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DLXXXV. THE EXCELLENCY OF THE KNOWLEDGE
Phil. iii. 7, 8. 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.
MANKIND in general are agitated by various and contending passions, while the true Christian enjoys serenity and composure: he is indeed tempted like others to gratify his corrupt nature; but he has one supreme desire which overcomes and regulates all the rest
-He is compared to a wise merchant, who having found a pearl of great price, sells all that he has and buys it-Whatever stands in competition with the welfare of his soul will be renounced by him; and, with the apostle, he will “ccunt all things but loss for Christ”
-To impress this truth more deeply, on our minds, we shall consider 1. What things Paul had which were gain to him
Amongst all the sons of men there never was any in whom so many and so great excellencies combined, as in the Apostle Paul
[In respect of civil distinctions, he was highly dignified by birth, being “ an Hebrew of the Hebrews”a —He was also eminent for learning, having been “ brought up at the feet of Gamaliel, and profited above many his equals”i—
Nor was he less distinguished in respect of moral qualitiesSuch was the strictness of his principles, that he joined himself to the Pharisees, the strictest sect among the Jews-His probity of conduct was irreproachablc; for he had “lived in all good conscience before God from his very youth”d_His zeal also, though not according to knowledge, was peculiarly earnest; insomuch that, touching the righteousness of the law, he was blameless; and he opposed the gospel to the uttermost, because he thought it subverted the law of Moses
But however illustrious he was as a Jew, he was still more so as a Christian and an apostle-His religious attainments were never equalled by any mere man- -His exertions in the cause of Christ surpassed those of all the other apostles-He also suffered more than any for the sake of the gospel;s yea, he was “in deaths oft,” “not counting his life dear to him, so that he might finish his course with joy”] These things might well be accounted gain to him
a Phil. iii. 5.
b Acts xxii. 3. Gal. i. 14. c Acts xxvi. 5.
[His civil distinctions might recommend him to his countrymen, and augment his influence — And though he would not make a parade of his learning, he found it useful on some occasions –His moral qualities also might well be valuable in his sight: for though no strictness of principles, probity of conduct, or zeal for religion could recommend him to God, yet they were ample testimonies of the integrity of his heartHis religious attainments were still more deserving estimation; for though not meritorious in the sight of God, they tended greatly to the glory of God, and the edification of the church, and were undoubted evidences of his meetness for heaven Well therefore might he rejoice, as he did, in the testimony of a good consciencek-]
But he possessed something of incomparably greater value than these things, as will appear, if we enquire II. What that was which he preferred before them
The apostle had happily attained the knowledge of Christ
[A mere general uninteresting knowledge of Christ would not have been very high in his esteem: that, which he possessed, was distinct and experimental-He saw Christ as God, equal with the Father, though appearing in the form of a servant:' he beheld him sustaining various offices in the economy of redemption, and executing them for his people's good-He beheld him as the “Christ," "anointed by the Spirit to preach · glad tidings to the meek;" as " Jesus,” the person commissioned to save men from their sins;” and as “the Lord,” who was constituted the living Head, the Supreme Governor, and the righteous Judge of his redeemed people
But not even this distinct knowledge would have been valued by him, if it had not also been experimental-The expressions following the text respecting his “ winning Christ, and being found in him, and knowing him in the power of his resurrection,” evidently imply that he tasted a sweetness, and felt a peculiar efficacy, in this knowledge-He found by happy experience that he had communion with Christ in his offices
h 2 Cor. xi. 21, 22. Acts xxii. 25—29.
i Thrice he quoted the Greek Poets in confirmation of the truth: and took advantage of his knowledge of the Greek language to oppose more successfully the heathen idolatry. Acts xvii. 23. k 2 Cor. i. 12. 1 Plaili ji. 6, 7.
m 1 John i. 3.
He saw Christ not merely as a prophet, a priest, or a king, but as that very teacher who had opened his eyes; that very Lamb that had taken away his sins; that very Head, to whom he himself was vitally united, and from whom he derived all his supplies of grace and strength-Hence in speaking of Christ he calls him, “ Christ Jesus my Lord”-]
This it was which he esteemed beyond all other things
[In comparison of this, his civil distinctions, his moral qualities, and even his religious attainments, appeared to him « as dung and dross"--He clearly perceived that none of those things could ever justify him at the tribunal of God; and that, if ever he were saved, he must“ be found in Christ, not having his own righteousness, but the righteousness which is of God by faith in Christ:” hence he accounted his former gain to be not only dung, but “ loss,” that is, not only useless, but prejudicial, if it diverted his eyes from Christ, or weakened his dependence upon him-Nor did he entertain the smallest doubt respecting the justness of his views; but repeated his assertions in the strongest and most decisive terms, "yea, doubtless, and I count all things but loss”-Nor did his confidence proceed from inexperience; for repeating the same thing a third time, he adds, “ for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and do count them but dung”-]
The propriety of his judgment will be seen by considering III. The grounds of his preference
There was an “excellency” in that knowledge that far surpassed every thing elseThe object of it was truly wonderful
(Who can think of an incarnate God, bearing the sins of his rebellious creatures, and not stand amazed? Who can view the wisdom, power, and goodness of God as exhibited in the face of a dying Saviour, and not confess, that“ great is the mystery of godliness?” The consideration of this alone had been a very sufficient ground for his declaration in the text-]
The effects of it transcend all that eye hath seen, or ear heard, or heart conceived
[The knowledge of this adorable Saviour will comfort us under all troubles-None ever endured greater bodily trials than Paul; yet “ none of them could move him; and he was exceeding joyful in all his tribulation".__ The trials of his soul were far greater; yet while he was groaning under their
n Acts xx. 24. 2 Cor. vii. 4.
utmost weight, a view of Christ instantly turned his mourning into thanksgivings and the voice of melody;' and, on another occasion, while he was cruelly buffeted by Satan, an answer of peace from Christ enabled him to glory in his infirmities, and even to take pleasure in the most complicated distresses--
Moreover, this knowledge will transform the soul into the image of Ged-Before his conversion, his zeal shewed itself in persecuting unto death the greatest friends both of God and man: how unlike the conduct of Jesus, who died for his very enemies! But when converted to the faith, he had “ continual sorrow in his heart on account of his brethren's obstinacy, and wished himself even accursed from Christ for their sake"He, like his divine Master, was willing to die for his enemies, and rejoiced exceedingly in the prospect of being sacrificed for the good of the church'-To what can we ascribe this change, but to the knowledge of Christ?s - And if to that, what reason had he to prize it?
Lastly, this knowledge will avuil for the salvation of all who possess it. Paul, though he thought himself “ alive" before his conversion, found at last that he was really "dead" but after his conversion, he was no longer dead, either in reality, or in his own apprehension: he frequently speaks with the fullest assurance respecting the safety of his state;" and teaches all who know Christ, to expect with confidence a crown of righteousness in the day of judgment
On such grounds we must not only approve the apostle's judgment, but account it madness to differ from him) APPLICATION
(All of us possess something which we account gainSome are more elevated by birth or fortune, others by education and learning: some value themselves on their moral qualities; others on their religious attainments: let us freely acknowledge the gain which may be found in these things: but let us never forget that there is one thing of infinitely greater value than all those together, and for which our gain must be accounted loss. To have a distinct experimental knowledge of Christ, to be able to say, “He has loved me, and given himself for me,” is of more value than ten thousand worlds: it is that, and that alone, which can ever comfort, sanctify, or save the soul-Let us then seek to know Christ and him crucified, and to “grow in the knowledge of him,"
see him as we are seen, and know him as we are known”-]
o Rom. vii. 24, 25. P 2 Cor. xii. 7-10. 9 Rom. ix. 2, 3. r Phil. ii. 17, 18. 82 Cor. v. 14. & iii. 18. +Rom. vii. 9. u 2 Cor. v. 1-4. x 2 Tim. iv. 8.
y If this be the subject of a Commemoration Sermon, the advantages arising from the institution may be stated, together with just acknowledgments both to God and the benefactors.
DLXXXVI. HUMILIATION FOR THE SIN OF THE
2 Chron. xxxii. 26. Hezekiah humbled himself for the pride of
The best of men are liable to fall through temptation
But they will deeply bewail any sin into which they have been betrayed —
Hezekiah was a man of very distinguished piety" —
But he was not sufficiently aware, that his integrity was the effect of divine grace, and not of human power
God therefore left him for a moment to the influence of his own hearth
In consequence of this he soon gave a proof of his inherent depravity
But, on discovering his sin, he instantly humbled him. self for it before God
We shall 1. Shew the nature and grounds of Hezekiah's hu
miliation The sin committed by him does not in human estimation appear great
[The princes of Babylon sent to congratulate him on his recovery· He received them with all the kindness and courtesy that he could express
And shewed them every thing in his dominions that could afford them entertainment-]
But his conduct was exceeding sinful in the sight of God; for in it 1. He sought his own glory
[Hezekiah evidently thought of nothing else at that time
He wished to shew how great a man he was, in order that his alliance might be courted, and his power feared
Now this would have been highly criminal in any mano But it was especially so in him, at that particular junctureHe had just been at the border of the grave; and therefore
• 2 Kings xx. 3.
b Ver. 31.
c Prov. xxv. 27.