[* With Editors notes included where they are deemed to be necessary.]
AN INDEX TO CHRISTIAN CHARACTER
C. A. COATES
I wish to bring before you a most interesting subject, viz., The desires of a Christian. A mans true character is indicated by his desires. To know a mans desires is to know the man; they are the true index to what he is. What a man is outwardly does not constitute his character: for this you must go beneath the surface to the hidden springs of the heart. In the word of God man in the flesh is exposed right down to the very roots of his being. Not only is divine light thrown upon his actions and words, but the very desires of his heart are dragged out from their secret hiding-places and exhibited in their true and hideous nature, so that we know not only what man has done, but what he is - we know his character.
In a similar way we have in the epistle to the Philippians the unfolding of the desires of a Christians heart; and in connection with this I may remark that nothing is more wonderful than the way in which God developed the life and experience of a Christian in the beloved apostle Paul, so that the most exalted truths are not here stated in a doctrinal way, but are presented as having been worked out in the life and experience of a man subject to like passions as we are. In this epistle the heart of the man in Christ is uncovered, the very core of his moral being is laid bare, his inmost desires are exposed, and thus we learn here not so much what are the privileges, or the activities of the Christian, as we learn what constitutes the character of a Christian. May the Lords blessing attend our meditations on this subject.
1. According to my earnest expectation and my hope, that in nothing I shall he ashamed, but that with all boldness, as always, so now also, Christ shall be magnified in my body, whether it be by life, or by death, Philippians 1 :20.
Consider for a moment the peculiarly trying circumstances in which Paul was found when these words were penned. Think of him with all his natural energy of character, and with all the burning desires of a heart that had been saturated with the love of Christ, and longed to carry the fulness of the blessing of Christ to every saint and sinner under heaven; and think what it must have been to him to be hemmed in by the four walls of a Roman prison! Such had been his position for at least two years, and yet he expresses no desire to have his circumstances altered. His one care and desire was that Christ Might be magnified in his body in any circumstances - whether by life or by death.
Did you never find yourself making your circumstances an excuse for your lack of devotedness to Christ? The poor man thinks, If I were rich I could magnify Christ a great deal; the weak one thinks, If I were strong and robust, what an amount of service I could render; the one who has not much gift thinks, If I could speak as well as So-and-so I could honour Christ much more than I do; others say, If I were in another family, If I had a different occupation, If my circumstances were changed a little, Christ might he magnified more largely in me.
Now the simple fact is that this is all self-occupation, and these are the wretched excuses made by the flesh to justify a lack of devotedness to Christ. Look at them, and you will find that they all centre round self. It is, if I this, and if I that, I would he a wonderful Christian, and of course I should have the credit of it, and, in result, I would be magnified. The soul in this state has not really done with self - that wretched old I - and if circumstances permitted many works and much Christian activity the result would be something like Job 29.
If you read that chapter you will find the occurrence about fifty times of the words I, me, and my. Job had been in circumstances which favoured a great deal of benevolent activity, but you notice it all centred round himself, and you might justly entitle this chapter, Self Magnified.
An immense advance upon this may be found in a remarkable utterance of John the Baptist: He must increase, but I must decrease, John 3: 30. Himself one of the last and greatest saints of a dispensation which recognised man in the flesh, John was taught of God to express what was not only true of himself personally, but true of him as the representative of man in the flesh. The very presence on earth of the Second Man out of heaven, was morally the setting aside of the old order of man in the flesh. Here was One who had come from above - from heaven - and contrasting this One with himself - the MAN of the new order with the man of the old - John says, HE must increase, but I must decrease.
As the glories of the Person of Christ passed before the eyes of faith, He eclipsed everything that was of the first man.
Thus in Job 29 we have self magnified; in John 3 self decreasing; one more step and we find self gone. I am crucified with Christ; nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh, I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me, Galatians 3 : 20. At the cross the One who knew no sin was made sin for us. It was, so to speak, as the Representative of the race of Adam that He died. The deep, dark waters of death flowed over and covered Him - as once they flowed over the created earth - and the end of all flesh came before God. That was the end of man in the flesh in the sight of God, and every believer in Jesus is entitled to take account of himself as having died with Christ.
This is the starting point of true Christian experience. When first converted, I suppose we all, with more or less earnestness, endeavoured to be what we felt we ought to be. We struggled and prayed, and resolved, and were grievously disappointed to find that we could not succeed in our purpose. We found that there was something within us which would not be brought into subjection to the will of God. We discovered that we had not only been guilty of doing many bad things, but that we were bad ourselves. It was not sins that troubled us at this stage of our experience, but self. At last we despaired of making ourselves better: we reached the point that another had reached hundreds of years before us, and could only cry, O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from this body of death? Romans 7: 24. We became sensible that we needed as complete a deliverance from self as we did from sins. When we reached that point God showed us the blessed One who was lifted up upon the cross - antitype of the brazen serpent - and we were prepared to accept the precious fact of the gospel, that our old man has been crucified with him, and that we have died with Christ. By faith we appropriated the death of Christ and reckoned it as our own; at the same time discovering that Christ as the living, risen One, was our life. Now the Holy Spirit, if un-grieved, would maintain us in the liberty of life in Christ Jesus. As we walk in the Spirit* we are kept in communion with God as to our old man, and he never comes back before God - he has been condemned and set aside for ever in the stupendous judicial work of the cross.
[* Note the attached condition - placed by God upon our responsibility to be obedient servants of His - to walk in the Spirit; to walk by His power, and in the direction of His leading:-
Obey me, and I will be your God and you will be my people. Walk in all the ways I command you, that it may go well with you. But they did not listen or pay attention; instead, they followed the stubborn inclinations of their evil hearts. They went backward and not forward. This is the nation that had not obeyed the Lord its God or responded to correction. And what was the result of their disobedience and irresponsibility? Truth has perished; it has vanished from their lips for the Lord has rejected and abandoned this generation that is under his wrath: (Jer. 7: 23, 24, 28, NIV.). The Holy Spirit does not indwell disobedient servants, who follow the stubborn inclinations of their evil hearts.]
Then not only does Christ live in us, but He becomes the motive Object of our life as Christians. The law is no longer our motive or rule of life. It is entirely displaced by a Person, and that Person the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me. Henceforth the soul has a new centre - it is no longer self-centred but Christ-centred. Christ is the motive Object and not self.
The epistle to the Philippians starts on this level. If we do not know Galatians 2 20 in our souls we are not at all prepared for Philippians. The Is and mes of Philippians (about ninety in number) are very different from the Is and mes of Job 29 or Romans 7. It is the Christian, as such, who speaks in this epistle, and the desires and experience spoken of are those of one who knows what it is to be a man in Christ. With such a one it is no longer a question of circumstances, or of what may happen to him; but the desire that, whatever happens to him, CHRIST may he magnified, becomes the supreme concern of the heart. He counts that the old man, who would have rivalled Christ, and who desired to magnify himself, has been reduced to nothingness at the cross; and now Christ is filling the whole horizon of his faith and love. He can look at the whole range of possible circumstances - covering all by the words life or death and his only desire is that CHRIST may he magnified in his body, whether it be by life or by death. The Christian, as such, has done with self as the source of his motives altogether.
2. Having a desire to depart, and to be with Christ; which is far better, Philippians 1: 23.
I am afraid that in our desire to give prominence to the precious truth of the Lords coming, we sometimes give the impression that it is a very inferior kind of thing to look for departing to he with Christ. It is therefore well that we should be reminded in this epistle of highest Christian experience that Paul had a desire to depart. The Holy Spirit knew that in the actual history of the church millions of believers would fall asleep, and it was important that the attitude of the Christian in view of this possibility should have a place in this epistle. Otherwise it might be supposed - as was actually the case at Thessalonica - that to fall asleep was to sustain some loss, and that those alive at the time of the rapture would have some advantage over those who departed before. To be with Christ is far better than to remain here. The sweetest thought in connection with the rapture is that So shall we ever be with the Lord, 1 Thessalonians 4: 17. That is the hearts own portion, and it is a very precious fact that the infinitely blessed prospect of being in the Lords company is connected with the departure of the Christian as well as with the coming of the Lord (see Luke 23: 43*; 2 Corinthians 5: 8; Philipplans 1: 23). The Christians heart longs for the company of the glorious One who died for us, that, whether we wake or sleep, we should live together with him. Therefore if we think of ourselves as part of the church we look for the coming of the Lord; if we think of ourselves as individuals we have a desire to depart, and to be with Christ. Nor is this a small thing, for where this desire really exists it bears witness that the heart is not seeking its portion here - it has done with the earth. The separating word has entered the soul Arise ye, and depart; for this is not your rest: because it is polluted. The mind is set on things above, not on things on earth. The links with heaven are stronger than the links with earth, and the souls desire is there, not here.
[* That is, in the Paradise below in the underworld of Hades/ Sheol (Psa. 139: 8; Luke 16: 23, 30. cf. Acts 2: 27, 34; John 3: 13; 14: 3; 20; 17), where the holy dead must wait (Rev. 6: 11), for the time of Resurrection (1 Thess. 4: 16) when the body is redeemed from the grave and reunited to the soul.
We dare not appear, as naked souls, in the presence of God in Heaven! We must follow the path which our Lord Jesus Christ (our Forerunner); took; and wait in the intermediate place and state of the dead in the heart of the earth (Matt. 12: 40) as He did, until the time of our Resurrection when the dead will receive glorified and immortal bodies from the grave. This is what the Holy Scriptures makes known to us: but how many Christians today are willing to believe them and prepared to teach them to the Lords redeemed people?
The most ancient of all the Fathers, says Dr. Pierson in his classic work on the Creed, were so far from believing that the end of Christs descent into Hades was to translate the saints of old into heaven, that they thought them not to be in heaven yet, nor ever to be removed from that place until the general resurrection: very few (if any) for above five hundred years after Christ did believe that Christ delivered the saints out of Hades. And again: For if you have conversed with some that are called Christians, and do not maintain these opinions (the millenarian), but even dare to blaspheme the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, and say that there is no resurrection of the dead, but that the souls, as they leave the body, are received up into heaven, take care that you do not look upon these as Christians: as no one that rightly considers would say that the Sadducees, or the like sects of Genists, and Merists, and Galileans, and Hellenians, and Pharisees, and Baptists, are Jews. Justin Martyr (Dialogue with Trypho, c, 80). And again: Souls depart into the invisible place appointed for them by God, where they will tarry till resurrection, in a constant expectation of it; after which, they, receiving their bodies, and rising perfectly, that is corporeally, will come to the presence of God. Irenaeus, (Lib. v. c. 26).]
I am afraid, beloved friends, that sometimes we look upon death as a melancholy termination of our course upon the earth. There is, I fear, but little of this leaping forward of the heart to be with Christ. Paul does not speak of resignation or submission; he expresses a desire that burned with fervour in his soul. The earth was for him the poor polluted scene of mans sin and Satans power, and he longed to be away from it with Christ. The only thing that detained his heart here was the church. Christs treasures - the members of His body - were here, and for their furtherance and joy of faith he was willing to remain. The Christian, as such, has no object upon this earth but the interests of Christ.
3. That I may rejoice in the day of Christ, that I have not run in vain, neither laboured in vain, Philippians 2 :16.
This third desire of Pauls heart looks on to the day of Christ - the day of manifestation and reward - and a solemn possibility is suggested that his joy in that day might be diminished if the saints at Philippi - the results of his labour - did not turn out to be bright, real witnesses for Christ.
I take it for granted that you are fully established in the grace of God. You know, through grace, that your sins are forgiven and that you are as clear of condemnation as Christ Himself. You have been saved by grace, and you now stand in grace, and you are assured that grace begun shall end in glory. It is only when the heart is established with grace, that it is rightly prepared to be girded by the bands of christian responsibility. Do not be afraid of the word responsibility. We have a responsibility as servants of the Lord Christ, of which we shall presently give account at His judgment-seat; and this is a truth which I believe is urgently needed to ballast our souls in these days of self-seeking and self-pleasing. It is a solemn and a sobering thought for us, as responsible servants of Christ, that there is a day coming when all our service will be weighed in the balances of the sanctuary; when all our ways, words and actions will be manifested, and even the secret counsels of our hearts exposed in divine light.
I will bring before you two or three scriptures which connect themselves with this desire of Paul that he might rejoice in the day of Christ.* (Read 2 John 8; 1 Corinthians 3: 13-15; 2 Corinthians 5: 10; 1 John 2: 28.) The solemn and heart-searching possibility is suggested to us in these scriptures that we may lose those things which we have wrought; that we may suffer loss; that we may be ashamed before him at his coming; and depend upon it my brethren, these are not vain words. I pray God that their solemn force may not be lost upon us.
[* That is, during His millennial reign upon this earth, when A king will reign in righteous and rulers will rule with justice: (Isa. 32: 1): cf. Luke 22: 28-30; 2 Pet. 3: 8.]
It is very sweet to see how all this is made to act upon the affections of the saints. In two of the scriptures which we have read, it is brought forward as a reason why the saints should behave themselves properly, as it is also here in Philippians 2. Thus the Holy Spirit enlists the affection of the saints for their spiritual fathers and leaders, as a motive to godly life and spiritual progress. The saints were, in a certain way, the workmanship of the servant, and if they turned out badly it would be his loss as well as theirs. It is as though the servant said to his converts, or to those for whom he was caring in the things of the Lord, You would, I am sure, like me to have full wages for my work, and to be able to give an account of it not only without shame, but with joy.* If you turn out well this will be the case, but if you turn out badly I shall suffer loss. Weavers know very well that if they turn out a damaged piece they do not get full wages; and if the servants of the Lord turn out bad work they cannot expect to get full wages. If the servants work is of good quality it will be his glory, and joy, and crown of rejoicing in the day of Christ; but if his converts walk badly, and the lambs and sheep for whom he is caring do not thrive, he will certainly be a loser, and this is applied to the hearts and consciences of the saints as a reason why they should walk well.
[* NOTE. It will be a fearful position to be in for all those whom God has placed in authority to teach, when their brothers and sisters in Christ ask the question: If you were shown and knew this truth, why then did you not disclose it to us, and warn us of the possible loss of our crown? See Rev. 3: 11.]
We must remember in this connection that all Christians are the servants of Jesus Christ. It is in this character that Paul is writing in this epistle. See Philippians 1: 1; he takes ground which was not only common to himself and Timothy, but also to all saints. Even to slaves it was said, Ye serve the Lord Christ. Whatever be the nature of our service, it will pass under review at the judgment-seat of Christ. May each of us think less of the opinions which men form concerning us in this day, and he more anxious to rejoice in the day of Christ that we have not run in vain, neither laboured in vain!
4. But what things were gain to me, those I counted loss for Christ. Yea, doubtless, and I count all things but loss, for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord: for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and do count them but dung, that I may win Christ, Philipplans 3: 7, 8.
Paul had counted all the religious gain of which he speaks in verses 5 and 6, loss for CHRIST, and still, after many years of deepening acquaintance with Christ, he counts all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus. The great desire of his heart is, That I may win Christ, or, as it may be translated, That CHRIST may he my gain. You understand such an expression in connection with earthly things; you know what James means when he speaks of buying and selling and getting gain. You know what it is to make things on earth your gain. In contrast to this, Paul was laying himself out that CHRIST might be his gain. He did not want gold, or silver, or religious reputation; he wanted CHRIST; and to gain CHRIST he gave up all the things that would have made something of Paul. You may have found out that your bad things are a loss to you, but Paul had discovered that his good things were a loss to him. It was the things which elevated him morally and religiously as a man on the earth, that he counted loss. He had everything that could thus elevate him, when he was unconverted and without Christ. A man may have an immense amount of moral and religious gain, and yet be nothing more than a natural man - a man in the flesh. Christianity when taken up by the natural mind is a great elevation for man, and has become a great gain to many who do not know Christ at all. It is a solemn truth that all such gain is a great hindrance to gaining CHRIST. It is really building up the man who, as we have already seen, was set aside at the cross. Paul gave up everything that constituted his perfection as a religious man upon this earth - counting it all loss - that he might win Christ. In short, he gave up one man that he might gain Another; and this not only at some particular moment, but in such a way that this desire gave colour and character to his whole life. The Christian, as such, renounces the first man and everything that could be a gain to him, that he may win CHRIST.
5. And be found in him, not having mine own righteousness, which is of the law, but that which is through the faith of Christ, the righteousness which is of God by faith, Philippians 3: 9.
Another great desire of Pauls heart was to he found in a righteousness that is wholly of God. What a glorious anticipation! He looked to be found in a righteousness to which the first man could not contribute a fraction. He rejoiced to escape from the possibility of any intrusion of his own righteousness. A man may be upright and amiable, and these natural qualities are often mistaken for the fruit of the Spirit. Some men are kind and conscientious, who are not converted at all. None of these natural qualities go into the new creation, any more than the opposite qualities which are found in others. In the new creation all things are of God; everything that could be is disconnected with man in the flesh placed, for that man himself is entirely set aside. Our whole condition in glory will be the display of a righteousness which is ours through the faith of Christ. Everything that is seen there will be of God - it will be the display to wondering worlds of what we have been made in Christ.
And the Christian, as such, is looking with earnest desire to be thus found. He looks to be found completely apart from everything that could be attained by the first man, having only the righteousness which is of God by faith.
6. That I may know him, and the power of his resurrection, and the fellowship of his sufferings, being made conformable unto his death; if by any means I might attain unto the resurrection from among the dead, Philippians 3: 10, 11.
The knowledge of Christ in glory was the supreme desire of Pauls heart, and this desire could never exist without producing an intense longing to reach Him in the place where He is. Hence the heart that longs after Him where He is, instinctively turns to the path by which He reached that place in glory, and earnestly desires to reach Him in that place by the very path which He trod. The heart asks, How did He reach that glory? Was it not through resurrection? And did not sufferings and death necessarily precede resurrection? Then the heart says, Nothing would please me so well as to reach Him in resurrection glory by the very path which took Him there. It is the martyr spirit; Paul wanted to tread as a martyr the pathway of suffering and death, that he might reach resurrection and glory by the same path as the blessed One who had won his heart. When Christ in glory is really known, the heart can not only accept, but earnestly desire to be found in, the path which He trod down here - the path which through suffering, death, and resurrection leads to [millennial] glory.*
[* See Heb. 11: 35: Others were tortured (lit Gk. - beaten to death) and refused to be released, so that they might gain a better resurrection. That is, the First Resurrection, (Rev. 20: 5); the resurrection of the righteous, (Luke 14: 14); the resurrection of those who are considered worthy of taking part in that age, (Luke 20: 35).]
To read these burning desires of a Christ-absorbed heart is - if one may speak for others - most humbling to us, but they are the normal desires of the [enlightened and Spirit taught] Christian as such. You may say that very few are up to this level. Alas! it is but too true! We have grieved the Holy Spirit by our selfishness, our worldliness, our earthly-mindedness; Christ has not been paramount in our affections; our minds have not been set on things above; we have minded earthly things instead of practically having our citizenship in heaven; and the cross of Christ - His place on earth of rejection, suffering, and death - has not been coveted. Alas! many walk still of whom Paul could only speak with tears enemies of the cross of Christ - those whose walk was [and is] of the very opposite character to suffering and death in this world. In contrast to all this, Paul could exhort the saints to be followers together of me, and mark them which walk so as ye have us for an ensample. He was a friend of the cross of Christ; he cherished and coveted a path which led to [millennial] glory through suffering and death.
7. I follow after, if that I may apprehend that for which also I am apprehended of Christ Jesus, Philippians 3:12.
Did you ever sit down in the presence of the Lord for half an
hour to seek to apprehend the immeasurable glories for which Christ has taken
you up? We have been apprehended of
Christ Jesus; He has taken hold of us, and He is going to bring us into - what? The Christian, as such, desires to apprehend
the full purpose of the love of which he is the subject,
He longs to search the heights as well as the depths of that love. His heart rises into an infinitude of bliss
and glory which cannot be expressed in human words. In another epistle Paul prays that the saints
be able to comprehend with all saints what is the breadth, and length, and
depth, and height - but he leaves the sentence unfinished.
The whole immensity of the glory into which divine love will bring its
subjects rises before his heart, but cannot be expressed. Christ Himself the centre of that glory - the
fountain of love that passeth knowledge - and from that centre streams of light
and glory filling the whole universe of God with bliss; while in the church
by Christ Jesus
God will have the full glory of His love throughout all ages, world without
end. Christ has apprehended us for that,
and Paul desires to apprehend it. The
Christians desire is to apprehend the unspeakable glories for which Christ has
taken him up. They cannot be expressed
in human words. When the apostle had
been caught up into
In conclusion I repeat what I said at the beginning - a mans desires are the index to his character. I am sure that we cannot meditate on these desires without learning something of the character of a Christian, of the one who knows what it is to be a man in Christ. I do not ask, Are you up to it? but I do ask, Are you not delighted to know that God is working in you to produce this character and these desires? How blessed, too, to know that He who has begun a good work in us will complete it unto the day of Jesus Christ!*
[* NOTE. That is, if we are seeking to be what our Lord describes as: good and faithful servants.
It is in the nature of a trust that a day must come for a report of the trust to be put in; and so, after a prolonged period during which His servants trade with the talents he had entrusted to them, Jesus says that the lord of those servants cometh, and maketh a reckoning with them (Matt. 25: 19). If the third servant were an unsaved soul, his works could in no way, and on no ground, be accepted: between the two Advents, it is the redeemed alone who are judged according to their works; for only those who have received from Christ can work for Him. (D. M. Panton.)
Thereby must the evil servant bear testimony with his own mouth to the innermost truth, and the most perfect right, according to which our Lord requires fruit from what He sows or gives that God demands fruits and works - (Steir.)
For the regenerate believer to have little more in the nature of good works and a Christ-like character - (at the time of his judgment and before the First Resurrection) - than what he received from his Lord at the time of his regeneration and conversion, can only result in his condemnation and the loss of his crown. As his life has been negative, so is his punishment: he is cast into the darkness outside the brilliantly lit festal hall. (Panton). Nothing is said here of any future punishment of the servant; enough that he has no part in the [millennial] kingdom of the Lord Goebel).]