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A WORK OF GRACE
Philippians 1:6. Being confident of this very thing, that he which hath begun a good work in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ.
THERE is a just mixture of hope and fear, which every Christian should cherish in contemplating his own experience, and the state of the Church of Christ. On the one hand there certainly is ground for fear, whether we judge from analogy, or from what we behold with our eyes. What multitudes of blossoms are annually cut off by frost! of those that set, how many are blighted by an eastern wind! of those that grow, how many are blown off by storms and tempests! and of those that hang upon the tree, how many, when gathered, prove rotten at the core! Thus it is seen in the religious world; many make a fair show for a little while, and then fall off from their profession: others are blighted, and come to naught: others look well for a season, but are beaten down by storms of persecution and temptation: and of those who maintain their profession to the end, how many will at last be found unsound at heart! But, if this cast a damp upon our joys, and teach us to moderate our expectations, it need not, it ought not, to rob us of all our confidence: for though sound fruit may be blown off from a tree, no sound Christian shall ever be separated from the Lord Jesus. Of this the Apostle was fully persuaded: and, under this conviction, he thanked God for the converts at Philippi, whose sincerity he had no reason to doubt, and of whose perseverance in the divine life he therefore entertained the most sanguine hopes.
To make a just improvement of his declaration before us, we shall shew,
When a good work may be said to be begun in us—
It is not an easy matter to draw the line between those high attainments of religion of which we may fall short, and yet be confident that a good work is begun: and those low attainments, which will warrant us to hope well, at the same time that they are by no means a sufficient ground of confidence. But, taking St. Paul for our guide, we trust, that we shall so discriminate, as neither to make sad the heart of the righteous, nor to countenance the delusions of the wicked. Those evidences, from whence he “knew the election” (and, of consequence, the perseverance also) of the saints at Thessalonica, will serve as a sure criterion whereby to judge of our own state [Note: 1 Thessalonians 1:3-5.]. We may be assured then that a good work is begun in us, when faith, hope, and love, shew themselves to have been formed in our hearts; that is,
When our faith is operative—
[That faith, which is without works, is dead; and is of no more value that the faith of devils [Note: James 2:19-20.]: but the faith which stimulates us to resist and mortify all sin, and to be conscientious in the practice of all duties, is, beyond a doubt, the gift of God, the workmanship of an almighty Agent [Note: Philippians 1:29. Ephesians 1:19.].]
When our love is laborious—
[Our “love is not to be in word or in tongue, but in deed and in truth:” nor must it have respect to men’s bodies merely, but to their souls; leading us to consult their spiritual welfare to the utmost of our power, at the same time that we gladly deny ourselves to relieve their spiritual wants. The voice of inspiration assures us that he who exercises such love is born of God [Note: 1 John 4:7.].]
When our hope is patient—
[The Christian’s hope will have much to try it; but it is to be the anchor of his soul, that shall keep him steadfast [Note: Hebrews 6:19.] in this tempestuous world. He will often experience “fightings without, and fears within:” but beyond and “against hope, he must believe in hope [Note: Romans 4:18.],” saying, “I know in whom I have believed, and that he is able to keep that which I have committed to him against that day [Note: 2 Timothy 1:12.].” And every one who has such a lively hope, may be sure that he has been begotten to it by God himself [Note: 1 Peter 1:3.].]
To enter fully into the Apostle’s assertion, we must shew,
On what grounds we may be confident that he who has begun this good work will finish it—
If this work were wrought by man, the Apostle would never express such confidence respecting his completion of it; since no dependence can be placed on the stability of man’s virtue. But since he that accomplishes this great work is God [Note: ver. 3–5 and 2Co 5:5 and John 1:13.], we may be assured, that “he will perform it till the day of Jesus Christ.”
We may be assured of it—
From the declarations of his word—
[Numberless are his declarations to this effect, that having once been the “author of a good work within us, he will be the finisher of it [Note: Hebrews 12:2.].” “He will not forsake his people, because it hath pleased him to make them his people [Note: 1 Samuel 12:22.].” He has promised in the strongest possible manner, that “he will never never leave them, never never forsake them [Note: Hebrews 13:5-6.].” True, they have many enemies: but “he will suffer none of them to pluck them out of his hands [Note: John 10:28-29.].” Have they manifold temptations? They shall “have none without a way to escape, that they may be able to bear them [Note: 1 Corinthians 10:13.].” Not even their unbelief shall prevent Jehovah from executing his gracious purposes towards them [Note: 2 Timothy 2:12-13.]. As for “Satan, he shall be bruised under their feet shortly [Note: Romans 16:20.].” Through weakness they may occasionally fall: “yet shall they not be utterly cast down [Note: Psalms 37:23-24.].” “God will restore their souls [Note: Psalms 23:3.]:” and make their very falls the means of augmenting their future caution and stability [Note: Compare Luke 23:31-34. with 1 Peter 5:8.]. The sun may occasionally be covered with a cloud; yet shall it advance to its meridian height: and such shall be the path of all the servants of God [Note: Proverbs 4:18.]: “they shall hold on their way, and their hands shall wax stronger and stronger [Note: Job 17:9.].” This is the portion of them all without exception, for “it is not the will of our Father that one of his little ones should perish [Note: Matthew 18:14.].”]
From the perfections of his nature—
[In speaking on this subject, we would proceed with great caution; for we know not what will consist with his perfections: and, if we should presume to speak dogmatically respecting them, we should only betray our own weakness and folly. Yet methinks his wisdom affords us some ground of confidence: for, if he has created us anew, in order that we may shew forth the power of his grace, will he suffer his enemies so to counteract his purposes as to make us only occasions of greater dishonour to him? If only a man should begin to construct a house and leave it unfinished, he would only expose himself thereby to a greater measure of derision [Note: Luke 14:28-29.]: how then would Satan cast reflections on the Deity, if he should fail in accomplishing so great a work as man’s salvation!
In like manner the goodness of God is some ground of hope and confidence. For God has surely never accomplished in us so good a work in order to leave us ultimately to perish under a more aggravated condemnation.
But in speaking of such things which infinitely exceed our comprehension, I can lay no stress on the conjectures of man; nor can I give weight to any thing that does not proceed clearly and immediately from God himself. But in speaking of the truth of God, I feel that I stand on firm ground. God has entered into covenant with us; and has confirmed that covenant with an oath: and has expressly declared that he did so confirm it, that by two immutable things, in which it was impossible for God to lie, we might have strong consolation who “have fled for refuge to lay hold on the hope set before us [Note: Hebrews 6:17-18.].” He is as unchangeable in his word as he is in his nature; and “because he changeth not, therefore we are not consumed [Note: Mal 3:6].” We, alas! are variable in the extreme; but “with him is no variableness neither shadow of turning [Note: James 1:17.].” Now if we look into his covenant we shall see that he gives all, and we receive all [Note: Ezekiel 36:25-27.]: and that he engages, not only “not to depart from us, but to put his fear in our hearts that we may not depart from him [Note: Jeremiah 32:40.],” We may be sure therefore that he will not cast off his people, because it hath pleased him to make them his people [Note: 1 Samuel 12:22.]. If indeed he had chosen any of us because we were holy, or because he foresaw that we should be holy, he might abandon us as not answering his expectations. But he chose us that we might be holy [Note: Ephesians 1:4.], and predestinated us to be conformed to the image of his Son [Note: Romans 8:29.]: and therefore what he has undertaken we may be sure he will perform [Note: Psalms 89:30-36.]. It is on this ground alone that we can account for St. Paul’s confidence, in which every one in whom God has begun a good work is fully authorized to join.]
I beg leave now to add a word,
Of inquiry respecting the commencement of this work—
[I am fully aware that persons so blinded by self-love as we, are greatly in danger of forming too favourable a judgment of our state: and I must warn all of you that God will not be put off with such a feigned repentance as Ahab’s, or such a partial reformation as Herod’s, or such a hypocritical attachment as that of Judas. Examine then, I pray you, with all imaginable care, respecting the quality of your faith, and hope, and love. Is your faith operative in purifying your heart? Is your love laborious in all kind offices, not to the bodies of men only, but to their souls? And is your hope such as carries you forward through all difficulties towards the attainment of the heavenly prize? Remember, it is no outward work that is here spoken of, but a work in us: and a work which nothing less than Omnipotence can effect. To deceive yourselves in relation to it, is vain, since you cannot deceive the heart-searching God. Be careful then to try your work, of what kind it is; and be satisfied with nothing that does not evidently bear the divine stamp and character upon it.]
Of admonition in reference to its continuance—
[There is nothing at which I tremble more than at a hard, bold, presumptuous confidence respecting the application of this doctrine to a man’s own state, whilst in his spirit and temper and conduct he shews himself to be far from the mind of Christ. In fact, wherever such a confidence exists, there is great reason to doubt whether a good work has ever been begun in the soul. Confidence, if truly spiritual, will be attended with humility, watchfulness, gratitude, and zeal. Look to it then, that you manifest on all occasions a deep sense of your utter unworthiness; a fear lest in any thing you grieve the good Spirit of your God; an admiring and adoring sense of God’s mercy to your soul; and a determination of heart to live only to your God. This is the true way in which the good work is to go forward in the soul: and, in so walking, you will best justify your confidence to the world, and will give the best proof of the doctrine of perseverance by actually persevering: moreover, in this way you will not only enjoy the most exalted peace on earth, but will have an abundant entrance ministered unto you in due season into the kingdom of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.]
GROWTH IN GRACE
Philippians 1:8-11. God is my record, how greatly I long after you all in the bowels of Jesus Christ. And this I pray, that your love may abound yet more and more in knowledge and in all judgment; that ye may approve things that are excellent; that ye may he sincere and without offence till the day of Christ; being filled with the fruits of righteousness, which are by Jesus Christ, unto the glory and praise of God.
THE connexion subsisting between a pastor and his flock is set forth in the Scriptures under the most endearing images. While they are spoken of as his beloved children, he is represented as the father that begat them, and as the nursing mother who cherishes them in her bosom. Even these images seem to have been too faint to depict the tender regard which St. Paul bore towards those who had been converted by his ministry. He longed for their welfare with more than human affection. He could compare his feelings with nothing so justly as with the yearning of the Saviour’s bowels over a ruined world. Nor was he actuated by partial and personal attachments: his regards were universal: they extended to every member of Christ’s mystical body: yea, he could appeal to God himself, that he felt the deepest interest in the prosperity of “all,” whether more or less distinguished by worldly rank or spiritual attainments. Among the various ways in which he manifests his concern for them, he was especially mindful of prayer and intercession; and though in these benevolent exercises he was solicitous only to approve himself to God, yet he thought it proper on many accounts to inform them of the means he used for their benefit; and to declare to them the particular things which he sought for in their behalf.
From the prayer before us, we see that he desired,
Their intellectual improvement—
“Love” is absolutely essential to a Christian: without that, whatever else we may possess, we are only as sounding brass or tinkling cymbals. Love is the characteristic feature of the Deity: and in this all his children resemble him. By this mark we are made known to others as the disciples of Christ: by this we ourselves also are assured, that we have passed from death unto life. In this amiable quality the Philippians “abounded.” But the Apostle wished them to abound in it “yet more and more.” He was solicitous that it should display itself in a becoming manner. He prayed therefore that their “love might yet more and more abound,”
[Knowledge is properly the foundation of love. Whatever we fix our affections upon, we love it for some real or supposed excellence that is in it. If we are unacquainted with the qualities of any person or thing, it is not possible that we should feel any real attachment to him or it. Our love to God therefore, and to his people, should be daily nurtured and strengthened by an increasing acquaintance with them. Our views of the Divine perfections are, at best, but very narrow and contracted. So little are we acqainted with his providence, that we can only faintly guess at either the reasons or issue of his dispensations. The mysteries of redemption are very superficially discovered by us. What we know of Christ, is extremely partial and defective. The nature, extent, and beauties of holiness are very dimly seen. The privileges and blessedness of the Lord’s people are but little understood. Wherever we turn our eyes, we are circumscribed by very narrow limits. On every side there are heights and depths, and length and breadth, that cannot be explored. To be searching into these things is our imperative duty, our exalted privilege. If “the angels desire to look into them,” much more should we. It is by more enlarged views of them, that our love to them must be confirmed and advanced. We should therefore labour incessantly to form a just estimate of heavenly thing’s, and to have our affections regulated by an enlightened understanding.]
In a spiritual perception of the things known—
[Merely speculative knowledge is of little avail: it is only like the light of the moon, which dissipates obscurity indeed, but communicates neither heat nor strength. The knowledge which alone will augment our love, is that which produces suitable impressions on the mind; it is that which, like the sun-beam, enlivens and invigorates our whole frame. Now there is a great difference, even amongst good men, with respect to their perception of divine truths. There is, if we may use the expression, a spiritual taste, which is acquired and heightened by exercise. As, in reference to the objects of sense, there is an exquisite “judgment” attained by some, so that their eye, their ear, and their palate can discern excellencies or defects, where others, with less discriminating organs, perceive nothing particular; so is there, in reference to spiritual things, an exquisite sensibility in some persons, whereby their enjoyment of divine truth is wonderfully enhanced [Note: Hebrews 5:14.]. Now this is the knowledge which we should aspire after, and in which our love should progressively abound. We should not be satisfied with that speculative knowledge which may be gained from men and books; but should seek that spiritual discernment, which nothing but the operation of the Spirit of God upon the soul can produce [Note: 1 Corinthians 2:9-10; 1 Corinthians 2:12; 1 Corinthians 2:14.]. Whatever be the particular objects of our regard, we should get a realizing sense of their excellency, and be duly impressed with their importance.]
These views and impressions the Apostle desired for them, in order to a further end [Note: εὶς τὸ δοκιμάζειν ὑμᾶς τὰ διαφέροντα.]:
Their moral improvement—
Love, when duly exercised, is the main-spring of all acceptable obedience. When abounding in knowledge and in all judgment, so as to be suitably affected with every thing, it will improve the whole of our conduct and conversation. It will make us,
[We are very apt to be misled by what is specious. Hence many embrace erroneous principles, or rest in delusive experiences, or justify an unbecoming conduct. Even in the apostolic age, many were turned from the faith by the sophistry of false teachers: and every day presents some to our view, who are ready to admire and applaud themselves for those very things which more disinterested persons see to be their characteristic failings: yea, plain and palpable faults are not unfrequently committed by persons unconscious of acting wrong, in whose eyes the very faults they commit appear not only innocent, but praiseworthy. It is not the world only that put darkness for light; even the godly themselves are apt to confound good and evil; and it is no inconsiderable part of Christian wisdom to distinguish them from each other. The Apostle was anxious that his Philippian converts should form a correct judgment, and so try the things that differed from each other, as to be able to discern the more excellent; just as a refiner proves his metal in the furnace, and thus ascertains its real worth [Note: See note e This seems to be the precise idea contained in the Apostle’s words.].
But how shall this be done? We answer, By having our love to divine things more under the influence of an enlightened and spiritual mind. We shall then have within ourselves a faculty, as it were, whereby we may discern the things submitted to it. Our views being more comprehensive, and our judgment more spiritual, we shall be able to weigh every thing in a juster balance, and to discriminate with far greater exactness. As the different senses are fitted to give us a right estimate of the things on which they are exercised, so the mind, imbued with ardent love, extensive knowledge, and spiritual discernment, will rightly appreciate whatever presents itself to its notice, and calls for its decision.]
[Though sincerity is ever an attendant on true religion, yet is there much hypocrisy still remaining in the renewed heart. We do not mean that there is any allowed guile; for that would at once determine a man to be no true Israelite: but every grace in man’s heart is imperfect, and admits of growth; and, consequently, sincerity amongst the rest. Moreover, as long as we continue in the body, we are liable to err; and not only to stumble ourselves, but even to become stumbling-blocks to others. Not the attainments of St. Peter himself could place him beyond the reach of sin. We may appeal to all who “know the plague of their own hearts,” whether they do not still feel within themselves a proneness to act with an undue reference to the good opinion of their fellow-creatures; and whether they have not still reason to lament the existence of manifold defects in their deportment towards God and man! Now it is of infinite importance, to the honour of religion and the comfort of our own souls, that these defects be remedied as much as possible; that we be more and more delivered from the influence of corrupt passions; and that we be kept sincere and upright until the day of Christ.
But how shall this steadfastness be attained? We can prescribe no better means than those referred to in the text. A loving spirit, abounding in clear, spiritual, and impressive views of divine truth, will assist us greatly in the whole of our conduct. A feeling sense of the love of Christ upon our hearts will fortify us against every temptation; it will make our walk circumspect, our conscience tender, our zeal ardent, our obedience uniform.]
[In estimating a fruit-tree, our principle inquiry respects its fruit: its foliage and blossoms are objects comparatively unimportant. Thus the principles and professions, the experiences and habits of a Christian, are no further valuable, than as they are connected with the substantial fruits of righteousness. His love, whether to God or man, must lead to active exertions, and must shew itself in the practice of universal holiness. He should be like a tree whose boughs are laden with fruit. Such a Christian adorns his profession, and recommends religion to all who behold him: and the fruit which he bears, by virtue derived from Christ, does, through the merits of Christ, ascend up with acceptance before God; and tends exceedingly to exalt the honour of God in the world. Such fruitfulness, I say, is the great end of all the mercies vouchsafed unto him, and of all the love which he professes to feel towards Christ and his people.
But how shall this be secured? We can recur to nothing more effectual than that already mentioned. If we increase in a spiritual perception of the excellency and importance of the Gospel, we cannot fail of being stirred up to activity and diligence in the ways of God: we shall not be satisfied with bringing forth thirty or sixty-fold, but shall labour to bring forth fruit an hundred-fold, and to be “filled with” it in all seasons, and under all circumstances. “Give me understanding,” says David, “and I shall keep thy law, yea, I shall observe it with my whole heart.”]
[While we admire the Apostle’s tender solicitude for the souls of men, let us cherish a just regard for our own souls; and, by mutual exhortations and fervent intercessions, endeavour to the utmost to advance the interests of religion, in each other, and in the world at large.]
DECISION OF CHARACTER RECOMMENDED
Philippians 1:17. I am set for the defence of the Gospel.
THE Gospel is a revelation of mercy to sinful man, and the most stupendous display of God’s wisdom and grace that ever was given to his intelligent creation — — — It might naturally have been expected that such tidings should have been invariably welcomed with unbounded joy: but, in every age, and every place under heaven, has it excited the fiercest opposition — — — On the other hand, it has been maintained with firmness by God’s faithful servants, and has triumphed over all the opposition that either men or devils could raise against it — — — In truth, it has been assailed no less by subtilty than by force; and its very doctrines have been propagated with a view to undermine its influence. St. Paul tells us, that, on his imprisonment, many rose to the occasion, and proclaimed the Gospel with augmented fortitude; but that some had preached it for no other end than that of drawing away his disciples, and thereby adding affliction to his bonds. He, however, whether under prosperous or adverse circumstances, “was set for the defence of the Gospel,” and was determined to maintain it, even unto death.
In him we see,
What place the Gospel should hold in our estimation—
Nothing is of importance in comparison of it—
[Nothing can vie with it in certainty as a record, in richness as a system, or in value as a remedy.
Whatever can be conceived as necessary to establish its authority as a divine record, is found in it in such abundance, that no record under heaven can be received, if this be not. Its evidences, both external and internal, are so clear and numerous, that it is not possible for a candid mind to withstand their force — — —
And what wonders of love and mercy does it bring to our view! the substitution of God’s co-equal, co-eternal Son, in the place of his rebellious creatures, to bear the wrath which they had merited, and fulfil the law which they had broken, and thereby to work out a righteousness wherein they might find acceptance! — — — the sending also of the Holy Spirit, the Third Person in the ever-adorable Trinity, to impart to men the knowledge of this salvation, and to prepare them for the enjoyment of it! Such a mode of restoring man to his offended God infinitely surpasses all finite conception: nor will eternity suffice to explore the wonders of love and mercy contained in it — — —
To the weary and heavy-laden soul nothing else is wanting. It provides for sinful man all that his necessities require—pardon, and peace, and holiness, and glory: pardon of all his sins, how great or numerous soever they may have been; peace with God, and in his own conscience; strength for the performance of every duty; and everlasting happiness at the right hand of God. Never was there a case which this did not reach; never a want for which it was not an adequate supply — — —]
Nothing, therefore, should equal it in our esteem — — —
[How vain and empty does the world appear, when viewed by the eye of faith! St. Paul, speaking of the cross of Christ, says, that, “by it the world was crucified unto him, and he unto the world.” This expression of his will set this matter in its true light. Suppose a person suspended on the cross, and in the very article of death: what are the world’s feelings in relation to him, and his in reference to the world? His dearest friends and relatives feel their connexion with him altogether dissolved; and he, even if he has possessed crowns and kingdoms, feels no further interest in them; but bids them, without regret, an everlasting farewell. Precisely thus are the bonds which once subsisted between the believer and the world burst asunder; they no longer regarding him as theirs, and he no longer regarding them as his. The concerns of eternity have taken possession of his mind; and he has no longer any taste for the things of time and sense. This, I hesitate not to say, should, in the main, be the experience of all who embrace the Gospel: “they should count all things but dung, that they may win Christ.”
Nor should personal ease be deemed of any importance in comparison of fidelity to Christ. The fiery furnace should not intimidate: the den of lions should not deter us from the path of duty. Whatever we may have suffered, or may be threatened with, for the Gospel’s sake, we should be ready to say, with the Apostle, “None of these things move me: neither count I my life dear unto me, so that I may but fulfil my duty to my Lord and Saviour” — — —
It is scarcely needful to say, that we must be ready to relinquish for it our own righteousness: for though self-righteousness cleaves closer to us than to any thing else, a just view of the Gospel will dispel it all, as a morning cloud; and we shall be ready to seek our all in Christ; making him, and him alone, “our wisdom, and righteousness, and sanctification, and redemption.]
From hence, then, we may easily see,
What firmness it should produce in our conduct—
The Apostle “was set for the defence of the Gospel,” in the midst of greater difficulties and trials than ever were encountered by mortal man [Note: 2 Corinthians 11:23-28.]. And a similar firmness should we manifest,
In our adherence to it—
[It is, indeed, “our very life [Note: Deuteronomy 32:47.];” and should occupy our whole souls. It should be to our souls what our souls are to our bodies: it should live, and move, and act in every part. Our every act, and word, and thought, should be directed by it; and we should be as tenacious of it as of life itself. It is justly said, “Skin for skin; yea, all that a man hath will he give for his life [Note: Job 2:4.]:” and in this light we should view the Gospel: in comparison of it, every thing in the whole universe should be considered as of no account: and, if all the world endeavour to wrest it from us, we should be ready to lay down our life in its defence; well knowing, that “whoso will save his life, shall lose it; but that whosoever will lose it for the Gospel’s sake, the same shall save it [Note: Matthew 16:25.].”]
In our profession of it—
[There were, in the Apostle’s days, some who “preached Christ of envy and strife;” and who affected an union in sentiment with him, only with a view to subvert his power. And such preachers exist at this day; adopting and proclaiming the Gospel itself, for the purpose of diminishing the influence of those whose principles are more pure, whose aims are more exalted, whose lives are more heavenly. Indeed, there is scarcely any thing more common, than for the people of the world to point out to their friends men as patterns of sound doctrine and of correct conduct, with no better view than to draw away from more zealous ministers their followers and adherents. But we should be alike on our guard against pretended friends and avowed enemies. I mean not to say that we should not listen to counsel of any kind: for certainly we ought to suspect our own judgment, and to lend a willing ear to good advice; but we should guard against seduction, from whatever quarter it may come; and should “prove all things, and hold fast that only which is good.” As to concealing our love to the Gospel, we should not attempt it, or even endure the thought of it for a moment. We should not be afraid of having it known “whose we are, and whom we serve.” We should shine as lights in the world; holding forth, in our lives, as well as with our lips, the word of life:” and should so make “our light to shine before men, that all who behold it may glorify our Father who is in heaven.” It was a matter of public notoriety that the Apostle was “set for the defence of the Gospel:” nor should our devotion to it be unknown by those around us, who have an opportunity of observing our life and conversation.]
In our propagation of it to the world—
[This is the duty both of ministers and people; each of whom, in their respective places and stations, should advance the knowledge of it to the utmost of their power. The whole mass of converts, when driven from Jerusalem by the persecution which had consigned Stephen to martyrdom, “went every whore preaching the word [Note: Acts 8:4.].” And, in like manner, all, of every description, though not called to the ministerial office, are, in a less ostensible manner indeed, though scarcely less effectual, to bear testimony to the truth, and to commend the Saviour to all around them [Note: If this be preached in support of a Bible Society, here would be the place for shewing the importance of such societies, and men’s duty to support them.] — — — To “put our light under a bushel “would be the greatest injustice both to God and man: to God, who has imparted it to us for the good of others; and to man, who can by no other means be guided into the way of peace. To the pious zeal of others we are indebted for all that we know; and, “having freely received, we should freely give.”]
Those who have no regard for the Gospel—
[In what a pitiable state are you! and how awfully has “the god of this world blinded your eyes!” — — — Perhaps you think that the opposition which it meets with is a just ground for questioning its real worth. But I should rather say, that that very opposition is a presumptive evidence in its favour; because it has been so opposed from the days of Cain and Abel until now; and because it declares what reception it shall ever meet with from an ungodly world. And may I not add, that the firmness of holy men in its support is a further testimony in its behalf? I know, indeed, that many have died in the defence of error: but where, in the annals of the world, will be found such a frame of mind as that of Stephen, except under the influence of the Holy Spirit, and in attestation to the truth of God? Let not then that Gospel, which has been so esteemed by others, be any longer slighted by you. Be careful, indeed, that you receive the true Gospel: guard against all perversions of the doctrine of Christ: see to it, that, in your view of it, the sinner is laid low, even in the dust, and that the Lord Jesus Christ alone is exalted: and, having once embraced that, let it “be all your salvation, and all your desire.”]
Those who, knowing the Gospel, are yet afraid to confess it—
[No sin is more severely reprobated in the Gospel, than the being ashamed of Christ [Note: Mark 8:38.] — — — And as none is more fatal, so none is more foolish: for the very persons who hate us for the sake of Christ will honour us more, in their minds, for adhering to our principles, than for renouncing them, or acting unworthy of them. But, supposing it wore not so, what is man’s displeasure, in comparison of God’s; or his favour, when compared with God’s? To all, then, I say, “Fear not man, who, when he has killed the body, hath no more that he can do: but fear Him who can destroy both body and soul in hell; yea, I say unto you, Fear Him.”]
The sincere followers of our Lord—
[If you suffer even unto bonds, care not for it: let your only fear be, lest by any means you should dishonour the Gospel of Christ. Instead of being intimidated by opposition, let it be to you rather an occasion for manifesting your fidelity to Him, whose servant you are: and in proportion as persecution rages, let your courage rise, and your efforts be increased; and, if called to lay down life itself for him, rejoice that you are counted worthy so to do; and have no concern whatever, but that “Christ may be magnified in your body, whether by life or death.”]
PREACHING OF CHRIST, A GROUND OF JOY
Philippians 1:18. Christ is preached: and I therein do rejoice, yea and will rejoice.
WHEN our blessed Lord came into the world, it was said concerning him, that he was “set for the fall and rising again of many in Israel, that the thoughts of many hearts might be revealed [Note: Luke 2:34-35.].” And certainly his Gospel has been an occasion of displaying, in a far greater degree than at any former period, the extreme wickedness of the human heart, and, at the same time, the astonishing efficacy of divine grace to renew and sanctify the soul. The virulent opposition made to the Gospel by its professed enemies may, in some measure, illustrate the former. But the subtle contrivances of its professed friends to adulterate its truths and to subvert its influence, shewed a degree of malignity perfectly Satanic: whilst the virtues which have, by these means, been drawn forth into exercise, have been no less illustrative of the power and grace of Christ. In several of the apostolic Churches, there were not only some who perverted the Gospel by a mixture of self-righteous doctrines, but some who actually preached the Gospel for the very purpose of undermining its proper influence. In the context, this curious device is fully developed, and the mask is taken from the faces of these base hypocrites; whilst the effect of their endeavours on the Apostle’s mind is plainly declared.
By the Roman magistrates, St. Paul had been sent to Rome, and imprisoned. This, which seemed likely to stop the progress of the Gospel, had, in reality, turned out to the furtherance of it; because the zeal of many others was called forth, in a much greater degree, to advance its interests. But some, who sought only their own glory, took occasion, from his imprisonment, to practise on the minds of his followers, and to draw them away from him. Paul’s converts, however, were too well instructed to be wrought upon by false doctrines: and, therefore, these teachers preached the true Gospel itself, that so they might insinuate themselves into the affections of their simple-minded hearers, and thus fonn them into a party against the Apostle himself, and ultimately establish their own authority on the ruin of his. Hear the Apostle’s own account of it: “Some indeed preach Christ even of envy and strife; and some also of good-will; the one preach Christ of contention, not sincerely, supposing to add affliction to my bonds; but the other of love, knowing that I am set for the defence of the Gospel. What then? notwithstanding every way, whether in pretence or in truth, Christ is preached; and I therein do rejoice, yea, and will rejoice [Note: ver. 14–18.].”
In discoursing on these latter words, I will shew,
What we are to understand by preaching Christ—
This is a term frequently made use of to express the preaching of the Gospel. In the passage before us, it is repeated no less than three times; and it is admirably adapted to convey at once to the mind the whole complex idea of proclaiming, in all its parts, the great mystery of redemption. Under this term is comprehended a full exhibition of,
Our need of Christ—
[The fall of man, and the consequent guilt and misery of the human race, form the ground on which a Saviour is necessary. The angels, that have never fallen, need no Saviour: but, as we have fallen, and are wholly incapable of restoring ourselves either to the image or favour of God, we need one to do it for us. This, then, must be fully opened, in order to preach Christ with effect: and all our hearers must be fully informed, that they are under the wrath of God—that they can never atone for their own sins—that it is impossible for them to renew their own natures—that their hope must be altogether in God’s mercy, through Christ—]
Christ’s suitableness and sufficiency to save us—
[Not all the angels in heaven were competent to this task. But the Lord Jesus Christ was God equal with the Father, and therefore was capable of accomplishing what no finite power could effect. By assuming our nature, he could suffer in our place and stead; whilst his Godhead imparted to those sufferings a value, sufficient to atone for the sins of the whole world. Besides, having now in himself essentially all the fulness of the Godhead, and a communicative fulness expressly treasured up in him, as our mediator, for the benefit of his Church, he can impart to every one of his members all that he sees to be needful for them in this state of trial and probation. And he has actually promised to all, who believe in him, a supply of all spiritual blessings according to their necessities. Now, this must occupy a very large share in the ministrations of those who would preach the Gospel aright. On the Godhead of Christ depends his sufficiency for the work assigned him: and on the discharge of all his offices, of Prophet, Priest, and King, depends the hope of all who trust in him. In these offices, therefore, he must be held forth to the faith of his people; that through him their minds may be enlightened, their iniquities cancelled, and their enemies subdued. In a word, a full exhibition of Christ in his mediatorial character is that which chiefly constitutes what we call the Gospel: and if we would preach it aright, we must “determine, with St. Paul, to know nothing amongst our people, but Jesus Christ, and him crucified.”]
The nature and blessedness of his salvation—
[We shall preach Christ to little purpose, if we do not hold him forth as a Saviour from sin. He had the name Jesus assigned to him for that express purpose, that he might be recognized by all in this particular view, as “saving his people from their sins.” To deliver them from wrath would be a small matter, if he did not also deliver them from sin: for sin, if suffered to retain dominion over them, would itself create a hell within them. I would speak it with reverence; but I should not speak too strongly, if I should say, that God himself could not make a man happy, whilst he continued under the power of his sins. There is a beauty and a felicity in holiness; a beauty, in that it assimilates a man to Grod’s image; and a felicity, in that it is a foretaste of heaven itself. This requires to be opened, in order to guard against a misapprehension of the Gospel salvation, as though it were nothing more than a deliverance from death and hell; and at the same time to give a right direction to every follower of Christ; and to make him aspire after holiness, as the perfection of his nature, and the completion of his bliss.]
But my text leads me to mark particularly,
With what different views this preaching may be maintained—
The Apostle speaks of some as preaching Christ “in pretence,” and of others “in truth.” And certain it is, that Christ is sometimes preached,
From unworthy motives—
[One would scarcely suppose this possible. But what has been, may be: and, as in the Apostles’ days, so now also, Christ is sometimes preached only as the means of advancing some personal and carnal ends.
Some, alas! preach Christ for gain; and make the proclamation of his Gospel an office, in the discharge of which they are to obtain a livelihood. Yes, “for filthy lucre sake” do multitudes engage in this service, and not “of a ready mind:” and, if there were nothing but a bare subsistence to be gained by it, they would leave the whole world to perish, rather than go forth to enlighten and to save them. Under this head, I must rank those also who engage in the sacred office as a mere profession (like that of law or medicine), in which they may occupy somewhat of an ostensible post, and sustain a respectable character in the world, at the same time that they desire only to pass their days in polished ease and carnal indolence.
There are others who preach Christ for popularity. It is found that there is nothing which so interests the feelings of mankind, as the Gospel; and wherever that is preached with any degree of clearness and energy, there people will flock to hear it. Now, to our fallen nature, distinction of any kind is gratifying: and, if a person can see himself followed by multitudes, who hang on his lips, and express delight in his ministrations, he will feel himself repaid, quite as well as by pecuniary compensation: and that many are actuated by this kind of ambition, whilst they profess to be led on by higher motives, there is too great reason to fear. Few, indeed, would acknowledge that they were influenced by such vanity as this: but, if they would mark what inordinate satisfaction they feel in a crowded audience, and what disappointment in a thin attendance, they might see, that, to say the least, their motives are very questionable. And, indeed, this very motive often gives a tone and direction to the ministrations of men, who will gratify a particular taste, not because they judge that style of preaching to be most scriptural, but because they see it to be most accordant with the public feeling: and they dare not to enter fully into what they themselves would think most needful, lest they should give offence to their hearers, and lessen the popularity which they supremely affect. Base is this motive, which prefers the estimation of men to the real welfare of their souls.
But there are others who more exactly resemble the persons whom the Apostle describes as “preaching Christ of contention.” Yes, even at this day it is no uncommon thing to preach Christ chiefly with a view to undermine the influence of some popular minister. Let a pious minister arise in the Established Church, and what labours will be used to draw-away his people: preachings, prayer-meetings, societies, will all be formed for this very end; and persons of popular talent be brought from a distance to further the base design. And, if a minister out of the establishment be extensively useful in converting souls to Christ, similar efforts will sometimes be made, not so much to save the souls of men, as to keep them from attending the ministry of one in another communion. I do not by this mean to say, that a minister in the establishment ought not to labour to keep his people firm to the establishment; for I conceive this to be his bounden duty, to which he has pledged himself, in his ordination vows: but to make this his main object in extending his ministrations, is to tread very close upon the heels of those who “preached Christ of envy and strife.”
But there are others, blessed be God, who preach Christ,]
From motives that are becoming a Christian minister—
[Yes, there are some, at least, who are like-minded with the Apostle; who know, by experience, what an evil and bitter thing it is to be under the guilt of sin, and the wrath of God. They know, too, by the same blessed experience, what it is to have found a Saviour, and to have obtained peace through his blood. And they desire to be instrumental in imparting this knowledge to their fellow men, and in bringing them to a participation of the same benefits. They feel, too, a love to that Saviour, who has so loved them, and given himself for them. They desire to make him known, and to exalt his name in the world. Gladly would they see. the whole earth subjected to his dominion, and all the kingdoms of the world united under him, as their common Lord. Hence it is that they preach him with ardour and with zeal. These were the motives by which the Apostle Paul was actuated; and, through the tender mercy of God, a goodly number of ministers are raised up to tread in his steps, and to “be followers of him as he was of Christ.”]
But, whether the motive of the preacher be good or bad, we must say of the preaching,
That, under any circumstances, it is a ground of joy—
It is doubtless much to be regretted that any person should execute such a sacred office from unworthy motives; and over the man who does so, we would weep with the deepest sorrow. Yet, whilst we mourn over him as involving his own soul in perdition, we cannot but rejoice in his act, on account of the consequences that flow from it.
We rejoice in it,
Because it diffuses truth—
[Truth, under any circumstances, is better than error, even as light is better than darkness. But if truth be viewed in its consequences, its importance will be found to exceed our utmost conceptions. The preachers who proclaim not the Lord Jesus Christ, disseminate error. Whether it be in denying the fallen state of man, or in establishing man’s righteousness, or in inculeating merely heathen morals, or in whatever way it is that men go beside the Gospel, or come short of it, the effect is the same: the preacher betrays the hearers to their ruin; and the people, so deceived, must “perish for lack of knowledge.” Contrast, then, with such a ministry the preaching of one who exalts Christ among his people, and points him out as “the way, the truth, and the life;” and the difference between them will be found exceeding great. As to the motives and principles by which the preacher may be actuated, the hearer has nothing to do with them: he is not called to judge of them: nay, he has no right to judge of them: he must leave that matter to Him who alone can search the hearts of men: but, in the truth exhibited to his view, he has the very same interest that he would have if it were declared by an angel from heaven: his mind is enlightened by it; and his feet are guided into the way of peace. However unworthy the preacher of it may be, God may work by it; as we have no doubt he did by the ministry of Judas, as well as by the other Apostles: and, in as far as truth is diffused instead of error, “we do rejoice in it, yea, and will rejoice in it.”]
Because the Lord Jesus Christ is exalted—
[I well know that Christ would not suffer the demoniacs to confess him. I know also, that, as far as the preachers themselves are concerned, Christ is dishonoured, rather than glorified, in those who preach him from unhallowed motives. But when he is truly preached, whatever be the motives of the minister himself, he is, on the whole, honoured; for his salvation is made known; his kingdom is enlarged; his authority is established; his name is glorified. This ought to be a matter of unfeigned joy to all. The angels, when they announced his advent to the shepherds, said, “Behold, we bring you glad tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people: for unto you is born this day, in the city of David, a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord.” If, then, the advent of Christ, whilst he was yet but a new-born infant, was so replete with joy to all people, much more must the full exhibition of his mediatorial work and offices be a source of joy; since in them is the whole mystery of his love unfolded, in all its height and depth, and “length and breadth.]
Because the souls of men are benefited—
[Men, I say again, have nothing to do with the motives of the preacher. But if they receive the truth in the love of it, they enter at once into the full liberty of the Gospel, and enjoy all the blessings of a finished salvation. Amongst the Jews, many who rejected Christ were empowered to cast out devils: and the persons dispossessed were as much liberated from the bonds of Satan as if the work had been wrought by the most distinguished Apostle. In like manner, the person who was instructed in the truth by the ministration of Judas, felt the power of the word as much as if he had received it from Peter or from John. The traveller is not less refreshed by a fountain in a desert, because he was led to it by the feet of beasts: nor are the waters of life deprived of their efficacy, because they have not been first tasted by him who puts the cup into our hands. It is the truth, and not the minister, that makes us free: it is Christ, and not the preacher, that saves the soul. Say, then, whether it be not a just ground of joy that the saving doctrines of the Gospel are proclaimed, even though it be by one who is a stranger to their power? Yes, “if Christ be preached,” by whomsoever it may be, and from whatever motive, “I therein do rejoice, yea, and will rejoice.”]
May we not, then, from hence observe,
How unlike to the Apostles are they who hate the preaching of Christ!
[There is no other subject in the world so odious to the ungodly as this. We may preach the Law as strictly as we please, and men will hear us with delight: but let us preach the Gospel, and men will be sure to be offended with us: and if this effect do not follow, we may be sure that we do not preach as Christ and his Apostles preached it. But what shall we say of those who thus take offence? St. Paul rejoiced in the Gospel, though so unworthily propagated from envy and strife: but these persons are grieved at it, even when delivered with the utmost sincerity and love. “They know not, alas! what spirit they are of:” but this they may know, that if they be not brought to an entire change of mind, so as to love the Gospel as the Apostle did, they can never hope to participate, with him, its joys in a better world.]
What cause have they for sorrow, who, though they hear the Gospel, make no suitable improvement of it!
[We are responsible for what we hear: and, if we hear of Christ, and receive him not into our hearts by faith, “it will be more tolerable for Sodom and Gomorrha, in the day of judgment, than for us.” Are there any of that character here present? How would the Apostle weep over you! He tells us, that “he had great heaviness and continual sorrow in his heart, on account of his unbelieving brethren:” and that is the feeling which I would cultivate in your behalf, and which I would recommend you to cherish in your own bosoms — — —]
How happy are they, who, whilst they have the Gospel faithfully ministered to them, experience in their souls its saving power!
[Verily, you are the blessed of the Lord. You have that in your souls which will turn every sorrow into joy. The Apostle quite forgot his own bonds, and the malignity of those who sought to add affliction to them. The honour of Christ, and the welfare of immortal souls, swallowed up all personal considerations, and filled him with ineffable delight. Let the Gospel operate in this very way on your minds. Live not below your privileges in this respect. Shew, that if men can bind the body, they cannot fetter the soul. Shew that your joys are altogether independent of them, and out of their reach. This is the way to prove what the preaching of Christ will effect; and will encourage all who behold you to live for Christ, and to suffer for his sake.]
CHRIST MAGNIFIED IN OUR BODY
Philippians 1:20. Christ shall be magnified in my body, whether it be by life, or by death.
WHILST the great mass of mankind, like a ship driven with fierce winds and tossed upon tempestuous waves, are uncertain what may be the event of their trials, the true Christian is like a ship at anchor: he beholds the storm, but defies its power: he knows that every effort, either of men or devils, to destroy him, shall issue in his own welfare, and in their confusion. St. Paul was in prison at Rome, uncertain whether he should be set at liberty or put to death. He had adversaries also amongst the professed followers of Christ, who laboured to increase his affliction, by weakening his influence in the Church, and drawing away his converts to their own party. But he knew, that the more his afflictions abounded, the more were the prayers of God’s people offered up on his behalf, and the more would a supply of the Spirit of Jesus Christ be poured out upon him. He was therefore satisfied, that, however matters might terminate with respect to temporal deliverance, they would issue in his final “salvation;” and that he should be so strengthened from above, as never to “be ashamed” of his profession, but rather that, as in past times, so to the latest hour of his existence, “Christ should be magnified in his body, whether it were by life or by death.”
This expression is very singular, and deserves more than ordinary attention. We propose therefore to consider.
In what sense Christ may be magnified in our body—
We may easily conceive that Christ should be served, or honoured by us; but how can he be magnified? Can we add any thing to his essential dignity? No; he is “God over all, blessed for evermore.” Can we add to his mediatorial honours? No; we cannot augment his kingly power, or give virtue to his priestly sacrifice, or enlarge his influence as the great Prophet of the Church. Can we add to the glory that he possesses in heaven? No; the angels and glorified saints are already glorifying him, day and night, with all their faculties and all their powers. Surely then (it may be said) this is a proud, if not a blasphemous expression. No; we must not so hastily condemn an inspired Apostle. You ask then, How can we magnify Christ? We answer, that he may be magnified by us both in word and deed: “O magnify the Lord with me,” says the Psalmist, “and let us exalt his name together.” This shews what may be done by our voices: and as to our actions, we may be said to magnify him, when in our conduct we set forth,
The purity of his law—
[It is not only in “bearing one another’s burthens,” but in obeying all the precepts of the Gospel, that we are to “fulfil the law of Christ.” Now the extent of this law is not in any degree imagined by the world at large: they have no idea of the motives, the principles, the conduct which the Christian code inculcates. But when a child of God is enabled to act up to his profession, he shews to all around him the beauty of holiness: he commends to them the law which he obeys: he constrains them to see and acknowledge its transcendent excellence: and in advancing thus the honour of the law, he honours also the Lawgiver: “In adorning the doctrine of God our Saviour,” he adorns and magnifies the Saviour himself.]
The perfection of his character—
[The Christian follows the steps of his Divine Master, and endeavours to “walk as he walked.” Now if his path be luminous, what must that of the Lord Jesus have been? The most eminent of our fallen race was no more in comparison of him, than a twinkling star (I should rather say, a glow-worm) in comparison of the meridian sun. If therefore the effulgence of a poor and sinful creature like ourselves be such as to attract the admiration of all that behold it, much more must the splendour of Emmanuel’s holiness exceed in glory; insomuch that the attainments of Paul himself have no glory by reason of his glory that excelleth.]
The blessedness of his service—
[If we see a person grudging every labour that be performs, we naturally conclude that his task is irksome, and that the master whom he serves is not (in his esteem at least) worthy of any high regard. But if we behold a person straining every nerve, and exerting himself day and night in the most arduous services, and, after all, complaining only that he cannot perform one half of what he wishes to do for his master, we conclude, of course, that he loves both his work, and his master too. When therefore we behold an exemplary and laborious Christian devoting all his powers to the service of his God, and all the while taking shame to himself as an unprofitable servant, we are constrained to say, that (in his eyes at least) his Lord is worthy of all honour, and the work in which he is engaged is perfect freedom. The devotedness of the servant is a high and public commendation of his Lord.]
The power of his grace—
[It is to this chiefly that the Apostle refers: and it is by a display of this that Christ is chiefly magnified. A river flowing with a rapid and majestic current to the sea, would defy the efforts of the whole world to turn it back again to its source; yet by the returning tide it is not only arrested in its course, but driven up again with equal rapidity towards the fountain-head. It is thus that a sinner, when rushing with the whole current of his affections towards this present world, is stopped in his career of sin, and turned back with an irresistible impulse towards high and heavenly things. Let men, yea, let all the angels in heaven, attempt to effect this change, and their united efforts would be in vain. Who then that witnesses this change, and beholds the believer’s victories over sin and Satan, and his progressive advancement in the ways of holiness, must not adore that power by which so great a miracle is wrought? In this Christ is indeed magnified: “the exceeding greatness of his power is made known;” and the sufficiency of his grace is incontrovertibly established.]
Let us now proceed to inquire,
By what means Christ may be magnified in our body—
St. Paul knew not whether his present imprisonment would issue in life or death: but in either case he hoped and expected that Christ would be magnified in his body; that is, either by the renewed services of his body, or its protracted sufferings unto death. In order then to magnify Christ in our body, we must,
Use our body as an instrument to fulfil his will—
[The Apostle was a fit pattern for us. Were his feet at liberty? he travelled from Judea round about into Illyricum, that he might carry to heathen nations the glad tidings of the Gospel. Were his hands at liberty? he worked by night, that he might be able to preach by day. Was his tongue at liberty? he preached Christ incessantly, and encouraged all to put their trust in him. It is thus that we also should act. We are not indeed called to execute like him the apostolic office, and, consequently, not to tread precisely in the Apostle’s steps: but we are called to walk in the same spirit, and to employ all the faculties of our body in the same manner. We should “yield all our members instruments of righteousness unto God.” We should consider our eyes, our ears, and all our powers, as consecrated to him, and to be used for him. And though our sphere may be very contracted, yet may every one of us find abundant scope for the exercise of piety and benevolence, if we will only put forth the powers that we have, and embrace the opportunities that are afforded us. Dorcas was limited in her means of doing good; yet were her exertions so great, that the whole Church at Joppa wept and deplored her loss: and we also may endear ourselves to multitudes, and greatly magnify the Lord, if in our respective places we improve the talents committed to our care.]
Endure cheerfully whatever we may be called to suffer for his sake—
[There is a kind of suffering which we should account no suffering at all: we should “mortify our earthly members,” and “crucify the flesh with its affections and lusts,” and cut off the right hand, or pluck out the right eye, that is an occasion of offence to us. But there are other sufferings, which though we may deprecate, we must expect and submit to, saying, “Not my will, but thine be done.” Reproaches, persecutions, imprisonments, and death, are, more or less, the portion of all who follow Christ. Doubtless they are not pleasing to flesh and blood: yet, as they may be the means of displaying the power and grace of Christ, we may not only bear them, but even “take pleasure in them.” St. Paul cheerfully submitted to them in this view: “We bear about,” says he, “in our body the dying of the Lord Jesus, that the life also of Jesus might be manifest in our body [Note: 2 Corinthians 4:10-11.]:” and, to manifest the importance of that thought, he repeats it almost in the same words in the very next verse. Let us meet our trials in the same way; and then, as he has told us, His strength shall be perfected in our weakness, and His name be magnified in our obedience.]
The self-indulging world—
[You seem to think your body made only that you might adorn, pamper, and gratify it. What resemblance then have you to the Apostle? Till you know the true use of the body, and employ it in its only legitimate exercises, you have no pretensions to the Christian character [Note: Dan 5:23 and 1 Corinthians 6:19-20.].]
The inactive professor—
[St. Paul intimates that there is but one alternative; you will either “be ashamed,” or “magnify Christ with your body:” if by any considerations you are deterred from glorifying Christ, you so far renounce all your principles, professions, and expectations: but if you value Christ as you ought, you will live and die for him. Judge which is better for yourselves, and more suitable to your obligations to him.]
The advancing Christian—
[What a noble ambition is yours [Note: 2 Thessalonians 1:11-12.]! You are not contented to serve or enjoy Christ, but must also magnify him. Go on; and he will soon “make your vile body like unto his glorious body” in a better world: and whatever others may be, you shall “not be ashamed before him at his coming.”]
ST. PAUL’S DILEMMA
Philippians 1:21-24. To me to live is Christ, and to die is gain. But if I live in the flesh, this is the fruit of my labour: yet what I shall choose I wot not. For I am in a strait betwixt two, having a desire to depart, and. to be with Christ; which is far better: nevertheless to abide in the flesh is more needful for you.
THE way to ascertain the real excellence of religion, is to see what it can do for us in the hour of trial, when all other helps and comforts fail us. If it can support us then, and make us to triumph over all the feelings of nature, its power must be confessed to be exceeding great and highly beneficial. Now that it has that power, is evident from the example before us. St. Paul was in prison at Rome, confined there in order to be brought forth for execution, whenever Nero, the Roman emperor, should issue the command. Contentious teachers in the mean time were taking advantage of his confinement, to draw away disciples after them, and seeking thereby to add affliction to his bonds. And what effect had these upon him? As for his own sufferings, from whatever quarter they came, he was persuaded they would issue in his everlasting salvation; whilst the efforts of the teachers, notwithstanding the corruptness of their motives, would issue in the salvation of others: his mind therefore was kept in perfect peace, and he was equally willing either to live or die, assured that Christ would certainly be magnified in his body, whether by life or death. This blessed state of equanimity is admirably depicted in the words of our text. In order to take a fuller view of it, we shall point out,
The prospects of the Apostle—
These were truly blessed both in life and death:
[Two objects were near his heart; namely, to honour Christ, and to benefit the Church. “To him to live was Christ.” To exalt Christ, to make known his salvation, and to extend the boundaries of his kingdom, was his constant aim, his sole employment — — — To further the welfare of the Church also, by confirming the faith, and advancing the happiness, of the disciples, this was the office that had been delegated to him by God himself, and which he had now for many years endeavoured to execute to the utmost of his power.
He had already succeeded to an astonishing extent in promoting these objects; and he had no doubt but that, if his life were prolonged, they would continue to be advanced by means of his ministrations — — —]
In death —
[Having fled for refuge to the hope set before him, he was well assured that be was accepted in the Beloved. He had already for many years been with Christ by faith, walking as before him, depending upon him, holding sweet fellowship with him, and receiving continually out of his fulness: but he expected, immediately on his departure from this world, to be with him in a more intimate and immediate manner, beholding his glory, and enjoying the fullest possible communications of his love — — —
Not that these prospects were peculiar to him. The weakest Christian enjoys the same, only in an inferior degree: for every one who truly believes in Christ, will assuredly seek the advancement of his kingdom, and may firmly expect a participation of his glory.]
Though these prospects were so glorious, yet they created some embarrassment in his mind. He proceeds to mention,
The straits and difficulties to which they reduced him—
He speaks not indeed of any serious difficulties, but only of a dilemma to which he was reduced by the contrary desires within him [Note: We apprehend that the 22d verse should rather be translated thus: “But whether it be worth my while to live in the flesh, and what I shall choose, I know not.” This not only renders the verse intelligible, but the whole passage luminous. See Beza, in loc.]:
For his own sake he wished to die—
[“To die,” he says, “would be gain to him.” And a glorious gain indeed it must be to one so prepared for death as he! To get rid of sin, and sorrow, and temptation, and suffering, of every kind; to have all the faculties of his soul perfected, all its capacities enlarged, all its wishes accomplished; to behold all the glory of his God and Saviour; to join with all the hosts of heaven in songs of joy and triumph; and to enter upon a state of unalienable everlasting felicity; well might he say, “This is far better:” for even his exalted happiness whilst on earth, must fall infinitely short of such a state as that — — —
We wonder not therefore that he wished to exchange his present trials for that unutterable bliss — — —]
For the sake of others he wished to live—
[It certainly was very desirable, and, in some sense, “needful” for the Church, that his labours should still be continued to them. They still needed his instruction to guide them, and his influence to preserve them, in the light way. Doubtless God could have guided and preserved them, without the intervention of any human being: but He has ordained men to be the instructors of his Church, and has connected the prosperity of his people with the labours of their ministers: and therefore the Apostle’s labours were of infinite value to those who could enjoy them. This he felt: he had reason to think, that, if he were spared to come to them again, their faith would be strengthened, and their rejoicing in Christ Jesus would be more abundant “through him [Note: ver. 25, 26. ἐν ἐμοί To translate this “for me,” lowers the sense exceedingly.].” Indeed the Church is a great hospital, in which experienced physicians regularly attend to the wants of the patients, and administer to them respectively from the inexhaustible storehouse of God’s word, whatever they judge most suited to their necessities — — —
From this consideration, he was as willing to live, as from other views he had been desirous to die: and he was for a while perplexed by the opposite attractions of the public benefit on the one hand, and his own personal advantage on the other.]
But benevolence soon triumphed, and formed,
The ultimate decision of his mind—
[Whether God made any revelation to him on the subject, or he inferred the purposes of God from the effects of divine grace operating on his soul, we know not: but he knew that he should abide and continue with the Church for some time longer; and he cordially acquiesced in this appointment. His mind was instantly assimilated to the mind and will of God: and he was willing to bear more, that he might do more; and to postpone his own enjoyment even of heaven itself, that he might bring others to enjoy it with him.
Blessed disposition of mind! how honourable to the Christian character! how worthy to be imitated by all who name the name of Christ! Yes; thus should we all “seek not our own things, but the things of Jesus Christ;” and “not our own wealth, but the wealth of others” — — —]
This subject furnishes abundant matter,
For painful reflection—
[How few are there, even of the people of God, who attain to this heavenly state of mind! As for the ignorant ungodly world, they are indeed often reduced to a strait, not knowing whether it is better to protract their miserable existence on earth, or to terminate it at once by some act of suicide. And if they choose life rather than death, it is not from love to God and to their fellow-creatures, but from the fear of that vengeance which awaits them on their departure hence. Ah! terrible dilemma! yet how common! The people of God, it is true, are, for the most part, far enough removed from this. What they may for a moment be brought to, under some extraordinary weight of trial and temptation, we presume not to say: for Job, that holy and perfect man, has sufficiently shewn us what is in the human heart. But peace and joy are the usual attendants on a state of acceptance with God: and it is the believer’s own fault, if he possess not such foretastes of heaven, as to make him long for death, as the door of entrance into perfect bliss. O my brethren, why is not this your state? Is it not owing to your retaining too much the love of this world in your hearts? Is it not owing to secret declensions from God, and to your not meditating sufficiently on the glories of heaven? Let me entreat you to gird up the loins of your mind, to take continual surveys of your future inheritance, and so to live in habitual fellowship with Christ, that death may be disarmed of its sting, and be numbered by you amongst your richest treasures [Note: 1 Corinthians 3:21-22.].]
For interesting inquiry—
[How are we to obtain that blessed state of mind? The answer is plain: Let it be “to us Christ to live;” and then it will assuredly be “gain to die:” and, however great our desire after that gain, we shall have a self-denying willingness to live, for the honour of Christ, and the benefit of his people. Let us then seek a due sense of our obligations to Christ, that we may be constrained to live entirely for him. Let our first inquiry in the morning be, What can I do for my Lord this day? And in the evening, Have I rendered to him this day according to the benefits I have received from him? By such exercises we shall get our hearts inflamed with holy zeal for his glory; and shall be made willing to forego even our own happiness in heaven for a season, that we may serve him the longer on earth, where alone we can render him any effectual service. We shall lay out ourselves to make Christ more known, and his people’s joy in him more abundant. In short, if we get the principles of the Apostle rooted in our minds, we shall exhibit a measure at least of his holy practice in our lives [Note: If this were a Funeral Sermon for any eminent minister or Christian, his example might here be modestly commended, and proposed for imitation.].]
A HOLY CONVERSATION RECOMMENDED
Philippians 1:27. Only let your conversation be as it becometh the Gospel of Christ; that whether I come and see you. or else be absent, I may hear of your affairs, that ye stand fast in one spirit, with one mind striving together for the faith of the Gospel.
THE interests of immortal souls should be dear to every one, but most of all to the ministers of Christ. Neither the height of prosperity, nor the depth of adversity, should ever induce us to forget them. Our blessed Lord, when in the bosom of his Father, could not rest, (if we may so speak,) till he had undertaken our cause; nor in the midst of all his sufferings did he relax his solicitude in our behalf. St. Paul also, in every diversity of state, was so intent on the salvation of his fellow-creatures, that he counted not even his life dear to him, if only he might be instrumental to their eternal welfare. He was now in prison at Rome: yet what employed his thoughts? He had a request to make to the Philippian Church: and what was it? Did he desire that they would endeavour to liberate him from his chains? No; he was unmindful of himself, and solicitous only that they should adorn the Gospel. For this “only” did he labour; and this “only” did he desire.
We notice, in the words before us,
His general exhortation—
The standard at which the Christian is to aim, is widely different from that with which the rest of the world are satisfied. We can easily understand that different modes of living would become a prince and a beggar, or a philosopher and a child: we can readily conceive also, that if a company of angels were sent down to sojourn upon earth, and a direction were given them to live suitably to their high station, it would import pre-eminent sanctity in the whole of their conversation. From hence we may form some idea of the exhortation in the text. The Christian is “a citizen of no mean city;” he is a citizen even of heaven itself: and he is to order his life in such a way, as becomes the society to which he belongs [Note: This is the precise idea of πολιτεύεσθε.]. The Gospel is the charter of their privileges, and the directory of their conduct: and they are to walk as becomes,
The wonders it unfolds—
[Contemplate the great mystery of redemption: contemplate the incarnation, life, death, resurrection, and ascension of Christ, together with the offices he still continues to execute for his people’s good — — — Contemplate the favour with which the Father regards them in and through his beloved Son — — — Contemplate the love of the Holy Spirit, who condescends to make their polluted bodies and souls his habitation, in order that through his gracious influences they may be made meet for the inheritance of the saints in light — — — What kind of a life do such mysteries of love and mercy require? Should not our souls be lost, as it were, in wonder, love and praise? — — —]
The profession it calls us to—
[We profess to be “as lights in the world,” “as cities set on a hill:” we profess to be “born from above,” to be “transformed into the Divine image,” yea, to be “changed into the Divine image, from glory to glory, by the Spirit of our God.” In a word, we profess to be “epistles of Christ, known and read of all men;” insomuch that no one can behold us, without seeing the mind and will of God exhibited in living characters before his eyes. What then is the conversation suited to such a state? Is a mere negative holiness sufficient, or a lukewarm performance of religious duties? Who will behold God in such a conduct as that? If we are to exhibit Christ to the world, we must “walk altogether as Christ walked:” his temper, his spirit, his conduct, must be ours — — —]
The benefits it confers—
[Take a distinct view of these: survey the pardon of sins unnumbered, the peace that passeth understanding, the strength for every duty, the access to God on all occasions, the joy unspeakable and glorified, the prospects opened in a dying hour, the crowns and kingdoms reserved for us in a better world — — — What manner of persons ought we to be, who have such mercies vouchsafed unto us? Does it become such persons to be weighing out their services by drachms and scruples, if we may so speak? Should we not “love and serve God with all our heart, and all our mind, and all our soul, and all our strength?” The continual habit of our minds should be, “What shall I render unto the Lord?” — — —]
But, that we may not spend all our time in mere general truths, let us proceed to notice,
His particular directions—
A Christian minister is not like the ostrich, which having laid her eggs in the sand, pays no further attention to them; but like a tender mother, who, after having brought forth her infant, travails with it in birth a thousand times, through her fond solicitude for its welfare [Note: Galatians 4:19.]. If present with his people, he watches over them with care; if absent from them, he anxiously inquires respecting their state. To see good in them, and to hear it of them, is, next to his personal enjoyment of God, his chief happiness. He can say with truth respecting them, “I live, if ye stand fast in the Lord.” Now, amongst the various blessings which he desires them to enjoy, there are two in particular, to which we would call your attention;
An union of heart among themselves—
[This is essentially necessary to the welfare of any Church: if there be dissensions and divisions among them there will soon be confusion and every evil work. And where shall we look for union, if not among the household of God? Have they not all one faith, one hope, one baptism, one God and Father? Are they not all members of one body, all animated by the same Spirit, all heirs of the same glory? It was from these very considerations that the Apostle urged the Ephesian Church to cultivate an humble, meek, forbearing, and forgiving temper, and to “keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace;” and, as in the text, made it his one request to them, when he was a prisoner at Rome [Note: Ephesians 4:1-6.]. Of how much importance he thought this temper to be, we may judge from what he himself says in a few verses after the text: we cannot conceive language more tender, or motives more powerful, or entreaties more urgent, than he there addresses to them [Note: Philippians 2:1-2.]; and the one point that he there presses upon them is, that they would be “like-minded, having the same love, being of one accord, and of one mind.”
This then we would impress upon your minds as a matter of indispensable necessity. There will of course, amongst a number of persons whose former views, habits, and dispositions have been so different, arise many occasions of difference, perhaps also of dissatisfaction and disgust: but Christians should regard the smallest symptom of disunion, as they would the beginnings of a conflagration in the house wherein they dwelt: every one should have his personal feelings swallowed up in an attention to the common cause. All should have one object, and unite their efforts to accomplish it, and banish in an instant whatever might obstruct their exertions for the general good. That this will sometimes be attended with difficulty, is implied in the very exhortation to “stand fast in one spirit:” but it may be done; and, if our hearts be right with God, it will be done.]
A zealous attachment to the faith of Christ—
[Many things there are which may operate to turn us from the faith of Christ. That which the Apostle more especially had in view, was the dread of persecution [Note: ver. 28.]: and certain it is, that the fear, not only of death, but even of an opprobrious name, causes many to draw back from their holy profession. But we must “take up our cross daily, and follow Christ;” yea, we must “follow him boldly without the camp, bearing his reproach.” In this holy fortitude we should all unite: for the defection of one has a tendency to weaken all the rest. “With one mind therefore we should strive together for the faith of the Gospel.” We should endeavour to preserve in our own souls a love of the truth, and in every possible way to recommend it to those around us. We should bear in mind the benefits which we hope to receive from the Gospel, and the obligations we have to hold fast our profession of it: and we should determine, through grace, to seal it (if need be) even with our blood.
We must be careful, however, not to spend our zeal about the circumstantials of religion, or to cloke a bigoted attachment to a party under a pretence of love to Christ: it is the Gospel itself, and the blessed truth which it unfolds, that we are to contend for; and for that we are to be ready to lay down our lives.
To hear of these two things, an orderly and affectionate agreement among themselves (like that of a well-disciplined army), and a steadfastness in the faith of Christ, is the greatest joy of a minister, when, by the providence of God, he is for a time removed from them [Note: Colossians 2:5.]: in reference to both of them, therefore, we would address you in the language of the Apostle, “Brethren, dearly beloved and longed-for, my joy and crown, so stand fast in the Lord, my dearly beloved [Note: Philippians 4:1.].”]
SUFFERING FOR CHRIST’S SAKE, A GIFT OF GOD
Philippians 1:29. Unto you it is given in the behalf of Christ, not only to believe on him, but also to suffer for his sake.
THE chief obstacles to a holy and consistent conduct arise perhaps from within, from the evil propensities of our own hearts. But very serious difficulties are occasioned by the frowns and menaces of an ungodly world. We are naturally afraid of suffering; and are easily deterred from those things which would subject us to heavy trials. But if we considered the cross as a badge of honour, as a source of good, and as a high favour conferred upon us by God himself, we should feel less anxious to avoid it, and be more emboldened to walk as becometh the Gospel of Christ. It is by this view of sufferings, that the Apostle encourages the Philippians to hold fast their profession without wavering. His expressions are singularly bold and striking: they shew us,
That suffering for Christ’s sake, is a favour conferred on us by God himself—
Believers are called to suffer for Christ’s sake—
[In addition to the sufferings which are common to others, the believer is called to endure contempt, and reproach, and persecution, for the Gospel’s sake. He is taught to expect them [Note: Matthew 5:10-12. 1Co 4:18. 2 Timothy 3:12.]: and experience proves, that however amiable, or useful, or discreet he may be, he cannot avoid the odium attaching to true religion.]
But his sufferings are a gift from God himself—
[As far as respects his persecutors, his trials arise from a malignant effort of men and devils to obstruct the establishment of the Redeemer’s kingdom: but as far as respects God, they are a special gift from him. As the faith, on account of which he suffers, is given him, so also are the sufferings themselves, together with the ability to endure them patiently. They are bestowed purely for Christ’s sake [Note: We may conceive Christ soliciting the greatest of all favours on behalf of a beloved disciple; and, on being desired by his Father to specify it, replying, “Father, I ask that he may have the honour of suffering for me: “which the Father graciously condescends to grant.]; and are appointed in number, weight, and duration, so as to conduce most effectually to his eternal welfare.]
We may observe further concerning his cross,
That it is a richer gift than even faith itself—
Faith is certainly an inestimable gift; yet the gift of suffering for Christ’s sake is far greater—
It is a higher privilege in itself—
[In believing, we receive from God all the blessings which we stand in need of: but in suffering, we give to God: we give our name, our property, our liberty, our life, to be disposed of in any way which may tend most to his glory. What an honour is this, for a poor creature, a worm of the earth, to confer a gift on God himself! Surely, much as we are indebted to God for the gift of faith, the giving us an opportunity to honour him should be esteemed a far richer obligation, nor should any thing that we possess be of any value in our sight, if we may but have the honour of sacrificing it for his sake.]
It is a nobler testimony for God—
[When we believe, we bear testimony for God that his word is true, and that not one jot or tittle of it shall ever fail. But when we suffer for him, that testimony is far more plain and unequivocal. We then declare, not only that God is good and true, but that he is deserving of all that we can possibly do for him; that there is no service so hard, but we should cheerfully engage in it; no suffering so severe, but we should cheerfully endure it for his sake. Hence it is said, that while “by his enemies God is evil spoken of, on the part of his suffering friends he is glorified.”]
It is a more instructive lesson to the world—
[We cannot exercise faith in Christ, but we must by that very act convey instruction to those around us. We exhibit somewhat of that change which takes place in the converted; and are, as it were, “epistles of Christ, known and read of them” who would not read the Scriptures themselves [Note: 2 Corinthians 3:2-3.]. But by suffering patiently for Christ’s sake, we speak more loudly in their ears: we force them to inquire, what inducements we can have to make such sacrifices? and, whence we derive our ability to sustain such trials? And so efficacious have been the examples of many while enduring the torments of martyrdom, that their very persecutors have been overcome, and converted to God.]
It is a clearer evidence of grace—
[Many have believed the Gospel, while yet their hearts were not upright before God. They have been convinced in their judgment, but not converted in their souls [Note: John 2:23-24.Acts 8:13; Acts 8:13; Acts 8:20-21.]. The same observation may apply also to some who have suffered for the Gospel’s sake [Note: Galatians 3:4.]. But a patient enduring of trials for Christ’s sake is certainly a very strong test of sincerity. It gives reason to hope, that we have attained some measure of conformity to Christ, and that “the Spirit of glory and of God resteth on us [Note: 1 Peter 4:13-14. with ver. 28.], There may indeed be some corruptions yet remaining to be mortified, which leave room for doubt respecting the present safety of the soul; but if we combine a zealous endeavour to mortify them, with a cheerful submission to the cross of Christ, we shall have a favourable testimony from God [Note: Revelation 2:2-7.], and a happy issue to our present conflicts.]
It is a richer mean of glory—
[The smallest portion of real faith has the promise of eternal life [Note: John 3:36.]: and in this view it may be thought superior in value to every thing else. But suffering for Christ’s sake is the means of augmenting that glory: it brings a recompence proportioned to the sufferings that are endured [Note: Hebrews 11:26. Mark 10:29-30.], and “works out for us, light and momentary as it is, a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory [Note: 2 Corinthians 4:17.].” Now as health is a richer blessing than life, because it implies well-being as well as mere existence, so a patient suffering for Christ’s sake must be accounted of more value than faith, because of the super-eminent degrees of happiness to which it eventually exalts the soul.]
To those who fear sufferings—
[It is painful to flesh and blood to bear the cross: but what must be the consequence of shunning it? Will not our case be dearly purchased? Ah! think of the fate that awaits “the fearful [Note: Revelation 21:8.],” and tremble lest the preservation of your life for a season issue in the loss of it to all eternity [Note: Mark 8:35.].]
To those who feel them—
[Faint not, nor be discouraged. Would you deprecate what Christ has asked of you, and what is given you in his behalf! He who confers on you the honour of suffering for him, will endue you with strength to bear your trials, yea, to rejoice and glory in them [Note: 2 Corinthians 12:9-10.]. Only view your sufferings in their true light, and you will rejoice that you are counted worthy to bear them [Note: Acts 5:41.James 1:2; James 1:2; James 1:12.]. And, when you shall be joined to that blessed company “who came out of great tribulation [Note: Revelation 7:14.],” you shall not regret one loss that you sustained, or one pain that you endured. The approbation of your judge, and the increased weight of glory which shall be awarded to you, shall soon wipe away your tears, and turn all your sorrows into joy.]
To those who occasion them—
[Little do you think against whom you fight. You imagine that you are only opposing weak enthusiasts; but so thought Saul, when, in fact, he was persecuting Christ himself [Note: Acts 26:15.]. Know, that “whosoever toucheth the Lord’s people, toucheth the apple of his eye [Note: Zechariah 2:8.];” and that “it were better for you to have a millstone hanged about your neck, than that you should cause one of his little ones to stumble [Note: Matthew 18:6.].” Be sensible then of your guilt and danger: embrace the doctrine which you have been labouring to destroy [Note: Galatians 1:23.]: and, instead of opposing, labour to advance, the interests of the Redeemer’s kingdom.]
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Simeon, Charles. "Commentary on Philippians 1". Charles Simeon's Horae Homileticae. https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 6 / Ordinary 11