A Prospect of Heaven!
By Thomas Case
"I do not want you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning those who have fallen asleep, lest you sorrow as others who have no hope. For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so God will bring with Him those who sleep in Jesus. For this we say to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive and remain until the coming of the Lord will by no means precede those who are asleep. For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of an archangel, and with the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And thus we shall always be with the Lord. Therefore comfort one another with these words." 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18
What words are these!
Herein does the apostle, by the dictate of the Holy Spirit, lay down a model or platform of consolatory arguments—as so many sovereign antidotes against immoderate sorrow for our godly relations which are departed; and with these words the apostle would have Christians to comfort themselves and one another: "Therefore comfort one another with these words!"
I will improve these:
1st, for Comfort;
2nd, for Counsel.
The words of comfort laid down by the apostle in this model may be reduced to ten heads, some of them very comprehensive, and all of them exceedingly cordial and consoling.
1st. The first word of comfort is this, namely, that our gracious relations, over whose departure we stand mourning and weeping, are but fallen asleep: "I would not have you ignorant, brethren, concerning those who are asleep." We may say of departed saints, as our Savior said concerning the damsel (Matthew 9.24), they are not dead, but sleep; and as he spoke of Lazarus, "Our friend Lazarus sleeps." (John 11.11.)
That which we call death—is not death, indeed, to the saints of God; it is but the image of death, its shadow and metaphor, death's younger brother, a mere sleep, and no more. There are two main properties of death which carry in them a lively resemblance of sleep:
1st, That sleep is nothing else but the binding up of the senses for a little time—a locking up of the doors and shutting the windows of the body for a season, so that nature may take the sweeter rest, being forced from all disturbance and distractions; sleep is but a mere parenthesis to the labors and travails of this present life.
2nd, Sleep is but a partial privation of the act of reason—not of the habit of reason. Those who sleep in the night do awake again in the morning; then the soul returns to the discharge of all her offices again, in the internal faculties to the act of judging, and discourse in the intellect; to recall things for the present and record things for future use in the memory; to its empire and command in the will; to its judicature in the conscience; so also the soul returns to the execution of her functions in the external senses—to seeing, hearing, tasting; to working with the hands, walking, and the rest. In a word, the whole man is restored again to itself, as it were, by a new creation. That which lay as senseless and useless all the night, is raised again more fresh and active in the morning!
Such as this is what we commonly call death, but with this considerable advantage—that in the interim of death the soul acts more vigorously than before, as being released from the weights and entanglements of the body.
First, it is but a longer and closer binding up of the senses, nature's long vacation. The grave is a bed wherein the body is laid to rest, with its curtains drawn close about it, that it may not be disturbed in its repose—so the Holy Spirit pleases to phrase it: "He shall enter into peace, they shall rest on their beds, each one walking in his uprightness." (Isaiah 57.2.)
Death is nothing else but a writ of ease to the poor weary servants of Christ—a total cessation from all their labor of nature, sin, and affliction: "Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord, that they may rest from then labors," etc. (Rev. 14.13.) While the souls of the saints rest in Abraham's bosom, their bodies sweetly rest in their beds of dust, as in a safe and consecrated dormitory. Their death is but a sleep.
Secondly. Then again, as they who sleep in the night awake in the morning, so shall the saints of God do! This heaviness may endure for a night (this night of mortality), but joy comes in the morning; in the morning of the resurrection they shall awake again. (Psalm 17.15.) It will not be an everlasting night, an endless sleep; but as surely as we awake in the morning, when we have slept comfortably all night—so surely shall the saints then awake, and shall stand upon their feet, and we shall behold them again with exceeding joy.
Oh, blessed morning! How should we long and wait for that morning, more than those who watch for the dawning of the day!
Let this teach us to moderate our sorrow over departed Christian friends. Do we sigh and lament when any of the family are gone to bed before us, in the evening? Do we cry out, "Woe and alas! My father is fallen asleep, my mother is gone to rest, my sweet child, the delight of my eyes, has closed his eyes, the curtains are drawn about him?" Do we, I say, afflict ourselves in this case? No, surely not. Why, then, do we so here? The case is the same, only if the night is a little longer, the morning will be infinitely more joyous, making us more abundant compensation for our patience and expectation.
We call also the absence of our friends by a wrong name. We say, "My father is dead, my mother is dead, my Isaac is dead." Dead! The letter kills. Death is the most terrible of all terrible things—the very name of it strikes a chilliness and coldness into our hearts. Let us, then, call things as God calls them, and use the notions God has suggested to us. Let us say, "My gracious parent is at rest," and behold, the terror of death will cease.
If God has clothed this horrid thing, death, with softer notions for our comfort—then let not the consolations of the Almighty be a small thing with us. O, what comfortable lives might we live, had we but the right apprehension of things, and faith to realize them! Our friends are not dead, but asleep. "Comfort one another with these words."
2nd. The next consolatory argument is, the hopeful condition of our sleeping gracious relations. Blessed be God, we are not without hope of their happiness, even while they thus sleep.
There are, indeed, those who die, and neither carry away any hope with them, nor leave any hope behind them, to their surviving relations—but "the righteous has hope in his death." (Proverbs 14.32.) When our gracious relations die (we must use the word sometimes), there is hope; they are infinite gainers by their death. Sometimes they die full of hope. (Job 19.25-27.)
Thus, holy Paul: "Now we know that if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, an eternal house in heaven, not built by human hands. Meanwhile we groan, longing to be clothed with our heavenly dwelling, because when we are clothed, we will not be found naked. For while we are in this tent, we groan and are burdened, because we do not wish to be unclothed but to be clothed with our heavenly dwelling, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life." (2 Corinthians 5:1-4)
Glorious triumph! Again we find him in his own name, and in the name of other his brethren and companions in tribulation, and in the kingdom and patience of Jesus Christ, marching out of the field of this world in a victorious manner, with colors flying, and drums beating; and thus exulting over death as a conqueror: "Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting? The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ!" (1 Corinthians 15.55-57.)
O, the superabundant consolation of the heirs of promise! And if the departure of any of the saints of God is under a cloud, so that they are not able to express their own hopes—yet they leave behind them solid scripture evidences of their interest in God's everlasting electing love, and of their effectual calling out of the world into the kingdom and fellowship of his clear Son Jesus Christ, our Lord. (Galatians 5.22, 23.) Such evidences as:
their poverty of spirit;
their holy mourning for their sins;
their hungering and thirsting after righteousness;
their purity of heart, visible in the holiness of their lives;
their peaceable and peace-making dispositions;
their patient bearing of the cross;
their keeping the precepts of the word of God;
their superlative love to Christ;
their cordial love to the saints;
their contempt of the world;
their desire for Christ's appearance;
in a word, their conformity to Christ, their Head.
The remembrance of these graces of the Spirit may well administer abundant matter of hope and rejoicing to surviving friends—that those relations who are fallen asleep were a people whom God has set apart for himself, precious in his sight, honorable, and beloved of him; a people formed for himself, to show forth his praise, and made fit to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in light.
They who bury their relations and their hopes together in one grave, have just cause for mourning. But with you who, upon these Scripture evidences, have good hope concerning your deceased friends, it is otherwise. You know that while you are mourning on earth—they are rejoicing in Heaven; that while you are clothed in black—they are arrayed in white, even in the long white robe of Christ's righteousness; that while you are mourning—they are sitting with Christ upon his throne. Do not then, I beseech you, profane your scriptural hope with an unscriptural mourning; give not the world occasion to judge either yourselves to be living without faith, or your relations to have died without hope. Let your Christian moderation be known to all men, that it may be a visible testimony to all the world of God's grace in them, and of your hopes of their glory with God. Therefore comfort one another with this word also.