And I heard a voice from heaven saying, "Write this down: Blessed are those who die in the Lord from now on. Yes, says the Spirit, they are blessed indeed, for they will rest from all their toils and trials; for their works (good deeds) follow them!" Rev. 14:13

The beautiful vision we last considered, was intended, as we found, to be one of comfort and consolation for the Church in a season of environing darkness and trouble. It is followed immediately by a succession of three angel-voices. The first, is that of the bearer of the everlasting Gospel, as he speeds his way in mid-heaven to the nations of the earth, with the wide commission to preach the glad tidings to every nation and kindred and tongue and people. The second, intimates the fall of the mystic Babylon. The third, in tones louder still, issues a proclamation of warning to all abettors of the great anti-christian apostasy; to come out from among them, that they do not be partakers of her plagues.

It is at the close of these three, that the words which head this chapter come in, like another of those sweet, solitary strains of heavenly music we have noted more than once in the preceding pages. One resplendent and dreadful picture after another had just been passing before the eye of the Apostle; the scroll had its alternating dark letters, and its illuminated coloring. But there was something now which could not be delineated by symbol. It is a Divine revelation, addressed, not to the eye, but to the ear. Moreover, it was one of such sacred importance as to demand immediate transcription. Other words—other picturings and figures—might be safely left to memory; but this, dictated by a heavenly voice on the spot, must on the spot too be committed to writing. The roll of apocalyptic thunders is suddenly hushed, and thus is the silence broken—And I heard a voice from heaven saying, "Write this down: Blessed are those who die in the Lord from now on. Yes, says the Spirit, they are blessed indeed, for they will rest from all their toils and trials; for their works (good deeds) follow them!"

It is vain to inquire from whom this voice proceeded. This is left indeterminate. It may possibly have come from one of the twenty-four elders of chapter 7; possibly it may have emanated from the Great Covenant Angel Himself—the Majestic Being standing on the sea and the earth, with 'the little book' in His hand. More probably it may have been uttered by one specially delegated from the ranks of the ministering spirits, who are sent forth to minister to the heirs of salvation—some heavenly Barnabas—some "Son of Consolation" dispatched on an errand of comfort to the lonely isle and its lonely prisoner. Be he, however, who he may, his voice has become loud as the sound of many waters: for the brief utterance, wafted like a chime from the bells of the Upper Sanctuary, has awakened chords of responsive harmony in ten thousand, thousand aching and sorrowing hearts in every age of the world.

Nor need we pause too curiously to ascertain the precise meaning and import of the term here used, "from now on." It may simply indicate, that, from the moment of death, when the spirit is emancipated from its earthly fetters, that blessedness begins; or, as in the verse immediately preceding, John speaks of "the patience or endurance of the saints" in the midst of their persecutions, it might be designed, in the first instance, as a special word of hope and comfort to those who had the prospect of suffering and martyrdom. But it was by no means restricted to such. It is a message intended and adapted for all time and for all places—wherever there are weeping eyes and bleeding hearts—wherever there is a Christian's deathbed—a Christian's funeral—a Christian's grave.

Let us consider these two points: I. The Beatitude, "Blessed are those who die in the Lord." And II. Its divine ratification, "Yes, says the Spirit, they are blessed indeed, for they will rest from all their toils and trials; for their works (good deeds) follow them!"

I. "Blessed are those who die." Startling words are these, viewed by themselves and apart from the Gospel. "Blessed are those who die!" How the death-chamber belies the utterance—refuses to countersign the strange benediction! Where is the blessedness in the spectacle of that inanimate clay—that mute and voiceless marble—that moldering and shattered casket from which the glory has departed? Does it not seem a cruel mockery—a parody on the sacred words? That eye which once beamed affection now rayless—that hand which once gave and returned the grasp of tender love, or that smoothed the wrinkles from the brow of care or sorrow, now powerless—that intellect with its varied resources—the memory with its garnered treasures—the heart with its divine sympathies—all now dull, pulseless, unresponsive as the unfeeling stone!

Do you call the flower 'blessed,' that yesterday was swinging its tiny censers with their fragrant perfumes, but which today, nipped by the frost, or battered by the hail, hangs shriveled on the branch or has fallen on the ground? Do you call the giant oak, the ancestral monarch of the forest 'blessed,' when it lies prone on the sward with upturned roots, wrenched from its old moorings by the sweep of the pitiless tempest? Do you call the sculptor's breathing marble 'blessed,' which had just received the last delicate strokes of his chisel, but which, by unfortunate accident, strews in a hundred fragments the floor of his studio? Then, but not until then, can you pronounce 'blessed' that apparent destruction of all that is fair and lovely in life—that cruel severance of dearest ties and fondest associations—the eclipse and extinction of some orb of love, some familiar star, which has risen and set, gleamed and gladdened in the little firmament of our being ever since memory did its work!

And then follow that procession to the narrow house appointed for all living—while the bright jewel is gone, the very casket, broken and mutilated, must be buried out of our sight. Not the altar-fire only is quenched, but the shrine itself must be demolished. The green sod or the silent stone is all that is left to memorialize the 'loved and lost.' No! no! call it not 'blessed.' There can be no gladness—no jubilee here. Stop the music of pipe and tabret—call in the hired minstrels—muffle the drum—put on sackcloth—sit in dust and in ashes—say, 'Ah, my brother!' or, 'Ah, sister!' Do not mock the dead—Do not mock the living, with the mis-timed utterance of 'blessed.' It is not the scene or occasion for beatitude and benediction.

Death!—it is a dark, cruel, ruthless, repulsive thing—a cold, frigid destructive avalanche coming sweeping down amid the warm heart's affections—making earth's smiling valleys scenes of desolation and ruin. It is an anomaly in God's universe. It is a dreadful and awful thing to die!

The ship has sailed to the silent land, we know not where. No sign, no look of affection can be returned as we wave the tearful adieu. There is no retracing of the voyage; no homeward-bound vessel from these distant mysterious shores. We need not hoist the signal from the watch-tower; love need not light its beacon to greet the lone wanderer. Weep sorely for him who goes away—for he shall return no more, nor see his native country.

Such is nature's cold philosophy—nature's sad soliloquy, uncheered and unillumined by the Gospel. Such, too, is the sad musing of many to whom that Gospel has never come in its quickening and enlightening power—to whom the present world is their "be all and end all." It is the Christian alone, who, under the teachings of a diviner philosophy, can utter through tears, as he stands by the grave of those who have fallen asleep in Jesus, "Blessed are those who die in the Lord."

We cannot pause now to investigate the pregnant meaning of that brief description of the Christian character here given, "who die in the Lord." Those who have been privileged to stand by a believer's death-bed will know what the phrase means better than by words. It implies vital union with Christ; the acceptance of Him as a Savior—alike from the guilt and the power of sin; and the reality of which union has been evidenced by the testimony of a holy life. It is effected not by the application of the outward baptismal sign; not by sacramental act, or efficacy, or ritual; not by the holding up of the crucifix before the face of the dying, nor muttering prayers and incantations over the casket of the dead—neither does it consist in the badge and shibboleth of any ecclesiastical party, nor in the mere religious utterances of the last hour, to which the whole previous life is in painful contrast. It is not the transient ecstasy of frame and feeling; not the bidding farewell to the world, and an avowed resignation to leave it when nothing else remains; a willingness to loosen the cable when the vessel is already drifting from its anchorage into infinite darkness. Far less is it the sinful, morbid desire—dictated often by wounded pride, or disappointed ambition, or faithless friendship—to be done with the world, and become oblivious to its ingratitude and wrongs—saying, with the fugitive Prophet of Carmel, "It is enough—take away my life;" or, with the peevish Prophet of Nineveh, "It is better for me to die than to live."

But it is the calm, peaceful resting at the close of life, on the work and merits of a Savior, long ago found and long ago precious. It is Paul's noble and triumphant affirmation, "To die is gain," grounded on the antecedent testimony, "For me to live is Christ." The sublime consciousness that he was "in the Lord," gave him a noble indifference alike to living or dying; it made him content either for a while with the distant vision of heaven, or to be ushered at once into the full fruition. It mattered not whether Christ were magnified in his body by life or by death. He could say, with heroic calmness and complacency, "Whether we live, we live unto the Lord, or whether we die, we die unto the Lord; whether we live therefore or die, we are the Lord's." Oh! to him, and to all such, the last Enemy is robbed of his terrors! What to the unsaved sinner is the gloomy portico leading to the grave, is to the Christian the vestibule of Heaven. The life of faith in the Son of God encircles, like a crown of glory, his dying head.

Neither is it of any moment where or how that death may come. It may be the long tedious experience of months and years, when pin by pin of the earthly tabernacle is taken down—the wasting consumption, the gradual decay. Or it may be with the speed and suddenness of the lightning-flash. It may be in the stillness and quiet of the home-chamber, surrounded with loving eyes and familiar voices; or it may be in some far-off Patmos isle—or in the hut of the settler—or in the cabin on the lone sea—or in the dungeon's darkness—or at the martyr's fire—or amid the shout and shell of battle. It signifies not—the Gospel requiem is the same wherever sounded. "Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of His saints." "Blessed are those who die in the Lord."

II. But this angel-utterance is ratified by a Divine voice, "Yes, says the Spirit." The Divine Spirit of God sets His seal to the beatitude; and He assigns a twofold reason for the blessedness which had just been pronounced on the holy dead.

(1.) "They rest from their labors." Many are the scriptural symbols employed to illustrate the future glory and happiness of Heaven. It is spoken of as a mansion, a city, a kingdom, a temple. But no figure comes home with such power and beauty and appropriateness as that of rest. It is the weary husbandman having gathered in his implements, and stored the fruit of his spring and summer toils. It is the weary laborer at the end of life's long week enjoying the calm of the eternal Sabbath. It is the warrior having ungirded his stained and dust-covered armor on the banks of the river of life, and exchanged the weapons of conflict for the festal palm and the victor's crown. It is the weary bird now no longer beating its wings against the bars of its cage, as it caught up the notes caroled in the far country, and warbled its pensive earth-song, "Oh, that I had wings, . . . for then would I flee away and be at rest!"

Sin and suffering together have converted this fair earth into a place of wailing and unrest, and made the spirit long for a world where these are felt and feared no more. Not that the Christian desires heaven as a place of exemption from the holy activities of his being. No! if we hear of "the Divine gift of rest," there is "a divine gift of work" too. Work, consecrated work, even on earth is happiness; and the higher the consecration, the higher will be the satisfaction in the unresting occupations of the glorified. The believer longs only for cessation from that which impedes his activities here; and the absence of which would enable him to continue a rejoicing laborer in that world where the cry is never heard, "Oh, wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death?"

There he will be enabled to serve God without interruption. No baffled labor; no crushing disappointments; no wearing anxieties; no treachery of tried and trusted friends; no silent, secret griefs, which, unknown to the world, take from life its sweetest ingredients; no evil heart of unbelief, no failure of cherished plans and brilliant hopes; no sickness, laying its paralyzing hand on successful toil, and crippling the warrior on the very eve of conquest. But rather, the bud stymied on earth will expand into the full blossom; those cut off in the midst of their days will be permitted to complete the unfinished and unfulfilled purpose, and, unclogged by all material hindrances, to go forth in endless missions and ministries of loving service. It will be "the rest without a rest"—the rest from sin, and the rest in God. "Blessed" are such dead! "This is the rest with which you may cause the weary to rest, and this is the refreshing."

(2.) A second element in the blessedness of the holy dead here given is, that "their works (good deeds) follow them." "Not," says an old divine, "that their works go before them in order to win God's favor." But they follow after them, alike as the tests and evidences of their vital living union to Christ, and as the grounds on which will be apportioned the nature and degree of their eternal recompense.

For we must never, for the support and vindication of one great Bible declaration, nullify and contradict another. While the title to heaven is altogether apart from ourselves, secured as a free gift of grace in Christ—the purchase of His dying love; yet every good deed done by His people as the fruit of their faith, will have its corresponding reward. As in the material skies, 'one star differs from another star in glory,' so will believers have their different spheres assigned them in the firmament of eternity—some describing a nearer, some a more distant orbit relative to the great central throne. There will be the inheritor of five, and the inheritor of ten cities; the possessor of the five talents, and the possessor of ten; those who will shine as the brightness of the skies; those who will have a crown of surpassing glory round their brows, even "as the stars forever and ever."

It is not, however, the doer of great works and gigantic or brilliant deeds who alone is to have this glorious recompense—he who out of his abundance can give the golden tribute to the cause of Christ, or bear in a jeweled cup the offering of love to His people; but the poor, the humble, the lonely, the bedridden, who have glorified their Savior by meek submission and patient bearing of the cross; who had nothing to give but the two mites, or the cup of cold water, and that, too, from an earthen pitcher; yet valued and recompensed by Him who accepts the deed according to what a man has, not according to what he has not.

Nor must we exclude from the words their significant meaning with reference to this world, as well as to the next. For even here, the works of the holy dead follow them. When a Christian dies—when the lips are closed and the voice silent, and the sods of the churchyard cover him—that is not the last of the man in the living sphere of living being, which in one sense he has left. He lives on! There is a presence and influence more real, more deathless, than the mere bodily frame. Like the glow of the descending sun lighting up the Alpine peaks long after the orb itself has sunk behind the visible horizon, so the works of the holy and the good linger behind them. They have an earthly as well as a heavenly immortality.

The friend you loved is sleeping the long sleep where "the wicked cease from troubling and the weary are at rest." Men say of him, as they miss him on the street, or in the busy mart, or in the house of God, "He is gone!" No, not so! Do not call the sacred spot where his ashes lie—do not call regarding him, "the land of forgetfulness." His words and works are still among us. There is a speech of the dead, the language of undying memories. The outward features have perished, but the spirit is indestructible. Mind cannot die. Holy deeds know no death-bed, no grave, no corruption. "The righteous shall be had in everlasting remembrance."

How many there are whose only "blessed life" is the life of sense—the life of selfish and sensuous pleasure—the life of glitter and display and superficial gaiety! In such, there is nothing glorious to "follow;" and even those things which are objects of honorable aspiration—lands, houses, riches, titles, diadems—the accidents of existence, not its realities—cannot be ferried across the dark river! Then it will be said to every votary of the present and the perishable world, who has no inheritance in anything that is higher and better, "Your gold perishes with you!" "Remove the diadem, take off the crown!" "The fashion of this world passes away!"

Let us ask, What anticipations have we regarding our own departure? Can we contemplate that hour with calm emotion? Can we echo and anticipate regarding it and ourselves the words before us? or are we content to leave it an unsolved problem until the unwelcome hour arrives? Certain on everything else, are we all uncertainty on this?—heedless, it may be, whether the works following will be the trail of light, or the shadows of darkness, and the legacy we bequeath, that of blessings or of curses.

There is nothing, surely, more calculated to rouse from the perilous dream of indifference, to the hopes and hazards of eternity, than to bear about with us the realizing sense of this aspect of a limitless future—as the perpetuation and expansion of present character, the prolongation of present tastes and habits.

The works of earth, "following" like the wake of a vessel, will have their completion in the world beyond. Earth is the germ, the seed-plot of immortality; the child of time, is the father of the full-grown manhood of eternity. Every passing hour of the present life is gathering and shaping that endless futurity; these transient moments we now value so little, are molding everlasting destinies; the words we utter today will go echoing on forever; the deeds done today will be the architects of our bliss or woe, and will outlast millenniums!

And if such be the case, then it is plain that character is not a thing that can be formed and extemporized on a death-bed. Character is the epitome of the life—the steady glow of its morning, noon, and evening hours; not the mere watery gleam and burst of sunshine at the close. We dare not, indeed, limit the grace of God; we dare not close the doors against the peradventure of a death-bed repentance; and yet we never can sufficiently lift up the voice of warning against the awful deception of which thousands are guilty, who flatter themselves that a few hours of penitence, just when the sand-glass is at its final grain, will reverse a guilty past—that a few tears then, will wipe out what has been engraved on the life as with an iron pen and lead in the rock forever! Oh, "live in the Lord" if you would "die in the Lord!"

And if these words we have been pondering have to any a more sacred meaning, if they sound fresh in your memories, as you may have lately stood by the solemn death-bed or solemn grave, the lines chiseled with tears on your heart of hearts—take them from the unknown heavenly Voice of the Vision as a special parable of consolation. I repeat, it is beautiful to find in the very midst of a Book of strange and portentous figures—amid its voices of thunder, and flashes of fire, and smoke of darkness—this gleam of heavenly sunshine—an olive branch of comfort, borne to the lonely exile and lonely heart in the midst of the storm.

What can more touchingly evidence God's tender interest, alike in His dying people and in those who are mourning their departure, than when He thus hushes the tempest's breath, that this balm-word may fall first on the ears of the Island Prisoner, and through him on the ears of a whole weeping world? Yes, believer! "Blessed are your dead." "They have entered into peace; they shall rest in their beds, each one walking in his uprightness." Kindle around their graves lamps of fire; not the lamps which superstition places around the shrines of the departed, but the holy lights which they themselves kindled—the lights of faith, and love, and patience, and submission, and meek bearing of injuries, and close walk with God. They have joined the ranks on the distant shore, and beckon you to follow. Do not be disobedient to the Heavenly Vision. Grasp up these torches as sacred legacies they have left you, to bear you on in your darkened way. And if their bright example has taught you how to live, let it tune your lips also to the prayer, "Let me die the death of the righteous, and let my last end be like His!"