Monday, July 4, 2011

"Our conjunction with Christ" even unto death.

I have been reading a book called Homeward Bound: Preparing Your Family for Eternity which was recommended by one of our pastors when he did a preaching series on death this past winter.

Now I know how that probably sounds. But believe me that this is not a depressing book. Well, the first chapter certainly made me cry: Edward Hartman writes of his young wife's death from a brain tumor and the heartache he and his four children endured over those months and in the aftermath.

But the book as a whole talks about what the Hartmans learned about living daily life with an eternal perspective. He says that "few things more attractively display and persuasively commend the glory of God in the life of a Christian than a Christ-centered marriage and a Christ-centered that would cause the watching world to sit up and take notice." The book is filled with practical suggestions on how families (even couples) can become centered on Christ in this way, drawing on Hartman's dissertation research on the Puritans' teachings on family. (I know some of you reading this won't already hold a high opinion of the Puritans and might wonder why I love them so, but trust me, there is more to them than the nineteenth-century stereotypes that have become standard.)

Anyway, one of the guys Hartman was studying was named William Perkins, an English minister who studied at Cambridge and began his career by preaching to prisoners. In 1616, Perkins wrote a little book titled The Right Manner of Dying Well. Hartman includes the text of this work at the end of his own book, and I was reading it last night. When I got to this section on the Christian's union with Christ in death, it completely blew my mind, and I'm still sifting through all the implications.

I want to share that excerpt here. Now, if you choose to read the whole thing, it probably sounds pretty morbid. I think that's because people in the 17th century were a lot more closely acquainted with death than we generally tend to be; they probably didn't share our sense of squeamishness about it. But his language about death serves a purpose. I hope you'll be able to hear the triumph in Perkins' words:

In this respect death is clearly seen as being more excellent than life. It may be here that the unsatisfied mind of man will yet further reply and say that even though in death the souls of men enter into heaven, their bodies, though kept tenderly for food, drink, and apparel and having slept many a night in beds of down while living, must now lie in dark and loathsome graves, and there be wasted and consumed by worms. All this is true indeed, but all is nothing, if we will consider rightly our graves, as we should. We must not judge graves, as they appear to the bodily eyes, but we must look upon them by the eye of faith. We must consider graves as they are altered and changed by the death and burial of Christ, who having vanquished death upon the cross, pursued [death] afterward to his own den, and foiled him there and deprived him of his power. By this means Christ in his own death has buried our death, and by the virtue of his burial, it is as if sweet incense has sweetened and perfumed our graves and made the often decaying and loathsome cabins to become princely palaces and beds of moss, sweet and happy -- far more excellent than beds of down. Though the body rot in the grave and be eaten of worms, or of fishes in the sea, or burnt to ashes, that will not be unto us a matter of discomfort, if we consider well the ground of all graces, namely, our conjunction with Christ. While it is spiritual, it is a most real conjunction. We must not imagine that our souls alone are joined to the body or soul of Christ, but the whole person of man, in body and soul, is joined and united to the whole Christ. When we are once joined to Christ in this mortal life by the bond of the Spirit, we shall remain and continue eternally joined with him, and this union once truly made shall never be dissolved. Thus it follows, that although the body be severed from the soul in death, neither body or soul are severed from Christ. The very body rotting in the grave, drowned in the sea, burned to ashes, abides still united to him and is as truly a member of Christ then, as before.

Isn't that astounding?? I think so.

Hartman's book was encouraging for me, as well, because I think it's a great example of how academic research can translate into something that benefits everyday families. Anyway, I heartily commend Homeward Bound to you, as well as The Right Manner of Dying Well.

1 comment:

  1. ... Therefore we can go die as sleep, and trust
    Half that we have
    Unto an honest faithfull grave;
    Making our pillows either down or dust.
    -Geo. Herbert, "Death"

    Thanks for posting this, Sarah!