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Philip. i. 23, 24.
For I am in a strait betwixt two, having a de
sire to depart, and to be with Christ; which is far better : nevertheless, to abide in the flesh is more needful for you.
Our apostle has been very generally thought in this passage to intimate that there would be an intermediate state of happiness for good men between death and the resurrection ; and that he himself expected, immediately upon bis departure out of this world, to be with Christ in a state of happiness. For that nothing but this could be the cause of his being in a strait betwixt life and death. Since, if death was to put him only in a state of sleep and insensibility, he could not have been so at a loss what to choose ; for that, to so good and holy a man as St. Paul was, to continue here in this world to serve Christ, must be vastly preferable to a state, where he should lose all sense and capacity of doing such infinite good to mankind.
But I apprehend that, upon a stricter examination of the language and meaning of St. Paul, it will be found that he was not at all divided in his mind about what was eligible for himself, and what was useful in promoting the Gospel, and beneficial to others : but his difficulties arose from another source; and this will best appear by considering his present situation, and what it was that he was discoursing of immediately before.
Now our apostle, at the time of writing this epistle, was a prisoner at Rome for the sake of the Gospel; and though, through the good providence of God, he had hitherto met with better treatment than he might have expected under the reign of such a monster as Nero; and had opportunity to bear open testimony to the divine truth of the Gospel, and with success even in the emperor's palace; yet he could have no dependence upon things continuing as they were, and he could not but be most uncertain what would be the issue of his present irksome confinement, with a soldier
holding the chain with which he was fettered night and day, whether it would be life or death.
But in the midst of all, he expresses with great modesty his readiness to do what honour he could to his divine Master Jesus, by promoting his truth:-
-"my earnest expectation and hope (says he, ver. 20, 21.) is, that in nothing I shall be ashamed; but that, in the most public manner, as always, so now also, Christ shall be magnified in my body, whether it be by life or death. For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain;" i. e. to advance the Gospel is the great end I propose to myself, living or dying*
* “Phil. i. 21. suot yae) For if I live, christianity will be promoted by my labours and sufferings, and if I die, gain will arise (not to myself but to the cause) from the testimony of my blood. Ver. 22. El dɛ] But whether it be worth while, on my own account, to live miserably rather than to die miserably, I really know not : they are both evils, and I know not which to choose. I am afflicted, held fast, and necessarily exposed to one or other of them ; but my
desire is to be freed from evil and to be with Christ : i.e: not immediately, but at his coming, which is better for myself, but to live is better for you.
“That being with Christ' relates to the day of judgement, is evident from 2 Tim. iv. 6. where ayanurews occurs, and
(Ver. 22.) “ But, if I live in the flesh, (proceeds he, this is the fruit of my
labour: yet what I shall choose, I wot not. These words of the apostle may thus be more justly given in English." But whether this life in the flesh, be advantageous or desirable to myself, I am not able to determine."
Then follow the words of the text : « For I am in a strait betwixt two, having a desire to depart, and be with Christ, which is far better ; nevertheless, to abide in the flesh is more needful for you.” What we translate 'I am in a strait,' does not signify doubt or hesitation about what he should choose, but should rather
yet the hope of the apostle is put off (ver. 8.) till the last day.
“ For me to live, promotes the cause of Christ; to die, promotes my own interest. If then to live be worth the while (as undoubtedly it is, if, by living, the cause of Christ is promoted), I am in doubt which to choose; I am in a strait between two good things, hung between two desires. I wish for my own sake to be dissolved and to be with Christ in rest and hope of the great day, as Stephen was, which is far better for myself : but then for your, that is, for Christ's sake, I wish to live, and I trust I shall live. Being with Christ denotes only the giving up his soul, according to the vulgar idea, to be kept till the great day; to be loosed from human pains, and to rest in hope.”
MS. Note of Dr. Jebb.