Click to donate today!
The Epistle to the Philippians
The Saints of God (for All Saints' Eve)
To-morrow is the day of All Saints. For quite a thousand years the churches of the West have given the first of November to this great commemoration, illuminating the declining and darkening year with the spiritual splendour of the thought of these exalted multitudes who have outsoared our shadows into the light of God. For it is with the holy ones departed that the festival, beyond a doubt, was primarily from the first concerned. It contemplated the saints in that reference of the word which is often its distinctive reference in the Bible, as where the Old Testament seer beholds 'the Lord our God coming, and all the saints with him,' and where the Christian Apostle hails the same supreme prospect in its clearer and more articulate glory, 'the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ, with all His saints'.
That reference passed into current language and normal use, as we find it largely illustrated in Shakespeare for example and in Milton. And so the noble Collect of our Book, a prayer of the. Reformation age, lifts us up to remember and to emulate the immortals; 'Grant that we may follow Thy blessed saints in all virtuous and godly living'.
I. Let us remember that the word saint, when we follow it through the Bible, above all through the New Testament, by no means most frequently connects itself with the holy dead in 'those heavenly habitations,' where (to use the words of the tenderest supplication of the Prayer Book) 'the souls of them that sleep in the Lord Jesus enjoy perpetual rest and felicity'. Rather the word gravitates by Scriptural usage towards the seen and the temporal for its setting. By a saint the Apostle commonly means a being altogether, as to conditions and surroundings, like ourselves. We read of 'poor saints,' who need pecuniary relief by church collections, of 'saints' whose feet, tired and bemired with travel, the pious widow washes; 'saints' resident and busy in town and city life, saints of Rome, and specially of Caesar's household, saints of Colossae, of Thessalonica, and, as in the text, saints of Philippi. Not the Garden of God was the place of life for the latter, but the Roman military town, with its vices and superstitions, and its angry rabble, its shops and market, its courthouse, and its inner prison. One of these Philippian saints was a merchant-woman, another was governor of the gaol, another a recent victim of demoniacal possession, still very likely the chattel of the slave-owner. Yet to this whole company St. Paul gives without reserve the glorious name. There and then, in the thick of their Philippian life, they were all the saints of God. II. 'The saints who are at Philippi,' the ἅγιοι there. What does the word ἅγιος mean? Taking together its etymology and its use, we find it conveying a blended and elevating notion of religious awe, and of a Divine ownership. Kindred to ἅγος , it casts round its bearer the solemn halo or aura of a mysterious presence, a contact with the Eternal. The invisible world has touched the man, and sympathised with him, and breathed itself into him. God has called him, and drawn him near, into a personal connexion.
Then, also, ἅγιος , by its usage, as well as in the light of the Hebrew word which in Scripture it represents, lends itself to the thought of separation, of detachment, to an ownership sovereign and supreme. The Lord has not only spoken to the man, but has annexed him. The person not only worships, but belongs. The presence around him and above him imposes an absolute claim upon him. It bids him live no longer to himself but to his God, to his Redeemer, Who has bought him, to his Sanctifier, Who occupies his soul.
III. Thus interpreted, the word saint, as in its other and heavenly reference, is indeed a great word and uplifting. It carries in it the powers of the world invisible, and the grandeur of the fact that the redeemed man's life is lived always and in the whole of it within the possessing hands of God. No lower significance satisfies the truth of the designation. Nothing can be more wide of that truth than to explain saint as a conventional synonym for the baptised Christian and no more. To be sure, it is applied impartially to all the baptised; the Apostle here indicates by it evidently the whole membership of the missionary Church. But this he does, as James Mozley long ago convincingly reasoned, not as if the word saint admitted into itself a secondary and inferior sense, a sense, as Pearson puts it, of 'outward vocation and charitable presumption'. Rather the 'presumption' of the usage is that the people addressed are all what they all are called, that they are Christians indeed to a man and to a woman, that they are redeemed beings who have all responded to their redemption, that they have all felt, in fact, the power of the Eternal Presence, and its overawing love, that without exception they have yielded themselves to the Divine Possessor, and are appropriated to Him.
Yet meanwhile the word, thus exacting and exalted, is no remote and intangible term of an imaginative devotion. The Apostle means by it manifestly, as we have seen, something which can live, and labour, and suffer, in the common walk of life. He applies it without an effort to their modern mortal lives.
Such homely saintship, as we know, was the traditional habit of the primeval Church. Some seventy years later than the date of our text, it was the strange sunlight of a celestial life shed upon the common path, which moved the soul of Aristides and prompted his appeal to Antonine. In his wonderful sketch of the Christians of the second century I find no allusion whatever to ascetic rigours and seclusions, nor again to supernatural displays, to unknown tongues, and sudden healing miracles. But the observer stood awed and magnetically attracted before the people, who without pretension, without self-consciousness, but with the large facility of a new nature, were always true, and always pure, and always kind in ordinary intercourse, glad and thankful before their God. In everything, faultlessly faithful in each relative duty of life, ready every day for a happy death, by nature or by martyrdom.
The apostolic succession of the saints is the same still in its idea, and it can be the same still in its realisation.
'The saints of God, their conflict past!' It is good for us to salute them, some of them dear unspeakably to ourselves, gathered together in their glorious rest on high. But they all were first the saints of some Philippi here below as we are called to be today. They were all once true men and true women hallowed by the Eternal Presence here, and separated and surrendered here to the possession and the uses of their King.
Bishop H. C. G. Moule, Church Family Newspaper, 5th November, 1909.
The Courtesy Born of Jesus
How beautiful is the conjunction of the aged Apostle and the young disciple in sacred league and covenant! I wonder how much each owed to the other in the ministry of the Spirit? How far was it Timothy's ministry to keep the old man young, and to warm his soul continually with the kindling influence of youthful enthusiasm? It is a gracious remembrance, that, in these latter days of limitation and suspicion, Paul could drink at the fountain of a young man's love. He had the inexpressible privilege of scenting the perfumes of love's springtime, and feasting upon the first sweet fruits in the garden of a young and grace-filled soul. Beautiful must have been their companionship youth revering age, and age having no contempt or suspicion of youth, but each ministering to the other of the flowers and fruits of his own season. 'Paul and Timothy.' It is the union of springtime and autumn; of enthusiasm and experience; of impulse and wisdom; of tender hope and quiet and rich assurance.
I. Servants of Jesus Christ. The early Apostles gloried in exhibiting the brand-marks of their Lord. Here, in this letter, the first thing the Apostle shows us is the mark of the branding A little while ago I was present at a sheep-shearing in the very heart of the Highlands, and I noticed that when the heavy, burdensome fleece had been shorn from the affrighted sheep, the liberated beast was branded with the owner's initials and went bounding away, prominently exhibiting these signs of its owner's name. And Paul and Timothy had been delivered from a heavy burden: the vesture of oppressive habits had been removed by the power of a crucified Lord, and on their emancipated lives they bore the marks of their owner the 'brands' of the Lord Jesus. Whose I am. They belonged to Him who had redeemed them with a heavy price, and they counted it to be their glory, and their crown of rejoicing, that they were not their own, but the branded 'bond-servants' of the Lord Jesus Christ.
II. To all the Saints in Christ Jesus which are at Philippi. The saints are reared in unlikely neighbourhoods. It was at Philippi that the multitude was so hostile and violent. It was at Philippi that Paul had 'many stripes' laid upon him, and that he was 'thrust into prison,' and his feet 'made fast in the stocks'. One would have thought that in this fierce persecution the little Church would have been destroyed, and that in these scorching antagonisms the early, tender leaves of Christian faith and hope would have withered away. But 'He maketh grass to grow upon the mountains' even in those unlikely places and He reared His saints amid the threatening decimations of Philippi. For let it be remembered that, though Philippi was the sphere of their living, it did not provide the rootage of their life. The saints were 'at Philippi,' but they were 'in Christ Jesus,' and that is the secret of their endurance 'when the sun was up' and the hot beams of hostility blazed upon their unoffending heads.
III. With the Bishops and Deacons. 'Honour to whom honour is due.' These men had done the work of collecting the help which had been sent to the needy Apostle, and they must receive special and generous recognition. St. Paul was a prince of courtesy. Courtesy is not the creation of effort, it is the product of grace: it is born, not made. Paul was born of grace, and therefore he was gracious, and instinctively his courtesy fitted itself to all the changing requirements of the day.
IV. Grace to You. Behind graciousness was grace, and the courtesy broadened into a prayer for the supreme gift. Get grace, and all gifts are gained. Grace is the bountiful mother of all the graces.
V. And Peace. Where grace abides peace will dwell. They are inseparable companions. Grace is the native element in which all our powers awake and work in happy service. Now peace is not the absence of movement: it is the absence of friction. The real symbol of peace is not to be found in some secluded motionless mountain tarn, but in the majestic progress of some quiet brimming river. Peace is not symbolised in the death chamber, but in the rhythmic, smooth movements of the engine-house. When grace reigns, man moves in God in perfect unison, man co-operates with man in fellowship without strain, and 'all that is within us praise and bless' God's 'holy name'. When grace reigns, life loses all its 'strain and stress,' and, in the absence of friction, 'all things work together for good'.
J. H. Jowett, The High Galling, p. 1.
References. I. 1 Expositor (6th Series), vol. iv. p. 46. I. 2. Ibid. (5th Series), vol. vii. p. 65. I. 3. W. Wynn, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xlvi. p. 338. I. 3-5. W. Baird, The Hallowing of our Common Life, p. 84. I. 3-7 Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xxxvi. No. 2154. I. 3-8. J. H. Jowett, The High Calling, p. 9. I. 5, 6. Expositor (5th Series), vol. v. p. 139. I. 6. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xv. No. 872. J. Keble, Sermons for the Sundays after Trinity, p. 308. Spurgeon, Christian World Pulpit, vol. lix. p. 133. W. H. Hutchings, Sermon Sketches, p. 274. A. Connell, Scottish Review, vol. iii. p. 161. I. 7. Bishop Creighton, University and Other Sermons, p. 124. Expositor (4th Series), vol. v. p. 343. 1. 9. H. P. Liddon, Sermons Preached on Special Occasions, p. 286. A. P. Stanley, Canterbury Sermons, p. 328. I. 9, 10. T. Arnold, Christian Life: Its Hopes, p. 208. I. 9-11. Bishop Westcott, Village Sermons, p. 289. I. 9-14. J. H. Jowett, The High Calling, p. 17. A. Maclaren, Expositions of Holy Scripture Philippians, p. 206.
The More Excellent Way
In this very remarkable prayer, St. Paul is guided by a conception of Christianity as it really is, and he is expressing successive aspects of the world into which it introduces men. The text describes one such aspect, and an extremely important one, viz., the approvals of a life, its unforced choices, instinctive preferences, and habitual consents. There are a thousand little points of manner, speech, thought, and action, in which both of two possible courses are justifiable, but one is the finer course, and belongs to the things which are excellent. This prayer is for a type of character founded upon the habitual choice of such things.
I. Obviously this first of all requires appreciation to know what one desires and to desire rightly. If it be important to learn how to say No, it is still more important to learn how to say Yes, and to say it emphatically. For, even in so unsatisfactory a world as this, there are some things which are excellent things that are 'true, honest, just, pure, lovely, and of good report'. There is a certain number of such things round about us all. Some people are turning over large heaps of them, to find the unpleasant things below, but that does not alter the fact. If your world of thought and choice is ugly and second-rate, that is neither God's fault nor the world's. It is your own fault, who have approved these things for emphasis. The world is strewn with the good gifts of God. 'Here is God's plenty,' as Dryden says of Chaucer: and the opulence of the world is the heartening message of many others who have found 'power each side, perfection every turn'. It is a great and wise thing to look around us with chaste desire and loving eye, and to see and appreciate the choicest excellence.
II. Yet appreciation must be balanced with criticism, for in a world like this there is a very manifest limit to approval, and criticism, no less than appreciation, is a distinctively Christian duty. Marius the Epicurean recognised in his Christian friend, 'some inward standard of distinction, selection, refusal, amid the various elements of the fervid and corrupt life' around them. Even in literature, as Pater elsewhere insists, the choicest work depends upon the art of cutting off surplusage; and all finest things, like the diamond, gain their beauty by sacrifice of precious dust. 'Excellence is not common and abundant,' says Matthew Arnold, 'whoever talks of excellence as common and abundant is on the way to lose all right standard of excellence.'
III. Thus Christian character also involves selection, not only of obvious right in contrast with wrong, but of the finest kind of right and that which is fittest for the special occasion. To reject open immorality and to accept all the rest without discrimination, is respectability, the religion of the Pharisees. But every respectable Pharisee proves the truth of the saying that 'the good is the enemy of the best'. There is a scale of fineness among things respectable, and Christ insists that we shall not be content with a second-best, though it be good. In this way He has produced a special type of man, more delicately sensitive in choices than the rest. Such men, whose spirit habitually dwells among the highest things, show a rare spiritual culture, an exclusiveness, an aristocracy of spirit, which partly explains Christ's insistence on the narrow way and the straight gate, and the few that find it.
Yet that is not so true as it seems. Instincts may be acquired and tastes rectified within a lifetime. These are the last results of certain ways of dealing with life which are open to all. Those who live worthily among plain and ordinary issues, who train their minds to think accurately and dispassionately, who keep their eyes open and gain experience of the world, come in the end to a spontaneous and immediate discernment of the lower and the higher ways.
John Kelman, Ephemera Eternitatis, p. 104.
References. I. 10. H. J. Wilmot-Buxton, Sunday Sermonettes for a Year, p. 206. F. D. Maurice, Sermons, vol. iv. p. 67. J. Kelman, Scottish Review, vol. iii. p. 243. I. 12. L. D. Bevan, Christian World Pulpit, vol. li. p. 283. I. 12-14. D. J. Weller, ibid. vol. 1. p. 52. I. 12-20. A. Maclaren, Expositions of Holy Scripture Philippians, p. 211. I. 14-18. Expositor (5th Series), vol. vii. p. 107. I. 15-18. J. C. Lees, Christian World Pulpit, vol. liv. p. 36. Expositor (6th Series), vol. xi. p. 467. I. 15-19. J. H. Jowett, The High Calling, p. 25. I. 18. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. vii. No. 370; Ibid. vol. xix. No. 1139.
You have in those words a picture, a portrait of a minister of Jesus Christ. You have a portrait of St.
Paul drawn by the hands of Paul himself. As he dictates the words, he is hardly thinking of himself at all. He is just opening his heart after his manner to those whom he loved in the Church at Philippi, and he tells them what they know well enough, that his earnest expectation and hope was that in nothing he should be ashamed, but that, as always, so now also Christ should be magnified in his body, whether it were by life or by death. Was St. Paul's expectation realised, or was his confidence ultimately disappointed? Did he fail in that position in which God had put him, or did he actually and really magnify Jesus Christ his Lord in his body whether by life or by death?
I. St. Paul's Confidence justified. I would have you notice first of all that St. Paul's confidence, his expectation, of which he speaks here, was tested, and tested to the uttermost. St. Paul never knew from one day to another which would be his last. That prison door might any moment open, and the executioner enter who would take him to a shameful punishment, a public execution, and I ask you to think again what that must have meant to St. Paul. He faces the alternatives here in this letter. He looks at life and he looks at death. He puts them both into his scales and weighs them. He looks at death. It meant the cessation of all that pain and travail, all that persecution, these bonds and imprisonment. It meant deliverance from that party at Rome and similar parties elsewhere. This on the negative side. Positively, it meant to be with Jesus Christ; and St. Paul, as you see in this letter, is just glancing in at the gate of heaven, and as he does so the whole soul of the man goes out in these words, 'I desire to depart and to be with Christ, which is far better'. And then he looks at life; and what did life mean? I have said life meant a continuance of all that he was going on with day by day, and year by year. He could hardly suffer more, but he was not likely to suffer less, and that to St. Paul meant life at its best. Do not forget that. St. Paul would not exchange that life for any other that man could give him in the world. As he looks at these two things, life and death, each is so excellent that he says, 'I am in a strait betwixt two'. 'I know not which to choose.' And then, as he thinks of the needs of the little Philippian Church, and when he remembers how essential he is as yet for their guidance and help, he says, 'I am confident that I shall abide in the flesh for your sakes, and I am content that it should be so.' Is not this wonderful? I ask you to think of this living man with our temptations, our weaknesses, and our trials, and far more, and I ask you to think how he met them as we have it depicted here. St. Paul's confidence was not misplaced, St. Paul's expectation was not disappointed.
II. St. Paul's Secret. Now as to his secret. Remember, this is the picture in our text, not merely of an Apostle, but of every Christian man and woman. To you he would say, as he said to one of the Churches, 'Be ye Ambassador for Him'. You and I want to know, we who call ourselves Christians, what St. Paul's secret was, and you have it here in the words adjoining my text, 'To me to live is Christ'. These words may be peculiarly useful to any of us. There are a great many persons in Christian England who do not see why they personally need what is termed conversion. They do not see, when they look at their own lives, that there is any particular difference between themselves and some who profess to have been truly born again and brought into the service of Christ. Their lives are respectable, their conduct is upright, their standards are Christian, they do not see that there is any particular need of change. These words of the Apostle may be a test to one and to another. Will you say them in your heart as I speak them, 'To live is '. What word will you put in there? Remember the alternative of Christ is self. Let me ask you again to say these words in your hearts, and to put in what actually represents the main ambition of your life, 'To me to live is '
Now you know where you are. I can imagine one saying something like this, 'Yes, but I want to be honest; I do not want to be a hypocrite. If I take Jesus Christ as the New Testament bids me, I am not sure that I shall continue, and I do not want to fail.' Did St Paul fail? We have good reason for knowing that he did not. He never did fail, and his behaviour in these trying conditions was his witness to these soldiers day by day, and they knew and felt the power of it.
III. Can there be any Higher Ambition? Whether you be a minister of Jesus Christ like St. Paul, or whether you be what we term a layman man or woman can there be any higher ambition in life than this set before us, now to magnify Christ in our bodies, whether by life or by death? 'Magnify Christ,' you say. 'How can I magnify Him Who is infinitely great?' You cannot make Christ any greater than He is, but you can magnify Him, your life may become a magnifying lens, and men shall look at Jesus Christ through your conduct as they looked at Jesus Christ through the conduct of his servant St. Paul. You may make Him appear infinitely greater than He does in the eyes of the men and women who live at home with you, whom you meet in your business and in your social circle. 'My earnest expectation and my hope is,' said the Apostle 'that in nothing I shall be ashamed, but that with all boldness, as always, so now also Christ shall be magnified in my body, whether it be by life, or by death.'
The Christian Idea of Death
I think the text would read more strongly if we were to omit that intruded 'is' in both cases. Let us delete this intrusive verb, and look at the text in this naked English: 'For me to live Christ, and to die gain'. That is nobler poetry, that is a better scansion of the poem. O Death, thy sting? Strike out the 'where is'. Grave, thy victory? It is a giant's taunt, and terrific and derisive challenge and rebuke.
I. A most curious mind is this of the Apostle Paul. He thinks aloud whilst he is apparently only writing with his hand or with the hand of another man. This is a monologue, this is the soul overheard, caught in its most secret and sacred whispers; what a privilege that we may hear the greatest soul that ever lived in the Christian Church talking! 'For me to live is Christ, and to die is gain:'I am in a strait betwixt two, having a desire to depart and be with Christ that is what I want, it is far better nevertheless, to abide in the flesh is more needful for you; I know that; I am in a strait betwixt the two; to die might be gain, not to me, a poor dying man, but to the cause. Some promote the cause by dying for it; it was so Christ lifted up His cross, until its magnitude turned the firmament into a cloud, and its glory abashed the sun. We think our work is done when we die; probably in this matter, as in many other matters, we are quite wrong; it may be that by dying in harness, being brave to the last, and working the furrow only half-way through or wholly through, we are doing more by dying than we could do by living. Let our ignorance hold its breath, let our impiety dismiss its crude and often blasphemous dreams and anticipations, and let God have His own way in His own Church among His own people. It might be a cowardly thing to desire to die if by dying we mean getting out of it, shaking it off, having nothing more to do with it, with its anxiety and its burdensomeness and its agony; that would be cowardice, and we should put Christ to a blushing shame if we talked so and yet professed to be the followers of His cross. To die may be the greatest contribution we can make to the faith which we have endeavoured to express in words, and which now we must in one gigantic final effort endeavour to express in sacrifice.
II. The religion of Christ is a grand religion to die in. It is so fearless, it is familiar with the spirit of eternity; it has grown the soul into a reverent familiarity with things big as infinity and glorious as incarnated light. This is the sign of our growth, that the things which once affrighted us now exercise upon us all the subtle power and fascination of a charm or spiritual enchantment. Once we feared to look upon a dead body; in the England that I can remember the poor dead flesh was set in a dark room, with a few dim-lighted candles just to mitigate the darkness; and there were watchers, people who sat up all night near the dead or near the chamber where the dead was coffined; everything was in a sad, hopeless hush; few dare go near the dead. We have not so learned the Christ; the death-chamber has been turned into the centre of the house, the only bright spot in the whole habitation. What may we not learn from that image of triumph and that image of rest? That is the natural fruition of true faith in Christ, who 'both died, and rose,' as if the dying and the rising were part of the same act, hardly a pause between the going and the coming, the departing and the return. So the literature of experience has undergone a new punctuation.
III. Christian death is full of brightness that living eyes cannot see, and full of hope that this poor, struggling, hesitating, self-contradicting experience of ours cannot adequately spell or interpret as one interprets who has the gift of telling what a dream is. We must he very careful therefore how we interpret the experience of those who die. Blessed are they that die in the Lord; for they rest, and their interpretation follows them, and we, too late, see meanings in things we did not understand and in actions which we were ignorantly inclined to resent. When we know all we shall forgive all and ask that all may be forgiven. The history of Christian dying would be the most thrilling history in literature. But it cannot be written, we can only see a verse or a chapter here and there, and from these broken fragments we may infer somewhat of the dignity and the lustfulness and the triumph of dying in Christ Weep for yourselves, do not weep for the Christian dying. It is quite right for you to weep, because you are still in the body, you are still environed by the world, the flesh, and the devil, your nerves are exposed to rough winds and to touches that have no gentleness in them; cry, relieving your misery by the rivers of your grief, but do not grieve for those who have gone. They are not the authors of misery, they are the inspirers of wisdom and confidence and hope.
Joseph Parker, City Temple Pulpit, vol. III. p. 146.
The Secret of St. Paul's Life
What was the secret of St Paul's life, that secret which made him the greatest of all missionaries to the Gentile world? We have not to go far in our search, for he himself has revealed it in the words of my text The secret of St Paul's life was the power and the presence of a living Christ
I. Christ in Life. We are Christians in proportion as we possess the spirit of Christ, in proportion as we identify ourselves with Him, in proportion as we are able to say, with something of the bold, transcendent phrase of St. Paul, 'To me to live is Christ'. With St. Paul this was no mere exaggeration or figure of speech. He had so far lost himself in Christ that he had made a practical surrender of his own personality. You know, in the ordinary affairs of life, how a man will become so absorbed in a great love, a great ambition, a great art, that he can pay no real heed to anything else. His very self seems merged in the idea or the person that has thus entranced him. It was so, and more than so, with St Paul and Jesus Christ. The old Paul with all his interest, hopes, enthusiasms, and ideals had practically ceased to exist. 'I live no longer,' he says. The old Paul was dead, and in his place had arisen not a new Paul, but, as he elsewhere expresses it, 'Christ liveth in me'. The thought of Christ, the service of Christ, the Spirit of Christ, the judgment and presence of Christ, these have become the one supreme, overpowering, all-pervading, dominating fact in the Apostle's consciousness of life. He draws the fact of all his real existence, of all his higher being, all that made him what he now was, simply from the life which Christ Himself inspired, and which could not last one hour without Him.
II. The Power of Growth. life has the power of growth or expansion. A dead thing, such as a crystal, may change under chemical laws, but it cannot be said to grow. Growth means a vital and organic change; it is never seen, therefore, except where there is life. The converse is equally true, that wherever you find life you find also growth, or expansion. The plant shows its life by its development. Apply that to the Christian's life within the soul, and you will find that you have a very practical test of its reality. The spiritual life, like life in other forms, has this expansive power, this quality of growth. If we would understand the value of our own Christianity, we cannot do better than look into our hearts and compare what we are today with what we used to me. Are our faces turned to the sunrise or to the twilight? Are we hoping, struggling, aspiring; are we alive in Christ?
III. The Power of Resistance. Then, again, life has the power of resistance. Every creature that lives is beset by all sorts of powerful forces that seem to aim at destruction. Life has even been defined as the 'successful resistance of death'. And the more vigorous a life is, the more numerous and the more terrible, often, are its enemies. And so we, if we have this life of Christ within us, must cultivate this power of resistance. We shall have to resist selfish desires, we shall have to resist the spirit of the world. We have to resist self because we have, as Christians, a higher law than that of self to walk by, and because self is a very subtle being, very ready to lead us astray even under the pretence of having good intentions, even under the pretence of doing God's service. 'I have written to you, young men,' says St. John, 'because you are strong,' and he goes on to explain why they are strong. 'Because ye have overcome the wicked one.' That is the secret of greater strength: resistance to the thoughts and pleasures and seductions of the world.
IV. The Power of Production. And, then, all life has the power of production. The plant realises the end of its existence by turning to flowers and fruit. Flowers and fruit of a true, noble, unselfish nature are the inevitable results of the Christ-life in the soul. He Himself has said it in one word: 'The tree is known by its fruit' known to be vigorous, known to be growing or decaying, known to be dying or dead. Show by the earnestness with which you labour to overcome your besetting sin, and struggle for truth and for virtue, that your repentance is real, that you are sincere when you claim for yourself this great name of Christian. Spiritual life must be productive as well as progressive and strong. It must grow, it must resist, it must bear fruit, and, glorifying our Father Who is in heaven, we shall realise Who it is that lives in us and by Whom and in Whom we live.
The Christian Metamorphosis
This text describes the Christian metamorphosis, that complete subjection to Christ, involved in discipleship, which displaces, as it were, the original Ego, and puts Him in its place, ranging under Him all the activities which it formerly ruled. 'To me to live is Christ,' says the Apostle. So completely was his whole life taken up and concerned with his Lord, so entirely was it dictated and determined by Him, that it really was Christ's life. To bring out the nature of this life a little more clearly, there are one or two things to be noticed regarding it.
I. First of all, St. Paul was indebted to Christ for it. If he traced it back he found it went no farther than his journey to Damascus. Wherever he went behind that, even by a step, Christ was not to be found. Now, the question is, how are you to account for so sudden and total a change? For as to its suddenness no one can doubt. Then few, I suppose, will dispute the completeness of the change. St Paul was indebted for the life he lived, not to any happy combination of circumstances, nor to the sudden awaking into energy of any dormant element in his nature, but to Christ Himself, with whom for the first time it had come into direct and open contact, and from whom it took its new and triumphant departure. Nothing can communicate life but a living person neither sacraments, nor worship, nor any orthodoxy, however pure. Are you, then, indebted for your life to Christ? What has been the use of His death upon the cross so far as you are concerned?
II. When St. Paul said: 'To me to live is Christ,' he meant that Christ was not only the beginning and perennial source of his life, but also its terminus and goal. Christ in His perfect manhood was that into which he would grow. And so it is with every Christian's life. Christ is what it naturally tends to become. We may know whether our life has come from Christ by seeing whether or not it is making towards Him. 'To die is gain.'... If to us to live is Christ there need be no fear that death will deprive us of anything which we really prize. For it is not Christ that dies, nor the life we have received from Him; but only that in which it resides, its temporary tabernacle and home. In short, death will lead to the perfection of our identity with Him, bringing about the end of that which is here begun. But remember that all this is only on the supposition that to us now to live is Christ.
C. Motnet, The Great Alternative and other Sermons, p. 53.
References. I. 21. Spurgeon, Semons, vol. iii. No. 146. R. J. Campbell. New Theology Sermons, p. 1. J. Martineau, Endeavours After the Christian Life, p. 277. R. E. Bartlett, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xlv. p. 342. W. P. Balfern, Lessons from Jesus, p. 321. H. Drummond, The Ideal Life, p. 107. A. L. N., Christian World Pulpit, vol. xlix. p. 119. W. C. Wheeler, Sermons and Addresses, p. 1. W. B. Selbie, Christian World Pulpit, vol. 1. p. 328. J. W. Houchin, The Vision of God, p. 149. A. E. Hutchinson, Christian World Pulpit, vol. liii. p. 77. A. P. Stanley, Sermons on Special Occasions, p. 71. A. W. Williamson, Christian World Pulpit, vol. liv. p. 390. Expositor (4th Series), vol. ii. p. 102. I. 21-24. C. Bradley, The Christian Life, p. 317. I. 21-25. A. Maclaren, Epositions of Holy Scripture Philippians, p. 219. I. 21-26. J. H. Jowett, The High Calling, p. 32.
How to Be in a Strait
When St. Paul wrote this Epistle to the Philippians, he was in prison, and in a strait betwixt two between the desire for fellowship with Christ in sufferings while doing God's work here, on the one hand, and fellowship with Christ in the glory which shall be revealed, on the other. But St. Paul was not the only one who is in a strait. Many are conscious of being so; but not like Paul. Was the great Apostle of the Gentiles weary of His service? No. 'And He said unto me, My grace is sufficient for thee; for My strength is made perfect in weakness. Most gladly, therefore, will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me' (2 Corinthians 12:9 ).
I. What, then, did He mean? Did he think it was necessary to depart in order to have Christ with him? Oh, no. The word which is here translated 'depart' is a peculiar word, and it only occurs in one other place in the New Testament, in Luke 12:36 , where it is translated return from the wedding. The allusion is to a ship leaving one coast to make for another on the return voyage, taking up its anchor, loosing its hold, and setting sail for the opposite shore. It describes the position of a man standing upon such a ship looking out to the brighter shore and longing for the ship's cable to be let go, and the anchor taken up, that he may go home. It is 'far better'.
II. What was it Paul Wanted? More of his Christ; to see Him as He is; not as he saw Him here, 'through a glass, darkly'; he wanted to know as he was known, to know all about his precious Christ, to be with Him without interruption from within or without; to see the hands that were pierced; the brow that was crowned with thorns for him; to hear the voice that had once said, 'Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou Me?'
III. What was the Ground of St. Paul's Assurance? For he had not one particle, not a shadow of warrant which may not be the portion of any child of God. He tells us; 'I know whom I have believed, and am persuaded that He is able to keep that which I have committed unto Him against that day'. (2 Timothy 1:12 ).
Marcus Rainsford, The Fulness of God, p. 174.
A Strait Betwixt Two
I. The first thing to be especially marked is the way in which the Apostle regarded death, the death of the body, the passing away of the spirit. As a great gain, a blessing, a thing to be coveted. There are not many Christian people who have found their work in the world, who are beloved and loving, who feel Paul's desire. Death is still, in perhaps the majority of cases, regarded as a calamity, a time of unrelieved gloom, and it is to be feared that we have lost the conception of death which prevailed among the early Christians, and very often concerning those who have gone from us we sorrow even as do others who have no hope.
II. The happy conception of death which Paul cherished, so happy that his soul had a desire and a longing for it, is to be traced to his conception of that which lay beyond. There are two considerations which make death unwelcome to us. One is the enjoyments we have here, the other is the uncertainty of what the future contains; we dread the mysterious, we people an unknown land with tenors. There was nothing negative about Paul's conception; it was not to be out of the hurly-burly, away from sorrow, disappointment, strife, care. It was to be with Christ. What appeared entirely clear to Paul was that it was not a matter of speculation, but of revelation. Death was going to Christ; it was not a departure merely, it was an arrival.
III. It is clear that if departure means being with Christ, all Christian life should be a preparation for it, a progress towards Christ, a discipline to fit us to be with Christ; we have to learn to talk with Him, to be like Him, to be made fit to dwell with Him, to learn the habits of His life.
IV. And another thing becomes clear from this passage, viz., that no joy that any of us may experience in the way of going to Christ can for a moment be compared with the joy of being with Him.
V. Finally, it has become clear through our meditation that everything depends on our relationship to Christ.
Charles Brown, Light and Life, p. 205.
Principal Rainy said on this passage: 'The prospect of departing in God's good time, to us unknown, should be a great and bright hope before us the refuge of our hearts in trouble, the retreat into which we go when we would soothe and cheer our souls, a great element of the cheerfulness and patience of our lives while we assure ourselves that the best of all we find here is by and by to give place to that which is far better.'
Dr. Rainy also said: 'Do not make dying a separate thing from living; let the one and the other be continuous parts of one unbroken fellowship with Christ, so that you may die at last departing to that which is far better, on the selfsame principles and grounds on which you have gone about any day's or any hour's avocations.'
When Luther was living at the Wartburg, and suffering from ill-health, Melanchthon wrote from Wittenberg to Spalatin (July, 1521): 'One anxiety remains, with regard to his health. I fear lest he should wear himself out with grief of mind, not for his own sake, but for ours, that is to say, for the Church. For I am not wholly ignorant of what he suffers. You know with what anxious care we must preserve the frail vessel which holds such a treasure. Should we lose him, I doubt not that God's wrath would be implacable. Through him a lamp has been kindled in Israel. If that were to go out, what other hope would remain for us? So leave nothing undone that you may find out what treatment is best in his case, and how help may be given not to him only, but to us also yes, to us alone. For I know how he desires to depart and to be with Christ.... O would that with this worthless life of mine I could purchase the life of him than whom the world today holds no diviner being.'
Corpus Reformatorum, vol. 1. cols. 417, 418.
De. Dods wrote in 1863 to his sister Marcia: 'I was reading in one of the Puritans (you mind Goodwin) on Sunday and came upon this: "Death parts two old friends (body and soul) but it joins two better friends, the soul and Christ"'.
Early Letters, p. 291.
Geiler of Kaysersberg quoted the words ' cupio dissolvi ' as one of the proofs of spiritual progress. 'If a little bird,' he said, 'is kept captive in a room, it stretches out its little neck when it comes near a window, and would like to escape.... If the window is opened even a little, it finds a way to slip out.'
When Archbishop Laud was on the scaffold, Sir John Clotworthy asked him what special text of Scripture he found most comfortable. He replied, ' Cupio dissolvi et esse cum Christo '. 'A good desire,' answered the knight, who added, 'there must be a foundation for that desire and assurance.' Laud rejoined, 'No man can express it, it is to be found within'. 'The Archbishop's last prayer,' says Dr. Stoughton, 'is the most beautiful thing connected with his history, and reminds us of Shakespeare's words:
Nothing in life
Became him like the leaving it'.
'Lord, I am coming as fast as I can, I know I must pass through the Shadow of Death before I can come to see Thee, but it is but umbra mortis, a mere shadow of death, a little darkness upon Nature, but Thou, by Thy merits and passion, hast broke through the jaws of death; so Lord, receive my soul, and have mercy upon me, and bless this kingdom in peace and plenty, and with brotherly love and charity, that there may not be this effusion of Christian blood amongst them, for Jesus Christ's sake, if it be Thy will.'
References. I. 23. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. v. No. 274, and vol. xix. No. 1136. R. Higinbotham, Sermons, p. 1. Expositor (4th Series), vol. x. pp. 302, 447. I. 27. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xi. No. 640. J. M. Neale, Sermons for the Church Year, vol. ii. p. 67. F. B. Woodward, Sermons (2nd Series), p. 207. Bishop Gore, Christian World Pulpit, vol. liii. p. 409. F. B. Woodward, Selected Sermons, p. 92. W. Jay, Penny Pulpit, No. 1708, p. 703. F. W. Farrar, Christian World Pulpit, vol. lvii. p. 337. Expositor (7th Series), vol. vi. pp. 85, 548. I. 27, 28. C. Perren, Revival Sermons in Outline, p. 342. J. H. Jowett, The High Calling, p. 38. A. Maclaren, Expositions of Holy Scripture Philippians, p. 233. I. 28. Expositor (4th Series), vol. v. p. 365. I. 29, 30. J. H. Jowett, The High Calling, p. 43. II. 1. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. vii. No. 348. II. 1-4. A. Maclaren, Expositions of Holy Scripture Philippians, p. 244. II. 1-11. Expositor (6th Series), vol. iv. p. 125. II. 3. J. S. Boone, Sermons, p. 245. J. H. Jowett, From Strength to Strength, p. 3. Expositor (6th Series), vol. xi. p. 283. II. 3, 4. J. H. Jowett, The High Calling, p. 56.
These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.
Nicoll, William Robertson, M.A., L.L.D. "Commentary on Philippians 1". Expositor's Dictionary of Text. https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 21 / Ordinary 26