Amelia Taylor had joined her son as he traveled to the great seaport of Liverpool. Hudson was about to make the long journey to a far-off mission field and she wanted to be with him to the final moment, to pray for him one last time, to see him depart for the great work God had called him to. He never forgot that day. His mother came aboard the ship with him, entered his cabin, and smoothed the little bunk. She sat with him for a time, sang a hymn, then knelt down and prayed. And just as they said their “amens,” the ship’s horn sounded and it was time for her to go ashore.
Hudson knew that, for his sake, his mother had restrained her emotions as much as she was able. But as they parted, as she went ashore, and as the ship pushed off from land, she could hold them back no more. As “the separation really commenced, never shall I forget the cry of anguish wrung from that mother’s heart,” he said later. “It went through me like a knife. I never knew so fully, until then, what ‘God so loved the world’ meant.”
As the ship pulled away from shore, as it turned toward the ocean, and as it began to fade into the distance, Amelia wondered whether she would ever see her son again, whether the ship that bore him away would ever return him to her side. She cried out in uncertainty, in sorrow, in anguish of heart.
We are all familiar with that kind of anguish, that kind of sorrow, that kind of uncertainty. We have all watched death carry off someone we love and known that the vessels that carry them away from the shores of this life will not bring them back. We have all wondered what has become of them, what they are doing, what they are experiencing. We have all wondered whether there is truly life beyond the grave, whether their feet have landed safe upon the shores of a distant land. We have all wondered whether there is life beyond that horizon, life beyond what our ears can hear, what our eyes can see, what our minds can perceive.
Many grasp for some kind of certainty, some kind of assurance. They long for just one person to come back, one person to make the return journey, one person to assure them that heaven is real, that God’s promises are true, that their loved ones are safe and well and whole.
But suppose one did return, one did claim to have entered those blessed gates and to have experienced heaven’s joys and to have fellowshipped with the saints and angels and to have seen the very face of Christ. We would have to accept heaven’s reality and existence on the basis of just one person, just one witness, just one frail and fallible human authority. That would be no assurance at all. That would be insufficient to sustain us through dark nights and deep griefs, insufficient to console us when sorrows like sea billows roll and threaten to pull us under.
God has not seen fit to provide us that kind of witness, that kind of assurance. No, he has seen fit to provide us a better witness, a better assurance. Instead of having us base our confidence on the word of friends or family members, he has us base our confidence on his infallible words. And why would we believe the word of a man if we will not believe the word of God himself? Why would we long to base our confidence on a created being if we will not believe the one who created us? Why would we prefer man to God, mortal to immortal, dust to glory?
In our anguish, in our sorrow, in our uncertainty, we have the word of God, the God who has declared the end from the beginning and from ancient times things not yet done, the God who promises, “My counsel shall stand, and I will accomplish all my purpose.” We have his sure and certain word that as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive. We have his promise that through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, we have “an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.” And each of us must ask: If we will not believe this, what will believe? If we will not believe him, who will we believe? What more could we ever want, ever hope for, ever need?
As our loved ones are pulled from our grasp, as they depart this world and fade from our sight, we have the greatest of all hope and the greatest of all assurance. We have the sure and steady word of the God who made us, the God who saved us, the God who raised his Son, the God who has promised that he has given us the ultimate victory through Jesus Christ. And when we have that word, we have all that we need.