This is God’s own inscription for the gravestones of departed believers. It is not a human composition instanced by admiration or by flattery. It is an epitaph from heaven, set down by the pen of inspiration at the command of the Divine voice. Hence, it tells nothing but the truth.
How cheering its message! It announces the transformation of a curse into a blessing; it publishes the thrilling information that there is life beyond the tombs; it opens an entrance into life in the very avenue of death; it brings heaven, as it were, into the room where the stroke of the king of terrors is so painfully seen and felt.
Of course, our tears flow naturally when the monarch of the grave lays his hands on one of our loved ones. Who can look without shuddering at the motionless, speechless, lifeless form? Not even the Christian is stranger to these emotions. These feelings are not unlawful so long as they do not rise into complaining, or sink into despondency. The Christian’s heart is strung like the heart of others. Death is always an enemy, to the believer as well as to the unbeliever.
Yet, there is a difference; and the key to the understanding of the difference lies in the text of this meditation: “Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord…” While this text probably has primary reference to the early Christian martyrs who sealed their testimony with their own blood, the uniform teaching of Holy Writ permits us to apply these words to the condition of everyone in every age who has already received or who shall yet receive that eternal life which is the “free gift of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 6:23).
Dying in the Lord
“Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord.” To die in the Lord indicates, for one thing, attachment to the Lord, union with the Lord. This union is not our accomplishment. It is not a fruit of our labors or a reward for our merit. It is a work of grace secured to us by our Savior’s death on the cross, and by his subsequent resurrection and ascension.
The Lord is the “first and the last, the Living one” (Rev. 1:17,18). He was dead, but now is alive for evermore, and he has the keys of death and of Hades. He is the resurrection and the life. To die in him is to enter, in fuller measure and experience, upon the life that is in him.
Once we have been brought into living fellowship with him, we are never abandoned by him. Hence, blessed are they who die in the Lord.
They Rest From Their Labors
The original signifies rest from toils and struggles. Christian discipleship, by whatever number of years it may be measured, is a warfare that knows little interruption, a battle against numerous enemies, a race in the running of which every weight and every besetting’ sin must be put aside, a course that must be followed with exertion and perseverance, a vigilance that lays the heaviest demands upon us.
There is little in such a life to attract the unbeliever. Indeed, there is little the unbeliever can under· stand. Such a life is an offense to him. We waste time when we try to make Christianity pleasing to the natural mind. “The world knoweth us not” (I John 3:1).
Their Works Follow With Them
These works actually have been performed. They are not imaginary. They are works of faith and labors of love. By them the believer is distinguished in his earthly walk. They mark him as a child of God. He is not a child of God because of his works, but because he is a child of God he works. Faith cannot work an atonement, but faith in the atonement does work.
No life is more responsible than that of the Christian. A solemn office has been committed to him. He serves the Lord! He walks in holiness as a child of light! With the heart he believes unto righteousness. There can be no more solemn trust than this, for “the grace of God hath appeared, bringing salvation to all men, instructing us, to the intent that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly and righteously and godly in this present world; looking for the blessed hope and appearing of the glory of the great God and our Savior Jesus Christ; who gave himself for us, that he might redeem us from all iniquity, and purify unto himself a people for his own possession, zealous of good works” (Titus 2:11–14).
Peculiar people! Indeed we are! Zealous of good works! It must never be otherwise.
Let it be said again that Christians are to be distinguished by their good works–by their efforts for the extension of God’s Kingdom, by the sternness of their morals, by their unbending resistance to the follies and vices of the world that lies in wickedness, by their scrupulous preference for truth and principle to material interest, by their meekness in bearing injustice without personal retaliation, by their diligence in business, their uprightness in conduct, their forbearances and benevolence.
However imperfect the quality and performance of these works of praise, of usefulness and of love, the character of which they are an exhibition is the character to whom alone the kingdom of Heaven is promised and secured. Nor shall these works be forgotten at the resurrection of the just. “Their works follow with them.”
Blessed Are They
These dead are blessed now! Banish the thought that they sleep in unconsciousness between death and the resurrection! They are more alive now than ever before. Blessedly alive! George Eliot’s fanciful phrase about “living again in lives made better by our presence” is refuted by the voice from heaven.
Perish also the fiction that there is an intermediate state of purgatorial suffering through which God’s children must pass before they enter heavenly Zion. To depart and to be with Christ is very far better, the apostle declares (Philippians 1:23). Where is purgatory here? Where is purgatory when our Lord says to the thief on the cross, “Today shalt thou be with me in Paradise” (Luke 23:43) ?
Why, then, give way to immoderate sorrow when our dear ones are taken from us by the Lord whom they loved? Rather let us rejoice in the assured faith that dying in the Lord they are with the Lord. Perhaps they are not so far from us as we may think they are. For if the LORD is with us, and if they are with him, they cannot be far from us.
God help us to be solicitous through faith and patience to inherit those promises into the fuller possession of which they have entered before us.