Sermon Bible Commentary
I. Think of the beauty of the circumstance that Paul thanked God for the blessing of kind, loving, helpful men. Man serves God by aiding God's servants.
II. The more enlarged and susceptible the heart, the more easily can service be rendered to it.
III. Learn how good a thing it is to serve the great, and inferentially how sublime a thing it is to live and die in the service of the Greatest.
IV. Each of us should leave a memory that shall be cherished and blessed.
V. The Apostle stands forth to us as an illustrious man, while the Philippians are not known to us by more than their general name. The hidden workers are not on that account to deem themselves useless.
Parker, City Temple, vol. ii., p. 176.
The text speaks to us of the feeling which ought to exist between a minister and his congregation, more especially how he ought to be able to speak of them and what he ought to make his special prayer for them whenever, in the providence of God, he is for a time separated from them.
I. St. Paul was able to thank God, in his compulsory detention at Rome, for all that he remembered of his beloved Church at Philippi. Whenever he prayed, he was able to make his prayer for them with joy. He could think of them as earnestly and resolutely set upon practising and helping the Gospel; they did not shrink even from suffering for it. If St. Paul had been writing to us, could he have thus expressed himself? Could he have said with regard to the great bulk of our congregations that in their several stations, at their various ages, according to their different gifts and talents, they were truly loving and living the Gospel?
II. One thing St. Paul was able to say alike for himself and for them: that there was the strongest possible tie between them of mutual love. Surely, where a minister and his congregation love each other fervently, there must be something of. Christ in that feeling and in that place. St. Paul loved and was loved by these Philippians, and he showed and returned it by his prayers for them. He recognised and valued their affection; he felt that their love for him sprang out of love to Christ and showed itself in an active and diffusive charity. But he knew also that in this world it is not safe to rest on that which is; while we stay here, we must always be moving onwards: and what he desired for them was that their love might abound yet more and more in a deeper knowledge and a more experienced judgment. This great gift of judgment or, more exactly, of perception, comes only from being much with God, from being often in His presence, hidden privily, as the Psalmist expresses it, in His pavilion from the strife of tongues, from the conflicts of selfishness, from the din of earth.
C. J. Vaughan, Lectures on Philippians, p. 1.
References: Philippians 1:3-5.—J. Edmunds, Sixty Sermons, p. 422. Philippians 1:3-11.—J. J. Goadby, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xv., p. 152; Homiletic Quarterly, vol. iv., p. 48.
I. Prayer may be varied according to the different spiritual moods of the suppliant. The mood need not impair the sincerity.
II. Christianity is the most influential of all heart-uniting forces. Men who are one in Christ are united in the highest ranges of their nature. Paul is in Rome, his friends at Philippi; but in the great heart of the Apostle Rome and Philippi are but different names of the same place. The union of the Church is guaranteed by the principles on which it is founded; the moral is the immortal.
Parker, City Temple, vol. ii., p. 177.
I. In the text we see age and youth together. (1) The old will contribute the wisdom of experience; the young will quicken the animation of hope.
II. In the text, though age and youth are together, yet age takes precedence of youth. It is Paul and Timotheus, not Timotheus and Paul.
III. In the text, though age takes precedence of youth, yet both age and youth are engaged in common service. See how one great relationship determines all minor conditions and attitudes; looked at as before Christ, the one Lord, they were both servants.
Parker, City Temple, vol. i., p. 215.
Reference: Philippians 1:5.—Clergyman's Magazine, vol. iii., p. 216.
The Apostle lays down a great principle respecting the Divine method of working, viz., to begin is to finish, and that principle, wide enough to encompass the universe, will also comprehend every detail of Christian service.
I. God works by a plan; His plan is to prepare mankind for the final day.
II. God is not fickle in the prosecution of His purposes; He begins, not that He may conduct an experiment, but that He may perform a design.
III. God has so revealed Himself in the education of the individual and in the training of society as to justify the most emphatic expression of confidence on the part of His Church.
Parker, City Temple, vol. ii., p. 178.
References: Philippians 1:6.—Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xv., No. 872; Homilist, 3rd scries, vol. ii., p. 149; R. Davey, Christian World Pulpit, vol. x., p. 10; Clergyman's Magazine, vol. iii., p. 213; vol. vii., p. 217; G. Brooks, Five Hundred Outlines, p. 108; Preacher's Monthly, vol. iv., p. 289; Plain Sermons by Contributors to "Tracts for the Times," vol. vi., p. 245.
A Man in Rome carries the Philippian Church in his heart.
I. He who carries the world elsewhere than in his heart will soon wish to cast off his burden.
II. He who carries the good in his heart will never be desolate.
III. He whose heart is engaged with the tender offices of affection is the profoundest interpreter and the most efficient servant of mankind.
IV. He who enshrines his benefactors in his heart has broken the dominion of selfishness.
Parker, City Temple, vol. ii., p. 179.
The Tender Heart of Jesus Christ.
I. What is a tender heart? What is included in it? What is the chief characteristic of such a heart? A tender heart must always be a sensitive heart; where there is life there is sensitiveness; a tender heart is one ready to receive and retain the very softest impression; a tender heart is one that is endowed with a more than ordinary power to love; it is also a heart that is easily pained. A man of tender heart will be sure to live a life in harmony with it.
II. It was absolutely necessary that our Lord Jesus should be characterised by tenderness of heart. He had a nature that assimilated to itself the very griefs and sorrows of others. Christ's heart was intensely sensitive, and therefore subject itself to pain. It was the exquisitely tender nature of Christ that made the thought of being alone an anguish. Christ's heart, being tender, shunned giving pain. A truly tender heart will be agonised at the thought of having perhaps unintentionally wounded another's spirit. Then a tender heart not only is susceptible to pain, and not only shuns giving pain to others, but it will always feel the pangs that others endure. Over and over again this sentence concerning Christ occurs in the New Testament: "moved with compassion."
III. The tenderness of Christ's heart was shown by tender actions. The tender-heartedness of Christ comes out in every action; it is not shown merely in what He does: it is heard in what He says, for "out of the abundance of the. heart the mouth speaketh." We have not a High-priest who cannot be touched with a feeling of our infirmities. Let us therefore remember that our Saviour is the tender-hearted Christ, and let us not grieve Him by our sins, but let us reflect to the world the beauty of His love.
Archibald Brown, Penny Pulpit, New Series, No. 1099.
The Source of Christian Love.
We see here—
I. The Witness of Paul's tender regard for the Philippians: "God is my Witness." This expression should be reserved for periods of peculiar solemnity. Paul on the verge of martyrdom, not expecting to see these brethren again till he should meet them at the great white throne, takes the name of God, not in vain, but in reverent truth, into his lips, and confirms his testimony by his oath. It is healthful to the soul to be constantly reminded of another onlooker. God is not mocked. To go about the business and intercourse of life under the sense of God's presence would cast out all the malice and envy from the heart, would banish all falsehood from the lips. He requireth truth in the inward parts. As the mists of night are driven away by the rising sun, the face of God chases away malice and envy, so that they cannot harbour in the heart.
II. The source of his love for the brethren. He longed after them in the compassion of Jesus Christ. From that fountain his own pity flowed. Partakers of Christ as far as their finite nature will permit, Christians partake also of His affections towards the Church on one side of the world or the other.
III. The measure and manner of the Apostle's fond desires after these Philippian Christians: "I long after you all." Probably they were not all alike attractive either in person or character. If he had regarded them from a merely human and earthly view-point, he would have held to some and despised others; but he had risen to heavenly places in Christ, and therefore his tenderness shone on them all. A lamp lighted on the top of a pillar casts light on some objects and a shadow on others, but the sun spreads day over all. The love that is grafted into Christ is universal, like His own. There is no respect of persons with God, and none with the godly, as far as they act in accordance with their character.
W. Arnot, The Anchor of the Soul, p. 112.
Hindrances to Spiritual Growth.
I. The first and greatest hindrance to our abounding more and more is this: inability to see what it is that we ought to improve, where it is that we are defective, and so long as we are content simply to look at ourselves and our doing by the light of our preconceived ideas it is easy and natural for us to be content with ourselves as we are. Our Divine Master has set before us a perfect example of what we ought to be, and He has promised to give us help and grace to enable us to tread in His steps if only we will try to do so, because, try as we will, the copy will fall very far short of the original. The very first step, then, towards improvement is to study the life of our blessed Lord, to learn the principles by which His life was governed. Here, then, is the highest standard by which to measure ourselves. What is the motive which governs our life? Is it a desire perfectly to fulfil the will of God, or is it self in one of the many forms in which self is manifested?
II. There is another point on which we need to examine ourselves: whether we are seeking to abound more and more. Holy Scripture assures us that we are not sufficient of ourselves to obey the precepts laid down by our Lord. It is only through Christ strengthening us that we can keep free from sin. We must fulfil the conditions through which we have the promises of gaining what we need; and the very first condition to which these promises are attached is that we should have faith in what Christ has wrought in our behalf. Faith is at first weak, but by continual exercise it develops and grows until it overshadows our whole existence. The more real and true and sincere our faith is, the greater will be the harvest of good works in which we shall abound more and more; whilst, again, the more faithfully and zealously we bring forth such good works, the brighter and deeper and clearer will be our faith: the one will react upon the other; each will minister to the other's growth.
Dean Gregory, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xxxii., p. 321.
Christian Love Abounding.
The reference in our text is not primarily to love towards the Apostle himself, as some have supposed, nor yet love towards God in Christ—although this is the spring from which all true Christian love flows—but to love towards others, especially to them who are of the household of faith.
I. Let us consider the characteristics of this Christian love, which has proved in the world and in many a Church and home the mightiest spiritual force on earth. (1) One of the first things which distinguish it from other kinds of love is its absolute unselfishness. Selfishness, whether in the nation or the individual, leads to sin, and is the chief antagonist of the love which seeketh not her own, and doth not behave herself unseemly, which is inculcated in our text. (2) Again, the love spoken of here is opposed to all that is impure and unspiritual. Instead of devoting itself only to those who are attractive or winsome, it goes down to the degraded; it surrounds them with a halo of beauty, as being those for whom Christ Jesus died, and it is not satisfied until it can lift them upward and heavenward, and make them more worthy of being loved than they are. (3) Again, this love is distinctively Christian. It is not ours by nature, for none of us loves the unattractive from instinct; but it is generated in us when the love of Christ is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost which is given unto us. It is, in fact, a continual manifestation of Christ's love to the world, which led Him to die for us "while we were yet sinners."
II. Consider two or three facts which make it necessary that such love should abound. (1) Such abounding love is necessary if we would do Christian work for others steadfastly and earnestly. (2) Besides being a stimulus to service, abounding love is necessary to us when we have to bear the infirmities of others.
A. Rowland, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xxiv., p. 181.
I. Here we see, first, what St. Paul takes for granted as the underlying substance, as the raw material, of Divine life in the soul of man. Whenever in his writings knowledge and love are put in competition with each other, the precedence is assigned to love. For, as compared with knowledge, love is intrinsically a stronger thing, and it is worth more practically. To be knit to God by love is better, religiously speaking, than to speculate about Him, however rightly, as an abstract Being. To enwrap other men in the flame of enthusiasm for private or for public virtue is better than to analyse in the solitude of a study rival systems of ethical, or social, or political truth. Each has its place, but love comes first.
II. But St. Paul would have this love abound in knowledge. The knowledge of which he is thinking is doubtless primarily religious knowledge. The higher knowledge—ἐπύγνωσις is the word, not mere γνῶσις—is what he prays for as the outgrowth of learning. There is a period in the growth of love when such knowledge is imperatively required. In its earlier stages the loving soul lives only in the light and warmth of its object; it sees him, as it were, in a blaze of glory; it rejoices to be before him, to be beneath him, to be close to him; it asks no questions; it has no heart for scrutiny; it only loves. But, from the nature of the case, this period comes to an end, not because love becomes cold, but because it becomes exacting. If the great Apostle had been among us now, he would not have ceased to offer this prayer. How much love, how much moral power, is wasted among us Englishmen only through ignorance. Look at the jealousy of science among us religious people—I mean jealousy of scientific fact; there are plenty of reasons for keeping clear of mere scientific hypotheses when science is waiting in God's good time to echo the words of religion. Look at the jealousy of beauty, which is lashing the well-meaning fanaticism of the country against disinterested efforts to improve the efficiency and tone of public worship. We need to pray this prayer more heartily than ever: that our love may increase in knowledge.
H. P. Liddon, Christian World Pulpit, vol. iv., p. 321.
References: Philippians 1:9.—Pearson, Church of England Pulpit, vol. ii., p. 317; Homilist, vol. iv., p. 13; Preacher's Monthly, vol. vi., p. 222. Philippians 1:9, Philippians 1:10.—T. Arnold, Sermons, vol. v., p. 208.
In one word, the Apostle prayed that the Philippians might grow.
I. True love is intelligent. We are to love God with all our mind.
II. The Apostle prays for an enlargement and quickening of the discriminating faculty: that the Philippians might distinguish between things that differ, and that so distinguishing they might choose the right.
III. The Apostle, beginning at the centre, finds his way to the circumference; beginning with the spiritual, he culminates in the practical. The doctrines acknowledged in this prayer are (1) that Christian life is progressive; (2) that God is ready to cooperate with His people for their moral enrichment; (3) that the entire Christian manhood is to bear fruit—being filled.
Parker, City Temple, vol. ii., p. 181.
References: Philippians 1:10.—H. J. Wilmot-Buxton, Sunday Sermonettes for a Year, p. 206; E. Garbett, Experiences of the Inner Life, p. 159; Homilist, 3rd series, vol. viii., p. 81; J. Aldis, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xxiv., p. 129; D. G. Watt, Ibid., vol. xxvi., p. 196; Clergyman's Magazine, vol. v., p. 31; F. D. Maurice, Sermons, vol. iii., p. 67.
Circumstances the most untoward may in reality be advancing the Divine kingdom among men.
I. God's providence is not to be interpreted in fragments.
II. The moral is higher than the personal; Paul is in prison, but the Gospel is free.
III. The bonds of one man may give inspiration to the liberty of another.
IV. The spread of the Gospel depends upon no one man.
V. Even the afflicted Christian has a mission.
Parker, City Temple, vol. ii., p. 182.
References: Philippians 1:12-20.—Homiletic Quarterly, vol. iv., p. 221. Philippians 1:12-26.—J. J. Goadby, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xv., p. 216. Philippians 1:13, Philippians 1:14.—Clergyman's Magazine, vol. i., p. 216.
Christ Preached in any Way a Cause of Joy.
We see here a great law of Christ's providence over His Church. He furthers His own ends, not by affirmations only, but by negations: by faith and by unbelief; by truth and by heresy; by unity and by schism. It is a transcendent and intricate mystery, far beyond our intelligence. All things conspire to His purpose, and His will ruleth over all, not, it may be, to the purpose we imagine for Him, nor to our idea of His will, but to His own not as yet revealed. Would St. Paul have rejoiced, had he lived in our day, that, although perfect unity in truth and love were impossible, yet every way Christ is preached? Would the publication of truth even in contention, strife, rivalry, and pretence have given him cause of joy? Would he have said, Rather so than not at all; let Christ's name become gainsaid rather than buried in silence? I think he would—
I. Because the name of Christ reveals the love of God. The mere knowledge that God so loved the world, that He gave His only-begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life,—the mere publication and proclaiming of this great fact, without Church or sacraments, without creeds or Scriptures, is a supernatural gift of truth revealing the love of God. And this is an inestimable advance beyond the state of man without this knowledge. Any light is better than darkness, any food than famine, even crumbs of bread which come down from heaven than the husks of this fallen earth.
II. The preaching of Christ even in the most imperfect form is a witness against the sin of the world. And what are these two great truths, the love of God and the sin of the world, but the two poles on which all our salvation turns? The mere sound of the name "Saviour," "Redeemer," "Ransom," and "Sacrifice," is a testimony against the natural conscience. The powers of truth are not bound; they, like the presence of God and the nature of man, are universal. Wheresoever they alight, as seeds wafted by the winds, or by the sweep of tides, or by the flight of birds, though not sown in order nor by the ministry of man, they germinate.
III. The preaching of Christ brings men under the law of responsibility; it reveals the four last things: death, judgment, hell, and heaven; it testifies to the commandments of God, and the law of charity, and the need of holiness. And all these things, addressed to the conscience of man, produce their own response of fear, hope, obedience. What is the ripe civilisation, the fair peace, and harmonious friendship of states and kingdoms, the alliances and relations of national systems, the temperate sway of princes, the liberty of subject people, the purity of domestic obedience, but a second crop of fruits shaken from the faith of Christ, as from the fig-tree in its later season?
All that has been said rests on two undeniable truths: (1) first, that all truth has life in it to those whose heart is right with God; (2) that the duty of believing the whole and perfect truth is absolutely binding on pain of sin to all who know it.
H. E. Manning, Sermons, vol. iv., p. 60.
References: Philippians 1:18.—Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. vii., No. 370; T. Wallace, Christian World Pulpit, vol. x., p. 20c
I. Mark the confidence of the declaration, "I know." Righteousness is a prophetic power.
II. Mark the ground of this confidence. The Apostle's joy does not arise from the fact that certain persons preached, but from the higher fact that Christ was preached.
III. The extension of the truth is the best guarantee of personal happiness.
IV. The Gospel has everything to hope from being allowed to reveal its own credentials.
V. The greatest man in the Church may be served by the supplication of the good.
Parker, City Temple, vol. ii., p. 207.
References: Philippians 1:19.—Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xix., No. 1139; Clergyman's Magazine, vol. iv., p. 85.
I. We all see in some points what St. Paul must have meant by this expression. It was a thought frequently present to him. If he lives, if his earthly life is protracted through toils so constant and sufferings so intense, this shows the supporting hand of the risen, the immortal, Saviour. There must be some marvellous power out of and above him, or he must long ago have sunk under such pressure; there must be One above, whose grace is sufficient for him: sufficient to keep him meek under provocation, courageous under intimidation, and steadfast in the face of danger. Christ is thus magnified (not made great, but shown to be great) in his body by life. And if death comes, then Christ, who makes him willing to die for Him, Christ, who gives him grace, courage, and constancy to die for Him, shall be magnified in him still, magnified in his body, as by life, so by death.
II. Such was the meaning of the words before us for St. Paul himself. Have they any meaning for us? It is in the power of a Christian, so the words import, to magnify Christ; that is, to show the greatness of Christ in his body. Temperance, purity, activity—by these we may magnify Him. And there are yet two ways besides these more common ones. (1) One of these is suffering. Christ is dishonoured by fretfulness, by repining, by dwelling upon past happiness, by a dejection which refuses to be comforted; He is magnified by a manly and Christian composure, by a resignation gradually brightening into cheerfulness, by a courageous hope, and by a steadfast expectation. (2) And then at last death has to be borne. It is a secret thing, a thing which no man knows save by once for all passing through it himself. When a man can really find peace on his deathbed from a tortured body and an agitated mind in the long-tried support and comfort of a Saviour who died for him and rose again, he pays a tribute to His greatness, and to His truth, and to His character at once the noblest and the best. "Christ shall be magnified in my body, whether it be by life or by death."
C. J. Vaughan, Lectures on Philippians, p. 41.
References: Philippians 1:20.—A. J. Bamford, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xvii., p. 102.
I. "Expectation" and "hope"—these are words which connect the heart with the future.
II. No power can so light up the future and throw over it the hues of immortal beauty as childlike trust in God.
III. The man who is living without expectation and hope is living only half a life, but the man who is living on false expectations and false hopes is wasting life.
IV. It is right that the body should be turned to moral account.
V. The possibility of being ready either for earthly or heavenly life.
VI. Identification with Christ is the secret of such readiness.
Parker, City Temple, vol. ii., p. 207.
I. "To me to live is Christ." The connection in which these words stand seems to give us their primary meaning. The business of my life is Christ; my energy, my activity, my occupation, my interest, is all Christ. St. Paul regarded everything that he had to do, and he regarded everything that befell him, only in relation to, in its bearing upon, Christ. The words describe a condition widely different from that of most of us. Before St. Paul could say that his outward life was Christ, he must have been able to say it of his inward life. Before Christ can be to any one his object, his business, his work, in life, He must first be his trust and his hope, his known and tried refuge from guilt, from fear, from restlessness, from sin. A man must have Christ for the life of his soul before he can have Christ for the life of his life. Small as is the regard paid to Christ in our life, is there not less of regard for Him in our souls?
II. To St. Paul—and in this respect St. Paul was but an example for the humblest Christian—to St. Paul, inwardly first and then outwardly, in soul first and then in action, to live was Christ. And therefore, therefore only, was he able to add in truth and soberness, And to me to die is gain. Painful in itself and to all of us, painful in his case even beyond ours—for he when he wrote expected life to be closed—and it was closed a few years later—by a death of martyrdom—yet the death consummated and endured was a gain to him even in comparison with a Christian's life. Here to live was Christ; but even beyond that there was a blessedness into which only death could usher him. To have died is gain. If we would die the Christian's death, we must live the Christian's life; if we would find it a gain to have died, we must have found it to us Christ to live.
C. J. Vaughan, Lectures on Philippians, p. 54.
I. "To me to live is Christ." A bold figure, showing, for one thing, the rapid action of the Apostle's mind; a haste to express the main idea; an impatience, as it were, of the immediate and explanatory expressions. For another thing, it shows the mighty magnitude of the object in his esteem. He regarded all the grand truths and interests of religion as centring in Him, comprehended in Him, insomuch that His very name might stand equivalent to them all. How absurd, if He were not infinitely higher, greater, than a man, a prophet. Think how it would have sounded if, for instance, Elijah, the zealous and heroic advocate of the Old Testament law, when he at one time desired to die rather than live, had recovered to the consideration of his important mission and said, "To me to live is Moses."
II. "To me to live is Christ." His chief and immediate reference was to the important service which his prolonged life and apostleship would render to the Christian cause, especially to the Christian converts to whom he was writing; but he would include the happiness which he would the while enjoy himself, the communion with Christ to which he and all the apostles so often refer with great emphasis of delight, the hope, the assured prospect, of all that was in futurity for himself and for the world. Yet, with this consummation of animating interests in his soul, the happiest man probably on the whole face of the earth, he deliberately judged that to depart and be with Christ would as to himself be far better. The Apostle was of the highest order of Christians. But to every real Christian to die is gain. The sensible loss of all the evils of this present state will of itself be an immense gain. How mighty the duty, how transcendent the interest, of directing our utmost energy to the object that death may be gain.
J. Foster, Lectures, vol. ii., p. 252.
I. This canon rules the thought; the intellectual life is His. All the thinking a man goes through, all the philosophy he may excogitate, must come under this law of Christ-life. Be it well understood, however, that this is not to impair intellectual freedom. Gold dust is scattered through all the intellectual world, and he who seeks will find. But here is the point: something is found already which will never be lost; something is revealed never to be withdrawn. Christianity is a positive something which to every one that receives it takes firm abiding-place at the centre of his life, and puts itself of necessity and immediately into regulating, vitalising relation with all his intellectual findings. No one point of knowledge, great or small, can be the same to him whose life is in Christ which it would be if that were not true.
II. Take life as sentiment, and again this canon will cover it to a Christian. "To me to live is Christ." How shall we keep the poetry in our life? How shall we dignify the struggle for daily bread? How shall we live in this world as in God's garden still, although many a thorn and many a thistle grow in it, and the workers are weary, and the mourners weep? How? I know but one way. There is a name which you can keep in your heart and talk of or whisper in your journey through the days, and that will do it. "For me life is Christ."
III. Again, take life as force, active moral force—and the text covers it all: "Be strong in the Lord and in the power of His might."
IV. Finally, take life as hope, aspiration, destiny; as an unquenchable impulse towards the future; as an instinctive yearning towards immortality. Surely here with emphasis we may say, "For us to live is Christ." We live in Him, and because He lives we shall live also. He liveth, and was dead, and is alive for evermore. "Fear not"; He has the keys of death and Hades now, and death is to His followers but an hour of sleep, and the grave but the place of warrior's rest, until the morning trumpet shall sound to gather the hosts for battle no more, but for triumphal entrance into the regal city, whose Builder and Maker is God.
A. Raleigh, From Dawn to the Perfect Day, p. 153.
I. Look at the motive and mainspring of St. Paul's life. For him to live was Christ. Selfishness grew weak; selfishness dropped off as the viper that he shook from his hand at Melita; it died out; it was starved out; it had nothing to subsist on. That is the way to kill selfishness: starve it out. Health, honour, fame, everything that could encourage it, he abandoned. There was a complete self-renunciation in that man's career; there was a complete, unreserved consecration to Christ. With Paul, selfishness being dead, the greatest torment of life was taken away. Paul grew happy in conquering himself; Paul was kept happy in serving Jesus.
II. Consider, too, how this motive of devotion to Christ ennobled him. A man is measured by his motives. A lofty aim makes a lofty career in a dungeon or a hovel; a low aim makes a man grovel in a palace or a senate-house. Any man that sets before himself a motive lower than Christ, a motive no higher than self-indulgence and self-seeking, dooms himself at starting. He cannot know life's highest joy; he cannot realise life's noblest purpose; he cannot taste life's sweetest blessings; he cannot please God; life becomes a mockery, and very soon a weariness too heavy to be borne. St. Paul's life was too elevating, too much in fellowship with Christ, for him ever to grow weary of it. Life is glorious, it is exhilarating, sublime, transcendent, when it shines with Christ as a summer morning shines with sunlight; but a life that never hath Christ in it had better never have been.
T. L. Cuyler, Christian World Pulpit, vol ii., p. 1.
The Ideal of the Christian Life.
Living in Christ and for Christ is the only life of satisfaction and enjoyment. "All others," says Gregory Nazianzen, "are like well-painted ships; but he who sets sail for the harbour of blessedness needs a well-compacted ship."
I. The text is one of those striking forms of transcendental expression in which the writings of the Apostle Paul abound. It is in the nature of all high emotion that it is dissatisfied with all cold and formal utterance; it does not so much seek as demand to use words of accumulative force. How different are men's estimates of Christ. To some He is a life-power; to some He is merely a dumb, marble, ideal beauty.
II. What is your life? It is even that which is your strongest love. It has been often said—and I believe it heartily—that we do not live indeed until we love in real earnest; and the greater, the nobler, our love, the greater and the nobler will be the life born from it. And hence there are many persons who have lived long in the world, but they have never begun to live indeed. We do not know what we are capable of till something crosses our path and says, "Live for me."
III. It will be found at last that all life ever known on earth was poor compared to those exalted states in which the blessed ones who have lived for God have moved. If the work of life is to be estimated by the grandeur of its ideals, then what conceptions have ever crossed the most inspired spirits compared to those which have been stirred by the life of Christ?
IV. For me to live is (1) faith in Christ; (2) meditation on Christ; (3) action for Christ; (4) hope in Christ. There is no prospect of time He does not illuminate; there is no possibility of eternal blessedness of which He is not the centre. In the heart of all future Christian experience, in the glory of all future advanced societies and kingdoms, in all the eye of the loftiest poet can see, the heart of the profoundest believer can reach out to—in all "to live is Christ."
E. Paxton Hood, Sermons, p. 134.
References: Philippians 1:21.—J. Clifford, The Dawn of Manhood, p. 169; Isaac, Thursday Penny Pulpit, vol. ix., p. 395; J. Vaughan, Sermons, 7th series, p. 1; A. Murray, The Fruits of the Spirit, p. 360; Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. iii., No. 146; Ibid., Morning by Morning, p. 7; G. E. L. Cotton, Sermons to English Congregations in India, p. 135; Church of England Pulpit, vol. xvii., p. 41; Homilist, 3rd series, vol. vi., p. 26; Christian World Pulpit, vol. vi., p. 254; J. W. Burn, Ibid., vol. xxiv., p. 165; Laidlaw, Ibid., vol. xxxii., p. 235; Homiletic Quarterly, vol. i., p. 267; vol. ii., p. 423; Preacher's Monthly, vol. iv., p. 13; vol. x., p. 127.
The Fruit of Labour.
Such words can never lose their power. They come down to us from a purer air; yet the voice is human, and is audible to all who feel. They sum up the constant tenor of a life which, like all great lives, is able at once to shame us and to inspire, and also to teach a lesson which may be applied to the most various conditions of human existence.
I. Let us try to think of the fact which the words imply. Think of this, and then think of the petty rivalries, the mean pleasures, the waste of power, the frivolous talk, the ungenerous feeling, the mean policy, the mere idle vacancy, which beset our common life; and, however little you may hope to pass at once from this to that, you cannot but feel the weight of the rebuke. Can we realise, have we ever sought to realise, the certainty of our own death? How then shall we compare our lives to his who looked with open face beyond the grave, desiring to depart, and yet, for the sake of others, was content to live?
II. Note the general lesson which may be drawn from the text. The Christian ideal of blessedness has two aspects, which both meet in Christ: one inward and upward, looking towards communion with God, and one outward and around, looking towards our brethren and mankind, especially towards the weaker brethren, those little ones for whom Christ died. To act in the present, to live for others, to redeem the time, to use all means for bettering the physical and social, as well as the moral and spiritual, condition of mankind—these, it need hardly be said, are precepts in full accordance with Christianity. But the thought of another life, for which this is the seedtime and preparation, in which some obstacles that check the flow of goodness here will be removed, and whatever we have sown of righteousness will bear fruit a thousandfold—this, instead of being out of harmony with these duties, is the greatest of all incentives to them.
L. Campbell, Some Aspects of the Christian Ideal, p. 162.
Reference: Philippians 1:21-24.—J. Clifford, The Dawn of Manhood, p. 185.
There is a triple movement of thought and feeling in these words.
I. There is the strong absorbing devotion which a man has to Christ. Here we get the grand noble simplicity and unity or continuity of life and death with a devout man thinking about himself. To me, he says—and the position of the word in the sentence shows the emphasis which is to be put upon it—To me—not merely in my judgment, but in my case, so far as I personally am concerned—to me the whole mystery and perplexity comes down into two clauses with four words in each: "To live is Christ; to die is gain." The outward life is what he is talking about, obviously from the antithesis; and in the latter clause what he says is not that the act of dying is gain, but (as the form of words in the Greek seems to show) that to be dead is gain. Like everybody else, he shrank from the act. No man ever said that the act and article of dissolution was anything but a pain and a horror and a terror; it was not that that he said was an advance, but it was the thing beyond. To die, that is loss; but to be dead, that is gain. (1) Look at the noble theory of life, the grand simplicity and breadth, that there is in these words. (2) Contrast the blessed simplicity, the freedom, the power, that there is in such a life as that, with the misery that comes into all lives that have a lower aim and a less profound source.
II. Note the hesitation that arises In Paul's mind from the contemplation of life as a field for work. The text suggests the idea of a man hedged up between two walls and not knowing how to turn.
III. Notice the calm beautiful solution of the question—in an equipoise of hesitation, something pulling two ways, and so the rest of equal forces acting—notice the calm solution, the peaceful acquiescence, "I know I shall abide and continue with you all." Then the innate delicacy of the man comes out in the way in which he phrases his perception of the necessity there is for his stopping. He sinks self and represents himself as sharing his brethren's gladness. The true attitude is neither desire, nor shrinking, nor hesitation, but a calm taking what God wills about the matter.
A. Maclaren, Christian World Pulpit, vol. vii., p. 33.
I. In the text St. Paul appears to weigh his life against departing and being with Christ. We must not suppose him to be speaking of his own case only, as an exceptional case, one of those grievously afflicted lives which make men desire death merely as a termination of their earthly sufferings; but we must rather understand him as declaring that to depart and be with Christ is absolutely far better than life here, better for all, a higher state of being, an existence of greater blessing. And it is evident upon what ground. St. Paul declares this preference: the departing is not a mere departing, but it is a departing to be with Christ. The magnification of Christ was the one great end of the Apostle's life: to realise Christ's love, to conform himself to Christ's image, to exhibit to mankind, not by word only, but by life and example, a picture of the life of Christ—this was the thing for which the Apostle strove; and undoubtedly the light which ever shone upon his faith was this: the entire belief that one day he should be with Christ and see Him as He is. If in this life he had only a dim, faint view of Christ, and yet found even that unspeakably brighter and better than anything else which he could see in this world, what wonder if he desired that closer communion with his Lord which he believed would be granted to him when he had put aside the burden of the flesh?
II. We are all placed here in God's world, endowed with various powers and different talents; here we are to remain for some few years, and then all to pass away. Fifty years—what is it in the history of the world? and yet in even fifty years how many of us will still remain in this life? The question then forces itself upon us as reasonable creatures, What are we put here for, and why should we desire to remain? The answer is simple: We are placed here to work out our own salvation and for the benefit each of the other. It need not distress any one to find that St. Paul's language is out of his reach; he had much better honestly confess that it is so, than pretend that it is not; but if a man desire this life, at least let him desire it for some good end. Let him take a deep, sober view of his mission in the world, for every one is sent for an important end; every one of us has his work and his Master, who will demand an account of it. We are all successors of St. Paul in this respect, and that which formed to him the principal chain of life ought to occupy a similar position in our minds to that which it did in his.
Bishop Harvey Goodwin, Parish Sermons, 2nd series, p. 245.
I. The personal weighed with the public, or the difficulties of the veteran philanthropist.
II. Man's sublimest reason for not wishing immediate translation to glory is that he may be of spiritual service to the world.
III. The next best condition to that of being with Christ in heaven is to be working for Christ's people on earth.
IV. There is only one world in which you can serve man evangelically; do not be in indecent haste to escape the opportunity.
V. God never leaves the earth entirely destitute of great men.
Parker, City Temple, vol. ii., p. 208.
The Believer's Better Portion.
I. Paganism had cold comfort for its children. It is the religion of the Lord Jesus which can cheer and satisfy the soul. Our Divine Redeemer having "overcome death" and opened unto us the kingdom of heaven, the reign of the terrible destroyer, death, is broken, and his power over our mortal bodies is only for a brief season.
II. Well may we envy the portion of those who, "having finished their course in faith, do now rest from their labours." So long as we are engaged in this warfare, we are exposed to the snares of the destroyer, and great must be the peace of having laid aside this mystery of probation.
J. N. Norton, Golden Truths, p. 449.
The Blessedness of Death.
Why should departure out of this life be an object of desire to a Christian?
I. First, because it is a full release from this evil world. There is something very expressive in the word we here render by "depart." It means the being set free after the breaking up of some long restraint, or the unyoking of the oxen wearied with the plough, or the weighing again of our anchors for a homeward voyage. On every side its associations are full of peace and rest. What can better express the passage of Christ's servants from this tumultuous and weary world? So long as we are in this warfare, we must be open to the shafts of evil, and who would not desire a shelter where no arrows can reach us any more? What must be the peace of having put off this mystery of probation, when the struggle and the strife shall be over, and breathless, panting hope, dashed by ten thousand fears, shall be changed into a certainty of peace, into a foretaste of our crown! This one thought alone is enough to make death blessed. Well may evangelists say, "Come, Lord Jesus, come quickly," and souls already martyred, like St. Paul, desire to depart. Even to us it may be permitted to feel our hearts beat thick with hopeful and longing fear when we wait for the voice that shall say to the least of penitents, "Rise up, My love, My fair one, and come away, for lo! the winter is past; the rain is over and gone." Come to Me from Lebanon; look from the top of Amana, from the top of Shenir and Hermon, unto the everlasting hills and to the eternal years.
II. Thus far we have spoken of the desire to depart, which springs from a longing to be set free from sorrow and an evil world, from the temptations and burdens of mortality which weigh upon the soul. But these are the nether, and not the upper, springs of such desires. St. Paul longed for the spiritual body, raised in power and incorruption at the day of Christ, and meanwhile for that personal perfection in measure and foretaste which is prepared for those who die in the Lord and await His coming. Surely of all earthly sorrows sin is the sharpest. The heaviest of all burdens is the bondage of a will which makes God's service a weary task, and our homage of love a cold observance.
III. And this leads to another reason why to depart is blessed. It unites us for ever to the new creation of God. What is this new creation but the new heavens and the new earth, in which are gathered the whole order and lineage of the second Adam, all saints, from Abel the just, of all ages and times, in the twilight and the dayspring, in the morning and the noontide of grace, all made perfect, whether on earth or in rest, by the omnipotence of love? This is our true home, where all our reason, all our desires, all our sympathies, and all our love have their perfect sphere and their full repose.
IV. "To be with Christ." This is the true foundation of heavenly joy. To be with Him; to see His face; to follow Him whithersoever He goeth; to be conscious of His eye; to hear, it may be, His words of love; to see the gathered fruit of His Passion in the glory of His elect—what, if not this, is heaven? It is only our dull love of this world, or our blindness of heart, or, alas! our consciousness of penetrating guilt, which makes this desire of saints a thought of fear to us. But for this, how blessed to go to dwell with Him for ever!
H. E. Manning, Sermons, vol. iii., p. 370.
References: Philippians 1:23.—Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. v., No. 274; vol. xix., No. 1136.
I. The two desires. (1) To depart and be with Christ. This desire is composed of two parts: a vestibule, somewhat dark and forbidding, through which the pilgrim must pass, and a temple, unspeakably glorious, to which it leads the pilgrim as his eternal home. (2) To abide in the flesh. It is a natural and lawful desire. God has placed us here; He has visited us here; He has given us something to enjoy and something to do here. He expects us to value what He has bestowed. Jesus, in His prayer to the Father for those whom He has redeemed, puts in a specific caveat: "I pray not that Thou shouldst take them out of the world." What Christ did not desire for Christians, they should not desire for themselves. Paul, even when he was ripe for glory, positively desired to abide in the flesh; they are the healthiest Christians who in this matter tread in his track.
II. A Christian balanced evenly between these two desires. The gain which it promised to himself made the prospect of departure welcome; the opportunity of doing good to others reconciled him to longer life on earth. These two desires go to constitute the spiritual man; these are the right and left sides of the new creature in Christ.
III. Practical lessons. (1) This one text is sufficient to destroy the whole value of Romish prayer to departed saints. (2) The chief use of a Christian in the world is to do good. (3) You cannot be effectively useful to those who are in need on earth unless you hold by faith and hope to Christ on high. (4) Living hope of going to be with Christ is the only anodyne which has power to neutralise the pain of parting with those who are dear to us in the body.
W. Arnot, Roots and Fruits, p. 212.
St. Paul in Rome.
I. It was not weariness of life, not the longing to escape from that close network which he had so sedulously woven round himself, that made the thought of death, not only painless, but welcome, to St. Paul; it was only the prospect of meeting Christ, of seeing Him as He is, of spending the future in His immediate presence and in unbroken converse with Him. To St. Paul this meeting appeared to be the instantaneous sequel of death, even while out of the body and before the great day. Such a condition of rest, and yet of conscious spiritual energy, is that which human reason and analogy suggest to us as far as they can suggest anything on a subject so mysterious. It is evident that the rest to St. Paul is not a complete torpor of the soul's consciousness. He is not looking forward to a dreamless slumber; he is thinking of such a meeting and communion as he can realise and profoundly enjoy.
II. Very remarkable it is to note the strength of this desire in the one Apostle who had seen the least of Jesus Christ in the flesh. Had he known the most intimate communion with Jesus in the past, he could not have anticipated with more fervent longing the joy of meeting Christ hereafter.
III. Notice how St. Paul's words tell against the efficacy of prayers to departed saints. If a saint can work more effectually in heaven for others than here, then St. Paul was mistaken, and his departure would have been a clear gain to the converts and the Church at large. The value of life, then, in the eyes of the true Christian, lies in the opportunity it gives of serving others. It is worth while to abide in the flesh; it is our duty to control even so pure a desire as to wish to depart and be with Christ for the sake of those to whose higher needs and true happiness God enables us to minister.
R. Duckworth, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xxxiv., p. 242.
The Attractions of Heaven.
I. The place heaven has its attractions. It is paradise regained. Beauty smiles there; plenty laughs there; the blessing of God is enthroned there.
II. There are attractions in the heavenly state. It is a sorrowless, and curseless, and deathless state.
III. "Having a desire to depart," that is, to depart to the realisation of our highest hopes. Is our treasure, like that of Paul, in heaven?
S. Martin, Westminster Chapel Sermons, 3rd series, p. 67.
It is plain that every precept of holy living might be brought under this comprehensive charge. Let us narrow the compass of the exhortation. Let us say, Live inwardly and live outwardly as citizens of that kingdom which the Gospel has revealed.
I. How large a part of life is lived wholly within public life, social life, family life; these do not exhaust the whole being even in those who are most busy, most sociable, or most domestic. Within and beside all these there is for all of us a life yet more real, yet more important; and the danger of all these other kinds of life is lest they should obscure or paralyse or stifle this. It is for our soul's sake, for our eternal welfare's sake, that we must watch and pray against this danger. As in some senses we all have a secret life, which we cannot part with nor make public even if we would, so it is our great business to attend to this secret life, to regulate and cultivate it, in such a way that it may become, as it is here expressed, worthy of the Gospel. We ought to be living our citizenship inwardly towards Christ, our Lord and King. The state of our mind towards Him personally ought to be that which suits and is consistent with our relation to Him as His subjects.
II. And then that which is within will shine through into that which is without also. He whose inner life is that of one whom Christ has saved will be living outwardly also as a citizen of the kingdom not of this world; his aims and motives will be higher than those of men who know not God; he will not be a worldly man; he will not be a vain man; he will declare plainly by his acts that he is one who seeks a country.
C. J. Vaughan, Lectures on Philippians, p. 73.
References: Philippians 1:27.—Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xi., No. 640; F. W. Farrar, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xvii., p. 209; J. R. Woodford, Ibid., vol. xxi., p. 161; W. J. Woods, Ibid., vol. xxxvi., p. 280; Homiletic Quarterly, vol. iv., p. 345; Spurgeon, Evening by Evening, p. 145; Preacher's Monthly, vol. iii., p. 353; Church Sermons, vol. ii., p. 113. Philippians 1:27, Philippians 1:28.—Homilist, vol. v., p. 189; A. Maclaren, The Secret of Power, p. 237.
This is a call—
I. To holiness. There is but one ideal life in the Church. In all our growing and striving Christ Himself is to us, and His grace is, all-sufficient.
II. To unanimity. Monotony is not what is meant by unanimity. We are one in our love and service of Christ.
III. To courage. Timidity is an impediment on the path of moral progress; it arises from distrust of God. "Straight on," is God's command, and He will frighten the lions from before your feet.
Parker, City Temple, vol. ii., p. 210.
References: Philippians 1:27-30.—J. J. Goadby, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xv., p. 293; J. P. Gledstone, Ibid., vol. xix., p. 59.
The Sacrifice of the Redeemed.
I. Christ's sacrifice is no far-away fact, to be shown and gazed upon; it draws us also unto itself. For consider what exactly it was. Where does its vicarious efficacy for us lie? Surely in this: that Christ made His offering out of our very flesh. He laid hold of no foreign thing to offer; He looked not elsewhere for a gift. He looked at this world we live in; He took of its substance for His gift; He laid hold of its present nature, and offered that. Forasmuch as the children partook of flesh and blood, Christ partook of the same. As He found it, so He took it; just it, and no other; this, just this, is that in which He would accomplish His priestly work. But these are the very conditions in which we to this day live. That flesh which He took we still wear; still it is full charged with ache and torment; still it wastes and sickens. We then hold in our hands the very gift which Christ, our Master, offered. It was just these human sorrows that He turned into sacraments of allegiance. Are we blinded to our opportunities by the fact that they fall upon us by natural laws, or that they seem entirely accidental, or that they are brought upon us unjustly by wicked hands?
II. But consider the offering of Christ. What can possibly be more unlike a pleasing sacrifice to God than His death? What sign of its being a High-priest's offering broke through the shadow of this world's darkness? It differed in no degree whatever from any common disaster that happens to us. It came upon Him by simple natural means; it looked to the outsider as a most cruel and unfortunate and bloody accident. He offered then, and saved by offering, just that human life which still is ours today; and if so, His sacrifice is not only a vicarious act, but a revelation of the true use to which we may put this very world in which we stand, a revelation of the manner by which even it, with all its confusions, and disappointments, and sickness, and weariness, and anguish, and death, may be justified, may be hallowed, may be transformed into the fuel of the one sacrifice which alone can reconcile the world to God. We are drawn into the circle in which Christ's eternal energies work; the love of Christ lays hands upon us and constrains us; we, as we are uplifted by the prayer of His Passion, we, too, recover our priesthood; we may lift the offering of this our flesh to God, since that day when Christ died in the likeness of our flesh and sanctified it to become an offering to God. We may do it now, though we are severed from that great day by eighteen hundred long and weary years, for still today Christ, the ever-living Priest, pleads within that holy place, into which He has passed before us, that holy blood, once poured out in love for us, which makes Him still bone of our bone, flesh of our flesh; and still today, as the Father looks upon that blood, there breaks from His eyes ever and again the splendour of an unappeasable and exhaustless love, which hastens from afar to greet our poor and pitiful gift of ourselves to Him, kissing us and rejoicing, as God, the mighty Forgiver, can alone rejoice, that this His Son was dead and is alive again, was lost and is found.
H. Scott Holland, Logic and Life, p. 133.
Reference: Phil 1—Parker, Hidden Springs, p. 24.
Saturday, March 25th, 2017
the Third Week of Lent
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