The Blessed Hope and Its Power

The problem of the body -- Cautions and tears -- "That blessed hope" -- The duty of warning -- The moral power of the hope -- The hope full of immortality -- My mother's life -- "He is able" -- The promise of his coming

The Apostle draws to the close of his appeal for a true and watchful fidelity to the Gospel. He has done with his warning against Judaistic legalism. He has expounded, in the form of a personal confession and testimony, the true Christian position, the acceptance of the believer in "the righteousness which is of God by faith," and the sanctification of the believer through union with his Lord and in an always growing communion with Him. Throughout this deep and most tender argument has run everywhere the truth with which it began, that the sure antidote to the spiritual errors in question is "joy in the Lord." The glad use of Jesus Christ in His personal glory and perfection, as He merited for us, and as we abide in Him -- this is the way.

Already another class of mistake and danger has risen before his mind, and occupies it now exclusively. From ver.12 onward, if I read the passage aright, he has been thinking not of the legalist only, who opposed and denounced his doctrine of grace and faith, but of the school or schools which rather would applaud it -- and then distort it. There was the teacher who would assert a premature and delusive personal perfection, proclaiming himself so close to Christ that he had already reached the holy goal. And there was the teacher who would reason so upon the perfectness of the atoning merits as to disclaim the need of seeking with all his soul a personal conformity to the Lord of the Atonement. Such a man would conceivably affirm for himself an experience of intense spiritual insight, a communion with God profound and direct, an exaltation into a celestial atmosphere of consciousness; while yet, and on his own avowed theory, he was living a life in which sin was allowed to reign in his mortal body, What did it matter? The spirit soared and expatiated in a higher region. The true man lived in the world above, "commercing with the skies"; it was but the body, soon to perish, which went its own way, and might be allowed to do so, for it could never be other than the uncongenial burthen of the real man.

Such theories, as all are aware, were largely developed and widely spread in the sub-apostolic age. The word Gnosticism, so familiar to the reader of the early history of thought in and around the Church, reminds us of this; for while many Gnostics were severe ascetics, others were practical libertines; and the divergent practices sprang from one deep source of error, dishonour of the body. To both schools, spirit was good, matter was evil. By both therefore the body was viewed not as a subject of redemption, but as a barrier in its way. The one aimed to wear out the barrier, to help it to disappear. The others left it, as they thought, alone; leapt, as they thought, over it; as if they could pursue a spiritual life which should be irrespective of the body's hopeless evils.

The embryo, at least, of this latter type of thought was beyond doubt apparent in St Paul's day, and had begun to be felt at Philippi. There, in that loving and beloved community, the plague had begun, or at least the infection was imminent. "Many walked" (perhaps not actually at Philippi yet, but they might soon come) in the foul broad road which they asserted to be clean and narrow. Very probably they used the terms of the Pauline Gospel, and said much of grace, and faith, and the Spirit, and the things above. But none the less they were the victims of an awful self-delusion; teachers whose doctrine led downwards to the pit. To them he comes at length, explicitly and finally. In view of them he places before the Philippians once more the fact of his own and his brethren's examples, and then the sanctifying power of that blessed hope, the Redemption of the Body.

Ver.17. +United imitators of me become ye, brethren+; taking me, your long-known guide in the Lord, for your moral pattern, and strengthening your mutual cohesion (summimetai) by so doing (an appeal prompted not by egotism or self-confidence, but by single-hearted certainty about my message and my purpose); +and mark+, watch, in order to tread in their steps,[1] +those who so walk as you have us+, me and my missionary-brethren, +for a model+; those whose practical conduct in human life and intercourse (peripatein), seen among you day by day in its wholesomeness and truth, plainly reproduces what you remember of ours. There is need for this attention, and for this

Ver.18. discrimination. +For there are many men walking+, pursuing a line of conduct and practice, +whom I often used to tell you of+, in the days of our direct intercourse, +but+ (de) +now tell you of actually+ (kai) +with cries and tears+ (klaion), (so much has the evil grown, in extent and in depth, so awfully apparent are its issues, for this world and the world to come,) +as the enemies+, the personal enemies (tous echthrous), as if in a bad pre-eminence, +of the Cross of our+ (tou) +Christ+, that Cross of whose virtues they can say much, but whose power upon the soul they utterly ignore; +of+

Ver.19. +whom the end is perdition+, ruin of the whole being,[2] final and hopeless; +of whom the god is the belly+, (the sensual appetites, the body's degradation, not its function,) while they claim an exalted and special intimacy with the Supreme; +and their+ (he) +glory+, their boast to see deeper and to soar higher than others, +is in their shame; men whose mind is for+ (phronouten) +the things on earth+, not, as they dream, or as at least they say, for the things of an upper and super-corporeal world. No; their subtle doctrine of spirit and body -- what is it when tested in its issues? It is but a philosophy of sin; a gossamer robe over the self-indulgence which has come to be the real interest of the theorist, the real occupation of his will. All is really, with them, of the earth, earthy. Far other is the doctrine we have learned, and have striven to exemplify, at the feet of Christ.

Ver.20. For our city-home, the seat of our citizenship, and of the conduct which it demands and inspires,[3] +subsists in the heavens+, is always there, an antecedent and abiding fact (huparchei), on which we are to act in life; in that heavenly world, where the Lord is, and for which He is training us; the eternal Country of this eternal City and Home; +out of which+ (city)[4] +we are actually+ (kai) +waiting for, as our Saviour+, in the full and final sense, the +Lord Jesus Christ, who will+

Ver.21. +transfigure+ -- not annihilate, not cast away as essentially evil, but wonderfully change in its conditions, and so in its guise, in its semblance (schema) -- +the body of our humiliation+, this body, now inseparably connected with the burthens and abasements of our mortality, humbling us continually in the course of its necessities, and of its sufferings, but not therefore, in its essence, other than God's good handiwork; +to be conformed+, with a resemblance based on an essential assimilation (summorphon, morphe), +to the body of His glory+, as He resumed His blessed Body when He rose, and as He wears it now upon the Throne, and in it manifests Himself to the happy ones in their bliss; +according to+, in ways and measures conditioned only by, +the forth-putting+ (energeia) +of His ability actually to subdue to Himself all things that are+ (ta panta).

So the great passage, the pregnant chapter, ends. As it began so it closes -- with Jesus Christ. With Him His servant can never have done; "Him first, Him midst, Him last, and without end." Jesus Christ is the present joy, and the everlasting hope. His perfected righteousness is the believer's actual deep safety and repose. His unsearchable riches of personal grace and glory are the constant animation and ever-rising standard of the believer's spiritual progress. He is the eternal Antidote to our fears, and also to our sins. He is the infinite Contradiction to the least compromise, under any pretext, with evil; and He is this, among other ways, by being Himself "that blessed Hope"; "the Lord Jesus Christ, which is our Hope" (1 Tim. i.1); so that the prospect of His Return, and of what He will do for us, and for Himself (eauto), when He returns, is to be our mighty motive in the matter of practical, aye of bodily, cleanness and holiness of life.

The whole passage now before us is strongly characteristic of the New Testament way of dealing with sin. In the first place, there is no lack of urgent and explicit warning. The moral and spiritual evil is labelled unmistakably. It is pointed out as a danger not hypothetical but actual; not floating in the air, but embodied in lives and influences: "Many persons walk whom I tell you of with tears as the enemies of the cross of Christ." And of these persons, as such, it is unflinchingly said that their end is atoleia, "ruin," "perdition"; dread and hopeless word. In all this lies a lesson for our day. In many quarters the solemn utterance of warning is now almost silent; it is regarded as almost unchristian to warn sinners, even open sinners, to do anything so much out of the fashion as "to flee from the wrath to come," "the wrath which is coming upon the children of disobedience." But this is not the apostolic way, nor the Lord's way.

Yet this passage, this heart-searching appeal, while it deals with warning, does not end with it. Its strongest and chosen argument is not fear but hope; not perdition but "the coming again of our Lord Jesus Christ, and our gathering together unto Him." St Paul has to guard the Philippians against a most subtle form of sensual temptation, a masterpiece of the Enemy. In passing, and with bitter tears, he points to the gulph where that path ends. In closing, and with his whole heart, he points to the coming Lord in His benignant glory, and to the unutterable joy of our being then, finally and even in our material being, transfigured for ever into His likeness.

For our own blessing, and for that of others, let us follow this example. Whether in the pulpit to a listening throng, or in more individual approaches to other men, or when we turn in upon ourselves, and, like the Psalmists, speak to our own souls, in the most secret possible hour, let us seek to speak thus. Let us not take an opiate against the ideas of judgment, wrath, perdition -- unless, with our Bibles quite open, we are quite sure that such things are only dreams of a past religious night. Let us take urgent heed, above all for ourselves, lest we lose faith in the warnings of God. But all the while let us present to ourselves, and to others, as the great argument of all for saying "No" to specious sin, "that blessed Hope." Let us consider Jesus Christ, till He shines upon us in something of the glory of His Person and His Work. Let us wait for Him from heaven. More and more, as the years roll, and the suns set, and "that day" is approaching, let us take our place among those who "love His appearing." And as for our bodies, and His call to be pure in body as in spirit, let us continually remember that "the body is for the Lord, and the Lord for the body" (1 Cor. vi.13). Let us not merely try to reason down temptation, or to order it down, in the name of abstract rightness, or of concrete peril. Let us recollect as a glorious fact that the body is the purchased property of the Lord Jesus; that He cares for it, as His dear-bought possession; that He can, by His own Spirit, sanctify it now, through and through; and that He is coming, perhaps very soon indeed, to "transfigure it to be conformed to the body of His glory."

The whole genius of the Gospel tends to connect together, as closely as possible, holiness and happiness. They are to act and react in manifold ways in the Christian life. Holiness lies at the root of happiness, as its deep condition. But also happiness, from another point of view, waters the root of holiness, and expands its flowers, and brings its sweet fruit to fulness. "The joy of the Lord is your strength" -- your strength to say to temptation a "No" which shall be entirely willing and simple. Never shall we so tread down the tempter, and the traitor, as when we are "rejoicing in Christ Jesus," and "in the hope of the glory of God."

Then let us cultivate this blessed secret. Let us prove the power of Christ loved and looked for. In a very special sense let St Paul teach us here to apply to our present needs the force of a heavenly future, the future of His coming, and of our meeting Him and being transfigured by Him. In many directions, in the Church, this rule is being practised now with great earnestness, and with happy issues; the looking for the Lord's Return is indeed a reality to many. But in many directions it is otherwise. Christian thought and labour too often seem to limit themselves to the sphere of the present, and to forget that the goal of the Gospel is not a state of social bien-etre developed by philanthropy under the auspices, so to speak, of Christ, but an immortality of holy power and service, won for us by His merits, prepared for us by His exaltation, while we are prepared for it by His Spirit working in us. Again and again we need to remember this. The Gospel showers along its path, upon the mortal life of man, personal and social blessings of the philanthropic kind which nothing else can possibly bring down. It makes to-day infinitely important by connecting it with the eternal to-morrow. But the path is towards that to-morrow. "We look at the things not seen, for the things which are not seen are eternal." We "desire a better country, that is, an heavenly." "It doth not yet appear what we shall be; we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is."

Much current Christian teaching practically tends to drop immortality very nearly out of sight. The Lord's Return, the heavenly Life, "the liberty of the glory of the sons of God" -- these topics are either little mentioned, or treated too much as luxuries and ornaments of the Gospel. But it was not so for the Lord Jesus, and for His Apostles. And we shall find that to follow Him and them in this, as in other things, is best. It "hath the promise of the life that now is, and of that which is to come." Their doctrine of the future is much more than an antidote to death. It is the mighty animation of life. It makes altogether for present purity, and righteousness, and self-sacrificing love, in the concrete circumstances of this generation. It is the thought in which alone man can live his true life now, as a being who is made "to glorify God -- and to enjoy Him fully for ever."

As a matter of fact, no human life is so true, full, and beautiful as that which is at once assiduously attentive to present duty and service, and full of the everlasting hope. Such lives are being lived all around us. Which of my readers has not known at least one such? For me, one among many shines out in my heart radiant with a brightness all its own; it is the life of my blessed Mother. She has now been a great while with the Lord, on whom she so long believed. But the impression of what that "conversation" was is not only indelible; it lives and moves, as fresh to-day as ever. It was a busy life -- the life of a wife, a mother of many sons, a friend of many friends, the pastor's help-mate in a poor parish. It was a life of minute and devoted attention to every duty, large and little. It was a life of warm and ready sympathies, and manifold interests. But it was a life all the while of divine communion, and of an unwavering "hope full of immortality." Dear to that heart indeed were husband, children, friends, neighbours, suffering and sinning world. Very fruitful was that life for individual and social blessing, just such as the philanthropist seeks to convey. Side by side with my Father, who laboured incessantly through a long life for God and man, and for men's health as well as their salvation, my Mother lived for others in all their present needs. But the springs of what she was, and did, were within the veil. And the choice and the longing were always, in perfect harmony with every strong human affection, directed towards heaven She did indeed "wait, as for her Saviour, for the Lord Jesus Christ." And the whole result, for those whom that life affected, was a deep, strong evidence of Christianity. In her we saw the Gospel beautify the present by lifting the veil of the blessed future. We recognized the reality of Jesus Christ now by converse with one who so much desired the sight of His glory then.

As we draw to an end, let us take up the closing words of our paragraph, and read them as a special "lesson of faith." St Paul is telling us of a change yet to pass over us, over these our bodies, altogether inconceivable in kind and degree. They are to be "transfigured into conformity to the body of our Saviour's glory." Yes, it is inconceivable; in modern parlance, it is "unthinkable." "How can these things be?" Well, Scripture does not invite us to "conceive" it, to "think" it, in the sense of thinking it out. It helps us indeed elsewhere (1 Cor. xv.) with intimations and illustrations, up to a certain point; but this is not to explain, or to ask us to explain. What it does is something better; it invites us to trust a personal Agent, who understands all that He has undertaken, and who is able. "How can these things be?" Not according to this or that law, principle, or tendency, which we can divine. No; but "according to the mighty working whereby HE is able to subdue all things unto Himself."

The method of the Bible is to give us ample views of what Jesus Christ is, and then (not before) to ask us to trust Jesus Christ to DO what he says He can. He says, "I will raise you up at the last day." And He does not go on to explain. He says nothing in detail of His modus operandi. We are in absolute ignorance of it, as much as the Christians of five, or ten, or eighteen centuries ago. We do not know how. But we know Him. And He has said, "I will" -- and has died and risen again.

Shall we not rest here? It is good ground. "I know whom I have believed; and am persuaded that He is able."

And what is true of His power and promise in this great matter of our resurrection and our glory, is true of course all round the circle of His undertakings. "He can subdue all things." And therefore, not only death, and the grave, and the mysteries of matter, but also our hearts, our affections, our wills. He can "bring every thought into captivity" to the holy rule of His thought. He can "subdue our iniquities." And he can subdue also all that we know as circumstance and condition; making the crooked straight, and the rough places plain. How, we may be wholly ignorant beforehand; only, "according to the mighty working."

Lastly, it is heauto,[5] "unto HIMSELF." What a word of rest and power! Our expectation of His victories in us and for us does not terminate upon ourselves; it is never safe to terminate things there. It rises and rests in Himself. Our glorification, body and soul, is, ultimately, "unto Him"; therefore the prospect, and the desire, are boundlessly right and safe. "To subdue all things unto Himself"; so as to serve Him, to promote His ends, to do His will. Our absolute emancipation from all the limitations of both moral and material evil is "unto Himself." Emancipation on this side, it is an entire and eternal annexation on the other. The being will be fully liberated that it may fully serve -- "day and night in His temple."

"Even so, come, Lord Jesus." Come, to our full and final salvation. Come, that we, the beings whom Thou hast made, and remade, may enjoy "the liberty of the glory" (Rom. viii.21) for which we were destined in Thy love. Come, that we may be for ever happy, and strong, and free, in that wonderful world of the resurrection. Come, that we may meet again with exceeding joy the beloved ones who have gone before us, and all Thy saints, and may with them inherit the everlasting kingdom. But oh come yet more for Thyself, and for Thy glory, and to take Thy full possession. "Subdue all things," Lord Jesus, "unto Thyself." Subdue our death for ever, that our endless life may be, in all its fulness, spent for Thee.

"For Thou hast met our longings
With words of golden tone,
That we shall serve for ever
Thyself, Thyself alone;

"Shall serve Thee, and for ever,
Oh hope most sure, most fair;
The perfect love outpouring
In perfect service there." [6]

[1] skopeite: skopein usually has reference to the attention which results in avoidance; so Rom. xvi.17: parakalo skopein tous ta skandala poiountas kai ekklinate k.t.l. But here obviously the "looking" is for imitation. -- The Philippians knew St Paul's teaching, and in his attached leading disciples among them they could see it embodied.

[2] Cp. Matt. vii.13; Rom. vi.21; 2 Cor. xi.15; Heb. vi.8; 1 Pet. iv.17.

[3] I thus attempt to give the meaning of politeuma, so far as I understand it. The R.V. renders it "citizenship," and "commonwealth" in the margin. The usage of the word in Greek literature amply justifies either, and either well suits the general context. The Apostle means that Christians are citizens of the heavenly City as to their status, and are therefore "obliged by their nobility" to live, however far from their home, as those who belong to it, and represent it. What seems lacking however in the rendering of the R.V. is the idea of locality, which (to me) was clearly present to St Paul's mind in his use of politeuma here. The proof of this lies in the words ex ou just below; not ex on (ouranon) but ex ou (politeumatos): I can find no proof of the assertion (Moulton's Winer, p.177) that ex ou is a mere equivalent for hothen, and so may refer to the plural ouranoi. The rendering "seat of citizenship" seems fairly to represent politeuma thus. -- The A.V. "conversation" (Lat. conversatio, "intercourse of life") probably represents an impression of the translators that the Apostle is as it were echoing i.27, axios tu euaggeliou politeuesthe. But the imagery here is different, and definite.

[4] See note just above on ex ou.

[5] Perhaps read auta. But the translation must remain the same.

[6] F. R. Havergal.


"Now the Christians, O King, as men who know God, ask from Him petitions which are proper for Him to give and for them to receive; and thus they accomplish the course of their lives. And because they acknowledge the goodnesses of God towards them, lo! on account of them there flows forth the beauty that is in the world." -- Apology of Aristides, about A.D.130; translated by MRS RENDEL HARRIS.

chapter ix christian standing and
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