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I freely own, that I am not satisfied with this explanation of Phil. i. 21. first, because the apostle does not appear to me to write under any depression, but rather with triumph and exultation, ver. 20. “ According “ to my earnest expectation, and my hope, “ that in nothing I shall be ashamed, but “ that, with all boldness, as always, so now “ also Christ shall be magnified in my body, “ whether it be by life or by death.”
Secondly, the apostle does not seem to have considered the two things by which he says he was straitned as evil, but rather as good, and both of them as objects of earnest choice; so good, that his difficulty was, which to prefer, whether to live to Christ, i. e. for the furtherance of the gospel, and the salvation of his fellow-creatures through him, which had long been the object of his ardent wishes, and earnest cares and labours, or to die and be with Christ, which would be a gain to himself, and far better for his personal interest. From the whole preceding context, from ver. 12. the apostle ap
pears to have had, at the time of writing, no painful feelings of what he had already suffered, either from the malice of open enemies, or treachery of false friends, nor formidable apprehensions of what might yet await him. He rather expresses a quite different state of mind in those words, ver. 18. “ And I therein do rejoice, yea, and will “ rejoice ;” a state of mind pretty much fimilar to that which he professed to the elders of Ephesus, Acts xx. 22.---24.
However, I do not think it will follow, that the apostle meant by the words, to die is gain, and to depart and to be with Christ, which is far better, to convey an idea of a state of conscioufness and positive happiness, which he should enjoy with Christ from the instant of his death till the resurrection. It is enough to justify the expressions, and his desire to depart, if we only suppose him to mean, that he should not only be exempted from farther danger, suffering, oppofition, and treachery from others, but also from care, folicitude, and apprehensions in himself about his own eternal interests, which
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he so pathetically expresses, chap. iii.8--14. and 1 Cor. ix. 27. and elsewhere; that from thenceforth he and his interests would be in security under the faithful protection of a powerful Saviour. He would be with Christ in the same sense as Christ promised to the penitent thief, that he should be with him that day in paradise, i. e. in the state of those dead, who are, as it were, within the enclosure of divine benevolence and power, reserved for the accomplishment of divine purposes and promises. Now surely, to be admitted to such a state of security, is a proper object of desire to a good mind, even preferably to the continuance of an useful life, but exposed to fears, dangers, and sufferings, both from within and without.
This also seems conformable to the apostle's sentiments and expressions on other occasions, 2 Tim. iv. 6---8. “ I am now “ ready to be offered, and the time of my “ departure is at hand. I have fought a good “ fight, I have finished my course, I have “ kept the faith. Henceforth,” he does not say, I shall be happy with Christ, but
" there is laid up (el 16xe 17 ci) for me a crown “ of righteousness, which the Lord, the “ righteous judge, shall give me at that “ day ;” and, chap. i. 12. of the same Epistle, “ I know whom I have believed, " and I am persuaded that he is able” (not to make me happy with himself immediately, but) “ to keep that which I have “ committed unto him against that day.” I conceive, that the apostle means to convey the fame sentiment, that the lives and happiness of his disciples are intrusted to the care and protection of Christ, to be by him restored and perfected at the last day, in those words, Colof. iii. 3, 4. “ For ye are “ dead,” (a figure by no means too strong to denote not only the spiritual professions, but the hazardous circumstances of christians at that time) “ and your life is hid with “ Christ in God. When Christ, who is " our life, shall appear, then shall ye also “ appear with him in glory.” The same sentiment fiems also to be couched under, and an attention to it throws a beautiful and strong light on, that otherwise obscure passage, 1 Theff. iv. 14. “ Even so them
: « also which sleep in Jesus, will God bring
“ with him ;" intimating, that they are already committed to him by God as a depofit or trust, and that God will then bring them with him, that he may accomplish the purposes of the trust.
The apostle seems to have borrowed these sentiments and modes of expression, on the subject of the security of dead christians, as reserved in the hands, and under the protection of Christ unto a glorious resurrection, from the words of Christ himself, John vi. 39. “ This is the Father's will which hath “ fent me, that of all which he hath given “ me I should lose nothing, but thould “ raise it up again at the last day ;” and ch, X. 28, 29. “ I give unto them eternal life, “ and they shall never perifh, neither shall “ any pluck them out of my hand. My “ Father which gave them me, is greater " than all: and none is able to pluck them “ out of my Father's hand.” Hence we see the reason and propriety of dying Stephen's invocation, Acts vii. 59. “ Lord “ Jesus, receive my spirit.”