A Sermon Delivered On Sunday Morning, December 18, 1870, By C. H. Spurgeon At The Metropolitan Tabernacle, Newington. 6/29/2011*6/29/2011
By faith Joseph, when he died, made mention of the departing of the children of Israel; and gave instructions concerning his bones. (Hebrews 11:22)
1. We cannot readily tell which action in a gracious life God may most value. The Holy Spirit in this chapter selects out of good men’s lives the most brilliant examples of their faith. I should hardly have expected that he would have mentioned the dying scene of Joseph’s life as the most illustrious proof of his faith in God. That eventful life perhaps the most interesting in all sacred Scripture, with the exception of one, abounds with incidents, of which the Holy Spirit might have said by his servant Paul, “By faith Joseph did this and that,” but nothing is mentioned except the closing scene. The triumph especially of his chastity under well known and exceedingly severe temptation, might have been very properly traced to the power of his faith, but it is passed over, and the fact that he gave instructions concerning his bones is singled out as being the most illustrious proof of his faith. Does this not tell us, dear brothers and sisters, that we are very poor judges of what God will most delight in? Very likely when we least please ourselves God is best pleased with us. That prayer over which we groaned, and thought it was not prayer, may have had more true supplication in it than another intercession of which we thought far more highly. That sermon which made us lament in the bitterness of our soul because we thought we had delivered it so feebly, may have been in God’s sight more precious than many a fluent discourse concerning which we congratulated ourselves. That trial which we thought we passed through with so much impatience, may have been before God an exhibition of true patience as he looked deep down into our souls. The tests by which we try ourselves are very inaccurate. It may be when we read our own biographies in the light of eternity we shall be surprised to notice that God has highly commended what we wept over, while much that we gloried in will be cast away among the reprobate silver. The Lord does not see as man sees, for man looks at the outward appearance, but God looks at the heart, and his glance pierces to the core. The Lord weighs the spirits; he does not estimate by colour, form, and glitter, but by actual weight, and hence when he weighed the character of Joseph he gave the preponderance to an incident where faith is really present in much force, but not to the superficial observer.
2. It may seem surprising that the charge of Joseph concerning his body should be mentioned as a notable act of faith, and not the similar charge delivered by Jacob; for did Jacob not also give instructions concerning his bones? “And he charged them, and said to them, ‘I am to be gathered to my people: bury me with my fathers in the cave that is in the field of Ephron the Hittite, in the cave that is in the field of Machpelah, which is before Mamre, in the land of Canaan, which Abraham bought with the field of Ephron the Hittite for a possession of a burying place. There they buried Abraham and Sarah his wife; there they buried Isaac and Rebekah his wife; and there I buried Leah.’ ” He ordered them to carry his body to that dear mausoleum of the family at Machpelah, where his fathers rested. Why was that not a case of faith in Jacob as much as in Joseph? We cannot always speak positively about these things, but we think that there is a very decided difference between the two. You will notice that Jacob’s wish to lie in Machpelah was by himself described as resting mainly on the basis of natural affection. He speaks about his relationship to Abraham, to Isaac, to Leah, and so on, and with that natural feeling which is exceedingly commendable, but which is not a work of grace, he desires to be buried with his own kith and kin. When his soul should be gathered to his people he wanted to have his body lie side by side with his own relatives. This wish was probably as much a product of nature as an expression of grace. Of course, natural affection would have led Joseph to desire the same thing, but he does not put it on that level. Moreover, you notice that Jacob commands his sons to do with his bones what they could readily do; they were to take him to Machpelah and bury him at once. He knew his son Joseph to be in power in Egypt; and therefore anything that was needed for his funeral would be provided: the Egyptian court, as it proved, were ready enough to give him the most sumptuous interment. They even spent forty days in mourning for him, denoting by it that he was a person held in high honour. Jacob therefore commanded nothing to be done except what could be done; there was no very remarkable exhibition of faith in commanding an immediate funeral which the filial love of Joseph would readily secure. He takes immediate possession of his sepulchre in Canaan, and for very excellent reasons, does not ask to remain unburied until Canaan is possessed by his descendants. Jacob seeks immediate burial, but Joseph postpones his interment until the covenant promise is fulfilled. Joseph not only wished to be buried in Machpelah, which was natural, but he would not be buried there until the land was taken possession of, which was an exhibition of the grace of faith. He wished his unburied body to share with the people of God in their captivity and their return. He was so certain that they would come out of the captivity, that he postpones his burial until that glad event, and so makes what would have been only a natural wish, a means of expressing a holy and gracious confidence in the divine promise. It was faith in Jacob, but it was remarkable faith in Joseph; and God who does not look simply at the act, but at the motive of the act, has been pleased not to record Jacob as an example of dying faith in this particular matter of his bones, but to award praise to Joseph as exhibiting in death a memorable degree of confidence in the promise. Probably Jacob’s dying faith, when exercised upon other matters, outshone his faith in connection with his burial, while in his favourite son that matter was his leading proof of faith.
3. We shall now come to examine this incident in more detail, and we shall find valuable lessons in it. May the Holy Spirit write them on our hearts.
4. I think I see, first, in this word of Joseph on his deathbed, the power of faith; I see, secondly, the workings of faith, the forms in which this precious grace embodies itself; and, thirdly, I see an example for our faith when we come to die.
5. I. I observe in the text an example of THE POWER OF FAITH; the endurance of true faith under three remarkable modes of test.
6. First, the power of faith over worldly prosperity. “Not many great men after the flesh, not many mighty are chosen” — that word is true enough. But it was never said, “Not any great men, not any mighty are chosen.” God has selected a few in places of wealth, and power, and influence, who have faith in their hearts, and that in an eminent degree. Our Lord told us that it was “easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven,” but he added, “the things which are impossible with men are possible with God.” Observe, then, the difficulty which surrounded Joseph’s case; and then notice how great must have been the faith which triumphed over the difficulty! Joseph’s position after he had passed through his first trials in Egypt was a very eminent one. He possessed unbounded riches; he was the viceroy of the entire country, and Pharaoh had said to him, “Only in regard to the throne will I be greater than you.” He was in all respects, except in name, the absolute lord of that great nation; he could do just as he wished; he was surrounded by all the state of royalty; and when he rode in his chariot through the streets the heralds cried before him, “Bow the knee.” Yet all this did not prevent Joseph’s possessing faith in God, and a faith which persevered even to the end. My dear brethren, the trials of faith are usually those of poverty, and very gloriously faith behaves herself when she trusts in the Lord, and does good, and is fed even in the land of famine; but it is possible the ordeal of prosperity is far more severe, and it is hence a greater triumph of faith, when the rich man does not set his heart upon uncertain riches, and does, not allow the thick clay of this world to encumber his pilgrimage to heaven. It is hard to carry a full cup with a steady hand, some spilling will usually occur; but where grace makes rich men, and men in high position of power and authority to act becomingly and graciously, then grace is greatly glorified. You who are rich should see your danger; but let the case of Joseph be your encouragement. God will help you, seek his merciful aid. There is no need that you should be worldly, there is no need that you should conform the Israelite to the Egyptian. God can keep you, even as he kept Job, so that you shall be perfect and upright, and yet be exceedingly great in possessions. Like Joseph you may be at once richer and better than your brethren. It will be very hard, and you will need very, very much grace, but the Lord your God will help you, and you shall learn, like Paul, how to abound; and, like Joseph of Arimathea, you shall be both a rich man and a devout disciple.
7. Also remember that Joseph was not only tried by riches, but that the trial lasted throughout a long life, from almost his early days to the close of his career. I suppose that for sixty or seventy years at least he stood in the high position of lord lieutenant of Egypt, with all the wealth of that great people at his feet, and yet all that time he remained true in heart towards the God of his fathers. May God give you who are in elevated places similar fidelity. May you remain unshaken under the most protracted temptation. Remember, moreover, that the society into which Joseph was placed by his position in Egypt was of the very worst kind concerning spiritual religion, for the Egyptians were idolaters to a man, worshippers of all kinds of living animals and creeping things. A satirist said about them, “Oh, happy people who grow their gods in their own gardens,” for they even worshipped leeks and onions: they were a most idolatrous people; and though far ahead of their neighbours in civilisation, they were very low in the scale of religion. We think we see in Joseph here and there traces that he was damaged by Egyptian habits and customs, but still not so much as one might have expected, and in no degree so much as to make us suspect his fidelity to the one God. There must have been a deep sound depth of holiness in the young man or he would never have been able to live at court, and at an idolatrous court too, and yet to preserve his integrity and his faith towards Jehovah the God of Israel. Do not forget that during a very great part of that time Joseph did not have one single person to associate with who was of his own faith. Think what a trial that must have been for him! I have known people very warm hearted in religion while living with zealous Christians, and very diligent while listening to a lively ministry, who, when removed from Christian society, or compelled to sit under a cold ministry, have made a spiritual failure. Alas! I mourn over some who when transplanted into sterner soil have so declined that it would be hard to say whether they are trees of the Lord’s right hand planting or not. Joseph was removed to a place where there was no prayer in the household, no friend, no godly teacher to speak a word with, no one who knew about Jehovah or about the covenant made with Israel; he was all alone, alone, alone, in the midst of an idolatrous people, with all the temptations of Egypt before him, possessed of its riches and its treasures, and tempted to live as the people lived, in all manner of heathenism, and yet for all that he endured as seeing him who is invisible, and at the last he died full of confident, joyous and godly belief in the God of his fathers. Ah! this is a great triumph of faith, and I would urge any of my dear brethren here, who really love the Lord, to seek that the work of grace in them may be so deep, so true, so thorough, that if God should make kings of them they would not grow proud of it; if God should send them far away from Christian fellowship they would not forget him; and if they were exposed to all the temptations of the world at once they would resist them all. The power of Joseph’s faith was, you see, abundantly evidenced in its triumph over his worldly circumstances.
8. Secondly, you see here the power of his faith exhibited in its triumph over death. He says, if you turn to the last chapter of Genesis, “I am about to die, and God will surely visit you”; or, as the text puts it, he “made mention concerning the departing of the children of Israel.” Death is a great tester of a man’s sincerity, and a great shaker down of bowing walls and tottering fences. Men have thought that it was all well with them, but when the swellings of Jordan have been around them, they have found matters quite otherwise. Here we see Joseph so calm, so quiet, that he remembers the covenant, falls back upon it, and rejoices in it. He speaks of dying as though it were only a part of living, and comparatively a small matter to him. He gives no evidence of trepidation whatever, no fear distracts him; but he bears his last witness to his brothers who gather around his bed, concerning the faithfulness of God and the infallibility of his promise.
9. Moreover, if I am to gather from the text that the Holy Spirit has singled out the brightest example of faith in Joseph’s whole life, it is beautiful to note that the grand old man becomes most illustrious in his last hour. Death did not dim, but rather brightened the gold in his character. On his deathbed, beyond all the rest of his life, his faith, like the setting sun, gilds all around with glory; now that heart and flesh fail him, God becomes more than ever the strength of his life, since he was soon to be his portion for ever. Is it not a grand thing for a Christian to do his very best action last, being strongest in divine power when his own weakness is supreme? We should desire to serve God in youth, in health, in strength, with all the might we have, but it may happen to us that, like Samson, our last act may be the greatest. Many a good man groans over his life, that having done all he can it is still unsatisfactory; but perhaps the Master may be intending to give him a crowning mercy, just at the last, and make the place of his departure to be the scene of his most glorious victory, so that he may enter into heaven wearing the laurels of faith, there to cast them at the Saviour’s feet. Joseph, at any rate, is a noble example of faith’s conquest over death.
10. Once more, here is a proof of the power of faith in laughing at improbabilities. If you will think of it, it seemed a very unlikely thing that the children of Israel should go up out of Egypt. Perhaps at the time when Joseph died there appeared to be no reason why they should do so. They were settled in Goshen, they had been favoured with the best part of the land; the wisdom of Joseph had selected the most fertile part of the delta of the Nile as a pasture for their flocks. Why should they wish to go? They had all the comforts earth could yield them, why should they wish to leave Egypt for the soil of Canaan, where the Canaanites would dispute every inch of the ground, where there were few, if any, advantages over Egypt, and many disadvantages? Suppose Joseph to have seen, by prophetic foresight, as perhaps he did, that another dynasty would succeed to that of the Pharaoh who had honoured him, and that Israel would be oppressed, he must have felt, if he weighed probabilities, that it was unlikely to the last degree that the children of Israel, when reduced to slavery, would ever have been able to fight their way out of Egypt, to reach the promised land. Any person qualified to judge, had he been asked, concerning the probable outcome of a conflict between the twelve tribes and the armies of Egypt, would have replied, “Israel would be at once trodden down like straw for the dunghill, and the people would remain in perpetual bondage.” But Joseph’s eye was fixed upon the mighty promise, “In the fourth generation, they shall come here again.” He knew that when the years were passed, Abram’s vision of the smoking furnace and the burning lamp would be fulfilled, and the word would be established — “And also that nation, whom they shall serve, I will judge: and afterward they shall come out with great possessions.” Though as yet he could not know that Moses would say, “Thus says Jehovah, ‘Let my people go,’ ” though he might not have foreseen the wonders at the Red Sea, and how Pharaoh and his chariots would be swallowed up in it; and, though he did not predict the wilderness and the fiery cloudy pillar, and the heavens dropping manna, yet his faith was firm, that by some means the covenant would be fulfilled: improbabilities were nothing to him, nor impossibilities either. God has said it, and Joseph believes it. On his deathbed, when the imagination fades and strong delusion relaxes its iron grip, the true, sure faith of the man of God rose to its height, and like the evening star shed a sweet glory over the scene. May we, my brethren, possess the faith which will triumph over all circumstances, over the pains of death, and over every improbability that may apparently be connected with the word.
11. II. Under our second point we are to endeavour to show you THE WORKINGS OF FAITH.
12. In this case Joseph gives instructions concerning his bones. The first fruit of faith in Joseph was this — he would not be an Egyptian. He had not been asked to be an Egyptian under the yoke, anyone might have refused that; he had not been asked to be an Egyptian of the middle class, that might have been desirable from a worldly point of view; but he had the opportunity of being an Egyptian of the highest class. He was actually exalted to almost royal rank, and he might have become a naturalised Egyptian, and his family also. In the providence of God he was called upon to accept the honours and rewards of a most dignified office, but still he would not be an Egyptian, even on the best terms. His deathbed afforded him a turning point, an opportunity for testifying that he is an Israelite, and by no means an Egyptian. He did not hesitate, his choice had never wavered. No doubt he would have had a sumptuous enough tomb in Egypt; but no, he will not be buried there, for he is not an Egyptian. In the Sahara, close by the great pyramid of Pharaoh Apophis, stands at this day the tomb of a prince, whose name and titles are in hieroglyphic writing. The name is “Eitsuph,” and from among his many titles we choose two — “Director of the king’s granaries,” and the other an Egyptian title, “Abrech.” Now this last word is found in the Scriptures, and is what is translated, “Bow the knee.” (a) It is more than probable that this monument was prepared for Joseph, but he declined the honour. (b) Though his resting place would have been side by side with the pyramid of one of Mizraim’s greatest monarchs, yet he would not accept the dignity, he would not be an Egyptian. This is one of the sure workings of faith in a man of wealth and rank; when God places him in circumstances where he might be a worldling of the first order, if his faith is genuine, he says, “No; I will not even at this rate be numbered with the world.” He dreads above all things that he should be supposed to have his portion in this life. If you could put a Christian on the throne, the first fear he would have would be this — “Am I to be engrossed with an earthly crown, and miss the heavenly diadem?” Place him at court, his great, question will be — “How shall I show that I am not one of the citizens of this world?” Surround him with broad acres, a noble mansion, and a large estate, yet he says, “I accept this thankfully from God, but oh, I would not have it if I had it on the condition of being numbered with the followers of Mammon; and now I have obtained wealth, my daily prayer to God shall be, ‘Lord, help me so to use my position so that I may not serve this evil world with it, but may be a father to your poor Israel. If it comes to the choice between the reproach of Christ and the treasures of Egypt, I will take Christ’s reproach, and renounce the treasure; I cannot be an Egyptian.’ ” Oh rich men, make this a main point of concern, prove that you are not worldlings. You have to frequent the stock exchange, to visit the bank, to handle large sums of money, but do not be money grubbers, gold diggers; do not be covetous or grasping. Prove that though in Egypt you are not Egyptians. May this be your prayer, “May God grant I may never so live as to be mistaken for a man of this world who has his portion in this life. My portion is above. Whatever I enjoy here, heaven is my inheritance.”
13. Notice, next, that his faith constrained him to have fellowship with the people of God. Not only does he refuse to be a worldling, but he affirms himself to be an Israelite. You will tell me, perhaps, that he only had fellowship with them when he was dead. Yet do not think too lightly of that. He gave up the funeral which Egypt would accord him so that he might wait long years for his funeral rites to be celebrated by his own people. But I ask to remind you that it was not the first time that Joseph had shown fellowship with his brethren; it was only the conclusion of a lifetime of communion with them. It is true he did not go down into their poverty, there was no need that he should, but he made them sharers of his wealth. God had so ordained in providence that Joseph should be a man of wealth, and rank, and station, and he showed his fellowship with Israel by bringing down his father and brothers into Goshen, and providing for them there, and being always ready to urge their suit, and to do his best to promote their interests. Now one sign of faith in the Christian man is this, if he is poor he takes his lot with the poor people of God cheerfully, but if he is rich, he considers that he is placed in a commanding position so that he may be all the better help to his brethren, and he has fellowship with them by his constant kindness towards them. If it ever were needful to prove his true fellowship that he should give up his position altogether, he would cheerfully do it so that he might be numbered with the despised people of God. Joseph, it seems to me never blushed to acknowledge his nationality, and never failed at all proper times to say to the Egyptians, “I am not one of you; my family is down in Goshen.” Since he knew that afterwards his family would become despised and persecuted, he said to them, “Keep my bones, so that when they despise you they may despise me — I am going to stay with you in all your future sorrows, for I am one of you.” True faith will make the child of God say, “I am one of God’s people, my soul is joined to them in all conditions.” “Where you go, I will go; where you lodge, I will lodge: your people shall be my people, and your God my God: where you die, I will die, and there I will be buried.”
14. In the case of Joseph his faith led to an open affirmation of his confidence in God’s promise. On his deathbed he said, “I am about to die, but God will visit you and bring you up out of this land.” He also said, “He will bring you to the land which he promised to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob.” Faith cannot be dumb. I have known her tongue to be silent through diffidence, but at last it has been obliged to speak; and, my brethren, why should not your faith speak more often, for her voice is sweet and her countenance is comely? No tongue is more sweet to Christ’s ear, nor more potent over the hearts of men, than the tongue of true faith. If your faith is real, though you may for awhile hide your light under a bushel you will not always be able to do so for long, but you will be compelled to say, “I believe the gospel of Christ, I believe the promise of God; he will keep his covenant, and I affirm myself to be a believer in his truth.” Joseph having so declared his faith, practically showed that he meant the affirmation, that it was not a matter of form, but a matter of heart. I do not know in what better way he could have shown his practical belief in the fact that God would bring the people out of Egypt, than by saying, “Keep my bones here, never bury them until you yourselves go to Canaan, having left Egypt for ever, and taken possession of your covenant country.” He who believes in God will find practical ways of proving his faith; he will affirm it by an open confession, but he will also reveal it by choosing some form of service in which his faith shall be put to the test; or if affliction is allotted to him by God, he will take it cheerfully, expecting that God will give him strength equal to the emergency, and so his faith will triumph under the trial. That faith which never proves itself by works is a faith to be dreaded. If your faith never makes you speak up for your God or serve him, it is a bastard faith, a base born presumption which will ruin your soul; it never came from God and will not carry you to God. But Joseph is very practical, as practical as the circumstances permitted him to be.
15. Moreover, notice, that having faith himself, he would encourage the faith of others. No man may be said to have real faith who is not concerned that faith may be found in the hearts of his fellow men. But, you say, “What did Joseph do to encourage the faith of others?” Why, he left his bones to be a standing sermon to the children of Israel. We read that they were embalmed and put into a coffin in Egypt, and so they were always in the keeping of the tribes. What did that say? Every time an Israelite thought of the bones of Joseph, he thought, “We are to go out of this country one day.” Perhaps he was a man prospering in business, buying up property in Egypt; but he would say to himself, “I shall have to part with this; Joseph’s bones are to be carried up; I am not to be here for ever.” And then while it acted as a warning, his body would serve also as an encouragement, for when the taskmasters began to afflict the people, and their quota of bricks was increased, the despondent Israelite would say, “I shall never come up out of Egypt.” Oh, but the others would say, “Joseph believed we would; there are his bones still unburied. He has left us the assurance of his confidence that God would in due time bring up his people out of this house of bondage.” It seems to me that Joseph had thought of this device as being the best thing on the whole he could do to keep the Israelites perpetually in remembrance that they were strangers and sojourners, and to encourage them in the belief that in due time they would be delivered from the house of bondage and settled in the land that flowed with milk and honey. True faith seeks to propagate herself in the hearts of others. She is earnest, eager, intense, if by any means she may scatter a handful of holy seed that may fall in good soil, and bring forth glory to God. It is a good proof of your own faith when you lay yourself out to promote the faith of others.
16. Notice, too, that Joseph’s faith made him have an eye to the spiritualities of the covenant, Joseph had nothing earthly to gain in having his bones buried in Canaan rather than in Egypt; that is of little importance to a dying man. Naturally we like to think of being buried with our relatives, but then we would choose to be buried soon after death. None of us would voluntarily desire to have his bones kept for some hundreds of years out of the ground in order that they might ultimately come into the family sepulchre. I believe he had no eye to the mere secularities of the covenant, but was looking at the spiritual blessings which are revealed in Jesus, the great seed of Abraham. This made him say, “I am no Egyptian, I am one of the seed whom the Lord has chosen; I look for the coming Messiah. I have a part and a lot among the chosen people of God; I will claim that, I will claim it not only for myself, but for my sons and for my household.” He had in the providence of God, without any fault of his own, been married to an Egyptian woman; Manasseh and Ephraim therefore were half Egyptian, and if the father had been buried in Egypt the sons might have clung to Egypt and separated from Israel. He seems to say, “No, my children, you are not Egyptians, you are like your father, Israelites; never bury my bones in Egypt, I charge you never bury them at all until you can lay them down in the ancient sepulchre of our nation. Be Israelites to the bone, through and through, for the best possession is not what I can bequeath to you in Egypt, which will pass away, but the inheritance to which I point you, the spiritual inheritance which I would be glad for you to have. My bones shall charge you, Manasseh and Ephraim, not to make yourselves Egyptians, not to be conformed to the world nor to seek your rest here, but let your father’s bones tempt you towards Canaan; never rest until you feel you have an interest in the spiritual blessings of the covenant.”
17. Once more, it seems to me that Joseph’s faith in connection with his unburied bones showed itself in his willingness to wait for God’s time for the promised blessing. He says, “I believe I shall be buried in Machpelah, and I believe that my people will come up out of Egypt. I believe, and I am willing to wait.” When any man dies he desires to be decently buried soon. Who wants to have his bones carried around? But this man will wait, wait for his funeral — wait on, however weary may be the time of Israel’s captivity. It is a great thing to have waiting faith. “Stand still and see the salvation of God,” is easier said than done. “He who believes shall not make haste.” We are, for the most part, in a childish hurry. We would like to be in heaven tomorrow; if we were wise, we would be glad to keep out until God lets us in. We would like to have the resurrection tomorrow, and many are pining because the coming of Christ is not very soon. Wait for the Lord’s appointment, oh impatient grumbler; be quiet of spirit and calm of heart, the vision will not tarry. Be willing to wait. Be willing to let your bones sleep in the dust until the trump of the resurrection sounds, and if you could have a choice about it, refer your choice back again to your Lord in heaven, for he knows what is best and right for you. I like the idea of a man who could not wait in life, for he must die, but who proves the patience of his spirit by letting his bones wait until they could be deposited in Canaan. You will notice that Joseph had his wish, for when Israel went up out of Egypt you will find in the fifteenth chapter of Exodus, that Moses took care to carry with them the bones of Joseph; and, what is rather remarkable, those bones were not buried as soon as they came into Canaan, they were not buried during the long wars of Joshua with the various tribes; but in the last verses of the book of Joshua, when nearly all the land had been conquered, and the country had been divided among the various tribes, and they had taken possession, then we read that they buried the bones of Joseph in the field of Shechem, in the place which Abraham had bought for a sepulchre; as if Joseph’s remains might not be buried until they had won the country, until it was settled, and the covenant was fulfilled; then he must be buried, but not until then. How blessed is waiting faith which can let God take his time, and wait, believe in him, let him wait as long as he wishes.
18. III. I must close with the third point. I think we have in our text, beloved friends, AN EXAMPLE FOR OUR FAITH TO ACT UPON WHEN WE ALSO COME TO THE TIME OF DEATH.
19. We will imagine it to be very near, and the conception will be literally true for some, and true for all of us in a degree. What, shall I derive any comfort from when I come to die? Come, let me prepare my last dying speech. Now think it over. First, I would imitate Joseph, by deriving my comfort from the covenant, for he did that. Those instructions concerning his bones were only made because he believed God would keep his covenant to his people and bring them up out of Egypt. May you and I be able to say with David, “Although my house is not so with God; yet he has made with me an everlasting covenant, ordered in all things, and sure.” Ah! my soul, this is not dying, but only passing from earth to heaven. Jesus, who is himself the covenant, soothes most blessedly the deathbeds of his saints. A negro was asked when he had been sitting up to nurse his minister one night, “How is your master?” He said, “He is dying full of life!” It is a grand thing when one has the covenant to think on. You can then die full of life, you can pass away out of this lower life, being filled with the eternal life before the temporal life has quite gone out, so that you are never emptied out of life, but the life of grace melts into the life of glory, as the river into the ocean.
Joseph may be an example to us, in that he drew his consolation from
the future of his people. “God will surely visit you, and bring you
out of this land.” Very often the dying thoughts of a Christian man
are troubled about the condition of the church of Christ. He fears
that dark days are coming upon her. If he is a minister, he anxiously
asks, “What will my people do now that I can no longer lead and feed
them? Will they not be like a flock without a shepherd?” But here
will come in the consolation; there are better days for the church of
God. Though the fathers sleep —
All the promises do travail,
With a glorious day of grace.
Though one after another we shall pass away, there are not dark days for our descendants, but days of brightness are on the way. “Let your work appear to your servants, and your glory to their children.” “He must reign until he has put all enemies under his feet.” The kings of the isles shall yet acknowledge him, and the wanderers of the desert shall bow down before him. Jesus the Christ of God must be King over all the earth, for God has sworn it, saying, “Surely all flesh shall see the salvation of God.” “The glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together: for the mouth of the Lord has spoken it.” With such thoughts as these upon our minds, we may well close our eyes in death with a song upon our lips.
21. And then, my brethren, we have another and brighter hope to die with, if we must die before it is fulfilled, and that is, Christ Jesus the Son of God will visit his people. Brethren, the glad hope of the second advent of our Lord Jesus Christ may light up the room of death with hope. As Joseph said, “God will visit you.” The time is coming when the Lord shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the trump of the archangel and the voice of God. Let our dying testimony be to the effect that surely he comes quickly and his reward is with him. We do not have to look forward as the Jew did; he expected the first advent, and we watch for the second coming. This shall cheer us even in our departure, for if we die before he comes we shall still share in the splendour, for the dead in Christ shall rise.
We may add to all this a hope concerning our bones. We may tell our
weeping kindred, as they gather around our bed, to give our bones a
decent burial; they need not blazon our names, or write our imagined
virtues on stone; but we will tell them that we shall rise again, and
that we commit ourselves to the bosom of our Father and our God, with
the full conviction that our dust shall yet be quickened anew.
Mine eyes shall see him in that day,
The God that died for me,
And all my rising bones shall say,
Lord, who is like to thee?
I do not know when a witness to the resurrection sounds more sweetly than it does from the lips of a saint who is just about to leave this mortal body, to enter into the presence of his God. It is well to say, as you take leave of these hands, and feet, and eyes, and all the members of this mortal frame, “Farewell, poor body, I shall return to you again; you shall be sown in weakness, but you shall rise in power; you have been the faithful friend and servant of my soul, but you shall be still more fit for my spirit when the trumpet shall sound and the dead shall be raised.” May we take care that our last act shall be a triumph of faith, the crowning deed of our lives. May God help us that it may be so!
Beloved, there is one sad reflection, namely, that we cannot hope to
die triumphantly unless we live obediently. We cannot expect to
exhibit faith in our dying moments if we do not have faith now. May
God grant you faith, oh unbeliever. Seeker, do not rest until you
have it, and may the Spirit of God give you the faith of God’s elect,
so that living you may serve God, and dying you may honour him as
Joseph did of old. May the Lord bless you, dear friends, for his
[Portion of Scripture Read Before Sermon — Genesis 49:28-33 50:22-26 Hebrews 11]
(a) See a little book, “Stone Witnesses.” Morgan & Chase.
(b) This is highly unlikely since the Egyptians did not start building pyramids until around 860 BC. The great pyramid was built by Cheops around 830 BC. Newton proves beyond a shadow of a doubt the antiquity of Egypt has been greatly exaggerated. See the book, Newton’s Revised History of Ancient Kingdoms by Sir Isaac Newton, Page 87ff., Master Books, 2009. Editor.