Fit for the Father’s House
It was the first day of July 1866. As John Kennedy stood ready to preach on that Sabbath, in the pulpit of his Dingwall church, he gave out as his text: ‘For I am in a strait betwixt two, having a desire to depart, and to be with Christ; which is far better’ (Phil. 1:23). In the course of his sermon he explained his choice of text:
It was beside a bed on which a child of God was dying these words were suggested to my mind. It was in the light of them I was looking on Tuesday night on the approaching death of dear Kitty Ross. Those who knew her best were those who were most assured that she was a true disciple and that her death was the fulfilment of Christ’s promise in the text. To me her death has caused a blank which scarcely any other death could cause. I shall ever miss her presence while I stand here. I shall miss her sympathy in every future trial through which I may have to pass.
Often, as in thought I went over the households of this place, my mind rested on her cottage, knowing that there was one who pled for the cause of Christ and the salvation of souls, one who to strict integrity added remarkable prudence and who to her faithfulness in reproving sin gave the weight and influence of an unblemished life. She was poor and she was not obtrusive, and those who prefer the companionship of those whom the world delights to honour may not have known much about her. But for 70 years she knew the grace of God in truth, and during all that time she was kept fervent and watchful. But the Lord came for her, and she is now with Him. Let her Beloved have the joy of her presence and the glory of her praise in the Father’s house, and in her behalf let us joy and give thanks that now at last all tears are wiped from her eyes and that in fellowship with the Lord she is at the living fountains of water in the Father’s house.’ (Dr. Kennedy of Dingwall: Sermon Notes 1866-1874, James Begg Society, 2008, pp.84-95).
It was in the light of the fruits of grace which were so evident in her life that Kennedy was so sure that Kitty Ross was ready to leave this world for the Father’s house, to ‘be with Christ, which is far better’. It was possible for her minister to recognise this because, as Jesus Christ taught in the Sermon on the Mount: ‘By their fruits ye shall know them’ (Matt. 7:20).
Here was a woman who showed the fruit of ‘strict integrity’, who had a gracious respect for God’s commandments. In other words, she feared God. In this life she demonstrated that there was a living principle in her heart; she had been born again and she was resting her soul on Christ alone for salvation. But all these were hidden to every eye but God’s; not so her strict integrity – it was one of the visible fruits which indicated that, out of the sight of every human eye, there really was a root which had been planted by the hand of God himself. And from that root there grew every spiritual grace, though some – perhaps her strict integrity and her faithfulness in reproving sin – may have been more obvious than others.
Another of those fruits which her pastor highlighted was her prayerfulness – not that Kitty took it to the street corner so that everyone might see a display of her devotions. But it left a savour of genuine spirituality on her whole life and, no doubt, came out unselfconsciously in her conversation.
Kennedy particularly refers to her praying ‘for the cause of Christ and the salvation of souls’. Such prayer was an indication of her love for Christ, for the Church is his body, and his honour in this world is bound up with its welfare. And because Kitty had begun to love her neighbour, she pled for their salvation, and we can readily believe that she had a concept of ‘neighbour’ which led her to pray for sinners throughout the world – that the means would be provided to make their salvation possible, and that the Holy Spirit would be poured out wherever the gospel was being preached. Her concern for the worldwide church would also have led her to pray that it would be preserved from declension – whether spiritual, doctrinal or practical. And such a concern would have led her to pray that, where declension had taken place, it would be reversed and that the spiritual condition of every part of the cause of Christ would be made more and more healthy till ‘the whole earth [is] filled with his glory’ (Psa. 72:19).
Kennedy was especially conscious that he would miss Kitty’s presence in public worship; it must previously have been an encouragement to him as he expounded the Scriptures to his people that here was one who had a spiritual appreciation of these things – one whose heart would go out to worship the great God of eternity and Jesus Christ the Saviour, whom the preacher so much delighted to exalt. But, now that she was gone, he would particularly miss also the petitions that she would have sent up to heaven even as he preached. Doubtless there were many such prayerful Christians in the Dingwall church which Kennedy knew and every one of them would have been precious to him. But, as these experienced Christians were removed to glory, he would have felt distinctly weaker. Christ, of course, was still the same, but the Lord uses praying Christians as a means of strengthening his servants in the ministry. And when experienced, prayerful believers are removed from this world, the church of God is undoubtedly the poorer.
Death did not find Kitty unprepared. It was not only that she was born again, that she had believed in Christ and was justified. She was, according to her pastor’s testimony, ‘fervent and watchful’; when others may have adopted as worldly a lifestyle as they dared, she did not. Rather she was concerned to be holy, to ‘to keep herself unspotted from the world’. She was obedient to the Saviour’s direction: ‘Take ye heed, watch and pray: for ye know not when the time is’ (Mark 13:33). She knew she could be taken away from world at any moment, and she lived accordingly.
This generation desperately needs many Christians of the calibre of Kitty Ross – prayerful and godly, keeping themselves unspotted from the world. Of course we need ministers to go out with the glad tidings of salvation through a crucified Redeemer. But we also need many ‘fervent and watchful’ believers who, however poor, however unobtrusive they may be, will maintain a strict integrity in their lives and plead earnestly and perseveringly for the cause of Christ and the salvation of souls.
The memory of Kitty Ross no doubt faded from Dingwall’s collective consciousness long ago; even when she was alive, worldly people ‘may not have known much about her’. Yet, even now, over 140 years since her death, God may still be answering her prayers, for there is still in the town a remnant according to the election of grace, and the gospel is still preached there. She may be forgotten now, but her name was written in the Lamb’s book of life in heaven; it will never fade from his heart. And if we are to join her ‘at the living fountains of water in the Father’s house’, we need the same grace as she so clearly showed. We may not have it in the same degree, but we must certainly have the root of the matter – we must, like her, be born again; we must fear God; we must trust in Christ and his finished work.
These are not matters we can afford to treat lightly, as if we could safely live for the world and the things of the world until we see death looming over the horizon. We cannot afford to react like Felix, when he told Paul: ‘Go thy way for this time; when I have a convenient season, I will call for thee’ (Acts 24:25). Felix had trembled while he listened to the Apostle reason ‘of righteousness, temperance, and judgement to come’. But Felix loved his sins too much; he did not see a holy, self-restrained life as attractive, for the carnal mind – which is enmity to God – was in control of his thinking. In an attempt to quieten his conscience, he promised to listen again to Paul at some time in the indefinite future. But it is unlikely he ever did so – except to press his prisoner for a bribe. To stifle convictions is dangerous; they should be nurtured; they may prompt the sinner to seek the Lord – and seeking him, to find him. Then that sinner will have a covenant right to a place ‘at the living fountains of water in the Father’s house’.
It is dangerous for people whose thinking is somewhat influenced by the Word of God – but who continue to reject Christ – to assume that they will be saved shortly before they die. It is sheer presumption. No one can possibly know that they will have time to prepare at the end; death can come very suddenly, and then the presumptuous soul is swept away without warning into the awfulness of a lost eternity. Such people should also realise that they are dishonouring God by hoping to continue in Satan’s kingdom for, say, 99% of their time in this world – despising God, his blessings, and communion with him – while they expect to enjoy the even more spiritual blessings of heaven when they must give up their hold on this world.
But let us listen to Kennedy as he concluded his sermon:
To all of us death is coming, but not to all of us is Christ coming to receive us to Himself. How is it then with you?
Remember that a right to heaven can only be found in Christ. Have you a place in the Father’s house? Not unless you are in Christ. Is it to His finished work you are coming? Are you seeking to be more shut up to it? Are you afflicted by your blindness, self-righteousness and unbelief? Are you willing to be led to Him? If so, He is yours. Take your stand on His merit.
Remember that you cannot reach the Father’s house without holiness, for ‘without [holiness] no man shall see the Lord’ (Heb. 12:14). Are you seeking this? Are you conscious of your unholiness? Are you seeking a hold of Christ, and of divine security in Him for your sanctification?
Remember that those who are heirs of heaven seek communion with Christ. They seek this now. This is their foretaste of heaven on earth, and this [they will have] in perfection in heaven at last.’ (op. cit. p.95).
Throughout her believing life, Kitty Ross was fundamentally ready to die, yet not absolutely so. She needed, in particular, that final work of the Holy Spirit in her soul which would complete her sanctification and bring all her graces to a state of perfection – to make her absolutely fit to spend eternity by the living fountains of water. This fitness she no doubt received, according to the covenant assurance that ‘He which hath begun a good work in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ’ (Phil. 1:6). And it was an indication that Bella, an American slave, was very close to that state of final perfection when she told her master: ‘If the Lord would come for me this night – this very night – I would be freely willing to go, for there is nothing to keep me here any longer. I can leave all in His hands.’ (quoted in Iain Murray, Heroes, Banner of Truth, 2009, p.253).
Rev Kenneth D. Macleod is editor of The Free Presbyterian Magazine, from the November 2009 edition of which this editorial is reproduced with kind permission.
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