Category Archives: Death

“This God is your God” by Jonathan Edwards

“This God, to whom there is none in heaven to be compared, nor any among the sons of the mighty to be likened– this God who is from everlasting to everlasting, an infinitely powerful, wise, holy, and lovely being, who is the alpha and omega, the beginning and the end, is your God.

He is reconciled to you and has become your friend. There is a friendship between you and the Almighty. You have become acquainted with Him, and He has made known Himself to you, and communicates Himself to you, converses with you as a friend, dwells with you, and in you, by His Holy Spirit.

Yea, He has taken you into a nearer relation to Him: He has become your Father, and owns you for His child, and doth by you, and will do by you, as a child.

He cares for you, and will see that you are provided for, and will see that you never shall want anything that will be useful to you. He has made you one of His heirs, and a co-heir with His Son, and will bestow an inheritance upon you, as it is bestowed upon a child of the King of Kings.

You are now in some measure sanctified, and have the image of God upon your souls, but hereafter, when God shall receive you, His dear child, into His arms, and shall admit you to the perfect enjoyment of Him as your portion, you will be entirely transformed into His likeness, for you shall see Him as He is.

The consideration of having such a glorious God for your God, your friend, your Father, and your portion, and that you shall eternally enjoy Him as such, is enough to make you despise all worldly afflictions and adversities, and even death itself, and to trample them under your feet.”

–Jonathan Edwards, “God’s Excellencies” in Sermons and Discourses, 1720-1723, The Works of Jonathan Edwards, Vol. 10. Ed. Wilson H. Kimnach (New Haven, NJ: Yale University Press, 1992), 435. You can read this sermon on Psalm 89:6 in its entirety here. Edwards was only nineteen years old when preached this sermon.

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“The storm is guided by the hands which were nailed to the cross” by John Newton

“Public affairs look darker still. Expectation is on tiptoe waiting for hourly news from all parts of the world but foreboding that the news, whenever it comes or from whatever quarter, will be distressing.

I am afraid what we next hear from America will not be pleasing. That unhappy country is still likely to be a scene of desolation and our people there likely to sink under the weight of pretended successes.

In the West Indies, Tobago is gone, and perhaps by this time some other of our islands. And the cry of oppression in the East Indies seems at length to have awakened judgment there.

Yet the spirit of the nation seems like that of the thoughtless mariner, asleep on the top of the mast, regardless of the danger every moment increasing.

Yet still I hope there is mercy. The gospel spreads, grace reigns, the number of praying souls is on the increase, and their prayers I trust will be heard.

We are sure that the Lord reigns; that the storm is guided by the hands which were nailed to the cross, and that as He loves His own, He will take care of them.

But they who have not an ark to hide themselves in will probably weep and wail before the indignation be over-past.

Blessed be God for a land of peace where sin and every sorrow will be excluded.”

–John Newton, as quoted in Josiah Bull, Memorials of the Rev. William Bull, of Newport Pagnel: 1738-1814, (London: James Nisbet and Company, 1864), 88-89. This letter was written in April 1781.

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“Death cannot deprive us of our best Friend” by Jonathan Edwards

“Now, Madam, let us consider what suitable provision God has made for our consolation under all our afflictions in giving us a Redeemer of such glory and such love, especially when it is considered what were the ends of that great manifestation of His beauty and love in His death.

He suffered that we might be delivered.

His soul was exceeding sorrowful even unto death, to take away the sting of sorrow and that we might have everlasting consolation.

He was oppressed and afflicted that we might be supported.

He was overwhelmed in the darkness of death and of Hell, that we might have the light of life.

He was cast into the furnace of God’s wrath, that we might swim in the rivers of pleasure.

His heart was overwhelmed in a flood of sorrow and anguish, that our hearts might be filled and overwhelmed with a flood of eternal joy.

And now let it be considered what circumstances our Redeemer now is in. He was dead but is alive, and He lives forevermore.

Death may deprive of dear friends, but it can’t deprive us of this, our best Friend.

And we have this Friend, this mighty Redeemer, to go to under all affliction, who is not one that can’t be touched with the feeling of our afflictions, He having suffered far greater sorrows than we ever have done.

And if we are vitally united to Him, the union can never be broken; it will remain when we die and when heaven and earth are dissolved.

Therefore, in this we may be confident, we need not fear though the earth be removed. In Him we may triumph with everlasting joy.

Even when storms and tempests arise we may have resort to Him who is an hiding place from the wind and a covert from the tempest.

When we are thirsty, we may come to Him who is as rivers of waters in a dry place. When we are weary, we may go to Him who is as the shadow of a great rock in a weary land.

Having found Him who is as the apple tree among the trees of the wood, we may sit under His shadow with great delight and His fruit may be sweet to our taste.

Christ told his disciples that in the world they should have trouble, but says He, ‘In Me ye shall have peace.’

If we are united to Him, our souls will be like a tree planted by a river that never dieth. He will be their light in darkness and their morning star that is a bright harbinger of day.

And in a little while, He will arise on our souls as the sun in full glory. And our sun shall no more go down, and there shall be no interposing cloud, no veil on His face or on our hearts, but the Lord shall be our everlasting light and our Redeemer, our glory.

That this glorious Redeemer would manifest His glory and love to you, and apply the little that has been said of these things to your consolation in all your affliction, and abundantly reward your generous favors, as when I was at Kittery, is the fervent prayer of, Madam,

Your Ladyship’s most obliged and affectionate friend,

And most humble servant,

Jonathan Edwards”

–Jonathan Edwards, “136. To Lady Mary Pepperrell,” Letters and Personal Writings, The Works of Jonathan Edwards, Vol. 16, Ed. George S. Claghorn (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1998), 418-419. Edwards wrote this letter from Stockbridge, on November 28, 1751, to comfort a grieving mother on the loss of her son.

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“The Empty Tomb” by Tom Wright

“Darkness on the face of the deep. The formless beginning, the chaos. The void. The beginning.

The wind and the word. God’s breath, God’s speech, summoning things never known before. Life and light. The first day. Creation.

In the beginning was the Word… and the Word became flesh.

The flesh has spoken, breathed, brought life and light. New creation has spilled out around Him wherever He has gone. ‘Here’s the man!’ The sixth day. Creation is complete. God saw all he had made, and it was very good.

Flesh dies. Chaos comes again. Darkness descends on the little weeping group at the cross. Two men in the fading light do what has to be done. Then the long sabbath, the rest in the cold tomb.

And now, still in the darkness, the first day of the week. The new week. The new creation. The eighth day. Eyes red from weeping and sleepless sabbath nights.

Women at the tomb; perhaps to bring more spices, perhaps just to weep, perhaps just to be there, because there was nowhere else to be, nothing else to do, nothing else that mattered, that would ever matter.

Mary Magdalene doesn’t feature in John’s gospel until her appearance, with the other Marys, at the foot of the cross. John has told us nothing of her history; the little we know, we know from the other gospels.

But her place here is spectacular. She is the first to bring the news that the tomb was empty. And, in the next section, a greater privilege yet: the first to see, to meet, to speak with the risen master Himself.

For the moment, the empty tomb is simply another twist of the knife. Chaos upon chaos. Someone’s taken Him away. No faith, no hope, no ‘maybe, after all …’. Just a cruel trick.

Some gardener, some labourer, some soldier, someone’s servant. But we must find out. It’s urgent. She runs back into the city, back to Peter in his hiding place, back to the young lad she had stood with by the cross, the one Jesus specially loved.

They run, too. (There is more running in these verses than in the rest of the gospels put together.) The younger man gets there first. Sure enough, the tomb is open and empty.

And here’s a curious thing: there are the linen cloths, lying there. Someone has not only taken the body away; they have first gone to the trouble of unwrapping it. Why on earth would you do that? Where has that happened before?

Peter, out of breath, arrives at the tomb a few moments later. He acts in character: no waiting, no beating about the bush, no shall-we-shan’t-we. In he goes.

And here’s an even more curious thing: the linen cloths are lying there; but the single cloth, the napkin that had been around Jesus’ head, isn’t with the others. It’s in a place by itself.

Someone, having unwrapped the body (a complicated task in itself), has gone to the trouble of laying out the cloths to create an effect. It looks as though the body wasn’t picked up and unwrapped, but had just disappeared, leaving the empty cloths, like a collapsed balloon when the air has gone out of it.

Then comes the moment. The younger man, the beloved disciple, goes into the tomb after Peter. And the idea they had had to that point about what must have happened—someone taking the body away, but unwrapping it first—suddenly looks stupid and irrelevant.

Something quite new surges up in the young disciple, a wild delight at God’s creative power. He remembers the moment ever afterwards. A different sensation. A bit like falling in love; a bit like sunrise; a bit like the sound of rain at the end of a long drought.

A bit like faith. Oh, he’d had faith before. He had believed that Jesus was the Messiah. He had believed that God had sent Him, that He was God’s man for God’s people and God’s world.

But this was different. ‘He saw, and believed.’ Believed that new creation had begun. Believed that the world had turned the corner, out of its long winter and into spring at last.

Believed that God had said ‘Yes’ to Jesus, to all that He had been and done. Believed that Jesus was alive again.

Not ‘believed that Jesus had gone to heaven’. People often still think that that’s what Christians mean when they say He was raised from the dead. John is quite clear, later on in this passage, that that’s not what he’s talking about (verse 17). He is talking about resurrection.

Everybody in the ancient world knew that resurrection didn’t happen. More: they knew it couldn’t happen. They spoke of it, in the classical world of Greece and Rome, as something one might imagine but which never actually occurred, and never could or would.

The Jews, though, began to believe that it would. Not all of them, mind; the Sadducees resolutely stuck out against it. And they weren’t all clear exactly what it would mean, what it would be like. But they believed, as we saw in 11:24, that when resurrection happened it would happen to all God’s people all at once. (Perhaps, even, to all people everywhere, as in 5:28–29.)

Not—this is the point—to one person in the middle of time. That would be an odd, outlandish event, unimagined, unheard-of.

When Jesus raised Lazarus, Lazarus returned to the present life. He came back again. The echoes of the Lazarus story in the present one are there partly to tell us that it was the same kind of event, but mostly to tell us that it wasn’t.

Lazarus needed someone to untie him from his cloths, and the napkin round his head. Jesus left His behind altogether. Lazarus came back into a world where death threats still mattered (12:10).

Jesus had gone on, through death and out into a new world, a new creation, a new life beyond, where death itself had been defeated and life, sheer life, life in all its fullness, could begin at last.

Ask people around the world what they think is the biggest day of the year for Christians. Most will say ‘Christmas’. That’s what our society has achieved: a romantic mid-winter festival (though we don’t actually know what time of the year Jesus was born) from which most of the things that really matter (the danger, the politics) are carefully excluded.

The true answer—and I wish the churches would find ways of making this clear—is Easter.

This is the moment of new creation. If it hadn’t been for Easter, nobody would ever have dreamed of celebrating Christmas.

This is the first day of God’s new week. The darkness has gone, and the sun is shining.”

–Tom Wright, John for Everyone, Part 2: Chapters 11-21 (London: Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, 2004), 140–143.

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“His mighty affection knows no bottom” by J.C. Ryle

“Mark the depth and width of our Lord’s sympathies and affections. The Saviour on whom we are bid to repose the weight of our sinful souls is one whose love passeth knowledge.

Shallow, skin-deep feelings in others, we all know continually chill and disappoint us on every side in this world.

But there is One whose mighty heart affection knows no bottom. That one is Christ.”

–J.C. Ryle, Expository Thoughts on John, Volume 3 (New York: Robert Carter & Brothers, 1880), 312. Ryle is commenting on John 19:26-27.

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“As if in the hand of God” by J.C. Ryle

“Ambrose says, quaintly enough, that the form of the cross is that of a sword with the point downward; above is the hilt toward heaven, as if in the hand of God; below is the point toward earth, as if thrust through the head of the old serpent the devil.”

–J.C. Ryle, Expository Thoughts on John, Volume 3 (New York: Robert Carter & Brothers, 1880), 296. Ryle is commenting on John 19:17.

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“A most ordinary pastor” by D.A. Carson

“Tom Carson never rose very far in denominational structures, but hundreds of people in the Outaouais and beyond testify how much he loved them.

He never wrote a book, but he loved the Book.

He was never wealthy or powerful, but he kept growing as a Christian: yesterday’s grace was never enough.

He was not a far-sighted visionary, but he looked forward to eternity.

He was not a gifted administrator, but there is no text that says, ‘By this shall all men know that you are my disciples, if you are good administrators.’

His journals have many, many entries bathed in tears of contrition, but his children and grandchildren remember his laughter. Only rarely did he break through his pattern of reserve and speak deeply and intimately with his children, but he modeled Christian virtues to them.

He much preferred to avoid controversy than to stir things up, but his own commitments to historic confessionalism were unyielding, and in ethics he was a man of principle.

His own ecclesiastical circles were rather small and narrow, but his reading was correspondingly large and expansive.

He was not very good at putting people down, except on his prayer lists.

When he died, there were no crowds outside the hospital, no editorial comments in the papers, no announcements on television, no mention in Parliament, no attention paid by the nation.

In his hospital room there was no one by his bedside. There was only the quiet hiss of oxygen, vainly venting because he had stopped breathing and would never need it again.

But on the other side all the trumpets sounded.

Dad won entrance to the only throne room that matters, not because he was a good man or a great man-he was, after all, a most ordinary pastor-but because he was a forgiven man.

And he heard the voice of Him whom he longed to hear saying, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant; enter into the joy of your Lord.'”

–D.A. Carson, Memoirs of an Ordinary Pastor (Wheaton: Crossway, 2008), 147-148.

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