2007-09-09 - Heaven on Earth
Ezekiel 33:11 "Say to them, 'As I live!' declares the Lord God, 'I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that the wicked turn from his way and live. Turn back, turn back from your evil ways! Why then will you die, O house of Israel?'"
John Bradford was one of the early bright and shining lights of the Reformation - literally. He was burned at the stake for his faith, and his death has been written about ever since, as he was a significant spiritual leader of his time. He is known for his famous words to the man who was burned with him. Until recently, I never really paid attention who this other man was who died the same death as the famous Reformer. It seemed, to me, much less significant who died with him - than the statement Bradford made to the person while they were lighting the fires under them both. The man was John Leaf, and Bradford said to him, "Be of good comfort, brother; for we shall have a merry supper with the Lord this night." True and brave words, but who was this man Leaf?
Leaf was a young 19 year-old illiterate man who had come to faith in Christ. Leaf was cross-examined by the authorities, and presented with two papers to sign. One was a recantation of his profession of faith in Christ. The other was a statement of his own words at the trial. After they were read to him, Leaf took a pin, pricked his finger and allowed his blood to drop on the page that contained his own words. Thus he sealed his death as a martyr with the famous Reformer. I suppose we can all draw many personal lessons from these two who preferred to burn over denying the Lord, but I would like to suggest one in particular. I suggest that life is short, and how we live, how we use our time, how we either live up to our profession of faith, or against our profession .... I suggest that these things matter.
We cannot count on a full number of days. A cloud has more stability in it than many a life. We all know this, but we often fail to live as if there were many gates to the grave. My question is: Do you look forward to death? Can you say with the man, told after his 60th birthday, that he was on the wrong side of 60, "I am on the right side of 60, for I am on the Heaven side of it." Or consider Rolland Hill, a famous preacher about 250 years ago, who lived to a ripe old age. He used to say that he thought Heaven had forgotten him. One day, when conversing with some ladies who were of a similar age he asked, if they made it to glory before him, that they would tell the fellow saints in heaven, "... that Rowley is stopping behind a little while, but he is coming on as fast as he can." What a joy to be near to death, and not have a care in the world about it, but rather to look forward to our melting into Christ and peacefully entering His presence.
One minister used to tell the story of a woman who would sit at the steps of his church while the services went on. She did this for many years. She knew the way of salvation, but maintained that five minutes before she died, she could get it all right in that time. The minister told her, "You may not have five minutes to set things right. Be right at once." Good advice, and, as you can imagine, one day the minister was called to her house urgently. He went, only to see the woman about to die. She looked at him and said, "I am lost! I am lost!" She died right there, before the minister could say a word. So much for deathbed confessions.
Life is short, and it matters not how long we live. We are all but a step away from being face-to-face with our Creator. The great and often-sung (even today) hymn writer Isaac Watts used to say concerning his retiring for the night, "I go to my bed each night with perfect indifference as to whether I shall wake up in this world or the next." Or can we say respecting the disease found in an old minister from Scotland when he was asked if the sickness was unto death, "I do not know, and I do not wish to know, for I do not think that it can make much difference to me; for if I go to Heaven I shall be with God, and if I stop here God will be with me." Is this not such a wonderful mindset to cultivate? What joy it would be to live in such a way that we will either be with God in His presence, or if we continue in this Earthly life, we will live with God's presence with us. It is something to seek, for us all. It is a Heavenly-mindedness that lacks the cares of this anxiety-laden world, and it is such a way of thinking and living, that brings Heaven down to us here on Earth.
Soli Deo Gloria,