Isaiah 43: 1-3 (to "thy Saviour")
2 Corinthians 5: 1-8
This occasion is not one of our regular meetings in this room. We have been called together specially because of the departure of our beloved brother and it has already been remarked in prayer that we come together with a sense of loss. This is not the first of such occasions in recent times. We have been gathered in this room several times of late to bury saints who have departed whom we have loved. We do not gather, as the world does, to pay our respects to our beloved brother; the time to do that was when he was alive. But the Lord would bring us together on the death of a saint in order to speak to us. Our affections are peculiarly softened in the presence of death, the death of one that we have known - some have known longer than others - and feel the loss of. In that condition of sensitized affections, I think the Lord would speak a word to us. It would always be a word of comfort as coming from Himself. It would also have, no doubt, a challenge with it because the presence of death is a very solemn matter, and we are to be sobered by it. We are in the presence of what is so final as regards things here, and that is to exercise us, I believe, as to what death is. I just desire to suggest a few thoughts as to that, and as to the portion of our beloved brother - not his final portion, but his present portion as with Christ.
The Scriptures speak of death in more than one way. They speak of the state of death, which is a moral thought. It could apply to any of us that are living, any of us in this room, that we could be in a state of death; or, as the Scripture speaks of some, that they were "dead while living", 1 Tim 5: 6. The father in Luke 15 said of his son, "this my son was dead" (Luke 15: 24); he was not dead literally but, as far as his father was concerned he was dead. "This my son was dead and has come to life, was lost and has been found". I wonder if any of us are in that state, a state of death? It is a solemn state to be in. Before the great white throne, we read of "the dead" standing before the throne, Rev 20: 12. It speaks of what they were in their life and what they are in their death; nothing in life towards God.
But then the Scripture speaks of the power of death, and him who has the might of it, who has been annulled by the Saviour, Heb 2: 14. The power of death causes men to sin. The great principle abroad in the world for those who reject the truth of resurrection is, "let us eat and drink; for tomorrow we die", 1 Cor 15: 32. The power of death works in the hand of the enemy to turn men away from God, and to live in self-will away from Him.
Then there is what we have before us today, the article of death, the actual termination of a life lived here in flesh and blood conditions. And the solemnity of that comes home to us all because we are all in that condition, the mortal condition that must come to an end. "Flesh and blood cannot inherit God’s kingdom", 1 Cor 15: 50. Death itself, of course, is the wages of sin (Rom 6: 23), and the judgment of God; and for an unbeliever it is something to be feared - and feared greatly. Indeed, the Scriptures speak of it as the "king of terrors" (Job 18: 14) because it is the end of everything in which man has found his life, everything in which he found his enjoyment as after the flesh comes to an end.
But I want to speak of what death is to a believer, because nothing could be more different than that. The whole character of death has changed completely for those who, like our beloved brother, have put their faith and trust in Jesus. And what has made the change is that the Saviour Himself has come into death. He has come into death Himself, personally. He upon whom death had no claim went into it voluntarily. It is not sufficient really to say it had no claim upon Him; it was greater than that. He went into death in order to destroy it and to destroy it for ever. Nobody else has gone into death like that, but He went into death uttering a loud cry. He did not enter into death in weakness, or in frailty as we do, but having uttered a loud cry He engaged with the power of death and with him that had the might of it; and He engaged with him in order to destroy him, and to destroy death itself - to annul it and, as the Scripture says, to bring to light "life and incorruptibility", 2 Tim 1: 10. What a triumph, dear brethren! May the triumph of it live in the souls of those of us that love Him and trust Him, as our dear brother did.
Now the effect of that is stupendous, because the whole character of death for the believer has changed, and changed completely. Instead of something to be feared, something to be dreaded, something to be avoided at all costs, it has become the gateway into the most indescribable blessing and joy. Indeed, Mr Darby said that the point of death was the happiest moment in a Christian’s existence (Collected Writings vol 27 p344); because it involves the leaving of all that has caused sorrow, all that has caused grief and failure - the leaving of all that behind to enter into the presence of Christ and to be with Him for ever.
This passage that I have read in Isaiah, although uttered to God’s earthly people, bears the application I think to us, because even as believers we might wonder about death and the passage of it. But God assures those whom He has redeemed. He reminds them of that - "I have redeemed thee, I have called thee by name; thou art mine". How wonderful to think of our beloved brother in that light, as one who has been redeemed at tremendous cost, the blood of Jesus in which he trusted shed for him. And God says, "thou art mine". The Lord has put in His claim, in the taking of our beloved brother, and in relation to every one of His own. Death comes upon old and young. It is not governed by laws of nature. It comes unexpectedly. It reminds us that God is in it, and yet the exercise of it is the exercise of His own claim, "thou art mine". And then He says, "When thou passest through the waters, I will be with thee". What a promise that is, dear brethren, to reassure our hearts in the presence of death, that the One who has Himself been into it, and tasted it as no other ever will, is able to sustain our hearts in the physical and human weakness with which we are familiar, as death itself approaches. He says, "I am Jehovah thy God, the Holy One of Israel, thy Saviour". How wonderful to think of the saving power of Christ, entering even into the putting of His loved ones to sleep, "asleep through Jesus", 1 Thess 4: 14.
So the apostle says in this other passage we have read that it is God who “has wrought us for this very thing". What a word that is! Think of our brother being wrought of God. The work of God in him spiritually is complete, but wrought with a purpose in view, a purpose being a heavenly one, that he should be numbered among those that would be associated with Christ in glory when "the righteous shall shine forth as the sun", Matt 13: 43. What a day is coming for display, the day of display for Christ pre-eminently, but for those He has redeemed and saved through His precious blood. And so this passage speaks of God having “wrought us for this very thing”, and the earnest of it, the present assurance of it, is that He “has given us the earnest of the Spirit”. God would not do that to one for whom death was going to be the end. He has given us the earnest of His Spirit because He has wrought us for this very thing. So this passage speaks of being absent from the body and present with the Lord. We know that while we are here in the body, we are absent from the Lord. He is not here; we are living in the scene where Jesus is not, and we are in the body. But our brother now is absent from the body and present with the Lord. You think of the blessedness, dear brethren, of that portion. You say, ’How could he enjoy it without his body?’. Peter speaks in his epistle of Him "whom, having not seen, ye love; on whom though not now looking, but believing, ye exult with joy unspeakable and filled with the glory", 1 Pet 1: 8. If that is the portion of saints on earth, that they love One whom they have never seen, and though not now looking on Him, but believing, they exult with joy unspeakable and are filled with the glory, what must the portion be of our beloved brother and myriads like him who are absent from the body and present with the Lord?
Dear brethren, our comfort in the sense of loss is in the knowledge of that. Our brother is absent from the body, a body that for him had become a burden, a body of suffering and pain; and all that eclipsed in the presence of the Lord. If this is open to saints on earth in the body, what must the portion be of saints that have been taken to be with Him? It is not the final portion. Our beloved brother, and the myriads that Christ has taken, await with us the moment of which we have sung (hymn 140), when “the Lord himself, with an assembling shout, with archangel’s voice … shall descend from heaven; and the dead in Christ shall rise first; then we, the living who remain, shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air; and thus we shall be always with the Lord", 1 Thess 4: 16, 17. That is our hope and expectation, and so fully has death been annulled by His going into it that the apostle reveals to us the wondrous mystery, that there are going to be some that are not even going to have to pass through the article of death. They are going to be changed, but "We shall not all fall asleep", 1 Cor 15: 51. We can look upon death as a vanquished foe. We can say in the language of Scripture, "Where, O death, is thy sting? Where, O death, thy victory?", 1 Cor 15: 55. What became to us as unconverted the "king of terrors" has become the doorway into eternal bliss with Christ.
May our hearts be encouraged by it, for His Name’s sake.
28th October 2009
(At the meeting for the burial of Wilfred Hutson)