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STEADFASTNESS IN GOD
Philippians 4:1. My brethren, dearly beloved and longed for, my joy and crown, so stand fast in the Lord, my dearly beloved.
ST. PAUL was a man of feeling, a man of love. He felt for all: for those whom he saw perishing in sin, he would willingly have endured all that men or devils could inflict, if only it might be instrumental to their salvation [Note: Romans 9:3.]. For those who belonged to Christ, even though they had never seen his face in the flesh, he had great conflicts, striving if by any means he might promote their eternal welfare. But towards those who had been converted by his ministry, he felt as a father towards his children: he could say, “God is my record how greatly I long after you all in the bowels of Jesus Christ [Note: Philippians 1:8.].” To such is this epistle addressed; as indeed the words of our text clearly evince. Such an accumulation of tender expressions can scarcely be found in the same space in all the Book of God. But what is the drift of them all? Why does he so labour to convince the Philippians of his love, and to conciliate their regards to him? it was, that they might be stirred up to give the more earnest heed to his exhortations, and to “stand fast in the Lord.”
To be “in the Lord” is the character of every believer: he is united unto Christ by faith, and is engrafted into him as a branch of the living vine. But our blessed Lord cautions us again and again to “abide in him,” and warns us against the danger of separation from him [Note: John 15:1-6.]. In like manner we are frequently exhorted to “stand fast in the Lord;” and so to continue in the faith grounded and settled, that we may not be moved away from the hope of the Gospel.”
To you then we would now address the exhortation, and say, Stand fast in,
Your allegiance to him—
Many things will conspire to draw you away from Christ—
[The world, with its vanities on the one hand, and its terrors on the other, will assault you continually — — — the flesh also will operate to bring you into subjection to all its basest lusts — — — Nor will Satan be idle: he, with all his confederate hosts, will strive, by innumerable wiles and temptations, either to subvert your principles, or to vitiate your practice — — — It is a warfare into which you are brought, when once you enlist under the banners of Christ; and you must expect all manner of conflicts to your dying hour.]
But you must be steadfast in your adherence to him—
[You must be “good soldiers of Jesus Christ,” and never cease to fight till you have obtained the victory. Neither hopes nor fears, neither joys nor sorrows, must be suffered to alienate you from him, or to damp your zeal in his service. True it is that the Lord gives you many great and precious promises, that he will keep you, and that nothing shall ever separate you from his love [Note: Romans 8:35-39.]. But this is not to encourage supineness; but rather to make you more earnest in your application to him for protection and support. With the example of Demas before you, you should never cease to fear, lest you also should “fall from your own steadfastness [Note: 2 Peter 3:17.],” and “be corrupted from the simplicity that is in Christ [Note: 2 Corinthians 11:3.].” Aware of your danger, you must “fight the good fight of faith,” and “cleave unto the Lord with full purpose of heart.” “You must be faithful unto death, if ever you would obtain the crown of life.”]
Stand fast also in,
Your dependence on him—
From this also you are in danger of being drawn—
[There is in us a continual proneness to self-confidence and self-dependence. We are ever ready to lean to our own understanding to guide us — — — our own righteousness to justify us — — — our own strength to preserve us — — — It is a great matter to have the soul brought to a simple reliance upon the Lord Jesus Christ for every thing.]
But we must live altogether by faith on Christ—
[He is “Head over all things to his Church,” and has all fulness of blessings treasured up in him for our use [Note: Ephesians 1:22-23.Colossians 1:19; Colossians 1:19.]. “He is made of God unto us wisdom, and righteousness, and sanctification, and redemption;” and from him must we receive them all [Note: John 1:16.], that in, and by, and for all, His name may be glorified [Note: Isaiah 45:24-25.] — — —]
Nor must any thing be suffered to weaken,
Your expectation of his future advent—
To that day there is a particular reference in the preceding context [Note: Philippians 3:20-21.]—
We are apt to lose sight of that awful day—
[This is evident, from the remissness and negligence with which the things of eternity are pursued. Could we be dull and slothful with that day before our eyes? — — — Could the allurements or terrors of the world have any influence upon our hearts, if we knew and saw that the Judge was at the door? — — —]
But we must stand continually in a state of preparation for it—
[To wait for Christ’s second coming is the habit of mind to which every believer is brought [Note: 1 Thessalonians 1:9-10.]: and in proportion as it is formed in the mind, is the progress which we have made in the Divine life [Note: 1 Corinthians 1:7.]. We should not give way to sloth, like the foolish Virgins; but have “our loins girt, and our lamps trimmed, and ourselves as those who wait for the coming of their Lord.” We should look forward with a holy longing for that day, as the termination of all our conflicts, and the consummation of all our joys [Note: Titus 2:13. 2 Peter 3:12.] — — — and comfort ourselves with the assured expectation that then we shall be ever with the Lord [Note: 1 Thessalonians 4:17-18.]. With that period before our eyes, we shall “be diligent to be found of him in peace, without spot and blameless [Note: 2 Peter 3:14.].”]
Permit me, in conclusion, to urge this matter, after the example of the Apostle in my text — — —
Philippians 4:5. Let your moderation be known unto all men. The Lord is at hand.
TO lay the foundation of a sinner’s hope, is the first duty of a minister: but he must proceed to raise the superstructure also, even such a practice as the Gospel is intended ultimately to produce. The Apostle doubtless felt it a privilege to insist on joy in the Lord; “Rejoice in the Lord alway; and again, I say, rejoice:” but he felt no less the importance of inculcating the duty of moderation with respect to all the things of time and sense; since without that it would be impossible for any one to maintain that high exercise of mind which joy in the Lord imports. It is by a conformity to this latter precept, no less than by his obedience to the former, that the true Christian will be distinguished. In fact, this precept enters very deeply into the divine life: and it is only in proportion as its influence is exhibited in our lives, that we have any satisfactory evidence of our conversion to God.
That it may operate effectually on our hearts, let us consider the two parts of which it consists;
The duty enjoined—
The word which we translate “moderation,” imports such a kind of meekness and gentleness as results from an indifference to the world, and a superiority to all the things of time and sense. Perhaps our language does not contain any word of precisely the same import: but the Apostle’s meaning is sufficiently conveyed by the term that is here used. We should have a calm composed state of mind in reference to all things here below; and maintain a constant “moderation.”
In our hopes and fears—
[We are apt to magnify the importance of approaching events, and to have our feelings agitated by prospective good or evil, far beyond what they would be by the actual existence of the things foreseen. Good is regarded by us without its manifold circumstances of alloy; and evil without its attendant consolations. In reality, as it is something future that is the mainspring of action to the whole world, so it is by anticipation, rather than by actual experience, that the happiness of mankind is chiefly affected. We say not this in relation to things spiritual and eternal; for in reference to them the very reverse is true: the circumstance of their being future and invisible diminishes, and almost destroys their influence upon the mind: but in reference to things of a temporal nature it is so: upon them our imagination exerts all its energies: it paints them in colours of the liveliest or deepest hue; and draws from them by far the greatest portion of its pleasures or its pains. The man whose ambition is fired by prospects of distinction, the heir who looks forward with uncertainty to the possession of an inheritance, the lover who seeks to be assured of a reciprocity in the object of his affections, what pictures do not these persons draw of happiness, if they shall attain, or of misery, if they shall loses the object of their desire! But such extra-vagant feelings ill become the Christian; his desires should be curbed by a sense of the vanity of all earthly things, and their utter insufficiency to make us happy. He should commit himself, and all that pertains to him, to the disposal of an all-wise Providence: and leave it to God “to give, or to take away,” as he shall see fit; prepared in either case to bless and glorify him for the dispensation. In a word, he should “be without carefulness,” “casting all his care on God who careth for him.” This lesson our blessed Saviour teaches us in his Sermon on the Mount [Note: Matthew 6:25-34.] — — — and to have a practical experience of it in our souls is one of the highest attainments of the Christian.]
In our joys and sorrows—
[Though it is true, that the mass of mankind are chiefly influenced by what is future, yet there are circumstances wherein a few give up themselves altogether to their present emotions. The voluptuary imagines that he cannot drink too deep of the cup of pleasure; and the mourner, that he cannot yield too much to the anguish of his mind. Both are alike deaf to good advice: the one refuses to be counselled; the other, to be comforted. But “moderation” is the frame which best befits the Christian. He is not insensible to the feelings of humanity; nor is he forbidden to rejoice or grieve, according as the one or other of these emotions is suited to his state. But an equableness of mind is that which he should cultivate under all circumstances: he should not suffer himself to be too much elevated or depressed by present things. His joy should be in God: his sorrows should be chiefly called forth by his own short-comings and defects: and he should be so filled with a sense of the infinite importance of things eternal, as to rise superior to all the vanities of this lower world. St. Paul, in a few verses after the text, informs us how he was affected by the changes which he experienced: “I have learned,” says he, “in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content. I know both how to be abased, and I know how to abound: every-where, and in all things, I am instructed, both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need [Note: ver. 11, 12.].” Thus it should be with us also: we should be like men of another world, mere pilgrims and sojourners here; thankful for the accommodations which we meet with on the road; and not cast down, if we find some inconveniences; but mainly intent on our journey to a better country, and studious to improve all present circumstances so as most to advance us in our meetness for the heavenly inheritance.]
In our spirit and conduct—
[There is in mankind at large, a very undue degree of confidence, both as to the sentiments they embrace, and the line of conduct which they pursue. Every one is ready to fancy himself infallible, and to account all deceived and perverse who differ from Him. Hence arises, in the generality, a vehemence in asserting their own opinions, and an intolerance towards those who differ from them. But this disposition of mind must be studiously avoided by every true Christian. There should be in the whole of our sentiments and demeanour, a diffidence which inclines us to suspect ourselves, and a candour which disposes us to make all due allowance for others. Doubtless it becomes us to be thoroughly persuaded in our own minds, and to act agreeably to that persuasion: but still we should allow to others the same liberty which we claim for ourselves, and be content that others should think and judge for themselves, without desiring to impose upon them any restrictions of our own. How happy would it have been for the Christian world, if such moderation had obtained in the Church, from the period of its first establishment in the apostolic age! But man is a tyrant, and loves to give law to his fellow-men. Few are disposed to distinguish aright between things essential, and things indifferent. If it were said to them that contrarieties may both be right, it would appear a paradox inexplicable. But so it is, and so it is declared by God himself to be, in many things which have most divided men, and called forth against each other their bitterest invectives. The contests about observing days, or eating things offered to idols, how violent they were in the apostolic age! How severely did the weak condemn the strong! and how acrimoniously did the strong despise the weak! yet both the one and the other, so far as they acted to the Lord, were accepted of him, whether they exercised, or forbore to exercise, the liberty which they possessed [Note: Romans 14:1-6.]. The same thing at this moment obtains amongst the various denominations of Christians throughout the world. It were difficult to enumerate them all; yet all are as confident of their own exclusive sentiments and habits, as if they had a special revelation from heaven that they alone were right: and the very idea of an unity of action among them, even in things wherein they are all agreed, is by many reprobated as an unbecoming indifference towards their own peculiar party. But is this the “moderation,” that is productive of meekness, and gentleness, and love? No: it is a spirit most contrary to real Christianity, and most studiously to be shunned by all who would adorn their Christian profession. The true temper to be cultivated, is that of the Apostle Paul, who, “though he was free from all, became the servant of all, that he might gain the more [Note: 1 Corinthians 9:19-22.].”]
Such is the duty here enjoined. Let us now consider,
The argument with which it is enforced—
The nearness of death and judgment is a common argument with the Apostles, in support of their various exhortations: and it is fitly applied on this occasion: for we may well be “moderate,” in relation to all earthly things, when we consider how speedily the Lord is coming,
To terminate all the things of time and sense—
[Whatever we have here below, it is but of short duration: whether we are visited with comforts or afflictions, they are all both light and momentary, and therefore unworthy of any serious regard. Let any one look back upon his past life, and see how transient have been both his pleasures and his pains: they are all passed away like a dream; and little remains of them but the bare remembrance that they once existed. Shall we then suffer our minds to be so affected with earthly vanities, as if they were to endure for ever? No; we should sit loose to them, not elated by the enjoyment of them, nor depressed by their loss. This is what we are taught by infallible authority: “This I say, brethren,” says the Apostle; “the time is short: it remaineth that both they that have wives, be as though they had none; and they that weep, as though they wept not; and they that rejoice, as though they rejoiced not; and they that buy, as though they possessed not: and they that use this world, as not abusing it: for the fashion of this world passeth away [Note: 1 Corinthians 7:29-31.].”]
To assign to each that portion which his peculiar case requires—
[The end for which God sends to us a diversity of dispensations is, that we may improve them all for the good of our souls. Our improvement of the various talents committed to us will be particularly inquired into, and form the ground of the sentence that shall be passed upon us. To pass that sentence, our Lord is just ready to come: and therefore the only thing which ought materially to affect us should be, not so much the quality of the dispensations, as the improvement that we make of them. Look, for instance, at the Rich Man and Lazarus: how little remains to them of the comforts or sorrows which they experienced on earth! What is the rich man the better for all his sumptuous fare; or the poor man the worse for all his penury and want? But the use which they made of their respective dispensations, that is now the only thing worth a thought. So it will soon be with us: the things which here appeared so important, will have altogether vanished away, and nothing will remain but responsibility for the improvement of them. I say then to all, “Set your affections on things above, and not on things on the earth:” and in the prospect of your Lord’s second advent to judge the world, be moderate in relation to all present things, whether pleasing or afflictive [Note: 1 Corinthians 4:3-5.], and let it be your one concern to “be found of him in peace, without spot and blameless [Note: 1Pe 4:7 and 2 Peter 3:14.].” Let your moderation too be so constant and abiding, that it may “be known unto all men.” True it is, that moderation is not of itself calculated to attract notice: it is, in its very nature, unobtrusive and retired. But where it so prevails as to regulate the heart and life, it of necessity diffuses a holy light around us, and serves, by the contrast it exhibits, to gain the admiration of the world. Men gaze and are astonished, when they see we are not under the power of earthly things, as others are: and they are constrained on such occasions to confess the wisdom and excellence of our ways. Thus then let our moderation operate under all circumstances, whether prosperous or adverse: and then shall the efficacy of divine grace be acknowledged, and “God shall be glorified in us.”]
A DISSUASIVE FROM CAREFULNESS
Philippians 4:6-7. Be careful for nothing; but in every thing by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God. And the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.
MAN is a prospective creature: he is able to look into futurity; and to give, as it were, a present existence to future things. Indeed, it is from anticipation that his greatest joys and sorrows flow. This faculty of foresight is that which eminently distinguishes him above the rest of the creation. Other creatures equal him in actual enjoyment; but he alone can overleap thousands of intervening years, and derive pleasure or pain from the contemplation of distant events. It is to this faculty that the Scriptures are principally addressed. They set before us the final issue of present things; and declare, that our conduct in this life shall meet with a suitable recompence in the eternal world. Thus, by the hope of good and the fear of evil, they stimulate us to flee from the wrath to come, and to lay hold on eternal life.
But though this power is capable of being turned to such advantage, yet, through the corruption of our hearts, it is too generally abused. Men look only at things visible and temporal, instead of looking also at things invisible and eternal. Moreover, their expectations of future good are generally too sanguine; and their apprehensions of future evil weigh more upon their spirits than the occasion requires. Hence arises in their minds an excessive “carefulness,” which it is the design of Christianity to counteract.
In the words which we have just read, we have,
A dissuasive from carefulness—
By “carefulness” we are not to understand, attention; for that is absolutely necessary to the discharge of our duties in the world: but we are to understand, anxiety; which, as far as it prevails, argues a state of mind that is injurious to ourselves, and displeasing to God.
The great occasions of anxiety may be reduced to three;
Some good desired—
[Men, in different situations of life, have their hearts set upon such things, as may possibly be attained by them, and such as they imagine will conduce greatly to their happiness. Some are eagerly pressing forward to the attainment of honour: others are insatiable in their thirst for gain. Some are altogether wrapped up in an idolatrous attachment to a fellow-creature; others are disquieted, like Rachel [Note: Genesis 30:1.], and Hannah [Note: 1 Samuel 1:5-10.], because they are disappointed in the hopes of a family.
But all such anxieties are sinful. We may desire the good things of this life: but our desire must be subordinated to the will of God: and, while we use the proper means of attaining our wishes, we must use them with an entire submission to the disposals of his Providence.]
Some evil dreaded—
[Evils foreboded, are often more painful than when actually endured. They not unfrequently press with such a weight upon the mind, as to incapacitate men for the exertions, which would serve at least to mitigate their trials, if not altogether to avert them. For instance, men are sometimes so overcome with the apprehensions of a heavy loss, that they are unable to prosecute with attention their proper business, whereby the loss, if sustained, might be in time retrieved. And it is no uncommon thing, to find men sacrificing their honour, their conscience, yea, their very hopes of salvation, in order to avert some impending calamity.
But it would not be thus, if we considered every thing, even “the falling of a sparrow,” as regulated by an all-wise God. We might endeavour with propriety to prevent an evil; but we should never be so intimidated by its approach, as to be driven from our dependence on God, or induced to violate our duty to him.]
Some trouble felt—
[When trouble is heavy or accumulated, whether it be from disease in our persons, or embarrassment in our circumstances, or the loss of some dear relative, how ready are we to give ourselves up to sorrow, as if our wound were incurable, and our misery irremediable! The instances are not few, wherein men are so overwhelmed by their afflictions, as to have their intellects impaired, and to be reduced to a state of mental derangement. Yea, even worse effects than these are sometimes produced by trouble: for the unhappy sufferers take refuge in suicide; and plunge their souls into hell, to rid themselves of their temporal distresses.
We are not forbidden to give way to grief. The Saviour himself wept at the tomb of his friend. But are there to be no bounds to grief? Should not our sorrow be moderated by the consideration, that the cup is put into our hands by a gracious Father, and that, if drunk in submission to his will, it shall be sanctified to our eternal good? Such excessive “sorrow” is prohibited in the text; and well it may be; since “nothing” can warrant it, and its operation is so injurious.]
While the Apostle thus dissuades us from carefulness, he prescribes,
An antidote against it—
Prayer is no less our privilege than it is our duty—
[God is ever ready to hear the prayers of his people; and he expects that we should “by prayer and supplication make our requests known to him.” Not that he needs to be informed by us; for “he knoweth our necessities before we ask [Note: Matthew 6:8.]:” but we ought to specify our wants, in order the more deeply to impress a consciousness of them on our own minds, and to make us duly sensible of our dependence on him, and of our obligation to him when our prayers are answered. On all occasions we should have recourse to prayer: “In every thing we should make our requests to God;” in doubt, for direction, (for he will direct our paths [Note: Psalms 25:9. Isaiah 30:21.]); in difficulties, for succour, (for he will give grace sufficient for us [Note: James 4:6. 2 Corinthians 9:8; 2 Corinthians 12:9.]); and in wants, for supply, (for he has engaged that we shall want no manner of thing that is good [Note: Psalms 34:9-10. Matthew 6:33.]). Nothing is so great but that he is ready to bestow it; nothing is so small, but that we need to ask it at his hands.
But, together with our prayers, we should always offer also thanksgivings. Our troubles are always mixed with mercies, for which we should pay unto our God a tribute of praise. A living man can have no cause to complain [Note: Lamentations 3:39.]. While we are out of hell, our troubles must be infinitely less than our deserts. We should therefore approach our God with gratitude for mercies received, and with a dependence on him for those we stand in need of,]
This would be an effectual antidote for excessive carefulness—
[If we commune only with a fellow-creature, we find some relief: but if we go to our God, he will enable us to leave ourselves to his gracious disposal, and to “cast our burthen upon him.” Our desires will be weakened by a submission to his will; our fears be allayed by a view of his providence; and our troubles be mitigated by the consolations of his Spirit.]
This part of our subject is more fully opened by,
A special commendation of this antidote—
By carefulness “our heart and mind” is overwhelmed—
[We have before noticed the depression of spirit which results from excessive carefulness: and there is but too much reason to believe, that many really die of a broken heart. But where the effect produced by troubles is not so great, yet the mind is dissipated by them; and the thoughts are distracted, so that we cannot exercise them upon other objects, or even fix them in prayer before God.]
But by means of prayer, our hearts and minds shall be kept in peace—
[None but those who have experienced it, can conceive what peace flows into the soul, when we are enabled to commit our ways to God. The heart that was agitated, becomes serene; and the thoughts that were distracted, become composed: yea, an inexpressible sweetness pervades the whole man, and turns his sorrows into an occasion of joy [Note: 2 Corinthians 12:7-10.]. “The peace of God,” thus infused into the soul, “keeps,” as in a garrison [Note: φρουρήσει.], both “the heart and mind;” so that if trouble seek to invade us, it can make no impression: not all the good that can be desired, nor all the evil that can be dreaded, nor all the trouble that can be felt, will be able to turn us from our God, or to retard our progress towards heaven.
This blessing comes to us “through Christ Jesus.” It is for his sake that our prayers are accepted: it is through him that peace is communicated to us in answer to them: and it is through his agency upon our souls, that this peace becomes a defence against the incursions of care. In short, from Christ Jesus this antidote derives its efficacy; and through him it shall be effectual for the ends for which it is recommended in the text.]
We cannot conclude without observing,
How does religion contribute to men’s present happiness!
[Perhaps “carefulness” is a source of more trouble than all other thing’s together. Yet this is taken away, in proportion as we devote ourselves to God. It is true, religion brings with it, if we may so speak, its peculiar sorrows: (not that they spring from religion, but from sin: yet in our fallen state, they certainly are attendant on the exercise of religion.) But godly sorrow is salutary, while “the sorrow of the world worketh death [Note: 2 Corinthians 7:10.].” And, it we live nigh to God in prayer and praise, we shall be freed from the disquietudes which harass and distress the whole world beside; and shall dwell as in a haven of peace, while others are tossed to and fro, and are “at their wit’s end,” upon tempestuous billows. “Commit thy works unto the Lord,” says Solomon, “and thy thoughts (not thy ways only, but thy thoughts, the most fluctuating and ungovernable of all things) shall be established [Note: Proverbs 16:3.].”]
What enemies to themselves are they, who live in the neglect of prayer!
[If men desired no more than present happiness, they ought to be constant at a throne of grace; since it is there alone that they can get rid of their burthens, or obtain peace unto their souls. But the joys and sorrows of men are not confined to this life: they follow us into the eternal world, and abide with us for ever: and that which is the appointed mean of present blessings, is also the only possible mean of everlasting happiness. The burthen of guilt which lies upon us, can never be removed, but by prayer. Peace with God can never be obtained, but by prayer. And they who will not pray, voluntarily bind their own sins upon them, and reject the proffered mercies of their God, Think, ye prayerless people, how your conduct will appear to you at the day of judgment: “Had I prayed, my sins had been forgiven: had I prayed, I had now been happy beyond all the powers of language to express: but the time is past: prayer will not avail me now: my weeping will be fruitless; my wailing irremediable; my gnashing of teeth eternal.”
O that we might all awake from our slumbers! O that we might “arise, and call upon our God!” Then should we understand the efficacy of prayer, and experience its benefits both in time and in eternity.]
THE EXTENT OF A CHRISTIAN’S DUTY
Philippians 4:8. Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things.
THE scope and tendency of Christianity is to ennoble the mind of man, and to restore him to his primitive dignity. If we could frame to ourselves a just idea of what Adam was, when he came out of his Maker’s hands, we should see exactly the spirit and conduct to which we are to be reduced by the Gospel. The doctrines of our holy religion, excellent as they are, are of no value any further than they produce this blessed effect. They point out the way in which this change is to be wrought, and supply the only motives that can operate upon us with sufficient weight. In this view they are invariably proposed by the inspired writers, who, having stated them in their epistles, always call our attention to the practical improvement of them.
In the exhortation before us we may notice,
The extent of a Christian’s duty—
We are at no loss to arrange the particular duties that are here enjoined, since the Apostle himself distributes them into classes:
[Among these “truth” is the first in nature and importance; since, without it, all the bands of society would be dissolved: there would be no such thing as confidence between man and man. Of such consequence is this esteemed in the world, that no virtues, however eminent, can supply the want of it, or render a man respectable, that is regardless of it. And so necessary is it in the eyes of God, that he will banish from him with abhorrence all who wilfully violate its dictates [Note: Proverbs 6:16-17. Revelation 21:8; Revelation 22:15.], and admit those only to his presence whose adherence to it is strict and uniform [Note: Psalms 15:2.]. This therefore is in the first place to be rigidly adhered to, especially by those who are members of Christ’s mystical body [Note: Ephesians 4:25.]. It is not indeed necessary, nor would it be proper, on every occasion, to declare all we know: but we must on no account affirm, or insinuate, what is contrary to truth, either with a view to set off or to exculpate ourselves, or for the purpose of criminating or exalting another. Every species and degree of falsehood should be scrupulously avoided; and every word we utter should bear the stamp of simplicity and godly sincerity.
Next to this, and inseparably connected with it, is “justice” A Christian is to know but one rule of conduct: he is, in all his intercourse with men, to do as he would be done unto; that is, to act towards others, as he, in a change of circumstances, would think it right for them to act towards him. To be guilty of fraud in a way of traffic, or in withholding just debts, or in evading taxes, or putting off base coin, or in any other way whatever, is as inconsistent with the Christian character as adultery or murder. Whatever specious pretexts an ungodly world have invented for the justifying of fraud, no one of us approves of it when it is exercised towards himself; nor will God ever approve of it, however men may extenuate or excuse it: his word to every one of us is, “That which is altogether just shalt thou follow, that thou mayest live [Note: Deuteronomy 16:20.].” And “he knoweth how to reserve the unjust unto the day of judgment to be punished [Note: 2Pe 2:9].”
Besides these virtues which have respect to our words and actions, there is one that extends to our very thoughts, and that is no less necessary to be cultivated by us than either of the foregoing, namely, “purity” None are so ignorant as not to know, that they ought to restrain their passions, and have them in subjection. But it is not sufficient for a Christian to refrain from open acts of uncleanness; he must learn to mortify his inward desires: he is to “keep his vessel in sanctification and honour; not in the lusts of concupiscence, like those who know not God [Note: 1 Thessalonians 4:4-5.].” He is the temple of the Holy Ghost, and is therefore bound to harbour no thought that may defile that temple, no desire that may grieve his Divine inhabitants [Note: 1 Corinthians 3:16-17; 1 Corinthians 6:19.]. In all his words, and looks, and thoughts, he should “be pure as God is pure, and holy as God is holy [Note: 1Jn 3:3 and 1 Peter 1:14-16.].”]
[The fore-mentioned duties are so essential to the Christian character, that any considerable and habitual violation of them is utterly inconsistent with it. There are other duties equally necessary to be observed, but which, from the weakness of our nature, and the imperfection of our attainments, admit of greater deviations without impeaching our sincerity before God.
Amongst these, the things which are “honest,” that is, grave, venerable, decorous, first demand our attention. A Christian should consider what becomes his age and station as a man, and his character as a disciple of Christ. It is disgusting, when people professing godliness, whether men or women, are vying with an ungodly world in dress, and show, and vain parade; in a levity of conduct; in a fondness for vain amusements. There is a gravity that befits the “man of God,” who has engaged to walk in his Redeemer’s steps. Not that he need to banish mirth, if it be innocent in its nature, and moderate in its degree: nor need the person of opulence to accommodate himself to the habits of a peasant in his style of living: but there is a moderation that he should carefully observe, a limit suited to his character, a bound which he should in no wise transgress [Note: Compare Ephesians 5:4. 1 Timothy 2:9-10. 1 Peter 3:2-4.].
Whatever things are “lovely,” are also highly deserving the Christian’s regard. There is a courtesy, a meekness, a gentleness, an affability, a modesty, in a word, an urbanity of manners, which is exceeding amiable, and which conciliates the esteem of all who behold it; this, in opposition to rudeness, and an inattention to the feelings of others, should be cultivated by all. A readiness also to sympathise with others in their distress, and to condescend to the meanest offices for their comfort and relief, and a delight in performing all the offices of love, how lovely does this appear, how worthy the pursuit of all that would honour God! To this also may be added a candour in judging, a patience in enduring, a tenderness in forgiving, a liberality in bestowing; an assemblage of such graces as these is the brightest ornament of a child of God; and, as we all admire them when exemplified in others, we should make it our daily study to illustrate them in our own conduct.
Further still, there are many things that are “of good report,” in which also it should be our ambition to excel. A noble disinterestedness of mind, that rises superior to all selfish considerations, and consults the public good, is an attainment which the heathens themselves accounted most truly honourable. With this we may rank a nobleness in the ends which we seek to accomplish, a wisdom in the means whereby we labour to effect our purpose, a discretion in the manner of employing those means, a due consideration of all circumstances of time and place, a willingness to yield in things indifferent, and a firmness in maintaining what we consider to be right and necessary; a happy combination of these will not fail to exalt a character in the eyes of men, and to procure us respect from those who know how to appreciate such rare endowments. These therefore, with whatever else ensures to men a reputation for magnanimity, or goodness of heart, (provided it be good and proper in itself) we should pursue with ardour, and practise with constancy.]
Passing over many other excellencies, such as diligence, contentment, friendship, gratitude, with numberless others to which the Christian’s duty extends, let us proceed to notice,
The importance of it—
The manner in which the Apostle inculcates these things, very strongly marks his sense, at least, of their importance. His distinct enumeration of so many things, his comprehending of them all a second time under the extensive description of things virtuous and laudable; and lastly, the energetic manner in which he recommends them to our attention and regard, all prove, that he was extremely solicitous to impress our minds with a sense of our duty, and to secure to his exhortation the attention it deserves.
Let us then consider how important the observance of our duty in these respects is,
[We have no better test of our sincerity before God than this. Our having embraced new tenets, however just those tenets may be, will not prove that our hearts are right with God: nor will an outward reformation of our conduct suffice to establish our pretensions to true conversion; there must be an uniformity and consistency in our endeavours to serve God: there must be no virtues so small, as to seem unworthy of our attention, or so great, as to discourage us in the pursuit of them. We must never think we have attained any thing, as long as there remains any thing which we have not attained [Note: Philippians 3:12-15.].
There is nothing that can more conduce to our present happiness than this. Self-government, next to the immediate enjoyment of the Divine presence, is the sublimest source of happiness in this world. Let any thing that comes under the description before mentioned, be considered in all its bearings and effects, and it will be found highly conducive to the comfort of our own minds, and to the happiness of all around us. Abstracted from the consideration of any future recompence, “the work of righteousness is peace, and the effect of rightousness is quietness and assurance for ever [Note: Isaiah 32:17.].”
Moreover it tends to increase in our souls a meetness for heaven. By virtuous actions we attain virtuous habits; and by virtuous habits a conformity to God’s image: and our conformity to God in holiness is that which alone constitutes our meetness for glory. Should we not therefore be endeavouring daily to get every lineament of the Divine image engraven on our souls? Should not the hope of growing up into Christ’s likeness be an incentive to continual and increased exertions in the way of duty? Need we, or can we have, any greater stimulus than this?]
To the Church—
[By this alone can we silence the objections of her adversaries. In every age the adversaries have vented their calumnies against the Church, as though all her members were hypocrites, and their seeming piety were a cloak, for some hidden abominations. They have also represented her doctrines as visionary and enthusiastic, yea, as calculated to subvert the foundations of morality, and to open the floodgates of licentiousness. But when they see a holy and consistent conduct, the joint effect of piety and wisdom, they are constrained to shut their mouths, and to confess that God is with us of a truth [Note: 1 Peter 2:12; 1 Peter 2:15; 1 Peter 3:16.].
By this also do all her members contribute greatly to their mutual edification and endearment. It is with Christ’s mystical body as it is with our natural bodies: when every member performs its proper office, and supplies its proper nutriment, all the parts are kept in activity and vigour, and the whole is confirmed and strengthened [Note: Ephesians 4:11-13; Ephesians 4:15-16; Ephesians 4:29.]. Let any of the graces before mentioned be neglected, and disunion will proportionably ensue. Moreover, those members that are most defective in their duty, will most discover a consequent languor and decay. Whereas, the members that are indefatigable in the exercise of these graces, will “make their profiting to appear,” and be enabled to withstand the assaults of all their enemies [Note: 2 Peter 1:5-11.]. The former will be a source of trouble and disquietude to the Church; the latter, of harmony and peace.]
To the world around us—
[There is nothing else so likely to fix conviction on the minds of sinners. The ungodly world will not learn religion from the Bible; nor will listen to it as enforced in the discourses of God’s faithful ministers. But they cannot shut their eyes against the light of a holy life. St. Paul’s epistles are known and read of few: but godly men are “the epistles of Christ, known and read of all men [Note: 2 Corinthians 3:2-3.]:” and many who would not regard the written word, have been won by their godly conversation [Note: 1 Peter 3:1-2.].
On the other hand, there is nothing that hardens sinners so much as an inconsistent conduct in the professors of religion. If a saint fall through temptation, or a hypocrite discover his hypocrisy; instantly the world cry out, “There, there, so would we have it [Note: Psalms 35:19; Psalms 35:25.].” Nor are they satisfied with condemning the individual offenders; they immediately reflect on the whole body of Christians, as hypocrites alike: yea, and blaspheme that adorable Saviour whose religion they profess [Note: 2 Peter 2:2.Romans 2:24; Romans 2:24. 1 Timothy 6:1.]. Thus do they confirm their prejudices against the truth, and justify themselves in their rejection of the Gospel. If then the rescuing of our fellow-creatures from perdition, or the contributing to involve them in it, be so connected with our conduct, of what importance must it be so to demean ourselves, that we may adorn our holy profession, and recommend the Gospel to their favourable acceptance!]
[“Think then upon these things.” Think of their nature, that you may be apprised of their extent: think of their obligation, that you may be aware of their importance: think of their difficulty, that you may obtain help from your God: think of their excellency, that you may be stirred up to abound in them: and think of their complicated effects on the world around you, that you may make your light to shine before men, and that others, beholding it, may glorify your Father that is in heaven [Note: Matthew 5:16.].] [Note: Instead of this application, the following may be profitably used:—
1. For the humbling of your souls—2. For the endearing of the Gospel to you—3. And for the regulating of your whole spirit and conduct.
For the humbling of your souls—
[Whence is it that there is so little humiliation and contrition amongst us? it is because we do not try ourselves by a just standard. We look only to more flagrant transgressions; and therefore even the worst of us only view ourselves like the sky in a cloudy night, when only a few stars are seen and at great intervals; but if we would take the text for the ground of our estimate, the very best of us would see ourselves like the sky in the clearest night studded with stars innumerable, our whole lives being, as it were, one continuous mass of transgression and sin — — — If we would habituate ourselves to such reviews of our conduct from day to day, we should find no difficulty in acknowledging ourselves “less than the least of all saints,” yea, and “the very chief of sinners.”]
For the endearing of the Gospel to you—
[O how precious would the Saviour be to you, if you saw yourselves in your true colours! And with what delight would you plunge into “the fountain opened for sin and for uncleanness!” But the same false estimate of ourselves which keeps us from humiliation, keeps us also from valuing the Gospel of Christ. If we would love the Lord Jesus Christ in sincerity, we should get a deeper sense of our need of him, and of the love he has shewn us in giving himself to die for us.
It is in this way also that we must learn to prize the influences of the Holy Spirit. When we see what a holy and refined character that of the true Christian is, we shall necessarily say, “Who is sufficient for these things?” And, feeling our need of Divine help, we shall implore of God to “strengthen us with might by his Spirit in the inner man,” and to “perfect his own strength in our weakness” — — —]
For the regulating of your whole spirit and conduct—
[Whilst you see what a lovely character the Christian is, and how bright it shone in our blessed Lord, you will strive to follow his steps, and to “walk as he walked.” Let there then be in you nothing but what is virtuous and praise-worthy. And, if you profess to have been “called with an holy calling,” see that you “walk worthy of your high calling,” or rather, walk worthy of him that hath called you; that so God may be glorified in you, and you be rendered meet for his heavenly inheritance — — —]]
PAUL AN EXAMPLE FOR US
Philippians 4:9. Those things, which ye have both learned, and received, and heard, and. seen in me, do: and the God of peace shall be with you.
NO man was ever move averse to boasting than the Apostle Paul: and, when compelled to declare what God had done in him or by him, he appeared to himself “a fool,” for uttering it; though he was conscious that he acted, not from choice, but from absolute and indispensable necessity. But, in truth, what might be called boasting in an uninspired man, was not deserving of that name in him; because he knew that he had been raised up by God, to be an instructor to mankind, both in his doctrines and example. Hence he not only affirmed, that “his word was the word, not of man, but of God [Note: 1 Thessalonians 2:13.];” but exhorted men to “be followers and imitators of him [Note: 1 Corinthians 4:16.],” “even as he was of Christ [Note: 1 Corinthians 11:1. μιμηταί.].” In the chapter preceding our text, he speaks strongly to this effect: “Brethren, be followers together of me, and mark them who walk so, as ye have us for an ensample [Note: Philippians 3:17.].” Nor did he confine his exhortation to a reception of his doctrines merely: he suggested the same in reference to his conduct also [Note: 2 Thessalonians 3:9.]. He was a great advocate for practical religion; and urged on his Philippian converts a diligent attention to “every thing which was true, and honest, and just, and pure, and lovely, and of good report:” and then, in reference both to his precepts and example, he added, “Those things which ye have both learned and received, and heard and seen in me, do; and the God of peace shall be with you.”
To enforce this exhortation, I will set before you,
The lessons he has taught us—
Of course, I can speak of these but in a very general and superficial way. Your time would not suffice for a full consideration of them; nor does my present subject require more than a brief notice of what he inculcated as due,
[It was not “a divided heart” that he called on men to offer to their God and Saviour: he taught them to surrender up themselves as living sacrifices to him; and to be as entirely devoted to him, as a victim is when offered upon the altar. As for our own ease, pleasure, interest, he would not have us consult them for a moment, in comparison of, and still less in opposition to, the will of God: “No man,” says he, “liveth to himself, and no man dieth to himself: for, whether we live, we live unto the Lord; and whether we die, we die unto the Lord: whether we live therefore, or die, we are the Lord’s: for to this end Christ both died, and rose, and revived, that he might be the Lord both of the dead and living [Note: Romans 14:7-9.].” And this duty he binds upon us by the strongest of all obligations, even that of redeeming love, which it were most criminal to resist: “Ye are not your own: ye are bought with a price: therefore glorify God with your body and your spirit, which are God’s [Note: 1 Corinthians 6:20.].” He would have the whole spirit, soul, and body, sanctified unto the Lord [Note: 1 Thessalonians 5:23.].”]
[This duty, also, is co-extensive with the former, only in subordination to God, and with a view to his glory. There is nothing which we are not to do for man, nor any thing which we are not willingly to suffer for him, if only we may be instrumental to the promoting of his spiritual and eternal welfare. And the Apostle inculcates this with the same precision and force as the former: “Look not every man on his own things, but every man also on the things of others.” (We are to forget self, with a view to his benefit, as much as we are with a view to God’s glory.) “Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus; who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God; but made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of man: and being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross [Note: Philippians 2:4-8.].” Did our blessed Lord, who was God equal with the Father, empty himself of all his glory, and suffer the most excruciating torments, for the salvation of men? There is nothing, then, which we also should not be ready either to do or suffer for the welfare of their souls.
It may however be asked, What are we to do, if they become our enemies, and seek to destroy us? I answer, Contend with them: if they will fight, so do ye fight: and the more they exert themselves, the greater let your efforts be also. Only remember, that your weapon must not be like theirs: They fight with evil; but you must have no weapon but good. Nor must you ever yield to them; but to your latest hour, and with your latest breath, you must keep up the conflict, even as the first martyr Stephen did. This is St. Paul’s own direction, “Be not overcome of evil; but overcome evil with good [Note: Romans 12:21.].”]
Such are the duties which St. Paul inculcates: and this view of them will lead us to notice,
The example he has set us—
As, in his Epistle to Timothy, St. Paul says, “Thou hast fully known my doctrine, and manner of life [Note: 2 Timothy 3:10.];” so he here refers the Philippians, first, to what they had “learned and received from him;” and then, to what they had “heard and seen in him.”
What, then, were his principles?
[They were precisely and practically such as he had inculcated on others. Did he enjoin on others to be dead to the world, and to self? Hear what he declares to have been his own experience; “I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live: yet not I, but Christ liveth in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh, I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me [Note: Galatians 2:20.].” Yea, so entirely was he under the constrained sense of redeeming love, that he shuddered at the very thought of glorying in any thing but the cross of Christ,” and more especially because, “through the influence of that, the whole world was crucified unto him, as he also was unto the world [Note: Galatians 6:14.].”]
With these his whole life was in perfect unison—
[Nothing could abate his zeal for God. Not all the trials which human nature is capable of sustaining could move him in the least: he counted not life itself dear to him, if he were called to sacrifice it for righteousness’ sake: on the contrary, he was ready to suffer bonds, or death, at any time, and in any way, for the honour of his Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ [Note: Acts 20:24; Acts 21:13.]. Nor were there any bounds to his love to man. He panted for the salvation of all men, and especially of those who were “his brethren according to the flesh:” and, when he could not prevail on them to embrace the Gospel which he offered to them, he called God to witness what grief their obduracy occasioned him: “I say the truth in Christ, I lie not, my conscience also bearing me witness in the Holy Ghost, that I have great heaviness, and continual sorrow in my heart, for my brethren’s sake [Note: Romans 9:1-2.].” Still more, for the prosperity of his converts he was so anxious, that his whole soul was, as it were, wrapt up in them: “Now I live, if ye stand fast in the Lord [Note: 1 Thessalonians 3:8.].” And so far was he from regretting any thing that he suffered for their sake, that he accounted such sufferings his privilege, his honour, his happiness: “If,” says he, “I be offered upon the sacrifice and service of your faith, I joy and rejoice with you all: for the same cause do ye also joy and rejoice with me [Note: Philippians 2:17-18.].”]
And, now, who can doubt,
The blessedness of taking him for our model?
Doubtless here is a high standard for us to aim at: but no lower standard can possibly be admitted. What, if we cannot attain to the eminence of St. Paul? we should not willingly rest in any thing short of it; or, if we had even attained to it, we should, like him, press forward for still higher attainments, that, if possible, we might be “pure as Christ himself was pure,” and “perfect even as our Father who is in heaven is perfect.” And to this we are encouraged by St. Paul, who says, “Those things which ye have learned and received, and heard and seen in me, do; and the God of peace shall be with you.” Now, it is certainly true, that if we aspire thus after universal holiness, God will be with us,
In a way of special manifestation—
[He assumes the endearing name of “the God of peace,” as he does elsewhere of “the God of love and peace [Note: 2 Corinthians 13:14.]:” and under this character will he reveal himself to his obedient people. Yes, “great peace shall they have who love his law,” “a perfect peace,” “a peace that passeth all understanding.” What terms would suffice to give any adequate idea of “the love of God shed abroad in the heart,” and of “the light of his reconciled countenance lifted up upon the soul?” You would in vain attempt to convey to a person who had all his days been immured in a dark dungeon, a just conception of the splendour and influence of the meridian sun: how then can the feeble language of mortality describe the action of Almighty God upon the soul, which he deigns to visit with his more immediate presence? Suffice it however to say, that such visits are realized in the souls of God’s faithful people; and that “both the Father and the Son will come down to them, and dwell in them, and make their abode with them [Note: John 14:21; John 14:23.],” and turn their very souls into the sanctuary of the Most High.]
In a way of effectual support—
[Persons who resemble the Apostle Paul in their spirit and conduct will be sure to resemble him, in some degree at least, in his trials and afflictions. It is not possible but that those who love darkness rather than light, should hate such lights as these. In truth the more bright a man’s light shines before an ungodly world, the more must he expect to be hated, reviled, and persecuted, even as our incarnate God himself was, during the time of his sojourning on earth: for “the servant cannot be above his Lord:” and “if they called the Master of the house of Beelzebub, much more will they those of his household [Note: Matthew 10:25.].” But, need the godly indulge any fears on that account? No; for “greater is be He that is in them, than he that is in the world [Note: 1 John 4:4.].” Men may assault you with all their might: but it may be confidently asked, “Who is he that shall harm you, if ye be followers of that which is good [Note: 1 Peter 3:13.]?” Men may keep all human aid from you: but who can intercept the visits of your God? Hear his own express promise, given for your encouragement and support: “Fear thou not, for I am with thee; be not dismayed; for I am thy God: I will strengthen thee; yea, I will help thee; yea, I will uphold thee with the right hand of my righteousness.” And then, lest a sense of your own weakness, and of the overbearing power of your enemies, should discourage you, he adds, “Fear not, thou worm Jacob: I will make thee a new sharp threshing instrument, having teeth; and thou shalt thresh the mountains [Note: Isaiah 41:10; Isaiah 41:14-16.].” Yes truly, “if God be for you, who can be against you [Note: Romans 8:31.]?”]
In a way of complete and everlasting fruition—
[“Whom God loveth, he loveth to the end [Note: John 13:1.]:” and if he be with us as a God of peace in this world, he will be with us under the same endearing character to all eternity. What he said to Abraham personally, he says to all the children of Abraham: “Fear not; I am thy shield, and thy exceeding great reward [Note: Genesis 15:1.].” The present state of the Church, with all her privileges and blessings, is only a prelude to, and a preparation for, a state of far higher blessedness; as St. John expressly informs us: “I, John, saw the holy city, New Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a great voice out of heaven, saying, Behold, the Tabernacle of God is with men; and he will dwell with them, and they shall be his people; and God himself shall be with them, and be their God [Note: Revelation 21:23.].” “Then will all trials, of whatever kind, have passed away,” and their bliss be absolutely perfect: “the sun itself shall be no more their light by day, neither for brightness shall the moon give light unto them; but the Lord himself shall be to them an everlasting light, and their God their glory [Note: Revelation 21:4; Revelation 22:5. with Isaiah 60:19.].”]
The lukewarm Christian—
[How unlike art thou to the Apostle Paul! Should not this very circumstance make thee tremble for thy state? How couldest thou venture, even in the most qualified manner, to address those who have witnessed thy life and conversation in terms resembling those which St. Paul used in my text? Thou hast not the divine presence even with thine own soul. Thou knowest not what it is to have God with thee as “a God of peace;” manifesting himself to thee, and filling thee with his consolations. If thou wert to address any as the Apostle did, thine own conscience would remonstrate with thee, as a deceiver, and an enemy both to God and man. So far from God approving of thy state, he speaks of it in such terms of abhorrence as modern delicacy almost forbids one to repeat [Note: Revelation 3:16.]. I pray you, brethren, rest not in a state so fatal to yourselves, and so injurious to all around you. The very circumstance of your having some little regard for God, is that which is most likely to deceive yourselves and all around you. Awake, I pray you, from your delusion, lest you perish under the accumulated guilt of dishonouring God more than any professedly ungodly men can do; and of betraying, to their eternal ruin, multitudes, who fix on you for their standard and example.]
Those who desire to approve themselves truly unto God—
[Fix your standard high: take the Holy Scriptures for your guide; and the Apostle Paul as second only to Christ himself for your example. Be not afraid of being “righteous overmuch,” provided only that you are righteous in a proper manner. You can never love God too much: nor can you ever love man too much, provided you love him in subserviency to God. Methinks you may advance far beyond what you have already attained, before you will equal the Apostle Paul: and if at this moment you even equalled him, you would still be far from having already attained the perfection at which you should aim. Study then his character; mark it in its sublimest traits; and follow it in the whole of your life and conversation. Let his principles be yours; his spirit yours; his conduct yours. This is the way to honour God, and to be happy in your own souls: and “if you do these things, you shall never fall, but shall have an entrance ministered unto you abundantly into the kingdom of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ [Note: 2 Peter 1:10-11.].”]
Philippians 4:11-12. I have learned, in whatsoever slate I am, therewith to be content. I know both how to be abased, and I know how to abound: every where and in all things I am instructed, both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need.
ST. PAUL was by no means addicted to boasting. But there were occasions whereon it was necessary for him to declare the secret workings of his heart, in order that he might prevent a misinterpretation of his words, or a misapprehension of his designs. He commends the Philippians for the care which they had taken of him, and the kind attention they had shewn him, during his imprisonment at Rome, But, fearful lest he should be understood as complaining of his necessities when immured in a prison, or as wishing, on his own account, a continuance of their attentions, he tells them, that “he had learned, in whatsoever state he was, therewith to be content:” and, in the fulness of his heart, he expatiates upon this idea, as though he would recommend to all persons, in this respect, to follow his example.
Let me, then,
State to you the experience of St. Paul—
In unfolding it, I would entreat you particularly to notice,
The invaluable lesson he had learned—
[Greatly diversified had been his states; but “in all, he had learned to be content.” The word which we translate “content” comprehends much more than a mere quiescent state of mind. The term “self-sufficient,” if it did not convey to an English reader a wrong idea, would more exactly express the import of the original [Note: αὐτάρκης.]. The Apostle had within himself that which was abundantly sufficient for him, even though he should be reduced to the utmost possible state of destitution, so far as related to the things of this life. He was possessed of all that man could desire: he had God as his Father, Christ as his Saviour, the Holy Spirit as his Comforter, and heaven as his home. What could he want more? What could he desire, that could add to this? or what could he lose, that could detract from this? This which he had within him was altogether out of the reach of men or devils. The Holy Spirit was within him “a well of water, springing up into everlasting life [Note: John 4:14.];” so that he enjoyed the utmost composure of mind, assured that nothing could impoverish him, nothing hurt him, nothing disturb the tranquillity that he enjoyed.]
The vast proficiency he had attained in it—
[At some seasons, he abounded with all that even a carnal mind could wish: but at other seasons he was exposed to as heavy trials as humanity could well sustain. “He was in labours more abundant than any of the Apostles, in stripes above measure, in prisons more frequent, in deaths oft. Of the Jews, five times received he forty stripes save one; thrice was he beaten with rods; once was he stoned; thrice he suffered shipwreck; a night and a day he was in the deep; in journeyings often, in perils of waters, in perils of robbers, in perils by his own countrymen, in perils by the heathen, in perils in the city, in perils in the wilderness, in perils in the sea, in perils among false brethren; in weariness and painfulness, in watchings often, in. hunger and thirst, in fastings often, in cold and nakedness; besides those things that are without, that which came upon him daily, the care of all the Churches [Note: 2 Corinthians 11:23-28.].” Now all this, I think, may be said to have put his principle to a severe trial. And did he still preserve his equanimity? still feel contentment under all? Yes, under all. “Nothing could move him.” The internal support he felt, from a consciousness that he was under the Divine care, and executing the Divine will, and advancing the Divine glory, upheld him under all circumstances, and far more than counterbalanced all his sufferings. In all this he was “instructed,” or, as the word means, initiated, as into a deep mystery [Note: μεμύημαι.]. It was from an insight into the mystery of the Gospel that he gained this extraordinary and invaluable grace. From this mystery he acquired the knowledge of God as reconciled to him in Christ Jesus, and as engaged for him to supply his every want both in time and eternity. No other instruction could ever have produced such effects: but the knowledge of this mystery was quite adequate to the occasion, and perfectly sufficient to form his soul to these high attainments. “He was thus crucified to the world by the cross of Christ [Note: Galatians 6:14.].”]
Having traced the Apostle’s experience, let me,
Commend it to your imitation—
What an enviable state was his! Let me recommend it you,
As a reasonable state—
[This perfect contentment with our every lot is reasonable, irrespective of all the great mysteries of the Gospel. For, what would our condition have long since been, if God had dealt with us according to our deserts? We should “not have had so much as a drop of water to cool our tongues.” Who can reflect one moment upon this, and repine at any lot which he may receive on this side the grave? What! “a living man complain! a man for the punishment of his sins!” especially when he considers what an infinitely worse portion he merits, and from which there could never be, as now there may, a deliverance, with a transition to the realms of bliss! But, I suppose you to have been admitted into the school of Christ. I suppose you to be a partaker of his salvation. Tell me then—possessing, as you do, the unsearchable riches of Christ, and looking forward, as you do, to the speedy and everlasting enjoyment of all the glory of heaven—does it become you to regard as of any great importance the things of time and sense? See the Apostle in prison, his feet fast in the stocks, and his back torn with scourges; and yet his soul so full of joy, that he is singing praises to God at midnight: and will yon not be ashamed to complain of your minor sorrows? Or rather, see the Son of God himself, impoverishing himself to enrich you, and welcoming death itself in order to advance you to everlasting life: see him, I say, enduring to the end; When, if it had pleased him, more than twelve legions of angels would have come to rescue him from His sufferings; and will you complain of any thing which you may suffer for him? Me thinks you feel, every one of you, that the most perfect contentment is that which becomes you under every state, to which, by any possibility, you may be reduced.]
As a blessed state—
[The corporeal pain which men endure in this life is nothing in comparison of the mental. Let the spirit of a man be at ease, and it will enable him to bear any bodily infirmity whatever. On the other hand, no accumulation of wealth or honour or sensual gratifications can sustain a man whose heart and spirit are oppressed [Note: Proverbs 18:14.]. Suppose two angels sent from heaven to execute for a season two different offices on earth; the one to rule a kingdom, the other to sweep the streets: would they not be equally happy, in doing the work assigned them? Let their places then be changed: would the one be inordinately pleased with his elevation, or the other be unduly grieved at his depression? Assuredly not. In whichever state they were, they should remember “whose they were, and whom they were serving,” and what blessedness awaited them the very instant they had performed their destined work; and, possessed of this sufficiency within, they would be unmoved by any thing without, and would have in perfection the grace described in my text. Thus, in proportion as we are initiated into the great mystery of the Gospel, will this equanimity prevail in us; and under all circumstances will “our souls be kept in perfect peace.” A manner, knowing the soundness of his vessel, and the skill of him who is at the helm, does not tremble at the gale which is sent to bear him to his destined home. No; he spreads his sails, and, though tossed upon the waves, anticipates with joy the issue of his voyage, and the rest which he will attain in the bosom of his friends. This blessedness, then, will attend you, my brethren, if once you learn the sublime lesson which is here taught you in my text. You shall find, indeed, that “godliness with contentment is great gain [Note: 1 Timothy 6:6.].”]
As an honourable state—
[Who does not see how greatly the Gospel is honoured, in producing such an experience as this? Yea, and God himself too is honoured by it, in that such is the fruit which invariably proceeds from the Gospel of his dear Son. In this state, man is assimilated to God himself. Behold our incarnate God! Behold him on Mount Tabor in his transfiguration, or in his triumphant entry into Jerusalem amidst the hosannahs of the populace, and you find in him no undue elation of mind: or view him in the garden of Gethsemane, or in the hall of Pilate, or when suspended on the cross, you see in him no undue depression. He drank with composure the cup which God had put into his hands; saying, “Not my will, but thine be done.” Religion does not divest men of the feelings of humanity; but moderates, directs, and perfects them. It leaves us at liberty to deprecate sufferings, provided we do it in submission to the Divine will: but, at the same time, it so elevates us above them, as to render them incapable of diverting us from the service of our God, or of retarding us in our progress heaven-ward. Philosophical principles have effected much to compose the minds of sufferers: but it is the Gospel alone which gives effectual power so to rise above the things of time and sense, as to possess, under all circumstances, the contentment spoken of in our text.]
But you will naturally ask. How am I to “learn” this lesson? I answer,
Apply to God for the influences of his Holy Spirit—
[It is, as I have said, the knowledge of Christ crucified, and that alone, that can ever fill the soul and render it superior to all earthly things. But who can give you that knowledge? It is the office of “the Holy Spirit to take of the things of Christ, and to reveal them unto us.” None but he call “open the eyes of our understanding:” none but he can “guide us into all truth:” nor can any but he renew our souls after the Divine image — — — Pray then to God for the gift of his Holy Spirit: and, if you yourselves would not mock your child with giving him a stone when he asked for bread, much less will God mock you, by refusing to impart to you this gift, in which all good things for time and for eternity are contained.]
Contemplate the fulness which is treasured up for you in Christ Jesus—
[“It has pleased the Father, that in Christ should all fulness dwell:” and for you is it treasured there, that “you may receive out of it” according to your necessities. Hence then, if you have believed in Christ, you are authorized to say, “All things are mine, since I am Christ’s.” And if all things are yours, whether “things present, or things to come,” what can you lack? or what ground can you have for discontent? Only get clear views of Christ as your righteousness and strength, and you will be at no loss for the attainment which your soul desires — — —]
Survey the glory that is reserved for you in heaven—
[What does it matter to a traveller, if his accommodations, where he stops but a few minutes, be not exactly such as he could wish? Can they carry me forward to my destined home? will be his main inquiry: and if he find that he can attain his wishes in this respect, he will not lay to heart the little inconveniences which he is to sustain for so short a time. The comforts which he shall enjoy at home occupy his mind; and the very discomforts of the way endear to him the end, and make him look forward to it with augmented zest. Let it then be thus with you, my brethren: ye are only pilgrims and sojourners here: and, if you dwell with blessed anticipations on your eternal rest, you will become indifferent to the accommodations of the way; and, according to the grace given to you, will be enabled to say, “I have learned, in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content.”]
EXTENT AND SOURCE OF THE CHRISTIAN’S POWER
Philippians 4:13. I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me.
THERE are in the sacred writings many various, and apparently opposite, representations of the Christian’s state: he is mournful, yet happy; sinful, yet holy; weak, yet possessed of a derived omnipotence. These paradoxes are incomprehensible to the world at large: but the solution of them is easy to those who know what man is by nature, and what he is by grace, and what are the effects which flow from the contrary and contending principles of flesh and spirit. Nothing can be more incredible, at first sight, than the assertion in the former part of our text: but, when qualified and explained by the latter part, it is both credible and certain: yea, it presents to our minds a most encouraging and consoling truth.
In elucidating this passage, we shall shew,
The extent of a Christian’s power—
Using only such a latitude of expression as is common in the Holy Scriptures, we may say concerning every true Christian, that he can,
Endure all trials—
[In following his Divine Master, he may be called to suffer reproaches, privations, torments, and death itself. But “none of these can move him.” When his heart is right with God, he can “rejoice that he is counted worthy to suffer shame for his Redeemer’s sake [Note: Acts 5:41.]:” he can “suffer the loss of all things, and yet count them but dung [Note: Philippians 3:8.];” under extreme torture, he can refuse to accept deliverance, in the prospect of “a better resurrection [Note: Hebrews 11:35.]:” he can say, “I am ready to die for the Lord’s sake [Note: Acts 21:13.];” and when presented at the stake as a sacrifice to be slain, he can look upon his sufferings as a matter of self-congratulation and exceeding joy [Note: Philippians 2:17-18. 1 Peter 4:12-13.].]
Mortify all lusts—
[Great are his inward corruptions; and many are the temptations to call them forth: but he is enabled to mortify and subdue them [Note: Galatians 5:24.]. “The lust of the flesh, the lust of the eye, and the pride of life,” are very fascinating: but “the grace of God, which has brought salvation to his soul, has taught him to deny them all, and to live righteously, soberly, and godly in this present world [Note: 1 John 2:15-16. with Titus 2:12.].” “By the great and precious promises of the Gospel, he is made a partaker of the Divine nature [Note: 2 Peter 1:4.],” and is stirred up to “cleanse himself from all filthiness, both of flesh and spirit, and to perfect holiness in the fear of God [Note: 2 Corinthians 7:1.].”]
Fulfil all duties—
[Every different situation brings with it some correspondent duties: prosperity demands humility and vigilance; adversity calls for patience and contentment. Now the Christian is “like a tree that is planted by the rivers of water, and bringeth forth its fruits in its season [Note: Psalms 1:3.].” It is to this change of circumstances that the Apostle more immediately refers in the text: “I have learned,” says he, “in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content. I know both how to be abased, and I know how to abound: everywhere, and in all things, I am instructed, both to be full, and to be hungry; both to abound, and to suffer need. I can do all things [Note: ver. 11–13.].” The Christian knows that all his duties are summed up in love to God, and love to man: he is assured, that no changes in his condition can for one moment relax his obligation to approve himself to God in the execution of these duties: and he endeavours to avail himself of every wind that blows, to get forward in his Christian course.
But in reference to all the foregoing points, we must acknowledge, that all Christians are not equally advanced; nor does any Christian so walk as not to shew, at some time or other, that “he has not yet attained, nor is altogether perfect [Note: Philippians 3:12.].” We must be understood therefore as having declared, rather what the Christian “can do,” than what he actually does in all instances. “In many things he still offends [Note: James 3:2.];” but he aspires after the full attainment of this proper character: in the performance of his duties, he aims at universality in the matter, uniformity in the manner, and perfection in the measure of them.]
The Christian’s power being so extraordinary, we may well inquire after,
The source from whence he derives it—
The Christian in himself is altogether destitute of strength—
[If we consult the Scripture representations of him, we find that he is “without strength [Note: Romans 5:6.],” and even “dead in trespasses and sins [Note: Ephesians 2:1.].” Nor, after he is regenerate, has he any more power that he can call his own; for “in him, that is, in his flesh, dwelleth no good thing [Note: Romans 7:15; Romans 7:18-19.].”
If our Lord’s assertion may be credited, “without him we can do nothing;” we are like branches severed from the vine [Note: John 15:5.].
If the experience of the most eminent Apostle will serve as a criterion, he confessed, that he “had not of himself a sufficiency even to think a good thought; his sufficiency was entirely of God [Note: 2 Corinthians 3:5.].”]
His power even to do the smallest good is derived from Christ—
[“It has pleased the Father, that in Christ should all fulness dwell [Note: Colossians 1:19.],” and that “out of his fulness all his people should receive [Note: John 1:16.].” It is he who “strengthens us with all might by his Spirit in the inner man [Note: Ephesians 3:16.]:” it is he who “gives us both to will and to do [Note: Philippians 2:13.Hebrews 13:21; Hebrews 13:21.].” If we are “strong in any degree, it is in the Lord, and in the power of his might [Note: Ephesians 6:10.].” Whatever we do, we must give him the glory of it, saying, “I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me [Note: Galatians 2:20.]:” “I have laboured; yet not I, but the grace of God which was with me:” “by the grace of God I am what I am [Note: 1 Corinthians 15:10.].”
Nor is it by strength once communicated, that we are strong; but from continual communications of grace from the same overflowing fountain. It is not through Christ who hath strengthened, but who doth strengthen us, that we can do all things [Note: ἐνδυναμοῦντι.]. We need fresh life from him, in order to the production of good fruit; exactly as we need fresh light from the sun, in order to a prosecution of the common offices of life. One moment’s intermission of either, would instantly produce a suspension of all effective industry.]
From that source he receives all that he can stand in need of—
[Christ is not so prodigal of his favours, as to confer them in needless profusion: he rather apportions our strength to the occasions that arise to call it forth [Note: Deuteronomy 33:25.]. He bids us to renew our applications to him; and, in answer to them, imparts “grace sufficient for us [Note: 2 Corinthians 12:9.].” There are no limits to his communications: however “wide we open our mouth, he will fill it [Note: Psalms 81:10.].” He is “able to make all grace abound towards us, that we, having always all-sufficiency in all things, may abound unto every good work [Note: 2 Corinthians 9:8.]:” he is ready to “do for us exceeding abundantly above all that we can ask or think [Note: Ephesians 3:20.].” “If only we believe, all things shall be possible unto us [Note: Mark 9:23.]:” we shall be “able to quench all the fiery darts of the devil [Note: Ephesians 6:16.],” and “be more than conquerors over all the enemies of our souls [Note: Romans 8:37.].”]
The uses to which we may apply this subject, are,
The conviction of the ignorant—
[Many, when urged to devote themselves to God, reply, that we require more of them than they can do; and that it is impossible for them to live according to the Scriptures. But what ground can there be for such an objection? Is not Christ ever ready to assist us? Is not Omnipotence pledged for our support? Away with your excuses then, which have their foundation in ignorance, and their strength in sloth. Call upon your Saviour; and he will enable you to “stretch forth your withered hand:” at his command, the dead shall arise out of their graves; and the bond-slaves of sin and Satan shall be “brought into the liberty of the children of God.”]
The encouragement of the weak—
[A life of godliness cannot be maintained without constant watchfulness and strenuous exertion. And there are times when “even the youths faint and are weary, and the young men utterly fall,” But “if we wait upon our God we shall certainly renew our strength, and mount up with wings as eagles [Note: Isaiah 40:30-31.].” If we look “to Him on whom our help is laid [Note: Psalms 89:19.],” the experience of David shall be ours: “In the day when I cried, thou answeredst me, and strengthenedst me with strength in my soul [Note: Psalms 138:3.].” Let not any difficulties then discourage us. “Let the weak say, I am strong [Note: Joel 3:10.];” and the stripling go forth with confidence against Goliath. Let us “be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus [Note: 2 Timothy 2:1.],” and “his strength shall assuredly be perfected in our weakness [Note: 2 Corinthians 12:9.].”]
ALL NEEDFUL SUPPLIES THROUGH CHRIST
Philippians 4:19. My God shall supply all your need according to his riches in glory by Christ Jesus.
AS it is a pleasing reflection to a generous man, that the object whom he relieves will have his condition meliorated, so is it a most delightful thought to a grateful mind, that there is One both able and engaged to recompense our benefactors. Were it not for this consideration, the reluctance which many feel to be burthensome to their friends, would scarce suffer them to accept the most needful assistances: but this hope both enhances the value, and gives zest to the enjoyment, of every kindness we receive. Such was the Apostle’s experience, when his necessities had been relieved by the Philippian Church: he would have been well content to have wanted their present, as far as it related to his own comfort; but, as it was profitable to the donors themselves, he “desired fruit that might abound to their account [Note: Philippians 4:17.].” Having declared on what grounds he was so well pleased with their gifts, he assured them, that God would be mindful of all their wants, and abundantly supply them in the hour of need.
To enter fully into the scope of his words, we should inquire,
When are we authorized to call God our God?
It is not every claim that presumptuous sinners take upon them to advance, that will be found authorized in the Holy Scriptures; for our Lord himself assured many that Satan was their father, at the very time that they called themselves the children of God [Note: John 8:41; John 8:44.]. But we may justly consider God as standing in this relation to us,
When we are born again of his Spirit?
[While we continue in our natural state, we are enemies to God, and God is an enemy to us; but when we are begotten by the word and Spirit of God, we are privileged to consider ourselves as his children, and to cry to him, “Abba, Father [Note: John 1:12.Galatians 4:6; Galatians 4:6.].”]
When we have devoted ourselves to his service?
[If we would know “whose we are,” we must inquire, “whom we serve;” for “to whomsoever we yield ourselves servants to obey, his servants we are, whom we obey [Note: Romans 6:16.].” If our consciences testify that we have solemnly dedicated ourselves to God, we may boldly say with David, “O God, thou art my God.” We may be sure that our “Beloved is ours, when we (by a voluntary surrender of ourselves to him,) are his.”]
When this point is satisfactorily settled in our minds, we may with more comfort inquire,
To what extent we may expect communications from him?
That God who pours out his benefits upon the evil and unthankful, is far more abundant in kindness towards his own children. He will give us,
According to our necessities—
[If we desire temporal things, “we shall want no manner of thing that is good;” if spiritual blessings be sought after, there is not any thing we can need, which shall not be bestowed upon us in the time and measure that Infinite Wisdom sees to be best for us. Are we wretched and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked? He will both suit his gifts to our necessities [Note: Revelation 3:18.]; and make the very depth of our misery the measure of his own mercy.]
According to the riches of his own grace—
[Let us survey all the tokens of his bounty on earth, and contemplate all the expressions of his love in heaven; let us go farther, and consider the incomprehensible fulness of all the good that is in him as the fountain; and then shall we find the true measure of his liberality to his children. If any partake of his goodness in a lower degree, it is, “not because they are straitened in him, but because they are straitened in their own bowels.”]
That none may lose these blessings through ignorance, we proceed to state
By what channel they shall be conveyed to us—
With man in innocence God communed face to face: but, whatever he bestows upon us in our fallen state, he communicates it,
Through Christ as our mediator—
[“God in himself is a consuming fire;” nor is it possible for us to approach him but through Jesus our mediator. Neither our piety towards him, nor our liberality towards his saints, can render him our debtor, (yea, rather, the more we do for him, the more we are indebted to him); if we receive any thing from God, it must come as the purchase of Christ’s blood, and as the consequence of his prevailing intercession.]
By Christ as our head—
[It is “in Christ that all fulness dwells.” He has “received gifts for the rebellious,” and imparts them to whomsoever he will: and it is “out of his fulness that we must receive.” He is the head of the Church, and his people are his members; and as every member is nourished by its union with the head, so it is by grace derived from him that we are to increase with the increase of God [Note: Colossians 2:19.].]
This important subject may teach us,
Contentment in ourselves—
[What cause can he possibly have for discontent, who has God for his God, and an express promise that all his need shall be supplied? God has not only engaged to give his people whatever they need, but on many occasions has interposed in a miraculous manner to fulfil his word. And, rather than violate his truth in any instance, he would feed them with bread from heaven, and water from a rock; he would make the ravens to bring them meat, or their barrel and cruse to supply them with an undiminished store. He has said that “the needy shall not always be forgotten, nor the expectation of the poor perish for ever.” What if we have not all that flesh and blood might desire? shall we repine? Surely we should say with the Apostle, “I have learned, in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content [Note: ver. 12.].” We are like minors at present, and limited to the measure which our Father sees best for us: but in due time we shall receive the full inheritance. Shall persons so circumstanced give way to discontent? No: though poor as Lazarus, they should account themselves truly rich.]
Liberality to others—
[God condescends to acknowledge all that is given by us in charity as “lent to himself;” and he pledges himself to “repay it.” He even prescribes the honouring of him with our first-fruits, as the means of securing to ourselves an abundant harvest, and of laying up in store a good foundation against the time to come, that we may lay hold on eternal life [Note: Proverbs 3:9-10. with 1 Timothy 6:17-18.]. We must not indeed suppose that our alms-deeds can merit any thing at the hand of God. Nevertheless, if they be a free-will offering, they are “an odour to him, and a sacrifice of a sweet-smelling savour.” Let then the bounty of God to us, whether experienced or expected, be a motive for liberality to our fellow-creatures. And let us gladly of our abundance minister to their necessities, that God in all things may be glorified through Christ Jesus.]
Devotedness to God—
[Has God given himself to us as our God, and shall not we give ourselves to him as his people? Does God grudge us no blessing which he can give, and shall we grudge him any service which we can render? Are his powers the only limit to his exertions for us, and shall we know any other limit to our zeal for him? Does he do such wonders for us for Christ’s sake, and shall not we labour for Christ’s sake to honour him? Yes, “the love of Christ shall constrain us” to live for him, and the mercies of God to us be the measure of the services which we shall yield to him [Note: Romans 12:1.].]
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Simeon, Charles. "Commentary on Philippians 4". Charles Simeon's Horae Homileticae. https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 25 / Ordinary 30