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EPISTLE OF PAUL
IF the Spirit of God has revealed to holy men of old the word of truth, that they might proclaim it for the salvation of mankind; if God has revealed himself through their lives, their discourses, their writings, as the depositaries of his Spirit; this is not to be regarded merely as an isolated fact belonging solely to the past. To us as living members of the body of Christ, as partakers in that fellowship of his Spirit, which unites the instant of the present with the whole progressive development since the first outpouring of the same Spirit by the glorified Son of man, to us, this should be no external, no foreign thing. The past must become to us the present. We need no further revelations. On the contrary, it must be to us as if the Lord had himself at this moment 20spoken to us, inasmuch as he has given us the instruction required for all the higher necessities of the present; as if he had himself said to us all which it concerns us to know, in order to find consolation under present sufferings, the means of certain victory in all conflicts, the clue to guide us out of all the perplexities of a distracted age safely to our goal. For the attainment of this object, we must carefully investigate the precise historical conditions and relations under which these depositaries of the Divine Spirit spoke and acted. We must transfer ourselves into that past time, so as to live, as it were, in the midst of the circumstances under which these holy men acted, and in reference to which they spoke. The objects of divine wisdom in its guidance of the Church, we perceive in this, viz., that divine truth has been revealed to us, not in a law of the letter, not in a digested summary of specific articles of faith, but in this historical embodiment, in this application to individual cases, to specific historical circumstances and social relations, imparted through the instrumentality of individual men, who lived as depositaries of divine truth among their fellow-men; who, in the common intercourse of human life, 21testified of and revealed the divine, speaking and acting as men, each in his own peculiar human manner, though hallowed indeed by the Spirit of God. Thus was divine truth to be brought humanly near to us. Thus to our own spiritual activity, under the guiding and quickening influence of the Spirit of God, without whom nothing divine can be received or understood, was to be left the work of investigating the divine in its connection with the human; from the particular to deduce the universal; and again, by an application of this to the peculiar circumstances of the age and society in which we live, to reconvert it into the particular for ourselves; to detect in that which was said or done by the organs of Christ’s Spirit, under the peculiar circumstances of the past, whatever is applicable for our use to the circumstances and relations of the present. Whilst, therefore, an humble dependence on that Divine Spirit, who alone leads into all truth, and unlocks the depths of his word, is an indispensable condition to the right understanding and application of the Divine Word in its human embodiment; so also is a careful attention to all the human relations. The word of God allows no slothful hearers; it demands all the 22powers of the mind and soul. Only thus can its treasures be brought to light. If we fail of discovering these treasures, and lament over the want of light to illumine the darkness of the present state, it is because we have not met the required conditions. We have none to reproach but ourselves. We may here apply those weighty words of our Lord, adapted no less to stimulate and encourage diligent inquiry, than for warning and rebuke: “He that hath, to him shall be given.”
In an especial manner is this true of the Letters of the Apostles. In these we should find far more to instruct, edify, and guide us in all the relations of life, if we thus weighed the import of every word. May the Spirit of the Lord enlighten and guide us, that we may in this manner understand, and learn to apply, one of the noblest epistles of the Apostle Paul, written as no other could write, and presenting to our eyes the living image of the Apostle to the Gentiles!
First, then, we must bring before our view the peculiar circumstances and relations, under which Paul wrote this epistle. Zeal for the salvation of the heathen world had drawn, upon him the extremest persecution of the enraged Jews, who 23grudged to the Gentiles an equal participation and equal privileges with themselves, in the kingdom of God. To this was owing his apprehension at Jerusalem, his long imprisonment in Cesarea Stratonis, and finally, through his appeal to Cæsar, his captivity at Rome. The issue of his fate was still uncertain. In his imprisonment, he was far less occupied with anxiety for his own life, than for the welfare of the churches, scattered through various regions, who through the dangers which beset their Apostolic teacher might become unsettled in their faith, deprived, as they were, of his personal guidance in this dark and troubled period. Through his pupils and associates in the preaching of the gospel, who now formed the living link between him and these churches, and through his letters, must the want be supplied. Among these churches was that of Philippi in Macedonia. It was the first church which Paul had founded in that country. Its members had been witnesses of the ignominy and suffering endured by Paul, on account of the gospel, as recorded in the Acts of the Apostles. They had witnessed the example he gave of boldness in the faith, of devotion to the Lord, of triumphant enthusiasm in his service, his joyfulness in 24suffering, and the wonderful deliverances wrought for him by the Lord. This had served, in a special manner, to give greater depth and ardor to their love for him, who was ready to sacrifice all that he might bring them: the glad tidings of salvation. They followed the example of their faithful teacher. As yet, indeed, Christianity had not drawn upon itself the attention of the Roman civil power; nor had it become an object of persecution through the state laws, as from its opposition to the national religion must soon be the case, under a civil constitution with which this was intimately interwoven. Accordingly no general persecution had arisen, and the churches in most regions enjoyed peace. In this respect, however, Macedonia formed an exception. Here, from the very first, the malignant hatred of the Jews, who were scattered in great numbers through the commercial cities, had been excited against the preachers of the gospel, and all who embraced it; and they had not wanted means for producing discord between the believers and their fellow-citizens and associates among the heathen. Although no civil laws as yet existed against Christianity, still there were means by which the heathen could, in many ways, disquiet 25 quiet and injure its new converts, distinguished by their life and conversation in so striking a manner from themselves. In the history of modern missions the same thing is repeated, in the intercourse between the new converts and their former heathen associates. The church at Philippi remained steadfast under all these persecutions. Their faith and love had been approved thereby. Neither could they be unsettled in their faith, by the persecutions which had now befallen their Apostolic teacher. They were conscious of that higher fellowship with him under all his conflicts and sufferings. His sufferings, and the dangers which hung over him, but added new fuel to their love and sympathy. To manifest this to him they had sent one of their own number, Epaphroditus, who might also bring back to them more exact information of his circumstances. We know that although the right had been given to the Apostles, by the Lord, to depend for their temporal necessities upon those for whose spiritual welfare they labored, yet Paul never availed himself of this privilege. As the attracting and recovering grace of the Lord had been exhibited towards him in so peculiar a manner; as it had transformed him from the bitterest 26persecutor into the preacher of the gospel; he felt himself constrained to do more than others, called by Christ in the ordinary way, and gradually fitted for his service, and to forbear the exercise of a right to which he was equally entitled with them. Thrust, as it were, by force into the work, he would, by more abundant labor, endurance, privation, manifest his unconstrained love for his appointed calling.—(1 Cor. ix. 17-19.) It is to be accounted his gift, growing out of his peculiar nature sanctified by the Holy Spirit, that he was able to number himself among those whom Christ pronounces blessed, for having forborne marriage for the kingdom of God’s sake. Not that he would call them blessed on account of the state of celibacy, in and for itself; as if Paul could claim any advantage over Peter, who in a marriage consecrated by the Lord, labored for the advancement of the same cause; but on account of the spirit which led them to abstain from marriage, that love which would offer up all to the kingdom of God. It was this which animated Paul, and impelled him to contemplate as a duty whatever might, under his special circumstances, serve for the advancement of his work, and to undertake it with joyful zeal. 27It was for this also, that amidst the labors of preaching, he sustained himself with his own hands as a tent-maker. He experienced in himself the truth of the Lord’s words, “It is more blessed to give than to receive.” In order to avoid every appearance of self-seeking, and to take from the opposers among the Jews and Judaizing Christians every occasion of suspicion, he himself assumed the whole charge of his temporal support. Still the church at Philippi were moved, by their heartfelt love to him, to anticipate his wants; and knowing how difficult he must often find it to earn a maintenance, they had several times sent sums of money for his necessities. Paul, though he sought no gift, yet, in view of the feeling which prompted it, could not reject the free-will-offering of love. This church had now once more manifested in this way their active sympathy for Paul, by sending to him Epaphroditus. This circumstance, and what he learned through their messenger of the condition of the Philippian church, occasioned the writing of this epistle. Its object was to express to the church at Philippi his gratitude and love; to relieve their anxiety respecting his own situation; to give them a view of his Christian state and temper 28in the midst of his conflicts and dangers; and to bestow upon them the counsels and encouragements suited to their peculiar circumstances.
We must now, therefore, direct our view to Paul’s situation in his imprisonment at Rome; to his demeanor in his captivity, as the mirror of the state of his soul, so far as we can learn it from this letter; and to his counsels to the Philippian church, in reference to their peculiar relations, as furnishing suggestions applicable in numerous ways to similar circumstances.
Looking first then at Paul’s situation, we shall perceive that this was adapted to produce great variations of feeling. He had given his public testimony for the Lord Jesus, and had made his own defence. This defence had produced the general impression, that it was not as a disturber of the public peace that this imprisonment had befallen him, nor for any other crime; but only as the preacher of a religion hated by the Jews.33Chap. i. 13. Against this new faith, as we have already remarked, there existed as yet no state law. If now Paul could triumphantly establish his innocence in this respect, it would seem that his safety was 29secured. But the Roman civil laws ever regarded an individual as in some degree criminal, who should seduce the citizens and subjects of the empire to apostasy from the state religion; and should attempt to make proselytes to a new faith, which, if not condemned by an express law, was yet in its nature opposed to the religion of the state, and was not of the number recognized by it as tolerated religions. Paul’s case was, therefore, by no means so simple a one. Many difficult questions were involved in it. At times, the impression made by his public defence would awaken in him the expectation of a happy deliverance, and that he might be permitted to visit the churches founded early in his ministry, and among these the church at Philippi. Again, the prospect of death was before his mind. What then? Do we find his soul divided between fear and hope, despondency and joy, dependent upon the external impression of these changeful circumstances, as is wont to be the case with others in like situations? No; one deep undertone of cheerful tranquillity, of surrender to the will of the Lord, pervades the whole epistle. We see the man, whose confidence rests on an immovable foundation unaffected by 30change of circumstances, a foundation which no waves or storms can shake. He is certain that, in one way or another, the Lord will conduct him through these conflicts triumphantly to a glorious end.44Chap. i. 19, 20. With joyful confidence, he approaches the termination of a life singly consecrated to one holy service. He is conscious of not having labored. in vain, as a faithful preacher of the truth, which he sees bringing forth fruit in the churches. These, as for instance the church at Philippi, are the living memorial of his devoted labors for the Lord, as he himself expresses it in this epistle; the witness that he has preached the word of the Lord in purity; his glory before the Lord when, at the day of judgment, that shall be by Him brought to light which was here concealed; when much, which here seemed to be somewhat, shall be exposed in its nothingness; and when much, that was misjudged and condemned by the world, shall be acknowledged by the Lord as his own. How nobly does this spirit of Paul express itself in the words of this epistle, where he exclaims:55Chap. ii. 17, 18. “And even if I be offered66Literally, poured out. upon the sacrifice and priestly service of your faith, I joy and rejoice with you 31all; in like manner should ye also joy and rejoice with me.” We must endeavor to make clear the full import of these weighty words.—The Lord Christ is the one Mediator, between God and the sinful human race redeemed by him. Through him all, who believe on him and enter into fellowship with him, are taken out of the ungodly world and consecrated as a holy community to God. Thus do they all become one priestly generation. There is no longer the distinction of Priests and Laity. All are become, through him and in fellowship with him, what he himself is,—Priests before the God of Jesus Christ who is also their God, before his Father who is also their Father. Their whole life is a priestly calling; as Paul represents it, Rom. xii. 1, “a reasonable service,” that is, a spiritual worship proceeding from the rational nature, the soul. Herein the whole spiritual life manifests itself as a God-devoted, to God presented self-sacrifice; every inward and outward act as done in fellowship with Christ, as performed in his name, pervaded by his Spirit, enstamped with his image, a thank-offering and a praise-offering of the redeemed, well pleasing in the sight of God. This being true of all the acts 32 of each Christian in his proper vocation, Paul regards as his own priestly calling the Apostolic work; as his own acceptable offering to God, the faith planted by him among the Gentiles and the Christian life of the converted heathen world. It is in this sense he speaks, in these words to his Philippian brethren, of “the sacrifice and priestly service of their faith” as his offering to God. It was customary, moreover, to pour out wine upon the altar, a so-called libation, as a seal of the offering. Paul, foreseeing that his own blood might be poured out in his priestly office of proclaiming the Gospel among the heathen, that he might be called to testify to what he preached in the very. face of death, and to put the seal of martyrdom upon his life’s work, here speaks of the outpouring of his own blood as a libation,—an offering of himself upon the sacrifice. Thus, with joyful confidence, the Apostle advances towards so glorious a consummation of his work. Far from needing solace from others, he could call on the Philippians to rejoice with him. Uncertain whether he was to finish his captivity by the martyr’s death, or whether his life would be preserved to labor still for the advancement of the kingdom of God upon 33 the earth, he was prepared for both, submissive in either case to the divine will. The will of the Lord was his will. The result would show, in what way it was the purpose of the Lord to make his life most subservient to His own glory. He was in a strait betwixt two,—longing to depart, out of the conflicts of the earthly life, into the peace of the spirit’s heavenly home; from where the Lord is seen only by the eye of faith, to where in blissful nearness he becomes an object of sight. Although Paul was certain even in this his earthly life of union with the Lord, he was far from feeling himself satisfied with what he already enjoyed. Not merely from external conflicts had he learned, that this is not the land of peace promised to the Christian, and sought for by his longing spirit. To those internal conflicts, yet more severe, which the life of faith must ever sustain, he was no stranger. Herein also had his Saviour led the way; he who cried “My soul is exceeding sorrowful even unto death!” and, “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me!” One of his sore trials he calls “a thorn in the flesh;” comparing it to the anguish inflicted by a thorn fixed and rankling in the flesh. It was the painful experience 34of his own human weakness, in contrast with the revelation of the divine glory, which at times was imparted to him. Thus was he taught to distinguish what is divine and what is human, what belongs to this life and what to the life beyond. Thus too was he to learn, that the land of heavenly peace, after which the renewed spirit sighs, is not to be found on earth. Although Paul, as his life and his epistles testify, had made great advances in personal sanctification, yet he was far from wishing to separate himself from the number of those, who as sinners seek in Christ for justification; far from holding himself to be a sinless saint., He knew well that he had still to maintain the conflict with sin, and that he must persevere, in that conflict faithfully to the end, if he would stand before the Lord. We need only to hear his own professions, as when warning the Corinthians against a false security he writes (1 Cor. ix. 27): “But I keep under my body, and bring it into subjection; lest, having preached to others, I myself should be a cast-away.” By these words he describes his unceasing conflict with himself, lest after having brought others to salvation by the preaching of the word, which through the indwelling 35divine power works independently of the preacher, and brings forth fruit to eternal life, he should himself be overcome by temptation and fall short of that goal to which he has conducted others. The figure, of which Paul here makes use, is taken from the boxing combats of the ancients. The body is represented as the antagonist with whom the boxer contends; implying a still continued resistance of the body, once the servant of sin, against the divine life in the spirit. Paul describes himself as one, who by unremitting effort makes his body, the organ of sanctification entrusted to him, serviceable to himself as the servant of Christ. This conflict with the body of sin, inasmuch as the whole outward life of man manifests itself in the body, designates in general the entire conflict still to be waged by the spiritual against the fleshly man, by the new man against the old;—and this in the case even of a Paul. Thus Paul, instructed by his rigorous self-examination, is far from supposing when he contemplates his own life, that he has already reached the limit of heavenly perfection, or that he could build his confidence thereon as if it were a life of perfected sanctification. “Not as if I had already 36attained, or were already perfect,” is his own beautiful expression of his conviction, in a passage of this epistle which we shall presently consider. Paul, then, was conscious that the blessings pronounced by the Lord: “Blessed are they who hunger and thirst after righteousness, for they shall be filled!” “Blessed are the pure in heart for they shall see God!” were not as yet completely fulfilled in him, but were still, in a certain sense, a promise looking into the future. Moreover, although Paul had been elevated, in his perception of divine things, above others of his own time and of all time; although he could claim that single higher revelations, over and above that which was to be the subject of general proclamation, had been vouchsafed to him; yet he well knew that all this was but partial and fragmentary, far from that completeness of knowledge before whose light all which is called in this life higher perception, prophecy, the gift of tongues, shall vanish away. He reckons himself among those, whose knowledge of divine things is like objects obscurely reflected in a mirror, where much still remains uncertain; a knowledge which, in relation to that of the eternal world, is as the 37knowledge of the child, to that of the mature man. He was fully conscious, that when he should be raised to the full vision of the life above, that which he knew of divine things in this life must be cast aside by him, as the mature man casts aside the conceptions of childhood. The twilight of the earthly life of faith did not satisfy the aspirations of his soul, which thirsted after knowledge; and he longed to pass into that pure day of heavenly clearness, where our knowledge of God and divine things will be inward, immediate, a direct perception of that which is present, a knowing as we are known. We see then that, in all these respects, Paul was penetrated with the full consciousness that the hope which has reference to the future, not less than the present exercise of faith, constitutes the life of the Christian. Apart from this undoubting prospect into the future, the whole Christian life seems to him an effort without aim, a chase after a phantom, a deceptive show; as he expresses it 1 Cor. xv. 19, “If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men most miserable.” For the life of others is directed towards some aim, higher or lower, of the sensual or spiritual life, which may 38actually be attained on earth. But the life of the Christian, with all its conflicts, labors, and privations, has reference to an object which has no reality, if it be not found in the eternal life of the future. It is from this point of view that Paul reproaches the proudly secure Corinthians, with having lost the consciousness of this distinction between the present and the hereafter, between the conflict of the earthly and the triumph of the eternal life. In their spirit and conduct they seemed as if already in possession of all riches, enjoying full satisfaction, the contentment of all necessities, with no farther warfare from within or from without. With this he contrasts the wholly different image of the Apostle’s life (1 Cor. 4: 8). “Ye are,” says he, “already become full, ye are already become rich, ye reign without us.” They were in spirit and conduct, as if the kingdom of Christ had with them already reached its consummation; and they, as partakers therein, had attained to all riches, to the satisfaction of all their desires. And would this were so, says he; would they had already attained to this participation in the perfected kingdom of Christ; for then, assuredly, the Apostles would not have been excluded 39therefrom, nor would their circumstances be such as they now are. Thus he holds up before them his own life of conflict, in contrast with their false security, their unauthorized and groundless exultation. (1 Cor. iv. 9-13.)
Thus there was reason sufficient even for Paul, though rejoicing in conflicts for Christ’s sake, and finding therein his glory, still to long after that perfect union with the Lord in the life to come. In earlier years, indeed, we find him constantly referring to the contrast between the earthly life of faith, and the consummation not to be enjoyed till the resurrection. But at a later period, especially from the date of his second, epistle to the Corinthians, we remark in him an ever increasing consciousness, that, as a necessary result of the inseparable union of believers with their Lord, both in his sufferings and his exaltation, they also shall on their departure from the earthly existence enter at once on a higher life of vision, into a higher, more undisturbed fellowship with Him. Thus in the fifth chapter of the second epistle to the Corinthians, he in this view represents the abiding in the flesh as an absence from the Lord, that is, from the immediate vision of Christ; while the state 40which follows, entered through death, through the laying off of the earthly life, is a being at home with the Lord—(2 Cor. v. 8). He expresses the same conviction in this epistle to the Philippians. Christ is his life.77Chap. i. 21. He distinguishes life in this sense from his life in the flesh.88Ver. 22. Christ is his true life; he has no life except in him, none apart from him. In him that which alone he calls life, has its being; it has its root in union with Him. And as Christ, having laid aside human infirmity, having risen and ascended to Heaven, now reigns triumphant in the Divine Life, living in the power of God a life exalted above the reach of death; so also is this true of the life of the believer, as being one with His own, yea one with Himself. And hence Paul concludes, that although even now, while abiding in the flesh, he has Christ for his true life; yet death is for him gain, inasmuch as through the laying off of the earthly existence, this true life, which has its being in Christ, shall be freed from the checks, hindrances, and disturbances by which it is still clogged, and shall attain to its complete development. He knows, that with his departure from the earthly life, will commence his “Being 41with Christ”99Chap. i. 23. in that more perfect sense, his presence with Him as an object of immediate vision. Hence this is the goal of his desires.
But there are two mistakes, against which the example of the Apostle warns us, viz.: the declension, on the one hand, of that longing after the blessedness to come, which, as we have seen, is inseparable from the very nature and essence of the Christian life; and on the other, Such a one-sided morbid predominance of this desire, as to weaken the exercise of patient submission to the will of the Lord. As to the first, we remark, that it is not alone in the enjoyment of earthly gratifications, which we should ever remember are in their nature transitory and but a shadow and pledge of those higher, eternal, heavenly joys, that the Christian may suffer the loss of this heavenward desire. Even his activity, in a calling entrusted to him for the promotion of the kingdom of God, may likewise so absorb him as to obscure the consciousness that he has here no abiding home, that his native country is in Heaven. He labors as if this work upon earth, which is but the beginning of a higher activity destined for eternity, were to be consummated 42here, as if it were already the work of eternity. Hence the thought that here all remains fragmentary, that nothing reaches completion, nothing attains to its end, withdraws itself from him; and death surprises him in the midst of his labors, consecrated though they be to God, as an unexpected unwelcome guest, who finds him unprepared. He is called away before he has finished his account; and instead of following joyfully the summons to a release from the sufferings of time, his heart clings fast to that earthly scene of labor which he too reluctantly quits, to those happy results of his labors on which he has set too high a value. Here may be applied the admonition of the Lord: “Rejoice not that the spirits are subject unto you, but rather rejoice that your names are written in Heaven.” This heavenward longing is ever the salt of the Christian life, amidst all sorrows, all joys; in every season of repose, in every labor. But on the other hand, this very desire, in itself perfectly right, but needing to be restrained by submission to the holy will of God, and by fidelity to the calling appointed us in this earthly life, becomes itself an error when it oversteps these boundaries. Thus arises a one-sided direction of 43feeling, an impatient haste for the call, which should be waited for with a steadfast unfaltering patience. In this undue, all-engrossing longing after the eternal, the importance of the earthly life and of its duties, connected as they are with the eternal, is forgotten. Earthly joy, and earthly labor, lose the proper value assigned them in the divine arrangement. That which the goodness of God has given us for the moment, as an earnest and a preparation for the higher joys of the future, is impatiently and unthankfully contemned. The consciousness is wanting, which should be ever present with the Christian, that for the redeemed united in fellowship with Christ, even here below, the earthly of whatever name, whether it consist in receiving or in doing, whether it be enjoyment or labor, is transformed into the heavenly. The temper of mind, which Paul’s words exhibit, holds the just medium between these two extremes. The longing after the life of eternity, after the immediate society of the Lord, continues to be the ground-tone of his soul, which no other can overpower. Through all the pressure of his labors in the service of God, this longing after the heavenly rest is not smothered, is not crowded from his 44heart. But he is far from an over-hasty impatience, which cannot await the end of the earthly conflict; far also from that more refined selfishness, which cannot endure to strive and labor longer for the salvation of others, and be still deprived of the quiet enjoyment of heavenly blessedness. Though to depart from the earthly life, and to be present with the Lord in a perfect personal union, be the goal of his desires; he is yet ready to deny this desire, the offspring of what is noblest in man, in order to labor still upon the earth and to strive for the salvation of his brethren. If it may serve for the advancement of the work entrusted to him by the Lord, he is willing yet longer to forego the object of his wishes, and to be still a wanderer upon the earth. Love to his brethren, who may need him for their salvation, enables him to present this offering willingly; and thus drawn hither and thither by these two directions of his desires, he remains submissive in either event to the will of the Lord. But one desire remains fixed and unwavering, to which all others must yield, viz.:—That Christ may be glorified through him, be it by life or by death. Let us hear his own noble words:—“As I earnestly expect and hope, that in nothing 45 I shall be put to shame; but that with all boldness, as at all other times so also now, Christ may be glorified in my body, whether it be by life or by death. For Christ is my life, and death is gain. But if my life in the flesh is fruitful for my work,—then I know not which to choose. For I am in a strait betwixt the two; desiring to depart and to be with Christ, for this is far better.”1010Chap. i. 20-23. Still he gives that the preference, which may most subserve the welfare of the churches which he has founded; and hence he adds: “But to abide in the flesh is more needful for your sake.” His love to the churches inspires him, at this moment, with the confident expectation (which indeed as he well knew might prove illusive, but which as we have reason to believe, was fulfilled by his release from his first imprisonment at Rome) that God would again restore him to their society, for the strengthening of their faith and the furtherance of their joy. “And having this confidence, I know that I shall remain, and shall continue with you all, for your furtherance and joy in the faith; that your glorying on my account may abound in Christ Jesus (i. e. the exulting joy which Christ should bestow upon 46 them by the restoration of Paul to their society)—through my coming again to you.”
We here observe in Paul the example of submission to the divine will, both in doing and in suffering, in self-sacrifice and self-preservation. Surrendering his own will, he is ready for whatever God may appoint, be it life or death, as may best promote the work committed to him. Filled with longing after the home of heaven, he yet seeks not death. For the good of the churches he willingly remains on earth. Only in the faithful performance of the duties of his calling is death to him a divine gift, to be joyfully received from the. hand of his Heavenly Father. Thus, in life and in death, it is alike the same operation of self-denying love. This example of Paul has primary and immediate reference to the martyr’s death, the genuine Christian martyrdom purified from all admixture of fanaticism. But is it not also applicable to death under all circumstances, and in the ordinary course of nature? In that case too, there may be either that spirit of selfish impatience, which, though it ventures not presumptuously to sever the thread of the earthly life, is not willing to endure it longer; or that selfish love to the 47 earthly life, which clings to this with its whole strength, which cannot let it go when the call of God requires. Thus, in both these respects, does Paul’s example of a love consecrated to God in self-sacrifice and self-preservation, find an application here. Thus should each Christian become, in respect to living and dying, one with him in spirit, though his calling may not lead to the martyr’s death.
Furthermore, we here observe in Paul that higher degree of self-renunciation, which manifests itself not in the relinquishment of temporal earthly interests, which could have no attraction for a Paul, but in the relinquishment of the higher interests of the immortal spirit. It is a heavenly aspiration, which enkindles the lofty soul of the Apostle. His desires reach beyond the narrow limits and perplexities of the earthly existence after the immediate vision of Christ, in him to find the full satisfaction of all the wants of the higher life. This to his spirit would be the highest good. Yet even this he foregoes. He is ready to relinquish what is dearest to himself, to forego the satisfaction of that heaven-born desire, to abide still longer in the strange country, to labor still upon 48earth, striving and suffering for the welfare of others. What is best for the churches, for the furtherance of God’s kingdom upon the earth, is more to him than what is best for himself. Now this example is not to be restricted to its merely literal application to a precisely similar case, viz.: when one who is penetrated with longing for the heavenly father-land, is yet obliged to bear the load of the earthly life for the welfare of others. It may in its spirit be applied to every case, where the Christian is called on to relinquish a course of life most favorable to his own spiritual interests, a life of tranquil and collected thought consecrated to devotion; and to plunge into a whirl of business, toil, and conflict alien to the higher inclinations of his soul, but where he is appointed to labor because the salvation of others requires it. In this respect also, Paul furnishes for our imitation an example of self-denying love, which shuns no sacrifice for the good of others. How often have Christians, who should be the salt of the earth, by withdrawing themselves from its corruption acted in Contrariety to this example!
Let us present still another view in which all Christians have an interest. While Paul stands 49thus between life and death, whereon is his confidence grounded? He, if any one, was a faithful laborer in the work of the Lord. He was conscious of having labored more than all others in the proclamation of the gospel. But he knew at the same time that this was not his own work, but the grace of God accomplishing all through him; as he himself says: “I have labored more abundantly than they all; yet not I, but the grace of God which was with me.” When higher considerations demanded his self-justification, against suspicions which might shake the confidence of the churches in him, he could indeed recount what he had done and suffered above others for the cause of the Lord (2 Cor. xi. 22, 23). He could appeal to the memorials of what he had endured in the cause of Christ, in whose fellowship he suffered, and whom he followed in his sufferings; to the marks enstamped in his body by the Lord himself (such as soldiers and servants were accustomed to bear) as proofs that he was Christ’s servant. (Gal. vi. 7). Still, when looking towards the close of his earthly course, he reviewed his life so abundant in labors and sufferings for the Lord, as it now spread out before him, he felt that he could not 50rest his confidence on what he had himself done. All seemed marked with imperfection. He was constrained to forget what he had already accomplished, and to fix his eye upon what still remained for him to do. It was with him a law, to forget what was already done, what lay behind, and to press continually forward towards the prize of the heavenly calling. It may, at first view, seem strange, that Paul expresses himself so doubtfully on the great point, whether he shall attain to the victor’s crown of life, shall share in the blessedness of the resurrection. It seems to be in conflict with that divine confidence which breathes through the whole epistle, and which he expresses elsewhere in regard to the object of his hope; as e. g. in 2 Tim. iv. 8: “I have fought a good fight, I have finished the course, I have kept the faith.” But this conflict belongs to the nature of the Christian life, and is ever recurring in the experience of the believer. Does the Christian look away from himself to his Redeemer, to the delivering grace assured to him, the unchangeable word of promise; the goal towards which, all his efforts tend, seems then an object of perfect certainty. Does he, on the other hand, test his own life by the standard of perfect 51holiness; his confidence then finds no firm ground. Defects and blemishes present themselves everywhere to his view; and this all the more the farther he has advanced in holiness, the more his sight has been sharpened by the power of the Holy Spirit, to recognize the model of divine holiness in its application to himself, to test by comparison with this pattern his inner and outer life in its nakedness and poverty, to penetrate into the hidden windings of his own heart. Hence Paul expresses himself so doubtfully in reference to what he is in himself, and has himself accomplished. What he has performed seems to him nothing, and he only looks forward to that which remains to be done. He is penetrated with the consciousness, that he is yet far from having attained perfection. But the ground of his confidence is this—that Christ has taken him into fellowship with himself, that Christ has apprehended him; and hence he hopes, that as he has been apprehended of Christ, he also shall apprehend the prize set before him by Christ. He knows that Christ, by whom he has been apprehended, will not leave unfinished the work he has himself begun in him; but, if he truly surrenders himself to his hands, will conduct 52it through all conflicts to a glorious completion. Let us hear his own brief, expressive words: “Not as though I had already attained, or were already perfect; but I follow after, if I may apprehend that for which I am apprehended of Christ Jesus.” So important does Paul deem it to set forth, in the clearest light, this truth drawn from his own self-consciousness and from his Christian experience, and to bring it home to the Christian as a warning against self-satisfaction, self-righteousness, and spiritual pride! Hence he adds yet again: “My brethren, I count not myself to have apprehended. But this one thing I do; forgetting the things which are behind, and reaching forth unto the things which are before, I press towards the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.” Paul was conscious in himself of the utter insufficiency of man’s own righteousness, not merely of that to which the vital principle is yet wanting, that which precedes regeneration and exists independently of Christianity; but of that also which possesses already in faith the true element of sanctification, without having as yet brought this to complete development and realization. Hence, the only immovable ground of his confidence is Christ, 53by whom he has been apprehended; and whom he, surrendering himself wholly to his hands, seeks ever more to apprehend and to appropriate as his own. Looking away from himself to Christ, his assurance is complete; looking back upon himself, he must doubt and waver; and thus he is driven to look away from himself, and to cling more and more firmly to Christ, from whose love nothing can separate him. It is the righteousness of God in Christ which alone avails for him, and is all-sufficient for him; as expressed in the words of this epistle, “The righteousness which is of God by faith.” To him Christ is all. All centres in this one point, that we enter into his fellowship and make it more and more our own; that we follow him by bearing the cross, thus following him as crucified for us; that in fellowship with him we die to sin, to self, and to the world; following him in the entire renunciation of selfish and earthly interests, not shunning to partake in the fellowship of his sufferings; and following him also as the Risen One, experiencing in ourselves the power of his resurrection—the resurrection to an imperishable and divine life above sin, death, and nature, proceeding from him to us, inasmuch as he 54has apprehended us and we apprehend him. So Paul expresses it, in a passage which we must more particularly consider hereafter: “That I may know him and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of his sufferings, being made conformable unto his death; if by any means I might attain unto the resurrection of the dead.” We have already explained how the Apostle could here express himself with so much apparent doubtfulness, consistently with his divine assurance of faith.
It was the greatest joy of the Apostle, that his imprisonment must necessarily serve for the furtherance of the Gospel; since it was becoming more and more known, that no guilt of any kind could be imputed. to him, that it was but his zeal for the. faith which he preached that had drawn upon him all his sufferings. A cause, to which a man like Paul felt constrained to offer up everything, could not fail to command attention.. To this was added the impression necessarily made upon those, who were witnesses of the enthusiasm with which he testified in behalf of the Gospel, of his steadfastness, and of his whole course of life. The knowledge of this had spread, as he intimates, by means of the soldiers from the imperial guard 55 (the castris praetorianis) who held watch by turn in his dwelling, among their comrades and from these still more widely. Other Christians were stimulated by Paul’s example to preach the Gospel with similar zeal, and to bear their testimony with like fearlessness. Thus increased the proclamation of the truth.
But Paul himself makes a great distinction among these preachers of the Gospel. Thus, when expressing his joy at the increasing promulgation of the Gospel, he says, “Some indeed preach Christ from envy and strife; but others also from goodwill: the one out of love, knowing that I am set for the defence of the Gospel.” The latter, he means to say, connect with their love to the Gospel also love to himself. They know that they can cause him no greater joy, than by laboring that the Gospel may be promoted by his imprisonment; for they well know that this is the one object of his life, and that he himself regards it as the divinely appointed end of all that he is to do and to suffer in life. “But the others,” he proceeds to say, “out of party spirit, not sincerely, supposing to add affliction to my bonds.” The first is clear. But who are those who sought, by 56the preaching of the Gospel, to add affliction to Paul’s imprisonment, and whom he charges with insincerity? We must here take into view what he afterwards says in reference to this distinction, viz. that by the one class Christ was preached in truth, by the other only in appearance. Are we to suppose that these men, without personal love to the Gospel, without personal conviction of its truth, preached Christ for no other reason than to add, to the hardship of Paul’s situation, and to bring him into greater danger by the wider extension of the Gospel in Rome; thus rendering him, as the origin of it all, more obnoxious to the Roman civil power? It appears at once how unnatural, and intrinsically improbable, is such a supposition. If they could thus bring Paul into greater peril, they would by so doing plunge themselves into equal danger. Can it be imagined that one would play so hazardous a game, simply from hatred to another? He who at that time did not himself believe in the Gospel, must be enlisted against it; and would certainly not have given himself up to the business of preaching it, merely as the means to another end. We must seek, then, another explanation of this difficulty. When it is 57said of an individual that he preaches the Gospel only in appearance, this need not be understood as necessarily meaning that he has no concern whatever in regard to the subject of his preaching; that he has no personal interest in it, no conviction of its truth, that he makes use of it only as a means to another end. It may mean that he preaches it, not in its purity and completeness, but mingled with foreign elements; that although an interest in it cannot be denied him, yet this is not perfect and unalloyed. In this sense it might be said of such an one, that he does not preach the Gospel sincerely. Paul might therefore express himself thus, in regard to persons who testified of the Gospel of Christ from real conviction; yet did not preach the whole, unmixed, pure Gospel in its completeness, but an adulterated, mutilated Gospel. And when, moreover, he says of such, that they were actuated by party zeal and hatred against him, desiring to add new affliction to his sufferings; it is not necessary to understand by this, that their witness for the Gospel was mere pretence, a form of hypocrisy to which the circumstances of the time afforded no occasion and no ground; but that their ruling motive in 58preaching was not pure love to the Lord. that it was their aim, consciously or unconsciously to themselves, by their manner of preaching to give offence to Paul, and to raise up for themselves a party against him.
If now we look farther into the history of the development of Christianity in this its earliest period, and investigate more minutely, in the history of the Apostolic church, the peculiar relations and opposing influences under which Paul’s labors were prosecuted, we shall soon be in a position to determine with greater exactness what we have here remarked in general. We know that Paul had to contend with opposers, to whom all that has here been said is applicable. There were those who did indeed acknowledge and preach Jesus as the Messiah, but a Messiah in the Jewish sense; who acknowledged him, not as that which he has revealed himself to be, the only ground of salvation for man; who in connection with the one article of faith, that Jesus was the Messiah promised in the Old Testament, still adhered to the Jewish legal position; who understood nothing of the new creation of which Christ was the author, and to whom faith in Jesus as the Messiah 59 was only a new patch upon the old garment of Judaism. These were the opposers, with whom we so often find Paul contending in his Epistles. Of such he might justly say, that they preached the Gospel not purely and sincerely, but only in appearance; for they were indeed far more concerned for Judaism than for Christianity, and their converts became rather Jews than Christians. Of such he might also say, that they sought to form a party against him, and to add affliction to his bonds; for these persons everywhere seem chiefly animated by jealousy of Paul, through whom the Gospel was preached to the heathen world as freed from all dependence upon Judaism, and standing upon its own foundation. They oppose themselves to him on all occasions, contest his Apostolic dignity, seek to encroach on his sphere of labor, to draw over the people from him to themselves, from that pure and complete Gospel to their own mutilated one. And it need not surprise us to meet such even in Rome; for Paul’s Epistle to the church at Rome, written some years previous to his imprisonment there, shows us in this church, consisting chiefly of Gentile converts, a small party of such judaizing Christians who 60were in conflict with the rest. It was a matter of course, then, that when the pure Gospel in the sense of Paul was preached by the one party, the other, provoked to rivalry, should rise up in opposition and seek to give currency to their own corrupted form of the Gospel.
We must now endeavor to understand fully Paul’s position towards these opposers. Rightly understood, it will furnish an important rule for our own application in many cases. In the first place, it is clear that these men were personal enemies of Paul; and that in their efforts to promote the Gospel, their object was to frustrate the labors of the Apostle, and to form a party of their own in opposition to him. What self-renunciation must it then have required, to enable Paul to rise so entirely above this personal relation, that forgetting the design against himself he can rejoice with his whole heart that the One Christ, whom it is his sole desire to glorify, is preached, even though it be by his personal enemies! Thus everything pertaining to self gives place to that all-absorbing love to the Lord, and to those for whom He gave his life. How rare are the examples of a love so heaven-like, so purified from all 61selfishness! One may even be animated by real zeal for the cause of the Lord, and yet that zeal be impaired by personal considerations. If others, who from unfriendly designs against him personally labor to frustrate his efforts, are used as instruments for the promotion of the same holy cause,—he cannot rejoice over it. That this is accomplished not through himself, but through those who are acting against him, weighs more with him than the common interest of Christ’s cause; and instead of giving him joy, it becomes a source of vexation, jealousy, and envy. He is not concerned alone that Christ should be preached, but that He should be preached through him; or at least through his followers, through those who in every respect harmonize with him, and acknowledge him as their teacher in Christianity. Least of all can he endure it, when Christ is preached by those who take a hostile attitude towards himself; whose most zealous effort it is to lessen his reputation, to throw suspicion on him as a teacher, to draw men away from him. To this course of conduct, which we so frequently observe among men, the Apostle’s self-denying zeal forms the most striking contrast. He acted in accordance 62 with the principle which he himself lays down in 1 Cor. iii. 21, showing in what light the preachers of the Gospel should be regarded. “Let no man,” says he, “glory in men;” the highest, the only concern is the honor of Christ, and the salvation of believers.
Thus would the case be easily understood, and thus might Paul’s conduct serve as a pattern for us, if it were merely a matter of personal variance and not a strife respecting the nature of the doctrine itself. But, as we have already seen, this was by no means the case. It is a false form of doctrine, placing itself in competition with the preaching of Paul and in opposition to it, a mutilated and corrupted Gospel that is here spoken of. Those opposers, it is true, acknowledged Jesus to be the Christ, but not in the sense in which Paul received him. It was not in his full character as the sole ground of salvation, the central point of the whole Christian life, as he was regarded by Paul. Hence, we might naturally suppose, Paul could not rejoice that Christ was preached through them, since it was not in his pure complete character. And indeed, we see Paul dealing elsewhere quite differently with such persons. How 63indignantly does he combat them in the Epistle to the Galatians! He does not acknowledge them as preachers of the same Gospel; he declares that there is no other Gospel than that preached by him; that they do but pervert the Gospel of Christ. In opposition to those who would connect with the Gospel the righteousness of the law, he says: “If righteousness come by the Law, then has Christ died in vain” (Gal. ii. 21). And in this Epistle also he expresses himself, as we shall see hereafter, with equal severity in regard to this false tendency. How then is Paul’s manner of speaking in this passage, to be reconciled with what he says in those other cases? It is only necessary to discriminate carefully the different relations, presupposed by this diversity of judgment and conduct. Paul manifests this warmth of displeasure, only in cases where the Gospel had already gained a foothold among the Gentiles, and where that judaizing tendency threatened to pervert it, by intermingling so much of Judaism as wholly to obscure its peculiar nature. For it could only cause him grief, that the blessing of which a people were already in full possession, should be marred and taken from them. But it was otherwise 64here, where he speaks in relation to the heathen who as yet knew nothing of Christianity. Those preachers bore witness at least to the fact, that Jesus had appeared to found the kingdom of God in man; they testified of his history, the facts of his life, his resurrection, his ascension to heaven; although they did not themselves comprehend, nor were able to unfold to others, how much was involved in all this. Now Paul could not but rejoice that the common foundation of the Gospel, a knowledge of the person and history of Christ, should be made known to those who as yet had heard nothing of them. This was the first thing; the starting-point from which all the rest must proceed. If this personage, these facts, became once known and could be made objects of attention, here was a basis for still further labors. If Christ, the crucified, the risen, the ascended Christ, could but once be known and acknowledged, those who had gone thus far might, from this starting-point, be led onward to find still more in him; might be assisted to search deeper and deeper into the inexhaustible riches which are in Christ. Paul could therefore rejoice that Christ was preached, even though it was in this defective 65manner; though the doctrine of Christ were not presented in its purity and completeness. There are, it must be remembered, different degrees in the knowledge of Christ. More or less may be found in him. We must therefore deal with no one as an enemy, because he has at first but little; but must help him on from this point that he may gain more, that he may become conscious of those greater treasures, which he needs but rightly to develop out of that which he has already received; “till,” as Paul expresses it in the fourth chapter of the Epistle to the Ephesians, “we all come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ.” Paul’s conduct, in this case, is in accordance with the principle indicated by Christ himself. When the disciples met with one, who attributed to Christ’s name a power whereby evil spirits might be cast out, they refused to allow the use of that name by one who had not as yet become his professed disciple, and who had not made common cause with them by uniting himself to their company. But Christ rebuked them, in those memorable words: “He who is not against us, is on 66our part.” “Not to be against Christ” contained in itself the germ, from which the positive, “to be for Christ,” might yet be developed. Though he did not as yet know Christ as the Apostles knew him, though he was still ignorant of the true significance and power of this name, and connected many errors with his belief in its efficacy; still it was a germ of faith not to be despised, a germ from which more might develope itself and. be developed. It was a point of connection, from which one who had gained so much could be led still farther. It needed only that he should be brought to perceive what was implied in this, what must be presupposed in the strange efficacy of the invocation of Christ’s name. Who must He be, from whose name such power proceeds! In what relation must He stand to the kingdom of evil, when his name exercises such sway over evil spirits! It is clear that he who had once acknowledged so much was already in a position, from which, with patience and love, he might be conducted farther and farther in knowledge and faith. From him who as yet was only not an opposer of Christ, who knew and recognized Christ in some single point of view, might be formed by building upon that 67which he had already attained, a positive disciple of Christ. But he might also, if not thus dealt with, if too much was required of him with his present attainments, be wholly repelled. Not only might he be hindered from farther progress by such harsh treatment, but be unsettled in regard to what he had already gained; and thus the germ of truth, in its yet imperfect development, might be wholly destroyed. Against such a course we are warned by those words of Christ; and with these Paul accords when he rejoices that Christ was preached and acknowledged, even though in an obscured and defective manner.
We have already, before we saw clearly the relation which these opposers held to Paul, and regarding them merely in general as his personal enemies, felt ourselves constrained to acknowledge him as a model of self-denying zeal for the cause of Christ. We are now, after a more full and careful development of this relation, called upon to contemplate this great model under a new light. It implies a love purified from selfishness far above what is common, to be able to recognize and with joy to acknowledge the work of the Lord, when performed through the agency of a personal 68enemy. But the power of this purified and exalted love reveals itself under still another view, when the truth lying at the basis of even an erroneous representation of the Gospel is recognized and welcomed; when the seed of truth is not rejected and spurned on account of the error, even though this may oppose itself to a purer, more complete, unmutilated conception of the Gospel as preached by ourselves, but is welcomed as one step towards the farther advancement of the Gospel. But how seldom do we find a like example! One who is capable, it may be, of joyfully welcoming the work of the Lord when advanced by means of a personal enemy, might yet not be able so far to forget self as to accept with cordial love, and to use for the common cause of the Lord, the truth lying at the bottom of the errors promulgated by his opponent, especially when in direct opposition to the pure truth which he is himself conscious of preaching. How different would it have been in the church, how many divisions might have been avoided, how many who have labored only to oppose each other might have labored together for the spread of the Gospel; how many who have hardened themselves in their 69errors, and have lost by degrees even so much of divine truth as they had embraced, might from that partial view have been led farther and farther in the knowledge of the truth, and have been gradually made free from the bondage of error; if Christians, instead of demanding everything at once, with the impatient zeal of a love not sufficiently purified from self, had been more observant of the various grades of faith and knowledge, and had nurtured them with a forbearing charity!
The principle here expressed and acted on by Paul admits of numerous applications. But to what form of Christian labor is the immediate reference here? To that which most exactly corresponds to Paul’s peculiar vocation, that where the first concern is to establish the church upon the one foundation, which is Christ; we mean the missionary work. Here should all, after Paul’s example, fix their aim upon this single point, to make Christ everywhere known, to testify only of Him. Here, then, should the strife respecting differences in the form of representation and differences of creed find no place; and amidst all diversities on these points, there should be a union of labor for the one object of proclaiming Christ. 70Whatever differences may exist on other points, should all be made an offering to his cause. To each one it should be matter of rejoicing that through others also, and even such as in his view have a less perfect knowledge of Christ, He, the great centre of all, is made more and more widely known. We may apply this example of Paul in still another view. There are times in which the church, even where it is already firmly established, is called on to exercise anew a missionary activity; times in which the ideas and tendencies to which Christianity first gave being and currency, though still exerting their influence upon society, yet deny their connection with Christianity, and even array themselves against it. Such are times of wide-wasting apostasy; when the culture, which has grown up under the fostering care of Christianity, rises up in opposition to it,—an opposition which may, however, have been first called forth by the impure mixture of human institutions with Christianity. Such periods occur in the history of all religions, when reason, matured to self-dependence, disunites itself from the faith under whose guardianship it has been nurtured. Nor could Christianity escape this fate. 71It is subject to the same laws and conditions as all things human; and distinguishes itself only in the manner in which, by virtue of its divine nature and character, it rises victorious from all such conflicts. For whilst other religions find in such conflicts their grave, to Christianity they prove but the transition points to a resurrection, in increased purity and glory, in the energy of a renewed youth. In such times; as well as in periods of missionary labor, does the principle “that Christ alone be preached” find anew its application. The sole concern then is, that Christ should first of all be brought near to the souls estranged from him, that he may draw them to himself and make them subject to him. Here too, all cannot be achieved at once; but gradually, from the common relation to the one Christ, must the way be opened for a union among souls reclaimed to him from the most diverse forms of error. Here must Paul’s example of magnanimous denial of self be our guide. Here every one, who is animated by the same spirit with the Apostle, must rejoice if “in every way Christ is preached,” even when he cannot but feel that the manner leaves much to be desired.
Still another trait of Paul’s Christian character 72 is presented to us, in his manner of accepting the gifts sent to him by the Philippian church. There is in the natural man a false striving after independence and self-reliance; a pride of self-will, which not seldom decks itself with noble names, the influence of which is to make one ashamed to accept from others gifts of which he stands in need, lest he should humble himself before them. A still worse development of the same radical fault of the natural man is seen, when the gifts indeed are accepted and enjoyed, but there is a disposition to forget them again, to shun the remembrance of them, to acknowledge no indebtedness to others through fear of seeming dependent, of humbling one’s self before them. But the Apostle is penetrated by the consciousness, that all are related to each other as the members of one body, and should abide in this mutual dependence upon one another as members under one head, Christ Jesus. He knows that the growth of the whole body, from the one head which guides animates and connects all the members, can only then be truly promoted, when all the single members are ready, as instruments of the one head, mutually to sustain and forward each 73other in spiritual and in temporal things, to work together in love and unity. This is beautifully expressed by Paul in the Epistle to the Ephesians (iv. 15, 16): “That we grow up into him in all things, which is the head, even Christ; from whom the whole body fitly joined together, and compacted by that which every joint supplieth, according to the effectual working in the measure of every part, maketh increase of the body unto the edifying of itself in love.” Christ is here presented as the one to whom the whole development must tend; the aim of all is to grow up into true fellowship with him, to receive him wholly into themselves, to become full of him. He is equally the one, from whom the whole growth up into him can alone proceed; from whom issue all the vital energies, the living juices; from whom alone all the members can receive life and direction. Christ so works upon the whole body, that by means of the different members through which his vitalizing influence flows, using each in its appropriate manner, he works through the whole. And hence the growth, proceeding from him and tending up to him, can truly prosper only when all the members alike yield themselves 74 to him; and under his guidance, in mutual dependence and mutual influence upon each other, abide together in closest union. The Christian should ever bear in mind, that our various necessities, and the means of supplying them, are distributed in varying modes and proportions through the different members, in order to keep them in a state of mutual dependence and reciprocal influence; so that no one may break loose from his connection with the whole, thinking to maintain an existence by himself, and that mutual necessities may serve continually for the furtherance of mutual love. The Christian will not be ashamed, therefore, of a dependence upon others springing from such a connection; but will recognize it as the law naturally arising from. the relation of the members to one another. As he who gives rejoices in having received from God means which he may use for the aid of the other members; regarding it as a loan for this purpose from their common Lord, as a medium for the manifestation of that love which. the Spirit of God has poured into the hearts of believers, that being the mark by which the disciples of the Lord, the members of his body, are to be known: so he that 75receives rejoices far less in the brief temporal service of the gift, than in the heavenly temper expressed in the bestowal,—in the love, that vital principle of the church, which manifests itself therein. He knows that it is for the highest good of the giver himself; who thus, by deeds of love, sows in the earthly life what he shall reap in life eternal; who thus manifests in his works the spirit which makes him meet for life eternal. So Paul represents the Christian relation, in his own manner of accepting the gifts of the Philippian church, when he says: “I rejoiced in the Lord greatly that now at length your care for me hath flourished again,”—rejoiced, that now after long-endured privation, they are placed once more in a condition to fulfil the wish they had ever felt, to care for his temporal wants;—“because ye have ever cared for me, but ye lacked opportunity. Not that I speak in respect of want.” And in conclusion he says: “Not because I desire a gift, but I desire fruit”—the fruit which springs for them out of such manifestations of love—“which may abound to your account”—may be laid up for life eternal.
Again: Paul here gives us a model of the genuine 76 Christian character, in his demeanor in respect to external things. The Christian, in the power of the Lord through which he is able to do all things, proves his independence of the world, and his supremacy over it, by his ability to endure joyfully all the privations which the Lord lays upon him, in the circumstances of his lot, in what is required of him by his calling. His soul, filled with the divine life, cannot be bowed down by earthly want. Subjected to privation, he so much the more feels and proves his inward mastery of the world. But the Christian is far also from that self-imposed mortification of the flesh, in an imaginary spirituality, which nevertheless only serves for the satisfaction of the fleshly mind; for in the Holy Scriptures, all which does not proceed from the divine Spirit, all which comes from our own will, therefore every form of vanity and spiritual pride is ascribed to the flesh. (Coloss. ii. 23.1111This passage, incorrectly translated by Luther, stands thus in the original: “which (namely, the principles spoken of in vss. 21 and 22) have indeed a show of wisdom in self-chosen spirituality and humility and mortification of the body, but have no worth, serving only for the satisfying of the flesh.” Ex. MSS.) He is far from imposing upon himself privations, in order thereby to merit anything 77before God or man, though submitting joyfully to those which God lays upon him; but accepts with humble gratitude whatever God may bestow upon. him above what is required for his absolute wants. The Christian’s greatness is ever built upon humility. His independence of the world, his supremacy over it, consists in just this, that in every condition of want or abundance he is the same, neither depressed by want nor seduced by prosperity into worldliness and vain-glory; that he uses both alike in order to make known that divine life by which he is raised above the world. This is the spirit which Paul here exhibits when he says, that though he needs not the Philippians’ gifts of love, he still rejoices in that love which prompted them; and when to this he adds the testimony, that he has accustomed himself to all changes of condition; that he knows how to adapt himself equally to all circumstances, whether of want or abundance, through the power of Him who animates him. “I have learned,” says he, “in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content. I know both how to be abased, and I know how to abound; in every respect and in all things I am fully instructed, both to be full and to be 78 hungry, both to abound and to suffer need. I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me.” Such is true Christian fortitude and greatness of soul, whose basis is humility.79
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