Echoes from the Past*

To Live Is Christ

For me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.--Philippians 1:21

Paul E. Thomson

It was not just because uncertainty shrouded his future, not because he might be brought any day from his dungeon cell to face sentence of death that the great apostle uttered these words which have exerted a transforming power in the lives of all Christians to this day. It was not merely "now" that Christ was being "magnified" in his body, but "always" (verse 20). That word "always" covers every thought, word. and deed from the day of the vision on the road to Damascus, which, laying hold on Saul of Tarsus, changed his breathing out of threatenings and slaughter into the dispensing of the greatest possible of present blessings. It was not only "all the Pretorian camp" (where he at that moment wore the manacles of Christ) that was his field of endeavor; but "all other places," the whole known world. The fragrance of such a life as his could not be confined to the narrow quarters of a soldiers' camp. In fact, the seeds of his planting had already spread until, scattered throughout that vast expanse, there were other lives sending up the same sweet incense; or, under a similar figure, the fragrance of the same anointing oil. "Now, thanks be to that God, who always leads us forth to triumph with the Anointed One, and who diffuses by us the fragrance of the knowledge of him in every place. Because we are a sweet odor of Christ to God."(2 Corinthians 2:14,15, Diaglott)

From the day of his anointing, the purpose that pervaded the life of the apostle was the glorifying of Christ, the principle that ruled his life was the favor of Christ, and the Word that governed the life of Christ in every word and act (John 3:11; 5:19,30; 7:16; 8:28; 14:10,24) was the sole rule of his own life. He desired no more, whether living or dying, than to win Christ and to be found in him. He truthfully could say not only, "What things were gain to me, those I counted loss for Christ" (surely a glorious past), but, bringing his consecration down to the present, he could say just as truthfully, and with even more fervor, "Yea, doubtless, and I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord: for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and do count them but vile refuse, that I may win Christ, and be found in him, not having mine own righteousness, which is of the law, but that which is through the faith of Christ, the righteousness which is of God by faith: that I may know him, and the power of his resurrection, and the fellowship of his sufferings, being made conformable unto his death." (Philippians 3:7-10) In this passage the apostle has touched on some of the details of the life that is "gain"--"old things passed away"; a mind that looks back upon them not with longing, but, rather, with abhorrence; self-confidence gone; justification by faith depended on; an intimate personal knowledge of Christ his objective. His was a consuming desire that there might be as a reality in his own life the fullness of the power that reached into the depths of the grave and lifted to the very courts of heaven him who became sin for us; his was even an eagerness to "fill up to the brim those things that are left over of the sufferings of Christ" (literal translation). Pervading all this was a calm and solemn purpose--that this life of gain might culminate as did the life he emulated, a willing sacrifice, holy, acceptable--death, gain. This is to "know Christ"; this "is Christ"--"the hope of glory" so transcending that the apostle could conceive of no adversary so powerful, no conditions so distressing, no pathway so demon-infested but that all would be a mere trifle "if by any means" he "might attain unto the resurrection of the dead."

Humility might seem to be lacking in a claim so lofty as "for me to live is Christ." In this, however, Paul is not counting that he has already "'attained, either were already perfect." On the contrary, true modesty is the key-note of this statement, as it is of the yet more clear one, "I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me." His would not have been the life of Christ if it had not been the life of pressing on; "forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before." "For all those of our number who are mature, this must be the point of view." (Moffatt) "Let us mind the same thing."

The world's calendar gives us with the New Year a convenient season to re-examine our spiritual standing, a time to renew our spiritual resolves. No question more searching could be asked of ourselves than "Is it true that for me `to live is Christ'? Have I in every particular, present and future, determined that `to die is gain'?" No higher resolve can be ours than that these phrases shall be as true of us from this moment to the end of our course as of the faithful one who wrote them--a weak one like ourselves. But when he was weak (in self), then was he strong (in the Lord).

In the first phrase the apostle doubtless would include: (1) separation for Christ, (2) dedication to Christ, (3) use by Christ, (4) likeness to Christ, and (5) concealment in Christ. Briefly let us examine ourselves in the light of each of these points.

Separation For Christ

To live Christ can never mean less than the life of complete separation which was his. "In the world, but not of it," every phase of life was contacted by him, but by that contact he was no more contaminated than is the pure ray of sunshine by the foulest corner it enlightens.

Jesus' contacts with the evil elements of the world were neither specially sought nor shunned, though when opportunity offered or need required, he found great joy in serving the meanest sinner, or in a literal leaving behind of all worldly minds and in seeking isolated communion with his Father in nature's most inspiring surroundings. The self-righteous one can neither fully appreciate that fellowship nor avoid the fear of contamination if he were to linger in the presence of the sinner brought directly to him from the discovery of her guilt. Rather than exercise charity, self-righteousness, falling under the temptation to pride and self-laudation, would have brought up all the sins of long ago that a black background might be furnished in which his supposed righteousness might shine.

How often we find that earth's follies have "touched" us, for they intrude into our most sacred moments. Even when we are on our knees before the very throne of God, the trivial things of life and often even the polluting influences of the daily contacts will intrude. Physical separation there may have been, but the "unclean thing" has touched us to our damage because we have touched it in spirit. The natural mind would be content with a physical separation; but as in our separation from Babylon, so in leaving the world, the purpose is that we "be not partakers of her sins." To continue in any of the sins of Babylon or the world, either actively or mentally, may result in a smug though condemned contentment. Separation for Christ inevitably results in a life of blessing for self and for all we contact who partake of his spirit.

Dedication To Christ

Vastly the blessings increase when to the separation is added dedication--consecration. In the separation the loss for Paul, as for Jesus, was home, friends, reputation, prospects; even life itself daily was laid down. As one of the results of his life of consecration hundreds of homes, however, became his, true and eternal friendships were made, and he won favor with the One whose standards are perfect. In dedicating himself to God and his service, he entered upon the course that leads to all that life can offer, the way to the "far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory" reserved for those who "look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen."

The New Year could bring us nothing of greater worth than that all things should pass away, be shut out of our minds, so that we may fix our mental gaze unwaveringly upon the "things that are eternal in the heavens." The completeness of the dedication can be clearly discerned by the individual himself by the reality of the separation. Cunningly the flesh argues the necessity of "things" that the life may be "abundant"; with unbelievable persistence the heart supposedly dedicated to him who is love, clings to the ways of the flesh, even relying on evil-speaking, envy, sarcasm, malice, in its boasted "contending earnestly for the faith." Perhaps it is well that practically all Christians can look back with shame to such practices in their own lives, that they may have charity with the brother who, while bearing the sacred vessels of the Lord, brings disgrace upon the vessels and the One whose they are. Dedicated? Yes. A priest? Surely, or at least a Levite; but before he was dedicated to the Lord, he was dedicated to self, the world, and the Adversary. The habits formed in those days must be outgrown. In consecration he has said, "I am not my own. Take me. Use me. Transform me until no more. `For me to live is' I, the selfish I, the self-seeking I, the envious I, the boastful I." "Not I, but Christ." What a shout of victory there is in these words! The arches of eternity will ring with them. "For me to live is Christ," now, and for eternity.

"Nought of self to mar His glory,
Nought of sin to make it dim,
Just a glorious, glorious shining
That the friends around see Him.
Resurrection joys abounding;
Every morning mercies new;
Every day His conscious presence;
All our life one interview."

Use By Christ

In the little loom where is being woven daily the intricate pattern of our lives, strange materials are used. In the vaster loom where the eternal purposes of our God for a universe are being worked out, the Master Weaver uses even such as we; and the result will be a tapestry eternally glorifying him. The most insignificant thread in that loom is necessary to the perfection of the pattern. True dedication, therefore, accepts joyfully so trifling a service as the giving of "a cup of cold water, in the name of a disciple"; nor hesitates at any God-given service--no service is too large or too small.

Dedication does not wait for commands; but a mere "this is the will of God concerning you" is enough. Before he entered upon the life of sacrifice, our "File-leader" could say, "Thy law is within my heart." No urging was necessary. He needed only to know that "the will of God" for him was sanctification, setting apart as a holy sacrifice. One who could without reservation say, "For me to live is Christ," one who knew all the joys and all the cost of dedication, one who knew and emulated the tender mercies of the heavenly courts so that he, too, could "rejoice," as Jesus did, in sufferings for the Church--this one beseeches, "by the tender compassions of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice" in dedication that places no restrictions on him who sends the fire that consumes the sacrifice. Paul was speaking from the darkest depths of experiences that had resulted from a dedication to the God of "tender compassion." Not fleshly comforts, honors, and prospects had been showered upon him; but, rather, the Father assured him: "I will show him how great things he must suffer for my name's sake"--bearing "reproaches . . . greater riches than the treasures of Egypt"; being "defamed"; made the "filth of the world, the offscouring of all things"; scourged; beaten with many stripes; stoned; thrown into prison--these were the lot of one fully dedicated to the God of all compassion--for him to live was Christ. His Christ was the Christ of the Cross.

Though such experiences are not often today the lot of those who are used by Christ, the half-hearted will, even in our milder sufferings with Christ, find abundant reason for discouragement and idleness. There was probably some one in Philippi saying, "There are no opportunities for service today"; while others were packing that box to be sent the thousand miles to cheer Paul's prison cell. "As we have therefore opportunity, let us do good unto all men, especially unto them who are of the household of faith." It is easy to interpret this to mean: "Do good only to the household of faith, or at least only to those who show some interest in our message"; thus utterly failing of use for Christ in giving to the neighbor next door the cup of cold water he is ready to accept.

Likeness To Christ

Without the dedication that made Paul ready for the most insignificant service, there could have been no likeness to Christ. Also, to attain that likeness, the power working in him must be the "surpassing greatness" of power, even that which raised Jesus from the grave. A lesser power could produce some one or even a few points of likeness to Christ, but for the completing of the likeness, for filling "with all the fullness of God" as Jesus was filled, this miracle that must be worked for every individual of the 144,000, the "exceeding greatness of His power" was required.

The intimate, personal, daily, hourly moment-by-moment walk with Jesus is truly an essential if we would know him so well as ever to become "like Jesus." Living is not a spasmodic thing indulged in a few moments each day--"For me to live is Christ [uninterruptedly: eternity has begun for me]." God had graciously given Saul a vision of himself and a vision of Jesus, neither vision to fade until he should he changed, utterly changed, and "old things had passed away, all things had become new." Each one of us, too, may "see Jesus," "a living, bright reality," throughout 1999--if for us also "old things are passed away."

Briefly the beloved disciple sums up the beauties of the One we emulate as "full of grace and truth"--every grace was his in fullness, and all truth that was due was lived by him. To desire less is to fail of attaining his image. To attain it is to "be satisfied when I awake in his likeness."

Concealment in Christ

"To me to live is Christ" and not myself. From the moment one is "in Christ" he is more or less concealed in Christ: the concealing work is begun. Outside of Christ we are nothing, but in front of that cipher place the One who "is able," and we live "according to the power that worketh in us." All power in heaven and in earth is his. In him we rest the blissful, peaceful, joyful rest of the full assurance that faith alone can give. It is a "little flock" only that have enjoyed it, for it is only a little flock who have lost faith in self that they might have concealment in him. To enjoy it, self-interests must be abandoned, even the old body itself presented a "living sacrifice." Concealed in him, the very will of self is trampled under foot that he may "work in us to will and to do." His will alone must reign in us.

For concealment in him, the willing of his will is first, and of paramount importance. Without that, in everything we do there is a shameful revealing of self, instead of a blessed concealing. Unless the consuming desire is self-effacement in Christ, shame and confusion await, even though there are truly "great and mighty works" of which to boast--powerful discourses, that glorify the preacher; hundreds of converts, our converts instead of God's; bounties out- poured, "to be seen of men"; bodies given to be burned, for personal vindication: all this without Christ, and "I am nothing" again, for I have lost the One that made the cipher something.

To Die Is Gain

Make these, and the many other things that are comprised in the phrase, "For me to live is Christ," ours and we need no one to instruct us that "to die is gain," a gain that words cannot express, but "God hath revealed it unto us by his spirit." (1 Corinthians 2:10) As Jesus alone received the spirit "without measure," he alone could fully know the joys of that gain. If self still lives, it will think of the losses rather than the gains, and those things gained it will plan to use for self first and then for others. If Christ live in us, our transcendent joy will be the use to which our new powers may be put now in laying down our lives for the members of his Body, and in the future, as the Seed of Abraham, in blessing "all the families of the earth." Self may dream of the honors it is to enjoy; "dead with him," his honor alone will employ us. If for me to live is Christ, then to the ages of the ages I will with him be able to say, "The words that I speak unto you I speak not of myself: the Father that dwelleth in me, he doeth the works." Before the veil is passed, every thought, word, and deed will have been brought under his control. "Casting down reasonings, and every high thing that exalteth itself against the knowledge of God, and bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ" (2 Corinthians 10:5; see Diaglott), what a glorious year 1999 will be; perhaps the very gateway of heaven! Who can compute the gain!

But can we attain a standard so high? "Not I, but Christ." "He is able to do exceeding ABUNDANTLY ABOVE all that we ask or think, according to the power that worketh in us." Oh that he may freely work in us this year to "will and to do of his good pleasure," so that each one of us can truly say, "Christ liveth in me."

[*Reprinted from the January, 1951, issue of The Herald. References to 1951 have been changed to 1999.]