27But God had mercy on him. He had expressed the severity of the disease — that Epaphroditus had been sick, so that life was despaired of, in order that the goodness of God might shine forth more clearly in his restored health. It is, however, surprising that he should ascribe it to the mercy of God that Epaphroditus had had his period of life prolonged, while he had previously declared that he desired death in preference to life. (Phi_1:23.) And what were better for us than that we should remove hence to the kingdom of God, delivered from the many miseries of this world, and more especially, rescued from that bondage of sin in which he elsewhere exclaims that he is wretched, (Rom_7:24,) to attain the full enjoyment of that liberty of the Spirit, by which we become connected with the Son of God? (155) It were tedious to enumerate all the things which tend to make death better than life to believers, and more to be desired. Where, then, is there any token of the mercy of God, when it does nothing but lengthen out our miseries? I answer, that all these things do not prevent this life from being, nevertheless, considered in itself, an excellent gift of God. More especially those who live to Christ are happily exercised here in hope of heavenly glory; and accordingly, as we have had occasion to see a little ago, life is gain to them. (156) Besides, there is another thing, too, that is to be considered — that it is no small honor that is conferred upon us, when God glorifies himself in us; for it becomes us to look not so much to life itself, as to the end for which we live.
But on me also, lest I should have sorrow. Paul acknowledges that the death of Epaphroditus would have been bitterly painful to him, and he recognises it as an instance of God’ sparing mercy toward himself, that he had been restored to health. He does not, therefore, make it his boast that he has the apathy (
ἀπάθειαν) of the Stoics, as if he were a man of iron, and exempt from human affections. (157) “ then!” some one will say, “ is that unconquerable magnanimity?— is that indefatigable perseverance?” I answer, that Christian patience differs widely from philosophical obstinacy, and still more from the stubborn and fierce sterness of the Stoics. For what excellence were there in patiently enduring the cross, if there were in it no feeling of pain and bitterness? But when the consolation of God overcomes that feeling, so that we do not resist, but, on the contrary, give our back to the endurance of the rod, (Isa_50:5,) we in that case present to God a sacrifice of obedience that is acceptable to him. Thus Paul acknowledges that he felt some uneasiness and pain from his bonds, but that he nevertheless cheerfully endured these same bonds for the sake of Christ. (158) He acknowledges that he would have felt the death of Epaphroditus an event hard to be endured, but he would at length have brought his temper of mind into accordance with the will of God, although all reluctance was not yet fully removed; for we give proof of our obedience, only when we bridle our depraved affections, and do not give way to the infirmity of the flesh. (159)
Two things, therefore, are to be observed: in the first place, that the dispositions which God originally implanted in our nature are not evil in themselves, because they do not arise from the fault of corrupt nature, but come forth from God as their Author; of this nature is the grief that is felt on occasion of the death of friends: in the second place, that Paul had many other reasons for regret in connection with the death of Epaphroditus, and that these were not merely excusable, but altogether necessary. This, in the first place, is invariable in the case of all believers, that, on occasion of the death of any one, they are reminded of the anger of God against sin; but Paul was the more affected with the loss sustained by the Church, which he saw would be deprived of a singularly good pastor at a time when the good were so few in number. Those who would have dispositions of this kind altogether subdued and eradicated, do not picture to themselves merely men of flint, but men that are fierce and savage. In the depravity of our nature, however, everything in us is so perverted, that in whatever direction our minds are bent, they always go beyond bounds. Hence it is that there is nothing that is so pure or right in itself, as not to bring with it some contagion. Nay more, Paul, as being a man, would, I do not deny, have experienced in his grief something of human error, (160) for he was subject to infirmity, and required to be tried with temptations, in order that he might have occasion of victory by striving and resisting.
(155) “Par laquelle nous soyons parfaitement conioints auec le Fils de Dieu;” — “ which we are perfectly united with the Son of God.”
(156) Calvin seems to refer here to what he had said when commenting on Phi_1:21. — Ed.
(157) Calvin, in the French version, makes reference to what he has said on the subject in the Institutes. See Institutes, vol. 2, p. 281. — Ed.
(158) “Pour l’ de Christ;” — “ love to Christ.”
(159) “Ne nous laissons point vaincre par l’ de nostre chair;” — “ not allow ourselves to be overcome by the infirmity of our flesh.”
(160) “Mesme ie ne nie pas que sainct Paul (comme il estoit homme) ne se trouué surprins de quelque exces vicieux en sa douleur;” — “ more, I do not deny that St. Paul (inasmuch as he was a man) might find himself overtaken with some faulty excess in his grief.”