At the end of our discussion in Bible study this week, it occurred to me that a particular quote which I have heard from C. H. Spurgeon was perfectly suited to our topic. One of my ladies pulled out her phone to search for it and quickly found the quote and the name of the sermon from which it was taken. The quote which we sought concerns evangelizing the lost, in light of the nearness of death and the everlasting hell which awaits unbelievers:
“Oh, my brothers and sisters in Christ, if sinners will be damned, at least let them leap to hell over our bodies; and if they will perish, let them perish with our arms about their knees, imploring them to stay, and not madly to destroy themselves. If hell must be filled, at least let it be filled in the teeth of our exertions, and let not one go there unwarned and unprayed for.”
You may also have heard this brief snippet. But have you read the sermon from which it was taken? I found the sermon (The Wailing of Risca) this morning, and learned that it was preached in Exeter Hall, London, December 9, 1860, in commemoration of a tragedy in Wales. Only two weeks before, in the valley of Risca in South Wales:
“Some two hundred or more miners descended in health and strength to their usual work in the bowels of the earth. They had not been working long, their wives and their children had risen, and their little ones had gone to their schools, when suddenly there was heard a noise at the mouth of the pit—it was an explosion: all knew what it meant… A few, a handful, were brought up alive, and scarce alive… but the great mass of those strong men have yielded to death.”
And so begins this spellbinding sermon on the nearness of death to us all. His main thrust is the suddenness of death, beginning with bereavement: any of us may find at any moment that a loved one, friend or family, has been whisked away into eternity. Next, he considers sudden death as it concerns ourselves and that we may be the ones called in a moment to stand before the Eternal God. His final point, though, captivated me and is where I want to focus: the sudden exchange which a sudden death will cause.
Spurgeon asks us to consider how very full of misery and fears a Christian (yes, even a believer) may be, troubled in spirit and tormented by the worries of life, and in a twinkling, smitten with death, everything changes:
“You see him cast down and troubled… he steps outside his door, and there meets him a messenger from God… and he is dead. Can you conceive the change? Death has cured him of his fears.”
From the fearful man he then moves us to consider how a man who suffers illness and pain is transformed in a moment.
“See yonder man, he can scarcely walk, he has a hundred pains in his body, he says he is more tried and pained than any man. Death puts his skeleton hand upon him, and he dies.”
This is where I want to savor the words of this sermon, as Spurgeon paints for us a glorious picture of the arrival in heaven of a believer. As I read this, familiar faces dance before my eyes and my heart is lifted with joyful anticipation. Read slowly, friend:
How marvelous the change! No aches now, no casting down of spirit, he then is supremely blest, the decrepit has become perfect, the weak has become strong, the trembling one has become a David, and David has become as the angel of the Lord. Hark to the song which pours from the lips of him who just now groaned; look at the celestial smile which lights the features of the man just now racked with pain and tormented with anguish! Was ever change so surprising, so marvelous?
When I think of it, I could almost long for it to come across myself this morning; to go from the thousand eyes of you that look upon me, to look into the eyes of Christ, and to go from your songs to the songs of spirits before the throne, to leave the Sabbath work on earth for an eternal Sabbath of rest; to go from unbelieving hearts, from Christians who need to be cheered and sinners that need to be convinced, to be with those who need no preaching, but who in one eternal song sing “Hallelujah to God and the Lamb.”
I can imagine that when a man dies thus suddenly, one of the first emotions he experiences in the next world is surprise. I can conceive that the spirit knows not where it is. It is like a man waking up from a dream. He looks about him. Oh, that glory! how resplendent yon throne! He listens to harps of gold, and he can scarce believe it true. “I, the chief of sinners, and yet in heaven! I, a doubting one, and yet in paradise!” And then, when he is conscious that he is really in heaven, oh! what overwhelming joy. How is the spirit flooded with delight, covered over with it, scarcely able to enjoy it because it seems to be all but crushed beneath the eternal weight of glory! And next, when the spirit has power to recover itself, and open its eyes from the blindness caused by this dazzling light, and to think—when its thoughts have recovered themselves from the sudden effect of a tremendous flood of bliss—the next emotion will be gratitude.
See how that believer, five minutes ago a mourner, now takes his crown from his head, and with transporting joy and gratitude bows before his Saviour’s throne. Hear how he sings; was ever song like that, the first song he ever sang that had the fullness of paradise in it— “Unto him that loved me and washed me from my sins in his blood, unto him be glory.” And how he repeats it, and looks round to cherubim and seraphim, and prays them to assist him till all the harps of heaven, retaught the melody of gratitude, returned by the one faithful heart, send up another hallelujah, and yet another; while the floods of harmony surround the eternal throne of God.
Oh, may we live in eager anticipation of such glory—glory which even Spurgeon could not adequately describe while living on this side of heaven. He now beholds our Savior’s beauty, along with countless multitudes, some of whom you may even now grieve. Familiar faces are gathered around the throne, worshipping with unsearchable joy, voices raised in praise of the Lamb who was slain.
And may this anticipation sharpen our focus on our Lord and rightly align our priorities, that we may live our lives here and now for his glory and honor.
Even so, Lord Jesus, come.
 Charles Haddon Spurgeon, The Wailing of Risca, Spurgeon’s Sermons, Volume 7, (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, sixth printing- 2017), 329.