I know how to live humbly, and I know how to abound. I am accustomed to any and every situation--to being filled and being hungry, to having plenty and having need.
1. Contentment needs to be cultivated, not only when we possess little, but likewise when we possess much. It may be thought that to be contented with plenty is an easy task. But this is not so. It is often easier to know how to be abased than to know how to abound. We may be in greater danger when our prayers are answered than when the answer is withheld.
2. St. Paul, having learned many things, can teach us many things. Not only does he know theoretically how difficult it is to abound, but he knows it experimentally, and experimentally he has overcome the difficulty. He has been initiated in the experience of both need and abundance, and has known how to bear either tot with safety.
3. This he had been able to do, not through any Stoical superiority to the things of this life, nor yet through any force of natural character, but in the power in which his whole life was now being lived, the strength given by union with Jesus Christ. - V.W.H.
I know both how to be abased, and I know how to abound I.EXPECTS VICISSITUDE.
II.KNOWS HOW TO ADAPT HIMSELF TO ALL CIRCUMSTANCES.
III.IS INSTRUCTED BY THE SPIRIT OF GOD.
()During the periods between the paroxysms of the fever, Cromwell occupied the time with listening to passages from the sacred volume, or by a resigned or despairing reference to the death of his daughter. "Read to me," he said to his wife, in one of these intervals, "the Epistle to the Philippians." She read these words: "I know both how to be abased, and" — the reader paused. "That verse," said the Protector, "once saved my life when the death of my eldest born, the infant Oliver, pierced my heart like the sharp blade of a poignard."
()Paul had the double knowledge, "How to be abased" and "how to abound." The two are not distinctly separable — each in some way conditions the other. There is far too little of the knowledge how to abound. Few men who abound come asking how to abound. Men think it hard enough to get rich, but a very easy thing to be rich. No man has a right to be anything unless he has the knowledge of how to be that thing. When Paul says, "I know how to abound," he is thinking of anything which makes life pleasant and ample — of money, of scholarship, of friendship, of great spiritual hopes and experiences. Paul did not have all these, and yet he had the knowledge of how to use them. The power by which he could rob abundance of its dangers was the knowledge of the true perfection of a soul in serving Christ. All men do not know how to be rich. The generous, sympathetic, active, kind, rich man knows how to be rich. What is more pitiable than the blunderer who holds wealth and knows not how to use it? There is also needed a knowledge of how to know truth. Here is a scholar who can give you any information, and yet you feel no enrichment. He has no deep convictions, no faith. He has grown less human. He values his knowledge as a botanist his specimens, and not as a gardener his plants. The highest knowledge comes by reverence and devotedness to God.
()Manton says: "A garment which is too long trails in the mire and soon becomes a dirty rag; and it is easy for large estates to become much the same. It is a hard lesson to 'learn to abound' (Philippians 4:12). We say such a one would do well to be a lord or a lady; but it is a harder thing than we think it to be." It is hard to carry a full cup with a steady hand. High places are dizzy places, and full many have fallen to their eternal ruin through climbing aloft without having grace to look up. The simile of the trailing garment used by Manton is simple, but instructive.
I am instructedFormerly 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."
()It was the beautiful expression of a Christian, who had been rich, when he was asked how he could bear his reduced state so happily, "When I was rich, I had God in everything, and now I am poor I have everything in God."Contentment is the best food to preserve a sound man, and the best medicine to restore a sick man. It resembles the gilt on nauseous pills, which makes a man take them without tasting their bitterness. Contentment will make a cottage look as fair as a palace. He is not a poor man that hath but little, but he is a poor man that wants much.
()Making a day's excursion from Botzen, in the Tyrol, we went along the very narrowest of roads, mere alleys, to which our country lanes would be turnpike roads. Well, you may be sure that we did not engage an ordinary broad carriage, for that would have found the passage as difficult as the needle's eye to the camel; but our landlord had a very narrow chaise for us — just the very thing for threading those four-feet passages. Now, I must make you hear the moral of it, you fretful little gentlemen. When you have a small estate, you must have small wants, and by contentment suit your carriage to your road. "Not so easy," say you? "Very necessary to a Christian," say I.
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