection sweet and soothing to one whom death sunders from godly children, pious relatives and friends, "I die; I am about to be removed from you, but God will bring you into the land of your fathers, and we shall meet all again in heaven. We shall re-assemble in glory before long; the separation is temporary, and but for a little while, and then comes the blessed and eternal re-union, and we meet to part no more.
Do not deem this a mere poetical thought, fanciful and ideal. It is an element of revealed religion, the hope of the gospel of Christ. The religion of Jesus is the only religion that assures us of the future, and unseals to us, in some measure, what that future will be. This prospect is an element of Christian hope- it springs from faith in Christ- that, though death sunder for a while the tie that links to the loved and precious ones who go to be with Jesus, in due time the Lord will bring them all again into the good land, the celestial Canaan, where the fruit, the flower, the sunshine are eternal, and the parting is no more.
The doctrine of the believer's resurrection also gleams forth here. We deal too little with the blessed resurrection of the saints. It is a delightful thought that the ransomed body shall be raised in glory a spiritual body, perfect in holiness, radiant in beauty, made like unto Christ's glorious body. What a halo does this prospect impart to the gloom, of the grave, that God will gather together the scattered dust of the holy dead, and will bring it home to the fatherland. And should it be God's will that your ashes slumber not where you would desire they should- it may be in the ocean's cave, or on some distant shore- the Lord, who has watched over these ashes with unslumbering eye, will raise them again in glory, honor, and immortality. Oh, may we die the death of the righteous, and may our last end be like his!
"So fades a summer cloud away;
So sinks the gale when storms are o'er;
So gently shuts the eye of day,
So dies the wave along the shore."
Life's duty done, as sinks the clay,
Light from its load the spirit flies,
While heaven and earth combine to say,
How blessed the RIGHTEOUS when he dies!"