To Depart and be with Christ.

1899 248 The full purpose of divine grace is clearly made known: the believer shall be like and with Christ eternally. But if his departure takes place while the Lord Jesus is on high, scripture also plainly declares that the departed is at once with Christ which is positive gain, far beyond remaining in the body.

It is true that the coming of the Lord Jesus is the God-given hope of the Christian, who is enjoined to live and walk in this daily expectation. No less true is the intermediate blessedness, if he be summoned to be absent from the body and present with the Lord; in the language of the same apostle, it is to depart and be with Christ, which is far better. As this then is the testimony of scripture, it is important that it should be well weighed, and that its enjoyment by the Spirit of God should be cultivated in the power of the new life. Only we are called to maintain, also unweakened, that Christ, the believer's life, is his blessed hope; as we know well that until His return none can bear His heavenly likeness. The deep impression of the heart's longing to be with Christ was recently made on the writer when visiting a loved and aged saint, an honoured servant of the Lord. Without weakening the precious truth of our Lord's coming, said he, "I do long to go, that I may experience the blessedness of what it is to be with Christ; though I know it will be waiting-time there, until the church shall be with, like, and for her Lord and Bridegroom." His words, given in substance, were a challenge to the heart whether Christ have practical supremacy over everything else, as it should be with every saint and servant of the Lord. Is it so that Christ Himself is the governing object, either in living for Him or in readiness to go at His call? The associated scriptures, if calmly meditated upon, are calculated to speak to heart and conscience of the Lord's grace in salvation, life, and service.

The place of the departed with Christ is mentioned in three significant scriptures. First in Luke 23. the penitent malefactor is told by the Saviour, in answer to his faith, that he should be that very day with Him in paradise. Thus did sovereign grace abound over sin in extreme circumstances for a dying robber and the dying Saviour. To the former it was the first death under man's hand. But the Lord Jesus died not only as the righteous martyr, but as the holy spotless victim under the hand of a sin-hating God. Marvellous the grace that could lend a ready ear to such a sinner, both saving him there and then, and fitting him to be at once with Himself. "This day shalt thou be with me in paradise." It was the same sovereign grace flowing through the death of the One of Whom he who calls himself the chief of sinners could say at a later day, "The Son of God, who loved me, and gave Himself for me." Whilst it is truly blessed for a soul when saved to go at once to the Saviour, there is the great privilege of living and suffering for Him where He is despised, rejected, and unknown. None so fully knew and proved this as the apostle Paul. He in glory Who by the revelation of Himself in sovereign grace as "Jesus" so won his heart, that He became his one absorbing object ever after. Crucified with Christ as to his former self, he could say, "I live, yet not I, but Christ liveth in me;" hence to reproduce Christ in walk and ways was his grand aim.

To him by the Spirit we are indebted for the scriptures testifying to the blessedness of the disembodied state with the place it had in his own soul. In Phil. 1. (an epistle where true Christian experience is fully given) he declares of himself, "For to me to live is Christ," adding further, "and to die is gain." Thus living Christ day by day is a precious reality, but to die exceeds it. His own desire was to depart and be with the One he served; but devotion to his Lord caused him to pause, saying, "I am in a strait betwixt two, having a desire to depart and to be with Christ," as the R.V. puts it, "for it is very far better." This in no wise weakens the blessed heavenly hope. For Phil. 3. ends with "Our citizenship is in heaven, from whence also we look for the Lord Jesus as Saviour, who shall change our body of humiliation that it may be fashioned like unto His glorious body."

Thus if the hope of full likeness to Him, Who is now glorified, awakened the longing to be with Him, he in the spirit and love of his blessed Lord was willing to remain and serve Him in His saints; yea, for them it was needful. Precious the experience in heart and purpose! The resignation was to stay in the body and serve others, rather than have his personal longing gratified by going thus out of it to be thus with Christ. This truly is in character with what grace gave rise to in 2 Corinthians, where the same apostle said to the saints whom he loved and served, "Death worketh in us but life in you" (chap. 4). His sufferings in service for their sake, though knowing the afflictions it involved, would work a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory.

We may see that it is after speaking of the earthly and heavenly body at the opening of chap. 5 that he describes three states of the Christian clothed upon, when mortality will be swallowed up of life; at home in the body and absent from the Lord; and absent from the body and present with the Lord. Of the last he says, "We are confident and willing rather to be absent from the body and to be present with the Lord." To be willing rather to go testified to the supreme place Christ had in the soul, above every thing and person. It manifested also that Christ governed the heart as to heaven above and all circumstances below; heightened with the joy of being with the Lord even without the glorified body.

The lesson may be new to some, but had been gone through and evidently learnt by the beloved saint whose experience suggested this paper; and since then his wish has been gratified, as he is now absent from the body and present with the Lord. To those left here the lesson remains, to awaken affection and devotion in deepened communion and service, willing to go or remain till He come. Meanwhile be it our aim that whether present or absent, we be well-pleasing unto Him.

God in grace grant it to every servant for His name's sake. G.G.