The Death of the Righteous!
William Nicholson, 1862
"Let me die the death of the righteous, and let my last end be like his!" Numbers 23:10
These words were uttered by Balaam, who was hired by the King of Moab to curse the children of Israel; but this God prevented.
The death of a righteous person is a spectacle truly sublime, when he is blessed with the calm exercise of his reasoning powers, and strong faith in Christ. Then he appears elevated above the world and all terrestrial objects — assimilated to the purity and grandeur of God, and detached from mortality. Amid physical pain, he catches a glimpse of Heaven, and begins to breathe its spirit. It is true that nature clings to friends and relatives, but the approaching splendors of Paradise — check his tears, and cause him to long for death. Hence the wish of such men as Balaam. "Let me die the death of the righteous, and let my last end be like his!"
I. The Death of the Righteous.
1. It is a death preceded by righteousness of heart and life. All are unrighteous by nature, Romans 3:10, etc. But all who believe in Christ, are renewed in the spirit of their minds — -justified and made righteous by faith in the Redeemer. This righteousness, or holiness, is visible in the life and conduct.
2. The righteous must die, as well as the wicked. There have been only two exceptions to death, Enoch and Elijah. But the most pre-eminent piety cannot repulse death. Besides to the Christian, death is the road, the portal, to endless bliss!
3. The death of the righteous is a happy death. Their death is not only more desirable than the death of others — but even more desirable than life itself, for in that sense Balaam's wish may be taken. "Not only when I do die, let me die the death of the righteous, etc., but I could even now be willing to die on condition that I might die the death of the righteous, and reach my end this moment, provided it might be like his!"
They are happy in death,
(1.) Because they are righteous. The death of any other character, would be an object of misery. The righteous die having their sins pardoned — free from condemnation — having the witness of the Spirit. They die in the love of God — in the faith of Christ — in union with the Church — in the service of God — in peace with all mankind.
(2.) It is attended by the presence and consolations of God. "Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me." Psalm 23:4. The Spirit then applies the promises, and they irradiate the mind.
(3.) It is a death attended by the ministration of angels. Thus they attended even the beggar Lazarus. Hebrews 1:14.
(4.) It is a precious death. "Precious in the sight of the Lord, is the death of his saints." Psalm 116:15. Their death glorifies him. It shows the power of his grace.
(5.) It is often attended with brilliant hope. "The righteous has hope in his death." It is crowned with complete triumph. "Thanks unto God who has given us the victory."
II. The Death of the Righteous is Highly Desirable.It is an object of desire both to the righteous and the wicked.
1. On account of its blessedness, as just stated. Compare such a death with the death of . . .
2. On account of the consequences of death.
To the righteous, the consequences are sublime, happy, and eternal.
To them, death is . . .
a release from all sin,
a release from all afflictions,
a release from bodily pain,
a release from conflict with spiritual foes!
Death is gain, a great and inconceivable gain — the gain of eternal bliss, enjoyment, pleasure, and honor!
Such will be the consequences of the death of the righteous, or "last end."
Balaam believed in the soul's immortality; it was anciently known and believed. For how could the death of the righteous be more desirable than the death of the wicked, on any other account than as it involved their happiness in another world, since in the manner and circumstances of dying we see all things come alike to all.
To the wicked, death is only the beginning of sorrows. Sometimes great mental anguish — dreadful forbodings. Death takes them from their good things here — to evil things yonder.
3. The wicked frequently desire such a death. When afflicted, near death, when conscience tells them they are unprepared — when they tremble at future wrath — when they witness dying scenes. Their consciences give a verdict in favor of Christianity. "Let me die the death of the righteous, and let my last end be like his!"
III. The Folly and Danger of Wishing to Die the Death of the Righteous, Without Adopting the Means to Accomplish It.
1. It is inconsistent. We do not act so in worldly matters.
2. It will avail nothing. Balaam's opinion of religion was better than his resolution. There are many who desire to die the death of the righteous — but do not strive to live the life of the righteous.
Gladly would they have their end like his — but not his way.
They would be saints in Heaven — but not saints on earth.
"This is the desire of the slothful which kills him, because his hands refuse to labor."
It is only a wish, not a prayer to God — a vain wish, being only a wish for the end, without any care for the means.
3. It is cruel — soul-murder — eternally ruinous. It will aggravate condemnation. "Don't you know that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God?"
1. Ample means are provided by the Gospel to prepare us for the death of the righteous.
2. Do not merely wish, but pray to God for his Spirit and grace, that you may die the death of the righteous.
3. What will be the character of my death?
What will be my end?
Full of hope and triumph — or clouded with woe?
Sinner, you will soon come to your last end. There will soon be an end to your earthly pleasures, vain hopes, etc. etc.