Project Canterbury


The Rest of the Faithful departed.








MAY 13, 1855.








No. 37, Congress Street.







Who departed this Life,

MONDAY, APRIL 30, 1855,



1. THESSALONIANS, iv. 13, 14.

Sunday, fifth after Easter, second Lesson, Evening.

"But 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. For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so them also which sleep in Jesus will God bring with him."

THE characteristic doctrine of the New Testament is faith; and faith is the great principle of the Christian life. The life and immortality which are our purchased inheritance, are brought to light in the Gospel; and by faith we apprehend them now, and finally attain them. The excellency and the peculiar power of faith is this; it enables us to conceive of things as they really are. All that is open to our senses is shadowy and transient; but by virtue of faith we lay hold of the things which are real and true, substantial and everlasting.

It is the prerogative of faith to pass within the veil that hangs between this and the other world: and in that world lies her peculiar range, as this is the province of sense.

[6] The world to come is indeed an absolute reality, independent of the belief of men--but while, on the one hand, to them who are under the bondage of sense it is dim, and unreal, and without influence, faith makes it a thing of reality and power in all the seasons and experiences of life.

And therefore as faith assists and strengthens our apprehensions, it becomes the region to which we look forward with pleasing hopes, with holy awe indeed, and with a feeling of profound mystery; but yet, with deep delight--with earnest longings--with almost impatient desires, and eagerness to depart. We lean forward with peering eyes to catch, if possible, some distant glimpse of its glorious scenes;--we strain our eager sense to hear some faint sound or murmur of its sweet and strange harmony. It is the peculiar dwelling-place of GOD: it is the mansion of His blessed angels; it is the peaceful home where the saints, fallen asleep in Christ, are at rest! To the man of faith it is practically a glorious reality; to which he is ever going onward; to which he reaches forth with ever fresh and steadfast hopes! In that world is his life: that world only is real to him. And when he goes hence to that, it is as an evile returns from a dreary banishment to all the delights and happiness of home, and kindred, and native country.

Just in proportion as our minds are possessed and [6/7] actuated by faith, the Gospel becomes to us a reality: a power that shapes and controls our whole outward and inward life: and just in proportion as we lack this divine and heavenly principle, which gives life and reality to the revelations of the world invisible, the Gospel of life and immortality is to us a sealed book--as unintelligible and as ineffective for its chief purpose and aim, as if given to us in an unknown tonge. Without it we may hear, and read; but we shall not understand, nor know, nor feel, nor live.

The Christians of St. Paul's time had less knowledge than we; but so far superior to us were they in faith, that what they knew, was incomparably more effective; it was wrought into their daily life, and gave them a tenfold more earnest and real character, than is ordinarily attained by the christians of this age.

In the usual habit of our minds with respect to friends departed, it may be seen how small is our faith in the revelations of the Gospel--how inconsiderable is its actual effect upon us; and how far we are from having escaped the bondage of sense. We are wont to think and to speak of those who are asleep in Christ, as dead; as if they were indeed no more; as if they had ceased to be: when in truth, they are now more alive than ever before. Our thoughts centre in ourselves; we muse and judge of them by [7/8] an unconscious reference to ourselves; and because they have gone from us, we are half betrayed to think they live no longer; we are apt to think that our loss is also theirs--and because our faith in the verity of the world to which they have passed, is feeble and unsteady, we have but dull and unworthy conceptions,--or, more generally perhaps, no thought or image of their peaceful and blessed rest. Our habitual thoughts of them, are of what they were in this world, not of what they are now.

The question of the angels to those devoted women who went very early in the morning of the third day to the sepulcher, carrying sweets pices, with pious affection to anoint their Lord's sacred body, seems exactly pertinent to us. "Why seek ye the living among the dead? We linger at their graves, as if they contained all that now remains, or is of them; we are loth to come from them; we revisit them again and again; but it is notthis that I would censure; it is natural; it is good; nay, it is christian. The sacred dust of the faithful should be cherished and guarded; the dust of his saints was redeemed from the grace, and is dear to the Lord; we may well suppose that his eye beholds and keeps it; or that his ministering angels watch over and guard it; and though not without corruption--yet, as surely as his own body was raised, He in His own good time will [8/9] bring from their graves the very bodies of His dear saints, and they shall live again, and forever. But our habit is to linger at the tomb. Our thoughts hover over it--our hearts cling to it, as if their very selves were there; as if themselves had gone down into the ground, and were buried there in deep and unconscious sleep.

The rest of the saints departed is not the cold, unconscious rest of a stone! They are asleep--but not so asleep in that calm and safe abode, where their spirits now remain and await, till He who is the Resurrection of the dead, shall recall their bodies from the grave, as to have no knowledge or feeling of where they are, or whom they are with, or what they enjoy! They are in the rest of Paradise; they have departed and are with Christ; which, whatever it be, is surely something far different and far better than unconscious sleep! and it may be too, and it is most likely, they are nearer much to us, than the distance which separates us from their lowly and quiet graves.

Again, we strive to retain or recover the knowledge of what they were while they lived; we strain our thought to recall each word and look, each scene and action; to bring back again the dear image and portraiture of beauty and worth; to revive and renew that earthly life which is forever gone.

I do not say that this is wrong, or wholly unwise; [9/10] but it is not the best, nor the happiest converse with our departed friends that is left us, now that they are gone, and our eyes behold them, and our ears hear them, no longer. Rather let us commune with their spirits--let our thoughts follow them to the mansions where they are now at rest; let us assuage our griefs for their loss by remembering that they are now amidst the pur felicities of Paradise; released from all the cars, and labors, and sorrows of their weary pilgrimage on earth; freed from temptations and sins; removed far from all that can corrupt, or defile, or distress, or injure, or destroy; they are at rest, at rest forever. Moreover they are partaking the happy society and fellowship of the innumerable multitudes of those who have finished their course in faith and do now rest from their labors; who are delivered from the burden of the flesh and are in joy and felicity. They have joined the blessed company of Patriarchs and Prophets, or Apostles and Martyrs, of Saints and Confessors, who are waiting together for the perfect consummation of Christ's eternal and glorious kingdom. We should indeed cherish and preserve the sweet memories of their excellence while they were yet with us; we should thank the Lord for the grace which enabled them to follow so strictly the steps of His own most holy life; but this is not all,--nor is this the best that we still have of those who [10/11] have ceased from among us and are asleep in the Lord Jesus. Far, far better, far dearer is the faith of what they are, than the memory of what they have been. It betrays a sad deficiency of faith, faith as a practical principle and habit in our life, that our minds so much and so frequently go back to their earthly experience amidst the sins and infirmities and imperfections of this corrupted and dying world, and only at infrequent intervals, and with effort and difficulty, commune with their happy spirits, where they are now. Thus it is our propensity and our habit, hindered and oppressed by the burdens and obstructions of sense, "to seek the living among the dead;"--where we find only faint and vanishing traces of their former presence, but not them. Such was not the way with the holy Apostles and the faithful of their time. They looked not backward, but forward; not to a mournful separation bewailed with bitter tears and vain regrets, but with open face to a reunion, certain, blissful, and forever! Their faith was a practical habit of understanding--of the conscience also;--most especially of the heart. The world unseen and invisible was with them, therefore, a present and felt reality; the only true and steadfast reality; not dread and terrible, as it is to the sinful, from which he flees, and which he would fain avoid forever; but glorious and blessed; [11/12] and to attain which they cheerfully suffered the less of all things, and were counted as the offscouring of the world; and the sincerity and power of their faith might be seen in the affectionate commemoration of saints departed, which was a prominent portion of the worship in the solemn assembles of the primitive christians. It was thus that they cherished the communion of the sants, and preserved the bond of fellowship which drew and held together in one, the whole household of the faithful, whether on earth, and still admist the fierce warfare of good and evil, or in the rest of Paradise, asleep in the Lord. They felt themselves to be one body with those who had departed from them with the sign of faith, and were resting in the sleep of peace. Though withdrawn from their sight, they were not severed from their fellowship. This feature of the primitive liturgies we perceive in our own; and in this, as in most other particulars, the teachings of the Prayer Book are far more scriptural and primitive than the practical notions which have currency and prevalence among us.

At every celebration of Lord's blessed passion and precious death, we commemorate with affectionate veneration those who are departed in the faith and fear of God; and in every burial we make thankful mention of those, who, delivered from the burden of the flesh, are now in joy and felicity.

[13] Thus does the Church teach us to stay the flow of our sorrows over those whoa re gone within the veil which hangs midway across her domain, dividing for a time the two portions of the one great family of her children, and to stir up ourselves to follow the good examples which they have left us.

The meditations upon the peaceful rest of the faithful department let me offer as a heartfelt though humble tribute to the blessed memory of one lately gone from the midst of us, whose meek excellence and pure worth no words of mine can suitably celebrate; and I would fain believe your own sympathies will freely and full accord to this expression of our common sorrow and loss. The pens of inspired Apostles and Evangelists were at times diverted from the high topics of divine doctrine, to inscribe a lasting record and memorial of personal worth in some faithful disciple; thus blending truth and life, and making the former more clear, and winning, and effective through the exhibition of the latter. Let this great example, if need be, be my defence.

Long, long in our memories will the image of her steady zeal, and her quiet and fervent piety, be enshrined!

How well she loved our holy house of prayer, and with what meekness and reverence she bore her part in its high solemnities. How duly her willing feet, [13/14] though pressed with a heavy weight of years, returned to the courts of the Lord. How thoughtfully she remembered Christ's poor; how diligently she ministered to their necessities; with the truest instinct of charity, enhancing the value of her gifts, by a gracious tact and tenderness in applying them. The free spirit of love and devotion that animated her, infused a new power into her sinking frame, and seemed to lift her above the infirmities which compassed about her increasing years; so that to the last she still "went about doing good." When, ah, when shall we see her like again? So humble and sincere, so constant and unwearied in offices of kindness and labors of love. "When the ear heard her, then it blessed her; and when the eye saw her, it gave witness to her."

Let us thank God for the favor of her long continuance with us, and the precious legacy of her bright example. Her long and wasting pilgrimage is ended; happily and serenely ended, in the holy rest of our Lord's dear saints! Full of years, and full of loving service and duty in the church on earth, she has come to the grave, and gate of death, "like as a shock of corn cometh in in his season."

Fragrant, and forever dear shall be her memory.

[15] Almighty God, with whom do live the spirits of those who depart hence in the Lord, and with whom the souls of the faithful, after they are delivered from the burden of the flesh, are in joy and felicity; We give thee hearty thanks for the good examples of all those thy servants, who, having finished their course in faith, do now rest from their labors. And we beseech thee, that we, with all those who are departed in the true faith of thy holy Name, may have our perfect consummation and bliss, both in body and soul, in thy eternal and everlasting glory; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

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