Dr. W. A. Criswell
3-24-57 7:30 p.m.
Now, let’s read our Book together: the first chapter of Philippians. This morning we left off at the twentieth verse. Now in order to pick up his thought, we’ll have to start reading at my morning text, the nineteenth verse, and then read to the end of the chapter. The text out of which we preach tonight is the twenty-first verse: "For to me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain" [Philippians 1:21].
Philippians 1, beginning at the nineteenth verse and all of us reading to the end of the chapter; all right, together – Philippians 1:19:
For I know that this shall turn to my salvation through your prayer and the supply of the Spirit of Jesus Christ,
According to my earnest expectation and my hope that in nothing I shall be ashamed, but that with all boldness, as always, so now also Christ shall be magnified in my body, whether it be by life or by death.
For to me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain.
But if I live in the flesh, this is the fruit of my labor; yet what I shall choose I wot not.
For I am in a strait betwixt the 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 abide and continue with you all for your furtherance and the joy of faith,
That your rejoicing may be more abundant in Jesus Christ for me by my coming to you again.
Only let your conversation be as it becometh the gospel of Christ, that whether I come to see you or else be absent, I may hear of your affairs, that ye stand fast in one spirit, with one mind striving together for the faith of the gospel,
And in nothing terrified by your adversaries, which is to them an evident token of perdition, but to you of salvation, and that of God.
For unto you it is given in the behalf of Christ, not only to believe on Him, but also to suffer for His sake,
Having the same conflict which ye saw in me and now hear to be in me.
Philippians 1:21 in the passage that we read: "For to me, to live is Christ, and to die is a gain." This is an unusual way to divide that text – to speak on it – but as I prepared the sermon, it’s the way that came to my heart. "For to me to live" – that’s youth: to live. To die is age. We’re going to speak of it like that. "For to me, to live is Christ" – to live is youth.
One of the most true and correct of all of the observations that a man can make as he watches the development of the Christian faith is this: that young people give it a zeal and a drive and a fervor that is of absolute holy un-abandonment. An older man will usually be conservative in his dedication. He’ll have some reservations, some rationalizations. He’ll have time, he supposes, to think through some of the commitments. He’ll draw back. There’s just not in him the ability to respond with an all and utter abandonment such as you find in a young fellow.
As I’ve grown older myself and have worked more with older people – become more experienced – I can understand that. An older man feels that "this is the last hold that I have, and I dare not jeopardize it." A young person doesn’t feel that way at all: "What if I lose it all in the gamble? What if I stake everything on the throne? I can build it again. I can get it back again. I can start over again." But not an older man; there comes into his life an inevitable and excusable conservatism.
I say a young person – a youth, a teenager, a young man, a young woman – has the ability to dedicate to Christ a zeal and a commitment that is absolutely beyond description: no holds barred, no reserve made, nothing kept back, all out for God, all out for Christ. To live is youth.
I do not think it is without notice that when [Luke] begins to describe the great outreach of the Christian faith that he says, "And those who stoned Stephen laid down their raiment at the feet of a young man named Saul" [Acts 7:58]. Then follows the conversion of that zealous young Sanhedrinist, theologue of the school of Gamaliel [Acts 22:3], wasting and making havoc of the church of Jesus Christ [Acts 8:1-3]; and when he was converted [Acts 9:1-18], no less a flame of fire for the Lord [Acts 9:19-22, 26-29].
I say, I think it has a significance that Luke paused to say those clothes were laid down at the feet of a young man named Saul [Acts 7:58]. As you pour through the pages of the Book, how many times are these chosen servants of God called in the youth-time, in the morning time, in the zealous time of life?
Jeremiah, describing his call, looked upon himself as but a child to whom God had committed a tremendous ministry [Jeremiah 1:6]. Daniel was a teenager when he called his three Hebrew friends around him and together covenanted in prayer and in dedication that they would give their lives to God in a strange and a foreign land, even in the city of Babylon [Daniel 1:3-21, 2:15-18].
Did you ever notice the age of those young fellows that wrought the tremendous revival to England that delivered that country from the ravages of the revolution that destroyed the French nation [1789-1799]? When the blood was running down the streets of Paris and the guillotine was slaying all of those who were of an aristocratic and wealthy social status – at the time that France was in the throes of a tremendous, indescribable, bloody revolution – England was in the midst of a tremendous revival. And who led that revival? John Wesley [1703-1791] was not thirty years of age when he was at the peak of its zealous fury and burning. Charles Wesley [1707-1788], his brother, was not twenty-three years of age. And the greatest preacher of them all, George Whitefield [1714-1770] – and one of the great preachers of all time – was barely twenty years of age when they were taking England by a storm and preaching to the thousands and turning those whole British Isles to the new faith in Jesus Christ. These things are astounding things. To live is youth, and for youth to live for Christ is a fire and a furor.
In the great missionary movement that began on this American continent, it started in a storm, and some youngsters – students – took refuge in a haystack. And in that prayer meeting, they dedicated themselves to the evangelization of the world. One of those that knelt was named Adoniram Judson [1788-1850], and another that knelt was a girl named Ann Hasseltine [1789-1826], and another one of those youngsters that knelt was named Luther Rice [1783-1836].
I heard a man here in Dallas lecture at a very learned group of people. He was an editor of a magazine, and in the course of his address, he asked his audience – he said, "Have you any realization of the average age of the death of the pioneer preacher that built these little churches and founded these schools and seminaries and won America to Christ – those crude, and rude, and cruel frontier days?" Nobody knew, least of all I. And when he answered the question, he said, "The average age of the death of those young preachers who pioneered through this continent, sowed down this nation of ours with the gospel of the Son of God, the average age of their death," he said, "was twenty-six."
By the time those average young preachers were twenty-six years of age, they were dead! The thing that they’d done, the work that they wrought, the great denominations that they built, the churches that they founded, they had done it by the time they were six and twenty years of age.
There fell into my hands a few years ago an old book, and when I read the preface, I was astounded to see the man’s introduction. He started off like this. He said, "There has come to England a new burning and flaming light. It’s a new thing," he says, "in the moral horizon of the religious world." He said in that introduction, "Whether this is a shooting star that soon will fade away or whether it is a sun to shine in the heavens, we do not know. But he is turning all London," it says, "to the saving grace of the Son of God. And the name of this young man," the introduction said, "who’s been preaching in London two years – the name of this young man," he said, "is Charles Haddon Spurgeon. And he is now twenty-two years of age." These great pulsating movements of God have been wrought by the fervent dedication and the marvelous zeal of young men and young women.
Borden of Yale [William Whiting Borden, 1887-1913] died in Egypt a missionary, a soldier of the Cross. When you buy these Borden products, it’s that family. A young fellow with the inheritance of millions and millions ahead of him gave his life as a youngster to be a missionary – went out and he was dead on the mission field at five and twenty years.
David Brainerd [1718-1747] – the most blessed of all of our missionaries to the American Indians – David Brainerd died in the home of Jonathan Edwards [1703-1758]. He was engaged to marry Jonathan Edwards’ daughter, and when he died after a life of fire and service to Christ, he was barely twenty and eight years of age.
One of the great missionaries of all time – working by the side of William Carey [1761-1834] – was named Henry Martyn [1781-1812], and Henry Martin was barely thirty when he died. These young people, oh, what’s wrapped up in the zeal and the dedication of their souls!
One of these men heard a nurse in a hospital in Turkey singing a song as she went about her work. And this is the song as he copied it down:
Trample upon me, yea tread on my head,
Consume me with terror Thou Judge of the dead,
If only, Oh God, I Thee may know,
And Thee once behold while I tarry below.
Throw me like Abraham into the fire,
Like Moses withhold from the land I desire,
If only, Oh God, I Thee may know,
And Thee once behold while I tarry below.
Hang me, like Jesus, upon the rood tree,
Or poor, like Mansour, thro’ life would I be,
If only, Oh God, I thus Thee may know,
And Thee once behold while I tarry below.
That’s youth. That was a Moslem girl, but that’s youth! To live is youth! And the zeal and the commitment and the fire and the furor and the holy dedication is never equaled such as it is when you’re a boy or a girl, when you’re a young man or a young woman in the days of the morning of your life.
"For me to live is Christ" [Philippians 1:21]. Paul, when he wrote this, was no longer a young man. A few years after penning this letter, he refers to himself in one of his epistles as "Paul, the aged" [Philemon 1:9]. "To die is a gain" [Philippians 1:21]. Youth hardly thinks, seldom thinks, of that final consummation. It’s always too far removed, but as you grow older, more and more will you find yourself beginning to remember some of those passages in the Bible you never thought you knew.
A few weeks ago, as most of you know, I spent several days with my old mother absolutely unconscious of what she was doing. Almost all of the time that I was with her, she was talking about the long journey and how it was on the other side. She’d ask me questions. Then when I thought they were answered, a few hours later, she’d carry on the same conversation: age, the long, long journey.
To die: to the world, that’s a loss, and some of the world’s nomenclature is in our language. How many times do I hear us say we have "lost" a friend or we have "lost" a loved one? To die: the world says it’s a loss. To die is a loss to the world. I believe in those two little tiny monosyllabic words, I could sum up the entire story of the human history of the ages past: to die, to die. I believe I could stand and review all of the glory of the nations of the past and sum it up in those two little words "to die." Stand on the Acropolis and look at the work of the hands of the genius of the ancient Greek race and see inscribed on every column of the Parthenon and on every piece of the great stones of the Acropolis: "to die; to die." Stand there in the street and on one side rises those huge ruins of the Coliseum and on the other side those vast ruins of the Roman Forum and see it scribed again on every stone and every pavement and on every brick: "to die; to die." Stand in the presence of the ancient flowing of the Nile and the valley around and the pyramids rising in their great heaps; and again, the old epitome of the ancient Egyptian dynasties: "to die; to die."
I suppose there is no more famous sonnet than this one entitled, "Ozymandias," by the incomparable singer of England Shelley [Percy Bysshe Shelley, 1792-1822]. Someone had visited the sands of ancient Egypt and had told him about a monument they had found broken and in the sand, and Shelley wrote this famous sonnet, one of the great pieces of English literature:
I met a traveler from an antique land
Who said: "Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert. Near them on the sand,
Half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown
And wrinkled lip and sneer of cold command,
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things . . .
And on the pedestal these words appear:
‘My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings:
Look on my works, ye mighty, and despair!’
Nothing else remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare,
The lone and level sands stretch far away."
["Ozymandias," by Percy Bysshe Shelley, 1818]
To die. To die.
In the ninth chapter of Hebrews and the twenty-[seventh] verse, the writer says, "It is appointed unto men once to die" [Hebrews 9:27]. "It is appointed unto men once to die" – the poor man and the rich man.
There’s a cemetery in the city of Dallas, and in one place is a beautiful mausoleum in which one of the great bankers of this city was laid to rest. And on the other side of the cemetery and down the slope of the hill there lies another grave, and in it is buried the janitor of the building where the great Dallas banker presided. And in that cemetery, and in that soil, and in that grave, and in that death, they are both alike. "It is appointed unto men once to die" [Hebrews 9:27].
The boast of heraldry, the pomp of power,
All that beauty, all that love ever gave,
Await alike the inevitable hour,
The paths of glory lead but to the grave.
[From "Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard," by Thomas Gray, 1751]
To die. To die.
Against that dark background of the pessimism and despair of the Roman Empire, no literature, no writer, no poet, no rhetorician, no author, no statesman, no speaker – not in all of the recorded literature of the Greek or of the Romans – is there a man who penned such a word as this: "and to die, and to die is a gain" [Philippians 1:21].
A contemporary of the apostle Paul was Seneca [Lucius Annaeus Seneca, 1 BCE-65 CE], the teacher of the Roman emperor Nero [37-68 CE], himself the greatest exponent of the Stoic philosophy. Seneca, the teacher of the Roman Empire, the author of all of those moral aphorisms that we sometimes quote – Seneca and Paul contemporary: Paul with triumph facing that inevitable day and hour [2 Timothy 4:7-8] and Seneca dying of suicide.
So far as I can find out, in that Roman day, the only man of stature that believed in a life beyond the grave at all was Cicero [Marcus Tullius Cicero, 106-43 BCE], and to him it was a vast, dark shadowy nebulous land. Typical of the despair and of the night and of the pessimism of the Roman Empire are epithets such as these that can be found on the graves of those who died in that distant and forlorn day. A five-year-old child and the epithet on the tomb: "To the unrighteous gods who robbed me of my life." And here is another – a young girl of twelve – and this epithet is on her tomb: "I lift my hand against the god who has denied me of my innocent existence."
Sallust, relating the speech of Julius Caesar against Cataline, quoted Julius Caesar as saying, "I am opposed to putting the traitor to death because that form of punishment is too mild, since beyond the grave there is neither joy nor sorrow." And Pliny [The Elder], the great historian of Rome, says, "What folly it is to renew life after death. Where shall created beings find rest? If you suppose that shades in hell and souls in heaven continue to have any feelings, you rob us of a man’s greatest good: death. Let us rather find in the tranquility which preceded our existence the pledge of the repose which is to follow it." To the Roman it was a despair; it was a night; it was an end; it was a grave. It was the annihilation of everything that one might know or hope for in this world or in any world that might come.
It was Paul, the Christian, who, taking pen in hand, wrote, "And to die is a gain" [Philippians 1:21]. To a Christian, the great consummation toward which all of the influences of life do flow lie not here but in another world – not in this land but in the land of heaven, not in this age but in the age that is to come [Matthew 6:19-20]. "For to me, to live is Christ, and to die is a gain" [Philippians 1:21].
We gain a better body. The reason the Lord thrust out the man and his wife from the Garden of Eden was lest he partake of the tree of everlasting life and be confirmed in this body of death forever [Genesis 3:22-24]. We gain a better body. Lay flat this body in the soil of the ground, in the dust of the earth, and some day God shall raise it up [1 Corinthians 15:42-43, 52-53]. And that body shall be like Christ’s own body: immortalized, glorified, never perishing, fashioned by the Lord’s own hands, indescribably full and complete without spot or blemish [1 Corinthians 15:; 1 John 3:2; Revelation 21:4]. "To die is a gain" [Philippians 1:21]. We gain a better body.
"For to me, to live is Christ, and to die is a gain" [Philipppians 1:21]. We gain a better home. Moody [Dwight Lyman Moody, 1837-1899] said, "Earth is receding. Heaven is approaching." Our Lord said, "I go to prepare a place for you" [John 14:2]. He didn’t say, "I go to prepare a condition for you. I go to prepare a state of feeling for you or of consciousness." He said, "I go to prepare a place for you."
It is a place of knowledge: "Now we see through a glass, darkly, but then face to face. Now I know in part, but then shall I know even as also I am known" [1 Corinthians 13:12]. It is a place of joy. In the fifteenth chapter of the Book of Luke, He uses, "There is joy in heaven" [Luke 15:7]. What a beautiful phrase! "There is joy in heaven." We gain a better home.
"For to me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain" [Philippians 1:21]. We gain a better fellowship. Our Lord said, "And many in that day shall come from the east and the west, and shall sit down in the kingdom of heaven with Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob" [Matthew 8:11].
"And the disciples looked, and our Lord was transfigured before them. And there was Moses and there was Elijah speaking with our Lord" [from Matthew 17:1-3].
And Mary Magdalene said, "Rabboni, my Lord!" [John 20:16]: the same Jesus.
And Thomas said, "My Lord and my God!" [John 20:28]: the same Jesus.
And Paul – and Paul on the road to Damascus, there the same Lord Jesus. He said He was. "I am Jesus of Nazareth, whom thou persecutest" [Acts 22:8] – Jesus of Nazareth.
And John on the Isle of Patmos [Revelation 1:9]: "I was in the Spirit on the Lord’s Day, and I heard a voice behind me as the sound of many waters . . . And I looked to see the voice that spake unto me. And being turned, I saw . . . " and he describes the Son of God [From Revelation 1:10-15].
It has not been but a few days ago in speaking with one of the sainted members of this congregation that he said, "I want to share with you a thing I’ve never had the temerity to speak of to anyone else" and then he told me that he had seen a vision of our Lord Jesus Christ – one of the aged members of our church soon to be in the presence of the Savior. What a fellowship! What a joy divine!
Our friends will be down at the river
When death shall call us away,
To enter the glories of heaven.
O what a wonderful day.
The music of heaven will greet us,
As we shall near the bright home,
And the millions of glorified angels
From God’s own city will come.
We’ll rest by the beautiful river,
Beneath the wide, spreading tree;
We’ll dwell in the light of His presence.
How sweet, how sweet it will be.
["Down at the River," by Pink English, date unknown]
We shall have a better fellowship. "For me, to live is Christ, and to die is a gain" [Philippians 1:21].
I know, and I used to be bothered – I have listened to so many of the people to whom I’ve sought to minister, I’ve listened to them as they say, "Pastor, I wonder if I’m saved. I wonder if I’m a Christian. I wonder if I’ve been born again for when I think of dying, I’m filled with fear and dread and foreboding. And I wonder if I’m saved because I’m filled with that fear." At first it was difficult for me to know how to reply, but now I know exactly. Reading through God’s Book, I have never found death described as any other thing but a terror and an enemy [1 Corinthians 15:54-56; James 1:15]. He’s a pale horseman [Revelation 6:7-8], and he’s our last adversary [1 Corinthians 15:26], and he’s against God and against the people of the Lord [Hebrews 2:14-15]. And he drives, and he drives, and he knocks at every home, and he visits every village and hamlet [Hebrews 9:27], and he comes to your house. And however you dissuade, or plead, or pray, his coming is inexorable and inevitable.
Death is always presented in the Bible as an alien, as an enemy, as a terror. And for a man to come and say to me, "I look upon his face with gladness, and I look upon his ways with joy and anticipation," I say it’s not so, and it’s not in the Book. He’s a terror and an enemy, and I’ve never been able to find a poem nor have I ever been able to hear a song that was sung that would take away the tragedy of the loss when those caskets are placed before me and they say, "Pastor, is there some word from the Lord?"
Death doesn’t belong. Death is an intrusion. It’s an alien. It’s a foreigner, and God never intended it. It came as a curse [Genesis 2:17], as a wage of sin and of wrong [Romans 6:23]. But I do have an answer, and I have learned it in the years of my pastorate and from reading the Book.
There is such a thing as saving grace when you become a Christian – saving grace [Ephesians 2:8]. There is a mercy, and a goodness, and a providence of God that leads us to lean upon the Lord and to accept Him as our savior [John 6:44]. There is a saving grace.
There is a dying grace, and I don’t need it now. To vouchsafe it to me now would be not in the goodness and wisdom of God. I don’t need it now. But there will come a time when the people will say, "And the pastor is critically ill." And there will come a time when the people will pray, "May the Lord give him sustaining strength in that last and final hour." When it comes, there will be grace for the need. He will not leave us alone: "I will never forsake thee nor leave thee" [Deuteronomy 31:6; Hebrews 13:5]. In the valley of the shadow of death – His staff to lean upon, His strong arm to help – there will be dying grace [Psalm 23:4]. So I trust Him for it against the day and the hour.
If for me to live is the world, to die is a loss. If for me to live is pleasure, to die is a loss. If for me to live is self, to die is a loss. If for me to live is this world, to die is a loss. If for me to live is money, to die is a loss. If for me to live is ambition, to die is a loss. But if for me to live is Christ, to die is a gain. That’s the blessed inheritance of the children of the Lord: the great thing, the victorious thing, the heavenly thing is ours yet to be [1 Peter 1:3-4, 13].
O God, that He might find us ready when He comes. Lord, if I know my heart, I do trust Jesus as my Savior now, in the day and hour of my death, and in the long vista of the ages and the eternity that is yet to come.
While we sing this song, somebody you, to give his heart to the Lord in faith and in trust, would you come and stand by me? Somebody to put his life with us in the church, a family you or one somebody you. While our people prayerfully sing this appeal, would you come? Coming by letter, or coming by statement, or coming by confession of faith – however the Holy Spirit would lead the way and open the door, would you come and stand by me? Give me your hand: "Pastor, I have given my heart to God. Here I come, and here I am," while we stand and while we sing.
TO LIVE, TO DIE
Dr. W. A. Criswell
I. Youth – to live
A. Never is dedication so full, intense as when young
1. Saul/Paul(Acts 7:58)
3. Daniel, three Hebrew children
4. The great revival in England
5. The great American missionary movement
6. The pioneer preacher – average age at death was 26
7. Old book that referred to young Spurgeon in the preface
8. Borden of Yale
9. David Brainerd, missionary to American Indian
10. Henry Martin
B. Song of Turkish nurse, "Trample upon meâ€¦"
II. Age – to die is gain
A. We look at death as a loss; speak of "losing our loved ones"
B. "To die" – two short words can sum up the entire story of human history
1. Shelley’s "Ozymandias"
2. It is appointed unto men once to die – the poor man and the rich man(Hebrews 9:27)
a. Dallas cemetery where lies a great banker and the janitor of the building where he resided
b. Thomas Gray, "The boast of heraldryâ€¦"
C. Contrast against dark day when Paul wrote this
1. The fruit of Greek, Roman learning – pessimism, despair
2. Seneca, a contemporary of Paul, committed suicide
3. Cicero about the only great Roman who believed in life beyond the grave – but to him it was a vast, dark, shadowy nebulous land
4. Epithets found on ancient Roman graves
5. Julius Caesar – "â€¦beyond the grave there is neither joy nor sorrowâ€¦"
6. Pliny – "â€¦folly to renew life after deathâ€¦"
D. The faith and declaration of Paul – to die is a gain
1. A new and better body
2. A new and better home(John 14:1)
a. Place of knowledge (1 Corinthians 13:12)
b. Place of joy (Luke 15:7)
3. A new and better fellowship(Luke 13:28, Matthew 17:1-9, John 20:16, 28, Acts 22:8, Revelation 1:10)
a. Poem, "Down at the river"
E. Death presented in Bible as an enemy, a terror
1. Death is an intrusion; God never intended it