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Bible Commentaries

Expositor's Bible Commentary

Philippians 3

 

 

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Verses 1-8

Chapter 10

NO CONFIDENCE IN THE FLESH.

Philippians 3:1-8 (R.V.)

THE third chapter contains the portion of this Epistle in which, perhaps, one is hardest put to it to keep pace with the writer. Here he gives us one of his most remarkable expositions of true Christian religion as he knew it, and as he maintains it must essentially exist for others also. He does this in a burst of thought and feeling expressed together, so that, if we are to take his meaning, the fire and the light must both alike do their work upon us; we must feel and see both at once. This is one of the pages to which a Bible reader turns again and again. It is one of the passages that have special power to find and to stir believing men.

Yet it seems to find its place in the letter almost incidentally.

It would seem, as some have thought, that in the first verse of this chapter the Apostle begins to draw his letter to a close. Cheerful words of farewell begin to shape themselves. At the same time a closing reference is in view to some practical danger that required to be guarded against. Almost suddenly things take a new turn, and a flood of great ideas claim and take their place.

"Finally, my brethren, rejoice in the Lord." Rejoice, be of good cheer, was the common formula of leave-taking. The same word is translated "farewell" in 2 Corinthians 13:11 (Authorised and Revised Versions). But the Apostle, especially in this Epistle, which is itself inspired by so much of the Christian gladness, cannot but emphasise the proper meaning of the customary phrase. Rejoice, yes, rejoice, my brethren, in the Lord. The same turn of thought recurs again in Philippians 4:4. What it is fitted to suggest will be equally in place when we reach that point.

Now he seems to be on the point of introducing some subject already referred to, either in this or in a previous Epistle. It concerned the safety of the Philippians, and it required some courteous preface in touching on it once again; so that, most likely, it was a point of some delicacy. Some have thought this topic might be the tendency to dissension which had appeared in Philippi. It is a subject which comes up again in chap. 4; it may have been upon the point of coming up here. The closing words of Philippians 3:1 might well enough preface such a reference. The theme was not so pleasant as some of those on which he had written: it might be delicate for him to handle, and it might call for some effort on their part to take it well. Yet it concerned their safety that they should fully realise this element of the situation, and should take the right view of it. Therefore also the Apostle would not count it irksome to do his part in relation to it. People entangled in a fault are in circumstances not favourable to a right estimate of their own case. They need help from those who can judge more soundly. Yet help must be tendered with a certain considerateness.

But at this point a new impulse begins to operate. Perhaps the Apostle was interrupted, and, before he could resume, some news reaches him, awakening afresh the indignation with which he always regarded the tactics of the Judaisers. Nothing indicates that the Philippian Church was much disposed to Judaise. But if at this juncture some new disturbance from the Judaisers befell his work at Rome, or if news of that kind reached him from some other field, it might suggest the possibility of those sinister influences finding their way also to Philippi. This is, of course, a conjecture merely; but it is not an unreasonable one. It has been offered as an explanation of the somewhat sudden burst of warning that breaks upon us in Philippians 3:2; while, in the more tranquil strain of chap. 4, topics are resumed which easily link themselves to Philippians 3:1

Still, even if this denunciation of Judaising comes in rather unexpectedly, it does not really disturb the main drift of the Epistle, nor does it interfere with the lessons which the Philippians were to learn. It rather contributes to enforce the views and deepen the impressions at which Paul aims. For the denunciation becomes the occasion of introducing a glowing description of how Christ found Paul, and what Paul found in Christ. This is set against the religion of Judaising. But at the same time, and by the nature of the case, it becomes a magnificent exposure and rebuke of all fleshly religionising, of all the ways of being religious that are superficial, self-confident, and wordly-minded. It also becomes a stirring call to what is most central and vital in Christian religion. If then there was at Philippi, as there is everywhere, a tendency to be too easily contented with what they had attained; or to reconcile Christianity with self-seeking; or to indulge a Christianised arrogance and quarrelsomeness; or in any other shape, "having begun in the spirit to be made perfect in the flesh," - here was exactly what they needed. Here, too, they might find a vivid representation of the "one spirit" in which they were to "stand fast," the "one soul" in which they were to "labour" together. [Philippians 1:27] That "one spirit" is the mind which is caught, held, vitalised, continually drawn upwards and forwards, by the revelation and the appropriation of Christ.

The truth is that a remiss Christianity always becomes very much a Judaism. Such Christianity assumes that a life of respectable conventions, carried on within sacred institutions, will please God and save our souls. What the Apostle has to set against Judaism may very well be set against that in all its forms.

"Keep an eye on the dogs, the evil workers, on the concision." The Judaisers are not to occupy him very long, but we see they are going to be thoroughly disposed of. Dogs is a term borrowed from their own vocabulary. They classed the Gentiles (even the uncircumcised Christians) as dogs, impure beings who devoured all kinds of meats and were opened to all kinds of uncleanness. But themselves, the Apostle intimates, were the truly impure, shutting themselves out from the true purity, the heart’s purity, and (as Dr. Lightfoot expresses it) "devouring the garbage of carnal ordinances." They were also evil workers, mischievous busybodies, pertinaciously busy, but busy to undo rather than to build up what is good, "subverting men’s souls." [Acts 15:24] And they were the concision, not the circumcision according to the true intent of that ordinance, but the concision, the mutilation or gashing. Circumcision was a word which carried in its heart a high meaning of separation from evil and of consecration to the Lord. That meaning (and therefore also the word which carried it) pertained to gospel believers, whether outwardly circumcised or not. For the Judaising zealots could be claimed only a circumcision which had lost its sense, and which no more deserved the name, -a senseless gashing of the flesh, a concision. All these terms seem to be levelled at certain persons who are in the Apostle’s view, and are not unknown to the Philippians, though not necessarily resident in that city.

For any full statement of the grounds of the Apostle’s indignation at the Judaising propaganda, the reader must be referred to the expository writings on other Epistles, especially on those to the Corinthians and to the Galatians’ Here a few words must suffice. Judaising made the highest pretensions to religious security and success; it proposed to expound the only worthy and genuine view of man’s relation to God. But in reality the Judaisers wholly misrepresented Christianity, for they had missed the main meaning of it. Judaising turned men’s minds away from what was highest to what was lowest-from love to law, from God’s gifts to man’s merits, from inward life and power to outward ceremonial performance, from the spiritual and eternal to the material and the temporary. It was a huge, melancholy mistake; and yet it was pressed upon Christians as the true religion, which availed with God, and could alone bring blessing to men. Hence, as our Lord denounced the Pharisees with special energy-sometimes with withering sarcasm [Luke 11:47] -so, and for the same reasons, does Paul attack the Judaisers. The Pharisees applied themselves to turn the religion of Israel into a soul-withering business of formalism and pride; and Paul’s opponents strove to pervert to like effect even the gracious and life-giving gospel of Christ. To such he would give place, no, not for an hour.

Two things may be suggested here. One is the responsibility incurred by those who make a religious profession, and in that character endeavour to exert religious influence upon others. Such men are taking possession, as far as they can, of what is highest and most sacred in the soul’s capacities; and if they misdirect the soul’s life here, if consciously or unconsciously they betray interests so sacred, if they successfully teach men to take false coin for true in the matter of the soul’s dealings with God and with its own welfare, their responsibility is of the heaviest.

Another point to notice is the energy with which the Apostle thinks it right to denounce these evil workers. Denunciation is a line of things in which, as we know very well, human passion is apt to break loose-the wrath of man which worketh not the righteousness of God. The history of religious controversy has made this very plain. Yet surely we may say that zeal for truth must sometimes show itself in an honest indignation against the wilfulness and the blindness of those who are misleading others. It is not always well to be merely mild and placable. That may arise in some cases from no true charity, but rather from indifference, or from an amiability that is indolent and selfish. It is good to be zealously affected in a good thing. Only, we have reason to take heed to ourselves and to our own spirit, when we are moved to be zealous in the line of condemning and denouncing. Not all who do so have approved their right to do it, by tokens of spiritual wisdom and single-hearted sincerity such as marked the life and work of Paul.

The Judaisers put abroad the false coin, and believers in Christ, whether circumcised or not, had the true. "We are the circumcision, who worship by the Spirit of God, and who glory in Christ Jesus, and who put no confidence in the flesh." Such are truly Abraham’s children. [Galatians 3:29] To them belong whatever relation to God, and interest in God, were shadowed forth by circumcision in the days of old.

No doubt, the rite of circumcision was outward; and no doubt it came to be connected with a great system of outward ordinances and outward providences. Yet circumcision, according to the Apostle, pointed not outwards, but inwards. [Romans 2:28-29] Elsewhere he lays stress on this, that circumcision, when first given, was a seal of faith. In the Old Testament itself, the complaint made by the prophets, speaking for God, was that the people, though circumcised in flesh, were of uncircumcised heart and uncircumcised ears. And God threatens to punish Israel with the Gentiles-the circumcised with the uncircumcised-because all the house of Israel are uncircumcised in heart.

The true circumcision then must be those, in the first place, who have the true, the essentially true worship. Circumcision set men apart as worshippers of the true God: hence Israel came to be thought of as a people "instantly serving (or worshipping) God day and night." That this worship must include more than outward service in order to be a success - that it should include elements of high spiritual worth, was disclosed in Old Testament revelation with growing clearness. One promise on which it rested was: "The Lord thy God will circumcise thine heart, and the heart of thy seed, to love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, that thou mayest live." The true circumcision, those who answer to the type which circumcision was meant to set, must be those who have the true worship. Now that is the worship "by the Spirit"; on which we shall have a word to say presently.

And again, the true circumcision must be those who have the true glorying. Israel, called to glory in their God, were set apart also to cherish in that connection a great hope, which was to bless their line, and, through them, the world. That hope was fulfilled in Christ. The true circumcision were those who welcomed the fulfilment of the promise, who rejoiced in the fulness of the blessing, because they had eyes to see and hearts to feel its incomparable worth.

And certainly, therefore, as men who had discovered the true foundation and refuge, they must renounce and turn from the false trust, they must put no confidence in the flesh. Is this, however, a paradox? Was not circumcision "outward, in the flesh."? Was it not found to be a congruous part of a concrete system, built up of "elements of this world"? Was not the temple a "worldly sanctuary," and were not the sacrifices "carnal ordinances"? Yes; and yet the true circumcision did not trust in circumcision. He who truly took the meaning of that remarkable dispensation was trained to say, "Doth not my soul wait on God? from Him cometh my salvation." And he was trained to renounce the confidences in which the nations trusted. Hence, though such a man could accept instruction and impression from many an ordinance and many a providence, he was still led to place his trust higher than the flesh. And now, when the true light was come, when the Kingdom of God shone out in its spiritual principles and forces, the true circumcision must be found in those who turned from that which appealed only to the earthly and the fleshly mind, that they might fasten on that in which God revealed Himself to contrite and longing souls.

The Apostle, therefore, claimed the inheritance and representation of the ancient holy people for spiritual believers, rather than for Judaising ritualists. But apart from questions as to the connection between successive covenants, it is worth our while to weigh well the significance of those features of Christian religion which are here emphasised.

"We," he says, "worship by the Spirit of God." The Holy Spirit was not absent from the old economy. But in those days the consciousness and the faith of His working were dim, and the understanding of the scope of it was limited. In the times of the New Testament, on the contrary, the promise and the presence of the Spirit assume a primary place. This is the great promise of the Father which was to come into manifestation and fulfilment when Christ had gone away. This, from Pentecost onwards, was to be distinctive of the character of Christ’s Church. According to the Apostle Paul, it is one great end of Christ’s redemption, that we may receive the promise of the Spirit through faith. So, in particular, Christian worship is by the Spirit of God. Therefore it is a real and most inward fellowship with God. In this worship it is the office of the Holy Spirit to give us a sense of the reality of Divine things, especially of the truths and promises of God; to touch our hearts with their goodness, on account especially of the Divine love that breathes in them; to dispose us to decision, in the way of consent and surrender to God as thus revealed. He takes the things of Christ, and shows them to us. So he brings us, in our worship, to meet with God, mind to mind, heart to heart. Although all our thoughts, as well as all our desires, come short, yet, in a measure, a real consent with God about His Son and about the blessings of His Son’s gospel comes to pass. Then we sing with the Spirit, when our songs are filled with confidence and admiration, arising out of a sense of God’s glory and grace; and we pray in the Holy Ghost, when our supplications express this loving and thankful close with God’s promises. It is our calling and our blessedness to worship by the Spirit of God. Much of our worship might fall silent, if this alone should be upheld; yet this alone avails and finds God. Whatever obscures this, or distracts attention from it, whether it be called Jewish or Christian, does not aid worship, but mars it.

It is true that the presence of the Spirit of God is not discernible otherwise than by the fruits of His working. And the difficulty may be raised, how can we, in practice, be secure of having the Spirit whereby to worship God? But, on the one hand, we know in some degree what the nature of the worship is which He sustains; we can form some conception of the attitude and exercise of soul towards Christ and God which constitute that worship. We do therefore know something as to what we should seek; we are aware of the direction in which our face should be set. On the other hand, the presence of the Spirit with us, to make such worship real in our case, is an object of faith. We believe in God for that gracious presence, and ask for it; and so doing, we expect it, according to God’s own promise. On this understanding we apply ourselves to find entrance and progress in the worship which is by the Spirit.

All appliances which are supposed to aid worship, which are conceived to add to its beauty, pathos, or sublimity are tolerable only so far as they do not tend to divert us from the worship which is by the Spirit. Experience shows that men are extremely prone to fall back from the simplicity and intentness of spiritual worship; and then they cover the gap, which they cannot fill, by outward arrangements of an impressive and affecting kind. Outward arrangements can render real service to worshippers, only if they remove hindrances, and supply conditions under which the simplicity and intentness of the worship "by the Spirit" may go on undisturbed. Very often they have tended exactly in the contrary direction; not the less because they have been introduced, perhaps, with the best intentions. And yet the chief question of all is not the more or less, the this or that, of such circumstantials; but rather what the heart fixes on and holds by.

Again, we "glory in Christ Jesus." Christians are rich and great, because Christ Jesus assumes a place in their mind and life, such as makes them partakers of all spiritual blessing in Him. They glory, not in what they are, or do, or become, or get, but in Christ. Glorying in anything implies a deep sense of its wonderfulness and worth, along with some persuasion that it has a happy relation to ourselves. So Christ is the power and wisdom of God, the revelation of the Father, the way to the Father, the centre of blessing, the secret of religious restoration, attainment, and success, and He is ours; and He sets the type of what we through Him shall be. To glory and triumph in Christ is a leading characteristic of Christian religion.

And so, then, we "put no confidence in the flesh." If in Christ, under the revelation which Centres in Him, we have found the way to God arid the liberty to serve God, then all other ways must be for us ipso facto exposed and condemned; they are seen to be fallacious and fruitless. All these other ways are summoned up in "the flesh." For the flesh is human nature fallen, with the resources which it wields, drawn from itself or from earthly materials of some kind. And in some selection or combination of these resources, the religion of the flesh stands. The renunciation of trust in such ways of establishing a case before God is included in the acceptance of Christ’s authority and Christ’s salvation. This condemns alike the confidence in average morality, and that in accredited ecclesiastical surroundings. It condemns confidence in even the holiest Christian rites, as if they could transfer us, by some intrinsic virtue, into the Kingdom of God, or could accredit our standing there. The same holds of confidence in doctrines, and even of confidence in sentiments. Rites, doctrines, and sentiments have their place of honour, as lines in which Christ and we may meet. Otherwise they all fall into the category of the flesh. Many things the flesh can do, in worship as in other departments; but it cannot attain to the worship that is by the Spirit of God. Much it can boast of; but it cannot replace Immanuel; it cannot fill the place of the reconciliation and the life. When we learn what kind of confidence is needed towards God, and find the ground of it in the Christ of God, then we cease to rely on the flesh.

At this point the Apostle cannot but emphasise his own right to speak. He appeals to his remarkable history. He knows all about this Judaic religion, which glories in the flesh, and he knows also the better way. The experience which had transformed his life entitled him to a hearing; for, indeed, he, as no man else, had searched out the worth of both the ways of it. So he is led into a remarkable testimony regarding the nature and the working forces of true Christian religion. And this, while it serves the purpose of throwing deserved disgrace on the poor religion of Judaising, serves at the same time a higher and more durable purpose. It sets the glory of the life of faith, love, and worship, against the meanness of all fleshly life whatever; and thus it vividly impresses on all hearers and readers the alternatives with which we have to deal, and the greatness of the choice which we are called to make.

If Paul decries the Jewish glorying in the flesh, it is not because he lacked ground, that had enabled him to cherish it and might enable him still to do so. "I also have material enough of fleshly confidence:-if any other thinks to have confidence in the flesh, I more." Then comes the remarkable catalogue of the prerogatives which had once meant so much for Saul of Tarsus, filling his heart with confidence and exultation. "Circumcised the eighth day"-for he was no proselyte, but born within the fold "of the stock of Israel"-for neither had his parents been proselytes: in particular, for he was one whose pedigree was ascertained and notorious, "of the tribe of Benjamin": "a Hebrew of Hebrews" nursed and trained, that is to say, in the very speech and spirit of the chosen people; not, as some of them, bred up in a foreign tongue, and under alien influences; "concerning the law, a Pharisee"-that is, "of the strictest sect of our religion"; [Acts 26:5] for, as a Pharisee, Saul had given himself wholly to know the law, to keep the law, to teach the law. More yet-"as to zeal, a persecutor of the Church"; in this clause the heat of the writer’s spirit rises into pathetic irony and self-scorn: "This appropriate outcome of carnal Judaism, alas, was not lacking in me: I was not a Judaiser of the half-hearted sort." The idea is that those who, trusting in fleshly Judaism, claimed also to be Christians, knew neither their own spirit, nor the proper working of their own system. Saul of Tarsus had been no such incoherent Jew; only too bloodily had he proved himself thorough and consistent. Lastly, as to "law righteousness," the righteousness of compliance with rules, he had been unchallengeable; not a pharisaic theorist only, but a man who made conscience of his theory. Ah! he had known all this; and more, he had been forced in a great crisis of his life to measure and search out the whole worth of it.

"But what things were gain to me"-the whole class of things that ranked themselves before my eyes, and in my heart, as making me rich and strong -" those I have esteemed" (in a mass) "to be loss for Christ." They ceased to be valuable when they began to be reckoned as elements of disadvantage and of loss in comparison of Christ. Nor these things only, but even all things-"Yea, doubtless, and I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord." "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 fake 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 yet might 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 11:1-33; for which 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.

The difficulty for us here is to estimate worthily the elevation of that regard to Christ which had become the inspiration of the life of Paul.

At the time when he was arrested on the road to Damascus, God revealed His Son to him and in him. Paul then became aware of Jesus as the Messiah of his people, against whom his utmost energies had bent themselves-against whom he had sinned with his utmost determination. That discovery came home to him with a sense of great darkness and horror; and, no doubt, at the same time, his whole previous conceptions of life, and his judgments of his own life, were subverted, and fell in ruins around him. He had had his scheme of life, of success, of welfare; it had seemed to him a lofty and well-accredited one; and, with whatever misgivings he might occasionally be visited, on the whole he thought of himself as working it out hopefully and well. Now on every side were written only defeat, perplexity, and despair. But ere long the Son of God was revealed in his [Galatians 1:16] as the Bearer of righteousness and life to sinners - as the embodiment of Divine reconciliation and Divine hope. In this light a new conception of the world, a new scheme of worthy and victorious life, opened itself to Paul-new and wonderful. But the reason of it, the hopefulness of it, the endless worth of it, lay chiefly here, that God in Christ had come into his life. The true relation of moral life to God, and the ends of human life as judged by that standard, were opening before him; but, if that had stood alone, it might only have completed the dismay of the paralysed and stricken man. What made all new was the vision of Christ victoriously treading the path in which we failed to go, and of Christ dying for the unrighteous. So God came into view, in His love, redeeming, reconciling, adopting, giving the Holy Spirit-and He came into view "in Christ Jesus." God was in Christ. The manifold relation of the living God to His creature man began to be felt and verified in the manifold relation of Christ the Son of God, the Mediator and Saviour, to the broken man who had defied and hated Him. Christ henceforth became the ground, the meaning, and the aim of Paul’s life. Life found its explanation, its worth, its loving imperative here. All things else that once had value in his eyes fell away. If not entirely dismissed, they were now to have only such place and use as Christ assigned to them, only such as could fit the genius of life in Christ. And all new prerogatives and attainments that might yet accrue to Paul, and might seem entitled to assume value in his eyes, could only have the same subordinate place:-Christ first, whose light and love, whose power to fix and fill and attract the soul, made all things new; Christ first, so that all the rest was comparatively nowhere; Christ first, so that all the rest, if at any time it came into competition with Him, if it offered itself to Paul as a source of individual confidence and boasting, is recognised as mere loss, and in that character resolutely cast away.

This had become the living and ruling principle with Paul; not so, indeed, as to meet with no opposition, but so as to prevail and bear down opposition. Enthusiastically accepted and embraced, it was a principle that had to be maintained against temptation, against infirmity, against the strong tides of inward habit and outward custom. Here lay the trial of Paul’s sincerity and of Christ’s fidelity and power.

That trial had run its course: it was now not far from its ending. The opening of heart and mind to Christ, and the surrender of all to Him, had not been the matter merely of one hour of deep impression and high feeling. It had continued, it was in full force still. Paul’s value for Christ had borne the strain of time, and change, and temptation. Now he is Paul the aged, and also a prisoner of Christ Jesus. Has he abated from the force or cooled from the confidence of that mind of his concerning the Son of God? Far otherwise. With a "Yea, doubtless" he tells us that he abides by his first conviction, and affirms his first decision. Good right he had to testify. This was not a matter of inward feeling only, however sincere and strong. He had been well proved. He has suffered the loss of all things; he has seen all his treasures-what are counted for such-swept away from him as the result of unflinching faith and service; and he counts all to be well lost for Christ.

This passage sets before us the essential nature of Christianity-the essential life of a Christian, as revealed by the effect it has on his esteem for other things. Many of us, one supposes, cannot consider it without a sense of deep disgrace. The view here given awakens many thoughts. Some aspects of the subject must be dwelt upon for a moment.

Those things that were gain, all things that can be gain, such are the objects Paul here reckons with. The believing mind concerning Christ carries with it a changed mind as regards all these.

Apparently, in some deep sense, there arises for us in this world an inevitable competition between Christ on the one hand and all things on the other. If we should say some things, we might be in danger of sliding into a one-sided puritanism. But we escape that risk by saying, emphatically, all things. A decision upon this has to be reached, it has to be maintained, it is to be reaffirmed in particulars, in all particulars. For we must remember that the heart of Paul, in this burst of loyalty, is only echoing the call of Christ: "He that loveth father or mother more than Me, is not worthy of Me. Let us repeat it, this applies to all things." Because a certain way of feeling and thinking about these things, and especially about some of them, is present with us all, which asserts itself against this principle, therefore Christian life, however rich and full, however gracious and generous its character truly is, must include a negative at the base of it. "Let a man deny (or renounce) himself, and take up his cross."

That life should be subjected to this severe competition seems hard: we may repine at it, and count it needless. We may ask, "Why should it be so? Why might not Christ take His place in our regard-His first, His ideal, His incomparable place-and, at the same time, all the other things take their place too, each in due order, as the true conception of human life may imply, and as the claims of loyalty to Christ may dictate? Why should not each take its place, more prominent or more subordinate, on a principle of harmony and happy order? Why should life be subjected to conflict and strain?" We may dream of this; but it will not be. We are such persons, and the world about us is so related to us now, that the "all things" are found continually claiming a place, and striving to make good for themselves a place in our heart and life, that will not consist with the regard due to Christ. They can be resisted only by a great inward decision, maintained and renewed all along our life, for Christ and against them. The nearest approach the believer makes in this life to that happy harmony of the whole being which was spoken of just now, is-when his decision for Christ is so thorough and joyful, that the other elements-the "all things"-fall into their place, reduced into obedience by an energy that breaks resistance.

Then, too, in that place, they begin to reveal their proper nature as God’s gifts, their real beauty and their real worth.

But then, in the next place, though the decision cannot be escaped, yet, let us be assured, there is in this no real hardship. To be so called to this decision is the greatest blessedness of life. There is that in Christ for men, on account of which a man may gladly count all else but loss, may count it abundantly well worth his while to make this choice. Christ as binding us to God, Christ as the living source of reconciliation and sonship, Christ as the spring of a continually recruited power to love and serve and overcome, Christ as assuring to us the attainment of His own likeness, Christ as the revealer of a love which is more and better than all its own best gifts-Christ discloses to us a world of good, for the sake of which it is well done to cast, if need be, all else away. It proves reasonable to reject the importunate claim which other things make to be reckoned indispensable. It proves natural, according to a new nature, to hold all else loosely, that we may hold this one interest fast.

Yet this is not to be done or endeavoured by dismissing out of life all that gives character and movement to human existence. Not so; for indeed it is human life itself, with its complex of relations and activities, that is to receive the new inspiration. The decision is to be made by accepting the principle that life, throughout, must be life in Christ, life for Christ; and by setting ourselves to learn from Him what that principle means. Of the "all things" many must continue with us; but if so, they must continue on a new principle: no longer as competitors, certainly not as allowed competitors, but as gifts and subjects of Christ, accepting law and destination from Him. Then, also, they may continue to carry with them many a pleasant experience of our Master’s providential goodness. The effort to comply with Paul’s example by mutilating human life of some of its great elements has often been a sincere and earnest effort. But it implies a distorted, and eventually a narrowed view of the Christian’s calling. For, short of suicide, we can never deal with all things on that principle of simple amputation. Now the Apostle says all things: "I count all things to be loss."

Let this, however, be noted, that loyalty requires something more than merely a new valuation of things in our minds, however sincere that valuation might be. It demands also actual sacrifice, when duty or when faithful service calls for it. Paul’s Christianity was prompt to lay down, as circumstances in the course of following Christ might demand, everything, anything, even that which, in other circumstances, might retain its place in life, and be counted, in its own place, seemly and welcome. Not only shall a man count all to be loss for Christ: he shall actually, when called upon, suffer the loss of anything or of all things. No Christian life is without its occasions when this test has to be accepted. Most Christian lives include lessons in this department at the very outset. Some Christian lives are very full of them, -full, that is, of experiences in which contented submission to privation, and cheerful acceptance of trouble and danger, must approve the sincerity of the esteem for Christ our Saviour which is the common profession of us all. So it was with Paul. He had suffered the loss of all things.

It is because the "all things," in their infinite variety of aspect and influence, tend so constantly to come into competition with Christ, to our great hurt and danger, that they must be so emphatically repudiated, and counted to be "loss." They are loss indeed, when they succeed in taking the place they claim, for then they impoverish our life of its true treasure. We may suffer this encroachment to take place stealthily-all but unconsciously. All the more fit it is that we should learn to assert loyalty to our lord with a magnanimous vigilance. It becomes us to set His worth and claims emphatically, with a "yea, doubtless," against the poor substitutes for which we are tempted silently to exchange Him. If not, we are likely to come back to that sad stage which has been already brought before us (chap. 2), the condition of those Christians who "all seek their own, not the things which are Jesus Christ’s."

Let us own, however, that men are trained in different lines of discipline to the same great result. The lesson broke into the life of Paul with astounding force at one great crisis. Some, on the contrary, begin their training in little instances of early life, and under influences working too gently to be afterwards recalled. Gradually they grow into a clearer perception of the gifts Christ offers and of the claims He makes; and each step of decision paves the way to new attainments. The experience of all Christians, however diversified their training may be, is harmonised in the fidelity of each to the light he has, and of all to the Lord who calls them all to follow Him.


Verses 8-18

Chapter 11

THE KNOWLEDGE OF CHRIST.

Philippians 3:8-18 (R.V.)

MR. ALEXANDER KNOX, in a letter to a friend, makes the following remark: "Religion contains two sets of truths, which I may venture to denominate ultimate and mediatory: the former refer to God as an original and end; the latter to the Word made flesh, the suffering, dying, rising, ruling Saviour; the way, the truth, the life. Now I conceive these two views have almost ever been varying, in the minds even of the sincerely pious, with respect to comparative consequence; and while some have so regarded the ultimate as in some degree to neglect the mediatory, others have so fixed their views on the mediatory as greatly and hurtfully to lose sight of the ultimate." This writer refers to Tillotson on one side, and Zinzendorf on the other, as instances of these extremes; and indicates that perhaps his own leaning might be a little too much in the former direction.

It can hardly be doubted that there is something in this suggestion. In the guidance and training of the soul some aim mainly at right dispositions towards God and His will, without much dwelling on what Knox calls mediatory truths; because they assume that the latter exist only with a view to the former; and if the end has been brought into view and is coming to be attained, there is no special need of dwelling on the means. Others aim mainly at receiving the right impressions about Christ dying and rising, and at complying with the way of salvation as it is set forth to us in Christ; because they are persuaded that here the secret lies of all deliverance and progress, and that the end cannot otherwise be reached. And Mr. Knox suggests, with truth most likely, that such persons have often so occupied themselves with what may be called the means of salvation that they lose sight in a great degree of the end to which all tends-life in God, life in fellowship with His loving goodness and His holy will.

What application these views may have to divergences of our own day it would take too long to consider. Mr. Knox’s remark has been referred to here in order to throw light on the mental attitude of Paul. Paul will hardly be accused of losing sight of the ultimate truths; but certainly he delights to view them through the mediatory truths; and he strives to reach the ultimate victory, through the most realising application to his heart and life of what those mediatory truths embody and disclose. Through the mediatory truths the ultimate ones reveal themselves to him with a wealth and an intensity otherwise unattainable. And the eternal life comes into experience for him as he takes into his soul the full effect of the provision which God has made, in Christ, to bestow eternal life upon him. That order of things which is mediatory is not regarded by Paul only as a fitting introduction, on God’s part, to His ultimate procedure; it is also in the same degree fitted to become for the individual man the medium of vision, of assurance, of participation. In other words, Paul finds God and makes way into goodness through Christ; and not through Christ merely as an embodied ideal, but through union to Christ Divine and human, Christ living, dying, rising, redeeming, justifying, sanctifying, glorifying. He never pauses in any of these, so as to fail in looking onward to God, the living God, But neither does he pass on to that goal so as to disregard the way unto the Father. If he could have foreseen the method of those who are striving in our day to bring men to the blessedness which Christianity holds out by dwelling exclusively on Christian ethics, he might have sympathised with their ethical intensity; but he would surely have wondered that they failed to find in Christianity more pregnant springs of motive and of power. Perhaps he would even be moved to say, "O foolish Galatians (or Corinthians), who hath bewitched you?" Not less, it must also be said, might he wonder at many a gospel preacher, who rehearses the "way of salvation" until the machinery clanks and groans, unable apparently to divine-unable, at least, to bring out-that glory of God in it, that wonderful presence and influence of infinite holiness, goodness, and pity, which make the gospel the power of God.

We, meanwhile, shall do well to imitate the charity of Mr. Knox, who cordially owned the Christian piety of those who might go too far either way. Few of us, indeed, can dispense with the charity that is tender to partial and imperfect views. But if we are to understand Paul, we must find our way into some sympathy with him here; not only as he is seen on this line to have attained so far in saintship, but as he is seen to be sure that this way lay much more-that on this line his road lay to the glory that should be revealed. He could contemplate the practice and growth of piety in many lights; yet it came home to him most evidently as growth in the knowledge and in the appropriation of Jesus Christ.

He has cast away for the sake of Christ the treasures so much valued by the Jews, and many a treasure more. But what he would chiefly impress on the minds of those to whom he writes is not so much the amount of what he has cast away, but rather the worth of that which he has found, and more and more is finding. The mass of things set down for loss is a mere steppingstone to this central theme. But though he tells us what he thought and felt about it, most of us learn but slowly how much it meant for him. When we sit down beside the Apostle to learn his lesson, we become conscious that he is seeing what we cannot descry; he is sensitive to Christ through spiritual senses which in us are torpid and undeveloped. Christ holds him all through. It is faith, and love, and gratitude; it is self-devotion, and obedience, and wonder, and worship; and, through all, the conviction glows that Christ is his, that "in Christ" all things have changed for him. In Christ we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sin. He hath made me accepted in the Beloved. I live; yet not I, but Christ. In Christ, old things have passed away, all things are made new. Christ is made of God unto us wisdom, righteousness, sanctification, and redemption. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?" The intense heat of this conception of Christ, it must once more be said, gives its distinctive character to the religious life of Paul. May we not say that the lamentable distinction of a great deal of current Christianity is the coldness of men’s thoughts about their Saviour? The views of many may be characterised as "correct, but cold." Only what can be more incorrect, what can more effectually deny and controvert the main things to be asserted, than coldness towards our Saviour, and cold thoughts of His benefits? This we "should hold to be unpardonable. We never should forgive it to ourselves.

"For the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus." Christ had come into the life of Paul as a wonderful knowledge. Becoming thus known to him, He had transformed the world in which Paul lived, and had made him conscious of a new order of existence, so that old things passed away and all became new. The phrase employed combines two ideas. In the first place, Paul felt Christ appealing to him as to a thinking, knowing nature. 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 Christ Jesus." 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 a speculation, but a 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 thee 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.

Hence, while in ver. 8 (Philippians 3:8), the Apostle speaks of himself as encountering all earthly loss that he may know Christ, in ver. 9 (Philippians 3:9), it is that he may gain Christ and may be found in Him. Christ so came into the field of his knowledge as to become-the treasure of his life, replacing those things which heretofore had been gain, and which now figured as loss. When Paul turned from all else to know Christ, he turned, at the same time, to have Christ, "gaining Him," and to be Christ’s, "found in Him."

Christ, in fact, comes to us with commandments, "words," [John 14:23] which are to be kept and done. He comes to us, also, with promises, the fulfilment of which, in our own case, is a most practical business. Some of these promises concern the world to come; but others apply to the present; and these, which lie next us, either are neglected, or are embraced and put to proof, every day of our lives. Besides all this, Christ comes to us to fix and fill our minds, and to endear Himself to us, in virtue simply of what He is. So viewed, He is to be owned as our best Friend, and indeed henceforth, with reverence be it said, by far our nearest Relation. This is to be, or else it is not to be. Each day asks the question, Which? Paul’s Christianity was the answer to that question. How his answer rings in all our ears! Our Christianity also is making its reply.

Both as to knowledge and as to experience the type was fixed from the first: there could be no doubt about either. But both were to deepen and widen as life went on. Christ was apprehended at first as a wonderful Whole of good; but so that indefinite fields of progress were continually to open up. In the very first days a knowledge dawned, for the sake of which all else was counted loss; yet a world of truths remained to know, as well as of good to experience, for the sake of which also all else should continue to be counted but loss. This, in fact, is only one way of saying that Christ and His salvation were realities, divinely full and worthy. Being real, the full acquaintance with all they mean for men can only arise in a historical way. Paul therefore emphasises this, that real Christianity, the right kind of Christianity, just because it has found a treasure, is set on going on to find that same treasure still further and still more. {comp. Philippians 1:9} If the treasure is real and the man is in earnest, that will be so. Such had been the course of his own Christian life from the first. Now, though many years have disciplined him, though changing experiences have given him new points of view, still, no less than at the first, his rejoicing in the present goes hand in hand with reaching onward to the future. The one, in fact, is the reason of the other. Both are rational, or neither. He has counted all to be loss for the excellency of the knowledge which has broken upon his soul: and still he presses on, that he may know; for the same strong attraction continues and grows.

Before passing to details, something more should perhaps be said of this magnificent generality, "the knowledge of Christ."

Christ is first of all known historically; so He is presented to us in the Gospels. His story is part of the history of our race. He passes through youth to manhood. We see Him living, acting, enduring; and we hear Him teaching-wonderful words proceed from His mouth. We contemplate Him in His humiliation, under the limits to which He submitted that He might share our state and bear our burdens. In the pathways of that Jewish life He discloses a perfect goodness and a perfect dignity. We see especially that He cherishes a purpose of good will to men which He bears to them from the Father. It overflows in all His words and works, and in the prosecution of it He moves on to lay down His life for us. This is the beginning of the knowledge of the Only Begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth. Much may as yet be undefined; many questions may crowd on us that receive as yet no precise answer; nay, much may seem to us as yet to be strangely entangled in the particulars of an individual and of a provincial existence. But this presentation of Christ can never be dispensed with or superseded; and, for its essential purpose, it never can be surpassed. For this is the Life. "The Life was manifested, and we have seen it, and show unto you that Eternal Life, which was with the Father, and was manifested unto us."

This vision, which the Gospels set before us, was also before the mind of Paul. And words of our Lord, delivered in His earthly ministry, and preserved by those who heard Him, were treasured by the Apostle of the Gentiles, and reproduced to guide the Churches as need required. Yet there is a sense in which we may say that it is not exactly the Christ of the Gospels who comes before us in the Pauline writings. The Christ of Paul is the Lord who met him by the way. It is Christ dead, risen, and ascended; it is Christ with the reason and the result of His finished work made plain, and with the relation unveiled which He sustains to men who live by Him; it is Christ with the significance of His wonderful history for believers shining out from Him-Christ vestitus Evangelio. Now He has gone up above all worlds. No longer is He hedged about by necessities of mortal life; no longer tied by earthly bonds to some places and some men and one nation. He is glorified; all fulness dwells in Him; all God’s purposes are seen to centre in Him. And then, by His death and resurrection, the tie between Him and His people is unveiled to faith, as it could not be before. They are one with Him-in Him redeemed, endowed, triumphant, glorified. Every Christian privilege and attainment, every grace, every virtue and good gift, takes on a celestial character, as it is seen to be an element in our fellowship with Christ. The state of Christians is seen reflected in their Head. And, in turn, Christ is seen, as it were, through the medium of the relation which He sustains to them, and of the wealth of good arising to them by it. It is Christ as He is to His people, Christ as He is set in the centre of the world of good that radiates to them all, whom Paul wonders at and worships. And he finds all this to be rooted in our Lord’s death upon the cross, which was the crisis of the whole redemption. All that follows took character and efficacy from that death.

A special insight into all this was included in the wisdom given to Paul. And yet this view of things does not turn out to be something diverse or alien from what the Gospels set before us. Rather it is the gospel story revealing its native significance arid virtue along many lines which were not so distinct before.

But now all this, in turn, leads us to the third aspect of the case. What Christ is and what He does may be described; but there is a knowledge of it which is imparted practically, in the progressive history of the believer. According to the Christian teaching, we enter, as Christians, on a new relation; and in that relation a certain blessed well-being is appointed to us. This well-being is itself an unfolding or disclosure of Christ. Now this well-being comes home to us and is verified in the course of a progressive human experience. Life must become our school to teach us what it all means. Life sets us at the point of view now for one lesson, now for another. Life moves and changes, and brings its experiences; its problems, its conflicts, its anxieties, its fears, its temptations; its need of pity, pardon, strengthening; its experience of weakness, defeat, and disgrace; its opportunities of service, self-denial, fidelity, victory. For all those occasions Christ has a meaning and a virtue, which, in those occasions, is to become personal to ourselves. This makes knowledge indeed. This becomes the vivid commentary upon the historical and the doctrinal instruction. Life, taken in Christ’s way, along with prayer and thought, manifests Christ’s meaning, and makes it real to us, as nothing else can. It furnishes the stepping-stones for passing onward, in the knowledge of Christ.

This also was Paul’s condition, though he was an inspired man. He too was fain to improve his knowledge in this school. And when we take all three aspects together, we shall see how truly, for Paul and for us, the knowledge of Christ is, on the one hand, so excellent from the first, that it justifies the great decision to which it calls us; and, on the other hand, how it creates a longing for further insight and fresh attainment. The latter we see in the Apostle as plainly as the former. From the first, he knew in whom he believed, and was persuaded that for His sake all else was to be resigned. Yet to the end he felt the unsatisfied desire to know more, to gain more; and his heart, if we may apply here the Psalmist’s words, was breaking for this longing which it had.

It was remarked above that the "excellency of the knowledge of Christ" in ver. 8 (Philippians 3:8), corresponds in the Apostle’s thought to the "gaining" of Christ and being "found in Him" of ver. 9 (Philippians 3:9); and this may be the best place to say a word on these two phrases. To gain Christ, points to a receiving Christ as one’s own; and the Apostle uses the phrase so as to imply that this finding of Christ, as One who is gained or won, was still going on; it was progressive. Clearly also the alternative is implied, that what is not gained is lost. The question in the Apostle’s life, about which he was so decided, was about no less than losing or gaining Christ. The phrase "be found" points to the verification of Paul’s relation to Christ in his history and in its results. That relation is contemplated as something that proves true. It turns out to be so. We shall best understand the phrase as referring, not to some one future date at which he should be so found, but rather to present and future alike. As men, or angels, or God, or Christ might view him, or as he might take account of his own state, this is what he would have found in regard to himself. Every way he would be found in Christ. The form of expression, however, is specially appropriate here, because it fits so well into the doctrine of righteousness through Christ, which the Apostle is about to emphasise. A similar remark applies to the expression "in Christ" so frequently occurring in the Pauline writings. This is usually explained by saying that the Apostle sets before us Christ as the sphere of his spiritual being-in whom he lived and moved-never out of relation to Him, and not so related to any other. Such explanations are true and good: only we may say that the pregnant strength of the expression seems to be weakened even by the best explanations. The relation in view is too wonderful ever to be adequately described. The union between Christ and His Church, between Christ and the believing man, is a mystery; and like all objects of faith, it is dimly apprehended by us for the present. But the certainty of it, and its wonderfulness, we should never allow ourselves to overlook. Christ is able to bring men into fellowship with Himself, to assume responsibility for them, to represent their interests and to care for their good; and men may receive Christ into their lives; with a completeness on both sides which no explanations can adequately represent. The identification with Christ which the phrase suggests naturally fits what follows.

Now the Apostle goes more into detail. He tells us what were for him the main articles of this good state of being "found in Christ." He indicates, with a certain eager gratitude, the main lines along which the benefits of that state had come into experience, and along which he was pressing on to know the fulness of Christ. First, in Christ he has and shall have not his own righteousness, which is that of the law, but that which is through the faith of Christ, the righteousness which is of God by faith. Then, secondly, he has in hand a practical knowledge of Christ, culminating in the complete deliverance of the resurrection. It includes two aspects or elements: Christ known in the power of His resurrection, and Christ known in the fellowship of His sufferings.

The first thing then which rises distinctly into view in connection with being found in Christ is the possession of the new righteousness. We have seen already that value for righteousness such as is of law, and hope Of achieving it, had been associated with Paul’s old days of Jewish zeal. He then stood on the law, and gloried in the law. But that had passed away when he learned to count all things loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ. Ever after, the contrast between the two ways of seeking "righteousness" continued to be fundamental in Paul’s Christian thinking.

The law here in view was the whole revealed will of God touching man’s behaviour, coming as a will of authority, requiring obedience. The discussion in the earlier chapters of the Epistle to the Romans makes this plain. And Paul’s way of keeping the law, in those old days, though it was necessarily too external, had not been so merely external as is sometimes supposed. His obedience had been zealous and resolute, with as much heart and meaning as he could put into it. But law-keeping for righteousness had been the principle of it. The Jew was placed under a law; obedience to that law should be his pathway to a destiny of incomparable privilege and gladness. That was the theory. So believing, Paul had given himself with zeal to the work, "living in all good conscience before God." A great change had now befallen him; but that could not imply on his part a renunciation of God’s law. The law, better understood indeed, and far more inwardly apprehended, still retained for Paul its great outlines, and was reverenced as Divine. It was holy and just and good. It was felt still to shed its steadfast light on human duty, awakening and illuminating the conscience; and therefore it revealed most authentically the moral situation, with its elements of failure, and danger, and need. The law stood fast. But the scheme of life which stood in keeping the law for righteousness had passed away for Paul, vanishing in the light of a new and better day.

Here, however, we must ask what the Apostle means when he speaks of the righteousness which is by the faith of Jesus Christ, the righteousness which is of God unto or upon faith. Great disputes have arisen over this question. We must endeavour to find the Apostle’s main meaning, without involving ourselves too much in the mazes of technical debate.


Verse 9

Chapter 12

THE RIGHTEOUSNESS OF FAITH.

Philippians 3:9 (R.V.)

RIGHTEOUSNESS is a term which is applied in different ways. Often it denotes excellence of personal character. So used, it suggests the idea. of a life whose manifestations agree with the standard by which lives are tried. Sometimes it denotes rectitude or justice, as distinguished from benevolence. Sometimes a claim to be approved, or judicially vindicated, is more immediately in view when righteousness is asserted. Paul himself freely uses the word in different applications, the sense, in each passage, being determined by the context. Here we have the righteousness of faith, as distinguished from the righteousness of works, or righteousness by the law. The passage belongs to a large class in which righteousness is spoken of as accruing, through Christ, to those who are unrighteous, or whose own righteousness has proved unreliable. Let us try to fix the thought which the Apostle designed to inculcate in such passages.

The Apostle, then, conceives of the righteousness, of which he has so much to say, as God’s: it is the "righteousness of God." [Romans 1:17; Romans 3:22; Romans 10:3] Yet it is not God’s in the sense of being an attribute of His own Divine nature: for (in the passage before us) it is called "the righteousness from God"; it arises for us by our faith in Jesus Christ; and 2 Corinthians 5:21 "we are made the righteousness of God in Christ." It is, therefore, something that is from God to us believing, a "gift of righteousness." [Romans 5:17] At the same time it is not, on the other hand, an attribute or quality of the human mind, whether natural or imparted; for it is something "revealed." [Romans 1:17] Also, it is opposed to the wrath of God. Now, that wrath is indeed an element of our state as sinners, but not a feature of our character. Further, it could not be said of any internal character of our own, that we are to be "obedient," or are to "submit" to it. [Romans 10:3]

In the latter part of Romans 5:1-21 we have set before us two counter conceptions: the one of sin and condemnation, deriving from Adam, antecedent to the personal action and offence of those who descend from him; the other of free gift unto justification, following from the righteousness or obedience of Christ, this being a gift of grace abounding unto many. In either case the Apostle sees arising from one a relation which pertains to many, and which brings forth its results to them: on the one hand, sin and death; on the other, righteousness and life. In both cases a common relation is recognised, under which individuals are found existing; and in either case it traces up to the one-to Adam or to Christ. Whatever difficulties may be felt to attach to this passage, the Apostle’s doctrine of the righteousness of faith must be understood so as to agree with the way of thinking which the passage expresses.

It appears, then, that the righteousness which is from God, unto or upon faith, expresses a relation between God and believers that is the proper basis for fellowship with God, confiding on their part, communicative of the best blessings on His. It is analogous to the relation conceived to arise when a perfectly righteous man is approved and set apart to weal; and like that it stands in contrast with the relation due to sin as it incurs wrath. It follows that this righteousness, if it exists or becomes available for those who have sinned, includes the forgiveness of sins. But it includes more than forgiveness, in so far as it is not merely negative. It is the concession to us of a standing which is a positive basis for experiences, pointing towards eternal life, and rising into it.

This relation to Himself God has founded for us sinful men in Christ, and specially in His atonement. It is part of what is divinely held out to us, as life or well-being in Christ. When we do awaken to it, our whole religious attitude towards God takes character from it, and is to be ordered accordingly. This way of being related to God is called God’s righteousness, or righteousness "from God," because it is not set up by us, but by God’s grace, through the redeeming work of Christ ("being justified freely by His grace, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus"- Romans 3:24). On the other hand, it is righteousness "of faith," or "through faith of Christ," because faith subjects itself to the order of grace, revealed and made effectual in Christ, and therein finds the reconciliation. For the believing man the relation becomes effectual and operative. He is "accepted in the Beloved.’" He is "constituted righteous," [Romans 5:19] and his intercourse with his Heavenly Father regulates itself accordingly, he being justified "from-or upon-his faith." The harmony with God on which he has entered becomes, in some degree, matter of consciousness for himself. [Romans 5:1] With this connection of things in view, the Apostle teaches that righteousness is imputed, or reckoned, to him who believes in Jesus. [Romans 4:24]

Whatever opinion we may choose to entertain of this scheme, it ought not to be disputed that this, in general, is Paul’s conception of the matter. However, let us emphatically note that it is as "in Christ," "found in Him," the Apostle possesses this form of well-being. If there be such a thing as a real union between the Saviour and Paul, then in the Saviour and with the Saviour Paul is thus righteous. The faith to which this righteousness arises is faith that unites to Christ, and not any other kind of faith. And so, if it be possible for Paul to fall from Christ, then also he must fall from the righteousness of faith. In Christ a relation to God appears, made good, maintained, and verified, in which He gathers to Himself and comprehends all true believers: "for which cause He is not ashamed to call them brethren." Hence also this Christian benefit, though it is distinguishable, is not separated radically from the other benefits. It is not possible to take the one and leave the rest; for Christ is not divided. But there is an order in His gifts; and, for Paul, this gift is primary. God is ours in Christ; therefore religion, true religion, may begin and go on. It is of weight with Paul that this righteousness of faith, arising for him who is "found" in Christ, is founded for us in the atonement. That is to say, the new relation is not represented as a relation created for us by a mere Divine fiat that it shall be so. It is represented as arising for sinful men out of the redemption of Christ; which redemption is represented as in its own nature fitted to fructify into this result, as well as into other fruits which are due to it. Christ’s atonement is the way which grace has taken to bring in the righteousness of faith. In particular we are made righteous (in this sense) through Christ, in a manner corresponding to that in which He was made sin for us, [2 Corinthians 5:21] Hence the blood, the sacrifice, the obedience of Christ are referred to on all occasions, in connection with the righteousness of faith, as explicative causes to which this is to be traced. The relation is first of all a relation completely grounded and made good in Christ; and then we are participant in it with Him, in virtue of our faith in Him. Clearly the Apostle thinks of this righteousness. of faith as something very wonderful. It is for him fundamental. It is the first article in which he celebrates the worth of the knowledge of Christ; no doubt, because he felt it transforming his whole moral and spiritual experience; and, in particular, because it contrasted so vividly with the nugatory righteousness of earlier days.

In earlier days Paul sought righteousness-an approved and, accepted standing with God-by the works of the law. That project failed when the great discovery on the road to Damascus showed him to himself as all astray; in particular, when the law itself, coming home to him in the fulness of its meaning, both revealed to him the beggarliness of his own performance, and, at the same time, stung into appalling activity ungodly elements within him. Then he saw before him the law rising from its deep foundations in eternal strength and majesty, imperative, unalterable, inexorable; and over against it his own works lay withered and unclean. But another vision came. He saw the Son of God in His life, death, and resurrection. Mere love and pity were the inspiration of His coming: obedience and sacrifice were the form of it. So in that great vision one element or aspect that rose into view was righteousness, -righteousness grounded as deep as the law itself, as magnificent in its great proportions, as little subject to change or decay, radiant with surpassing glory. As he saw, and bowed, and trusted, he became conscious of a new access and nearness to God Himself; he passed into the fellowship of God’s dear Son; he found acceptance in the Beloved. Here was the answer to that woeful problem of the law: righteousness in Christ for a world of sinners, coming to them as a free gift to faith. Here was the strong foundation on which faith found itself set to learn its lessons, and perform its service, and fight its battles. In Christ he received the reconciliation-merciful, and also righteous. As Paul thought of the ground on which he once had stood, and of the standing granted to him now, in Him, it was with a "yea, doubtless"’ he declared that he counted all to be loss for the gain of Christ, in whom he was found, not having his own righteousness, which was of the law, but that which is by the faith of Christ.

Righteousness of faith, as the Apostle conceives it, is to be distinguished from personal righteousness, or goodness, as an attribute of human character, but yet is most closely connected with it. Righteousness of faith opened what seemed to Paul the prosperous way into righteousness of daily living. In the very hour when he first believed for righteousness, he felt himself entering a kingdom of light, and love, and power, in which all things were possible; and ever after the same order of experience verified itself for him afresh. The righteousness of faith being the relation in which, through Christ, he found himself standing to God, fixed at the same time his relation to all Christian benefits, including, as a principal element, conformity to the likeness of Christ. To the man in Christ all these benefits pertained; in Christ he could claim them all: in Christ he found himself before doors that opened of their own accord to let him in; in Christ it proved to be a fit thing, grounded deep in the congruities of God’s administration, that God should be for him; there fore, also, the pathway of holiness lay open before him. The fulness of blessing had not yet come into possession and experience. But in the righteousness of faith he apprehended all blessings as stretching out their hands to, him, because through Christ they ought to be his. That he should find himself in a relation to God so simple and so satisfying was wonderful; all the more, when it was contrasted with the condemnation belonging to him as a sinner. This was the righteousness from God to faith, in the strength of which he could call all things his own.

If Paul had succeeded in the enterprise of his earlier days, when he sought righteousness by the law, he would, as he hoped, have found acceptance in the end; and various blessings would have followed. He would have emerged from his task a man stamped as righteous, and fit to be treated accordingly. That would have been the end. But now, in reference to his present enterprise, he has found, being Christ, acceptance at the beginning. So often as faith lifts him into the heavenly places where Christ is, he finds all things to be his; not because he has achieved righteousness, but because Christ has died and risen, and because God justifies him who believes in Jesus. The platform he hoped to reach by the efforts of a lifetime is already under his feet. Paul faces each arduous step in his new enterprise, strong in the conviction that his standing before God is rooted, not in his doings nor in his feelings, but in his Saviour in whom he holds the righteousness of faith.

We need not conceal from ourselves, however, that many find the doctrine thus ascribed to Paul unacceptable. If they do not count it positively misleading, as some do, they yet regard it as unprofitable theory.

Apart from objections drawn from theology or| morals or texts, they argue, for example, that it is all in the air, away from real experience. Christian religion is a practical matter, -a question of improved dispositions, improved habits, and improved prospects. If, through Christ, such things as these arise for us, if, through Him, influences reach us that tend to such results, then those are the practical specimens which interpret to us a Saviour’s kindness. To know Christ in these must be the true knowledge of Him. To carry us away beforehand into the region of a supposed relation to God is a precarious, and may be a delusive business; it is, at any rate, a dogmatic nicety rather than a vital element in religion. If we are to experience God’s mercy or Christ’s kindness in any practical form, then that is to be so; and it is shorter to say so at once. Let us fix on that, without interposing any doctrine of "righteousness by faith."

But it must be said, in reply, that to speak of this righteousness of faith as unpractical is a strange mistake. All religion aims at fellowship with God; and in Christian religion that fellowship becomes real and authentic in Christ. Through all exercises and attainments of Christian religion that are genuine, this thread goes. We have access to God, and we abide in the Father and the Son. How imperfectly this takes place on our part need not be said. The imperfection on our part is, indeed, only exceeded by the condescension on His. Yet our faith is that this is real, otherwise Christianity would not be for us the opening of an eternal blessedness. How can it be judged unpractical, if God reveals to men, first, that in the room of those confused and melancholy relations to God which arise for us out of our own past history, He has constituted for us a relation, apprehensible by faith, in which we find ourselves pardoned, accepted, commended to God to be made partakers of life eternal; and, secondly, that this is grounded in the service and sacrifice of His Son, sent forth to save us; so that we enter this relation and hold it, not independently, but in fellowship with the Son of God, His sonship becoming the model of ours? Is this unpractical? Is it unpractical to be conscious of such a relation between God and men, for ever embodied and made accessible in His Son our Saviour? Is it unpractical to apprehend God in the attitude towards us which is due to such a relation, and to take, ourselves, the attitude of gratitude and penitence and trust which on our side corresponds to it? It cannot be unpractical. It may be pernicious, if it takes the form of a cold, presumptuous arrogance, or of a self-satisfied Pharisaism; that is to say, if God be not in it. But if God in Christ is reaching us along those lines, or if we, alive to His eternal character, and conscious of our guilt and need, are reaching out to real relations and real fellowship with Him through His Son our Lord, then it cannot be unpractical. And, indeed, however men may differ as to theological explanations, some sense of the worth of the thing intended has reached the hearts of all true Christians. Perhaps the state of the case will more clearly appear if we fix attention on one Christian benefit. Let us take the forgiveness of sins. Forgiveness of sins is the primary grace, and it sets the type of the grace to which we owe all benefits. Forgiveness, as it were, leads in all other blessings by the hand; or, each blessing as it advances into a Christian life, comes with a fresh gift of forgiveness in the heart of it. If this is so, then the tendency, which is observable in various quarters, to pass forgiveness by, as a matter of course, and to hurry on to what are reckoned more substantial, or more experimental benefits, must be attended with loss. It must, so far, damage our conceptions of the manner in which it befits God to bestow blessings on sinful men, and also our conception of the spirit in which we should receive them. But then, in the next place, the forgiveness of sins itself is referred to the mediation of Christ, and the work accomplished in that mediation, as its known basis. Forgiveness of sins was to arise out of an order of grace, embodied in history-namely, in the history of the Incarnate Son of God; and we are not entitled to take for granted it could fitly arise otherwise. Apparently Christ Himself came into the inheritance which He holds for us, by an order of things which it was imperative on Him to regard, and by a history which He must fulfil. And we, believing m Him, find, in consequence, a new place and standing; we receive a "gift of righteousness" which contains the forgiveness of sins; we obtain, through Christ, a mode of access to God, of which forgiveness is a feature. So the place of forgiveness in the Divine administration is vindicated and safeguarded; and while forgiveness comes to us as a gift of the Father’s compassionate heart, it is found to be true also that "Christ washed us from our sins in His own blood." "God sent His Son, made of a woman, made under the law, to redeem them that were under the law." "God hath sent Him forth for a propitiation, through faith in His blood, to declare His righteousness for the remission of sins that are past, that He might be just, and the Justifier of him that believeth in Jesus." Our forgiveness is a free gift of God’s goodness; yet also, it is our participation with Christ, sent to us from the Father, in a wonderful relation which He has come to hold to sin and to righteousness. If we overlook this, we conceal from ourselves great aspects of the work undertaken for us by the love of God.

But if forgiveness, which is itself a meeting with God in peace, refers itself to the mediation of Christ as preparing for us a blessed relation to God-a righteousness of faith-how should our whole fellowship with God, in grace, fail to presuppose the same foundation?

But argument upon this topic might lead us far. Let us close the chapter in another vein.

All religion, worth recognising in that character, implies earnestness, serious aspiration, and endeavour. It supposes human life to place itself under the influence of an order of motives that is to be comprehensive and commanding. And this is true also of Christian religion. But Christian religion, as we know, does not begin with a consciousness of ability to achieve success; it is not grounded in an expectation that by strenuous or apt effort of ours, we may achieve the aims and secure the benefits at which religion points. That is not the root of Christian religion. It begins with a consciousness and confession of weakness: the soul owns its incompetency to deal with the great interests that reveal themselves in the light of Christ; it is without strength for tasks like these. And so the deepest and earliest exercise of Christian religion is Prayer. It asks great things from a great God. "This poor man cried," and the Lord heard him. Paul’s Christianity began thus: "Behold, he prayeth."

Now just so Christian religion does not begin with a consciousness of deserving something, or an idea that by taking pains we may deserve something, may single ourselves out for at least some modest share of favourable recognition. Rather it often begins with the fading away of such ideas when they were present before. Christian religion roots itself in the confession of sin, and therefore of ill-desert; it signalises itself by a deepening sense of the seriousness of the situation in this respect. With this it comes face to face before God. "I will confess my transgressions unto the Lord." "God be merciful to me a sinner." We have nothing that is not sinful to bring before Him; so, at length, we come with that. It is all we have. Our prayer rises not merely out of the sense of weakness, but out of the consciousness of demerit. But in Christian religion we are aware, as of strength which can remedy our weakness, so of forgiveness which can put away our sins. There is forgiveness with Thee." "Through this Man is preached to us the forgiveness of sins." It is clear also that this forgiveness comes, wherever it comes, as full and free forgiveness, "forgiving you all trespasses." So that in Christian religion we listen at Christ’s feet to the testimony directed to all penitent believers, that instead of reckoning in part or whole about the guilt of sins committed, we are to find God in Christ to be One who simply puts away our sin. That shall hold us apart from God no more. Rather, the putting of it away brings with it the strangest, lowliest access to God. "O God, thou art my God." "Who is a God like unto Thee?" Forgiveness is by no means mere immunity (least of all for Christian religion). Punishment, certainly, in the sense of the separation and evil which sin deserves, passes away. But forgiveness, "in Christian religion, is forgiveness with the Forgiver in it. We meet God in the forgiveness of sins. We abide with God in the forgiveness of sins.

Forgiveness, too, as we already foresee, is but the foundation and beginning of a history in which we are called to go forward. This history may have sad passages in it; but in going forward in it in faith we are assured that on God’s part it is a history of most painstaking and most sublime benefaction: all of it ordered so as to be of a piece with His sending of His Son; all of it instinct with the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ. Faith looking to Christ believes this, and receives it. And to faith upheld by Him on whom we trust all this is more and more made good, and comes true. It is a history of progress in true goodness. And the end is life everlasting.

Now the words before us suggest, upon the one hand, very strongly, the simply gratuitous character of the Christian benefits, and the sense of undeserved kindness with which they are to be received. In Christian religion we begin as those who have no righteousness, who plead no merit, who owe and are to owe all to Divine mercy. From the base upwards Christian religion is a religion of grace; and "it is of faith, that it might be by grace." Whatever activities, whatever successes may fall into the Christian’s career, whatever tong possession of accustomed good may eventually mark his experience, all is to be informed and inspired by this initial and perpetual conviction, "Not having mine own righteousness, which is of the law."

At the same time, the same words of the Apostle suggest very strongly the Divine stability of the good which meets us in Christ. A very strong foundation has been laid for those who flee for refuge to lay hold of the hope set before them in the gospel. To our sense, indeed, things may seem to be most mutable. But when faith reaches to the things not seen, it learns another lesson. In Christ believers are graced with entrance into an order of salvation divinely strong and durable. When God gave us Christ, He gave us, in a sense, "all things," and indeed all things ordering themselves into an eternal expression of fatherly love and care. In Christ comes into view not goodness only, but goodness allying itself for us with Wisdom and Power and Right. It makes its way by incarnation and atonement and resurrection to a kingdom which, being first Christ’s, appointed to Him, is also His people’s, appointed to them. Now a relation to God which looks forward to all this, which is the basis for it and the entrance to it, descends on the believing man through Christ. It is due to Christ that it should come so. It is the Father’s loving will that it should be so. All that is needful to ground and vindicate that most gracious relation is found in Christ, who of God is made unto us righteousness; in whom we hold the righteousness which is of God on faith.

The Apostle’s course of thought has not led us to raise any question about the nature and the virtue of the faith which apprehends and receives the righteousness of God. It is a subject on which much has been said. What seems needful here may be soon spoken.

The only way of entering on new relations with God, or ourselves becoming new men, is the way of faith. This Christian way is the only way.

Every other is simply impossible. Let any man seriously try it, and he will find it so. But the question, What kind of faith? is best answered by saying, Such faith as is called for by the object of faith set before us, when that is honestly and intently regarded. As the gospel is, the faith must be; for the gospel is the instrument by which faith is evoked, sustained, and guided. The great object of faith is God, graciously revealing Himself through Christ. Every genuine aspect of this revelation takes its significance from its disclosure of God. The faith, so called, which misses this, is wrong faith; the faith which marks and welcomes this is right faith. And such faith is already, even in its earliest life, breaking forth into repentance and love and obedience. It must be, for God is in it.

So, to confine ourselves to the aspect of things which occupies this chapter, the faith which meets God in the forgiveness of sins through Christ, and genuinely accepts from Him the wonderful position of holding fellowship with God forgiving, is already, virtually, repentance as well as faith. The man who so meets with God, is therein agreed with God about his own sin: he feels God to be in the right and himself to be wholly in the wrong; he feels, in particular, God to be most sublimely and conclusively in the right in the holy pity of His forgiveness. The man who does not feel this, is not accepting forgiveness. He may be posturing as if he were, but he is not doing it.

There is just one difficulty in faith-the difficulty of being real. But when it is real, it makes all things new.


Verse 10-11

Chapter 13

RESURRECTION LIFE AND DAILY DYING.

Philippians 3:10-11

WE have still other aspects to consider of that "gain" which the Apostle descried in Christ, for the sake of which he had cast so much away.

To prize the righteousness of faith was an element in the true knowledge of Christ; but it was so far from exhausting that knowledge that it only opened a door of progress, and brought near the most stirring possibilities. For, indeed, to be found in Christ having that righteousness meant that God in Christ was his, and had begun to communicate Himself in eternal life. Now this must still reveal itself in further and fuller knowledge of Christ. According to the Apostle’s conception, that which Christ means to be to us, that which we may attain to be by Christ, opens progressively to the soul that has been won to this pursuit; it comes into view and into experience in a certain growing knowledge. It is a practical historical career; and the Apostle was set on achieving it, not by strength or wisdom of his own, but by the continual communication of grace, responding to desire and prayer and endeavour.

We must not forget, what has more than once been said, that this earthly life of ours is the scene in which the discipline goes on, in which the career is achieved. It is the calling here and now, not at some other stage of being, that the Apostle is thinking of for himself and for his disciples. And as earthly life is the scene, so earthly life also furnishes the occasions and opportunities by which the knowledge of Christ is to advance. Any other way of it is for us inconceivable. This life in all the various forms which it assumes for different men, in all the changing experiences which it brings to each of us-life on the earth we know so well-with its joy and sorrow, its labour and rest, its gifts and its bereavements, its friends and foes, its times and places, its exercise and interest for body and mind, for intellect and heart and conscience, with its temptations and its better influences, -life must furnish the opportunities for acquiring this practical knowledge of Christ. For that which falls to us, if we are in Christ, is a certain blessed well-being (itself an unfolding of Christ’s wisdom and grace). And this must impart itself, and reveal itself, in our actual experience, but in an experience which we pass through under the guidance of Christ.

This familiar life, then, is the scene; it alone can furnish the opportunities. And yet what the Apostle apprehends, as coming into possession and experience, is a life of a higher style, a life set on a nobler key: it is a life that has its centre and source and true type elsewhere; it belongs to a higher region; indeed, it is a life whose perfect play pertains to another, coming world. Capacity for such a life is not something superhuman; it is congenital to man, made in the image of God. And yet, if these capacities unfold, man’s life must, in the end, become other than we know it now; with a new proportioning of elements, with a new order of experience, with new harmonies, with aptitudes for love and service and worship that are beyond us now. Only now, they begin and grow; they are now to be aimed at, and realised in earnest and first-fruit, and embraced in hope. For they are elements in the knowledge of Christ, who is ours to know.

This is indicated in the Apostle’s aspiration after knowing Christ in the power of His resurrection, and his yearning if by any means he might attain to the resurrection of the dead.

The resurrection of Christ marked the acceptance of His work by the Father, and revealed the triumph in which that work ended. Death and all the power of the enemy were overcome, and victory was attained. For one thing, the resurrection of Christ made sure the righteousness of faith. He rose again for our justification. So every passage of the Apostle’s life which proved that his confidence in that respect was not vain, that God in Christ was truly his God, was an experience of the power of Christ’s resurrection. But the resurrection of Christ was also His emergence-His due emergence-into the power and blessedness of victorious life. In the Person of Christ life in God, and unto God, had descended into the hard conditions set for Him who would associate a world of sinners to Himself. In the resurrection the triumph of that enterprise came to light. Now, done with sin, and free from death, and asserting His superiority to all humiliation and all conflict, He rose in the fulness of a power which He was entitled also to communicate. He rose, with full right and power to save. And so His resurrection denotes Christ as able to inspire life, and to make it victorious in His members.

When, then, Paul says that he would know Christ in the power of His resurrection, he aims at a life (already his, but capable of far more adequate development) conformed to the life which triumphed in the risen Christ, one with that in principle, in character, and in destiny.

This was, in the meantime, to be human life on the earth, with the known elements and conditions of that life; including, in Paul’s case, some that were hard enough. But it was to be transformed from within, inspired with a new meaning and aim. It was to have its elements polarised anew, organised by new forces and in a new rhythm. It was, and was to be, pervaded by peace with God, by the consciousness of redemption, by dedication to service. It was to include a recoil from evil, and a sympathy with goodness, -elements these which might be so far thought of as a reverting to the unfallen state. But it had more in it, because it was based on redemption, and rooted in Christ who died and rose again. It was baptised with the passion of gratitude; it was drawn into the effort to build up the Redeemer’s kingdom; and it aimed at a better country.

So while the life we know so well was the sphere in which this experience fulfilled itself, the longings it included pointed to an existence higher up and further on-to an existence only to be reached by resurrection from the dead, an existence certainly promised to be so reached. All the effort and the longing pointed to that door of hope; Paul was reaching on to the resurrection of the dead. For that blessed resurrection would consummate and fulfil the likeness to Christ and the fellowship with Him, and would usher into a manner of being where the experience of both should be unimpeded. The life of "knowing Christ" could not be contented here, could not rest satisfied short of that consummation. For indeed to be with Christ and to labour for Christ here on earth was good; yet so that to depart and be with Christ was far better.

We have here to do with the active and victorious aspect of Christian life, the energy in it that makes it new and great. It holds by a title and it draws from a source which must be looked for, both of them, high up in heaven. Something in it has already triumphed over death.

It may be felt, however, that there is some danger here lest the great words of Paul may carry us off our feet, and divorce us from terra firma altogether. Some one may ask, But what does all this mean in practice? What sort of life is it to be? Apostles can soar, perhaps; but how about the man in the workshop or in the counting-house, or the woman busied in family cares? A life in "the power of a resurrection" seems to be something that transcends earthly conditions altogether. These are perfectly fair questions, and one should try to meet them with a plain reply.

The life in view is first of all goodness in its ordinary sense, or what we call common morality-common honesty, common truthfulness, common kindness. "Let him that stole steal no more, but rather let him labour"; "Not slothful in business"; "Lie not one to another, seeing ye have put off the old man with his deeds." But then this common morality begins to have an uncommon heart or spirit in it, by reason of Christ. So a new love for goodness and a new energy of rejection of evil begin to work; also a new sensitiveness to discern good, where its obligation was not felt before, and to be aware of evil which, before, was tolerated. Moreover, in the heart of this "common morality" the man carries about a consciousness of his own relation to God, and also of the relation to God of all with whom he meets. This consciousness is very imperfect, sometimes perhaps almost vanishes. Yet the man is aware that an immense truth is here close to him, and he has begun to be alive to it. This consciousness tends to give a new value to all the "moralities": it awakens a new percipiency as to good and evil; in particular, the great duty of purity in relation to the man himself, and to others, acquires a new sacredness. The place and claims of self also begin to be judged by a quite new standard. In all directions possibilities of good and evil in human life are descried; and the obligation to refuse the evil and to choose the good presses with a new force. So far, the remark made a little ago is justified, that the Christian life of Paul was a life that had begun to point practically towards sinlessness, towards what we call an unfallen state; however far off it might be, as yet, from that attainment. But this would be a very limited account of the matter. The whole region of duty and privilege Godwards is lighted up now by the faith of redemption in Christ; that not only awakens gratitude, but inspires a new passion of desire and hope into all moral effort. And the man, being now aware of a kingdom of goodness set up by Christ, which is making its way to victory against all the power of evil, and being aware of the agencies by which it works, must give himself in his own place to the service of that kingdom, that he may not hurt, but help, the cause which it embodies. The new life is therefore to be an energetic life of the plainest goodness. Only faith places it in relation to the world of faith, and inspires it with the passion of love and gratitude, and amplifies it by the new horizons that fall back on all sides, and gives it a goal in the hope of life eternal.

Returning to the instance of the Apostle Paul, one observes from his account of it that the regard of the believer to Christ, such regard as may actually be attained and operative in this life, ought to fructify into desires and prayers that point beyond this life, and reach out to the resurrection of the dead. There is a contentedness with life here that is not Christian. It would agree well with a thankful use of earthly comforts, and a cheerful serenity amid earth’s changes, that we should feel our home and our treasure to be in another place, and the enjoyment of them to lie in a coming world. Not otherwise shall we know how to make a right Christian use and have a right Christian enjoyment of this life. We are not prepared to get the full good of this world until we are ready and willing to go out of it.

Let it be observed, also, how the Apostle strove to "attain" the resurrection of the dead. The great things of the Kingdom of God are exhibited in various connections, none of which is to be overlooked. One of these connections is here exhibited.

We know that in Scripture a distinction is made between the resurrection of the righteous and the resurrection of the wicked. A solemn obscurity rests on the manner and the principles of the latter, the resurrection to shame. But the resurrection of the just takes place in virtue of their union to Christ; it is after the example of His resurrection; it is to glory and honour. Now this resurrection, while it is most obviously a crowning blessing and benefaction coming from God, is represented also as having the character of an attainment made by us. The faith in which we turn to God is the beginning of a course leading to the "end of our faith, the salvation of our souls." This end coincides with the resurrection. Then the hour comes which completes, then the state arrives in which is completed, the redemption of the man. The resurrection rises before us, therefore, as something which, while on the one hand promised and given by God, is, on the other hand, "attained" by us. Our Lord [Luke 20:35] speaks of those who shall be "counted worthy to attain that world, and the resurrection of the dead."

The resurrection is promised to believers. It is promised to arise to them in sequel to a certain course-a history of redemption, made good in their lives. How shall the disciple verify his expectation of this final benefit? Not surely without verifying the intermediate history. The way must point towards the end-at least, must point towards it. A resurrection state, if it be like Christ’s, how much must it include! What purity, what high aptitudes, what delicate congenialities! The desires of the true Christian life, its aspirations and efforts, as well as the promises which animate and the influences which sustain it, all point in this direction. But how if in any case this prove unreal, deceptive; how if it be ostensible only? How if no real changes take place, or if they die out again? What if soul and body rise unchanged, the soul polluted, and so the very body bearing the stamp of old sins? What if the murderous eye of hate, or the lurid eye of lust, shall look into the eyes of Him whose eyes are as a flame of fire? Accordingly this connection of things is impressed upon us by our Apostle: [Romans 8:11] "If the Spirit of Him that raised up Christ from the dead dwell in you, He that raised up Christ from the dead shall also quicken your mortal body by His Spirit which dwelleth in you." While we live here, our body, however disciplined, must still be the body of our humiliation (Philippians 3:21); and sin continues to beset even renewed souls. But if the Spirit of grace is even now bringing all into subjection to the obedience of Christ, enabling us to die to sin and to live to righteousness, that points forward to the completion of the work, in the resurrection to glory.

This, then, is one view in which the Apostle realises the solemnity and interest of Christian life. It is the way that leads up to such a resurrection. The resurrection rises before him as the consummate triumph of that life for which he came to Christ, the life which he longs perfectly to possess, perfectly to know. The success of his great venture is to meet Him in the rising from the dead; his course, meanwhile, is a striving onwards to it. How was it to be reached? In order to that, much must still be brought into experience of the resurrection power of Christ. Only in that strength did Paul look to be carried to the point at which, ending his course, he should lie down (if he died before Christ come) in the blessed hope of the rising from the dead. For this he looked to Christ to work mightily in him; for this he owned himself bound, under the grace of Christ, to strive mightily, if "by any means" he might attain to it. So great is this consummation; so great are those things which fitly lead up to it. Is it not a great view of Christian religion that it sends men onward in a life in which they "attain" to the resurrection of the dead? Must not that be a great history of which this is the appropriate close?

Paul, then, was eager to go forward in a life intense and mighty, drawing on a great power to sustain it, and rising into splendid effects and results. But yet, in respect of some of its aspects, it rather seemed to the Apostle to be a certain deliberate and blessed dying. At least, the life must fulfil and realise itself along such a dying; and this also, this emphatically, he pressed on to know-"the fellowship of His sufferings, being made conformable to His death."

Our Lord’s life on earth, strong and beautiful though it was, was really at the same time his procedure towards death. He lived as one laying down His life, riot merely in one great sacrifice at the close, but from step to step along His whole earthly history. With no touch of the morbid or the fanatical, yet His course, in practice, had to be one of self-impoverishment, of loneliness, of acquaintance with energetic hostility of sin and sinners. It had to be so if it was to be faithful. He knew not where to lay His head; He endured the contradiction of sinners against Himself; He came unto His own, and His own received Him not. Even His friends, whom He so loved, and who loved Him in their imperfect way, did not love Him wisely or magnanimously, and constantly became occasions of temptation which had to be resisted. Pain and trial were the inevitable characters of the work given Him to do. It lay in His calling to put a strong and faithful negative on the natural desire for safety, for happiness, for congenial society and surroundings, for free and unembarrassed life. All this He had steadily to postpone to a period beyond the grave, and meanwhile make His way to the final crisis, at which, under a mysterious burden of extreme sorrow, accepted as the Saviour’s proper portion, He died for our sins. By this sacrifice He did, no doubt, relieve His followers of a burden which they never could have borne. But yet in doing so He made it possible for them to enter, happily and hopefully, on a life so far like His own. Their life, too, comes to be governed by a decision, maintained and persisted in, for God’s will, and against the impulse, in their case the impure and treacherous impulse, of their own will. They also, in their turn, but under His influence and with His loving succour, have so to live as in that life to die. They learn to say "No" for their Master’s sake to many objects which strongly appeal to them. They consent to postpone the period of perfectly harmonious life, free and unimpeded, to the time which lies beyond death. They must count their true life to be that which, perfectly conformed to and associated with their Master’s life, they shall live in another scene of things. Meanwhile, as to the elements of this world, the life which stands in these must die, or they must die to it, growing into the mind of their Lord.

It is difficult to speak of this without, on the one hand, conveying a strained and unreal view of the Christian’s attitude towards the present life, or, on the other hand, weakening too much the sense of "conformity to His death." In the first place the Christian’s dying is mainly, and certainly it is first of all, a dying to sin, a mortifying the flesh with the affections and lusts. It is the practical renunciation of evil, along with the maintenance of the watchfulness and self-discipline needed in order to be ready to renounce evil when it comes. Evil has to be rejected, not merely by itself, but at the cost of those earthly interests which are involved in the surrender to it, however dear or constraining those interests may seem to be; so that conformity to Christ’s death, if it covered no more, would still cover a great deal of ground. But it seems to cover something more-namely, a general loosening of the grasp upon this life, or on the temporary and sensible elements of it, in view of the worth and certainty of the higher and the better life. This life, indeed, as long as we are in it, can never lose its claims upon us, as the sphere of our duty, and the scene of our training. Here we have our place to fill, our relations to sustain, our part to play, our ministries to perform. In all these ways of it we have some good to do, of lower or loftier kinds; in all, we have many lessons to learn, which crowd upon us to the last; through all we have to carry the faith of the unseen Kingdom and the unseen Lord; and in all these aspects of earthly life, if God gives us any cheering experience of earthly brightness, surely it is to be taken most thankfully. It is a poor way of construing the conformity to Christ’s death, to renounce interest in the life of which we are a part, and the world which is the scene of it. But the interest should fasten more intently on the things which interest our Lord, and eagerness of spirit about earthly good for ourselves must give place and subside.

And yet, when one thinks of the beauty and sweetness of much that pertains to our earthly existence, and of the goodness of God in material or temporal gifts, and of the thankfulness with which Christian hearts are to take these when they are given, and are to walk with God in the use of them, one feels the risk of involving oneself here in extravagance or in contradiction. We are not going to maintain that the Apostle would shut himself out, or us, from interest or delight in the innocent beauty or gladness of the earth. But yet is it not true that we are all passing on to death, and in death are to be parted from all this? Is it not true that as Christians we consent to dying; we count it the good discipline of Christ’s people that they should die, and pass so into the better life? Is it not true that our life as Christians should train us to maintain this mind deliberately and habitually, calmly and gladly? For indeed this life, at its purest and best, still offers to us a vision of good that is apt to steal our hearts away from the supreme good, the best and highest. Now that best and highest rises before us, as practically to be made ours, in the resurrection.

Meanwhile, it is well, no doubt, that we should cherish a frank and thankful gladness in all earthly good and earthly beauty that can be taken as from the Father’s hand. Yet there should grow upon us an inward consent, strengthening as the days go by, that this shall not endure; that it shall not be our permanent possession; that it shall be loosely held, as erelong to be parted from. Such a mind should grow, not because our hearts are cold to the present country of our being, but because they are warming towards a better country. These earthly things are good, but they are not ours; we have only a lease of them, terminable at any time. Who shall bring us to that which is, and shall eternally be, our very own?

So Christ our Master passed through life, with an open eye and heart for the fair and the lovable around Him, for flowers and little children, and for what was estimable or attractive in men, even in a natural way. Surely all was dear to Him on which he could see the trace of the Creator’s holy hands. Yet He passed on and passed by, going forward to death and consenting to die, His face set steadfastly to a joy before Him which could not be realised by lingering here.

Now let this be especially observed, that while we may here recognise a practical lesson to be learned, the wisest of us may also recognise it as a lesson we could not undertake to teach to ourselves. To oppose sin, when conscience and God’s word warn us of its presence, is at least something definite and plain. But how to take the right attitude and bear the right mind towards this various, manifold, engrossing, wonderful human life, as it unfolds for us here-how shall that be done? Some have tried to answer by amputating large sections of human experience. But that is not the way. For, indeed, it is in human life itself-in this present, and, for the present, the only form of our existence-that we must take the right view of human life, and form the right mind about it. Moreover, our conditions are varying continually, from the state of the little child, open to every influence that strikes the sense, to the state of the old man, whom age is shutting up in a crippled and stunted existence. The just equipoise of soul for one stage of life, could it be attained, would not be the just equipoise for the next.

The truth is, there is no ready-made theory here for any of us. All our attainments in it are tentative and provisional; which does not hinder, however, that they may be very real. When we believe in Christ we become aware that there is a lesson in this department to be learned, and we become willing, in a measure, to learn it. But we should learn little were it not for three great teachers that take us in hand.

The first is the inevitable conflict with sin and temptation. The Christian must, at all events, strive against known sin, and he must hold himself ready to resist the onset of temptation, watching and praying. In this discipline he soon learns how sin is entangled for him with much that in other respects seems desirable or good; he learns that in rejecting sin he must forego some things which on other accounts he gladly would embrace. It is often a painful conflict through which he has to pass. Now in seeking help from his Lord, and entering into the fellowship of the mind of Christ, he is not only strengthened to repel the sin, but also learns to submit willingly to any impoverishment or abridgment of earthly life which the conflict entails. He is taught in practice, now in one form, now in another, to count all things but loss-to lower the overweening estimate of earthly treasure and let it go, dying to it with his dying Lord.

Then, besides, there is the discipline of suffering. Sorrow, indeed, is not peculiar to Christians. Of it, all are partakers. But Christian endurance is part of a fellowship with Christ, in which we learn of Him. In the warm air of prosperity a hot mist rises round the soul, that hides from view the great realities, and that deceives and misleads us with its vain mirage. But in suffering, taken in Christ’s way and in fellowship with Him, in the pain of disappointment and of loss, and especially in the exercise of submission, we are taught feelingly where our true treasure is; and we are trained to consent to separations and privations, for the sake of Christ, and under the influence of the love of Christ.

And, lastly, the growth of Christian experience and Christian character deepens our impressions of the worth of Christ’s salvation, and gives more body and more ardour to Christian hope. As that world with its perfect good draws the believer, as it becomes more visible to faith and more attractive, his grasp of this world becomes, perhaps, not less kindly, but it becomes less tenacious. Knowledge, such as the schools of earth afford, we still feel to be desirable and good. Love, under the conditions which earth supplies for its exercise, we still feel to be very dear. The activities which call out courage and resource, we still feel to be interesting and worthy. Yet knowledge proves to be but in part. And love, if it does not die, needs for its health and security a purer air. And in the problems of active life failure still mingles with success. But the love of God which is in Jesus Christ grows in worth and power; so that, in new applications of the principle, we learn afresh to "count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ."

In a word, then, that we may grow into the mind of Christ, sufferings and self-denials are appointed to come into experience. He sets them for us; we should not unwisely set them for ourselves. They come in the conflict with sin or in the ordinary discipline of life. Either way they become for believers the fellowship of Christ’s sufferings; for they are taken in Christ’s way, under His eye, endured in the strength of His truth and grace and salvation. So believers become more conformable to His death. Hence this discipline of trial is indispensable to all disciples.

Some such view of the ends of Christ in regard to separation from sin and disengagement from the life which is doomed to die, we suppose to have been before Paul’s mind. He had come to Christ for life, abundant and victorious, such as should be answerable to the power of Christ’s resurrection. But he saw that such life must fulfil itself in a certain dying, made good in a fellowship of Christ’s sufferings; and it must find its completeness and its peace beyond death, in the resurrection of the dead. Did he flinch or shrink from this? No: He longed to have it all perfectly accomplished. His knowledge of Christ was to be not only in the power of His resurrection, but in the fellowship of His sufferings, being made conformable to His death.

Whatever mistakes have been made by followers of the ascetic life, it is a mistake on the other side to neglect this element of Christianity. He who is not self-denied, and that cheerfully, to the danger and seduction of lawful things, is one who has not his loins girt nor his lamp burning.

It is worth our while to mark the thoroughgoing sincerity of the Apostle’s Christianity. Not merely did he in general embrace Christ and salvation: but with the utmost cordiality he embraced the method of Christ; he strove after fellowship, with Christ’s mind in living, and also in dying; he did so, though the fellowship included not only the power of His resurrection, but the fellowship of His sufferings. He longed to have it all fulfilled in his own case. So he strove toward the resurrection of the dead.

In parting from these great Christian thoughts we may note how fitly the power of Christ’s resurrection takes precedence of the fellowship of His sufferings and the being made conformable to His death. Some have thought that, as death comes before resurrection, the order of the clauses might have been inverted. But it is only through the precedent virtue of Christ’s resurrection that such a history is achieved, either in Paul or in any of us. We must be partakers of life in the power of Christ’s resurrection, if we are to carry through the fellowship with the suffering and the death.


Verses 12-17

Chapter 14

CHRISTIAN LIFE A RACE.

Philippians 3:12-17 (R.V.)

VARIOUS passages in this Epistle suggest that the Apostle’s Philippian friends or some of them were relaxing in diligence; they were failing perhaps to lay to heart the need of progress, less sensitive than they ought to be to the impulse of Christianity as a religion of effort and expectancy. Some of them, it might be, were inclined to think of themselves as now pretty well initiated into the new religion, and as pretty thorough adepts in its teaching and its practice; entitled therefore to sit down and look round with a certain satisfaction and complacency. If it were so, the tendency to division would be accounted for. Arrogance in Christians is a sure preliminary to heats and disputings. At all events, however it might be at Philippi, an insidious complacency in little improvements and small attainments is not unknown among Christians. It is, one may fear, a common impression among us that we are fair average Christians, - a feeling perhaps not so cherished as to make us boast, but yet so cherished as to make us feel content. And, alas! the very meaning of Christianity was to inspire us with a spirit that would refuse so to be contented.

Some feeling of this kind may have led the Apostle to lay stress on the onward energising character of Christianity as he knew it. This was the manner of his regard to his Lord. At the foundation of his religion there was, indeed, the faith of a wonderful gift of righteousness and life. That gift he welcomed and embraced. But it wrought in him eagerness of desire, and intentness of purpose, to secure and have all that this gift implied. It stirred him to activity and progress. His was not the Christianity of one who counts himself to have already obtained all into possession, nor of one who finds himself landed already in the state at which the’ Christian promises aim. Rather he is one set in full view of a great result: some experience of the benefits of it is already entering into his history; but it is yet to be brought to pass in its fulness; and that must be along a line of believing endeavour, Christ working and Paul working, Christ faithful with Paul faithful. "I follow after, if that I may lay hold and extend my grasp, seeing Christ has laid hold with His grasp on me." Christ had a purpose, and has mightily inaugurated a process through which this purpose may be achieved in the history of Paul. And as Christ lays His grasp on Paul, behold the purpose of Christ becomes also the purpose of Paul, and he now throws himself into the process with all his force, to apprehend that for the sake of which Christ apprehended him.

Here Paul signalised one distinguishing attribute of genuine Christianity as he knew it. He did not yet count himself to have laid complete grasp on the whole of Christian good. In a very important practical sense salvation was still something ahead of him, as to the final, secure, complete possession; Christ Himself was an object still before him, as to the knowledge and the fellowship for which he longed. But one thing is vital and distinctive. "This Saviour with His salvation holds me so, that I count all but loss for Him. He holds me so, that forgetting all that lies behind, I bend myself to the race, stretching out towards the goal at which the prize of the high calling of God in Christ is won. That is my Christianity." He who had suffered loss of all for Christ, he who so burned with desire to know Him in His righteousness, in the power of His resurrection, in the fellowship of His sufferings, is far from thinking he has reached the goal. Because the knowledge of Christ is so great a thing in his eyes, therefore, on the one hand, all he has attained as yet seems partial and imperfect; but for the same reason, on the other hand, he feels the great attraction by which all his powers are drawn into the endeavour which so great a prize shall crown.

The question may here be put how the consistency of the gospel can be made out if we are called to rest and rejoice in Christ, and if, at the same time, we find ourselves committed to so absorbing a struggle for a prize. If God will have us, it may be said, to seek and strive that we may obtain, then we must do so because it is His will. But where is the connection of things that will avert inconsistency, and bring out a reasonable continuity of principles, between the call to rest on Christ for full salvation, and the call to run a race, and so run as to obtain? For answer it is to be remembered, in the first place, that (as commonly happens in matters where life and its activities are concerned) the difficulty concerns only the adjustment of our theory; it begins to vanish when we come to practice. When we are in vital contact with the spiritual realities themselves, we find both elements of the case to be true for us, and each indispensable to the truth of the other. The rest of faith and the fight of faith belong to each other. But not to dwell on so general a consideration, two lines of thought may be suggested to those who are conscious of embarrassment at this point.

First, let it be considered that the faith of a Christian embraces real relations with the living God, different from anything that is possible to unbelief. Through Christ we believe in God. Those relations are conceived to be real and vital from the first, though the perfect experience of all that they imply belongs to the future. Faith means that from the outset of believing we are to be to God, and God is to be to us, something different from what the flesh perceives. Christ believed in is an assurance that so it is and shall be. But now, the state of men is such, as long as they have to carry on a life of faith in a world of sense and sin, that this faith of theirs presently meets with flat contradiction. The course of the world treats it all as null. Sin in their own hearts, and many experiences of life, seem to negative the pretensions and the claims of faith. And strong temptations whisper that this high fellowship with a living God not only does not exist, but that it is not desirable that it should. So that from the outset and all along, faith, it is not content to be a mere dream, if it will count for a reality, must contend for its life. It must fight, "praying always with all prayer," to make good its ground, and to hold on to its Lord. It is indeed the nature of faith to rest, for it is a trust; not less certainly faith is under necessity to strive, for it is challenged and impeached.

It lies therefore in the very nature of the case that, if faith is in earnest in embracing real and progressive salvation, it must find itself drawn into conflict and effort to assert the reality and to experience the progress. The opposition it meets with ensures this.

On the other hand, it is the nature of the gospel to set men free for active service. It supplies motives, therefore, for enterprise, diligence, and fidelity; and it provides a goal towards which all shall tend. So men become fellow-labourers with their Lord. And if it is intelligible that the Lord should exert continual care for them, it ought to be intelligible also that they are to be exercised in a continual care for Him; care, that is, for the discharge of the trust which they hold from Him.

The Apostle dwells on all this, evidently because he felt it to be a point of so great importance in practical Christianity. In this world the right Christian is the man who knows well he has not attained, but who devotes his life to attaining. Paul brings this out by means of the image of a race for a prize, such as might be seen in the public games. This is a favourite illustration with him. His use of it illustrates the way in which things that are steeped in worldliness may aid us in apprehending the things of God’s kingdom. They do so, because they involve elements or energies of man’s nature that are good as far as they go. As the Apostle thought of the racers, prepared by unsparing discipline, which had been concentrated on the one object; as he thought of the determination with which the eager runners started, and of the way in which every thought and every act was bent upon the one purpose of success, until the moment when the panting runner shot past the goal, it stirred him with the resolve to be not less eager in his race; and it made him long to see the children of light as practical and wise as, in their generation, the children of this world are.

As usual in the case of illustrations, this one will not hold in all points. For instance, in a race one only wins, and all the rest are defeated and disappointed. This is not so in the Christian race. The analogies lie elsewhere. In order to run well the runners submit to preparation in which everything is done to bring out their utmost energy for the race. When the race comes each competitor may possibly win: in order to win he must put forth his utmost powers; he must do so within a short period of time; and during that time nothing must distract him from the one aim of winning. He does this for a benefit embodied in, or symbolised by, the prize which rewards and commemorates his victory. These are the points in which the races of public games afford lessons for the Christian race. In the former the fact that the success of any one competitor deprives the others of the prize they seek, is the circumstance that puts intensity into the whole business, and makes a real race of it. So also in the spiritual antitype there are elements which make the race the most real, though they are elements of another kind.

The prize can be nothing else than the life eternal [1 Timothy 6:12] which comes, as we have seen, into full possession at the resurrection of the dead. He whose favour is life confers it. The bestowment of it is conceived as taking place with gladness and with honourable approbation: "Well done, good and faithful servant; enter thou into the joy of thy Lord." The prize stands in strict connection with the perfecting of the believer: the time of receiving the prize is also the time of being presented faultless. Neither prize nor perfectness is attained here; neither is attained unless sought here; and the blessedness bestowed is connected in fact and measure with the faith and diligence expended on the race. On all these accounts the prize is spoken of as a crown; a crown of glory, for it is very honourable; a crown of life, incorruptible, that fadeth not away, for it shall never wither on the brow, as the wreaths of those earthly champions did. Now to run his race was for Paul the one thing. He had not yet attained; he could not sit still as if he had: it was his living condition that he must run, as one not yet there, following on in earnest that he might actually have the prize.

Perhaps some one may regard it as objectionable to conceive practical Christianity as a race for a prize. This seems, it may be said, to subordinate the present to the future, this world to the other world, and, in particular, virtue to happiness; because in this way the efforts of goodness here are conceived only as a means to enjoyment or satisfaction there. We reply that the prize does indeed include joy, the joy of the Lord. But it includes, first of all, goodness, consummate in the type of it proper to the individual; and gladness is present no otherwise than as it is harmonised with goodness, being indeed her proper sister and companion. Besides, the elements of the gladness of that state come in as the expression of God’s love-a love both holy and wise. Communion with that love is the true security for goodness. It is equally absurd to suppose, on the one hand, that when that love fills the heart with its unreserved communication there can fail to be gladness; and, on the other hand, to suppose that fellowship with it can be other than the proper and supreme object of a creature’s aspiration.

There is no unworthiness in devoting life to win this prize; for it is a state of victorious well-being and well-doing. The highest goodness of all intervening stages is to aspire to that highest goodness of all. Whatever we may do or be, meanwhile, is best attained and done as it confesses its own shortcoming, and hopes and longs to be better and to do more.

It is true that a complete gift of eternal life is held out to us in Christ, and it is faith’s part to accept that gift and to rest in it. But yet part of that gift itself is an emancipation of the soul; in virtue of this the man becomes actively responsive to the high calling, reiterates his fundamental decision all along the detail of mortal life, affirms his agreement with the mind and life of his Lord, approves himself faithful and devoted, and runs so as to obtain. All this is in the idea of the gift bestowed, and is unfolded in the experience of the gift received. So the prize is to arise to us as the close of a course of progressive effort tending that way: the reality of the prize corresponds to the reality of the progress; the degree of it, in some way, to the rate of that progress. The progress itself is made good, as we have said, by perpetually re-affirming the initial choice; doing so in new circumstances, under new lights, with a new sense of its meaning, against the difficulties implied in new temptations; yet so as ever, in the main, to abide by the beginning of our confidence. With all this let it be remembered that the time is short; and it will be understood that the Christian life, so viewed, assumes the character, and may well exhibit the intensity and pressure, of a race.

How far short men fall of the great idea of such a life-how they flinch from the perfectness of this Christian imperfection-need not be enlarged upon. But if any life is wholly untrue to this ideal, the Apostle seemingly could not count it Christian. This one thing he did, he bent himself to the race. For if the ultimate attainment has become very attractive, if the sense of present disproportion to it is great, and if, in Christ, both the obligation and the hopefulness of reaching the perfect good have become imperatively plain, what can a man do but run?

Verses 15 and 16 (Philippians 3:15-16) state the use which the Apostle desires his disciples to make of this account of his own views and feelings, his attitude and his effort, -"As many of us as are perfect."

Since the Apostle has disclaimed (Philippians 3:12) being already perfected, it may seem strange that he should now say, "As many of us as are perfect." His use of language in other places, however, warrants the position that he is not speaking of absolute perfection, as if the complete result of the Christian calling had been attained. Rather he is thinking of ripe practical insight into the real spirit of the Christian life-that is to say, advanced acquaintance, by experience, with the real nature of the Christian life. He uses this word "perfect" in contrast to "babes" or "children" in Christ. These last are persons who have been truly brought to Christ; but their conceptions and their attainments are rudimentary. They have not attained to large insight into the means and ends of the Christian life, nor to any ripe acquaintance with the position of a Christian man, and the relation he holds to things around him. They are therefore unready to face the responsibilities and perform the duties of Christian manhood. Hence the translators of the Authorised Version, in some passages, render the same word so as to bring out this sense of it. So 1 Corinthians 14:20, "Be not children in understanding: howbeit in malice be ye children, but in understanding be men" ( τελειοι), and Hebrews 5:14, "Strong meat belongs to those that are of full age" ( τελειων).

It cannot be doubted, however, that the word is used here with a certain emphatic significance in reference to the previous disclaimer, "I am not yet perfected." In the Philippians, or in some of them, Paul apprehended the existence of a self-satisfied mood of mind, such as might perhaps be warrantable if they were now perfect, if Christianity had brought forth all its results for them, but on no other terms. In contrast to this he had set before them the intense avidity with which he himself stretched out towards attainment and completeness which he had not reached. And now he teaches them that to be thus well aware how far we are from the true completeness, to be thus reaching out to it, is the true perfection of our present state: he only is the perfect Christian who is "thus minded"; who knows and feels how much remains to be attained, and gives himself up to the effort and the race under that inspiration. It is as if he said: Would you approve yourselves to be believers, advanced and established; would you show that you have come to a larger measure of just views and just feelings about the new world into which faith has brought you; would you have the character of men well-acquainted with your Lord’s mind about you, with your own position in relation to Him; in short, would you be perfect, fully under the influence of the Christianity you profess:-then let you and me be "thus minded"; let us evince the lowly sense of our distance from the goal, along with a living sense of the magnificence and urgency of the motives which constrain us to press on to it.

For is there such a thing attainable here as a Christian perfectness, a ripe fulness of the Christian life, which exhibits that working of it, in its various forces, which was designed for this stage of our history? If so, what must it be? That man surely is the perfect man who fully apprehends the position in which the gospel places him here, and the ends it sets before him, and who most fully admits into his life the views and considerations which, in this state of things, the gospel proposes. Then, he must be a man penetrated with a sense of the disproportion between his attainment and Christ’s ideal, and at the same time set on fire with the desire and hope of overcoming it. Has a man experienced many gracious dealings at his Lord’s hands, has he made attainments by grace, has he come to a Christian standing that may be called full age, would he be what all this would seem to imply, -then let him take heed to be "thus minded." Otherwise he is already beginning to lose what he seemed to have attained.

It is not so surprising, and it is not so severely to be reprehended, if those fail in this point who are but children in Christ. When the glorious things of the new world are freshly bursting into view, when the affections of the child of God are in their early exercise, when sin for the present seems stricken down, it is not so wonderful if men suppose danger and difficulty to be over. Like the Corinthians, "now they are full, now they are rich, now they have reigned as kings." It has often been so; and at that stage it may be more easily pardoned. One may say of it, "They will learn their lesson by-and-by; they will soon find out that in the life of a Christian all is not triumph and exultation." But it concerns those who have got further on, and it is expected of them, that they should be "thus minded" as the Apostle Paul was. It is a more serious business for them to be of another mind on this point, than for those who are only children in Christ. It tends to great loss. Are we, says the Apostle, come to a point at which we may be thought to be-may hope we are-experienced believers, well acquainted now with the salvation and the service, men in Christ? Then as we would ever act in a manner answerable, at this stage, to the gospel and to our position under the gospel, let us be thus minded; forgetting that which is behind, reaching forth to that which is before, let us press toward the mark. For at each stage of progress much depends on the way in which we deal with the position now attained, with the views which have opened to us, and with the experiences that have been acquired. This may decide whether the stage reached shall be but a step towards something better and more blessed, or whether a sad blight and declension shall set in. There are Christian lives to-day sadly marred, entangled and bewildered so that one knows not what to make of them, and all by reason of failure to be "thus minded."

A man is awakened to the supreme importance of Divine things. At the outset of his course, for years, perhaps, he is a vigorous and growing Christian. So he comes to a large measure of establishment: he grows into knowledge of truth and duty. But after a time the feeling creeps into his mind that matters are now less urgent. He acts rather as a man disposed to keep his ground, than as one that would advance. Now he seems to himself to lose ground somewhat, now to awaken a little and recover it, and on those terms he is fairly well contented. All this while it would be unjust to say that he does not love and serve Christ. But time passes on; life draws nearer to its close. The period at which God’s afflictions usually multiply has arrived. And he awakens at last to see how much of his life has been lost; how extensively, though secretly, decay has marred his attainments and his service; and how little, in the result, of that honourable success has crowned his life which once seemed fair before him.

"Let us be thus minded." Let Christians be admonished who have for some time been Christians, and especially those who are passing through middle life, or from middle life into older years. There is enchanted ground here, in passing over which too many of Christ’s servants go to sleep. Leave that which is behind.

"Let us be thus minded": but this proves hard. One may see it in a general way to be most reasonable, but to come up to it m particulars is hard. In all particular cases we are tempted to be otherwise minded. And in many particulars we find it very difficult to judge the manner of spirit that we are of. Were all right in us, absolutely right, rectitude of disposition and of moral action would be in a manner instinctive. But now it is not so. With reference to many aspects of our life, it is very difficult to bring out distinctly to our own minds how the attitude that becomes us is to be attained and maintained. The difficulty is real; and therefore a promise is annexed. "If in anything ye be otherwise minded." That may realise, itself in two ways. You may be distinctly conscious that your way of dealing with some interests which enter into your lives is unsatisfactory, is below your calling and privilege as a Christian; and yet you may find it hard to see how you are to rise into the worthier life. It is like a problem which you cannot solve. Or, again, you may fear that it is so; you may fear that if things were seen in the true light it would turn out so. But you cannot see clearly; you cannot identify the faulty element, far less amend it. Here the promise meets you. "If in anything ye be otherwise minded, God shall reveal even this unto you." Keep your face in the right direction. Be honestly set on the attainment, and the way will open up to you as you go. You will see the path opening from the point where you stand, into life that throughout is akin to the aspiration and the achievement of the life of Paul.

Paul here has regard to a distinction which theorists are apt to overlook. We have a sufficient objective rule in the word and example of Christ. This may be summarised in forms easily repeated, and a man may, in that respect, know all that need be said as to what he is to do and to be. But in morals and in spiritual life this is only the beginning of another process-namely, the subjective individual entrance into the meaning of it all and the practical appropriation of it. I know the whole of duty on the human side: I am to love my neighbour as myself. It is most essential to know it, and a grand thing to have consented to make a rule of it. But, says one, there remains the difficulty of doing it? Is that all? I reply. There is another previous difficulty. I can preach a sermon on loving my neighbour as myself. But what does that mean, for me, not for any one else, but for myself, on a given day in November, at half-past one in the afternoon, when I am face to face with my neighbour, who has his merits, and also his defects, being, perhaps, provoking and encroaching, with whom I have some business to arrange? What does it mean then and there and for me? Here there opens the whole question of the subjective insight into the scope and genius of the rule; in which problem heart and mind must work together; and commonly there have to be training, experience, growth, in order to the expert and just discernment. Short of that there may be honest effort, blundering most likely, but honest, and lovingly accepted through Christ. But there ought to be growth on this subjective side.

Moreover, when progress has been made here it imposes responsibility. Have you been carried forward to such and such degrees of this subjective insight? Then this ought to be for you a fruitful attainment. Do not neglect its suggestions, do not prove careless and untrue to insight attained. Whereto we have attained, "by the same rule let us walk,"-or, as we may render it, "go on in the same line." So new insight and new achievement shall wait upon our steps.

Generally, if their Lord had carried the Philippians forward to genuine attainments of Christian living, then that history of theirs was a track which reached further on. It was not a blind alley, stopping at the point now reached. It had had a meaning; there was some rationale of it; it proceeded on principles which could be understood, for they had been put in practice; and it demanded to be further pursued. There is a continuity in the work of grace. There is a rational development of spiritual progress in the case of each child of God. What God means, what the direction is in which His finger beckons, what the dispositions are under the influence of which His call is complied with and obeyed, these are things which have been so far learned in that course of lessons and conflicts, of defeats and backslidings, restorations and victories; which has brought you so far. Let this be carried out; keep on in the same road. Whereto you have attained, go on with the same.

But such an admonition at once raises a question; the question, namely, whether we are at any stage in the pathway of Christian attainment, whether there is for us as yet any history of a Divine life. Among those who claim part in Christ’s benefits are some whom the grace of God has never taught to deny ungodliness and worldly lusts, and to live soberly, righteously, and godly; for they have been persistently deaf to the lesson. There are some who do not know how Christ turns men from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan unto God. To them the line of admonition now in hand does not apply: to exhort them to "walk on in the same" would be to perpetuate for them a sad mistake. Their course has been dark and downward. Therefore to the admonition already given, the Apostle adds another. "Brethren, be followers together of me, and mark (keep sight of) them who walk so as ye have us for an example." Do not mistake the whole nature of Christianity; do not altogether miss the path in’ which God’s children go. It is one spirit that dwells in the Church; let not your walk forsake the fellowship of that spirit. Christians are not bound to any human authority: Christ is their Master. They must sometimes assert their independence, even with respect to the maxims and manners of good people. Yet there is one spirit in God’s true Church, and there is in the main one course of life which it inspires. God’s children have not been mistaken in the main things. In these, to forsake the spirit and the way of Christ’s flock is to forsake Christ.


Verse 18-19

Chapter 15

ENEMIES OF THE CROSS.

Philippians 3:18-19 (R.V.)

THE New Testament writers, and not least the Apostle Paul, are wont to bring out their conception of the true Christian life by setting it vividly in contrast with the life of the unspiritual man. They seem to say: "If you really mean to say No to the one, and Yes to the other, be sincere and thorough: compromises are not possible here." So: 1 Timothy 6:10 "The love of money is the root of all evil: which while some coveted after, they have erred from the faith, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows. But thou, O man of God," etc. Or: Jude 1:18 "mockers, walking after their own ungodly lusts. These are they who separate themselves, sensual, having not the Spirit. But ye, beloved," etc. Here in like manner the course of worldliness and self-pleasing life is sketched in concrete instances, that its sin and shame may be felt, and that by contrast the true calling of a Christian may be discerned and may be impressed on the disciples.

It may be taken as certain that the Apostle is not speaking of mere Jews or mere heathen. He is speaking of professing Christians, whose practical life belied their profession. In general they are enemies of the cross of Christ; that is the first thing he thinks fit to say of them. And here it may be asked whether the Apostle has in view, if not Jews, yet the Judaising faction about which he had already said strong things in the beginning of this chapter. Some have thought so; and it must be owned that antagonism to the cross, ignorance of its virtue, and antipathy to its lessons, are exactly what the Apostle was wont to impute to those Judaisers; as may be seen in the Epistle to the Galatians, and in other Pauline writings. But it is preferable, as has been already indicated, to take it that the Apostle has turned from the particular issue with those Judaisers; and having been led to declare emphatically what the life of Christianity was in his own experience and practice, he now sets this life in Christ not merely against the religion of the Judaisers, but in general against all religion which, assuming the name of Christ, denied the power of godliness; which meddled with that worthy name, but only brought reproach upon it. It is quite possible indeed that here he might have in view some of the Judaisers also; for there was a sensual side of popular Judaism which might be represented also among the Judaising Christians. But it is more likely that the Apostle’s eye is turning mainly to another class of persons. It seems that in the early Churches, especially perhaps at the time when the later Epistles were written, a recognisable tendency to a loose and lawless Christianity was finding representatives. Warning against these was needed; and they embodied a form of evil which might serve to show the Philippians, as in a mirror, the disaster in which an idle, self-satisfied, vainglorious Christianity was like to land its votaries.

What first strikes the Apostle about them is that they are enemies of the cross of Christ. One asks, Does he mean enemies of the doctrine of the cross, or of its practical influence and efficiency? The two are naturally connected. But here perhaps the latter is principally intended. The context, especially what follows in the Apostle’s description, seems to point that way.

When Christ’s cross is rightly apprehended, and when the place it claims in the mind has been cordially yielded, it becomes, as we see in the case of Paul himself, a renovating principle, the fountain of a new view and a new course. That immense sacrifice for our redemption from sin decides that we are no more to live the rest of our time in the flesh to the lusts of men. [1 Peter 4:1] And that patience of Christ in His lowly love to God and man under all trials, sheds its conclusive light upon the true use and end of life, the true rule, the true inspiration, and the true goal. So regarded, Christ’s cross. teaches us the slender worth, or the mere worthlessness, of much that we otherwise should idolise; on the other hand it assures us of redemption into His likeness, as a prospect to be realised in the renunciation of the "old man"; and it embodies an incomparable wealth of motive to persuade us to comply, for we find ourselves in fellowship with Love unspeakable.

Under this influence we take up our cross; which is substantially the same as renouncing or denying ourselves [Matthew 16:24] carried practically out. It is self-denial for Christ’s sake and after Christ’s example, accepted as a principle, and carried out in the forms in which God calls us to it. This, as we have seen, takes place chiefly in our consenting to bear the pain involved in separation from sin and from the life of worldliness, and in carrying on the war against sin and against the world. It includes rejection of known sin; it includes watchfulness and discipline of life with a view to life’s supreme end; and so it includes prudential self-denial, in avoiding undue excitement and over-absorbing pleasure, because experience and God’s word tell us it is not safe for our hearts to be so "overcharged." [Luke 21:34] This cross in many of its applications is hard. Yet in all its genuine applications it is most desirable; for in frankly embracing it we shall find our interest in salvation, and in the love which provides it, brought home with comfort to our hearts. [1 Peter 4:14]

It seems, then, that there are professing Christians who are enemies of the cross of Christ. Not that it is always an open and proclaimed hostility; though, indeed, in the case of those whom Paul is thinking of, it would appear to have revealed itself pretty frankly. But at all events it is a real aversion; they would have nothing to do with the cross, or as little as they may. And this proves that the very meaning of salvation, the very end of Christ as a Saviour, is the object of their dislike. But in Christianity the place of the cross is central. It will make itself felt somehow. Hence those who decline or evade it find it difficult to do so quietly and with complacency. Eventually their dislike is apt to be forced into bitter manifestation. They begin, perhaps, with quiet and skilful avoidance; but eventually they become, recognisably, enemies of the cross, and their religious career acquires a darker and more ominous character.

It is, however, an interesting question, What draws to Christianity those who prove to be the enemies of the cross? Nowadays we may explain the adhesion of many such persons to Christian profession by referring to family and social influences. But we can hardly set much down to that score when we are thinking of the days of Paul. It cannot be doubted that some persons were then strongly drawn by Christianity who did not prove amenable to its most vital influence. And that may persuade us that the same phenomenon recurs in all ages and in all Churches. For different minds there are different influences which may operate in this way. Intellectual interest may be stirred by the Christian teachings; the sense of truth and reality may be appealed to by much in the Christian view of men and things; there may be a genuine satisfaction in having life and feelings touched and tinged with the devout emotions which breathe in Christian worship; there may be a veneration, real as far as it goes, for some features of Christian character, as set forth in Scripture and embodied in individual Christians; and, not to dwell on mere particulars, the very goodness of Christian truth and life, which a man will not pay the cost of appropriating to himself, may exert a strong attraction, and draw a man to live upon the borders of it. Nay, such men may go a good long way in willingness to do and bear for the cause they have espoused. Men have run the risk of loss of life and goods for Christianity, who have yet been shipwrecked on some base lust which they could not bring themselves to resign. And who has not known kindly, serviceable men, hanging about the Churches with a real predilection for the suburban life of Zion, -men regarding whom it made the heart sore to form any adverse judgment, and yet men whose life seemed just to omit the cross of Christ?

In the case of those whom Paul thinks of there was no room for doubt as to the real nature of the case; and therefore the Apostle cannot too emphatically bring it out. He puts first the most startling view of it. Their end is destruction. Not salvation, but destruction is before them, although they name the name of Christ. Destruction is the port they are sailing for: that is the tendency of their whole career. Their place must be at last with those on whom the day of the Lord brings sudden destruction, so that they shall not escape. Alas for the Christians whose end is destruction!

"Their God is their belly." Their life was sensual. Most likely, judging from the tone of expression, they were men of coarse and unblushing indulgence. If so, they were only the more outstanding representatives of the sensual life. The things which delight the senses were for them the main things, and ruled them. They might have intellectual and aesthetic interests, they might own family and social connections, they certainly did attach importance to some religious views and some religious ties; but the main object of their life was to seek rest and content for those desires which, may have rest apart from any higher exercise or any higher portion. Their life was ruled and guided by its lower and sensual side. So their belly was their god. Yet they claimed a place in the Christian fellowship, in which Christ has revealed God, and has opened the way to God, and brings us to God. But their thoughts ran, and their plans tended, and their life found its explanation, belly-wards. This was their god. Their trust and their desire were placed in the things which the flesh appreciates. These they served, and of these they took on the likeness. They served not the Lord Jesus Christ, but their own belly. One cannot think of it without grave questions as to the direction in which life preponderates. That would seem to indicate, our god. One does not severely judge "good living." And yet what may "good living" denote in the case of many a professing Christian? In what direction do we find the tides of secret and unrestrained thought. setting?

And they glory in their shame. In this Epistle and elsewhere, one sees the importance attached by the Apostle to that which a man glories in, as marking his character. For himself, Paul gloried in the cross of Christ: he counted all things but loss for the knowledge of Christ. And these men also were, or claimed to be, in Christ’s Church, in which we are taught to rate things at their true value and to measure them by the authentic standard. But they gloried in their shame. What they valued themselves upon; what they inwardly, at least, rejoiced in, and applauded themselves for; what they would, perhaps, have most cheerfully dwelt upon in congenial company, were things of which they had every reason to be ashamed-no doubt, the resources they had gathered for the worship of this god of theirs, and the success they had had in it. For example, such men would inwardly congratulate themselves on the measure in which they were able to attain the kind of satisfaction at which they aimed. They gloried in the degree in which they succeeded in bringing about a perfect accommodation between themselves and the objects which sense alone appreciates, and in producing a harmonious and balanced life set on that key. Really it should have been to them a cause of grief and shame to find themselves succeeding here, and failing in attaining a right relation to Christ and to the things of God’s kingdom, to righteousness, godliness, faith, love, patience, meekness. So they gloried in their shame. This was seen in their lives. Alas, is there no reason to fear that when the thoughts of all hearts are revealed, too many whose lives are subject to no obvious reproach shall be found to have lived an inward life of evil thought, of base desire, of coarse and low imagination, that can only rank in the same class with these-men whose whole inward life gravitates, and gravitates unchecked, towards vanity and lust?

In a word, their character is summed up in this, that they mind earthly things. That is the region in which their minds are conversant and to which they have regard. The higher world of truths and forces and objects which Christ reveals is for them inoperative. It does not appeal to them, it does not awe them, it does not govern them. Their minds can turn in this direction on particular occasions, or with a view to particular discussions; but their bent lies another way. The home of their hearts, the treasure which they seek, the congenial subjects and interests, are earthly.

Since this whole description is meant to carry its lesson by suggestion of contrast, the clause last referred to brings powerfully before us the place to be given to the spiritual mind in our conception of a true Christian life. In the eighth chapter of the Epistle to the Romans we are told that to be carnally minded-or the minding of the flesh-is death, but the minding of the spirit is life and peace. Care, therefore, is to be taken of our thoughts and of our practical judgments, so that they may be according to the spirit.

Effort in this direction is hopeful effort, because we believe that Christ grants His Spirit to hallow those regions of the inward man by His illuminating and purifying presence. It cannot be doubted that many lives that were capable of yielding much good fruit, have been frittered away and wasted through indulged vanity of thought. Others, that are methodical and energetic enough, are made sterile for Christian ends by the too common absence or the too feeble presence of the spiritual mind. It is not altogether direct meditation on spiritual objects that is here to be enforced. That has its important place; yet certainly, frank converse with the whole range of human interests is legitimately open to the Christian mind. What seems to be essential is that, through all, the regard to the supreme interests shall continue; and that the manner of thinking and of judging, the modes of feeling and impression, shall keep true to faith and love and Christ. The subject recurs in another form at the eighth verse of the following chapter.

Probably, as was said, the Apostle is speaking of a class of men whose faults were gross, so that at least an Apostolic eye could not hesitate to read the verdict that must be passed upon them. But then we must consider that his object in doing this was to address a warning to men to whom he imputed no such gross failings; concerning whom, indeed, he was persuaded far other things, even things that accompany salvation; but whom he knew to be exposed to influences tending in the same direction, and whom he expected to see preserved only in the way of vigilance and diligence. Outstanding failures in Christian profession may startle us by their conspicuous deformity; but they fail to yield us their full lesson unless they suggest the far finer and more subtle forms in which the same evils may enter in, to mar or to annul what seemed to be Christian characters.

The protest against the cross is still maintained even in the company of Christ’s professed disciples. But this takes place most commonly, and certainly most persuasively, without advancing any plea for conduct grossly offensive, or directly inconsistent with Christian morals. The "enemies of the cross" retreat into a safer region, where they take up positions more capable of defence. "Why have a cross?" they say. "God has not made us spiritual beings only: men ought not to attempt to live as if they were pure intelligences or immaterial spirits. Also, God has made men with a design that they should be happy; they are to embrace and use the elements of enjoyment with which He has so richly surrounded them. He does not mean us to be clouded in perpetual gloom, or to be on our guard against the bright and cheering influences of the earth. He has made all things beautiful in their time; and He has given to us the capacity to recognise this that we may rejoice in it. Instead of scowling on the beauty of God’s works, and the resources for enjoyment they supply, it is more our part to drink in by every sense, from nature and from art, the brightness, and gladness, and music, and grace. Let us seek, as much as may be in this rough world, to have our souls attuned to all things sweet and fair."

There is real truth here; for, no doubt, it lies in the destiny of man to bring the world into experience according to God’s order: if this is not to be done in ways of sin and transgression, it is yet to be done in right ways; and in doing it, man is designed to be gladdened by the beauty of God’s handiwork and by the wealth of His beneficence. And yet such statements can be used to shelter a life of enmity to the cross, and they are often employed to conceal the more momentous half of the truth. As long as the things of earth can become materials by means of which we may be tempted to fall away from the Holy One, and as long as we, being fallen, are corruptly disposed to make idols of them, we cannot escape the obligation to keep our hearts with diligence. So long, also, as we live in a world in which men, with a prevailing consent, work up its resources into a system which shuts God and Christ out; so long as men set in motion, by means of those resources, a stream of worldliness by which we are at all times apt to be whirled away, -so long every man whose ear and heart have become open to Christ will find that as to the things of earth there is a cross to bear. For he must decide whether his practical life is to continue to accept the Christian inspiration. He must make his choice between two things, whether he will principally love and seek a right adjustment with things above, with the objects and influences of the Kingdom of God, or whether he will principally love and seek a right, or at least a comfortable adjustment with things below. He must make this choice not once only, but he must hold himself at all times ready to make it over again, or to maintain it in reiterated applications of it. The grace of Christ who died and rose again is his resource to enable him.

Every legitimate element of human experience, of human culture and attainment, is, doubtless open to the Christian man. Only, in making his personal selection among them, the Christian will keep sight of the goal of his high calling, and will weigh the conditions under which he himself must aim at it. Still every such element is open; and all legitimate satisfaction accruing to men from such sources is to be received with thankfulness. Let all this be recognised. But Christianity, by its very nature, requires us to recognise also, and in a due proportion, something else. It requires us to recognise the evil of sin, the incomparable worth of Christ’s salvation. Along with these things, duly regarded, let all innocent earthly interests take their place. But if we are conscious that as yet we have very incompletely established the right proportionate regard, is it any wonder if we are obliged to keep watch, lest the treacherous idolatry of things seen and temporal should carry us away, obliged to accept the cross? We are obliged; but in the school of our Master we should learn to do this thing most gladly, not by constraint, but of a ready mind.

The ideal life on earth no doubt would be a life in which all was perfectly harmonised. The antagonism of the interests would have passed away. Loyalty and love to God’s kingdom and to His Son would embody themselves in all human exercise and attainment as in their proper vesture, each promoting each, working together as body and soul. There are Christians who have gone far towards this attainment. They have been so mastered by the mind of Christ that while, on the one hand, they habitually seek the things above, on the other hand there is little trace of bondage or of timorousness in their attitude towards the bright aspects of earthly experience. Some of them were happily carried in early days into so clear a decision for the better part; some emerged later, after conflict, into so bright a land of Beulah that they find it easy, with little conflict and little fear, to make frank use of forms of earthly good which other Christians must treat with more reserve.

This is one of the reasons why we must not judge one another about these things; why we must not lay down absolute rules about them; why even our recommendations must be provisional and prudential only. It is at the same time a reason for the more fidelity in each of us towards himself, to see that we do not trifle with the great trust of regulating our own life. It is possible to give to God and to Christ a recognition which is not consciously dishonest, and yet to fail in admitting any deep and dominant impression of the significance of Christ’s redemption for human life. So the heart is yielded, the time is surrendered, the strength is given to attractive objects, which are not indeed essentially immoral, but which are suffered to usurp the heart, and to estrange the man from Christ. Such persons prove enemies of the cross of Christ: they mind earthly things.

Since the earthly side of human life, with its sorrow and joy, its work and its leisure, is legitimate and inevitable, questions arise about adjusting details. And in particular those who retain a relation to Christianity while they cherish a worldly spirit, take a delight in raising questions as to the forms of life which are, or are not, in harmony with Christianity, and as to whether various practices and indulgences are to be vindicated or condemned. It is a satisfaction to persons of this sort to have a set of fixed points laid down, with respect to which, if they conform, they may take the credit of doing so, and if they rebel, they may have the comfort of feeling that the case is arguable: as indeed these are often matters upon which one may argue for ever. Now what is clearly prohibited or clearly warranted in Scripture, as permanent instruction for the Church, must be maintained. But beyond that point it is often wisest to refuse to give any specific answer to the questions so raised. The true answer is, Are you a follower of Christ? Then it is laid on your own conscience, at your own responsibility, to answer such questions for yourself. No one can come in your place. You must decide, and you have a right to decide for yourself, what course is, for you, consistent with loyalty to Christ and His cross. Only it may be added that the very spirit in which one puts the question may be significant. One who mind’s earthly questions will put the question in one way; one whose citizenship is in heaven, in another. And the answer which you attain will be according to the question you have put.


Verse 20-21

Chapter 16

OUR CITY AND OUR COMING KING.

Philippians 3:20-21 (R.V.)

To live amid the things, of earth, and in constant converse with them, a life in the power of Christ’s resurrection, and in the fellowship of His sufferings, was the Apostle’s chosen course; in which he would have the Philippians to follow him. For a moment he had diverged to sketch, for warning, the way of the transgressors, who spend their lives intent on the things that pass away. Now he brings the argument to a close, by once more proclaiming the glory of the high calling in Christ. As the Christian faith looks backward to the triumph of Christ’s resurrection, and to the meekness of His suffering, and receives its inspiration from them, so also it looks upward, and it looks forward. It is even now in habitual communion with the world on high; and it reaches on towards the hope of the Lord’s return.

"Our citizenship is in heaven." The word here used [Philippians 1:27] means the constitution or manner of life of a state or city. All men draw much from the spirit and laws of the commonwealth to which they belong; and in antiquity this influence was even stronger than we commonly find it to be in our day. The individual was conscious of himself as a member of his own city or state. Its life enfolded his. Its institutions set for him the conditions under which life was accepted and was carried on. Its laws determined for him his duties and his rights. The ancient and customary methods of the society developed a common spirit, under the influence of which each citizen unfolded his own personal peculiarities. When he went forth elsewhere he felt himself, and was felt to be, a stranger. Now in the heavenly kingdom, which had claimed them and had opened to them through Christ, the believers had found their own city; and finding it, had become, comparatively, strangers in every other.

A way of thinking and acting prevails throughout the world, as if earth and its interests were the whole sphere of man; and being pervaded by this spirit, the whole world may be said to be a commonwealth with a spirit and with maxims of its own. We, who live in it, feel it natural to comply with the drift of things in this respect, and difficult to stand against it; so that separation and singularity seem unreasonable and hard. We claim for our lives the support of a common understanding; we yearn for the comfort of a system of things existing round us, in which we may find countenance. It was urged against the Christians of the early ages that their religion was unsocial-it broke the ties by which men held together; and doubtless many a Christian, in hours of trial and depression, felt with pain that much in Christian life offered a foundation for the reproach. On the other hand, those who, like the enemies of the cross, refer their lives to the world’s standard, rather than to Christ’s, have at least this comfort, that, they have a tangible city. The world is their city: therefore also the prince of it is their king. But the Apostle, for himself and his fellows, sets against this the true city or state-with its more original and ancient sanctions; with its more authoritative laws; with its far more pervading and mighty spirit, for the Spirit of God Himself is the life which binds its all together; with its glorious and gracious King. This commonwealth has its seat in heaven; for there it reveals its nature, and thence its power descends. We recognise this whenever we pray, "Thy will be done in earth as it is in heaven." This, says the Apostle, is our citizenship. The archaism of the Authorised Version, "Our conversation" (that is, our habitual way of living) "is in heaven," expresses much of the meaning; only the "conversation" is referred, by the phrase employed in the text, to the sanctions under which it proceeds, the august fellowship by which it is sustained, the source of influence by which it is continually vitalised. Our state, and the life which as members of that state we claim and use, is celestial. Its life and strength, its glory and victory, are in heaven. But it is ours, though we are here on earth.

Therefore, 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; 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.

Does this go too high? Does some one say, "Something in this direction attracts me and I reach out to it, but ah! how feebly"?-then how strongly does the principle of the Apostle’s admonition apply. If we own that this city rightfully claims us, if we are deeply conscious of shortcoming in our response to that claim, then how much does it concern us to allow no earthly thing that by its own nature drags us down from our citizenship in heaven.

It is in heaven. Many ways it might be shown to be so; but it is enough to sum up all in this, that One has His presence there, who is the Life and the Lord of this city of ours, caring for us, calling us to the present fellowship with Him that is attainable in a life of faith, but especially (for this includes all the rest) whom we look for, to come forth from heaven for us. He has done wonders already to set up for us the grace of the kingdom of heaven, and He has brought us in to it; He is doing much for us daily in grace and in providence, upholding His Church on earth from age to age; but this "working" is proceeding to a final victory. He is "able to subject all things to Himself." And the emphatic proof of it which awaits all believers, is that the body itself, reconstituted in the likeness of Christ’s own, shall at last be in full harmony with a destiny of immortal purity and glory. So shall the manifestation of His power and grace at last sweep through our whole being, within and without. That is the final triumph of salvation, with which the long history finds all its results attained. For this we await the coming of the Saviour from heaven. Well therefore may we say that the state to which we pertain, and the life which we hold as members of that state, is in heaven.

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.

Some harm has been done, perhaps, by the degree in which attention has been concentrated on debatable points about the time of the Lord’s coming, or the order of events in relation to it; but more by the measure in which Christians have allowed the world’s unbelieving temper to affect on this point the habit of their own minds. It must be most seriously said that our Lord Himself expected no man to succeed in escaping the corruption of the world and enduring to the end, otherwise than in the way of watching for his Lord. {see Luke 12:35-40 -but the passages are too numerous to be quoted}

And the Apostle lays an emphasis on the character in which we expect Him. The word "Saviour" is emphatic. We look for a Saviour; not merely One who saved us once, but One who brings salvation with Him when He comes. It is the great good, in its completeness, that the Church sees coming to her with her Lord. Now she has the faith of it, - and with the faith an earnest and foretaste, - but then salvation comes. Therefore the coming is spoken of as redemption drawing nigh, as the time of the redemption of the purchased possession. So also in the Epistle to the Galatians the end of Christ’s sacrifice is said to be to "deliver us from this present evil world."

Doubtless it is unwise to lay down extreme positions as to the spirit in which we are to deal with temporal things, and especially with their winning and attractive aspects. Christian men, at peace with God, should not only feel spiritual joy, but may well make a cheerful use of passing mercies. Yet certainly the Christian’s hope is to be saved out of this world, and out of life as he knows it here, into one far better-saved out of the best and brightest state to which this present state of things can bring him. The Christian spirit is giving way in that man who, in whatever posture of his worldly affairs, does not feel that the present is a state entangled with evil, including much darkness and much estrangement from the soul’s true rest. He ought to be minded so as to own the hope of being saved out of it, looking and hasting to the coming of the Lord.

If we lived out this conviction with some consistency, we should not go far wrong in our dealings with this present world. But probably there is no feature in which the average Christianity of to-day varies more from that of the early Christians, than in the faint impressions, and the faint influence, experienced by most modern Christians in connection with the expectation of the Lord’s return.

As far as individual life goes, the position of men in both periods is much the same; it is so, in spite of all the changes that have taken place. Then, as now, the mirage of life tempted men to dream of felicities here, which hindered them from lifting up their heads to a prospect of redemption. But now, as then, counter-influences work; the short and precarious term of human life, its disappointments, its cares and sorrows, its conflicts and falls, conspire to teach even the most reluctant Christian that the final and satisfying rest is not to be found here. So that the difference seems to arise mainly from a secret failure of faith on this point, due to the impression made by long ages in which Christ has not come. "Where is the promise of His coming? All things continue as they were."

This may suggest, however, that influences are recognisable, tending to form, in modern Christians, a habit of thought and feeling less favourable to vivid expectation of Christ’s coming. It does not arise so much in connection with individual experience, but is rather an impression drawn from history and from the common life of men. In the days of Paul, general history was simply discouraging to spiritual minds. It led men to think of all creation groaning together. Civilisation certainly had made advances; civil government had conferred some of its benefits on men; and lately, the strong hand of Rome, however heavily it might press, had averted or abridged some of the evils that afflicted nations. Still, on the whole, darkness, corruption, and social wrong continued to mark the scene, and there was little to suggest that prolonged effort might gradually work improvement. Rather it seemed that a rapid dispensation of grace, winning its way by supernatural energy, might well lead on to the winding up of the whole scene; sweeping all away before the advent of new heavens and a new earth. But, for us, nineteen hundred years have well-nigh passed. The Christian Church has been confronted all that time with her great task; and however imperfect her light and her methods have often been, she has set processes a-going, and pressed on in lines of action, in which she has not been without her reward. Also the public action of at least the European races, stimulated and guided by Christianity, has been inspired by faith in progress and in a reign of justice, and has applied itself to improve the conditions of men. How much of sin and pain still afflicts the world is too sadly evident. But the memory of the successive lives of saints, thinkers, men of public spirit and devoted public action, is strong in Christian minds to-day-it is a long, animating history. And never more than at the present time did the world press itself on the Christian mind as the sphere for effort, for helpful and hopeful achievement. All this tends to fix the eye on what may happen before Christ comes; for one asks room and time to fight the battle out, to see the long co-operant processes converge upon their goal. The conflict is thought of as one to be bequeathed, like freedom’s battle, from sire to son, through indefinite periods beyond which men do not very often look. And, indeed, the amelioration of the world and remedy of its ills by works of faith and love are Christlike work. The world cannot want it; the fruit of it will not be withheld; and the hopeful ardour with which it is pursued is Christ’s gift to His people. For Christ Himself healed and fed the multitudes. Yet all this shall not replace the coming of Christ, and the redemption that draws nigh with Him, The longing eyes that gaze into the prospects of public-spirited beneficence and Christian philanthropy, do well; but they must also look higher up and further on.

One thing must be said. It is vain for us to suppose we can adjust beforehand, to our own satisfaction, the elements which enter into the future, so as to make a well-fitted scheme of it. That was not designed. And in this case two ways of looking at the future are apt to strive together. The man who is occupied with processes that, as he conceives, might eventuate in a reign of goodness reached by gradual amelioration, by successive victories of the better cause, may look askance on the promise of Christ’s coming, because he dislikes catastrophe and cataclysm. First the blade, then the ear, then the full corn in the ear, is his motto. And the man who is full of the thought of the Lord’s return, and deeply persuaded that nothing less will eradicate the world’s disease, may look with impatience on measures that seem to aim at slow and far results. But neither the one mode of view nor the other is to be sacrificed. Work is to be done in the world on the lines that promise best to bless the world. Yet also this faith must never be let down-the Lord is coming; the Lord shall come.

How decisive the change is which Christ completes at His coming-how distinctive, therefore, and unworldly, that citizenship which takes its type from heaven where He is, and from the hope of His appearing-is last of all set forth. 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 Paul prefers to signalise 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."

For the Apostle Paul the question how the body is to be reckoned with in any lofty view of human life had a peculiar interest. One sees how his mind dwelt upon it. He does not indeed impute to the body any original or essential antagonism to the soul’s better life. But it shares in the debasement and disorganisation implied in sin; it has become the ready avenue for many temptations. Through it the man has become participant of a vivid and unintermittent earthliness, contrasting all too sadly with the feebleness of spiritual impressions and affections, so that the balance of our being is deranged. Nor does grace directly affect men’s bodily conditions. Here, then, is an element in a renewed life that has a peculiar refractoriness and irresponsiveness. So much is this so that sin in our complex nature easily turns this way, easily finds resources in this quarter. Hence sin in us often takes its denomination from this side of things. It is the flesh, and the minding of the flesh, that is to be crucified. On the Other hand, just because life for us is life in the body, therefore the body with its members must be brought into the service of Christ, and must fulfil the will of God. "Yield your bodies a living sacrifice." "Your bodies are temples of the Holy Ghost." A disembodied Christianity is to the Apostle no Christianity. There may be difficulties, indeed, in carrying this consecration through, elements of resistance and insubordination to be overcome. If so, they must be fought down. "I keep under my body and bring it into subjection, lest I prove a castaway." To be thorough in this proved hard even for Paul. "Who shall deliver me from the body of this death?"-a text in which one sees how the "body" offered itself as the ready symbol of the whole inward burden and difficulty. So the body is dead because of sin: dying, fit to die, appointed to die, and not now renewed to life. "But if the Spirit of Him that raised up Christ from the dead dwell in you, He that raised up Christ from the dead shall also quicken your mortal bodies by His Spirit that dwelleth in you." Then, limits now imposed on right thinking, right feeling, right acting, shall be found to have passed away. Till then we groan, waiting for the adoption, the redemption of the body; but then shall be the manifestation of the sons of God. To Paul this came home as one of the most definite, practical, and decisive forms in which the triumph of Christ’s salvation should be declared.

The body, then, by which we hold converse with the world, and by which we give expression to our mental life, has shared in the evil that comes by sin. We find it to be the body of our humiliation. It is not only liable to pain, decay, and death, not only subject to much that is humbling and distressing, but it has become an ill-adapted organ for an aspiring soul. The bodily state weighs down the soul, when its aspirations after good have been rekindled. It is not wholly unconnected with our physical state that it is so hard to carry the recognition of God and the life of faith into the comings and goings of the outward life; so hard to wed the persuasions of our faith to the impressions of our sense. But we look forward to our Lord’s coming with the expectation that the body of our humiliation shall be transfigured into the likeness of the body of His glory. In this we discern with what a pervading energy He is to subdue all things to Himself. Love in righteousness is to triumph through all spheres.

We have more than once acknowledged how natural it is to dream of constructing a Christian life on earth with all its elements, natural and spiritual, perfectly harmonised, each having its place in relation to each so as to make the music of a perfect whole. And in the strength of such a dream, some look down on all Christian practice as blind and narrow, which seems to them to mar life by setting one element of it against another. It must be owned that narrow types of Christianity have often needlessly offended so. Nevertheless we have here a new proof that the dream of those who would achieve a perfect harmony, in the present state and under present conditions, is vain. A perfect Christian harmony of life cannot be restored in the body of our humiliation. The nobler part is to own this, and to confess that amid many undeserved good gifts, yet, in relation to the great hope set before us, we groan, waiting for the redemption; when Christ who now fits us to run the race and bear the cross, shall come and save us out of all this, changing the body of our humiliation into the likeness of the body of His glory.

Against the ways of Jewish self-righteousness, and against the impulses of fleshly minds, the Apostle had set the true Christianity-the methods in which it grows, the influences on which it relies, the truths and hopes by which it is mainly sustained, the high citizenship which it claims and to the type of which it resolutely conforms. All this was possible in Christ, all this was actual in Christ, all this was theirs in Christ. Yet this is what is brought into debate, by unbelief and sin; this against unbelief and sin has to be maintained. Some influences come to shake us as to the truth of it-"It is not so real after all." Some influences come to shake us as to the good of it-"It is not after all so very, so supremely, so satisfyingly good." Some influences come to shake us as to our own part in it-"It can hardly control and sustain my life, for after all, perhaps-alas, most likely-it is not for me, it cannot be for me." Against all this we are to make our stand, in and with our Lord and Master. He is our confidence and our strength. How the Apostle longed to see this victory achieved in the case of all these Philippians, who were the treasure and the fruit of his life and labour! Be decided about all this, be clear about it, east every other way of it from you. "Therefore, my dearly beloved brethren, my joy and crown, so stand fast in the Lord, my dearly beloved."

 


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Bibliography Information
Nicoll, William R. "Commentary on Philippians 3:4". "Expositor's Bible Commentary". http://odl.studylight.org/commentaries/teb/philippians-3.html.

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