For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.
1. Believers at death shall gain the glorious sight of God. They shall see Him intellectually with the eyes of their mind, which divines call the beatifical vision; if there were not such an intellectual sight of God, how do the spirits of just men, made perfect, see Him? They shall behold the glorified body of Jesus Christ; and if it be pleasant to behold the sun, then how blessed a sight will it be to see Christ the Sun of Righteousness clothed with our human nature, shining in glory above the angels? Through Christ's flesh, as through a transparent glass, some bright rays and beams of the Godhead shall display themselves to glorified eyes; the sight of God through Christ will be very complacential and delightful; the terror of God's essence will be taken away; God's majesty will be mixed with beauty, and sweetened with clemency; it will be infinitely delightful to the saints to see the amiable aspects and smiles of God's face.
2. The saints at death shall not only have a sight of God, but shall enjoy the love of God; there shall be no more a vail on God's face, nor His smiles chequered with frowns, but His love shall discover itself in all its orient beauty and fragrant sweetness. Here the saints pray for God's love, and they have a few drops, but there they shall have as much as their vessel can receive. To know this love that passeth knowledge, this will cause jubilation of spirit, and create such holy raptures of joy in the saints as are superlative, and would soon overwhelm them if God did not make them able to bear it.
3. Believers at death shall gain a celestial palace, an house not made with hands. Here the saints are straitened for room, they have but mean cottages to live in, but they shall have a royal palace to live in; here is but their sojourning house, there in heaven is their mansion house, an house built high above all the visible orbs, an house bespangled with light, enriched with pearls and precious stones. And this is not their landlord's house, but their Father's house; and this house stands all upon consecrated ground; it is set out by transparent glass to show the holiness of it.
4. Believers at death shall gain perfection of holiness. Here grace was but in its cradle, very imperfect; we cannot write a copy of holiness without blotting; believers are said to receive but "the first fruits of the Spirit." But at death the saints shall arrive at perfection, their knowledge clear, their sanctity perfect, their sun shall be in its full meridian splendour. How come the saints to have all this gain? Believers have a right to all this gain at death upon divers accounts: by virtue of the Father's donation, the Son's purchase, the Holy Ghost's earnest — and faith's acceptance. Therefore the state of future glory is called the saints' proper inheritance. They are heirs of God, and have a right to inherit. See the great difference between the death of the godly and the wicked; the godly are gainers at death, the wicked are great losers at death. They lose four things:
1. They lose the world.
2. They lose their souls.
3. They lose heaven.
4. They lose their hopes; for though they lived wickedly, yet they hoped God was merciful, and they hoped that they should go to heaven.Some plants thrive best when they are transplanted: believers, when they are by death transplanted, cannot choose but thrive, because they have Christ's sweet sunbeams shining upon them. And what though the passage through the valley of the shadow of death be troublesome? who would not be willing to pass a tempestuous sea if he were sure to be crowned so soon as he came to shore? What benefits do believers receive at death?
I. The saints at death have great immunities and freedoms. An apprentice when out of his time is made free: when the saints are out of their time of living, then they are made free, not made free till death.
1. At death they are freed from a body of sin.
(1) It weighs us down; sin hinders us from doing good. A Christian is like a bird that would be flying up, but hath a string tied to its legs to hinder it; so he would be flying up to heaven with the wings of desire, but sin hinders him: "for what I would, that I do not." A Christian is like a ship that is under sail, and at anchor; grace would sail forward, but sin is the anchor that holds it back.
(2) Sin is more active in its sphere than grace. How stirring was lust in David when his grace lay dormant!
(3) Sin defiles the soul, it is like a stain to beauty, it turns the soul's azure brightness into sable.
(4) Sin debilitates us, it disarms us of our strength: "I am this day weak, though anointed king:" so, though a saint be crowned with grace, yet he is weak, though anointed a spiritual king.
(5) Sin is ever restless: "the flesh lusts against the Spirit."(6) Sin adheres to us, we cannot get rid of it.
(7) Sin mingles with our duties and graces; we cannot write a copy of holiness without blotting. Death smites a believer as the angel did Peter, he made his chains fall off, so death makes all the chains of sin fall off. This makes a believer so desirous to have his pass to be gone; he would fain live in that pure air where no black vapours of sin arise.
II. At death the saints shall be freed from all the troubles and incumbrances to which this life is subject. There are many things to embitter life and cause trouble, and death frees us from all.
1. Care. Care is a spiritual canker which eats out the comfort of life; death is the cure of care.
2. Fear. Fear is the ague of the soul which sets it a shaking; "there is torment in fear." Fear is like Prometheus's vulture, it gnaws upon the heart.
3. Labour. "All things are full of labour." They rest from their labours.
4. Suffering. Believers are as a lily among thorns; as the dove among the birds of prey.
5. Temptation. Though Satan be a conquered enemy, yet he is a restless enemy. After death hath shot its darts at us, the devil shall have done shooting his; though grace puts a believer out of the devil's possession, only death frees him from the devil's temptation.
6. Sorrow. Believers are here in a strange country, why then should they not be willing to go out of it? Death beats off their fetters of sin, and sets them free. Who goes weeping from a jail? Besides our own sins, the sins of others. O then be willing to depart out of the tents of Kedar!
Parallel VersesKJV: For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.