X. NO CONFIDENCE IN THE FLESH.
"Finally, my brethren, rejoice in the Lord. To write the same things to you, to me indeed is not irksome, but for you it is safe. Beware of the dogs, beware of the evil workers, beware of the concision: for we are the circumcision, who worship by the Spirit of God, and glory in Christ Jesus, and have no confidence in the flesh: though I myself might have confidence even in the flesh: if any other man thinketh to have confidence in the flesh, I yet more: circumcised the eighth day, of the stock of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as touching the law, a Pharisee; as touching zeal, persecuting the Church; as touching the righteousness which is in the law, found blameless. However what things were gain to me, these have I counted loss for Christ. Yea verily, and I count all things to be loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord." — Phil. iii. 1-8 (R.V.).
The third chapter contains the portion of this Epistle in which, perhaps, one is hardest put to it to keep pace with the writer. Here he gives us one of his most remarkable expositions of true Christian religion as he knew it, and as he maintains it must essentially exist for others also. He does this in a burst of thought and feeling expressed together: so that, if we are to take his meaning, the fire and the light must both alike do their work upon us; we must feel and see both at once. This is one of the pages to which a Bible reader turns again and again. It is one of the passages that have special power to find and to stir believing men.
Yet it seems to find its place in the letter almost incidentally.
It would seem, as some have thought, that in the first verse of this chapter the Apostle begins to draw his letter to a close. Cheerful words of farewell begin to shape themselves. At the same time a closing reference is in view to some practical danger that required to be guarded against. Almost suddenly things take a new turn, and a flood of great ideas claim and take their place.
"Finally, my brethren, rejoice in the Lord." Rejoice, Be of good cheer, was the common formula of leave-taking. The same word is translated "farewell" in 2 Cor. xiii. 11 (Authorised and Revised Versions). But the Apostle, especially in this Epistle, which is itself inspired by so much of Christian gladness, cannot but emphasise the proper meaning of the customary phrase. Rejoice, yes, rejoice, my brethren, in the Lord. The same turn of thought recurs again in ch. iv. 4. What it is fitted to suggest will be equally in place when we reach that point.
Now he seems to be on the point of introducing some subject already referred to, either in this or in a previous Epistle. It concerned the safety of the Philippians, and it required some courteous preface in touching on it once again; so that, most likely, it was a point of some delicacy. Some have thought this topic might be the tendency to dissension which had appeared in Philippi. It is a subject which comes up again in ch. iv.: it may have been upon the point of coming up here. The closing words of ver. 1 might well enough preface such a reference. The theme was not so pleasant as some of those on which he had written: it might be delicate for him to handle; and it might call for some effort on their part to take it well. Yet it concerned their safety they that should fully realise this element of the situation, and should take the right view of it. Therefore also the Apostle would not count it irksome to do his part in relation to it. People entangled in a fault are in circumstances not favourable to a right estimate of their own case. They need help from those who can judge more soundly. Yet help must be tendered with a certain considerateness.
But at this point a new impulse begins to operate. Perhaps the Apostle was interrupted, and, before he could resume, some news reaches him, awakening afresh the indignation with which he always regarded the tactics of the Judaisers. Nothing indicates that the Philippian Church was much disposed to Judaise. But if at this juncture some new disturbance from the Judaisers befell his work at Rome, or if news of that kind reached him from some other field, it might suggest the possibility of those sinister influences finding their way also to Philippi. This is, of course, a conjecture merely; but it is not an unreasonable one. It has been offered as an explanation of the somewhat sudden burst of warning that breaks upon us in ch. iii. 2; while, in the more tranquil strain of ch. iv., topics are resumed which easily link themselves to ch. iii. 1.<
Still, even if this denunciation of Judaising comes in rather unexpectedly, it does not really disturb the main drift of the Epistle, nor does it interfere with the lessons which the Philippians were to learn. It rather contributes to enforce the views and deepen the impressions at which Paul aims. For the denunciation becomes the occasion of introducing a glowing description of how Christ found Paul, and what Paul found in Christ. This is set against the religion of Judaising. But at the same time, and by the nature of the case, it becomes a magnificent exposure and reprimand of all fleshly religionising, of all the ways of being religious that are superficial, self-confident, and worldly-minded. It also becomes a stirring call to what is most central and vital in Christian religion. If then there was at Philippi, as there is everywhere, a tendency to be too easily contented with what they had attained; or to reconcile Christianity with self-seeking; or to indulge a Christianised arrogance and quarrelsomeness; or, in any other shape, "having begun in the spirit to be made perfect in the flesh," — here was exactly what they needed. Here, too, they might find a vivid representation of the "one spirit" in which they were to "stand fast," the "one soul" in which they were to "labour" together (ch. i. 27). That "one spirit" is the mind which is caught, held, vitalised, continually drawn upwards and forwards, by the revelation and the appropriation of Christ.
The truth is that a remiss Christianity always becomes very much a Judaism. Such Christianity assumes that a life of respectable conventions, carried on within sacred institutions, will please God and save our souls. What the Apostle has to set against Judaism may very well be set against that in all its forms.
"Keep an eye on the dogs, on the evil workers, on the concision." The Judaisers are not to occupy him very long, but we see they are going to be thoroughly disposed of. Dogs is a term borrowed from their own vocabulary. They classed the Gentiles (even the uncircumcised Christians) as dogs, impure beings who devoured all kinds of meat and were open to all kinds of uncleanness. But themselves, the Apostle intimates, were the truly impure, shutting themselves out from the true purity, the heart's purity, and (as Dr. Lightfoot expresses it) "devouring the garbage of carnal ordinances." They were also evil workers, mischievous busybodies, pertinaciously busy, but busy to undo rather than to build up what is good, "subverting men's souls" (Acts xv. 24). And they were the concision; not the circumcision according to the true intent of that ordinance, but the concision, the mutilation or gashing. Circumcision was a word which carried in its heart a high meaning of separation from evil and of consecration to the Lord. That meaning (and therefore also the word which carried it) pertained to gospel believers, whether outwardly circumcised or not. For the Judaising zealots could be claimed only a circumcision which had lost its sense, and which no more deserved the name, — a senseless gashing of the flesh, a concision. All these terms seem to be levelled at certain persons who are in the Apostle's view, and are not unknown to the Philippians, though not necessarily resident in that city.
For any full statement of the grounds of the Apostle's indignation at the Judaising propaganda, the reader must be referred to the expository writings on other Epistles, especially on those to the Corinthians and to the Galatians. Here a few words must suffice. Judaising made the highest pretensions to religious security and success; it proposed to expound the only worthy and genuine view of man's relation to God. But in reality the Judaisers wholly misrepresented Christianity, for they had missed the main meaning of it. Judaising turned men's minds away from what was highest to what was lowest, — from love to law, from God's gifts to man's merits, from inward life and power to outward ceremonial performance, from the spiritual and eternal to the material and the temporary. It was a huge, melancholy mistake; and yet it was pressed upon Christians as the true religion, which availed with God, and could alone bring blessing to men. Hence, as our Lord denounced the Pharisees with special energy, — sometimes with withering sarcasm (Luke xi. 47), — so, and for the same reasons, does Paul attack the Judaisers. The Pharisees applied themselves to turn the religion of Israel into a soul-withering business of formalism and pride; and Paul's opponents strove to pervert to like effect even the gracious and life-giving gospel of Christ. To such he would give place, no, not for an hour.
Two things may be suggested here. One is the responsibility incurred by those who make a religious profession, and in that character endeavour to exert religious influence upon others. Such men are taking possession, as far as they can, of what is highest and most sacred in the soul's capacities; and if they misdirect the soul's life here, if consciously or unconsciously they betray interests so sacred, if they successfully teach men to take false coin for true in the matter of the soul's dealings with God and with its own welfare, their responsibility is of the heaviest.
Another point to notice is the energy with which the Apostle thinks it right to denounce these evil workers. Denunciation is a line of things in which, as we know very well, human passion is apt to break loose — the wrath of man which works not the righteousness of God. The history of religious controversy has made this very plain. Yet surely we may say that zeal for truth must sometimes show itself in an honest indignation against the wilfulness and the blindness of those who are misleading others. It is not always well to be merely mild and placable. That may arise in some cases from no true charity, but rather from indifference, or from an amiability that is indolent and selfish. It is good to be zealously affected in a good thing. Only, we have reason to listen and pay attention to ourselves and to our own spirit, when we are moved to be zealous in the line of condemning and denouncing. Not all who do so have approved their right to do it, by tokens of spiritual wisdom and single-hearted sincerity such as marked the life and work of Paul.
The Judaisers put abroad the false coin, and believers in Christ, whether circumcised or not, had the true. "We are the circumcision, who worship by the Spirit of God, and who glory in Christ Jesus, and who put no confidence in the flesh." Such are truly Abraham's children (Gal. iii. 29). To them belong whatever relation to God, and interest in God, were shadowed forth by circumcision in the days of old.
No doubt, the rite of circumcision was outward; and no doubt it came to be connected with a great system of outward ordinances and outward providences. Yet circumcision, according to the Apostle, pointed not outwards, but inwards (Rom. ii. 28, 29). Elsewhere he lays stress on this, that circumcision, when first given, was a seal of faith. In the Old Testament itself, the complaint made by the prophets, speaking for God, was that the people, though circumcised in flesh, were of uncircumcised heart and uncircumcised ears. And God threatens to punish Israel with the Gentiles — the circumcised with the uncircumcised — because all the house of Israel are uncircumcised in heart.
The true circumcision then must be those, in the first place, who have the true, the essentially true worship. Circumcision set men apart as worshippers of the true God: hence Israel came to be thought of as a people "instantly serving (or worshipping) God day and night." That this worship must include more than outward service in order to be a success — that it should include elements of high spiritual worth, was disclosed in Old Testament revelation with growing clearness. One promise on which it rested was: "The Lord your God will circumcise your heart, and the heart of your seed, to love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, that you may live." The true circumcision, those who answer to the type which circumcision was meant to set, must be those who have the true worship. Now that is the worship "by the Spirit"; on which we shall have a word to say presently.
And again, the true circumcision must be those who have the true glorying. Israel, called to glory in their God, were set apart also to cherish in that connection a great hope, which was to bless their line, and, through them, the world. That hope was fulfilled in Christ. The true circumcision were those who welcomed the fulfilment of the promise, who rejoiced in the fulness of the blessing, because they had eyes to see and hearts to feel its incomparable worth.
And certainly, therefore, as men who had discovered the true foundation and refuge, they must renounce and turn from the false trust, they must put no confidence in the flesh. Is this, however, a paradox? Was not circumcision "outward, in the flesh"? Was it not found to be a congruous part of a concrete system, built up of "elements of this world"? Was not the temple a "worldly sanctuary," and were not the sacrifices "carnal ordinances"? Yes; and yet the true circumcision did not trust in circumcision. He who truly took the meaning of that remarkable dispensation was trained to say, "Does not my soul wait on God? from Him comes my salvation." And he was trained to renounce the confidences in which the nations trusted. Hence, though such a man could accept instruction and impression from many an ordinance and many a providence, he was still led to place his trust higher than the flesh. And now, when the true light was come, when the Kingdom of God shone out in its spiritual principles and forces, the true circumcision must be found in those who turned from that which appealed only to the earthly and the fleshly mind, that they might fasten on that in which God revealed Himself to contrite and longing souls.
The Apostle therefore claimed the inheritance and representation of the ancient holy people for spiritual believers, rather than for Judaising ritualists. But apart from questions as to the connection between successive covenants, it is worth our while to weigh well the significance of those features of Christian religion which are here emphasised.
"We," he says, "worship by the Spirit of God." The Holy Spirit was not absent from the old economy. But in those days the consciousness and the faith of His working were dim, and the understanding of the scope of it was limited. In the times of the New Testament, on the contrary, the promise and the presence of the Spirit assume a primary place. This is the great promise of the Father which was to come into manifestation and fulfilment when Christ had gone away. This, from Pentecost onwards, was to be distinctive of the character of Christ's Church. According to the Apostle Paul, it is one great end of Christ's redemption, that we may receive the promise of the Spirit through faith. So, in particular, Christian worship is by the Spirit of God. Therefore it is a real and most inward fellowship with God. In this worship it is the office of the Holy Spirit to give us a sense of the reality of Divine things, especially of the truths and promises of God; to touch our hearts with their goodness, on account especially of the Divine love that breathes in them; to dispose us to decision, in the way of consent and surrender to God as thus revealed. He takes the things of Christ, and shows them to us. So he brings us, in our worship, to meet with God, mind to mind, heart to heart. Although all our thoughts, as well as all our desires, come short, yet, in a measure, a real consent with God about His Son and about the blessings of His Son's gospel transpires. Then we sing with the Spirit, when our songs are filled with confidence and admiration, arising out of a sense of God's glory and grace; and we pray in the Holy Ghost, when our supplications express this loving and thankful close with God's promises. It is our calling and our blessedness to worship by the Spirit of God. Much of our worship might fall silent, if this alone should be upheld: yet this alone avails and finds God. Whatever obscures this, or distracts attention from it, whether it be called Jewish or Christian, does not aid worship, but mars it.
It is true that the presence of the Spirit of God is not discernible otherwise than by the fruits of His working. And the difficulty may be raised, how can we, in practice, be secure of having the Spirit, thereby to worship God? But, on the one hand, we know in some degree what the nature of the worship is which He sustains; we can form some conception of the attitude and exercise of soul towards Christ and God which constitutes that worship. We do therefore know something as to what we should seek; we are aware of the direction in which our face should be set. On the other hand, the presence of the Spirit with us, to make such worship real in our case, is an object of faith. We believe in God for that gracious presence, and ask for it; and so doing, we expect it, according to God's own promise. On this understanding we apply ourselves to find entrance and progress in the worship which is by the Spirit.
All appliances which are supposed to aid worship, which are conceived to add to its beauty, pathos, or sublimity, are tolerable only so far as they do not tend to divert us from the worship which is by the Spirit. Experience shows that men are extremely prone to fall back from the simplicity and intentness of spiritual worship; and then they cover the gap, which they cannot fill, by outward arrangements of an impressive and affecting kind. Outward arrangements can render real service to worshippers, only if they remove hindrances, and supply conditions under which the simplicity and intentness of the worship "by the Spirit" may go on undisturbed. Very often they have tended exactly in the contrary direction; not the less because they have been introduced, perhaps, with the best intentions. And yet the chief question of all is not the more or less, the this or that, of such circumstantials; but rather what the heart fixes on and holds by.
Again, we "glory in Christ Jesus." Christians are rich and great, because Christ Jesus assumes a place in their mind and life, such as makes them partakers of all spiritual blessing in Him. They glory, not in what they are, or do, or become, or get, but in Christ. Glorying in anything implies a deep sense of its wonderfulness and worth, along with some persuasion that it has a happy relation to ourselves. So Christ is the power and wisdom of God, the revelation of the Father, the way to the Father, the centre of blessing, the secret of religious restoration, attainment, and success: and He is ours; and He sets the type of what we through Him shall be. To glory and triumph in Christ is a leading characteristic of Christian religion.
And so, then, we "put no confidence in the flesh." If in Christ, under the revelation which centres in Him, we have found the way to God and the liberty to serve God, then all other ways must be for us ipso facto exposed and condemned; they are seen to be fallacious and fruitless. All these other ways are summed up in "the flesh." For the flesh is human nature fallen, with the resources which it wields, drawn from itself or from earthly materials of some kind. And in some selection or combination of these resources, the religion of the flesh stands. The renunciation of trust in such ways of establishing a case before God is included in the acceptance of Christ's authority and Christ's salvation. This condemns alike the confidence in average morality, and that in accredited ecclesiastical surroundings. It condemns confidence in even the holiest Christian rites, as if they could transfer us, by some intrinsic virtue, into the Kingdom of God, or could accredit our standing there. The same holds of confidence in doctrines, and even of confidence in sentiments. Rites, doctrines, and sentiments have their place of honour, as lines in which Christ and we may meet. Otherwise they all fall into the category of the flesh. Many things the flesh can do, in worship as in other departments; but it cannot attain to the worship that is by the Spirit of God. Much it can boast of; but it cannot replace Immanuel; it cannot fill the place of the reconciliation and the life. When we learn what kind of confidence is needed towards God, and find the ground of it in the Christ of God, then we cease to rely on the flesh.
At this point the Apostle cannot but emphasise his own right to speak. He appeals to his remarkable history. He knows all about this Judaic religion, which glories in the flesh, and he knows also the better way. The experience which had transformed his life entitled him to a hearing; for, indeed, he, as no man else, had searched out the worth of both the ways of it. So he is led into a remarkable testimony regarding the nature and the working forces of true Christian religion. And this, while it serves the purpose of throwing deserved disgrace on the poor religion of Judaising, serves at the same time a higher and more durable purpose. It sets the glory of the life of faith, love, and worship, against the meanness of all fleshly life whatever; and thus it vividly impresses on all hearers and readers the alternatives with which we have to deal, and the greatness of the choice which we are called to make.
If Paul decries the Jewish glorying in the flesh, it is not because he lacked ground, that had enabled him to cherish it and might enable him still to do so. "I also have material enough of fleshly confidence: — if any other thinks to have confidence in the flesh, I more." Then comes the remarkable catalogue of the prerogatives which had once meant so much for Saul of Tarsus, filling his heart with confidence and exultation. "Circumcised the eighth day" — for he was no proselyte, but born within the fold: "of the stock of Israel" — for neither had his parents been proselytes: in particular, for he was one whose pedigree was ascertained and notorious, "of the tribe of Benjamin": "an Hebrew of Hebrews" — nursed and trained, that is to say, in the very speech and spirit of the chosen people; not, as some of them, bred up in a foreign tongue, and under alien influences: "concerning the law, a Pharisee" — that is, "of the strictest sect of our religion" (Acts xxvi. 5); for, as a Pharisee, Saul had given himself wholly to know the law, to keep the law, to teach the law. More yet — "as to zeal, a persecutor of the Church"; in this clause the heat of the writer's spirit rises into pathetic irony and self-scorn: "This appropriate outcome of carnal Judaism, alas, was not lacking in me: I was not a Judaiser of the half-hearted sort." The idea is, that those who, trusting in fleshly Judaism, claimed also to be Christians, knew neither their own spirit, nor the proper working of their own system. Saul of Tarsus had been no such incoherent Jew; only too bloodily had he proved himself thorough and consistent. Lastly, as to "law righteousness," the righteousness of compliance with rules, he had been unchallengeable; not a pharisaic theorist only, but a man who made conscience of his theory. Ah! he had known all this; and more, he had been forced in a great crisis of his life to measure and search out the whole worth of it.
"But what things were gain to me" — the whole class of things that ranked themselves before my eyes, and in my heart, as making me rich and strong — "those I have esteemed" (in a mass) "to be loss for Christ." They ceased to be valuable, they began to be reckoned as elements of disadvantage and of loss, in comparison of Christ. Nor these things only, but even all things — "Yea doubtless, and I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord." "All things" must include more than those old elements of fleshly confidence already enumerated. It must include everything which Paul still possessed, or might yet attain, that could be separated from Christ, weighed against Him, brought into competition with Him — all that the flesh could even yet take hold of, and turn into a ground of separate confidence and boasting. So the phrase might cover much that was good in its place, much that the Apostle was glad to hold in Christ and from Christ, but which yet might present itself to the unwatchful heart as material of independent boasting, and which, in that case, must be met with energetic and resolute rejection. "All things" may include, for instance, many of those elements of Christian and Apostolic eminence which are enumerated in 2 Cor. xi.; for while he thankfully received many such things, and lovingly prized them "in Christ Jesus," yet as they might become occasions to flatter or seduce even an Apostle — betraying him into self-confidence, or into the assertion of some separate worth and glory for himself — they must be rejected and counted to be loss.
The difficulty for us here is to estimate worthily the elevation of that regard to Christ which had become the inspiration of the life of Paul.
At the time when he was arrested on the road to Damascus, God revealed His Son to him and in him. Paul then became aware of Jesus as the Messiah of his people, against whom his utmost energies had bent themselves — against whom he had sinned with his utmost determination. That discovery came home to him with a sense of great darkness and horror; and, no doubt, at the same time, his whole previous conceptions of life, and his judgments of his own life, were subverted, and fell in ruins around him. He had had his scheme of life, of success, of welfare: it had seemed to him a lofty and well-accredited one; and, with whatever misgivings he might occasionally be visited, on the whole he thought of himself as working it out hopefully and well. Now on every side were written only defeat, perplexity, and despair. But before long the Son of God was revealed in his heart (Gal. i. 16) as the Bearer of righteousness and life to sinners — as the embodiment of Divine reconciliation and Divine hope. In this light a new conception of the world, a new scheme of worthy and victorious life, opened itself to Paul — new and wonderful. But the reason of it, the hopefulness of it, the endless worth of it, lay chiefly here, that God in Christ had come into his life. The true relation of moral life to God, and the ends of human life as judged by that standard, were opening before him; but, if that had stood alone, it might only have completed the dismay of the paralysed and stricken man. What made all new was the vision of Christ victoriously treading the path in which we failed to go, and of Christ dying for the unrighteous. So God came into view, in His love, redeeming, reconciling, adopting, giving the Holy Spirit — and He came into view "in Christ Jesus." God was in Christ. The manifold relation of the living God to His creature man, began to be felt and verified in the manifold relation of Christ the Son of God, the Mediator and Saviour, to the broken man who had defied and hated Him. Christ from that time on became the ground, the meaning, and the aim of Paul's life. Life found its explanation, its worth, its loving imperative here. All things else that once had value in his eyes fell away. If not entirely dismissed, they were now to have only such place and use as Christ assigned to them, only such as could fit the genius of life in Christ. And all new prerogatives and attainments that might yet accrue to Paul, and might seem entitled to assume value in his eyes, could only have the same subordinate place: — Christ first, whose light and love, whose power to fix and fill and attract the soul, made all things new; Christ first, so that all the rest was comparatively nowhere; Christ first, so that all the rest, if at any time it came into competition with Him, if it offered itself to Paul as a source of individual confidence and boasting, is recognised as mere loss, and in that character resolutely cast away.
This had become the living and ruling principle with Paul; not so, indeed, as to meet with no opposition, but so as to prevail and bear down opposition. Enthusiastically accepted and embraced, it was a principle that had to be maintained against temptation, against infirmity, against the strong tides of inward habit and outward custom. Here lay the trial of Paul's sincerity and of Christ's fidelity and power.
That trial had run its course: it was now not far from its ending. The opening of heart and mind to Christ, and the surrender of all to Him, had not been the matter merely of one hour of deep impression and high feeling. It had continued, it was in full force still. Paul's value for Christ had borne the strain of time, and change, and temptation. Now he is Paul the aged, and also a prisoner of Christ Jesus. Has he abated from the force or cooled from the confidence of that mind of his concerning the Son of God? Far otherwise. With a "Yea doubtless" he tells us that he abides by his first conviction, and affirms his first decision. Good right he had to testify. This was not a matter of inward feeling only, however sincere and strong. He had been well proved. He has suffered the loss of all things; he has seen all his treasures — what are counted for such — swept away from him as the result of unflinching faith and service; and he counts all to be well lost for Christ.
This passage sets before us the essential nature of Christianity — the essential life of a Christian, as revealed by the effect it has on his esteem for other things. Many of us, one supposes, cannot consider it without a sense of deep disgrace. The view here given awakens many thoughts. Some aspects of the subject must be dwelt upon for a moment.
Those things that were gain, all things that can be gain, such are the objects Paul here reckons with. The believing mind concerning Christ carries with it a changed mind as regards all these.
Apparently, in some deep sense, there arises for us in this world an inevitable competition between Christ on the one hand and all things on the other. If we should say some things, we might be in danger of sliding into a one-sided puritanism. But we escape that risk by saying, emphatically, all things. A decision upon this has to be reached, it has to be maintained, it is to be reaffirmed in particulars, in all particulars. For we must remember that the heart of Paul, in this burst of loyalty, is only echoing the call of Christ: "He that loves father or mother more than Me, is not worthy of Me." Let us repeat it, this applies to ALL things. Because a certain way of feeling and thinking about these things, and especially about some of them, is present with us all, which asserts itself against this principle, therefore Christian life, however rich and full, however gracious and generous its character truly is, must include a negative at the base of it. "Let a man deny (or renounce) himself, and take up his cross."
That life should be subjected to this severe competition seems hard: we may repine at it, and count it needless. We may ask, "Why should it be so? Why might not Christ take His place in our regard — His first, His ideal, His incomparable place — and, at the same time, all the other things take their place too, each in due order, as the true conception of human life may imply, and as the claims of loyalty to Christ may dictate? Why should not each take its place, more prominent or more subordinate, on a principle of harmony and happy order? Why should life be subjected to conflict and strain?" We may dream of this; but it will not be. We are such persons, and the world about us is so related to us now, that the "all things" are found continually claiming a place, and striving to make good for themselves a place in our heart and life, that will not consist with the regard due to Christ. They can be resisted only by a great inward decision, maintained and renewed all along our life, for Christ and against them. The nearest approach the believer makes in this life to that happy harmony of the whole being which was spoken of just now, is when his decision for Christ is so thorough and joyful, that the other elements — the "all things" — fall into their place, reduced into obedience by an energy that breaks resistance. Then too, in that place, they begin to reveal their proper nature as God's gifts, their real beauty and their real worth.
But then, in the next place, though the decision cannot be escaped, yet, let us be assured, there is in this no real hardship. To be so called to this decision is the greatest blessedness of life. There is that in Christ for men, on account of which a man may gladly count all else but loss, may count it abundantly well worth his while to make this choice. Christ as binding us to God, Christ as the living source of reconciliation and sonship, Christ as the spring of a continually recruited power to love and serve and overcome, Christ as assuring to us the attainment of His own likeness, Christ as the Revealer of a love which is more and better than all its own best gifts — Christ discloses to us a world of good, for the sake of which it is well done to cast, if need be, all else away. It proves reasonable to reject the importunate claim which other things make to be reckoned indispensable. It proves natural, according to a new nature, to hold all else loosely, that we may hold this one interest fast.
Yet this is not to be done or endeavoured by dismissing out of life all that gives character and movement to human existence. Not so: for indeed it is human life itself, with its complex of relations and activities, that is to receive the new inspiration. The decision is to be made by accepting the principle that life, throughout, must be life in Christ, life for Christ; and by setting ourselves to learn from Him what that principle means. Of the "all things" many must continue with us; but if so, they must continue on a new principle: no longer as competitors, certainly not as allowed competitors, but as gifts and subjects of Christ, accepting law and destination from Him. Then, also, they may continue to carry with them many a pleasant experience of our Master's providential goodness. The effort to comply with Paul's example by mutilating human life of some of its great elements has often been a sincere and earnest effort. But it implies a distorted, and eventually a narrowed view of the Christian's calling. For, short of suicide, we can never deal with ALL things on that principle of simple amputation. Now the Apostle says all things: "I count all things to be loss."
Let this, however, be noted, that loyalty requires something more than merely a new valuation of things in our minds, however sincere that valuation might be. It demands also actual sacrifice, when duty or when faithful service calls for it. Paul's Christianity was prompt to lay down, as circumstances in the course of following Christ might demand, everything, anything, even that which, in other circumstances, might retain its place in life, and be counted, in its own place, seemly and welcome. Not only shall a man count all to be loss for Christ: he shall actually, when called upon, suffer the loss of anything or of all things. No Christian life is without its occasions when this test has to be accepted. Most Christian lives include lessons in this department at the very outset. Some Christian lives are very full of them, — full, that is, of experiences in which contented submission to privation, and cheerful acceptance of trouble and danger, must approve the sincerity of the esteem for Christ our Saviour which is the common profession of us all. So it was with Paul. He had suffered the loss of all things.
It is because the "all things," in their infinite variety of aspect and influence, tend so constantly to come into competition with Christ, to our great hurt and danger, that they must be so emphatically repudiated, and counted to be "loss." They are loss indeed, when they succeed in taking the place they claim, for then they impoverish our life of its true treasure. We may suffer this encroachment to take place stealthily — all but unconsciously. All the more fit it is that we should learn to assert loyalty to our Lord with a magnanimous vigilance. It becomes us to set His worth and claims emphatically, with a "yea doubtless," against the poor substitutes for which we are tempted silently to exchange Him. If not, we are likely to come back to that sad stage which has been already brought before us (ch. ii.), the condition of those Christians who "all seek their own, not the things which are Jesus Christ's."
Let us own, however, that men are trained in different lines of discipline to the same great result. The lesson broke into the life of Paul with astounding force at one great crisis. Some, on the contrary, begin their training in little instances of early life, and under influences working too gently to be afterwards recalled. Gradually they grow into a clearer perception of the gifts Christ offers and of the claims He makes; and each step of decision paves the way to new attainments. The experience of all Christians, however diversified their training may be, is harmonised in the fidelity of each to the light he has, and of all to the Lord who calls them all to follow Him.
From the Epistle to the Philippians by Robert Rainy, D.D., Principal of New College. Edinburgh. Published by FUNK & WAGNALLS COMPANY in 1990. Digitally produced by Colin Bell, Julia Neufeld and the Online
Insights of the past for the present
To the Philippians - R. Rainy
ON THE BOOK SHELF
May your insights be worthy.