John Calvin's Commentary on the Bible

13 (Philippians 3:13)

Verse 13

13I reckon not myself to have as yet apprehended He does not here call in question the certainty of his salvation, as though he were still in suspense, but repeats what he had said before — that he still aimed at making farther progress, because he had not yet attained the end of his calling. He shews this immediately after, by saying that he was intent on this one thing, leaving off everything else. Now, he compares our life to a race-course, the limits of which God has marked out to us for running in. For as it would profit the runner nothing to have left the starting-point, unless he went forward to the goal, so we must also pursue the course of our calling until death, and must not cease until we have obtained what we seek. Farther, as the way is marked out to the runner, that he may not fatigue himself to no purpose by wandering in this direction or in that, so there is also a goal set before us, towards which we ought to direct our course undeviatingly; and God does not permit us to wander about heedlessly. Thirdly, as the runner requires to be free from entanglement, and not stop his course on account of any impediment, but must continue his course, surmounting every obstacle, so we must take heed that we do not apply our mind or heart to anything that may divert the attention, but must, on the contrary, make it our endeavor, that, free from every distraction, we may apply the whole bent of our mind exclusively to God’s calling. These three things Paul comprehends in one similitude. When he says that he does this one thing, and forgets all things that are behind, he intimates his assiduity, and excludes everything fitted to distract. When he says that he presses toward the mark, he intimates that he is not wandering from the way.

Forgetting those things that are behind He alludes to runners, who do not turn their eyes aside in any direction, lest they should slacken the speed of their course, and, more especially, do not look behind to see how much ground they have gone over, but hasten forward unremittingly towards the goal, Thus Paul teaches us, that he does not think of what he has been, or of what he has done, but simply presses forward towards the appointed goal, and that, too, with such ardor, that he runs forward to it, as it were, with outstretched arms. For a metaphor of this nature is implied in the participle which he employs. (191)

Should any one remark, by way of objection, that the remembrance of our past life is of use for stirring us up, both because the favors that have been already conferred upon us give us encouragement to entertain hope, and because we are admonished by our sins to amend our course of life, I answer, that thoughts of this nature do not turn away our view from what is before us to what is behind, but rather help our vision, so that we discern more distinctly the goal. Paul, however, condemns here such looking back, as either destroys or impairs alacrity. Thus, for example, should any one persuade himself that he has made sufficiently great progress, reckoning that he has done enough, he will become indolent, and feel inclined to deliver up the lamp (192) to others; or, if any one looks back with a feeling of regret for the situation that he has abandoned, he cannot apply the whole bent of his mind to what he is engaged in. Such was the nature of the thoughts from which Paul’s mind required to be turned away, if he would in good earnest follow out Christ’s calling. As, however, there has been mention made here of endeavor, aim, course, perseverance, lest any one should imagine that salvation consists in these things, or should even ascribe to human industry what comes from another quarter, with the view of pointing out the cause of all these things, he adds — in Christ Jesus

- John Calvin's Commentary on the Bible