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Darling Memorial Sketch Book
Sermon


"Precious in the sight of the LORD is the death of His saints. —Psalm cxvi. 15.

THESE are the words of a man who has been delivered from death. All through the psalm there are many incidental indications of his grievous affliction. "I was brought low," he cries. Again, in vivid remembrance of particular experiences, he exclaims, "The sorrows of death compassed me, the pains of Hades gat hold on me." Yea, added to his physical distress, there seems to have been some soul-grief from his enemies. "I have said to myself in my despair, all men are a lie." It would seem for a moment as if he had lost all faith, plunged in such agony and gloom. But, like a strong swimmer, he emerges from the overwhelming flood. "I believe," he cried, shaking from him the phantoms of his despair,— "I believe, for I must speak." And what has he to say? What thousands of sufferers have had to say,—that when all human help failed, God drew near. "I was brought low, and He helped me." The psalm is one joyous ascription of praise to his deliverer God.

With all this, however, we do not, at least this morning, take to do, but only with one fresh thought which the Psalmist has brought back from the gates of the grave. In the school of sorrow he had learned a lesson which he never knew before. Formerly he had thought of death in the way most men think of it, as an enemy always prowling around, as a dark possibility which might any moment be realised, as a casualty or accident with which we must ever be ready to reckon, and in itself as pure loss, the annihilation of all in which we delight. His soul - perturbation in presence of death shows what it meant to him.

As never before, he has been impressed with God's particular personal love to him, one of his servants. The note of passionate attachment struck in the first line runs right through. Then his unlooked for escape has let him see that all events are within the control of God. He helped me. The whole world of iron circumstance, as some think it, is just a theatre for God to display the freeness of His grace, the splendour of His righteousness. But if that be true, then something else follows. There can be no such thing as accident. A divine purpose reigns through all. If he was sent back from the gates of death, it must be because there were work and discipline for him in time. He had work to do, vows to fulfil here in the presence of his people. The death of God's people was not something which they stumbled on by accident. It was the consummation of time's discipline, the divine crown put upon their career. Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of His saints. In the sight of men, the precious thing about a life is its achievement, the power we come to exert, the work we accomplish. But God sees deeper. Our success or failure, the bruit of our fame, the magnitude of our work, belong to the order of things which pass away. Below the surface, the eye of God is piercing to the kind of personality which is forming in the discipline of time. And His supreme interest in you and me, if I may speak thus of a Divine Being, gathers round the hour of death. His interests are concentrated on that moment. Here His personal joy, His personal reward, is found for all His unwearied care through the past. For here in death, a redeemed personality emerges from the limitations and dark possibilities of time, into new eternal conditions of perfect safety, perfect life, perfect peace. Here afresh is seen the triumph of His grace, the consummation of His purpose, the justification in perfected character of His redemptive work.

Let us meditate a little this morning on these thoughts. And to begin,—

I. A saint's death is precious to God as a moral spectacle. Now, is not that strange, that death the curse should become death the crown,—that what in its first infliction was the stroke of God's anger, should be precious in His sight? You remember when the children of Israel had but shortly set out from Egypt, they came upon Marah, a very bitter pool. But the Lord showed Moses a tree which made what was bitter sweet. It is by a tree which the Lord has showed us, that the complexion of death has for us been entirely changed. The death of Christ, which took off the curse of death from us, was in its intrinsic character the crown of His life's obedience. He was obedient unto— up to death. And so death is, for us, the crown of a life's obedience. The believer struggles through agony after agony of surrender, on to the goal so beautifully described by Paul, the being made conformable to His death. The blessed God who gave us being, who called us with a holy calling, who has been guiding us along every step of our pilgrimage, as He brings us near to the gates of the grave, knows that the grand crisis of faith's history is at hand. We have been trusting Him, trusting Him more and more as we drank more deeply of His love, trusting to Him our soul's every interest, our every earthly concern. But faith's crowning act still remains. And the soul is travelling on to that through the valley of ever-thickening shadow that preludes death. There faith must meet the shadow feared of man. There he must bid good night to every dearest friend, to this world, his familiar home, to the light of heaven. There he must endure the fierce shakings of his earthly tabernacle, the sealing of his senses, the wrench which separates him from his last hold on time, the plunge of his naked spirit into the unknown. And faith must triumph there. Rising absolutely above circumstance, above pain and fear, yielding itself entirely into the hand of God, the spirit must be strong to pass out of the seen into the unseen—to trust all ere it know all. That is death to the saint, and that is life's triumph in the eye of God.

And so as life nears its end, it grows in moral interest. God bends over the wasting frame as friends do here. But He eyes the spirit, while the body's wants engross them. He sees the patience with which the sufferer bears his trouble. He notes how every circumstance is turned into a reason for joy. When human ears are sealed in sleep, He hears the mutterings of praise, the whispered appeals for grace. Looking within the soul, He sees fear subdued by the boldness of love, and temptation repelled by the shield of faith. Ay—and what even human eyes can see —He beholds the whole man transfigured by an indwelling Christ, reflecting no more the coarseness and caprice of time, but the gentleness and purity of heaven. Oh ! that is beautiful in God's sight. What are all the precious things of earth to this spiritual beauty, perfected through suffering, coming refined and glistening from the fire of death!

And who is this so rapidly attaining, about, so soon as death sets his seal, to be made complete? Once he was a child of wrath, even as others. Long did he grieve God. At times it appeared as if, in the great struggle of moral decision, the world or the flesh might lead him astray. With loving kindness, however, God drew him, till at last he submitted to His will. Still, however, how self-willed, or ambitious, or dilatory, he often was! What stumblings and falls marked his opening career! But God does not break the bruised reed. He fans into flame the smouldering fire. Slowly through years, despite relapses and lulls, he brings the Christ-life within, out into assured triumph. He is now ready to be offered up. He has fought the good fight, finished the course, kept the faith. Yes, another step toward the great consummation. Another victory of right over wrong, of Christ over Satan. Another come out of great tribulation, having washed his robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. Most precious is such an event. It is a minute in the hour of this dispensation. These individual triumphs arc the time-beats by which God reckons the advancing triumph of His kingdom.

II. But the death of the saint is precious to God, because it emancipates a soul from the trammels of the flesh. We that arc in this tabernacle do groan, being burdened. The discipline of the flesh, if very necessary, is very painful. True, in earlier life this is not so much felt. Indeed, through the avenues of the senses and the bodily appetites the dormant mind of the babe is first stirred into active existence. And through our earlier years, our abounding physical energy reacts on the more sluggish currents of the mind. But when our mental powers reach their full maturity, the body soon comes to be felt as a clog. Mere physical necessity absorbs so much time and thought, that the interests of the soul can only secure fragments of attention and opportunity. The unsubdued flesh, attacking or weighting us, consumes in mere friction great part of our spiritual power. And then there are special trials, individual weaknesses, constitutional frailties, inherited disease (mental and physical), hampering us at every turn, so that, strive as we may, we can produce but little, and are constrained to cry, "Few and evil have the days of my pilgrimage been."

And now by disease the voice is brought to a husky whisper, and the body is chained to a sick-bed, and all power of work is taken away. And while the moral submission of the soul amid that weakness is precious to God, while the weakness itself as affording occasion for such an outburst of trust has a certain preciousness in His view, still it is intolerable that a soul so developed into the likeness of Christ should remain ingulfed in the grave of the body. In the fulness of its spiritual manhood it has become fit for the liberty of heaven. He has grown his spirit-wings, and is ready to join the winged hosts above. He has tuned his voice, and is prepared for the immortal choirs. Do you not see then what in death is precious to God? Amid the tumultuous tossings of disease, a soul, perfected in the discipline of time, is preparing to launch out into the liberty of heaven. Those pangs are the creakings of the giving clay. The hammer-strokes of trouble are driving from under the man the props of the flesh. A moment, and the spirit will have sailed into his native element and found its eternal home.

It is precious. None rejoices in such emancipation more than our Father. In all His child's affliction He has been afflicted. He has entered into every sorrow, felt every fear, understood every shrinking, realised, changeless though He be, every change. And He has permitted it all to happen. But only because He has had this emancipation in view. And now the training time is past, the discipline is undergone. Never in the course of eternity will it have to be endured again. The winter is past, the rain is over and gone, the summer of the soul has come.

See the Father welcome His child. All the unbounded compassion for the prodigal is there, but all sorrow for the prodigal's sin is taken away. Instead, there is complacency ineffable, because of the beauty of the perfectly redeemed child. Well done, good and faithful servant! that is his welcome. Well done, servant; come from faithful toil in the outfield of time, rest thee now upon My throne! Well done, soldier of the cross, put sword and spear by, and take these white garments of holy peace! Well done, sufferer, thou shalt be a singer, now that night is past and the morning of thy joy is come! Well done!

And now, how shall we fashion to ourselves the fellowship between the emancipated and their Lord? Once a painter showed me two or three colours on his palette, and said, mournfully, I have only these with which to paint sunshine. And we have only the lustreless relations of earth with which to show forth the love-life of heaven. The joy of a father in seeing his son, once a babe, administering with him their business or estate, must in unspeakably higher fashion be God's, who beholds His once weak and sinful child equal to heavenly service without a fault before His throne. The joy of the king in seeing gathered round his person a noble band of warriors, disciplined for war through years of stern yet lavish training, mantles in God's heart as they that have gotten the victory gather round Christ, His body, the perfect agents of His infinite will. The joy of the teacher in being able, after years of painstaking instruction, to hold full intellectual fellowship with the young minds he has trained, is a faint reflection of the Father's joy as He welcomes His redeemed ones into a closeness of fellowship in which they shall know as they are known. He joys over them with joy; He rests in His love; He joys over them with singing. Brave death ! thou hast done thy work well. In thy furnace thou hast burnt off every spot and stain. They are to the praise of the glory of God's grace.

III. The death of a saint is precious in God's sight, because it liberates his life as an influence. This is a thought really lying imbedded in the text, although it may not immediately appear. It is Jehovah who regards His saints' death as precious,— the covenant - God who is at this moment in the travail of a great plan. The battle between good and evil was raging in the Psalmist's day. As fiercely and still more widely it rages now. And God is profoundly interested in this conflict. He has committed His cause into the hands of men. His glory is bound up with the triumph of the right. Now, from this point of view, it is difficult to look at the death of the saintly or the self-sacrificing as other than a loss. One finds difficulty in realising how God could regard it in any other light. With this thought in their minds, the Psalmists cried for life—shall the dead praise Thee? And when God's hand has been laid on faithful or conspicuous workers, have we not been filled with a painful and baffled sense of loss? To put it frankly, has it not appeared to our impatient minds as if God were impoverishing His own followers, weakening His own cause?

Now I am not here to affirm that the removal of notable workers does not inflict grievous loss. Why, looking back over the course of the kingdom of God, one sees, after great spring-tides of moral influence in a Luther, a Knox, a Wesley, ebbs that have lasted through centuries. Without waiting at all to inquire what limitations should be placed to this thought, let me say that there is another aspect to this subject. Death does not annihilate a saint's influence. Very often it liberates and vastly increases it. While he was on earth, what was deepest in him was often cloaked and obscured by the trivial circumstances of the hour. Men judged him by the accidents of life, far more than by its essence. Slight deficiencies, or even awkwardnesses, blinded men to remarkable excellences. And all the clash and confusion of diverse parties, of contending interests, of class prejudice, further dulled and diverted their thought. But when death comes, the boisterous voices of the hour are hushed. The surface accidents of life drop off. The essential elements in the character rise into distinctness and orb into a living whole. And so, where the holiness and the self-devotion are remarkable, the man becomes liberated as an elevating moral presence and a powerful moral influence, by that peath which removes himself from the world.

This fact is recognised even beyond the Christian pale. Those persons who reject to their own discomfort the doctrine of personal immortality, extol this subjective immortality of influence. They find a cold comfort in thinking, that after they have rotted away body and soul, like a marsh-light above their grave, virtue from them will flicker for a little while. What however can after all give but little comfort to them, is a very well of strength to us. We do not believe in a pitiable succession of mere mortal generations, which must yet come to utter nothing, as this played-out planet rushes into the sun. We believe in God. We believe in the kingdom of God. We believe in the eternal consummation of that kingdom. And our faith is, that when we are—not annihilated—but taken home as we have just seen, into an eternity of fellowship with God, our influence here—that is, if we have been thoroughly consecrated men and women—lives on. Looking around us, we see individual workers, as they die and pass away, leaving the impress of their individuality on their time. Their lives crowned in death become a spiritual oxygen, permeating the very air. All men breathe it, the world is bettered by it, a new standard of obligation is created, a higher conception of sacrifice possesses the Christian imagination. The Church grows up into the image of its holy dead. Thus do we progress. Character tested by suffering, crowned by the surrender of death, is our great teacher. For the Church's progress is primarily a will-progress— life-assimilation to the will of God.

What a stimulus the very thought should be to those still fighting and struggling on. Let us live lives that shall outlive death, and survive in an enlarged influence when we have gone. But, to hasten to an end, do we not see from another point of view the truth of our text? If death, setting its seal to a good man's life, liberates that life as an influence in the world, is it not a precious thing? If when a character has reached a certain height death stamps it complete, so that as a well-defined force it acts on society, is not death in the hand of God a valuable agent in the service of truth? Who heard the name of Frederic Robertson till death, crowning with completeness that pure and lofty character, gave circulation wide as the world to his literary remains? See death as it fixes the enraptured gaze of Livingstone, and liberates his spirit from its worn-out tabernacle, liberating and breathing over the earth the aroma of his consecration, the inspiration of his life. Such facts are repeated myriads of times in every generation of the Church. The hearts of us all are graves of holy memories, and we are what we are to no small extent because some who have gone before were what they were.

Yes, precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of His saints. Every holy life completed in death is an active force, in some hearts, on the side of right. Satan is the weaker for it, Christ the stronger. A greatly exalted life is like a mighty lever lifting nations through centuries:—

"The saints who seem to die in earth's rude strife
Only win double life.
They have but left our weary ways,
To live in memory here,
In heaven by love and praise."

IV. One last thought. Surely this whole theme gives a very affecting view of God's warm, close, personal interest in us. Granting we are His saints, devoted to Him, and that the life of God is begun in us, every stage of that life is of interest to Him, and most of all the crowning stage of death. Should we not then live in His light, should we not give the planning of our lives into His hand? The only one who need fear death is the man at cross purposes with God, who has interests apart from God, ends contrary to the will of God, or not clearly in line with His will. For him there will be humblings, breakings in the place of dragons, it may be uncertainty and fear. But to the child of God resting in, following after the divine command, death has lost every atom of dread. It is the goal of our pilgrimage, the moral mark to which we run, the supreme test of time. The very view of death which divests it of dread, invests it with awe. Though in a land of peace thou art secure, how wilt thou do in the swellings of Jordan? You are saving earthly wealth for a time, when from old age you can no longer provide for your wants. What provision are you making for the spiritual emergencies of the future? Would it not be dreadful to founder just outside the harbour gate? Is faith with you not a mere hearsay, but an independent spirit-born conviction anchored in the promise of God ? Has it been growing or dwindling, blossoming like Aaron's rod into the glory of a new life, or withering up to a mere memory? Is it supported in your life by fresh experience, in your will by a sanctified character, in your intellect by wide views of revelation, in your imagination by prophetic realisations of coming good? Are you in your whole being committed to faith, so that you can say, "Therefore will I not fear though the earth be removed, and the mountains be cast into the depths of the sea"? Or have you on board your soul an undisciplined crew of unsubdued propensities and desires,—love of pleasure, love of position, love of praise, and such like? How do you know, then, but when the winds rise and the waves beat in upon your soul, and troubles like spume and mist of the sea cut you off from your fellows, and away on the farther shore you can hear the breaking of the waves,—how do you know but that the faith which governs you so little, may turn out to be a fiction powerless to control or guide? how do you know but this undisciplined crew, mutinying in the hour of danger, may cast faith into chains, and lead you away into darkness? How many suffer shipwreck ere they reach the shore, and are glad to make the haven on a broken spar! Be not deceived, God is not mocked. He hates sin as much as before Christ died. Yea, He hates it more, if that were possible, since what it was in sin to do, by Christ's ignominious death has been revealed. But most of all He hates its presence in one who has been forgiven through Christ's sacrifice, and renewed through Christ's spirit, and who through wantonness stumbles back from liberty to bondage. With that God will hold no compromise ; either He will consume the sin out of the man, or consume the man in his sin.

That is the reason of the shadowed deathbeds of some Christian men. True, even to those who keep close to Christ, death does not lack an element of awe. It is no light or easy matter to venture forward into the unseen. He has but a poor idea of the holiness of God, and of his own imperfection, who is not cast into utter self-abasement in the divine presence. But let us abide in Christ, and as the pillars of our being shake, through its rending walls, the glory of Christ's indwelling will more and still more brightly break. And as God sees in us the forming image of His son, He will be drawn out toward us with an ever-growing intensity of affection. Our path, however shadowed with physical pain, shall be brightened with an ever-augmenting sense of His presence and favour. Ere we know, we shall have won our release, to learn through eternity how precious we are to God, from the measureless gifts of His love.

And now it is my privilege, according to the custom which has obtained in this church, to say some few words regarding a highly esteemed member of session, whom God has taken to himself. Regarding the late Mr James Darling, it is easy to entertain the view of death contained in our text. As in one of the darkest days of this season, and amid the falling rain, the great company of mourners passed on through the streets, and especially as they lifted their voices in song around the grave, there seemed to be less of grief than of a subdued and sacred joy. Save for the friends left behind, save for the causes lacking his assistance, there was nothing" to regret. A good man had finished his course, a faithful worker had found rest and reward; a servant who had much of His Master's lowly, loving, self-denying spirit, had risen into his Master's presence.

Following what, I believe, would have been our departed friend's wish, I shall not enter into details regarding his life. Rather would I impress the lessons of his life on those who remain. In my view there is great inspiration for us all in this finished career. Some men stand so separate from their fellows because of conspicuous gifts that they cannot be imitated. But Mr Darling lives in our hearts, less because of any remarkable and outstanding service, though he was a man of exceptional energy, than because of the beauty of a life wholly consecrated to the service of the Master. His religion shone out in everything.

Not without struggle and difficulty in his earlier career, Mr Darling resolved to honour God in his daily calling. And God blessed him even in respect of worldly prosperity, enabling him in his very business to throw a Christian atmosphere round innumerable lives, and cheer and refresh many weary hearts. Diligent in business however though he was, he was not absorbed in it. All through life he displayed a beautiful compassion with suffering and distress. His feet were shod with the readiness of the gospel of peace. In work among the young he took singular delight. The joy that beamed in his countenance as he moved among them, showed the spirit that burned within. Then, how indefatigable he was in the support of the great temperance cause,—and indeed of every movement which recognised the Gospel as its main weapon, and aimed at the renewal and elevation of men. He left to others the chief places, content to be a worker in the ranks. There was nothing too lowly, no service too unwelcome, for him to undertake. To the foulest den, to the prison cell, he followed those who had been brought under his eye. With his own hands he washed, and fed, and clad outcast children, whom he would bring to Jesus. Nothing seemed to daunt him in his Master's work. The energy, the holy persistency, the unfailing cheerfulness, with which he met difficulty conquered it. Young workers felt an inspiration in his life, and gathered round him. And so this humble man—for humble he was to the last—became a great individual force in this city. When he died men woke up to realise what he had been. From all churches and all classes in this community, from every corner of this land and from other lands, came tributes to his worth. He was followed to his grave by such a crowd as ordinarily gathers only round the remains of our most notable men. And now he has fought a good fight; from the fetters of the flesh he is freed;—and his meek and saintly memory, liberated by death, will live as an influence in many hearts for many days. "Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of His saints."


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