Sermon 413. To Die Or Not To Die!




"Willing rather to be absent from the body and to be present with the Lord."

2 Corinthians 5:8.

I once heard two good men holding a dialogue with one another. I should not like to have the task of saying which I thoughtthe better man of the two. I believe them both to be sincere followers of the Savior and both of them, I think have a goodhope through grace. One of them said he should beglad to go to Heaven. He wished that his time was come. He did not see anything here worth living for and he should be onlytoo glad if now the summons should reach him that he should cross the river and arrive in the Promised Land. The other brothersaid he did not feel so. Hethought he had many reasons why he would rather just then live than die.

He thanked God that he had lived to see the Church in prosperity and it made his heart glad. He should like, he said, to bea sharer of the Church's joy for years to come. Besides, he had those he loved on earth and he said perhaps it might be aweakness in him but certainly he could not join inthe other brother's aspirations-at least not to the same extent. I stood by. I do not know that I volunteered then any verystrong words by way of notice of what either of them said, yet I took notes of their conversation. Thinking the matter overit suggested to me a few thoughtswhich I shall endeavor to present to you tonight. May the topic be interesting and may you feel your own interest in it.

Now there was one of the Brethren who would rather not depart but stay. I will take up that side of the question first andshow when such a desire is wrong and when it is right. The other Brother, like Paul, said he would rather depart for he thoughtit far better. I will take up that side of thequestion afterwards and show when that, too is wrong and when that, too, is right. I think they must both be sifted andto pronounce a judgment upon either prematurely as right or wrong would be to perpetrate an injustice and to commit an error.

Sometimes it is wrong for a Christian man to say, "I do not want to die-I would rather live." And one of the first cases iswhen that Christian man has grown worldly. I think it was Dr. Johnson who being taken by one of his friends over to his finehouse and along the walks of his beautifulgarden, observed to him-"Ah, Sir, these are the things that make it hard to die." To leave the comforts of life. To go froma nest that is well-feathered and to stretch our wings into the air. To leave the house which our industry has built, theobjects familiar to our senses, theprojects that absorb our interest and above all, the fam-ily-I say willingly-to leave these is difficult. All these areso many strings tying us down like ropes which fasten the baboon which would flee if once its cords were cut.

But, Brethren, this is wrong in a Christian man. What is there in this present world that he should love, compared with theworld to come? Has Christ taught him to find his solace here? Did Christ come from Heaven that we should find a Heaven below?No, rather has He taught us that the enjoymentsof this world are not fit meat for the noble spirits which He has recreated. Men must eat angels' food. They cannot liveby bread alone. The world was never meant to fill a believer's soul. He may find some contentment in it-for "every creatureof God is good and is to be receivedwith thanksgiving."

But to set this world in comparison with the next so as to be unwilling to let it go in order to receive the crown of life-this were folly-this were madness, this were wickedness in the godly man. In such a sense as that the thing is wrong.

And again, when the Christian man wishes to stay here, because he has a secret fear of dying, it is wrong. Brethren, I wouldnot speak harshly to those who, "by fear of death are all their lifetime subject to bondage." I would speak encouraginglyto them. What did Christ come into the world for? Hecame to deliver those who are subject to this bondage. And did Christ come in vain? No, Brethren. Then let us shake offthese chains. They are unworthy of the men who have a part and lot in Christ Jesus the Redeemer.

Afraid to die? Why, you are afraid of a stingless enemy. Afraid of a shadow-no, you are afraid of Heaven's own portals. Youare afraid of your Father's servant whom He sends to bring you to Himself! Be more afraid of living than of dying, for thereare more fears in life than in death. In fact,to the Christian there is no fear in death. "Oh, but," you say, "the pains and groans of death!" "No," say I, "they arethe pains and groans of life." There are no pains and groans in death. Death occupies but an in- stant-it is but, as it were,a pin's prick and all is over. Itis life that gives the pains. The sighs, the groans and the strife are not those of death-but those of life struggling againstdeath-when the strong man will not yield himself. So says one of our poets-

"How deep implanted in the breast of man The dread ofdeath!!sing its sovereign cure. Why start at death?- Where is he? Deatharrived Is past. Not come or gone; he's never here. Before hope, sensation fails; black-boding man Receives, not suffers,death's tremendous blow." Brethren, when JesusChrist died for our offenses and was raised again for our justification, He "loosed the pains of death." Our old Divineswere accustomed to say-"Then there are only a few loose pains for the believer to suffer." Death seizes not the Christianwith the strong grip of an officer ofJustice. Rather does death beckon the soul away to be present with the Lord!

Let those fear to die whose sins lie heavy on their consciences. Let those fear to die who have heaped sin upon sin, who haverejected the atonement, have trampled on the blood of sprinkling, have cast behind their backs the invitations of mercy andlive and die in their sins. But you-you feardeath? You whose sins are forgiven? You who are clothed in Jesus' righteousness? You to whom death is admission into immortality?You to whom death is but the end of dying and the beginning of life? You fear death? Why Sirs, surely you know not what spirityou are of. Such fear ofdying is wrong in the Christian. Let him strive against it and by getting more grace let him overcome his dread.

Then again, if the Christian's fear of dying is the result of his doubting his interest in Christ, that is wrong. We haveno right to doubt. "He that believes and is baptized shall be saved." But some read it as though it said, "He that doubtsshall be saved." In this very verse the Apostle says,"We are always confident." Now, some divines hate the very word "confidence" and some professors of religion think thata Christian has nothing to do with confidence. And yet, the Apostle says, "We are always confident." And, indeed, the Apostleknew what was the proper spirit for abeliever-that he might not be trembling between death and life, between hope and fear, with "of," and "but," and "perhaps"-forhis only rocks.

No, that is not the spirit of a child of God. One would think, to hear some men talk, that the atonement of Christ was a quagmire,a bog, or bending ice which might give way under our feet. But, Brethren, it is not so. It is a rock more lasting than therocks on which the earth is piled and moreenduring than the solid columns which support Heaven's starry roof. Why fear, then? Why doubt? Why tremble? Such piningafter life, such fears of death because we doubt our Savior are disreputable in a Christian man. Let us seek to overcome them-thatbeing always confident, we maybe willing to depart-which is far better.

One more point I ought not to pass over here, albeit I do not know in which scale to put it-whether to call it right or wrong.When the Christian had rather stay here because he has a large family dependent upon him and he says, "How can I die?" "Ah,"he says, "the Apostle Paul had not a house tomaintain and a responsible business to manage for the support of his dependent household. He lived in single blessednessand when he journeyed he took all his stock-in-trade with him. But if I were to die just now, I should leave my widow withoutprovision and my children would beall but penniless orphans."

Well now, that is a right consideration. The religion of Christ does not teach us to deny our natural affections and if anyman desire not to provide for his own household, he is worse than a heathen man and a publican. But mark, if that care getsto be earning care-if it is a distrustful care asto God's Providence-then it is wrong, for many a time has a believer closed his eyes in perfect peace, though he knew thathe left his dear ones without a heritage, for he has put God's promise between his lips-"Leave your fatherless children andlet your widow trust in Me."

I think I may tell a story that might aptly illustrate this. Though some are here whom it concerns, the name not transpiringit can do no hurt. I have heard of a poor laboring man whose children were at that time struggling for their bread and suddenlythe pangs of death came on him. As he laydying, this was the legacy he left his children-children, mark you who are this day, many of them, rich and all of themtogether with his widow to her dying day-they have been comfortably provided for. He said to his wife, as he was dying-"Youwill find so many shillings inthat box over there"-and you would think he was going to say, "Take care of it, it is the last I have."

But no. He said, "I owe just that sum of money to Mrs. So-and-So down in the village. Take it and pay her. It is all I owein the world and then I can die content." As a Christian man he died and left to his children a better heritage than manya peer of the realm has bestowed, though he has givenestates over the acres of which a bird's wing might flag in the attempt to fly. And I say from that very moment-and thereare those here who can bear me witness-from that very moment that man's family rose in circumstances. From that very instantthey began to rise inrespectability and position in life and they make it their boast that their father left them such a heritage as that.

Oh, Christian man, you may in the strength of an unwavering faith in God close your eyes in peace. Let not your social positiontoo much disturb you, but while you make all the provision you can let not your provision ever stint you in your generosityto Christ's cause, or mar the peace with whichyou go to your death-pillow. He that has been with you will also be with your seed. I cannot boast many years of observation-Icannot say as David did-"I have been young and now am old, yet have I not seen the righteous forsaken, nor his seed beggingbread"-but there be manygray-headed ones who can say that and set to their seal that God is true.

Having thus brought out what I think the wrong side of the matter, let me now show you when I think it may be right for thebeliever to say, "I would rather live than die." And that is, first, when he feels that he has not yet done much for the matterand a field of labors is just opening beforehis eyes. "Oh," says he, "I should not like to go to Heaven yet, for I have done so little for Him on earth." As a valiantsoldier, with the field of battle in view, he wants to win a victory. The fight is just beginning and he has not had an opportunityof distinguishing himself.He has been in the rear and he says to himself, "I want an opportunity of rushing to the front and thinning my new laurels,so that before the battle be over I may be distinguished for serving my country."

So many a young Christian may, with a noble ambition, say-"I do not want my part in the battle to be over yet. I had ratherstay a little longer, till I have fought the good fight and finished my course." Christian! Christian! If you say thus, whocan blame you? Your desire to remain iscommendable indeed. But perhaps we have been long in the field and we are saying- "I do not want to die yet, because thelaborers are few"? Oh, let me stay till I see others raised up to preach the Gospel that I love. Great Commander of our hosts,let my hand hold Your standardtill another hand stronger than mine shall grasp it. Let me stand in the fore-front of the battle, till You find someoneelse to bear the world's opprobrium and tug and toil for souls even in the very fire."

I can quote Carry and Ward and Pierre, who when they were laid down with sickness at Serampore, prayed that they might livea little longer, because every godly man in India was then worth a thousand. They seemed to say, "If any would come and takemy place, gladly would I go to find repose. But Ihave to keep this gap, or guard this bulwark. Oh Captain, call me not away, lest Your name be dishonored and Your enemiesget to themselves triumph." If Elisha said, "My Father, my Father, my Father, the chariot of Israel and the horsemen thereof"-muchmore can you conceive thecharioteer of God who has long held in the rapid steeds, standing upright in his chariot, as he feels the death-film gatheringover his eye and he is about in sheer exhaustion to cast down the reins.

Because he can hold them no longer, you can hear him cry, "Let me just live until I can pass the reins to my successor's handsand transfer, like Moses, the guardianship of Israel to a Joshua who shall lead them into the Promised Land." In those twocases and there may be others-it would beallowable for the believer to say, "To abide in the flesh is more needful for You and therefore I prefer rather to livethan die."

I now take the second stage of the controversy and shall try to deal fairly with that. When is it right and when is it wrongfor a believer to wish to go to Heaven?

First, it is wrong when he wants to get there to get away from his work. Sometimes when we have got a hard task to do forthe Lord we wish that the rest would come and we talk almost peevishly of the "rest that remains for the people of God." Therebe some lazy spirits who would like an everlastingSabbath, when they might always sit still and do nothing. That is their notion of Heaven-

"There on a green and flowery mount, Our weary souls shall sit."

My own constitutional idleness always makes me look forward to Heaven as a place of rest, for in everything I do I am obligedto drive myself to do it for the Master's sake. And there are many, I dare say, who suffer from a torpid and sluggish liver,to whom the thought of Heaven as a place of restis generally the paramount one.

Well, now, I do not think that we ought to wish to go to Heaven to have done with work. Suppose you were to employ a laborerand he came to you about ten o'clock in the morning and said, "Master, it is a very hot day, I wish it was six o'clock atnight." You would say, "Let me see, how many hourshave you been at work-there is your money, take it and go. I want none of those laggard fellows about my premises that arealways looking for six o'clock." Or suppose you had another man engaged by the week and you met him on Thursday and he said,"I wish it was Saturday, Sir, Iwish it was Saturday night."

"Ah," you would say, "A man that always looks for Saturday night is never worth his master's keeping. Just go on with yourwork till it is finished and then when Saturday night comes it will be all the more welcome to you." And yet,

Brethren you and I have been guilty of that same unworthy listlessness with regard to the things of Christ. We have wantedto get away from the work. It was too hard and too hot for us-so we would even wish to skulk into Heaven that we might reposeour wearied souls upon the green and flowerymounts. Now that is wrong. Get up with you, get up with you! "Six days shall you labor and do all that you have to do. Butthe seventh day is the Sabbath of the Lord your God." If you murmur at the six days of labor for Christ Jesus in His vineyard-howshall you hope to enjoy withHim the eternal Sabbatism that remains for the people of God?

Some, too, wish to get away from this world because there is some little discouragement that they have met with in laboringfor Christ. Jonah thought he would rather go to Tarshish than to Nineveh. There are many spiritual Jonahs who had rather goto Heaven than they would go to their pulpitsagain, or to the place where they have been taunted, ridiculed and persecuted. It is the same spirit of disobedience andunbelief. They want to get out of the work and away from the discouragements of it and so they say they would like to go Home.I knew a man a little whileago-and he who tells the tale knows by experience the truth of it-I knew a man who, thinking of his own responsibility andof the solemn work which lay upon him, having met with some rough words and being somewhat cast down, wished to go to Heaven.

And he has been ashamed of himself ever since, for he thought within himself-what business had he the first time he met withan enemy, to say to his Captain, "Please let me go home." We have read this last week some excellent stories of valiant men.There are a few instances that ought perhaps tobe told for our encouragement. There was a certain officer in a certain battle, which we need not mention, but which oughtto be called forever, "The Battle of the Spurs." This gentleman, finding there was no chance, rode as quickly as he couldto Washington to say it was a mistake.Yes, of course that is what he went for. He was not at all afraid. Of course he did not return home, because he did notlike the look of the campaign, or thought there might be a chance of his being cut down.

Perhaps that was not the reason. Perhaps he was a very brave man and so he showed his back to the enemy, thinking that theback alone of so brave a man would be enough to confound his foes. Perhaps that was it. And perhaps that may be the reasonwhy you and I want to go to Heaven when we get alittle uncomfortable. But to tell you the truth, I suspect it was abominable cowardice. And I suspect it is the same withyou and with me. We get cowardly and afraid of the world lest its opposition stain our pride-afraid of Satan-whom it is ourduty to resist. And tender of theflesh which it is our great duty to mortify and not to pamper. And withal we are distrustful of God as our Helper. It isthen we fretfully say, "Let us go to Heaven."

Fancy Martin Luther talking like that! Melancthon did it once, but Martin Luther said, "No, no, Melancthon, you are not goingto Heaven yet. I will not have it," and down he went and prayed while Melancthon said, "Let me die, Luther." But Luther said,"No, we want you and you are not to be let offyet, you must stand in the thick of the battle till the fight changes and victory is ours." Thus, to wish to get away fromour appointed place of trial and conflict, because of discouragements, is wrong in the extreme.

And there are some -I would not speak severely but truthfully-some there are who want to go to Heaven, to get away from theLord's will on earth. They have had so much pain, that they would like to be released from it. We cannot, we will not, blamethem. If we had the same sufferings, we shouldhave the same desire. But yet does it not sometimes amount to this, "Father, I see the cup is there and I know I ought todrink it, but if the cup cannot pass from me, let me pass away from it"? Does it not sometimes amount to this, "This furnaceis very hot, Lord, take me out of itto Heaven at once"? Does it not come to this, "Lord, You have tried me so sorely. I do not like these trials. I have anobjection to Your will and I should like to be removed from the necessity of enduring it"?

Such people never do die, remember, for years afterwards-because the Lord knows they are not fit to die. When we want to dieto get away from our pains, we generally keep on living. But when we are able to say, "Well, let it be as He wills. I wouldbe glad to be rid of pain, but I would becontent to bear it if it is God's will," then patience has had her perfect work and it often happens that the Lord says,"It is well, My child-your will is My will and now it is My will that you should be with Me where I am."

And now, bear with me patiently while I try to show when such a desire as this is not only undeserving of censure, but trulypraiseworthy, exceedingly commendable and eminently to be desired. Brothers and Sisters, if you long to go to Heaven becauseyou are conscious of your daily sins and want tobe rid of them-if, seeing your perpetual mistakes, transgressions and iniquities, you are saying-

"Sin, my worst enemy before, Shall vex my eyes and ears no more; My inward foes shall all be slain, Nor Satan break my peace again"- it is a good desire, for to be perfectly holy is an aspiration worthy of the best of men.You may-I am sure you will-in the thought that you shall be without spot or wrinkle, or any such thing say, "Jesus, make notarrying, but quickly take Your servant to Yourself."

Suppose, again, that you wish to serve God better than you do and you say, "Oh, my Master, I cannot serve You here as I would.I would like to be removed to Heaven that I might serve You day and night in Your temple, that I might fly on Your errands,sing Your praises without ceasing and adore Youbefore Your face with raptures here unknown." Then, inasmuch as it is a proper thing for the servant of God to desire tobe a better servant and a more faithful and obedient steward, it must be right and proper for him to long to be conformedunto his Master's image, that he mayserve his Master without imperfection.

Oh, methinks, Brethren, this should be one of the strongest reasons to make us long to get from this world and gain the promisedhome.

Again, when you and I have been at the Lord's Table, or in some service where we have had great enjoyment, we have gone homesinging in our hearts-

"Now I have tasted of the grapes, I sometimes long to go Where my dear Lord the vineyard keeps, And all the clusters grow."

You have had the earnest and you want to have the whole of the redemption money. You have tasted of Eschol's grapes and youwant to go and live in the land that flows with milk and honey. If you did not want to go, it would be as strange as it wouldbe wicked.

Oh Jesus! When we have sipped Your love, we have longed to bathe in it. When we have tasted some of Heaven's dewdrops, wehave longed to drink of the river of God that is full of water. When we have come up some of the lower knolls of the hill,we have panted to climb the mountain's summit andstand where God dwells in the high places of eternity-

"Hopeless of joy is anything below, We only long to soar, The fullness of His love to feel, And lose His smile no more. His hand, with all the gentle power, The sweet constraint of love, Has drawn us from this restless world, And fixed our hearts above."

Such earnests make us pant for Heaven and it cannot be wrong if such is the case.

Again, when you have had near fellowship with Christ-when you have seen His face and leaned your head upon His bosom-it wouldindeed be a strange thing if you did not wish to be with Him where He is. I would not believe that a woman loved her husbandif she never cared for his society. Theaffianced one has seen her betrothed husband but for a moment and she wishes to see him again and longs for the time whenthey shall never part again. And so the heart that is affianced to Christ longs to be happy, pants for His embrace and tosit with Him at the marriage supper. IfI were to compare Christ with wine, I would say He is such wine that the more you drink, the more you long to drink.

If I compare Him to food-though He stops one hunger He gives us another. Oh, I think that was a splendid thought of Rutherford's,when, having floated upon the river of Christ's fellowship, he said-"Oh, that my ship would sink and founder in the sea! Oh,that it would go down till forty fathomsof His love should reach over the mast head of my highest thoughts! Oh, to be swallowed up in Christ-to be lost in Him-asthe ray is lost in the sun and the drop in the sea!" If you did not long for this it would be a shame indeed! If you did notlong to see His face it wouldseem as though you had no love for Him and would never be conformed in His image.

Brethren, I shall say no more, except to put these few thoughts together. You are a child-he is not a loving child that doesnot wish to see his father's face. How some of us used to long for the holidays! We used to make a little almanac and putdown the days and mark them off one by one. Sixweeks before the time, we would begin to count how many days there were and every morning we would say there was one dayless before we went home. Either he is a bad child-or he has got a bad father-that does not want to go home. Now we have gota good and blessed Father and Ihope He has made us His true children and we want to see His face.

We long for the time when we shall no longer be under tutors and governors, but shall come home to enjoy the inheritance.Brethren, we are also laborers. It were a strange thing if the laborer did not wish to achieve the end of his toils. It wereindeed a strange thing if, industrious though he is,he did not prefer the end of his toils to the beginning. It were contrary to nature and I think contrary to grace, if thefarmer did not long for the harvest and if he that toils did not desire to receive the reward. We are not only laborers, Brethren,but mariners-mariners thatare often tempest-tossed.

The sails are rent to shreds. The timbers are creaking. The ship drives along before the blast-who does not want to get intoport? Which man among you does not desire to say-"See, the harbor is near. Lo, the red lights!" Who among you would not wishto cast anchor now and say, "I have passedthe floods and now I am come to my desired havens"? Brethren, we are not only mariners but pilgrims-pilgrims of the wearyfoot, having here no continuing city. Who does not want to get to his home?-

"Home, home, sweet home! There's no place like home!"

Heaven is my home and there is no place like Heaven! No, if you put me in a palace it is not my home. No, though the worldwere at my feet, it were not my home. Home! Home! Who will not long for home?

And last, what soldier does not long for victory? He would not still the fight, but he wishes it were triumphantly over. Hedoes not turn his back, but breasting the foe he marches on with deadly tramp, with bayonet fixed, keeping the line, till,going over the dead bodies of his enemies, at lasthe reaches the camp, takes it by storm and puts the banner of his country where once waved the standard of his foe. WhatRoman soldier did not anticipate the triumph, Brethren? What Roman cohort lid not expect to join in the triumphal procession?What commander did not aspire to thevote of thanks at the capitol?

Let us then pant for home. It is the end of the battle. It is the reward of victory. Let us not long for Heaven to escapefrom the fight, but as a victory that is the result of it. And now what say you? Do you say-

"To Jesus, the crown of my hope, My soul is in haste to be gone?"

Oh, some of you can say it. God grant you your desire. May you find the promised rest when God's time shall come. And I wouldsay for myself-I would say for you-"Oh, God, in Your own time come quickly-come quickly-come, Lord Jesus!"

How different the feelings of those of you who have no Heaven hereafter! To you Death is a chasm and there is no hope to bridgeit! It is dread without a promise. It is despair without an end! Sinner, pray God that you may not die. Think not of dying,Man, for if your troubles are great here theywill be greater hereafter. He that commits suicide to get out of trouble leaps into the gulf to escape from the water-drownshimself to prevent himself from getting wet. He leaps into the fire because he is scorched.

Do it not, do it not. He that kills himself goes with his hands red with blood before his Maker and goes there to his owndamnation. But, Soul, since you are yet alive may God teach you to confess your sins and to seek for mercy. Remember it isto be had for he that believes on the Lord JesusChrist shall be saved. Trust Christ with your soul. He is worthy of your confidence. He will keep you and will "presentyou faultless before His Father's presence with exceeding great joy."