My late mother-in-law’s favorite hymn was I’ll Fly Away. This great old song, which was written by Albert E. Brumley in 1932, expresses the joy and anticipation that Christians have over the prospects of going home to be with the Lord. The lyrics soar with the upbeat tempo of the music and the singers are transported from the dreariness of earthly life to the very edge of Paradise. One cannot sing these words without a smile, because as we sing them we are grasping a glimpse of the joy that awaits the faithful.
The words of the song say, “Some glad morning when this life is o’er, I’ll fly away; to a home on God’s celestial shore, I’ll fly away. When the shadows of this life have grown, I’ll fly away; like a bird from prison bars has flown, I’ll fly away. Just a few more weary days and then, I’ll fly away; to a land where joys shall never end, I’ll fly away.” The chorus completes the picture: “I’ll fly away, O glory, I’ll fly away; When I die, hallelujah, by and by, I’ll fly away.”
Death is the separation of the spirit from the body. The spirit is what animates the body, and when the spirit departs, the body ceases to live. Everyone who has ever lived has experienced, or will experience, this separation of spirit and body. However, not everyone who dies “flies away” in the way described in this beautiful song. The Lord’s teaching about the rich man and Lazarus in Lk. 16:19-31 bears this out. As the Lord taught this great lesson, He said that the poor man Lazarus died and was carried away by the angels to Abraham’s bosom (v. 22). The rich man’s death, on the other hand, was described very differently in the same verse. The Lord said, “And the rich man died and was buried.”
The poor beggar Lazarus flew away, as it were, because the angels carried his soul to Paradise. There he was comforted after a lifetime of toil and affliction (v. 25). The implication is that Lazarus had lived a godly life, and for this reason his death was a transition to the waiting place of the righteous dead. He flew away from all the bad things of life, to a taste of the eternal reward awaiting all the redeemed.
The rich man, however, found himself in torment (v. 23). There he began to experience the reward for his ungodly life. The Lord said that the rich man was “in agony in this flame” (v. 24). Not only this, but he was in a place from which he could not pass, and to which no one in Paradise could go (v. 26). The rich man’s death was a transition to the place of the unrighteous dead, where there is no hope, and no relief.
The lesson for each of us is that we have to live a particular kind of life if we hope to “fly away” when we die. The kind of life we must lead is revealed in the lesson of the rich man and Lazarus. As the rich man pleaded with Abraham to send someone back to warn his five brothers, Abraham said, “They have Moses and the Prophets; let them hear them.” For a first century Jew, the phrase “Moses and the Prophets” was shorthand for the scriptures, by which they could stand justified before God. For us today, Abraham’s words point us to the revealed word of God, the Bible, which is able to save our souls (Jas. 1:21).
If we hear the words of Scripture, and obey those words, we can look forward in joyful anticipation to the end of our earthly sojourn. If we have shown our love for the Lord by obeying His commandments (Jn. 14:15), our souls will be secure, just as Lazarus’ was. Then we can, in fact, sing, “Some glad morning when this life is o’er, I’ll fly away”, and it will be the truth.
*My sweet mother-in-law, Louise Forrister, flew away to Paradise on October 17, 2016.