Johann Gerhard (1582-1637) was a German Lutheran pastor and professor of theology. He wrote dozens of books, including Sacred Meditations, a collection of 51 meditations published in 1606. This piece was taken from the chapter 44 of that book.
Keep Christ, your blessed Savior, always in mind, and you will have no dread of death. If you are distressed at the thought of the agonies of death, be comforted in view of the mighty power of Christ thy Lord. Our life here is full of burdens; it is a blessed thing then to find any comfort and alleviation of its miseries. After all, it is not the Christian himself, but only his trouble that dies. Christ has said, “If a man keep my word, he shall never see death” (John 8:51). This departure of the soul, which we think of as death, is not an exit, but a transition. We do not lose our departed loved ones, we simply send them on before us. They do not die, they rise into a higher life. They do not forsake us, they are not forever parted from us, they have just preceded us to the glory-world. They are not lost to us, rather only separated from us for a time. When the good man dies it is to live a new life; and while we in tears lay away his body, he rejoices in the unspeakable gains of the world of glory. Our friends die; but in truth that means that they cease to sin, and all their disquietudes, their struggles, their miseries also cease. From what is only the shadow of a life here, they pass over into the true life beyond.
Life is a voyage over a troubled sea; death is the port of safety to which we are bound. We ought not grieve then that our dear ones have died, but we ought to rejoice that from the stormy sea of life they have safely passed into the haven of eternal rest. This life is a long and weary imprisonment, and death is glorious liberty; for this reason old Simeon on the verge of death exclaimed, “Lord, now lettest Thou Thy servant depart in peace” (Luke 2:39). Shall we grieve, then, that our friends have struggled out of these bodily fetters, and are even now rejoicing in true liberty? Shall we torment ourselves with tears and groans, when “God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes” (Revelation 7:17)? Shall we grieve for our loved ones, thus adding fresh burdens to our lives, when they are in that place of blessedness where there is neither sorrow, nor crying, nor pain (Revelation 21:4), and where they rest from their labors (Revelation 14:13)? Shall their departure from us plunge us into excessive sadness, when they are exulting in true and lasting joy?
When the disciples’ hearts were filled with sadness because Jesus had told them that He was about to go away from them, Jesus said, “If you loved Me, you would rejoice, because I said, I am going to the Father” (John 14.28).
Suppose you were in a raging storm at sea, and the waves were dashing over your ship, every moment threatening to engulf it, would you not seek the nearest harbor with all possible haste? Behold, the world is tottering and laboring to its fall; so will you not give thanks to God, will you not congratulate your departed loved ones, that they, now safe with God, have escaped the awful ruin and terrible shipwreck that threatens this world with destruction? In whose hands can the salvation of thy departed be safer than in the hands of Christ?
If those whom you have lost by death were very dear to you, let God now be all the dearer to you, because He was pleased to take them to Himself in glory. Do not be angry with the Lord, for He hath taken away nothing but what He gave; He has simply taken back His own, and not what is yours (Job 1.21), only what had been loaned to you for a time. The Lord alone sees the evils that are to come, and He lovingly took away your dear ones from the calamities that He saw impending.
Those that die in the Lord rest from their labors, while those whom they left behind in this world suffer grievous afflictions and torments, even those in circumstances of material comfort. If you have lost dear ones by death, know that by and by you will be with them again, and then they will be dearer to you than ever. For a brief time they are separated from you; but then through a blissful and unending eternity you will be reunited with them. For we cherish the sure and blessed hope that we also shall soon depart hence, and that we too shall come to that life. There, we shall love our loved ones better than we ever loved them here, and then, without the least fear of anything to mar our perfect love. Dwell not, then, so much upon that sad hour when your friends left you, as upon that glad time when they shall be restored to you on the morning of the resurrection. When our faith in the resurrection is strong and firm, death loses much of its terror.
Philippians 1:21 — For me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.
Psalm 116:15 — Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his saints.
Revelation 21:3-4 — I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”
A prayer by Samuel Johnson (1709-1784) after the death of his mother: Almighty God, merciful Father, in whose hands are life and death, sanctify unto me the sorrow which I now feel. Forgive me whatever I have done unkindly to my mother, and whatever I omitted to do kindly. Make me to remember her precepts and good example, and to reform my life according to thy Holy Word, that I may lose no more opportunities for good. I am sorrowful, Lord, let not my sorrow be without fruit. Let it be followed by Holy resolutions, and lasting amendment, that when I shall die like my mother, I may be received to everlasting life. I commend, O Lord, into thy hands, the soul of my departed mother, beseeching thee to grant her whatever is most beneficial to her in her present state. And, O Lord, grant unto me that am now about to return to the common comforts and business of the world, such moderation in all enjoyments, such diligence in honest labor, and such purity of mind, that amidst the changes, miseries and pleasures of life, I may keep my mind fixed on Thee, and improve every day in grace till I shall be received into thy kingdom of eternal happiness. Amen.