And Jacob vowed a vow, saying, If God will be with me, and will keep me in this way that I go, and will give me bread to eat, and raiment to put on, Not that I speak in respect of want: for I have learned, in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content.
~ Genesis 28:20, Philippians 4:11
For ye had compassion of me in my bonds, and took joyfully the spoiling of your goods, knowing in yourselves that ye have in heaven a better and an enduring substance.
~ Hebrews 10:34
As sorrowful, yet alway rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, and yet possessing all things. In weariness and painfulness, in watchings often, in hunger and thirst, in fastings often, in cold and nakedness. ~ 2 Corinthians 6:10, 2 Corinthians 11:27
The Art of Divine Contentment: An Exposition of Philippians 4:11, by Thomas Watson.
Use IV. Showing how a Christian may know whether he hath learned this Divine Art.
Thus having laid down these three cautions, I proceed, in the next place, to an use of trial. How may a Christian know that he hath learned this lesson of contentment? I shall lay down some characters by which you shall know it.
Character 1st. A contented spirit is a silent spirit; he hath not one word to say against God; “I was dumb and silent, because thou didst it.” (Ps. 39. 9) Contentment silenceth all dispute: “he sitteth alone and keepeth silence.” (La. 3. 28) There is a sinful silence; when God is dishonoured, his truth wounded, and men hold their peace, this silence is a loud sin; and there is a holy silence, when the soul sits down quiet and content with its condition. When Samuel tells Eli that heavy message from God, that he would “judge his house, and that the iniquity of his family should not be purged away with sacrifice forever,” (1 Sa. 3. 13,14) doth Eli murmur or dispute? no, he hath not one word to say against God: “it is the Lord, let him do what seemeth him good.” A discontented spirit saith as Pharaoh, “who is the Lord?” why should I suffer all this? why should I be brought into this low condition? “who is the Lord?” But a gracious heart saith, as Eli, “it is the Lord,” let him do what he will with me. When Nadab and Abihu, the sons of Aaron, had offered up strange fire, and fire went from the Lord and devoured them, (Le. 10. 1) is Aaron now in a passion of discontent? no, “Aaron held his peace.” A contented spirit is never angry unless with himself for having hard thoughts of God. When Jonah said, “I do well to be angry,” this was not a contented spirit, it did not become a prophet.
Character 2d. A contented spirit is a cheerful spirit; the Greeks call it euthema. Contentment is something more than patience; for patience denotes only submission, contentment denotes cheerfulness. A contented Christian is more than passive; he doth not only bear the cross, but take up the cross. (Mat. 6. 24) He looks upon God as a wise God; and whatever he doth, though it be not willingly, yet sensibly, it is in order to a cure. Hence the contented Christian is cheerful, and with the apostle, “takes pleasure in infirmities, distresses,” &c. (2 Cor. 12. 10) He doth not only submit to God’s dealings, but rejoice in them; he doth not only say, “just is the Lord in all that hath befallen me,” but “good is the Lord.” This is to be contented. A sullen melancholy is hateful. It is said, “God loveth a cheerful giver,” (2 Cor. 9. 7) aye and God loves a cheerful liver. We are bid in Scripture, “not to be careful,” but we are not bid not to be cheerful. He that is contented with his condition, doth not abate of his spiritual joy; and indeed he hath that within him which is the ground of cheerfulness; he carries a pardon sealed in his heart. (Mat. 9. 2)
Character 3d. A contented spirit is a thankful spirit. This is a degree above the other; “in every thing giving thanks.” (1 Th. 5. 18) A gracious heart spies mercy in every condition, therefore hath his heart screwed up to thankfulness; others will bless God for prosperity, he blesseth him for affliction. Thus he reasons with himself; am I in want? God sees it better for me to want than to abound; God is now dieting of me, he sees it better for my spiritual health sometimes to be kept fasting; therefore he doth not only submit but is thankful. The malcontent is ever complaining of his condition; the contented spirit is ever giving thanks. O what height of grace is this! A contented heart is a temple where the praises of God are sung forth, not a sepulchre wherein they are buried. A contented Christian in the greatest straits hath his heart enlarged and dilated in thankfulness; he oft contemplates God’s love in election; he sees that he is a monument of mercy, therefore desires to be a pattern of praise. There is always gratulatory music in a contented soul; the Spirit of grace works in the heart like new wine, which under the heaviest pressures of sorrow will have a vent open for thankfulness: this is to be content.
Character 4th. He that is content, no condition comes amiss to him; so it is in the text, “in whatever state I am.” A contented Christian can turn himself to anything; either want or abound. The people of Israel knew neither how to abound, nor yet how to want; when they were in want they murmured; “can God prepare a table in the wilderness?” and when they ate, and were filled, then they lifted up the heel. Paul knew how to manage every state; he could be either a note higher or lower; he was in this sense an universalist, he could do anything that God would have him: if he were in prosperity, he knew how to be thankful; if in adversity, he knew how to be patient; he was neither lifted up with the one, nor cast down with the other. He could carry a greater sail, or lesser. Thus a contented Christian knows how to turn himself to any condition. We have those who can be contented in some condition, but not in every estate; they can be content in a wealthy estate, when they have the streams of milk and honey; while Gods candle shines upon their head, now they are content, but if the wind turn and be against them, now they are discontented. While they have a silver crutch to lean upon, they are contented; but if God breaks this crutch, now they are discontented. But Paul had learned in every estate to carry himself with an equanimity of mind. Others could be content with their affliction, so God would give them leave to pick and choose. They could be content to bear such a cross; they could better endure sickness than poverty, or bear loss of estate than loss of children; if they might have such a man’s cross they could be content. A contented Christian doth not go to choose his cross, but leaves God to choose for him; he is content both for the kind and the duration. A contented spirit saith, “let God apply what medicine he pleaseth, and let it lie on as long as it will; I know when it hath done its cure, and eaten the venom of sin out of my heart, God will take it off again.”
In a word, a contented Christian, being sweetly captivated under the authority of the word, desires to be wholly at God’s disposal, and is willing to live in that sphere and climate where God has set him. And if at any time he hath been an instrument of doing noble and brave service in the public, he knows he is but a rational tool, a servant to authority, and is content to return to his former condition of life. Cincinnatus, after he had done worthily, and purchased to himself great fame in his dictatorship, did notwithstanding afterwards voluntary return to till and manure his four acres of ground: thus should it be with Christians, professing godliness with contentment, having served Mars, daring to offend Jupiter; lest otherwise they discover only to the world a brutish valour, being so untamed and head-strong, that when they had conquered others, yet they are not able to rule their own spirits.
Character 5th. He that is contented with his condition, to rid himself out of trouble, will not turn himself into sin. I deny not but a Christian may lawfully seek to change his condition: so far as God’s providence doth go before, he may follow. But when men will not follow providence but run before it, as he that said, “this evil is of the Lord, why should I wait any longer. (2 Ki. 6. 33) If God doth not open the door of his providence, they will break it open, and wind themselves out of affliction by sin; bringing their souls into trouble; this is far from holy contentation, this is unbelief broken into rebellion. A contented Christian is willing to wait God’s leisure, and will not stir till God open a door. As Paul said in another case, “they have beaten us openly, uncondemned, being Romans, and have cast us into prison, and now do they thrust us out privily? nay, verily, but let them come themselves and fetch us out:” (Ac. 16. 37) so, with reverence, saith the contented Christian, God hath cast me into this condition; and though it be sad, and troublesome, yet I will not stir, till God by a clear providence fetch me out. Thus those brave spirited Christians; “they accepted not deliverance,” (He. 11. 35) that is, upon base dishonourable terms. They would rather stay in prison than purchase their liberty by carnal compliance. Estius observes on the place, “they might not only have had their enlargements, but been raised to honour, and put into offices of trust, yet the honour of religion was dearer to them, than either liberty or honour.” A contented Christian will not remove, till as the Israelites he sees a pillar of cloud and fire going before him. “It is good that a man should both hope, and quietly wait for the salvation of the Lord. (La. 3. 26) It is good to stay God’s leisure and not to extricate ourselves out of trouble, till we see the star of God’s providence pointing out a way to us.