Initiation into the Mysteries
Philippians 4:12
I know both how to be abased, and I know how to abound: every where and in all things I am instructed both to be full and to be hungry…

Formerly rendered: "I have been instructed," it is given in the Revised Version, "I have been taught the secret;" while Lightfoot still more adequately brings out the meaning: "I have been initiated, I possess the secret." That is what the Greek word means. And here we have one of many examples where a word of strong heathen association is baptized afresh, and consecrated to signify a new and loftier range of thoughts. What these words meant for a serious and good man, from the heathen point of view, was that he had been admitted to communicate in the mysteries, as the great sacramental services of Paganism were called. He had taken part in solemn baptisms, expressing the need of the purification of the soul. He had listened to an awful proclamation from an officiating minister, warning off all murderers and all barbarians, and, in later times, perhaps, all atheists, and Epicureans, and Christians. For these secret sacred rites were intended only for men of Greek blood; and it was thought neither pleasing to the gods nor good for the State that strangers should intrude upon these solemnities. And then, in these ceremonies themselves, he had been made to pass through experiences which could never be forgotten as long as he lived. His imagination was appealed to both through eye and through ear. He saw the representation of wanderings through the darkness, as amidst some maze; shapes of horror were revealed, and his soul was filled with trembling and terror. He was made to pass through a kind of mental proof or purgatory. Then all was changed. There was a sudden illumination; the scenery of beautiful pastures was disclosed; there was music, and dancing, and joy; and he walked in sweet converse with the pious and the good. At the crowning point of the service he was rapt away in an ecstasy of "beholding," a species of beatific vision. He seemed to see the meaning of life, its beginning and its end; he beheld the wicked wallowing in filth and the righteous in Paradise — a blessed climate, where all the conditions of spiritual and physical good were realized. On the whole, these sacramental services exerted a very wholesome effect upon the con sciences of the people. They learned to meditate on death and eternity, on the need of the soul being prepared for its future, on the punishment of the wicked and the blessedness of the just. One of the Athenian orators, in boasting to his fellow citizens of the glories of their native land, refers to the great mysteries as imparting "good hopes for eternity." If we ask the question how it was that these institutions died away in course of time, the simple answer seems to be that, in part, they were overcome by the superior spirituality and energy of our own religion; partly that they had themselves waxed corrupt, and had become sources of corruption, though originally good. However, the rites of which we have been speaking went on for a long time, for several centuries after Paul. When this letter was read in the Church of Philippi many, possibly all, of the Gentile members were initiated persons. And when this solemn word: "I have been initiated," fell upon their ear, it must have vibrated in all its power through their imagination. They must have felt that their beloved teacher was giving a quite new turn to the word. The old sacramental and pictorial associations had vanished; and in place of them there was a deep, central, spiritual truth spoken of as the secret of Paul. What was this secret? It is expressed again by a single word, "content."

(Professor E. Johnson.)

Parallel Verses
KJV: I know both how to be abased, and I know how to abound: every where and in all things I am instructed both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need.

WEB: I know how to be humbled, and I know also how to abound. In everything and in all things I have learned the secret both to be filled and to be hungry, both to abound and to be in need.

How to be Abased
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