It cost him some pains to attain to the mystery of that great truth. No doubt he sometimes thought he had learned, and then broke down. Frequently too, like boys at school, he had his knuckles rapped; frequently he found that it was not easy learning this task, and when at last he had attained unto it, and could say, "I have learned, in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content," he was an old grey-headed man upon the borders of the grave, a poor prisoner shut up in Nero's dungeon at Rome.
We, my brethren, might well be willing to endure Paul's infirmities, and share the cold dungeon with him, if we too might by any means attain unto such a degree of contentment. Do not indulge, any of you, the silly notion that you can be contented without learning, or learn without discipline.
It is not a power that may be exercised naturally, but a science to be acquired gradually. The very words of the next text might suggest this, even if we did not know it from experience. We need not be taught to murmur, but we must be taught to acquiesce in the will and good pleasure of the Lord our God.
When the apostle had uttered these words, he immediately gave a commentary upon them. Read the 12th verse, "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. Notice first, that the apostle said he knew how to be abased. A wonderful knowledge this. When all men honour us, then we may very well be content; but when the finger of scorn is pointed, at us, when our character is held in ill repute, and men hiss us by the wayside, it requires much gospel knowledge to be able to endure that with patience and with cheerfulness.
When we are increasing, and growing in rank, and honour, and human esteem, it is easy work to be contented; but when we have to say with John the Baptist, " I must decrease," or when we see some other servant advanced to our place, and another man bearing the palm we all had longed to hold, it is not easy to sit still, and without an envious feeling cry with Moses, "Would to God that all the Lord's servants were prophets. There must be something noble in the heart of the man who is able to lay all his honours down as willingly as he took them up, when he can as cheerfully submit himself to Christ to humble him, as to lift him up and seat him upon a throne.
And yet, my brethren, we have not any one of us learned what the apostle knew, if we are not as ready to glorify Christ by shame, by ignominy and by reproach, as by honour and by esteem among men.
co.organiccrap.com/167635.php We must be ready to give up everything for him. We must be willing to go downwards, in order that Christ's name may ascend upwards, and be the better known and glorified among men. His second piece of knowledge is equally valuable, "I know how to abound. When they are put down in the pit with Joseph, they look up and see the starry promise, and the hope for an escape.
But when they are put on the top of a pinnacle, their heads grow dizzy, and they are ready to fall. When they were poor they used to battle it, as one of our great national poets has said-. The daring of the soul proceeds from thence, Sharpness of Wit, and active Diligence; Prudence at once and Fortitude it gives; And, if in patience taken, mends our lives.
Lara, there are many lessons in your wonderful report. Something said go outside experience this. We are not going to move this world by criticism of it nor conformity to it, but by the combustion within it of lives ignited by the Spirit of God. His hands were like leather. All God's giants have been weak men who did great things for God because they reckoned on God being with them. And now I totally understand why.
But mark the same men after success has crowned their struggles. Their troubles are over; they are rich and increased with goods. And have you not often seen a man who has sprung up from nothing to wealth, how purse-proud he becomes, how vain, how intolerant? Nobody would have thought that man ever kept a shop; you would not believe that man at any time ever used to sell a pound of candles, would you? He is so great in his own eyes, that one would have thought the blood of all the Caesars must flow in his veins. He does not know his old acquaintances.
The familiar friend of other days he now passes by with scarce a nod of recognition. The man does not know how to abound; he has grown proud; he is exalted above measure. There have been men who have been lifted up for a season to popularity in the Church. They have preached successfully, and done some mighty work. For this the people have honoured them, and rightly so.
But then they have become tyrants; they have lusted after authority; they have looked down contemptuously upon everybody else, as if other men were small pigmies, and they were huge giants. Their conduct has been intolerable, and they have soon been cast down from their high places, because they did not know how to abound. There was once a square piece of paper put up into George Whitfield's pulpit, by way of a notice, to this effect:-"A young man who has lately inherited a large fortune, requests the prayers of the congregation. Going down the hill of fortune there is not half the fear of stumbling.
The Christian far oftener disgraces his profession in prosperity than when he is being abased. There is another danger-the danger of growing worldly. When a man finds that his wealth increases, it is wonderful how gold will stick to the fingers. The man who had just enough, thought if he had more than he required he would be exceedingly liberal.
With a shilling purse he had a guinea heart, but now with a guinea purse he has a shilling heart. He finds that the money adheres, and he cannot get it off. You have heard of the spider that is called a "money spinner," I do not know why it is called so, except that it is one of the sort of spiders you cannot get off your fingers; it gets on one hand, then on the other hand, then on your sleeve; it is here and there; you cannot get rid of it unless you crush it outright: so it is with many who abound.
Gold is a good thing when put to use-the strength, the sinews of commerce and of charity-but it is a bad thing in the heart, and begets "foul-cankering rust. It matters not, though it be precious earth with which a man is buried alive. Oh, how many Christians have there been who seemed as if they were destroyed by their wealth! What leanness of soul and neglect of spiritual things have been brought on through the very mercies and bounties of God! Yet this is not a matter of necessity, for the apostle Paul tells us that he knew how to abound. When he had much, he knew how to use it. He had asked of God that he might be kept humble-that when he had a full sail he might have plenty of ballast-that when his cup ran over he might not let it run to waste-that in his time of plenty he might be ready to give to those that needed-and that as a faithful steward he might hold all he had at the disposal of his Lord.
This is divine learning.
And there have been many that have asked for mercies, that they might satisfy their own heart's lust; as it is written, "the people sat down to eat and drink, and rose up to play. When men have too much of God's mercies-strange that we should have to say this, and yet it is a great fact-when men have much of God's providential mercies, it often happens that they have but little of God's grace, and little gratitude for the bounties they have received.
They are full, and they forget God; satisfied with earth, they are content to do without heaven. Rest assured, my dear hearers, it is harder to know how to be full than it is to know how to be hungry. To know how to be hungry is a sharp lesson, but to know how to be full is the harder lesson after all. So desperate is the tendency of human nature to pride and forgetfulness of God! As soon as ever we have a double stock of manna, and begin to hoard it, it breeds worms and becomes a stench in the nostrils of God.
Take care that you ask in your prayers that God would teach you how to be full. The apostle knew still further how to experience the two extremes of fulness and hunger. What a trial that is!
To have one day a path strewn with mercies, and the next day to find the soil beneath you barren of ever comfort. I can readily imagine the poor man being contented in his poverty, for he has been inured to it. He is like a bird that has been born in a cage, and does not know what liberty means. But for a man who has had much of this world's goods, and thus has been full, to be brought to absolute penury, he is like the bird that once soared on highest wing but is now encaged.
Those poor larks you sometimes see in the shops, always seem as if they would be looking up, and they are constantly pecking at the wires, fluttering their wings, and wanting to fly away. So will it be with you unless grace prevent it. If you have been rich and are brought down to be poor, you will find it hard to know "how to be hungry.