Sutcliffe's Commentary on the Old and New Testaments
Philippians 1:1. Paul and Timotheus. The latter is associated as a fellow-labourer, and an apostolic man with himself. They had together planted churches, at the hazard of their lives, and their labours entitled them to great honour. Hence we find the name of Sosthenes, and Silvanus, connected with that of Timothy, in writing to the Thessalonians. 1 Corinthians 1:1. But where do we find the like in the bulletins of Rome?
With the bishops and deacons. Tirinus says, the presbyters are inferior bishops. But bishops being here mentioned in the plural number, this epistle is understood to be addressed to all the bishops and churches in the province of Macedonia, amongst whom the apostle had laboured. Of deacons in particular, see on Acts 6.
Philippians 1:2. Grace be unto you, and peace, from God our Father, the fountain of deity, and from the Lord Jesus Christ, who is, however veiled in flesh, the brightness of the Father’s glory, and the express image of his person. Christ is here named after the Father, not as another God, but to introduce him as the only Mediator between God and man.
Philippians 1:3-4. I thank my God upon every remembrance of you. A father in the church, as Paul was, cannot cease to be a father. He is ever prayerful for his children’s prosperity; they are as his own bowels, and he exults and rejoices over them in the Lord.
Philippians 1:5. For your fellowship in the gospel. For your communion, and all the grace of which you are made partakers, by your calling from a gentile to a christian state, to sit in heavenly places in Christ Jesus. It might indeed be said to every convert, Go home to thy friends, and show them what great things the Lord hath done for thee.
Philippians 1:9-11. I pray that your love may abound yet more and more, in knowledge, and in all judgment. Love is put first here, as being the first of all the graces; for he that loveth not, knoweth not God. As we advance in knowledge of divine things, we ought to have more love to God, to his word, and to his people. As we grow in the knowledge of Christ, our judgment will improve to direct and govern our affections, and to perfect in us every grace until the day of Christ. The apostle also prays that they might be sincere, and without offence, to the end of their course, and be filled with all the fruits of righteousness to the glory of God. What delight, what care, what devotion did this most blessed man evince towards the saints at Philippi. If he should die, no matter to what death he might be sentenced; his sole concern was that the churches might live.
Philippians 1:12-13. I would ye should understand, brethren, and I know it will greatly diminish your sorrows for me, that my long and disastrous voyage, and my imprisonment, have turned out rather to the furtherance and annunciation of the gospel. The cause of my bonds are manifest in all the palace. The court have heard of my labours and sufferings in Asia, the centurion and the soldiers have reported my voyage, the passengers have talked of me in Rome, and in all other places. Christianity in the imperial city is no longer confounded with judaism, and we are not despised as a jewish sect. Some of Cæsar’s houshold have received the faith; and it would seem, had openly professed it. Chrysostom names a tradition, that a concubine of Nero had been converted by Paul, and had embraced the faith. Rejoice, ye heavens; and be glad, oh earth. The Lord hath all his enemies in derision.
Philippians 1:15. Some preach Christ even of envy and strife. These are supposed to be the false apostles, or heretical parties. 2 Corinthians 11:14. Galatians 1:7. Others think they were jews, who preached Christ as not yet come in the flesh, but was about to appear. By so doing they endeavoured to destroy the christian faith at Rome, and to add affliction to the apostle’s bonds.
Philippians 1:18. What then? Whether in pretence [occasion] or in truth, Christ is preached. I do rejoice in it; yea, and I will rejoice. Brevity is here connected with some obscurity, as to the men and their motives for preaching Christ through strife. Erasmus thinks they were jews, who preached Christ to excite persecution against Paul, and against the christians, as a sect dangerous to the empire.
Philippians 1:19. I know that this shall turn to my salvation through your prayer. No doubt, the prayers of all the churches were addressed, to heaven for the long persecuted and suffering Paul, the general father of the gentiles. What sighs ascended to heaven, what tears fell to the earth on his account. And as God shed down upon the people this supply, and constant effusion of the Spirit, the apostle knew that he who inspired their prayers would hear the deep groanings of the Spirit; and that he should be delivered from the mouth of the lion. Thus he rested all his case with Christ, and felt a perfect calm as to the issue.
Philippians 1:21. For me to live is Christ, and to die is gain. We have Paul’s own exposition of these words in Galatians 2:20. “I live, yet not I, but Christ liveth in me.” The divinity lived in his breast, in all the life of heaven and of love. This is that eternal life of which the Saviour spake. John 17:3. It is the life of God in the soul of man, and so powerful, in Paul’s case, as to supersede the life of sin. I live not, for we are crucified with Christ, and live to him. In such a case, as noted in Poole’s synopsis of the critics, the soul finally leaves the body perfectly free from sin.
Philippians 1:23. I am in a strait betwixt two. In this crisis, prayer seem to be silent. I dare not touch the ark, nor move it, without the cloud to go before and guide the way. With me it is high water. To choose, I wot not; whether the ebbing tide may throw me on the heavenly shore, or drive me out to sea amid the storms and tempests of life a little longer. Be that as it may, the confidence I have in the Lord shall never forsake me. He will never put me to shame, nor withhold the power to confess at Cæsar’s bar the gospel, of whose truth I am divinely assured. Whether, therefore, to live with Christ on earth, or reign with him in heaven, my will is swallowed up in the will of God. Yet I trust in the Lord shortly to see you again, as in Philippians 2:24.
On this verse, of being with Christ, prayers for the dead are named by some ancient fathers; but such invocations are altogether rebutted by Luther. Chrysostom, in his third homily on the Philippians, says, “that for those who die by the sword, by precipitation, or by suspension, superinducing a violent death, no commemorative oblation shall be made, nor any psalms sung over their carcases at their tombs, seeing they are justly punished for their own sin. — It is the same with catechumens, who die without the redemption of baptism; neither oblations of commemoration, nor psalms, nor other offices shall be made on their account.”
Though this doctrine of the Greek churches, be not the doctrine of the reformation; it may at least prompt christian parents, not to neglect baptism for their children, for all sacraments, through the supply of the Spirit, and prayers of the saints, are efficacious means of grace.
Philippians 1:27-30. Only let your conversation be as it becometh the gospel of Christ. Having ceased to care for myself, any sole care is for you — even for your confirmation in the faith, and support in all your sufferings. For both those graces are specially conferred on you; to believe on Christ, and to suffer for his sake. Your steadfastness in the faith is the terror of all your foes. While they dream that you are, like other men, terrified at the idea of death; on seeing your fortitude, and the superior glory of immortality which opens on your mind, they are, like Nebuchadnezzar, terrified at the Son of God, who is with you in the fire. As the furnace purifies the gold, so those afflictions cause your graces to shine out, and demonstrate the glory of Him whom you worship and adore.
The first love of a christian society is a specimen of pentecost in every place, and the fairest image of heaven which earth affords. It is one of the most endearing recollections of good men; and it inspires a confidence, or (pepoithos) persuasion that God will perfect a work so genuine, and so auspiciously begun unto the day of Christ. It is true, the conditions are fully implied, as in Philippians 1:27, and Philippians 2:14-15. But why should we fear? We have a God, we have a Mediator; and as is his majesty so is his mercy. It is therefore both meet and candid to be persuaded that we shall meet together in glory. The conditions of perseverance are all as hallowing as our hope.
The surest test of perseverance is, that our love abound yet more and more, in all knowledge and discretion. An encrease of knowledge, and an enlarged acquaintance with the church should not diminish, but augment our charity. Fine substances acquire beauty by the polish; so it is with the sterling worth and excellence of the christian temper. The life manifests the heart; and instead of the selfish passions predominant in carnal men, we find the love of God and brotherly kindness ever predominant in the saints.
We are next called to adore the superintending goodness of God, which, all serene in the heavens, mocked at the feeble malice of the jews, and made the bonds of the apostle promote the spread of the gospel. He was a state prisoner at Rome, in whose case an empire feels an interest. He wore a chain in his own hired house for two years. This ancient vestige of Roman politeness and liberty gave all who pleased access to his person. Rome, and the great cities of the empire, learned from his case the history and glory of the cross. He was learned in all wisdom, ready in all languages, and wise by long experience. Courtiers received the faith, strangers admired the man, and revered his Master; and timid preachers became bold by his illustrious fortitude. Let us never distrust that hand which can draw so much from the foulest designs of Satan and of men.
We admire also the godlike superiority and consummate piety of St. Paul in regard to martyrdom. Hovering and in suspense on the verge of eternity, he discovers a calmness of mind and an indifference of life becoming an apostle of the Lord, and a believer in his never-failing providence. He was perfectly at ease, and left his case with Cæsar, and the Lord. Not one bitter word against his enemies escaped him, for censure would not have mended them. He well knew that Christ should be magnified in his body. If he lived he would live to glorify him; and if he died he should be with him. If he was liberated, usefulness would remunerate his labour. What faith, what sentiments, and what a pattern to the churches; many of whom were then suffering for Christ, and enduring the same conflicts which they saw in this illustrious confessor and ultimate martyr.
Tuesday, March 28th, 2017
the Fourth Week of Lent
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