« PreviousContinue »
gion We have such in our own land; we behold them on the other side of the ocean; and their example is fraught with quickening virtue, and speeds us onward to heaven with fresh alacrity and joy. You may discern, therefore, by an examination of your own feelings, the propriety of the Apostle's admonition in the language before us. Conscious, though with all lowliness of spirit, of his own attainments in the life of God, he holds forth the pattern for the diligent inspection of his absent children. He bids them ponder that love to Christ, that self-renouncing mind, that zeal, that anxiety for the souls of men, which distinguished his course to the world of glory. He points their attention to all, whoever they might be, who pursued a similar path in the midst of them; he exhorts them to make these the exemplars, under Providence, of their own spiritual career; and to the believers of Philippi, and to you, my brethren, after them, exclaims, "Go, and do thou likewise."*
Such is the manner in which St. Paul proposes himself, and all holy men, as patterns to the Philippian believers: but he now proceeds to the painful, though equally needful duty, of warning them against the opposite examples of false professors of Christ. This caution is contained in the eighteenth and nineteenth verses; and evidently has reference to those carnally minded persons, who were then disturbing the church of Philippi with their false doctrines, and corrupting it by their worldly lives. These dangerous men have already been referred to, in former portions of the Epistle: but let us see the terms in which they are now described. "For many walk," he declares, "of whom I have told you often," namely,
during my presence with you in other days, "and now tell you even weeping, that they are the enemies of the cross of Christ." The individuals to whom St. Paul refers were distinguished, as we have seen, by their neglect of the grand doctrine of justification, through the merits of the Redeemer of sinners, and by their attempts to establish acceptance through the Mosaic rituals: they might, therefore, with the utmost propriety, be styled opposers of their gracious Master, within the very bosom of his church below. He goes on to depict them in still stronger lauguage. "Whose end is destruction;" in other words, who, notwithstanding all their pretensions here, are travelling on the direct road to the final "perdition of ungodly men."* "Whose God is their belly;" that is, the great object which they have in view, in their daily life, is to gratify their appetite, and obtain the luxuries and comforts of the present world. "Whose glory is in their shame;" by which he means to say, that they pursued without compunction a course, which disgraced their Christian vocation. "Who mind earthly things", is the concluding representation of their character; by which it is shewn, that, amidst an outward religious profession, their affections, feelings, hopes, and views, were all limited to this transitory scene; and never ascended to those things "where Christ sitteth on the right hand of God.”†
It appears, then, from the description which has now passed in review, that these persons of whom St. Paul writes were at once corrupt in doctrine, and unchanged in heart and life ; and that, though not, perhaps, stained with any scandalous vices, yet they exhibited the reverse of that spiritual and
* II. Pet. iii. 7.
† Col. iii. I.
heavenly mind, which distinguishes the servants of the Lord Jesus Christ. But, my brethren, the precise conduct and spirit of those primitive deceivers is, to us, a matter of small importance, compared with that practical lesson which may be gathered from the words of the Apostle, as they have just been briefly explained. This useful inference let us now draw for our instruction. You perceive the solicitude with which St. Paul counsels his Philippian brethren, in regard to those among them who were unworthy of imitation. During the period of his personal ministry in the midst of them, he had lifted up his voice on repeated occasions; he now charges them again on the same subject; and with tears and prayers entreats the children of God, to be on their guard against those evil examples, by which their journey to heaven was endangered. What, then, let me ask, does all this anxiety of the Apostle speak, but the important truth, that the Christian cannot be too constantly alive to the peril in which he stands, from erroneous and worldly professors of the religion of Christ Jesus? It might have been supposed, that, with the views which these Philippians had received from the mouth of St. Paul, and with his bright example before their eyes, they would be in no danger from those who, with an opposite character, were around them in their daily journey to the skies. The Apostle, however, knew better the contagious nature of false doctrine, and of earthly lives; and, in the words which he here utters, he desires affectionately to remind you, my Christian brethren, of the perils that encompass you, while in a world where there is so much of the profession of Christ, with so little of the spirit and power of his religion.
The dangers of the spiritual believer arise principally from
the circumstance, that errors so fatal in their consequences are nevertheless so plausible in their outward appearance. Allow me to illustrate this observation, by reference to one or two plain examples. Among the number of those who belong to the church of the Redeemer on earth, are some, whose whole course is that of merely formal compliance, decency, and moral correctness; but whose minds have no perception of that way of life eternal, which God has appointed through the merits of his dear Son. And yet, to the eye, these very persons are actually the servants of Christ; and, of course, the danger of their views is tenfold greater to the believer, from the fair covering in which their real character is enveloped, and from their apparent resemblance to the children of God. Again: in this same church of the Redeemer, are those who, though members of Christ's visible body, and numbered among his true servants, have never abandoned the service of the world; and are combining with a profession of godliness, a daily conformity to the practices and principles of " them that are without."* Here, then, is another peril for the friends and disciples of Jesus. An open enemy they can shun: but the persons who thus live and act, are they who are joined with them in the same spiritual society; who kneel with them at the same table; who profess to be under the guidance of the same illuminating Spirit, and to be expecting the same city above. Amidst these dangers which attend the follower of the Lord, what is the course of wisdom and of safety? Let him study, with diligence and prayer, the volume of God's holy word; and by this infallible standard let him judge of the principles and the habits of those, who are enrolled under the banners of the Re
* Col. iv. 5.
deemer. Do the professed disciples of the Son of God agree with the model here presented? Let him take them as salutary guides for his own faith and practice. Do they differ from that heavenly book? Let him set his face against their conduct and their views; and dread them as false and pernicious members of the flock of Christ. With this spirit of humble fear, and cautious examination, let me counsel you, my Christian friends, to proceed. Weigh well the character of that religion, which is so prevalent in the world around you. There are many "having a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof: from such turn away."*
* II. Tim. iii. 5.