Like those Emmaus travellers we go
Forth from the city-gate of things below;
Christ at our side, His Scripture for our light,
Here burning hearts and there the beatific sight.
Already I have broken ground to some extent in the all-important subject of private Bible Study. Let me now put before my reader and Brother a few more detailed remarks and suggestions on that subject. Such is the holy Book, and such is the variety of possible modes of study, that all I can dream of doing is to touch some parts and sides of the matter which present themselves with special impressiveness to my own mind, or which experience of the needs of friends has suggested to me somewhat particularly.
To discuss the sacred problems of Scripture Inspiration is not my purpose here. Elsewhere I have attempted to deal with some of them. All I would do here is, in view of what is truly a |present necessity,| to ask my Brethren, very deliberately, not to be in haste to take up with the last and boldest word of what is called the Higher Criticism (I speak particularly now of its application to the Old Testament), as if its |advances| were always towards light and fact. I have no complaint against the term Higher Criticism, which has a recognized place in literary technical language, denoting that familiar and lawful process, the study of books not for their grammar and style only, but in order to infer from their whole phenomena what their age is, and their structure, and their character. The Higher Criticism is a term pointing not to methods and results transcending ordinary intelligence, but to a study which aims |higher| than grammatical and textual questions considered as final. And thus of course the most earnest defender of the supernatural character of the Scriptures may be, and very often is, as diligent a |higher critic| as the extremest anti-supernaturalist.
Veni Creator, ch. iii
A PLEA FOR CAUTION.
It is not its definition in the abstract but its actual work and spirit, as seen in many leading instances, which constrain me to enter an earnest protest against a too easy confidence in this criticism of, particularly, the Old Testament Scriptures. It is |a thing to give us pause| when we are asked to accept it as proved, or at least as extremely probable, that righteous Abel is a myth; that there was little, if any, monotheism before Abraham; no theophany at Sinai; no Wilderness-Tabernacle; no record of the conquest of Canaan written till long generations after the event; not much written record at all till Samuel; few, if any, Psalms before the age of the Captivity, if not before the age of the Maccabees; certainly two if not more Isaiahs, and probably hardly one Daniel; at least, that the book bearing his name dates from the second century before Christ, and is in fact a Palestinian story-book which has not, perhaps, even a nucleus of history within it. It ought to make us stop and think when we are told that Isaiah did not predict coming events; indeed (for the drift of this teaching goes very strongly in that direction), that predictive prophecy is hardly to be recognized anywhere; that it is better out of our thoughts; that it is but |soothsaying| after all, and that the true work of the prophet was not to fore-tell but to |forth-tell,| to proclaim present and eternal principles, which again were not revealed to him from above but arrived at by intuitions and meditations within his own consciousness. It is a grave thing to be asked to believe, as many would have us do, that such was the lack of feeling for veracity in ancient Judah that Hilkiah, Jeremiah, and Huldah could arrange for the |discovery| of a fabricated Deuteronomy, and then (see the narrative in the Second Book of Kings) [xxii.8-20.] get the prophetess to follow up the fabrication with awful denunciations -- all fulfilled -- in the name of THE LORD Himself. Such theories we are asked to hold in face of our Master Christ's deliberate, persistent, manifold testimony to the supernatural character and authority of the Old Testament; to the solidity of its records of fact, to the reality of its predictive element -- on which He stayed His sacred soul in Gethsemane, and on the Cross itself. It is no longer a question of details, an inquiry whether the numerals are invariably authentic and accurate; whether the minute particulars of a king's death as told in Chronicles tally with the account in Kings. It is a question whether the Old Testament at large is not a singularly and flagrantly untrustworthy record. It is a question whether its literature as a whole is not to be explained, practically, by |natural causes|; including a causation by deliberate, elaborate, and interested untruth.
A GRAVE ALTERNATIVE.
Is it too much to say that the alternative has come to be this: Was our Lord Himself right or very gravely wrong about the nature of Scripture? Did the Spirit of Pentecost guide the Apostles into all truth, or leave them under a vast illusion in this central matter of their witness? |Do not follow this Book, young men; follow Christ|: so said a speaker of high Christian reputation, holding up a Bible, before a great gathering in America, not long ago. But what does this mean? Christ carries the Book in His hand; if you follow Him you must follow it. If you decline to follow the Book, your following Him is a following -- so far as at present you agree with Him, and not further.
WITNESSES FOR SCRIPTURE.
Meantime, what are some facts of the case, facts not nearly so well remembered now as they should be? One comprehensive fact is that the testimony of nature and of history goes, as a whole, to affirm the veracity of the Scripture records, and to do so more and more pointedly as research advances. In a remarkable recent essay by the Duke of Argyll (Nineteenth Century, January, 1891), the growing accumulation of geological evidence for a Great Flood, affecting at least the northern hemisphere, and falling within the human period, is forcibly set out by a master hand. In the same paper is indicated the fast-gathering evidence, now digging up month by month from the soil of Palestine, to the accuracy of the picture of Canaan drawn in the Pentateuch and Joshua. The Ordnance Survey of Sinai has amply shown that the geology of the peninsula confirms down to minute details the record in Exodus. And now the Oxford Arabic Professor is making it, at the least, extremely likely that the Hebrew written two centuries before Christ was more modern by many generations than that presented by the Book of Daniel.
See Sir J. DAWSON: Modern Science in Bible Lands, |The Topography of the Exodus.|
See MARGOLIOUTH: The Place of Ecclesiasticus in Semitic Literature.
I am only indicating and suggesting. Remembering the curiously similar history of New Testament criticism during the recent past, some of its stages running out their course within my own memory, I cannot but think, looking from the merely literary view-point, that the days are not far off when the now powerful theories of revolutionary criticism will seem improbable. And so I ask my younger Brethren at least to pause before going with the strong, deep stream.
THE DUKE OF ARGYLL QUOTED.
Let me quote a few sentences from the Duke of Argyll's paper: --
THE WORK OF THE SPADE.
|The assumption ... that precision in research is undermining the credit of the Hebrew Scriptures, is a presumption almost comically at variance with fact. There is, in particular, one 'weapon of precision' which has of late been working wonders in precisely the opposite direction. That weapon is the spade. And what has it been unearthing? Everywhere over that narrow strip of our planet on which its human interests have been most impressive and profound -- everywhere from Tyre and Sidon, from Carmel and Lebanon, on the west, to Babylon and Nineveh and the boundary mountains of Assyria on the east -- the spade has been disentombing continuous and triumphant proof of the genuine antiquity and historical character of the Jewish books.... Only the other day Mr Flinders Petrie has told us how the spade has uncovered those impregnable walls of the Amorite cities which were reported to invading Israel by the spies of Moses....
|I may be permitted to express a very strong opinion that in recent years Christian writers have been far too shy and timid in defending one of the oldest and strongest outworks of Christian theology. I mean the element of true prediction in Hebrew prophecy. It may be true that in a former generation too exclusive attention had been paid to it.... But the reaction has been excessive and irrational. A great mass of connected facts, and of continuous evidence, remains -- which cannot be gainsaid. Even if the greater prophets can be brought down to the very latest date which the very latest fancies can assign to them, they depict and predict overthrows and vast revolutions in the East which did not take place for centuries| (pp.28, 30).
|Professor Huxley speaks of the hopeless position of Christian divines 'raked by the fatal weapons of precision with which the enfants perdus of the advancing forces of science are armed.'... Perhaps he means the small arms of the modern critical school. If he does, then precision is the very last characteristic which belongs to it. Its methods are largely subjective. Here and there it may have a clearly ascertained fact to rest upon. Here and there it may have arrived at some tolerably secure results. But in the main its methods are metaphysical, resting on nothing but individual preconceptions, applying tests and private canons of interpretation which are purely arbitrary| (Ibid., p.28).
* * * * *
The analysis of prophetic consciousness may be, and in a great measure is, impossible. But the facts of prediction remain. It remains that our Lord Himself predicted. He foretold minutely His own death, and the end of the City and the Temple, and the circumstances of the close of this aeon. Was He |soothsaying|? It remains that He perpetually and most emphatically claimed to be the exact Fulfilment of predictions which, on any hypothesis, were then ages old. Was He mistaken in their character and quality?
CHRIST'S WITNESS TO THE BIBLE.
In those last words I step, as I well know, upon a field of the most urgent controversy. What is the weight to be assigned to our ever blessed Lord's verdict upon the Old Testament as history and prophecy? It is now asserted, and by Christian men, that that verdict is not final; that He in the days of His flesh so submitted to human limitations that He was liable to mistakes of fact just as His best contemporaries were; that we adore Christ, and rely absolutely on Him, but it is on Christ not as He was but as He is, the glorified Christ. Here is an unspeakably overawing subject. I would not treat of it as if the question could be swept away in a sentence. But I do, as in our living Master's presence, venture to say that His witness to the nature and character of the Old Scriptures claims definitely to be ex cathedra. True, He doubtless spoke in this matter, as elsewhere, not in what may be called the technical style; not every reference of His to |Moses| need necessarily mean to assert precisely that Moses wrote every clause of the Pentateuch. But the present question goes, as we have remembered, much deeper. It asks whether or no the Lord Jesus was altogether and in principle mistaken. He treated the Law, Prophets, and Psalms as a solid structure of historic fact and supernatural promise, divinely planned all through, divinely carried out and up from the foundation, and leading straight up to Himself. Was it all the time true that large parts of them were no more historical than the False Decretals on which the high Papal claims were built?
I may remind the reader that about the middle of the ninth century there were published, by one Isidore, a collection of decisions and decrees, purporting to be by the earliest Bishops of Rome, all supporting the Papal claims as known in the Middle Ages. The collection was afterwards increased, and in the middle of the twelfth century engrafted into Gratian's Decretum, on which is based the Canon Law of the Roman Church. These documents are undoubtedly fabrications long after date.
If we revise the opinion of our Redeemer on this conspicuous point of His teaching, where shall we securely pause? Certainly we cannot securely trust, as oracular and final, His own predictions of things still future, at least in their details.
HE HAS AFFIRMED IT FROM ABOVE.
One great utterance is often quoted as a confession that His conscious knowledge had limits; Mark xiii.32. Quite true; but what sort of confession is it? It indicates in its very terms the vastness of His supernatural knowledge; asserting His cognizance of the fact that the angels in heaven did not know that day and hour. Such an avowal of nescience is an implicit assertion of an immeasurable insight.
And has He not, as the glorified Christ, thrown a light of affirmation on the |opinions| of the days of His flesh? The glorified Christ sent down the Paraclete. And the first and abiding work of the Paraclete was to illuminate the Apostles with a new understanding of the truth and glory of the Old Scriptures, altogether in the lines of their crucified Master's teaching about them. Unless indeed Resurrection, and Ascension, and Pentecost are themselves to melt into the haze of myth! The New Testament is as full of the supernatural as the Old.
Reverently and humbly, and with full recognition of a large place and lawful work for a true higher criticism in the literature of the Old Testament, and of the New, I yet decline to think that our Lord's estimate of the nature of the Bible is not to be final for me, and that His reasonings from it are to be revised, while yet I adore Him as my Light, my Life, and my God. And I ask my Brethren to pause many times, and on their knees, before they think otherwise.
PRESENT FULFILMENTS OF PROPHECY.
As regards prediction, let them look around them. Two great fulfilments of Old Testament prediction are going forward at this moment. One is, the vast work of missions, whose whole aim is to make known |to the ends of the earth| the Name of Messiah, Son of David, Son of Abraham, Son of God. The other is, the dispersion and yet permanence of the Jewish race, and (may I not add, in view of the facts of the last few years?) the beginnings of a re-population of Palestine by the Jews. Credible statistics assure us that they are now returning to their old land at the rate of many thousands in a year. True, no |miracle| brings them back. But no thoughtful student has ever said that the miracle of prediction demands miracle in the circumstances of the fulfilment.
BIBLE READING IS THE BEST DEFENCE OF THE BIBLE.
I have gone beyond my intended length in these observations. The present urgency of the subject, which encounters us everywhere, is my apology. But now, all the more gladly for the delay, I hasten to a few simple words of suggestion on that practical duty of Secret Bible Reading which is, after all, the best and surest antidote and preservative against scepticism about the Bible, if it is carried on at once thoroughly, intelligently, and as before the Lord. Vain without it, worse than vain, will be the most diligent and successful study of the apologetics of the Bible. For the Bible was given to be, not a battle-field, but a field of wheat, and pasturage, and flowers, and a gold-field also all the while.
(I) have elsewhere called attention to the following among works helpful at present in the controversy about Scripture: Lord Hatherley's Continuity of Scripture, Dr Waller's Authoritative Inspiration, Dr Cave's Inspiration of the Old Testament. Let me add four able popular tractates: Cave's Battle of the Standpoints (Queen's Printers), Eckersley's Historical Value of the Old Testament (Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge), G. Carlyle's Moses and the Prophets and Seaver's Authority of Christ (Elliot Stock). Dr Liddon's memorable sermon, The Worth of the Old Testament, is full of helpful suggestions. See too Professor Leathes' Witness of the Old Testament to Christ, Sir J.W. Dawson's Modern Science in Bible Lands, and Bishop Harold Browne's Messiah Foretold. I specially call attention to Canon R. Girdlestone's recent book, the work of a master, The Foundations of the Bible, most temperate, judicial, solid, and establishing; and to this must be added now (1892) Bishop Ellicott's excellent Charge, published by the S.P.C.K. under the title Christus Comprobator.
How then shall I read my Bible so as at once spiritually and mentally to know it, or rather, to be always getting to know it? The answer must be -- |at sundry times and in divers manners.| I must make time to read often, however brief each time may be. And I must use methods of study, more than one, in parallel lines.
As a sort of ground-work to all other methods I venture first to say, be always reading the Bible through, however slowly, or rapidly. For certain purposes, for instance in order to grasp the scope of a book, as perhaps an Epistle, or the Revelation, or St John's Gospel, or the latter half of Isaiah, or the Book of Genesis, rapid reading may be quite reverently done. In any case, get as soon as you may, and as often as is practicable and practical, over the whole surface. Lord Hatherley, amidst the heavy occupations of a barrister's and judge's life, used to read the whole Book through carefully every year, and this for more than thirty years. I cannot say that I do the same. But I aim to read the Bible over carefully within every few years.
To touch on a very small point I write here |the Book of Genesis,| not |the Book Genesis.| English literature, if I do not mistake, is as unfamiliar with the latter phrase as it is with |the city London.|
Then, practise what I would call the plough-husbandry of the Book. |Make long furrows.| Investigate what the Scriptures have to say by topics, by doctrines, by leading words, over great breadths of their surface; keeping that subject, that word, all along in view. Bring all your mind to work that way, in the light of the Presence sought by prayer. An occasional special form of such study may be illustrated by that admirable book, written long ago, but full of life still, the late Professor Blunt's Undesigned Coincidences. I was thankful in my first days of ministry to be led to put in practice its examples and suggestions by ploughing in the field of the New Testament for the coincidences between the Gospel narrative and the allusions to our blessed Lord's life scattered over the Epistles.
Then, practise also a diligent spade-husbandry in your Bible study. Dig as well as plough. In each narrow plot of the great field there are treasures hid. Dig a verse sometimes, using perhaps the spade of parallel references. Dig a paragraph at other times; a chapter; a short book. You are quite sure, under the blessing of the Master of the Field, to bring up rich results, more or less.
I will close my talk upon the Bible by offering a specimen of such spade-husbandry. A few years ago, at the Church Congress at Wakefield, I read a paper on Bible-reading. It mainly took the line of recommending earnestly the use of the Biblical student's |spade,| and then it illustrated the recommendation by the following |spade-study| of the Epistle of St Paul to the Philippians; given here just as it was read.
* * * * *
A CHURCH CONGRESS PAPER ON BIBLE STUDY.
|It has been laid on me to say a few words on the devotional study of the Holy Scriptures, taking some one Book of Scripture, and in some sort exemplifying such study from it. I accept the theme, with a deep sense both of its opportuneness in our busy period, so full of temptations to the Christian Minister to postpone his Bible-study to other things, and of its sacred, paramount, vital importance. May our divine and sovereign Master be pleased to use my simple suggestions to call once more the attention especially of His ordained servants to the urgency of our need to be personal Bible-students before Him, and to the strength and joy that lies in such study, really pursued. He, in the days of His flesh, was the supreme Believer in the Bible, the supreme Lover, Student, Expositor, and Employer of the Bible. With the letter of the Bible He sustained Himself and quelled the Enemy in the Temptation, and the quotations He then selected suggest the minuteness of His study. Upon the written Word He spent the whole Easter afternoon. Accepted Sacrifice for Sin, Conqueror of Death, Lord and Head of Life, He had come that morning from the grave; and He came as it were holding the Scriptures in His hands.
|He found around Him in those earthly days a mass of religious popular opinions, and He spoke His holy mind freely against the false among them. But there was one opinion which He noticed only to sanction, to sanctify, to glorify. It was the opinion that the Scriptures were divine, were charged with the authority of God.
|I pray to Him, and trust Him, my Master and Lord, to hold me now humbly firm to the end, after many a struggle, in His opinion of the Holy Scriptures. I would enter into, as He abode in, their rest; therefore I accept, as He accepted, their yoke. I would feel what He felt, that living incitement to their study which is indissolubly bound up, if I mistake not, with the firm persuasion of their supernatural character and authority. I would read them, as He read them, above all things to act upon them in the life which we, His followers, have in Him; that life whose exercise and outcome means our whole walk here as well as hereafter. I would regard them, as it is apparent that He regarded them, as being (in a sacred sense) self-sufficient; not, indeed, to the self-sufficient reader, but to the reader who prays in reverent simplicity that the Holy Spirit may dispel every moral mist, every hindrance of heart and will, from between him and the meaning of the written Word; and who intends in truthful sincerity to consent to, to obey, the discovered meaning; and who is taking pains over the Book.
|It is a great joy to know how entirely this was the view of the matter held, and loved, and taught in the ancient Church. Is there anything about which there is a larger consent of the Fathers? St Athanasius loves to dilate on the [Greek: autarkeia], the self-sufficingness, of 'the divine Scriptures.' St Cyril of Jerusalem entreats his hearers to guide and fix their belief by the reading of the Canonical books. St Chrysostom boldly accounts for all mischiefs by the lack of personal acquaintance with the Scriptures.
|We are in the nineteenth century, almost in the twentieth, and perhaps we therefore need, even more than our elder brethren of the fourth, to renew our energies in Scripture-study by prayerful, painstaking recollection of what the Book is. We need an ever fresh realization of what it is immortally, unalterably; the divinely trustworthy, and therefore authoritative, account of God's mind, and specially and above all of God's mind concerning Jesus Christ and our relations to Him, our life by Him, our peace, and power, and hope, in Him. And it is a few words about this aspect of Scripture, and the search of Scripture, that I now lay before you, with humility and simplicity of purpose, in the way of a description and example of a sort of study that has been a great blessing to myself.
|Take one of the holy Books, or a section of one of them; and for this purpose shorter is better. By a certain exercise of imagination suppose yourself to be reading a newly-discovered fragment of the apostolic age. Treat it somewhat as many of us have recently sought to treat Bryennius' discovery, The Teaching of the Twelve Apostles. What microscopic attention has been brought to bear upon that little book, just because good evidence gives it a place in the first century, and because it speaks of Christ, and of Christians; of faith, worship, ministry, and life, in a part of the primeval Church! Now I attempt from time to time, reverently but very simply, to treat some inspired Epistle somewhat in the same way. I place myself before it as much as possible as if it were new to me and others. I seek, with something of the curiosity which such conditions would create, to collect and arrange its theology and its ethics. And then I bring in upon the results of my study the fact that it is God's Word, the Word which I am to embrace, and live upon, and act upon, to-day.
|For example and suggestion, let us turn to the EPISTLE TO THE PHILIPPIANS; few but golden pages, precious product of those two years of St Paul's physical imprisonment but blissful spiritual liberty. To stimulate our consciousness of what the Epistle contains to reward search, and search alone, let us try to place it before us as what it is not now, but once was, a newly-given oracle of God. It was once read for the first time, perhaps in the house of Lydia. Let it be to us, so far as thought can make it so, what it was then. And let us remember all the while that it is really even now new, for it is immortal with the breath of the Spirit of God. It not only 'abideth,' but 'liveth,' for ever.
|Let us take two titles under which to classify the results of our inspection of this primitive Document. First, its doctrine of Christ; then, its doctrine of Christian Life. As a subordinate third title we may collect what it indicates of Christian life as exemplified in the Writer's allusions to his own experience.
|I. -- The Christology of the Epistle.
|(1) We trace hints of the human history of Christ. He was man, in reality and in seeming; He died a death of suffering, the death of the Cross [ii.7, 8; iii.10.]; He rose again, for there is a power of His Resurrection; [iii.10.] and, apparently, He so left this earth that it was known that an immeasurable exaltation attended His going, so that the heavens are now His seat [ii.9.], from which He is definitely expected to return. [iii.20.]
|(2) Going back to antecedent and prehistoric matters of faith about Him, we find here that before He became man He subsisted in possession, lawful and natural, of the manifested reality [Greek: morphe] of Godhead, equal to God [ii.6.]. His appearance as man was the sequel of His own action of will in that eternal state [ii.7.]. It was a novel and voluntary assumption of the condition of the Bondservant, the [Greek: Doulos], of God. Antecedently possessing the [Greek: morphe] of God, He now de novo 'took' the [Greek: morphe] of a bondservant. What created beings in general are of course, God's bondservants, He had not been but now became; a fact as astonishing in its region as the fact of His possession of the Supreme Nature is in its region. He assumed this [Greek: douleia], we find, because His essential work was to obey, to 'become obeying,' yes, to the extent of death [ii.8.]; which death was thus in Him altogether voluntary, part of a free undertaking to be not His own. The immediate result for Himself, it next appears, was an exaltation by God to supreme majesty under all these conditions. As being all this, possessor of Deity and accepter of bondservice, He was now de novo proclaimed as [Greek: Kyrios], as Lord, in a sense interpreted by the adoration of the universe; to the glory of God His Father. For it repeatedly appears in the Epistle that God is His Father; He is the Son of God [ii.11.]. Further, all 'the riches of God in glory' [i.2; ii.11.] are 'in Him.' [iv.19.] It appears that in His exaltation He is embodied still, for it is to likeness to the body of His glory that the body of our humiliation is to be changed at His expected return. He is Almighty 'to subdue all things,' and the subjugation is 'to Himself.' [iii.21.]
|(3) As regards His relation to His followers, such is it that their whole life and every exercise of it is mysteriously but emphatically said to be IN HIM. He, the supreme Bondservant, is to them (we continually read) absolute Lord. His grace animates their spirit. The divine Spirit ministered to them is His [i.2; iv.23.]. Their 'fruit of righteousness' is generated and produced 'through' Him [i.19.]. He is evermore and profoundly near to them. Their heart-emotions are 'in His heart.' [i.11; iv.5.] To believe in Him is their essential characteristic [i.8.]. To suffer for Him is a special boon to them [i.29.]. They live in expectation of His return, His day. [i.6, 10; ii.16; iii.20.]
|II. -- The Epistle's account of Christian Life, inward and outward.
|We gather that the disciples are saints, [Greek: hagioi], separated from self and sin to God; brethren to one another; the true Israel, citizens of the City above [i.1, 14; iii.3, 20; iv.21.]. Their being and life are so united to Christ, that they as Christians (and it is evidently assumed that this covers everything for them) exist, and are to act, 'in Him.' In Him, we find, they are 'saints' and 'brethren' [i.1, 14; iv.1, 2; ii.29.]; in Him they are to 'stand fast'; to be 'of one mind'; to 'receive one another'; to possess comfort, consolation; to glory; to rejoice [ii.1; iii.1, 3; iv.4.]. It is solemnly guaranteed, under certain most holy and happy conditions, that 'the peace of God Himself shall' -- the promise is positive -- 'keep safe their hearts and thoughts in Him' [iv.7.]; wonderful words, but perfectly distinct. In them God 'has begun a good work, to be carried for its completion up to the day of Christ'; and God is now 'working in them to will and to do for the sake of' His plan and purpose [i.6; ii.13.]. It is laid upon them accordingly, in the profound inner rest of such union, such possession, such submission, to 'work out their salvation,' to live out their life as the saved, with the 'fear and trembling' of sacred reverence [ii.12.]. They are 'to look each not on his own things,' but on the things of others, in their Lord's manner [ii.4.]; to hold together in loving and courageous union for the Gospel, standing fast in 'one soul,' under the 'one Spirit's' power; to keep their place in the midst of evil surroundings as the 'children of God' [i.28.] and the 'light-bearers' of 'the message of life.' [ii.16.] They are to abstain totally, in the power of their life in Christ, from all sin, to 'do nothing' (I take all possible note of these 'alls' and 'nothings' as I study and classify) 'for strife or vainglory' [ii.3.]; to be 'anxious about nothing, but in everything' to tell God their desires; to 'do all things without murmurings and disputings' [iv.6; ii.14.]; to be 'unblamable, unhurtful, unblemished, God's children,' not in a dreamland, but in the realities of Philippian life; to bear fruit, 'fruit of righteousness, which is through Jesus Christ,' [ii.15.] and so to bear it that at last it shall turn out, in the day of the Lord, that they are 'filled' with it [i.11.]; every branch is laden. They are to let their 'moderation,' that is to say their yieldingness, their self-lessness, come out in common life, 'known to all men,' in the power of a 'Lord at hand' [iv.5.]; to fill their thoughts with all that is good, straightforward, chastened, pure [iv.8.]; to 'mind' the things in heaven [iii.20; ii.]; to have 'the mind of Christ'; to grow in spiritual perception, along with the growth of love [i.9.]; to live the life expressed in that profound summary, 'worshipping God in the Spirit (or, by the Spirit of God); exulting in Christ Jesus; having no confidence in the flesh.' [iii.3.]
|III. -- The Life in Christ exemplified in the Writer.
|Here let us forget the Apostle, for he speaks wholly as the Christian, and in a way manifestly meant to be an instruction to all Christians. He appears, then, in our document, as one whom Christ has 'seized,' has 'grasped' [iii.12.]; as one who has discovered in Christ, and in Christ alone, the supreme Gain, the supreme Object of knowledge, the supreme Spiritual Power as the Risen One, [iii.10.] the supreme Interest and Reason of life [i.20; iii.7-14], the one possible supply of the unspeakable need of a valid Righteousness before the Judgment Seat. Yes, he must be 'found in Him, having the righteousness which is from God on terms of faith,' [iii.9.] the faith which enters into Christ. 'In Christ,' we discover, the Writer is, everywhere and always. His 'bonds' are 'in Christ'; his 'glory' is 'in Christ' [i.13, 26.]; his hopes and trusts about the common events of life are 'in Christ'; in Christ he has 'found the secret' how to do all, all he has to do, in peace [iv.19, 24.]. Christ fills his present life [iv.13.]; when he dies, he will be so 'with Christ' that it will be 'far better' than this present life, though it is full of Christ [i.21, 23.]. He is the willing but most real bondservant of Christ [i.1.]. His relations with Christ so fill him with peace and the power of peace, that extremely irritating rivalry and opposition at Rome does not irritate him, but occasions holy joy, and the suspense about life and death in which Nero keeps him is powerless, wholly because of Christ [i.12, etc.], to evoke anything but a statement of the dilemma of blessings which life and death in the Lord are to him [i.21, etc.]. On the other hand, as the whole Epistle indicates, every pure human sensibility circulates naturally in this supernatural atmosphere [E.g. ii.27, 28; iv.10.]. And meanwhile, though 'perfect,' in respect of reality of union and communication with his Lord, he is not yet 'perfected' in respect of application and results; the goal, the prize, is yet to come. [iii.12, 14.]
|And so I shut my Epistle to the Philippians, leaving very much more in it for the next occasion. Such a study has not demanded long hours. It has asked only interest, purpose, and painstaking, a few such fragments of daily time as we must, yes, must, make and take for the Bible, if we are not to starve our people and ourselves. Suffer me to repeat it with deep earnestness; we must, we absolutely must, not merely devotionally read but devotionally search and penetrate this divine Book. And what shall come of the effort? By the grace of God, sought in the deep joy of a profound submission, it shall come that we shall each one realize, with a vernal newness and delight, that Christ is mine; that the springs and secrets of this life in Him are mine, for the realities of my home, my parish, my study, my soul. I go (it is for each one of us to say it) with renewed thirst and certainty to Him the eternal Fountain; I live, I live, yet not I; and therefore I can work. It will be 'with fear and trembling,' as I know myself to be indeed in the eternal Presence; yet it will be also in the power-giving 'peace that passeth understanding, keeping the heart and thoughts, in Christ Jesus,' a keeping that is not meant to vanish outside holy places and holy hours, but to do its strongest and serenest work in the midst of crookedness and perverseness, under the stress of toils and burthens, as truly for me to-day as for the Philippians and their Teacher then.|
|The Spirit breathes upon the Word
And brings the truth to sight;
Precepts and promises afford
A sanctifying light.
|My soul rejoices to pursue
The steps of Him I love,
Till glory breaks upon my view
In brighter worlds above.|