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EPISTLE TO THE PHILIPPIANS - Chapter 1 - Verse 23
Verse 23. For I am in a straight betwixt two. Two things, each of which I desire. I earnestly long to be with Christ; and I desire to remain to be useful to the world. The word rendered "I am in a strait" sunecomai—means, to be pressed on or constrained, as in a crowd; to feel one's self pressed, or pent up, so as not to know what to do; and it here means that he was in perplexity and doubt, and did not know what to choose. "The words of the original are very emphatic. They appear to be derived from a ship when lying at anchor, and when violent winds blow upon it that would drive it out to sea. The apostle represents himself as in a similar condition. His strong affection for them bound his heart to them as an anchor holds a ship to its moorings; and yet there was a heavenly influence bearing upon him—like the gale upon the vessel —which would bear him away to heaven." Burder, in Ros. Alt. u. neu. Morgenland, in loc.
Having a desire to depart. To die—to leave this world for a better. Men, as they are by nature, usually dread to die. Few are even made willing to die. Almost none desire to die—and even then they wish it only as the least of two evils. Pressed down by pain and sorrow, or sick and weary of the world, the mind may be wrought up into a desire to be away. But this, with the world, is in all cases the result of misanthropy, or morbid feeling, or disappointed ambition, or an accumulation many sorrows. Wetstein has adduced on this verse several most beautiful passages from the classic writers, in which men expressed a desire to depart—but all of them probably could be traced to disappointed ambition, or to mental or bodily sorrows, or to dissatisfaction with the world. It was from no such wish that Paul desired to die. It was not because he hated man—for he ardently loved him; it was not because he had been disappointed about wealth and honour—for he had sought neither; it was not because he had not been successful—for no man has been more so; it was not because he had been subjected to pains and imprisonments—for he was willing to bear them; it was not because he was old, and infirm and a burden to the world—for, from anything that appears, he was in the rigour of life, and in the fulness of his strength. It was from a purer, higher motive than any of these—the strength of attachment which bound him to the Saviour, and which made him long to be with him.
And to be with Christ. We may remark on this expression,
(1.) that this was the true reason why he wished to be away. It was his strong love to Christ; his anxious wish to be with him; his firm belief that in his presence was "fulness of joy."
(2.) Paul believed that the soul of the Christian would be immediately with the Saviour at death. It was evidently his expectation that he would at once pass to his presence, and not that he would remain in an intermediate state to some far distant period.
(3.) The soul does not sleep at death. Paul expected to be with Christ, and to be conscious of the fact—to see him, and to partake of his glory.
(4.) The soul of the believer is made happy at death. To be with Christ is synonymous with being in heaven, for Christ is in heaven, and is its glory. We may add,
(a.) that this wish to be with Christ constitutes a marked difference between a Christian and other men. Other men may be willing to die; perhaps be desirous to die, because their sorrows are so great that they feel that they cannot be borne. But the Christian desires to depart from a different motive altogether. It is to be with Christ—and this constitutes a broad line of distinction between him and other men.
(b.) A mere willingness to die, or even a desire to die, is no certain evidence of preparation for death. If this willingness or desire is caused by mere intensity of suffering; if it is produced by disgust at the world, or by disappointment; if it arises from some view of fancied Elysian fields beyond the grave, it constitutes no evidence whatever of preparation for death. I have seen not a few persons who were not professed Christians on a bed of death, and not a few willing to die, nay, not a few who wished to depart. But in the vast majority of instances it was because they were sick of life, or because their pain made them sigh for relief, or because they were so wretched that they did not care what happened—and this they and their friends construed into an evidence that they were prepared to die! In most instances this is a miserable delusion; in no case is a mere willingness to die an evidence of preparation for death.
Which is far better. Would be attended with more happiness; and would be a higher, holier state than to remain on earth. This proves, also, that the soul of the Christian at death is made at once happy—for a state of insensibility can in no way be said to be a better condition than to remain in this present world. The Greek phrase here pollw mallon kreisson—is very emphatic, and the apostle seems to labour for language which will fully convey his idea. It means, "by much more, or rather better;" and the sense is, "better beyond all expression." Doddridge. See numerous examples illustrating the phrase in Wetstein. Paul did not mean to say that he was merely willing to die, or that he acquiesced in its necessity, but that the fact of being with Christ was a condition greatly to be preferred to remaining on earth. This is the true feeling of Christian piety; and, having this feeling, death to us will have no terrors.
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