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Bible Commentaries

James Nisbet's Church Pulpit Commentary
Philippians 1

 

 

Verse 3

A PLEASANT REMEMBRANCE

‘I thank my God upon every remembrance of you.’

Philippians 1:3

A cheerpul and even joyous spirit breathes through this Epistle. Yet the Apostle was a prisoner in Rome. He is happy in the midst of the most sorrowful circumstances.

I. The sorrow of his imprisonment is tempered by his thought of God.—‘I thank my God.’ He recognises God as his God. He knows in the clearest manner that God has led him by this path. He knows that the Lord has redeemed him, and that nothing can separate him from the love of God in Christ. The Lord is my God, and what need I more? It was when David was a fugitive king, ‘in a dry and weary land without water,’ that he made the claim, ‘O God, thou art my God’ (Psalms 63.). As it was with St. Paul and the kingly David, so may it be with us. ‘Whom have I in heaven but Thee!’

II. The sorrow of his separation from the Philippians is lightened by thought of their welfare.

(a) He remembered them in his thanksgivings. For their fellowship with each other in the Gospel. There had been, and there was (unlike the Corinthian Church) entire accord and harmony amongst them. How desirable in a Church! He had confidence in its continuance. The good work of harmonious fellowship is wrought to completion by Christ. And this confidence rested upon the fact that they were partakers of the like grace with himself.

(b) He remembered them in his supplications. That their mutual affection might increase. That their knowledge of truth might increase. That their spiritual perceptions might increase. That they might be preserved pure and without offence to the day of Christ. That they might be filled with the fruits of righteousness. Looking to God he felt thankful; thinking on what God had wrought by him, and praying for its perfection, he was happy. A minister of God is joyful in his work if such are his thoughts, thanksgivings, and prayers.


Verse 6

THE HOPE OF THE CHURCH

‘Being confident of this very thing, that He Which hath begun a good work in you will perform it unto the day of Jesus Christ.’

Philippians 1:6

If St. Paul could thus speak confidently as to God’s purpose for one branch of the Universal Church, which had been only some ten years in existence, surely we, too, may venture, though with utter reproach and self-distrust, to recognise in our own hearts something approaching to a like confidence about that good work which God has begun, and which God is carrying forward, in the Church of England. As we mark the astounding instances of deliverance and renewal which must meet us again and again in the history of our Church, may we not, must we not, trace the course of a Divine work, trace with trembling hope the emergence and development of a Divine plan?

I. It is a history of perils and dangers such as no other Church has known, and it has resulted in an unique position. Again and again things have seemed so dark, or so bad, that it seemed impossible for the Church to escape without a deadly wound. As we realise the risks which she ran at one time or another in her momentous course, as we see how narrowly, and with what an inadequate sense of her own danger the Church escaped some irreparable loss, we surely may believe that there must yet be some further, vaster work for which she has been reserved by the providence and love of God. If we take but one instance, and try to enter into the state of things during the first thirteen years of Elizabeth’s reign, we may discern something of the superhuman power which was caring for the Church of England. And may we not, as we watch the Church, so fiercely shaken, so inadequately upheld, emerging at last out of all that storm of peril and bewilderment, without harm or loss at any single point essential to her catholicity, may we not feel sure that it was no human power, no human policy which guided and protected her, but that she was preserved and guided only by the hand of God?

II. That the Church of England is to be the illustrious agent in bringing the mystical Kingdom of Christ to ultimate reunion is not wholly without hope; for we escaped out of the sixteenth century untouched by the losses which had marred the Protestant communities abroad, while we had got rid of the accretions of Rome. With Apostolic Orders, which the selfsame Sacraments which had upheld the martyrs and perfected the saints in days of old, with daily offices surpassing in dignity all that the laity are allowed to share in in other portions of the Western Church, we have also a tradition of doctrine which we can bring without fear or reserve to the great Canon of the Catholic Church—quod semper, quod ubique, quod ab omnibus. There is nothing, surely, to hinder us from once again laying fresh hold upon the love and affection of the great English people. There must come indeed to every thoughtful mind, a sense of awe, a thrill of penitence and shame, as we try to realise the deliverances of the past, the privileges of the present, and the possibilities of development in the future. We must tremble as we realise the trust that rests upon us, we dare not refuse to recognise the power that has wrought for us, we dare not in false, ungrateful modesty pretend to think little of the heritage which by no sort of merit on our part stands preserved to us; we dare not utterly disclaim all confidence in this, that He that hath begun a good work in us will perform it unto the day of Jesus Christ.

III. As we think of these things one great lesson seems to rush upon us.—If God has done all this for us, how tremendous is the urgency for self-searching, self-discipline, self-sacrifice in work—work at home far wider, deeper, higher; work abroad far larger and graver in its ambition for the Kingdom of the Crucified.

Bishop F. Paget.

Illustration

‘It has been well said by a great French writer in a well-known passage that if ever Christianity is to be reconciled, it seems as though the movement must issue from the Church of England. And soon after the beginning of last century a dispassionate and observant writer, Alexander Knox, could say that no Church on earth has more intrinsic excellence than the Church of England.’

(SECOND OUTLINE)

DIVINE FAITHFULNESS

There is one condition for this confidence, a condition on which St. Paul was always insisting, and that absolute trust in the love, the power, and the faithfulness of God.

Let us see what is required on our part.

I. The constant habit of prayer.—To the power of the prayer of faith and dependence on God there is no limit, nor can there be. If we believe in an all-surrounding, all-pervading Omnipotence, Who is also Wisdom and Love, how infinite are our needs for prayer, both in things of the soul and of the body!

II. The living in and by the Spirit of God.—To maintain the habit of constant reference to God we must live in and by the Spirit of God. Pray in some such words as these: ‘O Spirit of Good! strive with me, reprove me, comfort me, help my infirmities, teach my understanding, guide my will, purify my life, testify to me of Christ, glorify Christ even in me, search every corner of my heart, as Thou alone canst search; work in me according to Thine own will.’

III. The cultivation of a spirit of watchfulness.—All this will, of course, have been cultivating necessarily a spirit of watchful perseverance. But perseverance itself is a distinct habit which we should consciously encourage. When we have made up our minds, it is foolish not to ask God to make us resolute.

IV. The showing of sympathy with all other Christian people.—There is sympathy for all God’s people. That, again, is an enormous help. If we allow our affections to be engrossed by people of the world, who neither understand these things nor care for them, our faith is certain to grow cold. Very easily do we become assimilated to those whose company we enjoy.

Archdeacon William Sinclair.


Verse 9

THE INTELLECT AND THE HEART

‘This I pray, that your love may abound yet more and more in knowledge and in all discernment.’

Philippians 1:9

In the school of God, the heart is even more important than the head. But the intellect is important also; and we must not forget that another text had long ago asserted the converse truth—not contradictory but converse—when it said, ‘Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy mind.’ Thus Moses announces that the intellect is a help to love; and St. Paul declares that love returns the debt, helps the intellect, abounds in knowledge and discernment.

Granting that the love of God should be a practical guide to us, do we ask, How is it qualified to play such a part? It is not hard to answer.

I. Love ponders character: it knows the mind of its beloved: it has a surprising tact. An affectionate child is not only more willing to obey its mother than one who is more clever with a colder heart; he is more wise to do so, because no selfish pleasure nor desire is strong enough to mislead his impulse or to warp his judgment. So, if any man wills to do God’s will, he shall know of the teaching.

II. As the mother of such a child will make her wishes known to him, not only when it is her duty, when if need be she must command, but freely, for the sheer joy of seeing his glad compliance with her slightest wish, so is the secret of the Lord with them that fear Him, and He will show them His covenant. And, on the other hand, since the Spirit of God is the Spirit of knowledge and wisdom, it is inevitable that men who grieve the Spirit, who do not like to retain God in their knowledge, should be given over to a reprobate mind, and their foolish hearts be hardened.

III. Not only does love discern a character and read its wishes; it assumes that character itself; the wishes of the beloved become its own. No two characters ever drew very close together, but the stronger gave something of its very self to the weaker; as a metal beside a magnet becomes magnetic: as all magnets feel the influence of that mightiest magnet of all, the earth itself.

Bishop G. A. Chadwick.

Illustration

‘It is quite possible that St. Paul had the mutual love of Christians for each other partly in mind when he prayed that their love might increase in knowledge and discernment. But while the mutual love of Christian men for each other may have had some place in the Apostle’s thought, it is quite certain that in such a prayer, in the prologue of such an epistle, it was love to God which he had most in view. Their love of the Father should abound more and more in knowledge and discernment.’

(SECOND OUTLINE)

FROM LOVE TO KNOWLEDGE

The text reveals a great law in the Divine economy and treatment of Christian souls.

I. The understanding of God’s treatment of us, the understanding of the inner teaching of God’s Word written, the appreciation of the various means of grace, the grace of Sacraments, the blessings of prayer, of communion with God, the uses of temptation, and all such like—all this knowledge or discernment of spiritual things is not a thing to be expected as the provision for the outset of the Christian life, but is the gift of God to those who persevere in the Christian life. It is not the preparation for Christian living, but comes as God’s reward or blessing to those who live the Christian life in the right spirit. It is a thing which Christian men reach unto, but do not begin with. And it is a thing which God gives and which they could not get by their own natural power. You see this from St. Paul’s prayer on behalf of the Philippians. He prays that their love may abound more and more in all knowledge. Thus they already have love, i.e. they already have that love—or charity—which is of the essence of Christianity; and having this love he prays that now, in the next place, they may also abound in knowledge. Love first, knowledge afterwards.

II. This is a very broad and sweeping principle, and it is one which, in days like these, when men insist on knowing ‘the reason why’ about everything to a degree which perhaps they never did before, it is especially important that we should insist upon. For, if it is true, it necessarily underlies all Christian progress whatsoever. It shows us what is our part in Christian progress and what is God’s part. Our Christian progress, the Christianising of our whole being, head, heart, and life, is a joint work, partly God’s, partly our own. We have our part to do in it, but we cannot do that part which God has chosen to keep for Himself to do. Our part is to set about the work of religion in the right temper. God’s part is to teach us the knowledge of Himself and of His ways as we advance.

III. And this is a truth, too, which may need the more insisting on because this is a day in which—blessed be God—we see many men coming in to the appreciation of the reality of religion, who have not in their earlier years enjoyed the advantage of a true Christian training. I do not necessarily mean men who have led vicious lives in every gross sense, but men who have simply left religion out, and lived much as respectable heathens might, except that, being in a Christian country, they have had a kind of external head knowledge of the Christian doctrine, and gone to church like other people. Now, when such a man is by any circumstances led to turn over a new leaf, and set about being a Christian in good earnest, and not only as a part of social respectability, he has a good many real difficulties in his way.

IV. It is precisely in your bearing of these difficulties in the spirit of faithful patience that God discerns that you are one of those righteous to whom the sound wisdom, the full understanding is ultimately to be vouchsafed. And why so? Because this is the exact test or criterion whether your repentance is that of a real faith.

Illustration

‘The whole of this Epistle bears one stamp upon it. St. Paul expresses his confidence that God will not suffer the perseverance of his flock to fail, but that as their religion was God’s doing in its onset, so God will take care it shall be brought to a happy completion in the end. The day of Jesus Christ is uppermost in St. Paul’s mind: and his anxiety is that it may not find his converts unprepared.’


Verse 10

THE HIGHER LIFE

‘That ye may approve things that are excellent.’

Philippians 1:10

This is the second time that St. Paul has made use of this expression—to the Christians of Rome, and now to his spiritual children at Philippi.

Let us see what the Apostle means by it.

I. It does not mean that they are merely to distinguish between good and evil, between what is false and true, for there would be no great difficulty in this; St. Paul means something far higher than this. They are, in fact, to distinguish between what is excellent and what is good, they are to have that sensitiveness of touch in spiritual things, that quick, deep insight into spiritual matters, that they can tell at once whether to do certain things would be good, or whether not to do them would be nobler and better. They are to approve the things that are excellent—the things that transcend—to rise to the higher life.

II. There is a higher life which we should all aim at.—Satan will tell you that this higher life is impossible for you, that if you have been baptized and confirmed, and come sometimes to Holy Communion, this is all God expects of you. This is how Satan tries to discourage us. Deep down in the depths of our hearts there lies the yearning for better things. It is God’s voice speaking to the soul, ‘Arise, depart, this is not your rest.’

III. The message of the Holy Spirit is a call to this higher life.—How can we attain to it? Not at once. An acorn does not become the king of the forest at one bound. So with the spiritual life. We are ever learning; every communion takes us a step higher; and there must be much prayer, much study of the Bible.

Rev. J. L. Spencer.

Illustrations

(1) ‘A certain painter was commissioned to paint a subject. He finished the picture and brought it to his patron, who asked him what his charge was. The artist mentioned the sum. The patron objected and said that as the picture was small it could only have taken him a short time to execute. “Sir, you are mistaken,” replied the painter; “it has taken me a lifetime to do that picture.” Perfection is only to be attained by a “lifetime” of earnest, careful striving after “things that are excellent.”’

(2) ‘If you will not destroy sin, sin will some day destroy you. I see on a far distant ice-bound shore an eagle soaring high up in air, its spreading wings are tinged with the golden rays of the sun. Its eyes are fixed on some dark object lying on the ice; instead of looking upwards it minds that earthly thing—that dark object lying on the field of ice is more to it than all the sunlight, and the fields of glorious hues through which it might wing its flight. With one great swoop it descends and fastens on its prey. It has got its earthly thing; its appetite has been satisfied, and now it tries once more to rise, to soar up once more into those blue fields above. But alas! its feet are frozen to its prey, and there it remains, a sign to every passer-by of the power of the lower nature to destroy the higher.’


Verse 17

WHAT IS THE GOSPEL?

‘Set for the defence of the Gospel.’

Philippians 1:17

What is the Gospel for the defence of which the Apostle declared himself to be set? It cannot be comprehended in its fulness, but there are aspects of it to which we may call attention. The Gospel tells us—

I. Of a manifested God, through the Incarnation, in the Person of Jesus of Nazareth, of the Eternal Word, Who was in the beginning with God and was God.

II. Of a completed atonement through the obedience unto death of that Incarnate Word in the room of sinful men.

III. Of a free salvation purchased by Christ’s merit, and offered to all repenting and believing sinners without money and without price.

IV. Of a vanquished grave by the resurrection of Christ from the dead, bringing life and immortality to light.

V. Of an opened heaven by the ascension of that risen Christ within the veil as the Forerunner of His people.

It is strange that the Gospel, as thus defined, should excite against itself the opposition and hatred of the very individuals it was intended to bless. Yet such has ever been its fortune, and never perhaps has there been an age when the Gospel was more virulently assailed than it is to-day, or more urgently demanded that those who know its power should stand forth in its defence.

(SECOND OUTLINE)

THE DEFENCE OF THE GOSPEL

Without attempting an exhaustive discussion of the popular objections commonly advanced against the Gospel, which would need a treatise rather than a sermon, we call attention to what the Gospel does for man.

I. It satisfies his heart.—What the human heart needs to give it inward repose is a God to worship, love, and obey; not such a god as materialistic science speaks of. Christianity meets this demand by setting before the human heart, as the supreme object of its worship, love, and obedience, One Whom it declares to be the Image of the invisible God; One Who came forth from the Father; One Who said, and still says, of Himself, ‘He that hath seen Me hath seen the Father; I and My Father are One.’

II. It satisfies his conscience.—A religion which shall satisfy human nature must be able to deal with and satisfy this part of it; at least, human nature itself appears to think so. If it does not, what, it may be asked, is the meaning of that strange phenomenon of altar-building and sacrifice-offering which makes itself visible whensoever and wheresoever man comes? Yet,

Not all the blood of beasts

On Jewish altars slain

Could give the guilty conscience peace.

What, however, man could not do for himself the Gospel proposes to do, can do, and does. It meets and answers the demand of man’s conscience in a manner at once righteous and efficacious, pointing the guilt-burdened sinner to an altar erected and a sacrifice provided by God Himself; to the suffering Servant of Jehovah, upon Whom God laid the iniquity of us all; to the Lamb of God, that taketh away the sins of the world.

III. It satisfies his intellect.—We know that one of the charges levelled against the Gospel is that it does not satisfy the intellect. But this is, too often, the fault of the ‘intellect’ rather than the Gospel. One wonders if men like Saul of Tarsus, and Augustine of Hippo, Origen and Athanasius of Alexandria, and Tertullian of Carthage; like Luther and Calvin and Knox; like Owen and Howe and Boston and Rutherford; like Bacon and Milton; like Newton and Chalmers; like Brewster and Faraday, not to mention others—one wonders if these men must be set down as poor pigmies in mental stature beside the magnificent intellectual Goliaths of to-day. We need to remember that our Lord said, ‘If any man will do His will, he shall know of the doctrine whether it be of God.’ An intellect in rebellion against God will never be satisfied.


Verse 18

‘CHRIST IS PREACHED’

‘What then? notwithstanding, every way, whether in pretence, or in truth, Christ is preached; and I therein do rejoice, yea, and will rejoice.’

Philippians 1:18

Our circumstances differ widely from those in which St. Paul was placed. Whatever differences may now exist amongst Christians, it can hardly be said that any ‘preach Christ of contention.’ But whilst we occupy a different position from that occupied by St. Paul, we may find much in the spirit which animated him to admire and follow.

The thought which underlies the text is that all other considerations sink into insignificance as compared with the proclamation of the Gospel.

What is implied in the expression ‘Christ is preached?’

I. Christianity consists of a twofold revelation: the revelation of a Person and the revelation of a Life; the Person is the God-man, the Lord Jesus Christ; the Life is the Divine, spiritual, eternal life given to man in and through the Son; ‘God hath given to us eternal life, and this life is in His Son’ (1 John 5:11). In accordance with this St. Paul writes thus to the Corinthians: ‘I determined not to know anything among you, save Jesus Christ, and Him crucified’ (1 Corinthians 2:2). This involves the Person, ‘Jesus Christ’; and the Work, ‘Him crucified.’ We must be careful to be precise here. Our Lord, in training His Apostles to true views of His Person, asked, ‘Whom do men say that I, the Son of Man, am?’ Conflicting answers were given, and then individualising the question he asked, ‘But whom say ye that I am? And Simon Peter answered and said, Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God’ (St. Matthew 16:13-16). This great truth pervades all St. Paul’s teaching. Writing to the Romans he defines the ‘Gospel of God’ to be ‘concerning His Son Jesus Christ our Lord, Which was made of the seed of David according to the flesh,’ truly man; ‘and declared to be the Son of God with power by the resurrection from the dead,’ truly God (Romans 1:3). This is a great mystery, two natures in one Person; but it is also a great fact; a rock-truth, upon which Christ builds His Church; a sure foundation.

II. The preaching of Christ includes not only the preaching of His Person, it involves also the preaching of His Work.—If St. Paul’s teaching upon the Person of Christ was definite and clear, equally so was his teaching concerning the Work of Christ; the completeness of His atoning death; the glory of His resurrection life; the work of Christ for us as our substitute, and the work of Christ in us as our quickening and sustaining life. But St. Paul did not preach a dead Christ: he preached a living Saviour: one who ‘was dead,’ but was now ‘alive for evermore.’

III. But the preaching of Christ is only a means to an end: the end is the salvation of souls: we ‘watch for souls as they that must give account’; ‘Whom we preach, warning every man, and teaching every man in all wisdom: that we may present every man perfect in Christ Jesus.’ Thus to fill up the Apostolic joy, he must not only be able to say ‘Christ is preached,’ but also that Christ is accepted, welcomed, received into the understanding and the heart.

—Rev. Sir Emilius Laurie.

Illustration

‘St. Paul was a prisoner at Rome when he wrote these words. He may have been referring to those Judaising Christians who taught indeed the Christian faith, but who at the same time insisted upon the strict observance of the Mosaic Law: who would make men Christians, but would make them strictly Jewish Christians, bound to observe the ceremonial law: seeking thus to bind upon men’s necks an intolerable burden, and, at the same time, to wound and annoy the great Apostle of liberty. Their teaching was probably at fault; their motives were certainly unworthy and wrong. Under one aspect of the case St. Paul was prepared to uphold, and in the Galatian Epistle does uphold, the liberty of the Gospel, as against the bondage of ritualism: but under another aspect, when, as in the present case, the choice lay between a dwarfed and mutilated Christianity and the gross licentiousness of heathenism, between Christ imperfectly exhibited and no Christ at all, he decides unhesitatingly in favour of an incomplete preaching of the Gospel.’

(SECOND OUTLINE)

FOR CLERGY AND PEOPLE

The lesson to be drawn from this text is twofold.

I. For clergy.—‘It is required in stewards that a man be found faithful.’ ‘Woe unto me,’ says St. Paul, ‘if I preach not the Gospel.’ But what is the Gospel? Christ is the Gospel, and the Gospel is Christ. Leave out Christ from your message, and what Gospel, what good news have you left? Fill your message with Christ, and every jot and tittle of it is good news for weary souls. There is, we fear, very much of modern preaching which has in it but little of Christ.

(a) Christ is not fully preached, wherever either side of His complex personality is exalted at the expense of the other: the human at the expense of the divine: the divine at the expense of the human.

(b) Again, Christ is not fully preached, unless Scriptural prominence is given to the completeness and all-sufficiency of His atoning sacrifice. Here, we believe, modern preaching is largely defective, and therefore erroneous. Christ as our example is insisted upon, and rightly so: but Christ as our propitiatory sacrifice is too much kept in the background, if not ignored altogether. Perfect obedience is indeed the condition of eternal life, alike under the Law and under the Gospel: but with this vast difference, that under the Law the condition of perfect obedience is required to be performed by man himself, whereas under the Gospel, the same condition is proposed as having been performed by a mediator. In this substitution of the person consists the principal and essential difference of the two schemes. Perfect obedience is the one condition of life, both under Law and under Gospel: but under the latter this obedience is rendered for the sinner, by his surety, and the life which is his due becomes his, not by working, but by believing.

(c) Once more, Christ is not fully preached unless ample prominence is given to the resurrection life of Christ, as lived now by Him, and as lived in every member of His mystical body. Christianity is built, not upon an empty tomb, but upon a living Saviour: and the three-fold truth, ruin by the Fall, righteousness by Christ, and regeneration by the Holy Spirit, is as applicable now as it ever was.

II. For people.—Wherever ‘Christ is preached,’ a deep responsibility rests upon all to whom ‘the word of this salvation’ comes.

(a) You who hear this cannot be as if the Divine message had never reached you: you cannot treat the priceless ‘talent’ of a free Gospel committed to your keeping as a thing of no importance, to be trifled with for a time, and then returned with the scornful words, ‘Lo, there thou hast that is thine.’ You have to account for the use which you have made of it.

(b) There must be a personal reception of the Saviour, or the Gospel will be to us a savour not of life, but of death.

(c) The true joy can only be yours if Christ be accepted, welcomed, received into the heart: you must know Christ as your righteousness, you must know Him as your life: you must learn to say, ‘To me to live is Christ.’

III. For all, clergy and people alike, the great lesson of the text is unity; unity of aim, that wherever our influence may extend it may be found that, both by word and by life, ‘Christ is preached’; unity of heart, that so we may ‘stand fast in one spirit, with one mind, striving together for the faith of the Gospel.’

Rev. Sir Emilius Laurie.

Illustration

‘The great American statesman Daniel Webster once said, “When a man preaches to me, I want him to make it a personal matter, a personal matter, a personal matter.” Christ when upon earth dealt personally and individually with souls: “He calleth His own sheep by name”: He calleth now. Oh, beware how, when He calleth, you refuse to hearken!’


Verse 21

THE SECRET OF LIFE

‘To me to live is Christ.’

Philippians 1:21

What was the secret of St. Paul’s life, that secret which made him the greatest of all missionaries to the Gentile world? We have not to go far in our search, for he himself has revealed it in the words of the text. The secret of St. Paul’s life was the power and the presence of a living Christ.

I. Christ in life.—We are Christians in proportion as we possess the spirit of Christ, in proportion as we identify ourselves with Him, in proportion as we are able to say, with something of the bold, transcendent phrase of St. Paul, ‘To me to live is Christ.’ With St. Paul this was no mere exaggeration or figure of speech. He had so far lost himself in Christ that he had made a practical surrender of his own personality.

II. Life is distinguished everywhere by the possession of three great powers—the power of growth, the power of resistance, and the power of production—and we conclude that these same three powers will be found in all living Christianity, whether shown in the history of the world or in the man’s own soul.

(a) Life has the power of growth or expansion. A dead thing, such as a crystal, may change under chemical laws, but it cannot be said to grow. Growth means a vital and organic change; it is never seen, therefore, except where there is life. The converse is equally true, that wherever you find life you find also growth, or expansion. The plant shows its life by its development. Apply that to the Christian’s life within the soul, and you will find that you have a very practical test of its reality.

(b) Life has the power of resistance. Every creature that lives is beset by all sorts of powerful forces that seem to aim at destruction. Life has ever been defined as the ‘successful resistance of death.’ And the more vigorous a life is, the more numerous and the more terrible, often, are its enemies. And so we, if we have this life of Christ within us, must cultivate this power of resistance. We shall have to resist selfish desires, we shall have to resist the spirit of the world. We have to resist self because we have, as Christians, a higher law than that of self to walk by, and because self is a very subtle being, very ready to lead us astray even under the pretence of having good intentions, even under the pretence of doing God’s service.

(c) Life has the power of production. The plant realises the end of its existence by turning to flowers and fruit. Flowers and fruit of a true, noble, unselfish nature are the inevitable results of the Christ-life in the soul. He Himself has said it in one word: ‘The tree is known by its fruit’—known to be vigorous, known to be growing or decaying, known to be dying or dead. Show by the earnestness with which you labour to overcome your besetting sin, and struggle for truth and for virtue, that your repentance is real, that you are sincere when you claim for yourself this great name of Christian.

—Rev. Canon S. A. Alexander.

(SECOND OUTLINE)

THE CHRIST-LIKE LIFE

Can I say it in any measure? Does my present life say it—‘To me to live is Christ?’ Would it be mockery in me to say it? Is Christ at all that Christ to me that I may say, ‘To me to live is Christ’? Let me advise you three things in that soliloquy.

I. Make the inquiry personal—a personal Christ to a personal self. A personal Christ! There is all the difference in the world between an abstract Christ, or an historical Christ, and a real, living Person, a personal Christ. Is Christ a Living Person to my soul? One I feel and rest in; holding converse with me everywhere; at my side; looking at me; caring for me, at this moment; Who loves me; my own! A Christ pleading for me in heaven; Whose blood has washed me! A great reality, when all other things are shadowy; a great reality, more than all I can see; the one reality of life; to me; to me personally as much as if I was the only person in the universe; ‘To me to live is Christ.’

II. Do not be discouraged if your conscience answers, ‘I could not say it. It would be the greatest presumption if I were to say to-day, “To me, this day, Christ is my life.”’ Do not be discouraged. No one can say it as he ought, no one can say it as he wishes to say it, not even a St. Paul (Romans 7.). Do not be discouraged. Thank God if you can even see a standard far above and beyond all you have ever yet reached! Thank God for the drawing which makes you, at this moment, interested about it and anxious for it. Accept that as a token of God’s love and wish to have you, and of His willingness to pardon you.

III. From your knees, get up, and go and do something.—God will show you what, if you ask Him. Do it at once. Do it as an earnest of much more that shall follow. Do it simply, modestly, and trustingly. Do it in Jesus.

—Rev. James Vaughan.


Verse 23

THE SAINTS IN PARADISE

‘For I am in a strait betwixt two, having a desire to depart, and to be with Christ; which is far hetter.’

Philippians 1:23

What a new view of Death, the King of terrors—that death which we are told held mankind in bondage through fear—does Christianity bring to bear upon this our last trial! It is not regarded by the Apostle with fear, it is not regarded simply as a release, it is not regarded as something to be submitted to as the inevitable; but he sees death is the gate of life and his soul is kindled within him.

I. What does Christianity tell us with regard to the dead?

(a) That the soul lives after death. That the life of the soul is not, as some have thought, in abeyance until the trump that awakes the dead shall call the body from the tomb. The soul continues alive. ‘To-day shalt thou be with me in Paradise.’

(b) Not only does the soul recover the momentary shock of death, but the soul is not asleep. Sometimes, from the metaphor of sleep, taken from the body, the sleep of the body, it has been urged that the soul could sleep. Why, the very life of the soul is feeling and consciousness. On the contrary, the corruptible body presses down the soul, and so, when the corruptible body is removed, then all the different faculties of the soul are accentuated and heightened, and exercised with new and marvellous power. Such was the state that St. Paul wanted to enter into, but for what? One desire, concentrated and unique, what was it? ‘To depart, and to be with Christ.’ In the midst of his conflicts and ministerial duties, he thinks of that blessed joy which would be his when death released him and his soul was with Christ.

II. What then may be gathered of the state of the blessed dead?

(a) That they are blessed, that they are in Paradise, those who have died in Christ. ‘Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord, yea, saith the Spirit, they rest from their labours and their works do follow them.’ They are blessed because they know they are secure in the arms of God; and they rest from their labours, from all the pain and toil of life, from all that belongs to the corruptible body, from all the trials of the world around; but above all from temptation and the possibility of falling into sin.

(b) But they are imperfect. We are not told of death as the end of the work of God in the New Testament. ‘He who hath begun the good work will perfect it unto the day of Christ.’ There is still the going on, in the intermediate state, of the perfecting of the spirit. They are not complete, for they are without the body, only the soul, a part of the being. They are not complete, their works follow them, their works are not complete.

(c) And yet, however imperfect they may be, they are with the Lord. We walk by faith and they by sight.

III. What then are the practical thoughts for us as we think of the blessed dead in Paradise?

(a) To remember them for our own sakes. The thought of the dead, the thought of the intermediate state, the thought of disembodied spirits of our dear relations and friends, in that inner world has a spiritualising effect upon us—that we may be raised above the world and above material things.

(b) And then for their benefit; they are not beyond our reach. The Church triumphant, and the Church expectant, and the Church militant are not three distinct entities, they are three parts of one whole, they are three parts of one individual, they are parts of the mystical body of Christ, and so there is an intercommunion, an inter-action, a fellowship between the living and the dead.

—Ven. Chancellor Hutchings.

(SECOND OUTLINE)

TWO IMMENSE BLESSINGS

The Apostle is asking here which is most worth while for him, to live or to die. Often has that question presented itself to us, and perhaps we, like the Apostle, have answered that ‘we are in a strait.’ But I fear we may have used the words in a sense far different from St. Paul’s. Life and death look to us like two evils of which we know not which is the less.

I. To the Apostle they look like two immense blessings, of which he knows not which is the better. Personally, he prefers death, in order to be with Christ. As regards the Church and the world, he prefers life, in order to serve Jesus Christ, to extend His kingdom, and to win souls for Him. What an admirable view of life and of death!—admirable, because it is all governed, all sanctified, by love, and is akin to the Lord Jesus Christ’s own view of life and death. Let us set ourselves to enter into this feeling. Life is good; death is good.

II. Death is good, because it releases us from the miseries of this life, but above all because, even were life full for us of all the joys which earth can give, death bids us enter into a joy and a glory of which we can form no idea. We are then to consider death as a thing desirable in itself. Let us not shun what serves to remind us of it. Let all the illnesses, all the sudden deaths, all that passes round us, remind us that for each one of us death may come at any moment.

III. But then life also is good, because in life we can serve, glorify, imitate Jesus Christ. Life is not worth the trouble of living for any other object. All the strength we possess, all the breath, the life, the faculties, all is to be consecrated, devoted, sanctified, crucified, for the service of our Lord Jesus Christ. Let us love life, let us feel the value of life—but to fill it with Jesus Christ. In order to such a state of feeling, the Holy Spirit alone can transform us into new men.

Illustration

‘If ever a man enjoyed life, with a vigorous and conscious joy, it was Simeon of Cambridge. And till the age of exactly seventy-seven he was permitted to live with a powerful life indeed; a life full of affections, interests, enterprises, achievements, and all full of Christ. Yet in that energetic and intensely human soul “the desire was to depart and to be with Christ.” It was no dreamy reverie; it was supernatural. It stimulated him to unwearied work; but it was breathed into him from eternity. “I cannot but run with all my might,” he wrote in the midst of his youthful old age, “for I am close to the goal.”’


Verse 27

THE GOSPEL AND SOCIAL LIFE

‘Only let your conversation be as it becometh the Gospel of Christ.’

Philippians 1:27

It is not said that we are always—in every place—to talk of religion; that would not be religious. But we are to talk and act religiously.

I. There is to be a religious tone, an under-current of religious feeling in everything about us; a recognition always of it in our own hearts.

II. Society is a great snare to many persons.—They live simply, and they dress neatly, and they like and prefer simplicity in the ordinary habits of their home life. But partly and professedly from consideration of others, but much more from vanity, their dress, and their mode of entertainment—when they go out or when they receive company—are so far beyond their usual level, and their proper expenditure, that they are actually extravagant.

(a) Are the expenses of your entertainments and your dress in right proportion to your own income? or as becomes the followers of a Lowly Master?

(b) What is the full consequence of a high rate of social life? Bills—I will not say unpaid, but bills of which the payment is deferred far too long—to the real inconvenience and distress and injury of tradesmen, who are yet too slow—from fear of giving offence—to claim and press their due. I speak what I know when I say that among highly professing Christians there is a most ungenerous and unjust delay in the settlement of their common accounts.

(c) Is very much ornament in accordance with the spirit? I will not say of the letter of St. Peter’s rule for all Christian women: ‘Whose adorning let it not be that outward adorning of plaiting the hair,’ etc.

(d) And what shall we say of the ordinary language, the fashionable phrases of social life? Are the modes of address—in our notes and letters—‘I am very sorry!’ when we are not at all sorry; ‘I am very happy!’ when we are not at all happy; and the exaggerated endings, and the foolish compliments! and the fond epithets! the ‘not at home!’ and thousands of expressions framed only to please at almost any sacrifice. Are they innocent because they are conventional? Or are they too near to a lie?

(e) And your amusements—are they means to ends? or are they ends? And if they are ends, are they worthy ends? Can you say conscientiously—in your ordinary amusements—you are always walking as you are told to walk—as you yourself promised to walk—in the footsteps of your Master? Would you like Christ to come now, and find you there?

III. It is a hard thing for any one of us to be consistent, and to ‘walk as it becometh the Gospel of Christ.’ Who can say it—which of us can say it—‘My hands are clean! I am consistent with the Gospel of Christ.’ ‘The Gospel of Christ!’ Thank God that there is a ‘Gospel of Christ’ to cover the very sins which that same ‘Gospel’ condemns!

—Rev. James Vaughan.

 


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Bibliography Information
Nisbet, James. "Commentary on Philippians 1:4". Church Pulpit Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/cpc/philippians-1.html. 1876.

Lectionary Calendar
Thursday, October 17th, 2019
the Week of Proper 23 / Ordinary 28
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