Death A Blessing To The Saints

Part II

Adapted from a Sermon By

Isaac Watts

Whether… life or death…all are yours. 1 Cor 3:22

This morning we come to the last in the series of sermons by Isaac Watts on 1 Corinthians 3:22 in which he lifts our thoughts to consider how even death itself is a blessing to the saints.

Having shown, in these several sermons, that death is ours, or will turn to our advantage, not only when it strikes our friends or strangers, but when it seizes our own flesh also: We will close this solemn but profitable subject with various inferences, of which some may be called doctrinal, and others practical.

The doctrinal inferences are these:

Inference I. How different is the judgment of sense, from the judgment of faith!

The eye of sense looks upon death as a sovereign and cruel tyrant, reigning over all nature and nations, and making dreadful havoc among mankind, as it were, after his own will and pleasure; but faith beholds it as a slave subdued to the power of Christ, and constrained to act under his sovereign influence for the good of all his saints. Sense teaches us to look upon ourselves, as the possession and victim of death; but faith assures us, that death is our possession, and a part of our treasure. Death is yours, true believer in Christ, for all things are yours.

When sense overcomes us, we take death to be a dark and dismal hour; but in the speech and spirit of faith, we call it a bright and glorious one. Sense esteems it to be the worst of all afflictions, but faith numbers it among the sweetest of our blessings, because it delivers us from a thousand sins and sorrows.

When will we get above this life of sense? When will we rise in our ideas and our judgment of things? When will we attain to the upper regions of Christianity, and breathe in a purer air, and see all things in a brighter and better light? When will we live the life of faith, and learn its divine language? Death is like a thick dark veil, as it appears to the eye of sense: When will our faith remove the veil, and see the light, the immortality, the glory that lies beyond it? Death, like the river Jordan, seems to overflow its banks, when we approach it, and divides and frightens us off from the heavenly Canaan: When will we climb to the top of Pisgah, that we may look beyond the swelling waves of this Jordan, and take a fair and inviting prospect of the promised land?

II. How glorious and how dreadful is the difference, between the death of a saint and that of a sinner, a soul that is in Christ, and a soul that has no interest in him!

The death of every sinner, has all that real evil and terror in it, in which it appears to an eye of sense; but a convinced sinner considers it yet a thousand times more dreadful. When conscience is awakened on the borders of the grave, it beholds death in its utmost horror, as the curse of the broken law, as the accomplishment of the threatenings of an angry God. A guilty conscience looks on death with all its formidable attendants round it, and sees an endless train of sorrows coming after it. Such a wretch beholds death riding towards him on a pale horse, and hell following at his heels, without any hope of relief or remedy, without a Saviour, and without hope.

But a true Christian, when he reads the name of death among the curses of the law, knows that Christ his Saviour and his Surety, has sustained it in that dreadful sense, and put an end to its power and terror. He reads its name now in the promises of the gospel, and calls it a glorious blessing, a release from sin and sorrow, an entrance into everlasting joy. The saint may lie calm and peaceful in the midst of all the circumstances of death; like Daniel in the den of lions, for it cannot hurt or destroy him: But when a sinner is thrown to this devourer, it does, as it were, break all his bones, it tears both his flesh and his spirit as its proper prey: Death feeds upon him, as the scripture expresses it and fills his conscience with immortal anguish; Their form shall be consumed in Sheol, with no place to dwell. Psalm 49. 14. Who can bear the thought of dying in such a state under the dominion of death, without Christ, and without hope!

III. How much does the religion of the New Testament surpass all other religions, both that of the light of nature, and all the former revelations of grace; for it better instructs us how to die.

The religion of the ancient patriarchs, the religion of Moses and the Jews, as well as the religion of the philosophers, all come vastly short of Christianity, in the important business of dying.

The philosopher, by the labours of his reason, and by a certain strength of spirit, persuades himself not to tremble at the thoughts of death; for it may be, there is no hereafter: or if there be, he would gladly hope for a happy one: And thus he ventures into death, with some sort of courage and composure of mind, like a bold man, that is taking an immense leap in the dark, out of one world into another; but he can never know with certainty, that there are no terrible things to meet him in that unseen state.

The religion of the Jews and patriarchs, which God himself revealed to men, enabled many of them to resign their lives with patience and hope, and to walk through the valley of death without much dismay, when the appointed hour was come. A few of them, certainly, have been elevated by a noble faith above the level of that dispensation: Yet some of them seem to mourn bitterly, because of the shadows of darkness that covered the grave, and all the regions beyond it. They were those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery; Heb. 2. 15.

It is our Jesus alone, who has brought life and immortality to light through the gospel; 2 Tim. 1. 10. He dwelt long in heaven before he came into our world, and again he went as a forerunner into those unseen worlds, and came back again and taught his disciples what heaven is: And in this way we learn to overcome death with all its terrors, by the richer prospect, which he has given us, of the heavenly country that lies beyond the grave: He has taught his followers to rejoice in dying, and to possess the pleasures that are to be derived from death, as it is an entrance into the regions of light and joy. And so thanks be to God! that we were born in the days of the Messiah, since Christ returned from the dead, and that we are not sent either to the schools of the philosophers, or even to Moses, to teach us how to die.

IV. Learn from these sermons, what a sweet and delightful glory belongs to the covenant of grace, that turns a curse into a blessing. When the broken law, or covenant, of works attempts to curse you with death, believer in Christ, (as Balaam did Israel) the Lord your God turns the curse into a blessing to you by this new covenant, because the Lord your God loves you; Deut. 23. 5. So afflictions are turned into mercies by the virtue of this covenant, they restrain our sins, they wean us from the world, they bring our hearts near to God, they make us partakers of his holiness. So death, which is the greatest affliction to nature, and has such a formidable aspect to a sensual man, is made subservient to the eternal welfare of a Christian. It is this sweet covenant that has brought about the change; Christ has conquered it, and the believer enjoys the triumph.

Does the eye of nature view death as a serpent? Our Lord Jesus has broken its teeth, and taken away its sting; for by his sacrifice he has abolished sin, which is the sting of death. Does nature look upon death as a lion? Our Redeemer has slain it, and the covenant of grace has filled the carcass of it with honey, and stored it with delicious food for the entertainment of a Christian; thus, Out of the eater came something to eat. Out of the strong came something sweet; Judges 14. 14. The riddle of Samson, when applied in this way, carries a diviner beauty in it, and more exquisite delight. And as that Jewish champion feasted his father and his mother with delicacies taken out of the lion he had slain, so does our Lord feast his brethren and his friends, with sacred pleasures derived from death, our vanquished enemy.

Consider how unspeakable is the privilege of those that belong to Christ! If you are his, then death is yours: Christ is the only begotten Son, and he inherits all things; not only as a Son, but as the first overcomer: In Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith; Gal. 3. 26. The one who conquers will have this heritage; Rev. 21. 7. Whether life or death, things present or things to come, all are yours, for you are Christ's.

We move now to the practical uses.

I. If death, in every sense, may be turned to the advantage of the saints, as was shown in a former sermon, let us see then, that, in all its appearances, we gain some advantage by it. Let us not act like fools, who have a prize put into their hands, and do not know how to use it.

If our fellow-creatures die and go down to the dust, and the nations of mankind perish from the earth, let us learn from this the frailty of our natures; let us learn so to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom; Psalm 90. 12. and be awakened to an active and immediate preparation for the day of our own death. If we see impenitent sinners dying under the anguish of a guilty conscience, let us gain a practical lesson of the dreadful evil of sin; let it raise such a religious fear of the wrath of God, and such a sacred gratitude for our deliverance, from the torments of hell, as may enliven every grace into its warmest exercise, and its brightest evidence.

If death seize upon our Lord Christ himself, his dying groans lay a foundation for our immortal hopes: Let us meditate on the thousand blessings we receive from his cross and his tomb. Do the saints around us lie down and die? We should learn to follow them boldly into the dark valley, and to fall asleep in the dust with the same cheerful hopes of the joyful rising-day. Does death come near us into our own family, and tear our dear relatives from our arms? Even this may be turned to our advantage too: It should cause the world and its pleasures to become to us more bland and worthless: It should loosen our heart-strings from the fond embraces of the creature; for it calls our eyes and our souls heaven-ward and home-ward, and that with a loud and unmistakable voice, if nature and grace are awake to hear it.

If death and the grave be ours, and we make no use of this privilege, we are like misers, who possess a great treasure, but never use it to any valuable purpose. Has Christ our Lord taken death among his captives, and made it his own property? Let us look upon ourselves as humble sharers in the victory; he has appointed it to serve the interest of all his followers: He has put it into the inventory of our treasures. Let us improve it then to these divine purposes, let us seize and enjoy the spoils which Christ, the Captain of our Salvation, has taken from the hands of the prince of darkness.

II. Is death become your possession, believers in Christ, through the grace of the covenant? Fear it not then, but ever look upon it with an eye of faith as a conquered adversary: Behold it, as subdued to your service; wait for it, with holy courage and pleasure; it is a messenger of mercy to your souls from Christ, who has vanquished it in the open field of battle, and reduced it to his subjection. When you labour and groan under sins and temptations, under pains and sorrows, remember Christ has appointed death to be his officer, for your relief. It is like the porter that opens the door of his repository, the grave, where your bodies will take a sweet rest until the resurrection-day; and it is appointed also to open the gates of heaven for your spirits, and to let them into a world of unknown joy.

Death has so many things belonging to it, which are painful to nature, and formidable to the eye of sense, that we have need of all manner of assistance to raise our souls above the fear of it. The very thought of dying makes many a Christian shudder, and sweat, and tremble, and awakens all the springs of human infirmity; Would that the grace of faith gain a more glorious dominion in our souls! We should often meditate on such doctrines as these, which place that dreadful thing death in the most easy and pleasing light; we should behold it as changed from a curse into a blessing, and numbered among our treasures.

Christians should accustom themselves to look at it through the filter of the gospel, which highlights wonderful colours in what is in itself so dark and formidable. The gospel is that filter which unveils to us the glorious blessings that grow in that gloomy valley, and gives a fair and delightful perspective of those hills of paradise and pleasure that lie beyond the grave. Why should we let this blessed gospel lie neglected, and live still in bondage to the fear of dying?

The Recollection.—And now, as we close, let us learn by this sermon, to shame ourselves out of these weaknesses, these unreasonable fears. Let us talk to our own souls in the language of faith. “Why, O my soul, why are you so afraid to let this body die? Have you not endured labours and trials enough, and are you unwilling to come to the end of them? Have you not yet been tempted enough? Have you not been frustrated too often, and too often thrown down in the conflict? Think of your many wounds of conscience, the bruises of your spirit, the defilement of your person , and the loss of your purity and your peace. Can you bear, that all these should be repeated again and again? Are you unwilling to see this war come to an end? Are you afraid of victory and triumph? What do you labour and fight for? Do you not run to obtain the prize? Do you not wrestle and fight to gain the crown? And have you not courage enough to go across the dark valley, to take possession of this crown and this prize?”

"Think, O my spirit, think of your painful ignorance while you dwell in this region of shadows: Is not knowledge your natural and delicious food? Have you not lived long enough in darkness, and been involved too long in mistakes and errors? And are you willing to dwell in a land of darkness still, a land of dreams and disguises, where truth is hardly found? Are you afraid of the borders of that world, where light and knowledge grow, and where truth, and realities appear all unveiled, and without disguise? Where you will be cheated no more with the sound of words, but will see all things just as they are, in a clear light, without error, and without confusion? Consider the happy coming to an end of your mistakes and wanderings, of all your wanderings in quest of truth! And are you still afraid to come near it?

"Has it not been the matter of your deepest mourning, that your God is so much concealed from you, that greatest and best of Beings? That the Son of God, the radiance of the glory of God; Heb. 1. 3. is so much a stranger, and your Saviour is so little known? That your faith has been struggling and jaded in many studies about the glories of his person as God-man, about the wonders of his united natures, and the mysteries of his gospel; about the power of his death, the virtue of his righteousness, and the sovereignty of his grace?

And are you afraid of the sunshine, and that perfect day that will scatter all these clouds of doubt and mistake, and let you see your Saviour and your God face to face, as they are seen by angels? Consider that surprising hour, of unknown delight, that will place you, O my soul, in the midst of the world of spirits, surrounded with the light of heaven, and in the open presence of God, even your God! When you will gain swift and ravishing communion with the Almighty Being that made you, and the Son of God, who dwelt once in mortal flesh, and died to save you!

When the divine light of the eternal Spirit will unfold those mysteries before your eyes, which had so much darkness about them while on earth! What an illustrious scene of light and joy will arise all around you, as you enter into that unknown state! What strange new ideas of things, what new worlds of knowledge will crowd in upon you, and your enlarged understanding will receive them all with infinite satisfaction, and with ever-growing pleasure!

Are you not ready to fly away, my soul, at such a divine prospect as this? O dull creatures that we are! we seek after the light of truth here below, and crowd about a little glimmering spark of knowledge, we wrangle all around it with endless contention, and yet when death would open the gate of glory, and admit us into regions of light, we jump back, and retire, contented to dwell in twilight and shadows.

Again speak to yourself: But, O my soul, if truth and knowledge are not sufficient to allure you, has holiness no constraining power? Have you not sinned enough, and broken the laws of God often enough already? Have you not brought guilt enough, and grief enough, upon yourself, that you are afraid of a state of perfect holiness? What is it that has given you such inward pain as the perpetual workings of your innate iniquity? What is it that has made you cry out, Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? Rom. 7. 24; from the temptations and the sins which are mingled with flesh and blood?

And are you afraid to have your groans ended, your complaints removed, and your deliverance appear? Are you unwilling to accept to be released? Do you shrink back from the sight of the deliverer? Has not your faith often seen the spirits of the just made perfect standing before the throne, rejoicing before God, worshipping in the complete beauty of holiness? And has not this your faith awakened your desires and your sacred wishes? Have you not desired to be in the midst of them?

Why then are you so unwilling to leave this body of sin and darkness, and to go out of this troublesome and impure prison into that glorious world, that blessed assembly, and to worship amongst them without imperfection, and without weariness? Consider, O my soul, are your complaints of indwelling corruption sincere? Are your groans for deliverance honest and heartfelt? Why then are you afraid to let this body be dissolved, and to gain a blessed release from these inbred and restless enemies? Has not the radiance of perfect holiness attraction and force enough in it, to awaken your longings, and earnestly desire to fly to heaven?

Remember also, while you are here, and are often sinning, many of the threatenings of God in his word are levelled against you, his arrows sometimes stick in your flesh, and pierce your very soul. Granted these are not the sword of his vindictive justice, your afflictions are only the corrections of his rod: But is it not better to dwell in that world where you will feel no such correcting strokes, and never again deserve such chastisement, where the Lord your God will lay aside every frown, and remove his anger for ever?

Your best life now is to live upon the promises; but does not all the excellency of a promise consist in the hope of its accomplishment? And is not the accomplishment then so much better than the promise itself? Is not possession better than hope? Is not an assured and an unchangeable possession better than this state of doubts and fears? Is it not much more agreeable to dwell in the house of the Lord forever? Psalm 23. 6. than only to visit it now and then? Is it not infinitely better to be fixed in a state of perfect happiness, without the least dread or fear of losing it? To be as a pillar in the temple of God, your God, and to go no more out; Rev. 3. 12

Think again, Have you not endured sufficient pains and sorrows both of flesh and mind in this lower world? Death will put an end to them all; and are you unwilling to be so completely released from sorrow and pain? Has this flesh of yours been complained of so often as your hindrance and your painful prison, and are you afraid to have your shackles knocked off? Has your body not given you pain and anguish enough? And has it not tempted you enough away from your God, and your truest happiness? Has your sinful sickly flesh been so charming a companion, that you are not yet willing to part with it? Do you not desire to have all your diseases healed at once? Would you not be glad to have all your torments of body and mind forever eased, and all the uneasiness of the flesh and spirit removed for ever?

It is true, the mere desire of ease should not be the chief reason why you should desire death, nor should you seek it with an impatient spirit: It is your duty to bear sufferings and sorrows with holy patience, as a good soldier of Christ; it is your duty to remain in your post so long as he wills it, to fill up the hours with service, and to bear the fatigues and burdens of the mortal state to the glory of God your Saviour: But he does not require that you should fall in love with a state of guilt and pain, a state that has so much sin and temptation, so much burden and fatigue in it; he gives you permission to groan for the hour of release and deliverance. In this tent we groan, longing to put on our heavenly dwelling; 2 Cor. 5. 2.

Consider further, say to your soul, what is there in this world that should make you fond of continuing among its inhabitants? Has not the world you dwell in sufficiently revealed itself to you, as a land of mere trouble and vanity, and are you fond of the tents of Meshech and Kedar, where your soul has so little peace? Are you afraid to change your dwelling-place? Have you not been teased long enough with the company of sinners, or the foolish and unfriendly behaviour of those who are imperfect saints? Have you not been often ready to say, Oh, that I had the wings of a dove, to fly away from the raging wind and tempest! Psalm 55. 6, 7. to get afar off from the rage and malice of enemies, from the troublesome infirmities of friends? How often have you wished even for a wilderness where you may be at rest! Consider, the door of death will shortly open itself to you, and would let you in, not to a wilderness, but to a paradise, to a place of eternal rest and freedom from all uneasy society; and yet you delay and hang backward, and are afraid to go.

In that upper world the saints have no character flaws to hinder them, no vicious and fretful moods, nothing to vex them; they leave all their weaknesses, their envy, and their anger behind them in the grave. In the heavenly country, every companion is an everlasting friend, and all your dear and pious relatives, who are departed, have put off every thing that once made you or them uneasy. They are far better company above than ever they were, or could be, here on earth; and do you not want to see them all in their best attire of grace and glory; and to hold wonderful communion with them in the purest atmosphere of love?

But there are still more wonderful allurements to a holy soul; God, even your God, dwells in the midst of his saints on high, and that in the full glories of his love: Jesus, your Saviour, whom you have known, and whom you have loved, though you have never seen him; Jesus is Lord of that country, he waits for you there: God himself dwells there as the fountain of all blessedness, and will never again be absent from you. You will never again complain of his withdrawing his light from you, or the short visits of his grace: You will never again sit alone, nor mourn when the sun of righteousness passes behind a dark cloud. It is the pleasure of that heaven you hope for, to be forever with your Lord, to behold his glory, to see him as he is, and to be made like him; and will you not enter in at the gate into the New Jerusalem when he calls you, but tremble and hesitate, because there is a short dark valley that lies on this side of it?

Remind your soul, that death is yours: Say to it: There is nothing in that dark valley will hurt you. Lift up your head, arise, and shake yourself out of the dust. Let your faith take an encouraging look over the little hills of time, and beyond the valley of death: Look far into the invisible world, and banish all your fears under the strong allurement of the joys that are prepared for you; wait with pleasure for the hour of your departure, and rejoice and triumph when the divine message will come. While you continue here, life is yours. When you go from this place, death is your; things present and things to come are yours; and the invisible world to which you are hastening, has everlasting joys in reserve for you: Heaven itself is yours: Heaven is the inheritance of all the saints: The glories laid up there are waiting for your possession: The dissolution of your earthly body will convey you into the midst of them.

Awake, arise, and meet the happy moment, when you will be relieved of this sinful flesh and blood: Let these defiled garments ever sit loosely on you, that they may be cast off without pain and regret: Go, my soul, at the summons of your God and Father, and when the symptoms of dying nature will say, Behold, He calls you; let your faith and your love, and your joy answer, Lord, I come. Go, my soul, at the invitation of your Redeemer, at the voice of your beloved: Behold he appears, he comes! Go forth and meet him. Drop this earthly clothing with holy delight; arise, put on your beautiful garments, and shine, for the glory of the Lord is rising upon you: Go shine among the spirits of the just made perfect, yourself a spirit released from earth, and divested of all imperfection.

Happy farewell to life and time! Glorious entrance into immortality!