Page images

inferior to the Apostle in the very deeds, which they, with so much complacency, contemplate. You are driven, then, by the representation before us, to the plain conclusion, that where St. Paul failed, you cannot expect to succeed. You cannot but feel your inability to claim acceptance, on the ground of your own doings, in the sight of Him who is the Judge of men ; and, in the language of the prophet, must cry, "We are all as an unclean thing, and all our righteousnesses are as filthy rags."*

Let us now attend to the language in which St. Paul, after this statement of his spotless integrity of life, sets forth his opinion of its real value. "But what things were gain to me," he declares, "those I counted loss for Christ;" or, in other words, There was a time, when I considered these outward deeds as being highly profitable and advantageous; and as the means of purchasing an entrance into that future kingdom, prepared for the people of God. I now view them, however, with far different eyes; and they appear entirely destitute of worth, when placed by the side of an interest, through faith, in the proffered righteousness and merits of my crucified Redeemer.-Mark the discovery, then, my brethren, to which the Apostle was led by the converting influences of the Holy Spirit of truth. All this course of rectitude, from his earliest youth, he had uniformly been accustomed to regard as so much placed to his account, in the book of divine remembrance. Upon this imagination of his vain and darkened understanding, he had dwelt with satisfaction: but no sooner had the light of grace burst in upon his soul, than it dissipated the fond delusion; he perceived things in their true character; the former * Isaiah, lxiv. 6.

sources of his confidence he entirely renounced; and the performances in which he had most exulted, he found to be "less than nothing, and vanity."* The statement thus made by him, on the present occasion, of the difference between his views before his conversion, and those which he afterwards entertained, is important; because it sets forth the characteristic distinction between spiritual disciples of Christ, and the proud and carnal professor. The merely moral man sees meritoriousness and "gain," in the external purity of his life: the believer counts it as dross, because, amidst all, the affections are estranged from God, and fastened upon the world. The Pharisaical liver congratulates himself upon something gained, by his acts of daily benevolence: the renewed servant of Jesus Christ sees nothing here deserving of heaven, because these performances have been stained by mixed, impure, and worldly motives. The unconverted soul looks for its coming reward, on the ground of the good things it has done, and of the evil from which it has abstained: the real Christian examines every thing in the light of God's perfect law; and the conclusion at which he arrives is immediate, and certain, "Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to his mercy he saved us; that being justified by his grace, we should be made heirs according to the hope of eternal life."t

In the verses that remain for consideration, the Apostle leads the attention of his Philippian brethren to two important declarations. They illustrate so powerfully the character and feelings of the true Christian, as to deserve being held forth as the particular objects of your contemplation and remembrance.

[blocks in formation]

The first observation which he makes, states his opinion of the insignificance of every earthly pursuit and pleasure, when compared with a personal interest in that great salvation, which the cross of the Redeemer has purchased. "Yea doubtless," he declares, immediately after the remark contained in the preceding verse, "and I count all things but loss, for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord." By the "knowledge of Christ," of which he here speaks, he means that inward and experimental acquaintance with the Lord Jesus, as his Deliverer from the wrath of God, which is possessed by every true believer; a realizing sense of the value and preciousness of the Saviour's atonement, and of his own interest in its promises of mercy. It is in the same sense that the term is used, in several other parts of the New Testament. "This is life eternal," says the Redeemer, "that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom thou hast sent."* "Till we all come," says St. Paul to the Ephesians, "in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man." "Grow in grace," is the exhortation of the Apostle Peter, "and in the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ."-This it is, which the Apostle places in contrast with the things of a present world; and he may be here considered as saying: Whatever my heart once prized as of eminent value, I now perceive to be what it really is; Christ, and his salvation, I see to be the first and greatest object, and all else to be subordinate; the earth dwindles, and the Lord and Redeemer stands forth to my enlightened vision as the "all in all."

It may, perhaps, by the divine blessing, edify the believer, and * John, xvii. 3. + Eph.iv. 13.

II. Pet. iii, 18. § I. Cor. xv. 28.

shew the simply nominal Christian the deficiency of his character, to illustrate, by a few examples, this principle of the Saviour's renewed disciples. Let us take, as one instance, the riches of this life. These, then, are, in the eyes of the worldly man, accounted as "gain." He sets a high value upon wealth; the love of it engrosses much of his thoughts, and the pursuit of it the greater proportion of his time; and to live and die with large possessions, is the single object before his view. Turn to the real Christian. To that cross on which he has crucified every earthly desire, he has likewise nailed his affection for the deceitful Mammon. He lifts his heart from the treasures of the world to the unsearchable riches of the gospel: and, though he labors moderately and diligently for the meat that perisheth, and can enjoy with thankfulness the abundance with which Providence may bless him, yet all seems paltry, while he contemplates that life and immortality which God has given him through his Son. Take, as another example, the several gratifications of the present life. Upon these the unconverted man looks with fondness, and reckons them as valuable "gain." If he be a mere pursuer of pleasure, his heart becomes entirely devoted to the frivolities of life; he esteems them as things of importance, and worthy of all the attention they receive from him; and, in this daily, unintermitted chase after what the world can give, every faculty is occupied. If he be fond of human learning, these acquisitions he cultivates as the highest objects of desire; and, regarding them as the chief good, buries the recollection of all other concerns beneath literature, science, or philosophy. Direct your eyes once more to the servants of the Lord Jesus Christ. What to him are the vain enjoy

ments, by which those around him are amused and deceived? The gospel of the Redeemer, with all its wondrous prospects, has made them contemptible; he looks upon them as shadows; as things which he cannot be induced to notice, while invested with the hope of an eternal portion, and of a throne in heaven. What, in his eyes, appear the pursuits of worldly knowledge? The Christian may estimate, indeed, according to their real value, those acquirements which expand and refine the human understanding. He may travel, to an equal extent with others, over the field of letters or philosophy. Yet, meanwhile, the superior blessedness of the gospel places these things in a subordinate station; he contrasts their littleness with the grandeur of the Redeemer's religion; and, being risen by faith with Christ, he "seeks those things which are above, where Christ sitteth on the right hand of God."* Such, my brethren, is the scope of St. Paul's declaration to the believers of Philippi. The renewed servant of Christ, he intends to say, looks round upon all that the world contains: and then, in the language of the Psalmist, exclaims, "Whom have I in heaven but thee? and there is none upon earth that I desire beside thee."t

In addition to the heavenly observation just considered, he expresses, secondly, the cheerfulness with which he resigned all his worldly comforts and advantages, for the sake of the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ." Hear his animating assertion. "For whom," says he, that is, for Christ, "I have suffered the loss of all things, and do count them but dung, that I may win Christ; and be found in him, not having mine own righteousness, which is of the law, but that which

[blocks in formation]
« PreviousContinue »