Not as though I had already attained, either were already perfect: but I follow after…
I. PAUL WAS APPREHENDED BY CHRIST or laid hold of. The reference is to the circumstances of His conversion.
1. What was it that arrested Paul? The perception of a perfection of moral character actualized before him in Christ and made possible for him through faith. Up to this time he had been seeking external things, but now with the vision of Christ there came upon him the conviction that even if he gained all these things he would still be fatally defective in the highest elements of his being. Thus, therefore, he was confronted with the great question: "Shall I go on and be content with the hollowness of Phariseeism and its inevitable issue? or shall I go back and build my life anew after the matchless pattern which has been set before me?" He could not get away till he had given it an answer.
2. There is not one who has ever come in contact with the gospel of Christ, who has not been laid hold of thus.
(1) Young man, as you have been devoting yourself to the idolatry of wealth, or to the pursuit of pleasure or ambition, you have been laid hold of. Christ has come to you through the faithful preacher, and brought you to a standstill by the death of some companion, or laid His hand upon you in sickness, and held you to your couch face to face with the question: "Have I been living a life such as an immortal man should live?"(2) My middle-aged friend, you know about this too. Christ apprehended you and asked you to revise all your theories of life when you buried your darling out of your sight; when your business went all wrong, etc.
II. PAUL DID NOT REFUSE TO LAY HOLD OF THAT WHICH JESUS SET BEFORE HIM.
1. There is here, therefore, a human agency as well as a Divine. The stopping of St. Paul in his career, the setting of the truth before him — all that was done for him. He had to choose for himself whether or no he would transfer himself from the service of the world to the service of Christ.
2. But not every one who has been laid hold of has thus responded to the Lord's appeal — the young ruler who went away sorrowful; Herod, Felix, Agrippa.
3. So with some here. They have seen the wrongness of their present career, but they have not chosen to give it up for the way of Christ; because to do so would have involved the sacrifice of all that hitherto they have cherished. But what can the world do for you, that for its sake you should put away from you the glorious heritage which Jesus promises?
III. PAUL WAS NOT CONTENT WITH A MERE PARTIAL ATTAINMENT of that which Christ had set before him.
1. If any man might have been excused for cherishing feelings of complacency it was Paul. Yet he did not go to sleep over the singularity of his conversion; nor rock himself in the cradle of his apostolic success, nor soothe himself with the opiate of his official position. No, ever his eye was fixed on Christ. The more elevated he became in character, the more elevated Christ became to him.
2. Let the distance between you and Christ shake you out of your complacency. Tell us less of what is behind. Don't be always recounting the story of your conversion. Forget even your joining the Church. Look forward.
IV. PAUL WAS NOT DISCOURAGED BECAUSE HE HAD NOT YET FULLY APPREHENDED. There is no note of despondency. His words are full of joyful exhilaration. There are three elements in this aspiration which should encourage those who grieve because they cannot realize perfection.
1. The joy of the soul is inseparably connected with the effort to reach that which is above it.
2. In this aspiration there was the evidence that he had made some progress.
3. The consciousness that he was not striving in his own might. He who helped Paul will help us. Even if we fail occasionally let us not be discouraged, for he who slips on the steep mountain is still higher up than he who is sleeping in the valley.
(W. M. Taylor, D. D.)
Parallel VersesKJV: Not as though I had already attained, either were already perfect: but I follow after, if that I may apprehend that for which also I am apprehended of Christ Jesus.