Failure and Progress
Philippians 3:12-14
Not as though I had already attained, either were already perfect: but I follow after…

1. It is a painful feeling to look back on life and feel that a great object is unaccomplished. The philosopher has this, who in spite of brilliant prospects finds after hard effort the problems of life to be insoluble. The would be liberator of an oppressed nation feels the same when, after vast expenditure of time and money and suffering, he dies with a tyrant on the throne and the people no better for freedom than when he began. The Christian's feeling is even more painful, when he measures what he has done with what he might or ought to have done.

2. This, too, has to be observed of the Christian that, as he advances in the Christian course, his standard of perfection rises, and what once satisfied him now fails to do so.

3. The feeling of not having attained is also disheartening. Is the past to be the criterion of the future?

4. The feeling is deepened by the thought of all the struggle and strife to attain perfection, and all seemingly to little purpose. And soon he must meet the Great Judge who, however merciful, commands him to be perfect.

5. The apostle withdraws our attention from this feeling about the past to the future.


1. There is such a thing as disturbing the balance between the two parts of repentance, sorrow for sin and active obedience.

(1) Sorrow for sin is foundation work. Should a man be employed all his life in laying foundations?

(2) It is subordinate work, for it has no value apart from its action on character.

2. Brooding over the past has a dangerous influence on character, and has a tendency to remorse or despair.

3. The natural course is from sorrow to pass to obedience, remembering gospel provisions and motives.

II. I MUST NOT INFER WHAT MY RELIGIOUS FUTURE WILL BE FROM THE PAST. The doctrine of probabilities is a very good one to go upon in worldly matters, wherever a permanent law prevails. Here the rule would he "remembering" the things behind, etc. But there are factors in the spiritual life which can change the face of things. To say that it is improbable that the Spirit will give you more strength hereafter than now would be an impious restraint on the action of the freest of Beings. Such a habit, moreover, is destructive of faith and hope. Forget the past and believe that it is possible for you to grow faster in goodness in one year than you have grown in ten; and that there are resources inconceivably great within your reach.

III. WE MUST NOT REMEMBER THE PAST AS OUR STANDARD OF ACTION OR CHARACTER. Here we must draw a distinction. The man who is conscious of high purposes running through the web of life may be glad, as he takes his reviews of bygone days, that the grace of God has enabled him to live on the whole near to the level of Christian principles — but there must ever be a discontent with themselves in the minds of Christians. And he may well suspect himself of declension or something more who is content to live as he has lived. Hence to forget the past and to remember it in order to avoid its evils are the same thing.

IV. THE SOUL MUST BE SO OCCUPIED WITH THE FUTURE THAT THE PAST SHALL ONLY BE SUBORDINATE AND SUBSIDIARY. If I have been in wretchedness the remembrance is of no account except to help me to escape from it. If I have been poor exertion to gain is the main thing. Whatever the past, the Christian's future has in it possibilities almost infinite.

(Pres. Woolsey.)

Parallel Verses
KJV: Not as though I had already attained, either were already perfect: but I follow after, if that I may apprehend that for which also I am apprehended of Christ Jesus.

WEB: Not that I have already obtained, or am already made perfect; but I press on, if it is so that I may take hold of that for which also I was taken hold of by Christ Jesus.

Conversion Illustrated in the Case of Paul
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