The Dying Christian Triumphant *
I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, 1 have kept the faith. Henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness which the Lord, the righteous Judge, shall give me at that day; and not to me only, but unto all them also that love his appearing. - 2 Timothy iv:7, 8.
It is interesting to contemplate the people of God at any point of their earthly pilgrimage, but especially so, to consider them in connection with the end of that pilgrimage. Then they stand on the frontiers of time - ready to launch into eternity. They look back on lives spent in the service of God - and forward to the mansions of glory. They exclaim, "farewell, earth; welcome, heaven."
The text and the context furnish us with an account of Paul's views and feelings in prospect of death. He had been a faithful soldier in the army of Immanuel. He had fought many a battle and had won many a victory. He had become "Paul the aged," and was about to suffer
* Substance of a Discourse delivered on occasion of the death of Mrs. Mulligan, consort of J. C. Mulligan, Scottville, Kentucky.
martyrdom for the cause he had so ably advocated. Knowing his work to be done, he said, "I am now ready to be offered, and the time of my departure is at hand." He had before said, "Having a desire to depart and be with Christ, which is far better." Now the time of his departure had come. He was about to learn how much better it was to depart and be with Christ.
I. CONSIDER THE DYING SAINT AS REVIEWING HIS LIFE.
1. I have fought a good fight. - Paul was an humble man, and in using this language he did not intend to compliment himself. He intended rather to intimate that he had been engaged in a good cause than that he had fought well. The Christian life is not a life of ease, but of laborious action. Hence the martial allusion in the text. There is reference to a fight, a contest. Nor is it a physical contest, maintained by physical weapons. It is a spiritual warfare, and the weapons it employs are mighty through God. In this conflict every Christian is engaged - is enlisted as a soldier of Jesus, the captain of his salvation.
The nature of this conflict indicates its goodness. It is a conflict between the spirit and the flesh - between holiness and sin - between righteousness and wickedness - between light and darkness, etc.
Before the regenerating process occurs, the flesh has undisputed ascendency. Regeneration
takes the ascendency from the flesh and gives it to the spirit. Here the "old man" and the "new man" are brought into collision. The flesh wars against the spirit and the spirit against the flesh. This conflict continues as long as the Christian is "in the body," etc.
Holiness opposes sin. The renewal of the heart creates a love of holiness and originates the principle of holiness. Still a change of heart does not involve perfect freedom from sin. This would be to confound regeneration with santification. In the renovation of the heart holiness begins its opposition to sin, and there is truly a "fight" before the latter is completely subdued by the former, etc. So of the opposing elements, righteousness and wickedness - light and darkness, etc.
In this conflict it is not only necessary to crucify the flesh with its "affections and lusts," but to "resist the devil" and assume a position antagonistic to the world. The soldier Christian is the object of Satan's implacable malice. Every inch of his way heavenward is disputed by the arch-enemy, who assumes various forms, and is sometimes transformed into an angel of light.
The world is a foe to the Christian. How fascinating its splendors! How seductive its pleasures! How alluring its honors! How attractive its riches! Well do we sing:
"Is this vile world a friend to grace,
To help us on to God?"
No! It is no friend - but an enemy. Strenuous
effort is requisite to live above the contamination of the world. This "good fight" may be considered as involving all the labor performed by God's people in the advancement of his cause. They are required to "abound always in the work of the Lord, forasmuch as they know their labor is not in vain in the Lord." The Christian who does his duty has no time for idleness. Labor, labor, LABOR, is his business till he draws his last breath. Then, not till then, does he rest from his labors while his works follow him.
In this conflict whatever is good is opposed to whatever is evil - whatever is holy is opposed to whatever is sinful - whatever is right is opposed to whatever is wrong - and whatever God approves is opposed to whatever he hates. The nature of the conflict, therefore, indicates that it is a "good fight" in which the Christian is engaged; for he is on the Lord's side. This "good fight" Paul, by the grace of God, fought, and our departed sister fought it by the same grace. Of this she was conscious in her last illness, and requested that I should, on this occasion, preach on the subject now before us.
Again, this is a good fight, because the good of every age have been engaged in it. The principles of right and wrong, good and evil, have been in collision in every generation. God's people have ever identiiied themselves with the right. This was true of Abel and Enoch in the world's infancy. It was true of Abraham and Melchisedec, the most prominent personages of
the patriarchal economy. It was true of Moses and Elijah - Samuel and David - Isaiah and all the prophets who succeeded him - Paul and his fellow apostles - of Stephen and all the martyred hosts who have gone to heaven through much tribulation. It has been true of the pious of every clime and of every century. The redeemed in heaven once fought this good fight. How fierce the struggle ere they emerged from the "great tribulation" which well-nigh overwhelmed them! I argue it is a good fight, because all the good who have died were engaged in it, and all the good now living are engaged in it.
Once more! This is a good fight, because its issue is good. Victory perches on the Christian's standard. He is more than conqueror. Observe the language. You have heard of conquering generals and victorious armies. Did you ever hear of a general who was more than conqueror? of an army that was more than victorious? The victory of the Christian soldier is so complete that an adequate idea of his triumph is not conveyed if it is only said that he is conqueror. He is more than conqueror. Satan is "bruised under his feet." The world is subdued. The flesh is crucified. "Principalities and powers, the rulers of the darkness of this world, wicked spirits in high places" - all, all are discomfited. Death is so effectually disarmed of its sting that the dying eaint inquires, O death! where is thy sting! triumphantly defying the monster to say where, and do answer is given. The grave is divested of its
gloom, and the victory, to which it lays an invalid claim, God takes from it through Jesus Christ and gives to the exulting conqueror whc overcomes through the blood of the Lamb. Truly, this is a good fight, because its issue is good. And strange as it may appear to the carnal mind:
"Who first in such a warfare dies,
Shall speediest victory know."
2. I have finished my course. - Here the figure is changed. The Christian is no longer represented as fighting a good fight, but as running a race or course. Paul, in taking leave of the Ephesian Elders, said of the bonds and afflictions that awaited him, "None of these things move me, neither count I my life dear unto myself, so that I might finish my course with joy, and the ministry which I have received of the Lord Jesus to testify the gospel of the grace of God." He was anxious to finish his course with joy. Here he says, I have finished my course, and it was doubtless finished with joy. The Christian is called to lay aside every weight, and every besetting sin, and to run with perseverance the race set before him, looking unto Jesus, the Author and Finisher of his faith. He is required to press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus. He is commanded so to run that he may obtain. This figure, as well as the one we have considered, shows that to live the Christian life involves strenuous effort - energetic action. He who runs a race must bring into requisition
all his agility. "Well may those felicitate themselves who, like Paul, finish their course with joy.
3. I have kept the faith. - The system of faith is, I imagine, referred to here. Paul, at his conversion, gave in his adhesion to Christianity; and, while many others returned to Judaism and the world, making shipwreck of faith and a good conscience, he adhered to the Christian system with unfaltering fidelity and perseverance to the day of his death. We must show our allegiance to Christ - our loyalty to our king as long as we live. "We must cleave with purpose of heart to the Lord. All other systems must be kept in subordination to the system of Christianity. The language of the believer through life must be:
"Should all the forms that men devise,
Assault my faith with treacherous art,
I'd call them vanity and lies,
And bind the Gospel to my heart."
Enduring to the end the dying saint can say, "I have kept the faith."
Thus have we contemplated the dying Christian as reviewing his religious life. Our departed sister, when the last hour drew near, surveyed her Christian life. She said, not in a spirit of boasting, but with profound gratitude to God, "I have fought a good fight." The conflict was then about to end. "I have finished my course." Her religious life extended through a period of thirty-six years, a long life compared with that
of some - scarcely a moment compared with eternal life in heaven. "I have kept the faith." She stood fast in the Lord. She had, if I may use the language "of Bunyan, seen many Talkatives, and Pliables, and Timorouses, who, for a while, made religious pretensions, and then went back to the world. She kept the faith; for the faith kept her. She had seen many Christians (I hope such are Christians) who, in times of revival, were all life and zeal, and comparatively inefficient, and dead at all other times. She kept the faith. She was the consistent Christian. Whether religion was popular or unpopular, she loved it. Whether few or many were found traveling to Mount Zion, she was always in the number. She kept the faith while she lived. She kept it in death; for the affections of her heart clung so tenaciously to the system of faith revealed in the gospel, that death could not disengage them; and those affections, now sanctified in a brighter world, still love that system.
II. LET US CONSIDER THE DYING CHRISTIAN ANTICIPATING HIS HEAVENLY REWARD.
Paul first reviewed his religious life, then looked to the mansions of glory. "Henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness;" "A crown," etc. The victors in the Olympic games were crowned, rewarded and honored. Anciently, conquerors were crowned, and thus the crown became the symbol of victory. Kings have ever been crowned, and thus the crown denotes royalty,
distinction, dignity. It is said of Jesus, in the Book of Revelation, "On his head were many crowns," to indicate his many conquests and extensive dominions. To be crowned is to be recognized as a victor, and to be raised to distinction, to eminence, to honor. Thus are the people of God to be conspicuously distinguished. They are to be crowned. Their crowns are to symbolize the victory in the "good fight," and to indicate that they ran the Christian race successfully, and finished their course with joy.
The Scriptures refer to the "crown of glory" or the glorious crown. The crowns worn by kings and monarchs dazzle with their brightness; but what are they compared with "crowns of glory?" crowns beautified and enriched by the brilliant gems of eternity? The Scriptures also refer to the "crown of life." Where, except in the vocabulary of heaven, do we find this collection of words? This crown will be given to the heirs of eternal life; it will be symbolic of this life. The wearer of this immortal crown will enjoy immortal life - life imbittered by no apprehension of death; for death touches not those who wear the "crown of life."
In the text, we are referred to a crown of righteousness. It is a crown which the righteous alone shall wear. Most earthly crowns adorn the heads of the unrighteous, and they are obtained by unrighteous means. They are, many of them, stained with blood, and saturated with the tears of widows and orphans. Such are the crowns of
unrighteousness. The crown laid up for the conquering saint is a crown of righteousness. This will appear if we notice, -
1. That it will be given to those alone who are justified by the righteousness of Christ. - No one will merit it. "Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to every one that believeth." He is made to believers, "wisdom, righteousness, sanctification, and redemption." They are "made the righteousness of God in him." Paul, who uttered the words of the text, repudiated his own righteousness, and wished to be found in Christ, not having his own righteousness, but the righteousness of God by faith. Those who are by faith clothed with the robe of the Savior's righteousness will wear the crown of righteousness.
2. The crown will be given to those who are renewed after the image of God in righteousness and true holiness. - Man was made originally in the moral image of his Maker. When he sinned, that image was defaced. The principle of holiness was extinguished in his soul. He became earthly, sensual, devilish - the essence of unrighteousness. In this condition he is infinitely unfit to wear a crown of righteousness. He must be made righteous. Regeneration must re-enstamp the image of God upon him. He must be made partaker of the divine nature. He must become a new creature in Christ Jesus, old things passing away, and all things becoming new. In short, while justification by the righteousness of Christ gives a title to heaven, regeneration must
furnish the moral preparation to enjoy it. Those possessing this preparation are renewed after the image of God in righteousness, and they shall wear the crown of righteousness; for the mouth of the Lord hath spoken it.
3. This crown will be given to those who live righteously. - Those who pretend to magnify the grace of God in salvation, by denying or depreciating the necessity of practical piety, know not the genius of the gospel economy. The same "grace which brings salvation, teaches us, that denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly, in this present world." Justification by faith, and regeneration by the Holy Spirit, constitute the best guarantee for holiness of life. Vainly do we pretend to be justified, if we live unrighteously; for the faith by which we are justified is a living faith - it produces good works. And when the Holy Spirit, in regeneration, "makes the tree good, the fruit will be good." The life will be regulated by the Word of God. Those who are righteous, in the threefold sense now indicated, will be permitted to wear the crown of righteousness.
This threefold righteousness was our departed sister's. No one relied more entirely on the righteousness of Christ for justification. No one was more deeply impressed with the necessity of internal, personal righteousness. No one better exemplified the righteous precepts of the gospel in daily life. She, therefore, without presumption, and with an evangelical propriety,
looked for a crown of righteousness. Looking back on her Christian life, she said, "I have fought a good fight," etc. Looking forward, she said, "Henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness," etc. She was ready to die, and yet somewhat anxious to live; not for her own sake, but for the sake of her youngest children, who needed a mother's care. "What moral sublimity invested her dying scene! There was the redeemed spirit attracted by the glories of Paradise, struggling to free itself from the emaciated body, and go to its heavenly home; but a mother's love (let my tongue cleave to the roof of my mouth if ever I forget the strength of a mother's love) detained it to lavish its farewell caresses on the younger born of the family. The spirit continued its struggles, overcame the detention imposed by the restraints of maternal tenderness, and "left the pale clay for its Creator's arms."
Though Christians are admitted at death into the kingdom of glory, their public coronation will take place on the last day. The resurrection will first occur. Those that sleep in Jesus will God bring with him. The dust, of his redeemed ones he will reanimate and reconstruct into bodies incorruptible and immortal. "At that day," the great day of the appearing of our Savior, the crown of righteousness will be placed on the head of every saint. There will be a multitude of the redeemed which no man can number. A countless host of crowned "kings and priests to God"
will raise such hallelujahs as earth heard never, and as heaven will rejoice to hear.
1. "We have much to console us when the pious die. A voice from heaven said to John, "Write, Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord." Yes, they are blessed. How much better off than we who remain pilgrims here! Let the bereaved companion of the departed solace himself with the thought that whatever sorrows are his, and whatever trials may betide him, his loved one, the sharer of his joys and griefs for a third of a century, is safe, forever safe. She has a home in heaven. And let these children, bereft of one of the fondest mothers, walk in her footsteps and follow her to glory.
2. Christians, fight the "good fight" - run with diligence the race set before you. Keep, O keep the faith, etc.
3. Sinners, death is full of terror to you. You have no Savior to sustain you when you die, and no heaven to go to after you die. Receive Christ and then death, instead of inflicting an injury upon you, will open to your departing spirits the portals of Paradise.
[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.]
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