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THE LORD IS AT HAND
Paul and the Lord’s Advent.
That has generally been thought to indicate the Apostle’s belief in the Lord’s imminent advent, which, as we know, was a prevalent motive with the early Church. If a missionary left his native land, and crossed the ocean with the Evangel, as the burnished mirror of the water shone with the path of the sunbeams, it seemed to him that at any moment, down those sunbeams, the Lord might come. When the primitive Christian said good-bye to his fellow-Christian, it was without too great a pang of regret, because they expected soon to meet in the presence of Christ. Every tremor in the air, every catastrophe, every political change appeared to them like the first note of the archangel’s trumpet, like the footfall of the coming Prince. This consciousness of the imminent advent was a mighty lever, by which to lift the whole state of thought and feeling in the early Church to those higher levels, the best and most glorious levels, which the Church of God has ever attained.
But for one or two reasons such does not appear to be the meaning here. First, the Greek word does not lend itself to that significance. The better rendering undoubtedly would be "the Lord is near." Secondly, at the end of the third chapter, the Apostle had been dilating upon the expectant attitude in which we wait for the Saviour, and it would be hardly compatible with that to find him immediately saying, The Lord is here. Thirdly, it is interesting to notice that the Apostle’s anticipation of the advent of Christ was, as the years passed, largely affected by his growing conception of the nearness of Christ, so that all life was to be lived "in Him." He never gave up his hope of the advent, but he became gloriously influenced by the larger thought that all life must be ensphered in Christ.
The Lord Ever Near.
Whilst inditing this paragraph he became suddenly overshadowed with the consciousness that the Lord Jesus Christ was literally present in his hired room, nearer to him than the sentry, nearer to him than Epaphroditus, nearer to him than Timothy, his beloved son, and he burst out with this exclamation, which his amanuensis at once wove into the fabric of the Epistle: "The Lord is near; He is with me in my room, and He is with you in Philippi; and we are all included and encircled in the golden fence of His presence."
There is a similar instance of this in Psalms 119:1-176, where the holy author stays in the midst of the royal sweep of his work, and cries: "Thou art near, O God." We all know times like that. We have been walking in the midst of some beautiful landscape, the river rushing past, flowers dipping their cups silently into its brink, the gentle air moving through the quivering leaves above, the insect life humming its varied music, and all nature suffused with the smile of the sun. Then, all suddenly, there has been borne in on us the consciousness of a spiritual presence; we have felt a breath on our faces, a thrill in our hearts, and, behold, He who came to John on the Isle of Patmos has come to us; and, lo, the radiant glory of Christ has excelled that of the sun. "Thou art near, O God; the Lord is near."
To everyone of us.
In the church, when saying your prayers mechanically, falling in with the murmur of repetition as you have done a thousand times, standing listlessly listening to the people singing, or joining with them without much heart; sitting apparently intent on the words of the minister whilst your thoughts have been far away on your business or pleasure, suddenly there has been as it were the music of golden bells, and you have realised that the old promise was being fulfilled: "There am I in the midst." Without opening the door, without the sound of a footfall, the Lord Jesus has glided into the shut apartment of your nature, and you have said, "The Lord is near."
The Power of Presence.
What a mighty power a presence is to some of us! To a man, the presence of a pure and noble woman has often put a cool hand upon a fevered forehead, stayed the throb of passion, and called him back to sanity and manhood. And to a woman how much there is in the presence of her husband, lover, brother, or friend! How strong and calm she becomes when she is made conscious of that presence! With some of us there is the radiant vision given by memory of a beloved parent, of the sainted minister of our childhood, or of the servant of God whose fragrant biography we have read. How many of us have been calmed, quieted, and restrained by the presence through memory and recollection of someone whom we have loved and lost! How pathetic it was when our late beloved Queen in dying called thrice, "Albert, Albert, Albert!" How certainly those words revealed the presence in which she had lived! Probably there are many men and women whose lives are lived in the consciousness of the presence of the Angel of their pilgrimage. How often we have been restrained from things we are glad we never did, and words we are thankful we never said, by the thought that the angels were at hand, and we knew that they would blush, that their holy natures would be hurt, unless we were strong, gentle, and pure.
But, oh! if every one of us would live, not in the presence of the beloved wife or noble woman; of the strong, brave husband; of the holy memory, or of the peerless angel, but in the presence of the Lord Jesus, saying perpetually to ourselves, "The Lord is near, the Lord is at hand," there is not one of us that would not spring up into an altogether new life, as flowers do when from the arctic they are removed to the tropic soil, and instead of being environed by frost become the nurslings of the sunny air. If every one of us could do as the late Mr. Spurgeon did, who said that he did not recollect spending a quarter of an hour without the distinct thought of the presence of Christ, life would become ever so much better, brighter, and stronger than it is.
The Presence of Christ.
The presence of Jesus Christ is brought home to us by the Holy Ghost, who is the Spirit of Remembrance, making Him real, recalling our wandering thoughts, and concentrating them on Him until He stands out luminous and kingly in our life. That is Christianity. With too many the Christian religion consists in living back in the past. They linger in Gethsemane rather than in Joseph’s garden with its empty grave. This is the life of the Roman Catholic, or of those who have been nursed in Protestant schools of thought, but have never learnt the meaning of the Lord’s Ascension. But true Christianity does not postpone the presence of Christ to the future, or recall it from the past, but lives in the sense that He is. Hence the Gospel by St. John contains such recurring phrases as: I am the Vine; I am the Good Shepherd; I am the Door; I am the Resurrection and the Life. Christ lives in the present tense, and blessed is the soul that has learnt that lesson.
The whole of this paragraph (Philippians 4:1-7) crystallises around this thought.
Philippians 4:1: Steadfastness. The man who is backwards and forwards, mercurial, easily up to boiling point, and as soon down to zero, who is on the hooks and off ten times a week, now like a seraph flashing with zeal, now like a snail crawling in lethargy, who is everything by fits and starts and nothing long, will not have a happy Christian experience, nor will his influence tell in the Church or on the world. He may be a genius, but he will be a meteor dying in the dark. It is better to have for a friend and fellow-worker a man of less brilliance and with fewer ideas, who will be occupied by one thought, and give it regular and patient expression. In life, as in war, it is not the man that makes brilliant dashes, but he who can pursue a plan of strategy, week after week, that succeeds.
In the Lord.
The source of stability is to stand fast in the Lord. Our only hope of stability is in union with "the Rock."
There is a sculpture in Spain of the Crucifixion, which is the only one of the kind. A fierce light falls on it from a hidden window. One hand is nailed to the Cross, the other is stretched out. The story is that lovers plighted their troth there, and afterwards, when the man was faithless, the woman came back to plead her case beneath the Cross, and the hand disengaged itself, and stretched towards her, whilst a voice said: "I was witness." Probably, however, the old sculptor meant that if one hand is nailed to the Cross in atonement, the other hand is quick to help; and if you want help to be stable, you will find a very present help in the thought that He is near.
Philippians 4:2-3: Be of the same mind. These two women, Euodia and Syntyche, had fallen out; two women of whom the Apostle says: "They laboured with me in the Gospel," and the Greek word is--they agonised by my side. What a tribute to women! All through the centuries they have wrought beside their ministers. Compute what the churches owe to women. Many of them must have been disbanded if holy women had not bound them together by their presence and their prayer. Think of all the children like Chrysostom--"golden-mouthed"--who have been reared by Christian mothers; of all the hymns in our hymn-books we owe to women. But Euodia and Syntyche had fallen out. They were of different dispositions, and could not understand each other. They had been made on a different plan. Paul knew that neither Clement nor his fellow-labourers could put them right, but that if those two women came into the presence of Jesus they would find it easy to be of one mind. In the presence of the sun hard icicles flow together.
Philippians 4:4: Rejoice always. When your children are around you, and when crepe is on your knocker; when your books show a good profit on the year’s trading, and when your best schemes have miscarried; "Rejoice always." Amid your tears keep a trustful, restful, joyful heart, not rejoicing in your gifts, in your successes, in your friends, but in Him--rejoice in the Lord, in the presence of the Lord, for He is always there. The secret of perennial joy is in the realised companionship of the Redeemer.
Philippians 4:5: Moderation. The Revised Version says forbearance. We should say in modern English sweet reasonableness. Luther, in his translation, renders it yieldingness. Of course, we can never yield principle; we can never yield to men who are doing the devil’s work in the world; but a good many have edges and corners which concern temperament rather than principle, and we who know them ought to yield, just as the boat in descending a very narrow streamlet has to take the course of the stream. It is easy to bear all, to endure all, to believe all, when the overshadowing presence of the Lord Jesus is realised.
Garrisoned in Christ.
Philippians 4:7: The peace of God, which passeth all understanding, shall guard your hearts and your thoughts in Christ Jesus. It is only in the presence of Christ that this peace becomes ours.
Worded and anxious with the fluctuation of stock and share markets, his employees and subordinates trying him; the master unreasonable; affairs in a tangle; a man comes home from his day’s work feeling thoroughly out of heart. His wife meets him at the door, her face calm and restful; there is a sense of peace and serenity, like the scent of flowers, in the room where she had been awaiting him. She knows that the frost has gathered about him, as the frost gathered on the Majestic one winter day when it came into New York harbour, after battling with the Atlantic. She ministers to his needs, and presently elicits, without seeming to do it, the story of the day. Without realising the change which is transpiring, he pours his confidence into her ear, and as he does so, the thaw sets in, his heart softens, and by and by it seems as though the white-robed Angel of Peace passes from her heart to his to keep its affections and thoughts. We all know something like that; and that is the idea of the Apostle, to live in the presence of Jesus, and to turn to Him from every anxiety and worry, so as to allow His presence to saturate and soothe the soul.
The Lord is at hand. Say it when you need to be stable. Say it when Euodia has quarrelled with Syntyche. Say it when your joy threatens to fail. Say it when you are irritated and think there is no reason you should yield so persistently to another. Say it when you are worded and anxious. Until you come into that presence many things will seem impossible, which beneath the light of those deep tender eyes will become easy as newly mown lawns to tired feet.
Are you one to whom the presence of Jesus is dreadful? Then Heaven can be no place for you, where He is Lord. Bring your strong will to Him; ask Him to break or bend it; give yourself to Him, and ask the Holy Spirit that from this moment, in temptation, in sin, when torn with conviction, when smarting with pain, in perplexity, in death, and in judgment, the one thought of your life may be that the Lord is at hand.
THE SENTINEL OF THE HEART
The Apostle’s Campaign.
In the course of our Lord’s instructions to His Apostles, in which He appointed their route, and gave them their commission, He did not hesitate to tell them of the unfriendly reception with which the world would receive their ministry. They would be as sheep amid wolves; would be delivered up to councils, and scourged in synagogues; would be brought before governors and kings; would be hated of all men for His name’s sake; would be driven from city to city; would be called upon to lay down their lives—very rough and unfriendly would be the response of men to the ministry that meant only good.
Conditions of Warfare.
He did not hesitate also to strip them of all needless encumbrance. They were to carry no purse and no money; they were not to provide a scrip in which to place the victuals that kindly hands might offer them; they were to be content with one coat, not even reserving a second against wear and tear or inclement weather; they were to refuse the heavy boots shod with metal which the Roman soldiers had introduced into the country, and to be content with simple sandals; they were to be satisfied with the pilgrim’s staff, if they happened to possess it--otherwise they were not to endeavour to procure one; they were to start out in fellowship with God, whose workmen they were, sure that He would at least supply them with food. Like the soldiers of whom the Apostle speaks, they were not to encumber themselves with baggage. Their movements were to be unimpeded, their hearts free from all anxious thought and care, their faith in perpetual exercise in Him who had called them to work in His great harvest field.
Welcome or unwelcome.
On arriving at any new town or village, the Gospel messengers were to ask of the first group they met the names and residences of any who were known throughout the place as generous and well-disposed; to such they were to make application for hospitality during their brief sojourn in the place. On reaching the threshold of the house, they were to utter, with something more than a formal greeting, the Eastern benediction, "Peace be to this house." They were then to wait, carefully noting the result.
It might be that no "son of peace" would be found within the doors; no calm, quiet face would welcome them with a smile; no heart at leisure from itself would be able to answer them back with words of peace; but instead, there would be the scowl, the cold and formal manner, the evident antipathy.
Welcomed Where "A Son of Peace" Was.
On the other hand, the "son of peace" might be discovered within that household—the householder himself, or his wife, or little child, or someone more obscure amongst the servants. There would be an instant welcome from that soul, which was in living affinity with the greeting of peace; and this would at once indicate that such a house was the predestined home in which the heralds of the Gospel of Peace should stay, eating and drinking such things as were set before them, until they departed to fulfil their commission elsewhere. How simple, primitive, and beautiful the whole arrangement was, and how Oriental!
The meeting between the Apostles, commissioned to bear with them the peace of Christ, and the "son of peace," fulfilling in some Hebrew home an obscure life, on whom the benediction of a larger peace than he had ever known would henceforth rest, suggests that there are two kinds of peace in the world, that of Christ and that of man, that which comes from above and that which is elaborated through the process of human thought and prudence, the one that passes understanding and the other that is within the limits of understanding. It may be, that from this moment, the peace that passeth understanding shall come in to abide in hearts which up till now have been content with something less than God’s best. It may be that some will understand, as never before, what Jesus meant when He said: "My peace I give unto you; not as the world giveth, give I unto you. Let not your heart be troubled." Who is there that does not long for His peace? Who does not desire to have something better than the peace with which the world contents itself?.
The Peace that can be Understood.
In many a Jewish home this type of character could be found;—men who owned their vineyard, or gathered the berries of their olives, enjoyed the comfort of their modest patrimony, were happily married, and rejoiced in the filial affection of their children. They supported the local synagogue, stood well with their neighbours and friends, gave generously to the poor, and did not fail to attend the great annual feasts at Jerusalem. Their life flowed through the years easily and pleasantly, like a river gliding between its banks in the verdant plains--such men might be called "sons of peace." Their houses would be open to the entertainment of strangers; their manner would be suave and pleasant; there would be no grudging on their table, no stinting of their gifts; they would have no foes, but would bask in the sunshine of universal favour. Like Job, such men would look forward to dying in their nest, to passing from the town or village where they had spent their happy days to rest in Abraham’s bosom. Surely, however, the peace of such characters is not of the highest type. The comfort and prosperity of their lives are largely dependent on the substantial buildings and ample provision which they have made for themselves.
Are there not many men of to-day like these? They are comfortably provided for, have a balance at their bankers’, are possessed of good health and good spirits, are happily wedded, the parents of noble children, and surrounded by everything that can promote the well-being and prosperity of life; and surely the conditions and foundations of such peace are well within the limits of anyone’s understanding. They look round their lives to see any possible source of trouble or annoyance that may be menacing them, and, having discovered it, they do their best to provide against it. They go round the house of their life to see how far it is secure against tempests and flood, and wherever they discover a weak spot they use their best endeavour to strengthen it, and, having done all, they retire to the interior and rest in peace, in fancied security against whatever storm may arise.
Some Grounds of Peace.
The peace of one man arises from the fact that he has managed to secure a competence, or to accumulate a little balance in the bank; his peace of mind, as he looks forward upon old age, is due to the fact that there is something to secure him against want. Another accounts himself safe because he is allied with rich friends, or enjoys good health, or is held in high social esteem, and he comforts himself in view of any contingency by saying: "My friends will help me through; the momentum of my life will carry me over these rapids; I have done so much for others, surely they will stand by me when my evil day arrives." Yet another finds his peace in some system of thought which he has elaborated, and in virtue of which he holds himself ready to answer any puzzling question that may be addressed to him. Whatever controversy may be hurtling through the world, he feels it cannot come near him, so carefully has he wrought out his system as a wall of defence.
But Uncertain Grounds.
All these men are "sons of peace." They have peace which can be easily understood. They are not in trouble as other men, not plagued as other men; from year to year the stream of their life flows evenly forward. They have homes, incomes, abounding vigour, high spirits, happy family relations, and perhaps some faith in God as their Father and Redeemer; but it is easy to see the foundations upon which the superstructure of their peace rests. It is very pleasant and innocent, but there is always a serious liability of its being disturbed. As someone suggests, it reminds one of Robinson Crusoe when he first landed upon his island. He built his hut, reared his stockade, planted his cornfield, penned in his goats, primed his gun, but he knew nothing of the land that lay beyond the thin fringe of trees which skirted the shore, and at any moment, from the unknown territory beyond, a horde of cannibals, or herds of wild beasts, might sweep down upon the spot which he had selected for his home. His peace was limited, and was always liable to be suddenly broken. It is not enough for us to have the peace which arises from earthly conditions and the possession of good things. There is a deeper, sweeter peace, which the Apostle describes as passing all understanding; and our Lord refers to it when He says: "My peace I give, not as the world giveth."
The Peace which Passes Understanding.
This was the peace of Christ and His Apostles. There was nothing to account for it. Not theirs the settled home; not theirs the wife and child; not theirs the provision against the future; not theirs a universal love and welcome; not theirs the prospect of a serene old age, surrounded by troops of friends. It seemed as though they were sent forth as men doomed to death, and made a spectacle to the world, and to angels, and to men. But notwithstanding all, there was a peace which was absolutely independent of external conditions, whether of joy or sorrow. Is it not evident that the quality of their peace was infinitely higher than that which we have discussed? It had heights and depths, breadths and lengths, that passed the understanding of ordinary men.
Imagine an apostle coming to such a home as we have described--coming out of the storm of some terrible persecution, coming as a fugitive from a distant city, coming as Paul came to Athens from Beroea, and yet with the peace of God upon the face, the light of heaven shining in the eye, betraying the restful and calm demeanour of the tranquil soul. Would not the "son of peace" who had carefully hedged himself around with every earthly barrier against discomfort and tribulation realise that there was a Divine quality in the peace which kept the heart and mind of his visitor?
To return to the illustration already employed. Such peace may be well compared to the coming of ambassadors from the interior of the country on which the poor shipwrecked mariner has landed, to tell him that beyond the line of trees that guard the coast there is a friendly Emperor, that the country is Christian, that the people are hospitable, that there is awaiting him the goodwill of those with whom his lot would henceforth be cast. These Apostles of Christ, who breathed His peace, did not fear the unknown, since it was well known to Him; did not fear the future, for it was present to Him; were not startled at the change in circumstances, since their peace did not depend upon external things, but upon Him who is First and Last, and who guaranteed the supply of all need.
This Peace is Based upon the Work of Christ.
"Christ is our Peace." "He has made peace by the Blood of His Cross." He has come to us with the tidings that God is reconciled, and desires that we should be reconciled with Him; He breaks down our stubborn rebellion, and brings us into harmony with the Father’s will; changes the heart of stone into the heart of flesh; teaches us that our salvation does not depend on what we are to feel, but on the over-abounding love of God; convinces us that He who has done so much for our salvation will not forget the body, with all its varied need, and opens up to us the heart of the Father, so true and tender, so set upon our help, that within its limits all fulness dwells, pledged to our supply.
It is the Peace that Dwelt in the Heart of Jesus.
All through the agitating scenes of our Lord’s arrest and death, He bore Himself as one in whose heart the peace of God reigned in unbroken calm. He said: "These things have I spoken unto you, that in Me ye may have peace. In the world ye shall have tribulation, but be of good cheer,! have overcome the world." Spat upon, mocked, scourged, crucified. He never for a single moment lost His kingliness of mien. In the midst of the excitement in the garden, when being led forth as a felon, He was able to work a miracle on the ear of Malchus; and when standing before Pilate, the royalty of His manhood was so apparent, that the governor was convinced that He had done nothing amiss, and became His advocate. My peace He said, and says. The peace that filled His heart is His gift to all that are united with Him by a living faith.
This Peace is Intended to Keep our Hearts and Thoughts.
The word keep is the term for sentry duty. It is as though the peace of God, like some sentinel angel, went to and fro before the portal of our inner life, keeping back all intruders who would break in upon the purity of our affections, or the integrity of our thoughts. How often we have been flurried and agitated! How suddenly things have broken in upon us which have rocked the waters of the inner lake to storm! How frequently the fever of the world has entered, for want of a disinfecting barrier, to raise the pulses of our souls to fever heat! But all this may be prevented when the peace that passeth understanding keeps us.
Conditions of Reception.
The conditions of receiving this peace are threefold. Be anxious for nothing. "Anxiety" comes from the same root as anger, and refers to the physical act of choking. Worry chokes the life of faith; it does not help us to meet our difficulties; so far from this it unfits us, for our mind is too flurried to think clearly and carefully, our hand trembles too much to perform the delicate operation. Therefore, the perpetual injunction of the New Testament to the children of God, is, as Jesus puts it, "Take no anxious thought." We must watch against it as against any other temptation; we must resist the first intimation of the overshadowing blight of care; we must turn from to-morrow’s threatened difficulty to the face of God who is "the same yesterday, to-day, and forever." He will be there, and He will be for judgment when we have to sit in judgment and give our decisions as certainly as He will be for strength when we have to turn the battle from the gate.
We are to be anxious about nothing, however great or trivial. The storm that threatens to engulf the house of our life, and the gnawing of the tiny mouse in the cellar; the bankruptcy which may sweep away the accumulation of years, and the few coins that we may have mislaid! Nothing in the whole range of our life should give us anxiety because there is nothing which is not within the circumference of God’s care, nothing which gives us annoyance is too small for the notice of our Heavenly Father, who has a cure for every ailment, a foil for every weapon of the adversary.
Be Prayerful about Everything.
In everything by prayer and supplication let your requests be made known unto God. Prayer is more general, supplication more specific. Whenever the least shadow of care threatens our life we should go at once to our knees, and in the silence of private prayer hand over the burden and responsibility to our Infinite and All-wise Father. We have to make our requests known. Not that He will always give us what we ask, but will read into our prayers the meaning that we would put in them, were we as well informed as He is of what is best. There need not be undue urgency or excitement, or the play of profound emotion; in quietness and confidence will be our strength, the least whisper will enter into the depths of God’s nature, the tiniest tremor of our heart will be noticed, the least as well as the greatest of our demands will be met.
Be Thankful for Anything.
Go over the mercies of the past. Count your blessings; remember all the way which the Lord your God has led you; see how His loving-kindness has been encompassing your path and your lying down, your going out to service and your coming in to rest through long years. Has there not been a plan in your life? Are you not conscious of a Divine purpose? Do you not realise that the hand of the Potter has been moulding you into a vessel for His use? Is not the sweet reasonableness of many mysteries that once puzzled you beginning to reveal itself?. Have you not a clue to the maze? As you stand on the eminence of the years, can you not see that the path by which you have come through the valley is the directest and safest? How much we have to be thankful for, how often we have been stayed on the very brink of ruin, how marvellously we have been withdrawn from the doing or saying that which would have shattered our usefulness I Oh my heart, take the harp from the willows, and commence where thou wilt to praise thy God; and as the song of praise begins to steal up in faltering notes at first, but with ever more certainty and thankfulness, the clouds will break, the chink of blue sky will widen until the whole vault of heaven is clear, and the peace of God like a pure, strong, beautiful angel will descend to act as sentry to the heart and mind,--to the heart, keeping out unholy affection, and to the mind, checking the entrance of rebellious, restless, and distracting thoughts.
The Benediction of Peace.
Those that have this peace can unlock its stores for others. It is as though, like Rebekah of old, they draw from deep wells, and are able to wet the lips of thirsty travellers from the overflowing of their buckets. Their presence calms, soothes, and quiets the restless and perturbed spirit. No such nurses for the sick room, no such confidants in hours of anxiety, no such strong and wise advisers in perplexity! The hand of the priest or minister can be stretched out to invoke upon the congregation the peace of God, but the people may go away uncomforted; whilst one quiet heart, which has drunk deep into the peace of Christ, radiates it forth with the velocity and virtue of the newly discovered metal radium.
Of course, such peace needs a quiet and sympathetic heart, able to appreciate and respond. As in wireless telegraphy, the instrument at the receiving must be in perfect harmony with that at the transmitting station; so there must be some knowledge of peace, some yearning desire for it, some reciprocity, if the Divine peace is to find entrance. The "son of peace" receives the higher, purer quality which the apostle of peace brings. God ever says to these souls, "Ye shall see greater things than these." If He has given the nether, He will add the upper springs also.
But there are cases in which this reciprocity is withheld. "Your peace shall return to you again." The salutation to peace excites the frown, the refusal, the chilling reply—what then! Is it lost? Nay, verily, it comes back to the heart from which it originated. The peace comes back to roost, as the dove to Noah’s ark when the patriarch put forth his hand and took her in to himself; or as the waves dashing against the sea wall, and unable to effect an entrance through its stony barrier, return their unspent force to the heart of mother-ocean from which they sprang. Thus does the peace which we would communicate to others, but they will not receive, come back to our own hearts. Nothing is lost in this world which is done for God, and no word spoken for Him can be in vain. With infinite care He causes us to be enriched by the beneficence we intend for others, but which they will not receive.
THE GOVERNMENT OF OUR THOUGHTS
The God of Peace.
We last spoke about the peace of God which, like a white-robed sentry, keeps the heart with its affections, and thoughts, with all their busy and sometimes too promiscuous crowd. We have now to speak about the God of peace; and blessed though the peace of God may be, to have the God from whose nature peace emanates is infinitely preferable. One main constituent of our text is the word think; another the word do.
Thinking and doing are the conditions on which the God of peace will tarry in the heart. To think rightly, and to do rightly—these will bring the blessed dove of heaven to brood in the nest of your soul. Almost everything in life depends on the thoughts, as the forest lies in the acorn, and Scripture itself lays stress upon this. The wise may says: "Keep thy heart with all diligence; for out of it are the issues of life;" and, again, we have it: "As a man thinketh in his heart so is he." In this context we notice that the peace of God is to keep our thoughts; and, again, our text says: "Think on these things." The control of your thought, the government of your mind, this is all important for three reasons.
Thinking and Doing.
(1) Because thinking about things prepares you for doing them. If you allow a matter to revolve in your mind, if you turn it over and over and consider it from every aspect, and dwell upon it, it becomes comparatively easy to do it. It is as though the thoughts lay down the tram lines, upon which presently the car of action proceeds. The thoughts lay the wires which presently convey the message. No doubt many of you have again and again experienced this, that when you have come to some great crisis in your life, you have passed through it with perfect ease, because you had so often rehearsed the matter. When you came to act, it was as though you had passed through the experience before, your thought had so entirely prepared you for it. It is of the utmost importance therefore that you take care what you think, because thought is the precursor, herald, and forerunner of action.
Thought and Character.
(2) Thought is also important, because it has a reflex effect upon the whole character. As you think, so you are almost without knowing it. Wordsworth refers to this; he says:
"We live by admiration, love, and hope;
As these are well and wisely fixed,
In dignity of being we ascend."
If a man cherishes bad thoughts, almost unwittingly he deteriorates; he cannot help it. There is a profound philosophy in Romans 1:1-32, where it says that because they refused to retain God in their minds but cherished their vile lusts, God gave them up to their passions to defile themselves. If a man is perpetually cherishing unholy, impure, and untrue thoughts, he will become an unholy, impure, and untrue man. Our character takes on the complexion and hue of our inward thinking. If a man is ever cherishing noble thoughts, he cannot help becoming noble; if he is generous in his thought, he will be in his act; if he is loving and tender in his thought, he will be loving and tender in his bearing. Thoughts are the looms in the wonderful machinery of the inner life, which are running day and night, and weaving the garments in which the soul shall be arrayed. If you will care for your thoughts, the thought will mould character reflexively and unconsciously.
Thought and Ideals.
(3) Thought affects us because we naturally pursue our ideals. Columbus, after long thinking, came to the conclusion that the earth was round, and that conviction determined him to launch his little boat and steer westward. Washington thought that government must be based on universal suffrage and free vote of the people, and this led to the formation of the United States. Wilberforce thought that every man was equally free in the sight of God, created and redeemed to be responsible to God only, apart from the holding of his fellow-man. Young men and women may read these words in whom great thoughts are formulating themselves, and if they are not to be mere enthusiasts, mere weak dreamers, the time must come when they will yoke the car of their thought to the star of their ideal, and presently a life will tower up before their fellows that shall leave a definite impression for blessing upon the race. If you are to be any more than a dreamer and enthusiast, young friend, your thought must, sooner or later, take shape in your industry and energy, even in the sweat of your brow, and the suffering of martyrdom.
Thought Often Unnoticed.
It is a remarkable touch in John Bunyan’s description of Ignorance, as he walks beside the two elder pilgrims, that he says: "My heart is as good as any man’s heart"—and adds, "As to my thoughts, I take no notice of them." Probably there are scores of people who take no notice of their thoughts. They leave the castle gate of their soul perfectly open for any intruder that may wish to enter, either from heaven or hell; and so it befalls that the thoughts of the world, of vanity, of impurity, thoughts which are inspired by demons, but which are arrayed in the garb of respectable citizens, pour into the great gateway of the soul, filling the courtyard with their tumultuous uproar. Without discrimination, thought, or care on their part, they allow themselves to be occupied and possessed with thoughts of which they have every reason to be ashamed; they teem in and out, and do just as they will. This is the reason why you sometimes find your heart filled with passion; it is because Guy Fawkes has entered in disguise with his fellow-conspirators, and under long flowing robes has introduced explosives. This is why our hearts become filled with hatred, malice, and all uncharitableness, with thoughts against God, and against our fellows. We do not watch the great courtyard gate.
Think carefully, think reverently, says the Apostle; take care how you think. We might almost say you can live as you like, if you are only careful how you think. At the great dock gates they will feel down the casual labourers before permitting them to enter the great warehouse, and again when they come out. We are told that in some of the great hospitals they will search the visitors, especially on Sunday afternoon, lest they should introduce deleterious food, which might neutralise the physicians’ treatment. When there was the dynamite scare in London, how carefully the policeman examined everybody who had business in the House of Commons, lest a bomb might be introduced. If only we had a scrutator standing at the door of our heart to examine every thought as it entered; nay, if we could have there the Angel Ithuriel, of whom Milton speaks, and the touch of whose spear showed that the devil lurked in the toad that squatted by Eve’s ear and whispered her his secret, how often in what seems a respectable thought entering the courtyard gate we should discover a traitor, who had come from the very pit to set our heart on fire with sin.
The Conflict of Thoughts.
It would appear that to arrest the tide of evil thoughts that threatens us is what St. Paul means when he says he is crucified with Christ. When newly converted there is nothing that we suffer from so much as the collision between the intrusion of those thoughts and the new divine principle, which has entered us. Just for a few hours watch carefully at the gateway of your hearts, and see if it be not sometimes almost an agony to exclude those which you must suspect. In beginning to do this, many would learn, perhaps for the first time, what the Cross of Christ means. It might bring the very perspiration to your forehead, in the awful conflict against certain fascinating thoughts, so winsome, so bright, so attractive, that offer themselves with the most insinuating grace. In earlier days, when one’s standard was not quite so high, when one was less aware of the insidious temptation that lurks in the most graceful and attractive thoughts, one would have permitted them to enter, but now how great a fight goes on at the great gate of the soul, not only against bold bad thoughts, but against the more pleasing and seductive ones.
But supposing we were left merely with this constant watching and antagonising of evil thoughts, life would be almost intolerable. Remember, therefore, that not the negative only but the positive, not destruction only but construction, is the law of the Christian life. Not the grave of Christ, but the resurrection power, is our hope; and hence St. Paul says, "Think on these things"—and he gives you six standards of thoughts.
Think on the True.
"Whatsoever things are true." Keep out of your mind the false, but admit the true, because every life, every government, all politics, all business, all great commercial undertakings, all books and systems, which are not founded upon truth crumble sooner or later. If you could visit this world in the future, you would find that the falsehoods which now stalk across its arena, and seem as strong as thistles in spring, will have passed away. Consider things that are true.
On the Honourable.
"Whatsoever things are honourable." The word in the Greek is grave—reverent—respect-compelling—every-thing which is respectable, which makes for itself a court of respect. Exclude from your mind all that is dishonourable, and admit only what is worthy of God.
On the Just.
"Whatsoever things are just." Be absolutely just to other people in your estimate, in giving them their dues. If they be above you, criticise them justly; if on your level, deal with them as you would wish them to deal with you; if beneath you, be just. Everything unjust in speech or habit prohibit; everything which is just foster.
On the Pure.
"Whatsoever things are pure." Here is the fight for a young man’s life, to arrest the impure, however bedizened and bedecked, and to admit into his heart only that which is perfectly pure, pure as the lily, as God’s ether, as the light.
On the lovely.
"Whatsoever things are lovely.” That conduct which is consistent with 1 Corinthians 13:1-13, which proceeds from the heart of love and thaws the ice of selfishness, which has accumulated upon others.
And on the Things of Good Report.
"Whatsoever things are of good report." Like the elders who obtained a good report; like Mary, of whom Jesus said, "She hath clone what she could"; like the man with his ten talents, to whom the Lord said, "Well done, good and faithful servant." Anything, the Apostle says, which is virtuous, and anything which wins praise of God or man, think on these things.
Let these six sisters stand at the gateway of your soul, and challenge every thought as it offers itself, admitting only those thoughts which approve themselves as true, just, pure, lovely, and of good report. O God, let these six angels come into our souls, and from now until we meet Thee, let us give the entire control of our nature up to their serene, strong, wholesome restraint, that all that is inconsistent with them may be abashed, and everything which is consistent with them admitted to infill and dwell within us.
A High Ideal.
You say the ideal is high. Yes, but listen; we must believe that each of these attributes was won by Christ for us all—won by Him. They were native to Him but they were won because He pursued them through temptation. He kept them as His own, face to face with the most terrific temptations ever presented to a moral being. Having endured all, He died, rose, and bore to God’s right hand a humanity in which these things were eternal and inherent. Thence he sent down the Holy Spirit to reproduce His risen humanity in every one who believes.
But Attainable by Faith.
Faith is the power with which we receive through the Holy Ghost the nature of Jesus Christ into our hearts; so that instead of talking about justice, purity, and self-restraint as so many abstract qualities, we speak about Him in whom those attributes are incarnated. By faith we receive Him, and having received Him, we receive them. Let the Holy Spirit reproduce Him.
Just now we said, Let those six sisters stand at the gateway and test all our thoughts. But it is better to say, Let Jesus Christ stand at the gateway and test them, because He can not only test but roll back the tide of evil thought, as easily as He could make Niagara leap back, did He choose. It is mere stoicism and stoical philosophy to say: Watch your thought. It is Christian philosophy to say: Let Christ keep your thoughts, testing them, hurling back the evil, and filling the soul with His glorious presence.
This is the secret of the indwelling presence of the God of Peace. He abides where the heart is kept free from evil thoughts, and filled with the Spirit of the Son. "The God of Peace shall be with you."
ALL THINGS ARE POSSIBLE TO HIM THAT BELIEVETH
FOR ten years the Philippian Church had been unable to send material aid to its beloved founder. It was not because his love for them, or theirs to him had cooled, but they had lacked opportunity. Previously, his friends had contributed, even beyond their power, to aid him in relieving the need of their poorer brethren in Judea. In addition to this, they had sent, "once and again," to relieve his personal wants. Then for some time their help had ceased; but just recently, in his sore destitution during his Roman imprisonment, their love for him had flamed out in generous bounty, and they had sent by Epaphroditus, substantial proof that their care for him had flourished again.
Bound: Received with Joy.
This was a matter of great satisfaction to the much-tried Apostle. It touched his generous nature; it was an evidence that the love he so greatly prized was as fresh and strong as ever. It seemed to him that the Master Himself was gratified with the sacrifices they had made; but he hastened to add that they must not for a moment suppose that he was dependent upon outward gifts for contentment and peace. His secret of happiness was not in circumstances, but in his peace of heart; he would not admit that his joy was lessened when his circumstances were more straitened, and enhanced when they brimmed with comfort. His serenity lay beyond the range of storms, in Christ. The secret of the Lord was with him, the high mountains of God’s protection defended from ruffling alarm the lake of the inner life, he possessed the white stone, with the name written on it. He wanted them to understand that he did not for a moment reflect on their long silence, or speak in respect of want, for he had "learned in whatsoever state he was, therewith to be content."
Contentment Desirable in this World of Fluctuation.
It has been said that contentment produces in some measure all the effects which the alchemist usually ascribes to the philosopher’s stone; and if it does not bring riches, it achieves the same object by banishing the desire for them. How true this is. We become rich either by possessing the abundance of this world, or by losing our desire for it, by abounding in everything, or by being content to have nothing; and surely of the two conditions, in such a changeful world as this, the latter is both safer and happier.
The world is constantly compared to the sea, with its fluctuation of tide, its alternation of storm and calm. We are reminded by Isaiah of "the troubled sea which cannot rest," and unhappy are they whose all is embarked upon this troublous scene, having no fixity of tenure, no stability of possession, but driven by the wild winds of change, and often of panic. To have little and to be content with it, is better far than to have great riches invested in the Stock Exchange, where a man may be a millionaire to-day and a pauper to-morrow. Well may the Apostle, in another and later Epistle, speak of "uncertain riches," and urge the disciples not to trust in them, but in the Living God "who gives richly all things to enjoy." Often, in human experience, the mountains are carried into the heart of the seas, the waters roar and are troubled, and the rocks are shaken by the swelling waters; but how good it is at such times to frequent the banks of the river, whose streams make glad the city of God, and whose placid upper waters reflect the jasper of God’s throne! To be independent of circumstances, to set them at defiance, to be as happy when hungry as when filled, to be at rest when suffering need as when abounding, to resemble the compass which is so swung as to be unaffected by the motion of the ship, to have the jewel of a Divine peace which the thieving hands of anxiety and care cannot touch, surely only thus can we discover the gleam of a life which is no longer at the mercy of the elements, but resembles the shaft of light which penetrates the murky cloud, and strikes through the storm itself, but is too ethereal to be disturbed by the rush of wind or the dash of the foaming breaker.
Such Contentment is Oftenest Found where Least Expected.
Where shall we find it? Where barns are full of grain, and the sheds of cattle? Where mansions overlook miles of parkland and landscape? Where the feet sink ankle-deep in the rich piles of the carpets, and upholsterers have done their utmost to furnish the rooms with dazzling elegance; where the murmur of the outer world hardly enters, and where distracting care has no twig on which to perch? Not there. When human life is surrounded by every circumstance of comfort and luxury, it is very often fullest of ennui, complaining and discontent!
The causes for it may be ignoble and superficial—that some other beauty outshines, that some other house is more splendidly furnished, that some other life attracts more notoriety, that there is a touch of frost in the air to-day, or a degree or two more of heat.
If we would find content, let us go to homes where women are crippled with rheumatism, or dying of cancer, where comforts are few, where long hours of loneliness are not broken by the intrusion of friendly faces, where the pittance of public charity hardly suffices for necessary need, to say nothing of comfort, it is there that contentment reveals itself like a shy flower. How often in the homes of the wealthy one has missed it, to find it in the homes of the poor! How often it is wanting where health is buoyant, to be discovered where disease is wearing out the strength! So it was with the Apostle, who was in the saddest part of his career. Bound to the Roman soldier, enclosed in some narrow apartment, in touch with only a few friends who made an effort to discover him, away from the happy scenes of earlier years, and anticipating Nero’s bar, he breaks out into these glorious expressions of equanimity. He had learned how to be abased in the valley of shadow, he wore the flower heartsease in his buttonhole.
Contentment Pre-eminently a Christian Grace.
The idea of it has been always present to the minds of men, but the power by which the ideal could be realised has been lacking. For instance, Cicero who wrote volumes of incitement to courage and manly virtue, when he was driven into exile, though it was by no means onerous, wearied his friends with puerile and unmanly murmurings. It was the same with Seneca, whose books are full of stoic endurance and superiority to suffering, but as soon as he was exiled from Rome, he filled the air with abject complaints, and was not ashamed to fall at the feet of a worthless freedman to induce him to procure a revocation of his exile and permission to return from Sardinia to the metropolis.
How different was the great Apostle! Though deprived of every comfort, and east as a lonely man on the shores of the great strange metropolis, with every movement of his hand clanking a fetter, and nothing before him but the lion’s mouth or the sword, he speaks serenely of contentment.
Paul’s Contentment was not Complacency with Himself.
In the previous chapter, he tells us that he had not attained, but was following after. He refused to be content with what he had already accomplished for himself or others, his whole soul was on fire to apprehend more absolutely that for which Christ had apprehended him, but whilst he could not be content with the spiritual attainment or service, he was absolutely content with the circumstances of his lot. Looking up into the face of Jesus, he confessed his discontent; looking around at the prison, the gaoler, and the future, since these were all contained in the will of God for him, he was absolutely satisfied, because infinite love had permitted them.
Nor Indifference to the State of the World around Him.
He longed that men might be turned from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan to God. He could never be content until his Master was the enthroned King of the world; and strove with unabating determination, according to the working of the mighty Spirit of God, "to present every man perfect in Christ Jesus." His eager spirit participated in the very travail of Christ for His body’s sake, the Church. He was willing to be accursed for his brethren, the unbelieving Jews. But amid all this, he was content with the poor raft on which he was navigating the stormy seas. It was enough for him that God had willed his circumstances, and that Christ was his partner and friend. His was the spirit of the Psalmist, when he said, "Whom have I in heaven but Thee, and there is none on earth beside Thee? My heart and flesh faileth, but God is the strength of my heart, and my portion for ever."
Paul had Learned the Art.
Just as our Lord "learned obedience by the things that He suffered," so the Apostle acquired the habit of contentment by practising it. He had schooled himself, by constantly applying the Cross of Jesus to his ambitions, his murmurings, his tendency to complain. He had accustomed himself to dwell upon the bright side of things, to lay more stress upon what he had than upon what he lacked. It was the habit of his life to take his lot from God, to look upon it as illumined by perfect wisdom and perfect love. He refused to listen to the dark and sinister suggestions flung into his soul by the tempter. Yes, we can do a great deal to elaborate the faculty of contentment; the germ of it is in our hearts by the grace of God, but the flower and fruit demand our constant heed.
THREE CONDITIONS FOR THE GRACE OF CONTENTMENT:
(1) We Must Live in the Will of God.
All is of God and God is good. Every wind blows from the quarter of His love, every storm wafts us nearer the harbour, every cup, though presented by the hand of Judas, is mixed by the Father of our spirits. It is not possible for a man to be thrust by his brethren in the pit, unless God permit it, and therefore we may say with Joseph, "It was not you that sent me hither, but God." Habituate yourself, oh Christian soul, to believe that not only what God appoints but what He permits, is in the sphere of His will! It is His will for you to be full to-day or to be empty to-morrow; to abound to-day or to be abased to-morrow; He has a reason, though He may not tell it, and because you know that the reason satisfies Him, you may be content.
(2) We must turn to Christ as the Complement of Our Need.
Jesus Christ is sufficient. The greater our lack, the larger our supply. "To them that have no might He increaseth strength." To the ignorant He is wisdom, to the unholy sanctification, to the enslaved redemption. His miracles manifested the supply of His royal nature to the need around Him; His purity cleansed the polluted flesh of the leper; His life poured into the arteries of death; His strength made good the helplessness of the paralysed. Receive from Christ "grace upon grace", and look upon the emptiness and need of your spirit as the greater reason why you should claim all from Him.
(3) We must Do all Things in Christ’s Strength.
The prophet Isaiah says, that "they that wait upon the Lord change their strength" (Isaiah 40:31, A.V. margin). They begin life with the strength of young manhood, which boasts that it is well able to realise its dreams with its natural vigour, but as life goes on they tire and faint, the youths faint and are weary, the young men utterly fall. Then it is that they learn to avail themselves of the strength of the Everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth, "Who fainteth not, neither is weary." Moses no longer trusts in the blow of his mailed fists, but by faith feeds his soul from the fountains of omnipotence; Peter no longer vaunts his ability to follow Christ even to death, but receives the power and anointing of the Holy Ghost, and becomes bold as a lion; Paul no longer speaks of his Pharisaic ancestry, and all the qualities which he had counted so much gain, but is content to be weak with Christ, that with Christ he may receive and depend upon the power of God. This change must come to us all. Whatever our need, we must turn for its supply to the fulness of God in Christ. As we keep open the avenue of our soul to our Lord, He will pour His strength into our nerveless and helpless nature. Nay, He will not merely give us His strength, but will be in us the power of God unto salvation. We need not simply the strength of Christ, but Christ who gives strength, that we may be able to say with the Apostle, "I can do all things"—whether it is to live or die, whether it is to be abased or abound, whether it is to be full or empty—“through Christ that strengtheneth me."
Practice these three conditions, and you will learn, perhaps in dark hours of trial, and on the hard benches of the school of affliction, the art of contentment which shall enrich your life more than if the mines of Ophir were unlocked for your wealth.
FILLING AND FILLED
THE Apostle had already made it clear, that though for a long interval he had received nothing from the Philippian Church, he did not complain, but realised that there were sufficient reasons which accounted for the cessation of their gifts. He did not deny that he had been straitened in outward circumstances, but he had been content because he discerned the will of God in every dispensation, and was able to do all things in union with the Living Christ. He had found that his legitimate necessities had been met, and that God had dealt with him as with Elijah, to whom the feathered fowl, and the slender resources of the widow of Zarephath, ministered daily provision. He rejoiced, however, that his friends had been able to send again to his necessity, not for his sake alone, but for theirs. It was not that he sought for a gift, but for fruit that might be reckoned to their account.
The Gift and Its Return.
No Church had done for Paul what the Philippian Church had. In the early days they had sent once and again to minister to his need; and now their present, forwarded by the hand of Epaphroditus, redounded still further to their credit. It was "an odour of a sweet smell, a sacrifice acceptable, well-pleasing to God." How could he repay them for the gifts they had sent when they were able, and for the desire to send when they were not. It was clear that he must always be hopelessly in debt to them so far as material supplies were concerned, but he could pray and make intercession on their behalf, and remind the Master that all kindness shown to the servant imposed an honourable obligation on the Master, and out of all this arose the assurance that his "God would fulfil every need of theirs according to His riches in glory in Christ Jesus."
To translate the Greek word as R.V. does by fulfil connects this verse with the preceding one, and brings out the designed and beautiful harmony. The Apostle was filled because he had received from Epaphroditus the gifts of his friends, and now God would fulfil their need. What they had done in the lower sphere for him would be repeated in a higher sphere by God. The measure with which they had meted out their stores for the imprisoned Apostle would be returned to them brimming to the full, not with the supplies for physical need, but with the eternal and unsearchable riches of heaven, which are in Christ Jesus.
Give and Receive.
This is a constant law of God’s world. "Give, and it shall be given unto you: good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, shall be given into your bosom. For with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again." Lend your boat for a whole afternoon to Christ that it may be His floating pulpit, and He will return it to you laden with fish. Place your upper room at His disposal for a single meal, and He will fill it and the whole house with the Holy Spirit of Pentecost. Place in His hands your barley loaves and fish, and He will not only satisfy your hunger, but add twelve baskets full of fragments. The Philippians sent three or four presents to a suffering and much needing servant of God, and from that moment they might reckon that every need of theirs would be supplied. Such small acts on our part are recompensed with such vast returns. We scratch the surface of the soil and insert our few little seeds, and within a few months the acreage is covered by a prolific harvest in which a hundredfold is given for every grain which we seemed to throw away.
God’s Return to us.
God refuses to be in debt to any man. He takes into His exchequer the accounts of all outlay made by His stewards for the relief of need and distress, and He repays with interest. When the Good Samaritan was leaving the village inn, on the morning after the memorable rescue of the wounded traveller, he said to the host, "Take care of him, and what thou spendest more, when I come again, I will repay." Evidently, he was well-known on the road, he had often been at that inn before, and had established his character by honourable and generous treatment. They knew that his word was his bond, and that whatever was expended in reason would secure an ungrudging repayment. And if this be true of man how much more of God. He hands over to us cases in which He is deeply interested, saying as He does so, "Take care of these, expend what is necessary, and I will repay." May we not reckon on God for this? According to our faith it will be to us.
But Give Cheerfully.
Whenever, therefore, we feel impelled to make provision for others, let us do it as unto God, not simply out of human pity, but from a deep sense of obligation to our Heavenly Father, let us do it gladly, freely, generously. "God loveth a cheerful giver." Three things will happen—(1) We shall send a thrill of gratitude into some weary and fainting soul, encouraging it to hope in God because it has found that its hope in man has not been misplaced. (2) The odour of the act will be fragrant as it steals upward to mingle with the adoration and service of Heaven. There is no longer need to offer propitiatory sacrifices, for they have been done away in view of the sacrifice made by our Lord when He once offered Himself without sin unto God, but there is room in the Christian dispensation for the sacrifice of praise (Hebrews 13:15), for the living sacrifice of ourselves (Romans 12:1), and for the acceptable sacrifices of Christian beneficence which, as this paragraph tells us, are well-pleasing to God. (3) We may also reckon that He will fill to the brim the measure with which we have meted out for others, and take it as a certainty that He will fulfil every need according to His riches. If our measure was filled with sand grains, He will return it filled with gold dust; if it was filled with pebbles, He will hand it back replete with diamonds; if it contained necessaries for the physical life, He will restore it brimming over with spiritual riches.
Charity Succeeded by Poverty.
It may be answered that many who have given lavishly for God’s cause have afterwards come to penury and need, and their benefactions seem to have been lost like argosies that go down at sea. In any case, there has been no return to brighten the straitened circumstances of declining years. Three answers may be given. First, it may be that the gifts were not rendered with a single eye for the glory of God, but for some lower motives of display, ostentation, or self-advertisement; therefore, they had their reward. They were done to be seen of men, they received the recognition and applause of men, and God refused to recognise any obligation for further recompense.
Secondly, it is necessary, before these laws of the spiritual world operate on our behalf, that we should definitely and by faith appropriate them. There is no promise which does not require to be claimed. As the angel of electricity will not step forth to illumine our rooms unless we turn the switch when we pass through the door, so we must not complain that the laws of the spiritual world do not bring us help unless by faith we appropriate their service. Whenever, therefore, we expend alms for the relief of need, let us definitely put our money into God’s bags, which wax not old: we should specifically lay up treasure in heaven, we should pay our money, so to speak, into the bank of His faithfulness, and reckon that there will be a definite return. It may be taken as an axiom that in this world there is a return for every gift that we lay on the altar of self-sacrifice --not of reward but of free grace. We must not make the gift in order to get the reward, but having made the gift in the name of Christ, and for the fulfilment of His redemptive purpose, we may certainly believe that in ways that we may not be able to define God will supply all our need.
Thirdly, it should be borne in mind that though there may be apparent straitness, there may be a wealth of content, a gold mine of peace and joy, the precious stones of spiritual grace, which correspond to the riches in glory of which the Apostle speaks. When life was young, they gave of their temporal things, and now as the evening shades gather, God gives them not temporalities but spiritualities. They sowed carnal things and reap spiritual ones (1 Corinthians 9:11).
"All your need." From the moment that we draw our first breath in this world to the last sigh of expiring life, we are full of needs. The babe has its cradle needs, and the patriarch those that arise from the wearing out of his faculties, and his growing dependence on others. The body has physical need, the mind its hunger for truth, the heart its insatiable longing for love, the spirit for spiritual sustenance and quickening. Our human nature is one great bundle of need, it is always crying aloud for satisfaction; and as civilisation advances, the variety and multiplicity of our need is ever on the increase.
Needs and Desires.
We must distinguish between our needs and our desires. It is possible to want a good many things which we do not need. We often want things which it would injure us greatly to have. Paul wanted to be delivered from his thorn, but his real need was for more grace. We want a great many things which it is not possible for our Heavenly Father to give us, except to the great detriment of our best life. There is no promise that God shall supply all our desires or wishes, there is a certainty that He will fulfil all our need.
Some may read these words whose needs are clamant,—the need for guidance, for help against temptation, for the quickening of languishing devotional life, the need for daily bread or employment. Let all such take this to their heart for their comfort that God will supply all their need. "My God shall fulfil every need of yours."
Christ is God’s Answer to Our Need.
"In Him are all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge hidden." "It pleased the Father that in Him should all the fulness dwell." "In Him dwelleth all the fulness of the Godhead bodily." The Divine-Human nature of Christ is replete with every possible supply for His people. "He filleth all in all." Those that trust Him can say, as the Apostle did of the Philippian gifts, "I have all things and abound; I am filled, hating received from Christ the things that came from God, and which were treasured in Him for my enrichment and thanksgiving." The teaching of the Apostle is full of this thought, as when he says, "I thank my God always concerning you, for the grace of God which was given you in Christ Jesus; that in everything ye were enriched in Him" (1 Corinthians 1:4-5), and again, "Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ who hath blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ" (Ephesians 1:3). Peter also affirms the same thought. "Grace to you, and peace be multiplied in the knowledge of God, and of Jesus our Lord; seeing that His Divine power hath granted unto us all things that pertain unto life and godliness" (2 Peter 1:2-3).
Christ is the complement (i.e., the completement) of every soul. Just as the dark face of the moon taken with her first crescent of light makes a complete circle, so the unseen Redeemer together with our infinite need makes a complete man after God’s stature. The greater our deficiency the larger His supply.
The Prime Necessity.
The prime necessity, however, is that we should reckon it is so, and avail ourselves of all the treasures that are prepared for our use in our Risen Lord. Too often we act as if we had to meet the demands of life from our own limited exchequer, instead of believing that we have been taken into partnership with the Son of God, and can at any moment draw upon His all-sufficiency. What would you think if a clerk, who was sent to a distant land to open a branch of some great business firm, were to seek to meet the expenses out of his own limited salary, when the head of the firm had told him to draw upon his credit to any extent which he deemed necessary? But we make the same mistake when we meet the calls of life apart from the boundless wealth which is placed to our credit in Jesus.
A story is told by Dr. Richard Newton of an old and poverty-stricken Indian, who many years ago made his way into a Western settlement in search of food to keep him from starving. A bright-coloured ribbon was seen around his neck, from which there hung a small, dirty pouch. On being asked what it was, he said it was a charm given him in his younger days. He opened it, and took out a worn and Crumpled paper, which he handed to the person making the inspection. It proved, on examination, to be a regular discharge from the federal army, signed by George Washington himself, and entitling him to a pension for life. Here was a man with a promise duly signed, which if presented in the right place would have secured him ample provision, yet he was wandering about hungry, helpless, and forlorn, and begging bread to keep him from starving. What a picture of many Christians who are in need of everything when they might be rich and full! Perhaps their own life had not been generous, certainly their faith has never put in its claim to God’s great bank of promise.
We deal with a Father.
Let us remember that we are dealing with a Father. "Now unto our God and Father be the glory for ever." The Father’s eye is on His children, and a Father’s hand is stretched out to their relief. Let us be of good cheer. Two sparrows are sold for a farthing, but five for two farthings, that is, sparrows are so cheap that one can be thrown into the bargain, but that odd sparrow cannot fall to the ground without the notice of the Father. Surely we are of more value than many sparrows, and we may count on Him with absolute certainty. Nowhere in the world does He make birds, fish, young lions, or babes, without supplying the food which He has taught them to require. He cannot do worse by us; we dare not think that He had implanted needs which He is unable and unwilling to meet. Only let us make Him our confidant, going through life with a free-handed generosity that gives, and with an absolute trust which takes, making our requests known unto Him, and receiving the fulfilment of every need, out of which shall arise to Him who loves us, cares for us, and sustains us, glory unto the ages of the ages. The grace of God, and if He loves, there must be something lovable upon which our hearts can fasten.
PROBABLE, at this point, the Apostle took in hand the style with which his amanuensis had been rapidly penning his glowing thoughts, that in the clumsy letters, to which he refers in the Epistle of Galatians (Galatians 6:11), probably due to his defective eyesight, he might append his autograph.
The Universality of his Greetings.
"Salute every saint in Christ Jesus." There were many distinctions between the disciples in that distant city. Some who professed a lofty spirituality, but lacked the spirit of loving concord; some who were tinctured with the pharisaic disputations of his own earlier days; and some who were able to appreciate the deepest teachings of the nature of Christ which human words can unfold. It was enough, however, that they were in Christ Jesus, that He had accepted them, and that already they were separated from the corruption that is in the world through lust, and were set apart for the glorious purpose of the Son of God, and therefore their faithful friend was able to include them all in his tender salutation.
How good it is when Christian love enables us to rise above sectarian strife, and the misunderstandings which are generated by the differences of our temperament and education, so that we are able to view each other as common members of the Body, and contiguous branches of the Vine, praying for each other, and prepared to communicate grace by word and act. Let us salute every saint, whether belonging to our own Church or to some other. It is enough to know that they with us are partakers of the grace of God, and if He loves, there must be something lovable upon which our hearts can fasten.
There is no trace of the priest in these simple words. Having sent his own personal greetings, he hastens to class with himself his colleagues, as Timothy and Mark, or his travelling companions, as Luke and Silas, or prominent believers who dwelt in Rome, and had the right of entrance into his hired room. They were brethren more or less unknown, but the Apostle recognised that they had as much right to salute the saints in Philippi as he had, and he hastened to strengthen his own message by the inclusion of their good-will.
It is interesting to notice how fond the Apostle was of having others with him in his Christian work. Their fellowship gave him strength and comfort. Probably, he entered into the Spirit of the Master, who sent His disciples out two and two. Sometimes, he allied himself with Barnabas, at other times with Silas, at other times with Mark. The opening words of this Epistle show how closely he was associated with Timothy, "his own son in the faith." Two are better than one. It is a matter of great encouragement and strength when some kindred soul is united with us in any service.
The Gathering Wealth of Christian Love.
"All the saints salute you." The Apostle first salutes for himself; then he associates the brethren that were with him; and now his voice seems to have stirred a large circle of consenting hearts, and from them all a torrent of tender affection sets in towards the Philippian Church. There is every probability that the saints who here send greeting are those who themselves had been greeted and mentioned by name in Romans 16:1-27. Bishop Lightfoot, in an essay on this passage which is full of interest, has pointed out that many of the names mentioned by Paul in the last chapter of his letter to the Romans are identical with the names deciphered in sepulchral inscriptions, and known to have had a place in the Imperial household. Of these he specifies Ampliatus, Appeles, Stachys, Rufus and Hermes, and the two women, Tryphaena and Tryphosa. These were almost certainly included in "all the saints."
Thus this Epistle, so full of love, seems like a shuttle to have shot between these far-removed centres of Christian life, uniting each to the other. Epaphroditus had brought a sweet savour of Philippi unto Rome, now this letter carries the fragrance of Roman Christianity to Philippi. It is thus that the Churches in all ages have exchanged words and actions of Christian courtesy.
The Saints that are Specially Distinguished.
"Especially them that are of Caesar’s household." The great commentator already referred to has shown that the household of Caesar was a term embracing a vast number of persons, not only in Rome, but in the provinces, all of whom were either actual or former slaves of the Emperor, and filled every possible description of office. There is every reason to believe that this term included household slaves who were in immediate attendance upon the Emperor; soldiers who through being attached to the prisoner had been constrained to hear the story of salvation, and yielded to the claims of Jesus: and perhaps beyond, there was a still wider circle of senators and knights, men of intellectual power and large wealth, who composed the Imperial retinue and court. The household of Caesar was constituted by a vast concourse, many of whom were the agents of murders, bitter cruelties, and licentious intrigues, but large numbers of whom were men of upright character, who found it possible, amid such surroundings as those of Nero’s palace, to be simple followers of Jesus. It is as possible to be a Christian in a royal court as in a slum, in a fashionable circle as amongst peasants and labourers, amongst rulers as amongst the poor and destitute. Character may be independent of circumstances. Joseph may pursue his life of purity amid the corruption of Egypt, and Daniel his life of prayer amid the idolatry of Babylon.
Circumstances may differ; in some cases they are more, whilst in others they are less favourable to the growth of Christian character, but Christianity is indigenous to all climates, and will flourish on any soil. It is like the corn plant which grows alike upon the alluvial soil of the Nile Delta, and the broad expanse of Western prairies.
It speaks much for the earnestness of individual workers in those early days, when there were no great conventions, nor many eloquent and commanding preachers, that such vast multitudes of believers were being gathered in every part of the known world through the individual effort of those who, like the first apostles, could say, "Come and see."
The Final Benediction.
"The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit." The Epistle begins with grace (Philippians 1:2) and with grace it ends. It is impossible to define all that is meant by this comprehensive prayer. Illumination for the soul, love for the heart, strength for the mind, purity for the character, help in every time of need, direction in all perplexity and difficulty--all these are included in the word grace. It was impossible for the Apostle to know in detail all that his friends might be passing through amid the temptations and perils of Philippi, but he wished that always and everywhere they might be conscious that the grace of the Lord Jesus beset them behind and before, encompassed their going out and coming in, enwrapped them in their lying down and rising up, canopied them with skies opening Godward, and was their shield and their exceeding great reward.
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Meyer, F.B. "Commentary on Philippians 4". "Meyer's Devotional Commentary on Philippians". https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 24 / Ordinary 29