THIS memorable sentence was dictated by the inspired Apostle to Epaphroditus the scribe, whom he employed to write this letter to the Philippians. The words fell from the heart of the Apostle Paul under the inspiration of God the Holy Spirit; they had been deeply inscribed upon his soul in letters which could never be erased. At what period of his history had the Apostle arrived when uttered these wonderful words? He was within two years of his death; he was "such an one as Paul the aged;" he was a prisoner of the Lord Jesus Christ, no longer occupying, as once he did, his own hired house in Rome, but found in the Praetorium, in the palace of Caesar himself. He was an old believer and not a young one. He was not like the Peter who in a flash of enthusiasm proclaimed his zeal for his Master, a zeal that was soon to be drowned in a flood of tears. The Apostle had come well nigh to the close of that long career which was so marvelous an instance of the glory of the grace of God. He was drawing towards the end of a career signalized by unnumbered trials and perils. No minister of the Gospel, no apostle, ever endured such privation as did the Apostle Paul. What was his verdict as he drew near to the end of his journey? He did not regret having traveled so much in the Name of Christ. He did not regret having suffered so much in the Name of Christ. He did not regret having spoken so much in the Name of Christ. "To me to live is Christ." Death to him had been robbed of all its terrors, for Jesus Christ, the Apostle Paul knew, was alive. He, Death's Conqueror, once dead, was now alive for evermore. Paul regarded death just as the means by which he would be admitted into the presence of his exalted Lord; just the instrument to bring him into that world where he was to bear the image of Christ, where he was to behold His glory; where he was to hold pure and unabated fellowship with God's dear Son and be perfectly assimilated to the Saviour's likeness. "To me," with all my troubles and trials, with the prospect of death before me at the headsman's block in prison--"To me to live is Christ, and to die is gain." I would not have it altered, says the Apostle. Oh for more of that religion of which he was the favored possessor; to have our lives taken up with the Lord Jesus Christ, and to be able to look forward to death without one shudder, one pang, one thought of terror.
"For now his office is to wait
Between the saints and sin,
A porter at the heavenly gate,
To let the pilgrims in."
"For to me to live is Christ." How are we to understand this? May we not paraphrase it like this? Christ was first in his life. Is He first in ours? Christ was first in his life. The preaching of Christ was the business of his life. The presence of Christ was the cheer of his life. The Spirit of Christ was the life of his life. The love of Christ was the power of his life. The will of Christ was the law of his life. The glory of Christ was the end of his life. This is what he means when he says, "For to me to live is Christ." Oh, what poor, puny pigmies, spiritually, you and I are as compared with him who went forth with his soul aflame with the Saviour's love to proclaim His testimony to dying men and women. If he traveled, it was on Christ's errands. If he suffered, it was in Christ's service. If he wrote, Christ filled his letters. "For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain."
It was not a dead Christ that the Apostle lived for, but the Christ who had been dead but was alive, and who is alive for evermore. "He is risen!" That was a new sound uttered in earth and in heaven. Angels had to come down first of all to announce that word. Previous to that time, here and there, one had been raised; but of none, before Christ Jesus rose from the dead, could it be said, "He is risen." Previous to this there had been one long wail through this vale of tears. Generation after generation the cry had gone forth, "He is dead!" "She is dead!" and hearts broke and farewells were spoken. But this message, "He is risen," proclaims the introduction in all its glory of the Gospel dispensation. Christ our Lord is risen,--a proof that the ransom which He paid had been accepted in the high court of heaven. Christ is risen,--a proof that the whole debt charged upon the Church's Surety had been paid to the uttermost farthing. Christ is risen,--a proof that God had set His own seal upon the finished work of Christ, a seal that can never be broken, a seal that will give validity down all the ages to the demands of our most blessed Lord. The resurrection of our Lord and His presence in heaven is as the representative of His Church, the Forerunner and the Saviour of sinners. The risen is the Crucified. The risen is the God-Man who suffered unspeakable agony upon Calvary's cursed tree. Christ is risen; nothing was changed of His love, nothing was changed of His being. Christ is risen,--the same God, the same Saviour, the same Brother, the same Friend!
How did Paul know this? In two ways. He had beheld the risen Saviour with his own natural eye, and he had had the risen Saviour revealed in his soul by the power of the Holy Spirit. "It pleased God to reveal His Son in me." Surely it must have been a reality which gripped that man of supreme intellectual attainments, of burning and ardent zeal in the cause of what he thought was true religion. It must have been a wondrous reality that gripped that man, that stopped him and changed him, and turned the whole current of his life, touched his lips "with the live coal from off the altar," and made him a glorious minister of the Gospel of the grace of God. What was it? The fact that He whom he had thought to be the despised Nazarene, was found to be God manifest in the flesh, who had passed into the heavens, and was there carrying on the activity of His high priestly work.
When did the Apostle see Him? Outside the gates of Damascus, and when, in a trance in the temple, the Lord appeared to him. Again, in prison in Jerusalem the Lord stood by and said, "You are to testify of Me in Rome as you have in Jerusalem." And this sight of our risen Lord--which was ever a qualification of a true Apostle--was borne in upon his soul by the testimony of the Divine Spirit.
I would point out to you, dear friends, that in the great transactions of the forty days intervening between the resurrection of our Lord and His ascension into the heavens, everything was laid out to establish the identity of the crucified Saviour with the risen Lord. Read the history of those forty days, and may God the Holy Spirit anoint your eyes as you do so. You will see the fund of unspeakable comfort there is in the truth which--to speak with reverence--our Lord took such wondrous pains to lay before His people,--that He was the same Jesus. They saw Him with their natural eye. They heard His voice; they knew it. They were bidden to confirm His identity by touch,--"He showed them His hands and His feet." Everything was with a view to proving His identity.
How glorious was the pathway which He trod! He came not with a succession of soul-shaking manifestations of His glory, yet a divine, heavenly power attached to each appearing. He visited the penitent. He is the same dear Lord now. He visited the penitent, even poor penitent Peter. What else did He do? (And what He did then we may by faith expect Him to do now). "He expounded the Scriptures." He dropped a divine benediction. And what was that? "Peace be unto you." He resolved the doubts of those who fain would have believed. What else? He provided a meal for His dear disciples, wet and miserable on the Lake of Galilee. What else did He do? He inspired and instructed His Church. He took farewells and He blessed and departed.
who lives and reigns in heaven, and we pray that the Spirit of the living God may
"Shew us this loving Man
That rules the courts of bliss,
The Lord of Hosts, the mighty God,
The eternal Prince of Peace."
"For to me to live is Christ." O what a Saviour! O what a Friend!
"A Friend there is, your voices join,
Ye saints, to bless His name."
Jesus Christ is living, and every Christian, enabled by the power of the Spirit, can say, "For to me to live is Christ."
Consider the privileged five hundred. The Lord said before He was crucified, "I shall go before you into Galilee." He reminded His disciples of this when He arose,--"I am going into Galilee as I said," and the privileged five hundred,--doubtless Galilean sinners who had witnessed the power of their risen Lord--were to be favored with a sight of Him. What does that mean? He went to reassure His own in distant places. Whom Christ calls, to them He always returns; those five hundred in Galilee were to behold their risen Lord. Whom He visits He will visit again, though the night may be often dark and trying and long. "Go into Galilee, there shall ye see Me." I shall be there before you, ready to meet you, and ready to reveal Myself unto you. So sometimes He sends us a long journey in life--I do not mean as to mileage--and the way is very hard and weary; but if He sends us a long journey, He goes to the end of it before us, and there He reveals Himself to us in His love, grace and power.
Now what is all this to you? Is this a living hope? The Holy Ghost by the Apostle Peter says to those to whom he wrote, that they had been "begotten again to a lively hope (or living) hope by the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead." (1 Peter 1:3) It was this "living hope" that enabled the Apostle so triumphantly to say, "For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain." Oh! I do want nothing but living things in religion. How much there is that is dead, and that pertains to deadness, in my heart! But we want living things, a living hope in a living Christ, living faith, living operative love. Now how does this lively or living hope come? Not on the ground of creature hope, but by birthright. "He hath begotten you again unto a living hope, by the resurrection of Jesus Christ." This "living hope" in Jesus is born in your soul by the resurrection of Jesus Christ our Lord, applied to the soul by the power of the Holy Spirit. "Begotten unto a living hope by the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead." If Christ had not risen from the dead, there would have been no church, no Christian, no believer, no changed life, no messenger of peace and salvation. The Holy Ghost comes, and He brings from a risen Christ His resurrection life; He quickens and creates hope, desire, longing, expectation after God and our great High Priest above.
"Rivers to the ocean run,
Nor stay in all their course;
Fire ascending seeks the sun,--
Both speed them to their source."
The soul filled with holy yearnings, with desires after the Christ of God, experiences the welling up of the resurrection life of Christ in the heart, to the living Christ in the glory. "Begotten unto a living hope."
"Awake and sing," says the Holy Ghost by the prophet Isaiah:--"Awake and sing, ye that dwell in dust." When we are begotten to a living hope in Jesus we awake from the death of trespasses and sins. Under the power of the Spirit we begin to sing and make melody in our hearts--that is where it is,--in our hearts unto the Lord. As favored we sing and make melody in our hearts unto the Lord until we go home to sing a new song.
How does the singing in the heart begin? Why something like this,--this is one of the notes of the song: "What profit is there in my blood if I go down to the pit?" That is the beginning of a "living hope." What else? The 51st Psalm. Oh the heart begins to sing that; "Wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow." Can you sing a few stanzas of the 51st Psalm? It is the beginning of the awakening and singing of those that dwell in the dust. And then how does the song go on? "For Thou wast slain;" there is a breaking of the living soul with a joyous grief and a grievous joy,--"For Thou wast slain." The song often falters, but it comes in melody from the heart, "And hast redeemed us unto God by Thine own blood." Oh this is a song of the soul that is known to God. It is a song of one who loves much because much has been forgiven. It is a song to
"That loving Man
That rules the courts of bliss,
The Lord of hosts, the mighty God,
The eternal Prince of Peace."
"Begotten again unto a lively hope." Now we can see whence the Apostle Paul, by grace divine, drew his life, his religion. Christ his Lord had risen. "For to me to live is Christ."
Next, the text implies union to Christ. "For to me to live is Christ." How are we to know that we live in Christ, that we are joined unto Him? It is not your saying so, not your knowing, not your believing, that constitutes the blessedness of this mercy--union to Christ; but it is the being and the existence of the thing itself, in all its reality and in all its unalterable truth. Let me illustrate it like this: the babe lives because it believes it lives? No. Because it knows it lives? No; but because life abides in it, and because it abides in life. We have movement where there is life; there are cries on the part of a babe, and hunger and thirst for those supplies which only the mother can give. We delight to see happiness upon the face of a babe; there are few sights more beautiful than a babe's face when the light of joy chases away the tiny tears of sorrow; but the smile is not necessary as a proof of life. The cry and the tear are just as much proofs of life as the smile that irradiates its face. So we have the unalterable truth of union to Christ manifested by the soul in its desires after Him, and in the faith which counts all things but loss for His sake. "For to me to live is Christ." This glorious truth of union to Christ shines blessedly through the whole of the Apostle's writings. If we may so speak, here is the center--union. All upon which he expatiates under the power of the Spirit flows from this union. Oh that by grace divine we could realize more fully that there is but one life common to both Head and members. If I am going to heaven this morning, the life which my soul possesses is the same life which is in Christ Jesus my Lord,--one life in Head and members! This blessed truth is opened up and expounded in the Word. Under the Divine ministry of the ever-blessed Spirit the child of God is brought out of all he sees and laments over in himself after the flesh, to a soul-satisfying, mind-ennobling comprehension of what he is in Christ Jesus the Lord. One life in Head and members! Why, dear trembling believer, there is not a groan that is pressed out of your troubled spirit, there is not a sigh that breaks from your dear heart, but has life as its source; and that life is the life of thy Head, and the life of thy Head comes down to the feeblest and most insignificant of His members. "Oh," you say, "if I could but see this, I could be content." But you cannot see it. Why? "Your life is hid with Christ in God." But God be praised for having brought us to abide in Christ, and to know the keeping power of the grace in us. This union to Christ is operative. You have it very beautifully portrayed in those two wonderful chapters of the Gospel according to John, the 5th and the 6th. Our Lord there speaks of acts that can only be performed by those that have life--eating, drinking, receiving, coming. Trace it all out there, and you will see that our blessed Lord shows the origin of it all before He mentions the fruits and the effects. In those two chapters He brings His hearers to the foot of Jacob's ladder, and He commences there with the first step. What is the first step? Repentance? No. Believing? No. Hearing? No. The first step is one what the Creator alone can enable the poor sinner to take. The first step is that which comes from Him who said, "Light be," and there was light--"Life be," and there was life. The first step is the conferment, in the sovereignty of God's grace, of eternal life to the soul, the resurrection life of the Lord Jesus Christ. Then guilt is felt and realized; then the tear of godly, gospel, evangelical repentance begins to flow; then the poor sinner comes upon the foot of faith to Jesus Christ the Lord; then there is a hearing of the gospel in its grace and power, and a glad response to the blessed invitations. Salvation from first to last is His. "For to me to live is Christ."
Our blessed Lord is described as having risen from the dead by His own power, by His Father's power, and by the Holy Spirit's power. Why is this? To show that a Triune God was engaged in that great and glorious work. What the Father wills is carried out. And what does He will? That His Son should give eternal life to as many as have been given to Him. (John 17:2) What the Father wills the Son wills, and what the Son wills the Holy Ghost wills. So the Holy Ghost preceding from the Father and the Son, down all the ages, communicates and develops the life which He implants in the sinner's soul. We rejoice that there is the unity of will on the part of a Three-One God. O this salvation is not to be tossed about at the will of a proud, fallen, ignorant creature, but it is worked out according to the designs of infinite Wisdom, and the good pleasure of the Lord's immutable will.
There are but two classes, the living and the dead. There are but two ways, the broad and the narrow. In the one the many walk, and in the other the few. "That is very exclusive teaching!" It is the teaching of Him who spake as never man spake. The words are not mine, dear friends, they are the words of our Lord. The way is narrow. This I know: by universal consent irrespective of creed or profession it is agreed, with a common feeling of born enmity, to despise and cast out as evil those who hold and preach and exalt the doctrines that save, even the doctrines of God's sovereignty and His discriminating love and grace. Here is an object for the sympathy of those who walk in the narrow way,--the poor publican smiting upon his breast. Theirs is the tear of sympathy with the burdened, and the broken-hearted, and the returning prodigal, with Mary weeping at the feet of Jesus. Oh that this love may be so felt in the soul that its manifestation may be of this kind, making us very tender towards others, and bringing us to smite upon our breasts in heartfelt confession before God, every part of whose salvation is sovereignty, grace and love.
Once more, and I must close. In the third chapter of the Epistle to the Colossians the Apostle says: "Seek those things which are above." What does he mean there? He is a addressing those who have the "living hope." What is it thus to seek? To seek to live by faith in comprehension of the unchangeable blessedness of our standing in Christ Jesus. "The things that are above." "Oh, but I am such a poor wretched sinner." I know all about that, and so am I; we are poor wretched sinners, but with a "lively hope" begotten in thy heart "seek those things that are above"--in thy Lord thou art accepted at all times. "I am such a poverty-stricken sinner." In thy Lord thou hast unsearchable riches. "I fear me how it will be with me at the last, and as I journey on day by day." "Seek those things that are above," for thou hast all fullness of grace for thy time needs in the Person of thy Lord.
Lastly, "And to die is gain." It is to be present with Christ. The next, the 23rd verse says, "I have a desire to depart." What does the Apostle mean when he says, "To die is gain?" In the 20th verse he says he longs that Christ shall be magnified in his body whether it be by life or by death. When therefore he declares "to die is gain," whilst, of course, he refers to personal spiritual gain, he means that Christ would have honor and glory in taking Saul of Tarsus to live with Him for ever. "Gain." Why does he not define the gain that death would bring? Because it was such that it surmounted all calculations. Who can measure the grace that saves us with an everlasting salvation? and who can measure that glory that shall accrue to Christ the Lord when a poor sinner like you and me is brought into His house of wine? O He shall have all the glory; just as the hands of Zerubbabel laid the foundations of the house, so his hands also shall finish it. (Zech. 4:9) A great English poet has written, and there are seasons when we may feel the applicability of his words, but they only go a little way: "Death is to leave all disappointment, grief and sorrow; to leave all falsehood, treachery and unkindness, all ignominy, suffering and despising, and be at rest for ever." We feel sometimes like that. "Oh that I had wings like a dove, then would I fly away and be at rest." But after all, this is negative, and Paul's heaven was positive: "to die is gain." My body shall rest in an unknown grave,--and none but the Lord knows the place of Paul's sepulcher,--my poor dust shall rest in an unknown grave, but I am assured of my identity. Death to me is gain; I am assured that my personality will be preserved. Christ is to be praised and served, and death to me will be gain when without the cloak of the animal frame, and without the warring of that law in my members which distracts and here suspends adoration and joy, I shall be with and like my Lord!
Is Christ your portion? Is He mine? What do we know personally of these great and glorious truths? Are we favored now and then, as was the Apostle, with a desire to depart, not to be rid of life's troubles, but to be with Christ--a desire to depart and be with Christ? Those who understand the original say that that word "a desire to depart" means to have the sails spread, to have the cable loosed and to be living freed from our worst enemy--sin; to sail, through grace divine, into the presence of our Lord and Saviour, and to know in its fullness the blessedness of that life which enables us here to say, "to live is Christ, and to die is gain." The Lord add His blessing!