The following is a sermon written and delivered by the eminent Scottish Presbyterian minister, Robert Murray M’Cheyne, to his congregation is Dundee, Scotland. Dated ‘summer of 1840’.
It is wonderful comfort to the bereaved and sorrowful who have witnessed loss and pain in the death of a friend or relative who lived in the Lord.
“Blessed are the dead which die in the Lord from henceforth: Yea, saith the Spirit, that they may rest from their labours; and their works do follow them.”—Revelation 14:13.
THERE are two remarkable things in the manner in which those words are given to us.
I. They are the words of the Father echoed back by the Spirit.—“I heard a voice from heaven.” “Yea, saith the Spirit.” John’s eye had been riveted upon the wondrous sight mentioned in verse 1. A Lamb stood on Mount Zion, and one hundred and forty-four thousand redeemed ones following Him whithersoever He goeth, when suddenly a still small voice broke upon his ear, saying, “Write, Blessed are the dead;” and then the Holy Spirit breathed, Amen. “Yea, saith the Spirit.”
It is written in the law that the testimony of two witnesses is true. Now, here are two witnesses,—the Father of all, and the Holy Spirit the Comforter, both testifying that it is a happy thing to die in the Lord. Is there any of you, God’s children, who tremble at the thought of dying? Does death appear a monster with a dreadful dart, ready to destroy you? Here are two sweet and blessed witnesses who declare that death has lost his sting—that the grave has lost its victory. Listen, and the frown will disappear from the brow of death,—the valley will be filled with light; the Father and the Holy Spirit both unite in saying, “Blessed are the dead.”
II. “Write.”—Whatever is written down is more durable, and less liable to be corrupted, than that which is only spoken from mouth to mouth. For this reason, God gave the Israelites the Ten Commandments, written with his own finger on two tables of stone. For the same reason, He commanded them, on the day they passed over Jordan, to set up great stones, and plaster them with plaster, and write upon them all the words of that law. For the same reason, God commanded his servants the prophets to write their prophecies, and the apostles to write their gospels and epistles, so that we have a permanent Bible instead of floating tradition. For this reason did Job wish his words to be written. “Oh that my words were written! Oh that they were printed in a book! That they were graven with an iron pen and with lead in the rock for ever! I know that my Redeemer liveth,” Job 19:25. It was one of his precious, ever memorable sayings,—a saying to comfort the heart of a drooping believer in the darkest hour,—“I know that my Redeemer liveth.” For the same reason did the voice from heaven say, “Write,”—do not hear it only, but write it—print it in a book—grave it with an iron pen—with lead in the rock for ever.
“Blessed are the dead.” Learn the value of this saying. It is a golden saying —there is gold in every syllable of it. It is sweeter than honey and the honeycomb,—more precious than gold, yea, much fine gold. It is precious in the eyes of God. Write it deep in your hearts; it will solemnize your life, and will keep you from being led away by its vain show. It will make the syren songs of this world inconvenient and out of tune; it will sweetly soothe you in the hour of adversity; it will rob death of its sting, and the grave of its victory. Write, write deep on your heart, “Blessed are the dead which die in the Lord.”
Now, consider the words themselves.
(1) “Blessed are the dead.”—The world say, Blessed are the living; but God says, Blessed are the dead. The world judge of things by sense—as they outwardly appear to men; God judges of things by what they really are in themselves—He looks at things in their real colour and magnitude. The world says, “Better is a living dog than a dead lion.” The world look upon some of their families, coming out like a fresh blooming flower in the morning,—their cheeks covered with the bloom of health, their step bounding with the elasticity of youth,—riches and luxuries at their command,—long, bright summer days before them. The world says, “There is a happy soul.” God takes us into the darkened room, where some child of God lately dwelt. He points to the pale face where death sits enthroned, the cheek wasted by long disease, the eye glazed in death, the stiff hands clasped over the bosom, the friends standing weeping around, and He whispers in our ears, “Blessed are the dead.” Ah, dear friends, think a moment!—whether does God or you know best? Who will be found to be in the right at last? Alas, what a vain show you are walking in! Disquieted in vain. “Man that is in honour, and understandeth not, is like the beasts that perish.” Even God’s children sometimes say, “Blessed are the living.” It is a happy thing to live in the favour of God,—to have peace with God,—to frequent the throne of grace,—to burn the perpetual incense of praise,—to meditate on his word,—to hear the preached gospel,—to serve God; even to wrestle, and run, and fight in his service, is sweet. Still God says, “Blessed are the dead.” If it be happy to have his smile here, how much happier to have it without a cloud yonder! If it be sweet to be the growing corn of the Lord here, how much better to be gathered into his barn! If it be sweet to have an anchor within the veil, how much better ourselves to be there, where no gloom can come! In “thy presence is fulness of joy; at thy right hand are pleasures for evermore.” Even Jesus felt this, —God attests it. “Blessed are the dead.”
(2.) Not all the dead, but those that “die in the Lord.” It is truly amazing the multitudes that die. “Thou carriest them away as with a flood.” Seventy thousand die every day, about fifty every minute,—nearly one every second passing over the verge. Life is like a stream made up of human beings, pouring on, and rushing over the brink into eternity. Are all these blessed? Ah, no. “Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord.” Of all that vast multitude continually pouring into the eternal world, a little company alone have savingly believed on Jesus. “Strait is the gate and narrow is the way that leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it.” It is not all the dead who are blessed. There is no blessing on the Christless dead; they rush into an undone eternity, unpardoned, unholy. You may put their body in a splendid coffin; you may print their name in silver on the lid; you may bring the well-attired company of mourners to the funeral, in suits of solemn black; you may lay the coffin slowly in the grave; you may spread the greenest sod above it; you may train the sweetest flowers to grow over it; you may cut a white stone, and grave a gentle epitaph to their memory;—still it is but the funeral of a damned soul. You cannot write blessed where God hath written “cursed.” “He that believeth shall be saved; he that believeth not shall be damned.”
Consider what is implied in the words “in the Lord.”
1st, That they were joined to the Lord.—Union to the Lord has a beginning. Every one that is blessed in dying has been converted. You may dislike the word, but that is the truth. They were awakened—began to weep—pray—weep as they went to seek the Lord their God. They saw themselves lost, undone, helpless,— that they could not be just with a holy God. They became babes. The Lord Jesus drew near, and revealed himself. “I am the Bread of Life.” “Him that cometh unto me, I will in nowise cast out.” They believed and were happy,—rejoiced in the Lord Jesus,—counted everything but loss for Christ. They gave themselves to the Lord. This was the beginning of their being in Christ.
Dear friends, have you had this beginning? Have you under gone conversion —the new birth—grafting into Christ? Call it by any name you will, have you the thing? Has this union to Christ taken place in your history? Some say, I do not know. If at any time of your life you had been saved from drowning,—if you were actually drowned and brought to life again,—you would remember it to your dying hour. Much more if you had been brought to Christ. If you had been blind, and by some remarkable operation your eyes were opened when you were full grown, would you ever forget it? So, if you have been truly brought into Christ, you may easily remember it. If not, you will die in your sins. Whither Christ has gone, thither you cannot come. “Except ye repent and be converted, ye shall all likewise perish.”
2d, Perseverance is implied.—Not all that seem to be branches are branches of the true vine. Many branches fall off the trees when the high winds begin to blow—all that are rotten branches. So in times of temptation, or trial, or persecution, many false professors drop away. Many that seemed to be believers went back, and walked no more with Jesus. They followed Jesus—they prayed with Him—they praised Him; but they went back, and walked no more with Him. So is it still. Many among us doubtless seem to be converted; they begin well and promise fair, who will fall off when winter comes. Some have fallen off, I fear, already; some more may be expected to follow. These will not be blessed in dying. Oh, of all death-beds, may I be kept from beholding the deathbed of the false professor! I have seen it before now, and I trust I may never see it again. They are not blessed after death. The rotten branches will burn more fiercely in the flames. Oh, think what torment it will be, to think that you spent your life in pretending to be a Christian, and lost your opportunity of becoming one indeed! Your hell will be all the deeper, blacker, hotter, that you knew so much of Christ, and were so near Him, and found Him not. Happy are they who endure to the end, who are not moved away from the hope of the gospel, who, when others go away, say, Lord, to whom can we go? In prosperity, they follow the Lord fully; in adversity, they cleave to Him closer still, as trees strike their roots deeper in storms. Is this your case?—endure it to the end. “Be not moved away from the hope of the gospel,” Col. 1:23. “We are made partakers of Christ, if we hold the beginning of our confidence stedfast unto the end,” Heb. 3:15. Even in the dark valley you will cling to Him still. Come to Him as ye came at first—a guilty creature, clinging to the Lord our Righteousness. Thou wast made my sin. This is to die in the Lord, and this is to be blessed.
III. Reasons why they are blessed
(1.) Because of the time.—“From henceforth.” The time of the persecutions of Popery was coming on. He was to wear out the saints of the Most High; he was to overcome and slay the followers of the Lamb. Happy are they that are taken from the evil to come. The righteous perish, and no man layeth it to heart. Merciful men are taken away, none considering that they are taken away from the evil to come. This is one reason why it is better to be with Christ. Persecutions and troubles are not easy to flesh and blood. If in our day we be called to them, we must bear them boldly, knowing that a good reward is provided for those that overcome. See Rev. 2:3—“And hast borne, and hast patience, and for my name’s sake hast laboured, and hast not fainted.” But if it be the will of God to call us away before the day of trial come, we must say, “Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from henceforth.” There will be no persecutions there. All are friends to Jesus there,—every one contending who shall cast their crowns lowest at his feet, who shall exalt Him highest in their praise. No discord there. None to rebuke our song there.
(2.) They rest from their labours.—That which makes everything laborious here is sin—the opposition of Satan and the world, and the drag of our old nature. Some believers have a constant struggle with Satan. He is standing at their right hand to resist them; he is constantly distracting them in prayer, hurling fiery darts at their soul, tempting to the most horrid sin. Their whole life is labour. But when we die in the Lord, we shall rest from this labour. Satan’s work will be clean done. The accuser of the brethren will no more annoy. No lion shall be there, neither shall any ravenous beast go up thereon, but the redeemed shall walk there. But above all, the wicked heart, the old man, the body of sin, makes this life a dreadful labour. When we wake in the morning, it lies like a weight upon us. When we would run in the way of God’s commandments, it drags us back. When we would fly, it weighs us down. When we would pray, it fills our mouth with other things. “O wretched man that I am!” But to depart and be with Christ, is to be free from this. We shall drop this body of sin altogether. No more any flesh—all spirit, all new man; no more any weight or drag—we shall rest from our labours. Oh, it is this makes death in the Lord blessed! We shall not rest from all work; we shall be as the angels of God—we shall serve Him day and night in his temple. We shall not rest from our work, but from our labours. There will be no toil, no pain, in our work. We shall rest in our work. Oh, let this make you willing to depart, and make death look pleasant, and heaven a home. “We shall rest from our labours.” It is the world of holy love, where we shall give free, full, unfettered, unwearied expression to our love for ever. (3.)
Works follow.—Our good works done in the name of Jesus shall then be rewarded. First, Observe, they shall not go before the soul. It is not on account of them we shall be accepted. We must be accepted first altogether on account of Him in whom we stand. Second, Our evil works shall be forgotten,—buried in the depths of the sea,—forgotten, no more mentioned. Third, All that we have done out of love to Jesus shall then be rewarded. We may forget them, and say to Jesus, “When saw we Thee sick, or in prison, and came unto Thee?” But He will not forget them: “Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.” A cup of cold water shall not go unrewarded. Look to the recompense of reward, dear friends, and it will take the sting from death.
IV. What followed.—The Lord Jesus “put in his sickle and reaped.” See vers. 14, 15.
(1.) Learn that the Lord Jesus gathers his sheaves before a storm, just as farmers do; so when you see Him gathering ripe saints, be sure that a storm is near.
(2.) Learn that Jesus gathers his saints in love. When Jesus gathers his own, He does it in love. Do not mourn for them as those who have no hope. Jesus has gathered them into his bosom. They shall shine as the sun.1
1Bonar, A. (1844). Sermons. In Memoir & Remains of Robert Murray M’Cheyne (pp. 497-503). Edinburgh: Banner of Truth.