[Preached at Kettering, at the funeral of Mr. Beeby Wallis, April, 1792.]
"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." - Revelation xiv. 13.
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 be 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 become "one flesh, so 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 ours. 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." A 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 further 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, it has been said 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 a 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 natural 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 call 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.
I. 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 Corinthians xi. 27, 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, thought not in the same direction. In former ages, it was a course of pagan idolatry; in later 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 every 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 require 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 Christian, 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 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; a 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, "O 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 observation on this passage, and for aught I know a just one, that their works are not said to go before them as a ground of justification, but to follow them as witnesses in their favour. I apprehend, however, they will not only follow them as witnesses, but will have place among the intermediate causes of their felicity. It is true, they will constitute no part of our title to eternal life; that is the "free gift of God, through Jesus Christ our Lord;" but a title to admission being thus conferred, they wilt contribute to augment our bliss. The Scriptures every where teach us that the services and sufferings of the faithful shall meet with a Divine reward, which though not of debt, but of grace, is nevertheless a reward; which it could not be if what was enjoyed in the life to come had no relation to what was done in the present life.
God will reward his servants, at the last day, with his public approbation before an assembled world. "The King shall say unto them on his right
hand, Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was an hungred, and ye gave me meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me in; naked, and ye clothed me: I was sick, and ye visited me I was in prison, and ye came unto me." Nor shall their works stop here, but shall follow them into the heavenly state itself, and furnish matter of joyful recollection for ever, affording a kind of measure according to which their reward in heaven will be conferred. The whole current of Scripture appears to me to teach us that there will be degrees of happiness, as well as of misery, in the future state; and that those who have served the Lord with the greatest fidelity and zeal in this world will enjoy the greatest portion of mental bliss in the world to come. If the labours which we here endure have a tendency to meeten us for the heavenly rest - if present bitters will render future sweet the sweeter - and if it is thus that our "light affliction, which is but for a moment, worketh for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory" - it must then follow that there will be some proportion between our present labours and our future enjoyments. I mean, it cannot be supposed that those who have laboured but little for God will enjoy an equal portion of felicity with those who have laboured much.
Upon no other principle, that I can see, can we understand those passages of Scripture which exhort us to "lay up treasure in heaven;" to "lay up in store for ourselves a good foundation against the time to come;" which encourage us under reproaches and persecutions for the name of Christ, saying, "Great is your reward in heaven;" and which warn us, saying, "Be not deceived, God is not mocked: for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap. For he that soweth to his flesh shall of the flesh reap corruption: but he that soweth to the Spirit shall of the Spirit reap life everlasting." - "He that soweth sparingly shall reap sparingly; but he that soweth bountifully shall reap bountifully. For we must all appear before the judgment-seat of Christ, that every one may receive the things done in his body, according to that he hath done, whether it be good or bad." We see, here, that laying out ourselves for God is laying up treasure in heaven, and that everlasting life is a harvest that will grow out of the seed sown to the Spirit.
Some serious people have demurred upon this subject, lest it should affect the doctrine of salvation by grace, and encourage boasting. Indeed, if those works which follow us into the heavenly state were to be ascribed to us as their first cause, and were considered as the proper meritorious ground of our reward, there would be weight in the objection; but if it be the Lord who has wrought all our works in us, and if the reward with which he is pleased to crown them be a matter of grace and not of debt, where then is boasting? It is only God's graciously rewarding his own work. If ten thousand crowns were placed upon the Christian's head, he would cast them immediately at his Redeemer's feet, saying, "Not unto us, not unto us, but to thy name give glory!"
It is through the intimate union between Christ and believers that they are not only accepted in him, but what they do for Christ is accepted also, and rewarded for his sake. "The Lord had respect unto Abel, and to his offering." We are not only "accepted in the Beloved," but our "sacrifices" become "acceptable to God through Jesus Christ." As there is no sin so great but God, for Christ's sake, can forgive it; no blessing so great but he can bestow it; so there is no service so small, if done from love to him, but he will reward it. "A cup of cold water, given to a disciple," because he belongs to him, will insure "a disciple's reward."
God's graciously connecting blessings with the obedience of his people serves to show, not only his love to his Son, and to them, but also his love
to holiness and righteousness. A father may design to give an inheritance to his child, and various other accommodations; he may design also to fit him, as much as may be, for the enjoyment of what he has to bestow upon him. On this principle, he will connect almost every gift or favour that he confers with some act of filial duty. It is easy to see, in this case, that the father does not consider these things as the child's due upon the footing of merit; for all that he did was simply his duty: but love to his child induced him to give; and love to diligence, obedience, and good order induced him to give it in such a manner. It is thus that God gives grace and glory. It is thus that, in this life, finding is connected with seeking, forgiveness with confession, and salvation with believing; and in the life to come, eternal glory with suffering, warring, and overcoming. It is thus that God displays, at the same time, the freeness of his grace and his love of righteousness and good order. Grace reigns in a way of righteousness through the whole system of salvation. Those that are saved shall be sufficiently convinced that it is all of grace; while, on the other hand, all shall see the equity and fitness of the Divine proceedings, in judging every man according to his works.
But I proceed to consider,
II. THE USES THAT THIS TWOFOLD IDEA OF THE HEAVENLY STATE IS ADAPTED TO PROMOTE. All Divine truth has a tendency to do us good, and the sentiments taught us in this passage are adapted to our present situation.
1. A rest for those who die in the Lord may reconcile us to the loss of our dearest Christian friends, seeing they are gone to the possession of it, and are henceforth blessed. When our Lord Jesus was about to leave the world, and his disciples were overmuch dejected at the thought of his going, he told them, "If ye loved me, ye would rejoice because I said I go to the Father, for my Father is greater than I;" which is as if he had said, The glory and happiness which my Father possesses; and which I go to possess with him, is greater than any thing I can here enjoy; if, therefore, ye loved me in a proper manner, instead of weeping at my departure, surely ye would rejoice at it. If the love that we bear to our Christian friends were but properly directed, if our minds were but capacious enough to take all things into consideration, we should mingle joy with all our mourning on their account.
2. A rest before us may reconcile us who are left behind to all the labours and pains and weariness of life. We need not tire or want to sit down here; there will be time enough to rest us by and by. Nor need we be discouraged with all the trials of the present state. What though it were "in weariness and painfulness, in hunger and thirst, in cold and nakedness," that we had to pass the remainder of our days? What though bonds and afflictions should abide us? The sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that shall be revealed in us. The rest that remains will make us, like Joseph, "forget all our toil, and all our father's house;" so forget it, at least, as never to think of it any more but with joy and thankfulness.
3. The glorious reward before us may stimulate us to work for God with all our might while life continues. It is affecting to consider what we are doing in this life as the seed of an eternal harvest. Let us keep this thought habitually in view. There is a way of turning the ills of life into good, yea, an everlasting good. Every temptation to evil that accosts us is a price put into our hands; it affords us an opportunity of proving our love to God, by denying ourselves in that instance for his sake. The same may be said of afflictions; they afford us an opportunity for the exercise of patience and acquiescence in the will of God; and what a harvest of joy
such things may issue in it is beyond our capacity to conceive. Perhaps it was under some such views as these that the primitive Christians were used to "rejoice in tribulation," and were exhorted to "count it all joy, when they fell into divers temptations."
4. If our works will follow us, we have reason to tremble as well as rejoice. The works of those who die out of Christ, as well as the others, will follow them. Their life is a seed-time, and they also will receive a harvest. All men have their opportunities, their temptations, and their of fictions; and they will work in some way, either as a savour of life unto life, or of death unto death; either as an eternal weight of glory, or of infamy and misery.
But what shall I say in immediate reference to the present melancholy occasion? I wish I could say something that might have a tendency to comfort those that mourn. We have all sustained a heavy loss. The town has lost one that sought its welfare; the poor have lost a benefactor; the church of which he was a member and an officer has lost one the study of whose life it was to promote its prosperity; those who had the pleasure of an intimate acquaintance with him have lost a steady, faithful, and judicious friend; and you, my friend, the partner of his life, you have sustained a heavier loss than any of us. But let us try and consider that the loss is not so great but it might have been greater. We have not to sorrow as those that have no hope. Our grief is confined to ourselves. We have no cause to weep on his account. This is a thought which, though frequently mentioned on such occasions as these, yet can never be sufficiently realized. To bury a Christian friend is nothing in comparison of burying those relations of whose piety we have no well- grounded satisfaction. Add to this, the mercy of God in not taking him away in the prime of life, and health, and usefulness. Had he been removed ten or twelve, or even five or six years ago, the stroke had been much more felt by all his connexions than it is now.
I have often admired the wisdom and mercy of God in these things. We see the threatening hand of God laid upon one of our dearest friends and relatives; at first we think we can never endure the loss; but the affliction continues; meanwhile, the weight which he sustained in society is gradually removed, and falls by degrees upon his friends about him; life becomes a burden to himself; at length, the very same principle that made it appear impossible for us to endure a separation renders us incapable of praying or even wishing for his continuance; and thus the burden, that we could scarcely have known how to bear, becomes tolerable, by being gradually let down as it were upon our shoulders.
Our dear friend has left many relations behind him; most of whom I suppose may at this time be present. My dear friends, I have often heard him express his anxiety for several of you, both as to your temporal and spiritual welfare. Some of you may have been apt to consider him as an enviable character on account of his wealth; but, be assured, he was much more enviable on account of his piety; you need not wish so much to live like him as a gentleman as to live and die like him as a Christian.
But, I suppose, it will be expected that I should say something more particularly of the deceased himself. I have commonly declined saying much on this head; and I still think that, generally speaking, it is right to do so, because the generality of characters, even of good men, have nothing in them very remarkable or worthy of being held up for our imitation. But, for this very reason, I think in some cases it would be wrong to omit it. Perhaps no human writings have had a better effect than the lives of eminently holy men. When, therefore, any such characters appear among us, I think
it is right to collect as much information respecting them as we can, that the remembrance of them may be of general use.
So far as education and parental example could influence, our deceased friend might be said to have known the Holy Scriptures from a child. His family, for generations past, have walked in the ways of piety. His great-grandfather, Mr. William Wallis, was the founder and first minister of the church of which you and I are members. He founded it in 1696. His grandfather, Mr. Thomas Wallis, succeeded in the same office. It was in his time that the late Dr. Gill, and the late Mr. Brine, were both called to the ministry. He died in 1726, and his funeral sermon is said, as in the present instance, to have been preached in this place,* on account of the number of people who attended it. His father, Mr. William Wallis, though not a minister as his predecessors had been, was a very respectable member of the same community. When he died, which was in 1757, his son, our deceased friend, was but twenty-two years of age. From his earliest years he was under strong convictions of the truth and importance of religion; but the most remarkable impression of this sort was made at the death of his father. It was then, as he said, that he went and prayed to God, and thought within himself - Oh that I had but an interest in Christ; and felt all the world, and all its enjoyments, to be mere vanity without it!
At the time of his father's death, he had a brother, Mr. Joseph Wallis, about twelve years of age. The amiable piety of that young man is said to have appeared at an early period; but, to the great grief of his friends, especially of his brother, he was removed by the small-pox, in the nineteenth year of his age.
In the year 1763, at the age of twenty-eight, Mr. Wallis became a member of the same Christian community in which his predecessors had lived and died. About five years after, he was chosen to the office of a deacon; an office which he has filled with honour and satisfaction for twenty-four years. It was a great blessing to the church, especially when for the space of five years they were destitute of a minister, that he was invested with this office, and was then in the prime of life and usefulness. It will long be remembered with what meekness of wisdom he presided in the church, during that uncomfortable interval; and how, notwithstanding all the disadvantages of such a situation, they were not only preserved in peace, but gradually increased till a minister was settled among them.
God endued him with a sound understanding and a solid judgment. His knowledge was extensive, and his observations on men and things, ripened by long experience, were just and accurate. He had a quick sense of right and wrong, of propriety and impropriety, which rendered his counsel of great esteem in cases of difficulty.
To this was added a spirit of activity. Though, during the greater part of his life, he was out of trade, yet his head and hands were always full with the concerns of others, either those of private individuals, with which he was intrusted, or matters of public utility. He would rise by five in the morning, in summer, and be as diligent all the day as if he had had to obtain his bread by the sweat of the brow.
But, perhaps, one of the most prominent features of his character was sincerity, or integrity of heart. This was a temper of mind that ran through all his concerns. In a cause of righteousness, be possessed a severity which rendered it almost impossible for treachery to stand before him. He was prudent, but his prudence never degenerated into low policy, or any thing that deserved the name of subtlety. If motives of mere prudence were proposed
* The Independent meeting-house, kindly granted on this occasion. - Editor, jb.
to him, he would hesitate, nor would he accede till he had thought whether the measure was right. If he could but satisfy himself on that head, he would be regardless of consequences, or of popular opinion. Even in his contributions, one might perceive his love of righteousness. Though an economist from principle, he had nothing of the niggard; only convince him that a cause was right, (and that was easily done, if it was so,) and he would engage in it with all his heart, nor think much of any expense. "I wish to do what is right," he would say, "and leave consequences." He was a standing example of the falsehood of that system which teaches that "flattery is essential to politeness." If to behave in such a manner as to gain the esteem of all descriptions of men be politeness, he was polite; yet he hated flattery. He would neither flatter nor be flattered by others. The true secret by which he obtained esteem was an unaffected modesty, mingled with kindness and goodness.
He possessed a peculiar decision of character. His judgment was generally formed with slow deliberation; but having once made up his mind, it was not easily altered. He was decisive in the principles he embraced. He held nothing with a loose hand. He observed to me, a few weeks before he died, when mentioning what he conceived to have been his great defect in religion, that it was not a wavering disposition. "I have not," said he, "been tossed about with every wind of doctrine." He has sometimes ingenuously confessed that he thought himself more in danger of erring by a prejudiced attachment to received principles than by the contrary. He was equally decisive in matters of practice. He scarcely ever engaged in any thing with indifference. What his hand found him to do, he did it with his might. Having formed his judgment that such a matter was right, he would pursue it with indefatigable industry, patience, and perseverance; he would wade through difficulties that would have discouraged most men; nor was he ever satisfied till he had accomplished his end.
There are few men that have possessed a greater degree of genuine humility. It is often seen, where persons of affluence unite with a Christian community, they consider themselves as doing great honour to it, and expect great homage in return. But this every one that knew him can bear witness was not his spirit. It was not natural to him to assume the airs of a Diotrephes, or to avail himself of the influence which his circumstances and situation afforded him to lord it over Godís heritage. He was sometimes warm and sanguine; but that was not frequent, and never but when he considered himself as engaged in the cause of truth and righteousness.
To this may be added, there was a vein of serious godliness that ran through his life. It is true, he was often dejected in his own mind, lest he should be found wanting at last; so much so as to give considerable pain to his friends. "There is something in religion," he would say, "with which I fear I have been all my life unacquainted." This dejection I attribute, in a great degree, to constitution. There are few characters that have discovered a greater fear of God, a greater acquiescence in the way of salvation through a crucified Saviour, or a greater concern to spend his life in doing good. That which would have hurt the pride of many a rich man, namely, to unite with the poor and the illiterate as his brethren, was no mortification to him; on the contrary, he lately said, "I reckon it the greatest honour of my life to have been employed in promoting the interest of Christ."
There is one circumstance more which I cannot omit. About a week before he died, he requested that a few of his Christian friends might come and see him, and pray with him. Five of us went. When there, he told us he did not wish us to pray for his life; he considered it as the will of God that he should die; and he added, "His will be done! But pray,"
said he, "that if there are any sins of which I have been guilty, and have not yet repented, any sins for which God has any controversy with me, that he would give me a proper sense of them before I die. Or if not, that I might enjoy the light of his countenance in death." We were all exceedingly affected. After praying with him about an hour, be gathered up what little strength he had, and addressed himself to us with a kind of solemn farewell. He reminded us of the difficulties we had been brought through as a church, expressed his satisfaction in leaving us in so comfortable a situation, recommended us to love one another, and solemnly commended us to the blessing of God! Surely I shall never forget this tender parting! But I have done. He would have invited others of his friends, whom he equally loved, but his strength began to fail him; and in a few days, after a long series of afflictions, which he bore with great patience, calmness, and resignation to God, he fell asleep.
[From Joseph Belcher, The Complete Works of the Rev. Andrew Fuller, Volume I, 1845; rpt. 1988. Document provided by David Oldfield, Post Falls, ID. Formatted by Jim Dvuall.]
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