Wilt thou set thine eyes upon that which is not. ~ Proverbs 23:5a
The people shall weary themselves for very vanity?
~ Habakkuk 2:13c
Wherefore do ye spend money for that which is not bread? and your labour for that which satisfieth not? ~ Isaiah 55:2 a,b
The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment, Jeremiah Burroughs. An excerpt.
‘I have learned, in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content.- Philippians 4:11
CHRISTIAN CONTENTMENT DESCRIBED
This text contains a very timely cordial to revive the drooping spirits of the saints in these sad and sinking time. For the ‘hour of temptation’ has already come upon all the world to try the inhabitants of the earth. In particular, this is the day of Jacob’s trouble in our own bowels.
Our great Apostle holds forth experimentally in this Gospel-text the very life and soul of all practical divinity. In it we may plainly read his own proficiency in the school of Christ, and what lesson every Christian who would prove the power and growth of godliness in his own soul must necessarily learn from him.
These words are brought in by Paul as a clear argument to persuade the Philippians that he did not seek after great things in the world, and that he sought not ‘theirs’ but ‘them’. He did not long for great wealth. His heart was taken up with better things. ‘I do not speak’, he says, ‘in respect of want, for whether I have or have not, my heart is fully satisfied, I have enough: I have learned in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content.’ ‘I have learned’- Contentment in every condition is a great art, a spiritual mystery. It is to be learned, and to be learned as a mystery. And so in verse 12 he affirms: ‘I know how to be abased, and I now how to abound: everywhere and in all things I am instructed.’ The word which is translated ‘instructed’ is derived from the word that signifies ‘mystery’; it is just as if he had said, ‘I have learned the mystery of this business.’ Contentment is to be learned as a great mystery, and those who are thoroughly trained in this art, which is like Samson’s riddle to a natural man, have learned a deep mystery. ‘I have learned it’-I do not have to learn it now, nor did I have the art at first; I have attained it, though with much ado, and now, by the grace of God, I have become the master of this art.
‘In whatsoever state I am’-The word ‘estate’ is not in the original, but simply ‘in what I am’, that is, in whatever concerns or befalls me, whether I have little or nothing at all.
‘Therewith to be content’-The word rendered ‘content’ here has great elegance and fullness of meaning in the original. In the strict sense it is only attributed to God, who has styled himself ‘God all-sufficient’, in that he rests fully satisfied in and with himself alone. But he is pleased freely to communicate his fullness to the creature, so that from God in Christ the saints receive ‘grace for grace’ (John 1:16). As a result, there is in them the same grace that is in Christ, according to their measure. In this sense, Paul says, I have a self-sufficiency, which is what the word means.
But has Paul got a self-sufficiency? you will say. How are we sufficient of ourselves! Our Apostle affirms in another case, ‘That we are not sufficient of ourselves to think anything as of ourselves’ (2 Corinthians 3:5).
Therefore his meaning must be, I find a sufficiency of satisfaction in my own heart, through the grace of Christ that is in me. Though I have not outward comforts and worldly conveniences to supply my necessities, yet I have a sufficient portion between Christ and my soul abundantly to satisfy me in every condition. This interpretation agrees with that place: ‘A good man is satisfied from himself’ (Proverbs 14:14) and also with what Paul avers of himself in another place, that ‘though he had nothing yet he possessed all things’. Because he had a right to the covenant and promise, which virtually contains everything, and an interest in Christ, the fountain and good of all, it is no marvel that he said that in whatsoever state he was in, he was content.
Thus you have the true interpretation of the text. I shall not make any division of the words, because I take them only to promote the one most necessary duty, viz. quieting and comforting the hearts of God’s people under the troubles and changes they meet with in these heart-shaking times.
The doctrinal conclusion briefly is this: That to be well skilled in the mystery of Christian contentment is the duty, glory and excellence of a Christian.
This evangelical truth is held forth sufficiently in the Scripture, yet we may take one or two more parallel places to confirm it. In 1 Timothy 6:6 and 8 you find expressed both the duty and the glory of it: ‘Having food and raiment’, he says in verse 8, ‘let us be therewith content’-there is the duty.
‘But godliness with contentment is great gain’ (v. 6)-there is the glory and excellence of it; as if to suggest that godliness were not gain except contentment be with it. The same exhortation you have in Hebrews: ‘Let your conversation be without covetousness, and be content with such things as you have’ (Hebrews 13:5).
I do not find any Apostle or writer of Scripture who deals so much with this spiritual mystery of contentment as this our Apostle has done throughout his Epistles.
To explain and prove the above conclusion, I shall endeavor to demonstrate four things:
1. The nature of this Christian contentment: what it is.
2. The art and mystery of it.
3. What lessons must be learned to bring the heart to contentment. 4. Wherein the glorious excellence of this grace chiefly consists.
I offer the following description: Christian contentment is that sweet, inward, quiet, gracious frame of spirit, which freely submits to and delights in God’s wise and fatherly disposal in every condition.
I shall break open this description, for it is a box of precious ointment, and very comforting and useful for troubled hearts, in troubled times and conditions.
1. CONTENTMENT IS A SWEET, INWARD HEART-THING. IT IS A WORK OF THE SPIRIT INDOORS.
It is not only that we do not seek to help ourselves by outward violence, or that we forbear from discontented and murmuring expressions with perverse words and bearing against God and others. But it is the inward submission of the heart. ‘Truly, my soul waiteth upon God’ (Psalm 62:1) and ‘My soul, wait thou only upon God’ (verse 5)-so it is in your Bibles, but the words may be translated as correctly: ‘My soul, be thou silent unto God. Holy thy peace, O my soul.’ Not only must the tongue hold its peace; the soul must be silent. Many may sit silently, refraining from discontented expressions, yet inwardly they are bursting with discontented expressions, yet inwardly they are bursting with discontent.
This shows a complicated disorder and great perversity in their hearts. And notwithstanding their outward silence, God hears the peevish, fretful language of their souls. A shoe may be smooth and neat outside, while inside it pinches the flesh. Outwardly there may be great calmness and stillness, yet within amazing confusion, bitterness, disturbance and vexation.
Some people are so weak that they cannot restrain the unrest of their spirits, but in words and behavior they reveal what woeful disturbances there are within. Their spirits are like the raging sea, casting forth nothing but mire and dirt, and are troublesome not only to themselves but also to all with whom they live. Others, however, are able to restrain such disorders of heart, as Judas did when he betrayed Christ with a kiss, but even so they boil inwardly and eat away like a canker. So David speaks of some whose words are sweeter than honey and butter, and yet have war in their hearts.
In another place, he says, ‘While I kept silence my bones waxed old’. In the same way these people, while there is a serene calm upon their tongues, have blustering storms upon their spirits, and while they keep silence their hearts are troubled and even worn away with anguish and vexation. They have peace and quiet outwardly, but within war from the unruly and turbulent workings of their heart.
If the attainment of true contentment were as easy as keeping quiet outwardly, it would not need much learning. It might be had with less strength and skill than an Apostle possessed, yea, less than an ordinary Christian has or may have. Therefore, there is certainly more to it than can be attained by common gifts and the ordinary power of reason, which often bridle nature. It is a business of the heart.
2. IT IS THE QUIET OF THE HEART.
All is sedate and still there. That you may understand this better, I would add that this quiet, gracious frame of spirit is not opposed to certain things:
1. To a due sense of affliction. God gives his people leave to be sensible of what they suffer. Christ does not say, ‘Do not count as a cross what is a cross’; he says, ‘Take up your cross daily’. It is like physical health: if you take medicine and cannot hold it, but immediately vomit it up, or if you feel nothing and it does not move you-in either case the medicine does no good, but suggests that you are greatly disordered and will hardly be cured. So it is with the spirits of men under afflictions: if they cannot bear God’s potions and bring them up again, or if they are insensitive to them and no more affected by them than the body is by a draught of small beer, it is a sad symptom that their souls are in a dangerous and almost incurable condition. So this inward quietness is not in opposition to a sense of afflictions, for, indeed, there would be no true contentment if you were not apprehensive and sensible of your afflictions, when God is angry.
2. It is not opposed to making an orderly manner our moan and complaint to God, and to our friends. Though a Christian ought to be quiet under God’s correcting hand, he may without any breach of Christian contentment complain to God. As one of the ancients says, Though not with a tumultuous clamor and shrieking out in a confused passion, yet in a quiet, still, submissive way he may unbosom his heart to God. Likewise he may communicate his sad condition to his Christian friends, showing them how God has dealt with him, and how heavy the affliction is upon him, that they may speak a word in season to his weary soul.
3. It is not opposed to all lawful seeking for help in different circumstances, nor to endeavoring simply to be delivered out of present afflictions by the use of lawful means. No, I may lay in provision for my deliverance and use God’s means, waiting on him because I do not know but that it may be his will to alter my condition. And so far as he leads me I may follow his providence; it is but my duty, God is thus far mercifully indulgent to our weakness, and he will not take it ill at our hands if by earnest and importunate prayer we seek him for deliverance until we know his good pleasure in the matter. Certainly seeking thus for help, with such submission and holy resignation of spirit, to be delivered when God wills, and as God wills, and how God wills, so that our wills are melted into the will of God-this is not opposed to the quietness which God requires in a contented spirit.
But what, then, it will be asked, is this quietness of spirit opposed to? 1. It is opposed to murmuring and repining at the hand of God, as the discontented Israelites often did. If we cannot bear this either in our children or servants, much less can God bear it in us.
2. To vexing and fretting, which is a degree beyond murmuring. I remember the saying of a heathen, ‘A wise man may grieve for, but not be vexed with his afflictions’. There is a vast different between a kindly grieving and a disordered vexation.
3. To tumultuousness of spirit, when the thoughts run distractingly and work in a confused manner, so that the affections are like the unruly multitude in the Acts, who did know for what purpose they had come together. The Lord expects you to be silent under his rod, and, as was said in Acts 19:36, ‘Ye ought to be quiet and to do nothing rashly.’
4. It is opposed to an unsettled and unstable spirit, whereby the heart is distracted from the present duty that God requires in our several relationships, towards God, ourselves and others. We should prize duty more highly than to be distracted by every trivial occasion. Indeed, a Christian values every service of God so much that though some may be in the eyes of the world and of natural reason a slight and empty business, beggarly elements, or foolishness, yet since God calls for it, the authority of the command so overawes his heart that he is willing to spend himself and to be spent in discharging it. It is an expression of Luther’s that ordinary works, done in faith and from faith, are more precious than heaven and earth. And if this is so, and a Christian knows it, he should not be diverted by small matters, but should answer every distraction, and resist every temptation, as Nehemiah did Sanballat, Geshem and Tobiah, when they would have hindered the building of the wall, with this: ‘I am doing a great work so that I cannot come down: why should the work cease, whilst I leave it, and come down to you?’ (Nehemiah 6:3).
5. It is opposed to distracting, heart-consuming cares. A gracious heart so esteems its union with Christ and the work that God sets it about that it will not willingly suffer anything to come in to choke it or deaden it. A Christian is desirous that the Word of God should take such full possession as to divide between soul and spirit (Hebrews 4:12), but he would not allow the fear and noise of evil tidings to take such a hold in his soul as to make a division and struggling there, like the twins in Rebekah’s womb. A great man will permit common people to stand outside his doors, but he will not let them come in and make a noise in his closet or bedroom when he deliberately retires from all worldly business. So a well-tempered spirit may enquire after things outside in the world, and suffer some ordinary cares and fears to break into the suburbs of the soul, so as to touch lightly upon the thoughts. Yet it will not on any account allow an intrusion into the private room, which should be wholly reserved for Jesus Christ as his inward temple.
6. It is opposed to sinking discouragements. When things do not fall out according to expectation, when the tide of second causes runs so low that we see little in outward means to support our hopes and hearts, then the heart begins to reason as did he in 2 Kings 7:2: ‘If the Lord should open the windows of heaven how should this be?’ We never consider that God can open the eyes of the blind with clay and spittle, he can work above, beyond, and even contrary to means. He often makes the fairest flowers of man’s endeavors to wither and brings improbable things to pass, in order that the glory of the undertaking may be given to himself. Indeed, if his people stand in need of miracles to bring about their deliverance, miracles fall as easily from God’s hands as to give his people daily bread. God’s blessing many times is a secret from his servants so that they do not know from which way it is coming, as ‘Ye shall not see wind, neither shall ye see rain, yet the valley shall be filled with water’ (2 Kings 3:17).
God would have us to depend on him though we do not see how the thing may be brought about; otherwise, we do not show a quiet spirit. Though an affliction is on you, do not let your heart sink under it. So far as your heart sinks and you are discouraged under affliction, so much you need to learn this lesson of contentment.
7. It is opposed to sinful shiftings and shirkings to get relief and help. We see this kind of thing in Saul running to the witch of Endor, and offering sacrifice before Samuel came. Nay, good King Jehoshaphat joins himself with Ahaziah (2 Chronicles 20:35). And Asa goes to Benhadad, King of Syria, for help, ‘not relying upon the Lord’ (2 Chronicles 16:7, 8), though the Lord had delivered the Ethiopian army into his hands consisting of a thousand thousand (2 Chronicles 14:12). And good Jacob joined with his mother in lying to Isaac; not content to await God’s time and use God’s means, he made too great a haste and went out of his way to procure the blessing which God intended for him. Thus do many, through the corruption of their hearts and the weakness of their faith, because they are not able to trust God and follow him fully in all things and always. For this reason, the Lord often follows the saints with many sore temporal crosses, as we see in the case of Jacob, though they obtain the mercy. It may be that your carnal heart thinks, I do not care how I am delivered, if only I may be freed from it. It is not so many times in some of your hearts, when any cross or affliction befalls you? Do you not experience such workings of spirit as this? ‘Oh, if I could only be delivered from this affliction in any way, I would not care’-your hearts are far from being quiet. This sinful shifting is the next thing which is in opposition to the quietness which God requires in a contented spirit.
8. The last thing that quietness of spirit is the opposite of it desperate risings of the heart against God by way of rebellion. That is the most abominable. I hope many of you have learned so far to be content as to restrain your hearts from such disorders. Yet the truth is that not only wicked men, but sometimes the very saints of God find the beginnings of this, when an affliction remains for a long time and is very severe and an affliction remains for a long and is very severe and heavy indeed upon them, and strikes them, as it were, in the master vein. They find in their hearts something of a rising against God, their thoughts begin to bubble, and their affections begin to move in rebellion against God himself.
Especially is this the case with those who besides their corruptions have a large measure of melancholy. The Devil works both upon the corruptions of their hearts and the melancholy disease of their bodies, and though much grace may lie underneath, yet under affliction there may be some risings against God himself.
Now Christian quietness is opposed to all these things. When affliction comes, whatever it is, you do not murmur; though you feel it, though you make your cry to God, though you desire to be delivered, and seek it by all good means, yet you do not murmur or repine, you do not fret or vex yourself, there is not a tumultuousness of spirit in you, not an instability, there are not distracting fears in your hearts, no sinking discouragements, no unworthy shifts, no risings in rebellion against God in any way: This is quietness of spirit under an affliction, and that is the second thing, when the soul is so far able to bear an affliction as to keep quiet under it.
3. NOW THE NEXT THING I WANT TO EXPLAIN IN THE DESCRIPTION IS THIS, IT IS AN INWARD, QUIET, GRACIOUS FRAME OF SPIRIT.
It is a frame of spirit and also a gracious frame. Contentment is a soul business. First, it is inward; Secondly, quiet; Thirdly, it is a quiet frame of spirit. I mean three things when I say that contentment consists in the quiet frame of the spirit of a man.
1. That it is a grace that spreads itself through the whole soul. It is in the judgment, that is, the judgment of the soul of a man or woman tends to quiet the heart-in my judgment I am satisfied. It is one thing to be satisfied in one’s judgment and understanding, so as to be able to say, ‘This is the hand of God, and is what is suitable to my condition or best for me.
Although I do not see the reason for the thing, yet I am satisfied in my judgment about it.’ Then it is in the thoughts of a man or woman. As my judgment is satisfied, so my thought are kept in order, so that it goes through the whole soul.
In some there is a partial contentment. It is not the frame of the soul, but some part of the soul has some contentment. Many a man may be satisfied in his judgment about a thing who cannot for his life rule his affections, nor his thoughts, nor his will. I do not doubt that many of you know this in your own experience, if you observe the workings of your own hearts. Can you not say when a certain affliction befalls you, I can bless God that I am satisfied in my judgment about it? I see the hand of God and I should be content, yea, in my judgment I am satisfied that mine is a good condition.
But I cannot for my life rule my thoughts and will and my affections.
Methinks I feel my heart heavy and sad and more than it should be; yet my judgment is satisfied. This seemed to be the position of David in Psalm 42: ‘O my soul, why art thou disquieted?’ As far as David’s judgment went there was a contentedness, that is, his judgment was satisfied as to the work of God on him. He was troubled, but he knew not why: ‘O my soul, why art thou cast down within me?’ This is a very good psalm for those who feel a fretting, discontented sickness in their hearts at any time to read and sing. He says once or twice in that Psalm: ‘Why art thou cast down, O my soul?’ and in verse 5, ‘And why art thou disquieted within me? hope thou in God, for I shall yet praise him for the help of his countenance.’ David had enough to quiet him, and what he had, prevailed with his judgment. But after it had prevailed with his judgment, he could not get it any further. He could not get this grace of contentment to go through the whole frame of his soul.
Sometimes, a great deal of disturbance is involved in getting contentment into people’s judgments, that is, to satisfy their judgment about their condition. If you come to many, whom the hand of God is upon perhaps in a grievous manner, and seek to satisfy them and tell them they have no cause to be so disquieted, ‘Oh, no cause?’ says the troubled spirit, ‘then there is no cause for anyone to be disquieted. There has never been such an affliction as I have.’ And they have a hundred things with which to evade the force of what is said to them, so that you cannot so much as get at their judgments to satisfy them. But there is a great deal of hope of attaining contentment, if once your judgments are satisfied, if you can sit down and say in your judgment, ‘I see good reason to be contented.’ Yet even when you have got so far, you may still have much to do with your hearts afterwards. There is such unruliness in our thoughts and affections that our judgments are not always able to rule our thoughts and affections. That is what makes me say that contentment is an inward, quiet, gracious frame of spirit-the whole soul, judgment, thoughts, will, affections and all are satisfied and quiet. I suppose that merely in opening this subject you begin to see that it is a lesson that you need to learn, and that if contentment is like this then it is not easily obtained.
2. Spiritual contentment comes from the frame of the soul. The contentment of a man or woman who is rightly content does not come so much from outward arguments or from any outward help, as from the disposition of their own hearts. The disposition of their own hearts causes and brings forth this gracious contentment rather than any external thing.
Let me explain myself. Someone is disturbed, suppose it to be a child or a man or a woman. If you come and bring some great thing to please them, perhaps it will quiet them and they will be contented. It is the thing you bring that quiets them, not the disposition of their own spirits, not any good temper in their own hearts, but the external thing you bring them. But when a Christian is content in the right way, the quiet comes more from the temper and disposition of his own heart than from any external argument or from the possession of anything in the world.
I would unfold this further to you with this simile: To be content as a result of some external thing is like warming a man’s clothes by the fire. But to be content through an inward disposition of the soul is like the warmth that a man’s clothes have from the natural heat of the body. A man who is healthy in body puts on his clothes, and perhaps at first on a cold morning they feel cold. But after he has had them on a little while they are warm. Now, how did they get warm? They were not near the fire? No, this came from the natural heat of his body. Now when a sickly man, the natural heat of whose body has deteriorated, puts on his clothes, they do not get hot after a long time. He must warm them by the fire, and even then they will soon be cold again.
This will illustrate the different contentments of men. Some are very gracious, and when an affliction comes on them, though at first it seems a little cold, after they have borne it a while, the very temper of their hearts makes their afflictions easy. They are quiet under it and do not complain of any discontent. But now there are others that have an affliction upon them and have not this good temper in their hearts. Their afflictions are very cold and troublesome to them. Maybe, if you bring some external arguments to bear upon them like the fire that warms the clothes, they will be quiet for a while. But, alas, if they lack a gracious disposition in their own hearts, that warmth will not last long. The warmth of the fire, that is, a contentment that results merely from external arguments, will not last long. But that which comes from the gracious temper of one’s spirit will last.
When it comes from the spirit of a man or woman-that is true contentment. We shall, however, have more to say of this in explaining the mystery of contentment.
3. It is the frame of spirit that shows the habitual character of this grace of contentment. Contentment is not merely one act, just a flash in a good mood. You find many men and women who, if they are in a good mood, will be very quiet. But this will not hold. It is not a constant course. It is not the constant tenor of their spirits to be holy and gracious under affliction.
Now I say that contentment is a quiet frame of spirit and by that I mean that you should find men and women in a good mood not only at this or that time, but as the constant tenor and temper of their hearts. A Christian who, in the constant tenor and temper of his heart, can carry himself quietly with constancy has learned this lesson of contentment. Otherwise his Christianity is worth nothing, for no one, however furious in his discontent, will not be quiet when he is in a good mood.
So first, contentment is a heart-business; secondly, it is the quiet of the heart; and then thirdly, it is the frame of the heart.
4. CONTENTMENT IS THE GRACIOUS FRAME OF THE HEART.
Indeed, in contentment there is a compound of all graces, if the contentment is spiritual, if it is truly Christian. There is, I say, a compound of a great many precious ingredients, so it is in this grace of contentment, which we shall say more of in unfolding its excellence. But now the gracious frame of spirit is in opposition to three things:
1. In opposition to the natural quietness of many men and women. Some are so constituted by nature that they are more still and quiet; others are of a violent and hot constitution and they are more impatient.
2. In opposition to a sturdy resolution. Some men through the strength of a sturdy resolution do not seem to be troubled, come what may. So they are not disquieted as much as others.
3. By way of distinction from the strength of natural (though unsanctified) reason, which may quiet the heart in some degree. But now I say that a gracious frame of spirit is not merely a stillness of the body which comes from its natural constitution and temper, nor a sturdy resolution, nor merely through the strength of reason.
You will ask, In what way is the grace of contentment distinguished from all these? More will be spoken of this when we come to show the mystery of contentment and the lessons to be learned. But now we may speak a little by way of distinction from the natural quietness of spirit and such a bodily constitution that you seldom find them disquieted. Now, mark these people and you will see that they are likewise of a very dull spirit in any good matter; they have no quickness or liveliness of spirit in such matters either.
But where contentment of heart springs from grace, the heart is very quick and lively in the service of God. Yea, the more any gracious heart can bring itself to be in a contented disposition, the more fit it is for any service of God. And just as a contented heart is very active and busy in the work of God, so he is very active and busy in sanctifying God’s name in the affliction that befalls him.
The difference is very clear: The one whose disposition is quiet is not disquieted as others are, but neither does he show any activeness of spirit to sanctify the name of God in his affliction. But, on the other hand, he whose contentment is of grace is not disquieted and keeps his heart quiet with regard to vexation and trouble, and at the same time is not dull or heavy but very active to sanctify God’s name in the affliction that he is experiencing.
For if a man is to be free from discontent and worry it is not enough merely not to murmur but you must be active in sanctifying God’s name in the affliction. Indeed, this will distinguish it from a sturdy resolution not to be troubled. Though you have a sturdy resolution that you will not be troubled, do you make it a matter of conscience to sanctify God’s name in your affliction and is this where your resolution comes from? That is the main thing that brings quietness of heart and helps against discontent in a gracious heart. I say, the desire and care your soul has to sanctify God’s name in an affliction is what quietens the soul, and this is what others lack.
A quietness which comes form reason only does not do this either. It is said of Socrates that, though he were only a heathen, he would never so much as change his countenance whatever befell him, and he got this power over his spirit merely by the strength of reason and morality. But gracious contentment comes from principles beyond the strength of reason. I cannot develop that until we come to unfold the mystery of spiritual contentment.
I will give you just one mark of the difference between a man or woman who is content in a natural way and one who is contention a spiritual way: Those who are content in a natural way overcome themselves when outward afflictions befall them and are content. They are just as content when they commit sin against God. When they have outward crosses or when God is dishonored, it is all one to them; whether they themselves are crossed or whether God is crossed. But a gracious heart that is contented with its own affliction, will rise up strongly when God is dishonored.
5. THE FIFTH CHARACTERISTIC IS CONTENTMENT IS FREELY SUBMITTING TO AND TAKING PLEASURE IN GOD’S DISPOSAL.
It is a free work of the spirit. There are four things to be explained in this freedom of spirit:
1. That the heart is readily brought over. When someone does a thing freely, he does not need a lot of moving to get him to do it. Many men and women, when afflictions are heavy upon them, may be brought to a state of contentment with great ado. At last, perhaps, they may be brought to quiet their hearts in their affliction, but only with a great deal of trouble, and not at all freely. If I desire a thing of someone else and I get it with much ado and a great deal of trouble, there is no freedom of spirit here. When a man is free in a thing, only mention it and immediately he does it. So if you have learned this art of contentment you will not only be content and quiet your hearts after a great ado, but as soon as you come to see that it is the hand of God your heart acts readily and closes at once.
2. It is freely, that is, not by constraint. Not, as we say, patience by force.
Thus many will say that you must be content: ‘This is the hand of God and you cannot help it.’ Oh, but this is too low an expression for Christians.
Yet when Christians come to visit one another, they say, ‘Friend (or neighbor), you must be content.’ Must be content is too low for a Christian.
No, it should be, ‘Readily and freely I will be content.’ It is suitable to my heart to yield to God and to be content. I find it a thing that comes naturally that my soul should be content. Oh, you should answer your friends so who come and tell you that you must be content: No, I am willing to yield to God, and I am freely content. That is the second point about freedom of spirit. Now a free act comes in a rational manner. That is freedom; it does not come through ignorance, because I know of no better condition or because I do not know why my affliction is, but it comes through a sanctified judgment. That is why no creature but a rational creature can do an act of freedom. Liberty of action is only in rational creatures and comes from hence, for that is only freedom that is done in a rational way. Natural freedom is when I, by my judgment, see what is to be done, understand the thing, and my judgment agrees with what I understand: that is done freely.
But if a man does something, not understanding what he is doing, he cannot be said to do it freely. Suppose a child was born in prison and never went outside of it. He is content, but why? Because he never knew anything better. His being content is not a free act. But for men and women who know better, who know that the condition they are in is an afflicted and sad condition, and still by a sanctified judgment can bring their hearts to contentment-this is freedom.
3. This freedom is in opposition to mere stupidity. A man or woman may be contented merely from lack of sense. This is not free, any more than a man who is paralysed in a deadly way and does not feel it when you nip him is patient freely. But if someone should have their flesh pinched and feel it, and yet for all that can control themselves and do it freely, that is another matter. So it is here: many are contented out of mere stupidity. They have a dead paralysis upon them. But a gracious heart has sense enough, and yet is contented, and therefore is free.
6. CONTENTMENT IS FREELY SUBMITTING TO AND TAKING PLEASURE IN GOD’S DISPOSAL.
Submitting to God’s disposal-What is that? The word submit signifies nothing else but ‘to send under’. Thus in one who is discontented the heart will be unruly, and would even get above God so far as discontent prevails.
But now comes the grace of contentment and sends it under, for to submit is to send under a thing. Now when the soul comes to see its own unruliness-Is the hand of God bringing an affliction and yet my heart is troubled and discontented- What, it says, will you be above God? Is this not God’s hand and must your will be regarded more than God’s? O under, under! get you under, O soul! Keep under! keep low! keep under God’s feet! You are under God’s feet, and keep under his feet! Keep under the authority of God, the majesty of God, the sovereignty of God, the power that God has over you! To keep under, that is to submit. The soul can submit to God at the time when it can send itself under the power and authority and sovereignty and dominion that God has over it. That is the sixth point, but even that is not enough. You have not attained this grace of contentment unless the next point is true of you.
7. CONTENTMENT IS TAKING PLEASURE IN GOD’S DISPOSAL.
This is so when I am well pleased in what God does, in so far as I can see God in it, though, as I said, I may be sensible of the affliction, and may desire that God in his due time would remove it, and may use means to remove it. Yet I am well pleased in so far as God’s hand is in it. To be well pleased with God’s hand is a higher degree than the previous one. It comes from this: not only do I see that I should be content in this affliction, but I see that there is good in it. I find there is honey in this rock, and so I do not only say, I must, or I will submit to God’s hand. No, the hand of God is good, ‘it is good that I am afflicted.’ To acknowledge that it is just that I am afflicted is possible in one who is not truly contented. I may be convinced that God deals justly in this matter, he is righteous and just and it is right that I should submit to what he has done; O the Lord has done righteously in all ways! But that is not enough! You must say, ‘Good is the hand of the Lord.’ It was the expression of old Eli: ‘Good is the hand of the Lord,’ when it was a sore and hard word. It was a word that threatened very grievous things to Eli and his house, and yet Eli says, ‘Good is the word of the Lord.’ Perhaps, some of you may say, like David, ‘It is good that I was afflicted’, but you must come to this, ‘It is good that I am afflicted.’ Not just good when you see the good fruit it has wrought, but to say when you are afflicted, ‘It is good that I am afflicted. Whatever the affliction, yet through the mercy of God mine is a good condition.’ It is, indeed, the top and the height of this art of contentment to come to this pitch and to be able to say, ‘Well, my condition and afflictions are so and so, and very grievous and sore; yet, through God’s mercy, I am in a good condition, and the hand of God is good upon me notwithstanding.’ I should have given you several Scriptures about this, but I will give you one or two, which are very striking. You will think it is a hard lesson to come so far as not only to be quiet but to take pleasure in affliction.
‘In the house of the righteous is much treasure, but in the revenues of the wicked is trouble’ (Proverbs 15:6): here is a Scripture to show that a gracious heart has cause to say that it is in a good condition, whatever it is. In the house of the righteous is much treasure; his house-what house? It may be a poor cottage, and perhaps he has scarcely a stool to sit on. Perhaps he is forced to sit on a stump of wood or part of a block instead of a stool, or perhaps he has scarcely a bed to lie on, or a dish to eat in. Yet the Holy Ghost says, ‘In the house of the righteous is much treasure.’ Let the righteous man be the poorest man in the world-it may be that someone has come and taken all the goods from out of his house for debt. Perhaps his house is plundered and all is gone; yet still, ‘In the house of the righteous is much treasure.’ The righteous man can never be made so poor, to have his house so rifled and spoiled, but there will remain much treasure within. If he has but a dish or a spoon or anything in the world in his house, there will be much treasure so long as he is there. There is the presence of God and the blessing of God upon him, and therein is much treasure. But in the revenues of the wicked there is trouble. There is more treasure in the poorest body’s house, if he is godly, than in the house of the greatest man in the world, who has his fine hangings and finely-wrought beds and chairs and couches and cupboards of plate and the like. Whatever he has, he has not so much treasure in it as there is in the house of the poorest righteous soul.
It is no marvel, therefore, that Paul was content, for a verse or two after my text you read: ‘But I have all and abound. I am full’ (Philippians 4:18). I have all? Alas, poor man! what did Paul have that could make him say he had all? Where was there ever a man more afflicted than Paul was? Many times he had not tatters to hang about his body to cover his nakedness. He had no bread to eat, he was often in nakedness, and put in the stocks and whipped and cruelly used, ‘Yet I have all’, says Paul, for all that. Yes, you will find it in 2 Corinthians: He professes there that he did possess all things: ‘As sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, and yet possessing all things’ (2 Corinthians 6:10).
Mark what he says-it is, ‘as having nothing’ but it is ‘possessing all things’. He does not say: ‘As possessing all things’, but ‘possessing all things’. I have very little in the world, he says, but yet possessing all things. So you see that a Christian has cause to take pleasure in God’s hand, whatever his hand may be.
8. THE EIGHTH THING IN CONTENTMENT IS, SUBMITTING, AND TAKING PLEASURE IN GOD’S DISPOSAL.
That is to say, the soul that has learned this lesson of contentment looks up to God in all things. He does not look down at the instruments and means, so as to say that such a man did it, that it was the unreasonableness of such and such instruments, and similar barbarous usage by such and such; but he looks up to God. A contented heart looks to God’s disposal, and submits to God’s disposal, that is, he sees the wisdom of God in everything. In his submission he sees his sovereignty, but what makes him take pleasure is God’s wisdom. The Lord knows how to order things better than I. The Lord sees further than I do; I only see things at present but the Lord sees a great while from now. And how do I know but that had it not been for this affliction, I should have been undone. I know that the love of God may as well stand with an afflicted condition as with a prosperous condition. There are reasonings of this kind in a contented spirit, submitting to the disposal of God.
9. THE LAST THING IS, THIS IS IN EVERY CONDITION.
Now we shall enlarge on this a little.
1. Submitting to God in whatever affliction befalls us: as to the kind of affliction.
2. As to the time and continuance of the affliction.
3. As to the variety and changes of affliction: whatever they are, yet there must be a submission to God’s disposal in every condition.
1. As to the kind of affliction. Many men and women will in general say that they must submit to God in affliction; I suppose that if you were to go now from one end of this congregation to the other, and speak thus to every soul: ‘Would you not submit to God’s disposal, in whatever condition he might place you?’, you would say, ‘God forbid that it should be otherwise!’ But we have a saying, There is a great deal of deceit in general statements. In general, you would submit to anything; but what if it is in this or that particular case which crosses you most?- Then, anything but that! We are usually apt to think that any condition is better than that condition in which God has placed us. Now, this is not contentment; it should be not only to any condition in general, but for the kind of affliction, including that which most crosses you. God, it may be, strikes you in your child.- ‘Oh, if it had been in my possessions’ you say, ‘I would be content!’ Perhaps he strikes you in your marriage. ‘Oh,’ you say, ‘I would rather have been stricken in my health.’ And if he had struck you in your health-‘Oh, then, if it had been in my trading, I would not have cared.’ But we must not be our own carvers. Whatever particular afflictions God may place us in, we must be content in them.
2. There must be a submission to God in every affliction, as to the time and continuance of the affliction. ‘Perhaps I could submit and be content’, says someone, ‘but this affliction has been on me a long time, three months, a year, many years, and I do not know how to yield and submit to it, my patience is worn out and broken.’ I may even be a spiritual affliction-you could submit to God, you say, in any outward affliction, but not in a soul-affliction.
Or if it were the withdrawing of God’s face-‘Yet if this had been but for a little time I could submit; but to seek God for so long and still he does not appear, Oh how shall I bear this?’ We must not be our own disposers for the time of deliverance any more than for the kind and way of deliverance.
I will give you a Scripture or two about this. That we are to submit to God for the time as well as the kind of affliction, see the latter end of the first chapter of Ezekiel: ‘When I saw it I fell upon my face, and I heard a voice of one that spake.’ The Prophet was cast down upon his face, but how long must he lie upon his face? ‘And he said unto me, Son of man, stand upon thy feet and I will speak unto thee. And the spirit entered into me, when he spake unto me, and set me upon my feet.’ Ezekiel was cast down upon his face, and there he must lie till God should bid him to stand up; yea, and not only so, but till God’s Spirit came into him and enabled him to stand up. So when God casts us down, we must be content to lie till God bids us stand up, and God’s Spirit enters into us to enable us to stand up. You know how Noah was put into the Ark-certainly he knew there was much affliction in the Ark, with all kinds of creatures shut up with him for twelve months together-it was a mighty thing, yet God having shut him up, even though the waters were assuaged, Noah was not to come out of the Ark till God bid him. So though we be shut up in great afflictions, and we may think of this and that and the other means to come out of that affliction, yet till God opens the door, we should be willing to stay; God has put us in, and God will bring us out. So we read in the Acts of Paul, when they had shut him in prison and would have sent for him out; ‘No’, says Paul, ‘they shut us in, let them come and fetch us out.’ So in a holy, gracious way should a soul say, ‘Well, this affliction that I am brought into, is by the hand of God, and I am content to be here till God brings me out himself.’ God requires it at our hands, that we should not be willing to come out till he comes and fetches us out.
In Joshua 4:10 there is a remarkable story that may serve our purpose very well: We read of the priests that they bore the ark and stood in the midst of Jordan (you know when the Children of Israel went into the land of Canaan they went through the river Jordan). Now to go through the river Jordan was a very dangerous thing, but God had told them to go. They might have been afraid of the water coming in upon them. But mark, it is said, ‘The priests that bare the ark stood in the midst of Jordan till every thing was finished that the Lord commanded Joshua to speak unto the people, according to all that Moses commanded Joshua, and the people hasted and passed over: And it came to pass when all the people were clean passed over, that the ark of the Lord passed over, and the priests in the presence of the people.’ Now it was God’s disposal that all the people should pass over first, that they should be safe on land; but the priests must stand still till all the people had passed over, and then they must have leave to go. But they must stay till God would have them to go, stay in all that danger! For certainly, to reason and sense, there was a great deal of danger in staying, for the text says that the people hasted over, but the priests they must stay till the people have gone, stay till God calls them out from that place of danger. And so many times it proves the case that God is pleased to dispose of things so that his ministers must stay longer in danger than the people, and likewise magistrates and those in public places, which should make people to be satisfied and contented with a lower position into which God has put them. Though your position is low, yet you are not in the same danger as those who are in a higher position. God calls those in public positions to stand longer in the gap and place of danger than other people, but we must be content to stay even in Jordan till the Lord shall be pleased to call us out.
3. And then for the variety of our condition. We must be content with the particular affliction, and the time, and all the circumstances about the affliction- for sometimes the circumstances are greater afflictions than the afflictions themselves-and for the variety. God may exercise us with various afflictions one after another, as has been very noticeable, even of late, that many who have been plundered and come away, afterwards have fallen sick and died; they had fled for their lives and afterwards the plague has come among them; and if not that affliction, it may be some other. It is very rarely that one affliction comes alone; commonly, afflictions are not single things, but they come one upon the neck of another. God may strike one man in his possessions, then in his body, then in his name, wife, child or dear friend, and so it comes in a variety of ways; it is the way of God ordinarily (you may find it by experience) that one affliction seldom comes alone. Now this is hard, when one affliction follows after another, when there is a variety of afflictions, when there is a mighty change in one’s condition, up and down, this way, and that: there indeed is the trial of a Christian. Now there must be submission to God’s disposal in them. I remember it was said even of Cato, who was a Heathen, that no man saw him to be changed, though he lived in a time when the commonwealth was so often changed; yet it is said of him, he was the same still, though his condition was changed, and he passed through a variety of conditions. Oh that the same could be said of many Christians, that though their circumstances are changed, yet that nobody could see them changed, they are the same! Did you see what a gracious, sweet and holy temper they were in before? They are in it still. Thus are we to submit to the disposal of God in every condition.
Contentment is the inward, quiet, gracious frame of spirit, freely submitting to and taking pleasure in God’s disposal in every condition: That is the description, and in it nine distinct things have been opened up which we summarize as follows: First, that contentment is a heart-work within the soul; Secondly, it is the quieting of the heart; Thirdly, it is the frame of the spirit; Fourthly, it is a gracious frame; Fifthly, it is the free working of this gracious frame; Sixthly, there is in it a submission to God, sending the soul under God; Seventhly, there is a taking pleasure in the hand of God; Eighthly, all is traced to God’s disposal; Ninthly, in every condition, however hard it be and however long it continue.
Now those of you who have learned to be content, have learned to attain to these various things. I hope that the very opening of these things may so far work on your hearts that you may lay your hands upon your hearts on what has been said, I say, that the very telling you what the lesson is may cause you to lay your hands on your hearts and say, ‘Lord, I see there is more to Christian contentment than I thought there was, and I have been far from learning this lesson. Indeed, I have only learned my ABC in this lesson of contentment. I am only in the lower form in Christ’s school if I am in it at all.’ We shall speak of these things more later, but my particular aim in opening this point is to show what a great mystery there is in Christian contentment, and how many distinct lessons there are to be learned, that we may come to attain to this heavenly disposition, to which St. Paul attained.
THE MYSTERY OF CONTENTMENT
But you will object: What you speak of is very good, if we could attain to it; but is it possible for anyone to attain to this? It is possible if you get skill in the art of it; you may attain to it, and it will prove to be not such a difficult thing either, if you but understand the mystery of it. There are many things that men do in their callings, that if a countryman comes and sees, he thinks it a mighty hard thing, and that he should never be able to do it. But that is because he does not understand the art of it; there is a twist of the hand by which you may do it with ease. Now that is the business of this book, to open to you the art and mystery of contentment.
There is a great mystery and art in what way a Christian comes to contentment. By what has been already opened to you there will appear some mystery and art, as that a man should be content with his affliction, and yet thoroughly sensible of his affliction too; to be thoroughly sensible of an affliction, and to endeavor to remove it by all lawful means, and yet to be content: there is a mystery in that. How to join these two together: to be sensible of an affliction as much as a man or woman who is not content; I am sensible of it as fully as they, and I seek ways to be delivered from it as well as they, and yet still my heart abides content-this is, I say, a mystery, that is very hard for a carnal heart to understand. But grace teaches such a mixture, teaches us how to make a mixture of sorrow and a mixture of joy together; and that makes contentment, the mingling of joy and sorrow, of gracious joy and gracious sorrow together. Grace teaches us how to moderate and to order an affliction so that there shall be a sense of it, and yet for all that contentment under it.
There are several things for opening the mystery of contentment.
1. THE FIRST THING IS, TO SHOW THAT THERE IS A GREAT MYSTERY IN IT.
It may be said of one who is contented in a Christian way that he is the most contented man in the world, and yet the most unsatisfied man in the world; these two together must needs be mysterious. I say, a contented man, just as he is the most contented, so he is the most unsatisfied man in the world.
You never learned the mystery of contentment unless it may be said of you that, just as you are the most contented man, so you are also the most unsatisfied man in the world.
You will say, ‘How is that?’ A man who has learned the art of contentment is the most contented with any low condition that he has in the world, and yet he cannot be satisfied with the enjoyment of all the world. He is contented if he has but a crust, but bread and water, that is, if God disposes of him, for the things of the world, to have but bread and water for his present condition, he can be satisfied with God’s disposal in that; yet if God should give unto him Kingdoms and Empires, all the world to rule, if he should give it him for his portion, he would not be satisfied with that. Here is the mystery of it: though his heart is so enlarged that the enjoyment of all the world and ten thousand worlds cannot satisfy him for his portion; yet he has a heart quieted under God’s disposal, if he gives him but bread and water. To join these two together must needs be a great art and mystery.
Though he is contented with God in a little, yet those things that would content other men will not content him. The men of the world seek after wealth, and think if they had thus much, and thus much, they would be content. They do not aim at great things; but if I had, perhaps some man thinks, only two or three hundred a year, then I should be well enough; if I had but a hundred a year, or a thousand a year, says another, then I should be satisfied. But a gracious heart says that if he had ten hundred thousand times so much a year, it would not satisfy him; if he had the quintessence of all the excellences of all the creatures in the world, it could not satisfy him; and yet this man can sing, and be merry and joyful when he has only a crust of bread and a little water in the world. Surely religion is a great mystery! Great is the mystery of godliness, not only in the doctrinal part of it, but in the practical part of it also.
Godliness teaches us this mystery, Not to be satisfied with all the world for our portion, and yet to be content with the meanest condition in which we are. When Luther was sent great gifts by Dukes and Princes, he refused them, and he says, ‘I did vehemently protest that God should not put me off so; ’tis not that which will content me.’ A little in the world will content a Christian for his passage. Mark, here lies the mystery of it, A little in the world will content a Christian for his passage, but all the world, and ten thousand times more, will not content a Christian for his portion. A carnal heart will be content with these things of the world for his portion; and that is the difference between a carnal heart and a gracious heart. But a gracious heart says, ‘Lord, do with me what you will for my passage through this world; I will be content with that, but I cannot be content with all the world for my portion.’ So there is the mystery of true contentment. A contented man, though he is most contented with the least things in the world, yet he is the most dissatisfied man that lives in the world.
A soul that is capable of God can be filled with nothing else but God; nothing but God can fill a soul that is capable of God. Though a gracious heart knows that it is capable of God, and was made for God, carnal hearts think without reference to God. But a gracious heart, being enlarged to be capable of God, and enjoying somewhat of him, can be filled by nothing in the world; it must only be God himself. Therefore you will observe, that whatever God may give to a gracious heart, a heart that is godly, unless he gives himself it will not do. A godly heart will not only have the mercy, but the God of that mercy as well; and then a little matter is enough in the world, so be it he has the God of the mercy which he enjoys. In Philippians 4:7, 9 (I need go no further to show clear Scripture for this) compare verse 7 with verse 9: ‘And the peace of God which passeth all understanding shall keep your hearts and minds through Jesus Christ.’ The peace of God shall keep your hearts. Then in verse 9: ‘Those things which ye have both learned, and received, and heard, and seen in me, do: and the God of peace shall be with you.’ The peace of God shall keep you, and the God of peace shall be with you.
Here is what I would observe from this text. That the peace of God is not enough to a gracious heart except it may have the God of that peace. A carnal heart could be satisfied if he might but have outward peace, though it is not the pace of God; peace in the state, and his trading, would satisfy him. But mark how a godly heart goes beyond a carnal. All outward peace is not enough; I must have the peace of God. But suppose you have the peace of God. Will that not quiet you? No, I must have the God of peace; as the peace of God so the God of peace. That is, I must enjoy that God who gives me the peace; I must have the Cause as well as the effect. I must see from whence my peace comes, and enjoy the Fountain of my peace, as well as the stream of my peace. And so in other mercies: have I health from God? I must have the God of my health to be my portion, or else I am not satisfied. It is not life, but the God of my life; it is not riches, but the God of those riches, that I must have, the God of my preservation, as well as my preservation.
A gracious heart is not satisfied without this: to have the God of the mercy, as well as the mercy. In Psalm 73:25, ‘Whom have I in heaven but thee, and there is none upon the earth that I desire beside thee.’ There is nothing in heaven or earth that can satisfy me, but yourself. If God gave you not only earth but heaven, that you should rule over sun, moon and stars, and have the rule over the highest of the sons of men, it would not be enough to satisfy you, unless you had God himself. There lies the first mystery of contentment. And truly a contented man, though he is the most contented man in the world, is the most dissatisfied man in the world; that is, those things that will satisfy the world, will not satisfy him.
2. A CHRISTIAN COMES TO CONTENTMENT, NOT SO MUCH BY WAY OF ADDITION, AS BY WAY OF SUBTRACTION.
That is his way of contentment, and it is a way that the world has no skill in. I open it thus: not so much by adding to what he would have, or to what he has, not by adding more to his condition; but rather by subtracting from his desires, so as to make his desires and his circumstances even and equal.
A carnal heart knows no way to be contented but this: I have such and such possessions, and if I had this added to them, and the other comfort added that I have not now, then I should be contented. perhaps I have lost my possessions, if I could only have given to me something to make up my loss, then I should be a contented man. But contentment does not come in that way, it does not come, I say, by adding to what you want, but by subtracting from your desires. It is all one to a Christian, whether I get up to what I would have, or get my desires down to what I have, either to attain what I do desire, or to bring down my desires to what I have already attained. My wealth is the same, for it is as fitting for me to bring my desire down to my circumstances, as it is to raise up my circumstances to my desire.
Now I say that a heart that has no grace, and is not instructed in this mystery of contentment, knows of no way to get contentment, but to have his possessions raised up to his desires; but the Christian has another way to contentment, that is, he can bring his desires down to his possessions, and so he attains his contentment. Thus the Lord fashions the hearts of the children of men. If the heart of a man is fashioned to his circumstances, he may have as much contentment as if his circumstances were fashioned to his heart. Some men have a mighty large heart, but they have straitened circumstances, and they can never have contentment when they hearts are big and their circumstances are little. But though a man cannot bring his circumstances to be as great as his heart, yet if he can bring his heart to be as little as his circumstances, to make them even, this is the way to contentment. The world is infinitely deceived in thinking that contentment lies in having more than we already have. Here lies the bottom and root of all contentment, when there is an evenness and proportion between our hearts and our circumstances. That is why many godly men who are in low position live more sweet and comfortable lives than those who are richer.
Contentment is not always clothed with silk and purple and velvets, but it is sometimes in a home-spun suit, in mean circumstances, as well as in higher. Many men who once have had great estates, and God has brought them into a lower position have had more contentment in those circumstances than they had before. Now how can that possibly be? Quite easily, if you only understood that the root of contentment consists in the suitableness and proportion of a man’s spirit to his possessions, an evenness where one end is not longer and bigger than the other. The heart is contented and there is comfort in those circumstances. But now let God give a man riches, no matter how great, yet if the Lord gives him up to the pride of his heart, he will never be contented: on the other hand, let God bring anyone into mean circumstances, and then let God but fashion and suit his heart to those circumstances and he will be content.
It is the same in walking: Suppose a man had a very long leg, and his other leg was short-why, though one of his legs was longer than usual, still he could not go as well as a man both of whose legs are shorter than his. I would compare a long leg, when one is longer than the other, to a man who has a high position and is very rich and a great man in the world, but he has a very proud heart, too, and that is longer and larger than his position. This man cannot but be troubled in his circumstances. Another man is in a mean position, his circumstances are low and his heart is low too, so that his heart and his circumstances are even. This man walks with abundantly more ease than the other. Thus a gracious heart thinks in this way: ‘The Lord has been pleased to bring down my circumstances; now if the Lord brings down my heart and makes it equal to my circumstances, then I am well enough.’ So when God brings down his circumstances, he does not so much labor to raise up his circumstances again as to bring his heart down to his circumstances. Even the heathen philosophers had a little glimpse of this: they could say that the best riches is poverty of desires-those are the words of a heathen. That is, if a man or woman have their desires cut short, and have no large desires, that man or woman is rich. So this is the art of contentment: not to seek to add to our circumstances, but to subtract form our desires. Another author has said, The way to be rich is not by increasing wealth, but by diminishing our desires. Certainly that man or woman is rich, who have their desires satisfied. Now a contented man has his desires satisfied, God satisfies them, that is, all considered, he is satisfied that his circumstances are for the present the best circumstances. So he comes to this contentment by way of subtraction, and not addition.
3. A CHRISTIAN COMES TO CONTENTMENT, NOT SO MUCH BY GETTING RID OF THE BURDEN THAT IS ON HIM, AS BY ADDING ANOTHER BURDEN TO HIMSELF.
This is a way that flesh and blood has little skill in. You will say, ‘How is this?’ In this manner: are you afflicted, and is there a great load and burden on you because of your affliction? You think there is no way in the world to get contentment, but, O that this burden were but off! O it is a heavy load, and few know what a burden I have. What, do you think that there is no way for the contentment of your spirit, but to get rid of your burden? O you are deceived. The way of contentment is to add another burden, that is, to labor to load and burden your heart with your sin; the heavier the burden of your sin is to your heart, the lighter will the burden of your affliction be to your heart, and so you shall come to be content. If you burden were lightened, that would content you; you think there is no way to lighten it but to get it off. But you are deceived; for if you can get your heart to be more burdened with your sin, you will be less burdened with your afflictions.
You will say, this is a strange way for a man or woman to get ease to their condition, to lay a greater burden upon them when they are already burdened? You think there is no other way, when you are afflicted, but to be jolly and merry, and get into company. Oh now, you are deceived, your burden will come again. Alas, this is a poor way to get one’s spirit quitted; poor man, the burden will be upon him again. If you would have your burden light, get alone and examine your heart for your sin, and charge your soul with your sin. If your burden is in your possessions, for the abuse of them, or if it is a burden upon your body, for the abuse of your health and strength, and the abuse of any mercies that now the Lord has taken away from you, that you have not honored God with those mercies that you have had, but you have walked wantonly and carelessly; if you so fall to bemoaning your sin before the Lord, you shall quickly find the burden of your affliction to be lighter than it was before. Do but try this piece of skill and art, to get your souls contented with any low circumstances that God puts you into.
Many times in a family, when any affliction befalls them, Oh, what an amount of discontent is there between man and wife! If they are crossed in their possessions at land, or have bad news from across the seas, or if those whom they trusted are ruined and the like, or perhaps something in the family causes strife between man and wife, in reference to the children or servants, and there is nothing but quarrelling and discontent among them, now they are many times burdened with their own discontent; and perhaps will say one to another, It is very uncomfortable for us to live so discontented as we do. But have you ever tried this way, husband and wife? Have you ever got alone and said, ‘Come, Oh let us go and humble our souls before God together, let us go into our chamber and humble our souls before God for our sin, by which we have abused those mercies that God has taken away from us, and we have provoked God against us. Oh let us charge ourselves with our sin, and be humbled before the Lord together.’? Have you tried such a way as this? Oh you would find that the cloud would be taken away, and the sun would shine in upon you, and you would have a great deal more contentment than ever you had. If a man’s estate is broken, either by plunderers, or any other way; how shall this man have contentment? How? By the breaking of his heart. God has broken your estate; Oh seek to him for the breaking of your heart likewise. Indeed, a broken estate and a whole heart, a hard heart, will not join together; there will be no contentment. But a broken estate and a broken heart will so suit one another, as that there will be more contentment than there was before.
Add therefore to the breaking of your estate, the breaking of your heart, and that is the way to be contented in a Christian manner, which is the third mystery in Christian contentment.
4. IT IS NOT SO MUCH THE REMOVING OF THE AFFLICTION THAT IS UPON US AS THE CHANGING OF THE AFFLICTION, THE METAMORPHOSING OF THE AFFLICTION, SO THAT IT IS QUITE TURNED AND CHANGED INTO SOMETHING ELSE.
I mean in regard of the use of it, though for the thing itself the affliction remains. The way of contentment to a carnal heart is only the removing of the affliction. O that it may be gone! ‘No,’ says a gracious heart, ‘God has taught me a way to be content though the affliction itself still continues.’ There is a power of grace to turn this affliction into good; it takes away the sting and poison of it. Take the case of poverty, a man’s possessions are lost: Well, is there no way to be contented till your possessions are made up again? Till your poverty is removed? Yes, certainly, Christianity would teach contentment, though poverty continues. It will teach you how to turn your poverty to spiritual riches. You shall be poor still as to your outward possessions, but this shall be altered; whereas before it was a natural evil to you, it comes now to be turned to a spiritual benefit to you. And so you come to be content.
There is a saying of Ambrose, ‘Even poverty itself is riches to holy men.’ Godly men make their poverty turn to riches; they get more riches out of their poverty than ever they get out of their revenues. Out of all their trading in this world they never had such incomes as they have had out of their poverty. This a carnal heart will thing strange, that a man shall make poverty the most gainful trade that ever he had in the world. I am persuaded that many Christians have found it so, that they have got more good by their poverty, than ever they got by all their riches. You find it in Scripture.
Therefore thing not this strange that I am speaking of. You do not find one godly man who came out of an affliction worse than when he went into it; though for a while he was shaken, yet at last he was better for an affliction.
But a great many godly men, you find, have been worse for their prosperity. Scarcely one godly man that you read of in Scripture but was worse for prosperity (except for Daniel and Nehemiah-I do not read of any hurt they got by their prosperity); scarcely, I think, is there one example of a godly man who was not worse for his prosperity than better. Sao rather you see it is no strange thing to one who is gracious that they shall get good by their affliction.
Luther has a similar expression in his comment on the 5th chapter of the Galatians, the 17th verse: he says, ‘Christian becomes a mighty worker and a wonderful creator, that is’, he says, ‘to create out of heaviness joy, out of terror comfort, out of sin righteousness, and out of death life.’ He brings light out of darkness. It was God’s prerogative and great power, his creating power to command the light to shine out of darkness. Now a Christian is partaker of the divine nature, so the Scripture says; grace is part of the divine nature, and, being part of the divine nature, it has an impression of God’s omnipotent power, that is, to create light out of darkness, to bring good out of evil-by this a way a Christian comes to be content. God has given a Christian such power that he can turn afflictions into mercies, can turn darkness into light. If a man had the power that Christ had, when the water pots were filled, he could by a word turn the water into wine. If you who have nothing but water to drink had the power to turn it into wine, then you might be contented; certainly a Christian has receive this power from God, to work thus miraculously. It is the nature of grace to turn water into wine, that is, to turn the water of your affliction, into the wine of heavenly consolation.
If you understand this in a carnal way, I know it will be ridiculous for a minister to speak thus to you, and many carnal people are ready to make such expressions as these ridiculous, understanding them in a carnal way.
This is just like Nicodemus, in the third of John, ‘What! can a man be born when he is old? can he enter the second time into his mother’s womb and be born?’ So when we say of grace, that it can turn water into wine, and turn poverty into riches, and make poverty a gainful trade, a carnal heart says, ‘Let them have that trade if they will, and let them have water to drink, and see if they can turn it into wine.’ Oh, take heed you do not speak in a scornful way of the ways of God; grace has the power to turn afflictions into mercies. Two men may have the same affliction; to one it shall be as gall and wormwood, yet it shall be wine and honey and delightfulness and joy and advantage and riches to the other. This is the mystery of contentment, not so much by removing the evil, as by metamorphosing the evil, by changing the evil into good.
5. A CHRISTIAN COMES TO THIS CONTENTMENT NOT BY MAKING UP THE WANTS OF HIS CIRCUMSTANCES, BUT BY THE PERFORMANCE OF THE WORK OF HIS CIRCUMSTANCES.
This is the way of contentment. There are these circumstances that I am in, with many wants: I want this and the other comfort-well, how shall I come to be satisfied and content? A carnal heart thinks, I must have my wants made up or else it is impossible that I should be content. But a gracious heart says, ‘What is the duty of the circumstances God has put me into? Indeed, my circumstances have changed, I was not long since in a prosperous state, but God has changed my circumstances. The Lord has called me no more Naomi, but Marah. Now what am I to do? What can I think now are those duties that God requires of me in the circumstances that he has now put me into? Let me exert my strength to perform the duties of my present circumstances. Others spend their thoughts on things that disturb and disquiet them, and so they grow more and more discontented.
Let me spend my thoughts in thinking what my duty is, ‘O’, says a man whose condition is changed and who has lost his wealth, ‘Had I but my wealth, as I had heretofore, how would I use it to his glory? God has made me see that I did not honor him with my possessions as I ought to have done. O if I had it again, I would do better than I did before.’ But this may be but a temptation. You should rather think, ‘What does God require of me in the circumstances I am now brought into?’ You should labor to bring your heart to quiet and contentment by setting your soul to work in the duties of your present condition. And the truth is, I know nothing more effective for quieting a Christian soul and getting contentment than this, setting your heart to work in the duties of the immediate circumstances that you are now in, and taking heed of your thoughts about other conditions as a mere temptation.
I cannot better compare the folly of those men and women who think they will get contentment by musing about other circumstances than to the way of children: perhaps they have climbed a hill and look a good way off and see another hill, and they think if they were on the top of that, they would be able to touch the clouds with their fingers; but when they are on the top of that hill, alas, they are as far from the clouds as they were before. So it is with many who think, If I were in such circumstances, then I should have contentment; and perhaps they get into circumstances, and they are as far from contentment as before. But then they think that if they were in other circumstances, they would be contented, but when they have got into those circumstances, they are still as far from contentment as before. No, no, let me consider what is the duty of my present circumstances, and content my heart with this, and say, ‘Well, though I am in a low position, yet I am serving the counsels of God in those circumstances where I am; it is the counsel of God that has brought me into these circumstances that I am in, and I desire to serve the counsel of God in these circumstances.
There is a remarkable Scripture concerning David, of whom it is said that he served his generation: ‘After David had served his generation according to the will of God, then he slept.’ It is a saying of Paul concerning him in Acts 13:36. In your Bibles it is, ‘After he had served his own generation according to the will of God’, but the word that is translated will, means the counsel of God, and so it may be translated as well, ‘That after David in his generation had served God’s counsel, then he fell asleep’. We ordinarily take the words thus, That David served his generation: that is, he did the work of his generation-that is to serve a man’s generation. But it is clearer if you read it thus, After David in his generation had served the counsel of God, then David fell asleep. O that should be the care of a Christian, to serve out God’s counsels. What is the counsel of God? The circumstances that I am in, God has put me into by his own counsel, the counsel of his own will. Now I must serve God’s counsel in my generation; whatever is the counsel of God in my circumstances, I must be careful to serve that. So I shall have my heart quieted for the present, and shall live and die peaceably and comfortably, if I am careful to serve God’s counsel.
6. A GRACIOUS HEART IS CONTENTED BY THE MELTING OF HIS WILL AND DESIRES INTO GOD’S WILL AND DESIRES; BY THIS MEANS HE GETS CONTENTMENT.
This too is a mystery to a carnal heart. It is not by having his own desires satisfied, but by melting his will and desires into God’s will. So that, in one sense, he comes to have his desires satisfied though he does not obtain the thing that he desired before; still he comes to be satisfied with this, because he makes his will to be at one with God’s will. This is a small degree higher than submitting to the will of God. You all say that you should submit to God’s will; a Christian has got beyond this. He can make God’s will and his own the same. It is said of believers that they are joined to the Lord, and are one spirit; that means, that whatever God’s will is, I do not only see good reason to submit to it, but God’s will is my will. When the soul can make over, as it were, its will to God, it must needs be contented. Others would fain get the thing they desire, but a gracious heart will say, ‘O what God would have, I would have too; I will not only yield to it, but I would have it too.’ A gracious heart has learned this art, not only to make the commanding will of God to be its own will-that is, what God commands me to do, I will do it-but to make the providential will of God and the operative will of God to be his will too. God commands this thing, which perhaps you who are Christians may have some skill in, but whatever God works you must will, as well as what God commands.
You must make God’s providential will and his operative will, your will as well as God’s will, and in this way you must come to contentment. A Christian makes over his will to God, and in making over his will to God, he has no other will but God’s. Suppose a man were to make over his debt to another man. If the man to whom I owe the debt be satisfied and contented, I am satisfied because I have made it over to him, and I need not be discontented and say, ‘My debt is not paid and I am not satisfied’. Yes, you are satisfied, for he to whom you made over your debt is satisfied. It is just the same, for all the world, between God and a Christian: a Christian heart makes over his will to God: now then if God’s will is satisfied, then I am satisfied, for I have no will of my own, it is melted into the will of God. This is the excellence of grace: grace does not only subject the will to God, but it melts the will into God’s will, so that they are now but one will. What a sweet satisfaction the soul must have in this condition, when all is made over to God. You will say, This is hard! I will express it a little more: A gracious heart must needs have satisfaction in this way, because godliness teaches him this, to see that his good is more in God than in himself. The good of my life and comforts and my happiness and my glory and my riches are more in God than in myself. We may perhaps speak more of that, when we come to the lessons that are to be learned. It is by this that a gracious heart gets contentment; he melts his will into God’s, for he says, ‘If God has glory, I have glory; God’s glory is my glory, and therefore God’s will is mine; if God has riches, then I have riches; if God is magnified, then I am magnified; if God is satisfied, then I am satisfied; God’s wisdom and holiness is mine, and therefore his will must needs be mine, and my will must needs be his.’ This is the art of a Christian’s contentment: he melts his will into the will of God, and makes over his will to God: ‘Oh Lord, thou shalt choose our inheritance for us’ (Psalm 47:4).
7. THE MYSTERY CONSISTS NOT IN BRINGING ANYTHING FROM OUTSIDE TO MAKE MY CONDITION MORE COMFORTABLE, BUT IN PURGING OUT SOMETHING THAT IS WITHIN.
Now the men of the world, when they would have contentment, and lack anything, Oh, they must have something from outside to content them. But a godly man says: ‘Let me get something out that is in already, and then I shall come to contentment.’ Suppose a man has a fever, that makes what he drinks taste bitter: he says, ‘You must put some sugar into my drink’; his wife puts some in, and still the drink tastes bitter. Why? Because the bitterness comes from a bitter choleric humor within. But let the physician come and give him a bitter portion to purge out the bitterness that is within, and then he can taste his drink well enough. It is just the same with men of the world: Oh such a mercy added to this mercy, then it would be sweet; but even if God should put a spoonful or two of sugar in, it would still be bitter. The way to contentment is to purge out your lusts and bitter humours.
‘From whence are wars, and strifes? are they not from your lusts that are within you?’ (James 4:1).
They are not so much from things outside, but from within. I have said sometimes, ‘Not all the storms that are abroad can make an earthquake, but the vapours that have got within.’ So if those lusts that are within, in your heart, were got out, your condition would be a contented condition. These are the mysterious ways of godliness, that the men of the world never think of. When did you ever think of such a way as this, to go and purge out the diseases of your heart that are within? Here are seven particulars now named, and there are many more. Without the understanding of these things, and the practice of them, you will never come to a true contentment in your life; Oh, you will be bunglers in this trade of Christianity. But the right perceiving of these things will help you to be instructed in it, as in a mystery.
The mystery of contentment may be shown even more. A gracious heart gets contentment in a mysterious way, a way that the world is not acquainted with.
8. HE LIVES UPON THE DEW OF GOD’S BLESSING.
Adrian Junius uses the simile of a grasshopper to describe a contented man, and says he has this motto, ‘I am content with what I have, and hope for better.’ A grasshopper leads and skips up and down, and lives on the dew.
A grasshopper does not live on the grass as other things do; you do not know what it feeds on. Other things though as little as grasshoppers, feed upon seeds or little flies and such things, but as for the grasshopper, you do not know what it feeds upon. In the same way a Christian can get food that the world does not know of; he is fed in a secret way by the dew of the blessing of God. A poor man or woman who has but a little with grace, lives a more contented life than his rich neighbor who has a great income; we find it so ordinarily-though they have but little, yet they have a secret blessing of God with it, which they cannot express to anyone else. If you were to come to them and say: ‘How is it that you live as happily as you do?’, they cannot tell you what they have; but they find there is a sweetness in what they do enjoy, and they know by experience that they never had such sweetness in former times. Even though they had a greater abundance in former times than they have now, yet they know they never had such sweetness; but how this comes about they cannot tell. We may mention some considerations, in what godly men enjoy, which make their condition sweet.
For example, Take these four or five considerations with which a godly man finds contentment in what he has, though it is ever so little.
1. Because in what he has, he has the love of God to him. If a king were to send a piece of meat from his own table, it would be a great deal more pleasant to a courtier than if he had twenty dishes as an ordinary allowance; if the king sends even a little thing and says, ‘Go and carry it to that man as a token of my love’, Oh, how delightful would that be to him! When your husbands are at sea and send you a token of their love, it is worth more than forty times what you already have in your houses. Every good thing the people of God enjoy, they enjoy it in God’s love, as a token of God’s love, and coming from God’s eternal love to them, and this must needs be very sweet to them.
2. What they have is sanctified to them for good. Other men have what they enjoy in the way of common providence, but the saints have it in a special way. Others have what they have and no more: meat, and drink, and houses, and clothes, and money, and that is all. But a gracious heart finds contentment in this, I have it, and I have a sanctified use of it too; I find God goes along with what I have to draw my heart nearer to him, and sanctify my heart to him. If I find my heart drawn nearer to God by what I enjoy, that is much more than if I have it without sanctifying of my heart by it. There is a secret dew that goes along with it: the dew of God’s love in it, and the dew of sanctification.
3. A gracious heart has what he has free of cost; he is not likely to be called to pay for it. The difference between what a godly man has and a wicked man, is this: A godly man is as a child in an inn, an inn-keeper has his child in the house, and provides his diet, and lodging, and what is needful for him. Now a stranger comes, and he has dinner and supper provided, and lodging, but the stranger must pay for everything. It may be that the child’s fare is meaner than the fare of the stranger; the stranger has boiled and roast and baked, but he must pay for it, there must come a reckoning for it. Just so it is: many of God’s people have only mean fare, but God as a Father provides it, and it is free of cost, they need not pay for what they have, it is paid for before; but the wicked in all their pomp, and pride, and finery: they have what they ask for, but there must come a reckoning for everything, they must pay for all at the conclusion, and is it not better to have a little free of cost, than to have to pay for everything? Grace shows a man that what he has, he has free of cost, from God as from a Father, and therefore it must needs be very sweet.
4. A godly man may very well be content, though he has only a little, for what he does have he has by right of Jesus Christ, by the purchase of Jesus Christ. He has a right to it, a different kind of right to that which a wicked man can have to what he has. Wicked men have certain outward things; I do not say they are usurpers of what they have; they have a right to it, and that before God, but how? It is a right by mere donation, that is, God by his free bounty gives it to them; but the right that the saints have is a right of purchase: it is paid for, and it is their own, and they may in a holy manner and holy way claim whatever they have need of. We cannot express the difference between the right of a holy man, and the right of the wicked more fully than by the following simile: a criminal is condemned to die, and yet by favor he has his supper provided overnight. Now though the criminal has forfeited all his right to all things, to every bit of bread, yet if he is given his supper he does not steal it. This is true though he has forfeited all rights by his fault, and after he has once been condemned he has no right to anything. So it is with the wicked: they have forfeited all their right to the comforts of this world, they are condemned by God as criminals, and are going to execution; but if God in his bounty gives them something to preserve them here in the world, they cannot be said to be thieves or robbers. But if a man is given a supper overnight before his execution, is that like the supper that he was wont to have in his own house, when he ate his own bread, and had his wife and children about him? Oh, a dish of green herbs at home would be a great deal better than any dainties in such a supper as that. But a child of God has not a right merely by donation; what he has is his own, through the purchase of Christ. Every bit of bread you eat, if you are a godly man or woman, Jesus Christ has bought it for you.
You go to market and buy your meat and drink with your money, but know that before you buy it, or pay money, Christ has bought it at the hand of God the Father with his blood. You have it at the hands of men for money, but Christ has bought it at the hand of his Father by his blood. Certainly it is a great deal better and sweeter now, though it is but a little.
5. There is another thing that shows the sweetness that is in the little that the Saints have, by which they come to have contentment, whereas others cannot, that is, Every little that they have is but as an earnest penny* for all the glory that is reserved for them; it is given them by God as the forerunner of those eternal mercies that the Lord intends for them. [*A first instalment which guarantees that the rest is to follow.] Now if a man has but twelve pence given to him as an earnest penny for some great possession that he must have, is that not better than if he had forty pounds given to him otherwise? So every comfort that the saints have in this world is an earnest penny to them of those eternal mercies that the Lord has provided for them.
Just as every affliction that the wicked have here is but the beginning of sorrows, and forerunner of those eternal sorrows that they are likely to have hereafter in Hell, so every comfort you have is a forerunner of those eternal mercies you shall have with God in Heaven. Not only are the consolations of God’s Spirit the forerunners of those eternal comforts you shall have in Heaven, but when you sit at your table, and rejoice with your wife and children and friends, you may look upon every one of those but as a forerunner, yea the very earnest penny of eternal life to you. Now if this is so, it is no marvel that a Christian is contented, but this is a mystery to the wicked. I have what I have from the love of God, and I have it sanctified to me by God, and I have it free of cost from God by the purchase of the blood of Jesus Christ, and I have it as a forerunner of those eternal mercies that are reserved for me; and in this my soul rejoices. There is a secret dew of God’s goodness and blessing upon him in his estate that others have not.
By all this you may see the meaning of that Scripture, ‘Better is a little with righteousness than great revenues without right’ (Proverbs 16:8). A man who has but a little, yet if he has it with righteousness, it is better than a great deal without right, yea, better than the great revenues of the wicked- so you have it in another Scripture. That is the next thing in Christian contentment: the mystery is in this, that he lives on the dew of God’s blessing, in all the good things that he enjoys.
9. NOT ONLY IN GOOD THINGS DOES A CHRISTIAN HAVE THE DEW OF GOD’S BLESSING.
And find them very sweet to him, but in all the afflictions, all the evils that befall him, he can see love, and can enjoy the sweetness of love in his afflictions as well as in his mercies. The truth is that the afflictions of God’s people come from the same eternal love that Jesus Christ cam from. Jerome said, ‘He is a happy man who is beaten when the stroke is a stroke of love.’ All God’s strokes are strokes of love and mercy, all God’s ways are mercy and truth, to those that fear him and love him (Psalm 25:10). The ways of God, the ways of affliction, as well as the ways of prosperity, are mercy and love to him. Grace gives a man an eye, a piercing eye to pierce the counsel of God, those eternal counsels of God for good to him, even in his afflictions; he can see the love of God in every affliction as well as in prosperity. Now this is a mystery to a carnal heart. They can see no such thing; perhaps them rich, but they thing God loves them when he prospers them and makes them rich, but they think God loves them not when he afflicts mystery, grace enables men to see love in the very frown of God’s face, and so comes to receive contentment.
10. A GODLY MAN HAS CONTENTMENT AS A MYSTERY, because just as he sees all his afflictions come from the same love that Jesus Christ did, so he sees them all sanctified in Jesus Christ, sanctified in a Mediator. He sees, I say, all the sting and venom and poison of them taken out by the virtue of Jesus Christ, the Mediator between God and man. For instance, when a Christian would have contentment he works it out thus: what is my affliction? Is it poverty that God strikes me with?-Jesus Christ had not a house to hide his head in, the fowls of the air had nests, and the foxes holes, but the Son of man had not a hole to hide his head in; now my poverty is sanctified by Christ’s poverty. I can see by faith the curse and sting and venom taken out of my poverty by the poverty of Jesus Christ.
Christ Jesus was poor in this world to deliver me from the curse of my poverty. So my poverty is not afflictive, if I can be contented in such a condition. That is the way, not to stand and repine, because I have not what others have; no, but I am poor, and Christ was poor, that he might bless my poverty to me.
And so again, am I disgraced or dishonored? Is my good name taken away? Why, Jesus Christ had dishonor put upon him; he was called Beelzebub, and a Samaritan, and they said he had a devil in him. All the foul aspersions that could be, were cast upon Jesus Christ, and this was for me, that I might have the disgrace that is cast upon me sanctified to me. Whereas another man’s heart is overwhelmed with dishonor, and disgrace, and he seeks in this way to get contentment: perhaps you have been spoken ill of and you have no other way to ease and right yourselves, but if they abuse you, you will abuse them back; and so you think to ease yourselves. Oh, but a Christian has another way to ease himself: others abuse and speak ill of me, but did they not abuse Jesus Christ, and speak ill of him? And what am I in comparison of Christ? And the subjection of Christ to such an evil was for me, that though such a thing should come upon me, I might know that the curse of it is taken from me through Christ’s subjection to that evil.
Thus, a Christian can be content when anybody speaks ill of him. Now, this is a mystery to you, to get contentment in this way. So if men jeer and scoff at you, did they not do so to Jesus Christ? They jeered and scoffed at him, and that when he was in his greatest extremity upon the Cross: they said, Here is the King of the Jews, and they bowed the knee, and said, Hail King of the Jews, and put a reed into his hand, and mocked him. Now I get contentment in the midst of scorns and jeers, by considering that Christ was scorned, and by acting faith upon what Christ suffered for me. Am I in great bodily pain?-Jesus Christ had as great pain in his body as I have (though it is true he did not have the same kind of sicknesses as we have, yet he had as great pain and tortures in his body, and that which was deadly to him, as much as any sickness is to us). The exercising of faith on what Christ endured, is the way to get contentment in the midst of our pains.
Someone lies vexing and fretting himself, and cannot bear his pain: are you a Christian? Have you ever tried this way of getting contentment, to act your faith on all the pains and sufferings that Jesus Christ suffered: this would be the way of contentment, and a Christian gets contentment when under pains, in this way. Sometimes one who is very godly and gracious, may be found bearing grievous pains and extremities very cheerfully, and you wonder at it. He gets it by acting his faith upon what pains Jesus Christ suffered. You are afraid of death-the way to get contentment is by exercising your faith on the death of Jesus Christ. It may be that you have inward troubles in your soul, and God withdraws himself from you; still your faith is to be exercised upon the sufferings that Jesus Christ endured in his soul. He poured forth his soul before God, and when he sweat drops of water and blood, he was in an agony in his very spirit, and he found even God himself about to forsake him. Now thus to act your faith on Jesus Christ brings contentment, and is not this a mystery to carnal hearts? A gracious heart finds contentment as a mystery; it is no marvel that St. Paul said, ‘I am instructed in a mystery, to be contented in whatsoever condition I am in.’
11. THERE IS STILL A FURTHER MYSTERY, for I hope you will find this a very useful point and that before we have finished you will see how simple it is for one who is skilled in religion to get contentment, though it is hard for one who is carnal. I say, the eleventh mystery in contentment is this: A gracious heart has contentment by getting strength from Jesus Christ; he is able to bear his burden by getting strength from someone else. Now this is a riddle, and it would be counted ridiculous in the schools of the philosophers, to say, If there is a burden on you you must get strength form someone else. Indeed if you must have another come and stand under the burden, they could understand that; but that you should be strengthened by the strength of someone else, who is not near you as far as you can see, they would think ridiculous. But a Christian finds satisfaction in every circumstance by getting strength from another, by going out of himself to Jesus Christ, by his faith acting upon Christ, and bringing the strength of Jesus Christ into his own soul, he is thereby enabled to bear whatever God lays on him, by the strength that he finds from Jesus Christ. Of his fullness do we receive grace for grace; there is strength in Christ not only to sanctify and save us, but strength to support us under all our burdens and afflictions, and Christ expects that when we are under any burden, we should act our faith upon him to draw virtue and strength from him. Faith is the great grace that is to be acted under afflictions. It is true that other graces should be acted, but the grace of faith draws strength from Christ, in looking on him who has the fullness of all strength conveyed into the hearts of all believers.
Now if a man has a burden to bear, and yet can have strength added to him-if the burden is doubled, he can have his strength trebled-the burden will not be heavier but lighter than it was before to his natural strength.
Indeed, our afflictions may be heavy, and we cry out, Oh, we cannot bear them, we cannot bear such an affliction. Though you cannot tell how to bear it with your own strength, yet how can you tell what you will do with the strength of Jesus Christ? You say you cannot bear it? So you think that Christ could not bear it? But if Christ could bear it why may you not come to bear it? You will say, Can I have the strength of Christ? Yes, it is made over to you by faith: the Scripture says that the Lord is our strength, God himself is our strength, and Christ is our strength. There are many Scriptures to that effect, that Christ’s strength is yours, made over to you, so that you may be able to bear whatever lies upon you, and therefore we find such a strange expression in the Epistle of St. Paul to the Colossians, praying for the saints: ‘That they might be strengthened with all might according unto his glorious power’, unto what? ‘Unto all patience and longsuffering with joyfulness’-strengthened with all might, according to the power of God, the glorious power of God, unto all patience, and longsuffering with joyfulness. You must not therefore be content with a little strength, so that you are able to bear what a man might bear by the strength of reason and nature, but you should be strengthened with all might, according to the glorious power of God, unto all patience, and to all longsuffering.
Oh, you who are now under very heavy and sad afflictions more than usual, look at this Scripture, and consider how it is made good in you; and why may you not have this Scripture made good in you, if you are godly? You should not be quiet in your own spirits, unless in some measure you get this Scripture made good in you, so that you may with some comfort say, ‘Through God’s mercy, I find that strength coming into me that is spoken of in this Scripture.’ You should labor when you are under any great affliction (you who are godly) to walk so that others may see such a Scripture made good in you. This is the glorious power of God that strengthens his servants to all longsuffering, and that with joyfulness. Alas, it may be that you do not exercise as much patience as a wise man or a wise woman who has only natural reason. But where is the power of God, the glorious power of God? Where is the strengthening with all might, unto all longsuffering and patience, and that with joyfulness? It is true, the spirit of a man may be able to sustain his infirmities, may be able to sustain and keep up his spirits, the natural spirit of a man can do that, but much more when the spirit is endued with grace and holiness, and when it is filled with the strength of Jesus Christ. This is the way a godly man gets contentment, the mystery of it, by getting strength from Jesus Christ.
12. A GODLY HEART ENJOYS MUCH OF GOD IN EVERYTHING HE HAS, AND KNOWS HOW TO MAKE UP ALL WANTS IN GOD HIMSELF.
That is another mystery, he has God in what he has. I spoke about that somewhat before, in showing the dew of God’s blessing in what one has, for God is able to let out a great deal of his power in little things, and therefore the miracles that God has wrought, have been as much in the little things as in great. Now just as God lets out a great deal of his power in working miracles in smaller things, so he lets out a great deal of goodness and mercy, in comforting and rejoicing the hearts of his people, in little things, as well as in great. There may be as great riches in a pearl as in a great deal of lumber; but this is a different thing.
Further, just as a gracious heart lives upon God’s dew in the little that he has, so when the little that he has shall be taken from him, what shall he do then? Then, you will say, If a man has nothing, nothing can be got out of nothing. But if the children of God have their little taken from them, they can make up all their wants in God himself. Such and such a man is a poor man, the plunderers came and took away everything that he had; what shall he do now that all is gone? But when all is gone, there is an art and skill that godliness teaches, to make up all those losses in God. Many men whose houses have been burnt go about gathering, and so get together by many hands a little; but a godly man knows where to go, to get up all, even in God himself, so that he may enjoy the quintessence of the same good and comfort as he had before, for a godly man does not live so much in himself as he lives in God. Now this is a mystery to a carnal heart. I say a gracious man does not live so much in himself as in God; he lives in God continually. If anything is cut off from the stream, he knows how to go to the fountain, and makes up all there. God is his all in all, while he lives; I say it is God who is his all in all. ‘Am not I to thee’ said Elkanah to Hannah, ‘instead of ten children?’ So says God to a gracious heart: ‘You lack this, your estate is plundered-Why? Am not I to you instead of ten homes, and ten shops, I am to you instead of all; and not only instead of all, but come to me, and you shall have all again in me.’ This indeed is an excellent art, to be able to draw from God what one had before in the creature. Christian, how did you enjoy comfort before? Was the creature anything to you but a conduit, a pipe, that conveyed God’s goodness to you? ‘The pipe is cut off,’ says God, ‘come to me, the fountain, and drink immediately.’ Though the beams are taken away, yet the sun remains the same in the firmament as ever it was. What is it that satisfies God himself, but that he enjoys all fullness in himself; so he comes to have satisfaction in himself. Now if you enjoy God as your portion, if your soul can say with the Church in Lamentations 3:24: ‘The Lord is my portion, saith my soul’, why should you not be satisfied and contented like God? God is contented, he is in eternal contentment in himself; now if you have that God as your portion, why should you not be contented with him alone? Since God is contented with himself alone, if you have him, you may be contented with him alone, and it may be, that is the reason why your outward comforts are taken from you, that God may be all in all to you. It may be that while you had these things they shared with God in your affection, a great part of the stream of your affection ran that way; God would have the full stream run to him now. You know when a man has water coming to his house, through several pipes, and he finds insufficient water comes into his wash-house, he will rather stop the other pipes that he may have all the water come in where he wants it. Perhaps, then, God had a stream of your affection running to him when you enjoyed these things; yes, but a great deal was allowed to escape to the creature, a great deal of your affections ran waste. Now the Lord would not have the affections of his children to run waste; he does not care for other men’s affections, but yours are precious, and God would not have them to run waste; therefore he has cut off your other pipes that your heart might flow wholly to him. If you have children, and because you let your servants perhaps feed them and give them things, you perceive that your servants are stealing away the hearts of your children, you would hardly be able to bear it; you would be ready to send away such a servant. When the servant is gone, the child is at a great loss, it has not got the nurse, but the father or mother intends by sending her away, that the affections of the child might run more strongly towards himself or herself, and what loss is it to the child that the affections that ran in a rough channel before towards the servant, run now towards the mother? So those affections that run towards the creature, God would have run towards himself, that so he may be all in all to you here in this world.
A gracious heart can indeed tell how to enjoy God as all in all to him. That is the happiness of heaven to have God to be all in all. The saints in heaven do not have houses, and lands, and money, and met and drink, and clothes; you will say, they do not need them-why not? It is because God is all in all to them immediately. Now while you live in this world, you may come to enjoy much of God, you may have much of heaven, while we live in this life we may come to enjoy much of the very life that is in heaven, and what is that but the enjoyment of God to be all in all to us? There is one text in the Revelation that speaks of the glorious condition of the Church that is likely to be here even in this world: ‘And I saw no temple therein, for the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are the temple of it, and the city had no need of the sun, neither of the moon to shine in it, for the glory of God did lighten it, and the Lamb is the light thereof’ (Revelation 21:22).
They had no need of the sun or moon. It speaks of such a glorious condition that the Church is likely to be in here in this world; this does not speak of heaven, but of a glorious estate that the Church shall be in here, in this world; and that appears plainly, for it follows immediately in the 24th and 24th verses, ‘And the Kings of the earth do bring their glory and honor into it’; why, the Kings of the earth shall not bring their glory and honor into heaven, but this is such a time, when the Kings of the earth shall bring their glory and honor to the Church. And in the 26th verse, ‘And they shall bring the glory and honor of the nations into it’; therefore here it must mean this world and not heaven. Now is there is to be such a time here in this world, when God shall be all in all, and in comparison there shall be no such need of creatures as there is now, then the saints should labor to live as near that life as possibly they can, that is, to make up all in God.
Oh, that you would consider this mystery, that it may be a reality to the hearts of the saints in such times as these. They would find this privilege that they get by grace worth thousands of worlds. Hence is that statement of Jacob’s that I have mentioned in another case; it is remarkable, and is very pertinent here. In that remarkable speech of Jacob, in Genesis 33, when his brother Esau met him, you find in one place that Esau refused Jacob’s present; in the 8th verse, when Jacob gave his present to him, he refused it, and told Jacob that he had enough: ‘What meanest thou by all this drove which I met? And he said, these are to find grace in thy sight: And Esau said, I have enough.’ Now in the 11th verse Jacob urges it still, and, says Jacob, ‘I beseech thee, take it, for I have enough.’ Now in your Bible it is the same in English-I have enough, saith Esau, and I have enough, saith Jacob-but in the Hebrew Jacob’s word is different from Esau’s: Jacob’s word signifies I have all things, and yet Jacob was poorer than Esau. Oh, this should be a shame to us that an Esau can say, I have enough. But a Christian should say, I have not only enough, but I have all.
How did he have all?-because he had God who was all. It was a remarkable saying of one, ‘He has all things who has him that has all things’. Surely you have all things, because you have him for your portion who has all things: God has all things in himself, and you have God for your portion, and in that you have all, and this is the mystery of contentment. It makes up all its wants in God: this is what the men of the world have little skill in.
Now I have many other things still to open in the mystery of contentment. I should show likewise that a godly man not only makes up everything in God, but finds enough in himself to make up all-to make up everything in himself, not from himself, but in himself-and that may seem to be stranger than the other. To make up everything in God is something, nay, to make up everything in himself (not from himself but in himself)-a gracious heart has so much of God within himself, that he has enough there to make up all his outward wants. In Proverbs 14:14 we read, ‘A good man shall be satisfied from himself’, from that which is within himself-that is the meaning. A gracious man has a bird within his own bosom which makes him melody enough, though he lacks music. ‘The Kingdom of heaven is within you’ (Luke 17:21). He has a Kingdom within him, a Kingdom of God; you see him spoken ill of abroad, but he has a conscience within him that makes up the want of a name and credit, that is instead of a thousand witnesses.
13. A GRACIOUS HEART GETS CONTENTMENT FROM THE COVENANT THAT GOD HAS MADE WITH HIM.
Now this is a way of getting contentment that the men of the world do not know: they can get contentment, if they have the creature to satisfy them; but in getting contentment from the Covenant of grace they have little skill. I should have opened two things here, first, how to get contentment from the Covenant of grace in general (but I shall speak of that in the next sermon, and now, only a word on the second). Secondly, how he gets contentment form the particular branches of the Covenant, that is, from the particular promises that he has, for supplying every particular want. There is no condition that a godly man or woman can be in, but there is some promise or other in the Scripture to help him in that condition. And that is the way of his contentment, to go to the promises, and get from the promise, that which may supply. This is but a dry business to a carnal heart; but it is the most real thing in the world to a gracious heart: when he finds lack of contentment he repairs to the promise, and the Covenant, and falls to pleading the promises that God has made. As I should have shown several promises that God has made, whatever the affliction, I will only mention one, that is, the saddest affliction of all, in case of the visitation, and the plague (Psalm 91). Those whose friends cannot come to them by reason of the plague, and who cannot have other comforts, in other afflictions might have their friends and other things to comfort them-but in that they cannot. We read, ‘There shall no evil befall thee, neither shall nay plague come nigh thy dwelling’; then there is a promise for the pestilence in the 5th and 6th verses, this is a Scripture to those who are in danger of it. You will say that this is a promise that the plague shall not come nigh them; but mark that these two are joined: there shall no evil befall thee, neither shall the plague come nigh thee, the evil of it shall not come nigh thee.
Objection: You will say, but it does come to many godly men, and how can they make use of this Scripture? It is rather a Scripture that may trouble them, because here is a promise that it shall not come nigh them, and yet it does come nigh them as well as others.
Answer: 1. The promises of outward deliverance that were made to the people of God in the time of the law, were to be understood then a great deal more literally, and fulfilled more literally, than in the times of the gospel when God makes it up otherwise with as much mercy. Though God made a Covenant of grace and eternal life in Christ with them, yet I think there was another covenant too, which God speaks of as a distinct covenant for outward things, to deal with his people according to their ways, either in outward prosperity, or in outward afflictions, more so than now, in a more punctual, set way, than in the times of the gospel. Therefore when the children of Israel sinned against God, they were sure to have public judgments come upon them, and if they did well, always public mercies; the general, constant way of God was to deal with the people of the Jews according as they did well or ill, with outward judgments and outward mercies. But it is not so now in the times of the gospel; we cannot bring such a certain conclusion, that if God did deal so severely with men by such and such afflictions, he will deal so with them now, or that they shall have outward prosperity as they had then. Therefore, that is the first thing, for understanding this and all other texts of the kind.
2. Perhaps their faith does not attain to this promise; and God often brings many outward afflictions, because the faith of his people does not reach the promise, and that not only in the Old Testament, but in the times of the New Testament.
Zacharias’ time may be said to be in the time of the New Testament, when he was struck with dumbness because he did not believe; and that is given as the cause why he was struck with dumbness. But you will say now, has faith a warrant to believe deliverance, that it shall be fully delivered? I dare not say so, but it may act upon it, to believe that God will make it good in his own way. Perhaps you have not done as much, and so because of that, this promise is not fulfilled to you.
3. When God makes such a promise to his people, yet still it must be with this reservation, that God must have liberty for these three things.
i. That notwithstanding his promise, he will have liberty to make use of anything for your chastisement.
ii. That he must have liberty, to make use of your wealth, or liberties, or lives, for the furtherance of his own ends, if it is to be a stumbling block to wicked and ungodly men. God must have liberty, though he has made a promise to you he will not release the propriety that he has in your possessions and lives.
iii. God must have sufficient liberty to make use of what you have, to show that his ways are unsearchable, and his judgments past finding out. God reserves these three things in his hand still.
Objection: But you will say, What good then is there in such a promise that God makes to his people? 1. That you are under the protection of God more than others. But what comfort is this if it befalls me? Answer: You have this comfort, that the evil of it shall be taken from you, that if God will make use of this affliction for other ends, yet he will do it so as to make it up to you in some other way. Perhaps you have given your children something, but afterwards if you have a use for that thing, you will come and say, ‘I must have it’. ‘Why, father?’ the child may say, ‘you gave it to me.’ ‘But I must have it’, says the father, ‘and I will make it up to you in some other way.’ The child does not think that the father’s love is ever a whit the less to him. So when there is any such promise as this, that God by his promise gives you his protection, and yet for all that, such a thing befalls you, it is only as if the father should say, ‘I gave you that indeed, but let me have it and I will make it up to you in some other way that shall be as good.’ God says, ‘Let me have your health and liberty, and life, and it shall be made up to you in some other way.’ 2. Whenever the plague or pestilence comes to those who are under such a promise, it is fear some special and notable work, and God requires them to search and examine in a special manner, to find out his meaning; there is so much to be learned in the promise that God has made concerning this particular evil, that the people of God may come to quiet and content their hearts in this affliction.
I read in this Psalm that God has made a promise to his people, to deliver them from the plague and pestilence, and yet I find it has come. It may be that I have not made use of my faith in this promise heretofore; and if God brings afflictions upon me, yet he will make it up some other way. God made a promise to deliver me, or at least to deliver me from all the evil of it; now if this thing does befall me and yet I have a promise of God, certainly the evil of it is taken away. This promise tells me that if it does befall me yet it is for some notable end, and because God has a use for my life, and intends to bring about his glory some way that I do not know of. And if he will come in a fatherly way of chastisement, yet I will be satisfied in the thing. So a Christian heart, by reasoning out of the Word, comes to satisfy his soul in the midst of such a heavy hand of God, and in such a distressed condition as that. Now carnal hearts do not find that power in the Word, that healing virtue that is in it, to heal their distracting cares, and the troubles of their spirits; but when those who are godly come to hear the Word, they find in it, as it were, a plaster for all their wounds, and so they come to have ease and contentment in such conditions as are very grievous and miserable to others. But as for other particular promises, and more generally for the Covenant of grace, how and in what a mysterious way the saints work to get contentment and satisfaction to their souls, we shall refer to these things in the next chapter.
In the last chapter we spoke of several things in the mystery of contentment, and at the close we spoke of two more, but we did not have time to open either of them. I shall now open them a little more fully, then proceed to some few more.
That is the next thing then: a Christian heart not only has contentment in God, and certainly he who has God (who himself has all) must have all, but he is able to make up all his outward wants of creature comforts from what he finds in himself. That may seem to be more strange. It is true, perhaps, that even though men do not feel by experience shat it is to make up all in God, yet we may convince them that if they have him who has all things then they have all, for there is such a fullness in God, he being the infinite first being of all things, that may make up all their wants. But here is another thing, that is beyond that; I say a godly man can make up whatever he lacks without the creature, he can make it up in himself. In Proverbs 14:14 we read: ‘A good man shall be satisfied from himself.’ Suppose for example, that he lacks outward comforts, good cheer and feasting, a good conscience in a continual feast; so he can make up the lack of a feast by the peace that he has in his own conscience. If he lacks melody in the world, he has a bird within him that sings the most melodious songs in the world, and the most delightful. And then does he lack honor? He has his own conscience witnessing for him, that is as a thousand witnesses. The Scripture says (in Luke 17:21): ‘Neither shall they say, Lo here! or, Lo there! for behold the kingdom of God is within you.’ A Christian, then, whatever he lacks he can make it up, for he has a kingdom in himself: ‘the kingdom of God is within you’.
If a king meets with a great deal of trouble when he is abroad, he contents himself with this: ‘I have a Kingdom of my own.’ It is said here, the Kingdom of God is within a man; now if those of you who are learned look into the Commentary on this Gospel by a certain scholar, you will find he has a very strange idea about this text: he confesses that it is unutterable and so it is, the kingdom of God is within you, but he understands it that there is such a presence of God and Christ within the soul of a man, that when the body dies, he says, the soul goes into God and Christ, who are within him. The soul’s going into God and Christ, and enjoying that communion with God and Christ that is within itself, that is Heaven to it, he says. He confesses he is not able to express himself, and others cannot understand fully what he means; but certainly for the present, before death, there is a Kingdom of God within the soul, such a manifestation of God in the soul as is enough to content the heart of any godly man in the world, the Kingdom that he now has within him. He need not wait till afterwards, till he goes to Heaven; but certainly there is a Heaven in the soul of a godly man, he has Heaven already. Many times when you go to comfort your friends in their afflictions, you say, ‘Heaven will pay for all’; indeed, you may assuredly find Heaven pays for all already. There is a Heaven within the souls of the saints-that is a certain truth; no soul shall ever come to Heaven, but the soul which has Heaven come to it first. When you die, you hope you will go to Heaven; but if you will go to Heaven when you die, Heaven will come to you before you die.
Now this is a great mystery, to have the Kingdom of Heaven in the soul; no man can know this but that soul which has it. The Heaven which is within the soul for the present is like the white stone and the new name, that none but those that have it can understand it. It is a miserable condition, my brethren, to depend altogether upon creatures for our contentment. You know that rich men account it a great happiness, if they do not need to go to buy things by the penny as others do; they have all things for pleasure or profit on their own ground, and all their inheritance lies entire together, nobody comes within them, but they have everything within themselves: there lies their happiness. Whereas other, poorer people are fain to go from one market to another to provide the their necessities, great rich men have sheep and beeves, corn and clothing, and all things else of their own within themselves, and herein they place their happiness. But this is the happiness of a Christian, that he has that within himself which may satisfy him more than all these. There is a place in the first chapter of James that seems to allude to the condition of men who have all their wealth within themselves: ‘But let patience have her perfect work that ye may be perfect, and entire, wanting nothing’ (James 1:4). The word there used signifies to have the whole inheritance to ourselves, not a broken inheritance, but that where all lies within themselves, not like a man who has a piece of his estate here, and a piece there, but one who has it all lying together. When the heart is patient under afflictions it finds itself in such an estate as this, finds its whole inheritance together, and all complete within itself.
Now to show this by further analogies: the one who is filled with good things is just like many a man who enjoys an abundance of comforts at home, in his own house. God grants him a pleasant home, a good wife, and fine walks and gardens, and he has all things at home that he could desire. Now such a man does not care much for going out. Other men are fain to go out and see friends, because they have quarrelling and contending at home. Many poor husbands will give this reason, if their wives moan, and complain of their faults and shortcomings. They make it their excuse to go out, because they can never be quiet at home. Now we account those men most happy who have everything at home. Those who have confined homes that are unpleasant and evil-smelling delight to go into the fresh air, but it is not so with many others that have good things at home. Those who have no good cheer at home are fain to go out to friends, but those whose tables are well furnished would as soon stay at home. So a carnal man has little contentment in his own spirit. It is Augustine who likens a bad conscience to a scolding wife: a man who has a bad conscience does not care to look into his own soul, but loves to be out, and to look into other things; he never looks to himself.
As it is with a vessel that is full of liquor, if you strike it, it will make no great noise, but if it is empty then it makes a great noise; so it is with the heart, a heart that is full of grace and goodness within will bear a great many strokes, and never make any noise, but if an empty heart is struck it will make a noise. When some men and women are complaining so much, and always whining, it is a sign that there is an emptiness in their hearts. If their hearts were filled with grace they would not make such a noise. A man whose bones are filled with marrow, and his veins with good blood does not complain of the cold as others do. So a gracious heart, having the Spirit of God within him, and his heart filled with grace has that within him that makes him find contentment. It was a saying of Seneca: ‘Those things that I suffer will be incredibly heavy when I cannot bear myself.’ But if I am no burden to myself, if all is quiet within my own heart, then I can bear anything. Many men through their wickedness have burdens outside, but the greatest burden is the wickedness of their own hearts. They are not burdened with their sins in a godly way, for that would ease their burden, but they still have their wickedness in its power, and so they are burdens to themselves. The disorders of men’s hearts are great burdens to them, but many times a godly man has enough within to content him. Virtue is content with itself, to live well-it is a saying of Cicero, in one of his Paradoxes-it finds enough within its own sphere for living happily. But how few are acquainted with this mystery! Many think, O if I had what another man has, how happily and comfortably should I live! But if you are a Christian, whatever your condition, you have enough within yourself. You will say, such and such men who have all things need not be beholden to anybody.
There are many who labor and take pains when they are young, that they might not be beholden to others; they love to live of themselves. Now a Christian may do so, not that he does not live upon God (I do not mean that), but upon what he has of God within himself: he can live upon that, although he does not enjoy the comforts that are outside himself. That is what I mean, and those who are godly and keep close to God in their communion with him will understand what I mean by saying that a Christian has the supply of all his wants within himself. Here you may see that the spirit of a Christian is a precious spirit; a godly spirit is precious, why? Because it has enough to make him happy within himself.
The next thing that the mystery of contentment consists in is this, That a gracious heart gets it supply of all things from the Covenant, and so comes to have contentment, which is a dry thing to a carnal spirit.
There are two things in this:
1. He gets contentment from the Covenant in general, that is, from the great covenant that God has made with him in Christ.
2. He gets it from the particular promises that God has made with him in the Covenant.
1. From the Covenant in general. I will give you one Scripture for that, which is very striking: ‘Although my house be not so with God, yet he hath made with me an everlasting covenant, ordered in all things, and sure: for this is all my salvation, and all my desire, although he make it not to grow’ (2 Samuel 23:5). It is a wonderful statement by David, who did not have the Covenant of Grace revealed as fully as we have. Mark what he says: ‘Although I find not my house so’, that is, so comfortable in every way as I would wish, although it is not so, what has he got to content his spirit? He says, ‘He has made with me an everlasting covenant,’ this is what helps in everything. Some men will say, I am not thus and thus with God, I do not find that God comes in so fully, or it is not with my house and family as I hoped it might be, perhaps there is this or that affliction upon my house.
Suppose the plague were to come into your house, and it is not so safe, and you do not enjoy such outward comfort in your house as you once did. Can you read this Scripture and say, Although my house is not so blessed with health as other men’s houses are, although my house is not so, yet he has made with me an everlasting covenant. I am still one in covenant with God, the Lord has made with me an everlasting covenant. As for these things in the world, I see they are but momentary, they are not everlasting. I see a family in which all was well only a week ago, and now everything is down, the plague has swept away a great many of them, and the rest are left in sadness and mourning. We see there is no resting in the things of this world, yet the Lord has made with me an everlasting covenant ordered in all things. I find disorder in my heart, in my family; but the everlasting covenant is ordered in all things, yes, and it is sure.
Alas, there is no certainty here in these things. We can be sure of nothing here, especially in these times; we know that a man can be sure of little that he has, and who can be sure of his wealth? Perhaps some of you have here lived well and comfortably before, all was well about you, and you thought your mountain was strong, but within a day or two you see everything taken away from you- there is no certainty in the things of this world; but he says, the Covenant is sure. What I venture at sea is not sure, but here is an insurance office indeed, a great insurance office for the saints, at which they are not charged, except in the exercising of grace, for they may go to this insurance office to insure everything that they venture, either to have the thing itself, or to be paid for it. In an insurance office you cannot be sure to have the very goods that you insured, but if they are lost the insurers pledge themselves to make it good to you. And this Covenant of grace that God has made with his people is God’s insurance office, and the saints in all their fears may and ought to go to the Covenant to insure all things, to insure their wealth and insure their lives. You will say, How are they sure? Their lives and wealth go as well as other people’s do. But God pledges himself to make up all. And mark what follows, ‘This is all my salvation’- Why, David, will you not have salvation from your enemies and from outward dangers, pestilence and plague? The frame of his spirit is quieted, as though to say: if that salvation comes, well and good, I shall praise God for it; but what I have in the Covenant, that is my salvation, I look upon that as enough. Yes, and he goes further, ‘This is all my salvation and all my desire’-Why, David, is there not something else that you would like to have besides this Covenant? No, he says,
it is all involved in this. Surely, those men or women must needs live contented lives who have all their desires? Now, says the holy man here, this is all my desire, though he make it not to grow. For all this Covenant, perhaps, you will not prosper in the world as other men do, true; but I can bear that. Though God does not make my house to grow, I have all my desires.
Thus you see how a godly heart finds contentment n the Covenant. Many of you speak of the Covenant of God, and of the Covenant of grace; but have you found it as effectual as this to your souls, have you sucked this sweetness from the Covenant, and contentment to your hearts in your sad conditions. It is a special sign of true grace in any soul, that when any affliction befalls him, in a kind of natural way he repairs immediately to the Covenant. Just as a child, as soon as ever it is in danger, need not be told to go to his father or mother, for nature tells him so; so it is with a gracious heart: as soon as it is in any trouble or affliction there is a new nature which carries him to the Covenant immediately, where he finds ease and rest. If you find that your hearts work in this way, immediately running to the Covenant, it is an excellent sign of true grace: so much for the general point.
2. But now for particular promises in the Covenant grace. A gracious heart looks upon every promise as coming from the root of the great Covenant, of grace in Christ. Other men look upon some particular promises, that God will help them in straits, and keep them and the like, but they do not look at the connection of such particular promises, to the root, the Covenant of grace. Christians miss a great deal of comfort which they might have from the particular promises in the gospel, if they would consider their connection to the root, the great Covenant that God has made with them in Christ. In the times of the law, they might rest more upon outward promises than we can in the time of the gospel. I gave you the reason why we who live in the times of the gospel cannot depend so much on a literal fulfillment of the outward promises that we find in the Old Testament, as they could in the time of the law. For there was a special covenant, that God pleased to call a New Covenant, by way of distinction from the other covenant, that is made with us in Christ for eternal life. So even the law, was given to them in a more peculiar way for an external covenant of outward blessings in the land of Canaan, and so God dealt with them in a more external covenant than he does now with his people. Yet godliness has the promise of this life, and that which is to come. We may make use of the promises for this life, but yet not so much to rest upon the literal performance of them as they of old might. But God will make them good in some way or other, in a spiritual way if not in an outward way. We must lay no more upon outward promises than this, and therefore if we lay more, we make the promise to bear more than it will bear.
To give some examples: to believe fully and confidently, that the plague shall not come nigh a certain house, is, I say, to lay more upon such a promise than it will bear. If you remember, I opened that promise in Psalm 91. Now if I had lived in the time of the law, perhaps I might have been somewhat more confident of the literal performance of the promise, than I can be now in the time of the gospel. The promise now bears no more than this, that God has a special protection over his people, and that he will deliver them from the evil of such an affliction, and if he does bring such an affliction, it is more than an ordinary providence it is a special providence that God has in it. I thought I would give you several promises for the contentment of the heart in the time of affliction: ‘When thou passest through the waters I will be with thee, and through the rivers, they shall not overflow thee; when thou walkest through the fire thou shalt not be burnt, neither shall the flame kindle upon thee’ (Isaiah 43:2).
Certainly, though this promise was made in the time of the law, it will be made good to all the saints now, one way or other, either literally or in some other way. For we find clearly that the promise that was made to Joshua, ‘I will not fail thee nor forsake thee’ (Joshua 1:5) is applied to Christians in the time of the Gospel.
So here is the way of faith in bringing contentment by the promises: the saints of God have an interest in all the promises that ever were made to our forefathers, from the beginning of the world they are their inheritance, and go on from one generation to another. By that they come to have contentment, because they inherit all the promises made in all the book of God.
Hebrews 13:5 shows this plainly, that it is our inheritance, and we do not inherit less now than they did in Joshua’s time, but we inherit more.
For you will find in that place of Hebrews that more is said than is to Joshua. To Joshua God says, He will not leave him nor forsake him; but in this place in Hebrews in the Greek there are five negatives, I will not, not, not, not, not again. That is the force of it in the Greek. I say, there are five negatives in that little sentence; as if God should say, I will not leave you, no I will not, I will not, I will not, with such earnestness five times together. So that not only have we the same promises that they had, but we have them more enlarged and more full, though still not so much in the literal sense, for that, indeed is the least part of the promise. In Isaiah 54:17 God made a promise: That no weapon formed against his people should prosper, and every tongue that shall rise against them in judgment they shall condemn, and mark what follows, ‘This is the heritage of the servants of the Lord, and their righteousness is of me, saith the Lord.’ This is a good promise for a soldier, though still we ought not to lay too much upon the literal sense. True, it holds forth thus much, that God’s protection is in special manner over the soldier that are godly. ‘And every tongue that shall rise against thee in judgment thou shalt condemn’-this is against false witness too. Oh you, whose friends never left you anything! you will say, My friends died and did not leave me a groat; but I thank God, he has provided for me. Though your father or mother died and left you no inheritance, you have an inheritance in the promise, ‘This is their heritage.’ So that there is no godly man or woman, but is a great heir.
Therefore when you look into the book of God and find any promise there, you may make it your own; just as an heir who rides over a lot of fields and meadows says, This meadow is my inheritance, and this corn field is my inheritance, and then he sees a fine house, and says, This fine house is my inheritance. He looks at them with a different eye from a stranger who rides over those fields. A carnal heart reads the promises, and reads them merely as stories, not that he has any great interest in them. But every time a godly man reads the Scriptures (remember this when you are reading the Scripture) and there meets with a promise, he ought to lay his hand upon it and say, This is part of my inheritance, it is mine, and I am to live upon it.
This will make you contented; it is a mysterious way of getting contentment. And there are several other promises that bring contentment (Psalm 34:10, 37:6; Isaiah 58:10). So much for the mystery of contentment by way of the Covenant.
There are two or three things more that show how a godly man has contentment in a mysterious way different from any carnal heart in the world, as follows:
14. HE HAS CONTENTMENT BY REALIZING THE GLORIOUS THINGS OF HEAVEN TO HIM.
He has the kingdom of Heaven as present, and the glory that is to come; by faith he makes it present. So the martyrs had contentment in their sufferings, for some of them said, ‘Though we have but a hard breakfast, yet we shall have a good dinner, we shall very soon be in heaven.’ ‘Do but shut your eyes’, said one, ‘and you shall be in heaven at once.’ ‘We faint not’, says the Apostle (2 Corinthians 4:16). Why? Because these light afflictions that are but for a moment, work for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory. They see heaven before them and that contents them. When you sailors see the haven before you, though you were mightily troubled before you could see any land, yet when you come near the shore and can see a certain land-mark, that contents you greatly. A godly man in the midst of the waves and storms that he meets with can see the glory of heaven before him and so contents himself. One drop of the sweetness of heaven is enough to take away all the sourness and bitterness of all the afflictions in the world. We know that one drop of sourness, or one drop of gall will make bitter a great deal of honey. Put a spoonful of sugar into a cup of gall or wormwood, and it will not sweeten it; but if you put a spoonful of gall into a cup of sugar, it will embitter that. Now it is otherwise in heaven: one drop of sweetness will sweeten a great deal of sour affliction, but a great deal of sourness and gall will not embitter a soul who sees the glory of heaven that is to come. A carnal heart has no contentment but from what he sees before him in this world, but a godly hearts has contentment from what he sees laid up for him in the highest heavens.
15. THE LAST THING THAT I WOULD MENTION IS THIS, A godly man has contentment by opening and letting out his heart to God. Other men or women are discontented, but how do they help themselves? By abuse, by bad language. Someone crosses them, and they have no way to help themselves but by abuse and by bitter words, and so they relieve themselves in that way when they are angry. But when a godly man is crossed, how does he relieve himself?-He is aware of his cross as well as you, but he goes to God in prayer, and there opens his heart to God and lets out his sorrows and fears, and then can come away with a joyful countenance. Do you find that you can come away from prayer and not look sad? It is said of Hannah, that when she had been at prayer her countenance was no more said (1 Samuel 1:18), she was comforted: this is the right way to contentment.
Thus we have done with the mystery of contentment. Now if you can but put these things together that we have spoken of, you may see fully what an art Christian contentment is.
HOW CHRIST TEACHES CONTENTMENT
Contentment is not such a poor business as many make it. They say, ‘You must be content’, and so on. But Paul needed to learn it, and it is a great art and mystery of godliness to be content in a Christian way, and it will be seen to be even more of a mystery when we come to show what lessons a gracious heart learns when it learns to be contented. I have learned to be contented; what lessons have you learned? Take a scholar who has great learning and understanding in arts and sciences; how did he begin? He began, as we say, his ABC, and then afterwards he came to his Testament, and Bible and accidence,* and so to his grammar, and afterwards to his other books. [*Accidence = the part of grammar dealing with inflexions.] So a Christian coming to contentment is as a scholar in Christ’s school, and there are many lessons to teach the soul to bring it to this learning; every godly man or woman is a scholar. It cannot be said of any Christian that he is illiterate, but he is literate, a learned man, a learned woman. Now the lessons that Christ teaches to bring us to contentment are these:
1. THE LESSON OF SELF-DENIAL.
It is a hard lesson. You know that when a child is first taught, he complains: This is hard; it is just like that. I remember Bradford the martyr said, ‘Whoever has not learned the lesson of the cross, has not learned his ABC in Christianity.’ This is where Christ begins with his scholars, and those in the lowest form must begin with this; if you mean to be Christians at all, you must buckle to this or you can never be Christian. Just as no-one can be a scholar unless he learns his ABC, so you must learn the lesson of self-denial or you can never become a scholar in Christ’s school, and be learned in this mystery of contentment. That is the first lesson that Christ teaches any soul, self-denial, which brings contentment, which brings down and softens a man’s heart. You know how when you strike something soft it makes no noise, but if you strike a hard thing it makes a noise; so with the harts of men who are full of themselves, and hardened with self-love, if they receive a stroke they make a noise, but a self-denying Christian yields to God’s hand, and makes no noise. When you strike a woolsack it makes no noise because it yields to the stroke; so a self-denying heart yields to the stroke and thereby comes to this contentment. now there are several things in this lesson of self-denial. I will not enter into the doctrine of self-denial, but only show you how Christ teaches self-denial and how that brings contentment.
1. Such a person learns to know that he is nothing. He comes to this, to be able to say, ‘Well, I see I am nothing in myself.’ That man or woman who indeed knows that he or she is nothing, and has learned it thoroughly will be able to bear anything. The way to be able to bear anything is to know that we are nothing in ourselves. God says to us, ‘Wilt thou set thine eyes upon that which is not’ (Proverbs 23:5) speaking of riches. Why, blessed God, do not you do so? you have set your heart upon us and yet we are nothing. God would not have set our hearts upon riches, because they are nothing, and yet God is pleased to set his heart upon us, and we are nothing: that is God’s grace, free grace, and therefore it does not much matter what I suffer, for I am as nothing.
2. I deserve nothing. I am nothing, and I deserve nothing. Suppose I lack this and that thing which others have? I am sure that I deserve nothing except it be Hell. You will answer any of your servants, who is not content: I wonder what you think you deserve? or your children: do you deserve it that you are so eager to have it? You would stop their mouths thus, and so we may easily stop our own mouths: we deserve nothing and therefore why should we be impatient if we do not get what we desire. If we had deserved anything we might be troubled, as in the case of a man who has deserved well of the state or of his friends, yet does not receive a suitable reward, it troubles him greatly, whereas if he is conscious that he has deserved nothing, he is content with a rebuff.
3. I can do nothing. Christ says, ‘Without me you can do nothing’ (John 15:5). Why should I make much of it, to be troubled and discontented if I have not got this and that, when the truth is that I can do nothing? If you were to come to one who is angry because he has not got such food as he desires, and is discontented with it, you would answer him, ‘I marvel what you do or what use you are!’ Should one who will sit still and be of no use, yet for all that have all the supply that he could possible desire? Do but consider of what use you are in the world, and if you consider what little need God has of you, and what little use you are, you will not be much discontented. if you have learned this lesson of self-denial, though God cuts you short of certain comforts, yet you will say, ‘Since I do but little, why should I have much’: this thought will bring down a man’s spirit as much as anything.
4. I am so vile that I cannot of myself receive any good. I am not only an empty vessel, but a corrupt and unclean vessel: that would spoil anything that comes into it. So are all our hearts: every one of them is not only empty of good but is like a musty bottle that spoils even good liquor that is poured into it.
5. If God cleanses us in some measure, and puts into us some good liquor, some grace of his Spirit, yet we can make use of nothing when we have it, if God but withdraws himself. If God leaves us one moment after he has bestowed upon us the greatest gifts, and whatever abilities we can desire, if God should say, ‘I will give you them, now go and trade’, we cannot progress one foot further if God leaves us. Does God give us gifts and abilities? Then let us fear and tremble lest God should leave us to ourselves, for then how foully should we abuse those gifts and abilities. You think other men and women have memory and gifts and abilities and you would fain have them-but suppose God should give you these, and then leave you, you would utterly spoil them.
6. We are worse than nothing. By sin we become a great deal worse than nothing. Sin makes us more vile than nothing, and contrary to all good. It is a great deal worse to have a contrariety to all that is good, than merely to have an emptiness of all that is good. We are not empty pitchers in respect of good, but we are like pitchers filled with poison, and is it much for such as we are to be cut short of outward comforts?
7. If we perish we will be no loss. If God should annihilate me, what loss would it be to anyone? God can raise up someone else in my place to serve him in a different way.
Now put just these seven things together and then Christ has taught you self- denial. I may call these the several words in our lesson of self-denial.
Christ teaches the soul this, so that, as in the presence of God on a real sight of itself, it can say: ‘Lord, I am nothing, Lord, I deserve nothing, Lord, I can do nothing, I can receive nothing, and can make use of nothing, I am worse than nothing, and if I come to nothing and perish I will be no loss at all and therefore is it such a great thing for me to be cut short here?’ A man who is little in his own eyes will account every affliction as little, and every mercy as great. Consider Saul: There was a time, the Scripture says, when he was little in his own eyes, and then his afflictions were but little to him: when some would not have had him to be King but spoke contemptuously of him, he held his peace; but when Saul began to be big in his own eyes, then the affliction began to be great to him.
There was never any man or woman so contented as a self-denying man or woman. No-one ever denied himself as much as Jesus Christ did: he gave his cheeks to the smiters, he opened not his mouth, he was as a lamb when he was led to the slaughter, he made no noise in the street. He denied himself above all, and was willing to empty himself, and so he was the most contented that ever any was in the world; and the nearer we come to learning to deny ourselves as Christ did, the more contented shall we be, and by knowing much of our own vileness we shall learn to justify God.
Whatever the Lord shall lay upon us, yet he is righteous for he has to deal with a most wretched creature. A discontented heart is troubled because he has no more comfort, but a self-denying man rather wonders that he has as much as he has. Oh, says the one, I have but a little; Aye, says the man who has learned this lesson of self-denial, but I rather wonder that God bestows upon me the liberty of breathing in the air, knowing how vile I am, and knowing how much sin the Lord sees in me. And that is the way of contentment, by learning self-denial.
8. But there is a further thing in self-denial which brings contentment.
Thereby the soul comes to rejoice and take satisfaction in all God’s ways; I beseech you to notice this. If a man is selfish and self-love prevails in his heart, he will be glad of those things that suit with his own ends, but a godly man who has denied himself will suit with and be glad of all things that shall suit with God’s ends. A gracious heart says, God’s ends are my ends and I have denied my own ends; so he comes to find contentment in all God’s ends and ways, and his comforts are multiplied, whereas the comforts of other men are single. It is very rare that God’s way shall suit with a man’s particular end, but always God’s ways suit with his own ends. if you will only have contentment when God’s ways suit with your own ends, you can have it only now and then, but a self-denying man denies his own ends, and only looks at the ends of God and therein he is contented. When a man is selfish he cannot but have a great deal of trouble and vexation, for if I regard myself, my ends are so narrow that a hundred things will come and jostle me, and I cannot have room in those narrows ends of my own. You know in the City what a great deal of stir there is in narrow streets: since Thames street is so narrow they jostle and wrangle and fight one with another because the place is so narrow, but in the broad streets they can go quietly. Similarly men who are selfish meet and so jostle with one another, one man is for self in one thing, and another man is for self in another thing, and so they make a great deal of stir. But those whose hearts are enlarged and make public things their ends, and can deny themselves, have room to walk and never jostle with one another as others do. The lesson of self-denial is the first lesson that Jesus Christ teaches men who are seeking contentment.
2. THE VANITY OF THE CREATURE.
That is the second lesson in Christ’s school, which he teaches those whom he would make scholars in this art: the vanity of the creature, that whatever there is in the creature has an emptiness in it. ‘Vanity of vanities, all is vanity,’ is the lesson that the wise man learned: the creature in itself can do us neither good nor hurt; it is all but as wind. There is nothing in the creature that is suitable for a gracious heart to feed upon for its good and happiness. My brethren, the reason why you have not got contentment in the things of the world is not because you have not got enough of them-that is not the reason-but the reason is, because they are not things proportionable to that immortal soul of yours that is capable of God himself. Many men think that when they are troubled and have not got contentment it is because they have but a little in the world, and that if they had more then they should be content. That is just as if a man were hungry, and to satisfy his craving stomach he should gape and hold open his mouth to take in the wind, and then should think that the reason why he is not satisfied is because he has not got enough of the wind; no, the reason is because the thing is not suitable to a craving stomach. Yet there is really the same madness in the world: the wind which a man takes in by gaping will as soon satisfy a craving stomach ready to starve, as all the comforts in the world can satisfy a soul who knows what true happiness means. You would be happy, and you seek after such and such comforts in the creature.
Well, have you got them? do you find your hearts satisfied as having the happiness that is suitable to you? No, no, it is not here, but you think it is because you lack such and such things. O poor deluded man! it is not because you have not got enough of it, but because it is not the thing that is proportionable to the immortal soul that God has given you. Why do you lay out money for that which is not bread, and your labor for that which satisfieth not? (Isaiah 55:2). You are mad people, you seek to satisfy your stomach with that which is not bread, you follow the win; you will never have contentment. All creatures in the world say contentment is not in us, riches say, contentment is not in me, pleasure says, contentment is not in me; if you look for contentment in the creature you will fail. No, contentment is higher. When you come into the school of Christ, Christ teaches you that there is a vanity in all things in the world, and the soul which, by coming into the school of Christ, by understanding the glorious mysteries of the Gospel, comes to see the vanity of all things in the world, is the soul that comes to true contentment. I could give you an abundance of proverbs from Heathens which show the vanity of all things in the world, and they did not learn the vanity of the creature in the right school. But when a soul comes into the School of Jesus Christ, and there comes to see vanity in all things in the world, then such a soul comes to have contentment. If you seek contentment elsewhere, like the unclean spirit you seek for rest but find none.
3. A THIRD LESSON WHICH CHRIST TEACHES A CHRISTIAN WHEN HE COMES INTO HIS SCHOOL IS THIS:
He teaches him to understand what is the one thing that is necessary, which he never understood before. You know what he said to Martha: ‘O Martha thou cumberest thyself about many things, but there is one thing necessary.’ Before, the soul sought after this and that, but now it says, I see that it is not necessary for me to be rich, but it is necessary for me to make my peace with God; it s not necessary that I should live a pleasurable life in this world, but it is absolutely necessary that I should have pardon of my sin; it is not necessary that I should have honor and preferment, but it is necessary that I should have God as my portion, and have my part in Jesus Christ, it is necessary that my soul should be saved in the day of Jesus Christ. The other things are pretty fine indeed, and I should be glad if God would give me them, a fine house, and income, and clothes, and advancement for my wife and children: these are comfortable things, but they are not the necessary things; I may have these and yet perish for ever, but the other is absolutely necessary. No matter how poor I am, I may have what is absolutely necessary: thus Christ instructs the soul. Many of you have had some thoughts about this, that it is indeed necessary for you to provide for your souls, but when you come to Christ’s school, Christ causes the fear of eternity to fall upon you, and causes such a real sight of the great things of eternity, and the absolute necessity of those things, that it possesses your heart with fear and takes you off from all other things in the world.
It is said of Pompey, that when he was carrying corn to Rome at a time of dearth, he was in a great deal of danger from storms at sea, but he said, ‘We must go on, it is necessary that Rome should be relieved, but it is not necessary that we should live.’ So, certainly, when the soul is once taken up with the things that are of absolute necessity, it will not be much troubled about other things. What are the things that disquiet us here but some by-matters in this world? And it is because our hearts are not taken up with the one absolutely necessary thing. Who are the men who are most discontented, but idle persons, persons who have nothing to occupy their minds? Every little thing disquiets and discontents them; but in the case of a man who has business of great weight and consequence, if all things go well with his great business which is in his head, he is not aware of meaner things in the family. On the other hand a man who lies at home and has nothing to do finds fault with everything. So it is with the heart: when the heart of a man has nothing to do, but to be busy about creature- comforts, every little thing troubles him; but when the heart is taken up with the weighty things of eternity, with the great things of eternal life, the things of here below that disquieted it before are things now of no consequence to him in comparison with the other-how things fall out here is not much regarded by him, if the one thing that is necessary is provided for.
4. THE SOUL COMES TO UNDERSTAND IN WHAT RELATION IT STANDS TO THE WORLD.
By that I mean as follows, God comes to instruct the soul effectually through Christ by his Spirit, on what terms it lives here in the world, in what relation it stands. While I live in the world my condition is to be but a pilgrim, a stranger, a traveler, and a soldier. Now rightly to understand this, not only being taught it by rote, so that I can speak the words over, but when my soul is possessed with the consideration of this truth, that God has set me in this world, not as in my home but as a mere stranger and a pilgrim who is travelling to another home, and that I am here a soldier in my warfare, I say, a right understanding of this is a mighty help to contentment in whatever befalls one.
For instance, when a man is at home, if things are not according to his desire he will find fault and is not content; but if a man travels, perhaps he does not meet with conveniences as he desires-the servants in the house are not at his beck or are not as diligent as his own servants were, and his diet is not as at home, and his bed not as at home-yet this thought may moderate his spirit: I am a traveler and I must not be finding fault, I am in another man’s house, and it would be bad manners to find fault in someone else’s house, even though things are not as much to my liking as at home.
If a man meets with bad weather, he must be content; it is travellers’ fare, we say. Both fair weather and foul are the common travellers’ fare and we must be content with it. Of course, if a man were at home and the rain poured into his house, he would regard it as an intolerable hardship; but when he is travelling, he is not so troubled about rain and storms. When you are at sea, though you have not as many things as you have at home, you are not troubled at it; you are contented. Why? Because you are at sea.
You are not troubled when storms arise, and though many things are otherwise than you would have them at home you are still quieted with the fact that you are at sea. When sailors are at sea they do not care what clothes they have, though they are pitched and tarred, and but a clout about their necks, and any old clothes. They think of when they come home: then they shall have their fine silk stockings and suits, and laced bands, and such things, and shall be very fine. So they are contented while away, with the thought that it shall be different when they come home, and though they have nothing but salt meat, and a little hard fare, yet when they come to their houses then they shall have anything.
Thus it should be with us in this world, for the truth is, we are all in this world but as seafaring men, tossed up and down on the waves of the sea of this world, and our haven is Heaven; here we are travelling, and our home is a distant home in another world. Indeed some men have better comforts than others in travelling, and it is truly a great mercy of God to us in England that we can travel with such delight and comfort, much more so than they can in other countries, and through God’s mercy we have as great comforts in our travelling to Heaven in England as in any place under Heaven. Though we meet with travellers’ fare sometimes, yet it should not be grievous to us. The Scripture tells us plainly that we must behave ourselves here as pilgrims and strangers: ‘Dearly beloved, I beseech you as strangers and pilgrims, abstain from fleshly lusts, which war against the soul’ (1 Peter 2:11).
Consider what your condition is, you are pilgrims and strangers; so do not think to satisfy yourselves here. When a man comes into an inn and sees there a fair cupboard of plate, he is not troubled that it is not his own.- Why? Because he is going away. So let us not be troubled when we see that other men have great wealth, but we have not.-Why? We are going away to another country; you are, as it were, only lodging here, for a night. If you were to live a hundred years, in comparison to eternity it is not as much as a night, it is as though you were travelling, and had come to an inn. And what madness is it for a man to be discontented because he has not got what he sees there, seeing he may be going away again within less than a quarter of an hour? You find the same in David: this was the argument that took David’s heart away from the things of this world, and set him on other things: ‘I am a stranger in the earth, hide not thy commandments from me’ (Psalm 119:19). I am a stranger in the earth-what then?-then, Lord, let me have the knowledge of your commandments and it is sufficient. As for the things of the earth I do not set store by them, whether I have much or little, but hide not thy commandments from me, Lord, let me know the rule that I should guide my life by.
Then again, we are not only travelers but soldiers: this is the condition in which we are here in this world, and therefore we ought to behave ourselves accordingly. The Apostle makes use of this argument in writing to Timothy: ‘Thou therefore endure hardness as a good soldier of Jesus Christ’ (2 Timothy 2:3).
The very thought of the condition of a soldier is enough to still his disquiet of heart. When he is away, he does not enjoy such comforts in his quarters as he has in his own home: perhaps a man who had his bed and curtains drawn about him, and all comforts in his chamber, has now sometimes to lie on straw and he thinks to himself, I am a soldier and it is suitable to my condition. He must have his bed warmed at home, but he must lie out in the fields when he is a soldier, and the very thought of the condition in which he stands, calms him in all things. Yes, and he goes rejoicing, to think that this is only suitable to the condition in which God has put him. So it should be with us in respect of this world. What an unseemly thing it would be to see a soldier go whining up and down with his finger in his eye, complaining, that he does not have hot meat every meal, and his bed warmed as he did at home! Now Christians know that they are in their warfare, they are here in this world fighting and combating with the enemies of their souls and their eternal welfare, and they must be willing to endure hardness here. A right understanding of this fact that God has put them into such a condition is what will make them content, especially when they consider that they are certain of the victory and that ere long they shall triumph with Jesus Christ; then all their sorrows shall be done away, and their tears wiped from their eyes. A soldier is content to endure hardness though he does not know that he shall have the victory, but a Christian knows himself to be a soldier, and knows that he shall conquer and triumph with Jesus Christ to all eternity.
And that is the fourth lesson that Christ teaches the soul when he brings it to his school to learn the art of contentment: he makes him understand thoroughly the relation in which he has placed him to this world.
5. CHRIST TEACHES US WHEREIN CONSISTS ANY GOOD THAT IS TO BE ENJOYED IN ANY CREATURE IN THE WORLD.
We have taught before that there is a vanity in the creature, that is, considered in itself, yet though there is a vanity in the creature in itself, in respect of satisfying the soul for its portion, yet there is some goodness in the creature, some desirableness. Now wherein does this consist? It consists not in the nature of the creature itself, for that is nothing but vanity, but it consists in its reference to the first being of all things: this is a lesson that Christ teaches. If there is any good in wealth or in any comfort in this world, it is not so much that it pleases my sense or that it suits my body, but that it has reference to God, the first being, that by these creatures somewhat of God’s goodness might be conveyed to me, and I may have a sanctified use of the creature to draw me nearer to God, that I may enjoy more of God, and be made more serviceable for his glory in the place where he has set me: this is the good of the creature. Oh, that we were only instructed in this lesson, and understood, and thoroughly believed this! No creature in all the world has any goodness in it any further than it has reference to the first infinite supreme good of all, that so far as I can enjoy God in it, so far it is good to me, and so far as I do not enjoy God in it, so far there is no goodness in any creature. How easy it would be, if we really believed that, to be contented! Suppose a man had great wealth only a few years ago, and now it is all gone-I would only ask this man, When you had your wealth, in what did you reckon the good of that wealth to consist? A carnal heart would say, Anybody might know that: it brought me in so much a year, and I could have the best fare, and be a man of repute in the place where I live, and men regarded what I said; I might be clothed as I would, and lay up portions for my children: the good of my wealth consisted in this. Now such a man never came into the school of Christ to know in what the good of an estate consisted, so no marvel if he is disquieted when he has lost his estate. But when a Christian, who has been in the school of Christ, and has been instructed in the art of contentment, has some wealth, he thinks, In that I have wealth above my brethren, I have an opportunity to serve God the better, and I enjoy a great deal of God’s mercy conveyed to my soul through the creature, and hereby I am enabled to do a great deal of good: in this I reckon the good of my wealth. And now that God has taken this away from me, if he will be pleased to make up the enjoyment of himself some other way, will call me to honor him by suffering, and if I may do God as much service now by suffering, that is, by showing forth the grace of his Spirit in my sufferings as I did in prosperity, I have as much of God as I had before. So if I may be led to God in my low condition, as much as I was in my prosperous condition, I have as much comfort and contentment as I had before.
Objection. You will say, it is true that if I could honor God in my low estate as much as in my prosperous estate then it would be something, but how can that be? Answer. You must know that the special honor which God has from his creatures in this world is the manifestation of the graces of his Spirit. It is true that God gets a great deal of honor when a man is in a public place, and so is able to do a great deal of good, to countenance godliness, and discountenance sin, but the main thing is in our showing forth virtues of him who has called us out of darkness into his marvellous light. If I can say that, through God’s mercy in my affliction, I find the graces of God’s Spirit working as strongly in me as ever they did when I had my wealth, I am where I was; indeed, I am in quite as good a condition, for I have the same good now that I had in my prosperous estate. I reckoned the good of it only in my enjoyment of God, and honoring of God, and now God has blessed the lack of it to stir up the graces of his Spirit in my soul. This is the work that God calls me to now, and I must consider God to be most honored when I do the work that he calls me to; he set me to work in my prosperous estate to honor him at that time in that condition, and now he sets me to work to honor him at this time in this condition. God is most honored when I can turn from one condition to another, according as he calls me to it.
Would you account yourselves to be honored by your servants, if when you set them about a work that has some excellence, they will go on and on, and you cannot get them off from it? However good the work may be, yet if you call them off to another work, you expect them to manifest enough respect to you, as to be content to come off from that, though they are set about a lesser work, if it is more useful to your ends. In the same way you were in a prosperous estate, and there God was calling you to some service that you took pleasure in; but suppose God said: ‘I will use you in a suffering condition, and I will have you to honor me in that way.’? This is how you honor God, that you can turn this way or that way, as God calls you to it. Thus having learned this, that the good of the creature consists in the enjoyment of God in it, and the honoring of God by it, you can be content, because you have the same good that you had before, and that is the fifth lesson.
6. CHRIST TEACHES THE SOUL WHOM HE BRINGS INTO THIS SCHOOL IN THE KNOWLEDGE OF THEIR OWN HEARTS.
You must learn this or you will never learn contentment. You must learn to know your own hearts well, to be good students of your own hearts. You cannot all be scholars in the arts and sciences in the world, but you may all be students of your own hearts. Many of you cannot read in the Book, but God expects you every day to turn over a leaf in your own hearts. You will never get any skill in this mystery of contentment, except you study the book of your own hearts. Sailors have their books which they study, those who will be good navigators, and scholars have their books, those who study Logic have their books according to that, and those that study Rhetoric and Philosophy have their books according to that, and those that study Divinity have their books whereby they come to be helped in the study of Divinity, but a Christian, next to the Book of God, is to look into the book of his own heart, and to read over that, and this will help you to contentment in three ways:
1. By studying your heart you will come soon to discover wherein your discontent lies. When you are discontented you will find out the root of any discontent if you study your heart well. Many men and women are discontented, and the truth is they do not know why; they think this and the other thing is the cause. But a man or woman who knows their own heart will soon find out where the root of their discontent lies, that it lies in some corruption and disorder of the heart, that through God’s mercy I have now found out. It is similar to the case of a little child who is very awkward in the house, and when a stranger comes in he does not know what the matter is. Perhaps he will give the child a rattle, or a nut, or something of the sort to quiet it, but when the nurse comes she knows the temper and disposition of the child, and therefore knows how to calm it. It is just the same here: when we are strangers to our own hearts we are powerfully discontented, and do not know how to quiet ourselves, because we do not know wherein the disquiet lies, but if we are very well versed in our own hearts, when anything happens to unsettle us, we soon find out the cause of it, and so quickly become quiet. When a man has a watch, and understand the use of every wheel and pin, if it goes amiss he will soon find out the cause of it; but when someone has no skill in a watch, if it goes amiss he does not know what is the matter, and therefore cannot mend it. So indeed our hearts are as a watch, and there are many wheels and windings and turnings there, and we should labor to know our hearts well, that when they are out of tune, we may know what is the matter.
2. This knowledge of our hearts will help us to contentment, because by it we shall come to know what best suits our condition. A man who does not know his own heart does not think what need he has of affliction, and for that reason is uneasy, but when God comes with afflictions to the man or woman who have studied their own hearts, they can say, ‘I would not have been without this affliction for anything in the world, God has so suited this affliction to my condition, and has come in such a way that if this affliction had not come I am afraid I should have fallen into sin.’ When a poor countryman takes medicine, the medicine works, but he thinks it will kill him, because he does not know the bad humours that are in his body, and therefore he does not understand how suitable the medicine is for him. But if a doctor takes a purge, and it makes him extremely sick: ‘I like this the better’ he says, ‘it is only working on the humor that I know is the cause of my disease’, and because of that such a man who has knowledge and understanding of his body, and the cause of his disorder, is not troubled or disturbed. So would we be if we did but know the disorders of our own hearts. Carnal men and women do not know their own spirits, and therefore they fling and vex themselves at every affliction that befalls them, they do not know what disorders are in their hearts which may be healed by their afflictions, if it pleases God to give them a sanctified use of them.
3. By knowing their own hearts they know what they are able to manage, and by this means they come to be content. Perhaps the Lord takes away many comforts from them that they had before, or denies them some things that they hoped to have got. Now by knowing their hearts they know that they were not able to manage such wealth, and they were not able to manage such prosperity. God saw it, and, a poor soul says, ‘I am in some measure convinced by looking into my own heart that I was not able to manage such a condition.’ A man desires greedily to hold on to more than he is able to manage, and so undoes himself. Countrymen observe that if they over-stock their land, it will quickly spoil them, and so a wise husbandman who knows how much his ground will bear is not troubled that he has not as much stock as others-why? Because he knows he has not got enough ground for as great a stock, and that quiets him. Many men and women who do not know their own hearts would fain have as prosperous a position as others, but if they knew their own hearts they would know that they were not able to manage it.
Suppose one of your little children of three or four were crying for the coat of her sister who is twelve or perhaps even twenty, and said, ‘Why may not I have a coat as long as my sister’s?’ If she had, it would soon trip up her heels, and scratch her face. But when the child comes to understanding, she is not discontented because her coat is not as long as her sister’s, but says, ‘My coat fits me,’ and therein she is content. So if we come to understanding in the school of Christ we will not cry, Why have I not got such wealth as others have?, but, The Lord sees that I am not able to manage it and I see it myself by knowing my own heart. There are some children who, if they see a knife, will cry for it because they do not know their strength and that they are not able to manage it, but you know they are not able to manage it and therefore you will not give it them, and when they come to sufficient understanding to know that they are not able to manage it, they will not cry for it. Similarly we would not cry for some things if we knew that we were not able to manage them. When you vex and fret for what you have not got, I may say to you as Christ said, ‘You know not of what spirit you are.’ It was a saying of Cecolampadius to Parillus, when they were speaking about his extreme poverty, ‘Not so poor, though I have been very poor, yet I would be poorer; I could be willing to be poorer than I am.’ As if he were to say, The truth is, the Lord knew what was more suitable for me, and I knew that my own heart was such that a poor condition was more suitable to me than a rich. So certainly would we say, if we knew our own hearts, that such and such a condition is better for me than if it had been otherwise.
Better is a little with righteousness than great revenues without right.
~ Proverbs 16:8
A good man is satisfied from himself.
~ Proverbs 14:14b
And having food and raiment let us be therewith content.
~ 1 Timothy 6:9
But I have all, and abound: I am full.
~ Philippians 4:18 a,b
Yea doubtless, and I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord: for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and do count them but dung, that I may win Christ,
~ Philippians 3:8
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
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
Blessed are ye that hunger now: for ye shall be filled. Blessed are ye that weep now: for ye shall laugh. Every where and in all things I am instructed both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need.
~ Luke 6:21, Philippians 4:12 c,d
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.
So that we may boldly say, The Lord is my helper, and I will not fear what man shall do unto me.
~ Hebrews 13:5-6
In the house of the righteous is much treasure, but in the revenues of the wicked is trouble.
~ Proverbs 15:6