Greater Men and Women of the Bible by James Hastings: 018. Taken by God

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Greater Men and Women of the Bible by James Hastings: 018. Taken by God


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II



Taken by God



“God took him.”



1. The peculiar feature of Enoch's life, that which puts it in a unique class, lies in the faet that he is the first man in the Bible story who thwarted death. He walked with God, and God was pleased with him, “and he was not; for God took him.” It is a quaint way of telling how this old saint made the final disappearance. He was not; he was not found, for God had translated him. “I looked,” said his friends, one after another, “and, lo, he was not.” God had put forth His hand, and taken him to the place of everlasting rest. The life that had been a walk with God had ended at God's feet.



That was the crowning evidence and token of the Divine pleasure. Death is the wages of sin, the harbinger of retribution, the seal of man's humiliation and defeat. The fear of death is a bondage under which the race of man lies, save only where Christian faith and hope alleviate the terror and inspire a superhuman courage before which all fear is banished. The extraordinary nature of Enoch's piety could not be demonstrated by any fact so imperative as this, “He was translated.” God took him who had walked with Him-bore him away to another sphere. The very silence of the historian aids the impression: there is no breach between the earthly and the heavenly life, no defined horizon-clouds, and sky, fields, hills and wood meet together, and this world's beauty and the glory of the world above melt into each other, and one unbroken scene fills and satisfies the eye. He was with God here, he is with God there. He was a “man of God” for three hundred years, “a pilgrim and a stranger” with Him, doing his works in God, speaking the words which God gave him to speak, and God has taken him to be with Him always.



Whether for the sake of others or for his own, the impression made is that the patriarch's pure and godly life was continued; it went right on; it was not broken even by death. God wishes us to perceive that one who lives in fellowship with Himself is already ripe for the close fellowship of heaven. There is no break in the journey. Such a life on this and on that side of the grave is the same. On that side it needs only to be perfected and confirmed. But it is the same life-life with God. God, by this exceptional departure of this exceptional man, has shown us distinctly what ought to be true of all. Enoch stands forth as the proof that a truly Christian life destroys death. And so he walks with God still, a foremost figure no doubt amongst the favoured company who see their Master's face, and have His Name written on their foreheads, the company of those who follow the Lamb whithersoever He goeth.



Looked at from beside the Lord of life and death, “great death” dwindles to a very little thing. We need to revise our notions if we would understand how trivial it really is. To us it frowns like a black cliff blocking the upper end of our valley; but there is a path round its base, and though the throat of the pass be narrow, it has room for us to get through, and up to the sunny uplands beyond. From a mountain top the country below seems level plain, and what looked like an impassable precipice has dwindled to be indistinguishable.1 [Note: Alexander Maclaren, The Wearied Christ, 105.]



Very often through the years we were together he had spoken of death quite calmly, and in this way: “We must remember the great White Angel, but it need not make us sad.” I find in my journal this entry: “He looked at me yesterday when we spoke of one who had planned to go to Egypt but who had died. I said, ‘He took another journey.' ‘Yes, and a much better one,' he answered; ‘I want you not to mind when the day comes for me to take that journey-it leads to better things.' ”



“I am glad I painted Death with that white robe,” he told me not very long before the last illness, “it makes it an angel, and I often catch a glint of that white garment behind my shoulder, and it seems to me to say ‘I am not far off.' ”1 [Note: M. S. Watts, George Frederic Watts, ii. 316, 322.]



What is the significance of Death? Death in Christ is an accident in immortality. The great Unity of Life lasts on. Only, like the Sicilian rivers of Grecian poetry, Life's stream had flowed here in rugged channels and under cloudy skies, then it had disappeared for a time into the chambers of darkness, only to reappear in fairer regions and by the sunny sea. The immortal life knows no break in its continuity, only here it is a life sin-stained, sorrow-laden; there sin is gone and sorrow ended, when “in Christ” the living spirit passes the gates of the grave.2 [Note: W. J. Knox Little, The Mystery of the Passion, 88.]



Here life is the beginning of our death,

And death the starting-point whence life ensues;

Surely our life is death, our death is life:

Nor need we lay to heart our peace or strife,

But calm in faith and patience breathe the breath

God gave, to take again when He shall choose.3 [Note: Christina G. Rossetti.]



2. Enoch is the universal symbol of Man's immortal hope. In the view of that old world, he is the man who escaped the sight of death. It is a very remarkable circumstance that the full-fledged hope of Christian immortality has reproduced the primitive hope expressed in the translation of Enoch. “Whosoever liveth and believeth in me shall never die,” is the utterance in which Christ's latest Gospel reveals the sense of immortality. Is it not the same hope which centred round the personality of Enoch? The idea expressed in the translation of Enoch is not an eccentric idea; it is the predominant thought of the Pentateuch and the latest sentiment of the Christian Evangel. The passion for Eternal Life is the first and the last passion of the Hebrew race. To live for ever, to see no corruption, to keep undimmed life's pristine glow-that is the aspiration which feeds on the sight of Enoch, and that is the aspiration which permeates the morning and the evening of the Jewish day. The thought which kindles that morning and that evening is not the waking from the sleep of death; it is rather the hope that the soul will never sleep; it is the impulse of the spirit of man to see its Promised Land before death, to meet God face to face in some period of the present world, and to have the life preserved by receiving a breath of the Eternal. The ideal of Enoch's immortality is the spirit which pervades Genesis and the thought which inspires St. John. It illuminates the night of Bethel; it dispels the tears of Bethany. It is the Alpha and the Omega; it marks the beginning and the end.



I shall now no more behold my dear Father with these bodily eyes. With him a whole three-score-and-ten years of the Past has doubly died for me; it is as if a new leaf in the great Book of Time were turned over. Strange Time! Endless Time, or of which I see neither end nor beginning! All rushes on; man follows man; his life is as a Tale that has been told. Yet under Time does there not lie Eternity? Perhaps my Father, all that essentially was my Father is even now near me, with me. Both he and I are with God. Perhaps, if it so please God, we shall in some higher state of being meet one another, recognize one another: as it is written, “we shall be for ever with God!”; The possibility, nay (in some way) the certainty of perennial existence daily grows plainer to me. “The essence of whatever was, is, or shall be, even now is.” God is great; God is good; His will be done, for it will be right!1 [Note: Carlyle, Reminiscences, i. 51.]



Alas, my God, that we should be

Such strangers to each other!

O that as friends we might agree,

And walk and talk together!

May I taste that communion, Lord,

Thy people have with Thee?

Thy Spirit daily talks with them,

O let It talk with me!

Like Enoch, let me walk with God,

And thus walk out my day,

Attended with the heavenly Guards,

Upon the King's highway.

When wilt Thou come unto me, Lord?

For till Thou dost appear,

I count each moment for a day,

Each minute for a year.2 [Note: Thomas Shepherd.]