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[Preached on All-Saints Day.]
THE BLESSEDNESS OF GOOD MEN AFTER DEATH.
And I heard a voice from heaven, saying unto me, Write, blessed are the dead which die in the Lord, from henceforth: yea, saith the Spirit, that they may rest from their labours; and their works do follow them.—Rev. xiv. 13.
I WILL not trouble you with any nice dispute about the author of this book of the Revelation, or the authority of it, though both these were sometimes controverted; because it is now many ages since this book was received into the canon of the Scriptures, as of Divine authority, and as written by St. John. Nor shall I at this time inquire into the particular meaning of the several visions and predictions contained in it. It is confessedly, in several parts of it, a very obscure book: and there needs no other argument to satisfy us that it is so, than that so many learned and inquisitive persons have given such different interpretations of several remarkable passages in it; as particularly concerning the slaying of the two witnesses, and the number of the beast.
The words which I have read to yon, though there be some difficulty about the interpretation of some particular expressions in them; yet in the general sense and intendment of them they are very plain, being a solemn declaration of the blessed state of good men after this life.454
And that we may take the more notice of them, they are brought in with a great deal of solemn preparation and address, as it were on purpose to be speak our attention to them: “I heard a voice from heaven, saying unto me, Write, blessed are the dead which die in the Lord, from henceforth.” And, for the greater confirmation of them, the special testimony of the Spirit is added to the voice from heaven, declaring the reason why they that die in the Lord are pronounced to be in so happy a condition: “yea, saith the Spirit, that they may rest from their labours; and their works do follow them.”
In the handling of these words, I shall first in quire into the particular sense and meaning of them.
Secondly, Prosecute the general intendment of them, which I told you is to declare to us “the blessed state of those that die in the Lord,” that is, of saints and good men, after they are departed this life.
First, I shall inquire into the particular sense and meaning of the words. To the clearing of which, nothing will conduce more than to consider the occasion of them, which was briefly this. In the visions 6f this and the foregoing chapter, is represented to St. John, the great straits that the Christians, the true worshippers of the true God, should be reduced to. On the one hand, they are threatened with death; or if they be suffered to live, they are interdicted all commerce with human society. (Chap. xiii. 15.) “And he had power to cause, that as many as would not worship the image of the beast should be killed:” and, (ver. 17.) “That no man may buy or sell, save he that had the mark of the beast.” And, on the other hand, they that do worship the beast are threatened with damnation: (chap. xiv. 9, 10.) 455 “If any man do worship the beast, the same shall drink of the wine of the wrath of God, and shall be tormented with fire and brimstone.” So that when ever this should happen, it would be a time of great trial to the sincere Christians, being threatened with extreme persecution on the one hand, and eternal damnation on the other; and therefore it is added in the 12th verse—“here is the patience of the saints; here are they that keep the commandments of God, and the faith of Jesus.” This is represented in St. John’s visions, as the last and extremest persecution of the true worshippers of God, and which should precede the final downfal of Babylon. And, when this should happen, then he tells us, the patience of the saints would be tried to purpose, and then it would be seen, who are faithful to God, and constant to his truth; and upon this immediately follows the voice from heaven in the text; “and I heard a voice from heaven, saying unto me, Write, blessed are the dead which die in the Lord, from henceforth: yea, saith the Spirit, that they may rest from their labours; and their works do follow them.”
The main difficulty of the words depends upon the word ἀπάρτι, “from henceforth;” which interpreters do variously refer to several parts of the text. Some by changing the accent, and reading it, ἀπάρτι, would change the signification of the word into omnino; omnino beati sunt, “they are altogether blessed, very happy, who die in the Lord.” But this is altogether destitute of the countenance and warrant of any ancient copy. We will then sup pose that the word is ἀπάρτι, and to be rendered as we translate it, “from henceforth, from this time.” All the difficulty is, to what part of the text we are 456to refer it. Some refer it to the word “blessed;” “blessed from henceforth are the dead which die in the Lord:” as if from this time, and not before, the souls of good men were, immediately after death, admitted into heaven, which many of the ancient fathers thought the souls of good men, who died before the coming of Christ, were not. But then this blessedness ought to have been dated, not from the time of St. John’s vision, but of Christ’s ascension; according to that of St. Ambrose, in the hymn called Te Deum; “when thou hadst overcome the sharpness of death, thou didst open the kingdom of heaven to all believers.”
Others refer it to dying in the Lord. “Blessed are the dead, that from henceforth die in the Lord.” But this hath no peculiar emphasis in it; because they were blessed that died in the Lord, before that time.
Others refer it to the words following, concerning the testimony of the Spirit: “yea, from henceforth saith the Spirit.” All these varieties agree in this sense in general—that some special blessedness is promised and declared to those who should die after that time; but what that is in particular, is not easy to make out.
But the most plain and simple interpretation, and that which seems to be most suitable to the occasion of these words, is this—that the word ἀπάρτι, “from henceforth,” is to be referred to the whole sentence, thus—“from henceforth blessed are the dead which die in the Lord;” as if St. John had said, considering the extremity and cruel circumstances of this last and severe persecution, we may, from that time forward reckon those who are already dead (supposing that they died in the Lord) to be very happy; in that 457they did not live to see and suffer those things, which will then befal the faithful servants of God, when “the devil shall come, having great wrath, because he knoweth he hath but a short time.” Much in the same sense as Solomon, when he considered the oppressions that were “done under the sun,” says, (Eccl. iv. 2.) that he “praised the dead, which were already dead; more than the living, which were yet alive;” that is, considering the oppressions, which were so frequent in the world, he reckoned those happier that were out of it, than those who still lived in it.
And as this is very agreeable to the scope of what goes before, so it suits very well with what follows after, as the reason why those persons are declared to be so happy; “yea, saith the Spirit, that they may rest from their labours; and their works do follow them;” that they may be at an end of their troubles and sufferings, and may not be tried be yond their strength and patience, under that terrible persecution which will reign at that time; and likewise, that they may receive the reward of all the good they have done, and the evils they have suffered in this world; in the very same sense that the righteous are said to be “taken away from the evil to come.” (Isai. lvii. 1, 2.) “The righteous is taken away from the evil to come, he shall enter into peace: they shall rest in their beds, each one walking in his uprightness;” that is, enjoying the comfort of his integrity and sincerity towards God.
And now the main difficulty being over, we shall need to trouble ourselves the less about the other expressions in the text: yet there are two which I shall a little explain to you.
1. What is here meant by dying in the Lord. 458And this sort of phrase—in the Lord, in Christ, and in the name of Christ, is used in Scripture very variously. In general, it signifies, the doing or suffering any thing, with relation to Christ, and upon his account; and so to “die in the Lord,” doth most frequently signify to die in the faith of Christ, and in the profession of the Christian religion. Some times it signifies, to die for his cause, and to bear testimony to his truth, which is therefore called martyrdom, as St. Paul is said to be δέσμιος, ἐν κυρίῳ, (Eph. iv. 1.) “a prisoner in the Lord;” that is, for his cause. So, likewise, St. Peter: “if you be reproached (ἐν ὀνόματι Χριστοῦ) in the name of Christ, happy are ye:” and it is probable that the expression, (1 Cor. xv. 18.) “Then they also which are fallen asleep in Christ,” is to be understood, of those that died for his cause; because it follows immediately, “if in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men most miserable;” that is, considering how much Christians suffered for him in this life, they were in a most miserable condition, if there were nothing to be expected beyond it; but especially if we consider the parallel phrase, (1 Thess. iv. 14.) “So them also that sleep in Jesus, (διὰ τοῦ Ἰησοῦ,) for Jesus sake;” that is, them that have suffered martyrdom for him, will God bring with him. And in this sense many understand the phrase in the text, as spoken of martyrs: “blessed are the dead which die in the Lord;” that is, for his cause. And though I think the phrase may well enough be understood more generally, yet I shall not reject this sense; because it is not unsuitable to the scope and occasion of the words. For, considering that last and extreme persecution which he had described, it was not altogether improper to pronounce 459those happy that had suffered martyrdom already, and were taken away from those dreadful calamities, which in these last days of antichrist were to fall upon the faithful servants of Christ.
2. The other expression is the last in the text; “and their works do follow them.” So we render the word ἀκολουθεῖ, which yet does most properly signify to accompany, or go along with one; and so indeed the expression will rather be more emphatical: “they rest from their labours, and their works accompany them.” But whether the word be rendered to follow, or to accompany, the difference is not very material.
Thus you see what the particular sense and meaning of the words properly is—to declare the happy estate of those saints and martyrs, who were already dead, in and for the faith of Christ; and should not live to see those cruel and fearful sufferings, which should afterwards come upon the Christians. But then this is grounded upon that general truth, that they are happy that die in the Lord. And this is that which I intend now to prosecute, abstracting from the particular occasion, upon which these words were spoken; which brings me to the
Second thing I propounded, and chiefly designed to handle upon the occasion of this day; namely, The happy estate of good men after they have departed out of this life. And, in speaking to this, I shall confine myself to two particulars, which the text mentions, as the reasons and grounds why they “that die in the Lord,” are declared to be in so blessed a condition; “yea, saith the Spirit, that they may rest from their labours; and their works do follow them.”
1. Good men, when they are departed this life, 460are freed from all the labours and pains they were exercised with in this world; “that they may rest from their labours.”
2. They reap the comfort and reward of all the good which they have done in this world: “and their works do follow them,” or rather, go along with them, to receive the reward which God hath promised to them, “who, by patient continuance in well-doing, seek for glory and honour and immortality.”
1. Those who “die in the Lord” are freed from the evils and miseries of this life. And this is so great a felicity, that some (and those who think themselves no small philosophers) have placed the chief happiness of man in freedom from pain and trouble. But, though happiness do not consist in this alone, yet it cannot be denied to be a great part of it: for though some have been so fantastically obstinate, as, against the reason and common sense of mankind, to maintain this paradox—that a wise man may be as happy on the rack, or in Phalaris’s bull, as in the greatest ease and freedom from pain that can be imagined; yet nature cries shame of this hypocrisy: and there are none of those wise men they speak of, were ever such fools as to try the experiment, and to shew by their actions that it was indifferent to them, whether they laid themselves down upon their beds every night, or were stretched upon a rack; which yet ought to have been indifferent to them, had they believed themselves, and really esteemed that, which others account pain, to be as happy a condition as that which is commonly called ease.
But we need not trouble ourselves to confute so stupid a principle, which is confuted by nature, and 461by every man’s sense and experience. I think we may take it for granted, that freedom from misery is a very considerable part of happiness; otherwise heaven and hell, if we consider only the torment of it, would be all one. But certainly it is no small endearment of religion, to the common sense of mankind, that it promiseth to us, in the next life, a freedom from all the evils and troubles of this. And by this the happiness of heaven is frequently described to us in Scripture. (Isai. lvii. 2.) Speaking of the righteous man, “he shall enter into peace; they shall rest in their beds.” (2 Thess. i. 7.) Where the apostle, speaking of the reward of those who should suffer persecution for religion, “it is a righteous thing with God (says he) to recompense to you, who are troubled, rest with us, when the Lord Jesus shall be revealed from heaven with his mighty angels.” And the apostle to the Hebrews frequently describes the happiness of Christians by—entering into rest. And, (Rev. xxi. 4.) the state of the new Jerusalem is set forth to us, by deliverance from those troubles and sorrows which men are subject to in this world; “and God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain; for the former things are passed away.”
Thus it is with us in this world, we are liable to sorrow and pain and death: but when we are once got to heaven, none of these things shall approach us. “The former things are passed away;” that is, the evils, we formerly endured, are past and over, and shall never return to afflict us any more.
And is not this great comfort, when we are labouring under the evils of this life, and conflicting 462sorely with the miseries of it, that we shall one day be past all these, and find a safe refuge and retreat from all these storms and tempests; when we are loaded with afflictions, and even tired with the burden of them, and ready to faint and sink under it; to think that there remains a rest for us into which we shall shortly enter? How can it choose but be a mighty consolation to us, whilst we are in this vale of tears and troubles, to be assured, that the time is coming, when “God shall wipe away all tears from our eyes, and there shall be no more sorrow, nor crying.”
There are none of us but are obnoxious to any of the evils of this life; we feel some of them, and we fear more: our outward condition, it may be, is uncomfortable—we are poor and persecuted: we are destitute of friends, or have many enemies; we are despoiled of many of those comforts and enjoyments which we once had: our bodies perhaps are in pain, or our spirits troubled; or though we have no real cause of outward trouble, yet our souls are ill-lodged, in the dark dungeon of a body; overpowered with a melancholy humour, which keeps out all light and comfort from our minds.
And is it not reviving to us to think of that happy hour, when we shall find a remedy and redress of all these evils at once; of that blessed place, where we shall take sanctuary from all those afflictions and troubles which pursued us in this world; where sorrow, and misery, and death are perfect strangers, and into which nothing that can render men in the least unhappy can ever enter? where our souls shall be in perfect rest and contentment, and our bodies after a while shall be restored and reunited to our souls; not to cloud and clog them, as they do 463here, but so happily changed, and refined to such a perfection, that they shall be so far from giving any disturbance to our minds, that they shall mightily add to their pleasure and happiness?
And when we are once landed in those blessed regions, what a comfort will it be to us, to stand on the shore, and look back upon those rough and dangerous seas which we have escaped? How pleasant to consider the manifold evils and calamities which we are freed from, and for ever secured against? To remember our past labours and suffering, and to be able to defy all those temptations, which were wont to assault us in this world with so much violence, and with too much success?
And this is the condition of the blessed spirits above. They find a perfect cessation of all afflictions and troubles, “they rest from their labours.” But this is not all; for,
2. They are not only freed from all the evils and sufferings they were exercised withal in this world, but they shall receive a plentiful reward of all the good they have done in it; “their works do accompany them.” When pious souls go out of this world, they do not only leave all the evils of the world be hind them; but they carry along with them all the good they have done, to reap there the comfort and reward of it. Just as, on the other hand, wicked men, when they die, leave all the good things of this world, all the pleasures and enjoyments behind them; but the guilt and remorse of their wicked lives accompany them, and stick close to them, to torment them there, and that there they may be tormented for them.
Thus the Scriptures represent to us the different condition of good and bad men: (Isai. iii. 10, 11.) 465“Say ye to the righteous, that it shall be well with him: for they shall eat the fruit of their doings. Woe unto the wicked, it shall be ill with him: for the reward of his hands shall be given him.” Which is many times true in this world; but, however that happen, will most certainly and remarkably be made good in the other. And this is most emphatically expressed to us, in the parable of the rich man and Lazarus, (Luke xvi. 25.) where the rich man petitions Abraham for some ease, and Abraham returns him this answer: “Son, remember that thou in thy life-time receivest thy good things, and likewise Lazarus evil things: but now he is comforted, and thou art tormented.” What a change was here! how comfortable to the one, and how dismal to the other! Lazarus found rest from all his labours and sufferings, and his piety and patience accompanied him into the other world, and conveyed him into Abraham’s bosom. Whereas the rich man was parted from all his good things, and the guilt of his sins went along with him, and lodged him in the place of torment.
But my text confines me to the bright side of this prospect—the consideration of that glorious recompense which good men shall receive, for the good works which they have done in this world. Indeed, the text doth not expressly say, that their works shall be rewarded, but that they shall go along with them, and that they are blessed upon this account; and this implies that they shall receive a sure reward. For, as the apostle reasons, “God is not unrighteous to forget our work and labour of love. Verily there is a reward for the righteous/ as sure as there is a God that judgeth in the earth.
But how great and glorious that shall be, I am not 465in any measure able to declare to you. It may suffice, that the Scripture hath assured us in general, that God is the rewarder of good men, and that he will make them happy, not according to what can now enter into our narrow thoughts, but according to the exceeding greatness of his power and goodness. If we are to receive our reward from God, we need not doubt, but it will be very large, and such as is every way worthy of him to bestow. For he is a great King, and of great goodness; and we may safely refer ourselves to him, in confidence that he will consider us, not according to the meanness of our service, but according to the vastness of his treasures, and the infinite bounty of his mind. If he hath promised to make us happy, though he hath not particularly declared to us wherein this happiness shall consist; yet we may trust him that made us to find out ways to make us happy; and may believe, that he who made us without our knowledge or desire, is able to make them happy beyond them both.
Only, for the greater encouragement of our holiness and obedience, though he hath promised to reward every good man far beyond the proportion of any good he hath or can do; yet he hath declared, that these rewards shall be proportionably greater or less, according to the degree of every man’s piety and virtue. So our Saviour tells us, that they who are persecuted for righteousness sake, great shall be their reward in heaven. (Matth. v. 12.) That there will be a difference between the reward of a righteous man and a prophet; that is, of one who is more publicly and eminently useful for the salvation of others. And among those who are teachers of others, they that are most 466industrious, and consequently more likely to be successful in this work, shall have a more glorious reward; as we are told by the angel: (Dan. xii. 3.) “And they that are wise, (or as it is in the margin rendered, they that be teachers) shall shine as the brightness of the firmament; and they that turn many to righteousness, as the stars for ever and ever.” So likewise we mid in the parable of the talents, that he that improved his talent to ten was made ruler over ten cities. And St. Paul, (2 Cor. ix. 6.) speaking of the degrees of men’s charity and liberality towards the poor, says expressly, “he that soweth sparingly, shall reap sparingly; but he that soweth bountifully, shall reap bountifully;” which by proportion of reason may be extended to the exercise of all other graces and virtues. (1 Cor. xv. 41, 42.) The apostle there represents the different degrees of glory, which good men shall be invested with at the resurrection, by the different glory and splendour of the heavenly luminaries. “There is one glory of the sun, another of the moon, and another glory of the stars; for one star differeth from another star in glory: so also is the resurrection of the dead.” So that the more any man suffers for God, and the more patiently he suffers, the more holy and virtuously, the more charitably and usefully, he lives in this world; the more good works will accompany him into the next, and the greater and more glorious reward he may hope to receive there; which, as the apostle reasons (in the conclusion of that chapter concerning the doctrine of the resurrection) ought to be a mighty encouragement to every one of us, not only to be steadfast and unmoveable (that is, fixed and resolute in the profession and practice of our religion), but abounding likewise “in the work of 467the Lord; forasmuch as we know, that our labour is not in vain in the Lord.”
Every degree of diligence and industry, in the work and service of God, will most certainly one day turn to a happy account. “Having therefore such promises, dearly beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God.” The more perfectly holy we are here on earth, the more perfectly happy we shall be in heaven, and continue so to all eternity.
I have now done with the two reasons, which are here given in the text, of the happiness that good men, such as die in the Lord, shall be made partakers of in another life; because they rest from their labours, and their works accompany them: they are freed from all the evils which they suffered, and shall receive the reward of all the good they have done in this life.
I should now have proceeded to make some inferences from this discourse; but those I will reserve for another discourse on this subject.
All that I shall add at present, as the application of what I have already said, is—that this should stir us up to a careful and zealous imitation of those blessed persons described in the text, who are dead in the Lord, and are at rest from their labours, and whose works do accompany them. Let us imitate them, in their faith and patience, in their piety and good works, and in their constancy to God and his truth, which was dearer to them than their lives.
Thus their virtues and sufferings are described in the visions of this book: (chap. xiii. 10.) “Here is the patience and the faith of the saints;” and (chap. xiv. 12.) “Here is the patience of the saints: here 468are they that keep the commandments of God, and the faith of Jesus;” and chap. xii. 11. “And they overcame by the blood of the Lamb, and by the word of their testimony; and they loved not their lives unto the death.”
In this way, and by these steps, all the saints and martyrs of all ages have ascended up to heaven, and attained to that blessed state which they are now possessed of, after all the evils which they suffered in this world. They are now at “rest from their labours,” and all the good works which they have done are gone along with them; and they are now, and shall for ever be, receiving the comfort and reward of them. And if we tread in their steps, by a zealous imitation of the piety and holiness of their lives, and of the constancy and patience of their sufferings; we shall one day be translated into their blessed society, and made partakers with them of the same glorious reward. If we have our fruit unto holiness, our end shall be everlasting life. If we be faithful unto death, we shall receive a crown of life.
Let us, then, as the apostle to the Hebrews exhorts, (chap. vi. 11, 12.) “Every one of us shew the same diligence, to the full assurance of hope, unto the end: and let us not be slothful; but followers of them, who, through faith and patience, inherit the promises.”
” Now the God of peace, who brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus Christ, the great Shepherd of the sheep, through the blood of the everlasting covenant, make you perfect in every good word and work, working in you that which is well-pleasing in his sight.”469
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