THE DEATH OF A SERVANT.
S. Remigius. October 1.
"THEREFORE, MY BELOVED BRETHREN, BE YE STEADFAST, UNMOVEABLE, ALWAYS ABOUNDING IN THE WORK OF THE LORD."--1 COR. XV. 58.
THERE must be some great reason which goes before this "therefore." It is no light thing which S. Paul here exhorts us to do. To be steadfast, when we all know how hard it is to fix our hearts on GOD'S service at all; to be unmoveable, when the devil and the world are seeking every moment to cast us down; to be always abounding in the work of the Lord, when we find it so difficult to do anything at all to the glory of GOD. It is a great thing which he sets us to do, and there must be a great reason for doing it. What is it?
Not at all what we should think. S. Paul has been speaking of death, and of the victory whereby we overcome death. It is because these bodies of ours shall be sown in corruption, to be raised in incorruptiou,--shall be sown in dishonour to be raised in glory; because the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed; that we are now to be steadfast and unmoveable. We will try to see how this is.
Now, it is not of the saint of this day, the holy Bishop Remigius, that I am about to speak. He did indeed abound in the work of the LORD for many long years, in preaching the Gospel, in being instant in season and out of season, in reproving, rebuking, exhorting. But GOD calls us at this time to look at another example of the text.
Since I last spoke to you here, we have all learnt something more of what this fifteenth chapter of the Corinthians means. No long time ago I was reminding you how near death might be to any of us, and must be to some of us. We did not then think how very near--nor to whom. I told you that the elm was probably cut down and seasoned which was to make your coffin; that the nails were already forged which would hold it together. And so it was: but not as I thought. 1 thought of an elm somewhere here in this neighbourhood; I thought of a coffin to be made here in this place; I thought of a quiet grave in this churchyard for some of you who have passed what David calls the bounds of our life: " The days of our age are threescore years and ten; and though men be so strong that they come to four-score years, yet is their strength then but labour and sorrow." But it was not so. One of the youngest of you was taken--taken at the very time when least of all others she might have looked for it. The parable tells us that it was at midnight--that is at the hour when no one would expect it--that the cry was made, "Behold, the Bridegroom cometh: go ye out to meet Him." It was in the very spring of her life that those words were true, "The harvest is past, the summer is ended,"--but, thank GOD! not the end of the verse--"and we are not saved." She went from home, from you all, from the place she knew and loved, to die in a strange town, to lie in a little sea-side churchyard of which she had never heard. But, for all that, "The souls of the righteous are in the hand of GOD, and there shall no torment touch them."
Consider this. We have been praying this last week that we, being ready both in body and soul, may cheerfully accomplish those things GOD would have done. Ready in body? how? Why, you say, by being strong for GOD'S service,--able to work hard in it without being tired,--needing little rest before we take it up again. And I say, it may be just the opposite. "That we being ready:" suppose the thing GOD would have us to do is to die: then still the prayer holds. We pray that we may be ready in body for that--that the earthly house of this our tabernacle may be shaken, and so taken down--that weakness and sickness may come, and gradually disjoin soul and body. Yes, indeed. Whenever it is GOD'S will that so it should be, this prayer asks Him to prepare our bodies for it,--asks Him for pain and sickness. For His will is our salvation. "Whether we live, we live unto the LORD, and whether we die, we die unto the LORD; whether we live therefore or die, we are the LORD'S."
I do not mean that we, if it were left to ourselves, are to wish for so sudden a death. " Give an account of thy stewardship, for thou mayest be no longer steward," are words that we should not wish to hear in a hurry. We pray against it in the Litany. We say every night, "Almighty GOD grant us a quiet night, and a perfect end;" that is, an end in which we may have all the services of the Church that we can have. Nevertheless, it is no proof of GOD'S anger. The wise man tells us so expressly. "For though the righteous be prevented"--that is, hurried off--"by death, yet shall he be in rest. For honourable age is not that which standeth in length of time, nor that is measured by number of years. But wisdom is the grey hair unto men, and an unspotted life is old age. He pleased GOD, and was beloved of Him; so that, living among sinners, he was translated. Yea, speedily was he taken away, lest that wickedness should alter his understanding, or deceit beguile his soul. He, being made perfect in a short time, fulfilled a long time." And our LORD teaches us the same thing. "Blessed are those servants whom the LORD when He cometh shall find watching. If He shall come in the second watch, or come in the third watch,"--that is, whether He shall come when they have reason to expect Him, or when they have not reason to expect Him,--"and find them so, blessed are those servants."
We cannot judge certainly--neither must we speak certainly--of any one whom GOD takes from us. But the hope we have for some may be so very strong, as to be almost certainty. And if we have a right to a hope full of immortality about any one, it is about her of whom I am speaking. I am not afraid to say, Let me die the death that she died, and let my last end be like hers! Now, if there was one thing above another which makes me say so, it was the way in which she constantly acted up to those commands, "Whatsoever ye do, do it heartily, as to the LORD, and not unto men;" and, "If there be first a willing mind, it is accepted according to that a man hath, and not according to that he hath not." It is a great thing to labour for GOD'S sake, and that we may please GOD. Depend upon it, whatever the world may say, whatever we may think, it is a far more blessed thing to sweep rooms, or to wait at table, or to clean shoes, or anything else that we call most mean, for the sake of GOD, and remembering JESUS CHRIST, "Who, though He was rich, yet for our sakes He became poor," yes, and a far more glorious thing too,--than to win the greatest battles,--than to write the most learned books,--than to speak the most eloquent speeches,--for the sake of pleasing ourselves. "Do it heartily, as to the LORD:"--if we could only carry that out, as she did, I am bold to say we should not be far from the kingdom of GOD.
What then? Are we to think that, if she did little things for GOD'S service here on earth, now she is not to serve Him at all? GOD forbid! It is written: "His servants shall serve Him." They that have been faithful over a few things, shall be made rulers over many things. They that have served GOD well here, shall serve Him better there. They rest not day nor night there. And this helps to explain the text.
Why are we to be "always abounding in the work of the LORD?" Because of this very thing. If our service to GOD were to end with this life, then it would be a very poor, heartless service, after all. But it is not. It goes on after death; it goes on while the body is mouldering in the grave; it goes on more perfectly when it shall be raised up again never more to be weary, never more to suffer, never more to die. This is but the beginning of our service. No one can take an interest in that which is soon to come to an end. But how much interest we ought to take--how much diligence we ought to show--when that which is begun now, is to last for ever!
And for another reason. Those who have gone before us, and have died in the grace of GOD, they are carrying on the same work which we have to carry on here. How, we cannot tell. We may fancy what their employments are,--we may try to imagine how they work the work of GOD,--but it is all in vain: we must be with them before we can tell. And this is a great comfort as regards them. "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." At this very present moment, we, if we are trying to serve GOD, and she whom we have lost, are carrying on one and the selfsame work. We do not know what she is doing; she may not know--though more probably she does know--what we are doing; but it is the same work nevertheless. In a battle here, the soldiers at one end of the army cannot tell what the soldiers at the other end are about; they only know that all are engaged under the same leader, all fighting against the same enemy, all hoping for the same victory. Now so it is with us. She, if--as I firmly believe,--she died in GOD'S grace, can never more be overthrown. He that is dead hath ceased from sin. We may. "Therefore we ought to give the more earnest heed to the things which we have heard, lest at any time we should let them slip."
"Be ye also ready, for in such an hour as ye think not, the Son of Man cometh." The time will come when some one will speak about us, as I am now speaking about her; and the rest will sit and hear, and think that it is all very true; and then many of them will go their ways and forget it. And so on, one after another, till all are gone, others will talk of us as we have spoken of those who have gone before; and we shall go the way that we shall not return. "This know," our LORD says, "that if the good man of the house had known what hour the thief would come, he would have watched." That is the great thing for all of you. If those that are young please themselves by thinking that their time will not be soon, it is not so with you; most of you know that it must be soon. There is the less time to watch; there is the less time to pray. If the servants knew that their LORD was coming before morning, and already the East was beginning to get light--how they would listen for every sound! how they would strain their eyes to catch the first sight of Him! So let it be with you. You have but a little longer to wait for CHRIST here, to work for Him here, to conquer for Him here. You have the examples of those gone before you--how they waited, how they worked, how (as we may well believe) they overcame. You know, as I said, that they are still working for Him,--that they are still fellow-workers with us,--that, though we cannot see them, we are knit together in one fellowship with them.
What follows? "Therefore, my beloved brethren, be ye steadfast, unmoveable, always abounding in the work of the LORD:" that we may enter in hereafter where they have entered in,--that we may live with them again,--that we may have our part with them for ever. Not as if we were now really separated from them, but that hereafter we may see, as well as know, that we are joined with them:
"Our brethren once, our brethren now,
Still knit in holy love;
We praise and serve Him here below,
They praise and serve above!"
And now to GOD the FATHER, GOD the SON, and GOD the HOLY GHOST, be all honour and glory for ever. Amen.