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Paul's Anticipation of Death

XXIII.

PAUL'S ANTICIPATION OF DEATH.

Second trial impending.—Unfavourable issue apprehended.—Death by martyrdom expected.—Death-scenes, why valuable.—Paul's final review of life.—A conflict.—A course. —A trust.—Much had been given up.— Extent of that sacrifice best understood at the close of life.—Much had been suffered.—But still no expression of regret.—Contrast the life of some,—wasted;—perverted; unsanctified.—Prospect for the future consequent on the review of the past. — Death-bed salvation possible.— Starting-point in any part of the course.—But no memories of past service.—No fitness in the result.-—The crown is of righteousness, but not of merit.—Nor of partiality.—Last expression of Paul's confidence and hope.

"For 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 there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness which the Lord, the righteous Judge, shall give me at that day."

2 T1mothy iv. 6—S.

ANCIENT ARMOUR.

THE statement of the apostle—" I am ready to be offered, and the time of my departure is at hand,"—was evidently made when he was in prospect of his second and final, trial before the emperor,—a trial which resulted in his death. For causes now unknown to us, and in a manner which to us is equally unknown, he had been, after an interval (as tradition tells us) of five or six years, brought again as a prisoner to Rome. We are wholly ignorant of the reasons why he was again arrested; of the charges brought against him; of the accusers; of the place, the time, and the circumstances of the trial. It is not probable that those who had failed in securing his condemnation on the first trial could hope to be more successful a second time under the same accusations. The charges under the

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second trial were, not improbably, somehow connected with the Roman government, and may have been, as has been conjectured, to the effect that he had instigated the act of incendiarism on which Nero founded his furious persecution against the Christians. If the Roman government had a purpose to remove one who was so active in propagating the religion of Christ, it would be easy to identify him with the Christians whom it was determined to destroy; and it would not be difficult to find persons who would bear witness against the leader of that sect. Such a charge would, of course, bring him at once under the cognizance of the Roman tribunals, and, if it were proved, would make him, even though he had the rights of a Roman citizen, liable to the severest penalties of the law. Though years had passed away since that occurrence, yet it would be very possible so to present this charge as to secure his certain condemnation.

Whatever the charge was, on this trial he did not expect to be acquitted. In the former imprisonment, and in reference to the former trial, his death had appeared to be by no means an impossible result, but he had considered an acquittal probable. Thus, in the epistle addressed at that time to the Philippians (i. 23—25), he says, "I am in a strait betwixt two, having a desire to depart, and to be with Christ, which is far better; nevertheless to abide in the flesh is more needful for you; and having this confidence, I know that I shall ubide and continue with you all, for your furtherance and joy of faith." But on the second trial he had no such hope; and his language in his second epistle to Timothy, which was written during this second imprisonment, expresses the firm conviction of his mind that there was no prospect of escape.

He was evidently looking forward to certain death. The expression "I am now ready to be offered," properly interpreted, can be understood in no other sense. The word "ready" in the phrase "ready to be offered," conveys an idea which, although it corresponded with the reality, and although it is expressive of the feelings of a departing believer, is not in the original. That word, in such a connexion, would properly imply that he was prepared to die, and that he was willing to die :— which, however true it may have been in his case, is not the idea conveyed by the language of the apostle. He merely states the fact that he was about to die, or that his work and his life were drawing to a close. The single word rendered "I am ready to be offered,"— <nrtv£ofiai—occurs nowhere else in the New Testament, except in Philippians ii. 17, where it is rendered "offered," and in the margin poured forth,—"Yea, and if I be offered upon the sacrifice and service of your faith, I joy and rejoice with you all." The Greek word means, properly, to pour out, to make a libation. Then, in the form here used, it means to pour out oneself; that is, to , pour out one's blood; to offer up one's strength or life, as the blood of an animal was poured out in sacrifice,— or, as Burder supposes, as wine and oil were poured on the head of a victim about to be presented in sacrifice. Paul's idea is that he was then in the condition of the sacrificial victim on whose head the wine and the oil had been poured, and which was about to be put to death. It is undoubtedly implied, in this language, that the apostle regarded his life as an offering for the good of others, and himself as a martyr to truth and to the cause of Christianity, whose death would do something to promote the cause of religion. As such, the time had come for him to be put to death, and it could be no longer delayed. In that sense he was now "ready T

The same thing is implied in the expression immediately following in the same verse: "The time of my departure is at hand." The word rendered "departure," means dissolutionavaXva1e—and corresponds literally to the word "dissolution," which we now apply to death —the dissolution of soul and body. The word, in classic writings, is often applied to the act of unloosing or casting off the fastenings of a ship, preparatory to its sailing. Thus applied, the idea of the apostle would be, that he had been bound to the present world, as a ship is fastened to its moorings; that death would be a casting off of those fastenings; and that he was about to spread his sails on the broad ocean of eternity.

The same idea—namely, that he was about to die,— is expressed in the phrase, " I have finished my course; —henceforth" (all that now remains, Xoinbv)—" there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness."

It is always interesting to learn the feelings of a man when he is about to die. We are soon ourselves to be in that condition; and it is natural that we should have a desire to know how he feels, and a wish to know how we shall feel, when that event shall be about to occur to us. This interest pertains to every man who is about to die, no matter whether his character may have been good or bad. The dying Christian and the dying infidel are objects of almost equal interest to us, though for different reasons. We wish to know how the past seems to them; how the future seems to them; how the world that is vanishing appears; how the eternal world, on the verge of which they are then standing, appears. We wish to know whether earth then seems valuable; whether religion appears important; and whether the dying man has gained anything, or has found anything, which will comfort him in anticipation of his departure.

I shall make use of Paul's experience to illustrate some of these thoughts: and the main idea which I shall endeavour to present, will be that THE REVIEW OF A WELL-SPENT LIFE HAS A CONNEXION WITH A BRIGHT AND CHEERFUL PROSPECT IN REGARD TO THE FUTURE WORLD. "I HAVE fought a good fight; I HAVE kept the faith; HENCEFORTH there is laid up for me a crown."

In dwelling upon this, it will be necessary to consider two points:—I. The life finally reviewed; and II. The prospect of the future life, consequent on that.

I. The life f1nally reviewed. The case of Paul will be considered as illustrative of the last review of life in other cases. This will bring before us several subordinate points.

(1.) How he regarded life; or, what his life seemed to him to have been.

(a.) Life, to his view, had been an " agony " or conflict,— "I have fought a good fight {jov aywva). The allusion is to the Grecian games; to the contest, the struggle, the strife in those games for the mastery and for the crown. Such a conflict is often referred to by the Apostle Paul, as an emblem of the efforts, toils, and trials of the Christian life (Phil. i. 30; Col. ii. 1; 1 Thess. ii. 2; 1 Cor. ix. 25). Such an allusion would be easily understood in those times, and the comparison would most aptly set forth the struggles of the Christian life. There was a crown in view ; an appropriate reward. There was need of effort to secure the crown. There f was danger of failure by indolence, by want of exertion, by remissness, by inaction. The struggle was not, indeed, as in the Grecian games, one in which there was but a single crown to be gained by all the runners or wrestlers; or in which, if one man gained the prize, all the others must lose. But it was as if there were but one crown; as if there were many competitors and rivals; as //when one gained it, all others must lose it. Though there are many crowns to be distributed, and though the fact that one obtains the reward is no hindrance to its being obtained also by others, yet the loss may be as real and the necessity for effort is as great as though there were but one such prize.

(6.) He regarded life as a "course" to be run. "I have finished my course" (rdv Epofiov). The allusion here, also, is to the Grecian games:—the running, or race. Life is such a course. It has a beginning and an ending—a starting point, and a goal. It is a short course; soon run over. It is not to be repeated; if the prize is lost, the course cannot be run over again. In the Grecian games, if the race was lost, the prize passed over to others; in the Christian course, it is as tlwugk the prize, if lost, were to pass into other hands. A new trial cannot be granted; a new race cannot be run; a new prize cannot be offered. In the Grecian games, indeed, if the prize was not won in one race, a new trial might be granted for another prize, and the race might be run over again :—but not so in respect of life. Whether it has been marked by failure or success, it cannot be gone over again; and this is the meaning of the apostle, when he says, "I have finished my course."

(c.) Life was, to him, a keeping of the faith ;—f1delity "to his Master, and to his Master's cause; "I have kept the faith." He had adhered steadfastly to the great truths of the Gospel; and he had been faithful to his Saviour, who had commissioned him to go and proclaim those truths to the world.

(2.) What had, in his life, actually occurred? What 'was there that Paul would be likely to call to remembrance on this review of it?

(a.) He had, as we have already seen, given up much. All that was brilliant in his early prospects, he had given up. Honour in his own country, and honour abroad; office in his native land, and office (if it could be secured) abroad; wealth, if he inherited it, or wealth that might have been secured in a lucrative calling; fame, as a scholar; fame, as a defender of the religion of his country; fame, as an orator,—all this he had surrendered. He lived at an age of the world when talent was appreciated, and when there was as wide a field for ambition as any which had ever been witnessed; and there was no reason why he should not have entered with others on that field, and been distinguished there. Yet all this had been abandoned—absolutely and for ever abandoned—for the sake of Christ. We might suppose, indeed, that when Paul gave up his worldly prospects, and became a Christian, he did not know fully what he was abandoning; but we cannot doubt that he saw this more clearly—most clearly—when in the prison at Rome, he again reviewed his own life. He could not but feel then, without any arrogance on his part, that a man who had been enabled to make his name known so far abroad as he had done in the course of life which he had chosen,—who had influenced so many minds and hearts,—who had done so much to form the opinions of men, and to change the religion of the world, might have been distinguished in other spheres; and that, if his early plans of ambition had been pursued, instead of being now a prisoner at Rome, and soon to die an ignominious death, he might have been in possession of wealth, or held a position of honour by the side of the great orators or statesmen of his age. A man, at the close of his life, is often in far better circumstances to judge what he has given up in the cause of religion than he is in his earlier years, when his talents are not developed; or when, as yet, he has in fact little to surrender.

(p.) He had been called to suffer much, and he could not but remember this. Indeed his life from the time of his conversion to Christ, had been one of sacrifice, toil, self-denial, peril, persecution, and poverty. He had accumulated no property; but had been, and was, a poor man, dependent often in a great measure on the scanty earnings produced by labouring at the humble occupation of making tents (Acts xviii. 3). He had often been in actual want. He had been without a home; he had been often alone, a solitary traveller. He had been in dangers by land and by sea; he had suffered shipwreck; he had been persecuted; he had been publicly scourged; he had been stoned even until he was supposed to be dead (2 Cor. xi. 23—27). Reports unfavourable to him had gone before him; he had been embarrassed in his movements by the machinations of his enemies; justice had been denied him before the tribunals of his own country, and before those of Rome. He had been held up to reproach as an apostate from the religion of his fathers, and had been regarded as everywhere a disturber of the peace. Speaking of himself and his fellow apostles, he said, "For I think that God hath set forth us the apostles last, as it were, appointed to death; for we are made a spectacle unto the world, and to angels, and to men; . . . even unto this present hour we both hunger, and thirst, and are naked, and are buffeted, and have no certain dwelling-place; and labour, working with our own hands; being reviled, we bless; being persecuted, we suffer it; being defamed, we entreat; we are made as the filth of the world, the offscouring of all things, unto this day,"—irtpi^fia, the scrapings, the scum, for so the word means (1 Cor. iv. 9—13). Such had been the life which he was reviewing, as he stood near the grave.

(3.) What, now, were his views in regard to that course? There is no expression of sorrow. There is no intimation that his life had been a failure. There is no utterance of a doubt about the truth of that religion which he had embraced, or about the "crown" which he had laboured to gain. There is no dark shadow coming over his mind as if all this were a delusion; no intimation that the hopes which he had cherished, and which had sustained him in his troubles, were now vanishing away. His conviction of the truth of his religion became deeper as he approached the end; and the prospects of a better life grew brighter and brighter as he now drew near to the reality. It grieved him not now that he had identified himself with the despised followers of the "Nazarene;" it grieved him not that he had travelled so much, that he had toiled so hard, that he had encountered so many dangers.

(4.) We cannot but remark here how different is this from the review which some men have to take of life.

(a.) The folly of a wasted life. "Alas!" said Grotius, "I have wasted my life, laboriously doing nothing."1

1 Proh! vitam perdidi opcrose nihil agendo.

But how many utter this exclamation with much more reason than Grotius did! A life of wasted time; of wasted talents; of wasted wealth; of wasted opportunities for doing good; of wasted privileges; of wasted means of grace: a life in which a man might have gained great knowledge, but has gained none; in which he might have been eminently useful, but has done no good; in which he might have made great numbers of the poor and needy happy, but has helped and relieved none; in which he might have prepared for an eternity of blessedness, but has to enter the unseen world with no preparation for it.

(6.) The wickedness of a life of perverted powers; a life employed in corrupting others; in leading them into error; in seducing them from virtue; in destroying their religious hopes. How different from the reflections of the apostle Paul, who spent his life to make men better, and to fill their lives and their departing hours with peace, and hope, and joy, are the reflections of a dying infidel,—a man, endowed (it may be), with talents adapted to defend the truth, to explain it to others, to remove their difficulties, and to guide them to God and to heaven; but who has, in fact, spent his life in endeavouring to convince them that there is no God; that there is no future state; that there is no heaven :— that the soul dies with the body, and that all the hopes cherished of a world beyond are mere illusion.

(c.) The misery of a life without religion. The life of a man who has had no religion in his best days; who has none as he lies on a bed of death; who has no prospect of happiness beyond the grave; who has exhausted his powers to gain this world, but has put forth no effort for the world to come; who is rich in this world's goods, but has no treasure laid up in heaven; who has been wise as a counsellor, a statesman, or a philosopher, but not "wise unto salvation;" who has gained much knowledge of the works of creation, but no knowledge of Him that created them; who has been able to give counsel in the senate-chamber or in the cabinet, but has never learned how sinners may be saved; who lies now on a bed of death—over whose remains a splendid monument will soon be reared—at whose burial a nation may weep, but in whose soul there is no godliness; no hope of a better life; no fitness for heaven! How unlike to that of the apostle Paul! Sad the contrast between the reflections of such a man as he leaves the world, and those of the Christian apostle.

II. The prospect of the future life consequent on this review of the past:—" I have fought a good fight; I have finished my course; I have kept the faith: henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness."

There are here two points to be noticed :—

(1.) This view of the future life, in its best form, must spring up from a review of the past life.

I do not deny that there may be a hope of salvation, and, therefore, of the "crown" of glory, derived from the feelings and purposes of a man, in the closing scene of life :—from repentance and faith first exercised on the bed of death. The merciful spirit of the religion of Christ admits this; God does not exclude from His favour the penitent sinner, though at the last hour. It cannot be denied or doubted that the dying malefactor who said on the cross, "Lord, remember me when Thou comest into Thy kingdom," was as welcome in heaven as Lazarus or Mary, or as Paul himself was after the sacrifices and services of his long, laborious, and faithful life. Heaven, in this respect, differs essentially from the " crown " secured at the Grecian games. There, no one obtained the prize who had not entered at the beginning; who did not start when others started; who did not run over the whole course:—none who came in, with fresh and unexhausted vigour, when the race had been partly run, and who, therefore, might outstrip a wearied rival. Justice and equity demanded that all should start "fair;" that all should run over the same extent of ground; that all should run to the same goal. Religion would more perfectly resemble this, if it had required, as it might have done, that no one should receive the crown who did not begin the course at a specified time of life—say at twenty years of age, and who did not run and struggle as long as others, life being lengthened out for this purpose. But how many, on that principle, would have been excluded from salvation; how sad would have been the condition of one who had just passed the period fixed for the starting, and who would have had a long life before him with no possibility of entering the course. The crown of life is offered to any one and every one who will seek it at any time of life, even in the dying hour.

The prospect of this future crown is seen, however, most fully and appropriately in connexion with the review of a life spent in the service of the Redeemer. Very different must be the reflections of one who has sought it as the great aim of life—of a long life—from those of one who seeks it when life is nearly ended. Both may—both will, if they are true believers—enter into heaven; both will wear the "crown." But the one will wear it with a remembrance that his days have been spent in the service of the world; in the ways of pleasure, folly, and ambition; in the indulgence, it may be, of low and sensual pleasures; perhaps in corrupting others, in alienating them from God, in sapping the foundations of truth in their minds, in leading them into sin and error, from which he cannot now recall them. In his case the work of life is, indeed, done, but it is badly done. There is no part of it on which he can look but with regret; there is no part of it which he would not wish to recall that he might live it over again in a better form. The whole course has been a career of folly, save the few moments of penitence and faith on the bed of death. It is too late for the penitent man now to render active service to his new Master; too late to do good in the world; too late to warn and instruct his fellow-men; too late to labour for the spread of the Gospel. The "crown" is, indeed, before him, for he is penitent, and has faith in Christ; but it is a crown which cannot be worn (even while he adores the grace that saves him), without the feeling that it is not the appropriate sequence of a life spent in folly and in sin.

The other will wear the "crown" not less with the feeling that it is of " grace," but with the feeling also that it is the appropriate issue of a life. It fitly follows upon having run over the entire course; of having devoted the best powers to the service of truth; of having endeavoured to do good through many years; and of having nothing to regret in the general aim and purpose of the life.

(2.) The remaining point of inquiry is, On what, in Paul's case, was this hope of the "crown" founded?

He says it was "a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge," would give him. We cannot be in danger of mistake as to what he meant by this. On no subject has he, in his writings, expressed himself with more clearness than on the proper ground of hope for the salvation of man; on no subject more clearly than on the foundation of his own hope for salvation (Titus iii. 4—7; Eph. ii. 8, 9; Rom. iii. 20—24; Phil. iii. 7—9). The "crown," therefore, was, in his apprehension, a "crown of righteousness," not to be bestowed on account of his own merit; not because he had deserved it; not because he had any claim to it, except as connected with a promise of grace, but as bestowed on him in accordance with a great plan of salvation—a scheme by which men, themselves sinners, might be treated as if they were "righteous ;"—a plan by which even in saving men, the justice of God would be vindicated and the interests of right secured throughout the universe. It was a "crown " illustrating the righteousness of God; not the righteousness of men.

At the same time, however, it would be bestowed by a " righteous Judge:"—a Judge not partial; not bestowing his favours by caprice; not imparting them in virtue of rank, and station, and position, and wealth, but conferring the crown equally, and with the same pleasure, on all who believe in His name, and who serve Him in a faithful life. No one will wear that crown as the result of partiality; no one, however, of whom it will not be seen that it was justly bestowed under tlte arrangements of redemption.

The words which we have been considering, are the last words of Paul which we possess in relation to his views of death and of another life. If he uttered any words in his last moments,—if he expressed peace, calmness, and joy when he was about to lay his head under the axe,—those words have not been transmitted to us. Better are the quiet words spoken in the vigour of life, and in the fulness of the mental powers, than those which are uttered amid the excitement and agitation of the dying scene. Better than any fervid expressions of rapture and ecstacy, and transport,—any imagined visions of the Saviour, of God, of "shining ones," of outstretched arms from the heavens to welcome us there, —are those calm utterances of faith, which we have been now contemplating:—" I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith: henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness."