We are made perfect in holiness at death. It is a freeing mercy without compare. All the pleasures of this life are nothing to that moment when the cleansing power of the Holy Spirit is complete. It is not a selfish thing to desire that beautiful blessing which we have in Christ. We all experience the corruption brought about by Adam’s sin, both in our spirit in regards to the fight we have with the old man in sin, and in our body as we watch it break down and deal with disparate disease and the realities of old age and overuse. Death frees us from this, and because of who we are in Christ our comfort is that all the physical/spiritual trials we face are temporary.
Today’s catechism lesson gets us into the nitty gritty of life. What happens when we die? More importantly what happens to our faith when we die? Well the good news is that nothing happens to our faith in fact it actually improves and becomes perfect. But what about our bodies? Even better news there. According to this morning’s Shorter Catechism answer to question 37 our physical bodies, the stuff you can pinch right now, remains united to Christ just as it is while you are alive. Without getting into the mechanics of that (philosophers love to waste time on how the spiritual works when adoration and thanksgiving are the more proper responses) the reality is we will all die, unless the Lord returns first, but even in the case of the eschaton’s arrival (which I don’t think will be for a while) the same truth is our peace and comfort. We belong body and soul to our Redeemer and there is nothing that can take that away from us, even death itself. It may be the separation of the soul from the body, but nothing can ever separate us from the love of God in Jesus Christ. So let’s get into the questions:
Q. 37. What Benefits Do Believers Receive From Christ at His Death?
A. The souls of believers are at their death made perfect in holiness, and do immediately pass into glory; and their bodies, being still united to Christ, do rest in their gravest till the resurrection.
Q. 38. What Benefits Do Believers Receive from Christ at the Resurrection?
A. At the resurrection, believers being raised up in glory, shall be openly acknowledged and acquitted in the day of judgment, and made.
This section of the catechism is continuing to work through what it calls the “benefits” that believers receive from Christ. We’ve read about effectual calling, justification, sanctification, adoption, and now are hearing a bit on the eternal blessings which come from faith. As noted above there is a sense in which when we get down to the brass tacks of why we do what we do in the Christian life it’s less because of the right now and more about the not yet. Our Lord Jesus came to die so that we would live. It makes sense then that the culmination of the Westminster Divines writing on salvation would focus on what takes place when we leave this mortal coil.
The era in which our catechism was written was full of death. While not a member of the Assembly, a Puritan contemporary John Owen lost eleven children before the age of maturity, most as infants. He had one daughter survive to adulthood.