The Time of Departure at Hand!
Francis Bourdillon, 1864
2 Timothy 4:6-8.
"For I am now ready to be offered — and the time of my departure is at hand. I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith. Henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, shall give me at that day — and not to me only, but unto all them also that love His appearing."
These are the words of the apostle Paul, written to Timothy. The apostle was now an aged man, but he did not expect to die of old age; he was a prisoner for Christ's sake, and everything seemed to show that he would soon be called to suffer a violent death for Him. Perhaps it pleased God to give him some inward warning that it would be so. At all events, he felt sure that death was near — and these were his feelings in the prospect of it: "I am now ready to be offered," or, I am now being offered — I am on the point of giving up my life, as a willing sacrifice in my Master's cause!
So near did he think himself to death, that he spoke of himself as soon dying, "The time of my departure is at hand." I am like a ship just going to set sail, or like a traveler on the point of starting on a journey. The time is close at hand.
Was he sorry? Was he afraid? There is no sign of fear or of sorrow in these words. He believed that death was near. Perhaps, even before Timothy received the letter, the writer would be no more.
Yet he writes quite calmly. He was not afraid to die — he was not sorry to depart. What follows shows that he felt even joy in the prospect. "I have fought a good fight," he continues, "I have finished my course, I have kept the faith." He was not boasting when he wrote thus. Paul was no boaster. Elsewhere he wrote, "God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ" (Galatians 6:14); and in his other letter to Timothy he even called himself the chief of sinners (1 Timothy 1:15).
But he had long been a soldier of Jesus Christ, fighting under the Captain of his salvation — and now his Captain was going to release him from service. Long had he been engaged in running the Christian race — and now he had come to the end of his course. Through grace he had believed in the Lord Jesus Christ; by the same grace he had kept that faith even to the end and never forsaken his Lord — and now he was going to that place where faith is lost in sight. So he said, looking back with humble confidence to his own past life and writing to one who had still to wage the Christian warfare and still to run the Christian race, "I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith."
What was to follow? What did he look for beyond the grave? Where did he hope to be, when the persecutor would have done his worst and when the Lord whom he served would take His servant home? He thought that the time of his death was close at hand — what did he expect to have then? "Henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, shall give me at that day." He looked for a crown — not an earthly crown, but "a crown of righteousness," an incorruptible crown (1 Corinthians 9:25), "the crown of life" (James 1:12), "a crown of glory, which never fades away" (1 Peter 5:4). He believed that such a crown was laid up for him and was awaiting him.
Not because he deserved it. That was not the ground of his hope, for he had long ago laid aside all trust in his own righteousness. "Not having my own righteousness," he said, "which is of the law — but that which is through faith in Christ — the righteousness which is of God by faith" (Philippians 3:9). Christ was the ground of his trust — and Christ alone. He had not earned this crown for himself, but "the Lord, the righteous Judge," would give it to him. It would be of grace — not of debt. His Savior's blood had procured his pardon. His Savior's righteousness was his righteousness. It was the grace of God that had enabled him to keep the faith and to finish his course with joy.
The Lord would give him a crown — not merely because He was gracious, but because He was righteous — "the righteous Judge." For Paul had believed with the heart on his Savior, and so had received the forgiveness of his sins and become reconciled to God. His guilt was gone — his peace was made — justice, as well as mercy, was now on his side — according to his own words to the Romans, "that He might be just, and the justifier of him who believes in Jesus" (Romans3:26).
Not even the thought of the great day of judgment therefore could make Paul afraid. Deep indeed was the awe with which he wrote of that day: "I charge you therefore before God and the Lord Jesus Christ, who shall judge the living and the dead at His appearing and His kingdom" (2 Timothy 4:1) — yet even this thought could not shake his faith. The Lord Jesus, who would then sit in judgment, was his Savior. That very day was the day in which the crown would be given to him. As solemn as it was — that day had no terrors for him.
It would place him with his Savior forever!
It would bring him his crown!
It would be the beginning of eternal glory and felicity!
And not to him only. There is a crown laid up for every true believer — for all who love the appearing of Christ. For this is a mark of the true believer. He does not dread the coming of the Lord. He does not, like many, shrink from the thought and put it away as an unwelcome thing. He loves the Lord Jesus — and therefore loves His coming. Even now, his happiest moments are those in which there is most of the presence of Christ in his heart.
How happy, then, to be with the Lord forever! The words are sweet to his ear, "I will come again, and receive you unto Myself, that where I am, there you may be also" (John 14:3). This is his hope, his comfort, and his joy. Happy is the day that will see Him come in glory! Happy is the day that will put an end to all sin and sorrow! Happy is the day on which the Lord Jesus will take His servants home to be with Him forever!
Lord! Increase our faith — take away our fears, and make us to love Your appearing! Help us to fight the good fight, to finish our course, to keep the faith. Be with us along the way — and be with us in the end. Grant us now to know You, trust in You, love You, and follow You! And when You come, oh grant us to appear before You with joy, and give us a crown of righteousness!