2 Timothy 4:6-8
For I am now ready to be offered, and the time of my departure is at hand.…
The way out of this world is so blocked up with coffin, and hearse, and undertaker's space, and screwdriver, that the Christian can hardly think as he ought of the most cheerful passage in all his history. We hang black instead of white over the place where the good man gets his last victory. We stand weeping over a heap of chains which the freed soul has shaken off, and we say, "Poor man! What a pity it was he had to come to this." Come to what? By the time people have assembled at the obsequies, that man has been three days so happy that all the joy of earth accumulated would be wretchedness beside it; and he might better weep over you because you have to stay, than you weep over him because he has to go. Paul, in my text, takes that great clod of a word, "death," and throws it away, and speaks of his "departure," a beautiful, bright, suggestive word, descriptive of every Christian's re]ease. Now, departure implies a starting-place, and a place of destination. When Paul left this world, what was the starting-point? It was a scene of great physical distress. It was the Tullianum, the lower dungeon of the Mamertine prison. The top dungeon was bad enough — it having no means of ingress or egress hut through an opening in the top. Through that the prisoner was lowered, and through that came all the food, and air, and light received. It was a terrible place, that upper dungeon; but the Tullianum was the lower dungeon, and that was still more wretched, the only light and the only air coming through the roof, and that roof the floor of the upper dungeon. It was there that Paul spent his last days on earth, and it is there that I see him to-day, in the fearful dungeon, shivering, blue with cold, waiting for that old overcoat which he had seat for up to Troas, and which they had not yet sent down, notwithstanding he had written for it. Oh, worn-out, emaciated old man, surely you must be melancholy. No constitution could endure this and be cheerful; but I press my way through the prison until I come up close to where he is, and by the faint light that streams through the opening I see on his face a supernatural joy, and I bow before him and I say, "Aged man, how can you keep cheerful amid all this gloom?" His voice startles the darkness of the place as he cries out, "I am now ready to be offered, and the time of my departure is at hand." Hark! what is that shuffling of feet in the upper dungeon? Why, Paul has an invitation to a banquet, and he is going to dine to-day with the King. Those shuffling feet are the feet of the executioners. They come, and they cry down through the hole of the dungeon, "Hurry up, old man. Come, now, get yourself ready." Why, Paul was ready. He bad nothing to pack up. He had no baggage to take. He had been ready a good while. I see him rising up, and straightening out his stiffened limbs, and pushing back his white hair from his creviced forehead, and see him looking up through the hole in the roof of the dungeon into the face of his executioner, and hear him say, "I am now ready to be offered, and the time of my departure is at hand." Then they lift him out of the dungeon, and they start with him to the place of execution. They say, "Hurry along, old man, or you will feel the weight of our spear. Hurry along." "How far is it," says Paul, "we have to travel?" "Three miles." Oh, three miles is a good way for an old man to travel after he has been whipped and crippled with maltreatment. But they soon get to the place of execution — Acquae Salvia — and he is fastened to the pillar of martyrdom. I see him looking up in the face of his executioner, and as the grim official draws the sword, Paul calmly says, "I am now ready to be offered, and the time of my departure is at hand." One sharp, keen stroke, and Paul does go to the banquet, and Paul does dine with the King. What a transition it was I From the malaria of Rome to the finest climate in all the universe — the zone of eternal beauty and health. From shipwreck, from dungeon, from the biting pain of the elm-wood rods, from the sharp sword of the headsman, he goes into the most brilliant assemblage of heaven, a king among kings, multitudes of the sainthood rushing out and stretching forth hands of welcome; for I do really think that, as on the right hand of God is Christ, so on the right hand of Christ is Paul, the second great in heaven. He changed kings likewise. Before the hour of death, and up to the last moment, he was under Nero, the thick-necked, the cruel-eyed, the filthy lipped. But the next moment he goes into the realm of Him whose reign is love, and whose courts are paved with love, and whose throne is set on pillars of love, and whose sceptre is adorned with jewels of love, and whose palace is lighted with love, and whose lifetime is an eternity of love. When Paul was leaving so much on this side the pillar of martyrdom to gain so much on the other side, do you wonder at the cheerful valedictory of the text, "The time of my departure is at hand"? Now, why cannot all the old people of my congregation have the same holy glee as that aged man had? You say you most fear the struggle at the moment the soul and body part. But millions have endured that moment, and why may not we as well? They got through with it, and so can we. Besides this, all medical men agree in saying that there is probably no struggle at all at the last moment — not so much pain as the prick of a pin, the seeming signs of distress being altogether involuntary. But you say, "It is the uncertainty of the future." Now, child of God, do not play the infidel. After God has filled the Bible till it can hold no more with stories of the good things ahead, better not talk about uncertainties. But you say, "I cannot bear to think of parting from friends here." If you are old, you have more friends in heaven than here. Besides that, it is more healthy there for you than here, aged man; better climate there than these hot summers, and cold winters, and late springs; better hearing; better eyesight; more tonic in the air; more perfume in the bloom; more sweetness in the song. I remark again: all those ought to feel this joy of the text who have a holy curiosity to know what is beyond this earthly terminus. And who has not any curiosity about it? A man, doomed to die, stepped on the scaffold, and said, in joy, "Now in ten minutes I will know the great secret." One minute after the vital functions ceased, the little child that died last night knew more than Jonathan Edwards, or St. Paul himself before they died. Friends, the exit from this world, or death, if you please to call it, to the Christian is glorious explanation. It is demonstration. It is illumination. It is sunburst. It is the opening of all the windows. It is shutting up the catechism of doubt and the unrolling of all the scrolls of positive and accurate information. I remark again: we ought to have the joy of the text, because leaving this world we move into the best society of the universe. You see a great crowd of people in some street, and you say, "Who is passing there? What general, what prince, is going up there?" Well, I see a great throng in heaven. I say, "Who is the focus of all that admiration? Who is the centre of that glittering company?" It is Jesus, the champion of all worlds, the favourite of all ages.
(T. De Witt Talmage, D. D.)
Parallel VersesKJV: For I am now ready to be offered, and the time of my departure is at hand.