Charles Simeon Commentary - Philippians 4:11 - 4:12

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Charles Simeon Commentary - Philippians 4:11 - 4:12

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Php_4:11-12. I have learned, in whatsoever slate I am, therewith to be content. 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.

ST. PAUL was by no means addicted to boasting. But there were occasions whereon it was necessary for him to declare the secret workings of his heart, in order that he might prevent a misinterpretation of his words, or a misapprehension of his designs. He commends the Philippians for the care which they had taken of him, and the kind attention they had shewn him, during his imprisonment at Rome, But, fearful lest he should be understood as complaining of his necessities when immured in a prison, or as wishing, on his own account, a continuance of their attentions, he tells them, that “he had learned, in whatsoever state he was, therewith to be content:” and, in the fulness of his heart, he expatiates upon this idea, as though he would recommend to all persons, in this respect, to follow his example.

Let me, then,

I.       State to you the experience of St. Paul—

In unfolding it, I would entreat you particularly to notice,

1.       The invaluable lesson he had learned—

[Greatly diversified had been his states; but “in all, he had learned to be content.” The word which we translate “content” comprehends much more than a mere quiescent state of mind. The term “self-sufficient,” if it did not convey to an English reader a wrong idea, would more exactly express the import of the original [Note: á ô Ü ñ ê ç ò .]. The Apostle had within himself that which was abundantly sufficient for him, even though he should be reduced to the utmost possible state of destitution, so far as related to the things of this life. He was possessed of all that man could desire: he had God as his Father, Christ as his Saviour, the Holy Spirit as his Comforter, and heaven as his home. What could he want more? What could he desire, that could add to this? or what could he lose, that could detract from this? This which he had within him was altogether out of the reach of men or devils. The Holy Spirit was within him “a well of water, springing up into everlasting life [Note: Joh_4:14.];” so that he enjoyed the utmost composure of mind, assured that nothing could impoverish him, nothing hurt him, nothing disturb the tranquillity that he enjoyed.]

2.       The vast proficiency he had attained in it—

[At some seasons, he abounded with all that even a carnal mind could wish: but at other seasons he was exposed to as heavy trials as humanity could well sustain. “He was in labours more abundant than any of the Apostles, in stripes above measure, in prisons more frequent, in deaths oft. Of the Jews, five times received he forty stripes save one; thrice was he beaten with rods; once was he stoned; thrice he suffered shipwreck; a night and a day he was in the deep; in journeyings often, in perils of waters, in perils of robbers, in perils by his own countrymen, in perils by the heathen, in perils in the city, in perils in the wilderness, in perils in the sea, in perils among false brethren; in weariness and painfulness, in watchings often, in. hunger and thirst, in fastings often, in cold and nakedness; besides those things that are without, that which came upon him daily, the care of all the Churches [Note: 2Co_11:23-28.].” Now all this, I think, may be said to have put his principle to a severe trial. And did he still preserve his equanimity? still feel contentment under all? Yes, under all. “Nothing could move him.” The internal support he felt, from a consciousness that he was under the Divine care, and executing the Divine will, and advancing the Divine glory, upheld him under all circumstances, and far more than counterbalanced all his sufferings. In all this he was “instructed,” or, as the word means, initiated, as into a deep mystery [Note: ì å ì ý ç ì á é .]. It was from an insight into the mystery of the Gospel that he gained this extraordinary and invaluable grace. From this mystery he acquired the knowledge of God as reconciled to him in Christ Jesus, and as engaged for him to supply his every want both in time and eternity. No other instruction could ever have produced such effects: but the knowledge of this mystery was quite adequate to the occasion, and perfectly sufficient to form his soul to these high attainments. “He was thus crucified to the world by the cross of Christ [Note: Gal_6:14.].”]

Having traced the Apostle’s experience, let me,

II.      Commend it to your imitation—

What an enviable state was his! Let me recommend it you,

1.       As a reasonable state—

[This perfect contentment with our every lot is reasonable, irrespective of all the great mysteries of the Gospel. For, what would our condition have long since been, if God had dealt with us according to our deserts? We should “not have had so much as a drop of water to cool our tongues.” Who can reflect one moment upon this, and repine at any lot which he may receive on this side the grave? What! “a living man complain! a man for the punishment of his sins!” especially when he considers what an infinitely worse portion he merits, and from which there could never be, as now there may, a deliverance, with a transition to the realms of bliss! But, I suppose you to have been admitted into the school of Christ. I suppose you to be a partaker of his salvation. Tell me then—possessing, as you do, the unsearchable riches of Christ, and looking forward, as you do, to the speedy and everlasting enjoyment of all the glory of heaven—does it become you to regard as of any great importance the things of time and sense? See the Apostle in prison, his feet fast in the stocks, and his back torn with scourges; and yet his soul so full of joy, that he is singing praises to God at midnight: and will yon not be ashamed to complain of your minor sorrows? Or rather, see the Son of God himself, impoverishing himself to enrich you, and welcoming death itself in order to advance you to everlasting life: see him, I say, enduring to the end; When, if it had pleased him, more than twelve legions of angels would have come to rescue him from His sufferings; and will you complain of any thing which you may suffer for him? Me thinks you feel, every one of you, that the most perfect contentment is that which becomes you under every state, to which, by any possibility, you may be reduced.]

2.       As a blessed state—

[The corporeal pain which men endure in this life is nothing in comparison of the mental. Let the spirit of a man be at ease, and it will enable him to bear any bodily infirmity whatever. On the other hand, no accumulation of wealth or honour or sensual gratifications can sustain a man whose heart and spirit are oppressed [Note: Pro_18:14.]. Suppose two angels sent from heaven to execute for a season two different offices on earth; the one to rule a kingdom, the other to sweep the streets: would they not be equally happy, in doing the work assigned them? Let their places then be changed: would the one be inordinately pleased with his elevation, or the other be unduly grieved at his depression? Assuredly not. In whichever state they were, they should remember “whose they were, and whom they were serving,” and what blessedness awaited them the very instant they had performed their destined work; and, possessed of this sufficiency within, they would be unmoved by any thing without, and would have in perfection the grace described in my text. Thus, in proportion as we are initiated into the great mystery of the Gospel, will this equanimity prevail in us; and under all circumstances will “our souls be kept in perfect peace.” A manner, knowing the soundness of his vessel, and the skill of him who is at the helm, does not tremble at the gale which is sent to bear him to his destined home. No; he spreads his sails, and, though tossed upon the waves, anticipates with joy the issue of his voyage, and the rest which he will attain in the bosom of his friends. This blessedness, then, will attend you, my brethren, if once you learn the sublime lesson which is here taught you in my text. You shall find, indeed, that “godliness with contentment is great gain [Note: 1Ti_6:6.].”]

3.       As an honourable state—

[Who does not see how greatly the Gospel is honoured, in producing such an experience as this? Yea, and God himself too is honoured by it, in that such is the fruit which invariably proceeds from the Gospel of his dear Son. In this state, man is assimilated to God himself. Behold our incarnate God! Behold him on Mount Tabor in his transfiguration, or in his triumphant entry into Jerusalem amidst the hosannahs of the populace, and you find in him no undue elation of mind: or view him in the garden of Gethsemane, or in the hall of Pilate, or when suspended on the cross, you see in him no undue depression. He drank with composure the cup which God had put into his hands; saying, “Not my will, but thine be done.” Religion does not divest men of the feelings of humanity; but moderates, directs, and perfects them. It leaves us at liberty to deprecate sufferings, provided we do it in submission to the Divine will: but, at the same time, it so elevates us above them, as to render them incapable of diverting us from the service of our God, or of retarding us in our progress heaven-ward. Philosophical principles have effected much to compose the minds of sufferers: but it is the Gospel alone which gives effectual power so to rise above the things of time and sense, as to possess, under all circumstances, the contentment spoken of in our text.]

But you will naturally ask. How am I to “learn” this lesson? I answer,

1.       Apply to God for the influences of his Holy Spirit—

[It is, as I have said, the knowledge of Christ crucified, and that alone, that can ever fill the soul and render it superior to all earthly things. But who can give you that knowledge? It is the office of “the Holy Spirit to take of the things of Christ, and to reveal them unto us.” None but he call “open the eyes of our understanding:” none but he can “guide us into all truth:” nor can any but he renew our souls after the Divine image — — — Pray then to God for the gift of his Holy Spirit: and, if you yourselves would not mock your child with giving him a stone when he asked for bread, much less will God mock you, by refusing to impart to you this gift, in which all good things for time and for eternity are contained.]

2.       Contemplate the fulness which is treasured up for you in Christ Jesus—

[“It has pleased the Father, that in Christ should all fulness dwell:” and for you is it treasured there, that “you may receive out of it” according to your necessities. Hence then, if you have believed in Christ, you are authorized to say, “All things are mine, since I am Christ’s.” And if all things are yours, whether “things present, or things to come,” what can you lack? or what ground can you have for discontent? Only get clear views of Christ as your righteousness and strength, and you will be at no loss for the attainment which your soul desires — — —]

3.       Survey the glory that is reserved for you in heaven—

[What does it matter to a traveller, if his accommodations, where he stops but a few minutes, be not exactly such as he could wish? Can they carry me forward to my destined home? will be his main inquiry: and if he find that he can attain his wishes in this respect, he will not lay to heart the little inconveniences which he is to sustain for so short a time. The comforts which he shall enjoy at home occupy his mind; and the very discomforts of the way endear to him the end, and make him look forward to it with augmented zest. Let it then be thus with you, my brethren: ye are only pilgrims and sojourners here: and, if you dwell with blessed anticipations on your eternal rest, you will become indifferent to the accommodations of the way; and, according to the grace given to you, will be enabled to say, “I have learned, in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content.”]