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Not as though I had already attained, either were already perfect; but I follow after, if that I may apprehend that for which also I am apprehended of Christ Jesus.—Phil. iii. 12.
PAUL having spoken much of his self-denial for Christ, would not be misinterpreted, as if there remained no more to be done by him. No; his race was not yet finished, nor yet had he taken hold of the crown, which conquerors in those races were wont to do, from some high place where it was hung and fixed: ‘Not as though I had already attained.’
In the words we have—
1. A disclaiming of present perfection.
2. An earnest endeavour to attain it for the future.
3. The reason of his diligence and earnestness; he was ‘apprehended of Jesus Christ’ for this end.
1. A disclaiming or denial of present perfection, in two expressions, proper to agonistical matters. They had their Olympian, Nemean, Isthmian, and Pythian games, which were the same for nature, only the place differed. Their usual exercises were wrestling, running and the like.
[1.] ‘Not as though I had already attained.’ It is an agonistical word put for receiving the reward due to the conqueror. In the races there was a crown of leaves generally set over the goal, that he that came thither foremost might catch it and carry it away with him: 1 Cor. ix 24, ‘One receiveth the prize.’ So 1 Tim. vi. 12, ‘Take hold of eternal life.’ So here, οὐχ ὅτι ἤδη ἔλαβον, I have not yet catched the crown from the top of the goal.75
[2.] ‘Or were already perfect.’ This also is an agonistical word, its Faber proveth at large. Though the runner was to catch at the crown, and seize upon it as his right, yet the ἑλλανοδίκαι, the judges, did first interpose their judgment before he could put it on his head, and when he received the crown from them, he was judged as a perfect wrestler and racer. The word ‘perfect,’ as applied to racing, was sometimes used of their strength, and sometimes of their reward. Of their strength and agility, having passed the agonistical exercises, 2 Cor. xiii. 9, ‘For we are glad when we are weak, and ye are strong; and this also we wish, even your perfection;’ that is, it would be matter of joy to him to see them strong and able to run the spiritual race. Sometimes of their reward, that when the crown was adjudged to them, or that they had done worthily, the more excellent of the racers had the more excellent rewards: τὰ τὲλεια τοῖς τελείοις διδόμενα, saith Philo, which were called perfect rewards or crowns. Well, then, Paul had not yet gotten his crown, but was as the racer in the pursuit, in the way running as hard as he could, that at length he might possibly catch and receive that prize, the crown of eternal life. That he was not yet in heaven was evident, and needed not be so earnestly asserted; therefore the meaning is, that though he were in the way to glory, yet further difficulties remained; and though his estate were so far secured as to exclude diffidence and doubting, yet not so as to exclude caution and diligence; he had not ended his race so as to catch the crown, or receive it from the hand of the judges. Though he were now in prison at Rome, yet some time of living remained, and some further difficulties to be undergone. He speaketh at another rate, 2 Tim. iv. 7, 8, ‘I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith; henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord the righteous judge shall give me at that day, and not to me only, but unto them also that love his appearing.’
2. An earnest endeavour for the future: ‘But I follow after it that I may apprehend,’ διώκω. I run as hard as I can, pursuing and striving to overtake, with as great desire and diligence in that exercise, when he was behind another; so though he had not attained his crown, yet he would not slacken his diligence till he did attain: ‘If I may apprehend,’ εἰ κὰι καταλάβω, that at length he might take hold of it. ‘If I may apprehend,’ to exclude security, and to keep on his earnest pursuit by any means.
3. The reason of his diligence: ‘That for which also I am apprehended of Christ Jesus.’ Christ’s apprehending may be also interpreted in the agonistical sense. Instead of the crown, he apprehendeth us; for we are his joy, his rejoicing, his crown, if we hold out unto the end. Now we are apprehended by him—
[1.] In effectual calling, as he puts us upon this race, or inclineth us to this course of life. Paul was apprehended by Christ whet persecuting the church, and running into destruction; then he converted him, possessed him by his Spirit, thinking of no such matter, posting quite another way. When an enemy, he took hold of him, converted him, inclined him, fitted him for this race, that he might obtain everlasting glory.
[2.] By constant support; for having apprehended us, he still 76upholdeth us. We are on his hands, and he doth influence, animate, draw, and strengthen us in this race, as concerned in it, that he may not lose the fruit of his own agonies. By his constant influence we are strengthened and quickened till we come to the goal.
Doct. 1. That God’s best children, however assured of their good estate, yet till their race be ended, cannot look upon themselves as quite out of danger.
Doct. 2. Whatever degrees are already attained, we must press to wards perfection.
Doct. 3. That Christ’s apprehending us for the obtaining the end of the spiritual race is a great encouragement to us to go on still.
For the first point, that none of God’s children, however assured, can look upon themselves as past all danger till their race be ended.
I will prove to you two things—
1. That God’s eminent servants may have assurance.
2. That they are not to look upon themselves as quite out of all danger till their race be ended.
I. That God’s eminent servants may have assurance of their sincerity and good estate before God. So had Paul; he asserteth it all along, as we have seen. They may have assurance of their present grace, for Paul looketh upon himself as in the race; and of their final perseverance, for he was apprehended of Christ, that he might at length touch the goal and obtain the reward, to excite his desire and diligence: they may, I say, have assurance in these cases.
1. When grace is not small and indiscernible, but in some degree of eminency, it may be discerned. When grace is weak and small, and doth not discover itself in any eminent and self-denying acts, it is not noted and observed, but where it is in some degree of eminency, it may be discerned. As in Phineas, because he was zealous for God, Ps. cvi. 31, ‘That was accounted to him for righteousness;’ it was accepted by God as a testimony of his holiness. Surely great things are more liable to sense and feeling than little; a staff is sooner found than a needle. Some stars are so small that they are scarce seen. A strong faith, a fervent love, and a lively hope will soon discover themselves. It is hard to think that the soul should be a stranger to its own operations; though some lesser inconsiderable action may escape us for want of advertency, yet we know, and others about us know our ‘work of faith and labour of love.’
2. It is eminent when this grace is not in their hearts, as a sleepy habit or buried seed, but in continual act: 1 Thes. i. 3, ‘I remembering without ceasing your work of faith, and labour of love, and patience of hope;’ Gal. v. 6, ‘For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision availeth anything, but faith that worketh by love.’ They that keep grace in lively exercise seldom doubt of the truth of it. The sap is not seen, but apples will appear upon the tree.
3. When they blot not their evidences by frequent interruptions of the spiritual life, and so many sins as others do, which make their sincerity questionable. Though it be hard to state what sins are, and what are not consistent with grace, yet though conscience be not observant of our particular actions, or be confounded by them, yet the course, drift, and tenor of our lives cannot be hidden from it. A man in a 77journey doth not count his steps, yet observeth his way. When a man mindeth the business of going to heaven in good earnest: Phil. iii. 20, ‘But our conversation is in heaven;’ and of approving himself to God in his whole course: 2 Cor. i. 12, ‘But our rejoicing is this, the testimony of our conscience, that in simplicity and godly sincerity, not with fleshly wisdom, but by the grace of God, we have had our conversation in the world;’ 2 Cor. v. 9, ‘Wherefore we labour, that whether present or absent, we may be accepted of him.’ Surely a man may know his drift and scope.
4. They have assurance, because they have the spirit of adoption in a more eminent degree. All God’s children have it: Gal. iv. 6, ‘And because ye are sons, God hath sent forth the Spirit of his son into your hearts, crying, Abba, Father;’ Eph. i. 13, 14, ‘In whom ye also trusted, after ye heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation; in whom also, after ye believed, ye were sealed with that Holy Spirit of promise, which is the earnest of our inheritance, until the redemption of the purchased possession, unto the praise of his glory.’ But much more they that do more eminently live in the Spirit, and walk in the Spirit. In some the Spirit discovereth himself only in childlike groans; they feel little of childlike joy and confidence. Surely they find the Spirit a comforter who least grieve him.
5. They have a more abundant sense of the love of God and his rich mercies in Christ.
[1.] By long acquaintance with him: Job xxii. 21, ‘Acquaint thyself with God, and be at peace, and thereby good shall come unto thee.’
[2.] By frequent converse with him in the word and prayer: 1 Peter ii. 3, ‘If so be ye have tasted that the Lord is gracious;’ Eph. iii. 12, ‘In whom we have boldness and access with confidence by the faith of him.’
[3.] By the experiences of their afflictions: Rom. v. 3-5, ‘And not only so, but we glory in tribulation, as knowing that tribulation worketh patience; and patience, experience; and experience, hope: and hope maketh not ashamed, because the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Spirit which is given to us;’ Heb. xii. 11, ‘Now no chastening for the present seemeth joyous but grievous: Nevertheless afterwards it yieldeth the peaceable fruit of righteousness unto them that are exercised thereby.’
[4.] By those rewards of obedience which belong to God’s internal government, God’s hiding or manifesting his favour to his people. Now a close walker hath many of these experiences: John xiv. 21, 23, ‘He that hath my commandments, and keepeth them, he it is that loveth me and he that loveth me shall be loved of my Father, and I will love him, and will manifest myself to him. If any man love me, he will keep my words; and my Father will love him, and we will come unto him, and make our abode with him.’ They have more of sensible consolation. Now all these tastes of the love of God conduce to establish the soul in holy security and peace.
6. The change wrought in them by grace is most sensible, and plainly to be discovered. They may see a manifest difference between them and themselves. Their minds are changed: Eph. v. 8, ‘Ye were sometimes darkness, but are now light in the Lord.’ They have 78another sight of things, of sin, God, Christ, and heaven. So Paul here: Phil. iii. 7, ‘What things were gain to me, I counted loss for Christ.’ Their hearts are changed; they love what they formerly hated, and, on the contrary, they esteem and choose what they formerly slighted: Phil. iii. 8, ‘Yea, doubtless, I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord; for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and do count them but dung, that I may win Christ.’ Their lives are changed: 2 Cor. v. 17, ‘If any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away, behold, all things are become new.’ And there is a difference between them and others: 1 John v. 19, ‘And we know that we are of God, and the whole world lieth in wickedness.’ There is somewhat of this in all, but in them the change is more notorious and sensible; whereas others cannot so easily interpret their sincerity.
[1.] This is not spoken to infringe the doctrine of the saints’ perseverance. No; far be it from me or you to think so; for ‘none can pluck them out of Christ’s hands,’ John x. 28. They are safe in the love and care of Christ, and have his power engaged for their preservation. None can unclasp those mutual embraces of love by which Christ holdeth them, and they hold Christ: Rom. viii. 39, ‘Nor height nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.’ Yet we must not thence conclude that we have no more care to take, nor danger to be afraid of, or no more to do as necessary to salvation. We have still more work to do, and we have still to encounter new difficulties and dangers till we are in heaven, and much care and diligence is required at our hands in the use of all appointed means, much exercise of faith, and love, and hope; for by these means doth Christ preserve us in a state of holiness and obedience: 1 Peter i. 5, ‘Who are kept by the power of God through faith unto salvation;’ 2 Peter i. 10, ‘Give diligence to make your calling and election sure: for if you do these things, you shall never fall.’
[2.] Neither is this spoken to hinder the comfort and encouragement which ariseth from the application of this doctrine. The belief of perseverance in the general is one thing, and the belief of my perseverance is another. That is not so evident and certain every way as the doctrine itself; for my own sincerity is more questionable than the truth of God’s promise: conclusio sequitur debiliorem partem—the conclusion follows the weaker part. It is certain that ‘he that believeth in Christ hath eternal life and shall not come into condemnation,’ John v. 24; because it is a truth revealed in the word of God. Amen, the faithful witness, hath assured us of it. But I am a true believer; this may be certain and evidenced to me by such real arguments and grounds of confidence as I have no reason to doubt of it; yet it depending upon spiritual sense and experience, it is not so unquestionably certain as the word of God is. Therefore this being the limiting proposition, the conclusion can bear no more weight than this proposition hath truth in it. Therefore while I am but making out my claim, as I am doing through out the whole course of my life; though there be no uncertainty in the case, yet since there is no difficulty in the case, I may, and must say with the apostle, ‘I press on if I may apprehend;’ yet while I am 79labouring, and striving, and persevering in my faith, love, and obedience, I may encourage myself in the love, faithfulness, and power of God to keep me as he hath kept me hitherto, and that he will preserve me in all difficulties and temptations: 1 Cor. i. 9, ‘God is faithful, by whom ye were called into the fellowship of his Son Jesus Christ our Lord;’ 1 Thes. v. 23, 24, ‘And the very God of peace sanctify you wholly: and I pray God your whole spirit, and soul, and body may be preserved blameless unto the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. Faithful is he that hath called you, who also will do it.’
II. Yet they cannot look upon themselves as quite out of all danger, and past all care and holy solicitude. We are not yet out of gun shot till we come to the end of our race, and are conquerors over all opposition.
1. Because there is no period put to our duty but life; and it is not enough to begin with God, but we must go on in his way till we come home to him. We must not give over working till we obtain our reward: Heb. iii. 6, 14, ‘But Christ as a son over his own house, whose house are we, if we hold fast the confidence and rejoicing of our hope firm unto the end. For we are made partakers of Christ, if we hold the beginning of our confidence steadfast unto the end;’ Heb. vi. 11, ‘And we desire that every one of you do show the same diligence, to the full assurance of hope unto the end.’ These places show we have not done our work till we have done our lives. We must not give over running in the race till we obtain the prize. Though we are translated from death to life, we are not translated from earth to heaven; and therefore you must work, and ‘work out your salvation with fear and trembling,’ Phil. ii. 12.
2. During our lives upon earth there is somewhat yet more to do, and something yet more to suffer; some lust to conquer, some grace to strengthen. Paul was not perfect.
[1.] Sin is slowly weakened, and never perfectly subdued. There is a continual conflict between the flesh and the spirit: Gal. v. 17, ‘For the flesh lusteth against the spirit, and the spirit against the flesh; and these are contrary one to the other, so that ye cannot do the things that ye would.’ The leading and commanding faculties of the soul do but imperfectly lead and command; and the faculties that should be commanded and led do but imperfectly obey, yea, often rebel, being put into a distemper by the senses. Now there is danger in a kingdom, where there is a feeble empire, and rebellious subjects.
[2.] There are continual oppositions from the devil and the world, whereby the weak measure of grace present is often interrupted. As sin within disturbeth it, so Satan and the world incessantly assault it. Therefore we must not give over watching till Satan give over tempting, nor striving till the world give over opposing. Well, many a storm and tempest you must expect, and possibly you may be put upon stranger trials than any yet you have undergone. Therefore, if hitherto you have forsaken all and followed Christ, you must follow him to the end. Temptations will haunt you to the last hour of your lives; therefore you must watch and pray that you fall not by these temptations, Mat. xxvi. 41. The danger is not over whilst you are in the way.80
3. Some have ‘left their first love,’ Rev. ii. 4, have fainted in the race before they came to the goal: Gal. v. 7, ‘Ye did run well; who hindered you?’ Men that have made long profession of the name of Christ may find a great abatement of their integrity in their latter days: 2 Chron. xvii. 3, ‘Jehoshaphat walked in the first ways of his father David.’ In his latter time he fell into scandalous sins, partly through the suggestions of Satan. An importunate suitor may at length prevail by his perseverance in his suit. Long conversing with the world, and objects to which we are accustomed, taint the mind. Worldliness formerly hated may creep in. A deformed object is most odious at first sight, afterward it is more reconciled to our thoughts. Indwelling in, long restrained, may break out again; as roses snipt in summer bud in winter. A man, upon the supposition that he hath grace, and is possessed of the love of God, may grow negligent, and thinketh there needeth not such diligence as when he was doubtful.
4. The nature of the assurance is to exclude fear, which hath torment; but not the fear of caution and diligence; for so, ‘Blessed is he that feareth always,’ Prov. xxviii. 14; and ‘we must pass the whole time of our sojourning here in fear,’ 1 Peter i. 17. We need not retain the same doubting perplexities and fears of God’s displeasure, but we must retain a fear of sinning, and be much more in the love of God and his service than ever we were before. So that this assurance, if it foe right, doth increase our diligence and watchfulness, and make us more obedient, holy, and fruitful towards God. We are never so thankful, humble, and heavenly as when we do most certainly look for salvation.
Use 1. To show us the difference between carnal security and solid assurance of our good estate before God. There are many differences, but it will not suit with my purpose to pursue all.
1. There is a difference in the grounds; the one is a slight presumption of the end without the means, the other goeth upon solid evidences: 1 John iii. 19, ‘Hereby we know that we are of the truth, and shall assure our hearts before him.’ The one buildeth upon a sandy foundation, the other upon a rock.
2. They differ in the effects: the one benumbeth the conscience into a stupid, quiet, and lazy peace; the other reviveth the conscience, and filleth it with joy and peace in believing: Rom. xv. 13, ‘Now the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, that you may abound in hope through the power of the Holy Ghost.’ With joy and peace in obeying: 2 Cor. i. 12, ‘For our rejoicing is this, the testimony of our conscience, that in simplicity and godly sincerity, not in fleshly wisdom, but by the grace of God, we have had our conversation in the world.’ With joy and peace in suffering: 1 Peter i. 8, ‘Though now in tribulation, ye rejoice with joy unspeakable, and full of glory.’
3. They differ in the way, how either is gotten, or how maintained. Foolish presumption costs a man nothing; like a mushroom, it groweth up in a night, or like Jonah’s gourd. We did not labour for it; it came upon men they know not how nor why. The less such men exercise themselves unto godliness, the more confident. A serious exercising of grace would discover their unsoundness. A peace that groweth upon us we know not how, and is better kept by negligence 81than diligence, is not right. We may say to them, How earnest thou. by it so soon, my son? Men leap into it upon slight grounds; hut a true assurance is gotten with diligence, and kept with watchfulness.
[1.] It is gotten with diligence. The scripture everywhere calls for it, when it persuades us to look after so great a benefit. And surely the counsel of the Holy Ghost is not to be despised: 2 Peter i. 10, ‘Give all diligence to make your calling and election sure;’ Heb. vi. 11, ‘That ye show forth the same diligence to the full assurance of hope to the end,’ 2 Peter iii. 14, ‘Be diligent, that you may be found of him in peace, without spot and blameless.’ Now see after all this warning if the comforts of the Spirit will drop into the mouth of the lazy soul. If you neglect your duty, your sense of your interest will abate. God withdraweth his comforts to awaken his children and quicken them to their duty.
[2.] It is kept with watchfulness. The scripture is plentiful in warnings of that nature. See some places: Heb. iv. 1, ‘Let us therefore fear lest, a promise being left us of entering into his rest, any of you should seem to come short of it.’ The more confident we are of the promise, the more should our caution increase: Heb. xii. 28, 29, ‘Wherefore, we receiving a kingdom which cannot be moved, let us have grace, whereby we may serve God acceptably, with reverence and godly fear: for our God is a consuming fire;’ 1 Cor. x. 12, ‘Wherefore let him that thinketh he standeth take heed lest he fall.’ The fear of caution doth not weaken assurance, but guard it. And therefore if men be confident of salvation, and gather some ill consequence of it, that tendeth to security and remitting of their watchfulness and care, surely their assurance is not right; that is, if they be bolder with sin, if they stretch conscience, omit some of the more painful and costly duties, take more fleshly liberty and ease, and say, Now I am a child of God, out of danger, and therefore need not be so strict and diligent; these think themselves something when they are nothing.
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