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THE TRUE CIRCUMCISION
THERE is a difference of opinion amongst scholars as to the precise meaning of the Apostle when he wrote this word "Finally." Bishop Lightfoot, for instance, supposes that he had already said all that he intended to say, and was bringing his letter to a dose. In that case we should accept the alternative rendering, Farewell! which is suggested in the margin for Rejoice. This would justify the paraphrase: "And now, my brethren, I must wish you farewell. Rejoice in the Lord."
It is better, however, to hold that though Finally indicates that the Apostle is approaching the end of the Epistle, it is not necessarily a very near approach. (See 1 Thessalonians 4:1; 2 Thessalonians 3:1.) In this case we might adopt the following paraphrase: "My letter draws to its dose. Its key-note has been the duty of joy, and it shall be so to the end."
Three Christian duties are enjoined in this brief paragraph: We are to rejoice in the Lord; we are to beware; and we are to examine ourselves that we be of the true circumcision.
THE DUTY OF CHRISTIAN JOY.—The Joy, which is the fruit of the Holy Spirit’s work in the heart, coming next to love, and before Peace, in the enumeration given by the Apostle in Galatians 5:22, is unlike anything which is produced from the natural soil of the heart. It is altogether peculiar to the regenerate soul. It differs from the overflowing good spirits of perfect health, for it persists amid weakness and pain; it differs from mirthful merriment, with its "quips and cranks," for it persists in dark hours as well as bright; it differs from mere happiness, for it persists amid the loss of all things. Those who have seen it reflected on the face of God’s children will bear witness to the unearthly beauty of expression which it generates. Of this there is a beautiful story told by Dr. Trumbull, who describes "What a boy saw in the face of Adoniram Judson." One evening, he saw a stranger arrive by train in his native town, whose appearance greatly attracted him. He had never seen such a light on a human face before, and at last it dawned upon him that the man was the great missionary, with whose picture he was familiar. He hurried to summon his own minister, and the little lad was soon forgotten as the two fell into deep conversation; but the boy circled about them, steadfastly looking on that face. Until the day he died, he was accustomed to speak of its beautiful light that shone like the sun. That surely was the reflection of this inner joy.
The "Solar Look."
In the American version of Psalms 34:5, we read, "They looked unto Him and were radiant." The "solar look" is a well-known expression for the smile that shone on the face of Rowlands of Llangeitho; and Margaret Fuller in her diary says, "Emerson came into our house this morning with a sunbeam in his face." Nothing more certainly indicates that we have fellowship with God than the radiance of that joy in our step, bearing, and look. The joy of the Lord arises from leaving all our burdens at His feet; from believing that He has forgiven the past as absolutely as the tide obliterates children’s writing in the sand; that nothing can come which He does not appoint or permit; that He is doing all things as wisely and kindly as possible; that in Him we have been lifted out of the realm of sin, sorrow, and death into a region of Divine light and love; that we have already commenced the eternal life, and that before us for ever, there is a fellowship with Him so rapturous and exalting that human language can only describe it as unspeakable.
A Thing to be Cultivated.
It is a duty for us to cultivate this joy. We must steadfastly arrest any tendency to murmur and complain; to find fault with God’s dealings; or to seek to elicit sympathy. We must as much resist the temptation to depression and melancholy as we would to any form of sin. We must insist on watching the one patch of blue in the dark sky, sure that presently it will overspread the Heavens. We must rest upon the promises of God in certain faith that He will triumph gloriously, and that the future will absolutely vindicate the long story of human pain. We must cultivate a cheery optimism, and an undaunted hope. We must resolve to imitate him, of whom the poet sings, that he:
"Never turned his back, but marched breast forward,
Never doubted clouds would break,
Never dreamed, though right were worsted, wrong would triumph,
Held we fall to rise, are baffled to fight better,
Sleep to wake."
Rejoicing in the Lord.
Moreover, we are to rejoice "in the Lord." "In His presence is fullness of joy, and at His right hand there are pleasures for evermore." We need not relegate the fulfilment of these sweet words to the far future, but now and here, as we live in fellowship with Him, we shall discover that Christ’s presence made real to us by the Holy Spirit, is the "deep, sweet well of joy." We may not be able to rejoice in our circumstances, friends, or prospects, but we can always rejoice in Jesus Christ, whose Nature is the key to the understanding and unlocking of all mysteries, the Well-spring of hope, the Day-star in our hearts, till "the morning breaks and the shadows flee away."
It is not difficult to be bright and gay amongst comparative strangers and friends, but often those who are at their best in the social circle, are depressed and taciturn with the immediate inmates of their homes. Does not the wife sometimes shyly confess to herself the wish that her husband might shed the same genial warmth on the breakfast-table, when they are together, as he did on the social circle of the previous evening? But surely, if there is one company in all the world where one should overabound with joy, it is among those to whom our face is as the sun. If it is clouded, shadows fall on all things, if it shines with unobscured beauty, all things partake of a new radiancy.
Do not be Afraid of Joy.
"Thou shalt rejoice in all the good which the Lord thy God giveth thee"; "Every creature of God is good, and nothing to be refused, if it be received with thanksgiving." God is always putting into our lives bright and blessed things to be used for Him. Do not think it necessary to introduce thorns to your roses, and clouds for the unflecked blue sky. God loves to see His children glad, and so long as you are able to look up from the joy that fills your heart to Him who gave it, connecting the gift with the Giver, there is no reason why you should not drink to the full every cup of blessing which He places in your hand.
We shall hear the Apostle returning to this injunction in Philippians 4:4. To quote his own words, "To write the same things to you, to me indeed is not irksome, but for you it is safe." Apparently, he was constantly exhorting them to Christian joy, he was repeating the advice he had often given, laying stress where he had often laid it, with him it was "precept upon precept, line upon line," and the teacher who reaffirms and repeats is sure to win in the end.
The Duty of Taking Heed.
Beware of Dogs.
THE DUTY OF TAKING HEED.—He adds, "Beware of dogs." Amongst the Ancients, dogs stood as representatives of certain human qualities. For the Greek they stood for ferocity, impudence, greediness; for the Jew, for degradation and uncleanness. In the Apocalypse the term is applied to those who are destitute of moral qualifications for entering the New Jerusalem—“Without are the dogs, and the sorcerers, and the fornicators, and the idolaters, and everyone that loveth and maketh a lie." Every traveller in the East knows how herds of dogs prowl through the streets, each pack holding its own street against all comers; they have neither homes nor owners, feeding on the refuse of the streets, quarrelling amongst themselves, and attacking the passers-by.
We are bidden, therefore, to beware of men of a quarrelsome and contentious spirit, who under the guise of religion hide impure and unclean things; and who are not only defiled, but defiling in their influence. If, in our circle of friends, there is one whose influence lowers the tone of our own life, who suggests and arouses thoughts and desires that tend to the gratification of the flesh, the tendency of whose conversation is towards the kitchen of our lower nature, rather than to the observatory of our spirit life, it is our duty to be carefully on our guard, and, if possible, to break off from familiarity and even acquaintance.
And of Evil Workers.
"Beware of evil workers." These are not quite the same as evil doers. They are not set upon doing all the harm they can in the world, but are fanatical, unbalanced, and unable to distinguish between a part and the whole, magnifying some microscopical point in Christianity until it blinds the eye to the symmetry, proportion, and beauty of Heaven’s glorious scheme. These people are the "cranks" of our Churches; they introduce fads and hobbies; they exaggerate the importance of trifles; they catch up every new theory and vagary, and follow it to the detriment of truth and love.
It is impossible to exaggerate the harm that these people do, or the desirability of keeping clear of them, they are the pests of every Christian community they enter; and their influence over young and unwary spirits is in a high degree pernicious. The Apostle tells us that when we speak, we must observe the "proportion of faith." No exhortation could be more necessary, and whenever any person makes a hobby of one special aspect of the Gospel, always agitating that one point, exaggerating it, and concentrating upon it an amount of attention that should be evenly diffused over the entire system of truth, let us beware, for such an one, intentionally or not, is an evil worker.
Beware of the Concision. These years of the Apostle’s life were greatly embittered by the antagonism of the Judaising teachers who dogged his steps. They did not deny that Jesus was the Messiah, or that His Gospel was the power of God unto salvation, but they insisted that the Gentile converts could only come to the fulness of Gospel privilege through the Law of Moses; they urged that Gentiles must become Jews before they could be Christians; they asserted that if the new converts were not circumcised after the manner of Moses, they could not be saved (Acts 15:1). Throughout his whole career, the Apostle offered the most strenuous opposition to these men and their teaching. He went so far as to say that they were traitors to the highest traditions of the past, and that the rite they insisted on, under such circumstances, and when viewed as a condition of salvation by the Blood of Christ, was only a mutilation and cutting of the flesh. It was not circumcision in the true, deep sense of the term. The distinction lies between the words concision and circumcision, the one "a cutting," the other a sacred rite.
Similarly, in our own time, we must beware of those who say that men must pass through certain outward rites before they can be saved. Still amongst us are to be found teachers and writers, the purport of whose words certainly is that, in addition to faith in our Lord, there must be certain acts of obedience to the institutions of the Church. They demand baptism, attendance at the confessional, and strict obedience to fasts, mortifications, and acts of self-denial, as conditions of salvation. Against all these we must be steadfastly on our guard, because they obscure and belittle the Gospel, and divert men’s thoughts from Him who is the only way to the Father.
It is specially difficult to be on our guard against these false teachers, because they approach us under the guise of earnestness, sympathy, and religious sentiment. It is not so difficult to watch against the outwardly profane and rebellious, but the most wary may be snared by the specious appeals of those who seem more religious than themselves. It was therefore that the Apostle feared, in his time, lest by any means, as the serpent beguiled Eve with his subtlety, so the minds of his converts should be corrupted from the simplicity which is in Christ (2 Corinthians 11:3). It is when Satan comes to us as an angel of light that he is most to be dreaded.
THE DUTY OR SELF-EXAMINATION.—The analogue of circumcision in the Christian dispensation is clearly not Baptism, but a "putting off the body of the sins of the flesh." We must be circumcised in the "circumcision of Christ," i.e. in the cutting away of all the energy of our self-life, the placing the grave of Jesus between ourselves and the past, and the rising with Him into a realm of liberty and victory, to which He passed by the door of Resurrection (Colossians 2:11-12).
Specifically, the Apostle gives us the three notes of the true circumcision, by possessing which, we show ourselves to be the true descendants of Abraham, and in the true line of spiritual heredity and blessing; "For he is not a Jew which is one outwardly; neither is that circumcision which is outward in the flesh; but he is a Jew which is one inwardly; the circumcision is that of the heart, in the spirit and not in the letter; whose praise is not of men but of God" (Romans 2:28-29).
Is our Worship Right?
Do we belong to this holy category? Are the three credentials on which the Apostle insists evident in us? Do we worship God in the spirit? The word translated worship means first to do servant’s work, then to do religious service, and sometimes priestly duty. Do we understand what it is to live in the temple of worship, performing every duty as to the Lord? Is our worship, whether in public or private, mechanical in outward posture and routine, or do we know what it is to worship the Father "in spirit and in truth," and "to be in the Spirit on the Lord’s Day?" Do we glory (exult) in Christ Jesus? Is He our boast and pride? Is following Him our highest ideal? Is the pursuit of His "Well-done" our loftiest endeavour?
Is our Confidence Right?
Are we amongst those who put no confidence in the flesh? All through the Epistles the flesh stands for self--the self that seeks to justify itself, that endeavours to sanctify itself, that is always fussily endeavouring to win men for God, but has never learned to be submerged beneath the mighty tide and current of God’s Spirit. If your religious life is one of self-effort and self-complacency, you must stand back; it is not for you to handle the priceless pearl; your eyes cannot detect its superlative beauty, excellence, and worth. But let all humble souls, who have nothing in which to glory, save the Cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, who put no confidence in themselves, but wholly rest upon the unmerited grace of God, lift up their faces with exceeding great joy. These are the true children of Abraham.
Do we rejoice in Christ Jesus? Dr. James H. Taylor wrote some years ago of the curious old New England character named Jake Parsons. "The change in his life was notorious, so significant and revolutionary had it been. He lay down to sleep one night an absolutely drunken, worthless wretch, having well-nigh lost his power of speech through his dissipation, loved only by the fragment of the family that was left to him. He woke up the next morning an absolutely changed man. For nearly forty years after that, he lived a life without blemish or spot. Eight years after the change, someone asked him what had produced it. This is the explanation he gave: "That night, Jesus Christ appeared in my sleep. His face, as I saw it, seemed so pure, so lovely, so friendly to me that when I awoke I forgot my old vices, and so loved my Saviour that I could not displease Him. He did not speak to me, He only looked at me; but His look told me that there was hope for me, that I could be forgiven, that I could be purified. I looked at Him, and cried like a child; I felt that I was a vile, miserable, wicked wretch, filthier than a dunghill. I cannot tell how I felt. When I looked at Him I was too happy to be afraid; but when I looked at myself I was too afraid to be happy. I forgot all about rum and tobacco, I was thinking so much about Christ, so pure, so lovely, so beautiful, so friendly.’"
One who knew him well, so Dr. Taylor said, wrote: "For thirty-five years he lived a blameless life, beloved by everybody. On a fine summer morning, my friend writes, the glorious old new creature would crawl out of doors, and seating himself on the grassy bank in front of his humble home, turning his sightless face to the sun to feel its warmth, would say: ’The door opened into heaven just a little crack. I shall know Him. He will look just so.’ So he lived until he fell asleep in Jesus." God give us grace that till the eternal joy overtakes us as a flood we may live in the joy of a similar vision.
SELLING ALL TO BUY THE PEARL
The Pearl of Great Price.
In one of His most exquisite parables, our Saviour depicted a man leaving his house in the morning with a heavy bag of gold, and making his way to the market-place, where pearl-sellers displayed the precious ocean gems. He was seeking goodly pearls, and passed from stall to stall with the eye and touch of the connoisseur; but from each stall he turned away dissatisfied. At last he approached one of the sellers, and saw before him on the tray the most exquisite, perfect, and transparent pearl that his eyes had ever lit on. Asking the price, he discovered that it would take all the pearls he had bought, and all the gold in his pouch, to procure it. On starting, he had meant to get the pearls and keep his house and estate, but he learnt that to win that he must sell even these; and so pearls and gold, home and heritage, were all gladly parted with, that that one most priceless jewel might be his own. And always afterwards, when the purchase was concluded, though he was homeless and solitary, the fact that he had got that pearl more than compensated him; he counted all things else but loss.
When our Lord spoke that marvellously beautiful parable, He must have had Saul of Tarsus in His eye--a man with a rich religious nature, capable of an infinite hunger after God, who passed from one stall to another amid the religions of the world, seeking for the best. But finally, when he came where the gem of heaven and earth and sea, the pearl of great price, lay, translucent and glistening, he gladly sacrificed all he possessed to win it; and in this marvellous paragraph he tells us that he counted all things else as loss and refuse compared with Jesus Christ. Oh, that we may understand the superlative excellence of Jesus, and turn from everything that would divide our heart with Him!
NOTICE HOW THE APOSTLE USES THE POWER OF CONTRAST.—There are many ways by which we set forth the value of any possession. We may speak of its rarity; dilate upon its quality; or we may set it in contrast with things that men value. Let us look upon these contrasts, so enhancing "the Pearl."
The Knowledge of Christ and the Practice of Judaism.
(1) He contrasted "the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus" with the ancient and holy system of Judaism. The Apostle speaks of Judaism with profound reverence and affection. His was not a profane and irreverent soul, that could speak ruthless words about the holy system, which, for so many centuries, had satisfied his forefathers, and which, in his own early life, had been so treasured and dear. He never could forget that the architecture of Judaism had been given by God on Sinai’s Mount; that the ritualism of the Tabernacle had been wrought out in the laboratory of the Divine mind; that the breath of God had quivered upon the lips of its prophets, and His fire burnt upon the hearts of its seers. He never could forget the generations of holy souls which in Judaism had found their solace, their inspiration, and their comfort; and therefore, with reverent, loving, and tender words, he spoke about that hoary system. What though the light of evening was now shining upon the hills of Zion! What though, ere long, Jerusalem itself must lie beneath the foot of the invader! Still Judaism was dear to him. But contrasted with Jesus Christ, and with that new view of God that Jesus Christ had brought, in which the veil was torn away, and the soul stood face to face with incarnate Deity, Judaism with all its sacred sanctions was but so much loss.
Christ and Sacramental Grace.
(2) He contrasted the knowledge of Christ, next, with the virtue of sacramental efficacy. He mentions, first, the sacrament of circumcision. He says: "Circumcision was administered to me, not in mature life, as to a Gentile proselyte, but in my infancy. On the eighth day I received the initial rite, the badge of the Jew, the seal of the covenant." He made much of it. It is right that we should make much of the holy sacraments of our religion. Chiefest amongst our religious memories, treasured with unfeigned delight, are certain great moments when we have sat at the Table of our Lord with His saints, and have feasted high, whilst the tide of holy joy has borne us beyond the shores of earthly delight, to the very bosom of our Saviour. Sacraments have meant much to us, but how much to others! Paul said: Though I value beyond compare the sacraments of Judaism, what are these compared to the living Christ? They are but the empty grave from which He has gone forth; they are but the cerements of the tomb, whilst the living Christ passes along the Easter path.
Christ and High Birth.
(3) He contrasted the knowledge of the Lord with high pedigree. To have been circumcised was much, but even if he had been the child of a Jewish proselyte he would have been circumcised the eighth day. It did not prove that he had the pure blood of Abraham flowing through his veins; therefore he says: "I was born a Hebrew; mine was the stock of Israel, the prince with God; I was of the tribe of Benjamin, from which Saul came, the first king of Israel; and which, amid the general faithlessness, clung still to Judah in maintaining the Temple rites. Moreover, I was a Hebrew of Hebrews; no Gentile blood had ever intermingled in our family." How good some count it to be able to trace back their pedigree to the Normans, or to the Saxons who preceded the Conquest. Some such pride might have been the Apostle’s. He looked upon Rome, and Babylon, and Greece, but knew his descent lay further back than any. They might boast their splendour, but he came of the man who crossed the Euphrates, and settled in Palestine as the friend of God. In him flowed the blood of Moses, who dared behold God face to face; of Joshua, who bade the sun stand still; of Jeremiah and the prophets. But he cries: Compared to Christ, it is nothing. The soul that has won Him is related to a higher family; has received the title of a nobler lineage; is linked, not with the fathers of saintly piety, but to the everlasting Father, the eternal God, through Jesus Christ, the great Brother Man, who has lifted man into union with God. Compared with Him, high lineage and ancient pedigree are but dross.
Christ in Contrast with Pharisaism.
(4) He contrasted the knowledge of Christ with his membership in a noble order of men. Before Agrippa he said: "I lived a Pharisee"; and before the Council he cried: "I am a Pharisee, and the son of a Pharisee." He here boasts it again--"As touching the law, a Pharisee." The Pharisee in our time has come to be looked upon as the embodiment of pride, arrogance and supercilious contempt and scorn; but away back in the history of Israel the Pharisees stood for the purest, strictest morality. They were the maintainers of the Law amid the indifference of their time, They opposed the great parties of the courtly Herodians and of the sceptical Sadducees. What if they made their phylacteries broad! It showed that they reverenced the very text of the Word of God. What though they built the tombs of the prophets! At least they had reverence for the great past. What though they flaunted an outward piety! At least there was the outward recognition of God. There was much to condemn, but they stood for the unity of the God-head, the resurrection of the Hereafter, and the strictest interpretation of the law. But Paul said that all this was as nothing to him now; he was prepared to be cast out by the Pharisees, to become an outcast and an alien, and be treated as the off-scourings of all things. To have Christ was an infinite compensation, which made all the rest seem but loss.
Christ in Contrast with Reputation.
(5) He contrasted the knowledge of Christ with his own great reputation—“As touching zeal, per-securing the Church." Everybody knew how devoted he was to Judaism, and how intent in uprooting Christianity. Breathing fire and sword, he swept like a tornado through Palestine. The disciples trembled when he came near any city in which they were gathered, for there was every fear that he would drag them before the Councils and commit them to prison. In many cases he ruthlessly stamped out the infant church in blood. There was nothing he would not do, so relentless, so merciless, so unsparing. And with all this, he was building up such a reputation as would have given him prominence in all after time in his fatherland and amongst his fellow-countrymen. It is not a small thing for a young man of thirty to build up a reputation like that, because it means high marriage, power, wealth and prestige. It means everything that a man cares for and seeks; but when Paul stood, with everything of this world alluring him on the one hand, and with Christ on the other calling him to the cross, torture, isolation, poverty, and everything the flesh of man hates, he said: "I am married to Christ, and in Him am married to suffering, sorrow, and loss; but I look on it as a man who has made a good bargain--for I have won the Pearl, Christ."
Christ in Contrast with Personal Uprightness.
(6) He contrasted the knowledge of Christ with the satisfaction of blameless character—A”s touching the righteousness which is in the law, found blameless." There is a tribunal always in session, a tribunal before which we are all constantly being tried; and we ourselves often sit upon that tribunal to try those above us, on our level, and beneath us. But in our quiet hours we leave that judgment-seat, and apply to ourselves the standards which we have been applying to our fellows. At such times we cannot but notice how, compared with many around us, our own character appears blameless and flawless. Thank God, we say, after we have been considering the case of the drunkard, the miser, or the dissipated, we are not as they are. And as we apply to ourselves the standard beneath which so many of our fellows have been condemned, we are disposed to take to ourselves considerable credit. "I go to church, I pay my subscriptions, I do not drink, I do not indulge the flesh, I keep my tongue in control; my dearest and nearest cannot accuse me of being anything but a loving, tender man; my life is blameless." Thereupon we conclude that we are right.
These are the people that it is hardest to win for Christ. They are enclosed and encased within the armour of their self-righteousness; they are so complacent that when the strongest sermons are levelled against congregations they shelter themselves beneath their armour-plate, and say: The sermon is good for others, but it cannot mean us. When a man wakes up suddenly to see that in God’s sight all that counts for nothing; when Christ comes to him and casts the X-rays upon his inner life; when he sees the glory of the Great White Throne compared with the linen he has been washing for years with such arduous punctiliousness; when he sees that what he thought to be white and clean is only as filthy as rags to the Son of God, there comes the greatest fight of his life. Many a man would be prepared to give up his church, to renounce his sacraments, to step out from his high family, with its pedigree, and from the blamelessness of his earlier life; many a man would be prepared to sacrifice his reputation for earnestness: but when it comes to saying that his righteousness is but filthy rags; that the boat he has been constructing will not carry him across the mighty deluge of waters; that the tower he has built upon the reef will not resist the autumn storm, in counting even his blamelessness as loss and dross—yea as dung—then there comes the greatest fight.
(7) He contrasted the knowledge of God’s Righteousness which is by faith, with his own righteousness, which was of the law. In the Epistle to the Romans the Apostle clearly describes the righteousness, which is of the law, "That the man which doeth these things shall live by them" (Romans 10:5). The doing of the things prescribed by the Law in the heart, or the Law on the Tables of Stone, has occupied the minds and governed the activities of legalists and ritualists from the beginning of the world. It was this that prompted Luther to fastings and scourgings, beneath which his body was reduced to an extremity, and that encouraged Bunyan to hope that an outward reformation would satisfy the outcry of his conscience. But such men have always found their efforts unavailing. However zealous they may be in going about to establish their own righteousness, men discover that what has seemed a white and flawless robe is only as filthy rags, in the searching light of the great white throne.
But the Righteousness which is "of God," because it was designed by His wisdom, and is offered by His unmerited grace, requires no "going about." There is no need to say, "Who shall ascend unto heaven," or "Who shall descend into the deep." "The word of faith is nigh thee." Its one condition is the open hand of a faith, that takes what the risen Saviour offers. Just as soon as the soul trusts Him--not merely believing about, but in Him,--in that moment it is clothed upon with the Righteousness of Christ, wrought out by His perfect obedience unto death, which is "unto all and upon all them that believe" (Romans 3:22). It is only necessary to abandon our own righteousness to gain Christ and His righteousness. We cannot have both. But when we have resolved to drop the one, that we may take the other; in making the choice, we suddenly find ourselves in Him, and arrayed in the beauteous dress, Who was made sin for us that we might be made the Righteousness of God (2 Corinthians 5:21).
Have you come to Him? The time is coming when you will have to be found somewhere. The Apostle says, "That I may be found in Him." You will have to be found by the swirling tides of sorrow, by some supreme temptation, by the final test of death; you will have to be found in the Judgement; you will have to be found in the dissolution of the Heavens and the Earth. When God comes to find you, where will you be found? In the cardboard of your own goodness, or in the completed Righteousness of Jesus Christ, which He wrought out on the Cross in tears and blood, and which is yours directly you look with penitent trust towards Him? God grant that when you are found, it may be with the Pearl of great price in your hand, and with the Righteousness of Jesus Christ upon your soul!
THE SOUL’S QUEST
The Apostle in these wonderful verses twice uses the word Resurrection; and surely we must interpret it by his well-known teaching, in which he speaks of Christ’s Resurrection as primarily affecting spiritual experience. In Romans 6:1-23 and Colossians 2:1-23, Colossians 3:1-25, he is not dealing with the resurrection of the body, but with that entrance into a higher state of thought and experience which centres around the risen Lord.
Paul and the Resurrection of the Body.
It is impossible to suppose that the Apostle had any doubt as to the resurrection of his body, whether at the coming of the Lord or afterwards. Surely it could never have entered into his mind that any excellence in Christian attainment could affect his sharing with the saints in the first resurrection, when suddenly, "in the twinkling of an eye," the great transformation will come to those who are alive and remain, whilst resurrection will come to those who have fallen asleep. The fact that he belonged to Christ, was a member of his mystical Body, and had given evidence of the depth and sincerity of his conversion, was enough to secure his enjoyment in the privileges of the first resurrection, altogether apart from the renunciations which he had described in the foregoing paragraph. Clearly then, the resurrection of the verses before us has to do with the life hidden with Christ in God, in whom we died indeed unto the world and sin, and are alive unto God through Jesus Christ.
We have already seen that Paul was willing to "count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord." Here he strikes that note again, and says that he counts all things but loss if only he may win Christ. In one of his quaint poems, Quarles tells us how he loves the earth, the air, the sea, and the heavens. He calls them "the spangled suburbs of the celestial city"; but they cannot give him a satisfaction in which he can rest, and he has to strike through all these outward facts and forms to arrive at God and see them in Him.
"In having all things, and not Thee, what have I?
Not having Thee, what have my labours got?
Let me enjoy but Thee, what further crave I?
And having Thee alone what have I not?
I wish nor sea, nor land, nor would I be
Possessed of heaven, if heaven unpossessed Thee."
Such thoughts must have been in the Apostle’s mind, enabling him to make nothing of his losses, and everything of his gains, when he turned from the world, its joys and hopes, its religion and righteousness, to Jesus Christ—“his exceeding Joy."
Let us consider the soul’s quest for the personal Christ; for the power of His Resurrection; for the fellowship of His sufferings; for the likeness of His risen glory.
The Soul’s Quest for the Personal Christ.
"That I may know Him." We cannot be put off by a doctrine about Christ, or by the Book which from end to end speaks of Christ, or with a hearsay or second-rate knowledge of Christ, we need to press through all these anterooms, passing from one to another, to stand in the personal presence of the Living Saviour. This is the prerogative of all holy souls; they are permitted not simply to know about Him, but to know Him, not only to read of His excellency and beauty in the Book that is fragrant with the myrrh, aloes, and cassia of His presence, but to have fellowship with the Apostles, who saw, heard, beheld, and handled the Word of Life.
This is the heart and essence of Christianity. Other religions are content with ornate rites, an elaborate priesthood, an intricate system of doctrine and regulations, but the Christian, taught by the Holy Spirit, refuses to rest in any of these, and in comparison with the Master counts them as so much refuse.
We may know Him personally, intimately, face to face. Christ does not live back in the centuries, nor amid the clouds of heaven: He is near us, with us, compassing our path and our lying down, and acquainted with all our ways. But we cannot know Him in this mortal life except through the illumination and teaching of the Holy Spirit. Let us ask Him to shed His clear beams on the face of Jesus, so that it shall haunt our day-dreams and our nights.
We must not Rest until we "Know Him."
We should never rest until we know Him as we know our friend, and are able to read without speech the movements of His soul. We should know by a quick intuition what will please and what will hurt His pure and holy nature. We should know where to find Him; should be familiar with His modes of thought and methods of action; should understand and identify ourselves with His goings forth, as, day by day, He goes through the world healing and saving. What a difference there is between the knowledge which the man in the street has of some public character and that which is vouchsafed to the inner circle of his home; and we must surely know Christ, not as a stranger who turns in to visit for the night, or as the exalted King of men,--there must be the inner knowledge as of those whom He counts His own familiar friends, whom He trusts with His secrets, who eat with Him of His bread (Psalms 41:9).
To know Christ in the storm of battle; to know Him in the valley of shadow; to know Him when the solar light irradiates our faces, or when they are darkened with disappointment and sorrow; to know the sweetness of his dealing with bruised reeds and smoking flax; to know the tenderness of His sympathy and the strength of His right hand—all this involves many varieties of experience on our part, but each of them, like the facets of a diamond, will reflect the prismatic beauty of His glory from a new angle.
The Soul’s Quest for the Power of His Resurrection.
The Risen Christ is full of all authority and power. We remember the two mountains of His life,—the one at the beginning, the other at the end. On the first, Satan offered Him the authority and glory of the world, if only He would perform one act of homage, and so evade the experiences of the Cross and grave. It was as though he said, "Son of God, if Thou wilt do homage to me. Thou needest not sweat the bloody sweat of Gethsemane, or undergo the scourging of Gabbatha, or the shame of Calvary." But the Lord would not heed the suggestion, but descended the rugged valley path, passed by way of the Cross to the glory; and was therefore able on the other mountain—that of the Ascension—to say "All power (authority) is given to Me in heaven and upon earth."
Addressing the beloved apostle, some years after, Jesus said, "I am the First and the Last, and the Living One," there was His Life in its perennial and Divine fountain,—“I became dead, and behold, I am alive for evermore," there was His Life in its victory over death,—“and have the keys of death and the unseen world," there is Life regnant over all the unseen spaces and powers. As the waters of a river, passing through various soils, take up into themselves the quality of each, so the life of Christ in its human aspect, passing through the successive scenes of His earthly ministry, acquired qualities with which it stands possessed for ever. Listen to His glorious words—“Be of good cheer, I have overcome . . ." "To him that overcometh will I give to sit with Me in My throne, as I also overcame and sat down with My Father in His throne."
Power from the Risen Lord.
What power emanates from the Risen Christ! He is the Divine storage of eternal and solar forces. "In Him all fulness dwells." An electric battery just charged, is not fuller of dynamic energy than Christ is of aeonial and resurrection power; and directly the soul is united to Him by a living faith, it is as when we touch a battery with our hand, and its stored forces begin to thrill our body. This is what the Apostle meant when he spoke about the "power of His Resurrection." He meant that to the believing soul, the power of the life which resides in Christ pours into the receptive spirit, forthwith it rises from the grave of passion in which it had been imprisoned, escapes from the bondage of corruption by which it was held, and goes forth into the glorious liberty of the sons of God. Just as the Christ could not be holden by the bands of death, so the soul which trusts Him is emancipated, enthused, raised into an altogether new atmosphere, breathes the ozone of eternity, is thrilled by the powers of the unseen, and meets all appeals from the lower world with an abundance of life, which is impervious to disease, infirmity, and temptation. Just as a really healthy life may pass through the microbes of disease, which would effect the overthrow of less vigorous and buoyant health, so the soul which is infilled with the Resurrection power of Christ, is more than a conqueror in the midst of the most virulent temptation, whether arising from its own heredity or the combined power of the pit.
The Quest of the Soul for the Fellowship of Christ’s Sufferings.
Notice the Apostle’s order. He does not put the fellowship of Christ’s sufferings as the first thing which the soul must seek; he does not expect that we should go about the world making death and the grave our main goal and object. His doctrine is healthier far. He says, Seek to know the Risen Lord, open your hearts to Him that the power of His resurrection life may enter and infill, and in the fulness of your joy you will not stay to count the cost of having fellowship with His sufferings. The experience of suffering will, so to speak, be forgotten in the radiancy of your exultation. As the pain of the woman in travail is forgotten amid the joy of bearing a child into the world, so will the keenest suffering seem but a pin-prick compared with the eternal weight of glory.
Often Christian people go through the world with a lugubrious expression on the face, much as some ancient ascetic would have done, as though looking for their graves. It is far better to tread the pathways of life, seeking to know the power of the Risen Life, for when that is within, it counts all things but loss, and even death a gain.
Conditions of the Risen Life.
It is inevitable that if we are to know much of Christ’s Resurrection, and in proportion as we know it, we shall drink of the cup of His sufferings. Every step further into the Risen Life will involve some deeper and more poignant pang of pain. Men will misunderstand us, as they misunderstood Him, men will drop away from us and leave us alone, as they left Him, we shall be compelled to stand in the pillory of hatred and rejection. To be received by Christ into His secret, will necessarily secure our exclusion from the familiar intercourse of the world; to stand with Him in the height, will have its counterpart in our being thrust down into the depth; to have fellowship under the open heaven of God, with the voice of the Father, and the descending Dove, will certainly involve the being driven into the wilderness to meet the full brunt of temptation. But the soul that really loves Christ will not shrink from the ordeal, it will, be glad to enter into His sufferings, because it realises that to know these is to know Him, and that the very distance into which the meteor is driven in the darkness, is in proportion to the close proximity and length of its fellowship with the sun that attracts it into its inner circle.
Baxter said in this connection: "A cheap religion is not usually accompanied with any notable degree of comfort. Although the person be a sincere-hearted Christian, he cannot have much peace or joy. A confirmed Christian is one that taketh self-denial for one half of his religion." How true this is! and it is absolutely certain that you may judge your heights by your depths, and gauge the amount of Resurrection Power which is within you by the depths of your sympathy with, and understanding of, the Cross of Christ. You may doubt indeed if you have been admitted into the fulness of the one, unless you have gone down into the depths of the other.
The Soul’s Quest after the Attainment of the Resurrection Life.
The Risen Life involves the recognition of all human interests, the loving reciprocity of friendship and comradeship, the fulfilment of all the duties that devolve upon us, though performing them all from another standpoint. The Risen Lord called Mary by the familiar name, sat in the social circle with the beloved band of His apostles, went forth to minister to their physical needs,—as on the morning when He prepared fish and bread for them,—stood up from His throne in vivid sympathy with the martyr who was being stoned to his death, and came to encourage the disciple who wrought in the mines of Patmos. But there was a difference in it all. He came from another sphere to succour them. So it will be with us; the Resurrection life does not mean that we are indifferent to any human tie or call, but that we have laid hold of a new source of power by which it may be fulfilled. Or life is no longer fitful, with the spasmodic energy of our own impulse, but fed from the perennial fountains of Christ’s life. Because He lives we live also; His life constrains us; His Spirit fills us; we are already in the heavenlies even as He was (John 3:13).
We utilise the forces of a higher plane of being than that which other men can utilise. Discoverers, from Archimedes to Edison, may use the physical forces of the unseen. Christian science may employ its psychical forces, but we touch those spiritual forces which are resident in the Holy Spirit, and with which the nature of the Risen Lord is replete. Just as there is a distinction between the civilised man and the savage, because the former is able to use those mighty energies of which the untutored child of nature knows nothing, so there is a great difference between the man who has entered into the power of Christ’s Resurrection and other men. As electricity is a higher form of power than that of water or gas, so the Christian who lives in union with the Risen Christ is able to exert a higher form of power than others. He knows the secrets of God, and obeys the laws of a life which is far removed from that which he used to live. Through death to his self-life, he has commenced to use the power of the Eternal Word, "Who was, and is, and is to come."
APPREHENDED TO APPREHEND
WE may compare these words with those which the Apostle uttered in the presence of Agrippa: "Wherefore, O king Agrippa, I was not disobedient unto the heavenly vision." That vision included his appointment to be a minister and a witness of all the things which he had seen, and of those in which fresh revelations were to be made, the promise of deliverance from the people and the Gentiles, and the provision of the marvellous results that would accrue from his testimony to the Gentiles (Acts 26:16-18).
With these words to help us we can better understand the purport of this striking phrase.
Paul Apprehended of Christ Jesus.
PAUL REALISED THAT HIS CONVERSION HAD BEEN HIS APPREHENSION BY GOD.—To hear some men speak you would suppose that the initiative in their religious life had come from themselves, that the first approaches towards God emanated from their own hearts, that they were independent of Him until they voluntarily put themselves within the range of His care and help. Nothing could be further from the truth. As well might the flower speak of discovering the sunshine and turning its face thitherwards. The initiative of the religious life does not come from man but from God. The first steps in reconciliation are not on our side but on His. If we seek God it is only because He has been seeking us from early childhood, and has contrived the span of our life and the location of our home with special reference to our feeling after Him and finding Him (Acts 17:26-27).
God’s Love Realised in Conversion.
When a man turns to God, the first thing he realises is that throughout the wild wanderings of his youth, and amid all the fret and war of his manhood, even when he has been most stubborn and rebellious, God’s love has never ceased to seek him. The true comparison for the soul is not that it is immured in dark galleries and catacombs, out of which it presently seeks to escape, but that God comes into the intricacies of its rebellion and wandering, calling tenderly and earnestly, awakening it from its stupefaction, shedding on fast-closed eyes beams of light to startle the drowsy sleeper, and eliciting by every method in his power a quick response. We love because we were first loved; we seek because we were sought; we leave our far country, not only because hunger impels, but because frequent missives from our Father’s house tell us that He cannot be at rest until we are again seated at His table.
As it was by Paul.
Paul realised that from his earliest hour, God had been about his path and his ways. When he was circumcised the eighth day, when he was brought up as a son of the law, when he was engaged in persecuting the Church, when he was working out for himself a righteousness in which to stand the searching inspection of the great White Throne, in and through all the Spirit of God had been near, teaching, admonishing, and stimulating his quest for the Pearl of great price. Finally, he recognised that on the day, ever memorable, of his journey to Damascus, the love of God in the Person of Christ had apprehended or seized upon him.
After all, is not this conversion? We grasp the hand of Christ because He has grasped ours, we are apprehended to live after the highest and noblest ideals because His hand has been laid upon us in arrest.
When Christ Apprehends us it is for a Great Purpose.
"That I may apprehend that for which also I was apprehended by Christ Jesus." When God brings us to Himself, it is to realise some lofty ideal on which He has set His heart. In some cases, the eye beholds, as Moses did in vision, the tabernacle which it is to build, it stands in clearly defined outlines, with every knop and tassel, every curtain and fringe, every pillar and hook perfectly designed. In other cases, the pattern is only revealed step by step and day by day. Each morning the Spirit of God presents to us in the circumstances of our life, and in the impulse of our heart, some new item in the great conception, and calls on us to fulfil it,—thus the temple groweth into a dwelling place for the Eternal.
Whichever method God may adopt with you, whether in the early morning of life you stand upon the mountain and see the completed plan, or your eyes are holden so that you are permitted to see it only by piecemeal, yet be sure that there was a great thought in His heart when He drew you out of the horrible pit and from the miry clay, and set your feet upon a rock, and established your goings.
We must not refuse to apprehend that for which Christ apprehended us.
In all life there ought to be the human response to the Divine call. We do not become saints against our will or in violation to our free agency. We must be workers together with God, working out what He works in. We must first see something of the goal to which our steps are to be directed, and then we must mount up with wings as eagles, run without being weary, walk without being faint. It is possible for each of us to turn our backs upon the heavenly vision, shut our ears to the Divine call, and take the downward course. The poet Dante caps his description of the rich young man who went away sorrowful, by calling it The Great Refusal. Herod and Pilate, Felix and Agrippa, all refused to apprehend that for which they were apprehended, and their course has been followed by myriads.
The Case of John Smart Mill.
There is a modern instance in the biography of John Stuart Mill, aptly quoted by Dr. W. M. Taylor in this connection. These are his words: "I was in a dull state of nerves, such as everybody is occasionally liable to, unsusceptible to enjoyment or pleasurable excitement—one of those moods when what is pleasure at other times becomes insipid or indifferent—the state, I should think, in which converts to Methodism usually are, when smitten by their first conviction of sin. In this frame of mind it occurred to me to put the question directly to myself: "Suppose that all your objects in life were realised; that all the changes that you are looking forward to could be completely effected at this very instant, would this be a great joy and happiness to you?" and an irrepressible self-consciousness distinctly answered, No. At this my heart sank within me; the whole foundation on which my life was constructed fell down, all my happiness was to have been found in the continual pursuit of this end, the end that ceased to charm, and how could there ever again be any interest in the means? I seemed to have nothing left to live for." But, when earthly projects fell down, did not the Lord draw near, laying on him His arresting hand, and beseeching him to adopt a more stable foundation for his life? And is it not clear that he too made a great and deliberate refusal to feel after God if haply he might find Him, who is not far from any one of us?
We must not be Content with a Partial Attainment.
"Not as though I had already attained, either were already perfect." And again, "Brethren, I count not myself to have apprehended." As Paul looked at the result of his work, the large cities which had become permeated with Christian truth, the flourishing Churches which looked to him as their founder, the Epistles which he had written, and the commanding influence of his spoken words, surely he might have counted himself to have apprehended. He did not do so because as he drew nearer to the attainment of God’s ideal, some new phase opened, as when we are climbing the hills, and having reached the vantage-ground on which our eyes have been set during hours of arduous toil, we see another height rising beyond. The more the glory shone on the face of Moses, the quicker he was to veil it from view; the higher the soul rises into likeness with Christ, the deeper its humility. When we see what Christ is in the glory of His Person, and in the greatness of His love, we feel that our own attainments are as molehills to Alps.
A friend discovered Thorwaldsen in tears, and on asking why the distinguished sculptor was giving way to depression, he received this reply, "Look at that statue. I have realised my ideal, and therefore fear that I have reached the high-water mark of my profession. When a man is satisfied, he ceases to grow."
It is also said that Tennyson was seventeen years in writing "In Memoriam." He wrote the little song "Come into the Garden, Maud" fifty times before he gave it to the public. The wife of a distinguished painter said, "I never saw my husband satisfied with one of his productions." Thus self-dissatisfaction lies at the root of our noblest achievements.
There is no condition of growth in the Divine life so necessary as a deep sense of dissatisfaction for the past. Let us admit that we have not attained to that identification with the Death of Christ, with His Resurrection, or with the gift of Pentecost, to that deliverance from the power of sin, and that conformity to His perfect image to which we have been called with a heavenly calling. Even if we are kept from known and outward sin, how much shortcoming there is in our hearts. If we have ceased doing the things that we ought not to do, alas for us, there are so many things that we fail to do.
Paul not Discouraged though he had not Fully Apprehended.
He knew Him whom he had believed, and therefore he said, "I press on toward the goal." Depression, which makes us slacken our steps, is from below, humility, which makes us more eager to attain God’s purpose, is from above. Never yield to discouragement, never sit down face to face with failure or imperfection as though these were a necessary part of your life. God can forgive failure, but He cannot forgive those who abandon their high quest, and allow their hands to hang down and their knees to fail. Grasp the banner again, young soldier, and rush forward into the fight. Let past failure be an incentive to more commanding achievements. Remember that Christ is always just in front; His grace is sufficient; dare to claim the fulfilment of His own promise, "My grace is sufficient for thee." It seems as though these words of Paul are characteristic of his eager spirit through all the ages. Not only did he press on through obloquy and reproach, through imprisonment and threatened death; but from the excellent glory into which he has passed, we seem to hear those same clarion notes, "I press on." Pressing on in the knowledge of God, pressing on in high and noble service, pressing on only a few steps behind the Lamb as He goes ever conquering and to conquer, pressing on until the pulling down of all rule and authority and power has been accomplished, and God has become all in all.
ONWARDS AND UPWARDS
The Divine Call.
That word calling frequently occurs in the Epistles—“Ye see your calling, brethren, how that not many wise, not many mighty, are called." And again, "That ye may know what is the hope of His calling--the hope to which He calls you." And again, "Who hath called us with a holy calling." And again, "Partakers of a heavenly calling." And again, "Ye were called in one hope of your calling"—to which we have been called in the unity of the spirit. The wireless telegraphy of God’s Spirit is ever bringing the Divine call to every soul. It is circling around you in the tremulous vibrating air. If only your ears were attuned to it, you would detect the low sweet voice of God, nearer, clearer, stronger, intenser, more thrilling, more eager. The voice of God calls, calls you.
The Glory to which God Calls.
To what goal does God beckon us with the prize glittering in the sunlight above it, held before us by the pierced Hand? What is God’s goal and mark? The Apostle, in his early life, was bent on becoming a Rabban, one of the elders of the people, the chief of the Pharisee party. He was filled with ideals and hopes, which he had long revolved in his eager mind; but as his palfrey bore him towards Damascus, suddenly he beheld an ideal, presented to him in the person of Jesus of Nazareth, before which all the former ones paled in their beauty, as the morning star pales before the sunrise. He saw the hollowness of being merely a Pharisee; the formality, the externalism, the inadequacy of the desire which had hitherto inspired his nature. Forthwith he became inspired with a new purpose, and set himself to aim at the spotless loveliness, the ideal of strength, sweetness, might, mercy, purity and gentleness combined in the character of Jesus, so that from that moment he cried, "I surrender everything; my hopes, aims, ambitions, ideals—I cast them all away, as man casts dross, and till I die, it shall be my passionate desire to realise in my own character, day by day, something of the beauty and glory which I have seen upon the face of the Man of Nazareth. This one thing I do: I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God."
God’s Call to You.
God’s voice is calling you to-day to that, to be like Jesus; to know Him, to love Him better, to resemble Him more completely, to strike off from your character a little more of the encompassing stone, and to bring out some new line and lineament of the perfect statue.
It is a High Calling.
It is a high calling because it comes from above, from God; the conception of it has emanated from His heart. It is a high calling because it is worthy of God. It is a high calling because it is so much above the ideals of men. Men strive to get money, forgetting that there are no pockets in a shroud; seek for pleasure, forgetting that the pleasures of this world are like the snow upon the river, "a moment white, then gone for ever"; strive after fame and supremacy, forgetting that there must come a moment when their remains will lie beneath the pall on which the crown and sceptre of empire rest, to be assumed by another. When once the eye has caught sight of this vision, it is attracted by a light above the brightness of the sun of wealth, above the brightness of the sun of fame, above the brightness of the sun of rank, above the brightness of the sun of worldly power. The lofty ideal glistens before each of us of becoming like our Master, knowing Him, feeling the power and fascination of His resurrection, tasting the fellowship of His sufferings, and being conformed to Him in His death, rising day by day higher and nearer to Him in His royal beauty, the Divine Man, God’s ideal for us all.
A Calling Above Our Aspirations.
It is also a high calling because always above our highest aspirations. How touching is that story told already of the great sculptor, who, after years of work, achieved a statue so perfectly fashioned that he could discover no line that needed to be retouched, no feature that needed to be remodeled. It stood there in absolute beauty, and a friend found him in tears beside it, as he said, "I shall never do anything better than that, it is the consummation of my ideal." Thank God, we may follow after the perfect beauty of Christ for untold ages, but shall never be found weeping because there are no more worlds to conquer. There will always be a new Alp rising above Alp, a beautiful and more beautiful conception calling us to leave that which we have already attained.
A Calling that Summons us Heavenwards.
And then this is a high calling because it summons us to where Christ sits at the right hand of God. It compels us to look upward, and set our affections upon things above, not in things on the earth. "Alas," you say, "it is too great for me; remember what I am, poor dust and ashes, full of failure and infirmity; I have so often tried and succumbed; there can be no possible hope for me to realise it; it is but a mockery to incite me to this great quest." But remember, Paul started from a lower level than yours; he was a blasphemer, and had trampled under foot the Blood of Jesus. Remember also that this high calling is "in Christ," and if you are in Christ, you have got your foot upon the first rung of the ladder, upon the first step of the staircase. It is "in Christ." You cannot be in Christ without having Christ in you; and God has put the Spirit of His Son within you that you may evolve what is involved. God has consigned to your keeping His Beloved, that hour by hour you may strike away that which is of self and sin, that the beauty of Jesus Christ may become more conspicuous before the eyes of men.
How this Ideal may be Realized.
(1) "This one thing I do." The Apostle says we must be discontented with what we have attained, and intent on the one goal which lies before us. None of us can doubt that success in life is not attained by genius, but plodding industry. A man may be swift as Asahel, of fleetest foot, but if he does not set his mind upon a distinct goal he will be outstripped by a man of slower foot, but more resolute purpose. It is not the hare that runs and sleeps, but the tortoise that plods on towards a determined point that wins the race. It is so in business, in art, in war, and in love.
Many men are born into the world who are clever at a number of things, but succeed in nothing. There are others who concentrate their minds upon one thing and succeed, though they have not half the genius of their competitors. And "the one thing" we must set our minds upon, and pursue with unremitting diligence, is God’s ideal presented to us in Jesus Christ. And it is good to know that every incident in life may be made to conduce to our high purpose. As the bee will get honey from a thousand different flowers, so we can accumulate the honey of a holy character from every flower in the garden of our life. Every circumstance may be pressed into our service for the attainment of a more Christlike character.
The votary of pleasure must sometimes retire from the giddy whirl of amusement, to recruit exhausted energies. A London season only lasts for two or three months, and then the fashionable world must go to the country, or the seaside resort, to recuperate. The business man who never gets relief from its pressure will be unable to hold his own against commercial competition. So with the student: he works up for the examination, straining every nerve for it, and then lays aside his studies and goes off to mountain or shore.
Are Our Circumstances Co-operating?
But everything in life may help you to be like Christ! In your moments of solitude you will most easily make headway; but the hours of conflict and temptation will be the times in which you will be able to achieve most of the likeness of Christ. When you lose the harvest of your toils; when the tongue of slander detracts from your good name; when you have to bear, day after day, the scornful and averted look of your fellows; when all your life is overcast by the shadow of death, and you have no more heart to live; in days of discouragement and disappointment spent in the solitude of your chamber; in days when you sit in the darkened room, where the beloved one is slowly passing from your embrace, and the precious life is ebbing from the heart drop by drop rain all these times, when you are made aware of something which is not as sweet, or beautiful, as it might be, you may take the opportunity of becoming more perfectly fashioned towards the likeness of your Lord.
The men who do one thing in the world are bound to succeed. Remember the story of the greatest of orators, Demosthenes, who set himself resolutely to cure a defect in his speech, by speaking, with pebbles in his mouth, against the roar of the sea. Men who are able to bend themselves upon one thing must be successful in its achievement. Oh, that we may say: "Come weal, come woe, prosperity or disappointment, sunshine or shadow, we will never rest, day nor night, but press towards the mark of increasing likeness to Christ, that men may be reminded in us of Him!"
The Duty of Forgetting.
(2) If we would press on, we must learn to forget. We are all tempted to live in the past, to look up at the fading laurels which we have gained, as though they could never be equalled or surpassed; to say, "We shall never do anything so good as that again, never be able to reach quite so high, or realise quite so much; to paint so fair a picture, to execute so beautiful a statue." This is fatal. Never rest upon your past attainments; forget them. Forget the rapture of your first communion; the earliest addresses and sermons, which you used to feed and rest upon; the trophies which attended your earliest efforts; do not quote these things as your highest; do not look back, lest, like Lot’s wife, you be petrified, and unable to advance.
Forget the innocence of your childhood. Do not say with Hood:
"I remember, I remember,
The house where I was born,"
and end by lamenting that you were nearer heaven when a boy than you are now. Innocence is good, but purity is better. The breath of a child’s sleep is fragrant and soft; but give me the deep slumber of the man who rests after a well-fought field. Not untempted innocence, but the strength which comes of victorious conflict should be our aim.
No Morbid Dwelling on the Sinful Past.
And do not dwell upon past sin. When a new boy comes to the philanthropist, a boy who has seen and known sin enough to blight his life for ever, the wise philanthropist says, "My boy, I want you to forget the past." He fits him out with new clothes, and tries to wipe out the memory of the degrading sins in which he has played a part. And the boy breaks from his past, and steps up into an entirely new life under that fostering care.
Remember God’s Pardon.
There may be things in our past of which we are ashamed, which might haunt us, which might cut the sinews of our strength. But if we have handed them over to God in confession and faith, He has put them away and forgotten them. Forget them, and, leaving the past attainments, the innocence of childhood, and the sin which has vitiated and blackened your record, reach forward to realise the beauty of Jesus. Do not be content with anything less. But it is important never to allow the imperfect and second-best to pass unconfessed. Too often we have done it, whispering: "Yes, I have failed, let it pass"; instead of confessing to God and man, and crying: "Never more; I will be Christlike, I will be pure with the purity of Jesus, I will be tender, sweet, and gentle as Christ was. My God, I hear Thee calling; I hear Thee calling, I will arise; Excelsior, excelsior, I will climb. Never a day shall pass that does not see some added beauty of Christ to my heart and life, through the power of Thy Holy Spirit."
There is a Prize.
"I press toward the mark for the prize." What? Heaven? No, Heaven has been won by the merits of the Lord Jesus. A throne? A crown? No, for these are the gifts of free grace. What, then, is the prize?
God calls us to the goal, but there is a prize beyond and in addition to the goal. What? Blessedness! To be Christlike is to be blessed. When we have overcome some temptation there has been such a sense of blessedness. When we have gone through some awful hour of trial, and have come out unsoiled and unscathed, there has been such a rapture in our souls. When we have stepped up to higher things on our dead selves, there has been such peace.
Do you know it? When you have accomplished something you did not think you could do; when you have made some sacrifice you thought you never could achieve; when you have done a noble thing—you have not thought about the nobility or loveliness of it, but there has been a delightful inner consciousness. One hardly knows what to call it. Bloom! The bloom of the flower! The light on the cloud! The hue of health on the face! The kiss of God! The "Well done, good and faithful servant!" That is worth living for. This prize may be won here, and not yonder only. Every night after a day spent like this it seems as though God puts into our hearts, as we lie down upon our pillow to sleep, a jewel, which is part of our prize, and the accumulation of the jewels will make the felicity of Paradise.
THE ATTAINMENTS OF THE CHRISTIAN LIFE
THESE words suggest, that there is a great difference in the attainments of Christian people; and in endeavouring to bring this home, so that any who are laggard and sluggard may be quickened in the path of holiness, we may regard this chapter as falling naturally into a suite of some seven apartments, each of which leads to another, as in so many of the picturesque and princely homes of England. May God’s Spirit help us to discover in which room we are already, and having discovered it, to press on to the next.
The Disrobing Room.
"Circumcised the eighth day, of the stock of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as touching the law, a Pharisee; as touching zeal, persecuting the Church; as touching the righteousness which is in the law, found blameless. Howbeit what things were gain to me, these have I counted loss for Christ" (Philippians 3:5-7). In the grey light of the dawn, we see the young Pharisee, decked out in all the paraphernalia of the dress of his order. His are the phylacteries, his the broad borders covered with texts, his the sacred cord as son of the law, over these the garment of zeal, and over this again a robe that seems spotless—“the righteousness of the law," in which he accounts himself to be blameless. Around the room are burnished mirrors, and as he considers his array in the grey light he imagines himself to be highly commendable and likely to stand a good chance, not only in this world, but in the next. He can only think these things because the light is so dim. Were it brighter, he would descry blemishes in his fairest robes.
The Two Pilgrims.
Bunyan well describes such a man in his picture of Ignorance. You may remember how the two older pilgrims talked to the brisk youth as he walked beside them. They asked," How will you fare at the gate?"
"I shall fare as well as other people," was the reply.
"What have you to show that will cause the gate to open, when you come to it?" they inquired.
"I know my Lord’s will; I have been a good liver all my life; I pay every man his own; I pray constantly and fast; I pay and give alms; my heart is a good heart; I will never believe that it is as bad as you say."
Bunyan’s Own Experience.
In his Grace Abounding John Bunyan still further describes this condition:
"Now," he says after his outward amendment, "I was become godly; now I was become a right honest man. Though as yet I was nothing but a poor painted hypocrite, yet I was proud of my godliness. I betook me to my Bible, and began to take great pleasure in reading, but especially with the historical part thereof; for as for Paul’s Epistles, and such like Scriptures, I could not away with them, being as yet ignorant either of the corruptions of my nature or of the want and worth of Jesus Christ to save us." "The new birth did never enter into my mind; neither knew I the comfort of the word and promise, nor the deceitfulness and treachery of my own wicked heart. As for secret thoughts, I took no notice of them."
Legal Righteousness Laid Aside.
Whilst we stand gazing into this room, the grey light grows into the morning, and beneath its beams the young Pharisee, beholding himself in the mirrors around, flings off first the blameless robe of his legal righteousness, then strips off his zeal, then casts away his Pharisaic dress, puts aside his reliance upon the ordinances of Hebrewism. After stripping off one thing after another, as the revealing light shows how utterly sullied and blemished his robes are, he tramples them beneath his feet, and counts them as refuse and loss. He is horrified to think that if he had not known the light which came from the risen Lord, he might have gone forward to face the Great White Throne, and only then have discovered his mistake.
Have you entered this room? Have you stood beneath the light of God till you abhorred yourself? Have you come to see, with St. Augustine, that the works in which you have been priding yourself are "splendid sins"? Do you realise that, apart from the righteousness of Jesus Christ, your righteousness is as filthy rags? Oh, soul, thou wilt be as certainly lost as Ignorance was, who was carried to hell from the very gate of heaven, unless thou too standest in the revealing light of God, to show thee the insufficiency of anything and everything apart from a simple dependence upon the righteousness of His Son.
The Robing Room.
"And be found in Him, not having a righteousness of mine own, even that which is of the law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which is of God by faith" (Philippians 3:9). "One day," says Bunyan, "as I was passing into the field, and that too with some fear dashed on my conscience, fearing lest yet all was not right, suddenly, this sentence fell upon my soul, ’Thy righteousness is in Heaven,’ and methought withal, I saw with the eyes of my soul, Jesus Christ at God’s right hand: there was my righteousness;… I also saw, moreover, that it was not my good frame of heart that made my righteousness better, nor yet my bad frame of heart that made my righteousness worse; for my righteousness was Jesus Christ Himself, ’The same yesterday, to-day, and for ever’."
In this, the robing room, the soul which had been stripped of all dependence upon itself, its frames, its feelings, its good desires, its alms, its prayers, its baptism, its conversion, its church membership, and having put all these beneath its feet, receives from the hand of God a perfected righteousness, the righteousness which is from God by faith, a robe which the fingers of Christ have woven, a justification which His blood has purchased, and which His hand bestows to the open hand of faith.
Hast thou realised this? Hast thou attained unto this? Art thou standing arrayed in this?—for in death, and judgment, and eternity, nothing will avail thee but to be clothed in the perfect spotless righteousness of Christ, who was made sin for us, though He knew no sin, that we might be made the Righteousness of God in Him.
The Room of Intimate Fellowship with Jesus.
"That I may know Him, and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His sufferings, becoming conformed unto His death" (Philippians 3:10). As we look into that chamber, we find that hard by the entrance is a deep grave-like aperture. It looks as though a tomb had been hollowed out in the stone floor; beyond is a table on which the bread and wine commemorate the body and blood of Christ; against the wall a rough and heavy cross is planted; affixed to the wall are a scourge, and a crown of thorns. The room, therefore, might seem forbidding, were it not that a celestial light shines full upon the thorn-crown, and whilst we look, it seems as though it were gleaming with jewels, as though the topaz, jasper, carbuncle, and all manner of precious stones had been caught amid the thorns, and become woven into its texture. Every day the true-hearted soul must enter that room. We must never really get beyond it in this life. It must constantly be our resort, that we may know Christ and the power of His Resurrection.
The order of this verse appears to stand in the reverse direction to our experience. It begins with knowing Him; then it passes to the power of His resurrection, then to the fellowship of His sufferings, and lastly, to conformableness with His death.
Conformable to the Lord’s Death.
With many, the reverse is the way by which they are led. That is, they begin by being "conformable to His death." Do you know what it is to lie down in that grave of Christ, till the voices of the world’s tumult and the throb of passion subside, till you realise how little this world is, and how much eternity? Have you attained to this? Have you become conformed unto His death? What was that death? In its judicial aspect, an atonement for human sin; but looking at it from the human and personal side it was the bringing of every natural desire into absolute subjection to the Will and Law of God—the desire to live, the desire for love, the desire for popular adulation, and human friendship. From the earliest of His recorded temptations, our Lord made this the rule of His Life. He would not gratify the natural appetite of hunger until He was certain of being in the line of His Father’s Will. This is what the Cross means, and this involved Calvary. If, then, our Master would not make stones of the desert bread, to feed His natural hunger, because the Father had not bade Him eat, we may not yield, even to what seems natural, until our Father says we may. And if we carry out that principle of subordinating everything to the will of the Father, we shall certainly come to the Cross, and out of the Cross comes the diadem of victory. You conform to His death, you eat of His flesh, you drink of His blood, and then pass on to know the power of His resurrection.
But as we have seen, the reverse is also true, and happy are they who have experienced it. They begin by knowing Jesus in the most intimate and blessed fellowship, and almost without realising it they are led on to realise that they are walking with Him, not in the energy of their own nature, but in the powers of His Resurrection. The Spirit of Holiness, who raised their Lord from the dead, is doing the same for them, they experience the mighty energies that emanate from the risen Saviour, and in His strength walk on their high places. But in doing so, they are brought in contact with the virulent hatred of their fellows. As men hated the Master of the House, they hate those of His household. The full tide of human opposition surges up against them, as an adverse current which breaks in clouds of spray on the undaunted progress of an ocean steamer. Presently the beast that ascendeth out of the bottomless abyss makes war against them, and overcomes and kills them, and their dead bodies lie in the street of the great city, which spiritually is called Sodom and Egypt, where also their Lord was crucified; but after three days and an half the Spirit of Life from God enters into them, and they stand upon their feet, and they hear a great voice from heaven saying unto them, "Come up hither." (See Revelation 11:6-12.) They know the fellowship of Christ’s sufferings, and are made conformable unto His death, but they attain to His Resurrection. They drink of His cup, and are baptised with His Baptism, and so come to sit on His Throne.
The Room of High Endeavour.
"Brethren, I count not myself yet to have apprehended; but one thing I do, forgetting the things which are behind, and stretching forward to the things which are before, I press on toward the goal, unto the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus" (Philippians 3:13-14). In this room are various pictures of Alpine ascents, photographs of the high summits which other souls have scaled. Around are the prizes that have been won in the arena by successful conflict. On every side are the marks of achievement; and in the midst of the room, unfurled as though it were soon to be grasped and borne forth, is a banner with the "strange device," Excelsior! Everything, therefore, that betokens past achievement is accounted but as the stepping-stone to still further effort. The soul leaves behind it as a mere memory, the things which it has attained, however great and beautiful in themselves, because some higher ascent calls to it. Is this the attitude of your soul?
Have You Forgotten Some Things?
Have you learnt to forget? Are you living upon your past attempts, their failure, or success? for any of these will cut the sinews of your strength. You must forget even your sins, God forgets them, saying, Try again. You must forget your innocence, the innocence of your childhood; purity tried by fire is better. You must forget, also, your realised ideals. You must forget things which have become dear to you, but which have hindered you, clinging to you as barnacles to the bottom of the great steamer, hindering its progress. You must forget all that, and from this day must confess that you have not attained, that you are not perfected, but are going to climb to the rare heights of Christ-likeness; always doing what Christ would do, if He were in your place; always taking as the sufficient question of your life, "What would Jesus do if He were situated as I am?"
The Room of Compassion.
"Many walk, of whom I told you often, and now tell you even weeping, that they are the enemies of the Cross of Christ: whose end is perdition, whose god is their belly, and whose glory is in their shame" (Philippians 3:18-19). There is a tear bottle here, in which the tears of Christ were caught once, though long since they have been transmuted into the pearls that glisten in His crown. But that tear bottle is there for the tears of those disciples who have learnt His compassion; for as the Redeemer wept, so do His redeemed weep still, and say, even weeping, of others, "They are the enemies of the Cross of Christ." May that compassion, like a fountain, send the tears in rills from our eyes. God forbid that we should live in such a world as this, without weeping over the enemies of the Cross; and it should be borne in mind that the enemies of the Cross, here referred to, are not those who have rejected Christ, but those who once professed Christianity, and had the creed and reputation of godliness, but in their heart of hearts, and in their lives, have denied the Lord that bought them.
The Room of Expectant Hope.
"Our citizenship is in Heaven; from whence also we wait for a Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ" (Philippians 3:20). This room has a window looking East; and it is so situated that it is hardly possible to descry the river; for the view lies across the river, to a fair and beautiful horizon; and the soul which has passed through the earlier stages, stands with eye fixed, and every nerve and muscle strained, looking for the dawn, whilst the morning star shines clear in the sky. "We look for a Saviour." It is the saved soul that waits for the Saviour. We are saved from the wrath of God; we are being saved day by day from the power of sin; but, oh, we long for Him who shall appear the second time, without sin, unto salvation!
The Room of Confident Anticipation.
"Who shall fashion anew the body of our humiliation, that it may be conformed to the body of His glory, according to the working whereby He is able even to subject all things unto Himself" (Philippians 3:21). To subject. Look at this. He who in the second chapter was subjected, in this chapter subjects. You must be subjected before you can subject.
(1) We confidently anticipate the moment when the body of our humiliation, which has so often limited and hindered us in our work, which has hungered and thirsted, fainted and grown weary, whose eyes have failed, whose knees have faltered, and hands hung down, shall exchange its corruption for incorruption, its mortality for immortality, being transfigured into the likeness of the body of His glory—ethereal, vigorous, incapable of fatigue but a perfected instrument for a perfected nature.
(2) We anticipate much more than that. Death, thou shalt be subdued. Grave, thou shalt be subdued. Sin, sorrow, pain, evil, ye shall be subdued. The Lord comes to subdue you as we confidently expect. This room enshrines masterpieces of art, commemorating the great past. That picture is of the overthrow of Pharaoh; and that of the destruction of Midian; and that of the defeat of those mighty Assyrian hosts which menaced Hezekiah; and here are the cross and empty grave—symbols of the victory of the Son of God over the world, the flesh, and the devil. Yes! He shall overcome; it is His right. He shall subject all things unto Himself; it is the Father’s promise. The kingdoms of this world shall become the kingdom of our God, and of His Christ, and He shall reign for ever. Let us hasten unto the coming of that day of God!
BURGESSES OF HEAVEN
THE Greek word translated conversation is, as we saw in Philippians 1:27, the root from which we derive our word politics, politician, policeman, and such like; and the true rendering in each case should be citizenship. In the earlier passage it might be rendered: "Be true citizens of God’s commonwealth—let your life befit your high calling to be burgesses of the New Jerusalem"; and in this passage it might be rendered: "Your city home is in heaven."
The same thought pervades the Scriptures. "Now they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly" (Hebrews 11:16). "The city which hath foundations, whose builder and maker is God" (Hebrews 11:10). Even the patriarchs descried and greeted from afar the palaces of that heavenly city. And the inspired writer takes up the same attitude when he says: "Here we have no continuing city, but we seek one to come."
Our Citizenship in Heaven.
If we would resemble the saints of past days we must conceive of our citizenship as being in Heaven. That a man should be a citizen of a city, but live in a foreign country, is not an unusual circumstance. In these days when men are scattered so widely over the world, many of the citizens of London are to be found in India, Burmah, and Australia, on a visit for temporary purposes; and so the anomaly is often presented of men being strangers in the place where they are resident, but most at home in the city from which they are absent.
What is true of the pilgrim-life was pre-eminently true of Jesus Christ, who said of Himself, "He that came down from heaven, the Son of Man who is in heaven," as though during His earthly life He recognised that His citizenship in His Father’s city remained unimpaired, and that residence for thirty years amongst men did not naturalise Him as a citizen of earth.
In the collect for Advent Sunday we are told that the Son of God came to visit us in great humility; and four times over in the Gospels the Lord’s life on earth is described as a visit. All the time He was amongst men, He was a citizen of that city, therefore He lay in a borrowed manger; His body was deposited in a borrowed grave; He had not where to lay His head; and when every man went to his own home, He went to the Mount of Olives. Throughout His life He was a pilgrim and foreigner as all the fathers were.
Like Master, Like Man.
And what is true of Jesus Christ should be true of every Christian. As Lady Powerscourt puts it: "The Christian is not a man who, standing on earth, looks up to heaven; but who, being in heaven, looks down upon earth, and throughout his life he recognises that he is a foreigner indeed." And this very aspect of the Christian will bring him into conflict with the men of this world, for when he says in his Master’s words: "I am not of this world, I am from above, ye are from beneath," they gnash their teeth at him, and cast him out, as the citizens of Vanity Fair did Christian and his companion. One of the Puritans sweetly says: "It cannot be expected that the men of this world can ever understand the Christian life, because they have never been in the City from which he hails, and therefore are altogether ignorant of its manner of life and mode of speech." The world is unable to recognise us, because our language, speech, dress, manner, and method of life are altogether different from that which is in vogue in its society. If unconverted men lay their hands upon your shoulders to hail you as one of themselves, begin to question in your own heart whether you are truly living as one of the citizens of the New Jerusalem.
This Citizenship is a Matter of Birthright.
In a memorable moment, when the Apostle had been delivered from his foes, he asserted his right to be interrogated without scourging, on the ground of his being a Roman citizen. The chief captain was immediately informed and hastened to his side. "A Roman? With great price I obtained this right! Ah!" the Apostle said, "but I was freeborn, my birth carried with it the right of citizenship." Yes, and the residence of a thousand years in Heaven would not make us more certainly citizens of the New Jerusalem, than we are at this moment, if we are born from above. Grant that we still live on this side of the veil which hides the transient from the enduring, the temporal from the eternal, the seen from the unseen, yet, so soon as we are regenerate of the Holy Spirit, in the first moment of our new life, we become enrolled in the list of burgesses, we have the franchise of the New Jerusalem given to us, our names are entered upon its directory. Though as yet we have not taken up the right, and entered into the enjoyment of all that awaits us, we have, nevertheless, the right to enter in through the gate into the city. This may not help you much now, but, I pray you, meditate on it for a few moments daily, and you will find it becoming a growing force to withdraw you from the things of this world, and to attach you to the things of the other world; you will come to reckon that you must set your affection on that city to which you belong, that you must lay up your treasures there where neither moth nor rust corrupt, and that you must regulate your conduct by the regulations that rule in that city. Every regenerate person, by the fact of the new birth, has obtained the franchise of the City of God.
To Belong to that City should be a Matter of Joy and Pride.
Athens was the glory of Greece, and though the smaller states and cities were in perpetual conflict, every Greek was proud of her peerless beauty and culture. The citizen of Rome, travelling afar, bore himself as a stronger, prouder man, because he could say, "I am a Roman." And if we could really see things as they are, and disentangle ourselves from the net of the material, there is nothing of which we should be more proud, than to belong to that great commonwealth which includes all pure and holy souls of every age, and which shall stand when all cities and politics, all thrones and empires have disappeared, as the foam on the wave that bears it.
Men speak of Rome as the eternal city. She has no right to that title. There is only one eternal city, because its foundations cannot be impaired by revolution or change; because its walls are founded on God’s eternal covenant of truth; and because all its laws and regulations are based upon the principles of eternal truth. From out of those city gates proceed the angels to all parts of the universe, but they return to it, as the metropolis of life. Thither the kings and princes of science, of literature, of music, of art bring their treasures. The saints of every age find their home there. Her light is brighter than the sun’s; there is no temple because God is her Temple; her river is the Holy Spirit of God; her flowers are of amaranth; her streets are of gold; her walls of jasper; her gates of pearl; God Himself is her architect and King. Who may not be rightly proud to belong to such a city! The Goths who conquered the Roman Empire for God broke upon it like an avalanche from another world; and because they were so utterly indifferent to its attractions, they were easily able to overcome it. Who can overcome the world, but those who have our faith—the faith which detaches from this world, because it attaches us to the unseen and eternal, in God and His Christ? The Church of God will never be able to conquer the world so long as she is part of it, but only as she comes on the world from the sphere above it, with the impulse and impetus of those who believe that their city lies beyond the stars.
We are to Walk Worthy of It.
The Apostle says that there were men in that time who professed the Cross, but who were "enemies of the Cross." Neither Paine nor Voltaire ever inflicted such awful havoc on the religion of Jesus Christ as those false professors who have borne His name, but been destitute of His grace and power. Such men, the Apostle says, mind earthly things. They were made to face God like kings, but they are always rooting in the earth like swine; their ambitions are limited by the horizon of time and sense. They glory in things of which they ought to be ashamed; appetite is their God, and destruction their end.
A story is told of a man of wealth who was taking his friend round his magnificent mansion, in which a spacious chamber was dedicated to be a chapel. The visitor, who thought of little else than good living, on entering the chapel, said: "What a magnificent kitchen this would make." Whereupon his host replied: "You are mistaken, this is not a kitchen; when I have made my belly my God, then I will make my chapel my kitchen, but not before." How many men there are whose one thought is set on eating and drinking, and the gratification of sensual appetite. There is no chapel in their life, it is all kitchen.
We must Keep an Eye upon the City Gates.
That word whence, by the peculiar construction of the Greek does not refer to the heavens, but to the city gate. It is a very tender and fragrant thought that whilst transacting our business on the lowlands of earth, we may ever keep our eye on the city gate into which He entered, whom we love, and through which He will most certainly come again as a Saviour. "Whence, also, we look for the Saviour," "He shall come the second time without sin unto salvation." In these dark and dreadful days the Church needs to turn with unceasing hope towards the Second Advent. Oh! when will those pearly gates open! When will that cavalcade issue forth! When through the dim haze will the Lord come, riding upon His white horse, and followed by the army of Heaven! Come quickly, come quickly, O Saviour of men, who by Thy first coming didst put away our sin, and by Thy second coming will put the crown on the work of salvation by raising and changing our mortal body!
Our Vile Body.
In the old version we read our vile body. When Archbishop Whately was dying, he asked his chaplain to read to him. The chaplain took up this paragraph reading it as it stands in the A.V. "Stop," said the Archbishop, "not ’vile body’, if you please, but body of our humiliation." The body is not vile in the ordinary significance of the word, because Jesus bore it, because His blood purchased it, because the Spirit makes it His Temple, and because it has been so often the medium by which holy impressions have gone forth to others. Not vile; but the body of our humiliation, because it cramps, confines, and limits us; it needs sleep and food; it retains in its very organism the impression of past sins; it is a clanking chain, that holds us down when we would fain rise, so that one understands something of what chained eagles feel, when they fret against the iron bars of their cage, and pine to soar on outspread pinions to the sun.
"The body of our humiliation," but it shall be transfigured. It shall rise from its dust, and shall be changed in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, into the likeness of "the body of His glory." We stand upon the transfiguration mount, and behold the body of His glory. We wait with Mary at the open grave, and see the body of His glory. Finally, from the Ascension Mount, we follow the body of His glory, and behold it, shining as the sun. It seems impossible to believe that one day we shall be like Him, and that our mortal shall be radiant with immortality like His.
How Shall It Be?
How shall these things be? There is but one answer. "By the working whereby he is able to subdue all things unto Himself." Say this over and over again. When the devil is strong, when passion rages, when you cannot be the man you would when it seems as though the world were hopelessly corrupt and the wrongs of time refuse to be adjusted, repeat these words to yourself, as a sweet refrain: "The power by which He is able to subdue all things unto Himself." Oh, take to Thyself Thy great power and reign! Begin now with obdurate wills, with proud and evil hearts, with indomitable pride, with passion and lust. Subdue these, O Christ, and cause us to be transfigured in the spirit, that whilst in the body of humiliation, we may live worthily of our citizenship, and ultimately rise to the immortal.
The Joy of the Coming.
It is said that as the cattle, which may have been greatly demoralised by the tossing of the vessel and the discomfort of their quarters, draw near land, at the end of a tedious voyage, and scent the breeze which comes over the ship laden with the fragrance of the dover, the effect is immediate, they begin to revive, and toss their heads as though they were keenly conscious that the voyage was almost over, and that the familiar pasture-lands were within reach. So should we look with reviving hope for the coming of Christ, who will put down all rule and authority and power, will subdue all things to Himself, and complete our salvation which begins with the forgiveness and deliverance from the curse, which proceeds to the ever deepening emancipation from the power of corruption, and which will end when this body of humiliation is delivered from the last remains and traces of the fall, and raised in the perfect beauty of the everlasting morning.
Is it wonderful that in the first verse of the following chapter, the Apostle turns to the Philippians as his "beloved and longed for brethren," and bids them stand fast? The vision and hope of future glory, when these mortal bodies shall be conformed to the Body of the glory of our Risen Lord, and when the privileges of our heavenly citizenship shall be fully realised, were surely enough to hold them steady as the anchor holds the ship. By all the promises that had been made to them, by all the hopes they cherished, by all the glory which was already flushing the horizon, he urged them to stand fast in the Lord, watching that they should not lose their reward, and waiting until the fulness of the times should bring in the fulness of their redemption.
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Meyer, F.B. "Commentary on Philippians 3". "Meyer's Devotional Commentary on Philippians". https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 24 / Ordinary 29