“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

A Funeral Meditation

While preparing a funeral homily on Revelation 1.18 for a member of the church I serve, I ran across this amazing meditation by James Ramsey (d. 1871).

“The Living One has died.  Oh, believers, could we only enter more fully into the meaning and the glorious and necessary results of that death on the cross, we should never again fear the powers of either death or hell.  We should be ever singing even in tribulation, the new song, ‘Worthy [is] the Lamb that was slain;’ we would not find, so often as we do, our trembling spirits shrinking from the sweet strains of the apostle’s glad response to the gracious message of the kingdom, ‘Unto him that loved us and has washed us from our sins in his own blood, and hath made us kings and priests unto God.'”

“The merits – the redeeming power of that death can be measured only by the infinite dignity of his person.  It was because the fulness of the Godhead dwelt in him, that the blood became a full satisfaction to the penalty of God’s law, and secured for his redeemed a full and eternal atonement.”

“‘I died,’ says the Living One, ‘I who had power to lay down my life and take it again, I came down from my own throne, I bear your sins in my own body on the tree, I suffered there as your substitute – then you cannot die.  I died; then your sins are already atoned for, and forever gone, justice is perfectly satisfied, and unites with mercy in securing your salvation.’  God is reconciled, peace restored, all heavenly influences provided, and salvation made sure to every soul who trusts in his blood.”

[Taken from Ramsey’s Commentary on the first 11 chapters of Revelation.]

Reminds me of what Vos said in his unforgettable sermon on John 20.16.

“What the Lord expects from us at such seasons [of sorrow] is not to abandon ourselves to unreasoning sorrow, but trustingly to look sorrow in the face, to scan its features, to search for the help and hope, which, as surely as God is our Father, must be there.  In such trials there can be no comfort for us so long as we stand outside weeping.  If only we will take the courage to fix our gaze deliberately upon the stern countenance of grief, and enter unafraid into the darkest recesses of our trouble, we shall find the terror gone, because the Lord has been there before us, and, coming out again, has left the place transfigured, making out of it by the grace of his resurrection a house of life, the very gate of heaven.

[Taken from Grace and Glory].

The only way we can face the darkness, sorrow, and unnaturalness of death is to belong – by faith – to the Warrior who has taken death’s sting away by conquering it and making it a doorway to heaven for everyone who trusts in him.

shane lems