(For many walk, of whom I have told you often, and now tell you even weeping, that they are the enemies of the cross of Christ:
The text is a parenthesis enclosing, like some good garden, flowers of apostolic virtue and weeds of Philippian wickedness.
I. THE FIDELITY OF THE APOSTLE is commended by —
1. His warning," I have told you." As wisdom hath eyes to note evils, so faithfulness hath a tongue to notify them. We are seers of God in respect of our eyes, and prophets in respect of our tongues. We are blind guides if we see not, and dumb dogs if we give not warning of what we see. We should not be like dials or watches to teach the eye, but like clocks and 'larums to ring in the ear. God will never thank us for keeping His counsel, but for divulging it. The prophet prays, "Set a door before my lips," not a wall, but a door that may be seasonably let loose and free when convenience or necessity require it. If I see a blind man walking towards some deep pit and do not warn him, I am not less guilty of his death than if I had thrust him down (Ezekiel 33:7). A sleeping sentinel is the loss of a whole city.
2. The frequence of the warning — not once or seldom, but often. St. Paul feared not tautology, rather like a skilful workman he beats still on the same anvil. There can never be too much warning where there can never be enough heed. Nice ears are all for variety of doctrines; as palates of meats. St. Paul hates to feed this wanton humour, and tells them this single diet is safe for them. We tell over the same coins, and spend night after day in the same game without weariness. There is an itch of the ear which St. Paul foresaw would prove epidemical in latter times. Too many pulpits are full of curious affectations, new crochets, strange mixtures of opinions, insomuch that old and plain forms are grown stale and despicable. There cannot be a more certain argument of a decayed and sickly stomach than the loathing of wholesome and solid food, and longing after new and artificial composition. O foolish Israelites, with whom too much frequence made the food of angels contemptible. "The full despiseth the honeycomb," and there are many thus full of the world and sinful corruptions. But for us let not these dainties of heaven lose their worth for their store. Often inculcation of warnings necessarily implies danger, and there is much danger of the infection of evil.
3. The passion — "Weeping." What is it that could wring tears from those eyes? Even the same that fetched them from our Saviour, and from all eyes that pretend to holiness — compassion of sinners. What shall I say to such as make merry with sin? O that we should laugh at that for which our Saviour wept and bled. Tears do well in the pulpit. As it is in the buckets of some pumps, that water must be first poured down into them ere they can fetch up water in abundance; so must our tears be let down to fetch up more from our hearers. Worldly men as they have hard hearts have dry eyes, but the tender hearts of God's children are ever lightly attended with weeping eyes. And if good men spend tears on sinners how much more ought sinners to weep for themselves. See who it was for whom Paul wept: dogs and the concision. So, then, Christ's charitable children should not desire or rejoice in the destruction of those who profess hostility against them. Every man can mourn for the fall of a friend, but to be thus deeply affected with the sins or judgments of wicked persons is incident to none but a tender and charitable heart. God's children are like their Father (1 Timothy 2:4: Ezekiel 18:23; Ezekiel 33:11).
II. THE WICKEDNESS OF THE FALSE TEACHERS.
1. Their number — "many." Note, then, that the rarity of conscionable men should make them more observed and valued, as grains of gold amidst the rubbish of the ore and dust. Paucity is wont to carry contempt with it; but with Christians one is worth more than a thousand. It is better to follow one Noah into the ark than to perish with a world of unbelievers. "Many" are opposed to "us." It is not for us to stand upon the fear of an imputation of singularity: we may not do as the most, but as the best, The world is apt to make an ill use of multitude: on the one side arguing the better part by the greater, on the other arguing mischief tolerable because abetted by many. If the first should hold good paganism would carry it from Christianity, and hell from heaven. "Thou shalt not follow a multitude to do evil." What abatement of torment will it be to be condemned with many. If the second, that which heightens evils should plead for their immunity, so none but weak mischiefs should receive opposition. Strong thieves should escape while petty pilferers should be punished. Away with this base pusillanimity. If the devils can say "my name is legion," let your powerful commands cast them out.
2. Their motion — "walk."(1) Natural. Walking is living. Every minute is a new pace. None can stop our passage. Whether we do something or nothing we move on by insensible steps toward our long home.
(2) Voluntary. So the wicked ones walk like their setter (Job 1:7). Wickedness is seldom other than active.
(3) Walking implies an ordinary mode of life. It is not a step, or a pace, that can make a walk, but a proceeding on with many shirtings of our feet. It is no judging of a man by one action. The best man may step aside as David and Peter — but their walk was in the ways of God's commandments. What is the course of men's lives? If drunkenness, debauchery, etc., their walk is an ill way to an evil end; pity those and labour to reclaim them. But if their general course be holy it is not a particular miscarriage that can be a just ground of censure.
3. Their quality — "Enemies of the Cross of Christ." But who can but hate that which was the cause of the death of our best Friend. Surely we love not Christ if we hate not what was accessory to His murder. But if we regard it as improved by Christ for man we must love it. The cross was the death that gives us life; so that we cannot be at once enemies of the Cross and friends of the crucified.
(1) As Christ, so His Cross has many false friends who are no other than enemies. Unjust favours are as injurious as derogations. To deify a saint is as bad as devilizing him. Romanists exceed in this way their devotions to the Cross; whose friendship to the altar is a defiance to the sacrifice.
(2) The Philippian Pseudapostles were enemies.
(a) In doctrine, who joined circumcision and other legalities with the Cross, so by a pretended partnership detracting from the virtue of Christ's death. And so, now how palpable enemies are they who hold Christ's satisfaction imperfect without ours.
(b) In practice, viz., those who shift off persecution by conformity to the present world — caring more for a whole skin than a sound soul — and loose livers. Christ's Cross is our redemption from sin; and those who wilfully sin frustrate the Cross and mock at redemption (Galatians 2:20).
4. Their end. A woeful condition beyond all thoughts. Here is every circumstance that may add horror to a condition.
(1) Suddenness (Psalm 37:2; Isaiah 5:24; Proverbs 10:25; Psalm 73:19).
(2) Extremity. The wrath of God is as Himself infinite.
(3) Impossibility of release. If the torment might have an end there were some comfort. O mad sinners, that for a little momentary contentment east themselves into everlasting perdition!
Parallel VersesKJV: (For many walk, of whom I have told you often, and now tell you even weeping, that they are the enemies of the cross of Christ: