The Art of Divine
by Thomas Watson
"I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances I
am. I know both how to have a little, and I know how to have a lot. In any
and all circumstances I have learned the secret of being content—whether
well-fed or hungry, whether in abundance or in need. I am able to do all
things through Him who strengthens me." Philippians 4:11-13
"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 whatever state I am, therewith to be content," Philippians 4:11.
Believers, especially, wish to attain to a holy composure in their
tribulations and under the stresses caused by our increasingly secular
The Introduction to the Text.
These words are brought in 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 anxious for nothing."
Not to exclude: 1. A prudential care; for, he who
provides not for his own house, "has 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 worry about the outcomes and
events of things; "do not be anxious about your life—what you shall eat."
(Mat. 6:25) And in this sense it should be a Christian's care not to be
anxious. The in the Greek signifies "to cut the heart in pieces," a
soul-dividing worry; take heed of this. We are bid to "commit our way unto
the Lord;" (Psalm 37:5) the Hebrew word is, "roll your way upon the Lord."
It is our work to cast away anxiety; (1 Pe 5:7) and it is God's work to take
By our immoderate worry, we take his work out of his
hand. Worry, when it is extreme, either distrustful or distracting, is very
dishonorable to God; it takes away his providence, as if he sat in heaven
and did not mind the things here below; like a man who makes a clock, and
then leaves it to run by itself. Immoderate worry takes the heart off from
better things; and usually while we are thinking how we shall live—we
forget how to die. Worry is a spiritual canker which wastes and
dispirits; we may sooner by our worry add a furlong to our grief than a
cubit to our comfort. God does threaten it as a curse, "they shall eat their
bread with worry." (Ez. 12:1) Better to fast—than eat of that bread. "Be
anxious for nothing."
Now, lest any one should say, "Yes, Paul you preach that
to us which you have scarce learned yourself; have you learned not to be
anxious?" The apostle seemed tacitly to answer that, in the words of the
text; "I have learned, in whatever state I am, therewith to be content," a
speech worthy to be engraved upon our hearts, and to be written in letters
of gold upon the crowns and diadems of princes.
The text does branch itself into these two general parts.
I. The scholar, Paul; "I have learned."
II. The lesson; "in every state to be content."
, with the First
The First Branch of the Text, the SCHOLAR
I begin with the first: The scholar, and his proficiency;
"I have learned." Out of which I shall observe two things by way of
1. The apostle does not 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 cook. Paul was a practitioner. Christians hear
much—but it is to be feared, learn little. There were four kinds
of soils in the parable, (Lu. 8:5) and but one good ground. This is 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 great 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 who has despises this mystery, will
hardly ever learn to obey it. He who looks upon the things of heaven as
unimportant things; 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 of things concerning his salvation.
Who will learn that which he thinks is scarcely worth learning?
2. FORGETTING what we hear. If a scholar has
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 has a
retentive faculty, and turns heavenly food into nutrition. 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;
his is to fill a precious cabinet of the mind, with dung. But as Hierom
says, 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. Just 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, (says 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 in. 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 does 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 your consciences.
1. You have heard much against SIN. Are you
hearers—or are you learners? How many sermons have you heard against
covetousness, that it is the root, on which pride and idolatry grow? One
calls it a metropolitan sin; it is a complex evil, it does 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,
which cries, "give! give!" How much have you heard against rash anger,
that is a temporary insanity; 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
all." (Mat. 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 colors with which Satan paints sin. While the swearer
shoots his oaths, like flying arrows at God to pierce his glory—God shoots
"a flying scroll" of curses against him. And do you make your tongue a
racket by which you toss oaths as tennis balls? do you sport yourselves with
oaths, as the Philistines did with Samson, which will at last pull the house
down on you? Alas! how have they learned what sin is, who have not learned
to leave sin! Does he know what a viper sin is—who will play with it?
2. You have heard much of CHRIST. Have you learned
Christ? The Jews, as Jerome says, carried Christ in their Bibles—but
not in their heart. The 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 false apostles. (Ph. 4:15)
(3.) A man may profess Christ, and yet not learn
Christ. There are many professors in the world, who Christ will profess
against. (Mat. 7:22, 23)
Question. What it is then to learn Christ?
1. To learn Christ is to be made like Christ, to have the
divine character of his holiness engraved 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 looking-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 has 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," (John 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 a humble adherence
say, "my Jesus;" do not be 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-lives, our lives like rich diamonds cast a sparkling luster 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.
The Second Branch of the Text.
This word, "I have learned," is a word which imports
difficulty. It shows how hard the apostle came by contentment of mind;
it was not bred in nature. 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—that good things are hard to
come by. The business of true religion is not so easy as most imagine.
"I have learned," says Paul. Indeed—you need not teach a man to sin; this is
natural, (Psalm 58:3) and therefore easy. 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 piety must be learned. 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 exertion:
1. Because spiritual things are AGAINST nature.
Everything in piety is opposite to nature. There are two things in true
religion, 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. As for
a man to deny his own wisdom, and see himself blind. As to have his own
will, and have it melted into the will of God. As to be plucking out the
right eye, beheading and crucifying that sin which is the favorite, and lies
nearest to the heart. As for a man to be dead to the world, and in the midst
of need to abound. As for him to take up the cross, and follow Christ, not
only in golden—but in bloody paths. As to embrace religion, when it is
dressed in rags, and all the jewels of honor and preferment are pulled off.
All this is against nature—and therefore must be learned.
Likewise with self-examination; for a man to take his
heart, as a watch, all in pieces; to set up a spiritual inquisition, and
traverse things in his own soul; to take David's candle and lantern, (Psalm
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.
Likewise with self-reformation; to see a man, as Caleb,
walking opposite to how he once walked, the current of his life altered, and
running into the channel of piety—this is wholly against nature. When a
stone ascends, it is not a natural motion—but a violent. Just so, 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 the world that are hard to find out, which are not
learned without study. What then are divine things, which are in
sphere above the world, and beyond all human learning? 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—away from sense and reason.
The angels in heaven are searching into these sacred depths. (1 Pe. 22)
USE. Let us beg the Spirit of God to teach us.
We must be "divinely taught." God's Spirit must must teach—or we cannot
learn. "All your 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. Just so, we may read the Bible over—but
we can not learn effectually, until the Spirit of God shines into our
hearts. (2 Cor. 4:6) O implore this blessed Spirit! "I am the Lord your God,
who teaches you to profit." (Is. 48:17) Ministers may tell us our
lesson, God alone can teach us.
We have lost both our hearing and 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 can 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 preached Word
works so differently upon men. There are two men in one pew—the one is
wrought upon effectually by the Spirit; the other lies at the ordinances as
a dead child at the breast, and gets no nourishment. What is the reason for
this? Because the heavenly gale of the Spirit blows upon the one, and not
upon the other. One has the anointing of God, which teaches him all things
(1 John 2:27) the other has it not. God's Spirit speaks sweetly—but
irresistibly. 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 who are skillful in the mysteries of salvation, must have the
seal of the Spirit upon them. Let us make this our prayer: "Lord, breathe
your Spirit into your Word!" We have a promise, which may add wings to
prayer; "if you then being evil know how to give good gifts unto your
children; how much more shall your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to
those who ask him?" (Lu. 11:13) And thus much of the first part of the text,
the scholar, which I intended only as a short summary.
The Lesson itself, with the Proposition.
I come to the second, which is the main thing—the lesson
itself, "in whatever state I am, therewith to be content." Here was a
rare piece of learning indeed! The text has but few words in it; "in every
state content:" but if that be true—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!
The main proposition I shall insist upon, is this—that a
gracious spirit is a contented spirit. The doctrine of contentment is very
superlative, and until we have learned this—we have not learned to be
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 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 the original state of innocency, how
hard shall we find it, who are clogged with corruption!
2. It is of UNIVERSAL extent, it concerns all people.
1. It concerns RICH men. One would think it
needless to press those to contentment whom God has 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 into a thousand. The drunkard—the more he drinks, the
more he thirsts. Just so with covetousness. An earthly heart is like the
grave, which is "never satisfied;" therefore I say to you, rich men—be
content! Rich men are seldom content with their large estates; though
they have estate enough, they have not honor 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
honor and applause fills their sails; if this wind is low—they are
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 honor, to be the second man in the kingdom; (Es. 3:1) yet in the
midst of all his pomp, because Mordecai would not bow to him—he is
discontented, and full of wrath, and there was no way to assuage this
madness of revenge—but by spilling all the Jews' blood. The itch of honor
is seldom allayed, without blood. Therefore I say to you rich men—be
Rich men, if we may suppose them to be content with their
honor and magnificent titles—yet they have not always contentment in their
relations. She who lies in the bosom, may sometimes blow the coals;
as Job's wife, who would have him curse God himself; "curse God, and die!"
Sometimes children cause discontent. How often is it seen that the
mother's milk, nourishes a viper! He who once sucked her breast, goes
about to suck her blood! Parents often gather thorns from grapes, and
thistles from figs. Children are sweet-briar; like the rose, which is a
fragrant flower—but has its prickles. Our family comforts are
not all pure wine—but mixed; they have in them more dregs
than spirits. They are like that river which in the morning runs
sweet—but in the evening runs bitter. We have no charter of exemption
granted us in this life; therefore rich men had need be called upon to be
2. The doctrine of contentment concerns POOR men.
You who suck so liberally from the breasts of providence—be content; it is
an hard lesson, therefore it had need be learned very early. 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 hard to be content when poverty has
clipped our wings! But, though hard, "contentment in poverty" is an
The apostle had "learned in every state to be
content." God had brought Paul into as great variety of conditions as ever
we read of any man—and yet he was content; else surely 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
contentment in that condition. "We are perplexed," there is his affliction;
"but not in despair," there is his contentment. And, if we read a little
further, "in afflictions, in necessities, in distresses, in stripes, in
imprisonments, in tumults, etc." (2 Cor 6:4,5) there is his trouble. Behold
his contentment, "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 often,
etc." (2 Cor. 11:23, 24, 25) Yet behold the blessed frame and temper of his
spirit, "I have learned, in whatever state I am, therewith to be content."
Which ever way providence blew, Paul 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—or the bottom; he could sing
either the dirge—or the anthem; he could be anything that God would have him
to be. "I know what it is to be in need—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 blew upon him, he could bend with that, "I know how to be full;" and
when a boisterous gust of affliction blew, he could bend in humility with
that, "I know how to be hungry." Paul was like a dice—throw it which ever
way you will—it always falls upon a bottom! Let God throw the apostle which
ever 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 Paul—though
God carried him into various conditions—yet he was not overly elated 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 which lies at anchor may sometimes be a
little shaken—but never sinks; flesh and blood may have its fears and
disquiets—but grace keeps them afloat. 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 have
learned," (Ph. 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 a farmer to drawing pictures—what
strange art work would he make? This is out of his sphere. Take a great
painter, 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! Just so, bid a natural
man live by faith, and when all things go contrary, to be contented, you bid
him do what he has no skill in, you may as well bid an infant to guide the
stern of a ship! To live contented upon God in the deficiency of outward
comforts, is an art which "flesh and blood has not learned;" nay, many of
God's own children, who excel in some duties of religion, when they come to
this art of contentment, how do they bungle! They have scarcely commenced
the learning of this art.
The resolving of some questions.
For the illustration of this doctrine, I shall propound
Question 1. Should a Christian be insensible to
No—for then 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 is
possible, let this cup pass from me;" yet he was contented, and sweetly
submitted his will: "nevertheless, not as I will—but as you will." The
apostle bids us to humble ourselves "under the mighty hand of God," (1 Pe.
5:6) which we cannot do unless we are sensible of it.
Question 2. Whether a Christian may lay open his
grievances to God.
Yes. "Unto you have I opened my cause;" (Jer. 20:12) and
David poured out his complaint before the Lord. (Psalm 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 heart, prayer gives
vent, it eases 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. 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.
Question 3. What does contentment exclude?
There are three things which contentment banishes out of
its diocese, and which can by no means dwell with it.
1. Contentment excludes a vexatious repining.
Murmuring is properly the daughter of discontent. "I mourn in
my complaint." (Psalm 55:2) He does 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. Just so, when the heart is discontented—it casts forth the foam of
murmuring, anger, and impatience! Murmuring is nothing else, but the scum
which boils off from a discontented heart!
2. Contentment excludes an uneven discomposure.
When a man says, "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 distracted,
that he is not fit to pray or meditate, etc. When 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 dislocates and unjoints the soul, it pulls off the wheels.
3. Contentment excludes a childish despondency.
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 worry 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 spirit.
Showing the NATURE of contentment.
Having answered 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 three aphorisms.
1. Contentment is a DIVINE thing. It becomes
ours, not by acquisition—but as a gift from God. 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 human learning—but is of a heavenly
birth. It is therefore very observable that contentment is joined with
godliness, "godliness with contentment is great gain." (1 Tim. 6:6)
Contentment being an outgrowth of godliness, I call it divine, to
distinguish it to that 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—not the true diamond. Theirs was but civil, this is sacred;
theirs was only from principles of human 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
what I am born to; and if I meet with crosses, it is but the universal
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
piety can bring this into the soul's treasury.
2. Contentment is an INTERNAL thing. It lies
within a man; not in the bark—but the root. Contentment has both its
fountain and stream in the soul. The beams of comfort which a contented man
has, do not arise from foreign comforts—but from within. As sorrow is seated
in the spirit; "the heart knows its own bitterness;" (Proverbs 14:10) so
contentment lies within the soul, and does not depend upon externals. Hence
I gather, that outward troubles cannot hinder this blessed contentment.
It is a spiritual thing, and arises 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 goods—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—it can sing in the midst of a
3. Contentment is an HABITUAL thing. It shines
with a fixed light in the soul. Contentment does not appear only now and
then, as some stars which are seen but seldom; it is a settled temper of the
heart. One action does not denominate a person to be a contented person. One
is not said to be a liberal man, who gives alms once in his life; a covetous
man may do so. But he is said to be liberal, who is "given to hospitality,"
that is, who upon all occasions is willing to relieve the necessities of the
poor. Just so, he is said to be a contented man, who is given to
contentment. It is not casual but constant. Aristotle
distinguishes between colors in the face that arise from passion, and
those which arise from complexion. The pale face may look red when it
blushes—but this is only a passion. He is said properly to be ruddy who is
constantly so—it is his complexion. He is not a contented man, who is so
upon some occasions, when things go well with him. A contented man, is so
constantly—it is the habit and complexion in his soul.
Reasons pressing to holy contentment.
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. Contentment is
charged upon us as a duty, "be content with such things as you have." (Heb.
13:5) The same God, who has bid us believe, has bid us to be
content. If we obey not, we run ourselves into sin. God's Word is a
sufficient warrant; it has authority in it. God's Word must be the star
which guides, and his will the weight that moves our obedience; his will is
a law, and has 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
The second reason enforcing contentment, is, God's
PROMISE. For he has said "I will never leave you, nor forsake
you." (He. 13:5) Here God has 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 you; as long as I have any crown-revenues, you shall be
provided for; if you are in danger—I will secure you; if in need—I will
supply you. Would not that subject be content? Behold, God has here made
promise to the believer, and as it were, entered into bond for his security,
"I will never leave you;" shall not this charm away the devil of
discontent? "Leave your 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 he is dead and gone. God says, "trouble not yourself, be
content, I will take care of your children; and let your widow trust in me."
God has made a promise to us, that he will not leave us, and has entailed
the promise upon our wife and children; and will not this satisfy us? True
faith will take God's single bond, without calling for witnesses.
Be content, by virtue of a decree. Whatever
our condition is, God the umpire of the world, has from everlasting, decreed
that condition for us, and by his providence ordered all details thereunto.
Let a Christian often think with himself, "who has placed me here, whether I
am in a high sphere, or in a lower. Not chance or fortune, as the blind
heathens imagined. No! it is the wise God who has by his providence fixed me
in this orb."
We must act that scene which God would have us. Say not,
"such an one has 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 which 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 silent, I opened not my mouth, because you, Lord, did it." (Psalm
39:9) God's providence, which is nothing else but the carrying on of
his decree—should be a counterpoise against discontent. God has set
us in our station, and he has done it in wisdom.
We imagine that such a condition of life is good for us;
whereas if we were our own carvers, we would often cut the worst piece. Lot,
being put to his choice, chose 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 you!" but he had little comfort
either from 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 physical presence: whereas it was
best for them that Christ should be gone, for else "the comforter would not
come." (John 16:7) David chose the life of his child, "he wept and fasted
for it;" (2 Sam. 12:16) whereas if the child had lived—it would have been a
perpetual monument of his shame.
If we would be able to parcel out our own comforts, we
would often parcel out that which is harmful to us. Is it not well for the
child—that the parent should choose for it? were it left to
itself, it would perhaps choose a knife to cut its own finger. 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, should work our hearts to holy contentment. The
wise God has ordered our condition; if he sees it better for us to abound—we
shall abound; if he sees it better for us to be in need—we shall be in need.
Be content to be at God's disposal.
God sees, in his infinite wisdom, the same condition is
not best 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 is
adversity fit for all. If one man be brought low, perhaps he can bear it
better; he has a greater stock of grace, more faith and patience; he can
"gather grapes from thorns", pick some comfort out of the cross. Everyone
cannot do this. Another man is seated in an eminent place of dignity; he is
fitter for it; perhaps it is a place which requires more wisdom, which
everyone is not capable of; perhaps he can use his estate better, he has 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, that he places men
in different orbs and spheres; some higher, some lower. One man desires
health, God sees sickness is better for him; God will work spiritual health
out of physical sickness, by bringing the body of death, into a consumption.
Another man desires liberty, God sees bondage to be better for him; he will
work his liberty by bondage; 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 God's decree, and ordered by His wise providence?" Is this to be
God' child—or a rebel?
Use I. Showing 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 does not consist in having much; it is
Christ's maxim, "a man's life consists not in the abundance of the things
which he does possess," (Lu. 12:15) but it is in being contented. Is not the
bee as well contented with sucking from a flower—as the ox
which grazes 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," says Seneca, "is the happy man."
Discontent is a fretting temper, which dries the brains,
wastes the spirits, corrodes and eats out the comfort of life. Discontent
makes a man not enjoy what he does possess. A drop or two of vinegar will
sour a whole glass of wine. Just so, let a man have the affluence and all
worldly comforts—a drop or two of discontent will embitter and poison all.
Comfort depends 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.
Contentment is as necessary to keep the life comfortable, as oil is
necessary to keep the lamp burning. The clouds of discontent 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 whatever condition he will to himself. Why
do you complain of your troubles? it is not trouble which troubles—but
discontentment. It is not outward affliction which can make the life of a
Christian sad; a contented mind would sail above these waters—but when
discontent gets into the heart, then it is disquieted and sinks.
Use II. A check to the discontented Christian.
Here is a just reproof to such as are discontented with
their condition. This disease is almost epidemic. Some not content with the
calling which God has set them in, must be a step higher, from the plough to
the throne; who like the spider in the Proverbs, will "be in kings'
palaces." Others desire to go from the shop to the pulpit; (Nu. 12:2) they
would be in the temple of honor, before they are in the temple of
virtue. They are like apes, which most show their deformity when they
are climbing. It is not enough that God has bestowed gifts upon men, in
private to edify; that he has enriched them with many mercies—but must they
"seek you the priesthood also?" (Nu. 16:10)
What is this but discontent arising from pride? These
secretly tax the wisdom of God, that he has not made 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 desire to be anything but what God would have them. How is
it that no man is contented? Very few Christians have learned Paul's lesson:
neither poor nor rich know how to be content, they can learn anything but
If men are poor, they learn to be envious; they
malign those who are above them. Another's prosperity is an eye-sore. When
God's candle shines upon their neighbor's tabernacle, this light offends
them. In the midst of poverty, 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 needs, they lack this and that comfort, whereas their greatest
need 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 expresses
it. (Psalm 26:10) Put a good cause in one scale, and a piece of gold in the
other, and the gold weighs heaviest. There are, says Solomon, four things
that say, "it is not enough:" (Proverbs 30:15) I may add a fifth; the heart
of a covetous man.
So we see 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
dishonored; you can hardly speak with any—but the passion of his tongue
betrays the discontent of his heart! Everyone lisps out his discontent,
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 with discontent. 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 peeve; and because God killed his gourd. "Kill me too!" says he.
Rachel complains, "give me children, or I die;" she had many blessings, if
she could have seen them—but lacked this blessing of contentment.
God will supply our needs—but must he satisfy our lusts
too! Many are discontented for lack of a trifle—another has 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
foolish are some, who pine away in discontent for the lack of those things
which if they had, would but render them more sad!
Use III. A PERSUASIVE to contentment.
It exhorts us to labor for contentment—this is that which
does beautify and bespangle a Christian, and as a spiritual embroidery, does
set him off in the eyes of the world.
But methinks I hear some bitterly complaining, and saying
to me, Alas! how is it possible to be contented? "The Lord has made my chain
heavy! He has cast me into a very sad condition."
There is no sin—but labors 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 unveil it—and then make a reply. We must lay it down as
a rule, that discontent is a sin; so that all the pretenses and
apologies with which it labors to justify itself—are but the painting
and dressing of a strumpet.
The first 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 should never be more than our love to true religion.
1. We must be content, not only when God gives
mercies—but when He takes away. If we must "in everything give thanks," (1
Th. 5:18) then in nothing should we be discontented.
2. Perhaps God has taken away the cistern—that he
may give you the more of the spring. Perhaps he has 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 upon a spiritual gain. The comforts of the world run to
dregs; those which come out of the granary of the promise, are pure and
3. Your child was not given—but lent: "I
have, says Hannah, lent my son to the Lord;" (1 Sa. 1:28) she lent
him! the Lord has lent him to her. Mercies are not given to us—but
lent; what a man lends—he may take back again when he pleases. 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 pious, then remember, he "is taken away from the evil to
come," and placed in his center of felicity. This lower region is full of
vile and hurtful vapors; 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 preserve them—so has
God gathered your child as a sweet flower that he may preserve it with
glory, and preserve it by him forever.
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) Just 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! Don't be 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 harbor—but you are still tossing upon the
waves of trouble"
O Christian! be not discontented that you have parted
with such a child; but rather rejoice that you had such a child to part
with. Break forth into thankfulness. What an honor is it to be a parent to
beget such a child, that while he lives increases the joy of the glorified
angels, (Lu. 20:10) and when he dies increases the number of the glorified
5. If God has taken away one of your children, he
has left you more—he might have stripped you of all. He took away
Job's comforts, his estate, his children! Indeed his wife was left—but as a
cross. Satan made a bow of this rib, 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 blesses
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 has 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 old age—the seed of my comfort—and the only blossom out of which my
ancient family did grow.
6. God has promised you, if you belong to him, "a name
better than of sons and daughters." (Is. 56:5) Is he dead—who would have
been the monument to have kept up the name of a family? God has given you a
new name, he has written your name in the book of life! Behold your
spiritual heraldry; here is a name which cannot be cut off.
Has God taken away your only child? he has given you his
only Son! This is a happy exchange. What needs he complain of losses—who has
Christ! He is his Father's brightness, (He. 1:3) his riches, (Col. 2:9) his
delight. (Psalm 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 you discontented? Though your child is lost—yet you have
him for whom all things are loss.
7. Let us blush to think that nature should
outstrip grace. Pulvillus, a 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 enterprise—but with much composure of mind, went through
with the burial.
The second apology which discontent makes is,
"I have a great part of my estate suddenly melted away!" 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, but a pot of oil. (2 Ki. 4:2) But be content.
1. God has taken away your estate—but not your
eternal portion. This is a sacred paradox, honor and
estate are no part of a Christian's portion; they are rather luxuries
than essentials, and therefore the loss of those cannot denominate a
man miserable. Still the portion remains; "the Lord is my portion,
says my soul." (Lam. 3:24) Suppose one were worth millions, 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. Just so, 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 you," (Mat. 6:33) they shall be cast in as overplus.
When a man buys a piece of cloth he has 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. Just so, 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—but not my land.
Just so, a Christian has a title to the land of promise. Mary has chosen the
better part, which shall not be taken from her.
2. Perhaps, if your estate had not been lost—your soul
had been lost; outward comforts do often quench inward spiritual
heat. God can bestow a jewel upon us—but we fall so in love with it, that we
forget Him who 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 has been an
enchantment to draw away his heart from God; "those who will be rich, fall
into a snare." Are you troubled that God has prevented a snare?
Riches are thorns; (Mat. 13:7) are you angry because God has pulled away a
thorn from you? Riches are compared to "thick clay;" (Ha. 2:6) perhaps your
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 dams up our outward comforts—it is that the stream of our
love may run faster to Him!
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 who
often curses the bags of gold, can bless the meal in the barrel, and the oil
in the cruise. What if you have not the full fleshpots? yet you have a
promise, "I will abundantly bless your provision," (Psalm 132:15) and then a
little goes a long way. Be content you have 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 worry; more riches—but less rest; more revenues—but more occasions of
expense; he has a greater inheritance—yet perhaps "God gives a man riches,
wealth, and honor so that he lacks nothing of all he desires for himself,
but God does not allow him to enjoy them" (Ecc. 6:2) he has the dominion of
his estate, not the use; he holds more—but enjoys less. In a word, you has
less gold than he, perhaps less guilt.
4. You did never so thrive in your spiritual trade; your
heart was never so low—as when 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 when 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 when
you left off your sea-adventures. This is the best kind of merchandise. O
Christian, you never had 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
holiness? 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 be content!
The third 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 branches itself into two
particulars, whereto I shall give a distinct reply.
1st. My 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 has 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, before we would yield? He walked in the
tenderness of his heart towards us—but we walked in the stubbornness of our
hearts towards him; and since grace has 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. Has a parent given the child, not only the milk of the
breast—but "the sincere milk of the Word?" have you seasoned his tender
years with pious education? You can 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," says Jacob, "who has 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
willfully into the deep ponds of sin? Weep for your 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 reform him; he has promised "to turn the hearts of the children to
their fathers" (Mal. 4:6) and "to open springs of grace in the desert." (Is.
35:6) When your 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 home the twelfth hour. Monica was weeping for her son Augustine:
at last God saved him, and he became a famous instrument in the church of
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
1. God has placed you in your relation, and if you are
discontented, 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
2. God can make you a gainer by your husband's sin;
perhaps you would have never been so good—if he had not been so bad. The
fire burns hottest in the coldest climate. God often by a
divine chemistry, turns the sins of others to our good—and makes our
maladies into our medicines. The more profane the husband is,
often 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 exorbitance is often a bellows to blow up the flame of her
zeal and devotion the more. Is it not thus? Does not your husband's
wickedness send you to prayer? you perhaps would have never prayed so
much—if he had not sinned so much. His deadness quickens you the more—the
stone of his heart is an hammer to break your heart. The apostle says, "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
The next apology that discontent makes is—"But
my FRIENDS have dealt very unkindly with me, and turned against me."
It is sad, when a friend proves like a brook in summer.
(Job 6:15) The traveler being parched with heat, comes to the brook, hoping
to refresh himself—but the brook is dried up—yet be content.
1. You are not alone, other 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 you, O man, my equal, my guide, and mine
acquaintance; we took sweet counsel together: (Psalm 55:12, 13, 14) and in
the antitype Christ; he was betrayed by a friend. So 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:
has not he dealt treacherously with God? How often has he grieved the
Comforter, broken his vows, and through unbelief sided with Satan against
God! How often has he abused God's love, taken the jewels of God's mercies,
and made a golden calf of them—serving his own lusts! How often has he made
the free grace of God, which should have been a bolt to keep out sin, rather
a key to open the door to it! These wounds has the Lord received in the
house of his friends. Look upon the unkindness of your friend—and
mourn for your own unkindness against God! Shall a Christian condemn that in
another, which he has been too guilty of himself?
3. Has your 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 says, "trust 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 discontent.
4. You have a friend in heaven who will never fail you;
"there is a friend" says Solomon "who sticks closer than a brother!"
(Proverbs 18:24) such a friend is God; he is very studious and inquisitive
on our behalf; he has a debating with himself, a consulting and projecting
how he may do us good; he is the best friend, who gives contentment in the
midst of all discourtesies of friends. Consider,
(1.) He is a loving friend. "God is love;" (1 John
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. He carries us in his bosom,
(Is. 40:11) near to his heart. There is no interruption or stint in his
love; but as the Nile river, 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
engraved as with the "point of a diamond." All other love is hatred—in
comparison of the love of our Friend.
(2.) He is a caring friend: "He cares 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—and glory to ennoble us. It was David's complaint,
"no man cares for my soul!" (Psalm 142:4) a Christian has a friend who cares
(3.) He is a wise 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 skillful as
well as faithful; he knows what our disease is, and what remedy 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. He is faithful in
his promises; "in hope of eternal life which God, who cannot lie, has
promised." (Titus 1:2) God cannot lie; he will not deceive 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 promise; but he can never
break his promise.
(5.) He is a compassionate friend, hence in
Scripture we read of the yearning of his affections. (Jer. 31:20) God's
friendship is nothing else but compassion; for there is naturally no
affection in us to desire his friendship, nor any goodness in us to
deserve it; the loadstone is in himself. When we were full of sin—he
was full of love; when we were enemies—he sent an embassage of peace; when
our hearts were turned away 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 affections 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 not." (La. 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; but within a while proved false to
the crown, and went after the treason of Adonijah. (1 Ki. 1:7) God is a
friend forever: "having loved his own which were in the world—he loved them
to the end." (John 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.
The next apology is, "I am under
great REPROACHES!" Let not this discontent you, for,
1. It is a sign there is some good in you. The
applause of the wicked, usually denotes some evil in us—and their
censure usually imports some good in us. (Psalm 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
your sake I have born reproach;" (Psalm 69:7) then it is rather matter
of triumph, than dejection. Christ does not say, when you are
reproached be discontented; but rejoice! (Mat. 5:12) Wear your
reproach as a diadem of honor, 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—as Moses did. (He. 11:26) It should be a Christian's ambition to
wear his Savior's livery, though it is sprinkled with blood and sullied with
3. God will do us good by reproach: as David of Shimei's
cursing; "it may be, that 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
labors to read his sin—in every stone of reproach which is
cast at him. Besides, now we have an opportunity to exercise patience and
4. Jesus Christ was content to be reproached by us. He
"endured the cross, scorning its shame." (He. 12:2) It may amaze us to think
that he who was God, could endure to be spit upon, and be crowned with
thorns; 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 which the world shot at Christ, went deeper into his
heart, than the spear! His suffering was so ignominious, that the sun
blushed to behold it. 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 revilement and reproach, did the God of glory endure 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! These who are discontented at a reproach,
will avoid any persecution for Christ.
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, (Ph. 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,
does account it his honor—to be dishonored for Christ, (Ac. 15:4) and does
as much despise the world's censure, as he does 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 true
religion, too strict and severe. If men cannot give God a good word,
shall we be discontented or troubled that they speak hardly of us?
Such as labor to bury the glory of true religion, shall we wonder
that "their throats are open sepulchers," (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 has set us upon the celestial shelf!
The sixth apology that discontent makes, is disrespect.
"I have not that esteem from men, as is suitable to
my worth and grace!" And does this trouble you? Consider,
1. The world is an unequal judge; as it is full of
change—as of partiality. The world gives her respects, as she
does her places of preferment; more often by favor, than desert. Have you
real worth in you? It is better to deserve respect—and not have it;
than have it—and not deserve it!
2. Have you grace? God respects you, and his
judgment is most worth prizing. A believer is a person of honor, being born
of God: "Since you were precious in my eyes, you have been honorable, and I
have loved you." (Is. 43:4) Let the world think what they will of you;
perhaps in their eyes, you are vile; but in God's eyes, you are his dove,
(Ca. 2:14) his spouse, (Ca. 5:1) his 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—it does not matter how
I am looked upon in the world—if God thinks well of me. It is better that
God approves—than man applauds. The world may honor us—and God put us in his
black book! What is a man the better that his fellow-prisoners commend
him—if his judge condemns him! O labor to keep in with God; prize his love!
Let worldlings frown on me—I am contented, being a favorite of the king of
3. If you are a child of God, you must expect disrespect
from the ungodly. 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 respect and acclamation of the world. It is
sufficient that we shall have honor in our own country. (He. 13:14) It is
dangerous to be the world's favorite!
4. Discontent arising from disrespect, savors too much of
pride. A humble Christian has a lower opinion of himself—than others can
have of him. He who is taken up about the thoughts of his sins, and how he
has provoked God, cries out, as Agur, "I am more brutish than any man!"
(Proverbs 30:2) and therefore is contented, though he be set among "the
dogs of my flock." (Job 30:1) Though he is low in the thoughts of the
ungodly—yet he is thankful that he is not laid in "the lowest hell." (Psalm
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 heart, or did your heart stand where
your face does—you would wonder to have so much respect!
The next apology is, "I meet
with very great sufferings for the truth!" Consider,
1. 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 telescope—but upon the other at the little end of the telescope.
The carnal heart cries out, "Take away my affliction!" But a gracious
heart cries out, "Take away my iniquity!" (2 Sa. 24:10) The one says,
"Never has anyone suffered as I have done!" But the other says,
"Never has anyone sinned as I have done!" (Mi. 7:7)
2. Are you under sufferings: you have an opportunity to
show the valor and constancy of your mind. Some of God's saints would have
accounted it a great favor, to have been honored with martyrdom. One said,
"I am in prison—until I be in prison". You count 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 armor, 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, "those who who kill the
body, cannot hurt the soul," shall we not with much constancy and patience
devote ourselves to injuries for Christ, 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 honor 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 contentment 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! 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 be discontent; show by your heroic
courage, that you are above those troubles, which you cannot be
The next apology is, "the
prosperity of the wicked." "I envied the arrogant when I saw the
prosperity of the wicked!" Psalm 73:3 It is often that the evil enjoy
all the good—and the good endure all the evil. David, though a godly
man, stumbled at this, and had almost stumbled because of this. Well, be
contented; for remember,
1. Worldly goods are not the only things, nor the
best things; they are mere temporal blessings. These are but the
acorns with which God feeds swine! You 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 muddied puddles—but you have those springs of living
water which are purified with Christ's blood, and filled with his love.
2. To see the wicked flourish is rather a matter of
pity, than envy! This is all the heaven they will have! "Woe to
you who are rich, for you have your only happiness now!" (Luke 6:24) Hence
it was, that David made it his solemn prayer, "Deliver me from the wicked,
from men of the world, who have their portion in this life!" (Psalm 17:15)
These words are David's litany—"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! We should
not envy a man who will fry and blaze in hell—let him have enough of the fat
of the earth. O remember—for every sand of mercy which runs out of
the wicked, God puts a drop of wrath into his vial! "You are storing
up wrath for yourself in the day of wrath, when God’s righteous judgment is
revealed." Romans 2:5
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 for a
while; but, when they flourish as the grass, "it is, that they shall be
destroyed forever; (Psalm 92:7) the proud grass shall be mown down. Whatever
a sinner enjoys—he has a curse with it, "I will curse your blessings!"
(Malachi 2:2) And shall we envy him? Would we envy a dog--if poisoned food
was given to it! 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
honor their halter!
The next 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! Error
is a touch-stone to discover bad men. This is indeed sad; when the devil
cannot destroy the church by violence—he endeavors to poison
it; when he cannot with Samson's foxtails set the corn on fire, then he sows
tares. As he labors to destroy the peace of the church by
division, 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 or
be discontent. Consider,
1. Error makes a discovery of men. Error
reveals 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 unveiled, to the intent, first, that God's righteous judgment upon them
may be adored; secondly, that others be not infected. If a man has the
plague, it is well it breaks forth. For my part, I would avoid a heretic, as
I would avoid the devil, for he is sent on the devil's errand. I appeal unto
you; if there were a tavern in this city, where under a pretense of selling
wine, many bottles 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 those who are approved, may be made
manifest." (1 Cor. 11:19) Thus our love to Christ, and zeal for truth does
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 honor upon these, "these
are those who came out of great tribulation; (Re. 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 judgment
sound and their heart soft. God will have a trophy of honor 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 has 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 endeavored 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 would never
have 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—which settles by
3. God raises the price of his truth the more;
the very shreds and filings of truth are esteemed. 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
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 has freed you from the infection! When we see others have
the leprosy in the head—how thankful are we to God that he has 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 has kept us from drinking of
that deadly poison!
Branch 2. The times are full of IMPIETY! 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." (Psalm 55:6)
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 filthy lives of the wicked; he made the sins of Sodom,
into spears to pierce his own soul. We ought, if there is 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 has permitted it, and surely
not without some reasons; for,
1st. The Lord makes the wicked a hedge to defend the
godly; the wise God often makes those who are wicked and
peaceable, 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 after, that he did lack nothing. (Jer. 39:11,12) God sometimes makes
brazen sinners to be brazen walls to defend his people.
2nd. God does 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 has a magnetic force in it to
allure and draw even the wicked. Sometimes God makes a believing husband a
means to convert an unbelieving wife, and vice versa: "How do you know,
wife, whether you will save your husband? Or, how do you know, husband,
whether you will save your wife?" (1 Cor. 7:16) The godly living among the
wicked, by their prudent advice and pious example, have won
them to the embracing of true religion. If there were not some godly among
the wicked, how in a practical way, without a miracle, can we imagine that
the wicked should be converted? those who are now shining saints in heaven,
once served diverse lusts. (Ti. 3:3) Paul was once a persecutor; Augustine
was once a manichee; Luther was once a monk; but by the kind and holy
behavior of the godly, were converted to the faith.
The next apology that discontent makes, is,
smallness of abilities and gifts. "I
cannot (says the Christian) discourse with that fluency, nor pray with that
elegance, as others."
1. Grace is beyond gifts; you
compare your 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 extrinsic 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. Have you the
seed of God—the holy anointing? Be content!
(1.) You say, You can not
discourse with that fluency as others. Experience in
religion, is better than notions; and heart impressions are beyond
vocal expressions. Judas (no doubt) could make a learned discourse on
Christ—but well-fared the woman in the gospel, who felt virtue coming out of
Christ, (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
(2.) You say, you can not pray
with that elegance as others. Prayer is a matter more of the
heart—than the head. In prayer it is not so much fluency which
prevails—as fervency, (Ja. 5:16) nor is God so much taken with the
elegance of speech, as the efficacy of the Spirit.
Humility is better than fluency; here the mourner is the
orator; sighs and groans are the best rhetoric!
2. Be contented, for God does usually proportion a man's
abilities to the place to which he calls him; some are set in a
higher sphere and function, their place requires more gifts and abilities;
but the most inferior member is useful in its place, and shall have a power
delegated for the discharge of its peculiar office.
The next apology is, the
troubles of the church. "Alas, my disquiet and discontent is not
so much for myself, as the church! 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 sympathize; Jeremiah wept for the virgin daughter of Zion. We
must feel our brethren's hard cords, through our soft beds. In music, if one
string is touched, all the rest sound: when God strikes upon our brethren,
our "affections must sound like a harp". Be sensible—but give not way to
discontent. For consider,
1. God sits at the stern of his church. (Psalm
46:5) Sometimes it is a ship tossed upon the waves, "afflicted and tossed!
(Is. 54:11) but cannot God bring this ship to haven, though it meets
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. God loves his church, and takes much care of it.
The names of the twelve tribes were on Aaron's breastplate, signifying how
near to God's heart his people are. They are his portion, (De. 27:9)
and shall that be lost? They are his glory, (Is. 46:13) and shall that be
finally eclipsed? Certainly not! God can deliver his church, not only
from opposition—but by opposition; the church's pangs shall help
forward her deliverance.
2. God has always propagated true religion by
sufferings. The foundation of the church has 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 rises. The
holiness and patience of the saints, under their persecutions, has much
added both to the growth of true religion, and the glory of God. Basil and
Tertullian observe of the primitive martyrs, that many of the heathen,
seeing their zeal and constancy, turned Christians. Religion is that Phoenix
which has always revived and flourished in the ashes of holy men. Isaiah
sawn asunder, Peter crucified at Rome with his head upside down, Cyprian,
bishop of Carthage, and Polycarp of Smyrna, were both martyred for true
religion—yet evermore the truth has 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
The twelfth apology that discontent makes for itself, is
this, "it is not my afflictions which trouble
me—but it is my SINS which disquiet and discontent me."
Be sure it is so; do not prevaricate with God and your
own soul; in true mourning for sin when the present suffering is
removed—yet the sorrow is not removed. But suppose the apology is
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 over their sting, and not
looked up to the brazen serpent—they would never have been healed. That
sorrow for sin which drives us away from God, is sinful—for there is more
despair in it than remorse; the soul has so many tears in
its eyes, that it cannot see Christ! Sorrow, as sorrow, does not save, that
were to make a 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 do see them—that we may be
swallowed up with sorrow; (2 Cor. 2:7). Either he would stupify us,
or affright us; either keep the looking-glass of the law from our
eyes, or else pencil out our sins in such crimson colors, 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 renders 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 loses the acknowledgment of mercy—and we the comfort. If your sorrow has
turned and fitted you for Christ, if it has raised in you high prizings of
him, strong hungerings after him, sweet delight in him—this is as much as
God requires. A Christian does but sin—to vex and torture himself further
upon the rack of his own discontent.
And thus I hope I have answered the most material
objections and apologies which this sin of discontent does 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 contentment.