by Richard Sibbes
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Finally, my brethren, rejoice in the Lord.—PHILIP. 3:1.
THIS chapter contains a general exhortation to several duties. In this verse you have the manner of doing them—all must be done in rejoicing. From thence he proceeds to back other particular exhortations, with reasons and examples of himself, which we will speak of particularly when we come at them. Now in this verse I will speak first of the compellation, 'brethren;' then of the exhortation, 'rejoice;' and lastly, of the limitation, 'in the Lord.'
1. The appellation, 'brethren.' By this loving compellation he labours to enter into their hearts and affections; well knowing that exhortations are of the more force, being directed to those that are persuaded of the good affection of the speaker. If exhortation comes from the pride of a man, the pride of a man in the hearers will beat it back, and give entertainment thereunto.
But why are Christians brethren?
First, They have the same beginning of life from the same Father: as also they have the same common brother, that is, Christ. They have the same womb, the church; the same food, the word of God. They have the same promises; they are all heirs, all born to an inheritance.
Furthermore, the word brother is a word of equality and of dignity: of equality—though in personal callings one is superior to other, yet this takes not away the common brotherhood. This should fill up the valleys of men's hearts dejected here, in regard of their mean estates; as also pull down the mountains of the proud hearts of men, lifted up through these outward things. Kings must not lift up themselves in disdain of others, because all these personal respects end in death; we carry them not to heaven. And in those respects that we agree in here, as in grace and goodness, we shall continue united for ever. And yet must we honour such as are in eminency, and acknowledge them as men worthy of all respect, and give them dignity according to their places.
But further, this is a name of dignity. It argues that we are not basely born, that we are sons of God and heirs of heaven. Christ after his resurrection, the first term he gives his disciples, 'Tell my brethren,' saith he, 'I go to my Father and their Father.'
This word is also a word of love; and therewith the apostle insinuates the affections of the Philippians. Examine therefore thy affections towards the sons of God. If we love and respect them as our own brethren, good is our estate; if we hate them, our estate cannot be good.
And in the second place, Let not this word be appropriated to some, and not to others, which are notwithstanding of the same number. For one brother cannot make another no brother; for it is one and the same Father that makes brethren. So long therefore as thou seest anything of Christ in any, break not off thy affection, and disdain not the name of brother to such; for where the Spirit is, it works in us a resemblance of God; and where it stamps his image, it makes them brethren.
2. Exhortation, 'rejoice.' It is not only an affection, but a duty that we are enjoined. Wherein first observe,
(1.) It is a Christian's duty to rejoice. It is commanded here. Ministers are enjoined to speak comfort to such, Isa. 40:1, 'Comfort ye, comfort ye, my people;' and Christ came to 'bind up the broken in heart,' Isa. 61:1, and the ministers sent to shew men their unrighteousness, Job 33:23. The spirit that is in such is the spirit of joy; and therefore joy is reckoned as a fruit of the spirit, Gal. 5:22.
And why should not Christians rejoice? They are free from the spiritual Egypt, from greatest miseries. Nay, why should not we sing as the Israelites did after their deliverance? Our enemies and deliverance is far greater than theirs. And we have the greatest prerogatives. We have here an assured hope of eternal perfect happiness hereafter; we have 'peace with God,' Rom. 5:1. We have free access in all our wants to the throne of grace; and we have a God ready to hear all our prayers, and to help us. We have many gifts already received. Christ is already given us. We are in a state of regeneration. And for the time to come, we have promises from God, the God of truth, that nothing shall separate us from Christ. Surely these are great causes of joy in us; and having such things as these, we dishonour them, the giver of them, and ourselves and our profession, if we rejoice not in them.
(2.) In the second place observe, that it belongs only to Christians to rejoice. Others have neither cause of joy, nor commandment to rejoice. The ministers and prophets are bidden to bid such howl and lament, to shew them their miserable estate.* And indeed what ground can a condemned person have of joy? For the wicked, till they have remission of sins, they are in a damned estate; and though they will snatch this to themselves and say that they are sure to be saved, yet is salvation not their portion. They joy indeed, but it is in sin; in seeing or doing evil to others. Or if sometimes they joy in the gospel (for a wicked man may do so), it is but a forced joy, and much like hot waters to a cold fit of an ague. It brings heat and expulses cold for the present, but it burns them after. So this joy seems to comfort them now, but when trial comes it fails him, and makes him more disconsolate to see himself thus beguiled. Fitter it were for such to be first humbled and brought to the sight of their estate, than to administer comfort to them. To speak peace where none belongs is to undo men. It is the broken that must be healed, and the weary that must come to Christ.
(3.) Limitation. In the third place, observe the limitation of this joy: it must be 'in the Lord;' that is, in Christ, who in the New Testament is often called Lord. And he is our Lord: first, by gift; God hath given us all to Christ. Secondly, by conquest; he hath gotten victory of Satan. And thirdly, by marriage; and therefore we may well call him Lord, and rejoice in him, because he is our Lord; for by him we come to conquer all our enemies; by him we have peace, Rom. 5:1. He makes Us kings and priests, and brings us to heaven.
Now, for the practice of this duty of rejoicing in the Lord, that we may be encouraged, let us consider how it is a means not only of adherence to God, but also of obedience to his laws.
[1.] Adherence to God. Joy, if it be found,* knits us firm to God, so as we rest contented in him as our only and sufficient joy, seeking for no other joy in any other thing. To us Christ is made 'all in all' that we should solace ourselves in his fulness, which if we truly do, we will count all other things as despised, assuring ourselves they cannot minister or add any jot of sound comfort at all; and therefore will not endure any thought of mixture of other things with Christ, thereby to make him more sufficient and complete for our joys to rest on.
[2.] Obedience to his laws: for joy stirs up cheerfulnsss to every duty, and makes all duties acceptable to God and man. For the want hereof many are dead and dull in good duties; and where a large portion of this joy is, it will remove all lets and delays to duty. It doth not only enable us to, but in, duty. Cain no doubt came cheerfully to a good duty, to sacrifice; but for want of this cheerful and joyful spirit, what was his behaviour in the performance thereof? 'His countenance was cast down,' Gen. 4:6. This God espies suddenly, and so he doth in all our dull performances. For he looks things should be done cheerfully, and reason too, for he hath left us a treasure of excellent promises to encourage us. We see it in men. They love when a thing is done cheerfully; they know it betokens love in the party that doth it: and can we then think it strange that God requires it? Again, if we can fashion ourselves to this duty, God hath promised to increase our joy more abundantly. And he performed it to Hezekiah, 2 Chron. 29:36. He will give delight as a reward to him that delighteth in his work. And therefore we ought to labour to bring ourselves to this duty; to the obtaining of which observe these directions.
Means to get joy. First, Consider that joy comes from faith. For it is the sense of our reconciliation with Christ that makes us rejoice, Rom. 5:2, and 1 Pet. 1:6. Now, therefore, whatsoever strengthens faith, strengthens also our joy; and contrarily what weakens the one, must of necessity weaken the other.
Furthermore, joy comes from peace. Whatsoever, therefore, disturbs our peace, must needs disturb our joy. Therefore Satan, to despoil us of our joy, he spoils our faith through our sins; and by them he weakens our hope and our comfort. What is to be done then? Surely repair to the fountain of health, the well of joy, the word of God, Isa. 12:3. And from thence must we draw all our comfort. Use, therefore, the ordinances of God, but use them in the Lord, in obedience to his commandment, and expect the issue with patience. Many there are that use the means, but take no joy at all in them. Why? They do it not as in obedience to God's command, but they rest in the deed done, and they think God is bound to give them joy. God justly denies such that which they presume of.
In the second place: Pray that your joy may be full. See this in most of David's psalms. At the first he complains for the want of God's presence, of God's wrath and anger, but comes off with a large portion of comfort. 'Depart from me, ye wicked, for the Lord hath heard my prayer,' Ps. 6:8. In the use of all means, therefore, join prayer: pray for faith, for hope, and such graces as may bring joy. Though at first thou findest thyself to be cold, to have little or no comfort at all, yet give not over; thou shalt at length find plenty thereof. Remember the woman of Canaan: at the first despised and called dog, but what did her constancy gain? A gracious answer, 'O woman, great is thy faith: be it to thee as thou desirest,' Mat. 15:28.
In the third place: Remember former times, as David did, Ps. 77:6. He was so oppressed, his 'sore ran in the night, and ceased not,' as he saith. But then, 'I remembered the days of old,' &c. Consider thou also in thy deepest affliction, times were once when thou hadst the clear and comfortable light of God's Spirit present with thee. He will not leave thee, his nature is unchangeable, &c.
In the fourth place: Have society with the saints, and keep company with those that are good. And as the two disciples' hearts did burn when they talked with Christ, so verily thou shalt find this heat of comfort by little and little to increase. For God blesses the communion of saints, and such as are discerning Christians can tell us more, and opportunely bring things to mind which thou thyself rememberest not, and can inform our judgments when they are blinded with grief and melancholy. Use, therefore, the company of the good, when thou findest doubts arise, and make thy griefs known to some wise and judicious Christian. For the devil is too strong for any one alone. He will prevail against thee. Thou wilt be too weak to wrestle with him hand to hand. It is no wonder, therefore, that melancholy persons are so destitute of comfort.
Quest. It will be asked, May we not rejoice in friends' society, deliverance from dangers, and the like good things of this world?
Ans. I answer, Yes; and yet joy in the Lord also; for whenas whatsoever we have, we receive it as a token of God's particular love to us in Christ, who both gives us our daily bread and the word of life; comforts both heavenly and earthly; these outward things then, I say, do strengthen the faith of a Christian, and thereby our joy is strengthened. Wherefore we may thus joy in them, nay, it is our duty to do it. The wicked they indeed receive them, but only as from God's care of the general good of the world, or the race of mankind; and therefore can take no joy truly from them as the child of God doth: who in the right use of them, first rejoiceth that he is the child of God, and is reconciled to him in Christ: that Christ is his; and then that he having the field, hath also the pearl, Mat. 13:45, seq. All blessings belonging to this life and a better are in Christ made his, and he so rejoices in them, as he refers the comfort and strength that he receiveth from them to the honour of God. God's children receiving good things from him, are threatened for not rejoicing in them, Deut. 28:47. In the 45th verse he saith, 'The curses shall be upon thee, for that thou servest not the Lord thy God with joyfulness and gladness of heart, for the abundance of all things.' And it is expressly commanded, Deut. 26:11, 'Thou shalt rejoice in every good thing which the Lord thy God hath given thee, and thine house.'
Quest. But it may be questioned, Why, if this be true, are God's children so disconsolate? none are so much troubled in conscience as they? I answer,
1. Their sorrow proceeds not from their good estate, in that they are Christians, but from the want of the perfections to make them absolute Christians indeed.
2. They either do not know themselves, or if they do, because they glorify not God, nor adorn their profession, God justly suffers his joy to be hid, by hiding the comfortable presence of his Spirit.
3. God's children's joy, though it be great, yet is not discerned of the world. It is a hidden joy. The feast is kept in the conscience. It is not seen of the world, which discerns all things carnally. Carnal joy is always outward, and easy to express.
4. While God's children live here, they have ever a mixture of the two affections of joy and grief, to temper one another; for fulness of joy is only in heaven. This life will not endure perfect joy; but ever when there is cause given of joy, we have something to humble us, and to keep us from being exalted above measure. As Paul had some base temptation, which he calls the 'prick of the flesh,' who therefore bids us to fear and tremble, that we lose not the sense of God's Spirit by the prevailing of our corruptions.
Obj. But it will be objected, that the Christian is fuller of sorrow than joy. To which I answer,
Ans. It arises either from ignorance of the grounds of comfort, or from want of application of them. When a man is a young Christian, newly begun, he knows not nor understands what grounds he hath of joy. They are as children, that know not their inheritance at the first, nor their father's love; especially if he correct them, they think he loves them not. Even those that are grown Christians fail too often in this, either by misapplying the grounds, and misjudging of their estate; or sometimes through the distemper of their body, through melancholy. These judge of grace by the measure, when they should judge by the truth of it, be it never so little. For it is not the measure that is the evidence of the child of God, but truth of grace. For there are degrees of grace: in some more, in some less, and in one more in one time than in another. Take, therefore, a Christian in his right estate, one that is a grown Christian, whom neither melancholy nor temptation doth trouble; take him, I say, as he should be, he doth rejoice more soundly, with true joy and hearty, than any one can, being an ungodly man, be he never so merry. However, this we may be sure of, a Christian hath the greatest cause to rejoice, and, as I said before, he ought to stir it up in him by all means. And therefore, however indisposed he be thereto, he ought to search what good things God hath wrought in him. If he doth not know his estate, he cannot praise God as he should. He must meditate also of the vanity of all worldly things. They vanish, and they that put their trust in them ever failed of any true joy. It never comes to the heart of a man. They are not deep enough to comfort men that meet with afflictions. They only touch the fancy, as the fancy of a beast may be delighted.
Let him also compare all discomforts that can come, with this joy in the Lord, and he shall find that it countervails a world of sorrow. This has no end; they are momentary, they last but for a night. This is in the Lord, in whom is fulness of joy. This made the saints of God so resolute, that they set light by all afflictions whatsoever; and therefore, in their greatest afflictions they have the sweetest joy and greatest comforts. And let him also consider, that by this he avoids the reproach of religion, and shews the force and efficacy thereof to be such as is formerly declared.
And let him take heed of the hindrances of this joy. As first of all, of sin committed and not repented. Let him repent betimes, else it keeps a man dead, and dull, and backward. So long as this Achan is unfound, it will keep him in discomfort, 1 Chron. 2:7. Let him take heed of secret purposes, either to sin or to favour himself in any one sin, how small soever, for time to come. This will rob him utterly of comfort, for joy cannot lodge in such a heart. 'If I regard iniquity in my heart, the Lord will not hear me,' saith David, Ps. 66:18.
Furthermore, Let him take heed of negligence in good duties. For it is not enough to do them, but he ought to stir up the graces of God in him to do them thoroughly; and he must strive against his corruptions. For Christians have never so much joy, as when they have laboured with their endeavours to overcome their imperfections in good actions.
Lastly, Let him take heed of casting himself into dull or dead acquaintance. It is true we cannot avoid conversing with them, but we must have no secret and inward acquaintance but with the best. A companion of fools shall be beaten, and the wise with the wise will learn wisdom. We are all travellers to heaven; let us therefore choose such company as may, as it were, be a chariot to carry us thither, with their good example and discourses. And with the prophet David, think it a great grief when we have not such society as may do us good. 'Woe is me, that I am constrained to dwell in the tents of Meshech,' Ps. 120:5. And therefore, if heretofore any of us have been faulty, let us take warning of this hereafter.
Table of Contents
Verse 1: To write the same things to you
Verse 2: Beware of Dogs
Verse 3: For we are the circumcision
Verse 4: Though I might also have confidence in the flesh
Verse 5: Of the stock of Israel
Verse 6: Concerning zeal, persecuting the church
Verse 7: But what things were gain to me, those I count loss for Christ
Verse 8: Yea doubtless, and I count all things but loss
Verse 9: And be found in him
Verse 10: And the fellowship of his sufferings
Verse 11: If by any means I might attain to the resurrection of the dead
Verse 12: Not as though I had already attained, either were already perfect
Verse 13: Brethren, I count not myself to have apprchended
Verse 14: I press towards the mark
Verse 15: Let us therefore, as many as be perfect, be thus minded
Verse 16: Nevertheless, whereto we have already attained, let us walk by the same rule
Verse 17: Brethren, be followers together of me
Verse 18: For many walk, of whom I have told you often
Verse 19: Whose end is destruction
Verse 20: For our conversation is in heaven
Verse 21: Who shall change our vile body