“How wilt thou do in the swelling of Jordan?” —Jer. 12:5
Both in its disputed rise, and in its zigzag course, and then in its inscrutable fall, the Jordan is the most wonderful, and indeed, in some respects, the most mysterious river on the face of the earth. Rising among the obscure rocks and tangled forests of the Lebanon, the Jordan rushes down through a deep and a tortuous gorge, that has seldom seen a bridge, and that only here and there has admitted a ford for the foot of man or beast. Walled in by high and overhanging rocks, the Jordan runs its crooked and angry course for some 200 miles, till it loses itself in the Salt Sea, the Dead Sea of Sodom and Gomorrah. It was the absolutly miraculous passage of the Jordan by Joshua and the priests and the people of Israel, that gave the Jordan such a place of wonder and of praise in the prophets and psalmists of Israel. And as time went on, the passage of the Jordan became a proverb and a prophecy of the passing of the immortal soul, out of this life of bitter bondage and of long and sore pilgrimage, into the Promised Land, the Promised Land of our Heavenly Father’s House. And then, the prophet’s solemn challenge, “How wilt thou do in the swelling of Jordan?” And that has come powerfully home to every man who has an evil conscience, and who has it before him to die and to go to judgment.
Well, then, before we come to ourselves, let us take a few moments to look at how some of our forerunners did when they came to the swelling of their “Jordan.” And, first, let us look at our blessed Lord Himself, when He was approaching the dark river of death. For though He had no sin of His own to burden His conscience and to darken His heart, yet, at the same time. He was made such a surety and such a substitute for sinners that the swelling of His Jordan became an agony; and indeed, a terror to Him, so much so, that even the pen of inspiration trembles to describe His dying experiences. Listen, then, with all the holy fear you can command, to what is trembhngly written concerning even the “Jordan ” of our sinless Lord. “Now is My soul troubled; and what shall I say? Father, save Me from this hour.” “Then took He with Him Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, and began to be sorrowful, and very heavy. Then saith He unto them, ‘My soul is exceeding sorrowful, even unto death : tarry ye here, and watch with Me.’ And then He went a little farther, and fell on His face, and prayed, sapng: ‘O My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from Me: nevertheless not as I will, but as Thou wilt.’ ”
As Mark has it: “He began to be sore amazed, and to be very heavy.” And as Luke has it: “Being in an agony, He prayed more earnestly: and His sweat was as it were great drops of blood falling to the ground. And on the morrow, when it was about the sixth hour, there was a great darkness over all the land until the ninth hour. And the sun was darkened; and the veil of the temple was rent in the midst. And, when He had received the vinegar, Jesus cried with a loud voice and said, ‘Father! into Thy hands I commend My spirit!’ And, having said this. He gave up the ghost.” Now that, my brethren, was somewhat of how our Lord did in the swelling of His Jordan.
“And one of the malefactors which were crucified beside Him railed on Him, and said, ‘If Thou be Christ, save Thyself and us.’ But the other answering rebuked him, saying, ‘Dost thou not fear God, seeing thou art in the same condemnation? And we indeed justly; for we receive the due reward of our deeds: but this man hath done nothing amiss.’ And he said unto Jesus, ‘Lord, remember me when Thou comest into Thy Kingdom.’ And Jesus said to him, ‘Verily I say unto thee. To-day thou shalt be with Me in Paradise.'” And that was how the penitent thief did in the swelhng of his Jordan.
And this is how Stephen, the martyr-deacon, did. After he had spoken his great speech, his enemies were cut to the heart, and they rose upon him with one accord, and cast him out of the city, and stoned him to death ; and he died calhng upon God, and saying: “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit, and lay not this sin to their charge.” And they laid down their clothes at a young man’s feet, whose name was Saul. And thirty years after that, Saul, by that time called Paul, descended into his Jordan with these words: “I thank Christ Jesus our Lord for putting me into the ministry: me, who was before a blasphemer and a persecutor: but I obtained mercy ; that in me Jesus Christ might show forth all His long-suffering for a pattern to them which should hereafter beheve on Him to life everlasting. And now, I am ready to be offered, and the time of my departure is at hand. And henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, shall give me at that day ; and not to me only, but unto all them also that love His appearing.”
When Augustine saw that the swelhng of his Jordan was fast approaching him, he got one of his divinity students to paint the thirty-second Psalm on the wall opposite his bed. And that great saint descended into his dark river, singing and saying:
“O blessed is the man to whom
Is freely pardoned
All the transgression he hath done,
Whose sin is covered.
I will confess unto the Lord
My trespasses, said I ;
And of my sin Thou freely didst
Forgive the iniquity,”
“Venerable Father,” said Justus Jonas to Luther, when he was nearing his dark river: “Venerable Father, do you die trusting in Jesus Christ as your God and Saviour, and subscribing to the whole reformed doctrines that you constantly preached to us?” “Yes, certainly!” shouted the great Reformer with his last breath. “Yes, certainly! Jesus Christ is my Lord and my God, and He is my alone Righteousness and Strength both in death as in life!”
But by far and away our best handbook and guide-book as we draw near the swelling of our Jordan is John Bunyan’s marvellous narrative of the various experiences of his puritan pilgrims, as they approached the dark river, and went through it. “Now, I further saw that betwixt them and the gate above there was a River; but there was no bridge over the River; and the River was very deep. Then they addressed themselves to the water; and, entering. Christian began to sink, till he cried out to Hopeful, his neighbour, ‘I sink in deep waters, the billows go over my head: all His angry waves go over me.’ But Hopeful said, ‘Be of good cheer, my Brother, for I feel the bottom; and it is good.’ And with that Christian broke out with a loud voice, ‘O! I see Him again ! and He says to me. When thou passest through the waters, I will be with thee: and through the rivers, they shall not overflow thee.’ ”
And some time afterwards, when Christiana, the widow of Christian the pilgrim, came within sight of the same river, she called for Mr. Greatheart, her guide, and told him how matters stood with her. So he answered her, that he was heartily glad for her sake, and that he could have been glad had the heavenly post come for him. Then she called for her children; and what she said to them is all to be read at the end of her fine history. The last words she was heard to say here, were these: “I come. Lord, to be with Thee, and to bless Thee.”
The next of that pilgrim company to come to the River was Mr. Ready-to-halt. And the last words he was heard to say were these: “Welcome life.” So he also went on his way.
After this, the same post sounded his horn at the chamber door of Mr. Feeble-Mind. And his last words were: “Hold out. Faith and Patience!” And saying so, he also went over to the other side.
How Mr Despondency and his daughter Miss Much-Afraid got over, and what they said, I leave you to read for your own desponding and much- afraid selves.
As, also, dear old Honest, and his last words. And Mr. Valiant-for-Truth, and his brave words about his sword, and about his marks and his scars that he carried over with him. And to crown all, the magnificent speech of Mr. Standfast. Than which, even John Bunyan never penned two nobler pages. But how glorious it was to see how the regions beyond the dark River were all filled with horses and chariots; with pipers and with trumpeters; with singers with the voice and with players on stringed instruments; and all to welcome the pilgrims as they went up and followed one another in at the Beautiful Gate of the City! But among all John Bunyan’s characters and their end, do not forget Mr. Fearing, who is in some respects the Tinker’s spiritual and Hterary masterpiece.
And now, after all that, I will only take time to give you Bishop Butler and his Jordan. When the great moralist, the old Honest of the Episcopal Bench, was on his death-bed, he called for his chaplain, and said to him: “Though I have endeavoured to avoid sin, and to please God to the utmost of my power; yet from the consciousness of perpetual infirmities, I am still afraid to die.” “My lord,” said the chaplain, “you have forgotten that Jesus Christ is a Saviour.” “True,” said Butler, “but how shall I know that He is a Saviour for me?” “My lord, it is written. Him that Cometh unto Me, I will in no wise cast out.” “True,” said the bishop; “and I am surprised that though I have read that Scripture a thousand times over, I never felt its virtue till this moment. And now I die happy.”
Now, my brethren, let it be well understood and believed that all these dying men from Jesus Christ Himself downward were all but so many pioneers and forerunners to teach us how we are to do when we come to the swelling of our Jordan. And first, let us learn some much-needed lessons from our Lord Himself. And especially, this great lesson, to say at every step of our approach to our Jordan, and at every soul-sinking billow of it, “Thy will be done!” Our Lord had been saying these same sonship-words every day, and all His days; and accordingly these same sonship-words came naturally and fully and finally to His believing lips at the end of His days. For one thing. He had prayed, and that without ceasing, for thirty years, for the conversion of His unbelieving brothers and sisters at home in Nazareth. And hitherto he had prayed, as it seemed, in vain. And worse, it seemed, than in vain. For, year after year, they all seemed to go farther away from their true salvation than ever before. And yet, in all that, Christ may only have been made, more and more, like to you and to me. For years, year after year, some of you may have been praying and waiting for the true conversion of some one or more dear to you; and like your Lord, you may have to die and to leave them as they were, only worse. And that may well be the cross of all your crosses on your death-bed.
My brethren, travellers in the Holy Land tell us that the Jordan is sometimes very mysterious, very dark, very deep, very crooked, and sometimes very angry, and without a bridge to cross it or a ford to wade it. It was so to your Lord, and it is enough for this life that the disciple be as his Lord was. My brethren, if the Son of God and the Prince of believers and your great High Priest had to say, as He looked around on His unconverted family circle, “Thy will be done,” it is enough for you to be able to say the same thing. But what you are never to know here of the dark mystery of your unanswered prayer, you will certainly know hereafter: even as He now knows.
And then, Paul’s old age and the nearness of his Jordan have taught many old men, and especially many old ministers, this lesson.” I am now ready to be offered, and the time of my departure is at hand. Do thy diligence therefore to come to me shortly. And bring with thee the cloak I left at Troas, and the books, and especially the parchments.” And so it is with some of the successors of the book-loving apostle. You will go into the old-age chamber of some of your ministers and you will find near their chair, and near their bed, such old-age books and such Jordan-bank books as these: John’s Revelation open at the twenty-first and twenty-second chapters; and Dante’s Paradiso; and Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress; and Baxter’s Saints’ Rest; and Howe’s Blessedness of the Righteous; and Rutherford’s Letters; and Newman’s Dream of Gerontius; and the Olney and the Wesley Hymns. Many years ago, I went into the death-chamber of an elder of this congregation, and he laid his hand on the Westminster Confession of Faith lying open at the great chapter on Justification ; and he said to me, “Sir, I am dying in the strength of that peace-speaking chapter.” Do thy diligence to bring the right books, as soon as possible, wrote Paul to Timothy, his son in the Gospel.
And all men who are of a philosophic turn of mind will take their lesson from Bishop Butler’s death-bed. ” Him that cometh unto Me,” said the Saviour, ” I will in no wise cast out.”
“I’ve read a thousand times that Scripture o’er. Nor felt its truth till now I near the tomb:
It is enough 1 O Saviour Christ, I come.”
“It was Bishop Butler who made me a Christian,” said Dr. Chalmers to his students, generously confessing his indebtedness to the great philosopher. Let us all, like Dr. Chalmers, take the same philosopher for our everyday example on this day and every day till we take him for our example on the last day of our earthly pilgrimage, and for our Jordan-side example, and say with him: “O Lamb of God, I come.”
Just as I am, wnthout one plea
But that Thy blood was shed for me,
And that Thou bidd’st me come to Thee,
O Lamb of God, I come.
Just as I am, and waiting not
To rid my soul of one dark blot,
To Thee, whose blood can cleanse each spot,
O Lamb of God, I come.
Just as I am, though tossed about
With many a conflict, many a doubt.
Fightings and fears mthin, without,
O Lamb of God, I come.
Just as I am, of that free love
The breadth, length, depth, and height to prove.
Here for a season, then above,
O Lamb of God, I come.” Amen.
And then shall the King say unto them on His
right hand : Come, ye blessed of My Father, in-
herit the Kingdom prepared for you from the
foundation of the world.”
And to all who so come to Him, and who keep so coming. He will surely say: “When thou passest through the waters, I will be with thee ; and through the rivers, they shall not overflow thee”: “till the redeemed of the Lord shall return, and shall come to Zion with songs and with everlasting joy upon their heads: they shall obtain joy and gladness, and sorrow and sighing shall flee away.”