It is strange to think of death as something precious. Death is our enemy, the wages of sin, the harbinger of sorrow (1 Corinthians 15:26, Romans 6:23, Psalms 166:3). Yet, the Psalmist tells us that the death of a Christian is a precious matter to the Lord. What strength this must give every child of God as they anticipate their own death and what comfort to those who lose a loved one in the Lord. Precious in the sight of the LORD is the death of his saints (Psalm 116:15).
Spurgeon points out that Jehovah himself, views the triumphant deaths of his people with sacred delight. ‘They shall not die prematurely’, he says, ‘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.’
And John Gill comments, ‘Saints are precious to him, living and dying; there is something in their death, or that attends it, that is delightful to him, and of high esteem with him; as when they are in the full exercise of grace at such a season; when they die in faith, and have hope in their death; and their love is drawn out unto him, and they long to be with him: besides, they die in the Lord, and sleep in Jesus, in union with him; with whom he is well pleased, and all in him; and they die unto him, according to his will, and are resigned unto it; and so glorify him in death, as well as in life. It is the time of their ingathering to him; at death he comes into his garden, and gathers his flowers, and smells a sweet savour in them; their very dust is precious to him, which he takes care of and raises up at the last day.’
The Testimony of Saints
William Rushton in his little book Particular Redemption considers the believer’s end and “precious death”. He writes, ‘in what manner soever the minds of the saints are exercised at last, whether they are sorrowful or whether they rejoice, they are made to bear witness more or less to the truth [of God’s free and sovereign grace in Christ]. Herein consists no small part of the preciousness of their death. For herein is God glorified, and his word magnified, when the gospel appears all-sufficient to support the soul in life and in death.
He continues, ‘we have many witnesses, who testify, with one accord, that the sovereign mercy of Israel’s Triune God, displayed in eternal election, special redemption, and spiritual revelation, was their support in life, and their only consolation in death. It would be easy to enlarge the catalogue with a cloud of witnesses; but the time would fail to tell of Owen, of Gill, of Brine, of Hervey, of Romaine, of Hawker, and of a thousand others, who lived and died in the faith of these truths. The Lord himself had instructed them with a strong hand; he had shown them the infinite evil of sin, and humbled them with such views of their real character, as condemned sinners, that they were convinced that nothing short of a finished and absolute salvation would meet their wretched case.
They therefore preached the gospel fixed and free,
Not ‘yea and nay’, – it may or may not be;
Such gospel God had taught them to detest,
And in the certain gospel gave them rest.
The Passing of Mr Macgowan
Rushton provides his readers with an example of this preciousness of a saint’s death from the closing witness of Mr John Macgowan.
Mr John Macgowan, known to the world as the author of ‘Dialogues of Devils,’ and other ingenious works, was a Baptist minister, and pastor of the church meeting in Devonshire-square, London. In the early part of his life he was in connexion with the Wesleyan Methodists, but after his mind was enlightened to see the glory of sovereign grace, he zealously and publicly preached all those important truths which the Particular Baptists at that time steadily maintained.
To Mr Reynolds, a sound minister, who succeeded Mr Brine, we are indebted for the account of the dying testimony of Mr Macgowan. “I frequently visited him”, says Mr Reynolds, “in his last sickness, when he took occasion, as opportunity offered, of opening to me his whole heart.
At one time he was in great darkness of soul, and lamented exceedingly the withdrawings of the presence of God. Two things, he said, had deeply exercised his thoughts. The one was, how those heavy and complicated afflictions which God had seen fit to lay upon him could work so as to promote his real good. And the other was, that God, his best friend, should keep at a distance from his soul, when he knew how much his mind was distressed for the light of his countenance. ‘O!’ said he, turning to me, and speaking with great earnestness, ‘My soul longeth and panteth for God, for the living God; his love visits would cheer my soul, and make this heavy affliction sit light upon me. The wonted presence of Jesus, my Redeemer, I cannot do without. I trust he will return to me soon, yea I know he will in his own time; for he knows how much I need the influence of his grace!’ In this conversation he often mentioned the depravity of his nature, and what a burden he found it. ‘My heart,’ said he, ‘is more and more vile. Every day I have such humiliating views of heart corruption as weighs me down. I wonder whether any of the Lord’s people see things in the same light as I do.’ And then turning to me, he said, ‘And do you find it so, my brother?’ On my answering him in the affirmative, he replied, ‘I am glad of that.’
The next time, which was the last of my conversing with him, I found him in a sweet and heavenly frame; his countenance indicated the serenity of his mind. On my entering the room he exclaimed, ‘O my dear brother, how rejoiced am I to see you! sit down, and hear of the loving kindness of my God. You see me as ill as I can be whilst in this world, and as well as I can be whilst in the body. Methinks I have as much of heaven as I can hold.’ Then tears of joy, like a river, flowed from his eyes; and his inward pleasurable frame interrupted his speech for a time. He broke silence with saying, ‘The work will soon be over: but death to me has nothing terrific in it. I have not an anxious thought. The will of God and my will are one. ’Tis all right, yet mysterious. You cannot conceive the pleasure I feel in this reflection, viz. that I have not shunned to declare (according to the best of my light and ability) the whole counsel of God. I can die on the doctrines I have preached. They are true; I find them so. Go on to preach the gospel of Christ, and mind not what the world may say of you.’
All the while I sat silent; and rising up to take my leave, fearing he would spend his strength too much, he immediately took me by the hand, and weeping over each other, we wished mutual blessings. On parting, he said ‘My dear brother, farewell; I shall see you no more.’
Thus I left my much esteemed friend and brother; and the next news I heard of him was, that on Saturday evening his immortal spirit left the body, to go to the world of light and bliss, and keep an eternal sabbath with God, angels, and saints.
Mr Macgowan departed this life, November 25, 1780, in the 55th year of his age.
Peter Meney is the Pastor of New Focus Church Online and the Editor of "New Focus Magazine" and publisher of sovereign grace material under the Go Publications imprint. The purpose and aim of the magazine and books is to spread as widely as possible the gospel of Jesus Christ and the message of free, sovereign grace found in the Holy Bible, the Word of God.