21st June 2024


A protestant over-concern with sin can lead to a warped theology of death as the ultimate enemy – ‘the wages of sin’ [Romans 6] – but this is probably as much the consequence of a lack of confidence in life after death, than biblical interpretation. At the same time a certain secular madness seeks by extreme means to perpetuate life on earth at any cost. By contrast I liked the tombstone I saw as I entered church last Sunday which, having given details of the man buried there, had the inscription ‘End of Part One’.

The last verse of Charles Mudie’s hymn ‘I lift my heart to Thee, Saviour Divine’, reads:

I pray thee, Saviour, keep
me in thy love,
until death’s holy sleep
shall me remove
to that fair realm where, sin and sorrow o’er,
thou and thine own are one for evermore.

Very early on, the language of ‘death’s holy sleep’, was seen as problematical and changed to ‘death’s hallowed sleep’, and, later, even more radically, to ‘death’s final sleep’. But death can be holy.

Just recently a friend for over sixty years buried her husband, a very faithful church member, who at the end of his life was in a care home, suffering from increasing weakness, and she asked me to pray for his speedy release from such pain and uncertainty, or rather that he should soon enter into the devoted disciple’s rich reward. This I readily did. The death sentence here was a rich reward, as it is for every long life of faithful discipleship well-lived, not a cause of regret, but of celebration.

I, then, would readily sing of a ‘holy sleep’ that marks an end to all ‘sin and sorrow’ and takes the believer right into the Father’s presence [2 Corinthians 5 v 8].

John Briggs