8.We are confident, I say He again repeats, what he had said respecting the confidence of the pious — that they are so far from breaking down under the severity of the cross, and from being disheartened by afflictions, that they are made thereby more courageous. For the worst of evils is death, yet believers long to attain it, as being the commencement of perfect blessedness. Hence and may be regarded as equivalent to because, in this way: “Nothing can befall us, that can shake our confidence and courage, since death (which others so much dread) is to us great gain. (Philippians 1:21.) For nothing is better than to quit the body, that we may attain near intercourse with God, and may truly and openly enjoy his presence. Hence by the decay of the body we lose nothing that belongs to us.”
Observe here — what has been once stated already — that true faith begets not merely a contempt of death, but even a desire for it, (522) and that it is, accordingly, on the other hand, a token of unbelief, when dread of death predominates in us above the joy and consolation of hope. Believers, however, desire death — not as if they would, by an importunate desire, anticipate their Lord’s day, for they willingly retain their footing in their earthly station, so long as their Lord may see good, for they would rather live to the glory of Christ than die to themselves, (Romans 14:7,) and for their own advantage; (523) for the desire, of which Paul speaks, springs from faith. Hence it is not at all at variance with the will of God. We may, also, gather from these words of Paul, that souls, when released from the body, live in the presence of God, for if, on being absent from the body, they have God present, (524) they assuredly live with him.
Here it is asked by some — “How then did it happen that the holy fathers dreaded death so much, as for example David, Hezekiah, and the whole of the Israelitish Church, as appears from Psalms 4:0, from Isaiah 38:3, and from Psalms 115:17 ?” I am aware of the answer, that is usually returned — that the reason, why death was so much dreaded by them was, that the revelation of the future life was as yet obscure, and the consolation, consequently, was but small. Now I acknowledge, that this, in part, accounts for it, but not entirely, for the holy fathers of the ancient Church did not in every case tremble, on being forewarned of their death. Nay more, they embraced death with alacrity, and with joyful hearts. For Abraham departed without regret, full of days. (525) (Genesis 25:8.) We do not read that Isaac was reluctant to die. (Genesis 35:29.) Jacob, with his last breath, declares that he is
waiting for the salvation of the Lord. (Genesis 49:18.)
David himself, too, dies peacefully, without any regrets, (1 Kings 2:10,) and in like manner Hezekiah. As to the circumstance, that David and Hezekiah did, each of them, on one occasion deprecate death with tears, the reason was, that they were punished by the Lord for certain sins, and, in consequence of this, they felt the anger of the Lord in death. Such was the cause of their alarm, and this believers might feel even at this day, under the reign of Christ. The desire, however, of which Paul speaks, is the disposition of a well-regulated mind. (526)