James Nisbet Commentary - Philippians 1:23 - 1:23

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James Nisbet Commentary - Philippians 1:23 - 1:23

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‘For I am in a strait betwixt two, having a desire to depart, and to be with Christ; which is far hetter.’


What a new view of Death, the King of terrors—that death which we are told held mankind in bondage through fear—does Christianity bring to bear upon this our last trial! It is not regarded by the Apostle with fear, it is not regarded simply as a release, it is not regarded as something to be submitted to as the inevitable; but he sees death is the gate of life and his soul is kindled within him.

I. What does Christianity tell us with regard to the dead?

(a) That the soul lives after death. That the life of the soul is not, as some have thought, in abeyance until the trump that awakes the dead shall call the body from the tomb. The soul continues alive. ‘To-day shalt thou be with me in Paradise.’

(b) Not only does the soul recover the momentary shock of death, but the soul is not asleep. Sometimes, from the metaphor of sleep, taken from the body, the sleep of the body, it has been urged that the soul could sleep. Why, the very life of the soul is feeling and consciousness. On the contrary, the corruptible body presses down the soul, and so, when the corruptible body is removed, then all the different faculties of the soul are accentuated and heightened, and exercised with new and marvellous power. Such was the state that St. Paul wanted to enter into, but for what? One desire, concentrated and unique, what was it? ‘To depart, and to be with Christ.’ In the midst of his conflicts and ministerial duties, he thinks of that blessed joy which would be his when death released him and his soul was with Christ.

II. What then may be gathered of the state of the blessed dead?

(a) That they are blessed, that they are in Paradise, those who have died in Christ. ‘Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord, yea, saith the Spirit, they rest from their labours and their works do follow them.’ They are blessed because they know they are secure in the arms of God; and they rest from their labours, from all the pain and toil of life, from all that belongs to the corruptible body, from all the trials of the world around; but above all from temptation and the possibility of falling into sin.

(b) But they are imperfect. We are not told of death as the end of the work of God in the New Testament. ‘He who hath begun the good work will perfect it unto the day of Christ.’ There is still the going on, in the intermediate state, of the perfecting of the spirit. They are not complete, for they are without the body, only the soul, a part of the being. They are not complete, their works follow them, their works are not complete.

(c) And yet, however imperfect they may be, they are with the Lord. We walk by faith and they by sight.

III. What then are the practical thoughts for us as we think of the blessed dead in Paradise?

(a) To remember them for our own sakes. The thought of the dead, the thought of the intermediate state, the thought of disembodied spirits of our dear relations and friends, in that inner world has a spiritualising effect upon us—that we may be raised above the world and above material things.

(b) And then for their benefit; they are not beyond our reach. The Church triumphant, and the Church expectant, and the Church militant are not three distinct entities, they are three parts of one whole, they are three parts of one individual, they are parts of the mystical body of Christ, and so there is an intercommunion, an inter-action, a fellowship between the living and the dead.

Ven. Chancellor Hutchings.



The Apostle is asking here which is most worth while for him, to live or to die. Often has that question presented itself to us, and perhaps we, like the Apostle, have answered that ‘we are in a strait.’ But I fear we may have used the words in a sense far different from St. Paul’s. Life and death look to us like two evils of which we know not which is the less.

I. To the Apostle they look like two immense blessings, of which he knows not which is the better. Personally, he prefers death, in order to be with Christ. As regards the Church and the world, he prefers life, in order to serve Jesus Christ, to extend His kingdom, and to win souls for Him. What an admirable view of life and of death!—admirable, because it is all governed, all sanctified, by love, and is akin to the Lord Jesus Christ’s own view of life and death. Let us set ourselves to enter into this feeling. Life is good; death is good.

II. Death is good, because it releases us from the miseries of this life, but above all because, even were life full for us of all the joys which earth can give, death bids us enter into a joy and a glory of which we can form no idea. We are then to consider death as a thing desirable in itself. Let us not shun what serves to remind us of it. Let all the illnesses, all the sudden deaths, all that passes round us, remind us that for each one of us death may come at any moment.

III. But then life also is good, because in life we can serve, glorify, imitate Jesus Christ. Life is not worth the trouble of living for any other object. All the strength we possess, all the breath, the life, the faculties, all is to be consecrated, devoted, sanctified, crucified, for the service of our Lord Jesus Christ. Let us love life, let us feel the value of life—but to fill it with Jesus Christ. In order to such a state of feeling, the Holy Spirit alone can transform us into new men.


‘If ever a man enjoyed life, with a vigorous and conscious joy, it was Simeon of Cambridge. And till the age of exactly seventy-seven he was permitted to live with a powerful life indeed; a life full of affections, interests, enterprises, achievements, and all full of Christ. Yet in that energetic and intensely human soul “the desire was to depart and to be with Christ.” It was no dreamy reverie; it was supernatural. It stimulated him to unwearied work; but it was breathed into him from eternity. “I cannot but run with all my might,” he wrote in the midst of his youthful old age, “for I am close to the goal.” ’