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ing present to our view, they affect and inveigle our Senses, afrdth'ereby take off the Heart from divine and spiritual Objects. Hence we find many to serve Mammon more than their Maker, and others to be Lovers of Pleasure more than Lovers of God: and therefore we have great need to pray both for our selves and others, that our Love to God may abound more and more, that it may not be weaken'd by any worldly Comforts or Enjoyments, but may prevail over all the Wiles of the World and the Devil. To which end, our Love must abound in Knowledg and in all Judgment, i. e. in the Knowledg of God's infinite Power, Wisdom, and Goodness, with all other his amiable and adorable Perfections; and we must likewise weigh in the Ballance of a sound Judgment all earthly things, which in comparison of him are nothing, less than nothing, and Vanity. And as this Prayer here is, that our Love to God may abound and increase in us•, so is it,
(2.) For the Increase of our Love to the Brethren, and that our Love to one another may abound more and more. A true Love of God will necessarily draw after it the Love of our Neighbour for he being God's Creature and Servant, that hath his Image stamp'd upon him, and in some measure Partaker of the divine Nature, he is to be lov'd not only for his own, but for God's fake: which made St. John affirm, That he that saith he loves God, and hates his Brother, is a Lyar , for if he love not his Brother whom he hath seen, how can he love God whom he hath not seen? I John 4.20. Sight and Converfation is apt to breed and beget Love, whereas 'tis not easy to love one whom we -never faw; and if our Love extend not to our Neighbour, whom we daily behold and converse with, how can it reach to Heaven, where our Eye cannot pierce? Indeed, the Comfort and Happiness of human Society depend upon the mutual Amity and Good-will of all its Members •, for that will incline them to be helpful to each other, and make them willing both to relieve the Necestities, and rejoice in the Welfare of one another. Such a Temper as this both needs and deserves our Prayers; for Men are naturally envious and malicious, hateful and hating one another •, Satan is ever administring Occasions of Strife, and the World is as ready to embrace them, and to add Fewel to the Fire. And therefore'tis highly requisite, that we should pray for a Spirit of Meekness and Charity, ancj that our Love may abound more and more to one another,
G g 4 ancl and that too in Knowledg and in all Judgment; that we may wisely perform all the good Offices of Mercy and Kindness, by a discreet Choice of fit and proper Objects for them, viz.. not the idle and the lazy, but the aged Poor, and such as by unavoidable Accident and Necessity are cast upon us. This is the first thing that the Apostle here prays for in the behalf of the Philippians, to wit, that their Love might abound, and increase more and more, and that it might appear in all the judicious Acts of Bounty and Charity.
2. The next thing ;s,That they might approve things that are excellent. Where by things that are excellent we are to understand things that relate to another Life, which are of the highest nature, and the greatest worth ; such as the Favour of God, the Pardon of Sin, a Title to Heaven, an Interest in Christ and the Promises of the Gospel, and the like: things that may be justly accounted truly excellent, and preferable to all other matters.
Some Translations, instead of approving things that are excellent, read, discerning between things that differ; that is, distinguishing spiritual and heavenly things from all carnal and earthly Enjoyments, which are of an inferior and different nature, and vastly below them.
Now to approve the things that are excellent, implies,
(1.) The knowing or right understanding of them ; for none can approve of a thing of which he hath no knowledg, no more than a blind Man can judg of Colours, or a deaf Man of Sounds. To approve, is an Act of the Will and Affections, which must ever follow the Dictates .and Guidance of the Understanding, or else they cannot go aright. Ignorance is to the Mind what Blindness is to the Eye, its Blemish and Imperfection, that hinders it from discerning of Truth,and so misleads into Error. The natural Man (faith the Apostle) discerns not the things of God; and he that discerns them not, to be sure can never like or approve them. The Cock in the Fable prefer'd a Barleycorn before a Jewel, because he knew not either the Meanness of the one, or the Worth of the other and for the fame reason the Worldling prefers the Toys and Trifles of this Life, before an inestimable Treasure in the next, for want of a right understanding of either. So that to approve the best things, evermore supposes the knowledg of them •, which for the Excellency of the Object may be well reckon'd the most excellent Knowledg. St. John stiles it Life eternal, to knotsp God, and Jeftu Christ, whom he faath sent; John 17. 3. St. Paul desir'd to know nothing among the Corinthians, hut Jefiis Christ, and him crucify d; 2 Cor. 2. And likewise told these Philippians, that he counted aH other things but as Loss and Dung, in comparison of the Excellence of the Knowledg of Christ; Chap. 3. 8.
(2.) To approve things that are excellent, implies not only the Knowledg, but a firm and stedfaft Belief of them. 'Tis a great Malady of the Mind (as a Learned Divine hath obscrv'd) to be fill'd with Doubts and Diffidence about the most excellent and useful matters •, for these are fad Symptoms of a shatter'd and broken Understanding. A Man may indeed entertain some Doubts in matters impertinent to Life or Happiness without any danger, because neither his present or future Welfare is much concern'd in them. But to be wavering and at a loss in things wherein Oub greatest Concernments lie, is a very great Infelicity. Thus to call in question the Differences of Good and Evil, to doubt the Truth of Divine Revelation, and to be in sos pence about the Doctrine of the Gospel, and other like weighty and important Matters, is a sore Disease and Infirmity of the Mind, that fills it with great Anxieties, and brings on the greatest Uncertainties of Life and Practice.
And therefore we are told, that he that cometh unto God must believe that he is, and that he is a Rewarder of them that diligently seek him; Heb. 11.6. that is> he must have a firm Persuasion both of the Being and the Bounty of his Maker, together with a stedfaft Faith in the Truth of the Gospel, and an unshaken Belief of the Method of Salvation prescrib'd in it. This is to approve things that are excellent, and is what St. Paul here prays for in the behalf of these Philippians.
Lastly, Tis not only to know and believe, but to chuse these divine and excellent things, above all other vain and useless matters. There is a Vanity that reigns too much in the Minds of Men, which leads them too far into the Search of nice and needless Speculations; and this hath occasions the starting of many curious and foolish Questions, which engender Strife, and greatly disturb the Peace and Quiet of the World. This is an Itch that hath sciz'd some of the wiser Men, who have thereby infected vulgar Minds, turning many from the Truth* and turning them unto Fables. The Apostle sharply rebukes these things in his Epistles to Timothy and Tittts, as you may read, 1 Tim. 6, 4, 5. 9*
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To cure this Vanity, the Apostle here directs, to study and approve the things that are excellent; that is, to divert the Mind from vain useless Speculations, and fix it on more solid and useful Truths, such as the Knowledg of God and our selves, with the things that pertain to Life and Godliness: the doing whereof is the second thing here pray'd for in the behalf of the Philippians.
3. The third is, for Sincerity and an inoffensive Converfation j That ye may he sincere and without offence to the day of Christ. Among the many Faults and Miscarriages in Religion, there is none more odious unto Godr and more dangerous to Mens Souls, than that of Hypocrisy, which is a mocking and affronting of God under a pretence of serving him: 'tis like Judai's betraying of Christ with a Kiss, or the Jews crying, Hail Master! when they were about to crucify him. Hypocrisy is no better than a lying unto God and Man, and seeks what it can to put a cheat upon both: 'tis an Affectation or seeming to be what a Man is not, and so 'tis the Counterfeit of Religion, or an outward Shew and Appearance without the inward Truth and Reality of it. This was the great Sin of the Pharisees, for which our Saviour denounces many Woes against them. Mat. 23.
Now to be preserv'd from this Sin and Misery, the Apostle directs to pray for Sincerity with an upright and inoffensive Converfation ; that is, to be the fame within as they appear without, that their Words may agree with their Minds, and their Actions with both, This is that divine Grace that preserves the Purity of Heart and Life, and so recommends us both to God and Men. This is that Simplicity and godly Sincerity, in which the Apoitle wills us to have our Conversation, that we may continue blameless and without offence to the day of Christ ; that is, till his second Coming to Judgment, when he will publickly expose and punish the Hypocrite, and openly commend and reward his faithful Servants.
4. The last thing here pray'd for, is, that the Philipplans might he filled with the Fruits of Righteousness, which are by Jefiu Christ to the glory and praise os God. Where by the Fruits of Righteousness, we are to understand the Fruits of God's Holy Spirit , such as Joy, Love, Peace, Long-suffering, Meekness, Patience, Temperance, and the like, reckon'd up in Gal. 5,
To be filled with them, is to abound and grow up in them from a Stock of divine Grace, wrought in us by the Operation of the Holy Ghost, and confer'd upon us by the Merits and Mediation of Jesiu Christ: which Fruits redound not only to our own good, but to the glory and praise of God. For herein is my Father glorify d (faith Christ) that ye bring forth much Fruit. John 15.
Thus we fee the several Parts of the Apostle's Prayer in the behalf of the Philippians, the Subject of this Day's Epiftle: From all which we may learn,
1. That 'tis an Office of great Charity to pray for one another; for this is the best, and sometimes the only way we have to do them any service. So did St. Paul here to the Philippians, whom he always remember d in every Prayer making request with Joy. The like we find doing for the Cofojjians, Chap. 1.9. Since the day we heard of your Faith, we cease not to pray for you. And elsewhere, God forbid that Ishould fin against God, in ceasing to pray for you. As if it were an Act of the greatest Impiety against God, as well as Injustice and Unkindness towards our Neighbour, to neglect so weighty a Duty in their behalf. These pious Examples recommend to us this great. Office of Charity, to be tenderly affected to, and to be always mindful of one another in our Prayers.
2, We learn hence the Subject-matter of our Prayers, or what it is that we are to pray for in the behalf of each other: And that is, for the Increase of Love to God and Man, that it may abound more and more towards both, for the Knowledg and Approbation of the best things, viz, such as are necessary to our present Peace and suture Happiness; for such a sincere and unblemish'dJLife, as may lead to the Attainment of both ., and finally, for such a Stock of Grace and good Fruits, as may tend to the Glory of God and our own Salvation.
This is a good Direction both for the Matter and Mariner of our Prayers for one another ., to which if we keep, we shall do well, being assur'd of finding the Return or such Prayers in our own Bosom : for Christ hath encourag'd us with the Promise of an Answer to such Petitions, and that whatsoever we ask the Father.in his Name, he will give it. Which God grant, &c.