« PreviousContinue »
the Apostle with slanderous insinuations; and in like on the present occasion, he continues to look at the bright side of that allotment of heaven, by which he was called to suffer reproaches, intriguing combinations, and opposition of the most malignant character, from professed heralds of God's message unto men. In what way he thus draws still farther consolation from his trials, let us now proceed to examine.
The inspired writer begins with expressing his firm conviction, that the malice of his opposers, so far from being injurious to him, would, through divine grace, lead to his increased faithfulness and courage in the service of his adorable Master, and to an everlasting recompense in the world to come. This declaration is contained in the nineteenth and twentieth verses, which are very closely connected with each other. "For I know," says he, "that this," that is, the animosity and contentious spirit of those leaders of a faction, of whom he had been speaking, "shall turn to my salvation through your prayer, and the supply of the spirit of Jesus Christ;" or, in other words, I feel a confident persuasion, by dependence upon the promises of God, that the Holy Ghost shall so lend me his influences, in answer to your fervent petitions on my behalf, as to make me unyielding in the maintenance of the truth as it is in Jesus, and thus conduct me to an eternal crown of rejoicing. This is the general observation which he makes; and he goes on to express it more fully in another form. "According to my earnest expectation and my hope, that in nothing," or, in no respect, "I shall be ashamed, but that with all boldness," that is, unshrinking freedom of speech, "as always, so now also, Christ shall be magnified in my body," or, in my person, "whether it be by life, or by death." The term rendered
"earnest expectation," occurs twice only in the New Testament; and signifies properly the intense eagerness of a person, who bends forward his head to look for some approaching object. Thus, in his Epistle to the Romans, St. Paul declares, that "the earnest expectation of the creature waiteth for the manifestation of the sons of God."* According to this meaning of the word, the whole declaration comprised within the two verses before us, may be thus stated:-that the malicious invectives of his adversaries gave him no uneasiness nor pain: for that, on the assurance that there was a Hearer of prayer, he rested satisfied, that he should be the gainer rather than the loser; that, in conformity with his own longing desires, he should be enabled, in answer to the petitions of his Christian brethren, to adhere firmly to the profession which he had begun; and, whether it should please divine Providence to prolong his days, or to consign him to a speedy martyrdom, should open his mouth, with his accustomed boldness, in defence of the glorious cause to which his life was consecrated.
Having thus exhibited the general scope of the inspired writer, in the passage under review, I may profitably call your attention to one or two important truths which it contains.
You are here pointed, on the one hand, to a most efficient means established by Providence, for the preservation of Christians in a faithful and resolute career; the supplications of their brethren in the Lord. The Apostle, as you perceive, describes the succors of the Redeemer's grace as being vouchsafed in return for the entreaties of the Philippians; and it is in the same way, that, in other parts of his writings, he sets forth the petitions of believers as one of the appointed
*Rom. viii. 19.
channels, through which heavenly gifts descend to the companions of their pilgrimage. In his Second Epistle to the Corinthians, he thus addresses them; "Ye also helping together by prayer for us:"* and he, in like manner, counsels the Ephesians; "Praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit; and for me, that utterance may be given unto me, that I may open my mouth boldly, to make known the mystery of the gospel." In the statement, therefore, here made, discern, my Christian hearers, the obligation that rests upon all the servants of God, to lift up their voices in behalf of those who are members of the same body, and heirs of the same precious promises. Remember them in the exercises of the closet, and in the offerings of your family devotion; ask that the feeble may be strengthened, the wavering supported, the partially enlightened led on to clearer apprehensions of truth; and, in this way, fulfil your part in that spiritual commonwealth, in reference to which the affectionate Apostle exclaims, "Who is weak, and I am not weak? who is offended, and I burn not?"‡
But while the language before us thus exhibits the prayers of disciples as one of the sources, from which grace and holiness are derived to their fellow-travellers to eternity, it also, on the other hand, delineates the confidence of every real Christian, in regard to the success of these fervent supplications for his perseverance in the faith. Observe the situation of the imprisoned Apostle. He is traduced by adversaries his life is brought into peril from their machinations: but, on the strength of those repeated declarations of the word of life, that they who approach the mercy-seat in sincerity and
* II. Cor. i. 11.
+ Eph. vi, 18. 19.
+ II. Cor. xi. 29.
in truth shall not go unrewarded away, he lifts up his head with joy; and feels inly persuaded, that, from the united requests of these grateful Philippians, he shall obtain all the courage, faith, and devotedness, which are necessary to his everlasting safety in the end. My brethren, the confidence of this primitive servant of Christ in the promises of his Lord, is the spirit of every renewed and sanctified heart; and, accordingly, while the degrees of your persuasion as to the fact, that God answers the petitions of Christians for each other, may occasionally vary, yet the principle, if you are a spiritual disciple, will ever reign within your heart, and animate you on the journey of life. The believer, trembling under the power of temptation, prays for himself: but he also remembers, that others are engaged in the same earnest work of supplication in his behalf; and, on the strength of the Almighty's own declaration, he rejoices to know, that "the effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much."*
After having thus expressed his persuasion, that all the dispensations of Providence would result in his eternal safety, St. Paul, in the next verse, repeats, in another and exceedingly impressive form, the same strong conviction of his mind. "For to me to live," he exclaims, "is Christ;" that is, the whole object and end which I propose to myself, during my course below, is to serve and glorify the Lord Jesus: "and to die is gain ;" or, in other words, death will, as I humbly trust, carry me to a state of happiness and rest, far better than all that the present existence can possibly afford. He intends, therefore, in these words, to convey the idea, that he rejoiced in the well-grounded assurance, that all with him was safe;
* James, v. 16.
that, in examining his heart, and disposition, he found the honor of his divine Master to be the single mark before his eye; and that, by necessary consequence, should he be called to depart from this scene of conflict, and to enter into the unseen world, it would only be to receive a crown of life from the hands of the great Captain of his salvation.—And now, my beloved brethren, behold in this short sentence of the Apostle of the Gentiles, the character, experience, and true blessedness, of all the real children of God. There is a sublimity in the words before us, which turns into contempt the aims, the hopes, and the pretended happiness, of the followers of this vain world; and it may, perhaps lead some unawakened heart within the present assembly to solemn reflection, to hold up the declaration of St. Paul, in contrast with the course and feelings of those who are afar from God. The Christian redeemed by the cross of his Lord and Master from death and hell, feels himself under a binding obligation to love and glorify that Saviour, in the body and soul which he has ransomed : he passes his days in a continual frame of gratitude and by his exclusive affection, his renunication of the world, and his endeavors to advance, according to his ability, the cause and kingdom of the Redeemer, exemplifies precisely that noble and heavenly mind, which is determined to know nothing among men, save Jesus Christ and him crucified."* Turn from this man to the worldling. He comes into life: he grows up to years of observation: he sees the Son of God, for the everlasting salvation of ruined man, taking upon him huinan infirmities, becoming acquainted with griefs, and, at
* I. Cor. ii. 2.