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(with 1 Timothy 6:12 )
From the soul's supreme object comes her supreme inspiration.
I. We do not ask you to stand fast in anything that is partial, limited, or temporary. "Stand fast in the Lord." "Lay hold on eternal life," which is nowhere save in the eternal unity of powers, which is, and was, and for ever shall be, the Lord. As we might expect, the Gospel of the Lord and the Gospel of the sky are in perfect harmony. Astronomy is the word of God, and the New Testament is a mirror of astronomy's higher meaning. It was not only at the point of the sun's return from his deepest absence and at astronomical midnight that Jesus was born; but His birth was also the turning point of earth's moral cold and moral darkness. The sun of nature and the sun of our souls were coming anew into our world, and were coming together. Lay hold on His eternal life. His eternal life is your eternal life; His form is the ideal of your form, and capable of transmuting your form.
II. The eternal life often flashes on us, touches us to the quick, talks with us; but much more than this is necessary, if it is to create us anew. We must ourselves lay hold on it. We do our very utmost to maintain our hold on mortal life, not because it is mortal, but because it is life. The eternal life visits all men's souls, but all men's souls do not take hold, and therefore they are not changed, not glorified.
III. A word must be said to beginners, who are perhaps doubtful whether they have any hold at all on the eternal life. Persevere, and your new nature will grow, and with growth its appetite will increase. Remember, it is a form of your nature which can never undergo disintegration. You may undergo a thousand deaths before you attain to it, but when once the Lord's form of humanity is evolved about you as your own form, you can die no more.
J. Pulsford, Our Deathless Hope, p. 137.
References: Philippians 4:1 . Talmage, Old Wells Dug Out, p. 340; E. Lawrence, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xxvi., p. 395.Philippians 4:1-4 . H. Quick, Ibid., vol. ii., p. 312.Philippians 4:2 . Phillips Brooks, Twenty Sermons, p. 353.Philippians 4:3 . R. D. B. Rawnsley, Village Sermons, 1st series, p. 40.
One Spirit and One Body.
I. This measureless body, spread out before our eyes in vast outline, so varied, so glorious, so wonderful, is convincement enough of the wealth and grandeur of the Spirit whose body it is, whose manifestation it is. It is God revealing Himself to the eyes of our flesh. The whole body is as full of soul for our souls, as of glory for our eyes. There is soul in the sun, and the earth is full of the same soul. In the beast world, the bird world, the tree world, the flower world, the one soul is present, and revealing Himself. "There is one body and one Spirit."
II. Endeavour to keep the unity of both, that you may come to wisdom. If you break up the unity and begin to analyse, you may have little bits of knowledge, but no wisdom, fragments of this and fragments of the other, but no philosophy, no apprehension of the order of God. Sacredly keep the unity of every material form, for its life, its Divineness, depends on its holiness. If you want to get at the unity of the Spirit, do not desecrate the unity of any body in which the Spirit dwells. Respect the unity of your own body, and do your utmost to keep its unity, for directly it loses its symmetry and balance your health is gone, and your life is in danger.
III. Man is the miracle of the universe, a little unity of body and spirit, representing the great unity of the one body's nature and of the one Spirit, God. Man is the epitome of all wonders, the looking-glass of the universe, the house of God's incarnation. Reflect why Jesus is Lord: He is not Lord because He is called Lord; He is Lord because the great, mute body of the universe is unified in Him. The humanity of Christ found the secret path through death to heaven, because the unity of the Spirit was in Him. It is in virtue of His secret inmost essence likewise that He opens every secret door in man, touches the most secret springs, and remakes the soul. He is the Divine reconciliation of all things; therefore He is creation's peace and our peace.
J. Pulsford, Our Deathless Hope, p. 21.
I. We can hardly appreciate the full instruction to be drawn from these words unless we remember St. Paul's condition when he wrote his epistle to the Philippians. He was a prisoner at Rome, and his life hung on the caprice of the insane tyrant who then occupied the imperial throne; his circumstances were so dreary, so comfortless, so hopeless, that, except for his brethren's sake, he desired earnestly that death might release him from his anxiety and sorrow. Yet he was so wonderfully supported by consolation in Christ, comfort of love, and fellowship of the Spirit that the burden of his exhortations to distant friends, from whom he was thus cruelly separated, was that they should rejoice in the Lord.
II. We learn then generally from the Apostle's emphatic and repeated exhortations that God intends His people to be habitually cheerful and happy. (1) Note the limitation to this cheerfulness. We are to rejoice in the Lord. There are some kinds of joy which would separate us from Christ. (2) Joy in the Lord must be a real practical principle, influencing all our habits and the whole regulation of our conduct. The signs and consequences of our privilege are three: ( a ) forbearance for others, ( b ) freedom from anxiety for ourselves, and ( c ) communion with God by prayer.
III. The precept, "Rejoice in the Lord alway," teaches us that manly cheerfulness is characteristic of the true Christian, and that this is alike remote from selfish inactivity and overcareful anxiety. This is the spirit in which each of us should go forth day by day to the work to which God has called him, and should carry it on in trustful prayer, in faith and hope and love.
G. E. L. Cotton, Sermons on the Epistles, vol. i., p. 40.
I. Who would care for any gain or loss today, if he knew for certain that Christ would show Himself tomorrow? No one. The true Christian feels as he would feel did he know for certain that Christ would be here tomorrow. For he knows for certain that at least Christ will come to him when he dies; faith anticipates his death and makes it just as if that distant day, if it be distant, were past and over. It is very plain that matters which agitate us extremely now will a year hence not interest us at all. So will it be with all human hopes, fears, pleasures, pains, jealousies, disappointments, successes, when the last day is come. They will have no life in them; they will be as the faded flowers of a banquet, which do but mock us. What this world will be understood by all to be then, such is it felt to be by the Christian now. He looks at things as he will then look at them, with an uninterested and dispassionate eye, and is neither pained much nor pleased much at the accidents of life, because they are accidents.
II. Another part of the character under review is what our translation calls moderation: "Let your moderation be known unto all men," or, as it may be more exactly rendered, your consideration, fairness, or equitableness. The Christian does not fear; fear it is that makes men bigots, tyrants, and zealots; but for the Christian it is his privilege, as he is beyond hopes and fears, suspense and jealousy, so also to be patient, cool, discriminating, and impartial, so much so that this very fairness marks his character in the eyes of the world, is "known unto all men."
III. Joy and gladness are also characteristic of him, according to the exhortation of the text, "Rejoice in the Lord alway." The duty of fearing does but perfect our joy; that joy alone is true Christian joy which is informed and quickened by fear and made thereby sober and reverent.
J. H. Newman, Parochial and Plain Sermons, vol. v., p. 58.
References: Philippians 4:4 . H. J. Wilmot-Buxton, The Life of Duty, vol. i., p. 24; H. P. Liddon, Advent Sermons, vol. i., p. 283; C. Kingsley, Town and Country Sermons, p. 394; H. P. Liddon, Christian World Pulpit, vol. viii., p. 401; H. W. Beecher, Ibid., vol. xii., p. 147; Colborne, Ibid., vol. xvi., p. 382; J. Baldwin Brown, Ibid., vol. xvii., p. 129; A. P. Stanley, Ibid., vol. xxi., p. 10; F. Case, Short Practical Sermons, p. 94; E. C. Wickham, Wellington College Sermons, p. 1.
A Life of Prayer a Life of Peace.
St. Paul in these words bids the Christians of Philippi to carry all their sorrows and fears to the throne of Christ. He specially bids them remember the nearness of our Lord and the freedom we may use in speaking to Him; and in so doing he has taught us a great and blessed truth, needful for all men in all ages; I mean that a life of prayer is a life of peace.
I. St. Paul here tells us, first of all, that there is One ever near us who can fulfil all our desire and overrule all things in our behalf: "The Lord is at hand." How soon He may reveal Himself in person we know not; but, soon or late, it is certain that, although unseen, He is ever near us. His presence departed not from the Church when He ascended into heaven. He is withdrawn from the eyes of our flesh, but in the sight of our hearts He is always visible; though He be at the right hand of God, yet He is in the Church and in our secret chamber; He is both able and willing to fulfil all our hearts' desires, and nothing is hid from His sight.
II. St. Paul tells us further that we may make all our desires known unto God; we may speak with Him as a man speaks with his friend. We all know the relief of unburdening ourselves and opening our hidden cares even to an earthly companion; we seem to have laid off a weight when we have told our sorrow: and yet there is a point beyond which we do not reveal ourselves to our fastest and nearest friend. But from God not only is it impossible to conceal, but we do not desire to hide, anything. Though He be the Holy One, and His eyes as a flame of fire, so piercing and so pure, yet we do not shrink from making all known to Him, for though He be perfect in purity, He is likewise perfect in compassion; He is as pitiful as He is holy. Though unworthy to ask the least blessing, yet we may make our requests known unto Him by silent humiliation and by secret appeal to His perfect knowledge. We shall not indeed always have what we ask; but if we ask in faith, we shall always have peace. Of this we shall never fail (1) first, because whatsoever we ask which is truly for our good, that He will give us freely. No father so much delights to give the very thing his children ask for, as our Father in heaven. Whatsoever we desire that is in harmony with the eternal will, with the love of our Redeemer, and with the mind of the Holy Ghost those things we shall without fail receive. All good things, all good, eternal and created, all blessing, grace, and truth, all the benedictions of. the kingdom of God, all the promises of the Gospel, and all the pledged mercies of redemption all these we may ask importunately, and shall assuredly receive. (2) Whatsoever we ask that is not for our good, He will keep it back from us. In this entangled twilight state of probation, where the confines of good and ill so nearly approach and almost seem to intermingle, there needs a keen and strong spiritual eye to discern and know the nature and properties of all things which encompass us about. How awful would be our lot if our wishes should straightway pass into realities. (3) We know certainly that if God refuse us anything, it is only to give us something better.
H. E. Manning, Sermons, vol. iii., p. 240.
References: Philippians 4:4-7 . E. Blencowe, Plain Sermons to a Country Congregation , vol. ii., p. 57; J. Carr, Church of England Pulpit, vol. xiii., p. 13.
The Great Expectation.
I. It has been the expectation of the coming of the Lord which ever since the time of the Apostles has always been the inspiration of the Christian world. The noblest souls always have believed that humanity was capable of containing, and was sure sooner or later to receive, a larger and deeper infusion of Divinity. The power of any life lies in its expectancy. What do you hope for? What do you expect? The answer to these questions is the measure of the degree in which a man is living. He who can answer these questions by the declaration, I am expecting a higher, deeper, more pervading, mastery of Christ we know that he is thoroughly alive.
II. The more varied and manifold a man's experiences have become, the more he has the chance to know of God, the more chance God has to show Himself to him. Every new experience is like an opportunity of knowing God; every experience is like a jewel set into the texture of our lives, on which God shines and makes interpretation and revelation of Himself. And the man who feels himself going out of a dying year with these jewels of experience which have burned forth from his life during its months, and knows that God in the new year will shine upon them and reveal them, may well go full of expectation, saying, "The Lord is at hand." There are two ways in which the Lord is always coming to His servants. He opens their eyes to see how near He is already, and He does actually draw nearer to their lives.
III. In the text St. Paul describes what ought to be the result of this expectation of the coming of the Lord upon a man's life: "Let your moderation be known unto all men." This word ''moderation" "forbearance" the new version renders it is one of Paul's great words; it means self-restraint, self-possession. There is somewhere in the human mind an image of human character in which all wayward impulses are restrained, not by outside compulsion, but by the firm grasp of a power which holds everything in obedience from within by the central purpose of the life. It is this character which St. Paul calls by his great word "moderation." It is self-possession; it is the self found and possessed in God; it is the sweet reasonableness which was in Jesus, of whom it was written that He should not strive nor cry, neither should His voice be heard in the streets: that He should not break the bruised reed, and the smoking flax He should not quench, until He sent forth judgment to victory. In these words we have the true description of what St. Paul meant by moderation.
Phillips Brooks, Twenty Sermons, p. 353.
References: Philippians 4:5 . Church of England Pulpit, vol. xix., p. 157; Homilist, 3rd series, vol. v., p. 53; Ibid., 4th series, vol. i., p. 34; Clergyman's Magazine, vol. xii., p. 278.
I. It is not easy to determine in which of two senses the former clause is to be taken. The Lord is near in position, and the Lord is near in approach. In either sense we can connect the doctrine and the precept. If the Lord is soon coming, how idle must be all anxiety about things soon to be dissolved; if the Lord is always present, how needless must be all anxiety about things easy of remedy. The two thoughts fall into one. But it is with the latter of the two that I desire to occupy you now. The Lord Jesus Christ is always at hand; therefore turn all anxiety into prayer. Thousands of hearts have found repose in this one word of inspiration. Towards some verses we cannot but feel as we do towards a place ennobled or consecrated by the footsteps of saints or heroes. Such verses have a history as well as a doctrine, and is not this one of them? The Lord is ever near, not more in the approach of His advent, than in the reality of His spiritual power. Wherever, in perfect solitude or amidst the din of uncongenial sounds, one humble heart turns to Him as the Saviour and the Intercessor, there is He, not to be sought far and found late, but listening before speech, answering before entreaty. Whatever we be, He changes not; if we doubt His presence, we disparage His power, we deny His Divinity.
II. Be anxious about nothing. Anxiety is (1) an idle thing: (2) an enfeebling thing; it eats the very life out of the energies; it leaves the man, not only where he was, but ten times less capable and less vigorous than at the beginning: (3) an irritating thing; it ruffles the temper; it upsets the balance of the spirit; it is the sure source of moodiness, and sharpness, and petulance, and anger; it sets a man at war with himself, with his neighbour, with God's providence and God's appointments. Anxiety is a sign of mistrust; a sign of feeble faith, of flagging energy, and languid obedience. In Christ's presence, in His human soul, in His compassionate heart, we may lay aside our anxieties, we may rest from our burdens, and we may take refuge from our fears and from our sins.
C. J. Vaughan, Lectures on Philippians, p. 279.
I. "Let your requests be made known unto God." (1) Requests. All creatures are dependent. The act of breathing seems the emblem at once of the creature's continual need and the Creator's abundant supply. With us there is emptiness: with Him there is fulness; and, as in the case of breathing, the emptiness of the creature draws supply from God. His goodness has compassed us about like the atmosphere, and when we open our mouth it is filled with good. (2) "Let your requests be made known unto God." God desires company among His creatures; He made an intelligent being that He might have intercourse with the work of His own hands. (3) " Your requests." Search and see what element it is in the requests of his little child that goes like an arrow to a parent's heart, filling that heart with delight and opening sluices for a flood of gifts; it is this: that they are the requests of his own child.
II. "By prayer and supplication with thanksgiving." Prayer is the soul's believing and reverential approach unto God; supplication means the needs which demand supply or the asking which springs from a sense of emptiness.
III. "In everything." He is not a man of little faith who puts little things into his prayers. That very thing shows him to be a man of great faith. Prayer in secret is a pouring out of the soul before God; and if it is not a pouring, it is not prayer. Anything left behind, cherished in you but concealed from God, vitiates all.
W. Arnot, The Anchor of the Soul, p. 82.
The Ideal Manhood.
I. This is a command given by one of the ablest professors in the school of Christ. There is a luminousness, and a joyfulness, and a habitual thanksgiving in Paul's life, which contrast very strangely with the outward facts and conditions of that life. He was a prisoner; he was a man advanced in life; he was singularly proud by nature; he was sensitive to a degree that no AEolian harp ever was, for no wind, either loud or low, ever touched him that every sympathy in him did not sound out; and he had been subjected to every indignity of body and soul that a man could undergo. And yet, in other words, he says, Let your disposition be such that you shall see so many things to give thanks for that whenever you have occasion to ask for anything you shall do it through the radiant atmosphere of thanksgiving for all the mercies by which you are surrounded.
II. This is the ideal which a man who comes into the Christian communion sets before himself: a higher, a perfected manhood, which makes him superior to other men. To every intelligent person the first steps on becoming a Christian are steps that lead towards the realisation of the conception of the power of a manhood that has been illumined by the Divine Spirit of God and made superior to the body and to the whole outward life, and that makes a man a prince, who is able to govern both himself and others. The first steps that a man takes in a religious life are ranked, not by external circumstances and conditions, but by the ideal which he is seeking to reach. They are the first steps in that education which is by-and-by to give him control over his own being and over his surroundings. Is there anything in this world more fit to be the object of any man's ambition than the attainment by his reason and moral sense of such an absolute power by which he can control all the conditions of his life and every part of himself? Is there anything nobler than that?
H. W. Beecher, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xiv., p. 313.
References: Philippians 4:6 . Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xxv., No. 1469; Church of England Pulpit, vol. vii., p. 103; Homilist, vol. iv., p. 302; T. R. Stevenson, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xiv., p. 382; G. Brooks, Five Hundred Outlines, p. 215; Sermons on the Catechism, p. 74.
The Peace of God and what Hinders it.
The Apostle speaks of certain things which hinder the ideal peace, and the practical thing for us is to understand these hindrances and remove them.
I. The evil that he would prohibit is care over-anxiety about the things of life. The care condemned is an overanxious solicitude about material things; a restless, wearing, fretting anxiety, that cannot let us do our best, and then leave issues in the hands of God's providence. Exercises of faith are more easy in spiritual things than they are in temporal things. The slightest derangement of our business plans, the least check in our business prosperity, is often too much for our faith. We give way to despondency; every experience seems a presage of evil, every road tangled and rough; we receive no gift of God with joy, we offer no prayer with thanksgiving; we fret ourselves, and perhaps charge God foolishly.
II. There are things that we have no right to care about at all, things of sheer envy and covetousness. How our cares would be lessened were they limited to things fairly belonging to us. They, too, who are always foreboding evil, always looking on the dark side of things, and if there be a disastrous possibility anticipate it, make cares for themselves. "Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof." Every anxiety about duty has its limits, overpassing which it becomes a disqualifying burden, presses down the springs of action, and disables the judgment. I may be so afraid of doing wrong that I never do right.
III. It is difficult to distinguish between the measure of legitimate desire which is right and the excess of it, which is wrong. Two or three suggestions may help us. The legitimate measure of even lawful care is exceeded when religious trust in God is disabled; when our spirit is so disquieted and absorbed that we cannot pray, save in the utterances of imperious desires; when the care intrudes at all times and overpowers all feelings, so that we absolutely cannot leave the issue with God. Undue care is one of the most inveterate forms of unbelief. It wears out physical energies, takes the vital spirit out of a man; instead of a sound mind in a healthy body, he has to contend with a disordered mind in a body nervously unstrung; he can neither work by day nor sleep by night; full of morbid activity, he does nothing; his over-anxiety has defeated itself.
IV. How is this great hindrance to peace to be counteracted? The strong man armed can be cast out only by a stronger than he; we cannot cast out the evil spirit and leave an empty heart swept and garnished. Natural human feeling must have something whereon to rest. It rests upon its misfortune and fear; the true remedy is to rest on God. Pray, and the peace of God shall guard your heart and mind.
H. Allon, The Indwelling Christ, p. 107.
Reference: Philippians 4:6 , Philippians 4:7 . J. Fleming, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xiii., p. 145.
The Peace of God.
Let us consider the two ideas suggested by the statement that this peace is the peace of God, and that it passeth all understanding; that is, we propose looking at its nature and its greatness, its Divine source, and its incomprehensible character.
I. The nature of this peace is such that it is denominated the "peace of God." For this we assign the following reasons: (1) Because it is that for which God made man at first; it is the realisation of His original idea of the happiness of humanity. (2) To this general statement you might add that religious blessedness, as now experienced by humanity, is denominated the peace of God because it is the result of His merciful interposition for man as well as the realisation of His original ideas respecting him. (3) The blessedness of the spiritual life in man is denominated the peace of God because, in addition to its including restoration to the happiness for which God originally designed him and the possession of that which God supernaturally provided for by the Gospel, it is that which is immediately produced by God's Spirit, and is thus in some degree of the nature of a direct Divine donation. (4) It might be said perhaps, in the last place, that religious peace is the peace of God because it is sustained, nourished, and enlarged by those acts and exercises, private and public, which bring the soul into contact with God.
II. The second thing is the statement in the text that this peace of God "passeth all understanding." (1) The peace of God in the soul of man, or the felt blessedness of the religious life, passes the understanding of the men of the world. (2) The peace of God, as a felt, conscious, and experienced blessedness, passes the understanding of the Christian himself. (3) The peace of God, looked at in connection with the facts and agencies from which it springs, is a thing which passes the understanding even of angelic intelligence. In the mystery of God, of the Father and of Christ, there are "treasures of wisdom" laid up which no created intelligence will ever comprehend, and which eternity will not exhaust. But this mystery is precisely that out of which flows to man the power of God; the stream partakes of the nature of its source, and hence the Divine gift of the incomprehensible God itself surpasses "all understanding."
T. Binney, King's Weighhouse Chapel Sermons, p. 106.
The Warrior Peace.
The great mosque of Constantinople was once a Christian church, dedicated to the Holy Wisdom. Over its western portal may still be read, graven on a brazen plate, the words, "Come unto Me, all ye that labour and are heavy-laden, and I will give you rest." For four hundred years noisy crowds have fought, and sorrowed, and fretted beneath the dim inscription in an unknown tongue; and no eye has looked at it, nor any heart responded. My text is Christ's offer of peace. The world offers excitement; Christ promises repose.
I. Mark, first, this peace of God. What are its elements? (1) It must be peace with God; (2) it is peace within ourselves.
II. Notice what my text tells us that the peace of God does: it takes upon itself warlike functions, and garrisons the heart and mind. The peace of God, which is peace militant, is unbroken amidst the conflicts. The wise old Greeks chose for the goddess of Athens the goddess of Wisdom, and whilst they consecrated to her the olive branch, which is the symbol of peace, they set her image on the Parthenon, helmed and spear-bearing, to defend the peace which she brought to earth. So this heavenly virgin, whom the Apostle personifies here, is the "winged sentry, all skilful in the wars," who enters into our hearts, and fights for us to keep us in unbroken peace.
III. Notice how we get the peace of God. (1) Trust is peace; (2) submission is peace; (3) communion is peace. You will get no quiet until you live with God; until He is at your side you will always be moved.
A. Maclaren, The Unchanging Christ, p. 115.
References: Philippians 4:7 . Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. iv., No. 180; vol. xxiv., No. 1597; J. H. Thorn, Laws of Life after the Mind of Christ, 2nd series, p. 1; Clergyman's Magazine, vol. v., p. 31; Homiletic Quarterly, vol. ii., p. 280; T. Arnold, Sermons, vol. v., p. 238; H. W. Beecher, Sermons, 3rd series, p. 446; H. Melvill, Penny Pulpit, No. 3753.
When the Apostle wrote these words, he was filled with the best of all loves. These grand words were almost the last outpouring of the fulness of the Apostle's love. Everybody knows them; everybody admires them; everybody is conscious of an undefined pleasure in them.
I. Observe that all the good and holy things of the text purify. St. Paul does not say, Do them, but what is far more: "Think on them." The word means literally, Take them into your mouths; dwell on them; imbue your very spirit with them; for there is life in them when fostered in the inner life of which the outer life is only a reflection. Every mind must have its thoughts, and every thought must have its food. Thought dies without food. Some men think too abstractedly; some men think much of the evils which they wish to avoid; that is vainness: the thought may take the bad character even from the wrong thing, which it is the object of that very thought to destroy. It is far safer, it is far better, and far more effective to think of the true, the holy, and the good.
II. The more you meditate upon the truth, the honesty, and the justice which regulate the sacred transactions between Heaven and man that is, the more you see the Cross of Christ as the great embodiment of the mind of God and contemplate the highest truth as it is exhibited there the more prepared you will be to go on to take a proper estimate of what is to be "the true, the honest, and the just" in the relations and dealings of the present life. Whenever you can form this lofty conception of the inner and beautiful principle, your standard will be very high, and you will be better able to take measure of the circumstances of life. He will always make the best prophet the eye of whose mind is the most familiar with a Divine and prompt obedience.
J. Vaughan, Fifty Sermons, 1874, p. 151.
I. We can all appreciate the importance of being able to guide and control our thoughts; we can all understand that it must be a serious thing to have lost or not to possess the power of doing so. And who has not known by experience something of the evil effects of thinking of the opposite things to those which St. Paul here recommends? St. Paul bids the Philippians entertain one kind of guests within, and by inference exclude or expel another. And which of us does not feel that there is wisdom in this caution? A man who lives much amongst the evil things of human nature, even if professional or other duty requires it of him, can seldom preserve unsullied the purity of his Christian feeling. And if such be the effect of an acquaintance with things hateful and impure in those who approach them at the call of business or duty, how must it be with those who live amongst them by choice? There are those who gloat upon the records of vice or crime, and find in them an attraction and fascination which is wanting in things lovely and of good report.
II. St. Paul's charge has a depth of wisdom and a wholesomeness of counsel scarcely noticed perhaps on its surface. We ought to cherish only such thoughts concerning others as are lovely and of good report; we ought to dwell by choice only upon virtues. The charge presupposes a power over the thoughts. And thus we are led to a serious reflection upon the importance of turning our faith to account in the work of regulating and disciplining thought. Of ourselves we can neither think nor do one good thing; but if the Gospel be true, we can think as well as do all things through Christ who strengtheneth us. Let us pray to God to cleanse the thoughts of our hearts by the inspiration of His Holy Spirit.
C. J. Vaughan, Lectures on Philippians, p. 295.
References: Philippians 4:8 . F. W. Farrar, Everyday Christian Life, p. 46; T. M. Herbert, Sketches of Sermons, p. 158; W. B. Pope, Sermons, p. 213; Preacher's Monthly, vol. ii., p. 200; Christian World Pulpit, vol. v., p. 115; R. M. Stewart, Ibid., vol. xix., p. 121; H. W. Beecher, Ibid., vol. xxvii., p. 148; J. G. Rogers, Ibid., vol. xxviii., p. 28; Ibid., p. 295; Clergyman's Magazine, vol. vii., p. 289. Philippians 4:9 . W. G. Horder, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xxx., p. 277; S. Martin, Sermons, 2nd series, p. 219; G. Brooks, Five Hundred Outlines, p. 382.
The Secret of Happiness.
I. When St. Paul speaks of being content, he uses in the original a word which occurs nowhere else in the New Testament. But this word, so rare with St. Paul, was in common use with all the schools of ancient Greece. Perhaps it would have been rendered more closely by "self-sufficing." St. Paul, as was his custom, took the old Greek word and baptized it; he gave it a new value; he read instinctively a new meaning into it. A Christian can only be self-sufficing, because in a Christian self is virtually suppressed. The old self is superseded by, is absorbed into, another self.
II. What are the ingredients of Christian contentment, and what are the ruling considerations which should make a Christian happy and thankful to be what he is? (1) The first motive, common in a large measure to St. Paul and to the wiser heathen, is that nothing earthly either lasts or satisfies. Why not acquiesce in whatever befalls us when all is relatively unimportant, relatively insignificant? (2) The second motive for cherishing a contented spirit is confidence in the wise and loving providence of God. We each are placed where we are. God is too 'wise not to know all about us and not to know what it is best for us to be and to have; and God is too good not to desire our highest good, and too powerful if He desires not to effect it. Our true course is to remember that He sees further than we do, and that we shall understand Him in time when His plans have unfolded themselves. (3) The third motive is that a Christian in a state of grace already possesses God: "If any man love Me, My Father will love him, and we will come unto him and make our abode with him." Surely, if these Divine words are real to us, we must know that nothing that is finite can be needed to supplement this our firm hold upon the infinite, that no created thing can add to what we have in possessing the Creator.
H. P. Liddon, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xxv., p. 273.
References: Philippians 4:11 . Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. vi., No. 320; Ibid., Morning by Morning, p. 47; Homilist, 2nd series, vol. ii., p. 247; Parker, Hidden Springs, p. 1; H. W. Beecher, Sermons, 1st series, p. 159; Plain Sermons by Contributors to "Tracts for the Times," vol. vi., p. 204.Philippians 4:11 , Philippians 4:12 . E. Cooper, Practical Sermons, vol. ii., p. 189. Philippians 4:11-13 . H. W. Beecher, Christian World Pulpit, vol. vii., p. 124.
All men have owned that the knowledge which Paul claimed is not an easy one to win or keep. To know how to be poor! Plenty of people there are who are set down to the hard lesson. Plenty of people yes, all people in different degrees and different ways are led into some disappointment or abasement, but how few seem to stand in it evidently the stronger and the better for it. Poverty seems to men to be like the old fabled Sphinx, a mysterious being who has in herself the secrets of life, but holds them fast and tells them only in riddles, and devours the brave, unfortunate adventurers who try to guess at the wisdom she conceals and fail. The result is that few men seek her wisdom voluntarily. It is only when all other schools turn them out that they will go to hers.
I. It is evidently a distinct region of life in which Paul finds himself, where so long as he lives there is a special harvest for him to reap which he could reap nowhere else. To recognise the land in which he finds himself and to reap the harvest which he finds waiting for him there that is the knowledge of how to be abased which Paul is thankfully claiming; that is what all his life and abasement has given him. "When I am weak, then am I strong." Is there not here a true intelligible picture of the way in which a man may know how to be abased? If it is possible to look upon a limited, restricted life as a certain kind of life, with its own peculiar chances and environments out of which a man, if he knows how, may get a character, and in which a man, if he knows how, may live a life which would be impossible elsewhere, then certainly this limited restricted life may win and hold an affectionate respect which is a positive thing and may be very strong and real. We need not be haunted with the demon of comparison; we need not say whether the cultures and pleasures of abasement are greater or less than those of abundance; enough that it has its own, peculiar to itself and full of value. Life is a medal with two sides; the "other" side, as we choose to call it, has its own image and superscription, and is not made up only of the depressions which are necessary to make the elevations on the face. Not to all men, not to any man always, does God give complete abundance. To all men sometimes, to some men in long stretches of their lives, come the abasement times, times of poverty, times of ignorance, times of friendlessness, times of distrust and doubt. But God does not mean that these times should be like great barren stretches and blanks in our lives, only to be travelled over for the sake of what lies beyond. To men who, like Paul, know how to be abased, they have their own rich value. To have our desire set on nothing absolutely except character, to be glad that God should lead us into any land where there is character to win this is the only real explanation of life.
Phillips Brooks, The Light of the World, p. 179.
I. The phrase is very simple. Behind the duty of being anything lies the deeper duty of knowing how to be that thing in the best way and to the best result. No man has a right to be anything unless he is conscious that he knows how to be it, not with a perfect knowledge for that can come only by the active exercise of being the thing itself but at least no man has a right to be anything unless he carries already in his heart such a sense of the magnitude and the capacity of his occupation as makes him teachable by experience for all that his occupation has to make known to him. This is the law which Paul suggests with regard to abundance. Wealth is a condition, a vocation, he declares. A man may have the condition and not have, not even seek to have, the knowledge of how to live in that condition. Go to, ye rich men, and learn how a rich man ought to live.
II. Is it possible for us to put our finger on this mysterious knowledge of St. Paul, and say exactly what it was? I think we can. It must have been a Christian knowledge. Imagine that to his meagre life there had been brought the sudden prospect of abundance. "Tomorrow, Paul, a new world is to be opened to you. You shall be rich; you shall have hosts of friends; all your struggles shall be over; you shall live in peace. Are you ready for this new life? Can your feet walk strong and sure and steady in this new land, so different from any land where they have ever walked before?" What will Paul's answer be? "Yes. I have Christ; I know my soul is in Him. I am His servant; nothing can make me leave Him. With the power of that consecration, I can rob abundance of its dangers, and make it the servant of Him and of my soul. I shall not be its slave; it shall be mine. I will walk at liberty because I keep His commandments." The power by which Paul could confidently expect to rob abundance of its dangers and to call out all its help was the knowledge of the true perfection of a human soul in serving Christ.
III. In each of the several departments of our life it is not enough that a man shall have attained abundance: he must also know how to abound in riches, in learning, in friendships, in spiritual privilege; there is a deeper knowledge which alone can fasten the treasure which he has won, and make it truly his, and draw out its best use. What a great principle that is! Under that principle a man may even be the master of the heart and soul of some possessions whose form he does not own. I know that Jesus, the poor Man who walked through rich Jerusalem and had not where to lay His head, had still the key to all that wealth. We cannot attain to all abundance in this one short life; but if we can come to God and be His servants, the knowledge of how to be things which we shall never be may enter into us. In poverty we may have the blessing of riches, in enforced ignorance the blessing of knowledge, in loneliness the blessing of friendship, and in suspense and doubt the blessing of peace and rest.
Phillips Brooks, The Light of the World, p. 157.
Reference: Philippians 4:12 . Spurgeon, Morning by Morning, p. 41.
I. The context shows that it is more of bearing than of doing that St. Paul speaks. He has been initiated, he says, into the great mystery of contentment. He knows how to reconcile himself to every extreme, how to conduct himself in plenty and in hunger, in abundance and in need. It is true in every sense of a Christian, certainly it was true in every sense of St. Paul, that he can do all things through Christ strengthening him; but here we are especially called to notice that Christ enabled St. Paul, and can enable all who believe, to be contented with any condition and with any circumstances of life which the providence of God has been pleased to ordain. Contentment is the ready acquiescence of the heart and will in that which is, and is for us; it is the not reaching forth to that which is forbidden or denied to us; it is the not looking with eager desire through the bars of our cage at a fancied liberty or an imagined paradise without; it is the saying, and saying because we feel it in the deep of our soul, This is God's will, and therefore it is my will; it is the condition of one who is independent of all save God, of one whom neither riches nor poverty, neither affluence nor want, neither success nor failure, neither prosperity nor adversity, can so affect as to make the difference to him of being a happy man or a miserable.
II. Such contentment is, as Paul himself here writes, of the nature of a secret or mystery communicated only by special revelation to a selected few. I have been initiated, he writes, into it. Who tells the secret? who initiates into that Divine mystery? It must be a person. We do not hear secrets from the whispering winds; we are not initiated into mysteries by common rumour or by the passing changes and chances of mortal life. That contentment which is in one sense a mystery is in another equally true sense a grace and a strength.
C. J. Vaughan, Lectures on Philippians, p. 311.
We see here
I. Jesus Christ strengthening His disciple and Apostle Paul. Every man needs strength, but no man has within him strength equal to the demands that are made upon him. An Apostle is no exception to this rule. The apostleship did not assist Paul's personal Christianity; but it rendered that Christianity more difficult and more arduous. Paul, the wonderful convert, the chief Apostle, was equal to all things only by Christ strengthening him.
II. Paul assured that all things were possible to him. He felt equal to all the labour and toil which duty could ever involve; he felt equal to all suffering which could become his portion. Not as a Jew, not as a child of Abraham, not as a disciple of Moses, but as a Christian, Paul said, "I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me."
S. Martin, Westminster Chapel Sermons, 1st series, p. 126.
References: Philippians 4:13 . Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. vi., No. 346; Homiletic Quarterly, vol. ii., p. 268; G. Brooks, Five Hundred Outlines, p. 107; Sermons on the Catechism, p. 1; F. Temple, Rugby Sermons, 1st series, p. 1.
I. In a certain sense all almsgiving abounds to the account of the giver, all almsgiving, I mean, which is worthy of the name. I may be glad of the gift given, but I cannot call it almsgiving of a Christian kind unless there be two things in it: disinterestedness and self-denial. We must have no side aims, no crooked or selfish motives, in that almsgiving which is to inherit the promise. A person must not give to be seen of men, and a person must not give because not to give would, be to be blamed by men, and a person must not give thus much because not to do so would appear mean and illiberal. These are bad motives, and half the almsgiving in Christian congregations is no doubt spoiled by them for the giver. Again, I cannot call it almsgiving in a high or Christian sense unless there is in it something of self-denial. I say again, it may do good without this, but it can bring no blessing after it. It is well from early years to associate the idea of giving to another with sparing from one's self. Let the little sum which you had intended to lay out upon self, in body or mind, be willingly and cheerfully given to another: to the relief of the body, the instruction of the mind, or the enlightenment of the soul, of some other person or persons for whom, as for you, Christ died. Then that is Christian almsgiving; it is the act of one who out of love to Christ gives away that which he would have had to spend. Now all such almsgiving brings after it fruit which abounds to the giver.
II. But most of all surely will this be so in cases where the act itself is an act of faith. To relieve distress, disease, destitution, when it stares you in the face, is better than not to relieve it; but it is oftentimes an act rather of natural kindness than of spiritual principle. But when you give in the cause of a Christian mission, you are doing that which can be prompted by no such motive; and it is the certain reaction of such almsgiving, such in motive and such in object, that it strengthens the faith out of which it springs.
C. J. Vaughan, Lectures on Philippians, p. 327.
References: Philippians 4:18 . J. Armstrong, Parochial Sermons, p. 192.Philippians 4:19 . Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xxix., No. 1712.Philippians 4:21 . American Pulpit of the Day, p. 374; Wilkinson, Thursday Penny Pulpit, vol. viii., p. 94.
The Spirit of Christianity.
I. The words of the text suggest to us that the Gospel is a spiritually restoring power. It makes men, sinful men, saints; it is a power to raise, ennoble, and make morally strong, a power which the world needs and must experience before prosperity shall abound and peace on earth shall be enjoyed. The want of the world is saints saints like those who were in Rome, and who during all the ages have been the salt of the earth. Saints are those who* stand right with God, right with all their brethren and mankind, and right with themselves. They become all this by the spiritual power of the Gospel, the spiritual energy which alone can turn sinners into saints, and the old mankind into a new mankind, zealous of good works. And all Churches should be gardens to grow such saintly men, who will go forth as the sacramental host of God's elect to do battle with sin in every form.
II. The words of our text suggest that the Gospel is a spreading power. It has within it a life which must expand and permeate all with whom it comes into contact. Like the light of the sun, it seeks to flood the world with heat, life, and glory; like the fragrance of the flower, it diffuses itself all around and sweetens the atmosphere of human existence. Christianity is a movement and a moving power. Under its inspiring and elevating influence civilisation advances, science makes progress, literature flourishes like a green bay-tree, trade and commerce are developed, and nations lifted to higher altitudes of moral and spiritual being. And as it moves on it blesses and scatters benefactions on all around. The soul is not saved for itself only, but for others also. Every real Church should be, and is, a company of men animated by the missionary spirit, and all its members should be living epistles, known and read of all men.
III. Further, the words of the text teach us that the Gospel imparts the spirit of true courage. Previously to the appearance of Christ in the flesh, the world recognised those who were animated by the spirit of bravery, and whose courage was embodied in action; but the courage we should now admire most is the moral courage which is ready to stand up for the right and the true, no matter the nature and extent of the opposition. And those are the real heroes who dare to be right, even with two or three, and are ever ready to obey God rather than man. Such courage is the fruit of the Gospel, and has been exhibited in its grandest manifestations in the history of the Christian Church.
IV. Finally, our text implies that the Gospel imparts a spirit of sympathy. This is needed in the world. The Gospel might have made those who received it righteous, brave, and heroic, but it would have failed in its mission if it did not at the same time impart a strong and genuine sympathy with all those who are called upon to shed tears, heave sighs, part with loved ones, and struggle hard with the opposing forces of everyday life. Let us cultivate the element of sympathy, for it is an element of the Divine life in the soul. It is a strange, strong power, without which in many cases existence would be a burden, and earth a prison-house of despair. Let it be ours to dry the tear, to quell the fear, and make the burdens of others our own. In this way we shall weep with those who weep, rejoice with those who are glad, and thereby fulfil the law of Christ.
W. Adamson, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xxxvi., p. 163.
References: Philippians 4:22 . W. Walters, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xxi., p. 382; G. Dawson, The Authentic Gospel, p. 101; Preacher's Monthly, vol. vii., p- 245.
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Nicoll, William R. "Commentary on Philippians 4". "Sermon Bible Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/
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