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CHRISTIANS, WHEN ABSENT FROM
THE BODY, ARE PRESENT
WITH THE LORD.
II COR. v. 8.
We are confident, I say, and willing rather to be absent from the body, and to be present with the Lord.
THE Apostle is here giving a reason why he went on with such immoveable boldness and steadfastness, through such labours, sufferings, and dangers, in the service of the Lord; for which his enemies, the false teachers among the Corinthians, sometimes reproached him as being beside himself, and driven on by a kind of madness. In the latter part of the preceding chapter, he informs the Christian Corinthians, that the reason why he did thus, was, that he firmly believed the promises which Christ had made to his faithful servants of a glorious and eternal reward; and knew that these present afflictions were light, and but for a moment in comparison of that far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory. In this chapter he further insists on the reason of his constancy in suffering, and exposing himself to death in the work of the ministry, even the more happy state which he expected after death. This is the subject of the text; in which we may observe,
1. The great Future Privilege, for which the Apostle hoped; that of being present with Christ. The words in the original properly signify dwelling with Christ, as in the same country or city, or making an home with Christ.
2. When the Apostle looked for this privilege; viz. when he should be absent from the body: not to wait for it till the resurrection, when soul and body should be united again. He signifies the same thing in Phil. i. 22, 23, " But if I live in the flesh, this is the fruit of my labour. Yet what I shall choose, I wot not. For I am in a strait between two; having a desire to depart, and to be with Christ."
3. The Value which he set on this privilege. For the sake of it, he chose to be absent from the body. It was more pleasing to him, to part with the present life and all its enjoyments, if he might be possessed of this great benefit, than to continue here.
4. The Present Benefit, which he had by his faith and hope of this future privilege, and of his great value for it; viz. that hence he received courage, assurance, and constancy of mind; agreeably to the proper import of the word which is rendered, we are confident. He is now giving a reason of that fortitude and immoveable stability of mind, with which he went through those extreme labours, hardships, and dangers, which he mentions in this course; so that, in the midst of all, he did not faint, was not discouraged, but had constant light, and inward support, strength, and comfort in the midst of all; agreeably to the sixteenth verse of the foregoing chapter," For which cause. we faint not; but though our outward man perish, 'yet the inward man is renewed day by day." The same is expressed more particularly in the eighth, ninth, and tenth verses of that chapter, "We are troubled on every side, yet not distressed; we are perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; cast down, but not destroyed; always bearing about in the body, the dying of the Lord Jesus, that the life also of Jesus, might be made manifest in our mortal flesh." And in the next chap. ver. 4-10," In all things, approving ourselves as the ministers of God, in much patience, in afflictions, in necessities, in distresses, in stripes, in imprisonments, in tumults, in labours, in watchings, in fastings, by pureness, by knowledge, by longsuffering, by kindness, by the Holy Ghost, by love unfeigned, by the word of truth, by the power of God, by the armour of righteousness on the right hand and on the left, by honour and dishonour, by evil report and good report: as deceivers, and yet true; as unknown, and yet well known; as dying, and behold, we live; as chastened, and not killed; as sorrowful, yet alway rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, and yet possessing all things.
Among the many useful instructions, which might be derived from the text, I shall at this time only insist on this:—
The souls of Christians, when they leave the body, go to be
They do this in the following respects:
I. They go to dwell in the same blessed abode with the glorified Human nature of Christ.
The Human nature of Christ is yet in being. He still continues, and will continue to all eternity, to be both God and man-His whole human nature remains: not only his soul, but also his body. His body rose from the dead; and the same that was raised from the dead is exalted and glorified at God's right hand. That which was dead is now alive, and lives for
There is therefore a certain place, a particular part of the external creation, to which Christ is gone, and where he remains. ---This place is the heaven of heavens: a place beyond all the visible heavens. Eph. vi. 9. 10, "Now that he ascended, what is it, but that he also desended first into the lower parts of the earth? He that descended, is the same also that ascended up far above all heavens." This is the same which the Apostle calls the third heaven, 2 Cor. xii. 2 ; reckoning the aerial heaven as the first, the starry heaven as the second, and the highest heaven as the third. This is the abode of the holy angels; they are called" the angels of heaven," Matth. xxiv. 36. "The angels which are in heaven," Mark xiii. 32. "The angels of God in heaven," Matth. xxii. 30. and Mark xii. 25. They are said. always to behold the face of the "Father which is in heaven," Matth. xviii. 10. They are elsewhere often represented as before the throne of God, or surrounding his throne in heaven, and sent from thence, and descending from thence, on messages to this world. Thither it is that the souls of departed saints are conducted, when they die.--They are not reserved in an abode distinct from the highest heaven; a place of rest, which they are kept in, till the day of judgment; which some call the Hades of the happy: but they go directly to heaven itself. This is the saints' home, being their Father's house. They are" pilgrims and strangers" on the earth, and this is the" other and better country" to which they are travelling. Heb. xi. 13--16. This is the city to which they belong. Phillip. iii. 20. " Our conversation, or (as the word properly signifies) citizenship, is in heaTherefore this undoubtedly is the place to which the Apostle refers in the text, when he says, "We are willing to forsake our former house, the body, and to dwell in the same house, city or country, wherein Christ dwells;" which is the proper import of the words of the original.-What can this house, or city, or country be, but that house, which is elsewhere spoken of, as their proper home, their Father's house, the city and country to which they properly belong, whither they are travelling all the while they continue in this world, and the house, city, and country where we know the human nature of Christ is; this is the saints' rest; here their hearts are while they live; and here their treasure is: "The inheritance incorruptible, undefiled and that fadeth not away, that is designed for them, is reserved in heaven;" 1 Pet. i. 4. Therefore they never can have their proper and full rest till they come there. So that undoubtedly their souls, when absent from the body, (when the scriptures represent them as in a state of perfect rest) arrive there-Those two saints, who left this world, to go to their rest in another world without dying, viz. Enoch and Elijah, went to heaven.-Elijah was seen ascending up to heaven, as Christ was; and to the same resting place, is there all reason to think, to which those VOL. X.
saints go, who leave the world, to go to their rest, by death. Moses, when he died in the top of the mount, ascended to the same glorious abode with Elias, who ascended without dying. They are companions in another world; as they appeared together at Christ's transfiguration. They were together at that time, with Christ in the mount, when there was a representation of his glory in heaven. Doubtless, also, they were together afterwards, with him, when he was actually glorified in heaven. Thither undoubtedly it was, that the soul of Stephen ascended, when he expired. The circumstances of his death demonstrate it, as we have an account of it, Acts vii. 55. &c. "He being full of the Holy Ghost, looked up stedfastly into heaven, and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing on the right hand of God, and said, behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of man, (i. e. Jesus in his human nature), standing on the right hand of God. Then they cried out with a loud voice, and stopped their ears, and ran upon him with one accord, and cast him out of the city, and stoned him.-And they stoned Stephen, calling upon God, and saying, Lord Jesus receive my spirit." Before his death he had an extraordinary view of the glory which his Saviour had received in heaven, not only for himself, but for him, and all his faithful followers; that he might be encouraged, by the hopes of this glory, cheerfully to lay down his life for his sake. Accordingly, he dies in the hope of this, saying, "Lord Jesus, receive my spirit." By which doubtless he meant, "receive my spirit to be with thee, in that glory wherein I have now seen thee, in heaven, at the right hand of God." Thither it was, that the soul of the penitent thief on the cross ascended. Christ said to him, "To-day shalt thou be with me in paradise." Paradise is the same with the third heaven; as appears by 2 Cor. xii. 2-4. There, that which is called the third heaven in the second verse, in the fourth verse is called paradise. The departed souls of the Apostles and Prophets arc in heaven; as is manifest from Rev. xxiii. 20. "Rejoice over her thou heaven, and ye holy apostles and prophets." The church of God is distinguished in Scripture, from time to time, into these two parts; that part of it, which is in heaven, and that which is in earth; Eph. iii. 14, 15. " Jesus Christ, of whom the whole family in heaven and earth is named." Col. i. 20. "And having made peace through the blood of his cross, by him to reconcile all things to himself; by him, I say, whether they be things in earth, or things in heaven." Now what " things in heaven" are they for whom peace has been made by the blood of Christ's cross, and who have by him been reconciled to God; but the saints in heaven? In like manner we read, Eph. i. 10. of "God's gathering together in one all things in Christ, both which are in heaven, and which are on earth, even in him." The "spirits of just men made perfect" are in the same "city of the