This is Not Death; This is Victory
Marvellous words these, indeed, to come from the lips of a dying mortal, now on the verge of eternity! But I heard, and can never forget them. Soon after sunrise on a glorious Lord’s Day morning in July 1874, I was hastily summoned to the bedside of a middle-aged lady I had been attending for a short while. Floods of golden light illumined the chamber where she lay, and a glance at her face told me she was rapidly sinking, and that the swoon, on account of which I had been urgently sent for, was the harbinger of her departure now near at hand. Scanning my face earnestly as I lightly touched her wrist, where no pulse could be felt, she eagerly said: “Doctor, am I dying? Don’t be afraid to tell me. You know I am quite ready, so you may tell me the truth fearlessly.”
I knew how tenderly and truly she loved her husband and her five children, all standing round her bed, and how she, the devoted and ever-thoughtful wife and mother, was beloved by them, and so felt what a wrench it would be to part from each other, but, at such a moment, it was better that all should know the truth, so I quietly rejoined: “Yes, my dear friend, I think you have come nearly to the end of life’s journey here. Your pilgrimage is over, and you will soon be at home with the Lord.”
“Do you really mean that?” was her quick reply, as a smile of deep joy, and a flush of glad surprise lit up her handsome face.
“I do indeed, I think before the sun has gone to his rest today, you will have gone to yours for ever.”
“Oh, that’s glorious! Do you mean that today I shall be absent from the body, and present with the Lord?”
“Yes, that is just what I mean.”
“Then I shall see Jesus today, my precious Lord and Saviour. Oh, what good news!” and she clasped her hands with emphasis, while in her heart she turned to the Lord in accents of praise. Then fixing her eyes on her husband, she exclaimed, “J—, did you hear what the doctor has been saying? He says I am going to see Jesus today, that before the sun sets I shall be for ever with Him, in all the rest and glory His precious blood has secured for me. Is not that glad tidings? I feel much at leaving you, and all the dear children, but you will all meet me again in heaven I know. You will be there I know, my love, and”—now turning to the children respectively, and calling each endearingly by name, she added—“you will be there, won’t you—and you—and you—and you—and you, my youngest? Yes, you must all meet me there.”
Weeping profusely, as they all were, she bid them weep not for her, as she added: “Think of this, the doctor says I am to see Jesus today. Yes, today I am to see Him, and be with Him for ever.”
She paused a moment or two, and then turning to me abruptly exclaimed: “Doctor, you told me I was dying. That is a mistake. THIS IS NOT DEATH; THIS IS VICTORY!”
And so indeed it was—a complete fulfilment of the blessed Lord’s words, “Verily, verily, I say unto you, If a man keep my saying, he shall never see death” (John 8:51). She said much more in the same strain, and continued rejoicing in the Lord, and in the thought of that day seeing Him, till soon afternoon, when she joyously passed into His blessed presence.
Such a scene could never be forgotten by an eye-witness. And what was this, my unconverted reader? Do you tell me it was the ebullition of an excitable nature? Well, that may be your way of reading it, but let me ask you, Do you fancy you are likely to have a similar ebullition on your deathbed? Do you think that to be told you would die this day, shortly after you have dropped this paper, would fill you with joy? Nothing of the kind. You know better. The one thing you are afraid of is death. Why? Because “after this the judgment.” Yes, you know that death and judgment are before you, and they are too distasteful, direful, awful things for an unsaved sinner to meet. I don’t wonder you dislike funerals and would not care to be alone in a room, or a house, with a corpse. I don’t blame you for fearing death, but it just shows, my friend, where you really are, as to your soul’s state. You know not the fruit and effect of Christ’s death.
The difference between the end of a believer, and an unbeliever is immeasurable. To the one of whom I have written, death was not death, it was “victory” most truly. Now to you, my unsaved reader, death would be an awful calamity. To you it would mean defeat and eternal damnation, for the meaning of God’s word, “It is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment,” may be expressed in two words—two terrible words—death, and damnation. No man that gets into judgment can escape damnation. When God judges, He will do so in righteousness without one whit of grace. Now He is speaking in grace, which reigns through righteousness, and the believing sinner is gifted with eternal life as the fruit of Christ’s death.
It is wonderful to think that the death of Jesus, when He is confided in, really delivers the believer from the necessity—I say not the possibility—of death. Let me quote in full the verses in Hebrews 9 already alluded to: “And as it is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment; so Christ was once offered to bear the sins of many; and unto them that look for him shall he appear the second time, without sin, unto salvation” (Heb. 9:27-28). Ponder, my dear reader, the “as” and the “so” in these scriptures. “As” what? “As it is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment,” i.e., that to die and bear God’s judgment of sin is the lot of man by nature. “So” what? “So Christ was once offered to bear the sins of many”—i.e., that Christ has taken on the cross these two consequences of sin—death and judgment. What is the result? The believer is delivered from the common lot of man. The believer in Christ is connected and identified with Christ, who is on the resurrection—the heavenly side—of death and judgment, and, inasmuch as Scripture says, “As he is, so are we, in this world,” the believer knows now that he has death and judgment behind him at the cross, instead of before him.
It was the knowledge of this that made my sick friend so joyous in the hour of her departure. She thought not of death and judgment, but of Christ and glory, and could truly and happily say, “This is not death, this is victory.” She knew the emancipating effect of “the gospel according to the power of God, who hath saved us, and called us with an holy calling, not according to our works, but according to his own purpose and grace, which was given us in Christ before the world began; but is now made manifest by the appearing of our Saviour Jesus Christ, who hath abolished (annulled) death, and hath brought life and immortality (incorruptibility) to light through the gospel” (2 Tim. 1:9-10). She knew why Jesus became a man—viz., that He might die and deliver others, as it is written, “Forasmuch then as the children are partakers of flesh and blood, he also himself took part of the same; that through death he might destroy him that had the power of death, that is the devil; and deliver them who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage” (Heb. 2:14-15).
What a Saviour! what a salvation! what a victory! The devil destroyed, and death annulled; the believer delivered, and brought to know that Christ is his life before God. What could fill the heart that knows this but peace and joy? Well may we triumphantly inquire, “O death, where is thy sting?” It is buried in the bosom of Christ, and we, who believe, shall never taste it or feel it. “O grave, where is thy victory?” It has no reply. Christ has lain in its cold depths, broken its bonds, burst its barriers, and now shares His victory with all His own, so we may well shout, “Thanks be to God, which giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.” Happy am I to be able to sing—
“Death and judgment are behind me,
Grace and glory are before;
All the billows rolled o’er Jesus,
There exhausted all their power.”
Reader, which is before you, death or victory?
The Gospel Messenger 1886, p. 57