XV. ENEMIES OF THE CROSS.
"For many walk, of whom I told you often, and now tell you even weeping, that they are the enemies of the cross of Christ: whose end is perdition, whose god is the belly, and whose glory is in their shame, who mind earthly things." — Phil. iii. 18, 19 (R.V.).
The New Testament writers, and not least the Apostle Paul, are wont to bring out their conception of the true Christian life by setting it vividly in contrast with the life of the unspiritual man. They seem to say: "If you really mean to say No to the one, and Yes to the other, be sincere and thorough: compromises are not possible here." So 1 Tim. vi. 10: "The love of money is the root of all evil: which while some coveted after, they have erred from the faith, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows. But you, O man of God," etc. Or Jude 18: "mockers, walking after their own ungodly lusts. These are they who separate themselves, sensual, having not the Spirit. But, you beloved," etc. Here in like manner the course of worldliness and self-pleasing life is sketched in concrete instances, that its sin and shame may be felt, and that by contrast the true calling of a Christian may be discerned and may be impressed on the disciples.
It may be taken as certain that the Apostle is not speaking of mere Jews or mere heathen. He is speaking of professing Christians, whose practical life belied their profession. In general they are enemies of the cross of Christ; that is the first thing he thinks fit to say of them. And here it may be asked whether the Apostle has in view, if not Jews, yet the Judaising faction about which he had already said strong things in the beginning of this chapter. Some have thought so; and it must be owned that antagonism to the cross, ignorance of its virtue, and antipathy to its lessons, is exactly what the Apostle was wont to impute to those Judaisers; as may be seen in the Epistle to the Galatians, and in other Pauline writings. But it is preferable, as has been already indicated, to take it that the Apostle has turned from the particular issue with those Judaisers; and having been led to declare emphatically what the life of Christianity was in his own experience and practice, he now sets this life in Christ not merely against the religion of the Judaisers, but in general against all religion which, assuming the name of Christ, denied the power of godliness; which meddled with that worthy name, but only brought reproach upon it. It is quite possible indeed that here he might have in view some of the Judaisers also; for there was a sensual side of popular Judaism which might be represented also among the Judaising Christians. But it is more likely that the Apostle's eye is turning mainly to another class of persons. It seems that in the early Churches, especially perhaps at the time when the later Epistles were written, a recognisable tendency to a loose and lawless Christianity was finding representatives. Warning against these was needed; and they embodied a form of evil which might serve to show the Philippians, as in a mirror, the disaster in which an idle, self-satisfied, vainglorious Christianity was like to land its votaries.
What first strikes the Apostle about them is that they are enemies of the cross of Christ. One asks, Does he mean enemies of the doctrine of the cross, or of its practical influence and efficiency? The two are naturally connected. But here perhaps the latter is principally intended. The context, especially what follows in the Apostle's description, seems to point that way.
When Christ's cross is rightly apprehended, and when the place it claims in the mind has been cordially yielded, it becomes, as we see in the case of Paul himself, a renovating principle, the fountain of a new view and a new course. That immense sacrifice for our redemption from sin decides that we are no more to live the rest of our time in the flesh to the lusts of men (1 Peter iv. 1). And that patience of Christ in His lowly love to God and man under all trial, sheds its conclusive light upon the true use and end of life, the true rule, the true inspiration, and the true goal. So regarded, Christ's cross teaches us the slender worth, or the mere worthlessness, of much that we otherwise should idolise; on the other hand, it assures us of redemption into His likeness, as a prospect to be realised in the renunciation of the "old man"; and it embodies an incomparable wealth of motive to persuade us to comply, for we find ourselves in fellowship with Love unspeakable.
Under this influence we take up our cross; which is substantially the same as renouncing or denying ourselves (Matt. xvi. 24) carried practically out. It is self-denial for Christ's sake and after Christ's example, accepted as a principle, and carried out in the forms in which God calls us to it. This, as we have seen, takes place chiefly in our consenting to bear the pain involved in separation from sin and from the life of worldliness, and in carrying on the war against sin and against the world. It includes rejection of known sin; it includes watchfulness and discipline of life with a view to life's supreme end; and so it includes prudential self-denial, in avoiding undue excitement and over-absorbing pleasure, because experience and God's word tell us it is not safe for our hearts to be so "overcharged" (Luke xxi. 34). This cross in many of its applications is hard. Yet in all its genuine applications it is most desirable; for in frankly embracing it we shall find our interest in salvation, and in the love which provides it, brought home with comfort to our hearts (1 Peter iv. 14).
It seems, then, that there are professing Christians who are enemies of the cross of Christ. Not that it is always an open and proclaimed hostility; though, indeed, in the case of those whom Paul is thinking of, it would appear to have revealed itself pretty frankly. But at all events it is a real aversion; they would have nothing to do with the cross, or as little as they may. And this proves that the very meaning of salvation, the very end of Christ as a Saviour, is the object of their dislike. But in Christianity the place of the cross is central. It will make itself felt somehow. Hence those who decline or evade it find it difficult to do so quietly and with complacency. Eventually their dislike is apt to be forced into bitter manifestation. They begin, perhaps, with quiet and skilful avoidance; but eventually they become, recognisably, enemies of the cross, and their religious career acquires a darker and more ominous character.
It is, however, an interesting question, What draws to Christianity those who prove to be enemies of the cross? Nowadays we may explain the adhesion of many such persons to Christian profession by referring to family and social influences. But we can hardly set much down to that score when we are thinking of the days of Paul. It cannot be doubted that some persons were then strongly drawn by Christianity, who did not prove amenable to its most vital influence. And that may persuade us that the same phenomenon recurs in all ages and in all Churches. For different minds there are different influences which may operate in this way. Intellectual interest may be stirred by the Christian teachings; the sense of truth and reality may be appealed to by much in the Christian view of men and things; there may be a genuine satisfaction in having life and feelings touched and tinged with the devout emotions which breathe in Christian worship; there may be a veneration, real as far as it goes, for some features of Christian character, as set plainly in Scripture and embodied in individual Christians; and, not to dwell on mere particulars, the very goodness of Christian truth and life, which a man will not pay the cost of appropriating to himself, may exert a strong attraction, and draw a man to live upon the borders of it. No, such men may go a good long way in willingness to do and bear for the cause they have espoused. Men have run the risk of loss of life and goods for Christianity, who have yet been shipwrecked on some base lust which they could not bring themselves to resign. And who has not known kindly, serviceable men, hanging about the Churches with a real predilection for the suburban life of Zion, — men regarding whom it made the heart sore to form any adverse judgment, and yet men whose life seemed just to omit the cross of Christ?
In the case of those whom Paul thinks of there was no room for doubt as to the real nature of the case; and therefore the Apostle cannot too emphatically bring it out. He puts first the most startling view of it. Their end is destruction. Not salvation, but destruction is before them, although they name the name of Christ. Destruction is the port they are sailing for: that is the tendency of their whole career. Their place must be at last with those on whom the day of the Lord brings sudden destruction, so that they shall not escape. Alas for the Christians whose end is destruction!
"Their god is their belly." Their life was sensual. Most likely, judging from the tone of expression, they were men of coarse and unblushing indulgence. If so, they were only the more outstanding representatives of the sensual life. The things which delight the senses were for them the main things, and ruled them. They might have intellectual and æsthetic interests, they might own family and social connections, they certainly did attach importance to some religious views and some religious ties; but the main object of their life was to seek rest and content for those desires which may have rest apart from any higher exercise or any higher portion. Their life was ruled and guided by its lower and sensual side. So their belly was their god. Yet they claimed a place in the Christian fellowship, in which Christ has revealed God, and has opened the way to God, and brings us to God. But their thoughts ran, and their plans tended, and their life found its explanation, bellywards. This was their god. Their trust and their desire were placed in the things which the flesh appreciates. These they served, and of these they took on the likeness. They served not the Lord Jesus Christ, but their own belly. One cannot think of it, without grave questions as to the direction in which life preponderates. That would seem to indicate our god. One does not severely judge "good living." And yet what may "good living" denote in the case of many a professing Christian? In what direction do we find the tides of secret and unrestrained thought setting?
And they glory in their shame. In this Epistle and elsewhere, one sees the importance attached by the Apostle to that which a man glories in, as marking his character. For himself, Paul gloried in the cross of Christ: he counted all things but loss for the knowledge of Christ. And these men also were, or claimed to be, in Christ's Church, in which we are taught to rate things at their true value and to measure them by the authentic standard. But they gloried in their shame. What they valued themselves upon; what they inwardly, at least, rejoiced in, and applauded themselves for; what they would, perhaps, have most cheerfully dwelt upon in congenial company, were things of which they had every reason to be ashamed — no doubt, the resources they had gathered for the worship of this god of theirs, and the success they had had in it. For example, such men would inwardly congratulate themselves on the measure in which they were able to attain the kind of satisfaction at which they aimed. They gloried in the degree in which they succeeded in bringing about a perfect accommodation between themselves and the objects which sense alone appreciates, and in producing a harmonious and balanced life, set on that key. Really, it should have been to them a cause of grief and shame to find themselves succeeding here, and failing in attaining a right relation to Christ and to the things of God's kingdom, to righteousness, godliness, faith, love, patience, meekness. So they gloried in their shame. This was seen in their lives. Alas, is there no reason to fear that when the thoughts of all hearts are revealed, too many whose lives are subject to no obvious reproach shall be found to have lived an inward life of evil thought, of base desire, of coarse and low imagination, that can only rank in the same class with these — men whose whole inward life gravitates, and gravitates unchecked, towards vanity and lust?
In a word, their character is summed up in this, that they mind earthly things. That is the region in which their minds are conversant and to which they have regard. The higher world of truths and forces and objects which Christ reveals is for them inoperative. It does not appeal to them, it does not awe them, it does not govern them. Their minds can turn in this direction on particular occasions, or with a view to particular discussions; but their bent lies another way. The home of their hearts, the treasure which they seek, the congenial subjects and interests, are earthly.
Since this whole description is meant to carry its lesson by suggestion of contrast, the clause last referred to brings powerfully before us the place to be given to the spiritual mind in our conception of a true Christian life. In the eighth chapter of the Epistle to the Romans we are told that to be carnally minded — or the minding of the flesh — is death, but the minding of the spirit is life and peace. Care, therefore, is to be taken of our thoughts and of our practical judgments, so that they may be according to the spirit. Effort in this direction is hopeful effort, because we believe that Christ grants His Spirit to holy those regions of the inward man by His illuminating and purifying presence. It cannot be doubted that many lives that were capable of yielding much good fruit, have been frittered away and wasted through indulged vanity of thought. Others, that are methodical and energetic enough, are made sterile for Christian ends by the too common absence or the too feeble presence of the spiritual mind. It is not altogether direct meditation on spiritual objects that is here to be enforced. That has its important place; yet certainly, frank converse with the whole range of human interests is legitimately open to the Christian mind. What seems to be essential is that, through all, the regard to the supreme interests shall continue; and that the manner of thinking and of judging, the modes of feeling and impression, shall keep true to faith and love and Christ. The subject recurs in another form at the eighth verse of the following chapter.
Probably, as was said, the Apostle is speaking of a class of men whose faults were gross, so that at least an Apostolic eye could not hesitate to read the verdict that must be passed upon them. But then we must consider that his object in doing this was to address a warning to men to whom he imputed no such gross failings; concerning whom, indeed, he was persuaded far other things, even things that accompany salvation; but whom he knew to be exposed to influences tending in the same direction, and whom he expected to see preserved only in the way of vigilance and diligence. Outstanding failures in Christian profession may startle us by their conspicuous deformity; but they fail to yield us their full lesson unless they suggest the far finer and more subtle forms in which the same evils may enter in, to mar or to annul what seemed to be Christian characters.
The protest against the cross is still maintained even in the company of Christ's professed disciples. But this takes place most commonly, and certainly most persuasively, without advancing any plea for conduct grossly offensive, or directly inconsistent with Christian morals. The "enemies of the cross" retreat into a safer region, where they take up positions more capable of defence. "Why have a cross?" they say. "God has not made us spiritual beings only: men ought not to attempt to live as if they were pure intelligences or immaterial spirits. Also, God has made men with a design that they should be happy; they are to embrace and use the elements of enjoyment with which He has so richly surrounded them. He does not mean us to be clouded in perpetual gloom, or to be on our guard against the bright and cheering influences of the earth. He has made all things beautiful in their time; and He has given to us the capacity to recognise this that we may rejoice in it. Instead of scowling on the beauty of God's works, and the resources for enjoyment they supply, it is more our part to drink in by every sense, from nature and from art, the brightness, and gladness, and music, and grace. Let us seek, as much as may be in this rough world, to have our souls attuned to all things sweet and fair."
There is real truth here; for, no doubt, it lies in the destiny of man to bring the world into experience according to God's order: if this is not to be done in ways of sin and transgression, it is yet to be done in right ways; and in doing it, man is designed to be gladdened by the beauty of God's handiwork and by the wealth of His beneficence. And yet such statements can be used to shelter a life of enmity to the cross, and they are often employed to conceal the more momentous half of the truth. As long as the things of earth can become materials by means of which we may be tempted to fall away from the Holy One, and as long as we, being fallen, are corruptly disposed to make idols of them, we cannot escape the obligation to keep our hearts with diligence. So long, also, as we live in a world in which men, with a prevailing consent, work up its resources into a system which shuts God and Christ out; so long as men set in motion, by means of those resources, a stream of worldliness by which we are at all times apt to be whirled away, — so long every man whose ear and heart have become open to Christ will find that as to the things of earth there is a cross to bear. For he must decide whether his practical life is to continue to accept the Christian inspiration. He must make his choice between two things, whether he will principally love and seek a right adjustment with things above, with the objects and influences of the Kingdom of God, or whether he will principally love and seek a right, or at least a comfortable adjustment with things below. He must make this choice not once only, but he must hold himself at all times ready to make it over again, or to maintain it in reiterated applications of it. The grace of Christ who died and rose again is his resource to enable him.
Every legitimate element of human experience, of human culture and attainment, is, doubtless open to the Christian man. Only, in making his personal selection among them, the Christian will keep sight of the goal of his high calling, and will weigh the conditions under which he himself must aim at it. Still every such element is open; and all legitimate satisfaction accruing to men from such sources is to be received with thankfulness. Let all this be recognised. But Christianity, by its very nature, requires us to recognise also, and in a due proportion, something else. It requires us to recognise the evil of sin, the incomparable worth of Christ's salvation. Along with these things, duly regarded, let all innocent earthly interests take their place. But if we are conscious that as yet we have very incompletely established the right proportionate regard, is it any wonder if we are obliged to keep watch, lest the treacherous idolatry of things seen and temporal should carry us away, — obliged to accept the cross? We are obliged; but in the school of our Master we should learn to do this thing most gladly, not by constraint, but of a ready mind.
The ideal life on earth no doubt would be a life in which all was perfectly harmonised. The antagonism of the interests would have passed away. Loyalty and love to God's kingdom and to His Son would embody themselves in all human exercise and attainment as in their proper vesture, each promoting each, working together as body and soul. There are Christians who have gone far towards this attainment. They have been so mastered by the mind of Christ, that while, on the one hand, they habitually seek the things above, on the other hand there is little trace of bondage or of timorousness in their attitude towards the bright aspects of earthly experience. Some of them were happily carried in early days into so clear a decision for the better part; some emerged later, after conflict, into so bright a land of Beulah, that they find it easy, with little conflict and little fear, to take frank use of forms of earthly good which other Christians must treat with more reserve.
This is one of the reasons why we must not judge one another about these things; why we must not lay down absolute rules about them; why even our recommendations must be provisional and prudential only. It is at the same time a reason for the more fidelity in each of us towards himself, to see that we do not trifle with the great trust of regulating our own life. It is possible to give to God and to Christ a recognition which is not consciously dishonest, and yet to fail in admitting any deep and dominant impression of the significance of Christ's redemption for human life. So the heart is yielded, the time is surrendered, the strength is given to attractive objects, which are not indeed essentially immoral, but which are suffered to usurp the heart, and to estrange the man from Christ. Such persons prove enemies of the cross of Christ: they mind earthly things.
Since the earthly side of human life, with its sorrow and joy, its work and its leisure, is legitimate and inevitable, questions arise about adjusting details. And in particular, those who retain a relation to Christianity while they cherish a worldly spirit, take a delight in raising questions as to the forms of life which are, or are not, in harmony with Christianity, and as to whether various practices and indulgences are to be vindicated or condemned. It is a satisfaction to persons of this sort to have a set of fixed points laid down, with respect to which, if they conform, they may take the credit of doing so, and if they rebel, they may have the comfort of feeling that the case is arguable: as indeed these are often matters upon which one may argue for ever. Now what is clearly prohibited or clearly warranted in Scripture, as permanent instruction for the Church, must be maintained. But beyond that point it is often wisest to refuse to give any specific answer to the questions so raised. The true answer is, Are you a follower of Christ? Then it is laid on your own conscience, at your own responsibility, to answer such questions for yourself. No one can come in your place. You must decide, and you have a right to decide for yourself, what course is, for you, consistent with loyalty to Christ and His cross. Only it may be added, that the very spirit in which one puts the question may be significant. One who minds earthly things will put the question in one way; one whose citizenship is in heaven, in another. And the answer which you attain will be according to the question you have put.
From the Epistle to the Philippians by Robert Rainy, D.D., Principal of New College. Edinburgh. Published by FUNK & WAGNALLS COMPANY in 1990. Digitally produced by Colin Bell, Julia Neufeld and the Online
Reach for the Calling Creator
To the Philippians - R. Rainy
ON THE BOOK SHELF
May your calling be the best.