In 2 Tim. 4: 6–8, we find the apostle Paul looking three ways: downward to the grave, backward to his own ministry, and forward to the day of reward.
It will do us good to stand by the apostle’s side for a few minutes, and to mark the words that he uses. Happy is the soul who can look where Paul looked, and then speak as Paul spoke!
He looks downward to the grave, and he does it without fear. As a drink offering, he is “already being poured out”. The last ceremonies have been gone through, and soon all will be over. “The time of my release is come”. He is like a ship about to unmoor and put to sea. All on board is ready. He only waits to have the moorings cast off that fasten him to the shore, and then he will set sail.
These are remarkable words to come from the lips of a child of Adam like ourselves. Death is a solemn thing, and never so much as when we see it close at hand. Yet here is a mortal man, calmly standing on the brink of death. He says, as it were, ‘I see what is before me, and I am not afraid’.
Let us listen to him again. He looks backward to his ministerial life, and he does it without shame. Hear what he says: “I have combated the good combat”. There he speaks as a soldier: ‘I have fought the fight with the world, the flesh and the Devil. I did not hold back’.
“I have finished the race”. There he speaks as one who has run for a prize: ‘I have run the race marked out for me. I have gone over the ground appointed for me, however rough and steep. I have not turned aside because of difficulties, nor been discouraged by the length of the way. At last I am in sight of the goal’.
“I have kept the faith”. There he speaks as a steward: ‘I have held fast that glorious gospel which was committed to my trust. I have not mingled it with man’s traditions, nor spoiled its simplicity by adding my own inventions, nor allowed others to adulterate it without withstanding them to the face’.
As a soldier, a runner and a steward, the apostle seems to say ‘I am not ashamed’. That Christian is happy who, when he quits the world, can leave such a testimony behind him. A good conscience will save no man, wash away no sin, nor lift us one hair’s breadth towards heaven. Yet a good conscience will be found a pleasant visitor at our bedside in a dying hour. There is fine passage in Pilgrim’s Progress which describes Honest’s passage across the river of death. ‘The river’ says Bunyan ‘at that time overflowed its banks in some places, but Mr Honest in his lifetime had spoken to one Good Conscience to meet him there, the which also he did, and lent him his hand, and so helped him over’. There is a mine of truth in that passage.
Let us hear the apostle once more. He looks forward to the day of reckoning, and he does it without doubt. Mark his words: “Henceforth the crown of righteousness is laid up for me, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will render to me in that day; but not only to me, but also to all who love his appearing”. ‘A glorious reward’ he tells us ‘is ready and laid up in store for me. My work on earth is over. I now await the crown which the Lord shall give to me and to all beside me who have loved Him as an unseen Saviour, and longed to see him face to face’.
Observe that the apostle speaks without hesitation or distrust. He regards the crown as a sure thing, as his own already, and he declares with unfaltering confidence his firm persuasion that the righteous Judge will give it to him.
What of you, dear reader? The apostle Paul approached all these things with reality––one can imagine the deep emotion that exercised his soul as he uttered these words. Can you look downwards (if called to) with confidence, backwards, and not be ashamed, and forwards with certainty?