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AFTER having thus carefully considered Paul in his then existing circumstances and temper of mind, let us now turn our attention to the state of the Philippian church, and to what Paul has to say in reference to this, by way of warning and counsel for the future.
We will first take a general view, and from this pass to particulars.
It is customary with Paul to commence his letters, with a recognition of whatever is praiseworthy in the church to which he is writing. In this appears his wisdom as a spiritual guide. The confidence of men is far more easily won, and a hearing secured for whatever one has to say in the way of admonition and rebuke, if it appears that he nowise overlooks or undervalues what is good in them, that he does not willingly find fault, but is ready to acknowledge every real excellence with cordial approbation. Good and bad, moreover, 80stand frequently in close connection with each other. The good lies at the foundation; but the evil mingles its disturbing influence with the good, and hence it is through the latter that we can best reach and remedy the former. It is in the clear perception of this relation, and in the skilful use of it for the correction of error, that Paul manifests his wisdom. Of this a striking example is furnished in the first epistle to the Corinthians. Thus Paul regards whatever of real value he finds already existing in the churches, not as something produced in them from themselves and by their own agency, but wrought in them by the Spirit of God, that Spirit which has begun to transform them into new men. Hence he feels himself constrained to thank God for that which He has wrought in their hearts and in their lives by his grace, before he offers to Him the prayer, that what He has already wrought in them He will more and more purify, carry it forward, and bring it to perfection. Upon the good which already exists in them he builds the hope, that they will ever continue to advance in goodness, even unto perfection. Not indeed upon the good as a work of man can he rest such a hope. He knows too well the weakness of man, too well 81 how subject is everything human to constant change. But this is the ground of his hope, that in this beginning of the Christian life he sees not the work of man but the work of God. He thus builds his hope upon the truth and faithfulness of God, who will certainly carry forward what He has begun, through all conflicts and trials, safely to its consummation. It is not God’s way to do things by halves. Thus too does Paul begin his letter to the Philippians; thanking God for their living fellowship in the gospel from the beginning up to the present hour; and then expressing the confidence, that He who has begun in them the good work will also carry it on to its completion. In this it is indeed always presupposed by Paul, that they likewise will do what belongs to them, by yielding themselves to the power of God which works nothing without man, albeit man without it can work nothing; as in the eleventh chapter of the epistle to the Romans (v. 22), he represents the continued manifestation of God’s goodness in men as conditioned on their continuing in His goodness, and thus susceptible of the grace of God. by truly yielding themselves up to its influence. It is on this connection between the divine and the 82human he founds the exhortation, “to work out their salvation with fear and trembling; for,” he adds, “it is God who worketh in you both the willing and the doing, of his own good pleasure.” It is here assumed that the salvation of man is conditioned upon his own conduct. He is himself to work out his salvation. And yet Paul always represents the salvation of man as something which can be accomplished only through the grace of God, as the work of God in man. But he adds, in this passage, a more exact designation of the temper of heart with which they should work out their salvation, viz., “with fear and trembling.” This would not be appropriate if he were speaking of what lay merely in the hand of man, in which case all would depend upon his own strength. It is because Paul is conscious of the weakness and insufficiency of all human strength, because he presupposes that man can do nothing without God, and must constantly watch over himself, lest through his own fault he lose the aid of divine grace, without which all human efforts are in vain; it is for this reason that he designates this temper of mind as one of fear and trembling, as the feeling of personal accountability and helplessness, of 83insecurity and instability in ourselves, by which we may be ever admonished to continual watchfulness, and to ever-renewed waiting upon God as the fountain of all our strength. Hence, as the ground of such an admonition, he appeals to this consciousness that we can of ourselves do nothing, that it is God who alone bestows upon us the power to will and to perform what is needful to our salvation; that all, indeed, depends upon his sovereign will. This feeling of dependence, the ground-tone of the Christian life, is ever to be maintained. It is this which must combat the presumption of a vain human self-reliance, which, finding itself deceived in the result, so easily gives place to dejection and despair.
All the admonitions which Paul gives the Philippians in reference to the Christian walk, are comprehended in this one; that they should “walk in a manner worthy of the Gospel of Christ.” And what is required of them in their position, in the midst of a corrupt world, he points out in chapter ii. 15-16. Inasmuch, he says, as they are called to live as children of God in the midst of a corrupt world, they are called to maintain unsullied, amidst all the defilements of surrounding 84pollution, that divine life of which, as children of God, they have become participants, and to show forth its glory in contrast with the perverse generation in which they live. The terms “crooked and perverse,” in which Paul describes this wicked generation, have reference to the perversion of the original godlike nature, which can be restored only through the new creation. So also, as children of God, they are to shine as lights, as radiant luminaries in the world of darkness. Whilst all around them is darkness, here alone shall all be light. So indeed does Christ say to those who belong to his kingdom, that they are to be the lights of the world, just as He is the Sun who sends his light into this dark world, its light in the highest and only true sense. Thus what He is, is communicated to those who enter into fellowship with him, and they too through him become the light of the world. This light shines in the holy walk of Christians, and thereby do they testify of Him who is light itself, and in whom is no darkness; thereby do they glorify him and lead others to acknowledge and honor him; as Christ himself has said, “Let your light so shine before men, that they seeing your good works may glorify your 85Father which is in Heaven.” They are to testify of that which is life, to show forth the true life in this world of death.1212As in some MSS. “holding forth the true life.” Everything which men, in accordance with the revelation of the law written in their consciences through the impulses of their moral nature, are accustomed to account moral and virtuous, belongs also to the peculiar stamp of this new divine life, in which the children of God manifest themselves as such. All must find its fulfilment here; only that is done away which proceeds from the disturbing influence of sin; as Christ says, that he “came not to destroy but to fulfil.” Hence it is the conclusion of Paul’s exhortation,1313Chap. iv. 8. that their minds be directed only to “what is true”—(true and good being in the biblical sense one and the same, the truth here appears as that which penetrates and gives direction to the whole life; all has its root in the truth, the true is the divine)—to “what is becoming, what is upright, what is chaste, what is lovely, what is of good report, whatever is virtue and whatever is praise.” Thus it is implied by Paul, that the divine life must manifest itself in an amiable form before men; and he appeals 86to what they had learned from his instructions, and had witnessed in the example of his own life. Although, as we have seen above, he was far from holding his life to be entirely pure and perfect, yet he could with confidence assume the essential correspondence between his life and teachings, and that his conduct did not give the lie to his instructions. And thus he was able, without untruth or self-exaltation, to hold up to the Philippians the example of his own course among them as an admonition to them. Self-exaltation is the less to be attributed to him here, as he was himself fully conscious, that whatever in his own conduct he proposed as their example was only the work of grace, the fruit of the new creation in him. So may the Christian when made aware, by a comparison of his earlier and later life, of having gained the victory over the old nature in any of its sinful tendencies, be fully conscious of this and freely rejoice over it; for this is no self-exaltation. He knows that it is not to his own nature or his own strength that he is indebted for it; that the Spirit of God, the Spirit of Christ has wrought this in him; and therefore the consciousness of his victory only impels him to praise and to thank Him, through 87whose power he has attained it. And at the same time, he feels himself constrained to acknowledge how much still remains for him to contend with. and with the Apostle, whose words we have quoted, to forget what is behind and press continually forward.
The church at Philippi, as we have already remarked, had been called to endure many forms of persecution. It was necessary that Paul should exhort them to steadfastness under these trials. How then does he express himself? It is important for us to bring this out clearly, for it is applicable to all the conflicts which Christianity has to encounter in all times. They should in no wise suffer themselves to be terrified by their adversaries;1414Chap. i. 28, 29. “which to them is an evident token of perdition, but to you of salvation and that of God. For to you it is given, for the sake of Christ—not only to believe on him—but for his sake to suffer also.” What is the full import of these words? This is best shown by contrast. Had the opposers of the gospel succeeded in terrifying the Philippians, it would thereby have been made manifest how much these opposers could effect, what power 88they possessed; the weakness of the Philippians would have appeared, and the cause which they served might have seemed an impotent one. Or it might have seemed merely a contest between man and man, their opponents being the stronger and they the weaker party. Their demeanor would have been a testimony, how much was still wanting to them of that divine power which was to manifest its efficacy in believers; how much, therefore, they still lacked of the genuine life of faith. But while they did not suffer themselves to be terrified by those who warred with weapons of the flesh, this was a proof that they were in the service of a divine cause, victorious over all human opposition; that a power of God wrought in them against which no human force could avail. The conflict with their adversaries served but to test and to approve their faith, and their power through faith. It was a proof of the vanity of their opposers’ efforts; even as Christ reckons it as one of the works of the Holy Spirit, to lead men to the conviction that the Prince of this world has been judged, and hence can accomplish nothing farther through his instruments (Jno. xvi. 11). Thus through them is this power of the Holy Spirit manifested. So far, it 89was an evidence of the condemnation drawn upon themselves by those who warred in the service of the Prince of this world. But for the Philippians, it was for that very reason a certain proof, a pledge, of their salvation; for the faith which remains steadfast in conflict is indeed assured of salvation. It was the pledge that the power of God, through which they were able to hold themselves unterrified by their adversaries, would also lead them through all conflicts to final salvation; as in the works of God one thing answers to another, one guaranties the other. And thus Paul gives special prominence to the thought, that this is not of man; that it is no illusive human proof, but a factual proof given by God himself. It is one part of this proof, that to them it was given of God to suffer for Christ’s sake. For whoever follows Christ in his sufferings, must needs follow him also in his glorification. Paul had said, “for Christ’s sake;” intending at first only to say, “for Christ’s sake to suffer.” But he would bring out the full meaning of this with a stronger emphasis. He therefore interrupts himself, and says, “not merely to believe on him, but for his sake to suffer also.” He who believes in Christ is, so far as his faith approves 90itself to be genuine, certain of the blessedness of heaven. But it is also requisite that this faith approve itself to be genuine, by assuring its possessors against all fear of their adversaries; and by giving them the power to follow Christ in his sufferings, as in general its office is, in all things, to bring them into fellowship with Christ. And therefore, although with faith in Christ, as the root of all else pertaining to the Christian life, all else is given so far as regards the principle whence it springs, the germinating power which produces it; yet to suffer for Christ is more than merely to believe on him, inasmuch as through these sufferings the power of faith makes itself manifest, approves itself to be genuine. For one might suppose himself the possessor of that genuine faith, and yet the result, when he was found to shun a participation in the sufferings of Christ, would prove the contrary. In another view, indeed, suffering is of less account than faith. For there might be a suffering too, which was not true Christian suffering, as not proceeding from the life of faith, that faith which works by love. As Paul says in 1 Cor. xiii. 3; “And though I give my body to be burned, and have not charity, it profiteth me nothing.” The 91same is true, in general, of the relation of faith to the entire course of Christian life in its outward manifestation, of the relation of faith to good works. It everywhere finds an application, in a greater or less degree, in respect to the relation of the inward to the outward, of the internal feeling to its manifestation in action.
The Christian life is no instinctive, unconscious one. It follows not feeling alone; but demands, everywhere and in all things an intelligent discrimination between what is of God and what is not, in respect to all the relations of life; between what accords to the will of the Lord, to the spirit and nature of Christianity, and what is in contrariety thereto. It cannot subsist, cannot fulfil its mission, without a considerate conscious process of scrutiny and discrimination. As flesh and spirit are still coexisting in the Christian, and are ever in conflict with each other; so the power of discriminating what proceeds from the one or the other, what is in accordance with the one or the other, is continually needed, in order that the Christian may not yield to the suggestions of the flesh, when he thinks he is acting according to the impulses of the spirit. Of such a testing and discriminating 92 process there was especial need, in churches established in the midst of the Pagan or Jewish world; since there, Christianity, contending with existing customs relations and views of life which were the product of another spirit and principle, was now first to bring into existence a new creation, in which Christ should be all in all. Here of course the question must often arise: What does Christianity require? In what respects does the heathen or Jewish point of view stand opposed to it? Wherein may the Christian conform himself to the world, wherein may he not? For this reason Paul, in his practical admonitions to this church, desires for them especially increase in knowledge,1515Chap. i. 9. in the faculty of perception; that they might test things which differ, the good and the bad, the true and the false, that thus they might avoid the one and choose the other. Paul assumes that, for this work, the diligent exercise of the faculty of perception is necessary; that such a power of discernment is the fruit of unremitting exercise of the Christian judgment. In like manner in the epistle to the Hebrews (v. 14), it is accounted one of the attributes of the state of Christian maturity, that, through 93the exercise of the organs of spiritual perception, a readiness had been attained for distinguishing good and evil. But if, on the one hand, there are objects of knowledge and judgment where all depends on the exercise of the understanding, where he who is most practised in thinking possesses also the best judgment, and is most fully guarded against error; yet in regard to the objects which the Apostle has in mind, those pertaining to moral duties, this is by no means the case. In general, we shall often find how much the judgment is here biassed by the direction of the will. The mistakes which lie at the basis of action, and errors in conduct, arise not so much from defect in the thin2king faculty, as from selfish inclinations which sway the judgment. And this is particularly the case with Christianity, which assigns wholly new objects as the aim of life. To know what is in harmony with it, Love must be the controlling and directing principle of the whole life. The more entirely one is animated by love, the more will his moral judgment be in harmony with Christianity. A soul, however well practised in thinking, will miss the right, if not thus quickened and the eye of the spirit made single by love. To this we must add, 94that Christianity is no mere law of the letter, which establishes only single general rules of duty, according to which all single cases of conduct are to be determined; but it is a law of the Spirit, which makes known to each individual his peculiar mission in life, that very one which the Lord has appointed him to fulfil, and what is needed for its fulfilment. No one can prescribe to another, what from his standpoint, under his appointed relations, it is his duty to do; but it is Love, that spirit common to all, which makes known to each in particular what is duty for him, and in reference to this leads him to make the necessary discrimination. To love, therefore, Paul here gives the first place, and ascribes to its quickening presence the knowledge and capacity required for distinguishing the good and the bad, the true and the false; as he himself expresses it, “that your love may more and more abound in all knowledge;” meaning, that therein its effect is seen,—that increase of knowledge in the fruit of more abundant love. But as here the theoretical proceeds from the practical, the new direction of the judgment from the new direction of the will, of the moral disposition; so is the theoretical in like manner to react 95 upon the practical, the enlightened judgment upon the conduct. Hence Paul adds, as the object to be thus attained, that they should continue “pure and irreproachable” in their Christian walk, until all shall appear before the Lord; “being filled with the fruit of righteousness, which is by Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God.” Thus Paul here designates righteousness, not as something to be gradually acquired; but on the contrary, it is presupposed as something inherent in their fellowship with Christ, flowing out to them from him, as produced in them by his Spirit. He contemplates the entire Christian life as the fruit of this righteousness; not speaking, as in other passages, of single fruits in single works, but of the whole Christian course in its connected unity as one fruit, and that the fruit which is produced by Jesus Christ. That from him all proceeds, that through him all is accomplished, is the very thing which gives to such a life its peculiar stamp. This it is which is truly well-pleasing unto God, and by which God is truly glorified, even as the whole life of Christ was a glorifying of God in our nature. But it is also clear from what has been said, that though, as a whole, the Christian life is thus represented as a 96fruit of righteousness produced by Jesus Christ, yet with this are presupposed many different stages of development, many separate results of the reciprocal working of the practical and theoretical, of the moral disposition and the judgment, as necessary to the production of this sum total; just as the fruit of the tree, to follow the image chosen by Paul, does not attain to its full form and maturity at once, but through many preparatory stages in the natural process of development and growth.
We have already observed Paul’s manner of contemplating the church as a whole consisting of various members, whose growth is dependent on the harmonious co-operation of all. But many hindrances stood opposed to this harmonious action; and these could only be overcome gradually by the subduing power of the Christian spirit. Only by degrees, and through the power of that spirit, could this higher unity be formed out of the conflicting elements existing in the church. Some of these originated in national differences, in the modes of thought peculiar to those of Jewish or of pagan parentage. From these arose those opposite leading tendencies, of which we shall speak more particularly hereafter. There was also 97 the difference of rank and wealth, which threatened to impair the spirit of oneness and equality in the Christian body. And, finally, there were differences arising from peculiarities in constitution and mental endowments, all which had been brought by Christianity into its service. Hence the diversities in the operations of the Holy Spirit, animating these different natural gifts; and hence too the diversity of spiritual gifts, and of offices connected with them, in the church. From all these diversities collisions might arise, disturbing the unity and harmony of the church; each might wish to magnify what was peculiar to himself, and thus self-exaltation and disunion follow, occasioning strife among the members. Here then, in order to secure that unity in the church which belongs to its nature, all must be harmonized by the victorious spirit of love. It is clear how important and necessary, under these relations, were Paul’s reproofs and admonitions, his warnings against self-exaltation and disunion, his exhortations to humility and harmony. Let us examine this point more particularly. If they would make his joy complete,1616Chap. ii. 2, 3. they must be of the same mind, 98having the same love, being of one accord, of one mind; nothing must be done through party spirit or vain ambition, but in humility each must esteem others better than himself. But how are we to understand this? One’s judgment of another is not within the control of his own will. How can he esteem his brother higher than himself, if this is not in accordance with the truth; if he cannot but perceive in himself excellencies which are ranting to the other, and defects in the other from which he is himself free? How can it be required of him to do violence to his judgment? Is he to practise deception upon himself? Is humility to be grounded upon falsehood? Most certainly not. If one should endeavor to work himself into such a judgment of others in comparison with himself, or should express such a judgment without really thinking so, this would be mere hypocrisy in a grosser or more refined form. But there is here pre-supposed, as resulting from the full development of the Christian life, a pervading temper of heart, of which such a judgment of one’s self in comparison with others is but the necessary and natural expression. The Christian’s love will lead him first of all to discern what is good in another, 99to discover even in his blemishes his peculiar gifts, that in which he is really superior to himself; while, on the other hand, through a self-scrutiny sharpened by the Spirit which quickens him, he detects with rigorous exactness his own faults. And this self-rigor, united with love, will give leniency to his judgment of whatever may obscure the divine life in others. Thus a readiness to take such a position, in respect to others, as is here represented, will not be a mere casual thing with the Christian, something produced in him from without by external influence; but is the spontaneous result of the internal process of Christian development. And this manner of viewing one’s self, in relation to others, will appear likewise in his whole conduct in regard to them. The idea is of course excluded that one should make himself the centre of all, referring everything to himself, and thus regarding all others as existing but for him. It is clear how greatly others will in this way rise in his estimation. This spirit of love and humility will manifest itself in his deportment towards others; and hence it is added: “Look not each one upon his own things, but also on the things of others.” Let each one be ready to subordinate 100his own interest to that of others, to deny himself for the welfare of others. Paul says, “also,” although the form of the first clause would not lead us to expect such a limitation. But he adds this “also” because it is not his aim wholly to exclude the care for our own interests, but only to oppose the tendency to make this predominant, to allow it to swallow up all else. Of course he here speaks only of human, worldly interests, which one is bound to sacrifice for the best good of others; for in regard to that which is the highest and properly real interest of each one personally, his own soul’s welfare, the cultivation of the inner man for the life of eternity, no such contrariety can exist, no such requirement of self-denial can be made. But does this seem to conflict with what we have previously remarked of self-denial in reference even to the higher interests of the spirit? By no means. The true, the highest interest of the spirit, that it should be ever growing in self-denying love, in purification from all selfishness, thereby becoming ever more meet for the kingdom of God and eternal life, this must always be promoted by such sacrifices, even in reference to what we call the higher interests of the 101soul, which yet are not its highest interest. In reference to such a temper and course of conduct, Paul now presents, as the type and pattern, Him after whom the whole Christian life in its spirit and conduct should be moulded, Christ himself. “Let the same mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus: who, being in the form of God, did not eagerly claim equality with God;1717In his appearance on earth, as understood by Neander; see page 103, line 3.—Tr. (so, we think the Greek is more truly expressed than in Luther’s version;) but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being made in the likeness of men; and being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, becoming obedient unto death, even the death of the cross. Therefore also hath God exalted him over all, and hath given him a name which is above every name, that in the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of beings in heaven and upon the earth and underneath the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father.”
That we may rightly understand the use here made of the example of Christ, as the model after which the Christian life is to be formed, we must 102first endeavor to bring the model itself clearly and distinctly before our minds. Before the eye of the Apostle stands the image of the whole Christ, the Son of God appearing in the flesh, manifesting himself in human nature. From the human manifestation he rises to the Eternal Word (as John expresses it), that Word which was, before the appearance of the Son of God in time, yea, before the worlds were made; in whom before all time God beheld and imaged himself; as Paul in the Epistle to the Colossians calls him, in this view, the image of the invisible, i. e. of the incomprehensible God. Then, after this upward glance of his spiritual eye, he descends again into the depths of the human life, in which the Eternal Word appears as man. He expresses this in the language of immediate perception, beholding the divine and human as one; not in the form of abstract truth, attained by a mental analysis of the direct object of thought. Thus he contemplates the entrance of the Son of God into the form of humanity as a self-abasement, a self-renunciation, for the salvation of those whose low estate he stooped to share. He whose state of being was divine, who was exalted above all the wants and 103 limitations of the finite and earthly existence, did not eagerly claim this equality with God which he possessed; but, on the contrary, he concealed and disowned it in human abasement, and in the forms of human dependence. And as the whole human life of Christ proceeded from such an act of self-renunciation and self-abasement, so did his whole earthly life correspond to this one act even to his death; the consciousness on the one hand of divine dignity which it was in his power to claim, and on the other the concealment, the renunciation of this, in every form of humiliation and dependence belonging to the earthly life of man. The crowning point appears in his death,—the ignominious and agonizing death of the cross. Paul now proceeds to show what Christ attained by such self-renunciation, thus carried to the utmost limit, by such submissive obedience in the form of a servant; the reward which he received in return, the dignity which was conferred upon him.
Here too is presented the universal law, laid down by Christ himself, that whoso humbles himself, and in proportion as he humbles himself, shall be exalted. Now it is of itself apparent that He who, according to Paul’s teaching, was in his own 104nature elevated above all, the first-born over the whole creation, He through whom and in whom all was created, could not as such be exalted. But, as already intimated, it is the image of the One Christ uniting in himself the divine and human, which is here before the mind of Paul. Of this Christ in humanity it might be predicated, that lie is as man exalted above all,—the glorified Son of man. And this his exaltation subserves no selfish interest. He finds his exaltation in the salvation of fallen beings. This was its end, in this indeed it should consist, that by the universal acknowledgment of Him as Lord and Saviour and subjection to Him as such, God might be glorified in Him and through Him; glorified in the triumphant establishment of his kingdom. What application then is to be made of this example, in the connection in which the Apostle introduces it? As Christ aimed only to subserve the salvation of men, so should Christians be ready to labor thus for the salvation of their brethren. As Christ offered up all for the salvation of men, so should Christians also be ready to offer up all for the salvation of their brethren; to give up everything for others, in order to secure their highest welfare; 105 thus in self-humiliation and self-renunciation following their Lord. So shall the life of the Christian too, from its first spiritual beginning, from the first act of faith, be a continuous self-abasement and self-renunciation. And this being the ground and condition of Christ’s exaltation as the Son of man, so shall the same be, for believers who thus follow Christ, the ground and condition of their exaltation, till they come to share the full glory of Him whom they follow. We may compare this with a similar development of the same thought by Paul in 2 Cor. viii. 9, where he says of Christ: “Though he was rich, yet for our sakes he became poor.” To the “being rich” corresponds the “being in divine form,” the “being equal with God,” in the passage before us; to the “becoming poor,” the self-renunciation and self-abasement in the human servant-form, in its full extent as exhibited above. In the passage just quoted, this is used as an exhortation to that benevolence which sacrifices its own, subjects itself to privations, in order to relieve the necessities of others. It is based on the general thought, arising from a contemplation of the life of Christ, that each one should be ready to give up and to renounce all that he has for the 106highest good of others; the beneficent and condescending spirit of self-denying Christian love, which pervades the whole Christian life in all its acts. And in this general form is the thought conceived in the passage before us. It is this which characterizes Paul as a moral teacher; that with him the specific is in all cases carried back to the highest, deepest, most comprehensive; that his special admonitions, in regard to the Christian life and character, have for their basis the general fundamental ideas of the whole Christian life, all centering in the example of Christ.
The church at Philippi needed the Apostle’s admonitions and warnings, especially in reference to the obstacles with which Christianity, in its process of development, then had chiefly to contend. This process has in every age its peculiar obstacles to overcome; and it would be easy to show a certain affinity between these opposing influences, although different periods give rise to different forms. But here an important distinction is to be made. There may be spiritual tendencies and teachings, which come into direct conflict with the peculiar essence of Christianity; a case where no reconciliation is possible, but the choice must be 107 for the one or for the other; and where the decision for the pure Christian tendency, must manifest itself in firm adherence to the one and steadfast rejection of the other. Somewhat different is it with those tendencies, which unite with the sincere acknowledgment of Christian truth only a slight remaining influence of former views, and which form in their successive stages the gradual transition to pure Christian truth. This is especially true of the obstacles, with which Christianity had then to contend in its process of development. As it was from Judaism the transition was made to Christianity, so did the first important obstacle to its process of development, arise from the intermixture of views brought from the Jewish standpoint. It is to these views that the distinction above stated must be applied.
Such a predominance of the Jewish spirit did exist, through which the consciousness of the peculiar nature of Christianity was essentially repressed and stifled. Jesus was indeed outwardly acknowledged as the Messiah; but there was wanting the true import and power of such a conviction. He was made, after the Jewish conception, a carnal Messiah with carnal hopes. As Christ, after the miracle 108 of the loaves, said to those who followed him with false views (John vi. 26), that it was not because they had seen the miraculous signs,—tokens of the manifestation of the divine in the world of sense, intended to point to a nature in itself divine made known through these tokens,—that not for these did they seek him, but because they had eaten of the loaves and were filled, that only sensual want attached them to him; so in these Jews of whom we are now speaking, there was the same lack of the divine sense, of the feeling of higher, inward, spiritual need. With them too it was only a mere sensual want, which led them to believe on Jesus. And though they differed from the Jews to whom Christ spoke in this respect, that they were not led by this similar fleshly tendency to open opposition against Jesus as the Messiah, but sought on the contrary to be outwardly united to him, yet no important advantage was thus gained. For while the former would not believe on a Jesus, who did not satisfy their physical necessities; the latter, believing in Jesus as the Messiah, yet made him nearly such an one as those had desired, and such as Jesus refused to be. With this one article, of faith in Jesus as the 109 Messiah in the sense here given, they united, as we have already seen, a strict adherence to the entire legal position. Not Jesus the Messiah was to them the sole ground of salvation; but in the observance of the whole Law, and in circumcision, they sought for righteousness and salvation. Not the righteousness which comes from within, from faith, was the object of their desire; but a righteousness which comes to man from without.
It is clear that where an opposition of this kind existed, there could be no agreement, no reconciliation. The true Christian spirit alone could make the decision, between a carnal or a spiritual Messiah; between a righteousness grounded on faith in the Redeemer alone, or in the Law and its works; between the transformation effected by the divine life, working from within the reformation of the whole man, or a mere external change in outward conduct; between God’s work or man’s work, humble acceptance of divine gifts, humble surrender to Jesus as the Saviour, or a carnal Messiah with the admission of the desert of one’s own works. It was because the question for the new churches was of just such an unconditional opposition, between what was Christian and what was 110unchristian, that Paul felt himself obliged to present the case so strongly, and to testify so earnestly against those erroneous views. “Beware of dogs” (the term in the original expressing the shameless effrontery of these opposers of the truth); “beware of evil workers” (those who would supplant the Christian by the Jewish stand-point); “beware of the concision.” But how is it that Paul here speaks of circumcision, which he nevertheless regarded as a divine ordinance for a specific period, in so contemptuous a manner? Circumcision was in his estimation a divine seal, by which the theocratic people were separated, as the divinely consecrated race, from the nations abandoned to idolatry and its attendant abominations, for the purpose of conducting to that fellowship with God which should one day embrace all humankind. To him it was, as he says in the Epistle to the Romans, an outward symbol of the new relation to God, into which Abraham entered by virtue of his faith (Rom. iv. 11); and emblematical of that inward spiritual circumcision, the circumcision of the heart in the spirit, of purification from the excrescences of sin, which alone constitutes a true people of God, through which alone the conception 111 of a people of God can find its realization. But if now, as was the case with those Judaizers, justification and salvation were sought in this outward circumcision, as such; if indeed to faith in Jesus as the Messiah, who in his true character was the author of all righteousness, circumcision was to be added as something higher, as the real source of true righteousness; then was Paul bound to expose, in the most emphatic manner, the utter worthlessness of such an external act in reference to the object to be attained. No words could seem to him too strong to represent the perverseness of such a view as this; which could ascribe that to the external and sensuous, which can only be produced from within, by virtue of what is wrought within upon the spirit, through the imparting of a divine life. Hence he calls circumcision, in opposition to such an over-estimation of it, a concision, a self-mutilation; and in the Epistle to the Galatians, with a similar contemptuous allusion to the abuse of this abrogated rite, he expresses the wish that those who made so much account of circumcision would practise it to what extent they pleased on themselves, provided they would but leave other Christians in peace. Certainly 112 that which seems to Paul as something so unchristian and perverse, and excites in him so much indignation, must have reference not merely to circumcision, that single peculiarity of Judaism, but to everything external and sensuous regarded as a ground of justification, of sanctification, of salvation; for, as such, it stands in direct opposition to that worship of God in spirit and in truth, which springs solely from the inward act of faith. This contrariety to the true Christian principle is expressed in the succeeding words, “For we are the circumcision.” That is, they are not the truly circumcised, but their miscalled circumcision is a mere excision, a self-mutilation. We are those who really deserve this name; we Christians are the truly circumcised; “we,” he adds in proof of the assertion, “who serve God in the spirit, and glory in Christ Jesus, and have no confidence in the flesh.” We must endeavor to develop the meaning of these weighty words. “To serve God in the spirit,” forms the direct opposite to a worship of God connected with sensible, external, earthly things, and dependent thereon; a worship which has not its spring in the spirit within; as when one supposes that he can honor 113God by receiving circumcision or by any external legal works, be they religious or moral, by any single acts whatever of external worship.
The true worship of God, on the contrary, Paul describes as one which proceeds from the spirit; meaning by this only such as can proceed from the renewing and sanctifying of the human spirit, by nature estranged from God, through the Holy Spirit which Christ alone imparts. Only thus can the spirit of man, being led back to fellowship with God and made a temple of God, become the sanctuary where God is worshipped aright; and then the whole life and conduct of the spirit is one act of divine worship. But as the redemption attained through Christ is here presupposed, as faith in the Redeemer and fellowship with him is the root and fountain of all, Paul therefore connects therewith the “glorying in the Lord;” i. e. glorying in such a manner as excludes all pride of human glory; a glorying in self-abasement; a glorying, to wit, only in Christ and in that which we are in him, which has its ground in him, for which we are indebted to him, and hence (what is but the counterpart of this) not placing our confidence in anything human. Paul presents his 114 own case as an example in this respect to his Philippian brethren,—a proof of the sincerity of his teachings and admonitions. lie appeals to the fact that he himself, as a born Jew brought up in the strictest Pharisaism, had lived in the exactest observance of the Law and yet had become convinced that all this could contribute nothing towards his cleansing from sin, his justification, sanctification and salvation; on which account he had renounced all this, in order to find all in Christ alone. He says that as respects the righteousness of the Law, he was blameless. This is said not merely of the requirements of the ceremonial law, but also of moral action so far as it meets the eye of man; both being comprehended under the term law. In all this Paul had been blameless. In the sight of men he was without blemish. What he says applies not less to what is called rectitude among men, than to a piety which consists in particular religious acts. Although Paul satisfied the claims which men could rightfully make on him, yet it availed him nothing. When, through the light of the Spirit, the true nature of the divine law and true self-knowledge dawned upon his mind, he seemed to himself, with 115all this blamelessness before men, not less a sinner on that account, wanting that true divine righteousness in which all flows out from God, and all has reference to Him. He is the true end and aim of the whole life; while all that men call rectitude does not rise above the world. Hence he says, implying the insufficiency of all this: “But what things were gain to me, those I counted loss for Christ. Yea, and 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 dregs that I may win Christ.” He would say here, that everything which formerly was in his view a distinction,—as descent from the theocratic nation, legal piety, blamelessness in a legal view,—all this now appears to him a disadvantage, so far as he should rest his confidence thereon and be thereby drawn away from Christ. Christ having now become all to him, all else must give place to Christ. All else, high as it may be in itself, must appear loss if it occasion the loss of Christ, whom none can gain but those who seek and desire Him alone; for that very knowledge of Christ, itself sufficing for all, in itself comprehending all, outshines and eclipses all beside. 116And hence Paul says, that for the sake of Christ he has willingly suffered the loss of all; that he casts all else away as worthless in order that he may win Christ, who supplies to him the place of all. It is his whole concern to be found in Christ,1818Verse 9. to stand in fellowship with him. And he thus contrasts that divine righteousness, founded in this relation and proceeding from inward faith, with a righteousness which comes from without, proceeding from the works of the law, a merely human attainment secured by human efforts. In his view, all here depends on knowing Christ. This knowledge is, in the Pauline sense, not something merely intellectual, not a mere matter of speculation, not certain specific articles of faith respecting Christ as they are speculatively developed and handed down; but, on the contrary, as shown in the following words, it is a knowledge which takes root in the life, a matter of personal experience, the believer’s inward perception of Christ as the Son of God and his Redeemer. Paul then brings forward into special prominence the power of his resurrection, which of course presupposes the announcement of him as the Crucified, his sufferings 117for the redemption of man from sin. This prominence he gives to the power of Christ’s resurrection, as being the factual proof of the redemption effected by him;—as furnishing the evidence, in a glorified personality, of that imperishable divine life imparted to humanity, by virtue of the redemption from sin and consequent death; a life passing over from him to all who through faith stand in fellowship with him,—the beginning in them of a new divine life, to penetrate more and more their entire being, till they shall become wholly assimilated to it in soul and body. And hence he adds, “to know the fellowship of his sufferings;”—that is, how we are to follow him in sufferings, in order that we may more and more become partakers of the divine life in fellowship with the Risen One. He then sums up all in this, “to be made like unto him in his death;” to apply to one’s self the image of his death, in order to attain to the fellowship of his resurrection. We must here refer back to what we have already said on this point, in another connection.1919See p. 90. Thus we have here, in one view, all which pertains to the Christian life, all which constitutes the righteousness 118of the Christian, in opposition to the requirements of legal piety or mere human rectitude.
The same class of persons is probably meant when, in a subsequent passage,2020Verse 18. after having proposed his own conduct as an example to the Philippians, he warns them with deep sorrow against many who walk far otherwise, and whom he designates as enemies of the cross of Christ. Here, however, the reference to this class of persons cannot be proved with equal certainty. The words “enemies of the cross of Christ” may be applied to many classes of persons. They may be understood of such as, indeed, acknowledge Jesus the Crucified as their Saviour; but who still show by their manner of thinking and acting, even though themselves unconscious of it, that they are enemies of the cross of Christ. It might be of such as take their stand, consciously, as open enemies of the cross of Christ. This might at that period proceed from two different points of view, which indeed are found recurring in every age; viz. from the position of the wisdom-seeking Greeks, of whom Paul says that Jesus the Crucified was to them foolishness, and from that of the sign-seeking 119Jews, of whom he says that to them Jesus the Crucified was an offence. It may be the unbelief which comes from the pride of wisdom, from the pride of reason, from the pride of culture, or the unbelief of the earthly sensual man. But this open and conscious opposition cannot, as appears from the connection, be the one here meant. It is inconsistent with the manner in which Paul contrasts these enemies of the cross of Christ with himself. Against such open opposers it was not necessary thus to warn his brethren. The class first mentioned must therefore be the one intended. Still the words admit of several applications. This not open but rather Unconscious enmity to the cross of Christ, may be conceived as taking either a practical or more theoretical form; as manifesting itself only in action, or in doctrine as well as in action. As respects the first, this again may be understood in a two-fold manner. It may mean such as are wanting in that humility, which must spring from the belief that we owe all to the cross of Christ, to Jesus who was crucified for us; in whose life the conceit of self-righteousness, by which the cross of Christ is disowned and disallowed, predominates even though this may not 120 betray itself in the doctrines which they preach. But it may also mean those who are far from taking upon them their cross, and thus following Jesus the Crucified; whose life, still devoted to flesh and sin, stands in direct contradiction with the cross of Christ, with faith in that Jesus who for this cause was crucified that he might free humanity from sin, so that all who attach themselves to him should now be crucified to sin, to the world, to themselves. The whole carnal, sinful life of such persons, who, as far as in them lay, made void the very object for which Jesus was crucified, might be called enmity to the cross of Christ. We grant that what follows might also be understood, as directed against men of this carnal course of life. Still we are led by the connection, when compared with the preceding context, to refer it rather to an opposition manifesting itself in the doctrines taught as well as in the life, to that very class of Judaizing adversaries indeed, against whom Paul has previously spoken. These he calls enemies of the cross of Christ, because their standpoint is one to which Christ the Crucified is an offence, a stone of stumbling—though in them this manifests itself not openly and consciously, but 121 rather in an unconscious and covert manner; because nothing was more offensive to them than that preaching which required them to ascribe salvation to the Crucified Jesus alone as their Saviour,—to ascribe all to Him alone; because they held to a legal self-righteousness in opposition to the cross of Christ. It follows from what has already been said, that the views and conduct of such persons were in direct contrast to the worship of God in the spirit; their religious service consisting only in external things, their tendency being wholly to the earthly and sensual. Such a religion brought with it no moral transformation, might co-exist with sin, nay, might form a union with it, giving to the service of sin a false security; as often, in the history of Christianity, we have seen these same tendencies gain a footing under cover of its name. He describes them as those whose god is their belly, those who in all things act merely from earthly impulses, to satisfy their sensual wants; a reproach which Paul often casts upon the judaizing proselytists, that they turned their preaching into a means of gain, seeking to extort by it what might serve for their own advantage. He describes them as earthly-minded, 122 which is explained by the foregoing; and all their hopes were such as corresponded to this earthly disposition. They expected in the future world, as they did in the thousand years’ reign promised by them, not that divine life of which the true Christian even here partakes under the veil of the earthly; but, on the contrary, they dreamed of an increased enjoyment of mere earthly pleasures. “Whose glory,” he says, “is in their shame,” i. e., who seek their honor in that which redounds rather to their shame; as indeed everything, which might seem to distinguish them above others, was in fact a derogation of the Christian life, a renunciation of true Christian excellence.
In contrast with these, Paul now presents the wholly heavenward mind of the genuine Christian, his wholly heavenward hope purified from every stain of sense. This divine life, already freed from earth, forms in its aim and tendency the opposite of that world-ensnared religiosity, cleaving wholly to the earthly. This earthly mind, Paul would say, must be far from us who are Christians; “for our conversation is in Heaven.” His meaning is, that Christians, as to their life, their walk, belong even now to Heaven; 123in the whole direction of their life existing there already. This he deduces from their relation to Christ, their fellowship with him to whom they are inseparably united, so that where he is there are they also. While here, they are sustained by the consciousness that Christ now lives in Heaven, manifested to believers, though hidden from the world. Thither is their gaze directed, as their longings rise towards a Saviour, who will come again from thence to make them wholly like himself, to fashion them wholly after his own glorious pattern, to transform them wholly into the heavenly. Hence Paul says: “From whence also we look for the Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ; who shall change our vile body, that it may be fashioned like unto his glorious body, according to the working whereby he is able even to subdue all things unto himself.” There is not presented here a resurrection, as a restoration merely of the same earthly body in the same earthly form; but, on the contrary, a glorious transformation, proceeding from the divine, the all-subduing power of Christ; so that believers, free from all the defects of the earthly existence, released from all its barriers, may reflect the full image of the heavenly Christ in their whole glorified 124 personality, in the soul pervaded by the divine life and its now perfectly assimilated glorified organ. This heavenly form of the Christian hope, the fruit of faith in the risen and ascended Jesus, stands opposed not only to that comfortless unbelief, which makes man a perishable creature like to the brutes, and cuts off all hope of what is beyond the earth; but also, as intended in this passage, to that mere carnal hope which transfers the forms of earthly existence into the future life. Both are scions from one root, the tendency of the natural man; who, whether in the form of sensual grossness or of refined culture, can never escape beyond the narrow limits of time and sense; who has no organ whereby to perceive and comprehend the divine and heavenly. It matters not, therefore, in which of these two forms this tendency of the natural man develops itself; whether it entirely denies and rejects what it cannot perceive and comprehend, denies all personal duration beyond the earthly state, because able itself to conceive nothing beyond this earthly form of personality; or whether it degrades to its own sensual standard what it is either unable or indisposed to deny, and wholly carnalizes the hope which 125 it does not reject. In every form of superstition there is something of unbelief, since that upward impulse of the spirit is wanting by which alone it is possible to rise to the superhuman and divine; hence the divine, as such, is in reality denied and the earthly set in its place. And in all the forms of unbelief there is something of superstition. Every form of unbelief has its idols. It seeks in the powers and outward phenomena of the world, what can only be found in God and in powers which are of God. What Paul says of the idolizing of worldly objects is true also of this, that it makes itself subject to the elements of the world. It clings with all the greater force to the earthly, because it is an utter stranger to all which can give true satisfaction to the spirit formed in the image of God. It strives all the more eagerly for earthly interests, because it has renounced the higher interests pertaining to the spirit, which are connected with its true home; and hence the earthly interest has swallowed up all other love, and all other desire, by which the God-related spirit is impelled. Christ, risen from the dead and ascended to heaven, whose life is hid in God and with whom in God our life is hidden (Col. iii. 3), 126to whom as our life we shall be like in glory when He, now hidden from the world, shall reveal himself in glory,—this, the believer’s hope, stands in contrast with both these tendencies of the natural man.
We have spoken of the judaistic tendency existing at this stage of the development of Christianity, so far as this stood directly opposed to the pure Gospel and excluded all reconciliation. But there were also in the churches, such as were in a process of progressive development from Judaism, or some kindred stand-point, to the pure Gospel. These, far from being enemies of the cross of Christ, w ere filled with love to the Crucified Jesus as their Saviour; but they were still subject to many weaknesses in their faith, not being able to release themselves as yet from much which still clung to them of their former, not wholly extirpated Jewish views. Such persons, whom Paul is accustomed to contrast as “the weak” with the strong mature Christian, are often mentioned in his Epistles; those who still had scrupulous fears about partaking of meats offered to idols, and who, in regard to food and to the observance of certain days as holy, were still in bondage to the Jewish 127ritual. In these points they were unable to break loose at once from the yoke of Judaism. But did these persons then stand in the same relation as those first-mentioned? Should such as had come over to Christianity from another stand-point, the pagan; and who, though exposed to other dangers, could from that point make their way more easily to Christian freedom; or such as had advanced farther in the development of faith, had more nearly reached the maturity of manhood in Christ; should such withdraw fellowship from, and harshly repel these weaker, in many points less enlightened brethren? This would have been contrary to what Paul requires of Christian love, which bears patiently the infirmities of brethren. It would be to set bounds with impatient presumption to the operations of the Holy Spirit, who is able to lead on farther and farther those in whom He has begun to work; to sever at once the thread of development ordained by the wisdom of God, and alone conducting to Christ as from him it proceeded. How we are to regard and treat these subordinate stages of development, these minor differences, is taught by Paul in this epistle,—in few words indeed, but full of 128instruction. We must now endeavor to obtain a clear conception of their import.
After having, in a passage already explained, presented as the standard for all, that stage of Christian attainment which forgets everything hitherto accomplished; which, beginning with Christian faith, in entire devotedness to Christ strives ever towards the mark of the heavenly calling; he adds, “As many of us now as are perfect, let us be thus minded.” This is the stage of the mature believer who has attained to full Christian freedom, who presses forward without hindrance in an ever-progressive development. “And if in anything ye are otherwise minded,”—otherwise, i. e. not in harmony with this principle, “God will reveal also this unto you;” will also in that, wherein ye still think otherwise, reveal to you the right, and thus lead you to unity in adherence to this principle and in its application. Paul refers therefore to the great truth, that the Spirit of God which has revealed to them the light of the Gospel, will also carry on and complete this his revelation in them, even to that point of Christian maturity; that He will continually advance them in Christian knowledge; and where they are 129still in error and divided in opinion, there too will He yet make known to them the one true way. They should therefore not contend with overhasty zeal; as by this course one is easily estranged more and more widely from another, easily hardened in opposing views through obstinate adherence to what has been once adopted. Still less should they mutually condemn one another, but rather seek to preserve that unity of the Christian spirit which is above all these minor differences; while all submitting to the common guide, the Holy Spirit, should entrust themselves and one another mutually to Him, the best Teacher, to be led on continually under his guidance. As this work has in all the same divinely laid foundation, so should the farther development and the progressive purification of the divine work in each, be left to the operation of the Holy Spirit by whom it is first begun in each. There should be no attempt to do violence, by any external influence, to the peculiar development of another, which must follow its own laws grounded in his peculiar personality; or to substitute something forced on him from without, for the free development proceeding from within. This would be 130nothing else than attempting, by human arts of persuasion, (which yet have no power to penetrate to the inmost spirit, unless they find a point of connection in the existing attainments of the individual man) to accomplish that which can be wrought only by the Holy Spirit, that inward Teacher, whom all follow without constraint and in perfect harmony with their own freedom. It is only the action of the same leaven of divine truth, that can produce the same results in all; of that leaven which by degrees shall penetrate the whole spiritual life, purifying it from every foreign element. And if there is reference here to a revelation by the Holy Spirit, through which the believer is advanced in knowledge, it is based on the truth everywhere expressed or pre-supposed in the Holy Scriptures, that all divine things can become known only in the light of the Holy Spirit: as Paul elsewhere says, “No man can say that Jesus is the Lord, but by the Holy Ghost.” But the idea of revelation in this passage nowise excludes the activity of human thought, which still farther develops and works out, according to the laws of human reason, what has been received by divine illumination. This activity of the human 131spirit is, however, pre-supposed to be one animated and guided by the Holy Spirit, who is the vital principle in the whole spiritual life; and hence all is here referred back to the Holy Spirit as the primary source, inasmuch as all is here the fruit of its illuminating, guiding and quickening influence; and all progressive Christian insight, whether immediately or mediately proceeding from the Holy Spirit, is comprehended in the idea of revelation.
We must now more particularly consider that which Paul makes the necessary condition of this result, viz. that all should yield themselves to the guidance of the Holy Spirit, and thus be led on by him in progressive Christian knowledge. But here it is necessary to inquire into the original form of Paul’s words. The passage has been corrupted, by introducing into the text marginal explanations erroneously supposed to be the words of Paul. Divine Wisdom has not seen fit to guard against such corruptions in the course of ages, by a series of miracles, or by the authority of a visible church enjoying infallible guidance. But while free course was here given to natural causes, and thus such corruptions might occur through misapprehension, this was to become the stimulus 132to an independent spirit of inquiry, and to the cultivation also of all those mental faculties whereby we test and discriminate. By such exercise, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, by the culture and application of that capacity to which we give the name of criticism, and which is one of the natural endowments of the human mind, we were to learn to distinguish the true from the false, and by comparison to ascertain the original form of the Apostolic words. Even criticism, under the guiding and quickening influence of the Holy Spirit, belongs to the spiritual gifts of the church. By it we shall be able here to restore the true form of Paul’s words; as by continued investigations, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, a harmony of views in this respect may at length be attained throughout the church.
If like Luther we follow the later reading, we shall translate with him,—“At least so far as we walk after one rule whereto we have attained, and are like-minded.” According to this, unity is here pointed out as that condition of which we have just spoken; it is an exhortation to unity. Such a thought, however, is quite remote from this connection. Unity is not the condition which the 133 connection would lead us to expect; but, on the contrary, is that which results from the course of conduct required of the church by Paul. When all conduct, in reference to minor differences, as Paul according to our explanation has directed, unity will be maintained unimpaired in the church. Moreover, what is said of “the one rule” and of “the walking together in accordance therewith,” of “being like-minded,” does not suit well with the words “whereto we have attained.” All had not as yet attained to the same grade of spiritual discernment. We find here, therefore, a combination of words unsuited to each other; and it is easy to perceive, how from false glosses appended in explanation of the obscure words (obscure when not rightly apprehended in their connection) “if we do but walk after that whereto we have attained” falsely regarded as an exhortation to unity, all the rest may have originated. We shall, therefore, following the oldest manuscripts that have come down to us, regard these as the genuine words of Paul: “if we but walk according to that whereunto we have attained;” i. e. if each one but faithfully applies to his own life the measure of spiritual discernment bestowed upon him. This 134then is Paul’s meaning: the Holy Spirit will reveal to all whatever is still wanting to them in true Christian knowledge, and thus continually promote the union of their spirits, by purging away whatever foreign elements may still impair it; will from still existing differences develop a higher unity, if first of all that Christian fellowship, which rests upon the one common ground of faith, is firmly adhered to, and each one is careful to put in practice with strict fidelity his own measure of Christian knowledge, without contending with others about matters wherein they differ from himself. All progressive revelation of the Spirit, all new light of which man is made partaker, presupposes a faithful application of what has previously been given. Here too apply the words of the Lord, “He that hath, to him shall be given.” How many schisms might have been avoided in the church, how many differences might, much for its interest, have been overcome and adjusted, if all had felt the obligation rightly to understand and apply the principle here laid down by Paul! In Paul’s Epistles, as everywhere in the Holy Scriptures, precepts, exhortations, and promises go hand in hand. This must be so, from the peculiar 135nature of the Gospel as distinguished from the Law. For as all promises are connected with some condition without which they cannot be fulfilled, and this leads to precepts and admonitions; so would these be of no avail were not the promise to the believer presupposed, that promise which ensures the power to fulfil what is required of him. Thus Paul begins with the words, “Rejoice in the Lord always; and again I say rejoice.” He, the prisoner of the Lord, looking it may be to a near approaching death, finds reason to promise and to require an ever-abiding joy in the consciousness of fellowship with the Lord; to make joy indeed the ground-tone of the Christian life, to make the whole Christian life a jubilee of redemption. But with this connects itself the requisition for a Christian walk; since that joy in the Lord cannot exist, if the life of the Christian does not correspond to the law of the Lord, does not testify of fellowship with him. And since the Philippians, as we have already seen,2121See p. 24. were placed in circumstances in which they might most easily be tempted to anger and retaliation, if the natural man were not held in check 136by a higher power, Paul especially urges the admonition, “Let your moderation be known unto all men;” and adds, “The Lord is at hand,” appealing to the consciousness that He is ever near.2222This might indeed be understood as referring to time, viz. the nearness of his coming, towards which the Apostles and the apostolic age, overlooking all that intervened, directed their longing desire. But this idea, though appropriate in some points of view, is obviously less suited to the whole connection than the one which we have exhibited in the text. This consciousness furnishes the motive to such gentleness under provocation. They walk in the sight of the Lord, and dare not give way to passion in the near presence of Him, who endured every wrong with heavenly patience and long-suffering. This consciousness that the Lord is near, will also restrain them from wishing to anticipate his justice, to take the work of retribution into their own hands.—But these words also form the transition to what follows,—to the requirement “Be careful for nothing.” Here too we must take into account the miserable state of the oppressed Christians; and yet they were to be careful for nothing, in the consciousness that the Lord is near. Not all human care is forbidden by Paul, who himself, as we have already seen,2323See p. 77. in this very Epistle lays claim to earnest human efforts. But 137such entanglement in cares as stands in contradiction with that requirement, “to rejoice always in the Lord,”—this is forbidden by him, from this should the conscious nearness of the Lord restrain the believer. Instead of indulging such care, he directs them rather to raise the soul to God, and all shall become light. The true meaning of these words appears from the contrast which follows: “But, in all things, make your requests known to God in prayer and supplication with thanksgiving.” There is a carefulness which is inconsistent with confiding prayer to God, which excludes the spirit of filial supplication. Such a carefulness Paul forbids. As he had made the whole Christian life a joy in the Lord, so now he makes it also a perpetual prayer. The two stand in intimate connection. Neither can exist without the other. He does not require the suppression of those wants, the sense of which begets anxiety, but that the sense of want should take the form of prayer. Thus will the burdened spirit become lightened, and care of itself will fall away. Yet, although the Christian has wants to spread out before God in prayer, and much to ask of Him for the future, he still finds in every situation enough 138that calls for thankfulness to God, since all things work together for good to those who love Him. Paul had already enjoined on the Philippians, afflicted as they were, to rejoice always in the Lord; and in this it is assumed that there is nothing unreasonable in the requirement, that they should give thanks to God. The whole Christian life should be a prayer, the prayer of thanksgiving and of supplication, in the consciousness of grace received and the conscious need of renewed grace. Assuming that the Philippians followed these directions, he could impart to them the precious promise which assured their safety in all conflicts: “And the peace of God which passes all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.”—What does Paul here say? What is the sense, so far as we can indicate it in brief, of his deep and sublime words? If the Philippians so conduct, then will that peace with God, which they have received from Christ, remain with them; that peace which is the fountain of all other peace; which can exist in the midst of conflict with the world, and can be disturbed by no other power; that peace of which Jesus spake (John xiv. 27), “Peace I leave with you, 139my peace I give unto you; not as the world giveth give I unto you.” And hence he adds, for those whom he left behind amidst the conflicts of the world, the consoling promise, “Let not your heart be troubled, nor let it be afraid.” This peace, as it has God for its author, Paul accordingly describes as a peace which is above all human conception. He who has this peace has more than he himself knows, more than he is able to set forth in thoughts and words. It is an overflowing heavenly repose, with which nothing earthly can be compared; which fills the spirit of him, who, having been reclaimed from disunion with the Infinite and the Holy One, is now conscious of being in harmony with Him. The power of this peace, says Paul, will conduct the souls that live in fellowship with Christ, safe and unharmed through all conflicts and assaults from within and from without. From this proceeds the ground-tone of their thoughts and feelings, this is their protection, which avails against all human care. With this may be compared the words of Paul in the Epistle to the Colossians:2424Chap. iii. 15. “And the peace of God rule in your hearts!” The peace with God 140procured to the believer through Christ, the peace which has its life in God, of which they are assured in union with him,—that peace, amid all fluctuation, is the controlling, the determining element in the Christian life.
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