“I am swallowed up in God” by Thomas Goodwin

Thomas Goodwin died in London at age eighty. His son wrote this about his father’s final days:

“In February 1679, a fever seized my dear father, which in a few days put an end to his life.

In all the violence of it, he discoursed with that strength of faith and assurance of Christ’s love, with that holy admiration of free grace, with that joy in believing, and such thanksgivings and praises, as he extremely moved and affected all that heard him.

He rejoiced in the thoughts that he was dying, and going to have a full and uninterrupted communion with God.

‘I am going,’ said he, ‘to the three Persons, with whom I have had communion: they have taken me; I did not take them. I shall be changed in the twinkling of an eye; all my lusts and corruptions I shall be rid of, which I could not be here; those croaking toads will fall off in a moment.’

And mentioning those great examples of faith, Heb. 11,

‘All these,’ said he, ‘died in faith. I could not have imagined I should ever have had such a measure of faith in this hour; no, I could never have imagined it. My bow abides in strength.

Is Christ divided? No, I have the whole of His righteousness; I am found in Him, not in my own righteousness, which is of the law, but in the righteousness which is of God, which is by faith of Jesus Christ, who loved me, and gave Himself for me.

Christ cannot love me better than He doth; I think I cannot love Christ better than I do; I am swallowed up in God.’

Directing his speech to his two sons, he exhorted them to value the privilege of the covenant. ‘Now,’ said he, ‘I shall be ever with the Lord.’

With this assurance of faith and fulness of joy, his soul left this world, and went to see and enjoy the reality of that blessed state of glory, which in a discourse on that subject he had so well demonstrated.

He died February 1679, and in the eightieth year of his age.”

–Thomas Goodwin, Memoir of Thomas Goodwin, D.D., Composed Out of His Own Papers and Memoirs, By His Son, The Works of Thomas Goodwin, Volume 2 (Grand Rapids, MI: Reformation Heritage, 1861/2006), 2: lxxiv–lxxv.

“What the assured soul knows” by Thomas Brooks

“Assurance will sweeten the thoughts of death, and all the aches, pains, weaknesses, sicknesses, and diseases, that are the forerunners of it; yea, it will make a man look and long for that day.

It will make a man sick of his absence from Christ. It makes a man smile upon the king of terrors; it makes a man laugh at the shaking of the spear, at the noise of the battle, at the garments of the warriors rolled in blood.

It made the martyrs to compliment with lions, to dare and tire their persecutors, to kiss the stake, to sing and clap their hands in the flames, to tread upon hot burning coals, as upon beds of roses.

The assured soul knows that death shall be the funeral of all his sins and sorrows, of all afflictions and temptations, of all desertions and oppositions.

He knows that death shall be the resurrection of his joys; he knows that death is both an outlet and an inlet; an outlet to sin, and an inlet to the soul’s clear, full, and constant enjoyment of God; and this makes the assured soul to sing it sweetly out, ‘O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory?’ (1 Cor. 15:55–57) ‘I desire to be dissolved.’ (Phil. 1:23) ‘Make haste, my beloved.’ (Cant. 8:14) ‘Come, Lord Jesus, come quickly.’ (Rev. 22:20)”

–Thomas Brooks, “Heaven on Earth,” in The Works of Thomas Brooks, Volume 2 (Carlisle, PA: Banner of Truth, 1666/2001), 2: 409–410.

“The keys of Death and Hades are now in our Savior’s hands” by Matthew Emerson

“The most important practical application of the descent, at least in my opinion, is that it means that Christ experienced death in the same way we do and also defeated it.

His human body went to the grave and His human soul went to the place of the (righteous) dead. This is not a natural state for humanity.

Death is an effect of the fall (Gen 3:17–19; Rom 6:23), and Jesus became fully human to the point that He experienced the fullness of death. He did not die one moment on the cross and rise the next moment but remained dead for three days.

This is a great comfort to those who are facing death or those who have lost loved ones. And those two categories encompass everyone on the planet.

When we, or those we love, face death, we can find assurance in the fact that Christ, too, has experienced death in all its fallen fullness. He really, truly died.

His soul was separated from His body for three days. This is just as we will remain dead and just as our souls will remain separated from our bodies until Christ returns.

Our Savior has gone before us.

Just as the Ark of the Covenant went before the people of Israel through the wilderness for three days to find a place for them to rest (Num 10:33), so Christ has gone before us through the wilderness of Hades to prepare a place for us to rest in Him.

But He has not only experienced the fullness of human death; He has also defeated it. Death does not have the last word.

Those of us who trust Christ do not have hope only because Christ experienced it as we do, but because in it experiencing it as the God-Man He defeated it.

And one day He will expel it fully and finally from His presence and from our experience.

We do not remain dead, just as Christ did not remain dead, because Christ has defeated death in His death, descent, and resurrection.

Because Christ rose, we long for the day when we will rise with Him and dwell, bodily, with Him forever on the new heavens and new earth.

This should also bring believers comfort here on earth as they experience evil, suffering, oppression, and all other effects of sin. Christ’s descent answers the problem of evil because in it (and His death and resurrection) He has defeated the principalities and powers (Col 2:15).

The descent, then, ought to be a great comfort to those facing death, whether their own or a loved one’s. It is part of the reason we grieve, but not as those without hope (1 Thess 4:13).

When we cite Paul’s statement in funeral contexts, it is usually to point to the resurrection. And that is right and good, and the ultimate grounds of such hopeful grieving.

But in the meantime, while we think of our departed dead, while we walk in their graveyards and look at their ashes and remember their lives, while we ponder our own deaths, and while we consider how long it is, O Lord, until the Second Coming, we do so with hope.

We hope because Christ also remained buried in the grave, buried with us and for us. We hope because we have a High Priest who has experienced death as we all will, if the Lord tarries.

We hope because we have an advocate who has experienced the pain of death and yet has done so victoriously, rising from it and drawing us with Him on the last day.

We therefore dig our graves, facing toward the East, knowing that as our bodies decompose, our souls remain with Christ, awaiting the day when He will with loud trumpets return and reunite our bodies and souls so that we can live with Him forever by the power of His Spirit to the glory of the Father.

Charles Hill summarizes this hope well:

Christ descended into Hades so that you and I would not have to. Christ descended to Hades so that we might ascend to heaven. Christ entered the realm of death, the realm of the strong enemy, and came away with his keys.

The keys of Death and Hades are now in our Savior’s hands. And God His Father has exalted Him to His right hand, and given Him another key, the key of David, the key to the heavenly Jerusalem.

He opens and no one will shut, He shuts and no one will open (Rev. 3:7). And praise to Him, as the hymn says, “For He hath op’ed the heavenly door, and man is blessed forever more.”

All praise and honor and glory to the Lamb who has conquered! “Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord henceforth” (Rev. 14:13).

And blessed are we here and now, who even now have this hope, and a fellowship with our Savior which is stronger than death! Thanks be to God. Amen.

Maranatha. Come, Lord Jesus.”

–Matthew Y. Emerson, “He Descended to the Dead”: An Evangelical Theology of Holy Saturday (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic: An Imprint of InterVarsity Press, 2019), 219–221.

“An amazing story about a person you want to be like” by Mark Dever

“Let me tell you an amazing story about a person you want to be like. And please hang in there through some of the details. I can’t tell stories any other way.

John Harper was born in a Christian home in Glasgow, Scotland, in 1872. When he was about fourteen years old, he became a Christian himself, and from that time on, he began to tell others about Christ.

At seventeen years of age, he began to preach, going down the streets of his village and pouring out his soul in passionate pleading for men to be reconciled to God.

After five or six years of toiling on street corners preaching the gospel and working in the mill during the day, Harper was taken in by the Reverend E. A. Carter of Baptist Pioneer Mission in London.

This set Harper free to devote his whole time and energy to the work so dear to his heart—evangelism.

Soon, in September 1896, Harper started his own church. This church, which he began with just twenty-five members, numbered over five hundred by the time he left thirteen years later.

During this time he had been both married and widowed. Before he lost his wife, God blessed Harper with a beautiful little girl named Nana.

Harper’s life was an eventful one. He almost drowned several times. When he was two-and-a-half years of age, he fell into a well but was resuscitated by his mother.

At the age of twenty-six, he was swept out to sea by a reverse current an]d barely survived. And at thirty-two he faced death on a leaking ship in the Mediterranean.

If anything, these brushes with death simply seemed to confirm John Harper in his zeal for evangelism, which marked him out for the rest of the days of his life.

While pastoring his church in London, Harper continued his fervent and faithful evangelism. In fact, he was such a zealous evangelist that the Moody Church in Chicago asked him to come over to America for a series of meetings.

He did, and they went well. A few years later, Moody Church asked him if he would come back again. And so it was that Harper boarded a ship one day with a second-class ticket at Southampton, England, for the voyage to America.

Harper’s wife had died just a few years before, and he had with him his only child, Nana, age six. What happened after this we know mainly from two sources. One is Nana, who died in 1986 at the age of eighty.

She remembered being woken up by her father a few nights into their journey. It was about midnight, and he said that the ship they were on had struck an iceberg.

Harper told Nana that another ship was just about there to rescue them, but, as a precaution, he was going to put her in a lifeboat with an older cousin, who had accompanied them. As for Harper, he would wait until the other ship arrived.

The rest of the story is a tragedy well known. Little Nana and her cousin were saved. But the ship they were on was the Titanic.

The only way we know what happened to John Harper after is because, in a prayer meeting in Hamilton, Ontario, some months later, a young Scotsman stood up in tears and told the extraordinary story of how he was converted.

He explained that he had been on the Titanic the night it struck the iceberg. He had clung to a piece of floating debris in the freezing waters.

“Suddenly,” he said, “a wave brought a man near, John Harper. He, too, was holding a piece of wreckage. “He called out, ‘Man, are you saved?’

“‘No, I am not,’ I replied.

“He shouted back, ‘Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved.’ (Acts 16:31)

“The waves bore [Harper] away, but a little later, he was washed back beside me again. ‘Are you saved now?’ he called out.

“‘No,’ I answered. ‘Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and thou shalt be saved.’ (Acts 16:31)

“Then losing his hold on the wood, [Harper] sank. And there, alone in the night with two miles of water under me, I trusted Christ as my savior. I am John Harper’s last convert.”

–Mark Dever, The Gospel and Personal Evangelism (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2007), 13-15. For more on John Harper, see Moody Adams, The Titanic’s Last Hero: Story About John Harper (Columbia, SC: Olive Press, 1997), 24–25.

“The Christians changed a funeral into a feast” by Herman Bavinck

“Holy Scripture gives us no specific prescriptions with regard to burial. We have an example in the tender way Jesus was buried by his disciples; the same is true of Stephen (Acts 8:2).

We are allowed to mourn and to be sad as appears from both the Old Testament (Gen. 23:2; 37:34-35; 50:1-3; 1 Sam. 25:1) and the New Testament (Luke 7:12-13). Jesus himself (John 11:33-35), Mary (John 20:11), and the disciples (Mark 16:10; Luke 24:17; John 16:20) mourned, and the church at Ephesus mourned for Paul (Acts 20:37).

Death is an evil. Yet Christian mourning is different from pagan mourning. No sorrowing without hope (1 Thess. 4:13), no worldly sorrow (2 Cor. 7:10).

The Christians changed a funeral into a feast of celebration and triumph.

They buried their dead not at night but during daytime, in the full light of day, dressed in white robes, accompanied by retinues and spectators, without wailing women, without wreaths on the body or the coffin.”

–Herman Bavinck, Reformed Ethics, Volume 2The Duties of the Christian Life, Ed. John Bolt (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2021), 2: 433.

“There was no other way” by Cyril of Alexandria (A.D. 370–444)

“There was no other way to shake off the gloomy dominion of death, only by the incarnation of the Only Begotten.

This was why He appeared as we are.”

–Cyril of Alexandria, On the Unity of Christ, ed. John Behr, trans. John Anthony McGuckin, vol. 13, Popular Patristics Series (Crestwood, NY: St Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 1995), 13: 125.

“A Prayer Before Dying” by Zacharius Ursinus

“We give thanks to You, almighty, eternal, and merciful God and Father, because on account of Your inexhaustible mercy among us, You have gathered the Church to Yourself through the Word and Spirit, and You have revealed to us that only and solid comfort in Your Word, which we all know– we who breathe our last in true faith and with the invocation of Your name.

We give thanks not only because You granted to us the use of this life, and up to this point have kindly preserved us, but because You have also begun that spiritual and eternal life in us, and You embraced us in such great love that on our behalf You delivered up Your only begotten son to death, so that all who would believe in Him should not perish but have eternal life.

And You have called us to that blessed fellowship of Your son, and by the work of Your Holy Spirit You have kindled true faith in us, and You have mercifully protected us up to this day against the force and attack of the Devil.

You have guarded us in the truth known. And finally, You have fortified our hearts with this steadfast comfort, that temporal death is our entrance into eternal life.

We ask, O eternal God, that You would cause the pure and sincere teaching of the Gospel to enlighten us and our posterity forevermore, for the sake of the glory of Your name and our salvation.

Always raise up faithful ministers in place of those who have passed on, and send out many into Your harvest. Also strengthen and protect the good work that You have begun in us.

Forgive us our sins, and deliver us from eternal death, through our Lord Jesus Christ.

Likewise, daily mortify our corrupt nature until at last we lay down the burden of sins, under which we frequently grow weary in this life. Cause that we are comforted with a firm faith in the blessed resurrection of our flesh to eternal glory.

Guard us against the temptations of Satan. Be at hand and help us especially when we must leave this life.

Cause us to be rendered compliant, ready, and thankful to Your divine will in our life and death, and let us rejoice in pain and suffering, because we are being conformed to our head, Christ.

Grant constancy to us, increase of faith, and holiness of life. Cause that we deny ourselves and seek things above, where Christ is, and let us not seek our joy in the desires of this world but in meditation upon Your Word.

And finally, pour out in our hearts the Spirit of grace and prayer so that we may always be vigilant, and let us pray that we would not fall into temptation but be ready, so that whenever it would please you, we would pass to you through a blessed, noble death, and bring us boldly to the tribunal of Your Son.

All this, what You would most mercifully lavish upon us, through and on account of Your son, our Lord Jesus Christ, who reigns with You forevermore, Amen.”

–Zacharius Ursinus, “A Godly Meditation Upon Death, (1564)” in Faith in the Time of Plague: Selected Writings from the Reformation and Post-Reformation, Eds. Stephen M. Coleman and Todd M. Rester (Glenside: PA: Westminster Seminary Press, 2021), 269-270. Ursinus wrote this treatise in 1564 when a plague “was prowling about widespread along the banks of the Rhine.”

“Do not forget it, Christian friend” by Charles Spurgeon

“Friend, let me whisper in thine ear: expect to lose thy dear ones still, for death is not destroyed.

Look not upon any of thy friends as though they would be with thee tomorrow, for death is not destroyed yet. See thou the word ‘mortal’ written upon all our brows.

The most unlikely ones die first. When I heard during this week of several cases of dear friends who have gone to their reward, I could have sooner believed it had been others, but God has been pleased to take from us and from our connexion many whom we supposed to be what are called good lives, and they were good lives in the best sense, and that is why the Master took them; they were ripe, and he took them home; but we could not see that.

Now, remember that all your friends, your wife, your husband, your child, your kinsfolk, are all mortal.

That makes you sad. Well, it may prevent your being more sad when they are taken away.

Hold them with a loose hand; do not count that to be freehold which you have only received as a leasehold; do not call that yours which is only lent you, for if you get a thing lent you and it is asked for back, you give it back freely; but if you entertain the notion that it was given you, you do not like to yield it up.

Now, remember, the enemy is not destroyed, and that he will make inroads into our family circle still.

And then remember that you too must die.

Bring yourself frequently face to face with this truth, that you must die. Do not forget it, Christian friend.

No man knows whether his faith is good for anything or not if he does not frequently try that faith by bringing himself right to the edge of the grave.

Picture yourself dying, conceive yourself breathing out your last breath, and see whether then you can look at death without quaking, whether you can feel, “Yes, I have rested upon Jesus, I am saved, I will go through death’s tremendous vale with his presence as my stay, fearing no evil.”

If you have no good hope, may God give you grace at this moment to fly to Jesus, and to trust in Him, and when you have trusted in Him death will be to you a destroyed enemy.

May God grant his blessing for Jesus’ sake. Amen.”

–Charles H. Spurgeon, “The Last Enemy Destroyed,” in The Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit Sermons, vol. 12 (London: Passmore & Alabaster, 1866), 12: 647–648.

“What must it be to lose your soul?” by Charles Spurgeon

“You may tell how serious it is to lose the soul, from its intrinsic value.

The soul is a thing worth ten thousand worlds; in fact, a thing which worlds on worlds heaped together, like sand upon the sea shore, could not buy.

It is more precious than if the ocean had each drop of itself turned into a golden globe, for all that wealth could not buy a soul.

Consider! The soul is made in the image of its Maker; “God made man,” it is said, “in his own image.”

The soul is an everlasting thing like God; God has gifted it with immortality; and hence it is precious. To lose it, then, how fearful!

Consider how precious a soul must be, when both God and the devil are after it.

You never heard that the devil was after a kingdom, did you? No, he is not so foolish; he knows it would not be worth his winning; he is never after that; but he is always after souls.

You never heard that God was seeking after a crown, did you! No, he thinketh little of dominions; but he is after souls every day: his Holy Spirit is seeking his children; and Christ came to save souls.

Do you think that which hell craves for, and that which God seeks for, is not precious?

The soul is precious again, we know, by the price Christ paid for it.

“Not with silver and gold,” but with his own flesh and blood did he redeem it. Ah! it must be precious, if he gave his heart’s core to purchase it.

What must it be to lose your soul?”

–Charles H. Spurgeon, “Profit and Loss,” in The New Park Street Pulpit Sermons, vol. 2 (London: Passmore & Alabaster, 1856), 2: 310–311.