At this point, Sibbes takes a turn which is contrary to the thinking of most people in this world at this time. Everything thinks that he will gain heaven. I one-time spoke with members of a gang, whose fellow had been murdered in a shooting. They were quite certain he was in some sort of “heaven”, where he evil actions could be taken with full vent to his desires and without the fear of the police or rival gangs. The men and women with whom I spoke seemed quite certain that his end was not in doubt – but to make sure, a few had lit the candles bearing a supposed picture of Mary, which candles can be purchased at a dollar store.
But Sibbes makes plain, it matters quite a bit whether one is “godly” or “wicked” at death:
Obs.3. There is a wide, broad difference between the death of the godly and of the wicked.
Even Balaam knows this – but he seems unable to see the way there:
The godly are happy in their death, for here we see it is a matter desirable. This caitiff, this wretched man Balaam, Oh, saith he, ‘let me die the death of the righteous, and let my last end be like his.’ It being the object of his desire, it is therefore certainly precious, ‘the death of the righteous.’
However, unlike Balaam, the godly have a happiness which begins here and which fully comes to fruition after death:
And indeed so it is; holy and gracious men, they are happy in their life. While they live they are the sons of God, the heirs of heaven; they are set at liberty, all things are theirs; they have access to the throne of grace; all things work for their good; they are the care of angels, the temples of the Holy Ghost. Glorious things are spoken of these glorious creatures even while they live.
But they are more happy in their death, and most happy and blessed after death.
In their death they are happy in their disposition, and happy in condition.
That is, there is a subjective (disposition) and objective (condition) basis for the happiness of the godly. Sibbes does not present this as mere wish fulfillment or psychological word-games, but as an incontestable fact. I wonder the extent to which our apologetics suffers at this point with the question of “proof”. Very few people have much reason at all for those things which they assuredly believe. The default of a culture is not the product of consideration, but rather the laziness of the people who have other things taking their attention. Even though I have not taken a statistically significant survey, I would imagine that most people have more certain reasons for their expectations of a sports team or their enjoyment of a movie than they have believe in some god – or do not – or believe their morals are rights, and other are wrong, or any of the other things which one would think are “most important.”
Anyway, Sibbes first asserts, that faith in God itself creates a subjective disposition of happiness:
(1.) Happy in their disposition. What is the disposition of a holy and blessed man at his end? His disposition is by faith to give himself to God, by which faith he dies in obedience; he carries himself fruitfully and comfortably in his end. And ofttimes the nearer he is to happiness, the more he lays about him to be fruitful.
His last point is certainly true. I have often seen Christians who know they will die soon possessed of an ease and joy, coupled to a profound desire to work for God. It is not an urgent hope to be good enough at the end – that question of “good enough” seems to not enter their thinking. They know salvation is of grace, and think nothing of their works. Indeed, the harder they work at their end, the less their works hold “merit” for them.
What then are the blessings which come with death:
(2.) Besides his disposition, he is happy in condition;for death is a sweet close. God and he meet; grace and glory meet; he is in heaven, as it were, before his time. What is death to him? The end of all misery, of all sin of body and soul. It is the beginning of all true happiness in both. This I might shew at large, but I have spoken somewhat of this point out of another text. They are happy in their death, for ‘their death is precious in God’s sight.’ The angels are ready to do their attendance, to carry their souls to the place of happiness. They are happy in their death, because they are ‘in the Lord.’ When death severs soul and body, yet notwithstanding neither soul nor body are severed from Christ. ‘They die in the Lord;’ therefore still they are happy. Much might be said to this purpose, and to good purpose, but that the point is ordinary, and I hasten to press things that I think will a little more confirm it. They are blessed in death.
And even death is not the end of their hope and expectation:
(3.) And blessed after death especially;for then we know they are in heaven, waiting for the resurrection of the body. There is a blessed change of all; for after death we have a better place, better company, better employment; all is for the better.
Here he makes a kind of digression: he backs up and examines the matter from a slightly different vantage point. He explains the life of the godly as an ever increasing freedom; it is a movement toward greater liberty (and the wicked are moving toward the close world of the grave):
There are three degrees of life:
The life in the womb, this world, heaven.
The life in the womb is a kind of imprisonment; there the child lives for a time. The life in this world, it is a kind of enlargement; but, alas! it is as much inferior to the blessed and glorious life in heaven, as the life in the womb is narrower and straiter and more base than this life wherein we behold the blessed light and enjoy all the sweet comforts of this life. They are happy after death; then the image of God is perfect in the soul. All graces are perfected, all wants supplied, all corruptions wrought out, all enemies subdued, all promises accomplished, waiting their time for the resurrection of the body; and then body and soul shall sit as judges upon the wretches that have judged them on earth, and they shall be both together ‘for ever with the Lord.’ I might enlarge the point much. It is a comfortable meditation; and before I pass it, let us make some use of it.
What then does all this amount to:
If godly men be blessed and happy, not only before death, in the right and title they have to heaven, but in death, because then they are invested into possession of that that makes them every way happy,
What do we do with this promise of happiness? Sibbes makes two applications: a correction of our thinking, and an encouragement toward our action. First, are thinking:
Use1. Therefore this may teach us who are truly wise. A wise man is he that hath a better end than another, and works to that end.
Having made the assertion, Sibbes then explains the basis of his meaning by drawing in brief the nature of the contrast. This is a good example of how to teach well. State the proposition to be known. Then explain the proposition at some length – here by dividing it into its two parts to better see the wisdom of the godly by contrasting it with the foolishness of the “worldling”. He will then repeat and expound the original point: tell them what you’re going to say, say it, tell them what yous said. First, the Christian:
A true Christian man, he hath a better end than any worldling. His end is to be safe in another world, and he works and carries his forces to that end. ‘Let my last end be like his,’ saith Balaam, insinuating that there was a better end in regard of condition and state than he had aimed at. A gracious man, his end is not to be happy here; his end is to enjoy everlasting communion with God in the heavens, and he frames all his courses in this world to accomplish that end, and he is never satisfied in the things that make to that end.
Here he raises the worldling; he does not over pain the worldling’s vice (this is a common filler of many preachers; it is easier to ramble on about sin, because it is easier to know and describe; it is also an error in almost all cases). Notice how he says the worldling “prowls”; this both makes the worldling more an animal than a man; second, it alludes to the Devil prowling about as a lion:
A worldling he hath no such end. He hath a natural desire to be saved,—as we shall see afterwards,—but a man may know that is not his end, for he works not to it. He is not satisfied in prowling for this world; he is not weary of getting wealth; he is not satisfied with pleasure. So that his end is the things of this life.
He then concludes and repeats:
Therefore let him be never so wise, he is but a fool, for he hath not the true end, nor works to it. Wicked men are very fools in the manner of their reasoning; for they will grant that there is a happy estate of godly men in death, and after death better. If it be so, why do they not work and frame their lives to it? Herein they are fools, because they grant one thing and not another which must needs follow. They do believe there is such a happiness to God’s children, and yet seek not after it.
Note that last bit: their foolishness exists because they will not seek that which they hope to obtain. Rather than seek the life which cannot end, they prowl about.
Next, he makes an exhortation to live in accordance with wisdom:
Use2. If there be such a blessed estate of God’s children in death and after death, I beseech you let us carry ourselves so as that we may be partakers of that happiness;let us labour to be righteous men, labour to be in Christ, to have the righteousness of Christ to be ours, to be out of ourselves, in Christ; in Christ in life, in Christ in death, and at the day of judgment in Christ, ‘not having our own righteousness,’ as the apostle saith, ‘but his righteousness,’ Philip 3:9, and then the righteousness of grace and of a good conscience will alway go with the other. For this makes a righteous man to be in Christ, and to have his righteousness, and to have his Spirit, and the beginnings of the new creature in us. Let us labour to be such as may live and die happily and blessedly, and be for ever happy. So much for that third point.