I've always had a bit of a hard time reading Spurgeon, but this sermon on Psalm 116:15 really hit home. Thanks, Charles!
Delivered on Lord's Day Morning, February 18th, 1872, by
C. H. SPURGEON,
At the Metropolitan Tabernacle, Newington
"Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his saints." -- Psalm 116:15.
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 to 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 suffer the wolf to devour it, but he who prizes it highly will put his own life in jeopardy to pluck the defenseless one from between the monster's jaws.
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 that which has ruled the minds of great warriors and mighty conquerors. Had Napoleon spoken forth his mind about the lives of men in the day of battle, he would have likened them to so much water spilt upon the ground. To win a victory, or subdue a province, it mattered not though he strewed the ground with corpses thick as autumn leaves, nor did it signify though in every village orphans and widows wailed the loss of sires and husbands. What were the deaths of conscript peasants when compared with the fame of the Emperor? So long as Austria was humbled, or Russia invaded, little cared the imperial Corsican though half the race had perished. Not thus is it with the King of kings; he spares the poor and needy, and saves the souls of the needy, and precious shall their blood be in his sight. Our glorious Leader never squanders the lives of his soldiers; he values the church militant beyond all price; and though he permits his saints to lay down their lives for his sake, yet is not one life spent in vain, or unnecessarily expended.
How different also is the Lord's estimate from that of persecutors! They have hounded the saints to death, considering that they did God service. They have thought no more of burning martyrs than destroying noxious insects, and massacres of believers have been to them as the slaying of wild beasts. Did they not strike a medal to celebrate 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 counted worse than vipers, and to crush them utterly was reckoned 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 upon them the dogs of war, 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, precious is their blood 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 amongst the snows of the Alps, or made to fatten Smithfield with their gore, precious has their blood been, and still is it 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.
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 brethren and sisters, we should surely do it, and to their injury we should detain them here, in this wilderness, depriving them of a speedy entrance into their inheritance on the other side the river. It would be cruel to them, but I fear we should often be guilty of it. We should 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 count 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. Be it known that while we are sorrowing Christ is rejoicing. His prayer is, "Father, I will that they also whom thou hast given me be with me where I am," and in the advent of every one of his own people to the skies he sees an answer to that prayer, and is, therefore, glad. He beholds in every perfected one another portion of the reward for the travail of his soul, and he is satisfied in it. We are grieving here, but he is rejoicing there. Dolorous are their deaths in our sight, but precious are their deaths in his sight. We hang up the mournful escutcheon, and sit us down 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 heritage. May this correct our grief. Tears are permitted to 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 cause for joy than for sorrow in the departure of our brethren.
I. Coming now to the instructive text before us, we shall remark, in the first place, that THE STATEMENT HERE MADE IMPLIES A VIEW OF DEATH OF A PECULIAR KIND. "Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his saints."
Death in itself cannot be precious; it is terrible. It cannot be a precious thing to God to see the noblest works of his hand torn in pieces, his skillful embroidery in the human body rent, 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 unto the Father, a being unclothed that we may be clothed upon, a falling asleep, an entrance into the Kingdom. To the saint death is by no means such a thing as happeneth unto the unregenerate.
And, observe wherein this change lies. It lies mainly in the fact that death is no more the indiction 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 so to the ungodly, it is upon them a fit 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 ye are Christ's; and Christ is God's:" as if the believer's death came to him amongst 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 lettest thou thy servant depart in peace according to thy word." I would not miss it; if I might make my choice between living till Christ comes, so as 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 the more closely conformed to Christ Jesus. He will have passed into the sepulcher 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. Nay, let us die. The Head has traversed the valley of death-shade, and let the members rejoice to follow.
"As the Lord their Savior rose,
So all his followers must."
And, therefore, as the Lord the Savior slept, so let us sleep. When we think of our Master in the tomb, our hearts say, "Let us go that we may die with him." We would not be divided from him in life or in death. We are so wedded to him that we say, "Where thou goest I will go, where thou diest I will die, and with thee would I be buried, that with thee in the resurrection morning I may be partaker of the resurrection." Death, then, is so far changed in its aspect as it respects 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 fingered 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 but a passage into a higher and a nobler existence. The soul emancipated from all sinfulness passes the Jordan, and is presented without fault before the throne of God. No purgatorial fires are needed to cleanse her; the self-same day she leaves the body she is with Christ in paradise, because fit to be there. The body in death, it is true, undergoes decay, but even for that meaner part of our manhood there is no destruction. Let us not malign the grave, it is no more a prison, but an inn, a halting place upon the road to resurrection. As Esther bathed herself in spices that she might be fit for the embraces of the king, so is the body 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."
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 fall not into the ground and die, how springeth it up again? but the body is sown in dishonor that it may be raised in glory; it is sown in weakness that it may be raised in power; it is laid in the grave as a natural body, that it may arise therefrom by the infinite power of the almighty a spiritual body, full of life, and glory, and majesty. Let this mortal body die, aye, let it moulder into dust! What more fit than earth to earth, dust to dust, ashes to ashes. Let the gold go into the fining pot, it will lose none of its preciousness, it will only be delivered from its dross. Let the gem go to the lapidary's house, for it shall glitter the more brightly in the royal crown, in the day when the Lord shall make up his jewels.