Philippians 3:12
Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already been perfected, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me.
Sermons
A Call to PerseveranceJ. Lyth, D. D.Philippians 3:12
Apprehended But not ApprehendingW. M. Taylor, D. D.Philippians 3:12
Apprehended that I May ApprehendW. M. Taylor, D. D.Philippians 3:12
Christian PerfectionJohn Wesley, M. A.Philippians 3:12
Conversion Illustrated in the Case of PaulJ. Jordan.Philippians 3:12
Laid Hold of and Laying HoldAlexander MaclarenPhilippians 3:12
The Misfortune of a Realized IdealW. M. Taylor, D. D.Philippians 3:12
The True CircumcisionR. Finlayson Philippians 3:1-16
Aim At PerfectionJ. Lyth, D. D.Philippians 3:12-14
AspirationW. L. Watkinson.Philippians 3:12-14
Christian ProgressT. Craig.Philippians 3:12-14
Failure and ProgressPres. Woolsey.Philippians 3:12-14
Few Believers Perfect HereH. W. Beecher.Philippians 3:12-14
Moral OnwardnessD. Thomas Philippians 3:12-14
More and Yet MoreC. H. Spurgeon.Philippians 3:12-14
No RetreatNew Testament AnecdotesPhilippians 3:12-14
Paul's Ideal of LifeH. W. Beecher.Philippians 3:12-14
The Apostle's Confession of His Imperfection and His Method of Christian ProgressT. Croskery Philippians 3:12-14
The Christian Race: Conditions of VictoryV. Hutton Philippians 3:12-14
The Ideal and the ActualW. Hubbard.Philippians 3:12-14
The Struggle for PerfectionW. L. Watkinson.Philippians 3:12-14
Unrealized PossibilitiesAbp. Trench.Philippians 3:12-14
The River of ForgetfulnessR.M. Edgar Philippians 3:12-16


There is a touching and instructive humility in the language of these verses.

I. HIS CONFESSION OF IMPERFECTION. "Not as though I had already attained or have been made perfect;" and again," I count not myself to have apprehended."

1. This argues a high estimate of a Christian's duty. There is no inconsistency in the consciousness of hidden imperfection and the thought of a lofty ideal. We must ever keep Christ himself before us as the only ideal to be copied and followed after through life.

2. It argues a humble estimate of himself. It is a remarkable confession from such a man. He had done and suffered much for Christ, yet he says, "I have not been made perfect." Such an experience ought to rebuke the lofty pretensions of perfectionists of every class.

3. Yet this humble estimate of himself, as well as his aspiration for higher holiness, is sure evidence that he had made some progress. A writer says, "That which is best in you is your appreciation of what is better in others."

II. HIS METHOD OF CHRISTIAN PROGRESS. This is expressed in two separate and significant sentences.

1. "I follow after, if that I may apprehend that for which I also was apprehended by Christ Jesus."

(1) This language evidently points to the scene on the road to Damascus, when the Lord "apprehended" him and changed the whole gent of his life. Conversion is, indeed, an apprehension, a laying hold upon a heart trader the sway of worldliness and sin, and bringing it under the sway of all-conquering grace. Nothing but the arresting hand of the Lord can stop any of us on our downward course, or break the dominion of the world over us, or destroy the power of sin in the heart.

(2) This language implies that the loving hand of the Savior is never lifted off any heart thus arrested tilt all that is implied in the gracious contact has been accomplished. There are two apprehensions. The believer has only, in the one case, to receive the gift of God, but, in the other case, the salvation which has become ours through that act is to be wrought out in a continuous, faithful reception of all that is involved in it.

2. "This one thing I do, forgetting the things that are past, and reaching forth to the things that are before, I press towards the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus."

(1) There is here the oblivion of the past, not that we are to forget past errors or sins, or are not to repent of past mistakes which must always be subject of penitential thought, but we are not to allow a rueful temper to kill out heart, and hope. We are to regard the past. as so much really gained or accomplished that is to exercise no dragging or injurious effect upon our forward progress.

(2) There is here the concentration of all energies. "This one thing I do." A dispersion of energies is fatal to success in any work. The great heroes of the Church and of the world have been men of one idea, and concentrated all thought and effort in carrying it out. So the apostle had but one idea always before him, and made everything in providence and nature and grace contributory to the great work of his Christian sanctification.

(3) Untiring activity. "I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus."

(a) The mark is perfect holiness.

(b) The prize is perfect blessedness.

(c) All his activity in this Divine race is sustained by the thought that he stands in the "high calling" of God and is supported by the grace of Christ Jesus.

It is a high calling, high as heaven, and seemingly inaccessible to men of such passions and infirmities as ours, but. then it is the high calling of God in Christ Jesus. This is our hope and our consolation. - T.C.







Not as though I had attained, either were already perfect
I. HOW IS THE WORK OF CONVERSION EFFECTED. Paul says, "I am apprehended of Christ Jesus." How this was done may be seen from Acts 9:16.

1. Christ got possession of Paul's understanding by appearing to Him in glory. Having once seen the Saviour's glory Paul could not resist His claims.

2. Christ got possession of Paul's heart by assuring him of His grace.

3. Christ got possession of Paul's life. Having surrendered mind and affections he would not be likely to make any reserve. Nor did he; and ever after he said, "To me to live is Christ."

II. TO WHAT IS THE WORK OF CONVERSION EXPECTED TO LEAD? To perfection. Paul expected to be perfect —

1. In character.

2. In his whole nature — physically (ver. 21); morally, by being sanctified wholly; intellectually, by having all the powers of the mind so fitly harmonized that there should be no undue preponderance, but that each should lend its own proper aid in working out for the renewed man that eternal progression in knowledge to which he is destined.

3. In all his external circumstances. The society, employments, joys of heaven, will make us fully and forever blest.

III. WHO ARE THE SUBJECTS OF THIS CHANGE? How are we to know them? What proof did Paul give of it? The text shows us —

1. That he highly appreciated his future destiny (vers. 20-21; 2 Corinthians 4:18; 2 Corinthians 5:1-9).

2. That he cherished a lively sense of his present deficiencies — "Not as though," etc.

3. That he made it the one great business of his life to realize the blessings of the gospel, both in this life and the next (vers. 12-14 and 7-9). Compare yourselves with Paul.

(J. Jordan.)

I. OUR ATTAINMENTS vary, but none is actually secure or absolutely perfect.

II. OUR DUTY, to continue in the exercise of faith, self-denial effort.

III. OUR HOPE. To gain the full reward, to which Christ has designed us.

(J. Lyth, D. D.)

I. THE SENSE IN WHICH CHRISTIANS ARE NOT PERFECT. They are not so perfect as to be free —

1. From ignorance: they may know many things material and spiritual, but they do not know the Almighty unto perfection nor many of His ways.

2. From mistake. They do not mistake things essential to salvation; but in non-essentials they err and frequently: in regard, e.g., to facts and their circumstances, and the character of men, and the interpretation of Scripture.

3. From infirmities. They are free indeed from what the worldly calls his infirmity — drunkenness, etc.— but not from weakness or slowness of understanding, and the infirmities of speech and behaviour which spring there from.

4. From temptation, since Christ was tempted.

5. Now are they absolutely perfect. How much soever a man has attained he must yet "grow in grace."

II. THE SENSE IN WHICH CHRISTIANS ARE PERFECT.

1. They are free from outward sin. (1 John 3:8-9, 18; Romans 6:1-2, 5-7, 11, 14-18; 1 Peter 4:1-2). It is not said, "He sinneth not wilfully, habitually, as other men, or as he did before." Objection(1) But did not Abraham, Moses, and David commit sin. Yes, but it does not follow that Christians must. Those who argue so seem never to have considered Matthew 11:11. We cannot measure the privileges of Christians by those formerly given to the Jews. Objection(2) But are there not assertions which prove the same thing? (1 Kings 8:46; 2 Chronicles 6:36; Ecclesiastes 7:20). Answer: From the day that sin entered the world there was not a just man that sinned not until the Son of God was manifested to take away our sins. "The heir as long as he is a child differeth nothing from a servant." Holy men of old were, during the infant state of the Church, in bondage under the elements of the world. But when the fulness of the times was come, etc. Now therefore we are no more servants but sons. So that whatsoever was the case of those under the law, since the gospel was given "he that is born of God sinneth not." It is of great importance to observe the difference between the two dispensations (John 7:28). That this great salvation from sin was not given till Jesus was glorified, St. Peter plainly testifies (1 Peter 1:9-10). Objection(3) But did not the apostles sin — St. Paul by his contention, St. Peter by his dissimulation? Yes, but how does that prove that Christians must commit sin. No necessity of sinning was laid upon them. The grace of God was sufficient for them, and it is surely sufficient for us. No man is tempted above that he is able to bear, and with the temptation there is a way of escape. Objection(4) But does not James contradict this (ver. 2). No; he does not refer to himself or Christians (see vers. 9 and 1), where "we" is general or exclusive of Christians. Objection(5) How shall we reconcile St. John with himself? (1 John 1:8, 10). Observe

(a)verse 10 fixes the sense of verse 8.

(b)The point under consideration is not whether we have or have not sinned heretofore; and neither of these verses asserts that we do sin, or commit it now.

(c)Verse 9 explains both verses 10 and 8.We are cleansed from all unrighteousness that we may go and sin no more. St. John is well consistent with himself as well as with the other holy writers. He declares —

(a)"The blood of Jesus Christ cleanseth from all sin."

(b)No man can say I have not sinned, have no sin to be cleansed from.

(c)But God is ready to save us from past and future sins.

(d)"These things write," etc. (1 John 2:1-2).

(e)But lest there should be any doubt on a subject of such vast importance the apostle resumes the subject in Chap. 3, where he carefully explains his own meaning (vers. Philippians 3:7-10).

2. They are free from evil thoughts. But thoughts concerning evil are not always evil thoughts. Our Lord doubtless thought of the things spoken by the devil yet He had no sinful thought. And even thence it follows, neither have Christians (Luke 6:40). And indeed whence should evil thoughts proceed in the servant who is as His Master (Mark 7:21, cf. Matthew 12:33; Matthew 7:17-18). The same happy privilege St. Paul asserts from his own experience (2 Corinthians 10:4, etc).

3. From evil tempers. This is evident again from the declaration, "Everyone that is perfect shall be as His Master." Christ had just been delivering some of the sublimest doctrines of Christianity, and some most grievous to flesh and blood — "Love your enemies," etc. What other than this can St. Paul mean by "I am crucified with Christ," etc. If 1 John 3:3 be true, then the Christian —(1) Is purified from pride, for Christ was lowly of heart;(2) from self-will or desire, for Christ desired to do only the will of the Father;(3) from anger in the common sense of the word, for Christ was gentle and long-suffering. Conclusion: Thus doth Christ save His people from their sins. "We shall be saved" say some, "but not till death." How is this to be reconciled with 1 John 1:5; 1 John 4:17) See 2 Corinthians 7:1.

(John Wesley, M. A.)

I. PAUL WAS APPREHENDED BY CHRIST or laid hold of. The reference is to the circumstances of His conversion.

1. What was it that arrested Paul? The perception of a perfection of moral character actualized before him in Christ and made possible for him through faith. Up to this time he had been seeking external things, but now with the vision of Christ there came upon him the conviction that even if he gained all these things he would still be fatally defective in the highest elements of his being. Thus, therefore, he was confronted with the great question: "Shall I go on and be content with the hollowness of Phariseeism and its inevitable issue? or shall I go back and build my life anew after the matchless pattern which has been set before me?" He could not get away till he had given it an answer.

2. There is not one who has ever come in contact with the gospel of Christ, who has not been laid hold of thus.(1) Young man, as you have been devoting yourself to the idolatry of wealth, or to the pursuit of pleasure or ambition, you have been laid hold of. Christ has come to you through the faithful preacher, and brought you to a standstill by the death of some companion, or laid His hand upon you in sickness, and held you to your couch face to face with the question: "Have I been living a life such as an immortal man should live?"(2) My middle-aged friend, you know about this too. Christ apprehended you and asked you to revise all your theories of life when you buried your darling out of your sight; when your business went all wrong, etc.

II. PAUL DID NOT REFUSE TO LAY HOLD OF THAT WHICH JESUS SET BEFORE HIM.

1. There is here, therefore, a human agency as well as a Divine. The stopping of St. Paul in his career, the setting of the truth before him — all that was done for him. He had to choose for himself whether or no he would transfer himself from the service of the world to the service of Christ.

2. But not every one who has been laid hold of has thus responded to the Lord's appeal — the young ruler who went away sorrowful; Herod, Felix, Agrippa.

3. So with some here. They have seen the wrongness of their present career, but they have not chosen to give it up for the way of Christ; because to do so would have involved the sacrifice of all that hitherto they have cherished. But what can the world do for you, that for its sake you should put away from you the glorious heritage which Jesus promises?

III. PAUL WAS NOT CONTENT WITH A MERE PARTIAL ATTAINMENT of that which Christ had set before him.

1. If any man might have been excused for cherishing feelings of complacency it was Paul. Yet he did not go to sleep over the singularity of his conversion; nor rock himself in the cradle of his apostolic success, nor soothe himself with the opiate of his official position. No, ever his eye was fixed on Christ. The more elevated he became in character, the more elevated Christ became to him.

2. Let the distance between you and Christ shake you out of your complacency. Tell us less of what is behind. Don't be always recounting the story of your conversion. Forget even your joining the Church. Look forward.

IV. PAUL WAS NOT DISCOURAGED BECAUSE HE HAD NOT YET FULLY APPREHENDED. There is no note of despondency. His words are full of joyful exhilaration. There are three elements in this aspiration which should encourage those who grieve because they cannot realize perfection.

1. The joy of the soul is inseparably connected with the effort to reach that which is above it.

2. In this aspiration there was the evidence that he had made some progress.

3. The consciousness that he was not striving in his own might. He who helped Paul will help us. Even if we fail occasionally let us not be discouraged, for he who slips on the steep mountain is still higher up than he who is sleeping in the valley.

(W. M. Taylor, D. D.)

Who that has read that melancholy autobiography left behind him by John Stuart Mill can help recalling here the description which he has given of that which might have been the religious crisis of his life? These are his words: "I was in a dull state of nerves, such as everybody is occasionally liable to, unsusceptible to enjoyment or pleasurable excitement — one of those moods when what is pleasure at other times becomes insipid or indifferent — the state, I should think, in which converts to Methodism usually are when smitten by their first 'conviction of sin.' In this frame of mind it occurred to me to put the question directly to myself: 'Suppose that all your objects in life were realized; that all the changes in institutions and opinions which you are looking forward to could be completely effected at this very instant; would this be a great joy and happiness to you?' And an irrepressible self-consciousness distinctly answered, 'No.' At this my heart sank within me; the whole foundation on which my life was constructed fell down. All my happiness was to have been found in the continual pursuit of this end. The end had ceased to charm, and how could there ever again be any interest in the means? I seemed to have nothing left to live for." Thus even to him, nurtured though he had been in atheism, and educated without a religion, the Saviour came, laying on him His arresting hand, and beseeching him to adopt a more stable foundation for his life. But alas! he, too, made "the great refusal," and deliberately put away from him that which would have furnished him with a model that can never lose its relative superiority, no matter how we ourselves may grow, and with a motive that can never lose its power.

(W. M. Taylor, D. D.)

I recall the story of the artist, who, standing before the latest production of his hands, burst into tears, and on being asked for the reason of his emotion, replied, "Because I am satisfied with my work." He felt he had done all that was in him; that, in a word, he had overtaken his ideal, and so henceforward the joy of his art for him was gone. Perhaps, too, it was something of the same sort that made Alexander weep when he had conquered India. He had filled in the outline of his life which he had made for himself, and thought not that there was yet another world left him where conquest would be far more honourable, even the world within himself. But the Christian is delivered from this danger. He has always the joy of advancement, while yet there is ever something more in Christ beckoning him forward.

(W. M. Taylor, D. D.)

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