Howbeit what things were gain to me, these have I counted loss for Christ. Yea verily, and I count all things to be loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord: for whom I suffered the loss of all things, and do count them but dung, that I may gain Christ, and be found in him, not having a righteousness of mine own, even that which is of the law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which is of God by faith.—Php_3:7-9.
1. The Apostle indulges here in spiritual paradox. He speaks of losses that were gains, and of gains that were losses. And we shall understand him only if we remember that life is to be considered from two sides—from the outside and the inside, from the external and the internal, from the visible and the invisible, from the physical and the spiritual. He who comes to the Bible, more particularly the later portion of it, in order to understand it must see life as it does, must climb to its vantage ground, and breathe its bracing air. It is characteristic of the Word of God that it is always looking at life from the inside and not the outside, from the interior and not the exterior, from the invisible and not the visible, from the eternal and not the temporal, from the spiritual and not the physical. He, therefore, who would come to an adequate comprehension of the genius of the Word of God, and who would possess himself of the clues by which its spiritual paradoxes are to be rendered clear, must look at life through its eyes, and from its heights.
2. Notice, then, that this is not the utterance of youth, impassioned, and therefore hasty; sanguine of imagined good, and pouring out its prodigal applause. It is Paul, the man, who speaks, with ripened wisdom on his brow, and gathering around him the experience of years. It is Paul, the aged, who speaks, who is not ignorant of what he says, who has rejoiced in the excellent knowledge through all the vicissitudes of a veteran’s life, alike amid the misgivings of a Church and the perils of his journeys, alike when first worshipped and then stoned at Lystra, in the prison at Philippi, and in the Areopagus at Athens; alike when in the early council it strengthened him, “born out of due time,” to withstand to the face Peter, the elder Apostle, because he was to be blamed, and when, melted into almost womanly tenderness on the seashore at Miletus, it nerved him for the heartbreaking of that sad farewell; alike when buffeting the wintry blasts of the Adriatic, and when standing, silver-haired and solitary, before the bar of Nero. It is he of amplest experience who has tried it under every conceivable circumstance of mortal lot, who, now that his eye has lost its early fire, and the spring and summer are gone from him, feels its genial glow in the kindly winter of his years. Where can we find testimony more conclusive and valuable?
What Paul Renounced
1. Paul gives a catalogue of the gains that once were his.
(1) They include, to begin with, inherited privileges. First: “circumcised the eighth day.” His parents were neither heathen nor sons of Ishmael. He was not a proselyte, but a born Jew. Second: “of the stock of Israel.” He was regularly descended from the founder of the race. “Are they Israelites? so am I.” Third: “of the tribe of Benjamin.” This was one of the most distinguished of the tribes. It was the tribe of the first king. It was the tribe which was alone faithful to Judah in the great division. Fourth: “a Hebrew of the Hebrews.” Lightfoot says: “Many of those whose descent was unimpeachable and who inherited the faith of the Mosaic law, yet, as living among heathens, adopted the language and conformed to the customs of the people around them. Not so were the forefathers of Saul of Tarsus. There had been no Hellenist among them. They were all strict Hebrews from first to last.” For Paul, therefore, to say that he was a strict Hebrew, or a Hebrew of Hebrews, was more than for him to say that he was an Israelite. The Hebrew was of the inner circle of the Israelites. These were the inherited privileges of the Apostle.
(2) He proceeds to enumerate certain other privileges which depended on his own personal choice and activity. First: “as touching the law, a Pharisee.” This was as much as to say that he attached himself to the party which was most scrupulous in its ritualistic observances. Possibly he meant to say more than this; but this much it is quite certain he intended to affirm. Second: “as touching zeal, persecuting the Church.” No man of the Jewish faith had been more determined and energetic in his opposition to the new way. Third: “as touching the righteousness which is in the law, found blameless.” There was nothing more for him to do than he had done to make his righteousness as prescribed by the law complete. But he was careful to insert the words “which is in the law,” for he had come to have a new view of righteousness, a view reaching down far deeper and rising far higher than any he had ever known till he found it in Christ. But according to his former standard and method of righteousness he was “blameless.”
It is with the Christian life as with the block of marble out of which the artist calls the statue. The first blow of the hammer and chisel will take off a rough, rude block of marble. The next will remove similar fragments; but as the image advances to perfection, only powdered dust flies with each stroke, which is shaping the perfect conception into actual form. At the beginning there are multitudes of things which the believer recognizes that he must count loss, but afterwards he discovers renewed evidences of dissimilarity and incongruity, which must be removed if he is to be brought into the likeness of his Lord.1 [Note: S. H. Tyng.]
Paul renounces not only sin, and all self-righteousness, but privileges, gifts and capacities, in order to possess himself of the supreme treasure. It is not enough that, when once you are truly converted, you have the earnest desire to have all these devoted to the service of the Lord. The desire is good, but can neither teach the way nor give the strength to do it acceptably. Incalculable harm has been done to the deeper spirituality of the Church by the idea that when once we are God’s children the using of our gifts in His service follows as a matter of course. No; for this there is indeed needed very special grace. And the way in which the grace comes is again that of sacrifice and surrender. When Christ has accepted them, and set His stamp upon them, we receive them back, to hold them as His property, to wait on Him for the grace to use them aright.1 [Note: A. Murray. Abide in Christ, 115.]
2. Now, the things that Paul renounced were not without intrinsic value. There is something remarkable in the way in which the Apostle refers to the past, and the respectful manner in which he speaks of the faith of his fathers, and of his youth. It is often a sign rather of servility than of independence, when men vilify their former selves. The Apostle had not renounced Judaism in any moment of passion, or in any prejudice of novelty. Strong convictions had forced him out of his old belief. He had emerged into a faith purer and far more satisfying. But there were memories connected with the fulfilled dispensation which he would not willingly let die. There were phases of his own inner life there. For long years Judaism had been to him his only interpreter of the Divine, the only thing that met a religious instinct active beyond that of ordinary men. The grounds of trust which he now found to be insufficient had been the halting places of his soul in its progress from the delusive to the abiding, from the shadowy to the true. He could not forget that there hung around the system he had abandoned an ancient and traditional glow. It was of God’s own architecture; the pattern and its gorgeous ceremonial had been given by Himself in the mount; all its furniture spoke of Him in sensuous manifestation and magnificent appeal. His breath had quivered upon the lips of its prophets, and had lashed its seers into their sacred frenzy. He was in its temple service, and in its holy of holies; amid shapes of heavenly sculpture, the light of His presence ever rested in merciful repose. How could the Apostle assail it with wanton outrage or flippant sarcasm? True, it had fulfilled its mission, and now that the age of spirituality and power had come, it was no longer needed; but the halo was yet upon its brow and, like the light which lingers above the horizon long after the setting of the sun, there shone about it a dim but heavenly splendour. While, however, the Apostle was not slow to confess that there was glory in that which was to be done away, he was equally bold in affirming its absolute worthlessness in comparison with the yet greater glory of that which remained—“What things were gain to me, those I counted loss for Christ.”
As the painter rubs off half of his gold leaf ere the letters which he is painting on the sign-board appear distinctly—so, much of what is precious in life has to be taken away ere God’s glory is fulfilled in us, and our title as Christ’s disciples is made manifest.1 [Note: Hugh Macmillan.]
Gregory Nazianzen, a foremost Father of the Christian Church, rejoiced that he was well versed in the Athenian philosophy; and why do you think he rejoiced in that? Because he had to give it all up when he became a Christian; and, said he, “I thank God that I had a philosophy to throw away.”2 [Note: C. H. Spurgeon.]
3. The most precious things have no value compared with Christ. The things which Paul declares to be loss are the very things which, before he attained to the knowledge of Christ, he esteemed to be the most precious, and which were truly so—righteousness according to the Law, and the various things which constitute that righteousness. This righteousness, before Christ came into the world, was the most precious thing in the world; and could it ever have been true and perfect, it would have been precious, not only in the sight of man, but of God. Seeing, however, that it never had been perfect,—seeing that from the frailty of human nature it never could be otherwise than very imperfect,—seeing that the pursuit of it led men to magnify themselves, and drew them away from Him who alone could give them what they were seeking, a righteousness acceptable in the sight of God,—this too is declared by the Apostle to be loss. So too is it still loss, when men strive after moral excellence by following the laws of their own reason, instead of seeking that excellence in the only way in which we can really attain to it, by a living communion with the Spirit of Christ. For this is the only way to real moral excellence. All other ways lead us far from it. For all other ways lead us to exalt ourselves, to glorify our own understanding, to magnify our own will; and here also it holds as a never-failing truth, that he who exalts himself shall be abased.
It would be a positive loss if a man were to shut up his windows and to go on working by candle-light when the sun is riding through the sky. It would be a loss if, instead of receiving good sterling money for the wages of your labour, you were to receive false money. It would be a loss if, when by going to the right you might have picked up a fine diamond, or other precious stone, you had unluckily turned to the left, and brought home nothing but dirt and frippery. So is it a loss if, when God has shown forth all His goodness and mercy in Christ, we turn away from Christ and give ourselves up to the pursuit and love of the creature. It is a loss if we persist in creeping and crawling along amid the things of the earth, when Christ has sent His spirit to bear our hearts and souls up to heaven.1 [Note: J. C. Hare.]
If we were truly to desire Christ to abide always with us, He would never go away. What a life of benediction and joy we should live if He were indeed always with us! Unbroken communion with Him would hold heaven close about us all the while, and thus these sordid earthly lives of ours would be permeated and struck through with the sweetness and fragrance of holiness, and transformed into the likeness of Christ Himself. Then all life’s experiences would be transfigured. Joy would be purer, and even sorrow would be illumined. All through life this should be our continual prayer; then in death our earthly communion shall brighten into heavenly glory.2 [Note: J. R. Miller.]
For us,—whatever’s undergone,
Thou knowest, willest what is done.
Grief may be joy misunderstood;
Only the Good discerns the good.
I trust Thee while my days go on.
Whatever’s lost, it first was won;
We will not struggle nor impugn.
Perhaps the cup was broken here,
That Heaven’s new wine might show more clear.
I praise Thee while my days go on.
I praise Thee while my days go on;
I love Thee while my days go on:
Through dark and dearth, through fire and frost,
With emptied arms and treasure lost,
I thank Thee while my days go on.3 [Note: Elizabeth Barrett Browning, “De Profundis.”]
What Paul Gained
1. The Apostle sums up his gain in one word—Christ. But he would not have us suppose that his renunciation was such as to merit or purchase for him the one gain. Jesus Christ is God’s gift. He can never be bought. St. Paul was already a believer, and the Lord Jesus Christ was already his portion when he wrote these words. They are very ill-instructed in the mind of God, and only blind leaders of the blind, who urge souls to give up this, that, or the other as the price of receiving Christ. Such teaching reverses God’s order. The dropping off, the giving up, the counting as loss all the old “gains,” follows, but never precedes, the folding to the heart of the one gain.
In Wales and in Scotland, in the mining districts, “winning” the coal, or the mineral, is a common expression, by which is meant sinking a shaft deep down to get out the ore in richer abundance. Let us take that idea. Paul, on the day when he first discovered Christ, found himself to be the possessor of a large estate. He was standing, so to speak, at the opening of this mine, and he saw some of the precious ore. He could not take his eye off what he did see; but, the more he looked, the more he discovered of the inexhaustible riches there. He had only to dig down, to sink his shaft in all directions, and there was no end to what he might bring up out of this mine; and so it was his lifetime’s wish, “that I may win Christ.” When he had got some of this ore, he was inflamed with a desire to get more. He would stand amid the heaps of his gold and say, “That I may win Christ.”1 [Note: Andrew Bonar.]
At Kurnalpi I took my lamp and went to the place of meeting. A gentleman had offered me his auctioneer’s box as a pulpit. I fixed my lamp beside me in the box so that I could read by its light. When I mounted the pulpit, there was not a soul about me that I could see in the darkness, so first lifting my heart for a moment to my Master, I next lifted my voice and shouted “Gentlemen, the sale is about to commence!” You should have seen the response. They came running out from everywhere, like ants from an ant-hill, and rushed to get a good place near the auctioneer. There was a billiard saloon not far away, and though it was crowded a little ago, it was emptied quicker than it takes me to tell about it. Soon I had between two hundred and three hundred men around me. In my travel during the day I had learnt something of the open, unblushing sin prevailing here, and as I reasoned of righteousness and judgment, the Power of God fell on those men. This was my pioneer gospel service. I had ridden hard and far to tell them of the Water for which they would not have to pay, but which they might have for the taking, and without which they would perish miserably. I was selling Gospel necessaries—“Water,” and Gospel luxuries—“Wine and Milk,” without money and without price. Many of them were incredulous, and not inclined to buy at my price. Herein lay the difference between the auctioneer who usually occupied that box, and myself, its present occupant. “He has hard work to get you up to his price,” I told them, “But I have hard work to get you down to mine.”1 [Note: John MacNeil, Evangelist in Australia, 272.]
2. Paul specifies as among his gains “the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus.” The phrase employed combines two ideas. In the first place, Paul felt Christ appealing to him as to a thinking, knowing being. Various influences were reaching him from Christ which bore on heart, will, conscience; but they all came primarily as a revelation, they came as light. “God, who commanded the light to shine out of darkness, hath shined in our hearts, to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.” In the next place, this discovery came with a certain assuredness. It was felt to be not a dream, not a fair imagination only, not speculation, but knowledge. Here Paul felt himself face to face with the real, indeed with fundamental, reality. In this character, as luminous knowledge, the revelation of Christ challenged his decision, it demanded his appreciation and adherence. For since Christ claims so fundamental a place in the moral world, since He claims so intimate and fruitful a relation to the whole state and prospects of the believing man, acquaintance with Him (at least, if it be acquaintance in Paul’s style) cannot pause at the stage of contemplation; it passes into appropriation and surrender. Christ is known as dealing with us, and must be dealt with by us. So this knowledge becomes, at the same time, experience.
Knowledge is often more valuable than temporal possessions. A man falling into the sea might find a knowledge of the art of swimming of more value to him than a good balance in his favour at the bank. So the knowledge of Christ is of more value to men than temporal possessions of any kind. The knowledge of Christ is saving knowledge. Sinners cannot know Him unless they know Him as their Saviour. This knowledge is, moreover, sanctifying knowledge. To know Christ is to know the experience of holiness. This knowledge affects the whole being of those who have it, and from such knowledge all that is best in history has sprung.1 [Note: H. Thorne, Notable Sayings of the Great Teacher, 216.]
3. The knowledge of Christ creates obedience, and evokes endurance.
(1) The knowledge of Christ creates obedience.—Paul calls the Christ he knows so well “my Lord.” No man ever yet had a believing acquaintance with Christ, except as “Lord.” To trust Christ and to live Christ is to obey Christ. “My Lord” is a loved title by which the Christian believer designates Christ. They who know Christ ever obey Him. He becomes the Ruler of their life. And the more they know Him, they the more absolutely obey Him.
If we obey Christ, His commandments will soon shine in their own light. “He that followeth me shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life.” It is not by mere meditation that we come to see the real beauty and excellence of Christ’s commandments; we must obey them before we see how beautiful and noble they are. We must actually follow Christ if we desire to have “the light of life”; if we decline to follow Him till the “light” comes, we shall remain in darkness.2 [Note: R. W. Dale, Laws of Christ for Common Life, 276.]
(2) The knowledge of Christ evokes endurance.—See how graphically this is exemplified in Paul’s own case. It might be easy to affirm that all things pale before the knowledge of Christ. But Paul had given abundant proof of his faith. He had lived out his strong conviction. He had proved his creed by deed; his tremendous creed by sacrificial deed. “For whom I have suffered the loss of all things.”
The figure is a very striking one. It is an illustration from the Law Courts. It might be expressed, “I was sentenced to the loss of all things.” Paul was arraigned before the judge. He was charged with the high crime of being a follower of Christ. He pleaded guilty to the charge. He was fined right heavily. Exorbitant damages were extorted. “All things” were taken from him. Everything that he had reckoned dear and desirable. “I have suffered the loss of all things.” With Paul it is no case of boasting. He is not avowing what he might under given circumstances do. He has done it. He has endured to the ultimate point. So has he known Christ, that for Him he has paid down as damages “all things.”
Yet it was well, and Thou hast said in season
“As is the master shall the servant be”:
Let me not subtly slide into the treason,
Seeking an honour which they gave not Thee;
Never at even, pillowed on a pleasure,
Sleep with the wings of aspiration furled,
Hide the last mite of the forbidden treasure,
Keep for my joys a world within the world;—
Nay but much rather let me late returning
Bruised of my brethren, wounded from within,
Stoop with sad countenance and blushes burning,
Bitter with weariness and sick with sin,—
Then as I weary me and long and languish,
Nowise availing from that pain to part,—
Desperate tides of the whole great world’s anguish
Forced thro’ the channels of a single heart,—
Straight to Thy presence get me and reveal it,
Nothing ashamed of tears upon Thy feet,
Show the sore wound and beg Thine hand to heal it,
Pour Thee the bitter, pray Thee for the sweet.
Then with a ripple and a radiance thro’ me
Rise and be manifest, O Morning Star!
Flow on my soul, thou Spirit, and renew me,
Fill with Thyself, and let the rest be far.1 [Note: F. W. H. Myers, Saint Paul.]
There is a sentence in the biography of David Hill—that rare, gentle, refined spirit who moved like a fragrance in his little part of China—a sentence which has burned itself into the very marrow of my mind. Disorder had broken out, and one of the rioters seized a huge splinter of a smashed door and gave him a terrific blow on the wrist, almost breaking his arm. And how is it all referred to? “There is a deep joy in actually suffering physical violence for Christ’s sake.” That is all! It is a strange combination of words—suffering, violence, joy! And yet I remember the evangel of the Apostle, “If we suffer with him we shall also reign with him.”1 [Note: J. H. Jowett.]
Here, and here alone,
Is given thee to suffer for God’s sake.
In other worlds we shall more perfectly
Serve Him and love Him, praise Him, work for Him,
Grow near and nearer Him with all delight:
But then we shall not any more be called
To suffer, which is out appointment here.
Canst thou not suffer then one hour,—or two?
If He should call thee from thy cross to-day,
Saying, “It is finished!—that hard cross of thine
From which thou prayest for deliverance,”
Thinkest thou not some passion of regret
Would overcome thee? Thou wouldst say, “So soon?
Let me go back, and suffer yet awhile
More patiently;—I have not yet praised God.”2 [Note: Mrs. Hamilton King, “The Sermon in the Hospital.”]
4. Paul aims at gaining Christ and being “found in him.” From what follows (“not having a righteousness of mine own,” R.V.) it would seem that by being “found in him” the Apostle meant being found in His righteousness. There was a period in the Apostle’s life when he expected that he would be able to stand before God in his own righteousness. Now all this is changed. He has discovered the worthlessness of his own righteousness, and therefore he has abandoned the idea of being accepted before God on the ground of it. He has come to know that Christ is “the end of the law for righteousness,” and in that righteousness he desires to stand. Nothing less than a perfect righteousness can satisfy a perfect God, and there is no perfect righteousness to be found apart from Christ. Paul wished to be found as one taking shelter in this sure refuge.
A man found in Christ is as a bird is found in the air—his native element. Watch the little songster, as it wings its way through the ether far up towards the clouds, and then sends down to earth its shower of melody. It is at liberty because it is in its element. And the believer in Christ lives, moves, and has his being filled with the gladness of the life that is inspired by the love of his Lord.
Thy service, Lord, is freedom; yet it binds
With strongest chains; the heart around it winds
A self-imposed restraint; Thy freedmen, we
Still wear Thy badge, and joy that all should see
Our will, by firmest bands, in thrall to Thee.
So is our freedom perfect; or will grow
Such in Thy heaven; lacking some part below
Through earth’s remaining gyves,—if once there be
A will with Thine in all things to agree,
Then, wholly bound, we shall be wholly free.1 [Note: Lord Kinloch.]
5. Paul sought a righteousness that would be acceptable to God.
(1) Righteousness we must have. We need to be right with God. Paul takes this for granted—that, by one way or another, God and we must be on terms of peace, if not even of friendship. If we ourselves were truly right, we should be right with God. God desires all to be right between us and Him. It is not from His side that any disturbance of peace and friendship has come. Therefore, to be wrong with God is monstrous and criminal, as well as disastrous and terrible.
(2) There is a righteousness which has to be renounced—the righteousness which “is of the law.” Paul had set himself to make his position right with God by strictly obeying those laws which Moses delivered, and which men of later times had multiplied. And he had believed himself largely successful in this bold endeavour. If any man ever deserved to win along this line of mortal effort it was Saul, the young and earnest Pharisee. He accepted those precepts as the utterance of the whole that God wanted at men’s hands; he knew the great ten commandments to be the sum of the moral law of God; and he girded himself to the fulfilment of it all with an energy and a constancy that have never been surpassed. The task was no pastime; it was a matter of increasing earnestness with him as his young manhood ripened. But the light one day broke upon his heart, and lo! with all his proud and strenuous labour, he saw he had been failing all the while; his own righteousness, his righteousness of single-handed obedience to law, was but a toilsome mockery of a righteousness for sinful men. From that hour one of the mottoes of his great life was this: “Not having a righteousness of mine own, even that which is of the law.”
(3) We can secure a satisfying righteousness through faith in Christ. For He has in Himself a righteousness for us that abounds above all our need. That “law” which we cannot fulfil, He fulfilled. During all that human life of His among the men and women of Galilee and Judæa, He was flooding it with fulfilment. Only one perfect life has been lived in our world, and it was a life in which infinite holiness itself found nothing but the purest, and loftiest, and truest human excellence. That life was the life of Jesus the Man, the Son of God, the Redeemer of men. Our faith in Him receives the merit of that life, which thereby takes the royal place of all our bootless strivings. And what of the past, with its already gathered guilt and doom? He died as well as lived, He suffered as well as obeyed, and all in our stead. Thus He bore away our curse, and cleared the whole length and breadth of our history from every atom of doom, and “opened the kingdom of heaven to all believers.” “Through faith in Christ”—“the righteousness which is of God by faith.”
Paul’s disownment of every rag of his own righteousness was like the man and the Christian that he was. He had never moved a ship’s-length nearer to everlasting good while he had this for his canvas, and himself in command; now, with Christ commanding, and all refitted aloft, he has begun making rapid way. The discarded righteousness is deck cargo there as the vessel glides on. His glance falls upon it, and he feels it is threatening to tamper with his heart. He drags it to the ship’s rail; his arms ache as he piles its many folds over the ship’s side; it now hangs by the rope that fastened it on deck, and trails heavily about on the sea. It must go. He lifts a hatchet; the rope is severed; the mass sinks out of sight; and ere it has soaked its way to the bottom, the ship has sped miles upon its course—lighter, swifter, cheerier, as it wings onward in the growing lustre of the eternal harbour-land.1 [Note: J. A. Kerr Bain.]
A strong thinker of the past generation, Isaac Taylor, of Ongar, somewhere says that to the end of time a Vicarious Atonement (in the old evangelical sense of those words) will be assailed with objections; and that to the end of time the awakened, the thoroughly awakened, conscience will gravitate to the Vicarious Atonement as to its one possible rest. True witness; let me put my seal humbly to it in both its parts.
Another great Christian of a remoter past, Count Zinzendorf, has left on record a notice of a personal experience of his own which powerfully impressed me when I came on it a few years ago in a French memoir of his life. “About this time I met with the work of Dippel, in which the doctrine of Imputed Righteousness is attacked. Its system seemed to aim at eliminating from the idea of God the notion of His wrath; and just so far as I sympathized with that view I liked the system. I was then in the attitude of the natural theologian; and the ‘good God’ distressed me when His acts seemed to lack a sequence of mathematical precision. I sought to justify Him, at all costs, to men of reason. But when I came to think over my own conversion, I saw that in the death of Jesus, and in the word Ransom, there lay a profound mystery—a mystery before which Philosophy stops short, but as regards which Revelation is immovably firm. This gave me a new intuition into the doctrine of Salvation. I found its blessing and benefit first in the instance of my own heart, then in that of my brethren and fellow-workers (in the Moravian Church). Since the year 1734 the doctrine of the expiatory Sacrifice of Jesus has been, and will for ever be, our treasure, our watchword, our all, our panacea against all evil, alike in doctrine and in practice.” True witness, I say again, and again would humbly put my seal to its terms, in regard both of experience and of principle. And the principle of Taylor’s dictum and Zinzendorf’s inner history is just as true for the progress as it is for the beginning of the believer’s life. It is in point, not only in connexion with conversion, but in connexion with the lifelong needs of the Christian, and his lifelong peace and standing before God.1 [Note: Bishop H. C. G. Moule, All in Christ, 163.]
Experience Approves the Exchange
1. When the Apostle writes this Epistle, he has had ample opportunity to review his life, to test his choice, to reckon up again the balance of life he once struck. He has seen life under many aspects,—amid the rude tribes of the Galatian and Phrygian highlands, in philosophic Athens, in wealthy and luxurious Corinth, in Oriental and superstitious Ephesus, and now, at last, in imperial Rome, mistress of the world. He has learnt that over against the gains which life once possessed he must now place the hatred of his countrymen, the persecutions of the heathen, the perils of travel, the pangs of hunger and cold and nakedness, the exhaustion of manual labour; but with them “the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus the Lord.” Yet now, when he may well have tested every item in the account of life, and revalued each; when, though prematurely aged and spent, he might well have desired the fulfilment of the dream of early life, and lamented that he was turned aside from the career at first marked out, he, on the contrary, reiterates his choice: I again renounce to-day, as of old: “Yea, doubtless, and I count all things but loss.” So, under the palace of the Cæsars, and within what seemed the shadow of death, the Apostle ratified the great renunciation he had made.
One might say that the whole life of Dives is wholly contrary to the cross of Christ. “God predestinated us,” St. Paul says. To what? To eternal life? This is the end of all. But to what first? God predestinated us to be conformed to the image of His Son. What image? Well! Be it the image of His holiness, the image of His glory. Are there then no scars on that glorious Form, brighter than the sun, or than all created light, irradiant with His Godhead? If we would reign with Him, St. Paul tells us, we must first suffer with Him. If we would be conformed to the likeness of His glory, we must first be conformed to the likeness of His suffering. “Too delicate art thou, my brother, if thou wiliest both here to rejoice with the world, and hereafter to reign with Christ.” Was our Redeemer crowned with thorns that we might be refined sensualists? Did He come down from heaven that we might forget heaven and Him, steeped in all which we can get of this life’s fleeting pleasures of sense?1 [Note: E. B. Pusey.]
“Depend upon it,” said Carlyle, “the brave man has somehow or other to give his life away.” We are called upon to make an unconditional surrender. Unconditional, I say, because it cannot be on our own terms. We cannot reserve what we like, or choose what we prefer. It is a surrender to a great and awful Will, of whose workings we know little, but which means to triumph, whatever we may do to hinder or delay its purpose. We must work indeed by the best light that we have. We must do the next thing, and the kind thing, and the courageous thing, as it falls to us to do. But sooner or later we must yield our wills up, and not simply out of tame and fearful submission, but because we at last see that the Will behind all things is greater, purer, more beautiful, more holy than anything we can imagine or express. Some find this easier than others—and some never seem to achieve it—which is the hardest problem of all. But there is no peace without that surrender, though it cannot be made at once; there is in most of us a fibre of self-will, of hardness, of stubbornness which we cannot break, but which God may be trusted to break for us, if we desire it to be broken.1 [Note: A. C. Benson, Ruskin: A Study in Personality, 224.]
2. Paul’s estimate stood the final proof. The test of a true religion is that it meets all the legitimate demands of the soul; that in it our past, present, and future shall find their meaning. There must be rest at the centre if there is to be living movement all round. A man like Paul would have worn his spirit down by restless chafing, if he had not found a satisfactory relation to God and his fellow-men. He did find such reconciliation; and the rich result we see in his life. It was real life that he found, life with a large outlook and an undying hope. To know what is meant by “winning Christ” we must pass in review the many-sided statements of truth and the lofty ideals of conduct that he set before himself and his followers. It was not merely the forgiveness of past sins, though that was a proper subject for warmest gratitude; it was not simply the vision of future blessedness, though that was a consoling power in many a trying hour; it was a present satisfaction that linked these into living unity, and proved that faith in the unseen world is the mightiest force to equip a man for stern tasks and tender ministries.
I believe there is no means of preserving rectitude of conduct and nobleness of aim but the Grace of God obtained by daily, almost hourly, waiting upon Him, and continued faith in His immediate presence. Get into this habit of thought, and you need make no promises. Come short of this and you will break them, and be more discouraged than if you had made none. The great lesson we have to learn in this world is to give it all up. It is not so much resolution as renunciation, not so much courage as resignation, that we need. He that has once yielded thoroughly to God will yield to nothing but God.1 [Note: Ruskin, in Life by E. T. Cook, i. 387.]
Nearly half a century after Sartor Resartus was written, Carlyle addressed the students of Edinburgh University as their Lord Rector, and then again, after having tested its worth in a life of heroic labour, he deliberately referred to Goethe’s interpretation of the moral significance of Christianity and doctrine of the reverence due by man to his God, to his brethren, and to himself, as what he would rather have written than any other passage in recent literature. “It is only with renunciation,” says the great poet and philosopher, who is supposed to have been hewn from ice, and to have had no object in life but to polish himself up, so that the ice might show to advantage, “it is only with renunciation that life, properly speaking, can be said to begin.”2 [Note: P. Bayne, Lessons from My Masters, 24.]
Unveil, O Lord, and on us shine
In glory and in grace;
This gaudy world grows pale before
The beauty of Thy face.
Till Thou art seen, it seems to be
A sort of fairy ground,
Where suns unsetting light the sky,
And flowers and fruits abound.
But when Thy keener, purer beam
Is pour’d upon our sight,
It loses all its power to charm,
And what was day is night.
Its noblest toils are then the scourge
Which made Thy blood to flow;
Its joys are but the treacherous thorns
Which circled round Thy brow.
And thus, when we renounce for Thee
Its restless aims and fears,
The tender memories of the past,
The hopes of coming years,
Poor is our sacrifice, whose eyes
Are lighted from above;
We offer what we cannot keep,
What we have ceased to love.1 [Note: Cardinal Newman.]
3. He says he has suffered the loss of all things. “All things” must include more than those old elements of fleshly confidence already enumerated. It must include everything which Paul still possessed, or might yet attain, that could be separated from Christ, weighed against Him, brought into competition with Him—all that the flesh could even yet take hold of, and turn into a ground of separate confidence and boasting. So the phrase might cover much that was good in its place, much that the Apostle was glad to hold in Christ and from Christ, but which might yet present itself to the unwatchful heart as material of independent boasting, and which, in that case, must be met with energetic and resolute rejection. “All things” may include, for instance, many of those elements of Christian and Apostolic eminence which are enumerated in 2 Corinthians 11; for while he thankfully received many such things and lovingly prized them “in Christ Jesus,” yet as they might become occasions to flatter or seduce even an Apostle—betraying him into self-confidence, or into the assertion of some separate worth and glory for himself—they must be rejected and counted to be loss.
“All things.” He made the statement just as broad and inclusive as possible. Not all his ill-grounded hopes merely; not the advantages merely which came to him from his conformity to the law, for what was “gain” to him in these respects he “counted loss”; but “all things”—personal comfort, personal ends, personal prospects, personal ambitions, the affection of friends, the joys of social life, the triumphs of competition, his own self-development, will, earthly hopes, each and all were to be held second and subordinate by him to obedience to Jesus.
Without Thy presence wealth is bags of cares;
Wisdom but folly; joy, disquiet, sadness;
Friendship is treason, and delights are snares;
Pleasures but pain, and mirth but pleasing madness.
Without Thee, Lord, things be not what they be,
Nor have their being, when compared with Thee.
In having all things, and not Thee, what have I?
Not having Thee, what have my labours got?
Let me enjoy but Thee, what further crave I?
And having Thee alone what have I not?
I wish nor sea, nor land, nor would I be
Possessed of heaven, heaven unpossessed of Thee.
4. What he set down at first as loss he now describes as dung or refuse. The word signifies that which is worthless, and is used to express the lees and dregs of wine, the sediment which a man finds in his cup, and drains out upon the ground when he has drunk his liquor, the refuse of fruit, the dross of metals, and the chaff and stubble of wheat. In fact, the root of the word signifies things cast to dogs—dogs’ meat, bones from the plates, crumbs and stale pieces brushed from the table, and such things as one is anxious to be rid of.
You may remember Shakespeare’s wonderful story of the lady who was sought in marriage by many suitors. To test their manhood, her father had three caskets made—one of gold, one of silver, and one of lead—and in one of the caskets the lady’s picture was placed. Each casket had a motto. On the gold one, this—
“Who chooseth me shall get what many men desire.”
On the silver one, this—
“Who chooseth me shall get as much as he deserves.”
But on the lead one, this—
“Who chooseth me must give and hazard all he hath.”
The gold and silver caskets spoke of getting; the lead casket spoke of giving. He who gave most gained most, for the lady’s picture was in the casket that bade a man give and hazard all he had.
I, says Paul, for the image of my Lord, for the excellency of the knowledge of Him, will count all things but loss, will give and hazard all I have.1 [Note: C. Silvester Horne, The Soul’s Awakening, 191.]
I wanted wealth, and, at my dear request,
Earth lent a quick supply;
I wanted mirth to charm my sullen breast,
And who more brisk than I?
I wanted fame to glorify the rest,
My fame flew eagle-high;
My joy not fully ripe, but all decayed,
Wealth vanished like a shade;
My mirth began to flag, my fame began to fade.
My trust is in the Cross; let beauty flag
Her loose and wanton sail,
Let count’nance-gilding honour cease to brag
In courtly terms, and vail;
False beauty’s conquest is but real loss,
And wealth but golden dross,
Best honours but a blast: my trust is in the Cross.
The Excellent Exchange
Bain (J. A. K.), in The Church on the Sea, 17.
Ballard (F.), Does it Matter what a Man Believes? 106.
Darlow (T. H.), The Upward Calling, 259.
Davies (T.), Exposition of St. Paul’s Epistle to the Philippians, 176.
Hare (J. C.), Parish Sermons, 205.
Jordan (W. G.), The Philippian Gospel, 173.
Maggs (J. T. L.), The Spiritual Experience of St. Paul, 32.
Meyer (F. B.), Paul, 17.
Moule (H. C. G.), Christ’s Witness to the Life to Come, 107.
Murray (A.), Abide in Christ, 113.
Noble (F. A.), Discourses on the Epistle of Paul to the Philippians, 169.