James Nisbet Commentary - Philippians 3:20 - 3:20

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James Nisbet Commentary - Philippians 3:20 - 3:20

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‘Our conversation [or citizenship] is in heaven.’


If we pondered more deeply the cost of our redemption we should prize more highly the privileges of our citizenship.

I. The privileges of our citizenship are many and varied.

(a) Pardon, cleansing is the first; no unpardoned or uncleansed one is a citizen of that kingdom. It is the blood which cleanses, the blood of the Eternal Son of God.

(b) Victory over self and sin is another; grace to conquer and to subdue evil, to become masters where once we were bond-slaves, to rule by Divine grace that which once tyrannised over us.

(c) Inheritance is another privilege. We are heirs of that bright and boundless inheritance, incorruptible, undefined, and fadeless.

(d) Peace is another privilege. Peace with God and the peace of God, holding, abiding in our souls.

II. What are our responsibilities?

(a) Loyalty. We are called upon to be loyal subjects of our Heavenly King, yielding Him the reverence due unto His Name and obedience to the laws He has promulgated.

(b) Love. We must love, we shall only be loyal in proportion as we love; we shall only love in proportion as we trust. We must love Him Who is ‘Love,’ and Who so loved us as to redeem us at such tremendous cost.

(c) Holiness of life and conduct, showing itself in purity of heart and earnestness of life; the holiness of lives fully yielded and consecrated for life and service.

Rev. H. Foster Pegg.


‘A beautiful apologue will illustrate our meaning. A summer’s day, the glorious sun overhead filling all things with light and gladness; the wide sea looking like a sheet of glass, upon which the ripple caused by a fly’s wing would be observed; the sky revealing its unclouded azure depths save for one tiny fleecy cloud, not larger apparently than a hand’s breadth, floating gracefully and lazily. The sea looked up and said, “They tell me that that cloud was once a part of myself; I should like to get up there.” So the sea turned and lifted herself in huge waves towards the heavens, but all in vain. Presently, baffled, weary, the sea lay still again. Then the sun looked down and said, “Sea, why are you so downcast?” Said the sea, “I have been trying to get up there and failed.” Then the sun said, “Sea, lie still, and I will draw you up here.” So the sea lay still, and presently the whole sky was filled with fleecy clouds, and the sea clapped her hands and said, “I am up there! I am up there!” You see the meaning of this simple apologue. Our citizenship is a lofty privilege and a far-reaching responsibility. The life which pertains to such cannot be attained by our struggles or efforts; but there is a power promised which will enable us to rise to our heavenly citizenship and to live worthily of our high calling, “for our citizenship is in heaven.” ’


‘Our conversation [or commonwealth] is in heaven.’


We who hold the Christian faith in a life to come have sometimes to meet severe criticisms from those who do not.

I. We have sometimes to meet a charge of selfishness in looking forward to a future life, and this charge comes most frequently in the shape of a criticism of the supposed nature of the life in heaven to which we look forward. Our critics quote to us the well-known words out of St. Bernard’s hymn:—

‘I know not, oh, I know not,

What social joys are there,’

and they say to us, ‘I see; what you want is a life of unending happiness: of course, your desire is very natural.’ We shall not deny that we look forward to happiness in heaven, but we must point out that the happiness to which we look forward is not the same thing as pleasure; that the joys we imagine in heaven are not pleasures of sense. Our collect for All Saints’ Day, following the Bible, is careful to refer to such joys as ‘unspeakable’; that is to say, the heart of man has not conceived them and cannot conceive them. But, if among those unspeakable joys in God’s presence, we define one in particular, the joys of society, the bliss of reunion with those blessed spirits whom we have loved on earth, ought that to shame us?

II. It is said to us by other critics, ‘We have no fault to find with you for so excellent a hope as the hope of immortality. It certainly is not selfish. We only wish that we ourselves could entertain it. At the same time would it not be the more manly course to face the evidence of facts and recognise the difficulties involved in the idea of immortality?’ But we Christians, who believe in man’s immortality, are not ignoring facts. We are insisting upon them. We say that man because he can say, ‘I am I,’ because he can think and act and love, is in the universe only less than God. He is the child of God, and so the heir of immortality.

III. A third sort of criticism is levelled against our belief in eternal life.—This belief, it is said, may be true or it may not, but for our life here, at any rate, it is beside the mark. As to the charge of what has been called ‘other-worldliness,’ I must confess that I have never met with that distemper amongst Christians. From my own observation, I should say that Christian men were every bit as good citizens as those who theoretically limited their interest to this world—as genuine lovers of their race. One might perhaps even dare to go further, and say that the men who have done most to make this world a better place than they found it—men like the great Lord Shaftesbury—have been the very men who looked forward to another country, and declared plainly that this was not their home.

IV. The way to realise the meaning of immortality is not to think of it as an abstract doctrine that can be argued about, and the pros put against the cons. The way to think of it is to think of Christ as living, as our King in that province of heaven, which seems so far off and is so very near; and then to think of those members of His blessed company whom we ourselves have known here and loved, and to keep their memories fresh in our prayers.

Rev. Canon Beeching.


‘What is it all, if we all of us end but in being our own corpse-coffins at last,

Swallow’d in Vastness, lost in Silence, drown’d in the deeps of a meaningless Past?

What but a murmur of gnats in the gloom, or a moment’s anger of bees in their hive?

Peace, let it be! for I loved him, and love him for ever: the dead are not dead, but alive.’


‘For our conversation is in heaven; from whence also we look for the Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ.’


What is heaven? That is a question to which the Church can give a partial, though as yet necessarily an incomplete, answer.

I. We turn, then, to the words of Jesus Christ.—And here it is important to remark that, when He spoke of heaven, He was careful to use such language as is figurative or analogical. But while it is true that our Lord’s words respecting heaven must be regarded as adumbrations of an inexpressible and inconceivable reality, it is not impossible to draw certain inferences from His teaching and from His life.

(a) Thus He taught, beyond doubt, the existence of heaven. He did not prove it; He took it for granted.

(b) Jesus Christ then taught the reality of heaven; and in His teaching He spoke of it with complete knowledge, with complete certainty. He professed and claimed to know all about heaven.

(c) Whether it was His will or not to reveal the character of heaven, He declared explicitly that it was within His power to reveal it.

(d) There is, however, a manifest intention not to exaggerate the awfulness of the invisible world. It may be said of Jesus Christ that, while He laid a powerful emphasis on the reality and significance of that world, He intended it to be a hope, a solace, a motive to holiness, and not to exercise a paralysing influence upon human action.

II. Among the lessons of Christ’s teaching upon heaven there are two which seem to stand out in relief. He taught—

(a) That the enjoyment of the heavenly life depended upon character and conduct in this life; and also

(b) That the access to the heavenly life lay in the method and revelation of His hid gospel. It is not in man to merit heaven.

III. Heaven is not a place or a period, but a state.—Is it possible to understand that existence? The soul of man is the seat of personality or identity; and it is the soul which is immortal and enters heaven. But, if we know what it is that is immortal, we may hope to know what it is that the immortal being is capable of being or doing. The intellectual, moral, and spiritual faculties of man continue eternally.

IV. It is asked by many an anxious, yearning heart if they who have known and loved on earth will regain such mutual knowledge in eternity. Can it be doubted that this knowledge will be theirs? We shall know them, and they us. We shall live with them in full and free communion; we shall participate in their joy, their gratitude, their adoration; the saddest of all earthly fears, the fear of separation, will be wanting. There will be no more parting for ever.

Bishop Welldon.


‘No merely negative conception of heaven can be just. To regard it simply as a state of immunity from sin and sorrow and suffering is to mistake its character altogether. That in heaven “the wicked cease from troubling and the weary are at rest” is true enough; but heaven is none the less a state of constant activity. The reward of fidelity in few things is the opportunity of showing fidelity in many things. The intellectual, moral, and spiritual faculties will operate in heaven as on earth, only more vividly and intensely, without the drawbacks incidental to human life—e.g. infirmity, error, defeat, or weariness. There will be an end of doubt, of difficulty, of denial. Then shall the secret of God be known, His power and love fully recognised.’