God is my portion forever: a reflection on death

The preacher of Ecclesiastes famously stated, “For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven: a time to be born, and a time to die; …a time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance.” For many families, this passed festival season was a time of heartbreaking and mourning. Two days after Christmas, I have been informed the passing away of Rudy Bauman, a man who had influenced my spiritual formation. This Tuesday, a day after Rudy’s funeral, I was told the death of Wilf Bauman, Rudy’s older brother, and a significant Canadian Baptist minister. In fact, earlier this year, I also heard about the miscarriage of my unborn nephew/niece. Death is undeniably the enemy we fear.

For both Christians and non-Christians, our physical failure and death are certain. In fact, death is not a thing only for older people. As I recall a conversation had with my surgeon, this well-educated man amazed me by admitting the universal acknowledgement of death. He told me that cancer is a way to die. With the improvement of medical technology, many deadly diseases (such as a cold or flu) is no longer a threat to our health and life. Nevertheless, men and women have to die.

Death makes us sober and humble. It is not because death is a friend; rather, it reflects the unveiled reality of humanity––the wages of sin is death! The reason for us to fear death is uncertainty and uncontrollableness. The best manipulator of the world is impotent. Adding to it is the reality of separation and isolation. When my paternal grandfather breathed his last breath in February 2010, I could no longer see, or talk with him. Nevertheless, what our society neglects to admit is the other kind of death––the death of the soul, or the second death. Everyone agrees with Paul, “for we brought nothing into the world, and we cannot take anything out of the world.” The physical and the material are temporary, but the spiritual is eternal. The Word of God tells us that after the soul departs the body, he/she will appear before God, either to give an account of one’s life, or to be judged and condemned for eternal punishment. The latter is called the second death––eternal separation from God, where there will be no comfort, or peace, or joy. It’s like the feelings of depression, but for eternity.

What is then the comfort? Christ Jesus, the one who “partook of the [flesh and blood], that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is the devil, and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery.” This is why Christian can die in peace and with joy. For Christians throughout the history, to die in Christ is to gain (an excellent lecture on Puritan theology of death, see here).

As I reflect on death and funeral, I came across a funeral sermon preached by an 18th-century English Baptist minister Caleb Evans (1737–1791; on Evans see here and here). This was a sermon Evans preached at his mother Ann’s funeral (“God the everlasting Portion of his People; A Sermon, Occasioned by the Death of Mrs. Ann Evans, wife of the Rev. Hugh Evans, M.A. Who died January 23, 1776, in the Fifty-sixth Year of her Age” [Bristol, 1776], 20–21). Evans recalled that as he was with his mother at her deathbed, Ann quoted Ps 73:26, “My flesh and my heart faileth: but God is the strength of my heart, and my portion for ever,” and this became her last words. In this sermon, Caleb Evans taught the congregation about the person, characters and promises of God, who is our portion. Evans then using his mother as an example, lifting Christian hearts, as he preached:

See, see the departing saint, taking an everlasting leave of every other portion, and at the same time rejoicing in this portion, with joy unspeakable, and full of glory! See how her flesh and heart faint and fail! Behold her turning her swimming eyes towards her nearest relative whom she had long and most sincerely loved, and with whom she had many years been connected in the tenderst relation! See her, bidding him an eternal adieu, about to withdraw from him, as to this world, for ever! See her committing to the providence of God, her dear children, for whom she had many a time wrestled with God in prayer, and with whom, as to the present state, she is about to part for ever!––Trying scenes! What can those do in such circumstances as these, who are without God in the world? To the whole circle of earthly comforters, it may be feelings said, in this hour of extremity, miserable comforters are ye all.––But see the dying saint, composed and happy even now! Behold, she casts all her care upon that God, whom in the very struggles of death itself, she find to be the strength of her heart, and in whom, in that very moment when she perceives every other object vanishing away, she is enabled to rejoice as her portion for ever!––My portion for ever! The portion I have hitherto found to be adequate to my largest wishes, superior, infinitely superior to every other portion, and the fullness, the perfection of which I pant to experience, in that bright and blessed world to which I am just going, for ever! In thy presence there is FULLNESS of joy, at thy right-hand are pleasures FOR EVERMORE!

With this same spirit, I wrote a few days ago when I heard the death of Rev Wilfred Bauman, DD:

It’s sad to learn the death of another godly man Rev Wilfred Bauman, D.D., who served faithfully as a staff and faculty member for many years at Toronto Baptist Seminary. Following his younger brother Rudy Bauman’s step, Wilf is now with his Lord. At a time like this, though our hearts feel painful, we are once again reminded by Paul’s words: “Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil.” (Eph 5:15–16) Men like Wilf and Rudy had laid for us good examples of a faithful Christian. As for us who have been influenced, either directly or indirectly, by men like Wilf and Rudy, let’s learn from their example and labour hard and diligently in the field God places us in for the harvest to come! Glory be to the God of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and of Rudy and Wilf, as well as ours!

 

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