Delivered on Sabbath Morning, August 16, 1857, by
"For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain."Philippians 1:21.
OW OMINOUSLY these words follow each other in the text"live," "die." There is but a comma between them, and surely as it is in the words so is it in reality. How brief the distance between life and death! In fact there is none. Life is but death's vestibule, and our pilgrimage on earth is but a journey to the grave. The pulse that preserves our being beats our death march, and the blood which circulates our life is floating it onward to the deeps of death. To-day we see our friends in health, to-morrow we hear of their decease. We clasped the hand of the strong man but yesterday, and to-day we close his eyes. We rode in the chariot of comfort but an hour ago, and in a few more hours the last black chariot must convey us to the home of all living. Oh, how closely allied is death to life! The lamb teat sporteth in the field must soon feel the knife. The ox that loweth in the pasture is fattening for the slaughter. Trees do but grow that they may be felled. Yea, and greater things than these feel death. Empires rise and flourish, they flourish but to decay, they rise to fall. How often do we take up the volume of history, and read of the rise and fall of empires. We hear of the coronation and the death of kings. Death is the black servant who rides behind the chariot of life. See life! and death is close behind it. Death reacheth far throughout this world, and hath stamped all terrestrial things with the broad arrow of the grave. Stars die mayhap; it is said that conflagrations have been seen far off in the distant ether, and astronomers have marked the funerals of worlds, the decay of those mighty orbs that we had imagined set for ever in sockets of silver to glisten as the lamps of eternity. But blessed be God, there is one place where death is not life's brother, where life reigns alone; "to live," is not the first syllable which is to be followed by the next, "to die." There is a land where deathknells are never tolled, where winding-sheets are never woven, where graves are never digged. Blest land beyond the skies! To reach it we must die. But if after death we obtain a glorious immortality, our text is indeed true: "To die is gain."
All my goods and all my hours,
All I have, and all I am.'
Take me, Lord, and take me for ever." These are the men who make our missionaries; these are the women to make our nurses for the sick, these are they that would dare death for Christ; these are they who would give of their substance to his cause; these are they who would spend and be spent, who would bear ignominy, and scorn, and shame if they could but advance their Master's interest. How many of this sort have I here this morning? Might I not count many of these benches before I could find a score? Many there are who do in a measure carry out this principle; but who among us is there (I am sure he standeth not here in this pulpit) that can dare to say he hath lived wholly for Christ, as the apostle did? And yet, till there be more Pauls, and more men dedicated to Christ, we shall never see God's kingdom come, nor shall we hope to see his will done on earth, even as it is in heaven.
Now, this is the true life of a Christian, its source, its sustenance, its fashion, and its end, all gathered up in one word, Christ Jesus; and, I must add, its happiness, and its glory, is all in Christ. But I must detain you no longer.
II. I must go to the second point, THE DEATH OF THE CHRISTIAN. Alas, alas, that the good should die; alas, that the righteous should fall! Death, why dost thou not hew the deadly upas? Why dost thou not mow the hemlock? Why dost thou touch the tree beneath whose spreading branches weariness hath rest? Why dost thou touch the flower whose perfume hath made glad the earth? Death, why dost thou snatch away the excellent of the earth, in whom is all our delight? If thou wouldest use thine axe, use it upon the cumber-grounds, the trees that draw nourishment, but afford no fruit; thou mightest be thanked then. But why wilt thou cut down the cedars, why wilt thou fell the goodly trees of Lebanon? O Death, why dost thou not spare the church? Why must the pulpit be hung in black; why must the missionary station be filled with weeping? Why must the pious family lose its priest, and the house its head? O Death, what art thou at? touch not earth's holy things; thy hands are not fit to pollute the Israel of God. Why dost thou put thine hand upon the hearts of the elect? Oh stay thou, stay thou; spare the righteous, Death, and take the bad! But no, it must not be; death comes and smites the goodliest of us all; the most generous, the most prayerful, the most holy, the most devoted must die. Weep, weep, weep, O church, for thou hast lost thy martyrs; weep, O church, for thou hast lost thy confessors, thy holy men are fallen. Howl, fir tree, for the cedar hath fallen, the godly fail, and the righteous are cut off. But stay awhile; I hear another voice. Say ye thus unto the daughter of Judah, spare thy weeping. Say ye thus unto the Lord's flock, Cease, cease thy sorrow thy martyrs are dead, but they are glorified; thy ministers are gone, but they have ascended up to thy Father, and to their Father, thy brethren are buried in the grave, but the archangel's trumpet shall awake them, and their spirits are ever now with God.
Hear ye the words of the text, by way of consolation, "To die is gain." Not such gain as thou wishest for, thou son of the miser, not such gain as thou art hunting for, thou man of covetousness and self-love; a higher and a better gain is that which death brings to a Christian.
My dear friends, when I discoursed upon the former part of the verse, it was all plain. No proof was needed; ye believed it, for you saw it clearly. "To live is Christ," hath no paradox in it. But "To die is gain," is one of the Gospel riddles which only the Christian can truly understand. To die is not gain if I look upon the merely visible, to die is loss, it is not gain. Hath not the dead man lost his wealth? though he had piles of riches, can he take anything with him? Hath it not been said, "Naked came I out of my mother's womb, and naked shall I return thither." "Dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return." And which of all thy goods, canst thou take with thee? The man had a fair estate and a goodly mansion; he hath lost that. He can no more tread those painted halls, nor walk those verdant lawns. He had abundance of fame and honor; he hath lost that, so far as his own sense of it is concerned, though still the harp string trembles at his name. He has lost his wealth, and buried though he may be in a costly tomb, yet is he as poor as the beggar who looked upon him in the street in envy. That is not gain, it is loss and he hath lost his friends: he hath left behind him a sorrowing wife and children, fatherless, without his guardian care; he hath lost the friend of his bosom, the companion of his youth. Friends are there to weep over him, but they cannot cross the river with him; they drop a few tears into his tomb, but with him they must not and cannot go. And hath he not lost all his learning, though he hath toiled ever so much to fill his brain with knowledge? What is he now above the servile slave, though he hath acquired all knowledge of earthly things? Is it not said,
Alike unknowing and unknown?"
Surely death is loss. Hath he not lost the songs of the sanctuary and the prayers of the righteous? Hath he not lost the solemn assembly, and the great gathering of the people? No more shall the promise enchant his ear, no more shall the glad tidings of the gospel wake his soul to melody. He sleeps in the dust, the Sabbath-bell tolls not for him, the sacramental emblems are spread upon the table, but not for him. He hath gone to his grave, he knoweth not that which shall be after him. There is neither work nor device in the grave, whither we all are hastening. Surely death is loss. When I look upon thee, thou clay-cold corpse, and see thee just preparing to be the palace of corruption and the carnival for worms, I cannot think that thou hast gained. When I see that thine eye hath lost light, and thy lip hath lost its speech, and thine ears have lost hearing, and thy feet have lost motion, and thy heart hath lost its joy, and they that look out of the windows are darkened, the grinders have failed, and no sounds of tabret and of harp wake up thy joys, O clay-cold corpse, than hast lost, lost immeasurably. And yet my text tells me it is not so. It says, "To die is gain." It looks as if it could not be thus, and certainly it is not, so far as I can see. But put to your eye the telescope of faith, take that magic glass which pierces through the veil that parts us from the unseen. Anoint your eyes with eyesalve, and make them so bright that they can pierce the ether and see the unknown worlds. Come, bathe yourself in this sea of light, and live in holy revelation and belief, and then look, and oh how changed the scene! Here is the corpse, but there the spirit; here is the clay, but there the soul, here is the carcase, but there the seraph. He is supremely blest; his death is gain. Come now, what did he lose? I will show that in everything he lost, he gained far more. He lost his friends, did he? His wife, and his children, his brethren in church fellowship, are all lea to weep his loss. Yes, he lost them, but, my brethren what did he gain? He gained more friends than e'er he lost. He had lost many in his lifetime, but he meets them all again. Parents, brethren and sisters who had died in youth or age, and passed the stream before him, all salute him on the further brink. There the mother meets her infant, there the father meets his children, there the venerable patriarch greets his family to the third and fourth generation, there brother clasps brother to his arms, and husband meets with wife, no more to be married or given in marriage, but to live together, like the angels of God. Some of us have more friends in heaven than in earth. We have more dear relations in glory, than we have here. It is not so with all of us, but with some it is so; more have crossed the stream than are left behind. But if it be not so, yet what friends we have to meet us there! Oh, I reckon on the day of death if it were for the mere hope of seeing the bright spirits that are now before the throne; to clasp the hand of Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob, to look into the face of Paul the apostle, and grasp the hand of Peter; to sit in flowery fields with Moses and David, to bask in the sunlight of bliss with John and Magdalene. Oh how blest! The company of poor imperfect saints on earth is good; but how much better the society of the redeemed. Death is no loss to us by way of friends. We leave a few, a little band below, and say to them, "Fear not little flock," and we ascend and meet the armies of the living God, the hosts of his redeemed. "To die is gain." Poor corpse! thou hast lost thy friends on earth; nay, bright spirit, thou hast received a hundred fold in heaven.
What else did we say he lost? We said he lost all his estate, all his substance and his wealth. Ay, but he has gained infinitely more. Though he were rich as Cr■sus, yet he might well give up his wealth for that which he hath attained. Were his fingers bright with pearls, and hath he lost their brilliancy? The pearly gases of heaven glisten brighter far. Had he gold in his storehouse? Mark ye, the streets of heaven are paved with gold, and he is richer far. The mansions of the redeemed are far brighter dwelling places than the mansions of the richest here below. But it is not so with many of you. You are not rich, you are poor. What can you lose by death? You are poor here, you shall be rich there. Here you suffer toil, there you shall rest for ever. Here you earn your bread by the sweat of your brow but there, no toil Here wearily you cast yourself upon your bed at the week's end, and sigh for the Sabbath, but there Sabbaths have no end. Here you go to the house of God, but you are distracted with worldly cares and thoughts of suffering; but there, there are no groans to mingle with the songs that warble from immortal tongues, Death will be gain to you in point of riches and substance.
And as for the means of grace which we leave behind, what are they when compared with what we shall have hereafter? Oh, might I die at this hour, I think I would say something like this, "Farewell Sabbaths,I am going to the eternal Sabbath of the redeemed. Farewell minister; I shall need no candle, neither light of the sun, when the Lord God shall give me light, and be my life for ever and ever. Farewell ye songs and sonnets of the blessed; farewell, I shall not need your melodious burst; I shall hear the eternal and unceasing hallelujahs of the beatified. Farewell, ye prayers of God's people; my spirit shall hear for ever the intercessions of my Lord, and join with the noble army of martyrs in crying, 'O Lord, how long?' Farewell, O Zion! Farewell, house of my love, home of my life! Farewell, ye temples where God's people sing and pray; farewell, ye tents of Jacob, where they daily burn their offering!-I am going to a better Zion than you, to a brighter Jerusalem, to a temple that hath foundations, whose builder and maker is God!" O my dear friends, in the thought of these things, do we not, some of us, feel as if we could die!
With those that went before,
And greet the blood-besprinkled bands
Upon th' eternal shore.
One army of the living God,
We have not come to the margin yet, but we shall be there soon: we soon expect to die.
And again, one more thought. We said that when men died they lost their knowledge, we correct ourselves. Oh, no, when the righteous die they know infinitely more than they could have known on earth.
All I desired or wished below;
And every power find sweet employ,
In that eternal world of joy."
"Here we see through a glass darkly, but there face to face." There, what "eye hath not seen nor ear heard" shall be fully manifest to us. There, riddles shall be unravelled, mysteries made plain, dark texts enlightened, hard providences made to appear wise. The meanest soul in heaven knows more of God than the greatest saint on earth. The greatest saint on earth may have it said of him, "Nevertheless he that is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he." Not our mightiest divines understand so much of theology as the lambs of the flock of glory. Not the greatest master-minds of earth understand the millionth part of the mighty meanings which have been discovered by souls emancipated from clay. Yes, brethren, "To die is gain." Take away, take away that hearse, remove that shroud; come, put white plumes upon the horse's heads and let gilded trappings hang around them. There, take away that fife, that shrill sounding music of the death march. Lend me the trumpet and the drum. O hallelujah, hallelujah, hallelujah; why weep we the saints to heaven; why need we lament? They are not dead, they are gone before. Stop, stop that mourning, refrain thy tears, clap your hands, clap your hands.
Have done with care and sin and woe;
And with their Saviour rest."
What! weep! weep! for heads that are crowned with coronals of heaven? Weep, weep for hands that grasp the harps of gold? What, weep for eyes that see the Redeemer? What, weep for hearts that are washed from sin, and are throbbing with eternal bliss! What, weep for men that are in the Saviour's bosom?-No, weep for yourselves, that you are here. Weep that the mandate has not come which bids you to die. Weep that you must tarry. But weep not for them. I see them turning back on you with loving wonder, and they exclaim, "Why weepest thou?" What, weep for poverty that it is clothed in riches? What, weep for sickness, that it hath inherited eternal health? What, weep for shame, that it is glorified; and weep for sinful mortality, that it hath become immaculate? Oh, weep not, but rejoice. "If ye knew what it was that I have said unto you, and whither I have gone, ye would rejoice with a joy that no man should take from you." "To die is gain." Ah, this makes the Christian long to diemakes him say,
O Lord of Hosts, the wave divide,
And land us all in heaven!"
And now, friends, does this belong to you all? Can you claim an interest in it? Are you living to Christ? Does Christ live in you? For if not, your death will not be gain. Are you a believer in the Saviour? Has your heart been renewed, and your conscience washed in the blood of Jesus? If not, my bearer, I weep for thee. I will save my tears for lost friends; there, with this handkerchief I'd staunch mine eyes for ever for my best beloved that shall die, if those tears could save you. O, when you die, what a day! If the world were hung in sackcloth, it could not express the grief that you would feel. You die. O death! O death! how hideous art thou to men that are not in Christ! And yet, my hearer, thou shalt soon die. Save me thy bed of shrieks, thy look of gall, thy words of bitterness! Oh that thou couldst be saved the dread hereafter! Oh! the wrath to come! the wrath to come! the wrath to come! who is he that can preach of it? Horrors strike the guilty soul! It quivereth upon the verge of death; no, on the verge of hell. It looketh over, clutching hard to life, and it heareth there the sullen groans, the hollow moans, and shrieks of tortured ghosts, which come up from the pit that is bottomless, and it clutcheth firmly to life, clasps the physician, and bids him hold, lest he should fall into the pit that burneth. And the spirit looketh down and seeth all the fiends of everlasting punishments, and back it recoileth. But die it must. It would barter all it hath to coin an hour; but no, the fiend hath got its grip, and down it must plunge. And who can tell the hideous shriek of a lost soul? It cannot reach heaven; but if it could, it might well be dreamed that it would suspend the melodies of angels, might make even God's redeemed weep, if they could hear the wailings of a damned soul. Ah! you men and women, ye have wept; but if you die unregenerate, there will be no weeping like that, there will be no shriek like that, no wail like that. May God spare us from ever hearing it or uttering it ourselves! Oh, how the grim caverns of Hades startle, and how the darkness of night is frighted, when the wail of a lost soul comes up from the ascending flames, whilst it is descending in the pit. "Turn ye, turn ye; why will ye die, O house of Israel?" Christ is preached to you. "This is a faithful saying, and worthy of all acceptation, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners." Believe on him and live, ye guilty, vile, perishing; believe and live. But this knowif ye reject my message, and depise my Master, in that day when he shall judge the world in righteousness by that man, Jesus Christ, I must be a swift witness against you. I have told youtat your soul's peril reject it. Receive my message, and you are saved; reject ittake the responsibility on your own head. Behold, my skirts are clear of your blood. If ye be damned, it is not for want of warning. Oh God grant, ye may not perish.