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The Earthly and Heavenly Citizenship.

by Isaac Williams

from Sermons on the Epistles and Gospels for the Sundays and Holy Days

throughout the Year, Vol. II. Trinity Sunday to All Saints' Day 

Rivingtons, London, 1875.

First part of Sermon LXX. for the Twenty Third Sunday after Trinity.
 Phil. iii. 17-21.    St. Matthew xxii. 15-22.
For our conversation is in heaven.PHIL. iii. 19.

THE word here translated “conversation” means literally “citizenship.” And as such the text may serve to represent both the Epistle and the Gospel for to-day, as speaking of our heavenly citizenship in distinction from citizens of earth.

Brethren, says St. Paul, be followers together of me, and mark, i. e. aim at imitating, them which walk so as ye have us for an ensample. The great Apostle laboured to teach the Gospel, not only by his words, but also by his life; this he sometimes alludes to more or less distinctly, as when he wrought by his own hands, it was, he says, to show them “that by so labouring” they “ought to supply the weak.” (Acts xx. 34, 35)  And he was able to say with the like confidence to the. Corinthians, “Be ye followers of me, even as I also am of Christ.” Thus has God been pleased not only to afford us a perfect pattern in His Son, but in His Apostles also living ensamples to the flock, in men subject to like infirmities and passions as we are. They shine like lights in the world amidst the darkness that surrounds us, living by a higher rule, and as it were walking in Heaven.

For many walk, adds the Apostle, of whom I have told you often, and now tell you even weeping, that they are the enemies of the cross of Christ: whose end is destruction, whose God is their belly, and whose glory is in their shame, who mind earthly things. Even in that saintly little Church at Philippi, even in those early days when Christians were so much purified by suffering, even among those who had witnessed St. Paul’s preaching and his life, there were Christians in name who forgot the cross; nay, there were many. “Many walk,” he says; and, further, it had been the constant subject of his warnings when he was with them; and now, when he thought of it, he wept. The blessed Apostle wept; and it so affected him, because it touched him in the most tender point of all, his Master’s Cross. It was because the life they led made them enemies of that Cross. When he thought of it, he wept; because, as he says to the Hebrews, they in some mysterious sense “crucified afresh the Son of God.” His wounds bleed again; He is again put to open shame; His enemies are not Jews but Christians. This makes the Apostle weep. He weeps because they laugh, and know not what they do; even as his Lord when He wept over Jerusalem, because it was full of rejoicing when it ought to have mourned. They are the enemies of the cross, and of Him Who is seen thereon; and therefore their “end is destruction,” although for them Christ died. Our King is set forth on earth nowhere else but on a cross; on the cross His title is written, This is the King. It is written in every language, for all people are His; but the cross is His only throne below. The cross speaks of our God with a body full of pain, because our bodies are full of sin. But their “God,” says St. Paul, “is their belly.” That is, the chief object they look to is ease and luxury, serving the fleshly mind, which is the very opposite to the lesson of the cross. The “carnal mind,” says St. Paul, “is death,” and is “enmity against God.” (Rom. viii. 6,7)  And the reason is, because in the cross is life. The things in which the natural man glories, are a shame to a Christian, because they are contrary to the cross. He is ashamed of them because they make him unlike his Master. This may be seen in St. Paul himself continually. “I will not glory,” he says, “except in my infirmities. And gladly in them will I glory, that the power of Christ may rest upon me.” (2 Cor. xii. 9.)

And the character of these persons, the enemies of the cross, St. Paul sums up in these comprehensive words, “who mind earthly things.” Their thoughts and desires, their joys and cares, their hopes and fears, are engaged about temporal matters. Would to God, my brethren, that we were not, most all of us, in this respect too like those over whom St. Paul weeps. Our employments, our treasure, our hearts, our affections are too much on earth for us to be the imitators of St. Paul, as he was of Christ.

For our conversation, he adds, is in heaven; we are citizens not of this world, but of Heaven, where “our life is hid with Christ in God,” from whence also we look for the Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ. Our life is one of expectation and hope; not of enjoyment; we are in a place which does not belong to us, nor we to it; as strangers we might say, and exiles far from home. But this is not all, for we bear about with us a body of death: we have a close-pursuing and inseparable enemy ever about us, and in whose country we dwell, which is this flesh, and which will overcome us, unless by daily dying as Scripture with eloquent force expresses it, we succeed in subduing it. It is this flesh ever with us and influencing our hearts, which would make a God of this world’s consolations; which glories in subduing the immortal spirit to itself, and fills the mind with earthly things. With this we contend and labour, and long to be released from this contest with it, and therefore we look for the Saviour, Who shall change our vile body, that it may be fashioned like unto His glorious body, according to the working whereby He is able even to subdue all things unto Himself.  These are blessed and gracious words, not new indeed for us to hear, but if we seriously meditate upon them, they will be ever new to our understanding, full of new life, new hopes. “The working whereby He is able to subdue all things to Himself,” that is, His Spirit working within us a new body, and the power of the Resurrection. As to the Ephesians he says, “the exceeding greatness of His power to us-ward who believe, according to the working of His mighty power. which He wrought in Christ when He raised Him from the dead.” It was to set forth this that our Lord went forth working His miracles on diseased and dead bodies. For this did He after the Resurrection manifest so often His own risen body. And how is He forming this change? It is by His Spirit within us, first working the living change in our souls, that thus taking up His abode within us He may in His own good time quicken us into a spiritual and glorious body, casting off this vile body, with all its evil lusts and affections. It is, therefore, by His thus working even now this change within us, that we are raised together with Him, made to sit in heavenly places, and to have our conversation in Heaven. But if we mind earthly things we shall die: to be carnally-minded is death.

As citizens, therefore, of Heaven, we have an Heavenly King, for Whose kingdom we daily, hourly pray. He is our King even now, for our very calling and state as Christians is termed “the Kingdom of Heaven” and “of God.” Nay more, as we are citizens not of earth but of Heaven, as we are but strangers, having no continuing city here on earth, so it must be said that we as Christians are of no earthly kingdom, or state, or country. And even as the Jews of old cried out,” We have no king but Caesar !" so we, on the contrary say, We have no King but Christ! For as no man can be a citizen of two cities; a countryman of two countries; so in one sense it must be said that he cannot belong to two kingdoms, or be subject to two kings. He cannot serve two masters. Inasmuch as one is so infinitely higher than the other, that the less is lost in the greater, and is as if it were not.

Now this is a point very little understood or considered; men allow their minds to be taken up with State affairs, as if they were citizens of this world; as if such were all great substantial realities, of which they were to have the control and management. Alas, what a dream and a shadow it all is, what a mockery that deludes us with a show of something real ! And yet what strong feelings are thrown away; what zeal and animosity; what likes and dislikes are engendered, as among the Pharisees and Herodians of old, about politics. True it is that a Christian would honour and obey his king no less than others, nay, far more; but why not because he is a citizen of this world, but because he is not; and he looks on such only as ordained of God, as representing His kingly power. For this cause he will render to all their dues; “tribute to whom tribute is due; custom to whom custom; fear to whom fear; honour to whom honour.”  (Rom. xiii. 7.)  No one serves an earthly master so faithfully, no one honours an earthly king so truly as a good Christian, because he does it for the sake of a Divine Master and a Heavenly King.

Now this the Gospel sets before us in a very memorable incident and Divine saying, to which it gave rise.... 

.... (for the second part, on the Gospel.)