No Pangs in Their Death
Francis Bourdillon, 1864
"Truly God is good to Israel — even to such as are of a clean heart. But as for me, my feet were almost gone — my steps had well near slipped! For I was envious at the foolish, when I saw the prosperity of the wicked. For there are no pangs in their death — but their strength is firm. They are not in trouble as other men; neither are they plagued like other men. Therefore pride compasses them about as a chain — and violence covers them as a garment."
There are many lessons to be learned from this psalm, and several even from these few verses of it — but I wish now to draw attention to one point only, the easy death of the ungodly.
"For there are no pangs in their death — but their strength is firm." The Psalmist says this of the wicked. But he does not mean that it is so with all the wicked. Only he had observed it to be so with some — and his mind had been perplexed by it.
"There are no pangs in their death." They die easily — without pain of body, or distress of mind. "Their strength is firm." They have enjoyed good health — and even to the last, their strength is beyond their years. So they have lived, and so they die.
The Psalmist had known such cases, and most of us must have known such too.
Yet these are wicked people — he calls them so — wicked and foolish. Not loving or serving God; not seeking His mercy in earnest even in death. They are careless and ungodly people. Can such die in peace? We know that many such enjoy health and prosperity through life — but can they die without fear?
Yes. It is so sometimes. It was so in the Psalmist's time, and it is so still. "There are no pangs in their death." There is no distress of mind, and no violent bodily struggle — they pass away quietly.
What does this arise from? Remember, it is the wicked and foolish who are spoken of. Not from a sense of pardon — for they have never sought pardon in earnest. Not from a desire "to depart and to be with Christ" — for they would gladly stay here on earth if they could. Not from the peace of God, not from a good hope through grace, not from faith in the Lord Jesus, not from the witness of the Spirit. Alas! Faith and grace and hope and the peace of God and the work of the Spirit — they have never experienced them.
How is it, then, that they are so calm? How can they face death as they do? Why are they not afraid?
Because they have no sense of guilt, no knowledge of themselves as sinners, and no view of God as just and holy! Their heart is hardened — and their conscience is asleep. A person asleep may be close to the greatest danger, and yet not fear. And they are asleep — spiritually asleep. They are on the brink of eternity — and yet asleep! They are just about to meet God — and yet sleeping still! They are unpardoned — and yet slumbering in imagined safety!
Is this a happy and secure state? Ah, no! They are undone forever — if they are not aroused from their spiritual stupor.
What can arouse them? Nothing but the Word and Spirit of God. His Word is living and powerful. It tells of sin and judgment — and of Heaven and Hell. It shows man what he really is — truly guilty in the sight of God. It strips off all vain excuses, and makes known the simple truth. The Holy Spirit works mightily in the heart . . .
applying the Word,
touching the conscience,
awaking new thoughts,
convincing of sin,
leading to Christ.
It is eternal damnation to remain unconcerned, impenitent, unbelieving. That peace, is not the peace of God — but a false peace. That calmness, is the calmness of spiritual death. The only hope is to arise and call upon God. There is yet time. While there is life, there is hope. True, it is awful danger to put off the great work to a dying hour. Yet even in a dying hour the door of mercy is not shut. Still God is ready to forgive. Still the blood of Jesus can cleanse. Still salvation may be found in Him. "Awake, you who sleep, and arise from the dead, and Christ shall give you light."