2 Timothy 4:6-8
For I am now ready to be offered, and the time of my departure is at hand.…
A general retrospect of Christian life may fill the soul with rejoicing at the end of life. It is the life that men live that is the evidence that they are fit to die. As against a selfish, sordid life the gleams of a lately-inspired hope are but doubtful evidences. A consciousness of imperfection and of sins need not dim the hope that men have, nor the triumph that they express in their last hours — nay, it may increase as the sufferings of a campaign lend added lustre to the victory. So, as one glances back and sees how the grace of God sustained him in all the imperfections of a long life, so one may at last be bold to affirm his fidelity and safety and become prophetic of that which is before him. For every man that is born and lives is building; and the builder invariably must hew. For the material of which character is built, as of houses, is either wood or clay, unfitted; and the clay must be moulded, and the brick must be burned, and the carpenter must hew the log, and there will be heaps of chips wherever there has been skilful work. But when at last the mansion stands out in all its fair proportions, and its scaffolding is removed, and the chips and uncleanliness are all taken away, that is what men look at; and he would be a woeful workman that should go, after he has completed his building, to count his chips and all the fragments of stone, lime, and litter. That is indispensable to this process of unbuilding in this life of character, as it is in external dwellings. It is said of Michael Angelo by one of his biographers that when the sacred enthusiasm seized him he went at a statue with such vengeance and vigour, that in one hour he cast off more stones that a workman could carry away in several hours; and Paul was sometimes like that in the vigour with which he was emancipating the true spirit within himself, he had made a good life. He had lived it. He stood therefore in the consciousness: "I am a completed man. No matter how long I was in building; no matter what the dealing was by which I was brought where I am now, I have fought a good fight, I have kept the faith, and I know that there is laid up for me the crown." This was a glorious confidence; the rational certainty that our purposes and fulfilments are not inconsistent with the true humility nor with the realisation that we are saved by grace. Paul looked forward. "I have fought a good fight; I have finished my course; I have kept the faith; henceforth" — manacled, abandoned, as he elsewhere shows himself to have been; the poorest man in creation, the most unfortunate, stripped and barren — "henceforth," he cries, from out of his weary prison, "there is for me" — not captivity — "there is for me a throne, a crown, and a sceptre. I am a monarch." Some men have said this when bereft of reason; but here is a man in the use of his highest reason that is able to say, "A crown is laid up for me"; and as he looked up he could well say, in his thought: "O, crown, wait! I am coming for thee; it is mine; no one shall take it from me; wait for me." "I have a crown laid up for me — a crown of righteousness which the Lord, the righteous Judge, shall give to me that day." What is a crown but a sign of eminence, of glory, and of power? What is a crown of righteousness but a crown that is made up of all the elements that constitute righteousness? It was the sum total of all the highest conditions and fruits of his very nature, and the nature was of Divine origin and likelihood. He had the vision of pre-eminent manhood; a glorified love; a glorified conscience; a glorified sympathy, with all that ordains one to the nobler condition of being laid before Him, and all was expressed in that crown of righteousness. "A monarch, and my monarchy lies in the glorification of my whole nature, for I shall be as the Lord." Here was no anticipation of hoping that he should "get to heaven somehow." There was certainly no intimation that he expected to escape into heaven so as by fire. He had no idea of sleeping a thousand years, or ten thousand years, and then appearing in glory. The vision was before him, near at hand, and the step off the platform of this earth was to be a step on to the pavement of heaven. How the elements of grandeur exist in this life! You are the crown-builders, you that are living for Christ and for heaven. No one that was ever disengaging gold from the quartz would ever see in it those miracles of art that at last shall be made out of it. We are creating, in this life, the material for our crown, for all the things in the soul that are of their nature and tendency Divine — every thorough impulse to the right, every impulse that is willing to sacrifice a present pleasure for the sake of higher joy of purity and nobility — all would seem to us to be the scattering of grace in our lives; they are, all of them, flakes of gold; they are, all of them, the material of which crowns are made, and men, in this life, are caged eagles, that, looking out on the sun and heavens, know that they would fly, but they have not room to spread their wings. Ten thousand intimations, ten thousand aspirations, struggling desires, and longings are breaking in the hearts of men, and, because they cannot execute them and bring them forth to real action in this life, they are not dead. In the early spring the root and the bud are checked and held back. They are not an nihilated; they wait. The rose is sealed up and cannot deliver itself, but it is the rose; and the root that dimly throws the evidence of itself above the ground is itself, though it cannot yet develop itself. But by and by, when soft southern rains and sweet suns begin to beam, week after week, the little garden breaks out into blossom. And in this life, where we are checked and hindered and tempted over much, where we find that we cannot carry out our best purposes, and are failing on the right and on the left, the attempts to do it are so many attempts to bud and blossom, but the sun is not warm enough yet. But when, by and by, the Sun of Righteousness shall arise with healing on its beams upon our liberated selves, we shall break forth into the full glory of the kingdom of God.
(H. W. Beecher.)
Parallel VersesKJV: For I am now ready to be offered, and the time of my departure is at hand.