D. H. Riddle.

A voice from heaven : a sermon, commemorative of the death of Mrs. Mary W. Brown, wife of Rev. Matthew Brown, D.D., preached in Providence Hall, Canonsburg, May 6, 1838 online

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Online LibraryD. H. RiddleA voice from heaven : a sermon, commemorative of the death of Mrs. Mary W. Brown, wife of Rev. Matthew Brown, D.D., preached in Providence Hall, Canonsburg, May 6, 1838 → online text (page 1 of 2)
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May 6. 1838.

By ». H. RIDDLE.


Corner of Wood & Fourth Streets.









May 6, 1838,

By 1>. M. RI


Corner of Wood & Fourth Streets.


Digitized by the Internet Archive

in 2010 with funding from
Boston Regional Library System



il And I heard a voice from heaven saying unto me, Write, Blessed
are the dead which die in the Lord from henceforth: Yea, saith
the Spirit, that they may rest from their labors; and their iccrka
do follow them. — Rev. 14:13;

The book of the Revelations clusters with wonders and glo-
ries. Here are scenes of transcendant interest, pourtray-
ed in the most exalted language. Here are visions given
to the solitary exile of Patmos, such as never before or
since were poured on the eye of mortals. Voices are
heard, that sometimes interest, sometimes amaze, and
sometimes overwhelm the beloved apostle. Manifestations
of the divine glory are made, and glances into the inner
scenery of eternity are permitted, which are too much for
the physical frame of the privileged disciple, and he falls at his
feet as dead. Here, at one time, heaven is opened, at ano-
ther, the throne of God and its magnificent appendages
are displayed. Again, the songs, the harpingsof heavenly
harpers, the seven-fold chorus of halleluias, and cf celes-
tial symphonies are heard; and then the whole eventful
drama of earth's eventful history, passes in spiritual vision,
before the eyes'of John. 'Tis not strange that this book should
be interesting to the Christian; that with all its confessed
mystery, and fathomless depths, many should desire to
share in the blessing pronounced on those "who read and
keep the prophecy of this book." Often has it cheered and
comforted the saint amidst the darkness of his earthly
pathway; and when, like its author, he was in the spirit, bv
its visions of brightness or its voices of blessing, it has
hushed his sighs and dried up his tears. Probably no
where in this book, possibly no where in the whole Bi-
ble, is there a voice more sweet and soothing, espe-
cially in circumstances of bereavement, when those we


loved are taken away, than that in the text. Nothing
could so effectually prevent Christians, when sorrowing
over departed friends, from "sorrowing as those who have
no hope." We design to make this voice from hea-
ven, the theme of our discourse at present, as commem-
orative of the death of the late Mrs. Brown. Our prayer
will be answered and our desires gratified*, if He who
first spake it in the ears of the apostle* would bless its
present consideration, for the comfort of the bereaved,
and the edification and instruction of all.

We remark, from this passage in the first place, that
it contains an authoritative and explicit declaration of
ike immediate blessedness of those who die in the Chris-
tian faith.

1st. It is an authoritative declaration. It is a voice
from Heaven. Heaven is the presence and the palace of
God, whence his oracles are given. Every voice from thence
is truth without mixture of error, truth beyond the possi-
bility of mistake, truth beyond the power of contradiction.
A voice from heaven settles all doubts, clears up all per-
plexities, answers all objections, obviates all difficulties.
"Thus saith the Lord," is the highest conceivable form of
certainty, and the highest possible form of authority. He
who says — "I am because I am," says, "blessed are the
dead," and therefore they ore blessed. Where is there au-
thoritativeness comparable to a voice from Heaven: all
human ideas of authoritativeness or certainty, are dim
reflections of this.

2d. It is an explicit declaration. The voice of ora-
cles, was often indistinct — the meaning dark and confused.
The authority was unquestioned, but the intention inex-
plicable. So it is not here. It is clear as it is authorita-
tive. There is no liability to misapprehension, or scarcely
possibility of misconception. Oh! on the ear of the mour-
ner, agitated by his grief — rendered incapable of abstruse
reasoning by his sorrows— indisposed to rigid argument
by his broken spirits — how clear and intelligibly sounds
the voice from heaven, "blessed are the dead." The Chris-
tian recognizes the same voice that pronounced the beati-
tudes on the mount. It has the simplicity that suits the
necessities of the mourner, the self-evidencing and self-inter-
preting plainness, that his spirit craves. It needs no in-


terpreter, but a quiet spirit. If all is still, and the soul is
hushed, and faith waits and says, "I will hear what God
the Lord will speak;" the voice from heaven bears its own
interpretation, blessed are the dead. The dead — the loved,
the lost, are happy. Here the question of the soul's existence
after death is settled. That problem which engaged and
baffled the profoundest minds of the heathen world, is here
definitely, and incontrovertibly settled. The question
which nature so instinctively proposes, at the gateway
of the grave — the wish which seems connatural with our
being, and strongest at its close — the longing after immor-
tality, is here decisively met. "It is not all of life to live,
nor all of death to die." We see them not — we hear them
not, — sense gives us no evidence — reason gives us no as-
surance; but they live — they are blessed, says the voice
from heaven. Faith hears, understands, and is satisfied.
How often since the exile of John on Patmos, has hum-
ble piety, amidst its tears, been able to say, I heard a
voice from heaven, saying, blessed are the dead.

3d. The voice from heaven pronounces authoritatively
and clearly on the subject of immediate blessedness. In
oracles of all kinds, eminently in oracles from heaven,
and most of all when pertaining to interests so transcen-
dant, every word is weighty and significant. The voice
from heaven says, "blessed are," not shall be "the dead."
When they die they are blessed: as soon as you call
them the dead, you may call them also the blessed. As
soon as sense, in sorrowing and desolating tones, says,
they are gone, faith, with serenity and gratitude may
say, they are at rest. When grief would burst out with
the agonizing conclusion, they are lost, joy, even amidst
tribulation's anguishing hour, may say, they are at home.
This settles the point, even if there were no other testi-
mony in the voice from heaven. Possibly the Spirit
meant to convey by the expression, from henceforth, that
this would be eminently true, of some particular period of
the Christian church, that from some special era of the
church's history of toil and conflict, it would be more em-
phatically true that the dead would be blessed, but it seems
quite natural and easy to understand it, in accordance
with an idea we have suggested. From henceforth — from
the article of death— from the moment of dissolution — ■



from the hour that closes the eye on the objects of earth,
and shuts the ear to its music, and the voice of its friend-
ships, and stills the tongue in uttering the words and feel-
ings of human affection, and hushes the throb of the
heart, and gathers the fixed marble of death over the once
eloquent countenance, from that moment they are blessed.
"Absent from the body, they are present with the Lord."
To depart is to be with Christ. Loosed from mortal ties,
disentangled from the earthly tenement, they are at home,
in the bosom of God. Yea, "from henceforth," long before
the body is deposited in its narrow dwelling place, this bles-
sedness is begun. Long before the grass of spring shall have
covered the consecrated spot where their ashes lie, and
lono- before the keenness of sorrow shall have yielded to
the touch of time, that blessedness shall have inconceiva-
bly brightened; and during the sorrowful years of separa-
tion, and onward through the lapse of future time, and of
coming generations, and of earth's latest story, of her
millenial brightness, her final fires, her succeeding purifi-
cation; "yea, from henceforth," while God's throne lasts,
and heaven's glories continue, that blessedness shall be
uninterrupted, increasing and eternal.

The voice from heaven authoritatively and clearly de-
clares the precious truth, that "the souls of believers at
their death, do immediately pass into glory, while their bo-
dies still united to Christ, do rest in their graves till the re-

4th. This voice from heaven authoritatively and clearly
makes this declaration in regard to all who die in the
Christian faith. Blessed are the dead, who die hi the Lord.
Not all who die are blessed. Death is not necessarily
and invariably the passage to glory. The Bible encourages
none of that latitudinarian feeling, so pleasing to the carnal
mind, and so popular in the thoughtless world, which gives
the blessedness of heaven, and the inheritance of saints,
indiscriminately to all who go from the world, whatever be
their character, or conduct, or principles. The voice from
heaven speaks no such language; it endorses no such sen-
timents; it encourages no such delusion. By clearly defi-
ning the character of those who are blessed when they die,
it authoritatively settles the point that those, and none but
those, who die in the Lord are blessed when they die.

-beath generally draws a veil over the unlovely featuies of
iiuman character, and human charity always hopes for
those who are gone from the range of human judgment;
but still, death only sets his seal of fixedness on existing
character, and the dissolution of the body, of itself, works
no regeneration of the heart. The voice from heaven
speaks of a specific class of the <dead; the dead that die in
the Lord — that die in Christ — that die Christians, they are

To be in the Lord, or to be in Christ, for he is "both
Lord and Christ," is, in scripture language, to be a Chris-
tian; it is to be so in Christ, as to be one with him, in the
enjoyment of the benefits of his redemption; so "joined to
the Lord," as to be "one spirit" with him in the-prevalent
disposition and temper of the mind. Those that are "found
in him" "have not their own righteousness," in regard to
'he foundation of their acceptance, but "the righteousness
which is of God by faith." But, at the same time, "they
that are in Christ Jesus, walk not after the flesh but after
the spirit." To be in the Lord is to be justified by his
atoning righteousness, imputed by the act of God, and
sanctified by his Holy Spirit, implanted, and inworking in
the soul.

This vital union to Christ, in the case of all who are
"elect according to the foreknowledge of God," is formed
"by the sanctiflcation of the Spirit, and belief of the truth,"
and is attested and certified by "the fruits of the Spirit"
in the heart and life. "They that are Christ's have cruci-
fied the flesh, with its affections and lusts." . "They mind
the things of the Spirit." They look not at the things
which are seen, which are temporal, but at the things
which are unseen, which are eternal; and by these habits
of heart, and "patient continuance in well doing," they ma-
ture and develope the character of moral likeness to Christ,
enstamped upon them, by the Spirit in the period of their
new birth, and "grow up unto him in all things who is
their head." To be in Christ or in the Lord, in life, en-
sures the certainty of being in the Lord in death. They
that live in the Lord shall die in the Lord. Thus, in re-
gard to all who are in Christ, "whether they live or whe-
ther they die they are the Lord's." The union to Christ,
"the Lord, both of the dead and the living," is not a tern-


porary, dissoluble tic. Its continuance is not subject to
caprice, or affected by vicissitudes. It is an eternal tie.
Formed once, it is formed forever. "The gifts and callings
of God are without repentance." "I am persuaded that
neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities, nor
powers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor height,
nor depth, nor any other creature shall be able to separate
us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus, our
Lord." The covenant whereby God becomes a God unto
his children, and they become his people, is "an everlasting
covenant, ordered in all things and sure." It provides
for all possible contingencies, and secures infalliby all prom-
ised results.

Yes, if we live in the Lord, we shall die in the Lord.
Whether, as in some cases, permitted joyfully and trium-
phantly to assure surviving friends of the blessed i'act,
lifting the song of praise and rapture, admidst and above
the swellings of Jordan, or, as in other cases, (for these
things are sovereignly and often to us mysteriously arrang-
ed by the Master) delirium veils the powers of the mind,
from the view of mortal eyes, and shadows over with the
mist of broken thought, the. deep and quenchless exercis-
es of the regeneiated heart. The great and important
fact, of dying in the Lord is secured; the comparatively
minor circumstance of giving sensible evidence, and grati-
fying natural affection, in the final struggle, is disposed
by the sovereign pleasure of "him who worketh all things
according to the counsel of his own will." "A life of faith
on the Son of God," ensures a death in the Lord. In regard
to all, therefore, who have been regenerated by the Holy
Spirit, and united to the Lord by faith, and have formed
a part of the invisible church on earth, and been incorpor-
ated into the mystical body of Christ, the voice from hea-
ven gives us authoritative and incontrovertible assurance
of a blessedness which begins at death and continues
henceforth and forever. They that die in the Lord, "sleep
in Jesus," and "if we believe that Jesus died and rose
again, even so them also which sleep in Jesus, will God
bring with him." As certainly as we believe that Jesus
rose from the dead and now reigns in glory, so certainly
may we believe that the dead in the Lord, are blessed.
True, in the interval between the day of burial and the
day of the resurrection,

'"Our cold remains in solitude,
Shall sleep the years away,"

.:ut even in reference to the body, we have the blessed as-
surance, that being still united to Christ in the resurrection
morning, "the bridal of the soul," the triumphant spirit
will come and put it on afresh, when made like unto his
glorious body, and thus it shall be united in, and everlast-
ingly enhance the blessedness of the believer.

II. We remark, on this passage, in the second place, thai
this declaration was designed. for the comfort and consola-
tion of Christians in all future time. It was to be written.
: 'I heard a voice from heaven saying unto me write— bles-
sed are the dead who die in the Lord." Let this blessed
truth be recorded, so that the eye of the mourner, dim with
tears, in all future time, may read it and be comforted. It
is in effect, as if the voice from heaven sounded down
through the lapse of eighteen centuries, or as if, around
every opened grave, where the remains of a believer were
to be deposited, the voice from heaven were renewed.

"It is written" and written for us, "for whatsoever
things were written aforetime, were written for our learn-
ing that we, through patience and comfort of the scriptures,"
or what is written, "might have hope." God intended
this voice of consolation to be perpetuated, and to bear its
blessing wherever the Bible is scattered. It is written to be
read whenever any of the family, in any clime or country,
die in the Lord, and to be re-echoed as often as the loss
which the church sustains in the removal of its members is
recollected, or the breach which death makes in the circle
of relatives or friends is regretted.

"It is written" to be believed, and that being believed, it
may realize, as it were to our senses, the intimate relation
between all the dead, who are in the Lord, and all the liv-
ing who are in him also.

"The saints on earth, and all the dead,

But one communion make,
All join in Christ their living head,

And of his grace partake.

One army of the living God,

To his commands we bow:
Part of the host have crossed the flood,

And part are crossing now."


The cloud of witnesses is always increasing. The rank?
of the blessed are daily swelling. Heaven is ever, as it were,
pressing more and more closely on earth, and doubling its
attractions and fascinations as each new inhabitant, en-
deared to us by friendship and affection, and familiar to
our hearts almost as their own throbbings, enter on its
blessedness and invite us to their company.

III. We remark, that this passage intimates to us some
of the characteristics of true Christians. They are active,
and their works are permanently useful. Yea, saith the
Spirit, that they may "rest from their labors, and their
works do follow them." In thus designating the peculiar
privilege of the departed after death, the text gives their
peculiar characteristic in life. To a believer, death is rest
from labor, and after death his works follow or remain af-
ter him in their influence and results.

Those who die in the Lord and are blessed when they
die, have been in life engaged in labors. '•'•Their labors."
This seems to indicate that labor belong to Christians —
that Christians are characteristically active. We do not
assert too much when we say, that the Bible warrants the
idea that practical Christianity is a life of labor for Christ,
upon evangelical motives, and with a view to the glory of
God. The kinds of labor are various, and suited to the va-
ried characters and temperaments and peculiar habits of
different Christians. There are eyes, and ears, and feet,
and hands in the body of Christ. Each member has its own
peculiar office, but some kind of work is done by all. The
theatre of labor to some is outward, and their qualifications
specially adapt them for such a sphere of duty. Some
labor within, because they are fitted onty for such scenes.
Some tell directly by every effort in the interests of visible
piety, and sensibly move forward the cause of religion
by their whole course of action; others work at a distance
and often in the shade; their influence is so indirect and
impalpable, that it is not generally recognized, and often
disregarded. To the eye of sense their labors hardly de-
serve the name, while yet they may be really and pow-
erfully, and abidingly, advancing the cause of Christ, and
the interests of piety. Whatever may be their varieties,
genuine Christians are all characterized by labors. What-
ever may be the estimate on earth, every genuine Chris-


•"Has many a record in that book,

By angels writ with beams of heavenly light,

On which the eyes of God not rarely look,
A chronicle of actions fair and bright."

It would be well if this characteristic of genuine Chris-
tianity were fairly understood, and its legitimate connexion
with the evidence of personal piety, were properly adjust-
ed. There is unquestionably a spurious piety which ex-
pends itself entirely in action, and has no living spring in
the soul. There is such a thing as substituting mere fe-
verish restlessness, and mechanical activity for true Chris-
tianity; but, at the same time, it is very possible also to
substitute the mere poetry of religion, its secluded musings,
its luscious sensibilities, its imaginative abstractions, and
unsocial austerities, for the piety of the Bible. The reli-
gion of Christ is equally opposed to either extreme. Its
genuine subjects, labor, and labor constantly and abun-
dantly, but their labors spring from inward principles, and
the secret of their energy is habitual communion with
God and with truth. We are never to imagine that actual
and constant labor is not demanded by our Master, and
indispensable to our symmetrical piety, because the activity
of some has degenerated into excess and fanaticism. We
are not to shrink into cloisters, and indulge in everlasting
and slothful lamentations over misguided zeal, even though
it should be painfully frequent, but w r e are to labor with
the right spirit, to show that there can be activity with-
out self-confidence, and abundant labors for God along
with that lovely humility of soul and unostentatious self-
forgetfulness which so sweetly remind the beholder of Him
who, though "he pleased not himself," yet "went about do-
ing good." Of all Christians it should be truly said at
death — "They rest from their labors."

Another characteristic of true Christians here intima-
ted, is, their permanent usefulness. "Their works do fol-
low them," or remain after them. The labors of Chris-
tians are not lost. The results of Christian activity are
not transient. The crood they do lives after them. This is
true, either of the actual results of their works, or their
enshinement in the memory of surviving friends. The
works of Christians survive them in their actual results.
The sinner turned from the error of his way by the friend-


ly counsel of a faithful Christian, often lives to eat-,
tend his influence, and even to preach the unsearchable
riches of the gospel, long after the tongue that warned or
wooed him is stilled in death. He may convey to hundreds
and thousands, and they to thousands more, the knowledge
of the truth, when the soul that led him to Jesus has long
rested from its labors, amidst the blessedness of Heaven.
The peace and happiness of a family, whose head has
been rescued from intemperance or other vice, by the
faithful and repeated counsels of a persevering Christian,
may remain and be the subject of thankfulness and admira-
tion, long after the heart that poured forth its solicitudes
and its warning, has ceased to throb with mortal anxie-
ties. The Sabbath scholar, in whose heart the pious in-
structions of her teacher never took root during her life,
may, after many days, rise up and call her blessed, as
the instrument, under God, of her salvation, and be the
honored instrument of the same benefits to others. The
minister or the missionary, who has been assisted by the
openhanded benevolence of a principled Christian, may
be pointing the dying heathen to the Lamb of God, when
the friend of his youth may be beholding Him, face to
face, in glory, beyond the scene of actual labors for the
souls of men. As the weeping survivors of Dorcas, "shew-
ed the coats and garments she had made while yet with
them", so the friends of those who rest in death after the
labors of life, may point to many monuments of their
works treasured in the hearts or manifested in the happi-
ness or usefulness of those whom they have benefitted.
Yes, the result of Christian labors is permanent and self-
perpetuating. Feeble and almost unnoticed in its begin-
nings, it often goes on from generation to generation,
increasing its circle of influence and blessing. To adopt
the beautiful simile of the Saviour, though in its com-
mencement like a grain of mustard seed, which is the least
of all seeds, it becomes, in the end, a great tree, and the
birds dwell in the branches thereof. Oh! how immense-
ly stimulating to Christian fidelity is this view of the
results of Christian labors! No doubt the vivid percep-
tion and strong conviction of this, enters essentially into
the elements of energetic Christian character. It is tho
philosophy of that zeal which alwavs abounds in the-


work of the Lord and of that holy economy that per-
mits no hour, nay, no moment to go to eternity, unwing-
ed by some deed of benevolence, or aspiration of holi-

"Their works do follow them" The world at this
day feels the results of the labors of Paul, and will feel
them till the winding up of its eventful story. The
church feels now and will feel in the day of her millen-
ial glory, the results of Luther's life. American piety,
and zeal, and benevolence, as well as Pagan darkness
and gloom, feel the effects of the brief but brilliant and
blessed career of Samuel J. Mills. Till Asia with her
millions are all converted to God, how many thousands
will thrill with unutterable emotions at the name and


Online LibraryD. H. RiddleA voice from heaven : a sermon, commemorative of the death of Mrs. Mary W. Brown, wife of Rev. Matthew Brown, D.D., preached in Providence Hall, Canonsburg, May 6, 1838 → online text (page 1 of 2)