The Art of Divine Contentment
An Exposition of
“I have learned, in whatsoever state I am,
therewith to be content.”
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“Man is born unto
trouble, as the sparks fly upward;” therefore we all need to learn the same
lesson as Paul. “I have learned,” he said “in whatsoever state I am, therewith
to be content,”
Philippians 4. 11. Believers, especially, wish to attain to a holy
equanimity in their tribulations and under the stresses caused by our
increasingly secular society.
In this volume we
have a full exposition, by the Puritan, Thomas Watson, of the above verse of
Scripture, originally preached during his ministry as rector of St Stephen’s,
Wallbrook, London. “Although Thomas Watson issued several most valuable books,”
said C. H. Spurgeon, “comparatively little is known of him — even the dates of
his birth and death are unknown. His writings are his best memorial; perhaps he
needed no other, and therefore providence forbade the superfluity.”
having an eye to the practice of their hearers, built their heart-searching
application of the truth upon sound biblical doctrine. This characteristic is
evident in The Art of Divine Contentment; as is also the fact that Watson
was the “master of a terse, vigorous style and of a beauty of expression. He
could speak not only to win men’s understanding but also to secure a place for
the truth in their memories.”
In reprinting the
1855 edition of The Art of Divine Contentment (the latest edition we know
of) we wished to revise the layout and to add editorial notes for increased
clarity. We regret, however, that lack of staff prevents us doing little more
than adding a full table of contents.
We issue this
little book with the prayerful hope that it will be useful in teaching the art
of Godly contentment to many, enabling them, like David, to sincerely say to God
in their troubles, “Thou art good, and doest good.”
Philippians 4. 11, “I have learned, in whatsoever state I am,
therewith to be content.”
INTRODUCTION TO THE TEXT
II THE FIRST
BRANCH OF THE TEXT
The Scholar, with
the First Proposition:
It is not enough
to hear our duty — we must learn it
THE SECOND PROPOSITION
difficult — good things are hard to come by
IV THE SECOND
BRANCH OF THE TEXT
The Lesson: “in
whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content”, and the Proposition: A gracious
spirit is a contented spirit
V THE RESOLVING
OF SOME QUESTIONS
May not a
Christian feel his condition, and yet be contented?
May not a
Christian tell God his trouble, and yet be contented?
What is properly
that contentment doth exclude?
VI SHEWING THE
NATURE OF CONTENTMENT
It is a divine
It is an
It is an
PRESSING TO HOLY CONTENTMENT
USE I. SHEWING HOW A CHRISTIAN MAY MAKE
HIS LIFE COMFORTABLE
IX USE II. A
CHECK TO THE DISCONTENTED CHRISTIAN
X USE III. A
SUASIVE TO CONTENTMENT
apologies which discontent makes for itself:
I have lost a
It was my only
I have a great
part of my estate melted away
It is sad with
me in my relations:
My child is in
My husband takes
My friends have
dealt very unkindly with me
I am under great
I have not
esteem from men
I meet with
great sufferings for the sake of the truth
The evils of the
The times are
full of heresy
The impiety of
The lowness of
my parts and gifts
The troubles of
My sins disquiet
and discontent me
MOTIVES TO CONTENTMENT
A Christian hath
that which may make him content
Be content lest
we confute our own prayers
God hath his
end, and Satan misseth of his end
gains a victory over himself
providences shall do a believer good
The evil of
The competency a
The shortness of
The nature of a
The example of
those eminent for contentment
Trouble here is
all the trouble a believer shall have
without contentment is a great judgement
XII THREE THINGS
INSERTED BY WAY OF CAUTION
Be not content
in a state of sin
Be not content
in a condition wherein God is dishonoured
Be not content
with a little grace
XIII USE IV.
SHOWING HOW A CHRISTIAN MAY KNOW IF HE HATH LEARNED THIS DIVINE ART
XIV USE V.
CONTAINING A CHRISTIAN DIRECTORY, OR RULES ABOUT CONTENTMENT
Get an humble
Keep a clear
Learn to deny
Get much of
heaven into your heart
Look not so much
on the dark side, as on the light
Consider in what
posture we stand here in the world
Let not your
hope depend upon these outward things
Let us often
compare our condition
Bring your mind
to your condition
Study the vanity
of the creature
little will satisfy nature
present condition is best for us
Do not too much
indulge the flesh
Meditate much on
the glory which shall be revealed
Be much in
XV USE VI. OF
CONSOLATION TO THE CONTENTED CHRISTIAN
The Introduction to the Text.
These words are
brought in by way of prolepsis to anticipate and prevent an objection. The
apostle had, in the former verse, laid down many grave and heavenly
exhortations: among the rest, “to be careful for nothing.” Not to exclude, 1. A
prudential care; for, he that provideth not for his own house, “hath
denied the faith, and is worse than an infidel.” (1
Ti. 5. 8) Nor, 2. a religious care; for we must give all
“diligence to make our calling and election sure.” (2
Pe. 1. 10) But, 3. to exclude all anxious care about the
issues and events of things; “take no thought for your life, what you shall
6. 25) And in this sense it should be a Christian’s care not to be
careful. The word careful in the Greek comes from the primitive, that signifies
“to cut the heart in pieces,” a soul-dividing care; take heed of this. We are
bid to “commit our way unto the Lord;” (Ps.
37. 5) the Hebrew word is, “roll thy way upon the Lord.” It is our
work to cast away care; (1
Pe 5. 7) and it is God’s work to take care.
By our immoderacy
we take his work out of his hand. Care, when it is eccentric, either distrustful
or distracting, is very dishonourable to God; it takes away his providence, as
if he sat in heaven and minded not what became of things here below; like a man
that makes a clock, and then leaves it to go for itself. Immoderate care takes
the heart off from better things; and usually while we are thinking how we shall
do to live, we forget how to die. Care is a spiritual canker that doth waste and
dispirit; we may sooner by our care add a furlong to our grief than a cubit to
our comfort. God doth threaten it as a curse, “they shall eat their bread with
12. 1) Better fast than eat of that bread. “Be careful for nothing.”
Now, lest any one
should say, yea, Paul thou preachest that to us which thou hast scarce learned
thyself; hast thou learned not to be careful? the apostle seemed tacitly to
answer that, in the words of the text; “I have learned, in whatsoever state I
am, therewith to be content:” a speech worthy to be engraven upon our hearts,
and to be written in letters of gold upon the crowns and diadems of princes.
The text doth
branch itself into these two general parts. I. The scholar, Paul; “I have
learned.” II. The lesson; “in every state to be content.”
The First Branch of the Text,
the Scholar, with the First Proposition.
I begin with the
first: The scholar, and his proficiency; “I have learned.” Out of which I shall
by the bye, observe two things by way of paraphrase. 1. The apostle doth noth
say, I have heard, that in every estate I should be content: but, I have
learned. Whence our first doctrine, that it is not enough for
Christians to hear their duty, but they must learn their duty. It is one
thing to hear and another thing to learn; as it is one thing to eat and another
thing to concoct. St Paul was a practitioner. Christians hear much, but it is to
be feared, learn little. There were four sorts of grounds in the parable, (Lu.
8. 5) and but one good ground: an emblem of this truth, many hearers,
but few learners.
There are two
things which keep us from learning. 1. Slighting what we hear. Christ is
the pearl of price; when we disesteem this pearl, we shall never learn either
its value, or its virtue. The gospel is a rare mystery; in one place, (Ac.
20. 24) it is called “the gospel of grace;” in another, (1
Cor. 4. 4) “the gospel of glory;” because in it, as in a transparent
glass, the glory of God is resplendent. But he that hath learned to contemn this
mystery, will hardly ever learn to obey it; he that looks upon the things of
heaven as things by the bye, and perhaps the driving of a trade, or carrying on
some politic design to be of greater importance, this man is in the high road to
damnation, and will hardly ever learn the things of his peace. Who will learn
that which he thinks is scarce worth learning? 2. Forgetting what we hear.
If a scholar have his rules laid before him, and he forgets them as fast as he
reads them, he will never learn. (Ja.
1. 25) Aristotle calls the memory the scribe of the soul; and Bernard
calls it the stomach of the soul, because it hath a retentive faculty, and turns
heavenly food into blood and spirits; we have great memories in other things, we
remember that which is vain. Cyrus could remember the name of every soldier in
his huge army. We remember injuries: this is to fill a precious cabinet with
dung; but as Hierom saith, how soon do we forget the sacred truths of God? We
are apt to forget three things: our faults, our friends, our instructions. Many
Christians are like sieves; put a sieve into the water, and it is full; but take
it forth of the water, and all runs out: so, while they are hearing a sermon,
they remember something: but like the sieve out of the water, as soon as they
are gone out of the church, all is forgotten. “Let these sayings, (saith Christ)
sink down into your ears;” (Lu.
9. 44) in the original it is, “put these sayings into your ears,” as
a man that would hide the jewel from being stolen, locks it up safe in his
chest. Let them sink: the word must not fall only as dew that wets the leaf, but
as rain which soaks to the root of the tree, and makes it fructify. O, how often
doth Satan, that fowl of the air, pick up the good seed that is sown!
USE. Let me put you
upon a serious trial. Some of you have heard much, — you have lived forty,
fifty, sixty years under the blessed trumpet of the gospel, — what have you
learned? You may have heard a thousand sermons, and yet not learned one. Search
1. You have heard
much against sin: are you hearers; or are you scholars? How many sermons
have you heard against covetousness, that it is the root, on which pride,
idolatry, treason do grow? One calls it a metropolitan sin; it is a complex
evil, it doth twist a great many sins in with it. There is hardly any sin, but
covetousness is a main ingredient of it; and yet are you like the two daughters
of the horse-leech, that cry, “give! give!” How much have you heard against rash
anger, that is a short frenzy, a dry drunkenness; that it rests in the bosom of
fools; and upon the least occasion do your spirits begin to take fire? How much
have you heard against swearing: It is Christ’s express mandate, “swear not at
5. 34) This sin of all others may be termed the unfruitful work of
darkness. It is neither sweetened with pleasure, nor enriched with profit, the
usual vermillion wherewith Satan doth paint sin. Swearing is forbidden with a
subpaena. While the swearer shoots his oaths, like flying arrows at God to
pierce his glory, God shoots “a flying roll” of curses against him. And do you
make your tongue a racket by which you toss oaths as tennisballs? do you sport
yourselves with oaths, as the Philistines did with Samson, which will at last
pull the house about your ears? Alas! how have they learned what sin is, that
have not learned to leave sin! Doth he know what a viper is, that will play with
2. You have heard
much of Christ: have you learned Christ? The Jews, as Jerom saith,
carried Christ in their Bibles, but not in their heart; their sound “went into
all the earth; (Ro.
10. 18) the prophets and apostles were as trumpets, whose sound went
abroad into the world: yet many thousands who heard the noise of these trumpets,
had not learned Christ, “they have not all obeyed.” (Ro.
10. 16) (1.) A man may know much of Christ, and yet not learn
Christ: the devils knew Christ. (Mat.
1. 24) (2.) A man may preach Christ, and yet not learn Christ,
as Judas and the pseudo-apostles. (Ph.
5. 15) (3.) A man may profess Christ, and yet not learn
Christ: there are many professors in the world that Christ will profess against.
7. 22, 23)
Q. What it is
then to learn Christ?
1. To learn Christ
is to be made like Christ, to have the divine characters of his holiness
engraven upon our hearts: “we all with open face, beholding as in a glass the
glory of the Lord, are changed into the same image.” (2
Cor. 3. 18) There is a metamorphosis made; a sinner, viewing Christ’s
image in the glass of the gospel, is transformed into that image. Never did any
man look upon Christ with a spiritual eye, but he went away quite changed. A
true saint is a divine landscape picture, where all the rare beauties of Christ
are lively portrayed and drawn forth; he hath the same spirit, the same
judgment, the same will, with Jesus Christ.
2. To learn Christ,
is to believe in him; “my Lord, and my God,” (Jno.
20. 28) when we do not only believe God, but in God, which is the
actual application of Christ to ourselves, and as it were the spreading of the
sacred medicine of his blood upon our souls. You have heard much of Christ, and
yet cannot with an humble adherence say, “my Jesus;” be not offended if I tell
you, the devil can say his creed as well as you.
3. To learn Christ,
is to love Christ. When we have Bible-conversations, our lives like rich
diamonds cast a sparkling lustre in the church of God, and are, in some sense,
parallel with the life of Christ, as the transcript with the original. So much
for the first notion of the word.
Concerning the Second
This word, “I have
learned,” is a word that imports difficulty; it shows how hardly the apostle
came by contentment of mind; it was not bred in nature. St Paul did not come
naturally by it, but he had learned it. It cost him many a prayer and tear, it
was taught him by the Spirit. Whence our second doctrine: good things are
hard to come by. The business of religion is not so facile as most do
imagine. “I have learned,” saith St Paul. Indeed you need not learn a man to
sin; this is natural, (Ps.
58. 3) and therefore facile, it comes as water out of a spring, It is
an easy thing to be wicked; hell will be taken without storm; but matters of
religion must be learned. To cut the flesh is easy, but to prick a vein, and not
to cut an artery is hard. The trade of sin needs not to be learned, but the art
of divine contentment is not achieved without holy industry: “I have learned.”
There are two
pregnant reasons, why there must be so much study and exercitation: 1. Because
spiritual things are against nature. Everything in religion is antipodes
to nature. There are in religion two things, and both are against nature. (1.)
Matters of faith: as, for men to be justified by the righteousness of another,
to become a fool that he may be wise, to save all by losing all; this is against
nature. (2.) Matters of practice: as, Self-denial; for a man to deny his own
wisdom, and see himself blind; his own will, and have it melted into the will of
God; plucking out the right eye, beheading and crucifying that sin which is the
favourite, and lies nearest to the heart; for a man to be dead to the world, and
in the midst of want to abound; for him to take up the cross, and follow Christ,
not only in golden, but in bloody paths, to embrace religion, when it is dressed
in night-clothes, all the jewels of honour and preferment being pulled of; this
is against nature, and therefore must be learned. Self-examination; for a man to
take his heart, as a watch, all in pieces; to set up a spiritual inquisition, or
court of conscience, and traverse things in his own soul; to take David’s candle
and lantern, (Ps.
119. 105) and search for sin; nay, as judge, to pass the sentence
upon himself. (2
Sa. 34. 17) this is against nature, and will not easily be attained
to without learning. Self-reformation; to see a man, as Caleb, or another
spirit, walking antipodes to himself, the current of his life altered, and
running into the channel of religion: this is wholly against nature. When a
stone ascends, it is not a natural motion, but a violent; the motion of the soul
heaven-ward is a violent motion, it must be learned; flesh and blood is not
skilled in these things; nature can no more cast out nature, than Satan can cast
out Satan. 2. Because spiritual things are above nature. There are some
things in nature that are hard to find out, as the cause of things, which are
not learned without study. Aristotle, a great philosopher, whom some have called
an eagle fallen from the clouds, yet could not find out the motion of the river
Euripus, and therefore threw himself into it; what then are divine things, which
are in sphere above nature, and beyond all human disquisition; as the Trinity,
the hypostatical union, the mystery of faith to believe against hope? Only God’s
Spirit can light our candle here. The apostle calls these “the deep things of
God.” The gospel is full of jewels, but they are locked up from sense and
reason. The angels in heaven are searching into these sacred depths. (1
USE. Let us beg
the Spirit of God to teach us; we must be “divinely taught;” the eunuch could
read, but he could not understand, till Philip joined himself to his chariot. (Ac.
8. 29) God’s Spirit must join himself to our chariot; he must teach,
or we cannot learn: “all thy children shall be taught of the Lord”. (Is.
54. 13) A man may read the figure on the dial, but he cannot tell how
the day goes, unless the sun shines upon the dial: we may read the Bible over,
but we can not learn the purpose, till the Spirit of God shines into our hearts.
Cor. 4. 6) O implore this blessed Spirit! It is God’s
prerogative-royal to teach: “I am the Lord thy God, which teacheth thee to
48. 17) Ministers may tell us our lesson, God only can teach us; we
have lost both our hearing and eye-sight, therefore are very unfit to learn.
Ever since Eve listened to the serpent, we have been deaf; and since she looked
on the tree of knowledge we have been blind; but when God comes to teach, he
removes these impediments. (Is.
35. 5) We are naturally dead; (Ep.
2. 1) who will go about to teach a dead man? yet, behold, God
undertakes to make dead men to understand mysteries! God is the grand teacher.
This is the reason the word preached works so differently upon men; two in a
pew, the one is wrought upon effectually, the other lies at the ordinances as a
dead child at the breast, and gets no nourishment. What is the reason? Because
the heavenly gale of the Spirit blows upon one, and not upon the other; one hath
the anointing of God, which teacheth him all things,! (1
Jno. 2. 27) the other hath it not. God’s Spirit speaks sweetly, but
irresistably. In that heavenly doxology, none could sing the new song, but those
who were sealed in their foreheads, (Re.
14. 2) reprobates could not sing it. Those that are skilful in the
mysteries of salvation, must have the seal of the Spirit upon them. Let us make
this our prayer: Lord, breathe thy Spirit into thy word; and we have a promise,
which may add wings to prayer; “if ye then being evil know how to give good
gifts unto your children; how much more shall your heavenly Father give the Holy
Spirit to them that ask him?” (Lu.
11. 13) And thus much of the first part of the text, the scholar,
which I intended only as a short gloss or paraphrase.
The Second Branch of the
Text, the Lesson itself, with the Proposition.
I come to the
second, which is the main thing, the lesson itself, “in whatsoever state I am,
therewith to be content.” Here was a rare piece of learning indeed, and is
certainly more to be wondered at in St Paul, that he knew how to turn himself to
every condition, than all the learning in the world besides, which hath been so
applauded in former ages, by Julius Cæsar, Ptolemy, Xenophon, the great admirers
of learning. The text hath but few words in it; “in every state content:” but if
that be true, which once Fulgentius said, that the most golden sentence is ever
measured by brevity and suavity, then, this is a most accomplished speech; the
text is like a precious jewel, little in quantity, but great in worth and value.
proposition I shall insist upon, is this, that a gracious spirit is a
contented spirit. The doctrine of contentment is very superlative, and till
we have learned this, we have not learned to be Christians.
1. It is a
hard lesson. The angels in heaven had not learned it; they were not
contented. Though their estate was very glorious, yet they were still soaring
aloft, and aimed at something higher; “the angels which kept not their first
estate.” They kept not their estate, because they were not contented with their
estate. Our first parents, clothed with the white robe of innocency in paradise,
had not learned to be content; they had aspiring hearts, and thinking their
human nature too low and home-spun, would be crowned with the Deity, and “be as
gods.” Though they had the choice of all the trees of the garden, yet none would
content them but the tree of knowledge which they supposed would have been as
eye-salve to have made them omniscient. O then, if this lesson was so hard to
learn in innocency, how hard shall we find it, who are clogged with corruption!
2. It is of
universal extent, it concerns all. 1st. It concerns rich men.
One would think it needless to press those to contentment whom God hath blessed
with great estates, but rather persuade them to be humble and thankful; nay, but
I say, be content. Rich men have their discontents as well as others! When they
have a great estate, yet they are discontented that they have no more; they
would make the hundred talents a thousand. A man in wine, the more he drinks,
the more he thirsts; covetousness is a dry dropsy; an earthly heart is like the
grave, that is “never satisfied;” therefore I say to you, rich men, be content.
Rich men, if we may suppose them to be content with their estates, which is
seldom; yet, though they have estate enough, they have not honour enough: if
their barns are full enough, yet their turrets are not high enough. They would
be somebody in the world, as Theudas, “who boasted himself to be somebody.” (Ac.
5. 36) They never go so cheerfully as when the wind of honour and
applause fills their sails; if this wind be down they are discontented. One
would think Haman had as much as his proud heart could desire; he was set above
all the princes, advanced upon the pinnacle of honour, to be the second man in
the kingdom; (Es.
3. 1) yet in the midst of all his pomp, because Mordecai would not
uncover and kneel, he is discontented, and full of wrath, and there was no way
to assuage this pleurisy of revenge, but by letting all the Jews’ blood, and
offering them up in sacrifice. The itch of honour is seldom allayed without
blood; therefore I say to you rich men, be content. Rich men, if we may suppose
them to be content with their honour and magnificent titles, yet they have not
always contentment in their relations. She that lies in the bosom, may sometimes
blow the coals; as Job’s wife, who in a pet would have him fall out with God
himself; “curse God, and die.” Sometimes children cause discontent. How often is
it seen that the mother’s milk doth nourish a viper? and that he that once
sucked her breast, goes about to suck her blood? Parents do often of grapes
gather thorns, and of figs thistles. Children are sweet-briar; like the rose,
which is a fragrant flower, but hath its prickles. Our relative comforts are not
all pure wine, but mixed; they have in them more dregs than spirits, and are
like that river Plutarch speaks of, where the waters in the morning run sweet,
but in the evening run bitter. We have no charter of exemption granted us in
this life; therefore rich men had need be called upon to be content. 2dly.
The doctrine of contentment concerns poor men. You that do suck so
liberally from the breasts of providence, be content; it is an hard lesson,
therefore it had need be set upon the sooner. How hard is it when the livelihood
is even gone, a great estate boiled away almost to nothing, then to be
contented. The means of subsistence is in Scripture called our life, because it
is the very sinews of life. The woman in the gospel spent “all her living upon
the physicians;” (Lu.
8. 43) in the Greek it is, she spent her whole life upon the
physicians, because she spent her means by which she should live. It is much
when poverty hath clipped our wings then to be content; but, though hard, it is
excellent; and the apostle here had “learned in every state to be content”. God
had brought St Paul into as great variety of conditions as ever we read of any
man, and yet he was content; else sure he could never have gone through it with
so much cheerfulness. See into what vicissitudes this blessed apostle was cast:
“we are troubled on every side,” (2
Cor 4. 8) there was the sadness of his condition; “but not
distressed,” there was his content in that condition: “we are perplexed,” there
is his affliction; “but not in despair,” there is his contentation. And, if we
read a little further, “in afflictions, in necessities, in distresses, in
stripes, in imprisonments, in tumults,” (2
Cor 6. 4,5) &c. there is his trouble: and behold his content, “as
having nothing, yet possessing all things.” When the apostle was driven out of
all, yet in regard of that sweet contentment of mind which was like music in his
soul, he possessed all. We read a short map or history of his sufferings; “in
prisons more frequent, in deaths oft,” (2
Cor. 11. 23, 24, 25) &c. yet behold the blessed frame and temper of
his spirit, “I have learned, in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content.”
Which way soever providence did blow, he had such heavenly skill and dexterity,
that he knew how to steer his course. For his outward estate he was indifferent;
he could be either on the top of Jacob’s ladder, or the bottom; he could sing
either the dirge or the anthem; he could be anything that God would have him: “I
know how to want, and how to abound.” Here is a rare pattern for us to imitate.
Paul, in regard of his faith and courage, was like a cedar, he could not be
stirred; but for his outward condition, he was like a reed bending every way
with the wind of providence. When a prosperous gale did blow upon him, he could
bend with that, “I know how to be full;” and when a boisterous gust of
affliction did blow, he could bend in humility with that, “I know how to be
hungry.” St Paul was, as Aristotle speaks, like a die that hath four squares;
throw it which way you will, it falls upon a bottom: let God throw the apostle
which way he would, he fell upon this bottom of contentment. A contented spirit
is like a watch: though you carry it up and down with you yet the spring of it
is not shaken, nor the wheels out of order, but the watch keeps its perfect
motion: so it was with St Paul, though God carried him into various conditions,
yet he was not lift up with the one, nor cast down with the other; the spring of
his heart was not broken, the wheels of his affections were not disordered, but
kept their constant motion towards heaven; still content. The ship that lies at
anchor may sometimes be a little shaken, but never sinks; flesh and blood may
have its fears and disquiets, but grace doth check them: a Christian, having
cast anchor in heaven, his heart never sinks; a gracious spirit is a contented
spirit. This is a rare art. Paul did not learn it at the feet of Gamaliel: “I am
4. 11) I am initiated into this holy mystery; as if he had said, I
have gotten the divine art, I have the knack of it; God must make us right
artists. If we should put some men to an art that they are not skilled in, how
unfit would they be for it? put an husbandman to limning or drawing pictures,
what strange work would he make? this is out of his sphere. Take a limner that
is exact in laying of colours, and put him to plough, or set him to planting, or
grafting of trees, this is not his art, he is not skilled in it: bid a natural
man live by faith, and when all things go cross, be contented, you bid him do
what he hath no skill in, you may as well bid a child guide the stern of a ship;
to live contented upon God in the deficiency of outward comforts, is an art
which “flesh and blood hath not learned;” nay, many of God’s own children, who
excel in some duties of religion, when they come to this of contentment, how do
they bungle? They have scarce commenced masters of this art.
The resolving of some
illustration of this doctrine, I shall propound these questions.
Q. 1. Whether
a Christian may not be sensible of his condition, and yet be contented?
Yes; for else he
is not a saint, but a stoic. Rachel did well to weep for her children, there was
nature; but her fault was, she refused to be comforted, there was discontent.
Christ himself was sensible, when he sweat great drops of blood, and said,
“Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me;” yet he was contented,
and sweetly submitted his will: “nevertheless, not as I will, but as thou wilt.”
The apostle bids us humble ourselves “under the mighty hand of God,” (1
Pe. 5. 6) which we cannot do unless we are sensible of it.
Q. 2. Whether
a Christian may not lay open his grievances to God, and yet be contented?
Yes: “unto thee
have I opened my cause;” (Jer.
20. 12) and David poured out his complaint before the Lord. (Ps.
142. 2) We may cry to God, and desire him to write down all our
injuries: shall not the child complain to his father? When any burden is upon
the spirit, prayer gives vent, it easeth the heart. Hannah’s spirit was
burdened; “I am” says she, “a woman of a sorrowful spirit.” Now having prayed,
and wept, she went away, and was no more sad; only here is the difference
between a holy complaint and a discontented complaint; in the one we complain to
God, in the other we complain of God.
Q. 3. What is
it properly that contentment doth exclude?
There are three
things which contentment doth banish out of its diocese, and which can by no
means consist with it. 1. It excludes a vexatious repining; this is properly the
daughter of discontent: “I mourn in my complaint.” (Ps.
55. 2) He doth not say I murmur in my complaint. Murmuring is no
better than mutiny in the heart; it is a rising up against God. When the sea is
rough and unquiet, it casts forth nothing but foam: when the heart is
discontented, it casts forth the foam of anger, impatience, and sometimes little
better than blasphemy. Murmuring is nothing else but the scum which boils off
from a discontented heart. 2. It excludes an uneven discomposure: when a man
saith, I am in such straits, that I know not how to evolve or get out, I shall
be undone; when his head and heart are so taken up, that he is not fit to pray
or meditate, &c. he is not himself: just as when an army is routed, one man runs
this way, and another that, the army is put into disorder; so a man’s thoughts
run up and down distracted, discontent doth dislocate and unjoint the soul, it
pulls off the wheels. 3. It excludes a childish despondency; and this is usually
consequent upon the other. A man being in a hurry of mind, not knowing which way
to extricate, or wind himself out of the present trouble, begins to faint and
sink under it. For care is to the mind as a burden to the back; it loads the
spirits, and with overloading, sinks them. A despondent spirit is a discontented
Shewing the Nature of
these questions, I shall in the next place, come to describe this contentment.
It is a sweet temper of spirit, whereby a Christian carries himself in an equal
poise in every condition. The nature of this will appear more clear in these
is a divine thing; it becomes ours, not by acquisition, but infusion; it is
a slip taken off from the tree of life, and planted by the Spirit of God in the
soul; it is a fruit that grows not in the garden of philosophy, but is of an
heavenly birth; it is therefore very observable that contentment is joined with
godliness, and goes in equipage; “godliness with contentment is great gain.” (1
Tim. 6. 6) Contentment being a consequent of godliness, or
concomitant, or both, I call it divine, to contradistinguish it to that of
contentment, which a moral man may arrive at. Heathens have seemed to have this
contentment, but it was only the shadow and picture of it; — the beryl, not the
true diamond: theirs was but civil, this is sacred; theirs was only from
principles of reason, this of religion; theirs was only lighted at nature’s
torch, this at the lamp of scripture. Reason may a little teach contentment, as
thus: whatever my condition be, this is that I am born to; and if I meet with
crosses, it is but catholic misery: all have their share, why therefore should I
be troubled? Reason may suggest this; and indeed, this may be rather constraint;
but to live securely and cheerfully upon God in the abatement of creature
supplies, only religion can bring this into the soul’s exchequer.
is an intrinsical thing; it lies within a man; not in the bark, but the
root. Contentment hath both its fountain and stream in the soul. The beam hath
not its light from the air; the beams of comfort which a contented man hath, do
not arise from foreign comforts, but from within. As sorrow is seated in the
spirit; “the heart knoweth its own bitterness:” (Pr.
14. 10) so contentment lies within the soul, and doth not depend upon
externals. Hence I gather, that outward troubles cannot hinder this blessed
contentment: it is a spiritual thing, and ariseth from spiritual grounds; the
apprehension of God’s love. When there is a tempest without, there may be music
within; a bee may sting through the skin, but it cannot sting to the heart;
outward afflictions cannot sting to a Christian’s heart, where contentment lies.
Thieves may plunder us of our money and plate, but not of this pearl of
contentment, unless we are willing to part with it, for it is locked up in the
cabinet of the heart; the soul which is possessed of this rich treasure of
contentment, is like Noah in the ark, that can sing in the midst of a deluge.
is an habitual thing, it shines with a fixed light in the firmament of the
soul. Contentment doth not appear only now and then, as some stars which are
seen but seldom; it is a settled temper of the heart. One action doth not
denominate; he is not said to be a liberal man, that gives alms once in his
life; a covetous man may do so: but he is said to be liberal, that is, “given to
hospitality,” that is, who upon all occasions is willing to relieve the
necessities of the poor: so he is said to be a contented man that is given to
contentment. It is not casual but constant. Aristotle, in his rhetoric,
distinguisheth between colours in the face that arise from passion, and those
which arise from complexion; the pale face may look red when it blusheth, but
this is only a passion; he is said properly to be ruddy and sanguine, who is
constantly so, it is his complexion. He is not a contented man, who is so upon
occasion, and perhaps when he is pleased: but who is so constantly, it is the
habit and complexion in his soul.
Reasons pressing to Holy
Having opened the
nature of contentment, I come next to lay down some reasons or arguments to
contentment, which may preponderate with us.
The first is,
God’s precept. It is charged upon us as a duty: “be content with such things
as you have.” (He.
13. 5) The same God, who hath bid us believe, hath bid us be content:
if we obey not, we run ourselves into a spiritual
God’s word is a sufficient warrant; it hath authority in it, and must be a
supersedeas, or sacred spell to discontent.
was enough among Pythagoras’s scholars: “be it
enacted,” is the royal style. God’s word must be the star that guides, and his
will the weight that moves our obedience; his will is a law, and hath majesty
enough in it to captivate us into obedience; our hearts must not be more unquiet
than the raging sea, which at his word is stilled.
The second reason
enforcing contentment, is, God’s promise: for he hath said “I will never
leave thee, nor forsake thee.” (He.
13. 5) Here God hath engaged himself, under hand and seal for our
necessary provisions. If a king should say to one of his subjects, I will take
care of thee; as long as I have any crown-revenues, thou shalt be provided for;
if thou art in danger, I will secure thee, — if in want, I will supply thee;
would not that subject be content? Behold, God hath here made promise to the
believer, and as it were entered into bond for his security, “I will never leave
thee;” shall not this charm down the devil of discontent: “Leave thy fatherless
children with me, I will preserve them alive.” (Jer.
49. 11) Methinks I see the godly man on his death-bed much
discontented, and hear him complaining what will become of my wife and children
when I am dead and gone? They may come to poverty: saith God, “trouble not
thyself, be content, I will take care of thy children; and let thy widow trust
in me.” God hath made a promise to us, that he will not leave us, and hath
entailed the promise upon our wife and children; and will not this satisfy? True
faith will take God’s single bond, without calling for witnesses.
Be content, by
virtue of a decree. Whatever our condition be, God the umpire of the world hath
from everlasting decreed that condition for us, and by his providence ordered
all appurtenances thereunto. Let a Christian often think with himself, who hath
placed me here, whether I am in a high sphere, or in a lower. Not chance or
fortune, as the purblind heathens imagined; no, it is the wise God that hath by
his providence fixed me in this orb. We must act that scene which God would have
us; say not, such an one hath occasioned this to me; look not too much at the
under-wheel. We read in Ezekiel, of a “wheel within a wheel.” (Ez.
1. 16) God’s decree is the cause of the turning of the wheels, and
his providence is the inner-wheels that move all the rest. God’s providence is
that helm which turns about the whole ship of the universe. Say then, as holy
David, “I was dumb, I opened not my mouth, because thou, Lord, didst it.” (Ps.
39. 9) God’s providence, which is nothing else but the carrying on of
his decree, should be a counterpoise against discontent; God hath set us in our
station, and he hath done it in wisdom. We fancy such a condition of life is
good for us; whereas if we were our own carvers, we should often cut the worst
piece. Lot, being put to his choice did choose Sodom, which soon after was
burned with fire. Rachel was very desirous of children, “give me children or I
die,” and it cost her her life in bringing forth a child. Abraham was earnest
for Ishmael, “O that Ishmael might live before thee!” but he had little comfort
either of him or his seed; he was born a son of strife, his hand was against
every man, and every man’s hand against him. The disciples wept for Christ’s
leaving the world, they chose his corporeal presence: whereas it was best for
them that Christ should be gone, for else “the comforter would not come.” (Jno.
16. 7) David chose the life of his child, “he wept and fasted for
Sam. 12. 16) whereas if the child had lived, it would have been a
perpetual monument of his shame. We stand oft in our own light; if we should
sort, or parcel out our own comforts, we should hit upon the wrong. Is it not
well for the child, that the parent doth choose for it? were it left to itself,
it would perhaps choose a knife to cut its own finger. A man in a paroxysm calls
for wine, which if he had, it were little better than poison; it is well for the
patient, that he is at the physician’s appointment. The consideration of a
decree determining, and a providence disposing of all things that fall out,
should work our hearts to holy contentment. The wise God hath ordered our
condition; if he sees it better for us to abound, we shall abound; if he sees it
better for us to want, we shall want; be content to be at God’s disposal.
God sees, in his
infinite wisdom, the same condition is not convenient for all; that which is
good for one, may be bad for another; one season of weather will not serve all
men’s occasions, one needs sunshine, another rain; one condition of life will
not fit every man, no more than one suit of apparel will fit every body;
prosperity is not fit for all, nor yet adversity. If one man be brought low,
perhaps he can bear it better; he hath a greater stock of grace, more faith and
patience; he can “gather grapes of thorns”, pick some comfort out of the cross:
every one cannot do this. Another man is seated in an eminent place of dignity;
he is fitter for it; perhaps it is a place that requires more parts of judgment,
which every one is not capable of; perhaps he can use his estate better, he hath
a public heart as well as a public place. The wise God sees that condition to be
bad for one, which is good for another; hence it is he placeth men in different
orbs and spheres; some higher, some lower. One man desires health, God sees
sickness is better for him; God will work health out of sickness, by bringing
the body of death, into a consumption. Another man desires liberty, God sees
restraint better for him; he will work his liberty by restraint; when his feet
are bound, his heart shall be most enlarged. Did we believe this, it would give
a check to the sinful disputes and cavils of our hearts: shall I be discontented
at that which is enacted by a decree, and ordered by a providence? Is this to be
a child or a rebel?
I. Shewing how a Christian may make his Life comfortable.
It shows how a
Christian may come to lead a comfortable life, even an heaven upon earth, be the
times what they will: by Christian contentment. The comfort of life doth not
stand in having much; it is Christ’s maxim, “man’s life consisteth not in the
abundance of the things which he doth possess,” (Lu.
12. 15) but it is in being contented. Is not the bee as well
contented with feeding on the dew, or sucking from a flower, as the ox that
grazeth on the mountains? Contentment lies within a man, in the heart; and the
way to be comfortable, is not by having our barns filled, but our minds quiet.
The contented man, saith Seneca, is the happy man.
Discontent is a
fretting humour, which dries the brains, wastes the spirits, corrodes and eats
out the comfort of life; discontent makes a man that he doth not enjoy what he
doth possess. A drop or two of vinegar will sour a whole glass of wine. Let a
man have the affluence and confluence of worldly comforts, a drop or two of
discontent will embitter and poison all.
upon contentment; Jacob went halting, when the sinew upon the hollow of his
thigh shrank: so, when the sinew of contentment begins to shrink, we go halting
in our comforts. Contentation is as necessary to keep the life comfortable, as
oil is necessary to keep the lamp burning; the clouds of discontent do often
drop the showers of tears.
Would we have
comfort in our lives? we may have it if we will: a Christian may carve out what
condition he will to himself. Why dost thou complain of thy troubles? it is not
trouble that troubles, but discontent; it is not the water without the ship, but
the water that gets within the leak, which drowns it; it is not outward
affliction that can make the life of a Christian sad; a contented mind would
sail above these waters, — but when there’s a leak of discontent open, and
trouble gets into the heart, then it is disquieted and sinks. Do therefore as
the mariners, pump the water out, and stop the spiritual leak in the soul, and
no trouble can hurt thee.
Use II. A Check to the
Here is a just
reproof to such as are discontented with their condition. This disease is almost
epidemical. Some not content with the calling which God hath set them in, must
be a step higher, from the plough to the throne; who like the spider in the
Proverbs, will “take hold with her hands, and is in kings’ palaces.” Others from
the shop to the pulpit; (Nu.
12. 2) they would be in the temple of honour, before they are in the
temple of virtue; who step into Moses’ chair, without Aaron’s bells and
pomegranates; like apes, which do most shew their deformity when they are
climbing. It is not enough that God hath bestowed gifts upon men, in private to
edify; that he hath enriched them with many mercies? but, “seek ye the
priesthood also?” (Nu.
16. 10) What is this but discontent arising from high flown pride?
These do secretly tax the wisdom of God, that he hath not screwed them up in
their condition a peg higher. Every man is complaining that his estate is no
better, though he seldom complains that his heart is no better. One man commends
this kind of life, another commends that; one man thinks a country-life best,
another a city-life; the soldier thinks it best to be a merchant, and the
merchant to be a soldier. Men can be content to be anything but what God would
have them. How is it that no man is contented? Very few Christians have learned
St Paul’s lesson: neither poor nor rich know how to be content, they can learn
anything but this.
If men are
poor, they learn to be envious; they malign those that are above
them. Another’s prosperity is an eye-sore. When God’s candle shines upon their
neighbour’s tabernacle, this light offends them. In the midst of wants, men can,
in this sense, abound, namely, in envy and malice; an envious eye is an evil
eye. They learn to be querulous, still complaining, as if God had dealt hardly
with them; they are ever telling their wants, they want this and that comfort,
whereas their greatest want is a contented spirit. Those that are well enough
content with their sin, yet are not content with their condition.
If men are
rich, they learn to be covetous; thirsting insatiably after the
world, and by unjust means scraping it together; their “right hand is full of
bribes,” as the Psalmist expresseth it. (Ps.
26. 10) Put a good cause in one scale, and a piece of gold in the
other, and the gold weighs heaviest. There are, saith Solomon, four things that
say, “it is not enough:” (Pr.
30. 15) I may add a fifth; the heart of a covetous man. So that
neither poor nor rich know how to be content. Never certainly since the creation
did this sin of discontent reign or rather rage more than in our times; never
was God more dishonoured; you can hardly speak with any, but the passion of his
tongue betrays the discontent of his heart; every one lisps out his trouble, and
here even the stammering tongue speaks too freely and fluently. If we have not
what we desire, God shall not have a good look from us, but presently we are
sick of discontent, and ready to die out of an humour. If God will not forgive
the people of Israel for their lusts, they bid him take their lives; they must
have quails to their manna. Ahab, though a king, and one would think his
crown-lands had been sufficient for him, yet is sullen and discontented for
Naboth’s vineyard. Jonah though a good man and a prophet, yet ready to die in a
pet; and because God killed his gourd, kill me too, saith he. Rachel, “give me
children, or I die;” she had many blessings, if she could have seen them, but
wanted this contentation. God will supply our wants, but must he satisfy our
lusts too? Many are discontented for a very trifle; another hath a better dress,
a richer jewel, a newer fashion. Nero, not content with his empire, was troubled
that the musician had more skill in playing than he. How fantastic are some,
that pine away in discontent for the want of those things which if they had,
would but render them more ridiculous!
Use III. A Suasive to
It exhorts us to
labour for contentation; this is that which doth beautify and bespangle a
Christian, and as a spiritual embroidery, doth set him off in the eyes of the
But methinks I
hear some bitterly complaining, and saying to me, Alas! how is it possible to be
contented? “The Lord hath made “my chain heavy;” he hath cast me into a very sad
There is no sin,
but labours either to hide itself under some mask; or, if it cannot be
concealed, then to vindicate itself by some apology. This sin of discontent I
find very witty in its apologies, which I shall first discover, and then make a
reply. We must lay it down as a rule, that discontent is a sin; so that all the
pretences and apologies wherewith it labours to justify itself, are but the
painting and dressing of a strumpet.
apology which discontent makes is this; I have lost a child. Paulina,
upon the loss of her children, was so possessed with a spirit of sadness, that
she had liked to have entombed herself in her own discontent; our love to
relations is oftentimes more than our love to religion.
1. We must be
content, not only when God gives mercies, but when He takes away. If we must “in
every thing give thanks,” (1
Th. 5. 18) then in nothing be discontented.
2. Perhaps God
hath taken away the cistern, that he may give you the more of the spring; he
hath darkened the starlight, that you may have more sun-light. God intends you
shall have more of himself, and is not he better than ten sons? Look not so much
upon a temporal loss, as a spiritual gain; the comforts of the world run dregs;
those which come out of the granary of the promise, are pure and sweet.
3. Your child
was not given but lent: “I have, saith Hannah, lent my son to the Lord;” (1
Sa. 1. 28) she lent him! the Lord hath lent him to her. Mercies are
not entailed upon us, but lent; what a man lends he may call for again when he
pleases. God hath put out a child to thee a while to nurse; wilt thou be
displeased if he takes his child home again; O be not discontented that a mercy
is taken away from you, but rather be thankful that it was lent you so long.
4. Suppose your
child to be taken from you, either he was good or bad; if he was rebellious, you
have not so much parted with a child, as a burden; you grieve for that which
might have been a greater grief to you; if he was religious, then remember, he
“is taken away from the evil to come,” and placed in his centre of felicity.
This lower region is full of gross and hurtful vapours; how happy are those who
are mounted into the celestial orbs! The righteous are taken away, in the
original it is, he is gathered; a wicked child is cut off, but the pious
child is gathered. Even as we see men gather flowers, and candy them, and
preserve them by them, so hath God gathered thy child as a sweet flower that he
may candy it with glory, and preserve it by him for ever. Why then should a
Christian be discontented? why should he weep excessively? “Daughters of
Jerusalem weep not for me, but weep for yourselves;” (Lu.
23. 28) so, could we hear our children speaking to us out of heaven,
they would say, weep not for us who are happy; we lie upon a soft pillow, even
in the bosom of Christ; the Prince of Peace is embracing us and kissing us with
the kisses of his lips; be not troubled at our preferment; “weep not for us,”
but weep for yourselves, who are in a sinful sorrowful world: you are in the
valley of tears, but we are on the mountain of spices; we have gotten to our
harbour, but you are still tossing upon the waves of inconstancy. O Christian!
be not discontented that thou hast parted with such a child; but rather rejoice
that thou hadst such a child to part with. Break forth into thankfulness. What
an honour is it to be a parent to beget such a child, that while he lives
increaseth the joy of the glorified angels, (Lu.
20. 10) and when he dies increaseth the number of the glorified
5. If God hath
taken away one of your children, he hath left you more, he might have stripped
you of all. He took away Job’s comforts, his estate, his children; and indeed
his wife was left, but as a cross. Satan made a bow of this rib, as Chrysostom
speaks, and shot a temptation by her at Job, thinking to have him shot to the
heart; “curse God and die:” but Job had upon him the breast-plate of integrity;
and though his children were taken away, yet not his graces; still he is
content, still he blesseth God. O think how many mercies you still enjoy; yet
your base hearts are more discontented at one loss, than thankful for an hundred
mercies! God hath plucked one bunch of grapes from you; but how many precious
clusters are left behind?
You may object,
But it was my only child, — the staff of my age, — the seed of my comfort, — and
the only blossom out of which my ancient family did grow.
6. God hath
promised you, if you belong to him, “a name better than of sons and daughters.”
56. 5) Is he dead that should have been the monument to have kept up
the name of a family? God hath given you a new name, he hath written your name
in the book of life; behold your spiritual heraldry; here is a name that can not
be cut off. Hath God taken away thy only child? he hath given thee his only Son:
this is a happy exchange. What needs he complain of losses, that hath Christ? He
is his Father’s brightness, (He.
1. 3) his riches, (Col.
2. 9) his delight. (Ps.
42. 1) Is there enough in Christ to delight the heart of God? and is
there not enough in him to ravish us with holy delight? He is wisdom to teach
us, righteousness to acquit us, sanctification to adorn us; he is that royal and
princely gift, he is the bread of angels, the joy and triumph of saints; he is
all in all. (Col.
3. 10) Why then are thou discontented? Though thy child be lost, yet
thou hast him for whom all things are loss.
7. Let us blush
to think that nature should outstrip grace. Pulvillus, an heathen, when he was
about to consecrate a temple to Jupiter, and news was brought him of the death
of his son, would not desist from his enterprize, but with much composure of
mind gave order for decent burial.
apology that discontent makes is, I have a great part of my estate strangely
melted away, and trading begins to fail. God is pleased sometimes to bring
his children very low, and cut them short in their estate; it fares with them as
with that widow, who had nothing in her house, save a pot of oil: (2
Ki. 4. 2) but be content.
1. God hath
taken away your estate, but not your portion. This is a sacred paradox, honour
and estate are no part of a Christian’s jointure; they are rather luxuries than
essentials, and are extrinsical and foreign; therefore the loss of those cannot
denominate a man miserable, still the portion remains; “the Lord is my portion,
saith my soul.” (La.
3. 24) Suppose one were worth a million of money, and he should
chance to lose a pin off his sleeve, this is no part of his estate, nor can we
say he is undone; the loss of sublunary comforts is not so much to a Christian’s
portion, as the loss of a pin is to a million. “These things shall be added to
6. 33) they shall be cast in as overplus. When a man buys a piece of
cloth he hath an inch or two given in to the measure; now, though he lose his
inch of cloth, yet he is not undone, for still the whole piece remains: our
outward estate is not so much in regard of the portion, as an inch of cloth is
to the whole piece; why then should a Christian be discontented, when the title
to his spiritual treasure remains? A thieve may take away all the money that I
have about me, but not my land; still a Christian hath a title to the land of
promise. Mary hath chosen the better part, which shall not be taken from her.
2. Perhaps, if
thy estate had not been lost, thy soul had been lost; outward comforts do often
quench inward heat. God can bestow a jewel upon us, but we fall so in love with
it, that we forget Him that gave it. What pity is it that we should commit
idolatry with the creature! God is forced sometimes to drain away an estate: the
plate and jewels are often cast over-board to save the passenger. Many a man may
curse the time that ever he had such an estate: it hath been an enchantment to
draw away his heart from God; “they that will be rich, fall into a snare:” are
thou troubled that God hath prevented a snare? Riches are thorns; (Mat.
13. 7) art thou angry because God hath pulled away a thorn from thee?
Riches are compared to “thick clay;” (Ha.
2. 6) perhaps thy affections, which are the feet of the soul, might
have stuck so fast in this golden clay that they could not have ascended up to
heaven. Be content; if God dam up our outward comforts, it is, that the stream
of our love may run faster another way.
3. If your
estate be small, yet God can bless a little. It is not how much money we have,
but how much blessing. He that often curseth the bags of gold, can bless the
meal in the barrel, and the oil in the cruise. What if thou hast not the full
fleshpots? yet thou hast a promise, “I will abundantly bless her provision,” (Ps.
132. 15) and then a little goes a great way. Be content thou hast the
dew of a blessing distilled; a dinner of green herbs, where love is, is sweet; I
may add, where the love of God is. Another may have more estate than you, but,
more care; more riches, less rest; more revenues, but with all more occasions of
expense; he hath a greater inheritance, yet perhaps God doth not give “him power
to eat thereof” (Ec.
6. 2) he hath the dominion of his estate, not the use; he holds more
but enjoys less; in a word, thou hath less gold than he, perhaps less guilt.
4. You did
never so thrive in your spiritual trade; your heart was never so low, as since
your condition was low; you were never so poor in spirit, never so rich in
faith. You did never run the ways of God’s commandments so fast as since some of
your golden weights were taken off. You never had such trading for heaven all
your life; this is most abundant gain. You did never make such adventures upon
the promise as since you left off your sea-adventures. This is the best kind of
merchandize. O Christian, thou never hadst such incomes of the Spirit, such
spring-tides of joy; and what though weak in estate, if strong in assurance? Be
content: what you have lost one way, you have gained another.
5. Be your
losses what they will in this kind, remember in every loss there is only a
suffering, but in every discontent there is a sin, and one sin is worse than a
thousand sufferings. What! because some of my revenues are gone, shall I part
with some of my righteousness? shall my faith and patience go too? Because I do
not possess an estate, shall I not therefore possess my own spirit? O learn to
apology is, it is sad with me in my relations: where I should find most
comfort, there I have most grief. This apology or objection brancheth itself
into two particulars, whereto I shall give a distinct reply.
child goes on in rebellion; I fear I
have brought forth a child for the devil. It is indeed, sad to think, that hell
should be paved with the skulls of any of our children; and certainly the pangs
of grief which the mother hath in this kind, are worse than her pangs of
travail; but though you ought to be humbled, yet not discontented; for,
consider, 1. You may pick something out of your child’s undutifulness; the
child’s sin is sometimes the parent’s sermon; the undutifulness of children to
us, may be a memento to put us in mind of our undutifulness once to God.
Time was when we were rebellious children; how long did our heart stand out as
garrisons against God? How long did he parley with us and beseech us, ere we
would yield? He walked in the tenderness of his heart towards us, but we walked
in the frowardness of our hearts towards him; and since grace hath been planted
in our souls, how much of the wild olive is still in us? How many motions of the
Spirit do we daily resist? How many unkindnesses and affronts have we put upon
Christ? Let this open a spring of repentance; look upon your child’s rebellion
and mourn for your own rebellion. 2. Though to see him undutiful is your grief,
yet not always your sin. Hath a parent given the child, not only the milk of the
breast, but “the sincere milk of the word?” hast thou seasoned his tender years
with religious education? Thou canst do no more; parents can only work
knowledge, God must work grace; they can only lay the wood together, it is God
who must make it burn; a parent can only be a guide to show his child the way to
heaven, the Spirit of God must be a loadstone to draw his heart into that way.
“Am I in God’s stead,” saith Jacob, “who hath withheld the fruit of the womb?” (Ge.
30. 2) Can I give children? So, is a parent in God’s stead to give
grace? who can help it, if a child having the light of conscience, Scripture,
education, these three torches in his hand, yet runs wilfully into the deep
ponds of sin? Weep for thy child, pray for him; but do not sin for him by
discontent. 3. Say not, you have brought forth a child for the devil; God can
reduce him; he hath promised “to turn the hearts of the children to their
4. 6) and “to open springs of grace in the desert.” (Is.
35. 6) When thy child is going full sail to the devil, God can blow
with a contrary wind of his Spirit and alter his course. When Paul was breathing
out persecution against the saints, and was sailing hellward, God turns him
another way; before he was going to Damascus, God sends him to Ananias; before a
persecutor, now a preacher. Though our children are for the present fallen into
the devil’s pond, God can turn them from the power of Satan, and bring them in
the twelfth hour. Monica was weeping for her son Augustine: at last God gave him
in upon prayer, and he became a famous instrument in the church of God.
2. The second
branch of the objection is, but my husband takes ill courses; where I
looked for honey, behold a sting.
It is sad to
have the living and the dead tied together; yet, let not your heart fret with
discontent; mourn for his sins, but do not murmur. For, 1. God hath placed you
in your relation, and you cannot be discontented but you quarrel with God. What!
for every cross that befalls us, shall we call the infinite wisdom of God into
question? O the blasphemy of our hearts! 2. God can make you a gainer by your
husband’s sin; perhaps you had never been so good, if he had not been so bad.
The fire burns hottest in the coldest climate. God often by a divine
antiperistasis turns the sins of others to our good, and makes our maladies
our medicines. The more profane the husband is, oft the more holy the wife
grows; the more earthly he is, the more heavenly she grows; God makes sometimes
the husband’s sin a spur to the wife’s grace. His exorbitances are as a pair of
bellows to blow up the flame of her zeal and devotion the more. Is it not thus?
Doth not thy husband’s wickedness send thee to prayer? thou perhaps hadst never
prayed so much, if he had not sinned so much. His deadness quickens thee the
more, the stone of his heart is an hammer to break thy heart. The apostle saith,
“the unbelieving wife is sanctified by the believing husband;” (1
Cor. 7. 14) but in this sense, the believing wife is sanctified by
the unbelieving husband; she grows better, his sin is a whetstone to her grace,
and a medicine for her security.
apology that discontent makes is, but my friends have dealt very unkindly
with me, and proved false.
It is sad, when
a friend proves like a brook in summer. (Job
6. 15) The traveller being parched with heat, comes to the brook,
hoping to refresh himself, but the brook is dried up, yet be content.
1. Thou art not
alone, others of the saints have been betrayed by friends; and when they have
leaned upon them, they have been as a foot out of joint. This was true in the
type David; “it was not an enemy that reproached me, but it was thou, O man,
mine equal, my guide, and mine acquaintance; we took sweet counsel together: (Ps.
55. 12, 13, 14) and in the antitype Christ; he was betrayed by a
friend: and why should we think it strange to have the same measure dealt out to
us as Jesus Christ had? “the servant is not above his master”.
2. A Christian
may often read his sin in his punishment: hath not he dealt treacherously with
God? How oft hath he grieved the Comforter, broken his vows, and through
unbelief sided with Satan against God? how oft abused love, taken the jewels of
God’s mercies, and made a golden calf of them, serving his own lusts? how oft
made the free grace of God, which would have been a bolt to keep out sin, rather
a key to open the door to it? These wounds hath the Lord received in the house
of his friends. Look upon the unkindness of thy friend, and mourn for thy own
unkindness against God; shall a Christian condemn that in another, which he hath
been too guilty of himself?
3. Hath thy
friend proved treacherous? perhaps you did repose too much confidence in him. If
you lay more weight upon a house than the pillars will bear, it must needs
break. God saith, “trust ye not in a friend:” (Mi.
7. 5) perhaps you did put more trust in him, than you did dare to put
in God. Friends are as Venice-glasses, we may use them, but if we lean too hard
upon them, they will break; behold matter of humility, but not of sullenness and
4. You have a
friend in heaven who will never fail you; “there is a friend” — saith Solomon —
“that sticketh closer than a brother:” (Pr.
18. 24) such a friend is God; he is very studious and inquisitive on
our behalf; he hath a debating with himself, a consulting and projecting how he
may do us good; he is the best friend which may give contentment in the midst of
all discourtesies of friends. Consider, (1.) He is a loving friend. “God
is love;” (1
Jno. 4. 16) hence he is said sometimes to engrave us on the “palm of
his hand,” (Is.
49. 16) that we may never be out of his eye; and to carry us in his
40. 11) near to his heart. There is no stop or stint in his love; but
as the river Nilus, it overflows all the banks; his love is as far beyond our
thoughts, as it is above our deserts. O the infinite love of God, in giving the
Son of his love to be made flesh, which was more than if all the angels had been
made worms! God in giving Christ to us gave his very heart to us: here is love
penciled out in all its glory, and engraven as with the “point of a diamond.”
All other love is hatred in comparison of the love of our Friend. (2.) He is a
careful friend: “He careth for you”. (1
Pe. 5. 7) He minds and transacts our business as his own, he accounts
his people’s interests and concernments as his interest. He provides for us,
grace to enrich us, glory to ennoble us. It was David’s complaint, “no man
careth for my soul:” (Ps.
142. 4) a Christian hath a friend that cares for him. (3.) He is a
prudent friend. (Da.
2. 20) A friend may sometimes err through ignorance or mistake, and
give his friend poison instead of sugar; but “God is wise in heart; (Job
9. 4) he is skilful as well as faithful; he knows what our disease
is, and what physic is most proper to apply; he knows what will do us good, and
what wind will be best to carry us to heaven. (4.) He is a faithful
friend. And he is faithful in his promises; “in hope of eternal life which God
that cannot lie hath promised.” (Tit.
1. 2) God’s people are “children that will not lie;” (Is.
63. 8) but God is a God that cannot lie; he will not deceive the
faith of his people; nay, he cannot: he is called “the Truth;” he can as well
cease to be God as cease to be true. The Lord may sometimes change his promise,
as when he converts a temporal promise into a spiritual; but he can never break
his promise. (5.) He is a compassionate friend, hence in Scripture we
read of the yearning of his bowels. (Jer.
31. 20) God’s friendship is nothing else but compassion; for there is
naturally no affection in us to desire his friendship, nor no goodness in us to
deserve it; the loadstone is in himself. When we were full of blood, he was full
of bowels; when we were enemies, he sent an embassage of peace; when our hearts
were turned back from God, his heart was turned towards us. O the tenderness and
sympathy of our Friend in heaven! We ourselves have some relentings of heart to
those which are in misery; but it is God who begets all the mercies and bowels
that are in us, therefore he is called “the Father of mercies.” (2
Cor. 1. 3) (6.) He is a constant friend: “his compassions fail
3. 22) Friends do often in adversity drop off as leaves in autumn;
these are rather flatterers than friends. Joab was for a time faithful to king
David’s house; he went not after Absalom’s treason; but within a while proved
false to the crown, and went after the treason of Adonijah. (1
Ki. 1. 7) God is a friend for ever: “having loved his own which were
in the world, he loved them to the end.” (Jno.
13. 1) What though I am despised? yet God loves me. What though my
friends cast me off? yet God loves me; he loves to the end, and there is no end
of that love. This methinks, in case of discourtesies and unkindnesses, is
enough to charm down discontent.
apology is, I am under great reproaches.
Let not this
discontent: for, 1. It is a sign there is some good in thee; saith Socrates,
what evil have I done, that this bad man commends me? The applause of the wicked
usually denotes some evil, and their censure imports some good. (Ps.
38. 20) David wept and fasted, and that was turned to his “reproach”.
(Pe. 4. 14) As we must
pass to heaven through the spikes of suffering, so through the clouds of
reproach. 2. If your reproach be for God, as David’s was, “for thy sake I have
born reproach; (Ps.
69. 7) then it is rather matter of triumph, than dejection. Christ
doth not say, when you are reproached be discontented; but rejoice: (Mat.
5. 12) Wear your reproach as a diadem of honour, for now a spirit of
“glory and of God rests upon you.” (1
Pe. 4. 14) Put your reproaches into the inventory of your riches; so
did Moses. (He.
11. 26) It should be a Christian’s ambition to wear his Saviour’s
livery, though it be sprinkled with blood and sullied with disgrace. 3. God will
do us good by reproach: as David of Shimei’s cursing; “it may be the Lord will
requite me good for his cursing this day.” (2
Sa. 16. 12) This puts us upon searching our sin: a child of God
labours to read his sin in every stone of reproach that is cast at him; besides,
now we have an opportunity to exercise patience and humility. 4. Jesus Christ
was content to be reproached by us; he despised the shame of the cross. (He.
12. 2) It may amaze us to think that he who was God could endure to
be spit upon, to be crowned with thorns, in a kind of jeer; and when he was
ready to bow his head upon the cross, to have the Jews in scorn, wag their heads
and say, “he saved others, himself he cannot save.” The shame of the cross was
as much as the blood of the cross; his name was crucified before his body. The
sharp arrows of reproach that the world did shoot at Christ, went deeper into
his heart than the spear; his suffering was so ignominious, that as if the sun
did blush to behold, it withdrew its bright beams, and masked itself with a
cloud; (and well it might when the Sun of Righteousness was in an eclipse;) all
this contumely and reproach did the God of glory endure or rather despise for
us. O then let us be content to have our names eclipsed for Christ; let not
reproach lie at our heart, but let us bind it as a crown about our head! Alas,
what is reproach? this is but small shot, how will men stand at the mouth of a
cannon? These who are discontented at a reproach, will be offended at a faggot.
5. Is not many a man contented to suffer reproach for maintaining his lust? and
shall not we for maintaining the truth? Some glory in that which is their shame,
3. 19) and shall we be ashamed of that which is our glory? Be not
troubled at these petty things. He whose heart is once divinely touched with the
loadstone of God’s Spirit, doth account it his honour to be dishonoured for
15. 4) and doth as much despise the world’s censure, as he doth their
praise. 6. We live in an age wherein men dare reproach God himself. The divinity
of the Son of God is blasphemously reproached by the Socinian; the blessed Bible
is reproached by the Antiscripturist, as if it were but a legend of lies, and
every man’s faith a fable; the justice of God is called to the bar of reason by
the Arminians; the wisdom of God in his providential actings, is taxed by the
Atheist; the ordinances of God are decried by the Familists, as being too heavy
a burden for a free-born conscience, and too low and carnal for a sublime
seraphic spirit; the ways of God, which have the majesty of holiness shining in
them, are calumniated by the profane; the mouths of men are open against God, as
if he were an hard master, and the path of religion too strict and severe. If
men can not give God a good word, shall we be discontented or troubled that they
speak hardly of us? Such as labour to bury the glory of religion, shall we
wonder that “their throats are open sepulchres,” (Ro.
3. 13) to bury our good name? O let us be contented, while we are in
God’s scouring-house, to have our names sullied a little; the blacker we seem to
be here, the brighter shall we shine when God hath set us upon the celestial
apology that discontent makes is disrespect in the world. I have not that
esteem from men as is suitable to my quality and grace.
And doth this
trouble? Consider, 1. The world is an unequal judge; as it is full of change so
of partiality. The world gives her respects, as she doth her places of
preferment; more by favour often, than desert. Hast thou the ground of real
worth in thee; that is best worth that is in him that hath it; honour is in him
that gives it; better deserve respect, and not have it, than have it and not
deserve it. 2. Hast thou grace? God respects thee, and his judgment is best
worth prizing. A believer is a person of honour, being born of God: since thou
wast precious in mine eyes, “thou hast been honourable, and I have loved thee.”
43. 4) Let the world think what they will of you; perhaps in their
eyes your are a cast-away, in God’s eyes, a dove, (Ca.
2. 14) a spouse, (Ca.
5. 1) a jewel. (Mal.
3. 17) Others account you the dregs of offscouring of the world, (1
Cor. 4. 14) but God will give whole kingdoms for your ransom. (Is.
43. 3) Let this content: no matter with what oblique eyes I am looked
upon in the world, if God thinks well of me. It is better that God approve, than
man applaud. The world may put us in their rubric and God put us in his black
book. What is a man the better that his fellow-prisoners commend him, if his
judge condemn him? O labour to keep in with God; prize his love! Let my
fellow-subjects frown, I am contented, being a favourite of the king of heaven.
3. If you are a child of God, you must look for disrespect. A believer is in the
world, but not of the world; we are here in a pilgrim condition, out of our own
country, therefore must not look for the respects and acclamations of the world;
it is sufficient that we shall have honour in our own country. (He.
13. 14) It is dangerous to be the world’s favourite. 4. Discontent
arising from disrespect, savours too much of pride; an humble Christian hath a
lower opinion of himself than others can have of him. He that is taken up about
the thoughts of his sins, and how he hath provoked God, cries out, as Agur, “I
am more brutish than any man,” (Pr.
30. 2) and therefore is contented, though he be set among “the dogs
of my flock.” (Job
30. 1) Though he be low in the thoughts of others, yet he is thankful
that he is not laid in “the lowest hell.” (Ps.
86. 13) A proud man sets an high value upon himself; and is angry
with others, because they will not come up to his price: take heed of pride! O
had others a window to look into their breast, as Crates once expressed it, or
did thy heart stand where thy face doth, thou wouldst wonder to have so much
apology is, I meet with very great sufferings for the truth.
Your sufferings are not so great as your sins: put these two in the balance, and
see which weighs heaviest; where sin lies heavy, sufferings lie light. A carnal
spirit makes more of his sufferings, and less of his sins; he looks upon one at
the great end of the perspective, but upon the other at the little end of the
perspective.The carnal heart cries out, take away the frogs: but a gracious
heart cries out, “take away the iniquity.” (2
Sa. 24. 10) The one saith, never any one suffered as I have done; but
the other saith, never one sinned as I have done. (Mi.
7. 7) 2. Are thou under sufferings: thou hast an opportunity to show
the valour and constancy of thy mind. Some of God’s saints would have accounted
it a great favour to have been honoured with martyrdom. One said, “I am in
prison till I be in prison”. Thou countest that a trouble, which others would
have worn as an ensign of their glory. 3. Even those who have gone only upon
moral principles, have shown much constancy and contentment in their sufferings.
Curtius, being bravely mounted and in armour, threw himself into a great gulf,
that the city of Rome might, according to the oracle, be delivered from the
pestilence; and we, having a divine oracle, “that they who kill the body cannot
hurt the soul,” shall we not with much constancy and patience devote ourselves
to injuries for religion, and rather suffer for the truth than the truth suffer
for us? The Decii among the Romans, vowed themselves to death, that their
legions and soldiers might be crowned with the honour of the victory. O what
should we be content to suffer, to make the truth victorious! Regulus having
sworn that he would return to Carthage, though he knew there was a furnace
heating for him there, yet not daring to infringe his oath, he did adventure to
go; we then who are Christians, having made a vow to Christ in baptism, and so
often renewed in the blessed sacrament, should with much contentation rather
choose to suffer, than violate our sacred oath. Thus the blessed martyrs, with
what courage and cheerfulness did they yield up their souls to God? and when the
fire was set to their bodies, yet their spirits were not at all fired with
passion or discontent. Though others hurt the body, let them not the mind
through discontent; show by your heroic courage, that you are above those
troubles which you cannot be without.
apology is, the prosperity of the wicked. I confess it is so often, that
the evil enjoy all the good, and the good endure all the evil, that David,
though a good man, stumbled at this, and had like to have fallen. (Ps.
contented; for remember, 1. These are not the only things, nor the best things;
they are mercies without the pale; these are but acorns with which God feeds
swine; ye who are believers have more choice fruit, the olive, the pomegranate,
the fruit which grows on the true vine Jesus Christ; others have the fat of the
earth, you have the dew of heaven; they have a south-land, you have those
springs of living water which are clarified with Christ’s blood, and
indulcerated with his love. 2. To see the wicked flourish is matter rather of
pity than envy; it is all the heaven they must have; “woe to you that are rich,
for ye have received your consolation.” (Lu.
6. 24) Hence it was that David made it his solemn prayer, “deliver me
from the wicked, from men of the world, which have their portion in this life,
and whose belly thou fillest with thy hid treasure. (Ps.
17. 15) The word (methinks) are David’s litany; from men of the
world, which have their portion in this life, “good Lord, deliver me.” When the
wicked have eaten of their dainty dishes, there comes in a sad reckoning which
will spoil all. The world is first musical and then tragical; if you would have
a man fry and blaze in hell, let him have enough of the fat of the earth. O
remember, for ever sand of mercy that runs out of the wicked, God puts a drop of
wrath into his vial! Therefore as that soldier said to his fellow, “do you envy
my grapes? they cost me dear, I must die for them;” so I say, do you envy the
wicked? alas their prosperity is like Haman’s banquet before execution. If a man
were to be hanged, would one envy to see him walk to the gallows through
pleasant fields and fine galleries, or to see him go up the ladder in clothes of
gold? The wicked may flourish in their bravery a while; but, when they flourish
as the grass, “it is, that they shall be destroyed for ever; (Ps.
92. 7) the proud grass shall be mown down. Whatever a sinner enjoys,
he hath a curse with it, (Mal.
2. 2) and shall we envy? What if poisoned bread be given the dogs?
The long furrows in the backs of the godly have a seed of blessing in them, when
the table of the wicked becomes a snare, and their honour their halter.
apology that discontent makes for itself, is the evils of the times. The
times are full of heresy and impiety, and this is that which troubles me. This
apology consists of two branches, to which I shall answer in specie; and,
Branch 1. The
times are full of heresy. This is indeed sad; when the devil cannot by
violence destroy the church, he endeavours to poison it, when he cannot with
Samson’s foxtails set the corn on fire, then he sows tares; as he labours to
destroy the peace of the church by vision, so the truth of it by error; we may
cry out, we live in times wherein there is a sluice open to all novel opinions,
and every man’s opinion is his Bible. Well; this may make us mourn, but let us
not murmur through discontent: consider, 1. Error makes a discovery of men.
Bad men; error discovers such as are tainted and corrupt. When the leprosy brake
forth in the forehead, then was the leper discovered. Error is a spiritual
bastard; the devil is the father, and pride the mother; you never knew an
erroneous man but he was a proud man. Now, it is good that such men should be
laid open, to the intent, first, that God’s righteous jugdment upon them may be
adored; secondly, that others, who are free, be not infected. If a man have the
plague, it is well it breaks forth; for my part, I would avoid an heretic, as I
would avoid the devil, for he is sent on his errand. I appeal unto you; if there
were a tavern in this city, where under a pretence of selling wine, many
hogsheads of poison were to be sold, were it not well that others should know of
it, that they might not buy? It is good that those that have poisoned opinions
should be known, that the people of God may not come near either the scent or
the taste of that poison. Error is a touch-stone to discover good men: it tries
the gold: “there must be heresies, that they which are approved, may be made
Cor. 11. 19) Thus our love to Christ, and zeal for truth doth appear.
God shows who are the living fish; such as swim against the stream: who are the
sound sheep; such as feed in the green pastures of the ordinances: who are the
doves; such as live in the best air, where the spirit breathes: God sets a
garland of honour upon these, ” these are they which came out of great
7. 14) so these are they that have opposed the errors of the times,
these are they that have preserved the virginity of their conscience, who have
kept their jugdment sound and their heart soft. God will have a trophy of honour
set upon some of his saints, they shall be renowned for their sincerity, being
like the cypress, which keeps its greenness and freshness in the winter-season.
2. Be not sinfully discontented, for God can make the errors of the church
advantageous to truth. Thus the truths of God have come to be more beaten
out and confirmed; as it is in the law, one may lay a false title to a piece of
land, the true title hath by this means been the more searched into and
ratified; some had never so studied to defend the truth by Scripture, if others
had not endeavoured to overthrow it by sophistry; all the mists and fogs of
error that have risen out of the bottomless pit, have made the glorious Sun of
truth to shine so much the brighter. Had not Arius and Sabellius broached their
damnable error, the truth of those questions about the blessed Trinity had never
been so discussed and defended by Athanasius, Augustine, and others; had not the
devil brought in so much of his princely darkness, the champions for truth had
never run so fast to Scripture to light their lamps. So that God with a wheel
within a wheel, over-rules these things wisely, and turns them to the best.
Truth is a heavenly plant, that settles by shaking. 3. God raiseth the price
of his truth the more; the very shreds and filings of truth are venerable.
When there is much counterfeit metal abroad, we prize the true gold the more;
pure wine of truth is never more precious, than when unsound doctrines are
broached and vented. 4. Error makes us more thankful to God for the jewel of
truth. When you see another infected with the plague, how thankful are you that
God hath freed you from the infection? When we see others have the leprosy in
the head, how thankful are we to God that he hath not given us over to believe a
lie and so be damned? It is a good use that may be made even of the error of the
times when it makes us more humble and thankful, adoring the free grace of God,
who hath kept us from drinking of that deadly poison.
Branch 2. The
second branch of the apology that discontent makes, is the impiety of the
times; I live and converse among the profane: “O that I had wings like a dove,
for then would I fly away and be at rest.” (Ps.
It is indeed
sad, to be mixed with the wicked. David beheld “transgressors and was grieved:”
and Lot (who was a bright star in a dark night) was vexed, or, as the word in
the original may bear, wearied out with the unclean conversation of the wicked;
he made the sins of Sodom spears to pierce his own soul. We ought, if there be
any spark of divine love in us, to be very sensible of the sins of others, and
to have our hearts bleed for them; yet let us not break forth into mourning and
discontent, knowing that God in his providence hath permitted it, and surely not
without some reasons; for, 1st. The Lord makes the wicked an hedge to
defend the godly; the wise God often makes those who are wicked and peacable, a
means to safeguard his people from those who are wicked and cruel. The king of
Babylon kept Jeremiah, and gave special order for his looking to, that he did
want nothing. (Jer.
39. 11,12) God sometimes makes brazen sinners to be brazen walls to
defend his people. 2d. God doth but interline and mingle the wicked with
the godly, that the godly may be a means to save the wicked; such is the beauty
of holiness that it hath a magnetical force in it to allure and draw even the
wicked. Sometimes God makes a believing husband a means to convert an
unbelieving wife, and e contra: “what knowest thou, O wife, whether thou
shalt save thy husband? or how knowest thou, O man, whether thou shalt save thy
Cor. 7. 16) The godly living among the wicked, by their prudent
advice and pious example, have won them to the embracing of religion; if there
were not some godly among the wicked, how in a probable way, without a miracle,
can we imagine that the wicked should be converted? those who are now shining
saints in heaven, sometimes served diverse lusts. (Ti.
3. 3) Paul once a persecutor; Augustine once a manichee; Luther once
a monk; but by the severe and holy carriage of the godly, were converted to the
apology that discontent makes, is, lowness of parts and gifts; I cannot
(saith the Christian) discourse with that fluency, nor pray with that elegancy,
1. Grace is
beyond gifts; thou comparest thy grace with another’s gifts, there is a vast
difference; grace without gifts is infinitely better than gifts without grace.
In religion, the vitals are best; gifts are a more extrinsical and common work
of the Spirit, which is incident to reprobates; grace is a more distinguishing
work, and is a jewel hung only upon the elect. Hast thou the seed of God, the
holy anointing? be content. (1.) Thou sayest, Thou canst not discourse with that
fluency as others. Experiments in religion are beyond notions, and impressions
beyond expressions. Judas (no doubt) could make a learned discourse on Christ,
but well-fared the woman in the gospel that felt virtue coming out of him, (Lu.
8. 47) a sanctified heart is better than a silver tongue. There is as
much difference between gifts and graces, as between a tulip painted on the
wall, and one growing in the garden. (2.) Thou sayest, thou canst not pray with
that elegancy as others. Prayer is a matter more of the heart than the head. In
prayer it is not so much fluency that prevails, as fervency, (Ja.
5. 16) nor is God so much taken with the elegancy of speech, as the
effficacy of the Spirit. Humulity is better than volubility; here the mourner is
the orator; sighs and groans are the best rhetoric.
2. Be not
discontented, for God doth usually proportion a man’s parts to the place to
which he calls him; some are set in an higher sphere and function, their place
requires more parts and abilities; but the most inferior member is useful in its
place, and shall have a power delegated for the discharge of its peculiar
apology is, the troubles of the church. Alas, my disquiet and discontent
is not so much for myself, as the public! The church of God suffers.
I confess it is
sad and we ought for this “to hang our harps upon the willows.” He is a wooden
leg in Christ’s body, that is not sensible of the state of the body. As a
Christian must not be proud flesh, so neither dead flesh. When the church of God
suffers, he must sympathise; Jeremiah wept for the virgin daughter of Sion. We
must feel our brethren’s hard cords through our soft beds. In music, if one
string be touched, all the rest sound: when God strikes upon our brethren, our
“bowels must sound like an harp”. Be sensible, but give not way to discontent.
For consider, 1. God sits at the stern of his church. (Ps.
46. 5) Sometimes it is a ship tossed upon the waves, “afflicted and
54. 11) but cannot God bring this ship to haven, though it meet with
a storm upon the sea? This ship in the gospel was tossed because sin was in it;
but it was not overwhelmed, because Christ was in it. Christ is in the ship of
this church, fear not sinking; the church’s anchor is cast in heaven. Do not we
think God loves his church, and takes as much care of it as we can? The names of
the twelve tribes were on Aaron’s breast, signifying how near to God’s heart his
people are; they are his portion, (De.
27. 9) and shall that be lost? his glory, (Is.
46. 13) and shall that be finally eclipsed? No certainly. God can
deliver his church, not only from, but by opposition; the church’s pangs shall
help forward her deliverance. 2. God hath always propagated religion by
sufferings. The foundation of the church hath been laid in blood, and these
sanguine showers have ever made it more fruitful. Cain put the knife to Abel’s
throat, and ever since the church’s veins had bled: but she is like the vine,
which by bleeding grows, and like the palm-tree, which the more weight is laid
upon it, the higher it riseth. The holiness and patience of the saints, under
their persecutions, hath much added both to the growth of religion, and the
crown. Basil and Tertullian observe of the primitive martyrs, that divers of the
heathens seeing their zeal and constancy turned Christians: religion is that
Phoenix which hath always revived and flourished in the ashes of holy men.
Isaiah sawn asunder, Peter crucified at Rome with his head downwards, Cyprian,
bishop of Carthage, and Polycarp of Smyrna, both martyred for religion; yet
evermore the truth hath been sealed by blood, and gloriously dispersed;
whereupon Julian did forbear to persecute, not out of pity, but envy, because
the church grew so fast, and multiplied, as Nazianzen well observes.
apology that discontent makes for itself, is this, it is not my trouble that
troubles me, but it is my sins that do disquiet and discontent me.
Be sure it be
so; do not prevaricate with God and thy own soul; in true mourning for sin when
the present suffering is removed, yet the sorrow is not removed. But suppose the
apology be real, that sin is the ground of your discontent; yet I answer, a
man’s disquiet about sin may be beyond its bounds, in these three cases. 1. When
it is disheartening, that is, when it sets up sin above mercy. If Israel
had only pored upon their sting, and not looked up to the brazen serpent, they
had never been healed. That sorrow for sin which drives us away from God, is not
without sin, for there is more despair in it than remorse; the soul hath so many
tears in its eyes, that it cannot see Christ. Sorrow, as sorrow, doth not save,
that were to make Christ of our tears, but is useful, as it is preparatory in
the soul, making sin vile, and Christ precious. O look up to the brazen serpent,
the Lord Jesus! A sight of his blood will revive, the plaster of his merits is
broader than our sore. It is Satan’s policy, either to keep us from seeing our
sins, or, if we will needs see them that we may be swallowed up of sorrow; (2
Cor. 2. 7) either he would stupify us, or affright us; either keep
the glass of the law from our eyes, or else pencil out our sins in such crimson
colours, that we may sink in the quicksands of despair. 2. When sorrow is
indisposing, it untunes the heart for prayer, meditation, holy conference;
it cloisters up the soul. This is not sorrow but rather sullenness, and doth
render a man not so much penitential as cynical. 3. When it is out of season.
God made us rejoice, and we hang up our harps upon the willows; he bids us trust
and we cast ourselves down, and are brought even to the margin of despair. If
Satan cannot keep us from mourning, he will be sure to put us upon it when it is
least in season. When God calls us in a special manner to be thankful for mercy,
and put on our white robes, Satan will be putting us into mourning, and instead
of a garment of praise, clothe us with a spirit of heaviness; so God loseth the
acknowledgement of mercy, and we the comfort. If thy sorrow hath turned and
fitted thee for Christ, if it hath raised in thee high prizings of him, strong
hungerings after him, sweet delight in him; this is as much as God requires, and
a Christian doth but sin to vex and torture himself further upon the rack of his
And thus I hope
I have answered the most material objections and apologies which this sin of
discontent doth make for itself. I see no reason why a Christian should be
discontented, unless for his discontent. Let me, in the next place, propound
something which may be both as a loadstone and a whet-stone to contentation.
Divine Motives to
SECT. 1. The first
argument to contentation.
the excellency of it. Contentment is a flower that doth not grow in every
garden; it teacheth a man how in the midst of want to abound. You would think it
were excellent if I could prescribe a receipt or antidote against poverty: but
behold here is that which is more excellent, for a man to want, and yet have
enough, this alone contentment of spirit doth bring. Contentation is a remedy
against all our trouble, an alleviation to all our burdens, it is the cure of
care. Contentation, though it be not properly a grace (it is rather a
disposition of mind,) yet in it there is a happy temperature and mixture of all
the graces: it is a most precious compound, which is made up of faith, patience,
meekness, humility, &c. which are the ingredients put into it. Now there are in
species these seven rare excellencies in contentment.
A contented Christian carries heaven about him: for, what is heaven, but
that sweet repose and full contentment that the soul shall have in God? In
contentment there are the first fruits of heaven. There are two things in a
contented spirit, which make it like heaven. (1.) God is there; something of God
is to be seen in that heart. A discontented Christian is like a rough
tempestuous sea; when the water is rough you can see nothing there; but when it
is smooth and serene, then you may behold your face in the water. (Pr.
27. 19) When the heart rageth through discontent, it is like a rough
sea, you can see nothing there, unless passion and murmuring; there is nothing
of God, nothing of heaven in that heart: but by virtue of contentment, it is
like the sea when it is smooth and calm, there is a face shining there; you may
see something of Christ in that heart, a representation of all the graces. (2.)
Rest is there. O what a Sabbath is kept in a contented heart! What an heaven! A
contented Christian like Noah in the ark; though the ark were tossed with waves,
Noah could sit and sing in the ark. The soul that is gotten into the ark of
contentment, sits quiet, and sails above all the waves of trouble; he can sing
in this spiritual ark; the wheels of the chariot move, but the axle-tree stirs
not; the circumference of the heavens is carried about the earth, but the earth
moves not out of its centre. When we meet with motion and change in the
creatures round about us, a contented spirit is not stirred nor moved out of its
centre. The sails of a mill move with the wind, but the mill itself stands
still, an emblem of contentment; when our outward estate moves with the wind of
providence, yet the heart is settled through holy contentment; and when others
are like quicksilver, shaking and trembling through disquiet, the contented
spirit can say, as David, “O God my heart is fixed:” (Ps.
57. 7) what is this but a piece of heaven?
Whatever is defective in the creature is made up in contentment. A
Christian may want the comforts that others have, the land, and possessions; but
God hath instilled into his heart that contentment which is far better: in this
sense that is true of our Saviour, “he shall receive a hundred fold.” (Mat.
19. 29) Perhaps he that ventured all for Christ, never hath his house
or land again: aye, but God gives him a contented spirit, and this breeds such
joy in the soul, as is infinitely sweeter than all his houses and lands which he
left for Christ. It was sad with David in regard of his outward comforts, he
being driven as some think from his kingdom; yet in regard of that sweet
contentment he found in God, he had more comfort than men use to have in the
time of harvest and vintage. (Ps.
4. 7) One man hath house and lands to live upon, another hath
nothing, only a small trade; yet even that brings in a livelihood. A Christian
may have little in the world, but he drives the trade of contentment; and so he
knows as well how to want, as to abound. O the rare art, or rather miracle of
contentment! Wicked men are often disquieted in the enjoyment of all things; the
contented Christian is well in the want of all things. But how comes a Christian
to be contented in the deficiency of outward comforts? A Christian finds
contentment distilled out of the breasts of the promises. He is poor in purse,
but rich in promise. There is one promise that brings much sweet contentment
into the soul: “they that seek the Lord shall not want any good thing.” (Ps.
34. 10) If the thing we desire be good for us, we shall have it; if
it be not good, then the not having is good for us. The resting satisfied with
the promise gives contentment.
Contentment makes a man in tune to serve God; it oils the wheels of the
soul and makes it more agile and nimble; it composeth the heart, and makes it
fit for prayer, meditation, &c. How can he that is in a passion of grief, or
discontent, “attend upon the Lord without distraction?” Contentment doth prepare
and tune the heart. First you prepare the viol, and wind up the strings, ere you
play a fit of music: when a Christian’s heart is wound up to this heavenly frame
of contentment, then it is fit for duty. A discontented Christian is like Saul,
when the evil spirit came upon him: O what jarrings and discords doth he make in
prayer! When an army is put into a disorder, then it is not fit for battle; when
the thoughts are scattered and distracted about the cares of this life, a man is
not fit for devotion. Discontent takes the heart wholly of from God, and fixeth
it upon the present trouble, so that a man’s mind is not upon his prayer, but
upon his cross. Discontent doth disjoint the soul; and it is impossible now that
a Christian should go so steadily and cheerfully in God’s service. O how lame is
his devotion! The discontented person gives God but a half-duty, and his
religion is nothing but bodily exercise, it wants a soul to animate it. David
would not offer that to God that cost him nothing.” (2
Sa. 24. 24) Where there is too much worldly care, there is too little
spiritual cost in a duty. The discontented person doth his duties by halves; he
is just like Ephraim, ” a cake not turned;” (Ho.
7. 8) he is a cake baked on one side; he gives God the outside but
not the spiritual part; his heart is not in duty; he is baked on one side, but
the other side dough; and what profit is there of such raw indigested services?
He that gives God only the skin of worship, what can he expect more than the
shell of comfort? Contentation brings the heart into frame, and then only do we
give God the flower and spirits of a duty, when the soul is composed. Now a
Christian’s heart is intent and serious. There are some duties which we cannot
perform as we ought without contentment: as, (1.) to rejoice in God. How can he
rejoice that is discontented? he is fitter for repining, than rejoicing. (2.) To
be thankful for mercy. Can a discontented person be thankful? he can be fretful,
not thankful. (3.) To justify God in his proceedings. How can he do this who is
discontented with his condition? he will sooner censure God’s wisdom, than clear
his justice. O then, how excellent is contentation, which doth prepare, and as
it were, string the heart for duty? Indeed contentment doth not only make our
duties light and agile, but acceptable. It is this that puts beauty and worth
into them; for contentation settles the soul. Now, as it is with milk, when it
is always stirring, you can make nothing of it, but let it settle a while, and
then it turns to cream: when the heart is overmuch stirred with disquiet and
discontent, you can make nothing of those duties. How thin, how fleeting and
jejune are they! but when the heart is once settled by holy contentment, now
there is some worth in our duties, now they turn to cream.
Contentment is the spiritual arch, or pillar of the soul; it fits a man to bear
burdens; he whose heart is ready to sink under the least sin, by virtue of
this hath a spirit invincible under sufferings. A contented Christian is like
the camomile, the more it is trodden upon the more it grows: as physic works
disease out of the body, so doth contentment work trouble out of the heart. Thus
it argues, “if I am under reproach, God can vindicate me; if I am in want, God
can relieve me.” “Ye shall not see wind, neither shall you see rain, yet the
valley shall be filled with water:” (2
Ki. 3. 17) thus holy contentment keeps the heart from fainting. In
the autumn, when the fruit and leaves are blown off, still there is sap in the
root: when there is an autumn upon our external felicity, the leaves of our
estate drop off, still there is the sap of contentment in the heart: a Christian
hath life inwardly, when his outward comforts do not blossom. The contented
heart is never out of heart. Contentation is a golden shield, that doth beat
back discouragements. Humility is like the lead to the net which keeps the soul
down when it is rising through passion; and contentment is like the cork which
keeps the heart up when it is sinking through discouragements. Contentment is
the great under-prop; it is like the beam which bears whatever weight is laid
upon it; nay, it is like a rock that breaks the waves. It is strange to observe
the same affliction lying upon two men, how differently they carry themselves
under it. The contented Christian is like Samson, that carried away the gates of
the city upon his back; he can go away with his cross cheerfully, and makes
nothing of it: the other is like Issachar, couching down under his burden: (Ge.
49. 14) the reason is, the one is discontent, and that breeds
fainting. Discontent swells the grief, and grief breaks the heart. When this
sacred sinew of contentment begins to shrink, we go limping under our
afflictions; we know not what burdens God may exercise us with; let us therefore
preserve contentment; as is our contentment, such will be our courage. David
with his five stones and his sling defied Goliath, and overcame him. Get but
contentment into the sling of your heart; and with this sacred stone you may
both defy the world and conquer it; you may break those afflictions, which else
would break you.
Contentment prevents many sins and temptations.
It prevents many sins. Where there wants contentment, there wants no sin;
discontentedness with our condition is a sin that doth not go along, but is like
the first link of the chain which draws all the other links along with it. In
particular, there are two sins which contentation prevents: (1.) Impatience.
Discontent and impatience are twins: “this evil is of the Lord, why should I
wait on the Lord any longer?” (2
Ki. 6. 33) as if God were so tied, that he must give us the mercy
just when we desire it. Impatience is no small sin; as will appear if you
consider whence it ariseth. It is for want of faith. Faith gives a right notion
of God; it is an intelligent grace; it believes that God’s wisdom tempers, and
his love sweetens all ingredients; this works patience: “shall I not drink the
cup which my Father hath given me?” Impatience is the daughter of infidelity. If
a patient have an ill opinion of the physician, and conceits that he comes to
poison him, he will take none of his receipts: when we have a prejudice against
God, and conceit that he comes to kill us, and undo us, then we storm and cry
out, like a foolish man, (it is Chrysostom’s similie) that cries out “away with
the plaster!” though it be in order to a cure; is it not better that the plaster
smart a little, than the wound fester and rankle? Impatience is for want of love
of God. We will bear his reproofs whom we love not only patiently, but
thankfully; “love thinketh no evil;” (1
Cor. 13. 5) it puts the fairest, and most candid gloss upon the
actions of a friend; “love covers evil.” If it were possible for God in the
least manner to err, which were blasphemy to think, love would cover that error;
love takes everything in the best sense, it makes us bear any stroke “it
endureth all things.” (1
Cor. 13. 7) Had we love to God, we should have patience. Impatience
is for want of humility. An impatient man was never humbled under the burden of
sin; he that studies his sins, the numberless number of them, how they are
twisted together, and sadly accented; is patient and saith, “I will bear the
indignation of the Lord, because I have sinned against him.” The greater noise
drowns the lesser; when the sea roars the rivers are still; he that lets his
thoughts expatiate about sin, is both silent and amazed, he wonders it is no
worse with him. How great then is this sin of impatience! And how excellent is
contentation, which is a counterpoise against this sin? The contented Christian
believing that God doth all in love, is patient, and hath not one word to say,
unless to justify God. That is the sin that contentation prevents. (2.) It
prevents murmuring, a sin which is a degree higher than the other; murmuring is
quarrelling with God, and enveighing against him; “they spake against God.” (Nu.
21. 5) The murmurer saith interpretatively, that God hath not dealt
well with him, and he hath deserved better from him. The murmurer chargeth God
with folly: this is the language, or rather blasphemy of a murmuring spirit; God
might have been a wiser and better God. The murmurer is a mutineer. The
Israelites are called in the same text murmurers and rebels: (Nu.
17. 10) and is not rebellion as the sin of witchcraft? Thou that art
a murmurer art in the account of God as a witch, a sorcerer, as one that deals
with the devil: this is a sin of the first magnitude. Murmuring oft ends in
cursing: Micah’s mother fell to cursing when the talents of silver were taken
17. 2) so doth the murmurer when a part of his estate is taken away.
Our murmuring is the devil’s music; this is that sin which God cannot bear: “how
long shall I bear with this evil congregation which murmur against me?” (Nu.
14. 7) It is a sin which whets the sword against a people: it is a
land-destroying sin; “neither murmur ye as some of them also murmured, and were
destroyed of the destroyer.” (1
Cor. 10. 10) It is a ripening sin this; without mercy it will hasten
England’s funerals. O then how excellent is contentation, which prevents this
sin! To be contented, and yet murmur is a solecism: a contented Christian doth
acquiesce in his present condition, and doth not murmur, but admire. Herein
appears the excellency of contentation; it is a spiritual antidote against sin.
Contentment prevents many temptations; discontent is a devil that is always
tempting. 1st. It puts a man upon indirect means. He that is poor and
discontented, will attempt any thing; he will go to the devil for riches; he
that is proud and discontented, will hang himself, as Ahithophel did when his
counsel was rejected. Satan takes great advantage of discontent; he loves to
fish in these troubled waters. Discontent doth both eclipse reason and weaken
faith; and it is Satan’s policy; he doth usually break over the hedge where it
is weakest; discontent makes a breach in the soul, and usually at this breach
the devil enters by a temptation, and storms the soul. How easily can the devil
by his logic dispute a discontented Christian into sin? He forms such a
syllogism as this, ” he that is in want must study self-preservation: but you
are now in want; therefore you ought to study self-preservation.” Hereupon to
make good his conclusion, he tempts to the forbidden fruit, not distinguishing
between what is needful, and what is lawful. “What?” saith he, “dost thou want a
livelihood? never be such a fool as starve; take the rising side at a venture,
be it good or bad; “eat the bread of deceit, drink the wine of violence.” Thus
you see how the discontented man is a prey to that sad tentation, to steal and
take God’s name in vain. Contentment is a shield against tentation; for he that
is contented, knows as well how to want as to abound. He will not sin to get a
living; though the bill of fare grows short, he is content. He lives as the
birds of the air upon God’s providence, and doubts not but he shall have enough
to pay for his passage to heaven. 2d. Discontent tempts a man to atheism
and apostacy. Sure there is no God to take care of things here below; would he
suffer them to be in want who “have walked mournfully before the Lord of hosts?”
saith discontent: throw off Christ’s livery, desist from the religion! Thus
Job’s wife being discontented with her condition, saith to her husband, “dost
thou still retain thy integrity?” As if she had said, “dost thou not see, Job,
what is become of all thy religion? thou fearest God and eschewest evil, and
what are thou the better? see how God turns his hand against thee; he hath
smitten thee in thy body, estate, relations, and dost thou still retain thy
integrity? What! still devout? still weep and pray for him? thou fool, cast off
religion, turn atheist!” Here was a sore tentation that the devil did hand over
to Job by his discontented wife; only his grace, as a golden shield, did ward
off the blow from his heart: ” thou speakest as one of the foolish women”. “What
profit is it,” saith the discontented person, “to serve the Almighty? those that
never trouble themselves about religion, are the prosperous men, and I in the
mean while suffer want: as good give over driving the trade of religion, if this
be all my reward. This is a sore tentation, and oft it prevails; atheism is the
fruit that grows out of the blossom of discontent. O then, behold the excellency
of contentment! It doth repel this tentation. “If God be mine,” saith the
contented spirit, “it is enough; though I have no lands or tenements, his smile
makes heaven; his loves are better than wine; better is the gleaning of Ephraim
than the vintage of Abiezar; (Ju.
8. 2) I have little in hand, but much in hope; my livelihood is
short, but this is his promise, even eternal life; I am persecuted by malice,
but better is persecuted godliness, than prosperous wickedness.” Thus divine
contentment is a spiritual antidote both against sin and tentation.
Contentment sweetens every condition. Christ turned the water into wine;
so contentment turns the waters of Marah into spiritual wine. Have I but little?
yet it is more than I can deserve or challenge. This modicum is in mercy; it is
the fruit of Christ’s blood, it is the legacy of free grace: a small present
sent from a king is highly valued. This little I have is with a good conscience;
it is not stolen waters; guilt hath not muddied or poisoned it; it runs pure.
This little is a pledge of more: this bit of bread is an earnest of that bread
which I shall eat in the kingdom of God; this little water in the cruise is an
earnest of that heavenly nectar which shall be distilled from the true vine. Do
I meet with some crosses? my comfort is, if they be heavy, I have not far to go;
I shall but carry my cross to Golgotha and there I shall leave it; my cross is
light in regard of the weight of glory. Hath God taken away my comforts from me?
it is well, the Comforter still abides. Thus contentment, as a honey-comb, drops
sweetness into every condition. Discontent is a leaven that sours every comfort;
it puts aloes and wormwood upon the breast of the creature; it lessens every
mercy, it trebles every cross; but the contented spirit sucks sweetness from
every flower of providence; it can make a treacle of poison. Contentation is
full of consolation.
Contentment hath this excellency, it is the best commentator upon providence;
it makes a fair interpretation of all God’s dealings. Let the providence of
God be never so dark or bloody, contentment doth construe them ever in the best
sense. I may say of it, as the apostle of charity, “it thinketh no evil.” (1
Cor. 13. 5) Sickness (saith contentment) is God’s furnace to refine
his gold, and make it sparkle the more: the prison is an oratory, or house of
prayer. What if God melts away the creature from it? he saw perhaps my heart
grew so much in love with it; had I been long in that fat pasture I should have
surfeited, and the better my estate had been, the worse my soul would have been.
God is wise; he hath done this either to prevent some sin or to exercise some
grace. What a blessed frame of heart is this! A contented Christian is an
advocate for God against unbelief and impatience: whereas discontent takes every
thing from God in the worst sense; it doth implead and censure God: this evil I
feel is but a symptom of greater evil: God is about to undo me: the Lord hath
brought us hither into the wilderness to slay us. The contented soul takes all
well; and when his condition is ever so bad, he can say, “truly God is good.” (Ps.
Sect. II. The second
argument to contentment.
hath that which may make him content.
1. Hath not God given thee Christ? in him there
are “unsearchable riches;” (Ep.
3. 8) he is such a golden mine of wisdom and grace, that all the
saints and angels can never dig to the bottom. As Seneca said to his friend
Polybius, never complain of thy hard fortune as long as CÊsar is thy friend: so
I say to a believer, never complain as long as Christ is thy friend; he is an
enriching pearl, a sparkling diamond; the infinite lustre of his merits makes us
shine in God’s eyes. (Ep.
1. 7) In him there is both fulness and sweetness; he is unspeakably
good. Screw up your thoughts to the highest pinnacle, stretch them to the utmost
period, let them expatiate to their full latitude and extent; yet they fall
infinitely short of these ineffable and inexhaustable treasures which are locked
up in Jesus Christ; and is not here enough to give the soul content? A Christian
that wants necessaries, yet having Christ, he hath the “one thing needful.” 2.
Thy soul is exercised and enamelled with the graces of the Spirit, and is not
here enough to give contentment? Grace is of a divine birth, it is the new
plantation, it is the flower of the heavenly paradise, it is the embroidery of
the Spirit, it is the seed of God, (1
Jno. 3. 9) it is the sacred unction, (Jno.
2. 20) it is Christ’s portraiture in the soul; it is the very
foundation on which superstructure of glory is laid. O, of what infinite value
is grace! what a jewel is faith! Well may it be called “precious faith.” (2
Pe. 1. 1) What is love, but a divine sparkle in the soul? A soul
beautified with grace, is like a room richly hung with arras, or tapestry, or
the firmament bespangled with glittering stars. These are the “true riches,” (Lu.
16. 11) which cannot stand with reprobation: and is not here enough
to give the soul contentment? what are all other things but like wings of a
butterfly, curiously painted? but they defile our fingers. Earthly riches, saith
Augustine, are full of poverty; so indeed they are, for, they cannot enrich the
soul: oftentimes under silken apparel there is a thread-bare soul. They are
corruptible: “riches are not for ever,” as the wise man saith. (Pr.
27. 24) Heaven is a place where gold and silver will not go. A
believer is rich towards God: (Lu.
12. 21) why then are thou discontented? hath not God given thee that
which is better than the world? What if he doth not give thee the box, if he
gives thee the jewel? what if he denies thee farthings, if he pays thee in a
better coin? he gives thee gold; spiritual mercies. What if the water in the
bottle be spent? thou hast enough in the fountain. What need he complain of the
world’s emptiness, that hath God’s fulness? The Lord is my portion, saith David,
16. 5) then let the lines fall where they will, in a sick-bed or
prison, I will say, “the lines are fallen unto me in pleasant places, yea, I
have a goodly heritage.” Are thou not heir to all the promises? Hast thou not a
reversion of heaven? When thou lettest go thy hold of natural life, art thou not
sure of eternal life? Hath not God given thee the earnest and first fruits of
glory? Is not here enough to work the heart to contentment?
Sect III. The third
for else we confute our own prayers.
We pray, “thy will be done:” it is the will of God that we should be in such a
condition; he hath decreed it, and he sees it best for us; why then do we
murmur, and are discontent at that which we pray for? either we are not in good
earnest in our prayer, which argues hypocrisy; or we contradict ourselves which
Sect IV. The fourth
argument to contentment is,
God hath his end, and Satan misseth of his end.
1. God hath his end. God’s end in all his
providences is to bring the heart to submit and be content; and indeed this
pleaseth God much, he loves to see his children satisfied with that portion he
doth carve and allot them; it contents him to see us contented; therefore let us
acquiesce in God’s providence, now God hath his end. 2. Satan misseth of his
end. The end why the devil, though by God’s permission, did smite Job in his
body and estate, was to perplex his mind; he did vex his body on purpose that he
might disquiet his spirit. He hoped to bring Job into a fit of discontent; and
then that he would in a passion break forth against God: but Job being so
well-contented with his condition as that he falls to blessing of God, he did
disappoint Satan of his hope. “The devil will cast some of you into prison; (Re.
2. 10) why doth the devil throw us into prison? It is not so much the
hurting our body, as the molesting our mind, that he aims at; he would imprison
our contentment, and disturb the regular motion of our souls, this is his
design. It is not so much the putting us into a prison, as the putting us into a
passion, that he attempts; but by holy contentation, Satan loseth his prey, he
misseth of his end. The devil hath often deceived us; the best way to deceive
him, is by contentation in the midst of temptation; our contentment will
discontent Satan. O, let us not gratify our enemy! discontent is the devil’s
delight; now it is as he would have it, he loves to warm himself at the fire of
our passions. Repentance is the joy of the angels, and discontent is the joy of
the devils; as the devil danceth at discord, so he sings at discontent. The fire
of our passions makes the devil a bonfire; it is a kind of heaven to him to see
us torturing ourselves with our own troubles; but by holy contentment, we
frustrate him of his purpose, and do as it were put him out of countenance.
Sect. V. The fifth
contentment a Christian gains a victory over himself.
For a man to be able to rule his own spirit,
this of all others is the most noble conquest. Passion denotes weakness; to be
discontented is suitable to flesh and blood; but to be in every state content,
reproached, yet content, imprisoned, yet content; this is above nature; this is
some of that holy valour and chivalry which only a divine spirit is able to
infuse. In the midst of the affronts of the world to be patient, and in the
changes of the world to have the spirit calmed, this is a conquest worthy indeed
of the garland of honour. Holy Job, divested and turned out of all, leaving his
scarlet, and embracing the dunghill, (a sad catastrophe!) yet had learned
contentment. It is said, “he fell down upon the ground and worshipped.” (Job
1. 20) One would have thought he should have fallen upon the ground
and blasphemed! no, he fell and worshipped. He adored God’s justice and
holiness. Behold the strength of grace! here was an humble submission, yet a
noble conquest; he got the victory over himself. It is no great matter for a man
to yield to his own passions, this is facile and feminine; but to content
himself in denying of himself, this is sacred.
Sect. VI. The sixth great
argument to work the heart to contentment is,
consideration that all God’s providences, how cross or bloody soever, shall do a
believer good; “and we know that all
things work together for good to them that love God.” (Ro.
8. 28) Not only all good things, but all evil things work for good;
and shall we be discontented at that which works for our good? Suppose our
troubles are twisted together, and sadly accented: what if sickness, poverty,
reproach, law-suits, &c, do unite and muster their forces against us? all shall
work for good; our maladies shall be our medicines; and shall we repine at which
shall undoubtedly do us good? “Unto the upright there ariseth light in
112. 4) Affliction may be baptized Marah; it is bitter, but physical.
Because this is so full of comfort, and may be a most excellent catholicon
against discontent, I shall a little expatiate.
It will be
inquired how the evils of affliction work for good? Several ways.
They are disciplinary; they teach us. The Psalmist having very elegantly
described the church’s trouble, (Ps.
74) prefixed this title to the psalm, Maschil, which signifies
a psalm giving instruction; that which seals up instruction, works for good. God
puts us sometimes under the black rod; but it is a rod of discipline; “hear ye
the rod, and who hath appointed it.” (Mi.
6. 9) God makes our adversity our university. Affliction is a
preacher; “blow the trumpet in Tekoa:” (Je.
6. 1) the trumpet was to preach to the people; “be thou instructed, O
6. 8) Sometimes God speaks to the minister to lift up his voice like
a trumpet, (Is.
58. 1) and here he speaks to the trumpet to lift up its voice like a
minister. Afflictions teach us humility. Commonly prosperous, and proud,
corrections are God’s corrosives to eat out the proud flesh. Jesus Christ is the
lily of the vallies, (Can. 2. 1)
he dwells in an humble heart: God brings us into the valley of tears, that He
may bring us into the valley of humility; “remembering my affliction and my
misery, the wormwood and the gall; my soul hath them still in remembrance, and
is humbled in me. (La.
3. 19,20) When men are grown high, God hath no better way with them,
than to brew them a cup of wormwood. Afflictions are compared to thorns, (Ho.
2. 6) God’s thorns are to prick the bladder of pride. Suppose a man
run at another with a sword to kill him; accidentally, it only lets out his
imposthume of pride; this doth him good: God’s sword is to let out the
imposthume of pride; and shall that which makes us humble, make us discontented?
Afflictions teach us repentance; “thou hast chastised me, and I was chastised: I
repented, and after I was instructed, I smote upon my thigh.” (Je.
31. 18,19) Repentance is the precious fruit that grows upon the
cross. When the fire is put under the still, the water drops from the roses;
fiery afflictions make the waters of repentance drop and distil from the eyes;
and is here any cause of discontent? Afflictions teach us to pray better, “they
poured out a prayer when Thy chastening was upon them;” (Is.
26. 16) before, they would say a prayer; now they poured out a
prayer. Jonah was asleep in the ship, but awake and at prayer in the whale’s
belly. When God puts under the fire-brands of affliction, now our hearts boil
over the more; God loves to have his children possessed with a spirit prayer.
Never did David, the sweet singer of Israel, tune his harp more melodiously,
never did he pray better, than when he was upon the waters. Thus afflictions do
in discipline; and shall we be discontent at that which is for our good?
Afflictions are probatory. (Ps.
66. 10,11) Gold is not the worse for being tried, or corn for being
fanned. Affliction is the touchstone of sincerity, it tries what metal we are
made of; affliction is God’s fan and his sieve. It is good that men be known;
some serve God for a livery; they are like the fisherman, that makes use of the
net, only to catch the fish; so they go a-fishing with the net of religion, only
to catch preferment: affliction discovers these. The Donatists went to the Goths
when the Arians prevailed: hypocrites will fail in a storm, true grace holds out
in the winter-season. That is a precious faith which, like the stars, shines
brightest in the darkest night. It is good that our graces should be brought to
trial; thus we have the comfort, and the gospel the honour, and why then be
Afflictions are expurgatory,
these evils work for our good, because they work out sin, and shall I be
discontented at this? What if I have more trouble, if I have less sin? The
brightest day hath its clouds; the purest gold its dross; the most refined soul
hath some less of corruption. The saints lose nothing in the furnace but what
they can well spare; their dross: is not this for our good? Why then should we
murmur? “I am come to send fire on the earth.” (Lu.
12. 49) Tertullian understands it of the fire of affliction. God
makes this like the fire of the three children, which burned only their bonds
and set them at liberty in the furnace, so the fire of affliction serves to burn
the bonds of iniquity: “by this therefore shall the iniquity of Jacob be purged:
and this is all the fruit, to take away his sin.” (Is.
27. 9) When affliction or death comes to a wicked man, it takes away
his soul; when it comes to a godly man, it only takes away his sin; is there any
cause why we should be discontented? God steeps us in the brinish waters of
affliction that he make take out our spots. God’s people are his husbandry; (1
Cor. 3. 9) the ploughing of the ground kills the weeds, and the
harrowing of the earth breaks the hard clods: God’s ploughing of us by
affliction, is to kill the weeds of sin; his harrowing of us is to break the
hard clouds of impenitency that the heart may be fitter to receive the seeds of
grace; and if this be all, why should we be discontented?
Afflictions do both exercise and increase our grace. They exercise grace;
affliction doth breathe our graces; every thing is most in its excellency when
it is most in its exercise. Our grace, though it cannot be dead, yet it may be
asleep, and hath need of awakening. What a dull thing is the fire when it is hid
in the embers, or the sun when it is masked with a cloud! A sick man is living,
but not lively; afflictions quicken and excite grace. God doth not love to see
grace in the eclipse. Now faith puts forth its purest and most noble acts in
times of affliction: God makes the fall of the leaf the spring of our graces.
What if we are more passive, if graces be more active. Afflictions do increase
grace; as the wind serves to increase and blow up the flame, so doth the windy
blasts of affliction augment and blow up our graces; grace spends not in the
furnace, but it is like the widow’s oil in the cruise, which did increase by
pouring out. The torch, when it is beaten burns brightest, so doth grace when it
is exercised by sufferings. Sharp frosts nourish the good corn, so do sharp
afflictions grace. Some plants grow better in the shade than in the sun, as the
bay and the cypress; the shade of adversity is better for some than the
sun-shine of prosperity. Naturalists observe that the colewort thrives better
when it is watered with salt water than with fresh, so do some thrive better in
the salt water of affliction; and shall we be discontented at that which makes
us grow and fructify more?
These afflictions do bring more of God’s immediate presence into the soul.
When we are most assaulted, we shall be most assisted; “I will be with him in
91. 15) It cannot be ill with that man with who God is, by his
powerful presence in supporting, and his gracious presence in sweetening the
present trial. God will be with us in trouble, not only to behold us, but to
uphold us, as he was with Daniel in the lion’s den, and the three children in
the fiery furnace. What if we have more trouble than others, if we have more of
God with us than others have? We never have sweeter smiles from God’s face than
when the world begins to look strange: thy statutes have been my song; where?
not when I was upon the throne, but “in the house of my pilgrimage.” (Ps.
119. 54) We read, the Lord was not in the wind, nor in the
earthquake, nor in the fire: (1
Ki. 19. 11) but in a metamorphical and spiritual sense, when the wind
of affliction blows upon a believer, God is in the wind; when the fire of
affliction kindles upon him, God is in the fire, to sanctify, to support, to
sweeten. If God be with us, the furnace shall be turned into a festival, the
prison into a paradise, the earthquake into a joyful dance. O why should I be
discontented, when I have more of God’s company!
These evils of affliction are for good, as they bring with them certificates
of God’s love, and are evidences of his special favour. Affliction is the
saint’s livery; it is a badge and cognizance of honour: that the God of glory
should look upon a worm, and take so much notice of him, as to afflict him
rather than lose him, is an high act of favour. God’s rod is a sceptre of
dignity, Job calls God’s afflicting of us, his magnifying of us. (Job
7. 17) Some men’s prosperity hath been their shame, when others
afflictions have been their crown.
These afflictions work for our good, because they work for us a far exceeding
weight of glory. (2
Cor. 4. 17) That which works for my glory in heaven, works for my
good. We do not read in Scripture that any man’s honour or riches do work for
him a weight of glory, but afflictions do; and shall a man be discontented at
that which works for his glory? The heavier the weight of affliction, the
heavier the weight of glory; not that our sufferings do merit glory, (as the
papists do wickedly gloss,) but though they are not the cause of our crown, yet
they are the way to it; and God makes us, as he did our captain, “perfect
through sufferings.” (He.
2. 10) And shall not all this make us contented with our condition? O
I beseech you, look not upon the evil of affliction, but the good! Afflictions
in Scripture are called “visitations.” (Job
7. 18) The word in the Hebrew, to visit, is taken in a good sense, as
well as a bad: God’s afflictions are but friendly visits. Behold here God’s rod,
like Aaron’s rod blossoming; and Jonathan’s rod, it hath honey at the end of it.
Poverty shall starve out our sins; the sickness of the body cures a sin-sick
soul; O then, instead of murmuring and being discontented, bless the Lord! Hadst
thou not met with such a rub in the way, thou mightest have gone to hell and
Sect. VII. The seventh
argument to contentation is,
evil of discontent. Malcontent hath
a mixture of grief and anger in it, and both of these must needs raise a storm
in the soul. Have you not seen the posture of a sick man? Sometimes he will sit
up on his bed, by and by he will lie down, and when he is down he is not quiet;
first he turns on the one side and then on the other; he is restless; this is
just the emblem of a discontented spirit. The man is not sick, yet he is never
well; sometimes he likes such a condition of life but is soon weary; and then
another condition of life; and when he hath it, yet he is not pleased; this is
an evil under the sun. Now the evil of discontent appears in three things.
The sordidness of it is unworthy
of a Christian. (1.) It is unworthy of his profession. It was the saying
of an heathen, bear thy condition quietly; “know thou art a man;” so I say, bear
thy condition contentedly, “know thou art a Christian.” Thou professeth to live
by faith: what? and not content? Faith is a grace that doth substantiate things
not seen; (He.
11. 1) faith looks beyond the creature, it feeds upon promises; faith
lives not by bread alone; when the water is spent in the bottle, faith knows
whither to have recourse; now to see a Christian dejected in the want of visible
supplies and recruits, where is faith? “O,” saith one, “my estate in the world
is down.” Ay, and which is worse, the faith is down. Wilt thou not be contented
unless God let down the vessel to thee, as he did to Peter, “wherein were all
manner of beasts of the earth, and fowls of the air?” Must you have the first
and second course? This is like Thomas, “unless I put my finger into the print
of the nails, I will not believe;” so, unless thou hast a sensible feeling of
outward comforts, thou wilt not be content. True faith will trust God where it
cannot trace him, and will adventure upon God’s bond though it hath nothing in
view. You who are discontented because you have not all you would, let me tell
you, either your faith is a nonentity, or at best but an embryo; it is a weak
faith that must have stilts and crutches to support it. Nay, discontent is not
only below faith, but below reason: why are you discontented? Is it because you
are dispossessed of such comforts? Well, and have you not reason to guide you?
Doth not reason tell you that you are but tenants at will? And may not God turn
you out when he pleases? You hold not your estate by juridical right, but upon
favour and courtesy. (2.) It is unworthy of the relation we stand in to God.
A Christian is invested with the title and privilege of sonship, (Ep.
1. 5) he is an heir of the promise. O consider the lot of free-grace
that is fallen upon thee; thou art nearly allied to Christ, and of the blood
royal; thou art advanced in some sense, above the angels: “why art thou, being
the king’s son, lean from day to day?” (2
Sa. 13. 4) why art thou discontented? O, how unworthy is this! as if
the heir to some great monarch should go pining up and down because he may not
pick such a flower.
Consider the sinfulness of it; which appears in three things; the causes,
the concomitants, the consequences of it.
(1.) It is
sinful in the causes; such as pride. He that thinks highly of his
desets, usually esteems meanly of his condition: a discontented man is a proud
man, he thinks himself better than others, therefore finds fault with the wisdom
of God that he is not above others. Thus the things formed saith to him that
formed it, “why hast thou made me thus?” (Ro.
9. 20) why am I not higher? Discontents are nothing else but the
estuations, and boilings over of pride. The second cause of discontent is,
envy, which Augustine calls the sin of the devil. Satan envied Adam the
glory of paradise, and the robe of innocency: he that envies what his neighbour
hath, is never contented with that portion which God’s providence doth parcel
out to him. As envy stirs up strife, (this made the Plebeian faction so strong
among the Romans) so it creates discontent: the envious man looks so much upon
the blessings which another enjoys, that he cannot see his own mercies, and so
doth continually vex and torture himself. Cain envied that his brother’s
sacrifice was accepted, and his rejected; hereupon he was discontented, and
presently murderous thoughts began to arise in his heart. The third cause is
covetousness. This is a radical sin. Whence ae vexing law-suits, but from
discontent? and whence is discontent, but from covetousness? Covetousness and
contentedness cannot dwell in the same heart. Avarice is an helluo,
that is never satisfied. The covetous man is like Behemoth, “behold he drinketh
up a river, he trusteth that he can draw up Jordan into his mouth.” (Job
40. 23) “There are four things (saith Solomon) that say not, it is
enough.” I may add a fifth, the heart of a covetous man; he is still craving.
Covetousness is like a wolf in the breast, which is ever feeding; and because a
man is not satisfied, he is never content. The fourth cause of discontent is,
jealousy, which is sometimes occasioned through melancholy, and sometimes
misapprehension. The spirit of jealousy causeth the evil spirit. “Jealousy is
the rage of a man.” (Pr.
6. 34) And oft this is nothing but suspicion and fancy: yet such as
creates real discontent. the fifth cause of discontent is distrust, which
is a great degree of Atheism. The discontented person is ever distrustful. The
bill of provision grows low; I am in these straits of exigencies, can God help
me? “can he prepare a table in the wilderness?” sure he cannot. My estate is
exhausted, can God recruit me? my friends are gone, can God raise me up more?
sure the arm of his power is shrunk. I am like the dry fleece, can any water
come upon this fleece? “If the Lord would make windows in heaven, might this
thing be?” (2
Ki. 7. 2) Thus the anchor of hope, and the shield of faith, being
cast away, the soul goes pining up and down. Discontent is nothing else but the
echo of unbelief: and remember, distrust is worse than distress.
is evil in its concomitants of it, which are two:
1. Discontent is
joined with a sullen melancholy. A Christian of a right temper should be
ever cheerful in God: “serve the Lord with gladness;” (Ps.
100. 2) a sign the oil of grace hath been poured into the heart when
the oil of gladness shines in the countenance. Cheerfulness credits religion;
how can the discontented person be cheerful? Discontent is a dogged, sullen
humour; because we have not what we desire God shall not have a good work or
look from us; as the bird in the cage, because he is pent up, and cannot fly in
the open air, therefore beats herself against the cage, and is ready to kill
herself. Thus that peevish prophet; “I do well to be angry even unto death.” (Jon.
2. Discontent is
accompanied with unthankfulness; because we have not all we desire, we
never mind the mercies which we have. We deal with God as the widow of Sarepta
did with the prophet: the prophet Elijah had been a means to keep her alive in
the famine, for it was for his sake, that her meal in the barrel, and her oil in
the cruise failed not; but as soon as ever her son dies, she falls into a
passion, and begins to quarrel with the prophet: “what have I to do with thee, O
thou man of God? Art thou come to call my sin to rememberance, and slay my son?”
Ki. 17. 18) So ungratefully do we deal with God: we can be content to
receive mercies from God, but if he doth cross us in the least thing, then,
through discontent, we grow touchy and impatient, and are ready to fly upon God;
thus God loseth all his mercies. We read in Scripture of the thank-offering; the
discontented person cuts God short of this; the Lord loseth his thank-offering.
A discontented Christian repines in the midst of mercies, as Adam who sinned in
the midst of paradise. Discontent is a spider that sucks the poison of
unthankfulness out of the sweetest flower of God’s blessing, and is a devilish
chemistry that extracts dross out of the most refined gold. The discontented
person thinks every thing he doth for God too much, and every thing God doth for
him too little. O what a sin is unthankfulness! it is an accumulative sin. What
Cicero said of parricide, I may say of ingratitude: “there are many sins bound
up in this one sin.” It is a voluminous wickedness; and how full of this sin is
discontent? A discontented Christian, because he hath not all the world,
therefore dishonours God with the mercies which he hath. God made Eve out of
Adam’s rib, to be an helper, but the devil hath made an arrow of this rib, and
shot Adam to the heart: so doth discontent take the rib of God’s mercy, and
ungratefully shoot at him; estate, liberty shall be employed against God. Thus
it is oftentimes. Behold then how discontent and ingratitude are interwoven and
twisted one within the other: thus discontent is sinful in its concomitants.
(3.) It is sinful in its consequences, which are these. 1. It makes a man
very unlike the Spirit of God. The Spirit of God is a meek Spirit. The
Holy Ghost descended in the likeness of a dove, (Mat.
3. 16) a dove is the emblem of meekness; a discontented spirit is not
a meek spirit. 2. It makes a man like the devil; the devil being swelled
with the poison of envy and malice, is never content: just so is the malcontent.
The devil is an unquiet spirit, he is still “walking about,” (1
Pe. 5. 8) it is his rest to be walking. And herein is the
discontented person like him; for he goes up and down vexing himself, “seeking
rest, and finding none;” he is the devil’s picture. 3. Discontent disjoints
the soul, it untunes the heart for duty. “Is any among you afflicted, let
him pray.” (Ja.
5. 13) But, is any man discontented? how shall he pray? “Lift up holy
hands without wrath.” (1
Ti. 2. 8) Discontent is full of wrath and passion; the malcontent
cannot lift up pure hands; he lifts up leprous hands, he poisons his prayers;
will God accept a poisoned sacrifice? Chrysostom compares prayer to a fine
garland; those, saith he, that make a garland, their hands had need to be clean;
prayer is a precious garland, the heart that makes it had need to be clean.
Discontent throws poison into the spring, which was dealt among the Romans,
discontent puts the heart into a disorder and mutiny, and such as one cannot
serve the Lord “without distraction.” 4. Discontent sometimes unfits for the
very use of reason. Jonah, in a passion of discontent, spake no better than
blasphemy and nonsense: “I do well to be angry even unto death.” (Jon.
4. 9) What? to be angry with God! and to die for anger! Sure he did
not know well what he said. When discontent transports, then, like Moses, we
speak unadvisedly with our lips. This humour doth even suspend the very acts of
reason. 5. Discontent doth not only disquiet a man’s self, but those who are
near him. This evil spirit troubles families, parishes, &c. If there be but
one string out of tune, it spoils all the music: one discontented spirit makes
jarrings and dis-cords among others. It is this ill-humour that breeds quarrels
and law-suits. Whence are all our contentions, but for want of contentation?
“From whence come wars and fighting among you? Come they not hence, even of your
4. 1) in particular from the lust of discontent. Why did Absalom
raise a war against his father, and would have taken off not only his crown but
his head? was it not his discontent? Absalom would be king. Why did Ahab stone
Naboth? was it not discontent about the vineyard? Oh this devil of discontent!
Thus you have seen the sinfulness of it.
Consider the simplicity of it. I may say, as the
“surely they are disquieted in vain:” (Ps.
39. 6) which appears thus, 1. Is it not a vain simple thing to be
troubled at the loss of that which is in its own nature perishing and
changeable? God hath put a vicissitude into the creature; all the world
rings changes; and for me to meet with inconstancy here, to lose a friend,
estate, to be in constant fluctuation; is no more than to see a flower wither or
a leaf drop off in autumn: there is an autumn upon every comfort, a fall of the
leaf; now it is extreme folly to be discontented at the loss of those things
which are in their own nature loseable. What Solomon saith of riches, is true of
all things under the sun, “they take wings.” Noah’s dove brought an olive-branch
in its mouth, but presently flew out of the ark, and never returned more: such a
comfort brings to us honey in its mouth, but it hath wings; and to what purpose
should we be troubled, unless we had wings to fly after and overtake it? 2.
Discontent is a heart-breaking: “by sorrow of the heart, the spirit is
15. 13) It takes away the comfort of life. There is none of us but
may have many mercies if we can see them; now because we have not all we desire,
therefore we will lose the comfort of that which we have already. Jonah having
his gourd smitten, a withering vanity, was so discontented, that he never
thought of his miraculous deliverance out of the whale’s belly; he takes no
comfort of his life, but wisheth that he might die. What folly is this? We must
have all or none; herein we are like children, that throw away the piece which
is cut them because they may have no bigger. Discontent eats out the comfort of
life. Besides, it were well if it were seriously weighed how prejudicial this is
even to our health; for discontent, as it doth discruciate the mind, so it doth
pine the body. It frets as a moth; and by wasting the spirits, weakens the
vitals. The pleurisy of discontent brings the body into a consumption; and is
not this folly? 3. Discontent does not ease us of our burden, but it
makes the cross heavier. A contented spirit goes cheerfully under its
affliction. Discontent makes our grief as unsupportable as it is unreasonable.
If the leg be well, it can endure a fetter and not complain; but if the leg be
sore, then the fetters trouble. Discontent of mind is the sore that makes the
fetters of affliction more grievous. Discontent troubles us more than the
trouble itself, it steeps the affliction in wormwood. When Christ was upon the
Cross, the Jews brought him gall and vinegar to drink, that it might add to his
sorrow. Discontent brings to a man in affliction, gall and vinegar to drink;
this is worse than the affliction itself. Is it not folly for a man to embitter
his own cross? 4. Discontent spins out our troubles the longer. A
Christian is discontented because he is in want, and therefore he is in want
because he is discontented; he murmurs because he is afflicted, and therefore he
is afflicted, because he murmurs. Discontent doth delay and adjourn our mercies.
God deals herein with us, as we use to do with our children; when they are quiet
and cheerful, they shall have any thing; but if we see them cry and fret, then
we withhold from them: we get nothing from God by our discontent but blows; the
more the child struggles, the more it is beaten: when we struggle with God by
our sinful passions, he doubles and trebles his strokes; God will tame our curst
hearts. What got Israel by their peevishness? they were within eleven days
journey to Canaan; and now they were discontented and began to murmur, God leads
them a march of forty years long in the wilderness. Is it not folly for us to
adjourn our own mercies? Thus you have seen the evil of discontent.
Sect. VIII. the eighth
argument to contentation is this:
Why is not a
man content with the competency which he hath?
Perhaps if he had more he would be less
content; covetousness is a dry drunkenness. The world is such that the more we
have the more we crave; it cannot fill the heart of man. When the fire burns,
how do you quench it? not by putting oil in the flame, or laying on more wood,
but by withdrawing the fuel. When the appetite is inflamed after riches, how may
a man be satisfied? not by having just what he desires, but by withdrawing the
fuel, &c. moderating and lessening his desires. He that is contented hath
enough. A man in a fever or dropsy thirsts; how do you satisfy him? not by
giving him liquid things, which will inflame his thirst the more; but by
removing the cause, and so curing the distemper. The way for a man to be
contented, is not by raising his estate higher, but by bringing his heart lower.
Sect.IX. The nineth
argument to contentation is,
of life. It is “but a vapour,” saith
4. 14) Life is a wheel ever-running. The poets painted time with
wings to show the volubility and swiftness of it. Job compares it to a swift
9. 25) our life rides post; and to a day, not a year. It is indeed
like a day. Infancy is as it were the day-break, youth is the sun-rising, full
growth is the sun in the meridian, old age is sun-setting, sickness is the
evening, then comes the night of death. How quickly is this day of life spent!
Oftentimes this sun goes down at noon-day; life ends before the evening of old
age comes. Nay, sometimes the sun of life sets presently after sun-rising.
Quickly after the dawning of infancy the night of death approaches. O, how short
is the life of man! The consideration of the brevity of life may work the heart
to contentment. Remember thou art to be here but a day; thou hast but a short
way to go, and what needs a long provision for a short way? If a traveller hath
but enough to bring him to his journey’s end he desires no more. We have but a
day to live, and perhaps we may be in the twelfth hour of the day; why if God
gives us but enough to bear our charges, till night, it is sufficient, let us be
content. If a man had the lease of a house, or farm, but for two or three days,
and he should fall a building and planting, would he not be judged very
indiscreet? so, when we have but a short time here, and death calls us presently
off the stage, to thirst immoderately after the world, and pull down our souls
to build up an estate, is an extreme folly. Therefore, as Esau said once, in a
profane sense, concerning his birth-right, “lo, I am at the point to die, and
what profit shall this birth-right do me?” so let a Christian say in a religious
sense, “lo, I am even at the point of death, my grave is going to be made, and
what good will the world do me? If I have but enough till sun-setting, I am
Sect. X. The tenth
argument to contentation is,
seriously the nature of a prosperous condition.
There are in a prosperous estate three things,
trouble. Many who have abundance of all things to enjoy, yet have not so
much content and sweetness in their lives, as some that go to their hard labour.
Sad, solicitous thoughts do often attend a prosperous condition. Care is the
evil spirit which haunts the rich man, and will not suffer him to be quiet. When
his chest is full of gold, his heart is full of care, either how to manage, or
how to increase, or how to secure what he hath gotten. O the troubles and
perplexities that do attend prosperity! The world’s high seats are very uneasy;
sunshine is pleasant, but sometimes it scorcheth with its heat; the bee gives
honey, but sometimes it stings: prosperity hath its sweetness and also its
sting; “competency with contentment is far more eligible.” Never did Jacob sleep
better than when he had the heavens for his canopy, and a hard stone for his
pillow. A large voluminous estate is but like a long trailing garment, which is
more troublesome than useful.
2. In a
prosperous condition there is more danger; and that two ways: First, in
respect of a man’s self. The rich man’s table is oft his snare; he is ready to
ingulf himself too deep in these sweet waters. In this sense it is hard to know
how to abound. It must be a strong brain that bears heady wine; he had need have
much wisdom and grace, that knows how to bear an high condition; either he is
ready to kill himself with care, or to surfeit himself with luscious delights. O
the hazard of honour, the damage of dignity! Pride, security, rebellion, are the
three worms that breed of plenty. (De.
32. 15) The pastures of prosperity are rank and surfeiting. How soon
are we broken upon the soft pillow of ease? Prosperity is often a trumpet that
sounds a retreat, it calls men off from the pursuit of religion. The sun of
prosperity oft dulls and puts out the fire of zeal; how many souls hath the
pleurisy of abundance killed? They that “will be rich, fall into snares.” (1
Ti. 6. 9) The world is birdlime at our feet, it is full of golden
sands, but they are quick-sands. Prosperity, like smooth Jacob, will supplant
and betray; a great estate, without much vigilancy, will be a thief to rob us of
heaven; such as are upon the pinnacle of hnour are in most danger of falling. A
lower estate is less hazardous; the little pinnacle rides safe by the shore,
when the gallant ship advancing with its mast and top-sail, is cast away. Adam
in paradise was overcome, when Job on the dung-hill was a conqueror. Samson fell
asleep in Delilah’s lap: some have fallen so fast asleep on the lap of ease and
plenty, that they have never awaked till they have been in hell. The world’s
fawning is worse than its frowning, and it is more to be feared when it smiles
than when it thunders. Prosperity, in Scripture, is compared to a candle; “his
candle shined upon my head:” (Job
29. 3) how many have burnt their wings about this candle! “The corn
being over-ripe, sheds; and fruit, when it mellows, begins to rot; when men do
mellow with the sun of prosperity, commonly their souls begin to rot in sin.
“How hardly shall they that have riches enter into the kingdom of God!” (Lu.
18. 24) His golden weights keep him from ascending up the hill of
God; and shall we not be content, though we are placed in a lower orb? What if
we are not in so much bravery and gallantry as others? we are not in so much
danger; as we want the honour of the world, so the temptations. O the abundance
of danger that is in abundance! We see, by common experience, that lunatics,
when the moon is declining, and in the wane, are sober enough, but when it is
full they are wild and more exorbitant: when men’s estates are in the wane, they
are more serious about their souls, more humble, but when it is the full of the
moon, and they have abundance, then their hearts begin to swell with their
estates, and are scarcely themselves. Those that write concerning the several
climates, observe, that such as live in the northern parts of the world, if you
bring them into the south part, lose their stomachs, and die quickly: but those
that live in the more southern and hot climates, bring them into the north, and
their stomach’s mend, and they are long-lived; give me leave to apply it. Bring
a man from the cold, starving climate of poverty, into the hot southern climate
of prosperity, and he begins to lose his appetite to good things, he grows weak,
and a thousand to one if all his religion doth not die; but bring a Christian
from the south to the north, from a rich flourishing estate into a jejune low
condition, let him come into a more cold and hungry air, and then his stomach
mends, he hath a better appetite after heavenly things, he hungers more after
Christ, he thirsts more for grace, he eats more than at one meal of the bread of
life, than at six before; this man is now like to live and hold out in his
religion. Be content then with a modicum; if you have but enough to pay for your
passage to heaven, it sufficeth. Secondly, a prosperous condition is dangerous
in regard of others. A great estate, for the most part, draws envy to it,
whereas in little there is quiet. David a shepherd was quiet, but David a
courier was pursued by his enemies; envy cannot endure a superior; an envious
man knows not how to live but upon the ruins of his neighbours; he raiseth
himself higher by bringing others lower. Prosperity is an eye-sore to many. Such
sheep as have most wool are soonest fleeced. The barren tree grows peaceably; no
man meddles with the ash or willow, but the apple-tree and the damasin shall
have many rude suitors. O then be contented to carry a lesser sail! He that hath
less revenues hath less envy; such as bear the fairest frontispiece and make the
greatest show in the world, are the white for envy and malice to shoot at.
3. A prosperous
condition hath in it a greater reckoning; every man must be responsible
for his talents. Thou that hast great possessions in the world, dost thou trade
thy estate for God’s glory? art thou rich in good works? Grace makes a private
person a common good. Dost thou disburse thy money for public uses? It is
lawful, in this sense, to put out our money to use. O let us all remember an
estate is a depositum; we are but stewards; and our Lord and Master will ere
long say, “give an account of your stewardship:” the greater our estate, the
greater our charge, the more our revenues, the more our reckonings. You that
have a lesser mill going in the world, be content: God will expect less from
you, where He hath sowed more sparingly.
Sect. XI. The eleventh
argument to contentation is,
of those who have been eminent for contentation.
Examples are usually more forcible than
precepts. Abraham being called out to hot service, and such as was against flesh
and blood, was content. God bid him offer up his son Isaac. This was great work:
Isaac was the son of his old age; the son of his love; the son of the promise;
Christ the Messiah was to come of his line, “in Isaac shall thy seed be called:”
so that to offer up Isaac seemed not only to oppose Abraham’s reason, but his
faith too; for, if Isaac die, the world for ought he knew, must be without a
Mediator. Besides, if Isaac be sacrificed, was there no other hand to do it but
Abraham’s? must the father needs be the executioner? must he that was the
instrument of giving Isaac his being, be the instrument of taking it away? Yet
Abraham doth not dispute or hesitate, but believes “against hope,” and is
content with God’s prescription: so, when God called him to leave his country,
he was content. Some would have argued thus: “what! leave my friends, my native
soil, my brave situation, and go turn pilgrim?” Abraham is content. Besides
Abraham went blindfolds, “he knew not whither he went.” God held him in
suspense; he must go wander he knows not where; and when he doth come to the
place God hath laid out for him, he knows not what oppositions he shall meet
with there. The world doth seldom cast a favourable aspect upon strangers. Yet
he is content, and obeys; “he sojourned in the land of promise.” (He.
11. 9) Behold a little his pilgrimage. First, he goes to Charran, a
city in Mesopotamia. When he had sojourned there a while, his father dies. Then
he removed to Sichem, then to Bethlehem in Canaan; there a famine ariseth; then
he went down to Egypt; after that he returns to Canaan. When he comes there, it
is true he had a promise, but he found nothing to answer expectation; he had not
there one foot of land, but was an exile. In this time of his sojourning he
buried his wife: and as for his dwellings, he had no sumptuous buildings, but
led his life in poor cottages: all this was enough to have broken any man’s
heart. Abraham might think thus with himself: “is this the land I must possess?
here is no probability of any good; all things are against me.” Well, is he
discontented? no; God saith to him, “Abraham, go, leave thy country,” and this
word was enough to lead him all the world over; he is presently upon his march.
Here was a man that had learned to be content. But let us descend a little
lower, to heathen Zeno, of who Seneca speaks, who had once been very rich,
hearing of a shipwreck, and that all his goods were drowned at sea: “Fortune,”
saith he, (he spake in a heathen dialect) “hath dealt with me, and would have me
now study philosophy.” He was content to change his course of life, to leave off
being a merchant, and turn a philosopher. And if a heathen said thus, shall not
a Christian much more say, when the world is drained from him, God would have me
leave off following the world, and study Christ more, and how to get to heaven?
Do I see an heathen contented, and a Christian disquieted? How did heathens
vilify those things which Christians did magnify? Though they knew not God, or
what true happiness meant; yet, they would speak very sublimely of a numen or
deity, and of the life to come, as Aristotle and Plato; and for those elysian
delights, which they did but fancy, they undervalued and condemned the things
here below! It was the doctrine they taught their scholars, and which some of
them practised, that they should strive to be contented with a little; they were
willing to make an exchange, and have less gold, and more learning; and shall
not we be content then to have less of the world, so we may have more of Christ?
May not Christians blush to see the heathens content with a viaticum, so
much as would recruit nature; and to see themselves so transported with the love
of earthly things, that if they begin a little to abate, and the bill of
provision grows short, they murmur, and are like Mich, Have ye taken away my
gods, and do you ask me what aileth me? (Ju.
18. 24) Have heathens gone so far in contentation, and is it not sad
for us to come short of heaven? These heroes of their time, how did they embrace
death itself! Socrates died in prison; Herculus was burnt alive; Cato, who
Seneca calls the lively image and portraiture of virtue, thrust through with a
sword; but how bravely, and with contentment of spirit did they die? “Shall I
(said Seneca) weep for Cato, or Regulus, or the rest of those worthies, that
died with so much valour and patience?” Did not cross providence make them
to alter their countenance? and do I see a Christian appalled and amazed? Did
not death affright them? and doth it distract us? Did the spring-head of nature
rise so high? and shall not grace, like the waters of the sanctuary, rise
higher; We that pretend to live by faith, may we not go to school to them who
had no other pilot but reason to guide them? Nay, let me come a step lower, to
creatures void of reason; we see every creature is contented with its allowance;
the beasts with their provender, the birds with their nests; they live only upon
providence: and shall we make ourselves below them? Let a Christian go to school
to the ox and the ass to learn contentedness; we think we never have enough, and
are still laying up: the fowls of the air do not lay up, they reap not, nor
gather into barns. (Mat.
6. 26) It is an argument which Christ brings to make Christians
contented with their condition; the birds do not lay up, yet they are provided
for, and are contented; are ye not, saith Christ, “much better than they?” but
if you are discontented, are you not much worse than they? Let these examples
Sect. XII. The twelfth
argument to contentation is,
change of trouble a child of God meets with, it is all the hell he shall have.
Whatever eclipse may be upon his name or estate, I may say of it, as Athanasius
of his banishment, it is a little cloud that will soon be blown over, and then
his gulf is shot his hell is past. Death begins a wicked man’s hell, but it puts
an end to a godly man’s hell. Think with thyself, what if I endure this? It is
but a temporary hell: indeed if all our hell be here, it is but an easy hell.
What is the cup of affliction to the cup of damnation? Lazarus could not get a
crumb; he was so diseased that the dogs took pity on him, and as if they had
been his physicians, licked his sores: but this was an easy hell, the angels
quickly fetched him out of it. If all our hell be in this life, in the midst of
this hell we may have the love of God, and then it is no more hell but paradise.
If our hell be here, we may see to the bottom of it; it is but skindeep, it
cannot touch the soul, and we may see to the end of it; it is an hell that is
short-lived; after a wet night of affliction, comes the bright morning of the
resurrection; if our lives are short, our trials cannot be long; as our riches
take wings and fly, so do our sufferings; then let us be contented.
Sect. XIII. The
thirteenth argument to contentation is this;
competency, and to want contentment, is a great judgement.
For a man to have a huge stomach, that whatever
meat you give him he is still craving and never satisfied, you use to say, this
is a great judgement upon the man: thou who art a devourer of money, and yet
never hast enough, but still criest, give, give, this is a sad judgement: “They
shall eat, and not have enough.” (Ho.
4. 10) The throat of a malicious man is an open sepulchre, (Ro.
3. 13) so is the heart of a covetous man. Covetousness is not only a
sin, but the punishment of a sin. It is a secret curse upon a covetous person;
he shall thirst, and thirst, and never be satisfied: “he that loves silver shall
not be satisfied with silver. (Ec.
5. 10) And is not this a curse? What was it but a severe judgement
upon the people of Judah? “Ye eat, but ye have not enough; ye drink, but ye are
not filled with drink. (Ha.
1. 6) O let us take heed of this plague! Did not Esau say to his
brother, “I have abundance, my brother,” (Go.
37. 9) or, as we translate it, I have enough; and shall not a
Christian say so much more. It is sad that our hearts should be dead to heavenly
things, and a sponge to suck in earthly. Yet all that hath been said, will not
work our minds to heavenly contentation.
Three things inserted by way
In the next place,
I come to lay down some necessary cautions. Though I say a man should be content
in every estate, yet there are three estates in which he must not be contented.
must not be contented in a natural estate: here we must learn not to be
content. A sinner in his pure naturals is under the wrath of God, (Jno.
3. 16) and shall he be content when that dreadful vial is going to be
poured out? Is it nothing to be under the scorchings of divine fury? “who can
dwell with everlasting burnings?” A sinner, as a sinner, is under the power of
26. 18) and shall he in his estate be contented? Who would be
contented to stay in the enemies’ quarters? While we sleep in the lap of sin,
the devil doth to us as the Philistines did to Samson, cut out the lock of our
strength, and put out our eyes. Be not content, O sinner, in this estate! For a
man to be in debt, body and soul; in fear every hour to be arrested and carried
prisoner to hell, shall he now be content? Here I preach against contentation,.
Oh get out of this condition! I would hasten you out of it as the angel hastened
lot out of Sodom; (Gen.
19. 15) there is the smell of the fire and brimstone upon you. The
longer a man stays in his sin, the more sin doth strengthen. It is hard to get
out of sin, when the heart as a garrison is victualled and fortified. A young
plant is easily removed, but when the tree is once rooted, there is no stirring
of it: thou who art rooted in thy pride, unbelief, impenitency, it will cost
thee many a sad pull ere thou art plucked out of thy natural estate. (Jer.
6. 16) It is an hard thing to have a brazen face and a broken heart;
“he travaileth with iniquity;” (Ps.
7. 14) be assured, the longer you travail with your sins, the more
and the sharper pangs you must expect in the new birth. O be not contented with
your natural estate! David saith, “why art thou cast down, O my soul?” (Ps.
43. 5) But a sinner should say to himself, why art thou not
disquieted, O my soul? Why is it that thou layest afflictions so to heart, and
canst not lay sin to heart? It is a mercy when we are disquieted about sin. A
man had better be at the trouble of setting a bone, than to be lame, and in pain
all his life; blessed is that trouble that brings the soul to Christ. It is one
of the worst sights to see a bad conscience quiet; of the two, better is a fever
than a lethargy. I wonder to see a man in his natural estate content. What!
content to go to hell?
in regard of externals, a man should be in every estate content, yet he must
not be content is such a condition wherein God is apparently dishonoured. If
a man’s trade be such that he can hardly use it, but he must trespass upon a
command, and so make a trade of sin, he must not content himself in such a
condition; God never called any man to such a calling as is sinful; a man in
this case, had better knock off and divert, better lose some of his gain, so he
may lessen some of his guilt. So, for servants that live in a profane family,
the suburbs of hell, where the name of God is not called upon, unless when it is
taken in vain, they are not to content themselves in such a place, they are to
come out of the tents of these sinners; there is a double danger in living among
1. Lest we come
to be infected with the poison of their ill example. Joseph, living in
Pharaoh’s court, had learned to swear “by the life of Pharaoh.” (Ge.
42. 15) We are prone to suck in example: men take in deeper
impressions by the eye than the ear. Dives was a bad pattern, and he had many
brethren that seeing him sin, trode just in his steps, therefore saith he, “I
pray thee send him to my father’s house: for I have five brethren; that he may
testify unto them, lest they also come into this place of torment.” (Lu.
16. 27,28) Dives knew which way they went; it is easy to catch a
disease from another, but not to catch health. The bad will sooner corrupt the
good, than the good will convert the bad. Take an equal quantity and proportion,
so much sweet wine with so much sour vinegar; the vinegar will sooner sour the
wine than the wine will sweeten the vinegar. Sin is compared to the plague, (1
Ki. 8. 37) and to leaven, (1
Cor. 5. 7) to show of what a spreading nature it is. A bad master
makes a bad servant. Jacob’s cattle, by looking on the rods which were speckled
and ring-straked conceived the rods. We do as we see others do before us,
especially those that are above us. If the head be sick, the other parts of the
body are distempered. If the sun shines not upon the mountains, it must needs
set in the vallies. We pray, “lead us not into temptation:” Lot was the world’s
miracle, who kept himself fresh in Sodom’s salt water.
2. By living in an
evil family, we are liable to incur their punishment: “pour out thy wrath
upon the families that call not upon thy name. (Jer.
10. 25) For want of pouring out of prayer, the wrath of God was ready
to be poured out. It is dangerous living in the tents of Kedar. When God sends
his flying roll, written within and without with curses, it enters into the
house of the thief and the perjurer, “and consumes the timber and the stones
5. 4) Is it not of sad consequence to live in a profane perjured
family, when the sin of the governor pulls his house about his ears? If the
stones and timber be destroyed, how shall the servant escape? And suppose God
send not a temporal roll of curses in the family, there is a “spiritual roll,
and that is worse.” (Pr.
3. 33) Be not content to live where religion dies. “Salute the
brethren, and Nymphas, and the church which is in his house.” (Col.
4. 15) The house of the godly is a little church, the house of the
wicked a little hell. (Pr.
7. 27) Oh, incorporate yourselves into a religious family; the house
of a good man is perfumed with a blessing. (Pr.
3. 33) When the holy oil of grace is poured on the head, the savour
of this ointment sweetly diffuseth itself, and the virtue of it runs down upon
the skirts of the family. Pious examples are very magnetical and forcible.
Seneca said to his sister, though I leave you not wealth, yet I leave you a good
example. Let us ingraft ourselves among the saints; by being often among the
spices, we come to smell of them.
third caution is, though in every condition we must be content, yet we are
not to content ourselves with a little grace. Grace is the best blessing.
Though we should be contented with a competency of estate, yet not with a
competency of grace. It was the end of Christ’s assension to heaven, to give
gifts; and the end of those gifts, “that we may grow up into him in all things
who is the head, even Christ. (Ep.
4. 15) Where the apostle distinguisheth between our being in Christ,
and our growing in him; our ingratifying, and our flourishing; be not content
with a modicum in religion.
It is not enough
that there be life, but there must be fruit. Barrenness in the law was accounted
a curse: the farther we are from the fruit, the nearer we are to cursing. (He.
6. 8) It is a sad thing when men are fruitful only in the unfruitful
works of darkness. Be not content with a drachm or two of grace; next to a
still-born, a starveling in Christ is worse. O covet more grace! never think
thou hast enough. We are bid to covet the best things. (1
Cor. 12. 31) It is an heavenly ambition when we desire to be high in
God’s favour, a blessed contentation when all the strife is who shall be most
holy. St Paul, though he was content with a little of the world, yet not with a
little grace: “he reached forward, and pressed towards the mark of the high
calling of God in Christ Jesus. (Ph.
3. 13,14) A true Christian is a wonder; he is the most contented, and
yet the least satisfied; he is contented with a morsel of bread, and a little
water in the cruise, yet never satisfied with grace; he doth pant and breath
after more; this is his prayer, “Lord, more conformity to Christ, more communion
with Christ; he would fain have Christ’s image more lively pictured upon his
soul. True grace is always progressive; as the saints are called lamps and
stars, in regard of their light, so trees of righteousness, (Is.
61. 3) for their growth: they are indeed like the tree of life,
bringing forth several sorts of fruit.
A true Christian
grows in beauty. Grace is the best complexion of the soul; it is at the
first plantation, like Rachel, fair to look upon; but still the more it lives,
the more it sends forth its rays of beauty. Abraham’s faith was at first
beautiful; but at last did shine in its orient colours, and grew so illustrious,
that God himself was in love with it, and makes his faith a pattern to all
A true Christian
grows in sweetness. A poisonous weed may grow as much as the hyssop or
rosemary, the poppy in the field as the corn, the crab as the pearmain; but the
one hath a harsh sour taste, the other mellows as it grows: an hypocrite may
grow in outward dimensions, as much as a child of God, he may pray as much,
profess as much: but he grows only in magnitude, he brings forth only sour
grapes, his duties are leavened with pride; the other ripens as he grows; he
grows in love, humility, faith, which do mellow and sweeten his duties, and make
them come off with a better relish. The believer grows as the flower, he casts a
fragrancy and perfume.
A true Christian
grows in strength: he grows still more rooted and settled. The more the
tree grows, the more it spreads its root in the earth: a Christian who is a
plant of the heavenly Jerusalem, the longer he grows, the more he incorporates
into Christ, and sucks spiritual juice and sap from him; he is a dwarf in regard
of humility, but a giant in regard of strength, — he is strong to do duties, to
bear burdens, resist temptations.
He grows in
the exercise of his grace; he hath not only oil in his lamp, but his lamp is
also burning and shining. Grace is agile and dexterous. Christ’s vine do
6. 11) hence we read of “a lively hope, (1
Pe. 1. 3) and “a ferverent love;” (1
Pe. 1. 22) here is the activity of grace. Indeed sometimes grace is a
sleepy habit of the soul, like sap in the vine, not exerting its vigour, which
may be occasioned through spiritual sloth, or by reason of falling into some
sin; but this is only for a while: the spring of grace will come, “the flowers
will appear, and the figtree put forth her green figs.” The fresh gales of the
Spirit do sweetly revive and refacilitate grace. The church of Christ, whose
heart was a garden, and her graces as precious spices, prays for the heavenly
breathings of the Spirit, that her sacred spices might flow out. (Ca.
A true Christian
grows both in the kind and in the degree of grace. To his spiritual
living he gets an augmentation, he adds to “faith, virtue: to virtue, knowledge:
to knowledge, temperance,” &c. (2
Pe. 1. 5,6) Here is grace growing in its kind. And he goes on “from
faith to faith;” (Ro.
1. 17) there is grace growing in the degree; “we are bound to thank
God always for you, brethren, because your faith groweth exceedingly;” (2
Th. 1. 3) it increaseth over and above. And the apostle speaks of
those spiritual plants which were laden with gospel-fruit. (Ph.
1. 11) A Christian is compared to the vine, (an emblem of
fruitfulness) he must bear full clusters: we are bid to perfect that which is
lacking in our faith. (1
Th. 3. 10) A Christian must never be so old as to be past bearing; he
brings forth fruit in his old age. (Ps.
92. 14) An heaven-born plant is ever growing; he never thinks he
grows enough; he is not content unless he add every day one cubit to his
spiritual stature. We must not be content just with so much grace as will keep
life and soul together, a drachm or two will not suffice, but we must be still
increasing, “with the increase of God.” (Col.
2. 19) We had need renew our strength as the eagle. (Is.
40. 31) Our sins are renewed, our wants are renewed, our tentations
are renewed, and shall not our strength be renewed? O be not content with the
first embryo of grace; grace in its infancy and minority! You look for
degrees of glory, be ye Christians of degrees. Though a believer should be
contented with a modicum on his estate, yet not with a modicum in
religion. A Christian of the right breed labours still to excel himself, and
come nearer to that holiness in God, who is the original, the pattern, and
prototype of all holiness.
Use IV. Showing how a
Christian may know whether he hath learned this Divine Art.
Thus having laid
down these three cautions, I proceed, in the next place, to an use of trial. How
may a Christian know that he hath learned this lesson of contentment? I shall
lay down some characters by which you shall know it.
A contented spirit is a silent
spirit; he hath not one word to say against God; “I was dumb and silent, because
thou didst it.” (Ps.
39. 9) Contentment silenceth all dispute: “he sitteth alone and
keepeth silence.” (La.
3. 28) There is a sinful silence; when God is dishonoured, his truth
wounded, and men hold their peace, this silence is a loud sin; and there is a
holy silence, when the soul sits down quiet and content with its condition. When
Samuel tells Eli that heavy message from God, that he would “judge his house,
and that the iniquity of his family should not be purged away with sacrifice
Sa. 3. 13,14) doth Eli murmur or dispute? no, he hath not one word to
say against God: “it is the Lord, let him do what seemeth him good.” A
discontented spirit saith as Pharaoh, “who is the Lord?” why should I suffer all
this? why should I be brought into this low condition? “who is the Lord?” But a
gracious heart saith, as Eli, “it is the Lord,” let him do what he will with me.
When Nadab and Abihu, the sons of Aaron, had offered up strange fire, and fire
went from the Lord and devoured them, (Le.
10. 1) is Aaron now in a passion of discontent? no, “Aaron held his
peace.” A contented spirit is never angry unless with himself for having hard
thoughts of God. When Jonah said, “I do well to be angry,” this was not a
contented spirit, it did not become a prophet.
A contented spirit is a cheerful spirit; the Greeks call it euthema.
Contentment is something more than patience; for patience denotes only
submission, contentment denotes cheerfulness. A contented Christian is more than
passive; he doth not only bear the cross, but take up the cross. (Mat.
6. 24) He looks upon God as a wise God; and whatever he doth, though
it be not willingly, yet sensibly, it is in order to a cure. Hence the contented
Christian is cheerful, and with the apostle, “takes pleasure in infirmities,
distresses,” &c. (2
Cor. 12. 10) He doth not only submit to God’s dealings, but rejoice
in them; he doth not only say, “just is the Lord in all that hath befallen me,”
but “good is the Lord.” This is to be contented. A sullen melancholy is hateful.
It is said, “God loveth a cheerful giver,” (2
Cor. 9. 7) aye and God loves a cheerful liver. We are bid in
Scripture, “not to be careful,” but we are not bid not to be cheerful. He that
is contented with his condition, doth not abate of his spiritual joy; and indeed
he hath that within him which is the ground of cheerfulness; he carries a pardon
sealed in his heart. (Mat.
A contented spirit is a thankful spirit. This is a degree above the
other; “in every thing giving thanks.” (1
Th. 5. 18) A gracious heart spies mercy in every condition, therefore
hath his heart screwed up to thankfulness; others will bless God for prosperity,
he blesseth him for affliction. Thus he reasons with himself; am I in want? God
sees it better for me to want than to abound; God is now dieting of me, he sees
it better for my spiritual health sometimes to be kept fasting; therefore he
doth not only submit but is thankful. The malcontent is ever complaining of his
condition; the contented spirit is ever giving thanks. O what height of grace is
this! A contented heart is a temple where the praises of God are sung forth, not
a sepulchre wherein they are buried. A contented Christian in the greatest
straits hath his heart enlarged and dilated in thankfulness; he oft contemplates
God’s love in election; he sees that he is a monument of mercy, therefore
desires to be a pattern of praise. There is always gratulatory music in a
contented soul; the Spirit of grace works in the heart like new wine, which
under the heaviest pressures of sorrow will have a vent open for thankfulness:
this is to be content.
He that is content, no condition comes amiss to him; so it is in the
text, “in whatever state I am.” A contented Christian can turn himself to
anything; either want or abound. The people of Israel knew neither how to
abound, nor yet how to want; when they were in want they murmured; “can God
prepare a table in the wilderness?” and when they ate, and were filled, then
they lifted up the heel. Paul knew how to manage every state; he could be either
a note higher or lower; he was in this sense an universalist, he could do
anything that God would have him: if he were in prosperity, he knew how to be
thankful; if in adversity, he knew how to be patient; he was neither lifted up
with the one, nor cast down with the other. He could carry a greater sail, or
lesser. Thus a contented Christian knows how to turn himself to any condition.
We have those who can be contented in some condition, but not in every estate;
they can be content in a wealthy estate, when they have the streams of milk and
honey; while Gods candle shines upon their head, now they are content, but if
the wind turn and be against them, now they are discontented. While they have a
silver crutch to lean upon, they are contented; but if God breaks this crutch,
now they are discontented. But Paul had learned in every estate to carry himself
with an equanimity of mind. Others could be content with their affliction, so
God would give them leave to pick and choose. They could be content to bear such
a cross; they could better endure sickness than poverty, or bear loss of estate
than loss of children; if they might have such a man’s cross they could be
content. A contented Christian doth not go to choose his cross, but leaves God
to choose for him; he is content both for the kind and the duration. A contented
spirit saith, “let God apply what medicine he pleaseth, and let it lie on as
long as it will; I know when it hath done its cure, and eaten the venom of sin
out of my heart, God will take it off again.”
In a word, a
contented Christian, being sweetly captivated under the authority of the word,
desires to be wholly at God’s disposal, and is willing to live in that sphere
and climate where God has set him. And if at any time he hath been an instrument
of doing noble and brave service in the public, he knows he is but a rational
tool, a servant to authority, and is content to return to his former condition
of life. Cincinnatus, after he had done worthily, and purchased to himself great
fame in his dictatorship, did notwithstanding afterwards voluntary return to
till and manure his four acres of ground: thus should it be with Christians,
professing godliness with contentment, having served Mars, daring to offend
Jupiter; lest otherwise they discover only to the world a brutish valour, being
so untamed and head-strong, that when they had conquered others, yet they are
not able to rule their own spirits.
He that is contented with his condition, to rid himself out of trouble, will
not turn himself into sin. I deny not but a Christian may lawfully seek to
change his condition: so far as God’s providence doth go before, he may follow.
But when men will not follow providence but run before it, as he that said,
“this evil is of the Lord, why should I wait any longer. (2
Ki. 6. 33) If God doth not open the door of his providence, they will
break it open, and wind themselves out of affliction by sin; bringing their
souls into trouble; this is far from holy contentation, this is unbelief broken
into rebellion. A contented Christian is willing to wait God’s leisure, and will
not stir till God open a door. As Paul said in another case, “they have beaten
us openly, uncondemned, being Romans, and have cast us into prison, and now do
they thrust us out privily? nay, verily, but let them come themselves and fetch
us out:” (Ac.
16. 37) so, with reverence, saith the contented Christian, God hath
cast me into this condition; and though it be sad, and troublesome, yet I will
not stir, till God by a clear providence fetch me out. Thus those brave spirited
Christians; “they accepted not deliverance,” (He.
11. 35) that is, upon base dishonourable terms. They would rather
stay in prison than purchase their liberty by carnal compliance. Estius observes
on the place, “they might not only have had their enlargements, but been raised
to honour, and put into offices of trust, yet the honour of religion was dearer
to them, than either liberty or honour.” A contented Christian will not remove,
till as the Israelites he sees a pillar of cloud and fire going before him. “It
is good that a man should both hope, and quietly wait for the salvation of the
3. 26) It is good to stay God’s leisure and not to extricate
ourselves out of trouble, till we see the star of God’s providence pointing out
a way to us.
Use V. Containing a
Christian Directory, or Rules about Contentment.
I proceed now to
an use of direction, to show Christians how they may attain to this divine art
of contentation. Certainly it is feasible, others of God’s saints have reached
to it. St Paul here had it; and what do we think of those we read of in that
little book of martyrs, (He.
11) who had trials of cruel mockings and scourgings, who wandered
about in deserts and caves, yet were contented; so that it is possible to be
had. And here I shall lay down some rules for holy contentment.
Advance faith. All our disquiets do
issue immediately from unbelief. It is this that raiseth the storm of discontent
in the heart. O set faith a-work! It is the property of faith to silence our
doubtings, to scatter our fears, to still the heart when the passions are up.
Faith works the heart to a sweet serene composure; it is not having food and
raiment, but having faith, which will make us content. Faith chides down
passion; when reason begins to sink, let faith swim.
faith work contentment? 1. Faith
shows the soul that whatever its trials are yet it is from the hand of a father;
it is indeed a bitter cup, but “shall I not drink the cup which my father hath
given me to drink?” It is in love to my soul: God corrects me with the same love
he crowns me; God is now training me up for heaven; he carves me, to make me a
polished shaft. These sufferings bring forth patience, humility, even the
peaceful fruits of righteousness. (He.
12. 11) And if God can bring such sweet fruit out of our stock, let
him graft me where he pleases. Thus faith brings the heart to holy contentment.
2. Faith sucks the honey of contentment out of the hive of the promise. Christ
is the vine, the promises are the clusters of grapes that grow upon this vine,
and faith presseth the sweet wine of contentment out of these spiritual clusters
of the promises. I will show you but one cluster, “the Lord will give grace and
84. 11) here is enough for faith to live upon. The promise is the
flower out of which faith distills the spirits and quintessence of divine
contentment. In a word, faith carries up the soul, and makes it aspire after
more generous and noble delights than the earth affords, and to live in the
world above the world. Would ye live contented lives? Live up to the height of
Labour for assurance. O let us get
the interest cleared between God and our souls! Interest is a word much in use,
— a pleasing word, — interest in great friends, —interest-money. O, if there be
an interest worth looking after, it is an interest between God and the soul!
Labour to say, “my God.” To be without money, and without friends, and without
God too, is sad; but he whose faith doth flourish into assurance, that can say,
“I know whom I have believed,” (2
Ti. 1. 2) that man hath enough to give his heart contentment. When a
man’s debts are paid, and he can go abroad without fear of arresting, what
contentment is this! O, let your title be cleared! If God be ours, whatever we
want in the creature, is infinitely made up in him. Do I want bread? I have
Christ the bread of life. Am I under defilement? his blood is like the trees of
the sanctuary; not only for meat, but medicine. (Ez.
47. 12) If any thing in the world be worth labouring for, it is to
get sound evidences that God is ours. If this be once cleared, what can come
amiss? No matter what storms I meet with, so that I know where to put in for
harbour. He that hath God to be his God, is so well contented with his
condition, that he doth not much care whether he hath anything else. To rest in
a condition where a Christian cannot say God is his God, is matter of fear; and
if he can say so truly, and yet is not contented, it is a matter of shame.
“David encouraged himself in the Lord his God.” (1
Sa. 30. 6) It was sad with him, Ziklag burnt, his wives taken
captive, his all lost, and like to have lost his soldiers’ hearts too, (for they
spake of stoning him,) yet he had the ground of contentment within him; an
interest in God, and this was a pillar of supportment to his spirit. He that
knows God is his, and all that is in God is for his good, if this doth not
satisfy, I know nothing that will.
Rule 3. Get
an humble spirit. The humble man is
the contented man; if his estate be low, his heart is lower than his estate,
therefore be content. If his esteem in the world be low, he that is little in
his own eyes will not be much troubled to be little in the eyes of others. He
hath a meaner opinion of himself, than others can have of him. The humble man
studies his own unworthiness; he looks upon himself as “less than the least of
God’s mercies:” (Ge.
32. 10) and then a little will content him: he cries out with Paul,
that he is the chief of sinners, (1
Ti. 1. 15) therefore doth not murmur, but admire. He doth not say his
comforts are small, but his sins are great. He thinks it is mercy he is out of
hell, therefore he is contented. He doth not go to carve out a more happy
condition to himself; he knows the worst piece God cuts him is better than he
deserves. A proud man is never contented; he is one that hath an high opinion of
himself; therefore under small blessings is disdainful, under small crosses
impatient. The humble spirit is the contented spirit; if his cross be light, he
reckons it the inventory of his mercies; if it be heavy, yet he takes it upon
his knees, knowing that when his estate is worse, it is to make him the better.
Where you lay humility for the foundation, contentment will be the
Rule 4. Keep
a clear conscience. Contentment is
the manna that is laid up in the ark of a good conscience: O take heed of
indulging any sin! it is as natural for guilt to breed disquiet, as for putrid
matter to breed vermin. Sin lies as Jonah in the ship, it raiseth a tempest. If
dust or motes be gotten into the eye, they make the eye water, and cause a
soreness in it; if the eye be clear, then it is free from that soreness; if sin
be gotten into the conscience, which is as the eye of the soul, then grief and
disquiet breed there; but keep the eye of conscience clear, and all is well.
What Solomon saith of a good stomach, I may say of a good conscience, “to the
hungry soul every bitter thing is sweet:” (Pr.
27. 7) so to a good conscience every bitter thing is sweet; it can
pick contentment out of the cross. A good conscience turns the waters of Marah
into wine. Would you have a quiet heart? Get a smiling conscience. I wonder not
to hear Paul say he was in every state content, when he could make that triumph,
“I have lived in all good conscience to this day.” When once a man’s reckonings
are clear, it must needs let in abundance of contentment into the heart. Good
conscience can suck contentment out of the bitterest drug, under slanders; “our
rejoicing is this, the testimony of our conscience.” (2
Cor. 1. 12) In case of imprisonment, Paul had his prison songs, and
could play the sweet lessons of contentment, when his feet were in the stocks. (Ac.
16. 25) Augustine calls it “the paradise of a good conscience;” and
if it be so, then in prison we may be in paradise. When the times are
troublesome, a good conscience makes a calm. If conscience be clear, what though
the days be cloudy? is it not a contentment to have a friend always by to speak
a good word for us? Such a friend is conscience. A good conscience, as David’s
harp, drives away the evil spirit of discontent. When thoughts begin to arise,
and the heart is disquieted, conscience saith to a man, as the king did to
Nehemiah, “why is thy countenance sad?” so saith conscience, hast not thou the
seed of God in thee? art not thou an heir of the promise? hast not thou a
treasure that thou canst never be plundered of? why is thy countenance sad? O
keep conscience clear, and you shall never want contentment! For a man to keep
the pipes of his body, the veins and arteries, free from colds and obstructions,
is the best way to maintain health: so, to keep conscience clear, and to
preserve it from the obstructions of guilt, is the best way to maintain
contentment. First, conscience is pure, and then peaceable.
Rule 5. Learn
to deny yourselves. Look well to
your affections, bridle them in. Do two things: mortify your desires; moderate
your desires. We must not be of the dragon’s temper, who, they say, is so
thirsty, that no water will quench his thirst: “mortify therefore your
inordinate affections.” (Col.
3. 5) In the Greek it is, your evil affections; to show that our
desires, when they are inordinate, are evil. Crucify your desires; be as dead
men; a dead man hath no appetite.
How should a
Christian martyr his desires?
(1.) Get a
right judgment of the things here below; they are mean beggarly things; “wilt
thou set thine eyes upon that which is not?” (Pr.
23. 5) The appetite must be guided by reason; the affections are the
feet of the soul; therefore they must follow the judgment, not lead it.
seriously meditate of mortality: death will soon crop these flowers which we
delight in, and pull down the fabric of those bodies which we so garnish and
beautify. Think, when you are looking up your money in your chest, who shall
shortly lock you up in your coffin.
your delights. Set not your heart too much upon any creature, (Is.
62. 10) what we over-love, we shall over-grieve. Rachel set her heart
too much upon her children, and when she had lost them, she lost herself too;
such a vein of grief was opened as could not be staunched, “she refused to be
comforted.” Here was discontent. When we let any creature lie too near our
heart, when God pulls away that comfort, a piece of our heart is rent away with
it. Too much fondness ends in frowardness. Those that would be content in the
want of mercy, must be moderate in the enjoyment. Jonathan dipt the rod in
honey, he did not thrust it in. Let us take heed of ingulphing ourselves in
pleasure; better have a spare diet, than, by having too much, to surfeit.
Rule 6. Get
much of heaven into your heart.
Spiritual things satisfy; the more of heaven is in us, the less earth will
content us. He that hath once tasted the love of God, (Ps.
63. 5) his thirst is much quenched towards sublunary things; the joys
of God’s Spirit are heart-filling and heart-cheering joys; he that hath these,
hath heaven begun in him, (Ro.
14. 27) and shall not we be content to be in heaven? O get a sublime
heart, “seek those things which are above.” (Col.
3. 1) Fly aloft in your affections, thirst after the graces and
comforts of the Spirit; the eagle that flies above in the air, fears not the
stinging of the serpent; the serpent creeps on his belly, and stings only such
creatures as go upon the earth.
Rule 7. Look
not so much on the dark side of your condition, as on the light.
God doth chequer his providences, white and black, as the pillar of the cloud
had its light side and dark: look on the light side of the estate; who looks on
the back side of a landscape? Suppose thou art cast in a law-suit, there is the
dark side; yet thou hast some land left, there is the light side. Thou hast
sickness in thy body, there is the dark side; but grace in thy soul, there is
the light side. Thou hast a child taken away, there is the dark side; thy
husband lives, there is the light side. God’s providences in this life are
variously represented by those speckled horses among the myrtle-trees which were
red and white! (Ze.
1. 1) Mercies and afflictions are interwoven: God doth speckle his
work. O, saith one, I want such a comfort! but weigh all thy mercies in the
balance, and that will make thee content. If a man did want a finger, would he
be so discontented for the loss of that, as not to be thankful for all the other
parts and joints of his body? Look on the light side of your condition, and then
all your discontents will easily disband; do not pore upon your losses, but
ponder upon your mercies. What! wouldest thou have no cross at all? Why should
one man think to have all good things, when himself is good but in part;
Wouldest thou have no evil about thee, who hast so much evil in thee? Thou art
not fully sanctified in this life, how then thinkest thou to be fully satisfied?
Never look for perfection of contentment till there be perfection of grace.
Consider in what a posture we stand here in the world.
1. We are in a military condition, we
are soldiers, (2
Ti. 2. 3) now a soldier is content with any thing: what though he
hath not his stately house, his rich furniture, his soft bed, his full table,
yet he doth not complain; he can lie on straw as well as down; he minds not his
lodging, but his thoughts run upon dividing the spoil, and the garland of honour
shall be set upon his head; and for hope of this, is he content to run any
hazard, endure any hardship. Were it not absurd to hear him complain, that he
wants such provision and is fain to lie out in the fields? A Christian is a
military person, he fights the Lord’s battles, he is Christ’s ensignbearer. Now,
what though he endures hard fate, and the bullets fly about? He fights for a
crown, and therefore must be content. 2. We are in a peregrine condition,
pilgrims and travellers. A man that is in a strange country, is contented with
any diet or usage, he is glad of any thing; though he hath not that respect or
attendance which he looks for at home, nor is capable of the privileges and
immunities of that place, he is content; he knows, when he comes into his own
country, he hath lands to inherit, and there he shall have honour and respect:
so it is with a child of God, he is in a pilgrim condition; “I am a stranger
with thee, and a sojourner, as all my fathers were.” (Ps.
39. 12) Therefore let a Christian be content; he is in the world, but
not of the world: he is born of God, and is a citizen of the New Jerusalem, (He.
12. 22) therefore, though “he hunger and thirst, and have no certain
Cor. 4. 11) yet he must be content: it will be better when he comes
into his own country. 3. We are in a mendicant condition; we are beggars,
we beg at heaven’s gate, “give us this day our daily bread;” we live upon God’s
alms, therefore must be content with any thing; a beggar must not pick and
choose, he is contented with the refuse. Oh, why dost thou murmur that art a
beggar, and art fed out of the alms-basket of God’s providence?
Rule 9. Let
not your hope depend upon these outward things.
Lean not upon sandy pillars; we oft build our
comfort upon such a friend or estate; and when that prop is removed, all our joy
is gone, and our hearts begin either to fail or fret. A lame man leans on his
crutches; and if they break, he is undone. Let not thy contentment go upon
crutches, which may soon fail; the ground of contentment must be within thyself.
The Greek word which is used for contentment signifies self-sufficiency. A
Christian hath that from within that is able to support him; that strength of
faith, and good hope through grace, as bears up his heart in the deficiency of
outward comforts. The philosophers of old, when their estates were gone, yet
could take contentment in the goods of the mind, learning and virtue: and shall
not a believer much more in the graces of the Spirit, that rich enamel and
embroidery of the soul? Say with thyself, “if friends leave me, if riches take
wings, yet I have that within which comforts me, an heavenly treasure; when the
blossoms of my estate are blown off, still there is the sap of contentment in
the root of my heart; I have still an interest in God, and that interest cannot
be broken off.” O never place your felicity in these dull and beggarly things
Rule 10. Let
us often compare our condition. Make
this fivefold comparison.
1st. Let us compare our condition
and our desert together; if we have not what we desire, we have more than
we deserve. For our mercies, we have deserved less; for our afflictions, we have
deserved more. First, In regard of our mercies, we have deserved less. What can
we deserve? Can man be profitable to the Almighty? We live upon free grace.
Alexander gave a great gift to one of his subjects; the man being much taken
with it, “this,” saith he, “is more than I am worthy of.” “I do not give thee
this,” saith the king, “because thou art worthy of it, but I give a gift like
Alexander.” Whatever we have is not merit, but bounty; the least bit of bread is
more than God owes us; we can bring faggots to our own burning, but not one
flower to the garland of our salvation; he that hath the least mercy, will die
in God’s debt. Secondly. In regard of our afflictions, we have deserved more:
“thou hast punished us less than our iniquities deserve. (Ex.
9. 13) Is our condition sad? we have deserved it should be worse.
Hath God taken away our estate from us? he might have taken away Christ from us.
Hath he thrown us into prison? he might ahave thrown us into hell; he might as
well damn us, as whip us; this should make us contented.
2d. Let us compare our condition
with others; and this will make us content. We look at them who are above
us, let us look at them who are below us; we can see one in his silks, another
in his sackcloth; one hath the waters of a full cup wrung out to him, another is
mingling his drink with tears; how many pale faces do we behold, whom not
sickness, but want hath brought into a comsumption! Think of this, and be
content. It is worse with them, who perhaps deserve better than we, and are
higher in God’s favour. Am I in prison? Was not Daniel in a worse place? the
lion’s den. Do I live in a mean cottage? look on them who are banished from
their houses. We read of the primitive saints, “that they wandered in sheep’s
skins and goats’ skins, of whom the world was not worthy.” (He.
11. 37,38) Hast thou a gentle fit of an ague? look on them who are
tormented with the stone and gout, &c. Others of God’s children have had greater
afflictions, and have borne them better than we. Daniel fed upon pulse and drank
water, yet was fairer than they who ate of the king’s portion; (Dan.
1. 15) some Christians who have been in a lower condition, that have
fed upon pulse and water, have looked better, been more patient and contented
than we who enjoy abundance. Do others rejoice in affliction, and do we repine?
Can they take up their cross and walk cheerfully under it, and do we under a
lighter cross murmur?
3d. Let us compare our condition
with Christ’s upon earth. What a poor, mean condition was He pleased to
be in for us? he was contented with any thing. “For ye know the grace of our
Lord Jesus Christ, that though He was rich, yet for our sakes he became poor. (2
Cor. 8. 9) He could have brought down an house from heaven with him,
or challenged the high places of the earth, but he was contented to be in the
wine-press, that we might be in the wine-cellar, and to live poor that we might
be rich; the manger was his craddle, the cobwebs his canopy; he who is now
preparing mansions for us in heaven, had none for himself on earth, “he had no
where to lay his head.” Christ came in forma pauperis; who, “being in the
form of God, took upon him the form of a servant. (Ph.
2. 7) We read not of any sums of money He had; when he wanted money,
he was fain to work a miracle for it. (Mat.
17. 27) Jesus Christ was in a low condition, he was never high, but
when he was lifted up upon the cross, and that was his humility: he was content
to live poor, and die cursed. O compare your condition with Christ’s!
4th. Let us compare our condition
with what it was once, and this will make us content. First, Let us
compare our spiritual estate with what it was once. What were we when we lay in
our blood? we were heirs apparent to hell, having no right to pluck one leaf
from the tree of promise; it was a Christless and hopeless condition: (Ep.
2. 12) but now God hath cut off the entail of hell and damnation; he
hath taken you out of the wild olive of nature, and ingrafted you into Christ,
making you living branches of that living vine; he hath not only caused the
light to shine upon you, but into you, (2
Cor. 6. 6) and hath interested you in all the privileges of sonship:
is not here that which may make the soul content. Secondly, Let us compare our
temporal estate with what it was once. Alas! we had nothing when we stepped out
of the womb; “for we brought nothing into this world.” (1
Ti. 6. 7) If we have not that which we desire, we have more than we
did bring with us; we brought nothing with us but sin; other creatures bring
something with them into the world; the lamb brings wool, the silk-worm silk,
&c. but we brought nothing with us. What if our condition at present be low? It
is better than it was once; therefore, having food and raiment, let us be
content. Whatever we have, God’s providence fetcheth it unto us; and if we lose
all, yet we have as much as we brought with us. This was what made Job content,
“Naked came I out of my mother’s womb;” (Job
1. 21) as if he had said, though God hath taken away all from me, yet
why should I murmur? I am as rich as I was when I came into the world? I have as
much left as I brought with me; naked came I hither; therefore blessed be the
name of the Lord.
5th. Let us compare our condition
with what it shall be shortly. There is a time shortly coming, when, if
we had all the riches of India, they would do us no good; we must die, and can
carry nothing with us; so saith the apostle, “it is certain we can carry nothing
out of the world; (1
Ti. 6. 7) therefore it follows, “having food and raiment, let us
therewith be content.” Open the rich man’s grave and see what is there; you may
find the miser’s bones, but not his riches, says Bede. Were we to live for ever
here, or could we carry our riches into another world, then indeed we might be
discontented, when we look upon our empty bags. But it is not so; God may
presently seal a warrant for death to apprehend us: and when we die, we cannot
carry estate with us: honour and riches descend not into the grave, why then are
we troubled at our outward condition? Why do we disguise ourselves with
discontent? O lay up a stock of grace! Be rich in faith and good works, these
riches will follow us. (Re.
14. 13) No other coin but grace will pass current in heaven, silver
and gold will not go there; labour to be rich towards God, (Lu.
12. 21) and as for other things, be not solicitous, we shall carry
nothing with us.
Rule 11. Go
not to bring your condition to your mind, but bring your mind to your condition.
The way for a Christian to be
contented, is not by raising his estate higher, but by bringing his spirit
lower; not by making his barns wider, but his heart narrower. One man, a whole
lordship or manor will not content; another is satisfied with a few acres of
land; what is the difference? The one studies to satisfy curiosity, the other
necessity; the one thinks what he may have, the other what he may spare.
Study the vanity of the creature. It
matters not whether we have less or more of these things, they have vanity
written upon the frontispiece of them; the world is like a shadow that
declineth; it is delightful, but deceitful; it promiseth more than we find, and
it fails us when we have most need of it. All the world rings changes, and is
constant only in its disappointments: what then, if we have less of that which
is at best but voluble and fluid? The world is as full of mutation as motion;
and what if God cut us short in sublunaries? The more a man hath to do with the
world, the more he hath to do with vanity. The world may be compared to ice,
which is smooth, but slippery; or to the Egyptian temples, without very
beautiful and sumptuous, but within nothing to be seen but the image of an ape;
every creature saith concerning satisfaction, it is not in me. The world is not
a filling, but a flying comfort. It is like a game at tennis; providence bandies
her golden balls, first to one, then to another. Why are we discontented at the
loss of these things, but because we expect that from them which is not, and
repose that in them which we ought not? “Jonah was exceeding glad of the gourd.”
4. 6) What a vanity was it? Is it much to see a withering gourd
smitten? Or to see the moon dressing itself in a new shape and figure?
Rule 13. Get
fancy regulated. It is the fancy
which raiseth the price of things above their real worth. What is the reason one
tulip is worth five pounds, another perhaps not worth one shilling? Fancy
raiseth the price; the difference is rather imaginary than real; so, why it
should be better to have thousands than hundreds, is, because men fancy it so;
if we could fancy a lower condition better, as having less care in it, and less
account, it would be far more eligible. The water that springs out of the rock,
drinks as sweet as if it came out a golden chalice; things are as we fancy them.
Ever since the fall, the fancy is distempered; God saw that the imagination of
the thoughts of his heart were evil. (Ge.
6. 5) Fancy looks through wrong spectacles; pray that God will
sanctify your fancy; a lower condition would content, if the mind and fancy were
set right. Diogenes preferred his cynical life before Alexander’s royalty: he
fancied his little cloister best. Fabricius a poor man, yet despised the gold of
king Pyrrhus. Could we cure a distempered fancy, we might soon conquer a
Consider how little will suffice nature.
The body is but a small continent, and is easily recruited. Christ hath taught
us to pray for our daily bread; nature is content with a little. Not to thirst,
not to starve, is enough, saith Gregory Nazianzen; meat and drink are a
Christian’s riches, saith St Hierom; and the apostle saith, “having food and
raiment let us be content.” The stomach is sooner filled than the eye; how
quickly would a man be content, if he would study rather to satisfy his hunger
than his humour.
Believe the present condition is best for us.
Flesh and blood is not a competent judge. Surfeiting stomachs are for
banquetting stuff, but a man that regards his health, is rather for solid food.
Vain men fancy such a condition best and would flourish in their bravery;
whereas a wise Christian hath his will melted into God’s will, and thinks it
best to be at his finding. God is wise, he knows whether we need food or physic;
and if we could acquiesce in providence, the quarrel would soon be at an end. O
what a strange creature would man be, if he were what he could wish himself! Be
content to be at God’s allowance; God knows which is the fittest pasture to put
his sheep in; sometimes a more barren ground doth well, whereas rank pasture may
rot. Do I meet with such a cross? God shows me what the world is; he hath no
better way to wean me, than by putting me to a step-mother. Doth God stint me in
my allowance? he is now dieting me. Do I meet with losses? it is, that God may
keep me from being lost. Every cross wind shall at last blow me to the right
port. Did we believe that condition best which God doth parcel out to us, we
should cheerfully submit, and say, “the lines are fallen in pleasant places.”
Rule 16. Do
not too much indulge the flesh. We
have taken an oath in baptism to forsake the flesh. The flesh is a worse enemy
than the devil, it is a bosom-traitor; an enemy within is worst. If there were
no devil to tempt, the flesh would be another Eve, to tempt to the forbidden
fruit. O take heed of giving way to it! Whence is all our discontent but from
the fleshy part? The flesh puts us upon the immoderate pursuit of the world; it
consults for ease and plenty, and if it be not satisfied, then discontent begins
to arise. O let it not have the reins! Martyr the flesh! In spiritual things the
flesh is a sluggard, in secular things an horse-leech, crying “give, give.” The
flesh is an enemy to suffering: it will sooner make a man a courtier, than a
martyr. O keep it under! Put its neck under Christ’s yoke, stretch and nail it
to his cross; never let a Christian look for contentment in his spirit, till
there be confinement in his flesh.
Meditate much on the glory which shall be revealed.
There are great things laid up in heaven.
Though it be sad for the present yet let us be content in that it shortly will
be better; it is but a while and we shall be with Christ, bathing ourselves in
the fountain of love; we shall never complain of wants and injuries any more;
our cross may be heavy, but one sight of Christ will make us forget all our
former sorrows. There are two things that should give contentment.
1. That God
will make us able to bear our troubles. (1
Cor. 10. 13) God, saith Chrysostom, doth like a lutanist, who will
not let the strings of his lute be too slack lest it spoil the music of prayer
and repentance? nor yet too much adversity, “lest the spirit fail before me; and
the souls that I have made.” (Is.
2. When we
have suffered a while, we shall be perfected in glory; the cross shall be
our ladder by which we shall climb up to heaven. Be then content, and then the
scene will alter; God will ere long turn out water into wine; the hope of this
is enough to drive away all distempers from the heart. Blessed be God, it will
be better: “we have no continuing city here,” therefore our afflictions cannot
continue. A wise man looks still to the end; “The end of the just man is peace.”
37. 37) Methinks the smoothness of the end should make amends for the
ruggedness of the way. O eternity, eternity! Think often of the kingdom
prepared. David was advanced from the field to the throne: first he held his
shepherd’s staff, and shortly after the royal sceptre. God’s people may be put
to hard services here: but God hath chosen them to be kings, to sit upon the
throne with the Lord Jesus. This being weighed in the balance of faith, would be
an excellent means to bring the heart to contentment.
Rule 18. Be
much in prayer. The last rule for
contentment is, be much in prayer. Beg of God, that he will work our hearts to
this blessed frame. “Is any man afflicted? let him pray;” (Ja.
5. 14) so, is any man discontented? let him pray. Prayer gives vent:
the opening of a vein lets out bad blood; when the heart is filled with sorrow
and disquiet, prayer lets out the bad blood. The key of a prayer oiled with
tears, unlocks the heart of all its discontents. Prayer is an holy spell, or
charm, to drive away trouble; prayer is the unbosoming of the soul, the
unloading of all our cares in God’s breast; and this ushers in sweet
contentment. When there is any burden upon our spirits, by opening our mind to a
friend we find our hearts finely eased and quieted. It is not our strong
resolutions, but our strong request to God, which must give the heart ease in
trouble; by prayer the strength of Christ comes into the soul, and where that
is, a man is able to go through any condition. Paul could be in every state
content; but that you may not think he was able to do this himself, he tells you
that though he could want and abound, and “do all things;” yet it was through
Christ strengthening him. (Ph.
4. 13) It is the child that writes, but it is the scrivener that
guides his hand.
Use VI. Of Consolation to
the Contented Christian.
The last use is
of comfort, or an encouraging word to the contented Christian. If there be an
heaven upon earth thou hast is. O Christian! thou mayest insult over thy
troubles, and, with the leviathan, laugh at the shaking of a spear. (Job
41. 7) What shall I say? Thou art a crown to thy profession; thou
dost hold it out to all the world, that there is virtue enough in religion to
give the soul contentment; thou showest the highest of grace. When grace is
crowning, it is not so much for us to be content; but when grace is conflicting,
and meets with crosses, temptations, agonies; now to be content, this is a
glorious thing indeed.
To a contented
Christian, I shall say two things for a farewell. 1. God is exceedingly taken
with such a frame of heart. God saith of a contented Christian, as David
once said of Goliath’s sword, “there is none like that, give it me.” If you
would please God, and be men of his heart, be contented. God hates a froward
spirit. 2. The contented Christian shall be no loser. What lost Job by
his patience? God gave him twice as much as he had before. What lost Abraham by
his contentment? he was content to leave his country at God’s call: the Lord
makes a covenant with him, that he would be his God: he changeth his name; no
more Abram, but Abraham, the father of many nations: (Ge.
17) God makes his seed as the stars of heaven; nay, honours, him with
this title, “the father of the faithful:” (Ge.
18. 17) the Lord makes known his secrets to him, “shall I hide from
Abraham the things that I will do?” God settles a rich inheritance upon him,
that land which was a type of heaven, and afterwards translated him to the
blessed paradise. God will be sure to reward the contented Christian. As our
Saviour said in another case, to Nathaniel, “because I said I saw thee under the
fig-tree, believest thou? thou shalt see greater things than these:” (Jno.
1. 50) so I say, art thou contented (O Christian) with a little? thou
shalt see greater things than these. God will distill the sweet influences of
his love into thy soul; he will raise thee up friends; he will bless the oil in
the cruise; and when that is done, He will crown thee with an eternal enjoyment
of himself; he will give thee heaven, where thou shalt have as much contentment
as thy soul can possibly thirst after.
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