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" For I am in a strait betwixt two, having a desire to depart, and to he with Christ, which is for better : nevertheless to abide in the flesh is more needful for you."— Phil. i. 23, 24. I. The two desires. 11. A Christian bahxnced evenly between them. III. Practical lessons. I. The two desires are, 1. To depart and to be with Christ ; and, 2. To abide in the flesh. 1. To depart and to be with Christ. This desire is composed of two parts, — a vestibule, somewhat dark and forbidding, through which the pilgrim must pass ; and a temple, unspeakably glorious, to which it leads the pilgrim, as his eternal home. (1.) The exodus from this life by dissolution of the body — " to depart." (2.) Christ's presence the immediate portion of his people, when their life on earth is done — " to be with Christ." (1.) The exodus. The word which in our Bible is translated " depart," means strictly to take to pieces. The living man is contemplated as a complex machine, and it is intimated that at death its joints are loosed, and the whole is broken up into its constituent elements. This life
WILLING TO WAIT, BUT READY TO GO. 213 in the body is like a watch. By food, and drink, and air, it is wound up daily, and so kept going. At last the machinery, by gradual wear and tear, or by some sudden accident, is brought to a stand. Then it is taken down — taken to pieces — in order that it may be purified and perfected, and set agoing again, not to measure then the changing seasons of time, but to move on, without w^aste or weariness, in a limitless eternity. More immediately, the dissolution or untying probably refers to the separation of soul and body. The band that knit them together is broken at death. The soul escapes, and the bod}^, meantime, returns to dust. In this view the works of the watch never stand still. When life from God was first breathed into that immortal being, it was wound up, once for all, to go for ever. At the shock of death it is severed from its case of flesh. Outer casement, and figured dial, and pointed hands, all remain with us, and all stand still. But these never were the moving springs. These were shells to protect the tender from injury where the road was rough, and indices to make the movements palpable to bodily sense ; but the vitsl motion of the departed spirit continues uninterrupted, unimpeded, in a region where no violence is di'eaded, and no sign to the senses is required. You may observe, both in the Scriptures, and in the actual history of Christians now, that lively faith is inventive and skilful, in turning the flank of the last enemy, and avoiding the terrors that frown from his front. They do not allow their view to terminate in the dark grave. They must look, they must move towards the grave ; but
214 WILLING TO WAIT, BUT READY TO GO. they look, at the same time, beyond it. They contrive
so to lean on the resurrection, as to take away the terror of death. They are ingenious in discovering softer names for that which is so harsh in nature. For them its character has been changed, and why should they not apply to it a new designation? When Jews or Gentiles in those early days were converted to Christ, they received new names to indicate and commemorate their conversion. Paul became the Christian name of Saul the persecutor. It was meet that when the waster of the Church became the gentle nurse who cherished her, the name which was so deeply dyed in blood should be allowed to drop, and another adopted w^hich would be fragrant with associations of faith, and love, and holiness. So when death, king of terrors to the guilty, becomes stingless and harmless to the forgiven, he gets from them a new name corresponding to his new nature. Death has several Christian names. Sometimes it is called Sleep, sometimes Departure ; sometimes the untying of the knot, that the immortal spirit may go free. The appellations are various, but they all indicate that, from the standingplace of them that are "in Christ Jesus," advancing death seems more a friend than a foe. (2.) The company to which that exodus directly leads, — " to be with Christ." It is obvious, and needs no proof, that Paul counted on immediate entrance at the untying of the knot into the joy of the Lord. He knew of no middle state of detention and purgation, either for himself or for disciples who might not be so ripe at the moment of their fall. Whatever and wherever the place
WILLING TO WAIT, BUT EEADY TO GO. 215 of Scaved spirits may be while their bodies lie in the dust, one thing is certain, Christ is there. " The love of the Spirit " has made that one point plain, and Christians need not care for more. Mark here how well suited these promises are to our capacity and our need. Of the
three points regarding the condition of separate spirits, on which information might be thought possible or desirable, Where, What, and with Whom, the Scriptures deal only with the last. It is well. Information given to us about the locality in space where departed spirits dwell, or the kind of habitation provided for them there, might be in itself true ; but it would obviously be useless to us, because we lack the faculties and the experience necessary to understand it. Witness the inconsistent, childish, and grotesque legends of Mohammedans and Hindoos regarding the position of their paradise, and the material riclies which it contains. In vivid contrast with those vain and vile deceptions, the Bible makes no attempt to fix the spot or describe the appearance of the saints' inheritance. One thing only it tells Christians about the state in which the spirits of the just shall dwell, — they shall be with Christ there. '' Then were the disciples glad when they saw the Lord." A law, however pure and perfect, cannot be company to a person. A thing, though it were the brightest bit of God's universe, or that universe itself, could not make a person happy. Persons will be miserable, although they possess all poAver and all wisdom, unless they have kindred persons with wdiom they may hold fellowship. What is a man profited, although he should gain a
216 WILLING TO WAIT, BUT READY TO GO. glorious heaven, if his human affections are lost for want of a human beius: to exercise them on. Even true believers lag far behind in this department of duty and privilege. In this direction there is room for great advancement. The pleasure and profit which we derive from human society on earth is a matter of experience ; greater pleasure and profit await the saved from human society in heaven : if there were faith to realize the unseen, the hope of the greater in prospect would over-
balance the less which we already hold in our hands. All the good which we enjoy from the society of our kind during a whole life-time, is not worthy to be compared with the blessedness of having the man Christ Jesus for company, where no sin mars the intercourse, and no duration brings it nearer to a close. Take human companionship in the purest, sweetest form that our experience in the body supplies, divest it absolutely of all alloy, magnify it by all the value of our Brother's divine nature, and extend it to eternit}^ Such is the company that Christians expect. Eye hath not seen, ear hath not heard, heart cannot conceive how precious it is. Here is a mine, not much wrought now, where the martyrs found those riches of grace which we admire in their history, and where the poor may dig at will to-day. " Looking unto Jesus " is the act by which Christians contrive to gild with blessed hope the horizon of life's setting day. Intervening clouds, which seem murky from another stand -point, glitter all in gold when the observer is so situated that he sees the sun beyond them. 2. "To abide in the flesh." It is a natural and a
WILLING TO WAIT, BUT READY TO GO. 217 lawful desire. God Las placed ns here ; he has visited us here ; he has given us something to enjoy and something to do here. He expects us to value wdiat he has bestowed. Jesus, in his prayer to the Father for those whom he had redeemed, puts in a specific caveat : " I pray not that thou shouldst take them out of the world." What Christ did not desire for Christians, they should not desire for themselves. Paul, even when he was ripe for glory, positively desired to abide in the flesh ; they are the healthiest Christians who in this matter tread in his track.
This is a point of great practical importance in the experience of believers. On the one hand, some rebelliously cling to this life without respect to the will of our Father in heaven. A purpose is secretly cherished, determined in its nature, although impotent in effect, " to abide in the flesh " and enjoy it, wdiether God will or will not. On the other hand, true disciples are often troubled without cause, by detecting in themselves during periods of severe illness a distinct, positive desire for longer da3^s. They sometimes expend much needless labour in trying to crucify an affection wdiich is not a sin. The love of life ! — it is not necessary, it is not law^ful to destroy it. Let it alone to the last. The way to deal wdth it is not to tear it violently out, so as to have, or say that you have, no desire to remain ; but to get, through the grace of the Spirit, such a blessed hope of Christ's presence as will gradually balance, and at last overbalance the love of life, and make it at the appointed time come easily and gently away.
218 WILLING TO WAIT, BUT READY TO GO. Such were the two opposite desires that lived together in a behever's breast ; let us consider now the weights with which each is loaded, so as to maintain a safe and easy equipoise, II. A Christian balanced evenly between these two desires : " I am in a strait betwixt two." From the word strait employed in our translation we are apt to take up the notion of pain and difficulty. This is not the idea which the apostle intended to express. Literally the word signifies to be between two, and held by both at tlie same time. In ordinary circumstances, and in the present case especially, this is pleasanter and safer than to be held by only one. This strait is the happiest condition in which a living man can be. It is not a position of distraction from which he would fain escape, but a position of solid
repose. To be grasped and drawn by either of these emotions alone would bend and break a man ; to be attracted equally by both produces a delicious equilibrium. The spiritual fact may be explained by a material example. Suppose a man is standing aloft upon a pedestal where he finds room to plant his feet and no more. Suppose that one neighbour stands near him on the right hand, and another near him on the left. If one of these grasp and draw him, his posture immediately becomes uneasy and dangerous. Under the strain he does not keep his footing easily, and will not keep it long. But if both should grasp him, either seizing a hand, and draw with equal force in opposite directions, the result would be an erect attitude and an easy position.
WILLING TO WAIT, BUT READY TO GO. 219 Such precisely in the spiritual department is the equilibrium of a believer who is held and drawn by both these desires at once. It is the strait betwixt two that makes him easy. Either of these desires wanting the other would distress him in proportion to its strength. On the one hand, a desire to abide in the flesh without a balancing desire to depart and to be with Christ, is a painful condition. The weight hanging on one side racks the person all over. Most men are crushed in this manner all their days. The Eedeemer knows this sorrow and provides relief. One specific desiirn of his comino^ was " to deliver them who throuo-h fear of death w^ere all their Ufetime subject to bondage." As soon as one of these tremblers is begotten again into a living hope, by the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, the balance is restored and deliverance efiected. On the other hand, the converse is equally true, although
not equally common. To experience a desire to depart, unbalanced by a desire to abide in the flesh, is also a painful experience. Many Christians pass through at least a short period of this unevenness and uneasiness before they are set free. Whatever may be the immediate causes which have made life wearisome to a Christian, whenever the desire to abide dies out, the desire to depart distracts him. It may be that most of us at present would gladly bargain for such a state of mind at the close of life, as being the safest ; but it is, notwithstanding, and not the less a painful state of mind. But besides the general intimation that he w^as drawn
220 WILLING TO WAIT, BUT EEADY TO GO. simultaneously toward both sides, we find in this text the specific quality which on either side exerted the power; the one was "far better" for himself, the other "more needful " for his brethren. The gain which it promised to himself made the prospect of departure welcome ; the opportunity of doing good to c-thers reconciled him to longer life on earth. The desire "to be with Christ" does not make life unhappy, because it is balanced by the pleasure of working for Christ in the world ; the desire to work for Christ in the world does not make the approach of dissolution painful, because it is balanced by the expectation of being soon — of being ever with the Lord. These two, then, go to constitute the spiritual man. These are the right and left sides of the new creature in Christ. Where both grow equally, there is no halting ; where both have grown well, the step is steady and the progress great. III. Practical lessons.
1. This one text is sufficient to destroy the whole fabric of Romish prayer to departed saints. Incidentally this inspired intimation of Paul's peaceful equipoise scatters their mediatorial system like chafiT before the wind. If the Popish doctrine is true, obviously Paul was fundamentallj mistaken. " To depart and to be with Christ " would, in that case, have been far more needful, and more useful for his friends who might be left behind in the body. In thorough consistency with their scheme, a dead saint is a much greater affiiir in Rome than a living one.
WILLING TO WAIT, BUT HEADY TO GO. 221 A human saint already in heaven is either invested with an attribute which, in relation to this earth, is equivalent to omniscience, or he is not ; if he is not, of a thousand Papists who, in various parts of the world, may be addressing the same saint at the same moment, nme hundred and ninety-nine lose their labour, while the merely human mediator is occupied with one ; if he is, then Paul should have said to his brethren, It is far better both for you and me that I should depart and be with Christ. One only could say with truth, and in tlie Bible one only has said, " It is expedient for you that I go away.'" There is one mediator between God and men. Paul knew that by " pains " taken with them, he might do good to his brethren as long as he abode in the flesh ; but it never entered his mind that, in answer to "prayers" which they might address to Inm, he could do them any good after his departure. 2. The chief use of a Christian in the world is to do good. When the master sends labourers into the field to convert it into a garden, idlers only take up room, and stand in the way of the willing. Christians are in their own sphere like Christ ; it is their meat and their drink to do the will of the Father. The command of the Saviour and the inclination of the saved coincide in
sending forth labourers to the Lord's harvest. He w^ho has gotten mercy from God is and must be merciful to men. Tliey who hope to be with Christ when they depart, should so act as that neighbours w^ould count them needful while here, and miss them when they go. 3. You cannot be effectively useful to those who are
222 WILLING TO WAIT, BUT READY TO GO. in need on earth, unless you hold by faith and hope to Christ on high. The man who desires to depart and to be with Christ is felt to be most needful among his brethren. Hope is the soul of successful labour. It is the man who is above the world that can do most for the world. The old philosopher knew that he could not move the earth, however potent his instruments might be, as long as he had nothing but the earth to stand upon. They who desire to move the world in its spiritual character are subjected to similar conditions. It is only when they are "not of the world" that they will have purchase on the w^orld, or any part of it, to turn it unto God. To labour for lost neighbours without sustaining hope in your own soul is a painful process, and comparatively ineffectual. It is like an attempt to carry water in a vessel with one hand, while the other hand is empty. You will not be able to carry much, and all the bones of your fi-ame w^ill be racked by the little which you carry. An equal weight on the other side will make the weight easy. It was because Paul was loaded on both sides that he stood so erect, and walked so steadily under his burden. 4. Living hope of going to be with Christ is the only anodyne which has power to neutralize the pain of parting with those who are dear to us in the body. When Paul looked upon his own children in the faith, who still greatly
needed his presence, the thought of separation was in itself painful. The bond on this side was strong, the attraction on this side powerful ; it was good for him that he was drawn with Cipal force to the other side.
WILLING TO WAIT, BUT READY TO GO. 223 Brethren, we all have tender ties to earth and time. Children it may be, or brothers, both in the flesh and in the spirit, are twined closely round our hearts. We are needful to them. This is felt on both sides now, and will be felt more tenderly when the hour of separation is drawing near. How shall that pang be softened to both parties, — to him who is departing, and to those who j-emain ? In one way only : the desire to depart and to be ^\dth Christ will do it, and nothing else w^ill. How good it is, — how necessary to have that hope and trust now ! How dreary to be drifting down toward those dark and tempestuous narrows before the anchor of the soul has been thrown within the veil, and fastened there on Jesus I Paul's " strait " is the only easy position on the earth ; oh, to be in it ! If you are held by both of these bonds you will not fear a fall on either side. Although your life, instead of being in your Father's hands, were at the disposal of your worst enemy, in his utmost effort to do you harm, he would be shut up between these two, — either to keep you a while longer in Christ's w^ork, or send you sooner to Christ's presence. That were indeed a charmed life that should tremble evenly in the blessed balance ; — this way, we shall do good to men ; that way, we shall be with the Lord.
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