A Funeral Sermon for Mr. Christopher Love on the following Sabbath-Day after he was executed.
By Mr. Edmund Calamy at Aidermanbury London, August 24, 1651.
Four excellent Doctrines, and Propositions—to be practiced and meditated upon both Morning and Evening.
"Our friend Lazarus sleeps." John 11:11
"Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his saints." Psalm 116:15
"And when he had said this, he fell asleep." Acts 7:60
These words contain in them, the happy closure and upshot of Stephen's life, wherein we have 3 particulars.
1. The person that fell asleep.
2. The speech that he made, when he fell asleep.
3. What he did when he had finished his speech.
1. We have the person that fell asleep, and that was Stephen: He was a man full of faith, and full of the Holy Spirit, as you may see in Acts 6.5. He was the first Martyr that ever suffered for the cause of Christ; hence I might gather this Doctrine, namely,
Observation: That the best of men are subject to violent and unnatural deaths. Stephen, who was full of the Holy Spirit, was stoned to death. John the Baptist, who was full of the Holy Spirit from the very womb, was beheaded. Peter was crucified, and so was Andrew. Isaiah was sawed in half. Jeremiah was stoned. Zachariah was slain between the Temple and the Altar. But I shall pass by this.
2. The second part of the text, is the speech that Stephen made when he fell asleep, that is, when he had finished his prayer, he fell asleep. Hence observe,
Observation: That it is an excellent way to close up our lives with prayer. To die praying, is a most Christian way of dying. They stoned Stephen while he was calling upon God. After this manner Christ died, he prayed: "Father into your hands I commend my spirit" and having thus said, he died. This he did that it might be a pattern to all Christians. Prayer is a necessary duty at all times, but especially when we are a dying; and that for these three reasons.
1. Because when we are to die, we have most need of God's help—for then the Devil is most busy, and we most weak.
2. Because when we are to die, we are to beg the greatest blessing of God, that is, that he would receive us into his heavenly Kingdom. Now prayer is the chief means to obtain this mercy, for it is the Gate of Heaven, a Key to let us in Paradise. Therefore we have great reason to die praying.
3. Because when a saint of God is dying, he is then to take his last farewell of prayer. In Heaven there is no praying, but all thanksgiving. There is no need in Heaven, therefore no prayer in Heaven. Now a saint of God, being to take his leave of prayer, when he is to die—therefore it is fit he should die praying. I beseech you remember this pattern in the text, Stephen died calling upon the Lord. Let us die praying, for it behooves a Christian to die praying.
Question: But what was the substance of Stephens prayer?
Answer. He prayed for himself, and he prayed for his persecutors.
1. He prayed for himself, "Lord Jesus receive my spirit!"
2. He prayed for his persecutors, "Lord lay not this sin to their charge!" I will not enter upon this part of the text, for it would swallow up all my time. Therefore I shall waive it, and come to the third part, which is that, that (by God's assistance) I purpose to speak unto, namely,
3. What Stephen did, when he had finished his prayer, "When he had this said, he fell asleep," that is, he died.
Behold here the magnanimity, the piety, and the Christian courage of Stephen. The people were stoning him, and gnashing their teeth upon him; and the good man dies with as much quietness of mind, as if he had died in his bed: He fell asleep, while they were stoning him. While he died he prayed; and while he prayed he died.
But what made Stephen die thus quietly? Read the 55 verse, and you shall see the reason of it. Being full of the Holy Spirit, he looked up steadfastly into Heaven, and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. Behold (says he) I see the Heavens opened, and the Son of man standing at the right hand of God, ready to receive his soul—and that made him die with such an extraordinary quietness of mind.
Death in Scripture, especially the death of God's Children, is often compared to a sleep. It is said of David, That he slept with his fathers. And it is said, 1 Thessalonians 4.13, I would not have you ignorant concerning those who are asleep; that is, concerning those who are dead. And 1 Corinthians 11.30. For this cause many are weakly and sick among you, and many sleep—that is, many die.
This expression is a metaphorical expression, and will afford us many rare and precious instructions about death. And therefore (the grace of God assisting me) I desire to spend the rest of the time in the opening of this metaphor.
The observation is this: That when a child of God dies, though his death is ever so unnatural and violent—yet it is nothing else but a falling asleep. Or, The death of a child of God, though stoned to death, though burnt to ashes, though it be ever so violent and unnatural, is nothing else but a falling asleep. When he had said this, he fell asleep.
Sleep is the image of death. There are many notable resemblances between sleep and death, some of which I shall speak unto at this time.
1. Sleep is common to all men; there is no man can live without sleep. So it is true of death, Death is common to all: it is appointed for all men once to die. And therefore David said, He was to go the way of all flesh. All men must sleep the sleep
of death, or else be changed, which is a metaphorical death.
2. Death came into the world by Adam's eating the forbidden fruit, and by the poisonful vapor of sin, which brought death upon him and all his posterity. By one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin—and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned, Romans 5.12. Had Adam never sinned, Adam would never have died: But in that day you eat the forbidden fruit, you shall die the death!
Sin brings all kinds of death; it brings death temporal, spiritual death, and eternal death. Now because all men are poisoned with the poison of sin—therefore all men must sleep the sleep of death! It is sin which has poisoned all mankind!
3. As a man when he goes to sleep puts off his clothes, and goes naked into bed. So it is with us when we come to die; we came naked into the world, and we must go naked out of the world. As we brought nothing with us into the world, so we must carry nothing with us out of the world. Therefore death in Scripture is called nothing else, but an unclothing of ourselves, 2 Corinthians 5.4. Death to a child of God, is nothing else but the putting off his clothes. The body of man is the souls clothing—and death is nothing else but the unclothing of the soul. It is just like a man going to bed, and putting off his cloths. Peter calls it, "The putting off our earthly tabernacle.". Our bodies are the souls tabernacle, and death is the putting off of this tabernacle.
Beloved, when we come to die, we shall be stripped naked of three things:
1. We shall be stripped naked of all our worldly honor, riches and greatness.
2. We shall be stripped naked of our bodies.
3. Which is above all, we shall be stripped naked of our sins. And that is the happiness of a child of God—he shall put off, not only his mortal body, but the body of sin.
4. In the fourth place observe: No man knows the time when he falls asleep—a man falls asleep before he is aware. So no man can tell the certain time when he must die. There is nothing so certain as that we must die—yet nothing so uncertain as the time when we shall die! Death comes suddenly, even as sleep comes upon a man before he is aware.
5. Observe, as children and infants, because they do not know the benefit of sleep, are very reluctant to go to sleep—many times the mother must force the child to bed. Even so it is with most of God's people, because they do not study the benefit of death: That death puts an end to all our miseries and sins, and opens a door to let us in unto everlasting happiness, and that we shall never see God or Christ before we die. I say, because God's people do not study the benefit of death, therefore they are like to little children, reluctant to die, reluctant to go to bed. And therefore death is called The King of terrors. Death is terrible to many of God's children, because they are but infants in grace, and because they do not know the benefit of death.
6. Observe: When a man is fast asleep, he is free from cares, and troubles. Let it thunder—yet a man that is fast asleep, while he is asleep he hears it not. Let the house be on fire, while the man is asleep, he sees it not, neither is he troubled at it.
So it is with the death of God's children, when God's children sleep the sleep of death:
they are free from the thunder of this world,
they are free from all cares, from all troubles,
they go to their grave as to their beds, and rest in quietness, and are not sensible of any troubles that are in the world. When a child of God sleeps the sleep of death, he does not feel, nor is he sensible of any of the calamities or sad providences of God upon the earth.
When a man goes to sleep, he goes to sleep but for a certain time; in the morning he awakes out of sleep. So it is with the sleep of death; and therefore death is called a sleep, because we must all awake in the morning of the resurrection. We are in the grave, as in our beds; and when the trumpet of God, and the voice of the Archangel shall sound, we shall all rise out of our
grave, as out of our beds! Death is but a sleep for a certain time.
8. Sleep is a great refreshing to those who are weary and sick; and when the sick man awakes, he is more lively and cheerful then he was when he fell asleep; and therefore sleep is called "The great physician of the sick body, the rejuvenator of man's strength; the reviver of the weary body."
And so it is with death. When God's people awake out of the sleep of death, they shall be made more active for God then ever they were before. When you lie down in the grave, you lie down with mortal bodies: It is sown a mortal body, but it shall rise up an immortal body. It is sown in dishonor, but it shall rise up in honor. It is sown a natural body, but it shall rise up a spiritual body.
9. As in the morning, when we arise out of our beds, we then put on our clothes. So in the morning of the resurrection, we shall put on a glorious body, like to the glorious body of Jesus Christ, we shall put on the garment of immortality.
10. No man when he lays him down to sleep, knows the direct time when he shall awake. So no man can tell when the resurrection shall be. They do but deceive you, who say, that the general resurrection shall be such or such a year; for, as no man can know the minute when he shall awake out of his natural sleep—no more can any man know when we shall arise from the sleep of death.
11. It is a very easy thing to awake a man out of sleep, it is but jogging of him and you will quickly awake him.
12. As when a man arises in the morning, though he has slept many hours; may, suppose he could sleep 20 years together—yet notwithstanding, when he awakes, these 20 years will seem to be but as one hour unto him. So it will be at the day of Judgment. All those who are in their graves, when they awake, it will be but as the sleep of an hour unto them.
13. Lastly, and most especially: Sleep seizes only upon the body, and the outward senses, but does not seize upon the soul—the soul of man is many times most busy when the man is asleep. And God has heretofore revealed most glorious things to his children in dreams, when they have been asleep. God appeared unto Abraham and many others in dreams—the body sleeps, but the soul is awake.
So it is with the sleep of death—the body dies, but the soul does not die. There are some who teach that the soul sleeps as well as the body, and that when the body dies and falls asleep, the soul likewise continues in a dull lethargy—neither capable of joy nor sorrow, until the resurrection.
Beloved, This is a very troublesome and a very false doctrine. They endeavor to prove it from my text, they say that Stephen when he died, fell asleep. It is true in regard of his body, he fell asleep, but his soul did not fall asleep. That which was stoned fell asleep, which was his body only; for when he was being stoned, he saw Jesus Christ standing ready to receive his soul into Heaven: Lord Jesus, says he, receive my Spirit. Stephen's soul could not be stoned, though his body was stoned.
So when Jesus Christ was crucified, his soul was not crucified. I mean, when his body was killed, his soul was not killed. Indeed he did endure torments in his soul, which made him cry out: "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" But yet his soul did not die.
So when Stephen died, his soul went to Christ.
It is true, when a child of God dies—that the soul goes to sleep? How is that? The soul goes to sleep in a Scripture-sense, that is, it goes to rest in Abrahams bosom (O blessed sleep); it goes to rest in the embraces of God, it goes into the arms of its Redeemer, it goes to the heavenly Paradise, it goes to be always present with the Lord.
But take heed of that wicked opinion, to say that the soul sleeps in a strange kind of lethargy, neither dead, nor alive; neither capable of joy nor sorrow, until the resurrection. Though Stephen's body fell asleep—yet his soul did not fall asleep, but immediately went unto Jesus Christ in Heaven.
Thus I have given the EXPLANATION of the words.
Now give me permission to make some APPLICATION of all unto ourselves.
Use 1.If the death of God's children is nothing else but a falling asleep, then let this comfort us against the deaths of our godly friends, though they die unnatural and violent deaths, though they are stoned to death, though they are burnt to ashes, though they are sawn asunder, etc.
Here is a message of rich consolation, which as a minister of Christ I hold out unto you this day: that the death of a child of God, let it be after whatever manner it will, it is nothing else but a falling asleep; he goes to his grave, as to his bed; and therefore our burying places are called our sleeping-houses. A child of God when he dies—he lies down in peace, and enters into his rest.
As a man, when he is asleep, is free from all the cares and troubles he has in the day time—so the people of God, when they are fallen asleep, they are free from all the miseries and calamities, crosses, losses and afflictions that we are troubled with. Therefore I say to you, as Christ did to the women who followed him to the Cross, bewailing and lamenting of him: "O daughters of Jerusalem, weep not for me, but weep for yourselves, and for your children." So say I, "O weep not for those who are dead in the Lord, who have fallen asleep in Jesus Christ. They are at their rests, they do not know the troubles that we are troubled with. They are not sensible of our miseries and afflictions. Let us weep for ourselves, and for the miseries which are coming upon us. Let us know, that when God's children die, they do but lie in their beds until the morning of the resurrection, and then they shall put on the garment of immortality, and their bodies shall be made like unto the glorious body of Jesus Christ!"
And know one thing more, which is all in all, namely: That when the body of a child of God falls asleep—his soul immediately goes into the arms of Christ, and there lives forever in the embraces of Jesus Christ. Though the body falls asleep—yet the soul is received into Abraham's bosom. I beseech you to comfort one another with these words.
Use 2.Let me beseech the people of God, that they would look upon death, not as it is presented unto us in nature's looking-glass, but as it is set down in a Scripture-dress. Nature presents death in a very terrible manner—and it is true, death is very terrible to a man outside of Christ. But to you who are in Christ, the sting of death is taken away—and death is nothing else but a quiet and placid sleep, putting off our clothes, and a going to bed until we awake in the morning of the resurrection.
Death to a child of God is nothing else but a putting off his earthly tabernacle.
It is but a going from an earthly prison—into an heavenly palace, a hoisting up sail for Heaven.
Death is the letting of the soul out of prison, as a bird out of the cage, that it may flee to Heaven.
Death is change from a temporary Hell, to an eternal Heaven.
Death is not the death of the man, but the death of his sins.
It is the end of the pilgrim's journey—and the seaman's haven.
Death is being absent from the body, and being present with the Lord.
Let all God's people look upon death through Scripture spectacles, and consider it as it is sweetly represented in this text! A child of God should be as willing to die as to put off his clothes—because death is nothing else to him but a sleep
Death is a departure from earth's misery—to the everlasting happiness of Heaven!
To beseech you all every night when you go to bed, to remember this text, and especially to remember these four things.
First, When you are putting off your clothes, remember that you must shortly put off your bodies.
Secondly, When you go into your beds, remember that it will not be long before you must go down into your graves.
Thirdly, When you close your eyes to sleep, remember that it will not be long before death must close your eyes.
Fourthly, When you awake in the morning, remember that at the resurrection you must all arise out of the grave, and that the just shall arise to everlasting happiness, but the wicked to everlasting misery!
It is a saying of a heathen man, that the whole life of a man should be nothing else but a meditation of death. And it is the saying of Moses, Deuteronomy 3.29 "O that men were wise that they understood this, that they would consider their latter end!" Beloved, it is the greatest part of wisdom every day to remember out latter end! That man is the only wise man, and happy man in life and death, who is ever mindful of his death.
But before I make an end, I must answer one question: Whether the death of the wicked be not in Scripture compared to a sleep, as well as the death of the godly?
I answer, that wicked men in Scripture are said to fall asleep when they die. It is said of idolatrous Jeroboam, that he slept with his Fathers. Of Baasha and Omri, those wicked Kings, that they slept with their Fathers.
But then the Question will be: In what respect is the death of the wicked compared to a sleep?
Answer. Even as a man which is asleep, sometimes has no benefit, rest, or ease thereby; when the sick man awakes he is many times more sick then he was before he went to sleep. Some men are much disquieted in their sleeps by hideous and fearful dreams. Nebuchadnezzar when he was asleep, had a most scaring dream, and when he awoke, he was amazed therewith.
So it is with a wicked man. Death to a wicked man is a sleep, but it is a terrifying sleep. His soul goes immediately to Hell, where it is burned with fire which never shall be quenched, and where the worm that never dies is always gnawing upon it.
The body, that indeed lies in the grave asleep—but how? Even as a malefactor who sleeps in prison the night before he is executed, but when he awakes he is hurried and dragged to execution. So the wicked man falls asleep in death; but when he awakes, he awakes to everlasting damnation.
But a child of God, when he sleeps the sleep of death, he sleeps in his Fathers house; and when he awakes, he awakes to everlasting happiness.
Use 4.And this makes way for the fourth and last Use, which is a Use of very great consequence. And it is to beseech you all, that you would labor so to live, that when you fall asleep, you may sleep a happy sleep.
There is the sleep that the wicked man sleeps when he dies—and there is the sleep that the godly man sleeps when he dies. Now I beseech you, labor so to live, that when you fall asleep, your sleep may be a happy sleep unto you, that when you awake in the morning of the resurrection, it may be an awakening unto you.
But then the great question will be, How shall I do this?
I shall give you four or five helps for this.
1. If you would sleep a happy sleep at death, then you must labor to sleep in Jesus Christ. It is said, 1 Corinthians 15.18. Then those who are fallen asleep in Christ. And 1 Thessalonians 4.14. If we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so those who sleep in Jesus, will God bring with him.
What is it to sleep in Jesus? To sleep in Jesus is to die in the faith of Jesus Christ.
To sleep in Jesus, is to die with a saving interest in Jesus Christ, to die as a member of Christ united to him as our head. For you must know, that the dust of a saint is part of that man who is a member of Jesus Christ, and every believer when he sleeps in the dust, he sleeps in Jesus Christ—that is, he lies in the grave and his dust is part of Christ mystical, and Christ as a head will raise it up, and cannot be complete without it.
Now then, if ever you would sleep a happy sleep, labor to get a real interest in Christ, labor to live in Christ while you live. And then when you fall asleep, you shall be sure to sleep in Jesus.
There are many who would have Christ to receive their souls at death, and who say with dying Stephen: Lord Jesus receive my spirit! But if ever you would have Christ to receive your souls when you die, you must be sure to receive him into your souls while you live. If ever you would have him to receive you into Heaven, you must receive him into your hearts. No man makes a will, but he says: I bequeath my soul unto Jesus Christ my Redeemer.
But how do you know that Jesus Christ will accept of this Legacy? If your soul has not Christ's image upon it, if it is not regenerated and renewed—then Jesus Christ will never own it. You may bequeath it unto Christ—but the Devil will claim it, if your soul has the Devil's image upon it. If it is a swinish, polluted, unbelieving, unregenerate soul, you may bestow it upon God, but the Devil will recover it out of God's hands; pardon this expression, it is not mine, but Augustine's.
Beloved, if ever you would reign with Christ when you die—he must reign in you while you live. And if ever you would sleep a happy sleep, you must live in Jesus that you may sleep in Jesus.
In the second place, if ever you would sleep a happy death, then you must take heed of overcharging yourselves with worldly cares. A man who is full of cares cannot sleep; therefore when men would sleep, they lay all their cares under the pillow. O take heed of overmuch carking.
Thirdly, If ever you would sleep a happy sleep when you die, you must take heed of sucking too much of the pleasures of this life. A man who eats a full supper, will sleep very disturbed; therefore those who sleep quietly, eat but light suppers; for when a man's heart is over charged, it takes away his sweet sleep from him.
So if ever you would sleep a happy sleep, when you come to die, O take heed of sucking too much of the pleasures of this life! Take heed of eating too large a meal of worldly delights, and of creature comforts—these worldly pleasures will make the sleep of death unquiet unto you.
Oh let no Delilah's lap, deprive you of Abrahams bosom. Remember that David by Bathsheba's embraces, lost the embraces of God; I mean, the sense of the embraces of God, the joy and comfort of them.
Fourthly, If ever you would sleep a happy sleep in death, then labor to work out your salvation with fear and trembling. Oh how delightful is sleep to a weary man? When a man has taken pains all the day, as the traveler who has traveled all the day, or the ploughman who has been at work all the day—then how quietly, how soundly does he sleep in the night.
O Beloved! If ever you would sleep a happy sleep at death, then labor to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, and give all diligence to make your Calling and Election sure. The more you labor for Heaven the better—the sweeter will your sleep be when you come to die.
And remember that as much sleeping in the daytime, will hinder a mans sleep at night—so you who idle away the time of your providing for Heaven in this your day, you who sleep away the minute upon which eternity does depend—Oh, you will take a sad sleep when death seizes upon you! Take heed therefore of sleeping while you live—that so your sleep in the night of death may be comfortable to you.
Lastly, If ever you would sleep a happy sleep when you die—then take heed of the sleep of sin. Sin in Scripture is compared to a sleep: Awake you who sleep; that is, you who sin. Sin is such a sleep, as brings the sleep of eternal death. Sin brings the first death, and sin brings the second death. All miseries whatever, are the daughters of sin.
If you would sleep a happy sleep, and have a happy awakening at the Resurrection, then take heed of the sleep of sin. "Awake you who sleep, arise from the dead, and Jesus Christ shall give you life!"
I pray you mark this text well, for it was the text which converted Augustine, "And do this, understanding the present time. The hour has come for you to wake up from your slumber, because our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed. The night is nearly over; the day is almost here. So let us put aside the deeds of darkness and put on the armor of light. Let us behave decently, as in the daytime, not in orgies and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and debauchery, not in dissension and jealousy. Rather, clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ, and do not think about how to gratify the desires of the sinful nature." Romans 13:11-14.