The Art of Divine
by Thomas Watson
Divine MOTIVES to Contentment.
I. Consider the EXCELLENCY of contentment.
Contentment is a flower which does not grow in every garden. You would think
it were excellent if I could prescribe a remedy or antidote against poverty.
Behold, here is that which is more excellent, for a man to be poor—and yet
have enough! Contentment teaches a man how to abound—in the midst of
poverty. Contentment is a remedy against all our trouble, an alleviation to
all our burdens, the cure of to every worry. Contentment, though it be not
properly a grace (it is rather a disposition of mind,) yet in it there is a
happy mixture of all the graces: it is a most precious compound, which is
made up of faith, patience, meekness, humility, etc. which are the
ingredients put into it. Now there are these seven rare excellencies in
First excellency. A contented Christian carries heaven
with 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. (Proverbs 27:19) When the heart rages through discontent, it is
like a rough sea, you can see nothing there, unless it is passion and
murmuring; there is nothing of God, nothing of heaven in that heart! But by
virtue of contentment, the heart becomes 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 and
peace are there. O what a peace is kept
in a contented heart! What a heaven! A contented Christian, is like Noah in
the ark; though the ark was 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 stirs not; the circumference of
the heavens is carried about the earth—but the earth moves not out of its
center. When we meet with motion and change in the creatures round about us,
a contented spirit is not stirred nor moved out of its center. 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 shaking
and trembling in times of trouble, the contented spirit can say, as David,
"O God my heart is fixed!" (Psalm 57:7) What is this, but a piece of heaven?
Whatever is defective in the creature, is made up in contentment.
A Christian may lack the comforts that others have—the land, and
possessions; but God has instilled into his heart that contentment which is
far better: in this sense that saying of our Savior is true, "he shall
receive a hundred fold." (Mat. 19:29) Perhaps he who ventured all for
Christ, never has his house or land again: yes—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 from his kingdom; yet in regard of that sweet contentment he
found in God, he had more comfort than men have in the time of harvest and
vintage. (Psalm 4:7) One man has house and lands to live upon, another has
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 lack, as to abound. O the rare
art, or rather miracle of contentment!
Wicked men are often disquieted in the enjoyment of all
things. But the contented Christian is joyful in the lack of all things! But
how does a Christian come 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: "Those who seek the Lord shall
not lack any good thing." (Psalm 34:10) If the thing we desire is good for
us—we shall have it. If it is not good, then the not having is good for us.
The resting satisfied with the promise gives contentment.
Third excellency. Contentment makes a man in tune to
serve God. It oils the wheels of the soul and makes it more agile
and nimble; it composes the heart, and makes it fit for prayer, meditation,
etc. How can he who is in a passion of grief, or discontent, "attend upon
the Lord without distraction?" Contentment prepares and tunes the heart.
First you prepare the violin, and wind up the strings, before you play a
score of music. Just so, 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 does 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 off from God, and fixes it upon the
present trouble, so that a man's mind is not upon his prayer—but upon his
trouble. Discontent disjoints 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 an external exercise, it lacks 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 does 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 undigested services? He who gives God only
the skin of worship, what can he expect more than the shell of
comfort? Contentment brings the heart into frame, and only then, do we
give God the flower and soul 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, such as:
(1.) To rejoice in God. How can he rejoice—who
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
contentment, which does prepare, and as it were, string the heart for duty?
Indeed contentment does not only make our duties light and agile—but
acceptable to God. It is this that puts beauty and worth into them; for
contentment 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
tedious 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 pillar of the soul. It fits a man to
bear burdens. He who has a contented heart—is invincible under sufferings. A
contented Christian is like the camomile, the more it is trodden upon—the
more it grows. As medicine works disease out of the body—so does contentment
work trouble out of the heart. Thus it argues, "if I am under reproach, God
can vindicate me; if I am in need, God can relieve me." "You 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. Just so, 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 has life
inwardly, when his outward comforts do not blossom. The contented heart is
never out of heart.
Contentment is the golden shield, which beats back all
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 in the net—which keeps the heart up when it is sinking through
discouragements. Contentment is the great under-prop; it is like the
steel beam, which bears whatever weight is laid upon it; nay, it is like
a rock which breaks the waves.
It is astonishing to observe the same affliction lying
upon two men—how differently they respond to it. The contented Christian is
like Samson, who 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 otherwise would break
Fifth excellency. Contentment prevents many sins and
First, Contentment prevents many
SINS. Where contentment is lacking—there is no lack of sin!
Discontentedness with our condition is a sin that does not go alone—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 contentment prevents:
(1.) Contentment prevents 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 bound—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 arises. It is for lack 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 has given me?"
Impatience is the daughter of infidelity. If a
patient has a bad opinion of the physician, and thinks that he comes to
poison him, he will take none of his remedies. Just so, when we have a
prejudice against God, and think that he comes to kill us, and undo us—then
we storm and cry out, like a foolish man, who cries out "away with the
remedy!" though it is in order to a cure. Is it not better that the remedy
smart a little—than the wound fester and rankle?
Impatience is for lack of love of God. We will
bear his reproofs, whom we love not only patiently—but thankfully. "Love
thinks no evil." (1 Cor. 13:5). Love puts the fairest, and most kind gloss
upon the actions of a friend; "love covers a multitude of 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. "Love endures all things." (1 Cor. 13:7) Had we
love to God—we would have patience.
Impatience is for lack of humility. An impatient
man was never humbled under the burden of sin. He who studies his sins, the
numberless number of them, how they are twisted together, and sadly
accented; is patient and says, "I will bear the indignation of the Lord,
because I have sinned against him." The greater noise drowns the lesser
noise; when the sea roars—the rivers are still. Just so, he
who lets his thoughts expatiate about sin, is both silent and amazed—he
wonders that it is no worse with him.
How great then is this sin of impatience! And how
excellent is contentment, which is a counterpoise against this sin! The
contented Christian believing that God does all in love, is patient, and has
not one word of complaint. That is the sin that contentment prevents.
(2.) Contentment prevents murmuring, a sin which
is a degree higher than the other; murmuring is quarreling with God, and
inveighing against him; "they spoke against God." (Nu. 21:5) The
murmurer essentially says, that God has dealt wrongly with him, and he has
deserved better from him. The murmurer charges God with folly and
unkindness. This is the language, or rather blasphemy of a murmuring spirit;
"God might have been a wiser and better God to me." 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? You
who are a murmurer, are 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 often ends in cursing: Micah's mother fell to
cursing when the talents of silver were taken away, (Ju. 17:2) so does the
murmurer when a part of his estate is taken away. Murmuring is the devil's
music. This is that sin which God cannot bear, "How long shall I bear with
this evil congregation, which murmurs against Me?" (Nu. 14:27) Murmuring is
a sin which whets the sword against a people: it is a land-destroying sin;
"neither murmur you as some of them also murmured, and were destroyed of the
destroyer." (1 Cor. 10:10) Murmuring is a ripening sin; without mercy it
will hasten England's funerals. O then, how excellent is contentment, which
prevents this sin! To be contented, and yet murmur is an impossibility. A
contented Christian acquiesces in his present condition, and does not
murmur—but admire. Herein appears the excellency of contentment; it is a
spiritual antidote against sin.
Secondly, Contentment prevents many
TEMPTATIONS. Discontent is a devil which is always tempting.
1st. Discontent puts a man upon sinful means. He who
is poor and discontented, will attempt anything; he will go to the devil for
riches! He who 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 both
eclipses reason, and weakens faith! It is Satan's policy, that he usually
breaks 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 argument as this, "he who
is in need must study self-preservation: but you are now in need; 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?" says he, "do you lack 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
temptation to steal.
Contentment is a shield against poverty; for he who is
contented, knows as well how to lack, as to abound. He will
not sin to get a living; though his food 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 apostasy.
"Surely, there is no God to take care of things here below! Would he allow
his holy people to be in need?" says discontent. "Throw off Christ's livery,
desist from the religion!" Thus Job's wife being discontented with her
condition, says to her husband, "do you still retain your integrity?" As if
she had said, "do you not see, Job, what has become of all your religion?
You fear God and eschew evil—and what are you the better? see how God turns
his hand against you; he has smitten you in your body, estate, family—and do
you still retain your integrity? What! still devout? still weep and pray for
him? you fool, cast off religion, turn atheist!" Here was a sore temptation,
which the devil handed over to Job by his discontented wife. Only his grace,
as a golden shield, did ward off the blow from his heart, "you speak as one
of the foolish women!"
"What profit is it," says the discontented person, "to
serve the Almighty? Those who never trouble themselves about religion, are
the prosperous men, and I in the mean while suffer need. I will just as well
give over driving the trade of religion—if this be all my reward!" This
logic often prevails. Atheism is the fruit which grows out of the blossom
O then, behold the excellency of contentment! "If God is
mine," says the contented spirit, "it is enough; though I have no lands or
tenements, his smile makes heaven; his loves are better than wine. 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
Sixth excellency. Contentment sweetens every condition.
Christ turned the water into wine. Just so, contentment turns the
bitter waters of Marah, into spiritual wine.
"Have I but little? Yet it is more than I deserve. This
contented spirit is given 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
has not muddied or poisoned it; it runs pure. This little—is a pledge of
more: this bit of bread—is a pledge of that bread which I shall eat in the
kingdom of God! This little water in the cruise—is a pledge of that heavenly
nectar which shall be distilled from the true vine! Do I meet with some
crosses? My comfort is, if they are 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
comparison with the weight of glory. Has God taken away my comforts from me?
It is well--the Comforter still abides with me."
Thus contentment, as a honeycomb, drops sweetness into
every condition. Discontent is a leaven which sours every comfort; it puts
vinegar into every mercy, it doubles every cross. But the contented spirit
sucks sweetness from every flower of providence; it can make poison into a
choice morsel. Contentment is full of consolation.
Contentment is the best commentator upon providence; it makes a
fair interpretation of all God's dealings. Let the providences of God be
ever so dark or dismal, contentment construes them ever in the best sense. I
may say of it, as the apostle of charity, "it thinks no evil." (1 Cor. 13:5)
"Sickness (says 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 would have
surfeited, and the better my estate had been, the worse my soul would have
been. God is wise; he has 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 everything from God in the
worst sense; it censures God—and all that He does. But the contented soul
takes all well; and when his condition is ever so bad, he can say, "truly
God is good." (Psalm 73:1)
II. The second motive to contentment. A Christian has
that which may make him content.
1. Has not God given you 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 your hard fortune—as long as
Caesar is your friend." So I say to a believer, "never complain of your
troubles—as long as Christ is your friend!" He is an enriching pearl, a
sparkling diamond; the infinite luster of his merits makes us shine in God's
eyes. (Ep. 1:7) In him there is both fullness and sweetness;
he is unspeakably good. Pitch up your thoughts to the highest
pinnacle, stretch them to the utmost bound, let them expatiate to their full
latitude and extent—yet they fall infinitely short of these ineffable
and inexhaustible treasures which are locked up in Jesus Christ! Is
not this enough to give the soul contentment? A Christian who lacks
necessities—yet having Christ, he has the "one thing needful."
2. Your soul is exercised and enameled 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!. Grace is the flower of the
heavenly paradise! it is the embroidery of the Spirit! Grace is the seed of
God! (1 John 3:9) Grace is the sacred unction! (1 John 2:20) Grace is
Christ's portraiture in the soul! Grace 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 tapestry, or the sky bespangled
with glittering stars.
These are the "true riches!" (Lu. 16:11) 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 cannot enrich the soul: oftentimes under silken apparel there is a
thread-bare soul. Earthly riches are corruptible: "riches are not
forever," as the wise man says. (Proverbs 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 you discontented? has not God given you that which is better than
the world? What if he does not give you the box—if he gives you the
jewel! What if he denies you pennies—if he pays you in
diamonds! What if he denies you temporal mercies—if he give you
spiritual mercies. What if the water in the bottle is
spent—you have enough in the fountain! What need he complain of the
world's emptiness—who has God's fullness!
"The Lord is my portion," says David, (Psalm 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, yes, I have a goodly
heritage!" Are you not heir to all the promises? Have you not a guarantee of
heavenly glory? When you let go your hold of natural life—are you not
sure of eternal life? Has not God given you the pledge and first
fruits of glory? Is not here enough to work your heart to contentment?
III. The third motive is—Be content, for else we confute
our own prayers. We pray, "May your will be done." It is the will
of God that we should are in such a condition; he has 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 argues folly.
IV. The fourth motive to contentment is—Because now God
has his end, and Satan misses of his end.
1. God has his end. God's end in all his
providences, is to bring the heart to submit and be content. Indeed, this
pleases God much—he loves to see his children satisfied with that portion he
carves and allots them; it contents him—to see us contented. Therefore let
us acquiesce in God's providence, now God has his end.
2. Satan misses 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 vexed his body with the purpose that he might
disquiet his spirit. He hoped to bring Job into a fit of discontent; and
then that he would in anger, break forth against God. But Job being so
well-contented with his condition—that he falls to blessing of God, and so
he did disappoint Satan of his hope. "The devil will cast some of you into
prison;" (Re. 2:10) why does 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—which he attempts; but by holy
contentment, Satan loses his prey, and misses of his end.
The devil has often deceived us; the best way to deceive
him, is by contentment 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 dances 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.
V. The fifth motive is to contentment is—By 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 valor 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 honor. 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 worshiped." (Job 1:20) One would have thought
he should have fallen upon the ground and blasphemed! No, he fell and
worshiped! He adored God's justice and holiness! Behold the strength of
grace! here was a 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 cowardly—but to content himself in denying of himself,
this is sacred.
VI. The sixth great motive to work the heart to
contentment is—The consideration that all God's providences, however cross
or difficult, shall do a believer good. "And we know that all
things work together for good, to those who love God." (Rom. 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 sadly twisted together: what if sickness, poverty, reproach, law-suits,
etc., 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 arises light in
darkness." (Psalm 112:4) Affliction may be baptized Marah; it is bitter—but
medicinal. Because this is so full of comfort, and may be a most excellent
remedy against discontent, I shall a little expatiate. It will be inquired
how the evils of affliction work for good?
First, They instruct us—they TEACH us. The
Psalmist having very elegantly described the church's trouble, (Psalm 74)
prefixed this title to the psalm, a Maschil, which signifies a psalm
giving instruction; and that which seals up instruction, works for
good. God puts us sometimes under the black rod of discipline; "hear
the rod, and who has 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 instructed, O
Jerusalem." (Je. 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. We are commonly
prosperous and proud, but corrections are God's corrosives to eat out the
proud flesh. Jesus Christ is the lily of the valleys, (Can. 2:1)
he dwells in a 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
has them still in remembrance, and is humbled in me. (La. 3:19,20) When men
are grown proud, God has no better way with them, than to brew them a cup of
Afflictions are compared to thorns, (Ho. 2:6) God's
thorns are to prick the bubble of pride. Suppose a man runs at another with
a sword to kill him; accidentally, it only lets out his abscess of pride;
this does him good: God's sword is to let out the abscess of pride; and
shall that which makes us humble, make us discontented?
Afflictions teach us repentance; "You have
disciplined me—and I have been disciplined. After I strayed, I repented." (Jer.
31:18,19) Repentance is the precious fruit that grows upon the cross.
When the fire is put under the still, the water drops. Just so, fiery
afflictions make the waters of repentance drop and distill from the eyes;
and is here any cause of discontent?
Afflictions teach us to pray better, "they poured
out a prayer when Your 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 of prayer. Never did
David, the sweet singer of Israel, tune his harp more melodiously, never did
he pray better, than when he was in affliction. Thus afflictions instruct
us; and shall we be discontent at that which is for our good?
Secondly, Afflictions TEST us. (Psalm
66:10,11) Gold is not the worse for being tried, or grain 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, who
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.
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 honor—and why then be
Thirdly, Afflictions are purgatives. These
evils work for our good, because they purge out sin, and shall I be
discontented at this? What if I have more trouble, if I have less sin? The
brightest day has its clouds; the purest gold its dross; the most refined
soul has some measure 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 is the purpose of affliction, why should we be discontented?
Fourthly, Afflictions both exercise and increase our
grace. Afflictions exercise our graces; everything 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 has need of awakening. What a dull
thing is the fire when it is hid in the embers, or the sun
when it is masked behind a cloud! A sick man is living—but not lively;
afflictions quicken and excite grace. God does not like 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 afflicted—if graces be more active.
Afflictions increase grace; as the wind serves to
increase and blow up the flame, so does the windy blasts of affliction
augment and blow up our graces; grace is not consumed in the
furnace—but it is like the widow's oil in the cruise, which increased
by pouring out. The torch, when it is beaten burns brightest, so does grace
when it is exercised by sufferings. Sharp frosts nourish the good grain—so
do sharp afflictions nourish grace. Some plants grow better in the shade
than in the sun; 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 water, 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?
Fifthly, These afflictions do bring more of God's
gracious presence into the soul. When we are most assaulted,
we shall be most assisted; "I will be with him in trouble." (Psalm
91:15) It cannot be ill with that man with whom 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 Hebrew 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 frown
upon us. Your statutes have been my song; where? not when I was upon the
throne—but "in the house of my pilgrimage." (Psalm 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 is 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 gracious presence!
Sixthly, These evils of affliction are for good, as they
bring with them certificates of God's love, and are evidences of his
special favor. Affliction is the saint's livery; it is a badge of
honor! 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
favor. God's rod is a scepter of dignity, Job calls God's afflicting
of us, his magnifying of us. (Job 7:17) Some men's prosperity
has been their shame, when others afflictions have been their crown.
Seventhly, 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 honor or riches 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 merit
glory, (as the papists do wickedly teach,) 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 of affliction! Afflictions in Scripture are
called "visitations." (Job 7:18) God's afflictions are but friendly
visits. Behold here God's rod, like Aaron's rod blossoming; and
Jonathan's rod, it has 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! Had you not met
with such a cross in the way—you might have gone to hell and never
VII. The seventh motive to contentment is—Consider the
evil of discontent. Malcontent has 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 has it—yet he is not pleased;
this is an evil under the sun. Now the evil of discontent appears in three
First Evil. The SORDIDNESS of it is unworthy of a
(1.) It is unworthy of his profession. It was
the saying of a heathen, "bear your condition quietly; know you are a man;"
so I say, "bear your condition contentedly, know you are a Christian." You
professes to live by faith: what? and not be content? Faith is a grace which
substantiates things not seen; (He. 11:1) faith looks beyond the present—it
feeds upon promises; faith lives not by bread alone; when the water is spent
in the bottle, faith knows where to have recourse. Now to see a Christian
dejected in the lack of visible supplies, where is faith? "O," says one, "my
estate in the world is down." Ay, and which is worse—his faith is
down. Unless he has many outward comforts—he will not be content. True faith
will trust God's heart—where it cannot trace his hand; and will venture upon
God's promise though it has nothing in view.
You who are discontented because you have not all that
you would, let me tell you—either your faith is a nonentity—or at best but
an embryo. It is a weak faith which must have 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? Does 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 personal right—but upon God's favor and
(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 which has
fallen upon you! You are nearly allied to Christ, and of the blood royal;
you are advanced in some sense, above the angels: "why are you, being the
king's son, lean from day to day?" (2 Sa. 13:4) Why are you 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.
Second Evil. Consider the SINFULNESS of discontent;
which appears in three things; the causes, the accompaniments, the
consequences of it.
(1.) It is sinful in the CAUSES.
The first cause of discontent is pride. He who
thinks highly of his
deserts, usually is discontent with his condition. A
discontented man is a proud man, he thinks himself better than others,
therefore finds fault with the wisdom of God. "Should the thing that was
created say to the One who made it—Why have you made me like this?" (Ro.
9:20) why am I not in better circumstances? Discontent is nothing else
but the boiling 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 who envies what his neighbor has—is
never contented with that portion which God's providence, parcels out to
him. As envy stirs up strife, 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 does 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 of discontent is covetousness.
This is a foul sin. Whence are vexing lawsuits—but from discontent? and
whence is discontent—but from covetousness? Covetousness and contentedness
cannot dwell in the same heart. Avarice is never satisfied. The covetous man
is like Behemoth, "behold he drinks up a river." (Job 40:23) "There are four
things (says Solomon) which never have enough." I may add a fifth—the heart
of a covetous man; he is continually craving. Covetousness is like a wolf in
the breast, which is ever feeding. Because a man is never satisfied—he is
The fourth cause of discontent is unbelief, which
is akin to Atheism. The discontented person is ever distrustful. The
provisions grow scanty, and the distrustful person asks, "I am in these
great difficulties, can God help me? Can he prepare a table in the
wilderness? Surely he cannot. My estate is exhausted, can God help me? My
friends are gone, can God raise me up more? Surely 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. Remember, distrust is worse than distress.
(2.) Discontent is evil in its ACCOMPANIMENTS,
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;" (Psalm 100:2) A sign that the oil of grace has
been poured into the heart, is when the oil of gladness shines in the
countenance. Cheerfulness credits religion; how can the discontented person
be cheerful? Discontent is a dogged, sullen humor. Because we have not what
we desire, God shall not have a good work or look from us. This is like the
bird in the cage, because she 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. 4:9)
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 Zarephath 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: "O man of God, what have you done to me? Have you
come here to punish my sins by killing my son?" (1 Ki. 17:18) So
ungratefully do we deal with God: we can be content to receive mercies
from God—but if he crosses us in the least thing, then, through
discontent, we grow touchy and impatient, and are ready to fly upon God!
Thus God loses all his mercies.
We read in Scripture of the thank-offering; the
discontented person cuts God short of this; the Lord loses 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
which sucks the poison of unthankfulness out of the sweetest flowers of
God's mercies! Discontent is a devilish chemistry, which extracts dross out
of the most pure gold. The discontented person thinks everything he does for
God too much, and everything God does for him too little.
O what a sin is unthankfulness! It is an accumulative
sin. I may say of ingratitude: "there are many sins bound up in this one
sin." It is a voluminous wickedness! How full of sin is discontent! A
discontented Christian, because he has not all the world, therefore
dishonors God with the mercies which he has. God made Eve out of Adam's rib,
to be a helper—but the devil has made an arrow of this rib, and shot Adam to
the heart! Just so, discontent takes the rib of God's mercy, and
ungratefully shoots at him—every blessing is 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
(3.) Discontent is sinful in its CONSEQUENCES,
which are these.
1. Discontent makes a man very unlike the Holy Spirit.
The Spirit of God is a meek Spirit. The Holy Spirit 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. Discontent 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." The malcontent 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 who 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. Discontent puts the
heart into a disorder and mutiny, and such as one cannot serve the Lord
4. Discontent sometimes unfits for the very use of
reason. Jonah, in a passion of discontent, spoke 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 what
he said! When discontent rules, then, like Moses, we speak unadvisedly with
our lips. This humor even suspends the very acts of reason.
5. Discontent does not only disquiet a man's self—but
those who are near him. This evil spirit troubles families, parishes,
etc. If there is but one string out of tune, it spoils all the music. Just
so, one discontented spirit makes jarrings and discords among others. It is
this ill-humor which breeds quarrels and law-suits. Whence are all our
contentions—but for lack of contentment? "What is the source of the wars and
the fights among you? Don't they come from the cravings that are at war
within you?" (Ja. 4:1) in particular from the craving 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.
Third Evil. Consider the FOOLISHNESS of discontent.
I may say, as the Psalmist, "surely they are disquieted in vain:" (Psalm
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 has put a vicissitude into the creature; all the world rings changes;
and for me to meet with inconstancy here on earth—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 says of riches,
is true of all things under the sun, "they take wings—and fly away!" Noah's
dove brought an olive-branch in its mouth—but presently flew out of the ark,
and never more returned. Such and such a comfort, brings to us honey in its
mouth—but it has 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 broken." (Proverbs 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 wishes 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
for them, because they may have no bigger. Discontent eats out the
comfort of life!
Besides, it were well if it were seriously weighed, how
harmful this is even to our health; for discontent, as it does discruciate
the mind—so it does pine the body. It frets as a moth; and by wasting
the spirits, weakens the vitals. The cancer of discontent harms both
the body and the mind—and is not this folly?
3. Discontent does not ease us of our burden—but it makes
it heavier. A contented spirit goes cheerfully under its
affliction. Discontent makes our grief as unsupportable as it is
unreasonable. If the leg is well, it can endure a fetter and not complain;
but if the leg is injured, then the fetters trouble. Discontent of mind, is
the sore which 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 affliction?
4. Discontent spins out our troubles the longer.
One is discontented because he is in need, and therefore he is in need
because he is discontented; he murmurs because he is afflicted, and
therefore he is afflicted, because he murmurs. Discontent delays and
adjourns our mercies. God deals herein with us, as we do with our
children—when they are quiet and cheerful, they shall have anything; but if
we see them cry and fret, then we withhold from them. Just so, 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 his strokes; God will tame our peevish hearts. What did Israel get
by their peevishness? they were within eleven days journey to Canaan; and
now they were discontented and began to murmur, so 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.
VIII. The eighth motive to contentment is this: Why is
not a man content with that which he has? Perhaps if he had more
he would be less content. Covetousness is cancer which is never satisfied.
The world is such that the more we have—the more we crave. The
world 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, and by moderating and lessening his desires. He who is
contented has enough! A man in a fever 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
IX. The ninth motive to contentment is—The shortness of
life. Life is "but a vapor," says James. (Ja. 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 runner, (Job
9:25). Our life is indeed like a day. Infancy is as it were the
day-break, youth is the sun-rising, adulthood 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 you are to be here but a day; you have but a
short way to go—and what is the need of a long provision for a short way? If
a traveler has 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. If God gives us but enough to bear our charges, until night, it
is sufficient, let us be content. If a man had the lease of a house—but for
two or three days, and he should begin building and planting, would he not
be judged very foolish? Just 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, "I am at the point of death—so what profit shall
this birth-right do to me?" so let a Christian say in a religious sense, "I
am at the point of death, my grave is going to be made—so what good will the
world do to me? If I have but enough until sun-setting, I am content."
X. The tenth motive to contentment is—Consider seriously
the nature of a prosperous condition. There are in a prosperous
estate three things,
1. There is more TROUBLE in a prosperous condition.
Many who have abundance of all things to enjoy—yet have not so much
contentment and sweetness in their lives, as some who go to their hard
labor. Sad, anxious thoughts often attend a prosperous condition.
Worry is the evil spirit which haunts the rich man—and will not
allow him to be quiet. When his chest is full of gold—his heart is full of
worry, either how to manage, or how to increase, or how to
secure what he has gotten. O the troubles and perplexities which attend
prosperity! The world's high seats are very uneasy. Sunshine is
pleasant—but sometimes it scorches with its heat. The bee gives
honey—but sometimes it stings! Just so, prosperity has its sweetness—and
also its sting! "But godliness with contentment is great gain." 1 Timothy
6:6. Never did Jacob sleep better, than when he had the heavens for his
canopy, and a hard stone for his pillow. A large 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 often his snare; he is ready to engulf himself too deep in
these sweet waters. In this sense it is hard to know how to abound.
It must be a strong brain which can bear heady wine. Just so, he has need
have of much wisdom and grace, to know how to bear a prosperous condition;
either he is ready to kill himself with worry—or to glut himself with
luscious delights. O the hazard of honor, the damage of prosperity! Pride,
lust, and worldliness, are the three worms which breed in prosperity. (De.
32:15) The pastures of prosperity are dangerous. How soon are we
ensnared upon the soft pillow of ease! Prosperity is often a trumpet
which sounds a retreat—it calls men off from the pursuit of religion. The
sun of prosperity often dulls and puts out the fire of piety! How many
souls has the cancer of abundance killed? "People who want to get
rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful
desires that plunge men into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is
a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered
from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs." (1 Timothy 6:9-10)
The world is full of golden sands—but they are
quick-sands! Prosperity, like smooth Jacob, will supplant and betray! A
great estate, without much vigilance—will be a thief to rob us of heaven!
Such as are upon the pinnacle of honor, are in most danger of
falling. A more humble condition, is less hazardous. The little boat rides
safely along, when the gallant ship with its large 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. Just so,
some have fallen so fast asleep on the lap of ease and plenty, that they
have never awaked until they have been in hell!
The world's fawning—is worse than its frowning!
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, withers; and fruit, when it mellows, begins to rot.
Just so, when men mellow with the sun of prosperity, commonly their souls
begin to rot in sin! "How hard it is for the rich to enter 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 have not as much of the world, as others do? We are not in
so much danger! As we lack the riches of the world—so we lack their
temptations. O the abundance of danger—which is in abundance!
When men's estates are low, they are more serious about
their souls, and more humble. But when they have abundance, then their
hearts begin to swell with their estates. 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 godly things, he grows weak—and a thousand
to one if all his religion does not die! But bring a Christian from a rich
flourishing estate into a low condition—and he has a better appetite after
heavenly things, he hungers more after Christ, he thirsts more for grace, he
eats more of the Bread of Life; this man is now likely to live and hold out
in his piety. Be content then, with moderation; if you have but enough to
pay for your passage to heaven, it suffices. "If we have food and
clothing—we will be content with these." 1 Timothy 6:8
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 king was pursued by his enemies. Envy cannot endure
a superior; an envious man knows not how to live—but upon the ruins of his
neighbors; he raises 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; but the fruit-laden tree shall
have many savage suitors. O then be contented to carry a lesser sail! He who
has less revenues, has less envy. Such as make the greatest show in the
world, are the bulls-eye for envy and malice to shoot at!
3. A prosperous condition has in it, a greater RECKONING;
every man must be responsible for his talents. You who have great
possessions in the world, do you use them for God's glory? Are you rich in
good works? Grace makes a private person—a common good. Do you disburse your
money for public uses? It is lawful, in this sense, to put out our money to
use. O let us all remember that we are but stewards; and our Lord and Master
will before long say, "give an account of your stewardship!" The greater our
estate—the greater our responsibilities; the more our revenues—the more our
reckonings. You who have but little in the world—be content. God will expect
less from you—where He has sowed more sparingly.
XI. The eleventh motive to contentment is—The EXAMPLE of
those who have been eminent for contentment. Examples are
usually more forcible than precepts. Abraham being called out
to hard 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 from his line, "in Isaac shall your seed be called." So that to
offer up Isaac seemed not only to oppose Abraham's reason—but his faith too;
for, if Isaac dies, the world, for ought he knew—must be without a Mediator.
Besides, if Isaac must be sacrificed, was there no other hand to do it, but
Abraham's? Must the father needs be the executioner? Must he
who was the instrument of giving Isaac his being, be the instrument of
taking it away? Yet Abraham does 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 prosperous situation, and become a wandering pilgrim?"
Abraham is content. Besides, Abraham went blindfold, "He did not know where
he was going." God held him in suspense; he must go wander—he knows not
where; and when he does come to the place which God has laid out for him, he
knows not what oppositions he shall meet with there. The world seldom casts
a favorable 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
Haran, a city in Mesopotamia. When he had sojourned there a while, his
father dies. Then he moved to Canaan; there a famine arises; 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
lived in tents: 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 says to him, "Abraham, go, leave your country," and
this word was enough to lead him all over the world; he is presently upon
his march. Here was a man who 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," says he, (he spoke in
a heathen dialect) "has 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 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 worldly things, which Christians did magnify? Though they knew
not God, or what true happiness meant; yet, they would speak very sublimely
of a deity, and of the life to come, and for those elysian delights, which
they did but imagine—so they undervalued and despised the things here
below! It was the doctrine they taught their scholars, and which some of
them practiced, 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 that we may have
more of Christ! May not Christians blush to see the heathens content
with little of this world—and to see themselves so elatted with the
love of earthly things, that if they begin a little to abate, and their
provisions grow short, they murmur, and are like Micah, "You took away the
gods I made. What else do I have?" (Judges 18:24) Have heathens gone so far
in contentment, and is it not sad for us to be discontent?
These heroes of their time, how did they embrace death
itself! Socrates died in prison; Herculus was burnt alive; Cato, who Seneca
calls the portrait of virtue, was 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, who died
with so much valor and patience?" These severe afflictions did not make them
alter their countenance—and do I see a Christian appalled and amazed? Death
did not affright them—and does 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 that 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 donkey to learn contentedness! We think that we
never have enough, and are always storing up. "Look at the birds of
the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your
heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they?" (Mat.
6:26) It is an motive which Christ brings to make Christians contented with
their condition; the birds do not store up—yet they are provided for, and
are contented. But if you are discontented, you are much worse than they
are. Let these examples quicken us.
XII. The twelfth motive to contentment is—Whatever
affliction or trouble a child of God meets with—it is all the hell he shall
ever have! Whatever eclipse may be upon his name or estate—it is
a little cloud which will soon be blown over—and then his hell is
past. Death begins a wicked man's hell. Death ends a godly
man's hell. Think with yourself, "What is my affliction? It is but a
temporary hell. Indeed if all my hell is here on earth--it is but an easy
hell. What is the cup of affliction, compared 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 is in this life—and in the midst of this hell we may
have the love of God, and then it is no more hell—but paradise! If all our
hell is here, we may see to the end of it; it is but skin-deep, it cannot
touch the soul. It is a short-lived hell. After a dreary night of
affliction, comes the bright morning of glory! Since our lives are short—our
trials cannot be long. As our riches take wings and fly away—so do our
sufferings. Let us learn to be content, whatever our circumstances.
XIII. The thirteenth motive to contentment is this—To
have much of the world, and to lack contentment, is a great judgement.
For a man to have a huge stomach, that whatever food you give him—he is
still craving and is never satisfied—this is a great judgement upon the man!
Likewise, you who are a devourer of money, and yet never have enough—but
still cry, "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 sepulcher,
(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! "Whoever loves
money never has money enough; whoever loves wealth is never satisfied with
his income." (Ec. 5:10) And is not this a curse!
It was a severe judgement upon the people of Judah, "You
have food to eat, but not enough to fill you up. You have wine to drink, but
not enough to satisfy your thirst." (Haggai 1:6) O let us take heed of this
plague! Did not Esau say to his brother, "I have enough, my brother,"
(Gen. 33:9); and shall not a Christian say so much more. It is sad that our
hearts should be dead to heavenly things—that they are a sponge to suck in
All that has been said, should be sufficient to work our
minds to heavenly contentment.
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.
I. He must not be contented in a NATURAL estate.
Here we must learn not to be content.
A sinner in his natural state, is
under the wrath of God, (John 3:16) and shall he be content
when that dreadful vial is about to be poured out upon him! Is it nothing to
lie forever under the scorchings of divine fury? "Who can dwell with
A sinner, as a sinner, is under
the power of Satan, (Ac. 26:18) and shall he be content in this
dreadful state! Who would be contented to stay in the enemies' quarters?
While we sleep in the lap of sin, the devil does to us as the Philistines
did to Samson— he 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 contentment. 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 does sin strengthen. It is hard to get out of sin,
when the heart as a garrison is supplied and fortified by sin. A young
tree is easily removed—but when the tree is once rooted, there is no
stirring of it. Just so, you who are rooted in your pride, unbelief,
impenitency, it will cost you many a hard pull before you are plucked out of
your natural estate! (Jer. 6:16) It is a hard thing to have a brazen face
and a broken heart! "He travails with iniquity;" (Psalm 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 says, "why are you cast down, O my soul?" (Psalm 43:5) But a
sinner should say to himself, why are you not disquieted, O my soul? Why is
it that you lay afflictions so to heart, and can 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!
II. Though, 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 dishonored.
If a man's trade be such that he must trespass upon a command of God,
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 lose some of his gain, so he may lessen some of his guilt. So,
for servants who 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 the profane.
1. Lest we come to be infected with the poison of their
evil 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, trod just
in his steps, therefore says he, "I beg you to send him to my father’s
house—because I have five brothers—to warn them, so they won’t also come to
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
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. We do as we see others do before us, especially
those who are above us. If the head is sick, the other parts of the body are
distempered. If the sun shines not upon the mountains, it must needs set in
the valleys. 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 Your wrath on the families that don’t
call on Your name." (Jer. 10:25) For lack 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 scroll, written within and
without with curses, it enters into the house of the thief and the perjurer,
"and consumes the timber and the stones thereof." (Ze. 5:4) Is it not of sad
consequence to live in a profane family, when the sin of the master pulls
his house about his ears? If the stones and timber be destroyed, how shall
the servant escape? And suppose God does not send a temporal scroll
of curses in the family, there is a spiritual scroll, and that is
worse. "The Lord’s curse is on the household of the wicked!" (Proverbs 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—but the house of the wicked is a little hell. (Proverbs 7:27) Oh,
incorporate yourselves into a pious family; the house of a godly man is
perfumed with a blessing. "The Lord’s curse is on the household of the
wicked, but He blesses the home of the righteous." (Proverbs 3:33) When the
holy oil of grace is poured on the head, the savor of this ointment sweetly
diffuses itself, and the virtue of it runs down upon the skirts of the
family. Pious examples are very magnetic 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 partake of their fragrance.
III. The 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 ascension 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 distinguishes between our being
in Christ, and our growing in him; our maturing, and our
flourishing. Do not be content with a little piety.
It is not enough that there is life—but there must
be fruit. Barrenness in the law was accounted a curse: the further 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 grain or two of grace. "My Father is glorified by this: that
you produce much fruit and prove to be My disciples." (John 15:8) O
covet more grace! never think you have enough. We are bid to covet the best
things. (1 Cor. 12:31) It is a heavenly ambition, when we desire to be high
in God's favor. It is a blessed contentment when all the strife is "who
shall be most holy". Paul, though he was content with a little of the
world—yet not with a little grace. "I do not consider myself to have taken
hold of it. But one thing I do: forgetting what is behind and reaching
forward to what is ahead, I pursue as my goal the prize promised by God’s
heavenly call 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
his grace; he pants and breathes after more. This is his prayer, "Lord, more
conformity to Christ, more communion with Christ!" He would sincerely 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 they are called 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 colors, and grew so illustrious, that God himself was in
love with it, and makes his faith a pattern to all believers.
A true Christian grows in sweetness. A poisonous
weed may grow as much as the corn; but the one has a harsh sour taste, the
other mellows as it grows. A 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
He grows in the exercise of his grace; he has not
only oil in his lamp—but his lamp is also burning and shining. Grace is
agile and dexterous. Christ's vines flourish; (Ca. 6:11) hence we read of "a
lively hope, (1 Pe. 1:3) and "a fervent 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 vigor, 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 fig-tree put forth her green figs." The fresh gales of the Spirit
sweetly revive and nourish 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. 6:16)
A true Christian grows both in the kind and in the
degree of grace. To his spiritual living he gets an augmentation,
"Make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness,
knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control,
perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness, brotherly
kindness; and to brotherly kindness, love. For if you possess these
qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective
and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ." (2 Pe. 1:5-8)
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 grows exceedingly;" (2 Th. 1:3)
it increases over and above.
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. (Psalm
92:14) A heaven-born plant is ever growing; he never thinks he grows enough;
he is not content unless he adds every day to his spiritual stature. We must
not be content just with so much grace as will keep life and soul together,
a grain 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 temptations are renewed,
our needs are renewed—and shall not our strength be renewed? O
be not content with grace in its infancy! You look for degrees of glory, be
Christians of high degrees. Though a believer should be contented with a
little estate—yet not with a little piety. A Christian of the right breed,
labors still to excel himself, and come nearer to that holiness in God, who
is the original, the pattern, and prototype of all holiness.
Showing how a Christian may know whether he has learned this Divine Art of
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
has learned this lesson of contentment? I shall lay down some characters
by which you shall know it.
1. A contented spirit is SILENT when under afflictions.
"I was silent; I would not open my mouth, for You are the one who has done
this!" (Psalm 39:9) Contentment silences all dispute: "he sits alone and
keeps silence." (La. 3:28)
There is a sinful silence—when God is dishonored,
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 dreadful
message from God, "that judgment is coming for his family," (1 Sa. 3:13,14)
does Eli murmur or dispute? No! he has not one word to say against God: "It
is the Lord's will. Let him do what he thinks best." A discontented spirit
says 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 says, as Eli, ""It is the Lord's will. Let him do what he thinks
best." 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 was not
fitting for a prophet.
2. A contented spirit is a CHEERFUL spirit.
Contentment is something more than patience; for patience denotes only
submission, contentment denotes cheerfulness. A contented Christian is more
than passive; he does not only bear the cross—but take up the
cross. (Mat. 6:24) He looks upon God as a wise God; and whatever he does, it
is in order to a cure. Hence the contented Christian is cheerful, and with
the apostle, "I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in
persecutions, in difficulties." (2 Cor. 12:10) He does not only submit
to God's dealings—but rejoices in them! He does not only say, "just
is the Lord in all that has befallen me," but "good is the Lord."
This is to be contented. A sullen melancholy is hateful to God. It is said,
"God loves a cheerful giver," (2 Cor. 9:7) yes and God loves a
cheerful liver! We are bid in Scripture, "not to be anxious," but we
are not bid not to be cheerful. He who is contented with his condition, does
not abate of his spiritual joy; and indeed he has that within him which is
the ground of cheerfulness; he carries a pardon sealed in his heart! (Mat.
3. A contented spirit is a THANKFUL spirit.
This is a degree above cheerfulness; "in everything giving thanks." (1 Th.
5:18) A gracious heart spies mercy in every condition, therefore has
his heart pitched up to thankfulness. Others will bless God for
prosperity—but he blesses him for affliction. Thus he reasons with
himself; am I in need? God sees it better for me to lack than to abound; God
is now dieting me, he sees it better for my spiritual health sometimes to be
kept fasting; therefore he does 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 sepulcher
wherein they are buried.
A contented Christian in the greatest straits, has his
heart enlarged and dilated in thankfulness; he often 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 thankful 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.
4. He who is content, no condition comes amiss to him;
so it is in the text, "in whatever condition I am." A Christian
should be content in any and every situation; either to lack or abound. The
people of Israel knew neither how to abound, nor yet how to lack; when they
were in need 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 learned to be content
whatever the circumstances. If he was in prosperity, he knew how to
be thankful. If he was in adversity, he knew how to be patient; he
was neither lifted up with the one, nor cast down with the other.
Thus a contented Christian knows how to respond to any
condition. We have those who can be contented in some conditions—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 turns and is 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—if God would allow them
to pick and choose. They could be content to bear such a cross of their
choosing; they could better endure sickness than poverty; or bear loss of
estate than loss of children; if they might have a cross of their own
choosing—they would be content. A contented Christian does not go to
choose his cross—but leaves God to choose for him; he is content both
for the kind of the affliction and the duration of the
affliction. A contented spirit says, "let God apply whatever medicine he
pleases, and let it lie on as long as it will; I know when it has done its
cure, and eaten the venom of sin out of my heart, God will take it away."
In a word, a contented Christian, being sweetly
captivated under the authority of the Word, desires to be wholly at God's
disposal, and cheerfully lives in whatever circumstances that God has placed
5. He who 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 goes before, he may follow. But when men will not follow
providence but run before it, as he who said, "this evil is of the
Lord, why should I wait any longer. (2 Ki. 6:33) If God does 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 contentment, this is unbelief broken into rebellion. A
contented Christian is willing to wait God's leisure, and will not stir
until God opens a door. The contented Christian says, with reverence, "God
has cast me into this condition; and though it is sad, and troublesome, yet
I will not stir, until God by a clear providence fetches me out." Thus those
brave spirited Christians; "they accepted not deliverance," (He. 11:35) that
is, upon base dishonorable 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 honor, and put into offices of
trust—yet the honor of Christ was dearer to them, than either liberty or
honor." A contented Christian will not remove, until 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 Lord." (La.
3:26) It is good to wait God's leisure—and not to extricate ourselves out of
trouble—until we see the star of God's providence pointing out a way to us!
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 contentment. Certainly
it is feasible, others of God's saints have reached to it. Paul here had it;
and what do we think of those we read of, in that little book of martyrs,
(Hebrews 11) who had trials of cruel mockings and scourgings, who wandered
about in deserts and caves—yet were contented. It is possible to attain to
this divine art of contentment. And here I shall lay down some rules for
Rule 1. Advance FAITH. All our disquiets issue
from unbelief. It is this which raises 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 fancy food and
raiment—but having faith, which will make us content. Faith chides down
passion. When reason begins to sink—let faith swim! How
does faith work contentment?
1. Faith shows the soul that whatever its trials are—that
they are all from the hand of a loving heavenly father. It is indeed a
bitter cup—but "shall I not drink the cup which my father has
given me to drink?" Faith shows the soul that whatever its trials are—that
they are all sent in love to my soul. God corrects me, with the same love
with which he crowns me; God is now training me up for heaven. He is only
polishing his 'jewels'. 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 wherever and however 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 which grow upon this vine, and faith presses 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
glory;" (Psalm 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 you live contented lives? Live up
to the height of your faith.
Rule 2. Labor for ASSURANCE. O let us get a
saving interest cleared, between God and our souls! O, if there is an
interest worth looking after, it is an interest between God and the soul!
Labor to say, "My God." To be without money, and without friends, and
without God too, is sad. But he whose faith flourishes into assurance, who
can say, "I know whom I have believed!" (2 Ti. 1:2) that man has
enough to give his heart contentment. When a man's debts are paid, and he
can go abroad without fear of being arrested, what contentment is this! O,
let your title to heaven be cleared! If God is ours, whatever we lack in the
creature, is infinitely made up in him. Do I lack bread? I have Christ, the
bread of life. Am I under defilement? his blood is like the trees of the
sanctuary; not only for food—but medicine. (Ez. 47:12) If anything in the
world be worth laboring for, it is to get sound evidences, that God is ours.
If this is once cleared, what can come amiss? No matter what storms I meet
with—iit is well with me, so long that I know where to put in for harbor. He
who has God to be his God, is so well contented with his condition, that he
does not much care whether he has anything else.
To rest in a condition where a person cannot say that God
is his God, is matter of fear. If a person can truly say that God is
his God—and yet is not contented—this is a matter of shame. "David
encouraged himself in the Lord his God." (1 Sa. 30:6) It was sad with
him—his city burnt, his wives taken captive, his all lost, and likely to
have lost his soldiers' hearts too, (for they spoke of stoning him,) yet he
had the ground of contentment within him; a saving interest in God, and this
was a pillar of support to his spirit. He who knows God is his, and all that
is in God is for his good—if this does not satisfy him, I know nothing that
Rule 3. Get a HUMBLE spirit. The humble man is
the contented man; if his estate is low, his heart is lower than his estate,
therefore he is content. If his esteem in the world is low—he who is little
in his own eyes will not be much troubled to be little in the eyes of
others. He has a lower 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 does not murmur—but admire. He does not complain that his
comforts are small. He thinks it is mercy, that he is out of hell,
therefore he is contented. He does not go to carve out a more happy
condition to himself; he knows that the worst piece which God cuts for
him—is better than he deserves.
A proud man is never contented; he is one that has a high
opinion of himself; therefore under small blessings, he is disdainful; and
under small crosses, he is impatient. The humble spirit is the contented
spirit; if his cross is light—he reckons it the inventory of his mercies; if
his cross is 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 superstructure.
Rule 4. Keep a clear CONSCIENCE. Contentment
is the manna which is laid up in the ark of a good conscience!
O take heed of indulging in 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 raises a tempest. If dust or splinters
have 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. Just so, if
sin has gotten into the conscience, which is as the eye of the
soul, then grief and disquiet breed there. Keep the eye of conscience
clear—and all is well. What Solomon says of a good stomach, I may say of
a good conscience, "to the hungry soul every bitter thing is sweet."
(Proverbs 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
bitter waters of Marah into sweet wine.
Would you have a quiet heart? Get a smiling conscience. I
do not wonder to hear Paul say that he was content in every situation, 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 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 contentment, "the
paradise of a good conscience!" And if it is 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 are 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 anxious
thoughts begin to arise, and the heart is disquieted, conscience says to a
man, as the king did to Nehemiah, "Why is your countenance sad?" So says
conscience, "Have not you the seed of God in you? are not you an heir of the
promise? have not you a treasure which can never be plundered? Why is your
countenance sad?" O keep conscience clear—and you shall never lack
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. Just 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, and bridle them in. Do two things: mortify your
desires; moderate your delights.
1. Mortify your desires. We must not be of the
dragon's temper, which, they say—is so thirsty, that no water will quench
its thirst. "Put to death the sinful, earthly things lurking within you.
Have nothing to do with sexual sin, impurity, lust, and shameful desires."
(Col. 3:5) Our desires, when they are inordinate, are evil. Crucify your
desires—be as dead men—a dead man has no appetite!
How should a Christian martyr his desires?
(1.) Get a right judgment of the things here below;
they are poor beggarly things. "Do not wear yourself out to get rich; have
the wisdom to show restraint. Cast but a glance at riches, and they are
gone, for they will surely sprout wings and fly off to the sky like an
eagle" (Proverbs 23:4-5) The appetite must be guided by reason.
The affections are the feet of the soul; therefore they must follow
the judgment, not lead it.
(2.) Often seriously meditate of mortality.
Death will soon crop these flowers which we delight in; and pull down
the fabric of our bodies which we so garnish and beautify. Think,
when you are locking up your money in your chest—that you shall shortly be
locked up in your coffin!
2. Moderate your delights. Do not set your
heart too much upon any creature comfort. 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 creature lie too near our
heart—when God pulls away that comfort—a piece of our heart is torn away
with it! Too much fondness ends in frowardness. Those who
would be content in the lack of comforts, must be moderate in the enjoyment
of comforts. Jonathan dipped the rod in honey—he did not thrust
it in. Let us take heed of engulfing ourselves in pleasure! It is better
have a spare diet, than, by having too much, to glut ourselves.
Rule 6. Get much of HEAVEN into your heart.
"You satisfy me more than the richest of foods. (Psalm 63:5) Spiritual
things truly satisfy! The more that heaven is in us—the less earth
that will content us. He who has once tasted the love of God, his thirst
is much quenched towards earthly things. The joys of God's Spirit are heart-filling
and heart-cheering joys; he who has these, has heaven begun in him!
(Ro. 14:27) And shall not we be content to be in heaven? O get a heavenly
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
which flies high in the air, does not fear the stinging of the serpent. The
serpent creeps on his belly, and stings only such creatures as creep upon
Rule 7. Look not so much on the dark side of your
condition, as on the bright side. God chequers his
providences, white and black—as the pillar of the cloud had its light side
and dark side. Look on the light side of the estate; who looks on the back
side of a landscape? Suppose you have lost much in a law-suit—there is the
dark side; yet you have some land left—there is the light side. You have
sickness in your body—there is the dark side; but you also have grace
in your soul—there is the light side. You have a child taken
away—there is the dark side; your 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
speckles his work.
"O," says one, "I lack such a comfort!" But weigh all
your mercies in the balance—and that will make you content. If a man lacked
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 dissolve.
Do not pore upon your losses—but ponder upon your mercies.
What! Would you have no afflictions at all—and only all good things?
Would you have no evil about you—who has so much evil in you?
You are not fully sanctified in this life—how then think you to be
fully satisfied in this life? Never look for perfection of
contentment, until there is perfection of grace.
Rule 8. Consider in what a POSTURE we stand here in the
1. We are in a military condition—we are soldiers,
(2 Ti. 2:3) A soldier is content with anything. Though he has not his
stately house, his rich furniture, his soft bed, his full table—yet he does
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 honor which shall be set upon his head. For hope of this, is he
content to run any hazard, and endure any hardship. Would it not be absurd
to hear him complain, that he lacks such provision and is discontent to lie
out in the fields? A Christian is a military person, he fights the Lord's
battles, he is Christ's ensign bearer. Now, what though he endures hard
fate, and the bullets fly about him? He fights for a crown—and therefore
must be content!
2. We are in a nomadic condition—we are pilgrims
and travelers. A man who is in a strange country, is contented
with anything. Though he has not that respect or attendance which he looks
for at home, nor is capable of the privileges and amenities of that place—he
is content. He knows, when he comes into his own country, he has lands to
inherit, and there he shall have honor and respect. So it is with a child of
God, he is in a pilgrim condition; "I am a stranger with you, and a
sojourner, as all my fathers were!" (Psalm 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 hungers and thirsts, and has no certain dwelling-place," (1 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 anything. A beggar must
not pick and choose—he is contented with the scraps. Oh, why do you
who are a beggar, murmur? Oh, why do you who are fed out of the alms-basket
of God's providence, murmur?
Rule 9. Do not let your hope depend upon EXTERNAL things.
Do not lean upon sandy pillars. We often 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 your
contentment go upon crutches, which may soon fail. The ground of
contentment must be within yourself. The Greek word which is used for
contentment, signifies self-sufficiency. A Christian has that within
him—which 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 yourself, "if friends leave me, if
riches take wings—yet I have that within me, which comforts me—a
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 a saving interest in God, and that interest cannot be
broken off!" O never place your felicity in these poor and beggarly things
Rule 10. Let us often compare our condition.
Make this fivefold comparison.
1. 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 a 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, said, "this is more than I am worthy of!" "I do
not give you this," said the king, "because you are 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 to us! We can
bring faggots to our own burning—but not one flower to the
garland of our salvation. He who has the least mercy—will die in God's debt!
Secondly. In regard of our AFFLICTIONS—we have deserved
more. "you have punished us less than our iniquities
deserve. (Ex. 9:13) Is our condition sad? We have deserved it should be
worse. Has God taken away our estate from us? He might have taken
away Christ from us. Has he thrown us into prison? He might
have thrown us into hell! He might as well damn us, as whip
us! This should make us contented.
2. 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 has a full cup of the choicest wine
wrung out to him, another is mingling his drink with tears. How many pale
faces do we behold, whom poverty has 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 favor. Am I in prison? Was not Daniel in a worse
place—the lion's den! Do I live in a poor cottage? look on those who are
banished from their cottages. We read of the primitive saints, "Some were
mocked, and their backs were cut open with whips. Others were chained in
dungeons. Some died by stoning, and some were sawed in half; others were
killed with the sword. Some went about in skins of sheep and goats, hungry
and oppressed and mistreated." (He. 11:37,38)
Have you a gentle illness? look on those who are
tormented with the stone, the gout, cancer etc. Others of God's children
have had greater afflictions, and have borne them better than we. Daniel fed
only upon vegetables and drank only 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, who have had only bread and water, have 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?
3. Let us compare our condition with Christ's condition,
when He was upon earth. What a poor, base condition was He
pleased to be in for us! He was contented with anything. "For you 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 a house from heaven
with him, or taken 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 eternally rich! The feeding trough
was his cradle, and the cobwebs were his canopy. He who is now preparing
mansions for us in heaven—had none for himself on earth, "he had nowhere to
lay his head." Christ took upon him the form of a servant. (Ph. 2:7) We do
not read not that He had any money. When he needed money, he had 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
greatest humility! He was content to live poor—and die cursed! O compare
your condition with His—and learn to be content!
4. Let us compare our present condition—with what it once
WAS—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 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 has
cut off our destiny of hell and damnation. He has taken you out of the wild
olive tree of nature—and engrafted you into Christ, making you living
branches of that living vine! He has not only caused the light to shine
upon you—but into you, (2 Cor. 6:6) and has made you an heir of
all the privileges of divine sonship! Is not this enough to make the soul
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 now desire—we have more than we brought 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, etc. But we brought nothing with
us—but sin! What if our condition at present is low? It is better than it
was once; therefore, having food and clothing, let us be content. Whatever
we have, God's providence fetches 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 I came
out of my mother's womb!" (Job 1:21) As if he had said, though God has 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 I came I
hither! Therefore blessed be the name of the Lord.
5. Let us compare our present condition—with what it
shortly SHALL BE. There is a time shortly coming, when, if we had
all the riches of the Indies, they would do us no good—we must die, and can
carry nothing with us. So says the apostle, "We didn't bring anything with
us when we came into the world—and we certainly cannot carry anything with
us when we die!" (1 Ti. 6:7) Therefore it follows, "So if we have enough
food and clothing, let us be content." Open the rich man's grave—and see
what is there—you may find the miser's bones—but not his riches! Were we to
live forever here on earth, or could we carry our riches into the eternal
world—then indeed we might be discontented, when we look upon our empty
money bags. But it is not so; God may presently seal a warrant for death to
apprehend us—and when we die, we cannot carry our estate with us! Honor and
riches do not descend into the grave—why then are we troubled at our outward
condition? Why do we clothe 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. Labor to be rich towards God, (Luke 12:21) and as for
other things, be not much concerned—for we shall carry nothing with us into
the eternal world!
Rule 11. Do 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 heart
lower! It is not by making his barns wider—but his heart
narrower. A whole kingdom will not content one man; another man is satisfied
with a poor hut. What is the difference? The one tries to satisfy his
lusts—the other his necessity. The one thinks what he may yet obtain—the
other what he may spare.
Rule 12. Study the vanity of the creature. It
matters not whether we have less or more of these earthly things—for they
have vanity written upon their frontispiece. The world is like a
shadow which declines. The world is delightful—but deceitful. The world
promises more than it has—and it fails us when we have most need of it. All
the world rings 'change', and is constant only in its
disappointments! What then, if we have less of that which is at best but
uncertain and changing? The world is as full of change—as of motion; so what
if God cut us short in these passing vanities? The more a man has to do with
the world—the more he has to do with vanity! The world may be
compared to ice, which is smooth—but slippery! The world may also be
compared to the Egyptian temples—very beautiful and sumptuous on the
outside—but within nothing to be seen but the image of an ape! Every
creature says concerning satisfaction, "it is not in me!" The world is not a
filling comfort—but a flying comfort. The world 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, that which they cannot give? "Jonah was exceeding
glad of the gourd." (Jon. 4:6) What a vanity was that! Is it much to
see a gourd smitten and withering?
Rule 13. Get the 'imagination' regulated. It
is the 'imagination' which raises the price of things, above their real
worth. What is the reason one flower is worth five dollars—and another
perhaps not worth one penny? 'Imagination' raises the price—the difference
is rather imaginary than real. Just so, the reason why it is
better to have thousands than hundreds is—because men 'imagine' it so! If we
could 'imagine' a lower condition to be better—as having less worry in it,
and less accounting to give for it—it would be far more prized. The water
from a paper cup, tastes as sweet as if it came out a golden chalice. Things
are as we 'imagine' them. Ever since the fall, the 'imagine' is distempered;
"God saw that the imagination of the thoughts of his heart, was only
evil all the time." (Ge. 6:5) 'Imagination' looks at things through a
'magnifying glass'. Pray that God will sanctify your 'imagination'; a
lower condition would content you, if the mind and 'imagination' were set
right. Diogenes preferred his solitary life before Alexander's royalty.
Fabricius was a poor man—yet despised the gold of King Pyrrhus. Could we
cure our distempered 'imagination'—we would soon conquer our discontented
Rule 14. Consider how little will suffice nature.
The body is but a small thing—and is easily nourished. Christ has taught us
to pray for our daily bread. Nature is content with a little. Not to
thirst, not to starve—is enough. "Having food and clothing, 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 humor.
Rule 15. Believe that the present condition is best for
us. The flesh is not a competent judge. Gluttons are for rich
banquets—but a man who regards his health, is rather for solid food. Vain
men imagine that a prosperous condition is best for them; whereas a wise
Christian has his will melted into God's will, and thinks it best to be at
God's will. God is wise—he knows best what we need; and if we could
acquiesce in His providencial dealings with us—the quarrel would soon be at
an end. O what a strange creature would man be—if he were what he could wish
himself to be! Be content to be at God's allowance. God knows which is the
fittest pasture to put his sheep in; sometimes a more sparse ground
does well—whereas a lush pasture may rot. Do I meet with such a cross? By
it, God shows me what the world is; he has no better way to wean me. Does
God stint me in my temporals? 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 parcels out to us, we would cheerfully submit, and say, "the lines
have fallen to me in pleasant places."
Rule 16. Do not too much indulge 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 our flesh? The flesh puts
us upon the immoderate pursuit of the world. The flesh hunts for ease
and luxury—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; but in secular things, it is a horse-leech, crying
"give, give!" The flesh is an enemy to suffering: it will never make a man a
martyr. O keep it under control! Put its neck under Christ's yoke, stretch
and nail it to his cross! Never let a Christian look for contentment
in his spirit—until there is confinement in his flesh.
Rule 17. Meditate much on the glory which shall be
revealed. There are great things laid up in heaven. Though things
are sad for the present—yet let us be content in that it shortly will be
better; it is but a short while—and we shall be with Christ, bathing
ourselves in the fountain of love! We shall more never complain of needs and
injuries! Our cross may now be heavy—but one sight of Christ will make us
forget all our former sorrows! There are two things that should give
1. That God will make us able to bear our troubles.
"God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can
bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you
can stand up under it." (1 Cor. 10:13)
2. After 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 content—the scene will soon alter; God will before
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 shortly be
better! "We have no continuing city here," therefore our afflictions cannot
continue. A wise man always looks to the end of a matter; "The end of the
just man is peace." (Psalm 37:37) Methinks the smoothness of the end—should
make amends for the ruggedness of the way. O eternity, eternity! Think often
of the eternal kingdom prepared. David was advanced from the field—to
the throne! First he held his shepherd's staff—and shortly
after the royal scepter. God's people may be put to hard services
here on earth—but God has 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) Just
so, is any man discontented? let him pray. Prayer gives vent: the opening of
a vein lets out bad blood. Just so, 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 a holy
charm, to drive away trouble. Prayer is the unbosoming of the soul—the
unloading of all our cares into 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 greatly eased and quieted. It is not our
strong resolutions—but our strong requests 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 lack and abound, and "do
all things;" yet it was through Christ strengthening him. (Ph. 4:13)
Consolation to the Contented Christian.
The last use is of comfort—an encouraging word
to the contented Christian. If there is an heaven upon earth—you have
it! O Christian! You may leap over your troubles, and, with the leviathan,
laugh at the shaking of a spear. (Job 41:7) You are a crown to your
profession; you hold it out to all the world—that there is virtue enough in
piety, to give the soul contentment. You show the highest degree of grace.
When grace is reigning in our hearts, it is easy for us to be content. But
when grace is declining, and meets with crosses, temptations, agonies; now
the heart becomes discontent.
To a contented Christian, I shall say two things for a
1. God is exceedingly pleased with such a frame of heart.
God says of a contented Christian, as David once said of Goliath's sword,
"there is none like that, give it to me!" If you would please God, and be
men whom he delights in—be contented. God hates a froward spirit.
2. The contented Christian shall be no loser. What
did Job lose, by his patience? God gave him twice as much as he had before.
What did Abraham lose, 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 changes his name; no more Abram—but Abraham, the father of
many nations. (Ge. 17) God makes his seed as the stars of heaven; nay,
honors, 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 Savior said in another case, to Nathaniel, "You shall see greater things
than these!" (John 1:50) So I say, are you contented, O Christian, with a
little? You shall see greater things than these! God will distill the sweet
influences of his love into your soul. He will bless the oil in your cruise;
and when that is done, He will crown you with an eternal enjoyment of
himself! He will give you heaven—where you shall have as much contentment as
your soul can possibly thirst after!