Finally, brothers, whatever things are true, whatever things are honest, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure…
A second time we have the conclusion of the whole matter. Before it was "finally, brethren, rejoice in the Lord." The whole history of conversion with all its preliminary struggles, the terrors and sorrows of repentance, the hopes and fears of faith, finds its issue and rest in this. But here is a second "finally." There is something beyond the exultation of deliverance through Christ; and that is the attainment of a perfect character in Him. We are urged —
I. TO FIX OUR FULL AND DETERMINATE THOUGHT UPON PERFECTION. The word is often used to signify due appreciation, and it bids us here with strong emphasis estimate rightly the place morality holds in the gospel.
1. It was the glory of the apostle's career to proclaim everywhere that for the sake of the sacrifice of the Cross the vilest transgressors repenting and believing in Jesus were assured of forgiveness and reputed as righteous. But it became the hard necessity of his life to have to defend it against perversion. The enemy everywhere followed him, sowing tares. The abuse which taught men to sin that grace might abound was the subject of his ceaseless protest. In the former part of this Epistle he had dwelt on the worthlessness of all good works as the ground of the sinner's acceptance: and because he had so utterly disparaged human goodness in the third chapter, he now in the fourth vindicates the claims of Christian godliness. On the way to the Cross think not of any good in yourself; on the way from the Cross think of all the obligations of holiness.
2. For all the provisions of grace have their issue in our moral perfection. Renouncing our own righteousness which is of the law, we are to attain a righteousness of faith, which in another sense must be "our own." Pardon is the removal of an obstruction to holiness. The grace of God that bringeth salvation teaches us to aspire to all good works.
II. TO PONDER ITS UNLIMITED VARIETY OF OBLIGATIONS.
1. The apostle exhorts us to train our minds to a high and refined sense of this. It is true that the regenerate are taught of God, and have the Spirit to guide them; but this is not to supersede the use of their own faculties. The Bible shows us "what is good" in its great principles, but leaves us to find out their illimitable application.
2. The object of this study is excellence according to all its standards. "Whatsoever things" suggests that every Christian virtue has its own unlimited field of study. What a boundless field, e.g., is truth.
3. The result of this constant study is the education of the spiritual taste into a high pitch of delicacy. The Christian's standard of truth, dignity, etc., becomes higher than that of other men. Here lies the secret of the difference between Christian and Christian, between careless professors who are always stumbling themselves, and a cause of offence to others, and the educated disciples who adorn the doctrine of God their Saviour. Receive this exhortation and you will come by degrees so accurate in your moral judgment as never to fail, and be in the best sense, "a law unto yourselves."
III. TO GIVE IT THE FERVENT DESIRE OF OUR MEDITATION. The "thinking" signifies that intent contemplation of perfection which feeds the soul's regenerate longing to attain it.
1. Mark with what exquisite skill the elements of perfection are combined into one lovely whole. We must look steadily at this assemblage of ethical graces until we are enkindled with its loveliness.
2. And as the Christian is exhorted to delight in the thought of perfection as the aggregate of all excellencies, so also he must make every individual principle the object of affectionate contemplation. How beautiful are truth, religious dignity, etc.
3. As the virtues of holiness are displayed in the Word of God, to think of them is to meditate on it. "O how I love Thy law." To the soul that hungers and thirsts after righteousness, the Bible is an everlasting delight.
4. Moreover, such an insatiate student delights to consider the lives of these who have gone before him in the narrow way — Christ the supreme standard and pattern of the result; Paul and others as examples of the process. Those who, like ourselves, have had to travel through all the stages of the ascent from sin to holiness leave their example for our encouragement. But while we imitate them we must aspire to Him.
IV. TO MAKE IT OUR PRACTICAL CONCERN. Let not thinking end, but turn your meditations to practice.
1. Generally there is to be nothing visionary in our religion. Hence the abrupt "do." There is a sentimental religion which thinks loftily and talks magniloquently about virtue, but ends there. Our religion must not be a barren homage to the saintly qualities of others. What man has been man may be, by the grace of God, even though the man may have been a Paul.
2. Every scriptural ideal of excellence may be realized in practice. The pagan writers had their noble ideals, but nowhere outside the Bible is there such a consummate standard as this. And then, again, the highest moralists who sate not at the feet of Jesus despaired of their own teaching, imperfect as it was, "unless indeed," as one said, "God should become incarnate to teach us." Christianity alone has the golden link between thought and practice.
3. As thinking must not terminate in itself, so practice must be the diligent regulation of our life according to all the principles of holiness. There is a sense, indeed, in which our religion from beginning to end is God's work; but the formation of Christian character is our own task under His blessing, and its perfection is conferred upon us, not as a gift simply, but as the seal upon our efforts, and their exceeding great reward.
4. We must work out our own salvation by governing our lives according to these holy principles particularly. If we would be perfectly true we must act out the truth in thought, word, and deed; so with dignity, etc.
V. TO THINK OF IT WITH THE PEACEFUL CONFIDENCE OF HOPE. There can be no encouragement more mighty than that the God of Peace shall be with us.
1. God will be with us animating our pursuit by the assurance of reconciliation. There is no spirit for the pursuit unless we know that the guilty past is pardoned. The heart must be enlarged if we would run in the way of His commandments; and don't narrow it and impede your progress by permitted sin.
2. God will be with us crowning our effort. Peace is the full sum of His heavenly blessing. "Great peace have they who love His law." Others may have a transient joy and superficial excitement.
(W. B. Pope, D. D.)
Parallel VersesKJV: Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things.
WEB: Finally, brothers, whatever things are true, whatever things are honorable, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report; if there is any virtue, and if there is any praise, think about these things.