I follow up a previous paper by sending you some remarks on Philippians 3, to which I will now add some on chapter 4, which has occupied my mind a little since.
Salvation in this epistle is looked at as before the Christian; not as an uncertainty, but as a thing not yet attained. It is the actual possession of glory, the new estate of man in actual glory, in Christ ascended on high, which alone is in view. Christ has laid hold of the believer for it, but he is looking to lay hold on it. Christ, seen in that glory (and the apostle had so seen Him, in fact) is everything. Being thus found in Him is what Paul looks for, for righteousness, as all else, in that day. When he gets actually before God, laying aside everything Jewish that might exalt him, everything human, his only thought is to be found in Christ. This puts the new estate of man in a very striking position. The whole Christian estate is looked at as future, because in resurrection, its being actually attained being the whole matter in hand. Hence justification, righteousness itself, is seen as actual acceptance in Christ, when we arrive before God. We come before God in Christ. The apostle unequivocally looks for a resurrection-state and glory. Till he has that, he has never attained, is not yet perfect.
The present state of man, even supposing he has been quickened of God, is his state as born of the first Adam; not simply because of sin, for the apostle supposes here the Christian to be walking above it, always walking in the Spirit, making progress towards glory, but in no way occupied with sin. But he sees the Christian needing to be brought into this new state identified with Christ in glory. If he had the whole righteousness which the flesh or the first Adam was capable of, and of which the law was the rule, this was only the first man, not the Second: he would not have it. It was not Christ, God’s righteousness by faith.
He had seen Christ, the second Man, the last Adam, accepted in glory. He has been laid hold of to be conformed to this, this wholly new state and condition of man according to God’s righteousness. It had displaced all else in his mind. He could not be content with anything else or less. The two were incompatible; and he could not have the old man’s place, even if it were righteous, and the new man’s too. He counts all these things which honoured and accredited the first man, the self, Paul, as loss and dung. The risen glorified Man is before us. It is not however here considered as that which has justified us; that inasmuch as we have died with Christ, who made atonement for us, and that we are risen with Him according to the value of that work in virtue of which as of His person He is risen, we are justified, and our acceptance witnessed before God. It is not with this view of judicial acceptance the resurrection is viewed here; but as a new state, into which in its full result, we are to enter, including of course divine righteousness, but the whole new state of glory. This puts the new estate into which Christianity brings us in a very strong light.
The old man, the whole old estate is done with in the apostle’s mind, righteousness and all; and his mind is fixed on the new, that is, on Christ Himself; but this as involving his own place in glory, in having part hereafter, in “the resurrection from among the dead,” as Christ was: “That I may win Christ.” “If by any means I may attain to the resurrection from among the dead”; it is “from among” them.
This leads us directly to the great principle of the chapter: the earnest undistracted following after this glory, after Christ Himself, and heeding nothing else, counting all as worthless for its attainment. The former chapter, we have seen, presented Christ in His humiliation, leading the heart to the like manifestation of graciousness in our path and ways with others here below. This gives that energy of spiritual pursuit, from the second glorified Man being set before our eyes, which sets us above the world and every motive in it, and everything which added importance to the old self, so as to give its just and heart-enlarging object to the new man; and it makes us heavenly-minded, and withal undistracted in our Christian course.
It is one of the beauties of Christianity, that it gives, through our perfect reconciliation in Christ, the pure peacefulness of affections perfectly happy in an existing relationship, and with it the highest object of hope, which urges to unceasing activity. These are the two forming elements of human nature for good; both in the highest and a divine way are found in Christ.
But to pursue our chapter, which takes up the latter of these principles. We have the fullest element of satisfying glory for ourselves, the prize of our calling above, the resurrection from among the dead; yet all selfishness is taken out of it. What clothed self with honour is, as we have seen, all loss. It helped to set up the old man. The Christian’s object is Christ, which implies getting rid of the first altogether. It exalts man but not self. When modern infidelity would exalt man, it simply exalts self. Christianity exalts man, even to divine glory and divine excellency, but it sets aside self wholly. “What was gain to me,” says the apostle, “I counted loss for Christ.” Learning is gain for self—to be English, French, etc.: to have mine own righteousness as a reputation in the world, or a title with God, is self. I am what others are not. The world wants these motives—of course it does; it has no other. Energy is produced by them, but there is no moral advance. Self remains the spring, the centre, of human activity. We are told
“Self-love but serves the virtuous mind to wake.
As the small pebble stirs the peaceful lake.”
A larger circle may be produced round self, but self remains the centre still. “Master, that thou shouldest give us to sit, one on thy right hand and another on thy left hand, in thy kingdom.” This was self—a good place which others would not have. None of this is found here. “That I may win Christ” is the highest blessing, the blessedest affections, but all transferring the heart from self to Christ.
But see further. It transferred the affections to what in itself was supremely excellent, to an object which was the adequate object of the delight to God the Father. God has given to us to delight in what He finds His sufficient object of delight in too. What a tale this tells of our true reconciliation to God! Not merely judicial reconciliation to God, which was needed, but the elevation of our moral nature to the measure of divine delights and fellowship with Him; though, of course, ever recipient, and glad to be so from love, He ever the divine Giver; but in Christ the one Object of delight. In the creature, though there may be a suited nature, as evidently there must, yet the moral state of the soul is formed and characterised by its objects. Here we are made partakers of the divine nature and have divine objects. But this is not now in rest. That will be our heavenly state. We are living in the midst of a world by which Satan seeks to seduce us by acting on the old man.
While there is thankfulness and courage because Christ has laid hold on us, yet Christ before us in hope leads out the affections in energy; and, while it has begun by delivering us from selfish recurrence to our own importance, leads us now in superiority to worldly objects by the absorbing attraction of Christ. We are kept humble by the consciousness that we have not attained, energetic in sanctified affections because we have Christ to attain, delivered from the world by the absorbing power of a divine object acting on the new man. This gives singleness of purpose, and thus undistracted power, while the judgment is formed solely on the way things bear on Christ. Everything is thus estimated in the highest way by a perfect criterion, and that in the affections, though indeed in moral things true judgment cannot exist without this.
Further, though it be in no way the chief or highest element, there is, when the world does come before us, the power of contrast. For all this surely the action of the Holy Ghost is needed; but I speak of the way it operates, not of its gracious source. This gives, moreover, superiority to difficulties. This is the force of “by any means”—not a doubt, but whatever it may cost, whatever road I may have to take, so as I attain, I am content; yea, I can rejoice in suffering and death—I shall be so much the more like the Christ I am desirous of attaining.
Note here, he seeks the power of resurrection first; that, knowing the divine energy of this new life, which takes him in spirit out of the present one, the sufferings or death of the first, as the fruit of devotedness to Christ, were only conformity to Him. And thus, even if it were by such means as death itself, he should attain to the glory of the new state into which Christ had risen. (Not new indeed to Him personally, but to man, to the human nature, which in grace He had taken and carried back with Him into glory.) This gave its full character to his walk as to its daily energy. Having this state of resurrection from among the dead in view, he never could count himself to have attained in this life, nor to be perfect; for, for him to be perfect was to be like Christ in glory. He followed after that he might attain and apprehend that (lay hold upon and possess it) for which Christ had apprehended him. Two things ensued; he followed nothing else—had no other object.
But this was not all. He did follow this earnestly and undividedly. It was not merely that he disapproved of certain things and was inert, but the absorbing power of One had delivered him from all else. But this, while it took his heart off the others, fixed it on this. But this object on which his mind was fixed was always before him, not attained, every day brighter to his spirit, but not possessed.
This kept him looking straight forward, and never occupied with the ground he had passed over. He forgot the things which were behind, and reached forward to those things which were before, pressing towards those things which were before. The man who would stop to contemplate the ground gone over in a race would not get on in it, would soon be passed in it. Self would come in; the manna would breed worms; the heart be off its object.
This gives another marked effect of this energy of the single eye. It looks exclusively at what is heavenly. Its calling is on high, its hopes and thoughts fixed on that; not looking, says the apostle, on what is seen, but on what is not seen. This gives a heavenly temperament and habit to the whole man. His conversation is in heaven; his relationships of life are all up there. There is thankfulness and elevation in this. It is God’s calling, His calling us above and in Christ Jesus. The heart is intelligent as to its source and way.
I do not dwell on what the apostle puts in contrast. Minding earthly things, men are fixed on what can cause no progress, on what takes them off what is heavenly, what is pure and divine. But it goes further; they are enemies of the cross. The cross was death to this world. It marked the place of what was divine and heavenly in this world. The saint glories in dying to the world. He who lives in it, in spirit, is the enemy of that. The end is destruction.
One thing remains, to carry out this hope of the Christian to completion—Christ’s coming. We have these hopes, “this treasure in earthen vessels.” Christ shall come and change the body of our humiliation and fashion it like to His glorious body. Then what we have had in hope, in desire forming our souls after it, will be actually accomplished in glory. We shall be like Christ and with Him.
Such is the character of energy which delivers from and gives the victory over all that is in the world, setting our affections on things above, not on things on the earth, making Christ Himself, as He is on high, the bright and blessed object of our souls. Chapter 4, as this has run to some length, I reserve for another paper.
It tells us of the calmness and superiority to circumstances which characterises the Christian in this world through faith in Christ.