Php_1:21-24. To me to live is Christ, and to die is gain. But if I live in the flesh, this is the fruit of my labour: yet what I shall choose I wot not. For I am in a strait betwixt two, having a desire to depart, and. to be with Christ; which is far better: nevertheless to abide in the flesh is more needful for you.
THE way to ascertain the real excellence of religion, is to see what it can do for us in the hour of trial, when all other helps and comforts fail us. If it can support us then, and make us to triumph over all the feelings of nature, its power must be confessed to be exceeding great and highly beneficial. Now that it has that power, is evident from the example before us. St. Paul was in prison at Rome, confined there in order to be brought forth for execution, whenever Nero, the Roman emperor, should issue the command. Contentious teachers in the mean time were taking advantage of his confinement, to draw away disciples after them, and seeking thereby to add affliction to his bonds. And what effect had these upon him? As for his own sufferings, from whatever quarter they came, he was persuaded they would issue in his everlasting salvation; whilst the efforts of the teachers, notwithstanding the corruptness of their motives, would issue in the salvation of others: his mind therefore was kept in perfect peace, and he was equally willing either to live or die, assured that Christ would certainly be magnified in his body, whether by life or death. This blessed state of equanimity is admirably depicted in the words of our text. In order to take a fuller view of it, we shall point out,
The prospects of the Apostle—
These were truly blessed both in life and death:
[Two objects were near his heart; namely, to honour Christ, and to benefit the Church. “To him to live was Christ.” To exalt Christ, to make known his salvation, and to extend the boundaries of his kingdom, was his constant aim, his sole employment — — — To further the welfare of the Church also, by confirming the faith, and advancing the happiness, of the disciples, this was the office that had been delegated to him by God himself, and which he had now for many years endeavoured to execute to the utmost of his power.
He had already succeeded to an astonishing extent in promoting these objects; and he had no doubt but that, if his life were prolonged, they would continue to be advanced by means of his ministrations — — —]
In death —
[Having fled for refuge to the hope set before him, he was well assured that be was accepted in the Beloved. He had already for many years been with Christ by faith, walking as before him, depending upon him, holding sweet fellowship with him, and receiving continually out of his fulness: but he expected, immediately on his departure from this world, to be with him in a more intimate and immediate manner, beholding his glory, and enjoying the fullest possible communications of his love — — —
Not that these prospects were peculiar to him. The weakest Christian enjoys the same, only in an inferior degree: for every one who truly believes in Christ, will assuredly seek the advancement of his kingdom, and may firmly expect a participation of his glory.]
Though these prospects were so glorious, yet they created some embarrassment in his mind. He proceeds to mention,
The straits and difficulties to which they reduced him—
He speaks not indeed of any serious difficulties, but only of a dilemma to which he was reduced by the contrary desires within him [Note: We apprehend that the 22d verse should rather be translated thus: “But whether it be worth my while to live in the flesh, and what I shall choose, I know not.” This not only renders the verse intelligible, but the whole passage luminous. See Beza, in loc.]:
For his own sake he wished to die—
[“To die,” he says, “would be gain to him.” And a glorious gain indeed it must be to one so prepared for death as he! To get rid of sin, and sorrow, and temptation, and suffering, of every kind; to have all the faculties of his soul perfected, all its capacities enlarged, all its wishes accomplished; to behold all the glory of his God and Saviour; to join with all the hosts of heaven in songs of joy and triumph; and to enter upon a state of unalienable everlasting felicity; well might he say, “This is far better:” for even his exalted happiness whilst on earth, must fall infinitely short of such a state as that — — —
We wonder not therefore that he wished to exchange his present trials for that unutterable bliss — — —]
For the sake of others he wished to live—
[It certainly was very desirable, and, in some sense, “needful” for the Church, that his labours should still be continued to them. They still needed his instruction to guide them, and his influence to preserve them, in the light way. Doubtless God could have guided and preserved them, without the intervention of any human being: but He has ordained men to be the instructors of his Church, and has connected the prosperity of his people with the labours of their ministers: and therefore the Apostle’s labours were of infinite value to those who could enjoy them. This he felt: he had reason to think, that, if he were spared to come to them again, their faith would be strengthened, and their rejoicing in Christ Jesus would be more abundant “through him [Note: ver. 25, 26.
To translate this “for me,” lowers the sense exceedingly.].” Indeed the Church is a great hospital, in which experienced physicians regularly attend to the wants of the patients, and administer to them respectively from the inexhaustible storehouse of God’s word, whatever they judge most suited to their necessities — — —
From this consideration, he was as willing to live, as from other views he had been desirous to die: and he was for a while perplexed by the opposite attractions of the public benefit on the one hand, and his own personal advantage on the other.]
But benevolence soon triumphed, and formed,
The ultimate decision of his mind—
[Whether God made any revelation to him on the subject, or he inferred the purposes of God from the effects of divine grace operating on his soul, we know not: but he knew that he should abide and continue with the Church for some time longer; and he cordially acquiesced in this appointment. His mind was instantly assimilated to the mind and will of God: and he was willing to bear more, that he might do more; and to postpone his own enjoyment even of heaven itself, that he might bring others to enjoy it with him.
Blessed disposition of mind! how honourable to the Christian character! how worthy to be imitated by all who name the name of Christ! Yes; thus should we all “seek not our own things, but the things of Jesus Christ;” and “not our own wealth, but the wealth of others” — — —]
This subject furnishes abundant matter,
For painful reflection—
[How few are there, even of the people of God, who attain to this heavenly state of mind! As for the ignorant ungodly world, they are indeed often reduced to a strait, not knowing whether it is better to protract their miserable existence on earth, or to terminate it at once by some act of suicide. And if they choose life rather than death, it is not from love to God and to their fellow-creatures, but from the fear of that vengeance which awaits them on their departure hence. Ah! terrible dilemma! yet how common! The people of God, it is true, are, for the most part, far enough removed from this. What they may for a moment be brought to, under some extraordinary weight of trial and temptation, we presume not to say: for Job, that holy and perfect man, has sufficiently shewn us what is in the human heart. But peace and joy are the usual attendants on a state of acceptance with God: and it is the believer’s own fault, if he possess not such foretastes of heaven, as to make him long for death, as the door of entrance into perfect bliss. O my brethren, why is not this your state? Is it not owing to your retaining too much the love of this world in your hearts? Is it not owing to secret declensions from God, and to your not meditating sufficiently on the glories of heaven? Let me entreat you to gird up the loins of your mind, to take continual surveys of your future inheritance, and so to live in habitual fellowship with Christ, that death may be disarmed of its sting, and be numbered by you amongst your richest treasures [Note: 1Co_3:21-22.].]
For interesting inquiry—
[How are we to obtain that blessed state of mind? The answer is plain: Let it be “to us Christ to live;” and then it will assuredly be “gain to die:” and, however great our desire after that gain, we shall have a self-denying willingness to live, for the honour of Christ, and the benefit of his people. Let us then seek a due sense of our obligations to Christ, that we may be constrained to live entirely for him. Let our first inquiry in the morning be, What can I do for my Lord this day? And in the evening, Have I rendered to him this day according to the benefits I have received from him? By such exercises we shall get our hearts inflamed with holy zeal for his glory; and shall be made willing to forego even our own happiness in heaven for a season, that we may serve him the longer on earth, where alone we can render him any effectual service. We shall lay out ourselves to make Christ more known, and his people’s joy in him more abundant. In short, if we get the principles of the Apostle rooted in our minds, we shall exhibit a measure at least of his holy practice in our lives [Note: If this were a Funeral Sermon for any eminent minister or Christian, his example might here be modestly commended, and proposed for imitation.].]