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PHILIPPIANS I. 27.
Only let your conversation be as it becometh the gospel of Christ.
ST. Paul wrote this epistle, as well as some others, from his prison at Rome: and it is manifest that "the "Lord was with him," as he had been with Joseph in similar circumstances; which rendered his confincment unspeakably more pleasant, than a splendid palace with a guilty conscience and ungovernable passions. Instead of dejection, murmurs, or resentment, we find the apostle uniformly employing the language of cheerfulness, confidence, and exultation. He declares that "to him to live “was Christ, and to die gain." All his credit, interest, business, and pleasure in life consisted in communion with Christ, and in earnest endeavours to glorify him and promote his cause: and he was sure that death, in whatever form it should arrest him, would prove his richest advantage.What a blessed religion is this, which can turn the king of terrors into a kind friend, and the loss of all terrestrial things into the most valuable of acquisitions! What, my brethren, can wealth, reputation, authority, genius, or philosphy propose, which is comparable to this? Why then should you hesitate to sell all, and purchase "the pearl of "great price?"
But, though the apostle had a longing "desire "to depart and be with Christ, as far better:" yet he was willing to continue on earth, "for the "furtherance and joy of faith" of his beloved people. As if a pardoned rebel should voluntarily submit to the inconveniences and sufferings of a dungeon, in order to recommend the clemency of his prince to other criminals; or to be helpful to those who, having likewise received mercy, were for some important purposes retained a while longer in confinement.
Hence he took occasion to exhort the Philippians in the following words, "Only let your conver"sation be, as it becometh the gospel of Christ; "that whether I come and see you, or else be ab"sent, I may hear of your affairs, that ye stand "fast in one spirit, with one mind, striving together "for the faith of the gospel; and in nothing ter"rified by your adversaries."-From the part of this exhortation contained in our text I shall endeavour,
I. To give a compendious view of the gospel of Christ:
II. To shew that this gospel, when rightly understood and truly believed, will produce a correspondent conduct and conversation :
III. To mention some leading particulars in which "a conversation becoming the gospel" more especially consists:
IV. To make some remarks on the emphatical word "only."
I. I would attempt to give a compendious view of the gospel of Christ.
We know that the word rendered gospel signifies
glad tidings; and a preacher of the gospel is a messenger or herald, bringing and publishing good news. "How beautiful upon the mountains are "the feet of them that preach the gospel of peace, " and bring glad tidings of good things?"
The Ephesians, having formed the design of building the celebrated temple of Diana, were at a loss where to procure a sufficient quantity of the finest marble, to accomplish the plan: and it is recorded that a certain person, in this emergency, found a quarry at no great distance, exactly suited to the purpose. Running therefore without delay to inform the citizens of this fortunate event, he was saluted, and afterwards called, Evangelus or The bringer of good tidings; a name of exactly the same import with that rendered a preacher of the gospel, or an evangelist. But, though his tidings were infinitely less important and joyful than our's, it may be questioned whether any whole city ever thus gladly welcomed the message of salvation and we know that in general it meets with a very different reception.
Good tidings often derive a great part of their value from their suitableness to the case of those who hear them. The promulgation of good laws and the impartial administration of justice, though valuable blessings in themselves, can give no pleasure to condemned malefactors; but a report of the king's clemency or an assurance of a pardon, would suit their case, and tend to cheer their drooping hearts. An act of grace is glad tidings to confined debtors, though it may give umbrage to their
Isa. lii, 7. Rom. x. 15.
creditors: and the arrival of a fleet with provisions, in a time of urgent famine, occasions a joy of which such as live in plenty can form no adequate conception. We must therefore understand something of our own condition, before we can cordially welcome the gospel of Christ: and inattention or mistake, in this respect, forms one grand reason why so many slight the message of salvation. But lectures on moral duties, separated from the doctrines of grace, no more meet the cause of lost sinners, than extracts from the statute-book can give comfort and hope to condemned criminals.
We may know something of our situation by facts; and the scripture further explains the humiliating and alarming subject. It cannot be denied that the world is full of crimes and miseries: this is equally certain, whether men believe or disbelieve the Bible. Even they who are averse to the doctrine of human depravity, when applied to themselves and their connexions, shew by the caution with which they transact their affairs, that they consider mankind in general as basely selfish; and he who at first disdains this sentiment, as unjust and illiberal, will be at length constrained to adopt it, or become a prey to designing men. Hence it is that incautious young persons, having been repeatedly deceived, often grow suspicious and peevish as they advance in years; and manifest their vexation by reviling this or the other class of men : as if the fault lay in their rank or profession, and were not common to the human species, however restrained, disguised, or modified; except as true religion produces an effectual change of disposition. At the same time, it is evident that all our com
which every disposition, word, and action must be tried. Now who does not feel that he has in many instances violated the reasonable and righteous commandments of God? who has not heard that "cursed is every one that continueth not in all things written in the book of the law, to do "them ?"
Thus "the scripture hath concluded all under "sin" and it was not without cause, I hope not without meaning, that we this morning added, after each of the commandments, 'Lord, have mercy upon us, and incline our hearts to keep ' this law.'
The man, who carefully compares his past and present conduct with this most strict and spiritual standard, will soon find his own conscience bring in a verdict against him: "and, if our heart con"demn us, God is greater than our heart and "knoweth all things." No repentance or amendment can compensate for past offences; because we cannot in any instance exceed our present duty; and our debt increases in proportion as we still fall short of perfect obedience. Nor can we estimate the intrinsic evil of our sins against the infinite majesty of heaven, or the punishment we deserve for our ungrateful rebellion.
When we attempt to frame our conduct by the holy law of God, we feel a surprizing reluctance and backwardness to this most reasonable service, and a strong propensity to disobedience. Evil dispositions, though common to all, are in some exceedingly strengthened by habit, and rendered ungovernable by peculiar temptations. Such men, therefore, as have serious thoughts and form good