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Philip. iii. 17.
BRETHREN, BE FOLLOWERS TOGETHER OF ME, AND MARK THEM WHICH WALK SO, AS YE HAVE US FOR AN ENSAMPLE."
It has been said, and with great propriety, that "example is living instruction ;” and they, who are at all acquainted with the constitution of human nature, must be convinced, that embodied virtue or embodied vice cannot but be attended with the consequences of a wide spreading influence. Effects the most beneficial or the most pernicious, are inseparably connected with the character and conduct of
every human being; and he who can so far disentangle himself from the relations and connexions of life, as to think little of the results attendant on his own character and station, must forget at once all pretensions to the man or the Christian. Such an one is dead to all moral responsibility, and can only be actuated by principles as destructive of the
welfare of the community, as they are certainly hostile to himself.
The Apostle Paul was deeply acquainted with the tendencies of human nature-he well knew the efficacy of example, and fearful of its evil effects on the Church at Corinth-he warns them that “ evil communications corrupt good manners.” Of the Church at Philippi he had formed a very favourable opinion-he recognises in them the fruits of the Spirit—he saw that their conduct was in accordance with the principles of the Gospel, and accordingly he opens his Epistle with the expressions of his fervent and continued regard. But like a faithful pastor, ever alive to the interests of his flock, he warns them of approaching danger. The enemy had already begun to sow his tares, and he perceived even in this favoured Church, that there were men of perverse minds, given alike to worldly and sensual indulgence—and as their example might prove extremely injurious to the general interests of the Church, he not only deplores the grief which such misconduct produced in his own mind, but he calls upon the Philippians to follow the example which had been set before them, as well in the person of himself as of those who were walking in his footsteps.
“ Brethren, be followers together of me, and mark them which walk so, as ye have us for an ensample. (For many walk, of whom I have told you often, and now tell you even weeping, that they are the enemies of the cross of Christ—whose end is destruction, whose God is their belly, and whose glory is in their shame, who mind earthly things)—for our conversation is in heaven, from whence also we look for the Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ.”
In attempting an improvement of the passage
I have selected for our meditation this day, we shall consider the example proposed for our imitation.—The Apostle Paul, in the sacred writings, stands before us in a two-fold capacity, as the Apostle of the Gentiles, and as the private Christian. It might be profitable, as well as interesting, to enlarge on his character as a minister of the Gospel—to behold him as the messenger of the glad tidings of salvation burning with an holy ardour, to consolidate and extend the Redeemer's kingdom—and we cannot but confess, that it is with some degree of reluctance we forbear dwelling on so delightful a subject. As, however, in the passage under consideration, the Apostle is evidently speaking of himself in his private capacity, in that capacity we shall consider him as exhorting us, through the medium of the
Church at Philippi, to follow his illustrious example. The subject properly embraces the whole of the Apostle's character and conduct, but as the limits of a discourse will not admit of our even glancing at the varied circumstances of his life, and as he has in the chapter before us, spoken of himself and his general views, in very decided terms, we shall confine the subject to the noticing of those feelings and pursuits which are here depicted and proposed for our imitation. We have, then, in the chapter before us:
(1). An utter rejection of any righteousness of his own, as a plea of justification in the sight of God. It is a lamentable fact, that although man be a transgressor of the Divine Law, and, on the authority of revelation, is declared to be by nature in a state of wrath-to possess an heart deceitful above all things, and a carnal mind, which is enmity against God-and thus situated, is exhorted to lay hold of the hope set before him in the Gospel ; that notwithstanding the decisive statements of his misery on the one hand, and the affecting discoveries of mercy on the other, he is disposed in the matter of his acceptance with an offended Godhead, to cleave to a covenant of works. He ventures to appeal to a law which is denominated in terms not less awful than these, that it is “ the
ministration of condemnation,” and confiding in performances, as defective in their execution, as they have been entirely wrong in their motives—he dares to challenge the Judge of all, on the merits of an admitted imperfect obedience. Such before his conversion was the Apostle Paul. He informs us in his Epistle to the Galatians, “ that he profited in the Jews religion above many of his equals in his own nation, being more exceedingly zealous of the traditions of his fathers”—Gal. i. 14. And in the chapter from whence my text is taken, he affirms, “ that if any man thought he had whereof to trust in the flesh, he surely had more.' His were no common or small pretensions he had been circumcised the eighth day-he was lineally descended of the stock of Israel of the tribe of Benjamin, an Hebrew of the Hebrews, as touching the law, he was a Pharisee; concerning zeal, he even persecuted the Church, and as it respected his private life and conversation, he could appeal to all who had known him, that his character would bear the severest scrutiny. If ever there existed an human being, who might have had cause to pride himself upon his distinctions and attainments, it was certainly the Apostle Paul-he could trace back his genealogy to Israel and Abraham-he was descended of a tribe that