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In this Chapter, the Apostle warns the Church against false Teachers. He as strongly points out, and that in his own Example, what are the infallible Marks of Grace in the Heart; namely, to win Christ, and be found in Him. He closeth the Chapter with the solemn Account of the End of the Carnal, and the blessed Termination of the Life of the Godly.
(1) ¶ Finally, my brethren, rejoice in the Lord. To write the same things to you, to me indeed is not grievous, but for you it is safe. (2) Beware of dogs, beware of evil workers, beware of the concision. (3) For we are the circumcision, which worship God in the spirit, and rejoice in Christ Jesus, and have no confidence in the flesh. (4) ¶ Though I might also have confidence in the flesh. If any other man thinketh that he hath whereof he might trust in the flesh, I more: (5) Circumcised the eighth day, of the stock of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, an Hebrew of the Hebrews; as touching the law, a Pharisee; (6) Concerning zeal, persecuting the church; touching the righteousness which is in the law, blameless. (7) But what things were gain to me, those I counted loss for Christ. (8) Yea doubtless, and I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord: for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and do count them but dung, that I may win Christ, (9) ¶ And be found in him, not having mine own righteousness, which is of the law, but that which is through the faith of Christ, the righteousness which is of God by faith: (10) That I may know him, and the power of his resurrection, and the fellowship of his sufferings, being made conformable unto his death; (11) If by any means I might attain unto the resurrection of the dead. (12) Not as though I had already attained, either were already perfect: but I follow after, if that I may apprehend that for which also I am apprehended of Christ Jesus. (13) Brethren, I count not myself to have apprehended: but this one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before, (14) I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus. (15) ¶ Let us therefore, as many as be perfect, be thus minded: and if in anything ye be otherwise minded, God shall reveal even this unto you. (16) Nevertheless, whereto we have already attained, let us walk by the same rule, let us mind the same thing.
By the opening of this Chapter, one might have been led to God conceive, that the Apostle was drawing to a conclusion. And, it is probable, that when he began it, with the word finally, such was his intention. But, whatever was Paul's intention herein, God the Holy Ghost it appears, had more for him to say to his Church. And, we have reason to bless that gracious, and Almighty Lord of the ministry, that he had; and for leading out the mind of the Apostle, as he hath here done, in so many sweet and precious truths. And, we have reason to bless the Lord yet further, for causing the same to be recorded, and handed down to the Church, through all the intermediate ages, to the present hour. Oh! Lord the Spirit! add a blessing more: and cause the blessed doctrines to be written in the hearts or thy people!
How delightfully the Church is commanded to rejoice in the Lord, while cautioned to beware of the malice, and subtilty of their enemies. And, beyond all doubt, in every heart of God's children, which is savingly regenerated by the Holy Ghost, there is an everlasting cause, for unceasingly rejoicing in Christ; notwithstanding the holy caution, with which every justified believer is called upon, to walk through the whole of his pilgrimage state. Reader! do not fail to remark the vast difference, between rejoicing in the Lord, and taking confidence in the flesh.
The different characters here spoken of by the Apostle, of dogs, and evil workers, and the concision, contrasted to the true circumcision, which worship God in the spirit, very clearly define, the seed of the Serpent, from the seed of the Woman. One line in the Book of the Revelations, is enough, in explaining the whole. Without are dogs. Revelation 22:15 . And everlastingly must be so. An eternal line of distinction marks the goats from the sheep: the tares, from the wheat: and the children of the wicked one, from the children of the Kingdom. Various have been the opinions, and many the enquiries, of learned men, in endeavouring to ascertain the Apostle's meaning, of Concision. But, while men of natural learning, untaught of God, have amused themselves with different conjectures, which minister questions more than godly edifying; the Holy Ghost hath made it plain to the humblest capacities of God's children. The fleshly concision, be it what it may, is opposed to the spiritual circumcision of the heart: similar to what the children of the bond-woman are to the children of the free. If the Reader would see our Lord's own Comment on this subject, he will find it beautifully set forth; Matthew 13:30 . And, if he desires a further illustration of the same, his servant the Apostle hath given it; Galatians 4:22-31 .
But the Apostle, in what is here before us, hath plainly shown, what is the true circumcision of the heart in regeneration, when he saith: for we are the circumcision, which worship God in the spirit, and rejoice in Christ Jesus, and have no confidence in the flesh. Surely the features of character, which define the Lord's people from the carnal world, are as brightly drawn in those words, as if written with a sun-beam. And, to heighten them the more, Paul contrasts them, to what his own portrait was, before that sovereign grace had made the change. If good works, or zeal for God's honor, or birthright by nature from Abraham, could have justified before God; who stood so high in these things, as Paul? But, what saith this great Apostle, after the Lord had called him by his grace, to reveal his Son in him? I count all things but loss (saith he) for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and do count them but dung, that I may win Christ, and be found in him.
Reader! I pray you to pause over the Apostle's account of himself. Observe, with what abhorrence he speaks of his own righteousness, and all his former privileges, before he was brought into a state of conversion. He calls the whole dung; and, like the Prophet, considered all, as filthy rags. Isaiah 64:6 . And, observe how he sums up the whole of his wishes and desires, under those two grand branches of all happiness, namely, to win Christ, and to be found in him.
Not that the Apostle had any question, or doubt, upon his mind, as to his own personal knowledge of Christ, and his interest in Christ. For he had before told the Church, in the former part of this same Epistle, that he was confident of this very thing, that He which had began the good work in them, would perform it unto the day of Jesus Christ. Philippians 1:6 . And, long before this, he had blessed God, when writing to the Church at Ephesus, in that God had chosen, and predestinated the Church, to the adoption of children; and that it should be holy, and without blame before him in love; and both accepted the Church in Christ, and the Church had found redemption in Christ's blood. Ephesians 1:3-10 . So that Paul, by his expressions in this place, of winning Christ, and being found in him, did not mean as though the blessings had not been obtained, or were in the least doubtful. But, his evident design, in thus writing to the Church was, to express his holy joy at the happy change, in throwing away all his former righteousness, which was of the law, as so much dung, and dross; and to be wholly found in Christ, and the righteousness which is of God by faith.
And, if we take into the account, the whole of Paul's ministry, on this important point, as may be gathered from his preaching, and Epistles; the subject will appear exceedingly plain, that the Apostle, from first to last, after his conversion, made Christ the whole of his salvation. If there be a single point upon earth, more clearly ascertained, one, than another, concerning the Apostle's judgment upon this great doctrine; no man of candor can hesitate to say, that the uniform plan of this inspired Apostle, in all his ministry, and in all his labors, was, to exalt Christ, and to humble the sinner. His whole preaching was, to hold up the Lord Jesus Christ, as Jehovah's One (and only One) Ordinance, for salvation to everyone that believes. In conformity to the whole College of Apostles, in their plan of preaching, after being sent forth by the Holy Ghost, Paul preached as they did, that salvation was in no other; neither is there any other name under heaven given among men whereby we must be saved. Acts 4:12 . And, like them, Paul had but one text, one sermon, one subject; whether in the temple, or from house to house, as they did, so did he, cease not to teach, and to preach Jesus Christ. Acts 5:42 . Neither do we ever find him mingling the Law with the Gospel! So far from it, that he expressly taught the Galatian Church, that if righteousness come by the law, then Christ is dead in vain. Galatians 2:21 . Christ (said he) is become of no effect unto you: whosoever of you are justified by the law, ye are fallen from grace. Galatians 5:4 . Do we ever find him preaching any other doctrine, but salvation wholly by the blood of the Lamb; and justification solely in the righteousness of Jesus Christ? So far from it, that he speaks with an holy indignation, and abhorrence, at the bare idea: God forbid (said he) that I should glory save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ; by whom the world is crucified unto me, and I unto the world. Galatians 6:14 . And, as he said this to the Church of the Galatians; so, in like manner, he entered his protest against all other doctrines, but Christ and his cross, when writing to the Church of the Corinthians: I determined (said he) not to know anything among you, save Jesus Christ, and him crucified. 1 Corinthians 2:2 . And in the preceding Chapter he had assigned a most satisfying reason for it. For the preaching of the cross (said he) is to them that perish foolishness; but unto us which are saved, (Reader! mark, which are saved, not, to be saved;) it is the power of God. 1 Corinthians 1:18 .
Now, again, I beg the Reader to pause over this statement; and let him remark, that it is wholly scriptural. And, when the Reader hath duly pondered it, let him ask his own heart; (for to the heart of the Reader I appeal, if so be the Holy Ghost hath regenerated him; for an unregenerated Reader can be no judge in the matter, no more than a blind man is of colors, or a deaf man of sound:) was Paul a preacher of free grace, or was he not? Did he, or did he not, hold up Christ, and him crucified, as the whole of salvation? Did he, or did he not, wholly throw aside the law, in a way of justification before God; and declare, that Christ was the end of the law for righteousness to everyone that believeth? Romans 10:4 . And, did he, or did he not, in relation to his own personal salvation, while preaching the same to all the Church, as in this Chapter is declared, that he counted all things but dung, that he might win Christ, and be found in him? And if these, and the like questions, are answered, as they must be answered by every man of candor, and as Paul himself, if alive, would answer them: wherefore should not all that are truly regenerated, and taught of God the Holy Ghost, as he was, join issue with him, and make the same conclusion as he did? For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves it is the gift of God, not of works, lest any man should boast. Ephesians 2:8-9 .
I have dwelt longer upon this subject, than I otherwise should have done, not because of its importance only, but because some modern Writers, in the awful day in which the Church of God now is, have ventured, in contradiction to those most plain truths Of Scripture, to insinuate, as if the inculcation of such doctrines as salvation by Christ alone, were dangerous. They have, indeed, made a violent blow, at all the great articles by which the faith once delivered unto the saints are distinguished. And were those blessed foundation truths within the reach of their arm, they would wish to dig them up, and reduce the whole Gospel to a mere system of morality, and the miserable piety of fallen, sinful creatures. But this is as futile, as throwing snow-balls at the sun. The sovereignty of God the Father, in his electing love of the Church; the redemption of the Church, by the sole labors, righteousness, and death, of the Son of God; and the final perseverance of the saints, by the graces, influences, and renewing strength, of God the Holy Ghost: these soul-supporting doctrines, are not in danger of suffering harm, much less of annihilation, by an arm of flesh, or all the powers of darkness. They have stood all the ravages of time, and all the revolutions of empires; and must stand, though all the time-state of the Church, like the divine Author of our holy faith, the same yesterday, and to-day, and forever. See Commentary on 1 Thessalonians 1:4-10 .
But, is the Reader astonished at the attack made on those fundamental articles of the faith which was once delivered unto the saints? So am not I. We are taught to expect it, and especially in the last times. 1 Timothy 4:1 . Paul told the Church at Ephesus, that after his departure, not only from without, grievous wolves would enter in among them, not sparing the flock: but, what was more distressing to hear; I know, (said he,) that also of your ownselves shall men arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away disciples after them. Acts 20:29-30 . And the word of God traceth the evil to its source. For, as long as men are unacquainted with the plague of their own heart, their employment in sacred things will give them but a very superficial knowledge, either of their own corruptions before God, or of the infinite extent of malignity in sin, which can yield to nothing to do away, but the blood, and righteousness of the Lord Jesus Christ. There is in every man by nature, a free-will righteousness, in his very heart. We are all born with it. And so closely is it woven into the very texture of the old Adam-nature of the body, that even after a work of grace hath passed upon the soul of the child of God; it lurks still in the flesh, and some taints of it he carries with him. even to his grave. And, in instances where the mere form of godliness appears, in much seeming zeal, without the power by regeneration; there the utmost bitterness will manifest itself, in opposing the doctrines of free grace. Paul felt this to the full, in the days of his unregeneracy; and made a very honest confession of it, when by conversion the Lord led him to see it. I verily thought (said he) with myself, that I ought to do many things contrary to the name of Jesus of Nazareth. Acts 26:9 .
And if, after mentioning the name, and testimony, of so great an Apostle, the humble writer of this Poor Man's Commentary, may venture to speak of himself, he would, with the deepest self-abasement of spirit say, that many a year did he conceive the same. Indeed, there is scarce a spot of ground, marked by the feet of daring unbelief, and disputation, against God's sovereignty in his election of grace, with the many sweet, and precious blessings, which take their rise from that fountain of everlasting love, and make glad the Church of God, but I have trodden. I have gone over the whole of the field of controversy, on these grand points; and, inch by inch, contended on the awful side of unbelief, until driven out by the overwhelming testimony of divine truth, brought home to my heart, by the arrows of conviction, from the hand of God the Holy Ghost. I can, therefore, readily enter into a full apprehension of those men's feelings, who contend on that ground, by what my own once were. And under the hope, that He who hath taught me, will teach them; I can, and do, truly pity, and compassionate their ignorance, in the recollection of my own. When God the Holy Ghost shall have brought them into a clearer view of things, on those glorious truths, (as I bless his Majesty, he hath me,) they will look back, as I now do, and stand astonished, which to admire most; the Lord's forbearance, or man's presumption.
But, in the mean time, as an old man going out of life, it behoves me, having received his testimony, to set to his seal, that God is true. John 3:33 . I hesitate not to say, therefore, that all such writers, or preachers, if a work of grace from God the Spirit, is happily began in their heart, (and with all others I have nothing at present to do,) the Lord, for wise and gracious purposes, hath not as yet brought them into a full acquaintance; (as he will at length do,) with, the plague of their own heart. They have been convinced of sin, no doubt; for this is among the first works of God the Spirit, after regeneration. But they have not fully learnt, as hereafter they will learn, what Paul calls; the old man of sin; and that sin by the commandment, might become exceeding sinful. Romans 7:13 . God the Holy Ghost doth by his children, as we for the most part do by our's. In our system of education, we instruct them, as their tender capacities will bear. Here a little, and there a little. When the Lord brought his Israel out of Egypt, he would not lead them through the way of the land of the Philistines, although that was near; for God said, lest peradventure the people repent, when they see war, and return to Egypt. Exodus 13:17 . So is it now, in the Lord's deliverance of his Israel, from spiritual Egypt. He doth not bring his people all at once acquainted with the depth of sin in their fallen nature, lest they should despond, at the prospect of such a war. But the Lord leads them into this knowledge, as they are enabled to bear it. Hence, those persons to whom I am now alluding, are not, while they so write, or preach, brought into a thorough acquaintance with the plague of their own heart. They have not descended, like the Prophet, into the chambers of imagery, from one degree of information to another, to discover the greater abominations of themselves, and their own corruptions. Ezekiel 8:8-13 . They see only, as the poor man did in part, when Jesus first touched his eyes, and beheld men, as trees walking. But, if they are the Lord's, and He hath began the good work in their souls; they will have their spiritual apprehensions exercised, into larger discoveries, both of their own totally helpless, lost estate, and of the ability in Christ alone for salvation. And then, like Paul, they will preach the faith which once they labored to destroy. Some such, I myself have known. And, as it was with the Church in his instance, so hath it been upon those occasions, with me, in their's: I have glorified God in them. Galatians 1:23-24 . See Chap. 4:8 and Commentary.
I must not dismiss the view of this blessed Scripture, in the Apostle's longings to win Christ, and be found in him; without offering a short observation on that part also, connected with Paul's desire, when he saith, that he followeth after it that he might apprehend that, for which also (saith Paul) I am apprehended of Christ Jesus. There is somewhat well worthy our attention in this. There is a vast difference between Christ's apprehending of his people, and their apprehending him. Christ's apprehending us is the cause, and our apprehending him, but the effect. It is by this, as it is by love. His love of us is the cause of our love of him. We love him because he first loved us. This is the effect. John 4:19 . In like manner, had not Christ first apprehended us, we never should have apprehended him. Nay, more than this. Besides the Lord's apprehending all the members of his mystical body, in that one vast comprehensive union, by which he holds the whole; had he not taken the gracious method he hath done, by his Spirit, in drawing out our hearts to the love of him, and inclining our souls by his grace, to lay hold of him in faith; never should we have done it, or even desired it, but have remained forever, in the natural enmity of our own hearts against him. When, therefore, the Apostle expresseth his desire to apprehend Christ, as Christ apprehended him; he meant it not for any further security (for Christ's holding him make this effectual,) but for delight. Not, as if be needed greater safety, for that was impossible; but for the greater triumph of faith. The child, held in the bosom of a tender mother, owes its safety, not from throwing its little playful arms round the mother's neck, but wholly from her support, beneath the infant's body. Perhaps the unconscious babe may, in the moment of forgetfulness, forego its holding; but not so the mother. In like manner, it is pleasant to faith, and Paul wished it, to apprehend Christ, as Christ apprehends us; but the security of Paul, and all the children of God like Paul, is founded alone in Christ. Hold thou me up, (said one of old,) and I shall be safe. Psalms 119:117 . And Moses was directed by the Holy Ghost, to assure this to the Church, when he said: the eternal God is thy refuge; and underneath are the everlasting arms. Deuteronomy 33:27 .
(17) ¶ Brethren, be followers together of me, and mark them which walk so as ye have us for an ensample. (18) (For many walk, of whom I have told you often, and now tell you even weeping, that they are the enemies of the cross of Christ: (19) Whose end is destruction, whose God is their belly, and whose glory is in their shame, who mind earthly things.) (20) For our conversation is in heaven; from whence also we look for the Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ: (21) Who shall change our vile body, that it may be fashioned like unto his glorious body, according to the working whereby he is able even to subdue all things unto himself.
We have a very awful account of the many, whom the Apostle here describes, as enemies to the cross of Christ. He could not mean the openly profane, neither the openly despisers of Christ; for in the case of either, distressing as the view is, Paul needed not to have cautioned the Church against them. It appears very plainly, that as their sin is marked by the Apostle as against the cross of Christ; it was the doctrine of redemption solely by Christ; blood and righteousness, against which their enmity was shown. And well might Paul weep, in beholding such characters. Their end, he said, was destruction. Carnal confidence, naturally producing such an end. And what possible hope can there be of salvation, where the only means of obtaining it is rejected?
Reader! observe, how sweetly the Apostle relieves the minds of the Church, in reminding them of their confidence in Jesus. Our conversation (saith he) is in heaven. Not only a citizenship there; but their affections already gone before, to take possession, and to carry on correspondence with the inhabitants. We live below. But we breathe the atmosphere above. And He, who is the Lord of the country, even our dear Lord Jesus Christ, we are always on the look-out for, who is shortly expected to come, to take us to himself; that where he is, there we may be also.
And, what I yet more particularly beg the Reader to observe, Paul saith, that when he comes, he will change the vile bodies of his people, that they may be fashioned like unto his glorious body. By which, it should seem, the Apostle meant, that the saints of God, which are alive in the body, at Christ's coming, shall be instantly changed, without passing by death through the grave. While those that are asleep in Jesus, shall be also raised by the same Almighty power, from the dust, with glorified bodies. And this vast change, in both instances, is the special, and personal privilege, of Christ's redeemed ones, from their union with him. Not so the Christless dead. Jesus solemnly declares, how they are to be risen: John 5:28-29 . And the Holy Ghost as sweetly speaks, how the dead in Christ shall arise, by the Spirit dwelling in them. Romans 8:11 ; Revelation 14:13 .
And Reader, suffer me, on this most interesting subject to add one word more. When God the Holy Ghost, in this scripture, by his servant the Apostle, saith, that Christ shall change our vile bodies; and this is said of the saints of God; nothing can be more evident, than that the bodies of regenerated believers, notwithstanding the holiness of the spirit, in being born again, whether in the grave, or alive, at the coming of Christ, are not changed by grace. If they were changed, they could not be said to be vile. If a perfection in part, even in the smallest part on the body, had taken place, at the regeneration of the spirit; that part, even in the thousandth degree, could no longer be said to be vile: neither could it be capable, as we see, and know it is, in every instance of corruption. Acts 13:36-37 . I conceive this to be so important a point of doctrine, and involves in it so many interesting consequences, that I pray the Reader not to pass away from it too hastily. It certainly is not very generally, if at all, attended to, or considered. The commonly received opinion, even by the godly, on this point is, that at regeneration, we are sanctified in part, both in body, and spirit. Whereas, if, as Paul saith here, Christ at his coming, will change our vile bodies; most certain it is, that no change whatever is made on the body at the new-birth, but the vast work is on the spirit only. And this is most plainly the case. The spirit at regeneration, is made as holy as it ever will be, being made a partaker of the divine nature; and having had given unto it, all things that pertain to life and godliness. 2 Peter 1:3-4 . And the body remains the same, unchanged by grace, but vile, and full of sin. And hence, when it drops to its original dust, it is expressly said to be sown in corruption, to be sown in weakness, to be sown a natural body. And hence, as Christ will change the vile bodies of his saints, which are alive at his coming: so, by his resurrection, he will raise up the bodies of his saints, which sleep in the dust, and which were sown in corruption. Jesus will raise them in incorruption, that they may be all fashioned like to his glorious body, whereby he is able, even to subdue all things unto himself. Oh precious Jesus! thou who art the resurrection and the life! May my flesh rest in hope of this assured blessedness!
READER! is it your happiness, as I trust it is mine, to do as the Apostle commands, to rejoice in the Lord. And are we both the true circumcision, which worship God in the spirit, rejoice in Christ Jesus, and have no confidence in the flesh! Oh! what dung, and dross, is all creature-righteousness. Lord Jesus! let it never be mine. May I be enabled, like Paul, to count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord. Oh! to win Christ; and to be found in him!
Do thou, Almighty God the Spirit, be unceasingly holding up to my view, the preciousness of Jesus; and warming my heart with his love. And cause me, like the Prophet, to be always on the watchtower, for my Lord's return: that whether at midnight, or cockcrowing, or in the morning; I may be waiting his chariot wheels, that when he cometh, I may instantly arise to receive him. Oh! Lord! I shall see thy face in glory. I shall be satisfied, when I awake with thy likeness.
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Hawker, Robert, D.D. "Commentary on Philippians 3". "Hawker's Poor Man's Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 25 / Ordinary 30