by John Ritchie
THE passing of a loved one who was "in Christ," from this cold world to the homeland on which the heart had long been set, is an event that we usually associate with sorrow and with loss. To those who remain, who shall see the dear face and hear the familiar voice no longer here, it does and must bring sadness, and cause tears to flow. The living Lord "who knoweth our frame" (Psa. 103: 14), and is tenderly touched with our sorrows, Who Himself wept at the grave in Bethany, does not chide or blame us for such sorrow. But He reminds His people, that they are not to sorrow as those "who have no hope" (1 Thess. 4: 13). And in order that the heart, which has been made tender by the removal of an earthly loved one to the heavenly home, may be set and fixed on "things above," more than it ever has been; He has given us in His Word, the story of where our departed loved ones in Christ have gone, in whose company they now are, and how supremely happy they are in their new condition and surroundings. If He has not told us all that we would like to know, we may rest assured that love has not withheld anything that it saw would be good for us to know in our present state. Beyond what He has revealed, we do not pry, but thankfully receive the Divine testimony as it is recorded in the Holy Book, as to how "well" (2 Kings 4: 26), it is with our loved ones who have gone from our view, and entered on the life beyond the present. The language of the Word is very sweet, and its descriptions very beautiful, of their departure from the present world, their passage to that state upon which they have entered, and their present untold bliss in the presence of the Lord with Whom now they rest. Like the eager emigrant who would catch the first glimpse of that shore towards which his vessel hies, whither loved friends have preceded and now await to welcome him—a land which he has already heard of, but is now about to see, may all who are Christ's, who say and sing—
"Heaven is, my Fatherland,
Heaven is my Home."
be as eager to hear what God has said, and by faith's clear eye to see what God has prepared for His Own, in that unclothed, intermediate, and waiting state, which lies beyond Death and before Resurrection. Vain speculation and idle conjecture must not enter this region, for we can know nothing apart from what God has revealed. But what has been revealed and is recorded in the Word, faith receives and love enjoys, while hope looks onward to the hour when it shall enter on the blessedness of that "far better" condition, or—best of all—that which the personal return of the Lord may bring at any moment—resurrection and reunion in person, body and soul, dead and living, those who are there and we who are here, raised and changed in a moment, all with Christ and with each other.
In order to understand and appreciate aright the future bliss of those who are in Christ, it is needful to hear what the Word has to say of the present blessings which the Gospel brings to all who believe it. Were this but better known and more enjoyed, less doubt and darkness would exist regarding that life beyond the grave.
THE BELIEVER'S PRESENT SALVATION.
When a sinner discovers his need (Job 40: 4), and owns his guilt before God (Rom. 3: 19), the Gospel meets him with the good tidings of forgiveness of sins (Acts 13: 38), justification by grace (Rom. 3: 24), and instant salvation (Eph. 1: 13), through faith in Christ (Acts 16: 31; Rom. 1: 16). On believing, he is at once saved (Eph. 2: 8; he becomes a possessor of eternal life (1 John 5: 13), is accepted in the Beloved (Eph. 1: 6), sealed by the Spirit (Eph. 1: 13), and "in Christ Jesus" (Rom. 8: 1). In the happy assurance of these blessings, he goes forth "a man IN Christ" (2 Cor. 12: 1), to live FOR Christ (Phil. 1: 21), in the blessed prospect of being, WITH Christ (1 Thess. 5: 10). Whether the end of his course on earth be by death, or at the personal return of the Lord, his future is to be "with Him."
To the Christian, death is a conquered foe. For him, it has been stripped of its power (Heb. 2: 14), and has lost its sting (1 Cor. 15: 56). The valley of "the shadow of death" (Psa. 23: 3) is there, but for him, the gloom of death is illuminated, and the fear of the grave is dissipated. Christ has been there before him, and the pathway opened up by Him is left for the pilgrim to pass through "dry shod."
The language of the Word of God is very rich and varied in describing the change. The Apostle Paul, in writing to his beloved Philippians, says, "I have a desire to depart and to be with Christ" (Phil. 1: 23). And when the end was full in view, he wrote, "the time of my DEPARTURE is at hand" (2 Tim. 4: 6). The word he uses has in it the loosing of a cable, the weighing of an anchor, the unmooring of a ship, so that the voyager may set sail for the Home-land. For him, the cold Roman prison, with its coarse soldier warder, was to be left for the radiant presence of the Lord, and the company of the "spirits of the just."
Peter speaks of his "decease" (2 Pet. 1: 15), his exodus, and the word is used by our blessed Lord to describe His Own "outgoing" (Luke 9: 31), from the world. Thus, the saint passes from the place of his strangership to the land of his second birth, the home to which his brethren have one by one passed before him—their true Fatherland above.
"Our friend Lazarus SLEEPETH" (John 11: 11). "Some are fallen ASLEEP" (1 Cor. 15: 6). "Them which SLEEP in Jesus" (1 Thess. 4: 14). The figure of sleep is used to show that the activities of life in the present sphere are ended, that the Christian rests from his toils and his warfare. The word is never used of the soul, nor (as has been falsely said) to teach, that the dead in Christ are unconscious until resurrection. This is far from true. They "rest from their labours" here, but their "unclothed" (2 Cor. 5: 4) spirits now freed from the mortal body, are "with the Lord." We miss their presence with us, for they are "absent from the body," yet because we know they are "very far better," we would not wish them to be here again.
"AT HOME WITH THE LORD" (2 Cor. 5: 8, R.V.).
Yes, "at home." What can be more comforting to the way-worn pilgrim, than to cross the threshold of his long-loved home! And thus it surely will be, when another of the ransomed is joyfully welcomed to the rest and peace of the heavenly home.