We now heard what the apostle renounced; let us now see what he laid hold on, and resolved to cleave to, namely, Christ and heaven. He had his heart on these two great peculiarities of the Christian religion.
I. The apostle had his heart upon Christ as his righteousness. This is illustrated in several instances. 1. He desired to win Christ; and an unspeakable gainer he would reckon himself if he had but an interest in Christ and his righteousness, and if Christ became his Lord and his Saviour: That I may win him; as the runner wins the prize, as the sailor makes the port he is bound for. The expression intimates that we have need to strive for him and after him, and that all is little enough to win him. 2. That he might be found in him (Phil. 3:9), as the manslayer was found in the city of refuge, where he was safe from the avenger of blood, Num. 35:25. Or it alludes to a judicial appearance; so we are to be found of our Judge in peace, 2 Pet. 3:14. We are undone without a righteousness wherein to appear before God, for we are guilty. There is a righteousness provided for us in Jesus Christ, and it is a complete and perfect righteousness. None can have interest or benefit by it but those who come off from confidence in themselves, and are brought heartily to believe in him. “Not having my own righteousness, which is of the law; not thinking that my outward observances and good deeds are able to atone for my bad ones, or that by setting the one over against the other I can come to balance accounts with God. No, the righteousness which I depend upon is that which is through the faith of Christ, not a legal, but evangelical righteousness: The righteousness which is of God by faith, ordained and appointed of God.” The Lord Jesus Christ is the Lord our righteousness, Isa. 45:24; Jer. 23:6. Had he not been God, he could not have been our righteousness; the transcendent excellence of the divine nature put such a value upon, and such a virtue into, his sufferings, that they became sufficient to satisfy for the sins of the world, and to bring in a righteousness which will be effectual to all that believe. Faith is the ordained means of actual interest and saving benefit in all the purchase of his blood. It is by faith in his blood, Rom. 3:25. 3. That he might know Christ (Phil. 3:10): That I may know him, and the power of his resurrection, and the fellowship of his sufferings. Faith is called knowledge, Isa. 53:11. Knowing him here is believing in him: it is an experimental knowledge of the power of his resurrection, and the fellowship of his sufferings, or feeling the transforming efficacy and virtue of them. Observe, The apostle was as ambitious of being sanctified as he was of being justified. He was as desirous to know the power of Christ’s death and resurrection killing sin in him, and raising him up to newness of life, as he was to receive the benefit of Christ’s death and resurrection in his justification. 4. That he might be conformable unto him, and this also is meant of his sanctification. We are then made conformable to his death when we die to sin, as Christ died for sin, when we are crucified with Christ, the flesh and affections of it mortified, and the world is crucified to us, and we to the world, by virtue of the cross of Christ. This is our conformity to his death.
II. The apostle had his heart upon heaven as his happiness: If by any means I might attain to the resurrection of the dead, Phil. 3:11.
1. The happiness of heaven is here called the resurrection of the dead, because, though the souls of the faithful, when they depart, are immediately with Christ, yet their happiness will not be complete till the general resurrection of the dead at the last day, when soul and body shall be glorified together. Anastasis sometimes signifies the future state. This the apostle had his eye upon; this he would attain. There will be a resurrection of the unjust, who shall arise to shame and everlasting contempt; and our care must be to escape that: but the joyful and glorious resurrection of saints is called the resurrection, kat exochen—by eminence, because it is in virtue of Christ’s resurrection, as their head and first-fruits; whereas the wicked shall rise only by the power of Christ, as their judge. To the saints it will be indeed a resurrection, a return to bliss, and life, and glory; while the resurrection of the wicked is a rising from the grave, but a return to a second death. It is called the resurrection of the just, and the resurrection of life (John 5:29), and they are counted worthy to obtain that world and the resurrection from the dead, Luke 20:35.
2. This joyful resurrection the apostle pressed towards. He was willing to do any thing, or suffer any thing, that he might attain that resurrection. The hope and prospect of it carried him with so much courage and constancy through all the difficulties he met with in his work. He speaks as if they were in danger of missing it, and coming short of it. A holy fear of coming short is an excellent means of perseverance. Observe, His care to be found in Christ was in order to his attaining the resurrection of the dead. Paul himself did not hope to attain it through his own merit and righteousness, but through the merit and righteousness of Jesus Christ. “Let me be found in Christ, that I may attain the resurrection of the dead, be found a believer in him, and interested in him by faith,” Observe,
(1.) He looks upon himself to be in a state of imperfection and trial: Not as though I had already attained, or were already perfect, Phil. 3:12. Observe, The best men in the world will readily own their imperfection in the present state. We have not yet attained, are not already perfect; there is still much wanting in all our duties, and graces, and comforts. If Paul had not attained to perfection (who had reached to so high a pitch of holiness), much less have we. Again, Brethren, I count not myself to have apprehended (Phil. 3:13), ou logizomai. “I make this judgment of the case; I thus reason with myself.” Observe, Those who think they have grace enough give proof that they have little enough, or rather that they have none at all; because, wherever there is true grace, there is a desire of more grace, and a pressing towards the perfection of grace.
(2.) What the apostle’s actings were under this conviction. Considering that he had not already attained, and had not apprehended, he pressed forward: “I follow after (Phil. 3:12), dioko—I pursue with vigour, as one following after the game. I endeavour to get more grace and do more good, and never think I have done enough: If that I may apprehend that for which also I am apprehended of Christ Jesus.” Observe, [1.] Whence our grace comes—from our being apprehended of Christ Jesus. It is not our laying hold of Christ first, but his laying hold of us, which is our happiness and salvation. We love him because he first loved us, 1 John 4:19. Not our keeping hold of Christ, but his keeping hold of us, is our safety. We are kept by his mighty power through faith unto salvation, 1 Pet. 1:5. Observe, [2.] What the happiness of heaven is: it is to apprehend that for which we are apprehended of Christ. When Christ laid hold of us, it was to bring us to heaven; and to apprehend that for which he apprehended us is to attain the perfection of our bliss. He adds further (Phil. 3:13): This one thing I do (this was his great care and concern), forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth to those things which are before. There is a sinful forgetting of past sins and past mercies, which ought to be remembered for the exercise of constant repentance and thankfulness to God. But Paul forgot the things which were behind so as not to be content with present measures of grace: he was still for having more and more. So he reaches forth, epekteinomenos—stretched himself forward, bearing towards his point: it is expressive of a vehement concern.
(3.) The apostle’s aim in these actings: I press towards the mark, for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus, Phil. 3:14. He pressed towards the mark. As he who runs a race never takes up short of the end, but is still making forwards as fast as he can, so those who have heaven in their eye must still be pressing forward to it in holy desires and hopes, and constant endeavours and preparations. The fitter we grow for heaven the faster we must press towards it. Heaven is called here the mark, because it is that which every good Christian has in his eye; as the archer has his eye fixed upon the mark he designs to hit. For the prize of the high calling. Observe, A Christian’s calling is a high calling: it is from heaven, as its original; and it is to heaven in its tendency. Heaven is the prize of the high calling; to brabeion—the prize we fight for, and run for, and wrestle for, what we aim at in all we do, and what will reward all our pains. It is of great use in the Christian course to keep our eye upon heaven. This is proper to give us measures in all our service, and to quicken us every step we take; and it is of God, from whom we are to expect it. Eternal life is the gift of God (Rom. 6:23), but it is in Christ Jesus; through his hand it must come to us, as it is procured for us by him. There is no getting to heaven as our home but by Christ as our way.