It's been a few weeks since I sent out a "thought." Yahoo tightened their controls and was blocking me from sending them. Therefore I had to find an alternative way of sending them out. We will see how this goes! With that being said, I send you this thought.
It comes to you from one of the most beloved of Puritan preachers -- Richard Sibbes. He was Spurgeon's favorite because his writings were always so comforting and Gospel-saturated. It is found in his booklet "Christ is Best."
It was actually preached at the funeral of a friend. Michael Reeves, who writes the forward to the booklet, sums it's message up well:"In dead religion, one can easily talk of receiving 'grace' so as to 'get to heaven.' Paul does not. Instead of departing and be 'in heaven,' Paul says he desires to depart and be 'with Christ.' For, says Sibbes, 'heaven is not heaven without Christ.' In other words, true faith is not about buying into some abstract system of salvation (even one paid for by Christ); first and foremost it is about the Spirit bringing me to know, love, and desire Christ himself... hearts begin to desire Christ above all when they sense how much he loves us sinners, how much he has suffered for our forgiveness, how unfathomably kind and merciful he is and has been. We love him because he first loved us (I John 4:19)." And those brought to love him because of his great love them, yearn not solely for heaven, but for heaven because it is there that they will be with the Christ they have come to love. I have taken the liberty to change some antiquated terms and explain others. Enjoy.
"For me to live is Christ and to die is gain... Yet what shall I choose? I do not know! I am torn between the two: I desire to depart and be with Christ , which is better by far; but it is more necessary for you that I remain in the body." Philippians 1:21-24
"Death is but a departing. The word death [in the Greek] means 'loosing from the shore, or removing a ship to another coast' [Luke 8:38, 2 Timothy 4:6, Phil. 1:23]. We must all be loosed from our houses of clay and be carried to another place, to heaven. Paul labors to sweeten so harsh a thing as death, by comfortable expressions of it. It is but a sleep, a going home, a laying aside our earthly tabernacle...
Some things are desirable for themselves, like happiness and holiness. Some things are not desirable for themselves, but because they make a way to better things... Medicine is not desired for itself, but for the health it brings. And just as we desire health for itself, and medicine for health, so to be with Christ is a thing desirable of itself.
Yet because we cannot come to Christ but by the dark passage of death, Paul says, I desire to depart that my death may be a passage to Christ. Death was the object of St. Paul's desire so far as it made a way for better things. To be with Christ who came from heaven to be here on earth with us and descended that we should ascend; to be with him who has done and suffered so much for us; to be with Christ who delighted to be with us; to be with Christ who emptied himself and became of no reputation, becoming poor to make us rich; to be with Christ our husband, now in heaven -- that all of him may be gained in heaven -- this was the thing Paul desired.
Question: Why does he not say, "I desire to be in heaven?" Answer: Because heaven would not be heaven without Christ. It is better to be any place with Christ than to be in heaven itself if he were not there. All delicacies without Christ are but as a funeral banquet. Where the master of the feast is away, there is nothing but solemnness. What is all without Christ? I say the joys of heaven are not the joys of heaven without Christ. He is the very heaven of heaven.
True love is carried to the person. It is adulterous love to love the thing (or the gift) more than the person. St. Paul loved the person of Christ because he felt the sweet experience that Christ loved him. His love was but a reflection of Christ's loving him first. He loved to see Christ, to embrace him, and enjoy him who had done so much and suffered so much for his soul -- who had forgiven him so many sins.
To be with Christ is best of all. To be with Christ is to be at the spring-head of all happiness. It is to be in our proper element. Every creature thinks itself best when in its own element. That is the place it thrives in and enjoys its happiness in. And Christ is the element of a Christian.
Again, it is far better, because to be with Christ is to have the marriage consummated. Is not marriage better than the contract? Is not home better than absence? To be with Christ is to be at home. Is not triumph better than to be in conflict? But to be with Christ is to triumph over all enemies, to be out of Satan's reach.
Is not perfection better than imperfection? Here all is but imperfect, but in heaven there is perfection. Therefore that is much better than any good below, for all are but shadows here, there is reality. What are riches? What are the worm-eaten pleasures of the world? What are the honors of the earth but mere shadows of good? 'At the right hand of God are pleasures indeed' (Ps. 16:11), honors indeed, riches indeed; there is reality...
It is better to be with Christ than enjoy the graces and comforts of the Holy Spirit here. Why? Because they are all stained and mixed. Here our peace is interrupted with desertion and trouble. Here the joys of the Holy Spirit are mingled with sorrow. Here the grace in a man is mixed with combat of flesh and spirit, but in heaven there is pure peace, pure joy, pure grace; for what is glory but the perfection of grace? Grace indeed is glory here, but it is glory mixed with conflict. It is imperfect. My friends, perfection is better than imperfection, therefore to be with Christ is far better.
Is it not far better to die and be with Christ, than to live a conflicting life here? Why should we then fear death, which is but a passage to Christ?... It is but a departure to a better condition. It is but as Jordan to the Children of Israel, by which they passed into Canaan... It is but the Red Sea by which we pass from Egypt to the promised land. Death is ours and for our good. It ends all our misery and sin. It is the suburbs of heaven. It lets us into those joys above."
Sibbes shared all this to comfort and encourage those present at the funeral of his friend Mr. Christopher Sherland (1593-1632).
Death, though the final enemy, has been defeated, and made by the sufferings, death and resurrection of Jesus, the gateway into his immediate presence. It is the Jordan we must cross. It is the passageway through the Red Sea to the promised land. It is the gateway to true and everlasting life and eternal pleasures at Christ's right hand. In Him, as the author of Hebrews tells us, God has "freed those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death" (Hebrews 2:15).
In the Bonds of our Blessed Hope, Pastor Jeff