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DESIRE TO BE PRESENT WITH CHRIST.
2 COR. v. 8.
We are confident, I say, and willing rather to be absent
from the body, and to be present with the Lord.
Such were the feelings, such the temper of soul which distinguished the great apostle of the Gentiles. United to the world by a mortal body, and united to the Lord by a fervent love, he felt attractions from opposite objects; he found in his soul desires that contended with each other. On the one hand, nature wished a prolongation of life, recoiled from the stroke of death, and shuddered when it fixed its view upon corruption and the grave. On the other hand, faith lifted the curtain which hangs over the future world, pointed to the eternity of being, the consummation of holiness, the perfection of joy, which are reserved for Christians in the Jerusalem on high, and dissipated the gloom of the grave, by showing that it is the path to heaven, the gate of glory.
On the one hand, nature spread all the pleasures of earth before him, and, with persuasive accents, urged him to fix his ultimate desires upon them, to enjoy them, and be at rest. But on the other hand, faith presented to his view the ravishing, the ineffable beauties of Immanuel; beauties, from the clear vision and full enjoyment of which he was separated by this interposing wall of clay: and bade him sigh and groan, and long for a deliverance from these fetters of flesh, which held his soul in thraldom, and prevented it from mounting and winging its flight to the bosom of its Redeemer.
The apostle deliberately listens to these opposite pleadings of nature and of faith; calmly weighs the force of the motives which each presents to him; places side by side the pleasures of earth and the high raptures which flow from an intimate communion with Jesus in heaven; the terrors of death and that vast weight of glory which it confers upon the Christian; and, whilst the pleasures of earth and the terrors of death shrivel into insignificance, vanish into nothing before the overpowering lustre of celestial joys, he cries out, “ We are confident and willing rather to be absent from the body, and to be present with the Lord.” Fortified by strength from on high, * we are confident,” (Izegovues) and ready with an holy courage to endure the combat with the king of terrors, rather than continue at this painful distance from the Saviour whom we love. Earth has no joys to make us wish to stay: for “ we are willing," we are well pleased and desirous, as the original word is often translated, (ovdo xormer) rather to be absent from this world of sin and pain, and this body of flesh, and to be admitted to the immediate and satisfying presence of the Lord. This is our desire, springing not from a blind impulse of passion; not . from a contempt or hatred of the body, or a disdain
ful aversion to this present state; not from an indisposition to perform the duties or undergo the trials which God appoints to us on earth; not from a mutinous rebellion against his disposals; but from a cool consideration, an enlightened judgment. This is our desire ; and nothing but an acquiescence in the will of God, a submission to the disposals of his providence, and a wish to please him, could make us contented to remain below.
Such is the spirit and import of these words. They were uttered, it is true, by an apostle; by one who was elevated above the rank of ordinary Christians, and called to the performance of duties in which we are not required to engage. But nevertheless, my brethren, it is equally true, that the motives which led Paul to form this particular desire were not derived from his apostolic office, but were such as are common to him and all believers; the reasons which led him thus to determine are such as ought to affect us as much as they did him. Though therefore we are not bound to imitate every action and cultivate every feeling of Paul, because some of his actions and feelings were appropriate to the apostleship, yet still we are bound to imitate and cultivate the sentiments expressed in the text, because they are sentiments which he uttered, not in the character of an apostle, but in that of a Christian; and vital Christianity is the same in kind through all ages, and in all stations. We are, therefore, authorized to lay down the following proposition; to prove, defend, and apply which, shall be the sole object of the present discourse.
Proposition. It is the duty of every Christian to cultivate an ardent, yet submissive wish, to be separated from the body, that he may be with Christ. .
I am sensible, my brethren, that this will appear a strange doctrine to many who call themselves Christians. There are many who suppose that they have the temper and spirit of believers, and that they have a right to expect the reward of believers, although their hearts are so fastened to the earth, that, merely out of love to earthly objects, they shudder at the thoughts of dying, and would be willing to live for centuries in the world. There are many who flatter themselves that they will safely arrive at the Paradise of God, although their hearts, insensible as the clods on which they tread, never pant and languish for the vision and enjoyment of God, although they act and feel as though earth were their true country, and they inhabitants, instead of pilgrims, upon it. Let me beseech all those of you, who are animated by this worldly spirit, to silence the voice of the passions, those eloquent pleaders for corruption, and to listen coolly to those reasons which we shall produce in favour of our doctrine; and I think that you cannot but be convinced that you are strangers to the Christian temper.
But before we present these reasons, it is necessary, clearly and explicitly, to state the meaning of the proposition. Observe, then, that we do not say, that the Christian is bound to desire death for its own sake. Death, in itself, is an evil. Separation from the body in itself is painful. These, then, do not constitute the object of the Christian's desire, except as they are connected with the presence of the Lord; with that presence, which infinitely more than counterpoises all the pangs of dissolution which must be suffered, and all the felicities of earth which must be relinquished, to attain it. It is this presence
which is the primary object of desire, and death becomes desirable only because it introduces us to this presence. This desire should be strong. The infinitude of those joys which flow from the unveiled glories of Immanuel, from the rich emanations of his grace and love, surely deserves something more than a faint, cold wish, which does not agitate the heart, and which freezes upon the lips. Believing and feeling that the perfection of our felicity is to be found only with Christ, our wishes for that better state should be most fervent. But this fervour should be submissive and resigned; these desires should be mingled with no murmurs at the prolongation of our pilgrimage; and whilst for our own sakes, and from a regard to our own happiness, we would wish immediately to be separated from earth, we should for the sake of God, and in obedience to his will, though not from any worldly inclination or temper, be willing to postpone our happiness yet for some time, and remain upon earth.
After these observations, you will understand the true sense of the proposition which we have laid down, and which we repeat:
PROPOSITION. It is the duty of every Christian to have an ardent, yet submissive desire, to be absent from the body, that he may be with Christ.
The arguments to confirm this proposition shall be drawn from these four sources:
I. From the principles of our nature;