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Bible Commentaries

Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers

Philippians 3



Other Authors
Verse 1

Verses 1-3

[7. Words of Warning (Philippians 3:1 to Philippians 4:3).


(a) Warning against confidence “in the flesh,” illustrated by his own renunciation of all Jewish privileges and hopes, in order to have “the righteousness of Christ” (Philippians 3:1-9).

(b) Warning against confidence in perfection as already attained, again illustrated by his own sense of imperfection and hope of continual progress (Philippians 3:10-16).


Contrast of the sensual and corrupt life of the flesh with the spirituality and hope of future perfection which become citizens of heaven (Philippians 3:17-21).

(3) AGAINST ALL TENDENCY TO SCHISM (Philippians 4:1-3).

To write the same things to you.—These words may refer to what goes before, in which case the reference must be to “rejoice in the Lord.” Now, it is true that this is the burden of the Epistle; but this interpretation suits ill the following words, “for you it is safe,” which obviously refer to some warning against danger or temptation. Hence it is far better to refer them to the abrupt and incisive warnings that follow.

These, then, are said to be a repetition; but of what? Hardly of the former part of this Epistle, for it is difficult there to find anything corresponding to them. If not, then it must be of St. Paul’s previous teaching, by word or by letter. For the use here of the word “to write,” though it suits better the idea of former communication by writing, cannot exclude oral teaching. That there was more than one Epistle to Philippi has been inferred (probably, but not certainly) from an expression in Polycarp’s letter to the Philippians (sect. 3), speaking of “the Epistles” of St. Paul to them. It is not in itself unlikely that another Epistle should have been written; nor have we any right to argue decisively against it, on the ground that no such Epistle is found in the canon of Scripture. But however this may be, it seems natural to refer to St. Paul’s former teaching as a whole. Now, when St. Paul first preached at Philippi, he had not long before carried to Antioch the decree of the council against the contention of “them of the circumcision;” and, as it was addressed to the churches “of Syria and Cilicia,” he can hardly have failed to communicate it, when he passed through both regions “confirming the churches” (Acts 15:41). At Thessalonica, not long after, the jealousy of the Jews at his preaching the freedom of the gospel drove him from the city (Acts 17:5). When he came to Macedonia on his next journey, the Second Epistle to the Corinthians, written there and probably at Philippi, marks the first outburst of the Judaising controversy; and when he returned to Philippi, on his way back, he had just written the Epistles to the Galatians and Romans, which deal exhaustively with the whole question. Nothing is more likely than that his teaching at Philippi had largely dealt with the warning against the Judaisers. What, then, more natural than to introduce a new warning on the subject—shown to be necessary by news received—with the courteous half-apology, “To write the same things to you, to me is not grievous (or, tedious) but for you it is safe,” making assurance doubly sure?

Verse 2

(2) Beware of (the) dogs.—In Revelation 22:15 “the dogs” excluded from the heavenly Jerusalem seem to be those who are impure. In that sense the Jews applied the word to the heathen, as our Lord, for a moment appearing to follow the Jewish usage, does to the Syro-Phœnician woman in Matthew 15:26. But here the context appropriates the word to the Judaising party, who claimed special purity, ceremonial and moral, and who probably were not characterised by peculiar impurity—such as, indeed, below (Philippians 3:17-21) would seem rather to attach to the Antinomian party, probably the extreme on the other side. Chrysostom’s hint that the Apostle means to retort the name upon them, as now by their own wilful apostasy occupying the place outside the spiritual Israel which once belonged to the despised Gentiles, is probably right. Yet perhaps there may be some allusion to the dogs, not as unclean, but as, especially in their half-wild state in the East, snarling and savage, driving off as interlopers all who approach what they consider their ground. Nothing could better describe the narrow Judaising spirit.

Of evil workers.—Comp. 2 Corinthians 11:13, describing the Judaisers as “deceitful workers.” Here the idea is of their energy in work, but work for evil.

The concision.—By an ironical play upon words St. Paul declares his refusal to call the circumcision, on which the Judaisers prided themselves, by that time-honoured name; for “we,” he says, “are the true circumcision,” the true Israel of the new covenant. In Ephesians 2:11 (where see Note) he had denoted it as the “so-called circumcision in the flesh made by hands.” Here he speaks more strongly, and calls it a “concision,” a mere outward mutilation, no longer, as it had been, a “seal” of the covenant (Romans 4:11). There is a still more startling attack on the advocates of circumcision in Galatians 5:12 (where see Note).

Verse 3

(3) We are the circumcision.—So in Colossians 2:11-12, evidently alluding to baptism as the spiritual circumcision, he says, “In whom ye were circumcised with the circumcision made without hands.” Comp. Romans 2:20, “Circumcision is that of the heart, in the spirit, and not in the letter;” and passages of a similar character in the Old Testament, such as Deuteronomy 10:16, “Circumcise therefore the foreskin of your hearts;” Deuteronomy 30:6, “The Lord God will circumcise thine heart.” Hence the spirit of St. Stephen’s reproach, “Ye uncircumcised in heart and ears” (Acts 7:51).

Which worship God in the spirit . . .—The true reading here is, who worship by the Spirit of God, the word “worship,” or service, being that which is almost technically applied to the worship of the Israelites as God’s chosen people (Acts 26:7; Romans 9:4; Hebrews 9:1; Hebrews 9:6), and which, with the addition of the epithet “reasonable,” is claimed for the Christian devotion to God in Christ (see Romans 12:1). Such “worship by the Spirit of God” St. Paul describes in detail in Romans 8, especially in Romans 8:26-27.

And rejoice (or rather, glory) in Christ Jesus.—Comp. Romans 15:17, “I have therefore whereof I may glory in the Lord Jesus Christ,” and the Old Testament quotation (from Jeremiah 9:23-24) twice applied to our Lord, “He that glorieth, let him glory in the Lord” (1 Corinthians 1:31; 2 Corinthians 10:17). In Galatians 6:14 we have a still more distinctive expression, “God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ.” To glory in Christ is something more than even to believe and to trust in Him; it expresses a deep sense of privilege, both in present thankfulness and in future hope.

In the flesh.—The phrase is used here, as not unfrequently, for the present and visible world, to which we are linked by our flesh (see John 8:15, “to judge after the flesh;” 2 Corinthians 5:16, “to know Christ after the flesh,” &c.) We have an equivalent phrase in an earlier passage, which is throughout parallel to this (2 Corinthians 11:18), “Many glory after the flesh.” The particular form of expression is probably suggested by the constant reference to the circumcision, which is literally “in the flesh.”

Verse 5

(5) Circumcised the eighth day—i.e., a Jew born, not a proselyte.

Of the stock of Israel—i.e., emphatically, a true scion of the covenanted stock, the royal race of the “Prince of God.”

Of the tribe of Benjamin—i.e., the tribe of the first king, whose name the Apostle bore; the tribe to whom belonged the holy city; the one tribe faithful to the house of Judah in the apostasy of the rest.

An Hebrew of the Hebrews.—Properly, a Hebrew descended from Hebrews. The Hebrew Jew, who retained, wherever born, the old tongue, education, and customs of his fathers, held himself superior to the Grecian or Hellenist, who had to assimilate himself, as to the language, so to the thoughts and habits, of the heathen around him. St. Paul united the advantages both of the true Hebrew, brought up at the feet of Gamaliel, and of the Hellenist of Tarsus, familiar with Greek language, literature, and thought. Compare his own words to his countrymen from the steps of the Temple as illustrating the whole passage: “I verily am a Jew, born in Tarsus, a city in Cilicia, yet brought up in this city at the feet of Gamaliel, and taught according to the perfect manner of the law of the fathers, and was zealous before God . . . and I persecuted this way unto the death” (Acts 22:3-4).

As touching the law, a Pharisee.—Comp. Acts 23:6, “I am a Pharisee, and the son of Pharisees;” and Acts 26:5, “according to the straitest sect of our religion I lived a Pharisee.” In these words St. Paul passes from his inherited Judaic privileges, to the intense Judaism of his own personal life.

Verse 5-6

(5, 6) The comparison with the celebrated passage in 2 Corinthians 11:18-23 is striking, in respect not only of similarity of substance, but of the change of tone from the indignant and impassioned abruptness of the earlier Epistle to the calm impressiveness of this. The first belongs to the crisis of the struggle, the other to its close. We have also a parallel, though less complete, in Romans 11:1, “I also am an Israelite, of the stock of Abraham, of the tribe of Benjamin.”

Verse 6

(6) Concerning zeal, persecuting the church.—The word “zeal” (as in Acts 22:3) is probably used almost technically to describe his adhesion to the principles of the “Zealots,” who, following the example of Phinehas, were for “executing judgment” at once on all heathens as traitors, ready alike to slay or to be slain for the Law. He shows how in this he departed from the teaching of Gamaliel, when he was “exceedingly mad against” the Christians, and “persecuted them even unto strange cities.”

Touching the righteousness which is in the law, blameless.—The “righteousness in Law,” which our Lord called “the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees” (Matthew 5:20), is the righteousness according to rule, in which a man, like the rich young ruler, might think himself “blameless,” and even hope to go beyond it in “counsels of perfection”—not the righteousness according to principle, which can never fulfil or satisfy itself. While St. Paul confined himself to the lower form of righteousness, he could feel himself “blameless;” but when he began to discern this higher righteousness in the Law, then, he felt the terrible condemnation of the Law, on which he dwells so emphatically in Romans 7:7-12.

Verse 7

(7) I counted loss . . .—Not merely worthless, but worse than worthless; because preventing the sense of spiritual need and helplessness which should bring to Christ, and so, while “gaining all the world,” tending to the “loss of his own soul.” St. Paul first applies this declaration to the Jewish privilege and dignity of which he had spoken. Then, not content with this, he extends it to “all things” which were his to sacrifice for Christ.

Verses 7-9

The Excellent Exchange

Howbeit what things were gain to me, these have I counted loss for Christ. Yea verily, and I count all things to be loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord: for whom I suffered the loss of all things, and do count them but dung, that I may gain Christ, and be found in him, not having a righteousness of mine own, even that which is of the law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which is of God by faith.—Philippians 3:7-9.

1. The Apostle indulges here in spiritual paradox. He speaks of losses that were gains, and of gains that were losses. And we shall understand him only if we remember that life is to be considered from two sides—from the outside and the inside, from the external and the internal, from the visible and the invisible, from the physical and the spiritual. He who comes to the Bible, more particularly the later portion of it, in order to understand it must see life as it does, must climb to its vantage ground, and breathe its bracing air. It is characteristic of the Word of God that it is always looking at life from the inside and not the outside, from the interior and not the exterior, from the invisible and not the visible, from the eternal and not the temporal, from the spiritual and not the physical. He, therefore, who would come to an adequate comprehension of the genius of the Word of God, and who would possess himself of the clues by which its spiritual paradoxes are to be rendered clear, must look at life through its eyes, and from its heights.

2. Notice, then, that this is not the utterance of youth, impassioned, and therefore hasty; sanguine of imagined good, and pouring out its prodigal applause. It is Paul, the man, who speaks, with ripened wisdom on his brow, and gathering around him the experience of years. It is Paul, the aged, who speaks, who is not ignorant of what he says, who has rejoiced in the excellent knowledge through all the vicissitudes of a veteran’s life, alike amid the misgivings of a Church and the perils of his journeys, alike when first worshipped and then stoned at Lystra, in the prison at Philippi, and in the Areopagus at Athens; alike when in the early council it strengthened him, “born out of due time,” to withstand to the face Peter, the elder Apostle, because he was to be blamed, and when, melted into almost womanly tenderness on the seashore at Miletus, it nerved him for the heartbreaking of that sad farewell; alike when buffeting the wintry blasts of the Adriatic, and when standing, silver-haired and solitary, before the bar of Nero. It is he of amplest experience who has tried it under every conceivable circumstance of mortal lot, who, now that his eye has lost its early fire, and the spring and summer are gone from him, feels its genial glow in the kindly winter of his years. Where can we find testimony more conclusive and valuable?


What Paul Renounced

1. Paul gives a catalogue of the gains that once were his.

(1) They include, to begin with, inherited privileges. First: “circumcised the eighth day.” His parents were neither heathen nor sons of Ishmael. He was not a proselyte, but a born Jew. Second: “of the stock of Israel.” He was regularly descended from the founder of the race. “Are they Israelites? so am I.” Third: “of the tribe of Benjamin.” This was one of the most distinguished of the tribes. It was the tribe of the first king. It was the tribe which was alone faithful to Judah in the great division. Fourth: “a Hebrew of the Hebrews.” Lightfoot says: “Many of those whose descent was unimpeachable and who inherited the faith of the Mosaic law, yet, as living among heathens, adopted the language and conformed to the customs of the people around them. Not so were the forefathers of Saul of Tarsus. There had been no Hellenist among them. They were all strict Hebrews from first to last.” For Paul, therefore, to say that he was a strict Hebrew, or a Hebrew of Hebrews, was more than for him to say that he was an Israelite. The Hebrew was of the inner circle of the Israelites. These were the inherited privileges of the Apostle.

(2) He proceeds to enumerate certain other privileges which depended on his own personal choice and activity. First: “as touching the law, a Pharisee.” This was as much as to say that he attached himself to the party which was most scrupulous in its ritualistic observances. Possibly he meant to say more than this; but this much it is quite certain he intended to affirm. Second: “as touching zeal, persecuting the Church.” No man of the Jewish faith had been more determined and energetic in his opposition to the new way. Third: “as touching the righteousness which is in the law, found blameless.” There was nothing more for him to do than he had done to make his righteousness as prescribed by the law complete. But he was careful to insert the words “which is in the law,” for he had come to have a new view of righteousness, a view reaching down far deeper and rising far higher than any he had ever known till he found it in Christ. But according to his former standard and method of righteousness he was “blameless.”

It is with the Christian life as with the block of marble out of which the artist calls the statue. The first blow of the hammer and chisel will take off a rough, rude block of marble. The next will remove similar fragments; but as the image advances to perfection, only powdered dust flies with each stroke, which is shaping the perfect conception into actual form. At the beginning there are multitudes of things which the believer recognizes that he must count loss, but afterwards he discovers renewed evidences of dissimilarity and incongruity, which must be removed if he is to be brought into the likeness of his Lord.1 [Note: S. H. Tyng.]

Paul renounces not only sin, and all self-righteousness, but privileges, gifts and capacities, in order to possess himself of the supreme treasure. It is not enough that, when once you are truly converted, you have the earnest desire to have all these devoted to the service of the Lord. The desire is good, but can neither teach the way nor give the strength to do it acceptably. Incalculable harm has been done to the deeper spirituality of the Church by the idea that when once we are God’s children the using of our gifts in His service follows as a matter of course. No; for this there is indeed needed very special grace. And the way in which the grace comes is again that of sacrifice and surrender. When Christ has accepted them, and set His stamp upon them, we receive them back, to hold them as His property, to wait on Him for the grace to use them aright.1 [Note: A. Murray. Abide in Christ, 115.]

2. Now, the things that Paul renounced were not without intrinsic value. There is something remarkable in the way in which the Apostle refers to the past, and the respectful manner in which he speaks of the faith of his fathers, and of his youth. It is often a sign rather of servility than of independence, when men vilify their former selves. The Apostle had not renounced Judaism in any moment of passion, or in any prejudice of novelty. Strong convictions had forced him out of his old belief. He had emerged into a faith purer and far more satisfying. But there were memories connected with the fulfilled dispensation which he would not willingly let die. There were phases of his own inner life there. For long years Judaism had been to him his only interpreter of the Divine, the only thing that met a religious instinct active beyond that of ordinary men. The grounds of trust which he now found to be insufficient had been the halting places of his soul in its progress from the delusive to the abiding, from the shadowy to the true. He could not forget that there hung around the system he had abandoned an ancient and traditional glow. It was of God’s own architecture; the pattern and its gorgeous ceremonial had been given by Himself in the mount; all its furniture spoke of Him in sensuous manifestation and magnificent appeal. His breath had quivered upon the lips of its prophets, and had lashed its seers into their sacred frenzy. He was in its temple service, and in its holy of holies; amid shapes of heavenly sculpture, the light of His presence ever rested in merciful repose. How could the Apostle assail it with wanton outrage or flippant sarcasm? True, it had fulfilled its mission, and now that the age of spirituality and power had come, it was no longer needed; but the halo was yet upon its brow and, like the light which lingers above the horizon long after the setting of the sun, there shone about it a dim but heavenly splendour. While, however, the Apostle was not slow to confess that there was glory in that which was to be done away, he was equally bold in affirming its absolute worthlessness in comparison with the yet greater glory of that which remained—“What things were gain to me, those I counted loss for Christ.”

As the painter rubs off half of his gold leaf ere the letters which he is painting on the sign-board appear distinctly—so, much of what is precious in life has to be taken away ere God’s glory is fulfilled in us, and our title as Christ’s disciples is made manifest.1 [Note: Hugh Macmillan.]

Gregory Nazianzen, a foremost Father of the Christian Church, rejoiced that he was well versed in the Athenian philosophy; and why do you think he rejoiced in that? Because he had to give it all up when he became a Christian; and, said he, “I thank God that I had a philosophy to throw away.”2 [Note: C. H. Spurgeon.]

3. The most precious things have no value compared with Christ. The things which Paul declares to be loss are the very things which, before he attained to the knowledge of Christ, he esteemed to be the most precious, and which were truly so—righteousness according to the Law, and the various things which constitute that righteousness. This righteousness, before Christ came into the world, was the most precious thing in the world; and could it ever have been true and perfect, it would have been precious, not only in the sight of man, but of God. Seeing, however, that it never had been perfect,—seeing that from the frailty of human nature it never could be otherwise than very imperfect,—seeing that the pursuit of it led men to magnify themselves, and drew them away from Him who alone could give them what they were seeking, a righteousness acceptable in the sight of God,—this too is declared by the Apostle to be loss. So too is it still loss, when men strive after moral excellence by following the laws of their own reason, instead of seeking that excellence in the only way in which we can really attain to it, by a living communion with the Spirit of Christ. For this is the only way to real moral excellence. All other ways lead us far from it. For all other ways lead us to exalt ourselves, to glorify our own understanding, to magnify our own will; and here also it holds as a never-failing truth, that he who exalts himself shall be abased.

It would be a positive loss if a man were to shut up his windows and to go on working by candle-light when the sun is riding through the sky. It would be a loss if, instead of receiving good sterling money for the wages of your labour, you were to receive false money. It would be a loss if, when by going to the right you might have picked up a fine diamond, or other precious stone, you had unluckily turned to the left, and brought home nothing but dirt and frippery. So is it a loss if, when God has shown forth all His goodness and mercy in Christ, we turn away from Christ and give ourselves up to the pursuit and love of the creature. It is a loss if we persist in creeping and crawling along amid the things of the earth, when Christ has sent His spirit to bear our hearts and souls up to heaven.1 [Note: J. C. Hare.]

If we were truly to desire Christ to abide always with us, He would never go away. What a life of benediction and joy we should live if He were indeed always with us! Unbroken communion with Him would hold heaven close about us all the while, and thus these sordid earthly lives of ours would be permeated and struck through with the sweetness and fragrance of holiness, and transformed into the likeness of Christ Himself. Then all life’s experiences would be transfigured. Joy would be purer, and even sorrow would be illumined. All through life this should be our continual prayer; then in death our earthly communion shall brighten into heavenly glory.2 [Note: J. R. Miller.]

For us,—whatever’s undergone,

Thou knowest, willest what is done.

Grief may be joy misunderstood;

Only the Good discerns the good.

I trust Thee while my days go on.

Whatever’s lost, it first was won;

We will not struggle nor impugn.

Perhaps the cup was broken here,

That Heaven’s new wine might show more clear.

I praise Thee while my days go on.

I praise Thee while my days go on;

I love Thee while my days go on:

Through dark and dearth, through fire and frost,

With emptied arms and treasure lost,

I thank Thee while my days go on.3 [Note: Elizabeth Barrett Browning, “De Profundis.”]


What Paul Gained

1. The Apostle sums up his gain in one word—Christ. But he would not have us suppose that his renunciation was such as to merit or purchase for him the one gain. Jesus Christ is God’s gift. He can never be bought. St. Paul was already a believer, and the Lord Jesus Christ was already his portion when he wrote these words. They are very ill-instructed in the mind of God, and only blind leaders of the blind, who urge souls to give up this, that, or the other as the price of receiving Christ. Such teaching reverses God’s order. The dropping off, the giving up, the counting as loss all the old “gains,” follows, but never precedes, the folding to the heart of the one gain.

In Wales and in Scotland, in the mining districts, “winning” the coal, or the mineral, is a common expression, by which is meant sinking a shaft deep down to get out the ore in richer abundance. Let us take that idea. Paul, on the day when he first discovered Christ, found himself to be the possessor of a large estate. He was standing, so to speak, at the opening of this mine, and he saw some of the precious ore. He could not take his eye off what he did see; but, the more he looked, the more he discovered of the inexhaustible riches there. He had only to dig down, to sink his shaft in all directions, and there was no end to what he might bring up out of this mine; and so it was his lifetime’s wish, “that I may win Christ.” When he had got some of this ore, he was inflamed with a desire to get more. He would stand amid the heaps of his gold and say, “That I may win Christ.”1 [Note: Andrew Bonar.]

At Kurnalpi I took my lamp and went to the place of meeting. A gentleman had offered me his auctioneer’s box as a pulpit. I fixed my lamp beside me in the box so that I could read by its light. When I mounted the pulpit, there was not a soul about me that I could see in the darkness, so first lifting my heart for a moment to my Master, I next lifted my voice and shouted “Gentlemen, the sale is about to commence!” You should have seen the response. They came running out from everywhere, like ants from an ant-hill, and rushed to get a good place near the auctioneer. There was a billiard saloon not far away, and though it was crowded a little ago, it was emptied quicker than it takes me to tell about it. Soon I had between two hundred and three hundred men around me. In my travel during the day I had learnt something of the open, unblushing sin prevailing here, and as I reasoned of righteousness and judgment, the Power of God fell on those men. This was my pioneer gospel service. I had ridden hard and far to tell them of the Water for which they would not have to pay, but which they might have for the taking, and without which they would perish miserably. I was selling Gospel necessaries—“Water,” and Gospel luxuries—“Wine and Milk,” without money and without price. Many of them were incredulous, and not inclined to buy at my price. Herein lay the difference between the auctioneer who usually occupied that box, and myself, its present occupant. “He has hard work to get you up to his price,” I told them, “But I have hard work to get you down to mine.”1 [Note: John MacNeil, Evangelist in Australia, 272.]

2. Paul specifies as among his gains “the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus.” The phrase employed combines two ideas. In the first place, Paul felt Christ appealing to him as to a thinking, knowing being. Various influences were reaching him from Christ which bore on heart, will, conscience; but they all came primarily as a revelation, they came as light. “God, who commanded the light to shine out of darkness, hath shined in our hearts, to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.” In the next place, this discovery came with a certain assuredness. It was felt to be not a dream, not a fair imagination only, not speculation, but knowledge. Here Paul felt himself face to face with the real, indeed with fundamental, reality. In this character, as luminous knowledge, the revelation of Christ challenged his decision, it demanded his appreciation and adherence. For since Christ claims so fundamental a place in the moral world, since He claims so intimate and fruitful a relation to the whole state and prospects of the believing man, acquaintance with Him (at least, if it be acquaintance in Paul’s style) cannot pause at the stage of contemplation; it passes into appropriation and surrender. Christ is known as dealing with us, and must be dealt with by us. So this knowledge becomes, at the same time, experience.

Knowledge is often more valuable than temporal possessions. A man falling into the sea might find a knowledge of the art of swimming of more value to him than a good balance in his favour at the bank. So the knowledge of Christ is of more value to men than temporal possessions of any kind. The knowledge of Christ is saving knowledge. Sinners cannot know Him unless they know Him as their Saviour. This knowledge is, moreover, sanctifying knowledge. To know Christ is to know the experience of holiness. This knowledge affects the whole being of those who have it, and from such knowledge all that is best in history has sprung.1 [Note: H. Thorne, Notable Sayings of the Great Teacher, 216.]

3. The knowledge of Christ creates obedience, and evokes endurance.

(1) The knowledge of Christ creates obedience.—Paul calls the Christ he knows so well “my Lord.” No man ever yet had a believing acquaintance with Christ, except as “Lord.” To trust Christ and to live Christ is to obey Christ. “My Lord” is a loved title by which the Christian believer designates Christ. They who know Christ ever obey Him. He becomes the Ruler of their life. And the more they know Him, they the more absolutely obey Him.

If we obey Christ, His commandments will soon shine in their own light. “He that followeth me shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life.” It is not by mere meditation that we come to see the real beauty and excellence of Christ’s commandments; we must obey them before we see how beautiful and noble they are. We must actually follow Christ if we desire to have “the light of life”; if we decline to follow Him till the “light” comes, we shall remain in darkness.2 [Note: R. W. Dale, Laws of Christ for Common Life, 276.]

(2) The knowledge of Christ evokes endurance.—See how graphically this is exemplified in Paul’s own case. It might be easy to affirm that all things pale before the knowledge of Christ. But Paul had given abundant proof of his faith. He had lived out his strong conviction. He had proved his creed by deed; his tremendous creed by sacrificial deed. “For whom I have suffered the loss of all things.”

The figure is a very striking one. It is an illustration from the Law Courts. It might be expressed, “I was sentenced to the loss of all things.” Paul was arraigned before the judge. He was charged with the high crime of being a follower of Christ. He pleaded guilty to the charge. He was fined right heavily. Exorbitant damages were extorted. “All things” were taken from him. Everything that he had reckoned dear and desirable. “I have suffered the loss of all things.” With Paul it is no case of boasting. He is not avowing what he might under given circumstances do. He has done it. He has endured to the ultimate point. So has he known Christ, that for Him he has paid down as damages “all things.”

Yet it was well, and Thou hast said in season

“As is the master shall the servant be”:

Let me not subtly slide into the treason,

Seeking an honour which they gave not Thee;

Never at even, pillowed on a pleasure,

Sleep with the wings of aspiration furled,

Hide the last mite of the forbidden treasure,

Keep for my joys a world within the world;—

Nay but much rather let me late returning

Bruised of my brethren, wounded from within,

Stoop with sad countenance and blushes burning,

Bitter with weariness and sick with sin,—

Then as I weary me and long and languish,

Nowise availing from that pain to part,—

Desperate tides of the whole great world’s anguish

Forced thro’ the channels of a single heart,—

Straight to Thy presence get me and reveal it,

Nothing ashamed of tears upon Thy feet,

Show the sore wound and beg Thine hand to heal it,

Pour Thee the bitter, pray Thee for the sweet.

Then with a ripple and a radiance thro’ me

Rise and be manifest, O Morning Star!

Flow on my soul, thou Spirit, and renew me,

Fill with Thyself, and let the rest be far.1 [Note: F. W. H. Myers, Saint Paul.]

There is a sentence in the biography of David Hill—that rare, gentle, refined spirit who moved like a fragrance in his little part of China—a sentence which has burned itself into the very marrow of my mind. Disorder had broken out, and one of the rioters seized a huge splinter of a smashed door and gave him a terrific blow on the wrist, almost breaking his arm. And how is it all referred to? “There is a deep joy in actually suffering physical violence for Christ’s sake.” That is all! It is a strange combination of words—suffering, violence, joy! And yet I remember the evangel of the Apostle, “If we suffer with him we shall also reign with him.”1 [Note: J. H. Jowett.]

Here, and here alone,

Is given thee to suffer for God’s sake.

In other worlds we shall more perfectly

Serve Him and love Him, praise Him, work for Him,

Grow near and nearer Him with all delight:

But then we shall not any more be called

To suffer, which is out appointment here.

Canst thou not suffer then one hour,—or two?

If He should call thee from thy cross to-day,

Saying, “It is finished!—that hard cross of thine

From which thou prayest for deliverance,”

Thinkest thou not some passion of regret

Would overcome thee? Thou wouldst say, “So soon?

Let me go back, and suffer yet awhile

More patiently;—I have not yet praised God.”2 [Note: Mrs. Hamilton King, “The Sermon in the Hospital.”]

4. Paul aims at gaining Christ and being “found in him.” From what follows (“not having a righteousness of mine own,” R.V.) it would seem that by being “found in him” the Apostle meant being found in His righteousness. There was a period in the Apostle’s life when he expected that he would be able to stand before God in his own righteousness. Now all this is changed. He has discovered the worthlessness of his own righteousness, and therefore he has abandoned the idea of being accepted before God on the ground of it. He has come to know that Christ is “the end of the law for righteousness,” and in that righteousness he desires to stand. Nothing less than a perfect righteousness can satisfy a perfect God, and there is no perfect righteousness to be found apart from Christ. Paul wished to be found as one taking shelter in this sure refuge.

A man found in Christ is as a bird is found in the air—his native element. Watch the little songster, as it wings its way through the ether far up towards the clouds, and then sends down to earth its shower of melody. It is at liberty because it is in its element. And the believer in Christ lives, moves, and has his being filled with the gladness of the life that is inspired by the love of his Lord.

Thy service, Lord, is freedom; yet it binds

With strongest chains; the heart around it winds

A self-imposed restraint; Thy freedmen, we

Still wear Thy badge, and joy that all should see

Our will, by firmest bands, in thrall to Thee.

So is our freedom perfect; or will grow

Such in Thy heaven; lacking some part below

Through earth’s remaining gyves,—if once there be

A will with Thine in all things to agree,

Then, wholly bound, we shall be wholly free.1 [Note: Lord Kinloch.]

5. Paul sought a righteousness that would be acceptable to God.

(1) Righteousness we must have. We need to be right with God. Paul takes this for granted—that, by one way or another, God and we must be on terms of peace, if not even of friendship. If we ourselves were truly right, we should be right with God. God desires all to be right between us and Him. It is not from His side that any disturbance of peace and friendship has come. Therefore, to be wrong with God is monstrous and criminal, as well as disastrous and terrible.

(2) There is a righteousness which has to be renounced—the righteousness which “is of the law.” Paul had set himself to make his position right with God by strictly obeying those laws which Moses delivered, and which men of later times had multiplied. And he had believed himself largely successful in this bold endeavour. If any man ever deserved to win along this line of mortal effort it was Saul, the young and earnest Pharisee. He accepted those precepts as the utterance of the whole that God wanted at men’s hands; he knew the great ten commandments to be the sum of the moral law of God; and he girded himself to the fulfilment of it all with an energy and a constancy that have never been surpassed. The task was no pastime; it was a matter of increasing earnestness with him as his young manhood ripened. But the light one day broke upon his heart, and lo! with all his proud and strenuous labour, he saw he had been failing all the while; his own righteousness, his righteousness of single-handed obedience to law, was but a toilsome mockery of a righteousness for sinful men. From that hour one of the mottoes of his great life was this: “Not having a righteousness of mine own, even that which is of the law.”

(3) We can secure a satisfying righteousness through faith in Christ. For He has in Himself a righteousness for us that abounds above all our need. That “law” which we cannot fulfil, He fulfilled. During all that human life of His among the men and women of Galilee and Judæa, He was flooding it with fulfilment. Only one perfect life has been lived in our world, and it was a life in which infinite holiness itself found nothing but the purest, and loftiest, and truest human excellence. That life was the life of Jesus the Man, the Son of God, the Redeemer of men. Our faith in Him receives the merit of that life, which thereby takes the royal place of all our bootless strivings. And what of the past, with its already gathered guilt and doom? He died as well as lived, He suffered as well as obeyed, and all in our stead. Thus He bore away our curse, and cleared the whole length and breadth of our history from every atom of doom, and “opened the kingdom of heaven to all believers.” “Through faith in Christ”—“the righteousness which is of God by faith.”

Paul’s disownment of every rag of his own righteousness was like the man and the Christian that he was. He had never moved a ship’s-length nearer to everlasting good while he had this for his canvas, and himself in command; now, with Christ commanding, and all refitted aloft, he has begun making rapid way. The discarded righteousness is deck cargo there as the vessel glides on. His glance falls upon it, and he feels it is threatening to tamper with his heart. He drags it to the ship’s rail; his arms ache as he piles its many folds over the ship’s side; it now hangs by the rope that fastened it on deck, and trails heavily about on the sea. It must go. He lifts a hatchet; the rope is severed; the mass sinks out of sight; and ere it has soaked its way to the bottom, the ship has sped miles upon its course—lighter, swifter, cheerier, as it wings onward in the growing lustre of the eternal harbour-land.1 [Note: J. A. Kerr Bain.]

A strong thinker of the past generation, Isaac Taylor, of Ongar, somewhere says that to the end of time a Vicarious Atonement (in the old evangelical sense of those words) will be assailed with objections; and that to the end of time the awakened, the thoroughly awakened, conscience will gravitate to the Vicarious Atonement as to its one possible rest. True witness; let me put my seal humbly to it in both its parts.

Another great Christian of a remoter past, Count Zinzendorf, has left on record a notice of a personal experience of his own which powerfully impressed me when I came on it a few years ago in a French memoir of his life. “About this time I met with the work of Dippel, in which the doctrine of Imputed Righteousness is attacked. Its system seemed to aim at eliminating from the idea of God the notion of His wrath; and just so far as I sympathized with that view I liked the system. I was then in the attitude of the natural theologian; and the ‘good God’ distressed me when His acts seemed to lack a sequence of mathematical precision. I sought to justify Him, at all costs, to men of reason. But when I came to think over my own conversion, I saw that in the death of Jesus, and in the word Ransom, there lay a profound mystery—a mystery before which Philosophy stops short, but as regards which Revelation is immovably firm. This gave me a new intuition into the doctrine of Salvation. I found its blessing and benefit first in the instance of my own heart, then in that of my brethren and fellow-workers (in the Moravian Church). Since the year 1734 the doctrine of the expiatory Sacrifice of Jesus has been, and will for ever be, our treasure, our watchword, our all, our panacea against all evil, alike in doctrine and in practice.” True witness, I say again, and again would humbly put my seal to its terms, in regard both of experience and of principle. And the principle of Taylor’s dictum and Zinzendorf’s inner history is just as true for the progress as it is for the beginning of the believer’s life. It is in point, not only in connexion with conversion, but in connexion with the lifelong needs of the Christian, and his lifelong peace and standing before God.1 [Note: Bishop H. C. G. Moule, All in Christ, 163.]


Experience Approves the Exchange

1. When the Apostle writes this Epistle, he has had ample opportunity to review his life, to test his choice, to reckon up again the balance of life he once struck. He has seen life under many aspects,—amid the rude tribes of the Galatian and Phrygian highlands, in philosophic Athens, in wealthy and luxurious Corinth, in Oriental and superstitious Ephesus, and now, at last, in imperial Rome, mistress of the world. He has learnt that over against the gains which life once possessed he must now place the hatred of his countrymen, the persecutions of the heathen, the perils of travel, the pangs of hunger and cold and nakedness, the exhaustion of manual labour; but with them “the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus the Lord.” Yet now, when he may well have tested every item in the account of life, and revalued each; when, though prematurely aged and spent, he might well have desired the fulfilment of the dream of early life, and lamented that he was turned aside from the career at first marked out, he, on the contrary, reiterates his choice: I again renounce to-day, as of old: “Yea, doubtless, and I count all things but loss.” So, under the palace of the Cæsars, and within what seemed the shadow of death, the Apostle ratified the great renunciation he had made.

One might say that the whole life of Dives is wholly contrary to the cross of Christ. “God predestinated us,” St. Paul says. To what? To eternal life? This is the end of all. But to what first? God predestinated us to be conformed to the image of His Son. What image? Well! Be it the image of His holiness, the image of His glory. Are there then no scars on that glorious Form, brighter than the sun, or than all created light, irradiant with His Godhead? If we would reign with Him, St. Paul tells us, we must first suffer with Him. If we would be conformed to the likeness of His glory, we must first be conformed to the likeness of His suffering. “Too delicate art thou, my brother, if thou wiliest both here to rejoice with the world, and hereafter to reign with Christ.” Was our Redeemer crowned with thorns that we might be refined sensualists? Did He come down from heaven that we might forget heaven and Him, steeped in all which we can get of this life’s fleeting pleasures of sense?1 [Note: E. B. Pusey.]

“Depend upon it,” said Carlyle, “the brave man has somehow or other to give his life away.” We are called upon to make an unconditional surrender. Unconditional, I say, because it cannot be on our own terms. We cannot reserve what we like, or choose what we prefer. It is a surrender to a great and awful Will, of whose workings we know little, but which means to triumph, whatever we may do to hinder or delay its purpose. We must work indeed by the best light that we have. We must do the next thing, and the kind thing, and the courageous thing, as it falls to us to do. But sooner or later we must yield our wills up, and not simply out of tame and fearful submission, but because we at last see that the Will behind all things is greater, purer, more beautiful, more holy than anything we can imagine or express. Some find this easier than others—and some never seem to achieve it—which is the hardest problem of all. But there is no peace without that surrender, though it cannot be made at once; there is in most of us a fibre of self-will, of hardness, of stubbornness which we cannot break, but which God may be trusted to break for us, if we desire it to be broken.1 [Note: A. C. Benson, Ruskin: A Study in Personality, 224.]

2. Paul’s estimate stood the final proof. The test of a true religion is that it meets all the legitimate demands of the soul; that in it our past, present, and future shall find their meaning. There must be rest at the centre if there is to be living movement all round. A man like Paul would have worn his spirit down by restless chafing, if he had not found a satisfactory relation to God and his fellow-men. He did find such reconciliation; and the rich result we see in his life. It was real life that he found, life with a large outlook and an undying hope. To know what is meant by “winning Christ” we must pass in review the many-sided statements of truth and the lofty ideals of conduct that he set before himself and his followers. It was not merely the forgiveness of past sins, though that was a proper subject for warmest gratitude; it was not simply the vision of future blessedness, though that was a consoling power in many a trying hour; it was a present satisfaction that linked these into living unity, and proved that faith in the unseen world is the mightiest force to equip a man for stern tasks and tender ministries.

I believe there is no means of preserving rectitude of conduct and nobleness of aim but the Grace of God obtained by daily, almost hourly, waiting upon Him, and continued faith in His immediate presence. Get into this habit of thought, and you need make no promises. Come short of this and you will break them, and be more discouraged than if you had made none. The great lesson we have to learn in this world is to give it all up. It is not so much resolution as renunciation, not so much courage as resignation, that we need. He that has once yielded thoroughly to God will yield to nothing but God.1 [Note: Ruskin, in Life by E. T. Cook, i. 387.]

Nearly half a century after Sartor Resartus was written, Carlyle addressed the students of Edinburgh University as their Lord Rector, and then again, after having tested its worth in a life of heroic labour, he deliberately referred to Goethe’s interpretation of the moral significance of Christianity and doctrine of the reverence due by man to his God, to his brethren, and to himself, as what he would rather have written than any other passage in recent literature. “It is only with renunciation,” says the great poet and philosopher, who is supposed to have been hewn from ice, and to have had no object in life but to polish himself up, so that the ice might show to advantage, “it is only with renunciation that life, properly speaking, can be said to begin.”2 [Note: P. Bayne, Lessons from My Masters, 24.]

Unveil, O Lord, and on us shine

In glory and in grace;

This gaudy world grows pale before

The beauty of Thy face.

Till Thou art seen, it seems to be

A sort of fairy ground,

Where suns unsetting light the sky,

And flowers and fruits abound.

But when Thy keener, purer beam

Is pour’d upon our sight,

It loses all its power to charm,

And what was day is night.

Its noblest toils are then the scourge

Which made Thy blood to flow;

Its joys are but the treacherous thorns

Which circled round Thy brow.

And thus, when we renounce for Thee

Its restless aims and fears,

The tender memories of the past,

The hopes of coming years,

Poor is our sacrifice, whose eyes

Are lighted from above;

We offer what we cannot keep,

What we have ceased to love.1 [Note: Cardinal Newman.]

3. He says he has suffered the loss of all things. “All things” must include more than those old elements of fleshly confidence already enumerated. It must include everything which Paul still possessed, or might yet attain, that could be separated from Christ, weighed against Him, brought into competition with Him—all that the flesh could even yet take hold of, and turn into a ground of separate confidence and boasting. So the phrase might cover much that was good in its place, much that the Apostle was glad to hold in Christ and from Christ, but which might yet present itself to the unwatchful heart as material of independent boasting, and which, in that case, must be met with energetic and resolute rejection. “All things” may include, for instance, many of those elements of Christian and Apostolic eminence which are enumerated in 2 Corinthians 11; for while he thankfully received many such things and lovingly prized them “in Christ Jesus,” yet as they might become occasions to flatter or seduce even an Apostle—betraying him into self-confidence, or into the assertion of some separate worth and glory for himself—they must be rejected and counted to be loss.

“All things.” He made the statement just as broad and inclusive as possible. Not all his ill-grounded hopes merely; not the advantages merely which came to him from his conformity to the law, for what was “gain” to him in these respects he “counted loss”; but “all things”—personal comfort, personal ends, personal prospects, personal ambitions, the affection of friends, the joys of social life, the triumphs of competition, his own self-development, will, earthly hopes, each and all were to be held second and subordinate by him to obedience to Jesus.

Without Thy presence wealth is bags of cares;

Wisdom but folly; joy, disquiet, sadness;

Friendship is treason, and delights are snares;

Pleasures but pain, and mirth but pleasing madness.

Without Thee, Lord, things be not what they be,

Nor have their being, when compared with Thee.

In having all things, and not Thee, what have I?

Not having Thee, what have my labours got?

Let me enjoy but Thee, what further crave I?

And having Thee alone what have I not?

I wish nor sea, nor land, nor would I be

Possessed of heaven, heaven unpossessed of Thee.

4. What he set down at first as loss he now describes as dung or refuse. The word signifies that which is worthless, and is used to express the lees and dregs of wine, the sediment which a man finds in his cup, and drains out upon the ground when he has drunk his liquor, the refuse of fruit, the dross of metals, and the chaff and stubble of wheat. In fact, the root of the word signifies things cast to dogs—dogs’ meat, bones from the plates, crumbs and stale pieces brushed from the table, and such things as one is anxious to be rid of.

You may remember Shakespeare’s wonderful story of the lady who was sought in marriage by many suitors. To test their manhood, her father had three caskets made—one of gold, one of silver, and one of lead—and in one of the caskets the lady’s picture was placed. Each casket had a motto. On the gold one, this—

“Who chooseth me shall get what many men desire.”

On the silver one, this—

“Who chooseth me shall get as much as he deserves.”

But on the lead one, this—

“Who chooseth me must give and hazard all he hath.”

The gold and silver caskets spoke of getting; the lead casket spoke of giving. He who gave most gained most, for the lady’s picture was in the casket that bade a man give and hazard all he had.

I, says Paul, for the image of my Lord, for the excellency of the knowledge of Him, will count all things but loss, will give and hazard all I have.1 [Note: C. Silvester Horne, The Soul’s Awakening, 191.]

I wanted wealth, and, at my dear request,

Earth lent a quick supply;

I wanted mirth to charm my sullen breast,

And who more brisk than I?

I wanted fame to glorify the rest,

My fame flew eagle-high;

My joy not fully ripe, but all decayed,

Wealth vanished like a shade;

My mirth began to flag, my fame began to fade.

My trust is in the Cross; let beauty flag

Her loose and wanton sail,

Let count’nance-gilding honour cease to brag

In courtly terms, and vail;

False beauty’s conquest is but real loss,

And wealth but golden dross,

Best honours but a blast: my trust is in the Cross.

The Excellent Exchange


Bain (J. A. K.), in The Church on the Sea, 17.

Ballard (F.), Does it Matter what a Man Believes? 106.

Darlow (T. H.), The Upward Calling, 259.

Davies (T.), Exposition of St. Paul’s Epistle to the Philippians, 176.

Hare (J. C.), Parish Sermons, 205.

Jordan (W. G.), The Philippian Gospel, 173.

Maggs (J. T. L.), The Spiritual Experience of St. Paul, 32.

Meyer (F. B.), Paul, 17.

Moule (H. C. G.), Christ’s Witness to the Life to Come, 107.

Murray (A.), Abide in Christ, 113.

Noble (F. A.), Discourses on the Epistle of Paul to the Philippians, 169.

Price (A. C.), Fifty Sermons, i. 377.

Punshon (W. M.), Sermons, 2nd Ser., 384.

Spurgeon (C. H.), Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit, xxiii. (1877), No. 1357; lvi. (1910), No. 3209.

Thomson (J. R.), Burden-Bearing, 71.

Wilson (J. M.), Truths New and Old, 10.

Yorke (H. L.), The Law of the Spirit, 207.

Young (D. T.), The Crimson Book, 35.

Cambridge Review, xii. Supplement No. 301.

Christian World Pulpit, l. 137 (Thomas); liii. 389 (Webb-Peploe).

Verse 8

(8) For the excellency of the knowledge.—The word “excellency” is here strictly used to indicate (as in 2 Corinthians 3:9-11) that the knowledge of Christ so surpasses all other knowledge, and, indeed, all other blessings whatever, as to make them less nothing. As Chrysostom says here, “When the sun hath appeared, it is loss to sit by a candle.” The light of the candle in the sunlight actually casts a shadow. How that knowledge is gained we learn in Ephesians 3:17-18, “That Christ may dwell in your hearts by faith: that ye, being rooted and grounded in love, may . . . know the love of Christ, which passeth knowledge.”

Dung.—The word appears to mean “refuse” of any kind. The sense adopted in our version is common. Dr. Lightfoot, however, quotes instances of its use for the fragments from a feast, and remarks on the old derivation of the word from that which is “thrown to dogs,” which, however etymologically questionable, shows the idea attached to the word. This use would suit well enough with the ideas suggested by the retort of the name “dogs” on the Judaisers.

I suffered the loss of all things.—There seems to be here a play on words. These things were (he has said) loss; he suffered the loss of them: and the loss of a loss is a “gain.”

That I may win (properly, gain) Christ, and be found in him.—The line of thought in these two clauses is like that of Galatians 4:9, “Now that ye have known God, or rather are known of God.” The first idea suggested by the context is that of “gaining Christ,” finding Him and laying hold of Him by faith; but this, if taken alone, is unsatisfactory, as resting too much on the action of man. Hence St. Paul adds, and “be found (of God) in Him,” drawn into union with Him by the grace of God, so that we may “dwell in Him, and He in us,” and be “found” abiding in Him in each day of God’s visitation.

Verse 9

(9) Not having mine own righteousness, which is of the law.—This is not the same as “righteousness in the Law,” that is, defined by law. It is a righteousness resulting from the works of the Law (Galatians 2:16), earned by an obedience to the Law, which is “mine own”—“not of grace, but of debt” (Romans 4:4)—such as St. Paul declares (in Romans 10:3-6) to have been blindly sought by Israel, which he there defines as “life by doing the things of the Law.” We have here, and in the following words, a remarkable link of connection with the earlier Epistles of the Judaising controversy, corresponding to Ephesians 2:8-10, but cast more nearly in the ancient mould. Yet it is, after all, only the last echo of the old controversy, which we trace so clearly in the Galatian and Roman Epistles. The battle is now virtually won, and it only needs to complete the victory.

But . . . the righteousness which is of God by (on condition of) faith.—This verse is notable, as describing the true righteousness; first imperfectly, as coming “through faith of Jesus Christ,” a description which discloses to us only its means, and not its origin; next, completely, as “a righteousness coming from God on the sole condition of faith”—faith being here viewed not as the means, but as the condition, of receiving the divine gift (as in Acts 3:16). It may be noted that in the Epistle to the Romans, we have righteousness “through faith,” “from faith,” “of faith;” for there it was needful to bring out in various forms the importance of faith. Here, now that the urgent necessity has passed, we have the stress laid simply on the opposition of the gift of God through Christ to the merit of the works of the Law; and faith occupies a less prominent, though not less indispensable, position. (See Ephesians 2:8-10, and Note thereon.)

Verse 10

(10) Inseparably connected with the possession of this “righteousness of God” is the knowledge of Christ, or more exactly, the gaining the knowledge of Christ (see Philippians 3:8), by conformity both to His suffering and death, and also to His resurrection. This “conformity to the image of Christ” (Romans 8:29-30)—with which compare the having “Christ formed within us” of Galatians 4:19)—is made by St. Paul the substance of the gracious predestination of God, preceding the call, the justification, the glorification, which mark the various epochs of Christian life.

Verse 10-11

(10, 11) The order of these verses is notable and instructive. (1) First comes the knowledge of “the power of the Resurrection.” What this is we see by examining it as historically the main subject of the first apostolic preaching. There it is considered, as in St. Peter’s first sermons, as giving the earnest of “forgiveness,” or “blotting out of sins,” and the “gift of the Holy Ghost” (Acts 2:38; Acts 3:13; Acts 3:26), or, as St. Paul expresses it, of “justification from all things” (Acts 13:38-39). This same idea is wrought out fully in his Epistles. Thus, for example, without it (1 Corinthians 15:17) “we are still in our sins.” It is the pledge of our justification (Romans 5:1), and the means of our being “alive unto God” (Romans 6:11). Hence “the power,” or efficacy, “of His resurrection” is the justification, and regeneration inseparable from it, which lie at the entrance of Christian life. (2) Next comes the “partaking of His sufferings” and “conformity to His death,” which are the “taking up the cross, and following Him,” in the obedience even unto death. This “fellowship of sufferings,” coming partly from the sin of others, partly from our own, is the constant theme of the New Testament. (See 1 Peter 4:13; Romans 8:17; 2 Corinthians 1:5; Colossians 1:24; 2 Timothy 2:11.) The “conformity to His death” is the completion of the death unto sin, described as “mortification” of sin (Colossians 3:5); “as bearing about in the body the dying (or, properly, mortification) of the Lord Jesus” (2 Corinthians 4:10); or more frequently as being “crucified with Christ,” “the world to us and we to the world” (Galatians 2:20; Galatians 5:24; Galatians 6:14). (3) Lastly comes the “attainment to the resurrection of the dead,” properly, “the resurrection from the dead,” which is (see Luke 20:35) the resurrection unto life and the glorification in Him, so nobly described below (Philippians 3:20-21). “If we have been planted together in the likeness of His death, we shall be also in the likeness of His resurrection” (Romans 6:5). For of our resurrection (see 1 Corinthians 15:12-23) His resurrection is not only the pledge, but the earnest. Note how in 1 Thessalonians 4:14-18, and 1 Corinthians 15:51-57, the whole description is only of the resurrection unto life, and compare the first resurrection of Revelation 20:6. This is the completion of all; St. Paul dared not as yet anticipate it with the confidence which hereafter soothed his dying hour (2 Timothy 4:7-8).

Philippians 3:12-16 lead us from the warning against trust in human merit to deprecate the supposition of a perfection here attained even in Christ. The transition is natural. The same spirit which shows itself undisguisedly in the one pretension, comes out half-concealed in the other.

Verse 12

(12) Not as though . . .—The tenses are here varied. Not as though I ever yet attained, or have been already made perfect. To “attain,” or receive (probably the prize, see Philippians 3:14), is a single act; “to be perfected” a continuous process. Clearly St. Paul has no belief, either in any indefectible grasp of salvation, or in any attainment of full spiritual perfection on this side of the grave. We may note our Lord’s use of the word “to be perfected” to signify His death (Luke 13:32), and a similar application of the word to Him in Hebrews 2:10; Hebrews 5:9; also the use of the words “made perfect” to signify the condition of the glorified (Hebrews 11:40; Hebrews 12:23).

If that I may apprehend that for which also I am (rather, was) apprehended of Christ Jesus.—The metaphor throughout is of the race, in which he, like an eager runner, stretches out continually to “grasp” the prize. But (following out the same line of thought as in Philippians 3:7-8) he is unwilling to lay too much stress on his own exertions, and so breaks in on the metaphor, by the remembrance that he himself was once grasped, at his conversion, by the saving hand of Christ, and so only put in a condition to grasp the prize. The exact translation of the words which we render “that for which,” &c., is doubtful. Our version supplies an object after the verb “apprehend,” whereas the cognate verb “attained” is used absolutely; and the expression as it here stands is rather cumbrous. Perhaps it would be simpler to render “inasmuch as” or “seeing that” (as in Romans 5:12; 2 Corinthians 5:4). The hope to apprehend rests on the knowledge that he had been apprehended by One “out of whose hand no man could pluck” him.

Verse 13

(13) I count not myself . . .—The “I” is emphatic, evidently in contrast with some of those who thought themselves “perfect.” (See Philippians 3:15.) Not only does St. Paul refuse to count that he has ever yet “attained;” he will not allow that he is yet in a position even to grasp at the prize. (Comp. 1 Corinthians 9:27.)

Forgetting those things which are behind . . .—The precept is absolutely general, applying to past blessings, past achievements, even past sins. The ineradicable instinct of hope, which the wisdom of the world (not unreasonably if this life be all) holds to be a delusion, or at best a condescension to weakness, is sanctioned in the gospel as an anticipation of immortality. Accordingly hope is made a rational principle, and is always declared to be, not only a privilege, but a high Christian duty, co-ordinate with faith and love (as in 1 Corinthians 13:13; Ephesians 4:4). St. Paul does not scruple to say that, if we have it not, for the next life as well as this, we Christians are “of all men most miserable” (1 Corinthians 15:19). Hence past blessing is but an earnest of the future; past achievements of good are stepping-stones to greater things; past sins are viewed in that true repentance which differs from remorse—“the sorrow of this world which worketh death” (2 Corinthians 7:10)—in having a sure and certain hope of the final conquest of all sin. The “eternal life” in Christ is a present gift, but one test of its reality in the present is its possession of the promise of the future.

Verse 13-14

Pressing On

Brethren, I count not myself yet to have apprehended: but one thing I do, forgetting the things which are behind, and stretching forward to the things which are before, I press on toward the goal unto the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.—Philippians 3:13-14.

1. The Apostle here speaks of his past and his present life under the well-known figure of a race. Before his conversion he was like a man running a race, a race of his own, with his eyes set on a lower goal. And then Christ apprehended him, caught hold of him, turned him round, and set him running towards another goal; and he is pursuing that goal yet, and it is still a long way off. “Not as though I had already attained.” In the days when he was a young, proud Pharisee, the rising hope of his party, petted, praised, and flattered for his zeal and cleverness, he had regarded himself as well-nigh faultless. The ideal of Pharisaism was not very exalted or sublime, and if you are content to aim low you soon get abundantly satisfied with yourself. But Christ had come and given him a model which was not so easy to follow. Christ had shown him an ideal which soared mountain-high above him. He had been pursuing that for years, and it was still out of his reach.

Ever since the day when Christ called to him from on high—stopped him at the gate of Damascus, struck from his hand the weapon of persecution, and shrivelled up in his bosom, as by a lightning flash, the commission of the High Priest—ever since that day, which had turned his former gains into losses, and made him count his own righteousness as mere refuse for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus his Lord, he has been running the race set before him, not as uncertainly, but with a definite adherence to its rules and a resolute determination for success; not counting himself to have apprehended, not relaxing his efforts as he nears the goal, but straining every sinew and nerve to the uttermost, if so be he may at last reach the winning-post and attain the imperishable wreath which hangs thereon. “This one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind”—that part of the course which has already been traversed—and reaching forth unto, straining every power to the uttermost after, those things which are before—that remainder of space which lies still between me and the goal—I press toward the mark—I press on according to (by the rule and direction of) the mark or goal—for the prize of the high calling—what is elsewhere spoken of as the heavenly calling—of God in Christ Jesus.

In olden times games were held in Greece in honour of its gods. They were held around the tombs of heroes and of brave men, as part of a religious festival. Every fifth year such games were held at Elis, in Olympia (the periods between were called Olympiads, and the years were counted from them), and every third year similar games were held at Corinth, and called Isthmian games, from the isthmus that there joins the peninsula to the mainland. Men came from every part of Greece to contend in these games, or to witness them; but no one who was not a true-born Greek was allowed to share in them. The spectators sat on benches, raised one above the other, round an open space strewed with sand, called the stadium. It was about six hundred feet long; and in this open space the games took place. They consisted of chariot races, horse races, and foot races; there were wrestling matches and boxing matches, contests in throwing the heaviest weights to the longest distance, contests also between singers, painters, sculptors, poets, and musicians. Ten judges were set apart as umpires of the games; they were chosen ten months beforehand, and received purple dresses in which they sat on raised chairs, to watch that the rules of the games were observed, and to award the prizes. The champions were the picked men of Greece: they prepared themselves with the utmost care for some months beforehand, knowing that they should have to meet others perfect in their own line. They had to observe the greatest temperance that they might be in full health, choosing such food and drink as would make their muscles firm and tough, not heavy and fleshy. They had to practise their exercises constantly, bathing frequently, and rubbing their bodies with oil to keep their joints supple. In short, there was no chance of winning a prize unless the candidate was willing to make his preparation the business of his life.1 [Note: R. Twigg, Sermons, 284.]

2. There are some people who define Christian perfection in this life as a rounded and complete thing, as the reaching of the goal—the very thing Paul declared he had not attained. They define it as though the life had reached its final form once for all, as though we are perfectly carved into our final beauty and already dwell in perfect holiness. Such a conception must of necessity lead to self-complacency, and close the vision of a higher goal in the present life. But that is not the meaning of this passage. According to Paul, as many as be perfect have the vision of a far-away goal. Christian perfection, according to this criterion, is that stage of life which realizes most intensely its imperfection. When a man thinks he is perfect and complete, he is a great distance from perfection. When a man comes to the conclusion that there is nothing more to do for his life, you may depend upon it that there is a great deal to do. The perfect man as here defined is the man that is least satisfied with himself, the man that sees vast stretches before him to be traversed, the man that knows there are shining heights yet to climb, that there are glories unspeakable ahead.

Sir Joshua Reynolds could not look at any picture remaining in his studio without wishing to retouch it here and there. The forms on the canvas were not as fair as the visions in the painter’s mind. Such dissatisfaction always gives ground for the hope that “the best is yet to be.” The same principle holds good in the spiritual life. The outlook is ominous where there is not a profound self-dissatisfaction.1 [Note: T. H. Champion.]


St. Paul with his Back to the Past

1. St. Paul was a man who had to bear about with him throughout his life the bitter memory of a misdirected past. He had become an Apostle, the chief agent in the propagation of the Christian religion; but he could not escape the memory of days when he had done everything to thwart the religion which he now confessed. He had persecuted the Church and stood by while its first martyr was stoned to death. As he thought of these things, they paralysed his apostleship. Who was he that he should be a leader? “I am not worthy to be called an apostle.” He was, however, sane enough to see that, though this past could not be effaced, it could be atoned for. A habit of mind, he concluded, must be cultivated which lets the dead past bury its dead, drops one’s paralysing mistakes just where they are, and leaves one free to press forward to the high calling which lies before.

But the chief thing that St. Paul had in his mind when he spoke about forgetting the things that are behind was not his past sins but rather his past attainments. He had already made some progress in the life of faith. Most of us would say he had made a great deal, and would feel almost envious of him, thinking, Would God we were only half as far on as he was! What patience, what courage, what zeal, what self-denying love, what a readiness to bear the cross, what untiring faith he had manifested in weariness and watching, in hunger and thirst, in cold and nakedness! Now, that was just what St. Paul especially wished to forget. Past attainments in grace were not, in his view, things to dwell on; they were only stages to be left behind.

In that old foot-race on the isthmus of Corinth the men who competed for the prize did not stop every now and then to look back with complacency upon that portion of the course which they had already traversed. Nor, when they had run a certain distance, did they sit down and say, “It is enough.” The coveted crown would never have been theirs, had they done so. Moreover they would have been disgraced in the estimation of all the onlookers. They forgot the things which were behind, and reached forth unto those which were before. Even so in his life-course did St. Paul.1 [Note: A. C. Price, Fifty Sermons, iv. 62.]

2. Strictly speaking, the continuity of life cannot be divided at any point, and what is behind put away as forgotten, rolled up, folded as a garment and laid aside as if no more a part of us. We cannot deal with the past in this way, nor would it be well with us if we could. Up to whatever point we have run our race, we have not merely, like the swift runner, passed over ground to be forgotten, we have also accumulated experience, and added to the sum of our life moments which can never be forgotten, which have entered into its texture, and given it direction and colour which it will more or less always keep. We cannot forget the past in this sense, and of course St. Paul did not mean that we should. No man knew human life, or all the depths of the spiritual life, better than the Apostle. He knew very well, as we all know, that there must be so far a conscious continuity in life, a thread of loving association and memory binding it all up, making it what it is of happiness and misery to any human being. There are dark days which still leave their lengthening shadows upon us, it may be from a distant past, which we cannot escape. And again, there are dear and ever-bright faces that shine out upon us from the shadows, and there is the echo of loving voices, long silent, sounding in our hearts, never to die away. All this gives the past an irrevocable hold upon us.

“The past is myself …” cries Robert Louis Stevenson. “In the past is my present fate; and in the past also is my real life.” Truly it was no shallow thinker who said, “Poor is the man who has no yesterday.”1 [Note: H. Dudden, Christ and Christ’s Religion, 249.]

The winter leaves or bud-scales of a tree leave behind them, when they drop off, a peculiar mark or scar on the bark, just as the summer leaves do when they fall. On every branch a series of these scars, in the shape of rings closely set together, may be seen, indicating the points where each growing shoot entered on the stage of rest. And so every experience through which we pass, every act we perform, goes into the very substance of our being, and we can never be after it what we were before it. We cannot undo our deeds, or altogether escape the consequences that have followed them. The past is indelible, and the memory of it remains like a scar upon the soul.2 [Note: H. Macmillan, The Ministry of Nature, 232.]

3. True forgetting really means finer memory; it is displacing one memory by another, by a stronger one, an antidotal one. It means concentrating on the second phase so that the first is weakened and neutralized, and fades out like a well-treated ink-stain. It is removing a weed from the garden of thought and then planting a live, sturdy flower in its stead. It is cultivating new interests, new relations, new activities. Time helps wonderfully, but especially when we go into partnership with her.

One great truth for us all, says Goethe, is not that the past is sullied, but that the future is unsullied. It is in this sense that we should forget the things that are behind and reach on to the things that are before. I may be reminded that to talk about forgetting what we cannot help remembering is a contradiction in terms. So it is; but, thank God, it is not a contradiction in experience. Others besides the Apostle Paul have come to realize that literal remembrance and moral forgetfulness can exist side by side in the same memory and heart. I have done things in the past, sometimes from want of thought, sometimes from want of heart—things I remember with sorrow and contrition. But I have repented of them, and prayed for grace to bring forth fruits meet for repentance. And God has enabled me to realize His forgiveness so effectually that to-day the sins, while remembered, are morally forgotten.1 [Note: A. Shepherd, Bible Studies in Living Subjects, 9.]

A great editor once said: “The true secret of editing is to know what to put into the waste-basket.” Forgetting is the soul’s place for losing discarded thoughts, depressing memories, mean ambitions, false standards, and low ideals.2 [Note: W. J. Jordan, The Crown of Individuality, 123.]

4. Fine forgetfulness is the condition of moral progress. We must be perpetually cutting ourselves free from the past, if we are to push on to a larger and better future. The artist forgets his early failures, the author his first grotesque experiments in literature, and the saint his first stumbling steps, for the same reason—a reason which is imperative—that no progress is possible to a mind clogged by the weight of past errors. And herein lies the final justification of Christ’s doctrine: we are allowed to forget only on condition that we aspire. St. Paul forgets the past only because, and as long as, he is pressing to the mark of his high calling in Christ Jesus. The sinful woman is not condemned because she sins no more. The one anodyne of past sin is the constant exertion of the soul intent upon the struggle of virtue. Relax that struggle, and all the past will rush back upon you like a desolating blackness. Consecrate yourself to that struggle, and God will permit you to forget the past; indeed, in the very act of struggling you will forget it.

On the eve of Waterloo it was necessary for Napoleon to warn his soldiers that they had forced marches in front of them—they knew what he meant, for they had experienced these before, and they must be on the lookout for them again; but that was only one side of the picture, and knowing that he had come up to a turning-point and a crisis, when a decisive victory must, if possible, be won, he selected two appropriate facts out of their past and brought them forward for his purpose, deliberately omitting and forgetting other and uglier passages that were behind. “Soldiers!” he exclaimed, “this day is the anniversary of Marengo and of Friedland, which twice decided the destiny of Europe.” This was the way to make their blood tingle and to fire their courage; this was a picture of their power at its best, and it was this picture that must go with them into the morrow. Waterloo was to be another Friedland or Marengo.1 [Note: Spencer Jones, Now and Then, 18.]

George MacDonald makes one of his characters say to another, “Let bygones be bygones.” “Deed no,” is the reply; “what’s the use of bygones but to learn from them how to meet the bycomes?” Yes, the only right use of “the bygones” is to teach us how to meet “the bycomes.” If we remember our mistakes at all, let it only be to retrieve them, and organize fresh victory out of them.2 [Note: S. L. Wilson, Helpful Words for Daily Life, 258.]

Where shall I hide the memories of my pain?

They lie like pictures on my spirit’s walls.

I draw the curtains ’gainst the wind and rain,

But over that past world no curtain falls

To shroud the things behind.

I go to sleep, but sleep itself reveals

The phantoms of a day that long is fled,

And through the land of shadows softly steals

The figured presence of the loved and dead

To wake the things behind.

Would I not lose some glory by forgetting?

Have I not treasures drawn from days of old?

There is a sadness in the daylight’s setting;

But who would miss the splendour of the gold

To part with things behind?

Keep then the gold, my soul, and hide the setting;

Thy Father shows to thee a path of peace;

Thou canst forget thy pain without forgetting

The forms and voices that can never cease

To bless the things behind.

Turn memory into hope, and thou shalt see

The past illumined by the future’s glow;

Put forth thy hand to touch the life to be,

And thou shalt find the joys of long ago

No more the things behind.

There is a death of memory that is brought

Not by oblivion, but by coming light,—

It fades as childhood fades in manhood’s thought;

It dies as starlight dies at morning’s sight,

Not needing things behind.

May this forgetfulness, my heart, be thine;

Not the great deadness of an outgrown sorrow,

But the deep trust that ceases to repine,

Since yesterday shall come again to-morrow

Bearing the things behind.

Fields of the past to thee shall be no more

The burial-ground of friendships once in bloom,

But seed-plots of a harvest on before,

And prophecies of life with larger room

For things that are behind.

Live thou in God, and thy dead past shall be

Alive for ever with eternal day;

And planted on His bosom thou shalt see

The flowers revived that withered on the way

Amid the things behind.1 [Note: George Matheson, Sacred Songs, 125.]


St. Paul with his Eye on the Goal

1. Here is a man who starts right away with an object in life—something to strive for, something to achieve, something worth achieving. He has a goal to which his whole existence tends. And that goal is Jesus Christ. His ruling passion is to get nearer to Jesus Christ, to be more like Jesus Christ, to grow up into Jesus Christ, to do the work of Jesus Christ. That is his dominant purpose. He aims. He gives his life a centre. He strives to bring everything—all his faculties and powers, all his experiences and activities—into relation with that centre.

“Toward the goal unto the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.” The goal and the prize are not the same thing. The goal—that was to be like Christ; the prize—that was to be for ever happy with Christ. We all desire the prize; we all hope when this world fades from us, to enter into eternal joy; we all hope to be in heaven at last, with crowns on our heads, and palms in our hands, and the song of the Redeemed on our lips. And we are all pressing forward, each one on his own way, one on the way of Pride, another on the way of Ambition, another on the way of Pleasure, another on the way of Covetousness, all on the way of Selfishness. But there is only one road by which we can attain to it, the road of likeness to Christ. Like Christ? What word will sum up that likeness? The answer is unselfishness. Jesus Christ was the one absolutely unselfish Being; and if we would be like Him, we must learn to put off self, to crucify self, to annihilate self, to lose self in Him.

Now Paul had “seen the Lord”; and henceforth for him “to live was Christ,” and to die “gain.” Christ was to him both the end and the way—that is to say, his heart’s desire was that he might have Christ’s mind, Christ’s affections, Christ’s joy, for his own. If even the sight of a good man, in any field of work to which we are invited, can humble us to lift us up, how much more a true sight of Jesus Christ, in whom was no sin, in whom was all goodness. If our standard of what we should attempt, and what we would become, can be altered by our view of our neighbour’s character and course, how greatly can our standard be altered and raised by our view of One who is “above all,” to be blessed for ever by all? To Paul, Jesus Christ presented both that glorious moral Image to which he would be likened, and that potent moral Help by which he could attain to it. The Apostle had seen in Him the beauty and the power of God.

Have you missed in your aim? Well, the mark is still shining;

Did you faint in the race? Well, take breath for the next;

Did the clouds drive you back? But see yonder their lining;

Were you tempted and fell? Let it serve for a text.

As each year hurries by, let it join that procession

Of skeleton shapes that march down to the past,

While you take your place in the line of progression,

With your eyes on the heavens, your face to the blast.

I tell you the future can hold no terrors

For any sad soul while the stars revolve,

If he will but stand firm on the grave of his errors,

And instead of regretting, resolve, resolve!

It is never too late to begin rebuilding,

Though all into ruins your life seems hurled.

For look! how the light of a new day is gilding

The worn, wan face of the bruised old world.1 [Note: Ella W. Wilcox.]

2. The Apostle’s gaze was not only onward but also upward. What attracted him was the prize of the upward calling of God in Christ Jesus. He saw the crown, the crown of life that fadeth not away, hanging bright before his eyes. What, said he, shall tempt me from that path of which yon crown is the end? Let the golden apples be thrown in my way; I cannot even look at them or stay to spurn them with my feet. Let the sirens sing on either side, and seek to charm me with their evil beauty, to leave the holy road; but I must not, and I will not. The end is glorious; what if the running be laborious? When there is such a prize to be had, who will grudge a struggle?

Whymper, in his Scrambles Amongst the Alps, says that when you are on the summit of Mont Blanc “you look down upon the rest of Europe. There is nothing to look up to; all is below; there is no one point for the eye to rest upon. The man who is there is somewhat in the position of one who has attained all that he desires—he has nothing to aspire to; his position must needs be unsatisfactory. But upon the summit of the Verte there is not this objection. You see valleys, villages, fields; you see mountains interminable rolling away, lakes resting in their hollows; you hear the tinkling of the sheep-bells as it rises through the clear morning air, and the roar of the avalanches as they descend to the valleys; but, above all, there is the great white dome, with its shining crest high above, with its sparkling glaciers, that descend between buttresses which support them; with its brilliant snows, purer and yet purer the farther they are removed from this sinful world.”

3. The climax and fulfilment of Christian hope are in Jesus Christ. What the Apostle coveted was the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus. The “calling” exists before the race begins. It is the invitation, the sanction, the authority by which the race is begun, the goal fixed, and the prize awarded. “The high calling” is called in the Epistle to the Hebrews “the heavenly calling.” The phrase implies that this calling comes from, and leads to, the highest sphere to which man can attain. It is man’s highest ideal, and he cannot attain to anything beyond it. And this highest possibility for man is treasured up in Jesus Christ; for it is the “high calling of God in Christ Jesus.”

The prize is granted when the goal is reached; and all our powers are given us that we may reach the goal. Force of character is ours for the sake of what it may enable us to accomplish; to rest content with being Christians is to sacrifice the end of the Christian calling in delight with the sufficiency of the means. Out of all our satisfactions there comes a lofty discontent. The power of saintliness opens the heart to saintly longings; the impulse of Christian self-sacrifice is an impulse to a definite end. A satisfying religious faith, a sufficient religious purpose—these are the noblest gifts of God to man on earth; but there is more beyond. The purpose is to be accomplished, the trust is to be fulfilled; and it is given to each of us to aid in the consummation.

Theodore Cuyler tells how with some friends he once ascended Mount Washington by the old trail over the slippery rocks. A weary, disappointed company they were when they reached the cabin on the summit, and found it shut in by the clouds. But towards evening a mighty wind swept away the banks of mist, the body of the blue heavens stood out in its clearness, and before them was revealed the magnificent landscape, stretching away to the Atlantic Ocean. So faith’s stairways are often over steep and slippery rocks, often through blinding storms; but if Christ dwell in the heart, God never loses His hold of us, and in due time He brings us out into the clear shining after rain. To such a career the growing years only bring nearer the triumph, the supreme victory of our lives.


St. Paul with his Might in the Race

1. Christian perfection can be reached only by definite and strenuous endeavour. Faith and purpose are furnished us to animate our efforts; they will never be accepted as substitutes for performance. An ignoble contentment with imperfection often clothes itself in the garb of piety; the mystery of spiritual growth is pleaded as an excuse for inactivity; quietism is regarded as a more reverent response than effort to the provisions of the gospel. The same indolent trust in change which makes the inexperienced youth fancy that new companionships and new circumstances are all that is needed for his reformation makes many a man think that death is the spiritual perfecter. But how has all past Christian progress been attained? Not by a barren confidence in the unknown resources of God, but by “working out our own salvation with fear and trembling.” It is impossible to make a man good who will not endeavour to be good. Equally impossible is it to give him blessedness. You cannot make him permanently happy who will not secure his own happiness by efforts to be good. The more you do for him, the more exacting and the more feeble he becomes. Rousing himself for worthy ends, his feebleness and exactingness are gone; the freshness of new interests breathes joy around him.

“Stretching forward to the things that are before.” The word here used is an exceedingly strong word. It means not merely “reaching forth,” but “stretching forth,” implying intense and sustained effort. The word used is a very strong compound word, so compounded as to give it a maximum of force. It is a picture of the runner as he “stretches forward,” with the intensity of his effort, every fibre stretched towards the goal.1 [Note: J. Thomas, Myrtle Street Pulpit, iii. 202.]

I count this thing to be grandly true,

That a noble deed is a step toward God,

Lifting the soul from the common clod

To a purer air and a broader view.

We rise by the things that are under our feet,

By what we have mastered of good or gain,

By the pride deposed and the passion slain,

And the vanquished ills that we hourly meet.

2. There must be a concentration of all the faculties on the great end of life. Much that is desirable in itself has to be subordinated to the supreme purpose. Paul said: “This one thing I do.”

Take him for all in all, Spencer was intellectually one of the grandest and morally one of the noblest men that have ever lived. His life was devoted to a single purpose—the establishing of truth and righteousness as he understood them. The value of a life of self-sacrifice for a lofty ideal is inestimable at all times, and is especially so in the present day of advertisement, push, and getting on in the world. This will endure whatever may be the fate of his philosophical opinions. “In the whole story of the searchers for truth,” said the Times, just after his death, “there is no instance of devotion to noble aims surpassing his—courage, baffling ill-health and proof against years of discouragement, unwearied patience, wise economy of powers, and confidence in the future recognition of the value of his work.”1 [Note: D. Duncan, The Life and Letters of Herbert Spencer, 511.]

In a letter written by Whitefield to a friend on the day of his ordination, occurs the following sublime and comprehensive yet simple expression: “I hope the good of souls will be my only principle of action. I call heaven and earth to witness, that when the bishop laid his hand upon me, I gave myself up like a martyr for Him who hung upon the cross for me.”

3. Endeavour and concentration will ensure steady progress. “I press on,” says Paul. There is an almost breathless ardour in the words. We could imagine a sculptor fashioning a figure suggested by this expression. It would be a form with head outstretched; with eyes wide open, straining the sight to catch a glimpse of the distant goal; with hands clenched; with one foot stretched forward, while the other but lightly touched the ground; with the muscles standing out from the flesh like ropes—such a statue is suggested by the phrase, “I press on.”2 [Note: H. Windross, The Life Victorious, 250.]

“Having decided what was to be done,” observes Emerson of Napoleon, “he did that with might and main. He put out all his strength. He risked everything and spared nothing—neither ammunition, nor money, nor troops, nor generals, nor himself.”

One look behind; but not for idle dreaming;

Hope beckons on to heights that greet the sky;

While voices speak of Time’s brief hours redeeming,

To nerve the heart for toil and victory.

One look behind; it may be one of sorrow,

O’er broken vows, and duties left undone;

But wait, my soul, on God; then, with each morrow,

His strength’ning grace receive thy race to run.

One look behind; but not for vain regretting

O’er golden hours that soothed life’s fret and care;

Forward! be still thy cry, the past forgetting,

Save that which bears thee up on wings of prayer.

One look behind; sweet mercy’s path reviewing;

One goal ahead, one faith, one hope above;

Up then, with pilgrim staff heaven’s way pursuing,

To reach the radiant home of endless love!1 [Note: J. P. Wood.]

Pressing On


Abbott (L.), Signs of Promise, 55.

Dawson (W. J.), The Evangelistic Note, 115.

Henson (H. H.), Ad Rem, 54.

Liddon (H. P.), University Sermons, 25.

Liddon (H. P.), Sermons on Some Words of St. Paul, 246.

Little (J.), Glorying in the Lord, 199, 242.

Mackennal (A.), The Life of Christian Consecration, 154.

Macmillan (H.), The Ministry of Nature, 211.

Macnutt (F. B.), The Riches of Christ, 20.

Magee (W. C.), Growth in Grace, 259.

Morgan (G. H.), Modern Knights-Errant, 144.

Morrison (G. H.), Flood-Tide, 177.

Percival (J.), Some Helps for School Life, 92.

Smith (W. C.), Sermons, 265.

Thomas (J.), Myrtle Street Pulpit, iii. 193.

Trench (R. C.), Sermons, 310.

Tulloch (J.), Sundays at Balmoral, 112.

Vaughan (C. J.), The Wholesome Words of Jesus Christ, 77.

Wilkinson (G. H.), The Invisible Glory, 119.

Wilson (J. M.), Sermons, 1.

Woolsey (T. D.), The Religion of the Present and the Future, 197.

Christian World Pulpit, xxii. 237 (Hood); lx. 52 (Morgan); lxxv. 86 (Champion); lxxviii. 118 (Howell).

The Literary Churchman, 1877, p. 301.

Verse 14

(14) The high calling of God.—Properly, the calling which is above—i.e. (much as in Colossians 3:12), “the heavenly calling,”—which is “of God,” proceeding from His will, for “whom He predestinated, them He also called” (Romans 8:30); and is “in Christ Jesus” in virtue of the unity with Him, in which we are at once justified and sanctified.

Verse 15

(15) Perfect.—The word is apparently used with a touch of irony (as perhaps the word “spiritual” in Galatians 6:1), in reference to those who hold themselves “to have already attained, to be already perfect.” It is, indeed, mostly used of such maturity in faith and grace as may be, and ought to be, attained here (Matthew 5:48; 1 Corinthians 2:6; 1 Corinthians 14:20; Ephesians 4:13; Colossians 1:28; Colossians 4:12; Hebrews 5:14). But, strictly speaking, this life, as St. Paul urges in 1 Corinthians 13:10-11, is but childhood, preparing for the full manhood, or “perfection” of the next; and his disclaimer of perfection above suggests that this higher meaning should in this passage be kept in view. The prospect of being “perfect” in indefectible faith or grace is the Christian’s hope; the claim to be already “perfect” is always recurring in various forms—all natural but unwarrantable anticipations of heaven on earth. St. Paul, by a striking paradox, bids those who hold themselves perfect to prove that they are so by a consciousness of imperfection. If they have it not, he says, they have something yet to learn. “God will reveal even this unto them.” The conviction of the Holy Ghost unites inseparably the “conviction of sin” and the “conviction of righteousness.” The “judgment” of absolute decision between them is not yet.

Verse 16

(16) Let us walk . . .—In this verse the last words appear to be an explanatory gloss. The original runs thus: Nevertheless—as to that to which we did attain—let us walk by the same. The word “walk” is always used of pursuing a course deliberately chosen. (See Acts 21:24; Romans 4:12; Galatians 5:25.) The nearest parallel (from which the gloss is partly taken) is Galatians 6:16, “As many as walk by this rule, peace be upon them.” In this passage there seems to be the same double reference which has pervaded all St. Paul’s practical teaching. He is anxious for two things—that they should keep on in one course, and that all should keep on together. In both senses he addresses the “perfect;” he will have them understand that they have attained only one thing—to be in the right path, and that it is for them to continue in it; he also bids them refrain from setting themselves up above “the imperfect;” for the very fact of division would mark them as still “carnal,” mere “babes in Christ” (1 Corinthians 3:1-4).

Verse 17

(17) Followers together of me.—The word is peculiar. It signifies unite in following me. In accordance with the genius of the whole Epistle, St. Paul offers his example as a help not only to rectitude but to unity. For the simple phrase “followers of me,” see 1 Corinthians 4:16; 1 Corinthians 11:1; 1 Thessalonians 1:6; 2 Thessalonians 3:9. In 1 Corinthians 11:1, a passage dealing with the right restraints of Christian liberty, we have the ground on which the exhortation is based, “Be ye followers of me, even as I also am of Christ.” In that consciousness, knowing the peculiar power of example, both for teaching and for encouragement, St. Paul will not allow even humility to prevent his bringing it to bear upon them. Yet even then we note how gladly he escapes from “followers of me” to the “having us for an example.”

Verses 17-21

(17-21) In these verses St. Paul turns from the party of Pharisaic perfection to the opposite party of Antinomian profligacy, claiming, no doubt, to walk in the way of Christian liberty which he preached. The co-existence of these two parties was, it may be remarked, a feature of the Gnosticism already beginning to show itself in the Church. He deals with this perversion of liberty into licentiousness in exactly the same spirit as in Romans 6, but with greater brevity; with less of argument and more of grave condemnation. It stands, indeed, he says, self-condemned, by the very fact of our present citizenship in heaven, and our growth towards the future perfection of likeness to Christ in glory.

Verse 18

(18) Even weeping.—The especial sorrow, we cannot doubt, lay in this, that the Antinomian profligacy sheltered itself under his own preaching of liberty and of the superiority of the Spirit to the Law.

The enemies of the cross of Christ.—Here again (as in the application of the epithet “dogs” in Philippians 3:2) St. Paul seems to retort on those whom he rebuked a name which they may probably have given to their opponents. The Judaising tenets were, indeed, in a true sense, an enmity to that cross, which was “to the Jews a stumbling-block,” because, as St. Paul shows at large in the Galatian and Roman Epistles, they trenched upon faith in the all-sufficient atonement, and so (as he expresses it with startling emphasis) made Christ to “be dead in vain.” But the doctrine of the Cross has two parts, distinct, yet inseparable. There is the cross which He alone bore for us, of which it is our comfort to know that we need only believe in it, and cannot share it. There is also the cross which we are “to take up and follow Him” (Matthew 10:38; Matthew 16:24), in the “fellowship of His sufferings and conformity to His death,” described above (Philippians 3:10-11). St. Paul unites both in the striking passage which closes his Galatian Epistle (Galatians 6:14). He says, “God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of the Lord Jesus Christ!” but he adds, “whereby the world is crucified unto me, and I to the world.” Under cover, perhaps, of absolute acceptance of the one form of this great doctrine, the Antinomian party, “continuing in sin that grace might abound,” were, in respect of the other, “enemies of the cross of Christ.”

Verse 19

(19) Whose end is destruction. . . .—The intense severity of this verse is only paralleled by such passages as 2 Timothy 2:1-5; 2 Peter 2:12-22; Jude 1:4; Jude 1:8; Jude 1:12-13. All express the burning indignation of a true servant of Christ against those who “turn the grace of God into lasciviousness,” and “after escaping the pollutions of the world through the knowledge of the Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, are again entangled therein and overcome.”

Whose God is their belly.—A stronger reiteration of Romans 16:18, “They serve not our Lord Jesus Christ, but their own belly.” Note the emphasis laid on “feasting and rioting” in 2 Peter 2:13; Jude 1:12.

Whose glory is in their shame.—As the preceding clause refers chiefly to self-indulgence, so this to impurity. Comp. Ephesians 5:12, “It is a shame even to speak of those things which are done of them in secret.” “To glory in their shame”—to boast, as a mark of spirituality, the unbridled license which is to all pure spirits a shame—is the hopeless condition of the reprobate, who “not only do these things, but have pleasure in those who do them” (Romans 1:32).

Who mind earthly things.—This last phrase, which in itself might seem hardly strong enough for a climax to a passage so terribly emphatic, may perhaps be designed to bring out by contrast the glorious passage which follows. But it clearly marks the opposition between the high pretension to enlightened spirituality and the gross carnal temper which it covers, grovelling (so to speak) on earth, incapable of rising to heaven.

Verse 20

(20) Our conversation.—The original may signify either “our city” or “our citizenship” is in heaven. But both the grammatical form and the ordinary usage of the word (not elsewhere found in the New Testament) point to the former sense; which is also far better accordant with the general wording of the passage. For the word “is” is the emphatic word, which signifies “actually exists”; and the reference to the appearance of the Lord Jesus Christ is obviously suggested by the thought that with it will also come the manifestation of the “Jerusalem which is above . . . the mother of us all” (Galatians 4:26); as in Revelation 21:2, “I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down from heaven.” The force of the passage would, however, in either case be much the same. “Their mind is on earth; our country is in heaven,” and to it our affections cling, even during our earthly pilgrimage. It is impossible not to remember the famous words of Plato of his Divine Republic, “In heaven, perhaps, the embodiment of it is stored up for any one who wills to see it, and seeing it, to claim his place therein” (Rep. ix., p. 592B). But the infinite difference between the shadowy republic of the philosopher, to which each has to rise, if he can, by his own spiritual power, and the well-centred “kingdom of God,” is suggested by the very words that follow here. The kingdom is real, because there is a real King, who has given us a place there, who will one day be manifested to take us home. It should be noted that the city is spoken of as ours already. As all the citizens of Philippi, the Roman colony, were citizens of the far distant imperial city, so the Philippian Christians even now were citizens of the better country in heaven. (See Ephesians 2:19.)

We look for.—Properly, we eagerly wait for. The word is a peculiar and striking expression of longing, found also in Romans 8:19; Romans 8:28; Romans 8:25, “The earnest expectation of the creature waiteth for the manifestation of the sons of God” (where see Note).

The Saviour.—The title is emphatic in relation to the hope of perfected salvation which follows. But we note that the use of the word “Saviour” by St. Paul is peculiar to the later Epistles, and especially frequent in the Pastoral Epistles. It is found also again and again in the Second Epistle of Peter.

Verse 20-21

Citizenship in Heaven

For our citizenship is in heaven; from whence also we wait for a Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ: who shall fashion anew the body of our humiliation (A.V., our vile body), that it may be conformed to the body of his glory, according to the working whereby he is able even to subject all things unto himself.—Philippians 3:20-21.

1. St. Paul, in these words, is strengthening the Christians at Philippi, by setting before them the greatness of their calling and of their destiny. They had much need of encouragement; for a time of sore and peculiar trial was then upon them. They had to endure not only bitter persecutions and the assault of Antichrists, wielding the powers of the world to wear out the saints of the Most High, but a still more dangerous, because more subtle, trial. They were being tried by false and sensual men mingling in the communion of the Church. There were among them false teachers, who mixed up the law of Moses with the gospel of Christ; double-minded men, steering between both; striving to escape persecution, and yet desiring to obtain the reputation of Christians. These were very dangerous tempters, who entered the Church in disguise, defiling it, and destroying souls for whom Christ died.

There was one special mark by which such men (as we see from both St. Paul and St. John) might be known; they lived evil lives. Therefore St. Paul here sets before the Philippians a contrast of carnal and spiritual Christians, and of the earthly and the heavenly life. After saying, “Many walk, of whom I have told you often, and now tell you even weeping, that they are the enemies of the cross of Christ: whose end is destruction, whose God is their belly, and whose glory is in their shame, who mind earthly things”; he adds, “For our citizenship is in heaven.”

St. Paul draws a contrast between the principle that animated the lives of these sensual worldlings and the principle that animated his own life and the lives of his fellow-Christians. They “mind earthly things.” “Our citizenship is in heaven.” They have their view bounded by the earthly horizon; they believe in and live for what they can see and touch and taste—for what St. John so significantly describes as “all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eye and the vain glory of life.” The controlling influences which mould our lives are heavenly. The country of our allegiance is above. We draw our inspiration from the recollection of it.

No line of modern poetry has been oftener quoted with thoughtless acceptance than Wordsworth’s:

Heaven lies about us in our infancy.

It is wholly untrue in the implied limitation; if life be led under heaven’s law, the sense of heaven’s nearness only deepens with advancing years, and is assured in death. But the saying is indeed true thus far, that in the dawn of virtuous life every enthusiasm and every perception may be trusted as of Divine appointment; and the maxima reverentia is due not only to the innocence of children, but to their inspiration. And it follows that through the ordinary course of mortal failure and misfortune, in the career of nations no less than of men, the error of their intellect, and the hardening of their hearts, may be accurately measured by their denial of spiritual power.1 [Note: Ruskin, Fors Clavigera, viii., Letter 92 (Works, xxix. 457).]

2. The Apostle chooses a most appropriate figure. This letter of St. Paul to the Philippian Christians was written to the inhabitants of a Roman colony, or free city, such as Philippi was. Its inhabitants would, therefore, fully understand the figure of the Apostle when he called upon them to remember their high position as citizens, not of a mere mundane sovereignty, but of a Heavenly Kingdom. “Our citizenship is in heaven.” Was the Roman citizen a free man—so were they. They had been “made free from sin, and become servants to God”; they were therefore to “stand fast in the liberty wherewith Christ had made them free.” Had the Roman citizen acquired his freedom by purchase—so had they; they had been “redeemed not with corruptible things, as silver and gold, but with the precious blood of Christ.” Did the Roman citizen enjoy immunity from the fear that hath torment, conscious that the law had no terrors for him so long as he used it lawfully—so was it with these Philippian Christians; as long as they were “led by the Spirit they were not under the law”; “the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus had made them free from the law of sin and death.” Was the Roman citizen enfranchised by virtue of adoption into the family of his master—so was it with them; they had received “the adoption of sons,” whereby they were able to cry, “Abba, Father.” Had the Roman citizen a right of personal access to the Emperor, and an appeal to his righteous judgment—so had they the right of entry before the King of kings; they might “draw nigh with a true heart, in full assurance of faith.” Was the Roman citizen a member of the greatest of earthly empires—the Philippian Christian was more than this, he was a citizen of heaven, and a subject of “the only Potentate, the King of kings, the Lord of lords, who only hath immortality, dwelling in the light which no man can approach unto, whom no man hath seen nor can see, to whom be honour and power everlasting.”

The term used by Paul has nothing to do with what we in the present day commonly mean by conversation (the word used in the Authorized Version), that is, talking. It means rather our life, that is, not the way of life in which we choose to live, but the state of life for which God made us, to which we belong, whether we choose it or not. More plainly still, it is the country or nation or city of which we are members and citizens, in which we are natives. It is that city of Jerusalem above, of which St. Paul writes to the Galatians, which is the mother of us all, the city of God. We belong to a great commonwealth, and that commonwealth is in heaven. Not we shall belong, but we do now belong to the heavenly commonwealth. This is not some slight or accidental honour added to our life. It is the very frame and truth of our life itself. We belong to it first and foremost, not by an afterthought. Heaven comes first, not earth. We are first citizens of heaven, and last citizens of heaven, and citizens of heaven all the while between: earth comes in only by the way; it has no deep and lasting rights over us.1 [Note: F. J. A. Hort, Village Sermons, 2nd Ser., 151.]

Not only have the words, “Our conversation is in heaven,” lost for thousands of readers their original English meaning, but they had never conveyed the real point of St. Paul’s phrase with its quite definite reference to a political Citizenship or Commonwealth or Empire. A Roman citizen, proud—we see it again and again in the story of his life—proud of his privilege, is in custody at Rome waiting his trial by the Emperor. The whole conditions of that trial turned upon his citizenship, and he is writing to men and women in an enrolled Roman Colony—Philippi—who were hardly less proud than he of their Roman citizenship, their fellowship in the Imperial capital of the world.

What he says is, Some Christians, even in these testing days, have been lowering the Christian ideal. They are easy-going or even sensual and self-indulgent. That ought, for us, members of Christ’s Commonwealth, citizens of His Kingdom, to be impossible. For we have learned better, our link of fellowship is an ennobling thing; it uplifts, it steadies us. “Our citizenship is in heaven.”1 [Note: Archbishop Davidson, The Christian Opportunity, 41.]


The City to which we Belong

1. We belong to a city or state, which is out of sight. St. John, in the last great prophecy given through him to the Church, saw that city, builded four-square, perfect every way, on twelve foundations, having in them the names of the twelve Apostles of the Lamb. It was built at unity with itself, perfect in structure and in symmetry, its length as great as its breadth; its walls of all manner of precious stones, and its streets of pure gold, clear as glass: a wonderful vision, full of mystery, and of meaning partly revealed, partly hidden, and by hiding made even more glorious and majestic. It sets before us the unity, multitude, perfection, glory, and bliss, of Christ’s saints gathered under Him in the Kingdom of God. Of this city and company, the whole Church on earth, and, in it, the Christians in Philippi, were citizens and partakers. St. Paul tells them this, to remind them that they were no longer isolated one from another, but incorporated into one body. Sin, as it rends man from God, so it rends man from man. It is the antagonist of all unity—a power of dissolution and of isolation. But the grace of Christ, by its first gift, binds again the soul of man with God, and the spirits of all the regenerate in one fellowship. We are taken out of a dead world, to be grafted into the living Church. Therefore St. Paul told the Christians in Ephesus, that they were “no more strangers and foreigners, but fellow-citizens with the saints, and of the household of God.” They were thereby made subjects and servants of the King of saints, the Lord of the holy city. It became their own inheritance. Its courts were their resting-places, pledged to them and sure. Their names were written among those who should walk in the light of God and of the Lamb.

An American agent or ambassador has a temporary dwelling in Athens. Living on that foreign soil, occupied daily, for the time, with its local affairs, respectful to its institutions, a good neighbour, he never forgets his allegiance to a distant republic. The landscape about him may show a beauty that wins his admiration; the Greek faces and manners and hospitalities may gain his good-will; yet they are not those of his native land. He remembers that his stay is short; sometimes he is homesick; he expects to be called back, not long hence, where his treasure is laid up and his untravelled heart abides; he is a stranger and sojourner, away from home. This simple comparison answers the better because it shows that when our faith commands us to have our conversation in heaven it does not require us to be bad citizens of the world where we now are. We are not bidden to be absent-minded; if we were we should do poor work here, and lead ineffectual lives. The man may form hearty attachments where he tarries; he may pay willing tribute to the city that temporarily befriends him; he may live cheerfully and helpfully, neither a complaining guest nor a fastidious and sullen recluse. And yet, none the less, as the Epistle to the Hebrews so grandly says of the patriarch who is the type of the Christian believer, he desires always a better country, which he knows—a “city” first in his honour, dearer to his love, and always in his hopes. So Christ, by His doctrine and spirit, reconciles a regular and happy labour among the fields and streets and markets of this world with a constant recollection that we have an eternal citizenship above it.1 [Note: F. D. Huntingdon, Christ in the Christian Year, 243.]

Are we not strangers here? Is it not strange that we so often meet and part without a word of our home, or the way to it, or our advance toward it?2 [Note: Archbishop Leighton.]

2. Citizenship implies honour and privilege. Both in Rome and in its colonies the privileges of citizenship were great, and greatly prized. Rome was the centre and mistress of the civilized world. The Roman citizen was not only safe wherever he went, but honoured and admired. He held himself to be the equal of tributary princes and kings, if not their superior. He was eligible for the highest offices of the State. He had a voice in the election of the ministers and rulers of the Commonwealth, even up to the godlike Imperator himself. He was exempted from many burdens, taxes, benevolences, exactions, imposed on the subject races. He could neither be scourged uncondemned nor examined by torture. Even if found guilty of the foulest crime, he could no more be crucified than an Englishman could be impaled; while, if he were cast in any civil suit, he had a right of appeal to Cæsar. If he were a man of any energy and intelligence, he had boundless opportunities of acquiring wealth; if he were poor and indolent, bread and games were provided for him at the public expense, baths were built for him, and theatres; the public gardens and walks were open to him; he might enrol himself among the clients, and so secure the protection, of some wealthy and powerful noble; he could take his share in the imperial doles and largesses, which were of constant recurrence. All this he might do and claim, not as a favour, but as a right, simply because he was a citizen.

What St. Paul virtually says to the Christian citizens of Philippi is: “You possess, and are proud to possess, the citizenship of Rome; but, remember, you have a still higher and nobler citizenship. Heaven is your true home, the Kingdom of Heaven your true commonwealth, the spirit of heaven your true spirit. You are members of that great spiritual and eternal Kingdom of which Christ is Imperator and Lord. And this citizenship confers on you both rights and duties—rights of access and appeal to the heavenly King, exemption not from base punishments alone, but also from base and degrading lusts. You are guarded from the malice and violence of the principalities and powers of evil and of an evil world. You are fed and cherished by the bounty and grace of the King eternal, immortal, invisible. You owe Him allegiance therefore, and a constant heartfelt service. Take pride in Him, then, and in the ties that bind you to Him. Fight for your privileges and immunities; play the man; prove yourselves good soldiers of Jesus Christ. Assert and maintain your spiritual freedom. Subordinate your private interests to the public welfare. Labour to extend the borders of the Divine Kingdom. Let this heavenly citizenship be more and dearer to you than the civic rights and exemptions in which you are wont to boast.”

On a cold, windy day in November, a gentleman spoke kindly to a poor Italian whom he had often passed without a word. Seeing him shiver, he said something about the dreadful English climate, which to a son of the sunny south must have seemed terribly cruel that day. But to his surprise the man looked up with a smile, and in his broken English said, “Yes, yes, pritty cold; but by-and-by! tink of dat.” He was thinking of warm skies and flowers and songs in the sunny land to which he hoped soon to return, and he little imagined how all that day and for many a day his words would ring in the Englishman’s heart: “By-and-by, tink of dat.”1 [Note: Alfred Rowland.]

3. There were three ways by which a person obtained “citizenship.” The first was by birth. If a person was born in a city, he was free to the rights and privileges which belonged to that city. He was “a citizen.” Thus St. Paul said, “I was free born.” And every Christian has had two births, a natural and also a spiritual birth. The second mode of becoming a “citizen” was by gift. It was a privilege, in the power of a State, then as it is now, to confer, and was sometimes conferred, in honour or in love. And thirdly it could be bought. As we read: “Then the chief captain came, and said unto him, Tell me, Art thou a Roman? He said, Yea. And the chief captain answered, With a great sum obtained I this freedom. And Paul said, But I was free born.” By all these three privileges every Christian has got his freedom, or “citizenship.” He is “born again” of water and of the Spirit. It has been purchased for him at no less a price than the blood of the Son of God. And it is bestowed upon him by the will and bounty of the King of kings.

In Switzerland and Germany people have what they call a Heimatschein—a certificate of home. This is necessary as a passport; without it they cannot leave their country, and would be liable at any moment to be imprisoned because unable to prove themselves members of a canton. A peasant girl was one day watching the bears at Berne, and let slip out of her hands a bag containing some homely treasures. The bag fell into the bears den, and one by one they pulled out the articles contained in it and destroyed them. The girl wept for a while, and then put her hand into her bosom and drew out thence her certificate of home, exclaiming with joy, “Thank God! the bears have not got this.” In the sealing of God’s Spirit we have the certificate of our heavenly home, and no one can take it from us—the freedom of heaven is ours for ever.1 [Note: A. C. Price, Fifty Sermons, xi. 270.]

4. Heavenly citizenship is a present possession and confers lasting benefit. The heaven of which St. Paul speaks must indeed belong most truly to the far distant future; if it did not, what would be the meaning of the hopes of a better world which lie so deep in all our hearts? But it must be a heaven which is not only above us, but with us now, all our lives through; and it must be a heaven which can have no charm for those who are besotted with the things of eye and palate and touch. And, if so, God Himself, and nothing lower than God, must be the very heart and life of the true heaven, St. Paul’s heaven. We could not more truly describe it than by saying that it is the presence of God. Where He is, there is heaven: and where He is not, there is hell. Our common thoughts of heaven are not too high or too happy; on the contrary they are too poor and mean. “In thy presence is fulness of joy; at thy right hand there are pleasures for evermore.”

The only proof of a future heaven is the present heaven constituted by the indwelling of Christ in a man’s own soul. The citizen of heaven carries his credentials with him. His passport is God’s writing upon his heart. The assurance that heaven shall be ours is not to be found in an other-worldliness which ignores the present, but in the effort to make the heaven within shed its light abroad and so transform the earth into its likeness.2 [Note: A. H. Strong, Miscellanies, ii. 172.]

“If thou art a believer,” said John Eliot, the apostle of the Indians in the seventeenth century, “thou art no stranger to heaven while thou livest; and when thou diest, heaven will be no strange place to thee; no, thou hast been there a thousand times before.” “The soul of man,” wrote Sir Thomas Browne, “may be in heaven anywhere, even within the limits of his own proper body; and when it ceaseth to live in the body, it may remain in its own soul, that is its Creator.” “Thy joys of heaven will begin,” wrote Theodore Parker, “as soon as we attain the character of heaven, and do its duties; that may begin to-day; it is everlasting life to know God, to have His Spirit dwelling in you, yourself at one with Him.”1 [Note: W. Sinclair.]

5. We must live as becomes citizens of heaven. The secret of a heavenly life on earth is to do the common everyday works of ordinary men, but to do them in an uncommon spirit, to do them in a spirit of intense and continual devotion to God; whether we eat or drink, or whatever we do, to do all to the glory of God. Parents are to teach their children that they may be fitted to do what God shall call them to. Masters are to rule their households as if they were looking after souls put into their charge by God. Servants are to do their work heartily, not with eye-service as men-pleasers, but as unto the Lord. Men of business, merchants, tradesmen are to set themselves to gather wealth, that they may have more to spend for God. Kings and those in authority are to govern so as to encourage peace, order, and religion. Every power of body and mind, every advantage we possess, our rank and place, our name and station, our influence over others, the charm of winning manners, skill in any art (be it music, or painting, or any other), the gift of noble birth, or situations of authority, all these are to be rendered unto God, used earnestly, honestly, sincerely, in making Him more known, loved, and obeyed.

Dante, in his “Divine Comedy,” caught the substance of the truth when he made the angels who in heaven are nearest to God to be engaged at the same time in lowly ministration to the needy on earth. Dante only interpreted Jesus’ words: “See that ye despise not one of these little ones; for I say unto you, that in heaven their angels do always behold the face of my Father who is in heaven.” To be a citizen of heaven, therefore, implies active service to every good cause, the betterment of all social conditions, the sending of the gospel to the heathen nations, the effort to bring to the knowledge of the truth our families, our communities, and all mankind. To be a citizen of heaven is, like Christ, to realize heaven in our own souls, and then to establish it outside of us by going about and doing good.2 [Note: A. H. Strong, Miscellanies, ii. 170.]

(1) We should cheerfully obey the laws of heaven. According to the Apostle, the standard of our living, and its sanctions, and its way of thinking and proceeding, and, in a word, our city, with its interests and its objects, being in heaven, the earnest business of our life is there. We have to do with earth constantly and in ways most various; but, as Christians, our way of having to do with the earth itself is heavenly, and is to be conversant with heaven. What we mainly love and seek is in heaven; what we listen most to hear is the voice that comes from heaven; what we most earnestly speak is the voice we send to heaven; what lies next our heart is the treasure and the hope which are secure in heaven; what we are most intent upon is what we lay up in heaven, and how we are getting ready for heaven; there is One in heaven whom we love above all others; we are children of the kingdom of heaven; it is our country and our home; and something in us refuses to settle on those things here that reject the stamp of heaven.

The great states of old had their strongly-defined popular characteristics. Athens was learned. Sparta was brave. Corinth was luxurious. What is to be the strongly-marked feature of those who belong to the Christian commonwealth? Why, expressed in one word, it is holiness. “As he that hath called you is holy, so be ye holy, in all manner of conversation.” Priests in His temple, our robes should be clean. Soldiers in His service, our arms should be bright. Saints in His earthly courts, we should bring no spots to our feasts of charity. Having hope of admission to the city of the living God, we should purify ourselves even as He is pure. And thus God’s will is done on earth as it is done in heaven.

(2) We should carry the atmosphere of heaven wherever we go.

We read that in certain climates of the world the gales that spring from the land carry a refreshing smell far out to sea, and tell the watchful pilot that he is approaching some desirable and fruitful coast for which he has been waiting, when as yet he cannot discern it with his eyes. Just in the same way it fares with those who have steadily and loyally followed the course which God has pointed out to them. We sometimes find that they are filled with peace, hope, and happiness, which, like those refreshing breezes and reviving odours to the seaman, are breathed forth from Paradise upon their souls, and give them to understand with certainty that God is bringing them into their desired haven.

I remember Mr. Gladstone, some fifteen or twenty years ago, giving commendation to a little instrument then devised for the enrichment of the vocal organs. It was a form of inhaler, and by some happy combination of elements it was supposed to enswathe the vocal chords with the fine, enriching air of Italy. It is possible for our mind and soul to do their work in the sweet, clear air of heaven. We can be breathing mountain air even while we are trudging through the valley. And this air, after all, is our native air; when we are away from this we are in circumstances that poison, and vitiate, and destroy. But we can exercise the privileges of a higher citizenship, and we can “draw in breath in the fear of the Lord.”1 [Note: J. H. Jowett, in The British Congregationalist, Feb. 28, 1907.]

(3) If heaven is our true home, we shall find our delight in learning more about it. Our hearts will be centred there.

Some years ago a traveller who had recently returned from Jerusalem, was in the society of Humboldt, and was greatly astonished to find that the old philosopher knew as much about the streets and houses in Jerusalem as he did himself. He asked Humboldt how long it was since he had visited Jerusalem, and received this reply: “I have never been there, but I expected to go sixty years since, and I prepared myself.” Should not the heaven to which we expect to go be just as familiar to us, so far at least as what the Bible has told us of it is concerned?2 [Note: A. C. Price, Fifty Sermons, xi. 271.]

The progressive apprehension of the Divine idea must be closely connected with the hope of its fuller manifestation, and to one who is full of sympathy with his fellow-men, the most welcome manifestation would be in the political life of mankind.… In the days when, not in fancy but in sober seriousness, Vane built his splendid political theories, and Cromwell seemed about to embody them in act, when even the common people saw the dominion of the saints at hand, Milton might well “see in his mind’s eye a noble and puissant nation rousing itself, like a strong man after sleep,” and even rise in thought from the perfection of earthly politics to the city of the heavenly host. But it is hard for men who are versed in political theories which have all been found wanting, and whose eyes are dimmed with the dust that rises from the hubbub of modern life, to see the history of mankind “orbing itself to a perfect end.”3 [Note: Thomas Hill Green, 31.]


The King whose Coming we Await

1. The spiritual commonwealth must have a head; the city must have a King. Now Jesus Christ sits in the place of power: He holds the reins of government. And we look to Him to come, according to His promise, to remove present disabilities and bring us into the full enjoyment of our privileges. “From whence also we wait for a Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ.”

The expectation of the coming of Christ out of the world of supreme truth and purity, where God is known and served aright, to fulfil all His promises,—this is the Church’s and the believer’s great hope. It is set before us in the New Testament as a motive to every duty, as giving weight to every warning, as determining the attitude and character of all Christian life. In particular, we cannot deal aright with any of the earthly things committed to us, unless we deal with them in the light of Christ’s expected coming. This expectation is to enter into the heart of every believer, and no one is warranted to overlook or make light of it. His coming, His appearing, the revelation of Him, the revelation of His glory, the coming of His day, and so forth, are pressed on us continually. In a true waiting for the day of Christ is gathered up the right regard to what He did and bore when He came first, and also a right regard to Him as He is now the pledge and the sustainer of our soul’s life: the one and the other are to pass onward to the hope of His appearing.

Whenever you are met by those enigmas of life which perplex many of our deepest thinkers in these days, remember “the Promise of His Coming”! “Yet a little while, and he that shall come will come, and will not tarry.” “Be ye therefore patient; stablish your hearts; for the coming of the Lord draweth nigh.” “Judge nothing before the time, until the Lord come, who will bring to light the hidden things of darkness.” Say unto God, “O how wonderful art Thou in Thy works! How wonderful it will be to see this enigma solved—this perplexing aspect of Thy dealings made plain—this mystery of iniquity explained! How glorious will it be to see order and law, instead of a lawless world; angels and archangels, principalities and powers, in a wonderful order; loving to obey, or ruling with temperate and loving discipline!”

“O the majesty of law!” was the thought of the great theologian Hooker, when he was dying. When those around him asked him what he was looking forward to, he said: “I look forward to seeing law and order reigning everywhere, in the new Kingdom of God.” When iniquity seems to abound, and the Church is divided, and heresies are increasing, then look up and say: “O my Lord, I know that Thou art coming; for Thou didst foretell this. Thou didst say that when Thy Advent should be drawing near, the faith of Thy Church would hardly exist; that the love of many would wax cold. Thou hast told me that evil will never be crushed, until the Day dawn, and, instead of the withering blight of the dark shadow of Death, there shall be seen the light and the glory of Thy Advent Kingdom. O come then, Lord Jesus! Come quickly!” And when you cannot think or feel or pray, or realize anything, or care about anything, at least be true. Do not say words to God that you do not mean. Be silent, but kneel down and worship; or simply say: “O God, help me to say, Come quickly, Lord Jesus!”1 [Note: Bishop G. H. Wilkinson, For Quiet Moments, 10.]

2. This brings us face to face with the great motive of a true Christian life—devotion to a person, the person of Him who is our Redeemer and our King. This is the great secret of loyalty to the city of God. It is not loyalty to an idea however lofty, to a system however beneficent, to a society however Divine, for the loyal Christian is the man who loves the city because he loves its Lord, and who seeks the good of the city because he believes that thus, and thus alone, can he

Fulfil the boundless purpose of our King.

You remember the old story of the Scottish knight, with the king’s heart in a golden casket, who, beset by crowds of dusky, turbaned unbelievers, slung the precious casket into the serried ranks of the enemy, and with the shout, “Lead on, brave heart; I follow thee!” cast himself into the thickest of the fight, and lost his life that he might save it. And so, if we have Christ before us, we shall count no path too perilous that leads us to Him, but rather, hearing Him say, “If any man serve me, let him follow me,” we shall walk in His footsteps and fight the good fight, sustained by His example.2 [Note: A. Maclaren.]

It seems to me as if, were I a layman in the days when some doctrine had got loose, as it were, into the wind and was being blown across the common and up and down the streets, I should go to church on Sunday, not wanting my minister to give me an oracular answer to all the questions which had been stated about it, but hoping that out of his sermon I might refresh my knowledge of Christ, get Him, His nature, His work, and His desire for me once more clear before me, and go out more ready to see this disputed truth of the moment in His light and as an utterance of Him.… Preaching Christ? That old phrase, which has been so often the very watchword of cant, how it still declares the true nature of Christian teaching! Not Christianity, but Christ! Not a doctrine but a Person! Christianity only for Christ! The doctrine only for the Person.1 [Note: Phillips Brooks, 126.]

3. The King can accomplish through the organized commonwealth more than he could accomplish by separate individuals. There are scientific museums where you may see a jar of water, another filled with charcoal, a bottle of lime, another with phosphorus and so forth. These, you are told, are the constituents of a human body. These are the materials out of which a body is made up. But in which of them do we find the properties of flesh and blood, to say nothing of the wonderful gifts, the marvellous endowments, of those bodies which God has given us. In a similar way a community of Christian men and women, knowing what is good, believing what is true, living pure lives, and breathing the spirit of heaven, would be not merely an aggregation of Christian people, but a Christian city distinctly different in its corporate life and corporate action from a city composed of equally able citizens who know nothing about Christ. They would be able to spread enlightenment, and to promote peace and happiness which would make their city a foretaste of that which shall never pass away. Noble deeds have been done when a thought or an emotion has taken possession of a community. What might we not hope for from a single city filled with Divine enthusiasm and moved by the spirit of God.

The poet Cowper saw in the rapid growth of England’s power, even in his day, the earnest of a world-wide rule far eclipsing that of Rome. You remember how he pictures “the British warrior-queen,” who has suffered direct indignity at the hands of the Roman conquerors, consulting “the Druid, hoary chief,” as to her country’s wrongs, and listening to the “burning words” in which he portrayed, not only the destined fall of Rome, but also the future glory of her own land. Cowper was a patriot as well as a poet, jealous of England’s liberties, conscious of England’s destiny, anxious for England’s good, and in “Boadicea” he claims that all who bear the name of Briton are inheritors of a more than Roman empire, and (let us not forget) of a more than Roman responsibility.2 [Note: T. W. Drury, The Prison-Ministry of St. Paul, 44.]

4. Yet Christ reaches and moves society through the individual. The Saviour did not publish a plan of political reform, or a schedule of social science. Meeting His countrymen in little groups, or one by one, as they came, He showed them what was in His heart, and showed them the ineffable beauty of a holy and blessed “conversation” with His Father, while they were yet fishermen and publicans, and reapers and water-carriers, about their houses and fields. So began the everlasting empire and the everlasting age of righteousness through love, which was in time to lift itself over the palaces at Constantinople and Rome. Before men knew it, He had planted a kingdom to fill and possess the earth—planted it just where alone it could be planted, in the living heart and will of certain individuals who had ceased minding earthly things, or minded heavenly things far more. And so, precisely, He meets us to-day. With all His spirit of sacrifice and mighty power of redemption, with the cross on His shoulders and the scar in His side, He comes to each one of us, and speaks.

Individuals, feeling strongly, while on the one hand they are incidentally faulty in mode or language, are still peculiarly effective. No great work was done by a system; whereas systems rise out of individual exertions. Luther was an individual. The very faults of an individual excite attention; he loses, but his cause (if good and he powerful-minded) gains. This is the way of things: we promote truth by a self-sacrifice.1 [Note: Newman, Apologia Pro Vita Sua, 111.]

Christianity has done more to produce individuality, and the development of personality, than any other force that has appeared in the world. It has accomplished what paganism had never succeeded in doing. “Even when we reach the climax of ancient civilization, in Greece and Rome, there is no adequate sense, either in theory or practice, of human personality as such.” That is the dictum of Dr. Illingworth—no mean authority on the subject. He does not scruple to affirm that “the advent of Christianity created a new epoch both in the development and recognition of human personality.” This, he asserts, is “a point of history which admits of no denial.” And if any would inquire how it was brought about that this new sense of the worth of living, this quickened appreciation of the value of every individual with all that is involved of interest in life and its conditions, took possession of Christians, as it undoubtedly did, the answer that has to be given is wonderful enough. “As dying, and behold, we live.”

“I live, yet not I.” It was the result, not of conscious self-culture, but of deliberate self-sacrifice. The less they considered self, the more freely they spent themselves in the service of their Master and His cause, the more fully and vividly they became aware of an inward transformation, of a deepened and heightened consciousness of enlarged sympathy and increased power; they were already entering into life.1 [Note: A. W. Robinson, The Voice of Joy and Health, 139.]


The Change that will come over our Body

1. When Christ comes He will transfigure our bodies. St. Paul might have dwelt on many great blessings the full meaning of which will be unfolded when Christ comes; for He is to conform all things to Himself. But St. Paul prefers to signalize what shall befall our bodies; for that makes us feel that not one element in our state shall fail to be subjected to the victorious energy of Christ. Our bodies are, in our present state, conspicuously refractory to the influences of the higher kingdom. Regeneration makes no improvement on them. In our body we carry about with us what seems to mock the idea of an ethereal and ideal life. And when we die, the corruption of the grave speaks of anything but hope. Here, then, in this very point the salvation of Christ shall complete its triumph, saving us all over and all through. He “shall fashion anew the body of our humiliation, that it may be conformed to the body of his glory.”

The doctrine of the resurrection corresponds to the mysterious duality of human nature. The body is, after all, the home of the soul, endeared, even like the actual home, by the very sorrows that have been endured within it; and we can conceive of nothing entered upon in separation from it that is worthy to be called life. It has not entered into our hearts to conceive what God shall fashion for them that love Him. It is enough that when that which is perfect is come, that which was in part shall be done away. As we have borne the image of the earthy we shall also bear the image of the heavenly. All our purified powers and faculties will harmonize with their transfigured expression. By the influx of Christ’s endless life, the soul shall be endued with a symbol and instrument conformed to the glory of its Redeemer. Yet even then, looking back in remembrance, each saint will confess: “It was good for me that I was humiliated.”

The meaning that St. Paul has in his mind, and expresses in the language of the Greek, is this—Christ shall change the temporary fashion of the body of our humiliation into the abiding form of His glory. There are two conceptions of the body. The body of humiliation wears only a temporary fashion, whereas the body of glory wears an abiding form; and the work of the Lord Jesus is to stamp upon the body of our low estate, which only for a time bears the marks of its low estate, the abiding, the eternal form of the body of His glory. That is the Christian view of the body. How profound it is, and how continually it has been overlooked. The mere fact that our translators originally used that form “our vile body,” is in itself a proof of the way in which the true view of the body had been overlooked, and was overlooked for so many ages. In the earliest times when men began to think, they were conscious of the difficulties that arose owing to the limitations which their bodily weakness imposed upon them. As soon as human thought turned into a moral system at all, men were divided into two classes of thinkers embodied in the old systems of the Epicureans and the Stoics—those who allowed their body to master them, and those who determined to master their body. The latter school attempted to accomplish their object by despising and condemning the body as something low and essentially degraded. That idea lived long; and that idea was in the minds of our translators when they shortened St. Paul’s language and used the form of “our vile body” as being the obvious antithesis to “his glorious body.” In so doing they omitted, they had not before them, the true Christian conception of the body and its place.1 [Note: Bishop Mandell Creighton.]

It must have required some courage, in a time when more and more the stern Roman spirit was being affected by Greek modes of thought, to hint at humiliation in connexion with the human body. Look at that Apollo, with his exquisite limbs and perfect features, unruffled with care, untouched by pain, transplanted, as it were, from another world, and by absolute right taking up the soil of anything lesser, crushing out anything less developed, drawing in all pleasures of sensuality and voluptuousness of life into the fuller development of perfect symmetry! Look at the builders of the Parthenon, and then talk of a body of humiliation! Look at the athletes in their games, with those splendid muscles and splendid limbs! Look at the Epicureans, in the full flight of unbridled satisfaction! What place is there here for humiliation?1 [Note: Canon Newbolt.]

(1) The needs of the body impose certain limitations on the soul.—Improve the social order as we may, this world will remain a hard, stern place, a valley of humiliation for most of its inhabitants. We submit to our daily drudgery as a matter of course. We have no alternative. We have been drilled into it by the patient toil of a hundred generations. We even learn to say, “Blessed be drudgery.” But sometimes, as we consider God’s lilies which toil not neither spin, and His birds which have neither storehouse nor barn, the thought dawns upon us that to eat bread in the sweat of the brow is not the permanent destiny of sons and daughters of the Lord God Almighty.

(2) The infirmities and pains of the body form part of our humiliation.—We can trace little direct connexion between a man’s misdeeds and his sicknesses and sufferings. Disease and decay come upon the holiest saints, as surely as they visit the worst sinners. No optimist “gospel of healthy-mindedness” can ever persuade us that we are not part of a groaning and travailing creation. We are made subject unto vanity against our will. And sooner or later the final humiliation lies in wait for us, one by one. As Pascal said: “The last act is always tragedy: On mourra seul”—“we shall die alone.”

(3) The body hides and isolates the spirit.—It hinders complete expression. The lover finds no words to utter his tenderness. The artist has no power to portray his haunting vision. The dull, plain-spoken man can never make himself properly understood, as he longs and strives to be. We gaze out wistfully through the windows of our isolation, we call and signal to each other across the severing spaces, but we cannot penetrate the barriers of personality to touch the real self who dwells captive there. Each of us must live his truest life in solitude, aloof and apart from his kind. And when we suffer the penalty of loneliness and fall into mutual misunderstanding or estrangement, when even Christians cannot be brought to realize the wrongs which they are inflicting on each other, this also is part of our humiliation.

In Little Dorrit the horror and curse of long confinement arrived when the debtor had grown naturalized and acclimatized in his prison, and felt proud to be called “the father of the Marshalsea.” These physical appetites and necessities of ours have, in themselves, nothing common or unclean. They possess no inherent evil. But in their quality and character they are of the earth, earthy. And man’s supreme instinct is that which makes him always a stranger and pilgrim upon earth, encamped here, but never properly domesticated, because his heart and his treasure are otherwhere. The romance of literature is filled with pictures of strange humiliation. The banished duke keeping court on the greensward in Arden, the foundling princess bred up under a shepherd’s roof in Bohemia, are like parables of the spirit of man in exile, waiting for the times of the restitution of all things when mortality shall be swallowed up of life.1 [Note: T. H. Darlow, Via Sacra, 35.]

2. The Apostle’s ultimate hope was the resurrection body, not a continuance in a condition of disembodiment; his desire was, not to be “unclothed,” but to be clothed upon. St. Paul speaks of our body of humiliation as an earthly house, earthly in its origin, earthly in its tendency, earthly in its destiny, but it is the house of a tabernacle. Like that which the Jews had during their years of wandering, it is not a permanent dwelling—it is to be “dissolved.” When life, that strange undefined principle which directs our material existence, is withdrawn, the body yields to chemical action and other forces, and those elements which compose our frames return to their native clay. But “Dust thou art, to dust returnest, was not spoken of the soul.” In the case of every human spirit God will give it a body suitable to its new surroundings. Perfect glory cannot be enjoyed by complex beings such as we are till we have bodies given to us in which perfect happiness can be realized; and the promise of our Lord is fulfilled, “I will come again, and will receive you unto myself; that where I am, there ye may be also.”

I remember once meeting a student of the Word who told me that one of his greatest ambitions concerning the world to come was to meet Isaiah and have communion with him! I could quite well understand it. The man had been spending weeks and months in the company of that great prophet, until Isaiah had become exalted in the student’s mind as a great and commanding hero. But Paul had the same intense desire concerning his Lord, and I think if we turned our thoughts upon the Lord with even a little of the Apostle’s intensity we should have the same great and inspiring expectation. They say that Samuel Rutherford used to fall asleep speaking of Christ, and that if during the hours of sleep his unconscious lips muttered anything it was found to be about his Lord. We need to practise ourselves in these things. The more we consort with the Lord, the more we “love His appearing” when He comes to us, as it were, incognito, the more we shall be fired with the consuming expectancy to see Him “as He is.”1 [Note: J. H. Jowett, in The British Congregationalist, Feb. 28, 1907.]

(1) The resurrection of the dead is an individual promise.—It is a hope to us one by one; not like those grand promises which are made to the Church at large, in which we may, each of us, doubtless, have our share, but in which we seem to share only all together. The promise of the resurrection is to each single soul which feels and enjoys its own life, which looks forward with sadness to losing it, to which its own life is the most precious possession in the world. It tells each one of us that this precious life will not be lost; that in due time, to each possessor of it here, it will be restored again, and for ever. We look on one another; we look on each other’s faces, on the faces which we have known so long, which we love and delight in; and we know that each must die. We know that we who look at them, who are filled with love and pity and sadness while we look, must die either after them or before them. But as truly as each shall die, so truly shall each be made alive again. So has He said, who is the resurrection and the life. So it must be if He is true.

The longer I live, the more clearly I see how all souls are in His hand—the mean and the great. Fallen on the earth in their baseness, or fading as the mist of morning in their goodness;—still in the hand of the potter as the clay, and in the temple of their master as the cloud. It was not the mere bodily death that He conquered—that death had no sting. It was this spiritual death which He conquered, so that at last it should be swallowed up—mark the word—not in life, but in victory. As the dead body shall be raised to life, so also the defeated soul to victory, if only it has been fighting on its Master’s side, has made no covenant with death; nor itself bowed its forehead for his seal. Blind from the prison-house, maimed from the battle, or mad from the tombs, their souls shall surely yet sit, astonished, at His feet who giveth peace.1 [Note: Ruskin, Modern Painters (Works, v. 456).]

Hail, garden of confident hope!

Where sweet seeds are quickening in darkness and cold;

For how sweet and how young will they be

When they pierce thro’ the mould.

Balm, myrtle, and heliotrope

There watch and there wait out of sight for their Sun:

While the Sun, which they see not, doth see

Each and all one by one.2 [Note: Christina G. Rossetti, Songs for Strangers and Pilgrims.]

(2) The resurrection is a rising into a higher and more glorious life, to a life as far beyond this in glory as He Himself exceeds in the glory of His raised body all that is greatest and most beautiful on earth. It is not a mere coming back again to this life. This life has many charms and many delights; and if sin were not here men might well be content with such blessings as God has given us here. But it is not to the blessings and happiness of this life that that resurrection is to be. As far as the glory of heaven is greater than that of earth—as far as it is more blessed to be with God, and to know and feel His presence, than to have Him hidden from us behind a veil—so much greater is the blessedness and glory to which they who shall be accounted worthy of that world are to be raised.

I was once spending a few weeks in a small seaside parish in Durham, and while walking on the beach, which was sheltered by high and massive cliffs, I picked up a piece of coal. It was not rough and angular as it came from the mine, but round, and smooth, and polished; still coal, but oh how altered and how changed! I showed it to a friend and inquired into its probable recent history and learned that it must have fallen from some passing ship or perhaps it had dropped into the wide sea when some vessel was being laden or unladen. But whence the change? When apparently lost beneath the waves it had been rolled about in the bosom of the deep, wafted hither and thither by its stormy waters till at last it found a resting-place on the peaceful shore So it is with the people of God. The temptations and troubles of life are means in God’s hand for chipping off the angles and smoothing the rough edges which mar our characters, and thus by slow degrees we are fitted to fill our allotted places, and perhaps do our allotted work in the distant land of glory.1 [Note: W. G. Rainsford.]

3. The model after which we shall be fashioned is Christ’s glorious body. The body of our low estate, wearing a temporary fashion, is yet capable of receiving a permanent form which is made visible in the Person of the Lord Jesus Christ. Why? Because in Him the universal law that applies to man’s life in every portion of it was made manifest, expressed in a Person—as, indeed, all truth that is to be vital, truth that is to be operative, truth that is to inspire, must necessarily be expressed. Examples do not move us; aphorisms do not touch us; we are taught by a Person, we are taught by character, and we are carried on by seeing truth expressed in a form in which it is vital, operative and active. The Lord Jesus Christ is the universal Lord of all that concerns man’s body, soul, spirit, life. The Lord Jesus Christ in His own Person covers the whole realm of human nature, penetrates into every part of its sphere. We know that the conception of self, of soul, or spirit, cannot be realized by us apart from the body in which it dwells. The body influences it, expresses it. We know one another only through our outward semblance and appearance. We cannot separate the particular elements of man which constitute him a soul; we cannot find where his spirit lives. Man’s human nature is one and indivisible; we cannot arrive at our spiritual self by a process of abstraction; we cannot take from a man so much and say, That is mere material, and therefore behind that material lies something else. We cannot raise man or man’s nature above the body and its limitations.

Our nature, as a whole, has been ennobled as well as invigorated by the Son of God. Bending from His throne of Heaven, in the immensity of His love, He has taken it upon Him in its integrity. He has taken body and soul alike, and joined it by an indissoluble union to His own eternal Person. That body which was born of Mary, which lived on this planet for thirty-three years, which was spat upon, which was buffeted, which was scourged, which was crucified, which underwent the stiffness and coldness of death, and was raised again in glory—that body exists somewhere still in space at the right hand of God the Father Almighty (so our poor human language struggles to speak out the tremendous truth), and thereby it confers on all who are partakers in human flesh and blood a patent of nobility of which our race can never be deprived. “Forasmuch then as the children are partakers of flesh and blood, he also himself likewise took part of the same.” Yes, He has ennobled us, and yet, while this life lasts, how great is the interval between our condition and His! How unlike is that body of glory which rose from the tomb on Easter morning to our body—unlike in its indescribable beauty, in its freedom of movement, in its inaccessibility to decay, in its spirituality of texture.1 [Note: H. P. Liddon.]

4. The power by which Christ shall subdue all things unto Himself, will be sufficient to change our mortal bodies. If we are in Him He will gather up what death has left; He will transfigure it with the splendour of a new life; He will change our body of humiliation that it may be fashioned like unto the body of His glory. Sown in corruption, it will be raised in incorruption; sown in dishonour, it will be raised in glory; sown in the very extreme of physical weakness, it will be raised in a strictly superhuman power; sown a natural body, controlled on every side by physical law, it will be a true body still, but a body that belongs to the sphere of the spirit. Most difficult indeed it is even to the imagination to understand how this poor body, our companion for so many years—rather, indeed, part of our very selves—is to be first wrenched from us at death and then restored to us if we will, transfigured thus by the majestic glory of the Son of God.

There was a time when science rather mocked at the possibility of the resurrection. That is changed now, I think. At least I have heard the utterance of a great biologist who said, “If there is a resurrection, it must be a resurrection of the body. Body and spirit are so intimately connected that the one cannot be conceived as existing for ever in a perfect state without the other.”2 [Note: Bishop M. Creighton, The Mind of St. Peter, 107.]

The Catholic Faith proclaims “the Resurrection of the Body.” What does it mean? It means that for every child of man the hour is coming when the body—the frail and crumbling temple of the soul—shall pass from the home of corruption to conditions of an evident and sensible existence, endowed with movement, gifted with life; the form will be the same as in the days of the old life long ago. And if it be asked by what power this overwhelming miracle is wrought, the answer is, in apostolic phrase, by “the glory of God.” It was Christ who brought life and immortality to light by the Gospel; it was also Christ who clearly taught and evidenced the fact that the body shall rise again, whilst He also evidenced the truth in His own Divine Person that in very deed it must die. That death may be sad, may be tragic. It is. The heart sinks and withers beneath the thought that the form so dear to it, so expressive of the light and beautiful soul, should be, must be, the slave of corruption. But this, at least, is a consoling consequence. If the whole man has had to pay the penalty of sin, the body in its dissolution, the soul in its disembodiment, Reason herself demands, what Revelation asserts, that the whole man should share the victory—the body by a splendid reconstruction, the soul by restoration to its ancient home. God’s promise of man’s entire beatitude is a pledge that this article of the Christian creed is true. The Church does not trouble herself with any details about particles of matter, about its mysterious onward march in bodies she has nothing to say; but she does assert continuous identity, and she has on her side two important teachers: (1) the affections and yearnings of the human heart, and (2) which is more to the point—Divine Revelation.

(1) There is an infinity about pure human affection which points to another life. Here we have time enough given us just to have great hopes and strong loves, and then what seemed so stable has vanished like a morning dream. They vanish—they do not end. The practical instincts of pure affection and noble aspiration point imperiously to a better world. As well say that the evidence of the affections goes for nothing as that the robin’s song does not speak of autumn, or the coming swallow of the spring; as well say your strong desire for happiness with those you love, your deep longing for continued converse with souls blessed and beautiful, but gone, goes for nothing, as that discord in resolution does not delight you because it teaches of the coming mystery of harmonious union, or that the first faint shafts of the eastern colour do not herald the morning dawn.

(2) Better still, Revelation. “Them also which sleep in Jesus will God bring with him.” And best of all, the Revelation—the quiet form of Good Friday night, the Risen Jesus on Easter Day! As certainly as sleep implies awaking, so—since Jesus was buried and rose again—the grave means resurrection from the dead, means, in fact, that here we work and there we wait, wait for the great awaking.1 [Note: Canon W. J. Knox Little.]

Dreary were this earth, if earth were all,

Though brighten’d oft by dear affection’s kiss;—

Who for the spangles wears the funeral pall?

But catch a gleam beyond it, and ’tis bliss.

Heavy and dull this frame of limbs and heart,

Whether slow creeping on cold earth, or borne

On lofty steed, or loftier prow, we dart

O’er wave or field; yet breezes laugh to scorn

Our puny speed, and birds, and clouds in heaven,

And fish, like living shafts that pierce the main,

And stars that shoot through freezing air at even—

Who but would follow, might he break his chain?

And thou shalt break it soon; the grovelling worm

Shall find his wings, and soar as fast and free

As his transfigured Lord with lightning form

And snowy vest—such grace He won for thee,

When from the grave He sprung at dawn of morn,

And led through boundless air thy conquering road,

Leaving a glorious track, where saints new-born

Might fearless follow to their blest abode.

But first, by many a stern and fiery blast

The world’s rude furnace must the blood refine,

And many a gale of keenest woe be pass’d,

Till every pulse beat true to airs divine.

Till every limb obey the mounting soul,

The mounting soul, the call by Jesus given.

He who the stormy heart can so control

The laggard body soon will waft to heaven.1 [Note: J. Keble, The Christian Year.]

Citizenship in Heaven


Bersier (E.), Twelve Sermons, 255.

Butler (H. M.), University and other Sermons, 1.

Church (R. W.), Cathedral and University Sermons, 115.

Church (R. W.), Village Sermons, 3rd Ser., 139.

Darlow (T. H.), Via Sacra, 29.

Hort (F. J. A.), Village Sermons, 2nd Ser., 147.

Huntingdon (F. D.), Christ in the Christian Year, 243.

Jordan (T.), Christ the Life, 38.

Kay (J.), Paulus Christifer, 179.

Little (W. J. K.), The Perfect Life, 187.

Mackennal (A.), The Healing Touch, 246.

Manning (H. E.), Sermons, iii. 182.

Murphy (J. B. C.), Homely Words for Life’s Wayfarers, 133.

Paget (F. E.), The Living and the Dead, 223.

Plumptre (E. H.), Theology and Life, 130.

Pusey (E. B.), Sermons from Advent to Whitsuntide, 328.

Simpson (J. G.), The Spirit and the Bride, 249.

Spurgeon (C. H.), Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit, viii. (1862), No. 476; xvii. (1871), No. 973.

Strong (A. H.), Miscellanies, ii. 159.

Wilberforce (B.), The Hope that is in Me, 80.

Cambridge Review, xi. Supplement No. 276 (Dickinson).

Christian World Pulpit, xl. 115 (Ingram); xlvi. 220 (Scott); lxviii. 86 (Crozier).

Church of England Pulpit, xlv. 245 (Eland); xlvi. 193 (Jordan); xlvii. 51 (Creighton).

Churchman’s Pulpit: Ascension Day, viii. 447 (Lawrence); Twenty-third Sunday after Trinity, xiii. 288 (Grimley).

Expositor, 2nd Ser., iii. 303 (Cox); 3rd Ser., i. 361 (Evans).

Verse 21

(21) Who shall change . . .—This passage needs more accurate translation. It should be, who shall change the fashion of the body of our humiliation, to be conformed to the body of His glory. (1) On the difference between “fashion” and “form,” see Philippians 2:7-8. The contrast here signifies that humiliation is but the outward fashion or vesture of the body; the likeness to Christ is, and will be seen to be, its essential and characteristic nature. This “humiliation” marks our condition in this life, as fallen from our true humanity under the bondage of sin and death. The body is not really “vile,” though it is fallen and degraded. (2) “His glory” is His glorified human nature, as it was after the Resurrection, as it is now in His ascended majesty, as it shall be seen at His second coming. What it is and will be we gather from the sublime descriptions of Revelation 1:13-16; Revelation 19:12-16; Revelation 20:11. What is here briefly described as change to conformity with that glory is worked out in 1 Corinthians 15:42-44; 1 Corinthians 15:53-54, into the contrast between corruption and incorruption, dishonour and glory, weakness and power, the natural (animal) body and the spiritual body. In 2 Corinthians 3:18; 2 Corinthians 4:16, we read of the beginning of glorification in the spirit here; in 2 Corinthians 4:17-18; 2 Corinthians 5:1-4, of the completion of “the exceeding weight of glory” in the hereafter, as glorifying also “our house which is in heaven. St. John describes that glorification with brief emphatic solemnity, “We shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is,” and draws out explicitly the moral which St. Paul here implies, “Every man that hath this hope purifieth himself, even as He is pure.”

According to the working . . .—Properly, in virtue of the effectual working of His power to subject all things to Himself. Comp. Ephesians 1:19; Ephesians 3:7, and Notes there. Here, as there, St. Paul speaks of His power as not dormant or existing in mere capacity, but as energetic in working, unhasting and unresting. Here briefly, as more fully in the celebrated passage of the First Epistle to the Corinthians (1 Corinthians 15:24-28) he describes it as “subduing all things unto Himself,” till the consummation of this universal conquest in the Last Judgment and the delivery of “the kingdom to God, even the Father . . . that God may be all in all.” Of that power the primary exhibition, in which He is pleased to delight, is in salvation, gradually preparing His own for heaven; the secondary exhibition, undertaken under a moral necessity, is in retributive judgment. It is of the former only that St. Paul speaks here, as it shall be made perfect in the resurrection unto eternal life.


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Bibliography Information
Ellicott, Charles John. "Commentary on Philippians 3:4". "Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers". 1905.

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