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CHAPTER III. 1-3.
Finally, my brethren, rejoice in the Lord. To write the same things to you, to me indeed is not grievous, but for you it is safe. Beware of dogs, beware of evil-workers, beware of the concision. For we are the circumcision, which worship God in the spirit, and rejoice in Christ Jesus, and have no confidence in the flesh.
THE Chapter upon which we now enter brings us to a fresh, and very important subject, for the consideration of the Christian believer. If there be any one feature in the religious character of St. Paul, which more than others distinguishes him, it is his jealous earnestness to erect the superstructure of the believer's hopes upon the only sure foundation; and, in the work of the sinner's deliverance, to take the crown from every other head, and place it upon that of the Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ. This zeal for the honor of his Redeemer, created within him by the renewing grace of God, was called forth, by the circumstances of the primitive church, into daily and active exercise. Persons, professing to be disciples of the divine Mediator for a guilty world, endeavored, neverthe
less, to lead away the hearts of his servants to other sources of confidence; and, "going about to establish their own righteousness, did not submit themselves unto the righteousness of God."* Who these perverters of the doctrines of grace were, we shall soon have occasion to see it will be sufficient at present to remark, that the Apostle opposes them with all his energy; and exhibits Jesus, crucified for sin, as the only name "given among men, whereby we must be saved."t
In commencing this part of his letter of exhortation, he gives a general expression of his sentiments in regard to the duty, incumbent upon believers, of resting their hopes of salvation upon Christ alone. There is a tone of decision, and of earnestness in his language, which shews his anxiety for the correctness of a Christian's doctrinal views. 66 Finally, my brethren, rejoice in the Lord." that is, exult in Him exclusively, as the procuring cause of your acceptance with God; delight in his infinite merits, and precious death; and, whatever others may say, hold to this Saviour as the single medium appointed by heaven, for the recovery of the Almighty's forfeited favor. In the words which immediately follow this brief admonition, the Apostle hints at those enemies of the fundamental doctrine of the cross, whose errors were the occasion of his present urgency in its support. write the same things to you," he says,—that is, to repeat advice and representations which I have frequently before given, in the course of my personal ministry among you, or in my writings to other churches, "to me indeed is not grievous, but for you it is safe." He intends merely to say to † Acts, iv. 12.
* Rom. x. 3.
the Philippian converts, that to insist so often, and so strongly, upon a doctrine of such vital importance, was by no means irksome to him; nay, farther, that he did it gladly, from the consideration that he was thereby providing a seasonable caution, against the dangerous errors of the times. The purity of the Christian faith was, at this period, much endangered, from the active exertions of a number of false teachers. These men, though professedly converts from Judaism to the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ, yet endeavored to weaken the grand tenet of justification by faith; enforced the necessity of circumcision, and of obedience to several other of the abrogated institutions of Moses; and thus substituted, for the meritorious sacrifice of the Son of God, the righteousness of outward deeds. The extent to which these mischievous corruptions prevailed, may be learned from the various reproofs directed against them by St. Paul, throughout his several epistles to the primitive churches. They sprang from that same spirit which characterizes the unrenewed heart, in all ages of the world: the wish to evade the humbling doctrine of the cross of Christ, and to claim acceptance upon the ground of personal services, and of a life of external obedience. That the Apostle should have been deeply anxious to oppose so perilous an error, cannot be surprising. Himself filled with grateful affection for the divine Author of his redemption, he strove earnestly to preserve all others in a faithful and exclusive devotion; and, with this view, wrote to his brethren of Philippi, that he might "stir up their pure minds by way of remembrance."* In the admonition before us, he counsels them to make the full, perfect, and sufficient offering of Christ,
* II. Pet. iii. 1.
the only ground of their hope and joy; to cast themselves with thankfulness upon the free offers of redeeming love; and, instead of leaning to any of those corrupt systems which the pride of man suggested, rather to feel humbled, that, amidst their own utter poverty of desert, divine mercy should thus save them through pure, and gratuitous love, for perishing sinners. To those believers, therefore, of his own day, and to you also, my brethren, he may be here considered as saying; "Being justified BY FAITH, we have peace with God, through our Lord Jesus Christ :"*" If righteousness come by the law, then Christ is dead in vain :"+ "God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ :"+ "As ye have therefore received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk ye in him: rooted and built up in him, and stablished in the faith, as ye have been taught, abounding therein with thanksgiving."||
It is to be observed, however, that, in the admonition thus given to the Philippians to make salvation by Christ crucified the subject of their rejoicing, the Apostle not merely intends to direct them to the Redeemer as their only refuge; but also intimates the idea, that the believer ought to find in this doctrine, and in the privileges, consolations, and hopes connected with it, a source of pleasure amidst all the varying providences of this mortal life. The fact that, through the atoning blood of Jesus, sin is pardoned, and heaven opened to our possession, is certainly calculated, with him who gives it deliberate and full consideration, to lighten the burden of the severest inflictions, and entirely to "reconcile man to his lot." And the power of this truth may be not only theoretically asserted,
* Rom. v. 1.
↑ Gal. ii. 21.
Gal. vi. 14.
Col. ii. 6. 7.
but proved by the experience of the saints of God, in all periods of his church. David, amidst his trials, could exclaim, "Thou hast put gladness in my heart, more than in the time that their corn and their wine increased."* In the thick darkness of their prison, Paul and Silas "sang praises unto God."+ And, when one of the martyrs of England was led to the stake, he found that the comfortable sense of pardon and salvation, through the all-sufficiency of Christ, triumphed even over pain in its most agonizing form; and declared that the blazing faggots seemed to him as a bed of roses. With the same supporting and cheering power, is the doctrine of Christ crucified invested for each one of you. Through all forms of worldly trial, it speaks the language of peace and hope. Amidst disappointments, temporal losses, severe bereavements, it tells of that blood which has "redeemed from all iniquity,"§ and purchased better things to come: and thus effectually sinks into insignificance present evils, by the overwhelming consideration of that life and immortality, which Jesus has brought to light by his gospel. Apply, then, to your own circumstances, ye that are the servants of Christ, his consolations which are neither few nor small. Derive from the redemption of your souls, through the blood of Calvary, an alleviation for every species of sorrow; think upon its blessedness and value; and, into whatever calamities thrown, "joy in God, through our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom we have now received the atonement."||
Having thus admonished the Philippians to hold firmly to that doctrine of faith in Christ, so much endangered by the false teachers of the day, the Apostle proceeds to express his
* Ps. iv. 7. † Acts, xvi. 25. ‡ James Bainham. § Tit. ii. 14. Rom. v. 11.