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THE BLESSEDNESS OF THE DEAD, WHO DIE IN THE
[Preached at Kettering, at the funeral of Mc. Beeby Wallis, April, 1792.1
Rev. xiv. 13.
And I heard a voice from heaven, saying unto me, Write, Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord, from henceforth : yea, saith the Spirit, that they may rest from their labours and their works do follow them.
It is usual with us, on the death of our friends, to improve the mournful event, by a sermon on the occasion. I feel a difficulty, in the present instance, on account of my near and intimate connexion with the deceased. However, as well as I can, I will endeavour to comply with the general expectation.
Our dear deceased friend made no mention of any particular part of scripture which he would wish to have improved; I have, therefore selected the above, as being the most suitable to the present occasion of any that has occurred to my thoughts. The original design of the passage seems to have been, to support the afflicted followers of Christ in times of persecution. Nothing could be better adapted to arm the holy martyrs against the terrors of death, than the sentiment here exhibited. It does not seem, however to be applicable to martyrs only; but is rather to he considered as a
general truth, which, though applied to a particular case, is not to be confined to that case, but extended to every other particular comprehended within the general design. A few introductory observations may throw some light upon the text, and lead us on to the principal subjects on which I mean to discourse.
First : Let us observe the character described-those who die in the Lord. The scriptures make frequent mention of believers, as being united to Christ or one with him. If we be true believers in Christ; we shall feel a union of heart with him ; our principles. affections and pursuits, will, in a measure, be the same as his ;
his cause will be our cause, his people our people, his service our delight, and the gospel of salvation through his death our daily bread. The union between Christ and his people, is frequently compared to the marriage-union : as they who were twain became one flesh, 80 they who are joined to the Lord are one spirit ; and, as in that case there is not only a mental, but a legal union, each becoming interested in the persons and possessions of the other, so in this, we, with all we have, are Christ's, and Christ, with all he has, is
Hence the language of the Apostle : Of him are ye IN Christ Jesus, who of God is made unto us wisdom, and righteousness, and sanctification, and redemption. Hence also, arises the desirableness of being found in him, not having our own righteousness, which is of the law ; but that which is through the faith of Christ, the righteousness which is of God by faith. An union like this will render us blessed even in death ; death itself shall not be able to dissolve it, but shall rather introduce us to the full enjoyment of him whom our soul loveth.
It is farther supposed of those who die in the Lord, that they have abounded in good works ; for it could not otherwise have been said that they should follow them. Those whose only hope and reliance for acceptance with God have been upon Jesus Christ, and who have, therefore, disclaimed all dependence upon their own works, have often been charged with being enemies to morality; or, at least, that their principles, if pursued to their just consequences, would render them so : but I trust the practice of these persons, in all ages, has not been such as to justify the charge. Perhaps, on the contrary, if we could survey the spirit
and manners of mankind with an impartial eye, we might find that they who thus believed in Jesus were the most careful to maintain good works. Yea, and if we would search the scriptures with an unprejudiced mind, we should find, that, without an union with Christ, it were a vain thing to expect good works ; (truly so called ;) as vain as to expect fruit from a branch that should be separate from the vine.
Secondly: The blessedness of the dead who die in the Lord, was declared by a voice from heaven. If the Apostle had hearkened to the general voice of mankind, he would have heard a very different sound. The world reckons him blessed that liveth-that liveth in prosperity. So patural is this to man, that we all feel a kind of pity for our departed friends; but surely pity is never more unnecessary : the voice from heaven, whatever be the voice from earth, pronounces, Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord.
Thirdly : The apostle was commanded to write it. A mere voice passeth away, but a writing endureth. In this we see God's tender regard for his faithful servants, not merely in that age, but for ages
to come. Fourthly: Their blessedness is declared to be from henceforth. I do not see how this can be understood as referring to the time of the Spirit's speaking ; for that would imply, that, before that time, those who died in the Lord were not blessed. It seems, I think, plainly to refer to the time of their departure from the body, and is one of the many passages of scripture in which we are taught the doctrine of a separate state.
Lastly : The blessedness which awaits those who die in the Lord consists, partly in a rest from their labours, and partly in a glorious reward, expressed by their works following them.
It is on this last observation I shall principally enlarge, in this discourse, as the most important ideas of the text seem to be here included. Let us first take a view of the heavenly state under the ideas here given, and then consider the uses that such a prospect is adapted to promote.
1. LET US VIEW THE HEAVENLY STATE UNDER THE IDEAS OF A REST FROM LABOUR, AND A REWARD FOR IT. The term labour does not convey the idea of simple exercise ; for we shall never cease
from that, but rather increase it. The inhabitants of heaven are more active than ever they were upon earth. They are represented as serving God day and night in his temple ; yea, and as though all our services in this world were unworthy of the name, it is said, there his servants shall serve him. Nor is the rest here spoken of to be understood of a mere cessation from exercise, in the grave,
for that would afford no blessedness. The term labour conveys the idea of painful exercise, weariness, or fatigue. The same word is used in 2 Cor. xi. 29. where the Apostle speaks of being in weariness and painfulness.
A great part of the Christian life consists in an opposition. He that would gain the heavenly prize must oppose the course of this world; must strive against the stream of false principles and wicked practices ; against the evil customs and manners of the age and place in which he lives. It has been observed, that mankind go through the world in a body ; that they draw one another on, in their principles and manners ; that, like the drops of water which compose a tide, they acquire strength and influence by their numbers, and that, whatever general direction they take, that is, for the time being, the course of this world. Like the tide, it is ever rolling, though not in the same direction. In former
it a course of Pagan idolatry ; in latter ages, of Popish superstition
: and cruelty; and, in the present age it is a course of Infidelity and profaneness. To oppose this current is labour. .
It was no small matter for the glorious tribes of martyrs in ev. ery age, to hold fast the faith of the gospel. They had not only to encounter their adversaries, but their own natural feelings. They were men, and men of like passions with ourselves. They had wives, and children, and friends, and the various endearing ties of human nature ; each of which would cry in their ears Spare thyself! Think, brethren, what labour it must have been, for them to encounter the hardships and cruelties to which a faithful adherence to God exposed them! Nor is it any small matter to set ourselves against the temptations of the world, there is a fashion in every thing, even in religion ; and it requires fortitude of mind to withstand its influence, and to adhere to the dictates of scripture, let them be stigmatized as they may. Nor does it re
quire less fortitude to withstand the current of evil customs, by which we may be certain, in many cases to expose ourselves to scorn .and contempt. These things, I say, are labour ; labour from which those who die in the Lord are at rest.
The course of this world has no longer any influence on them ; they are arrived in the desired haven, where neither tide nor tempest can affect them.
Again : Our services for God, in the present state, may, very properly, be called labour, on account of the natural infirmities and afflictions which here attend us, especially in the last stages of life. The most active Christan, whose delight in his Lord's work has been such as to render it its own reward, will soon find the years draw nigh, in which he shall say, I have no pleasure in them. It is then that the strength is labour and sorrow.
It is then that the spirit is often willing, when the flesh is weak. Our dear deceased friend experienced much of this, during the last few years of his life. Reading and prayer, and every other religious duty, was a labour ; but the tabernacle in which he groaned is now dissolved; he is now at rest from his labours.
Once more : The greatest and most grievous struggle of all is owing to our own native depravity. It is this that forms the most dangerous stream against which we have to strive. We may withdraw ourselves from the world, but not from this ; this will accompany us in all our retirements, and in all our efforts. He that is contented to serve the Lord with mere bodily exercise, may feel no manner of difficulty from this quarter ; but he that would worship God in spirit and in truth, that would meditate, pray, praise, preach, or hear, as he ought, will find it the great burden of his life. A mind prone to forget God, and wander in forbidden paths; an heart unaffected with the great things of God, flying off from him and fixing upon things that do not profit ; these are matters which made an Apostle exclaim, 0 wretched man that I am! It is these which render our life a labour. To be at rest from these, is heaven indeed !
But another idea afforded us of the heavenly state is, that of a reward. Those who die in the Lord, not only rest from their labours, but their works do follow them.
It has been a common obVol. VII.