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2. A Believer's Privilege At Death

'For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.' Phil 1:1I.

Hope is a Christian's anchor, which he casts within the veil. ‘Rejoicing in hope.' Rom 12:12. A Christian's hope is not in this life, but he ‘hash hope in his death.' Prov 14:42. The best of a saint's comfort begins when his life ends; but the wicked have all their heaven here. ‘Woe unto you that are rich! for ye have received your consolation.' Luke 6:64. You may make your acquittance, and write ‘Received in full payment.' ‘Son, remember that thou in thy lifetime receivedst thy good things.' Luke 16:65. But a saint's happiness is in reversion. ‘The righteous has hope in his death.' God keeps the best wine till last. If Cato, the heathen, said, ‘To me to die is gain:' he saw mortality to be a mercy: what, then, may a believer say! ‘The day of death is better than the day of one's birth.' Eccl 7:7: A queen of this land said she preferred her coffin before her cradle.

What benefits do believers receive at death?

I. The saints, at death, have great immunities and freedoms. An apprentice, when out of his time, is made free: so, when the saints are out of their time of living, they are made free! they are not made free till death. [1] At death they are freed from a body of sin. There are in the best reliquiae peccati [the remnants of sin], some remainders and relics of corruption. ‘O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from this body of death?' Rom 7: 24. By the body of death is meant the congeries, the mass and lump of sin. It may well be called a body for its weightiness, and a body of death for its noisomeness. (1.) It weighs us down. Sin hinders us from doing good. A Christian - like a bird that would be flying up, but has a string tied to its legs to hinder it - would be flying up to heaven with the wings of desire, but sin hinders him. ‘The good that I would, I do not.' Rom 7:19. He is like a ship under sail, and at anchor! grace would sail forward, but sin is the anchor that holds it back. (2.) Sin is more active in its sphere than grace. How stirring was lust in David, when his grace lay dormant! (3). Sin sometimes gets the mastery, and leads a saint captive. ‘The evil that I would not, that I do.' Rom 7:19. Paul was like a man carried down the stream, and could not bear up against it. How often is a child of God overpowered with pride and passion! Therefore Paul calls sin a law in his members. Rom 7: 23. It binds as a law; it has a kind of jurisdiction over the soul, as Caesar had over the senate. (4.) Sin defiles the soul; like a stain to beauty, it turns the soul's azure brightness into sable. (5.) Sin debilitates us, disarms us of our strength. ‘I am this day weak, though anointed king.' 2 Sam 3:39. Though a saint be crowned with grace, and anointed a spiritual king, he is weak. (6.) Sin is ever restless. ‘The flesh lusts against the spirit.' Gal 5:17. It is an inmate that is always quarrelling; like Marcellus, that Roman captain, of whom Hannibal said, whether he beat or was beaten, he would never be quiet. (7.) Sin adheres to us, we cannot get rid of it. It may be compared to a wild fig-tree growing on a wall, the roots of which are pulled up, but some fibres of it are left in the joints of the stone-work, which cannot be got out. (8.) Sin mingles with our duties and graces. It makes a child of God weary of his life, and makes him water his couch with his tears, to think that sin is so strong a party, and he often offends the God he loves. This made Paul cry out, Miser ego homo! ‘O wretched man that I am!' He did not cry out for his affliction, or his prison-chain, but for the body of sin. Now a believer at death is freed from sin, he is not taken away in, but from his sins; he shall never have a vain, proud thought more; he shall never grieve the Spirit of God any more. Sin brought death into the world, and death shall carry sin out of the world. The Persians had a certain day in the year in which they killed all serpents and venomous creatures; such a day will the day of death be to a believer; it will destroy all his sins, which, like so many serpents, have stung him. Death smites a believer as the angel did Peter, and made his chains fall off. Acts 12:2. Believers at death are made perfect in holiness. ‘The spirits of just men made perfect.' Heb 12:23. At death the souls of believers recover their virgin purity. Oh! what a blessed privilege is this, to be sine macula et ruga, without spot or wrinkle; to be purer than the sunbeams; to be as free from sin as the angels! Eph 5:57. This makes a believer desirous to have his passport and to be gone; he would fain live in that pure air where no black vapours of sin arise.

[2] At death the saints shall be freed from all the troubles and incumbrances to which this life is subject. ‘Sin is the seed sown, and trouble is the harvest reaped.' Euripides. Life and trouble are married together. There is more in life to wean us than to tempt us. Parents divide a portion of sorrow to their children, and yet leave enough for themselves. ‘Man is born to trouble;' he is heir to it, it is his birth-right; you may as well separate weight from lead, as trouble from the life of man. Job 5:5. King Henry's emblem was a crown hung in a bush of thorns. There is a far greater proportion of bitterness than pleasure in this life. ‘I have perfumed my bed with myrrh, aloes, and cinnamon.' Prov 7:77. For one sweet ingredient there were two bitter; for the cinnamon, there were myrrh and aloes. A man's grace will not exempt him from troubles. ‘Few and evil have the days of the years of my life been.' Gen 47:7. Thus said a godly patriarch, though he had met with God. He named ‘the name of the place Peniel; for I have seen God face to face:' Gen 32:20; and yet he had his troubles. There are many things to imbitter life and cause trouble, but death frees us from all. (1.) Care. The mind is full of perplexed thoughts, how to bring about such a design; how to prevent such an evil. The Greek word for care comes from a primitive in the Greek, that signifies, To cut the heart in pieces. Care excruciates the mind; wastes the spirits. No such bitter bread as the bread of carefulness. Ezek 12:19. Care is a spiritual canker, which eats out the comfort of life: death | is its only cure. (2.) Fear. Fear is the ague of the soul, which sets it shaking. ‘There is torment in fear.' I John 4:18. Fear is like Prometheus's vulture gnawing the heart. There is a mistrustful fear, a fear of want; and a distracting fear, a fear of danger; and a discouraging fear, a fear God does not love us. These fears leave sad impressions upon the mind. At death a believer is freed from these torturing fears; he is as far from fear as the damned are from hope. The grave buries a Christian's fear. (3.) Labour. ‘All things are full of labour.' Eccl 1:1. Some labour in the mine, others among the Muses. God has made a law, ‘In the sweat of thy face thou shalt eat bread;' but death gives a believer a quietus; it takes him off from his day-labour. ‘Blessed are the dead that die in the Lord: they rest from their labours.' Rev 14:43. What needs working, when they have their reward? What needs fighting, when the crown is set on their head? ‘They rest from their labours.' (4.) Suffering. Believers are as a lily among thorns; as the dove among birds of prey. The wicked have an antipathy against them; and secret hatred will break forth into open violence. ‘He that was born after the flesh, persecuted him that was born after the Spirit.' Gal 4:49. The dragon is described with seven heads and ten horns. Rev 12:2. He plotteth with the one, and pusheth with the other. But at death the godly shall be freed from the molestations of the wicked, they shall never more be pestered with these vermin. ‘There (viz. in the grave) the wicked cease from troubling.' Job 3:17. Death does to a believer, as Joseph of Arimathaea did to Christ, it takes him down from the cross, and gives him a writ of ease. The eagle that flies high, cannot be stung with the serpent. Death gives the soul the wings of an eagle, to fly above all the venomous serpents here below. (5.) Temptation. Though Satan be a conquered enemy, yet he is a restless enemy. I Pet 5:5. He walketh about; he is always going about his diocese; he has his snares and his darts; one he tempts with riches, another with beauty. It is no small trouble to be continually followed with temptations; it is as bad as for a virgin to have her chastity daily assaulted; but death will free a child of God from temptation, so that he shall never be vexed more with the old serpent. After death has shot its dart, the devil will have done shooting his. Grace puts a believer out of the devil's possession, but death only frees him from the devil's temptation. (6.) Sorrow. A cloud of sorrow often gathers in the heart, and drops into tears. ‘My life is spent with grief, and my years with sighing.' Psa 31:10. It was part of the curse, ‘In sorrow thou shalt bring forth.' Gen 3:16. Many things occasion sorrow: sickness, law-suits, treachery of friends, disappointment of hopes, and loss of estate. ‘Call me not Naomi, call me Mara: I went out full, and the Lord has brought me home again empty.' Ruth 1:10, 2I. Sorrow is the evil spirit that haunts us. The world is a Bochim. Judges 2:2. Rachel wept for her children: some grieve that they have no children, and others grieve that their children are undutiful. Thus we spend our years with sighing: it is a valley of tears; but death is the funeral of all our sorrows. ‘And God shall wipe away all tears.' Rev 7:17. Then Christ's spouse puts off her mourning; for how can the children of the bridechamber mourn, when the bridegroom is with them? Matt 9:15. Thus death gives a believer his quietus; it frees him from sin and trouble. Though the apostle calls death the last enemy, I Cor 15:56, yet it is the best friend. ‘To me to die is gain.'

See here that which may make a true saint willing to die. Death will set him out of gunshot, and free him from sin and trouble. There is no cause for weeping to leave a valley of tears - a stage on which sin and misery are acted. Believers are here in a strange country, why then should they not be willing to go out of it? Death beats off their fetters of sin, and sets them free. Who goes weeping from a gaol? Besides our own sins, there are the sins of others. The world is a place where Satan's seat is; a place where we see God daily dishonoured. Lot, who was a bright star in a dark night, felt his righteous soul vexed with the unclean conversation of the wicked. 2 Pet 2:2. To see God's Sabbaths broken, his truths adulterated, his glory eclipsed, wounds a godly heart. It made David cry out, ‘Woe is me, that I sojourn in Mesech, that I dwell in the tents of Kedar.' Psa 120:0. Kedar was Arabia, where were Ishmael's posterity. It was a cut to David's heart to dwell there. O then be willing to depart out of the tents of Kedar.

II. The bodies of believers are united to Christ in the grave, and shall rest there till the resurrection. They are said to sleep in Jesus. I Thess 4:14. The dust of believers is part of Christ's mystic body. The grave is a dormitory or place of rest to the saints, where their bodies quietly sleep in Christ, till they are awakened out of their sleep by the trumpet of the archangel.

How shall we know that at death we shall be freed from sin and trouble, and have our bodies united to Christ in the grave?

'To me,' says Paul, ‘to die is gain;' to me, quatenus a believer [insofar as I am a believer]. Are we such? Have we this blessed faith? Faith, wherever it is, is operative. Lapidaries say there is no precious stone but has virtutem insitam, some hidden virtue in it: so I may say of faith, it has some secret virtue in it; it anchors the soul on Christ; it has both a justifying and sanctifying virtue; it fetches blood out of Christ's side to pardon, and water out of his side to purge; it works by love; it constrains to duty; it makes the head study for Christ, the tongue confess him, and the hands work for him. I have read of a father who had three sons, and left in his will all his estate to that son who could find his ring with the jewel which had a healing virtue. The case was brought before the judges; the two elder sons counterfeited a ring, but the younger son brought the true ring, which was proved by the virtue of it, whereupon his father's estate went to him. To this ring I may compare faith. There is a counterfeit faith in the world: but if we can find this ring of faith which has the healing virtue in it to purify the heart, it is the true faith which gives us an interest in Christ, and entitles us to all these privileges at death, to be freed from sin and sorrow, and to have our bodies united to Christ, while they are in the grave.

III. At death the souls of believers pass into glory. Death brings malorum omnium ademptionem; omnium adeptionem [Death brings the removal of all evils, and the attainment of all things]; it is the daybreak of eternal brightness. Here I shall lead you to the top of Mount Pisgah and give you a glimpse of the Holy Land.

What is comprehended in glory?

Glory is status omnium bonorum aggregatione perfectus [a state made perfect by the gathering together of everything good]. Boethius. It is a perfect state of bliss, which consists in the accumulation and heaping together all the good things of which immortal souls are capable. And truly here I am at a loss; for all I can say falls short of the celestial glory. Appelles' pencil cannot delineate it; angels' tongues cannot express it. We shall never understand glory fully till we are in heaven. Let me give you some dark views only, and some imperfect lineaments of that state of glory at which saints shall arrive after death.

[1] The first and most sublime part of the glory of heaven is the full and sweet fruition of God. Ipse Deus sufficit adpraemium. Augustine. We are apt to think the happiness of heaven is in being free from pain and misery; but the very essence of happiness is the enjoyment and fruition of God. God is an infinite inexhaustible fountain of joy; and to have him, is to have all. The enjoyment of God implies three things.

The enjoyment of God implies our seeing him. ‘We shall see him as he is.' I John 3:3. Here we see him as he is not; mutable, mortal: there as he is.

How shall we see God?

(1.) We shall see him intellectually, with the eyes of the mind. This divines call the beatific vision. We shall have a full knowledge of God, though not know him fully. If there were not such an intellectual sight of God, how could the spirits of just men made perfect see God? This sight of God will be very glorious; as when a king, on his coronation-day, shows himself in all his royalty and magnificence.

(2.) We shall corporally behold the glorified body of Jesus Christ. And if it be a pleasant thing to behold the sun, how blessed a sight will it be to behold the Sun of Righteousness! to see Christ clothed in our human nature, sitting in glory above the angels! Solomon says, ‘The eye is not satisfied with seeing.' Eccl 1:1. But surely the eyes of saints will be satisfied with seeing that orient brightness which shall shine from the beautiful body of Christ! It must needs be satisfying, because through Christ's flesh some rays and beams of the Godhead will gloriously display themselves. God's excellent majesty would overwhelm us; but through the vail of Christ's flesh we shall behold the divine glory.

(3.) Our seeing God will be transforming. We shall so see him, as to be in some measure assimilated and changed into his image. ‘We shall be like him.' I John 3:3. If, when Moses was with God on the Mount, and had but some imperfect sight of his glory, ‘Moses' face shined,' Exod 34:45, how shall the saints glorified shine, being always in God's presence, and having some beams of his glory put upon them! ‘We shall be like him.' One that is deformed may look on beauty, and not be made beautiful; but the saints shall so see God, as that sight shall transform them into his likeness. ‘When I awake, I shall be satisfied with thy likeness.' Psa 17:15. Not that the saints shall partake of God's essence; for as the iron in the fire is made fiery, yet remains iron still, so the saints, by beholding God's majesty, shall be made glorious creatures, but are creatures still.

(4.) Our seeing God in heaven will be without weariness. Let a man see the rarest sight that is, he will soon be cloyed; as when he comes into a garden, and sees delicious walks, fair arbours, pleasant flowers, within a little while he grows weary; but it is not so in heaven; there is no surfeit there; ibi nec fames nec fastidium. Bernard. The saints will never be weary of seeing God; for, God being infinite, there shall be every moment new and fresh delight springing from him into their souls.

The second thing implied in enjoying God, is loving him. It is a saint's grief that his heart is like the frozen ocean, and he can melt no more in love to God; but in heaven he shall be like the seraphims, burning with divine love. Love is a pleasant affection; ‘fear has torment.' I John 4:18. Love has joy in it. To love beauty is delightful. God's amazing beauty will attract the saints, love, and it will be their heaven to love him.

The third thing implied in enjoying God is God's loving us. Were there glory in God, yet, if there were not love, it would much eclipse the joys of heaven; but ‘God is love.' I John 4:16. The saints glorified cannot love so much as they are loved. What is their love to God's? What is their star to this Sun? God loves his people on earth, when they are black as well as comely. If now they have their imperfections, oh, how entirely will he love them when they are ‘without spot or wrinkle'! Eph 5:57.

This is the felicity of heaven, to be in the sweet embraces of God's love; to be the Hephzibah, the delight of the King of Glory; to be sunning ourselves in the light of God's countenance. Then the saints shall know that love of Christ which passeth knowledge. Eph 3:19. From this glorious manifestation of God's love will flow infinite joy into the souls of the blessed; therefore heaven is called ‘entering into the joy of our Lord,' Matt 25:51. The seeing God, loving God, and being beloved of God will cause a jubilation of spirit, and create such holy raptures of joy in the saints, that are unspeakable and full of glory. I Pet 1:1. In Deo quodam dulcidene delectatur anima, imo rapitur [There is a certain sweetness about God's person which delights, nay, rather, ravishes the soul]. Augustine. Now the saints spend their years with sighing; they weep over their sins and afflictions: then their water shall be turned into wine - the vessels of mercy shall be filled and run over with joy; they shall have their palmbranches and harps in their hand, in token of their triumphs and rejoicing. Rev 14:4.

[2] The second thing comprehended in glory is the good society there. There are the angels. Every star adds to the light. Those blessed cherubims will welcome us to paradise. If the angels rejoiced at the conversion of the elect, how will they rejoice at their coronation! There is the company of the saints. ‘The spirits of just men made perfect.' Heb 12:23.

Will the saints in glory know each other?

Certainly they shall; for our knowledge in heaven shall not be diminished, but increased. We shall not only know our friends and godly relations, but those glorified saints whom we never saw before. It must be so; for society without acquaintance is not comfortable. Of this opinion were Augustine, Anselm, and Luther. Indeed, the Scripture seems to hint as much to us; for, if Peter in the transfiguration knew Moses and Elias, whom he never saw before, Matt 17: 3, then surely in heaven the saints shall know one another, and be infinitely delighted in each other's company.

[3] The third thing comprehended in glory is perfection in holiness. Holiness is the beauty of God and angels; it makes heaven. What is happiness but the essence of holiness? Here a Christian's grace is imperfect. At death believers shall arrive at perfection of grace. Then this sun shall be in its meridian splendour; then shall they not need to pray for increase of grace, for they shall be as the angels; their light shall be clear, and their joy shall be full.

[4] The fourth thing in glory is dignity and honour. They shall reign as kings. Therefore glorified saints are said to have their insignia regalia, their ensigns of royalty, their white robes and their crown. Rev 7:7. Caesar, after his victories, in token of honour, had a chair of ivory set for him in the senate, and a throne in the theatre; so the saints, having obtained their victories over sin and Satan, will be enthroned with Christ in the empyrean heaven. To sit with Christ denotes safety; to sit on the throne; dignity. ‘This honour have all the saints.' Psa 149:9.

[5] The fifth thing in glory is the harmony and union among the heavenly inhabitants. The devil cannot get his cloven foot into heaven; he cannot conjure up any storms of contention there. There shall be perfect union; there Calvin and Luther are agreed; there is no jarring string in the heavenly music; there is nothing to make any difference - no pride or envy there. Though one star may differ from another, one may have a greater degree of glory, yet every vessel shall be full. There shall the saints and angels sit as olive-plants round about their Father's table in love and unity. Then shall they join together in concert, then shall the loud anthems of praise be sung in the heavenly choir.

[6] The sixth thing in glory is a blessed rest. ‘There remains a rest.' Heb 4:4. Felix transitus a labore ad requiem [A happy transition from toil to rest]. Here we can have no rest, tossed and turned as a ball on racket. ‘We are troubled on every side.' 2 Cor 4:4. How can a ship rest in a storm? But after death the saints get into their haven. Everything is quiet in the centre. God is centrum quietativum animae, as the schoolmen say, ‘the centre where the soul cloth sweetly acquiesce.' A Christian, after his weary marches and battles, shall put off his bloody armour, and rest himself upon the bosom of Jesus, that bed of perfume. When death has given the saints the wings of a dove, then they shall fly away to paradise and be at rest.

[7] The seventh thing in glory is eternity. ‘An eternal weight of glory.' 2 Cor 4:47. Glory is a weight. The Hebrew word for glory is a weight. God must make us able to bear it. An eternal weight. Glory is such a manna as does not breed worms. If the saints, glory in heaven were but for a time, and they were in fear of losing it, it would eclipse and imbitter the joys of heaven; but eternity is written upon their joys. The garland made of flowers of paradise fades not. I Pet 5:5. I have read of a river called the Day-river, at which time it runs with a full torrent, but at night is dried up. Such are all earthly comforts; they run with a full stream all the daytime of life, but at the night of death they are dried up. The glorified saints shall drink of the rivers of pleasure for evermore. Psa 16:6: Eternity is the heaven of heavens; infine gaudium erit sine fine [At the last our joy shall be never-ending]. Bernard. The joys of heaven are overflowing and everlasting.

When do believers enter upon possession of glory?

They pass immediately after death into glory. Some hold, with the Platonists and Lucianists, that the soul dies; but many of the sober heathens believed the soul's immortality. The Romans, when their great men died, caused an eagle to be let loose, and fly about in the air, signifying hereby that the soul was immortal, and did not die with the body. Christ tells us the soul is not capable of being killed, therefore not of dying. Matt 10:08. And as the soul does not die, so neither does it sleep in the body for a time. If the soul at death be absent from the body, it cannot sleep in the body. 2 Cor 5:5. There is an immediate passage from death to glory; it is but the twinkling of an eye, and we shall see God. ‘This day shalt thou be with me in paradise.' Luke 23:33. By paradise is meant heaven: the third heaven, into which Paul was taken. 2 Cor 12:2. Christ said to the thief on the cross, ‘This day shalt thou be with me in paradise.' His body could not be there, for it was laid in the grave; but it was spoken of his soul, that it should be, immediately after death, in heaven. Let none be so vain as to talk of purgatory: a soul purged by Christ's blood needs no fire of purgatory, but goes immediately from a deathbed into a glorified state.

Use one: See what little cause believers have to fear death, when it brings such glorious benefits. Why should the saints fear their preferment? Is it not a blessed thing to see God, to love God, and to lie for ever in the bosom of divine love? Is it not a blessed thing to meet our godly relations in heaven? Why should the saints be afraid of their blessings? Is a virgin afraid to be matched unto the crown? Now is but the contract: at death is the marriage-supper of the Lamb. Rev 19:9. What hurt does death, but take us from among fiery serpents, and place us among angels? What hurt does it do, but to clothe us with a robe of immortality? Has he any wrong done him that has his sackcloth pulled off, and has cloth of gold put upon him? Fear not dying, ye who cannot live but by dying.

Use two: You who are real saints, whose hearts are purified by faith, spend much time in musing upon those glorious benefits which you shall have by Christ at death. Thus might you, by a contemplative life, begin the life of angels here, and be in heaven before your time. Eudoxius was so affected with the glory of the sun, that he thought he was born only to behold it. What should we contemplate but celestial glory, when we shall see God face to face! David was got above the ordinary sort of men; he was in the altitudes when he said, ‘I am ever with thee.' Psalm 139:18. A true saint every day takes a turn in heaven; his thoughts and desires are, like cherubims, flying up to paradise. Can men of the world delight in looking upon their bags of gold, and fields of corn, and shall not the heirs of heaven take more delight in contemplating their glory in reversion? Could we send forth faith as a spy, and every day view the glory of the Jerusalem above, how would it rejoice us, as it does the heir to think of the inheritance which is to come into his hand shortly?

Use three: This may comfort the saints in two cases.

(1.) Under their wants. They abound only in wants: the meal is almost spent in the barrel; but be patient till death, and you shall have a supply of all your wants; you shall have a kingdom, and be as rich as heaven can make you. He who has the promise of an estate, after a few years have expired, though at present he has nothing to help himself, comforts himself with this, that shortly he shall have an estate come into his hand. ‘It cloth not yet appear what we shall be;' but we shall be enamelled with glory, and be as rich as the angels. I John 3:3.

(2.) A true saint is, as Luther says, Haeres crucis [an heir of the Cross]. It may make us go cheerfully through our sufferings, that there are great things laid up in store; there is glory coming, which eye has not seen; we shall drink of the fruit of the vine in the kingdom of heaven. Though now we drink in a wormwood cup, yet there is sugar to sweeten it. We shall taste of those joys of paradise, which exceed our faith, and may be better felt than they can be expressed.

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