Glorifying God in Death *
This spake he, signifying by what death he should glorify God. - John xxi:19.
This is the language of Christ to Peter. It was spoken during an interview the Savior had with his disciples after his resurrection. The solemn question, "Lovest thou me?" was thrice proposed to Peter and thrice received an affirmative answer. "Feed my sheep," "feed my lambs," was then the command of the great Shepherd. As if he had said, "I love my spiritual flock so well that I can not commit it to the charge of an under-shepherd who does not love me. Let the Pastors I employ show their love to me by attending to the interest of my flock."
The Redeemer next intimates that Peter's love would be put to the severest test. "When thou wast young," says he, "thou girdedst thyself, and walkedst whither thou wouldest; but when thou shalt be old, thou shalt stretch forth thy hands, and another shall gird thee, and carry thee whither
* Substance of a Sermon delivered on the death of Mrs. Rebecca Murrell consort of S. H. Murrell, Esq., Bowling Green, Kentucky.
thou wouldest not. This spake he signifying by what death he should glorify God."
There is a reference here to martyrdom - and there is a tradition, generally considered credible - that Peter was crucified with his head downward, at his own request, because he regarded it as too great an honor to die as his Master did. God was glorified by his death as he had been by his life.
It should be a consoling thought that God selects for his people those modes of exit from the world by which the glory of his name is most highly promoted. There is in these modes of exit great diversity, but all is right. Omnipotence, guided by omniscience, presides over them. The fires of martyrdom, while they have burnt fiercely, have illustrated the divine glory. And "the chamber where the good man meets his fate" is the place where God is glorified. The calmness of the departing hour throws a radiance around which redounds to the honor of him who is the conqueror of death.
In considering the subject before us I shall inquire, -
I. HOW MAY CHRISTIANS GLORIFY GOD IN DEATH?
In answer to this question I may say they glorify him, -
1. By evincing preparation for the solemn hour. - All must die, and yet none by nature are prepared to die. Philosophy, with all its appliances, fails to furnish the preparation. No course of
human discipline, whether physical, mental, or moral can prepare its subjects for death. The preparation is a divine work. The divine Word informs us how it may be secured. Sin must be pardoned - the sentence of the law reversed - and the moral taste changed by the regeneration of the heart. How is this done? Supernaturally. By the finished work of Christ, and by the operation of the Holy Spirit. Sin is pardoned through the blood of the cross. The reasons why God pardons sin are connected with, and grow exclusively out of the atoning sacrifice of Calvary. That sacrifice sustains the majesty of the divine law - meets the demands of inflexible justice - vindicates the dignity of the divine government - and opens a channel for the consistent exercise of Heaven's mercy. The cross tells us how man can be justified before God. Nature can not tell. Interrogate her ever so rigidly - catechize her ever so importunately - entreat her ever so imploringly - and she maintains an unbroken silence. The thunders say nothing - the lightnings disclose nothing. Not a syllable comes from the blue heavens above us, nor from the green earth beneath us. All inquiries instituted in whatever department of nature, are instituted in vain, and prosecuted in vain.
Nor can reason and philosophy tell how a sinner can be pardoned - saved - and prepared for death and heaven. Among their many utterances there is not one on the subject of salvation. The sublime science of redemption comes not within
their jurisdiction. They are as silent as the grave in reference to the transgressor's restoration to the divine favor. The gospel does what nature can not do - what reason and philosophy can not do. It answers every perplexing question as to a sinner's justification, sanctification, preparation for death, and fitness for heaven. "The sting of death is sin." It follows, therefore,"that the removal of sin is the extraction of the sting of death. Everything fearful in death is attributable to sin. But when the guilt of sin is canceled by the blood of atonement, and the soul is purified from its moral pollution by "the sanctification of the Spirit," there is in death nothing to alarm; for there is nothing which can do real injury. God gives the dying believer the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. The Redeemer magnified the law which is "the strength of sin," and, therefore, the law interposes no objection to the salvation of those who trust in the blood of the cross. Through the mediation of Christ is secured the regenerating and sanctifying agency of the Holy Spirit. Preparation for death, and victory over death are given through Jesus Christ. God gives his dying saints the victory. No process of philosophical discipline gives it. Reliance on self-righteousness does not give it. Dependence on morality does not give it. God gives it. His grace alone prepares for the dying hour. The dying Christian's preparation for death is so manifestly the work of God that he is glorified thereby. All the glory redounding from the preparation
is the Lord's. He is entitled exclusively to it, and so presides over the death of his people as to glorify his own name.
2. By an humble, cheerful resignation to death. - This differs from preparation. The prepared are not of necessity resigned. Resignation to the will of God in all things is a difficult but important lesson. He who can habitually say, "The will of the Lord be done," has made more than ordinary attainments in piety. There is such a thing as submission to what befalls us, merely because we can not help ourselves; but this is not a Christian resignation. We must have so much confidence in the wisdom and goodness of God as to believe that what he does is right and best. Clouds and darkness are often round about him; yet justice and judgment are the habitation of his throne. The Judge of all the earth will do right. He has reasons, satisfactory to himself, for all he does; and these reasons ought to be satisfactory to us. Whether we know them or not, we should be fully persuaded that they are good, valid, all-sufficient. Confidence in the rectitude of the divine administration inspires resignation to the divine will. The more unwavering the confidence, the more thorough the resignation. Job was resigned when he said, "The Lord gave and the Lord hath taken away: blessed be the name of the Lord." Christianity alone produces genuine resignation to the will of God. or is this done by creating a stoical insensibility to suffering, whether physical or mental. The stoic philosophy
was absurd. It resigned ite votaries to their fate by making them believe a falsehood. It taught them that pleasure and pain are things indifferent - and that suffering is imaginary rather than real. What were the consolations of this philosophy worth when men, to appropriate them, must stultify themselves by the belief of an untruth? Christianity does not destroy the sensibilities, but renders them more acute. It provides for resignation to the will of God by inspiring the belief that he does all things well, and that "all things work together for good to those who love him." Christians must glorify God by a cheerful resignation to his will amid the trials, afflictions and bereavements of life. Even when the dispensations of Providence are vailed in mysterious and awful obscurity, the trembling believer must say, "Not my will, O Lord, but thine be done." The Gethsemane agony of Jesus Christ teaches his disciples a lesson on this point which should never be forgotten. Christians should be willing to live as long as God pleases. It is a thought replete with joy, that an infinitely wise and good Being presides over his people; and as long as the reasons in favor of their living preponderate, in the divine mind, over those in favor of their dying, so long they shall live; and when the reasons in favor of their dying preponderate over those in favor of their living, they will die. They will die at the right time and at the best time. By manifesting a cheerful resignation to the will of God in death, Christians
glorify him. The resignation is a divine production, and redounds to the glory of its Author.
3. By bearing testimony to the competency of Christianity to sustain them in the dying hour. - This testimony has been often borne. It has been no uncommon thing for the dying saint to say, "God is with me, and I fear not." The doctrine of the Scriptures is, that divine grace is sufficient for the saints in all circumstances. "Whether it is sufficient in death must be tested when death comes. Let the dying pilgrim testify that He who has been with him along the journey of life is with him at its close - that his promises support - that his grace sustains - that his presence cheers - and then God is glorified. In the dying chamber of the saint, men as wicked as Balaam like him, say, " Let me die the death of the righteous, and let my last end be like his." Infidelity trembles, turns pale, wonders, and renders a reluctant tribute of admiration to the majesty of the religion of Jesus. The votaries of Christianity may well felicitate themselves that they "have not followed a cunningly-devised fable," but have adopted a system of religion all divine. According to the teachings of this system, "to die is gain," and the "dead who die in the Lord are blessed." In the sublime inventory of the Christian's possessions, as made out by Paul, "death" has a place. "All things are yours: whether Paul, or Apollos, or Cephas, or the world, or life, or death, or things present, or things to come;
all are yours, and ye are Christ's, and Christ is God's." It is a great privilege to die and go to heaven. A pious man once looked on the corpse of his brother, and said, "Ah, my brother! you have always had the advantage of me - first in Christ - first in heaven." It is advantageous to die. How advantageous, I can not tell - nor can an angel tell. That Christianity can sustain when flesh and heart fail, has been proved in innumerable instances. It has been proved at home and abroad - in civilized and savage lands - in the palaces of the rich and the cottages of the poor - on the land and on the sea - in the dungeon and at the stake. "Whether the religion of the Bible can support in death is not a debatable question. It has been settled so often, and was settled so long ago, that it now belongs to the antiquities of the divine government. Female disciples of Christ, constitutionally tirnid, have evinced more real courage in the dying hour than was ever displayed by Alexander or Napoleon on the field of battle. They have met death with a smile, and have triumphantly fallen into his arms. She whose death has called us together, exclaimed, among her last words, "almost in heaven!" The happy spirit, struggling to break away from the body, and panting for its Father's house on high, exulted that it was almost there. Proximity to heaven! What an idea! How would its sublimity exalt, if its very greatness did not oppress the conceptions of the soul! The deceased bore testimony to the power of Christianity to sustain
in the dying hour. She, therefore, glorified God in death. She had glorified him in life; and it was to be expected that she would glorify him in death.
4. By anticipating, in the dying hour, the bliss of heaven. - This is a glorious anticipation. The promises of God originate and sustain it. What said Paul, as he stood on the margin of time? "I am now ready to be offered, and the time of my departure is at hand. I have fought a good fight; I have finished my course; I have kept the faith: henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, shall give me in that day," etc. What said Stephen? "Behold, I see the heavens opened, and Jesus standing on the right hand of God." What have our pious friends said in the final hour? Have they not told us they were going to heaven? Have they not died with eye and finger turned upward? Can anything but the religion of Jesus Christ open the bright celestial visions which cheer the dying believer? Can anything else inspire anticipations so triumphant, so rapturous, so sublime? What but the Gospel gives the glorious assurance of eternal life, and makes the saint willing to pass through the gate of death, to enter on its enjoyment? It is the exclusive province of Christianity to guarantee an immortality of bliss, and animate the soul with its anticipation.
When Christians die, cherishing an expectation of heavenly glory because God has promised it,
they glorify him in death, His name is honored and magnified.
I notice briefly, -
II. THAT IT IS HIGHLY IMPORTANT THAT CHRISTIANS GLORIFY GOD IN DEATH. WHY?
1. Because death affords them the last opportunity of glorifying him in this world. - The glory of God is, with the Christian, the great object of life. Paul says to the Corinthians: "Whether ye eat or drink, or whatsoever ye do, do all for the glory of God." There should be a correspondence between the life and the death of the saints. They should do in death what they aim to do in life - thus placing the solemn seal of their dying approbation on the object pursued in life. Last opportunity! How important to improve it, and, like Samson, do more in death, if possible, than in life!
2. That the value and excellency of religion may be demonstrated. - Whenever Christianity appears to advantage, an important point is gained. It so appears when its competency to extract the sting of death is made manifest. It so appears when the chambers of the dying are lit with heavenly glory. It so appears when the dying saint says: "Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil; for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff comfort me."
3. That surviving friends may be morally certain that the departed have gone to heaven. - None of us
are at liberty to live and die in such a manner as to leave doubts on the minds of those who survive us as to our admittance into heaven. Of how many of the dead do we stand in doubt? Can you not call to mind the names of professors of religion, of other years, who so lived and so died, that, to this day, you doubt whether they have gone to heaven? It may be they were friends, your relatives, members of your families. How have your hearts been tortured with agonizing uncertainty as to their glorious or miserable destiny! Have you the right to excruciate with similar uncertainty the hearts of those who will survive you? No, you have no such right; and if you had, it would be the refinement of cruelty to exercise it. See to it that you so live and die that those who visit your graves may say, "The spirits once inhabiting the bodies that lie here are now undoubtedly in heaven."
4. That the impenitent may be impressed with the desirableness of religion. - Many a sinner has received salutary impressions, as to the worth of religion, from the exhibition of its power in the death of the saints. The father's triumphant departure from time to eternity has sometimes caused the impenitent son to exclaim: "Oh, that the God of my father may be my God!" And sometimes the death of a pious son has been the means of salvation of an ungodly father. So of the mother and the daughter. So of relatives, So of neighbors. So, in some instances, of those who had been enemies. Christians, would you
not so die as to impress your impenitent friends with the desirableness of religion? If so, see that you glorify God in death.
. 1. Glorify God in life, if you would glorify him in death. Let it be your great business to honor him. In your bodies and spirits, which are his, glorify him. Glorify him by giving him the adoration of your hearts, and the obedience of your lives. Then you will glorify him in death, and go to heaven to glorify him forever.
2. We have great comfort when our pious friends die. They glorify God in death, and this authorizes the belief that they are glorified in his presence on high. God was glorified by the death of our departed sister, and who has a doubt about her ascent to the mansions of glory? No one, I suppose. I never heard her piety called in question. She was a lovely specimen of the excellency of the Christiaq character. She had the "meek and quiet spirit which is, in the sight of God, of great price." For a little more than two years, she was a member of the Church militant. She has now become a member of the Church triumphant. She has now exchanged the companionship of sinful mortals for the companionship of holy angels. She has left sorrow, suffering, and death; and has entered into joy, glory, and life. She no longer says "Almost in heaven!"
"Altogether in heaven!" is her happy exclamation now. What a place must heaven be!
"There friends no more are torn
From kindred friends away;
There furrowed brows, by sorrow worn,
Beam bright in endless day;
And crown, and harp, and palm, and song,
To that vast company belong."
[From J. M. Pendleton, Short Sermons on Important Subjects, 1859. This book is from Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary Library, Wake Forest, NC; via ILL through Boone County Public Library, Burlington, KY. Scanned and formatted by Jim Duvall.]
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