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PHILIPPIANS I. 27.
Only let your conversation be as it becometh the gospel of Christ.
ST. Paul wrote this epistle, as well as some others, from his prison at Rome: and it is manifest that "the "Lord was with him," as he had been with Joseph in similar circumstances; which rendered his confincment unspeakably more pleasant, than a splendid palace with a guilty conscience and ungovernable passions. Instead of dejection, murmurs, or resentment, we find the apostle uniformly employing the language of cheerfulness, confidence, and exultation. He declares that "to him to live "was Christ, and to die gain." All his credit, interest, business, and pleasure in life consisted in communion with Christ, and in earnest endeavours to glorify him and promote his cause: and he was sure that death, in whatever form it should arrest him, would prove his richest advantage.— What a blessed religion is this, which can turn the king of terrors into a kind friend, and the loss of all terrestrial things into the most valuable of acquisitions! What, my brethren, can wealth, reputation, authority, genius, or philosphy propose, which is comparable to this? Why then should you hesitate to sell all, and purchase "the pearl of great price?"
But, though the apostle had a longing "desire "to depart and be with Christ, as far better:" yet he was willing to continue on earth, "for the "furtherance and joy of faith" of his beloved people. As if a pardoned rebel should voluntarily submit to the inconveniences and sufferings of a dungeon, in order to recommend the clemency of his prince to other criminals; or to be helpful to those who, having likewise received mercy, were for some important purposes retained a while longer in confinement.
Hence he took occasion to exhort the Philippians in the following words, "Only let your conver"sation be, as it becometh the gospel of Christ; "that whether I come and see you, or else be ab
sent, I may hear of your affairs, that ye stand "fast in one spirit, with one mind, striving together "for the faith of the gospel; and in nothing ter"rified by your adversaries."—From the part of this exhortation contained in our text I shall endeavour,
I. To give a compendious view of the gospel of Christ:
II. To shew that this gospel, when rightly understood and truly believed, will produce a correspondent conduct and conversation :
III. To mention some leading particulars in which "a conversation becoming the gospel" more especially consists:
IV. To make some remarks on the emphatical word "only."
I. I would attempt to give a compendious view of the gospel of Christ.
We know that the word rendered gospel signifies
glad tidings; and a preacher of the gospel is a messenger or herald, bringing and publishing good news. "How beautiful upon the mountains are "the feet of them that preach the gospel of peace, " and bring glad tidings of good things?"
The Ephesians, having formed the design of building the celebrated temple of Diana, were at a loss where to procure a sufficient quantity of the finest marble, to accomplish the plan: and it is recorded that a certain person, in this emergency, found a quarry at no great distance, exactly suited to the purpose. Running therefore without delay to inform the citizens of this fortunate event, he was saluted, and afterwards called, Evangelus or The bringer of good tidings; a name of exactly the same import with that rendered a preacher of the gospel, or an evangelist. But, though his tidings were infinitely less important and joyful than our's, it may be questioned whether any whole city ever thus gladly welcomed the message of salvation and we know that in general it meets with a very different reception.
Good tidings often derive a great part of their value from their suitableness to the case of those who hear them. The promulgation of good laws and the impartial administration of justice, though valuable blessings in themselves, can give no pleasure to condemned malefactors; but a report of the king's clemency or an assurance of a pardon, would suit their case, and tend to cheer their drooping hearts. An act of grace is glad tidings to confined debtors, though it may give umbrage to their
'Isa. lii. 7. Rom. x. 15.
creditors: and the arrival of a fleet with provisions, in a time of urgent famine, occasions a joy of which such as live in plenty can form no adequate conception. We must therefore understand something of our own condition, before we can cordially welcome the gospel of Christ and inattention or mistake, in this respect, forms one grand reason why so many slight the message of salvation. But lectures on moral duties, separated from the doctrines of grace, no more meet the cause of lost sinners, than extracts from the statute-book can give comfort and hope to condemned criminals.
We may know something of our situation by facts; and the scripture further explains the humiliating and alarming subject. It cannot be denied that the world is full of crimes and miseries: this is equally certain, whether men believe or disbelieve the Bible. Even they who are averse to the doctrine of human depravity, when applied to themselves and their connexions, shew by the caution with which they transact their affairs, that they consider mankind in general as basely selfish; and he who at first disdains this sentiment, as unjust and illiberal, will be at length constrained to adopt it, or become a prey to designing men. Hence it is that incautious young persons, having been repeatedly deceived, often grow suspicious and peevish as they advance in years; and manifest their vexation by reviling this or the other class of men : as if the fault lay in their rank or profession, and were not common to the human species, however restrained, disguised, or modified; except as true religion produces an effectual change of disposition. At the same time, it is evident that all our com
forts are entwined with cares and disquietudes; every enjoyment, after a while, palls and grows insipid; all our possessions are precarious, and may either be torn from us, or become the causes of the most exquisite anguish. Pain and sickness are entailed upon us; death is certain, and who knows how near? Its approach is dreadful, its stroke inevitable, and its visible effects intolerably mortifying. A dark gloom overshadows the rest: who, but he that believes the sure testimony of God, can say what is beyond the grave Yet there are forebodings of future retribution, which most men experience to their additional alarm: so that numbers seem to suffer many deaths in fearing one. To escape such distressing reflections, they who are not confined by daily business have recourse to dissipated pleasures. These at first yield a childish delight; but soon become irksome, unless novelty be superadded by unceasing variety. This is the real secret of public and private diversions; and of the liberality with which immense sums are expended in encouraging new species of amusement, however frivolous and absurd. These enable men for a moment to escape from the tediousness of life, or the anguish of solitude and reflection; and tend to promote forgetfulness of God, of death, and of a judgment to come.
We appeal to every man's feelings and observation whether this description does not accord with facts? and whether it has any dependence on peculiar religious opinions. Let us then inquire what light the scriptures throw upon the subject. There we learn that "God made man in his own image," and created the world " very good:" but that the