We have here an account of the life and death of blessed Paul: his life was Christ, and his death was gain. Observe, 1. It is the undoubted character of every good Christian that to him to live is Christ. The glory of Christ ought to be the end of our life, the grace of Christ the principle of our life, and the word of Christ the rule of it. The Christian life is derived from Christ, and directed to him. He is the principle, rule, and end of it. 2. All those to whom to live is Christ to them to die will be gain: it is great gain, a present gain, everlasting gain. Death is a great loss to a carnal worldly man; for he loses all his comforts and all his hopes: but to a good Christian it is gain, for it is the end of all his weakness and misery and the perfection of his comforts and accomplishment of his hopes; it delivers him from all the evils of life, and brings him to the possession of the chief good. Or, To me to die is gain; that is, “to the gospel as well as to myself, which will receive a further confirmation by the seal of my blood, as it had before by the labours of my life.” So Christ would be magnified by his death, Phil. 1:20. Some read the whole expression thus: To me, living and dying, Christ is gain; that is, “I desire no more, neither while I live nor when I die, but to win Christ and be found in him.” It might be thought, if death were gain to him, he would be weary of life, and impatient for death. No, says he,
I. If I live in the flesh, this is the fruit of my labour (Phil. 1:22), that is, Christ is. He reckoned his labour well bestowed, if he could be instrumental to advance the honour and interest of the kingdom of Christ in the world. It is the fruit of my labour—karpos ergou—operae pretium. It is worth while for a good Christian and a good minister to live in the world as long as he can glorify God and do good to his church. Yet what I shall choose I wot not; for I am in a strait betwixt two. It was a blessed strait which Paul was in, not between two evil things, but between two good things. David was in a strait by three judgments—sword, famine, and pestilence: Paul was in a strait between two blessings—living to Christ, and being with him. Here we have him reasoning with himself upon the matter.
1. His inclination was for death. See the power of faith and of divine grace; it can reconcile the mind to death, and make us willing to die, though death is the destruction of our present nature and the greatest natural evil. We have naturally an aversion to death, but he had an inclination to it (Phil. 1:23); Having a desire to depart, and to be with Christ, Observe, (1.) It is being with Christ which makes a departure desirable to a good man. It is not simply dying, or putting off the body, it is not of itself and for its own sake a desirable thing; but it may be necessarily connected with something else which may make it truly so. If I cannot be with Christ without departing, I shall reckon it desirable on that account to depart. (2.) As soon as ever the soul departs, it is immediately with Christ. This day shalt thou be with me in paradise, Luke 23:43. Absent from the body and present with the Lord (2 Cor. 5:8), without any interval between. Which is far better, pollo gar mallon kreisson—very much exceeding, or vastly preferable. Those who know the value of Christ and heaven will readily acknowledge it far better to be in heaven than to be in this world, to be with Christ than to be with any creature; for in this world we are compassed about with sin, born to trouble, born again to it; but, if we come to be with Christ, farewell sin and temptation, farewell sorrow and death, for ever.
2. His judgment was rather to live awhile longer in this world, for the service of the church (Phil. 1:24): Nevertheless to abide in the flesh is more needful for you. It is needful for the church to have ministers; and faithful ministers can ill be spared when the harvest is plenteous and the labourers are few. Observe, Those who have most reason to desire to depart should be willing to continue in the world as long as God has any work for them to do. Paul’s strait was not between living in this world and living in heaven; between these two there is no comparison: but his strait was between serving Christ in this world and enjoying him in another. Still it was Christ that his heart was upon: though, to advance the interest of Christ and his church, he chose rather to tarry here, where he met with oppositions and difficulties, and to deny himself for awhile the satisfaction of his reward.
II. And, having this confidence, I know that I shall abide and continue with you all for your furtherance and joy of faith, Phil. 1:25. Observe here, 1. What a great confidence Paul had in the divine Providence, that it would order all for the best to him. “Having this confidence that it will be needful for you that I should abide in the flesh, I know that I shall abide.” 2. Whatsoever is best for the church, we may be sure God will do. If we know what is needful for building up the body of Christ, we may certainly know what will be; for he will take care of its interests, and do what is best, all things considered, in every condition it is in. 3. Observe what ministers are continued for: For our furtherance and joy of faith, our further advancement in holiness and comfort. 4. What promotes our faith and joy of faith is very much for our furtherance in the way to heaven. The more faith the more joy, and the more faith and joy the more we are furthered in our Christian course. 5. There is need of a settled ministry, not only for the conviction and conversion of sinners, but for the edification of saints, and their furtherance in spiritual attainments.
III. That your rejoicing may be more abundant in Jesus Christ for me, by my coming to you again, Phil. 1:26. They rejoiced in the hope of seeing him, and enjoying his further labours among them. Observe, 1. The continuance of ministers with the church ought to be the rejoicing of all who wish well to the church, and to its interests. 2. All our joys should terminate in Christ. Our joy in good ministers should be our joy in Christ Jesus for them; for they are but the friends of the bridegroom, and are to be received in his name, and for his sake.