A Sermon Delivered On Sunday Morning, February 18, 1872, By C. H. Spurgeon, At The Metropolitan Tabernacle, Newington. *9/7/2011
Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his saints. (Ps 116:15)
1. David sought deliverance from imminent peril, and he felt sure of obtaining it; for being a servant of the Lord he knew that his life was too precious in the sight of God for it to be lightly brought to an end. It should be a source of consolation for all tried saints that God will not deliver them over to the hands of their enemies; it is not the will of their Father who is in heaven that one of his little ones should perish. A shepherd who did not care for his sheep might allow the wolf to devour it, but he who prizes it highly will put his own life in jeopardy to rescue the defenceless one from between the monster’s jaws.
2. The text informs us that the deaths of God’s saints are precious to him. How different, then, is the estimate of human life which God forms from what has ruled the minds of great warriors and mighty conquerors. Had Napoleon spoken his mind about the lives of men in the day of battle, he would have compared them to so much water spilled upon the ground. To win a victory, or subdue a province, it did not matter though he strewed the ground with corpses thick as autumn leaves, nor did it matter though in every village orphans and widows wailed the loss of fathers and husbands. What were the deaths of conscripted peasants when compared with the fame of the Emperor? As long as Austria was humbled, or Russia invaded, the imperial Corsican cared little though half the army had perished. It is not so with the King of kings; he spares the poor and needy, and saves the souls of the needy, and their blood shall be precious in his sight. Our glorious Leader never squanders the lives of his soldiers; he values the church militant beyond all price; and although he permits his saints to lay down their lives for his sake, yet not one life is spent in vain, or unnecessarily expended.
3. How different also is the Lord’s estimate from that of persecutors! They have hounded the saints to death, considering that they did God a service. They have thought no more of burning martyrs than destroying noxious insects, and massacres of believers have been to them as the killing of wild beasts. Did they not mint a medal to commemorate the massacre of the Huguenots in France? and did not the infallible Pope himself consider it to be a business for which to offer Te Deums to God? What if murder made the streets of Paris run with blood, the slaughtered ones were only Protestants, and the world thought itself well rid of them. Foxes and wolves, and Protestants were best exterminated. As for so called Anabaptists they were considered worse than vipers, and to crush them utterly was thought to be salutary Christian discipline. The enemies of the church of God have hunted the saints as if they were beasts of the chase. They have let loose the dogs of war upon them, and the hell hounds of the Inquisition, as if they were not fit to live. “Away with such a fellow from the earth” has been the general cry of persecutors against the men of whom the world was not worthy. But, their blood is precious in his sight. Though they have been cast to the beasts in the amphitheatre, or dragged to death by wild horses, or murdered in dungeons, or slaughtered among the snows of the Alps, or made to fatten Smithfield with their gore, their blood has been precious, and it still is in his sight, who will avenge his own elect when the day shall come for his patience to have had her perfect work, and for his justice to begin her dread assize.
4. The text, also, corrects another estimate, namely, our own. We love the people of God, they are exceedingly precious to us, and, therefore, we are too apt to look upon their deaths as a very grievous loss. We would never let them die at all if we could help it. If it were in our power to confer immortality upon our beloved Christian brothers and sisters, we would surely do it, and to their harm we should detain them here, in this wilderness, depriving them of a speedy entrance into their inheritance on the other side of the river. It would be cruel for them, but I fear we would often be guilty of it. We would hold them here a little longer, and a little longer yet, finding it hard to relinquish our grasp. The departures of the saints cause us many a pang. We fret, alas! also, we even repine and murmur. We consider that we are the poorer because of the eternal enriching of those beloved ones who have gone over to the majority, and entered into their rest. May it be known that while we are sorrowing Christ is rejoicing. His prayer is, “Father, I will that they also whom you have given to me be with me where I am,” and in the advent of everyone of his own people to the skies he sees an answer to that prayer, and is, therefore, glad. He sees in every perfected one another portion of the reward for the travail of his soul, and he is satisfied by it. We are grieving here, but he is rejoicing there. Dolorous are their deaths in our sight, but precious are deaths in his sight. We hang up the mournful escutcheon, (a) and sit down there to mourn our full, and yet, meanwhile, the bells of heaven are ringing for “the bridal feast above,” the streamers are floating joyously in every heavenly street, and the celestial world keeps holiday because another heir of heaven has entered upon his inheritance. May this correct our grief. Tears are permitted for us, but they must glisten in the light of faith and hope. Jesus wept, but Jesus never repined. We, too, may weep, but not as those who are without hope, nor yet as though forgetful that there is greater reason for joy than for sorrow in the departure of our brethren.
5. I. Coming now to the instructive text before us, we shall remark, in the first place, that THE STATEMENT MADE HERE IMPLIES A VIEW OF DEATH OF A PARTICULAR KIND. “Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his saints.”
6. Death in itself cannot be precious; it is terrible. It cannot be a precious thing for God to see the noblest works of his hand torn in pieces, his skilful embroidery in the human body torn, defiled, and given over to decay. Death in itself cannot be a theme for rejoicing with God. But death in the case of believers is another matter. To them, it is not death to die; it is a departure out of this world to the Father, a being undressed so that we may be dressed, a falling asleep, an entrance into the Kingdom. To the saint death is by no means such a thing as happens to the unregenerate.
And, observe where this change lies. It lies mainly in the fact that
death is no more the infliction of a penalty for sin upon the
believer. One great cardinal truth of the gospel is that the sins of
believers were laid upon Christ, and were punished upon Christ, and
that, consequently, no sin is imputed to the believer, neither can
any be penally visited upon him. His sin was punished in his
substitute. The righteous wrath of God has altogether ceased towards
those for whom Christ died. It could not be consistent with justice
that the death penalty should be executed upon Christ, and then
should be again visited upon those for whom Christ was a substitute.
Death, then, does not come to me as a believer because I deserve it
and must be punished by it: it comes to the ungodly like that, it is
upon them a proper visitation for their iniquities, the beginning of
an unending death, which shall be their perpetual portion. To the
saints the sting of death is gone, and the victory of the grave is
removed; it is no more a penalty but a privilege to die. What if I
say it is a covenant blessing: so Paul esteemed it, for when he said
“All things are yours, things present or things to come,” he added,
“or life, or death, all are yours; and you are Christ’s; and Christ
is God’s”: as if the believer’s death came to him among other good
and precious things by the way of his being Christ’s; and Christ’s
being God’s. To fall asleep in Jesus is a blessing of the covenant;
it is a grace to be asked for, “Lord, now let your servant depart in
peace according to your word.” I would not miss it; if I might make
my choice between living until Christ comes, in order to be changed
only, and not to die, or of actually sleeping in the dust, I would
prefer to die, for in this the believer who shall fall asleep will be
all the more closely conformed to Christ Jesus. He will have passed
into the sepulchre and slept in the tomb as his master did; he will
know, as Jesus knows, what death pangs mean, and what it is to gaze
upon the invisible, while the visible retreats into the distance.
Indeed, let us die. The Head has traversed the valley of shadow of
death, and let the members rejoice to follow.
As the Lord their Saviour rose,
So all his followers must.
And, therefore, just as the Lord the Saviour slept, so let us sleep. When we think of our Master in the tomb, our hearts say, “Let us go so that we may die with him.” We would not be separated from him in life or in death. We are so wedded to him that we say, “Where you go I will go, where you die I will die, and I would be buried with you, so that with you in the resurrection morning I may be partaker of the resurrection.” Death, then, is so far changed in its aspect with respect to the saints, that it is no longer a legal infliction, but it comes to us as a covenant blessing conforming us to Christ.
The statement of the text refutes the gloomy thought that death is a
ceasing to be. It is not the annihilation of a man, nor ought it ever
to be regarded as such. In all ages there has lingered upon mankind
the fear that to die may involve ceasing to be; and of all thoughts
this is one of the most gloomy. But, when God says that the death of
a believer is precious to him, it is clear that no tinge of
annihilation is in the idea, for where would be the preciousness of a
believer ceasing to exist? Oh, no, the thought is gone from us. We
know that to die is not to renounce existence; we understand that
death is only a passage into a higher and a nobler existence. The
soul emancipated from all sinfulness crosses the Jordan, and is
presented without fault before the throne of God. No purgatorial
fires are needed to cleanse her; the very same day she leaves the
body she is with Christ in paradise, because she is fit to be there.
The body in death, it is true, undergoes decay, but even for that
baser part of our manhood there is no destruction. Let us not malign
the grave, it is no more a prison, but an inn, a resting place upon
the road to resurrection. Just as Esther bathed herself in spices
that she might be fit for the embraces of the king, so the body is
purged from its corruption that it may rise immortal.
Corruption, earth, and worms
Shall but refine this flesh,
Till my triumphant spirit comes
To put it on afresh.
9. The body could not rise if it had not first died; it could not spring up like a fair flower unless it had first been sown. If a grain of wheat does not fall into the ground and die, how does it spring up again? but the body is sown in dishonour so that it may be raised in glory; it is sown in weakness so that it may be raised in power; it is laid in the grave as a natural body, so that it may arise from there a spiritual body by the infinite power of the Almighty, full of life, and glory, and majesty. Let this mortal body die, indeed, let it moulder into dust! What is more fitting than earth to earth, dust to dust, ashes to ashes. Let the gold go into the refining pot, it will lose nothing of its preciousness, it will only be delivered from its dross. Let the gem go to the lapidary’s house, for it shall glitter all the more brightly in the royal crown, in the day when the Lord shall make up his jewels.
10. Death, too, we may be sure from this statement cannot be any serious detriment to the believer after all; it cannot be any serious loss for a saint to die. Looking upon the poor corpse, it does seem to be a catastrophe for death to have passed his cold hand across the brow, but it is not so, for the very death is precious; therefore, it is no calamity. Death if rightly viewed is a blessing from the Lord’s hand. A child once found a bird’s nest in which were eggs, which he looked upon as a great treasure. He left them, and by and by, when a week or so had passed, went back again. He returned to his mother grieving: “Mother,” said the child, “I had some beautiful eggs in this nest, and now they are destroyed; nothing is left except a few pieces of broken shell. Pity me, mother, for my treasure is gone.” But the mother said, “Child, there is no destruction here; there were little birds inside those eggs, and they have flown away, and are now singing among the branches of the trees; the eggs are not wasted, child, but have served their purpose. It is far better as it is.” So, when we look at our departed ones, we are apt to say, “And is this all you have left for us? Ruthless spoiler, are these ashes all?” But, faith whispers “No, the shell is broken, but among the birds of paradise, singing amid unwithering bowers, you shall find the spirits of your beloved ones; their true manhood is not here, but has ascended to its Father, God.” It is not a loss to die, it is a gain, a lasting, a perpetual, an illimitable gain. The man is at one moment weak, and cannot lift a finger; in an instant he is clothed with power. Do you not call this a gain? That brow is aching; it shall wear a crown within the next few tickings of the clock. Is that not a gain? That hand is palsied; it shall at once wave the palm branch. Is that a loss? The man is sick beyond the physician’s power; but he shall be where the inhabitant is never sick. Is that a loss? When Baxter lay dying, and his friends came to see him, almost the last word he said was in answer to the question, “Dear Mr. Baxter, how are you?” “Almost well,” he said, and so it is. Death cures; it is the best medicine, for those who die are not only almost well, but healed for ever. You will see, then, that the statement of our text implies that the aspect of death is altogether altered from that appearance in which men commonly see it. Death to the saints is not a penalty, it is not destruction, it is not even a loss.
11. II. But now, secondly, I want your earnest attention for a further consideration of the text. THE STATEMENT MADE HERE IS OF A MOST UNLIMITED KIND.
12. “Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his saints.” It is a broad statement, wide and comprehensive, and I want you to observe that there is no limit here concerning whom. Provided that the dying one is a saint, his death is precious. He may be the greatest in the church, he may be the least: he may be the boldest confessor, he may be the most timid trembler; but if he is a saint, his death is precious in God’s sight. I can well conceive the truth of this in respect to martyrs; to see a man enduring torments, but refusing to deny his Lord; to see him offered life and wealth if he will recant, but to hear him say, “I cannot and I will not draw back by the help of God”: to notice every nerve throbbing with anguish, and every single member of his body torn with torment, and yet to see the man faithful to his God even to the end, — why, this is a spectacle which God himself might well consider precious. The church embalms the memories of her martyrs wherever they die — precious in God’s sight must their deaths be. The deaths too of those who work for Christ, until at last weary nature gives out, when body and brain are both exhausted, and the man can no longer continue in his beloved labour, but lays down his body and his charge together, never putting off harness until he puts off his flesh — I think the deaths of such men must be precious in God’s sight. But, not more so, notice that! not more so than the departure of the patient sufferer, scarcely able to say a word, solitary and unknown, only able to serve God by submissively enduring pains which make night weary and day intolerable. Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of the consumptive girl who gradually melts into heaven; the death of the pauper in the workhouse, without a friend, but uncomplainingly bearing God’s will, is as precious (not perhaps under some aspects), but as truly precious in the sight of the Lord as that of the most useful preacher of the word. Precious to Jehovah is the death of the least in the ranks, as the death of those who rush to the front and bear the brunt of the battle well. There are no distinctions in the text; if you are a saint no one may know you, you may be too poor and too illiterate to be of much account in the world, you may die and pass away, and no record may be among the sons of men, no stone set up over your lonely grave, but in every case precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his saints. There is no limit as to whom.
13. And, notice that there is no limit at all concerning when. It does not matter at what age the saint dies, his death is precious to God. Very delightful to those who observe them are the deathbed scenes of young children who have been converted to God at an early age. There is a particular charm about the pious prattler’s departing utterances. He can hardly pronounce his words correctly, but he seems illuminated from above, and to talk about Jesus and his angels, and the harps of gold, and the better land, as if he had been there. Some of you have had the privilege to carry in your bosoms some of those nurselings for the skies, unfledged angels sent here only for a little while, and then caught away to heaven, so that their mothers’ hearts might follow them, and their fathers’ aspirations might pursue them. I confess to a great liking for such books as “Janeway’s Token for Children,” where the deaths of many pious boys and girls are recorded with the holy sayings which they used. The Lord sets a high value on his little ones, and, therefore, frequently gathers them while they are like flowers in the bud. When these favoured children die, Jesus stands at their little beds, and, while he calls them away, he whispers, “Of such is the kingdom of heaven.”
14. Equally precious, however, are the deaths of those who depart in middle life. These we usually regret most of all, because of the terrible emptiness which they leave behind them. What, shall the hero fall when the battle needs him most? Shall the reaper be sent home and made to lay down his sickle just when the harvest is most abundant, and the day requires every worker? To us it seems strange, but to God it is precious. Oh, could we lift the veil, could we understand what we do not see now, we should perceive that it was better for the saints to die when they died, than it would have been for them to have lived longer lives. Although the widow mourns, and the orphans are left penniless, it was good that the father fell asleep. Though a loving church gathered around the hearse and mourned that their minister had been taken away in the fulness of his vigour, it was best that God should take him to himself. Let us be persuaded of this, that no believer dies a premature death. In every consistent Christian’s case that promise is true, “With long life also I will satisfy him, and show him my salvation”; for long life is not to be counted in years as men consider them. He lives longest who lives best. Many a man has crowded half a century into a single year. God gives his people life, not as the clock ticks, but as he helps them to serve him; and he can make them to live much in a short amount of time. There are no green figs gathered into God’s basket; the great Master of the vineyard picks the grapes when they are ripe and ready to be taken, and not before. Saintly deaths are precious in his sight.
15. And, dear brethren, if the Lord’s providence permits the saint to live to a good old age, then his death is precious too. The decease which has recently occurred among us (b) will remain in my memory as one of my choice treasures. I say only a little about it today, for on another Sunday morning I may be able to tell you about some of those choice things which our dear brother and venerated elder said which charmed and gladdened us all as we lingered around his bed. You knew him; you knew what a man he was in life; he was just such a man in death. But a day or so before he died, while he could scarcely draw his breath, he told me with a smile that it was the happiest day of his life. Just as he was always accustomed to rejoice in God while he was here among us, so he was kept in the same blessed spirit even to the end. “See,” he said, “what a blessed thing it is to be here.” “Here!” I said. “What, on a deathbed?” “Yes,” he said, “for I am Christ’s, and Christ is mine; I am in him, and he is in me; what more could I have? It is the happiest day of my life,” and again he smiled serenely. It was all joy with him, all bliss with him. Pain might rack him, or weakness might prostrate him, but his spirit always magnified the Lord, and rejoiced in God his Saviour. Yes, these ripe ones, like the fruits of autumn, fall willingly from off the tree of life when only a gentle breeze stirs the branches. The deaths of these are precious to God. There is no limitation concerning when.
16. And, again, there is no limitation concerning where. Precious shall their deaths be in his sight, no matter where they happen. Up in the lonely attic where there are none of the amenities of comfort, but all the signs of the deepest penury, up there where the dying working girl or the street sweeper dies — there is a sight most precious to God; or there, in the long corridor of the hospital, where many are too engrossed in their own griefs to be able to shed a tear of sympathy, there passes away a triumphant spirit, and precious is that death in God’s sight. Alone, utterly alone in the dead of night, surprised, unable to call in a helper, saintly life often has passed away; but in that form also precious is the death in God’s sight. Far away from home and kindred, wandering in the backwoods or on the prairie, the believer has died where there was none to call him brother; but it did not matter, his death was precious in the sight of the Lord. Or, a bullet has brought the missive from the throne which said, “Return and be with God,” and falling in the ditch to die among the wounded and the dead, with no onlooker except the silent stars and blushing moon, amidst the carnage the death of the believing soldier has been precious in the sight of Jehovah. Ah, and run over in the street, or crushed, and bruised, and mangled in the traffic accident, or stifled in the pit by the coal damp, or sinking amidst the gurgling waters of the ocean, or falling beneath the assassin’s knife, precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his saints. They are everywhere in the sight of God when they die, and he looks upon them with a smile, for their death is precious to his heart.
There is no limit concerning where, and, dear brethren, there is no
limit concerning how. “Precious in the sight of the Lord is the
death of his saints.” Their deaths may happen suddenly; they may be
alive, and active, and in a moment fall down dead, but their death is
precious. I could never understand that prayer which is put into the
Prayer Book, that God would deliver us from sudden death. Why, I
think, it is the most desirable death that a person could die, not to
know you die at all, to have no fears, no shiverings on the brink,
but to be busy in your Master’s service here, and suddenly to stand
in the white robe before his throne in heaven, shutting the eye to
the scenes below, and opening it to the scenes above. I know, if I
might ask such a favour, I would covet to die as a dear brother in
Christ died, who gave out this hymn from his pulpit: —
Father, I long, I faint to see
The place of thine abode
I’d leave thine earthly courts, and flee
Up to thy seat, my God.
Just as he finished that line in the pulpit he bowed his head, and his prayer was answered; he was immediately before the throne of God. Is there anything in that to pray against? It seems to us much to be desired; but at any rate, such a death as that is precious in God’s sight. But if we linger long, if the tabernacle is taken down piece by piece, and the curtains are slowly folded up, and the tent pins gently put away, precious in the sight of the Lord is such a death as that. Should we die by fierce disease, which shakes the strong man, or by gentle decline, which slowly saps and undermines, it does not matter. Should a sudden stroke take us, and men call it a judgment, it is no judgment for the believer, for from him all judgments are past, and the true light of love shines on him. No matter how, where, when and in what position he dies, “Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his saints.”
18. III. And now, thirdly, coming to the very soul and marrow of the text, we notice that THE STATEMENT OF THE TEXT MAY BE FULLY SUSTAINED AND ACCOUNTED FOR, “Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his saints,” is a most sober and truthful declaration.
19. First, because they were, and always will be, precious to God. His saints! Why, these are his elect; these are those upon whom his love was set before the mountains lifted their heads into the clouds; these are those whom he bought with precious blood, cheerfully laying down his life for their sakes; these are those whose names are borne on Jesus’ heart, and engraved upon the palms of his hands; these are his children; these are members of his body; these are his bride, his spouse; he is married to them: therefore, everything that concerns them must be precious. Do I not look with interest upon the history of my child? Do I not carefully observe everything that happens to my beloved spouse? Where there is love the little becomes great, and what would seem a matter of no concern in a stranger is gilded with great importance. The Lord loves his people so intensely that the very hairs of their heads are numbered: his angels bear them up in their hands lest they dash their foot against a stone, and because they are the precious sons of Zion, comparable to fine gold, therefore their deaths are precious to the Lord.
20. Precious are the deaths of God’s saints next, because precious graces are in death very frequently tested, and as frequently revealed and perfected. How could I know faith to be true faith if it would not stand a trial? The precious faith of God’s elect is proved to be such when it can bear the last ordeal of all; when the man can look grim death in the face, and yet not be staggered through unbelief, when he can gaze across the gulf, so often veiled in cloud, and yet not fear that he shall be able to leap over it, and land in the Saviour’s arms. Believe me, the faith which only plays with earthly joys, and cannot endure the common trials of life, will soon be dissipated by the solemn trial of death; but what a man can die with, that is faith indeed. Faith, moreover, brings with it, as its companions, an innumerable company of graces, among which are hope and love primarily. Blessed is the man who can hope in God when heart and flesh are failing him, and can love the Lord even though he strikes him with many pains, yes, even though he kills him. The death of the body is a crucible for our graces, and much that we thought to be true grace disappears in the furnace heat; but God considers the trial of our faith much more precious than that of gold, and therefore he considers deathbeds precious in his sight. Besides, how many graces are revealed in dying hours. I have known plants of God’s right hand planting that had always been in the shade before, and yet they have enjoyed sunlight at last; silent spirits that have laid their finger on their lips throughout their lives but have taken them down, and have declared their love for Jesus just when they were departing. Like the swan, of whom the fable has it, that it never sings until it is about to die, so many a child of God has begun to sing in his last hours; because he has finished with the glooms of earth, he begins to sing here his swansong, intending to sing on for ever and ever. You cannot tell what is in a man to the fulness of him until he is tried to the full, and therefore the last trial, inasmuch as it strips off earthborn imperfections and develops in us what is from God, and brings to the forefront the real and the true, and throws to the back the superficial and the pretentious, is precious in God’s sight.
21. “Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his saints,” for a third reason, because precious attributes are in dying moments gloriously illustrated. I refer now to the divine attributes. In life and in death we prove the attribute of God’s righteousness, we find that he does not lie but is faithful to his word. We learn the attribute of mercy, he is gentle and compassionate towards us in the time of our weakness. We prove the attribute of his immutability, we find him “the same yesterday, today, and for ever.” There is scarcely a single characteristic of the divine being which is not delightfully displayed to the child of God and onlookers when the saint is departing. And the same is true of the promises as well as the attributes. Precious promises are illustrated upon deathbeds. “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” Who would have known the meaning of that to the full, if he had not found that the Lord did not leave him when all else was gone? “When you pass through the river I will be with you.” Who could have known the depth of truth in that word, if saints did not pass through the last cold stream? “As your days so shall your strength be.” Who could have known to the full that word, if he had not seen the believer triumphant on his dying day? “Yes, though I pass through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff comfort me.” You may read commentaries about that psalm, but you will never value it so well as when you are in the valley yourself. My dear departed friend said to me, before I left on one of my last visits, “Read me a psalm, dear pastor,” and I said, “which one?” “There are many precious ones,” he said, “but as I get nearer to the time of my departure, I love the twenty-third best, let us have that again.” “Why,” I said, “you know that by heart.” “Yes,” he said, “it is in my heart too, it is most true and precious for me.” And is it not so? Yet you would not have seen the twenty-third Psalm to be a diamond of the purest water, if you had not beheld its value to saints in their departing moments.
22. “Precious,” again, “in the sight of the Lord is the death of his saints,” because the precious blood is glorified. It is memorable how saints turn to the cross when they die. Not very often do you hear them speak of Christ in his glory then, it is of Christ the sufferer, Christ the substitute of whom they then speak. And how they delight to roll under their tongue as a sweet morsel, such texts as that one, “The blood of Jesus Christ, his Son, cleanses us from all sin.” With what delight do they speak about having trusted in him years ago, and how gladly will they tell you that they have not been confounded. All their hope and all their confidence lie in the crucified one alone, and they are persuaded that he is able to keep what they have committed to him. It ought to be the object of our lives to magnify the blood of Jesus, and to speak well of it, and to recommend it to others. But oh, dear soul, if you have no faith in Christ’s blood, one argument that ought to convince you of the sin of unbelief above all others, is this, — that blood has afforded comfort when pains have been bitter, and consolation when death has been imminent, not in one case or a thousand, but in countless cases. Saints by myriads have died singing, for they have overcome the last enemy by the blood of the Lamb. Oh, you who were never washed in Jesus’ blood, I dread to think of your dying. What will you do without the Saviour? Oh, how will you pass the terrors of that tremendous hour, with no advocate on high pleading for you there, and no blood of Christ upon you pleading for you here. Oh, flee to that cross, rest in that cross, then you will live well and die well; but, without the blood, you shall live uneasily and die wretchedly. May God prevent it, for his name’s sake!
Again, the deaths of believers are precious to God, because
frequently precious utterances are spoken in the last moments. There
are little volumes extant of the deathbed sayings of saints, and if
ever I have mistaken the utterances of man for inspiration, it has
been when I have read some of these dying sayings. No one ever
mistook the brilliant utterances of Shakespeare, or the wise sayings
of Bacon, or the profound thoughts of Socrates, for
Scripture — everyone could see that they were earthy and of the earth;
but have you never caught yourself imagining that the saying of a
dying man must have been borrowed from the Scriptures, and if you
have searched for it you have not found it in Cruden’s Concordance,
nor have you discovered it anywhere in the sacred page; the voice has
been so close to inspiration, and so true, that if it had been
permitted, you would have written it in your Bibles, and made a new
chapter there. Oh, what brave things do they tell about the heavenly
world! What glorious speeches do they make! To some of them the veil
has been thrown back, and they have spoken of things not seen as yet.
They have almost declared things which it would not be lawful for men
to utter, and, therefore, their speech has been broken, and
mysterious, like dark sayings upon a harp. We could barely make out
all they said, but we gathered that they were overwhelmed with glory,
that they were confounded with unutterable bliss, that they had seen
and gladly would tell but must not, they had heard and gladly would
repeat but could not. “Did you not see the glory?” they have said,
and you have replied, “The sun shines upon you through that window”;
they have shaken their heads, for they have seen a brightness not
created by the sun. Then they have cried, “Do you not hear it?” and
we should have supposed that a sound in the street attracted them,
but all was the stillness of night; all was silent, except to their
ear, which was ravished with the music of harpists playing on their
harps. I shall never forget hearing a brother, with whom I had often
walked to preach the gospel, say, —
And when ye hear my eyestrings break,
How sweet my minutes roll;
A mortal paleness on my cheek,
But glory in my soul.
It must have been a grand thing to hear good Harrington Evans say to his deacons, “Tell my people, tell them I am accepted in the Beloved”; or, to hear John Rees say, “Christ in the glory of his person, Christ in the love of his heart, Christ in the power of his arm, this is the rock I stand on, and now let death strike.” Departing saints have uttered brave things and rare things, which have made us wish that we had been going away with them, so they have made us long to see what they have seen, and to sit down and feast at their banquet.
24. The last reason I shall give why the death of a saint is precious is this — because it is a precious sheep folded, a precious sheaf harvested, precious vessel which had been long at sea brought into harbour, a precious child who had been long at school to finish his training brought home to dwell in the Father’s house for ever. God the Father sees the fruit of his eternal love at last gathered in: Jesus sees the purchase of his passion at last secured: the Holy Spirit sees the object of his continual workmanship at last perfected: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit rejoice that now the blood bought ones are free from all inbred sin, and delivered from all temptation. The battle’s fought, the battle’s fought, and the victory is won for ever.
25. The commander’s eagle eye, as he surveys the plain, watches joyously the shock of battle as he sees that his victory is sure; but when at the last the fight culminates in one last assault, when the brave guards advance for the last attack, when the enemy gathers up all the shattered remnants of his strength to make a last defence, when the army marches with sure and steady tramp to the last onslaught, then the warrior’s heart feels a stern overflowing joy, and as his veterans sweep their foes before them like chaff before the winnower’s fan, and the adversaries melt away, even as the altar fat consumes away in smoke, I see the commander exulting with beaming eye, and hear him rejoicing in that last shock of battle, for in another moment there shall be the shout of victory, and the campaign shall be over, and the adversary shall be trampled for ever beneath his feet. King Jesus looks upon the death of his saints as the last struggle of their life conflict; and when that is over, it shall be said on earth, and sung in heaven, “Your warfare is accomplished, your sin is pardoned, you have received from the Lord’s hand double for all your sins.”
“Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his saints.” Sirs,
are you his saints? Preacher, you speak to others, have you been
sanctified to God? Answer this in the silence of your soul. Officers
of this church, are you saints or mere professors? Members of this
church, are you truly saints, or are you hypocrites? You who sit in
this congregation Sunday after Sunday, have you been washed in the
blood of Jesus? Are you made saints, or are you still in the gall of
bitterness and the bonds of iniquity? Casual visitors to this house
of prayer, I would press the same question on you, are you saints of
God? If not, earth and hell combined, though they are both full of
anguish, could not utter a shriek that should be shrill enough to
equal the unutterable woe of the death that shall surely come upon
you. Oh! before that death overtakes you, flee to Jesus. Trust him,
trust him now! Before this day’s sun goes down cast yourself at the
feet of the crucified Redeemer, and live! May the Lord grant it, for
his name’s sake. Amen.
[Portion of Scripture Read Before Sermon — Ps 116; Re 7:9-17]
(a) Escutcheon: The shield or shield-shaped surface on which a coat of arms is depicted. OED.
(b) Rev. W. Dransfield, a brother elder of the church at the Tabernacle, died February 15, full of years.