A. C. (Augustus Charles) Thompson.

The better land; or, The believer's journey and future home online

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to follow !

" Lord Jesus, receive my spirit ! '' How many
thousands, martyrs and others, have abeady breathed
their last, uttering this prayer ! It would seem as
if that leader of the Christian host, in their jour-
ney to the Better Land, were moved to this brief
ejaculation that he might supply the most appro-
priate formula for every dying believer. " Lord
Jesus, have mercy on me ! Lord Jesus, have mercy
on me ! Lord Jesus, receive my spirit! '' prayed
Bishop Hooper, in the midst of the flames. And
on the same fiery couch, and in the same strain,
prayed Latimer, Patrick Hamilton, and Rowland
Taylor. With the penitent exclamation, "This
unworthy right hand ! this unworthy right hand ! ''
Cranmer intermingled the believing cry, "Lord
Jesus receive my spirit!'' Woman too, gentle,
constant, trusting woman, has sent up the same, in



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68 THE BETTER LAND.

the hcuT of martyrdom. It was Margaret Wilson,
in the reign of King James, whom the Papists took
down to the Bay of Wigton, at low water, and
bound to a stake, there to await the advancing
tide. The waters come slowly in, closing round
her, and rising higher and higher. They reach her
throat; but that young martyr of eighteen stiU
sings, with a loud, clear voice, the twenty-third
Psalm. Her mouth fills ; she gurgles forth, " Lord
Jesus, receive my spirit ! '' and goes to sleep beneath
the tide. But this has not been used by those
alone who have witnessed for Jesus with their
blood. The venerable bishop and reformer, Jewell,
prayed, " Lord, take from me my spirit. Lord,
now let thy servant depart in peace. Break off all
delays ; suffer thy servant to come to thee ; come
and take him to be with thee, — Lord, receive my
spirit ! '' And by many another has that brief
petition been offered, — by the consumptive, as his
breath slowly failed, and all utterance ceased, —
by the prisoner expiring in his cell, and by the
voyager, sinking in the waves.

" Saviour, into thy loving hands
My feeble spirit I commit,
While wandering in these Border-Lands
Until thy voice shall summon it.



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GLIMPSES. 59

These Border-Lands are calm and still,
And solemn are their silent shades ;



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CHAPTER V.

THE PASSAQS.

The heir of heayen, henceforth I fear not death ,
In Christ I live ; in Christ I draw the breath
Of the true life ; — let, then, earth, sea and sky,
Make war against me ! On my heart I show
Their mighty Master's seal. In yain they tiy
To end my life, that can bat end its woe.
Is that a death-bed where a Christian lies ?
Yes ! bat not his — 't is Death himself there dies !

COLERIDGS.

The expiring believer does not see death : he
sees the heavens opened, and Jesus Christ standing
at the right hand of God. It is no dark valley
through' which he passes, but he moves along the
highway of the Lord, to the palace of the great King.
He escapes out of this Golgotha into the only true
land of the living. Stephen was not vanquished
on the field of martyrdom ; he came ojBf victor over
enemies, human and Satanic ; yea, he was more
than conqueror ; cast out of the city, he ascended
to heaven. Amidst the shouts of an infuriated
mob, and a shower of stones, " He fell asleep.''



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THE PASSAGE. 61

None of these things move him, neither counteth
he his life dear unto him. He is full of the Holy
Ghost, and so is full of joy and peace. He was
not killed ; he has only fallen asleep in Jesus ;

" Like one who draws the drapery of his couch
About him, and lies down to pleasant dreams."

Never did evening shadows lengthen more quietly,
nor the dews come down more benignly, than he,
than every true believer, sinks to rest. " He is not
dead, but sleepeth.'' *' They which sleep in Christ
are not perished.'' They live ; they live in him,
and with him, — a life higher, holier far than this.
The protomartyr, now opening his eyes as never
before on the glory of God, and on the Son of Man
standing at the right hand of God, can say, "I
laid me down and slept; I awaked, for the Lord
sustained me.'' The French Assembly may vote
" Death an eternal sleep ;" the atheist Mirabeau,
when speech fails, may spend his last strength in
writing, " Death is but a sleep ;** the atheist Dan,-
ton may play off his horrid levity on the scaifold —
*' Let me go to sleep ;" but that is to fall asleep
in sin, sorrow, wrath , it is to fall into outer dark-
ness, " where their worm dieth not, anl their fire
is not quenched."
6



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62 THE BETTER LAND.

Stephen, in holy calmness, in the quiet sublimity
of a triumphant faith, prays for himself — " Lord
Jesus, receive my spirit ;'' prays for his murderers,
** Lord, lay not this sin to their charge;*' bids earth
good-night, and sinks into the repose of heaven.
" So he giveth his beloved sleep.'* In the hour of
dissolution, every saint in Christ Jesus, whether
sinking under a shower of stones, or the assaults of
disease, hears a voice saying, " Come up hither ! '*
Before escaping from this prison, light begins to
break in. Gleams from the sunshitie of everlasting
glory find their way to his cell.

"0 what joy ! '' exclaimed Dr. Gordon. ** Peo-
ple have said that death is frightful. I look on it
with pleasure. I see no monsters around me.
Death ! I see no death at my bedside. It is that
benign Saviour waiting to take me. I could not
have a fear. This is not the testimony of one who
has nothing to live for. I am in the prime of life,
with comforts and friends around me. But the
prospect of heaven is more than all.'' "I fear I
am sinfully impatient in so longing after heaven ;
but it is so glorious ! Christ, not death, is about
to take me from earth. There is no death to the
Christian. That glorious gospel takes away death."
Such a departure is mors sine morte^ — a dying with-



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THE PASSAGE. 63

oat death ; it is the believer's birth-day of eternity,
— his last, best birth-day, his birth into glory un-
utterable and unending.

The saint, no less than the sinner, must depart this
life. Of all the millions who have yet lived, two only
have been translated ; and, in time to come, those
only who are alive at the coming of our Lord, shall
in the twinkling of an eye be changed, without
tasting death ; but the law is — and these excep-
tions are hardly to be named — that all must die.
The most eminent saints, the men and women after
God's own heart ; the beloved disciple, — the one
just referred to, — who, on the eve of departure,
saw the heavens open and the Son of Man standing
on the right hand of God ; and he who, years before
decease, was caught up to the third heaven, have
alike been obliged to pass through the same door
into the unseen world. It was revealed unto ven-
erable Simeon that he should not see death before
he had seen the Lord's Christ ; but the sight of
him who is a light to lighten the Gentiles, and the
glory of Israel, made it no less necessary for him
to behold the King of Terrors.

That is the epoch of dissojution when soul and
body part company till the resurrection. The sul^
stance of the soul suJBfers no harm, and its con-



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8i THE BETTER LAND.

sciousness no abatement, by that change. " Then
shall the dust return unto the earth as it was, and
the spirit shall return unto God who gave it.'*
** And it came to pass that the beggar died, and
was carried by angelsr into Abraham's bosom.'*
Paul speaks of death as the hour of his departure,
and departure to be with Christ. The believer's
soul is then disembodied, not destroyed, not con-
signed to sleep, but sent forth, active and immortal.
His tent is struck for the last time, and he passes
over Jordan. The ship goes to pieces, but the pas-
senger is safe. The believer may one moment be
in the agonies of dissolution, the next reposing
calmly in Abraham's bosom.

Many tribes of men have imagined that for a long
time, if not forever, souls linger about the bodies
or the dwellings they formerly occupied. The be-
lief has been very extensive, that they assume a
shadowy but visible form, and thus- present them-
selves as spectres. Even a Christian council, in
the fourth century, forbade to kindle a light in
burial places, that the spirits of departed saints
might not be disturbed. But the souls of believers
do immediately pass into glory. They go not first
into a middle world, — neither heaven, nor hell, — a
purgatory, where, as Romanists imagine, their souls



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THE PASSAGE. 65

are cleansed by fire; The Council of Trent decreed,
"If any man shall say that after justification the
fault is so blotted out that there remains no guilt of
temporal punishment, to be endured in this life, or
in the future life of purgatory, before the soul can
be admitted into the kingdom of heaven, let him
be accursed/' But Christ said to the penitent
thief, " To-day shalt thou be with me in Paradise ;''
and thus our Lord himself comes under the anath-
ema of the Man of Sin, exalting himself above all
that is called God.

Not a shadow of support does that dogma of
purgatory find in the word of God. It has been
built up by fancy alone, aided by popular heathen
notions concerning a land of shades, where souls
are stretched out in the wind, or thrust into water
or fire,^for purification. Thence comes this Limbus
Patrum^ with prayers and masses for the dead.

The souls of believers do immediately pass, not
into purgatory, not into other bodies by transmi-
gration, not into a long lethargy, not into annihi
lation, nor into any other state which paganism has
conjured up, but into glory. They pass into a glo
rious world, — a glorious city, where is . a glorious
temple ; where is none but the most exalted society,
holy angels, and glorified saints, where their occupa
6*



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66 THE BETTER LAND.

tions and the songs are most ennobling, none being
lower than glory to God in the highest. They are
made kings and priests unto God ; the palm-branch
is put into their hands ; the crowns of glory are
placed upon their heads.

But who are received to that abode ? There
shall in no wise enter into it anything that defileth:
it is to the spirits of just men made perfect that
they are come ; they are clothed with white linen,
which is the righteousness of saints. Immediately
upon entrance there they find their character per-
fectly congenial to the holy occupations and society
of the place. They are unabashed in the presence
of unfallen angels and the most patriarchal saints
in glory. How this is eifected, except in general
through the grace and by the Spirit of God, we do
not undertake to say, any more than how it Js that
the first spiritual change is wrought, which quick-
ens a soul dead in trespasses and sins into a vital
union with God. Subjectively, the change must,
if possible, be greater than that of regeneration.
In the latter there is a change of relation, in which
the sinner, from being condemned, becomes a justi-
fied son of God, once for all, and forever.

It need not, therefore, be repeated at death.
But great as is the transition from utter spiritual



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THE PASSAGE. 67

death to the first movings of life, great as may be
the growth of grace thenceforward to the end of
probation, there remains a change, scarcely if at all
less in degree, when the state of partial sanctifica-
tion gives place to perpetual holiness. Up to the
measure of capacity, holiness becomes complete in
the soul of a believer passing into glory. A child
may, without change of symmetry, increase in
stature ; so with the soul made perfect in holiness,
there are no longer any errors in the understanding,
perverseness in the will, or defect in the affections.
All is harmony, light and love ; the image of God
is there, in all its attractive lineaments, so far as
the capacity of each will allow ; but each has scope
for growth through all eternity.

The transition is doubtless instantaneous. It is
no tiresome walk down through a lonely, dark val-
ley; it is no weary flight upward, as the eagle
mounts, higher and higher ; but no sooner is a
believer's soul disembodied, than it is in Paradise.
The partition once broken down, what shall hinder
an immediate view of all beyond ? And 0, what
a morning is that day-break of glory ! The sun of
righteousness shines in all its brightness. It is the
effulgence of Christ's person which lights up that
whole far-fctretching world, and sheds a quickening



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68 THE BETTER LAND.

radiance on every resident there. If, two thousand
years before Christ's coming on earth, Abraham re-
joiced to see his day, what must be the joy of seeing
him as he now is, at the right hand of majesty, in
the heavens !

Stray beams of his lustre often fail on the dying
believer before his soul leaves its tenement. " This
is heaven begun,'' said Rev. Thomas Scott ; "I
have done with darkness, forever — forever. Satan
is vanquished. Nothing now remains but salvation,
with eternal glory — eternal glory." Come to the
verahda of a Braminic temple. Jxl the last spasms
of Asiatic cholera, Gordon Hall cries, " Glory, glory,
glory ! " and he

" Passed througli Glory's morniDg gate,
And walked in Paradise."

" Blessed are the dead that die in the Lord,
from henceforth!" Blessed are the dead — not
survivors, not the most favored of those who remain
here, still sinning and repenting, and so imperfectly
serving God — but blessed arie the dead in Christ
who have ceased from sin, are made perfect in
holiness, and have passed into Paradise.

Transplanted trees flourish best. Shall we grudge
those plants of righteousness their better soil and



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THE PASSAGE. 69

purer air ? Shall we grudge an escape from the
hovel into the palace of the Great King ? " Chil-
dren/' said the mother of John Wesley, the last
thing she uttered, " Children, as soon as I afr^e-
leased, sing a psahn of praise to God." Music
sounds best after sunset. It is no time to mourn
here, while angels clap their wings, and the whole
family above cry. Welcome home ! Who would
keep his tears for the coronation day ?
Blessed are the dead that die in the Lord !

" Thus star by star declines,

Till all are passed away;
As morning high and higher diines

To pore and perfect day.
Nor sink those stars in empty night,
But hide themselves in heaven's own light."

Shall not this abate the dread of dying ? That
dread is instinctive ; it is deep. By most, death is
regarded as ultimum terribilium^ — the extremest of
things terrible ; but is it not gain, great, unspeak
able gain, to the child of God, to die ? And shall
we hesitate to encounter the little inconvenience of
stepping ashore from this shattered vessel ? Why so
in love with perils ? Whence this fondness for buf-
fetings, sickness, and protracted wreck ? Whence
this aversion to enter the haven of everlasting bliss ?



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70 THE BETTER LAND.

For all saints in Christ Jesus, death has been un-
stinged. What if the serpent, deprived of its
fangs, do hiss ? — he is harmless.

** How hard it is to die ! '' remarked a Mend to an
expiring believer. " 0, no, no ! '' he replied ; ** easy
dying, blessed dying, glorious dying ! " Looking
up at the clock, he said, " I have experienced more
happiness in dying, two hours this day, than in my
whole life. It is worth a whole life to have such an
end as this. 0, I never thought that such a poor
worm as I could come to such a glorious death ! "

Chrysostom, when banished, said to a friend,
^*Tou now begin to lament my banishment, but I
have done so for a long time ; for since I knew that
heaven is my country, I have esteemed the whole
world a place of exile. Constantinople, whence I
am expelled, is as far from Paradise as the desert
whither they send me.''

A few moments before he expired Edmund Au-
ger said to a friend, "Do you see that blessed
assembly who await my arrival ? Do you hear that
sweet music, with which those holy men invite me,
that I may henceforth be a partaker of their happi-
ness ? How delightful is it to be in the society of
bleased spirits . Let us go. We must go. Let me
go.'' 0, death where is thy sting ?



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THE PASSAGE. ^ 71

What is it to die ? To believers, it is to drop the
body of this death, and to put on a joyous immor-
tality; to pass from darkness to everlasting sun-
light ; to cease dreaming, and commence a waking
existence ; yes, to awake in the likeness of God —
satisfied, fully and forever satisfied. What is it to
die ? To feel the last pang, to shed the last tear,
to raise the shield of faith against Satan's last dart.
It is to go home to God ; to open the eyes on the
enthroned Mediator ; to close the ears upon all dis-
cords, all sounds of woe, allihe falsehoods, the mal-
edictions, the blasphemies of earth, and open them
to the harmonies of heaven. What is it to die ?
It is to stop sinning, to cease grieving the Spirit and
grieving the Saviour, to close up the inconsistencies
of terrestrial profession, and commence a forever
blameless life in bliss. What is it to die ? To lean
on the Almighty for a few steps down a narrow
valley ; to step out of Jordan, upon the borders of
the Better Land ; to pass up to the New Jerusalem ;
to enter by one of those gates of pearl into the
city ; to have ten thousand angels come and utter
their cordial welcome ; to see — 0, let me die the
death of the righteous ! — to see the Saviour smile
benignantly, and to hear him say, "Well done, good



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72 THE BETTEB LAND.

and faithful servant ; enter thou into the joy of thy
Lord!'' That is to die.

But, in order to that, there needs be "an anchor

to the soul, both sure and steadfast,'' — a most

«

earnest " looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher
of our faith." It was not in the hour of martyrdom
that Stephen first beheld the Lamb of Grod. The re-
ligion that is good for nothing in life, is good for
nothing in death. The time will come, when we shall
need a strong arm near, and a firm faith to grasp it.
The sentimentalities of fading flowers, and falling
leaves, and of moonlight musing, all the prettinesses
of poetry, all natural amiabilities, and mere natura.
charities, however cultivated, will avail nothing in
the day when God shall require the soul — in the
day when we stand at his bar. Faith alone will suf-
fice, — an appropriating, justifying faith ; an opera-
tive, vitalizing faith ; a hearty, adoring faith in the
Lord Jesus Christ, who stands as Bedeemer and
Advocate at the right hand of God.



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74 THE BETTER LAND.

cessive curiosity on this point ; impatient to know
what can be fully known only in another world.
Kevelation was not given, nor did Christ come to
gratify inquisitiveness, but to withdraw men from
sin, and make them monuments of his grace in
glory. Yet, a proper discussion of the subject, if it
remove needless doubts, and render anticipation
more definite, will not be in vain : it will leave the
mind free from vain inquiries, and prepared to relish
more important themes.

Here we must look for guidance to the lively ora-
cles. But, in doing so, it will not be amiss first to
glance at the working of certain minds on this
subject, when not enlightened by the word of God.
The philosopher at Athens, with the fatal hemlock
in his hand, discourses thus : "If the common ex-
pression be true, that death conveys us to those
regions which are inhabited by the spirits of
departed men, will it not be unspeakably happy to
escape from the hands of mere nominal judges, and
appear before those who truly deserve the name,
such as Minos and Rhadamanthus, and to associate
with all who have maintained the cause of truth and
rectitude ? Is it possible for you to look upon this
as an unimportant journey ? Is it nothing to con-
verse with Orpheus, and Homer, and Hesiod?



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RECOGNITION OF FRIENDS. 75

Believe me, I would cheerfully suffer many a death
on condition of realizing such a privilege. With
what pleasure could I leave the world, to hold com-
munion with Palamedes, Ajax, and others, who like



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76 THE BETTEB LAND.

0, glorious day! when I shall retire from this
low and sordid scene, to assemble with the divine
congregation of departed spirits ; and not with those
only whom I have just now mentioned, but with my
dear Cato, that best of sons and most valuable of
men ! It was my sad fate to lay his body on the
funeral pile, when by the course of nature I had
reason to hope he would have performed the same
last office to mine. His soul, however, did not
desert me, but still looked back oh me in its flight
to those happy mansions, to which he was assured I
should one day follow him. If I seemed to bear his
death with fortitude, it was by no means that I did
not most sensibly feel the loss I had sustained : it
was because I supported myself with the consoling
reflection that we could not long be separated."

Thus was it that anciently minds of a high order
and finished culture — reflecting and philosophic
minds — indulged in delightful anticipations. We
open classic poets, and find similar ideas frequently
recurring. It moves us well-nigh to tears, as we con-
template their ielineation of shadowy scenes in the
future, where recognition takes place indeed, but
the dim, vanishing forms thwart all attempts at sat-
isfactory intercourse.

Turning to ruder nations, and less cultivated



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RECOGNITION OF FRIENDS. 77



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78 THE BETTER LAND.

Christian friend be less himself after death than
now, or lose those characteristics which attach us to
him here ?

We open the Bible. We peruse it carefully.
From first to last we find nothing that conflicts with
this belief. If this were all we could say, even that
would be in its favor. Here is our first proof, and
though negative, yet it is valid. But let us examine
what the Scriptures teach respecting the abode and
condition of the glorified. In respect to their con-
dition, we find that it is eminently social. They are
represented as citizens, intermingling freely;, but
there is no intimation that previous to their meet-
ing there they were all strangers. They form a
family, whose members were once on earth ; and
can their quickened recollection be oblivious of
former acquaintance ? Do they know less than they
did here ? Does not Lazarus know in whose bosom
he is ? All the conceptions of heaven suggested by
the Bible favor the idea of future recognition.

This is our second step in the examination of
divine testimony. Let us now proceed to a scrutiny
of particular passages. The New Testament is
before us. Our Lord speaks : — " And I say unto
you, that many shall come from the east and west,
and shall sit down with Abraham, and Isaac, and



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RECOGNITION OF FRIENDS. 79

Jacob, in the kingdom of heaven." Will they meet
at that banquet without recognition? Again: —



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80 ' THE BETTEB LAND.

before the throne. Turning back to the Old Tes-
tament, and hearing patriarchs speak of ^^ being
gathered to their fathers," and David of * Agoing
to the child," we infer that they expected to
know their kindred in the Better Land. In the
fourteenth of Isaiah we read : — " Hell from beneath
is moved for thee to meet thee at thy coming ; it
stirreih up the dead for thee, even all the chief ones
of the earth ; it hath raised up from their thrones all
the kings of the nations. All they shall speak
and say unto thee. Art thou also become weak as
we ? art thou become like unto us ? Thy pomp is
brought down to the grave, and tiie noise of thy
viols : the worm is spread under thee, and the
worms cover thee. How art thou fallen from
heaven, Lucifer, son of the morning ! how art
thou cut down to the ground, which didst weaken
the nations ! " K that be true among the lost,
shall it not be also among the blessed ? I£ Dives
in torment recognizes Lazarus afar oflf in Abra-
ham's bosom, shall not Lazarus recognize those
who are near and round about him ?

Neither the Old Testament nor the New goes
into minute details respecting the heavenly state,
or teaches future recognition, positively and direct-
ly ; but, in view of the general expectation of the



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