By Uriah Smith
Preached on December 21, 1863It is but a few months since he who now lies before you in the silence of death, left us in all the vigor of life, and the buoyancy of youth and hope. Who of us could then have thought that such would be his returning? If it had been told us that death would so soon take away one of our number, who would have looked upon him as that one? But the blow has fallen upon him—perhaps I should not say upon him; for he is not the afflicted one; it is the living hearts that feel, while he has passed beyond the sorrows and vicissitudes of Earth.
A funeral was held on the occasion at the place of his decease, Topsham, Maine, the 10th instant. He, with his two brothers had been stopping there for about two months, and they had formed many acquaintances, who could not be satisfied to have him removed without funeral services with them; which were accordingly held. And as he has been brought here to be deposited in the family burial place, in Oak Hill Cemetery, it has been thought proper, for the gratification of the church of which he was a member, and of the youth with whom he was acquainted and associated, that some further services should be held here. We are here for this purpose today; and to contemplate, for a few moments, the lessons which this dispensation of Providence brings before us.
We call this a dispensation of Providence. We believe in such dispensations. The remark is often made, that all our afflictions, disease, and death, are the result of physical laws transgressed, and that alone. And while in many instances this may be true, we still believe it is the Christian’s privilege, to recognize an overruling Providence, and see a Father’s hand in all the events that specially affect him. We read that the steps of the good man are ordered of the Lord; also, that whom the Lord loveth He chasteneth; and that if we are without chastisement, we are not recognized as sons. This shows us that there are certain afflictions which we may receive as chastisement from the hand of the Lord. In illustration, we might refer to the case of Job, upon whom the Lord permitted affliction to come for purposes of His Own; and also, to the case of Hezekiah, in whose experience the Lord’s hand was also visible. And how comforting the thought that, in events which are dark to us, of which we cannot understand the design, there is One Who sees beyond the narrow limits of our vision, Who is ordering events for us, working for our good, and Who will eventually bring all things out right.
But when, through the leadings of this Providence, our pathway lies along by the side of the tomb, and our friends are taken away from us by death, it is but natural that the stricken heart should inquire what their condition is, and what is their future prospect. Paul well knew that bereaved hearts would be sorrowful; and he does not command us not to sorrow; but only to sorrow not without hope. And he well knew what the first and the most anxious inquiry of the sorrowing heart would be. Hence he approaches this subject and says: “But I would not have you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning them which are asleep, that ye sorrow not, even as others which have no hope.” Mark the expression, “I would not have you to be ignorant.” And whatever point there is, upon which inspiration would not have us ignorant, we have in that declaration the assurance, implied, at least, that there is full and definite instruction given us concerning it. We accordingly find scattered all over the Sacred Page, expressions and declarations, setting forth the condition in which the dead are placed. In the grave, says one, there is no remembrance of Thee. In the grave, says another, who shall give Thee thanks? The dead praise not the Lord, neither any that go down into silence. The dead know not anything; their love, their hatred, their envy, and all their emotions and passions are now perished. And multitudes of similar declarations we find, all going to show that the grave is a place of unconsciousness, silence, and inactivity.
But this question being settled, another immediately arises. If the grave is such a place, and if death is a sleep, is it, as atheism and infidelity assert, an eternal sleep? And on this question, more important, perhaps, than the other, the Word of God is, if possible, still more explicit. Job puts the question direct: “If a man die, shall he live again?” This is the very question at issue; and he answers it in the language that immediately follows: “All the days of my appointed time will I wait till my change come.” Job 14:14. But how do we know that this is an answer to the preceding question? How do we know what he means by waiting, and what the change is, that shall afterwards come? Turning to some further testimony of Job’s we read, “If I wait, the grave is mine house: I have made my bed in the darkness. . . . And where is now my hope? As for my hope, who shall see it?” If he once went into a state of death, where was his hope? If he waited, the grave was to be his house. This shows us, plainly enough, that the waiting to which he refers, is waiting in the grave; and that the change that is to follow is the change that takes place from that condition. And what is that change? The next verse declares: “Thou shalt call, and I will answer Thee; Thou wilt have a desire to the work of Thine hands.” That is it. The Lord will call him from his lowly resting place. Man, the noblest work of God, will not be forgotten and left to perish. The Lord will have a desire to the work of His hands. The voice of the Archangel and the trump of God will be heard, calling them forth, and they will arise at the summons. “Thou shalt call, and I will answer Thee.”
Again Job bears testimony on this question. He writes in a manner to show that his subject is one of vast importance. Job 19:23–27. He says: “Oh that my words were now written! oh that they were printed in a book! That they were graven with an iron pen, and lead [i.e., laid] in the rock forever.” As much as to express a desire that they might be preserved for all generations in all coming time. And what is his testimony, apparently so important? It is this: “For I know that my Redeemer liveth, and that He shall stand at the latter day upon the earth. And though after my skin worms destroy this body, yet in my flesh shall I see God; Whom I shall see for myself, and mine eyes shall behold and not another; though my reins be consumed within me.”
David says, “I shall be satisfied when I awake with Thy likeness.” The prophet Isaiah exclaims. “Thy dead men shall live, together with my dead body shall they arise. Awake and sing, ye that dwell in dust; for thy dew is as the dew of herbs, and the earth shall cast out the dead.” The prophet Hosea also testifies on the point: “I will ransom them from the power of the grave; I will redeem them from death. O Death, I will be thy plagues. O Grave, I will be thy destruction. Repentance shall be hid from mine eyes.”
We come to the New Testament, to the teachings of Him through Whom life and immortality are said to have been brought to light, and we find not only the same great fact stated of a redemption from death, but also the time when, and the means by which this glorious event shall be accomplished. Paul, in writing to the Corinthian brethren, says, “Behold I show you a mystery: We shall not all sleep; but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump; for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed. For this corruption must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality. So, when this corruptible shall have put on incorruption, and this mortal shall have put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written, Death is swallowed up in victory. O, Death, where is thy sting? O, Grave, where is thy victory?” In writing to the Thessalonians, Paul again, after saying that he would not have us ignorant concerning them which are asleep, that we sorrow not as others which have no hope, says: “For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so them also which sleep in Jesus will God bring with Him. [Bring with Him from the dead.] For the Lord Himself shall descend from Heaven with a shout, with the voice of the Archangel, and with the trump of God, and the dead in Christ shall rise first. Then we which are alive and remain, shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air; and so shall we ever be with the Lord. Wherefore, comfort one another with these words.”
Thus all our inquiries are answered. The state of the dead is revealed unto us. And though the grave is declared to be a place of unconsciousness, we also learn that it is not the final abode of the saints; but they shall be redeemed therefrom with a great and glorious redemption.
But death, whenever and wherever it is seen, has a voice for us. As we behold it even in the vegetable, or more especially in the animal kingdom, it is impressive. When it takes one of the human race, it calls still more loudly upon us. The thought which it then suggests is this: That class of beings of which I am a member, is subject to the destroyer, so that I, too, am under his power. But when it comes still nearer to us; when it enters a neighborhood, and an acquaintance is taken, a friend, a schoolmate, a classmate, how much more impressive is its solemn presence. There is, therefore, a lesson for the young in the event which we here contemplate today. I would then say to them, Look upon these relics of mortality, these emblems of the grave, and ask yourself if you have any guarantee of life which he had not. Reduced in one short week from all the activity of life, to the silence of death—have you a lease of life even as long as that? Think, then, that you may fall as suddenly, but not as safely. He has fallen, triumphing in a Saviour’s love, and in firm hope of a part in the first resurrection. Place yourselves in his condition, and inquire, When and where would be your waking? Would it be with the just in the first resurrection, or with the rest of the dead who live not again till the thousand years are finished? Are you not called upon, then, if you are without hope, to haste to secure an interest in that arm upon which he leaned? or if you think you have a hope, to examine well the grounds upon which it rests?
But it is not in the event of his death alone that Henry has spoken to you and to us. He has left a dying testimony for his friends and for the young, by which he being dead yet speaketh. It is embodied in a brief sketch of his experience, prepared by one who was with him during his last sickness.
I would say to the church here, that we as a church, are partakers in this bereavement. As one of our number, we have felt a great interest in the welfare of Henry. We rejoiced when he first gave his heart to the Lord. We were glad when we first heard him inquiring the way to Zion, and turning his face thitherward. We were glad when we saw him, less than a year since, go down into the water, obedient to his Lord in the ordinance of baptism. Of the thirteen who then went forward together, two have already fallen in death. Scarcely one short year elapsed, and two already gone! What shall I say to the remaining eleven? Are they not called to renewed diligence, faithfulness, and constant readiness, should a like summons come for them?
It is unnecessary for me to attempt to say anything to those who are now specially called to mourn. They have long been acquainted with the true Source of comfort and consolation, and are fully competent to draw therefrom such supplies as are adequate for all occasions. So far as they are called to mourn, we mourn with them. Our hearts are all open to them in the warmest sympathy. So far as they have consolation, we also share in that. And it seems that all the comfort is theirs that is possible to fall to the lot of mourners. For what greater consolation can there be than to see so much of the fruit of their labor secured to them; to see one in whose moral and religious training they have labored so faithfully, now safely beyond all their anxiety. No more anxious tears will be shed for him. But the record remains that their labor shall be rewarded, and the son and brother shall come again from the land of the enemy. Thus while the Lord has dealt with them in seeming severity, He has also dealt in mercy. While with one hand He has smitten, with the other He has upheld. While one hand has held to their lips the bitter cup of bereavement, the other has held a cup of sweetest consolation. While one hand has pointed to the tomb, the other has pointed to the bright scenes of glory, honor, and immortality, that lie just beyond. And so, calm in the assurance of faith, and in anticipation of a reunion which is soon to come, and which, when it comes, will be eternal, they and we can bury the dead out of our sight—“earth to earth and dust to dust, in the sure and certain hope of a joyful resurrection, and the life of the world to come.”
—From An Appeal to the Youth, 1864