But I would you should understand, brothers…
But I would ye should understand, brethren, that the things which happened unto me have fallen out rather unto the furtherance of the gospel; so that my bonds in Christ are manifest in all the palace, and in all other places; and many of the brethren in the Lord, waxing confident by my bonds, are much more bold to speak the word without fear. Some indeed preach Christ even of envy and strife; and some also of good will: the one preach Christ of contention, not sincerely, supposing to add affliction to my bonds: but the other of love, knowing that I am set for the defense of the gospel. What then? Notwithstanding, every way, whether in pretense, or in truth, Christ is preached; and I therein do rejoice, yea, and will rejoice. In all probability the Philippian Christians, as well, perhaps, as most other of the existing Churches that he had planted, would fear that his imprisonment at Rome would prevent the spread of the gospel. Here he assures them of the contrary, and tells them that it had "fallen out rather unto the furtherance of the gospel." In these words we discover two very important subjects of thought.
I. A GRAND PRINCIPLE IN THE GOVERNMENT OF THE WORLD. What is the principle? The overruling of evil for good. Nothing would seem a greater evil in the early dawn of Christianity than the imprisonment of St. Paul. There, banished from his own country, bound in bonds, imprisoned by the Praetorian Guard, chained day and night to some Roman soldier, utterly unable to go beyond the limited scene of his imprisonment, or to address - as he had often done - vast multitudes. There he was for two long years. During that period it would seem as if the sun of Christianity had gone down to rise no more, leaving the world to go back into Jewish and Gentile darkness, intolerance, and superstition. But here the apostle says it was not so. It helped, not hindered, the onward march of gospel truth. He indicates here how it tended in this direction.
1. By extending its knowledge in the imperial city. "So that my bonds in Christ ['margin, 'for Christ'] are manifest in all the palace, and in all other places." Or, as Dr. Samuel Davidson renders it, "So that my bonds became manifest in all the Praetorian Guard, and in all the rest." All the Praetorian regiments, who, of course, were the most numerous and influential men in the imperial city - the city which conquered the world - would, of course, guard the apostle by turns, and to each and all who were in special connection with him at the time he, of course, would not only reveal his own morally noble and soul-commanding character, but earnestly expound that grand system of world-wide philanthropy for which he was in bonds. In this way the gospel would spread in Rome from soldier to soldier, and from the soldiers to the civilians. Perhaps there could have been no way more effective of spreading the gospel than this.
2. By encouraging the work of propagation. "Many of the brethren in the Lord, waxing confident by my bonds, are much more bold to speak the word without fear." "There is," says Dr. Barry, "a twofold sense here, corresponding to the twofold division of preachers made below. Those who preached Christ 'of contention' trusted in St. Paul's captivity as giving them scope; those who preached of 'good will' found in it a striking example of evil overruled for good, and so gained from it fresh encouragement." The expression, "many of the brethren," of course implies not all, and those who did not were Judaizing Christians and were affected with enmity towards Paul, and would preach in their own spirit and in their own way; whilst the others, "the many," would by the noble conduct of Paul as a prisoner, and by the constantly extending circulation of the gospel through the Prtetorian regiments take encouragement and catch inspiration. Here, then, is an example of the principle of evil being overruled for good. "A strange chemistry of providence this," says Matthew Henry, in his quaint way, "to extract so great a good as the enlargement of the gospel out of so great an evil as the confinement of the apostle." Three remarks may be offered in relation to this principle.
(1) That the known character of God authorizes the inference that this would be the principle on which he would proceed in the moral management of the universe. It is scarcely possible to entertain the belief that a Being of infinite holiness, possessing a wisdom that nothing can baffle, and a power that nothing can resist, would allow evil to run riot for ever in his empire, and make no effort to subordinate it to the advancement of spiritual excellence and happiness. Shall error triumph over truth, wrong over right, the devil over God? Incredible. Antecedently I am bound to conclude that a time will come when the sun of goodness shall scatter from the heavens every cloud of evil, however widespread and dense.
(2) That the Bible supplies abundant statements to support this belief. We read that the little stone - that is, goodness - shall not only shatter the colossal image - that is, evil - but shall itself grow till it becomes a mountain to fill the whole earth. We read of the knowledge of God covering the earth as the waters cover the channels of the great deep. We read of the "restitution of all things." We read of the "kingdoms of this world becoming the kingdoms of our Lord, and of his Christ;" and of things being put into subjection to Christ; of "all things working together for good to them that love God," etc.
(3) That the history of the world is a grand exemplification of this principle. The introduction of sin into the world is a tremendous evil; but how much good has come out of it! What glorious manifestations it has occasioned of God! what moral heroes it has been the means of creating amongst men! The crucifixion of Christ was evil in the most gigantic form; but to what good has the infinitely good One turned it! "Him being delivered by the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God, ye have taken, and by wicked hands have crucified and slain." I rejoice to believe in this principle of good overruling evil; it inspires in me the hope that the time will come when every human intellect shall be freed from error, every human conscience from guilt, every human heart from pain, when all the groans of the human creation shall be hushed in eternal silence, and the flames of all hells extinguished for ever.
II. A SPLENDID EXAMPLE FOR THE IMITATION OF PREACHERS. "Some indeed preach Christ even of envy and strife; and some also of good will," etc. Observe:
1. The apostle speaks of two classes in his day. One preached from a factious, or a party, spirit. They preached from "envy and strife." This shows beyond question that the Judaizing party - the bitter antagonists of Paul - were at work in Rome, preaching in their way the gospel; preaching it, not from pure love to Christ and souls, but to gratify their own factious spirit and to serve their own little sect. A sectarian preaching of the gospel has, alas! ever been common; it is rampant to-day in England - men preaching for sects rather than for souls. The other class of preachers in Rome were those who preached of "good will" and "of love." These had in them that love of Christ which constrained them to proclaim the gospel. They had no factious spirit; they were neither of the party of Cephas nor of Paul, but of Christ only; they knew "nothing amongst men save Jesus Christ, and him crucified." Oh that we had more of such preachers in this age! John Wesley, in modern times, was one of the splendid examples of this class of preachers; he broke himself off from all sects, and would, I have no doubt, have recoiled with pain at the idea of a sect ever being formed bearing his name.
2. The apostle's sublime magnanimity in relation to all preachers. "What then? Notwithstanding, every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is preached; and I therein do rejoice, yea, and will rejoice." He overlooks the motives that prompt men to proclaim Christ in his exultation in the fact that Christ was preached. The motives belong to God, and he will deal with them; the message is for humanity, and its proclamation by every tongue would render service. Should we not enter into this spirit? If the gospel is preached, whether by Papists or Protestants, Ritualists or Evangelicals, Churchmen or Dissenters, what matters to us so long as it is preached? So long as the clarion sends its blast to warn those who have never before heard of the approaching danger, what matters it whose lungs supply the breath? Let us try to catch the magnanimous spirit of Paul, and to imitate his splendid example in this respect.
"I saw one man, armed simply with God's Word,
Enter the soul of many fellow-men,
And pierce them sharply as a two-edged sword,
While conscience echoed back his words again,
Till, even as showers of fertilizing rain
Sink through the bosom of the valley clod,
So their hearts opened to the wholesome pain,
And hundreds knelt upon the flowery sod,
One good man's earnest prayer the link 'twixt them and God? ? D.T.
Parallel VersesKJV: But I would ye should understand, brethren, that the things which happened unto me have fallen out rather unto the furtherance of the gospel;