A Believer's Last Day, His Best Day
Most people think about their own death as a fearful prospect, but the title of a famous Puritan funeral sermon offers a pleasing alternative: a believer's last day on earth is his or her best day.
The Puritans of the 16th and 17th centuries produced a wealth of writing that can be read devotionally. They were at their devotional "best" in a genre that falls into the category of "best kept secrets," namely, funeral sermons. By the time a Puritan funeral sermon found its way into print, it had often been expanded into a small book. Puritan funeral sermons announce a single Bible verse at the outset, but as the sermons unfold they almost always become a mosaic of evocative verses on the subjects of death, heaven, and immortality. Some of these sermons are small anthologies of choice Bible verses.
When Thomas Brooks preached a sermon at the funeral of Mrs. Martha Randall at Christ's Church, London, on June 28, 1651, he chose a title that is a stroke of genius. By calling a believer's last day on earth his or her best day, Brooks at once demolished the conventional view of death as an earthly calamity. The following excerpt brings together a few key passages from the sermon.
Death is a believer's coronation day and marriage day.
Death is a change of our imperfect and incomplete enjoyments of God, for a more complete and perfect enjoyment of him. As no believer has a clear sight of God here, so no believer has a full and perfect sight of God here. In Job 26:14, how little a portion is heard of him—speaking of God—and of that is heard, ah how little a portion is understood! It is an excellent expression that Augustine has: "The glorious things of heaven are so many—that they exceed number; so precious—that they exceed estimation; so great—that they exceed measure!" Bernard says, "For Christ to be with Paul was the greatest security—but for Paul to be with Christ was the chief happiness!" …
When death shall give the fatal stroke, there shall be an exchange of earth—for heaven; of imperfect enjoyments—for perfect enjoyments of God; then the soul shall be swallowed up with a full enjoyment of God; no corner of the soul shall be left empty—but all shall be filled up with the fullness of God. Here in this present world, they receive grace—but in heaven they shall receive glory. God keeps the best wine until last; the best of God, Christ, and heaven—is beyond this present world. Here we have but some sips, some tastes of God; fullness is reserved for the glorious state. He who sees most of God here on earth, sees but his back parts; his face is a jewel of that splendor and glory, which no eye can behold but a glorified eye.
The best of Christians are able to take in but little of God; their hearts are like the widow's vessel, which could receive but a little oil. Sin, the world, and creatures do take up so much room in the best hearts, that God gives out himself little by little, as parents give sweets to their children. But in heaven God will communicate himself fully at once to the soul! Grace shall then be swallowed up of glory! …
Death is another Moses: it delivers believers out of bondage, and from making bricks in Egypt. It is a day or year of jubilee to a gracious spirit—the year wherein he goes out free from all those cruel taskmasters which it had long groaned under … . Death is a believer's coronation-day, it is his marriage-day. It is a rest from sin, a rest from sorrow, a rest from afflictions and temptations, etc. Death to a believer is an entrance into Abraham's bosom, into paradise, into the "New Jerusalem," into the joy of his Lord … .
Christians! what is your whole life—but a day to fit for the hour of death? What is your great business in this world—but to prepare and fit for the eternal world? It was a sad speech of Caesar Borgia, who being on his deathbed said, "When I lived, I provided for everything but death! Now I must die, and am unprovided to die." Ah, Christians! you have need every day to pray with Moses, "Lord, teach us to number our days, that we may apply our hearts to wisdom," Psalm 90:12 … .
See that Christ be your Lord and Master, … and then your dying-day shall be to you as the day of harvest to the farmer, as the day of deliverance to the prisoner, as the day of coronation to the king, and as the day of marriage to the bride. Your dying-day shall be a day of triumph and exaltation, a day of freedom and consolation, a day of rest and satisfaction!
Leland Ryken is professor of English at Wheaton College.
Copyright © 2009 by the author or Christianity Today/Christian History & Biography magazine.
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