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THE BRITISH PULPIT.
THE NATURE OF THE HEAVENLY REST.
REV. J. SANDPORD, A.M.
LONG ACRE CHAPEL, JUNE 8, 1834.
" And I heard a voice from heaven saying unto me, Write, Blessed are the dead which die in
the Lord from henceforth: Yea, saith the Spirit, that they may rest from their labours ; and their works do follow them."-Rev. xiv. 13.
The subject of the text, my friends, is surely interesting to us; it embraces considerations common to all; it comes home to every heart and bosom, and to it the sensibilities of all are certain to respond. Other topics will engage attention in proportion as they suit the individual bias; but this is sure, more or less, to affect all men. All know that they must die, and that according as they are found in death, will be their final portion.
We are all, therefore, susceptible of the impressions which the scenes and memorials of mortality effect : and these impressions are rather connected with a sense of our individual liability to the event which is recorded, than to any of the circumstances which may, or may not, accompany it, and invest it with an adventitious importance ; such we mean as our previous acquaintance with the deceased, or the sight of the distress of surviving relatives, or the melancholy experience of exfernal woe, or the awful solitude of the place of interment. In the receptacles of the dead, where the dust of many generations is contained, and wherever the eye wanders it lights upon some grim emblem of death, a sentiment of awe will be experienced, not necessarily connected with thoughts of our individual mortality: or when we are associated with a company of mourners at a funeral, and the sombre visage, and the whispered salutation, and the sable vestments, all indicate the sad occasion on which we are assembled, it may be difficult to determine how far our seriousness is attributable to the mere contagion of sympathy. But when we encounter death in the highways and thoroughfares of London, beneath the blaze and light of day, and with the scenes and the sounds of ordinary business and traffic around us; or when, in the crowded
streets of the great city, we meet a few stragglers carrying their dead to interment, we may be sure that the sentiment we then feel owes its existence to the consciousness, that we too must one day go down to the abode appointed for all men living. And it is important, that apart from those mixed emotions which spectacles of mortality produce, we should accustom ourseives to the frequent and serious consideration of our indiridual exposure to death. We should familiarize ourselves with the prospect that awaits us, and have our minds so fixed on the goal to which we hasten, that life will be nothing other than a preparation to die. For if there be a principle within us that serves to counteract, in a measure, the engrossing tendency of what is seen and feltthoughts of our mortality will come uncalled—there is an increased obligation upon us to listen to the inward voice, and to be made to consider our latter end.
But though we are deeply concerned in the scenes to which death is the prelude, it is not the aspect of the great destroyer, nor the pains which he inflicts, nor the separation which he brings with him from all we have loved on earth, nor any and all of the agitating and afficting circumstances of the death-bed, which invests mortality with awe; but the thought of the distant and shadowy realms that are beyond, upon which the soul enters when it quits the body. And hence the importance of the revelation which speaks to us from on high, that dissipates the clouds that would otherwise settle on futurity, that lights up the precincts of the tomb, and shows the glittering path that leads from it to glory. Hence the value of the text, coming to us with its weight of inspiration, to certify us of the perfection that awaits the righteous hereafter, and proclaim that they that die in the Lord are blessed. Such a revelation we need to reconcile us to death, and fit us for death. However we may look coldly on the Gospel, when we have removed sorrow from the heart, and put away evil from the flesh, still, when we are called to lament the death of those who are dear to us, or when we have cause to anticipate our own, the most thoughtless and secular of earth's sons turn to this inspired book, to glean from its pages some intimations of the state upon which those that are dear to them have entered, and on which they are expecting to embark themselves. And though it is often with an uncertain hand that they turn its pages, as being little acquainted with its glorious contents, and the passages that they take for comfort are not always such as suits their case, yet it is indeed a blessing that they have access to a key which opens up to them the arcana of the future world, and shows to them how its foretold curses may be averted, and its treasured blessings possessed.
We sought, in a former discourse on the text, to display the character to which the blessing adheres. We observed, that the passage read pronounce no indiscriminate blessing on the dead, and justifies not at all the presumptuous consequence which speaks of all that are departed as inheritors of the kingdom of heaven. It is natural that mourners should catch at consolation, and in every case solace their griefs with an assurance, that their deceased has gone to glory; even when there is least ground to build on, and there has been no confession of God in life time, and no apparent rest on him at death; but, on the contrary, the eye seeks in vain some bright spot to rest on, some spiritual oasis in the moral wilderness, still the heart will hope against hope, of an union with the lost in a happier world. It were an ungracious task to dispel this hope: nor
indeed are we ever called upon to pronounce on the doom of a departed brother, otherwise than to shew what fruit a life of sin, and a death of impenitence, may be supposed to yield.
But, assuredly, no comfort can be gathered by survivors in such a case from the language of the text. Who, we ask, does it pronounce to be blessed in death? They that “ die in the Lord.” We shewed, in discoursing on this part of the subject, that they that die in the Lord must have been preriously united to him, both in the exercise of a living faith, and in the actings of a regenerated heart; and we developed what the union with Christ implied, and what the evidences of living in him and dying in him were. We observed, that in order to any man being in Christ, he must have a sense of his individual need of him; and, more than this, an assurance of having accepted him; and this latter assurance, resulting from the tokens, external and within, that he has become a new creature. We dwelt upon the evidence which such might be expected to afford when his last hour came; and these we characterized as submission to the divine will in pain and sickness ; a desire to commend religion, eren from the bed of death, to those around; resignation and composure in the pangs of dissolution. And we concluded, by exhorting you to examine yourselves whether you were one with Christ, and were now so living with him, that at death you might anticipate the blessing.
We are now to consider the BLESSING : and oh, may the desire he excited in all your hearts to possess it! It is not the present peace of the Christian which is spoken of, but the future portion which will be enjoyed by the Christian in the kingdom of his Father; and, indeed, niuch of the Christian's present joy is connected with that anticipation of that portion.“ Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord.” This part of the subject we have already considered. Then follows the reason of the blessing, and the nature of the blessing : “ Yea, saith the Spirit, that they may rest from their labours ; and their works do follow them.” The declaration is ushered in in a manner to constrain attention, and evince the sublime importance of the doctrine it conveys. It comes to us as an audible utterance from the heavenly presence: “I heard a voice from heaven." It was not communicated by an inward inspiration, or by any ordinary inflatus, by which the Almighty was wont to make known his revelations to his servants : as an articulate and audible utterance it sounds forth from the vault of heaven, and breaks on the senses of the beloved disciple. And with it a command was given too, to write it, that it might be perpetuated, and come down to the latest posterities of men: “ I heard a voice from heaven, saying unto me, Write, Blessed are the dead which die in the Lord from henceforth; Yea, saith the Spirit, that they may rest from their labours; and their works do follow them.”
Now the blessing is described as a cessation from certain labour, and the appearance of certain works in glory, as proofs and trophies of a godly character in a previous state of existence. It is important to observe, how the argument for personal holiness is here established, and the blessings of the future state explicitly connected with the individual's educatiou for its pleasures. It is a death-blow to antinomianism: an inoperative faith can find nothing here to rest upon. Oh, would you have a personal interest in the future blessing? Then it is obvious you must be at present actively engaged for God; and exhibit the works which may authenticate your union with the Saviour, and go to swell and to regulate the amount of your heavenly inheritance. There must be labours in the Lord, or you cannot cease from them: there must be works, or they cannot follow you.
• Here we would observe, by the way, what we are to understand by the expression “rest." Rest, my beloved brethren, is one of those delicious words, like “home," which speaks to the heart of every child of man, and describes the heavenly happiness : “ There the wicked cease from troubling, and the weary are at rest.” Oh, how beautiful it is : and why? Because rest is not the portion of man in this sad world. Toil is our heritage while we linger here; and this in virtue of the curse pronounced on us at the fall, that we should eat bread by the sweat of our brow; the penalty involving weariness and toil, and appertaining to both mind and body. And we necessarily connect here in our present state, rest, with a previous state of painful labour. In short, rest is a contrast to what is felt to be an evil, and owes its chiefest charm to the fact that it is a contrast. If you talk to the husbandınan or the mechanic of rest, the idea to his mind is that of cessation from acts of bodily servitude. If y
f you talk of rest to the statesman, the professional man, or the student, or the tradesman, he too thinks of the relief fronı his wonted avocations. In every case the impression is that of quiescence and repose, as contrasted with fatigue.
Now in this respect we are to understand the rest of heaven as distinguished from our ordinary conceptions of the term. It implies nothing of an indolent relaxation ; in fact, it is compatible with the most energetic exertions of the ethereal spirit and the glorified body. We shall find that the character of the paradisaical rest will serve, in a measure, to explain to us the nature of the rest in heaven. There doubtless was a time when labour was unattended with exhaustion, either mental or corporeal; when Adam's sleep was far different from the fevered or the leaden slumber of his children; and when rest did not involve the previous enduring of fatigue. The circumstance that Adam's frame, had he never sinned, would have been immortal, seems to establish this: for such labour as we poor sinners experience worketh death; and the most sinewy frame, and the most nervous intellect, will in time give way before it. Witness the premature decrepitude of some of our most athletic youth, and the manner in which the finest tempered ininds soonest wreck the frame-work which encloses them. But man, in his original integrity, though actively employed, and though his paradise was not a scene of repose, but of joyous activity, was in a state of rest : and so will be the tenantry of that heavenly country; they will not sleep away their endless existence, but will find their rest, day and night, in serving GodThe rest will consist, not in a cessation of exertion, but in a deliverance from the pains and sorrows of mortality, and from the outward temptations and inward corruptions which make, in this earthly state, the service of God a labour.
It is necessary to note this last particular; for otherwise the language of the text may seem somewhat equivocal : “ They shall rest from their labour." What, it may be asked, are the peculiar and characteristic labours of the Christian now? His labour or his work of love to-day, is to serve God, to promote his glory, to fulfil his will. Will he rest from these employments when he goes to heaven? If he labour now, even in an earthly state, in the labour of love, when he goes to his home, will this glorious labour cease? The answer is, The work of love will not cease, but the impediments and weaknesses which obstruct the work, and render it labour, will. There is not an exertion which faith suggests, sweetened as it may be by the love of Christ, which is not at times, through the difficulties which it encounters, and the inborn corruption of our hearts, a labour. Ask you, the most devoted servants of God, the men of Alaming zeal and unabating study, in the cause of hearen, if they do not find it a labour to maintain their consistency, and to run their course as Christians. Does not their service involve an agonizing with enemies without and within ? Do they not often find the heat and burden quite overwhelming, were they not refreshed by the divine consolations, and upheld by an omnipotent hand? Does not every epithet that is employed to characterize the Christian in the Bible, distinctly involve the idea of labour, and that painful and agonizing labour? The Christian is a warrior : what does that epithet picture to the mind, but dangers, and conflicts—the sleepless watchings, and the wearisome marchings, and the deadly grapplings, with the foe in the skirmish and the battle? The Christian is a řayfarer, and as such, is serving God in a service which is perfect freedom; and yet we still see that toil, and that oppressive and painful, is implied in the epithets that we quote.
This illustration will, perhaps, explain the text. As far as the service of God is concerned, there will be no cessation of work, but on the contrary, a diligence, and an energy, and a perseverance in it, which none but the glorified can possibly exhibit. In our agency above, when ministering the divine behests, we shall be like a burning flame of fire ; but the nature of our work will alter in all that constitutes it now a work of toil and anguish ; for there will be no resistance offered from without, by man or devil, and no corruption stirring within, to harass or impede us. Therefore, observe, the rest from labour, implies no more than a relief from the opposition and weakness which render duty here a labour, and change in the nature of our work; inasmuch as we shall have no longer to crucify the flesh, and to restrain appetites, and to encounter persecution, and to put violence on our native dispositions; but all our services will be quite easy and quite spontaneous, and in perfect harmony with God; we shall find our happiness in obeying his behests.
The service of the Christian, my friends, in heaven, will, in nothing differ from his service while on earth, in this particular, that it will consist in obedience to the divine commands; but the command will not involve the labour of resisting corruption, for corruption there will be none in heaven ; nor the labour of resisting enemies, for enemies there will be none in heaven; nor the painful sacrifice of personal inclinations to duty, for the very notion of a sacrifice involves the existence of a will not quite in accordance with the will of God. There will be no such shades of variance between God's will, and the will of his redeemed child in heaven.
It is this view, we conceive, which displays the real nature of the heavenly rest, which will shew us the practical character of our religion, and teach us, that the habits which are required for heaven, must be cultivated upon earth. Oh, it deeply concerns us to know what the happiness of heaven consists in, that we may individually ascertain our meetness for its enjoyments. The text discloses to us, that it will be a rest from labour, and, therefore, proves by