Easter and the Fear of Hell (Boston)

Works of Thomas Boston, 12 volume hard cover set (Boston) Although many people mock the truth of hell’s existence, some people struggle with the fear of hell.  Some people are afraid of spending eternity facing a punishment in a place where there is forever weeping and gnashing of teeth.  It’s hard to think about suffering God’s eternal wrath against sin.  On this topic,  Thomas Boston does a great job explaining how the resurrection of Christ can drive away the fear of hell and give a great and joyful hope of heaven:

Hell is a fountain of fears. Sometimes the godly are above, sometimes under the fears of hell. It is terrible, the thought of being excluded forever the presence of God! “Who can abide with everlasting burnings?” When we look down to the pit, it seems hard to escape it; when we look up to heaven, our souls faint, lest we never get there.

But fear not: for Christ died; and if so, he suffered the torments you should have suffered in hell, as to the essentials of them. He was under the punishment of loss; God forsook him, Psalm 22:1. He endured the punishment of sense, even to drops of blood, and the wrath of God poured into his soul. Then God will not require two payments for one debt. Christ lives, he rose, and entered heaven as a public person; and therefore, believer, you shall as surely go to heaven as if you were there already, yea, the apostle says we are there already. Eph. 2:6, “We are raised up together, and made to sit together in heavenly places in Christ Jesus,” as our Head. Jesus lives forevermore; and therefore you shall be forever with the Lord.

“He has the keys of hell and death.” Suppose your father or best friend on earth had these keys, would you be afraid? But we may have more confidence in Jesus than in ten thousand fathers or even the mothers that gave birth to us. They may forsake us, and a mother may be found that will not have compassion on the son of her womb; but, O believer, Jesus has said, “I will not forget you,” Isa. 49:15, 16, “Can a woman forget her sucking child, that she should not have compassion on the son of her womb? yea, they may forget, yet I will not forget you. Behold, I have carved you upon the palms of my hand, you walls are continually before me.” Though Satan be the jailor of hell, yet he keeps not the keys; they hang, believer, at the belt of your best friend.

 Thomas Boston, The Whole Works of Thomas Boston: Sixty-Six Sermons, ed. Samuel M‘Millan, vol. 9 (Aberdeen: George and Robert King, 1851), 22–23.

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
Hammond, WI, 54015

“The Mighty Lesson of Dying” (Kuyper)

  In his devotional called To Be Near Unto God, Abraham Kuyper wrote a great meditation on Hebrews 11:21 which says, “By faith Jacob, when he was dying, blessed each of Joseph’s sons, and worshiped as he leaned on the top of his staff” (NIV). The title of the meditation is “Dying He Worshiped.”  The whole devotional is very much worth reading. I won’t quote the whole thing here, but I did want to share one part where Kuyper talks about different ways to die: in faith or in unbelief.  Here’s what he says about dying “quietly and peaceably” without faith in Christ:

Of those who die without Christ it is continually said, that they died equally quietly and calmly; even perhaps with less perturbation of mind, than many a child of God that is harassed by anxiety and doubt. Nothing of a serious nature was said to them. They themselves made no reference to anything. The physician assured them that there was no need of alarm. And so the patient passed quietly away, without having known any terror of death. And others, seeing this, were impressed that there is really nothing to dying; it was all so quiet and gentle. Then came flowers to cover the bier. Visits of condolence are no longer paid. In this way nothing connected with death is spoken of. And when the funeral is over, ordinary matters form the topic of conversation, but not the things that are eternal. And thus the mighty lesson of dying is lost. Death ceases to be a preacher of deeper seriousness. And the Lord of life and of death is not remembered.

This is so true! How many of us have been to funerals where the reality of death is for the most part avoided? How many of us have been at a funeral where nothing deep, significant, or eternal is touched upon, and as Kuyper said, “the Lord of life and of death is not remembered?”  It’s true: in these situations “the mighty lesson of dying is lost.”  Here’s how Kuyper went on:

We, Christians, should not encourage this evil practice. And yet, we do it, when imitating the way of the world we say of such dead that they “peaceably passed away.” Not calmly and peacefully, but fighting and conquering in the Savior, should be the dying bed in the Christian family. He who has not the heart for this, but is careful to spare the patient all serious and disquieting thought, is not merciful, but through unbelief he is cruel.

In other words, when the Christian is talking to people in the context of death, it is cruel unbelief to avoid mentioning the Lord of life and the reality of what lies beyond the grave – eternity.  I’ll end with this next paragraph in the devotional:

In dying Jacob has worshipped. On the death bed one can pray. One can pray for help in the last struggle. Intercession can be made for those that are to be left behind and for the Kingdom of God. By itself such prayer is beautiful. On one’s deathbed to appear before the face of God. This last prayer on earth, when every veil drops away, and the latest supplication is addressed to God, who awaits us in the courts of everlasting light. Such prayer teaches those, who stand by, to pray. Such prayer exerts an overwhelming, fascinating influence.

Abraham Kuyper, To Be Near unto God (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans-Sevensma Co., 1918), 286–287.

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
Hammond, WI, 54015

Behind Death’s Grinning Mask (Luther)

Many Christians for many years have been comforted by Paul’s words in his letter to the Philippians: “For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain” (Phil. 1:21 NIV); [ἐμοὶ γὰρ τὸ ζῆν Χριστὸς – καὶ τὸ ἀποθανεῖν κέρδος]. I appreciate these comments of Martin Luther on Paul’s words:

It is a great thing that death, which is to others the greatest of evils, is made to us the greatest gain.

And unless Christ had obtained this for us, what had He done that was worthy of the great price He paid, namely, His own self? It is indeed a divine work that He wrought, and none need wonder, therefore, that He made the evil of death to be something that is very good.

Death, then, to believers is already dead, and hath nothing terrible behind its grinning mask. Like unto a slain serpent, it hath indeed its former terrifying appearance, but it is only the appearance; in truth it is a dead evil, and harmless enough. Nay, as God commanded Moses to lift up a serpent of brass, at sight of which the living serpents perished, even so our death dies in the believing contemplation of the death of Christ, and now hath but the outward appearance of death. With such fine similitudes the mercy of God prefigures to us, in our infirmity, this truth, that though death should not be taken away, He yet has reduced its power to a mere shadow (Mt. 9:24) For this reason it is called in the Scriptures a “sleep” rather than death (1 Thes. 4:13ff).

The above quote is found in: Luther, Martin. Works of Martin Luther with Introductions and Notes. Vol. I. Philadelphia: A. J. Holman Company, 1915, p. 148.

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI, 54002

Death Swallowed Up (Young/Cyril)

Isaiah 25:7-8 is an awesome prophetic promise: “On this mountain he [Yahweh] will destroy the burial shroud, the shroud over all the peoples, the sheet covering all the nations; he will destroy death forever. The Lord God will wipe away the tears from every face and remove his people’s disgrace from the whole earth, for the Lord has spoken (CSB)”.

E. J. Young (d. 1968) wrote some great comments on these verses:

Isaiah uses the definite article with death to stress the fact that it is well known that death bas been a terror to mankind.  Hitherto, death itself had swallowed up all else.  As in Genesis 2:17 so here, the word ‘death’ includes all the evils which attend it.  When death is swallowed up, so also are all the miseries that it brings.  Furthermore, death is to be swallowed up forever; it will never again reappear. Paul’s interpretation is entirely true to the Old Testament: ‘death is swallowed up in victory’ (1 Cor. 15:45b).  The book of Revelation brings out the meaning clearly: ‘there shall be no more death’ (Rev. 221:4b).  [Young, The Book of Isaiah, vol. 2 p. 196]

Here’s how Cyril of Alexandria (d. 444 AD) similarly reflected on Isaiah’s prophecy:

Death overcame our forefather Adam on account of his transgression and like a fierce wild animal it pounced on him and carried him off amid lamentation and loud wailing. Men wept and grieved because death ruled over all the earth. But all this came to an end with Christ. Striking down death, he rose up on the third day and became the way by which human nature would rid itself of corruption. He became the firstborn of the dead, and the first fruits of those who have fallen asleep. [ACCS, Vol. X]

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
Hammond, WI, 54002

No More Tears, No More Reproach (Smith)

 I’ve been enjoying Gary Smith’s Isaiah commentary in the “New American Commentary” series.  I haven’t read it all, but so far so good!  This morning when studying Isaiah 25 I was looking at verse 8, which says this: “…he [Yahweh] will swallow up death forever.The Sovereign Lord will wipe away the tears from all faces;he will remove his people’s disgrace from all the earth.The Lord has spoken” (NIV).

Here’s Smith’s helpful commentary:

…When God rules over his kingdom, death will have no power over people in this new world.

As if that were not enough, God also promises the removal of all tears. This includes tears shed when people die, but certainly also tears of oppression, sickness, pain, disappointment, loneliness, rejection, military defeat, financial trouble, and other kinds of loss. All these experiences will be obsolete in God’s kingdom.

Finally, God’s removal of the reproach of “his people” (ʿammî 25:8b) should not be interpreted as a specific reference to removing Israel’s reproach of the exile, for at this point all people (ʿam, “people,” is used in 25:3, 6, 7, 8) in God’s kingdom are his people. When people are reproached they are objects of derision, mockery, shame, and humiliation by others. These evil actions will not be experienced any longer. If the enemies of God are defeated, there will no longer be people to give a reproach, and there will be no sinful people who will deserve to be reproached. This paragraph ends (25:8b) with the affirmation that God has declared that this is what will happen; thus, one can know that all these statements are true.

Gary Smith, Isaiah, (The New American Commentary), Isaiah 25:8.

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
Hammond, WI, 54015

All Other Ground is Sinking Sand (Luther/Bernard)

Commentary on the Sermon on the Mount Martin Luther, in his Commentary on the Sermon on the Mount, noted how some people build their house upon the sand by resting on their own works or merits for acceptance with God.  Luther then gave a helpful insight from the life and faith of Bernard of Clairvaux:

St. Bernard himself had also to feel and acknowledge this, who had nevertheless led a very strict life, with praying, fasting, bodily mortification, etc., so that he was deficient in no respect, and served as an example for all others, so that I know of no one among the monks who wrote or lived better than he. Yet, when he came to die, he had himself to pronounce this judgment upon his entire holy life: ‘O, I lived a damnable life, and spent my life shamefully!’ Ah, how so, dear St. Bernard? You were surely a pious monk all your life. Is then chastity, obedience, your preaching, fasting, praying, not an admirable thing? No (says he,) it is all lost and belongs to the devil. There comes the wind and rain, and throws foundation, basis and building all into a heap, so that he would have had to be eternally damned, by his own judgment, if he had not turned about, and, made wiser by his loss, deserted monkery, seized upon another foundation and clung to Christ, and been kept in the faith that the children use in their prayers, when he said: “Although I am not worthy of eternal life, nor can attain it by my own merit, yet my Lord Christ has a double right to it, once as Lord and heir to it, inherited from eternity; secondly, attained through his suffering and death. The first he retains for himself; the other he bestows upon me,” etc.

 Martin Luther, Commentary on the Sermon on the Mount, trans. Charles A. Hay (Philadelphia: Lutheran Publication Society, 1892), 487–488.

Shane Lems

Regarding the Death of Calvin’s Wife

Tracts and Treatises of John Calvin (8 vols.) John Calvin’s wife Idellette died in 1549 from a lengthy illness.  They had been married for 9 years when she died; Calvin was 40 years old at the time.  Not long after Idellette died Calvin wrote a letter to Farel telling him of the news.  Here are some excerpts of that letter:

Intelligence of my wife’s death has perhaps reached you before now. I do what I can to keep myself from being overwhelmed with grief. My friends also leave nothing undone that may administer relief to my mental suffering.

…About the sixth hour of the day, on which she yielded up her soul to the Lord, our brother [Rev.] Bourgouin addressed some pious words to her, and while he was doing so, she spoke aloud, so that all saw that her heart was raised far above the world. For these were her words: “O glorious resurrection! O God of Abraham, and of all our fathers, in thee have the faithful trusted during so many past ages, and none of them have trusted in vain. I also wall hope.” These short sentences were rather ejaculated than distinctly spoken. This did not come from the suggestion of others, but from her own reflections, so that she made it obvious in few words what were her own meditations.

I had to go out at six o’clock. Having been removed to another apartment after seven, she immediately began to decline. When she felt her voice suddenly failing her she said: “Let us pray: let us pray. All pray for me.” I had now returned. She was unable to speak, and her mind seemed to be troubled. I, having spoken a few words about the love of Christ, the hope of eternal life, concerning our married life, and her departure, engaged in prayer. In full possession of her mind, she both heard the prayer, and attended to it. Before eight she expired, so calmly, that those present could scarcely distinguish between her life and her death.

Calvin then shared his grief – and faith – with Farel:

I at present control my sorrow so that my duties may not be interfered with. But in the meanwhile the Lord has sent other trials upon me. Adieu, brother, and very excellent friend. May the Lord Jesus strengthen you by His Spirit; and may He support me also under this heavy affliction, which would certainly have overcome me, had not He, who raises up the prostrate, strengthens the weak, and refreshes the weary, stretched forth His hand from heaven to me.

If you’re a child of God struggling with grief, I pray that you find the same comfort that Calvin did – comfort in the loving and almighty hand of God.

The above quote is from Jules Bonnet, Letters of John Calvin, vol. 2 (Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software, 2009), 204–205.

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
Hammond, WI, 54015