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Therefore--my brethren--dearly beloved--Notice
The general exhortation (Philippians 4:1).
1. Remark the kindness with which the apostle insinuates himself into the hearts of the Philippians; addressing them as “brethren,” an appellation sacred in the Church as signifying that holy and Divine union which links its members in one common bond. And as though the word insufficiently expressed his affection, he adds “dearly beloved,” and “longed for,” and “my dearly beloved.” This was not mere professionalism, least of all guilefulness. There was more love in Paul’s heart than in his month, and of this he had given the Philippians proof. Herein is a model for ministers. Love is the only weapon by which good pastors ensure obedience. Force and threats will only make hypocrites.
2. These words express the affection of the apostle, but the following the piety of the Philippians.
(1) As Paul found happiness only in the kingdom of Jesus, to say that the Philippians were his joy was to bear witness that Jesus reigned amongst them. Their spiritual condition was Paul’s comfort in sorrow.
(2) They were also his crown, the subject of his honour and ornament, as we say of a child or a scholar “he does honour” to his father or master. Their virtue proved how excellent must be the ministry of which they were the fruits. And then there was the prospect of the judgment, when the Lord would reward him with these Philippians and crown him therewith as with a precious jewel (Philippians 2:16; 2 Corinthians 1:14; 1 Thessalonians 2:19-52.2.20). From which it may be seen--
(a) That a minister’s ambition should be not to rule and to abound in riches and worldly pomp, but rather that holiness may abound in their flocks.
(b) That the first and highest acknowledgment that flocks owe to their pastors is to hold them in honour.
3. Having won their hearts Paul exhorts them to steadfastness, i.e., perseverance in the gospel (Romans 5:2; Romans 14:4; Galatians 5:1). So stand may be regarded as referring--
(1) To his teaching as to self-renunciation and justification through Christ; or--
(2) to the necessity of resisting false teachers and realizing their heavenly citizenship.
II. The particular exhortation to Euodias and Syntyche. These persons are nowhere else mentioned, but must have been of considerable influence in Philippi. They had, too, been fellow labourers with the apostle; but most probably had been led astray by the false teachers or were in danger of it. Mere domestic difference would hardly have called for such an interference. Note then--
1. That the most exalted and excellent among believers are not always exempt from the trials and importunities of error. As snails will soil the brightest flowers, so Satan and his ministers will endeavour to spread the filthiness of their errors and extravagances in the purest and most esteemed minds. Since we are in a common danger let us be on our guard.
2. That Christian women, should apply this to themselves. It was to Eve that Satan addressed himself in Paradise (1 Timothy 2:14). The success of his first stratagem is Satan’s subsequent encouragement to attack the same sex (2 Timothy 3:6-55.3.7). Christian women, as he has more especially endeavoured to seduce you, be more resolute in your resistance of him.
3. While the example of Euodias and Syntyche may be useful to women, that of Paul may be profitable to pastors. He addresses personally those who have need of reproof (Acts 20:31), and breaks the thread of a discourse addressed to the Church to do so. But observe his gentleness. How far beneath this model is the pride of those who boast of being his successors, and yet think it too great a condescension to speak to women, much less entreat them.
4. Our perseverance and union are to be “in the Lord.” This is the band of true concord. To agree out of this is conspiracy.
III. The recommendation of these women to the care of others. Who the “yokefellow” was it is difficult to conjecture. Some say Paul’s wife, others Epaphroditus (Philippians 2:25), or the husband of Euodias or Syntyche. Most probably he was a person of some merit and consideration in the Church. This should teach us--
1. To distinguish between those who err ignorantly or negligently and those who err wilfully. The former are to be “helped.”
2. These women’s merits were that they laboured with the apostle and were worthy of help.
3. This help was to be rendered not by the “yokefellow” only, but by the whole Church, whose names were in “the book of life” (Revelation 3:5; Revelation 20:12; Daniel 12:1; Luke 10:20; Ezekiel 13:9). (J. Daille.)
Unity of service at Philippi
I. Love. “Beloved and longed for” is not a mere hurried phrase, or a gush of exuberant feeling that quickly dries up. There are rivers which dip down and flow underground, and then come out again into the light. So Paul’s love, always flowing though some times unseen here sparkles in the sunshine. This love was grounded--
1. In a common discipleship of the same Master. To love the same Saviour opens a new fountain of love in our hearts. As men are drawn to Christ, they are drawn closer to each other.
2. In the fact that they were the fruit of his ministry. They were the “joy” of his soul travail and the “crown” of his labour. Of all bonds this is the closest. Are ye not wise enough to win souls and be a joy and a crown to one another?
II. Steadfastness. To do the right thing is good, but to stand fast in it is better.
1. Men get hindered and move away from the hope of the gospel.
2. It is a grand thing to stand fast to what is good and true in this changeful world (John 8:31; Matthew 10:22).
3. Some stand fast in their Churchmanship, Presbyterianism, Methodism, Independency; but we may stand fast in these out side things without being “in the Lord.” That is the only standing fast worth anything. Stand fast in Him, and He will stand fast by you.
III. Unity. Euodias and Syntyche had disagreed, and were exhorted to be of the same “mind.”
1. Not of the same opinion, Paul knew too much of human nature to expect that.
2. The word has reference to the disposition rather than to the intellect. There is a way of holding truth in love to those who differ from us, and in the midst of differing creeds to be of the “same mind.” The apostle appeals to both in the same way, so as to leave no suspicion of favouritism. O that all the wrangling Euodiases and contentious Syntyches would hear this admonition. High Church Euodias and Low Church Syntyche, Conforming Syntyche and Nonconforming Euodias say to one another as Abraham did to Lot, “Let there be no strife between me and thee.”
3. The centre and circumference of this unity is “in the Lord.” There is no real unity in creeds or formularies, in uniformity of discipline and worship. Every true Christian is united to Christ, and through Him each to the other. The world waits to believe until the disciples of Jesus are one. How long shall we keep them waiting?
IV. Mutual service. Verse 3 is full of work and workers.
1. There was the “true yokefellow.” A yoke signifies hard work. Oxen are yoked together for work, and this person must have worked shoulder to shoulder with Paul.
2. There were the women who laboured with him in the gospel. These women had their “rights,” glorious rights to labour in the gospel. Would there were more candidates for these honours.
3. Clement was no fine gentleman sitting at ease in Zion, doing nothing himself and finding fault with those who did work. That Church at Philippi was a hive of bees. No wonder they were so exemplary. They were too busy to be mischievous. Depend upon it God helped them all.
4. Think of the honour Paul assigned them--“Whose names are in the book of life.” As the Jews of old kept a register of the living in their tribes and families from which the dead were blotted out, so God keeps a book of His living ones who will never die. Paul knew their names were there because of their character. They were living ones, and were giving the best possible proof of life, viz., work. Dead people do not work. Love and help one another. Are our names in the book of life? If not read Revelation 20:15.
5. It is the Lamb’s book of life. The matter can only be dealt with at the Cross of Jesus. (H. Quick.)
I. Its source.
1. One brotherhood.
2. One hope.
II. Its intensity--
1. Of affection.
2. Of desire.
3. Of esteem.
III. Its expression.
1. Sincere in word and deed.
2. It seeks to promote--
(3) Mutual consideration.
(4) Help. (J. Lyth, D. D.)
Dearly beloved and longed for, my joy and crown, so stand fast in the Lord--Observe--
I. How Christians love one another.
1. With sincere affection.
2. They delight in each other’s company.
3. They rejoice in each other’s happiness.
4. They promote each other’s welfare.
II. Why they love one another.
1. They are brethren.
2. In the Lord.
3. They anticipate His blessing. (J. Lyth, D. D.)
Paul an example of ministerial solicitude and affection
“If any man be in Christ he is a new creature.” How singularly is this illustrated by the writer of these words, who only a few years before was “breathing out threatenings and slaughters against the Christians.”
I. The purport of these endearing terms.
1. Brethren, not kinsmen after the flesh, but spiritual relations.
(1) In one sense he was their parent, as having begotten them in the gospel; but here in the spirit of unity and love he regards them as brethren. The appropriateness of the term is seen in the fact that believers are children of one heavenly Father, born of one Spirit, are made members of Christ of whom the whole family in heaven and earth is named, are heirs of the same inheritance.
(2) Among these many brethren their Saviour is the firstborn, and while we are brought together as brethren in Him we are amply provided for; chastisement for error, counsel for guidance, comfort in sorrow, supply for every need.
(3) Are the children of the Most High members of one another? Then there ought to be a sympathy for each other’s concerns, an interest in each other’s welfare, a holy zeal and rivalry in their Father’s service.
2. Dearly beloved.
(1) Love of the brethren is a distinguishing mark of those who have passed from death unto life.
(2) A renewed soul who loves a brother because he is a brother will love all the brethren.
(3) The more truly we love the Saviour the more truly shall we love one another; just as rays approach nearer themselves as they draw near their common centre.
3. Longed for. If we love Jesus we shall long for the spiritual welfare of His brethren, and yearn for communion with them.
4. My joy. Paul had many sources of happiness within: the Philippians were external sources of gladness. He had been the means of their conversion. They were rejoicing, and should he not share their joy? They were trophies of a Saviour’s love, and that Saviour was dear to him.
5. My crown; and with good reason--“Thou shalt be a crown of glory in the hand of the Lord, and a royal diadem in the hand of my God.” He trusted that they would own Him as their spiritual father when he and they should have the crown of righteousness. Every rescued soul is an ornament and honour to its rescuer.
II. The advice was equal in importance to the tenderness with which it was offered--to “stand fast.”
1. It implies that they had been admitted to that faith, hope, holiness, and blessedness in which they were to stand fast.
2. They were to stand fast not by themselves but in His might whose grace is made perfect in weakness.
(1) By the indwelling of His grace.
(2) By faith in His perfect work
(3) In love to Him who loved them.
3. This steadfastness is necessary to the very existence of ministerial comfort. “Now we live if ye stand fast in the Lord.”
4. The honour of the Lord in a low and latitudinarian age demands it.
5. It is needful for the encouragement of weaker and younger brethren. (R. P. Buddicom, M. A.)
The bright side of a minister’s life
A minister has many discouragements, disappointments and pains, as had Paul, but taking his work as a whole there is no profession that will bear comparison with it in bringing peace and joy. There is--
I. The joy of interesting work.
1. His studies are interesting--his books and the literature of human life.
2. So is his practical work. His heart and hand are ever appealed to for sympathy and help. There are the bereaved to be comforted, fallen to be uplifted, young to be counselled, and a thousand charities to be practised in the name of Christ. A man entering the ministry with the right spirit will find perpetual exhilaration in the work. To enter the harvest field where the grain is ripe, and the sheaves are coming towards the garner--that is life for the body, inspiration for the mind, rapture for the soul; and if there is an occupation that yields such mighty satisfaction in all the world I have never heard of it.
II. The joy of elevated associations. If a man be tolerably acceptable in his work, the refinements of society open before him. He is invited into the conclave of poets anal artists; he is surrounded by kindly influences; society breathes upon him its most elevating advantages. Men in other occupations must depend on their wealth and achievements to obtain such position. By reason of the respect of men for the Christian minister, all these spheres open before him. In addition to that, and more than that, his constant associates are the princes of God and the heirs of heaven.
III. The joy of seeing souls converted. To go from the house of God some Sabbath and feel that the sermon has fallen dead, and to be told the next day by some man, “That sermon was the redemption of my soul.” I went home one Sabbath almost resolved never to preach again; the gospel seemed to have no effect; but before one week had passed I found that five souls, through the instrumentality of that poor sermon, had pressed into the kingdom of God. It is a joy like that of the angels of God over a repentant sinner to see men turning their backs on the world to follow Christ.
IV. The joy of comfort bearing. To see the wounds healing; to see Christ come to the prow of the vessel and silence the Euroelydon; to see a soul rise up strengthened and comforted; to look over an audience, one-half of them in the habiliments of mourning, and yet feel that there is power in that gospel to silence every grief and soothe every wound of the soul--ah! to tell the broken hearted people of the congregation that God pities, that God feels, that God loves, that God sympathizes--that is the joy of the Christian ministry!
V. The joy of the Church’s sympathy. If the minister of Christ has been at all faithful in his work, he knows that there are those who are willing to sympathize in his every sorrow and in every success. He knows that he has their prayers and good wishes. If he be sick, he knows they are praying for his recovery. If dark shadows hover over his household, he knows there are those who are praying that those shadows may be lifted. (T. De Witt Talmage, D. D.)
The pastor’s joy and crown
I. The pastor’s joy. His people’s conversion--proficiency--unity--zeal.
II. His crown. Because the fruit of his labour--the proof of his ministry--the pledge of his reward. (J. Lyth, D. D.)
He reminds me of the death of that British hero, Wolfe, who on the heights of Quebec received a mortal wound. It was just at the moment when the enemy fled, and when he knew that they were running, a smile was on his face, and he cried, “Hold me up. Let not my brave soldiers see me drop. The day is ours. Oh, do keep it!” His sole anxiety was to make the victory sure. Thus warriors die, and thus Paul lived. His very soul seems to cry, “We have won the day. Oh, do keep it!” O my beloved hearers, I believe that many of you are “in the Lord,” but I entreat you to “stand fast in the Lord.” (C. H. Spurgeon.)
The secret of steadfastness
Readers of Darwin will recall the description he gives of a marine plant which rises from a depth of one hundred and fifty to two hundred feet, and floats on the surface of the water in the midst of the great breakers of the Western Ocean. The stem of this plant is less than an inch through; yet it grows and thrives and holds its own against the fierce smitings and pressures of breakers which no masses of rock, however hard, could long withstand. What is the secret of this marvellous resistance and endurance? How can this little slender plant face the fury of the elements so successfully, and, in spite of storms and tempests, keep its hold, and perpetuate itself from century to century? The answer has leaped to every lip; it reaches down into the still depths, where it fixes its grasp, after the fashion of the instinct that has been put into it, to the naked rocks; and no commotion of the upper waters can shake it loose. (S. S. Chronicle.)
Steadfastness in the Lord
is enforced by--
I. The union between Christ and His people.
1. Legal. By His Father’s appointment and His own love Jesus was so identified with those He came to save as to be treated not according to His own deserts but theirs, whilst they are so identified with Him as to be treated not according to their own deserts but His. This legal union is the fundamental blessing of the Christian salvation, all the others rest upon it.
2. Spiritual. This is the community of spiritual life--of thought, feeling, and enjoyment--existing between Christ and believers. This is produced by the Holy Spirit through that faith by which we enter the legal relation, or are justified--“He that is joined to the Lord is one spirit.”
3. Manifest. The life of Christ will reveal itself in the graces which characterized Christ. Stand fast, then “in the Lord,” because you are in the Lord.
II. Christian steadfastness is further enforced by one Christian’s responsibility. “Therefore,” “so,” point back to the previous statements.
1. The Christian is responsible for his privilege. He is a citizen of heaven and must maintain the dignity of his citizenship, and stand fast in it against temptation and in trial.
2. The Christian is responsible for his hope. He expects a Saviour who will change the body of his humiliation. This expectation should give a deep sense of responsibility for our treatment of our body as an instrument of our moral nature. Dare we use the lips, which are to sing Christ’s praises day and night, and the limbs which are to render unceasing service, as instruments of frivolity or vice? “Every man that hath this hope in him purifieth himself as He is pure.” Holiness is the proper fruit of Christian hope, therefore stand fast.
III. This injunction is enforced by the most endearing epithets.
1. Brotherhood in Christ.
2. Ardent love.
3. Joy and glorying in previous steadfastness.
4. The hope of rejoicing in it in the days of Christ. (R. Johnstone, LL. B.)
With a heavenly birthright in possession and a glorious resurrection in prospect, the apostle naturally follows with this exhortation.
1. The highest relationship, “brethren”;
2. In the highest degree, “beloved”;
3. Exciting the purest emotion, “longed for”;
4. Resulting in the most glorious issues, “my joy and crown,” are the motives by which the exhortation is enforced.
I. Our position as Christians is one of possible danger.
1. From the sceptical tendency of the age.
2. From the habits of society. The tradesman thinks he must do as others to get a living. The follies of fashion are followed to avoid singularity.
3. From indifference to the public ordinances of religion. The same rule applies to the Christian profession as to any other. Men do not prosper who neglect their calling.
4. From want of close attention to cultivation of personal piety.
II. The only position of absolute safety is union with Christ.
1. This condition is one of perfect alliance between the human and the Divine. Every string of the heart is in accord with the life of Jesus. Whether we think of the wisdom which is our light, the comfort which is our solace, the will which is our guide, or the purity which is our sanctification, its source is “in the Lord.”
2. Those who stand on this spiritual eminence occupy an unshaken position among men. We stand fast with His power to defend us, His Spirit to uphold us, His character to guide us.
III. A state of watchfulness is not inconsistent with happiness. The ocean is large enough for the biggest ships, but it is skirted with rocks. The lighthouse though itself a warning is the mariner’s friend. (Weekly Pulpit.)
The exhortation, “stand fast,” occurs six times; and still more frequently the duty is enjoined in equivalent terms.
1. The duty, therefore, is of primary importance.
2. There are two requisites--a foundation and strength. A man may have his foot upon a rock, yet if he be weak he cannot stand; and no matter how strong he may be, if his feet are on quicksand he cannot stand.
I. The ground to stand upon.
1. The stable foundations are--
(2) Right principles.
Truth is permanent, error is changeable, and therefore in every department, unless a man’s views are correct, there is no security for his stability. But as our subject is Christian stability, the truth demanded is religious truth, the truth of the Bible.
2. The unstable foundations.
(1) Traditions. Those of the Pharisees have passed away; those of the Church change from age to age.
(2) Speculation results in philosophy, than which nothing is more unstable: e.g., the different schools of Greek philosophy, of the Middle Ages, of our own day, as Rationalism, Pantheism, Materialism, Atheism, and now Pessimism.
(3) Feeling. Many believe in God: they believe in His mercy, but not in His justice, not in salvation by blood, not in depravity, etc.
3. The only stable foundation is the Bible; the firm conviction that it is God’s Word and that what it teaches is infallibly true. The only ground of this faith, which is stable, is the witness of the Spirit. True experimental religion is the only security against error, and the only security for stability.
4. Right principles are necessary; not expediency, self-interest, or the interest of parties, but what is right.
II. The strength by which to stand. There is much difference naturally among men, but the strength needed is not our own. It is of the Lord. It is His and His gift. If we trust in ourselves we must fall. (C. Hodge, D. D.)
The watchword for today, “Stand fast”
(Text in connection with chap. 3:20, 21):--Every doctrine has its practical bearing. Hence you find Paul full of “therefores”--conclusions drawn from statements of Divine truth. The Lord is coming to glorify His people; let us therefore keep our posts until the coming of the great Captain shall release the sentinels.
I. Paul joyfully perceived that his beloved converts were in their right place. It is important that we should begin well. The start is not everything, but it is a great deal. “Well begun is half done.” We must enter the strait gate, and begin at the right point. Many slips and falls are due to not being right at first, a flaw in the foundation will make a crack in the superstructure.
1. The only position in which we can begin aright is “in the Lord.” It is a very good thing to be in the Church, but if you are not in the Lord first you are out of place What is it to be “in the Lord”?
(1) When we fly to Him by repentance and faith and make Him our refuge and hiding place. Are you in Him? You can have no better hiding place; in fact, there is no other.
(2) When we are in Christ as to our daily life; whatever we eat or drink, doing all in His Name.
(3) By a real vital, union. In Him and in Him only is our spiritual life sustained, just as it can only be received from Him.
(4) Christ has become our element, vital and all-surrounding. We are in Christ as birds are in the air which buoys them up and enables them to fly; as fish are in the sea.
2. Because they were in Christ, therefore--
(1) They were Paul’s brethren. Many of them were Gentiles whom Paul would once have regarded as dogs. But now as Christ was not ashamed to call them brethren, neither was Paul.
(2) They were his dearly beloved, the repetition of which makes it mean “My doubly dear ones.”
(3) His longed for--his most desired ones. He first desired to see them converted, then baptized, then exhibiting all the graces. He desired their company because they were in Christ.
(4) His joy and crown. Paul had been the means of their salvation. The minister’s highest joy is that the brands snatched by him from the burning are now living to the praise of the Lord Jesus.
II. Paul longed that they should keep their place. The beginning of religion is not the whole of it. Precious are the feelings which attend conversion, but dream not that repentance, faith, etc., are for a season and then all is done with. In conversion you have started in the race, and you must run to the, end. In your confession of Christ you have carried your tools into the vineyard, but the day’s work now begins. “He that endureth to the end shall be saved.” The difference between the spurious and the real Christian is this staying power.
1. Stand fast doctrinally. In this age all the ships are pulling up their anchors, drifting with the tide, driven about with every wind. It is your wisdom to put down these anchors. We will hearken to no teaching but that of the Lord Jesus.
2. Practically stand fast. The barriers are broken down; they would amalgamate Church and world: yes, even Church and stage, and combine God and devil in one service. “Come out from among them,” etc. Strive together to maintain the purity of Christ’s disciples.
3. Stand fast experimentally. Pray that your inward experience may be close adhesion to your Master.
4. Stand fast in the Lord without wishing for another trust. What way of salvation do we seek but that of grace? what security but the precious blood?
5. Stand fast without wavering. Permit no doubt to worry you.
6. Stand fast without wandering. Keep close to the example and spirit of your Master, and having done all to stand.
7. Stand fast without wearying. You are tired; take a little rest and brush up again. You cry, I cannot see results. Wait for them. Practice perseverance.
8. Stand fast without warping. Timber, when it is rather green, is apt to go this way or that. The spiritual weather is very bad just now for green wood: it is one day damp with superstition, and another parched with scepticism.
III. Paul urged the best motives for their standing fast.
1. Because of your citizenship (Philippians 3:20). Men ought to behave themselves according to their citizenship, and not dishonour their city.
2. Because of their outlook. Jesus is coming not as judge or destroyer, but as Saviour. Now if we look for Him we must stand fast. There must be no going into sin, no forsaking the fellowship of the Church, leaving the truth, playing fast and loose with godliness, running with the hare and hunting with the hounds. Let us so stand fast that when Jesus comes we may be able to say “Welcome.”
3. Because of their expectation of being transformed into the likeness of Christ’s glorious body.
4. Because of our resources. “According to the power,” etc. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
When a rosebud is formed, if the soil is soft, and the sky is genial, it is not long before it bursts, for the life within is so abundant that it can no longer contain it all, but in blossomed brightness and swimming fragrance it must needs let forth its joy, and gladden all the air. And if, when thus ripe, it refused to expand, it would quickly rot at heart and die. And Christian love is just piety with its petals fully spread, developing itself and making it a happier world. The religion which fancies that it loves God, when it never evinces love for its brother, is not piety, but a poor mildewed theology, a dogma with a worm at the heart. (James Hamilton, D. D.)
Love the gauge of manhood
I do not distinguish men merely by the difference of their thought power, still less by the difference of their executive power, still less by their external differences, as when one is high, another low; one rich, another poor; one wise, another unwise. The point where true manhood resides is in the neighbourhood of love. In the copiousness, the variety, the endlessness, the sweetness, and the purity of the element of love, you shall find the measure that God applies, discriminating between one another. (H. W. Beecher.)
The professional minister
The man who has adopted the Church as a profession as other men adopt the army, the navy, or the law, and goes through the routine of its duties with the coldness of a mere official--filled by him the pulpit seems filled by the ghostly form of a skeleton, that in its cold and bony fingers holds an unlit lamp. (T. Guthrie, D. D.)
The minister is to be a live man, a real man, a true man, a simple man, great in his love, great in his life, great in his work, great in his simplicity, great in his gentleness. (J. Hall, D. D.)
Learn in Christ how possible it is to be strong and mild to blend in fullest harmony the perfection of all that is noble, lofty, generous in the soldier’s ardour of heroic devotion; and of all that is calm, still, compassionate, tender in the priest waiting before God and mediation among men. (A. Maclaren, D. D.)
The minister’s joy and crown
The “crown” here is not the diadem of royalty, but the garland of victory. He has in his mind, as so often, the famous public athletic games of the Greeks--which the diligent training, and the strenuous and persevering exertion, needed to gain the “corruptible crown” of laurel, and the intensity of joy felt by the victors, rendered an admirable illustration of the Christian life, whether as regards the spiritual progress of the believer himself or his work for the salvation of others. The apostle believed that he would be enabled to “rejoice in the day of Christ, that he had not run in vain,” as a minister of Christ. In Nero’s prison, aged, worn with trouble, manacled, uncertain whether he might not soon be led forth to death by the executioner, he knew himself to be yet in truth, as a successful minister of Christ, a conqueror wreathed with amaranth. The emperor in his palace was, in heart, weary and wretched. The prisoner was restful and happy. The glitter of the emperor’s power and grandeur would very soon pass away and be as a dream. His prisoner was already invested with a glory which, recognized in this world only by those whose eyes had been opened to discern spiritual things, should yet be manifested before the universe--for “they that be wise shall shine,” etc. (R. Johnstone, LL. B.)
Stand fast, like the British squares in the olden times. When fierce assaults were made upon them every man seemed transformed to rock. We might have wandered from the ranks a little in more peaceful times, to look after the fascinating flowers which grow on every side of our march; but, now we know that the enemy surrounds us, we keep strictly to the line of march, and tolerate no roaming. The watchword of the host of God just now is--“Stand fast!” Hold you to the faith once delivered to the saints. I like that spirit of Bayard, that knight without fear and without reproach. In his last battle his spine was broken, and he said to those around him, “Place me up against a tree so that I may sit up and die with my face to the enemy.” Yes, if our backs were broken, if we could no more bear the shield or use the sword, it would be incumbent upon us as citizens of the New Jerusalem, to die with our faces towards the enemy. I like that speech of Wellington, who was so calm amid the roar of Waterloo, when an officer sent word, “Tell the Commander-in-Chief that he must move me; I cannot hold my position any longer, my numbers are so thinned.” “Tell him,” said the great general, “he must hold his place. Every Englishman today must die where he stands, or else win the victory.” The officer read the command to stand, and he did stand till the trumpet sounded victory. And so it is now. My brethren, we must die where we are rather than yield to the enemy. If Jesus tarries we must not desert our posts. Wellington knew that the heads of the Prussian columns would soon be visible, coming in to ensure the victory; and so by faith we can perceive the legions of our Lord approaching: in serried ranks His angels fly through the opening heaven. The air is teeming with them. I hear their silver trumpets. Behold, He cometh with clouds! When He cometh He will abundantly recompense all who stood fast amid the rage of battle. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
I beseech Euodias and I beseech Syntyche that they be of the same mind in the Lord
Euodias and Syntyche, or the troublesome tongue
Two women connected with the Church were at enmity. They were estimable women and active in Christian work; but they differed and scandal ensued.
2. The cause of the quarrel may have been--
(1) Some important point of doctrine;
(2) A trifling difference of opinion; or
(3) Some slight act or careless word.
The feminine nature was sensitive, offence was taken, disadvantageous things were whispered of each other; then it became a topic of common conversation, and two parties may have been formed.
3. The apostle in his efforts to check the evil wisely abstained from entering into detail. He knew there were two sides to the question. Hence he entreats them to give up their dissention of their own accord from the love of Christ. Euodias “fragrance” and Syntyche “a talker,” may have settled their differences; but they stand as permanent examples of the pettiness of mere bickering, and of the danger that arises from uncontrolled use of the tongue. A man or woman can make the whole of life burdensome to some one else by a malicious tongue,
I. Take a few instances or the harm done.
1. Socially. A woman may drop a word concerning a neighbour, hinting that she is extravagant or self-indulgent, and she is noticed, shunned, chilled, embittered. Or a workman can drop a hint concerning another whom he dislikes, suggesting that he “does not know his own,” or that he is liable to get into much company, or that his work is flimsy, and the man may lose his place and his family their bread.
2. Domestically. Some little article is misplaced on a Sabbath morning, a sharp word is uttered and the family made miserable for the rest of the day.
3. Ecclesiastically. A trifling act or word has often split up a Church, and a slanderous hint whispered about a minister’s doctrine or practice which ruins him for life.
4. Religiously. Perhaps the venom of slander is more intense here than anywhere. Under the appearance of anxiety for truth and justice what injury is often done!
5. Internationally. A little thing can kindle a blaze among the nations. A few words by a wanton statesman may start it. Europe is full of explosive materials and the peaceable ever live in danger of having to suffer.
II. There is a period when a quarrel can be checked, but when once started who can say where it will end? In its earliest stages a fire can be quenched with a pint of water, but when it begins to spread who can set bounds to it? The sin of slander is like a maddened horse or a dry forest on fire. A thoughtless scandalous word goes from one to another gathering as it goes. A snowball rolled in snow gathers garbage and whatever may come in its way, becoming solid by rolling and lasting long after all other snow has melted. So when a gossiping tongue drops a hint a whole area of peace may be destroyed for long.
III. Those who are so keen to detect evil in others are often themselves the most guilty. The most worthy are often selected as the objects of bitter attacks, just as we find the best fruit is that at which the birds have been pecking.
IV. Most slander would be starved if no one fed it, but so many are glad to hear of evil. There are those who seem to have no other business but to pick up and spread evil reports. They rejoice in a piece of scandal as a raven does in carrion.
V. The careless tongue often punishes the possessor. The tongue may run away with us like a mad horse, and who shall drag us from the dangerous precipice (Proverbs 13:13; Proverbs 21:23). (F. Hastings.)
I. Often occur.
II. Occasion much evil.
III. Require gentle interference.
IV. Are best settled in the Lord. (J. Lyth, D. D)
Love and strife
I. The transcendent importance of the grace of love.
1. It is the evidence of our standing fast in the Lord. God is love, and to be without love is to be without God. Serious differences among Christians display the lack of it. Where Christians are unanimous the Church is invincible; where divided the Church falls to pieces.
2. The law of love was laid down by Christ--“A new commandment give I unto you,” etc. Complete attainment is perhaps scarcely attainable here; but a drop may be kindred to the ocean.
3. To the cultivation of this love the greatest importance is attached. “We know that we have passed from death unto life,” etc. “By this shall ell men know that ye are My disciples,” etc. The observers of the early disciples said, “How they love one another.”
II. The dissention between Euodias and Syntyche.
1. Its ground is not mentioned. Perhaps it was something altogether frivolous, for even mature Christians act sometimes like silly children. Perhaps, however, seeing that they were both active they differed about the best modes of carrying on the Lord’s work. When people are doing a great work enthusiasm often engenders impatience, and words are uttered that are regretted afterwards.
2. Whatever the ground of their dissention, their wise friend Paul had only one advice to give, “Be of the same mind.” This did not mean “have the same views.” “In the Lord” suggests remembrance of the important matters on which they were agreed--how utterly unsuited quarrelling or coldness was for those who were united “in the Lord.” Christians should agree to differ, and follow out their separate views lovingly and with mutual helpfulness. As there were at first Peter, John, Thomas, Martha, Mary, so there ever will be. Let us imitate the tolerance and catholicity of Christ.
3. Mark the mode of Paul’s interference.
(1) He makes not the slightest reference to the cause of dissention. In most cases reconciliation is more likely to be effected by letting the matter sleep and die.
(2) From his apostleship and relations with the Philippians he might have been “much bold in Christ to enjoin them that which was convenient; yet for love’s sake he rather beseeches them.”
(3) He beseeches them separately, and treats them with exactly the same consideration.
(4) He calls in a common friend to help them to a reconciliation (verse 3), a thoroughly discreet friend of both could do not a little to smooth the way. This is a form of delicate work, and is often shunned; yet none more likely to produce blessed results. (R. Johnstone, LL. B.)
I. The peace breakers--
1. Have still their representatives.
2. Destroy their own happiness.
3. Disturb the Church.
II. The peacemakers.
1. Christ, who gives us one mind and heart.
2. His servants, who gently beseech and point to Him. (J. Lyth, D. D.)
Disagreements of Christians
Johnny Morton, a keen burgher, and Andrew Gebbie, a decided anti-burgher in the great Presbyterian controversy, both lived in the same house at opposite ends; and it was the bargain that each should keep his own side of the house well thatched. When the dispute about the principle of their kirks grew hot, and especially the offensive clause of the oath, the two neighbours ceased to speak to each other. But one day they happened to be on the roof at the same time, each repairing the slope on his own side, and when they had worked up to the top, there they were face to face. They couldn’t flee: so at last Andrew took off his cap, and, scratching his head, said, “Johnny, you and me I think have been very foolish to dispute as we ha’e done, concerning Christ’s will about our kirks, until we had clean forgot His will about ourselves; and so we ha’e fought sae bitterly for what we ca’ the truth, that it has ended in spite. Whatever’s wrang, it’s perfectly certain that it never can be right to be uncivil, unneighbourly, unkind, and in fac’ tae hate ane anither. Na, na! that’s the deevil’s wark and no God’s. Noo it strikes me, that may be it’s wi’ the kirk as wi’ this house--ye’re working on a’e side and me on t’ither; but if we only do our work weel we will meet at the tap at last. Gie’s your han’, auld neighbour!” And so they shook hands, and were the best of friends ever after. (E. Foster.)
What is needed by dissentients
What two men want whose ill-temper and mutual distrust are daily becoming worse is a common friend whose hearty affection for both will utterly drive away their evil thoughts. There are people of that kind. Their face, their tone, their gestures, are all “conductors” of a mysterious but most Divine force that is not to be resisted. (R. W. Dale, LL. D.)
The method of peacemaking
One sure way of peacemaking is to let the fire of contention alone. Neither fan it, nor stir it, nor add fuel to it, but let it go out of itself. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
Union in Christ
The union of Christians to Christ their common Head, and the means of the influence which they derive from Him, one to another, may be illustrated by the loadstone; it not only attracts the particles of iron to itself by the magnetic virtue, it unites them one among another. (R. Cecil, M. A.)
Strife among Christians ruinous
Quickly following upon the battle of Chancellorsville, a cry was raised by the rearguard of Stuart’s cavalry, “The enemy is upon us.” Shots began to be fired in all directions, and the whole army was soon in a panic of fright. The First and Third Virginia Regiments, no longer recognizing each other, charged upon each other mutually: while Stuart’s mounted men, generally so brave and so steadfast, no longer obeyed the orders of their officers, and galloped off in great disorder. When at last quiet was restored, the number of wounded was seen to be sadly numerous. (M. O. Mackay.)
Strife among Christians often the result of mistake
During one of the wars between the English and French, two war vessels met in fearful encounter. It was too dark to distinguish friends from foes; but each supposed itself engaged with the common enemy. When the darkness lifted, both ships were seen flying the English flag. They saluted each other, and grieved sadly over their disastrous mistake.
I intreat thee also, true yokefellow
The faithful colleague
II. His work.
III. His reward. (J. Lyth, D. D.)
We have here a lively picture of lay help as it was in apostolic times. Of all the actors in this busy scene there is no proof that anyone was “ordained.” Who St. Paul’s “yokefellow” was we know not. If Epaphroditus, there is nothing to show that he was in the ministry as we understand the term. As “apostle” (Philippians 2:25) of the Philippians he was simply a messenger, and the other expressions in the same verse do not imply office. There is nothing to prove that Clement was the illustrious bishop of Rome. He is only mentioned as one of Paul’s many “fellow labourers,” whom it is quite gratuitous to confound with the bishops and deacons.
2. But the clear words of the text carry us a step further. Women are among the fellow toilers. And here, too, it would be a narrowing idea to suppose that they were deaconesses. It is simply as fellow Christians that they are fellow labourers.
3. There the particular help invited has nothing clerical in its nature. The original bids these friends join in the reconciliation of Euodia and Syntyche. The persons addressed, the persons described, and the help asked for, enforce to one duty, that of laymen consecrating themselves to Divine service. The idea that all the offices of piety and charity are to be heaped upon the clergy; that it is unnecessary and presumptuous for an unordained man to put his hand to the plough of Christian labour, is so directly opposed to every principle of the gospel, that it would have received St. Paul’s heaviest condemnation. Christ has called us to a corporate life, a body having many members, each with its office, and all equally helpful and essential (Romans 12:4-45.12.5).
I. Note the advantages of association in stimulating, directing, and economizing labor. Multitudes of men and women stand idle in the Church’s market place and give as their excuse, “No man hath hired us.” That excuse never, indeed, had any truth in it. Creation, Redemption, Conscience, the Gospel, the Spirit, are enough to silence the plea that God hath no call for us. But how many converted souls have asked themselves, a minister, or a friend, “What shall I do?” without meeting with a response. The principle of association meets this want, giving assurance of sympathy, direction, and help. Loneliness in feeling is melancholy, in working paralysis. United effort prevents superfluous labour upon a spot already cultivated, and directs it on neglected spheres.
II. The variety of agencies offered to the Christian workman. There is nothing too small to be reckoned, too secular to be consecrated when it has to do with Christ’s Church, whether instruction of the young in Sunday or night school, visiting the sick, joining the choir, or placing the worshippers in order and quietness, or bringing the Church by decorations into unison with the joys of Christmas, Easter, etc. All are not bidden to rush into one kind of service, but each is asked to do what is most suitable to his gifts heartily as unto Christ.
III. The reward of the worker (Proverbs 11:25). There is a reaction of good, not least, upon him. It is a great thing to see for ourselves things of which we have idly read in books; want and sorrow so light in the abstract, so heavy in the enduring; to be shamed out of our luxury, loitering, listless, dreamy, self-indulgent intellectualism; to be enabled to see that in our little part of our day we are decidedly on the side of good, which is the side of Christ. (Dean Vaughan.)
Women in the Church
I. Their ministers.
3. Private effort.
4. Words of love.
II. Their claims.
1. To encouragement.
2. To protection.
3. To help. (J. Lyth, D. D.)
Help the women
The service of women to the cause of truth has been invaluable in all ages. The old Testament is full of it, and the Christian Church has always been blest with it. Women ministered to the wants of the Saviour, succoured the apostles, and contributed to the spread of the gospel in many ways.
I. Women nobly engaged. By both nature and position, woman has facilities and opportunities for work that men do not possess.
1. In the work of teaching. In the home, in the Sunday School, and in the mission hall, the services of pious women are conspicuous. Timothy was instructed in the Scriptures by his mother and his grandmother.
2. In works of benevolence. Charity is almost natural to woman. We read of Dorcas, who made garments for the poor.
3. In visiting the sick. Woman is the best visitor in the sick room. Her tenderness, and often her helpfulness, prove her fitness for the work. The life of Elizabeth Fry could not be written of any man. Nightingale, the songstress of mercy at the head of the ambulance corps, was another, whose ministry helped forward the gospel.
4. Mission work abroad. The missionary’s wife is the mother of the tribe among whom she labours. In many parts of the world--for example, in India--the seclusion to which all women are banished precludes access to them except by woman.
II. Such work must be encouraged. Like all workers, they need the heart and hand of the Church to support them.
1. Help them by sympathy and tenderness. Let them see that they share our full confidence. A word of cheer is helpful to those toilers. St. Paul was careful to greet them, and to acknowledge their services.
2. Supply them with the means of doing good. They often want relief for the poor, which they cannot supply.
3. Pray for them.
4. Bear your share of their burden. Take upon you the heaviest end of the work. (Weekly Pulpit.)
1. Sympathy was a strong characteristic of St. Paul, an instance of which is his fondness for the word “fellowship;” Fellow heirs, citizens, prisoners, servants, soldiers, workers, labourers.
2. Fellowship was the first necessity of our creation. “It is not good for man to be alone.” It is a high part of our religion, a preparation for the society, unity, and choruses of heaven.
3. Fellowship of labour stands in immediate connection with “the book of life.” Are we then enrolled together as labourers? Will none be there who have not laboured? Is “the communion of saints” a communion of workers for God? Will it be so forever in heaven? What an argument for the united labours in the Church?
I. The whole genius of Christianity is work. “Go work.” “Work while it is day.” “Let men see your good works.” The end of all work is the extension of the Kingdom of God. Christianity, unlike other religions, is essentially propagating. It is, therefore, compared to that which emits and cannot but emit; leaven, light. The test of all at the last day will be what we have done.
II. This is a different conception of religion to that which is held by many religious people. There is a spiritual as well as a natural selfishness. It is not selfish to pray the prayers which are all for ourselves, to take an interest only in our own souls, to know the greatest of all happiness, and not impart it to others?
III. In this work ministers and people must cooperate. All the commands to extend the kingdom of Christ are binding on clergy and laity alike.
IV. The safety of anyone who is not a labourer in the vineyard is very doubtful. The condition of going into the vineyard was a wish to work. None are to simply go into the grounds, to pick flowers, to eat the fruit, but all to work. And the reckoning at the end was of the work done.
V. It is a wonderful arrangement that God has committed this work to sinners, not to the heavenly hosts. But our weakness is our strength; our sinfulness is our argument. For who can sympathize with sinners but a sinner?
VI. No one can undertake this work who has not a love for Christ and sinners. (J. Vaughan, M. A.)
The book of life
I. Its author.
II. Its publication; at the last day.
III. Its contents: the names of the faithful.
IV. Its effect: life. (J. Lyth, D. D.)
Names in the book
There is pathos in a human name, for it always represents a life, an experience, a history, a destiny. Sometimes in the Scriptures “names” mean souls (Acts 1:15).
I. Some observations.
1. It is a great thing to have a name in the New Testament. Think of the roll call in the sixteenth of Romans and the eleventh of Hebrews!
2. It is a great thing now to have a name in the family Bible; for that generally signifies Christian training and parental prayers.
3. It is a great thing to have a name upon the pages of a Church register. How affecting are these old manuals, with their lists of pious men and women, many of whom have passed into the skies!
4. It is the greatest thing of all to have a name in the Lamb’s Book of Life. Beyond all fame (Matthew 11:11). Beyond all power (Luke 10:20).
II. Some questions.
1. In how many books is your name written now?
2. How can a human name be written securely in the Lamb’s Book of Life?
3. To backsliders: Are you going to return to your name, or do you want it to come back to you?
4. To Christian workers: How many names have you helped to write in the Book of Life?
5. Is there any cheer in thinking how our names will sound when the “books are opened” in the white light of the throne? (C. S. Robinson, D. D.)
I. Whose names are written there? Those of--
1. The faithful labourer.
2. The patient sufferer.
3. The victorious combatant.
4. The despised saint.
II. How they came to be written there?
1. Through grace.
2. By the blood of Jesus.
3. The Spirit of God.
III. Why are they written there? Because--
1. Citizens of heaven.
2. Heirs of the promises.
3. Precious in the sight of God. (J. Lyth, D. D.)
Union is power. The most attenuated thread when, sufficiently multiplied will form the strongest cable. A single drop of water is a powerless thing, but an infinite number of drops united by the force of attraction will form a stream, and many streams combined will form a river, till rivers pour their water into the mighty ocean, whose proud waves, defying the power of man, none can stay but He who formed them. And thus for us, which, acting singly, are utterly impotent, are, when acting in combination, resistless. (G. H. Slater.)
A woman may labour with an apostle in the gospel, without departing one step from the propriety of her position, or the delicacy of her character; she can work a good work for Christ, and for the performance or neglect of it she must hereafter give account. By example, by influence, by meek endurance, by active sympathy, she can do all that a man cannot do, in the society of her equals, and in the homes of the suffering. (Dean Vaughan.)
Women, you can give and serve and pray. You can give self-denyingly, serve lovingly, pray conqueringly. The best examples of self-denying liberality, of loving service, of conquering prayer are recorded of woman. It was no great gift, service, prayer. The gift was a widow’s mite. The service was the anointing of Jesus with a box of ointment. The prayer was a mother’s prayer for a daughter possessed with a devil. But the gift and service and prayer were in self-denial and love and faith. And so in the sight of God they were of great price. (H. Johnson.)
Who has not heard of John Wesley? Yet how few are acquainted with Peter Bohler, who brought him to Christ. (J. F. B. Tinling, B. A.)
One woman’s work
An American paper tells the story of a woman who, because tired of a life mainly employed in eating and dressing, resolved to devote herself and her money to a nobler purpose. At the close of the war she went to a sandy island off the Atlantic coast, where about two hundred persons were living in poverty and ignorance, and established her home there, with the intention of benefiting the inhabitants. She began with teaching, by example, how to cultivate the land lucratively, and was soon imitated. Next she established a school for the children, and afterwards a church. Now the island is a thriving region, with an industrious and moral population, the change being the work of one woman. (Christian Age.)
The early Christian women
“What women these Christians have!” exclaimed the heathen rhetorician Libanius, on learning about Anthusa, the mother of John Chrysostom, the famous “golden-mouthed” preacher of the gospel at Constantinople in the fourth century. Anthusa, at the early age of twenty, lost her husband, and thenceforward devoted herself wholly to the education of her son, refusing all offers of further marriage. Her intelligence and piety moulded the boy’s character, and shaped the destiny of the man, who, in his subsequent position of eminence, never forgot what he owed to maternal influence. Hence, it would be no overstrained assertion to say that we owe those rich homilies of Chrysostom, of which interpreters of Scripture still make great use, to the mind and heart of Anthusa. (W. Baxendale.)
Rejoice in the Lord alway
Three elements of Christian character
The keynote of the Epistle and of Christian life is cheerfulness. The repetition here, and the enforcement of the same in other Epistles shows us the importance of this duty.
1. If the Philippians neglected or undervalued this duty they have many imitators today. Some professing Christians set their faces against it, and make the best of days the saddest, the best of books the most forbidding, and the best of services the least inviting. Those who take their cue from these, come to regard sourness and sanctity as synonymous. This is a gross and dishonouring perversion of that which was heralded with notes of joy.
2. It is “in the Lord” that we are to be glad. Christ has brought the materials out of which gladness is made--new and happier thoughts, power, purposes, hopes.
3. The advantages are manifold.
(1) To ourselves.
(a) Cheerfulness brings us within the charmed circle of the noblest and brightest spirits. Without this we can never enter into the rapture of psalmists and prophets.
(b) The perception of cheerfulness nourishes the very cheerfulness it sees. The sun not only reveals and makes the beauty and fragrance of the flower.
(2) To others. Nothing breaks down the opposition of men to Christianity like a bright cheering life. It more faithfully represents the true spirit of Christianity. Christ came to make the world glad, and only as we rejoice in and with Him are we true to Him.
4. We are to rejoice alway, which teaches us to cultivate the habit of looking on the bright side, of always being on the look out for compensation, of considering the purposes of difficulties, the lessons of adversity, the Sender of sorrows.
1. In what does this show itself.
(1) In waiving our just rights; not pushing them always to the utmost.
(2) In checking ourselves under provocation: “not returning evil for evil, but contrariwise.” This needs large Christian grace.
2. The powerful motive: “the Lord is at hand.”
(1) As seeing all.
(2) As soon coming to end our vexations.
III. Devout trustfulness.
1. In arguing this (verse 7), the apostle does not teach us to have no care and let everything drift, but not to be full of care. Whilst we are ordering our affairs with discretion, we must not be over anxious. The Lord is at hand. His Providence will be equal to all emergencies. Do your best, and leave the issue to Him.
2. Let prayer be your antidote to worry. God knows what is best. Submit to His will, thankful for His many mercies. Gratitude is a condition of successful prayer
3. The grand issue--the peace of God.
(1) Its channel--He in whom we have to rejoice.
(2) Its character.
(b) Transcending every effort of the mind to grasp it.
(3) Its effect. To stand sentry and keep guard over the heart and mind. (J. J. Goadby.)
I. A fact stated. “The Lord is at hand,” may apply either to time or place. He is coming, and till He comes to wipe away our tears, to raise our dead, and fill us with glory, He is, in the meantime, our solace in trials, conflicts, difficulty and danger, our light in darkness, and our triumph in death. We greatly wrong Him to conceive of Him as above the stars. He is very nigh His people, the shade on their right hand. Let us therefore walk circumspectly, and let nothing cast us down. Let also our enemies beware.
II. The command grounded on the facts.
1. “Rejoice in the Lord alway.”
(1) How little there is of this amongst us. Yet the Lord is at hand that we may rejoice in Him as a Refuge, a Support, a Friend
(2) The all-sufficient ground of this rejoicing. There is nothing “in Him” that is not an occasion for joy, life; righteousness, abounding grace. There is nothing our souls can want, our hope desire, our happiness need, our immortality grasp, that is not laid up in Him.
(3) There is no true joy that does not find its spring in Him.
(4) This joy is perennial--whatever be our times, or circumstances, it is our privilege to rejoice.
2. “Let your moderation,” etc. When the eye has once seen, the ear heard, the heart occupied with Christ, all other matters take a subordinate position. The attractions of the world are nothing, its anxieties are lost in the comfort of His love, and its entanglements cannot keep us from resting in His bosom. Sit, then, loosely to the things around you. Let men see that you have a better portion, and know by your forbearance, gentleness, and moderation, that the things that once occupied you are now quite secondary. What matter if other things fade from your grasp, if the presence of the Lord is realized in your soul.
3. “Be careful for nothing.”
(1) There is no need for this care. Think of the eye ever watching you, the arm around you.
(2) Be not full of care; it does not mean be indifferent to the concerns of life, but be not anxious. The Lord is at hand; He will provide. There is nothing in God, in ourselves, in the world, or in Satan that we need be careful for.
4. “In everything by prayer,” etc. He is beside you, and you rob yourself of a great privilege if you keep back anything. Pour out your heart, only “with thanksgiving.” Don’t murmur. Thank Him for what He has done, is doing, and will do.
III. The precious promise, which is conditional on the keeping of the commands. “The peace of God,” etc.! Christ has made peace with God.
2. This peace must be apprehended and enjoyed (Romans 15:13; 1 Peter 1:8). It can only be enjoyed by faith, and it must be maintained by a consistent walk.
3. This peace will keep us from sinking, from sinning, it will keep us calm amidst disturbance, at rest amidst restlessness, tranquil in anticipation of death and judgment. (Marcus Rainsford.)
There is a natural world, and there is a spiritual world. It is folly to ignore either. True wisdom lies in adequately acknowledging the claims of each, and skilfully adjusting their relations to each other. A man may be so engrossed by the natural, as to live as if there were no spiritual world, and vice versa In the one case he becomes a materialist; in the other, a mystic. We are now in this world, and have duties here which religion must help us to discharge. But there is a spiritual world, and nothing gives such elevation of character, and such power and consistency of living, as a sense of its real presence. The spiritually-minded have ever been the pioneers of human progress. Paul did not disparage the life that now is; he rather exalted it by constantly bringing upon it the power of the life to come. In the text he represents the effect of a spiritual faith on this human life. The key to the whole is, “The Lord is at hand.” There are four characteristics of spiritual mindedness as thus understood.
I. It will surprise materialists that the first is Joy--the delightful enjoyment of the feelings of pleasure at good gained and actually enjoyed, or at the prospect of good which one has a reasonable hope of obtaining.
1. The natural world can give joy.
(1) There is the joy of youth, when the blood is hot, and burdens have not bowed, and disappointment have not soured the man, where there are many beautiful hopes and no bitter memories.
(2) The joy of health, when the humours are wholesome, the circulation unimpeded, the nerves unjaded, the lungs sound, and the brain clear; when food is pleasant, sleep sweet, and activity exhilarating.
(3) The joy of success, when the battle has been won, the office secured, the bride wedded, the fortune made.
(4) The joy of the affections, when the heart has loved well.
2. But the great defect in all joy that is not “in the Lord” is that it is transitory. Youth, health, success, are good while they last, but they last so short a time.
3. Our faith does not offer us a choice as between natural and spiritual joy. On the contrary, the sources of natural joy are intensified by our spiritual joys, and placed upon a more enduring basis. Would not (let conscience speak) your natural joys be trebly sweet if you did not feel that if these were swept away there would be nothing left? If you did but “rejoice in the Lord” all of earth that is sweet and beautiful would be more so. To the spiritually-minded “the Lord is at hand” to help every human joy.
II. To be spiritually-minded is to have habits of honesty in business, of candour, good temper and forgiveness, for that is the meaning of moderation.
1. This is a provoking world, full of things which create disagreeable feelings. The weariness and tricks of others make us shut up ourselves and become uncandid, and cynical, and hard. Life becomes a game. We must not show our hands. The wicked will take advantage of it, and we shall lose.
2. Well, if this natural life be all there is, we cannot afford to be candid and good-tempered toward all men. But a spiritually-minded man can so afford, “The Lord is at hand” to help him. Put Him away, saying that each man must care for himself only, and if you fail, no matter the failure; if you succeed, how barren the success.
3. Whether you will or not “the Lord is at hand.” He sees all in the light of the spiritual world, and judges accordingly. He is at hand to help. The factory operative, the merchant, the capitalist, may all have a sense of His nearness, and if they have, then their moderation, fairness, self-control, and forgiveness will be known unto all men.
III. Elevation of soul--a serenity of temper over which the changes of life may pass as Storms do over a mountain, loosing here and there a stone, breaking here and there a tree, shaking the whole mass and drenching it, but leaving the mountain rooted in the earth.
1. Much of our life is frittered away with carking cares and anxieties. These came from too close a look at things which are temporal. This nearness must be corrected by spiritual mindedness. To a man who has no feeling of the Lord’s nearness every trouble exaggerates itself. He cannot put his full powers to any one thing, because he is troubled about many things.
2. Right spiritual-mindedness does not unfit us for the duties of life. Faith does not teach carelessness. It is the care that distracts which must be avoided. That is only avoided as a man comes to feel that the Lord stands by Him. That realized, he can attend to his multifarious duties without distraction. He has then a powerful motive to do his best, and that being done, he calmly leaves what he cannot do.
IV. Devoutness--a sense of the presence of One who takes an interest in our lives, and to whom we can speak specifically about everything that concerns us, and therefore concerns Him, and from whom we can get direction and help. In conclusion, when we are spiritually-minded God’s peace--
1. Keeps our hearts steady and true when temptations and troubles and bereavements seem bearing them away.
2. Our minds. No mind loses its balance as long as it perceives the Lord at hand to help.
3. Through Jesus Christ, the connecting link. (C. J. Deems, D. D.)
The gospel takes hold of every string in human nature. The beginner only plays on the central octaves of the pianoforte, while the master hand makes the seven octaves discourse music in their turn. Joy is soul elation, or the feeling of extreme pleasure. There are certain conditions when that string is touched by the hand of truth.
I. The joy of conversion. Relief from the burden of sin, and finding the pearl of great price. After Philip explained the matter, the eunuch went on his way rejoicing. No one can contemplate the fact that Christ is slain for His sins, and is risen for His justification, without experiencing a sense of happiness (Acts 8:27-44.8.40). See also the account of the conversion of the Philippian jailer, and Lydia. Joy from a sense of safety is not the highest type, but very real.
II. The joy of Christian fellowship. When friends meet, there is a reciprocal feeling of esteem (Acts 2:40-44.2.47). Two old Peninsula veterans accidentally met after a separation of twenty years. Words could not depict the beaming faces. It was the joy of esteem. Whenever the apostles met their brethren there was joy: Paul, the prisoner, was full of happiness in anticipating to see the Philippians again.
III. The joy of service. God loves a cheerful giver. There was great joy when David collected the funds for the building of the Temple (1 Chronicles 29:9). Greater still was the joy of the redeemed in building the walls of Jerusalem (Nehemiah 12:43). God must be served with gladness.
IV. The joy of prosperity. The Christian has no prosperity apart from the kingdom of Christ (Luke 15:10). The father made a feast because the lost had been found. The visit of Philip to Samaria was blessed abundantly. “There was great joy in that city” (Acts 8:8). The gospel is “good tidings of great joy to all people.” The more souls are saved the more the joy of the Church (Luke 10:1-42.10.42)
V. The joy of special revelation. There are moments of supreme happiness given to all good people, such as the time of the Transfiguration. The happiest moment in the life of the Christian is the last, when the servant is dismissed his present service in peace, and advancing towards the crown. One word of caution--see that the right motive produces joy. There are superficial influences of a charming nature, but without depth or worth. “Our rejoicing is this, the testimony of our conscience.” When conscience says, rejoice, we are safe. It is a joy that will continue evermore. (Weekly Pulpit.)
I. What does this precept mean?
1. Joy, like every other simple emotion, cannot be defined; it must be felt to be known. The text enforces that form of joy which we should call habitual cheerfulness as--
(1) Opposed to gloom and dejection. These are natural to some, fostered by the circumstances of many, but forbidden to a Christian. Though gloom be in harmony with my constitution or temperament, that cannot justify me in cherishing it. I may have a natural propensity to steal, but I am to fight against it; and so with a tendency to dejection. The Christian is not like Cain, a fugitive and without a friend; but like Abraham, whose resources for everything were in the sufficiency of God. What Habbakuk did (“although the fig tree,” etc.) St. Paul tells all Christians to do, “Count it all joy when you fall into divers trials.”
(2) As distinguished from levity and mirth. Mirth is an act, cheerfulness a habit. Mirth is like a meteor; cheerfulness like a star. Mirth is like crackling thorns; cheerfulness like a fire. Mirth is like a freshet formed by a sudden overflow; cheerfulness like a river fed by deep springs and numerous brooks.
(3) As distinguished from indifference and insensibility. It is a positive state; a very distinct and vivid consciousness. A man may be very far from miserable; but it does not follow that he is cheerful. He may be stolid and callous of soul.
2. The text requires that cheerfulness should be habitual.
(1) It is required of us in working. We are to earn our bread by the sweat of our brow or brain joyfully, not counting work a hardship.
(2) There should be cheerfulness in giving, which God loves.
(3) In Christian communion.
(4) In general social intercourse.
(5) In suffering.
(6) In worship.
3. The precept directs us to derive our habitual cheerfulness from the Lord. No creature was ever happy in itself separated from God. You must not, therefore, try to get it from yourself.
(1) You will never get it from increase of wealth. That brings increase of care.
(2) Nor from the Church;
(3) but from Christ; His character, advent, death, righteousness, exaltation.
This is the lesson continually put before us in the Bible. “My people have committed two evils.” “I will greatly rejoice in the Lord.”
II. By what may this precept be enforced?
1. Habitual religious cheerfulness is a personal advantage.
(1) It benefits the body and the spirit. “A merry heart doeth good like medicine.” There are many persons who seriously impair their health by nursing gloom. Many nervous diseases may be traced to a state of mind cherished.
(2) A man works with great power who cherishes this spirit: “Neither be ye sorry, for the joy of the Lord is your strength.” Soldiers after a long day’s march would hardly walk as nimbly as they do if they did not march to music. Get a cheerful heart and the yoke is easy and the burden light.
2. It is a strong qualification for rendering service to others. It is of little use trying to instruct, especially in religion, even a child, unless you are cheerful. And certainly a man is no use in the sick chamber, or in the house of bereavement, unless he has a cheerful heart.
3. If a Christian cannot rejoice always no man can.
(1) The infidel cannot.
(2) Nor the worldly.
4. For this the Christian has the largest possible provision. He has been born again, is a son of God and joint heir with Christ. It is quite true that Christians are soldiers and that the fight is hard, but victory is sure; they are racers and the running is exhausting, but the crown is sure; they are pilgrims and the journey is wearisome, but the arrival at home is sure; so that the soldier, racer, pilgrim, may rejoice alway.
5. The precept is enforced by Divine authority, by the example and word of Christ.
1. When you are inclined to despondency, investigate the cause. “Why art thou cast down?”
2. When in circumstances that are grievous call before you all that is joyous and hopeful. How strange it is that people who have never had a real trouble are always grumbling.
3. Never lose sight of the fountain of gladness.
4. Avoid vain and foolish anticipations of evil. (S. Martin.)
The Christian’s joy
This joy is--
1. The reason has its moments of inexpressible delight. “Why do you sit up so late at night?” was asked of an eminent mathematician. “To enjoy myself.” “How? I thought you spent your time in working out problems.” “So I do, and there is the enjoyment. Those persons lose a form of enjoyment too keen to be described who do not know what it is to recognize after long effort and various failures, the true relation which exists between two mathematical formulae.” We may be strangers to this form of enjoyment, but we may know enough of other subjects to believe its reality. All knowledge is delightful to the human mind because it involves contact with fact, and this contact is welcome to the mind because the mind is made for God the Truth of truths, in whom as manifested in His Son are “all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.”
2. In our day this delight is especially observable in the study of nature. The “scientific spirit” is almost concentrated upon this study, and it deserves a warm welcome from Christians; for if revelation is God’s second book, nature is His first.
3. And if the contact of mind with reality has thus a charm all its own, what should not be the delight of steadily contemplating God as He presents Himself to us in His revelation. There the Being, the perfection, the life of God, are spread out before us like a boundless ocean, that we may rejoice in Him always as the only, the perfect satisfaction of our intellectual nature.
4. But alas! while this is the case, a new plant in your botanical gardens, a newly discovered animal in your menageries, an octopus in your aquariums, will send a thrill of delight through those who claim to represent the most active thought of the day, and all the while the Being of beings, with all the magnificent array of His attractive and awful attributes is around you. How much of the mental life you bestow so ungrudgingly on His creatures is given to Him! O intelligence of man, that was made for something higher than any created thing, understand, before it is too late, thy magnificent destiny and rejoice in the Lord.
1. It is the active, satisfied experience of a moral nature, a coming in contact with the uncreated and perfect moral Being. Joy has much more to do with the affections than with the reason. It is the play of the affections upon an object which responds to them and satisfies them. To the man of family, his wife and children call out and sustain this delight, which the ordinary occupations of his intellect rarely stimulate. And little as he may think it, on that threshold, beside that cradle, the man stands face to face with the attributes of the everlasting Being who has infused His tenderness and His love into the works of His hands.
2. God’s attributes of holiness, justice, mercy, may well delight the human mind, but they address themselves inevitably to our moral nature. As we gaze on God the holy, we turn our eyes on ourselves, and ask “If He is of purer eyes than to behold iniquity what does He see in me?” Between that uncreated beauty and our enfeebled, broken nature, we know that some dark shadow has passed, and yet light enough is left to enable us to see how little we are like Him. Man, conscious of this radical flaw hides himself from the Lord God and a deep gloom takes possession of him. He would fain bury himself in amusement or work--anyhow--in self-forgetfulness--anywhere out of the sight of God.
3. The work of our Saviour has made it again possible to rejoice in God. Christ has destroyed the discord between our conscience and His holiness. His graces establishes a union between the believing soul and its object. “We are accepted in the beloved.” Read Romans 5:1-45.5.11 and see what are the consequences of this new relation to God.
(1) Peace; and then as the soul finds what it is to have entered into the state of grace comes
(2) Joy; and joy as it is one of the first experiences, so in its more magnificent forms it is the crowning gift of the new life. Not only being reconciled shall we be saved by Christ’s life, but we also joy in God through Christ from whom we have received the atonement. The old fear which skulks away behind the trees of the garden is gone. Clinging to the Cross of Christ we behold the face of the Father, and “with joy we draw water out of the wells of salvation.”
1. Our power of rejoicing in the Lord is a fair test of our moral condition. The heart that does not “break forth into joy” at the mention of His name is surely paralyzed or dead. If earthly friends, pleasures, etc., rouse in us keen sensations of delight, and this name which is above every name, this love which transcends earthly affections, finds and leaves us cold and unconcerned, be sure that it cannot be well with us.
2. This power of rejoicing is the Christian’s main support under the trials of life. St. Paul after saying that we rejoice in hope of the glory of God adds, “not only so but we glory in tribulations.”
3. This power is one of the great motive forces of the Christian life. Within the regenerate soul it is a well of water springing up into everlasting life, fertilizing everything--thought, feeling, resolution, worship: it gives a new impulse to what before was passive or dead, and makes outward efforts and inward graces possible, which else had been undreamt of. (Canon Liddon.)
Joy a duty
Joy drives out discord. Our text follows as a remedy upon disagreement (verses 1-2). Joy helps against the trials of life. Hence it is mentioned as a preparation for the rest of faith (verse 6).
I. The grace commanded--“Rejoice.”
1. It is delightful: our soul’s jubilee has come when joy enters.
2. It is demonstrative: it is more than peace: it sparkles, shines, sings. Why should it not? Joy is a bird; let it fly in the open heavens, and its music be heard of all men.
3. It is stimulating, and urges its possessor to brave deeds.
4. It is influential for good. Sinners are attracted to Jesus by the joy of saints. More flies are caught by a spoonful of honey than by a barrel of vinegar.
5. It is contagious. Others are gladdened by our rejoicing.
6. It is commanded. It is not left optional. It is commanded because
(1) It makes us like God.
(2) It is for our profit.
(3) It is good for others.
II. The joy discriminated.
1. As to the sphere--“In the Lord.” That is the sacred circle wherein the Christian’s life should always be spent.
2. As to the object.
(1) In the Lord, Father, Son, and Spirit; in the Lord Jesus, crucified, risen, etc.
(2) Not in
(a) temporals, personal, political, pecuniary.
(b) Nor in special privileges, which involve greater responsibility.
(c) Nor even in religious successes (Luke 10:20).
(d) Nor in self and its doings (Philippians 3:3).
III. The time appointed--“Always.”
1. When you cannot rejoice in any other, rejoice in God.
2. When you can rejoice in other things, sanctify all with joy in God.
3. When you have not before rejoiced, begin at once.
4. When you have long rejoiced, do not cease for a moment.
5. When others are with you, lead them in this direction.
6. When you are alone, enjoy to the full this rejoicing.
IV. The emphasis laid on the command--“Again I say, Rejoice.” Paul repeats his exhortation.
1. To show his love to them. He is intensely anxious that they should share his joy.
2. To suggest the difficulty of continual joy. He twice commands, because we are slow to obey.
3. To assert the possibility of it. After second thoughts, he feels that he may fitly repeat the exhortation.
4. To impress the importance of the duty. Whatever else you forget, remember this: Be sure to rejoice.
5. To allow of special personal testimony. “Again I say, rejoice.” Paul rejoiced. He was habitually a happy man. This Epistle to the Philippians is peculiarly joyous. Let us look it through.
(1) He sweetens prayer with joy (Philippians 1:4).
(2) He rejoices that Christ is preached (Philippians 1:18).
(3) He wishes to live to gladden the Church (Philippians 1:25).
(4) To see the members likeminded was his joy (Philippians 2:2).
(5) It was his joy that he should not run in vain (Philippians 2:16).
(6) His farewell to them was, “Rejoice in the Lord” (Philippians 3:1).
(7) He speaks of those who rejoice in Christ Jesus (Philippians 3:3).
(8) He calls his converts his joy and crown (Philippians 4:1).
(9) He expresses his joy in their kindness (Philippians 4:4; Philippians 4:10; Philippians 4:18).
Conclusion: To all our friends let us use this as a blessing: “Rejoice in the Lord.” (C. H. Spurgeon.)
The duty of rejoicing
I. There are some precepts of Scripture which we may have difficulty in performing, but which, at least, we have the power of attempting. Such, e.g., as to forsake a bad habit or to undertake a certain course of action. But there are others which seem to enjoin what is beyond our power, e.g., those which demand a particular aspect of mind, whatever may be our feelings, such as our text. It seems strange that joy should be a duty. Unless there be cause for it, how can we have the power? Well, we may surely reckon up our occasions for sorrow and joy, and if the latter preponderate we might, at least, be ashamed of being unhappy, and that is a great preparation for a thankful state of mind. When a man is downcast, he is often raised by a friend who points out that things are not so bad as he thinks. And the Christian has reasons for joy which far outweigh reasons for sorrow. Count up then your mercies. Adjust yourselves to the breathings of God’s Spirit. If you cannot call forth the melody which slumbers in the heart, you can awaken the breeze of its music.
II. Joyfulness is as much within our power as honesty and industry. It is not as though it were only a question of natural disposition, etc. One great purpose of religion is to furnish us with motives and aids to correct our natural temperament, and to bring into play moral forces to counteract those which are opposite to good. Is not the Christian entitled to discharge all his cares on God’s providence; lay his sins on God’s Son; and his fears on God’s promises? Has he an excuse then for being disquieted.
III. Some Christians regard joy as permitted but not as commanded, a privilege, not a duty. Had this been so numbers would have wanted it; but as God has enjoined it all must strive after it, and that for many reasons. The believer is asked to state what is religion. If he fails to rejoice he brings disgrace upon it, for he is disobedient. And here is the triumph of infidelity; and the inquirer after religion is deterred when he sees in its professors, how it defers the happiness of which he is in search.
IV. As joy is a command which proceeds from God’s mouth, so it may be kept by God’s grace. We are bidden to rejoice “in the Lord.” Whatever be the attribute contemplated there is reason for gladness even in the holiness which condemns our sin. For did not that very holiness provide a means whereby the sinner might be honourably and eternally forgiven. If there be nothing in God in which we may not rejoice, it is evident that there is nothing in the universe.
V. The redeemer is a model for the Christian in this as in every other virtue. He who for the joy that was set before Him endured the Cross says, “Ask and ye shall receive that your joy may be full.”
VI. Half the depression of Christians arises from looking at and into themselves. Even when looking at Christ for righteousness, they look to themselves for comfort. It is Christ’s hold on the believer that makes him safe. Rejoice, then, in the Lord. (H. Melvill, B. D.)
Christians joyful in the Lord
As sorrow is attendant on sin, so is joy the companion of holiness. Joy is a feeling of pleasure caused by the remembrance of some past, the possession of some present, or the hope of some future good.
I. The Christian looks back on the past. Then sin on his own part is seen side by side with love upon God’s. He thinks with sorrow of his sinfulness, but remembers the forbearance which withheld the Almighty hand, the goodness that led to repentance and the grace that saved, and so rejoices in the Lord.
II. The present gives the same cause for rejoicing. There is much to abase and arouse painful feelings, but in the prayer which brings fresh supplies of strength, in the grace which is all-sufficient, in the promises, and in the work of faith and labour of love there is abundant cause for joy.
III. The future presents a joyful outlook. The extinction of sin, the removal of all hindrances to holiness, the full blessedness of body and soul in heaven. (Canon Chamneys.)
Constant joy in God the duty of Christians
I. What is implied in this duty.
1. That Christians are pleased that God exists. “The fool hath said in his heart, There is no God.” Man in a state of nature dreads God. Naturally wishful of independence he dislikes the idea of one above him who can dispose of him according to His pleasure. But in Christians this enmity has been slain.
2. That they are pleased that He exists possessed of all Divine perfections. They could not rejoice in Him were it possible for Him to make a mistake or use any deception.
3. That they are pleased that He formed the most wise, just, and benevolent designs from eternity.
4. That they rejoice in His constant execution of His original designs. “The Lord reigneth; let the earth rejoice.”
II. The propriety of this duty. No one questions the duty of rejoicing sometimes; but how always? Is there not a time to weep? Thousands of things are the proper objects of mourning. Yes; but the text says: “Rejoice in the Lord.” In Him there is no ground for mourning. And even mourning over evil things admits of an element of joy, inasmuch as they are ever working out His plans. We mourn over our afflictions, yet we may rejoice in God, inasmuch as a patient may rejoice in the skill of the surgeon while he bewails the pain of amputation.
III. The reasons for this duty. We are to rejoice because--
1. God always knows what is best to do with all His creatures. He is the only wise God.
2. He is always immutably disposed to do what is best. As a father feels towards his children the Father of mercies feels towards His whole family. The fountain of all good is in its own nature a just cause of rejoicing apart from the thousand streams of goodness which flow from it.
3. He is absolutely able to do what is best. If there were a single case of inability it would wreck our confidence in Him.
4. If, then, He knows what is best, is disposed to do what is best, and able to do it, He certainly always will do it.
1. To rejoice in God always is the most difficult duty Christians have to perform. It is easy to rejoice in favours; but how about trials.
2. To discharge this duty is to do what is most pleasing to God, implying as it does the purest faith, love, and obedience.
3. To do this is to do peculiar honour to religion. Mere selfishness will dispose men to rejoice when they receive good at the hand of God.
4. Those who obey this precept are the happiest men in the world. Men of the world are in some measure happy, but their rejoicing is often interrupted.
5. To neglect this precept is unwise, sinful, and injurious. (N. Emmons, D. D.)
I. What it is.
1. It is more than contentment. To be content is not to murmur, not to wish for a better lot; to rejoice is to be right glad, and to be persuaded that we have got the best we could expect.
2. Can this be the duty of the disciples of the “Man of Sorrows”? Undoubtedly a true Christian is serious, and often sad (Psalms 119:136; 2 Corinthians 7:7); and therefore has no part in such mirth and revelry as flows from thoughtlessness and intemperance.
3. But it does not follow that he may not be truly happy--only his rejoicing is in the spirit, “in the Lord.” And to thus rejoice must be computable with sorrow for sin and self-denial; yet for all this it may be a real, lively, and lasting satisfaction (1 Peter 1:8; Romans 8:8; Matthew 17:4).
II. When it may be felt.
1. In prosperity; especially if we have set our hearts on God’s good gifts of grace. But it consists not in the goods we enjoy, but in those we hope for; not in the pleasures we experience, but in the promise of those which seeing not we believe. Riches may abound, but we know they are of no value compared to those in heaven; health may flourish, but what is that compared with life for evermore; friends and families may grow up and multiply the joy of all we have, but these serve only the more to make us glad that we have a Friend who will never fail and a home where with them we may enjoy His blessed company forever.
2. In adversity; which was the condition of those here addressed. Paul repeats his words as though aware that it might seem a hard saying. But the grounds of their rejoicing are yours. For you the same Saviour died; for you there is the same heaven, the same unsearchable riches. Do you believe all this? Then rejoice.
3. In temptation. Whichever way this comes we are prone at first to be sorry, because of our weakness and proneness to fall. Yet James (James 1:2) tells us to rejoice. Why? Because one thus feels sin to be the heaviest of afflictions, which is thus a sign of grace. So St. Peter (1 Peter 4:12-60.4.13). Whatever then may be the trials of our faith now we are to rejoice because we shall be glad hereafter when Christ’s glory shall be revealed. Thus may we pray not to be led into it, and yet when brought into it rejoice that by God’s grace we may come out of it triumphant.
4. In death. Nowhere is Christian joy distinguished from worldly satisfactions more than here. For this is the introduction to an eternal consummation.
(1) We lose nothing by the change we call death. We cease to breathe; but we still feel, think, love, and are beloved. If we part with our friends it is only for a brief season.
(2) Besides, losing nothing we gain everything (Matthew 6:19). (C. Girdlestone, M. A.)
Rejoicing in Christ
I. In His atonement (Romans 5:11).
II. In His righteousness (Romans 4:1-45.4.25).
III. In His faithfulness (Philippians 1:6).
IV. In His power. “Kept by the power of God.”
1. In sorrow.
2. In persecution.
3. In bereavement.
4. In death. (R. J. McGhee, A. M.)
Rejoicing in God
I. God who requires His people to rejoice affords them ample reason for doing so: hence the requirement is reasonable and practicable. The Christian is not required to rejoice in nothing or in an inadequate cause: but in the Lord all-sufficient.
II. There exists equal reason why the Christian should rejoice in God at all times as at any time. The cause is uniform, so should be the effect. If God ceased to be his friend then he might cease to rejoice, but not otherwise (Habakkuk 3:17-35.3.18).
III. Joy and sorrow in the same heart and at the same time are perfectly compatible. There may exist contemporaneously reasons for both sorrow and joy. “Sorrowful, yet always rejoicing.” When we are commanded to rejoice always it is not meant that we should rejoice only.
IV. In the case of the Christian the causes of joy always predominate over those of sorrow. Not so with the sinner. A saint may lose a part of his possessions: but the larger part he cannot lose.
V. The very sorrows of the Christian are to be rejoiced in. They work for him a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory. “It is good for me that I have been afflicted.” Inferences:
1. If it is our duty to be happy then it is a sin to be miserable.
2. How grossly they misrepresent religion who speak of it as a gloomy thing.
3. We learn what it is that makes the soul happy. Not the world; that is passing away; but the Lord who abides.
4. If God alone can make His creatures happy what madness it is to live in ignorance of Him, or in estrangement from Him. (W. Nevins, D. D.)
Sunshine: a talk for happy times
I. Rejoice in the Lord. At the outset--
1. Don’t think this means--
(1) a seventh-heaven rapture. Nothing is easier, more common, or disheartening than the way we exaggerate religious joy. It is not given to many of us to soar to great heights; much less to live there. We want a joy that can walk along life’s dusty roads, as a good day’s work, and thrive amidst bustle and home cares.
(2) The short lived offspring of a passing excitement; an April day of sunshine, and showers that end in a night of sharp frost.
(3) Nor is it the childlike merriment of good spirits.
(4) Nor a natural hopefulness that forgets the past, and doesn’t trouble much about the future.
2. But it is a calm, deep, settled gladness in the Lord.
(1) It does not change life so that there are no difficulties and burdens; but it edges the clouds with brightness, and in the darkness it can always see the stars. It does not turn the desert into a garden, but it is an angel presence bidding us “fear not,” and opening our eyes, it shows us “a well of water.”
(2) It is of much importance that we keep from exaggerations. Many young people turn from religion disappointed because they have been encouraged to look for sustained raptures and have not found them.
(3) Depend upon it this “oil of gladness” is something that commonplace, everyday people can have if they will.
II. The ingredients of this joy. It is not distilled from rare exotics and delicate plants that grow only in hothouses and cost much to cultivate. There are three simples growing just by the gate of the King’s garden, and whoever will cultivate and mix them shall have this balm.
1. The sturdy plant Confidence--the superlative degree of hope; that in the dark today sings of a bright tomorrow; that does not think or believe that a loving Father orders all things, but rests in the assurance of it.
2. Confidence must be mixed equally with a little lowly plant that grows on the bank of the river--Contentment--a rarer plant than the other. Contentment keeps its desires level with its condition. When much is taken it counts up how much is left, and turns the evil round to find a better face upon it, thinking of the worse that might have been.
3. Put in Gratitude, to enrich it and make it sparkle.
III. But if it be thus easily made why is it so uncommon?
1. There are timid souls who have not the courage to forget themselves.
2. There are the stern, the gloomy, the severe, possibly too selfish to forget themselves, or too exact to forget anything. Hard-natured men of narrow sympathies to whom the brighter things of the world are vanities. Music and children and flowers and holidays have no charms for them. Business, duty, absorbs them. O! it is a pitiful thing when all the child is dead in men.
3. There are those whose religion is mostly a regular observance of services, a half-hearted round of duty. The religion that rejoices in the Lord must have something intense about it. A languid, pale-faced, sickly man who gets up for an hour or two and sits by the fire can’t enjoy anything; he hasn’t vigour enough. Type of dead-alive Christians, whose religion is true enough, but they have not enough of it. They want more warmth and life and heart.
IV. Can Christians afford to live without this joy in the Lord?
1. It is repeatedly commanded. Is he guiltless who passes by the word with light indifference?
2. It is encouraged by every promise and precept. May not the man suspect the religion that is so unlike the Scripture sample?
3. It is the natural fruit of spiritual life: and if the fruit be wanting, the tree is not worth having.
4. Surely we have no business to keep twitting the world about a peace it can neither give nor take away, if all we can tell them is a dismal tale of trials and temptations, failure and sin. This is not what the Bible holds out to us, what Christ purchased for us, and is not likely to fetch home the prodigal from the far country.
V. How may we make this joy our own? Confidence, Contentment, Gratitude, where can we find them? only in the King’s garden.
1. We must go out of ourselves for everything worth having. He who sees self will never see anything but what he may weep over. He who sees the Lord may live always triumphing.
2. The opposite to this joy is not sorrow. The Man of Sorrows was “anointed with the oil of joy above His fellows.”
(1) The real killjoy is worry. Hundreds of religious people trust the Lord to save their souls; but to feed and clothe the body, train the children, etc., all that they must fret over as if their loving Father did not sit on the throne.
(2) The wasp nest of ill temper. This too may be conquered. “I can do all things through Him that strengtheneth me.” (Mark Guy Pearse.)
Amusements in the light of the gospel
The text shows that religion is no killjoy: and yet it is frequently regarded as involving a renunciation of the pleasures of life. To ascertain the relation of piety to amusements is of great importance. Every man has leisure and inclination for amusement. How far may it be indulged? A man is made or marred by the way in which he spends his leisure. A certain amount of amusement is beneficial, but multitudes are ruined by amusement.
I. The extent to which mere amusement is needful and beneficial.
1. The “alway” of the text covers the whole sphere of life but mere amusement can only be an occasional thing, and therefore not the only form of happiness. That must be found also in those experiences, duties, toils, anxieties, and sorrows which constitute the main stream of our daily life.
2. The key to this is “in the Lord.” If God makes us glad we may be always glad. A richer joy may be found in discharging life’s duties and bearing its burdens so as to secure God’s approval than in any amount of amusement.
3. Seeing that it would be a great mistake to seek happiness in amusements which would imperil the proper conduct of life’s more serious business. He who neglects duty for amusement makes a great mistake.
II. What teaching there is in the text respecting the lawfulness of amusements and the main principles to guide us.
1. Rejoicing is a Christian duty. Hence we ought to cultivate it as much as justice, etc.
2. Can cheerfulness be cultivated without paying special attention to the matter? Certainly not: hence the gospel sanctions a certain amount of amusement. Happiness is the outcome of the healthy play of our faculties. Now in the daily stress some of them are sure to be overstrained. Our constitution is like a harp of many strings. To keep it in tune, therefore, we must naturally give the overstrained strings periodic rest, but touch up the others and play upon them: this is amusement, and the text implies its necessity.
3. But what kind of amusement does the gospel sanction?
(1) Our pleasures must be pure and unselfish, to be indulged in in the spirit of holiness and kindly consideration for others. We are to rejoice in the Lord always; and holiness and unselfishness were the most conspicuous features of Christ’s character.
4. God has placed within the reach of all an infinite amount of ennobling entertainment. In the world around us there is an inexhaustible wealth of beauty, grandeur, and skill whose observation and imitation supply us with abundant entertainment.
(1) We are born into a theatre where a drama of the most thrilling interest, now comedy, now tragedy, now both, is constantly going forward, and we are taking our own little part in it.
(2) We are born into a museum such as monarch never erected.
(3) We are born into a palace whose roof is the firmament, whose walls the horizon, and whose floor the earth and sea.
(4) Besides this music, art, poetry, and literature are at command.
(5) And, yet more, God has so made us that the lawful satisfaction of our appetites and exercise of our bodies may be a constant source of pleasure.
5. How is it, then, that we make such a mess of our amusements. We want--
(1) Christ’s training to make us Christlike in our tastes and habits--eyes trained to appreciate beauty in form and colour; ears trained to appreciate music, and a decided taste formed for literature and science. The lower appetites are always ripe for entertainment--the higher want cultivating, and the lower will then give way.
(2) Unselfishness and charity in our pleasures. The man who can amuse himself at the expense of wife and children or any of his fellows, cannot rejoice in the Lord, and such amusements will always be unhallowed and unblessed. (Dr. Colborne.)
To rejoice is in one sense a happiness, in another a duty. In one sense it is an art: there are those who contrive to rejoice, find food for joy, where others can see nothing but gloom and grief: in another aspect it is an attainment; a result arrived at by long experience, in the latter days of a consistent Christian course. But in every point of view Christian joy can only be found in the Lord; by communion with Him, by close watching, by living much in things above. Compromises with the world drive it away. Sin destroys it in a moment. (Dean Vaughan.)
Afraid of joy
Joy has been considered by Christian people very largely as an exceptional state; whereas sobriety--by which is meant severity of mind or a non-enjoying state of mind--is supposed to be the normal condition. I knew a Roman Catholic priest that was as upright and conscientious a man as ever I met, who said he did not dare to be happy; he was afraid that he should lose his soul if he was; and he subjected himself to every possible mortification, saying, “It is not for me to be happy here, I must take it out when I get to heaven. There I expect to be happy.” That was in accordance with his view of Christianity. (H. W. Beecher.)
The happiness of religion
An infidel was lecturing in a village in the North of England, and at the close he challenged discussion. Who should accept the challenge but an old bent woman in most antiquated attire, who went up to the lecturer and said, “Sir, I have a question to put to you.” “Well, my good woman, what is it?” “Ten years ago,” she said, “I was left a widow with eight children utterly unprovided for, and nothing to call my own but this Bible. By its direction, and looking to God for strength, I have been enabled to feed myself and family. I am now tottering to the grave, but I am perfectly happy, because I look forward to a life of immortality with Jesus in heaven. That is what my religion has done for me. What has your way of thinking done for you?” “Well, my good lady,” rejoined the lecturer, “I don’t want to disturb your comfort; but--” “Oh, that’s not the question,” interposed the woman; “keep to the point, sir. What has your way of thinking done for you?” The infidel endeavoured to shirk the matter again; the feeling of the meeting gave vent to uproarious applause, and he had to go away discomfited by an old woman.
Of Major Vandeleur, one of the most beautiful characters found among the Christians of the Crimean War, another officer who knew him at Gibraltar said to his biographer, Miss Marsh: “Everybody on the old rock liked Vandeleur, and regretted him when he left us. He was ‘blue’ you know (i.e., religious)
, but then he was such a bright blue! No gay man, I should think, was ever half so cheerful and charming as a companion.” (J. F. B. Tinling, B. A.)
The oil of joy
Years ago a party on board a pleasure yacht in the United States discovered to their dismay that they were being silently and slowly drawn towards the Falls of Niagara. Skill and energy began at once to cope with the horrible emergency. The furnace was filled and refilled with wood until the fuel at command was entirely exhausted. What was to be done? Dismay showed itself on every face, and despair was paralysing them when a happy thought occurred to an officer. The oil used for the machinery of the steam engine was thrown into the fire. This gave just sufficient impetus for the moving of the vessel out of the strong current into smooth water, and she was saved. “The oil of joy” keeps many a one from being swept over the rapids of temptation. Let us, then, “rejoice in the Lord”--rejoice in His nearness, sufficiency, and immutability. (T. L. Nye.)
The motive for rejoicing
The motive for a repetition of this exhortation lies in the immediately foregoing context. Those “whose names are in the book of life” may well have within their breasts, even now, the sweetness and the calm of their promised bliss. The Saviour’s own express command to His disciples sets this directly before us (Luke 10:20). (J. Hutchison, D. D.)
Uninterrupted Christian joy
If the Christian’s joy be interrupted it ought only to be as the sun’s brightness may be dimmed by a passing cloud, which quickly leaves the firmament as radiant as before. (H. Melvill, B. D.)
Napoleon when sent to Elba, adopted, in proud defiance of his fate, the motto, “Ubicunque felix.” It was not true in his case; but the Christian may be truly “happy everywhere” and always. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
Means of Christian joy
If you go into Steinway’s manufactory and strike certain chords of the powerful instruments, the chords of the other instruments, though they are covered up and apparently mute, will sound. Such are the correspondences which exist between them, such is the sympathy which is communicated from one to the other by the air, that when one vibrates, all vibrate. Though the sound be low and almost inaudible, it is there. When the grandeur, beauty, and love of the Divine nature are presented to a man, they draw some response from every part of his nature which corresponds to that which is presented. When the hearts of men are drawn towards the heart of God there begins to be an interplay between them; and thus Christian rejoicing, while only possible, is inevitable, “in the Lord.” (H. W. Beecher.)
The sphere of Christian joy
God has made the human soul, and every instinct of faculty that composes it for Himself. He alone is the key to unlock its varied and mysterious powers, to discover their true range and capacity: and as this is the case with the other emotions so it is with joy. Joy, undoubtedly, that active sense of happiness which caresses the object which provokes it; which seeks some outlet or expression of its buoyancy--joy has an immense field of modified exercise in the sphere of sense and time, and Scripture recognizes this in a hundred ways. “To the counsellors of peace there is joy.” A man hath “joy by the answer of his mouth.” The virgin, in Jeremiah, “rejoices in the dance,” and Isaiah speaks of the “joy of harvest,” and of the “rejoicing” of men after victory “who divide the spoil;” and Solomon observes that “folly is joy to him who is destitute of wisdom;” and James knows of Christians who “rejoice in their boastings, whose rejoicing is evil.” The range of joy is almost as wide as that of human thought and enterprise. Its complete satisfaction is only to be found in God. God is the “exceeding joy” of the Psalmist. God is the one object who can draw out and give play to the soul’s capacity for active happiness; and therefore the Psalmist’s heart “dances for joy,” and his mouth “praiseth God with joyful lips,” and he bids the children of Zion “be joyful in their King;” and he looks out on heathendom, and would have all lands, if it were possible, “make a joyful noise unto the God of Jacob;” and he looks out on nature and bids the “field be joyful and all that is in it, and the trees of the wood rejoice before the Lord.” This is the language of exuberant delight, and St. Paul is only adopting the expression of the Psalmist, of Israel, of Joel, of Habakkuk, of Zechariah, when he bids the Philippians “rejoice in the Lord.” (Canon Liddon.)
Why Christians are not joyful
Our florists make up packages of seeds labelled “Gorgeous purple,” “Exceedingly beautiful,” “Remarkably fine,” and so on, referring to the flowers. Now let these seeds go into the lands of a clumsy person who has perhaps raised corn and potatoes, but who has never raised flowers; and let him plant them in cold, wet, barren soil, and at an untimely season. A few of them will sprout, and will come slowly up, pale and spindling, and will be neglected, and the weeds will overrun them: and when the time for blossoming comes there will be found here and there a scrawny plant, with one or two stingy blossoms, and men will say. “Now we see the outcome of this pretence. Look at the labels. It is all humbug.” But do you not perceive that the way in which you plant the seed, and the preparation of the soil, and the season have much to do with the successful growth? It is true that beautiful plants might have been produced. They were deserving of all the praise bestowed upon them. There was no deception. They might have been what they were represented, but they are not for want of knowledge, skill, and adaptation of conditions to ends. There may be persons who suppose because Christianity is joy producing that when they become Christians they will be joyful. They suppose that they are to take it as they would nitrous oxide gas, a magnificent Divine intoxicant, and are miserably disappointed when ecstatic effects do not take place. And the reason why there is not more joy in the Church is because you do not know how to plant the seeds and cultivate the flowers. They are real seeds, and the flowers are beautiful, and the plant bears blessed fruit to those who know how to give it proper culture. If you have the faith of Christ and heaven and God near to you; if you so love that all parts of your being are pervaded with a sense of these things; if the affluence of God reaches down to you and you open your soul to let in the consciousness of Christ, you will have joy. “Oh” says one, “I might be joyful if I were not so harassed with care.” “Casting all your care upon Him; for He careth for you.” There is provision made in Christ for care. “But I have such grief!” “Now no chastening for the present seemeth to be joyous” etc. If the earth had sensibility when the spade opened it, it would cry, “Oh! why art thou wounding me?” But in that open earth I drop seed, and cover up again, and by and by the ground is covered with beautiful flowers--does the earth mourn now? God is opening the furrow in you and putting in seeds. It is affliction to you now, but afterward it will produce in you the peaceable fruit of righteousness. (H. W. Beecher.)
No joy in heathenism
The old Greeks and Romans had their pleasures, their glories, their learning, their art, but theirs was not a happy life. There was always a shadow across their path, a skeleton at their feast. They saw the roses which crowned their heads wither and die; they saw the pale messenger, death, knocking with impartial hand at the doors of rich and poor alike. They knew that they grew older, and nearer the grave, and beyond that they knew nothing. There was no hope. They grew weary of the dance and the wine cup; they looked on their painted walls at Rome, or Pompeii, and felt that they cared for them no longer. They had ceased to believe in their cold, passionless gods of wood and stone, who could give them no help, no comfort; they were “without God in the world.” Such was the selfish life of the heathen, without God. No wonder that one day the Roman, who had nothing to live for, nothing to hope for, entered his bath, and opened a vein, and so bled quietly and painlessly to death. This is what a famous Greek poet said about life, that it was best of all not to be born, and the next best thing was to get quit of life as soon as possible. How differently speaks the Christian, “Rejoice in the Lord alway, and again I say rejoice.” (H. J. W. Buxton, M. A.)
No joy in infidelity or worldliness
The infidel cannot be habitually cheerful. Hear Hume say in his treatise on human nature, “I am affrighted and confounded with that forlorn solitude in which I am placed by my philosophy. When I look abroad, I see on every side dispute, contradiction, distraction, When I turn my eyes inward, I find nothing but doubt and ignorance. Where am I and what? From what causes do I derive my existence and to what condition shall I return? I am confounded with this question, and begin to fancy myself in the most deplorable condition imaginable.” Here you have one of the most philosophic, and, in many respects, one of the best of infidels, making this as his confession. Then, if you turn to the man of poetry and pleasure, Lord Byron says “There is nothing but misery in this world, I think.” This sentence was not written for effect; it was the genuine outpouring of that man’s heart. He had tried everything earthly. He certainly had been to every human and temporal fountain of enjoyment. He had gone through experience like that through which the wise man takes us in the Book of Ecclesiastes, and this is his conclusion--“There is nothing but misery in this world, at least, so I think.” (S. Martin.)
Let your moderation be known unto all men
What is moderation? An equal temperament of mind.
1. Moderate in undergoing afflictions (Luke 21:19).
(1) They are less than we deserve (Lamentations 3:39; Ezra 9:13).
(2) They are balanced by other mercies.
(3) They produce spiritual blessings (Hebrews 12:10).
2. Moderate in our love to, and desires of, all temporal enjoyments (Jeremiah 45:5).
(1) Because they are temporal (1 John 2:15-62.2.17).
(2) The more we desire them, the more we may (Ecclesiastes 1:7-21.1.8; Ecclesiastes 4:8).
(3) They can never make us happy.
3. Moderate in our enjoyment of temporal mercies.
(1) We may easily exceed (Jude 1:2; Luke 21:34).
(2) Excess changes their nature into curses.
4. Moderate in our anger for injuries received.
(1) So as not to let it boil up into hatred (Matthew 5:22; Matthew 5:44).
(2) Nor continue long (Ephesians 4:26).
5. Moderate in our cares about the world (Philippians 4:6).
(1) So as to make use of no unlawful means to get an estate (Jeremiah 17:11; Proverbs 22:16).
(2) So as not to neglect our souls for our bodies (Matthew 6:33).
II. How known unto all men.
1. So as that it may be real and apparent (Matthew 5:16).
2. Universal, towards all (1 Peter 1:15).
III. The reason. “The Lord is at hand.” How?
1. So as to be present everywhere (Psalms 139:7; Proverbs 15:3).
Otherwise He would not be infinite, and so not God. He is everywhere.
(1) In His substance (Jeremiah 23:23-24.23.24).
(2) So as to know what is done everywhere (Hebrews 4:13).
(3) So as to observe and ponder every action (Proverbs 5:21; Proverbs 15:3).
2. He is ready to come to judgment (Hebrews 10:37).
(1) To examine our actions (Ecclesiastes 12:14).
(2) To give to everyone according to their deserts (2 Corinthians 5:10).
(3) We know not how soon (1 Thessalonians 5:2; 2 Peter 3:10; Mark 13:35-41.13.36).
1. Have a care of excess, but be moderate in all things. Consider--
(1) By this means you will always keep yourself in an even frame (Luke 21:19).
(2) You will avoid sorrow as well as sin.
2. Often consider the omnipresence of God--in your civil commerces, in solitude, in company, when you pray and hear.
3. Often consider that the Lord is at hand to judge either to eternal misery or joy (Matthew 25:46). (Bishop Beveridge.)
Moderation: a fable
Hamet and Raschid, two neighbouring shepherds of India, in a time of great drought, made a request each of the Genius of Distribution: Hamet for a little brook which would never dry in summer, and in winter never overflow. Immediately the genius caused the fountain to bubble at his feet, and scatter its rills over the meadows: the flowers renewed their fragrance, the trees spread a greener foliage, and the flocks and herds quenched their thirst. Raschid, not satisfied with Hamet’s moderate request, desired the genius to turn the Ganges through his grounds, with all its waters and all their inhabitants. As Raschid was looking with contempt upon Hamet and his small request, he heard, on a sudden, the roar of torrents, and saw a mighty stream come rolling on, which was the Ganges broken loose from its bounds. The flood roiled forward into the lands of Raschid: his plantations were torn up, his flocks overwhelmed, he was swept away before it, and a crocodile devoured him. (Dr. Johnson.)
I. The principle.
1. As to moderation in certain habits.
(1) An ancient moralist tells us that virtue is a medium between two extremes. The extreme opposite to a vice is not a virtue, though everything opposite to virtue must be vice. Virtue is a road which has a hedge and ditch on both sides. Frugality, e.g., is such a road. If you break through the hedge on one side, you fall into wastefulness; if on the other, into covetousness. Humility is another: pride on one side, servility on the other. Magnanimity is bordered by cowardice and rashness.
(2) But while virtue is moderation between opposite vices, there is no place properly speaking for moderation in virtue. No man should think of being moderately magnanimous or humble. Neither can there be any moderation in vice--moderate avarice or extravagance.
(3) Yet foolish as it looks, there is a great deal of this sort of moderation, and much of what the world calls respectability is nothing else. Many a tradesman would eschew a great fraud, and yet be guilty of minor acts of dishonesty. He would not refuse to pay his creditors, but he thinks nothing of wearing down the health of his servants by over labour. He would not lie, but he has no scruples in over or understating the truth.
(4) The proper province of moderation is to regulate those powers, principles, and tendencies in man which have no evil in themselves, but which become evil by absence of restraint; e.g.
(a) The desire of knowledge; the cause and consequences of the first offence should teach us the need of putting a check upon it.
(b) So also the desire of power. Acquisitiveness is a natural propensity. If there were no such desire, what would become of the interests of society and civilization? But there is nothing that becomes more destructive when not held in by Christian principles.
2. As to moderation in certain feelings. The other phase of meaning in the word is gentleness. It includes the control of anger. Indignation against evil is virtuous, but resentment, even against an evil doer, is the opposite.
II. The manifestation. That our moderation may be known unto all men--
1. It must be decided. There must be no pressing towards the borders of excess, even though not touched. No hard driving at a bargain which would look like avarice. No such demands on servants as would look like oppression; no indulgence which would look like sensuality.
2. It must spring from principle. A man may be moderate in one thing, and not in another. An ascetic in eating and drinking, may be licentious. A man who has no ambition may be avaricious.
3. It must he habitually exercised. How many in their religious connections profess principles which are outraged in the home or in the shop.
III. The motive. “The Lord is at hand.” We tell men of the injuriousness of evil ways: as they make their bed they must lie upon it. But while forceful, it is an appeal to self-love in its lowest form, and habits formed upon it do not rise higher than mere prudence. Here is the Christian motive.
1. The judgment of the last day is approaching. This anticipation awakens an awful sense of responsibility.
2. But the Lord is an actual presence now. His judgment is passing on us at this moment; and we are now responsible. But is He not a Saviour as well as Judge? at hand to forgive the penitent and help the believer. (J. Stoughton, D. D.)
The word here rendered moderation in our Bible is connected by derivation and usage with ideas not of control, but of yielding. It is rendered Lindigkeit, yieldingness, giving way, in Luther’s German Bible; and I fully believe the interpretation to be right. “Forbearance,” “gentleness,” are the alternative renderings of our Revised Version, and both suggest the thought of giving way. “Let your yieldingness be known unto all men; the Lord is near.” St. Paul is dealing throughout this passage with certain holy conditions necessary to an experience of “the peace of God keeping the heart and thoughts in Christ Jesus.” Standing fast in the Lord, harmony and mutual helpfulness in the Lord, rejoicing in the Lord, and prayerful and thankful communion with the Lord, are among these conditions. And with them, in the midst of them, appears this also: “Let your yieldingness be known unto all men; the Lord is near.” This connection with the deep peace of God throws a glory over the word and the precept. The yieldingness which is here enjoined is nothing akin to weakness, indolence, or indifference. It is a positive grace of the Spirit; it flows from the fulness of Jesus Christ. What is it? We shall find the answer partly by remembering how, from another point of view, the gospel enjoins, and knows how to impart, the most resolute unyieldingness. If anything can work the great miracle of making a weak character strong, it is the gospel. It can make the regenerate will say “no” to self on a hundred points where never anything but “yes” was heard before. Nothing in the moral world is so immovable as the will of a living Christian, sustained by the power of God the Holy Spirit, on some clear case of principle. I lately read of the uncompromising decision of a Christian man, in high military command in India, fifty years ago. He had accepted office, and £10,000 a year, being far from rich meanwhile in private means, on the condition that he should not be asked to give official countenance to idolatry. The condition was not observed. He was required to sign a grant of money to an idol temple. The East India Company would not give way, nor would their distinguished servant. He resigned his command promptly, and came home without a murmur, and without a compensation. Here, in a conspicuous case, was the unyieldingness of the gospel, a mighty grace which, thank God, is being daily exemplified in His sight in a thousand smaller instances. Yet this very case equally well illustrates from another side the yieldingness of the gospel. From the point of view of principle this admirable Christian was fixed as a rock, as a mountain; from the point of view of self-interest he was movable as air. That it was a sacrifice of self’s gain and glory to resign was as nothing in his path. His interests were his Master’s. Jesus Christ was in him where by nature self is. He was jealous and sensitive for the Lord; indifferent, oblivious for himself. Yieldingness, in our passage, is in fact selflessness. It is meekness, not weakness; the attitude of a man out of whom the Lord has cast the evil spirit of self. It is a blessed thing to be a “moderate” in this sense. A living calm pervades that soul. A thousand anxieties, and a thousand regrets, incident to the life of self, are spared it. It is at leisure from itself, and therefore free for many a delightful energy and enterprise when God calls it in that direction, as well as ready for imprisonment and apparent inutility when that is His will. Nothing does the world’s microscope discover more keenly than selflessness in a Christian man or woman. Nothing at once baffles its experience and explanation, and attracts its notice and respect, like the genuine selflessness, the yieldingness, of the grace of God. Let ours, then, “be known unto all men”; not paraded and thrown into an attitude, but kept in practice and use in real life, where it can be put to real tests. And would we read something, in this same verse, of its heavenly secret? It lies before us: “the Lord is near.” He is near, not here in the sense of coming soon, but in that of standing by; in the sense of His presence, and “the secret” of it, around His servant. The very words used here by St. Paul occur in this connection in the Septuagint (Greek) translation of the Old Testament, a translation old even in St. Paul’s time: “Thou art near (ἐγλύς), O Lord.” The thought is of the calm and overshadowing of His recollected and realized Presence; that Divine atmosphere in which bitter things, and things narrow with the contractions and distortions of self, must die, and in which all that is sweet and loving lives. “From the provoking of all men, from the strife of tongues,” there is Divine protection and concealment there. St. Paul himself beautifully exemplifies his own words, in this same Epistle, in the first chapter. The “brethren” at Rome who “preached Christ of envy and strife, supposing to add affliction to his bonds,” certainly took a very irritating line of action. And their action tried St. Paul. But it did not irritate him. (H. C. G. Moule, M. A.)
By “moderation” is meant, not temperance in the gratification of our desires generally, but specially temperance or self-restraint in our relations to others, abstinence from anger, harshness, vengeance. Elsewhere in the New Testament, where the original word occurs, the rendering is “gentleness,” “clemency,” “patience,” any one of which is preferable to this ambiguous “moderation.” The exact idea is “a considerate and forbearing spirit.” The apostle would have us make allowances for the ignorance and weakness of others, knowing how much and constant need we stand in of having allowances made for ourselves, both by God and man. Taken generally, his precept here calls upon us, for example, in our business dealings, to remember that human laws, however carefully devised, may ever and anon, if rigidly enforced, act unjustly and cruelly; and to guide ourselves therefore, in every case, by the broad principles of equity in the sight of God. Similarly, in our judgment of the conduct of men, it enjoins upon us to take a kindly view, wherever this is possible, never believing evil of them until we cannot help it. In the case which seems to be at present specially before Paul’s mind, that of a person who is “persecuted for righteousness’ sake,” he would have the sufferer to form the mildest judgment he can respecting the procedure and character of his enemy; to remember and pity the melancholy darkness of soul which prompts the persecution; and, even if he be in a position to avenge himself, to withhold his hand, and leave the matter with the Lord Jesus. When He comes, all wrongs will be righted (James 5:9). (R. Johnstone, LL. B.)
The Lord is at hand--
I. Providentially (Psalms 139:1-19.139.24).
II. Spiritually. “Christ in you the hope of glory.” “Where two or three are gathered in My Name.”
III. Personally. To punish evil and to glorify His own. (Bishop Montagu Villiers.)
The nearness of Christ
Although corporeally Christ has left this world and is far beyond our mortal ken, yet, spiritually and essentially, He is near at hand to every man. “I am with you always.”
I. In all the operations of nature. “In Him all things consist.” Nature is not merely His creation: it is His organ, His instrument. He is in it as the soul is in the body, animating and directing every part. He is in all seasons of the year. He flashes in the lightning. He speaks in the thunder. He is in every ray of light and every wave of air.
II. In all the events of history. In the creations of literature, the progress of science, in all the advancing steps of civilization. Every event of life is an advent of Christ. He stands at the door of our nature and knocks. He originates the good and controls the evil.
III. In all redemptive influences. In the words of the prophets and apostles; in the ministry of His gospel; in the agency of His Spirit. Conclusion: Let us realize this: eschew evil, pursue good; be heroic in duty and magnanimous in trial. “The Lord stood by me,” said Paul. (D. Thomas, D. D.)
The Lord is near
I. Be joyful.
II. Be gentle.
III. Be trustful.
IV. Be prayerful.
V. Be peaceful. (C. J. P. Eyre, M. A.)
The omnipresence of God
I. The doctrine. The words are not applicable merely to some persons, nations, occasions, circumstances, but to all. The Lord is at hand to the pious and the profane; in places of devotion and places of commerce and pleasure. He fills all time and space (Psalms 139:1-19.139.24).
II. The occasions which are specially calculated to remind us of this.
1. God’s visitations in the death of those around us.
2. Our own advancing years.
3. The vicissitudes of the seasons.
4. The march of time towards eternity.
III. The ground and source of the sinner’s safety.
1. Redemption in Christ.
2. Regeneration and holiness by the Spirit.
3. Divine friendship.
IV. Practical effects.
1. In view of Christ’s present and future nearness, men should be ready for His manifestation.
2. Diligent in duty.
3. Dead to the world. (W. Nicholson.)
The Lord is at hand
I. To inspect our conduct. “All things are naked and open to Him,” and with Him is no respect of persons (Jeremiah 17:10).
II. Either to approve or disapprove our conduct. At this moment God is weighing us in the balance of His sanctuary. To be the object of His approbation is the highest blessing. We can then be indifferent to the world’s censures. But to be condemned of Him is our heaviest curse.
III. To regulate the affairs of His Church and accomplish the predictions of His word.
1. To convict the sinner.
2. Edify the believer.
3. Extend His gospel.
IV. To summon us to His tribunal. This He does practically at death. (Congregational Remembrancer.)
Deliverance at hand
I have heard one say, as he bent over a friend who was groaning under the surgeon’s knife, It will soon be over! and so Jesus, with tender fellow feeling for their infirmities, consoles His suffering people. Amid your trials, think of that--they will soon be over; sooner, perhaps, than you fancy. Your salvation, not only nearer than when you believed, may be nearer than you suppose; even now the cry may be sounding in heaven--Room for another saint! a crown for another head! and the next turn of the road may bring you in front of the gates of glory. (T. Guthrie, D. D.)
Near and distant relative terms
“Near” and “distant” are relative terms. For the little child, whose limbs soon grow weary, the friend’s house is far away, which for his father is but a step from home. So to the child, reckoning by his life, an event seems long past, far away in a hoary antiquity, which to the man on whom have come the snows of many winters, and who reckons by his life, seems to have occurred but yesterday. Now faith, in the measure of its vigour, enables us to see things in the light of God, giving us oneness of view with Him. When, then, our apostle says, “The Lord is at hand,” he speaks as one who has been taught to reckon according to the years of the lifetime of the Most High--unbeginning, unending. On the same principle, you remember, in another place, he estimates the Christian’s affliction--affliction extending perhaps over threescore years and ten--as “but for a moment,” because the standard by which he computes is the “eternal” duration of the weight of glory” which is to follow, (R. Johnstone, LL. B.)
“The Lord is at hand”
As an illustration of that, let the gay young man think of Belshazzar’s feast. There is the gorgeous oriental palace, with its massive architecture, its huge columns, its gigantic figures, its pictured halls; and there are the thousand lords in their rich robes, and the king, in the pomp of an eastern despot, drinking wine before the thousand. And in the same hour there came forth the fingers of a man’s hand, and they wrote over against the candlestick upon the plaister of the wall of the king’s palace; the mysterious hand moves and writes--moves and writes--and there are letters, words burnt into the wall, as with a pen of flame. The king knows not what they mean till the prophet comes to tell; and then their import is found to be, that the miserable man who wears the crown is “weighed in the balances and found wanting,” and his kingdom is torn from him. So, though not visibly, yet really, there is over against the intemperate young man, the sensual young man, an omniscient Eye beholding his deeds, and an unerring Hand recording his doom, opposite him in the casino, and in other haunts of dissipation and vice. Here it is: conscience at times makes you tremble, and the minister of the gospel interprets the Divine revelation, and tells you of the wrath to come. “The Lord is at hand;” and as an illustration of that let every man of business read the parable of the rich fool, in the twelfth chapter of St. Luke, and the sixteenth verse. There you have epitomized the history of many a London tradesman: the goods are laid up, not that the soul may take its ease, but that there may be a grand funeral, and much excitement at the reading of the will, and perhaps quarrelling over the property, and a gorgeous tomb in one of the suburban cemeteries, and a scattering of the huge gold heap by some profligate son; and the poor, careful soul who toiled and saved, and made others toil and save, who was at his books till midnight, and grudged the hours of sleep and rest to his poor shopman, where is he?--where is he? To think that men can go on as they do, digging, and delving, and scraping together money, money, money, while death is at the door, and the judgment is at hand, and hell is opening its mouth to swallow up the worldly! “The Lord is at hand.” Read as an illustration of that in another way--“And being in the house of Simon the leper, as He sat at meat, there came a woman having an alabaster box of ointment of spikenard, very precious, and she brake the box, and poured it on His head. And Jesus said, She hath wrought a good work on Me; she hath done what she could.” And so, whatever you do from love to Jesus in the way of helping men, in the way of checking sin, in the way of saving souls, in the way of lightening misery, He is at hand to notice, to record, to approve, to bless. (J. Stoughton, D. D.)
Be careful for nothing
The evil. An incessant concern for our temporal affairs; that over thoughtfulness so pointedly condemned by Christ in the Sermon on the Mount. Consider--
1. The dishonour it reflects on God as the moral Governor of the universe. It distrusts His care of His own, and the man who cannot trust the God of providence will not trust Him as the God of grace.
2. Its effects on self. Though it is certain that it can produce no good effect, yet it is indulged in, and it corrodes the mind, sours the heart, and influences the whole system. Most maniacs are produced by this, not to speak of thousands cut down in the eagerness of their worldly pursuits, destroying soul and body together.
3. Its effects on others. It excites envy. I envy in others something which my covetous heart desires. I hate the person possessing it, and am therefore a murderer in my heart.
II. The cure.
1. Be careful for nothing. Retire from the world into yourself. Let the matter lie between God and you. Call not the world in as umpire.
2. Make your requests known unto God. He is your friend, able and willing to bear your burden and supply all your need.
(1) In prayer: there is no other way of approaching Him, and it is only prayer which will throw off the load.
(2) Prayer brings the plea, supplication urges it. God frequently delays to try your faith, and the persistence and energy of your supplication. But His name is yet Jehovah Jireh.
(3) With thanksgiving, which manifests the right state of heart.
(4) Without reserve. God cares for the least of His creatures as well as for the greatest. What we call little things are often of the greatest importance, either in themselves or their consequences.
III. The effect. “The peace of God.” (J. Summerfield, A. M.)
I. An evil. Anxiety is to be avoided.
1. For our own sakes. The exhortation does not discourage economy and industry, although some fanatics make it do so. The same religion which tells us to be careful for nothing tells us also to be diligent in business, and if anyone under the cloak of the text becomes careless of the duties of life he denies “the faith and is worse than an infidel.” Still there are some virtues which become vices.
(1) Here is a man who by unstinted economy heaps up riches, and knows not who will reap them. The world promised him happiness in riches, and outside people say, “What a happy man.” But look at the wrinkles on his face; he is fearful of losing his riches and is apprehensive of beggary and dies, sometimes by his own hand.
(2) Here is another, careful of his good name--a good thing in itself--but the least thing said about him he feels acutely, and his peace is destroyed. The Christian’s duty is clear. He must not fritter away his life in anxiety about circumstances or good name. Anxiety cumbers people as it did Martha, and is both unwise and injurious. There are trials enough without making them. The anxious man is a wholesale trouble maker.
2. Because we are not our own. This is a question which affects both conscience and honesty. God made us. What we possess is not our own. God has purchased us by the precious blood of Christ.
3. Because anxiety is distrust of God. The promises cannot be broken; however adverse the circumstances. Anxiety is thinking meanly of God. While religion allows of grief, she forbids excessive grief. It is difficult to bear with affliction, but it is cowardly to succumb.
II. A preventative. Prayer is an appeal to Deity, which shows that we are not independent of Him; but it is an appeal to a Father. To be successful it must fulfil certain conditions.
1. It must be thankful--even in time of sorrow. Who of us has not something to be thankful for--food, raiment, etc.
2. It must be particular. There are some things which people think too insignificant; but who has sufficient knowledge to determine that. Has God ever rebuked you for going to Him? God cares for the sparrows, much more then for you.
3. Continual. No solitary supplication was ever forgotten. The answers will surely come, although in an unexpected way.
III. A consolation.
1. The peace of God. We do not know how it is infused into the heart, “It passeth all understanding;” but we may all feel it if we like.
2. It is the Saviour’s legacy; and nobody should be defrauded of it--“My peace.”
3. Some people try to keep the peace of God instead of letting the peace of God keep them.
4. Its medium is “Christ Jesus.” (W. M. Punshon, LL. D.)
Peace by Tower and power by prayer
I. The mistake from which we are dissuaded. “Be careful for nothing.”
1. This does not mean that we are to be stoically indifferent, and just to take life as it comes. Such a notion would be the death of all holy manly ambition, and would mean “good for nothing.” Man is not intended to be the sport of circumstances. His duties imply an earnest exercise of his powers, which is impossible without a measure of solicitude. Note the commendation which “carefulness” receives in 2 Corinthians 7:11. Were a Christian to fall into indifference Christianity would be gone.
2. The mistake against which we are dissuaded is that of laying the mind open to the worries which are ready to invade it--the disposition condemned in Martha. St. Paul would have us rise into the calm region of faith above all fret and paralysing fear.
3. Such an exhortation is not uncalled for. Over anxiety is one of the commonest of sins. Strange that it should be so we profess to believe that the Lord knows our sorrows, that His peace is sufficient, that He supplies all our need, and causes all things to work together for good. Surely such a belief should make us trustful, fearless, and calm. We may well cry, “Help our unbelief.”
II. The instrumentality for the repression of over anxiety (Psalms 62:8).
1. “Let your requests,” etc. True, God knows our needs before we pray; but we may, nevertheless, find relief in telling them out to Him with the confiding love of a child. Enlightened prayer does not ask for miracle or any change in the Divine will. It only implies that asking is one of the appointed conditions of receiving, that the giving of the best things that the soul craves is the sole prerogative of God.
2. “In everything.” Prayer properly belongs to the whole of our condition. Whatever touches our life is important enough to be taken to the “throne of grace.”
3. “By prayer and supplication.” The language implies entreaty. Not “vain repetitions,” not noise as if God were afar off or indifferent, but the fresh warm cry of the hungry for bread.
4. “With thanksgiving.” Prayer should be animated with gratitude. While we are with God let us think of His goodness in welcoming us, His former gracious answers, His countless undeserved and even unsought blessings. Gratitude is one of the sweetest and most useful ingredients. Whilst it honours God it disposes to that faith without which we cannot pray aright. So we come to that trust which is the antithesis of inordinate anxiety. In prayer, distrust is distraction, and distraction weakness. The prayer of faith is the natural and appointed instrumentality for the repression of over anxiety.
III. The method in which this instrumentality works for the production of the desired result. Peace comes by power and power by prayer.
1. In prayer itself there is often a priceless enjoyment.
2. We obtain specific answers to prayers; not always, indeed, according to our fancies, but invariably according to God’s all-wise and perfect goodness, which is immeasurably preferable.
3. It is in the nature of prayer to soothe away unnecessary anxiety, and to sweeten such solicitudes as are wholesome; for prayer takes us into the presence of God, where all is calm. (J. P. Barnett.)
“Be careful for nothing”
Man is born to trouble as the sparks fly upward. He is launched on the storm-tossed sea of life. He is a reed which grows up to be shaken of the wind. The pleasantest paths are not without their sorrows. The rose, however sweet it is, has its thorns. What then shall we do with our sorrows?
1. It is impossible to eradicate them, for in the very resistance we find a new cause of suffering. As the fabled Hydra of old, with one head severed from his body, sprang forward with a hundred in its place, so shall our resisted troubles be.
2. It is folly to resist them; as idiotic a task as Don Quixote’s against the windmills.
3. Shall we suffer, then? We could if we were as strong as Atlas, who bore the world on his shoulders; but we are not Atlases.
4. Take them quickly, then, to the Divine Burden bearer. This is the panacea for all the ills that flesh is heir to.
I. Be careful for nothing.
1. Because there are higher considerations. Here we spend no end of time and thought on things which are not worth it, and neglect matters which deserve our most earnest attention. “The life is more than meat,” and the soul than life. The doctor’s bell and knocker never seem at rest; nor are the poor patients to be blamed for their importunity; but how is it that the body casket is so cared for and the soul jewel so neglected. Men are careful even to madness about their money, but utterly careless about eternal riches.
2. Because those necessary trifles about which we are obliged to think in some degree are all seen to and arranged by God. Cast, then, “all your care upon Him; He careth for you.”
3. Because the smallest affairs of life are entirely beyond our control. Man can do a great deal--he can flash a message round the world, and through the microphone hear the footstep of a fly, but he cannot add one cubit to his stature.
4. Because nothing is too small for God to arrange for. We are ready to believe that nothing is too great for God to care for, but it is difficult for us to confide in Him in little things. But the God who made the ocean makes the dew drop, and cares for both.
II. Be prayerful for everything. Some mercies will come unasked for; but those are sweetest which come in answer to prayer.
1. Because of the privilege of prayer. We have not only the care but the heart of God. The blood of God’s dear Son has opened the way to the mercy seat.
2. Because of the power of prayer. It has a soothing effect, as we know from earthly confidences.
3. Because there is no limit to prayer. There is nothing we may not ask Him about. It is His will. “I will be enquired of.”
III. Be thankful for anything.
1. Because we do not deserve anything but wrath.
2. Because ingratitude is one of the worst of sins. We are thankful for the hospitality of earthly friends, and yet though we have so much from God how thankless we are. Thankless hearts are like scentless flowers. (Thomas Spurgeon.)
I. Its nature. The root of the original word is a verb which signifies “to divide.” Such care as diverts and distracts the mind from its true and tranquil bent towards God. It is not common forethought and prudence that is forbidden. There is no warrant for carelessness, supineness, inactivity. Neither the indifference of the fatalist or of the sensualist are sanctioned here. But here is warrant for the man who believes that “all things work together for good;” that in things both great and small “the Lord will provide.”
1. In disappointment--adversity where prosperity was expected--the loss of those on whom our strongest trust was reposed.
2. In the pressing claims of business or the family.
3. Relax not any reasonable and temperate exertion, but listen “God will provide” sing the birds of the air, and whisper the lilies of the field.
II. Its causes.
1. An undue value of this present world. We reverse the apostle’s rule and walk by sight.
2. Practical distrust of God. The most orthodox are often guilty of this heresy. Faith in God is useless in the creed if it be absent from the heart.
3. Neglect of Christian privilege. “All things are yours.” The promises are ours, but we neglect to plead and to trust them.
III. Its evils.
1. Its essence is worldly mindedness. Unseen and eternal things are thrown into the background. And the snare is doubly dangerous and successful from the fact that it is not viewed as a sin, but cloaked under the specious names of prudence and care for family.
2. It cramps our benevolence. It knows nothing of lending unto the Lord and giving cheerfully. It anticipates the day when what can now be spent will be wanted. It will not trust God.
3. It engenders a close illiberal spirit in all the transactions of life. It stands by its rights, drives hard bargains, exacts the uttermost farthing. “I cannot afford it.” “I must not wrong my family.”
IV. The remedy. Prayer, including blessings sought and evils deprecated (“supplication”), joined with an acknowledgment of mercies past.
1. Be it what it may it is the Christians privilege to spread it before the Lord, like Hezekiah. You have kind friends, sound advisers; but go first to God; and when before Him pour out your whole heart, and you shall find a calm and stillness in heart prayer, which shall soothe every grief and care to rest. If you do not find it all at once pray on.
2. Be thankful, i.e., draw upon your experience as well as your faith; and remember that “the Lord’s hand is not shortened that it cannot save,” etc. (Canon Miller.)
I. Its folly. What good can anxiety do?
1. It is an idle thing; the mind hovers and flutters round the subject; goes over the same ground again and again, wearies itself in vain repetitions of the same cares and fears; but what has it done? has it advanced the matter one real step? Has it arrived at one good counsel, or set itself to one wise act?
2. It is an enfeebling thing; it eats the very life out of the energies; it leaves the man not only where he was, but ten times less capable and vigorous than at the beginning.
3. It is an irritating thing; it ruffles the temper, upsets the balance of the spirit; is the sure source of moodiness, sharpness, petulance, and anger; it sets a man at war with himself, his neighbour, God’s providence, and God’s appointments.
4. It is a sign of mistrust, of feeble faith, of flagging energy, and languid obedience.
II. Its cure.
1. St. Paul knew better than to attempt the correction of anxiety by human arguments. It may be useless, wrong, mischievous, but it is in us all; and let a man be sharply tried, he is anxious still. The conflict with any one of our evil tendencies is too strong for us single handed.
2. Bring in another person; introduce a new consideration; suggest a new motive. Tell us of One who amongst our other griefs has borne this, amongst our other sorrows has carried this (Isaiah 53:4); of One who in all our afflictions is Himself afflicted; in all our cares is Himself troubled (Isaiah 63:9); above all, of One who is not in some different and distant world, where the sound of human groans scarcely penetrates, where the burden of human distress is regarded as unreal, but who is here, in our world, at hand, present; who both foresees and remembers with us, feels with as well as for us, is “touched with a sense of our infirmities,” yea, was Himself “tempted in all points” (Hebrews 4:15). Then, in His presence, in His human soul, in His compassionate heart, we will lay aside our anxieties, rest from our burdens, take refuge from our fears and from our sins. (Dean Vaughan.)
The prayer of faith
In everything make your request known unto God, and then be careful for nothing. It is committed into God’s hands, rest and rejoice. These early converts were filled with an overwhelming sense of the blessings with which their lives were crowned. They found it easier to praise than we do.
I. The principle of deliverance from care is placed by our Lord, in the Sermon on the Mount, in a two-fold light.
1. The things about which we are tempted to be careful are “things that perish.” Their worth is but for a little time, and stretches but a little way. What matters a little more or less of earthly treasure. The soul’s satisfaction is independent of it. The true and enduring riches are within reach. To men who believed in and pined for the heavenly treasure, the appeal was conclusive. What matters the earthly substance which moth and rust are wasting daily, when we have a glorious treasure which defies decay and violence. They believed this and were careful for nothing. We believe less and are consumed with care.
2. This superiority to earthly things demands a keen discernment, a pure unworldly heart, which are rare. Who is sufficient for these things. The Saviour, pitying our infirmity, has another assurance to meet the needs of our trembling apprehensive natures. “Your heavenly Father knoweth that ye have need of these things.” We are not alone in this great universe, whose awful order, indifferent to our needs, strikes a shivering dread into our hearts. Behind the veil a Father is watching and caring, and by His vigilant providence is adding, in the measure in which He sees we need them, all these things unto us. Be careful for nothing; rest calmly in the care of God.
3. But we can not only rest but pray. He is no unknown Friend to whom we can commend our cause and then leave it. He is here in the silent sanctuary of our hearts. Perhaps our requests are shortsighted and foolish. Be it so. The best thing that we can do is to take them to God, and lay them before Him. His light will reveal, His fire consume the sensual, selfish element in our petitions; His burning presence will purify our hearts, and make our prayers powerful with Him. Prayer is the channel of communication between the careworn soul and its helper; and it fills its desolation with the sense of a living, loving presence, which charges the very atmosphere with benediction; it quickens a pulse of joy and hope in the numbness of its despair. He who has never known what prayer can do to calm a troubled and uplift a despairing spirit is dead to the deepest, richest experience of life.
II. But it must be the prayer of faith.
1. Christians complain bitterly that their prayers are not answered. But they do not understand the conditions. God nowhere binds Himself to answer our shortsighted requests. Did we see more clearly we should tremble lest He should. That would prove His heaviest chastisement. But He binds Himself to answer our prayers, in His own way. No praying soul is sent empty away.
2. The prayer of faith is the prayer which recognizes God as the supreme and perfect God. No man is in the way of blessing until he understands that in God alone can he be supremely blessed. Until he has made God his portion there is the deepest want of his being unsatisfied. This being recognized his wants fall into their true proportion. They are not extinguished, but they are no more imperative. It is no longer, Give me this or I die; it is, Give me Thyself and I live; and this, Give or withhold at Thy will. I have all, and abound in Thee.
3. The prayer of faith seeks conformity with the mind of God, without which it is idle to hope or pray for peace. Nine-tenths of our cares grow out of our mad desires for some unreal and delusive good. All cares that eat into the soul arise really from a striving against God. The first request of prayer is, “Show me Thy will, and rule my will by Thine. Root out self-will, tame passion, calm desire, bring me into harmony with Thy pure and perfect mind, and then bestow what Thou seest is for my good.” When a soul has said that, its brooding cares and wearing sorrows have gone as the mists of the morning vanish in the sunlight.
4. The prayer of faith never leaves out of its account the Hand that is always working for our deliverance, and never so mightily as when the storm gathers, and the great waters seem to overwhelm. And the prayer of faith never fails. (J. Baldwin Brown, B. A.)
Prayer with thanksgiving
The two precepts balance each other. The first especially would be misunderstood if it stood alone. They are so connected with “but” as to exclude each other. You may have either, but you cannot have both. The careful is not prayerful; the prayerful is not careful.
I. Let your requests be made known unto God.
(1) All creatures are dependent. The earth by dumb signs asks the rain from heaven to refresh its dust and make it fruitful. The air asks moisture from the ocean; the ocean from the rivers. All are needy and seek their supply from Him in whom all fulness dwells.
(2) Man with the greatest capacity is distinguished by the greatest need. The child is much more dependent on its parents’ care than the young of other creatures, So the child of God’s family needs much more from the Father’s hand. How many times has a man of sixty breathed? How vast the supply of air, and how close to his lips? The act of breathing seems an emblem at once of the creature’s continual need, and of the Creator’s abundant supply. His goodness has compassed us about like the atmosphere; and when we open our mouth it is filled with good.
2. Make them known to God.
(1) The lower part of our nature is supplied as God supplies that of the beasts. But God desires company among His creatures. He did not find among them any fit for this until He made man in His own image. Fathers love to supply their children’s wants; inconceivably greater is God’s delight. Human fathers have a defective love in their hearts and a defective supply in their hands: they sometimes will not, and sometimes cannot, give what their children require. But our Father in heaven is not limited on either side.
(2) When man fell the relation was broken off it a great price the channel was opened again. God has, through Christ, made known His fulness: we should, through Christ, make known to Him our need.
3. Your requests--your own--not what other people have asked, or what you have learned to repeat. Jesus set a little child in the midst of His disciples, and said, “Give me a child’s simplicity.” The wants it cries for are its own, and whether intelligible or not are real, not feigned. What element in the request of his little child goes home to the father’s heart, filling it with delight and opening sluices for a flood of gifts? It is this--they are his own child’s own requests. This quality, “yours,” will cover a multitude of sins against grammar and other earthly laws.
II. By prayer and supplication with thanksgiving.
1. Prayer. This is the soul’s believing and reverential approach unto God. It is the prelude to the request and thanksgiving. The pattern prayer commences with “Our Father.” The prayer and supplication follow.
2. Supplication--the specific request. The word means asking, but its radical signification is “want:” hence it came to mean a craving for supply.
3. With thanksgiving--for past favours.
4. The relation of these two elements of a soul’s communion with God.
(1) Supplication with thanksgiving seems to intimate that we are apt to omit this latter ingredient, and to warn us that the omission will vitiate all. To ply the asking without the song of praise seems like taking some ingredients of the physician’s prescription and leaving out one.
(2) The currents of grace run in circles as well as in nature--the believer draws from God a stream of benefits and returns the incense of praise.
III. Is everything.
1. Pray. At all times, in all places, about everything. Not on the Sabbath, or in church only. Our Father takes it ill if we send in our request for the pardon of sin, but ask not His counsel about the choice of a companion or an investment in trade. He is not a man of little faith who puts little things into his prayers.
2. Give thanks. There is nothing here contrary to nature. God’s commandments are not grievous. You need not give thanks for suffering, but even in sorrow there is room for praise. E.g.
(1) In the things you do not suffer--when in bodily pain that the mind is clear; or when suffering from calumny that you have a good conscience towards God; or when you have lost your money that your children survive.
(2) For the good sorrow brings in fruit unto holiness.
(3) But in all cases there is room for thanks in the “unspeakable Gift.” (W. Arnot, D. D.)
Prayer perfumed with praise
1. By prayer is meant the general, and by supplication the particular act of devotion. Do not forget the second element. There is a good deal of generalizing in prayer. What we want is more definite pleading with God. When Abraham prayed he did not merely adore God but offered specific petitions, and Elijah prayed for rain there and then.
2. But whether general or specific we are to offer thanksgiving. Hence it follows--
(1) That we ought always to be in a thankful condition of heart. “Thus will I bless Thee while I live.”
(2) That the blending of thanks with devotion is always to be maintained. Though the prayer should struggle upward out of the depths, yet must its wings be silvered o’er with thanksgiving. These two holy streams flow from a common source and should mingle as they flow; like kindred colours they shade off into each other.
(3) This commingling of precious things is admirable. Prayer is myrrh, and praise is frankincense. The holy incense of the sanctuary yielded the smoke of prayer which filled the holy place, but with it was the sweet perfume of praise. Prayer and praise are like the two cherubim, they must never be separated. Note how our Lord mingles both in the model prayer, and David in the Psalms (Psalms 18:3). And so St. Paul (Romans 1:8-45.1.9; Colossians 1:3; 1Th 1:2; 2 Timothy 1:3; Philippians 1:3-50.1.4), and when he and Silas, when in the Philippian jail, they prayed and sang praises.
I. The reasons for mingling thanksgiving with prayer. In the nature of things it should be so. We do not come to God as if He had left us penniless. Thanksgiving is our right attitude towards One who daily loadeth us with benefits. You have cause for thanksgiving.
1. That such a thing as prayer is possible--that God should have commanded and encouraged it, and supplied all things necessary for its exercise--the blood-besprinkled mercy seat, the perpetual Intercessor, the spirit of grace and supplication who helpeth our infirmities.
2. That we are spared and permitted to pray. It is of the Lord’s mercy that we are not consumed. Like David we may not be able to go up to the house of prayer, but we can still pray. The prodigal has lost his substance, but not his power to supplicate.
3. That we have already received great mercy at God’s hands. If we never received another favour we have had enough for ceaseless praise. Whatever we may ask for cannot be one-half so great as what has been received. We have life in Christ; and that is more than food or raiment. If Christ is thine, He who gave thee Him will deny thee nothing.
4. That prayer has been answered so many times before.
5. That we have the mercy which we seek. We antedate our gratitude with men. Your promise to pay a man’s rent when it has become due is the object of thanks before a farthing has left your pocket. Shall we not be willing to trust God a few months or years beforehand.
6. If the Lord does not answer the prayer we are offering, yet, still, He is so good that we will bless Him whether or no. How devoutly might some of us thank Him that He did not grant the evil things we sought in the ignorance of our childish minds. We asked for flesh and He might have sent us quails in His anger. The Lord’s roughest usage is only love in disguise.
II. The evil of the absence of thanksgiving.
1. We should be chargeable with ingratitude. Aristotle said, “A return is required to preserve friendship between two persons;” and if we have nothing else but gratitude let us abound therein.
2. It would argue great selfishness. Can it be right to pray for benefits and never honour our Benefactor.
3. Thanksgiving prevents prayer from becoming an exhibition of want of faith. If when I am in trouble I still bless God for all I suffer, therein my faith is seen. Is our faith such that it only sings in the sunshine? Have we no nightingale music for our God? Is our trust like the swallow, which must leave us in winter? Is our faith a flower that needs a conservatory to keep it active? Can it not blossom like gentian at the foot of the frozen glacier.
4. Not to thank God would argue wilfulness and want of submission to His will. Must everything be ordered according to our own mind? Much of the prayer of rebellious hearts is the mere growling of an angry obstinacy, the whine of an ungratified self-conceit.
III. The result of thanksgiving in connection with prayer.
1. Peace (verses 5, 7). Some men pray, and therein they do well; but for lack of mixing thanksgiving with it they come away from the closet even more anxious than when they entered it.
2. Thanksgiving will warm the soul and enable it to pray. Do not pump up unwilling formal prayer. Take the hymn book and sing.
3. When a man begins to pray with thanksgiving he is on the eve of receiving the blessing. God’s time to bless you has come when you begin to bless Him (2 Chronicles 20:20, etc.). Our thanksgiving will show that the reason for our waiting is now exhausted; that the waiting has answered its purposes, and may now come to a joyful end. When you put up a thanksgiving on the ground that God has answered your prayer, you have really prevailed with God. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
The ideal manhood
1. This is a command given by one of the ablest professors in the school of Christ. Different schools turn out different sorts of scholars. A military school is understood to turn out good fighting soldiers; a law school good lawyers; a medical school good doctors; a classical school good scholars; the school of Christ a certain style of manhood after the pattern of Christ.
2. Here is a man trained in this school, and now a teacher. He is a prisoner, advanced in life, most sensitive, one who had been subjected to every pain and indignity, who lived a life enough to make anyone turn pale; and yet after all he had undergone he says, “Let your disposition be such that you will see how many things you have to be thankful for; and when you ask for anything do it through the radiant atmosphere of gratitude.” When the pendulum swung up and Paul was in the midst of abundance he knew how to be a simple humble man; and when it swung to the other extreme and he bore chains, he said, “I have learned to be content. My manhood is more than my condition. I am master of circumstances, they are not master of me.” Such was the style of manhood to be turned out in the school of Christ.
3. I am far from saying that this is easy or rapid of attainment; but I do say that such is the ideal portraiture of Christianity in the school of Christ. His school is like every other in that there is a difference of apprehensiveness in the scholars; but from the lowest to the highest there is this ideal set before them which they are to strive after--to give power to the inward man, to overcome appetites and passions, to endure troubles of every kind, and not stoically but rejoicingly, to have a hope that quenches fear, faith that annihilates doubt, endurance that can bear as much as God lays on. Not every man that comes from the university is a perfect scholar, but there is a bright ideal held up, and if the scholar does not approximate to it in a measure it is not the fault of the university but his own.
4. Can this ideal of Christianity ever be set aside? We live in a sceptical age, but a thing that has happened is a fact; and nothing can make it not to have happened; and since religion discloses what it is to live in Christ Jesus, and lifts up the conception of our higher being in its developed state, we are not going to lose it out of the world. There is nothing so powerful as a soul brought under such inspiration as St. Paul’s, and no scepticisms will ever sweep it away. If you can live as Paul lived, and as thousands of Christians have lived, by other than Christian instrumentalities, then you are bound to show what they are, and where they are to be found.
5. If Paul’s conception of the Christian life be true then every other is false--the ascetic view, e.g., pain, self-denial, of course, come, but with them come a spirit that welcomes the pain and turns the cross into a benediction. (H. W. Beecher.)
Be careful for nothing
The Christian is not half saved. God does not pay half his debts for him, and leave him to work off the rest. (Harry Jones, M. A.)
Casting care on God
Bulstrode Whitelocke, Cromwell’s envoy to Sweden, was one night so disturbed in mind over the state of his nation that he could not sleep. His servant observing it said, “Pray, sir, will you give me leave to ask you a question?” “Certainly.”--“Do you think that God governed the world very well before you came into it?” “Certainly.”--“Then, pray, sir, excuse me, do you not think that you may trust Him to govern it as long as you live?” No answer could be given, and composure and sleep followed. (J. L. Nye.)
Preaching and practice
Not many weeks before his death, Dr. William Arnot came on this verse in the course of expounding the Epistle to the Philippians. He gave a short summary of it, which he had found somewhere, and thought well worth preserving: “Be careful for nothing. Be prayerful for everything. Be thankful for anything.” A little child some time afterwards, overhearing his father speaking with anxiety about business, quoted these words, saying: “Do you remember what Mr. Arnot told us?”
Trusting God in little things
He is not a man of little faith who puts little things into his prayer. That very thing shows him to be a man of great faith. A feeble pulsation in the heart may keep the life blood circulating for a while near the centre and in the vitals; but it requires a great strong life in the heart to send the blood down into the tips of the fingers, and make it circulate through the outmost, smallest branches of the veins. In like manner, it is the strongest spiritual life that animates the whole course, even to the minutest transactions, and brings to God the smallest matters of our personal history as well as the great concern of pardon and eternal life. “Everything:” whatever is a thing to you, whatever lodges about your heart, either as a joy that you cherish or a grief that you are unable to shake away--in with it into your prayer, up with it to the throne. It is not right to choose, out of the multitude of thoughts within you, all the grave and goodly, and marshal them by themselves into a prayer. This is like one who had wheat to sell, and sat down and picked out all the full and plump seeds and brought them to market, while the heap was half made up of shrivelled, unripened grains. Prayer in secret, is a pouring out of the soul before God; and if it is not a pouring, it is not prayer. Anything left behind, cherished in you but concealed from God, vitiates all--takes away the comfort from you, and hinders the answer from God. (W. Arnot, D. D.)
Trust in God the secret of happiness
There was once a poor coloured woman who earned a precarious living by daily labour, but who was a joyous, triumphant Christian. “Ah, Nancy,” said a gloomy Christian lady one day, who almost disapproved of her constant cheerfulness, and yet envied it--“Ah, Nancy, it is well enough to be happy now; but I should think that the thoughts of your future would sober you. Only suppose, e.g., you should have a spell of sickness, and be unable to work; or suppose your present employers should move away, and no one else should give you anything to do; or suppose” “Stop!” cried Nancy, “I never supposes. De Lord is my Shepherd, and I know I shall not want. And, honey,” she added, to her gloomy friend, “its all dem supposes as is making you so miserable. You’d better give them all up, and just trust the Lord.”
A short line best
Walk through today as well as you can, and God will undertake for your future. When you go forward out of today, to worry about it, you are over the fence, you are trespassing, and God will scourge you back into your own lot. When I have been fishing in a mountain stream, I have always found that so long as I kept a short line I could manage my fishing very well; but when I let my line run out, the stream took it down, and there I was, at the mercy of every stick that stuck up in the stream, and every rock that jutted out from the banks. I lost my fish, and I tangled my line; very likely I lost my footing also, and got over head and ears in the stream. Now, most men have cast out their line into life forty years long, when it ought to be but one day long. In consequence, they are not able to manage their tackle at all; but are pulled after it, stumbling first into this hole, and then into that; slipping up here, and slipping down there; straggling and splashing about in far more distressed fashion than the fish at the other end of the line--and, as a general thing, there is no fish there. Haul in your line! (H. W. Beecher.)
We may pray always
In the vestibule of St. Peter’s, at Rome, is a doorway which is walled up and marked with a cross. It is opened but four times in a century; on Christmas-eve, once in twenty-five years, the Pope approaches it in princely state, with the retinue of cardinals in attendance, and begins the demolition of the door, by striking it thrice with a silver hammer. When the passage is opened the multitude pass into the nave of the cathedral and up to the altar by an avenue which the majority of them never entered thus before, and never will enter thus again. Imagine that the way to the throne of grace were like the Porta Santa, inaccessible save once in a quarter of a century, on the 25th of December! With what solicitude we should wait for the coming of the holy day! It would make us fear we should die before that year of jubilee. How many years, or months, or weeks now to the time of prayer we should be constantly asking ourselves!
Pray about little things
Little cares should be brought to the Lord. Some persons, however, will bring their great cares to Him, but not their little cares. But this is foolish. It is the little cares of life that wear the heart out. One of the most cruel torments of the Inquisition was to place the poor victim beneath a trap, and let the cold water fall upon the head drop by drop. This was not felt at first, but at last the monotony of the water dropping always on one spot became almost unendurable; the agony was too great to be expressed. It is just so with little cares. When they keep constantly falling drop by drop upon one individual they tend to produce irritation, calculated to make life well nigh insupportable. To prevent this, then, God would have us take our little trials to Him as well as our great trials, and that, too, because we often bear up more bravely under the great and faint under the lesser.
Do not keep prayer for grand and difficult occasions, and think that you can manage well enough by yourself in little, trifling things. Without God you can do nothing well, not the smallest. Get into the habit of looking and referring everything to Him. Just as the cautious shopman rings every coin upon his counter to see if it be true, the penny as well as the pound, so do you try all that you do by the test of God. Nothing is too common to be brought before Him who made the earthworm as well as the archangel. Nothing is too frequent for Him who regulates the pulse of the slave who sweats in the field, and the long-stretched career of the planets which sail in space. You cannot appeal to Him too often. He is never tired, of whom it may always be said, “He worketh hitherto.” (Harry Jones, M. A.)
The cares of life not to be unduly anticipated
A person says, “I cannot understand how I am to get along when I leave my father’s house.” Why should you see it till that time comes? What if a person going on a journey of five years should undertake to carry provisions, and clothes, and gold enough to last him during the whole time, lugging them as he travelled, like a veritable Englishman, with all creation at his back! If he is wise he will supply himself at the different points where he stops. When he gets to London, let him buy what he needs there; when he gets to Paris, let him buy what he needs there, when he gets to Rome, let him buy what he needs there; and when he gets to Vienna, Dresden, Munich, St. Petersburgh, and Canton, let him buy what he needs at these places I He wilt find at each of them, and all the other cities which he visits, whatever things he requires. Why, then, should he undertake to carry them around the globe with him? It would be the greatest folly imaginable. As to gold, why should he load his pockets with that? Let him take a circular letter of credit, which is good, yet not usable till he arrives at the places where he needs it. When he gets to London, let him present it to Baring Brothers; when he gets to Paris, let him present it to the Rothschilds. And as he proceeds, let him place it in the hands of the bankers of the various places at which he stops; and he will get the means for prosecuting his journey. Now, God gives every believer a circular letter of credit for life, and says,” Whenever you get to a place where you need assistance, take your letter to the Banker, and the needed assistance will be given you.” (H. W. Beecher.)
Prayer with thanksgiving
The currents of grace, like those of nature, run in circles. Take the case of ventilation. A tube divided longitudinally into two, or two tubes joined together, stretch from the interior of a building through the roof into the air. The air flows up through one lobe of the tube out of the building, and down through the other lobe into the building. When the process is set ageing, it continues. But if you stop the ascending current, you thereby also make the descending current cease; and if you stop the descending current, the ascending one is arrested, too. Ten lepers came to Christ with prayer and supplication. He gave them their request. But only one of the ten put in his request with thanksgiving; only one continued the circle and answered the getting of mercy by the giving of praise. The Lord marked and mentioned the omission. He felt well pleased with the circle of communion completed in the one who returned to give thanks; but He left on record for all ages His disappointment with those who greedily snatched the gift and forgot the Giver: “Were there not ten cleansed? but where are the nine?” When there is spiritual life, the weight of God’s mercies pressing down forces the sacrifice of thanksgiving up. The pressure of the air does not make the heavy, sluggish water rise; whatever weight of air may press upon it, the water lies heavy in its bed. But when water is etherealized into vapour, then the weight of the air makes the vapour rise. The load of benefits that pressed on the nine lepers, finding their souls dull and dead, did not move them upwards; but the same load on the one Samaritan, finding him spiritually quickened, pressed his thanksgiving up to the Throne. The circulations of the ocean constitute a plain and permanent picture of these relations between a human soul and a redeeming God. The sea is always drawing what it needs down to itself, and also always sending up of its abundance into the heavens. It is always getting, and always giving. So, when in the covenant the true relation has been constituted, the redeemed one gets and gives, gives and gets; draws from God a stream of benefits, sends up to God the incense of praise. (W. Arnot, D. D.)
Thanksgiving the ornament of prayer
Let your prayers be like those ancient missals which one sometimes sees, in which the initial letters of the prayers are gilded and adorned with a profusion of colours, the work of cunning writers. Let even the general confession of sin and the Litany of mournful petitions have at least one illuminated letter. Illuminate your prayers; light them up with rays of thanksgiving all the way through; and when you come together to pray forget not to make melody unto the Lord with psalms, and hymns, and spiritual songs. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
Submission involved in prayer and thanksgiving
To refuse to praise unless we have our own way is great presumption, and shows that like a naughty child we will sulk if we cannot he master. I might illustrate the wilfulness of many a supplication by that of a little boy who was very diligent in saying his prayers, but was at the same time disobedient, ill tempered, and the pest of the house. His mother told him that she thought it was mere hypocrisy for him to pretend to pray. He replied, “No, mother, indeed it is not, for I pray God to lead you and father to like my ways better than you do.” Numbers of people want the Lord to like their ways better, but they do not intend to follow the ways of the Lord. Their minds are contrary to God and will not submit to His will, and therefore there is no thanksgiving in them. Praise in a prayer is indicative of a humble, submissive, obedient spirit, and when it is absent we may suspect wilfulness and self-seeking. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
Prevalence of thanksgiving
Suppose you had promised to some poor woman that you would give her a meal tomorrow. You might forget it, you know; but suppose when the morning came she sent her little girl with a basket for it, she would be likely to get it, I think. But, suppose that she sent in addition a little note, in which the poor soul thanked you for your great kindness, could you have the heart to say, “My dear girl, I cannot attend to you today. Come another time”? Oh dear no; if the cupboard was bare you would send out to get something, because the good soul so believed in you that she had sent you thanks for it before she received your gift. Well, now, trust the Lord in the same manner. He cannot run back from His word, my brethren. Believing prayer holds Him, but believing thanksgiving binds Him. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
Day of thanksgiving
Dr. Franklin says that in a time of great despondency among the first settlers of New England, it was proposed in one of their public assemblies to proclaim a fast. An old farmer arose, spoke of their provoking heaven with their complaints, reviewed their mercies, showed that they had much to be thankful for, and moved that instead of appointing a day of fasting, they should appoint a day of thanksgiving. This was done, and the custom continued ever after. (J. L. Nye.)
The peace of God which passeth all understanding.
I. The priceless legacy--Christ left peace with His followers as His last and best gift. “Peace I leave with you,” etc. The apostle in speaking of it gives us two descriptive particulars. He calls it--
1. The peace of God. No one else can give peace. No one else could ensure peace. No one else could possess peace.
2. Which passeth all understanding. The worldling cannot understand it. The Christian cannot understand it. Angels cannot understand it. It is so far removed from all that is material and sensible.
II. The mighty effects--“Shall keep your hearts and minds.” Here is a power more mighty than the universe. Silence is sometimes more powerful than speech; love is more mighty than rage. So peace is more powerful than storm.
1. It keeps the heart from fear. There can be no fear of man, no fear of the world, no fear of death, no fear of hell in the heart where dwells the peace of God.
2. It keeps the heart from ambition. Ambition is the chief cause of trouble. He who has the peace of God has every ambition satisfied. He desires nothing else.
3. It keeps the heart from strife. There can be no contention where there is peace.
4. It keeps the mind from doubt. Probably by mind the apostle means the intellect as distinguished from the affections. The man who has no doubts is fixed on a rock. Even the poorest, the meanest, the most illiterate can enjoy the trust.
III. The blessed means--“Through Christ Jesus.” Christ is the medium through which the possibility of peace came at first. Christ is the channel through which it flows at present. He is the propitiation for sins; therefore He brings peace to the conscience. He is the power of God; therefore He brings peace to those who are weak and in fear. He is the path to heaven; therefore He brings confidence to these who are pilgrims. He is the Prince of Peace; therefore He is the delight of all His subjects. (J. J. S. Bird, M. A.)
The peace of God
I. An unspeakable privilege.
1. It is peace with God. Reconciliation there must be, and the soul must be aware of it. A man conscious of being guilty can never know it till he becomes equally conscious of being forgiven. Your sin was the ground of the quarrel, but it is east into the depths of the sea. There is nothing now that can cause the anger of God towards us. We are accepted in the Beloved, and thus have a profound sense of peace.
2. A consequent peace in the little kingdom within. By nature everything in our inner nature is at war with itself. The passions, instead of being curbed by the reason, often holds the reins; and reason, instead of being guided by Divine knowledge, chooses to obey a depraved imagination, and demands to become a separate power and to judge God Himself. There is no cure for this but restoring grace. The King must occupy the throne, and then the state of Mansoul will be settled.
3. A peace in reference to outward circumstances. The man who is reconciled to God by Christ has nothing outside him that he needs fear. Is he poor? He rejoices that Christ makes poor men rich. Does he prosper? He rejoices that there is grace which prevents his prosperity intoxicating him. Is he in trouble? He thanks God for the promise that as His day so his strength shall be. In death the hope of the resurrection gives peace to his pillow; and as for judgment, he knows whom he has believed and knows who will protect him in that day. Whatever may be suggested to distress him, deep down in his soul he cannot be disturbed, because he sees God at the helm of the vessel holding the rudder with a hand that defies the storm.
4. God gives peace in reference to all His commands. The unregenerate soul rebels, but when the change takes place we drop into the same line with God; His will becomes our delight and His statutes our songs.
5. We feel peace with regard to God’s providential dealings, because we believe that they are helping us to arrive at conformity with Him.
6. It is a peace which “passeth all understanding.” Not only beyond common, or the sinners, but all--deeper, broader, more heavenly than even the joyful saint can tell.
(1) There are kinds of peace which we can understand.
(a) The peace of apathy, to which the Stoics schooled themselves. Their secret is easily discovered. Christianity is not this; it cultivates tenderness, not insensibility, and gives us a peace consistent with the utmost delicacy of feeling.
(b) The peace of levity, which is perfectly understood.
(2) The Christian is often surprised at his own peacefulness. There is a possibility of having the surface of the mind lashed into storm, while yet, deep down, all is still. There are earthquakes, yet the earth pursues the even tenour of its way. It surpasses understanding, but not experience.
II. How this peace is to be obtained. Christians are always at peace with God, but are not always sensible of it. If you wish to realize it hear Paul.
(1) Rejoice in the Lord alway; make God your joy, and place all your joy in Him. You cannot rejoice in yourself, nor in your varying circumstances, but God never changes.
2. Let your moderation be known unto all men. Deal cautiously with earthly things. If any man praises don’t exult; if you are censured don’t despond. Take matters quietly.
3. Be careful for nothing. Leave your care with God.
4. Pray about everything. That which we pray over will have the sting taken out of it if it be evil, and the sweetness of it will be sanctified if it be good.
5. Be thankful for anything. Thankfulness is the mother and nurse of restfulness. Neglected praises sour into unquiet forebodings.
III. The operation of this blessed privilege on our hearts and minds.
1. Our hearts want keeping--
(1) From sinking, for they are very apt to faint even under small trials.
(2) From wandering, for how soon are they beguiled? A quiet spirit will neither sink nor wander. Like the life buoy, it will rise above the billows and keep its place.
2. Our minds want keeping. In all ages the minds of Christians have been apt to be disturbed on vital truths. But these truths are known to consciousness, and having brought peace to the mind, keep it in perfect peace.
IV. The sphere of its action--“In Christ Jesus.” There is no peace out of Him. He is our peace. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
The peace of God
This is not a wish or prayer, like the benediction of 2 Thessalonians 3:16; nor a precept like Colossians 3:15; but is one of the exceeding great and precious promises. The world is weary for peace; the army after a long campaign, the country bearing the burden of a protracted war, longs for peace; but not more earnestly than men tossed on the waves of this troublesome world. This blessing is for the spirit satiated with the vain pleasures of the world; for the spirit tried with sorrow; for the Pharisee tormented with the incumbrances of his over righteousness; for the publican standing on the threshold.
I. Its source.
1. It originates with Him. Man by sin has placed himself in antagonism to God. “The carnal mind is enmity against God.” The transgression and enmity were ours, yet God devised means whereby the banished might be restored, and sends to rebels the ambassadors of peace. It was not from man the sinner that the overtures were made.
2. It has reference to Him. It is not only peace from, but with, God. The ambassadors are sent to proclaim that God has devised the means, has made peace. It is no imaginary reconciliation; it is a peace wrought by real means, purchased at a real price--the blood of the Son of God (Colossians 2:14). And when the sentence of condemnation is blotted out there is no condemnation to those who believe (Romans 5:1; Romans 8:1). This act is the foundation of all peace in the heart. It is a peace which the world can neither give nor take away.
II. Its character. It passeth understanding because--
1. Man unaided cannot attain to it. There are many voices which cry to man of pleasure and rest. But they are delusive. “Peace,” they cry, when there is no peace. Wherever sin is there is unrest. There is no peace to the wicked. They “are like the troubled sea which cannot rest,” continually straining after some haven of repose, but only to be cast back by the waves of passion. And not only cannot the sinner, unaided, attain this peace; he cannot, unaided, even receive it when provided for him. The things which belong to his peace are hidden from him. But this does not make void his responsibility. God hath revealed it by His Spirit, whom He gives to those who ask for Him.
2. There are depths in it which the richest Christian experience cannot fathom. There are mysteries in grace as well as in nature and providence. The source of this peace is God, and its guarantee the love of Christ which passeth knowledge. All the gifts of God are inexhaustible.
III. Its effect--“Shall guard.” Our hearts and minds are in need of continual guardianship, and where shall we meet with one more reliable?
1. It can keep our hearts. We understand by the heart the source of the affections and passions; but not unfrequently the inspired writers use the word to signify the affections and understanding acting together. “The fool hath said in his heart, There is no God.” The affections are apt to stray from their centre. There is a fatal affinity between the evil within and the evil without. “Keep thy heart with all diligence,” etc. It needs a strong power to watch over it, but the peace of God is equal to this. There is a strength in it to stay your stray reflections; for it gives you in your heart something on which your love may centre. The lustre of the ballroom and the gaudy trappings of the stage looks tawdry in the daylight; and the loves of the earth look tinsel indeed in the light of a Saviour’s love and the brightness of the peace of God.
2. The mind. That is prone to be carried off by merely speculative problems. The peace of God keeps the mind not by enslaving its faculties or starving their energy, but by rightly balancing them. By giving us a clear conception of the relative values of things temporal and eternal, by revealing the due order which presides over all God’s works, we are taught to estimate aright the true value of speculative and practical problems.
3. Both the heart and mind are kept. In some natures the thinking faculty is the most active: such are in danger of neglecting the keeping of the heart--the spirit of devotion. Others are exposed to the reverse temptation. To neglect either is injurious. Let us give to each its sustenance; storing our minds with Divine truth and yet increasing in love and grace.
IV. The channel through which it comes. There is no blessing which comes not through Him--in nature, Providence, salvation. He is our peace. (Bp. W. Boyd Carpenter.)
The peace of God
By this the apostle does not mean the blessedness which belongs to the Divine Nature, nor the rest that is laid up for us in heaven: but the deep inward repose of the spiritual life, Divine in its origin, religious in its nature, holy in its impulses, heavenly in its results,
I. “Being justified by faith we have peace with God” (Romans 5:1). Man is contemplated as a sinner, conscious of guilt, exposed to punishment, and who cannot be justified by law, which has nothing to do but to condemn him. Let this idea be distinctly realized, and it is seen at once that it has power to terribly agitate the soul. The apostle meets the case by a proclamation of mercy, not indeed the tender and benevolent Divine affection to which the guilty and miserable may appeal, but something embodied in a supernatural fact to be apprehended and confided in: “God hath set forth Christ to be a propitiation through faith in His blood”--that as man could not be justified by law through obedience, he might be through grace by faith. This we have received who have trusted in Christ. “There is now no condemnation,” etc.; the terrors of conscience are stilled; we have “joy and peace through believing.” “There is no peace, saith my God, to the wicked,” but there is peace when he forsakes his evil way and turns to the Lord. The prophet was agitated by the revelation of the glory of the Divine nature and the corruption of his own (Isaiah 6:1-23.6.13.), but he was tranquilized when a live coal from the altar of sacrifice was laid upon his mouth. No angelic voice or vision is to be expected now, but there may be such a certainty of the truth of the gospel, such a perception of its appropriateness, and such a realization of peace, that the penitent and believing man may be able neither to doubt the fact of his forgiveness, nor to resist the feeling of deep calm blessedness, which the persuasion of it brings.
II. “To be spiritually minded is life and peace” (Romans 8:6), a passage taken from Paul’s discourse on the work of the Spirit in man as the former was taken from that on the work of Christ for man. By being spiritually minded the apostle means that the man who has obtained forgiveness through Christ, in virtue of the agency of the Spirit of God has his moral tastes so rectified, his moral affections so cleansed and elevated, that he loves all spiritual things and exercises. Man was made for God. His powers and affections were so constituted that they were to find their supreme enjoyment in Him. Sin has disturbed this original law and given to the flesh an unnatural ascendancy, and so is productive of misery and misrule. The consequence is that to the idea of antagonism between the sinner and God, there is the idea of antagonism to himself. Spiritual renovation restores the natural order of things, reason is enlightened, affections purified, passion restrained, the animal is brought into subjection to the man, and the man bound by love and loyalty to God.
III. “Great peace have they who love thy law.” “The work of righteousness is peace.” These and other passages lead us to the correspondence of the Christian’s outward conduct with the instincts and principles of his inward life. That condition of heart described as “minding the things of the Spirit” is to find appropriate embodiment in the maintenance of a uniform and elevated morality. It is only by a course of practical obedience that peace of conscience can be preserved. Inconsistency cannot but disturb inward peace. Guilt is a thing full of fears. The secret of Paul’s peace was--“herein do I exercise myself to have a conscience void of offence.”
IV. “Thou wilt keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed upon thee” (Isaiah 26:3). Filial trust in God is everything that belongs to the circumstances of life. There is “a thought for the morrow” which is proper and becoming, but there is also a care that hath torment, a fear that is sinful. A Christian man who realizes that all his “times are in God’s hands,” that “He fixes the bounds of his habitation,” and “perfects that which concerns him,” that his Heavenly Father knoweth what he has need of; that “all things work together for good;” he who thoroughly believes all this, and casts his care, and stays his soul on God, cannot but be saved from the perturbations and anxieties which torment the worldly mind. He is kept from murmuring at what God does, from petulance at what He does not. He can confide and wait, and believe and be thankful, suffer and be satisfied. (T. Binney, LL. D.)
The Divine peace
I. The peace of God. It is so called--
1. Because it is that for which God made man at first--the realization of His original idea of the happiness of humanity. It springs from intercourse with God, filial trust, devotional communion, loving obedience, apprehension of spiritual truth, just and regulated affections, perfect repose in God’s Fatherhood, and conscious complacency in everything that pleases Him. These things are such as would have entered into the happiness of man had he never sinned; many of them, of course, enter into that of the angels.
2. Because it is the result of His merciful interposition for man as well as the realization of His original plan. Something has been done to produce it beyond the original constitution of things, and the result of this interposition in human experience must be of a nature different from and additional to, the blessedness that would have belonged to humanity had it only realized that for which it was made. It is God’s peace because it is by God’s grace that it is possible, by the gift of His Son that it is procured, by the application of His truth that it is produced. It consists of forgiveness of sin, peace of conscience, deliverance from wrath, which man, had he continued upright, would not have needed.
3. Because it is that which is immediately produced by God’s Spirit, and is thus a direct Divine donation. When Christ was about to leave His sorrowing disciples He promised that He would send them “another comforter,” and then He adds, as if interpreting His meaning, “Peace I leave with you,” etc. And so “the fruit of the Spirit is … peace.” “May the God of hope fill you with joy and peace in believing, through the power of the Holy Ghost.”
4. Because it is sustained and nourished by those acts which bring the soul in contact with God--meditation on His truth, trust in His promises, prayer and praise, song and sacrament.
II. It passeth all understanding. There is nothing unphilosophical in this. Mystery surrounds us. We are incessantly met with ultimate facts whose being and agency we are bound to admit, but which none of us can understand. In the natural laws of the mind, in things connected with our own consciousness, there are matters about which we can only say that they are. Surely, then, it is not wonderful that this should be so in religious life. His peace--
1. Passes the understanding of the man of the world. The very terms and phrases by which it is expressed are “foolishness” unto them, or repugnant, or unintelligible. In listening to the sober statements of a Christian man, if restrained by courtesy, they are silent, but incredulous and perhaps pitiful: if not restrained they reject the whole thing with contempt as cant or jargon. Nor is this wonderful. Many things connected with art, taste, science, and philosophy, can be understood only through the medium of experience. And so to him who is destitute of religious experience, the very language of religion must be incomprehensible.
2. It passes the understanding of the Christian himself.
(1) Light sometimes gushes into the intellect, filling it with clear apprehensions of truth, and an impression of its power in a manner perfectly inexplicible. The man, all on a sudden, is filled with joy and peace from seeing matters of faith after he had been toiling in doubt and darkness, and was just on the point of abandoning forever.
(2) In the same way the burden of guilt has been lifted, the troubled conscience calmed. The blessedness of the man whose transgression is forgiven has come like an angel of God.
(3) It has been thus, too, with taste and affection; by a sudden transition, the reckless and impure have become like unto a little child.
(4) So, too, in things of great and terrible afflictions. Christians have been kept in such calm peace as has been a perfect amazement to themselves.
(5) And so, too, in the ordinary course of the Christian life.
3. It passes the understanding of angels. The inward joys of hope and faith are associated with redemption and “into these things angels desire to look.”
III. It keeps the heart and mind. The word is used only in three other places, 2 Corinthians 11:32, where the words “with a garrison” are included in the word that stands for “kept;” Galatians 3:23, where we have the idea of a sort of strong room, or protected custody; 1 Peter 1:5, where it is “preserved as in a fortress.” The general import of the statement is that the experience of religious life is the most powerful preservative of the happiness and virtue of man. Trouble and sin by the peace of God are cast out of the soul and kept out. “Heart and mind,” however discriminated, include every, faculty of the inner man.
1. Suppose an attack be made on a man’s belief, and dark clouds of doubt overspread the mind, I do not say that he need not go to his books and arguments, but I do say that the portable evidence of Christianity in his own experience of its power will often do more to reveal the hollowness of sceptical suggestions than all the learning of the schools. Nay, the peace of God as a felt possession will prevent the rising and entrance of the doubt itself, or will instantly repel it.
2. If the memory of his old sins comes to disturb the tranquillity of his conscience he will, of course, be humbled at the thought of this; but the counter recollection of the peace and joy he had in believing will prove a protection from what would break his peace. And here again the possession of peace will prevent the rising or entrance of that into the soul which would throw it back again on hopelessness and despair. “I know whom I have believed.” “I will trust and not be afraid.”
3. In like manner the peace of God will “guard” the heart against murmuring and anxiety, fear and distrust in relation to the affairs of life. “Thou hast been my help, therefore in the shadow of Thy wings will I rejoice.”
4. It is a preservative, strong and sure, against all sin. The religiously happy are the morally strong. Duty is pleasant because the mind is in joyous harmony with God’s requirements.
(1) It keeps the heart by keeping its volatile affections, not permitting them to go forth to twine themselves round anything forbidden.
(2) Sin is resisted from the knowledge that it will damage the peace of the soul.
(3) When this peace dilates the soul it is not easy for the devil to put in a temptation. A rich man cannot be tempted to steal; a sober man is not tempted by the sight of a tavern. So with the spiritually happy man; what might overcome others is nothing to him. He is raised above them, and the peace of God shields him from their influence.
IV. Through Christ Jesus. He is the object of faith and the sole medium of spiritual influence. In virtue of His work on earth we obtain peace at first; and if, as justified, any man sin, it is by His work in heaven that peace is restored. (T. Binney, LL. D.)
The peace of God keeping the heart
We all need something to keep our hearts. The changes of the world affect not only our homes and outward comforts, but our inmost souls. And more, our hearts are naturally restless. The result is that even in a calm our minds are shifting. It is plain we need something to steady us. Where shall we find it? Plainly not in this world; as well seek it in the hurricane. Not in ourselves, there there is only misery. The text shows us the blessing that we need.
I. Its nature. Not self-denial, exertion, or watchfulness, but peace; enjoyment and repose in enjoyment. A calm which not only quiets the soul amid the tumult of the storm, but keeps it quiet. But “there is no peace to the wicked.” They are like “a troubled sea when it cannot rest.” This peace is the result of a change in man’s state and character; the effect of a reconciliation between him and heaven. When this transpires man can look on God as his Friend, expect victory in temptation, a refuge in perils, strength in weakness, comfort in affliction, safety in death, heaven, and, in heaven, God.
II. Its author--God.
1. The work of saving mercy on which it rests is only His. He provides mercy and induces its acceptance.
2. He communicates that peace which flows from a sense of pardon. This is not the result of reasoning or self-examination, it is the gift of that God who fills us “with all joy and peace in believing.”
III. One of its properties. A peace thus Divine in its origin must partake in some degree of the lofty nature of its Author, and in that degree must be incomprehensible.
1. It passes the understanding of those who are strangers to it. They who have not experienced it can know nothing of its character. Not that it is visionary or enthusiastic--nothing can be so rational and real; there is no other that will bear any serious reflection at all. And this peculiarity is not confined to this or any other spiritual blessing. The man of intellect may talk of the delight he experiences in the acquisition of knowledge, but his words convey no distinct idea to his ignorant neighbour. Tell a deaf man of the harmonies of music, or a blind man of the beauty of the world!
2. Those who enjoy it most cannot fully comprehend it. They are sensible of it, and find their hearts quieted and purified by it; but how did it come into the heart? Why is it at times so unspeakably sweet and strong? All they can say is, it “passeth understanding,” and perhaps an inhabitant of heaven cannot say more. We may all, however, comprehend its effects.
IV. One of these effects.
1. It keeps the heart.
(1) In temptation by satisfying it. It triumphs over the pleasures of sense by communicating higher pleasures.
(2) In affliction. It is a pledge of the special love of God to the soul, and as such it begets confidence in Him. Let a worldly man lose his earthly comforts and he has lost all; but let a man of God lose what he may his chief treasure is safe.
2. It keeps the mind.
(1) It settles the judgment, and informs and elevates the understanding by showing it, in the light of spiritual blessedness, the measure and poverty of all temporal good.
(2) It keeps the mind from folly, new and strange notions, sceptical doubt and error. The man who has it has “the witness in himself.” Tell him that the Bible is not true, his religion a fable! You might as well tell him in the broad light of day that there is no sun.
V. Its source and instrumentality. The apostle had been inculcating freedom from anxiety and care; but lest the Philippians should seek in this the fountain of their peace he here adds “in Christ Jesus.” This peace has God for its author and giver, but it flows, to us through His Son.
1. It is one of the blessed fruits of His obedience, sufferings, and intercession.
2. It dwells also in Him as the head of the Church, the royal treasury of all precious gifts.
3. It is dispersed by Him through the agency of the Spirit. (C. Bradley, M. A.)
How to keep the heart
Inasmuch as the heart is the most important part of a man--for out of it are the issues of life--it is natural that it should be the object of Satan’s perpetual attacks.
I. That which keeps the heart and mind.
1. The peace of God, the peace existing between the child of God and his Judge through his Saviour, from whence flows peace of conscience.
2. This peace passeth all understanding.
(1) See how it keeps those who are in the depth of poverty while many rich are distracted.
(2) The bereaved, when those who have Dot suffered are gnawed with fear.
(3) The confessors, Luther, Huss, Bradford--while popes and kings tremble.
II. How is this peace to be obtained. This promise has precepts (see verse 4).
1. Rejoice ever more. The man who never rejoices is always murmuring. Cultivate a cheerful disposition.
2. Be moderate. Merchant, you cannot push that speculation too far, and have peace of mind. Young man, you cannot be trying so fast to rise in the world, and have the fear of God. You must be moderate in anger, in expectations, etc.
3. Be careful for nothing, etc. If you tell your troubles to God you put them into the grave. If you roll them anywhere else they will roll back again like the stone of Sisyphus. Cast your troubles where you have cast your sins, into the depths of the sea.
III. How this peace keeps the heart.
1. It keeps the heart full of that love which casteth out all fear.
2. It keeps the heart pure, without the least relish for sin, which is the soul’s disturbance.
3. It keeps it undivided, and thus saves it from distraction.
4. It keeps it rich, and thus renders it secure from anxiety. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
Characteristics of peace
1. Real; not the delusive calm of a hollow truce, nor the deceitful tranquillity of stolid indifference and thoughtless apathy. An ice-bound river is at peace; a motionless corpse. In true peace there is life and activity as well as rest.
2. Great (Psalms 119:165; Isaiah 54:13) in its foundation, author, effect.
3. Abundant (Jeremiah 33:6), flowing in many channels, and filling the heart (Romans 15:13).
4. Abiding; secure and certain, a peace that lives independently of circumstances, “which the world can neither give nor take away,” the unruffled undercurrent, beneath the grounds well of the Christian’s sorrows; a peace not often disturbed, and never finally overthrown.
5. Incomprehensive, both to the men of this world and saints of God as well. (G. S. Bowes, B. A.)
The secret of peace
He who climbs above the cares of the world and turns his face to his God, has found the sunny side of life. The world’s side of the hill is chill and freezing to a spiritual mind, but the Lord’s presence gives a warmth of joy which turns winter into summer. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
The peace of elevation
Dust, by its own nature, can rise only so far above the road; and birds which fly higher never have it upon their wings. So the heart that knows how to fly high enough escapes those little cares and vexations which brood upon the earth, but cannot rise above it into that purer air. (H. W. Beecher)
True and false peace
There are other kinds of peace besides the peace of God. There is the peace, for example, of an uninformed conscience; of one who thinks that an amiable disposition, and a freedom from open or definite sin, is enough to win heaven. There is the peace of a sleeping conscience; a conscience still lying dormant in the torpor of natural indifference. There is the peace of a drugged conscience; of one who is surrendering himself to a bosom lust, and refusing to look on to its probable misery in this life, to its certain punishment in the next. There is the peace too of a hardened conscience; of one who has become so used to sin that it has lost its power to alarm; of one who can even lie down to die, impenitent and unremorseful, on the strength of a few vague hopes, if even these, in God’s mercy and in Christ’s atonement. All sinful men are not yet consciously unhappy, though of peace, in its true meaning, they can know nothing. There is no peace, saith my God, no true, permanent peace of God, to the wicked. God calls us to peace. That is what He offers to us. Repose instead of restlessness; tranquillity instead of confusion; an anchor of the soul, sure and stedfast, because entering into that within the veil. God grant that the religion here known may be all of that character; a religion of quietness, a religion of soberness, a religion of reality, a religion of peace. (Dean Vaughan.)
The peace passing all understanding
You have seen the sea when it was perfectly smooth, with hardly a ripple on the water, and you have watches it when lashed into a fury by the tempest, the waves run mountains high. But all this rage of the elements is only on the surface; below the waves and foam and howling winds there are depths which no storms ever reach, where the many-branched coral and other strange forms of growth and life spread over vast submarine plains and valleys, throughout the whole extent of which reigns the silence and stillness of an unbroken calm. Such is the contrast between the outward trials of life and the deep inward peace which reigns in the heart which is stayed in God. We cannot escape the trials of life, but if there be within us true trust in God, then there will be depths in our inmost being where no storms can reach, depths beyond the play of the waves of this troublesome world, where the fury of the tempest cannot come, where all will be calm and still. (J. B. Mozley, D. D.)
The peace of God a protection
The peace, the harmony of soul, the repose and concord of the whole man, which is God’s gift, the effect of God’s own presence by His Holy Spirit, shall keep you as in a fortified place from all danger, from all the crafts and assaults of evil. What is it which exposes us to our worst perils? Is it not a roving heart? A heart seeking rest and finding none? It is not the unsatisfied insatiable thirst which is in us all by nature, for a happiness which yet earth cannot give. That is what makes a man a pleasure hunter, an idolater of the world, the slave of his evil passions and sinful lusts. That is the bait which the devil presents to the fallen Adam: and if it succeeded even with the unfallen and upright, who shall wonder if it succeeds with him? Let a man have found peace in God, let him have tasted of that water after drinking of which none thirsts again for any other, and he has a safeguard against evil. Why should he go after that which cannot profit or satisfy when he has within him a spring of living water. That is the sense in which Paul writes that the peace of God shall guard our hearts and our thoughts, i.e., the seat of thought, and the workings of thought. There will be no roving desires there to go abroad from the camp and fall into the enemy’s ambush. And there will be no traitor there to open the gate of the citadel to some disguised foe. The heart that has found peace in God, is kept as in a sure fortress by that peace itself. It is built as a city that is at unity in itself (Proverbs 18:10; Psalms 122:3, Psalms 13:5). It is all at one. It is not divided between this and that; it is not, like the heart of nature, a fighting ground of conflicting parties; it is in safe keeping under an almighty hand. (Dean Vaughan.)
The child frightened in his play runs to seek his mother. She takes him upon her lap and presses his head to her bosom; and with tenderest words of love, she locks down upon him, and smoothes his hair, and kisses his cheek and wipes away his tears, and then in a low and gentle voice, she sings some sweet descant, some lullaby of love; and the fear fades out from his face, and a smile of satisfaction plays over it, and at length his eyes close, and he sleeps in the deep depths and delights of peace. God Almighty is the mother, and the soul is the frightened child; and He folds it in His arms, dispels its fear, and lulls it to repose, saying, “Sleep, my darling, sleep! It is I who watch and protect thee. No weapon that is formed against thee shall prosper.” The mother’s arms encircle but one; but God clasps every yearning soul to His bosom and gives it the peace which passeth understanding, beyond the reach of care or storm. (H. W. Beecher.)
The peace of God will keep us from sinning under our troubles and from sinking under them. (Matthew Henry.)
Finally, brethren, whatsoever things.
We have here
I. A direction for thought--“Think on these things.”
II. A direction for practice--“These things do.”
III. A promise conditional on obedience to the two--“The God of peace shall be with you.” (Dean Vaughan.)
I. Its features.
1. Truth in word, etc.
2. Honour, integrity and purity in conduct.
3. Whatever is beautiful and praiseworthy in behaviour.
II. Its motives. Apostolical.
III. Its advantages.
1. The presence of the God of peace.
2. The peace He gives. (J. Lyth, D. D.)
The meditation and practice of holiness
A second time we have the conclusion of the whole matter. Before it was “finally, brethren, rejoice in the Lord.” The whole history of conversion with all its preliminary struggles, the terrors and sorrows of repentance, the hopes and fears of faith, finds its issue and rest in this. But here is a second “finally.” There is something beyond the exultation of deliverance through Christ; and that is the attainment of a perfect character in Him. We are urged--
I. To fix our full and determinate thought upon perfection. The word is often used to signify due appreciation, and it bids us here with strong emphasis estimate rightly the place morality holds in the gospel.
1. It was the glory of the apostle’s career to proclaim everywhere that for the sake of the sacrifice of the Cross the vilest transgressors repenting and believing in Jesus were assured of forgiveness and reputed as righteous. But it became the hard necessity of his life to have to defend it against perversion. The enemy everywhere followed him, sowing tares. The abuse which taught men to sin that grace might abound was the subject of his ceaseless protest. In the former part of this Epistle he had dwelt on the worthlessness of all good works as the ground of the sinner’s acceptance: and because he had so utterly disparaged human goodness in the third chapter, he now in the fourth vindicates the claims of Christian godliness. On the way to the Cross think not of any good in yourself; on the way from the Cross think of all the obligations of holiness.
2. For all the provisions of grace have their issue in our moral perfection. Renouncing our own righteousness which is of the law, we are to attain a righteousness of faith, which in another sense must be “our own.” Pardon is the removal of an obstruction to holiness. The grace of God that bringeth salvation teaches us to aspire to all good works.
II. To ponder its unlimited variety of obligations.
1. The apostle exhorts us to train our minds to a high and refined sense of this. It is true that the regenerate are taught of God, and have the Spirit to guide them; but this is not to supersede the use of their own faculties. The Bible shows us “what is good” in its great principles, but leaves us to find out their illimitable application.
2. The object of this study is excellence according to all its standards. “Whatsoever things” suggests that every Christian virtue has its own unlimited field of study. What a boundless field, e.g., is truth.
3. The result of this constant study is the education of the spiritual taste into a high pitch of delicacy. The Christian’s standard of truth, dignity, etc., becomes higher than that of other men. Here lies the secret of the difference between Christian and Christian, between careless professors who are always stumbling themselves, and a cause of offence to others, and the educated disciples who adorn the doctrine of God their Saviour. Receive this exhortation and you will come by degrees so accurate in your moral judgment as never to fail, and be in the best sense, “a law unto yourselves.”
III. To give it the fervent desire of our meditation. The “thinking” signifies that intent contemplation of perfection which feeds the soul’s regenerate longing to attain it.
1. Mark with what exquisite skill the elements of perfection are combined into one lovely whole. We must look steadily at this assemblage of ethical graces until we are enkindled with its loveliness.
2. And as the Christian is exhorted to delight in the thought of perfection as the aggregate of all excellencies, so also he must make every individual principle the object of affectionate contemplation. How beautiful are truth, religious dignity, etc.
3. As the virtues of holiness are displayed in the Word of God, to think of them is to meditate on it. “O how I love Thy law.” To the soul that hungers and thirsts after righteousness, the Bible is an everlasting delight.
4. Moreover, such an insatiate student delights to consider the lives of these who have gone before him in the narrow way--Christ the supreme standard and pattern of the result; Paul and others as examples of the process. Those who, like ourselves, have had to travel through all the stages of the ascent from sin to holiness leave their example for our encouragement. But while we imitate them we must aspire to Him.
IV. To make it our practical concern. Let not thinking end, but turn your meditations to practice.
1. Generally there is to be nothing visionary in our religion. Hence the abrupt “do.” There is a sentimental religion which thinks loftily and talks magniloquently about virtue, but ends there. Our religion must not be a barren homage to the saintly qualities of others. What man has been man may be, by the grace of God, even though the man may have been a Paul.
2. Every scriptural ideal of excellence may be realized in practice. The pagan writers had their noble ideals, but nowhere outside the Bible is there such a consummate standard as this. And then, again, the highest moralists who sate not at the feet of Jesus despaired of their own teaching, imperfect as it was, “unless indeed,” as one said, “God should become incarnate to teach us.” Christianity alone has the golden link between thought and practice.
3. As thinking must not terminate in itself, so practice must be the diligent regulation of our life according to all the principles of holiness. There is a sense, indeed, in which our religion from beginning to end is God’s work; but the formation of Christian character is our own task under His blessing, and its perfection is conferred upon us, not as a gift simply, but as the seal upon our efforts, and their exceeding great reward.
4. We must work out our own salvation by governing our lives according to these holy principles particularly. If we would be perfectly true we must act out the truth in thought, word, and deed; so with dignity, etc.
V. To think of it with the peaceful confidence of hope. There can be no encouragement more mighty than that the God of Peace shall be with us.
1. God will be with us animating our pursuit by the assurance of reconciliation. There is no spirit for the pursuit unless we know that the guilty past is pardoned. The heart must be enlarged if we would run in the way of His commandments; and don’t narrow it and impede your progress by permitted sin.
2. God will be with us crowning our effort. Peace is the full sum of His heavenly blessing. “Great peace have they who love His law.” Others may have a transient joy and superficial excitement. (W. B. Pope, D. D.)
The finest specimen of a Christian is he in whom all the graces, like the strings of an angel’s harp, are in the most perfect harmony. Therefore, we are to beware of cultivating one grace or attending to any one duty at the expense of others. That is possible; and never more likely to happen than in these days of recoil from mere speculative theology, and of busy, bustling benevolence. Treading in our Master’s steps, we are to go about doing good; yet we may undertake so many works of Christian philanthropy as to trench on the hours that should be sacred to devotion. In seeking the good of others, we may so neglect the cultivation of our own hearts, and the duties we owe to our own families, as to have to cry with the man of old, They made me keeper of vineyards, and mine own vineyard I have not kept. (T. Guthrie, D. D.)
Avoid doubtful things
The atmosphere is sometimes in such a peculiar state that the spectator, on coast or shore, looking abroad over the sea, cannot tell where the water ends and the sky begins; and as if some magician had raised them out of their proper element, and turned their sails into wings, the ships seem floating in mid-air. But occasionally no line of separation is more difficult to draw than that which lies between what is right and what is wrong. Whether such and such a business or amusement, pursuit or pleasure, is wrong, and one, therefore, in which no Christian should engage, is a question that, so far as the thing itself is concerned, may be difficult to answer. But it is not difficult to answer, so far as you are concerned, if you doubt whether it is right. The apostolic rule is, “Let every man be fully persuaded in his own mind;” and unless you are so, then, “what is not of faith is sin”--sin at least to you. (T. Guthrie, D. D.)
St. Paul’s farewell
The words are the parting counsel of the apostle. They come at the most solemn period of his life, and he was writing to the best-loved of the churches. Will he speak of the mysteries he saw and heard? Will he expound some profound doctrine? It is almost with a feeling of disappointment that we find these homely words.
I. Observe the entireness of the apostle’s language. “Whatsoever things.” It has sometimes been supposed that different regions of goodness might be separated from each other; religion from morality; truth from beauty. Paul recognizes no such distinction. He who furthers one truth incidentally furthers all others.
II. Note how all the regions of goodness fit into each other. Paul, trained in Greek learning, would be familiar with the classical debates respecting the true, the beautiful, and the good. The Greek asserted that the supreme object of pursuit was the beautiful. His soul was so enwrapt in sensuous beauty, that he could recognize the good only in it. The highest object of admiration to the Roman was what was just. So some think now that the highest good is only to be found in truth, scientific facts; others in the noble and self-denying; in the romantic aspect of things. Paul discourages no forms of goodness, and would welcome it whether in myth, legend, song, art, nature, domestic life.
III. The true Christian character consists not in the mere absence of evil but in the possession and cultivation of the good. So dwell on “these things” as to make them your own. Your soul was made for them, and in nothing lower can it be happy. Only by thinking on them can their opposites be cast out. Darkness is only to be expelled by light, impurity by holiness, the love of sin by the love of God--in individuals or communities. (R. M. Stewart.)
I. Should be complete on every side.
II. Includes everything that is excellent.
III. Requires much study and prayer. (J. Lyth, D. D.)
1. The sanctification of men is the true object of redemption (Galatians 1:4; Titus 2:14). For this Christ took our nature, was tempted in all points like as we are, and died. And as His salvation is not a common and earthly good, so the holiness to which He moulds us is not a common and natural perfection, but one singular and supernatural.
2. In these words the apostle opposes his doctrine to that of a false teacher, who insisted upon legal observances, which are much more easy and agreeable than the study of real virtue. He enforces whatsoever things are--
I. True. This comes first, because before all things we shall embrace the Truth as disciples of Him who is “the Truth.” Here should be the foundation of all our conduct. We must consider “things true”--
1. Which are not feigned, or invented to please, but which really subsist.
2. Such as are at the foundation firm and solid, not shadows or figures. Falsehoods of whatever kind are prohibited.
3. All vain and deceitful appearances are excluded. Our manner of life must be plain and simple, purged from the love of the world which, as a shadow, passes away.
II. Venerable--all that relates to the dignity of the high vocation to which God has called us, renouncing all frivolity and folly.
1. What God commands us to render unto men, whether honour, deference, and obedience to our superiors in the state or the family; the guidance and protection of inferiors; friendship and assistance towards equals, or kindness towards all.
2. The laws and duties of the city and society in which we live, save when they conflict with conscience.
IV. Pure. We should be careful not only to preserve our bodies from pollution, but our hearts, tongues, eyes, dress, cultivating modesty, and avoiding every species of dissoluteness.
V. Lovely. Although all virtues are excellent in themselves, yet some are more pleasing than others; even as we see amongst the stars, though all are beautiful, yet some shine with a brighter lustre. Among the virtues, sweetness of mind, courtesy, clemency, willingness to oblige, show with peculiar brightness.
VI. Good report. Among actions which are good, some are held more specially in repute. St. Paul would have us give ourselves to them with especial care, because those who hold them in high esteem will love us better, and yield more readily to our religious influence. VII. That nothing may be omitted, the apostle adds, if there be any virtue or praise. None of these Divine and beautiful flowers must be wanting. Indeed, it is not possible to have one in any degree of perfection without the others. They are sisters so firmly linked together that they cannot be torn asunder. (J. Daille)
The moralities of Christianity
I. What these moralities are.
Whatsoever things are--
1. In speech. We must be free from lying. This is when men, with a purpose to deceive, say what is false either by assertion (Acts 5:3) or promise (Proverbs 19:22). Lying is--
(1) Most contrary to the nature of God, who is truth itself.
(2) To the new nature (Ephesians 4:25-49.4.26; Isaiah 63:8).
(3) To society, for commerce is kept up by truth.
2. In actions. We should keep the integrity of a good conscience (Psalms 32:2; 2 Corinthians 1:12). Sincerity and candour should be seen in all we do. Satan assaults you with wiles, but your strength lies in downright honesty (Ephesians 6:14; Isaiah 38:2-23.38.3).
2. Honest--grave and venerable, free from scurrility, lightness and vanity in word or deed. Religion is a serious thing, so should they be who profess it (1 Timothy 2:9-54.2.10; Titus 2:2).
3. Just. We must give every man his due, and defraud none of his right; whether
(1) superiors (Matthew 22:21),
(2) inferiors (Colossians 4:1),
(3) equals (Romans 13:8; Matthew 7:12).
4. Peace. Nothing obscene or unchaste should be seen or heard from a Christian (Ephesians 4:29; Ephesians 5:12).
5. Lovely. There are certain things which are not only commanded by God, but are grateful to men, such as affability, peaceableness, usefulness (Rom 45:13; 1 Thessalonians 5:15; Acts 2:46-44.2.47).
6. Of good report. There are some things which have no express evil in them, but they are not of good fame (1 Thessalonians 5:22; 1 Peter 2:12).
7. Virtue and praise, two things linked together. Many things in the world are praised which are not virtuous; such things are to be abhorred. But if there be any good thing even among the heathen, religion should be adorned with it.
II. In what manner doth Christianity enforce them.
1. It derives them all from the highest fountain, the Spirit of sanctification, by whom we are fitted for these duties (Ephesians 5:9; Galatians 5:22).
2. It makes them to grow out of proper principles.
(1) Faith in Christ (Hebrews 11:6; Romans 7:4).
(2) Love to God (Galatians 5:6; Titus 2:11-56.2.12).
3. It directs by the highest rule, God’s mind revealed in His Word, the absolute rule of right and wrong.
4. It aims at the highest end, the glory of God (1 Corinthians 10:31; Philippians 1:11; Acts 24:14-44.24.16).
III. For what reasons.
1. Because grace does not abolish so much of nature as is good, but refines and sublimates it, by causing us to act from higher principles and to higher ends.
2. Because these conduce to the honour of religion. The credit of religion depends much on the credit of its professors (Ezekiel 36:20-26.36.21; 2 Samuel 12:14; 2 Peter 2:2; Titus 2:10).
3. Our peace and safety are concerned in it.
(1) The world is least irritated by a good conversation (1 Peter 3:13; 1 Samuel 24:17).
(2) When we do not bring trouble on ourselves by our immoralities, God takes us under His special protection (verse 9).
4. These things grow from that internal principle of grace which is planted in our hearts by regeneration (Acts 26:20; Matthew 3:8).
5. All the disorders contrary to these limits and bounds by which our conversations are regulated, are condemned by the righteous law of God which is the rule of the new creature; and therefore they ought to be avoided by the good Christian (Matthew 5:19).
6. These moralities are not small things; the glory of God, the safety of His people, the good of human society, and the evidence of our own sincerity being concerned in them.
1. If religion adopts moralities into its constitution, we must not leave them out of our practice (Titus 3:8). Here is an answer to those who ask wherein must we be holy and obedient. (T. Manton, D. D.)
Expansiveness of Christian life
These words come at the close of a noble delineation of Christian life. It is as if having unfolded tract after tract the vision suddenly expanded, and a sense of the boundlessness of that life came over the apostle, and then under the stress of that feeling he pours the fulness of his soul into one utterance, emphasizing its breadth by the six-fold repetition of “whatsoever things.” As much as to say “all things conceivable, attainable, include them in your view of Christian life.” Christian life is greater than any description of it, and no experience has yet exhausted it.
I. Christ is Lord over the kingdom of truth; there is, therefore, nothing in that kingdom which a Christian may not aspire to possess. Our enemies are surprised at this claim. Because we put the Cross in the centre they fancy there is nothing but the centre.
1. Some deny the originality of Christian truth, and say of some fragments of it, “It is in Seneca or Confucius.” But whatever true things are in any of the wise teachers of the past, we shall not resent their being found anterior to Christ. They were in God before they were in them, and they have their place in the kingdom of truth of which Christ is the King, and of which we are now the heirs.
2. Detractors of another sort have put the stigma on the narrowness of our life. The large, full, free life is that which philosophy, art, science, literature, and travel make possible. But all things here are beforehand in Christ. They may not be classed as yet, but they belong to the kingdom of truth, and therefore to us.
3. Men who say that “It is all over with Christian life. It is an old-world story, a thing past and done. The real life--the life of the future--has its roots in material forces, and in the views, hopes, and aims to which these forces are giving shape.” But whatever is here is part of the heritage of our life.
II. The earliest actings of Christian life were illustrations of this expansiveness.
1. Hardly was its voice heard among men than it began to bring the teaching of the lilies and the birds, and the sunshine and rain into its glad tidings. It no sooner stepped into heathen life than it commended the faith of centurions, Syro-Phoenician women, the endurance of Roman soldiers, and the self-denial of Grecian wrestlers and runners. It went after the waifs and strays of Jewish society.
2. While Christian life denounced the awful abysses that lay in the moral life of heathenism, it accepted whatever was Divine in its civilization. It recognized in it the working of the Divine Spirit, heard its poets preluding the song of Christian brotherhood in the words, “Ye are God’s offspring”; saw the glory of Roman law; and in Greek wisdom questions which God had helped to formulate, and God’s Son had come to answer. It asserted its inheritance in all the virtues of Greek and Roman life, and found an asylum for its slaves.
III. Another illustration of the expansiveness is that it is not presented to us in the New Testament in its developments, but in its germs. It is leaven, seed, a new spiritual force, developing, penetrating, taking possession of, allying itself to all experiences, manners, customs, countries, races.
IV. Look at the expansive character of the Book by which Christian life is fed. The Bible grows in the experience of the individual. It is a greater Book to the man than to the boy. It grows in the experience of the Church. It is not the Bible that changes, but the eyes that pore over it grow wider as they read. Something of this is due, to the fact that it is in the main a book of principles. In their expansion the Bible expands. New circumstances demand new aspects of truth, new applications of principle. And every new application is a discovery of the wealth that remains to be dug out of the Book of God.
V. This has a practical bearing on the attitude of Churches to each other.
1. No one Church, however venerable in age, or fresh with the dew of youth, has a monopoly of the good things of God. Let us covet earnestly each other’s gifts--the fervour of the Wesleyan, the self-dependence of the Congregationalist, the ordered government of the Presbyterian, the beautiful worship of the Episcopalian.
2. And why should Church yearnings stop short here: think of the many things, great and good, in the social life of our country. We want the business habits, direct dealing, and honour among her commercial men; the free play and force of her public opinion, her respect for rights, her forbearance; the noble self-renunciation of her soldiers and sailors; the enthusiasm of her men of science, and the gravity of her lawyers. (A. Macleod, D. D.)
Faith in action
I. The Christian life is a building up of character.
1. It is more than belief of certain truths, the sustaining of certain religious emotions; it is the continuous working into the warp and woof of our life every good and excellent quality, until we arrive at the measure of and stature of the fulness that is in Christ.
2. Of course there must be a foundation, and a good one; but it is poor sort of work to be always laying foundations with so few buildings showing signs of growth, much less of completeness.
3. May not this partly account for the slow spread of the gospel? We can show many who have begun to build, but is that an inducement for others to begin also?
II. It is just by these things that we are judged by the world.
1. It is very true that the world is not discerning in its judgments. It sees professors doing disreputable things and immediately exclaims, “There is your religion for you.” With just as much justice as if after Satan had transformed himself into an angel of light, he again assumed his demoniacal form you were to say, “There’s your angel for you.”
2. But that is no excuse for giving the world occasion to speak slightingly of the gospel. And it is just by the neglect of things virtuous and praiseworthy that we provide worldlings with arrows to shoot at Christ’s cause. What can the world think when men who profess to be sure of heaven grumble at everything that goes on in earth; when those who profess to have received mercy are unforgiving, close fisted, and hard to deal with.
3. It is not by our professions of faith that the world judges us: it cannot judge of the new birth, faith, the indwelling of the Spirit; but of the outer life it does judge, and has to some extent a right to judge. How watchful and prayerful we should be that it does not misjudge the Master through us? How careful we should be to be living epistles known and read of all men.
III. We should learn of all men whatever is virtuous or praiseworthy in their life. Let the Church learn punctuality and business habits from the merchant; the Christian, courtesy from the outward politeness of the man of the world; the Protestant, that zeal which is so self-sacrificing and the devotion that is so warm in the Roman Catholic or Mohammedan; the believer, patient and impartial study of truth from the man of science. From any and every quarter let whatsoever is of good report be welcomed.
IV. Let none imagine, however, that any excellency or virtue can re a substitute for faith in Christ. Paul was a model of every natural virtue before his conversion, and yet none needed conversion more than he. The young man whom Jesus loved was the same. Paul counted his virtues loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ, and nothing but that knowledge will save your soul. (R. J. Lynd, B. A.)
In the service of God there is employment for every faculty and function; they each have a mission for the Master. The power to think is the prerogative distinctly peculiar to man.
I. Thought is a duty. Thoughtlessness, and consequently ignorance, is what the Lord so pathetically lamented in His people Israel. “Israel doth not know; My people doth not consider.” Thoughtlessness has wrought the ruin of our race. Isaac “meditated at eventide.” Joshua was commanded to “meditate day and night in the statutes of the Lord.” David was a diligent and talented thinker. “When I consider Thy heavens,” etc.
II. Subjects for thought. “Whatsoever things are true,” etc. We are to think, but not at random. Definite thought alone is profitable. There are subjects worthy of winning the thoughts of thinkers the most profound. (J. W. Bray.)
I. That we should aim at perfect integrity of character.
1. Christian graces are commonly grouped together in the Scriptures. The reason is, that they have all one root and originating source; and where one exists the rest may be looked for.
2. Some there are who are satisfied with few excellencies, forgetting that, though remarkable for one or two virtues, their character may still be egregiously defective. It may be distorted and disproportionate, like fruit that is ripe only on one side, or like trees with half their branches withered.
3. It is easy to cultivate those virtues which are most congenial with our natural temperament, most opportune to our immediate circumstances, or most frequent in our circle of friends. But of these we may be the least careful, while we should bestow all possible diligence to bring up those graces to which we are least prone, or which are least popular.
4. This apostle would have us lacking nothing.
II. In the acquisition of a perfect character, the proper direction and control of the thoughts is of paramount importance. Thoughts are either indicative of character, or formative of it. Our thoughts partly result from our disposition, and partly create it. In the former light they may serve as a test of our real state to ourselves. But mainly we would speak of the thoughts as tending to form character. Such thoughts are those voluntary ones which we choose to indulge.
1. Thoughts create images: images produce desires: desires influence the temper and direct the will: the will displays itself in overt action.
2. What thoughts should we indulge?
(1) Things of truth: of honesty, i.e., honour ableness, respect worthiness: of justice: of purity: of amiability, or such as win the esteem and love of others: and of good report.
(2) Meditate on truth, especially Christian truth. Think of everything, in your deportment, which is becoming to the dignity of a Christian character.
3. How to think of these things.
(1) In deliberate meditation: in the avoidance of whatever would awaken contrary thoughts.
(2) Think of these things with ardent love of them, with strenuous and prayerful effort after their attainment, and the exemplification of them in your con duct.
(3) By such training and cultivation of the thoughts may we expect to grow in grace; by the neglect of it, we shall decline in our piety and perhaps make shipwreck of faith. (T. G. Horton, M. A.)
The transforming power of thought
Think on these things and you will become--
I. Better. What a man thinks most about grows upon him. A youth may care very little about business; but presently he becomes interested in it, and it grows upon him until before middle age is reached he can scarcely think of anything else. It is so with the artist, with the pleasure seeker, and with the Christian. Let him think on “whatsoever things are true,” etc., and the more attractive they will become; the larger place will they occupy in his heart, and the mightier will be their influence on his life. Beholding these things with an open face, he will be naturally, insensibly, gradually changed into the same image.
II. More charitable. One of our most common tendencies is to look at the weaknesses and shortcomings of our brethren--to let the thought of these things exclude the thought of their good qualities. Hence harsh judgments, suspicion, distrust. If, however, we would lay aside this tendency and “take account of” (R.V. marg.) whatsoever things are true, etc., in our neighbours--look upon their good instead of on their faulty side, we should think more kindly of them, our thoughts would influence our conduct, and we should be drawn towards them by a three-fold cord of love. And this is possible. There is much that is praiseworthy even in brethren who have been overtaken in a fault. Much of our unity, success, comfort as communities, depend on our cultivating this habit.
III. More helpful. A man’s power to help does not so much depend on his intentions as on his character and disposition. The presence of a good man--a man who has “thought on these things” until they have become part of himself, always acts like a tonic on weaker souls. It reproves their slowness, quickens their desires, and stimulates their efforts. Such a man is a means of grace. (J. Ogle.)
Not the common word for think, but the reckoning, counting up, dwelling repeatedly on these things. It is not the bee’s touching upon the flowers that gathers honey, but her abiding for a time upon them and drawing out the sweet. It is not he that reads most, but he that meditates most on Divine truth that will prove the choicest, wisest, strongest Christian. (J. Hall.)
The difficulty and importance of continuous thought
How many persons are made and kept frivolous by an inability to prescribe the subjects on which their mind shall run! They would give, or fancy they would give, all that they possess for the power to say decisively but for one short hour, “This and but this shall be the subject of my thoughts.” But they find that when they open their Bible the mind has flown away to some meditation of things present and transitory; when they kneel down to pray, even attention is absent, they cannot remember God’s presence, much less can they wish the thing they profess to pray for. Such persons are good judges of Paul’s precept, however little they may believe in the possibility of obeying it. For indeed it is a very dreadful thing, when we reflect upon it--a strong proof, were there no other, of our fallen and ruined state--that a man should thus sit at a helm of which he has lost the rudder, should thus be responsible for the conduct of a mind over which practically he has no control. And if that responsibility cannot be desired; if “out of the heart the mouth speaketh,” if by the heart the path of life is chosen and the course of life shaped; in short, if, in every sense of the words, “out of the heart are the issues of life,” and according to the life must be the eternal judgment of each one of us; how terrible must it be to be unable from a moral impotency to obey the charge “keep that heart with all diligence”; to be compelled to let thought drift whither it will, and yet to know that thought guides action, and action may destroy the soul. (Dean Vaughan.)
Whatsoever things are true--
1. God to maintain it.
2. Defence in itself.
3. Goodness to accompany it.
4. Liberty consequent upon it.
5. It is connatural to our principles.
6. The foundation of order.
7. The ground of human converse.
8. The bond of union. (B. Whichcote, B. D.)
False measures of truth
I. The longest sword; and then the Mahometans must have it; and before them the great disturbers of mankind, whom we call conquerors, as Alexander and Caesar.
II. If the loudest lungs must carry it, then the Baal worshippers must have it from Elijah; for he had but one still voice; but they cry from morning to night.
III. If the most voices; then the condemners of our Saviour must have it: for they all cry, Crucify, Crucify. Therefore these are false measures. (B. Whichcote, B. D.)
Spheres of truth
I. Be true to yourselves--to your better nature. As Shakespeare says, “To thine own self be true, and it must follow, as the night the day, thou canst not then be false to any man.”
II. To your neighbours in--
III. To God.
1. To His claims.
2. To your promises.
3. In your hearts, for truth is required in the inward parts.
4. In your life, for there you may best glorify Him. (W. Landells, D. D.)
Universality of truth
Moral truth in its universality is like the pine tree. Societies have claimed the one for their own, as some naturalists have claimed the other for northern climes. But both are wrong. As to the pine, it is represented in all zones, from the cedars of Lebanon to the fir bushes of the Scandinavian mountain tops. There are particular trees, as there are certain forms of speculative and political truth, which can survive only in a limited region; the one being fitted only for a peculiar atmosphere, as the other is only adapted to circumscribed types of mind. But moral truth flourishes amongst all the mental productions of man, as the pine amongst the vegetation of the world. It must thrive everywhere, because suited to and intended for the world. (Dr. Herman Masius.)
New truth unwelcome
Men who have lived in traditional knowledge do not thank you for a new truth. It dazes and confounds their dim vision, which is unsuited to its reception. Their bewilderment at the light is similar to that of the cricket. As that creature lives chiefly in the dark, so its eyes seem formed for the gloominess of its abode; and you have only to light a candle unexpectedly, and it becomes so dazed that it cannot find its way back to its retreat. (Goldsmith.)
Loyalty to truth
A father found a favourite cherry tree hacked and ruined. He cried sternly to his son: “George, who did this?” He looked at his father with a quivering lip, and said: “Father, I cannot tell a lie: I did it.” “Alas!” said the father, “my beautiful tree is ruined; but I would rather lose all the trees I have than have a liar for my son.” The boy who feared a lie worse than punishment became the hero of his country, General Washington. Whatsoever things are honest--The word does not exactly mean what we call honest, but what is worthy of honour, revered, august, venerable, majestic. Think on whatever things you can look up to in persons, circumstances, and respect. Especially in social life, in the political world, in literature. Where there is no room for reverence there is no room for life. The name of God, the idea of worship, the solemnity of life, the immortality of the soul, the fact of death, the judgment seat--“think on these things,” awful, venerable things l Then government, law, the State, the Church, the ruling powers and influences of society; the magistrate, holding “not the sword in vain, the minister of God to thee for good”--“think on these things,” pray for them; cheek faction, uphold authority. Nor are the grand advances of science to be omitted from this catalogue. For these, we are to bless God. His hand is in them all. The astronomical accuracy that can calculate the moment of an eclipse a hundred years hence--the power of expediting communication, like lightning, to the ends of the earth--the triumph over winds and waves--the mighty faculty of the poet--the genius of history, the gift of eloquence--the prevention of disease, the alleviation of pain--the “rise up and walk” of medical skill--these, too, together with the awful and majestic in nature and art, whatsoever in mountain or sea or sky, whatsoever in painting or noble structure shows greatness of purpose, nobility of soul, and tends to bow our souls in admiration--“think on these things.” (B. Kent.)
Whatsoever things are just, observant of the rule of right--equal. The original signification of the term was custom--order--social rule, in opposition to the unmannered life of wild tribes, who are swayed by inclination, passion, caprice. There is a Divine order in this world, amid all our confusions. He who walks in that order walks in the way of the Lord. That is right, just. “There is none righteous.” Christ is the “Just One.” There is His righteousness; we must be clothed with it. “Looking unto Jesus” is the loving study of God’s laws perfectly fulfilled in Him for us. Thus we are taught to repent of our deviations, i.e., sin, missing the mark, going out of the way. This leads us to acknowledge our weakness, and to cry mightily to God to bring us to Christ, “the Way.” The brief description of Christianity in apostolic times was “that way,” or “the way of the Lord,” “the way of life.” It is God’s way of working, saving, ruling, pardoning, that we want to walk in--the way of righteousness. Think on the things in society that are conformed to this rule of order and right. There is the way of the righteous King. He walks there. There He takes delight. In the family, in the Church, in the State; whatever is upright, observant of right, and struggles against wrong-doing, fraud, injustice, is the finger of God. Consciously or unconsciously it is doing His work; the vindication of human rights against oppression, ignorance, superstition, the devil, is working for and with Christ. Take a large and ample range over society, discover the right, the lawful, the just, making head against the wrong, the false, the licentious; think of these things; pray for them, and see God’s hand and way in them. Think on them; they are; God does not leave Himself without a witness; there are more signs of righteous government in the world than many of us suspect. They are about our path if we will but open our eyes, and observe, and desire to see them. There are flowers, and palms, and pools in the desert. “Think on these things.” (B. Kent.)
Whatsoever things are pure, unsullied, akin to holy. “Every man that hath this hope in him purifieth himself,” etc. “Ye have approved yourselves to be clear in this matter.” “Some preach Christ … not sincerely.” “Lay hands suddenly on no man … keep thyself pure.” Thus the word has reference to what may and does defile; influences in the Church and the world which tend to stain our consciences; connivance at sin, excusing evil, insincere statements; having a bad motive underlying right conduct; preaching such a gospel as Paul rejoiced to know was preached, and yet not with cleanness of conscience. Timothy is to let the candidates for the ministry consider their motives; he is to study their conduct for a while, lest love of money, or of applause, of vulgar fame, or eccleciastical power and influence, should prove the determining influences, and thus he would be a partaker of other men’s sins. This suggests the need of “the blood of sprinkling,” that our actions, motives, powers, prayers, may be cleansed of all vile, base admixtures. A true Christian will bemoan nothing more feelingly than the constant detection of impure, low motive in his spiritual life. The apostle exhorts us to “cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God.” In the intercourse of the world one is in constant danger of a certain miasma, the pollution of low, selfish, interested motive; it is drawn in naturally as the pure air; and unless we think of “whatsoever things are pure,” and do like the Italian peasant, when the night comes on, get out of the low ground on to a hill above the reach of the miasma, we are in danger of losing the freshness and vigour of our spiritual life. When the day is over we should get us up to the mountains, and converse with our Lord concerning the conduct of the day, and ask Him to see “if there is any wicked way in us, and to wash us, not our feet only, but also our hands and our head.” “Create in me a clean heart, O God; and renew a right spirit within me.” (B. Kent.)
The power of purity
It is a marvellous thing to see how a pure and innocent heart purifies all that it approaches. The most ferocious natures are soothed and tamed by innocence. And so with human beings there is a delicacy so pure that vicious men in its presence become almost pure; all of purity that is in them being brought out; like attaches itself to like. The pure heart becomes a centre of attraction, round which similar atoms gather, and from which dissimilar ones are repelled. A corrupt heart in an hour elicits all that is bad in us; a spiritual one brings out and draws to itself all that is best and purest. Such was Christ. He stood in the world the Light of the world, to which all sparks of light gradually gathered. He stood in the presence of impurity, and men and women became pure. (F. W. Robertson, M. A.)
Live in purity, my child, through this fair life, pure from every vice and every evil knowledge, as the lily lives in silent innocence, as the turtledove amid the branches, that thou, when the Father downward gazes, mayest be His beloved object on earth, as the unconscious wanderer gazes on the lovely star of even; that thou, when the sun dissolves thee, mayest show thyself a pearl of purest whiteness, that thy thoughts may be as the rose’s perfume, that thy love may be like a glowing sunbeam, and thy life like shepherd’s song of evening, like the tones his flute pours forth so softly. (Schiller.)
Whatsoever things are lovely--
I. The union of strength and beauty in Christian character.
1. The virtues of this verse are parts of one organic whole; they so hang together that the absence of one goes far to destroy the value of the other. This is especially true of “things honest and just.” The world is compelled to respect truth, however lacking in grace. The addition of “things lovely” elevates the righteous into the good man: but the righteous man may be honoured and trusted though he is not admired or loved. The want of grace detracts from the symmetry of character; but in the moral world the beautiful has value only as underneath the outward charm there is the solid foundation of righteousness.
2. There is a certain beauty even about the most rugged forms of moral strength. It is a sign of incompleteness of character when a man takes pleasure in putting the truth in an offensive form, or in enforcing the right with a contempt for the feelings of others. There are those who have no desire to conciliate, and who are too assertive, yet there is in them a strength of principle, a manly resolution, an unflinching devotion to the right which is far more admirable than the amiability which is profuse in outward signs of kindness, but shrinks from the service which justice requires.
3. Still, when we think of things lovely, we refer to qualities by which the more severe attributes of character are softened. Standing alone they are a very poor possession. Those who employ all their art in order to have the outward clothing of gentleness, elegance, and grace have their reward. They are favourites of the social circle; and yet they may be lacking in the first elements of spiritual nobility. In the true Christian ideal the graces are only those elements which add tenderness and sweetness to the more masculine virtues which are essential to the toils and conflicts of this world of sin.
II. Note the varieties of spiritual beauty.
1. There is a tendency to find beauty only in the feminine virtues--gentleness, patience, compassion, sympathetic kindness--and to regard those of a more masculine character--courage, firmness, resolution--as belonging to another region. But this is to forget that God has made everything beautiful in its time and place. There is beauty in winter as well as in spring, in the scarred, weather-beaten rock, as well as in the smiling landscape. In God’s works there is great variety, but everywhere beauty.
2. Can we not apply the same law to character? Would we have all men of the same character? Can we find the things that are lovely only in peaceful homes and gracious ministries, and not also where hard battles are fought and victories won for Jesus Christ? We recognize the loveliness of simple trust and absolute devotion in Magdalen in Gethsemane; but is there no beauty in the lofty heroism of Peter and John declaring that they would serve God rather than men? Barnabas seems to gather up in himself the things that are lovely, but do we find no spiritual beauty in the lion-like courage of Paul? So with Melanchthon and Luther. There is moral beauty in all--different in type, but alike in origin and end.
III. Contemplate the things that are lowly (Colossians 3:12-51.3.15). Here is indeed a galaxy of virtues, yet when we come to examine them we find that they all turn on one point--the conquest of self.
1. Selfishness is ugliness and deformity, because it is a violation of the Divine law. It may disguise itself, but when detected it is hated and despised. It is the foe of man, to be crushed by a Diviner force if we are to attain to spiritual beauty.
2. The first lesson we have to learn is humility and unselfishness. So only can we follow Christ. Where His Spirit reigns the life will have this primary condition of true beauty; although at times it may be lacking in features which correspond to the popular ideas of grace.
3. The word chivalry seems to embody most of the virtues included in the phrase of the text: reverence for God and for all that is godlike in man, sympathy for all goodness, pity for all weakness, courage to face all danger, generous consideration for others dictated by true respect for self. These are just the virtues which the Christian should strive by the grace of God to develop. (J. G. Rogers, B. A.)
Whatsoever things are of good report (εὔφημα), auspicious, sounding well, of good omen; silent deeds that, nevertheless, sound like a trumpet, and awaken our admiration, making us think better of human nature; things that come to us like good news, and “make our bones fat,” and our eyes glisten, and our lips tremulous--“things of good report.” Like the soldier at Balaclava, who dismounted calmly in the hurricane of the fight, that his officer might ride. Like those noble women who watched day and night over the sufferers at Scutari. The poetry of life--the sphere music--audible amidst the groans of creation. Not done to be reported well of, but done for love and dear honour’s sake; and which can no more be hid than one can “hide the wind.” Such was Joseph’s conduct to his brethren; such David’s when he found Saul asleep, and took his spear away only and a piece of his garment; such Stephen’s dying prayer, “Lay not this sin to their charge”; such His glorious charge, “Begin at Jerusalem.” Magnanimity, the Christian pilgrim, man or woman, accompanied by “Greatheart”; the rising above the level and routine of giving, doing, loving, into the stature of the man in Christ Jesus--these are things of good report. Think of them--think that you never experience such a thrill of pleasure as when you read of such things--then what must it be to do them! Think that the capacity to enjoy the recital argues the ability to do them. Think and be thankful that you live in a world where these noble things can be done; and you can do them, if you suffer not little mercenary motives to blind your eyes and freeze your sensibilities. “And when they had nothing to pay, he frankly forgave them;” there is a sounding deed! David refusing to offer to the Lord “that which cost Him nothing”; the centurion’s, “Lord, I am not worthy that Thou shouldest come under my roof, but speak the word only”; Mary, with her alabaster box of ointment (and “this that she hath done shall be spoken of for a memorial of her”); Paul’s, “though the more I love you, the less I am beloved”--“take back your runaway slave, Philemon, as a brother,” and what he owes thee put down to me; that greatest deed in the history of the universe, how that when we were yet sinners Christ died for us. (B. Kent.)
If there be any virtue--The clause is an emphatic and earnest summation. The term ἀρετή is only here used by St. Paul. In the philosophical writings of Greece it signifies all virtue, and not any special forms of it, as it does in Homer and others. The apostle nowhere else uses it--it had been too much debased and soiled in some of the schools, and ideas were often attached to it very different from that moral excellence which with him was virtue. It is therefore here employed in its widest and highest sense of moral excellence--virtus, that which becomes a man redeemed by the blood of Christ and tenanted by the Holy Spirit. From its connection with the Sanscrit vri--to be strong--Latin vir-vires-virtus; or with Ἄρης ἂριστος it seems to signify what best becomes a man--manhood, strength, or valour; in early times. But the signification has been modified by national character and temperament. The warlike Romans placed their virtue in military courage; while their successors, the modern degenerate Italians, often apply it to a knowledge of antiquities or fine arts. The remains of other and nobler times are articles of virtu, and he who has most acquaintance with them is a virtuoso, or man of virtue. In common English, a woman’s virtue is simply and alone her chastity, as being first and indispensable; and with the Scotch formerly it was thrift or industry. An old act commands schools or houses of “vertue,” in which might be manufactured “cloth and sergis,” to be erected in every shire. Amid such national variations, and the unsettled metaphysical disquisitions as to what forms virtue and what is its basis, it needed that He who created man for Himself should tell him what best became him--what he was made for and what he should aspire to. (Professor Eadie.)
If there be any praise--We all consider what is thought of us by those around us as a substantial good. Trust in our uprightness of character, belief in our abilities, and the desire that arises from this to be more intimately connected with us, and to gain our good opinion--everything of this kind is often a more valuable treasure than great riches. (Schleiermacher.)
The esteem of others
While we recognize in the desire of esteem an innocent and highly useful principle, we must carefully guard against making the opinion of others the sole and ultimate rule of our conduct. Temporary impulses and peculiar local circumstances may operate to produce a state of public sentiment to which a good man cannot conscientiously conform. In all cases where moral principles are involved, there is another part of our nature to be consulted. In the dictates of an enlightened conscience, we find a code to which not only the outward actions, but the appetites, propensities, and affections, are amenable, and which prescribes the limits of their just exercise. To obey the suggestions of the desire of esteem, in opposition to the requisitions of conscience, would be to subvert the order of our mental constitution, and to transfer the responsibility to the supreme command of a mere sentinel of the outposts. Yet the operation of this principle within due limits is favourable to human well-being. It begins to operate early, long before the moral principles are fully brought out; and it essentially promotes a decency and propriety of deportment, and stimulates to exertion. Whenever a young man is seen exhibiting an utter disregard for the approbation of others, the most unfavourable anticipations may be formed of him; he has annihilated one of the greatest restraints on an evil course which a kind Providence has implanted within us; and exposes himself to the hazard of unmistakable vice and misery. (T. C. Upham, LL. D.)
Praise from others
The praises of others may be of use in teaching us, not what we are, but what we ought to be. (J. M. Hare.)
The tendency of the love of commendation is to make a man exert himself; of the love of admiration to make him puff himself. (Archbishop Whately.)
When the love of praise takes the place of love of praiseworthiness, the defect is fatal. (B. Grant, B. A.)
Commendation better than scolding
A word of praise warms the heart towards him who bestows it, and insensibly trains him who receives it to strive after what is praiseworthy; and as our lesser faults may be thus gently corrected, by disciplining some counter merits to stronger and steadier efforts to outgrow them, so it is, on the whole, not more pleasant than wise to keep any large expenditure of scolding for great occasions. But let me be understood. By praise I do not mean flattery; I mean nothing insincere. Insincerity alienates love and rots away authority. Praise is worth nothing if it be not founded on truth. (Lord Lytton.)
Those things which ye have both learned and received--Observe
The apostle’s example. He preached, practised, experienced the truth.
II. Its permanent force. Still heard and seen in the word of inspiration--accompanied with Divine power and blessing. (J. Lyth, D. D.)
I. The apostle’s conscious integrity.
II. His bright example of faith, zeal, self-consecration, purity.
III. Its authority as a rule.
IV. The advantage of copying it. Peace on earth--in heaven. (J. Lyth, D. D.)
The force of example
During the siege of Sebastopol, Gordon was one day going the round of the trenches, when he heard an angry altercation between a corporal and a sapper. On inquiring the cause, he learnt that the men were instructed to place some gablons on the battery, and that the corporal had ordered the sapper to stand on the parapet, where he would be exposed to the enemy’s fire, and to place the gabions, while he, perfectly sheltered, handed them up from below. Gordon at once jumped upon the parapet, ordering the corporal to join him, while the sapper handed them the gabions. When the work was done, and done under the fire of the watchful Russian gunners, Gordon turned to the corporal, and said, “Never order a man to do anything that you are afraid to do yourself.”
But I rejoiced in the Lord greatly
He acknowledges the gift--rejoicing in the spirit that prompted it; expressing his contentment and confidence in God; confessing the seasonable nature of the supply.
II. He commends the givers for their special and repeated generosity; exemplification of the spirit of Christianity; acceptable sacrifice to God.
III. He assures them of an abundant recompense. God is rich; will supply all their need; by Christ Jesus. (J. Lyth, D. D.)
A grateful heart
I. Sees God in every benevolent action.
II. Rejoices in the Spirit that dictates it.
III. Puts the highest value on the gift. (J. Lyth, D. D.)
Philippian charity and Pauline delicacy
They had revived, he says, or more exactly--for the figure is taken from the beautiful burst of spring--they had, like a tree long bare and frost bound, put forth new sprouts and shoots under the genial influence of God’s rain and sun shine; they had thus sprouted and germinated afresh, after a season of apparent deadness, in their care or thought for him. But no sooner has he written the word than he feels, with that quickness and delicacy of perception which is one of the great charms of his character, that the expression may seem to involve a reproach for the lateness or tardiness of their offering; and therefore he adds instantly, that he knows that they had all along been thinking and caring for him, and had only wanted the opportunity of actually showing and proving it. For this he rejoiced in the Lord. Their kindness had given him a pleasure, not as a man only, but as a Christian. And he goes on to tell them why. (Dean Vaughan.)
Hearing and doing
A brief and simple, but very expressive, eulogy was pronounced by Martin Luther upon a pastor at Zwickaw, in 1522, named Nicholas Hausman. “What we preach,” said the great reformer, “He lives.” A good woman who had been to the house of God was met on her way home by a friend, who asked her if the sermon was done. “No,” she replied, “it is all said; it has got to be done.” (Biblical Treasury.)
Importance of opportunity
Opportunity is like a favouring breeze springing up around a sailing vessel. If the sails be all set, the ship is wafted onward to its port; if the sailors are asleep or ashore, the breeze may die again, and when they would go on they cannot: their vessel stands as idle as a painted ship upon a painted ocean.
The beautiful drosera, or sun dew, lifts its tiny crimson head. The delicate buds are clustered in a raceme, to the summit of which they climb one by one. The topmost bud waits only through twelve hours of a single day to open. If the sun do not shine it withers and droops, and gives way to the next aspirant. So it is with the human heart and its purposes. One by one they come to the point of blossoming. If the warmth of confidence and hope glow in the heart at the right moment, all is well; but the chill of hesitation or delay will wither them at the core. (J. Denton.)
I have learned in whatsoever state I am therewith to be content
1. It is opposed to dissatisfaction, and by submission to the hardships of life disarms them of half their power. It is too sensible to aim after impossibilities, or to increase the infelicities of life by fretfulness. A just mind is necessary to it, one who sees things as they are instead of through the distorting medium of a jaundiced eye. The injustice of mind accompanying pride produces peevishness, and that accompanying ambition petulance.
2. It is not, however, indifference or stupidity, although these sometimes pass for such. Minds too sluggish to think, hearts too insensible to feel, souls too selfish to do either, have neither sensibility nor sense to complain. But contentment can feel, hope, sigh; but its feelings are not allowed to run into fretfulness, and its sighs are often exchanged for smiles. If it cannot have what it would it will not brood over its disappointments, but brighten them by sweet submission.
3. It has no kinship with fatalism. When the calls of duty come in conflict with the desires for cherished sinfulness, it is no uncommon thing for a foolish sinner to say that his plans and actions can alter nothing; the real meaning of which he is too lazy to plan or act at all; so he misnames his vice the virtue of contentment. Paul’s contentment, however, was to work, plan, pray. He did not submit beforehand, because he did not know beforehand; but when the event came he said, “I am content,” i.e., with the ascertained will of his Master.
II. The mode of its acquisition. “I have learned,” i.e., as a lesson, and with difficulty, too. If we trace its experiences we shall find--
1. A sensibility to the Divine hand. He saw God in his trials, and said, “Thy will be done.” It is a very different thing to submit under the ills of life through a realization of their Divine appointment, and to submit from sullenness or stupidity, See, then, in them the God of all wisdom and goodness.
2. He hoped in God. No man can be contented without hope. This leads to contentedness in certain expectation of deliverance, if not here, by and by. “I know whom I have believed,” etc.
3. He had his treasure in heaven; and if we have we can say, “Our light affliction which is but for a moment,” etc., and so be content. And even in prosperity this consolation is required; for amidst abounding riches there is dissatisfaction. Something more is wanted.
4. He had experiences which tried him. His content did not arise from tuition, faith, hope, heavenly mindedness, alone or together. His painful experiences gave strength to his contentment, and made successive trials light and met more willingly. They taught him to say, “When I am weak I am strong; I can do all things through Christ,” etc.
III. The reasons which enforce it.
1. The power which has allotted our state. God reigns. An inscrutable wisdom and overruling providence is at work. How unreasonable, then, to complain when trouble comes. It is either a deserved chastisement or a healthful discipline. Discontent is an injustice in high quarters. Take, then, your happy place, it is your heavenly Father’s appointment in love.
2. Contentment is safety. How many have suffered irretrievably through wandering from their allotted path, or wishing and striving to do so. The humblest cottage is better than a fever-stricken or earthquake-shaken palace.
3. Contentment enhances our enjoyment and diminishes our miseries. Evils become lighter by patient endurance, and benefits are poisoned by discontent.
4. The miseries of life are sufficiently deep and extensive without adding to them.
5. Contentment is the means of receiving new lessons about God. (I. S. Spencer, D. D.)
signifies self-sufficiency. Here it is not to be understood absolutely as if it taught independence in nature, not wanting anything outside of self. Paul did not mean to exclude God or His providence, but supposed them--“not as if we were sufficient of ourselves, but our sufficiency is of God.” He did not desire or lack more than what God had supplied him with. His will suited his state, his desire did not exceed his power. The object of contentment, then, is the present state of things, whatever it may be, wherein God has set us. Those of the highest fortune are most apt to respect the smallest things, whereas a poor estate is easily comforted by the accession of little. The formal object may seem to be a condition adverse to our sense--but since all men are in such a condition more or less, therefore any state may be the object of contentedness, and prince and peasant alike need to learn this lesson. To turn now to the acts wherein the practice consisted.
I. As to our opinions and judgments. Contentedness requires that--
1. We should believe our condition, whatever it may be, to be determined by God, or at least that He permits it according to His pleasure.
2. Hence we should judge everything that happens to be thoroughly good, worthy of God’s appointment, and not entertain harsh thoughts of Him.
3. We should even be satisfied in our minds that according to God’s purpose all events conduce to the welfare not only of things in general but to ours in particular.
4. Hence we are to believe that our present condition is, all things considered, the best--better than we could have devised for ourselves.
II. As to the depositions of will and affection.
1. We should entertain all occurrences, how grievous soever, with entire submission to the will of God.
2. We should bear all things with steady calmness and composedness of mind, quelling those excesses of passion which the sense of things disgustful is apt to excite.
3. We should bear the worst events with sweet cheerfulness and not succumb to discouragement. “As sorrowful, yet always rejoicing.”
4. We should with faith and hope rely and wait on God for the removal or easement of our afflictions, or confide in Him for grace to support them well. “Why art thou cast down,” etc.
5. We should not faint or languish. No adversity should impair the forces of our reason or spirit, enervate our courage, or slacken our industry. “If thou faint in adversity thy strength is small.”
6. We should not be weary of our condition or have irksome longings for alterations, but with a quiet indifference and willingness lie under it during God’s pleasure, considering “Him who endured such contradictions of sinners against Himself.”
7. We should by adverse accidents be rendered lowly in our own eyes, meek in our temper, and sensible of our own unworthiness. “Be humble under the mighty hand of God.” “To this man will I lock,” etc.
8. It is required that we should, notwithstanding any hardness in our condition, be kindly affected towards others, being satisfied and pleased with their more prosperous state.
9. Contentedness implies freedom from anxiety in reference to provision for our needs, “casting our burden on the Lord.”
10. It requires that we should curb our desires, and not affect more in quantity or better in quality than our nature or state require. “He,” as Socrates said, “is nearest to the gods (who need nothing) that needs fewest things.”
11. It imports that whatever our condition is our mind and affections should be squared accordingly. If we are rich we should get a bountiful heart; if poor we should be frugal; if high in dignity, well ballasted; if low, meek and steady.
III. From hence should arise correspondent external demeanour.
1. We should restrain our tongues from all unseemly expressions implying displeasure at God’s providence. “Wherefore doth a living man complain?” “Be still and know that I am God.”
2. We should declare our satisfaction in God’s dealings, acknowledging His wisdom, justice, and goodness, and blessing Him for all.
3. We should abstain from all unlawful courses towards the remedy of our needs, choosing quietly to abide under their presence rather than to violently relieve ourselves.
4. We should, notwithstanding adversity, proceed in our affairs with alacrity, courage, and industry, allowing no grievance to render us listless or lazy. Activity is a good way to divert and the readiest way to remove a good many ills.
5. We should behave ourselves fairly and kindly towards the instruments of our adversity, “being reviled” we should “bless,” etc. (I. Barrow, D. D.)
I. Its sphere. It is exercised in different circumstances.
1. In the midst of competence, in which case it suppresses the strivings of ambition and envious murmurings on account of the successes of others.
2. Under hope deferred, in which case it teaches a patient waiting for God’s time as the best.
3. Under pressure of adversity, from which there is no hope of escape in this world, in which case it represses fretfulness and a charging of God foolishly.
II. Its qualifications and illustrations.
1. It was his portion of worldly goods with which the apostle was content--not with his spiritual condition. This would have been sin. With this we should be discontented. Nor is this inconsistent with gratitude for grace received. The contentment of an unrenewed man is a great aggravation of his sinfulness. But while discontented on account of the evil of your own heart, be not discontented with the slow operations of God’s sanctifying grace, so as to fret and fume that you are not already perfect.
2. Contentment with our worldly condition is not inconsistent with endeavour to have it improved.
(1) To the poorest man Christianity says, “Be thou content,” but also, “be diligent in business” (1 Corinthians 7:21). The contentment enjoined is for the time being. The man is poor today, and for this day faith enjoins him to be satisfied. But deliverance from poverty may be best for tomorrow, and he therefore works for his extrication. He may not succeed, but he says it appears to be best that poverty should be continued another day, and thus he proceeds till relief comes.
(2) Some persons of a tender but mistaken conscience feel as if it were a sin to attempt to rise. This is foolish. It is our commanded duty to endeavour to improve our circumstances, only we must not murmur if we do not succeed.
(3) There are those who presume to denounce people when they agitate for the repeal of bad laws--preaching the Christian duty of content. That contentment is a part of duty is granted. Iniquitous legislation is as much a permitted judgment of God as famine, and during the time of its infliction we must humble ourselves. But in both cases a man is a criminal who does not use all means for the removal of the curse. What would have been our condition but for a noble Christian patriotism.
3. This contentment is relative to our present state, and not absolute in respect to the entire demands of our nature. The Christian is content with his supplies as a pilgrim. To be satisfied with the world as a home is sinful. It is well enough as a land to travel in, but I expect something better.
III. The manner in which it is to be cherished.
1. Let us reflect that whatever our circumstances they are the arrangement of the providence of God, who has a sovereign right to dispose of us. “Let the potsherds strive with the potsherds of earth, but woe to him that contendeth with his Maker.”
2. It is requisite that we should acquire a habit of looking at the favourable as well as the adverse side. If you are poor, God has given you your health; if He has taken two of your children He has spared a third; some of your neighbours are worse off; at the worst you have your Bible and your Saviour.
3. Supposing our lives were affliction throughout, still we would deserve worse.
4. God designs our advantage in every calamity. Christian hope is the secret of Christian contentment. (W. Anderson, LL. D.)
Helps to contentment
1. Of the special matter of it.
(1) Who orders the state, and how is it ordered? (Psalms 31:15). God orders things
(a) irresistibly (Isaiah 43:13; Ecclesiastes 8:3; Ephesians 1:11);
(b) righteously (Genesis 18:25; Psalms 145:17; Revelation 15:8);
(c) wisely (Psalms 104:24);
(d) graciously (Psalms 25:10).
(2) The state itself.
(a) It is mixed--the good more than the evil; the evil is our desert and the good of grace.
(b) It is common (1 Corinthians 10:13; 1 Peter 5:9).
(c) It is proper to this present life, which is but a pilgrimage.
(d) It might be worse.
(3) The frame of contentment.
(a) It is a gracious frame.
(b) It is a frame highly pleasing to God.
(c) It is a frame greatly advantageous to ourselves. It fills with comfort; fits for duty; procures the mercy we desire, or something better; sweetens every cup. Whereas discontent is a sad inlet to sin; a preparation to all temptations; deprives of happiness; exposes to judgments (Psalms 106:24-19.106.27; 1 Corinthians 10:10).
2. Of particular cases where consideration is to be acted upon in order to contentment.
(1) Lowness of estate. Is extreme poverty the ease? consider then--
(a) The Lord maketh poor and rich (1 Samuel 2:7).
(b) None are so poor but they have more than they deserve.
(c) Hitherto the Lord hath provided, and if you trust Him will still provide (Psalms 73:8; Matthew 6:25; Hebrews 13:5).
(d) A little with God’s blessing will go far and do well (Exodus 23:25; 1 Kings 17:12).
(e) The saint’s little is better than the sinner’s all (Proverbs 15:16; Psalms 37:16).
(f) No man can judge of God’s love or hatred by these things (Ecclesiastes 9:1; Matthew 8:20; 2 Corinthians 8:9).
(g) God keeps you low in earthly possessions, but how is it with you in higher and better things (Revelation 2:9; Jam 2:5; 1 Timothy 6:18; Luke 12:21).
(h) You think God is strait with you in temporal, but is He not abundantly gracious in spiritual things?
(2) There are some with whom it is much better. Consider in your case--
(a) The greatness of the sin of discontent in you above what it is in the persons spoken of before.
(b) How thankful would many be if they were in your position.
(c) Christians are to bound their desires after things below (Jer 45:5; 1 Timothy 6:8; Matthew 6:11).
(d) A little sufficeth nature, less sufficeth grace; but covetousness is never satisfied.
(e) A great estate is not the best estate (Proverbs 30:8) for duty (Ecclesiastes 5:13); for safety--the higher the building the more endangered; for comfort.
(f) The contented man is never poor let him have ever so little; the discontented never rich let him have ever so much.
(g) What are earthly treasures that we should be greedy of them? (1 Timothy 6:17; Proverbs 23:5).
(h) The less we have, the less we shall have to account for.
(3) There are those who have lost what they had. Consider--
(a) God’s hand is in losses (Job 1:21).
(b) Something is gone, but possibly all is not lost.
(c) Did you really need them? (1 Peter 1:6).
(d) Suppose all is lost, it amounts to little (1 Corinthians 7:31).
(e) If thou be a child of God the best is secure.
3. The manner in which consideration is to be managed. It must be--
II. Godliness. This produces contentment.
1. As it rectifies the several faculties of the soul.
(1) It rectifies the understanding, by dispelling natural darkness and setting up a saving light.
(2) It rectifies the will; causing it to comply with the will of God.
(3) It rectifies the affections; taking away their inordinancy towards earthly things and keeping them with true bounds.
(4) It makes the conscience good (Proverbs 15:15).
2. As it makes a person to have a powerful sense of God’s glory, so as always to rest in that as his ultimate and most desirable good.
3. In the general habit of grace there are special graces which further contentment.
(4) Heavenly mindedness.
III. Prayer. Upon this the two others depend. It furthers contentment.
1. As it gives a vent to the mind under trouble.
2. As it obtains grace and strength from God. (T. Jacomb, D. D.)
Learning to be content
These words signify how contentedness may be attained. It is not an endowment innate to us, but it is a product of discipline “I have learned.” It was a question of Plato, whether virtue is to be learned. St. Paul plainly resolves it by the testimony, of his experience. It however requires great resolution and diligence in conquering our desires; hence it is an art which few study.
I. In regard to God, we may consider that equity exacts, gratitude requires, and reason dictates that we should be content; or that, in being discontented, we behave ourselves unbeseemingly and unworthily, are very unjust, ungrateful, and foolish towards Him.
1. The point of equity considered, according to the gospel rule, “Is it not lawful for me to do what I will with mine own?”
2. That of gratitude; inasmuch as we have no right or title to anything; all we have coming from God’s pure bounty and designed for our good.
3. That of reason; because it is most reasonable to acquiesce in God’s choice of our estate, He being infinitely more wise than we are; loves us better than we love ourselves; and has a right to dispose of us as He pleases.
II. In regard to ourselves we may observe much reason for contentment.
1. As men and creatures, we are naturally indigent and impotent; have no just claim to anything, nor can maintain anything by our own power. Wherefore how little soever is allowed us no wrong is done and no reason to complain.
2. And on a moral account we have still less.
(1) As sinners we are obnoxious to wrath and should therefore complain of nothing.
(2) We are God’s servants and shall a mere servant, or slave, presume to choose his place, or determine his rank in the family? Is it not fit that these things should be left to the Master’s discretion and pleasure?
(3) Again, if we consider ourselves as the children of God by birth and nature, or by adoption and grace, how can we be discontented with anything?
III. If we consider our condition, be it what it may, we can have no reasonable ground for discontent.
1. Our state cannot if rightly considered and well managed be insupportable. The defect of some things is supplied by other enjoyments. If we think highly of some things no wonder our condition is unpleasant if we want them; and if we consider others mighty evils, if they come upon us we can hardly escape being displeased; but if we estimate all things according to the dictates of true reason, we shall find that neither the absence of the one nor the presence of the other is deplorable.
(1) Take poverty; that is, the absence of a few superfluous things which please our fancy rather than answer our need, and without which nature is easily satisfied.
(2) Take his case who has fallen from honour into contempt; that may be only a change in the opinion of giddy men, the breaking of a bubble, the changing of the wind.
(3) Take him who is slandered; is not every man subject to this? and the greatest and wisest most exposed to it? Or is thy reproach just? Then improve this dealing and make it wholesome.
(4) Take him who is disappointed and crossed in his undertakings. Why art thou disquieted on this score? Didst thou build much expectation on uncertainties? Didst thou not foresee a possibility that thy design might miscarry? and if so, why art thou not prepared to receive what happeneth?
(5) Take one who has met with unkindness and ingratitude from friends. Such misbehaviour, however, is more their calamity than ours. The loss of bad friends is no damage, but an advantage.
(6) Take him who mourns the death of friends. Can he, after all, lose his best friend? Neither is it loss which he laments but only separation for a short time. He is only gone as taking a little journey. But--
(7) It may perhaps displease us, that the course of this world does not go right, or according to our mind; that justice is not well dispensed, virtue not duly considered, industry not sufficiently rewarded; but favour, partiality, flattery, craft, and corruption, carry all before them. Yet why should this displease thee? Art thou guilty of contributing to it? then mend it thyself: if not, then bear it; for so it always hath been, and ever will be. Yet God is engaged competently to provide for us. God observeth this course of things, yet He permits it. But He has appointed a judgment hereafter.
2. As there is no condition here perfectly and purely good, so there is none so thoroughly bad, that it has not somewhat convenient and comfortable therein. Seldom or never all good things forsake a man at once, and in every state there is some compensation for evil. We should not pore over small inconveniences and overlook benefits. This hinders us reaping satisfaction in all other things.
3. Is our condition so extremely bad that it might not be worse? Surely not. God’s providence will not suffer it. There are succours always ready against extremities--our own wit and industry; the pity and help of others. When all is gone we may keep the inestimable blessing of a good conscience, have hope in God, enjoy His favour. Why, then, are we discontented.
4. Then look at the uses of adversity--the school of wisdom, the purifying furnace of the soul, God’s method of reclaiming sinners, the preparation for heaven. Who ever became great or wise or good without adversity.
5. Whatever our state it cannot be lasting. Hope lies at the bottom of the worst state that can be. “Take no thought for the morrow.” Mark the promises that none who hope in God shall be disappointed. And then death will end it all and heaven compensate for all earthly ills.
IV. Consider the world and the general state of men here.
1. Look on the world as generally managed by men. Art thou displeased that thou dost not prosper therein? If thou art wise thou wilt not grieve, for perhaps thou hast no capacity nor disposition. This world is for worldlings.
2. We are indeed very apt to look upward towards those few, who, in supposed advantages of life, seem to surpass us, and to repine at their fortune; but seldom do we cast down our eyes on those innumerable good people, who lie beneath us in all manner of accommodations; whereas if we would consider the case of most men, we should see abundant reason to be satisfied with our own.
3. If even we would take care diligently to compare our state with that of persons whom we are most apt to admire and envy, it would often afford matter of consolation and contentment to us.
4. It may induce us to be content, if we consider what commonly hath been the lot of good men in the world. Scarcely is there recorded in holy Scripture any person eminent for goodness, who did not taste deeply of wants and distresses--even our Lord. Have all these then, “of whom the world was not worthy,” undergone all sorts of inconvenience, being “destitute, afflicted, tormented;” and shall we disdain, or be sorry to be in such company?
V. Consider the nature of the duty itself.
1. It is the sovereign remedy for all poverty and suffering; removing them or allaying the mischief they can do us.
2. Its happiness is better than any arising from secular prosperity. Satisfaction springing from rational content, virtuous disposition, is more noble, solid, and durable than any fruition of worldly goods can afford.
3. Contentment is the best way of bettering our condition, disposing us to employ advantages as they occur, and securing God’s blessing (Isaac Barrow, D. D.)
The best lesson
:--The world is a school, and we have to learn our lessons in it. The best lesson we can learn is contentment.
I. Why it is the best lesson.
1. Because it makes those who learn it happy. Nothing in the world can make a discontented person happy. There was a boy once who only wanted a marble; when he had the marble, he only wanted a ball; when he had a ball, he only wanted a top; when he had a top, he only wanted a kite: and when he had marble, ball, top, and kite, he was not happy. There was a man once who only wanted money; when he had money, he only wanted a house; when he had a house, he only wanted land; when he had land, he only wanted a coach; but when he had money, house, land, and coach, he wanted more than ever. I remember, when I was a boy, reading a fable about a mouse that went to a spring with a sieve to carry some water in it. He dipped the sieve in the water, but, of course, as soon as he raised it up the water all ran through. He tried it over and over again, but still no water would stay in the sieve. The poor mouse hadn’t sense enough to know where the trouble was. He never thought about the holes in the sieve. The fable said that while the mouse was still trying, in vain, to get some water in the sieve to carry home, there came a little bird and perched on a branch of the tree that grew near the spring. He saw the trouble the poor mouse was in, and kindly sung out a little advice to him in these simple words:
“Stop it with moss, and daub it with clay, and then you may carry it all away.”
Trying to make a discontented person happy is like trying to fill a sieve with water. However much you pour into it, it all runs out just as fast as you pour it in. If you want to fill the sieve, you must stop the holes up. Then it will be easy enough to fill it. Just so it is with trying to make discontented people happy. It is impossible to make them happy while they are discontented. You must stop up the holes; you must take away their discontent, and then it is very easy to make them happy. If we were in Paradise, as Adam and Eve were, we should not be happy unless we learned to be content. Nay, if we were in heaven even, as Satan and the fallen angels once were, we should be unhappy without contentment. It was because Paul had learned this lesson that he could be happy, and sing for joy, when he was in a dungeon, and his back was all bleeding from the cruel stripes laid upon it.
2. Because it makes those who learn it useful. When people or things are content to do or be what God made them for, they are useful: when they are not content with this, they do harm. God made the sun to shine; the sun is content to do just what God made it for, and so it is very useful. God made the little brooks to flow through the meadows, giving drink to the cattle, and watering the grass and the roots of the trees, so as to make them green, and help them to grow. While they do this they are very useful. But suppose they should stop flowing, and spread themselves over the fields, they would do a great deal of harm. God made our hearts to keep beating, and sending the blood all over our bodies. While they are content to do this, they are very useful Let them only stop beating, and we should die.
II. Why we should learn it.
1. Because God puts us where we are. God puts all things in the places where they are. The sun and moon and stars in the sky, the birds in the air, the fish in the sea, the trees in the woods, the grass in the fields, the stones and metals in the earth. He knows best where to put things. When people try to change what God has done, because they think they can arrange things better, they always make a mistake.
2. Because God wants us to learn it. This we know
(1) from what He has said (1 Timothy 6:8; Hebrews 13:5).
(2) From what He has done. He has filled the world with examples of contentment. All things that God has made are content to be where He has put them, except the children of Adam. God has done more for us than for any other of His creatures. We ought to be the most contented of all, and yet we are generally the most discontented. The fish are content with the water; the birds are content with the air. The eagle, as he soars to the sun, is content with his position; and so is the worm that crawls in its slime, or the blind mole that digs its way in darkness through the earth. All the trees of the forest are content to grow where God put them. The lily of the valley is content with its lowly place, and so is the little flower that blooms unnoticed on the side of the bleak mountain. Wherever you look you may see examples of contentment. Only think of the grass. It is spread all over the earth. It is mowed down continually; it is trodden on and trampled under foot all the time; and yet it always has a bright, cheerful, contented look. It is a beautiful image of contentment.
3. Because Jesus learned and practised it. It must have been very hard for Jesus to be content with the way in which He lived in this world, because it was so totally different from what He had been accustomed to before He came into it. A bird that has been hatched and brought up in a cage may be contented with its position, and live happily in its little wire prison. The reason is that it has never known anything better. But take a bird that has been accustomed to its liberty in the open air, and shut it up in a small cage. It cannot be contented there. It will strike its wings against the cage, and stretch its neck through the wires, and show in this way how it longs for the free air of heaven again. Just so a person who was born and brought up in a garret or cellar, and who has never known anything better, may manage to be content there. But one who has lived in a beautiful palace for many years would find it very hard to live in a damp, dark cellar, among thieves and beggars. But Jesus lived in heaven before He came here. There He had everything that He wanted. (R. Newton, D. D.)
The condition of contentment
To be contented is to be contained, to be within limits. Whatever is within limits is likely to be quiet. A walled garden is one of the quietest places in the world; its high walls are a sign of contentment; within them are so many attractions and objects of delight; the world is shut out, and through the great gates one can look out upon it with all the affectionateness of distance and all the enchantment borrowed therefrom. An enclosed garden is a calm, quiet place, place in which to be content. So, the soul of man, being as it were in an enclosed garden, man’s spirit being within limits, is thus shut into a calm, quiet, sunny content. Now there are limits which a man need not trouble himself much about making; the walls of circumstances will build themselves about you. But if you are a very wise man you will give up scraping when you have got enough, and put yourself within limits. Just as an enclosed garden becomes a place of peace and delight, so the spirit should have limits round it and let those limits become grounds of quietness, reasons of peace and content, a content which leads a man to be easy, within these walls to be so satisfied as not to pine, fret, complain, fuss, kick, or go to the gates and scream for deliverance, asking passers by, “Did you ever see such a woe as mine.” The contented man limited and bound by circumstances, makes those very limits the cure of his restlessness. The warrior and conqueror is not content, but seeks to add kingdom to kingdom. The miser is not content with much, but seeks to make more money. It is not whether your garden is one rood or three acres, but what you should remember is that there is a wall, that so living within bounds, be they large or small, you may possess a quiet spirit and a happy heart. Things would then serve you, instead of your being the miserable servant of circumstances. You would then make life bring tribute to its King, instead of doing as people do, hire themselves out as servants to their goods, as waiters upon their chattels; allowing things to ride over them instead of their being masterful over things. A man should be within bounds, but within those bounds there is room for pleasure and service. (G. Dawson, M. A.)
is not one of the distinct and separate sensibilities of the heart, standing by itself and to be examined and understood alone, so much as it is a general sensibilility which mingles with and tempers all others--which spreads its cast and character over the whole. It is not the rock on the landscape nor the rill--it is not the distant mountain of fading blue which loses its head in the heavens--it is not the tree, or the flower, or the contrast between light and shade, or that indescribable something which seems to give it life, as if the grass grew, and the flowers breathed, and the winds were singing some song of pleasure or sighing some mournful requiem. It is none of these. These can be more clearly described. But it is rather that softness, that mellow light, which lies over the whole--which sleeps on rock, and river, and tree, on the bosom of the distant mountain, and on the bosom of the humble violet that blushes in the sweetness of its lowly valley. Content is a general cast of sensibility which lies all over the heart. (L. S. Spencer, D. D.)
Contentment the outcome of a right view of circumstances
“How dismal you look,” said a bucket to his companion as they were going to the well. “Ah!” replied the other, “I was reflecting on the uselessness of our being filled; for, let us go away ever so full, we always come back empty.” “Dear me! how strange to look at it in this way,” said the bucket. “Now I enjoy the thought, that however empty we come, we always go back full. Only look at it in that light, and you will be as cheerful as I am.”
St. Paul’s contentment
If his trials were clouds upon his heavens, his contentment was the deep sunlight in which they bathed; and, just like the clouds of an evening sky, they made the heavens more beautiful than if no clouds were there. (L. S. Spencer, D. D.)
Contentment does not always imply pleasure
I may be content; that is to say, I may have a calm patience in waiting over night at a miserable inn where have congregated smugglers, and drunken sailors, and the rift-raff of a bad neighbourhood. If, after fighting for my life in my little yacht, I had at last been driven up on shore, myself a wreck, and had crawled out of the water, and staggered to the light, and gone in there, would it not be proper for me to say: “I thank God for my deliverance and for my safety”? And yet every element is distasteful to me. The air reeks with bad liquor and worse oaths; and the company are obscene, and vile, and violent; the conditions are detestable; but that have escaped from the sea can say: “I am content to be here. Not that I am pleased at being there particularly; but as compared with something else it is tolerable. I have learned how to bear this.” How did I learn it? I learned it by being swirled around for an hour in the whirlpools of the sea. I learned it by being thumped and pounded by the waves. I learned it by being chilled to the very marrow. So I learned to be patient with the surroundings in the midst of which I found myself. But it does not follow that a man is obliged to say: “I like these circumstances,” in order to be content with them. (H. W. Beecher.)
Contentment looks at what is left
Am I fallen into the hands of publicans and sequestrators who have taken all from me? What now? Let me look about me. They have left me the sun and moon, fire and water, a loving wife, and many friends So pity me, and some to relieve me, and I can still discourse: and unless I list, they have not taken away my merry countenance, and a cheerful spirit, and a good conscience; they have still left me the providence of God, and all the promises of the gospel, and my religion, and the hopes of heaven, and my charter to them too; and still I sleep and digest, I eat and drink, I read and meditate, I can walk in my neighbours’ pleasant fields and see the varieties of natural beauties, and delight in all which God delights--that is, in virtue and wisdom; in the whole creation, and in God Himself. And he who hath so many causes of joy, is very much in love with sorrow and peevishness who loses all these pleasures, and chooses to sit down on his little handful of thorns. (Jeremy Taylor.)
Contentment not found in an exchange of places
In a room, there was a gold fish, in a glass globe, in water; and there was a canary up in a cage by the window. It was a very hot day; and the fish in the globe, and the canary in the cage began talking (of course you know in fables anything can talk). The fish said, “I wish I could sing like that canary. I should like to be up there in that cage.” And the canary, who was uncommonly hot, said, “Oh, how nice to be down in that cool water where the fish is!” Suddenly a voice said, “Canary, go down to the water! Fish go up into the cage!” Immediately they both exchanged places. Weren’t they happy? Wasn’t the fish happy up in the cage? Wasn’t thee canary happy down in the cool water? How long did their happiness last, do you think? Ah! God had given to the canary and the fish “according to their ability.” He had given each a place suited to their natures. (J. Vaughan, M. A.)
Bad might be worse
For every bad there might be a worse; and when a man breaks his leg, let him be thankful it was not his neck. (Bishop Hall.)
Contentment not inconsistent with discontent
No doctrine of contentment must be so taught as to lessen a man’s labours in the removal of his miseries and the improvement of his state. Contentment is of the spirit, and should be no discouragement to labour. If I have only one coat to my back, am I to sit down and say, “I am perfectly content”? No. I must be content with one whilst I have but one, but my contentment must not hinder me from trying to see my way to get two. Cinderella, while among the ashes, was content in spirit, though she strove to get out of the nastiness of the ashes. But I see people sometimes who are so friendly with their miserable circumstances that they never want to mend them--men at home with dirt and women with slovenliness, until they come to like it. It is true that if you have got to live with an ugly person you must try to settle down; but not with dirt, disease, ignorance, poverty. Under no plea of content should a man refuse the lawful means of enlargement and betterment. If you took possession of a new garden and allowed it to remain always full of weeds, and then if you took me round and said, “I have been here so many years; my garden is always full of weeds, but I am perfectly content”--my duty then would be to worry you, and try to make you discontented. A man who is content in the midst of a weedy garden is ingloriously content; he lets his circumstances degrade him. No wise contentment bears for one moment longer than is necessary a removable misery. It is our duty rather to unite with the utmost care for the healing of the wound, the patientest bearing of the suffering from the wound. He who, having a wound, did not seek to cure it, would degrade himself; but he who, while patiently bearing the necessary wound, seeks to cure it, is a contented man. (G. Dawson, M. A.)
Content not found in circumstances
I knew a man that had both health and riches, and several houses all beautiful and ready finished; and would often trouble himself and family to be removing from one house to another; and being asked by a friend why, replied: “It was to find content in some one of them.” But his friend, knowing his temper, told him if he would find content in any of his houses he must leave himself behind him; for content will never dwell but in a meek and quiet soul. And this may appear from the beatitude--“Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth;” not that the meek shall not also obtain mercy, and see God, and be comforted, and at last obtain the kingdom of heaven; but in the meantime he, and he only, possesses the earth, as he travels towards that kingdom, by being humble and cheerful and content with what his good God has allotted him. (Izaak Walton.)
The art of divine contentment
I. I begin with the first: the scholar and his proficiency--“I have learned.” Out of which I shall, by the by, observe two things by way of paraphrase.
1. The apostle doth not say, “I have heard that in every estate I should be content,” but “I have learned.” It is one thing to hear and another thing to learn, as it is one thing to eat and another thing to concoct. St. Paul was a practitioner. Christians hear much, but, it is to be feared, learn little. There are two things which keep us from learning.
1. Slighting what we hear. Who will learn that which he thinks is scarce worth learning?
2. Forgetting what we hear.
II. This word, “I have learned,” is a word imports difficulty; it shows how hardly the apostle came by contentment of mind; it was not bred in nature. The business of religion is not so facile as most do imagine. There are two pregnant reasons why there must be so much study and exercitation.
1. Because spiritual things are against nature.
2. Because spiritual things are above nature.
III. I come to the main thing, the lesson itself--“In whatsover state I am, therewith to be content.”
1. It is a hard lesson. The angels in heaven have not learned it; they were not contented. They kept not their estate because they were not contented with their estate. Our first parents, clothed with the white robe of innocency in paradise, had not learned to be content; they had aspiring hearts. O then, if this lesson was so hard to learn in innocency, how hard shall we find it who are clogged with corruption?
2. It is of universal extent; it concerns all.
(1) It concerns rich men. Rich men have their discontents as well as others!
(2) The doctrine of contentment concerns poor men.
It is much when poverty hath clipped our wings then to be content, but, though hard, it is excellent; and the apostle here had “learned in every state to be content.” A contented spirit is like a watch: though you carry it up and down with you, yet the spring of it is not shaken nor the wheels out of order, but the watch keeps its perfect motion. So it was with St. Paul. Though God carried him into various conditions, yet he was not lift up with the one, nor cast down with the other; the spring of his heart was not broken, the wheels of his affections were not disordered, but kept their constant motion towards heaven; still content. The ship that lies at anchor may sometimes be a little shaken, but never sinks; flesh and blood may have its fears and disquiets, but grace doth check them; a Christian, having cast anchor in heaven, his heart never sinks; a gracious spirit is a contented spirit.
IV. The resolving of some questions. For the illustration of this doctrine I shall propound these questions.
1. Whether a Christian may not be sensible of his condition, and yet be contented? Yes; for else he is not a saint, but a stoic.
2. Whether a Christian may not lay open his grievances to God, and yet be contented?
3. What is it properly that contentment doth exclude? There are three things which contentment doth banish out of its diocese, and which can by no means consist with it.
(1) It excludes a vexatious repining; this is properly the daughter of discontent. Murmuring is nothing else but the scum which boils off from a discontented heart.
(2) It excludes an uneven discomposure: when a man saith, “I am in such straits that I know not how to evolve or get out, I shall be undone;” when his head and heart are so taken up that he is not fit to pray or meditate.
(3) It excludes a childish despondency; and this is usually consequent upon the other. A despondent spirit is a discontented spirit.
V. Showing the nature of contentment. The nature of this will appear more clear in these three aphorisms.
1. Contentment is a divine thing; it becomes ours, not by acquisition, but infusion; it is a slip taken off from the tree of life, and planted by the Spirit of God in the soul; it is a fruit that grows not in the garden of philosophy, but is of a heavenly birth; it is therefore very observable that contentment is joined with godliness, and goes in equipage; “godliness with contentment is great gain.”
2. Contentment is an intrinsical thing; it lies within a man; not in the bark, but the root. Contentment hath both its fountain and stream in the soul. The beam hath not its light from the air; the beams of comfort which a contented man hath do not arise from foreign comforts, but from within.
3. Contentment is a habitual thing; it shines with a fixed light in the firmament of the soul. Contentment doth not appear only now and then, as some stars which are seen but seldom; it is a settled temper of the heart. It is not casual, but constant. Aristotle, in his rhetoric, distinguisheth between colours in the face that arise from passion and those which arise from complexion; the pale face may look pale when it blusheth, but this is only a passion. He is said properly to be ruddy and sanguine who is constantly so; it is his complexion. He is not a contented man who is so upon an occasion, and perhaps when he is pleased, but who is so constantly; it is the habit and complexion of his soul.
VI. Reasons pressing to holy contentment.
1. The first is God’s precept. It is charged upon us as a duty: “Be content with such things as you have.”
2. The second reason enforcing contentment is God’s promise, for He hath said, “I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee.” Here God hath engaged Himself under hand and seal for our necessary provisions. True faith will take God’s single bond without calling for witnesses.
3. Be content by virtue of a decree. Not chance or fortune, as the purblind heathens imagined; no, it is the wise God that hath by His providence fixed me in this orb. We stand oft in our own light; if we should sort or parcel out our own comforts, we should hit upon the wrong. Is it not well for the child that the parent doth choose for it? were it left to itself, it would perhaps choose a knife to cut its own finger. A man in a paroxysm calls for wine, which, if he had it, were little better than poison; it is well for the patient that he is at the physician’s appointment. God sees, in His infinite wisdom, the same condition is not convenient for all; that which is good for one may be bad for another; one season of weather will not serve all men’s occasions--one needs sunshine, another rain; one condition of life will not fit every man no more than one suit of apparel will fit everybody; prosperity is not fit for all, nor yet adversity.
VII. Showing how a Christian may make his life comfortable. It shows how a Christian may come to lead a comfortable life, even a heaven upon earth, be the times what they will, by Christian contentment. A drop or two of vinegar will sour a whole glass of wine. Let a man have the affluence and confluence of worldly comforts, a drop or two of discontent will imbitter and poison all contentation is as necessary to keep the life comfortable as oil is necessary to keep the lamp burning; the clouds of discontent do often drop the showers of tears. Why dost thou complain of thy troubles. It is not trouble that troubles, but discontent; it is not the water without the ship, but the water that gets within the leak, which drowns it; it is not outward affliction that can make the life of a Christian sad; a contented mind would sail above these waters, but when there’s a leak of discontent open, and trouble gets into the heart, then it is disquieted and sinks. Do therefore as the mariners, pump the water out and stop the spiritual leak in thy soul, and no trouble can hurt thee.
VIII. A check to the discontented Christian. Every man is complaining that his estate is no better, though he seldom complains that his heart is no better. How is it that no man is contented? Very few Christians have learned St. Paul’s lesson. Neither poor nor rich know how to be content; they can learn anything but this.
1. If men are poor, they learn to be envious; they malign those that are above them. Another’s prosperity is an eyesore.
2. If men are rich, they learn to be covetous. God will supply our wants, but must He satisfy our lusts too? Many are discontented for a very trifle; another hath a better dress, a richer jewel, a newer fashion. Nero, not content with his empire, was troubled that the musician had more skill in playing than he.
IX. A suasive to contentment. It exhorts us to labour far contentation; this is that which doth beautify and bespangle a Christian, and as a spiritual embroidery doth set him off in the eyes of the world. God is pleased sometimes to bring His children very low and cut them short in their estate; it fares with them as with that widow who had nothing in her house “save a pot of oil”: but be content.
1. God hath taken away your estate, but not your portion. Mary hath chosen the better part, which shall not be taken from her.
2. Perhaps, if thy estate had not been lost, thy soul had been lost; outward comforts do often quench inward heat. God can bestow a jewel upon us, but we fall so in love with it, that we forget Him that gave it. What pity is it that we should commit idolatry with the creature! Be content. If God dam up our outward comforts, it is that the stream of our love may run faster another way.
3. If your estate be small, yet God can bless a little. It is not how much money we have, but how much blessing.
4. You did never so thrive in your spiritual trade; your heart was never so low as since your condition was low; you were never so poor in spirit, never so rich in faith. You did never run the ways of God’s commandments so fast as since some of your golden weights were taken off.
5. Be your losses what they will in this kind, remember in every loss there is only a suffering, but in every discontent there is a sin, and one sin is worse than a thousand sufferings. The sixth apology that discontent makes is disrespect in the world. I have not that esteem from men as is suitable to my quality and grace. And doth this trouble? Consider--The world is an unequal judge; as it is full of change, so of partiality. Discontent arising from disrespect savours too much of pride; an humble Christian hath a lower opinion of himself than others can have of him. The next apology is, I meet with very great sufferings for the truth. Your sufferings are not so great as your sins. Put these two in the balance and see which weighs heaviest; where sin lies heavy, sufferings lie light. The next apology is the prosperity of the wicked.
Well, be contented; for remember--
1. These are not the only things, nor the best things; they are mercies without the pale.
2. To see the wicked flourish is matter rather of pity than envy; it is all the heaven they must have. “Woe to ye that are rich, for ye have received your consolation.” The next apology that discontent makes is lowness of parts and gifts. I cannot (saith the Christian) discourse with that fluency, nor pray with that elegancy, as others. Grace is beyond gifts. Thou comparest thy grace with another’s gifts, there is a vast difference. Grace without gifts is infinitely better than gifts without grace. The twelfth apology that discontent makes for itself is this, It is not my trouble that troubles me, but it is my sins that do disquiet and discontent me. Be sure it be so. Do not prevaricate with God and thy own soul. In true mourning for sin when the present suffering is removed, yet the sorrow is not removed. But suppose the apology be real, that sin is the ground of your discontent; yet, I answer, a man’s disquiet about sin may be beyond its bounds in these three cases.
1. When it is disheartening, that is, when it sets up sin above mercy.
2. When sorrow is indisposing it untunes the heart for prayer, meditation, holy conference: it cloisters up the soul. This is not sorrow, but rather sullenness, and doth render a man not so much penitential as cynical.
3. When it is out of season. I see no reason why a Christian should be discontented, unless for his discontent.
X. Divine motives to contentment. The first argument to contentation.
1. Consider the excellency of it. Contentment is a flower that doth not grow in every garden; it teacheth a man how in the midst of want to abound. Now there are in species these seven rare excellencies in contentment.
(1) A contented Christian carries heaven about him, for what is heaven but that sweet repose and full contentment that the soul shall have in God? In contentment there is the first fruits of heaven. The sails of a mill move with the wind, but the mill itself stands still, an emblem of contentment; when our outward estate moves with the wind of providence, yet the heart is settled through holy contentment.
2. Whatever is defective in the creature is made up in contentment. Wicked men are often disquieted in the enjoyment of all things; the contented Christian is well in the want of all things. He is poor in purse, but rich in promise.
3. Contentment makes a man in tune to serve God; it oils the wheels of the soul and makes it more agile and nimble; it composeth the heart and makes it fit for prayer, meditation, etc. How can he that is in a passion of grief or discontent “attend upon the Lord without distraction?” Contentment doth prepare and tune the heart.
4. Contentment is the spiritual arch or pillar of the soul; it fits a man to bear burdens; he whose heart is ready to sink under the least sin, by virtue of this hath a spirit invincible under sufferings. The contented Christian is like Samson that carried away the gates of the city upon his back. He can go away with his cross cheerfully, and makes nothing of it.
5. Contentment prevents many sins and temptations. It prevents many sins. In particular there are two sins which contentation prevents.
(2) It prevents murmuring.
Contentment prevents many temptations; discontent is a devil that is always tempting. It puts a man upon indirect means. He that is poor and discontented will attempt anything; he will go to the devil for riches. Satan takes great advantage of our discontent; he loves to fish in these troubled waters.
6. Contentment sweetens every condition. Hath God taken away my comforts from me? It is well, the Comforter still abides. Thus contentment, as a honeycomb, drops sweetness into every condition. Contentation is full of consolation.
7. Contentment hath this excellency. It is the best commentator upon providence; it makes a fair interpretation of all God’s dealings. The argument to contentation is, Consider the evil of discontent. Malcontent hath a mixture of grief and anger in it, and both these must needs raise a storm in the soul. Have you not seen the posture of a sick man? Sometimes he will sit up on his bed, by and by he will lie down, and when he is down he is not quiet; first he turns on the one side and then on the other; he is restless. This is just the emblem of a discontented spirit. Evil
1. The sordidness of it is worthy of a Christian.
(1) It is unworthy of his profession.
(2) It is unworthy of the relation we stand in to God. Evil
2. Consider the sinfulness of it, which appears in three things--the causes, the concomitants, the consequences of it.
(1) It is sinful in the causes, such as pride. The second cause of discontent is envy, which Augustine calls the sin of the devil. The third cause is covetousness. This is a radical sin. The fourth cause of discontent is jealousy, which is sometimes occasioned through melancholy and sometimes misapprehension. The fifth cause of discontent is distrust, which is a great degree of Atheism,
(2) Discontent is joined with a sullen melancholy. Cheerfulness credits religion. How can the discontented person be cheerful?
(3) It is sinful in its consequences, which are these.
(a) It makes a man very unlike the Spirit of God. The Spirit of God is a meek Spirit.
(b) It makes a man like the devil; the devil, being swelled with the poison of envy and malice, is never content; just so is the malcontent.
(c) Discontent disjoints the soul; it untunes the heart for duty.
(d) Discontent sometimes unfits for the very use of reason. Jonah, in a passion of discontent, spake no better than blasphemy and nonsense: “I do well to be angry even unto death.” This humour doth even suspend the very acts of reason.
(e) Discontent does not only disquiet a man’s self, but those who are near him. This evil spirit troubles families, parishes, etc.
Evil 3. Consider the simplicity of it. I may say, as the Psalmist, “surely they are disquieted in vain,” which appears thus--
(1) Is it not a vain, simple thing to be troubled at the loss of that which is in its own nature perishing and changeable?
(2) Discontent is a heart breaking: “by sorrow of the heart the spirit is broken.” It takes away the comfort of life.
(3) Discontent does not ease us of our burden, but it makes the cross heavier. A contented spirit goes cheerfully under its affliction.
(4) Discontent spins out our troubles the longer. The argument to contentation is this, Why is not a man content with the competency which he hath? Perhaps if he had more he would be less content. The world is such that the more we have the more we crave; it cannot fill the heart of man. When the fire burns, how do you quench it? Not by putting oil on the flame, or laying on more wood, but by withdrawing the fuel. The argument to contentation is the shortness of life. It is “but a vapour.” The argument to contentation is, Consider seriously the nature of a prosperous condition. There are in a prosperous estate three things.
1. More trouble.
2. In a prosperous condition there is more danger.
3. A prosperous condition hath in it a greater reckoning; every man must be responsible for his talents.
The argument to contentation is the example of those who have been eminent for contentation. Examples are usually more forcible than precepts. Abraham being called out to hot service, and such as was against flesh and blood, was content. God bid him offer up his son Isaac. The argument to contentation is this, To have a competency and to want contentment is a great judgment.
XI. Three things inserted by way of caution. In the next place I come to lay down some necessary cautions. Though I say a man should be content in every estate, yet there are three estates in which he must not be contented.
1. He must not be contented in a natural estate; here we must learn not to be content.
2. Though, in regard to externals, a man should be in every estate content, yet he must net, be content in such a condition wherein God is apparently dishonoured.
3. The third caution is, though in every condition we must be content, yet we are not to content ourselves with a little grace. Grace is the best blessing. Though we should be contented with a competency of estate, yet not with a competency of grace.
XII. Showing how a Christian may know whether he hath learned this divine art.
1. A contented spirit is a silent spirit. He hath not one word to say against God: “I was dumb and silent, because thou didst it.” Contentment silenceth all dispute: “He sitteth alone and keepeth silence.”
2. A contented spirit is a cheerful spirit. The Greeks call it euthema. Contentment is something more than patience; for patience denotes only submission, contentment denotes cheerfulness.
3. A contented spirit is a thankful spirit. This is a degree above the other; “in everything giving thanks.”
4. He that is content no condition comes amiss to him; so it is in the text, “in whatever state I am.” He could carry a greater sail or lesser. Thus a contented Christian knows how to turn himself to any condition.
5. He that is contented with his condition, to rid himself out of trouble, will not turn himself into sin.
XIII. Containing a Christian directory, or rules about contentment. And here I shall lay down some rules for holy contentment.
Rule 1. Advance faith. All our disquiets do issue immediately from unbelief. It is this that raiseth the storm of discontent in the heart. O set faith a work! How doth faith work contentment?
(1) Faith shows the soul that whatever its trials are, yet it is from the hand of a father.
(2) Faith sucks the honey of contentment out of the hive of promise.
Rule 2. Labour for assurance. O let us get the interest cleared between God and our souls!
Rule 3. Get an humble spirit. The humble man is the contented man. If his estate be low, his heart is lower than his estate, therefore be content.
Rule 4. Keep a clear conscience. Contentment is the manna that is laid up in the ark of a good conscience.
Rule 5. Learn to deny yourselves. Look well to your affections; bridle them in.
(1) Mortify your desires.
(2) Moderate your delights. Set not your heart too much upon any creature. What we over love, we shall over grieve.
Rule 6. Get much of heaven into your heart. Spiritual things satisfy. The more of heaven is in us, the less earth will content us.
Rule 7. Look not so much on the dark side of your condition as on the light.
Rule 8. Consider in what a posture we stand here in the world.
(1) We are in a military condition; we are soldiers. Now a soldier is content with anything.
(2) We are in a mendicant condition; we are beggars.
Rule 9. Let not your hope depend upon these Outward things.
Rule 10. Let us often compare our condition. Make this five-fold comparison.
(1) Let us compare our condition and our desert together.
(2) Let us compare our condition with others, and this will make us content.
(3) Let us compare our condition with Christ’s upon earth.
(4) Let us compare our condition with what it was once, and this will make us content.
(5) Let us compare our condition with what it shall be shortly.
Rule 11. Get fancy regulated. It is the fancy which raiseth the price of things above their real worth.
Rule 12. Consider how little will suffice nature. The body is but a small continent, and is easily recruited.
Rule 13. Believe the present condition is best for us. Flesh and blood is not a competent judge.
Rule 14. Meditate much on the glory which shall be revealed.
XIV. Of consolation to the contented Christian. To a contented Christian I shall say for a farewell--God is exceedingly taken with such a frame of heart. (T. Watson.)
The blessedness of contentment
The habit of looking on the best side of every event is better than £1,000 a year. (S. Johnson, LL. D.)
Sources of contentment
Four of us were one day climbing together a beautiful hill in Switzerland, and when we reached a bend in the road, we stopped to rest, and to enjoy the widespread prospect. “How charming is this clear fresh air, how lovely that green valley, and how graceful is that silver river winding all along!” But suddenly regarding my companions I noticed that not one of the three enjoyed the view at all. “The fact is,” said the first, “I have had no pleasure in my walk; I have a thorn in my foot.” And so is our passage through life hindered in enjoyment by one troubling sin, a conscience ill at ease, that makes each step a lame one. The next traveller was gazing, it is true, at the prospect, but not with pure enjoyment, for he said: “How I wish that house down there were mine! “He, too, lost the true delight of looking at fine scenery, being wholly absorbed in the wish for something that never could be his. As for my third companion, he seemed less happy even than the others, saying, as he looked into the sky with a face of anxious foreboding: “I’m afraid it’s going to rain.” Let us not mar the prospects of happiness by a halting walk, a greedy wish, or by undue fear of that evil which we cannot prevent. (Sunday at Home.)
Contentment is rare
Suppose I could have these faces gathered and brought to me, and could hold them thus, and should ask, “Whose image and superscription is stamped on this face?” “Care marked this face,” would be the (frequent) answer. “Who marked this one?” “Fretfulness.” “And this?” “Selfishness?” “This?” “Suffering stamped this.” “What this?” “Lust! Lust!” “And this?” “Self-will.” “And who stamped this face?” I should ask of one--a rare and sweet one. “This I why, where did you get it? Whose face is this? How beautiful! It is marked by the sweet peace of a contented spirit.” I never saw more than a dozen of these in my life. (H. W. Beecher.)
A minister of the gospel, passing one day near a cottage, was attracted to its door by the sound of a loud and earnest voice. It was a bare and lonely dwelling; the home of a man who was childless, old, and poor. Drawing near this mean and humble cabin, the stranger at length made out these words, “This, and Jesus Christ too! this, and Jesus Christ too!” as they were repeated over and over in tones of deep emotion; of wonder, gratitude, and praise. His curiosity was roused to see what that could be which called forth such fervent, overflowing thanks. Stealing near, he looked in at the patched and broken window; and there in the form of a grey, bent, worn-out son of toil, at a rude table, with hands raised to God, and his eyes fixed on some crusts of bread and a cup of water, sat piety, peace, humility, contentment, exclaiming, “This, and Jesus Christ tool” (T. Guthrie, D. D.)
Contentment: a parable
A violet shed its modest beauties at the turfy foot of an old oak. It lived there many days during the kind summer in obscurity. The winds and the rains came add fell, but they did not hurt the violet. Storms often crashed among the boughs of the oak. And one day said the oak, “Are you not ashamed of yourself when you look up at me, you little thing down there, when you see how large I am, and how small you are; when you see how small a space you fill, and how widely my branches are spread?” “No,” said the violet, “we are both where God has placed us; and God has given us both something. He has given to you strength, to me sweetness; and I offer Him back my fragrance, and I am thankful.” “Sweetness is all nonsense,” said the oak; “a few days--a month at most--where and what will you be? You will die, and the place of your grave will not lift the ground higher by a blade of grass. 1 hope to stand some time--ages, perhaps--and then, when I am cut down, I shall be a ship to bear men over the sea, or a coffin to hold the dust of a prince. What is your lot to mine?” “But,” cheerfully breathed the violet back, “we are both what God made us, and we are both where He placed us. I suppose I shall die soon. I hope to die fragrantly, as I have lived fragrantly. You must be cut down at last; it does not matter, that I see, a few days or a few ages, my littleness or your largeness, it comes to the same thing at last. We are what God made us. We are where God placed us. God gave you strength; God gave me sweetness.” (Paxton Hood.)
Equanimity reasonable to faith
When Archbishop Leighton lost his patrimony by failure of a merchant, he only said: “The little that was in Mr. E--’s hands hath failed me, but I shall either have no need of it, or be supplied in some other way,” On his brother-in-law expressing surprise that he took the matter so easily, he answered: “If when the Duke of Newcastle, after loosing nineteen times as much of yearly income, can dance and sing, the solid hopes of Christianity will not support us, we had better be in another world.” (Sunday at Home.)
Making the best of circumstances
Sydney Smith, when labouring at Foston-le-Clay, in Yorkshire, though he did not feel himself to be in his proper element, went cheerfully to work in the determination to do his best. “I am resolved,” he said, “to like it and reconcile myself to it, which is more manly than to feign myself above it, and to send up complaints by the post of being thrown away, of lying desolate, and such like trash.” So Dr. Hook, when leaving Leeds for Chichester, said, “Wherever I may be, I shall, by God’s blessing, do with all my might what my hand findeth to do, and if I do not find work, I shall make it.” (S. Smiles.)
Not that I speak in respect of want
The great lesson. “I have learned,” etc. Man might very correctly be distinguished as the discontented animal.
1. We are not content with life in its severer aspects.
(1) We do not know how to be abased, neither are we instructed to be hungry. In the fields and woods we find organic life most responsive to changing environment--the spreading tree at the first chill beginning to modify its leaf, to retrench its branchery, to economize its flower; the bird of the orient at the first scent of a less genial air preparing to sacrifice in size or ornament to adjust itself to an altered sphere; but man rebels to accept a dress less rich or resources less abundant.
(2) The apostle had learned this lesson of accepting adversity with noble cheerfulness. (2 Corinthians 4:8-47.4.9; 2 Corinthians 6:9-47.6.10). How immense the distance between this and stoicism. That with its insensibility and hopelessness is the confession of inability to deal with the problem of suffering. Thousands since St. Paul have mastered the same lesson. A lovely child of wealthy parents was brought to the poet artist Blake. Sitting in his old worn clothes, amidst poverty, he looked at her very kindly for a long while without speaking, and then gently stroking her long bright curls, said, “May God make this world to you, my child, as beautiful as it has been to me.”
2. We are not content with life in its fairer aspects.
(1) We do not know how to abound, neither are we instructed to be full. The fairy chorus of the bees in the limes is expressive of a sublime content, and the blackbird in the ripe cherry tree asks for nothing but to be let alone, a wasp half buried in a melting nectarine has forgotten its fretfulness, the chirp of the sparrow looking at a golden harvest sheaf rises into something like music; but man at his best estate is consumed with regrets and repinings.
(2) The apostle has learned this lesson. The problem of affluence is one that many deep thinkers have had to give up. Oriental asceticism finding men full of power and wealth and yet unhappy thought the remedy lay in stripping life of its amenities. The same failure is confessed by Catholic monasticism, and by men like Thoreau. But the apostle found joy in all the gifts of God, and realized through them a still higher capacity and power of service and blessedness.
3. We are not content with life under any aspect.
(1) A lady was out in the fields when her little daughter begged to gather wild flowers. Having gathered a nice few she murmured when the mother wished to continue her walk. “Well, get all in the field if you like,” said the mother. Then for a while the eager creature ran about plucking the coveted things, only at last to burst into tears because she could not gather all. Thus is it ever with poor human nature.
(2) Now in opposition to this, Paul has learned the difficult lesson thoroughly, and intimates that not only could he endure uniform prosperity or adversity, but could pass from the one to the other with serenity. It has been thought that our ancestors did not grumble so much at the vicissitudes of the climate as we do--they had not the same opportunity for instituting odious comparisons. It was not their custom to rush off to Cannes for a fortnight, or to contrast the ferocious frosts of the North with the balmy atmosphere of Palermo. The chief grumblers at the weather, we are told, are those who thus feel the force of the contrast. And, really, the severest trial of the faith and temper of men is in widely contrasted experiences. Much of the bitter discontent of our age is found in that strange mingling of riches and poverty, things grand and grievous in close succession. But Paul is undismayed by any possible combination of events. He is not the victim of circumstances, but their master. He could be exalted without pride and abased without despair; full without presumption, empty without fretfulness.
II. The grand teacher. “I can do all things,” etc. Let us see how Christ teaches the supreme art.
1. Christ sets man right within himself. We think our discontents are circumstantial, but really their origin is to be sought in the anarchy of the soul. Many philosophers have perceived this and have sorrowfully turned away from the painful problem, or confessing that the inner discord is incurable. This is Schopenhauer’s position, but it is the work of Christ to do what he declares impossible. “Has there ever been a man in complete accord with himself?” asks the German. Yes, Paul, here. It is the unique work of Jesus Christ to restore purity, energy, harmony within our hearts. “A human being is the possibility of many contradictions,” and it is the work of Christ to attune the subtle chords of our reasonable and immortal nature, and bring forth in our heart the music of heaven.
2. Christ makes clear to us the whole sphere of life.
(1) Some modern sceptics teach contentment by narrowing the horizon, by denying our ideals and hopes, and thus strive to make life as prosaic as possible. If this could be done it would be a mighty misfortune. All civilization arises in the sense of discontent. As soon as the savage feels a sense of want, he has been started on the grand tour. The history of constitutional government is a noble discontent. That a man is discontented with his caste and seeks to improve himself raises the whole social order. Dissatisfaction with manual labour stimulates invention, and art, and science. Christ never attempts to contract our horizon, but mightily reinforces the romantic element in our nature.
(2) But whilst Christ discovers to us the infinity of life, He teaches the relative importance of the sphere of the senses and of the spirit. We soon get to the end of the possibilities of sensual and social enjoyments. We can enjoy very little however vast our resources; having just so much nerve force, so much appetite, five senses, twenty-four hours in the day and sixty minutes to the hour.
(3) But Christ opens to us a new world of ambition, and pleasure, and hope, in our moral life and destiny. Never does the New Testament give us any immoderate promises in the carnal sphere (1 Timothy 6:6-54.6.8; Hebrews 13:5). But out and beyond Christ opens to us boundless regions in which our nature may find fulness of joy. To destroy the larger thought and noble restlessness of the heart would leave man a maimed and wretched creature, and strike a blow at progress; but to leave man his instinct for greatness, his dreams of glory, his aspirations for knowledge, and power, and felicity, teaching him to expect his full satisfaction in the regions of his higher being and destiny is to fill him with sublime content.
3. Christ teaches us that all the events of this present life equally contribute to our personal and everlasting perfection. The apostle knew that the end of life was not more or less temporal good, but the hallowing of the spirit to God’s love and service. “All things work together for good,” etc. It was in that knowledge that Paul found deep reason for resignation. The finest races have a composite character. Who can analyse the elements of our own. Now Paul has got an insight into the analogous fact that the widest ranges of circumstance and experience would create the finest type of moral life. (W. L. Watkinson.)
Contentment in all things
There never was a pupil who graduated in any university with such a diploma as that. There never was penned such a record of attainment as the result of education. A man is educated just in the proportion in which by his soul-power he controls the conditions of life. An uneducated man is controlled by his conditions. What did Paul learn?
I. To be content. But it was a very poor kind of learning if by content is meant stupidity, want of aspiration and enterprise. If Paul meant, I consider one thing or place just as good as another, poverty as good as riches, slavery as good as independence, he had learned nothing useful. But he did not mean that. He had learned to be content because he carried about with him that which made any circumstances blessed. Englishmen are laughed at because they travel on the continent with their household and all its comforts; and when they camp down in a poverty-stricken village they feel better off than if they had nothing but herbs and rocks to subsist upon; and so are content. Now suppose we imitate that inwardly, and carry in ourselves such a store of inspirations, such an amplitude of moral life as shall make us superior to every circumstance! When a man is living so near to God as to have his whole being pervaded with Divine power, why should he not say, I am content wherever He is.
II. He was content in all things. A great many have learned it in single things.
1. The mother says, loving her child, I am content. She will forsake exhilarating pleasures and entertaining friends for the nursery, and there she is happy.
2. There is a gay giddy girl, for whom is predicted no enviable future; but her time comes. When love finds her, and wakes her up to her true life, and she becomes a wife and mother, how all the frivolity is gone. She has learned to be content. Take her out of that and she has not learned the lesson.
3. There are others who would be perfectly content if they could have fortunes made or their ambition gratified.
4. But where are those who can say, “Put me where you will and I will make it a paradise. Give me children and I am happy; take them away and I have still that which will make me happy. Give me husband, wealth, learning, or deprive me of them, and I am content”? Here is one at any rate.
III. He was content to alternate between different states. Men get used to things, so that if you let them have one state of things long enough they will adapt themselves to it; or give them, if you change, time enough to get used to the next, they will continue to bear it. But Paul says, “I have learned both.” It is as if a man were oscillating between the extremes of heat and cold, and in the sudden transition from one to the other should be content. Yet there is a power in the soul if rightly cultured that shall enable a man to pass from any state to another and say, “I am content.” Here is a man who is reduced by an adverse stroke of fortune from affluence to beggary, and if he be a Christian what is to prevent him saying, “I have lost a little dust; but God is mine, Christ is mine, heaven is mine. The ocean is not spilled even if my cup is. My coat is very useful; but should it be stolen it is not I.” Conclusion:
1. This is not a miraculous state. There are those who think that apostles do not belong to the common race.
2. This is not a superficial power, but one which requires developement. “I have learned.” It took him forty years to learn it, and you must not be discouraged if you cannot all at once put on the virtues which were the result of forty years’ experience. (H. W. Beecher.)
The tendency of Christian principles to produce true contentment
There have been few persons whose patience and temper have been so severely tried as Paul’s (2 Corinthians 11:26-47.11.27), and as he writes he is a prisoner. Do not think, however, that he was not subject to the same infirmities as other men. So far was a contented disposition from being natural to him he tells us that he had acquired it. Where had he ]earned this lesson? At the feet of Gamaliel or from the heathen philosophers? These might have commended the virtue of contentment, and shown its reasonableness, and its necessity to happiness, but to put their followers in possession of it was not in their power. Paul learned it at the feet of Jesus, in the school of Christian experience, where we may learn it too.
I. Christianity takes away the natural cases of discontent.
1. Pride. Men are naturally proud. They think nothing too good for them, and if anything be withheld it is not according to their deserts; hence discontent. Christianity removes this. Humility is its first lesson. The Christian has been convinced that he is a sinner, and his high thoughts, therefore, are overthrown. So far from having been treated worse than he deserves, he feels that he has been treated better. Pride therefore yields to humble gratitude.
2. Self-preference. We naturally love ourselves with excessive fondness. In comparison with our own affairs all others are of no value. While others possess advantages which we do not, or are free from troubles which we experience, envy naturally arises. Christianity regulates this self-love by commanding us to love our neighbour as ourselves. Those who do this are free from envy and repining and so are content.
3. Covetousness. Men have naturally a strong desire for the things of this world, and the more they have, the more they crave. Ahab was only like many others. Here Christianity brings a cure (Luke 12:15). It reveals far more valuable riches than earth can give, which are sure and abiding, and knowing this he is content.
II. It furnishes very powerful motives for the exercise of a contented mind.
1. The disciples of Christ are under the strongest obligations to walk in the footsteps of their Master. In His life contentedness was very conspicuous. No one ever had such provocations to discontent as He. Shall we, then, murmur at our light afflictions when Christ bore so much for us.
2. True Christians are convinced that their lot, whatever it may be, has been chosen for them by their Lord. Can they, then, be dissatisfied with the appointments of their Sovereign, whom they are bound to obey and serve?
3. Their lot has been chosen in infinite love to their souls. Christ knows what is best for His people, and will order all things for their good. With this conviction how can the real Christian be otherwise than contented.
III. Practical uses.
1. For correcting the error that religion destroys cheerfulness. We see that its natural tendency is the very reverse. Look at the proud, selfish, or covetous man, and see what a miserable being he is. Compare him with the tranquil apostle. Surely, then, that which promotes contentment cannot be destructive of happiness.
2. To stir up Christians to their duty. There are many who, on the whole, live under the influence of religion, who nevertheless when disappointed or afflicted betray impatience. The fact is pride, self-preference, etc., are not completely broken. Then call forth your principles into more lively exercise. What grace could do for Paul lit can do for you. (E. Cooper, M. A.)
The school of Christ
I. What the believer can learn when Christ teaches.
1. To be content amidst the world’s changes. What a changeful life was that of St. Paul’s from the time he left his father’s house for Gamaliel’s school to his imprisonment at Rome. We are all subject to disturbing changes from increase or loss of wealth, friends, position, etc., and only in the school of Christ is there rest for the soul. The believer has “the unsearchable riches,” so nothing can impoverish him; peace and joy in the Holy Ghost, so nothing can fatally disturb him; is “kept by the power of God,” so nothing can harm him. He may, therefore, well be content.
2. To be submissive amidst the world’s trials. We all encounter a good deal that humbles us, but that is very different from learning how to be abased. This knowledge takes away half its burden and bitterness. Christ teaches this by encouraging us to cast our burden on Him, and by strengthening that faith which produces conformity to Him.
3. To be heavenly minded amidst the world’s enjoyments. “I know how to abound.” Count up your mercies and your trials and see which abounds.
II. What the believer can do when Christ strengthens.
1. He can suffer the will of God.
2. He can vanquish his spiritual foes.
3. He can fulfil all his duties to God and man. (W. Cadman, M. A.)
I know both how to be abased, and I know how to abound
II. Knows how to adapt himself to all circumstances.
III. Is instructed by the spirit of God. (J. Lyth, D. D.)
How to be abased
During the periods between the paroxysms of the fever, Cromwell occupied the time with listening to passages from the sacred volume, or by a resigned or despairing reference to the death of his daughter. “Read to me,” he said to his wife, in one of these intervals, “the Epistle to the Philippians.” She read these words: “I know both how to be abased, and”--the reader paused. “That verse,” said the Protector, “once saved my life when the death of my eldest born, the infant Oliver, pierced my heart like the sharp blade of a poignard.” (Lamartine.)
The knowledge of properly using abundance
Paul had the double knowledge, “How to be abased” and “how to abound.” The two are not distinctly separable--each in some way conditions the other. There is far too little of the knowledge how to abound. Few men who abound come asking how to abound. Men think it hard enough to get rich, but a very easy thing to be rich. No man has a right to be anything unless he has the knowledge of how to be that thing. When Paul says, “I know how to abound,” he is thinking of anything which makes life pleasant and ample--of money, of scholarship, of friendship, of great spiritual hopes and experiences. Paul did not have all these, and yet he had the knowledge of how to use them. The power by which he could rob abundance of its dangers was the knowledge of the true perfection of a soul in serving Christ. All men do not know how to be rich. The generous, sympathetic, active, kind, rich man knows how to be rich. What is more pitiable than the blunderer who holds wealth and knows not how to use it? There is also needed a knowledge of how to know truth. Here is a scholar who can give you any information, and yet you feel no enrichment. He has no deep convictions, no faith. He has grown less human. He values his knowledge as a botanist his specimens, and not as a gardener his plants. The highest knowledge comes by reverence and devotedness to God. (Phillips Brooks, D. D.)
The difficulty of managing prosperity
Manton says: “A garment which is too long trails in the mire and soon becomes a dirty rag; and it is easy for large estates to become much the same. It is a hard lesson to ‘learn to abound’ (Philippians 4:12). We say such a one would do well to be a lord or a lady; but it is a harder thing than we think it to be.” It is hard to carry a full cup with a steady hand. High places are dizzy places, and full many have fallen to their eternal ruin through climbing aloft without having grace to look up. The simile of the trailing garment used by Manton is simple, but instructive. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
I am instructed.
Initiation into the mysteries
Formerly rendered: “I have been instructed,” it is given in the Revised Version, “I have been taught the secret;” while Lightfoot still more adequately brings out the meaning: “I have been initiated, I possess the secret.” That is what the Greek word means. And here we have one of many examples where a word of strong heathen association is baptized afresh, and consecrated to signify a new and loftier range of thoughts. What these words meant for a serious and good man, from the heathen point of view, was that he had been admitted to communicate in the mysteries, as the great sacramental services of Paganism were called. He had taken part in solemn baptisms, expressing the need of the purification of the soul. He had listened to an awful proclamation from an officiating minister, warning off all murderers and all barbarians, and, in later times, perhaps, all atheists, and Epicureans, and Christians. For these secret sacred rites were intended only for men of Greek blood; and it was thought neither pleasing to the gods nor good for the State that strangers should intrude upon these solemnities. And then, in these ceremonies themselves, he had been made to pass through experiences which could never be forgotten as long as he lived. His imagination was appealed to both through eye and through ear. He saw the representation of wanderings through the darkness, as amidst some maze; shapes of horror were revealed, and his soul was filled with trembling and terror. He was made to pass through a kind of mental proof or purgatory. Then all was changed. There was a sudden illumination; the scenery of beautiful pastures was disclosed; there was music, and dancing, and joy; and he walked in sweet converse with the pious and the good. At the crowning point of the service he was rapt away in an ecstasy of “beholding,” a species of beatific vision. He seemed to see the meaning of life, its beginning and its end; he beheld the wicked wallowing in filth and the righteous in Paradise--a blessed climate, where all the conditions of spiritual and physical good were realized. On the whole, these sacramental services exerted a very wholesome effect upon the con sciences of the people. They learned to meditate on death and eternity, on the need of the soul being prepared for its future, on the punishment of the wicked and the blessedness of the just. One of the Athenian orators, in boasting to his fellow citizens of the glories of their native land, refers to the great mysteries as imparting “good hopes for eternity.” If we ask the question how it was that these institutions died away in course of time, the simple answer seems to be that, in part, they were overcome by the superior spirituality and energy of our own religion; partly that they had themselves waxed corrupt, and had become sources of corruption, though originally good. However, the rites of which we have been speaking went on for a long time, for several centuries after Paul. When this letter was read in the Church of Philippi many, possibly all, of the Gentile members were initiated persons. And when this solemn word: “I have been initiated,” fell upon their ear, it must have vibrated in all its power through their imagination. They must have felt that their beloved teacher was giving a quite new turn to the word. The old sacramental and pictorial associations had vanished; and in place of them there was a deep, central, spiritual truth spoken of as the secret of Paul. What was this secret? It is expressed again by a single word, “content.” (Professor E. Johnson.)
The secret of contentment
It was the beautiful expression of a Christian, who had been rich, when he was asked how he could bear his reduced state so happily, “When I was rich, I had God in everything, and now I am poor I have everything in God.”
The value of contentment
Contentment is the best food to preserve a sound man, and the best medicine to restore a sick man. It resembles the gilt on nauseous pills, which makes a man take them without tasting their bitterness. Contentment will make a cottage look as fair as a palace. He is not a poor man that hath but little, but he is a poor man that wants much. (William Seeker.)
The secret explained
Making a day’s excursion from Botzen, in the Tyrol, we went along the very narrowest of roads, mere alleys, to which our country lanes would be turnpike roads. Well, you may be sure that we did not engage an ordinary broad carriage, for that would have found the passage as difficult as the needle’s eye to the camel; but our landlord had a very narrow chaise for us--just the very thing for threading those four-feet passages. Now, I must make you hear the moral of it, you fretful little gentlemen. When you have a small estate, you must have small wants, and by contentment suit your carriage to your road. “Not so easy,” say you? “Very necessary to a Christian,” say I. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me
Here we find
Weakness and strength. The believer is weak in himself. Looking to the “all things” to be done he laments this with shame and tears. But he is not alone. Allied to Christ he is strong to overcome evil and to do good. He has courage and hope. Nothing in the way of duty is impossible (2 Corinthians 12:8-47.12.10).
II. Dependence and freedom. Dependence is the law of our being. Of the natural life it is said, “In God we live and move and have our being;” how much more is this true of the spiritual life, and yet we are free. Of our own choice we trust in Christ; of our own will, every moment we abide in Him. “I can” implies the personal life, reason, conscience, will, and endeavour.
III. Humility and aspiration. Paul was remarkable for humility; it grew with him. But he was not discouraged. Fired with the noblest ambition, his inspiration was from above. So with all Christians. In spite of conscious weakness, opposition, and failure, “through Christ they take heart to persevere. “My soul cleaveth to the dust: quicken thou me according to Thy Word.”
IV. Suffering and contentment. Paul’s life was marked by vicissitudes and trouble; he was now in prison. But what then? His soul was free; there was peace within, Christ was with him. As a scholar under the great Master he had ]earned many things, and among others the Divine secret of content (Philippians 4:11). So with Christians. Their satisfaction is not from without but from within; not from the lower and perishable things of the world, but from the immortal affection of their Saviour and God.
1. The greatness of Christ as suggested by the place given Him by such a man as Paul. Consider his zeal, labours, achievements, and yet he ascribes the praise of all to Christ. But Paul was only one of many.
2. The grandeur of the Christian life. There is no limit to its possibilities. What has been done is only an earnest of what will be done. Take courage. “Through Christ,” His blood, Word, Spirit, resurrection, etc., all things are possible. What inspiration here for prayer and holy endeavour (Ephesians 3:20-49.3.21).
3. The certain triumph of Christianity. Strengthened by Him, His people shall never cease to pray and strive, till all the kingdoms of this world have become the kingdom of our God and of His Christ. (W. Forsyth.)
The former part of the sentence would be a piece of impudent daring without the latter. There have been men who, puffed up with vanity, have said, “I can do all things.” Their destruction has been sure--Nebuchadnezzar, Xerxes, Napoleon. And what shall we say to our apostle, weak in presence and contemptible in speech, the leader of a hated and persecuted sect. Has Gamaliel taught him an eloquence that can baffle all opposers? Have his sufferings given him so stern a courage that he is not to be turned away? Is it on himself he relies? No; he turns his face towards his Saviour and with devout reverence but dauntless courage. “Through Christ,” etc.
I. The measure of the text. It is exceeding broad. Paul meant that he was able--
1. To endure all trials.
2. To perform all duties.
3. To conquer all corruptions. He once said, “O wretched man that I am,” etc. But he did not stay there, “Thanks be unto God that giveth us the victory.” Have you a violent temper? Through Christ you can curb it. Are you timid? Christ can give you a lion’s boldness. Are you slothful? Christ can make you energetic. Are you incapable for strong effort? Christ can increase your capacity. Are you inconstant? Christ can settle you. There is not a Hittite or Jebusite in the whole land that cannot be east out.
4. To serve God in any state! (Philippians 4:12). Some Christians are called to undergo extreme changes from wealth to poverty, and from poverty to wealth, and, alas, there is often a corresponding spiritual change; the one desponds, the other is elated or becomes avaricious. This need not be. When you gave yourself to Christ you gave yourself wholly to serve Him in everything and anywhere.
5. You can do all things through Christ in respect to all worlds. In this world you can enlighten and uplift it. You may pass through the dark gate of death with Christ without fear into the world of spirits, and there you are more than conqueror.
II. The manner of it. None of us can explain this; but we may see how the acts of the Spirit for Christ tend to strengthen the soul for all things.
1. By strengthening our faith. It is remarkable how timid and doubting Christians have in time of trial behaved most bravely. God gives faith equal to the emergency. Weak faith can sprout and grow till it becomes great under the pressure of a great trial. Nothing braces a man’s nerves like the cold winter’s blast. Together with faith often comes a singular firmness of mind. When John Ardley was brought before Bonner the latter said, “The fire will convert you; faggots are sharp preachers.” Said Ardley, “I am not afraid to try it; and I tell thee, Bishop, if I had as many lives as I have hairs on my head, I would give them all up sooner than I would give up Christ.” And then Christians are often enabled to anticipate the joys of heaven when their pangs are greatest. Look at old Ignatius with his arm in the lion’s mouth, exclaiming, “Now I begin to be a Christian.”
2. By quickening the mental faculties. It is astonishing how poor illiterate persons have been able to refute their clever opponents. Cranmer and Ridley were no match for Jane Bouchier the Baptist martyr. “I am as true a servant of God as any of you; and if you put your poor sister to death, take care lest God should let loose the wolf of Rome on you, and you have to suffer for God, too.”
3. By enabling the believer to overcome himself. He can lose all things, because he is already prepared to do it; he can suffer all things, because he does not value his body as the worldling does; he can brave all things, because he has learned to fear God, and therefore has no reason to fear man; he can perform wonders, because his body and spirit are disciplined.
4. Note the present tense. Not Christ has strengthened, did strengthen at conversion, “As thy days so shall thy strength be.”
III. The message of it.
1. One of encouragement to those who are doing something for Christ, but feel painfully their own inability. Cease not from God’s work, because you are unable to perform it of yourself. Cease from yourself, from man. Before Zerubbabel the mountain shall become a plain. If we believed great things we should do great things. Do net go through the world saying, “I was born little.” You were not meant to be little. Act as David did in spite of his brothers’ sneers.
2. Take heed that you do it in Christ’s strength. You can do nothing without that. Go not forth till thou hast first prayed. The battle that begins with holy reliance on God means victory.
3. Paul speaks in the name of all Christians. How is it that some of you then are doing nothing? What a work there is to do! And what may not one resolute Christian accomplish. (G. H. Spurgeon.)
The power of the Christian
I. There are two main errors by which men are deceived. The first is the fancy that they can do all things that they wish and try to do of themselves. The second is that they cannot and need not do anything. These have been the sources of two of the most mischievous heresies, the one undermining all spiritual, the other all practical religion; the first is Pelagianism, the other Antinomianism.
II. The end of these errors is to keep men in sin. Pride says it will pay off the debt it owes to God when it has grown bigger. “Why should I do that today,” it cries, “which I can do any day whenever I please?” Meanwhile sloth alleges that it is a bankrupt and demands as such to be let off all manner of payment, for getting that a negligent and fraudulent bankrupt has no claim to favour. Pride says it can obey God and does not. Sloth says it cannot and need not.
III. These errors, irreconcilable though they may seem, are often found side by side. They are Satan’s right and left hand in which he tosses our souls from one to the other. The proud man, although he makes himself believe that he can obey God by himself, must be often warned by his conscience that he has not done so. At such times he will try to stifle his qualms by saying that he has done his best, and that Christ’s merits will be sufficient to make up. The slothful man, too, who has drugged his conscience with the notion that as his best works cannot earn heaven, so it matters not what his works are, must be startled now and then by scriptural exhortations to holiness; but when so startled he whispers to himself that let the worst come to the worst he will reform by and by.
IV. Both these errors are answered by the text, which picks out the truth involved in each and separates it from the false. When an error is long-lived it is by means of some truth mixed up with it.
1. As the pride of man says, “I can do all things,” so does Paul; only pride stops short here, whereas Paul adds, “through Christ,” etc. Pride forgets the Fall, and also that what it calls its own strength is really God’s gift.
2. The sluggard is also bereft of his only excuse. God never demands of us what we cannot do; and Paul tells us that there is no limit to our power; he poor, weak, frail as he was, could do all things when strengthened by Christ.
V. What does paul mean by this.
1. Certainly not in the same sense that God can do all things--make a world, arrest the sun, etc.; but--
2. In accordance with the previous verse. These things, however, seem to some hardly sufficient to bear the lofty declaration of the text, and would rather have expected to hear of some great victory gained or miracle wrought. Yet it is in these things that our hardest trials lie, for they are the things that the natural man cannot do of himself. He may brave dangers and accomplish many wonderful works, but he does not know how to be abased and how to abound. A cup knows how to be full and how to be empty, and stands equally straight in either case. But man’s hand cannot lift the full cup and will not lift the empty one. It is only through Christ that whether the Lord giveth or taketh away we can say, “Blessed be His name.”
3. The true children of God can do all things that they can ever desire to do, viz., the will of God. (Archdeacon Hare.)
Strength by Christ
The more literal rendering is “I am strong for all things”; or, “I am equal to all things, Christ invigorating me,” either doing or suffering. Let us look at--
I. Christ strengthening Paul.
1. Every man needs strength. Weakness is so much less of life. Lack of strength is more serious than any rack of outward possession. A weak rich man is in a worse position than a strong poor man. Weakness lessens work, reduces enjoyment, and aggravates suffering. It is also the cause of wickedness, exposing the individual to fierce temptation. As a preservative against sin we need to ask for daily strength.
2. Every man requires strengthening. Even the strong by constitution and education. The child learning to walk alone is strengthened by the hand of the mother, and the aged mother is in return strengthened by the arm of her son. The boy is strengthened to learn by his tutor or employer, and the man to pursue the objects of life by various invigorating influences; while all are strengthened by God.
3. The Christian is no exception. His conversion is not translation to ease. There are times when he lies down in green pastures; but he lies down tired, and that he may rise stronger. We rest not for resting’s sake but for work’s sake. The Christian life is a race to be run and a battle to be fought. To cease either is to cease to be a Christian.
4. A Christian’s strength can come only by his being strengthened. There is not within the man as a man or a Christian any stock of strength given at the commencement. Our resources are supplied as we need them. This arrangement keeps us close to the source of all energy and wisdom, communion with whom alone, apart from imparted blessings, invigorates.
5. An apostle is no exception to this rule. On the battlefield the eye of the soldier is upon the officers of the opposing army. So ministers are more tried than others, partly because of their vocation, and partly that they may have wisdom and grace to succour the tempted.
6. And Christ did strengthen Paul. By His example, grace, promises, doctrines, precepts,
II. Paul hereby assured that all things were possible to him. He felt equal to labour, suffering, and dying. Yet this was not undue self-confidence, but humility.
1. if we Christians are not equal to all the demands which God makes upon us our inability involves guilt. Weakness is not a misfortune but a crime, needing not pity but blame. Christ does not require anything impossible or injuriously difficult, nothing for which He does not guarantee strength.
2. The Divine help is manifold and constant. Look at the assistance obtained from--
(1) The Scriptures, which thoroughly furnish us unto all good works.
(2) Providence, under which all things work together for our good.
(3) Christian principle--faith, love, hope, joy, obedience.
3. If we turn from this various help to Christ personally and then remember that He is with us, immutable in His love, unfailing in His resources, unwearied in His oversight, we can understand what Paul meant.
(1) I cannot do many things which my fellow Christians say is my duty;
(2) Nor what in my ignorance I conclude to be my duty;
(3) Nor what is actually my duty, if I go about it in a wrong spirit or way;
(4) But Christ will strengthen us for all His will.
What can hinder? Not our ignorance, for He is our teacher; not our feebleness, for He never breaks the bruised reed; not our sinfulness, for He is our Saviour.
4. This assurance covers all the necessities of our Christian life--perseverance, cross-bearing and self-crucifixion, Christian work, the prospect and experience of death. (S. Martin.)
The fountain of strength
We all need strength. Whether conscious or unconscious of it, we are all weak. Our very strength is weakness. We may trust it and be deceived by it. This is a defect we cannot supply. The exertion of weakness can not produce strength. We must look out of ourselves; and to save us from a vain search God sets Christ before us as our strength and strengthener.
I. How Christ strengthens us.
1. Not by miracle or magic; not by acting upon us without our knowledge or against our will, but through our own intelligent and active powers.
2. By instructing us in the knowledge of our weakness and His own strength.
3. By His example, showing us how to do all that He requires in His own life.
4. By supplying us with the great motive power--His constraining love.
5. By working faith in us, which brings us into vital union with Him who is the source of strength.
II. For what He strengthens us.
1. To fulfil the law as a rule of duty.
2. To resist temptation.
3. To suffer and endure. (J. A. Alexander, D. D.)
Dependence on Christ
(Text in conjunction with John 15:5.) Two speakers, Divine-human and human. From how different a platform do they speak; one from conscious power to help, the other from conscious need of help. One a great Giver, the other a great receiver. A fine harmony in the two statements. Though Paul’s is not quite so universal as Christ’s, it forms a pleasing testimony to the correctness of Christ’s statement, and the usefulness of the promised aid.
I. The divine assertion. God in Christ speaks.
1. It applies to man’s spiritual life.
2. To His everyday purpose and action. “Good” is understood. There are some things we can do without Christ--and yet considering Him as God we cannot even do evil without the strength He supplies. Similarly, in a high spiritual sense, we can do nothing good without Him. We may feel our dignity affronted, and our first impulse will be denial of, or objection to the universality of the statement. But our life will prove that Christ is right. In every part of our life we have Christ’s influence. The Christian becomes “a law unto himself,” but behind the Christian and the law is the great Inspirer--Christ. Christ is the only one who can make this sweeping assertion without fear of ultimate contradiction.
II. The human confirmation. Paul gives particular instances, then generalizes. How does Christ strengthen us?
1. By His having done all things Himself. In all life’s experiences, conflicts, emergencies, Christ has preceded us. We have to walk in His steps.
2. By the effects of His wondrous life. We linger around the four great landmarks, Bethlehem, Nazareth, Gethsemane, Calvary, and they are a ceaseless inspiration to us. His miracles have made many a life path brighter, and they yield constant consolation. He healed the sick; sickness can be better borne. He hushed the waves; He stills the storm today.
3. By the effect of His unique teaching. Every word of His is the bread of life.
4. By His Cross and death. He is the Saviour from the curse of life--sin. Thus we hear Paul, “I can do all things,” not by his immediate environment, men, or things; not by his inherent energy; but by Christ which “strengtheneth him with strength in his soul” (Psalms 138:3). Our strength is not superseded. It is linked with God’s and made the grander for the union. It is “all things,” even the otherwise impossible. It applies to the whole life. “Without me--nothing.” Our power “through Christ which strengthens us” is limitless. So should our gratitude be. (J. B. Swallow.)
Strength through Christ
When I was at Princeton, Professor Henry had so constructed a huge bar of iron, bent into the form of a horseshoe, that it used to hang suspended from another iron bar above it. Not only did it hang there but it upheld four thousand pounds weight attached to it! The horseshoe magnet was not welded or glued to the metal above it, but through the iron wire coiled round it there ran a subtle current of electricity from a galvanic battery. Stop the flow of the current for one instant and the huge horseshoe dropped. So does all the lifting power of the Christian come from the currents of spiritual influence which flow into his heart from the living Jesus. The strength of the Almighty One enters into the believer. If his connection with Christ is cut off, in an instant he becomes as any other man. (T. L. Cuyler, D. D.)
The secret of fortitude
In the days of bloody Mary a poor Protestant was condemned to be burned alive. When he came in sight of the stake he exclaimed, “Oh! I cannot burn! I cannot burn!” Those who heard him supposed he intended to recant, but they misunderstood him. He felt he needed more strength to bear the dread ordeal in a worthy manner, so being left a few moments to himself, he cried in an agony of prayer that God would more sensibly reveal Himself to him. As the result of this, instead of recanting, he cried out triumphantly, “Now I can burn! Now I can burn!” (J. F. B. Tinling, B. A.)
Strength in Christ
“I was requested,” said the late Dr. Macleod, “by a brother minister, who was unwell, to go and visit a dying boy. He told me before some remarkable things of this boy. He was eleven years of age, and during three years’ sickness had manifested the most patient submission to the will of God, with a singular enlightenment of the Spirit. I went to visit him. He had suffered the most excruciating pain. For years he had not known one day’s rest. I gazed with wonder at the boy. After drawing near to him, and speaking some words of sympathy, he looked at me with his blue eyes--he could not move, it was the night before he died--and breathed into my ear these few words: ‘I am strong in Him.’ The words were few, and uttered feebly; they were the words of a feeble child, in a poor home, where the only ornament was that of a meek, and quiet, and affectionate mother; but these words seemed to lift the burden from the very heart; they seemed to make the world more beautiful than ever it was before; they brought home to my heart a great and a blessed truth. May all of us be strong in Him.”
Courageous Christians needed
No man is likely to accomplish much who moodily indulges a desponding view of his own capacities. By God’s help the weakest of us may be strong, and it is the way to become so, to resolve never to give up a good work till we have tried our best to achieve it. To think nothing impossible is the privilege of faith. We deprecate the indolent cowardice of the man who always felt assured that every new enterprise would be too much for him, and therefore declined it; but we admire the pluck of the ploughman who was asked on his cross examination if he could read Greek, and replied he did not know, because he had never tried. Those Suffolk horses which will pull at a post till they drop are worth a thousand times as much as jibbing animals that run back as soon as ever the collar begins to press them. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
The hidden source of power
A minister says: “The other day I was up in Lancashire, and my host took me to see one of those monster factories which are the wonders of civilization, covering acres of ground--nobody knows how many stories high, and how many hundreds of windows they have to let in the light upon the industrious work people inside. As I walked in and through those rooms, and went from one story to another, and saw the rolling of the pinions and heard the rattling of the wheels, and felt the vibration of the floor beneath my feet, while the raw material was being, as by magic, brought out at the other end to be a robe for a peasant or a prince, I said, ‘Why, where in the world is the motive power that sets all this to work?’ He took me out of the building altogether, to a little circumscribed place beneath, where there was only one door and a window to the whole room; but through the open door I saw the great piston moving in silent and majestic power as it was doing this wondrous work. ‘There,’ said he, ‘is the mighty force that sets the work in motion.’”
Power through the Spirit of Christ
A young Italian boy knocked one day at the door of an artist’s studio in Rome, and when it was opened, exclaimed, “Please, madam, will you give me the master’s brush?” The painter was dead, and the boy, feeling inflamed with longing to be an artist, wished for the great master’s brush, with the idea that it would inspire him with his genius. The lady placed the brush belonging to her departed husband in the hand of the boy, saying, “This is his brush; try it, my boy.” With a flush of earnestness on his face, he tried, but found he could paint no better with the master’s brush than with his own. The lady then said to him, “You cannot paint like the great master unless you have his spirit.” (W. Birch.)
Power through the love of Christ
ONE day, one the gigantic eagles of Scotland carried away an infant, which was sleeping by the fireside in its mother’s cottage. THE whole village ran after it; but the eagle soon perched itself upon the loftiest eyrie, and everyone despaired of the child being recovered. A sailor tried to climb the ascent, but his strong limbs trembled, and he was at last obliged to give up the attempt. A robust Highlander, accustomed to climb the hills, tried next, and even his limbs gave way, and he was in fact precipitated to the bottom. But, at last, a poor peasant woman came forward. She put her feet on one shelf of the rock, then on a second, and then on a third; and in this manner, amid the trembling hearts of all who were looking on, she rose to the very top of the cliff, and at last whilst the breasts of those below were heaving, came down step by step, until, amid the shouts of the villagers, she stood at the bottom of the rock with the child on her bosom. Why did that woman succeed, when the strong sailor and the practised Highlander had failed? Why, because between her and the babe there was a tie; that woman was the mother of the babe. Let there be love to Christ and to souls in your hearts, and greater wonders will be accomplished. (Manual of Anecdotes.)
Now, ye Philippians, know also that in the beginning of the gospel--Observe
The straitened circumstances of the apostle.
II. The honourable conduct of the Philippians.
1. Though poor (2 Corinthians 8:2) they acknowledged their debt.
2. Stood alone.
3. Repeated their bounty of their own free will.
III. The commendation of the spirit of God.
1. Recorded for their honour.
2. For our instruction. (J. Lyth, D. D.)
Liberality to the minister
III. Acceptable to God.
IV. A pledge of abundant blessing. (J. Lyth, D. D.)
Not because I desire a gift, but I desire fruit that may abound to your account
The nature and duty of giving
I. The Christian’s object.
1. Not self, but Christ.
2. Not the world, but heaven.
3. And the minister of the gospel especially may add, not yours, but you.
II. The Christian’s practice.
1. To do something for God’s cause.
2. To devote all he possibly can for this purpose.
3. To do this as a privilege.
III. The Christian’s reward.
1. It is personal and reciprocal--there is individual satisfaction and return of benefits given.
2. It is fruit--continually increasing in extent and value.
3. It is eternal--a reward with Christ, and His holy angels and spirits of just men made perfect. (I. W. Tapper.)
I. The nature of Christian giving. It should be--
3. Regarded as a plain and prescribed duty.
4. An honoured privilege.
II. Its fruit or reward.
1. The Divine approval and promise.
2. Soul satisfaction.
3. Eternal results in the world to come. (G. Webber.)
It is more blessed to give than receive
I. The recipient--is placed under obligation--if unselfish and content he has no desire for a gift--values it chiefly for the giver’s sake.
II. The giver--gratifies a noble feeling--sows precious seed--has in prospect an abundant harvest. (J. Lyth, D. D.)
The word is of large significance. What a place it occupies in nature! Where is the work of husbandry, or the process of animal or vegetable life, in which this is not the one point of importance? What fruit is there? (James 5:7). What if it comes not? What if after all the husbandman’s waiting and toil, every blossom is cut off by frost, and every ear of corn spoiled by blight or mildew? Will he be consoled by the reflection that the trees in the earlier spring were bright with every form of promise, or that the fields were once green with the springing blade, wet with abundant rain, or warm with glorious sunshine? The one thing for which he looked was fruit. All else was valuable only as a prognostication of fruit. If the hope was not realized, it was rather a mockery than a satisfaction. And this word fruit was transferred by the gospel to other and yet more important uses. Trace it through the Scriptures of the New Testament, through the discourses of our Lord and the writings of the apostles, and how grave and anxious are the questions it suggests for self-examination (Luke 3:8-42.3.9; Matthew 7:20; Matthew 21:19; Matthew 12:43; Luke 13:7; John 15:2, Romans 6:22; James 3:17; Philippians 1:11). You see what God looks for; what is the one important question as concerns each of us; What fruit is there? In the great parable (Matthew 13:3-40.13.23) in which our Lord classified the hearers of His gospel in all ages, the one distinction between true and false profession is made to be this: not so much did a man listen, receive, or love the sound or entertain the demands of the gospel; but rather, Was there any fruit? The three evil hearers were alike in this--by this they were equally distinguishable from the good hearer--they brought no fruit to perfection; while he, in various degrees, but in reality, deed, and truth, was seen to produce fruit. Well, therefore, may a minister who understands the business of his high calling try himself and his ministry by this one criterion. Is there any fruit? Well may he as he stands before his people in the exercise of his important and responsible ministry address himself to them with all the earnestness of one pleading for his life, and say, I desire fruit that may abound to your account. He will not, indeed, mislead them as to the nature of the fruit for which he looks. He will never speak of it as though a few isolated acts of self-denial or charity were infallible marks of good. He will constantly remind them that only a heart right with God, a heart truly penitent and believing, can originate such acts as God will approve. (Dean Vaughan.)
Giving honours the giver
It is told of John Wesley that when he bestowed a gift or rendered anyone a service he lifted his hat as though he were receiving instead of conferring an obligation. (Christian Family.)
I have all and abound
Ministry to the saints an acceptable sacrifice
The individual receiving the benefit.
1. A Christian. The first duty of Christians is towards each other. Charity does not stay at home, but it begins there. The largest hearted charity towards the ends of the earth will not excuse parsimoniousness towards our fellow believers close at hand.
2. An aged Christian. Paul has borne the burden and heat of the day. Every Christian has a claim upon his brother Christian, but those who have the greatest claim are those who are worn out in the service of their Master.
3. A poor Christian. Although an apostle and richly endowed, Paul never employed his endowments on his own behalf. After having surrendered the brightest prospects he was now dependent on the charities of God’s people. “Blessed is the man who considereth the poor.”
4. A Christian minister, who having expended his spiritual gifts on his people, had a right to their temporal support.
II. The benefit bestowed. “A sacrifice.”
1. In the truest sense there is now no real sacrifice. By one offering Christ hath perfected forever them who are sanctified.
2. But in an inferior sense sacrifices are still offered. There is “the sacrifice of praise” and the sacrifice of charity. To do good and to communicate forget not, for with such sacrifices God is well pleased.”
3. The essence of sacrifice is self-denial. It is that which costs the offerer something.
III. The value of the benefit.
1. In relation to God. It is acceptable and well-pleasing to Him--
(1) From the motive from which it springs.
(2) From the good it does.
2. In relation to the object of the benefit.
(1) It produces satisfaction and gratitude.
(2) It becomes a means of usefulness. “Fruit to your account.” (J. H. Evans, M. A.)
Such is Paul’s confession concerning his temporal condition even in the midst of trials. He did not look on this life with bitterness, or refuse to enjoy it. He was not soured by his trials, but felt that if he had troubles he had blessings also. Gloom is no Christian temper. We must live in sunshine, even when we sorrow. We ought to bless God that we have--
I. The gift of life.
1. And not merely that we live, but for those blessings which are included in the notion of our living. God has made life to imply the existence of certain things which are in themselves a happiness. We cannot live without the means of life, and the means of life are means of pleasure. It might have been ordered that life should be sustained by means neither pleasurable nor painful, or even by means that were painful, and that what are the extraordinary means of preserving life should be the ordinary. Suppose, then, that food were medicine, and that wounds and bruises imparted health and strength! On the contrary, life is sustained by blessings.
2. The gospel guarantees these things. God has not promised what the world understands by good things; things whose good is only in the imagination, large estates, sumptuous furniture, carnal, sensual enjoyments, etc. But He has promised that life shall not be a burden but a blessing.
3. And giving us as much as this He bids us be satisfied with it, to confess that we “have all” when we have so much; that we “abound” when we have enough. He promises food, raiment, lodging, and He bids us, having that, to be content.
II. The gift of sleep. God does not suffer us to be miserable for a long time together, even when He afflicts us, but He breaks our trials into portions; takes us out of this world ever and anon, and gives us holiday time, like children at school. Sleep is equally the comfort and recruiting of rich and poor. We sleep whether we are in sorrow or in joy, in anxiety or hope.
III. The blessings of the Christian brotherhood. As food, raiment, sleep, are necessary conditions of life, so is society. When God removes us from the world He puts us into the Church; and distance, as proved in the case of St. Paul, does not break the communion of saints.
IV. The blessings of present peace in the Church, freedom from persecution.
V. The privileges of free speech and action.
VI. The privileges of daily worship and weekly communion. Let us then enjoy our present blessings and bless the Giver. (Cardinal Newman.)
I. Is associated with contentment--it has enough--desires no more.
II. Acknowledges its obligation--fully--thankfully.
III. Appreciates the spirit of the gift--love--sacrifice--well-pleasing to God. (J. Lyth, D. D.)
It is related of Andrew Fuller that, on a begging tour for the cause of missions, he called on a certain wealthy nobleman to whom he was unknown, but who had heard much of Fuller’s talents and piety. After he had stated to him the object of his visit, his lordship observed that he thought he should make him no donation. Dr. Fuller was preparing to return, when the nobleman remarked that there was one man to whom, if he could see him, he thought he would give something for the mission, and that man was Andrew Fuller. Mr. Fuller immediately replied, “My name, sir, is Andrew Fuller.” On this the nobleman, with some hesitation, gave him a guinea. Observing the indifference of the donor, Mr. Fuller looked him in the face with much gravity, and said, “Does this donation, sir, come from your heart? If it does not, I wish not to receive it.” The nobleman was melted and overcome with this honest frankness, and taking from his purse ten guineas more, said, “There, sir, these come from my heart.” Men should give to the cause of missions cheerfully. They should do good with a good motive. “The Lord loveth a cheerful giver.” (J. Whitecross.)
My God shall supply all your need
The need and the supply
Paul declares that the contributions of his Philippian friends are pleasing to him, and acceptable to God.
He cannot requite their kindness, but declares that God can and will.
I. The extent of the supply. The emphasis is on all.
1. There are many promises of this kind even in the Old Testament. “They that seek the Lord shall not want any good thing.” “No good thing will He withhold from them that walk uprightly,” etc. But in all their fulness we find them only in the gospel, where Christ tells us that our heavenly Father knows our need, and caring as He does for sparrows and lilies will much more care for us.
2. This promise is exceeding broad. It is not restricted--
(1) In the nature of its object, but comprehends temporal and spiritual good.
(2) Nor in the absolute measure of the good it possesses; not your occasional, but your constant need; not one kind, but every kind; not a portion, but all.
3. It is possible to misinterpret the promise. We are not to make it the ground of foolish expectations. God will not do for us what we can do for ourselves, nor gratify our whims. The promise has a just and obvious limit. God will supply our need. He does more, but does not engage to do so; and He is the final and righteous Judge of what our needs are. We may not feel the want of what God sees we require. We may desire wealth, or health of body, but God may see that we need spiritual riches and health of soul, and to give the latter He may have to withhold the former. Take the case of Paul who prayed for deliverance from his thorn in the flesh. God’s response was grace to bear it, and Paul saw that his need was supplied, and then gloried in his infirmity.
II. Its means--“riches in glory,” or “glorious riches,” a phrase indicative of the wealth of Deity; but more than this, for behind the works of His hand there is the uncreated wealth of His own infinity. Here we come to an ocean without a bottom or shore. What we see gives us a small idea of the Divine possibility. Notwithstanding all that God has given, His ability to give remains undiminished.
III. Its medium. The passage is sometimes made to read “out of” His riches and glory. This is true, but what Paul means is that our need is supplied by a certain method. We are under a mediatorial government. By Christ God made the worlds. Through Him, too, comes daily bread and daily pardon. The promises of God are yea and amen in Christ Jesus. Apart from Him there is no mercy to anyone. Prayer is only heard as offered in His name.
IV. Its certainty. There is no doubt or contingency: God shall do it. Some one has said that the apostle here draws a bill on the exchequer of heaven that God will make the wants of the Philippians His own care. Rather let us say that he draws a bill which he is assured God will honour the moment it is presented in believing prayer. What are the grounds for this?
1. The apostle knew that God loved His own children with a peculiar love, and was therefore sure to take care of the Philippians.
2. He knew that God approved of their act, and would therefore compensate them.
3. He knew his own standing with God. We have friends for whom we can say that “for our sakes” they would do what we desire, and God thus puts Himself in human conditions and enables Paul to claim Him as his own. (J. Stacey, D. D.)
Our need and supply
I. Examine the scope of the promise. There is danger of fanaticism in the interpretation of truth. God promises to supply our needs, but not to gratify our wishes or whims.
II. The supply is not according to our deserts, but according to the riches of His glory: i.e., His glorious wealth. The resources of the Trinity are drawn upon. Jesus bade His disciples to ask, that their joy might be full. He does not delight in a sad, starved Church, but in one that is joyful, well fed.
III. The medium. Through Christ. But God ordains means and puts us under conditions. As in agriculture, so here, we are to work in harmony with God’s established methods, if we would secure fruits. (M. Staple, D. D.)
Man’s needs and God’s wealth
I. Man’s needs and God’s wealth.
1. Man’s needs are--
(1) Physical. There is no creature with so many wants.
(a) The creatures far beneath him have not so long and so helpless an infancy, and acquire much sooner the means of self support.
(b) There are successive births in the same life. Man passes from one stage to another, higher and still higher; but he never reaches the platform where he finds perfection.
(c) We may learn the greatness of his nature from the character of his wants. He must have a world made for him and all things in it must serve him.
(d) His needs are constantly recurring. He has marvellous powers of receptivity. The world may empty its treasures at his feet, and yet leave crying needs.
(2) Social. Life can only develope itself by clinging to other forms of life. The affections require some object round which to twine, and thus give beauty to life. The words father, mother, brother, etc., represent the needs of his social nature. Let him be deprived of any of these and he ever after feels that he is poor.
(3) Mental. The mind in its best state is like the garden of Eden; but it may be like a wilderness which brings forth only thorns. It needs teachers, books, culture; the libraries of the world represent its needs.
(a) Man is a sinner, and that is enough to express his utter poverty. He needs nothing short of God’s great salvation. He has left his Father’s house and gone into a far country, and having spent all, he begins to be in want.
(b) With the new life there are new capacities. He wants light--the conditions of life--and God who commanded the light to shine out of darkness must shine in our heart. He wants love--God. Nothing short of the Infinite can satisfy him.
(c) There are great changes in this life which give birth to great needs.
(d) There are needs which stretch into the future. Man has time, he wants eternity; he has earth, he wants heaven; he has houses and lands, he needs “an inheritance incorruptible and undefiled, and that fadeth not away.” He wants the perfect life, without suffering, without sin, without sorrow.
2. God’s wealth. How poor all words are in describing the riches of God, the boundless wealth of His nature.
(1) There are some figures that help us; there is the sun. God is our Sun. The sun pours light not only on the tops of the mountains, but into the depths of the valleys; gives colourings to the countless leaves that quiver in mighty forests, and kindles the incense of the world. There are the pulsations of the ocean. In its fulness it pours its tide on our shores, and its waters flow on till they have filled every bay and creek and inlet. The pulsations of God’s goodness are felt through the universe: “The Lord is good to all, and His tender mercies are over all His works.”
(2) There are some titles that help us, such as the “God of hope,” the “God of peace,” the “God of all comfort,” the “God of all grace,” the “Father of mercies,” the “Father of lights.” But what a revelation of God’s wealth we have when we are told “God is love.” His promises represent His wealth, and are convertible into realities any day and any hour. His gospel reveals His purposes, His thoughts, His grace. Do you want mercy? “He keepeth mercy;” it is treasured in His nature as in a storehouse. Strength? “He giveth power to the faint.” Truth for your understanding? There are revelations as you are able to bear them, visions regulated by the soul’s capacities to see them. Love for your heart? Build a sanctuary, let its dimensions be vast, for in proportion to the greatness of the temple will be the manifestations of the Divinity. Get up into one of the world’s highest mountains and look around, and then claim all.
II. The experience of the highest life shows the connection between the needs of man and the wealth of God.
1. The life of the apostle illustrates our text. One class of needs creates another, and if the highest are supplied the others can be endured. The man who wrote the text had suffered every kind of need, and had therefore large conceptions of human want; but his need had been supplied, and therefore he had large conceptions of God’s wealth.
2. We have the best illustrations of this in his prayers. We may learn from the prayers of men how great the wealth of God must be. “God is able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think.” if our needs took outward form, what endless processions we should see going up to the throne of God, all asking. What prayers have gone up from tabernacle, temple, venerable sanctuaries, the pavements of which are worn by generations of kneeling worshippers. What prayers have gone up from men in the depths, from men in the height! What prayers we have heard prayed from our fathers and mothers! What prayers we have prayed. The answers to these reveal the connection between man’s needs and God’s wealth.
III. With what certainty the apostle speaks. This certainty must have come from his faith in God.
1. In the affluence of the Divine life. The universe is but the outward clothing of the thought of God. The gospel with its provision for the need of man is the revelation of the heart of God, and the outpouring of its love.
2. In the benevolence of the Divine nature, wherever God proclaims His name, He makes His goodness to pass before men. If our relationship to our children is the proof of our willingness to give them good gifts, how much more so in regard to God.
3. In the inexhaustibleness of the Divine resources. God is a fountain always overflowing: if the streams should fail there would be a universal bankruptcy of life.
IV. With what intense satisfaction the apostle speaks. He had a large mind and heart, and fitly represented the genius of Christianity. There are some who think only of themselves, and appear to value the gospel all the more because they limit it to a few. If they have bread, they care not if the whole race starves; if they are saved, they care not if the whole world is lost. But this treasure was placed in the apostle’s hands and in ours that man may be enriched. Our need supplied is an assurance that God will supply the need of every man.
V. God supplies our needs through Jesus Christ. How much more precious gifts are when they come through the hands of those who love us. (H. J. Bevis.)
Man’s need supplied from God’s riches
I. Man’s necessity. Strictly speaking, all creatures are equally indigent, whether sinners or saints. Out of God there is no self-sufficiency. But circumstances, though they cannot add to our inherent emptiness and dependence, may add materially to our necessities, and that in three ways.
1. When a creature is placed in a situation unfavourable to his happiness. An infant, e.g., in his mother’s arms, is as needy as want and helplessness can render it, but take it from its mother and cast it into the sea and it needs to be rescued as well as nourished; a deliverer as well as a mother.
2. When there is something within himself counteracting his welfare. A sick man needs more help than one in health; a man with a wounded spirit more comfort than one with a mind unwrung.
3. When he is destined for a high station. A monarch’s son requires more care in training than a peasant’s. A barbarian does well enough in his native woods, but set him apart for a high state of civilization and you add to him many wants. Put these three things together and we shall have some idea of the extent and urgency of the Christian’s need. We are in a state unfavourable to our happiness; there is sin within us; we are designated for a station for whose pursuits we have naturally no desire. We are needy as creatures, as sinful creatures, as redeemed creatures.
II. God’s wealth. The apostle has not in his mind all the blessings which God possesses in Himself, but those which are adapted to our present state of want and our future state of exaltation--gospel blessings, “the riches of His grace,” the mercies offered to sinners.
1. The figure contains two ideas.
(1) Their abundance. It is not one or two pieces of gold that make a man rich, nor power to relieve one or two beggars. There must be large resources. And where is the want for which God’s gospel does not offer a remedy? Where the blessing He is not able to bestow? Millions on millions can no more exhaust His store that we with the hollow of our hand could empty the sea.
(2) Their excellence. We do not deem worthless things riches however abundant. A mass of sand would never be called a treasure. And what so precious as God’s mercies? We can no more estimate their value than their abundance. We can no more say “We know their utmost worth” than “We have taken them all.”
2. Why are they called “riches in glory?” Perhaps the term
(1) may refer to heaven, the storehouse of spiritual blessings.
(2) Or it may be equivalent to “glorious riches.” In this case it may mean that these riches
(a) are magnificent as well as excellent and abundant.
(b) That they bring glory to their possessors, and are honourably acquired and spent.
(c) That they are glorious in their tendency and use. They not only come out of glory but lead to it--whereas earthly riches are often debasing and injurious.
III. The supply for this necessity out of this wealth. This supply is--
2. Abundant. Not according to our necessities but to God’s riches; suited to His character not ours; commensurate with His magnificence rather than with our poverty and meanness.
3. Adapted to our real, not imaginary need.
4. Through Christ.
(1) He purchased them for us. “Ye know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ,” etc.
(2) He receives them for us as our representative.
(3) He bestows them on us. It is the connection it has with Christ that makes this supply certain, for it is the stipulated reward of His sufferings; abundant, for those sufferings were of infinite worth; glorious, because its bestowal brings glory to Him. (C. Bradley, M. A.)
Provision for the way
Joseph filled his brethren’s sacks with corn, which they were to carry home with them. But in addition he gave them “provision for the way.” This, compared with the other, was a small thing, but the other would never have reached home without it. So we know that there is a glorious portion in the heavenly Canaan, but we have a wilderness journey to pro vide for: and Jesus, our Covenant Joseph, who has charge of the treasures of heaven, has not forgotten this.
I. The nature of this provision.
1. This is embodied in the word “need.” This is all that God undertakes to provide for. There are many things that others have that we should like; there are many things that we feel we could make good use of if we had them; there are many things that our pride, ambition, desire for self-indulgence prompt us to crave, but we do not find them in this provision.
2. This word need has a variety of meanings which take their shape from the character and aim of the person to whom it refers. The man who goes to business with the consciousness that by twelve o’clock he has a note to take up for five thousand dollars--needs that amount of money. The mariner needs favouring breezes to aid him in reaching port. The farmer needs rain and sunshine to ripen and mature the grain. And so in the case of the Christian. His need does not take in what will minister to present gratification, but what will be useful in promoting his eternal interest. What this is God only knows and can give.
3. The psalmist teaches us the meaning of the word when he says, “No good thing” will God withhold from His people. But this good thing may mean disappointment, sickness, poverty. But whatever the soul’s interest requires is our need.
II. Its extent. This will be best illustrated by scriptural examples.
1. Job’s need could only be supplied by passing through a peculiar experience; but it was supplied. He was led into the furnace, supported through it, and brought out of it.
2. Noah’s need could not be met without a demand on faith and obedience such as had never been made before. But Noah believed and obeyed God, built the ark and was saved.
3. Jacob’s need could only be met by Joseph’s being governor of Egypt, and this involved much grief.
4. Abraham’s need could only be met by the stern call to offer up his son, and the result of that action will follow him throughout eternity in untold blessings.
5. And so with Moses, David, Daniel, Jonah, and Paul.
III. The rule by which this provision is regulated. It would have been a great thing had the apostle said, “According to His riches in grace.” These riches are marvellous, and show us what God is doing for His people here. But “riches in glory” point to what He will hereafter do for us in heaven. These “eye hath not seen, nor ear heard.” When St. John gazed through the veil he only tells us of the foundations and walls of the heavenly home as made of precious jewels; its gates of pearls, and streets of gold; and then leaves us to infer what the “riches in glory” must be. Tempted, burdened, needy Christian, the riches lavished on yonder home are pledged for thy supply.
IV. The agent by whom this provision is administered. How tenderly God has considered our comfort in constituting Christ the agent. With whom could the administering of this supply be so safely left as with Him?
1. How able He is to help.
2. How willing.
3. How ready.
4. How close and always at hand.
V. Its certainty. This is the promise of the God of eternal truth. Did His promise ever fail? Can the scripture be broken. (R. Newton, D. D.)
I. God is rich--gloriously rich.
1. In life. He is the living God.
2. In the power of imparting life--a fountain that can never be exhausted.
3. In strength. “Is anything too hard for the Lord.”
4. In knowledge and wisdom. “Oh, the depth,” etc.
5. In mercy. “He spared not His own Son.”
6. In all that constitutes goodness.
7. The earth is full of His riches--there is not a poor province in creation.
8. He is rich in possession, for “all things were created by Him and for Him.”
9. Rich without obligation to another, for “of Him, and through Him, and to Him, are all things.”
10. This gloriously rich God is our Father, and to His boundless wealth His firstborn had free access.
But they became prodigal, and all their younger children have trodden in their steps, and now we have not free access to the whole of our Father’s wealth. We now inherit God’s glorious riches by Christ Jesus, and become heirs of God by becoming joint heirs with Him.
II. The Christian’s supplies are sure. This is secured--
1. By the source--God.
(1) The ordinary sources of supply to us are ever changing and multiplying as we advance. The first we recognize is that which we denominate “my mother”; then “my father”; then “my teachers”; then “my books and companions”; then “my trade or profession”; then “my husband, wife, friends, country, Church.”
(2) But these are only subordinate sources of supply--cisterns which cannot long hold water. My mother and father--their days are as grass; my friends--how many are worthy of the name; my daily calling--if it yield bread enough is a weariness; the happy wife may become a widow; upon your country you may have to turn your back; the Church may be a wilderness to you. With everything you now term “my” you may be disappointed and disgusted.
(3) But Paul is positive that this source shall never fail, because it cannot.
2. By the channel--Christ Jesus.
(1) When our supplies fail the channel is sometimes at fault and not the source. The supply of fuel in midwinter sometimes fails, not because the coal fields are exhausted, but because the snow blocks the railways. The supply of water or gas may be insufficient, not because the reservoirs are low, but because the pipes are broken. A good scheme perishes through bad agents; and though sure of the source if we be doubtful of the channel we can never speak confidently of the supply.
(2) But in this case we are as sure of the channel as we are of the source. “Jesus Christ, the same yesterday, today, and forever.”
3. By the scale of distribution. “According to His glorious riches.”
(1) Human supplies are not always according to means. The rich husband will sometimes supply his wife so sparingly that the wife of the working man is less straitened. Not according to their wealth do some parents educate their children, but according to their niggardliness. Wealthy masters remunerate their servants according to their own selfish hearts. Offerings cast into God’s treasury are often only “according to necessity.” But when we find men supplying the need of others according to their resources we are sure that they are kind and liberal, and are sure to supply the need of all that are dependent upon them.
(2) Now God gives “according to His glorious riches.” Not as the poor give, in the abundance of their poverty; not as the rich, when they give grudgingly; not according to our low views, restrained prayer, or feeble faith; not according to any liberality we see in each other. If the gloriously rich God give according to His wealth we may say with confidence, “My God shall supply,” etc.
III. The knowledge of God is essential to confidence in Him. There are few things in which we are oftener disappointed than the resources of our supplies. This is especially the case with men who look for patrons to carry them forward. The power to help is overestimated: disappointment comes and confidence is wrecked. Now this man knew God, and that knowledge was the basis of his trust. He had looked to God for the supply of his need of wisdom, guidance, protection, strength, etc., and God had supplied it. With this personal experience of the riches of the Divine liberality, he says, “My God shall supply all your need.” (S. Martin.)
Comfort for the needy
I. Your need--is great--diversified--constant.
II. The supply--suitable--seasonable--abundant.
III. The source of supply--certain--inexhaustible--free. (J. Lyth, D. D.)
Filling the empty vessels
I. Set out the empty vessels.
1. It is not supposed that you need to borrow other people’s needs: you have enough of your own. Set them out--in a long row, all of them. Needs for your body and needs for your soul; needs for your families, for the present, for the future, for time, and for eternity. Your needs are as many as your moments and the hairs of your head.
2. Some of these empty vessels are large and are growing larger. Our wants grow upon us. One loaf sufficed once: it would not go far at your table now: the loaves vanish there like snow in the sun. You have more infirmities. You never needed so much as you do now.
3. Some of these needs, if supplied tonight, would be empty vessels tomorrow morning. Yesterday’s old patience is stale stuff. You must grow more of that sweet herb in your garden. We are like the fabled vessels of mythology that were so full of holes that the fifty daughters of Danaus could never fill them.
4. Some of our needs are very pressing. Bring, then, your urgent needs. Set them all out in this row of empty pots.
II. Who is to fill these empty vessels? My God will supply all your need. Nobody else can. He can. Paul says: See, my God has supplied me. He will also supply you. Paul’s God is the God of providence. He is also the God of grace. He that spared not His own Son, shall He not with Him freely give us all things? He is also the God of heaven. The riches of nations are as rags and rottenness in comparison with His resources.
III. In what style will God supply His people’s needs?
IV. By what means does the Lord fill His people’s needs? (C. H. Spurgeon.)
The Christian’s want and supply book
On a tradesman’s table I noticed a book labelled “Want Book.” What a practical suggestion for a man of prayer! He should put down all his needs on the tablets of his heart, and then present his want book to his God. If we knew all our need, what a large want book we should require! How comforting to know that Jesus has a supply book, which exactly meets our want book! Promises, providences, and Divine visitations, combine to meet the necessities of all the faithful. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
God will supply our need
The Rev. Hansard Knollys was among the Christian ministers, who, in the seventeenth century, were the subjects of persecution. He was prosecuted in the High Commission Court and fled to America: whence after a time he returned. Having lived for some time in obscurity in London, he had but sixpence left, and no prospect for the support of his family. In these circumstances he prayed, encouraged his wife to remember the past goodness of God, and to reflect on the promise, “I will never leave thee nor forsake thee”; paid his lodging and then went out, like Abraham, not knowing whither he went. He had walked only a few steps, when he was met by a woman who told him that some Christian friends had prepared a residence for him and his family, and had sent him money and other comforts. They were impressed with this manifestation of Divine goodness to them, and his wife exclaimed, “O dear husband I how sweet it is to live by faith, and trust God’s faithful word! Let us rely upon Him whilst we live, and trust Him in all straits.”
The faithfulness of God
Rev. J. Brown, of Haddington, said that his epitaph might appropriately be, “Here lies one of the cares of Providence, who early wanted both father and mother, and yet never missed them.” (Thomas Cooper.)
Sufficiency of the Divine resources
God is satisfied with Himself, and sufficient to His own happiness. Therefore, surely, there is enough in Him to fill the creature. That which fills an ocean will fill a bucket; that which will fill a gallon will fill a pint; those revenues which will defray an emperor’s expenses are enough for a beggar or poor man. (T. Manton, D. D.)
The nearness of the provision
Ability and willingness to help are not sufficient of themselves. They must be always at hand just when and where we may require them. How often the help of earthly friends fails just here. We see this strikingly illustrated in the case of Hedley Vicars. He was wounded in one of those sanguinary conflicts before Sebastopol. His wound was not necessarily mortal The surgeon understood the nature of the wound perfectly. He felt sure that it could be cured, and he was perfectly ready and willing to do all he could for his suffering friend. But still Hedley Vicars died of that wound. And why? Because in the hurry and tumult of that terrible morning, on the gray heights of the Crimea, the regiment which Hedley Vicars commanded was carried far away from the tent that held the supplies. A bandage was needed to tie up the bleeding artery. But this bandage was in yon distant tent; and ere the tent could be reached, the brave Christian soldier was no more. In speaking of this circumstance afterwards, at a public meeting in England, one of the friends of the departed hero said, with the pathos of true affection, “If there had been a bandage within reach--if the tent of supplies had been half a mile nearer, Hedley Vicars might have been alive today.” There was knowledge, and power, and willingness to help. But just the one thing needed was not at hand, and so there was a failure to meet the pressing need. But such a thing can never occur with Him in whose hands our supply is left. (R. Newton, D. D.)
The exactness of the Divine supply
Harms of Hermannsburg, the pastor of a poor village on the Luneberg Heath in Hanover, said in his annual missionary sermon in 1857: “I have expended much in the past year in sending out the ship with her fifteen passengers, for the printing house, the press, and the paper, altogether 14,781 dollars, and I have received altogether 14,796 dollars, so I have fifteen dollars over. Is not that a wonder? So much spent, and yet something over! And I thank God that He has given us the fifteen dollars overplus. Riches only makes cares. God has heard all my prayers. He has given me no riches, and I have also no debts. We have neither collected nor begged, but waited patiently on God in prayer.”
Christ adapted to human need
You cannot name a noble figure, a sweet simile, a tender or attractive relationship, in which Jesus is not set forth for the comfort and encouragement of His people. Are we wounded? He is balm. Are we sick? He is medicine. Are we naked? He is clothing. Are we poor? He is wealth. Are we hungry? He is bread. Are we thirsty? He is water. Are we in debt? He is our Surety. Are we in darkness? He is our Sun. Have we a house to build? He is the Rock on which to build it. Have we a black and gathering storm to face? He is a strong tower to which we may flee and be safe. Are we to be tried? He is our Advocate. Is sentence passed, and are we under condemnation? He is our pardon. To deck Him out and set Him forth Nature culls her finest flowers, brings her choicest ornaments, and lays these treasures at His feet. The skies contribute their stars. The sea gives up its pearls. From fields, and rivers, and mountains, earth brings the tribute of her gems--her gold, her frankincense and myrrh, the lily of the valley, the clustered vine, and the fragrant rose of Sharon. (T. Guthrie, D. D.)
Mercies stilt left
There was a man who came over from New York some years ago, and threw himself down on a lounge in his house and said, “Well, everything’s gone.” They said, “What do you mean?” “Oh,” he replied, “We have had to suspend payment; our house has gone to pieces--nothing left.” His little child bounded from the other side of the room and said, “Papa, you have me left.” And the wife, who had been very sympathetic, and very helpful, came up and said, “My dear, you have me left.” And the old grandmother, seated in a corner of the room, put up her spectacles on her wrinkled forehead and said, “My son, you have all the promises of God left.” Then the merchant burst into tears and said, “What an ingrate I am! I find I have a great many things left. God, forgive me.” (T. De Witt Talmage, D. D.)
The promise should inspire fearlessness in Divine service
Your business--you cannot neglect that! Call to mind the story of the rich English merchant to whom Elizabeth gave some commission of importance, and he demurred to undertake it, saying, “Please, your majesty, if I obey your behests what will become of these affairs of mine?” And his monarch answered, “Leave those things to me; when you are employed in my service I will take charge of your business.” So it will be with you. Do but surrender yourself to Christ, and He, of His own free will, takes in hand all your affairs. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
Neglect of the promise
Many years ago, an aged and ragged Indian wandered into one of our western settlements, begging for food to keep him from starving. A bright-coloured ribbon was seen round his neck, from which there hung a small dirty pouch. On being asked what it was, he said it was a charm given him in his younger days. He opened it, and took out a worn and crumpled paper, which he handed the person speaking to him for inspection. It proved, on examination, to be a regular discharge from the Federal army, entitling him to a pension for life, and signed by General Washington himself. Here was a man, with a promise duly signed, which, if presented in the right place, would have secured to him ample provision for the way; and yet he was wandering about hungry, helpless, and forlorn, and begging for bread to keep him from starving! What a picture we have here of many Christians, who, with all the promises of Jesus in their hands--with the charter of their inheritance in full possession, are yet gloomy, and sad, and starving in the wilderness! (R. Newton, D. D.)
Now unto God and our Father
The spirit in which to close the year
1. We are to give glory to God as to our heavenly Father. We are not to regard Him as a tyrant, nor as a governor merely, but as a kind and loving Father.
2. We are to give Him the glory, that is, the honour and praise, of all His mercies to us.
II. Benediction. Grace is the love of God as displayed in Christ, whereby we receive all those unmerited favours which are included in the gospel plan of salvation.
1. The beginning of religion is grace.
2. Its progress in the soul depends upon grace. (Homiletic Monthly.)
Parting thoughts should embrace
I. Thanks to God.
II. Love to the brethren.
III. Prayer for grace. (J. Lyth, D. D.)
I. The glory of God--is absolute--full of grace--eternal.
II. Its acknowledgment--is due from all--in truth--forever. (J. Lyth, D. D.)
Glory is due
I. To God--as supreme--as our Father.
II. From all--in heaven--and on earth.
III. Forever--in time--and eternity.
IV. In sincerity and truth--amen. (J. Lyth, D. D.)
Salute every saint in Christ Jesus
The description of a true believer.
1. He is a saint, i.e., a separated one.
(1) So God regards him as taken out of the world and set apart for Himself.
(2) So God employs him. He is a chosen instrument. While God uses all men to accomplish His general designs, none but Christians are told off for special spiritual uses.
(3) So the world esteems him; sometimes satirically, sometimes injuriously, as exhibiting a contrast, but often genuinely. There are certain things which will never be said or done in the presence of a Christian.
(4) He becomes more and more saintly: by watchfulness, avoidance of sin, separation from the world, consecration to God.
2. He is in Christ Jesus.
(1) Here he enters a new world and enjoys new experiences, thoughts, etc.
(2) He lives a new life, higher, purer, nobler.
(3) Here he has a charmed existence. Christ guides, protects, supports Him.
(4) He has the promise of a rich reward. With Christ here is to be with Him forever.
3. But only in Christ Jesus is he a saint.
(1) Not in his own resolution, endeavours, achievements.
(2) But in the enjoyment of Christ’s life, participating in His Spirit, cleansed in His blood, following His example.
II. The democracy of the Christian Church.
1. Our Lord established a society of those who believed in Him on the earth, and that society is still recognized by visible signs. There are many belonging to Christ who have not joined themselves to any body of believers. It is a bad thing to stand outside in that way, waiting for a perfect Church. If you should find it and be admitted to it, it would from that day be imperfect.
2. This Church is not a monarchy as Rome has tried to make it; nor an oligarchy ruled by a few. It is a pure true republic. In it all believers are equal before the law. True, it is a theocracy. God governs it. It is subject to Christ; but His will is exerted over individuals according to their voluntary actions. The earliest Church realized it. The latest church will realize it. Every saint is in Christ Jesus. What higher honour can they have. This implies equality of status, privilege, responsibility, and reward.
III. The salutation. Recognize every saint. There are no lines of demarcation between saints.
1. Theological differences are often fictitious. If a man be in Christ he is my brother, whatever creed he may profess.
2. Neither are ecclesiastical lines to be drawn between saints. What matter if a man has been dipped in Jordan or sprinkled, whether he calls himself by one name or another in the army of the saved ones. Because a man chooses to wear one style of livery we are not to stand aloof and say, “I will not salute you.”
3. Let not selfish ends divide saints. Look not so much at the name, wealth and quality, rank, etc., as to the saint side of everybody.
4. What business in the Church of God have jealousy, recriminations, criticism. “Bless and curse not.” Speak as well as you can for every saint; and when you cannot, keep quiet. (S. H. Tyng, D. D.)
True Christians have
I. One centre--Christ.
II. One character--saints and brethren.
III. One heart--they love one another. (J. Lyth, D. D.)
The brethren which are with me greet you. All the saints salute you--The earlier ages of the Church were marked by a spirit of love; so that Christians actually regarded themselves as all members of one family. The moment a man embraced Christianity, he was regarded as a brother by the whole Christian body: a thousand hearts at once beat kindly towards him; and multitudes, who were never likely to see him in the flesh, were instantly one with him in spirit. The love of Christians because they are Christians, no regard being had to country or condition--is this still a strongly marked characteristic of those who profess themselves the disciples of the Redeemer? There was something very touching and beautiful in Christ’s promise to such as should forsake all for his sake--“He shall receive a hundred-fold now in this time, houses, and brethren, and sisters, and mothers, and children, and lands.” Thus was strikingly verified a description long before given of God by the Psalmist: “He setteth the solitary in families”--for they who were to all appearance abandoned, left orphaned and alone in the world, found themselves surrounded by kinsmen. The criterion of genuine Christianity remains just what it was: “We know that we have passed from death unto life, because we love the brethren. In our own time the ends of the earth are being wondrously brought together: there is an ever-growing facility of communication between country and country; and this must rapidly break down many barriers, and bring far-scattered tribes into familiar intercourse. In earlier times, nation was widely divided from nation: the inhabitants of different lands were necessarily almost strangers to each other; and you could not have expected an approximation to universal brotherhood. But then it was, in the face of all obstacles to personal communion, that the spirit of Christianity showed its comprehensive and amalgamating energies: the name of Christ was as a spell to annihilate distance; to plant the cross in a land, sufficed to make that land one with districts removed from it by the diameter of the globe. Alas for the colder temper of modern times! We have been led into these remarks, from observing, in the apostolical writings, the affectionate greetings which the members of one Church send to those of another. For the most part, these Churches had no intercourse the one with the other; they were widely separated by situation; and, had it not been for the bond of a common faith, their members would have been as much strangers as though they had belonged to different orders of being. (H. Melvill, B. D.)
Chiefly they that are of Caesar’s household
Remind us of the adaptation of the gospel to men everywhere.
1. It is no part of God’s purpose in redemption to limit its blessings to a nation or class. Hence the provisions of the gospel are suited to the circumstances of man as man. It knows nothing of the distinctions of rich and poor, noble and ignoble, learned and ignorant, bond and free. It knows them only as sinners, and offers salvation to all on equal terms. Hence in the early Churches we find slaves like Onesimus, fishermen like Peter, physicians like Luke, lawyers like Zenas, soldiers like Cornelius, and saints in Caesar’s household.
2. The gospel is still of universal adaptation. Christ is still the Saviour of sinners, and has disciples in every country and amidst all circumstances and conditions.
II. Teaches us the possibility of serving God in positions of temptation and difficulty.
1. Caesar’s household was the last place where one would have expected to find saints. Under any circumstances it could not be favourable to conversions and Christian growth; and it was now at about its worst. It illustrates the sovereignty of Divine grace that out of these circumstances there should arise witnesses for the gospel. It must have required great courage; but the grace that called them sustained them.
2. So it is always. There are some positions in which a man cannot serve God because they are wrong. There are others lawful enough, yet encompassed by temptation, e.g., the position of the sailor shut up for months with ungodly shipmates, that of the pious soldier in barracks with ungodly comrades, that of a godly citizen among scoffing fellow workmen. In all such cases God is able to make all grace abound to His servants. Faint not. God by placing you in a post of trial has assigned to you a post of honour. Never try to effect a compromise between right and wrong.
III. Tells how the Spirit of Christ animates all his followers. That spirit is love and sympathy. See how it breathes through these brotherly salutations. The age wants more of this spirit. What Christ requires is not so much uniformity of belief and worship as union of heart.
IV. Illustrates the way in which Christians may comfort and help one another.
1. The Philippians needed comfort. They had adversaries and were in danger of being terrified by this. The letter itself would afford deep consolation, this postscript especially so. The salutation was not much, but it showed that they were not forgotten at the throne of grace.
2. In many ways comfort and help may be afforded if there be only a little thoughtfulness. A truly sympathetic heart can give help with a look and a grasp of the hand. A too common sin is thoughtlessness. “Evil is wrought by want of thought, as well as want of heart.” The youth in the midst of scoffing companions, the young girl in an ungodly house, the poor man battling with poverty, the discouraged Christian worker--what might not be done by a timely and kind word.
V. A suggestion of the way in which our conduct becomes example and influence to others. Little did the Roman saints think that their salutations would be preserved and handed down through the centuries for the use of the Church. Kind words can never die. Neither can kind actions. Our names may perish but we shall live. Who these saints were we cannot tell. Nevertheless their power is felt today. (W. Walters.)
The saints in Caesar’s household
The throne of the Caesars was at this time occupied by Nero, a monster rather than a man. Certainly if ever there was an atmosphere uncongenial to Christianity it may be supposed to have been that of the court and palace of this bloody debauchee. Yet so true is it that gospel weapons are mighty to the casting down of strongholds that there were here Christians of the highest type willing to give their profession all publicity by sending greetings to Christians in distant cities.
I. The agency which brought round so unlikely a result. The mind naturally turns to Paul’s miraculous gifts, and remembers how with noble intrepidity Paul rose up before the sages of Greece, and that as he spoke to Felix, the slave of base lusts, the haughty Roman trembled. It is easy to imagine, therefore, Paul working some great miracle to command the attention of the emperor and the court, and then reasoning of temperance, righteousness, and judgment to come. But this fancy would be incorrect. Paul was now a prisoner, and could not go like Moses, rod in hand, and compel by his miracles the attention of the profligate king, and yet it was at this time of seeming impotence that the great victory was won. Nay, it appears actually to have been in consequence of his imprisonment. Philippians 1:12-50.1.14 shows the two ways in which his bonds gave enlargement to Christianity. His patience and meekness witnessed for the truth of the gospel for which he suffered, and nerved the Christians to greater energy.
II. We have here a lesson as to God’s power of overruling evil for good. We are apt to imagine when a man is withdrawn from active duty that his usefulness is gone. But a minister can preach from a sick bed as well as from a pulpit. The report which goes forth of his patience and fortitude will do as much and perhaps more towards overcoming resistance to the gospel than his active ministrations. The martyrs did most for God and truth when actually in the clutches of their persecutors. A true Christian is never laid by. The influence that he exerts when suffering or reduced to poverty is often greater than when he led a benevolent enterprise. Let no one then be discouraged.
III. A man cannot be placed in circumstances which put it out of his power to give heed to the duties of religion. The instance of saints in Caesar’s household takes away the excuse that temptations, hindrances, opposition render piety impossible. Where are any so circumstanced as these people? It is true that more appears to be done for one man than for another, and that some circumstances are conducive and others hindering to religion. But under every possible disadvantage there may be a striving with evil and a following after good. The excuse assumes that God has put it out of some men’s power to provide for their soul’s safety, and to assume this is to contradict the Divine word, and to throw scorn on the Divine attributes. Take a case like the one before us, that of servants in an irreligious family. Their superiors set them a bad example, give them few opportunities for public or private devotion, and would frown on or ridicule any indication of piety. Let this be granted. Yet these difficulties would disappear before earnest resolve. They have but to begin and obstacles would be gradually lowered and strength would grow by exercise. The Spirit of the living God fails no man who is not false to himself.
IV. These saints not only belonged to Caesar’s household at the time of their conversion, but remained after their conversion. They did not feel it their duty to abandon their stations and seek others apparently more favourable to religion. So that it does not follow that a man is to withdraw from circumstances of danger and difficulty, and place himself where there is less temptation and opposition. It is true a converted man is not justified in seeking employment where it would be specially difficult to cultivate religion; but to desert it because it made religion difficult would be to declare that the grace which had converted him in spite of disadvantages would not suffice to establish him, and to mark distrust of God’s Spirit. If the employment were sinful, there would be no room for debate; but if only dangerous, and simply required a greater amount of vigilance and boldness, to forsake it would prove timidity rather than prudence. For, e.g., a Christian nobleman in a corrupt court, or servant in an ungodly family, may find it unlawful to leave, inasmuch as distinct opportunity may be afforded of doing honour to God and promoting Christ’s cause. They are placed by God as leaven in the midst of an unsound mass. Not that a servant has to travel beyond the duties of his station; he has simply to carry his Christianity into all his occupations, and to distinguish himself from others by closer attention to his master’s interests, stricter adherence to truth, etc. Let an irreligious master perceive all this, and he will scarcely fail to receive an impression favourable to religion. There are families to which the preacher can gain no access. God forbid that pious domestics should hastily withdraw from such.
V. Wheresoever God makes it a man’s duty, there he will make it his interest to remain. If He employ one of His servants in turning others from sin, He will cause the employment to conduce to that servant’s holiness. Notice the “chiefly” of our text. Of all the Roman Christians the foremost in love were these saints who probably remained in Caesar’s service for the express purpose of furthering the gospel. Nor need we feel any surprise at this. Absence of trial is not the most favourable thing to religious growth. Nero’s palace may be a far better place for the development of personal piety than the cell of the monk; in the one the Christian has his graces put continually to the proof, and this serves both to discover and strengthen them; in the other there may be comparatively nothing to exercise them. And then the God of all grace, who has promised that His people shall not be tempted above that they are able, will bestow assistance proportioned to their wants. (H. Melvill, B. D.)
Saints in Caesar’s household
I. It is possible to be a Christian anywhere.
1. Christianity is not a thing of locality but of character. There are plants which will bloom in some latitudes and die in others, but Christianity can live where man can live, because it consists in the loyalty of the heart and life to Christ. Obadiah kept his conscience in the house of Ahab, Daniel his in the court of Babylon, Nehemiah his in the Persian palace. As Jonathan Edwards says, “The grace of God can live where neither you nor I can.” In the abodes of poverty humble Christians are living as near to God as Enoch. Even yet, if we care to look for it, we may find the lily among thorns.
2. What is true of places is true of occupations. Unless a man’s business is sinful he may serve God in any profession. The Roman army was a very poor school of morals, yet all the centurions mentioned in the New Testament were good men. The sailor is proverbially rough, yet some of the best Christians have been sailors. What heroic godliness has been manifested by miners?
3. Now, if this be so it follows--
(1) That we must not be prejudiced against a man because of the locality he comes from. What peril Nathaniel nearly incurred because he thought Jesus came from Nazareth. Test a man by what he is, not by what he comes from.
(2) That we ought not to excuse ourselves for our lack of Christianity by pleading the force of circumstances. How often do we hear one saying, “It is no use trying to be a Christian where I am.” But it is never necessary to do wrong. Sin is a voluntary thing, and no external force can constrain a man to commit it. One comes home intoxicated and pleads that he met some friends and had to go with them; another excuses his extravagance on the plea that he must keep up appearances; a third excuses his dishonourable practices because he is in danger of bankruptcy. But if you cannot help doing wrong it is not wrong, but it is the consciousness of being able to help it that makes you so eager to use the excuse.
II. It is harder to be a Christian in some places than in others. There are households in which it seems most natural for a child to grow up in the beauty of holiness, and others where loyalty to Christ is met with opposition. The surroundings of some occupations are more trying to piety than others. When the lymphatic Dutchman, who took things easily, said to his excited minister, “Dominic, restrain your temper,” he was met with the pertinent reply, “Restrain my temper, sir! I restrain more temper in the course of a single day than you do in a year.” That was a difference of temperament. What then?
1. The Lord knows that this is so, and He will estimate our work by our opportunity. We may be sure that if we are in a hard place He will give us strength according to our need. Each gets his own grace. “Ilka blade of grass has its ain drap o’ dew,” and grace is suited to the place in which one dwells.
2. We ought to be charitable in our judgment of each other. While we hold ourselves to a rigid reckoning in all circumstances, let us make allowance for the circumstances of others. The flower in the window of a poor man’s cottage may be far from a perfect specimen, but it is a greater marvel than the superb specimen in a rich man’s conservatory. There may be more honour to one man for the Christianity he has maintained in the face of great obstacles, though it may be marked with blemishes, than there is to another who has no such blemishes, but who has had no such conflict.
III. The harder the place in which we are we should be the more earnest to maintain our Christianity. Here, however, it is needful to know what the hardest place is. It is not always that where there is the greatest external resistance to Christianity. An avowed antagonist the Christian meets as such; he prepares himself for the encounter, and is not taken unawares; but when the ungodly meet him as friends, then he is in real peril. The world’s attentions are more deadly than its antagonisms. The Church is in the world as a boat is in the sea; it can float only by being kept above it; and if we let it become waterlogged it will be swamped.
IV. The greater the difficulty we overcome in the maintenance of our Christianity the greater will be our reward. (W. M. Taylor, D. D.)
Sainthood in Nero’s household
1. This incidental allusion informs us that already Jesus was confessed before emperors; men that in irresponsible power and savage cruelty had almost lost the nature of men. Faith has won its greatest conquests on straitened and sorrowful fields.
2. If the strength and joy of believing are proportioned to the weight of the crosses born for it, then in some such post as this we must look for the bravest witnesses to the truth.
3. We eulogize virtues that flourish only in a favourite soil and climate. We palliate and excuse the deficiency, when honesty is missing in the household of Caesar. We forget that the piety of the Church and of society dwindles inevitably unless it is replenished by the energy of those valiant examples which will dare to be true in the palaces of power, and fashion, and mammon.
4. There are yet saints in Caesar’s household, and there is as good cause to venerate them as when beasts licked up their blood from the sand. For the substance of all sainthood which has vitality enough to live in Caesar’s household is this, that its virtue is so built on interior foundations, and its faith so rooted in its Divine Master, that no outward opposition can break it down.
5. There are special traits essential to sainthood in Caesar’s household.
I. Courage Christianity has favour for every noble sentiment; and so she offers to the veteran soldier, and to the enthusiastic youth, a field for bravery grander than any battle, in the resistance of moral invasion. Accordingly, we find that, very soon, Christianity seized on rough warriors, and some of these believers about the person of Nero must probably have been guards of his palace. On one of the early Christian monuments at Rome there is an epitaph of a young military officer, who “lived long enough when he shed his blood for Christ.” But Christ’s religion courts no consideration from armies. Its courage is of another kind--the courage that bears wrong, but will not commit it--that saves life, rather than destroys it; that springs from an unspotted conscience; that goes into and out of all companies, counting houses, caucuses, and churches, with an uprightness not to be bent, whether you bring threats, or sneers, or golden baits to tempt it; that lifts up an unblenched face in the most formidable array of difficulties, satisfied to stand on God’s side, to listen to the encouragement of the beatitudes and to hold to the breastplate of righteousness. Wherever such Christian courage in duty is there will be saints of Caesar’s household.
II. Modesty. They did not call themselves saints; Paul called them so. They did not boast of their religion; there was too much solemn sincerity in it. They did not lurk about the temples to mock the soothsayers, and to disseminate slanders about the priesthood. They knew the joy of their communion with Jesus, and cared more for that than for the admiration of the citizens. That was their Christian modesty. Disjoined from their fortitude, it might haw degenerated into timidity. And that is often our danger. There are persons of a diffident disposition, that err in not mixing enough boldness of resistance with their good nature. They remain inefficient disciples because they shrink from public notice. This is to turn “the ornament of a meek and quiet spirit” into a deformity, and to rob the Master of the testimony that is His due. This is the danger of all threatened minorities, but they will get strength for the fiery trial by going back to see how the inmates of a palace full of gluttony, licentiousness, and all royal vices, held their allegiance fast.
III. But to imitate that successful blending of modesty and courage, they will want a third quality, namely, independence. The question of duty once settled, all gates but that which leads to acting it out must be shut. And beyond that point, all arguments from custom, from the general expectation, from popular applause, from public or private gratification, are impertinent. Remember, these saints were living in the centre of the great world’s energy and splendour, and in the very focus of its intelligence. Independence was a virtue quite indispensable to them; but not a whit more so than to us. For, every day, Providence, through our own instincts, pushes us into some crisis of moral peril, where, if we do not act simply of ourselves, and take our direction at first hand from the Spirit, our integrity itself is gone.
IV. And superadded to independence and modesty and courage is constancy. There must have been many days when it would have been easy and convenient for these saints to slip round into the old comfortable heathenism. Inducements were not wanting. For the ignorant there was personal safety. For the cultivated Seneca was alive. But they held fast. They might be hunted out, and see their teachers slaughtered; but they gathered again the next evening, and other hands, willing to be mangled by the same martyrdom, broke to them the bread of life. The emperor might send them out to build his baths; they raised no civil rebellion, but while they bent to their slavery they knelt and prayed to their Father. Arrows might pierce their bodies, but they believed the Lord Jesus would receive their spirits. God is asking constancy of us. Our Nero is self-love. The senses are the Caesars of all ages. Fashion is a Rome that commissions its legions and spreads its silent empire wider than the Praetorian eagles. The reigning temper of the world is the imperishable persecutor and tyrant of the faithful soul. And so, in every home and street there are chances for the reappearing of saints in Caesar’s household. (Bishop Huntington.)
The religion of charity compatible with all callings
Notice that the “chief” salutations came from the unlikeliest place. It is a rebuke to some who think that Christianity pervades one state of life more than another. At times men have thought that the Christian religion was peculiarly suitable to the poor, and had nothing to do with the officers of Caesar’s household. Christ preached at first to the lowly, yet wise and rich were also called. If saints are found in Caesar’s household where shall they not be found? But men go sighing to find the proper soil for religion, and go to the desert to be religious, and think that when a man is a beggar he must be nearest heaven.
I. Christianity has affinity with all callings.
1. With riches, because the great grace of charity can be exercised thereby. Whose has charity in his heart and wealth in his hand has the finest gift of God.
2. With statesmanship, although it is common to say that that is a very uncongenial atmosphere for a Christian. But a statesman can put an end to the foul obstructions that hinder truth; he can make laws that men shall be no longer housed in conditions that make righteousness impossible.
3. With the soldier, though some think not. Though the day will come when war shall be at an end, nevertheless he who goes forth in a good cause stirred by the spirit of verity to do righteousness in the spirit of order, obedience, and self sacrifice, between him and the Christian faith are strong affinities.
4. With retirement. Christianity has much to say about the blessings of quiet existence, in deepening the wells of life.
5. With business. The merchant may be the most eminent missionary.
6. With art. The artist who gives relief to the tired eye and brain, who preaches the God of eternal beauty, and the spirit which underlies all visible things, is in harmony with our faith.
II. Wherein consists this unity by which the spirit of Christ has an affinity with extremely opposite characteristics?
1. Let us wander seemingly for a time and answer this question by asking another. It is not whether this or that calling or characteristic be holy or not, but what is that holiness which justifies us in calling it holy? A man may be a sweeper of chimneys or the holder of a sceptre; but the sceptre may be swayed in righteousness, and so may the besom. The righteousness of each depends on the degree to which each embodies in his calling that which constitutes righteousness.
2. To do a good action three things are essential.
(1) That you know what you are doing.
(2) That you do it from choice.
(3) That you have firmness and perseverance to do the like at all times.
3. Having knowledge, intention, and persistence in the performance of that which is just and wise, the question becomes this--What is that which, put into voice or action, constitutes it an act in accord with the Christian faith? Christianity pronounces it to be charity. Charity means the large, loving, constant doing of all things great and small. It is the universal spirit to which there is nothing great or small. A king through charity may sway the sceptre, and a room may be swept to the glory of God. So in Caesar’s household and Peter’s fishing hut, it is possible to be filled with that which constitutes the spirit of religion. Therefore it is a matter of indifference what your calling may be. If you are scandal mongers, indeed, it is impossible to be charitable, because you violate the first principles of charity. When one lives not in constant piety one goes back to Caesar’s household and thinks who they were. (G. Dawson, M. A.)
I. Is holy--it makes men saints.
II. Might--it enters the palace.
III. Fearless--it stands before Nero.
IV. Kind--it teaches love. (J. Lyth, D. D.)
The composition of Caesar’s household
The household of the emperor consisted mainly of troops and of slaves who ministered to his wants and caprices as the wealthiest and most luxurious of Roman magnates. But senators and knights were also in close attendance upon him, equally in his hours of business and relaxation. These, indeed, were probably masters of households of their own; thus Seneca, the most intimate of his ministers, enjoyed a private residence in his gardens; Burrus, the prefect of the Praetorians, whose duty brought him, no doubt, daily into the imperial presence, occupied his own lodging in the Praetorian camp. The affairs of government were transacted chiefly by the emperor’s freedmen, some of them notorious for their riches and influence, court favourites who had been enfranchised by himself or his predecessors. These also had each his own palace and gardens, in which he vied with the proudest of the ancient aristocracy. Nevertheless these, too, were so closely attached to the emperor’s person that they might claim to form a part of Caesar’s household, and any one of them may have come in contact with Paul. A man of Paul’s power of thought and language, speaking with the academic tone of a scholar of Tarsus, and the natural fervour of a Hebrew prophet, could hardly fail to command the attention of the feverish students of moral truth who abounded in the ranks of the Roman aristocracy. But if such turned away he could not fail to be received among the lower class of the emperor’s household attendants, both male and female, who filled a thousand menial offices about his person, and that of his consort. The ministers to the luxury of Poppaea were certainly not less numerous than those who discharged similar functions for Livia before her. Among them were servants of the chamber and the ante-chamber, servants who waited at the doors, who attended at the bath, who assisted at the toilet, who kept the jewels, who read at the empress’s couch, who sat at her feet, who followed her in her walks, who lulled her to sleep and watched over her slumbers, who had charge of her purse, and distributed the tasks of the whole household. The persons in waiting on the emperor were probably even more multitudinous, and while many of their functions were merely manual, there were not a few entrusted with affairs which required high intellectual training. The emperor was surrounded with numerous members of the learned classes such as could discharge the duties of secretaries, physicians, professors of every art and accomplishment and teachers in philosophy. To have access to Caesar’s household was to be put into communication with the most intelligent people of the day. Over Paul’s intercourse with these people a cloud rests, but it so happens that recent excavations have discovered the names of various persons connected with the court of Claudius which are identical with those which the apostle mentions in his Epistle to the Romans. We find among these names those of Amphas, Urbanus, Stachys, Apella, Tryphena, Tryphosa, Rufus, Hermas, Potrobius (Patrobas), Philologus, and Nerens. Some of these, no doubt, are very common appellatives; but the occurrence of so many coincidences can hardly be accidental. And the easy and familiar way in which the apostle introduces the mention of “the saints in Caesar’s household,” seems to imply that he stood on an easy footing with them. It is the style of one who went in and out among them, of a man who dwelt close at hand; accessible daily as they passed by on their ordinary avocations. (Dean Merivale.)
The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all.
I. Its contents--grace.
II. Its comprehensiveness--it embraces all.
III. Its power--it is yea and amen. (J. Lyth, D. D.)
I. Its sources.
II. Its fulness.
III. Its flow.
IV. Its power. (J. Lyth, D. D.)
In parting with his readers the apostle wishes them to possess the grace of the Lord Jesus; that grace which--
I. Blesses and cheers.
II. Strengthens and consoles.
III. At last ripens into glory. (Professor Eadie.)
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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on "Philippians 4". The Biblical Illustrator. https://www.studylight.org/
the First Week of Advent