The House of Mourning

By Paul Hayden

Ecclesiastes 7:4

The heart of the wise is in the house of mourning; but the heart of fools is in the house of mirth.

You may or may not have been aware that at the beginning of February, the Chinese New Year was celebrated. In a very similar way to Christmas in the West, everybody goes home, families get together, give each other presents, eat far too much and drink to excess. You know the sort of thing. The whole festival in theory is supposed to last fifteen days, but in practice, most people get a week off work, then everything slowly returns to normal. So I had the delight of spending every day for six days, Monday to Saturday, with my wife’s unbelieving family in a house of mirth. 

I was especially thankful that I couldn’t understand a word anybody said all week, because if it had been in English I’d have realised how inane the conversation really was. As it was, I only had to suffer the loud guffaws and the endless toasts, at which if you don’t knock back your glass of Chinese spirits in one go, it’s considered very rude. We were very rude. 

By the time the Saturday came around, we were really looking forward to the forthcoming Lord’s Day, when we would have an excuse not to attend such events, because we had already planned to go to church in the morning, and then spend the rest of the day at home listening to sermons on the internet and generally resting in keeping with the Fourth Commandment.

Ordinarily, the Lord wants His people to sanctify, to set apart, His Holy day:

Westminster Shorter Catechism

Q. 60 How is the Sabbath to be sanctified?

A. The Sabbath is to be sanctified by a holy resting all that day, even from such worldly employments and recreations as are lawful on other days; and spending the whole time in the public and private exercises of God's worship, except so much as is to be taken up in the works of necessity and mercy.

But on that particular day, the Lord, instead of giving us a rest day, gave us a work of mercy to do. My wife received a phone call from an old school friend of hers. My wife’s friend’s younger brother had suddenly died a few days beforehand. That would have coincided with New Year’s Day itself or thereabouts. So, the Lord guided us to go and visit the bereaved family. 

It was such a contrast to go from a house of mirth into a house of mourning. It was so refreshing. No fancy food tables, parties or inane conversation for these folk. The emptiness of such activities had been brought into sharp relief for them. Whenever someone dies, it’s always a time for reflection on the great issues of life and death. And this is especially so, when it happens at a time of year when everybody around is telling us we’re all supposed to be in a party mood. 

The best thing about this whole situation was that the deceased and his family were all Christians. Do you know, we Christians are the only ones in the entire world who have any hope for eternity. Everybody else, no matter what their religion, has absolutely no hope for anything:

Ephesians 2:12

That at that time ye were without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers from the covenants of promise, having no hope, and without God in the world....

The family members were sad, and finding their loss difficult, which was to be expected, especially as it came so suddenly. But the God of all comfort gave them the comfort they needed from the Scriptures:

Romans 15:4

For whatsoever things were written aforetime were written for our learning, that we through patience and comfort of the scriptures might have hope.

The Lord gave the widow of the deceased, this verse:

Psalms 39:9

I was dumb, I opened not my mouth; because thou didst it.

We all need a firm belief in the providence of God. A knowledge that God is in control of absolutely everything is fundamental, and we especially need it at times of sadness like this. God always knows what He is doing, and Satan is in control of nothing:


Job 1:21

The Lord gave, and the Lord hath taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord.


Matthew 10:29-30

Are not two sparrows sold for a farthing? and one of them shall not fall on the ground without your Father. But the very hairs of your head are all numbered.


Romans 8:28

And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose.

And the Lord gave the daughter of the deceased these verses from the apostle Paul nearing his own death:

2 Timothy 4:6-8

For I am now ready to be offered, and the time of my departure is at hand. I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith: Henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, shall give me at that day: and not to me only, but unto all them also that love his appearing.

Not only is there here a promise that all those who love Jesus Christ in this world will receive a crown of righteousness in the next world, that’s wonderful enough. But we see also that we can know for sure in this life, that we’re going there. If we really do come to know Jesus Christ for ourselves, we know He will never leave us:

Romans 8:38-39

For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, Nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.


Hebrews 13:5

I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee.


John 10:27-28

My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me: And I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of my hand.


As Christians, we need to become familiar with these truths when there isn’t a crisis in our lives, so that when the difficult times do come - and they will - we will know what the truth really is, despite our surroundings at the time tempting us to think otherwise.

There are so many promises for us to take hold of in the Scriptures with regards our hope for the next world:

Psalms 73:24

Thou shalt guide me with thy counsel, and afterward receive me to glory.


Isaiah 57:1

The righteous perisheth, and no man layeth it to heart: and merciful men are taken away, none considering that the righteous is taken away from the evil to come.


1 Corinthians 15:54

So when this corruptible shall have put on incorruption, and this mortal shall have put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written, Death is swallowed up in victory.


Psalms 116:15

Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his saints.

This world and it’s frivolity is nothing compared to making sure we prepare ourselves for eternity

It was a joy to be with those Christians in their grief. I wouldn’t have wanted to be anywhere else in the world that day. Those Christians in the house of mourning had a sure hope. Maybe at that moment in time they were finding it difficult to cling on to it, but it was there, and it can be there for us too, if we put our trust in Jesus Christ.

But those in the house of mirth never think of death. No, that’s negative. They believe in living life now. They really think that everything is going to continue on in the same way, for ever:

2 Peter 3:3-4

Knowing this first, that there shall come in the last days scoffers, walking after their own lusts, And saying, Where is the promise of his coming? for since the fathers fell asleep, all things continue as they were from the beginning of the creation.

But it is inevitable that one day, they too will be taken away from this world. And when that happens, I really wouldn’t know what to say. “Well, he’s probably gone to hell-fire then,” would be true, but maybe a little inappropriate. What do we say? 

What do we say to the Buddhist? He really thinks he can do what he likes, and that he has no accountability to any higher being. And if he messes up his life here, that’s all right, because after he’s dead he can just forget it all and start a new adventure as somebody or something else.

What do we say to the atheist? When he’s in trouble, he’s demanding that the government changes the law to allow him to “die with dignity” when he wants to, because he’s convinced himself there’s nothing after death. But how does he know? He doesn’t.

What do we say to the dozens I passed in the street on the way home on New Years Eve, crouching in little huddles on the pavement, all starting fires. It wasn’t because they were cold. They were burning fake money, in case their dead relatives needed a bob or two in the afterlife. It’s incredible what some people believe, honestly.

And what about people such as my wife’s sister and her husband, who a few years ago visited us in the UK. Their daughter was graduating from Aston University, so we spent a weekend in Birmingham. We were delighted when they said they’d come with us to church. So we Googled “Chinese-speaking Evangelical churches in Birmingham,” of which there are several, and took them to one of them. Afterwards, without being prompted, they said something along the lines of, “They’re not worshipping God, it’s just a social club.” To which, sad to say, we had to agree. We couldn’t pretend they were wrong. These unbelieving visitors had put their finger precisely on that particular church’s problem. But the church wasn’t able to see it, and are probably carrying on in their own sweet way regardless today. So, what do we say to those who are, humanly speaking, the hardest to reach of all - those who’ve been disillusioned by the church?

What do we say to any of these poor lost souls? There’s only one thing we can ever say to any of them:


Luke 13:3,5

Except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish.


Acts 3:19

Repent ye therefore, and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out, when the times of refreshing shall come from the presence of the Lord....


Acts 17:30-31

And the times of this ignorance God winked at; but now commandeth all men every where to repent: Because he hath appointed a day, in the which he will judge the world in righteousness by that man whom he hath ordained; whereof he hath given assurance unto all men, in that he hath raised him from the dead.

We’ll get laughed at and mocked, and certainly become unpopular for saying these things. But it’s the absolute truth, and we’ve got no other message of hope to give. We can’t change hearts, we leave it to the Lord to do that. But we must at least realise how serious the gospel message really is.


2 Corinthians 5:10-11

For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ; that every one may receive the things done in his body, according to that he hath done, whether it be good or bad. Knowing therefore the terror of the Lord, we persuade men.


And a final word to those who may find themselves, in the Lord’s providence, in a pulpit. Don’t shout. Don’t tell funny stories. Preach as though someone in the congregation has just had a bereavement. That should keep minds sufficiently focussed on eternal things.

Ecclesiastes 7:2

It is better to go to the house of mourning, than to go to the house of feasting: for that is the end of all men; and the living will lay it to his heart.