REST AFTER LABOUR
A Memorial Sermon preached at Evington Chapel, Leicester on February llth, 1973 after the death of the Pastor, Frank Leslie RoweII, the late Editor of this magazine.
“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 labours; and their works do follow them.” Revelation 14, 13.
To speak to you on this particular occasion is a very real privilege and yet one of the hardest things I have ever had to do. I feel, and have felt, great need of the Lord’s blessing that we might together be encouraged and strengthened through the Word of God. The Word of God was that which my father delighted in. He delighted in it himself, for the blessing that it was to his own soul and he delighted to preach it to others.
This is called a Memorial Service but in one sense we need no memorial, we need no service to remind us of the past for memories are still so tender and hearts too full. But in connection with that word ‘memorial’ that there is one passage in Paul’s first epistle to the Thessalonians (2, 19) which expresses the kind of memorial which already exists to him who has been taken from us. Paul there says, “For what is our hope, or joy, or crown of rejoicing? Are not even ye in the presence of our Lord Jesus Christ at his coming?” And there is more than one here this morning who can testify that, through his ministry, we were quickened into newness of life. It was through his preaching that I believe the Lord first spoke to my soul. I say, we need no outward memorial, the memorial is written in the hearts of believing men and women up and down this country. The way in which God has abundantly used his ministry for the glory of that name which he loved above every name has been very evident to us during these last few weeks. This memorial is written in the hearts of believing men and women and will show itself in future days. His ministry has left an indelible mark upon many.
I believe that God uses frail simple instruments, sinful men and women, to fulfil His own purpose, and that He does so particularly with those gracious men who are called to the work of the ministry. It is a very sacred and solemn privilege to be called to be a minister of the Word of Life and there are no happier times in the ministry of the Word than those when you see the effect of the Spirit of God using His own Holy Word. and it is deeply humbling. However, the work that God’s servants accomplish in the ministry is largely hidden from them. I believe that most of that which was accomplished through my own father’s ministry was hidden. It was hidden from him in his life and it will only be brought to light very gradually. You see, it is like the farmer when he sows the seedÂ—the ground has to be broken up first, then the seed is sown in the rough ground which is then smoothed over and to all intents and purposes the seed is lost. Now when a faith-
full minister preaches, he scatters seed. He scatters the seed of truth on the ground of men’s souls and then it is lost sight of. We don’t know what is accomplished but the Lord will cause the seed to grow. Now the influence of those who minister the Word of Life will be like that. It is largely hidden from them but it is not hidden from God.
The work of God will go on and we may liken the life of God’s people to a pebble that is thrown into a pond. You see the splash as it falls into the water, but after the pebble has sunk out of sight the ripples move outward and they go on moving for a long, long time. I believe that is God’s purpose, that is God’s sovereign will. He makes the lives of his servants to be like that;
they appear for such a brief space of timeÂ—70 years it was, just as the Lord tells us in his Word, threescore years and ten, the allotted and God-given span of life. How brief it does seem compared to eternity and yet in that short span of life there are those ripples that have begun to move out. I believe over this country and over countries far away from our own there are those ripples of Divine purpose. God fulfilling His own will through the word preached and the word spoken and the word printed.
We turn then to this passage in the Book of the Revelation. “Write, Blessed are the dead which die in the Lord from henceforth”. I suppose everyone would expect that in a memorial service something would be said about what has been done, the things that the particular person has accomplished in his life. I have heard people say that we ought not to do that, that really the great point to stress is the grace of God. Now, let me say straight away that you can never separate the grace of God from the things that are done. God has shown us in His Word, in a very solemn way, that the great judgment day will have regard to the life that people have lived. Do not think that the things we do and say are insignificant. A man’s faith and a man’s life are ever to be looked at together. James tells us in his epistle that faith without works is dead. Faith without works is just a hypocritical mockery, and if your faith is not demonstrated by your works then it is not the faith of God’s elect. So then, why should we be ashamed of speaking of those things that have been done? Why should we be ashamed of speaking of a man and what he was? There were times even when Paul was alive, not after he was dead, when he was compelled to speak of the things that he had done. He said, “I laboured more abundantly than they all: yet not I, but the grace of God which was with me”. So if we speak of the works and life of God’s people we are really speaking of the grace of God. We are not attributing to them in a personal way the least glory at all, we are simply saying they were what they were because God made them what they were. If we look at Romans chapter 2, we find Paul speaks about the life and end of God’s people and he speaks of it in relation to the great day of judgment. He says there is a “righteous judgment of God; who will render to every man according to his deeds”. Remember that He will deal with
you and me according to our deeds. It is the sort of life we are living, the sort of life and profession that we make right down to the end that is in question. He “will render to every man according to his deeds: to them who by patient continuance in well-doing seek for glory and honour and immortality, eternal life.”
In John’s vision he hears a voice from heaven and that voice says “Write”, and I have thought much lately of the comfort of such expressions as this. The Lord Himself knows what we need to support our spirits in times of trouble; we need a secure foundation. We need, at least I feel to need, nothing less than the Word of God. I need God’s own word for my soul to rest upon and I need God’s own word to bring comfort into my heart. So John heard a voice from heaven saying “Write”. God’s command was that John should record these things for future ages, that the people of God since John’s day right down to our day should have the comfort and assurance of His own word of truth.
“Write, Blessed are the dead which die in the Lord from henceforth.” We think we know what that word “Blessed” means. You may think you have some idea of what blessedness is. I wonder what ideas you have. The word ‘blessed’ really signifies everything that makes a man perfectly satisfied, perfectly happy;
and what can do that? I believe there is only one thing that can do it, and it is for that man or that woman to have a perfect relationship with God. That was the reason for which man was first created, to be for the glory of God, to bear in himself the image of God and to reflect the glory of God. It is to be in a state where we may be most close and most perfectly united to God. Now that is blessedness and in this life we begin to taste of true blessedness when God by His Spirit wakens us to newness of life. It is a wonderful blessing to have lived the greater part of your life in the fear of the Lord. To have been quickened into newness of life while still young is a great mercy, and that was the mercy my father enjoyed. Comparatively early the Lord began to work with him. Now thank God if it was so with you, but don’t despair if it was not. The thief was saved in the very last moments of his life. But still, to live the greater part of one’s life knowing something of communion with God, is a wonderful foretaste of heaven. O! friends, seek that, seek that even now, whatever your age may be, that God will bless you with that new life; that you may live your life in ever deepening communion with God so that you will say with John, “Our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ”. I know that sometimes my father was sad because that communion seemed broken. He felt far off from God. I remember only recently he seemed to pass through a time of darkness because God had withdrawn the sensible favour and blessing of His presence. Do you understand what I am talking about? Friends you must be alive if you do. If you know when God is with you; if you know when God lifts up the light of His countenance upon you and if you know when God frowns upon
you and withdraws the sensible grace of His presence from you, then you must be alive to these things. But, at the very best, this life is so beclouded that we see through a glass darklyÂ—this communion is fitful because other things so frequently intrude. As the Lord warns us, there are the cares of this life and the deceitfulness of riches and they so often sadly choke the word. There is a sinful worldliness, there is the preoccupation with all the things about us, there is a sad and sinful forgetfulness of God. What a terrible thing it is that, we who owe life and breath to our Maker, we who owe everything that is good to Him, we who must one day stand before Him, should forget all about Him. What a sad and miserable evidence of our sinfulness it is when we can live day after day forgetful of God, disregarding His word and careless of His claims upon us. Great is the evil of our hearts and terrible is the sin of unbelief. Bless God if He has awakened us to some merciful hope, some inward gracious fear of the Lord.
Now we see but through a glass darkly; and the great apostle could not say that he had apprehended, he was still, toward the end of his life, pressing on towards the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus. The blessedness of this life, great though it may be at times (and sometimes the blessedness of God’s people in this life is so great they cannot express the blessedness they feel) will not take them beyond the hymn writer who says
“O for a closer walk with God,
A calm and heavenly frame;
A light to shine upon the road
That leads me to the Lamb.”
Consider now these words “Blessed are the dead.” “O”, say people, “what a wonderful way to go. To die suddenly, you don’t have to think about it, you don’t have to worry about it. You don’t have any fears about it.” Well, friends, listen, “Blessed are the dead which die in the Lord”. They are the only ones who are blessed. I can thank God that I have in my heart that complete assurance regarding my father, that he is blessed for he died in the Lord. He died as he had lived. He lived and died in the faith. And we thank God, for those we have known and loved who lived and died in the faith. We are surrounded, said the apostle with so great a cloud of witnessesÂ—we are! We have the memory and we have the record of their lives. We are surrounded with so many evidences which tell us that they must now be perfectly blessed.
To the unbeliever, death is something to be dreaded, it is a fearful thing, it is that which they will not think about, it is that for which they will not make the least preparation, it is something that they hope will come upon them so that they don’t ever have to think about it. But what a terrible way to go out of this life, compared with this blessedness!
The limits of human reason cannot take you beyond the sad finality of death. But God does not say “Blessed are the living” but “Blessed are the dead”. You and I might feel it is a blessed thing to live but God says it is a blessed thing to be dead if you
die in the Lord, and this far exceeds the greatest blessedness we can know this side of the grave. This side of the grave it is limited, as I said, it is fitfulÂ—the greatest blessedness is still beclouded with the fact that we bear about us this body of sin and death. There are fears and forebodings about the future; there are sadnesses and sorrows about the past; there are uncertainties and perplexities about the present, so our greatest blessing is so sadly limited. But now says God, “Blessed are the dead”Â—why? Because they are with Me. They are blessed because that which is the perfect fulfilment of man’s chief aim and object in life is what they now enjoy. They enjoy Him for ever.
This is a wonderful chapter. There was a Lamb who John sees upon Mount Zion and with Him an hundred and forty and four thousand having their Father’s name written in their forehead. Now that name is written in their foreheads in this life, you cannot see it with your ordinary eyes as you look at people’s foreheads, but you can if you understand the mysterious language of Revelation. You look at the way in which a man’s forehead is pointing and you will see the name. If you have spiritual discernment you will see a name. You will say, “That man belonged to Jesus Christ. I can tell by the way his forehead pointed. Later in the chapter we read of the mark of the beast in the forehead. You say “Well, I can’t see a mark”. No, you cannot see anything as you look with a natural eye, but look at the way most people are living, look at the direction their foreheads are pointing and what they are saying, their interests, their concerns, everything that they count good, all their happiness is worldly and worse than that. In the sins and vileness of this life you can discern the mark of the beast for they serve him. You can tell the servants of the wicked one just as you can tell the servants of Jesus Christ. And there were one hundred and forty and four thousandÂ—that is a perfect number according to God’s purposes; the whole number of God’s chosen people, not one more and not one less. These are symbolic numbers and we are not to understand this as a literal one hundred and forty and four thousand. Like everything else in the Book of the Revelation there are mysteries enshrined in the Word. Just as there were the twelve patriarchs and twelve apostles, so they stand for the whole number of the church down through the ages. The perfect number of God’s people. “And I heard a voice from heaven, as the voice of many waters, and as the voice of a great thunder: and I heard the voice of harpers harping with their harps: and they sung as it were a new song before the throne”. It is often difficult to sing now. Why? Because tears and sorrows often choke us as we sing here, but not so there. O! there is a song the words of which we shall take all eternity to learn. There is a blessedness in singing which will never fail through all eternity. “They sung as it were a new song before the throne, and before the four beasts, and the elders: and no man could learn that song but the hundred and forty and four thousand, which were redeemed from the earth.”
Then we have a description of these people. “These are they which were not defiled with women.” Again, understand the word in the pattern of the teaching of this book of the Revelation. These are those who by the grace of God have not stained their garments in the sins of the world. They are the people whom God has separated; He has made them pure. He has put in their hearts holy principles, and those holy principles of God in their heart forbid them to sin. They were not defiled, as the world is defiled, with the vileness of lust and wickedness of this life, but having their sins forgiven they live their life in humble obedience to His Word. They long for greater holiness and their sins were a grief to them for they are virgins, holy ones, separate ones, sacred ones, because God has made them so. “These are they which follow the Lamb whithersoever he goeth”. They do so in heaven now. They will do so in the glories of that new heaven and new earth wherein dwelleth righteousness. They will do so for a never-ending eternity in a glorified body and with a ransomed soul. They will follow the Lamb whithersoever He goeth, but this is not new to them, this is no new experience though it is a fuller, greater experience than they ever had here, but they followed Him here. Ask yourself this question: who am I following? They followed the Lamb whithersoever He goeth. Jesus said, “Follow me” and if you love Him you will want to follow Him.
We remember one who followed the Lord in obedience to His command. He followed Him in the ordinances of God’s house, he followed Him under the constraint of the love of Christ. Often he said to me when we were speaking about such things as Baptism, “O, there is one thing you should look for and that is the love of Christ. If you can see that then all is well”. He followed the Lamb whithersoever He went in that path of self-denial. It was once said of Gadsby that he would have been successful in any walk of life that he had chosen, he was that sort of person; and God does bless some of His people with such abilities that they would be successful in almost any walk of life. But when God’s call comes there is a turning of the back upon such things and a counting of all loss for Christ’s sake. The prospects of this world were nothing to my father. He had to turn his back on that and he followed the Lamb, as some of us can testify from our own experience. He followed the Lamb into poverty, into need, into distress. “The son of man hath not where to lay his head.” There was always one who was poorest, yes, there was One who “though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, that ye through his poverty might be rich.” My father walked along, a little in fellowship with Jesus Christ in His poverty, and that because he followed the Lamb. Away from all the attractive alluring securities of this life in the path of faith. Do you know what it is to walk by faith? There are not many of us who have got to the end of the week without a penny left are there? Not many! Poverty has a terrible effect upon people unless they possess the grace of God.
Where there is the grace of God then poverty can be borne, it is sanctified, it is made a most useful and blessed experience, but not unless. Well, they followed the Lamb, and he followed the Lord’s command and that is the only reason he was here amongst you as your pastor, he followed God’s direction. He did not always see things clearly, sometimes he was in great distress. I go back to the very earliest days of my own experience as a member of a church and I believe he and I walked together in a way that bound us together but it was a way of indescribable distress. So, if you follow the Lamb, do not think that the way will be easy because it will not.
“These were redeemed from among men, being the first fruits unto God and to the Lamb. And in their mouth was found no guile; for they are without fault before the throne of God.” In this life the grace of God makes a man honest. It will make a man speak the truth. It will make a man one in whom you can repose trust and confidence, for you believe that the man is saying what he really feels. You dare not trust a single thing some people say, but not so with those that fear the Lord for in their mouth is found no guile. I am not trying to say that he, nor any of those we have loved and who have been taken from us, were sinless. You understand this only in the light of the grace that God gave. No. they were not sinless. It was their sorrow that they were not. It is now their blessedness that they are, for “Blessed are the dead which die in the Lord”.
In the twelfth verse we read “Here is the patience of the saints: here are they that keep the commandments of God, and the faith of Jesus”. Now this patience is the patient enduring of faith. It is faith which, though pressed down, distressed and opposed, yet still endures. It is that patient enduring in the faith of the gospel. My father was one who was not ashamed to preach the truth. He was not ashamed to tell you things that sometimes would have seemed hard or even severe. It was because God made him faithful, and he endured in that path of faithful preaching even to the very last Lord’s day he spent here upon this earth. On very few Lord’s days in his preaching life, was he kept from the pulpitÂ—very few. God blessed him with wonderful strength for the most part, and for that we can thank God. And God did not leave him to lay in helplessness upon his bed, but took him.
“Blessed are the dead which die in the Lord from henceforth.” What a prospect this isÂ—eternityÂ—from henceforth! “Yea, saith the Spirit, that they may rest from their labours; and their works do follow them”. They rest, but they do not rest in any kind of unconscious sleep; they rest in complete blessedness. All their restlessness in this life was by reason of sin, but now they rest. They have no more conflict against sin and unbelief and Satan and a tempting deceiving world; they have no more conflict or opposition to the truth that they have had to bear during this life; they have no more of that bitterness which has come into their lives
when men have opposed their word. No! They rest from their labours but they still serve the Lord, for later on in this book we read, “and his servants shall serve him; and they shall see his face.” They “rest from their labours; and their works do follow them.” A good man once said that their good works do not go before hem. No, we are not received into heaven because of what we have done. We are received into heaven because of what Jesus did. But what we have done, goes on into heaven after us. Their works do follow them. What we were in this life bears a most intimate relationship to what we shall be hereafter. As a tree falls so shall it lie, and a child of God here is a child of God in heaven; a servant of God here is a servant of God in heaven; a believer here is one who sees Jesus face to face there. Now see how their works do follow them. “Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from before the foundation of the world.” The Lord goes on to tell us of the things that these people had done. They visited the sick, the afflicted, those who were in prison, they supplied the needs of those who were in distress as far as they were able to do it. Some of you know, you have the testimony in your own lives of how my father devoted us strength to you in the times of your need. And what says the Lord to the servant who was given the gift of ten talents? “Well done, thou good and faithful servant: thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will make thee ruler over many things: enter thou into the joy of thy lord”.
“Their works do follow them”. The analogy of the pebble dropped in the pond would help us to understand this, for there are those in heaven now who will see others enter heaven of whom they can say “This is my joy and crown of rejoicing”. ‘These are the children which God gave me”. Their works will follow them then, won’t they? When those who by God’s grace were quickened into life through their ministry enter into heaven, they will say, with Paul (I Thess. 2.19-20), “For what is our hope, OR joy, or crown of rejoicing? Are not even ye in the presence of our Lord Jesus Christ at his coming? For ye are our glory and joy.”
“Their works do follow them,” and in a sense, these works that I have been speaking about are still following on in this life. We are very much affected by the influence of those who have gone to heaven, at least I feel to be, perhaps more than many. What a mercy if there is an echo in our hearts that says, “well, until that day comes when I shall go, may I live concerned about ;the same works. May I be diligent in the same business”. Their works have set an example to others and others will be saying ‘This is the way I want to walk.” Why? Because it is the way of our Great Example. Jesus has left us an example that we should follow His steps. Paul says “be ye followers of me”. I believe a gracious man can say that, “Be ye followers of me in so far and only so far as I am a follower of Jesus Christ.”