by Rev. William E. Farndale, Aldersgate Magazine, 1919
William Edward Farndale (1881-1966), President of Conference 1947
Canon Winterbotham, of Edinburgh is a heretic concerning future re-union. “There is not a single word in the Bible,” he writes, “to support the assertion that we shall find out own again in another world … Not once did our Lord ever allude to our meeting one another hereafter. Not once is the subject mentioned by any of the New Testament writers. The absolute silence on the matter which is bound to employ the natural man has a tremendous significance. It means that it lies altogether outside the sphere and scope of Christian revelation.”
But is Scripture so silent? Does it not represent David as predicting with reference to his dead child, “I shall go to him, but he shall not return to me”? Of Hezekiah and other Jewish kings is it not recorded that “he slept with his fathers,” even as Abraham and other patriarchs are said by the compiler of Genesis to have been “gathered” each to “his people”? When Paul wrote to the early believers in Thessalonica, “Them also that are fallen asleep in Jesus will God bring with Him,” did not the entire comfort of its message lie in the promise implied that loved ones they had known but lost awhile through death would yet, by Christ, be restored to fellowship with them? Does not Christ Himself add as a pendant to one of His parables, “Make to yourself friends … that … they may receive you into the eternal tabernacles”? No, the Bible is not so silent as is alleged. But even if it were, its very silence would but add strength to the great instinct that has in every age postulated re-union. “If it were not so,” Christ would have told us.
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The difficulty of recognition in another sphere is adduced as another reason for not believing in re-union. A child dies in infancy and its parents survive for many years; how will the parents know the child hereafter? Or, if it is adults who are separated by death, will not the intervention of a score or more years hide one from the other? Yet without recognition there is no true re-union.
Aids to faith may readily present themselves here. Take an analogy from earth’s experience. A youth emigrates to one of the colonies. Long years elapse, leaving their mark upon him before he returns to the old homestead. Yet changed though he is, he is recognised and welcomed by the parents he has eagerly sought out. Will the future life be less rich in such glad surprises? Moreover, as on earth the physical features are an aid to recognition, it may be that in the Beyond the spiritual body will be so completely an expression of the soul’s character and very self as to make impossible any doubt in identification.
The tenor of Scripture at any rate is that in the spirit-world each may know the other. Dives knows Abraham. The whole point of Christ’s promise to the penitent – “Today thou shalt be with Me in Paradise” – is lost unless recognition were mutual.
And, since the Christian ideal whether here or hereafter is a life social and not solitary, who can doubt that every hindrance to blissful fellowship will be removed – yes, even if that were to involve introduction by the Lord of Glory!
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It is objected that to look forward to re-union after death is to transfer the soul’s gaze from Christ, its only right object. One who lost his wife tells in his autobiography that at the bereavement he wished he might die. “Then conscience began to ask, ‘Why did I wish to die?’ My sorrows at once responded to the enquiry, ‘Just to be with Harriet.’ But was I sure of that? If Harriet was in heaven, as I could not but hope that she was, was nothing else to be the consequence of death to me but to go to heaven merely to be with her? I was struck dumb. I was confounded with my own folly. So then the only enjoyment I looked for after death was, not to be with Christ but to be with Harriet! As if Harriet without Christ could make heaven a place of real happiness to me!”
Now Christians may sometimes in their grief take up the pagan position and limit their anticipations to re-union with deceased relatives. Reflection and devotion can, however, correct the error and purify the longing. But to eradicate the yearning is impossible. Nor is it necessarily derogatory to the Master. If on earth, whilst our friends are with us, we can whole-heartedly love them without dethroning Christ from His supreme place in our affections, why should it be accounted dishonouring to Him that our desire for them persists through the veil?
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But, it may be urged, the old relations of earth cannot be perpetuated hereafter. How, then, can there be any re-union? “The woman,” says Canon Winterbotham, “who has been loving and amiable to two or three husbands cannot be wife in any intelligible sense to all or any of them hereafter. The mother who has had to leave behind her the child of her love cannot find him again in the grown man, who is equally eager to embrace once more his own little ones. However one may try to think the matter out, one cannot honestly reconstruct the family grouping in another world.”
The demurrer is invalid, however, once it is remembered that what is contended for is not the resumption of family life in the sense known on earth, but the finding again of those whom we had loved here, and the glad, voluntary, association with them in richest communion. No blood relations nor legal ties, but true and genuine affinity of affection and personal choice will determine who are to meet and continue together.
Such re-union has been anticipated by the most devout and saintly in all ages. Over the grave in Eversley Churchyard, Kingsley’s widow placed a white marble cross, on which, under a spray of his favourite passion flowers, are the words of his choice, the expression of his faith, “Amavimus, Amamus, Amabimus” (“We have loved, we do love, we shall love.). And above them, circling round the cross, “God is love.”
In the hour of death there seems to have been vouchsafed to some a glimpse of friends on the other side. Moody, on the morning of his passing, was heard speaking in slow, measured words, “Earth recedes, heaven opens before me. If this is death, it is sweet. This is my Coronation Day.” Then his face lit up and he said in a voice of joyful rapture, “Dwight, Irene! I see the children’s faces!”
With reasoned conviction, therefore, we may hold fast the ancient faith in re-union beyond the grave. With Keble joyously we may sing:-
“’Tis sweet as year by year we lose
Friends out of sight, in faith to muse
How grows in Paradise our store.”
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[Farndale could also have mentioned the words of 1 Thessalonians 4:13 “concerning them which are asleep, that ye sorrow not, even as others which have no hope”, which, in a more modern translation, say, “that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope.” Of course Christians grieve, but not “as others do who have no hope.” Farndale’s penultimate paragraph (Such re-union…) is illustrated by the following extract from a biography of one of the founders of Primitive Methodism. – DMY]
THE LIFE OF HUGH BOURNE
by Dr William Antliff (revised edition, 1892. London: James B. Knapp) pages 310-1:
On Monday, October 11, 1852, which was the last day of his earthly sojourn … he reclined back on the sofa and fell asleep. In this state he continued some while; when, arousing a little, he appeared to be conversing with someone, but was inaudible. Then beckoning with his hand, as though anxious for a nearer approach, with a sweet smile on his countenance, he said, “Come! Come!” several times; and looking intently upwards he lifted his hand, as in token of victory, or to point his friends to some lovely and inviting object near, at the same time saying with much earnestness and emphasis, “Old companions! Old companions! My mother!” Then, without a grown or sigh, or apparently the slightest pain, surprise, or dismay, he resigned his spirit, about six o’clock that autumn evening, into the hands of God.
Hymn 49 in Wesley’s Hymns compares life to a voyage across a tossing sea of tempest and wind, and death like reaching ‘the blest shore’. It concludes with this verse:
There all the ship’s company meet
Who sailed with the Saviour beneath,
With shouting each other they greet,
And triumph o’er trouble and death:
The voyage of life’s at an end,
The mortal affliction is past;
The age that in heaven they spend,
For ever and ever shall last.