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Jesus Christ, which, according to his abundant mercy, hath begotten us again unto a lively hope by the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead."* St. Paul means to say, therefore, in the words under the consideration, that, in contemplating that result of his Saviour's resurrection, by which he himself should be made the inheritor of a glorified body, and of the eternal happiness of heaven, every thing below seemed stripped of its grandeur and importance. The next privilege, stated by him as an object of absorbing desire, is that of being called to a similitude of griefs with his crucified Master. This he styles "the fellowship of his sufferings;" meaning, thereby, a participation in some of those calamities and persecutions, which were the allotment of the Son of God during his incarnate residence among men. But why is it, that he reckons a life of severe endurances among the number of those blessings, which take from this world, and its concerns, all their interest in his eyes? In answer to this question, it is to be observed that he here speaks, not in reference to these afflictions in themselves considered, but to that future resurrection to life of which they are the necessary precursors. In the days of the Apostle, the road to glory lay through bonds, stripes, and martyrdom; and not only as to that period, but as to all ages of the church, is it the fact, that they who shall "reign" with Christ in heaven, are those also who, by the opposition of enemies, have been made to "suffer" with him upon earth. Looking at the believer's trials in this their connexion with his final salvation, his mind rose within him; and the sword, the prison, and the cross, seemed possessed of a glory, at the side of which all the pageantry and show of life were robbed of their splendor.
* 1. Pet. i. 3.
+ II. Tim. ii. 12.
This ardent desire to suffer whatever was necessary, during his pilgrimage to a better world, is expressed farther in the words that follow: "being made conformable unto his death;" that is, by perils, and cruel inflictions, endured for the gospel, resembling that divine Master who, for our sins, became a man of sorrows, and acquainted with griefs. After all these successive expressions, St. Paul repeats, in another form, a wish already uttered; and, in order to shew the prominent object before his vision, earnestly exclaims, "If by any means," or, through any difficulties and sufferings, "I might attain unto the resurrection of the dead;" that happy state of the servants of Christ, by which, delivered from the incumbrances of this body of sin, they become possessors of a new and heavenly form, beyond the reach of diseases or decay.
From this last expression, then, taken in connexion with that allusion before made to the same topic, you perceive that the Apostle was now raising himself above the love of the world, by the sublime and animating contemplation of the future resurrection of the body. In the anticipation of this final recompense of the believer, he is absolutely lifted into contempt of all that the unregenerate man prizes; and your minds are probably carried, my brethren, by his language on this occasion, to those other places in his writings, in which the thought of his resurrection makes him ascend, with transport of soul, above every sublunary concern. How does his bosom glow, as he exclaims to the Christians of Corinth; "This corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality! So when this corruptible shall have put on incorruption, and this mortal shall have put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is
written, Death is swallowed up in victory."* With what rapture does he, on a subsequent occasion, look forward to the hour, when, in the world of light and joy, he should be clothed upon with "a building of God, an house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens !" With what elevation of feeling does he express himself to the Thessalonian believers! "The Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first: then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord."+
In view of this effect of the doctrine of the resurrection upon St. Paul's mind, may I not properly present it to you, my brethren, as a means, under Providence, of raising you in triumph above the follies, the cares, and the afflictive visitations of life? Is there within this assembly the man of the world; the person who is giving himself up to the pleasures and amusements of the passing hour; and saying to the meagre frivolities which earth offers to him, Ye are my gods? To perceive these objects of your idolatry in their real insignificance, measure them by the glories of eternity. Place all that you have been so long pursuing in comparison with the joys of the risen believer: and be led, through divine grace, to change your course of action; and to look above this land of vain shadows to a state, where the servants of Jesus shall be renewed with celestial beauty, and delivered from the bondage of corruption for ever. Where, in the present congregation, is the believer, who is oppressed by a multiplicity of vexations; and disturbed
† II. Cor. v. 1.
I. Thes. iv. 16. 17.
* I. Cor. xv. 53. 54.
by daily anxieties arising out of the nature of his worldly calling? Soothe these corroding sorrows with that anticipation which was the Apostle's comfort, amidst the heaviest trials of his career. This short, feverish, restless state of existence, will soon be terminated; and, for those who have been washed in the blood of Christ, there then remaineth a rest: a cessation from all that now annoys: a body fitted for unmixed enjoyment in the Lord's beatific presence, and in the rejoicing company of his redeemed people. And do I see those before me, who are mourning over the separations of a world, where they who have travelled longest together must at length be parted? My dear brethren, there is that in the doctrine before us which should dry your tears. That form which has descended into the grave, shall be again quickened into life; that tongue shall again speak; those eyes shall again beam with "meek intelligence;" and it is yours to feel, in all its sweet influences, the language of him who exclaimed, "I would not have you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning them which are asleep, that ye sorrow not, even as others which have no hope. For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so them also which sleep in Jesus will God bring with him."* In the contemplation, then, of this coming resurrection to eternal life, find an antidote against the trifles, and against the calamities of the world; and present to yourselves daily the patriarch's anticipation, "I know that my Redeemer liveth, and that he shall stand at the latter day upon the earth: and though after my skin worms destroy this body, yet in my flesh shall I see God."t
The Apostle, having thus expressed his ardent desires after
*I. Thess. iv. 13. 14.
+ Job, xix. 25. 26.
the blessings of the gospel, and the effect which these great objects had produced in sinking the world in his esteem, proceeds, in the twelfth verse, to a remark of considerable importance. He there tells the Philippians, that, paramount as were the things of the next world in his mind, and much as he labored after their possession, yet, withal, he could not as yet confidently pronounce them his. Mark the cautious fear and trembling of his language. "Not," he declares, "as though I had already attained, either were already perfect." The terms here employed, are in allusion to runners in the ancient games. The term "perfect" was applied to those who had come off victorious, and to whom was assigned the prize; and it is in reference to this appellation, that the writer of the Epistle to the Hebrews speaks of "the spirits of just men made perfect;"* that is, of those believers who, in the heavenly world, have been crowned with a glorious recompense of reward. St. Paul means to say, therefore, that, inasmuch as he was yet in a world of conflict and temptation, he could do no more than hope for the crown of life; and was far from venturing to consider himself, with full assurance, as the possessor of those rich blessings to which he aspired. Instead of certainty, therefore, anxious and incessant labor was his allot"But I follow after," that is, I keep ever active in the course to which I am called; "if that I may apprehend that for which also I am apprehended of Christ Jesus;" in other words, endeavoring, with all diligence, and by every effort, to reach that prize, for the sake of which my gracious Master seized me in my blind career; and, opening my eyes to the sinfulness of the unrenewed heart, and the vanity of the
* Heb. xii. 23.