I know both how to be abased, and I know how to abound . St. Paul had experience both of sorrow and of joy, both of distress and of comfort; he knew how to bear himself in both, because his chiefest joy was "in the Lord." This abiding joy raised him above the vicissitudes of this mortal state, and gave him an αὐτάρεκια , a Christian independence, which enabled him to act becomingly both in adversity and in prosperity. Everywhere and in all things I am instructed ; literally, as R.V., in everything and in all things ; as we say, "in each and all," in every condition separately and in all collectively. The R.V. translates more accurately, "have I learned the secret." The Greek μεμύημαι means properly, "I have been' initiated." It is a word adapted from the old Greek mysteries; comp. Bcngel, "Disciplina arcana imbutus sum, ignota mundo." St. Paul represents the advanced Christian life as a mystery, the secrets of which are taught by God. the Holy Ghost to the soul that longs to prove in its own personal experience "what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God." St. Paul frequently uses the word μυστήριον , mystery, for the truths once hidden but now brought to light by the gospel. Both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need. The word rendered "to be full" ( χορτάζεσθαι ) is strictly used of animals, and means "to be foddered;" in the New Testament and later Greek it is used also of men, without any depreciatory significance, as in Matthew 5:6 , " They shall be filled ( χορτασθήσονται ) . ''
St. Paul's happy temper.
I. HIS JOY OVER THE AFFECTION OF THE PHILIPPIANS .
1 . Their loving thought for him gave him great joy. He greatly loved his converts; their love for him was, next after the blessed love of Christ, his greatest comfort and support. He rejoiced in the proof of their love; it was sweet to him; it was good for them, an evidence of their spiritual progress.
2 . He may perhaps have feared that their love was growing cold ; now he rejoiced. The spiritual life has its seasons, its winter and its spring, its times of depression and its times of fervor. It cannot but be affected in some degree, while we are in the flesh, by physical causes and by outward circumstances. We must not allow ourselves to be cast down; we must struggle on, locking always unto Jesus. Oar moods and feelings are changeful. He is "the same yesterday, and to-day, and for ever."
II. HAS CONTENTMENT .
1 . He had leavened to be independent of external circumstances. That joy in the Lord of which he speaks so much in this Epistle armed his soul against the trials of life. He that hath found Christ will not be wholly cast down by outward troubles. "Cast down [rather, 'being cast down'], but not destroyed" ( 2 Corinthians 4:9 ). "Come unto me, all that are weary and heavy laden … and ye shall find rest unto your souls." No one was ever more tried than St. Paul; but he was content in the midst of hardships, self-sufficient in the Christian sense, not with the independence of pride or Stoicism, but resting upon Christ.
2 . He was armed both for prosperity and adversity. Christian self-sufficiency, which is really the sufficiency of Christ, is shown in sorrow and in joy; "in all time of our tribulation, in all time of our wealth." The true Christian can bear misfortune and hardship with dignity, without ill humor and complaints; he can bear riches and honor with self-possession, without arrogance or elation. This true self-sufficiency manifests itself in all the circumstances of life, "in every thing and in all things."
3 . He was taught of God. "I have been instructed;" "I have learned the secret." This Christian self-sufficiency comes from the teaching of God the Holy Ghost; it is a secret which he alone can teach. "The secret of the Lord is with them that fear him." The soul in its converse with God learns many mysteries of spiritual experience, mysteries of grace, mysteries of self-renunciation, mysteries of self-consecration. St. Paul had been initiated into all. Long training, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, had led him through all the deep and holy mysteries of the life that is hid with Christ in God. We must ask the same Holy Spirit to guide us into all truth.
4 . He was strengthened in Christ. Here is the source of Christian self-sufficiency. It is only in Christ, in spiritual union with Christ, that the Christian possesses strength. Without him we can do nothing; in him we can do all things. His strength is made perfect in our weakness. Therefore the Christian must not be discouraged; he must not shrink from the battle against evil in himself and in the world. He is indeed weak and helpless, but he has the presence of Christ, and in the strength of that presence he can do all things. "We are able," said the sons of Zebedee. We may in all humility say the same if we do verily believe in Christ. All things are possible to him that believeth. God giveth us the victory through Jesus Christ our Lord.
1 . It is easy to say , "Thy will be done;" it is very hard to work that prayer into our lives. St. Paul did so; so may we by the grace of God.
2 . It is a secret to be learned only of God the Holy Ghost.
3 . That teaching can make us contented always, self-sufficient through the strength of Christ.
The secret of contentment.
The apostle now turns to his personal relations with the Philippians, and commends them for their considerate and timely liberality in the times of his distress.
I. THE APOSTLE 'S JOY IN THEIR LIBERALITY . "But I rejoiced in the Lord greatly, that at length ye retired your interest in me; in which, indeed, ye did interest yourselves, but ye had no opportunity."
1 . There never was a man who more keenly appreciated Christian kindness than the apostle. Self-reliant and jealously independent as he was, his happiness was greatly increased by the thoughtful generosity of his converts. It was in no degree diminished by the fact that his friends had no opportunity of helping him, perhaps because he was far beyond their reach in the sweep of his missionary journeys.
2 . Their kindness inspired him with a holy joy. Not because it was in answer to prayer for timely help, but because it typified the true grace of God in his converts. Their liberality was an evidence at once of their personal interest in him and of their Christian standing in the Lord.
II. THE APOSTLE 'S CONTENTED SPIRIT . "Not that I speak in respect of want: for I have learned, in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content. I know both how to be abased, I know also how to abound. In everything and in all circumstances I have learned both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need."
1 . What a checkered experience was that of the apostle ! He had experience of want and of fullness in his wanderings as an apostle. He was no stranger to hunger.
2 . What a h ap py spirit for such a life ! He was content with such things as he had. The poet says—
"Art thou poor?
Yet hast thou golden slumbers,
O sweet Content."
There is no passage in any writer which depicts a more expansive, a more positively exalted attitude of mind than he describes in this passage as the virtue of content. It is that condition of mind in which nothing can foil the energy of the spirit. It is the quality which, having evoked generosity in others, flows forth in gratitude for that generosity; which, having failed to evoke generosity, manifests itself in submission to disappointment and in patient trust for the future germination of the seed sown.
III. THE TRUE SECRET OF CONTENTMENT . "I can do all things in him that infuses strength into me." This language implies that there is a Divine spring of help in all conditions.
1. Consider the extent of a Christian ' s ability.
2 . Consider the source of the Christian ' s strength. "In him." By virtue of our vital union with Christ we have access to the true Source of strength. Christ infuses strength into us:
Thus the believer becomes "strong in the Lord, and in the power of his might."
IV. THE SIGNIFICANCE OF THE APOSTLE 'S STATEMENT .
The art of Divine contentment.
The Philippians, having sent by Epaphroditus certain love-tokens to the apostle, must have a receipt from the magnanimous receiver. Most likely they were not of much intrinsic value, but Paul's great heart rejoices over them and calls them "an odour of a sweet smell, a sacrifice well-pleasing unto God." At the same time, he lets them know that he could have been content without these love-tokens, though he is delighted with them; for he has learned the lesson of the years, to be content with any state in which a loving Lord might be pleased to place him. And here we have to notice—
I. CONTENTMENT IS AN ART . (Verse 11.) It must be "learned . " We cannot acquire it at a bound. We must serve our apprenticeship to it as to any other art. It is not a science to be theoretically mastered, but an art to be practically obtained. We must go to the "school of art," we must set ourselves earnestly as scholars to learn the lesson, and we must "keep our hands in" by constant practice.
II. THE CONTENTED SPIRIT MAKES LITTLE OF ITS WANTS . (Verses 11-13.) Paul had not sent any word to Philippi about his needs. He had become so superior to circumstances that abasement and abundance made no difference to him. Faith in Christ made him independent. It is the humble spirit which trusts the omnipotent Savior which proves to be really the independent spirit. It is humility and independence which always go together. When we control our desires, minimize our wants, we can reach independence more really than by acquiring vast estate. The rich are often discontented. Their desires outstrip all acquisition, and they are discontented in spite of their abundance.
III. THE CONTENTED SPIRIT MAKES MUCH OF ITS BOUNTIES . (Verses 12-18) With the independence Paul manifests magnanimity. See how he speaks of the attention of the Philippians. He makes it out that they have been always sending to him—that every time they had an opportunity they were sending him their love-tokens. "Once and again" they had sent to his necessity. Now, it requires a big contented spirit to take the kindness of others cordially. Emerson says, "You cannot give anything to a magnanimous person. After you have served him he at once puts you in debt by his magnanimity. The service a man renders his friend is trivial and selfish compared with the service he. knows his friend stood in readiness to yield him, alike before he had begun to serve his friend and now also. Compared with that good-will I bear my friend, the benefit it is in my power to render him seems small. Besides, our action on each other, good as well as evil, is so incidental and at random that we can seldom hear the acknowledgments of any person who would thank us for a benefit without some shame and humiliation. We can rarely strike a direct stroke, but must be content with an oblique one; we seldom have the satisfaction of yielding a direct benefit which is directly received. But rectitude scatters favors on every side without knowing it, and receives with wonder the thanks of all people." In the same way, we find the magnanimous Paul making as much of the kindness of the Philippians as led them, we may be sure, to wonder at such mention being made of their gifts at all.
IV. THE CONTENTED SPIRIT LOOKS AT ALL IN A SPIRITUAL LIGHT . (Verses 19-23.) Paul was glad of their gift, for it was spiritual "fruit." It was a benefit to them more than to him. Did they not realize that "it is better to give than to receive"? They had pleased God by their goodness to his servant. And he would supply all their need, according to his glorious riches in Christ Jesus. He would give them spiritual compensation. They would get a benefit in soul which was cheaply bought by what they had given.
He then sums up the joy-inspiring Epistle with salutations, among others, from those saints in Caesar's household. This shows what success Paul's mission had enjoyed at the capital, how even the entourage of the emperor had felt the spell of the aged prisoner. Paul had shown that he could live a heavenly, joyful, contented life, in spite of his imprisonment and possible martyrdom. The hero made heroes of others. The guardsmen who were chained to him cleaved to him in love May such a celestial life be ours!—R.M.E.
Paul thanks the Philippians for their contribution.
There is noticeable throughout mingled dignity and delicacy. He is careful on the one hand to maintain his independence, and on the other hand to show his sense of their kindness.
I. THE REVIVED THOUGHT SHOWN IN THEIR CONTRIBUTION . "But I rejoice in the Lord greatly, that now at length ye have revived your thought for me; wherein ye did indeed take thought, but ye lacked opportunity." The occurrence was associated in his mind with joy. He verily thought that the Lord had put it into the hearts of the Philippians to scud that contribution to him. His joy rose to a great height. What made him rejoice so greatly was that then at length (an indefinite period, which went back at least to the coming of Epaphroditus) their thought for him was putting forth new shoots as trees do in spring. This was a revival which by no means reflected on their past. It had been winter with them, and, while winter lasts, no one expects nature to revive. But as soon as the proper season came round the fresh shoots appeared.
II. STATEMENT REGARDING CONTENTMENT .
1 . Introduced. "Not that I speak in respect of want." He was not to be understood as thinking merely of want. He was in such a relation to a state of want that the mere escape from it could not make him jubilant.
2 . His state generally. "For I have learned, in whatsoever state i am, therein to be content." To be content is, literal]y, to be self-sufficient, independent. He was thus content relatively to his being in one state or another. He had learned to be content. "These words signify how contentedness may be attained, or how it is produced; it is not an endowment innate to us; it doth not arrive by chance into us; it is not to be purchased by any price; it springeth not up of itself, nor ariseth from the quality of any state; but it is a product of discipline—'I have learned.' It is an art which cannot be acquired without studious application of mind and industrious exercise; no art, indeed, requireth more hard study and pain toward the acquiry of it, there being so many obstacles in the way thereto; we have no great capacity, no towardly disposition to learn it; we must, in doing it, deny our carnal sense, we must settle our wild fancy and suppress fond conceits; we must bend our stiff and stubborn inclinations; we must repress and restrain wanton desires; we must allay and still tumultuous passions; we must cross our humor and curb our temper: which to do is a hard chapter to learn; much consideration, much practice, much contention and diligence are required thereto. Here it is an art which we may observe few do much study, and of the students thereof few are great proficients; so that 'Qui fit, Mecaenas?' Horace's question, 'How comes it to pass that nobody liveth content with the lot assigned by God?' wanted not sufficient ground. However, it is not like the quadrature of the circle, or the philosopher's stone, an art impossible to be learned, and which will baffle all study; there are examples which show it to be obtainable; there are rules and precepts by observing which we may arrive to it" (Barrow). The apostle for one had learned. The force of the language is, " I for my part , have learned." "With noble self-consciousness," is the remark of Meyer. He had been exceptionally placed for learning this lesson. There were few, if any, who could compare with him in the changes he had seen in providence, in the states through which he had been made to pass. And he had rightly improved his experiences. He had learned to be independent of his outward state, in looking to the sufficiency of his inward enjoyments in God's favor and love and the prospects of everlasting bliss. He had learned farther to be independent by looking to his outward state, whatsoever it was for the time being, as appointed him by God, as therefore better than he could choose for himself, as the best possible for him in view of his discipline and usefulness.
3 . Contrasted states . "I know how to be abased, and I know also how to abound: in everything and in all things have I learned the secret both to be filled and to be hungry, both to abound and to be in want." He condescends and dwells on particular states with variety of expression. As the result of his learning, he knew how to be abased, i.e. by any adverse state, and not merely by want. And he knew also how to abound, which is more specific, being the opposite of being in want. The knowing is next amplified, being made to extend to everything and all things (distributively and collectively). It is further amplified in being made to refer to acquired knowledge which is hidden from the uninitiated. He had learned the secret. The two states are now plainly described as a being filled and a being hungry, an abounding (in the means of subsistence) and a being in want (of the means of subsistence). We do not know so much about Paul being in the former state, but about the latter state there are affecting notices. "Even unto this present hour we both hunger, and thirst, and are naked, and are buffeted, and have no certain dwelling-place" ( 1 Corinthians 4:11 ); "In hunger and thirst, in fastings often, in cold and nakedness' ( 2 Corinthians 11:27 ). He knew how to maintain the right attitude to both states, and we are to understand the right attitude to be independence. He was so independent that he was "neither exalted by abundance nor crushed by want," as Pelagius properly remarks. There is a contentment (to use the narrower word) which extends even to a state of abundance. For in a state of abundance men are apt to make themselves poor by enlarging their desires. The apostle had "stayed affections," and that was the secret of his contentment in both states.
4 . Source of support generally. "I can do all things in him that strengtheneth me." The apostle rises from the special to the general, and points triumphantly, but humbly, to what supported him, not only in want, but in every state. The Strengthener here is the same who is said to make us more than conquerors, viz. Christ.
"Rift the hills or roll the waters,
Flash the lightning, weigh the sun."
Such an omnipotence is not like us; it is only like One, and such glory he cannot give to another. Besides, it would not make us better beings that we possessed this power, while the possession of it would be accompanied with tremendous peril. It must mean that we can do all things such as are like us or can be expected of us. We have omnipotence within the range of our duties. We can feel out all round where our duties lie, and realize that we are perfectly equal to them. "'Impossible' is not a French word," said a warrior of that brave nation; with much more truth may we say that "impossible" is not a Christian word. We have strength equal to our believing on Christ at the first, even in the inability of our will. We have strength equal to the most difficult duty to which we can be called. We have strength equal to the most trying position in which God may see fit to place us, which is the special application in the context.
III. ACKNOWLEDGMENT OF THEIR KINDNESS .
1 . Kindness to him at Rome. "Howbeit ye did well, that ye had fellowship with my affliction." Having so carefully guarded himself, he feels that he must now guard against any appearance of slighting their kindness. Having already excluded the idea of mere pecuniary relief, in his acknowledgment he looks to the moral excellence which they had displayed in their contribution. They had done well in that they had shown sympathy with him, not in his poverty (for he does not admit the existence of that), but in his affliction, i.e. in the sufferings generally to which he was subjected for the gospel in Rome. They had fellowship with him in the gospel. Having fellowship with him in greater matters, they had also fellowship with him in lesser matters. Their heart was open to all that the Christian preacher, to whom they as well as others had been so much indebted, might need in his prison in Rome. And that was the aspect of the contribution which made it peculiarly acceptable to the afflicted apostle.
2 . Early kindness.
IV. UNSELFISHNESS OF THE ACKNOWLEDGMENT .
1 . He did not seek gifts. "Not that I seek for the gift: but I seek for the fruit that increaseth to your account." By enlarging on their liberality he might be thought to be coveting their gifts. To guard himself he would have them understand that he did not seek for the gift, i.e. gifts of that kind. But he sought for the fruit corresponding to the gifts. Every time that they gave they were sowing; and the fruit would grow up for them in the next world. Every time that they gave there was an entry made in their name and to their account in the ledger of God, increasing the amount which God, as Debtor, would yet make good to them.
2 . He did not need their gifts. "But I have all things, and abound: I am filled, having received from Epaphroditus the things that came from you, an odour of a sweet smell, a sacrifice acceptable, well-pleasing to God." There is a climax. He had all things he needed; he had more than he needed; he was filled to abundance beyond what he needed. It was the contribution of the Philippians sent by Epaphroditus that had put him in this position. The contribution was pleasing to him; but what was he to be thought of in the matter? It was rather pleasing to God. Given to God in him, the servant, it was pleasing to God; nay, it was peculiarly pleasing. Every morning and evening incense was burned in the Jewish temple. Every morning and evening an animal was slain. That symbolized the offering and sacrifice of Christ. The apostle makes bold to say that the contribution of the Philippians, savouring so much of Christ, was "an odour of a sweet smells a sacrifice acceptable, well-pleasing to God." Let us take encouragement from such an example. "But to do good and to communicate, forget not: for with such sacrifices God is well pleased."
V. PROMISE . "And my God shall fulfill every, need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus." He makes the promise, not in his own name, but in the name of his God. The Philippians had supplied Paul's need; Paul's God, in turn, would, for him, supply their need. He would supply the whole extent of their need, temporal and spiritual. He would do this according to his riches. A rich God, he would, with no stintedness, supply their need. The mark up to which he would supply it, and which would best manifest his wealth, would be their glorification. And all this, as he is always careful to note, was only to be realized within Christ as the ever-blessed sphere. Let us, then, fulfill the condition of the promise. In Old Testament form, condition and promise thus run: "Blessed is he that considereth the poor: the Lord will deliver him in time of trouble. The Lord will preserve him and keep him alive; and he shall be blessed upon the earth: and thou wilt not deliver him unto the will of his enemies. The Lord will strengthen him upon the bed of languishing: thou wilt make all his bed in his sickness."
VI. Doxology, "Now unto our God and Father be the glory for ever and ever. Amen" The thought of the rich God glorifying his people, coincident with the close of the Epistle, calls forth an ascription of glory. It is an ascription of glory to him as our God and Father, the God of whom the brightest feature is his fatherhood, and to whom we are brought into the closest relation by adoption. The glory would be ascribed to him for the ages and ages that would roll on after his people were glorified.—R.F.
Man in model aspects.
"But I rejoiced in the Lord greatly, that now at the last your care of me hath flourished again; wherein ye were also careful, but ye lacked opportunity. Not that I speak in respect of want: for I have learned, in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content. I know both how to be abased, and I know how to abound: everywhere and in all things I am instructed both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need. I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me. Notwithstanding ye have well done, that ye did communicate with my affliction. Now ye Philippians know also, that in the beginning of the gospel, when I departed from Macedonia, no Church communicated with me as concerning giving and receiving, but ye only. For even in Thessalonica ye sent once and again unto my necessity. Not because I desire a gift: but I desire fruit that may abound to your account." The apostle now turns his attention to a new subject, and the verses that follow to the close of the chapter seem to be a kind of postscript, acknowledging in a very graceful manner the various offerings which he had received from the Philippians by the hands of Epaphroditus. The passage before us may be regarded as presenting man in certain model aspects.
I. Here is a man represented as an OBJECT OF CHRISTIAN BENEFICENCE , "But I rejoiced in the Lord greatly, that now at the last your care of me hath flourished again."
1 . He received their beneficence with religious gratitude. "I rejoiced in the Lord," etc. "There is," says Dr. Barry, "in these words an expression of some hitherto disappointed expectation, not wholly unlike the stronger expression of wounded feeling in 2 Timothy 4:9 , 2 Timothy 4:10 , 2 Timothy 4:16 . At Caesarea St. Paul would have been necessarily cut off from the European Churches; at Rome, the metropolis of universal concourse, he may have expected some earlier communication. But fearing to wound the Philippians by even the semblance of reproof, in their case undeserved, he adds at once, 'in which ye were also careful, but ye lacked opportunity.' Epaphroditus would seem to have arrived early, almost as soon as St. Paul's arrival at Rome gave them the opportunity which they previously lacked." The contributions which came from the Philippians to him he traced to the Lord. He saw the hand and felt the love of God in their gifts. There is not a man on earth who is not in some measure the object of human beneficence. We are all receiving from others, every day in our life, some kind of good—physical, intellectual, social, or spiritual. All this good we should devoutly ascribe to the Father of lights, from whom cometh "every good and perfect gift." Whether those of our fellow-men, who confer on us good, do it with their will or against their will, selfishly or disinterestedly, it matters not so far as our obligation to Heaven is concerned. From him all the good of all kinds and through all channels proceeds.
2 . He received their beneficence with hearty appreciation. "Notwithstanding [howbeit] ye have well done, that ye did communicate [had fellowship] with my affliction." "Ye have well done." Your beneficence was dictated from a generous sympathy with my affliction, and it was timely withal. True beneficence is a blessed virtue. "It is more blessed to give than to receive." His appreciation seems to have been deepened by the fact that their beneficence preceded that of other Churches. "Now ye Philippians know also, that in the beginning of the gospel, when I departed from Macedonia, no Church communicated [had fellowship] with me as concerning [in the matter of] giving and receiving, but ye only." The time referred to is the period of his leaving Macedonia and Athens for Corinth ( Acts 17:14 ). They rendered him help, not only after he had left Macedonia, but before that time, when he had just passed from Philippi to Thessalonica. "At Thessalonica, as at Corinth—both very rich and luxurious communities—he refused maintenance and lived merely by the labor of his own hands ( 1 Thessalonians 2:9 ; 2 Thessalonians 2:8 ). But it appears from this passage that even then he received, once and again (that is, occasionally, once or twice), some aid from Philippi to supply his need, that is (as in all right exercise of liberality), to supplement, and not to supersede his own resources." In this also he acts in a model way. There are those ingrates in society who receive help from others as a matter of course, attach little or no value to the good which they are constantly receiving. Ay, and moreover, there are those, too, who, instead of becoming bound to the benefactor as friends through gratitude for the favors, not unfrequently become enemies. Ah me! this worst of human vices is, perhaps, the most common. "As there are no laws against ingratitude," says Seneca, "so it is utterly impossible to contrive any that in all circumstances shall reach it. If it were actionable, there would not be courts enough in the whole world to try the causes in. There can be no setting a day for the requiting of benefits, as for the payment of money; nor any estimate upon the benefits themselves; but the whole matter rests in the conscience of both parties; and then there are so many degrees of it, that the same rule will never serve all."
3 . He received their beneficence with entire unselfishness. "Not because I desire a gift: but I desire fruit that may abound [increaseth] to your account." He means to say, I do not "desire a gift" for my own sake as much as for yours. I value the gift as an expression and evidence of your faith in Christ. An old writer says, "It is not with any design to draw more from you, but to encourage you to such an exercise of beneficence as will meet with a glorious reward hereafter." True men always value a gift, not simply because of its intrinsic value, or even because it will serve their temporal interest, but because of the priceless sentiments of the heart, love, disinterestedness, and friendship, which it represents. We are all objects of beneficence. Let us act as Paul did in this character, accept all human favors with religious gratitude, with hearty appreciation, and with entire unselfishness.
II. Here is a man represented as a SUBJECT OF PROVIDENTIAL VICISSITUDES . "I have learned, in whatsoever state I am, therewith [therein] to be content." "Whatever state." How constantly changing are our states! Life is in truth a checkered scene. Every hour we pass from one condition or mood to another. We change in mind, body, and circumstances. We alternate between friendship and bereavement, prosperity and adversity, sunshine and storms. Now, the aspect in which Paul is seen in passing through these changes is that of contentment , and in this respect' he is a model to us all. His contentment does not mean insensibility , a kind of Stoicism; does not mean indifference to the condition of others, or a satisfied complacency either with his own moral condition or that of the world. It is a cordial acquiescence in the arrangements of Heaven. " N ot my will, but thine, be done." This state of mind is not innate, it is attained. Paul "learnt" it. This is moral scholarship of the highest kind.
"Some murmur when their sky is clear
And wholly bright to view,
If one small speck of dark appear
In their great heaven of blue.
And some with thankful love are filled,
If but one streak of light,
One ray of God's great mercy, gild
The darkness of their night."
III. Here is a man represented as a GENUINE REFORMER . "I can do all things through Christ [in him] which strengtheneth me . " Paul was a genuine reformer. The reformation he sought was not in corrupt legislation, in outward institutions—social, political, or ecclesiastical—in theological systems, or in external behavior. Such reformations are of little worth. He wrought.
1 . In the realms of motive , the springs of action, to change the moral heart of the world. Every man on earth should act in this character and become a moral reformer. All should study and imitate Paul in this aspect. How did he act as a reformer?
2 . In conscious dependence on Christ. "I can do all things through Christ." "All things" pertaining to this work as a reformer, not by my own talents, skill, or industry, not in my own strength, but in "Christ which strengtheneth me." Indeed, in Christ's strength what cannot a man do? He can work miracles as the apostles did, he can turn the moral world upside down, he can create men "anew in Christ Jesus," he can sound a trumpet whose blast shall penetrate the ears of slumbering souls and awake the teeming millions that are sleeping in the dust of worldliness and depravity. "Through Christ which strengtheneth me . " Strengthens me by turning me away from things that are temporal to things that are spiritual, rooting my faith in eternal realities, filling and firing me with the love which he had for human souls and for the everlasting Father.
Conclusion. Study well these model aspects of a man who, as an object of Christian beneficence , is always religiously grateful, heartily appreciative of the favors he receives, and entirely unselfish; as a subject of providential vicissitudes , magnanimously contented in every condition and mood of life; and, as a get , aide reformer , does his work, not in his own strength, but in the power of Christ.—D.T.
The difficulties of prosperity.
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.
The secret of contentment.
I. CONTENTMENT IS A RARE AND PRECIOUS CHRISTIAN GRACE . It must be distinguished from spiritual self-satisfaction, which is sinful and fatal, and is concerned with our own inner condition, while true contentment has regard to our external circumstances. It must also be distinguished from the recklessness of folly and from the apathy of despair. It is a quiet restfulness in the midst of all kinds of changing events.
1 . It is rare and difficult of attainment, because
2 . Contentment is most desirable. For without it the most propitious circumstances can minister little pleasure, and with it the hardest privations can produce little distress. The important question in regard to our happiness is not—What things do we possess? but—What kind of thoughts and feelings do we experience?
3 . Contentment is requisite in every condition of life. It is not only the virtue of the poor and the solace of the disappointed. Rich and prosperous people are too often also discontented people. It is harder for some to know how to abound than to know how to suffer want. Wealth brings the thirst for more wealth. Pleasure palls. Prosperity wearies. It is a grand attainment to be able to pass up and down the whole gamut of social change and to behave one's self with equanimity and contentment in every stage up from abasement to abundance and then down again from fullness to need.
II. THE SECRET OF CONTENTMENT IS TO BE LEARNED FROM CHRIST . There is a secret. Some have not yet found it out. But it exists and it is well worth seeking. To be fully understood and enjoyed it must be learned as a long, difficult, painful lesson. St. Paul had learnt it, and his example should win fresh pupils to study the same great lesson.
1 . Christ gives us strength to bear varying fortunes. St. Paul could speak of his contentment because he could also say, "I can do all things in him that strengtheneth me." If we know and feel nothing beyond this, there is a certain satisfaction to be got from the mere sense of new power given to bear that which before seemed to be unbearable.
2 . Christ enables us to live in faith. Thus believing that even now all things are ordered wisely and kindly by our heavenly Father, that they are working together for good not yet seen, working for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory, we learn to bear the present mystery of trial in hope of the future revelation of blessedness.
3 . Christ leads us to live in the spiritual. This is the real secret. External circumstances are constantly changing. At best they will not satisfy the soul's deep hunger. While we live in them we are necessarily often disappointed and discontented. In the inner world of spiritual things we must find our best experience, and when this opens up to the higher world of Divine and heavenly things we have a source of unfailing peace. Resting in God we shall be content in every variety of earthly affairs.—W.F.A.