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take you to record this day, that I am free from the blood of all men: for I have not shunned to declare unto you the whole counsel of God-And, now, brethren, I recommend you to God, and to the word of his grace: which is able to build you up, and to give you an inheritance among all them that are sanctified," Acts xx. 26, 27.
How earnest, and how frequent that apostle is in exhorting Christians to retain the pure gospel of Christ, in order to their establishment and increase in virtue, is well known to all men. He and Barnabas visited the churches which they had planted, "confirming the disciples, and exhorting them to continue in the faith," Acts xiv. 22. And to the Colossians he writes: "You that were sometime alienated, hath he reconciled in the body of his flesh, through death, to present you holy and unblameable, and unreproveable in his sight: if ye continue in the faith grounded and settled, and be not moved away from the hope of the gospel which ye have heard," Col. i. 21-23.
II. I shall now mention two or three remarks briefly, by way of application.
1. We may hence infer that, generally speaking, sad will be the condition of those, who having once known the doctrine of the gospel, afterwards forsake and disown it, and wilfully act contrary to its holy laws and commandments.
The apostles of Christ in their epistles, make the supposition of such instances, and speak of them with much concern, as past hope. It would be exceeding difficult to renew them again to repentance," Heb. vi. 6; and "it had been better for them, not to have known the way of righteousness, than to turn from the holy commandment delivered to them," 2 Pet. ii. 21.
2. This discourse of our Lord with his disciples should induce us to a strict regard to his genuine doctrine.
This is the best way to be steady and eminent in things excellent and commendable. We have not seen Christ; but we have good reason to believe in him and love him. His words and his works, and all his transactions on this earth for our welfare, have been carefully transmitted to us. We should abide in him, and endeavour to know more the power of his death and resurrection, and all the forcible considerations which his doctrine contains to the practice of virtue and perseverance therein.
3. We here see cause to lament the degeneracy of Christians, and the absurdities that have been introduced into the Christian profession.
Says God with regard to the Jewish people: "I had planted thee a noble vine, wholly a right seed. How then art thou turned into the degenerate plant of a strange vine unto me!" Jer. ii. 21. The statutes delivered to the people of Israel were good and right. The laws of moral righteousness had the preference: and the others were wisely ordained at that time, and suited to answer valuable ends. Nevertheless they diverted to idolatry, or made additions of human observances, to the great detriment of true piety. The doctrine of Jesus is excellent and important: and yet numberless superstitions and absurdities have been graffed in. Whence comes this? It is because men do not attend to their true interest; because they do not love truth and simplicity: and so it has been from the beginning. "God made man upright: but they have sought out many inventions." Ecc. vii. 29.
We should not be offended. The fault is not in the doctrine itself: nor has Providence been wanting in any thing requisite for the good of men. And our Lord foresaw and foretold what has since happened. Good grain was sowed in the field: but whilst men were negligent, an enemy has cast in tares, which have sprung up and mingled with the good corn, Matt. xiii. 24, 25.
This should excite our care and diligence: and with a sincere love of truth we should study and endeavour to understand the religion of Jesus Christ. It is not, in its original form, the most mysterious, loaded with doctrines hard to be believed; either almost or quite contra dictory. The worship which it teaches is not the most showy and pompous that ever was contrived; consisting of a long and tedious ceremonial, in which a hypocrite might be as exact and punctual as any man: but it is undissembled virtue, from a respect to God, and hope of his favour.
If all men would receive this excellent doctrine, and come under the power of it, the world might be happy, and our life here on earth easy and comfortable. But as such an agreeable scene has not yet appeared, and we are not able to reconcile all men to truth and virtue; the knowing, and pious, and zealous for God will often meet with difficulties: but then here comes
into their aid the prospect of a great joy set before them. Hence this struggle and contention, this holy warfare: which we must resolve upon if called out to it, and should acquit ourselves Here is a difficulty. But this contention gives occasion for the exercise and improvement of virtue; and so lays the foundation of transcendent glory and happiness hereafter. And "our light affliction, which is but for a moment," according to the sublime apprehensions of the apostle, "worketh for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory," 2 Cor. iv. 17.
A RECOMMENDATION OF THINGS VIRTUOUS, LOVELY, AND OF GOOD REPORT.
Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report: if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think of these things.-Philip. iv. 8. In these words, and those which follow, we have the concluding exhortations and advices of the apostle to the Christians at Philippi. They are brief and concise, yet full and comprehensive and in them, if any thing of moment had been hitherto omitted, every branch of conduct that has in it any real excellence, or outward comeliness, would be included: and the well-disposed and intelligent Philippians would bring it to mind.
The words of the text may be partly explained in this short paraphrase: Finally to conclude ' and sum up all, my brethren, whatever, things are true," or sincere: "whatever things are honest," or grave and venerable: "whatever things are just," or righteous between man and man: "whatever things are pure, or chaste: "whatever things are lovely," agreeable and amiable: "whatever things are of good report," generally well-spoken of and commended: “ if there be any virtue, if there be any praise:" and whatever is virtuous and reasonable, worthy of praise and commendation: "think of these things:" such things do you attend to, and ' reckon yourselves obliged to observe and practise.'
In farther discoursing on this text I shall
I. Shew, what is meant by "thinking of these things."
II. I shall endeavour to explain and illustrate the several particulars here mentioned.
I. I would shew what is meant by "thinking of these things."
And doubtless every one presently perceives, that the apostle does not barely intend meditating on them, and contemplating them in a speculative way, but in order to practice. This must be the design of such an exhortation as this. And it is rendered more manifest by the immediately following words. "Those things, which ye have both learned, and received, and heard and seen in me, do. And the God of peace shall be with you.'
By thinking of these things," it is likely the apostle means the examining and observing the reasonableness and fitness of them: seriously attending to the several branches of each particular here mentioned: not omitting to take notice of every thing implied and contained therein: observing how far each of these things may be especially suited to their several stations and characters: accounting themselves under an indispensible obligation to practise them as occasions offer and likewise studying and contriving, how they may be best able to shew an exact and cheerful conformity to such a direction as this, and guard against every thing contrary to it.
II. In the next place I shall endeavour to explain and illustrate the several particulars here recommended.
The first is "whatever things are true." And it should be observed, that this comprehensive word "whatever" is prefixed to every particular. It is used for the sake of brevity. St. Paul designed not to enumerate the several parts of each character here mentioned. But he desires, that his Christian friends and brethren would themselves observe and attend to every thing included in them.
"Whatever things are true," or sincere. There is a truth of words and actions. We are to be sincere and upright in our profession of religion, in the worship of God, and in our dealings with
We should be what we appear to be: and be far from desiring or aiming to be esteemed what we are not, when there is any, the least hazard of any damage or injury, thereby accruing, either to religion or to men.
"Whatever things are true, think of these things." Reckon yourselves obliged to every branch of truth and sincerity. Shew a love of truth in your studies and inquiries. And when you are upon good grounds convinced of the truth of any principles, be not shy of owning them upon proper occasions.
Never disown or deny the truths you are convinced of, for any worldly considerations whatever. As As you have taken upon you the name of Christians, steadily acknowledge and profess the principles of that doctrine. Forsake not the assembling of yourselves together, moved from your steadfastness by the reproaches, or other ill-treatment, which you may
Let your worship of God be sincere and fervent. Never appear before him with your body only: but always worship him in spirit and truth.
In your conversation and dealings with men, whatever is your station and character, maintain your integrity. Be faithful and upright in your words and actions, in your professions of respect and esteem, in your promises and contracts: that no one may have cause to suspect or doubt of your sincerity, and all men who have dealings with you may be readily disposed to confide in you. And never let any be disappointed, or have reason to complain of falsehood, and to repent of the trust they have reposed in you.
"Whatever things are honest." In the margin of some of our bibles the original word is rendered venerable. And in divers places our English translation has the word grave, instead of that in the text. Among the qualifications of a bishop this is one, that "he rule well his own house, having his children in subjection with all gravity-Likewise must the deacons be grave-Likewise must their wives be grave, not slanderers, sober, faithful in all things." 1 Tim. iii. 4, 8, 11. In the epistle to Titus.. "But speak thou the things that become sound doctrine, that the aged men be sober, grave," Tit. ii. 1, 2. And, "In all things shewing thyself a pattern of good works, in doctrine shewing uncorruptness, gravity, sincerity," ver. 7.
These instances may help us more distinctly to conceive the design of the apostle in this place, where the same word is rendered honest. It seems, that he intends to recommend to Christians a concern for their character, a care so to behave, as to secure to themselves some degree of respect and esteem: that they should avoid unbecoming levity in word, action, habit, and outward behaviour, which tends to render men despicable: whereby they appear weak, mean, and of no consequence in the eye of others.
Doubtless the practice of this rule must be different and various, according to men's several characters and stations in the world. We perceive from the texts just cited, that gravity is more especially recommended to the aged, and to those who have the honour of some office or trust in the church. But here St. Paul gives this advice to Christians in general, to reckon themselves obliged to whatever things are honest, grave, or venerable.
It is not needful, nor scarce proper, to be very particular in such a direction as this. Every one who thinks, as St. Paul here desires all Christians to do, may be the best judge what is most suitable to his own station and character. However, such a hint as this in the text may be of use to awaken the attention of every one, and induce men to consider what does best become them in their stations, and what tends to diminish them in the esteem of others. It may be of use to excite men to labour after some useful qualifications, and to be furnished with some valuable branch of knowledge. It may raise a desire of weight and solidity. It tends to caution men against extravagant and excessive mirth. In a word, whatever is becoming, and is rather suited to secure respect, than to expose them to contempt and scorn: and whatever tends to make others wiser and better, rather than what tends to divert and please them: such things men should think of, and reckon themselves obliged to.
"Whatever things are just.' A comprehensive rule. And yet its several branches of duty are so obvious, as to be generally known and understood. There is no necessity therefore to enlarge in the enumeration of the several parts of righteousness to be done, or unrighteousness to be avoided. The great difficulty is, to bring men to an equitable temper and disposition of mind: and to subdue self-love and partiality, or an improper affection for worldly things, and their own particular interests: which often mislead them, and cause them to act contrary to the plainest rules. Our blessed Lord therefore comprised and recommended this branch of duty in
that one convincing and persuasive rule: "All things whatever ye would that men should do unto you, do ye even so unto them."
At other times, however, both Christ and his apostles have insisted on particular duties, and enforced them with very moving considerations.
Here the direction is general. "Whatever things are just, think of them." So consider this point, that you may perform all acts of justice, and avoid every thing unjust, unfair, unequal.
May not a regard to this rule induce some to caution and circumspection in their dealings, and to avoid extending their commerce beyond the measure of their ability? Should not wise and equitable persons take heed, not so much as to run the hazard of ruining those who depend upon them, or deal with them, or trust them? The wisest and best of men are liable to unavoidable and unforeseen accidents. But the thinking on whatever things are just might discourage some schemes and projects, which are as likely to miscarry, as to succeed: and if not successful, may reduce a man beyond the possibility of his returning to all what he has received.
The thinking of this part of duty may also be of use to discourage and prevent an expensive course of life, beyond the proportion of a man's income and substance. For is he to be reckoned just, who consumes in luxury, and excess of any kind, not only his own patrimony, but likewise the right and property of other men?
Might not a respect to every thing that is just be of extensive use, and vast advantage to mankind? and prevent distresses and inconveniences, inexpressible and innumerable!
"Whatever things are just, think of them." Avoid lesser as well as greater acts of injustice. Think what is just and equitable toward those of your own family, whether relatives, servants, or dependents: what is fair and equitable in the way of commerce with other men your equals: what is just and due to superiors and governors: what regard you ought to have for the welfare of the public society, of which you are a part, in whose prosperity you are interested, by the powers of which you are protected in your commerce, and the secure possession of your property. Says St. Paul to the Romans: "Render therefore to all their dues, tribute to whom tribute is due, custom to whom custom, fear to whom fear, honour to whom honour. Owe no man any thing, but to love one another," Rom. xiii. 7, 8.
"Whatever things are pure, [or chaste,] think of them." Reckon yourselves obliged to all purity, in body and mind, in thought, word, and action, in every state, and in every age, and part of life, and in every circumstance, upon every occasion. Think and consider, how you may best be able to preserve that purity, which is acceptable to God, for the honour of religion, and your own peace and comfort. Think and consult with yourselves, how you may avoid temptations, and how you may resist and overcome them, if you should unexpectedly and suddenly meet with them. Meddle not with writings where a proper decorum is neglected, or in which, under specious appearances, the worst and most dangerous poison is insinuated. Never be present at indecent shews and spectacles, much less be at any time delighted with them, or applaud them. Decline resolutely, and with the utmost care, ensnaring and vicious conversation. So far from tempting and enticing others, or contributing by any means whatever to their being ensnared, and deluded from the paths of strict sobriety; do what lies in your power as you have opportunity, by the most proper and likely, the most effectual, the most acceptable, or least offensive methods, not only to preserve your own purity, but also to strengthen the wise and holy resolutions of others; that they may be stedfast in their purpose, overcome in a time of temptation, and pass through the world pure and unsullied.
"Whatever things are lovely," or amiable. So the original word seems most properly to signify. But herein, very probably, is included what is loving and friendly. For such things are usually lovely, and agreeable in the eye of the world.
All such things the apostle desires his Christian friends at Philippi to think of: to "follow after the things that make for peace," Rom. xiv. 19, among themselves and others. Says the Psalmist, "How good, and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity!" Psal. cxxxiii. It is not only a great happiness to those persons themselves, but it is likewise agreeable to others to behold and observe.
It is not unlikely, that the apostle intends here some exalted acts of virtue, care of the sick, bounty to the necessitous and indigent, readiness to appear in the behalf of such as are injured by prevailing power, endeavours to clear up doubtful points, and vindicate innocence, accused, censured, and reproached.
The Philippians, very probably, would be led by this advice, to think of benevolence toward each other, and toward their fellow-christians, and also toward other men, their Heathen and Jewish neighbours: a readiness to do good to them, when they had opportunity and ability, and their services and kind offices would be accepted.
Herein may be also included steadiness in the faith, and in the profession of the truth, free from any appearance of obstinacy, and without unreasonable scorn and disdain of others of different sentiments: a readiness to give a reason of their belief and hope to all who demand it and doing it with meekness and modesty.
Hereby may likewise be intended condescension upon many occasions, forgiveness of injuries, meekness and gentleness, mildness in precepts and reproofs, and doing every thing, so far as may be, in the most acceptable and agreeable manner.
Once more: Think of whatever things are lovely. Shew an affable carriage to all men. And if any of you have it in your power to be extensively useful, manifest cheerfulness of mind, in such good designs as you engage in, and promote them to the utmost.
Whatever things are of good report, or well spoken of, and generally commended.
But hereby the apostle intends those things only, that are justly commended, or are really commendable. It can never be imagined, that he advises any Christians to pay such deference to prevailing customs as to approve of any thing that is in itself evil. No: Christians were at that time few in number, in comparison of others, and were obliged to be stedfast in the faith, whatever others might think or say of it. And at some seasons, and in some places, there are some so degenerate and corrupt, as to vilify those who join not with them in shameful practices. "For the time past of our life may suffice us," says St. Peter, "to have wrought the will of the Gentiles, when we walked in lasciviousness, lusts, excess of wine, revellings, banquetings, and abominable idolatries: wherein they think it strange, that you run not with them to the same excess of riot, speaking evil of you," 1 Pet. iv. 3, 4. Nevertheless there are some branches of virtue and real goodness, which are generally approved, and well spoken of. St. Peter himself supposeth as much in another exhortation. Having your conversation honest, [or good, fair and unspotted,] among the gentiles: that whereas they speak against you, as evil-doers, they may by your good works, which they shall behold, glorify God in the day of visitation, 1 Pet. ii. 12.
This particular may in some measure coincide with the preceding. Such things as are amiable, taking and agreeable, will be generally commended. In both, especially the latter, I apprehend the apostle to recommend some sublime acts of virtue and goodness, which depend upon much self-denial, and consist in discreet compliances, and a departing from our just right upon some occasions, for weighty reasons and considerations, and out of a regard to the honour of religion, or with a view to the welfare and advantage of some particular persons, or the good of society in general.
There are particular directions in some other epistles, which may be recollected by you, and may illustrate this general advice, and help us to discern what is included in it.
In an argument, which the apostle has in the epistle to the Romans, he says, "Let not then your good be evil spoken of," Rom. xiii. 16. The Christian liberty, or freedom from an obligation to observe a distinction of meats, and such like indifferent things, was, in the general, good and reasonable. Yet he advises, not to assert it always, but to decline the so doing, when there should be a manifest danger of offending a weak and scrupulous person, so as to cause him to fall. Whereby it might happen, that what was good would be evil spoken of.
Another particular, which I suppose may suit this general direction, is that in the first epistle to the Corinthians. "I speak to your shame. Is it so, that there is not a wise man among you, that shall be able to judge between his brethren? But brother goes to law with brother, and that before the unbelievers. Now therefore there is utterly a fault among you, because ye go to law one with another. Why do ye not rather take wrong? Why do ye not rather suffer yourselves to be defrauded?" 1 Cor. vi. 5-7. Those persons had not a due regard to the circumstances of things. Contention and strife are unreputable among friends and relatives, and those who are of the same religious society and communion. It would therefore have been a good work, if some, who were of the best capacity and understanding among the Christians at Corinth, had endeavoured to reconcile disagreeing parties, and to induce them to make up their differences in an amicable way. And it might have been fit and commendable, supposing un