14. Departing

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"To depart, and to be with Christ; which is far better."
"But this I say, brethren, the time is short" (1 Cor. 7:2929But this I say, brethren, the time is short: it remaineth, that both they that have wives be as though they had none; (1 Corinthians 7:29)). If we reckon that for time which is well spent, then time is brought into a narrow compass indeed: a great part of our time lies fallow: take from our life all the time of eating, drinking, sleeping, besides idle impertinencies, and then how short is our time! How little is the time wherein we can truly say, Hoc vixi, This time I have lived! O how little is the time lived, but time lost. The time is short, why should we love that over-much which we cannot keep over-long?
The world rings changes, it is never constant but in its disappointments. The world is but a great inn, where we are to stay a night or two, and be gone; what madness is it so to set our heart upon our inn, as to forget our home?
The world is a great inn; we are guests in this inn. Travelers when they are met in their inn, do not spend all their time in speaking about their inn; they are to lodge there but a few hours, and they are gone; but they are speaking of their home, and the country whither they are traveling. So when we meet together, we should not be talking only about the world; we are to leave this presently; but we should talk of our heavenly country (Heb. 11:1616But now they desire a better country, that is, an heavenly: wherefore God is not ashamed to be called their God: for he hath prepared for them a city. (Hebrews 11:16)).
We are travelers who take up our lodgings here for a night; and Paul longed to be out of his inn. "I am in a strait betwixt two, having a desire to depart, and to be with Christ; which is far better" (Phil. 1:2323For I am in a strait betwixt two, having a desire to depart, and to be with Christ; which is far better: (Philippians 1:23)). The apostle doth not say, "I must depart"; but, "I desire to depart." All men must depart. There is a dying principle in all. Nebuchadnezzar's image, though it had a head of gold, yet had feet of clay (Dan. 2:4343And whereas thou sawest iron mixed with miry clay, they shall mingle themselves with the seed of men: but they shall not cleave one to another, even as iron is not mixed with clay. (Daniel 2:43)). The strongest man stands upon feet of clay, and must moulder away in time; death will come at last.
The apostle doth not say, Having a desire to die, but "to depart". What a wicked man fears, a godly man hopes for. "I desire", saith Paul, "to depart"; a sinner cries, "I am loath to depart." David calls death a going out of the world (Psa. 39:1313O spare me, that I may recover strength, before I go hence, and be no more. (Psalm 39:13)). A wicked man doth not go out, but is dragged out. If a wicked man were put to his choice, he would never come where God is; but would choose the serpent's curse, to eat dust (Gen. 3:1414And the Lord God said unto the serpent, Because thou hast done this, thou art cursed above all cattle, and above every beast of the field; upon thy belly shalt thou go, and dust shalt thou eat all the days of thy life: (Genesis 3:14)), but not to return to dust. A soul enlivened with grace, looks upon the world as a wilderness, wherein are fiery serpents, and he desires to get out of this wilderness. Simeon, having taken Christ in his arms, cries out, "Lord, now lettest thou Thy servant depart in peace" (Luke 2:2929Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace, according to thy word: (Luke 2:29)). He that hath taken Christ into the arms of his faith, will sing Simeon's song, "Lord, let Thy servant depart." The bird desires to go out of the cage, though it be made of gold.
Death will dry up a believer's tears: "And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes" (Rev. 7:1717For the Lamb which is in the midst of the throne shall feed them, and shall lead them unto living fountains of waters: and God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes. (Revelation 7:17)). Weeping is nothing but a cloud of sorrow gathered in the heart, dropping into water. Ever since we looked upon the tree of knowledge, our eyes have watered. Death shall stop the bottle of tears, and open the gate of paradise. A believer's dying day is his ascension day to glory.
There had been little comfort in departing, if the apostle had not put in this word, "to be with Christ". Death will make a glorious change to a believer; it is but crossing the Dead Sea, and he shall be with Christ. Death to a child of God is like the whirlwind to the prophet Elijah; it blew off his mantle, but carried the prophet up to heaven: so death is a boisterous wind which blows off the mantle of the flesh (for the body is but the mantle the soul is wrapped in), but it carries the soul up to Christ; the day of a believer's dissolution is the day of his coronation. Though death be a bitter cup, there is sugar at the bottom. Though the flesh calls death the last enemy (1 Cor. 15:2626The last enemy that shall be destroyed is death. (1 Corinthians 15:26)), yet faith calls it the best friend; it brings a man to Christ, which is far better.
To be with Christ implies we shall see Him as He is; here we see Him but through a glass darkly. To be with Christ implies we shall not only see Him but enjoy Him: "Enter thou into the joy of thy Lord" (Matt. 25:2121His lord said unto him, Well done, thou good and faithful servant: thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will make thee ruler over many things: enter thou into the joy of thy lord. (Matthew 25:21)); not only see it, but enter into it. To be with Christ implies duration; "So shall we ever be with the Lord" (1 Thess. 4:1717Then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord. (1 Thessalonians 4:17)). "The fashion of this world passeth away" (1 Cor. 7:3131And they that use this world, as not abusing it: for the fashion of this world passeth away. (1 Corinthians 7:31)). Earthly comforts, though they may be sweet, they are swift; but this privilege of being with Christ, runs parallel with eternity: "So shall we ever be with the Lord."
To a believer it is a happy departing; to a wicked man it is a sad departing, there is nothing but departing; he departs out of this life, and he departs from Christ: "Depart from Me, ye cursed" (Matt. 25:4141Then shall he say also unto them on the left hand, Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels: (Matthew 25:41)).
If we are in Christ while we live, we shall go to Christ while we die. We must be in Christ before we can be with Christ.
This is that which makes heaven to be heaven, "We shall be ever with the Lord."
"Enter thou into the joy of thy Lord" (Matt. 25:2121His lord said unto him, Well done, thou good and faithful servant: thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will make thee ruler over many things: enter thou into the joy of thy lord. (Matthew 25:21)). O amazing! The saints enter into God's own joy: they have not only the joy which God bestows, but the joy which God enjoys.
He is a constant Friend. "His compassions fail not" (Lam. 3:2222It is of the Lord's mercies that we are not consumed, because his compassions fail not. (Lamentations 3:22)). God is a friend forever. "Having loved His own, He loved them unto the end" (John 13:11Now before the feast of the passover, when Jesus knew that his hour was come that he should depart out of this world unto the Father, having loved his own which were in the world, he loved them unto the end. (John 13:1)). He loves to the end, and there is no end of that love. How invincible is the love of Christ! "It is strong as death" (Canticles [Song of Songs] 8:6). Death might take away His life, not this love. And that which makes this love of Christ the more stupendous, there was nothing in us to excite or draw forth His love: He did not love us because we were worthy, but by loving us He made us worthy.
Christ's love did not cease at the hour of death. We write on our letters, "Your friend till death"; but Christ wrote in another style, "Your friend after death." Christ died once, but lives ever. He is now testifying His affection for us, He is interceding for us. When He hath done dying, yet He hath not done loving.
"Enter thou into the joy of thy Lord" (Matt. 25:2121His lord said unto him, Well done, thou good and faithful servant: thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will make thee ruler over many things: enter thou into the joy of thy lord. (Matthew 25:21)). Here joy enters into the saints; in heaven they enter into joy. There can be no more sorrow in heaven than there is joy in hell.
Why should we shed tears immoderately for them who have tears wiped from their eyes? Why should we be swallowed up of grief for them who are swallowed up of joy? They are gone to their kingdom; they are not lost but gone a little before; not perished, but translated.
Death may take away a few worldly comforts, but it gives that which is better; it takes away a short lease and gives land of inheritance. If the saints possess a kingdom when they die, they have no cause to fear death. A prince would not be afraid to cross the sea, though tempestuous, if he were sure to be crowned as soon as he came to shore.