The Swelling of the Jordan
By Octavius Winslow
“How wilt thou do in the swelling of Jordan?”
We remarked in an earlier part of this work
that the history of the children of Israel was strikingly illustrative, if not
designedly typical, of God’s spiritual Israel. And although, as in all
illustrative and typical teaching of the Bible, we should bear in mind the
marked ascendancy of the truth typified above the type, the thing symbolized
above the symbol, yet there are always points of analogy and assimilation
strictly true, impressively instructive, and strikingly beautiful, which it is
our wisdom to study and apply. The emancipation of God’s people from the iron
furnace of Egypt, their march across the desert, their passage over Jordan, and
their final settlement in the land of Canaan, are indisputable points of
agreement, and present at one glance the moral map of the Christian’s pilgrimage
and journey from earth to heaven. And yet, as we gaze upon the two pictures, and
contrast Pharaoh with Satan, the curse with Egypt, the wilderness with the
heavenly pilgrimage, Jordan with death, Canaan with heaven, and Moses with
Christ, we feel the force of the truth, how impotent is all material and earthly
imagery to illustrate things spiritual and heavenly. We select, however, from
these interesting points of history one only as illustrating an important and
solemn stage in the believer’s journey—the passage of the children of Israel
over Jordan. The Church has for ages been wont to consider, and not improperly,
this event as foreshadowing the Christian’s departure to glory by death, while
with it has been blended the most solemn, tender, and holy thoughts, feelings,
and anticipations that ever found a home in the believer’s heart. Approaching
the end of this volume, we feel there would be wanting an essential link in the
chain of helps heavenward were we to omit gathering around the closing scene of
the believer’s life those appropriate instructions, soothings, and hopes
essential to the succouring of the soul in so solemn and momentous a stage of
its history. Doubtless to the eye of the children of Israel, as they stood upon
its banks surveying the promised land beyond it, the intervention of Jordan was
an object of gloom and terror. And as its waters, dark and cold, rose and
swelled and broke in mournful cadence at their feet, as if in anticipation
chanting the sad requiem of their death, we can easily imagine the question
arising in many a sinking heart—“How shall I do in the swelling of this Jordan?”
Ah! how many who bend in sadness and trembling over these pages, to whose
sick-chamber or dying-bed they will travel, are resolving in their anxious
breasts the question—“How shall I be able to meet death? how pass over this
swelling flood? how may I meet this last, this latest, this most terrible crisis
of my being?” Be still, these fears! hush these doubts, child of God! while we
endeavour to shew how you shall fearlessly, safely, and triumphantly pass
through the swelling of Jordan, and reach your heavenly home at last.
“The swelling of Jordan”—words of solemn import, calculated to convey to the believing mind a gloomy idea of death. That there are swellings of Jordan in the Christian’s experience we doubt not. For example, there are the fears with which the child of God anticipates the last enemy,—there are the sad recollections of all his past sins crowding around his pillow,—there are the suggestions of unbelief, perhaps more numerous and powerful at this moment than ever,—and there is the shrinking of nature from the final wrench, the last conflict, the closing scene—the last glance of earth, the last look of love, the loosing of those fond and tender ties which entwine us so closely with those we leave;—these are some of the swellings of Jordan. But oh, what are these in reality to the believer in Jesus? Nought but the gentle ripple on the surface! Let me cite, as illustrating the groundlessness of your fears in anticipation of death, the history of the passage of the Church in the wilderness over Jordan. We read that God commanded that twelve priests, representing the twelve tribes, should bear the ark of the Lord before the people, and that the moment the soles of the feet of the priests that bore the ark were dipped in the brim of the water, the waters rose up on either side; and then we read that, “the priests that bare the ark of the covenant of the LORD stood firm on dry ground in the midst of Jordan, and all the Israelites passed over on dry ground, until all the people were passed clean over Jordan.” Now here we have a beautiful representation of the passage of the children of God through death into heaven. Take each particular. There was present, first, the ark of the covenant. Upborne upon the shoulders of the priests, it went before and led the march of the advancing hosts. That ark was an especial and glorious type of the Lord Jesus. Christ, our divine Ark, has already clave the waters of Jordan, for He has passed through death in advance of His people. And still the Ark is with them. Never was there the departure of a believer unattended by the presence of Jesus. Delightful thought! Christ our Ark will divide the dark waters as we pass, will go before, will go with us, will be our rearward, and thus encircled by Christ, amid the swelling of Jordan, we will fear no evil. What more is needed than the sensible presence of the Saviour to raise the heart superior to the fear of death, and to bear the soul tranquilly across the river? Fear not, then, believer—you will see His smile, you will hear His voice, you will feel His hand, and His conscious presence will enfold you as you pass.
Then, the feet of the priests stood firm in the midst of Jordan. The waters had parted, and on either side they stood as crystal walls of defence, while the hosts of the Lord passed over. Infinitely firmer do the feet of the saints stand on Christ when they die. The Rock on which you stand is a firm rock,—the covenant of grace which you grasp is a sure covenant,—the love of God in which you confide is an unchangeable love,—the atoning work upon which you rest is a finished and accepted work. The throne of God in heaven stands not firmer than does the weakest and most fearful who, leaning on Jesus, clinging to Jesus, is sustained by Jesus, as he cleaves his way through the swelling of Jordan.
And then we are told that, all the people passed clean over. What an impressive illustration of the full salvation of the whole Church of God! All the people,—the small as the great, the timid as the bold, the weak as the strong,—not one left upon the shore, but all went over and stood an unbroken column on the other side. Blessed thought! the Church of Christ shall be finally and fully saved—not one shall be left upon the bank, not one shall perish amid the swelling of Jordan. You have often mused—“How shall I meet the final conflict? Will faith as weak, will grace as little, will knowledge as limited, will experience as shallow as mine be able to breast the swelling flood?” But why these fears? why these misgivings? why these doubtful reasonings? Weak as may be your faith, small your grace, limited your experience, you shall not perish, for it is not your hold upon Christ, but Christ’s hold upon you, that insures your safe and certain passage over.
There are many other considerations well calculated to disarm the believing mind of its fear of death apart from those we have stated. Let me briefly remind you of a few.
Jordan was the passage to Canaan,—death is the passage to heaven. Beyond the “swelling flood” faith descries the better land, the fair haven, the glorious and eternal inheritance of the saints. Let this thought exert a soothing influence on your mind. And then, to this add a kindred reflection—that, on the other side of Jordan you will greet again the loved ones from whom you parted on this side of the river. Our home circles are thinning; vacant places around our domestic hearth remind us that some, who sat with us there, have passed over.
Friend after friend is departing,—familiar and
loved faces are disappearing from our view,—and life seems more lonely and the
world more desolate. Well, be it so. We shall find all who sleep in Jesus again
on the other side of the river. We accompanied them to the margin, saw them
enter the swelling tide, heard their shout of victory, and then they vanished
from our sight, and we saw them no more. And soon our time will come, when we,
too, shall pass over and meet them all again. A touching incident, which we
venture to quote, illustrates this train of thought:—
A father and mother were living with their two children on a desert island in the midst of the ocean, on which they had been shipwrecked. Roots and vegetables served them for food, a spring supplied them with water, and a cavern in the rock with a dwelling. Storm and tempest often raged fearfully on the island.
The children could not remember how they had reached the island; they knew nothing of the vast continent; bread, milk, fruit, and whatever other luxury is yielded there, were things unknown to them.
There landed one day upon the island four Moors in a small boat. The parents felt great joy, and hoped now to be rescued from their troubles; but the boat was too small to take them all over together to the adjoining land, so the father determined to risk the passage first.
Mother and children wept when he embarked in the boat with its frail planks, and the four black men were about to take him away. But he said, “Weep not! It is better yonder, and you will all follow soon.”
When the little boat returned and took away the mother, the children wept still more. But she also said, “Weep not! In the better land we shall all meet again.”
At last came the boat to take away the two children. They were frightened at the black men, and shuddered at the fearful sea over which they had to pass. With fear and trembling they drew near the land. But how rejoiced they were when their parents appeared upon the shore, offered them their hands, led them into the shade of lofty palm-trees, and regaled upon the flowery turf with milk, honey, and delicious fruits. “Oh, how groundless was our fear!” said the children; “we ought not to have feared, but to have rejoiced when the black men came to take us away to the better land.”
“Dear children,” said their father, “our voyage from the desert island to this beautiful country conveys to us a yet higher meaning. There is appointed for us all a still longer voyage to a much more beautiful country. The whole earth, on which we dwell, is like an island. The land here is, indeed, a noble one in our eyes, although only a faint shadow of heaven. The passage hither over the stormy sea is—death; that little boat resembles the bier, upon which men in black apparel shall at some time carry us forth. But when that hour strikes, then we, myself, your mother, and you, must leave this world. So fear not. Death is, for pious men who have loved God, and have done His will, nothing else but a voyage to the better land.”
Be not over anxious as to the time, the place, or the mode of your passage over Jordan. As death is in the covenant, so are all the circumstances of death likewise in the covenant, and they will transpire just as your covenant-God has fixed and arranged. Ah, how many feel the swelling of Jordan more in groundless, anticipative fears than in actual reality! But be not careful, beloved, about this matter. All is in the Lord’s hands, and He will divide the swelling billows, and take you dry-shod over, and not a heaving, not an undulation of the cold waters, shall chill the warmth or ruffle the calmness of your breast.
“Where shall I die? Shall death’s cold hand
Arrest my breath, while dear ones stand
In silent, watchful love, to shed
Their tears around my quiet bed?
Or shall I meet my final doom
Far from my country and my home?
Lord, to Thy will I bend the knee,
Thou evermore hast cared for me.
“How shall I die? Shall death’s stern yoke
Subdue me by a single stroke?
Or shall my fainting frame sustain
The tedious languishing of pain?
Sinking in weariness away,
Slowly and sadly, day by day?
Lord, I repose my cares on Thee—
Thou evermore hast cared for me.
“When shall I die Shall death’s stern call
Soon come my spirit to appal?
Or shall I live through circling years
A pilgrim in this vale of tears,
Surveying those I loved the best,
Who in the peaceful churchyard rest?
Lord, I await Thy wise decree;
Thou evermore hast cared for me.”
My unconverted reader! how will you do in the swelling of Jordan? Momentous question! All of us must die. The wicked and the righteous—the godly and the ungodly—the friend and the foe of God,—all, all must bow to this law of our nature—this sentence of our humanity. Have you seriously pondered this question—“How will it be with me in death?” You are living now a Christless, a prayerless, a Godless, a hopeless life. You are living in sin, for self, and with no reference whatever to the solemn hour you are to meet, the awful event you are to confront, the fearful account you are to surrender. “After death the judgment.” With no real preparation for death, how, think you, will you meet the judgment? As death leaves you, judgment finds you. The awful scrutiny transpires, the tremendous account is demanded the moment that your unclothed spirit is hurried hence. The instant that your probation ceases, your final and changeless destiny begins. What will, what must be the end of your present persistent course of irreligion? You are living as if you were a god to yourself, as though God your Creator furnished you with those intellectual endowments, gave you those talents, lavished upon you those advantages, begirt you with that wealth, influence, and rank only to gratify your own ambition, promote your own selfish ends, and to minister to your perverted taste, carnal, earth-bound aspirations and desires. But no! God created you for a higher life—for a nobler end—for a more glorious being—for a sublimer destiny. He created you—your person, your mind, your gifts, your social position, your wealth—in a word, your body, soul, and spirit, your present and your future, FOR HIMSELF! Man! woman! I tell you, God created you for His own glory, and He will not fail of that one and sublime end of your creation, whether it be secured by His vengeance or His grace, by His justice or His mercy—by lifting you to heaven or sinking you to hell. I revert to the momentous question—What will you do when the dark, cold waters of death are swelling and surging and deepening around you? What will your rank avail you? what will your wealth do for you? what will your talents profit you? what will your pleasures supply at that moment when the curtain is falling upon all the false shadows of time, and is rising upon all the dread realities of eternity? But there yet is hope! Fall in penitence at the Saviour’s feet, and grasp in faith the Saviour’s sacrifice, and you are saved! Then Jordan will have no dread swellings for you, death no sting, the grave no gloom, eternity no terror.
Pharisee! what will you do in the swelling of Jordan? When your self-righteousness fails to support you,—when your Babel of good works is crumbling around you,—when your foundation of sand is sliding from beneath you,—and the religion you have cherished is leaving you without support, without comfort, without peace, without hope—what then will you do? Death is confronting you! You have entered the river! It is dark, cold, and heaving; it deepens, surges, moans; it floats you from the shore of time; it bears you on to the ocean of eternity, and you disappear—a soul lost, LOST for ever! Oh, cast from you the garment of your own righteousness, and accept in faith the Saviour’s, and then death’s waters will waft you upon their gentle swelling safe to glory, and you shall be a soul saved, SAVED for ever!
Anxious, sin-burdened soul! how will you do in the swelling of Jordan? Will you take with you those convictions, that load of guilt, to the brink of the river? Oh no! part with them now and for ever! Lay them down at the cross, cast them at Jesus’ feet, and in faith plunge in the sea of His atoning blood, and you need not dread the river of death.
Dying saint! look at death through Jesus, and how lovely will it appear! Christ invests every object beheld by faith through Him with beauty and attraction. Oh, thou shalt fall in love with death, and be enamoured of the grave, if thou wilt view them both through thy dying, risen, living Lord! It is not with death you have to do, it is with death’s Conqueror. Descend, then, to the river with a firm, unfaltering step—
“Shudder not to cross the stream,
Venture all thy hopes on Him;
Not one object of His care
Ever suffer’d shipwreck there.”
I put the question to the sincere humble believer in Jesus—How will you do in the swelling of Jordan? You reply, “I will cleave closer and closer to Jesus. As the waters deepen, I will plant my foot of faith firmer and firmer upon the Rock, until I find myself in glory.” Then, fear not the swelling tide! Death will be to you—looking to Jesus, clinging to Jesus, accepted in Jesus—but a falling asleep,—a translation from the family of God on earth to the family of God in heaven,—a going from the Church below to the Church above. It is but a narrow stream that divides you, as seen by faith. You may go down to the margin of the river, weeping and lamenting as you go—
“Oh! could I make my doubts remove,
These gloomy doubts that rise,
And see the Canaan that I love
With unbeclouded eyes!
“Could I but climb where Moses stood,
And view the landscape o’er,
Not Jordan’s streams, nor death’s cold flood,
Should fright me from the shore.”
But when you enter, your tears will cease to flow, and your song will commence, and your departure shall be like that of Bunyan’s pilgrim, “Valiant-for-the-Truth,” which that master of allegory thus inimitably describes:—“‘My sword I give to him that shall succeed me in my pilgrimage, and my courage and skill to him that can get it. My marks and scars I carry with me, to be a witness for me that I have fought His battles who will now be my Rewarder.’ And when the day that he must go hence was come, many accompanied him to the river-side, into which, as he went, he said, ‘Death, where is thy sting?’—and as he went down deeper, he said, ‘Grave, where is thy victory?’ So he passed over, and all the trumpets sounded for him on the other side.”
“Whither can a sinner flee?
Who, oh who, will rescue me?
Dreading my deserved sentence,
Weeping tears of deep repentance!
Yawning grave! I fear to die,
Such burdens on my conscience lie!
“Hark! I hear my Saviour say,
‘I can take thy guilt away;
I have bled that men might live,
Full salvation I can give:
I will help thee, soul distress’d,
Come unto Me—I’ll give thee rest!’
“Almighty Lord! I know Thy voice,
In Thee believing I rejoice,
My Prophet, Priest, and King!
Now I can sing of joys on high,
‘O grave, where is thy victory?
O death, where is thy sting?’”
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