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spirit, when, in the morning of his glorious and delightful career, he is suddenly arrested by that omnipotent Lord, who appointed him to his stewardship? Submit, indeed, he will; but it will not be without exquisite suffering: in dependence upon the Giver of days, he will pray for a respite and, if a gracious answer come, he will rise to resume his labors with a transport of gratitude and joy. You perceive, then, that there is truth in the Apostle's representation: and that, if there be gain in "dying to the Lord," there is also unspeakable goodness in permitting the Christian to "live unto the Lord."*
But there is a second interesting truth unfolded in the verse under review; and it is this. The Father in heaven, when he sometimes spares the lives of his active and useful servants, not only displays, in these acts of deliverance, kindness to the persons themselves, but also to those among whom his providence has cast their lot.-Let me direct your eye once more to the language of the Apostle. You perceive that, after describing the compassion manifested to Epaphroditus in his restoration, he adds the following observation: "And not on him only, but on me also, lest I should have sorrow upon sorrow;" or, in other words, the divine Being, by this deliverance of his ministering servant, has displayed the riches of his benevolence to myself; and has not added, to the grief which I endured for the sickness of that fellow-laborer in the gospel, the anguish of mourning for his departure. The person whose recovery is here so gratefully commemorated, was dear to the Apostle as life. He had materially alleviated, by his assiduous attentions, the sorrows of captivity: he had labored in the propagation of the gospel without weariness, and without fear and it was,
* Rom. xiv. 8.
therefore, acknowledged by St. Paul as a signal favor to himself, that this companion was not separated from him by the grave; and was permitted to cheer him by his longer exertions for the promotion of the Saviour's truth. My brethren, it is in a similar manner that the God of heaven manifests his goodness, in other instances besides that which is here on record; and let me ask you, individually, to bring to mind your own past experience of this mercy of the Lord, in sparing for your benefit and happiness the excellent of the earth. Are there not some present, from whom God did not remove their parental guide, before they had been graciously allowed to profit for long years by his counsels; to look up to him as the model of their deportment; and to catch from his lips every various and salutary lesson, for time and for eternity? Are there none of you who can say, that you owe, under providence, your first serious impressions of divine truth, to some friend who had frequently pressed the topic upon unwilling ears; but who, in the long-suffering of heaven, was not snatched from your side, before he had opened your hearts to the utter vanity of the world, and the incomparable "riches of Christ ?"* Do I not speak to any, who now look back, with affectionate and pensive remembrance, to the instructions of some departed minister of the Lord; but who did not, in the mercy of God, begin to mourn for his death, before they had acknowledged with transport their own spiritual change, as one of the blessed fruits of his life? My beloved hearers, by thus carrying your mind over heaven's dealings with yourselves, you will, perhaps, be led to add your own grateful testimony to that of the Apostle before us; and, with fervent adoration, to thank the Lord, who hath * Eph. iii. 8.
thus made the times and the seasons" subservient to that
momentous object, "the salvation of your souls."t
In the three concluding verses of the present Chapter, the Apostle simply states the eagerness with which he was desirous to restore Epaphroditus to his people; and commends him, as a faithful servant of Christ, to their affection and esteem. "I sent him therefore," he tells them, "the more carefully," or, with the greater haste; "that, when ye see him again, ye may rejoice; and that I may be the less sorrowful," namely, from the reflection that you are now, after so many fears, and so long a separation, enjoying the presence of your cherished friend. "Receive him therefore," he goes on to say, "in the Lord with all gladness;" that is, give him a truly Christian and cheerful welcome: " and hold such in reputation;" or, in other words, yield to them that respect and honor which their services so eminently demand. He then assigns more particularly the reason, for which the regard of the church of Philippi was due to this minister of Jesus. "Because for the work of Christ," he declares, "he was nigh unto death, not regarding his life, to supply your lack of service toward me:" by which he means to say, that it was owing to his free, active, and untiring devotedness to the promotion of the Apostle's comfort, and to the work of assisting him in the advancement of the gospel, that he had contracted that dangerous sickness which had brought him to the gates of the tomb. In these arduous efforts, he had performed what the Philippians, by their distance from St. Paul, could not possibly effect; and had created, thereby, a lasting debt of obligation and of gratitude, and deserved to have his deeds held in remembrance.
1. Thes. v. 1.
+ I. Pet. i. 9.
It is impossible, my brethren, to read these expressions of the Apostle, without being struck with the noble features of character, which they display to your view. You perceive, on the one hand, his cheerful readiness to bear testimony to the services of Epaphroditus to himself. This excellent person had been the messenger of bounty from a distant land; he had visited his spiritual father, now in bonds for the gospel, with the warmth of a filial affection; and, in obedience to his instructions, had used every exertion to diffuse the knowledge of Christ among the children of idolatry. With that magnanimity, which is so characteristic of the real Christian, St. Paul hastens to speak of the obligations under which he had been placed; and describes this herald of Christ as a man, whose beneficence he bore, and ever should continue to bear, engraven upon the tablet of his memory. But further: how beautifully does the Apostle exemplify, on the present occasion, that disposition which breathes through every page of his inspired compositions, to exalt in the esteem of mankind, and of his Christian brethren, those excellent of the earth with whom he was travelling on the pilgrimage of life! What is there here of that petty and narrow mind, which seeks to rob contemporary merit of its well-earned fame; and, in the fear least self should be at all the sufferer in public estimation, denies what facts, with obvious testimony, speak in another's praise? St. Paul had learned, in the school of Christ, a far different lesson; and burned with a generous love for all that was "excellent, and of good report," wherever, and in whomsoever it might be found. My brethren, let us all strive, with the divine aid, to imbibe the spirit of this great exemplar! Let us endeavor to put away from us all that distinguishes nature in its uncon
verted state; to become divested of "the old man with his deeds;" and to shew forth before men, by the dispositions which we manifest, whose we are, and whom we servé ! Through this course of spiritual conformity to the image of God, we may look onward with hope to our heavenly heritage; and, after having been in this world the followers, shall, in the next, be the fellow-heirs, "of them who through faith and patience inherit the promises."t
* Col. iii, 9.
† Heb. vi, 12.