A Short Day of Opportunity
We stood on the green grass sloping towards the deep-blue sea. Below us a burn meandered downwards until it became lost in the sand of the beach which skirts the ocean, while a huge bank of cloud dominated the horizon. It was a beautiful scene.
But death cannot be kept out of even a beautiful scene. As we stood in the spring sunshine in North Tolsta, a coffin was lowered into the grave prepared for it. Before long, the grave was filled in and the turf replaced on the top and stamped firmly down. Another of this mortal race had gone to his “long home”, and that last action seemed to confirm that his remains were not to be disturbed until Christ will come to this earth the second time. Then “all that are in the graves shall hear His voice, and shall come forth; they that have done good, unto the resurrection of life; and they that have done evil, unto the resurrection of damnation” (John 5:28,29).
What a contrast between a resurrection of life and one of damnation! On the one hand, consider someone who became spiritually alive in time, whose body and soul have now been reunited, and who has before him all that can be expressed by the word life. For ever and ever, as a complete human being brought to absolute perfection, he will be able to fulfil, to the utmost of his capacity, his duty to glorify God with all his heart and soul and mind and strength. On the other hand, how unspeakably awful is the position of someone who remained spiritually dead until the end of his time on earth, who refused all offers of salvation which may have come his way, and who now has before him an eternity of condemnation – in enduring endlessly the punishment of his sins.
We may always expect sadness to follow death. Bonds, more or less close, between the deceased and his friends and relations have been broken. Yet, when the godly are removed to eternity, those who mourn are not to sorrow “as others which have no hope”. The souls of the godly have gone to glory; even their bodies, though left to decay in the grave, are still united to Christ, which means that mourning friends and relatives may exercise a sure hope of a blessed resurrection for those who have left this world trusting in Christ. Such was the position we were in at the funeral in North Tolsta.1 To end one’s course in this world, as our friend did, with the desire of Paul: to “be found in [Christ], not having mine own righteousness, which is of the law, but that which is through the faith of Christ, the righteousness which is of God by faith” (Phil. 3:9), is surely convincing final evidence of being on the way to a blessed eternity.
A burial is an event with a loud voice; it always calls for deep, serious reflection. So Moses expressed his desire for Israel: “O that they were wise, that they understood this, that they would consider their latter end!” (Deut. 32:29). Interment marks the finality of life; it reminds us of the irresistible power of death, tearing the soul away from the body – what will never be reversed until the resurrection. And death is “the wages of sin”; it is part of the penal consequences of sin imposed on mankind in the Garden of Eden. And, as “all have sinned” in Adam, so death has “passed upon all men”. Accordingly, we should do nothing to suppress the loud voice of a burial, which cries out that not only has death come for one of our fellow creatures, but that it will come for us before long. We ought to ponder seriously the implications of death for ourselves, particularly until we have good reason to believe that we, individually, are ready to die.
But how can a mere human being, in whom the seed of mortality has already been sown, face the irresistible power of death? The answer lies in the fact that Omnipotence took human nature; the Second Person of the Godhead became man. He took the place of an innumerable multitude of human beings; He bore their sins; He worked out eternal redemption for them. When He died, it was not a case of death breaking the bonds between His body and His soul. It happened exactly as He said, when He spoke of His life: “No man taketh it from Me, but I lay it down of Myself. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it again” (John 10:18).
In His sufferings and death He satisfied, on behalf of each of His people, all the demands of divine justice. When they believe, they are justified; they are accepted before God as if they had always kept His law perfectly; they are delivered from all the punishment that was due to them because of their sins. Yet they are not delivered from death, for God will use death to bring them away out of this world, to separate body from soul. But for them death is not penal; indeed they cannot be punished, for Christ has borne all their punishment. Thus death becomes a door through which their souls enter the everlasting blessedness of heaven, and so for them the curse is turned into a blessing. They go to that place were “there shall be no more curse”, where they will be totally removed from all the sin and trouble of this fallen world. Yet what a loss to their communities and to the Church of God when praying men and praying women are taken away to a better world!
Every death and every open grave is a messenger sent to remind us that eternity is, at the longest, not far away from any of us. This means that we do not have long to prepare for eternity. How urgent then the call to the unconverted: “Seek ye the Lord while He may be found, call ye upon Him while He is near: let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts: and let him return unto the Lord, and He will have mercy upon him; and to our God, for He will abundantly pardon” (Isa. 55:6,7).
And if the Lord’s people do not have a great deal of time left in this world, they would do well to consider that fact in the light of the words of their Master: “I must work the works of Him that sent Me, while it is day: the night cometh, when no man can work” (John 9:4). There is a day – a short day – of opportunity to serve God, but soon it will be over; the night will come. Some believers may question if they can possibly be of any service to King Jesus. But, if nothing else, they have the opportunity to pray, not only for themselves, but for all around them and for the cause of Christ everywhere. This implies that, while they may have many duties to attend to in the world, they have no time to waste on worldliness. It was Samuel Rutherford who warned: “Build not your nest in the forest of this world, for God has sold the forest to death”. In other words, we must not treat this world as our home, for death will sweep us away from it before long.
The day of the resurrection will come at last, and from graveyards all over the world the godly will rise – perfect now, not only in soul, but also in body. From that graveyard in North Tolsta there will rise many who served the Lord in this world and who, in the spiritual body then restored to them, will in heaven sing the praises of Him who loved them and gave Himself for them. No doubt they will see the beauty of land and sea when they rise, but their focus will surely be on the glory of the One whom, in time, they were made willing to choose as their Saviour.
When Ewen Cameron, a godly man who lived in the West Highland district of Morvern, was dying, he asked to be carried outside to take one last look at the beautiful scenery around the house. He spent some time admiring the mountains of the Isle of Mull, and the Sound of Mull beneath them. Then he asked, “Is not the world which God created beautiful?” And he added: “But what is good for me is that I have found Christ in it”. Yes, it is a beautiful world, though defiled in so many respects by the sin of man. But Ewen Cameron put his finger on what really matters: to find Christ on this side of death. Apart from that, we will be laid in the grave as lost sinners and continue so to all eternity. What reason to consider, seriously, our latter end!
- It was the funeral of Mr Donald Mackenzie, an elder, who died on April 15.
Rev Kenneth D Macleod is minister of the Free Presbyterian Church of Leverburgh, Isle of Harris, and Editor of The Free Presbyterian Magazine, from the June 2007 issue of which this article is taken, with permission.
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