Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
August 8, 1968
NUMBER 14, PAGE 4,7b

"If A Man Die,...."


As I write these lines from my motel room in a little East Texas town, my heart and thoughts are very much with an aged saint who lies dying on a lonely hospital bed nearly two thousand miles away. He has been a good and gentle man, with many virtues and few faults. By the time these words appear in print (three weeks hence) the green grass of California will in all probability already be starting to take root in the ground that covers his earthly frame. There is no sorrow in our hearts, no sadness in our life, more common to mankind than that brought by death. There is not a one of us but who has been, or shall be, brought into the deepest agony of the human spirit by this experience. Like the heavy black pall of an impending disaster, the threat of death is with us from the first breath of air we draw at birth. Unconscious of its burden in early years, we feel the increasing weight of its ominous portent as the seasons roll by in swift succession.

One by one we see our friends and loved ones go down into the dark valley, their wisdom, their strength, and their beauty lost to us in the narrow confines of the tomb. All our tears and all our prayers can bring not one word from their silent lips. As Ingersoll said, "We cry aloud; and the only answer is the echo of our wailing cry. From the voiceless lips of the unreplying dead there comes no sound." Every sorrow and every tragedy of earth has its compensations; but for death earth has no recompense. Each spring the earth rises in fresh loveliness from the frozen clutch of winter, coming through the dark valley of the shadow into the green pastures and beside the still waters of spring and summer. We have seen with wondering eyes how April and May make miracles of tree and flower; the leaves appear again in all their old familiar tenderness; out of the dry and withered branches come the fair young flowers wearing the immortal bloom of Eden; the mound in the church-yard turns green and comes to life as though touched by a magician's wand. But there is no answering movement from the more precious dust beneath that mound. Our loved ones have gone to their last long sleep. For this tragedy earth has no balm; for this sorrow earth has no cure; for this anguish earth has no relief. With tear-dimmed eyes and aching hearts we turn away from the new made grave back to a life that will forever have an emptiness in it, back to weary years of loneliness and heartache.

This is the sorrow of this world. But how glorious the transformation of that sorrow in the heart of a Christian! Indeed, to the early disciples the death of a saint was an hour of triumph and not of tragedy, a day of rejoicing and not of sorrow. Historians tell us that their burial customs were the very antithesis of ours today. They dressed in white, not black; there was exultation and joy in their spirits, not anguish and loss. For so close were they to God, so near to that 'unseen' world, that at times it became even more REAL to them than the unhappy mundane sphere in which they moved and breathed. Heaven was "only a step" away. The promise of God was so firmly and fully accepted that death was but the opening of the door into that brighter and happier world. The pagan world was puzzled and frightened by the Christian's attitude in the face of his death — his own death or that of his loved ones. Unbelievers were mystified by the deep and unquestioning joy which seemed to fill the Christians' hearts when one of their number died. They did not know; they could not understand.

As I write these lines today I can sense only dimly the spirit of these early disciples. I do not feel the sorrow that would overwhelm me if my dying friend were not a Christian; I can truly rejoice that very shortly (perhaps even as I write) the feeble flame of life will flicker out, and his aged frame shall be at rest. His life has been long (he is in his eighty-eighth year), and filled with labor. Even when well past eighty, he was still supporting himself and his invalid wife by the work of his own hands; idleness was no part of his life. A faithful Christian since his earliest years, he exemplified the quiet humility and patient acceptance of life which are all too rare, even among Christians.

There will be tears in my home when the death message finally comes; my wife will weep for her father, my son will grieve at the loss of his last grandparent. But they will be the healing tears of natural and normal grief, not the scalding anguished tears of those whose loved ones have died out of Christ. We shall meet again on the other side; separation is but for a time. By the unutterable love of God Christ has "brought to nought him that had the power of death, that is, the devil," and has truly delivered "all them who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage." The good earth of California shall hold the mortal dust that once housed the spirit of Lorenzo Antonio Gotto; his only child (my wife) and his only grand-child (my son) shall feel the sudden wrench of separation. But their sorrow, and mine, will be swallowed up in triumphant faith. What healing there is in hope, and what 'blessed assurance' in the certainty of God's promises!

How can any mortal man deny to his loved ones this comfort and this consolation? Even apart from any motives of love toward Christ, the hope of heaven, and the desire to escape hell, it would seem that simple love for one's family would be strong enough to induce a man to leave them the greatest comfort within his power to give — the consolation of knowing that their loved one has died "in Christ."

— F. Y. T...