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Philippian Studies: Chapter 4 - The Christian's Peace and the Christian's Consistency

By H. C. G. Moule

      O God, from whom all holy desires, all good counsels, and all just works do proceed; Give unto Thy servants that peace which the world cannot give; that both our hearts may be set to obey Thy commandments, and also that by Thee we being defended from the fear of our enemies may pass our time in rest and quietness; through the merits of Jesus Christ our Saviour.   Amen.

      The Second Collect at Evening Prayer.

      PHILIPPIANS i. 21-30

      He will be spared to them--Spiritual wealth of the paragraph--Adolphe Monod's exposition--Charles Simeon's testimony--The equilibrium and its secret--The intermediate bliss--He longs for their full consistency--The "gift" of suffering

      Ver. 21.   +For to me, to live is Christ+; the consciousness and experiences of living, in the body, are so full of Christ, my supreme Interest, that CHRIST sums them all up; +and to die+, the act of dying,[1] +is gain+, for it will usher me in from an existence of blessing to an existence of more blessing still.   +But+

      Ver. 22.   +if living+ on, +in the flesh+, be my lot; if the present suspense issues in my being acquitted at the Roman tribunal, +this will prove to me+ (touto moi) +fruit of work+; it will just mean so much more work for the Lord, and so much more fruit; I shall welcome it not as being the best thing in itself, as if I chose mortal life for its own sake, but because of its ceaseless opportunities for my Lord.   +And which+ alternative +I shall choose, I do not know+, I do not recognize (gnorizo, as one who seeks to be sure of the face of

      Ver.   23.   a friend amidst other faces).   +Nay+ (de), +I am held in suspense on both sides+;[2] +my+ personal +desire being[3] in the direction of departing+, striking my tent, weighing my anchor (analysai),[4] +and being with Christ+ (for this is what "departing" means for us Christians, on its other side); +for it is far, far better+, by far more preferable, pollo mallon kreisson--aye even than a "life in the flesh" which "is Christ"!   +But+

      Ver. 24.   then +the abiding by+ (epimenein) +the flesh+, the brave, faithful, holding fast to the conditions of earthly trial, +is more necessary+, more obligatory, more of the nature of duty as against pleasure, +on account of you+, and your further need of me in the Lord. And +feeling+

      Ver. 25.   +confident of this, I know that I shall remain+--aye +and shall remain side by side+ (parameno) +with you all+, as your comrade, your helper, +in order to your progress and joy in your faith+;[5] so as to promote your growth in the exercise of loyal reliance on your Lord, and in the deep joy which is the natural issue of such

      Ver. 26.   reliance; +so that your exultation may be overflowing in Christ Jesus+, in your living union with Him, +in me+ (en emoi), "in" whom you see a living example of your Lord's love, shewn to you +by means of my+

      Ver. 27.   +coming back to you again+.   +Only+, whether I am thus actually restored to you or not, +order your life[6] in a way worthy of the Gospel of Christ+ (above all, worthy of the unifying, harmonizing power of the Gospel); +so that whether coming and seeing you, or+ remaining +absent, I may hear[7] about your circumstances+, your condition, +that you are standing firm in One Spirit+,[8] in the power of the One Strengthener, and, +with one soul+, one life and love, the resultant of the One Spirit's work in you all, +wrestling side by side+, with enemies and obstacles, +for [9]the faith of the Gospel+, for the maintenance and victory of that reliance which embraces

      Ver. 28.   the truth of Christ; +and refusing to be+ (me) +scared out of that attitude in anything by your+ (ton) +opponents+, the unconverted world around you.   +Such+ (hetis) calm united courage +is to them an evidence+, a sure token, an omen, +of+ the +perdition+ which awaits the obstinate foes of holiness, +but to you of+ the +salvation+ which awaits Christ's faithful witnesses.   +And this, this+ condition of conflict and courage, +is from God+; no mere blind result of accidents, but His purpose.

      Ver. 29.   Yes, +because to you there has been granted[10] as an+ actual +boon--for the sake of Christ not only the believing on Him but also the suffering for His sake+;[11] a sacred privilege when it is involved by

      Ver. 30.   loyalty to such a Master!   So you will be +experiencing+[12] (echontes) +the same conflict in kind+ (oion) (as you wrestle side by side for your Lord against evil) +as that which you saw in me+, in my case, when I was with you in those first days (Acts xvi.), and which you now hear of in me, as I meet it in my prison at Rome.

      The translation of our present section is completed.   It has presented rather more material than usual for grammatical remark and explanation; constructions have proved to be complex, contracted, or otherwise slightly anomalous; and points of order and emphasis have claimed attention.   But I trust that this handling of the texture has only brought more vividly into sight the holy richness and brightness of the design.   Sentence by sentence, we have been reading a message of the first order of spiritual importance, as St Paul has spoken from his own experience of the Christian's wonderful happiness in life and death, and then, in his appeal to the Philippians, of the Christian's path of love and duty.

      Let us listen anew to each part of that precious message.

      i.   The Christian's Happiness in Life and Death.

      In Adolphe Monod's volume of death-bed addresses, his Adieux a ses Amis et a l'Eglise, one admirable chapter, the second, is devoted to the passage before us, Phil. i. 21-26.   From the borderland of eternity the great French Christian looks backward and forward with St Paul's letter in his hand, and comments there upon this divine possibility of "Happiness in Life and in Death."   "The Apostle," he says, "is asking here which is most worth while for him, to live or to die.   Often has that question presented itself to us, and perhaps we, like the Apostle, have answered that 'we are in a strait.'   But I fear we may have used the words in a sense far different from St Paul's.   When we have wished for death, we meant to say, 'I know not which alternative I ought most to dread, the afflictions of life, from which death would release me, or the terrors of death, from which life protects me.'   In other words, life and death look to us like two evils of which we know not which is the less.   As for the Apostle, they look to him like two immense blessings, of which he knows not which is the better.   Personally, he prefers death, in order to be with Christ.   As regards the Church and the world, he prefers life, in order to serve Jesus Christ, to extend His kingdom, and to win souls for Him.   What an admirable view of life and of death!--admirable, because it is all governed (dominiee), all sanctified, by love, and is akin to the Lord Jesus Christ's own view of life and death.   Let us set ourselves to enter into this feeling (sentiment).   Life is good; death is good.   Death is good, because it releases us from the miseries of this life, but above all because, even were life full for us of all the joys which earth can give, death bids us enter into a joy and a glory of which we can form no idea.   We are then to consider death as a thing desirable in itself.   Let us not shun what serves to remind us of it.   Let all the illnesses, all the sudden deaths, all that passes round us, remind us that for each one of us death may come at any moment.   But then life also is good, because in life we can serve, glorify, imitate, Jesus Christ.   Life is not worth the trouble of living for any other object.   All the strength we possess, all the breath, the life, the faculties, all is to be consecrated, devoted, sanctified, crucified, for the service of our Lord Jesus Christ.   This crucified life is the happy life, even amidst earth's bitterest pains; it is the life in which we can both taste for ourselves and diffuse around us the most precious blessings.   Let us love life, let us feel the value of life--but to fill it with Jesus Christ.   In order to such a state of feeling, the Holy Spirit alone can transform us into new men.   But observe; it is not only that our spirit must be sustained, consoled, fortified; the Spirit of God must come to dwell in us.   We often set ourselves to work on ourselves, to set our spirit in order; this is well, but it is not enough.   We want more.   Jesus Christ Himself must dwell in our hearts by the Holy Spirit.

      "My friends, let us reflect upon the character of the promises of the Gospel, and we shall see how far we are from possessing and enjoying them.   May God open the heavens above our heads; revealing all to us, filling us with all wisdom, granting us to see that even here below we may attain to perfect joy, while looking forward to possess hereafter the plenitude of bliss and of victory.   May He teach us how to gather up the blessings which the heavens love to pour upon the earth which opens to receive them.   And so may He teach us to know that if earth is able to bear us down and trouble us, it is unable to quench the virtues of heaven, to annul the promises of God, or to throw a veil, be it even the lightest cloud, over the love with which God has loved us in Jesus Christ."[13]

      "He being dead yet speaketh."   On his bed of prolonged and inexpressible sufferings Monod, called comparatively early to leave a life and ministry of singular fruitfulness and rich in interests, found in Jesus the inexhaustible secret of this blessed equilibrium of St Paul.   And what a cloud of witnesses have borne their testimony to that same open secret, as the most solid while most supernatural of realities!   As I write, the memory comes up before me of a beloved friend and kinsman, my contemporary at Cambridge, called unexpectedly to die in his twenty-second year.   Life to him was full of the strongest interests and most attractive hopes, alike in nature and in grace.   He had no quarrel with life; it had poured out before him a rich store of social and mental blessings, and a large wealth of surrounding love, and the Lord Jesus, taking early and decisive possession of the young man's heart, had only augmented and glorified, not rebuked or stunted, every interest.   But a slight fever, caught in the Swiss hotel, was medically mismanaged, and when perfect skill was summoned in, it was too late.   His mother came to her son on his sofa to tell him that he was not only, as he knew, very poorly; he was about to die.   In a moment, without a change of colour, without a tremor, without a pause, smiling a radiant smile, he looked up and answered, "Well, to depart and to be with Christ is far better!"

      So the young Christian passed away, exchanging life which was sweet for death which, because of the life it would reveal, was sweeter.   And "the veterans of the King" say just the same.   If ever a man enjoyed life, with a vigorous and conscious joy, it was Simeon of Cambridge. And till the age of exactly seventy-seven he was permitted to live with a powerful life indeed; a life full of affections, interests, enterprises, achievements, and all full of Christ.   Yet in that energetic and intensely human soul "the desire was to depart and to be with Christ."   It was no dreamy reverie; but it was supernatural. It stimulated him to unwearied work; but it was breathed into him from eternity.   "I cannot but run with all my might," he wrote in the midst of his youthful old age, "for I am close to the goal."

      It is indeed a phenomenon peculiar to the Gospel, this view of life and death.   It is far more than resignation.   It is different even from the "holy indifference" of the mystic saints.   For it is full of warmth, and sympathy, and all the affections of the heart, in both directions.   The man who is the happy possessor of this secret does not on the one hand go about saying to himself that all around him is maya, is a dream, a phantasm of the desert sands counterfeiting the waters and the woods of Eden.   He is as much alive in human life as the worldling is, and more.   He cordially loves his dear ones; he is the open-hearted friend, the helpful neighbour, the loving and loyal citizen and subject, the attentive and intelligent worker in his daily path of duty.   Time with its contents is full of reality and value to him.   He does not hold that the earth is God-forsaken.   With his Lord (Ps. civ.), he "rejoices in the works" of that Lord's hands; and, with the heavenly Wisdom (Prov. viii.), "his delights are with the sons of men."   But on the other hand, he does not banish from his thoughts as if it were unpractical the dear prospect of another world.   He is not foolish enough to talk of "other-worldliness," as if it were a selfish thing to "lay up treasure in heaven," and so to have "his heart there also."   For him the present could not possibly be what it is in its interests, affections, and purposes, if it were not for the revealed certainties of an everlasting future in the presence of the King.   "He faints not," in the path of genuine temporal toil and duty, because "he looks at the things which are not seen."

      But now, what is the secret of the equilibrium?   We saw in our last chapter what was the secret of the unruffled peace with which St Paul could meet the exquisite trials occasioned by the separatist party at Rome.   It was the Lord Jesus Christ.   And the secret of the far more than peace with which here he meets the alternative of life and death is precisely the same; it is the Lord Jesus Christ.   He has no philosophy of happiness; he has something infinitely better; he has the Lord.   What gives life its zest and charm for him?   It is, that life "is Christ."   What makes death an object of positive personal "desire" for him, matched, let us remember, against a "life" with which he is so deeply contented?   It is, that "to depart" is to be with Christ, which is "far, far better."   On either side of the veil, Jesus Christ is all things to him.   So both sides are divinely good; only, the conditions of the other side are such that the longed-for companionship of his MASTER will be more perfectly realized there.

      We might linger long over this golden passage.   It would give us matter for more than one chapter to unfold adequately, for example, its clear witness to the conscious and immediate blessedness in death of the servants of God.   We may ponder long what it implies in this direction when we remember that its "far, far better" means "better" not than our present life at its worst but than our present life at its holiest and best; for, as we have observed already, it is "far, far better" than a life here which "is Christ."   Whatever mysteries attend the thought of the Intermediate State, and however distinctly we remember that the disembodied spirit must, as such, be circumstanced less perfectly than the spirit lodged again in the body, "the body of glory," yet this at least we gather here; the believer's happy spirit, "departing" from "this tabernacle," finds itself not in the void, not in the dark, not under penal or disciplinary pain, but in a state "far, far better" than its very best yet.   It is, in a sense so much better in degree as to be new in kind, "with Christ."

      "Yes, think of all things at the best; in one rich thought unite All purest joys of sense and soul, all present love and light; Yet bind this truth upon thy brow and clasp it to thy heart, And then nor grief nor gladness here shall claim too great a part-- All radiance of this lower sky is to that glory dim; Far better to depart it is, for we shall be WITH HIM." [14]

      ii.   But even on this theme I must not linger now.   Not only because "the time would fail me," but because we have to remember that the main incidence of the Apostle's thought here is not upon the blessedness of death but upon the joy of duty, the "fruit of labour," in continued life.   He looks in through the gate, not to sigh because he may not enter yet, but "to run with all his might," in the path of unselfish service, "because he is close to the goal"--the goal of being with Christ, to whom he will belong for ever, and whom he will serve for ever, "day and night in His temple."   He "knows that he shall remain, and that, side by side with" his dear converts at Philippi. And his "meat is to do the will of Him that sent him, and to finish His work."

      The remainder of our chosen portion is altogether to this purpose.   He has said enough about himself now, having just indicated how much Christ can be to him for peace and power in the great alternative.   Now his thoughts are wholly at Philippi, and he spends himself on entreating them to live indeed, to live wholly for Christ; and to do so in two main respects, in self-forgetting unity, and in the recognition of the joy and glory of suffering.

      "Only let them order their life in a way worthy of the Gospel of Christ."   "Only"; as if this were the one possible topic for him now. This will content him; nothing else will.   He "desires one thing of the Lord"--the practical holiness of his beloved converts; and he cannot possibly do otherwise, coming as he has just come from "the secret of the presence," felt in his own experience.   Will they be watchful and prayerful?   Will they renounce the life of self-will, and entirely live for their Lord's holy credit and glory?   Will they particularly surrender a certain temptation to jealousies and divisions?   Will they recollect that Christ has so committed Himself to them to manifest to the world that it is the "only" thing in life, after all, in the last resort, to be practically true to Him?   Then the Missionary will be happy; his "joy will be fulfilled."

      What pastor, what evangelist, what worker of any true sort for God in the souls of others, does not know something of the meaning of that "only" of the Apostle's?

      Then he passes, by a transition easy indeed in the case of the Philippian saints, to the subject of suffering.   In that difficult scene, the Roman colonia, to be perfectly consistent, must mean, in one measure or another, to suffer; it must mean to encounter "adversaries," such open adversaries, probably, as those who had dragged Paul and Silas to the judgment seat and the dungeon, ten years before.   How were they to meet that experience, or anything resembling it?   Not merely with resignation, nor even with resolution, but with a recognition of the joy, nay of the "gift," of "suffering for His sake."

      Circumstances infinitely vary, and so therefore do sufferings.   The Master assigns their kinds and degrees, not arbitrarily indeed but sovereignly; and it is His manifest will that not all equally faithful Christians should equally encounter open violence, or even open shame, "for His sake."   But it is His will also, definitely revealed, that suffering in some sort, "for His name's sake," should normally enter into the lot of "all that will live godly in Christ Jesus."   Even in the Church there is the world.   And the world does not like the allegiance to Christ which quite refuses, however modestly and meekly, to worship its golden image.   To the end, pain must be met with in the doing here on earth of the "beloved will of God."

      But this very pain is "a gift" from the treasures of heaven.   Not in itself; pain is never in itself a good; the perfect bliss will not include it; "there shall be no more pain."   But in its relations and its effects it is "a gift" indeed.   For to the disciple who meets it in the path of witness and of service for his Master amongst his fellows, it opens up, as nothing else can do, the fellowship of the faithful, and the heart of JESUS.

      [1] Observe the aorist infinitive, to apothanein, of the crisis, dying, contrasted with the present infinitive, to zen, of the process, living.--It may be noticed that the renderings of Luther, Christus ist mein Leben, and Tindale, Christ is to me lyfe, are untenable, though expressing as a fact a deep and precious truth.   The Apostle is obviously dealing with the characteristics, not the source, of "living."

      [2] Sunechomai: literally, "I am confined, restricted from the two (sides)"; as if to say, "I am hindered as to my choice, whichever side you view me from."

      [3] Literally, "having the desire"; not "a desire," which misses the point of the words.   He means that his epithymia lies in one direction, his conviction of call and duty in the other.   The desire, the element of personal longing in him, is for "departing."

      [4] The Vulgate renders here, cupio dissolvi, as if analysai meant, so to speak, to "analyse" myself into my elements, to separate my soul from my body.   But the usage of the verb, in the Greek of the Apocrypha, is for the sense given in our Versions, and above; to "break up," in the sense of "setting out."

      [5] Literally, "your progress and joy of the faith."   The Greek suggests the connexion of both "progress" and "joy" with "faith."   And St Paul's general use of the word pistis favours its reference here not to the objective creed but to the subjective reliance of the holder of the creed.

      [6] Politeuesthe: literally, "live your citizen-life."   But in its usage the verb drops all explicit reference to the polites, and means little more than "live"; in the sense however not of mere existence, or even of experience, but of a course of principle and order.   See Acts xxiii. 1, the only other N.T. passage where it occurs; and 2 Macc. vi. 1, xi. 25.

      [7] The words suggest to us that the Apostle might have written, more fully and exactly, hina ido, ean eltho, kai hina akouso, ean apo.   But it is best to retain in translation the somewhat lax grammatical form of the Greek.

      [8] The parallels, 1 Cor. xii. 13, Eph. ii. 18, strongly favour the reference of pneuma here to the Holy Spirit of God.

      [9] It is of course possible to translate synathlountes te piotei, "wrestling side by side with the faith," as if "the faith" was the Comrade of the believers.   But the context is not favourable to this; the emphasis seems to lie throughout on the believers' fellowship with one another.

      [10] Echaristhe: the English perfect best represents here the Greek aorist.

      [11] The Greek may be explained as if the Apostle had meant to write, echaristhn to uper Christou paschein, and then freely inserted the antecedent fact of to pioieuein.

      [12] Echontes: the nominative participle takes us back grammatically to the construction previous to the sentences beginning hetis eotin k.t.a.; which sentences may be treated as a parenthesis.   I have attempted to convey this in a paraphrase.

      [13] Adieux, ed. 1857, pp. 10-12.

      [14] From the writer's volume of verse, In the House of the Pilgrimage.

         "Lord, we expect to suffer here,
            Nor would we dare repine;
         But give us still to find Thee near,
            And own us still for Thine.

         "Let us enjoy, and highly prize,
            These tokens of Thy love,
         Till Thou shalt bid our spirits rise
            To worship Thee above."

Back to H. C. G. Moule index.

See Also:
   Preface and Introduction
   Chapter 1 - Introductory
   Chapter 2 - The Intimacy of Human Hearts in Christ
   Chapter 3 - The Apostle's Position and Circumstances
   Chapter 4 - The Christian's Peace and the Christian's Consistency
   Chapter 5 - Unity in Self-Forgetfulness: The Example of the Lord
   Chapter 6 - The Lord's Power in the Disciple's Life
   Chapter 7 - Timotheus And Epaphroditus
   Chapter 8 - Joy in the Lord and its Preserving Power
   Chapter 9 - Christian Standing and Christian Progress
   Chapter 10 - The Blessed Hope and its Power
   Chapter 11 - Purity and Peace in the Present Lord
   Chapter 12 - The Collection for St Paul: The Farewell


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