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With Christ Is Best


For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain. But if I am to live on in the flesh, this will mean fruitful labor for me; and I do not know which to choose. But I am hard-pressed from both directions, having the desire to depart and be with Christ, for that is very much better; yet to remain on in the flesh is more necessary for your sake.

—Philippians 1:21–24

The Apostle Paul had no fear of death. On the contrary, as expressed in the text above, he anticipated it with great joy. How did he—or, more to the point, how can we—“attain this sanctified sweet desire that Paul had, to die, and be with Christ?” Richard Sibbes answers as follows:


Let us carry ourselves as Paul did, and then we shall have the same desires. St Paul, before death, in his lifetime, ‘had his conversation in heaven,’ Phil. iii. 1. His mind was there, and his soul followed after. There is no man’s soul comes into heaven, but his mind is there first. It was an easy matter for him to desire to be with Christ, having his conversation in heaven already. Paul in meditation was, where he was not, and he was not where he was. He was in heaven when his body was on earth.

Again, St Paul had loosed his affections from all earthly things; therefore it was an easy matter for him to desire to be with Christ. ‘I am crucified to the world, and the world is crucified to me,’ &c., Gal. vi. 14. If once a Christian comes to this pass, death will be welcome to him. Those whose hearts are fastened to the world, cannot easily desire Christ.

Again, holy St Paul laboured to keep a good conscience in all things. ‘Herein I exercise myself, to have a good conscience towards God and men,’ &c., Acts xxiv. 16. It is easy for him to desire to be dissolved, that hath his conscience sprinkled with the blood of Christ, Heb. x. 22, free from a purpose of living in any sin. . . . A guilty conscience trembles at the mention of death. . . . Oh, beloved, the exercising of the heart to keep a clear conscience, can only breed this desire in us to depart, and to be with Christ. . . . Oh, therefore let us walk holily with our God, and maintain inward peace all we can, if we desire to depart hence with comfort.

Again, Paul had got assurance that he was in Christ, by his union with him. ‘I live not,’ saith he, ‘but Christ lives in me,’ Gal. ii. 19. Therefore labour for assurance of salvation, that you may feel the Spirit of Christ in you, sanctifying and altering your carnal dispositions to be like his. ‘I know whom I have trusted,’ 2 Tim. i. 12, saith he. He was as sure of his salvation, as if he had had it already.* . . . Therefore, if we would come to Paul’s desire, labour to come to the frame of the holy apostle’s spirit. He knew whom he had believed; he was assured that nothing could separate him from the love of God, neither life, nor death, nor anything whatsoever that could befall him, Rom. viii. 38, 39.

Paul had an art of sweetening the thoughts of death. He considered it only as a departure from earth to heaven. When death was presented unto him as a passage to Christ, it was an easy matter to desire the same; therefore it should be the art of Christians to present death as a passage to a better life, to labour to bring our souls into such a condition, as to think death not to be a death to us, but the death of itself. Death dies when I die, and I begin to live when I die. It is a sweet passage to life. We never live till we die. This was Paul’s art. He had a care to look beyond death, to heaven; and when he looked upon death, he looked on it but as a passage to Christ: so let it be our art and skill. Would we cherish a desire to die, let us look on death as a passage to Christ, and look beyond it to heaven. All of us must go through this dark passage to Christ, which when we consider as Paul did, it will be an easy matter to die.

—Richard Sibbes, Christ Is Best; Or, St Paul’s Strait., Works (Banner of Truth, 2001), 1:341–343

* Sibbes does not mean to say that Paul’s salvation was not entirely secure. We have the promise from Christ himself that all who are his will be kept to the end: “All that the Father gives Me will come to Me, and the one who comes to Me I will certainly not cast out. For I have come down from heaven, not to do My own will, but the will of Him who sent Me. This is the will of Him who sent Me, that of all that He has given Me I lose nothing, but raise it up on the last day. For this is the will of My Father, that everyone who beholds the Son and believes in Him will have eternal life, and I Myself will raise him up on the last day” (John 6:37–40). He means that Paul was as sure of his salvation as if he had already been raised on that last day.

Posted 2017·07·31 by David Kjos
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Posted in: Death · Richard Sibbes · Works of Richard Sibbes

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