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THE PRAYER OF ST. PAUL FOR THE PHILIPPIANS.
PHILIPPIANS i. 9-11.
And this I pray, that your love may abound yet more and more in knowledge and in all judgment; that ye may approve things that are excellent; that ye may be sincere and without offence till the day of Christ; being filled with the fruits of righteousness, which are by Jesus Christ, unto the glory and praise of God.
In the character of the great apostle of the Gentiles we are called to admire a bright assemblage of the most exalted qualities. Talents bold and commanding were directed by the most ardent love for his divine Master, and by the most prudent, laborious, and persevering zeal in the great and holy cause which he had espoused. The floods of the ungodly could not quench his ardent love, the fires of persecution could not daunt his unconquerable courage. "In labours more abundant, in prisons more frequent, in deaths oft; in journeyings often, in perils in the city, in perils in the wilderness, in perils in the sea; in weariness and painfulness, in hunger and thirst, in cold and nakedness," we behold the apostle zealous, fearless, ardent in proclaiming the truths of the everlasting Gospel. Added to these sufferings and labours, which would have subdued a spirit less firm and bold than his, he had the care of all the
churches, which, in their infancy, must have demanded the most assiduous and prudent attention. From this multitude of cares and labours that pressed upon him, he yet found time to manifest his apostolic regard for the churches, by addressing to them epistles filled with the most profound and striking illustrations of the plan of salvation, with the most luminous and engaging explanation of its duties, mingled with warnings the most impressive, with exhortations the most serious and tender, and with expressions of attachment the most affecting and consolatory.
As an example of lively and affectionate solicitude for the Christian converts, which cares, labours, and sufferings could not extinguish, we may take the passage which I have read as my text, in which, in the form of an earnest and impressive prayer, he sets before his Philippian converts an admirable summary of Christian principles and duty.
"And this I pray, that your love may abound yet more and more in knowledge and in all judgment; that ye may approve things that are excellent; that ye may be sincere and without offence till the day of Christ; being filled with the fruits of righteousness, which are by Jesus Christ, unto the glory and praise of God."
This summary of Christian principles and duties the apostle introduces in the form of a prayer"And this I pray."
A direct command might have carried instruction to the mind with more authority; an earnest exhortation might have conveyed the lessons of duty in terms equally perspicuous and impressive; but
the form of a prayer, not diminishing the force of the sentiments expressed, afforded the apostle an opportunity of evidencing to his Philippian converts the warm affection with which he always bore them in his heart. "I have you," says this great teacher, in another part of his epistle, with inimitable simplicity and tenderness, "I have you in my heart; inasmuch as both in my bonds and in the defence and confirmation of the Gospel, ye are all partakers of my grace." In the language of a prayer he displayed his lively solicitude for them, the constant and ardent affection which, amidst all his labours and sufferings, he cherished for them; and thus he softened and obtained possession of their hearts. Pouring forth his soul in earnest supplication for their advancement in all spiritual graces and virtues, he appeared to them not merely as an apostle, called of God, vested with the authority of the Most High, and therefore with deep reverence to be heard and obeyed; but as an anxious father, as a tender and faithful friend, worthy of their unbounded confidence, gratitude, and love. What force must these emotions have given to his instructions! For, much more lively, and in general more cheerful and sincere, is the attention which is excited towards that instructor who mingles and softens the authority of a superior in the anxious care, in the tender affection of the father and the friend.
This prayer, then, was calculated to open the hearts of the Philippians to the exhortations of the affectionate and anxious apostle. It was also in itself most correct and proper: for when he considered the exalted nature of those holy graces which he was solicitous should be established in VOL. II. 43
the hearts of his disciples; when he contemplated also how numerous and powerful were those sinful passions and temptations which they would have to encounter; when he looked forward to those numerous sorrows, sufferings, and persecutions which would assail them, the deep conviction must have impressed his mind, that God alone, who • worketh both to will and to do, could enable them to acquire these graces, to resist and vanquish these temptations, and to sustain with triumphant fortitude the numerous afflictions to which they would be called. The almighty succour, and the inspiration of Divine grace, he therefore implored for them to the guidance and protection of an Almighty Guardian he commended them: his heart addressed the prayer for their spiritual welfare and consolation, to that heavenly Master whom he served, and from whom cometh every good and perfect gift.
This affecting conduct of the apostle impresses on us an important lesson: that, whether we desire our own spiritual welfare, or the advancement of others in the Christian character and life, the guidance and succours of divine grace must be implored by frequent and fervent prayer. God alone is our strength. To teach us our dependance, and to awaken us to implore his succour, he hath declared, that without him we can do nothing. He alone can sustain the moral powers which he gave, and infuse into the soul the sentiments and affections of a divine and holy nature. Despair we reasonably may of attaining those exalted virtues which are necessary to qualify us for his favour, or of overcoming the temptations that will assail us in the world, without the powerful succours of Divine
grace, strengthening and rendering effectual our own resolutions and endeavours; and is it not an encouragement sufficiently animating, that if we ask, we shall receive-if we seek, we shall find! Brethren, it behooves us to consider how great will be our guilt, if, when the powerful grace of heaven is promised to our solicitations, we should refuse to ask for the divine gift. He who neglects the sacred duty of prayer, can never expect to advance in the Christian course, to overcome the world and its temptations, or to enjoy the ineffable consolations of the Divine favour.
Professing Christians, can we not trace the decrease of our piety, the relaxation of our zeal, the decay of our spiritual consolations and joys, to the neglect of our accustomed communion with God, the unfrequent, the superficial, or the languid discharge of the sacred duty of prayer! "Watch and pray," said our blessed Lord, "lest ye fall into temptation." "Watch and pray, for ye know not the day nor the hour when the Son of man cometh."
The prayer of the apostle for his Philippian converts was, "that their love might abound yet more and more in knowledge and in all judgment."
He prays for the increase of their love, and for its being guided and controlled by proper principles.
Divine love is ranked first in the exalted scale of the Christian virtues: it is indeed the animating grace which sustains and strengthens the Christian life-which gives ardour, zeal, and constancy to every other virtue: not to be quenched by many waters; not to be overwhelmed by the angry floods of temptation; not to be subdued even by death,