Page images

Rome, also, he is said to have encouraged his terrified companions by the assurance, "There stood by me this night the angel of God, whose I am, and whom I serve, saying, Fear not, Paul; thou must be brought before Cæsar; and lo, God hath given thee all them that sail with thee."* And St. Peter describes himself as having received, from the Redeemer himself, an express intimation of his speedy departure: "Knowing," says he, "that shortly I must put off this my tabernacle, even as our Lord Jesus Christ hath showed me."t From some previous expressions, however, used by the Apostle, indicative of considerable doubt in regard to the designs of Providence concerning him,‡ it seems hardly probable that a revelation, like that of which I have spoken, was vouchsafed to him on the present occasion. His persuasions as to longer life appear to have amounted to nothing more than a reasonable expectation, arising from the plenteousness of the harvest, and the scarcity of laborers for the field: such a condition of the church seeming to him to forbid the supposition, that he was speedily to be removed from that scene of usefulness in which he had so long been acting. Under the influence of this conviction, he encourages his Philippian friends to hope, that he shall be spared to them, and to the rest of the Christian world, "for their furtherance and joy of faith." These words might otherwise be rendered," for your advancement and joy in the faith ;" and St. Paul means to say, that the continuance of his ministrations among them would tend to promote their growth in love to Christ, and to produce an increase of spiritual comfort. Another consequence resulting

* Acts, xxvii. 23. 24.

† II. Pet. i. 14.

See verse 20.


from his deliverance, and from the temporary renewal of his residence at Philippi, would be, as he states, their "more abundant rejoicing" on his account, through the mercy of "Jesus Christ:" or, in other words, their hearts would be gladdened by the presence of him, who, under God, had been the means of their conversion to the gospel of the Redeemer, and their participation in its precious enjoyments, and glorious hopes.

Of these two advantages ascribed by the Apostle to his services, there is one, in particular, which may with profit be brought before your view; because it belongs to the office of the ministry in all ages of the world. He speaks, you perceive, of that improvement and consolation which would flow to his Christian brethren, from his labors among them as an ambassador of the Lord Jesus Christ. And it is in this same light, my brethren, of an institution established by Providence for his spiritual edification and comfort, that the disciple of Christ should constantly regard the public preaching of the word of life. It is in numberless instances the fact, that, among those to whom the ministering servant of God delivers his message, there are some who, as to intellectual powers, variety and depth of attainments, or even experimental acquaintance with the inward life of a believer, are far superior to himself. He can, perhaps, with all his labors, bring out of his treasury nothing that to them will be new: they have previously travelled over the whole field through which he is leading them; and might themselves answer to the description given by Jesus Christ, of scribes "instructed

unto the kingdom of heaven."* And yet these very persons, when they call to mind the origin of a standing ministry in the church, and the benefits consequently connected with it, will, as Christians, perceive that it is an ordinance, the necessity of which no extent of learning and of talent, and no personal advances in holiness, can possibly supersede. While this consideration gives confidence to the heralds of Christ, in proclaiming their Master's gospel to all descriptions of men, it must, when duly pondered, lead the most privileged of the servants of God to a humble and teachable spirit, while sitting under the regular ministrations of of the sanctuary. It will make them to feel, that there are none among the Saviour's disciples too high to be learners: it will teach them, that the Lord has affixed a blessing to the preacher's office, whoever be the individual that fills it: and will carry them to the house of God with the conviction, that what is there delivered has power, through the grace which accompanies it, to strengthen the pilgrim on his journey; to support him amidst the temptations and the sorrows of life; and to make him rich in the unspeakable joys of the children of God. Such are those views of the ministerial office, which St. Paul here sets forth; and his words are in harmony with the language which he uses to the Ephesian believers. "He gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers; for the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the Christ."t

edifying of the body of

[ocr errors]

After this expression of his confident expectations, that the Lord designed to continue his days, the Apostle passes on to

Matt. xiii. 52.

+ Eph. iv. 11. 12.

the delivery of some useful precepts, for the observance of his Philippian friends. He commences with an exhortation of a general character: "Only let your conversation be as it becometh the gospel of Christ." The words, in their proper signification, denote a course of conduct answerable to the dignity and privileges of a citizen; and are, therefore, very appropriately addressed to those, who, through faith in the Son of God, have been received as the happy subjects of his spiritual kingdom. To what particular Christian graces he refers, when he conveys this useful admonition, he then proceeds to inform us; enumerating several distinct virtues, and urging them affectionately and earnestly upon their remembrance.

The first duty to which he calls their attention, is that of Christian unity and agreement among themselves."That whether I come and see you," he says, "l or else be absent, I may hear of your affairs, that ye stand fast in one spirit." The admonition here given is expressed with great beauty, and with somewhat more fulness, in the First Epistle to the Corinthians: "Now I beseech you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that ye all speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions among you; but that ye be perfectly joined together in the same mind, and in the same judgment."* The intention of St. Paul is to enforce the propriety, and the expediency, of abstaining from controversy upon minor points of difference; and of endeavoring rather, as they were possessors of "one Lord, one faith, one baptism," to "keep the unity of the spirit in the bond of peace." And would to God, my dear brethren, that the

* I. Cor. i. 10.

counsel of the Apostle could be engraven upon the hearts of all, who, under the standard of Christ, profess to be "fellowcitizens with the saints, and of the household of God !"* It would be difficult to suggest a more effectual method of lending weapons to the adversaries of the gospel, than that spirit of contention for lesser things, by which Christians, instead of presenting the appearance of one unbroken body, seem to be a "house divided against itself." The argument of the unbeliever, and of the worldling, is-Amidst such diversity of opinions, who shall venture to decide? Against this objection, then, the precept of St. Paul, in the words before us, furnishes believers with a complete and triumphant defence. Let those who are embraced within the pale of the same communion, merge unimportant differences in one common and absorbing attachment to the grand essentials of religion. Let those, who, under varying names, and with dissimilar modes of discipline and worship, are yet washed in the same blood, and travelling to the same heavenly country, evince, by their disposition to forget the points on which they differ, and to rejoice mutually in those on which they agree, that they are in reality one fold, under one Shepherd. In proportion to the extent with which this holy unanimity prevails among the servants of God, will the cavils of gainsayers be silenced: for though it is not to be expected, that, in the present state of things, all men should think alike, yet it is reasonably to be looked for, that, in the bonds of the Lord Jesus, his disciples should be drawn together into one feeling, with respect to the leading doctrines of the "glorious gospel of Christ." Inquire only, where the Redeemer is acknowledged as the sinner's Saviour and God, and

* Eph. ii. 19.

+ II. Cor. iv. 4.

« PreviousContinue »