Good reason is here given to good people,
I. Why they should not be afraid of death. There is no cause for that fear if they have such a comfortable prospect as David here has of a happy state on the other side death, Ps. 49:15. He had shown (Ps. 49:14) how miserable the dead are that die in their sins, where he shows how blessed the dead are that die in the Lord. The distinction of men’s outward condition, how great a difference soever it makes in life, makes none at death; rich and poor meet in the grave. But the distinction of men’s spiritual state, though, in this life, it makes a small difference, where all things come alike to all, yet, at and after death, it makes a very great one. Now he is comforted, and thou art tormented. The righteous has hope in his death, so has David here hope in God concerning his soul. Note, The believing hopes of the soul’s redemption from the grave, and reception to glory, are the great support and joy of the children of God in a dying hour. They hope,
I. That God will redeem their souls from the power of the grave, which includes, (1.) The preserving of the soul from going to the grave with the body. The grave has a power over the body, by virtue of the sentence (Gen. 3:19), and it is cruel enough in executing that powe 2a0b r (Song 8:6); but is has no such power over the soul. It has power to silence, and imprison, and consume the body; but the soul then moves, and acts, and converses, more freely than ever (Rev. 6:9, 10); it is immaterial and immortal. When death breaks the dark lantern, yet it does not extinguish the candle that was pent up in it. (2.) The reuniting of the soul and body at the resurrection. The soul is often put for the life; that indeed falls under the power of the grave for a time, but is hall, at length, be redeemed from it, when mortality shall be swallowed up of life. The God of life, that was its Creator at first, can and will be its Redeemer at last. (3.) The salvation of the soul from eternal ruin: “God shall redeem my soul from the sheol of hell (Ps. 49:15), the wrath to come, that pit of destruction into which the wicked shall be cast,” Ps. 49:14. It is a great comfort to dying saints that they shall not be hurt of the second death (Rev. 2:11), and therefore the first death has no sting and the grave no victory.
2. That he will receive them to himself. He redeems their souls, that he may receive them. Ps. 31:5; Into thy hands I commit my spirit, for thou has redeemed it. He will receive them into his favour, will admit them into his kingdom, into the mansions that he prepared for them (John 14:2, 3), those everlasting habitations, Luke 16:9.
II. Why they should not be afraid of the prosperity and power of wicked people in this world, which, as it is their pride and joy, has often been the envy, and grief, and terror of the righteous, which yet, all things considered, there is no reason for.
1. He supposes the temptation very strong to envy the prosperity of sinners, and to be afraid that they will carry all before them with a high hand, that with their wealth and interest they will run down religion and religious people, and that they will be found the truly happy people; for he supposes, (1.) That they are made rich, and so are enabled to give law to all about them and have every thing at command. Pecuniae obediunt omnes et omnia—Every person and every thing obey the commanding influence of money. (2.) That the glory of their house, from very small beginnings, is increased greatly, which naturally makes men haughty, insolent, and imperious, Ps. 49:16. Thus they seem to be the favourites of heaven, and therefore formidable. (3.) That they are very easy and secure in themselves and in their own minds (Ps. 49:18): In his life-time he blessed his soul; that is, he thought himself a very happy man, such a one as he would be, and a very good man, such a one as he should be, because he prospered in the world. He blessed his soul, as that rich fool who said to his soul, “Soul, take thy ease, and be not disturbed either with cares and fears about the world or with the rebukes and admonitions of conscience. All is well, and will be well for ever.” Note, [1.] It is of great consequence to consider what that is in which we bless our souls, upon the score of which we think well of ourselves. Believers bless themselves in the God of truth (Isa. 65:16) and think themselves happy if he be theirs; carnal people bless themselves in the wealth of the world, and think themselves happy if they have abundance of that. [2.] There are many whose precious souls lie under God’s curse, and yet they do themselves bless them; they applaud that in themselves which God condemns, and speak peace to themselves when God denounces war against them. Yet this is not all. (4.) They are in good reputation among their neighbours: “Men will praise thee, and cry thee up, as having done well for thyself in raising such an estate and family.” This is the sentiment of all the children of this world, that those do best for themselves that do most for their bodies, by heaping up riches, though, at the same time, nothing is done for the soul, nothing for eternity; and accordingly they bless the covetous, whom the Lord abhors, Ps. 10:3. If men were to be our judges, it were our wisdom thus to recommend ourselves to their good opinion: but what will it avail us to be approved of men if God condemn us? Dr. Hammond understands this of the good man here spoken to, for it is the second person, not of the wicked man spoken of: “He, in his life-time, blessed his soul, but thou shalt be praised for doing well unto thyself. The worldling magnified himself; but thou that dost not, like him, speak well of thyself, but do well for thyself, in securing thy eternal welfare, thou shalt be praised, if not of men, yet of God, which will be thy everlasting honour.”
2. He suggests that which is sufficient to take off the strength of the temptation, by directing us to look forward to the end of prosperous sinners (Ps. 73:17): “Think what they will be in the other world, and you will see no cause to envy them what they are and have in this world.”
(1.) In the other world they will be never the better for all the wealth and prosperity they are now so fond of. It is a miserable portion, which will not last so long as they must (Ps. 49:17): When he dies it is taken for granted that he goes into another world himself, but he shall carry nothing away with him of all that which he has been so long heaping up. The greatest and wealthiest cannot therefore be the happiest, because they are never the better for their living in this world; as they came naked into it, they shall go naked out of it. But those have something to show in the other world for their living in this world who can say, through grace, that though they came corrupt, and sinful, and spiritually naked, into it, they go renewed, and sanctified, and well clothed with the righteousness of Christ, out of it. Those that are rich in the graces and comforts of the Spirit have something which, when they die, they shall carry away with them, something which death cannot strip them of, nay, which death will be the improvement of; but, as for worldly possessions, as we brought nothing into the world (what we have we had from others), so it is certain that we shall carry nothing out, but leave it to others, 1 Tim. 6:7. They shall descend, but their glory, that which they called and counted their glory, and gloried in, shall not descend after them to lessen the disgrace of death and the grave, to bring them off in the judgment, or abate the torments of hell. Grace is glory that will ascend with us, but no earthly glory will descend after us.
(2.) In the other world they will be infinitely the worse for all their abuses of the wealth and prosperity they enjoyed in this world (Ps. 49:19): The soul shall go to the generation of his fathers, his worldly wicked fathers, whose sayings he approved and whose steps he trod in, his fathers who would not hearken to the word of God, Zech. 1:4. He shall go to be there where they are that shall never see light, shall never have the least glimpse of comfort and joy, being condemned to utter darkness. Be not afraid then of the pomp and power of wicked people; for the end of the man that is in honour, if he be not wise and good, will be miserable; if he understand not, he is to be pitied rather than envied. A fool, a wicked man, in honour, is really as despicable an animal as any under the sun; he is like the beasts that perish (Ps. 49:20); nay, it is better to be a beast than to be a man that makes himself like a beast. Men in honour that understand, that know and do their duty and make conscience of it, are as gods, and children of the Most High. But men in honour that understand not, that are proud, and sensual, and oppressive, are as beasts, and they shall perish, like the beasts, ingloriously as to this world, though not, like the beasts, indemnified as to another world. Let prosperous sinners therefore be afraid for themselves, but let not even suffering saints be afraid of them.