Charles Simeon's Devotional Commentaries
A Work of Grace
Philippians 1:6. Being confident of this very thing, that he who has begun a good work in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ.
THERE is a just mixture of hope and fear, which every Christian should cherish in contemplating his own experience, and the state of the Church of Christ. On the one hand there certainly is ground for fear, whether we judge from analogy, or from what we behold with our eyes. What multitudes of blossoms are annually cut off by frost! of those that set, how many are blighted by an eastern wind! of those that grow, how many are blown off by storms and tempests! and of those that hang upon the tree, how many, when gathered, prove rotten at the core! Thus it is seen in the religious world; many make a fair show for a little while, and then fall off from their profession: others are blighted, and come to naught: others look well for a season, but are beaten down by storms of persecution and temptation: and of those who maintain their profession to the end, how many will at last be found unsound at heart! But, if this cast a damp upon our joys, and teach us to moderate our expectations, it need not, it ought not, to rob us of all our confidence: for though sound fruit may be blown off from a tree, no sound Christian shall ever be separated from the Lord Jesus. Of this the Apostle was fully persuaded: and, under this conviction, he thanked God for the converts at Philippi, whose sincerity he had no reason to doubt, and of whose perseverance in the divine life he therefore entertained the most sanguine hopes.
To make a just improvement of his declaration before us, we shall show,
I. When a good work may be said to be begun in us.
It is not an easy matter to draw the line between those high attainments of religion of which we may fall short, and yet be confident that a good work is begun: and those low attainments, which will warrant us to hope well, at the same time that they are by no means a sufficient ground of confidence. But, taking Paul for our guide, we trust, that we shall so discriminate, as neither to make sad the heart of the righteous, nor to countenance the delusions of the wicked. Those evidences, from whence he "knew the election" (and, of consequence, the perseverance also) of the saints at Thessalonica, will serve as a sure criterion whereby to judge of our own state. We may be assured then that a good work is begun in us, when faith, hope, and love, show themselves to have been formed in our hearts; that is,
1. When our faith is operative.
That faith, which is without works, is dead; and is of no more value that the faith of devils: but the faith which stimulates us to resist and mortify all sin, and to be conscientious in the practice of all duties, is, beyond a doubt, the gift of God, the workmanship of an almighty Agent.
2. When our love is laborious.
Our "love is not to be in word or in tongue, but in deed and in truth," nor must it have respect to men's bodies merely, but to their souls; leading us to consult their spiritual welfare to the utmost of our power, at the same time that we gladly deny ourselves to relieve their spiritual wants. The voice of inspiration assures us that he who exercises such love is born of God.
3. When our hope is patient.
The Christian's hope will have much to try it; but it is to be the anchor of his soul, that shall keep him steadfast in this tempestuous world. He will often experience "fightings without, and fears within," but beyond and "against hope, he must believe in hope," saying, "I know in whom I have believed, and that he is able to keep that which I have committed to him against that day." And every one who has such a lively hope, may be sure that he has been begotten to it by God himself.
To enter fully into the Apostle's assertion, we must show,
II. On what grounds we may be confident that he who has begun this good work will finish it.
If this work were wrought by man, the Apostle would never express such confidence respecting his completion of it; since no dependence can be placed on the stability of man's virtue. But since he who accomplishes this great work is God, we may be assured, that "he will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ."
We may be assured of it.
I. From the declarations of his word.
Numberless are his declarations to this effect, that having once been the "author of a good work within us, he will be the finisher of it." "He will not forsake his people, because it has pleased him to make them his people." He has promised in the strongest possible manner, that "he will never never leave them, never never forsake them." True, they have many enemies: but "he will suffer none of them to pluck them out of his hands." Have they manifold temptations? They shall "have none without a way to escape, that they may be able to bear them." Not even their unbelief shall prevent Jehovah from executing his gracious purposes towards them. As for "Satan, he shall be bruised under their feet shortly." Through weakness they may occasionally fall: "yet shall they not be utterly cast down." "God will restore their souls," and make their very falls the means of augmenting their future caution and stability. The sun may occasionally be covered with a cloud; yet shall it advance to its meridian height: and such shall be the path of all the servants of God: "they shall hold on their way, and their hands shall wax stronger and stronger." This is the portion of them all without exception, for "it is not the will of our Father that one of his little ones should perish."
2. From the perfections of his nature.
In speaking on this subject, we would proceed with great caution; for we know not what will consist with his perfections: and, if we should presume to speak dogmatically respecting them, we should only betray our own weakness and folly. Yet methinks his wisdom affords us some ground of confidence: for, if he has created us anew, in order that we may show forth the power of his grace, will he suffer his enemies so to counteract his purposes as to make us only occasions of greater dishonor to him? If only a man should begin to construct a house and leave it unfinished, he would only expose himself thereby to a greater measure of derision: how then would Satan cast reflections on the Deity, if he should fail in accomplishing so great a work as man's salvation!
In like manner the goodness of God is some ground of hope and confidence. For God has surely never accomplished in us so good a work in order to leave us ultimately to perish under a more aggravated condemnation.
But in speaking of such things which infinitely exceed our comprehension, I can lay no stress on the conjectures of man; nor can I give weight to anything that does not proceed clearly and immediately from God himself. But in speaking of the truth of God, I feel that I stand on firm ground. God has entered into covenant with us; and has confirmed that covenant with an oath: and has expressly declared that he did so confirm it, that by two immutable things, in which it was impossible for God to lie, we might have strong consolation who "have fled for refuge to lay hold on the hope set before us." He is as unchangeable in his word as he is in his nature; and "because he changes not, therefore we are not consumed." We, alas! are variable in the extreme; but "with him is no variableness neither shadow of turning." Now if we look into his covenant we shall see that he gives all, and we receive all: and that he engages, not only "not to depart from us, but to put his fear in our hearts that we may not depart from him," We may be sure therefore that he will not cast off his people, because it has pleased him to make them his people. If indeed he had chosen any of us because we were holy, or because he foresaw that we should be holy, he might abandon us as not answering his expectations. But he chose us that we might be holy, and predestined us to be conformed to the image of his Son: and therefore what he has undertaken we may be sure he will perform. It is on this ground alone that we can account for Paul's confidence, in which every one in whom God has begun a good work is fully authorized to join.
I beg leave now to add a word,
1. Of inquiry respecting the commencement of this work.
I am fully aware that persons so blinded by self-love as we, are greatly in danger of forming too favorable a judgment of our state: and I must warn all of you that God will not be put off with such a feigned repentance as Ahab's, or such a partial reformation as Herod's, or such a hypocritical attachment as that of Judas. Examine then, I pray you, with all imaginable care, respecting the quality of your faith, and hope, and love. Is your faith operative in purifying your heart? Is your love laborious in all kind offices, not to the bodies of men only, but to their souls? And is your hope such as carries you forward through all difficulties towards the attainment of the heavenly prize? Remember, it is no outward work that is here spoken of, but a work in us: and a work which nothing less than Omnipotence can effect. To deceive yourselves in relation to it, is vain, since you cannot deceive the heart-searching God. Be careful then to try your work, of what kind it is; and be satisfied with nothing that does not evidently bear the divine stamp and character upon it.
2. Of admonition in reference to its continuance.
There is nothing at which I tremble more than at a hard, bold, presumptuous confidence respecting the application of this doctrine to a man's own state, while in his spirit and temper and conduct he shows himself to be far from the mind of Christ. In fact, wherever such a confidence exists, there is great reason to doubt whether a good work has ever been begun in the soul. Confidence, if truly spiritual, will be attended with humility, watchfulness, gratitude, and zeal. Look to it then, that you manifest on all occasions a deep sense of your utter unworthiness; a fear lest in anything you grieve the good Spirit of your God; an admiring and adoring sense of God's mercy to your soul; and a determination of heart to live only to your God. This is the true way in which the good work is to go forward in the soul: and, in so walking, you will best justify your confidence to the world, and will give the best proof of the doctrine of perseverance by actually persevering: moreover, in this way you will not only enjoy the most exalted peace on earth, but will have an abundant entrance ministered unto you in due season into the kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
Growth in Grace
Philippians 1:8–11. God is my record, how greatly I long after you all in the affections of Jesus Christ. And this I pray, that your love may abound yet more and more in knowledge and in all judgment; that you may approve things that are excellent; that you may he sincere and without offence until the day of Christ; being filled with the fruits of righteousness, which are by Jesus Christ, unto the glory and praise of God.
THE connection subsisting between a pastor and his flock is set forth in the Scriptures under the most endearing images. While they are spoken of as his beloved children, he is represented as the father that begat them, and as the nursing mother who cherishes them in her bosom. Even these images seem to have been too faint to depict the tender regard which Paul bore towards those who had been converted by his ministry. He longed for their welfare with more than human affection. He could compare his feelings with nothing so justly as with the yearning of the Savior's affections over a ruined world. Nor was he actuated by partial and personal attachments: his regards were universal: they extended to every member of Christ's mystical body: yes, he could appeal to God himself, that he felt the deepest interest in the prosperity of "all," whether more or less distinguished by worldly rank or spiritual attainments. Among the various ways in which he manifests his concern for them, he was especially mindful of prayer and intercession; and though in these benevolent exercises he was solicitous only to approve himself to God, yet he thought it proper on many accounts to inform them of the means he used for their benefit; and to declare to them the particular things which he sought for in their behalf.
From the prayer before us, we see that he desired,
I. Their intellectual improvement.
"Love" is absolutely essential to a Christian: without that, whatever else we may possess, we are only as sounding brass or tinkling cymbals. Love is the characteristic feature of the Deity: and in this all his children resemble him. By this mark we are made known to others as the disciples of Christ: by this we ourselves also are assured, that we have passed from death unto life. In this amiable quality the Philippians "abounded." But the Apostle wished them to abound in it "yet more and more." He was solicitous that it should display itself in a becoming manner. He prayed therefore that their "love might yet more and more abound,"
1. In knowledge.
Knowledge is properly the foundation of love. Whatever we fix our affections upon, we love it for some real or supposed excellence that is in it. If we are unacquainted with the qualities of any person or thing, it is not possible that we should feel any real attachment to him or it. Our love to God therefore, and to his people, should be daily nurtured and strengthened by an increasing acquaintance with them. Our views of the Divine perfections are, at best, but very narrow and contracted. So little are we acquainted with his providence, that we can only faintly guess at either the reasons or issue of his dispensations. The mysteries of redemption are very superficially discovered by us. What we know of Christ, is extremely partial and defective. The nature, extent, and beauties of holiness are very dimly seen. The privileges and blessedness of the Lord's people are but little understood. Wherever we turn our eyes, we are circumscribed by very narrow limits. On every side there are heights and depths, and length and breadth, that cannot be explored. To be searching into these things is our imperative duty, our exalted privilege. If "the angels desire to look into them," much more should we. It is by more enlarged views of them, that our love to them must be confirmed and advanced. We should therefore labor incessantly to form a just estimate of heavenly thing's, and to have our affections regulated by an enlightened understanding.
2. In a spiritual perception of the things known.
Merely speculative knowledge is of little avail: it is only like the light of the moon, which dissipates obscurity indeed, but communicates neither heat nor strength. The knowledge which alone will augment our love, is that which produces suitable impressions on the mind; it is that which, like the sun-beam, enlivens and invigorates our whole frame. Now there is a great difference, even among good men, with respect to their perception of divine truths. There is, if we may use the expression, a spiritual taste, which is acquired and heightened by exercise. As, in reference to the objects of sense, there is an exquisite "judgment" attained by some, so that their eye, their ear, and their palate can discern excellencies or defects, where others, with less discriminating organs, perceive nothing particular; so is there, in reference to spiritual things, an exquisite sensibility in some persons, whereby their enjoyment of divine truth is wonderfully enhanced. Now this is the knowledge which we should aspire after, and in which our love should progressively abound. We should not be satisfied with that speculative knowledge which may be gained from men and books; but should seek that spiritual discernment, which nothing but the operation of the Spirit of God upon the soul can produce. Whatever be the particular objects of our regard, we should get a realizing sense of their excellency, and be duly impressed with their importance.
These views and impressions the Apostle desired for them, in order to a further end:
II. Their moral improvement.
Love, when duly exercised, is the main-spring of all acceptable obedience. When abounding in knowledge and in all judgment, so as to be suitably affected with everything, it will improve the whole of our conduct and conversation. It will make us,
1. More judicious.
We are very apt to be misled by what is specious. Hence many embrace erroneous principles, or rest in delusive experiences, or justify an unfitting conduct. Even in the apostolic age, many were turned from the faith by the sophistry of false teachers: and every day presents some to our view, who are ready to admire and applaud themselves for those very things which more unselfish persons see to be their characteristic failings: yes, plain and palpable faults are not unfrequently committed by persons unconscious of acting wrong, in whose eyes the very faults they commit appear not only innocent, but praiseworthy. It is not the world only that put darkness for light; even the godly themselves are apt to confound good and evil; and it is no inconsiderable part of Christian wisdom to distinguish them from each other. The Apostle was anxious that his Philippian converts should form a correct judgment, and so try the things that differed from each other, as to be able to discern the more excellent; just as a refiner proves his metal in the furnace, and thus ascertains its real worth.
But how shall this be done? We answer, By having our love to divine things more under the influence of an enlightened and spiritual mind. We shall then have within ourselves a faculty, as it were, whereby we may discern the things submitted to it. Our views being more comprehensive, and our judgment more spiritual, we shall be able to weigh everything in a juster balance, and to discriminate with far greater exactness. As the different senses are fitted to give us a right estimate of the things on which they are exercised, so the mind, imbued with ardent love, extensive knowledge, and spiritual discernment, will rightly appreciate whatever presents itself to its notice, and calls for its decision.
2. More steadfast.
Though sincerity is ever an attendant on true religion, yet is there much hypocrisy still remaining in the renewed heart. We do not mean that there is any allowed deceit; for that would at once determine a man to be no true Israelite: but every grace in man's heart is imperfect, and admits of growth; and, consequently, sincerity among the rest. Moreover, as long as we continue in the body, we are liable to err; and not only to stumble ourselves, but even to become stumbling-blocks to others. Not the attainments of Peter himself could place him beyond the reach of sin. We may appeal to all who "know the plague of their own hearts," whether they do not still feel within themselves a proneness to act with an undue reference to the good opinion of their fellow-creatures; and whether they have not still reason to lament the existence of manifold defects in their deportment towards God and man! Now it is of infinite importance, to the honor of religion and the comfort of our own souls, that these defects be remedied as much as possible; that we be more and more delivered from the influence of corrupt passions; and that we be kept sincere and upright until the day of Christ.
But how shall this steadfastness be attained? We can prescribe no better means than those referred to in the text. A loving spirit, abounding in clear, spiritual, and impressive views of divine truth, will assist us greatly in the whole of our conduct. A feeling sense of the love of Christ upon our hearts will fortify us against every temptation; it will make our walk circumspect, our conscience tender, our zeal ardent, our obedience uniform.
3. More diligent.
In estimating a fruit-tree, our principle inquiry respects its fruit: its foliage and blossoms are objects comparatively unimportant. Thus the principles and professions, the experiences and habits of a Christian, are no further valuable, than as they are connected with the substantial fruits of righteousness. His love, whether to God or man, must lead to active exertions, and must show itself in the practice of universal holiness. He should be like a tree whose boughs are laden with fruit. Such a Christian adorns his profession, and recommends religion to all who behold him: and the fruit which he bears, by virtue derived from Christ, does, through the merits of Christ, ascend up with acceptance before God; and tends exceedingly to exalt the honor of God in the world. Such fruitfulness, I say, is the great end of all the mercies given unto him, and of all the love which he professes to feel towards Christ and his people.
But how shall this be secured? We can recur to nothing more effectual than that already mentioned. If we increase in a spiritual perception of the excellency and importance of the Gospel, we cannot fail of being stirred up to activity and diligence in the ways of God: we shall not be satisfied with bringing forth thirty or sixty-fold, but shall labor to bring forth fruit an hundred-fold, and to be "filled with" it in all seasons, and under all circumstances. "Give me understanding," says David, "and I shall keep your law, yes, I shall observe it with my whole heart."
While we admire the Apostle's tender solicitude for the souls of men, let us cherish a just regard for our own souls; and, by mutual exhortations and fervent intercessions, endeavor to the utmost to advance the interests of religion, in each other, and in the world at large.
Decision of Character Recommended
Philippians 1:17. I am set for the defense of the Gospel.
THE Gospel is a revelation of mercy to sinful man, and the most stupendous display of God's wisdom and grace that ever was given to his intelligent creation—It might naturally have been expected that such tidings should have been invariably welcomed with unbounded joy: but, in every age, and every place under Heaven, has it excited the fiercest opposition—On the other hand, it has been maintained with firmness by God's faithful servants, and has triumphed over all the opposition that either men or devils could raise against it—In truth, it has been assailed no less by subtlety than by force; and its very doctrines have been propagated with a view to undermine its influence. Paul tells us, that, on his imprisonment, many rose to the occasion, and proclaimed the Gospel with augmented fortitude; but that some had preached it for no other end than that of drawing away his disciples, and thereby adding affliction to his bonds. He, however, whether under prosperous or adverse circumstances, "was set for the defense of the Gospel," and was determined to maintain it, even unto death.
In him we see,
I. What place the Gospel should hold in our estimation.
Nothing is of importance in comparison of it.
Nothing can vie with it in certainty as a record, in richness as a system, or in value as a remedy.
Whatever can be conceived as necessary to establish its authority as a divine record, is found in it in such abundance, that no record under Heaven can be received, if this be not. Its evidences, both external and internal, are so clear and numerous, that it is not possible for a candid mind to withstand their force.
And what wonders of love and mercy does it bring to our view! the substitution of God's co-equal, co-eternal Son, in the place of his rebellious creatures, to bear the wrath which they had merited, and fulfill the law which they had broken, and thereby to work out a righteousness wherein they might find acceptance!—the sending also of the Holy Spirit, the Third Person in the ever-adorable Trinity, to impart to men the knowledge of this salvation, and to prepare them for the enjoyment of it! Such a mode of restoring man to his offended God infinitely surpasses all finite conception: nor will eternity suffice to explore the wonders of love and mercy contained in it.
To the weary and heavy-laden soul nothing else is wanting. It provides for sinful man all that his necessities require—pardon, and peace, and holiness, and glory: pardon of all his sins, how great or numerous soever they may have been; peace with God, and in his own conscience; strength for the performance of every duty; and everlasting happiness at the right hand of God. Never was there a case which this did not reach; never a want for which it was not an adequate supply.
Nothing, therefore, should equal it in our esteem.
How vain and empty does the world appear, when viewed by the eye of faith! Paul, speaking of the cross of Christ, says, that, "by it the world was crucified unto him, and he unto the world." This expression of his will set this matter in its true light. Suppose a person suspended on the cross, and in the very article of death: what are the world's feelings in relation to him, and his in reference to the world? His dearest friends and relatives feel their connection with him altogether dissolved; and he, even if he has possessed crowns and kingdoms, feels no further interest in them; but bids them, without regret, an everlasting farewell. Precisely thus are the bonds which once subsisted between the believer and the world burst asunder; they no longer regarding him as theirs, and he no longer regarding them as his. The concerns of eternity have taken possession of his mind; and he has no longer any taste for the things of time and sense. This, I hesitate not to say, should, in the main, be the experience of all who embrace the Gospel: "they should count all things but dung, that they may win Christ."
Nor should personal ease be deemed of any importance in comparison of fidelity to Christ. The fiery furnace should not intimidate: the den of lions should not deter us from the path of duty. Whatever we may have suffered, or may be threatened with, for the Gospel's sake, we should be ready to say, with the Apostle, "None of these things move me: neither count I my life dear unto me, so that I may but fulfill my duty to my Lord and Savior."
It is scarcely needful to say, that we must be ready to relinquish for it our own righteousness: for though self-righteousness cleaves closer to us than to anything else, a just view of the Gospel will dispel it all, as a morning cloud; and we shall be ready to seek our all in Christ; making him, and him alone, "our wisdom, and righteousness, and sanctification, and redemption.
From hence, then, we may easily see,
II. What firmness it should produce in our conduct.
The Apostle "was set for the defense of the Gospel," in the midst of greater difficulties and trials than ever were encountered by mortal man. And a similar firmness should we manifest,
1. In our adherence to it.
It is, indeed, "our very life;" and should occupy our whole souls. It should be to our souls what our souls are to our bodies: it should live, and move, and act in every part. Our every act, and word, and thought, should be directed by it; and we should be as tenacious of it as of life itself. It is justly said, "Skin for skin; yes, all that a man has will he give for his life," and in this light we should view the Gospel: in comparison of it, everything in the whole universe should be considered as of no account: and, if all the world endeavor to wrest it from us, we should be ready to lay down our life in its defense; well knowing, that "whoever will save his life, shall lose it; but that whoever will lose it for the Gospel's sake, the same shall save it."
2. In our profession of it.
There were, in the Apostle's days, some who "preached Christ of envy and strife;" and who affected an union in sentiment with him, only with a view to subvert his power. And such preachers exist at this day; adopting and proclaiming the Gospel itself, for the purpose of diminishing the influence of those whose principles are more pure, whose aims are more exalted, whose lives are more heavenly. Indeed, there is scarcely anything more common, than for the people of the world to point out to their friends men as patterns of sound doctrine and of correct conduct, with no better view than to draw away from more zealous ministers their followers and adherents. But we should be alike on our guard against pretended friends and avowed enemies. I mean not to say that we should not listen to counsel of any kind: for certainly we ought to suspect our own judgment, and to lend a willing ear to good advice; but we should guard against seduction, from whatever quarter it may come; and should "prove all things, and hold fast that only which is good." As to concealing our love to the Gospel, we should not attempt it, or even endure the thought of it for a moment. We should not be afraid of having it known "whose we are, and whom we serve." We should shine as lights in the world; holding forth, in our lives, as well as with our lips, the word of life," and should so make "our light to shine before men, that all who behold it may glorify our Father who is in Heaven." It was a matter of public notoriety that the Apostle was "set for the defense of the Gospel," nor should our devotion to it be unknown by those around us, who have an opportunity of observing our life and conversation.
3. In our propagation of it to the world.
This is the duty both of ministers and people; each of whom, in their respective places and stations, should advance the knowledge of it to the utmost of their power. The whole mass of converts, when driven from Jerusalem by the persecution which had consigned Stephen to martyrdom, "went every whore preaching the word." And, in like manner, all, of every description, though not called to the ministerial office, are, in a less ostensible manner indeed, though scarcely less effectual, to bear testimony to the truth, and to commend the Savior to all around them. To "put our light under a bushel "would be the greatest injustice both to God and man: to God, who has imparted it to us for the good of others; and to man, who can by no other means be guided into the way of peace. To the pious zeal of others we are indebted for all that we know; and, "having freely received, we should freely give."
1. Those who have no regard for the Gospel.
In what a pitiable state are you! and how awfully has "the God of this world blinded your eyes!"—Perhaps you think that the opposition which it meets with is a just ground for questioning its real worth. But I should rather say, that that very opposition is a presumptive evidence in its favor; because it has been so opposed from the days of Cain and Abel until now; and because it declares what reception it shall ever meet with from an ungodly world. And may I not add, that the firmness of holy men in its support is a further testimony in its behalf? I know, indeed, that many have died in the defense of error: but where, in the annals of the world, will be found such a frame of mind as that of Stephen, except under the influence of the Holy Spirit, and in attestation to the truth of God? Let not then that Gospel, which has been so esteemed by others, be any longer slighted by you. Be careful, indeed, that you receive the true Gospel: guard against all perversions of the doctrine of Christ: see to it, that, in your view of it, the sinner is laid low, even in the dust, and that the Lord Jesus Christ alone is exalted: and, having once embraced that, let it "be all your salvation, and all your desire."
2. Those who, knowing the Gospel, are yet afraid to confess it.
No sin is more severely reprobated in the Gospel, than the being ashamed of Christ—And as none is more fatal, so none is more foolish: for the very persons who hate us for the sake of Christ will honor us more, in their minds, for adhering to our principles, than for renouncing them, or acting unworthy of them. But, supposing it wore not so, what is man's displeasure, in comparison of God's; or his favor, when compared with God's? To all, then, I say, "Fear not man, who, when he has killed the body, has no more that he can do: but fear Him who can destroy both body and soul in Hell; yes, I say unto you, Fear Him."
3. The sincere followers of our Lord.
If you suffer even unto bonds, care not for it: let your only fear be, lest by any means you should dishonor the Gospel of Christ. Instead of being intimidated by opposition, let it be to you rather an occasion for manifesting your fidelity to Him, whose servant you are: and in proportion as persecution rages, let your courage rise, and your efforts be increased; and, if called to lay down life itself for him, rejoice that you are counted worthy so to do; and have no concern whatever, but that "Christ may be magnified in your body, whether by life or death."
Preaching of Christ, a Ground of Joy
Philippians 1:18. Christ is preached: and I therein do rejoice, yes and will rejoice.
WHEN our blessed Lord came into the world, it was said concerning him, that he was "set for the fall and rising again of many in Israel, that the thoughts of many hearts might be revealed." And certainly his Gospel has been an occasion of displaying, in a far greater degree than at any former period, the extreme wickedness of the human heart, and, at the same time, the astonishing efficacy of divine grace to renew and sanctify the soul. The virulent opposition made to the Gospel by its professed enemies may, in some measure, illustrate the former. But the subtle contrivances of its professed friends to adulterate its truths and to subvert its influence, showed a degree of malignity perfectly Satanic: while the virtues which have, by these means, been drawn forth into exercise, have been no less illustrative of the power and grace of Christ. In several of the apostolic Churches, there were not only some who perverted the Gospel by a mixture of self-righteous doctrines, but some who actually preached the Gospel for the very purpose of undermining its proper influence. In the context, this curious device is fully developed, and the mask is taken from the faces of these base hypocrites; while the effect of their endeavors on the Apostle's mind is plainly declared.
By the Roman magistrates, Paul had been sent to Rome, and imprisoned. This, which seemed likely to stop the progress of the Gospel, had, in reality, turned out to the furtherance of it; because the zeal of many others was called forth, in a much greater degree, to advance its interests. But some, who sought only their own glory, took occasion, from his imprisonment, to practice on the minds of his followers, and to draw them away from him. Paul's converts, however, were too well instructed to be wrought upon by false doctrines: and, therefore, these teachers preached the true Gospel itself, so that they might insinuate themselves into the affections of their simple-minded hearers, and thus form them into a party against the Apostle himself, and ultimately establish their own authority on the ruin of his. Hear the Apostle's own account of it: "Some indeed preach Christ even of envy and strife; and some also of good-will; the one preach Christ of contention, not sincerely, supposing to add affliction to my bonds; but the other of love, knowing that I am set for the defense of the Gospel. What then? notwithstanding every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is preached; and I therein do rejoice, yes, and will rejoice."
In discoursing on these latter words, I will show,
I. What we are to understand by preaching Christ.
This is a term frequently made use of to express the preaching of the Gospel. In the passage before us, it is repeated no less than three times; and it is admirably adapted to convey at once to the mind the whole complex idea of proclaiming, in all its parts, the great mystery of redemption. Under this term is comprehended a full exhibition of,
1. Our need of Christ.
The fall of man, and the consequent guilt and misery of the human race, form the ground on which a Savior is necessary. The angels, that have never fallen, need no Savior: but, as we have fallen, and are wholly incapable of restoring ourselves either to the image or favor of God, we need one to do it for us. This, then, must be fully opened, in order to preach Christ with effect: and all our hearers must be fully informed, that they are under the wrath of God—that they can never atone for their own sins—that it is impossible for them to renew their own natures—that their hope must be altogether in God's mercy, through Christ.
2. Christ's suitableness and sufficiency to save us.
Not all the angels in Heaven were competent to this task. But the Lord Jesus Christ was God equal with the Father, and therefore was capable of accomplishing what no finite power could effect. By assuming our nature, he could suffer in our place and stead; while his Godhead imparted to those sufferings a value, sufficient to atone for the sins of the whole world. Besides, having now in himself essentially all the fullness of the Godhead, and a communicative fullness expressly treasured up in him, as our mediator, for the benefit of his Church, he can impart to every one of his members all that he sees to be needful for them in this state of trial and probation. And he has actually promised to all, who believe in him, a supply of all spiritual blessings according to their necessities. Now, this must occupy a very large share in the ministrations of those who would preach the Gospel aright. On the Godhead of Christ depends his sufficiency for the work assigned him: and on the discharge of all his offices, of Prophet, Priest, and King, depends the hope of all who trust in him. In these offices, therefore, he must be held forth to the faith of his people; that through him their minds may be enlightened, their iniquities cancelled, and their enemies subdued. In a word, a full exhibition of Christ in his mediatorial character is that which chiefly constitutes what we call the Gospel: and if we would preach it aright, we must "determine, with Paul, to know nothing among our people, but Jesus Christ, and him crucified."
3. The nature and blessedness of his salvation.
We shall preach Christ to little purpose, if we do not hold him forth as a Savior from sin. He had the name Jesus assigned to him for that express purpose, that he might be recognized by all in this particular view, as "saving his people from their sins." To deliver them from wrath would be a small matter, if he did not also deliver them from sin: for sin, if suffered to retain dominion over them, would itself create a Hell within them. I would speak it with reverence; but I should not speak too strongly, if I should say, that God himself could not make a man happy, while he continued under the power of his sins. There is a beauty and a felicity in holiness; a beauty, in that it assimilates a man to God's image; and a felicity, in that it is a foretaste of Heaven itself. This requires to be opened, in order to guard against a misapprehension of the Gospel salvation, as though it were nothing more than a deliverance from death and Hell; and at the same time to give a right direction to every follower of Christ; and to make him aspire after holiness, as the perfection of his nature, and the completion of his bliss.
But my text leads me to mark particularly,
II. With what different views this preaching may be maintained.
The Apostle speaks of some as preaching Christ "in pretense," and of others "in truth." And certain it is, that Christ is sometimes preached,
1. From unworthy motives.
One would scarcely suppose this possible. But what has been, may be: and, as in the Apostles' days, so now also, Christ is sometimes preached only as the means of advancing some personal and carnal ends.
Some, alas! preach Christ for gain; and make the proclamation of his Gospel an office, in the discharge of which they are to obtain a livelihood. Yes, "for filthy lucre sake" do multitudes engage in this service, and not "of a ready mind," and, if there were nothing but a bare subsistence to be gained by it, they would leave the whole world to perish, rather than go forth to enlighten and to save them. Under this head, I must rank those also who engage in the sacred office as a mere profession (like that of law or medicine), in which they may occupy somewhat of an ostensible post, and sustain a respectable character in the world, at the same time that they desire only to pass their days in polished ease and carnal indolence.
There are others who preach Christ for popularity. It is found that there is nothing which so interests the feelings of mankind, as the Gospel; and wherever that is preached with any degree of clearness and energy, there people will flock to hear it. Now, to our fallen nature, distinction of any kind is gratifying: and, if a person can see himself followed by multitudes, who hang on his lips, and express delight in his ministrations, he will feel himself repaid, quite as well as by financial compensation: and that many are actuated by this kind of ambition, while they profess to be led on by higher motives, there is too great reason to fear. Few, indeed, would acknowledge that they were influenced by such vanity as this: but, if they would mark what inordinate satisfaction they feel in a crowded audience, and what disappointment in a thin attendance, they might see, that, to say the least, their motives are very questionable. And, indeed, this very motive often gives a tone and direction to the ministrations of men, who will gratify a particular taste, not because they judge that style of preaching to be most scriptural, but because they see it to be most accordant with the public feeling: and they dare not to enter fully into what they themselves would think most needful, lest they should give offence to their hearers, and lessen the popularity which they supremely affect. Base is this motive, which prefers the estimation of men to the real welfare of their souls.
But there are others who more exactly resemble the persons whom the Apostle describes as "preaching Christ of contention." Yes, even at this day it is no uncommon thing to preach Christ chiefly with a view to undermine the influence of some popular minister. Let a pious minister arise in the Established Church, and what labors will be used to draw-away his people: preachings, prayer-meetings, societies, will all be formed for this very end; and persons of popular talent be brought from a distance to further the base design. And, if a minister out of the establishment be extensively useful in converting souls to Christ, similar efforts will sometimes be made, not so much to save the souls of men, as to keep them from attending the ministry of one in another communion. I do not by this mean to say, that a minister in the establishment ought not to labor to keep his people firm to the establishment; for I conceive this to be his bounden duty, to which he has pledged himself, in his ordination vows: but to make this his main object in extending his ministrations, is to tread very close upon the heels of those who "preached Christ of envy and strife."
But there are others, blessed be God, who preach Christ,
2. From motives that are becoming a Christian minister.
Yes, there are some, at least, who are like-minded with the Apostle; who know, by experience, what an evil and bitter thing it is to be under the guilt of sin, and the wrath of God. They know, too, by the same blessed experience, what it is to have found a Savior, and to have obtained peace through his blood. And they desire to be instrumental in imparting this knowledge to their fellow men, and in bringing them to a participation of the same benefits. They feel, too, a love to that Savior, who has so loved them, and given himself for them. They desire to make him known, and to exalt his name in the world. Gladly would they see. the whole earth subjected to his dominion, and all the kingdoms of the world united under him, as their common Lord. Hence it is that they preach him with ardor and with zeal. These were the motives by which the Apostle Paul was actuated; and, through the tender mercy of God, a goodly number of ministers are raised up to tread in his steps, and to "be followers of him as he was of Christ."
But, whether the motive of the preacher be good or bad, we must say of the preaching,
III. That, under any circumstances, it is a ground of joy.
It is doubtless much to be regretted that any person should execute such a sacred office from unworthy motives; and over the man who does so, we would weep with the deepest sorrow. Yet, while we mourn over him as involving his own soul in perdition, we cannot but rejoice in his act, on account of the consequences that flow from it.
We rejoice in it,
1. Because it diffuses truth.
Truth, under any circumstances, is better than error, even as light is better than darkness. But if truth be viewed in its consequences, its importance will be found to exceed our utmost conceptions. The preachers who proclaim not the Lord Jesus Christ, disseminate error. Whether it be in denying the fallen state of man, or in establishing man's righteousness, or in inculcating merely heathen morals, or in whatever way it is that men go beside the Gospel, or come short of it, the effect is the same: the preacher betrays the hearers to their ruin; and the people, so deceived, must "perish for lack of knowledge." Contrast, then, with such a ministry the preaching of one who exalts Christ among his people, and points him out as "the way, the truth, and the life;" and the difference between them will be found exceeding great. As to the motives and principles by which the preacher may be actuated, the hearer has nothing to do with them: he is not called to judge of them: nay, he has no right to judge of them: he must leave that matter to Him who alone can search the hearts of men: but, in the truth exhibited to his view, he has the very same interest that he would have if it were declared by an angel from Heaven: his mind is enlightened by it; and his feet are guided into the way of peace. However unworthy the preacher of it may be, God may work by it; as we have no doubt he did by the ministry of Judas, as well as by the other Apostles: and, in as far as truth is diffused instead of error, "we do rejoice in it, yes, and will rejoice in it."
2. Because the Lord Jesus Christ is exalted.
I well know that Christ would not suffer the demoniacs to confess him. I know also, that, as far as the preachers themselves are concerned, Christ is dishonored, rather than glorified, in those who preach him from unhallowed motives. But when he is truly preached, whatever be the motives of the minister himself, he is, on the whole, honored; for his salvation is made known; his kingdom is enlarged; his authority is established; his name is glorified. This ought to be a matter of sincere joy to all. The angels, when they announced his advent to the shepherds, said, "Behold, we bring you glad tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people: for unto you is born this day, in the city of David, a Savior, which is Christ the Lord." If, then, the advent of Christ, while he was yet but a new-born infant, was so replete with joy to all people, much more must the full exhibition of his mediatorial work and offices be a source of joy; since in them is the whole mystery of his love unfolded, in all its height and depth, and "length and breadth.
3. Because the souls of men are benefitted.
Men, I say again, have nothing to do with the motives of the preacher. But if they receive the truth in the love of it, they enter at once into the full liberty of the Gospel, and enjoy all the blessings of a finished salvation. Among the Jews, many who rejected Christ were empowered to cast out devils: and the persons dispossessed were as much liberated from the bonds of Satan as if the work had been wrought by the most distinguished Apostle. In like manner, the person who was instructed in the truth by the ministration of Judas, felt the power of the word as much as if he had received it from Peter or from John. The traveler is not less refreshed by a fountain in a desert, because he was led to it by the feet of beasts: nor are the waters of life deprived of their efficacy, because they have not been first tasted by him who puts the cup into our hands. It is the truth, and not the minister, that makes us free: it is Christ, and not the preacher, that saves the soul. Say, then, whether it be not a just ground of joy that the saving doctrines of the Gospel are proclaimed, even though it be by one who is a stranger to their power? Yes, "if Christ be preached," by whoever it may be, and from whatever motive, "I therein do rejoice, yes, and will rejoice."
May we not, then, from hence observe,
1. How unlike to the Apostles are they who hate the preaching of Christ!
There is no other subject in the world so odious to the ungodly as this. We may preach the Law as strictly as we please, and men will hear us with delight: but let us preach the Gospel, and men will be sure to be offended with us: and if this effect do not follow, we may be sure that we do not preach as Christ and his Apostles preached it. But what shall we say of those who thus take offence? Paul rejoiced in the Gospel, though so unworthily propagated from envy and strife: but these persons are grieved at it, even when delivered with the utmost sincerity and love. "They know not, alas! what spirit they are of," but this they may know, that if they be not brought to an entire change of mind, so as to love the Gospel as the Apostle did, they can never hope to participate, with him, its joys in a better world.
2. What cause have they for sorrow, who, though they hear the Gospel, make no suitable improvement of it!
We are responsible for what we hear: and, if we hear of Christ, and receive him not into our hearts by faith, "it will be more tolerable for Sodom and Gomorrah, in the day of judgment, than for us." Are there any of that character here present? How would the Apostle weep over you! He tells us, that "he had great heaviness and continual sorrow in his heart, on account of his unbelieving brethren," and that is the feeling which I would cultivate in your behalf, and which I would recommend you to cherish in your own bosoms.
3. How happy are they, who, while they have the Gospel faithfully ministered to them, experience in their souls its saving power!
Truly, you are the blessed of the Lord. You have that in your souls which will turn every sorrow into joy. The Apostle quite forgot his own bonds, and the malignity of those who sought to add affliction to them. The honor of Christ, and the welfare of immortal souls, swallowed up all personal considerations, and filled him with ineffable delight. Let the Gospel operate in this very way on your minds. Live not below your privileges in this respect. Show, that if men can bind the body, they cannot fetter the soul. Show that your joys are altogether independent of them, and out of their reach. This is the way to prove what the preaching of Christ will effect; and will encourage all who behold you to live for Christ, and to suffer for his sake.
Christ Magnified in Our Body
Philippians 1:20. Christ shall be magnified in my body, whether it be by life, or by death.
WHILE the great mass of mankind, like a ship driven with fierce winds and tossed upon tempestuous waves, are uncertain what may be the event of their trials, the true Christian is like a ship at anchor: he beholds the storm, but defies its power: he knows that every effort, either of men or devils, to destroy him, shall issue in his own welfare, and in their confusion. Paul was in prison at Rome, uncertain whether he should be set at liberty or put to death. He had adversaries also among the professed followers of Christ, who labored to increase his affliction, by weakening his influence in the Church, and drawing away his converts to their own party. But he knew, that the more his afflictions abounded, the more were the prayers of God's people offered up on his behalf, and the more would a supply of the Spirit of Jesus Christ be poured out upon him. He was therefore satisfied, that, however matters might terminate with respect to temporal deliverance, they would issue in his final "salvation;" and that he should be so strengthened from above, as never to "be ashamed" of his profession, but rather that, as in past times, so to the latest hour of his existence, "Christ should be magnified in his body, whether it were by life or by death."
This expression is very singular, and deserves more than ordinary attention. We propose therefore to consider.
I. In what sense Christ may be magnified in our body.
We may easily conceive that Christ should be served, or honored by us; but how can he be magnified? Can we add anything to his essential dignity? No; he is "God over all, blessed for evermore." Can we add to his mediatorial honors? No; we cannot augment his kingly power, or give virtue to his priestly sacrifice, or enlarge his influence as the great Prophet of the Church. Can we add to the glory that he possesses in Heaven? No; the angels and glorified saints are already glorifying him, day and night, with all their faculties and all their powers. Surely then (it may be said) this is a proud, if not a blasphemous expression. No; we must not so hastily condemn an inspired Apostle. You ask then, How can we magnify Christ? We answer, that he may be magnified by us both in word and deed: "O magnify the Lord with me," says the Psalmist, "and let us exalt his name together." This shows what may be done by our voices: and as to our actions, we may be said to magnify him, when in our conduct we set forth,
1. The purity of his law.
It is not only in "bearing one another's burdens," but in obeying all the precepts of the Gospel, that we are to "fulfill the law of Christ." Now the extent of this law is not in any degree imagined by the world at large: they have no idea of the motives, the principles, the conduct which the Christian code inculcates. But when a child of God is enabled to act up to his profession, he shows to all around him the beauty of holiness: he commends to them the law which he obeys: he constrains them to see and acknowledge its transcendent excellence: and in advancing thus the honor of the law, he honors also the Lawgiver: "In adorning the doctrine of God our Savior," he adorns and magnifies the Savior himself.
2. The perfection of his character.
The Christian follows the steps of his Divine Master, and endeavors to "walk as he walked." Now if his path be luminous, what must that of the Lord Jesus have been? The most eminent of our fallen race was no more in comparison of him, than a twinkling star (I should rather say, a glow-worm) in comparison of the meridian sun. If therefore the effulgence of a poor and sinful creature like ourselves be such as to attract the admiration of all that behold it, much more must the splendor of Emmanuel's holiness exceed in glory; insomuch that the attainments of Paul himself have no glory by reason of his glory that excels.
3. The blessedness of his service.
If we see a person grudging every labor that be performs, we naturally conclude that his task is irksome, and that the master whom he serves is not (in his esteem at least) worthy of any high regard. But if we behold a person straining every nerve, and exerting himself day and night in the most arduous services, and, after all, complaining only that he cannot perform one half of what he wishes to do for his master, we conclude, of course, that he loves both his work, and his master too. When therefore we behold an exemplary and laborious Christian devoting all his powers to the service of his God, and all the while taking shame to himself as an unprofitable servant, we are constrained to say, that (in his eyes at least) his Lord is worthy of all honor, and the work in which he is engaged is perfect freedom. The devotedness of the servant is a high and public commendation of his Lord.
4. The power of his grace.
It is to this chiefly that the Apostle refers: and it is by a display of this that Christ is chiefly magnified. A river flowing with a rapid and majestic current to the sea, would defy the efforts of the whole world to turn it back again to its source; yet by the returning tide it is not only arrested in its course, but driven up again with equal rapidity towards the fountain-head. It is thus that a sinner, when rushing with the whole current of his affections towards this present world, is stopped in his career of sin, and turned back with an irresistible impulse towards high and heavenly things. Let men, yes, let all the angels in Heaven, attempt to effect this change, and their united efforts would be in vain. Who then that witnesses this change, and beholds the believer's victories over sin and Satan, and his progressive advancement in the ways of holiness, must not adore that power by which so great a miracle is wrought? In this Christ is indeed magnified: "the exceeding greatness of his power is made known;" and the sufficiency of his grace is incontrovertibly established.
Let us now proceed to inquire,
II. By what means Christ may be magnified in our body.
Paul knew not whether his present imprisonment would issue in life or death: but in either case he hoped and expected that Christ would be magnified in his body; that is, either by the renewed services of his body, or its protracted sufferings unto death. In order then to magnify Christ in our body, we must,
1. Use our body as an instrument to fulfill his will.
The Apostle was a fit pattern for us. Were his feet at liberty? he traveled from Judea round about into Illyricum, that he might carry to heathen nations the glad tidings of the Gospel. Were his hands at liberty? he worked by night, that he might be able to preach by day. Was his tongue at liberty? he preached Christ incessantly, and encouraged all to put their trust in him. It is thus that we also should act. We are not indeed called to execute like him the apostolic office, and, consequently, not to tread precisely in the Apostle's steps: but we are called to walk in the same spirit, and to employ all the faculties of our body in the same manner. We should "yield all our members instruments of righteousness unto God." We should consider our eyes, our ears, and all our powers, as consecrated to him, and to be used for him. And though our sphere may be very contracted, yet may every one of us find abundant scope for the exercise of piety and benevolence, if we will only put forth the powers that we have, and embrace the opportunities that are afforded us. Dorcas was limited in her means of doing good; yet were her exertions so great, that the whole Church at Joppa wept and deplored her loss: and we also may endear ourselves to multitudes, and greatly magnify the Lord, if in our respective places we improve the talents committed to our care.
2. Endure cheerfully whatever we may be called to suffer for his sake.
There is a kind of suffering which we should account no suffering at all: we should "mortify our earthly members," and "crucify the flesh with its affections and lusts," and cut off the right hand, or pluck out the right eye, that is an occasion of offence to us. But there are other sufferings, which though we may deprecate, we must expect and submit to, saying, "Not my will, but your be done." Reproaches, persecutions, imprisonments, and death, are, more or less, the portion of all who follow Christ. Doubtless they are not pleasing to flesh and blood: yet, as they may be the means of displaying the power and grace of Christ, we may not only bear them, but even "take pleasure in them." Paul cheerfully submitted to them in this view: "We bear about," says he, "in our body the dying of the Lord Jesus, that the life also of Jesus might be manifest in our body," and, to manifest the importance of that thought, he repeats it almost in the same words in the very next verse. Let us meet our trials in the same way; and then, as he has told us, His strength shall be perfected in our weakness, and His name be magnified in our obedience.
1. The self-indulging world.
You seem to think your body made only that you might adorn, pamper, and gratify it. What resemblance then have you to the Apostle? Until you know the true use of the body, and employ it in its only legitimate exercises, you have no pretensions to the Christian character.
2. The inactive professor.
Paul intimates that there is but one alternative; you will either "be ashamed," or "magnify Christ with your body," if by any considerations you are deterred from glorifying Christ, you so far renounce all your principles, professions, and expectations: but if you value Christ as you ought, you will live and die for him. Judge which is better for yourselves, and more suitable to your obligations to him.
3. The advancing Christian.
What a noble ambition is yours! You are not contented to serve or enjoy Christ, but must also magnify him. Go on; and he will soon "make your vile body like unto his glorious body" in a better world: and whatever others may be, you shall "not be ashamed before him at his coming."
Philippians 1:21–24. To me to live is Christ, and to die is gain. But if I live in the flesh, this is the fruit of my labor: yet what I shall choose I know not. For I am in a strait between two, having a desire to depart, and. to be with Christ; which is far better: nevertheless to abide in the flesh is more needful for you.
THE way to ascertain the real excellence of religion, is to see what it can do for us in the hour of trial, when all other helps and comforts fail us. If it can support us then, and make us to triumph over all the feelings of nature, its power must be confessed to be exceeding great and highly beneficial. Now that it has that power, is evident from the example before us. Paul was in prison at Rome, confined there in order to be brought forth for execution, whenever Nero, the Roman emperor, should issue the command. Contentious teachers in the mean time were taking advantage of his confinement, to draw away disciples after them, and seeking thereby to add affliction to his bonds. And what effect had these upon him? As for his own sufferings, from whatever quarter they came, he was persuaded they would issue in his everlasting salvation; while the efforts of the teachers, notwithstanding the corruptness of their motives, would issue in the salvation of others: his mind therefore was kept in perfect peace, and he was equally willing either to live or die, assured that Christ would certainly be magnified in his body, whether by life or death. This blessed state of equanimity is admirably depicted in the words of our text. In order to take a fuller view of it, we shall point out,
I. The prospects of the Apostle.
These were truly blessed both in life and death:
1. In life.
Two objects were near his heart; namely, to honor Christ, and to benefit the Church. "To him to live was Christ." To exalt Christ, to make known his salvation, and to extend the boundaries of his kingdom, was his constant aim, his sole employment—To further the welfare of the Church also, by confirming the faith, and advancing the happiness, of the disciples, this was the office that had been delegated to him by God himself, and which he had now for many years endeavored to execute to the utmost of his power.
He had already succeeded to an astonishing extent in promoting these objects; and he had no doubt but that, if his life were prolonged, they would continue to be advanced by means of his ministrations.
2. In death.
Having fled for refuge to the hope set before him, he was well assured that be was accepted in the Beloved. He had already for many years been with Christ by faith, walking as before him, depending upon him, holding sweet fellowship with him, and receiving continually out of his fullness: but he expected, immediately on his departure from this world, to be with him in a more intimate and immediate manner, beholding his glory, and enjoying the fullest possible communications of his love.
Not that these prospects were peculiar to him. The weakest Christian enjoys the same, only in an inferior degree: for every one who truly believes in Christ, will assuredly seek the advancement of his kingdom, and may firmly expect a participation of his glory.
Though these prospects were so glorious, yet they created some embarrassment in his mind. He proceeds to mention,
II. The straits and difficulties to which they reduced him.
He speaks not indeed of any serious difficulties, but only of a dilemma to which he was reduced by the contrary desires within him:
For his own sake he wished to die.
"To die," he says, "would be gain to him." And a glorious gain indeed it must be to one so prepared for death as he! To get rid of sin, and sorrow, and temptation, and suffering, of every kind; to have all the faculties of his soul perfected, all its capacities enlarged, all its wishes accomplished; to behold all the glory of his God and Savior; to join with all the hosts of Heaven in songs of joy and triumph; and to enter upon a state of unalienable everlasting felicity; well might he say, "This is far better," for even his exalted happiness while on earth, must fall infinitely short of such a state as that.
We wonder not therefore that he wished to exchange his present trials for that unutterable bliss.
For the sake of others he wished to live.
It certainly was very desirable, and, in some sense, "needful" for the Church, that his labors should still be continued to them. They still needed his instruction to guide them, and his influence to preserve them, in the right way. Doubtless God could have guided and preserved them, without the intervention of any human being: but He has ordained men to be the instructors of his Church, and has connected the prosperity of his people with the labors of their ministers: and therefore the Apostle's labors were of infinite value to those who could enjoy them. This he felt: he had reason to think, that, if he were spared to come to them again, their faith would be strengthened, and their rejoicing in Christ Jesus would be more abundant "through him." Indeed the Church is a great hospital, in which experienced physicians regularly attend to the wants of the patients, and administer to them respectively from the inexhaustible storehouse of God's word, whatever they judge most suited to their necessities.
From this consideration, he was as willing to live, as from other views he had been desirous to die: and he was for a while perplexed by the opposite attractions of the public benefit on the one hand, and his own personal advantage on the other.
But benevolence soon triumphed, and formed,
III. The ultimate decision of his mind.
Whether God made any revelation to him on the subject, or he inferred the purposes of God from the effects of divine grace operating on his soul, we know not: but he knew that he should abide and continue with the Church for some time longer; and he cordially acquiesced in this appointment. His mind was instantly assimilated to the mind and will of God: and he was willing to bear more, that he might do more; and to postpone his own enjoyment even of Heaven itself, that he might bring others to enjoy it with him.
Blessed disposition of mind! how honorable to the Christian character! how worthy to be imitated by all who name the name of Christ! Yes; thus should we all "seek not our own things, but the things of Jesus Christ;" and "not our own wealth, but the wealth of others."
This subject furnishes abundant matter,
1. For painful reflection.
How few are there, even of the people of God, who attain to this heavenly state of mind! As for the ignorant ungodly world, they are indeed often reduced to a strait, not knowing whether it is better to protract their miserable existence on earth, or to terminate it at once by some act of suicide. And if they choose life rather than death, it is not from love to God and to their fellow-creatures, but from the fear of that vengeance which awaits them on their departure hence. Ah! terrible dilemma! yet how common! The people of God, it is true, are, for the most part, far enough removed from this. What they may for a moment be brought to, under some extraordinary weight of trial and temptation, we presume not to say: for Job, that holy and perfect man, has sufficiently shown us what is in the human heart. But peace and joy are the usual attendants on a state of acceptance with God: and it is the believer's own fault, if he possess not such foretastes of Heaven, as to make him long for death, as the door of entrance into perfect bliss. O my brethren, why is not this your state? Is it not owing to your retaining too much the love of this world in your hearts? Is it not owing to secret declensions from God, and to your not meditating sufficiently on the glories of Heaven? Let me entreat you to gird up the loins of your mind, to take continual surveys of your future inheritance, and so to live in habitual fellowship with Christ, that death may be disarmed of its sting, and be numbered by you among your richest treasures.
2. For interesting inquiry.
How are we to obtain that blessed state of mind? The answer is plain: Let it be "to us Christ to live;" and then it will assuredly be "gain to die," and, however great our desire after that gain, we shall have a self-denying willingness to live, for the honor of Christ, and the benefit of his people. Let us then seek a due sense of our obligations to Christ, that we may be constrained to live entirely for him. Let our first inquiry in the morning be, What can I do for my Lord this day? And in the evening, Have I rendered to him this day according to the benefits I have received from him? By such exercises we shall get our hearts inflamed with holy zeal for his glory; and shall be made willing to forego even our own happiness in Heaven for a season, that we may serve him the longer on earth, where alone we can render him any effectual service. We shall lay out ourselves to make Christ more known, and his people's joy in him more abundant. In short, if we get the principles of the Apostle rooted in our minds, we shall exhibit a measure at least of his holy practice in our lives.
A Holy Conversation Recommended
Philippians 1:27. Only let your conversation be as it becomes the Gospel of Christ; that whether I come and see you. or else be absent, I may hear of your affairs, that you stand fast in one spirit, with one mind striving together for the faith of the Gospel.
THE interests of immortal souls should be dear to every one, but most of all to the ministers of Christ. Neither the height of prosperity, nor the depth of adversity, should ever induce us to forget them. Our blessed Lord, when in the bosom of his Father, could not rest, (if we may so speak,) until he had undertaken our cause; nor in the midst of all his sufferings did he relax his solicitude in our behalf. Paul also, in every diversity of state, was so intent on the salvation of his fellow-creatures, that he counted not even his life dear to him, if only he might be instrumental to their eternal welfare. He was now in prison at Rome: yet what employed his thoughts? He had a request to make to the Philippian Church: and what was it? Did he desire that they would endeavor to liberate him from his chains? No; he was unmindful of himself, and solicitous only that they should adorn the Gospel. For this "only" did he labor; and this "only" did he desire.
We notice, in the words before us,
I. His general exhortation.
The standard at which the Christian is to aim, is widely different from that with which the rest of the world are satisfied. We can easily understand that different modes of living would become a prince and a beggar, or a philosopher and a child: we can readily conceive also, that if a company of angels were sent down to sojourn upon earth, and a direction were given them to live suitably to their high station, it would import pre-eminent sanctity in the whole of their conversation. From hence we may form some idea of the exhortation in the text. The Christian is "a citizen of no mean city;" he is a citizen even of Heaven itself: and he is to order his life in such a way, as becomes the society to which he belongs. The Gospel is the charter of their privileges, and the directory of their conduct: and they are to walk as becomes,
1. The wonders it unfolds.
Contemplate the great mystery of redemption: contemplate the incarnation, life, death, resurrection, and ascension of Christ, together with the offices he still continues to execute for his people's good—Contemplate the favor with which the Father regards them in and through his beloved Son—Contemplate the love of the Holy Spirit, who condescends to make their polluted bodies and souls his habitation, in order that through his gracious influences they may be made meet for the inheritance of the saints in light—What kind of a life do such mysteries of love and mercy require? Should not our souls be lost, as it were, in wonder, love and praise?.
2. The profession it calls us to.
We profess to be "as lights in the world," "as cities set on a hill," we profess to be "born from above," to be "transformed into the Divine image," yes, to be "changed into the Divine image, from glory to glory, by the Spirit of our God." In a word, we profess to be "epistles of Christ, known and read of all men;" insomuch that no one can behold us, without seeing the mind and will of God exhibited in living characters before his eyes. What then is the conversation suited to such a state? Is a mere negative holiness sufficient, or a lukewarm performance of religious duties? Who will behold God in such a conduct as that? If we are to exhibit Christ to the world, we must "walk altogether as Christ walked," his temper, his spirit, his conduct, must be ours.
3. The benefits it confers.
Take a distinct view of these: survey the pardon of sins unnumbered, the peace that passes understanding, the strength for every duty, the access to God on all occasions, the joy unspeakable and glorified, the prospects opened in a dying hour, the crowns and kingdoms reserved for us in a better world—What manner of persons ought we to be, who have such mercies given unto us? Does it become such persons to be weighing out their services by drachms and scruples, if we may so speak? Should we not "love and serve God with all our heart, and all our mind, and all our soul, and all our strength?" The continual habit of our minds should be, "What shall I render unto the Lord?."
But, that we may not spend all our time in mere general truths, let us proceed to notice,
II. His particular directions.
A Christian minister is not like the ostrich, which having laid her eggs in the sand, pays no further attention to them; but like a tender mother, who, after having brought forth her infant, travails with it in birth a thousand times, through her fond solicitude for its welfare. If present with his people, he watches over them with care; if absent from them, he anxiously inquires respecting their state. To see good in them, and to hear it of them, is, next to his personal enjoyment of God, his chief happiness. He can say with truth respecting them, "I live, if you stand fast in the Lord." Now, among the various blessings which he desires them to enjoy, there are two in particular, to which we would call your attention;
1. An union of heart among themselves.
This is essentially necessary to the welfare of any Church: if there be dissensions and divisions among them there will soon be confusion and every evil work. And where shall we look for union, if not among the household of God? Have they not all one faith, one hope, one baptism, one God and Father? Are they not all members of one body, all animated by the same Spirit, all heirs of the same glory? It was from these very considerations that the Apostle urged the Ephesian Church to cultivate an humble, meek, forbearing, and forgiving temper, and to "keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace;" and, as in the text, made it his one request to them, when he was a prisoner at Rome. Of how much importance he thought this temper to be, we may judge from what he himself says in a few verses after the text: we cannot conceive language more tender, or motives more powerful, or entreaties more urgent, than he there addresses to them; and the one point that he there presses upon them is, that they would be "like-minded, having the same love, being of one accord, and of one mind."
This then we would impress upon your minds as a matter of indispensable necessity. There will of course, among a number of persons whose former views, habits, and dispositions have been so different, arise many occasions of difference, perhaps also of dissatisfaction and disgust: but Christians should regard the smallest symptom of disunion, as they would the beginnings of a conflagration in the house wherein they dwelt: every one should have his personal feelings swallowed up in an attention to the common cause. All should have one object, and unite their efforts to accomplish it, and banish in an instant whatever might obstruct their exertions for the general good. That this will sometimes be attended with difficulty, is implied in the very exhortation to "stand fast in one spirit," but it may be done; and, if our hearts be right with God, it will be done.
2. A zealous attachment to the faith of Christ.
Many things there are which may operate to turn us from the faith of Christ. That which the Apostle more especially had in view, was the dread of persecution: and certain it is, that the fear, not only of death, but even of an opprobrious name, causes many to draw back from their holy profession. But we must "take up our cross daily, and follow Christ;" yes, we must "follow him boldly without the camp, bearing his reproach." In this holy fortitude we should all unite: for the defection of one has a tendency to weaken all the rest. "With one mind therefore we should strive together for the faith of the Gospel." We should endeavor to preserve in our own souls a love of the truth, and in every possible way to recommend it to those around us. We should bear in mind the benefits which we hope to receive from the Gospel, and the obligations we have to hold fast our profession of it: and we should determine, through grace, to seal it (if need be) even with our blood.
We must be careful, however, not to spend our zeal about the circumstantials of religion, or to cloak a bigoted attachment to a party under a pretense of love to Christ: it is the Gospel itself, and the blessed truth which it unfolds, that we are to contend for; and for that we are to be ready to lay down our lives.
To hear of these two things, an orderly and affectionate agreement among themselves (like that of a well-disciplined army), and a steadfastness in the faith of Christ, is the greatest joy of a minister, when, by the providence of God, he is for a time removed from them: in reference to both of them, therefore, we would address you in the language of the Apostle, "Brethren, dearly beloved and longed-for, my joy and crown, so stand fast in the Lord, my dearly beloved."
Suffering for Christ's Sake, A Gift of God
Philippians 1:29. Unto you it is given in the behalf of Christ, not only to believe on him, but also to suffer for his sake.
THE chief obstacles to a holy and consistent conduct arise perhaps from within, from the evil propensities of our own hearts. But very serious difficulties are occasioned by the frowns and menaces of an ungodly world. We are naturally afraid of suffering; and are easily deterred from those things which would subject us to heavy trials. But if we considered the cross as a badge of honor, as a source of good, and as a high favor conferred upon us by God himself, we should feel less anxious to avoid it, and be more emboldened to walk as becomes the Gospel of Christ. It is by this view of sufferings, that the Apostle encourages the Philippians to hold fast their profession without wavering. His expressions are singularly bold and striking: they show us,
I. That suffering for Christ's sake, is a favor conferred on us by God himself.
Believers are called to suffer for Christ's sake.
In addition to the sufferings which are common to others, the believer is called to endure contempt, and reproach, and persecution, for the Gospel's sake. He is taught to expect them: and experience proves, that however amiable, or useful, or discreet he may be, he cannot avoid the odium attaching to true religion.
But his sufferings are a gift from God himself.
As far as respects his persecutors, his trials arise from a malignant effort of men and devils to obstruct the establishment of the Redeemer's kingdom: but as far as respects God, they are a special gift from him. As the faith, on account of which he suffers, is given him, so also are the sufferings themselves, together with the ability to endure them patiently. They are bestowed purely for Christ's sake; and are appointed in number, weight, and duration, so as to conduce most effectually to his eternal welfare.
We may observe further concerning his cross,
II. That it is a richer gift than even faith itself.
Faith is certainly an inestimable gift; yet the gift of suffering for Christ's sake is far greater.
1. It is a higher privilege in itself.
In believing, we receive from God all the blessings which we stand in need of: but in suffering, we give to God: we give our name, our property, our liberty, our life, to be disposed of in any way which may tend most to his glory. What an honor is this, for a poor creature, a worm of the earth, to confer a gift on God himself! Surely, much as we are indebted to God for the gift of faith, the giving us an opportunity to honor him should be esteemed a far richer obligation, nor should anything that we possess be of any value in our sight, if we may but have the honor of sacrificing it for his sake.
2. It is a nobler testimony for God.
When we believe, we bear testimony for God that his word is true, and that not one jot or tittle of it shall ever fail. But when we suffer for him, that testimony is far more plain and unequivocal. We then declare, not only that God is good and true, but that he is deserving of all that we can possibly do for him; that there is no service so hard, but we should cheerfully engage in it; no suffering so severe, but we should cheerfully endure it for his sake. Hence it is said, that while "by his enemies God is evil spoken of, on the part of his suffering friends he is glorified."
3. It is a more instructive lesson to the world.
We cannot exercise faith in Christ, but we must by that very act convey instruction to those around us. We exhibit somewhat of that change which takes place in the converted; and are, as it were, "epistles of Christ, known and read of them" who would not read the Scriptures themselves. But by suffering patiently for Christ's sake, we speak more loudly in their ears: we force them to inquire, what inducements we can have to make such sacrifices? and, whence we derive our ability to sustain such trials? And so efficacious have been the examples of many while enduring the torments of martyrdom, that their very persecutors have been overcome, and converted to God.
4. It is a clearer evidence of grace.
Many have believed the Gospel, while yet their hearts were not upright before God. They have been convinced in their judgment, but not converted in their souls. The same observation may apply also to some who have suffered for the Gospel's sake. But a patient enduring of trials for Christ's sake is certainly a very strong test of sincerity. It gives reason to hope, that we have attained some measure of conformity to Christ, and that "the Spirit of glory and of God rests on us, There may indeed be some corruptions yet remaining to be mortified, which leave room for doubt respecting the present safety of the soul; but if we combine a zealous endeavor to mortify them, with a cheerful submission to the cross of Christ, we shall have a favorable testimony from God, and a happy issue to our present conflicts.
5. It is a richer mean of glory.
The smallest portion of real faith has the promise of eternal life: and in this view it may be thought superior in value to everything else. But suffering for Christ's sake is the means of augmenting that glory: it brings a recompense proportioned to the sufferings that are endured, and "works out for us, light and momentary as it is, a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory." Now as health is a richer blessing than life, because it implies well-being as well as mere existence, so a patient suffering for Christ's sake must be accounted of more value than faith, because of the super-eminent degrees of happiness to which it eventually exalts the soul.
1. To those who fear sufferings.
It is painful to flesh and blood to bear the cross: but what must be the consequence of shunning it? Will not our case be dearly purchased? Ah! think of the fate that awaits "the fearful," and tremble lest the preservation of your life for a season issue in the loss of it to all eternity.
2. To those who feel them.
Faint not, nor be discouraged. Would you deprecate what Christ has asked of you, and what is given you in his behalf! He who confers on you the honor of suffering for him, will endue you with strength to bear your trials, yes, to rejoice and glory in them. Only view your sufferings in their true light, and you will rejoice that you are counted worthy to bear them. And, when you shall be joined to that blessed company "who came out of great tribulation," you shall not regret one loss that you sustained, or one pain that you endured. The approbation of your judge, and the increased weight of glory which shall be awarded to you, shall soon wipe away your tears, and turn all your sorrows into joy.
3. To those who occasion them.
Little do you think against whom you fight. You imagine that you are only opposing weak enthusiasts; but so thought Saul, when, in fact, he was persecuting Christ himself. Know, that "whoever touches the Lord's people, touches the apple of his eye;" and that "it were better for you to have a millstone hanged about your neck, than that you should cause one of his little ones to stumbles." Be sensible then of your guilt and danger: embrace the doctrine which you have been laboring to destroy: and, instead of opposing, labor to advance, the interests of the Redeemer's kingdom.
Philippians 2:1, 2. If there be therefore any consolation in Christ, if any comfort of love, if any fellowship of the Spirit, if any affections and mercies, fulfill you my joy, that you be like-minded, having the same love, being of one accord, of one mind.
THE Church of Christ is one great family; all its members being children of one common Parent, and partakers of one common interest. To consult the good of the whole is the duty of each; no one regarding his own personal gratification, but all combining for the common welfare. This was a favorite topic with the Apostle Paul. The care of all the Churches having been committed to him, he had constant occasion to inculcate the necessity of union among the multifarious and discordant characters of which the different societies were composed. The manner in which he inculcates it in the words before us, is very remarkable, and deserves particular attention. In opening the passage to your view, we shall be led to notice,
I. The object of his desire.
He was now in prison at Rome: but his sufferings caused no diminution in his concern for the welfare of the Church of God. He saw with grief the efforts which were made by the enemies of Christ to turn aside the Philippians from the faith they had embraced; and he therefore urges them the more carefully to preserve among themselves an unity of sentiment and affection, in order that they might give no advantage to their adversaries by internal divisions. The object, I say, which he desired to promote, was unity of sentiment and affection.
This appears to be the true scope and import of his words: "Being joined together in love, be united also in sentiment: and being joined together in sentiment, be united also in love, so as to have one soul penetrating the whole body." An unity in these respects is, it is true, very difficult to be attained.
Considering how the human mind is constituted, it is scarcely to be expected men should be perfectly agreed upon any point; and least of all upon religion, where the subjects themselves are so deep and mysterious, and where so great a scope for difference of sentiment is afforded by the terms in which the truth is revealed. There is not unfrequently in appearance an opposition between the things that are revealed: (I say in appearance; for it is not possible that there should be any real contrariety in things which have been delivered by inspiration of God:) and it may be expected that different persons will lean to different sides, according to the weight which the different positions appear to have in the general scale of truth. Besides, the deep things of God are discerned only by means of a spiritual perception imparted to us by the Spirit of God: and of course they will be more or less justly viewed, according to the measure of grace that has been given to us, and according as our visual organs have been purified from the films that obscure or distort the truth.
Of course, an unity of affection must be considerably impeded by these circumstances: for we naturally agree best with those whose sentiments we approve: and if there be any great diversity of sentiment on important topics, we are apt to feel a proportionable alienation of heart from the person in whom it exists.
But though a perfect union in these respects is difficult, it is, as far as is necessary for all practical purposes, certainly attainable.
We are expressly taught, that it should, and may, exist in the different members of Christ's mystical body—The way to attain it is, to confine ourselves to the fundamentals of religion; and to make them the bonds of union; while the less evident or less important truths are left as neutral ground, open alike to either patty, and to be occupied or not by each, as they see fit. What the fundamentals are, may, it is true, be differently stated: but, if Christianity be viewed in its true light as a remedy, and we agree in the depth of the malady it is proposed to cure; the means of healing, through the atoning blood of Christ, and the influences of his Spirit; and the duty of those who are healed, to devote themselves unreservedly to the service of their God; if, I say, Christianity be viewed in this light, there will be very little difference of sentiment between those who have ever felt its efficacy. It is by going beyond these plainer truths; by laying an undue stress on some obvious doctrines, without suffering them to be tempered with those which are of an opposite aspect; by wresting from their plain import those passages which we cannot reconcile with our favorite systems; and, in a word, by exercising a dogmatic spirit on points which are beyond our comprehension, and forming them into the shibboleth of a party; it is by these things that the Church of Christ is divided: and never until we return to the simplicity of the day of Pentecost, shall we regain its unity. But when we return to the docility of little children, we shall, to all practical purposes, "see eye to eye."
On the attainment of this object his heart was set, as appears from,
II. The urgency of his request.
The first consideration which he urges is, the happiness which such a union would confer on him.
He had rejoiced in their first conversion to God; as a mother does over her new-born infant: but his joy was blended with much anxiety for their future welfare. That welfare was now endangered by the efforts which were made to separate them from each other, and to turn them from the faith. Nothing but their steadfastness could comfort him; but, if he should see them cordially united together in sentiment and affection, it would complete his joy. Hence he says to them, "Fulfill you my joy." His very life seemed to be bound up, as it were, in the prosperity of their souls; so that in effect he says to them, as he does to the Thessalonian Church, "Now I live, if you stand fast in the Lord." If therefore they felt in any degree their obligations to him, they could not but labor to carry into effect the object which would so conduce to his happiness.
To this he adds all the most powerful pleas that could operate upon the human mind.
"Is there any consolation in Christ?" As believers they could not but know that there was in him a fund of consolation; a mine, the treasures of which were altogether unsearchable. Who can contemplate the covenant which he entered into for the redemption of a ruined world, together with all that he did to accomplish this stupendous work; his mysterious incarnation, his holy life, his meritorious death, his glorious resurrection and ascension, his intercession for us at the right hand of God, and his exercise of all power as the Head of his Church, and as the life of every believer in it; who can contemplate all this, and not be comforted in the thought of such a Savior, and in the hope of such a salvation? The greatness of his person, the suitableness of his undertaking, the sufficiency of his work, and his fidelity to all his promises—where can consolation be found, if not in these?
But what enjoyment can any have of these things, if their minds be distracted with controversies, and their hearts embittered with discord? Whatever any may profess to the contrary, it is only when the mists of controversy are dispelled, that the cheering rays of the Sun of Righteousness can penetrate and revive the soul.
The same may be said respecting "the comfort of love." That there is unspeakable comfort in the existence and exercise of love, what Christian does not know? The presence of love argues, and, if I may so speak, constitutes, the in-dwelling of the Deity in the soul: as the loving Apostle has said, "God is love; and he who dwells in love, dwells in God, and God in him." But sweet as is the harmony of kindred souls, it cannot long exist, when once the discordant strings of controversy are touched. The voice which but lately delighted with its sounds the ravished ear, loses its interest, when once it has begun to make the Savior's name a subject of dispute. Diversity of sentiment on such important matter as religion soon creates coolness in the affections, and alienation in the heart. Shall we then willingly admit among us a disposition of mind so adverse to our best interests, and so destructive of our truest happiness?
Nearly allied to this is "the fellowship of the Spirit," for the Church of God is not merely one family, but one body, every member of which is animated and enlivened with the same soul. The Holy Spirit who pervades them all, produces a holy fellowship between them; between not those only that are contiguous to each other, but those also which are most remote; it unites in one the inhabitants both of Heaven and earth. But this also is interrupted by the introduction of discordant sentiments; and the magnetic attractions, by which it brought all under one common influence, cease to operate with effect, and leave the mass of Christians as unconnected and indifferent to each other as the world around them.
Of "affections and mercies" also the true Christian is possessed. He has felt towards himself the compassions of his God; and he desires to manifest towards all his brethren a measure of the same tender care. But discord shuts up all these tender emotions, and banishes from the mind this affectionate solicitude; so that hostility will take the place of love, and anathemas be hurled, where nothing but mutual endearments have before prevailed. Paul probably had more particularly in view the effect which their dissensions would produce upon his own mind: they would be as a dagger to his soul: and could the Philippians, who had so richly participated his love, make such a return? No; if they had any affections and mercies existing in them, they would avoid a conduct which would so augment the distresses which, for their sakes and for the sake of the whole Church, he was now enduring. God had promised to his people, to "give them one heart and one way, that they might fear him forever, for the good of them and of their children after them," and this unity he besought them, if they valued either their own welfare or his happiness, most strenuously to maintain. He would have them all to be not only one body, but to have one soul, and one spirit, pervading all.
Earnestly desiring that the same heavenly disposition may abound in you also, I would, with most affectionate entreaty, recommend,
1. That you guard against every disposition that may interrupt this harmony.
The Apostle particularly cautions the Philippians against "strife and vain-glory," and exhorts them "in lowliness of mind to esteem others better than themselves." So would I also caution you against the indulgence of a proud, conceited, self-sufficient spirit, which is the bane of all social harmony and Christian love. These malignant dispositions have been at the root of all those animosities which have in different ages disturbed and divided the Church of God—Only let self be mortified and subdued, and love will reign; yes, it will so reign, that your union with your brethren shall resemble that which exists between the Father and Christ himself.
2. That you seek those blessings which have a sanctifying efficacy on the soul.
What love will not the consolation that is in Christ inspire? What will not a person who tastes "the comfort of love" do to preserve love; and one who enjoys the "fellowship of the Spirit," to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace? If you yearn over the desolations of Zion, and have your "affections and mercies" moved at the distresses of those around you, you will never willingly contribute to disturb the harmony of the Church by doubtful disputations. You will strive for peace; and in that exercise of love will reap in your own souls the richest reward. Such is the exhortation of Paul to the Colossian Church; and such is that with which I shall conclude the present discourse: "Put on, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, affections of mercies, kindness, humbleness of mind, meekness, long-suffering; forbearing one another, and forgiving one another, if any man have a quarrel against any; even as Christ forgave you, so also do you. And above all, put on charity, which is the bond of perfectness, unto which you are called in one body, and be thankful."
Esteeming Others Above Ourselves
Philippians 2:3. In lowliness of mind let each esteem other better than themselves.
IT is a common and universally approved saying, that the tree may be known by its fruit. Now we would have the Gospel brought to this test: and we are willing that it should be accepted or rejected, according to the issue of this trial. That good things have been spoken by uninspired men on the subject of humility, we readily admit: for modesty, and a deference to the sentiments of others, necessarily commend themselves to the judgment of every considerate mind. But we apprehend that the precept before us is peculiar to Christianity; and, as a maxim in morals, it stands unrivaled in the whole world. In support of this injunction, I will endeavor to show,
I. Its import.
Certainly it must be understood with some kind of qualification and exception: for it can never be meant, that a philosopher is to esteem an illiterate peasant wiser than himself; or that a man of strict morals is to regard a notorious drunkard or libertine as more holy than himself. We can never be required to entertain sentiments so entirely repugnant to truth and fact. We must suppose some kind of parity between the persons so compared; namely, that both of them profess a regard for God, and both maintain a measure of consistency in their outward conduct. But where there is nothing outward and visible to contradict the sentiment, there it should be entertained; and we each should conceive of others as better than ourselves:
1. As more pure in their principle.
We should give persona credit for sincerity in what they profess; and not, without the strongest evidence, accuse them of hypocrisy. But every man that is acquainted with his own heart has seen in himself a sad mixture of motive, which he cannot but acknowledge before the heart-searching God; and, consequently, he will do well to regard himself as inferior to those whom he cannot convict of any deceit, in comparison of what he knows to have existed and operated within his own bosom.
2. As more consistent in their practice.
Of his own inconsistencies, who among us has not reason to complain? Who, for one deviation which he sees in others, may not discern a great many in himself? We are not at liberty to indulge all manner of evil surmises, in order to reduce others to a level with ourselves; but should put ourselves below others, in proportion as we appear to have fallen short of the measure of their attainments.
3. As more advanced in proportion to the advantages they have enjoyed.
We all are responsible for the advantages that have been given unto us: "To whom much has been given, of them will the more be required." Now, of the opportunities with which we have been favored, we must be conscious; and respecting the length of time that we have professed to seek after God, we must be sensible: but, in reference to others, we must be comparatively ignorant: and therefore, even if, in point of attainment, we appear to stand on a par with them, we ought to take a lower place than they, because, from the superiority of our advantages, we ought to have been advanced far beyond them.
Though, in explaining the import of this injunction, I have in some measure anticipated my second head, yet I will proceed more fully to point out,
II. Its reasonableness.
The reasonableness of it appears from this, that we know incomparably more concerning ourselves, than we do, or can do, respecting others. We know more of our own,
There are workings of mind, of which even we ourselves are scarcely sensible; and which, while they appear good at the time, we find afterwards to have been evil. The two Apostles who would have called fire from Heaven to consume a Samaritan village gave themselves credit for a holy and becoming zeal; while, in fact, they were actuated by pride and revenge: our blessed Lord told them, that "they knew not what spirit they were of." In examining our own hearts, we shall find, that, on different occasions, there has been much amiss in relation to our motives, where our actions have appeared most excellent and praiseworthy: but of the motives of others we could judge only by the actions themselves: and therefore it is but reasonable that we should account others, of whom we know no evil, better than ourselves, who have been conscious of much that has been contrary to the mind of God. The mixtures which we have discovered in ourselves of pride and vain-glory, of self-seeking and self-delight, and of many other hidden abominations, should make us ever to lie low both before God and man.
We cannot but blush and be ashamed when we look back upon the sloth and indolence which we have indulged, especially when engaged in holy exercises. How slight has been our application, when reading the word of God! How languid our frame, when drawing near to him at the throne of grace; our confessions being destitute of all contrition; our prayers, of fervor; our thanksgivings, of gratitude! In the house of God, how have our minds wandered to the very ends of the earth; yes, and sometimes too, perhaps, been filled with all evil, when we have professed to have been engaged in the service of our God! In short, we cannot but be conscious, that we have but too often trifled with God and our own souls, when we should have been running as in a race, and striving, as in a contest, for our very lives. But in reference to others, we know not these things: and therefore it is in the highest degree reasonable that we should "prefer them in honor before ourselves"
We have been conscious of the strivings of God's Spirit within our own souls; while respecting the experience of others we know nothing. The inward fears that have been excited in us, and the hopes we have cherished, and the consolations that have been imparted to us; the assistances, too, that we have received from Almighty God for the subjugation of our lusts, and the renovation of our souls; the discoveries, also, which have been given us of Christ, and of the great mystery of redemption; these, and a thousand other blessings which have been given to us for the furthering of our spiritual welfare, should have been productive of a suitable and correspondent advancement in the divine life. But how little have we availed ourselves of them, and profited by them! The knowledge of this may well humble us in the dust. But, respecting other persons, we are altogether in the dark, as to their advantages, or their improvement of them: and therefore we should take the lowest place, as that which properly belongs to us, on account of our great unprofitableness.
What know we respecting the corruptions of others, in comparison of our own? Who does not blush at the recollection of much which has passed within him, which, if known to man as it is known to God, would render him an object of pity or contempt? Who does not see, in his own temper, and spirit, and conduct, there has been abundant occasion for shame and contrition before God? But we know but little of these things in relation to others, and therefore in reason are bound to esteem them better than ourselves.
Not to dwell any longer on the reasonableness of this injunction, I will pass on to mark,
III. Its excellency.
Suppose it to be obeyed; and then behold its influence,
1. On societies.
It cannot have escaped our notice, how much evil arises, in the world, and in the Church, from a proud, envious, self-exalting spirit. "Whence come wars between nations, and strife and contentions between neighbors, but from the lusts that war in our members," even from a desire to advance ourselves at the expense of others? "Strife and vain-glory" are, in my text, put in immediate contrast with "the lowliness of mind" which is there recommended. Suppose that all were actuated by the spirit of which we have been speaking; the little offences which occur would be scarcely noticed as worthy of a thought: a charitable construction would be put upon the motives of others, and the wounds inflicted by them would be healed in a moment. Truly, there would be nothing but love and harmony, where now exists nothing but animosity and discord."
2. On our own soul.
O! if pride were mortified, and self-love were put away, and charity were exercised, and the soul were humbled under a sense of its own unworthiness; how many sources of pain would be cut off! how many fountains of holy pleasure would be opened to us! The trials of life, whether from God or man, would be as nothing to us; because they would appear infinitely less than our desert, and would be regarded as medicines to heal the sickness of our souls. On the other hand, our mercies, how unmerited would they appear; and what admiring and adoring gratitude would they excite within us! Every little attention from man, instead of operating to foster our vanity, would abase us rather as unworthy of such love, and stimulate us to make to him every return in our power. The whole of our frame would resemble that of the Lord Jesus Christ, "whose meekness and lowliness" were alike conspicuous, amidst the acclamations of friends, and the assaults of the most envenomed enemies.
3. On the interest of religion in the world.
The world are eagle-eyed in spying out the faults of those who profess religion: and when they see a vain, conceited, talkative, obtrusive, uncharitable professor, they despise him in their very souls. And truly he deserves to be despised; for "he stinks in the nostrils of God" himself. But the world do wrong in identifying these dispositions with religion: for religion disclaims them utterly, and altogether condemns them. On the other hand, they cannot but admire in their hearts the man who is of a meek and humble mind. True, they will not love him, because "they hate the light" which such a character reflects: but they have an inward conviction that he is right; and a wish, that, though they live not his life, they may "die his death." They know, in their souls, that God approves such characters, and that he will distinguish them with his favor, both here, and in the eternal world. They see in such characters religion adorned and honored. Would you then, brethren, recommend religion, cultivate this spirit, and account yourselves the lowest of all and the least of all.
Philippians 2:5–8. Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus: who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God: but made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men: and being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross.
ONE of the strongest characteristics of our fallen nature is selfishness. The one desire of an unregenerate man is to gratify self. Even those actions in which he seems to have most respect to God or to his fellow-creatures, will, if carefully examined, and weighed in the balance of the sanctuary, be found to have self for their principle, and self for their end. This disposition being so deeply rooted in the heart, we cannot but expect that it should operate to a certain degree, even after the evil of it is discerned, and after its allowed dominion has ceased. Doubtless there were many pious Christians in the Roman Church, as well as Timothy: yet Paul complained that all of them, excepting him, were in some degree under the influence of a selfish spirit, and "sought their own things rather than the things of Jesus Christ." Against this thing therefore he cautioned the Philippians in a most affectionate manner; beseeching them, with all earnestness, to "fulfill his joy," in "being all of one accord and of one mind;" exhorting them to "esteem others better than themselves;" and "not to look every man on his own things, but also on the things of others." To give the greater weight and efficacy to his exhortations, he then reminded them of the conduct of Christ towards them, and recommended it as the best pattern for their conduct towards each other: "Let the same mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus."
The words of the Apostle lead us to consider the humiliation of Christ in a twofold view—As a fact to be believed, and as a pattern to be imitated.
I. Let us consider it as a fact to be believed.
The two leading steps of Christ's humiliation were, his incarnation and his death.
Previous to his incarnation, he existed in a state of inconceivable glory and bliss. He "had a glory with the Father before the worlds were made." He "was in the bosom of the Father" from all eternity. He was "the brightness of his Father's glory, and the express image of his person." It was in and by him that God, on various occasions, appeared to men; and hence it is that the Apostle calls him "the Image of the invisible God;" not only because he bore a peculiar resemblance to the Deity, but chiefly because the Godhead, which was never seen in the person of the Father, was seen by many in the person of Christ. We are informed, in the text, that Christ was not only in the form "of God," but that "he thought it not robbery to be equal with God," or, as the words more strictly mean, to be as God. He assumed to himself all the titles, attributes, and perfections of the Deity. He claimed and exercised all the divine prerogatives. He performed by his own power all the works which are ever ascribed to God. And in all this he was guilty of no presumption; because he was truly 'One with the Father, in glory equal, in majesty co-eternal.' To understand the Apostle as saying, that Christ, while he was only a mere man, did not think of the robbery of being equal with God, is to represent him as commending a creature for his humility in not aspiring to an equality with God; a greater absurdity than which could not enter into the human mind. As Christ, when he took upon himself "the form of a servant," became really man, so when, previous to his incarnation, he was "in the form of God," he was really and truly God. To this the Scriptures bear ample testimony: they declare that before he was "a Child born and a Son given, he was the mighty God," even "God over all, blessed forever." And therefore, when he became incarnate, he was "God, manifest in the flesh;" he was "Emmanuel, God with us."
But this glory he, in infinite condescension, laid aside. Not that he ceased to be God; but that he veiled his Deity in human flesh. As, previous to his descent from Mount Tabor, he divested himself of those robes of majesty with which he was then arrayed; so, for the purpose of sojourning among men, he emptied himself of all his divine splendor, either hiding it altogether from human eyes, or only suffering a ray of it occasionally to beam forth for the instruction of his disciples; that, while others saw him but as a common man, they might "behold his glory, as the glory of the only-begotten of the Father." He did not, however, assume our nature in its primeval state, while yet it bore the image of its Maker; but in its fallen state, encompassed with infirmities: "he was made in the likeness of sinful flesh;" and was "in all points like unto us, sin only excepted."
But there was yet a lower state of degradation to which our blessed Lord submitted for our sakes, which also is mentioned in the text, and which was the very end of his incarnation; "being found in fashion as a man, he became obedient unto death."
When our Lord given to take our nature into an immediate union with himself, he became from that moment subject to the law, even as we are. More especially, having substituted himself in the place of sinners, he was bound to fulfill the precepts which we had broken, and to endure the penalties which we had incurred. He was to be the servant of God in executing his Father's will; and the servant of man, in performing every duty, whether of obedience to his earthly parents, or of subjection to the civil magistrate. He knew from the beginning how arduous a course he had to run; he beheld at one view all that he must do, and all that he must suffer, in order to accomplish the purposes of his mission; and yet he freely undertook our cause, saying, "I come, I delight to do your will, O my God; yes, your law is within my heart." And with the same readiness did he persevere "even unto death." When the extremity of his sufferings were coming upon him, he implored indeed the removal of the bitter cup, provided it could be removed consistently with his Father's glory and man's salvation. But this he did, to show that he was really man; and to instruct his followers how to demean themselves in seasons of deep affliction. By this we see, that it is our privilege to make our requests known to God, and to implore such a mitigation of our troubles as shall render them more supportable, or such an increase of strength as may enable us to endure them. Cheerfully however did he resign himself to the will of his heavenly Father; and though twelve legions of angels were at his command to deliver him, yet did he continue fixed in his purpose to give his own life a ransom for us. Notwithstanding the death of the cross was the most painful and ignominious of any, yet to that did he submit for us; nor did he cease from filling up the measure of his sufferings, until he could say, "It is finished."
This then is the fact affirmed by the Apostle; a fact, which we should have considered as absolutely incredible, if God himself had not plainly declared it, and confirmed his testimony by the most indubitable evidence. We are now therefore warranted to affirm, that "it is a faithful saying, and worthy of all acceptance." And though the frequency with which it is mentioned, causes it in too many instances to be heard without any emotion, sure we are, that the more it is contemplated, the more it will fill us with wonder and amazement. If we would but consider that the God of Heaven and earth assumed our sinful nature, and died the accursed death of the cross, in order to redeem us from death and Hell; if we would but suffer this thought fully to occupy our minds, methinks we should become like those in Heaven, who cease not day and night to make it the grand subject of their united praises.
II. The more immediate view with which the Apostle introduced the subject of our Lord's humiliation, to which we also wish at this time to draw your attention, was, that he might set it before the Philippians as a pattern to be imitated.
It is not possible for us in all respects to imitate this bright original, since we have no glory which we can lay aside; nor is it optional with us whether we will become subject to the law or not. But, though we cannot perform the same act that Christ did, we may "have the same mind which was in him," and beyond all doubt we ought to resemble him in these two particulars; in feeling a tender regard for the welfare of men's souls; and in being ready to do or suffer anything for their good.
1. We should feel a tender regard for the welfare of men's souls. When, in consequence of the fall of man, there remained no possibility of his restoration to God's favor and image, by any thing which he could either devise or execute, this blessed and adorable Savior looked upon us with pity: his affections yearned over us; and though he had not interested himself on behalf of the angels that sinned, yet, he determined to interpose for us, and by a marvelous effort of his grace to save our souls alive. Let me ask then, what is now the state of the heathen world? Is it not that very state to which the whole race of man was reduced by the transgression of Adam, and by their own personal iniquities? They are under a sentence of death and condemnation. They know of no way of reconciliation with God. Being without Christ, they are altogether without hope. And though we will not presume to say that none of them are saved; yet we must affirm that their condition is most pitiable, and that the notions which obtain in the world respecting the extension of God's mercy to them, are awfully erroneous. For if they can be saved without Christ, why could not we? And then why did Christ ever come into the world? If it be said, that Christ has purchased mercy for them though they knew him not, then we ask, Why did the Apostles go forth to preach to the Gentile world? Why did they submit to such numberless hardships and labors at the peril of their lives, to bring the heathen into the fold of Christ, if they thought that they could attain salvation in their present state, or that any considerable number of them would be saved? The Apostles knew little of that which we falsely term, charity. They believed that "there was no other name given among men whereby we must be saved, but the name of Jesus Christ," and therefore they felt towards the heathen world as they would have done towards a crew of mariners perishing in the ocean: they went forth at the peril of their own lives, willing to endure anything themselves, if they might but succeed in saving some of their fellow-creatures. Ought not we then in like manner to compassionate the heathen world? Should not "our head be waters, and our eyes a fountain of tears, to run down day and night" for their perishing condition? What infidelity must there be in our minds, or what obduracy in our hearts, if we can look upon their state without the tenderest emotions of pity and grief!
2. But to our compassion we must add also a willingness to do and suffer anything for their good. When our blessed Lord beheld our misery, he flew from Heaven on the wings of love to support and relieve us. And though in order to effect his purpose he must disrobe himself of his majesty, and become like one of us, a poor, weak, necessitous creature, yes, and in our nature must submit to death, even the accursed death of the cross; he accounted nothing too valuable to forego, nothing too painful to suffer, in order to rescue us from destruction. He undertook even to be "made a curse for us," in order "to redeem us from the curse of the law." Thus should we not rest in listless wishes for the good of the heathen, but exert ourselves to the utmost to save their souls. What if we cannot all go forth like the Apostles; cannot some of us give liberally of our substance in order to provide them the means of instruction? cannot others afford their time and attention in order to concert measures for the establishing and conducting missions? Cannot others testify their readiness to devote themselves to this great work, saying, like the Prophet Isaiah, "Here am I, send me?" But in the disposition to fulfill this last, this most essential and urgent, duty, there is among us a general, a lamentable deficiency. After inquiries made in every part of England, none have as yet been found by us, endued with that union of talents and of zeal which is requisite for the work. Many, who in some respects appear fit for the office of missionaries or catechists, are so fond of their ease and worldly comforts, so fearful of encountering difficulties and dangers, so ready, like Moses, to plead their want of fitness, when their backwardness, it is to be feared, arises rather from cowardice or sloth; that there is danger lest the ardor of those who are zealous to promote the object of missions should be dumped, through a want of opportunity to exert itself with effect. It is true, (and blessed be God it is so!) that of late years several societies have arisen to promote this glorious work: and fears have been entertained, lest one should interfere with another. But what are the efforts of all of them combined, when compared with the demand there is for such exertions? If the millions of heathens who are yet in darkness be considered, the endeavors used for their instruction are scarcely more than as a drop to the ocean.
It may be said perhaps, Why are we to waste our strength upon the heathen? Is there not scope for the labors of all at home? I answer, It is well for us that the Apostles did not argue thus: for if they had not turned to the Gentiles until there remained no unconverted Jews for them to instruct, the very name of Christ would probably long since have been forgotten among men. We confess there are great multitudes in our own land as ignorant as the heathen: but yet they have the Bible in their hands; and there are in every part of the kingdom, some who are both able and desirous to instruct them. However ignorant therefore, or abandoned, thousands are among us, there is hope respecting them, that sooner or later their feet may be guided into the way of peace. But as for the heathen, what hope can there be respecting them? for "How can they believe in him of whom they have not heard? and how can they hear without a preacher?" Besides, the more our love abounds towards the heathen, the more will "the zeal of others be provoked" for the salvation of our neighbors; and the more confidently may we hope for the blessing of God upon their pious endeavors.
Let then all such excuses be put away; and let all exert themselves at least in prayer to the great "Lord of the harvest," and entreat him day and night "to send forth laborers into his harvest."
To enforce what has been said, we would call your attention to some additional considerations.
Consider then, first, what would have been the state of the whole world, if the same mind had been in Christ that is in us? Had he been as indisposed to effect the salvation of mankind as we are to promote that of the heathen, would he have left his glory for them, would he have relinquished all the blessedness which he enjoyed in the bosom of his Father? would he have debased himself to such a degree as to take upon himself their fallen nature? would he have substituted himself in their place, and borne all their iniquities in his own person, and have become a curse for them? for them who, he knew beforehand, would murder him as soon as they should have it in their power? No—Then where would Adam, and all the generations that have passed in succession to the present hour, have been at this moment? They would all, without one single exception, have been wailing and gnashing their teeth in Hell: and all future generations to the end of time would have lived only to fill up the measure of their iniquities, and to receive at last their tremendous doom. But, adored be his name! he "looked not on his own things so much as on the things of others," and, in consequence of his self-denying exertions, millions are already before his throne, and myriads, countless as the sands upon the sea-shore, shall yet be added to their number, to be monuments of his love, and heirs of his glory. Shall we then any longer persist in our supineness? Shall we not rather exert ourselves to the utmost to imitate his love?
Consider, next, how we are indebted to the benevolence of our fellow-creatures. We forbear to notice the kindness of the Apostles, because they were expressly commissioned to preach the Gospel to every creature, whether of their own, or of any other nation. We will rather advert to an instance more immediately parallel to our own case. For many centuries after Christianity was promulgated, our ancestors were bowing down to stocks and stones; as we ourselves also should have been, had not some pious Christian come, at the peril of his life, to bring us the glad tidings of salvation. Suppose he had argued, as we are apt to do, 'What can I do among that savage race? There are people enough of my own country to occupy all my care; and I may fulfill my duty to God among them, without encountering all the difficulties, and exposing myself to the dangers, which I must expect to meet with in such an undertaking.' How awful, in that case, would have been our present condition! O Christians! think of all that you enjoy in Christ Jesus, your present consolations, your future prospects; think of these things, and say, 'I owe all, under God, to him who first set his foot on our inhospitable shores, to show unto us the way of salvation; his example stimulated others; and thus "the handful of corn that was scattered on the tops of the mountains, has grown up like the woods of Lebanon, or the piles of grass upon the earth." Blessed, forever blessed, be God for his labors of love!' Who can tell then what may arise from the labors of one society, or even of a single individual? We may not see very extensive benefits in our day: and probably this was the case with respect to him who first visited Britain. But could he now behold from Heaven the fruit of his labors, how would he rejoice! would he think that he had exercised too much self-denial, or patience, or diligence, in the cause of God? Would he repent of his exertions? Would he not rather repent that he had not stepped forward sooner, and been more earnest in this blessed work? Be then in earnest, my beloved brethren. We have lost too much time already; and millions, though unconscious of their wants, are now crying to us, as it were, "Come over to India—to Africa—and help us." O that a holy zeal might this day inflame our breasts; and that we might requite the labors of those who have instructed us, by endeavoring to extend the benefits derived through them, to the remotest corners of the earth!
Consider, further, how Kindly Christ will accept such labors at your hands. He tells us respecting things of a mere temporal nature, that what we have bestowed on others for his sake, he will accept as conferred on himself; "I was hungry, and you fed me; naked, and you clothed me; sick and in prison, and you visited me." And will he not much more acknowledge himself indebted to us for the spiritual blessings we confer on others? 'I was in darkness, and you enlightened me; I was far from God, and you brought me near; I was perishing, and you saved me.' O what a thought is this! how animating! how impressive! Are there any among us that will not seek such an honor as this? Stir up yourselves then, my brethren; and let us all join with one heart to secure at least this testimony from our blessed Lord, knowing assuredly that "we shall receive our reward," not according to our success, but "according to our labor."
Lastly. Consider, how necessary it is to resemble Christ, if ever we would participate his glory. It is not by our profession that we shall be judged in the last day, but by our true character exhibited in our practice. Think not that the formal, the careless, the supine, shall meet with tokens of God's acceptance: it is the man who abounds in "works and labors of love for Christ's sake," who shall be honored with the approbation of his Judge. It is not he who bears the name of Christ, but who has within him the mind of Christ, who shall be counted worthy to dwell with him forever. He himself tells us, that "not he who merely says, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of Heaven, but he who does the will of our Father which is in Heaven."
If then you cannot be moved by more sincere considerations, reflect on this: and tremble, lest after all your profession of Christianity, you prove only as sounding brass and tinkling cymbals. Let those whose consciences condemn them for their past inactivity, cry mightily to God for the pardon of their sins, and the renovation of their souls. And may God pour out upon us this day a spirit of faith and love; that we may feel a holy ambition to engage in his service: and may all the endeavors, whether of this or any other society, be abundantly blessed, to the enlargement of the Redeemer's kingdom, and to the salvation of many souls! Amen and Amen.
The Exaltation of Christ
Philippians 2:9–11. Wherefore God also has highly exalted him, and given him a name which is above every name: that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in Heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth; and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
WE are told by an inspired Apostle, that the great scope of the prophecies related to "the sufferings of Christ, and the glory that should follow." To the same points our attention is continually turned in the New Testament. Sometimes they are stated as an accomplishment of prophecy, and as proofs of Christ's Messiahship: sometimes as grounds of our hope before God: sometimes as motives to stimulate us to duty: sometimes as models, according to which God will work in us: and sometimes as examples, which we are bound to follow: and sometimes as encouragements to follow those examples. It is in this last view that we are to contemplate this stupendous mystery at this time. The Apostle had said, "Look not every man on his own things, but every man also on the things of others." To illustrate and enforce this exhortation, he shows how the Lord Jesus Christ had emptied himself of all his own glory, and endured death, even the accursed death of the cross, for the salvation of men: and that in consequence of it he had received such tokens of his Father's approbation as were commensurate with the sacrifice which he had made. In considering this testimony of his Father's love, let us mark,
I. The height to which he was raised.
The Lord Jesus Christ, as God, was incapable of elevation: but, as man, he was raised from the lowest degradation to the highest degrees of glory.
Amidst the depths of his humiliation he was greatly exalted.
At his baptism he received an audible testimony from Heaven, together with a visible communication of the Spirit of God, in attestation of his Messiahship. In all the miracles he wrought, a further testimony was borne to him by the Father. And in his last hours, when in appearance he was even deserted by his heavenly Father, universal nature bore witness to him; the sun going down, as it were, at noon-day; the earth rending and quaking to its very center; and the most convincing evidence being given to all, that he whom they crucified was indeed the Son of God.
But it was not until after that period that the exaltation spoken of in the text commenced.
At his resurrection, he was declared to be the Son of God with power—At his ascension, he led captivity itself captive, and, surrounded with myriads of holy angels, went to take possession of his Father's throne—Seated on that, he is elevated above all the works of God's hands; above men, so as to be "higher than the kings of the earth," even "King of kings and Lord of lords," and above angels also, "all the principalities and powers of Heaven being made subject unto him."
The text requires us particularly to notice,
II. The reason of his exaltation.
It was in consequence of his previous humiliation: it was,
1. As a reward of his sufferings.
In this view it had been promised to him—In this view he himself looked forward to it with intense desired—And in this view it was actually conferred upon him.
2. As the means of completing the work he had undertaken.
He was to redeem us, both by price, and by power. On this account, after he had paid the price of our redemption, he was invested with "all power both in Heaven and in earth;" and "all things were given into his hands," that he might order every thing for the accomplishment of his own will, and the furtherance of the work which he had begun. In him was all fullness treasured up, that he might impart unto his people all needful supplies of grace; and to him was all authority committed, that he might put all enemies under his feet. Thus, by his elevation, are his triumphs and the triumphs of all his people, finally and eternally secured.
But we have further to notice his exaltation in reference to,
III. The end of it.
It was that he might be the one object,
1. Of universal adoration.
Of this he is most worthy, as all the hosts of Heaven testify—And it must be paid to him: for God has sworn with an oath, that it shall be paid to him by all in Heaven, earth, and Hell; or if we will not yield it to him as the voluntary expression of our love, we shall be constrained to acknowledge his right to it, while we are suffering under the stroke of his avenging rod.
2. Of unlimited affiance.
By confessing him to be both Lord and Christ, I understand such a confession as proceeds from sincere faith. And to this full affiance is he entitled, both according to his essential nature as God, and in his mediatorial capacity as the Savior of the world. In what way it is to be manifested, the prophet tells us: "Surely shall one say, In the Lord have I righteousness and strength." As "the Christ," who died for us, he is our righteousness; and as "the Lord," who is the Head and Governor of all, we receive out of his fullness all needful supplies of grace and strength.
Nor let it be thought that this direction of our regards to him will derogate at all from the honor of the Father: for, on the contrary, it will be "to the glory of God the Father," whose wisdom has devised, and whose love has executed, so wonderful a plan for the salvation of men. On this subject we can have no doubt; since our Lord himself has told us, that God's very design in the whole of this stupendous mystery was, "that all men should honor the Son even as they honor the Father; and that he who honors not the Son, honors not the Father who has sent him."
1. How awful is the state of those who submit not to him!
We are equally rebels against him, whether we oppose him as Lord, or as Christ; whether we refuse to submit to his righteousness, or to his government. O reflect, you who are going about to establish a righteousness of your own, What will you answer to him, when he shall call you to an account for usurping his office, and making void all that he has done and suffered for you?—And you, who, while professing to trust in him as your Savior, live in disobedience to his commands, where will you hide your heads, when he shall say, "Bring hither those my enemies who would not that I should reign over them, and slay them before me?" Whatever you may now think, you cannot invalidate the oath of God: he has sworn, that unto him every knee shall bow; and, if you do it not willingly, you shall do it against your will, to your everlasting sorrow.
2. How blessed is the state of his obedient people!
Shall Christ be exalted to the right hand of God in vain? or will he refuse to impart to you out of his fullness? Fear not: you are committed to his care; and he will not lose one of you; "not one shall ever be plucked out of his hands." Whatever you need, it is treasured up for you in him; and "his grace shall be sufficient for you." It may be, that in his service you may be called to endure many things; but if now "he sees of the travail of his soul and is satisfied," be assured that before long it shall be no grief to you that, you were humbled for a season: for, "if you suffer with him. you shall also reign with him," and "be glorified together with him" in his kingdom for evermore.
God Assists the Diligent
Philippians 2:12, 13. Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling. For it is God which works in you both to will and to do of his good pleasure.
THERE is no person, however eminent his attainments in religion may be, who does not need to be exhorted and urged to press forward. The Philippians, in the judgment of the Apostle, had had "the good work begun in them;" yes, they had "obeyed the word while he was with them," and had made a still greater proficiency since his departure from them: yet he animates them to further exertions, and enforces his exhortation with the strongest arguments. Thus should all Christian ministers "put their people in remembrance of these things, notwithstanding they may already know them, or even be established in the truth." Let us then receive the Apostle's words as addressed to ourselves in particular, while we consider,
I. The exhortation.
God commands us to "work out our salvation."
We are not to imagine that salvation is either the reward of our merits, or the effect of our unassisted exertions; for if, as our Lord assures us, "without him we can do nothing," it is evident that we are far enough from being able to keep the whole law of God; which yet we must do, if we are to receive Heaven on the ground of our own righteousness. Nevertheless we have a work to do, a work of infinite importance, in performing which we are not mere machines, but voluntary agents: and on our performing of that work our salvation depends. We must consider our ways, repent of sin, believe the Gospel, and devote ourselves to God, not indeed as conceiving ourselves sufficient for these things, but in dependence on that aid, which God will afford to all who seek him in sincerity and truth.
But we must engage in this work "with fear and trembling."
The terms "fear and trembling" do not import a slavish dread and terror, but a holy vigilance and circumspection. And there is great need of this in working out our salvation. Let us only consider how many lusts we have to mortify, and how many duties to perform; how many temptations we have to withstand, and adversaries to overcome; how prone we are to err, and how many devices Satan uses in order to deceive us; how insufficient we are of ourselves for this great work, and how awful would be the consequences of miscarrying in it; and we shall readily acknowledge that our utmost caution is little enough. Paul felt the force of these considerations; and notwithstanding he knew himself to be a chosen vessel unto God, he "kept his body under, and brought it into subjection, lest by any means, after having preached to others, he himself should be a cast-away."
That we may all be led to comply with this advice, let us consider,
II. The argument with which it is enforced.
To see the full force of this argument we must view it,
1. As a call on our gratitude.
Having commended the Philippians for their obedience to God, he reminds them, whence it was that they were made to differ from others. They were by nature as destitute of any ability or inclination to serve God as any other people upon earth: but God, of his own good pleasure, and without respect to anything in them, had given them both to will and to do what was acceptable in his sight. Now this sovereign act of grace laid them under a tenfold obligation to love and serve him: they must be vile indeed, if such love did not constrain them to obedience. Have any of us then been converted by the grace of God, and been "made willing in the day of his power?" Let us consider this mercy as the strongest of all motives for yielding up ourselves as living sacrifices, holy, and acceptable to him, as our reasonable service. Are we "a chosen generation, that had not obtained mercy, but now have obtained mercy?" Let us exert ourselves to the utmost to "show forth the praises of Him who has called us out of darkness into his marvelous light."
2. As an antidote to our fears.
It is difficult to feel the importance of eternal things, and not give way to secret fears and misgivings, respecting the final success of our present exertions. And indeed, if we were required to work out our salvation by our own strength, we might well yield, not only to fear, but to utter despondency. But the argument urged by the Apostle removes our apprehensions by assuring us, that He, who has given us the will, will also give us the power, to obey him. It is not to mock us that God has created in us a disposition to what is good: it is not to abandon us at last that he has hitherto given "grace sufficient for us," his past favors are an earnest and pledge of others yet to come: he will continue to "strengthen us in our inward man," and will "perfect his own strength in our weakness." Let us then acknowledge the force of the argument in this view; and, assured that "our strength shall be according to our day," let us "be steadfast, immoveable, and always abounding in the work of the Lord, forasmuch as we know that our labor shall not be in vain in the Lord."
3. As an incentive to vigilance.
Since it is "God who gives us both to will and to do, and that entirely of his own good pleasure," we must of necessity be altogether dependent on him; if he keep us we shall stand: if he leave us, we shall fall. Now God is a jealous God; and will surely manifest his displeasure if we walk unwatchfully before him. We may easily "grieve his Spirit;" yes, if we continue in willful habits of neglect, or in any allowed sin, we may "quench his Spirit;" for he has warned us that "his Spirit shall not always strive with man;" and that, "if we rebel and vex his Holy Spirit, he will turn and become our enemy." The Israelites, who, notwithstanding they were brought out of Egypt, and fed with manna from Heaven, perished in the wilderness, are set forth as examples to us. And to many under temporal or spiritual afflictions may that pungent question be addressed, "Have you not procured this to yourself, in that you have forsaken the Lord, when he led you by the way?" Well may this consideration stir us up to watchfulness and circumspection, lest by intermitting our labors, and relaxing our exertions in the work of our salvation, we bring upon ourselves his heavy displeasure.
From hence we may see,
1. The beauty and harmony of Scripture doctrines.
Our entire dependence on divine grace, together with the absolute sovereignty of God in the distribution of his favors, are here clearly stated. Yet the necessity of our working out our own salvation is as strongly declared, as if everything depended on our own efforts. Now these are often set in opposition to each other, as though they were contrary and inconsistent doctrines. But God sees no inconsistency in them; nor shall we, if we only once learn to receive the Scriptures with the simplicity of little children, instead of presuming to be wise above what is written. On the contrary, the two doctrines are perfectly harmonious; nor is there any stronger argument for exertions on our part, than the freeness and sufficiency of God's grace. Let us not then set altar against altar, and doctrine against doctrine, but join in our experience those things which God has indissolubly united, and which are equally essential to our eternal welfare.
2. The folly of the excuses which men urge in justification of their own supineness.
One says, It is in vain for me to attempt working, unless God work in me both to will and to do what he commands. But will any man forbear to plough and sow his ground, because he cannot ensure a harvest? We are to work out our salvation to the utmost of our power, and to call upon God for all necessary assistance: it is in activity, and not in sloth, that we are to expect his aid; "Awake, you that sleep, and arise from the dead; and Christ will give you light;" and if we will not put forth the little strength we have, we must reap to all eternity the bitter fruits of our own supineness.
Another says, I need not concern myself much about the present state of my soul; for if God has ordained me to life, I shall live; and if he has begun the good work in me, he will carry it on. But to what purpose has God enjoined fear and trembling, if we are at liberty to indulge such a presumptuous confidence, as this? It is true, that "God will keep the feet of his saints;" but it is by fear and trembling that he will keep them; his injunctions are, "Be not high-minded, but fear." And, "Let him that thinks he stands, take heed lest he fall."
Let not then the doctrines of grace be so perverted and abused: but let us exert ourselves, as if we could do all; and depend on God, as knowing that, without him, we can do nothing
3. The firmness of the believer's hopes.
While the believer is maintaining continual watchfulness and care, he still enjoys peace in his soul, and oftentimes "a full assurance of hope." But on what is his hope founded? Is it on his own resolution, zeal, and steadfastness? Nothing is further from his mind: he relies on the sovereignty, the power, and the faithfulness of his God. God's grace is his own, and he disposes of it according to his own good pleasure; therefore the believer, while he feels himself the most unworthy of the human race, hopes that "God will show forth the exceeding riches of his grace in acts of kindness towards him." "God is able to keep him from falling; and therefore the believer says, "I know in whom I have believed, that he is able to keep that which I have committed to him." And lastly, God has confirmed his promise with an oath; and therefore they who have fled for refuge to the Lord Jesus, have strong consolation; because it is impossible for God to lie; and he is faithful who has promised. Thus we see that the weakest Christian stands on a rock, which defies all the storms and tempests that ever can assail it. "Let us then be strong in the Lord, and in the power of his might," and look to him to "fulfill in us all the good pleasure of his will," and to "preserve us blameless unto his heavenly kingdom."
Practical Religion Enforced
Philippians 2:14–16. Do all things without murmurings and disputings: that you may be blameless and harmless, the sons of God, without rebuke, in the midst of a crooked and perverse nation, among whom you shine as lights in the world; holding forth the word of life; that I may rejoice in the day of Christ, that I have not run in vain, neither labored in vain.
THERE are times for laying the foundations of religion; and there are times for raising the superstructure. Neither the one nor the other must be neglected, since they are both equally necessary to the completion of the sacred edifice which is to be erected in the soul. Paul paid due attention to them both. "As a wise master-builder, he laid the foundation" with all possible care, declaring, that though an angel from Heaven were to announce any other ground of hope than the Lord Jesus Christ, he must not be credited, but rather must be held accursed. So extreme was his jealousy upon this point, that, when the Apostle Peter sanctioned, by his conduct, a sentiment that militated against the doctrine of salvation by faith, he rebuked him openly before the whole Church. On the other hand, this holy Apostle was not at all less jealous respecting the performance of good works. In all his epistles, he inculcates the indispensable necessity of them, in order to our final happiness; and in most of them he enters very minutely into the different duties which we are to perform to God, our neighbor, and ourselves. In the beginning of this chapter he had recommended lowliness of mind; which he afterwards enforced from the example of Christ. He here continues the same subject, and inculcates a constant exercise of humility towards both God and man, as the best means of adorning our profession, and of securing to ourselves the blessedness which we look for in the eternal world. Pride fosters in the soul a murmuring disposition towards God, and a contentious disposition towards man. Humility counteracts them both. Hence he says, "Do all things without murmurings and disputings;" engage in everything with a mind full of submission to God, and of love to man; that whatever difficulties you may have to contend with, there may be nothing in your conduct unworthy of your high and holy profession, nothing that shall endanger your eternal welfare.
To enter properly into the subject before us, it will be necessary for us to consider,
I. The principles which are here assumed.
Notwithstanding his jealousy on the subject of faith, he does not hesitate to declare,
1. That the practical efficacy of religion should be the chief object of our attention now.
It was so to the Jews of old. They possessed the highest privileges as God's chosen people, and had ordinances divinely appointed for their stated observance: yet neither their privileges nor their observances availed them anything, without holiness of heart and life: their circumcision, while they were disobedient to the law, was as uncircumcision. To those who boasted that they were Abraham's seed, and therefore children of God, our Lord said, "If you were Abraham's children, you would do the works of Abraham;" and, "If God were your Father, you would love me." To the same test must our pretensions also be brought. It is in vain for us to "cry, Lord, Lord, if we do not the things which our Lord commands." It is by our obedience to his will that our blessed Lord estimates our love: "He who has my commandments, and keeps them, he it is that loves me," and again, "If you love me, keep my commandments." On keeping of God's commandments, so great a stress is laid, that it is made the one discriminating point between the children of God and the children of the devil. "In this the children of God are manifest, and the children of the devil: whoever does not righteousness, is not of God." Nor is any profession or privilege available for our eternal welfare without it: for "circumcision is nothing, and uncircumcision is nothing, but the keeping the commandments of God."
2. That it will be the chief object of inquiry at the day of judgment.
If the Gospel produce not this effect, it is preached in vain; and they who dispense it, "labor in vain." As now the tree is judged of by its fruits, so will it be "at the day of Christ." In the account given us by our Lord himself, we are forewarned what will be the grounds of his decision, when he shall judge the world: those whose religion was productive of good works, will be approved and rewarded in proportion to their works: but those who lived in the neglect of good works, will be disapproved and punished. Whatever professions any may have made of faith and love, they will be brought to this test; and according to it they will be justified or condemned. Doubtless respect will be had to the principles from which their works have proceeded: for "God will bring to light the hidden things of darkness, and will make manifest the counsels of the heart," but the works of all will be viewed as evidences of their internal dispositions, and will form the ground of the judgment which shall be pronounced upon them.
These principles being established, let us proceed to consider,
II. The practice which is here inculcated.
We must not undervalue what may be called negative holiness; for, in truth, it is that which constitutes in a great measure the excellence of the saints. The absence of a murmuring disposition, is to a certain degree the same as positive contentment; and the absence of a contentious disposition as positive love. But it is not a low degree of these virtues that we are to seek after:
We should walk as lights in a dark world.
It would ill become "the children of God" to walk as children of Belial: on the contrary, they should be patterns to the whole world; and should "give no occasion whatever to their enemies to speak reproachfully." They should be "blameless and harmless, and without rebuke, in the midst of a crooked and perverse world." Nor let this be thought a low attainment. Considering what an ensnaring world we move in, and what depraved and perverse creatures we have to deal with, it is no easy matter so to walk that no man may have any fault to find with us but concerning the law of our God. Such conduct requires incessant vigilance and circumspection on our part, and no small measure of grace from the Lord Jesus Christ. In this way we should shine as lights in a dark world, "holding forth" in the whole of our conduct and conversation "the word of life." On every side of us there are rocks and quicksands, which prove destructive to thousands, who navigate this tempestuous ocean: and, while endeavoring to avoid them ourselves, we should so steer our course, as to perform the office of lights, or light-houses, to others; that they, following our luminous path, may escape the dangers that surround them, and reach in safety the haven of rest. This is the true view in which Christians should consider themselves: they are intended to be witnesses for God, and "epistles of Christ, known and read of all men." They are so to walk, that others may see clearly in them a transcript of the mind and will of God; and that, conforming themselves to their example, they may advance daily in the paths of righteousness and grace
This alone will answer the end of ministerial exertions.
Pastors are appointed for the perfecting of the saints: and unless this be accomplished by the word, it is preached in, vain: instead of proving to the hearers "a savor of life unto life, it will be to them a savor of death unto death." Until a minister beholds this change wrought in his people, he must of necessity stand in doubt of them: but when it is wrought in them, he may well rejoice over them, seeing that they shall surely be his joy and crown of rejoicing in the last day. Yes; blessed indeed will be the meeting which he will have with them in that day: he will recognize them as his spiritual children, and present them unto God, saying, Here am "I, and the children you have given me."
In conclusion, I will,
1. Guard against any misapprehension of this subject.
Though we affirm that our works will be the ground of God's judgment in the last day, we would not be understood to intimate, that there is, or can be, any merit in our works. It is not for any worthiness in them that we are saved, but solely for the merits of our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us, and brought in an everlasting righteousness for our justification before God. Our works, it is true, will be the test by which our sincerity will be tried, and the standard to which the measure of our reward will be conformed: but it is not for our blamelessness that we shall be accepted; nor will anything be conferred upon us on the ground of merit: the whole will be a reward of grace, for the sake of our Lord Jesus Christ, and through his obedience unto death. It is highly necessary that this matter should be clearly seen, lest our very virtues become a snare to us, and we perish at last by rejecting the salvation provided for us.
2. Give directions for attaining the state to which we are called.
It can be attained only by faith in the Lord Jesus Christ: for it is only by faith that we can be united to him, and only by union with him that we can bring forth fruit to his glory. He himself tells us, that "without him, that is, separate from him, we can do nothing." If we attempt anything in our own strength, we shall fail. But "through Christ strengthening us, we can do all things." To him therefore we must look; and of him we must say, "In the Lord have I righteousness and strength." Relying on him, we shall never be confounded. Our trials may be great; but we shall be enabled to bear them: our difficulties may be great; but we shall be enabled to surmount them. Nothing shall be impossible to us, if only we live by faith in him. In the midst of temptations we shall "be preserved blameless," and our "light shall shine brighter and brighter unto the perfect day."
Ministerial Zeal Depicted
Philippians 2:17, 18. Yes, and if I be offered upon the sacrifice and service of your faith, I joy, and rejoice with you all. For the same cause also do you joy, and rejoice with me.
THE hope of benefitting immortal souls is most delightful to a benevolent mind; and a successful issue to our labors is replete with joy. The disciple who was honored with his Master's love beyond all others, even he knew "no greater joy than to see his children walk in truth." This accounts for the extreme earnestness with which Paul labored for the salvation of men, and for their sake. He knew, that, even in the eternal world, it would augment his happiness to see that he had been instrumental in saving others; and that "he should rejoice in the day of Christ, when he found that he had not labored in vain, or run in vain." Indeed, so entirely was he swallowed up in the prosperity of his converts, that he was ready even to die for them, if need were; yes, and to welcome the most cruel death as a blessing, rather than to deprecate it as an evil, if only it might be subservient to the welfare of their souls. This is a most remarkable assertion: and, for the purpose of unfolding it, I will show,
I. What was the event which is here so gladly welcomed.
The event itself was martyrdom.
The terms in which he speaks of martyrdom need explanation among us; but to Christians of that day, conversant as they were with the Jewish ritual, they would convey his meaning in a most intelligible and striking form.
The Jews had sacrifices offered every morning and every evening throughout the year. Upon these sacrifices were offered a meat-offering of flour mingled with oil, and a drink-offering of wine. Now, these sacrifices represented, not only the Great Sacrifice which was in due time to be offered for the sins of men, but Christians themselves, who, at the time of their conversion, are given up to Almighty God to serve him, and to glorify his name. The ministers who were instrumental in bringing them to Christ were, so to speak, the priests who offered them up: in conformity with which idea, Paul speaks of being the "minister of Jesus Christ to the Gentiles, ministering the Gospel of God, that the offering up of the Gentiles might be acceptable, being sanctified by the Holy Spirit." But, in the passage before us there is a peculiar beauty: for the people are regarded, not only as the sacrifice that was offered, but as the priests that offered it; since, in the very act of believing, they performed that service, which, in other sacrifices, was performed by the priest. And this is the very thing noticed by Paul in another place, when he beseeches men to "present their own bodies a living sacrifice unto God, as an acceptable and reasonable service." This, too, is beautifully intimated by the Prophet Isaiah, as characterizing, in a very eminent degree, the millennial period, when converts will show an extraordinary readiness to devote themselves to God: "All the flocks of Kedar shall be gathered together unto you; the rams of Nebaioth shall minister unto you (not waiting for a priest to lead them, but presenting themselves for sacrifice at the foot of the altar); they shall come up with acceptance on my altar; and I will glorify the house of my glory."
'Now,' says the Apostle, 'since I have seen you so willingly present yourselves as sacrifices to the Lord, I am willing to have my own blood poured forth as a libation or drink-offering, that so every one of your sacrifices may be complete, and God may be glorified in us all. And, whoever be the instrument to draw forth my blood, or with whatever horrors the shedding of it may be accompanied, I account that not worth a thought: I am in daily expectation of suffering martyrdom; and I am willing to suffer it for your sake, in any way that God himself shall see fit.'
This he was ready to welcome as a ground of joy.
Doubtless, to flesh and blood, the prospect of a cruel death was terrific. But the Apostle was borne up far above all the feelings of unassisted nature, and was enabled to contemplate the deepest sufferings with joy: he could look forward to death itself, not as an object of terror, but as a ground of universal joy. For, with respect to his converts, though it would deprive them of his instructions, and rob them of their dearest friend, yet it would tend to confirm them in the faith they had received, and would embolden them to serve the Lord without fear, yes, and with tenfold greater earnestness than ever. With respect to Jehovah, too, it would reflect on him the highest honor: for, though by the murderers, he would be dishonored, by the victim he would be glorified; since it would be made obvious to all, how worthy he is to be loved and served, and how able he is to support his tempted people under all that they may be called to suffer for his sake. And with respect to himself, death in such a cause would be the highest honor that could be conferred upon him; and he had no doubt but that a proportionably augmented weight of glory would be awarded to him at the tribunal of his God.
Under these circumstances, death had no terrors for him: on the contrary, however his blood should be shed, he called on them to rejoice, both with him and for him; since the event, properly viewed, would be no other than a ground of mutual congratulation.
Let us next consider,
II. What the welcoming of such an event should teach us.
The Apostle's spirit and conduct differ widely from that patriotic ardor which has wrought up many to the contempt of death. Pride has been in them the chief incentive, and the hope of immortalizing their own memory. As for the love of immortal souls, it has never once entered into their minds; nor have they shown any desire that God should be glorified in them. But, in the Apostle, piety to God, and love to man, were the great principles in operation; and self was as much forgotten, as if he had known that the record which he had given of his views would perish with him. His exalted feelings on this occasion show us,
1. The value of the soul.
Of what incalculable value must their souls have been in the Apostle's eyes, when, for the advancement of their welfare, he was ready to welcome even martyrdom itself! Yet were his views perfectly correct: for the soul of any individual whatever is of more value than the whole world. Beloved brethren, if another person could do and suffer so much for you, what ought not you to do or suffer for the welfare of your own souls? Should it be any difficulty to you to devote yourselves to God? or should you regard, for one moment, the contempt or obloquy which you may incur for His sake? Methinks, you are blushing for your lukewarmness and cowardice: you are ashamed, that the things of time and sense can retain such influence over your minds. And, in truth, well may the most diligent among us be ashamed, when we think how near we are on the borders of eternity; and what a sacrifice they must become to the justice of God hereafter, who have not surrendered themselves as living sacrifices to his honor in the present world.
2. The wonderful love of the Lord Jesus Christ to our sinful race.
This which is spoken of in my text has been done for us by our Lord Jesus Christ; of whom it is said, "He poured out his soul unto death." He even came from Heaven for this very purpose, and assumed our nature that he might be capable of doing it. And this he did too, not merely as a witness for the truth, or as an example to the Church, but as an atonement for the sins of all mankind. On him were laid the iniquities of us all: and, when he saw what a bloody baptism he was to be baptized with, he was quite straitened until it should be accomplished; so ardently did he desire the wished-for period. Nor was it for friends and brethren that he poured forth his blood, but for his very enemies, even for the very people who nailed him to the cross: and this too, not in the midst of consolations and supports, but under a sense of God's wrath, and in the depths of dereliction. O! who can tell what manner of love this was? Truly, its height and depth, and length and breadth, are utterly unsearchable, and incomprehensible. Brethren, you contemplate with wonder and gratitude the example of Paul: but what must you think of our Lord Jesus Christ? I charge you, beloved brethren, be not insensible of this: but set it before you, and meditate upon it, until it has penetrated your inmost souls, and "filled you with all the fullness of God."
3. What is the proper character of a Christian minister.
Even a private Christian ought not to fall short of the example before us: for John says, "Hereby perceive we the love of God, because he laid down his life for us: and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren." What then becomes the Christian minister, who has consecrated himself to the service of the sanctuary, and bound himself, by the most solemn ties, to live only for his God! The union of love and zeal which the Apostle manifested on this occasion should be visible in the whole of his walk before God; so that at all times he may appeal to his people as the Apostle did; "We were gentle among you, even as a nurse cherishes her children; so, being affectionately desirous of you, we were willing to have imparted unto you, not the Gospel of God only, but also our own souls, because you were dear unto us." O that there were in us such a heart as this! What blessings should we be to the places where our lot is cast!
And how ready should we be to go forth, wherever our God may call us; accounting nothing of the trials that may await us, even though life itself were the sacrifice that we were called to make. Dear brethren, let it not be said of you, "All men seek their own, and not the things of Jesus Christ;" but beg of God that you may rise to your proper character; and be enabled to "follow the Apostle, as he followed Christ."
The Selfishness of Man
Philippians 2:21. All seek their own, not the things which are Jesus Christ's.
CANDOR is a virtue that should be held in the highest estimation: but, if pressed beyond its proper limits, it will degenerate into indifference, and be productive of incalculable evil. It ought not to confound all distinctions between good and evil; or to betray the interests of religion, through a tenderness for the character of those who violate its dictates. Its office relates rather to the motives, than to the actions, of men. Their actions are to be tried by the standard of God's law: their principles are known to God alone: and it is the part of candor to make due allowance for the frailties of men; and to ascribe everything to good motives, as far as the actions themselves, and the circumstances attending them, will admit of it. As for that latitudinarian principle which is falsely called candor, the Scriptures know nothing of it; nor do they countenance it in any degree. They uniformly assign to good and to evil their true and proper characters, without any respect to those who commit them: and oftentimes they speak in broad, unqualified terms, where they might, if God had seen fit, have made limitations and exceptions. In applying such passages, however, to existing circumstances, there is undoubtedly just scope for the exercise of candor. And this we shall have occasion to show, in discussing the subject before us.
Paul was now a prisoner at Rome, not knowing whether he should be liberated or put to death. In this state, he was extremely anxious about his converts at Philippi, who were themselves in a state of great suffering from enemies, while they were exposed to the more fatal assaults of pretended friends, who labored to turn them from the faith. He longed exceedingly to know how they stood their ground; and wished to draw his information from a source which he could fully depend on. But he had only Timothy with him; and how to part with so dear a friend, under his present circumstances, he knew not. Yet, on the whole, he determined to exercise this self-denial; and to send Timothy to encourage them, and to bring him the desired information: for he had "no man with him that was like-minded with Timothy, who would naturally care for their state; for all others who were around him sought their own, and not the things of Jesus Christ."
It may be asked, How then came he to bestow such commendations on Epaphroditus, and to send this letter by him? I answer, Epaphroditus was "a messenger," who had come to him from Philippi; and who could not be expected to come back again to Rome, to bring him the desired information: and therefore he was not included in the foregoing censure; which was intended only to be applied to the Christians at Rome, who, in his deepest extremity, had forsaken him; and had thereby shown, that they felt a greater regard for their own safety, than for the honor of their Lord.
That we may do justice to all, in our treatment of this subject, we will consider the Apostle's assertion,
I. Literally, in reference to the ungodly world.
To these it is applicable in its full extent. Fallen man is wholly departed from God; and is become altogether selfish; seeking at all times his own things,
One would have supposed, that man, however fallen, should at least have given a precedence to his God: but he chooses rather to be a God unto himself, and to consult, in the first place, what will be most conducive to his own ease, or interest, or honor. If the gratification of self, in any respect, be found contrary to the declared will of God, the authority of God is set at nothing; the honor of God overlooked, as unimportant; and the pleasure, whatever it may be, is pursued, without restriction or remorse. From their fellow-man, indeed, they feel some restraint; but from God, none at all. As far as he is concerned, they say, "Our lips are our own: Who is lord over us?" Nor is this on some particular occasion only: it is the prevailing habit of their minds: and, whensoever the will of God is opposed to theirs, they do not hesitate to say, "Who is the Lord, that I should obey his voice? I know not the Lord, neither will I obey his voice."
In truth, man in his fallen state does not admit any competition between God and him. He chooses rather to "cast God behind his back," and to live "without him in the world." "The things of Jesus Christ" do not at all engage his thoughts. He never asks himself, 'What would the Lord Jesus Christ wish me to do? What will please him? What will honor him? What will advance his glory in the world?' These are considerations which never enter into his mind. Nor is this the case with any one particular description of persons only: it is the same with all persons, of every age, of every country, of every condition. From infancy to old age there is the same regard for self, to the utter exclusion of everything that relates to Christ. There may be indeed, and often is, in ungodly men, a great concern about their own sect or party in the Church; which they, perhaps, would call a regard for Christ himself. But this is nothing more than a carnal principle, precisely similar to that which actuates men in relation to their own society or country. There is in it no real regard for the Lord Jesus Christ himself, but only for the particular party to which they belong: and, whatever construction they may put upon their actions, God, who tries the heart, will comprehend them under the censure of my text, as "seeking their own things, and not the things of Jesus Christ." "They are empty vines, because they bring forth fruit only to themselves."
But the Apostle had very different persons in view. To understand his assertion aright, we must consider it,
II. Constructively, in reference to the Church of Christ.
Beyond all doubt, he referred, in his own mind, to all the Christians at Rome. But we are not to suppose that there was not one among them that was possessed of true piety: we must rather suppose, that their piety was of an inferior order, and that there was not among them any one duly qualified for the work which he would gladly have assigned him. They were all too timid, and too selfish, for the office to which, for want of any other suitable person, he had destined his beloved Timothy. Hence, in somewhat strong terms, he complained of them, as "seeking their own things, and not the things of Jesus Christ;" not intending thereby to deny their piety altogether, but only to intimate that it was at a low ebb. And how applicable this reproof is to the professors of our day, will clearly appear, while we observe how little there is among us,
1. Of self-denial.
In whatever is gratifying to self, we are all forward enough: but if we foresee that the path of duty will involve us in difficulties and trials, we are ready to make any excuse for declining to pursue it. We dread the thought of sacrificing our present comforts, and of encountering hardships of any kind. Instead of "counting all things but loss for Christ," we pause long before we will part with anything: and we desire, for the most part, to have as cheap a religion as we can. The Apostle, giving us a catalogue of his sufferings for Christ, (in which he far exceeded any other of the Apostles,) says, "I was in labors more abundant, in stripes above measure, in prisons more frequent, in deaths oft. Of the Jews, five times received I forty stripes save one. Thrice was I beaten with rods; once was I stoned; thrice I suffered shipwreck; a night and a day have I been in the deep; in journeyings often, in perils of waters, in perils of robbers, in perils by my own countrymen, in perils by the heathen, in perils in the city, in perils in the wilderness, in perils in the sea, in perils among false brethren: in weariness and painfulness, in watchings often, in hunger and thirst, in fastings often, in cold and nakedness." But what effect did they produce on him? Was he deterred by them from following the Lord? No, "None of these things move me," says he, "neither count I my life dear unto me, so that I may but finish my course with joy." And is this the spirit that obtains among us? Alas! alas! if we were called to endure but a twentieth part of his difficulties, it is much to be feared that the generality among us would utterly faint and fail; and, like John Mark, would turn back from the service of our God.
2. Of zeal for God.
In persons redeemed by the blood of God's only dear Son, one might expect that there should be one constant inquiry, "What shall I render to my Lord?" and that the performance of one service should be regarded only as an introduction to another. Laborious as was the Apostle Paul, he never thought that he had done anything, as long as anything remained for him to do. "Like a racer in his course, he forgot what was behind, and reached forward to that which was before." Whatever the service was to which he was called, "he conferred not with flesh and blood," and said immediately, "Here am I; send me" But how little of this ardor do we see in the great mass of professing Christians! The advancement of Christ's kingdom appears to them a matter too remote to engage their attention; and they cloak their own indifference under the specious garb of conscious inability.
3. Of love to man.
This was particularly in the mind of the Apostle as a very chief ground of his censure: "I have no man like-minded, who will naturally care for your state." A concern for the welfare of men's souls was scarcely found among them, especially such a tender concern as a person feels for the welfare of his dearest relative. Were we to behold one who was dear to us in imminent danger, we should feel acutely for him: but we see millions perishing in their sins, and yet lay it not to heart, and are scarcely more grieved about them than if we had reason to believe them in a state of perfect safety. Far different is the manner in which we regard our own things. If we were doomed to suffer the loss but of a finger only, it would press with considerable weight upon our minds: but we can behold persons, on every side of us, going down to perdition, without making any serious effort to deliver them.
See then, here, what ground we have,
1. For inquiry.
How has it been with us? What has been the state of our minds towards the Lord Jesus Christ? Have we found our own concerns swallowed up, as it were, in a concern for him and his glory? Can we adopt, even in the most qualified sense, that expression of the Psalmist, "The zeal of your house has even consumed me!" Remember, I pray you, that everything should be subordinated to Christ, and be regarded only as dung and dross in comparison of him. Our blessed Lord tells us, that "if we hate not father and mother, yes, and our own life also, in comparison of him, we cannot be his disciples." Surely, after such a declaration as this, we should examine our state with all diligence, and never rest until we can say, "Whom have I in Heaven but you? and there is none upon earth that I desire besides you."
2. For humiliation.
Let us turn our eyes to our great Exemplar, the Lord Jesus Christ. "You know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, who, though he was rich, yet for our sakes he became poor, that we through his poverty might be rich." To this the Apostle particularly adverts, in the preceding context: "Look not every man on his own things, but every man also on the things of others. Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus: who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God; but made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men; and being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross." Here, you see, is our pattern. But what resemblance do we bear to him? The leaving of all the glory of Heaven, the taking of our nature with all its sinless infirmities, the dying under the weight of our sins, even of the sins of the whole world, were not too great acts of self-denial for him to perform; and that, too, even for his enemies. But we, what have we done? What have we suffered, for the glory of Christ, and the salvation of men? Say, whether we all have not reason to blush and be ashamed at our extreme want of conformity to him in these respects?
3. For watchfulness.
Selfishness is an evil peculiarly subtle, and veils its own malignity under the most specious names and pretexts. We may see this in the persons who came to our Lord, professing a great regard for him, and a fixed determination to serve him. One said, "Lord, I will follow you wherever you go;" but was deterred from executing his purpose, when our Lord told him, "Foxes have holes, and the birds of the air have nests; but the Son of man has not where to lay his head." Another, when bidden by our Lord to follow him, requested that this might be dispensed with for a season, that he might go home and bury his father. A third made great professions of his readiness to follow Christ; but desired, that he might first go home, and bid his friends farewell. To all of these our Lord gave such replies as were calculated to expose and counteract the delusions by which they were blinded. And were our excuses tried, as they will before long be, by the same touchstone, how vain would they appear! Pleas of duty or affection are often brought forth to justify the secret backwardness which we feel to encounter difficulties for the Lord. But the mask will soon be taken off, and our selfishness will appear in all its naked deformity. Beware then, brethren, lest you deceive your own souls; and, while the fidelity of others is questioned, let it be said of you, as it was of Timothy, "You know the proof of him." Let your whole life be a comment on that declaration of the Apostle, "None of us lives to himself; and no man dies unto himself; but whether we live, we live unto the Lord; or whether we die, we die unto the Lord: whether we live therefore or die, we are the Lord's." Only take care that, in your experience, it be "Christ to live;" and you need never fear but that it shall be "gain to diet."
The True Christian Delineated
Philippians 3:3. We are the circumcision, which worship God in the spirit, and rejoice in Christ Jesus, and have no confidence in the flesh.
IT is much to be lamented that the nature of genuine Christianity is but little understood. An assent to the fundamental articles of our faith, and a conformity to certain rites and ceremonies, are thought sufficient grounds for concluding ourselves real Christians, notwithstanding we are plainly warned by God himself, that religion does not consist in these things. Persons may be, and often are, very zealous advocates for the externals of religion, while they are altogether destitute of its life and power. Such were those whom Paul calls, not the sheep of Christ, but "dogs;" not saints, but "evil-workers;" not the circumcision, but, in a way of contempt, "the concision," because all their piety consisted in a zeal for the cutting of the flesh. Against such persons he thrice enjoins us to "beware;" and then contrasts with theirs the character of the true Christian.
There are three discriminating points which distinguish the circumcision, or the true Christians, from all who are Christians only in name and profession:
I. They worship God in the Spirit.
Many never bow their knees before God at all. What they are, they themselves shall judge. Others observe the form of prayer both in public and in private; but their hearts are not engaged; nor is there any difference in their frame, whether they confess their sins, or ask for blessings, or acknowledge benefits received. All their services are without life, and without devotion.
The true Christian, on the contrary, though not always in the same frame, "worships God in the Spirit," that is, not only with the inmost affections of his soul, but through the direction and assistance of the Holy Spirit. If we could see him in his closet before God, we should often behold him bathed in tears, and with hands and eyes lifted up to Heaven imploring mercy at the hands of God. His thanksgivings too are not an unmeaning compliment, but an heartfelt grateful acknowledgment, suited in a measure to the mercies he has received. He "pours out his soul before God," and "stirs up himself to lay hold on God," and says, like Jacob, "I will not let you go, except you bless me."
Let us examine to which of these classes we belong—and we may know infallibly what is our state before God.
II. They rejoice in Christ Jesus.
The world have their joys, such as they are, arising from the things of time and sense. Some know no happiness but in lewdness and intemperance. Others, moving either in a continual round of fashionable amusements, or in the pursuit of wealth or honor, find all their pleasure in the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eye, and the pride of life. Others more rationally seek their happiness in the acquisition of knowledge. While others seem contented to move, like a horse in a mill, in the same round of daily occupation, without aiming at anything further than an exemption from trouble, and an easy passage through life.
But the true Christian, while he is alive to all the joys that are possessed by others, as far as they are pleasing to God, and profitable to his soul, has joys of a far higher nature. He has felt his need of mercy, and has found mercy through Christ Jesus. Hence the very name of "Jesus is precious to him," and the richest gratification he can possibly enjoy is, to contemplate the glory and excellency of his beloved. He does not indeed always feel the same delight in the Savior; but his richest consolations and sublimest joys arise from this source, insomuch that all the pleasures of sense are nothing in his eyes in comparison of one hour's fellowship with the Son of God. Indeed he would not wish to be happy when he is at a distance from his Lord: in such a state he would consider happiness rather a curse than a blessing. But in whatever state he be with respect to temporal things, a sight of his adorable Savior will render him completely happy.
Here again let us inquire into our own experience. We need no surer test of our state than that before us. Let us examine ourselves with care—and "the Lord give us understanding in all things!"
III. They have no confidence in the flesh.
The ungodly world, if in prosperity, "make gold their confidence," and "trust in their uncertain riches." If, on the other hand, they be in adversity, they look no higher than to their own exertions, or than to their earthly friends to deliver them. The same creature-confidence pervades all their spiritual concerns: they "lean altogether on an arm of flesh," and trust in their own goodness or repentance to recommend them to God, and their own strength and resolution to fulfill his will.
The true Christian is the very reverse of this. We say not that he has no bias towards these evils, for his old nature still remains within him: but his views with respect to these things are altogether altered; and, though he neglects not any means which are proper to be used, he trusts in God only to maintain his prosperity, or to restore it when he has been pleased to afflict him with any calamity. With respect to his soul also he has no hope but in God. To the free mercy of God in Christ Jesus he trusts for every blessing. In the atoning sacrifice and prevailing intercession of Jesus he confides, as the ground of his acceptance with his reconciled God. On the all-powerful grace of Christ he relies, as that which alone can enable him to subdue his enemies, and to serve his God. Feeling that he is in himself ignorant, guilty, polluted, and enslaved, he renounces all self-confidence, and makes Jesus his wisdom, his righteousness, his sanctification, and redemption.
Surely there can be no difficulty in ascertaining our proper character, if only we will make this point also a matter of serious self-examination.
1. Those who, according to these distinctions, must be considered as devoid of real Christianity.
Remember who it is that cuts you off from the number of true Christians: it is not man, but God, even that God who will judge you in the last day according to his own word. O continue not in such a state; but seek that circumcision of the heart which, though condemned by men, shall ultimately have praise of God.
2. Those who have reason from the foregoing remarks to hope that they are Christians indeed.
What reason have you to bless God for the mercies that have been given to you! But remember, it is not by past experience merely you are to judge, but by the continued habit of your mind. Rest not satisfied with anything you have known; lest you "begin in the Spirit, and end in the flesh." The text does not characterize the Christian by what he has done, but by what he yet does: and therefore "press forward, forgetting what is behind, and reaching forth unto what is before," and "as you have received how to walk and to please God, so endeavor to abound more and more,"
The Excellency of the Knowledge of Christ
Philippians 3:7, 8. What things were gain to me, those I counted loss for Christ. Yes doubtless, and I count all things but toss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord.
MANKIND in general are agitated by various and contending passions, while the true Christian enjoys serenity and composure: he is indeed tempted like others to gratify his corrupt nature; but he has one supreme desire which overcomes and regulates all the rest. He is compared to a wise merchant, who having found a pearl of great price, sells all that he has and buys it. Whatever stands in competition with the welfare of his soul will be renounced by him; and, with the Apostle, he will "count all things but loss for Christ." To impress this truth more deeply on our minds, we shall consider,
I. What things Paul had which were gain to him.
Among all the sons of men there never was any in whom so many and so great excellencies combined, as in the Apostle Paul.
In respect of civil distinctions, he was highly dignified by birth, being "an Hebrew of the Hebrews." He was also eminent for learning, having been "brought up at the feet of Gamaliel, and profited above many his equals."
Nor was he less distinguished in respect of moral qualities. Such was the strictness of his principles, that he joined himself to the Pharisees, the strictest sect among the Jews. His probity of conduct was irreproachable; for he had "lived in all good conscience before God from his very youth." His zeal also, though not according to knowledge, was peculiarly earnest; insomuch that, touching the righteousness of the law, he was blameless; and he opposed the Gospel to the uttermost, because he thought it subverted the law of Moses.
But however illustrious he was as a Jew, he was still more so as a Christian and an Apostle. His religious attainments were never equaled by any mere man. His exertions in the cause of Christ surpassed those of all the other Apostles. He also suffered more than any for the sake of the Gospel; yes, he was "in deaths oft," "not counting his life dear to him, so that he might finish his course with joy."
These things might well be accounted gain to him.
His civil distinctions might recommend him to his countrymen, and augment his influence. And though he would not make a parade of his learning, he found it useful on some occasions. His moral qualities also might well be valuable in his sight: for though no strictness of principles, probity of conduct, or zeal for religion, could recommend him God, yet they were ample testimonies of the integrity of his heart. His religious attainments were still more deserving estimation; for though not meritorious in the sight of God, they tended greatly to the glory of God, and the edification of the church, and were undoubted evidences of his fitness for Heaven. Well therefore might he rejoice, as he did, in the testimony of a good conscience.
But he possessed something of incomparably greater value than these things, as will appear, if we inquire,
II. What that was which he preferred before them.
The Apostle had happily attained the knowledge of Christ.
A mere general uninteresting knowledge of Christ would not have been very high in his esteem: that, which he possessed, was distinct and experimental. He saw Christ as God, equal with the Father, though appearing in the form of a servant: he beheld him sustaining various offices in the economy of redemption, and executing them for his people's good. He beheld him as the "Christ," "anointed by the Spirit to preach glad tidings to the meek;" as "Jesus" the person commissioned to "save men from their sins;" and as "the Lord" who was constituted the living Head, the Supreme Governor, and the righteous Judge of his redeemed people.
But not even this distinct knowledge would have been valued by him, if it had not also been experimental. The expressions following the text respecting his "winning Christ, and being found in him, and knowing him in the power of his resurrection," evidently imply that he tasted a sweetness, and felt a peculiar efficacy, in this knowledge. He found by happy experience that he had communion with Christ in his offices. He saw Christ not merely as a Prophet, a Priest, or a King, but as that very Teacher who had opened his eyes; that very Lamb that had taken away his sins; that very Head, to whom he himself was vitally united, and from whom he derived all his supplies of grace and strength. Hence in speaking of Christ he calls him, "Christ Jesus my Lord."
This it was which he esteemed beyond all other things.
In comparison of this, his civil distinctions, his moral qualities, and even his religions attainments, appeared to him "as dung and dross." He clearly perceived that none of those things could ever justify him at the tribunal of God; and that, if ever he were saved, he must "be found in Christ, not having his own righteousness, but the righteousness which is of God by faith in Christ," hence he accounted his former gain to be not only dung, but "loss," that is, not only useless, but prejudicial, if it diverted his eyes from Christ, or weakened his dependence upon him. Nor did he entertain the smallest doubt respecting the justness of his views; but repeated his assertions in the strongest and most decisive terms, "yes, doubtless, and I count all things but loss." Nor did his confidence proceed from inexperience; for repeating the same thing a third time, he adds, "for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and do count them but dung."
The propriety of his judgment will be seen by considering,
III. The grounds of his preference.
There was an "excellency" in that knowledge that far surpassed everything else.
The object of it was truly wonderful.
Who can think of an incarnate God, bearing the sins of his rebellious creatures, and not stand amazed? Who can view the wisdom, power, and goodness of God, as exhibited in the face of a dying Savior, and not confess, that "great is the mystery of godliness?" The consideration of this alone had been a very sufficient ground for his declaration in the text.
The effects of it transcend all that eye has seen, or ear heard, or heart conceived.
The knowledge of this adorable Savior will comfort us under all troubles. None ever endured greater bodily trials than Paul; yet "none of them could move him; and he was exceeding joyful in all his tribulation." The trials of his soul were far greater; yet while he was groaning under their utmost weight, a view of Christ instantly turned his mourning into thanksgivings and the voice of melody: and, on another occasion, while he was cruelly buffeted by Satan, an answer of peace from Christ enabled him to glory in his infirmities, and even to take pleasure in the most complicated distresses.
Moreover, this knowledge will transform the soul into the image of God. Before his conversion, his zeal showed itself in persecuting unto death the greatest friends both of God and man: how unlike the conduct of Jesus, who died for his very enemies! But when converted to the faith, he had "continual sorrow in his heart on account of his brethren's obstinacy, and wished himself even accursed from Christ for their sake." He, like his Divine Master, was willing to die for his enemies, and rejoiced exceedingly in the prospect of being sacrificed for the good of the Church. To what can we ascribe this change, but to the knowledge of Christ? And if to that, what reason had he to prize it!
Lastly, this knowledge will avail for the salvation of all who possess it. Paul, though he thought himself "alive" before his conversion, found at last that he was really "dead," but after his conversion, he was no longer dead, either in reality, or in his own apprehension: he frequently speaks with the fullest assurance respecting the safety of his state; and teaches all who know Christ to expect with confidence a crown of righteousness in the day of judgment.
On such grounds we must not only approve the Apostle's judgment, but account it madness to differ from him.
All of us possess something which we account gain. Some are more elevated by birth or fortune, others by education and learning: some value themselves on their moral qualities; others on their religious attainments: let us freely acknowledge the gain which may be found in these things: but let us never forget that there is one thing of infinitely greater value than all those together, and for which our gain must be accounted loss. To have a distinct experimental knowledge of Christ, to be able to say, "He has loved me, and given himself for me" is of more value than ten thousand worlds: it is that, and that alone, which can ever comfort, sanctify, or save the soul. Let us then seek to know Christ and him crucified, and to "grow in the knowledge of him," until we "see him as we are seen, and know him as we are known."
Christ, Gain to the Believer
Philippians 3:8, 9. For whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and do count them but dung, that I may win Christ, and be found in him; not having my own righteousness, which is of the law, but that which is through, the faith of Christ, the righteousness which is of God by faith.
RESPECTING doctrines, as mere subjects of controversy, we need not be anxious; it is as influential principles that we are called to examine and maintain them: and, in this view, we cannot too "earnestly contend for the faith once delivered to the saints." That which is, above all other subjects, important to the soul, demands our attention at this time: and the Apostle's zeal, in relation to it, shows with what holy jealousy we should conduct our investigation of it, and with what determination of heart we should hold fast that which shall approve itself as the truth of God. The two points to be noticed are,
I. The way of salvation, as stated by the Apostle.
He speaks of being "found in Christ," clothed in a righteousness not his own. Let us consider what he means.
The Lord Jesus Christ has wrought out a righteousness for sinful man.
He has come from Heaven for that purpose: he has assumed our nature, that he might suffer and obey for us: for us he has suffered the full penalty due to our sins; and obeyed in all respects that law which we have violated. All this he has done as our Substitute and Surety; so that if the law require its penalties to be enforced, we can reply, that we have already sustained them in the person of our Lord: and if it require perfect obedience to its commands, we can reply, that we have already obeyed it in the person of our Lord: so that it has no ground whereon to condemn us: on the contrary, supposing us to be "found in Christ," and to be "one with Christ," which every true believer is, we may look up to God with confidence; having a righteousness of his own appointment; a righteousness commensurate with all the demands of law and justice; a righteousness wherein we may stand before him without spot or blemish.
This righteousness is to be apprehended by faith.
In no other manner can it be apprehended. It exists not in us, but in the Lord Jesus Christ; whose it is, and by whom it is imputed to us; and who is therefore called, "The Lord our Righteousness." If it be said, that, though it is Christ's righteousness, and not ours, we yet may earn by our good works an interest in it; I answer, that we may as well earn salvation itself, as earn an interest in that righteousness whereby we are saved. The effect will be the same in either case: salvation will be of works, and not of grace; and every person who shall be saved, will have a ground of glorying in himself, as having purchased that whereby he is saved. But the Gospel salvation utterly excludes glorying: and "it is by faith, on purpose that it may be by grace." In truth, any attempt to purchase it would utterly make it void; and, however glorious it be in itself, it would profit us nothing. The Apostle, in our text, carefully excludes all his own righteousness from bearing any part in his salvation, and declares his reliance to be only and exclusively on that righteousness which is of God through faith in Christ. We say, then, respecting this righteousness, that it is "the righteousness of God," it is the "righteousness of God without the law," it is "the righteousness to which both the law and the prophets bear witness," it is "the righteousness of God by faith of Jesus Christ: and it is unto all, and upon all, them that believe."
All who are united to Christ by faith, shall be saved by it.
By faith we are united unto Christ; and become one in law with him, even as a wife becomes one with her husband: and exactly as "he was made sin for us who knew no sin; so we, who had no righteousness of our own, are by faith made the righteousness of God in him." There is no exception of persons: all, whether Jews or Gentiles, and whether their sins have been of greater or less enormity, shall be equally accepted, if only they believe in him: for "his blood cleanses from all sing;" and "all who believe, shall be justified from all things."
Such being the way of salvation, as stated by the Apostle, let us notice,
II. His feelings in relation to it.
To obtain an interest in the righteousness of Christ was his supreme desire.
If any man who ever lived might have had a righteousness of his own, the Apostle Paul might. His conduct previous to his conversion, though mistaken, was yet as exemplary, and as strictly conformable to the dictates of his conscience, as any man's could be. And, subsequent to his conversion, his whole soul was so entirely given up to his God and Savior Jesus Christ, that he was not in any respect "a whit behind the very chief Apostles." Yet, so conscious was he of the defects which accompanied his best services, that he disclaimed utterly all dependence on his own works, and desired to "be found in Christ; not having his own righteousness, which was of the law, but the righteousness which was of God through faith in Christ." And why did he desire this, but because he knew that no other righteousness than that of Christ could ever justify him before God? He was perfectly convinced of this; so convinced, that when the Apostle Peter acted in a way that was likely to bring this truth into doubt, he reproved him openly, before the whole Church. Nay more; so strenuous was he in vindicating this truth, that he denounced a curse even against an angel from Heaven, if one should be found ignorant or impious enough to maintain any doctrine that was opposed to it. He knew that the salvation of every human being was bound up in it; and therefore he would "give place, no, not for an hour," to any created intelligence in relation to it.
In comparison of this, he regarded all other things with the utmost contempt.
All other things "he counted but dung, that he might win Christ." A stronger expression he could not have used. He not only willingly sacrificed, but held in perfect abhorrence, everything that should stand in competition with an interest in the Redeemer's righteousness. And he spoke not this as a sanguine man, who knew not what difference might take place in his mind, when he should be put to the trial. No; he had been brought to the test; and had actually "suffered the loss of all things," and yet counted them but dung. He had actually experienced what he was now affirming; and he gave this testimony with an assurance that would not admit of a moment's doubt. He was like a man, who, "having found the pearl of great price, went and sold all that he had, and bought it;" and never regretted for an instant the sacrifice he had made. The terms which he here uses in opposition to each other, "loss and gain," are such as may lead us to a yet more appropriate illustration; that of a ship-wrecked mariner, who as Paul himself advised, casts out the tackling, and the very food from the ship, in order to preserve the lives of those who are on board. He takes no account of that which he loses: he is intent only on his gain: and, if he may but secure safety to the crew, he is content. Thus the Apostle, having gained Christ, considered as no better than dung all that he had parted with to secure so rich a portion.
1. The worldly Christian.
What a contrast is there between the Apostle Paul and you! He counted the whole world but dung for Christ; and you count (what shall I say?) Christ himself as of no value, in comparison of the world. The things of this world you will have, whatever you may be necessitated to pay for them. Pardon of sin, peace of conscience, yes, and all prospects of eternal glory, you will sacrifice for the things of time and sense. Your own soul, and the Lord Jesus Christ, are held cheap, in comparison of some fleeting vanity. The language of your heart is, 'Let me gain pleasure, riches, honor; and then it signifies nothing what I may lose' Judge you, my brethren, whether these desires of yours can be right. Truly, either Paul must have been a wild, deluded enthusiast, or you are unworthy to "name the name of Christ." Reflect, I beseech you, before it be too late: and choose, not those "things which perish with the using," but "that good part which shall never be taken away from you."
2. The self-righteous Christian.
And what greater resemblance have you to this Holy Apostle? He utterly discarded all hope in his own righteousness, that he might be found in Christ; but you are holding fast your own righteousness, and accounting the idea of being saved by another's righteousness as a dangerous delusion. This pride of yours is harder to subdue than any corporeal lust. It was this which caused the Pharisees to reject the Savior "They would not submit to the righteousness of God." Hence they perished, while millions of idolatrous and ungodly Gentiles embraced the Gospel. I pray you, think what you are doing; and before you determine to persist in your self-righteous views, see whether your righteousness be better than that of Paul. He had no slight ground of glorying, as a Jew: but what had he as a Christian? There he was surpassed by none: none ever did more for their Lord than he; none ever suffered more: yet could he find nothing in himself wherein to trust, and therefore he sought to be found in Christ alone. Thus also must you do: nor, if you refuse to do it, can you ever behold the face of God in peace.
3. The lukewarm Christian.
Many, alas! embrace the principles of the Gospel as principles, but never feel that interest in them which the Apostle did. They have suffered no loss for Christ, because they have never manifested such love to him as condemns an ignorant and unbelieving world. Had Noah never built an ark, he would never have been made such an object of derision as he was to the antediluvian world; and, if Lot had never "vexed his righteous soul with the ungodly deeds" of those who lived in Sodom, he would never have incurred, as he did, their contemptuous displeasure. You too, if you followed the Lord fully, would find, that the offence of the cross is not ceased: but that now, as formerly, "they who are born after the flesh will persecute those who are born after the Spirit." In a word, if you valued and served the Lord Jesus Christ as the Apostle Paul did, you would surely be called to make some sacrifices for him: for "all that will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution." Deceive not yourselves, my dear brethren: it is not a divided heart that Jesus will accept: you must feel "the constraining influence of his love," and be animated by it to "live to Him who died for you, and rose again." Then only will you be approved of him, when you "give yourselves wholly to him in body, soul, and spirit." The lukewarm follower he will cast off with abhorrence. And let me ask, Is this unreasonable? Did he give up the glory of Heaven for you; and will you account much of any sacrifice you may be called to make for him? Did he endure the curse of the law for you; and will you grudge to suffer anything for him? Be in earnest, then: first, to form a proper estimate of Christ; and, next, to give up everything that may stand in competition with him. So shall his righteousness be yours, and his glory be given you for an everlasting possession.
The Power of Christ's Resurrection
Philippians 3:10. That I may know him, and the power of his resurrection.
MANY think that religion is not an object of choice, but rather of compulsion and constraint: and hence they frequently suggest to the godly, that the measure of piety to which they aspire is not necessary. But true Christians do not regard God as a task-master, standing over them with a rod; but as a Father, delighting in the happiness of his children: and they desire to act the part of duteous children, fulfilling his will to the utmost of their power. They are not satisfied with "winning Christ, and being found in him," they would serve him, and honor him, and resemble him: and, like Paul, they desire to "know him, and the power of his resurrection."
To elucidate this truth, I will show,
I. What is meant by "the power of Christ's resurrection."
As the death of Christ has an efficacy, so his resurrection also has an influence,
1. On our justification.
The death of Christ was not of itself sufficient. Under the law, the high-priest must not only offer sacrifice, but must take the blood of that sacrifice, and enter with it into the holy of holies, and sprinkle it there upon the mercy-seat and before the mercy-seat, and offer incense also there: nor, until these things were done, was he authorized to deliver his blessing to the people. So the Lord Jesus must not only offer himself a sacrifice for sin; but must enter into Heaven with his own blood, there to present it, in our behalf, before his God and Father: nor without this would his work have been complete. Hence our justification is not only ascribed to his resurrection in conjunction with his death, but even in preference to his death; since it was the completion of that which by his death was only begun.
2. On our sanctification.
None but the Spirit of God can sanctify the soul. But the Spirit would never have been given, if Jesus had not risen. At his ascension to Heaven, he received the Holy Spirit as the promise of the Father, and received him for the express purpose of sending him down into the hearts of his people. That he might begin and carry on his work in their hearts, he ascended to Heaven; as it is said, "To this end Christ both died, and rose, and revived, that he might be the Lord both of the dead and living."
3. On our exaltation to glory.
If Christ had not risen, neither should we have risen: for he burst the bands of death for us, and thereby destroyed its power to retain us under its dominion. He, in his resurrection, was "the first-fruits;" and his people will be the harvest. While he was yet with his Disciples, he pointed out to them the connection between his removal from them, and their exaltation to Heaven: "In my Father's house are many mansions: if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you: and if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you unto myself; that where I am, there you may be also." In a word, "he was the Forerunner" of his people: and all of them shall follow him in their season.
Let me now proceed to show,
II. What it is to "know Christ" as exercising this power.
It is not a speculative knowledge that is here spoken of, but a knowledge that is practical and experimental, and that enters into the very essence of true and vital religion. To "know Christ" as the Apostle desired to know him, we must have such views of him in his risen state as shall operate,
1. To confirm our faith.
Certainly the proper ground of faith is God's revealed word: but an experience of that word in our own souls gives a degree of assurance that never is, or can be, attained without. I believe, from the testimony of Scripture, that Jesus is an almighty and all-sufficient Savior. But I find, from the peace which he has infused into my soul, and the power he has given me to mortify my lusts, and from the delight which he has enabled me to feel in communion with himself, that there is a reality in the Gospel, which a mere speculative believer has no conception of. A man, who has heard men's testimony respecting the existence and influence of the sun, may be fully assured that such an orb does really exist. But the man who beholds its light, and feels its genial rays, will have a widely different conception of it. The former may argue better respecting it; but it is the latter alone who is really competent to appreciate it aright. And, in like manner, he alone knows Christ fully, who knows him experimentally, by the actual enjoyment of him in his own soul.
2. To animate our hope.
There is "a full assurance of hope," which he alone who knows Christ experimentally can possess. I see him dying for me; risen for me; interceding for me; and carrying on his work within me. Can I doubt his love, his power, his grace, his truth, and faithfulness? Has he done so much for me, in order to forsake me at last, and to abandon me to deeper ruin? Has he done so much for me when I was living in direct hostility to him; and will he leave me, now that I seek his face, and desire to glorify his name? No, I can trust him, and I will. Well do I know my own sinfulness: but I know also the virtue of his blood. I know my weakness also: but I know also the sufficiency of his grace to save me even to the uttermost. I know, too, the treachery of my heart: but I know how sure his promise is; and that "where he has begun a good work, he will carry it on, and perfect it to the end." And therefore will I "hope, even against hope," and "hold fast my confidence firm unto the end."
3. To sanctify and transform the soul.
I see my Lord. I call to mind what he has designed in all the wonders of his love. He desires to have "a holy and peculiar people, zealous of good works." Now, shall I counteract all his gracious designs? Shall I crucify him afresh, by continuing in my sins? Shall I not rather desire him to accomplish in me "all the good pleasure of his goodness;" and to "sanctify me throughout, in body, soul, and spirit?" Yes, for him will I live; and to him will I devote all the powers of my soul. There was nothing which he declined to do or suffer for me: and there is nothing which, with his help, I will not do and suffer for him.
Thus we see,
1. What a practical thing religion is.
Had there been any one truth in it that was merely speculative, methinks the doctrine of the resurrection might have been supposed to come under that particular class. But it has been seen how extremely practical this doctrine is; not merely as affording ground for faith and love, but as generating in the soul all that is amiable and praiseworthy. If then, any one object to religion, as consisting in abstract notions, or in any peculiar tenets, let its true nature be remembered, and its intrinsic excellence be extolled.
2. That, in the practice of religion, the true Christian will know no limits on this side of absolute perfection.
Of the Apostle's attainments none can doubt: yet did he desire to know Christ, and the power of his resurrection, as much as if he had lived an entire stranger to piety even to that very hour. And so will every true Christian, like one in a race, forget all the ground that he has passed, and be intent only on that which is before him: nor will he ever be content, until he is "holy as God himself is holy, and perfect as his Father which is in Heaven is perfect." Then only will he be fully "satisfied, when he shall awake up with the perfect likeness of his God."
Holy Ambition Encouraged
Philippians 3:13–15. Brethren, I count not myself to have apprehended: but this one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before, I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus. Let us therefore, as many as be perfect, be thus minded.
TRUE religion affords such perfect satisfaction to the mind, that from the time we become possessed of it, we lose our relish for other things, and feel ourselves at rest, as having attained the summit of our ambition. But though we cease to hunger or thirst after the vanities of time and sense, our appetite for spiritual blessings is quickened: nor can the richest acquisitions content us, as long as there remains anything further to be enjoyed. This was Paul's experience. He had been apprehended and arrested, as it were, by the Lord Jesus, in order that he might be made to possess all the treasures of grace and glory: and, from that hour, he could never be satisfied with anything short of the full enjoyment of them. And, while he cherished this holy ambition in his own bosom, he recommended it earnestly to all others.
There are, in the words before us, two things which he recommends from his own example:
I. An humble sense of our present attainments.
Paul, though so eminent, entertained but low thoughts of himself.
Never was there a man more distinguished than he, whether we consider in general his love to God and man, or examine the particular graces that adorned his soul. He not only was not inferior to any other Apostle, but he labored more abundantly than they all. Yet, from an impartial view of himself, as compared with the requirements of God's law, and the example of his Divine Master, he was constrained to confess that he had not yet attained that measure either of knowledge or of holiness, which it was his duty, and his privilege, to possess. This, I say, he found from an exact computation, and has recorded it for the instruction of the Church in all ages.
In this respect he proposes himself to us as an example.
The word "perfect," in the close of the text, is not to be understood in the strictest sense, (for then it would contradict what he had before said,) but as signifying that degree of maturity at which the generality of Christians arrive. To persons of this description he says, "Be thus minded," and surely it is impossible not to feel the propriety of the exhortation. Let any one of us, even the best among us, compare himself with the perfect law of God, or with the spotless example of our Lord, and will he not find in himself deficiencies without number? Let him even compare himself with Paul, a man of like passions with ourselves, and will he not appear a dwarf, a very child in comparison of him? Let him examine himself with respect to every Christian grace, and see whether he do not fall very far short of that bright pattern? Well then may all of us confess, that "we have not yet apprehended that for which we have been apprehended of Christ Jesus."
This however is not to discourage us, but to stimulate us to,
II. A diligent pursuit of higher attainments.
Glorious was the ardor with which the Apostle was animated in his high calling.
He considered himself as "called by a reconciled God" to enter the lists in the Christian race, and as now actually contending for the prize. Much of his ground had he already passed over; but like the racers in the Olympic games, he "forgot what was behind," and was mindful only of that which yet remained for him to do. He saw the prize in full view, and strained every nerve in order to obtain it: and the nearer he approached the goal, the more earnestly did he "press forward," desiring nothing but to "finish his course with joy." This was "the one thing which he did." Nothing else occupied his mind, nothing else was deemed worthy of one moment's attention. Nothing could, in his apprehension, be lost, if that prize were gained; nor anything gained, if that prize were lost.
In this way he exhorts us also to prosecute the great concerns of our souls.
The same prize which was set before him is held up to us also: and we are called by God to run for it. It may be that we have both done and suffered much for God already: but we must not think of anything that is passed (except for the purpose of humbling ourselves, or of glorifying God) we must be intent only on present duty, and engage in it with all our might. To get forward must be our constant uniform endeavor. It is "the one thing needful." As persons running in a race find no time for loitering or diversion, but distinguish themselves from mere spectators by the exertions they make; so must we manifest to all around us that we have but one pursuit, with which we are determined that nothing shall interfere, and which we will never relax, until we have reached the goal.
This subject is of peculiar use,
1. For reproof.
How are they condemned who have never yet begun the Christian race! Do they expect to win the prize without running for it? This cannot be: "the kingdom of Heaven suffers violence, and the violent must take it by force." Still more are they condemned who would discourage others that are engaged in the contest. Are they "like-minded" with the Apostle, who are constantly endeavoring to damp the ardor which they will not emulate? Nor are they less worthy of reproof who have relaxed their diligence in the ways of God. To such Paul says, "You did run well; who has hindered you? Yes; inquire diligently who or what has hindered you: for you had better be stripped of all that you possess, than be impeded by it in your Christian course. Shake off then the thick clay from your feet: put aside the garment that obstructs your progress: mortify the flesh that pleads for indulgence: and "run with patience the race that is set before you."
2. For encouragement.
Some perhaps are faint, and ready almost to give up the contest. But behold the prize: will not that repay? And is not the attainment of it certain, if you hold on your way? Yes more, shall not your strength be renewed, if only you wait upon your God? In a few more steps you will reach the goal: and will you stop when the prize is already, as it were, in your hands? O press forward: follow the Apostle: endure to the end; and receive "the crown of glory that fades not away."
Of Following Good Examples
Philippians 3:17, 20. Brethren, be followers together of me, and mark them which walk so as you have us for an example.… For our conversation is in Heaven.
GREAT is the force of example, either to vitiate or improve the morals of those around us. There are few, even of real Christians, who do not, in some considerable degree, yield to its influence. The church at Philippi was, on the whole, distinguished for its attainments: yet even there, hypocrisy was found, and error had its advocates. The example of some worldly and sensual professors was likely to prove extremely injurious: while therefore the Apostle declares his grief occasioned by their misconduct, he exhorts the Church to unite in following rather the example that he had set them, and to notice with approbation all who conducted themselves agreeably to his advice.
The words that are in verses 18 and 19, being included in a parenthesis, those which are united in the text are properly connected with each other. In discoursing on them, we shall consider,
1. The Apostle's example.
Paul considered himself as a citizen of Heaven.
To be a citizen of Rome was deemed a high honor; and it was an honor which Paul possessed by virtue of his being a native of Tarsus, on which city this privilege had been conferred. But Paul's name was enrolled in a more glorious city, even in Heaven itself. He belonged to the society of saints and angels, who were united under Christ, their common head: and he had a communion with them in all their honors, their interests, and their enjoyments.
In the exercise of his rights, he had his daily converse in Heaven.
As a person is daily conversant with that society to which he belongs, maintaining fellowship with them, and ordering his life according to their rules, so the Apostle lived, as it were, in Heaven: his thoughts and affections were there continually: and he was emulating those around the throne by his constant endeavors to glorify God, and by walking habitually in the light of his countenance.
While he mentions his example, he shows us,
II. The use that we should make of it.
We should imitate him ourselves.
We are already joined to the society in Heaven, provided we be united unto Christ by faith: and it behooves us to "walk worthy of our high calling." Though we are in the world, we are not to be of it. "We have here no continuing city," we are to be in this world as pilgrims only and sojourners: we must ever consider ourselves as strangers and foreigners, who, though living on earth are indeed fellow-citizens with the saints and of the household of God. If we were traveling in a foreign land, we should regard the concerns of that land rather as objects of curiosity, than as matters in which we felt any deep interest: whereas the affairs of our own country, where our estates were situated, and our relations lived, would be regarded by us as matters of great moment. Thus should we be indifferent, as it were, to all the vanities of this life, and be wholly intent on our spiritual and eternal interests. We should be maintaining communion with our Head in Heaven, and growing up into a fitness for the exercises and enjoyments of the invisible world.
We should also "mark those who" do imitate him.
All of us should unite in following his example, and emulate each other in his holy employment. And, when any make higher attainments than ourselves we should not be ashamed to imitate them: we should observe particularly what it is wherein they excel us, and how it is that they have been enabled to outstrip us. We should endeavor to encourage them; and together with them to press forward towards perfection.
We may make use of this subject,
1. For reproof.
How widely do the greater part of Christians differ from the Apostle! Nor is it only the profane, or the formal, that are condemned by his example, but even the godly also. Let all of us then be ashamed of the low sense we entertain of our privileges, and of the coldness with which we prosecute our eternal interests. Let us seek to have our views and dispositions more conformed to those of the saints of old; that at the second coming of our Lord we may behold him both with confidence and joy.
2. For encouragement.
It is not to Apostles that these attainments are confined: they were common to many others in the Church at Philippi, who, together with the Apostle, are proposed as patterns unto us. Let none then imagine that this blessed state is beyond their reach; but rather let all aspire after it, as the one object of their ambition. Let all seek to know what a gloriously rich inheritance they are even now permitted to enjoy; and, having by faith gained access into this grace, let them stand in it, and rejoice in hope of the glory of God.
A Warning to the Earthly-Minded
Philippians 3:18, 19. Many walk, of whom I have told you often, and now tell you even weeping, that they are the enemies of the cross of Christ: whose end is destruction, whose God is their belly, and whose glory is in their shame, who mind earthly things.
NOTWITHSTANDING the utter extinction of vital godliness from the heart of man, through the introduction of sin into the world, there remain within him some principles of goodness, weakened indeed, but still operative and lively. Among these we may notice humanity and compassion, which often work in the breasts of the unregenerate, so as even to shame those who are endued with a principle of true religion. There is, however, one essential difference between this disposition as it is exercised by unconverted men, and the same as cultivated by the godly: in the former, it extends no further than to the temporal condition of mankind; but in the latter, it terminates chiefly on their spiritual and eternal state. Hence we frequently see both Prophets and Apostles expressing with tears their concern for the souls of those around them. In the passage before us, Paul was filled with the tenderest emotions of pity, while he beheld the state of many in the Christian Church, whose character and end he most pathetically describes.
In illustrating his statement, we shall consider,
I. The lamentable state of some professors.
James speaks of a principle that is "earthly sensual, devilish," and such is that, by which too many, who profess godliness, are actuated.
1. "Their belly is their God."
By "the belly," we understand the sensual appetite: and to make "a God" of it, is to yield ourselves up to its dominion. And must we go to heathen countries to find persons of this description? are not "many" such to be found in the Christian Church? Many, alas! are addicted to gluttony, to drunkenness, to whoredom: and among those who are free from these gross excesses, how many are there who have no higher end of life than to consult their own ease and pleasure, and whose labors in all their younger years, are with a view to provide these very enjoyments for them in the decline of life! What is this but to put the gratification of their sensual appetite in the place of God, whose will should be the only rule, and whose glory, the ultimate end, of all their actions?
2. "They glory in their shame."
Whatever proceeds from a corrupt principle, whether it be approved or not among men, is really a ground of shame: yet how many will boast of their vilest excesses, perhaps, too, even of crimes which they have never committed! How many will glory in the insolence with which they have treated their superiors; the resentment they have shown towards those who injured them; and the cunning they have exercised in a way of traffic; when, if they viewed these things aright, they would rather blush for them as vile iniquities, and mourn over them in dust and ashes!
Perhaps the Apostle had a more especial reference to the Judaizing teachers, who sought to distract the Church of God, and gloried in the number of their proselytes. Such he justly calls "dogs, and evil workers," and too many such there are also in this day, whose whole delight is to spread some favorite notions of their own, and who care not how many of Christ's flock they scatter and destroy, if they can but increase their own party.
Now what is this but their sin and their shame? and to glory in sin, of whatever kind that sin be, is the very spirit of Satan himself, who accounts himself happy in proportion as he can weaken the kingdom of Christ, and establish his own empire over the hearts of men.
3. "They mind earthly things."
To a certain degree earthly things must be minded: but we are not to savor, to relish, or to set our affections upon them. This would be as contrary to the mind and will of God, as to make a God of our belly, or to glory in our shame. Yet how many professed Christians are there who live under the habitual influence of an earthly mind, without ever conceiving that there is anything wrong in their conduct! In spiritual employments they experience nothing but a stupid uniformity: but in temporal concerns they have many fluctuations of hope and fear, of joy and sorrow, according as their prospects of success brighten, or their apprehensions of disappointment increase. Whence arises this, but from the decided preference they give to carnal and earthly things, above those which are spiritual and heavenly?
Fidelity requires, that, having delineated the conduct of these professors, we should set before you,
II. The warning here given them.
It is a painful task to rob any of their hopes, and to denounce the terrors of the Lord: and while we engage in it, we would, like the Apostle, proceed with the utmost tenderness and compassion. But we must, at the peril of our own souls, endeavor to undeceive those who are blinded by these delusions. Let such then know,
1. Their real character.
Many, who are of this description, imagine that they are friends of the Gospel, and that they have a great regard both for Christ and his people. But indeed, "they are enemies of the cross of Christ," they withstand its influence over themselves—and obstruct its influence over others.
What was the intent of the death of Christ but to redeem us from all iniquity, and to deliver us from this present evil world, and to establish the dominion of Christ over our whole souls? This was the effect it produced on others; and would on us, if we thoroughly submitted to its influence. Whatever therefore we may imagine or profess, we really are enemies of the cross of Christ, as long as, in our spirit and conduct, we continue hostile to its main design.
The injury which such professors do to the cause of Christ, is incalculable. If they be openly profane, they explode religion altogether, and deter others from regarding its dictates; and if they be more decent in their conduct, they lead men, both by their conversation and example, to suppose that religion consists in mere forms or notions, instead of an entire subjugation of the soul to Christ. In what light then must they appear before God? If "he who gathers not with Christ, is as one that scatters abroad," much more must they, who are thus actively engaged in scattering the flock, be deemed his enemies. Yes, brethren, such persons, whatever they may profess, (with grief and sorrow I declare it,) they are no other than enemies of the cross of Christ."
2. Their certain end.
It is no wonder that they who mistake their own character, should deceive themselves also with respect to the state to which they are fast approaching. They conclude that their eternal interests are safe: but God declares, that "their end is destruction." Yes indeed! "their end must be according to their works." And do not the Scriptures abundantly confirm this melancholy truth? "If you live after the flesh, you shall die," "if any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him;" "to be carnally-minded is death." Dear brethren, in vain will be all pleas and pretenses at the judgment-seat of Christ: to every worker of iniquity, whether he have been an open sensualist, or hypocritical professor, it will be said, "Depart from me, I never knew you."
We would subjoin a word or two of advice.
1. Beware lest you rest in an external profession of religion.
It is easy to adopt the creed of Christians, and to conform our lives to that standard which obtains generally in the world. But it is no easy matter to be a consistent Christian. To maintain an uniform course of self-denial, and of deadness to earthly things, and to glory only in the Lord, these are hard lessons: yet nothing less than this will prove us Christians indeed. It is not by our creed, or our professions, that we shall be judged; but by our "walk"—By that therefore we must judge ourselves, if we would not be deceived to our eternal ruin.
2. Be not offended with the Gospel on account of any misconduct in its professors.
There were some even in the Apostles' days who "walked" unworthy of their high and holy calling; yes, there were "many" But was the Gospel to be blamed for this? As for those who gave the occasion of offence, it was to them a ground of aggravated condemnation: but the Gospel itself was not a whit less "worthy of all acceptance." So at this day, whatever the conduct of any professors of godliness may be, the Gospel which we preach is the "wisdom of God and the power of God unto salvation" to all those who cordially embrace it. Instead therefore of being offended at it ourselves on account of the misconduct of others, let us study to adorn and recommend it by a consistent "walk" and a heavenly conversation.
3. Watch over one another with care and tenderness.
None are at liberty to say, "Am I my brother's keeper?" We all should feel a tender concern for the welfare of our fellow-creatures: and especially when we behold those who profess to have the same faith and hope with ourselves, manifesting by their conduct the delusion of their minds, we should weep over them, and, with a mixture of fidelity and compassion, declare to them their danger. We are expressly told to "exhort one another daily, while it is called today," and though we shall not always give satisfaction to the persons whom we warn, yet shall we really perform towards them the kindest office, and perhaps save them from the destruction to which they wore hastening. Then shall we have reason to rejoice over them, as they also will have to bless God for us, to all eternity.
Steadfastness in God
Philippians 4:1. My brethren, dearly beloved and longed for, my joy and crown, so stand fast in the Lord, my dearly beloved.
ST. PAUL was a man of feeling, a man of love. He felt for all: for those whom he saw perishing in sin, he would willingly have endured all that men or devils could inflict, if only it might be instrumental to their salvation. For those who belonged to Christ, even though they had never seen his face in the flesh, he had great conflicts, striving if by any means he might promote their eternal welfare. But towards those who had been converted by his ministry, he felt as a father towards his children: he could say, "God is my record how greatly I long after you all in the affections of Jesus Christ." To such is this epistle addressed; as indeed the words of our text clearly evince. Such an accumulation of tender expressions can scarcely be found in the same space in all the Book of God. But what is the drift of them all? Why does he so labor to convince the Philippians of his love, and to conciliate their regards to him? it was, that they might be stirred up to give the more earnest heed to his exhortations, and to "stand fast in the Lord."
To be "in the Lord" is the character of every believer: he is united unto Christ by faith, and is engrafted into him as a branch of the living vine. But our blessed Lord cautions us again and again to "abide in him," and warns us against the danger of separation from him. In like manner we are frequently exhorted to "stand fast in the Lord;" and so to continue in the faith grounded and settled, that we may not be moved away from the hope of the Gospel."
To you then we would now address the exhortation, and say, Stand fast in,
I. Your allegiance to him.
Many things will conspire to draw you away from Christ.
The world, with its vanities on the one hand, and its terrors on the other, will assault you continually—the flesh also will operate to bring you into subjection to all its basest lusts—Nor will Satan be idle: he, with all his confederate hosts, will strive, by innumerable wiles and temptations, either to subvert your principles, or to vitiate your practice—It is a warfare into which you are brought, when once you enlist under the banners of Christ; and you must expect all manner of conflicts to your dying hour.
But you must be steadfast in your adherence to him.
You must be "good soldiers of Jesus Christ," and never cease to fight until you have obtained the victory. Neither hopes nor fears, neither joys nor sorrows, must be suffered to alienate you from him, or to damp your zeal in his service. True it is that the Lord gives you many great and precious promises, that he will keep you, and that nothing shall ever separate you from his love. But this is not to encourage supineness; but rather to make you more earnest in your application to him for protection and support. With the example of Demas before you, you should never cease to fear, lest you also should "fall from your own steadfastness," and "be corrupted from the simplicity that is in Christ." Aware of your danger, you must "fight the good fight of faith," and "cleave unto the Lord with full purpose of heart." "You must be faithful unto death, if ever you would obtain the crown of life."
Stand fast also in,
II. Your dependence on him.
From this also you are in danger of being drawn.
There is in us a continual proneness to self-confidence and self-dependence. We are ever ready to lean to our own understanding to guide us—our own righteousness to justify us—our own strength to preserve us—It is a great matter to have the soul brought to a simple reliance upon the Lord Jesus Christ for everything.
But we must live altogether by faith on Christ.
He is "Head over all things to his Church," and has all fullness of blessings treasured up in him for our use. "He is made of God unto us wisdom, and righteousness, and sanctification, and redemption;" and from him must we receive them all, that in, and by, and for all, His name may be glorified.
Nor must anything be suffered to weaken,
III. Your expectation of his future advent.
To that day there is a particular reference in the preceding context.
We are apt to lose sight of that awful day.
This is evident, from the remissness and negligence with which the things of eternity are pursued. Could we be dull and slothful with that day before our eyes?—Could the allurements or terrors of the world have any influence upon our hearts, if we knew and saw that the Judge was at the door?.
But we must stand continually in a state of preparation for it.
To wait for Christ's second coming is the habit of mind to which every believer is brought: and in proportion as it is formed in the mind, is the progress which we have made in the Divine life. We should not give way to sloth, like the foolish Virgins; but have "our loins girt, and our lamps trimmed, and ourselves as those who wait for the coming of their Lord." We should look forward with a holy longing for that day, as the termination of all our conflicts, and the consummation of all our joys—and comfort ourselves with the assured expectation that then we shall be ever with the Lord. With that period before our eyes, we shall "be diligent to be found of him in peace, without spot and blameless."
Permit me, in conclusion, to urge this matter, after the example of the Apostle in my text.
Philippians 4:5. Let your moderation be known unto all men. The Lord is at hand.
TO lay the foundation of a sinner's hope, is the first duty of a minister: but he must proceed to raise the superstructure also, even such a practice as the Gospel is intended ultimately to produce. The Apostle doubtless felt it a privilege to insist on joy in the Lord; "Rejoice in the Lord always; and again, I say, rejoice," but he felt no less the importance of inculcating the duty of moderation with respect to all the things of time and sense; since without that it would be impossible for any one to maintain that high exercise of mind which joy in the Lord imports. It is by a conformity to this latter precept, no less than by his obedience to the former, that the true Christian will be distinguished. In fact, this precept enters very deeply into the divine life: and it is only in proportion as its influence is exhibited in our lives, that we have any satisfactory evidence of our conversion to God.
That it may operate effectually on our hearts, let us consider the two parts of which it consists;
I. The duty enjoined.
The word which we translate "moderation," imports such a kind of meekness and gentleness as results from an indifference to the world, and a superiority to all the things of time and sense. Perhaps our language does not contain any word of precisely the same import: but the Apostle's meaning is sufficiently conveyed by the term that is here used. We should have a calm composed state of mind in reference to all things here below; and maintain a constant "moderation."
1. In our hopes and fears.
We are apt to magnify the importance of approaching events, and to have our feelings agitated by prospective good or evil, far beyond what they would be by the actual existence of the things foreseen. Good is regarded by us without its manifold circumstances of alloy; and evil without its attendant consolations. In reality, as it is something future that is the mainspring of action to the whole world, so it is by anticipation, rather than by actual experience, that the happiness of mankind is chiefly affected. We say not this in relation to things spiritual and eternal; for in reference to them the very reverse is true: the circumstance of their being future and invisible diminishes, and almost destroys their influence upon the mind: but in reference to things of a temporal nature it is so: upon them our imagination exerts all its energies: it paints them in colors of the liveliest or deepest hue; and draws from them by far the greatest portion of its pleasures or its pains. The man whose ambition is fired by prospects of distinction, the heir who looks forward with uncertainty to the possession of an inheritance, the lover who seeks to be assured of a reciprocity in the object of his affections, what pictures do not these persons draw of happiness, if they shall attain, or of misery, if they shall loses the object of their desire! But such extravagant feelings ill become the Christian; his desires should be curbed by a sense of the vanity of all earthly things, and their utter insufficiency to make us happy. He should commit himself, and all that pertains to him, to the disposal of an all-wise Providence: and leave it to God "to give, or to take away," as he shall see fit; prepared in either case to bless and glorify him for the dispensation. In a word, he should "be without carefulness," "casting all his care on God who cares for him." This lesson our blessed Savior teaches us in his Sermon on the Mount—and to have a practical experience of it in our souls is one of the highest attainments of the Christian.
2. In our joys and sorrows.
Though it is true, that the mass of mankind are chiefly influenced by what is future, yet there are circumstances wherein a few give up themselves altogether to their present emotions. The voluptuary imagines that he cannot drink too deep of the cup of pleasure; and the mourner, that he cannot yield too much to the anguish of his mind. Both are alike deaf to good advice: the one refuses to be counseled; the other, to be comforted. But "moderation" is the frame which best befits the Christian. He is not insensible to the feelings of humanity; nor is he forbidden to rejoice or grieve, according as the one or other of these emotions is suited to his state. But an equableness of mind is that which he should cultivate under all circumstances: he should not suffer himself to be too much elevated or depressed by present things. His joy should be in God: his sorrows should be chiefly called forth by his own short-comings and defects: and he should be so filled with a sense of the infinite importance of things eternal, as to rise superior to all the vanities of this lower world. Paul, in a few verses after the text, informs us how he was affected by the changes which he experienced: "I have learned," says he, "in whatever state I am, therewith to be content. I know both how to be abased, and I know how to abound: every-where, and in all things, I am instructed, both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need." Thus it should be with us also: we should be like men of another world, mere pilgrims and sojourners here; thankful for the accommodations which we meet with on the road; and not cast down, if we find some inconveniences; but mainly intent on our journey to a better country, and studious to improve all present circumstances so as most to advance us in our fitness for the heavenly inheritance.
3. In our spirit and conduct.
There is in mankind at large, a very undue degree of confidence, both as to the sentiments they embrace, and the line of conduct which they pursue. Every one is ready to fancy himself infallible, and to account all deceived and perverse who differ from Him. Hence arises, in the generality, a vehemence in asserting their own opinions, and an intolerance towards those who differ from them. But this disposition of mind must be studiously avoided by every true Christian. There should be in the whole of our sentiments and demeanor, a diffidence which inclines us to suspect ourselves, and a candor which disposes us to make all due allowance for others. Doubtless it becomes us to be thoroughly persuaded in our own minds, and to act agreeably to that persuasion: but still we should allow to others the same liberty which we claim for ourselves, and be content that others should think and judge for themselves, without desiring to impose upon them any restrictions of our own. How happy would it have been for the Christian world, if such moderation had obtained in the Church, from the period of its first establishment in the apostolic age! But man is a tyrant, and loves to give law to his fellow-men. Few are disposed to distinguish aright between things essential, and things indifferent. If it were said to them that contrarieties may both be right, it would appear a paradox inexplicable. But so it is, and so it is declared by God himself to be, in many things which have most divided men, and called forth against each other their bitterest invectives. The contests about observing days, or eating things offered to idols, how violent they were in the apostolic age! How severely did the weak condemn the strong! and how acrimoniously did the strong despise the weak! yet both the one and the other, so far as they acted to the Lord, were accepted of him, whether they exercised, or forbore to exercise, the liberty which they possessed. The same thing at this moment obtains among the various denominations of Christians throughout the world. It were difficult to enumerate them all; yet all are as confident of their own exclusive sentiments and habits, as if they had a special revelation from Heaven that they alone were right: and the very idea of an unity of action among them, even in things wherein they are all agreed, is by many reprobated as an unfitting indifference towards their own peculiar party. But is this the "moderation," that is productive of meekness, and gentleness, and love? No, it is a spirit most contrary to real Christianity, and most studiously to be shunned by all who would adorn their Christian profession. The true temper to be cultivated, is that of the Apostle Paul, who, "though he was free from all, became the servant of all, that he might gain the more."
Such is the duty here enjoined. Let us now consider,
II. The argument with which it is enforced.
The nearness of death and judgment is a common argument with the Apostles, in support of their various exhortations: and it is fitly applied on this occasion: for we may well be "moderate," in relation to all earthly things, when we consider how speedily the Lord is coming,
1. To terminate all the things of time and sense.
Whatever we have here below, it is but of short duration: whether we are visited with comforts or afflictions, they are all both light and momentary, and therefore unworthy of any serious regard. Let any one look back upon his past life, and see how transient have been both his pleasures and his pains: they are all passed away like a dream; and little remains of them but the bare remembrance that they once existed. Shall we then suffer our minds to be so affected with earthly vanities, as if they were to endure forever? No; we should sit loose to them, not elated by the enjoyment of them, nor depressed by their loss. This is what we are taught by infallible authority: "This I say, brethren," says the Apostle; "the time is short: it remains that both they that have wives, be as though they had none; and they that weep, as though they wept not; and they that rejoice, as though they rejoiced not; and they that buy, as though they possessed not: and they that use this world, as not abusing it: for the fashion of this world passes away."
2. To assign to each that portion which his peculiar case requires.
The end for which God sends to us a diversity of dispensations is, that we may improve them all for the good of our souls. Our improvement of the various talents committed to us will be particularly inquired into, and form the ground of the sentence that shall be passed upon us. To pass that sentence, our Lord is just ready to come: and therefore the only thing which ought materially to affect us should be, not so much the quality of the dispensations, as the improvement that we make of them. Look, for instance, at the Rich Man and Lazarus: how little remains to them of the comforts or sorrows which they experienced on earth! What is the rich man the better for all his sumptuous fare; or the poor man the worse for all his poverty and want? But the use which they made of their respective dispensations, that is now the only thing worth a thought. So it will soon be with us: the things which here appeared so important, will have altogether vanished away, and nothing will remain but responsibility for the improvement of them. I say then to all, "Set your affections on things above, and not on things on the earth," and in the prospect of your Lord's second advent to judge the world, be moderate in relation to all present things, whether pleasing or afflictive, and let it be your one concern to "be found of him in peace, without spot and blameless." Let your moderation too be so constant and abiding, that it may "be known unto all men." True it is, that moderation is not of itself calculated to attract notice: it is, in its very nature, unobtrusive and retired. But where it so prevails as to regulate the heart and life, it of necessity diffuses a holy light around us, and serves, by the contrast it exhibits, to gain the admiration of the world. Men gaze and are astonished, when they see we are not under the power of earthly things, as others are: and they are constrained on such occasions to confess the wisdom and excellence of our ways. Thus then let our moderation operate under all circumstances, whether prosperous or adverse: and then shall the efficacy of divine grace be acknowledged, and "God shall be glorified in us."
A Dissuasive from Carefulness
Philippians 4:6, 7. Be careful for nothing; but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God. And the peace of God, which passes all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.
MAN is a prospective creature: he is able to look into futurity; and to give, as it were, a present existence to future things. Indeed, it is from anticipation that his greatest joys and sorrows flow. This faculty of foresight is that which eminently distinguishes him above the rest of the creation. Other creatures equal him in actual enjoyment; but he alone can overleap thousands of intervening years, and derive pleasure or pain from the contemplation of distant events. It is to this faculty that the Scriptures are principally addressed. They set before us the final issue of present things; and declare, that our conduct in this life shall meet with a suitable recompense in the eternal world. Thus, by the hope of good and the fear of evil, they stimulate us to flee from the wrath to come, and to lay hold on eternal life.
But though this power is capable of being turned to such advantage, yet, through the corruption of our hearts, it is too generally abused. Men look only at things visible and temporal, instead of looking also at things invisible and eternal. Moreover, their expectations of future good are generally too sanguine; and their apprehensions of future evil weigh more upon their spirits than the occasion requires. Hence arises in their minds an excessive "carefulness," which it is the design of Christianity to counteract.
In the words which we have just read, we have,
I. A dissuasive from carefulness.
By "carefulness" we are not to understand, attention; for that is absolutely necessary to the discharge of our duties in the world: but we are to understand, anxiety; which, as far as it prevails, argues a state of mind that is injurious to ourselves, and displeasing to God.
The great occasions of anxiety may be reduced to three;
1. Some good desired.
Men, in different situations of life, have their hearts set upon such things, as may possibly be attained by them, and such as they imagine will conduce greatly to their happiness. Some are eagerly pressing forward to the attainment of honor: others are insatiable in their thirst for gain. Some are altogether wrapped up in an idolatrous attachment to a fellow-creature; others are disquieted, like Rachel, and Hannah, because they are disappointed in the hopes of a family.
But all such anxieties are sinful. We may desire the good things of this life: but our desire must be subordinated to the will of God: and, while we use the proper means of attaining our wishes, we must use them with an entire submission to the disposals of his Providence.
2. Some evil dreaded.
Evils foreboded, are often more painful than when actually endured. They not unfrequently press with such a weight upon the mind, as to incapacitate men for the exertions, which would serve at least to mitigate their trials, if not altogether to avert them. For instance, men are sometimes so overcome with the apprehensions of a heavy loss, that they are unable to prosecute with attention their proper business, whereby the loss, if sustained, might be in time retrieved. And it is no uncommon thing, to find men sacrificing their honor, their conscience, yes, their very hopes of salvation, in order to avert some impending calamity.
But it would not be thus, if we considered everything, even "the falling of a sparrow," as regulated by an all-wise God. We might endeavor with propriety to prevent an evil; but we should never be so intimidated by its approach, as to be driven from our dependence on God, or induced to violate our duty to him.
3. Some trouble felt.
When trouble is heavy or accumulated, whether it be from disease in our persons, or embarrassment in our circumstances, or the loss of some dear relative, how ready are we to give ourselves up to sorrow, as if our wound were incurable, and our misery irremediable! The instances are not few, wherein men are so overwhelmed by their afflictions, as to have their intellects impaired, and to be reduced to a state of mental derangement. Yes, even worse effects than these are sometimes produced by trouble: for the unhappy sufferers take refuge in suicide; and plunge their souls into Hell, to rid themselves of their temporal distresses.
We are not forbidden to give way to grief. The Savior himself wept at the tomb of his friend. But are there to be no bounds to grief? Should not our sorrow be moderated by the consideration, that the cup is put into our hands by a gracious Father, and that, if drunk in submission to his will, it shall be sanctified to our eternal good? Such excessive "sorrow" is prohibited in the text; and well it may be; since "nothing" can warrant it, and its operation is so injurious.
While the Apostle thus dissuades us from carefulness, he prescribes,
II. An antidote against it.
Prayer is no less our privilege than it is our duty.
God is ever ready to hear the prayers of his people; and he expects that we should "by prayer and supplication make our requests known to him." Not that he needs to be informed by us; for "he knows our necessities before we ask," but we ought to specify our wants, in order the more deeply to impress a consciousness of them on our own minds, and to make us duly sensible of our dependence on him, and of our obligation to him when our prayers are answered. On all occasions we should have recourse to prayer: "In everything we should make our requests to God;" in doubt, for direction, (for he will direct our paths); in difficulties, for support, (for he will give grace sufficient for use); and in wants, for supply, (for he has engaged that we shall want no manner of thing that is good). Nothing is so great but that he is ready to bestow it; nothing is so small, but that we need to ask it at his hands.
But, together with our prayers, we should always offer also thanksgivings. Our troubles are always mixed with mercies, for which we should pay unto our God a tribute of praise. A living man can have no cause to complain. While we are out of Hell, our troubles must be infinitely less than our deserts. We should therefore approach our God with gratitude for mercies received, and with a dependence on him for those we stand in need of,
This would be an effectual antidote for excessive carefulness.
If we commune only with a fellow-creature, we find some relief: but if we go to our God, he will enable us to leave ourselves to his gracious disposal, and to "cast our burden upon him." Our desires will be weakened by a submission to his will; our fears be allayed by a view of his providence; and our troubles be mitigated by the consolations of his Spirit.
This part of our subject is more fully opened by,
III. A special commendation of this antidote.
By carefulness "our heart and mind" is overwhelmed.
We have before noticed the depression of spirit which results from excessive carefulness: and there is but too much reason to believe, that many really die of a broken heart. But where the effect produced by troubles is not so great, yet the mind is dissipated by them; and the thoughts are distracted, so that we cannot exercise them upon other objects, or even fix them in prayer before God.
But by means of prayer, our hearts and minds shall be kept in peace.
None but those who have experienced it, can conceive what peace flows into the soul, when we are enabled to commit our ways to God. The heart that was agitated, becomes serene; and the thoughts that were distracted, become composed: yes, an inexpressible sweetness pervades the whole man, and turns his sorrows into an occasion of joy. "The peace of God," thus infused into the soul, "keeps," as in a garrison, both "the heart and mind;" so that if trouble seek to invade us, it can make no impression: not all the good that can be desired, nor all the evil that can be dreaded, nor all the trouble that can be felt, will be able to turn us from our God, or to retard our progress towards Heaven.
This blessing comes to us "through Christ Jesus." It is for his sake that our prayers are accepted: it is through him that peace is communicated to us in answer to them: and it is through his agency upon our souls, that this peace becomes a defense against the incursions of care. In short, from Christ Jesus this antidote derives its efficacy; and through him it shall be effectual for the ends for which it is recommended in the text.
We cannot conclude without observing,
1. How does religion contribute to men's present happiness!
Perhaps "carefulness" is a source of more trouble than all other thing's together. Yet this is taken away, in proportion as we devote ourselves to God. It is true, religion brings with it, if we may so speak, its peculiar sorrows: (not that they spring from religion, but from sin: yet in our fallen state, they certainly are attendant on the exercise of religion.) But godly sorrow is beneficial, while "the sorrow of the world works death." And, it we live near to God in prayer and praise, we shall be freed from the disquietudes which harass and distress the whole world beside; and shall dwell as in a haven of peace, while others are tossed to and fro, and are "at their wit's end," upon tempestuous billows. "Commit your works unto the Lord," says Solomon, "and your thoughts (not your ways only, but your thoughts, the most fluctuating and ungovernable of all things) shall be established."
2. What enemies to themselves are they, who live in the neglect of prayer!
If men desired no more than present happiness, they ought to be constant at a throne of grace; since it is there alone that they can get rid of their burdens, or obtain peace unto their souls. But the joys and sorrows of men are not confined to this life: they follow us into the eternal world, and abide with us forever: and that which is the appointed mean of present blessings, is also the only possible mean of everlasting happiness. The burden of guilt which lies upon us, can never be removed, but by prayer. Peace with God can never be obtained, but by prayer. And they who will not pray, voluntarily bind their own sins upon them, and reject the offered mercies of their God, Think, you prayerless people, how your conduct will appear to you at the day of judgment: "Had I prayed, my sins had been forgiven: had I prayed, I had now been happy beyond all the powers of language to express: but the time is past: prayer will not avail me now: my weeping will be fruitless; my wailing irremediable; my gnashing of teeth eternal."
O that we might all awake from our slumbers! O that we might "arise, and call upon our God!" Then should we understand the efficacy of prayer, and experience its benefits both in time and in eternity.
The Extent of a Christian's Duty
Philippians 4:8. Finally, brethren, whatever things are true, whatever things are honest, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things.
THE scope and tendency of Christianity is to ennoble the mind of man, and to restore him to his primitive dignity. If we could frame to ourselves a just idea of what Adam was, when he came out of his Maker's hands, we should see exactly the spirit and conduct to which we are to be reduced by the Gospel. The doctrines of our holy religion, excellent as they are, are of no value any further than they produce this blessed effect. They point out the way in which this change is to be wrought, and supply the only motives that can operate upon us with sufficient weight. In this view they are invariably proposed by the inspired writers, who, having stated them in their epistles, always call our attention to the practical improvement of them.
In the exhortation before us we may notice,
I. The extent of a Christian's duty.
We are at no loss to arrange the particular duties that are here enjoined, since the Apostle himself distributes them into classes:
1. Things "virtuous."
Among these "truth" is the first in nature and importance; since, without it, all the bands of society would be dissolved: there would be no such thing as confidence between man and man. Of such consequence is this esteemed in the world, that no virtues, however eminent, can supply the want of it, or render a man respectable, that is regardless of it. And so necessary is it in the eyes of God, that he will banish from him with abhorrence all who willfully violate its dictates, and admit those only to his presence whose adherence to it is strict and uniform. This therefore is in the first place to be rigidly adhered to, especially by those who are members of Christ's mystical body. It is not indeed necessary, nor would it be proper, on every occasion, to declare all we know: but we must on no account affirm, or insinuate, what is contrary to truth, either with a view to set off or to exculpate ourselves, or for the purpose of criminating or exalting another. Every species and degree of falsehood should be scrupulously avoided; and every word we utter should bear the stamp of simplicity and godly sincerity.
Next to this, and inseparably connected with it, is "justice" A Christian is to know but one rule of conduct: he is, in all his fellowship with men, to do as he would be done unto; that is, to act towards others, as he, in a change of circumstances, would think it right for them to act towards him. To be guilty of fraud in a way of traffic, or in withholding just debts, or in evading taxes, or putting off base coin, or in any other way whatever, is as inconsistent with the Christian character as adultery or murder. Whatever specious pretexts an ungodly world have invented for the justifying of fraud, no one of us approves of it when it is exercised towards himself; nor will God ever approve of it, however men may extenuate or excuse it: his word to every one of us is, "That which is altogether just shall you follow, that you may live." And "he knows how to reserve the unjust unto the day of judgment to be punished."
Besides these virtues which have respect to our words and actions, there is one that extends to our very thoughts, and that is no less necessary to be cultivated by us than either of the foregoing, namely, "purity" None are so ignorant as not to know, that they ought to restrain their passions, and have them in subjection. But it is not sufficient for a Christian to refrain from open acts of impurity; he must learn to mortify his inward desires: he is to "keep his vessel in sanctification and honor; not in the lusts of concupiscence, like those who know not God." He is the temple of the Holy Spirit, and is therefore bound to harbor no thought that may defile that temple, no desire that may grieve his Divine inhabitants. In all his words, and looks, and thoughts, he should "be pure as God is pure, and holy as God is holy."
2. Things "praise-worthy."
The fore-mentioned duties are so essential to the Christian character, that any considerable and habitual violation of them is utterly inconsistent with it. There are other duties equally necessary to be observed, but which, from the weakness of our nature, and the imperfection of our attainments, admit of greater deviations without impeaching our sincerity before God.
Among these, the things which are "honest," that is, grave, venerable, decorous, first demand our attention. A Christian should consider what becomes his age and station as a man, and his character as a disciple of Christ. It is disgusting, when people professing godliness, whether men or women, are vying with an ungodly world in dress, and show, and vain parade; in a levity of conduct; in a fondness for vain amusements. There is a gravity that befits the "man of God," who has engaged to walk in his Redeemer's steps. Not that he need to banish mirth, if it be innocent in its nature, and moderate in its degree: nor need the person of opulence to accommodate himself to the habits of a peasant in his style of living: but there is a moderation that he should carefully observe, a limit suited to his character, a bound which he should in no wise transgress.
Whatever things are "lovely," are also highly deserving the Christian's regard. There is a courtesy, a meekness, a gentleness, an affability, a modesty, in a word, an urbanity of manners, which is exceeding amiable, and which conciliates the esteem of all who behold it; this, in opposition to rudeness, and an inattention to the feelings of others, should be cultivated by all. A readiness also to sympathize with others in their distress, and to condescend to the meanest offices for their comfort and relief, and a delight in performing all the offices of love, how lovely does this appear, how worthy the pursuit of all that would honor God! To this also may be added a candor in judging, a patience in enduring, a tenderness in forgiving, a liberality in bestowing; an assemblage of such graces as these is the brightest ornament of a child of God; and, as we all admire them when exemplified in others, we should make it our daily study to illustrate them in our own conduct.
Further still, there are many things that are "of good report," in which also it should be our ambition to excel. A noble unselfishness of mind, that rises superior to all selfish considerations, and consults the public good, is an attainment which the heathens themselves accounted most truly honorable. With this we may rank a nobleness in the ends which we seek to accomplish, a wisdom in the means whereby we labor to effect our purpose, a discretion in the manner of employing those means, a due consideration of all circumstances of time and place, a willingness to yield in things indifferent, and a firmness in maintaining what we consider to be right and necessary; a happy combination of these will not fail to exalt a character in the eyes of men, and to procure us respect from those who know how to appreciate such rare endowments. These therefore, with whatever else ensures to men a reputation for magnanimity, or goodness of heart, (provided it be good and proper in itself) we should pursue with ardor, and practice with constancy.
Passing over many other excellencies, such as diligence, contentment, friendship, gratitude, with numberless others to which the Christian's duty extends, let us proceed to notice,
II. The importance of it.
The manner in which the Apostle inculcates these things, very strongly marks his sense, at least, of their importance. His distinct enumeration of so many things, his comprehending of them all a second time under the extensive description of things virtuous and laudable; and lastly, the energetic manner in which he recommends them to our attention and regard, all prove, that he was extremely solicitous to impress our minds with a sense of our duty, and to secure to his exhortation the attention it deserves.
Let us then consider how important the observance of our duty in these respects is,
1. To ourselves.
We have no better test of our sincerity before God than this. Our having embraced new tenets, however just those tenets may be, will not prove that our hearts are right with God: nor will an outward reformation of our conduct suffice to establish our pretensions to true conversion; there must be an uniformity and consistency in our endeavors to serve God: there must be no virtues so small, as to seem unworthy of our attention, or so great, as to discourage us in the pursuit of them. We must never think we have attained anything, as long as there remains anything which we have not attained.
There is nothing that can more conduce to our present happiness than this. Self-government, next to the immediate enjoyment of the Divine presence, is the sublimest source of happiness in this world. Let anything that comes under the description before mentioned, be considered in all its bearings and effects, and it will be found highly conducive to the comfort of our own minds, and to the happiness of all around us. Abstracted from the consideration of any future recompense, "the work of righteousness is peace, and the effect of righteousness is quietness and assurance forever."
Moreover it tends to increase in our souls a fitness for Heaven. By virtuous actions we attain virtuous habits; and by virtuous habits a conformity to God's image: and our conformity to God in holiness is that which alone constitutes our fitness for glory. Should we not therefore be endeavoring daily to get every lineament of the Divine image engraved on our souls? Should not the hope of growing up into Christ's likeness be an incentive to continual and increased exertions in the way of duty? Need we, or can we have, any greater stimulus than this?
2. To the Church.
By this alone can we silence the objections of her adversaries. In every age the adversaries have vented their calumnies against the Church, as though all her members were hypocrites, and their seeming piety were a cloak, for some hidden abominations. They have also represented her doctrines as visionary and enthusiastic, yes, as calculated to subvert the foundations of morality, and to open the floodgates of licentiousness. But when they see a holy and consistent conduct, the joint effect of piety and wisdom, they are constrained to shut their mouths, and to confess that God is with us of a truth.
By this also do all her members contribute greatly to their mutual edification and endearment. It is with Christ's mystical body as it is with our natural bodies: when every member performs its proper office, and supplies its proper nutriment, all the parts are kept in activity and vigor, and the whole is confirmed and strengthened. Let any of the graces before mentioned be neglected, and disunion will proportionably ensue. Moreover, those members that are most defective in their duty, will most discover a consequent languor and decay. Whereas, the members that are indefatigable in the exercise of these graces, will "make their profiting to appear," and be enabled to withstand the assaults of all their enemies. The former will be a source of trouble and disquietude to the Church; the latter, of harmony and peace.
3. To the world around us.
There is nothing else so likely to fix conviction on the minds of sinners. The ungodly world will not learn religion from the Bible; nor will listen to it as enforced in the discourses of God's faithful ministers. But they cannot shut their eyes against the light of a holy life. Paul's epistles are known and read of few: but godly men are "the epistles of Christ, known and read of all men," and many who would not regard the written word, have been won by their godly conversation.
On the other hand, there is nothing that hardens sinners so much as an inconsistent conduct in the professors of religion. If a saint fall through temptation, or a hypocrite discover his hypocrisy; instantly the world cry out, "There, there, so would we have it." Nor are they satisfied with condemning the individual offenders; they immediately reflect on the whole body of Christians, as hypocrites alike: yes, and blaspheme that adorable Savior whose religion they profess. Thus do they confirm their prejudices against the truth, and justify themselves in their rejection of the Gospel. If then the rescuing of our fellow-creatures from perdition, or the contributing to involve them in it, be so connected with our conduct, of what importance must it be so to demean ourselves, that we may adorn our holy profession, and recommend the Gospel to their favorable acceptance!
"Think then upon these things." Think of their nature, that you may be apprised of their extent: think of their obligation, that you may be aware of their importance: think of their difficulty, that you may obtain help from your God: think of their excellency, that you may be stirred up to abound in them: and think of their complicated effects on the world around you, that you may make your light to shine before men, and that others, beholding it, may glorify your Father that is in Heaven.
Paul an Example for Us
Philippians 4:9. Those things, which you have both learned, and received, and heard, and. seen in me, do: and the God of peace shall be with you.
NO man was ever move averse to boasting than the Apostle Paul: and, when compelled to declare what God had done in him or by him, he appeared to himself "a fool," for uttering it; though he was conscious that he acted, not from choice, but from absolute and indispensable necessity. But, in truth, what might be called boasting in an uninspired man, was not deserving of that name in him; because he knew that he had been raised up by God, to be an instructor to mankind, both in his doctrines and example. Hence he not only affirmed, that "his word was the word, not of man, but of God;" but exhorted men to "be followers and imitators of him," "even as he was of Christ." In the chapter preceding our text, he speaks strongly to this effect: "Brethren, be followers together of me, and mark them who walk so, as you have us for an example." Nor did he confine his exhortation to a reception of his doctrines merely: he suggested the same in reference to his conduct also. He was a great advocate for practical religion; and urged on his Philippian converts a diligent attention to "everything which was true, and honest, and just, and pure, and lovely, and of good report," and then, in reference both to his precepts and example, he added, "Those things which you have both learned and received, and heard and seen in me, do; and the God of peace shall be with you."
To enforce this exhortation, I will set before you,
I. The lessons he has taught us.
Of course, I can speak of these but in a very general and superficial way. Your time would not suffice for a full consideration of them; nor does my present subject require more than a brief notice of what he inculcated as due,
1. To God.
It was not "a divided heart" that he called on men to offer to their God and Savior: he taught them to surrender up themselves as living sacrifices to him; and to be as entirely devoted to him, as a victim is when offered upon the altar. As for our own ease, pleasure, interest, he would not have us consult them for a moment, in comparison of, and still less in opposition to, the will of God: "No man," says he, "lives to himself, and no man dies to himself: for, whether we live, we live unto the Lord; and whether we die, we die unto the Lord: whether we live therefore, or die, we are the Lord's: for to this end Christ both died, and rose, and revived, that he might be the Lord both of the dead and living." And this duty he binds upon us by the strongest of all obligations, even that of redeeming love, which it were most criminal to resist: "You are not your own: you are bought with a price: therefore glorify God with your body and your spirit, which are God's." He would have the whole spirit, soul, and body, sanctified unto the Lord."
2. To man.
This duty, also, is co-extensive with the former, only in subordination to God, and with a view to his glory. There is nothing which we are not to do for man, nor anything which we are not willingly to suffer for him, if only we may be instrumental to the promoting of his spiritual and eternal welfare. And the Apostle inculcates this with the same precision and force as the former: "Look not every man on his own things, but every man also on the things of others." (We are to forget self, with a view to his benefit, as much as we are with a view to God's glory.) "Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus; who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God; but made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of man: and being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross." Did our blessed Lord, who was God equal with the Father, empty himself of all his glory, and suffer the most excruciating torments, for the salvation of men? There is nothing, then, which we also should not be ready either to do or suffer for the welfare of their souls.
It may however be asked, What are we to do, if they become our enemies, and seek to destroy us? I answer, Contend with them: if they will fight, so do you fight: and the more they exert themselves, the greater let your efforts be also. Only remember, that your weapon must not be like theirs: They fight with evil; but you must have no weapon but good. Nor must you ever yield to them; but to your latest hour, and with your latest breath, you must keep up the conflict, even as the first martyr Stephen did. This is Paul's own direction, "Be not overcome of evil; but overcome evil with good."
Such are the duties which Paul inculcates: and this view of them will lead us to notice,
II. The example he has set us.
As, in his Epistle to Timothy, Paul says, "You have fully known my doctrine, and manner of life;" so he here refers the Philippians, first, to what they had "learned and received from him;" and then, to what they had "heard and seen in him."
1. What, then, were his principles?
They were precisely and practically such as he had inculcated on others. Did he enjoin on others to be dead to the world, and to self? Hear what he declares to have been his own experience; "I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live: yet not I, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh, I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me." Yes, so entirely was he under the constrained sense of redeeming love, that he shuddered at the very thought of glorying in anything but the cross of Christ," and more especially because, "through the influence of that, the whole world was crucified unto him, as he also was unto the world."
2. With these his whole life was in perfect unison.
Nothing could abate his zeal for God. Not all the trials which human nature is capable of sustaining could move him in the least: he counted not life itself dear to him, if he were called to sacrifice it for righteousness' sake: on the contrary, he was ready to suffer bonds, or death, at any time, and in any way, for the honor of his Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Nor were there any bounds to his love to man. He panted for the salvation of all men, and especially of those who were "his brethren according to the flesh," and, when he could not prevail on them to embrace the Gospel which he offered to them, he called God to witness what grief their obduracy occasioned him: "I say the truth in Christ, I lie not, my conscience also bearing me witness in the Holy Spirit, that I have great heaviness, and continual sorrow in my heart, for my brethren's sake." Still more, for the prosperity of his converts he was so anxious, that his whole soul was, as it were, enrapt up in them: "Now I live, if you stand fast in the Lord." And so far was he from regretting anything that he suffered for their sake, that he accounted such sufferings his privilege, his honor, his happiness: "If," says he, "I be offered upon the sacrifice and service of your faith, I joy and rejoice with you all: for the same cause do you also joy and rejoice with me."
And, now, who can doubt,
III. The blessedness of taking him for our model?
Doubtless here is a high standard for us to aim at: but no lower standard can possibly be admitted. What, if we cannot attain to the eminence of Paul? we should not willingly rest in anything short of it; or, if we had even attained to it, we should, like him, press forward for still higher attainments, that, if possible, we might be "pure as Christ himself was pure," and "perfect even as our Father who is in Heaven is perfect." And to this we are encouraged by Paul, who says, "Those things which you have learned and received, and heard and seen in me, do; and the God of peace shall be with you." Now, it is certainly true, that if we aspire thus after universal holiness, God will be with us,
1. In a way of special manifestation.
He assumes the endearing name of "the God of peace," as he does elsewhere of "the God of love and peace," and under this character will he reveal himself to his obedient people. Yes, "great peace shall they have who love his law," "a perfect peace," "a peace that passes all understanding." What terms would suffice to give any adequate idea of "the love of God shed abroad in the heart," and of "the light of his reconciled countenance lifted up upon the soul?" You would in vain attempt to convey to a person who had all his days been immured in a dark dungeon, a just conception of the splendor and influence of the meridian sun: how then can the feeble language of mortality describe the action of Almighty God upon the soul, which he deigns to visit with his more immediate presence? Suffice it however to say, that such visits are realized in the souls of God's faithful people; and that "both the Father and the Son will come down to them, and dwell in them, and make their abode with them," and turn their very souls into the sanctuary of the Most High.
2. In a way of effectual support.
Persons who resemble the Apostle Paul in their spirit and conduct will be sure to resemble him, in some degree at least, in his trials and afflictions. It is not possible but that those who love darkness rather than light, should hate such lights as these. In truth the more bright a man's light shines before an ungodly world, the more must he expect to be hated, reviled, and persecuted, even as our incarnate God himself was, during the time of his sojourning on earth: for "the servant cannot be above his Lord," and "if they called the Master of the house of Beelzebub, much more will they those of his household." But, need the godly indulge any fears on that account? No; for "greater is be He who is in them, than he who is in the world." Men may assault you with all their might: but it may be confidently asked, "Who is he who shall harm you, if you be followers of that which is good?" Men may keep all human aid from you: but who can intercept the visits of your God? Hear his own express promise, given for your encouragement and support: "Fear you not, for I am with you; be not dismayed; for I am your God: I will strengthen you; yes, I will help you; yes, I will uphold you with the right hand of my righteousness." And then, lest a sense of your own weakness, and of the overbearing power of your enemies, should discourage you, he adds, "Fear not, you worm Jacob: I will make you a new sharp threshing instrument, having teeth; and you shall thresh the mountains." Yes truly, "if God be for you, who can be against you?"
3. In a way of complete and everlasting fruition.
"Whom God loves, he loves to the end," and if he be with us as a God of peace in this world, he will be with us under the same endearing character to all eternity. What he said to Abraham personally, he says to all the children of Abraham: "Fear not; I am your shield, and your exceeding great reward." The present state of the Church, with all her privileges and blessings, is only a prelude to, and a preparation for, a state of far higher blessedness; as John expressly informs us: "I, John, saw the holy city, New Jerusalem, coming down from God out of Heaven, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a great voice out of Heaven, saying, Behold, the Tabernacle of God is with men; and he will dwell with them, and they shall be his people; and God himself shall be with them, and be their God." "Then will all trials, of whatever kind, have passed away," and their bliss be absolutely perfect: "the sun itself shall be no more their light by day, neither for brightness shall the moon give light unto them; but the Lord himself shall be to them an everlasting light, and their God their glory."
1. The lukewarm Christian.
How unlike are you to the Apostle Paul! Should not this very circumstance make you tremble for your state? How could you venture, even in the most qualified manner, to address those who have witnessed your life and conversation in terms resembling those which Paul used in my text? You have not the divine presence even with your own soul. You know not what it is to have God with you as "a God of peace;" manifesting himself to you, and filling you with his consolations. If you were to address any as the Apostle did, your own conscience would remonstrate with you, as a deceiver, and an enemy both to God and man. So far from God approving of your state, he speaks of it in such terms of abhorrence as modern delicacy almost forbids one to repeat. I pray you, brethren, rest not in a state so fatal to yourselves, and so injurious to all around you. The very circumstance of your having some little regard for God, is that which is most likely to deceive yourselves and all around you. Awake, I pray you, from your delusion, lest you perish under the accumulated guilt of dishonoring God more than any professedly ungodly men can do; and of betraying, to their eternal ruin, multitudes, who fix on you for their standard and example.
2. Those who desire to approve themselves truly unto God.
Fix your standard high: take the Holy Scriptures for your guide; and the Apostle Paul as second only to Christ himself for your example. Be not afraid of being "righteous overmuch," provided only that you are righteous in a proper manner. You can never love God too much: nor can you ever love man too much, provided you love him in subserviency to God. Methinks you may advance far beyond what you have already attained, before you will equal the Apostle Paul: and if at this moment you even equaled him, you would still be far from having already attained the perfection at which you should aim. Study then his character; mark it in its sublimest traits; and follow it in the whole of your life and conversation. Let his principles be yours; his spirit yours; his conduct yours. This is the way to honor God, and to be happy in your own souls: and "if you do these things, you shall never fall, but shall have an entrance ministered unto you abundantly into the kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ."
Philippians 4:11, 12. I have learned, in whatever state I am, therewith to be content. I know both how to be abased, and I know how to abound: everywhere and in all things I am instructed, both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need.
ST. PAUL was by no means addicted to boasting. But there were occasions whereon it was necessary for him to declare the secret workings of his heart, in order that he might prevent a misinterpretation of his words, or a misapprehension of his designs. He commends the Philippians for the care which they had taken of him, and the kind attention they had shown him, during his imprisonment at Rome, But, fearful lest he should be understood as complaining of his necessities when immured in a prison, or as wishing, on his own account, a continuance of their attentions, he tells them, that "he had learned, in whatever state he was, therewith to be content," and, in the fullness of his heart, he expatiates upon this idea, as though he would recommend to all persons, in this respect, to follow his example.
Let me, then,
I. State to you the experience of Paul.
In unfolding it, I would entreat you particularly to notice,
1. The invaluable lesson he had learned.
Greatly diversified had been his states; but "in all, he had learned to be content." The word which we translate "content" comprehends much more than a mere quiescent state of mind. The term "self-sufficient," if it did not convey to an English reader a wrong idea, would more exactly express the import of the original. The Apostle had within himself that which was abundantly sufficient for him, even though he should be reduced to the utmost possible state of destitution, so far as related to the things of this life. He was possessed of all that man could desire: he had God as his Father, Christ as his Savior, the Holy Spirit as his Comforter, and Heaven as his home. What could he want more? What could he desire, that could add to this? or what could he lose, that could detract from this? This which he had within him was altogether out of the reach of men or devils. The Holy Spirit was within him "a well of water, springing up into everlasting life;" so that he enjoyed the utmost composure of mind, assured that nothing could impoverish him, nothing hurt him, nothing disturb the tranquility that he enjoyed.
2. The vast proficiency he had attained in it.
At some seasons, he abounded with all that even a carnal mind could wish: but at other seasons he was exposed to as heavy trials as humanity could well sustain. "He was in labors more abundant than any of the Apostles, in stripes above measure, in prisons more frequent, in deaths oft. Of the Jews, five times received he forty stripes save one; thrice was he beaten with rods; once was he stoned; thrice he suffered shipwreck; a night and a day he was in the deep; in journeyings often, in perils of waters, in perils of robbers, in perils by his own countrymen, in perils by the heathen, in perils in the city, in perils in the wilderness, in perils in the sea, in perils among false brethren; in weariness and painfulness, in watchings often, in. hunger and thirst, in fastings often, in cold and nakedness; besides those things that are without, that which came upon him daily, the care of all the Churches." Now all this, I think, may be said to have put his principle to a severe trial. And did he still preserve his equanimity? still feel contentment under all? Yes, under all. "Nothing could move him." The internal support he felt, from a consciousness that he was under the Divine care, and executing the Divine will, and advancing the Divine glory, upheld him under all circumstances, and far more than counterbalanced all his sufferings. In all this he was "instructed," or, as the word means, initiated, as into a deep mystery. It was from an insight into the mystery of the Gospel that he gained this extraordinary and invaluable grace. From this mystery he acquired the knowledge of God as reconciled to him in Christ Jesus, and as engaged for him to supply his every want both in time and eternity. No other instruction could ever have produced such effects: but the knowledge of this mystery was quite adequate to the occasion, and perfectly sufficient to form his soul to these high attainments. "He was thus crucified to the world by the cross of Christ."
Having traced the Apostle's experience, let me,
II. Commend it to your imitation.
What an enviable state was his! Let me recommend it you,
1. As a reasonable state.
This perfect contentment with our every lot is reasonable, irrespective of all the great mysteries of the Gospel. For, what would our condition have long since been, if God had dealt with us according to our deserts? We should "not have had so much as a drop of water to cool our tongues." Who can reflect one moment upon this, and repine at any lot which he may receive on this side the grave? What! "a living man complain! a man for the punishment of his sins!" especially when he considers what an infinitely worse portion he merits, and from which there could never be, as now there may, a deliverance, with a transition to the realms of bliss! But, I suppose you to have been admitted into the school of Christ. I suppose you to be a partaker of his salvation. Tell me then—possessing, as you do, the unsearchable riches of Christ, and looking forward, as you do, to the speedy and everlasting enjoyment of all the glory of heaven—does it become you to regard as of any great importance the things of time and sense? See the Apostle in prison, his feet fast in the stocks, and his back torn with scourges; and yet his soul so full of joy, that he is singing praises to God at midnight: and will yon not be ashamed to complain of your minor sorrows? Or rather, see the Son of God himself, impoverishing himself to enrich you, and welcoming death itself in order to advance you to everlasting life: see him, I say, enduring to the end; When, if it had pleased him, more than twelve legions of angels would have come to rescue him from His sufferings; and will you complain of anything which you may suffer for him? Me thinks you feel, every one of you, that the most perfect contentment is that which becomes you under every state, to which, by any possibility, you may be reduced.
2. As a blessed state.
The corporeal pain which men endure in this life is nothing in comparison of the mental. Let the spirit of a man be at ease, and it will enable him to bear any bodily infirmity whatever. On the other hand, no accumulation of wealth or honor or sensual gratifications can sustain a man whose heart and spirit are oppressed. Suppose two angels sent from Heaven to execute for a season two different offices on earth; the one to rule a kingdom, the other to sweep the streets: would they not be equally happy, in doing the work assigned them? Let their places then be changed: would the one be inordinately pleased with his elevation, or the other be unduly grieved at his depression? Assuredly not. In whichever state they were, they should remember "whose they were, and whom they were serving," and what blessedness awaited them the very instant they had performed their destined work; and, possessed of this sufficiency within, they would be unmoved by anything without, and would have in perfection the grace described in my text. Thus, in proportion as we are initiated into the great mystery of the Gospel, will this equanimity prevail in us; and under all circumstances will "our souls be kept in perfect peace." A manner, knowing the soundness of his vessel, and the skill of him who is at the helm, does not tremble at the gale which is sent to bear him to his destined home. No; he spreads his sails, and, though tossed upon the waves, anticipates with joy the issue of his voyage, and the rest which he will attain in the bosom of his friends. This blessedness, then, will attend you, my brethren, if once you learn the sublime lesson which is here taught you in my text. You shall find, indeed, that "godliness with contentment is great gain."
3. As an honorable state.
Who does not see how greatly the Gospel is honored, in producing such an experience as this? Yes, and God himself too is honored by it, in that such is the fruit which invariably proceeds from the Gospel of his dear Son. In this state, man is assimilated to God himself. Behold our incarnate God! Behold him on Mount Tabor in his transfiguration, or in his triumphant entry into Jerusalem amidst the hosannahs of the populace, and you find in him no undue elation of mind: or view him in the garden of Gethsemane, or in the hall of Pilate, or when suspended on the cross, you see in him no undue depression. He drank with composure the cup which God had put into his hands; saying, "Not my will, but your be done." Religion does not divest men of the feelings of humanity; but moderates, directs, and perfects them. It leaves us at liberty to deprecate sufferings, provided we do it in submission to the Divine will: but, at the same time, it so elevates us above them, as to render them incapable of diverting us from the service of our God, or of retarding us in our progress heaven-ward. Philosophical principles have effected much to compose the minds of sufferers: but it is the Gospel alone which gives effectual power so to rise above the things of time and sense, as to possess, under all circumstances, the contentment spoken of in our text.
But you will naturally ask. How am I to "learn" this lesson? I answer,
1. Apply to God for the influences of his Holy Spirit.
It is, as I have said, the knowledge of Christ crucified, and that alone, that can ever fill the soul and render it superior to all earthly things. But who can give you that knowledge? It is the office of "the Holy Spirit to take of the things of Christ, and to reveal them unto us." None but he call "open the eyes of our understanding," none but he can "guide us into all truth," nor can any but he renew our souls after the Divine image—Pray then to God for the gift of his Holy Spirit: and, if you yourselves would not mock your child with giving him a stone when he asked for bread, much less will God mock you, by refusing to impart to you this gift, in which all good things for time and for eternity are contained.
2. Contemplate the fullness which is treasured up for you in Christ Jesus.
"It has pleased the Father, that in Christ should all fullness dwell," and for you is it treasured there, that "you may receive out of it" according to your necessities. Hence then, if you have believed in Christ, you are authorized to say, "All things are mine, since I am Christ's." And if all things are yours, whether "things present, or things to come," what can you lack? or what ground can you have for discontent? Only get clear views of Christ as your righteousness and strength, and you will be at no loss for the attainment which your soul desires.
3. Survey the glory that is reserved for you in Heaven.
What does it matter to a traveler, if his accommodations, where he stops but a few minutes, be not exactly such as he could wish? Can they carry me forward to my destined home? will be his main inquiry: and if he find that he can attain his wishes in this respect, he will not lay to heart the little inconveniences which he is to sustain for so short a time. The comforts which he shall enjoy at home occupy his mind; and the very discomforts of the way endear to him the end, and make him look forward to it with augmented zest. Let it then be thus with you, my brethren: you are only pilgrims and sojourners here: and, if you dwell with blessed anticipations on your eternal rest, you will become indifferent to the accommodations of the way; and, according to the grace given to you, will be enabled to say, "I have learned, in whatever state I am, therewith to be content."
Extent and Source of the Christian's Power
Philippians 4:13. I can do all things through Christ which strengthens me.
THERE are in the sacred writings many various, and apparently opposite, representations of the Christian's state: he is mournful, yet happy; sinful, yet holy; weak, yet possessed of a derived omnipotence. These paradoxes are incomprehensible to the world at large: but the solution of them is easy to those who know what man is by nature, and what he is by grace, and what are the effects which flow from the contrary and contending principles of flesh and spirit. Nothing can be more incredible, at first sight, than the assertion in the former part of our text: but, when qualified and explained by the latter part, it is both credible and certain: yes, it presents to our minds a most encouraging and consoling truth.
In elucidating this passage, we shall show,
I. The extent of a Christian's power.
Using only such a latitude of expression as is common in the Holy Scriptures, we may say concerning every true Christian, that he can,
1. Endure all trials.
In following his Divine Master, he may be called to suffer reproaches, privations, torments, and death itself. But "none of these can move him." When his heart is right with God, he can "rejoice that he is counted worthy to suffer shame for his Redeemer's sake," he can "suffer the loss of all things, and yet count them but dung;" under extreme torture, he can refuse to accept deliverance, in the prospect of "a better resurrection," he can say, "I am ready to die for the Lord's sake;" and when presented at the stake as a sacrifice to be slain, he can look upon his sufferings as a matter of self-congratulation and exceeding joy.
2. Mortify all lusts.
Great are his inward corruptions; and many are the temptations to call them forth: but he is enabled to mortify and subdue them. "The lust of the flesh, the lust of the eye, and the pride of life," are very fascinating: but "the grace of God, which has brought salvation to his soul, has taught him to deny them all, and to live righteously, soberly, and godly in this present world." "By the great and precious promises of the Gospel, he is made a partaker of the Divine nature," and is stirred up to "cleanse himself from all filthiness, both of flesh and spirit, and to perfect holiness in the fear of God."
3. Fulfill all duties.
Every different situation brings with it some correspondent duties: prosperity demands humility and vigilance; adversity calls for patience and contentment. Now the Christian is "like a tree that is planted by the rivers of water, and brings forth its fruits in its season." It is to this change of circumstances that the Apostle more immediately refers in the text: "I have learned," says he, "in whatever state I am, therewith to be content. I know both how to be abased, and I know how to abound: everywhere, and in all things, I am instructed, both to be full, and to be hungry; both to abound, and to suffer need. I can do all things." The Christian knows that all his duties are summed up in love to God, and love to man: he is assured, that no changes in his condition can for one moment relax his obligation to approve himself to God in the execution of these duties: and he endeavors to avail himself of every wind that blows, to get forward in his Christian course.
But in reference to all the foregoing points, we must acknowledge, that all Christians are not equally advanced; nor does any Christian so walk as not to show, at some time or other, that "he has not yet attained, nor is altogether perfect." We must be understood therefore as having declared, rather what the Christian "can do," than what he actually does in all instances. "In many things he still offends;" but he aspires after the full attainment of this proper character: in the performance of his duties, he aims at universality in the matter, uniformity in the manner, and perfection in the measure of them.
The Christian's power being so extraordinary, we may well inquire after,
II. The source from whence he derives it.
The Christian in himself is altogether destitute of strength.
If we consult the Scripture representations of him, we find that he is "without strength," and even "dead in trespasses and sins." Nor, after he is regenerate, has he any more power that he can call his own; for "in him, that is, in his flesh, dwells no good thing."
If our Lord's assertion may be credited, "without him we can do nothing;" we are like branches severed from the vine.
If the experience of the most eminent Apostle will serve as a criterion, he confessed, that he "had not of himself a sufficiency even to think a good thought; his sufficiency was entirely of God."
His power even to do the smallest good is derived from Christ.
"It has pleased the Father, that in Christ should all fullness dwell," and that "out of his fullness all his people should receive." It is he who "strengthens us with all might by his Spirit in the inner man," it is he who "gives us both to will and to do." If we are "strong in any degree, it is in the Lord, and in the power of his might." Whatever we do, we must give him the glory of it, saying, "I live; yet not I, but Christ lives in mea," "I have labored; yet not I, but the grace of God which was with me," "by the grace of God I am what I am."
Nor is it by strength once communicated, that we are strong; but from continual communications of grace from the same overflowing fountain. It is not through Christ who has strengthened, but who does strengthen us, that we can do all things. We need fresh life from him, in order to the production of good fruit; exactly as we need fresh light from the sun, in order to a prosecution of the common offices of life. One moment's intermission of either, would instantly produce a suspension of all effective industry.
From that source he receives all that he can stand in need of.
Christ is not so prodigal of his favors, as to confer them in needless profusion: he rather apportions our strength to the occasions that arise to call it forth. He bids us to renew our applications to him; and, in answer to them, imparts "grace sufficient for use." There are no limits to his communications: however "wide we open our mouth, he will fill it." He is "able to make all grace abound towards us, that we, having always all-sufficiency in all things, may abound unto every good work," he is ready to "do for us exceeding abundantly above all that we can ask or think." "If only we believe, all things shall be possible unto us," we shall be "able to quench all the fiery darts of the devil," and "be more than conquerors over all the enemies of our souls."
The uses to which we may apply this subject, are,
1. The conviction of the ignorant.
Many, when urged to devote themselves to God, reply, that we require more of them than they can do; and that it is impossible for them to live according to the Scriptures. But what ground can there be for such an objection? Is not Christ ever ready to assist us? Is not Omnipotence pledged for our support? Away with your excuses then, which have their foundation in ignorance, and their strength in sloth. Call upon your Savior; and he will enable you to "stretch forth your withered hand," at his command, the dead shall arise out of their graves; and the bond-slaves of sin and Satan shall be "brought into the liberty of the children of God."
2. The encouragement of the weak.
A life of godliness cannot be maintained without constant watchfulness and strenuous exertion. And there are times when "even the youths faint and are weary, and the young men utterly fall," But "if we wait upon our God we shall certainly renew our strength, and mount up with wings as eagles." If we look "to Him on whom our help is laid," the experience of David shall be ours: "In the day when I cried, you answered me, and strengthened me with strength in my soul." Let not any difficulties then discourage us. "Let the weak say, I am strong;" and the stripling go forth with confidence against Goliath. Let us "be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus," and "his strength shall assuredly be perfected in our weakness."
All Needful Supplies Through Christ
Philippians 4:19. My God shall supply all your need according to his riches in glory by Christ Jesus.
AS it is a pleasing reflection to a generous man, that the object whom he relieves will have his condition meliorated, so is it a most delightful thought to a grateful mind, that there is One both able and engaged to recompense our benefactors. Were it not for this consideration, the reluctance which many feel to be burdensome to their friends, would scarce suffer them to accept the most needful assistances: but this hope both enhances the value, and gives zest to the enjoyment, of every kindness we receive. Such was the Apostle's experience, when his necessities had been relieved by the Philippian Church: he would have been well content to have wanted their present, as far as it related to his own comfort; but, as it was profitable to the donors themselves, he "desired fruit that might abound to their account." Having declared on what grounds he was so well pleased with their gifts, he assured them, that God would be mindful of all their wants, and abundantly supply them in the hour of need.
To enter fully into the scope of his words, we should inquire,
I. When are we authorized to call God our God?
It is not every claim that presumptuous sinners take upon them to advance, that will be found authorized in the Holy Scriptures; for our Lord himself assured many that Satan was their father, at the very time that they called themselves the children of God. But we may justly consider God as standing in this relation to us,
1. When we are born again of his Spirit?
While we continue in our natural state, we are enemies to God, and God is an enemy to us; but when we are begotten by the word and Spirit of God, we are privileged to consider ourselves as his children, and to cry to him, "Abba, Father."
2. When we have devoted ourselves to his service?
If we would know "whose we are," we must inquire, "whom we serve;" for "to whoever we yield ourselves servants to obey, his servants we are, whom we obey." If our consciences testify that we have solemnly dedicated ourselves to God, we may boldly say with David, "O God, you are my God." We may be sure that our "Beloved is ours, when we (by a voluntary surrender of ourselves to him,) are his."
When this point is satisfactorily settled in our minds, we may with more comfort inquire,
II. To what extent we may expect communications from him?
That God who pours out his benefits upon the evil and unthankful, is far more abundant in kindness towards his own children. He will give us,
1. According to our necessities.
If we desire temporal things, "we shall want no manner of thing that is good;" if spiritual blessings be sought after, there is not anything we can need, which shall not be bestowed upon us in the time and measure that Infinite Wisdom sees to be best for us. Are we wretched and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked? He will both suit his gifts to our necessities; and make the very depth of our misery the measure of his own mercy.
2. According to the riches of his own grace.
Let us survey all the tokens of his bounty on earth, and contemplate all the expressions of his love in Heaven; let us go farther, and consider the incomprehensible fullness of all the good that is in him as the fountain; and then shall we find the true measure of his liberality to his children. If any partake of his goodness in a lower degree, it is, "not because they are straitened in him, but because they are straitened in their own affections."
That none may lose these blessings through ignorance, we proceed to state
III. By what channel they shall be conveyed to us.
With man in innocence God communed face to face: but, whatever he bestows upon us in our fallen state, he communicates it,
1. Through Christ as our mediator.
"God in himself is a consuming fire;" nor is it possible for us to approach him but through Jesus our mediator. Neither our piety towards him, nor our liberality towards his saints, can render him our debtor, (yes, rather, the more we do for him, the more we are indebted to him); if we receive anything from God, it must come as the purchase of Christ's blood, and as the consequence of his prevailing intercession.
2. By Christ as our head.
It is "in Christ that all fullness dwells." He has "received gifts for the rebellious," and imparts them to whoever he will: and it is "out of his fullness that we must receive." He is the head of the Church, and his people are his members; and as every member is nourished by its union with the head, so it is by grace derived from him that we are to increase with the increase of God.
This important subject may teach us,
1. Contentment in ourselves.
What cause can he possibly have for discontent, who has God for his God, and an express promise that all his need shall be supplied? God has not only engaged to give his people whatever they need, but on many occasions has interposed in a miraculous manner to fulfill his word. And, rather than violate his truth in any instance, he would feed them with bread from Heaven, and water from a rock; he would make the ravens to bring them meat, or their barrel and cruse to supply them with an undiminished store. He has said that "the needy shall not always be forgotten, nor the expectation of the poor perish forever." What if we have not all that flesh and blood might desire? shall we repine? Surely we should say with the Apostle, "I have learned, in whatever state I am, therewith to be content." We are like minors at present, and limited to the measure which our Father sees best for us: but in due time we shall receive the full inheritance. Shall persons so circumstanced give way to discontent? No, though poor as Lazarus, they should account themselves truly rich.
2. Liberality to others.
God condescends to acknowledge all that is given by us in charity as "lent to himself;" and he pledges himself to "repay it." He even prescribes the honoring of him with our first-fruits, as the means of securing to ourselves an abundant harvest, and of laying up in store a good foundation against the time to come, that we may lay hold on eternal life. We must not indeed suppose that our alms-deeds can merit anything at the hand of God. Nevertheless, if they be a free-will offering, they are "an odor to him, and a sacrifice of a sweet-smelling savor." Let then the bounty of God to us, whether experienced or expected, be a motive for liberality to our fellow-creatures. And let us gladly of our abundance minister to their necessities, that God in all things may be glorified through Christ Jesus.
3. Devotedness to God.
Has God given himself to us as our God, and shall not we give ourselves to him as his people? Does God grudge us no blessing which he can give, and shall we grudge him any service which we can render? Are his powers the only limit to his exertions for us, and shall we know any other limit to our zeal for him? Does he do such wonders for us for Christ's sake, and shall not we labor for Christ's sake to honor him? Yes, "the love of Christ shall constrain us" to live for him, and the mercies of God to us be the measure of the services which we shall yield to him.