Tuesday, 27 May 2014

Reformed Truth: from baptism to burial and onwards to heaven!

In Sheffield Presbyterian Church, I am preparing the funeral for a beloved brother, Brian Riley who suddenly died last Saturday at the age of 61. He was an elder in one of the congregations in EPCEW for many years and in the last 2 years he was a member in Sheffield. During the last two years he has been led by God's grace to a wonderful place of spiritual happiness and the last church service he attended, his 74 year old brother became a communicant member, having been baptised a few weeks before, having professed faith in Jesus Christ earlier in the year.

It is at times like this that our reformed doctrine is tested. What is reformed doctrine? It is preparing the saints to live well, to die well, and to bury their dead well, to the glory of God. The funeral will take place next week and the gospel will be preached, hopefully with wisdom, sensitivity and gentleness, in order to get the balance right as many non-Christians will attend. Brian will will then be buried, his body which was made in the image of God will be returned to the earth to await the future bodily resurrection at the Second coming of the Lord Jesus. Right now, Brian is with the Lord, with the saints in heaven.

Our reformed doctrine must focus on heaven, because none of us know when we will be called home, that is those who die in the Lord. Those who die in their sins will not go to heaven. When their eyelids close in death, they will open to unimaginable horrors of everlasting punishment which means we must preach the gospel with all of its warnings. Let me close with comfort for those who mourn the death of Christians.

Isaiah 61:2-3 "To proclaim the acceptable year of the LORD, And the day of vengeance of our God; To comfort all who mourn, To console those who mourn in Zion, To give them beauty for ashes, The oil of joy for mourning, The garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness; That they may be called trees of righteousness, The planting of the LORD, that He may be glorified” (New King James).

I have found that the Scottish divine Samuel Rutherford is most helpful in times of mourning. Here are two of his sayings.
"I see grace groweth best in winter" and "I know, we may say, that Christ is kindest in his love when we are at our weakest; and that if Christ had not been to the fore, in our sad days, the waters had gone over our soul".

Finally, hear Augustus Montague Toplady from the last verse of the famed hymn "Rock Of Ages". Toplady himself only lived until he was 38 years of age and for many saints of old, the nearness of eternity was often more real than it is for the Western church today.

While I draw this fleeting breath,
when my eyelids close in death,
when I soar to realms unknown,
see Thee on Thy judgment throne;
Rock of Ages, cleft for me,
let me hide myself in Thee.

Romans 14:8 "For if we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord. So then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s".

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