Verse 15. Precious in the sight of the LORD is the death of his saints, and therefore he did not suffer the Psalmist to die, but delivered his soul from death. This seems to indicate that the song was meant to remind Jewish families of the mercies received by any one of the household, supposing him to have been sore sick and to have been restored to health, for the Lord values the lives of his saints, and often spares them where others perish. They shall not die prematurely; they shall be immortal till their work is done; and when their time shall come to die, then their deaths shall be precious. The Lord watches over their dying beds, smooths their pillows, sustains their hearts, and receives their souls. Those who are redeemed with precious blood are so dear to God that even their deaths are precious to him. The deathbeds of saints are very precious to the church, she often learns much from them; they are very precious to all believers, who delight to treasure up the last words of the departed; but they are most of all precious to the Lord Jehovah himself, who views the triumphant deaths of his gracious ones with sacred delight. If we have walked before him in the land of the living, we need not fear to die before him when the hour of our departure is at hand.
EXPLANATORY NOTES AND QUAINT SAYINGS
Verse 15. Precious in the sight of the LORD is the death of his saints. It is of value or importance in such respects as the following: --
- As it is the removal of another of the redeemed to glory -- the addition of one more to the happy hosts above;
- as it is a new triumph of the work of redemption, -- allowing the power and the value of that work;
- as it often furnishes a more direct proof of the reality of religion than any abstract argument could do. How much has the cause of religion been promoted by the patient deaths of Ignatius, Polycarp, and Latimer, and Ridley, and Huss, and Jerome of Prague, and the hosts of martyrs! What does not the world owe, and the cause of religion owe, to such scenes as occurred on the deathbeds of Baxter, and Thomas Scott, and Halyburton, and Payson! What an argument for the truth of religion, -- what an illustration of its sustaining power, -- what a source of comfort to those who are about to die, -- to reflect that religion does not leave the believer when he most needs its support and consolation; that it can sustain us in the severest trial of our condition here; that it can illuminate what seems to us of all places most dark, cheerless, dismal, repulsive -- "the valley of the shadow of death." Albert Barnes.
Verse 15. Precious in the sight of the LORD is the death of his saints. The death of the saints is precious in the Lord's sight. First, because he "seeth not as man seeth." He judgeth not according to the appearance; he sees all things as they really are, not partially: he traces the duration of his people, not upon the map of time, but upon the infinite scale of eternity; he weighs their happiness, not in the little balance of earthly enjoyment, but in the even and equipoised balance of the sanctuary. In the next place, I think the death of the saints is precious in the Lord's sight, because they are taken from the evil to come; they are delivered from the burden of the flesh; ransomed by the blood of the Redeemer, they are his purchased possession, and now he receives them to himself. Sin and sorrow for ever cease; there is no more death, the death of Christ is their redemption; by death he overcame him that had the power of death; therefore, they in him are enabled to say, "O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory?" Again, the death of the saints is precious in the Lord's sight, for in it he often sees the very finest evidences of the work of his own Spirit upon the soul; he sees faith in opposition to sense, leaning upon the promises of God. Reposing upon him who is mighty to save, he sees hope even against hope, anchoring the soul secure and steadfast on him who is passed within the veil; he sees patience acquiescing in a Father's will -- humility bending beneath his sovereign hand -- love issuing from a grateful heart. Again, the death of the saints is precious in the Lord's sight, as it draws out the tenderness of surviving Christian friends, and is abundant in the thanksgivings of many an anxious heart; it elicits the sympathies of Christian charity, and realises that communion of saints, of which the Apostle speaks, when he says, "if one member suffer, all the members suffer with it; if one rejoice they all joy."... The death of saints is precious, because the sympathy of prayer is poured forth from many a kindly Christian heart... Nor is this all -- the death of saints is precious, for that is their day of seeing Jesus face to face. Patrick Pounden's Sermon in "The Irish Pulpit," 1831.
Verse 15. Precious. Their death is precious (jakar); the word of the text is, in pretio fuit, magni estimatum est. See how the word is translated in other texts.
- Honourable, Isaiah 43:4 (jakarta); "thou was precious in my sight, thou hast been honourable."
Put all these expressions together, and then we have the strength of David's word, "The death of the saints is precious"; that is,
- much set by;
- splendid and glorious in the sight of the Lord. Samuel Totshell, in "The House of Mourning," 1660.
Verse 15. Precious. It is proper to advert, in the first place, to the apparent primary import of the phrase, namely, Almighty God watches over, and sets a high value upon the holy and useful lives of his people, and will not lightly allow these lives to be abbreviated or destroyed. In the second place, the words lead us to advert to the control which he exercises over the circumstances of their death. These are under his special arrangement. They are too important in his estimation to be left to accident. In fact, chance has no existence. In the intervention of second causes, he takes care always to overrule and control them for good. Let the weakest believer among you be quite sure, be "confident of this very thing," that he will never suffer your great enemy to take advantage of anything in the manner of your death, to do you spiritual harm. No, on the contrary, he takes all its circumstances under his immediate and especial disposal. This sentiment will admit, perhaps, of a third illustration; when the saints are dying, the Lord looks upon them, and is merciful unto them. Who can say how often he answers prayer, even in the cases of dying believers? Never does he fail to support, even where he does not see good to spare. By the whispers of his love, by the witness of his Spirit, by the assurance of his presence, by the preparatory revelation of heavenly glory, he strengthens his afflicted ones, he makes all their bed in their sickness. Ah! and when, perhaps, they scarcely possess a bed to languish upon, when poverty or other calamitous circumstances leave them, in the sorrow of sickness, no place of repose but the bare ground for their restless bodies, and his bosom for their spirits, do they ever find God fail them? No; many a holy man has slept the sleep of death with the missionary Martyr, in a strange and inhospitable land, or with the missionary Smith, upon the floor of a dungeon, and yet
"Jesus has made their dying bed
As soft as downy pillows are."
When no other eye saw, when no other heart felt, for these two never to be forgotten martyrs, murdered men of God, and apostles of Jesus, then were they precious in God's sight, and he was present with them. And so it is with all his saints, who are faithful unto death. Fourthly, we are warranted by the text and the tenor of Scripture, in affirming that the Lord attaches great importance to the deathbed itself. This is in his estimate -- whatever it may be in ours -- too precious, too important, to be overlooked; and hence it is often with emphasis, though always with a practical bearing, recorded in Scripture. It is possible, certainly, to make too much of it, by substituting, as a criterion of character, that which may be professed under the excitement of dying sufferings, for the testimony of a uniform, conspicuous career of holy living. But it is equally indefensible, and even ungrateful to God, to make too little of it, to make too little account of a good end, when connected with a good beginning and with a patient continuance in well doing.
"The chamber where the good man meets his fate
Is privileged beyond the common walk of virtuous life."
Its transactions are sometimes as fraught with permanent utility as with present good. The close of a Christian's career on earth, his defiance, in the strength of his Saviour, of his direst enemy, the good confession which he acknowledges when he is enabled to witness before those around his dying bed, all these are precious and important in the sight of the Lord, and ought to be so in our view, and redound, not only to his own advantage, but to the benefit of survivors, "to the praise of the glory of his grace." W. M. Bunting, in a Sermon at the City Road Chapel, 1836.
Verse 15. Why need they beforehand be afraid of death, who have the Lord to take such care about it as he doth? We may safely, without presuming, we ought securely without wavering, to rest upon this, that our blood being precious in God's eyes, either it shall not be split, or it is seasonable, and shall be profitable to us to have it split. On this ground "the righteous are bold as a lion," Proverbs 28:1 . "Neither do they fear what man can do unto them." Hebrews 13:6 . Martyrs were, without question, well instructed herein, and much supported hereby. When fear of death hindereth from any duty, or draweth to any evil, then call to mind this saying, "Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his favourites." For who would not valiantly, without fainting, take such a death as is precious in God's sight? William Gouge.
Verse 15. His saints imports appropriation. Elsewhere Jehovah asserts, "All souls are mine." But he has an especial property in -- and therefore claim upon -- all saints. It is he that made them such. Separate from God there could be no sanctity. And as his right, his original right, in all men, is connected with the facts of their having been created and endowed by his hand, and thence subjected to his moral government, so, and much more, do all holy beings, all holy men, who owe to his grace their very existence as such, who must cease to be saints, if they could cease to be his saints, whom he has created anew in Christ Jesus by the communication of his own love, his own purity, his own nature, whom he continually upholds in this exalted state, so, and much more, do such persons belong to God. They are "his saints," through him and in him, saints of his making, and modelling, and establishing, and therefore his exclusively. Let this reference to the mighty working of God by his Spirit in you, your connection, your spiritual connection, with him, and your experience of his saving power, -- let this reference convert the mystery into the mercy of sanctification in your hearts.
"His saints" denotes, in the second place, devotedness. They are saints not only through him, but to him; holy unto the Lord, sanctified or set apart to his service, self surrendered to the adorable Redeemer.
"His saints" may import resemblance -- close resemblance. Such characters are emphatically God like, holy and pure; children of their Father which is in heaven; certifying to all around their filial relationship to him, by their manifest participation of his nature, by their reflection of his image and likeness.
"His saints" suggests associations of endearment, of complacency. "The Lord taketh pleasure in them that fear him, in all them that hope in his mercy"; "a people near unto him"; "the Lord's portion is his people"; and "Happy is that people that is in such a case, yea, happy is that people whose God is the Lord." Condensed from a Scranton by W. M. Bunting, 1836.
Verse 15. Saints. The persons among whom implicitly he reckons himself, styled saints, are in the original set out by a word (~ydymx) that imports an especial respect of God towards them. The root whence that word issueth signifieth mercy (dmx consecravit, benefecit). Whereupon the Hebrews have given such a name to a stork, which kind among fowls is the most merciful; and that not only the old to their young ones, as most are, but also the young ones to the old, which they use to feed and carry when through age they are not able to help themselves.
This title is attributed to men in a double respect;
- Passively, in regard of God's mind and affection to them;
- Actively, in regard of their mind and affection to others. God's merciful kindness is great towards them; and their mercy and kindness are great towards their brethren. They are, therefore, by a kind of excellency and property styled "men of mercy." Isaiah 57:1 . In regard of this double acceptation of the word, some translate it, "merciful, tender, or courteous," Psalms 18:25 . Others with a paraphrase with many words, because they have not one fit word to express the full sense, thus, "Those whom God followeth with bounty, or to whom God extendeth his bounty." This latter I take to be the most proper to this place; for the word being passively taken for such as are made partakers of God's kindness, it sheweth the reason of that high account wherein God hath them, even his own grace and favour. We have a word in English that in this passive signification fitly answereth the Hebrew, which is this, favourite. William Gouge.
Verse 15. Death now, as he hath done also to mine, has paid full many a visit to your house; and in very deed, he has made fell havoc among our comforts. We shall yet be avenged on this enemy -- this King of Terrors. I cannot help at times clenching my fist in his face, and roaring out in my agony and anguish, "Thou shalt be swallowed up in victory!" There is even, too, in the meantime, this consolation; "O Death, where is thy sting?" "Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death for his saints," in the first place; in the second place, and resting on the propitiatory death, "Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his saints." The Holy Ghost, Psalms 116:15 , states the first; our translators, honest men, have very fairly and truly inferred the second. We are obliged to them. The death of your lovely child, loveliest in the beauties of holiness, with all that was most afflictive and full of sore trial in it, is nevertheless, among the things in your little family, which are right precious in the sight of the Lord; and this in it, is that which pleases you most; precious, because of the infinite, the abiding, and the unchanging worth of the death of God's own holy child Jesus. The calm so wonderful, the consolation so felt, yea, the joy in tribulation so great, have set before your eves a new testimony, heart touching indeed, that, after eighteen hundred years have passed, "the death of his saints" is still precious as ever in the sight of the Lord. Take your book of life, sprinkled with the blood of the covenant, and in your family record, put the death of Rosanna down among the precious things in your sight also -- I should rather have said likewise.
Present my kindest regards to Miss S -- Tell her to wipe that tear away -- Rosanna needs it not. I hope they are all well at L--, and that your young men take the way of the Lord in good part. My dear Brother, "Go thy way, thy child liveth," is still as fresh as ever it was, from the lips of Him that liveth for ever and ever, and rings with a loftier and sweeter sound, even than when it was first heard in the ears and heart of the parent who had brought and laid his sick and dying at the feet of Him who hath the keys of hell and of death. John Jameson, in "Letters; True Fame," etc., 1838.
HINTS FOR PASTORS AND LAYPERSONS
- The declaration. Not the death of the wicked, nor even the death of the righteous is in itself precious; but,
- Because their persons are precious to him.
- Because their experience in death is precious to him.
- Because of their conformity in death to their Covenant Head; and
- Because it puts an end to their sorrows, and translates them to their rest.
- Its manifestation.
- In preserving them from death.
- In supporting them in death.
- In giving them victory over death.
- In glorifying them after death.
Verse 15. See Spurgeon's Sermons "Precious Deaths," No. 1036.