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There is no duty which believers do more willingly hear, or more difficultly observe, than the duty of spiritually rejoicing: had our apostle called upon the blessed angels to rejoice, who have neither sin, nor sorrow, nor fear, nor sufferings, nor enemies to annoy them, that might have seemed agreeable; but is it at all congruous to persuade sinners loaded with guilt, and defiled with corruption, clothed with infirmities, assaulted with temptations, persecuted by the world! To bid them rejoice, may seem strange: but the wonder will cease, if we consider the object which he directs them to rejoice in, and that is the Lord, not in themselves but in the Lord Jesus Christ: My brethern rejoice in the Lord.
Learn hence, 1. That the Lord Jesus Christ is the great, sure, and perpetual joy of his own people; the object of joy is a present good, a precious good, a proportionable good, a perpetual good, such is our Lord Jesus Christ.
Learn, 2. That it is the duty of all sincere and serious christians to joy and rejoice in him. Finally, brethern, rejoice in the Lord, rejoice in his person, in the treasures of wisdom and knowledge that are found in him, which render him an object worthy of evangelical adoration; rejoice in his mediation, in the great things he has done and suffered for you, in the graces of his Spirit conferred upon you, and in the hopes of that glory to which he has entitled you.
To write the same things, that is, not the same things which I wrote before, but the same things which I preached to you before, and which you often heard by word of mouth from me before: though I inculcate and press the same truths upon you by my writing, which I have done by my preaching, it is neither grievous nor burdensome to me, nor unnecessary or unprofitable for you.
Learn hence, That the often repeating and frequent inculcating of such truths as are most useful and necessary for the instruction and edification of the hearers, ought to be esteemed neither burdensome by the minister, nor wearisome by the people.
Learn farther, That we have here St. Paul's judgment against oral tradition, which the church of Rome prefers before the written word; so did not St. Paul, knowing that what is delivered by word of mouth might soon slip out of the memory, but what is written is remaining: blessed be God for his written word.
Observe here, 1. The cautionary directions given the Philippians to beware of false teachers, who adulterated and corrupted the doctrine of Christ, by joining the works and observances of the law with the doctrine of the gospel, in point of justification, making them at least the partial ground of their confidence and rejoicing: beware of such, says our apostle.
Observe, 2.The cutting reproof given to these judaizing teachers in that odious character he gives of them, and in that brand of infamy which he claps upon them.
1. He calls them dogs; a term not of dimunution only, but of the utmost disgrace: Is thy servant a dog? 2 Kings 8:13 supposing that nothing could be thought more vile and base. The Jews called all the Gentiles dogs, because unclean. St. Paul here calls the false teachers dogs fitly, because, as dogs, they did rend and tear the simplicity of the gospel, and divide the glory of man's salvation betwixt faith and works; because, as dogs, they did bark out reproaches against the apostles and their doctrine, delivered in its purity and simplicity; because, as dogs, they did take a great deal of pains to compass abundance of ground to gain their game; or, in our Saviour's words, They compass sea and land to make prostlytes.
2. Evil-workers, because, pretending to labour in the gospel, they did subvert and overthrow the great design of the gospel; pretending to be fellow-workers with the apostles, but pulling down what they had built up.
3. The concision: so in contempt he calls circumcision, which these judaizing teachers pleaded the necessity of; as Hezekiah called the brazen serpent Nehushtan: because circumcision, being no longer an ordinance of God, was no better than a cutting off the flesh; and they that made it necessary to justification, cut themselves off from Christ, and from the church of Christ: by urging the necessity of circumcision, they cut and rend asunder the church of God.
Note here, 1. How different the temper of this apostle was in different cases; in things of an indifferent nature, and less necessary, who more mild, indulgent, and complying, breathing forth the spirit of the meek Jesus? But when opinions were broached, which tend to pervert souls, and to subvert the gospel, then he speaks fire and thunder, and no terms are bad enough for such seducers. Let us follow St. Paul as he followed Christ, and learn when to be mild and when to be zealous.
Note, 2. With what an excess of care he cautions the Philippians against these false teachers, saying, Beware, beware, beware, three times together in one short verse; thereby instructing the ministers of Christ, that their utmost zeal and diligence is necessary in warning their people to guard against seducers.
That is, we Christians are alone the true and spiritual circumcision, and accounted circumcised by God, because we have that which the outward circumcision signified, namely, the circumcision of the heart, and the mortification of all carnal lusts and desires; we have the substance of that ordinance, which is infinitely more pleasing to God than the ceremony and shadow: though you have the sign, we have the thing signified.
But how doth that appear?
Three ways; we worship God in the Spirit, we rejoice in Christ Jesus, we have no confience in the flesh.
1. We worship God in the Spirit; that is, first, We give him the worship of our souls and spirits, and do not put him off with mere bodily worship, or with the old, antiquated Jewish worship.
Secondly, We worship God in the Spirit, that is, through the assistance of the Holy SPirit; he excites and quickens to the duty,. he assists and enables in the duty, and he encourages and emboldens the soul to expect audience and acceptance after the duty.
Again, 2. We rejoice in Christ Jesus: this was a second evidence of their being the true circumcision. Let them glory in their carnal ordinance of outward circumcision, we will rejoice in Christ Jesus, who hath freed us from the slavery of that ordinance.
3. We have no confidence in the flesh, nor in circumcision, or any fleshly privileges, or carnal prerogatives: we confide only in Christ, and in nothing but Christ.
Note, That by flesh here is meant particularly the circumcision of the flesh; but more generally by flesh may be understood all the externals of religion, which men place their trust and confidence in; all outward privileges and ordinances are flesh, in the apostle's sense here: prayer is flesh, ordinances are flesh, the righteousness of the law is flesh; nay, grace itself, trusted to, and confided in, is flesh. The sincere and serious Christian rejoices in Christ Jesus, confides in him, but dares not place any confidence in the flesh. We are the circumcision, who worship God in the Spirit, rejoice in Christ Jesus, and have no confidence in the flesh.
As if our apostle had said, "Let no man think that I undervalue the Jewish privileges, because I want them; show me ever a judaizing teacher of them all that can pretend to more, or so many of them, as myself; so that, were this a ground of confidence, I can vie with any one of them in carnal privileges, Jewish prerogatives, and outward performances; yea, I can boast of as much self-righteousness as the best of them, and beyond them all: for I was circumcised, and had the seal of the covenant applied to me, yea, I was circumcised the eighth day, the very day prescribed by the law; the Jews maintaining that circumcision before the eighth day was no circumcision, and after the eighth day was of less value.
Of the stock of Israel; one of that nation which God set apart for himself, when he rejected all the nations of the earth beside.
Of the tribe of Benjamin; of a noble tribe, as well as descended of an honourable people; a tribe which kept close to God, when other tribes revolted to the worship of Jeroboam's calves; a tribe honoured with the first of Israel's kings, king Saul. An Hebrew of the Hebrews; that is, born a Jew both by father's side and mother's side.
As touching the law, a Pharisee; that is, as touching the interpretation and observation of the law, a Pharisee, or one of the strictest sects among the Jews for the profession of religion.
Concerning zeal, persecuting the church; that is, as touching zeal for the Jewish religion, I have showed that above others, in my fury and furious pesecution of the church of Christ; I was active, according as my judgment and conscience directed me.
And as touching the righteousness which was in and by the law, (that is, as to my personal obedience unto the law,) I was blameless, without spot, as the original word signifies; that is, in my own account, and in man's esteem, my conversation not stained with any gross sin, but very exact in my deportment and behaviour, living up to my knowledge, my practice corresponding with my profession."
Behold here a man that had a large stock of Jewish privileges and prerogatives; all these grounds of confidence the apostle had before his conversion; and he might have rested there, and have gloried and confided therein, as well as the judiazing doctors did, who gloried in their external privileges; but how far St. Paul was from this spirit and temper, the next verses inform us.
That is, the fore-mentioned privileges, which heretofore he accounted gain, and thought to gain justification and salvation by, now, since his illumination, he counted them all loss; he saw he had lost his soul for ever, had he trusted to these; but Christ being made known to him as the only way to gain pardon of sin, and acceptance with God, he renounces all his former privileges, his former legal righteousness, he durst not lean upon these broken reeds, he would have no more confidence in the flesh, but in Christ only: What things were reputed gain to me, those I counted loss for Christ's sake.
And he repeats the words over again with confidence and assurance, that he might not be thought to speak unadvisedlly, and in a hear; Yea, doubtless, and I count all things but loss. He did not only count them but loss, but he had actually renounced them as such; an illusion to a merchant, who is content to suffer the loss of all his goods to save his life.
But how did St. Paul suffer the loss of them?
Ans. He did not make shipwreck of holy duties, and cast off the performance of them, but he cast off all dependence upon them, and cast away all expectation of happiness and salvation from them, which he had before.
Observe farther, He did not only count them loss, but cast them away as dung, as filthy carrion, as garbage cast to dogs, as the word signifies. Such things as these the false teachers (whom he called dogs) might delight in; but as for himself, he could relish and savour nothing in them, in comparison of Jesus Christ.
In these words, observe, 1. The low esteem and mean account which St. Paul had, and every enlightened Christian has, of the greatest advantages which this world doth or can afford: In comparison of Jesus Christ, and him crucified, I count all things but loss; all my spiritual privileges, with all my worldly advantages, I do, upon the greatest deliberation and thought, undervalue them all for the sake of Christ and his grace.
Observe, 2. The high and honourable esteem which he had of the knowledge of Jesus Christ; he declares there was a transcendent excellency in it: For the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord.
The knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ, and of the way and method of salvation by and through him, is an excelling knowledge: every thing of Jesus Christ is excellent and worthy to be known; the dignity of his person, as God, as Man, as God-man, or Mediator between God and man; the dignity of his offices, as the great King, Priest, and Prophet of his church; the eminency of his example, the depth of his humiliation, the height of his exaltation, the transcendency of his love in all his undertakings for us, and the way and method of his justification of us by faith in his blood.
We may conclude of the act by the object; Christ is the most excellent object, therefore the knowledge of Christ is and must be the most excellent knowledge; not only all the excellences of the creatures are found in him in the most excelling manner, but all the excellences of the Godhead, dwell in him bodily, that is, personally and substantially.
Observe, 3. The effect which this knowledge of Christ had upon our apostle: it enabled him to suffer the loss of all things. Those that have attained the excellent knowledge of Jesus Christ, will not think much to suffer the loss of any thing; yea, of all things, for the obtaining of him, and salvation by him.
Observe, 4. The end and design of St. Paul, in parting with all for Christ, or the motive and encouragement which induced him thereunto, namely, that he might win Christ; that is, that he might obtain an interest in him, and the blessings purchased by him; for this was he willing to part with all his privileges, all his accomplishments, all his enjoyments, all his own righteousness, his exactness in the outward observation of the law; he renounced all, not in point of performance, but in point of dependence; he renounced all confidence in it for his justification before God: Yea, doubtless, I count all things but loss.
Observe here, 1. The subject matter of St. Paul's desire was to be found in Christ. Beza, upon the place, brings in the justice of God pursuing Paul as a malefactor; and Christ, as a city of refuge which he desires to flee into and be found in. By being found in Christ, then, understand ingrafting and incorporating into him by faith; to find acceptance with God, through him, as our surety and representative, and to perserve in our obedience to him to the end of our lives.
Learn, That such as desire above all things to be found in Christ, are willing to do, to suffer, any thing, yea, all things; and care not in what condition they be found, how poor and low, how afflicted and despised soever, so they may be found in Christ.
Observe, 2. The manner how St. Paul desires to be found in Christ; this is expressed both negatively and postively.
1. Negatively, Not having my own righteousness, which is of the law; that is, not depending upon any thing he could call his own, neither upon his spiritual privileges, nor natural accomplishments, nor religious performances, nor upon his most perfect righteousness and best obedience, for his justification before God; knowing it to be both unwarrantable and unsafe so to do; unwarrantable, because our good works never had the impress of God's ordination for that end; they were never designed to justify our persons, but to justify our faith; and unsafe is it to trust to our own righteousness and best services, because of the many sinful imperfections cleaving to them.
Alas! they cannot justify themselves, how then should they justify us? Our best duties deserve to be thrown as so much dung upon our faces. Surely, we may plead the excellency, and preach the necessity, of good works, though we do not set them in Christ's chair: such then as would be found in Christ, though they be ever so careful to maintain good works, (which it is their duty and interest, their daily care and endeavour, to do,) yet they dare not rest in them, nor rely upon them for justification, or make any thing in themselves, or done by themselves, the ground of their confidence.
Christ's perfect obedience entitles us to heaven; our own imperfect (if sincere) obedience will evidence that title. Some rely upon a natural righteousness, that which they call good nature; others rely upon a negative righteousness, because they are not so unrighteous as some; others rely upon a positive righteousness, a moral righteousness, in observing the duties of the second table: a religious righteousness, in performing the outward duties of prayer, hearing the word, receiving the sacraments. But though St. Paul was one of the most religious men that the Jewish religion ever had, yet he durst not be found with this righteousness alone, but desires to be found in Christ, not having his own righteousness, which is of the law.
Observe farther, The way how the apostle desired to be found in Christ, is not only, 1. Negative, but, 2. Postively declared: That which is through the faith of Christ, that righteousness which is of God by faith.
Here note, 1. The righteousness which secures a guilty sinner from the dint of God's wrath, is Christ's righteousness; he is made unto us of God, righteousness, 1 Corinthians 1:30.
Now this righteousness is here called,
1. The righteousness of God, because of his appointing, ordaining and accepting it.
2. The righteousness of faith, because this righteousness is made ours by faith; faith apprehending and applying the death and sufferings of Jesus Christ, the fruit and benefit of his undertaking become the believing sinner's, and God is at peace with him: such as will be found in Christ, must have a righteousness, the meritorious righteousness of Christ, to answer the demands of the law, and a personal righteousness of their own, to answer the commands of the gospel.
St. Paul here, though a transcendent saint, though an eminent apostle, yet divests himself of his own righteousness, that he might be clothed upon with the righteousness of the Mediator, be found in him as his surety in the day of account, and obtain pardon for the sake of his satisfaction.
Note, 2. That there is no gain to be had from this righteousness by a lost sinner, except it be apprehended by faith; it was not a righteousness of his own that St. Paul desired to be found in, but faith was his own, inherent in him, and acted by him, which did entitle him to that righteousness, called therefore here, The righteousness which is of God, by faith.
Our apostle had, in the foregoing verse, expressed his earnest desire to be found in Christ, with respect to his justification; in this verse, with respect to his sanctification, he desires to know Christ, as the Messiah and Mediator, that he might experience the power of his resurrection, raising him from the death of sin to a life of grace and holiness, and taste something of that comfort and joy which is found in suffering with him and for him, and to be made conformable to his death, by a daily dying unto sin: knowing, that if he were conformed to him in the likeness of his death, he should be also in the likeness of his resurrection.
Here note, 1. What it is that a person justified by the righteousness of Christ doth most desire; namely, a spirit of holiness and sanctification flowing from Christ, to enable him to live unto him.
That I may know the power of his resurrection, that is, experience that divine power in my soul, quickening me to a life of grace, which Christ experienced in quickening his dead body when it lay in the grave. "It is as great a work of the Spirit to form Christ in the heart of a sinner, as it was to fashion him in the womb, or to raise him from the grave," (says the pious bishop Reynolds upon the place.)
Note, 2. That such as are justified and sanctified by the Spirit of Christ are willing to have fellowship with him in his sufferings, not ambitious to share with him in the merit of his sufferings, but desirous to participate with him in the benefit of his sufferings, and also to be conformed to him in their own sufferings; the members think it an honour to be like their head, their suffering head, as well as their glorified head; and well they may, for in and under all their sufferings, especially for him, they have his presence with them, his compassion to moderate them, his strength to bear them, his intercession to preserve from falling away in them; and his crown, after they have suffered awhile, to reward them for them.
By the resurrection of the dead, here, is not to be understood the general resurrection, for all men shall attain to that, whether they strive for it or no; but he intends that complete holiness, and absolute perfection in grace, which shall attend the state of the resurrection; so he explains it himself in the next verse, Not that I have already attained, &c. or am already perfect; and he shows how diligent he was in endeavouring, in the use of all possible means, to arrive at it, and attain unto it.
Learn, That the glorious resurrection of the just, or grace consummated in glory, is attainable, and deserves and requires the utmost care and diligence of the most holy and zealous Christians to be exerted and put forth, in order to the attaining of it: If by any means I may attain to the resurrection of the dead.
Our apostle here compares himself to a person running in a race; the prize which he did contend and run for, was, perfection in grace. The highest degree of which, in this life, consists in a desire and endeavour to obtain the largest measures and fullest degrees of holiness, that are here attainable: the manner how he ran for this prize, he tells us, was by looking forward, not backward; he did not look back to the things which he had left behind, namely, to the privileges of Judaism, nor to his past performances; but, like a racer, kept himself continually upon the stretch, with his eye fixed firmly upon the prize at the end of the goal, that he might lay hold upon it, and be crowned with it.
Note, Christianity is a race; every Christian in this life must run this race; in his running he must look forward, and not backward, not reckon how much of the way is past, but make the best of the way to come: he must keep heaven, as the mark and prize he runs for, continually in his eye, to hearten him on against all hardships and discouragements whatsoever; and in a word, must be apprehended before he can apprehend. St. Paul was apprehended by Christ, and caught hold of by him, whin he fled from him, otherwise he had never apprehended: Christ takes hold on us, before we have any desire to lay hold on him; we move as moved of him, and assisted of him.
Let as many as be perfect, that is, grown Christians, instructed thoroughly in their Christian duty, who, compared with others, may be called perfect, be thus minded, as I am, namely, to believe the circumcision of the flesh abolished, and that no confidence is to be placed in any righteousness of our own, but in the righteousness which is of God by faith only; and if any, seduced by the judaizing teachers, be otherwise minded, and think that the ceremonial law is not abrogated, nor the practice of circumcision abolished, God in his due time will show them their error, and convince them, that none of those things are now necessary for the obtaining of his favour.
Nevertheless, in the mean time, he exhorts all persons, according to the measures of light and knowledge which they had received, to walk according to the rule of the Scriptures, preserving mutual love, and avoiding further rents and divisions.
Observe here, That in the first and best age of the Christian church, there was, and we cannot expect but there ever will be, a variety of opinions and differences in judgment amongst the members thereof.
Observe, 2. That in this case of unavoidable differences amongst good men, there ought to be mutual charity and meekness, moderation and forbearance, no censorious judging of each other, but look first at what is wanting in ourselves and next at what is useful in others: the one will make us humble, the other charitable; and both peaceable.
Here our apostle proposes his own example to their imitation: follow me, who have renounced all my Jewish privileges, all confidence in any thing of my own; and mark them for your patterns, who walk so as to have us for an example.
O! how happy is it when the ministers of Christ go before their people, and tread out the steps which they are to take towards heaven; when they can say to their people, (without any upbraiding from their own consciences,) Be followers of us, and of all such as have us for an example.
Next, he warns them against following the doctrines and practices of the false teachers, the judaizing doctors, those great zealots for the observation of the ceremonial law, and the rite of circumcision; these he paints out in their proper colours:
1. He calls them the enemies of the cross of Christ, because they preached up the necessity of circumcision, and the observation of the ceremonial law; and so, in effect, denied Christ to be come in the flesh, or affirmed that he died in vain.
Whose end is destruction: if they persist in their wicked doctrines and practices, their end will be everlasting destruction:
Whose god is their belly; who chiefly mind the gratification and pleasing of a sensual appetite: they who serve their belly before God, or as they should serve God, do make a god of their belly; we may provide for the belly, but not serve it; that is to serve us, by fitting us to serve God, our neighbours, and ourselves;
Whose glory is in their shame; that is, they gloried in their wicked practices in general, whereof they ought to be ashamed, and in the circumcision of the shameful member in particular; they are puffed up with that which should rather make them blush:
They mind earthly things; the riches, honours, pleasures, applause of the world, are things wholly upon their hearts,
counting gain godliness, not regarding Christ's interest, but only the promoting their own designs.
Lord! what a dismal character is this of those men that undertake to be teachers of others! With what a black coal doth the apostle draw their picture! and yet his hand was guided by the Spirit of God, whose judgment of them was according to truth.
As if the apostle had said, "As you love your souls, follow not those false teachers afore described, for they are citizens of the world: but imitate and follow us, who are citizens of heaven, where our head is, where our heart is, where our happiness is. It is true we live here below, but we belong to the corporation and society above, our citizenship is in heaven; for we have an high esteem of that happiness, and our chief concern is to make sure of it, and we please and delight ourselves with the joyful expectation of it, and we live answerably to our expectation; as we hope hereafter to love like the angels in glory, so we now endeavour to live like the angels in holiness."
Learn hence, All the faithful, both ministers and people, have a right to heaven, as to their city; they are therefore with their hearts and affections to be daily aspiring after it, and live in hopes of getting, ere long, the full possession of it.
Observe here, 1. All the faithful, who have their conversation in heaven, do expect and look for Christ coming from thence, not as a terrible judge, but as a gracious and powerful Saviour.
Observe, 2. What they do expect at the coming of this Saviour, namely, the changing of their vile body, that it may be fashioned like unto his glorious body.
Note here, 1. The present condition of the body of man: it is in a vile condition, vile in its original, our body is made of vile dust; vile, in regard of its accidental vileness, as the body is the seat of many vile diseases, and subject to vile abuses; vile considered with respect to its ultimate vileness at death; how does a body, as beautiful as ever was Absalom's, when death comes, run into rottenness and putrefaction! Our sin makes us vile in the sight of God whilst we live, and renders our bodies viler in the sight of men when we die.
Note, 2. The future condition which the bodies of good men shall be in, at the appearance of Christ: this vile body shall be a beautiful and a blessed body; the body we lay down shall be rebuilt, formed and fashioned like unto Christ's glorious body; resembling his in incorruptibility and immortality, in purity and spirituality, in power and activity, in happiness and felicity.
Note, 3. The efficient cause of this great and glorious change, with reference to the body; and that is Christ, he shall change our vile bodies: together with the means by which all this is to be effected and accompolished, namely, the wonderful power of Christ, according to the working whereby he is able to subdue all things unto himself.
Surely it is as easy for Christ to give a body to a soul at the resurrection, as to breathe a soul into a body every day in the work of creation. But the power of Christ is but a weak argument to build our hopes of the body's resurrection upon, without a revelation of his will: he can quench all the fire in hell in a moment; but where has he said he will do it? But now in the case before us, Christ is not only able to raise, but has declared he will raise and change our vile bodies; so that faith is enabled to make a sufficient reply to all the astonishing difficulties that reason can muster up: and those Christians that can only say, Our conversation is in heaven, may add, from thence we look for a Saviour, The Lord Jesus Christ, who shall change our vile body, that it may be fashioned like unto his glorious body, according to the working whereby he is able even to subdue all things unto himself.
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Burkitt, William. "Commentary on Philippians 3". Expository Notes with Practical Observations on the New Testament. https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 25 / Ordinary 30