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ing decease, says, "I am now ready to be offered,"* or rather, I am now poured out, as a libation to the Lord Almighty. Keeping up the metaphor, the Apostle describes the spiritual attainments and graces of the Philippians as being the offering, which he as a minister should present to God; and upon which he himself was afterwards to be poured forth before the Lord. "If I be offered," he declares, " upon the sacrifice and service of your faith ;" that is, if I shall be slain, after having presented your holiness of life and character, of which, under God, I have been the promoter, as an oblation of a sweet savor to my heavenly Father. This representation of the obedience, and Christian virtues of believers, under the similitude of a sacrifice presented to God, is of quite common occurrence in the pages of scripture. One remarkable instance is to be found in the Epistle to the Romans; where St. Paul thus expresses himself: "That I should be the minister of Jesus Christ to the Gentiles, ministering the gospel of God, that the offering up of the Gentiles might be acceptable, being sanctified by the Holy Ghost." And again, in another part of the same Epistle, he says, "I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service." After this illustration of the terms here used, you will be able to comprehend clearly the meaning of the Apostle: that, even if it should please divine Providence to cut him off by a violent death, yet, in the view of their progress in the life of God, he could triumphantly yield up his breath; and could find room, amidst his sufferings, only for congratulating them on their growing ripeness for the heavenly country.
II. Tim. iv. 6. † Rom. xv. 16.
Rom. xii. 1. See also I. Pet. ii. 5.
My beloved brethren, permit me to hold forth, for your near inspection, this remarkable example of Christian love and heroism. The great Apostle of the Gentiles, engaged in the very thickest of the fight for the gospel of his Lord and Master, looks every moment for a death of torture from the hand of relentless persecution. From such a termination of his career of earthly existence, who would not shrink with affright? Yet he could even exult in the prospect: and upon what consideration is it, that he can thus rise superior to all the influences of natural terror; and wait, with delight, for the approaches of the last enemy in his most appalling guise? It is the thought, that he shall leave behind him these faithful Philippians, steadily pursuing the race that was set before them, and marching onward to their heavenly crown, which raises his spirit in glorious victory over the creature's fondness for life. To see the honor of God promoted in the holiness of his servants, and immortal souls ripening for the skies, was enough for him: it robbed martyrdom itself of its horrors: it made him welcome with a smile the blow, that should give him a place among that "noble army" of confessors, who have sealed the truth with their blood. In comparison with such a spirit, how do the very brightest examples of merely worldly heroism fade into insignificance! You have often, on the pages of history, met with accounts of distinguished leaders, who, in the hour of victory, have received their mortal wound; but who, at the sight of their country's glory untarnished, and an enemy subdued, have sent forth from their eye a beam of rapture, and have rejoiced as they expired. Over the recital of these instances of love of country, triumphing over death, you have lingered with admiration: and yet place them by the side of the
Apostle's feeling, as expressed in the language before us, and where are they? In their case, it was devotion to the honor of the land which gave them birth, that made them think lightly of the king of terrors: in his, it was a supreme and invincible zeal for the glory of God, as set forth in the obedience of his people. With them, it was exultation that an earthly foe had been conquered: with him, it was the transport of beholding Satan vanquished, sin subdued within the heart, and those for whom he had preached and labored travelling to their recompense of reward. The whole difference, therefore, between these respective examples, lies in the superiority of a heavenly, above a merely earthly mind: and, accordingly, history furnishes no parallel to the sublimity of St. Paul's sensations, when he looked from the spiritual prosperity of his Philippian brethren, to a speedy and cruel martyrdom. "None of these things move me," he seems to cry; "neither count I my life dear unto myself, so that I might finish my course with joy, and the ministry which I have received of the Lord Jesus, to testify the gospel of the grace of God."*
From this expression of his cheerfulness in the prospect of death, when coming under such circumstances, the Apostle passes to an admonition, of a very useful kind, to the Philippian converts. It relates to the manner in which they, likewise, ought to conduct themselves, under the expectation of his speedy departure. "For the same cause also," he says, "do ye joy, and rejoice with me:" meaning hereby to tell them, that, in consideration of that usefulness of which the Lord Jesus Christ had been pleased to make him the instrument, and which was exemplified in their own conversion unto * Acts, xx. 24.
God, they ought not to repine at his loss; but should rather bless the Father in heaven, that he had not removed his servant before he had been enabled to leave multitudes behind him, as the fruits of his labors, and as additions to the number of such as shall be saved.
It is thus that he cautions those to whom he was writing, against inordinate dejection at the contemplation of his death; and may not Christians of every period of the world apply the exhortation of St. Paul, to the correction of a very common propensity in themselves? It pleases divine Providence, at various times, to remove his ministering servants to their reward, not after a lengthened career of labor, but in the very meridian of their life and usefulness. Now, when so mournful a visitation is inflicted upon the church of God, it is allowable in believers, as it was in the faithful brethren of Philippi, to shed some tears for an efficient herald of the gospel, struck down from his post of service. It is recorded on the page of sacred history, that "devout men carried Stephen to his burial, and made great lamentation over him :"* and not to feel grief at the loss of persons, who have been signal blessings to their generation, would argue a thankless insensibility to that divine goodness which consecrated them to their work. There is, however, a degree to which this regret is frequently seen to be carried, which is mingled with much ingratitude and distrust. Many who are present are able, in all probability, to testify from their own experience to the fact which I have stated; and to say, that, when God has seen fit to call hence some distinguished messenger of truth, either in our own, or in other lands, they have immediately broken forth into unqualified sorrow: they *Acts, viii. 2.
have entirely overlooked the years of active exertion, during which his Master spared him to the church and to mankind: and, instead of thanking the Almighty for the past, have sighed, with unbelieving spirit, over the departure of a faithful laborer from the field, where his efforts were so deeply needed. Of such a mode, then, of receiving these afflictive dispensations, the language of the Apostle speaks in terms of implied, and strong disapprobation. He bids you acknowledge, with grateful praise, the good which, through God's blessing, his departed ministers have been permitted to effect: and, if your heart be ready to despond at the sight of the void which they have left, he would have you to know, that the same grace that fitted one ambassador for his office, can qualify another to occupy the station from which he has been summoned. At the prospect of St. Paul's removal from the vineyard, the believers of Philippi trembled, perhaps, for the fate of the Redeemer's church and religion. But has not this kingdom of the Prince of peace been continually advancing from that day to the present? "Who is Paul, and who is Apollos, but ministers by whom ye believed, even as the Lord gave to every man ? I have planted, Apollos watered; but God gave the increase. So then, neither is he that planteth any thing, neither he that watereth; but God that giveth the increase."* The right mode, in truth, in which to estimate the ministering servants of Christ, is to consider each of them as an instrument selected by Providence, for the performance of some limited work; and which, when the appointed task is finished, he can without the least detriment lay aside. All that the greatest human agent can effect, proceeds from the blessing of the
*I. Cor. iii. 5. 6. 7.