What Saith the Scripture?
The Death of Saints Precious
by Charles Grandison Finney
President of Oberlin College
Oberlin Evangelist" Publication of Oberlin College
June 6, 1849
Public Domain Text
Reformatted by Katie Stewart
"Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of His saints."
The sentiment of the text is clearly expressed, leaving us in no doubt as to what
it is. God looks upon the death of His saints as an event of peculiar interest.
In discussing this subject I shall
I. State several reasons why the death of His saints is precious in His sight.
II. Show that the death of saints should be precious to us.
III. State some reasons why this is often not the case, and why we fail of viewing
this event as God does.
I. Several reasons why the death of His saints is precious in His sight.
- 1. God deems the death of His saints precious because their happiness is very
dear to Him. When they die, they enter at once into eternal rest. Death is to them
the gate way to perfect blessedness. Of course, He who deeply rejoices in their happiness
cannot fail to sympathize with them most intensely in this eventful period of their
existence. If God takes the interest in the welfare of His saints that parents do
in the welfare of their children, He cannot be otherwise than greatly interested
in their death.
- 2. God deems their death precious because He can now receive them home from all
their wanderings. Unless He had been at pains to subdue their temper and cleanse
them from all their sins, they could not bear to dwell with Him, and of course He
could not dwell with them. His labors therefore have been not only faithful and kind,
but wise and indispensable. And who needs be told that it has cost Him much painstaking,
and great watchfulness to prepare them so that He could receive them again to Himself?
How diligent and often how long-protracted is the process of discipline by which
He trains them to let loose their grasp on earthly and sensual, and selfish pleasures,
and set their hearts supremely on the living God! If an earthly parent had a prodigal
son, of wayward temper and estranged affections--one who should be in no condition
to return home and enjoy its society; but the father, aware of the case, should with
great care and pains and with much wisdom and love pursue a train of measures to
restore him to the spirit of a son, and should at length succeed; then would not
the day of his return home be one of special rejoicing? Ye who are parents can appreciate
this; and I therefore ask you if that day which should restore to your embrace such
a son--a son who had thus wandered, but had been also thus reclaimed, would not be
most precious in your eyes? O, that day would be long remembered in your house! Deeply
would its remembrance be enshrined in your hearts! Why should it not be at least
equally so with God when His children come home at last to Himself?
- 3. In a very important sense, when God receives His children home, He receives
the reward of all His labors in their behalf. We are apt to speak only of our reward,
when we allude to the joys of saints in heaven; why should we not also think and
speak of God's? Has not He deserved a reward for all His cares and sacrifices and
labors? And is it not fit that He should receive it? Is it not reasonable that He
should rejoice in His own reward, and furthermore, that we should also rejoice with
- 4. If the parent, in the case I just now supposed, should prepare his son to
return home by a wise and careful discipline, that son would naturally think much
of his return and of the reward it would secure to himself. But be assured, that
father and that mother would think of it not less than their son does. It is the
day of their reward, not less than of his. O, how a parent's great love would gush
forth! Hear him say--"Now I am rewarded--now I am more than repaid for all my
tears and all my toils!" O, this is a gratification, such as none but a parent
can appreciate. Those who love their children can understand this, and you need a
parent's love in order to understand it as it is. Parents regard their children as
a great treasure, and so does God regard His. He often calls them "His treasure,"
"His inheritance." In a thousand ways He shows how much He loves His children,
and how He rejoices over them with joy unspeakable, as if they were His greatest
treasure. We need not assume that His love of them is measured by their intrinsic
value; no, but rather by the depth of His own benevolent heart. He loves them the
more because they are fit subjects for His compassion, and because His great compassion
has been so drawn out in their behalf. Do not parents love most tenderly those poor
unfortunate children who have most strongly enlisted their compassion; nay, sometimes
those guilty children, who have most exercised their patience, wisdom and love in
reclaiming them to filial virtue? So God rejoices over His children, brought home
from all their wanderings, as one who rejoices over great spoil. Can we not appreciate
in some measure how great this joy must be? Is it not said that there is joy over
one reclaimed more than over the ninety and nine who went not astray?
- 5. God accounts their death precious, because He really enjoys their joy better
than they do themselves. We are wont to think only of the joy of the departed saint;
but suppose ye that God has no sympathy with such joy as theirs? When they come home,
and He sees how happy they are, does not He enjoy their happiness with most intense
satisfaction? You know how a parent in similar circumstances would weep for very
joy in sympathy with dearly loved children; how much more shall God rejoice in the
happiness of those whom He so greatly loves! And the holy angels too; did you never
conceive how they receive the glorified saint--with what intense and hearty welcome--with
what a gush of new and heavenly delight? Yea, all heaven is filled with new joy when
another glorified saint is added to their number. The glorified saints already there,
know how to sympathize most fully. We can in some measure conceive how unutterable
their emotions will be.
Let it now be considered that the infinite Father casts His eye over this whole
scene. With the most intense sympathy He looks down upon the joyous surprise of the
newly-arrived saint--upon the joyous sympathy of every holy angel, and upon the thrill
of rapturous welcome that vibrates through every glorified saint around the throne.
Is it strange then that the death of His saints is most precious in His eyes?
- 6. Again, their death must be precious to God because He has so long sympathized
with them in all their trials, pains, and sorrows. Whatever has touched them has
touched the apple of His eye. Hence, when He sees their trials come to a perpetual
end; that their last pang has ceased forever, their last sorrow died away to return
no more at all, think you not that this event is most precious in His eyes? He has
watched all their labors and sorrows with a parent's most tender interest; He has
seen them mourning, broken down with grief and penitence; agonizing in their warfare
against sin and temptation; when therefore, He shall see all these trials terminate,
to be renewed no more--their physical pains and trials cease--all their wants supplied
forever, and the state of want passed forever away; when He sees all this, think
you not that He rejoices in it with great joy? No doubt He does. There can scarcely
be a more erroneous view of God's character than that which denies to Him the attribute
of sympathy and joy in the happiness of His creatures.
- 7. God has the more joy in their death because He never takes them away from
earth without providing against the evil consequences which might otherwise result.
He always takes care that their death shall not on the whole be any loss, but rather
a gain to His church on earth. Hence His joy is not abated by any actual damage done
on the whole by their being taken out of the world.
- 8. God is greatly glorified in their death. Who could witness such a death as
that of our dear sister whose funeral we have this day attended, without giving glory
to God for His blessed gospel--glory to God for His abounding grace? And not this
case of death only; how many cases have we seen here in which the triumphs of grace
have been illustrious? Their exit from earth did not seem to be death; no, it was
rather the entrance of a freed, triumphant spirit into a glorious eternity! With
what a spirit of calm and fearless triumph they leaned upon the arm of a present
Jesus and passed away as in a cloud of glory from our sight! And do not such deaths
greatly glorify God?
- 9. The death of the righteous is also greatly useful to the living. Often it
is one of the most precious instrumentalities which God can employ. What does God
ever do which more deeply impresses survivors than this? Let it not then be thought
strange that God should deem such an event most precious.
II. The death of saints should be precious in our sights.
- 1. Because it is so in the sight of God. A daughter whose father was dying, said
to her mother--I opened my Bible to read, in my sorrow, and I fell upon this text--"Precious
in the sight of the Lord is the death of His saints." I then thought--surely
if my father's death is precious in God's sight, why should it not be in mine? Now
this was simple and truthful. Why not? Does not God take the right views of things?
Can we suppose that His views and feelings are not so correct as ours? Can we demand
that He should come over to our views and conform Himself to our notions, and not
we to His?
He deems the death of His saints precious; shall we deem it calamitous, grievous,
and evil? Why shall we not assume that God sees all events and this one of death
in particular, in a far more just light than we do, so that we ought to conform our
views to His, and not seem to insist that He ought to conform His to ours? Is not
His view more broad and deep and in every way more perfect than ours?
- 2. It is most obvious that we ought to sympathize with God, both in our opinions
and in our feelings. If He regards the death of the righteous as being precious because
it is joyous to them, glorious to Himself--because it places them beyond the reach
of care and trouble, it is plain that every one of these considerations ought to
have no less and no different influence on our minds.
- 3. Really the entrance of a soul into eternal glory is an event which ought to
be regarded as precious in our sight. Before my conversion, and indeed for some little
time afterwards, I had had no just conception of the right view to be taken of the
death of a saint. But in process of time I had opportunity to witness a most triumphant
death. Then I saw its nature and its bearings as I never had before. I could not
mourn. Nay, so far was I from mourning over such a death, that I literally held my
hands over my mouth to keep myself from shouting. The whole scene seemed to me like
celebrating the triumph of a soul ushered into the glorious presence of Jehovah,
and not like the gloom of bidding farewell to a friend bound to some unknown clime.
You may well suppose that my emotions rose almost beyond control. Many of you perhaps
know what it is to have your emotions rise and swell till they seem to be irrepressible.
Mine were so when I first came to realize what the death of the righteous really
is. Be assured, that death was "precious" to me. It seemed like a precious
feast to my soul. So much did I enjoy these views, that I said to my father--then
recently converted--"If you were to die today, it seems to me I could not mourn,
but should rather rejoice in view of the glory upon which your ransomed spirit would
III. Let us inquire, why it is that we sometimes do not consider the death
of saints as precious.
To prevent any misunderstanding, let me say here that in a certain sense it cannot
be regarded as unlawful to grieve over the loss of friends. Christ Himself wept over
the grave of Lazarus; surely we too may give scope to our natural sensibilities which
cannot but suffer when ties so dear are rent asunder. Christ knew that His disciples
would grieve at His death; hence He sought to comfort them; but even this comfort
did not assume that it was morally wrong for them to feel afflicted at parting with
such a friend. Christians learn by their experience that the outward man may be deeply
afflicted, while yet the inward man enjoys great consolation. The sensibilities bleed
under the wound; but yet the joy of the Lord is such a strength to the soul that
many of its tears are tears of submissive, trustful joy.
But let us now pass on to say,
- 1. That we often fail to regard the death of saints as precious, because of our
own selfishness. The selfishness of surviving friends is so great that they do not
look at the great glory and great gain of the departed saint. So much are they absorbed
in their own loss, that they seem incapable of looking away to the glory of that
dear child of God who has been permitted at last to go home. Of course this must
be a very short-sighted view of things. How can we justify it to our minds that we
should think only of our own interests, and not of the interests of our dear friends?
Why should not their happiness be as dear to us as our own?
- 2. Sometimes, through unbelief, we do not really appreciate the fact that our
deceased friends have gone to eternal glory. I mean that we do not take home this
fact to our hearts as a reality. We do not sincerely doubt it; we are ready to prove
it against any avowed skeptic; and yet how much we may need one to prove it to our
hearts! Nothing is more common than for the mind to hold opinions which yet have
not attained their due sway over the sensibilities and the heart. The evidence has
commanded the assent of the intelligence, but the mind has not so embraced it, so
incorporated it among acknowledged realities, and so learned to act upon it, that
it exerts its legitimate influence as truth upon our entire being.
In accordance with this peculiar attitude of mind, mourning friends often act
as if they did not believe what the Bible says of the blessedness and glory of the
saints in heaven. They may talk of what the Bible teaches on this subject; may theorize
upon it, but after all may fail to believe it so that it has the power of a reality
upon their hearts. In fact they do not trust their friends with God--do not give
their Savior credit for faithfulness in having carefully taken His own loved children
to His own bosom in the upper mansions.
- 3. There is often much unbelief as to its being the wisest and best thing possible
for our friends to be taken away just as they in fact are. This is one reason why
we do not esteem the death of saints precious. I know it is generally admitted that
God has done the best possible thing; but though they may admit this in theory, they
yet may not believe it in heart. It is no small matter in such cases to admit fully
and believe heartily that infinite love sought the very best result; that infinite
wisdom devised the best means to secure it; and that infinite power could not lack
the resources to do the best thing in the best way. To take hold of these truths
in their broad extent and precious application, soothes the turmoil of the afflicted
soul, and makes the death of a saint seem truly precious. But many fail of this because
they do not thoroughly confide in the wisdom and love of God.
- 4. Often there is much unbelief in regard to the provisions God has made to prevent
evil to the church by the death of His servants. We lose sight of the fact that God
has been careful to make provision, so that no harm shall accrue to His church. We
seem to suppose that the church depends for wise guardianship chiefly upon ourselves,
and hence we feel greatly distressed that God should remove important instrumentalities
for her prosperity. O, if we only saw that the all-wise God is Zion's best friend,
we might quell many of our sad disquietudes. Then no fear lest Zion should suffer,
need abate our joy in the precious death of the saints.
- 5. Sometimes our darkness of mind in regard to the reasons God may have for His
conduct, gives us trouble. We do not consider that we ought to have confidence in
God's wisdom and love, without seeing His reasons, and that our faith in Him ought
to take the place of perceived reasons. When our ignorance makes us tremble for the
ark of God, let our faith counteract our ignorance, and say continually--"Is
not my Father at the helm?" We ought to have sufficient confidence in God to
believe that He has not removed a saint from earth one day too soon--has not done
it without having made all needful provision to supply his place and press forward
the labors in which he was engaged.
- 6. We are often in an unrealizing state of mind in regard to the real happiness
of the saints in heaven. We may indeed know enough to constrain us to say--"All
is well; I could not wish it were otherwise; I can not have any misgivings in this
case about the wisdom or the love of God in this death." Yet we may be quite
unable to rise to enter into God's views and feelings, so as to feel it precious
to have His saints die. We are in a strait; we feel greatly perplexed and troubled;--I
can scarcely express it;--we are benumbed and confounded. It was so with me at the
death of my wife. Although I could say I would not have it otherwise, yet it was
some days before I could get over the numbness which the dreadful shock of her death
gave me. But ere long I came into a state in which I could rejoice in her blessedness.
Indeed I think I never had a more perfect sympathy with her in all my life than I
had then. It seemed to me that I could understand the state of mind of a saint gone
home to Jesus. I could see its elements; and could appreciate in some good measure
the amazing depth of their joys and of their peace.
When I stood by the sick-bed of this dear sister, now just gone from us, I remembered
how she had often said, "I grow stronger and stronger." And I also recollect
one occasion when she said in substance--"I can not conceive how I can think
of earthly scenes even when I have reached heaven, and not feel anxiety about them."
I told her, faith sufficed for all; she would trust God, and all would be peace.
Such a smile came over her countenance as bespoke the presence, already, of the peace
When I came to see her die, I could not but think of the blessed words of the text--"Precious
in the sight of the Lord is the death of His saints." There she lay, in her
last conflict with pain and the ills of mortality. God was just about to receive
her to Himself, and to wipe away all her tears forever. O how plain to me then that
the death of the saints is most precious!
- 7. Often we do not allow ourselves to sympathize with God, and enter fully into
His views and feelings. If we would only realize how God must regard such an event,
we could see why it should be precious in His sight, and consequently why it should
be so in ours.
- 8. Another reason is, we have loved our deceased friends for our own sake. I
think this is very often the case. For a few days after my wife died, my sorrows
seemed to increase upon me, until it seemed to me that I should go deranged. I had
no refuge, and could get no relief only in flying to God as my helper. He seemed
to say--Have you not loved your wife for your own sake, and with a selfish affection?
If you have loved her only for My sake, you will be willing to let her come and dwell
with Me. If you have loved her for the churches' sake, you have no occasion to mourn;
I will take care of the church; its interests shall not suffer by the death of your
This showed me my great folly and made me ashamed of my immoderate grief and my
selfish regard to my own comfort and happiness. I said to myself--Shall I be thinking
of my loss and not of her much greater gain? Besides, God has taken nothing from
me that was really mine. My wife was not mine; she belonged to God and not to me;
or if in a certain sense she belonged to me, yet she belonged in a far higher sense
to God, and shall I grieve because God has taken away what was so properly His own?
Can I mourn that she has gone to heaven?
But the loss experienced by the children: shall I not mourn for them? Yet what is
their loss compared with her gain? And will not God take care of the children? Does
not God care for these children more than I do? Yes, doubtless He does. These considerations
did me immense good.
- 9. We sometimes fail to see that the death of saints is precious, because we
are really unsubmissive. We do not bow to the will of God as revealed in His providences.
Often persons are found complaining of what God does in His providences. In such
a state of mind, no wonder persons do not see that the death of saints is precious.
Again, some have very low and imperfect views of what death is to a saint. They
reverse the Bible order of things. Whereas God says, the day of one's death is better
then the day of one's birth, they reverse it, and make the day of one's death almost
wholly grievous. They have very low conceptions of what heaven is, even though they
may really believe in theory what the Bible reveals on this subject.
Again, many are prone to conceive of their Christian friends as gone to the grave,
and scarcely think of them as being anywhere else save in the cold ground. Now so
long as we take this view of their case, it can not appear precious. An event which
should really commit our dear friends to the cold prison of a tomb, and to "corruption
and worms," can not be rationally regarded as joyous. But we ought to know better
than to think of them as laid in the ground. They are not in the grave, it is only
their wasted flesh, which they have done using--which is too poor to be used longer--that
is laid in the ground. Why should we mourn the burial of their wasted and worn-out
bodies? We might as well gather up their old clothes and bury them with many tears
and lamentations because we shall see them no more. No; our dear friends are not
in the grave. They have gone to be with Jesus; "absent from the body, but present
with the Lord." We are ourselves much more properly in the grave than they.
1. It is very useful for us to follow the departed saint to the world above. I am
sensible that I have greatly failed in this respect. Since my frequent loss of dear
friends has drawn me to think of this, it has been greatly blessed to me. Since I
came here to reside, you know I have buried my father, my mother, and a sister; a
little daughter; my son-in-law--and my dear wife. These repeated deaths have made
me familiar with the thoughts of heaven, and with all that appertains to death as
the passage thither. My experience has thoroughly taught me the value of such influences,
drawing the mind away from earth and constraining it to hold communion with the eternal
world. This deep communion with heaven and heavenly things disrobes death of all
terror, and makes it look in every aspect of it, glorious. It has been so in my own
case. During my sickness more than a year ago, when for some days I was brought to
look upon death as probably near at hand, I found that death in all its aspects was
not only not dreadful, but was even altogether desirable. If I thought of leaving
my friends, I knew God would take care of them. The pangs of dying were no longer
terrible. The thought of being dead was wholly pleasant. There was nothing to fear;
everything to desire. Not one aspect of death, or anything connected with it gave
me a single pang. How it will be with me when I shall come to die, I can not say;
but in that sickness, I was able to appreciate how it might seem to look right into
the scenes of dying and entering the eternal world. Then I could close my eyes and
seem to lose myself--fully aware that not improbably my next consciousness might
be in the eternal state.
2. It is very profitable for us to refuse to pity ourselves and dwell on our own
loss. From the time I have alluded to, when the Lord showed me how I ought to rejoice
in the perfect blessedness of my departed wife, I refused to pity myself. I said--"Let
me rather rejoice that God has saved one whom I so much loved, and has removed her
at once and forever away from all pain and sorrow." Shall I not rejoice that
she has gone and taken possession of heaven itself? Why not? Could I wish for her
greater blessedness than this?
3. If our faith in the gospel be consistent and intelligent, it will lead us to look
upon such events as this without murmuring, and without ever counting such events
as on the whole sad and painful. Yet let me say, this state of profoundest resignation
and this regarding the death of the saints as truly precious, is not inconsistent
with human tears and human sighs. Even in repentance there is joy. So when saints
die, though we mourn, yet in the depths of our souls we may have the joy of heaven.
We may sympathize strongly with our earthly relatives and friends, and yet have the
joy of heaven in our souls. Jesus Himself knew how to sympathize with afflicted,
bereaved friends, and we may well thank Him for giving us this precious fact on scripture
record, for our consolation down through all time. O how many hearts have been comforted
by the sweet record of those sympathizing tears at the grave of Lazarus! Our sympathies
may be far less deep and pure than His; yet it is good even for us to learn how to
sympathize with afflicted friends. I have found it to be so. Within a few years I
have lost friends in every form of relationship; parent, child, sister and wife;
and now I find it a luxury to mingle my tears with those who are in any similar affliction.
It seems to renew the bonds that bind us together as social beings, and to renew
them, moreover, under circumstances well-adapted to make them more tender and hallowed
than ever before.
Finally, if the death of saints is precious to God, let it be also to us. If God
is pleased and happy in this event, shall we not sympathize with Him? What better
thing could God have done for them than He has done? And now shall we not sympathize
with Him, and rejoice also with Him, and bless His name for His great mercies to
our friends? Surely not to do so is nearly equivalent to refusing to thank God for
heaven! Shall we be so ungrateful as to overlook the great gift of a blessed immortality?
Shall we act as if God ought to let us live here forever; or ought to keep our friends
here as long as we ourselves live; or ought to have provided some better mode of
transit from earth to heaven than death? Let us beware how we take exceptions, even
impliedly, to God's dealings!
of easily misunderstood terms as defined by Mr. Finney himself.
Compiled by Katie Stewart
- Complacency, or Esteem: "Complacency, as a state of will or heart,
is only benevolence modified by the consideration or relation of right character
in the object of it. God, prophets, apostles, martyrs, and saints, in all ages, are
as virtuous in their self-denying and untiring labours to save the wicked, as they
are in their complacent love to the saints." Systematic Theology (LECTURE
VII). Also, "approbation of the character of its object. Complacency is
due only to the good and holy." Lectures to Professing Christians (LECTURE
- Disinterested Benevolence: "By disinterested benevolence I do not
mean, that a person who is disinterested feels no interest in his object of pursuit,
but that he seeks the happiness of others for its own sake, and not for the sake
of its reaction on himself, in promoting his own happiness. He chooses to do good
because he rejoices in the happiness of others, and desires their happiness for its
own sake. God is purely and disinterestedly benevolent. He does not make His creatures
happy for the sake of thereby promoting His own happiness, but because He loves their
happiness and chooses it for its own sake. Not that He does not feel happy in promoting
the happiness of His creatures, but that He does not do it for the sake of His own
gratification." Lectures to Professing Christians (LECTURE I).
- Divine Sovereignty: "The sovereignty of God consists in the independence
of his will, in consulting his own intelligence and discretion, in the selection
of his end, and the means of accomplishing it. In other words, the sovereignty of
God is nothing else than infinite benevolence directed by infinite knowledge."
Systematic Theology (LECTURE LXXVI).
- Election: "That all of Adam's race, who are or ever will be saved,
were from eternity chosen by God to eternal salvation, through the sanctification
of their hearts by faith in Christ. In other words, they are chosen to salvation
by means of sanctification. Their salvation is the end- their sanctification is a
means. Both the end and the means are elected, appointed, chosen; the means as really
as the end, and for the sake of the end." Systematic Theology (LECTURE LXXIV).
- Entire Sanctification: "Sanctification may be entire in two senses:
(1.) In the sense of present, full obedience, or entire consecration to God; and,
(2.) In the sense of continued, abiding consecration or obedience to God. Entire
sanctification, when the terms are used in this sense, consists in being established,
confirmed, preserved, continued in a state of sanctification or of entire consecration
to God." Systematic Theology (LECTURE LVIII).
- Moral Agency: "Moral agency is universally a condition of moral obligation.
The attributes of moral agency are intellect, sensibility, and free will." Systematic
Theology (LECTURE III).
- Moral Depravity: "Moral depravity is the depravity of free-will,
not of the faculty itself, but of its free action. It consists in a violation of
moral law. Depravity of the will, as a faculty, is, or would be, physical, and not
moral depravity. It would be depravity of substance, and not of free, responsible
choice. Moral depravity is depravity of choice. It is a choice at variance with moral
law, moral right. It is synonymous with sin or sinfulness. It is moral depravity,
because it consists in a violation of moral law, and because it has moral character."
Systematic Theology (LECTURE XXXVIII).
- Human Reason: "the intuitive faculty or function of the intellect...
it is the faculty that intuits moral relations and affirms moral obligation to act
in conformity with perceived moral relations." Systematic Theology (LECTURE
- Retributive Justice: "Retributive justice consists in treating every
subject of government according to his character. It respects the intrinsic merit
or demerit of each individual, and deals with him accordingly." Systematic
Theology (LECTURE XXXIV).
- Total Depravity: "Moral depravity of the unregenerate is without
any mixture of moral goodness or virtue, that while they remain unregenerate, they
never in any instance, nor in any degree, exercise true love to God and to man."
Systematic Theology (LECTURE XXXVIII).
- Unbelief: "the soul's withholding confidence from truth and the God
of truth. The heart's rejection of evidence, and refusal to be influenced by it.
The will in the attitude of opposition to truth perceived, or evidence presented."
Systematic Theology (LECTURE LV).
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