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length, bowing his anointed head beneath a death of agony and shame and, after beholding the spectacle, goes onward through life without remembrance of that tender sacrificegiven up to self as the grand object of devotion-absorbed in the gains, striving after the aggrandizement, or occupied with the petty pleasures of a state, to which he has consecrated every faculty of his being. Survey these two characters: and then say which of them has most of loveliness and of grandeur. But if the Christian rises thus superior in the objects of his pursuit, compare him with the man of this life in that other point of view, in which he is presented in the language of the Apostle. The believer, in this humble and consistent path of obedience, faith, and love, knows that he is the subject of Christ's gracious promises: in this persuasion, therefore, he can look forward to dissolution as the commencement of a higher felicity: and can feel that, whensoever it may come, it will only be to him the gate of heaven, and an entrance into the eternal joy of his Lord. How is it, in this respect with the unchanged and earthly minds of the great mass of men? As infinite as is the advantage to which the Christian believer looks forward with joy, is the loss which they contemplate, in the arrival of this concluding period. Death is to them only the messenger of condemnation, and terminated delights, and black despair; it is a separation from all the sources of their rejoicing; and it is, accordingly, a prospect which they suffer, as seldom as possible, to disturb with its clouds and shadows their dream of vanity and sin. The Apostle, therefore, in this brief declaration, sets forth the grand and signal distinction between the friends of God and of the world :
and if such be, in all cases, the Christian's character and views, may not the model be presented with propriety to those before me, who are the professed servants of the Lord? Bring your own individual persons to this standard of conduct and of experience. Are you, my brethren, making the love of Christ the ruling principle of your lives? Do you feel yourselves thus supremely attached to the Master, who bore your sins in his own body on the tree? Can you take the Apostle's language upon your lips, and with humble confidence say, that, in scorn of the follies and temptations of a present world, you are making the service of the Lord Jesus the ever-foremost object of your heart's desires? Are you able at this very moment humbly to declare, that to depart out of life would be an exchange of partial, for perfect and unchangeable blessedness; and, in the prospect even of a speedy removal, to rejoice with joy unspeakable, and full of glory? Now it is very possible, that with these views in regard to life and death, some of you feel no sympathy. If so, then, you have cause for reflection and for alarm; and may properly offer up the imploring petition, "Search me, O God, and know my heart: try me, and know my thoughts !"*
From this calm and complacent prospect of death, St. Paul passes, in the three succeeding verses, to a description of the various and conflicting desires by which he was agitated, as he contemplated the happiness of heaven on the one hand, and the field of usefulness opened to him in this world, on the other. The manner in which the holy Apostle has expressed these contending inclinations of his heart, is singularly beautiful and affecting. He first of all turns his thoughts to the
* Ps. cxxxix. 23.
privilege of continuing longer on earth, if the conversion of souls, and the glory of God, might thereby be effectually promoted. "But if I live in the flesh, this is the fruit of my labor;" or, in other words, to extend the kingdom of the Lord Jesus Christ, is a recompense that more than counterbalances all the trials of my warfare; and sweetens the bitterest cup of sorrow which the perverseness, the impenitence, or the malignity of men, can give the minister of salvation to drink But here again, the world of glory rises to his vision; and, as he thinks of its immovable peace and rest, he wavers in his determinations. "Yet what I shall choose I wot not ;" that is, I cannot positively decide either for this present state, or for a speedy departure out of the body. "For I am in a strait," he declares, "betwixt two," or, in other words, I am constantly distracted by two equally engaging objects; "having a desire to depart, and to be with Christ, which is far better." The expression "to depart,” is, in the original, peculiarly expressive and touching. It refers properly to that act by which a vessel is unloosed from her moorings, and sails for some distant clime; and thus represents most aptly that separation from the body, by which the Christian's spirit becomes at once disentangled from the burden of the flesh, and takes her immediate flight to the shores of a better country. The enjoyment procured by such a change, he declares to consist in "being with Christ;" by which he understands that species of enjoyment of the Lord's presence, which is granted to separate spirits; and the expressions here used are similar to that declaration in the Second Epistle to the Corinthians, that he is "willing rather to be absent from the body, and to be
present with the Lord."* This translation to the happiness of God's redeemed people, St. Paul states to be "far better" than any thing here. These words but inadequately convey the force of his language. Literally rendered it would be, "far more better;" and the sacred penman hereby declares his inability to find terms sufficiently glowing, for the purpose of expressing the unmeasured felicity of that world of light. It is thus that, at the view of what God has prepared for those who love him, the holy Apostle longs to be released: but again, turning his eyes to the pressing exigencies of the church of Christ, and filled with desires to promote his Master's glory in the work of the ministry, he leans to the opposite side of this perplexing question, and exclaims, "Nevertheless, to abide in the flesh is more needful for you."-Having thus illustrated the phraseology of the sacred writer, let me invite your attention to a brief statement of three truths which his words unfold, deserving of careful recollection.
And 1. The example of St. Paul, as here exhibited, sets forth the prominent reason, for which a longer continuance in the present life appears desirable to the Christian. Turn once more to the words before us. "If I live in the flesh, this is the fruit of my labor :" "to abide in the flesh is more needful for you." You perceive, then, my brethren, that the single consideration which weighed in the mind of the Apostle, as making this existence worthy of a wish, was the service and glory of his divine Master. And such, to a certain extent, is the experience of all the spiritual servants of the Lord Jesus Christ. It is, indeed, undeniable, that there are some inducements of an earthly kind which have their share
*II. Cor. v. 8.
of influence upon the believer; and which, when subordinate, are not contrary to the will of his heavenly Father. Life is pleasant to the man of affection: when he looks round upon the family, the connexions, the friends, in whose lovely and cheering circle he is passing his days. This world is desirable to the scholar; when he casts an eye upon the fields of useful knowledge yet unexplored, and upon pleasures of investigation that are to come: for even the great and holy Baxter, whose aspirations after the more immediate presence of God have never been exceeded by any uninspired mortal, speaks with an expression of sadness at the thought of parting from his "pleasant studies," when the summons of death should arrive. And further, this life is desirable to the man, to whom Providence has committed those who are dependent upon his care; and for whom he wishes, before he goes hence forever, to procure the means of temporal comfort.Still, however, the paramount consideration with the disciple of Christ, in wishing to be spared in these regions below, is one immeasurably higher than all that have been mentioned. It is his meat and his drink to do the will of his heavenly Father: he regards this object as the grand privilege of his being: and if, by being allowed some farther periods, he can serve his Master more exclusively, shew forth the power of his grace, and be made an instrument of the least good to men, for this, especially, he longs to stay; and, with the readiness of the Apostle, cries, "Lord, what wilt thou have me to do?"†
2. The words of the Apostle exhibit the truth, that the believer may very properly, in obedience to the divine will, desire to depart from these scenes of labor to his eternal *See his Dying Thoughts. + Acts, ix. 6.