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When Loved Ones Die In Christ

Category Articles
Date December 2, 2005

Perhaps it is because there is a greater than usual concentration of angels, or perhaps it is due to the ministry of the Holy Spirit quickening the graces of our new natures, or perhaps it is because our faith is so much more sharply focused, or most likely because of all of these things, there is a special sweetness and strong, deep exercise of mutual love and deep comfort that characterizes the gathering of the saints around those who have just lost a family member. The Word of God informs us that the death of His godly ones is precious in the sight of the Lord (Ps. 116:15). Scripture also contains the testimony of such men as Stephen, who declared at his stoning that he saw Jesus standing at the right hand of God (Acts 7:56), and Paul, who proclaimed that for one to die in Christ is gain (Phil. 1:21). Such testimony alerts us to the fact that there should be in the sight of the saints something precious about their own and their beloved brethren’s deaths. It has certainly been my experience that at the death of a believer, heaven seems to open to receive the deceased one, thus allowing those of us who grieve our loss not only the comfort of a sure and certain hope of the resurrection, but also a happy glimpse into that glorious realm in which righteousness and perfected love dwell.

I am writing these words one week after it pleased Almighty God to call out of this world the soul of my father, and two days after the Lord similarly called into His nearer presence my mother-in-law. The pain and sorrow to Debi and me have been excruciating and exhausting, as you can imagine. Yet, we have both at this time sensed an immense outpouring of the love and sustaining grace of the Lord through the prayers and countless demonstrations of love and practical service of the Lord’s people. The healing hand of the Lord more than compensates for the work he does by His wounding hand.

Both my father and mother-in-law were faithful believers in Christ. They taught us many valuable things during their lives in this world. However, nothing they conveyed to us by their prayers, precepts, and examples blessed us in quite the same way as what they gave to us at their deaths.

They who had lived by faith in the Son of God who loved them and gave Himself for them, died in the same, saving faith. Their facing their deaths with such clear and comforting trust in the Redeemer, whose death for them removed the sting of death from them, displayed to us the triumphing power of the like precious faith that we have. Their heart melting expressions of care and love for us, even as they walked through the valley of the shadow of death, reassured us that they were drawing sustaining grace from the Lord who was with them, and this has taught us to look for the Lord and expect to find Him in the little trials of our own pilgrimage through this life. Their fearlessness in face of the last enemy provided strongest testimony to us that nothing in death or life could separate them or can separate us from the love of God in Christ.

The pain and sorrow that we have suffered has drawn an ocean of sympathy and love from the hearts and hands of our brethren. Even the rough and rude ways of unbelieving friends, family members, and neighbours, have been, for this time of grieving, subdued, and they have treated us as though they were ministering angels.

At the death of a believer, it does appear to be the case that the people near that believer are for a time lifted to a place where their attitudes and actions are more genuinely godly and caring than they were before that death. I believe that this is so because as the heavens open to receive the dying saint, the glorious felicity of the celestial realm touches our sinful, cursed world in a more potent way during the so-called dark providence of death. We can and should profit lastingly from such tastes of the tokens of that eternal glory that is our sure hope. We should seek to make the new-found quickening of our graces to be lasting treasures in our lives. We should seek to remember how sweet and consoling the exercise of grace and love are during a time of bereavement, so that we might maintain their exercise in seasons of rejoicing as well.

The Lord gives and the Lord takes away. Whether He is giving or taking away from us, we should perceive that He is blessed and blessing us in either case, and we should thank and praise Him accordingly. Your pastor and his wife are undeniably in a painful season just now. But we both testify to you that there is great healing, comfort, and fortifying sweetness in our painful sorrows. He who was with Daniel’s friends, preserving them in the fiery furnace, is with us, upholding us in our momentary, light affliction. Thank you, dear brethren, for praying that He would be near to us in this way, and thanks be to God who always leads us in triumph, making us to be in all things more than conquerors.

William Harrell
Pastor of Immanuel Presbyterian Church, Norfolk, Virginia

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