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Death & Life, A Historic Post From Horatius Bonar

Wednesday, March 8th, 2017

“Ours is a dying world; and immortality has no place upon this earth. That which is deathless is beyond these hills. Mortality is here; immortality is yonder! Mortality is below; immortality is above. “Neither can they die any more,” is the prediction of something future, not the announcement of anything either present or past. At every moment one of the sons of Adam passes from this life; and each swing of the pendulum is the death-warrant of some child of time. ‘Death,’ ‘death,’ is the sound of its dismal vibration. ‘Death,’ ‘death,’ it says, unceasingly, as it oscillates to and fro. The gate of death stands ever open, as if it had neither locks nor bars. The river of death flows sullenly past our dwellings; and continually we hear the splash and the cry of one, and another, and another, as they are flung into the rushing torrent, and carried down to the sea of eternity.

Earth is full of death-beds. The groan of pain is heard everywhere,—in cottage or castle, in prince’s palace or peasant’s hut. The tear of parting is seen falling everywhere; rich and poor, good and evil, are called to weep over the departure of beloved kindred, husband or wife, or child, or friend. Who can bind the strong man that he shall not lay his hand upon us or our beloved ones? Who can say to sickness, Thou shalt not touch my frame; or to pain, Thou shalt not come nigh; or to death, Thou shalt not enter here? Who can light up the dimmed eye, or recolour the faded cheek, or reinvigorate the icy hand, or bid the sealed lip open, or the stiffened tongue speak once more the words of warm affection? Who can enter the death-chamber, and speak the ‘Talitha Cumi’ of resurrection? Who can look into the coffin, and say, Young man, arise? Who can go into the tomb, and say, Lazarus, come forth?

The voice of death is heard everywhere. Not from the bier alone, nor the funeral procession, nor the dark vault, nor the heaving churchyard. Death springs up all around. Each season speaks of death. The dropping spring-blossom; the scorched leaf of summer; the ripe sheaf of autumn; the bare black winter mould,—all tell of death. The wild storm, with its thick clouds and hurrying shadows; the sharp lightning, bent on smiting; the dark torrent, ravaging field and vale; the cold seawave; the ebbing tide; the crumbling rock; the up-torn tree,—all speak of dissolution and corruption. Earth numbers its grave-yards by hundreds of thousands; and the sea covers the dust of uncounted millions, who, coffined and uncoffined, have gone down into its unknown darkness.

Death reigns over earth and sea; city and village are his. Into every house this last enemy has entered, in spite of man’s desperate efforts to keep him out. There is no family without some empty seat or crib; no fireside without a blank; no circle out of which some brightness has not departed. There is no garden without some faded rose; no forest without some sere leaf; no tree without some shattered bough; no harp without some broken string.

In Adam all die. He is the head of death, and we its mortal members. There is no exemption from this necessity; there is no discharge in this war. The old man dies; but the young also; the grey and the golden head are laid in the same cold clay. The sinner dies; so also does the saint; the common earth from which they sprang receives them both. The fool dies; so also does the wise. The poor man dies; so also does the rich. ‘All flesh is grass.’

The first Adam died; so also died the second Adam, who is the Lord from heaven. But there is a difference. The first Adam died, and, therefore, we die. The second Adam died, and therefore, we live; for the last Adam was made a quickening spirit; and this is the pledge of final victory over death and the tomb. Thus, the grave is the cradle of life; night is the womb of day; and sunset has become sunrise to our shaded and sorrowful earth. Yet, this is not yet realised. We are still under the reign of death, and this is the hour and the power of darkness. The day of the destruction of death, and the unlocking of sepulchres is not yet. It will come in due time. Meanwhile we have to look on death; for our dwelling is in a world of death,—a land of graves.

If, then, we would get beyond death’s circle and shadow, we must look above. Death is here, but life is yonder! Corruption is here, incorruption is yonder. The fading is here, the blooming is yonder. We must take the wings of the morning and fly away to the region of the unsorrowing and the undying; where ‘that which is sown in weakness shall be raised in power, and death be swallowed up in victory.’”

Horatius Bonar, Family Sermons. (New York: Robert Carter & Brothers, 1863), 416–419.

New Year, Same Story

Monday, December 31st, 2012

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From my father I inherited a fascination with cemeteries and obituaries – a morbid, but interesting hobby that leads one to the biographies and of “the dead, small and great” (Rev. 20:12.) Accordingly, I was delighted when some friends took my family on a tour of historic Hollywood Cemetery in Richmond, Virginia on the final day of 2012. We visited the graves of presidents (for the U.S., James Monroe and John Tyler; and for the Confederacy, Jefferson Davis), soldiers (George Pickett, J.E.B. Stuart, along with twenty other Confederate generals plus thousands of other servicemen from every major conflict of American history), governors (six from Virginia), Senators and Congressmen (too numerous to name), a U.S. Supreme Court Justice (Lewis Powell, Jr.), novelists (like Ellen Glasgow and James Branch Cabell) and scholars (historian Douglas Southall Freeman being one of my favorites.) The recurring thought that struck me throughout the day was that despite all of their varied accomplishments, these men and women all experienced the same inevitable reality: they all died. The first genealogy in the Bible is notable for this repeated refrain “and he died” about all the names recorded in the list – with one notable exception – Enoch, a man noted for his fellowship with the Living God (Gen. 5:21-24.) His experience of supernatural translation from earth to heaven prefigures a greater resurrection to come, which gives hope to all those who know and trust in the Creator God through His Son, the Lord Jesus Christ.

Life Lessons Learned At Gravesides

On the threshold of a new year it is helpful to remember what Christ said when He came to a cemetery. His magnificent promise was articulated to a beloved friend, who was grieving over her recently deceased brother; He told Martha: “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in Me, though he may die, he shall live. And whoever lives and believes in Me shall never die” (Jn. 11:25-26.) This is the best news for 2013 – or any other year!

The Son of God came to make graveyards obsolete. He has transformed their status from long-term storage of mortal remains to temporary holding places of bodies that will one day be reconstituted. For those who received Christ as their Lord and Savior by faith, they experienced spiritual regeneration – a complete transformation of the inner man, also known as being “born again” (see Jn. 3 & Titus 3.) Therefore, their bodies will be raised and transformed into glorious bodies like the resurrected and glorified Christ (1 Thes. 4:13-18; 1 Cor. 15:20-58; 1 Jn. 3:1-3.) But for those who did not believe on the Lord Jesus for salvation, they will be raised for judgment – a horrifying scenario which could have been avoided  (Jn. 5:22-29.) The Lord does not delight in people perishing spiritually; rather “He desires all to come to repentance” (2 Pet. 3:9.)

Jesus I Am Resting In The Joy Of Who Thou Art

Complete and sole trust in the Lord Jesus Christ, who died as a sacrifice for sin, rose again in vindication, and ascended to glory in triumph is what distinguishes a saved person who possesses eternal life with the Lord in heaven from a lost person who is eternally separated from their Maker and banished in the outer darkness of the Lake of Fire (Mk. 9:42-48; Rev. 20:11-15.) One must confess that he is a bankrupt sinner with no ability to earn deliverance or merit a rescue. They must turn to God for the gift of salvation offered through His Son, the Lord Jesus Christ, forsaking their old life as one that is justly condemned (Jn. 5:24; Eph. 2:8-10; 1 Thes. 1:9-10.) They are receiving Christ as if they died on the cross with Him, were subsequently interred with Him, and then rose in power with Him (see Rom. 6-8.)

When The Roll Is Called Up Yonder

When the dead small and great stand before the Lord, who is the righteous judge of the universe, the only credential that will matter is that their name is inscribed in the Lamb’s book of life. One’s name is only found there because they rely on Christ their spotless, sacrificial Lamb “who takes away the sin of the world” (Jn. 1:29.) Human works, reputation, and worldly attainment will avail for nothing in that day. Only life as found in the Lord Jesus will matter. So I close by asking the question that He posed to Martha on the way to raise her brother, Lazarus, from the dead: “Do you believe this?” If you do, cry out to Christ for salvation. If you already have, then praise God that He who is the resurrection and the life holds your life in His hands. He will keep you safe for eternity.

 

Alone But Not Alone

Tuesday, December 7th, 2010

Indeed the hour is coming, yes, has now come, that you will be scattered, each to his own, and will leave Me alone. And yet I am not alone, because the Father is with Me.” John 16:32

Abandonment and loneliness are among the most dreaded human experiences. No one wants to be alone in a time of crisis. Whether it is a neighbor, a relative, or just a good friend, human hearts crave companionship in the midst of difficulties. This innate impulse was not absent from the Lord Jesus, who is “God manifest in the flesh,” yet also a perfect man (1 Tim. 3:16; 1 Tim. 2:5.)

On the night before Christ’s crucifixion, His disciples were perplexed and troubled about His repeated statements that He was about to leave them (e.g. Jn. 14:2; Jn. 16:16.) Their fears focused on their personal situation, not so much on what He would endure. What would life be like without Jesus around to guide and protect them? Given that they had left their old lives to follow Him, this sort of talk naturally disturbed them (Matt. 19:27.) Yet the real horror of the coming day would be experienced by the Master, not His followers. His abandonment by the disciples would merely be the beginning of sorrows for the Suffering Servant (Isa. 53:3.)

In The Hands Of The Rabble

Even when the well-armed mob converged upon Gethsemane to arrest the Lord, the unarmed Savior demonstrated His protecting power by orchestrating the release of His eleven loyal followers. Without threatening or invoking angelic aid, He authoritatively said “Let these go their way”; accordingly the captors permitted the disciples to depart unharmed. This seemed counterproductive to their purposes: why not wipe out Jesus’ closest lieutenants with one blow? Yet in their hatred against the Lord, they were blinded to reason, and obeyed His sovereign wishes.

By the end of His arrest, the disciples all rapidly dispersed. Peter and John returned to follow Christ afar off to Caiaphas’ palace. The tragedy of their physical distance was augmented by Peter’s threefold denial of His Master, which the Lord had predicted (Lk. 22:31-34, 60-62.) While it is true that the Lord also prophesied this disgraced disciple’s restoration, it does not diminish the fact that this departure helped fulfill the Old Testament prophesy concerning Christ: “Reproach has broken my heart, and I am full of heaviness; I looked for someone to take pity, but there was none; and for comforters, but I found none” (Psa. 69:20.)

The Harmonious Working Of Father And Son

In spite of this lack of human comforters, the Lord Jesus pointed out to them that He was actually not alone (Jn. 16:32.) Throughout His life on earth, the Father audibly manifested His presence with His only begotten Son (e.g. Matt. 3:17; Mk. 9:7; Jn. 12:28.) Now in view of Mount Moriah – like the ancient patriarch Abraham and his beloved son – the phrase “the two of them went together” described the Divine Father and Son’s approach to Calvary (Gen. 22:6.) The cross was a work of the triune Godhead: God the Father was the righteous judge, the Son was the Lamb offered up through “the eternal Spirit” (Isa. 53:6; Heb. 9:14.) Though the Son was judged as a sin offering at the cross, He remained the uniquely well-pleasing one to His Father. The comfort of their relationship was only displaced by the wrath of God falling upon Him (Matt. 27:46.) He remained the Son of God’s love throughout His sufferings. His great pain is captured by the imagery of Messianic Psalms like the 22nd and the 69th: “I am poured out like water, and all My bones are out of joint; My heart is like wax; It has melted within Me. My strength is dried up like a potsherd, and My tongue clings to My jaws; You have brought Me to the dust of death” (Psa. 22:14-15) and

Save me, O God! For the waters have come up to my neck. I sink in deep mire, where there is no standing; I have come into deep waters, where the floods overflow me. I am weary with my crying; My throat is dry; My eyes fail while I wait for my God. Those who hate me without a cause are more than the hairs of my head; They are mighty who would destroy me, being my enemies wrongfully; Though I have stolen nothing, I still must restore itLet not the floodwater overflow me, nor let the deep swallow me up; and let not the pit shut its mouth on me. (Psa. 69:1-4, 15.)

The eloquent hymn writer, James G. Deck evocatively pictured the scene in poetry:

Oh solemn hour! that hour alone
In solitary might,
When God the Father’s only Son,
As man for sinners to atone,
Expires — amazing sight!
The Lord of glory crucified!
The Prince of life has bled and died!

O mystery of mysteries!
Of life and death the tree;
Centre of two eternities,
Which look, with rapt, adoring eyes,
Onward and back to Thee.
O cross of Christ, where all His pain
And death is our eternal gain.

Oh, how our inmost hearts do move
While gazing on that cross!
The death of the Incarnate Love!
What shame, what grief, what joy we prove,
That He should die for us!
Our hearts were broken by that cry,
‘Eli, lama sabachthani?’

Worthy of death, O God, we were;
Thy judgment was our due;
In grace Thy spotless Lamb did bear
Himself our sins and guilt and shame;
Justice our surety slew,
With Him our surety we have died,
With Him we there were crucified.i

The Father’s Opinion Of His Son On Display To The Universe

Christ was not irrevocably forsaken, however; instead, the Father demonstrated His pleasure in Him by raising Him from the dead three days later. As Peter later said:

Whom God raised up, having loosed the pains of death, because it was not possible that He should be held by it. For David says concerning Him: ‘I foresaw the Lord always before my face, for He is at my right hand, that I may not be shaken. Therefore my heart rejoiced, and my tongue was glad; Moreover my flesh also will rest in hope. For You will not leave my soul in Hades, Nor will You allow Your Holy One to see corruption. You have made known to me the ways of life; You will make me full of joy in Your presence.’…This Jesus God has raised up, of which we are all witnesses. Therefore being exalted to the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, He poured out this which you now see and hear. ‘For David did not ascend into the heavens, but he says himself: The Lord said to my Lord, ‘Sit at My right hand, Till I make Your enemies Your footstool.’ Therefore let all the house of Israel know assuredly that God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ (Acts 2:24-28, 32-36.)

Other passages confirm that the Father demonstrated His appreciation of His Son by the resurrection (Acts 3:13-15; Rom. 1:4.)

Head Of An Innumerable Company

The stricken One was vindicated by the Father and received into glory, where He never shall be alone (1 Pet. 3:22.)

Then I looked, and I heard the voice of many angels around the throne, the living creatures, and the elders; and the number of them was ten thousand times ten thousand, and thousands of thousands, saying with a loud voice: ‘Worthy is the Lamb who was slain To receive power and riches and wisdom, And strength and honor and glory and blessing!’ And every creature which is in heaven and on the earth and under the earth and such as are in the sea, and all that are in them, I heard saying: ‘Blessing and honor and glory and power Be to Him who sits on the throne, And to the Lamb, forever and ever!’ Then the four living creatures said, ‘Amen!’ And the twenty-four elders fell down and worshiped Him who lives forever and ever (Rev. 5:11-14.)

For all eternity, the redeemed will praise and fellowship with the Lord of glory, who was judged for sin on the cross, and subsequently glorified through resurrection from the dead. For the future ages upon ages the Father and He will be the center of attention (Eph. 1:20-23; Rev. 21:22-24.)

i J.G. Deck, “Oh Solemn Hour, That Hour Alone”; http://www.stempublishing.com/hymns/ss/215

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Death: The Obsolete Relic Of A Fallen World

Thursday, June 3rd, 2010

Therefore do not be ashamed of the testimony of our Lord, nor of me His prisoner, but share with me in the sufferings for the gospel according to the power of God, who has saved us and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works, but according to His own purpose and grace which was given to us in Christ Jesus before time began, but has now been revealed by the appearing of our Savior Jesus Christ, who has abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel.” 2 Timothy 1:8-10[i]

Recently the Japanese conceptual artist known as Arakawa died. What makes this stand out on the obituary page is that his wife Madeline Gins and he were determined not to die. Through extreme avant-garde architecture they planned and sometimes constructed houses that were supposed to enable the occupant to live forever. As one reviewer describes their style: “They build buildings with no doors inside. They place rooms far apart. They put windows near the ceiling or near the floor. Between rooms are sloping, bumpy moonscape-like floors designed to throw occupants off balance. These features, they argue, stimulate the body and mind, thus prolonging life. ‘You become like a baby,’ says Mr. Arakawa.”[ii] Another adds:

Their most recent work, a house on Long Island, had a steeply sloped floor that threatened to send visitors hurtling into its kitchen. Called Bioscleave House (Lifespan Extending Villa), it featured more than three dozen paint colors; level changes meant to induce the sensation of being in two places at once; windows that seemed too high or too low; oddly angled light switches and outlets; and an absence of doors that would have permitted occupants even a modicum of privacy. All of it was meant, the couple explained, to lead its users into a perpetually ‘tentative’ relationship with their surroundings, and thereby keep them young. ‘It has to do with the idea that you’re only as old as you think you are,’ Steven Holl, the Manhattan architect, said of the couple’s work, which he said was deeply rooted in Japanese philosophy.[iii]

Gins herself described the intended effect of this strange domicile: “Comfort is rife with anxiety. Elation comes when you erase that. In Bioscleave House, you are practicing not to die.”[iv] Obviously Arakawa’s death at the age of 73 is a setback to their ideas. His wife noted this fact in one of his obituaries: “Madeline Gins subsequently promised to continue her campaign to prove that ‘ageing can be outlawed’ but resignedly admitted that ‘this mortality thing is bad news’.”[v]

Death Seems To Be Alive And Well

The grim reality of death’s ongoing presence in the world frustrates human science, philosophy, and religion. With all of the innovation in the modern era, no one has been able to render death extinct. What man cannot do, however, the Lord Jesus has already accomplished. As the text at the beginning of this article says: “…who [i.e. Christ] has abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel” (2 Tim. 1:10.) In this verse, “abolished” means “‘to make completely inoperative’ or ‘to put out of use.’”[vi] Another comments: “[katargeo means] ‘to reduce to inactivity’…In this and similar words not loss of being is implied, but loss of well being.”[vii] One might then counter, “But death seems to be active in the world!” In order to understand the Lord Jesus’ triumphant work, the term “death” – as it is used in God’s Word – must be fully understood.

Romans 6:23 famously avers that “…the wages of sin is death…” James 1:15 agrees, saying: “…sin, when it is full-grown, brings forth death.” Its ubiquitous presence on earth stems from the fall of man, when he sinned against God, who is the source of life (Gen 3; Rom. 5:12; Jn. 1:3-4) Sin is choosing one’s own way over the Creator’s way. Its essence is self-deification: affirming that humans can be their own gods. The Bible affirms that all people are afflicted by sin and death, because all descend from Adam, and themselves have in turn sinned over and over again (Rom. 5.) But what is death exactly?

Know Thy Enemy

Death in the Bible refers to separation, and has implications for three main areas:

1. Physical Death – The most common way that contemporary people use the word; it is the separation of soul and spirit from the body. The Scriptures refer to it hundreds of times (e.g. Gen. 5:5.)

2. Spiritual Death – The current separation of human beings from their Maker. God forewarned man that sin would result in instant spiritual death (Gen. 2:17; compare 3:7-10.) Ephesians 2:1 states that we are “Dead in trespasses and sins.” Sin alienates people from the holy God who made them to have a relationship with Himself (Eph. 4:18; Col. 1:21.)

3. Relational Death – The Second Death (Rev. 2:11; 20:6, 14; 21:8.) This is the future eternal separation of the lost, who are physically banished from God’s presence in the lake of fire. The spiritual death spoken of under point #2 is permanently confirmed for eternity.

Christ’s work addresses all three areas of death:

1. His death and resurrection shows that He is more powerful than physical death and the grave cannot withstand Him (Acts 2:24; Jn. 11:25.) He will one day demonstrate His defeat of death by raising “the dead in Christ” and having them live eternally thereafter (1 Thes. 4:13-18; 1 Cor. 15:20-23.)

2. Ephesians 2:4-5 teaches that Christ makes alive those who receive Him by faith. By faith believers are brought into a living relationship with their Creator (Jn. 1:12-13; 17:3.)

3. The overcomer in Christ – that is, one who is born of God by believing that Jesus is the Son of God – is promised deliverance from experiencing the second death (1 Jn. 5:4-5; Rev. 2:11.)

Thus, one can see that He has rendered death ineffective – it is mortally wounded and is destined for extinction.[viii] As W.E. Vine explained it: “For the believer physical death is but the entrance upon a condition in which the spirit enjoys an activity far superior to that experienced here, a life entirely free from all effects of sin. This will be extended to his whole being, when the Lord comes to the air to receive the saints to Himself, death in all its forms having been robbed of its power by Him when He accomplished that for which He became incarnate.”[ix]

The new heavens and new earth will be free of this fearsome and cruel scourge. What is more, His gospel manifests life and immortality. Life is really about knowing God personally and enjoying Him. Therefore, eternal life can begin in this life, and cannot be interrupted even if the Christian dies physically (2 Cor. 5:1-8.) Life in Christ is death-proof, for it is stronger than death and has already debilitated it. Pointing out some of the other uses of “abolish” in the New Testament, John Stott remarks: “It is surely significant that this same verb katargeō is used in the New Testament with reference to the devil and to our fallen nature as well as to death (Heb. 2:14; Rom. 6:6). Neither the devil, nor our fallen nature, nor death has been annihilated. But by the power of Christ the tyranny of each has been broken, so that if we are in Christ we can be set free. Faith in Christ is the answer to man’s quest to avoid death, as well as his struggle to vanquish the Devil and indwelling sin.


[i] Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture verses are cited from The New King James Version. Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1982. The boldfaced emphasis in the quotation is mine.

[ii] Amir Efrati,Couple’s Dreams of Immortality at Death’s Door, Thanks to Madoff.” Wall Street Journal, 3/24/09: http://online.wsj.com/article/SB123785033607519075.html Accessed on 6/3/10.

[iii] Fred A. Bernstein, The New York Times, 5/20/10, Obituary for “Arakawa”: http://www.nytimes.com/2010/05/20/arts/design/20arakawa.html?pagewanted=print; accessed on 6/3/10.

[iv] London Telegraph, 5/23/10, Obituary for Arakawa: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/obituaries/culture-obituaries/art-obituaries/7756801/Arakawa.html Accessed on 6/3/10.

[v] Ibid.

[vi] Gerhard Delling, “Katargeo” in Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, Vol. 3, ed. Gerhard Kittel, Geoffrey W. Bromiley and Gerhard Friedrich, electronic ed. (Logos), 453 (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1964-).

[vii] W. E. Vine, Merrill F. Unger and William White, Vine’s Complete Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words, vol. 2, electronic ed. (Logos) , 3 (Nashville: T. Nelson, 1996).

[viii]John R. W. Stott, Guard the Gospel: The Message of 2 Timothy, (Downers Grove, Ill.: Inter Varsity Press, 1973, electronic ed. [Logos]), pp. 37-38. Emphasis mine.

[ix] W.E. Vine, comment on 2 Tim. 1:10, Collected Writings of W.E. Vine: 2 Timothy (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1997; electronic ed. [Logos]).

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