The Octavius Winslow Reading Group: Help Heavenward (Chapter 10)

Quick Announcement: My apologies for not getting this posted on Monday. I made a brief mention on the Facebook Fanpage that recently my wife was admitted to the local hospital with some chronic issues she has been fighting and that my time just simply slipped away from me. I am happy to report that as of right now, she is feeling a lot better (though not out of the woods quite yet) and is now beginning to recover a bit. Thanks to all of you who expressed concern and offered your most coveted prayers for her and our little family.

Also, please note that the last chapter will not be due this Monday but he following Monday as I think that might be a wiser decision on my part since I am not exactly sure how much free time I will have this upcoming week.

So, with no further a do, heeeeeeeere’s Winslow:

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.

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.

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.

The crossing of the river Jordan has been one of the most recognizable metaphors of death used by believers down through the ages. And why shouldn’t it be? After all, it’s the culmination of a life lived and that is ready to finally be laid aside to come into its full inheritance in the Lord Jesus. But to pass over this river is no small matter, not even to believers. As Bunyan so beautifully portrayed in Pilgrim’s Progress, there are some of us that, when we come to its banks, shall not proceed without much trial and difficulty. Satan still lingers upon its shore to accuse Zion’s travelers already weakened by the pilgrimage thus of their failures and shortcomings. Thus, when they proceed into its waters, they begin to flail and thrash as its depths begin to creep slowly upon their necks. Doubts and remembrances may begin to pummel their tender conscience that they begin to gasp and almost even drown.

Thankfully, however, their Anchor lies well within the city beyond and is there to safely provide them safe passage to her shining shores. There are also those of us who may go boldly and in full confidence into her raging waves where every step forward only draws even more and more confidence and courage to plunge ahead and lay hold of the sandy banks beyond squarely and firmly. Those of us in Jesus will indeed cast a wishful eye upon her banks one day. None of us will be exempt. We will all one day see her shores.

Winslow then launches into a tremendously beautiful typological illustration of the twelve priests as they carried the ark of the covenant through Jordan’s waters:

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.

Now who of you cannot draw encouraging strength from the honey of this exposition!? Oh that we should see more of Jesus in all of our readings of the Old Testament!

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.

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.

We all are going to die. It is the one thing in our lives that we will have to do absolutely alone. But in a sense, we are not alone, for there is One who waits for us weary travelers on the river’s bank on the other side. We shall take no provisions, no wealth, and no family or loved ones may cross with us. We must all, believer and unbeliever alike, ultimately submit to her rushing waters. And when we do finally come to the other side, we will either be wearing the spotless white robe of our Beloved or the rags of our former life of sin. As Bunyan so insightfully stated, “There is a way to hell, even from the gates of heaven”. Horrific thought to consider that there will be multitudes upon multitudes that will be led down that dark path while the precious few shall enter into their Kings rest and glory!

And what will it profit us to fret and worry about that glorious day? What will it add to our comfort or encouragement? Be content to just know that one day, perhaps tomorrow or in 50 years, you will breathe your last breath and shall enter His presence. Until then, we must be busy at our Master’s work here on earth with the time allotted to us.

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.”

Next Week

Please read the final chapter, Our Father’s House for April 11. I am giving an extra week for this last chapter to ensure I have enough wiggle room in case my time gets pretty thin.

I’ll see you here then!


3 thoughts on “The Octavius Winslow Reading Group: Help Heavenward (Chapter 10)

  1. Matthew, I am sorry I missed your note on fb about your wife!
    I have been busy, and I am bit ahead on my reading, but I wanted to leave a not here for your wife… please tell her that I will keep her in my prayers. I will pray that this trial will be one of those chariots that drive us closer to God, heavenward! (as Winslow said on this book)

    Blessings on your weekend!

  2. Matthew,

    Thanks again for putting this reading-thru-the-classics together for us. Been good. So sorry to here about your bride hoping for health and healing, peace and joy in believing.

    Loved your exclamation: “Oh that we should see more of Jesus in all of our readings of the Old Testament!” Yes and Amen. God give us Jesus seeing grace as we study our Old testaments and draw forth for our souls much nourishing honey.

    At least two references to Pilgrim’s Progress in this chapter – how great is that.

    I really liked the stranded-on-a-desert-island analogy about heaven. Very good. how much rejoicing when we travel across the unknown swelling Jordan to the other side, delivered from this desert island to heaven.

  3. Thank you very much, Matthew, for another wonderful summary of this chapter.

    I also liked the reference to Pilgrim’s Progress and the river.

    This was a comforting chapter. Picturing Jesus waiting on the other side of the rushing river!! “All is in the Lord’s hands, and He will divide the swelling billows, and will 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.”

    Hopefull your wife is feeling better. God bless.

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