Disloyal |brethren| -- Interest of the paragraph -- The victory of patience -- The Praetorian sentinel -- Separatism, and how it was met -- St Paul's secret -- His |earnest expectation| -- |Christ magnified| -- |In my body|
St Paul has spoken his affectionate greeting to the Philippians, and has opened to them the warm depths of his friendship with them in the Lord. What he feels towards them |in the heart of Christ Jesus,| what he prays for them in regard of the growth and fruit of their new life, all has been expressed. It is time now to meet their loving anxieties with some account of his own position, and the circumstances of the mission in the City. Through this passage let us follow him now; we shall find that the quiet picture, full of strong human interest in its details, is suffused all over with the glory of the presence and the peace of Christ.
Ver.12. +Now I wish you to know, brethren, that my position and circumstances+ (ta kat eme, |the things related to me|) +have come out+, have resulted, +rather for the progress of the Gospel+ message and enter-
Ver.13. prise, than otherwise; +so that my bonds+, my imprisonment, with its custodia militaris, +are become unmistakable+ (phanerous) as being +in Christ+; as due to no social or political crime, but to the name and cause of the Messiah of Israel, the Saviour of the world. This is the case in the +whole Praetorium+, in all ranks of the Imperial Guard, +and among other people in general+ (tois loipois pasi). And
Ver.14. another result is +that the majority+ (tous plaionas) +of the brethren in the Lord+, the converts of the Roman mission, +feeling a new confidence in connexion with my bonds+, animated by the fact of my imprisonment, realizing afresh the glory of the cause which makes me happy to suffer, +venture more abundantly+, more frequently, more openly, +fearlessly to speak the Word+, the message of Christ, of the Cross, of Truth, of Life. There is a drawback in this
Ver.15. welcome phenomenon: +some indeed actually+ (kai) +for envy and strife, while others as truly+ (kai) +for goodwill, are proclaiming the Christ+. The latter
Ver.16. are at work thus +from+ motives of love, love to the Lord and to me His captive Messenger, +knowing+ that on purpose +for the vindication+ (apologian) +of the Gospel I am posted+ (keimai, as a soldier, fixed by his captain's order) here. The former from
Ver.17. motives of +faction+, partizanship (eritheia) in a self-interested propaganda of their own opinions, +are announcing the Christ, not purely, thinking+ and meaning +to raise up+ (egeirein, so read) +tribulation for+ me in +my bonds+; as so easily they can do, by detaching from me many converts who would otherwise gather round me, and generally by the mortifying thought of their freedom and activity in contrast to my enforced isolation. Shall I give way to the trial, and lose patience and peace? Must I? Need
Ver.18. I? Nay; +what matters it+ (ti gar)? Is not the fiery arrow quenched in Christ for me? Is it not thus nothing to me? Yes -- yet not nothing, after all; for it brings a gain; it spreads the Gospel so much further; so that to my |What matters it?| I may add, +Only, in every way+, fair or foul, +Christ is being announced; and in this I rejoice, aye, and rejoice I shall+; the future can only bring me fresh reasons for a joy which lies wholly in the triumphs of my Lord, and can only bring fresh blessings to
Ver.19. me His vassal. +For I know that I shall find+ (moi) this experience +result in salvation+, in the access of saving grace to my soul, +through your supplication+ for me, which will be quickened by your knowledge of my trials, +and+ through a resulting +full supply+ (epichoregia: the word suggests a supply which is ample) +of the Spirit of Jesus Christ+; a developed presence in me of the Holy Ghost, coming from the exalted Saviour, and revealing Him, and applying Him. Such blessing will be exactly
Ver.20. +according to my eager expectation+ (apokaradokia) and hope, that in no respect shall I be disappointed (aiochunthesomai: with the |shame| of a miscalculation), +but that in all outspokenness+ (parresia) of testimony, whether in word or deed, +as always, so also now, Christ shall be magnified in my body, whether by means of life or by means of death+.
The passage is full of various points of interest. It is interesting, as we saw in our first chapter, in regard of the historical criticism of the Epistle. It gives a strong suggestion (I follow Lightfoot in the remark) in favour of dating the Epistle early in the |two years| of Acts xxviii. For it implies that the fact of the Apostle's imprisonment was a powerful stimulant to the zeal of the Roman Christians; and this is much more likely to have been the case when the imprisonment was still a new fact to them, than later. St Paul's arrival and first settlement, in the character (totally new in Rome, so far as we know) of a |prisoner of Jesus Christ,| would of itself give a quickening shock, so to speak, to the believing community, which had suffered, so we gather, from a certain decadence of zeal. But when he had been some time amongst them, and the conditions of the |hired house| had become usual and familiar in their thoughts, it would be otherwise; whatever else about St Paul might rekindle their ardour, the mere fact of his imprisoned state would hardly do so.
The passage is further interesting as it indicates one particular direction of the Apostle's influence upon the pagans around him. It was felt, primarily, |in all the Praetorium,| that is to say, in the large circle of the Imperial Life-guards. We gather here, with reasonable certainty, that from the Life-guards were supplied, one by one, |the soldiers that kept him| (Acts xxviii.16); mounting guard over him in turn, and fastened to him by the long chain which clasped at one end the wrist of the prisoner, at the other that of the sentinel. It needs only a passing effort of imagination to understand something of the exquisite trial to every sensibility which such a custody must have involved, even where the conditions were favourable. Let the guardian be ever so considerate and civil, it would be a terrible ordeal to be literally never alone, night or day; and too often, doubtless, the guardian would be not at all complaisant. To many a man, certainly to any man of the refined mental and moral nature of St Paul, this slow fire of indescribable annoyance would be far worse to endure than a great and sudden infliction of pain, even to death. It is a noble triumph of grace when such a test is well borne, and turned by patience into an occasion for God. When Nicholas Ridley, for a long year and a half (1554-5) was committed at Oxford to the vexatious domestic custody of the mayor and his bigoted wife, Edmund and Margaret Irish, it must have been nothing less than a slow torture to one whose fine nature had been used for years to the conditions of civil and ecclesiastical dignity and of a large circle of admirable friends. And it was a spiritual victory, second only to that of his glorious martyrdom (Oct.16, 1555), when the close of that dreary time found the once obdurate and vexatious Mrs Irish won by Ridley's life to admiration and attachment, and also, as it would seem, to scriptural convictions. But it was a still nobler result from a still more persistent and penetrating trial when St Paul so lived and so witnessed in the presence of this succession of Roman soldiers that the whole Guard was pervaded with a knowledge of his true character and position, evidently in the sense of interest and of respect. It must have been a course of unbroken consistency of conduct as well as of openness of witness. Had he only sometimes, only rarely, only once or twice, failed in patience, in kindness, in the quiet dignity of the Gospel, the whole succession of his keepers would have felt the effect, as the story passed from one to another. As a fact, the |keeping power of Christ| was always with him, and always used by him, and the men went out one after another to say that here was a prisoner such as never was before. Here was no conspirator or criminal; his |bonds| were evidently (ver.13) due only to his devotion to a God whom he would not renounce, and whose presence with him and power over him were visibly shewn in the divine peace and love of his hourly life.
We can please ourselves if we will by imagining many a scene for the exercise of that influence. Sometimes the Saint would be left much alone with the Praetorian. Sometimes a long stream of visitors would flow in, and for a whole day perhaps the two would scarcely exchange a word; the Guardsman would only watch and listen, if he cared to do so. Sometimes it would be a case where ignorant and ribald blasphemies would have to be met in the power of the peace of God. Sometimes a really wistful heart would at once betray its presence under the Roman cuirass. Perhaps the man would attack the Apostle with ridicule, or with enquiries, after some long day of religious debate, such as that recorded in Acts xxviii., and the silent night would see St Paul labouring on to win this soul also.
|These ears were dull to Grecian speech;
This heart more dull to aught but sin;
Yet the great Spirit bade thee reach,
Wake, change, exalt, the soul within:
I've heard; I know; thy Lord, ev'n He,
JESUS, hath look'd from heaven on me.
* * * * *
|A Christian, yes -- for ever now
A Christian: so our Leader keep
My faltering heart: to Him I bow,
His, whether now I wake or sleep:
In peace, in battle. His: -- the day
Breaks in the east: oh, once more pray!|
The passage before us is interesting again because of the light it throws on the very early rise of a separatist movement in the Roman mission-church, and on the principles on which St Paul met it. Extremely painful and perplexing the phenomenon was, though by no means new in its nature to St Paul, as we well know. It was a trouble altogether from within, not from without. The men who |preached Christ of envy and strife| bore evidently the Christian name as openly as their sincerer brethren. They were baptized members of the community of the Gospel. And their evangelization was such that St Paul was able to say, |Christ is preached|; though this does not mean, assuredly, that there were no doubtful elements mingled in the preaching. Now for them, as for all the Roman Christians, he had every reason to regard himself as the Lord's appointed centre of labour and of order. There he was, the divinely commissioned Apostle of Christ, at once the Teacher and the Leader of the Gentile Churches; only a few short years before he had written to these very people, in his inspired and commissioned character, the greatest of the Epistles. Yet now behold a separation, a schism. That such the movement was we cannot doubt. These |brethren,| he tells us, carried on their missionary efforts in a way precisely intended to |raise up trouble| for him in his prison. The least that they would do with that object would be not only to teach much that he would disapprove of, but to intercept intercourse between their converts and him; to ignore him altogether as the central representative of the Church at Rome; to arrange for assemblies, to administer Baptisms, to practise the Breaking of Bread, wholly apart from the order and cohesion which he would sanction, and which he had the fullest right to enjoin. All this was a great evil, a sin, carrying consequences which might affect the Christian cause far and wide. Is it not true that no deliberate schism has ever taken place in the Church where there has not been grievous sin in the matter -- on one side, or, on the other, or on both?
Yet how does the Apostle meet this distressing problem? With all the large tolerance and self-forgetting patience which come to the wise man who walks close to God in Christ. No great leader, surely, ever prized more the benefits of order and cohesion than did St Paul. And where a fundamental error was in view, as for example that about Justification in Galatia, no one could meet it more energetically, and with a stronger sense of authority, than he did. But he |discerned things that differ.| And when, as here, he saw around him men, however misguided, who were aiding in the |announcement| of the Name and salvation of Christ, he thought more of the evangelization than of the breach of coherence, which yet most surely he deplored. He speaks with perfect candour of the unsound spiritual state of the separatists, their envy, strife, and partizanship. But he has no anathema for their methods. He is apparently quite unconscious of the thought that because he is the one Apostle in Rome grace can be conveyed only through him; that his authority and commission are necessary to authenticate teaching and to make ordinances effectual. He would far rather have order, and he knows that he is its lawful centre. But |the announcement of Christ| is a thing even more momentous than order. He cannot stay to speak of that great but inferior benefit, while he |rejoices, aye, and is going to rejoice,| in the diffusion of the Name and salvation of the Lord.
It is an instructive lesson. Would that in all the after ages the Church had more watchfully followed this noble precedent! The result would have been, so I venture to hold, a far truer and stronger cohesion, in the long run, than we see, alas, around us now.
What was the secret of this happy harmony of the love of order and the capacity for tolerance in the mind of St Paul? It was a secret as deep but also as simple as possible; it was the Lord Jesus Christ. Really and literally, Jesus Christ was the one ruling consideration for St Paul; not himself, his claims, position, influence, feelings; not even the Church. To him the Church was inestimably precious, but the Lord was more. And all his thoughts about work, authority, order, and the like, were accordingly conditioned and governed by the thought, What will best promote the glory of the Lord who loved us and gave Himself for us? If even a separatist propaganda will extend the knowledge of HIM, His servant can rejoice, not in the separatism, not in the unhappy spirit which prompted it, but in the extension of the reign of Jesus Christ in the human hearts which need Him. Surely, even in our own day, with its immemorial complications of the question of exterior order, it will tend more than anything else to straighten the crooked places and level the rough places, if we look, from every side, on the glory of the blessed Name as our supreme and ruling interest.
This view of the supremacy of the Saviour in the thoughts of St Paul about the Church leads us to a view, as we close, of that supremacy in all his thoughts about his own life. Our paragraph ends with the words which anticipate a great blessing, a new developement of |salvation,| in the writer's soul, in answer to the believing prayers of the Philippians; and then comes the thought that this result will carry out his dearest personal ambition -- |that Christ may be magnified in my body, whether by life or by death.| Let us take up those final words for a simple study, before God.
|According to my eager expectation,| my apokaradokia, my waiting and watching, with outstretched head, for some keenly wished-for arrival, or attainment. Such is this man's thought and feeling with regard to the |magnification| of Christ through his life and death. It is his |hope,| it is his absorbing |expectation.| It is to him the thing with which he wakes up in the morning, and over which he lingers as he prepares to sleep at night. It is the animating inner interest which gives its zest to life. What art is to the ambitious and successful painter, what literature is to the man who loves it for its own sake and whose books have begun to take the world, what athletic toil and triumph is to the youth in his splendid prime, what the fact of extending and wealth-winning enterprise is to the man conscious of mercantile capacity -- all this, only very much more, is the |magnification of Christ in his body| to the prisoner who sits, never alone, in the Roman lodging. It is this which effectually forbids him ever to find the days dull. Its light falls upon everything; comforts, trials, days of toil, hours of comparative repose, prospects of life, prospects of death. It quickens and concentrates all his faculties, as a great and animating interest always tends to do; it is always present to his mind as light and heat, to his will as rest and power. It secures for him the quiet of a great disengagement and liberty from selfish motives; it continually drives him on, with a force which does not exhaust him (for it is from above) in the ambition and enterprise which is for Christ; giving him at once an impulse toward great and arduous labours, and a patience and loving tact which continually adjusts itself to the smallest occasions of love and service.
Reader, this is admirable in St Paul. But after all, the ultimate secret of the noble phenomenon resides not in St Paul but in Jesus Christ. |It pleased God to reveal His Son in me| (Gal. i.15, 16). The man had seen his Saviour with his whole soul. And because of -- not the man who saw but -- the Saviour who was seen, behold, the life is lifted off the pivot of self-will and transferred to that of |the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.| The same |revealing| grace can lift us also. We are not St Pauls; but the Jesus Christ of St Paul is absolutely the same, in Himself, for us. We will, in His name, place ourselves in the way of His working, that He may so shew us His fair countenance that we may not be able not to live, quite really, for Him as the enthralling Interest of life.
Let us look at the words again: |That Christ may be magnified,| may be made great. In what respect? Not in Himself; for He is already |all in all|; |filling all things|; |higher than the heavens.| Such is He that |no man knoweth the Son but the Father|; the mind of Deity is alone adequate to comprehend His glory. But He may be magnified -- relatively to those who see Him, or may see Him. To eyes which find in Christ only a distant and obscure Object, however sacred, He may be made to occupy the whole field of the soul with His love and glory. As when the telescope is directed upon the heavens, and some |cloudy spot| becomes, magnified, a mighty planet perhaps, or perhaps a universe of starry suns; so it is when through a believer's life |Christ is magnified| to eyes which watch that life and see the reality of the power within.
Ah, have we not known such lives ourselves? Has not the Lord been made very near to us, and very luminous, in the face of father, mother, brother, sister, friend, or pastor? Have we not seen Him shining large and near us in their holy activities, and in their blessed sufferings, shedding His glory through all they were and all they did? He has been magnified to us by saints in high places, whose dignity and fame have been to them only so much occasion for the exercise of their |ruling passion| -- the glory of Christ. And He has been magnified to us also by saints in comfortless cottages, imprisoned upon sick-beds in gloomy attics, but finding in everything an occasion to experience and to manifest the power of their Lord. May He make it always our ambition to be thus His magnifiers. But may He keep it a really pure ambition. For even this can be distorted into the misery of self-seeking; an ambition not that Christ may be magnified, but that His magnifier may be thought |some great one| in the spiritual life.
|In my body.| Because through the body, and only through it, practically, can we tell on others for the Lord. Do we speak to them? Do we write to them? Do we make home comfortable and happy for them? Do we |meet the glad with joyful smiles and wipe the weeping eyes|? Do we travel to those who want us? Do we nurse them? Do we think for them? All has its motives in the regenerate spirit, but all has its effect through the body. Without brain, eyes, ears, lips, hands, feet -- how could we serve, how could we shine? Our life would have no articulation to others, nor our death.
|I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice.| So be it, for writer and for reader. Then blessed will be our life, as day by day brings ceaseless occasions for the pursuit of our dear ambition -- |that Christ may be magnified.|
-- -- -- --
*** En holo to praitorio (ver.13). -- The word praitorion occurs in e.g. Matt. xxvii.27. Acts xxiii.35, in the sense of the residence of a great official, regarded as praetor, or commander. The A.V. here evidently reasons from such passages, and takes the word to mean the residence at Rome of the supreme praetor, the Emperor; the Palatium, the vast range of buildings on the Mons Palatinus which has since given a name to all |palaces.| Bishop Lightfoot however has made it clear (a) that such a use at Rome, by Romans, of the word Praetorium was probably not known; (b) that the word Praetorium was a familiar word for the great body of the Imperial Life-guards; and that it would probably be often so used by the (praetorian) |soldiers who kept him.| On the whole it seems clear that, at Rome, the word would denote a body, not a place. It never appears as a name for the great camp of the Praetorians, outside Rome at the east.
See note at the end of this chapter.
The A.V. rendering |in all other places| is obviously due to the belief that praitorion signified a place, not a body of men.
I thus convey the force of hoste, across the break we have made in the original sentence.
Literally perhaps, |relying on my bonds,| as a new ground for their assurance of the goodness of the cause. -- It is possible to render here, |the brethren, having in the Lord confidence, are, in view of my bonds, much more bold,| etc. But the rhythm of the Greek is in favour of our rendering (which is essentially that of A.V. and R.V.).
I adopt here the order of the Greek clauses which is best attested.
See note at the end of this chapter.
I venture to refer to my book, Bishop Ridley on the Lord's Supper (Seeley), pp.54, 55, 72.
See the close of the volume.
THE CHRISTIAN'S PEACE AND THE CHRISTIAN'S CONSISTENCY
O God, from whom all holy desires, all good counsels, and all just works do proceed; Give unto Thy servants that peace which the world cannot give; that both our hearts may be set to obey Thy commandments, and also that by Thee we being defended from the fear of our enemies may pass our time in rest and quietness; through the merits of Jesus Christ our Saviour. Amen.
The Second Collect at Evening Prayer.