Yesterday we briefly reviewed the life of the Rev. Dr. John Niel McLeod, taken from the second half of Dr. Steele’s funeral sermon. This Lord’s Day, we have before us the first half of the sermon delivered at the funeral of Rev. McLeod, by the Rev. David Steele, pastor of the Fourth Reformed Presbyterian Church of Philadelphia. The sermon is entitled, “Endless Life the Inheritance of the Righteous.
“Thy dead men shall live,” — Isaiah 26:20 (first clause).
Among the writings of Old Testament Scripture, the prophecy of Isaiah occupies a prominent place. For sublimity and fervor it is unsurpassed, while its animated strains of poetry well accord with the golden age of Hebrew literature. Perhaps the most marked characteristic of this inspired oracle is its evangelism. Rapt in profound and holy thought, and ravished with visions of coming glory for the church of Christ, with seraphic ardor the prophet utters his messages of comfort and instruction in the ears of his countrymen. With prophetic eye he penetrates the future. In the horoscope of coming events he beholds the aurora of the world’s redemption, by the rising of the Sun of righteousness with healing in his wings. Under the afflatus of the Spirit he perceives event succeeding event, providence linked to providence, until, in the fulness of time, the mystery of godliness is manifested, the rod comes forth from the stem of Jesse, a branch grows out of his root, and to the ever-blessed Shiloh is the gathering of the people. To the son of Amos ages are condensed into moments, centuries revolve with the rapidity of thought, and unborn generations are rolled up into one glorious present. In pursuance of the Divine purpose, the Lamb of God, slain from the foundation of the world, is led to the top of Calvary; and as the sword of Divine justice descends upon the head of the victim, personally innocent, but by imputation chargeable with the sins of millions born and unborn, the prophet declares, “he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities, the chastisement of our peace was upon him, and with his stripes we are healed.” The results are glorious. The mediator sees his seed, prolongs his days, and the pleasure of the Lord prospers in his hand. In this twenty- sixth chapter the prophet personating the church sings, — “Salvation will God appoint for walls and bulwarks,” and redeemed saints exult in God. He warms as he proceeds with his theme. Under the figure of a resurrection he describes the church’s ultimate triumphs over her enemies. The dry bones live, Death is robbed of its sting, dissolution is succeeded by regeneration, and life and immortality are brought to light. In the application of our text, the transition from the figurative to the literal resurrection is easy. Personating Christ, who has destroyed death, the prophet announces the cheering fact, “Thy dead men shall live,” and then, with energy adds, together “with my dead body shall they arise.” The sententious declaration of the text is not of difficult analysis. It includes two thoughts: —
I. The solemn fact that men are dead.
II. The comforting promise that the dead shall live.
We proceed to remark : —
I. That death is an event which happens to all mankind. No labored argument is necessary to confirm this statement. Scripture abounds with declarations to this effect. The afflicted man of Uz declares, “Man that is born of a woman is of few days and full of trouble.” Paul with emphasis asserts, “By one man sin entered into the world and death by sin, and so death passed upon all men; for that all have sinned.” Death is not the debt of nature, as some have frequently and vainly asserted; for to nature no such debt is due. Upon man at his creation the principle of immortality was enstamped, and the threatening of death for disobedience could have had no significance if the dissolution of the body must take place as the original and normal condition of human being. Nor is death annihilation. To the sentient being no idea is more revolting than reduction to non-existence. A little reflection, however, serves to show that death is not the destruction of anything. The physical system is dissolved, it is true, but not a particle of the dying body ceases to be. The noble bark which once rode proudly on the ocean, the glory of her builder as well as the hope of her owner, may be wrecked and scattered in broken fragments over the waters, and some of its parts may sink in the mighty deep. We say that it is lost; but it is not annihilated, nor has a single particle passed out of existence. Likewise in death the soul is separated from the body. The latter decays and mingles with its kindred earth, but not an atom of it ceases to exist. The former is borne into the presence of its Judge; but, like its eternal Author, it is indestructible, and from its very essence is incapable of being destroyed by dissolution.
Whence, then, it may be asked, comes death, and why the extensive character of its commission? Why must man, with his stately bearing, his vast affections, his far-reaching thought, the masterpiece of Jehovah’s works, fearfully and wonderfully made, die? The answer is at hand : “The wages of sin is death.” God is angry with the children of men. He has armed Death with fatal strength, and sent him forth the executioner of a just sentence, the avenger of a broken law. In virtue of a Divine constitution, all men descending from the first pair by ordinary generation are involved in guilt. As a consequence, death is as widespread as the human race; for all have sinned and come short of the glory of God. To the young creation death was unknown, but with sin this cruel monster entered our world, thenceforth destined to subject everything that lives and moves to his sceptre. Sin has armed Death, as it were, with omnipotence, and what power can resist him? The kings of the earth lie in the desolate places which they built for themselves. The marble in its sculptured pomp acknowledges the struggle with death to have been in vain. Neither talent, nor youth, nor beauty, nor strength has been able to effect a discharge in this war. The generations of the past have crumbled into dust. All the living are following in one vast funeral. All posterity shall follow us. The silence of those who have gone down to the grave, the sorrow of surviving friends, and the mortality of all that shall be born of mortals, proclaim the power as well as the universality of death.
Pictured above, grave stones of the Rev. Alexander McLeod, in the foreground, and his son, John Niel McLeod, in the distance. Photograph courtesy of Mr. Anthony Elia.
2. The certainty of death, and the broken relationships which it entails, enhance the solemnity of this event.
Many things are uncertain, but death is inevitable. “It is appointed unto men once to die.” “Man dieth and wasteth away.” The Holy Spirit, speaking by the mouth of prophets and Apostles, appears to multiply figures, in order that he may set the uncertainty of life before the human race. The flower that flourisheth in the morning, and in the evening is cut down; the shadow that flings itself for the moment in the pathway of the traveler, and then fleeth and continueth not; and the morning cloud or vapor skirting the mountain side, until the first rays of the sun fall upon it, and it is dissipated in the surrounding atmosphere, are all employed to image forth the fleeting character of man’s stay upon earth. Although the days of every man are determined, and He who knows the end from the beginning has appointed his bounds that he cannot pass, nevertheless, God in his wisdom has hidden from the children of men the precise period in the cycle of time when the earthly career of each shall terminate. Under such circumstances it is a solemn thing to live, as well as to die.
Death puts an end to all schemes for the future. All the relations of time, the speculations of business, and the enjoyments of this world, it hides in the darkness of the tomb. Upon the husbandman, absorbed with concern for an approaching harvest, it lays its icy hand, and thus makes havoc of his earthly hopes. To the merchant, intensely earnest in solving the mystery of trade, it comes, and summons him to render up his account to God. It knocks at the door of the philosopher, and snatches him from his books and his meditations, that his immortal spirit may wake up to a clearer apprehension of eternal certitudes. Nor does it pass the faithful minister of Christ, striking him down in the midst of usefulness, and severing the tender tie that binds him to a loving people, that he may rest from his labors, give an account of his stewardship, and receive his reward.
Death is a solemn and affecting event, as it breaks asunder all the tender and endearing ties existing between parent and child, husband and wife, benefactor and friend. Pensively, but with pious submission, the Psalmist sings,—
“Lover and friend hast thou put far from me, and mine acquaintance into darkness.”
The experience of every earth-born child of Adam is similar to that of the Son of Jesse. To the death of friends, many considerations add poignancy. By the removal of connections we are deprived of their society. The eye that beamed with kindness is sealed up in darkness, and the tongue which charmed us is dumb forever. Their example, reproofs, counsels, and prayers, which shed light upon our pathway and stimulated to duty, are no more; no longer can they rectify our mistakes or warn us of our danger. Convinced that his usefulness to his successor was restricted to this life, Elijah, in his last walk with Elisha, says, “Ask now what I shall do for thee, before I be taken away from thee.” Moreover, death terminates our relation to the Church and her divinely appointed ordinances. Our eyes are closed upon the scenes of earth, and we bid farewell to all terrestrial objects. The sound of the Gospel no longer falls upon the ear. The last meeting for prayer has been attended and the Eucharistic feast never returns again. Solemn reflections! They teach us the necessity of improving everything we know or possess, for the good of men and the glory of God.
3. An interest in the great salvation through personal and indissoluble union with Christ secures victory in death.
“Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord.” Union to Christ is for the most part expressed in Scripture by the phrases, “in Christ,” and “in Christ Jesus.” “If any man be in Christ he is a new creature.” From eternity a federal union was established between Christ and his people, yet unborn, when he was appointed or set up as their covenant head. Upon the ground of this union, Christ became answerable for them to the justice of God. Neither could their sins have been imputed to Christ, nor could his righteousness have been imputed to them, if both parties had not been identified, or one in the eye of law. Nor was this all that was necessary to the actual enjoyment of the benefits of Christ’s representation. Jehovah, on whose sovereign will the whole economy of grace is founded, had determined, not only that his Son should be one with those whom he represented, as their surety, but also as their living head; that a real and vital, as well as a federal and representative union should be established, as the foundation of communion with Christ in the blessings oi his purchase. Union to Christ is that mutual relation and reciprocal inbeing which secure to believers a participation in al) the blessings of which Christ is the depositary. This union is spiritual in its nature, ennobling in its effects, and indissoluble in its duration. What the vine is to the branches, what the City of Refuge was to the man-slayer, what the foundation is to the superstructure, and what the head is to the members of the body, Christ is to his people. Upon the ground of connection with him, pardon, heir-ship, sanctification, and perseverance in the divine life, proceed. Death cannot disannul the covenant of redemption; for, says God, “The mountains shall depart and the hills be removed, but my loving kindness shall not depart, neither shall my covenant of peace be removed.” Nor can this conquer or sever the connection between Christ and his people. It may sunder the closest bonds, desolate hearts, fill houses with mourning, marshal the funeral procession, and consign to the grave the sainted dust; but it cannot rend the union which subsists between the Mediator and his redeemed inheritance. Upon the cross, Christ spoiled principalities and powers, and through death destroyed him that had the power of death. And although the Lord of Glory fell beneath this destroyer, yet in the very hour and article of death he conquered. All his people triumph in him. To them death is unstinged, all its properties are altered, and all its terrors taken away. Feeling that the munitions of rocks are his defence; that the eternal God is his refuge, and that beneath him are the everlasting arms, in the hour and embrace of death the Christian sings with the Apostle, “O Death, where is thy sting? O Grave, where is thy victory?” Or with another saint of God, he declares in confidence, “Christ in his person, Christ in the love of his heart, and Christ in the power of his arm, is the rock on which I rest; and now, Death, strike! ” Or with yet another conqueror, raised up with Christ and made to sit with him in the heavenlies, he exclaims : —
“Open thine arms, O Death, thou fine of woe And warranty of bliss ! I feel the last,
Red mountainous remnant of the earth give way.
The stars are rushing upward to the light;
My limbs are light, and liberty is mine.
The spirit’s infinite purity consumes The sullied soul. Eternal destiny Opens its bright abyss. I am God’s.”
Let us consider,
II. The comforting promise, that the righteous dead shall live. Nothing is more mysterious than the principle of life, whether viewed in its animal or vegetable form. Science may analyze and classify the accidents and qualities of the living creature. It may compute the elements which enter into the organic being, gauging with precision the proportion and relation of each to other; but there are no means known to it by which to calculate or solve the enigma of life. Upon this subject nothing is more unsatisfactory than the theory of “spontaneous generation,” propounded by the ancients and adopted by Huxley. Equally absurd is the theory of “development,” to which Darwin has lent his name and authority; and the mind turns away astonished and disappointed at the materialistic utterances of Professor Tyndall in the year 1874, viz., that in matter itself we may find the “potency and promise of every form of life.” The truth announced in the text, therefore, is as surprising as it is agreeable, and furnishes us with an illustration that life and death are in the hands of Him in whom we live and move and have our being. And here we remark, —
1. That the pious dead live in the influences and fragrant recollections resulting from their life and labors when they were upon the earth.
It is a momentous and melancholy fact that men do not continue by reason of death. And the history of our race is a comment upon the Scripture declaration — “One generation passeth away, and another cometh.” But the beneficent influence which a good man, and especially a Christian minister, exerts while he is on the earth does not die with the dissolution of his body. No, it is as immortal as the Divine Being in whose grace it originated. It may be silent in its operations and unseen in its course, but it is, as an agency, as effective as it is deathless.
It seldom happens that histories and biographies make such account as they should of the influence which men exert over their fellow-men. Their pages glow with descriptions of how men have led armies, established empires, gained causes, sung, learned, and taught. But the streams of influence which, unbidden, flow from the persons and lives of men, no author can trace or compute. These, however, are not insignificant because they are noiseless. They are not lost because they have operated silently. An earthquake comes thundering through the solid foundations of the earth; it rocks a continent; the noblest works of man — cities, monuments, and temples — are in a moment levelled to the ground or swallowed down by the opening gulfs of fire. Such a phenomenon awes men into a recognition of its power; and yet the soft, genial, and silent light of every morning is an agent many times more powerful. For let the sun cease to rise, and let the light of day return no more, and soon, the chill of death would settle down on everything that lives and moves upon the surface of the globe. The Christian is a light, and his influence is felt when his sun has gone down and he has ceased to shine among his fellow-men.
Niagara is an object of wonder to the contemplative mind. In the presence of its magnificence and power we stand amazed. But the bubbling spring, far up on the mountainside, where the print of human foot is seldom found, and which forms the beautiful rivulet, flowing gently through farm and village, may be far more valuable and useful than the rushing flood or roaring cataract. The influence of the Christian is like the beautiful fountain which sends forth its waters to gladden, benefit, and bless thousands yet unborn.
Abel, the protomartyr, is dead, but he still speaks, by the Divine approval of his sacrifice, and lives by the influence of his example. David, the son of Jesse, is gone the way of all the earth, but in his immortal and inspired lyrics the prophet-bard is still alive. Paul is no more the Apostle of the Gentiles, but in his speeches and letters, his tongue and pen seem to be as eloquent as when he stood on Mars Hill, or dictated his commendations of love in the prison at Rome. Down the corridors of time Luther’s immortal declaration, Justificatio fide est articulus stantis vel cadentis ecclesiæ, reverberates, and is as potent today as it was, when it shook the Papal empire to its foundations. Calvin lives in his famous Institutes, and John Knox has enstamped upon Scotland its religious greatness. Travellers gaze upon the house where he lived. Posterity marks with a simple slab the spot where it is supposed rest his remains, and the Heart of Mid-Lothian, marked by a variegated setting of stone, and adjacent to each of these places, wakes the memories of Scotsmen; but by the influence of his prayers, and in his giant efforts to free the souls of men, the great reformer lives ten thousand times ten thousand lives at once, as time rolls on. We may attempt to gauge the influence of the sun and of the rain, we may take the dimensions of the planets and tell the parallaxes of the stars; but no scientist or philosopher can compute the influence of one Christian man, much less of one laborious and faithful minister of Christ. No wonder, then, that such men live in the memory and hearts of those who survive them from generation to generation.
2. The sanctified dead shall live in the resurrection. “Thy dead men shall live.”
Among the most comforting doctrines of Holy Scripture is the doctrine of the resurrection. It is taught, in no ambiguous terms, in both Testaments. It cheered the afflicted man of Uz, in prospect of death, as he declares, “I know that my Redeemer liveth.” The prophet Daniel was familiar with it, when, in finishing his prophecy and sketching the future, he writes, “Many of them that sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake.” This doctrine the Saviour taught in the days of his flesh. Paul, in his first letter to the Thessalonians, writes, “The dead in Christ shall rise first.” That the resurrection of the dead is possible, we have only to turn to nature and providence for illustration. What is morning but a resurrection from the shades of darkness? What is spring, with its buds, blossoms, and fragrance, but a resurrection from the chill and death of winter? What is the emergence of the insect, with all the beautiful colors of the rainbow, from its chrysalis, but a quickening from death?
By actual example, the Scriptures of both Testaments furnish us with proof that the body is capable of residence in heaven. Enoch and Elijah were translated that they should not see death. The body of neither of these men was in the grave; but both of them, in the possession of the earthly house, changed and glorified, ascended to the right of God. Upon the doctrine of the resurrection there oracles are no less explicit. When the prophet Elijah stretched himself upon the dead child, we are told that the child breathed, and sneezed seven times, and his soul came to him.
At the memorable words of the Saviour, “Lazarus, come forth,” death relinquished its grasp upon him who had been in the grave three days. By the same almighty power, at the gates of Nain the widow’s son rose from the bier. These instances of bodies translated from earth to heaven, and of quickening brought to the dead, are pledges of the resurrection, — a few specimens of how the dry bones shall live, and the temple of the Holy Ghost shall be built up again.
But the crowning argument of all is the resurrection of Christ. He has arisen, the first fruits of them that slept. “Even them also which sleep in Jesus will God bring with him.” In their resurrection, as well as in their death, the saints shall be conformed to their living Head. Death is not an eternal sleep, as the French philosophers of the last century aimed to persuade themselves and others. No doubt, to the impenitent it is a curse, but to the child of God it is a blessing; and as one has well said “The blow which inflicts it is the last stroke of the rod of paternal discipline which the Father holds in his hand, and by which he corrects for eternity.” At death the soul is released from the clay tabernacle, and hies [goes quickly or hastens] its way to regions of everlasting light. Ordinarily, the body borne by the hands of love is laid in the grave, and mingles with its kindred dust. At the last day the trumpet of God shall wake the sleeping dust. No indignity done to the body on earth, whether in life or in death, can serve to detain it in the tomb when God says to the prisoners, “Go forth, and to them that are in darkness, shew yourselves.” Body and spirit shall be reunited, and both shall dwell in the house of the Lord for evermore.
“But some one will say, with what body do they come?” Let an apostle answer. “It is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory. It is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body.” In the hands of man matter is capable of astonishing sublimation : to what ethereal beauty may it not be raised in the hands of Jesus Christ? Is it not matter that sparkles in the dewdrop, dances in the sunbeam, corruscates in the electric flash, dissolves in the colors of the rainbow, and regales the sense in the delightful fragrance of the rose? To what exalted perfection and beauty, then, may not the bodies of the saints be carried? They shall be caught up to meet the Lord in the air. Mortality shall be swallowed up of life. And from all that is unsightly and inglorious in death, they shall be changed to all that is imperishable and fadeless in the presence of God.
3. The saints shall live forever in heaven. Death shall have no more dominion over them. How this thought quickens the pulse, warms the heart, and stirs the soul to its depths! Heaven is the home of the righteous. Their estate lies there. And “eye hath not seen nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him.” The reunions of heaven shall be joyous. Parents and children, pastors and people, shall meet to part no more. The recognitions of heaven shall be inspiriting. The loved and honored of earth shall be the objects of renewed and reciprocal regard. The fellowships of the better country shall be enchanting. The saints of every land and clime shall dwell together in everlasting concord. The employments of the upper sanctuary shall be transporting. Praise shall fill the heart and occupy the lips forever. But above and beyond all, the glories of the celestial abode shall be enrapturing. Not a tear shall trickle down the cheek of poverty or distress. Not a sigh shall pass across the breast of anguish or disappointment. Not a shadow shall fall upon the brightness of heaven’s unspoken glory; for the glory of God does lighten it, and the Lamb is the light thereof. And upon the whole inheritance of light, life, and glory eternity shall be enstamped.
Like their living Head, those who become one with Christ are invested with the power of an endless life. If the saints of God are streams from the fountain head of life in glory, then before they can die Christ the fountain must be dried up. If they are branches in the vine of heaven, then before they could become extinct Christ, the parent stock, must perish. If the people of God are sparks from the central sun of heaven, then before they can die the Sun of righteousness must be quenched forever. But because he lives they shall live also. Christ gives to his people eternal life, and they shall never perish.
The theme which has been under consideration is comprehensive. It embraces the past, the present, and the future. Turning from its discussion, we proceed to unfold, in a few particulars, the salient points in the life and death of the venerated father, brother, and pastor whose departure from earth we mourn, whose virtues and worth we desire to hand down to posterity, and to whose memory we would pay the tribute of the hour.
[pp. 3-22 of “Endless Life the Inheritance of the Righteous: A Discourse delivered in the First Reformed Presbyterian Church, New York, on Sabbath, October 11, 1874, in Memory of Rev. John N. McLeod, D.D., the Pastor, by Rev. David Steele, D.D. [1826-1906], pastor of the Fourth Reformed Presbyterian Church, Philadelphia.]
Note: There are two ordained men by the name of David Steele in Reformed Presbyterian history. The author of the above funeral sermon was the Rev. David Steele [1826-1906], who was the pastor of the Fourth Reformed Presbyterian Church, a member church of the Reformed Presbyterian Church, General Synod (New Light). Rev. Steele was also the nephew to the Rev. David Steele, Sr.[1803-1887], who initially remained with the Old Light RP’s after the 1833 split, but later separated from the RPCNA or Old Light Covenanters. The small separatist group which gathered around David Steele, Sr. came to be nicknamed “Steelites.”