XI. THE KNOWLEDGE OF CHRIST.
"Yea verily, and I count all things to be loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord: for whom I suffered the loss of all things, and do count them but dung, that I may gain Christ, and be found in Him, not having a righteousness of mine own, even that which is of the law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which is of [from] God by [upon] faith: that I may know Him, and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His sufferings, becoming conformed to His death; if by any means I may attain to the resurrection from the dead." — Phil. iii. 8-11 (R.V.).
Mr. Alexander Knox, in a letter to a friend,< makes the following remark: "Religion contains two sets of truths, which I may venture to denominate ultimate and mediatory: the former refer to God as an original and end; the latter to the Word made flesh, the suffering, dying, rising, ruling Saviour; the way, the truth, the life. Now I conceive these two views have almost ever been varying, in the minds even of the sincerely pious, with respect to comparative consequence; and, while some have so regarded the ultimate as in some degree to neglect the mediatory, others have so fixed their view on the mediatory as greatly and hurtfully to lose sight of the ultimate." This writer refers to Tillotson on one side, and Zinzendorf on the other, as instances of these extremes; and indicates that perhaps his own leaning might be a little too much in the former direction.
It can hardly be doubted that there is something in this suggestion. In the guidance and training of the soul some aim mainly at right dispositions towards God and His will, without much dwelling on what Knox calls mediatory truths; because they assume that the latter exist only with a view to the former; and if the end has been brought into view and is coming to be attained, there is no special need of dwelling on the means. Others aim mainly at receiving the right impressions about Christ dying and rising, and at complying with the way of salvation as it is set plainly to us in Christ; because they are persuaded that here the secret lies of all deliverance and progress, and that the end cannot otherwise be reached. And Mr. Knox suggests, with truth most likely, that such persons have often so occupied themselves with what may be called the means of salvation, that they lose sight in a great degree of the end to which all tends — life in God, life in fellowship with His loving goodness and His holy will.
What application these views may have to divergences of our own day it would take too long to consider. Mr. Knox's remark has been referred to here in order to throw light on the mental attitude of Paul. Paul will hardly be accused of losing sight of the ultimate truths; but certainly he delights to view them through the mediatory truths; and he strives to reach the ultimate victory, through the most realising application to his heart and life of what those mediatory truths embody and disclose. Through the mediatory truths the ultimate ones reveal themselves to him with a wealth and an intensity otherwise unattainable. And the eternal life comes into experience for him as he takes into his soul the full effect of the provision which God has made, in Christ, to present as an honor eternal life upon him. That order of things which is mediatory is not regarded by Paul only as a fitting introduction, on God's part, to His ultimate procedure; it is also in the same degree fitted to become for the individual man the medium of vision, of assurance, of participation. In other words, Paul finds God and makes way into goodness through Christ; and not through Christ merely as an embodied ideal, but through union to Christ Divine and human, Christ living, dying, rising, redeeming, justifying, sanctifying, glorifying. He never pauses in any of these, so as to fail in looking onward to God, the living God. But neither does he pass on to that goal so as to disregard the way to the Father. If he could have foreseen the method of those who are striving in our day to bring men to the blessedness which Christianity holds out by dwelling exclusively on Christian ethics, he might have sympathised with their ethical intensity; but he would surely have wondered that they failed to find in Christianity more pregnant springs of motive and of power. Perhaps he would even be moved to say, "O foolish Galatians (or Corinthians), who has bewitched you?" Not less, it must also be said, might he wonder at many a gospel preacher, who rehearses the "way of salvation" until the machinery clanks and groans, unable apparently to divine — unable, at least, to bring out — that glory of God in it, that wonderful presence and influence of infinite holiness, goodness, and pity, which make the gospel the power of God.
We, meanwhile, shall do well to imitate the charity of Mr. Knox, who cordially owned the Christian piety of those who might go too far either way. Few of us, indeed, can dispense with the charity that is tender to partial and imperfect views. But if we are to understand Paul, we must find our way into some sympathy with him here; not only as he is seen on this line to have attained so far in saintship, but as he is seen to be sure that this way lay much more — that on this line his road lay to the glory that should be revealed. He could contemplate the practice and growth of piety in many lights; yet it came home to him most evidently as growth in the knowledge and in the appropriation of Jesus Christ.
He has cast away for the sake of Christ the treasures so much valued by the Jews, and many a treasure more. But what he would chiefly impress on the minds of those to whom he writes is not so much the amount of what he has cast away, but rather the worth of that which he has found, and more and more is finding. The mass of things set down for loss is a mere stepping-stone to this central theme. But though he tells us what he thought and felt about it, most of us learn but slowly how much it meant for him. When we sit down beside the Apostle to learn his lesson, we become conscious that he is seeing what we cannot descry; he is sensitive to Christ through spiritual senses which in us are torpid and undeveloped. Christ holds him all through. It is faith, and love, and gratitude; it is self-devotion, and obedience, and wonder, and worship; and, through all, the conviction glows that Christ is his, that in Christ all things have changed for him. "In Christ we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sin. He has made me accepted in the Beloved. I live; yet not I, but Christ. In Christ, old things have passed away, all things are made new. Christ is made of God to us wisdom, righteousness, sanctification, and redemption. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?" The intense heat of this conception of Christ, it must once more be said, gives its distinctive character to the religious life of Paul. May we not say that the lamentable distinction of a great deal of current Christianity is the coldness of men's thoughts about their Saviour? The views of many may be characterised as "correct, but cold." Only what can be more incorrect, what can more effectually deny and controvert the main things to be asserted, than coldness towards our Saviour, and cold thoughts of His benefits? This we should hold to be unpardonable. We never should forgive it to ourselves.
"For the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus." Christ had come into the life of Paul as a wonderful knowledge. Becoming thus known to him, He had transformed the world in which Paul lived, and had made him conscious of a new order of existence, so that old things passed away and all became new. The phrase employed combines two ideas. In the first place, Paul felt Christ appealing to him as to a thinking, knowing nature. Various influences were reaching him from Christ which bore on heart, will, conscience: but they all came primarily as a revelation; they came as light. "God, who commanded the light to shine out of darkness, has shined in our hearts, to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ Jesus." In the next place, this discovery came with a certain assuredness. It was felt to be not a dream, not a fair imagination only, not a speculation, but a knowledge. Here Paul felt himself face to face with the real — indeed, with fundamental reality. In this character, as luminous knowledge, the revelation of Christ challenged his decision, it demanded his appreciation and adherence. For since Christ claims so fundamental a place in the moral world, since He claims so intimate and fruitful a relation to the whole state and prospects of the believing man, acquaintance with Him (at least, if it be acquaintance in Paul's style) cannot pause at the stage of contemplation: it passes into appropriation and surrender. Christ is known as dealing with us, and must be dealt with by us. So this knowledge becomes, at the same time, experience.
Hence, while in ver. 8 the Apostle speaks of himself as encountering all earthly loss that he may know Christ, in ver. 9 it is that he may gain Christ and may be found in Him. Christ so came into the field of his knowledge as to become the treasure of his life, replacing those things which until now had been gain, and which now figured as loss. When Paul turned from all else to know Christ, he turned, at the same time, to have Christ, "gaining Him," and to be Christ's, "found in Him."
Christ, in fact, comes to us with commandments, "words" (John xiv. 23), which are to be kept and done. He comes to us, also, with promises, the fulfilment of which, in our own case, is a most practical business. Some of these promises concern the world to come; but others apply to the present; and these, which lie next us, either are neglected, or are embraced and put to proof, every day of our lives. Besides all this, Christ comes to us to fix and fill our minds, and to endear Himself to us, in virtue simply of what He is. So viewed, He is to be owned as our best Friend, and indeed from that time on, with reverence be it said, by far our nearest Relation. This is to be, or else it is not to be. Each day asks the question, Which? Paul's Christianity was the answer to that question. How his answer rings in all our ears! Our Christianity also is making its reply.
Both as to knowledge and as to experience the type was fixed from the first: there could be no doubt about either. But both were to deepen and widen as life went on. Christ was apprehended at first as a wonderful Whole of good; but so that indefinite fields of progress were continually to open up. In the very first days a knowledge dawned, for the sake of which all else was counted loss; yet a world of truths remained to know, as well as of good to experience, for the sake of which also all else should continue to be counted but loss. This, in fact, is only one way of saying that Christ and His salvation were realities, divinely full and worthy. Being real, the full acquaintance with all they mean for men can only arise in a historical way. Paul therefore emphasises this, that real Christianity, the right kind of Christianity, just because it has found a treasure, is set on going on to find that same treasure still further and still more (comp. ch. i. 9). If the treasure is real and the man is in earnest, that will be so. Such had been the course of his own Christian life from the first. Now, though many years have disciplined him, though changing experiences have given him new points of view, still, no less than at the first, his rejoicing in the present goes hand in hand with reaching onward to the future. The one, in fact, is the reason of the other. Both are rational, or neither. He has counted all to be loss for the excellency of the knowledge which has broken upon his soul: and still he presses on, that he may know; for the same strong attraction continues and grows.
Before passing to details, something more should perhaps be said of this magnificent generality, "the knowledge of Christ."
Christ is first of all known historically; so He is presented to us in the Gospels. His story is part of the history of our race. He passes through youth to humanity. We see Him living, acting, enduring; and we hear Him teaching — wonderful words proceed from His mouth. We contemplate Him in His humiliation, under the limits to which He submitted that He might share our state and bear our burdens. In the pathways of that Jewish life He discloses a perfect goodness and a perfect dignity. We see especially that He cherishes a purpose of goodwill to men which He bears to them from the Father. It overflows in all His words and works, and in the prosecution of it He moves on to lay down His life for us. This is the beginning of the knowledge of the Only Begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth. Much may as yet be undefined; many questions may crowd on us that receive as yet no precise answer; no, much may seem to us as yet to be strangely entangled in the particulars of an individual and of a provincial existence. But this presentation of Christ can never be dispensed with or superseded; and, for its essential purpose, it never can be surpassed. For this is the Life. "The Life was manifested, and we have seen it, and show to you that Eternal Life, which was with the Father, and was manifested to us."
This vision, which the Gospels set before us, was also before the mind of Paul. And words of our Lord, delivered in His earthly ministry, and preserved by those who heard Him, were treasured by the Apostle of the Gentiles, and reproduced to guide the Churches as need required. Yet there is a sense in which we may say that it is not exactly the Christ of the Gospels who comes before us in the Pauline writings. The Christ of Paul is the Lord who met him by the way. It is Christ dead, risen, and ascended; it is Christ with the reason and the result of His finished work made plain, and with the relation unveiled which He sustains to men who live by Him; it is Christ with the significance of His wonderful history for believers shining out from Him — Christ vestitus Evangelio. Now He has gone up above all worlds. No longer is He hedged about by necessities of mortal life; no longer tied by earthly bonds to some places and some men and one nation. He is glorified; all fulness dwells in Him; all God's purposes are seen to centre in Him. And then, by His death and resurrection, the tie between Him and His people is unveiled to faith, as it could not be before. They are one with Him — in Him redeemed, endowed, triumphant, glorified. Every Christian privilege and attainment, every grace, every virtue and good gift, takes on a celestial character, as it is seen to be an element in our fellowship with Christ. The state of Christians is seen reflected in their Head. And, in turn, Christ is seen, as it were, through the medium of the relation which He sustains to them, and of the wealth of good arising to them by it. It is Christ as He is to His people, Christ as He is set in the centre of the world of good that radiates to them all, whom Paul wonders at and worships. And he finds all this to be rooted in our Lord's death upon the cross, which was the crisis of the whole redemption. All that follows took character and efficacy from that death.
A special insight into all this was included in the wisdom given to Paul. And yet this view of things does not turn out to be something diverse or alien from what the Gospels set before us. Rather it is the gospel story revealing its native significance and virtue along many lines which were not so distinct before.
But now all this, in turn, leads us to the third aspect of the case. What Christ is and what He does may be described; but there is a knowledge of it which is imparted practically, in the progressive history of the believer. According to the Christian teaching, we enter, as Christians, on a new relation; and in that relation a certain blessed well-being is appointed to us. This well-being is itself an unfolding or disclosure of Christ. Now this well-being comes home to us and is verified in the course of a progressive human experience. Life must become our school to teach us what it all means. Life sets us at the point of view now for one lesson, now for another. Life moves and changes, and brings its experiences; its problems, its conflicts, its anxieties, its fears, its temptations; its need of pity, pardon, strengthening; its experience of weakness, defeat, and disgrace; its opportunities of service, self-denial, fidelity, victory. For all these occasions Christ has a meaning and a virtue, which, in those occasions, is to become personal to ourselves. This makes knowledge indeed. This becomes the vivid commentary upon the historical and the doctrinal instruction. Life, taken in Christ's way, along with prayer and thought, manifests Christ's meaning, and makes it real to us, as nothing else can. It furnishes the stepping-stones for passing onward, in the knowledge of Christ.
This also was Paul's condition, though he was an inspired man. He too was fain to improve his knowledge in this school. And when we take all three aspects together, we shall see how truly, for Paul and for us, the knowledge of Christ is, on the one hand, so excellent from the first, that it justifies the great decision to which it calls us; and, on the other hand, how it creates a longing for further insight and fresh attainment. The latter we see in the Apostle as plainly as the former. From the first, he knew in whom he believed, and was persuaded that for His sake all else was to be resigned. Yet to the end he felt the unsatisfied desire to know more, to gain more; and his heart, if we may apply here the Psalmist's words, was breaking for this longing which it had.
It was remarked above that the "excellency of the knowledge of Christ" in ver. 8 corresponds in the Apostle's thought to the "gaining" of Christ and being "found in Him" of ver. 9; and this may be the best place to say a word on these two phrases. To gain Christ, points to a receiving Christ as one's own; and the Apostle uses the phrase so as to imply that this finding of Christ, as One who is gained or won, was still going on; it was progressive. Clearly also the alternative is implied, that what is not gained is lost. The question in the Apostle's life, about which he was so decided, was about no less than losing or gaining Christ. The phrase "be found" points to the verification of Paul's relation to Christ in his history and in its results. That relation is contemplated as something that proves true. It turns out to be so. We shall best understand the phrase as referring, not to some one future date at which he should be so found, but rather to present and future alike. As men, or angels, or God, or Christ might view him, or as he might take account of his own state, this was what he would have found in regard to himself. Every way he would be found in Christ. The form of expression, however, is specially appropriate here, because it fits so well into the doctrine of righteousness through Christ, which the Apostle is about to emphasise. A similar remark applies to the expression "in Christ" so frequently occurring in the Pauline writings. This is usually explained by saying that the Apostle sets before us Christ as the sphere of his spiritual being — in whom he lived and moved — never out of relation to Him, and not so related to any other. Such explanations are true and good: only we may say that the pregnant strength of the expression seems to be weakened even by the best explanations. The relation in view is too wonderful ever to be adequately described. The union between Christ and His Church, between Christ and the believing man, is a mystery; and, like all objects of faith, it is dimly apprehended by us for the present. But the certainty of it, and its wonderfulness, we should never allow ourselves to overlook. Christ is able to bring men into fellowship with Himself, to assume responsibility for them, to represent their interests and to care for their good; and men may receive Christ into their lives; with a completeness on both sides which no explanations can adequately represent. The identification with Christ which the phrase suggests naturally fits what follows.
Now the Apostle goes more into detail. He tells us what were for him the main articles of this good state of being "found in Christ." He indicates, with a certain eager gratitude, the main lines along which the benefits of that state had come into experience, and along which he was pressing on to know the fulness of Christ. First, in Christ he has and shall have not his own righteousness, which is that of the law, but that which is through the faith of Christ, the righteousness which is of God by faith. Then, secondly, he has in hand a practical knowledge of Christ, culminating in the complete deliverance of the resurrection. It includes two aspects or elements; Christ known in the power of His resurrection, and Christ known in the fellowship of His sufferings.
The first thing then which rises distinctly into view in connection with being found in Christ is the possession of the new righteousness. We have seen already that value for righteousness such as is of law, and hope of achieving it, had been associated with Paul's old days of Jewish zeal. He then stood on the law, and gloried in the law. But that had passed away when he learned to count all things loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ. Ever after, the contrast between the two ways of seeking "righteousness" continued to be fundamental in Paul's Christian thinking.
The law here in view was the whole revealed will of God touching man's behaviour, coming as a will of authority, requiring obedience. The discussion in the earlier chapters of the Epistle to the Romans makes this plain. And Paul's way of keeping the law, in those old days, though it was necessarily too external, had not been so merely external as is sometimes supposed. His obedience had been zealous and resolute, with as much heart and meaning as he could put into it. But law-keeping for righteousness had been the principle of it. The Jew was placed under a law; obedience to that law should be his pathway to a destiny of incomparable privilege and gladness. That was the theory. So believing, Paul had given himself with zeal to the work, "living in all good conscience before God." A great change had now befallen him; but that could not imply on his part a renunciation of God's law. The law, better understood indeed, and far more inwardly apprehended, still retained for Paul its great outlines, and was reverenced as Divine. It was holy and just and good. It was felt still to shed its resolute and enduring light on human duty, awakening and illuminating the conscience; and therefore it revealed most authentically the moral situation, with its elements of failure, and danger, and need. The law stood fast. But the scheme of life which stood in keeping the law for righteousness had passed away for Paul, vanishing in the light of a new and better day.
Here, however, we must ask what the Apostle means when he speaks of the righteousness which is by the faith of Jesus Christ, the righteousness which is of God to or upon faith. Great disputes have arisen over this question. We must endeavour to find the Apostle's main meaning, without involving ourselves too much in the mazes of technical debate.
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.