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Hymnology: It Is Not Death to Die

Hymnology: It Is Not Death to Die
Photo by Jorien Loman on Unsplash
"For me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.” -Philippians 1:21

Hymn Story

Henri Abraham César Malan was a prolific composer of hymns in the early 19th century, as well as an ardent evangelist who traveled throughout the European continent preaching the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Though few of his hymns have been translated and popularized in English, his impact on the French and Swiss churches of his era has been compared to that of Isaac Watts in England a generation earlier.

Malan knew a life of conflict surrounding his faith and that of his family. Shortly before his birth, his parents had fled to Geneva, Switzerland, fleeing the religious persecution that came with the French Revolution. As a young minister in the National Church of Geneva, he developed convictions which led to his becoming an evangelical, earning him the classification of “religious dissident” and leading to his expulsion from the national church. He built a chapel in his backyard and preached there for 43 years, often to large crowds, often traveling as a missionary to other nations as well.

Malan composed the lyrics to “Non, ce n’est pas mour­ir que d’al­ler vers son Dieu” in 1832. This hymn was translated into English by George Bethune, but it remained relatively obscure until it was updated in 2008 by Bob Kauflin, who revised the lyrics (including the addition of a chorus) and wrote a beautiful new melody for the hymn. Kauflin is the director of worship development for Sovereign Grace Ministries, and is part of the team at Sovereign Grace Music that has updated and revived many old hymn lyrics. One example is “Before the Throne of God Above,“ originally written in 1863 but set to new music by Vikki Cook in the 1990s.

Here is a recording of Kauflin’s version of “It Is Not Death to Die”:

Lyrics

It is not death to die
To leave this weary road
And join the saints who dwell on high
Who’ve found their home with God
It is not death to close
The eyes long dimmed by tears
And wake in joy before Your throne
Delivered from our fears
O Jesus, conquering the grave
Your precious blood has power to save
Those who trust in You
Will in Your mercy find
That it is not death to die
It is not death to fling
Aside this earthly dust
And rise with strong and noble wing
To live among the just
It is not death to hear
The key unlock the door
That sets us free from mortal years
To praise You evermore

Hymn Study

Because Jesus has paid our ransom and secured our eternal salvation, death is not the end for a Christian. In Christ, we have the blessed hope of a future in which we will reign in glory (Revelation 5:10). When Christ returns, he will finally and completely destroy death (1 Corinthians 15:26), and believers from throughout history will receive resurrection bodies, free forever from pain, disease, aging, and death (Revelation 21:4).

When believers close our eyes for the final time in this life, we will open them in the presence of Christ (Luke 23:43; 2 Corinthians 5:8). The apostle Paul wrote of two desires: to live a life of fruitful labor which honors and brings glory to Christ (Philippians 1:22) or to die and be with the Lord, which is even better (Philippians 1:23).

In this life there will be trials and hardships, but these things are not worth comparing to the glory that is to be revealed in us (Romans 8:18). Because of this hope that we possess, we have no need to fear death. The funeral of a Christian is a time of mourning for those of us left behind, but it is also a time of rejoicing for the releasing of a loved one from the weight of sin into the presence of God!

“For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.
For we know that if the tent that is our earthly home is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. For in this tent we groan, longing to put on our heavenly dwelling, if indeed by putting it on we may not be found naked. For while we are still in this tent, we groan, being burdened—not that we would be unclothed, but that we would be further clothed, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life. He who has prepared us for this very thing is God, who has given us the Spirit as a guarantee.”

—2 Corinthians 4:17-5:5
John Gardner

John is the pastor over Music Ministry at Faith Bible Church. He is a coffee aficionado who loves most kinds of music, but has a particular fondness for big band (especially when he's playing trumpet in the band). He and his wife, Laurie, have 3 kids who enjoy reading, hiking, and the symphony.

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