Preparing to Depart
Published on Thursday, October 29th, 1908.
C. H. SPURGEON,
At the Metropolitan Tabernacle, Newington
On Lord's-day Evening, October 8th, 1865.
"And it came to pass, as they still went on, and talked, that, behold, there appeared a chariot of fire, and horses of fire, and parted them both asunder; and Elijah went up by a whirlwind into heaven."2 Kings 2:11.
T seems to me that the departure of Elijah from the world, though of course he did not "die" at all, may furnish us with a very good type of the decease of those saints who, although taken away on a sudden, are not without some previous intimation that in such a manner they will be removed. There may be some such here. They may know that they have about them a disease which, in all probability, will terminate fatally and suddenly. Others of us may have no idea at present, that there is prepared for us a sudden death and sudden glory. We would not shrink from such a death if it were the Lord's will that it should be ours. Nay, some of us would gladly reach out our hands, and grasp so happy a mode of departure. It has always seemed to us to be the preferable way of leaving this world, not to be long sick and disabled, a weariness to those who nurse us, and a torment to ourselves, but on a sudden to shut our eyes on earth, and open them on the splendors of heaven. So to die would be, we think, a blessed mode of resting from our labors and entering into the presence of our Lord.
All events at thy command."
Imitate Luther's little bird, that used to sit on the tree, and sing so him. Nobody else could interpret its notes, or tell what it said, but to Luther it sang,
God provideth for the morrow."
Elijah teaches us another thing by which we may prepare for our departure. He said to his friend Elisha, "Ask what I shall do for thee." Quick, then, brother, quick; if you have anything you can do for your friends, do it now. "Whatsoever thy hand findeth to do, do it with thy might." If you do not ask your friends what you shall do, think what you can do for them. Mother, you would like to pray with that dear child of yours; then do it soon, for the hour of your departure is at hand. Friend, you would like to do a kind action to that struggling brother, then do is soon for you my be gone tomorrow. You have thought of something that you would like to do for Christ's cause. Perhaps there is a destitute village where you would like to have the gospel preached, and you want to make some provision for it; then do it soon, do it soon, or the resolve may never be able to ripen into action. How many infants that might have grown up to be spiritual giants, have been strangled by our procrastination! You nurse the little child of resolve, but seldom does it grow into the man of practical action. Get about it, get about, it now! You cannot help your friend when you have once gone up in your chariots of fire, so help him now, and let him tell you what you shall do for him.
Then notice that Elijah and Elisha were talking as they went on, and holding communion with each other. Old Bishop Hall says they must have been talking of some very solemn and heavenly subjects, or else one would have thought that they would have been on their knees praying instead of talking; but he very properly adds, that "sometimes mediation is best and sometimes conversation." So was it in their case. Elijah had a great deal to say to Elisha; he was about to leave the State and the Church in very perilous times, so he talked fast to the man who was to bear the burden and heat of the day, and poured the whole case into his ear; and no doubt Elisha asked him many questions, and was informed by him upon many knotty points, and so "they still went on, and talked." Let our talk always be like their talk, and then it will be well to die talking. "They that feared the Lord spake often one to another: and the Lord hearkened, and heard." Brethren, I say, and I am afraid I may well say it with tears, that much of our conversation would not do for God to hear, and though he does hear it, yet it would not do for him to write a book of remembrance concerning it, for it would be better far that it should be blotted out. Oh! when the last solemn hour shall come, may we be found
Hymning our great Creator's praise;"
or else conversing with our brethren here below, so that we may go from the communion of the Church militant to that of the Church triumphant, and take away our lip from the human ear to begin to speak to ears immortal before the starry throne.
These are the different methods by which we may prepare to die. Some people, when they fancy they are going to die, think the only thing they can do to prepare for death is to send for the parson, "take the sacrament," as they call it, get upstairs, not see anybody, and draw the curtain. The best way for a Christian to die is in harness. If I were a soldier, methinks I would sooner die in battle in the hour of victory than I would die in the trenches doing nothing, rotting in idleness for want of work to do. Let us just push on, and may it be said of us when we are gone, he did
And ceased at once to work and live."
So was it with Elijah; so may it be with us!
II. THIS DEPARTURE OF ELIJAH appears to melee in some measure SYMBOLIC OF THE DEATHS OF BELIEVERS.
It was sudden, though expected. They were talking, and just in the middle of a sentence, perhaps, they were parted. There was no noises, for the wheels of that chariot moved not on earth, but its brightness shone around them. They looked back, and they saw strange steeds, whose eyeballs flashed with flame, and whose necks were clothed with thunder; and behind them was a chariot brighter than the golden car in which the Caesars rode, for it was a car of fire, and Elijall knew it was one of the chariots of God, which are twenty thousand, that he had sent to take his favourite servant up to the ivory palaces, where the King himself dwells. It was sudden; the parting came in a moment; and I suppose that death is usually sudden. Even though persons may be, as we say, long dying, yet the actual moment of departure comes suddenly. The bowl is broken with a crash, and the silver cord is loosed; the chain is snapped, and the eagle mounts to dwell in the sun.
How terrible!a chariot of fire, and horses of fire. Even to a Christian, death is not a soft, dainty being. To die is no child's play. We speak of it, as a sleep; but it is no such sleep as yon youngster's, when he lies down upon the sunny bank to wake again. There are solemnities about it. There are, horses and there are chariots, and so far there is comfort; but they are all of fire, and he that sees them need have Elijah's eyes, or perhaps his own will blink. Elijah had seen fire before; he had called it from heaven upon his enemies; he had brought it down from heaven upon his sacrifice; he had seen fire flashing on him at Horeb, then the whole sky was blight, with sheets of forked flame, but the Lord was not in that fire as he was in this. He who had looked at that former fire, and feared not, could bear to look upon the horses and chariots of fire which God had sent.
Though terrible, how triumphant! Oh, what splendor, to ride to heaven in a chariot! No foot-passenger wading through Jordan's stream, and going up dripping on the other bank to be met by the shining ones. That is bright and glorious. The good dreamer of Bedford Gaol dreamed well when he dreamed that; but this is more triumphant still,to mount the car, and stand erect, and ride up to the throne of God, drawn thither by horses of fire! It is given to but few to have this experience; and yet, what am I saying? Have we not all the like experience? Shall we not all have it when, in the image of Christ Jesus, we shall mount with him to our eternal rest? Yes, he will come again, and all his people with him; and if Jesus shall ride on the white horse of victory, his saints shall ride on white horses too, and shall enter through the gates into the city amidst resounding acclamations. Yes, to die is triumph to the Christian. It seems to me that it was an act of faith, on the part of Elijah, to mount that fiery chariot; and we may say of him as it was said of Enoch, "By faith he was translated that he should not see death; and he was not, for God took him."
Yes, horses of fire and chariots of fire are no bad image of the departure of the blessed when they are called to enter into the joy of their Lord. As for us, we have not got to heaven yet; our turn has not come, though we are ready to say,
Oh that the worst were given!
Come, Lord of hosts, the waves divide,
And land us all in heaven!"
III. But while we remain behind, let us ask, WHAT OUGHT WE TO DO WHO HAVE SEEN ANY DIE LIKE THIS?
If we have lost wife, or husband, or child, or friend, in this sudden way, what ought we to do? You see what Elisha did. First of all, he rent his clothes, which was the Eastern mode of showing his grief. Well, you may weep, for "Jesus wept." Do not think there is any sin in sorrowing over departed friends, for the Lord never denies to us those human feelings which are rather kindly than vicious. Had there been death before the Fall, I could imagine even perfect, Adam weeping at the loss of Eve; nay, he would have been no perfect man if he could have lost his spouse, and not have wept. "Jesus wept;" we regard him all the more as Jesus because he wept; and you could not be like Jesus unless you wept too. The gospel does not make us Stoics; it makes us Christians. Still, you must remember that there is a moderation in grief. The Quaker was right who, when he saw a lady fretting on the sofa some year or so after her husband was dead, still harboring grief without a token of resignation, said to her, "Madam, I see you have not forgiven God yet." Sometimes grief is not a sacred feeling, but only a murmur of rebellion against the Most High.
Yes, you may rend your garments; and if you like, you may do a little more. Elisha not only rent his garments, but be cried "My father, my father, the chariot of Israel, and the horsemen thereof," and in doing this he eulogized his departed friend. He seemed to say, "He has been a father to me; I have lost one who was very tender to me, one who trained me, and watched over me, and fostered me as a father." Oh, speak well of the departed! You need not 'bate your kind words about your dead friends. We speak little enough that is good of one another while we are living; I wish we sometimes said a little more, not by way of flattery, but by way of commendation, which might cheer depressed and burdened spirits; but you need not be afraid of speaking flatteringly, so as to hurt the dead who have gone to glory, for they will not be injured by what you say. If those who have departed were of value to the Church of God, you may say of them, "The chariot of Israel, and the horsemen thereof!" You may wonder who will lead the Church now; you may question how things will go on; who will be the horses to drag the car, or where will now be the Chariot in which weary spirits may be made to ride.
Yes, you may both grieve and eulogize. Weep well and speak well, but then, what next? Do not stand there, and waste your time; do not stop there, and let your eyes see nothing. See, there is something falling. What is it that is dropping from the sky. It is no meteor. Elisiha's eyes are fixed on it; he finds that it is the old mantle that the prophet used to throw about his shoulders, and he picks it up joyfully; and our friends, who have gone from us, have left their mantles too. What are these mantles? Sometimes good men leave their books and sermons1 behind them, but all Christian people leave their good examples. Now, do not stand and weep then you forget the goodness of the departed, but go and take their mantles up. Were they earnest? Be you earnest. Were they humble? Be you humble. Were they prayerful? Be you prayerful; and so, in each case, shall you wear their mantle. They have left their example for you to follow; they are not gone that you may superstitiously reverence them, but they have departed that you may earnestly imitate them. As far as they followed Christ, do you follow them, and so wear their mantle.
And when you have got their mantle, do not waste precious time in lamentations about them any more; get to your business. There is a river in your way; what then? Well, go to the Jordan as the prophet Elisha did, and try to pass it. Say not, "Where is Elijah?" but "Where is the Lord God of Elijah?" Elijah is gone, but his God is not; Elijah has gone away, but Jehovah is present, still. Now then, Christians, you have to take up the work of the departed; take it up in the strength of the same God who made them mighty, and strive to do the same works that they did. If they divided Jordan, do you divide Jordan. You have their example to show you how to do it, and their God is "the same yesterday, and to-day, and for ever."
Ask ye now, "Where did Elisha go after he had divided Jordan?" Did he go to seek out Elijah
Some boundless contiguity of shade;
Where rumor of"
bereavements and of death might never reach him more? Not he! He went straight away to the place where Elijah used to be the head of the college, and there took up Elijah's work. Were I a soldier, with courage for the armor of any mind, and valor for the enterprise of my life, a soldier of that class which Baxter describes as carrying their lives in their hands, and the grace of God in their hearts, then surely, when I saw a man just in front of me fall, I should step forward, and take his place. That is what you should do. If there is a good man dead, fill up the gap. If there is a saint departed, be you, as it were, "baptized for the dead." Seek to have the blessing of God upon you, so that you may have a double portion of his spirit, and may be able to take the place in the ranks, or the council, which he who is gone has vacated. Your business is not in the closet of mourning, but in the field of service. There is work to be done yet; there is work to so done yet; up, and do it! That was a brave thing in Richard Cobden's life, at the time when his whole soul was taken up with the subject of free trade, and the breaking of the chains of commerce, the young wife of his friend, John Blight, died, and God went to him, and said, "Now, Bright, you have lost your wife, and we will heal your sorrow by fighting the nation's battle;" and the thing was indeed well and bravely done. So, if you have lost a dear friend, heal your sorrow by giving yourself more earnestly than ever to God's cause, and to the propagation of "the truth as it is in Jesus." There is nothing like activity, nothing like having the hands full, to keep the heart bright, and to keep the soul happy. You are dullards, you who have nothing to do: you fret and fume, and rebel, instead of fighting for you Lord; but if you would only go up "to the help of the Lord against the mighty," and would bear his burdens, he would help you to bear yours, and the sorrow that now seems as a knife in your bones would be as a spur to your activity. "I vowed," said one, "that I would be avenged on death for all the damage that he had done to me, and so I smote him right and left with the fiery sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God; I preached the immortality that there is in Christ Jesus, and so I was avenged of death, and felt that I had conquered him." So do you; go and serve your Master still, and though Elija may depart, yet you shall fill up his place, and God's horsemen and chariots shall not be wanting.
And now, dear friends, in parting for the night, it is meet for us to say, "Farewell for this night, then we meet again in the morning." But, sometimes, this parting may be very significant, and therefore let us say, "Farewell," with the thought that some of us may never look each other in the face again. I hope we can truly say, "Farewell!" and then we shall meet in the morning, when the night is over, and the death-dews drop no more, when the chill frost of midnight shall all have been melted away by the rising sun of immortality. Yes, we will meet; we shall meet to part no more. We will make an appointment now, to meet each other then, where our hearts, in faith, have often met before, at the throne of him who has washed us in his blood, and made us white, and so,FAREWELL TILL THE MORNING!
But what of some of you? You can make no such appointment to meet us there, for your way is not thitherwardnot with horses of fire to heaven, but with chariots of flame down to hell,down, down, down for ever into the depths of grief! We dare not say that we will meet you there. If you will go there, you must go alone; if you will perish, you must perish by yourself. If you will live and die without a Savior, you cannot expect your friends to accompany you to that dreary world of woe. But why goest thou, why goest thou, O solitary traveler, where thou wouldst not have thy fellow go? Thou wouldst not see thy child damned,let me say the word with solemn awethou wouldst not see thy child damned, wouldst thou? Then why shouldst thou so damned thyself? "But must it so!" say you. No, sinner, there is no "must" for that. There hangs my Master, the crucified redeemer, and if thou lookest to him, there will be another "must" for thee, namely, that thou must be saved. The road to heaven is by the cross of Calvary. Christ Jesus marks the way to glory by the crimson blood-drops which flowed from his pierced hands and feet. Trust Jesus; trust him wholly; trust him now; trust him for ever; and then we will meet, we will meet, again in the morning, and so,GOOD NIGHT!
Verse 1. Truly
Or, as it is in the margin, "Only"
1. My soul waiteth upon God: from him cometh my salvation.
It is a blessed thing to wait truly and only upon God. You have proved everything else to be a failure, and now you hang upon the bare arm of God alone. There is certainly enough for you to depend upon there. Most people want something to see, something tangible to the senses, to be the object of their confidence; but David says, "Only my soul waiteth upon God: from him cometh my salvation." It is already on the road; it is coming now; it is a salvation from present trouble and from present temptation. A complete salvation is on the road for all those whose souls are waiting only upon God.
2. He only is my rock and my salvation;2 he is my defense; I shall not be greatly moved.
"Though I have no other shelter, yet," says he, "God, but God alone, is my rook fortress. Though I have no other deliverer he is my salvation, and though thousands seek to do me hurt, and none will stand up for me, yet he is my shield and my defense." Then he adds, "'I shall not be greatly moved.' I shall be like a well-anchored ship; I may suffer some tossing, but I cannot drift far away, my grace holds me fast."
How long will ye imagine mischief against a man? ye shall be slain all of you: as a bowing wall shall ye be, and as a tottering fence.
See how he laughs at his enemies. He tells them they are like a wall that came over, bulges out, and shakes and totters, with a push, it will go over. "You think that you will destroy me," says he, "but you will yourselves be destroyed."
4. They only consult to cast him down from his excellency: they delight in lies: they bless with their mouth, but they curse inwardly. Selah.
It is a sure proof that they delight in lies because they are guilty of telling them. They can speak soft oily words all the while that they are harboring curses in their hearts. God save us from having a tongue that talks in a different way from that in which our heart feels! But those that delight in lies are never better pleased than when they can find a man of God upon whom they can spit their venom; and of all cruel things slander is the worst, and it deserves the worst punishment. Well did the psalmist ask, "What shall be given unto thee? or what shall be done unto thee, thou false tongue? Sharp arrows of the mighty, with coals of juniper." Such punishment as that a slanderer's tongue well deserves to feel.
5. My soul, wait thou only upon God;3 for my expectation is from him. First he said that his salvation came from the Lord, and now he says that his exultation comes from him. All that he needs, and all that he wishes for, he gets from his God. "Let my foes slander me," he seems to say, "but, O my soul, do thou wait upon God! Let their tongues keep on inventing their diabolical falsehoods; but, O my soul, take thou no notice of them! Sit thou down at Jehovah's feet, and patiently wait then he shall bring forth thy righteousness as the light, and thy judgment as the noonday.'"
6. He only is my rock and my salvation: he is my defense; I shall not be moved.
Notice how David's faith grows. In verse 2, he says, "I shall not be greatly moved;" but now he says, "I shall not be moved at all." What strength faith gives to a man, and what strength prayer gives to a man! We may begin our supplication tremblingly, but as we draw near to God we become confident in him, and filled with holy boldness.
7, 8. In God is my salvation and my glory: the rock of my strength, and my refuge, is in God. Trust in him at all times;
I cannot tell what "times" you may be passing through just now, yet I can repeat David's exhortation, "Trust in him at all times." In your darkest hours, in the most terrible times that you ever have, when all seems lost, when the dearest object of your heart's love is taken from you, or when you yourself are coming to the swellings of Jordan, still trust in the Lord: "Trust in him at all times;"
8. Ye people, pour out your heart before him:
That is the way to get rid of all your troubles; take your heart, and turn it upside down, and pour out all that is in it. Do not save a drop or a drag: try not to hide one secret sorrow from your God, nor one slight grief that nestles in a corner of your spirit. "Pour out your heart before him." It will not be wise for you to pour it out before your fellows, for they will misunderstand you and misrepresent you; but "pour out your heart before him:"
8, 9. God is a refuge for us. Selah. Surely men of low degree are vanity,
There is nothing in them; they are only the very essence of vanity.
9. And men of high degree
must surely be better. No, they are even worse: "Men of high degree"
9. Are a lie:
Their presence of being better because they are of high degree is mere presence. Well but, if we mix them up, and get some poor men and some rich ones, some peasants and some peers, can we not make something solid out of this mixture? Oh, no!
9. To be laid in the balance, they are altogether lighter than vanity.
The men of low degree alone were vanity, but when the men of high degree were put with them, they became lighter than vanity; so that there seems to be a propensity in the men of high degree to make those that are of low degree even lighter than they are by nature; and whether men are high or low, if we trust in them, we shall be deceived. He who tries to base his happiness upon the good opinion of his neighbors, he whose happiness depends upon human esteem, builds not on sand, but on mere breath, which is no more solid than the bubble that our children blow.
10. Trust not in oppression,
An ungodly man says, "Well, if I cannot trust in others, I will trust in myself; my own stout arm shall win me the victory, and I will tread others down beneath my feet." "I will get money," says another; "somehow or other, I will get money." To both of these, David says, "Trust not in oppression,"
10. And become not vain in robbery: if riches increase, set not your heart upon them.
If you do, they will either fly away from your heart, or else they will fly away with your heart, which would be the greater evil of the two, for, when riches carry a man's heart away from God, his greatest gains are his heaviest losses. He is poor indeed who prizes his gold more than his God.
11. God hath spoken once; twice have I heard this; that power belongeth unto God.
Where ought we to put our confidence? Why, where true power is. If there were any power elsewhere, we might put a measure of confidence elsewhere; but when twice the heavenly message declares that power belongs to God, our wisdom will be shown in putting an our trust in God.
12. Also unto thee, O Lord, belongeth mercy:
Almighty power would be terrible if it were separated from infinite mercy; but it is not so.
12. For thou renderest to every man according to his work.
Thou givest him enough strength with which to do his work. Thou dost not send him to do a work beyond his power, and leave him to fail; but unto all thy children thy mercy brings thy power to help in every time of need. Thy faithful promise is, "As thy days, so shall thy strength be. Come, my brothers and sisters in Christ, let us be of the same mind as David was when he wrote the first verse of this Psalm, and let each one of us say, "Truly my soul waiteth upon God: from him cometh my salvation."