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Free Books » Bonar, Horatius » Light & Truth: The Lesser Epistles

Chapter 20 - Philippians 3:20 - The Heavenly Citizenship Light & Truth: The Lesser Epistles by Bonar, Horatius




The Heavenly Citizenship.


"For our conversation is in heaven; from whence also we look for the Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ."-Philippians 3:20.



     These two concluding verses give us these four points for our meditation 1. Our present state; 2. Our hope; 3. The change; 4. The power.

     I.  Our present state.-'Our conversation is in heaven.' They who are thus entitled to speak are those whom the apostle calls 'saints in Christ Jesus' (1:1). They are those who 'worshipped God in the Spirit, who rejoiced in Christ Jesus, and who had no confidence in the flesh' (3:3). They were men who had received the divine testimony concerning the Son of God, and who could say, 'We have known and believed the love that God hath to us.' Their belief of that testimony had altered their state in many respects. It had brought them forgiveness and life. It had knit them to God in a new relationship, and filled them with His love. But it had done more. It had called them out of a present evil world, and broken the links which had fastened them to it. It had made them strangers upon earth, and cut them off from companionship with its evil. But in so doing it had given them far more than it had taken away. It had severed earthly ties only to fasten heavenly ones. It had city of which we have become the citizens withdrawn them from earthly citizenship only to make them citizens of the New Jerusalem. It is to their new ties, their new relationship, their new home, their new city, that the words refer: 'Our conversation is in heaven.'

     Take the word 'conversation' as meaning 'manner of life,' 'habit of being,' or citizenship,' the substantial meaning is the same. It implies that they had become connected with heaven in the same ways, and at the same points, in which they had formerly been connected with earth. Heaven, the heavenly city, its heavenly citizens, its heavenly customs and manners, were now to them what earth, and earthly cities, and earthly citizens, and earthly customs and manners had been. They now stood in the same connection with the New Jerusalem, its laws, its occupations, its companionships, its influences, as they bad formerly done with the city of their earthly habitation, its laws, its usages, its employments, its fellowships. The words would then simply mean, 'we are now citizens of the heavenly Jerusalem.'

     It is from this new connection that the apostle derives so many of his arguments for holiness and consistency of life. He calls on us to view everything from this point, and to act accordingly. The old evil maxim, that we are to do at Rome as Rome does, has here a good application. We are to do at Jerusalem what Jerusalem does. We are to leave behind us our old habits, our old vanities, our old sins, our old companionships. All to us must be new. We must live according to the laws and manners of the new country which we have chosen, of the new city of which we have become the citizens.

     A believing man is the citizen of the heavenly Jerusalem, a citizen of no mean city. As such he is called upon to act and speak and live. Let this be a safeguard in the hour of temptation. With this answer the seducing arguments of pleasure, or vanity, or worldliness. Our conversation is in heaven. I have already taken up my dwelling in the heavenly city, I cannot come down, I cannot stoop to anything unworthy of it.

     II. Our hope.-The coming of the Lord is our hope and expectation. Out of that very heaven into which He has gone, out of that heaven in which our conversation and citizenship are, we expect Him to come. Thus, that heaven to which we have become united, contains in it everything pertaining to our present joy or future hope. Our treasure, our blessedness, our glory, all are there. Above all, He, who is more to us than treasure, or blessedness, or glory, is there. Hence our eye turns, in wistfulness and longing, to that region where everything that our heart yearns for or delights in is contained. As, during the darkness of night, we turn our eye to the east, knowing that the sun will rise there; so it is upward to the heavens, our true east or orient, that we look, knowing that it is there the Sun of Righteousness is to arise.

     The word 'look' is, in the Greek, a very strong expression, for which we have no single word. It does not mean a mere look, or glance, or turn of the eye, but the prolonged, persevering, earnest gaze of expectation. Just as Mary and Martha, when they knew that the Lord was in Jerusalem, would be continually looking towards Olivet, in the expectation of seeing Him coming over the hill to their house; so, with the same continued and wistful waiting, does the saint turn his eye to the heavens, whence he knows that his Lord is to appear. The word occurs seven times in the New Testament, and always in connection with the same event or hope. 'Waiting for the manifestation of the sons of God' (Romans 8:19) 'waiting for the adoption, even the redemption of the body' (8:23); 'then do we with patience wait for it' (8:25); 'waiting for the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ' (1 Corinthians 1:7); 'we wait for the hope of righteousness,' i.e. for the hope which the righteousness gives us (Galatians 5:5); 'unto them that look for Him shall He appear the second time' (Hebrews 9:28).

     He for whom the Church is thus earnestly looking, gazing upward into heaven, is peculiarly and minutely designated here 'the Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ.' He is 'Lord,' as Jehovah, God over all, Lord of lords. He is Christ, as the Messiah promised to the fathers, the anointed One, the man filled with the Holy Spirit. He is Jesus, as the true Joshua, the deliverer from sin, the leader into the inheritance, the fighter of our battles. He is Saviour, not merely because of what He did upon the cross, when He came the first time, but because of the salvation which He brings with Him, in the day when He comes to complete what is as yet only begun,-deliverance of the Church and of Israel out of the hands of enemies; deliverance of time body from the power of the grave; deliverance of time earth from the curse and from the dominion of Satan.

     Are you expecting the Lord? Are you living in this expectation? Is it a deep-seated, abiding, cherished hope? Is it a hope that tells upon your character, your life, your daily actings in public or private, your opinions, your whole man? Does it quicken you? Does it purify you? Does it keep you separate from the world? Does it keep you calm in the midst of earth's most exciting events, or most untoward changes? Does it give you a new view of history as well as prophecy? Does it show you the vanity of time's politics, human schemes of reform and earth regeneration, the sinfulness as well as hollowness of man's principles of mere expediency, by which he would govern the world without a Bible, without a Christ, and without a God? Let your belief in the Lord's coming be a calm, steadfast, earnest, unfluctuating belief that influences your whole being, and spreads its glorious brightness over your whole life, turning all its shadows into sunshine, and making you to see a meaning, a purpose, and an order in the most untoward events, the most disorderly and confused of earth's scenes. Let your expectation of the Lord's coming be a calm and healthy one; not one that excites, but one that tranquillizes; not one that unfits for duty, but one that nerves you more firmly for it; not one that paralyzes exertion, but one that invigorates you for it; not one that makes you indifferent to present duty, but one that makes you doubly in earnest about everything that your hand findeth to do; not one that stops liberality, and prayer, and work, but one that increases all these a hundred fold; not one that dwells exclusively on the future's dark side,-the judgments that are at hand,-but one that realizes the glory and the joy of Messiah's approaching victory and triumphant reign.

     III. The change-'Who shall change our vile body, that it may be fashioned like unto His own glorious body.' Let us notice here these things:

     1.  The thing to be changed.-It is our 'body;' for that will be the only thing in that day needing change. What importance does God attach to the body! How different from the indifference with which many profess to regard its future interests! He who made it knows its value, and always represents it as precious-a thing cared for by Him. The name here applied to our body is peculiar. 'Vile' is not the right word; but simply 'the body of our humiliation,' the body which we have in this our low estate. As Christ had a body suited to His humiliation, which hungered, which thirsted, which was weary; so have we a body of humiliation.

     2. The nature of the change.-The word change is the same as is elsewhere translated 'transform:' 'Satan is transformed into an angel of light.' It implies an alteration in the whole frame and appearance and constitution of the body; so that, while still the same body, it will be gloriously altered, so that all that is poor and feeble and carnal shall pass away. 'Flesh and blood,' i.e. in its present state, 'cannot inherit the kingdom of God.' The body, in its state of humiliation, is unfit for its future abode. It must be transformed and transfigured.

     3.  The model of the change. This model is nothing less than the body of the Lord Jesus Christ. 'We shall be like Him,' not merely in our spirits, but in our bodies too.  Nor is it the body of His humiliation that we are to be conformed to, but the body of His glory, for so the words should run. It is the body which He now has in His glory, and which He shall, have hereafter when He comes to be glorified in His saints; it is this body of His exaltation, this body of His glory, that is to be the model of ours. Our body of humiliation is to be transformed into the exact resemblance of the body of His glory.

     4. The Author of the change.-It is Christ Himself. Sometimes it would seem to be the Father: 'Them that sleep in Jesus will God bring with Him.' But here it is Christ that works the change. He transforms. He who says, 'Behold, I make all things new,' is the Author of this glorious transfiguration. We are not only to be made like Him; but He to whose likeness we are fashioned, is the worker. He who made the body at first, now remakes it in His own glorified likeness.

     What a prospect! This body weighs us down, and adds so often to our burdens. It is feeble and weary. It is sickly and pained in every part. It needs such care, such attendance every hour; food, and rest, and sleep, and medicine! Then all this shall be over. It shall be a glorious body, suited for an inheritance, fitted for those who are to sit with Christ upon His throne, and to be citizens of the New Jerusalem which cometh down out of heaven from God. In a land of sickness and pain and weariness, how comforting, how blessed the prospect of having this body transformed and glorified! With what longings should we anticipate the resurrection! With what joy should we contemplate the change that is to be wrought on our mortal bodies at the coming of the Lord! It is no slight matter this, though it concerns the body. God does not think it a trifle; nor does He count it carnal to lay such stress upon the body's weakness or the body's strength. He has so made us that we cannot do otherwise. We may bear up under bodily pain and languor, but we cannot help being influenced by the body, nor feeling what a difference the right state of our body would make upon our soul. It was meant to be a helpmeet; and so it would have been, had mortality and disease not hindered it; so it shall be again, when mortality and disease have been expelled from it. But just because it was meant for a helpmeet, so is it the more a burden and a hindrance by reason of sin and weakness. And when that which was meant to be a helpmeet thus becomes a hindrance, how grievous must the hindrance be! It is as when one's own household turns against him. It is as when the soldiers in the army mutiny and attack their general.

     Ah, yes! the aches of the body are not things to be despised; nor is the deliverance promised to it in the day of resurrection and transfiguration a thing to be undervalued. What a difference to our whole man, our whole spiritual being, will the renewal of the body make! Thus Richard Baxter wrote respecting this: 'O my soul, thou shalt never more lament the sufferings of the saints, never more condole the Church's ruins, never bewail thy suffering friends, nor lie wailing over their deathbeds or their graves; thy body will no more be such a burden to thee; thy pains and sicknesses are all cured, thou shalt be troubled with weakness and weariness no more; thy head is not now an aching head, nor thy heart now an aching heart; thy hunger, and thirst, and cold and sleep, thy labour and study, are all gone.  My face will not wrinkle, nor my hair be gray; but this mortal shall have put on immortality.'

     IV. The power.-This change is to be a work of power, and it will be specially seen to be so by the suddenness with which it is accomplished. In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump, the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed.

     The kind of power to be put forth is also stated here. It is that kind of power, or 'energy,' or 'in working,' whereby He is able to subdue all things to Himself. He is the Mighty One, the Almighty One. He is able to do the work He has undertaken, and ere long He will show this. His predicted ability to subdue all things to Himself proves that He is able to transform the bodies of His saints. He is the great subduer of all enemies-His own, God's, and ours. 'I have overcome,' is His assurance to us. He has already won the victory, or at least the most important part of it. He is yet to do more. He is to subdue all things to Himself. Every enemy He is to put under His feet. Having already led captivity captive, having triumphed over principalities and powers, and made a show of them openly, nothing remains but that He carry out His victory to the uttermost. He vanquishes and binds Satan; He destroys death; He unclasps the fetters of the grave; He strips off the covering cast over all nations, removes the curse, and makes all things new. Every enemy on earth or in hell is compelled to yield. And He who thus is able to subdue all things unto Himself, will He not be able to transform this mortal body?

     Learn from all this such lessons as the following:-

     Saint of God!

     1.  Live as a believer in the Lord's coming.-Read what Scripture has said about this, and live accordingly. It is not for nothing that the Bible has said so much about that event. It was meant to influence you. Let it do so. It is no common event. It is not one out of many other things, in the future, equally important. It is the one mighty event which towers above all the rest,-the sun which by its light obscures all other lights, however bright in themselves. Look for that blessed hope. Love the appearing of Christ.

     2.  Live as a believer in the resurrection of the just.-The first thing connected with the Lord's coming is the resurrection of the saints-your own resurrection, if you be asleep before He comes; your own change, if you be living when He arrives. Books innumerable have been written about death, few of resurrection. This is not the Bible way. Resurrection there is much more prominent than death. So let it be in your meditations. Think much of resurrection-of the change that is to pass upon the body when the Lord comes. We know little of what this body really is, what it is capable of, how glorious it may be made, till then. It will be a glorious body like His own. Let that thought be dwelt upon. Let every ache speak to you of resurrection. Let every weary limb or muscle speak of resurrection. Let every illness speak of resurrection. Let each deathbed of a saint speak to you of resurrection. Live as men who believe in a risen Lord, and in a coming resurrection for yourselves.

     Sinner of earth!

     1.  See your loss.-You lose all present joy coming from this hope of glory. You lose a share in resurrection. You lose the inheritance. You lose a dwelling in the New Jerusalem. You lose an eternity of joy and honour. How heavy your loss! How irrevocable! You cannot make up for it. You cannot cancel it. An eternal loss! How sad the thought! The loss of life, the loss of peace, the loss of Christ, the loss of glory, the loss of all that is worth losing! How unspeakably grievous!

     2.  See your doom.-Your 'end is destruction,' 'everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord!' That which man calls ruin or destruction may not be after all very dreadful; but that which God calls destruction must be unutterably terrible! Poor lost soul, what a doom!

     3. See the deliverance.-There is still life for thee; eternal life, life through Him who died. And we preach to you Christ crucified, Christ dying, Christ buried, Christ rising again. In receiving God's true record of these things concerning Christ, you may have deliverance from the second death, and life through His name!