“Are you ambitious for the things of this world? then you are your own tormentor!”
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, ~ Genesis 28:20
Even unto this present hour we both hunger, and thirst, and are naked, and are buffeted, and have no certain dwellingplace; And labour, working with our own hands: being reviled, we bless; being persecuted, we suffer it: 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. ~ 1 Corinthians 4:11-12, 2 Corinthians 6:10, 2 Corinthians 11:27
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. Let your conversation be without covetousness; and be content with such things as ye have: for he hath said, I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee. ~ Hebrews 10:34, Hebrews 13:5
For ye know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that, though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, that ye through his poverty might be rich. ~ 2 Corinthians 8:9
Contentment, by William Plumer. This is from his work, Vital Godliness: A Treatise on Experimental and Practical Piety.
Not that I speak in respect of want: for I have learned, in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content. I know both how to be abased, and I know how to abound: every where and in all things I am instructed both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need. I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me.
~ Philippians 4:11-13
But godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into this world, and it is certain we can carry nothing out. And having food and raiment let us be therewith content.
~ 1 Timothy 6:6-8
Our libraries abound with treatises on contentment. Some of them are written with great ability. Nor has there ever been much formal disputation among writers on morals, respecting the obligation and excellence of the attainment of this wonderful virtue of contentment. It produces results so happy, and is enforced by so many urgent reasons, that a man must be particularly blinded before he can regard discontent as either lawful or only slightly criminal. The difficulty therefore is not so much in the lack of good rules and strong reasons for guiding us into a state of contentment—as in the deep-rooted aversion of our hearts to a duty which requires our submission to the will of God. We know better than we do. Seeing the right—we pursue the wrong. We smile at the folly, or frown at the wickedness of discontent in others—and then follow their example.
But what is contentment; and how may it be known from evil states of mind somewhat resembling it? Contentment is not carelessness or extravagance. It is not dullness of sensibility. It is the disposition of mind in which we rest satisfied with the will of God respecting our temporal affairs, without hard thoughts or hard speeches concerning his allotments, and without any sinful desire for a change. It submissively receives what is given. It thankfully enjoys present mercies. It leaves the future in the hand of unerring wisdom. Nor is there anything in true contentment to make men satisfied with the present world, as a portion or as a permanent abode. The most contented person may long for the day when Christ shall call him home. He may, like Paul, be in a strait between two, not knowing whether to desire to abide in the flesh for the sake of others, or to depart, and be with Christ, which is far better. God never required any man to be willing to live here forever.
Nor is there anything stoical in contentment. It is not bluntness of feeling. True piety does not make men dream that a prison is a palace, nor make them reckless of their own happiness. Refined sensibility is promoted by true religion.
We may form some correct idea of contentment by considering its opposites. Of these, one of the most prominent is envy. There is not a more vile, nor a more violent passion than envy. It is full of deadly malice. When a man’s heart grows jealous of the superior success of others, and hates them on that account—he is not far from ruin. Evans says, “Envy is an infallible mark of discontent. Duty to God, and charity to our neighbour, would induce us to take pleasure in the welfare of others, whether we immediately share in its benefits or not.” If your eye is envious towards your neighbour because God is good to him, it is proof that your real quarrel is with Providence. This is the more inexcusable, because God has expressly informed us that the ‘men of the world’ have their portion in this life. He has provided for his spiritual children a portion better than was ever enjoyed on earth by any man, even by Adam before his fall. And if God should give to one of his children more than he gives to you, has he not a right to do what he desires, with what belongs to him? Contentment is also opposed to corroding care about our worldly condition. The command of the New Testament is, “Be anxious for nothing; but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God.” Phil. 4:6. Similar to this is the exhortation, “Cast all your cares upon him—for he cares for you.” 1 Pet. 5:7. To the same purpose spoke our Lord: “Do not be anxious for your life, what you shall eat, or what you shall drink; nor yet for your body, what you shall put on. Is not the life more than food, and the body than clothing?” Matt. 6:25.
It is of the greatest importance to our peace and usefulness, that we settle it in our minds that all fretting care about the things of this life is both a sin and a folly. It is to these immoderate cares that our Lord refers when he says, “Take heed to yourselves, lest at any time your hearts be overcharged with surfeiting, and drunkenness, and cares of this life, and so that day come upon you unawares.” Luke 21:34. See a man eager after the things of time, behold one in great peril—peril heightened by his success. Our hearts are very deceitful. Jonah may be too much taken up with his gourd, as well as Solomon with his vast public works.
Contentment is opposed to covetousness. “There are two words in the Greek Testament which may be rendered covetousness. The one literally signifies the love of money; the other a desire of more, in Eph. 4:19 rendered greediness. These two senses are co-existent, for no man desires more of that which he does not love; and as he that loves silver cannot be satisfied with the silver which he already possesses, he will of course desire more.
To both of these contentment is the opposite. It does not inordinately love what it has—nor is greedy for more. So says the Scripture: “Let your life, your behaviour—be without covetousness, and be content with such things as you have.” ieb. 15:5. “Having food and clothing, let us be therewith content.” 1 Tim. 6:8. What a man parched with the thirst of cancer needs, is not more water, but more health. It is as impossible to remove the restlessness of a covetous mind by heaping wealth upon it, as to extinguish fire by pouring oil upon it. It is a great thing to learn that “a man’s life’s consists not in the abundance of the things which he possesses.” Luke 12:15. So that “if a man is not content in that state he is in, he will not be content in any state he would be in.”
Evans says, “We see people arriving at one enjoyment after another, which once seemed the top of their ambition; and yet so far from contentment, that their desires grow faster than their substance, and they are as eager to improve a good estate when they are become masters of it, as if they were still drudging for food and clothing.” “Beware of covetousness.”
Contentment is also the opposite of pride. “Humility is the mother of contentment.” “Those who realize that they deserve nothing, will be content with anything.” When we become lifted up with pride, and think we deserve something good at God’s hands, it is impossible to satisfy us. But with the humble is wisdom, quietness, gentleness, and contentment. He who expects nothing, because he deserves nothing—is sure to be satisfied with the treatment he receives at God’s hands. So that “the little that a righteous man has, is better than the riches of many wicked;” for “the wicked, through the pride of his countenance, will not seek after God.”
The proud man is like a bullock unaccustomed to the yoke. He is turbulent and fiery. He alienates friends; he makes enemies. He has much trouble and sorrow—where the humble man passes quietly along. Pride and contentment do not go together. Neither do contentment and unholy ambition at all agree. “Are you seeking great things for yourself? Seek them not.”
Our actual needs are not many; but the ambitious create a thousand desires and demands, which are hard, if not impossible to meet. If men are bent on gratifying the strong desires of a wicked ambition, it will require more resources than any mortal possesses to meet the half of them. If a wise man cannot bring his condition to his desires—he will honestly endeavor to bring his desires to his condition. But this the ambitious will not do. He will be content with nothing gained, because each elevation widens his horizon, and gives him a view of something else which he greatly longs for, and so he is tossed from vanity to vanity— a stranger to solid peace. Are you ambitious for the things of this world? then you are your own tormentor!
Contentment is opposed to murmurings and repinings against God’s providence; and dwells with her sisters—gratitude, submission and resignation. Like Hezekiah, she exclaims concerning all God’s orderings, “Good is the word of the Lord.” Isa. 39:8. This is a great point. If you can say nothing clearly to the glory of God, it is wise to be silent and not open your mouth. Psalm 38:13; 39:2.
Contentment is also opposed to distrust of God, and to despondency respecting the orderings of his providence. Instead of waiting on the Lord, and relying on him for strength of heart, how many forebode ill from all that occurs to them, or is anticipated by them. They have little if any cheerfulness. Their souls are never as mount Zion, which cannot be removed, but abides forever. Apprehension takes the place of confidence. True contentment will break up this state of things. It will settle, confirm, and establish the soul.
The proper fruits of contentment are many, pleasant, and easily discerned.
1. Contentment begets cheerfulness and thankfulness of speech. He who is always singing dirges, and has no songs of praise; he who is perpetually filling the ear of friendship with his complaints, and has nothing to say of loving-kindness, is not blessed with true contentment.
Contentment tells a different tale. It does not charge God foolishly. If it sings of judgment, it sings also of mercy.
2. True contentment makes men conscientious and exact in piously performing their duties to all around them. They trust in the Lord, and do good. They do good to all men, especially to the household of faith. If God takes away one friend, they will endeavor more meekly and assiduously to render all that is due to those who remain. If God takes half one’s worldly goods, the remaining portion is more than ever conscientiously employed for his glory. If such cannot do as they wish, they will do as Providence permits.
3. The truly contented will not resort to wicked or to doubtful expedients for relieving their own needs and distresses. They had rather suffer wrong—than do wrong. To them, poverty is not so bad— as ill-gotten wealth. They prefer to endure a hard lot—rather than to drive a hard bargain. Stealing, cheating, wild speculation, or any fraud—is to them worse than poverty. They go not down to Egypt nor over to Assyria for help, when they have been told to trust in Jehovah alone. They are willing to be rid of poverty or straits—but not at the expense of a good conscience.
4. If the truly contented have been been wronged by others in any way—they are not malignant, but benevolent towards them. They look upon their enemies as God’s hand and God’s sword, the rod of his anger, the scourge of his people. Their enemies may be violent and unreasonable, and so wholly culpable—but the contented Christian does not forget who has said, “Vengeance is mine; I will repay.” Everything is committed to God’s unerring wisdom and eternal love.
The matters of discontent are chiefly such as relate to wealth, honour, or pleasure. These are the objects of both lawful and unlawful care and desire. It is quite reasonable that we should be contented in regard to each of them.
1. As to wealth The judgment of the sober, and especially of the wise and godly of all ages, might reasonably be expected to have some influence over us to check our discontent on this point. Sages and saints, teachers from earth and teachers sent from God have united in bearing a solemn testimony against the love of money, and in favour of contentment with our lot. Hear their words.
Socrates: “Content is natural wealth.” Democritus: “If you do not desire much, a little will seem to you an abundance.” Horace: “Care and thirst for more, attend a growing fortune.” Woolstoncraft: “The middle rank contains most virtue and abilities.” Clarkson: “There is no greater calamity than that of leaving children an affluent inheritance.” Dymond: “The most rational, the wisest, the best portion of mankind, belong to the class who possess neither poverty nor riches.” Wilberforce: “A much looser code of morals commonly prevails among the rich than in the lower and middling orders of society.” Lord Bacon: “As baggage is to an army, so are riches to virtue. It hinders the march, yes, and the care of it sometimes loses or disturbs the victory.” Hannah More: “It is to be feared that the general tendency of rank, and especially of riches, is to withdraw the heart from spiritual exercises.” Mason: “To have a portion in the world is a mercy; but to have the world for a portion is a misery.” “We must answer for our riches; but our riches cannot answer for us.” “If the world be our portion here—hell will be our portion hereafter.” Johnson: “Wealth heaped on wealth—neither truth nor safety buys, The dangers gather—as the treasures rise.”
When his vast estates were confiscated for his adherence to God’s truth, the Marquis of Vico said, “Their gold and silver perish with them, who count all the wealth of the world worth one hour’s communion with Christ.” Pollok: “Gold many hunted, sweat and bled for—wasting all the nights, and labouring all the days. And what was this allurement, do you ask? Some dust dug from the bowels of the earth—which, being cast into the fire, came out a shining thing—which fools admired, and called a god —and in devout manner before it kneeled—and on its altar sacrificed ease, peace, truth, faith, integrity, good conscience, friends, love, charity, benevolence.”
Bunyan: “Nothing more hinders a soul from coming to Christ than a vain love of the world; and until a soul is freed from it, it can never have a true love for God.” Beveridge: “There is one piece of folly which all mankind are naturally guilty of, and that is desire of riches—whereby men love and long for fine houses and lands, and silver and gold, and such like things. Just as we may have sometimes seen an idiot pleasing himself with having his pocket full of stones or dirt; or rather, as deranged people desire swords or such like weapons, whereby to destroy themselves. Just so, to others who have lost their senses and the right use of their reason, nothing will serve them but a great deal of wealth—however they come by it, and therefore they go through a thousand temptations and dangers to get it. And when they have got it, what then? Then they are in a thousand times worse condition than they were before.”
Richard Baxter shows the malignity of the sin of worldliness, in several particulars.
1. It is a deliberate and intentional sin.
2. It is a sin against our chief interest.
3. It is idolatry.
4. It is contempt of heaven. Eternal glory is neglected—and a miserable world preferred.
5. It shows that unbelief prevails in the heart.
6. It is a debasing of the soul of man.
7. It perverts and debases the very drift of a man’s life.
8. It is a perverting of God’s creatures to an end and use clean contrary to that which they were made and given for.”
John Owen: “Learn to be contented with your lot. Our wise God gave you exactly what is commensurate for your good. Had He known that a foot’s breadth more had been needful, you would have had it.” Thomas Scott: “An inordinate desire for increasing riches, however obtained, is idolatry, and totally inconsistent with the life of faith.” Arndt: “Riches are like a stream, which soon flows to a person, and may also soon flow away.” Home: “Of all things here below, wealth is that on which poor deluded man is chiefly tempted, even to the loss of life, to place his confidence; and when riches increase, it proves a hard task for the human heart to keep its affections sufficiently detached from them.”
Such are the views of some of the wisest poets, philosophers, statesmen, nobles, and divines, who have warned us of the folly of loving the world. These men spoke from their natural sense, or were guided by pious principle; but they were all uninspired. When we open the oracles of God, they speak in a manner still more clear and solemn.
King David, who had personally tried both humble life and great wealth, said, “The little that a righteous man has, is better than the treasures of many wicked.” “If riches increase, do not set your heart upon them.” Like unto his, is the testimony of his son.
Solomon says, “He who is greedy for gain, troubles his own house.” “Riches do not profit in the day of wrath.” “He who trusts in his riches shall fall.” “There is that makes himself rich, yet has nothing: there is that makes himself poor, yet has great riches.” “A good name is rather to be chosen than great riches.” “Labour not to be rich: for riches certainly make themselves wings; they fly away as an eagle towards heaven.” “He who makes haste to be rich shall not be innocent.” Ezekiel says, “Now this was the iniquity of your sister Sodom: she and her daughters had pride, plenty of food, and comfortable security, but didn’t support the poor and needy.” Agur: “Two things I ask of you; deny them not to me before I die: Remove far from me falsehood and lying; give me neither poverty nor riches; feed me with the food that is needful for me, lest I be full and deny you and say, “Who is the Lord?” or lest I be poor and steal and profane the name of my God.”
John: “Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him.”
James: “Go now, you rich men, weep and howl for your miseries that shall come upon you. Your riches are corrupted, and your garments are moth-eaten. Your gold and silver is cankered; and the rust of them shall be a witness against you, and shall eat your flesh as it were fire. You have heaped treasure together for the last days.” Paul: “those who will be rich fall into temptation and a snare, and into many foolish and hurtful lusts, which drown men in destruction and perdition. For the love of money is the root of all evil; which while some coveted after, they have pierced themselves through with many sorrows.” “Charge those who are rich in this world, that they be not high-minded, nor trust in uncertain riches, but in the living God, who gives us richly all things to enjoy; that they do good, that they be rich in good works, ready to distribute, willing to give; laying up for themselves a good foundation against the time to come, that they may lay hold on eternal life.”
But of all the teachers ever sent by God to men, his dear Son spoke the most fully and clearly respecting riches. Jesus Christ said, “It is more blessed to give than to receive.” “Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal; but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust corrupt, and where thieves do not break through nor steal: for where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.” “You cannot serve God and mammon.” “Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things shall be added unto you.” “Take heed, and beware of covetousness.” “Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all.” “It is easier for a camel to go through a needle’s eye than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom. of God.” “make friends for yourselves with worldly wealth, so that when it gives out, you will be welcomed in the eternal home. If you have not been faithful in the unrighteous mammon, who will commit to you the true riches?” “The cares of this world and the deceitfulness of riches choke the word.” “He lifted up his eyes to his disciples, and said, “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the Kingdom of God. Blessed are you who hunger now, for you will be filled. Blessed are you who weep now, for you will laugh.
Blessed are you when men shall hate you, and when they shall exclude and mock you, and throw out your name as evil, for the Son of Man’s sake. Rejoice in that day, and leap for joy, for behold, your reward is great in heaven, for their fathers did the same thing to the prophets. But woe to you who are rich. For you have received your consolation. Woe to you, you who are full now, for you will be hungry. Woe to you who laugh now, for you will mourn and weep.”
Thus spoke the Messiah, the one Mediator between God and man. Shall not we be wiser for all these instructions? The Author of our religion was the only sinless being ever born of woman. He lived and died in poverty. He knows, and he has felt, the humiliation of dependence. God has greatly honored virtuous poverty in every age—as the history of science, of literature, of philosophy, of poetry, and of piety in every country shows. He takes the poor from the ash-heap, and sets him among princes. Though poverty is no virtue, yet most of the striking examples of virtue have been from humble life. Poverty brought on by indolence, extravagance or waste is a disgrace, because it is a punishment. But wealth is the great corrupter of all who have it—who do not have extraordinary grace.
Only a few of our race live and labour, that they may have the means of doing good to others. This is scriptural: “The thief must no longer steal. Instead, he must do honest work with his own hands, so that he has something to share with anyone in need.” One of the calmest and profoundest writers on political economy some years ago said, “I suppose the British and Foreign Bible Society, during the twenty or thirty years that it has existed, has done more direct good in the world—has had a greater effect in improving the condition of the human race—than all the measures which have been directed to the same ends by all the prime ministers of Europe during a century.” Oh that men everywhere were moved by that insatiable benevolence which, not contented with reigning in the dispensation of happiness during the contracted term of human life, or on the narrow theatre of its own vicinage—strains with all the graspings and reachings of a vivacious mind to extend the dominion of its bounty beyond the limits of one country or of one generation. Were such the temper of all men, we would have no need of preaching sermons to check the rapacity, or moderate the desires, of each succeeding generation, and bring human wishes within the limits of a holy contentment. People devoted to doing good are commonly a cheerful and happy class of people.
2. As to honour, rank, standing in the world, much needs not be said, to make a wise man more contented with his lot. For what is more fickle than popular applause? The man whose name is today mingled with shouts of welcome, is tomorrow met with hisses and hootings. The very crowd that spread branches in the road, and cried, “Hosanna, blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord,” as Jesus entered Jerusalem in the triumph which prophecy had decreed to him, did in three days vociferate, “Away with this fellow. Crucify him, crucify him.” The very city that murdered the prophets also built their sepulchres.
It is the habit of popular opinion to shift incessantly. Men are constant only in fickleness. But even if popular favour was perfectly settled—what is it but a puff of wind? What good can it do any man? If the praise of others is undeserved, it is but flattery, and may lure us to self-conceit and ruin. If the praise is merited and just, we are apt to know our own virtues soon enough, without having them trumpeted by others. Besides, the best men that ever lived, have had their names cast out as evil—and have been far more frequently under the loathing, than under the smile of their generation. In many cases, they have died amid the execrations of their contemporaries.
He has the best name who gets the “white stone with a new name written on it. No one will know that name except the one who is given the stone.” How often men are warned not to seek the favour of the world. In one of the great contests in England for a seat in parliament, one of the candidates suddenly died. Burke, the survivor, on that occasion uttered a sentence which has become like one of our proverbs: “What shadows we are—and what shadows we pursue.”
3. But many are not content, because they have so few worldly pleasures. Do they not know that all pleasure but that which springs from lawful sources, leaves a sting behind? Communion with God has its pleasures, which do not cloy the appetite. “She who lives in pleasure is dead while she lives.” It is commonly the case, that the more worldly pleasure—the less happiness there is. The more pleasure, the more sin also. The more pleasure, the more dreadful the last account. Bunyan says, “The epicure, who delights in the dainties of this world, little thinks that these very creatures will one day witness against him.” The pleasures of sin are but for a season, and that season so short. The pleasures of the table are often followed by dreadful forms of disease and anguish. The pleasures of sense are wholly insufficient to give permanent enjoyment. “The eye is not satisfied with seeing, nor the ear with hearing.”
Contentment is a most reasonable duty. “Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will travel to such and such a city and spend a year there and do business and make a profit.” You don’t even know what tomorrow will bring—what your life will be. For you are a bit of smoke that appears for a little while, then vanishes. Instead, you should say, “If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.” But as it is, you boast in your arrogance. All such boasting is evil.” (James 4:13-16) It is best that you are not able to determine and control your affairs. Your health, ease, success, wealth, reputation, and enjoyment deeply concern you; but are you fit to wisely direct them? If God should give you your way—would you be satisfied? Would not your desires soon be drowned in cares and troubles and sorrows? Is it best for you, to have uninterrupted health? Without some bodily pain, you might forget that you were mortal. It would be more painful to a truly pious man to say when, how long, and how severely he should be sick, than it would be to be sick all his life.
Wealthier circumstances than you now have, might be your downfall. More ease might subject you to dreadful infirmities or diseases. Make not your lot worse by sinful repining. You have not shown wisdom sufficient to direct any of your own affairs. It is a mercy to us all that “it is not in man that walks, to direct his steps.” Human knowledge is ignorance; human prudence folly; human strength weakness; human virtue a slender reed. God may cross your desires without doing you any injustice. Your will is the will of a sinner. Sometimes God has tried you by gratifying your desires for something new, something different. The result has not generally been favourable. “He gave them a king in his anger, and took him away in his wrath.” You have often done worse when
full, than when empty. “The Lord’s people grew rich, but rebellious; they were fat and stuffed with food. They abandoned God their Creator and rejected their mighty saviour.” Good Hezekiah greatly desired life, and God gave him fifteen years more; but in that time he greatly erred, and left a sad blot on his name. A man may live too long for his own peace, or honor, or usefulness. Your wishes are not always wise.
A child was sick. His mother was almost frantic. She fasted, she fainted, she wept, she screamed. God restored her boy to health, and at manhood he committed felony, was arrested, imprisoned, convicted, executed—and broke her heart. How much less would she have suffered had he died in childhood.
Your views are liable to be full of error. But God is fit to govern you—and all things. He knows what is best for you—how much you can bear—and when a smile or a stroke will do you most good. His grace is great, and so are his truth, and power, and wisdom. If he shall direct, all things will go right. He is never deceived nor outwitted. He is gentle and kind. “He knows our frame; he remembers that we are dust.” His will is holy, just, and good. He keeps mercy for thousands. His faithfulness is unto all generations. You should be glad that Jehovah governs the universe—and that he governs you.
If you are wise, you will “trust in the Lord and do good—and you will be safe;” for he has said, “I will never leave you, nor forsake you.” What a promise. what a promise. Learn to be content in whatever circumstances you are in. You are the borrower, not the owner of any blessing. Suppress the first risings of ambition, covetousness, self-will, restlessness, and the spirit of murmuring. Rest quietly in God. The future will bring a full explanation of the present. Treasure up in your heart the blessed promises of God. Incessantly ask the Lord to increase your faith. Diligently perform all known duties, especially domestic duties. Be of good courage, and he shall strengthen your heart. Say not, that God has forgotten you. Resist all unworthy thoughts of your Savior and heavenly Father. Be content with your lot, and leave results with him who governs all things after the counsel of his own will. So shall you walk safely, and your burden shall be light, and soon the Almighty shall call you to himself, and “the days of your mourning shall be ended.”
But until that day of joy has arrived, rest in the Lord, and wait patiently for him, remembering that “we brought nothing into this world, and it is certain we can carry nothing out.” It was one of the greatest attainments ever made, when Paul was able to say, “I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances I am. I know both how to have a little, and I know how to have a lot. In any and all circumstances I have learned the secret of being content—whether well-fed or hungry, whether in abundance or in need. I am able to do all things through Him who strengthens me.” (Philippians 4:11-13)
Hall says, “If a man would be rich, honourable, or aged, he should not strive so much to add to his wealth, reputation, or years—as to detract from his desires. For certainly in these things he has the most, that desires least. A poor man who has little and desires no more, is truly richer than the greatest monarch who thinks he has not what he should have, or what he might yet have, or who grieves that there is no more to have. It is not necessity, but carnal ambition—with which men torture themselves.”
There are three considerations which should quite reconcile us to be without much of what mankind are generally so greedy after.
The first is, that God generally gives the great amount of the wealth, honours, and pleasures of this world to his foes. How seldom do the potentates of earth fear God. How few very rich men love prayer. The ‘sons of pleasure’ are never the ‘sons of God’. No wise man should care much for that which God habitually bestows on those who have no share in his saving mercy—and shall never see his face in peace.
The second consideration is, that the arts by which these things may be, and often are gained, are of the basest kind. It requires no virtue to build up a great fortune, to have many praising you, or to be called a man of pleasure. One great secret in the lives of many who rise to eminence in these things is, that first of all they deny God, and give themselves over to irreligion. They part with a good conscience. They may speak much of honour, but often there is no honour there. If a man will but agree to flatter and deceive, lie and defraud, oppress and banter; if he will allow his selfishness to reign supreme; if he will harden his heart against the demands of justice, the dictates of equity, and the urgencies of charity; if he will hold fast all he gets, and get all he can—he may become rich. And if he can once acquire wealth, there are always some who will sound his praise; and so he may by money and flattery buy his way to power and notoriety.
It is the deliberate judgment of many close observers, that the mass of the successful in worldly schemes, are deficient in virtue and morality. This may seem strange to some, but let every man look over the list of his acquaintance, and see if it is not so.
The third consideration is, that nothing can make us happy if our minds are restless and grasping. Contentment is itself riches, honours, and pleasures. “The sleep of the labouring man is sweet, whether he eats much or little; but the abundance of the rich will not allow him to sleep.” The Persians have this proverb: “Ten poor men can sleep tranquilly upon a mat; but two kings are not able to live at peace in a quarter of the world.” And one of our own poets has said, “Contentment gives a crown—where fortune has denied it.” “Godliness with contentment is great gain.”