PHIL. i. 21-25. “For to me to live is Christ,
and to die is gain. But if I live in the flesh, this is the fruit
of my labour: yet what I shall choose I wot not. For I am
in a strait betwixt two, having a desire to depart, and to be
with Christ; which is far better: nevertheless to abide in the
flesh is more needful for you. And having this confidence, I
know that I shall abide and continue with you all for your
furtherance and joy of faith.”
THESE are words which one may well shrink from taking
as a text of a sermon. Their simplicity requires but little
exposition, and their greatness and elevation dwarf all that
comes after them. Then when we remember the hundreds
and thousands of souls that have rested upon them, and
felt their grief and great darkness lightened, and gone down
to death with the music of them sounding in their ears,
like a mother’s most gentle lullaby, one may well shrink
from preaching about them. We aim at showing the
devious windings of the apostle’s mind, and the conclusion
into which he settles down. The language of the text is
like some great river which flowing through some country
bends first to the one side then to the other, and then
comes back again into its straight course.
I. The strong absorbing devotion the man has to Christ.
It transfigures life and adorns death. The one is simple
consecration; the other advancement and progress.
The noble theory of life in these words: “for me to live
is Christ.” Rooted in Him, deriving my being from Him,
drawing all its energies from Him, my true life flows into
me from the Lord, the basis and the source. He is also
goal and aim. Life from Christ, life for Christ, life with
Christ, life like Christ.
Contrast the simplicity and power there is in such a life,
with the misery that comes to all lives that have a less
profound source. Life out of Christ is like the timid
navigators of old, who crept from headland to headland,
and never lost sight of the low-lying shore, nor saw the
wonders of the deep and the majesty of mid-ocean, nor
ever touched the happy shores which they reach who steer
by the stars.
Wherever life is thus simple and of a piece, death is gain.
This carries two ideas in it—continuity and increase, the
direction is the same.
II. The second bend or reach of the river is the hesita-
tion that rises in his mind from the contemplation of life
as a field for work.
“I am in a strait betwixt two “—a man hedged up be-
tween two walls, not knowing where to turn. So we have
two counter attractions, death and life.
The attraction of death—” I desire to depart and be
with Christ.” One thing fills his thoughts with Christ. Our
hope of immortality should not be over-burdened with a
multitude of petty details. To depart—to be with Christ.
“I shall clasp thee again, O soul of my soul,
And with God be the rest.”
This is not one weary of work and tired of life.
III. The reason for living that masters and overbears
such a reason for wanting to die. To abide in the flesh is
more needful for you, there is work to be done. It is not
the dread of death; the man saw yonder a great light and
he turned from it, and said, No, there is work for me here.
So notice the beautiful calm solution, “I know that I
shall abide and continue with you all.” The true attitude
is neither desire, nor shrinking, nor hesitation, but a calm
taking what God wills.
Here are two theories of life which are mutually exclusive.
Here is one—”To me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.”
Here is the other—” To me to live is self, and to die is
loss and despair. Which? WHICH?
Alexander Maclaren, D.D.