Reforming the Reformation
The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment
- Jeremiah Burroughs (1600-1645) was a member of the Westminster Assembly and known for his writing and preaching. View all resources by Jeremiah Burroughs
Christian Contentment Described
'I have learned,in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content.' Philippians 4:11
This text contains a very timely cordialto revive the drooping spirits of the saints in these sad and sinkingtime. For the 'hour of temptation' has already come upon all the worldto try the inhabitants of the earth. In particular, this is the dayof Jacob's trouble in our own bowels.
Our great Apostle holds forth experimentallyin 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 growthof godliness in his own soul must necessarily learn from him.
These words are brought in by Paul asa clear argument to persuade the Philippians that he did not seek aftergreat 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 betterthings. 'I do not speak', he says, 'in respect of want, for whetherI have or have not, my heart is fully satisfied, I have enough: I havelearned in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content.' 'I havelearned'-Contentment in every condition is a great art, a spiritualmystery. It is to be learned, and to be learned as a mystery. And soin 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 isjust 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 thoroughlytrained 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 learnit now, nor did I have the art at first; I have attained it, thoughwith much ado, and now, by the grace of God, I have become the masterof 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 nothingat 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 himselfalone. But he is pleased freely to communicate his fullness to the creature,so that from God in Christ the saints receive 'grace for grace' (John1:16). 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 affirmsin another case, 'That we are not sufficient of ourselves to think anythingas of ourselves' (2 Corinthians 3:5).
Therefore his meaning must be, I finda sufficiency of satisfaction in my own heart, through the grace ofChrist that is in me. Though I have not outward comforts and worldlyconveniences to supply my necessities, yet I have a sufficient portionbetween Christ and my soul abundantly to satisfy me in every condition.This interpretation agrees with that place: 'A good man is satisfiedfrom himself' (Proverbs 14:14) and also with what Paul avers of himselfin another place, that 'though he had nothing yet he possessed all things'.Because he had a right to the covenant and promise, which virtuallycontains everything, and an interest in Christ, the fountain and goodof all, it is no marvel that he said that in whatsoever state he wasin, he was content.
Thus you have the true interpretationof the text. I shall not make any division of the words, because I takethem only to promote the one most necessary duty, viz. quieting andcomforting the hearts of God's people under the troubles and changesthey meet with in these heart-shaking times.
The doctrinal conclusion briefly isthis: That to be well skilled in the mystery of Christian contentmentis the duty, glory and excellence of a Christian.
This evangelical truth is held forthsufficiently in the Scripture, yet we may take one or two more parallelplaces to confirm it. In
1 Timothy 6:6 and 8 you find expressedboth the duty and the glory of it: 'Having food and raiment', he saysin verse 8, 'let us be therewith content'-there is the duty.
'But godliness with contentment is greatgain' (v. 6)-there is the glory and excellence of it; as if to suggestthat godliness were not gain except contentment be with it. The sameexhortation 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 writerof Scripture who deals so much with this spiritual mystery of contentmentas 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 TOBRING THE HEART TO CONTENTMENT.
4 . WHEREIN THE GLORIOUS EXCELLENCEOF THIS GRACE CHIEFLY CONSISTS.
I offer the following description: Christiancontentment is that sweet, inward, quiet, gracious frame of spirit,which freely submits to and delights in God's wise and fatherly disposalin every condition.
I shall break open this description,for it is a box of precious ointment, and very comforting and usefulfor 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 tohelp ourselves by outward violence, or that we forbear from discontentedand murmuring expressions with perverse words and bearing against Godand others. But it is the inward submission of the heart. 'Truly, mysoul waiteth upon God' (Psalm 62:1) and 'My soul, wait thou only uponGod' (verse 5)-so it is in your Bibles, but the words may be translatedas correctly: 'My soul, be thou silent unto God. Holy thy peace, O mysoul.' Not only must the tongue hold its peace; the soul must be silent.Many may sit silently, refraining from discontented expressions, yetinwardly they are bursting with discontented expressions, yet inwardlythey are bursting with discontent.
This shows a complicated disorder andgreat perversity in their hearts. And notwithstanding their outwardsilence, God hears the peevish, fretful language of their souls. A shoemay be smooth and neat outside, while inside it pinches the flesh. Outwardlythere may be great calmness and stillness, yet within amazing confusion,bitterness, disturbance and vexation.
Some people are so weak that they cannotrestrain the unrest of their spirits, but in words and behavior theyreveal what woeful disturbances there are within. Their spirits arelike the raging sea, casting forth nothing but mire and dirt, and aretroublesome not only to themselves but also to all with whom they live.Others, however, are able to restrain such disorders of heart, as Judasdid when he betrayed Christ with a kiss, but even so they boil inwardlyand eat away like a canker. So David speaks of some whose words aresweeter than honey and butter, and yet have war in their hearts.
In another place, he says, 'While Ikept silence my bones waxed old'. In the same way these people, whilethere is a serene calm upon their tongues, have blustering storms upontheir spirits, and while they keep silence their hearts are troubledand even worn away with anguish and vexation. They have peace and quietoutwardly, but within war from the unruly and turbulent workings oftheir heart.
If the attainment of true contentmentwere 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, thereis certainly more to it than can be attained by common gifts and theordinary power of reason, which often bridle nature. It is a businessof the heart.
2. IT IS THE QUIET OF THE HEART.
All is sedate and still there. Thatyou may understand this better, I would add that this quiet, graciousframe of spirit is not opposed to certain things: 1 . To a due senseof affliction. God gives his people leave to be sensible of what theysuffer. 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: ifyou take medicine and cannot hold it, but immediately vomit it up, orif you feel nothing and it does not move you-in either case the medicinedoes no good, but suggests that you are greatly disordered and willhardly 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 theyare insensitive to them and no more affected by them than the body isby a draught of small beer, it is a sad symptom that their souls arein a dangerous and almost incurable condition. So this inward quietnessis not in opposition to a sense of afflictions, for, indeed, there wouldbe no true contentment if you were not apprehensive and sensible ofyour afflictions, when God is angry.
2. It is not opposed to making an orderlymanner our moan and complaint to God, and to our friends. Though a Christianought to be quiet under God's correcting hand, he may without any breachof Christian contentment complain to God. As one of the ancients says,Though not with a tumultuous clamor and shrieking out in a confusedpassion, yet in a quiet, still, submissive way he may unbosom his heartto God. Likewise he may communicate his sad condition to his Christianfriends, showing them how God has dealt with him, and how heavy theaffliction is upon him, that they may speak a word in season to hisweary soul.
3. It is not opposed to all lawful seekingfor help in different circumstances, nor to endeavoring simply to bedelivered out of present afflictions by the use of lawful means. No,I may lay in provision for my deliverance and use God's means, waitingon him because I do not know but that it may be his will to alter mycondition. And so far as he leads me I may follow his providence; itis 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 importunateprayer we seek him for deliverance until we know his good pleasure inthe matter. Certainly seeking thus for help, with such submission andholy resignation of spirit, to be delivered when God wills, and as Godwills, and how God wills, so that our wills are melted into the willof God-this is not opposed to the quietness which God requires in acontented spirit.
But what, then, it will be asked, isthis quietness of spirit opposed to? 1. It is opposed to murmuring andrepining at the hand of God, as the discontented Israelites often did.If we cannot bear this either in our children or servants, much lesscan God bear it in us.
2. To vexing and fretting, which isa degree beyond murmuring. I remember the saying of a heathen, 'A wiseman may grieve for, but not be vexed with his afflictions'. There isa vast different between a kindly grieving and a disordered vexation.
3. To tumultuousness of spirit, whenthe thoughts run distractingly and work in a confused manner, so thatthe affections are like the unruly multitude in the Acts, who did knowfor what purpose they had come together. The Lord expects you to besilent under his rod, and, as was said in
Acts 19:36, 'Ye ought to be quiet andto do nothing rashly.' 4. It is opposed to an unsettled and unstablespirit, whereby the heart is distracted from the present duty that Godrequires in our several relationships, towards God, ourselves and others.We should prize duty more highly than to be distracted by every trivialoccasion. Indeed, a Christian values every service of God so much thatthough some may be in the eyes of the world and of natural reason aslight and empty business, beggarly elements, or foolishness, yet sinceGod calls for it, the authority of the command so overawes his heartthat 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 andfrom faith, are more precious than heaven and earth. And if this isso, and a Christian knows it, he should not be diverted by small matters,but should answer every distraction, and resist every temptation, asNehemiah did Sanballat, Geshem and Tobiah, when they would have hinderedthe building of the wall, with this: 'I am doing a great work so thatI cannot come down: why should the work cease, whilst I leave it, andcome down to you?' (Nehemiah 6:3).
5. It is opposed to distracting, heart-consumingcares. A gracious heart so esteems its union with Christ and the workthat God sets it about that it will not willingly suffer anything tocome in to choke it or deaden it. A Christian is desirous that the Wordof God should take such full possession as to divide between soul andspirit (Hebrews 4:12), but he would not allow the fear and noise ofevil tidings to take such a hold in his soul as to make a division andstruggling there, like the twins in Rebekah's womb. A great man willpermit common people to stand outside his doors, but he will not letthem come in and make a noise in his closet or bedroom when he deliberatelyretires from all worldly business. So a well-tempered spirit may enquireafter things outside in the world, and suffer some ordinary cares andfears to break into the suburbs of the soul, so as to touch lightlyupon the thoughts. Yet it will not on any account allow an intrusioninto the private room, which should be wholly reserved for Jesus Christas his inward temple.
6. It is opposed to sinking discouragements.When things do not fall out according to expectation, when the tideof second causes runs so low that we see little in outward means tosupport our hopes and hearts, then the heart begins to reason as didhe in
2 Kings 7:2: 'If the Lord should openthe windows of heaven how should this be?' We never consider that Godcan 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 flowersof man's endeavors to wither and brings improbable things to pass, inorder 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 dailybread. God's blessing many times is a secret from his servants so thatthey 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 thoughwe do not see how the thing may be brought about; otherwise, we do notshow a quiet spirit. Though an affliction is on you, do not let yourheart sink under it. So far as your heart sinks and you are discouragedunder affliction, so much you need to learn this lesson of contentment.
7. It is opposed to sinful shiftingsand shirkings to get relief and help. We see this kind of thing in Saulrunning to the witch of Endor, and offering sacrifice before Samuelcame. Nay, good King Jehoshaphat joins himself with Ahaziah (2 Chronicles20:35). And Asa goes to Benhadad, King of Syria, for help, 'not relyingupon the Lord' (2 Chronicles 16:7, 8), though the Lord had deliveredthe Ethiopian army into his hands consisting of a thousand thousand(2 Chronicles 14:12). And good Jacob joined with his mother in lyingto Isaac; not content to await God's time and use God's means, he madetoo great a haste and went out of his way to procure the blessing whichGod intended for him. Thus do many, through the corruption of theirhearts and the weakness of their faith, because they are not able totrust God and follow him fully in all things and always. For this reason,the Lord often follows the saints with many sore temporal crosses, aswe see in the case of Jacob, though they obtain the mercy. It may bethat your carnal heart thinks, I do not care how I am delivered, ifonly I may be freed from it. It is not so many times in some of yourhearts, when any cross or affliction befalls you? Do you not experiencesuch workings of spirit as this? 'Oh, if I could only be delivered fromthis affliction in any way, I would not care'-your hearts are far frombeing quiet. This sinful shifting is the next thing which is in oppositionto the quietness which God requires in a contented spirit.
8. The last thing that quietness ofspirit is the opposite of it desperate risings of the heart againstGod by way of rebellion. That is the most abominable. I hope many ofyou have learned so far to be content as to restrain your hearts fromsuch disorders. Yet the truth is that not only wicked men, but sometimesthe very saints of God find the beginnings of this, when an afflictionremains for a long time and is very severe and an affliction remainsfor a long and is very severe and heavy indeed upon them, and strikesthem, as it were, in the master vein. They find in their hearts somethingof a rising against God, their thoughts begin to bubble, and their affectionsbegin to move in rebellion against God himself.
Especially is this the case with thosewho besides their corruptions have a large measure of melancholy. TheDevil works both upon the corruptions of their hearts and the melancholydisease of their bodies, and though much grace may lie underneath, yetunder affliction there may be some risings against God himself.
Now Christian quietness is opposed toall these things. When affliction comes, whatever it is, you do notmurmur; though you feel it, though you make your cry to God, thoughyou desire to be delivered, and seek it by all good means, yet you donot murmur or repine, you do not fret or vex yourself, there is nota tumultuousness of spirit in you, not an instability, there are notdistracting fears in your hearts, no sinking discouragements, no unworthyshifts, no risings in rebellion against God in any way: This is quietnessof spirit under an affliction, and that is the second thing, when thesoul is so far able to bear an affliction as to keep quiet under it.
3. NOW THE NEXT THING I WANT TO EXPLAININ THE DESCRIPTION IS THIS, IT IS AN INWARD, QUIET, GRACIOUS FRAME OFSPIRIT.
It is a frame of spirit and also a graciousframe. Contentment is a soul business. First, it is inward; Secondly,quiet; Thirdly, it is a quiet frame of spirit. I mean three things whenI say that contentment consists in the quiet frame of the spirit ofa man.
1. That it is a grace that spreads itselfthrough the whole soul. It is in the judgment, that is, the judgmentof the soul of a man or woman tends to quiet the heart-in my judgmentI am satisfied. It is one thing to be satisfied in one's judgment andunderstanding, so as to be able to say, 'This is the hand of God, andis what is suitable to my condition or best for me.
Although I do not see the reason forthe thing, yet I am satisfied in my judgment about it.' Then it is inthe thoughts of a man or woman. As my judgment is satisfied, so my thoughtare 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 somecontentment. Many a man may be satisfied in his judgment about a thingwho cannot for his life rule his affections, nor his thoughts, nor hiswill. 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 whena certain affliction befalls you, I can bless God that I am satisfiedin 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 thoughtsand will and my affections.
Methinks I feel my heart heavy and sadand more than it should be; yet my judgment is satisfied. This seemedto 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, discontentedsickness in their hearts at any time to read and sing. He says onceor twice in that Psalm: 'Why art thou cast down, O my soul?' and inverse 5, 'And why art thou disquieted within me? hope thou in God, forI shall yet praise him for the help of his countenance.' David had enoughto quiet him, and what he had, prevailed with his judgment. But afterit 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 frameof his soul.
Sometimes, a great deal of disturbanceis 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 seekto 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 foranyone to be disquieted. There has never been such an affliction asI have.' And they have a hundred things with which to evade the forceof what is said to them, so that you cannot so much as get at theirjudgments to satisfy them. But there is a great deal of hope of attainingcontentment, if once your judgments are satisfied, if you can sit downand say in your judgment, 'I see good reason to be contented.' Yet evenwhen you have got so far, you may still have much to do with your heartsafterwards. There is such unruliness in our thoughts and affectionsthat our judgments are not always able to rule our thoughts and affections.That is what makes me say that contentment is an inward, quiet, graciousframe of spirit-the whole soul, judgment, thoughts, will, affectionsand all are satisfied and quiet. I suppose that merely in opening thissubject 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 fromthe frame of the soul. The contentment of a man or woman who is rightlycontent does not come so much from outward arguments or from any outwardhelp, as from the disposition of their own hearts. The disposition oftheir own hearts causes and brings forth this gracious contentment ratherthan 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 bringsome great thing to please them, perhaps it will quiet them and theywill be contented. It is the thing you bring that quiets them, not thedisposition of their own spirits, not any good temper in their own hearts,but the external thing you bring them. But when a Christian is contentin the right way, the quiet comes more from the temper and dispositionof his own heart than from any external argument or from the possessionof anything in the world.
I would unfold this further to you withthis simile: To be content as a result of some external thing is likewarming a man's clothes by the fire. But to be content through an inwarddisposition of the soul is like the warmth that a man's clothes havefrom the natural heat of the body. A man who is healthy in body putson 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, howdid they get warm? They were not near the fire? No, this came from thenatural heat of his body. Now when a sickly man, the natural heat ofwhose body has deteriorated, puts on his clothes, they do not get hotafter a long time. He must warm them by the fire, and even then theywill soon be cold again.
This will illustrate the different contentmentsof 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 arequiet under it and do not complain of any discontent. But now thereare others that have an affliction upon them and have not this goodtemper in their hearts. Their afflictions are very cold and troublesometo them. Maybe, if you bring some external arguments to bear upon themlike 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 contentmentthat results merely from external arguments, will not last long. Butthat 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 mysteryof contentment.
3 . It is the frame of spirit that showsthe habitual character of this grace of contentment. Contentment isnot merely one act, just a flash in a good mood. You find many men andwomen who, if they are in a good mood, will be very quiet. But thiswill not hold. It is not a constant course. It is not the constant tenorof their spirits to be holy and gracious under affliction.
Now I say that contentment is a quietframe of spirit and by that I mean that you should find men and womenin a good mood not only at this or that time, but as the constant tenorand temper of their hearts. A Christian who, in the constant tenor andtemper of his heart, can carry himself quietly with constancy has learnedthis lesson of contentment. Otherwise his Christianity is worth nothing,for no one, however furious in his discontent, will not be quiet whenhe 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 theframe of the heart.
4. CONTENTMENT IS THE GRACIOUS FRAMEOF THE HEART.
Indeed, in contentment there is a compoundof all graces, if the contentment is spiritual, if it is truly Christian.There is, I say, a compound of a great many precious ingredients, soit is in this grace of contentment, which we shall say more of in unfoldingits excellence. But now the gracious frame of spirit is in oppositionto three things: 1. In opposition to the natural quietness of many menand women. Some are so constituted by nature that they are more stilland quiet; others are of a violent and hot constitution and they aremore impatient.
2. In opposition to a sturdy resolution.Some men through the strength of a sturdy resolution do not seem tobe troubled, come what may. So they are not disquieted as much as others.
3. By way of distinction from the strengthof natural (though unsanctified) reason, which may quiet the heart insome degree. But now I say that a gracious frame of spirit is not merelya stillness of the body which comes from its natural constitution andtemper, nor a sturdy resolution, nor merely through the strength ofreason.
You will ask, In what way is the graceof contentment distinguished from all these? More will be spoken ofthis when we come to show the mystery of contentment and the lessonsto be learned. But now we may speak a little by way of distinction fromthe natural quietness of spirit and such a bodily constitution thatyou seldom find them disquieted. Now, mark these people and you willsee 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 springsfrom 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 contenteddisposition, the more fit it is for any service of God. And just asa contented heart is very active and busy in the work of God, so heis very active and busy in sanctifying God's name in the afflictionthat befalls him.
The difference is very clear: The onewhose disposition is quiet is not disquieted as others are, but neitherdoes he show any activeness of spirit to sanctify the name of God inhis affliction. But, on the other hand, he whose contentment is of graceis not disquieted and keeps his heart quiet with regard to vexationand trouble, and at the same time is not dull or heavy but very activeto sanctify God's name in the affliction that he is experiencing.
For if a man is to be free from discontentand worry it is not enough merely not to murmur but you must be activein sanctifying God's name in the affliction. Indeed, this will distinguishit from a sturdy resolution not to be troubled. Though you have a sturdyresolution that you will not be troubled, do you make it a matter ofconscience to sanctify God's name in your affliction and is this whereyour resolution comes from? That is the main thing that brings quietnessof heart and helps against discontent in a gracious heart. I say, thedesire and care your soul has to sanctify God's name in an afflictionis what quietens the soul, and this is what others lack.
A quietness which comes form reasononly does not do this either. It is said of Socrates that, though hewere only a heathen, he would never so much as change his countenancewhatever befell him, and he got this power over his spirit merely bythe strength of reason and morality. But gracious contentment comesfrom principles beyond the strength of reason. I cannot develop thatuntil we come to unfold the mystery of spiritual contentment.
I will give you just one mark of thedifference between a man or woman who is content in a natural way andone who is contention a spiritual way: Those who are content in a naturalway overcome themselves when outward afflictions befall them and arecontent. They are just as content when they commit sin against God.When they have outward crosses or when God is dishonored, it is allone to them; whether they themselves are crossed or whether God is crossed.But a gracious heart that is contented with its own affliction, willrise up strongly when God is dishonored.
5. THE FIFTH CHARACTERISTIC IS CONTENTMENTIS FREELY SUBMITTING TO AND TAKING PLEASURE IN GOD'S DISPOSAL.
It is a free work of the spirit. Thereare four things to be explained in this freedom of spirit: 1. That theheart is readily brought over. When someone does a thing freely, hedoes 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 contentmentwith great ado. At last, perhaps, they may be brought to quiet theirhearts in their affliction, but only with a great deal of trouble, andnot at all freely. If I desire a thing of someone else and I get itwith much ado and a great deal of trouble, there is no freedom of spirithere. When a man is free in a thing, only mention it and immediatelyhe does it. So if you have learned this art of contentment you willnot only be content and quiet your hearts after a great ado, but assoon as you come to see that it is the hand of God your heart acts readilyand 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 becontent: 'This is the hand of God and you cannot help it.' Oh, but thisis too low an expression for Christians.
Yet when Christians come to visit oneanother, they say, 'Friend (or neighbor), you must be content.' Mustbe content is too low for a Christian.
No, it should be, 'Readily and freelyI will be content.' It is suitable to my heart to yield to God and tobe content. I find it a thing that comes naturally that my soul shouldbe content. Oh, you should answer your friends so who come and tellyou that you must be content: No, I am willing to yield to God, andI 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 doesnot come through ignorance, because I know of no better condition orbecause I do not know why my affliction is, but it comes through a sanctifiedjudgment. That is why no creature but a rational creature can do anact of freedom. Liberty of action is only in rational creatures andcomes from hence, for that is only freedom that is done in a rationalway. 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 understandingwhat he is doing, he cannot be said to do it freely. Suppose a childwas born in prison and never went outside of it. He is content, butwhy? Because he never knew anything better. His being content is nota free act. But for men and women who know better, who know that thecondition they are in is an afflicted and sad condition, and still bya sanctified judgment can bring their hearts to contentment-this isfreedom.
3. This freedom is in opposition tomere stupidity. A man or woman may be contented merely from lack ofsense. This is not free, any more than a man who is paralysed in a deadlyway and does not feel it when you nip him is patient freely. But ifsomeone should have their flesh pinched and feel it, and yet for allthat can control themselves and do it freely, that is another matter.So it is here: many are contented out of mere stupidity. They have adead paralysis upon them. But a gracious heart has sense enough, andyet is contented, and therefore is free.
6. CONTENTMENT IS FREELY SUBMITTINGTO AND TAKING PLEASURE IN GOD'S DISPOSAL.
Submitting to God's disposal-What isthat? The word submit signifies nothing else but 'to send under'. Thusin one who is discontented the heart will be unruly, and would evenget above God so far as discontent prevails.
But now comes the grace of contentmentand sends it under, for to submit is to send under a thing. Now whenthe soul comes to see its own unruliness-Is the hand of God bringingan affliction and yet my heart is troubled and discontented-What, itsays, will you be above God? Is this not God's hand and must your willbe 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 majestyof God, the sovereignty of God, the power that God has over you! Tokeep under, that is to submit. The soul can submit to God at the timewhen it can send itself under the power and authority and sovereigntyand dominion that God has over it. That is the sixth point, but eventhat is not enough. You have not attained this grace of contentmentunless the next point is true of you.
7. CONTENTMENT IS TAKING PLEASURE INGOD'S DISPOSAL.
This is so when I am well pleased inwhat 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 hisdue time would remove it, and may use means to remove it. Yet I am wellpleased in so far as God's hand is in it. To be well pleased with God'shand is a higher degree than the previous one. It comes from this: notonly do I see that I should be content in this affliction, but I seethat there is good in it. I find there is honey in this rock, and soI do not only say, I must, or I will submit to God's hand. No, the handof God is good, 'it is good that I am afflicted.' To acknowledge thatit 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 righteousand just and it is right that I should submit to what he has done; Othe Lord has done righteously in all ways! But that is not enough! Youmust say, 'Good is the hand of the Lord.' It was the expression of oldEli: '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 youmay say, like David, 'It is good that I was afflicted', but you mustcome to this, 'It is good that I am afflicted.' Not just good when yousee the good fruit it has wrought, but to say when you are afflicted,'It is good that I am afflicted. Whatever the affliction, yet throughthe mercy of God mine is a good condition.' It is, indeed, the top andthe height of this art of contentment to come to this pitch and to beable to say, 'Well, my condition and afflictions are so and so, andvery 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 havegiven you several Scriptures about this, but I will give you one ortwo, which are very striking. You will think it is a hard lesson tocome so far as not only to be quiet but to take pleasure in affliction.
'In the house of the righteous is muchtreasure, 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 thatit is in a good condition, whatever it is. In the house of the righteousis much treasure; his house-what house? It may be a poor cottage, andperhaps he has scarcely a stool to sit on. Perhaps he is forced to siton a stump of wood or part of a block instead of a stool, or perhapshe has scarcely a bed to lie on, or a dish to eat in. Yet the Holy Ghostsays, 'In the house of the righteous is much treasure.' Let the righteousman be the poorest man in the world-it may be that someone has comeand taken all the goods from out of his house for debt. Perhaps hishouse is plundered and all is gone; yet still, 'In the house of therighteous is much treasure.' The righteous man can never be made sopoor, to have his house so rifled and spoiled, but there will remainmuch treasure within. If he has but a dish or a spoon or anything inthe world in his house, there will be much treasure so long as he isthere. 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 thereis trouble. There is more treasure in the poorest body's house, if heis godly, than in the house of the greatest man in the world, who hashis fine hangings and finely-wrought beds and chairs and couches andcupboards of plate and the like. Whatever he has, he has not so muchtreasure in it as there is in the house of the poorest righteous soul.
It is no marvel, therefore, that Paulwas content, for a verse or two after my text you read: 'But I haveall and abound. I am full' (Philippians 4:18). I have all? Alas, poorman! what did Paul have that could make him say he had all? Where wasthere ever a man more afflicted than Paul was? Many times he had nottatters to hang about his body to cover his nakedness. He had no breadto eat, he was often in nakedness, and put in the stocks and whippedand cruelly used, 'Yet I have all', says Paul, for all that. Yes, youwill find it in 2 Corinthians: He professes there that he did possessall things: 'As sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; as poor, yet makingmany rich; as having nothing, and yet possessing all things' (2 Corinthians6:10).
Mark what he says-it is, 'as havingnothing' but it is 'possessing all things'. He does not say: 'As possessingall things', but 'possessing all things'. I have very little in theworld, he says, but yet possessing all things. So you see that a Christianhas 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 learnedthis lesson of contentment looks up to God in all things. He does notlook down at the instruments and means, so as to say that such a mandid 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 submissionhe 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 furtherthan I do; I only see things at present but the Lord sees a great whilefrom 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 standwith an afflicted condition as with a prosperous condition. There arereasonings of this kind in a contented spirit, submitting to the disposalof God.
9. THE LAST THING IS, THIS IS IN EVERYCONDITION.
Now we shall enlarge on this a little.
1. SUBMITTING TO GOD IN WHATEVER AFFLICTIONBEFALLS US: AS TO THE KIND OF AFFLICTION.
2. AS TO THE TIME AND CONTINUANCE OFTHE AFFLICTION.
3. AS TO THE VARIETY AND CHANGES OFAFFLICTION: WHATEVER THEY ARE, YET THERE MUST BE A SUBMISSION TO GOD'SDISPOSAL IN EVERY CONDITION.
1. As to the kind of affliction. Manymen 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 congregationto the other, and speak thus to every soul: 'Would you not submit toGod's disposal, in whatever condition he might place you?', you wouldsay, 'God forbid that it should be otherwise!' But we have a saying,There is a great deal of deceit in general statements. In general, youwould submit to anything; but what if it is in this or that particularcase which crosses you most?-Then, anything but that! We are usuallyapt to think that any condition is better than that condition in whichGod has placed us. Now, this is not contentment; it should be not onlyto any condition in general, but for the kind of affliction, includingthat 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!' Perhapshe strikes you in your marriage. 'Oh,' you say, 'I would rather havebeen 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 wemust not be our own carvers. Whatever particular afflictions God mayplace us in, we must be content in them.
2. There must be a submission to Godin every affliction, as to the time and continuance of the affliction.'Perhaps I could submit and be content', says someone, 'but this afflictionhas been on me a long time, three months, a year, many years, and Ido not know how to yield and submit to it, my patience is worn out andbroken.' 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'sface-'Yet if this had been but for a little time I could submit; butto seek God for so long and still he does not appear, Oh how shall Ibear this?' We must not be our own disposers for the time of deliveranceany more than for the kind and way of deliverance.
I will give you a Scripture or two aboutthis. That we are to submit to God for the time as well as the kindof affliction, see the latter end of the first chapter of Ezekiel: 'WhenI 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 uponhis face? 'And he said unto me, Son of man, stand upon thy feet andI will speak unto thee. And the spirit entered into me, when he spakeunto 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, andnot only so, but till God's Spirit came into him and enabled him tostand up. So when God casts us down, we must be content to lie tillGod bids us stand up, and God's Spirit enters into us to enable us tostand up. You know how Noah was put into the Ark-certainly he knew therewas much affliction in the Ark, with all kinds of creatures shut upwith him for twelve months together-it was a mighty thing, yet God havingshut him up, even though the waters were assuaged, Noah was not to comeout 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 ofthat affliction, yet till God opens the door, we should be willing tostay; God has put us in, and God will bring us out. So we read in theActs of Paul, when they had shut him in prison and would have sent forhim out; 'No', says Paul, 'they shut us in, let them come and fetchus out.' So in a holy, gracious way should a soul say, 'Well, this afflictionthat I am brought into, is by the hand of God, and I am content to behere 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 fetchesus out.
In Joshua 4:10 there is a remarkablestory that may serve our purpose very well: We read of the priests thatthey bore the ark and stood in the midst of Jordan (you know when theChildren of Israel went into the land of Canaan they went through theriver Jordan). Now to go through the river Jordan was a very dangerousthing, but God had told them to go. They might have been afraid of thewater coming in upon them. But mark, it is said, 'The priests that barethe ark stood in the midst of Jordan till every thing was finished thatthe Lord commanded Joshua to speak unto the people, according to allthat Moses commanded Joshua, and the people hasted and passed over:And it came to pass when all the people were clean passed over, thatthe ark of the Lord passed over, and the priests in the presence ofthe people.' Now it was God's disposal that all the people should passover first, that they should be safe on land; but the priests must standstill till all the people had passed over, and then they must have leaveto go. But they must stay till God would have them to go, stay in allthat danger! For certainly, to reason and sense, there was a great dealof danger in staying, for the text says that the people hasted over,but the priests they must stay till the people have gone, stay tillGod calls them out from that place of danger. And so many times it provesthe case that God is pleased to dispose of things so that his ministersmust stay longer in danger than the people, and likewise magistratesand those in public places, which should make people to be satisfiedand contented with a lower position into which God has put them. Thoughyour position is low, yet you are not in the same danger as those whoare in a higher position. God calls those in public positions to standlonger in the gap and place of danger than other people, but we mustbe content to stay even in Jordan till the Lord shall be pleased tocall us out.
3. And then for the variety of our condition.We must be content with the particular affliction, and the time, andall the circumstances about the affliction-for sometimes the circumstancesare greater afflictions than the afflictions themselves-and for thevariety. God may exercise us with various afflictions one after another,as has been very noticeable, even of late, that many who have been plunderedand come away, afterwards have fallen sick and died; they had fled fortheir lives and afterwards the plague has come among them; and if notthat affliction, it may be some other. It is very rarely that one afflictioncomes alone; commonly, afflictions are not single things, but they comeone 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, andso it comes in a variety of ways; it is the way of God ordinarily (youmay find it by experience) that one affliction seldom comes alone. Nowthis is hard, when one affliction follows after another, when thereis a variety of afflictions, when there is a mighty change in one'scondition, up and down, this way, and that: there indeed is the trialof 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 mansaw him to be changed, though he lived in a time when the commonwealthwas 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 ofconditions. Oh that the same could be said of many Christians, thatthough their circumstances are changed, yet that nobody could see themchanged, they are the same! Did you see what a gracious, sweet and holytemper they were in before? They are in it still. Thus are we to submitto the disposal of God in every condition.
Contentment is the inward, quiet, graciousframe of spirit, freely submitting to and taking pleasure in God's disposalin every condition: That is the description, and in it nine distinctthings have been opened up which we summarize as follows: First, thatcontentment is a heart-work within the soul; Secondly, it is the quietingof the heart; Thirdly, it is the frame of the spirit; Fourthly, it isa gracious frame; Fifthly, it is the free working of this gracious frame;Sixthly, there is in it a submission to God, sending the soul underGod; Seventhly, there is a taking pleasure in the hand of God; Eighthly,all is traced to God's disposal; Ninthly, in every condition, howeverhard it be and however long it continue.
Now those of you who have learned tobe content, have learned to attain to these various things. I hope thatthe very opening of these things may so far work on your hearts thatyou 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 yourhands on your hearts and say, 'Lord, I see there is more to Christiancontentment than I thought there was, and I have been far from learningthis 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 inopening this point is to show what a great mystery there is in Christiancontentment, 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: Whatyou speak of is very good, if we could attain to it; but is it possiblefor anyone to attain to this? It is possible if you get skill in theart of it; you may attain to it, and it will prove to be not such adifficult thing either, if you but understand the mystery of it. Thereare many things that men do in their callings, that if a countrymancomes and sees, he thinks it a mighty hard thing, and that he shouldnever be able to do it. But that is because he does not understand theart of it; there is a twist of the hand by which you may do it withease. Now that is the business of this book, to open to you the artand mystery of contentment.
There is a great mystery and art inwhat way a Christian comes to contentment. By what has been alreadyopened to you there will appear some mystery and art, as that a manshould be content with his affliction, and yet thoroughly sensible ofhis affliction too; to be thoroughly sensible of an affliction, andto 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 sensibleof an affliction as much as a man or woman who is not content; I amsensible of it as fully as they, and I seek ways to be delivered fromit as well as they, and yet still my heart abides content-this is, Isay, 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 ofsorrow and a mixture of joy together; and that makes contentment, themingling of joy and sorrow, of gracious joy and gracious sorrow together.Grace teaches us how to moderate and to order an affliction so thatthere shall be a sense of it, and yet for all that contentment underit.
There are several things for openingthe mystery of contentment.
1. THE FIRST THING IS, TO SHOW THATTHERE IS A GREAT MYSTERY IN IT.
It may be said of one who is contentedin a Christian way that he is the most contented man in the world, andyet the most unsatisfied man in the world; these two together must needsbe 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 contentmentunless it may be said of you that, just as you are the most contentedman, so you are also the most unsatisfied man in the world.
You will say, 'How is that?' A man whohas learned the art of contentment is the most contented with any lowcondition that he has in the world, and yet he cannot be satisfied withthe 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 thingsof 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 giveunto him Kingdoms and Empires, all the world to rule, if he should giveit him for his portion, he would not be satisfied with that. Here isthe mystery of it: though his heart is so enlarged that the enjoymentof all the world and ten thousand worlds cannot satisfy him for hisportion; yet he has a heart quieted under God's disposal, if he giveshim but bread and water. To join these two together must needs be agreat art and mystery.
Though he is contented with God in alittle, yet those things that would content other men will not contenthim. The men of the world seek after wealth, and think if they had thusmuch, and thus much, they would be content. They do not aim at greatthings; but if I had, perhaps some man thinks, only two or three hundreda 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. Buta gracious heart says that if he had ten hundred thousand times so mucha year, it would not satisfy him; if he had the quintessence of allthe excellences of all the creatures in the world, it could not satisfyhim; and yet this man can sing, and be merry and joyful when he hasonly a crust of bread and a little water in the world. Surely religionis a great mystery! Great is the mystery of godliness, not only in thedoctrinal part of it, but in the practical part of it also.
Godliness teaches us this mystery, Notto be satisfied with all the world for our portion, and yet to be contentwith the meanest condition in which we are. When Luther was sent greatgifts by Dukes and Princes, he refused them, and he says, 'I did vehementlyprotest that God should not put me off so; 'tis not that which willcontent me.' A little in the world will content a Christian for hispassage. Mark, here lies the mystery of it, A little in the world willcontent a Christian for his passage, but all the world, and ten thousandtimes more, will not content a Christian for his portion. A carnal heartwill be content with these things of the world for his portion; andthat 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 passagethrough this world; I will be content with that, but I cannot be contentwith all the world for my portion.' So there is the mystery of truecontentment. A contented man, though he is most contented with the leastthings in the world, yet he is the most dissatisfied man that livesin the world.
A soul that is capable of God can befilled with nothing else but God; nothing but God can fill a soul thatis capable of God. Though a gracious heart knows that it is capableof God, and was made for God, carnal hearts think without referenceto God. But a gracious heart, being enlarged to be capable of God, andenjoying somewhat of him, can be filled by nothing in the world; itmust only be God himself. Therefore you will observe, that whateverGod may give to a gracious heart, a heart that is godly, unless he giveshimself 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 enoughin the world, so be it he has the God of the mercy which he enjoys.In
Philippians 4:7, 9 (I need go no furtherto show clear Scripture for this) compare verse 7 with verse 9: 'Andthe peace of God which passeth all understanding shall keep your heartsand 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 withyou.
Here is what I would observe from thistext. That the peace of God is not enough to a gracious heart exceptit may have the God of that peace. A carnal heart could be satisfiedif 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 howa 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 peaceof God so the God of peace. That is, I must enjoy that God who givesme the peace; I must have the Cause as well as the effect. I must seefrom whence my peace comes, and enjoy the Fountain of my peace, as wellas the stream of my peace. And so in other mercies: have I health fromGod? I must have the God of my health to be my portion, or else I amnot 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 withoutthis: to have the God of the mercy, as well as the mercy. In
Psalm 73:25, 'Whom have I in heavenbut 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 oversun, moon and stars, and have the rule over the highest of the sonsof 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 dissatisfiedman 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, andit is a way that the world has no skill in. I open it thus: not so muchby adding to what he would have, or to what he has, not by adding moreto his condition; but rather by subtracting from his desires, so asto make his desires and his circumstances even and equal.
A carnal heart knows no way to be contentedbut this: I have such and such possessions, and if I had this addedto them, and the other comfort added that I have not now, then I shouldbe contented. perhaps I have lost my possessions, if I could only havegiven to me something to make up my loss, then I should be a contentedman. But contentment does not come in that way, it does not come, Isay, 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 wealthis the same, for it is as fitting for me to bring my desire down tomy 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 wayto get contentment, but to have his possessions raised up to his desires;but the Christian has another way to contentment, that is, he can bringhis desires down to his possessions, and so he attains his contentment.Thus the Lord fashions the hearts of the children of men. If the heartof a man is fashioned to his circumstances, he may have as much contentmentas if his circumstances were fashioned to his heart. Some men have amighty large heart, but they have straitened circumstances, and theycan never have contentment when they hearts are big and their circumstancesare little. But though a man cannot bring his circumstances to be asgreat as his heart, yet if he can bring his heart to be as little ashis circumstances, to make them even, this is the way to contentment.The world is infinitely deceived in thinking that contentment lies inhaving more than we already have. Here lies the bottom and root of allcontentment, when there is an evenness and proportion between our heartsand our circumstances. That is why many godly men who are in low positionlive more sweet and comfortable lives than those who are richer.
Contentment is not always clothed withsilk 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 havehad great estates, and God has brought them into a lower position havehad more contentment in those circumstances than they had before. Nowhow can that possibly be? Quite easily, if you only understood thatthe root of contentment consists in the suitableness and proportionof a man's spirit to his possessions, an evenness where one end is notlonger and bigger than the other. The heart is contented and there iscomfort in those circumstances. But now let God give a man riches, nomatter 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 anyoneinto mean circumstances, and then let God but fashion and suit his heartto those circumstances and he will be content.
It is the same in walking: Suppose aman had a very long leg, and his other leg was short-why, though oneof his legs was longer than usual, still he could not go as well asa man both of whose legs are shorter than his. I would compare a longleg, when one is longer than the other, to a man who has a high positionand is very rich and a great man in the world, but he has a very proudheart, too, and that is longer and larger than his position. This mancannot but be troubled in his circumstances. Another man is in a meanposition, his circumstances are low and his heart is low too, so thathis heart and his circumstances are even. This man walks with abundantlymore ease than the other. Thus a gracious heart thinks in this way:'The Lord has been pleased to bring down my circumstances; now if theLord brings down my heart and makes it equal to my circumstances, thenI am well enough.' So when God brings down his circumstances, he doesnot so much labor to raise up his circumstances again as to bring hisheart down to his circumstances. Even the heathen philosophers had alittle glimpse of this: they could say that the best riches is povertyof desires-those are the words of a heathen. That is, if a man or womanhave their desires cut short, and have no large desires, that man orwoman is rich. So this is the art of contentment: not to seek to addto our circumstances, but to subtract form our desires. Another authorhas said, The way to be rich is not by increasing wealth, but by diminishingour desires. Certainly that man or woman is rich, who have their desiressatisfied. Now a contented man has his desires satisfied, God satisfiesthem, that is, all considered, he is satisfied that his circumstancesare for the present the best circumstances.
So he comes to this contentment by wayof 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 ADDINGANOTHER BURDEN TO HIMSELF.
This is a way that flesh and blood haslittle skill in. You will say, 'How is this?' In this manner: are youafflicted, and is there a great load and burden on you because of youraffliction? 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 fewknow what a burden I have. What, do you think that there is no way forthe contentment of your spirit, but to get rid of your burden? O youare deceived. The way of contentment is to add another burden, thatis, to labor to load and burden your heart with your sin; the heavierthe burden of your sin is to your heart, the lighter will the burdenof 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 thereis no way to lighten it but to get it off. But you are deceived; forif you can get your heart to be more burdened with your sin, you willbe less burdened with your afflictions.
You will say, this is a strange wayfor a man or woman to get ease to their condition, to lay a greaterburden upon them when they are already burdened? You think there isno other way, when you are afflicted, but to be jolly and merry, andget 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, theburden will be upon him again. If you would have your burden light,get alone and examine your heart for your sin, and charge your soulwith your sin. If your burden is in your possessions, for the abuseof them, or if it is a burden upon your body, for the abuse of yourhealth and strength, and the abuse of any mercies that now the Lordhas taken away from you, that you have not honored God with those merciesthat you have had, but you have walked wantonly and carelessly; if youso fall to bemoaning your sin before the Lord, you shall quickly findthe burden of your affliction to be lighter than it was before. Do buttry this piece of skill and art, to get your souls contented with anylow circumstances that God puts you into.
Many times in a family, when any afflictionbefalls them, Oh, what an amount of discontent is there between manand wife! If they are crossed in their possessions at land, or havebad news from across the seas, or if those whom they trusted are ruinedand the like, or perhaps something in the family causes strife betweenman and wife, in reference to the children or servants, and there isnothing but quarrelling and discontent among them, now they are manytimes burdened with their own discontent; and perhaps will say one toanother, It is very uncomfortable for us to live so discontented aswe do. But have you ever tried this way, husband and wife? Have youever got alone and said, 'Come, Oh let us go and humble our souls beforeGod together, let us go into our chamber and humble our souls beforeGod for our sin, by which we have abused those mercies that God hastaken away from us, and we have provoked God against us. Oh let us chargeourselves with our sin, and be humbled before the Lord together.'? Haveyou tried such a way as this? Oh you would find that the cloud wouldbe taken away, and the sun would shine in upon you, and you would havea great deal more contentment than ever you had. If a man's estate isbroken, either by plunderers, or any other way; how shall this man havecontentment? How? By the breaking of his heart. God has broken yourestate; 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 heartwill so suit one another, as that there will be more contentment thanthere was before.
Add therefore to the breaking of yourestate, the breaking of your heart, and that is the way to be contentedin a Christian manner, which is the third mystery in Christian contentment.
4. IT IS NOT SO MUCH THE REMOVING OFTHE AFFLICTION THAT IS UPON US AS THE CHANGING OF THE AFFLICTION, THEMETAMORPHOSING OF THE AFFLICTION, SO THAT IT IS QUITE TURNED AND CHANGEDINTO SOMETHING ELSE.
I mean in regard of the use of it, thoughfor the thing itself the affliction remains. The way of contentmentto a carnal heart is only the removing of the affliction. O that itmay be gone! 'No,' says a gracious heart, 'God has taught me a way tobe content though the affliction itself still continues.' There is apower of grace to turn this affliction into good; it takes away thesting and poison of it. Take the case of poverty, a man's possessionsare lost: Well, is there no way to be contented till your possessionsare made up again? Till your poverty is removed? Yes, certainly, Christianitywould teach contentment, though poverty continues. It will teach youhow to turn your poverty to spiritual riches. You shall be poor stillas to your outward possessions, but this shall be altered; whereas beforeit was a natural evil to you, it comes now to be turned to a spiritualbenefit to you. And so you come to be content.
There is a saying of Ambrose, 'Evenpoverty itself is riches to holy men.' Godly men make their povertyturn to riches; they get more riches out of their poverty than everthey get out of their revenues. Out of all their trading in this worldthey never had such incomes as they have had out of their poverty. Thisa carnal heart will thing strange, that a man shall make poverty themost gainful trade that ever he had in the world. I am persuaded thatmany Christians have found it so, that they have got more good by theirpoverty, than ever they got by all their riches. You find it in Scripture.
Therefore thing not this strange thatI am speaking of. You do not find one godly man who came out of an afflictionworse than when he went into it; though for a while he was shaken, yetat 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 youread of in Scripture but was worse for prosperity (except for Danieland 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 worsefor his prosperity than better. Sao rather you see it is no strangething to one who is gracious that they shall get good by their affliction.
Luther has a similar expression in hiscomment 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, outof sin righteousness, and out of death life.' He brings light out ofdarkness. It was God's prerogative and great power, his creating powerto command the light to shine out of darkness. Now a Christian is partakerof the divine nature, so the Scripture says; grace is part of the divinenature, and, being part of the divine nature, it has an impression ofGod's omnipotent power, that is, to create light out of darkness, tobring 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 intomercies, can turn darkness into light. If a man had the power that Christhad, when the water pots were filled, he could by a word turn the waterinto wine. If you who have nothing but water to drink had the powerto turn it into wine, then you might be contented; certainly a Christianhas receive this power from God, to work thus miraculously. It is thenature of grace to turn water into wine, that is, to turn the waterof 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, andmany carnal people are ready to make such expressions as these ridiculous,understanding them in a carnal way.
This is just like Nicodemus, in thethird of John, 'What! can a man be born when he is old? can he enterthe second time into his mother's womb and be born?' So when we sayof 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 havethat trade if they will, and let them have water to drink, and see ifthey can turn it into wine.' Oh, take heed you do not speak in a scornfulway of the ways of God; grace has the power to turn afflictions intomercies. Two men may have the same affliction; to one it shall be asgall and wormwood, yet it shall be wine and honey and delightfulnessand joy and advantage and riches to the other. This is the mystery ofcontentment, not so much by removing the evil, as by metamorphosingthe evil, by changing the evil into good.
5. A CHRISTIAN COMES TO THIS CONTENTMENTNOT BY MAKING UP THE WANTS OF HIS CIRCUMSTANCES, BUT BY THE PERFORMANCEOF THE WORK OF HIS CIRCUMSTANCES.
This is the way of contentment. Thereare these circumstances that I am in, with many wants: I want this andthe 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 impossiblethat I should be content. But a gracious heart says, 'What is the dutyof the circumstances God has put me into? Indeed, my circumstances havechanged, I was not long since in a prosperous state, but God has changedmy circumstances. The Lord has called me no more Naomi, but Marah. Nowwhat am I to do? What can I think now are those duties that God requiresof me in the circumstances that he has now put me into? Let me exertmy strength to perform the duties of my present circumstances. Othersspend their thoughts on things that disturb and disquiet them, and sothey grow more and more discontented.
Let me spend my thoughts in thinkingwhat my duty is, 'O', says a man whose condition is changed and whohas lost his wealth, 'Had I but my wealth, as I had heretofore, howwould I use it to his glory? God has made me see that I did not honorhim 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 circumstancesI am now brought into?' You should labor to bring your heart to quietand contentment by setting your soul to work in the duties of your presentcondition. And the truth is, I know nothing more effective for quietinga Christian soul and getting contentment than this, setting your heartto work in the duties of the immediate circumstances that you are nowin, and taking heed of your thoughts about other conditions as a meretemptation.
I cannot better compare the folly ofthose men and women who think they will get contentment by musing aboutother circumstances than to the way of children: perhaps they have climbeda hill and look a good way off and see another hill, and they thinkif they were on the top of that, they would be able to touch the cloudswith 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 manywho think, If I were in such circumstances, then I should have contentment;and perhaps they get into circumstances, and they are as far from contentmentas 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 considerwhat is the duty of my present circumstances, and content my heart withthis, and say, 'Well, though I am in a low position, yet I am servingthe counsels of God in those circumstances where I am; it is the counselof God that has brought me into these circumstances that I am in, andI desire to serve the counsel of God in these circumstances.
There is a remarkable Scripture concerningDavid, of whom it is said that he served his generation: 'After Davidhad 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 Biblesit is, 'After he had served his own generation according to the willof God', but the word that is translated will, means the counsel ofGod, and so it may be translated as well, 'That after David in his generationhad served God's counsel, then he fell asleep'. We ordinarily take thewords thus, That David served his generation: that is, he did the workof his generation-that is to serve a man's generation. But it is clearerif you read it thus, After David in his generation had served the counselof 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 circumstancesthat I am in, God has put me into by his own counsel, the counsel ofhis own will. Now I must serve God's counsel in my generation; whateveris the counsel of God in my circumstances, I must be careful to servethat. So I shall have my heart quieted for the present, and shall liveand die peaceably and comfortably, if I am careful to serve God's counsel.
6. A GRACIOUS HEART IS CONTENTED BYTHE MELTING OF HIS WILL AND DESIRES INTO GOD'S WILL AND DESIRES; BYTHIS 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 willand desires into God's will. So that, in one sense, he comes to havehis desires satisfied though he does not obtain the thing that he desiredbefore; still he comes to be satisfied with this, because he makes hiswill to be at one with God's will. This is a small degree higher thansubmitting to the will of God. You all say that you should submit toGod's will; a Christian has got beyond this. He can make God's willand his own the same. It is said of believers that they are joined tothe 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 mywill. When the soul can make over, as it were, its will to God, it mustneeds be contented. Others would fain get the thing they desire, buta 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 hearthas learned this art, not only to make the commanding will of God tobe its own will-that is, what God commands me to do, I will do it-butto make the providential will of God and the operative will of God tobe his will too. God commands this thing, which perhaps you who areChristians may have some skill in, but whatever God works you must will,as well as what God commands.
You must make God's providential willand his operative will, your will as well as God's will, and in thisway you must come to contentment. A Christian makes over his will toGod, 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 manto whom I owe the debt be satisfied and contented, I am satisfied becauseI 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 thesame, for all the world, between God and a Christian: a Christian heartmakes over his will to God: now then if God's will is satisfied, thenI am satisfied, for I have no will of my own, it is melted into thewill of God. This is the excellence of grace: grace does not only subjectthe will to God, but it melts the will into God's will, so that theyare now but one will. What a sweet satisfaction the soul must have inthis condition, when all is made over to God. You will say, This ishard! I will express it a little more: A gracious heart must needs havesatisfaction in this way, because godliness teaches him this, to seethat his good is more in God than in himself. The good of my life andcomforts and my happiness and my glory and my riches are more in Godthan in myself. We may perhaps speak more of that, when we come to thelessons that are to be learned. It is by this that a gracious heartgets contentment; he melts his will into God's, for he says, 'If Godhas glory, I have glory; God's glory is my glory, and therefore God'swill 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'swisdom 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 BRINGINGANYTHING FROM OUTSIDE TO MAKE MY CONDITION MORE COMFORTABLE, BUT INPURGING OUT SOMETHING THAT IS WITHIN.
Now the men of the world, when theywould have contentment, and lack anything, Oh, they must have somethingfrom outside to content them. But a godly man says: 'Let me get somethingout that is in already, and then I shall come to contentment.' Supposea 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, andstill the drink tastes bitter. Why? Because the bitterness comes froma bitter choleric humor within. But let the physician come and givehim a bitter portion to purge out the bitterness that is within, andthen he can taste his drink well enough. It is just the same with menof the world: Oh such a mercy added to this mercy, then it would besweet; but even if God should put a spoonful or two of sugar in, itwould still be bitter. The way to contentment is to purge out your lustsand 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 areabroad can make an earthquake, but the vapours that have got within.'So if those lusts that are within, in your heart, were got out, yourcondition would be a contented condition. These are the mysterious waysof godliness, that the men of the world never think of. When did youever think of such a way as this, to go and purge out the diseases ofyour heart that are within? Here are seven particulars now named, andthere are many more. Without the understanding of these things, andthe practice of them, you will never come to a true contentment in yourlife; Oh, you will be bunglers in this trade of Christianity. But theright perceiving of these things will help you to be instructed in it,as in a mystery.
The mystery of contentment may be showneven more. A gracious heart gets contentment in a mysterious way, away that the world is not acquainted with.
8. HE LIVES UPON THE DEW OF GOD'S BLESSING.
Adrian Junius uses the simile of a grasshopperto describe a contented man, and says he has this motto, 'I am contentwith what I have, and hope for better.' A grasshopper leads and skipsup and down, and lives on the dew.
A grasshopper does not live on the grassas other things do; you do not know what it feeds on. Other things thoughas little as grasshoppers, feed upon seeds or little flies and suchthings, 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 knowof; he is fed in a secret way by the dew of the blessing of God. A poorman or woman who has but a little with grace, lives a more contentedlife than his rich neighbor who has a great income; we find it so ordinarily-thoughthey 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 themand say: 'How is it that you live as happily as you do?', they cannottell you what they have; but they find there is a sweetness in whatthey do enjoy, and they know by experience that they never had suchsweetness in former times. Even though they had a greater abundancein former times than they have now, yet they know they never had suchsweetness; but how this comes about they cannot tell. We may mentionsome considerations, in what godly men enjoy, which make their conditionsweet.
For example, Take these four or fiveconsiderations 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 thelove of God to him. If a king were to send a piece of meat from hisown table, it would be a great deal more pleasant to a courtier thanif he had twenty dishes as an ordinary allowance; if the king sendseven a little thing and says, 'Go and carry it to that man as a tokenof my love', Oh, how delightful would that be to him! When your husbandsare at sea and send you a token of their love, it is worth more thanforty times what you already have in your houses. Every good thing thepeople of God enjoy, they enjoy it in God's love, as a token of God'slove, and coming from God's eternal love to them, and this must needsbe very sweet to them.
2. What they have is sanctified to themfor 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 haveand no more: meat, and drink, and houses, and clothes, and money, andthat is all. But a gracious heart finds contentment in this, I haveit, and I have a sanctified use of it too; I find God goes along withwhat I have to draw my heart nearer to him, and sanctify my heart tohim. If I find my heart drawn nearer to God by what I enjoy, that ismuch more than if I have it without sanctifying of my heart by it. Thereis 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 hasfree of cost; he is not likely to be called to pay for it. The differencebetween what a godly man has and a wicked man, is this: A godly manis as a child in an inn, an inn-keeper has his child in the house, andprovides his diet, and lodging, and what is needful for him. Now a strangercomes, and he has dinner and supper provided, and lodging, but the strangermust pay for everything. It may be that the child's fare is meaner thanthe 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 soit is: many of God's people have only mean fare, but God as a Fatherprovides it, and it is free of cost, they need not pay for what theyhave, 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 reckoningfor everything, they must pay for all at the conclusion, and is it notbetter 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 asfrom 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 ofJesus 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 whathe has. Wicked men have certain outward things; I do not say they areusurpers of what they have; they have a right to it, and that beforeGod, but how? It is a right by mere donation, that is, God by his freebounty gives it to them; but the right that the saints have is a rightof purchase: it is paid for, and it is their own, and they may in aholy manner and holy way claim whatever they have need of. We cannotexpress the difference between the right of a holy man, and the rightof the wicked more fully than by the following simile: a criminal iscondemned to die, and yet by favor he has his supper provided overnight.Now though the criminal has forfeited all his right to all things, toevery bit of bread, yet if he is given his supper he does not stealit. This is true though he has forfeited all rights by his fault, andafter he has once been condemned he has no right to anything. So itis with the wicked: they have forfeited all their right to the comfortsof this world, they are condemned by God as criminals, and are goingto execution; but if God in his bounty gives them something to preservethem 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 thatlike the supper that he was wont to have in his own house, when he atehis own bread, and had his wife and children about him? Oh, a dish ofgreen herbs at home would be a great deal better than any dainties insuch a supper as that. But a child of God has not a right merely bydonation; what he has is his own, through the purchase of Christ. Everybit of bread you eat, if you are a godly man or woman, Jesus Christhas bought it for you.
You go to market and buy your meat anddrink 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. Youhave it at the hands of men for money, but Christ has bought it at thehand of his Father by his blood. Certainly it is a great deal betterand sweeter now, though it is but a little.
5. There is another thing that showsthe sweetness that is in the little that the Saints have, by which theycome to have contentment, whereas others cannot, that is, Every littlethat they have is but as an earnest penny* for all the glory that isreserved for them; it is given them by God as the forerunner of thoseeternal mercies that the Lord intends for them. [*A first instalmentwhich guarantees that the rest is to follow.] Now if a man has but twelvepence given to him as an earnest penny for some great possession thathe must have, is that not better than if he had forty pounds given tohim otherwise? So every comfort that the saints have in this world isan earnest penny to them of those eternal mercies that the Lord hasprovided for them.
Just as every affliction that the wickedhave here is but the beginning of sorrows, and forerunner of those eternalsorrows that they are likely to have hereafter in Hell, so every comfortyou have is a forerunner of those eternal mercies you shall have withGod in Heaven. Not only are the consolations of God's Spirit the forerunnersof those eternal comforts you shall have in Heaven, but when you sitat 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 veryearnest penny of eternal life to you. Now if this is so, it is no marvelthat 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 tome by God, and I have it free of cost from God by the purchase of theblood of Jesus Christ, and I have it as a forerunner of those eternalmercies that are reserved for me; and in this my soul rejoices. Thereis a secret dew of God's goodness and blessing upon him in his estatethat others have not.
By all this you may see the meaningof that Scripture, 'Better is a little with righteousness than greatrevenues without right' (
Proverbs 16:8). A man who has but alittle, yet if he has it with righteousness, it is better than a greatdeal without right, yea, better than the great revenues of the wicked-so you have it in another Scripture. That is the next thing in Christiancontentment: the mystery is in this, that he lives on the dew of God'sblessing, in all the good things that he enjoys.
9. NOT ONLY IN GOOD THINGS DOES A CHRISTIANHAVE THE DEW OF GOD'S BLESSING.
And find them very sweet to him, butin 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 inhis mercies. The truth is that the afflictions of God's people comefrom 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 aremercy and truth, to those that fear him and love him (
Psalm 25:10). The ways of God, the waysof affliction, as well as the ways of prosperity, are mercy and loveto him. Grace gives a man an eye, a piercing eye to pierce the counselof 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 themand makes them rich, but they think God loves them not when he afflictsmystery, 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 AMYSTERY, because just as he sees all his afflictions come from the samelove that Jesus Christ did, so he sees them all sanctified in JesusChrist, sanctified in a Mediator. He sees, I say, all the sting andvenom and poison of them taken out by the virtue of Jesus Christ, theMediator between God and man. For instance, when a Christian would havecontentment he works it out thus: what is my affliction? Is it povertythat God strikes me with?-Jesus Christ had not a house to hide his headin, the fowls of the air had nests, and the foxes holes, but the Sonof man had not a hole to hide his head in; now my poverty is sanctifiedby Christ's poverty. I can see by faith the curse and sting and venomtaken out of my poverty by the poverty of Jesus Christ.
Christ Jesus was poor in this worldto 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 standand 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 uponhim; he was called Beelzebub, and a Samaritan, and they said he hada devil in him. All the foul aspersions that could be, were cast uponJesus Christ, and this was for me, that I might have the disgrace thatis cast upon me sanctified to me. Whereas another man's heart is overwhelmedwith 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 easeand right yourselves, but if they abuse you, you will abuse them back;and so you think to ease yourselves. Oh, but a Christian has anotherway to ease himself: others abuse and speak ill of me, but did theynot abuse Jesus Christ, and speak ill of him? And what am I in comparisonof 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 thecurse of it is taken from me through Christ's subjection to that evil.
Thus, a Christian can be content whenanybody speaks ill of him. Now, this is a mystery to you, to get contentmentin this way. So if men jeer and scoff at you, did they not do so toJesus Christ? They jeered and scoffed at him, and that when he was inhis greatest extremity upon the Cross: they said, Here is the King ofthe 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 contentmentin 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 greatbodily pain?-Jesus Christ had as great pain in his body as I have (thoughit is true he did not have the same kind of sicknesses as we have, yethe had as great pain and tortures in his body, and that which was deadlyto him, as much as any sickness is to us). The exercising of faith onwhat Christ endured, is the way to get contentment in the midst of ourpains.
Someone lies vexing and fretting himself,and cannot bear his pain: are you a Christian? Have you ever tried thisway of getting contentment, to act your faith on all the pains and sufferingsthat Jesus Christ suffered: this would be the way of contentment, anda Christian gets contentment when under pains, in this way. Sometimesone who is very godly and gracious, may be found bearing grievous painsand extremities very cheerfully, and you wonder at it. He gets it byacting his faith upon what pains Jesus Christ suffered. You are afraidof death-the way to get contentment is by exercising your faith on thedeath of Jesus Christ. It may be that you have inward troubles in yoursoul, and God withdraws himself from you; still your faith is to beexercised upon the sufferings that Jesus Christ endured in his soul.He poured forth his soul before God, and when he sweat drops of waterand blood, he was in an agony in his very spirit, and he found evenGod himself about to forsake him. Now thus to act your faith on JesusChrist brings contentment, and is not this a mystery to carnal hearts?A gracious heart finds contentment as a mystery; it is no marvel thatSt. Paul said, 'I am instructed in a mystery, to be contented in whatsoevercondition I am in.' 11. THERE IS STILL A FURTHER MYSTERY, for I hopeyou will find this a very useful point and that before we have finishedyou will see how simple it is for one who is skilled in religion toget contentment, though it is hard for one who is carnal. I say, theeleventh mystery in contentment is this: A gracious heart has contentmentby getting strength from Jesus Christ; he is able to bear his burdenby getting strength from someone else. Now this is a riddle, and itwould 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, theycould understand that; but that you should be strengthened by the strengthof someone else, who is not near you as far as you can see, they wouldthink ridiculous. But a Christian finds satisfaction in every circumstanceby getting strength from another, by going out of himself to Jesus Christ,by his faith acting upon Christ, and bringing the strength of JesusChrist into his own soul, he is thereby enabled to bear whatever Godlays on him, by the strength that he finds from Jesus Christ. Of hisfullness do we receive grace for grace; there is strength in Christnot only to sanctify and save us, but strength to support us under allour burdens and afflictions, and Christ expects that when we are underany burden, we should act our faith upon him to draw virtue and strengthfrom 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 faithdraws strength from Christ, in looking on him who has the fullness ofall strength conveyed into the hearts of all believers.
Now if a man has a burden to bear, andyet can have strength added to him-if the burden is doubled, he canhave his strength trebled-the burden will not be heavier but lighterthan 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 howcan you tell what you will do with the strength of Jesus Christ? Yousay 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 willsay, Can I have the strength of Christ? Yes, it is made over to youby faith: the Scripture says that the Lord is our strength, God himselfis our strength, and Christ is our strength. There are many Scripturesto that effect, that Christ's strength is yours, made over to you, sothat you may be able to bear whatever lies upon you, and therefore wefind such a strange expression in the Epistle of St. Paul to the Colossians,praying for the saints: 'That they might be strengthened with all mightaccording unto his glorious power', unto what? 'Unto all patience andlongsuffering with joyfulness'-strengthened with all might, accordingto the power of God, the glorious power of God, unto all patience, andlongsuffering with joyfulness. You must not therefore be content witha little strength, so that you are able to bear what a man might bearby the strength of reason and nature, but you should be strengthenedwith all might, according to the glorious power of God, unto all patience,and to all longsuffering.
Oh, you who are now under very heavyand sad afflictions more than usual, look at this Scripture, and considerhow it is made good in you; and why may you not have this Scripturemade good in you, if you are godly? You should not be quiet in yourown spirits, unless in some measure you get this Scripture made goodin 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 aregodly) to walk so that others may see such a Scripture made good inyou. This is the glorious power of God that strengthens his servantsto all longsuffering, and that with joyfulness. Alas, it may be thatyou do not exercise as much patience as a wise man or a wise woman whohas only natural reason. But where is the power of God, the gloriouspower of God? Where is the strengthening with all might, unto all longsufferingand patience, and that with joyfulness? It is true, the spirit of aman may be able to sustain his infirmities, may be able to sustain andkeep up his spirits, the natural spirit of a man can do that, but muchmore when the spirit is endued with grace and holiness, and when itis filled with the strength of Jesus Christ. This is the way a godlyman gets contentment, the mystery of it, by getting strength from JesusChrist.
12. A GODLY HEART ENJOYS MUCH OF GODIN EVERYTHING HE HAS, AND KNOWS HOW TO MAKE UP ALL WANTS IN GOD HIMSELF.
That is another mystery, he has Godin what he has. I spoke about that somewhat before, in showing the dewof God's blessing in what one has, for God is able to let out a greatdeal of his power in little things, and therefore the miracles thatGod 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 miraclesin 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 agreat deal of lumber; but this is a different thing.
Further, just as a gracious heart livesupon God's dew in the little that he has, so when the little that hehas 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 thechildren of God have their little taken from them, they can make upall their wants in God himself. Such and such a man is a poor man, theplunderers came and took away everything that he had; what shall hedo now that all is gone? But when all is gone, there is an art and skillthat godliness teaches, to make up all those losses in God. Many menwhose houses have been burnt go about gathering, and so get togetherby many hands a little; but a godly man knows where to go, to get upall, even in God himself, so that he may enjoy the quintessence of thesame good and comfort as he had before, for a godly man does not liveso much in himself as he lives in God. Now this is a mystery to a carnalheart. 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 hisall in all, while he lives; I say it is God who is his all in all. 'Amnot I to thee' said Elkanah to Hannah, 'instead of ten children?' Sosays 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 insteadof all; and not only instead of all, but come to me, and you shall haveall again in me.' This indeed is an excellent art, to be able to drawfrom God what one had before in the creature. Christian, how did youenjoy 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.' Thoughthe beams are taken away, yet the sun remains the same in the firmamentas ever it was. What is it that satisfies God himself, but that he enjoysall 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 theChurch 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 youhave that God as your portion, why should you not be contented withhim 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 reasonwhy your outward comforts are taken from you, that God may be all inall to you. It may be that while you had these things they shared withGod in your affection, a great part of the stream of your affectionran that way; God would have the full stream run to him now. You knowwhen a man has water coming to his house, through several pipes, andhe finds insufficient water comes into his wash-house, he will ratherstop the other pipes that he may have all the water come in where hewants it. Perhaps, then, God had a stream of your affection runningto him when you enjoyed these things; yes, but a great deal was allowedto 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 yourother 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 yourchildren, you would hardly be able to bear it; you would be ready tosend away such a servant. When the servant is gone, the child is ata great loss, it has not got the nurse, but the father or mother intendsby sending her away, that the affections of the child might run morestrongly towards himself or herself, and what loss is it to the childthat the affections that ran in a rough channel before towards the servant,run now towards the mother? So those affections that run towards thecreature, God would have run towards himself, that so he may be allin all to you here in this world.
A gracious heart can indeed tell howto enjoy God as all in all to him. That is the happiness of heaven tohave 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 themimmediately. Now while you live in this world, you may come to enjoymuch of God, you may have much of heaven, while we live in this lifewe may come to enjoy much of the very life that is in heaven, and whatis that but the enjoyment of God to be all in all to us? There is onetext in the Revelation that speaks of the glorious condition of theChurch that is likely to be here even in this world: 'And I saw no templetherein, 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 init, 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 tobe in here in this world; this does not speak of heaven, but of a gloriousestate that the Church shall be in here, in this world; and that appearsplainly, for it follows immediately in the 24th and 24th verses, 'Andthe 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 theirglory and honor to the Church. And in the 26th verse, 'And they shallbring the glory and honor of the nations into it'; therefore here itmust mean this world and not heaven. Now is there is to be such a timehere in this world, when God shall be all in all, and in comparisonthere shall be no such need of creatures as there is now, then the saintsshould 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 asthese. They would find this privilege that they get by grace worth thousandsof worlds. Hence is that statement of Jacob's that I have mentionedin another case; it is remarkable, and is very pertinent here. In thatremarkable speech of Jacob, in Genesis 33, when his brother Esau methim, you find in one place that Esau refused Jacob's present; in the
8th verse, when Jacob gave his presentto him, he refused it, and told Jacob that he had enough: 'What meanestthou by all this drove which I met? And he said, these are to find gracein 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 yourBible it is the same in English-I have enough, saith Esau, and I haveenough, saith Jacob-but in the Hebrew Jacob's word is different fromEsau's: Jacob's word signifies I have all things, and yet Jacob waspoorer than Esau. Oh, this should be a shame to us that an Esau cansay, I have enough. But a Christian should say, I have not only enough,but I have all.
How did he have all?-because he hadGod who was all. It was a remarkable saying of one, 'He has all thingswho has him that has all things'. Surely you have all things, becauseyou have him for your portion who has all things: God has all thingsin himself, and you have God for your portion, and in that you haveall, and this is the mystery of contentment. It makes up all its wantsin God: this is what the men of the world have little skill in.
Now I have many other things still toopen in the mystery of contentment. I should show likewise that a godlyman not only makes up everything in God, but finds enough in himselfto make up all-to make up everything in himself, not from himself, butin himself-and that may seem to be stranger than the other. To makeup 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 Godwithin himself, that he has enough there to make up all his outwardwants. In Proverbs 14:14 we read, 'A good man shall be satisfied fromhimself', from that which is within himself-that is the meaning. A graciousman has a bird within his own bosom which makes him melody enough, thoughhe 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 illof abroad, but he has a conscience within him that makes up the wantof a name and credit, that is instead of a thousand witnesses.
13. A GRACIOUS HEART GETS CONTENTMENTFROM THE COVENANT THAT GOD HAS MADE WITH HIM.
Now this is a way of getting contentmentthat the men of the world do not know: they can get contentment, ifthey have the creature to satisfy them; but in getting contentment fromthe Covenant of grace they have little skill. I should have opened twothings here, first, how to get contentment from the Covenant of gracein general (but I shall speak of that in the next sermon, and now, onlya word on the second). Secondly, how he gets contentment form the particularbranches of the Covenant, that is, from the particular promises thathe has, for supplying every particular want. There is no condition thata godly man or woman can be in, but there is some promise or other inthe Scripture to help him in that condition. And that is the way ofhis contentment, to go to the promises, and get from the promise, thatwhich may supply. This is but a dry business to a carnal heart; butit is the most real thing in the world to a gracious heart: when hefinds lack of contentment he repairs to the promise, and the Covenant,and falls to pleading the promises that God has made. As I should haveshown several promises that God has made, whatever the affliction, Iwill only mention one, that is, the saddest affliction of all, in caseof the visitation, and the plague (Psalm 91). Those whose friends cannotcome to them by reason of the plague, and who cannot have other comforts,in other afflictions might have their friends and other things to comfortthem-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 promisefor the pestilence in the 5th and 6th verses, this is a Scripture tothose who are in danger of it. You will say that this is a promise thatthe plague shall not come nigh them; but mark that these two are joined:there shall no evil befall thee, neither shall the plague come nighthee, the evil of it shall not come nigh thee.
Objection: You will say, but it doescome 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 promisethat it shall not come nigh them, and yet it does come nigh them aswell as others.
Answer: 1 . The promises of outwarddeliverance 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 fulfilledmore literally, than in the times of the gospel when God makes it upotherwise with as much mercy. Though God made a Covenant of grace andeternal life in Christ with them, yet I think there was another covenanttoo, 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, setway, than in the times of the gospel. Therefore when the children ofIsrael sinned against God, they were sure to have public judgments comeupon them, and if they did well, always public mercies; the general,constant way of God was to deal with the people of the Jews accordingas 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 sucha certain conclusion, that if God did deal so severely with men by suchand such afflictions, he will deal so with them now, or that they shallhave outward prosperity as they had then. Therefore, that is the firstthing, for understanding this and all other texts of the kind.
2. Perhaps their faith does not attainto this promise; and God often brings many outward afflictions, becausethe faith of his people does not reach the promise, and that not onlyin 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 wasstruck with dumbness because he did not believe; and that is given asthe cause why he was struck with dumbness. But you will say now, hasfaith 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 willmake it good in his own way. Perhaps you have not done as much, andso because of that, this promise is not fulfilled to you.
3. When God makes such a promise tohis people, yet still it must be with this reservation, that God musthave liberty for these three things.
i . That notwithstanding his promise,he will have liberty to make use of anything for your chastisement.
i i . That he must have liberty, tomake use of your wealth, or liberties, or lives, for the furtheranceof his own ends, if it is to be a stumbling block to wicked and ungodlymen. God must have liberty, though he has made a promise to you he willnot release the propriety that he has in your possessions and lives.
iii. God must have sufficient libertyto make use of what you have, to show that his ways are unsearchable,and his judgments past finding out. God reserves these three thingsin his hand still.
Objection: But you will say, What goodthen is there in such a promise that God makes to his people? 1. Thatyou are under the protection of God more than others. But what comfortis this if it befalls me? Answer: You have this comfort, that the evilof it shall be taken from you, that if God will make use of this afflictionfor other ends, yet he will do it so as to make it up to you in someother way. Perhaps you have given your children something, but afterwardsif you have a use for that thing, you will come and say, 'I must haveit'. 'Why, father?' the child may say, 'you gave it to me.' 'But I musthave it', says the father, 'and I will make it up to you in some otherway.' The child does not think that the father's love is ever a whitthe less to him. So when there is any such promise as this, that Godby his promise gives you his protection, and yet for all that, sucha thing befalls you, it is only as if the father should say, 'I gaveyou that indeed, but let me have it and I will make it up to you insome other way that shall be as good.' God says, 'Let me have your healthand liberty, and life, and it shall be made up to you in some otherway.' 2. Whenever the plague or pestilence comes to those who are undersuch a promise, it is fear some special and notable work, and God requiresthem 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 concerningthis particular evil, that the people of God may come to quiet and contenttheir hearts in this affliction.
I read in this Psalm that God has madea 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 myfaith in this promise heretofore; and if God brings afflictions uponme, yet he will make it up some other way. God made a promise to deliverme, or at least to deliver me from all the evil of it; now if this thingdoes befall me and yet I have a promise of God, certainly the evil ofit is taken away. This promise tells me that if it does befall me yetit is for some notable end, and because God has a use for my life, andintends to bring about his glory some way that I do not know of. Andif he will come in a fatherly way of chastisement, yet I will be satisfiedin the thing. So a Christian heart, by reasoning out of the Word, comesto satisfy his soul in the midst of such a heavy hand of God, and insuch a distressed condition as that. Now carnal hearts do not find thatpower in the Word, that healing virtue that is in it, to heal theirdistracting cares, and the troubles of their spirits; but when thosewho are godly come to hear the Word, they find in it, as it were, aplaster for all their wounds, and so they come to have ease and contentmentin such conditions as are very grievous and miserable to others. Butas for other particular promises, and more generally for the Covenantof grace, how and in what a mysterious way the saints work to get contentmentand satisfaction to their souls, we shall refer to these things in thenext chapter.
In the last chapter we spoke of severalthings in the mystery of contentment, and at the close we spoke of twomore, but we did not have time to open either of them. I shall now openthem a little more fully, then proceed to some few more.
That is the next thing then: a Christianheart 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 hisoutward wants of creature comforts from what he finds in himself. Thatmay seem to be more strange. It is true, perhaps, that even though mendo not feel by experience shat it is to make up all in God, yet we mayconvince them that if they have him who has all things then they haveall, for there is such a fullness in God, he being the infinite firstbeing of all things, that may make up all their wants. But here is anotherthing, that is beyond that; I say a godly man can make up whatever helacks without the creature, he can make it up in himself. In Proverbs14:14 we read: 'A good man shall be satisfied from himself.' Supposefor example, that he lacks outward comforts, good cheer and feasting,a good conscience in a continual feast; so he can make up the lack ofa feast by the peace that he has in his own conscience. If he lacksmelody in the world, he has a bird within him that sings the most melodioussongs 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 thousandwitnesses. 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 akingdom in himself: 'the kingdom of God is within you'.
If a king meets with a great deal oftrouble when he is abroad, he contents himself with this: 'I have aKingdom of my own.' It is said here, the Kingdom of God is within aman; now if those of you who are learned look into the Commentary onthis Gospel by a certain scholar, you will find he has a very strangeidea about this text: he confesses that it is unutterable and so itis, the kingdom of God is within you, but he understands it that thereis such a presence of God and Christ within the soul of a man, thatwhen the body dies, he says, the soul goes into God and Christ, whoare within him. The soul's going into God and Christ, and enjoying thatcommunion with God and Christ that is within itself, that is Heavento it, he says. He confesses he is not able to express himself, andothers cannot understand fully what he means; but certainly for thepresent, before death, there is a Kingdom of God within the soul, sucha manifestation of God in the soul as is enough to content the heartof 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 certainlythere 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 Heavenpays for all already. There is a Heaven within the souls of the saints-thatis a certain truth; no soul shall ever come to Heaven, but the soulwhich has Heaven come to it first. When you die, you hope you will goto Heaven; but if you will go to Heaven when you die, Heaven will cometo you before you die.
Now this is a great mystery, to havethe Kingdom of Heaven in the soul; no man can know this but that soulwhich has it. The Heaven which is within the soul for the present islike the white stone and the new name, that none but those that haveit can understand it. It is a miserable condition, my brethren, to dependaltogether upon creatures for our contentment. You know that rich menaccount it a great happiness, if they do not need to go to buy thingsby the penny as others do; they have all things for pleasure or profiton 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 togo from one market to another to provide the their necessities, greatrich men have sheep and beeves, corn and clothing, and all things elseof their own within themselves, and herein they place their happiness.But this is the happiness of a Christian, that he has that within himselfwhich may satisfy him more than all these. There is a place in the firstchapter of James that seems to allude to the condition of men who haveall their wealth within themselves: 'But let patience have her perfectwork 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 underafflictions it finds itself in such an estate as this, finds its wholeinheritance 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 enjoysan abundance of comforts at home, in his own house. God grants him apleasant home, a good wife, and fine walks and gardens, and he has allthings at home that he could desire. Now such a man does not care muchfor going out. Other men are fain to go out and see friends, becausethey have quarrelling and contending at home. Many poor husbands willgive this reason, if their wives moan, and complain of their faultsand shortcomings. They make it their excuse to go out, because theycan never be quiet at home. Now we account those men most happy whohave everything at home. Those who have confined homes that are unpleasantand evil-smelling delight to go into the fresh air, but it is not sowith many others that have good things at home. Those who have no goodcheer at home are fain to go out to friends, but those whose tablesare well furnished would as soon stay at home. So a carnal man has littlecontentment in his own spirit. It is Augustine who likens a bad conscienceto a scolding wife: a man who has a bad conscience does not care tolook into his own soul, but loves to be out, and to look into otherthings; he never looks to himself.
As it is with a vessel that is fullof liquor, if you strike it, it will make no great noise, but if itis empty then it makes a great noise; so it is with the heart, a heartthat 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 makea noise. When some men and women are complaining so much, and alwayswhining, it is a sign that there is an emptiness in their hearts. Iftheir 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 blooddoes not complain of the cold as others do. So a gracious heart, havingthe Spirit of God within him, and his heart filled with grace has thatwithin him that makes him find contentment. It was a saying of Seneca:'Those things that I suffer will be incredibly heavy when I cannot bearmyself.' But if I am no burden to myself, if all is quiet within myown heart, then I can bear anything. Many men through their wickednesshave burdens outside, but the greatest burden is the wickedness of theirown hearts. They are not burdened with their sins in a godly way, forthat would ease their burden, but they still have their wickedness inits power, and so they are burdens to themselves. The disorders of men'shearts are great burdens to them, but many times a godly man has enoughwithin to content him. Virtue is content with itself, to live well-itis a saying of Cicero, in one of his Paradoxes-it finds enough withinits own sphere for living happily. But how few are acquainted with thismystery! Many think, O if I had what another man has, how happily andcomfortably should I live! But if you are a Christian, whatever yourcondition, you have enough within yourself. You will say, such and suchmen who have all things need not be beholden to anybody.
There are many who labor and take painswhen they are young, that they might not be beholden to others; theylove to live of themselves. Now a Christian may do so, not that he doesnot live upon God (I do not mean that), but upon what he has of Godwithin himself: he can live upon that, although he does not enjoy thecomforts that are outside himself. That is what I mean, and those whoare godly and keep close to God in their communion with him will understandwhat I mean by saying that a Christian has the supply of all his wantswithin himself. Here you may see that the spirit of a Christian is aprecious spirit; a godly spirit is precious, why? Because it has enoughto make him happy within himself.
The next thing that the mystery of contentmentconsists in is this, That a gracious heart gets it supply of all thingsfrom the Covenant, and so comes to have contentment, which is a drything to a carnal spirit.
There are two things in this: 1 . Hegets contentment from the Covenant in general, that is, from the greatcovenant that God has made with him in Christ.
2 . He gets it from the particular promisesthat God has made with him in the Covenant.
1. From the Covenant in general. I willgive you one Scripture for that, which is very striking: 'Although myhouse 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 allmy desire, although he make it not to grow' (
2 Samuel 23:5). It is a wonderful statementby David, who did not have the Covenant of Grace revealed as fully aswe have. Mark what he says: 'Although I find not my house so', thatis, so comfortable in every way as I would wish, although it is notso, what has he got to content his spirit? He says, 'He has made withme an everlasting covenant,' this is what helps in everything. Somemen will say, I am not thus and thus with God, I do not find that Godcomes in so fully, or it is not with my house and family as I hopedit might be, perhaps there is this or that affliction upon my house.
Suppose the plague were to come intoyour house, and it is not so safe, and you do not enjoy such outwardcomfort in your house as you once did. Can you read this Scripture andsay, Although my house is not so blessed with health as other men'shouses are, although my house is not so, yet he has made with me aneverlasting covenant. I am still one in covenant with God, the Lordhas made with me an everlasting covenant. As for these things in theworld, I see they are but momentary, they are not everlasting. I seea family in which all was well only a week ago, and now everything isdown, the plague has swept away a great many of them, and the rest areleft in sadness and mourning. We see there is no resting in the thingsof this world, yet the Lord has made with me an everlasting covenantordered in all things. I find disorder in my heart, in my family; butthe everlasting covenant is ordered in all things, yes, and it is sure.
Alas, there is no certainty here inthese 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 besure of his wealth? Perhaps some of you have here lived well and comfortablybefore, 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-thereis no certainty in the things of this world; but he says, the Covenantis sure. What I venture at sea is not sure, but here is an insuranceoffice indeed, a great insurance office for the saints, at which theyare not charged, except in the exercising of grace, for they may goto this insurance office to insure everything that they venture, eitherto have the thing itself, or to be paid for it. In an insurance officeyou cannot be sure to have the very goods that you insured, but if theyare lost the insurers pledge themselves to make it good to you. Andthis Covenant of grace that God has made with his people is God's insuranceoffice, and the saints in all their fears may and ought to go to theCovenant to insure all things, to insure their wealth and insure theirlives. You will say, How are they sure? Their lives and wealth go aswell as other people's do. But God pledges himself to make up all. Andmark what follows, 'This is all my salvation'- Why, David, will younot have salvation from your enemies and from outward dangers, pestilenceand plague? The frame of his spirit is quieted, as though to say: ifthat salvation comes, well and good, I shall praise God for it; butwhat I have in the Covenant, that is my salvation, I look upon thatas enough. Yes, and he goes further, 'This is all my salvation and allmy desire'-Why, David, is there not something else that you would liketo have besides this Covenant? No, he says, it is all involved in this.Surely, those men or women must needs live contented lives who haveall 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 willnot 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 findscontentment 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 asthis to your souls, have you sucked this sweetness from the Covenant,and contentment to your hearts in your sad conditions. It is a specialsign of true grace in any soul, that when any affliction befalls him,in a kind of natural way he repairs immediately to the Covenant. Justas a child, as soon as ever it is in danger, need not be told to goto his father or mother, for nature tells him so; so it is with a graciousheart: as soon as it is in any trouble or affliction there is a newnature which carries him to the Covenant immediately, where he findsease and rest. If you find that your hearts work in this way, immediatelyrunning to the Covenant, it is an excellent sign of true grace: so muchfor the general point.
2. But now for particular promises inthe Covenant grace. A gracious heart looks upon every promise as comingfrom the root of the great Covenant, of grace in Christ. Other men lookupon some particular promises, that God will help them in straits, andkeep them and the like, but they do not look at the connection of suchparticular promises, to the root, the Covenant of grace. Christiansmiss a great deal of comfort which they might have from the particularpromises in the gospel, if they would consider their connection to theroot, the great Covenant that God has made with them in Christ. In thetimes of the law, they might rest more upon outward promises than wecan in the time of the gospel. I gave you the reason why we who livein the times of the gospel cannot depend so much on a literal fulfillmentof the outward promises that we find in the Old Testament, as they couldin the time of the law. For there was a special covenant, that God pleasedto 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, wasgiven to them in a more peculiar way for an external covenant of outwardblessings in the land of Canaan, and so God dealt with them in a moreexternal covenant than he does now with his people. Yet godliness hasthe promise of this life, and that which is to come. We may make useof the promises for this life, but yet not so much to rest upon theliteral performance of them as they of old might. But God will makethem good in some way or other, in a spiritual way if not in an outwardway. We must lay no more upon outward promises than this, and thereforeif we lay more, we make the promise to bear more than it will bear.
To give some examples: to believe fullyand 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 youremember, I opened that promise in
Psalm 91. Now if I had lived in thetime of the law, perhaps I might have been somewhat more confident ofthe literal performance of the promise, than I can be now in the timeof the gospel. The promise now bears no more than this, that God hasa special protection over his people, and that he will deliver themfrom 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 thatGod has in it. I thought I would give you several promises for the contentmentof the heart in the time of affliction: 'When thou passest through thewaters I will be with thee, and through the rivers, they shall not overflowthee; when thou walkest through the fire thou shalt not be burnt, neithershall the flame kindle upon thee' (Isaiah 43:2).
Certainly, though this promise was madein 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 findclearly that the promise that was made to Joshua, 'I will not fail theenor forsake thee' (Joshua 1:5) is applied to Christians in the timeof the Gospel.
So here is the way of faith in bringingcontentment by the promises: the saints of God have an interest in allthe promises that ever were made to our forefathers, from the beginningof the world they are their inheritance, and go on from one generationto another. By that they come to have contentment, because they inheritall the promises made in all the book of God.
Hebrews 13:5 shows this plainly, thatit is our inheritance, and we do not inherit less now than they didin Joshua's time, but we inherit more.
For you will find in that place of Hebrewsthat more is said than is to Joshua. To Joshua God says, He will notleave him nor forsake him; but in this place in Hebrews in the Greekthere are five negatives, I will not, not, not, not, not again. Thatis the force of it in the Greek. I say, there are five negatives inthat little sentence; as if God should say, I will not leave you, noI will not, I will not, I will not, with such earnestness five timestogether. 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 muchin the literal sense, for that, indeed is the least part of the promise.In
Isaiah 54:17 God made a promise: Thatno weapon formed against his people should prosper, and every tonguethat shall rise against them in judgment they shall condemn, and markwhat follows, 'This is the heritage of the servants of the Lord, andtheir righteousness is of me, saith the Lord.' This is a good promisefor a soldier, though still we ought not to lay too much upon the literalsense. True, it holds forth thus much, that God's protection is in specialmanner over the soldier that are godly. 'And every tongue that shallrise against thee in judgment thou shalt condemn'-this is against falsewitness too. Oh you, whose friends never left you anything! you willsay, 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 youno inheritance, you have an inheritance in the promise, 'This is theirheritage.' So that there is no godly man or woman, but is a great heir.
Therefore when you look into the bookof God and find any promise there, you may make it your own; just asan heir who rides over a lot of fields and meadows says, This meadowis my inheritance, and this corn field is my inheritance, and then hesees a fine house, and says, This fine house is my inheritance. He looksat 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 manreads the Scriptures (remember this when you are reading the Scripture)and there meets with a promise, he ought to lay his hand upon it andsay, This is part of my inheritance, it is mine, and I am to live uponit.
This will make you contented; it isa mysterious way of getting contentment. And there are several otherpromises that bring contentment (Psalm 34:10, 37:6; Isaiah 58:10). Somuch for the mystery of contentment by way of the Covenant.
There are two or three things more thatshow how a godly man has contentment in a mysterious way different fromany carnal heart in the world, as follows: 14. HE HAS CONTENTMENT BYREALIZING 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 themartyrs 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 theselight afflictions that are but for a moment, work for us a far moreexceeding and eternal weight of glory. They see heaven before them andthat contents them. When you sailors see the haven before you, thoughyou were mightily troubled before you could see any land, yet when youcome near the shore and can see a certain land-mark, that contents yougreatly. A godly man in the midst of the waves and storms that he meetswith 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 sournessand bitterness of all the afflictions in the world. We know that onedrop of sourness, or one drop of gall will make bitter a great dealof honey. Put a spoonful of sugar into a cup of gall or wormwood, andit will not sweeten it; but if you put a spoonful of gall into a cupof sugar, it will embitter that. Now it is otherwise in heaven: onedrop of sweetness will sweeten a great deal of sour affliction, buta great deal of sourness and gall will not embitter a soul who seesthe glory of heaven that is to come. A carnal heart has no contentmentbut from what he sees before him in this world, but a godly hearts hascontentment from what he sees laid up for him in the highest heavens.
15. THE LAST THING THAT I WOULD MENTIONIS THIS, A godly man has contentment by opening and letting out hisheart to God. Other men or women are discontented, but how do they helpthemselves? By abuse, by bad language. Someone crosses them, and theyhave no way to help themselves but by abuse and by bitter words, andso they relieve themselves in that way when they are angry. But whena godly man is crossed, how does he relieve himself?-He is aware ofhis cross as well as you, but he goes to God in prayer, and there openshis heart to God and lets out his sorrows and fears, and then can comeaway with a joyful countenance. Do you find that you can come away fromprayer and not look sad? It is said of Hannah, that when she had beenat prayer her countenance was no more said (1 Samuel 1:18), she wascomforted: this is the right way to contentment.
Thus we have done with the mystery ofcontentment. Now if you can but put these things together that we havespoken of, you may see fully what an art Christian contentment is.
How Christ Teaches Contentment
Contentment is not sucha poor business as many make it. They say, 'You must be content', andso on. But Paul needed to learn it, and it is a great art and mysteryof godliness to be content in a Christian way, and it will be seen tobe even more of a mystery when we come to show what lessons a graciousheart learns when it learns to be contented. I have learned to be contented;what lessons have you learned? Take a scholar who has great learningand understanding in arts and sciences; how did he begin? He began,as we say, his ABC, and then afterwards he came to his Testament, andBible and accidence,* and so to his grammar, and afterwards to his otherbooks. [*Accidence = the part of grammar dealing with inflexions.] Soa 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 Christianthat he is illiterate, but he is literate, a learned man, a learnedwoman. Now the lessons that Christ teaches to bring us to contentmentare these: 1. THE LESSON OF SELF-DENIAL.
It is a hard lesson. You know that whena child is first taught, he complains: This is hard; it is just likethat. I remember Bradford the martyr said, 'Whoever has not learnedthe lesson of the cross, has not learned his ABC in Christianity.' Thisis where Christ begins with his scholars, and those in the lowest formmust begin with this; if you mean to be Christians at all, you mustbuckle to this or you can never be Christian. Just as no-one can bea scholar unless he learns his ABC, so you must learn the lesson ofself-denial or you can never become a scholar in Christ's school, andbe learned in this mystery of contentment. That is the first lessonthat Christ teaches any soul, self-denial, which brings contentment,which brings down and softens a man's heart. You know how when you strikesomething soft it makes no noise, but if you strike a hard thing itmakes 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 thestroke; so a self-denying heart yields to the stroke and thereby comesto this contentment. now there are several things in this lesson ofself-denial. I will not enter into the doctrine of self-denial, butonly show you how Christ teaches self-denial and how that brings contentment.
1. Such a person learns to know thathe is nothing. He comes to this, to be able to say, 'Well, I see I amnothing in myself.' That man or woman who indeed knows that he or sheis 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 inourselves. God says to us, 'Wilt thou set thine eyes upon that whichis not' (
Proverbs 23:5) speaking of riches. Why,blessed God, do not you do so? you have set your heart upon us and yetwe are nothing. God would not have set our hearts upon riches, becausethey are nothing, and yet God is pleased to set his heart upon us, andwe are nothing: that is God's grace, free grace, and therefore it doesnot 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 othershave? I am sure that I deserve nothing except it be Hell. You will answerany of your servants, who is not content: I wonder what you think youdeserve? or your children: do you deserve it that you are so eager tohave it? You would stop their mouths thus, and so we may easily stopour own mouths: we deserve nothing and therefore why should we be impatientif we do not get what we desire. If we had deserved anything we mightbe troubled, as in the case of a man who has deserved well of the stateor of his friends, yet does not receive a suitable reward, it troubleshim greatly, whereas if he is conscious that he has deserved nothing,he is content with a rebuff.
3. I can do nothing. Christ says, 'Withoutme you can do nothing' (John 15:5). Why should I make much of it, tobe troubled and discontented if I have not got this and that, when thetruth is that I can do nothing? If you were to come to one who is angrybecause he has not got such food as he desires, and is discontentedwith it, you would answer him, 'I marvel what you do or what use youare!' Should one who will sit still and be of no use, yet for all thathave all the supply that he could possible desire? Do but consider ofwhat use you are in the world, and if you consider what little needGod 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 youshort 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 spiritas much as anything.
4. I am so vile that I cannot of myselfreceive any good. I am not only an empty vessel, but a corrupt and uncleanvessel: that would spoil anything that comes into it. So are all ourhearts: every one of them is not only empty of good but is like a mustybottle 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 wecan 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 greatestgifts, and whatever abilities we can desire, if God should say, 'I willgive you them, now go and trade', we cannot progress one foot furtherif God leaves us. Does God give us gifts and abilities? Then let usfear and tremble lest God should leave us to ourselves, for then howfoully should we abuse those gifts and abilities. You think other menand women have memory and gifts and abilities and you would fain havethem-but suppose God should give you these, and then leave you, youwould utterly spoil them.
6. We are worse than nothing. By sinwe become a great deal worse than nothing. Sin makes us more vile thannothing, and contrary to all good. It is a great deal worse to havea contrariety to all that is good, than merely to have an emptinessof all that is good. We are not empty pitchers in respect of good, butwe are like pitchers filled with poison, and is it much for such aswe are to be cut short of outward comforts? 7. If we perish we willbe 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 differentway.
Now put just these seven things togetherand then Christ has taught you self-denial. I may call these the severalwords 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 canreceive 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 thereforeis it such a great thing for me to be cut short here?' A man who islittle in his own eyes will account every affliction as little, andevery mercy as great. Consider Saul: There was a time, the Scripturesays, when he was little in his own eyes, and then his afflictions werebut little to him: when some would not have had him to be King but spokecontemptuously of him, he held his peace; but when Saul began to bebig in his own eyes, then the affliction began to be great to him.
There was never any man or woman socontented as a self-denying man or woman. No-one ever denied himselfas much as Jesus Christ did: he gave his cheeks to the smiters, he openednot his mouth, he was as a lamb when he was led to the slaughter, hemade no noise in the street. He denied himself above all, and was willingto empty himself, and so he was the most contented that ever any wasin the world; and the nearer we come to learning to deny ourselves asChrist did, the more contented shall we be, and by knowing much of ourown 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, buta 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 learnedthis lesson of self-denial, but I rather wonder that God bestows uponme the liberty of breathing in the air, knowing how vile I am, and knowinghow 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-denialwhich brings contentment.
Thereby the soul comes to rejoice andtake satisfaction in all God's ways; I beseech you to notice this. Ifa man is selfish and self-love prevails in his heart, he will be gladof those things that suit with his own ends, but a godly man who hasdenied himself will suit with and be glad of all things that shall suitwith God's ends. A gracious heart says, God's ends are my ends and Ihave denied my own ends; so he comes to find contentment in all God'sends and ways, and his comforts are multiplied, whereas the comfortsof other men are single. It is very rare that God's way shall suit witha 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 ownends, you can have it only now and then, but a self-denying man denieshis 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 andvexation, for if I regard myself, my ends are so narrow that a hundredthings will come and jostle me, and I cannot have room in those narrowsends of my own. You know in the City what a great deal of stir thereis in narrow streets: since Thames street is so narrow they jostle andwrangle and fight one with another because the place is so narrow, butin the broad streets they can go quietly. Similarly men who are selfishmeet 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 greatdeal of stir. But those whose hearts are enlarged and make public thingstheir ends, and can deny themselves, have room to walk and never jostlewith one another as others do. The lesson of self-denial is the firstlesson that Jesus Christ teaches men who are seeking contentment.
2. THE VANITY OF THE CREATURE.
That is the second lesson in Christ'sschool, which he teaches those whom he would make scholars in this art:the vanity of the creature, that whatever there is in the creature hasan emptiness in it. 'Vanity of vanities, all is vanity,' is the lessonthat the wise man learned: the creature in itself can do us neithergood nor hurt; it is all but as wind. There is nothing in the creaturethat is suitable for a gracious heart to feed upon for its good andhappiness. My brethren, the reason why you have not got contentmentin the things of the world is not because you have not got enough ofthem-that is not the reason-but the reason is, because they are notthings proportionable to that immortal soul of yours that is capableof God himself. Many men think that when they are troubled and havenot 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 justas if a man were hungry, and to satisfy his craving stomach he shouldgape and hold open his mouth to take in the wind, and then should thinkthat the reason why he is not satisfied is because he has not got enoughof the wind; no, the reason is because the thing is not suitable toa 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 cravingstomach ready to starve, as all the comforts in the world can satisfya soul who knows what true happiness means. You would be happy, andyou seek after such and such comforts in the creature.
Well, have you got them? do you findyour 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 andsuch things. O poor deluded man! it is not because you have not gotenough of it, but because it is not the thing that is proportionableto the immortal soul that God has given you. Why do you lay out moneyfor that which is not bread, and your labor for that which satisfiethnot? (Isaiah 55:2). You are mad people, you seek to satisfy your stomachwith that which is not bread, you follow the win; you will never havecontentment. All creatures in the world say contentment is not in us,riches say, contentment is not in me, pleasure says, contentment isnot 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 understandingthe glorious mysteries of the Gospel, comes to see the vanity of allthings in the world, is the soul that comes to true contentment. I couldgive you an abundance of proverbs from Heathens which show the vanityof all things in the world, and they did not learn the vanity of thecreature in the right school. But when a soul comes into the Schoolof Jesus Christ, and there comes to see vanity in all things in theworld, then such a soul comes to have contentment. If you seek contentmentelsewhere, like the unclean spirit you seek for rest but find none.
3. A THIRD LESSON WHICH CHRIST TEACHESA CHRISTIAN WHEN HE COMES INTO HIS SCHOOL IS THIS: He teaches him tounderstand what is the one thing that is necessary, which he never understoodbefore. You know what he said to Martha: 'O Martha thou cumberest thyselfabout many things, but there is one thing necessary.' Before, the soulsought after this and that, but now it says, I see that it is not necessaryfor me to be rich, but it is necessary for me to make my peace withGod; it s not necessary that I should live a pleasurable life in thisworld, but it is absolutely necessary that I should have pardon of mysin; it is not necessary that I should have honor and preferment, butit is necessary that I should have God as my portion, and have my partin Jesus Christ, it is necessary that my soul should be saved in theday of Jesus Christ. The other things are pretty fine indeed, and Ishould be glad if God would give me them, a fine house, and income,and clothes, and advancement for my wife and children: these are comfortablethings, but they are not the necessary things; I may have these andyet perish for ever, but the other is absolutely necessary. No matterhow poor I am, I may have what is absolutely necessary: thus Christinstructs the soul. Many of you have had some thoughts about this, thatit is indeed necessary for you to provide for your souls, but when youcome to Christ's school, Christ causes the fear of eternity to fallupon you, and causes such a real sight of the great things of eternity,and the absolute necessity of those things, that it possesses your heartwith fear and takes you off from all other things in the world.
It is said of Pompey, that when he wascarrying corn to Rome at a time of dearth, he was in a great deal ofdanger from storms at sea, but he said, 'We must go on, it is necessarythat Rome should be relieved, but it is not necessary that we shouldlive.' So, certainly, when the soul is once taken up with the thingsthat are of absolute necessity, it will not be much troubled about otherthings. What are the things that disquiet us here but some by-mattersin this world? And it is because our hearts are not taken up with theone absolutely necessary thing. Who are the men who are most discontented,but idle persons, persons who have nothing to occupy their minds? Everylittle thing disquiets and discontents them; but in the case of a manwho has business of great weight and consequence, if all things go wellwith his great business which is in his head, he is not aware of meanerthings in the family. On the other hand a man who lies at home and hasnothing 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 withthe weighty things of eternity, with the great things of eternal life,the things of here below that disquieted it before are things now ofno consequence to him in comparison with the other-how things fall outhere is not much regarded by him, if the one thing that is necessaryis provided for.
4. THE SOUL COMES TO UNDERSTAND IN WHATRELATION IT STANDS TO THE WORLD.
By that I mean as follows, God comesto instruct the soul effectually through Christ by his Spirit, on whatterms it lives here in the world, in what relation it stands. WhileI 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 onlybeing taught it by rote, so that I can speak the words over, but whenmy soul is possessed with the consideration of this truth, that Godhas set me in this world, not as in my home but as a mere stranger anda pilgrim who is travelling to another home, and that I am here a soldierin my warfare, I say, a right understanding of this is a mighty helpto 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 isnot content; but if a man travels, perhaps he does not meet with conveniencesas he desires-the servants in the house are not at his beck or are notas 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'shouse, 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, hemust be content; it is travellers' fare, we say. Both fair weather andfoul 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, thoughyou have not as many things as you have at home, you are not troubledat 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 homeyou are still quieted with the fact that you are at sea. When sailorsare at sea they do not care what clothes they have, though they arepitched 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 silkstockings and suits, and laced bands, and such things, and shall bevery fine. So they are contented while away, with the thought that itshall be different when they come home, and though they have nothingbut salt meat, and a little hard fare, yet when they come to their housesthen 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, tossedup and down on the waves of the sea of this world, and our haven isHeaven; here we are travelling, and our home is a distant home in anotherworld. 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 travelwith 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 travellingto Heaven in England as in any place under Heaven. Though we meet withtravellers' fare sometimes, yet it should not be grievous to us. TheScripture tells us plainly that we must behave ourselves here as pilgrimsand 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, youare 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 goingaway. So let us not be troubled when we see that other men have greatwealth, 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 tolive a hundred years, in comparison to eternity it is not as much asa 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 notgot what he sees there, seeing he may be going away again within lessthan a quarter of an hour? You find the same in David: this was theargument 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 notthy commandments from me' (Psalm 119:19). I am a stranger in the earth-whatthen?-then, Lord, let me have the knowledge of your commandments andit is sufficient. As for the things of the earth I do not set storeby them, whether I have much or little, but hide not thy commandmentsfrom me, Lord, let me know the rule that I should guide my life by.
Then again, we are not only travelersbut soldiers: this is the condition in which we are here in this world,and therefore we ought to behave ourselves accordingly. The Apostlemakes use of this argument in writing to Timothy: 'Thou therefore endurehardness as a good soldier of Jesus Christ' (2 Timothy 2:3).
The very thought of the condition ofa 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 ownhome: perhaps a man who had his bed and curtains drawn about him, andall comforts in his chamber, has now sometimes to lie on straw and hethinks 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 fieldswhen he is a soldier, and the very thought of the condition in whichhe stands, calms him in all things. Yes, and he goes rejoicing, to thinkthat 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 thingit would be to see a soldier go whining up and down with his fingerin 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 theyare in their warfare, they are here in this world fighting and combatingwith the enemies of their souls and their eternal welfare, and theymust be willing to endure hardness here. A right understanding of thisfact that God has put them into such a condition is what will make themcontent, especially when they consider that they are certain of thevictory and that ere long they shall triumph with Jesus Christ; thenall their sorrows shall be done away, and their tears wiped from theireyes. A soldier is content to endure hardness though he does not knowthat he shall have the victory, but a Christian knows himself to bea soldier, and knows that he shall conquer and triumph with Jesus Christto all eternity.
And that is the fourth lesson that Christteaches the soul when he brings it to his school to learn the art ofcontentment: he makes him understand thoroughly the relation in whichhe has placed him to this world.
5. CHRIST TEACHES US WHEREIN CONSISTSANY GOOD THAT IS TO BE ENJOYED IN ANY CREATURE IN THE WORLD.
We have taught before that there isa vanity in the creature, that is, considered in itself, yet thoughthere is a vanity in the creature in itself, in respect of satisfyingthe soul for its portion, yet there is some goodness in the creature,some desirableness. Now wherein does this consist? It consists not inthe nature of the creature itself, for that is nothing but vanity, butit consists in its reference to the first being of all things: thisis a lesson that Christ teaches. If there is any good in wealth or inany comfort in this world, it is not so much that it pleases my senseor that it suits my body, but that it has reference to God, the firstbeing, that by these creatures somewhat of God's goodness might be conveyedto me, and I may have a sanctified use of the creature to draw me nearerto God, that I may enjoy more of God, and be made more serviceable forhis glory in the place where he has set me: this is the good of thecreature. Oh, that we were only instructed in this lesson, and understood,and thoroughly believed this! No creature in all the world has any goodnessin it any further than it has reference to the first infinite supremegood of all, that so far as I can enjoy God in it, so far it is goodto me, and so far as I do not enjoy God in it, so far there is no goodnessin any creature. How easy it would be, if we really believed that, tobe contented! Suppose a man had great wealth only a few years ago, andnow 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 carnalheart would say, Anybody might know that: it brought me in so much ayear, and I could have the best fare, and be a man of repute in theplace where I live, and men regarded what I said; I might be clothedas I would, and lay up portions for my children: the good of my wealthconsisted in this. Now such a man never came into the school of Christto know in what the good of an estate consisted, so no marvel if heis disquieted when he has lost his estate. But when a Christian, whohas been in the school of Christ, and has been instructed in the artof contentment, has some wealth, he thinks, In that I have wealth abovemy brethren, I have an opportunity to serve God the better, and I enjoya 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 reckonthe 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 otherway, will call me to honor him by suffering, and if I may do God asmuch service now by suffering, that is, by showing forth the grace ofhis Spirit in my sufferings as I did in prosperity, I have as much ofGod 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 comfortand contentment as I had before.
Objection. You will say, it is truethat if I could honor God in my low estate as much as in my prosperousestate then it would be something, but how can that be? Answer. Youmust know that the special honor which God has from his creatures inthis world is the manifestation of the graces of his Spirit. It is truethat 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 virtuesof 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 thegraces of God's Spirit working as strongly in me as ever they did whenI 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 reckonedthe good of it only in my enjoyment of God, and honoring of God, andnow God has blessed the lack of it to stir up the graces of his Spiritin my soul. This is the work that God calls me to now, and I must considerGod to be most honored when I do the work that he calls me to; he setme to work in my prosperous estate to honor him at that time in thatcondition, and now he sets me to work to honor him at this time in thiscondition. God is most honored when I can turn from one condition toanother, according as he calls me to it.
Would you account yourselves to be honoredby 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? Howevergood the work may be, yet if you call them off to another work, youexpect them to manifest enough respect to you, as to be content to comeoff from that, though they are set about a lesser work, if it is moreuseful 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 pleasurein; 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 honorGod, 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 inthe enjoyment of God in it, and the honoring of God by it, you can becontent, because you have the same good that you had before, and thatis the fifth lesson.
6. CHRIST TEACHES THE SOUL WHOM HE BRINGSINTO THIS SCHOOL IN THE KNOWLEDGE OF THEIR OWN HEARTS.
You must learn this or you will neverlearn contentment. You must learn to know your own hearts well, to begood students of your own hearts. You cannot all be scholars in thearts and sciences in the world, but you may all be students of yourown hearts. Many of you cannot read in the Book, but God expects youevery day to turn over a leaf in your own hearts. You will never getany skill in this mystery of contentment, except you study the bookof your own hearts. Sailors have their books which they study, thosewho will be good navigators, and scholars have their books, those whostudy Logic have their books according to that, and those that studyRhetoric and Philosophy have their books according to that, and thosethat study Divinity have their books whereby they come to be helpedin 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, andthis will help you to contentment in three ways: 1. By studying yourheart you will come soon to discover wherein your discontent lies. Whenyou are discontented you will find out the root of any discontent ifyou study your heart well. Many men and women are discontented, andthe truth is they do not know why; they think this and the other thingis the cause. But a man or woman who knows their own heart will soonfind out where the root of their discontent lies, that it lies in somecorruption and disorder of the heart, that through God's mercy I havenow found out. It is similar to the case of a little child who is veryawkward in the house, and when a stranger comes in he does not knowwhat 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 knowsthe temper and disposition of the child, and therefore knows how tocalm it. It is just the same here: when we are strangers to our ownhearts we are powerfully discontented, and do not know how to quietourselves, because we do not know wherein the disquiet lies, but ifwe are very well versed in our own hearts, when anything happens tounsettle us, we soon find out the cause of it, and so quickly becomequiet. When a man has a watch, and understand the use of every wheeland pin, if it goes amiss he will soon find out the cause of it; butwhen someone has no skill in a watch, if it goes amiss he does not knowwhat is the matter, and therefore cannot mend it. So indeed our heartsare as a watch, and there are many wheels and windings and turningsthere, and we should labor to know our hearts well, that when they areout of tune, we may know what is the matter.
2. This knowledge of our hearts willhelp us to contentment, because by it we shall come to know what bestsuits our condition. A man who does not know his own heart does notthink 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 studiedtheir own hearts, they can say, 'I would not have been without thisaffliction for anything in the world, God has so suited this afflictionto my condition, and has come in such a way that if this afflictionhad not come I am afraid I should have fallen into sin.' When a poorcountryman takes medicine, the medicine works, but he thinks it willkill 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 forhim. 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 thatI know is the cause of my disease', and because of that such a man whohas 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 thedisorders of our own hearts. Carnal men and women do not know theirown spirits, and therefore they fling and vex themselves at every afflictionthat befalls them, they do not know what disorders are in their heartswhich may be healed by their afflictions, if it pleases God to givethem a sanctified use of them.
3. By knowing their own hearts theyknow what they are able to manage, and by this means they come to becontent. Perhaps the Lord takes away many comforts from them that theyhad 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 managesuch wealth, and they were not able to manage such prosperity. God sawit, and, a poor soul says, 'I am in some measure convinced by lookinginto my own heart that I was not able to manage such a condition.' Aman desires greedily to hold on to more than he is able to manage, andso undoes himself. Countrymen observe that if they over-stock theirland, it will quickly spoil them, and so a wise husbandman who knowshow much his ground will bear is not troubled that he has not as muchstock as others-why? Because he knows he has not got enough ground foras great a stock, and that quiets him. Many men and women who do notknow 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 notable to manage it.
Suppose one of your little childrenof three or four were crying for the coat of her sister who is twelveor perhaps even twenty, and said, 'Why may not I have a coat as longas my sister's?' If she had, it would soon trip up her heels, and scratchher face. But when the child comes to understanding, she is not discontentedbecause her coat is not as long as her sister's, but says, 'My coatfits me,' and therein she is content. So if we come to understandingin the school of Christ we will not cry, Why have I not got such wealthas others have?, but, The Lord sees that I am not able to manage itand I see it myself by knowing my own heart. There are some childrenwho, if they see a knife, will cry for it because they do not know theirstrength and that they are not able to manage it, but you know theyare not able to manage it and therefore you will not give it them, andwhen they come to sufficient understanding to know that they are notable to manage it, they will not cry for it. Similarly we would notcry 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 asChrist said, 'You know not of what spirit you are.' It was a sayingof Cecolampadius to Parillus, when they were speaking about his extremepoverty, 'Not so poor, though I have been very poor, yet I would bepoorer; I could be willing to be poorer than I am.' As if he were tosay, The truth is, the Lord knew what was more suitable for me, andI knew that my own heart was such that a poor condition was more suitableto 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 beenotherwise.
7. THE SEVENTH LESSON BY WHICH CHRISTTEACHES CONTENTMENT IS the burden of a prosperous outward condition.One who comes into Christ's school to be instructed in this art neverattains to any great skill in it until he comes to understand the burdenthat is in a prosperous condition.
Objection. You will say, 'What burdenis there in a prosperous condition?' Answer. Yes, there is certainlya great burden, and it needs great strength to bear it. Just as menneed strong brains to bear strong wine, so they need strong spiritsto bear prosperous conditions, and not to do themselves hurt. Many menand women look at the shine and glitter of prosperity, but they littlethink of the burden. There is a fourfold burden in a prosperous condition.
1. There is a burden of trouble. A rosehas its prickles, and the Scripture says that he that will be rich piercethhimself through with many sorrows (
1 Timothy 6:10). If a man's heart isset upon being rich, such a man will pierce himself through with manysorrows: he looks upon the delight and glory of riches which appearsoutwardly, but he does not consider what piercing sorrows he may meetwith in them. The consideration of the trouble that is in a prosperouscondition, I have many times thought of, and I cannot think of anythingbetter to compare it with than to travelling in some open country, whereround about is very fair and sandy ground, and you see a town a greatway off in a valley and you thin, Oh how well situated that town is;but when you come and ride into the town, you ride through a dirty laneand through a lot of fearfully dirty holes. You could not see the dirtylane and holes when you were two or three miles off. In the same way,sometimes we look upon the prosperity of men and think, this man liveswell and comfortably, but if we only knew what troubles he has in hisfamily, in his possessions, in his dealings with men, we would not thinkhis position so happy. A man may have a very fine new shoe, but nobodyknows where it pinches him except the one who has it on; so you thinkcertain men are happy, but they may have many troubles that you littlethink of.
2. There is a burden of danger in it.Men in a prosperous position are in a great deal of danger. You seesometimes in the evening that when you light up your candles, the mothsand gnats will fly up and down in the candle and scorch their wings,and they fall down dead there. So there is a great deal of danger ina prosperous estate, for men who are set upon a pinnacle on high arein greater danger than other men are. Honey, we know, invites bees andwasps to it, and the sweet of prosperity invites the Devil and temptation.Men in a prosperous position are subject to many temptations that othermen are not subject to. The Scripture calls the Devil Beelzebub, thatis, the God of flies, and so Beelzebub comes where the honey of prosperityis. Yes, they are in very great danger of temptations who are in a prosperouscondition. The dangers that men in a prosperous position have more thanothers should be considered by those who are lower. Think to yourself:though they are above me, yet they are in more danger than I am.
Tall trees are a great deal more brokenthan low shrubs, and you know when a ship has all its sails up in astorm, even the top sail, it is in more danger than one which has allits sails drawn in. Similarly, men who have their top sail and all upso finely, are more likely to be drowned, drowned in perdition, thanother men. You know what the Scripture says, how hard it is for richmen to go into the Kingdom of Heaven; such a text should make poor peoplecontent with their state.
We have a striking example of this inthe children of Kohath: you will find that they were in a more excellentposition than the other Levites, but they were in more danger than theothers, and more trouble. That the children of Kohath were in a higherposition than the other Levites I will show you from the fourth chapterof Numbers. There you find what their position was: 'This shall be aservice of the sons of Kohath in the tabernacle of the congregation,about the most holy things.' Mark this, the Levites were exercised aboutholy things, but the service of the sons of Kohath was about the mostholy things of all. And you find in the 21st of Joshua that God honoredthe other Levites, which honor the children of Aaron (being of the familiesof the Kohathites, who were the children of Levi) had, for theirs wasthe first lot (
Joshua 21:10) and they were preferredbefore the other families of Levi. Those who were employed in the mosthonorable employment had the most honorable lot, the first lot fellto them. Thus you see how God honored the children of the Kohathites.But the other Levites might say, 'How has God preferred this familybefore us?' They are indeed honored more than the others. But noticethe burden that comes with their honor; I will show you it out of twoScriptures. The first is
Numbers 7:6-9, 'And Moses took the wagonsand four oxen he gave unto the sons of Gershom, according to their service,and four wagons and eight oxen he gave unto the sons of Merari accordingto their service, under the hand of Ithamar the son of Aaron the priest';but in the ninth verse he says, 'Unto the sons of Kohath he gave none,because the service of the sanctuary that belonged unto them, was, thatthey should bear upon their shoulders.' Mark, the other Levites hadoxen and wagons given to them, to make their service easier, but, hesays, to the sons of Kohath he gave none, but they should bear theirservice on their shoulders. And that is the reason why God was so displeased,because they wanted more ease in God's service than God would have them,for whereas they should have carried it upon their shoulders, they wouldcarry it upon a cart. Here you see the first burden that they had, beyondwhat the other Levites had. And indeed, those who are in a more honorableplace than others have a burden to carry on their shoulders that thosewho are under them to not think of, while others have ways of easingtheir burden. Many times those who are employed in the ministry, orthe magistracy, who sit at the stern to order the great affairs of thecommonwealth and state, though you think they have a fine life, theylie awake when you are asleep. If you knew the burden that lay upontheir spirits, you would think that your labor and burden were verylittle in comparison of theirs.
There is another burden of danger inmore than the rest, and you will find it in Numbers 4:17: 'And the Lordspake unto Moses and unto Aaron saying, Cut ye not off the tribe ofthe families of the Kohathites from among the Levites, but thus do untothem that they may live and not die: When they approach unto the mostholy things, Aaron and his sons shall go in and appoint them every oneto his service and to his burden; but they shall not go in to see whenthe holy things are covered, lest they die.' Mark this text: the Lordsays to Moses and Aaron, 'Cut ye not off the tribe of the families ofthe Kohathites from among the Levites', cut them not off- Why? Whathad they done? Had they done anything amiss? No, they had not done anythingto provoke God; but the meaning is this: take great care to instructthe family of the Kohathites in the duty that they were to do, for,said God, they are in a great deal of danger, serving in the most holythings. If they go in to see the holy things more than God would havethem do, it is as much as their lives are worth, and therefore, if youneglect them, and do not inform them thoroughly in their duty, theywould be undone, said God. They are to administer in the most holy things,and if they should but dare to presume to do anything otherwise thanGod would have them, about those services, it would cost them theirlives; and therefore do not be careless of them, for if you neglectthem you will be a means of cutting them off. Thus you see the dangerthat the family of the Kohathites were in; they were preferred beforeothers, but they were in more danger. So you think of certain men ina parish who bear the sway and are employed in public service, and carryall before them, but you do not consider their danger. And similarlyministers stand in the forefront of all the spite and malice of ungodlymen; certainly God employs them in an honorable service, and a servicethat the angels would delight in, but though the service is honorable,above other works, yet the burden of danger is likewise greater thanthe danger of men in an inferior position. Now when the soul gets wisdomfrom Christ to think of the danger that it is in, then it will be contentwith the low estate in which it is. A poor man who is in a low condition,thinks, 'I am low and others are raised, but I know now what their burdenis', and so, if he is rightly instructed in the school of Christ, hecomes to be contented.
3. In a prosperous condition there isthe burden of duty. You look only at the sweetness and comfort, thehonor and respect that they have who are in a prosperous position, butyou must consider the duty that they owe to God. God requires more dutyat their hands than at yours. You are ready to be discontented becauseyou have not got such gifts and abilities as others have, but God requiresmore duty of those who have greater wealth than of you who have notsuch wealth. Oh, you would fain have the honor, but can you carry theburden of the duty? 4. The last is the burden of account in a prosperouscondition. Those who enjoy great wealth and a prosperous condition havea great account to give to God. We are all stewards, and one is a stewardto a meaner man, perhaps but to an ordinary knight, another is a stewardto a nobleman, an earl-now the steward of the meaner man has not somuch as the other under his hand, and shall he be discontented becauseof this? No, he thinks, I have less, and I will have to give the lessaccount. So your account, in comparison of the minister's and magistrate's,will be nothing: you are to give an account of your own souls and soare they, you are to give an account for your own family and so arethey, but you will not have to give account for congregations, and fortowns, and cities and countries. You think of princes and kings-Oh,what a glorious position they are in! But what do you think of a kingwho has to give account for the disorder and wickedness in a kingdomwhich he might possibly have prevented? What an abundance of glory mighta prince bring to God if he bent his soul and all his thoughts to liftup the name of God in his kingdom! Now what God loses through the lackof this, that king, prince or governor must give an account for. Thereis a saying of Chrysostom on that place in Hebrews where it is saidthat men must give an account or their souls: he wonders that any manin a public place can be saved, because the account they have to giveis so great. I remember I have read a saying of Philip, the King ofSpain: though the story says of him that he had such a natural consciencethat he professed he would not do anything against his conscience, no,not in secret, for gaining a world, yet when this man was to die, 'Oh',he said, 'that I had never been a king! Oh, that I had lived a solitaryand private life all my days! Then I should have died a great deal moresecurely, I should with more confidence have gone before the throneof God to give my account. This is the fruit of my kingdom, becauseI had all the glory of it, it has made my account harder to give toGod'. Thus he cried out when he was to die.
And therefore you who live in privatepositions, remember this: if you come to Christ's school and are taughtthis lesson, you will be quiet in your afflictions, or in your privateposition, because your account is not as great as others. There is asaying I remember meeting with in Latimer's sermons which he was wontto use: 'The half is more than the whole'; that is, when a man is ina mean condition, he is but half way towards the height of prosperitythat others are in, yet, he says, this is safer though it is a meanercondition than others.
Those who are in a high and prosperouscondition have annexed to it the burden of trouble, of danger, of duty,and of account. And thus you see how Christ trains up his scholars inhis school, and though they are otherwise weak, yet by his Spirit hegives them wisdom to understand these things aright.
8. CHRIST TEACHES THEM WHAT A GREATAND DREADFUL EVIL IT IS TO BE GIVEN UP TO ONE'S HEART'S DESIRES.
It is, indeed, a dreadful evil, oneof the most hideous and fearful evils that can befall any man on theface of the earth, for God to give him up to his heart's desires. Akindred truth is that spiritual judgments are more fearful than anyoutward judgments. Now once the soul understands these things, a manwill be content when God crosses him in his desires. You are crossedin your desires, and so you are discontented and vexed and fretted aboutit; is that your only misery, that you are crossed in your desires?No, no, you are infinitely mistaken; the greatest misery of all is forGod to give you up to your heart's lusts and desires, to give you upto your own counsels. So you have it in Psalm 81:11, 12: 'But my peoplewould not hearken to my voice, and Israel would none of me,'-what then?-'SoI gave them up unto their own heart lust, and they walked in their owncounsels.' 'Oh let me not have such a misery as that', said Bernard,'for to give me what I would have, to give me my heart's desires isone of the most hideous judgments in the world.' In Scripture we haveno certain, evident sign of a reprobate, we cannot say, unless we knewa man had committed the sin against the Holy Ghost, that he is a reprobate,for we do not know what God may work upon him, but the nearest of alland the blackest sign of a reprobate is this: for God to give a manup to his heart's desires. All the pain of diseases, all the calamitiesthat can be thought of in the world are no judgments in comparison ofthis.
Now when the soul comes to understandthis, it cries out, why am I so troubled that I have not got my desires?There is nothing that God conveys his wrath more through than a prosperouscondition. I remember reading of a Jewish tradition about Uzziah: whenGod struck him with leprosy, they say that the beams of the sun dartedupon the forehead of Uzziah, and he was struck with leprosy in thisway. The Scripture says, indeed, that the priests looked upon him, butthey say that there was a special light and beam of the sun on his foreheadthat revealed the leprosy to the priests, and they say that was theway of conveying of it. Whether that was true or not, I am sure thatthis is true, that the strong beams of the sun of prosperity upon manymen make them to be leprous. Would any poor man in the country havebeen discontented that he was not in Uzziah's position? He was a greatKing, aye, but there was the leprosy in his forehead. The poor man mightsay, Though I live meanly in the country yet I thank God my body iswhole and sound. Would not any man rather have homespun and skins ofbeasts to clothe himself with, tan to have satin and velvet that hadplague in it? The Lord conveys the plague of his curse through prosperity,as much as through any thing in the world, and therefore when the soulcomes to understand this, this makes it quiet and content.
And then, spiritual judgments are thegreatest judgments of all. The Lord lays such and such an afflictionupon my outward wealth, but what if he had taken away my life? A man'shealth is a greater mercy than his wealth, and you poor people shouldconsider that. is the health of a man's body better than his wealth?What then is the health of a man's soul? That is a great deal better.The Lord has inflicted external judgments, but he has not inflictedspiritual judgments on you, he has not given you up to hardness of heart,and taken away the spirit of prayer from you in your afflicted condition.Oh, then, be of good comfort though you have outward afflictions uponyou; still your soul, your more excellent part is not afflicted. Nowwhen the soul comes to understand this, that here lies the sore wrathof God, to be given up to one's desires, and to have spiritual judgments:this quiets him, and contents him, though outward afflictions are onhim. Perhaps one of a man's children has the fit of an ague or toothache,but his next door neighbor has the plague, or all his children havedied of it. Now shall he be so discontented that his children have toothachewhen his neighbour's children are dead? Think thus: Lord, you have laidan afflicted condition upon me, but, Lord, you have not given me theplague of a hard heart.
Now if you take these eight things beforementioned, and lay them together, you may well apply that Scripturein the 29th of Isaiah, the last verse, where it says, 'They also thaterred in spirit shall come to understanding; and they that murmuredshall learn doctrine.' Have there been any of you, as I fear many maybe found, who have erred in spirit, even in regard of this truth thatwe are now preaching of, and many who have murmured? Oh, that this dayyou might come to understand, that Christ would bring you into his school,and teach you understanding. 'And they that murmured shall learn doctrine'-whatdoctrine shall they learn? These doctrines that I have opened to you.And if you will but thoroughly study these lessons that I have set beforeyour eyes, it will be a special help and means to cure your murmuringsand repinings at the hand of God, and so you will come to learn Christiancontentment. The Lord teach you thoroughly by his Spirit these lessonsof contentment! I will only add one more lesson in the learning of contentmentand then I shall come to the fourth head, the excellence of contentment.
9. THE NINE AND LAST LESSON WHICH CHRISTTEACHES Those whom he instructs in this art of contentment is the rightknowledge of God's providence, and therein are four things.
1. The universality of providence, whereinthe soul must be thoroughly instructed in to come to this art of contentment.To understand the universality of providence, that is, how the providenceof God goes through the whole world and extends itself to everything.Not only that God by his providence rules the world, and governs allthings in general, but that it reaches to every detail; not only toorder the great affairs of kingdoms, but it reaches to every man's family;it reaches to every person in the family; it reaches to every condition;yea, to every happening, to everything that falls out concerning youin every particular: not one hair falls from your head, not a sparrowto the ground, without the providence of God. Nothing befalls you, goodor evil, but there is a providence of the infinite eternal first Beingin that thing; and therein is God's infiniteness, that it reaches tothe least things, to the least worm that is under your feet.
Then much more does it reach to youwho are a rational creature; the providence of God is more special towardsrational creatures than any others. Now to understand in a spiritualway the universality of providence in every particular happening frommorning to night every day, that there is nothing that befalls you butthere is a hand of God in it-this is from God, and is a great help tocontentment. Every man will grant the truth of the thing, that it isso, but as the Apostle says, in
Hebrews 11:3: 'By faith we understandthat the worlds were made'; by faith we understand it. Why by faith?we can understand by reason that no finite thing can be from itself,and therefore that the world could not be of itself, but we understandit by faith in another way than by reason. So whatever we understandof God in providence, yet when Christ takes u into his school we cometo understand it by faith in a better manner than we do by reason.
2. The efficacy that is in providence.That is, that the providence of God goes on in all things, with strengthand power, and will not to be altered by our power. Suppose we are discontentedand vexed and troubled, and we fret and rage, yet we need not thinkwe will alter the course of providence by our discontent. Some of Job'sfriends, when they saw that he was impatient, said to him: 'Shall theearth be forsaken for thee? and shall the rock be removed out of hisplace?' (Job 18:4).
So I may say to every discontented,impatient heart: what, shall the providence of God change its coursefor you? Do you think it such a weak thing, that because it does notplease you it must alter its course? Whether or not you are contentthe providence of God will go on, it has an efficacy of power, of virtue,to carry all things before it. Can you make one hair black or whitewith all the stir that you are making? When you are in a ship at seawhich has all its sails spread with a full gale of wind, and is swiftlysailing, can you make it stand still by running up and down in the ship?No more can you make the providence of God alter and change its coursewith your vexing and fretting; it will go on with power, do what youcan. Do but understand the power and efficacy of providence and it willbe a mighty means helping you to learn this lesson of contentment.
3. The infinite variety of the worksof providence, and yet the order of things, one working towards another.there is an infinite variety of the works of God in an ordinary providence,and yet they all work in an orderly way. We put these two things together,for God in his providence causes a thousand thousand things to dependone upon another. There are an infinite number of wheels, as I may say,in the works of providence; put together all the works that ever Goddid from all eternity or ever will do, and they all make up but onework, and they have been as several wheels that have had their orderlymotion to attain to the end that God from all eternity has appointed.
We, indeed, look at things by pieces,we look at one detail and do not consider the relation that one thinghas to another, but God looks at all things at once, and sees the relationthat one thing has to another. When a child looks at a clock, it looksfirst at one wheel, and then at another wheel: he does not look at themall together or the dependence that one has upon another; but the workmanhas his eyes on them all together and sees the dependence of all, oneupon another: so it is in God's providence. Now notice how this worksto contentment: when a certain passage of providence befalls me, thatis one wheel, and it may be that if this wheel were stopped, a thousandother things might come to be stopped by this. In a clock, stop butone wheel and you stop every wheel, because they are dependant uponone another. So when God has ordered a thing for the present to be thusand thus, how do you know how many things depend upon this thing? Godmay have some work to do twenty years hence that depends on this passageof providence that falls out this day or this week.
And here, by the way, we may see whata great deal of evil there is in discontent, for you would have God'sprovidence altered in such and such a detail: now if it were only inthat detail, and that had relation to nothing else it would not be somuch, but by your desire to have your will in such a detail, you maycross God in a thousand things that he has to bring about, because itis possible that a thousand things may depend upon that one thing thatyou would fain have otherwise than it is. It is just as if a child shouldcry out and say, 'Let that one wheel stop'; though he says only onewheel, yet if that were to stop, it is as much as if he should say theymust all stop.
So in providence: let but this one passageof providence stop-it is as much as if a thousand stopped. Let me thereforebe quiet and content, for though I am crossed in some one particularthing God attains his end; at least, his end may be furthered in a thousandthings by this one thing that I am crossed in. Therefore let a man consider,this is an act of providence, and how do I know what God is about todo, and how many things depend upon this providence? Now we are willingto be crossed in one thing, so that our friend may attain to what hedesires in a thousand things. If you have a love and friendship to God,be willing to be crossed in a few things, that the Lord may have hiswork go on in general, in a thousand other things. Now that is the thirdthing to be understood in God's providence, which Christ teaches thosewhom he instructs in the art of contentment.
4. Christ teaches them the knowledgeof providence, that is, The knowledge of God's usual way in his dealingswith his people more particularly. The other is the knowledge of Godin his providence in general. But the right understanding of the wayof God in his providence towards his people and saints is a notablelesson to help us in the art of contentment. If we once get to knowa man's way and course we may better suit, and be content to live withhim, than before we got to know his way and course. When we come tolive in a society with men and women, the men and women may be good,but till we come to know their way and course and disposition, manythings may cross us, and we think they are very hard, but when we cometo be acquainted with their way and spirits, then we can suit and cottonwith them very well; the reason of our trouble is because we do notunderstand their way. So it is with you: those who are but as strangersto God, and do not understand the way of God are troubled with the providencesof God, and they think them very strange and cannot tell what to makeof them, because they do not understand the ordinary course and wayof God towards his people. Sometimes if a stranger comes into a familyand sees certain things done, he wonders what is the matter, but thosewho are acquainted with it are not at all troubled by it. When servantsfirst come together and do not know one another, they may be frowardand discontented, but when they get to be acquainted with one another'sways, then they are more contented; just so it is when we first cometo understand God's ways.
But you will say, What do you understandby God's ways? By that I mean three things, and when we get to knowthem we shall not wonder so much at the providence of God, but be quietand contented with them: 1. GOD'S ORDINARY COURSE IS THAT HIS PEOPLEIN THIS WORLD SHOULD BE IN AN AFFLICTED CONDITION.
God has revealed in his Word, and wemay there find he has set it down as his ordinary way even from thebeginning of the world to this day, but more especially in the timesof the Gospel, that his people here should be in an afflicted condition.Now men who do not understand this stand and wonder to hear that thepeople of God are afflicted, and their enemies prosper in their way.When those who seek God in his way and seek for reformation are afflicted,wounded and spoiled, and their enemies prevail, they wonder at it; butone who is in the school of Christ is taught by Jesus Christ that Godby his eternal counsels has set this as his course and way, to bringup his people in this world in an afflicted condition. Therefore theApostle says, 'Account it not strange concerning the fiery trial' (1Peter 4:12). We are not therefore to be discontented with it, seeingGod has set such a course and way, and we know it is the will of Godthat it should be so.
2. USUALLY WHEN GOD INTENDS THE GREATESTMERCY TO ANY OF HIS PEOPLE HE BRINGS THEM INTO THE LOWEST CONDITION.
God seems to go quite across and workin a contrary way: when he intends the greatest mercies to his peoplehe first usually brings them into a very low conditions. If it is abodily mercy, an outward mercy that he intends to bestow, he bringsthem physically low, and outwardly low; if it is a mercy in their possessionsthat he intends to bestow, he brings them low in that and then raisesthem; and in their reputations, he brings them low there, and then raisesthem; and in their spirits God ordinarily brings their spirits low andthen raises their spirits. Usually the people of God, before the greatestcomforts, have the greatest afflictions and sorrows. Now those who understandGod's ways think that when God brings his people into sad conditions,he is leaving and forsaking them, and that God does not intend any greatgood to them. But a child of God, who is instructed in this way of God,is not troubled; 'My condition is very low,' he says, 'but this is God'sway when he intends the greatest mercy, to bring men under the greatestafflictions.' When he intended to raise Joseph to be second in the kingdom,God cast him into a dungeon a little before. So when God intended toraise David and set him upon the throne, he made him to be hunted asa partridge in the mountains (
1 Samuel 26:29). God dealt this waywith his Son: Christ himself went into glory by suffering (Hebrews 2:10);and if God so deals with his own Son, much more with his people.
A little before daybreak you will observeit is darker than it was any time before, so God will make our conditionsa little darker before the mercy comes. When God bestowed the last greatmercy at Naseby* we were in a very low condition; God knew what he hadto do beforehand, he knew that his time was coming for great mercies:it is the way of God to do so. [*In 1645, the parliamentary army wona decisive victory against the Royalists at Naseby, Northamptonshire.The messages which comprise this book were preached by Burroughs inthat year.] Be instructed aright in this course and way that God isaccustomed to walk in and that will greatly help us to contentment.
3. IT IS THE WAY OF GOD TO WORK BY CONTRARIES,TO TURN THE GREATEST EVIL INTO THE GREATEST GOOD.
To grant great good after great evilis one thing, and to turn great evil into the greatest good is another,and yet that is God's way: the greatest good that God intends for hispeople, he many times works out of the greatest evil, the greatest lightis brought out of the greatest darkness. I remember, Luther has a strikingexpression for this: he says, 'It is the way of God: he humbles thathe might exalt, he kills that he might make alive, he confounds thathe might glorify.' This is the way of God, he says, but every one doesnot understand it. This is the art of arts, and the science of sciences,the knowledge of knowledges, to understand this, that God when he willbring life, brings it out of death, he brings joy out of sorrow, andhe brings prosperity out of adversity, yea and many times brings graceout of sin, that is, makes use of sin to work furtherance of grace.it is the way of God to bring all good out of evil, not only to overcomethe evil, but to make the evil work toward the good. Now when the soulcomes to understand this, it will take away our murmuring and bringcontentment into spirits. But I fear there are but few who understandit aright; perhaps they read of such things, and hear such things ina sermon, but they are not instructed in this by Jesus Christ, thatthis is the way of God, to bring the greatest good out of the greatestevil.
The Excellence of Contentment
Having concluded our studyof the lessons we are to learn, we come to the next sub-division, whichis, the excellence of this grace of contentment.
There is, indeed, a great deal of excellencein contentment; that is, as it were, another lesson for us to learn.
The apostle says 'I have learned', asif he should say: Blessed be God for this! Oh! it is a mercy of Godto me that I have learned this lesson, I find so much good in this contentment,that I would not for a world be without it.
'I have learned it', he says.
Now even the heathen philosophers hada sight of the great excellence that is in contentment. I remember readingof Antisthenes, who desired of his gods (speaking after the heathenishway) nothing in this world to make his life happy but contentment, andif he might have anything that he would desire to make his life happy,he would ask of them that he might have the spirit of Socrates, to beable to bear any wrong, any injuries that he met with, and to continuein a quiet temper of spirit whatsoever befell him; for that was thetemper of Socrates: whatever befell him he continued the same man, whatevercross befell him, however great, nobody could perceive any alterationof his spirit. This a heathen attained to by the strength of nature,and a common work of the Spirit. now Antisthenes saw such an excellencein this spirit that, as Solomon when God said to him: 'What shall Igive thee?' asked of him wisdom, so he said: 'If the gods should putit to me to know what I would have, I would desire this thing, thatI might have the spirit of Socrates.' He saw what a great excellencethere was in this; and certainly a Christian may see an abundance ofexcellence in it. I shall labor to set it out to you in this chapterthat you might be in love with this grace of contentment.
1. By contentment we come to give Godthe worship that is due to him. It is a special part of the divine worshipthat we owe to God, to be content in a Christian way, as has been shownto you. I say it is a special part of the divine worship that the creatureowes to the infinite Creator, in that I tender the respect that is duefrom me to the Creator. The word that the Greeks have that signifies,'to worship' is the same as to come and crouch before someone, as ifa dog should come crouching to you, and be willing to lie down at yourfeet. So the creature in the apprehension of its own baseness, and theinfinite excellence that is in God above it, when it comes to worshipGod, comes and crouches to this God, and lies down at the feet of God:then the creature worships God. When you see a dog come crouching toyou, and by holding your hand over him, you can make him lie down atyour feet, then consider, thus should you do before the Lord: you shouldcome crouching to him, and lie down at his feet, even on your backsor bellies, to lie down in the dust before him so as to be willing thathe should do with you what he will. Just as sometimes you may turn adog this way or that way, up and down, with your hand, and there helies before you, according to your showing him with your hand; so whenthe creature shall come and lie down thus before the Lord, then a creatureworships God and tenders the worship that is due to him. Now in whatdisposition of heart do we thus crouch to God more than when we havethis state of contentment in all the conditions that God disposes usto? This is crouching to God's disposal, to be like the poor woman ofCanaan, who when Christ said, 'It is not fit to give children's meatto dogs', said 'The dogs have crumbs', I am a dog I confess, but letme have only a crumb. And so when the soul shall be in such a dispositionas to lie down and say, 'Lord, I am but as a dog, yet let me have acrumb', then it highly honors God. It may be that some of you have notyour table spread as others have, but God gives you crumbs; now, saysthe poor woman, dogs have crumbs, and when you can find your heartsthus submitting to God, to be but as a dog, and can be contented andbless God for any crumb, I say this is a great worship of God.
You worship God more by this than whenyou come to hear a sermon, or spend half an hour, or an hour, in prayer,or when you come to receive a sacrament. These are the acts of God'sworship, but they are only external acts of worship, to hear and prayand receive sacraments. But this is the soul's worship, to subject itselfthus to God. You who often will worship God by hearing, and praying,and receiving sacraments, and yet afterwards will be froward and discontented-knowthat God does not regard such worship, he will have the soul's worship,in this subjecting of the soul unto God. Note this, I beseech you: inactive obedience we worship God by doing what pleases God, but by passiveobedience we do as well worship God by being pleased with what God does.now when I perform a duty, I worship God, I do what pleases God; whyshould I not as well worship God when I am pleased with what God does?As it was said of Christ's obedience: Christ was active in his passiveobedience, and passive in his active obedience; so the saints are passivein their active obedience, they are first passive in the reception ofgrace, and then active. And when they come to passive obedience, theyare active, they put forth grace in active obedience. When they performedactions to God, then the soul says: 'Oh! that I could do what pleasesGod!' When they come to suffer any cross: 'Oh, that what God does mightplease me!' I labor to do what pleases God, and I labor that what Goddoes shall please me: here is a Christian indeed, who shall endeavorboth these. It is but one side of a Christian to endeavor to do whatpleases God; you must as well endeavor to be pleased with what God does,and so you will come to be a complete Christian when you can do both,and that is the first thing in the excellence of this grace of contentment.
2. IN CONTENTMENT THERE IS MUCH EXERCISEOF GRACE.
There is much strength of grace, yea,there is much beauty of grace in contentment; there is much exerciseof grace, strength of grace, and beauty of grace: I put all these together.
1. Much exercise of grace. There isa compound of grace in contentment: there is faith, and there is humility,and love, and there is patience, and there is wisdom, and there is hope;almost all graces are compounded. It is an oil which has the ingredientsof every kind of grace; and therefore, though you cannot see the particulargrace; yet in this oil you have it all.
God sees the graces of his Spirit exercisedin a special manner, and this pleases God at the heart to see the gracesof his Spirit exercised. In one action that you do you may exerciseone grace especially, but in contentment you exercise a great many gracesat once.
2. There is a great deal of strengthof grace in contentment. It argues a great deal of strength in the bodyfor it to be able to endure hard weather and whatever comes, and yetnot to be much altered by it; so it argues strength of grace to be content.You who complain of weakness of memory, of weakness of gifts, you cannotdo what others do in other things; but have you this gracious heart-contentment,that has been explained to you? I know that you have attained to strengthof grace in this, when it is as spiritual as has been shown to you inthe explication of this point. If a man is distempered in his body,and has many obstructions, has an ill stomach, and his spleen and liverobstructed, and yet for all this his brain is not disordered, it isan argument of a great strength of brain; though many evil fumes mayarise from his corrupt stomach, yet still his brain is not disorderedbut he continues in the free exercise of his reason and understanding.Every one may understand that this man has a very strong brain, whensuch things do not upset him. If other people who have a weak braindo not digest but one meal's meat, the fumes that arise from their stomachdisorder their brain and make them unfit for everything, whereas thesehave strong heads, and strong brains, and though their stomachs areill and they cannot digest meat, yet they still have the free use oftheir brain: this, I say, argues strength. So it is in a man's spirit:you find many who have weak spirits, and if they have any ill fumes,if accidents befall them, you will soon find them out of temper; butthere are other men, who though things fume up, still keep in a steadyway, and have the use of reason and of their graces, and possess theirsouls in patience.
I remember it is reported of the eaglethat it is not like other fowls: when other fowls are hungry they makea noise; but the eagle is never heard to make noise though it lacksfood. Now it is from the magnitude of its spirit that it will not makesuch complaints as other fowls do when they lack food, because it isabove hunger, and above thirst. Similarly it is an argument of a graciousmagnitude of spirit, that whatsoever befalls it, yet it is not alwayswhining and complaining as others do, but it goes on in its way andcourse, and blesses God, and keeps in a constant tenor whatever befallsit. Such things as cause others to be dejected and fretted and vexed,and take away all the comfort of their lives make no alteration at allin the spirits of these men and women. This, I say, is a sign of a greatdeal of strength of grace.
3. It is also an argument of a greatdeal of beauty of grace. There is a saying of Seneca, a heathen, 'Whenyou go out into groves and woods, and see the tallness of the treesand their shadows, it strikes a kind of awful fear of a deity in you,and when you see the vast rivers and fountains and deep waters, thatstrikes a kind of fear of a God in you, but', he said, 'do you see aman who is quiet in tempests, and who lives happily in the midst ofadversities, why do not you worship that man?' He thinks him a man worthyof such honor who will be quiet and live a happy life, though in themidst of adversities. The glory of God appears here more than in anyof his works. There is no work which God has made-the sun, moon, starsand all the world-in which so much of the glory of God appears as ina man who lives quietly in the midst of adversity. That was what convincedthe king: when he saw that the three children could walk in the midstof the fiery furnace and not be touched, the king was mightily convincedby this, that surely their God was the great God indeed, and that theywere highly beloved of their God who could walk in the midst of thefurnace and not be touched, whereas the others who came only to themouth of the furnace were devoured. So when a Christian can walk inthe midst of fiery trials, without his garments being singed, and hascomfort and joy in the midst of everything (when like Paul in the stockshe can sing, which wrought upon the jailor) it will convince men, whenthey see the power of grace in the midst of afflictions. When they canbehave themselves in a gracious and holy manner in such afflictionsas would make others roar: Oh, this is the glory of a Christian.
It is what is said to be the glory ofChrist, (for it is thought by interpreters to be meant of Christ) in
Micah 5:5: 'And this man shall be thepeace when the Assyrian shall come into our land, and when he shalltread in our palaces.' This man shall be the peace when the Assyrianshall come into our land-for one to be in peace when there are no enemiesis no great thing, but the text says, when the Assyrian shall come intoour land, then this man shall be the peace. That is, when all shallbe in a hubbub and uproar, yet then this man shall be peace. That isthe trial of grace, when you find Jesus Christ to be peace in your heartswhen the Assyrian shall come into the land. You may think you find peacein Christ when you have no outward troubles, but is Christ your peacewhen the Assyrian comes into the land, when the enemy comes? Supposeyou should hear the enemy come marching to the city and they had takenthe works, and were plundering, what would be your peace? Jesus Christwould be peace to the soul when the enemy comes into the city, and intoyour houses. If any of you have been where the enemy has come, whathas been the peace of your souls? What is said of Christ may be appliedto this grace of contentment: when the Assyrian, the plunderers, theenemies, when any affliction, trouble, distress befalls such a heart,then this grace of contentment bring peace to the soul; it brings peaceto the soul at the time when the Assyrian comes into the land. The graceof contentment is an excellent grace: there is much beauty, much strengthin it, there is a great deal of worth in this grace, and therefore bein love with it.
3. BY CONTENTMENT THE SOUL IS FITTEDTO RECEIVE MERCY, AND TO DO SERVICE.
I will put these two together: contentmentmakes the soul fit to receive mercy, and to do service. No man or womanin the world is as fit to receive the grace of God, and to do the workof God, as those who have contented spirits.
Those who are contented are fitted toreceive mercy from the Lord. If you want a vessel to take in any liquor,you must hold it still for if the vessel stirs and shakes up and down,you cannot pour in anything, but you will say, 'Hold still', that youmay pour it in and not lose any. So if we would be vessels to receiveGod's mercy, and would have the Lord pour his mercy into us, we musthave quiet, still hearts. We must not have hearts hurrying up and downin trouble, discontent and vexing, but still and quiet hearts, if wereceive mercy from the Lord. If a child throws and kicks up and downfor a thing, you do not give it him when he cries so, but first youwill have the child quiet. Even though, perhaps, you intend him to havewhat he cries for, you will not give it him till he is quiet, and comes,and stands still before you, and is contented without it, and then youwill give it him. And truly so does the Lord deal with us, for our dealingswith him are just as your froward children's are with you. As soon asyou want a thing from God, if you cannot have it you are disquietedat once and all in an uproar, as it were, in your spirits. God intendsmercy to you, but he says, 'You shall not have it yet, I will see youquiet first, and then in the quietness of your hearts come to me, andsee what I will do with you.' I appeal to you who are in any way acquaintedwith the ways of God, have you not found this to be the way of God towardsyou/ When you were troubled for want, perhaps, of some spiritual comfortand your hearts were vexed at it, you got nothing from God all thatwhile; but if you have got your heart into a quiet frame, and can say,'Well, it is right that the Lord should do with his poor creatures whathe will, I am under his feet, and am resolved to do what I can to honorhim, and whatever he does with me, I will seek him as long as I live,I will be content with what God gives, and whether he gives or not Iwill be content.' 'Are you in this frame?' says God, 'now you shallhave comfort, now I will give you the mercy.' A prisoner must not thinkhe will get rid of his chains by pulling and tearing; he may gall hisflesh and rend it to the very bone, but certainly he will not be unfetteredsooner. If he wants his fetters taken off he must quietly give up himselfto some man to take them off. If a beggar knocks once or twice at thedoor and you do not come, and thereupon he is vexed and troubled andthinks it much that you let him stand a little while without anything,you think that this beggar is not fit to receive an alms. But if youhear two or three beggars at your door, and out of your window you hearthem say, 'Let us be content to stay, perhaps they are busy, it is rightthat we should stay, it is well if we get anything in the end, we deservenothing at all, and therefore we may well wait a while', you would thenquickly send them an alms. So God deals with the heart: when it is ina disquiet mood then God does not give; but when the heart lies downquietly under God's hand, then is it in a fit frame to receive mercy.'Your strength shall be to sit still,' says God, 'you shall not be deliveredfrom Babylon but by your sitting still.' 4. AS CONTENTMENT MAKES FITTO RECEIVE MERCY, SO FIT TO DO SERVICE.
O the quiet fruits of righteousness,the peaceable fruits of righteousness! They indeed prosper and multiplymost when they come to be peaceable fruits of righteousness. As thephilosophers say of everything that moves, nothing moves but upon somethingthat is immovable. A thing which moves upon the earth, could not moveif the earth were not still.
Objection. The ships move upon the sea,and that is not still.
Answer. But the seas move upon thatwhich is still and immovable.
Nothing moves but it has something immovablethat upholds it. The wheels in a coach move up and down, but the axle-treedoes not move up and down; so it is with the heart of a man. As theysay of the Heaven that it moves up and down upon a pole that is immovable,so it is in the heart of a man: if he will move to do service to God,he must have a steady heart within him. That must help him to move inthe service of God, for those who have unsteady, disturbed spirits whichhave no steadfastness at all in them are not fit to do service for God,but such as have steadfastness in their spirits are men and women fitto do any service. That is the reason why, when the Lord has any greatwork for one of his servants to do, usually he first quiets their spirits,he brings their spirits into a quiet, sweet frame, to be contented withanything, and then he sets them about employment.
5. CONTENTMENT DELIVERS US FROM AN ABUNDANCEOF TEMPTATIONS.
Oh, the temptations that men of discontentedspirits are subject to! The Devil loves to fish in troubled waters.That is our proverb about men and women, their disposition is to fishin troubled waters, they say it is good fishing in troubled waters.This is the maxim of the Devil, he loves to fish in troubled waters;where he sees the spirits of men and women troubled and vexed, therethe Devil comes. He says, 'There is good fishing for me', when he seesmen and women go up and down discontented, and he can get them alone,then he comes with his temptations: 'Will you suffer such a thing?'he says, 'take this shift, this indirect way, do you not see how pooryou are, others are well off, you do not know what to do for the winter,to provide fuel and get bread for you and your children', and so hetempts them to unlawful courses. This is the special disorder that theDevil fastens upon, when he gets men and women to give their souls tohim: it is from discontent, that is the ground of all who have beenwitches, and so have given up themselves to the Devil: the rise of ithas been their discontent.
Therefore it is noticeable that thoseupon whom the Devil works, to make them witches, are usually old andmelancholy people, and women especially, and those of the poorer sortwho are discontented at home. Their neighbors trouble them and vex them,and their spirits are weak and they cannot bear it, so upon that theDevil fastens his temptations and draws them to anything. If they arepoor, then he promises them money; if they have revengeful spirits,then he tells them that he will revenge them upon such and such persons:now this quiets and contents them. Oh! there is occasion of temptationfor the Devil when he meets with a discontented spirit! Luther saidof God, 'God does not dwell in Babylon, but in Salem.' Babylon signifiesconfusion, and Salem signifies peace; now God does not dwell in spiritsthat are in a confusion, but he dwells in peaceable and quiet spirits.Oh, if you would free yourselves from temptations, labor for contentment.It is the peace of God that guards the heart from temptation. I rememberreading of one Marius Curio who had bribes sent to him, to tempt himto be unfaithful to his country. When he was sitting at home at dinnerwith a dish of turnips, and they came and promised him rewards: saidhe, 'That man who can be contented with this fare that I have will notbe tempted with your rewards. I thank God I am content with this far,and as for rewards let them be offered to those that cannot be contentto dine with a dish of turnips.' So the truth is, as we see clearly,that the reason why many betray their trust, as in the service of Parliamentand the Kingdom, is because they cannot be contented to be in a lowcondition. If a man is contented to be in a low condition, and to gomeanly clothed if God sees fit, such a one is shot-free, you mightysay, from thousands of temptations of the Devil, that prevail againstothers to the damning of their souls.
Oh, in such times as these, when menare in danger of the loss of their wealth, I say men who have not gotthis grace are in a most lamentable condition, they are in more dangerfor their souls than they are for their outward possessions. You thinkit is a sad thing to be in danger of your outward possessions that youmay lose everything in a night; but if you have not this contented spiritwithin you, you are in more danger of the temptations of the Devil,to be plundered in that way of any good, and to be led into sin. Oh,when men think thus, that they must live as finely as they were wontto do, they make themselves a prey to the Devil, but for such as cansay, 'let God do with me what he pleases, I am content to submit tohis hand in it', the Devil will scarcely meddle with such men. Therewas a notable saying of a philosopher who lived on mean fare: as hewas eating herbs and roots, someone said to him, 'If you would but pleaseDionysius, you need not eat herbs and roots'; but he answered him thus,'If you would but be content with such mean fare, you need not flatterDionysius.' Temptations will no more prevail over a contented man, thana dart that is thrown against a brazen wall.
6. THE SIXTH EXCELLENCE IS THE ABUNDANTCOMFORTS IN A MAN'S LIFE THAT CONTENTMENT WILL BRING.
Contentment will make a man's life exceedinglysweet and comfortable, nothing more so than the grace of contentment.I will show how it brings comfort in many ways.
1. What a man has he has in a kind ofindependent way, not depending upon any creature for his comfort.
2. If God raises the position of a contentedman who is low, he has the love of God in it. It is abundantly moresweet then than if he had it and his heart was not contented; for Godmay grant a discontented man his desire, but he cannot say that it isfrom love. If a man has quieted his spirit first, and then God grantshim his desire, he may have more comfort in it, and more assurance thathe has the love of God in it.
3. This contentment is a comfort toa man's spirit in this, that it keeps in his comforts, and keeps outwhatever may damp his comforts, or put out the light of them. I maycompare this grace of contentment to a sailor's lantern: when a sailoris at sea, no matter how much provision he has in his ship, yet if heis thousands of leagues from land, or in a route where he will not meetwith a ship for three or four months, he will be in a sad state if hehas no lantern on his ship, nor anything by which to keep a candle alightin a storm. He would give a great deal to have a lantern, or somethingthat might serve instead of one. When a storm comes in the night, andhe can have no light above board, but it is puffed out at once, hisstate is very sad. So, many men have the light of comfort when thereis no storm, but let any affliction come, any storm upon them, and theirlight is puffed out at once, and what can they do now? When the heartis furnished with this grace of contentment, this grace is, as it were,the lantern, and it keeps comfort in the spirit of a man, light in themidst of a storm and tempest. When you have a lantern in the midst ofa storm you can carry light everywhere up and down the ship, to thetop of the mast if you wish, and yet keep it alight; so when the comfortof a Christian is enlivened with the grace of contentment, it may bekept alight whatever storms or tempests come, still he can keep lightin his soul. Oh this helps your comforts very much.
7. CONTENTMENT DRAWS COMFORT FROM THOSETHINGS WE DO NOT REALLY POSSESS.
Perhaps many who have not got outwardthings have more comfort than those who do possess them. A man who distilsherbs, though he has not got the herbs themselves, yet having the waterthat is distilled out of them, he may enjoy the benefit of the herbs.So though a man has not got real possession of such outward wealth,such an outward comfort, yet, by the grace of contentment he may getit to himself. By the art of navigation we can bring in the riches ofthe East and West Indies to ourselves; so by the art of contentmentwe may bring in the comfort of any condition to ourselves, that is,we may have that comfort by contentment, that we should have if we hadthe thing itself.
You will find a noteworthy story inPlutarch to illustrate this: In the life of Pyrrhus, one Sineus cameto him, and would fain have had him desist from the wars, and not warwith the Romans. He said to him, 'May it please your Majesty, it isreported that the Romans are very good men of war, and if it pleasethe gods that we overcome them, what benefit shall we have of that victory?'Pyrrhus answered him, 'We shall then straightway conquer all the restof Italy with ease.' 'Indeed that is likely which your Grace speaks,'said Sineus, 'but when we have won Italy, will our wars end then?' 'Ifthe gods were pleased', said Pyrrhus, 'that the victory were achieved,the way would then be made open for us to attain great conquests, forwho would not afterwards go into Africa, and so to Carthage?' 'But',said Sineus, 'when we have everything in our hands what shall we doin the end?' Then Pyrrhus laughing, told him again, 'We will then bequiet, and take our ease, and have feasts every day, and be as merrywith one another as we possibly can.' Said Sineus, 'What prevents usnow from being as quiet, and merry together, since we enjoy that immediatelywithout further travel and trouble which we would seek for abroad, withsuch shedding of blood, and manifest danger? can you not sit down andbe merry now?' So a man may think, if I had such a thing, then I wouldhave another, and if I had that, then I should have more; and what ifyou had got all you desire? Then you would be content-why? You may becontent now without them.
Certainly our contentment does not consistin getting the thing we desire, but in God's fashioning our spiritsto our conditions. Some men have not got a foot of ground of their own,yet they live better than other men who are heirs to a great deal ofland. I have known it in the country sometimes, that a man lives uponhis own land, and yet lives very poorly; but you find another man whorents his land, and yet by his good husbandry, and by his care, livesbetter than he who has his own land. So a many by this art of contentmentmay live better without an estate than another man can live off an estate.Oh, it adds exceedingly to the comfort of a Christian.
That I may show it further I would add,there is more comfort even in the grace of contentment than there isin any possessions whatsoever; a man has more comfort in being contentwithout a thing, than he can have in the thing that he in a discontentedway desires. You think, if I had such a thing, then I should be content.I say, there is more good in contentment, than there is in the thingthat you would fain have to cure your discontent, and that I shall showin several particulars: 1. I would fain have such a thing, and thenI could be content; but if I had it, then it would be but the creaturethat helped my contentment, whereas now it is the grace of God in mysoul that makes me content, and surely it is better to be content withthe grace of God in my soul, than with enjoying an outward comfort?2. If I had such a thing, granted my position might be better, but mysoul would not be better; but by contentment my soul is better. Thatwould not be bettered by wealth, or lands, or friends; but contentmentmakes myself better, and therefore contentment is a better portion thanthe thing that I would fain have as my portion.
3. If I become content by having mydesire satisfied, that is only self-love, but when I am contented withthe hand of God, and am willing to be at his disposal, that comes formmy love to God. In having my desire satisfied, I am contented throughself-love, but through the grace of contentment I come to be contentedout of love to God, and is it not better to be contented out of loveto God, tan from a principle of self-love? 4. If I am contented becauseI have what I desire, perhaps I am contented in that one thing, butthat one thing does not furnish me with contentment in another thing;perhaps I may grow more dainty and nice and froward in other things.If you give children what they want in some things, they grow so muchthe more coy and dainty and discontented if they cannot have other thingsthat they want. But if I have once overcome my heart, and am contentedthrough the grace of God in my heart, then this makes me content notonly in one particular but in general, whatever befalls me. I am discontented,and would fain have a certain thing, and afterwards I have it: now doesthis prepare me to be contented in other things? No, but when I havegot this grace of contentment, I am prepared to be contented in allconditions. Thus you see that contentment brings comfort to a man'slife, fills it full of comfort in this world; the truth is, it is evena Heaven on earth.
What is Heaven, but the rest and quietof a man's spirit; that is the special thing that makes the life ofHeaven, there is rest and joy, and satisfaction in God. So it is ina contented spirit: there is rest and joy and satisfaction in God. InHeaven there is singing praises to God; a contented heart is alwayspraising and blessing God. You have Heaven while you are on earth whenyou have a contented spirit; yea, in some regards it is better thanHeaven.
How is that, you will say? There isa kind of honor that God has in it, and an excellence that he does nothave in Heaven, and it is this: In Heaven there is no overcoming oftemptations. They are not put to any trials by afflictions. In Heaventhey have exercise of grace, but they have nothing but encouragementto it, and indeed the grace of those who are there is perfect, and inthat they excel us. But there is nothing to cross their grace, theyhave no trials at all to tempt them to do contrary; whereas for a manor woman to be in the midst of afflictions, temptations and troubles,and yet to have grace exercised, and to be satisfied in God and Christand in the Word and promises in the midst of all they suffer: this mayseem to be an honor that God receives from us, that he does not havefrom the angels and saints in Heaven. Is it so much for one who is inHeaven, who has nothing but good from God, has nothing to try him, notemptations; is it so much for such a one to be praising and blessingGod, as for the poor soul who is in the midst of trials and temptationsand afflictions and troubles? For this soul to go on praying, and blessing,and serving God, I say, is an excellence that you do not find in Heaven,and God will not have this kind of glory from you in Heaven. Thereforebe contented, and prize this contentment, and be willing to live inthis world as long as God shall please. Do not think, Oh, that I weredelivered from all these afflictions and troubles here in this world!If you were, then you would have more ease yourself, but this is a wayof honoring God, and manifesting the excellence of grace here, whenyou are in this conflict of temptation, which God shall not have fromyou in Heaven.
So be satisfied and quiet, be contentedwith your contentment. I lack certain things that others have, but blessedbe God, I have a contented heart which others have not. Then, I say,be content with your contentment, for it is a rich portion that theLord has granted you. If the Lord should give you thousands in thisworld, it would not be such a rich portion as this, that he has givenyou a contented spirit. Oh, go away and praise the name of God, andsay, 'Why, Lord, it is true that I would be glad if I had these andthese comforts which others have, but you have cut me short. ThoughI lack these, yet you have given me what is as good and better, youhave given me a quiet, contented heart, to be willing to be at yourdisposal.' 8. CONTENTMENT IS A GREAT BLESSING OF GOD UPON THE SOUL.
There is God's blessing upon those whoare content, upon them, and their possessions, and upon all that theyhave. We read in Deuteronomy of the blessing of Judah, the principaltribe: 'And he said, hear, Lord, the voice of Judah, and bring him untohis people, let his hands be sufficient for him, and be thou an helpto him from his enemies.' Let his hands be sufficient for him, thatis, bring a sufficiency of all good to him that he may have of his own:that is the blessing of Judah. So when God gives you a sufficiency ofyour own, as every contented man has, that is the blessing of God uponyou, the blessing of the principal tribe, of Judah, is upon you. Itis the Lord who gives us all things to enjoy; we may have the thingand yet not enjoy it unless God comes in with his blessing. Now whateveryou have, you enjoy it; many men have possessions and do not enjoy them.It is the blessing of God which gives us all things to enjoy, and itis God who through his blessing has fashioned your heart and made itsuitable to your circumstances.
9. THOSE WHO ARE CONTENT MAY EXPECTREWARD FROM GOD That God will give them the good of all the things whichthey are contented to be without. This brings an abundance of good toa contented spirit. There is such and such a mercy which you think wouldbe very pleasant to you if you had it; but can you bring your heartto submit to God in it? Then you shall have the blessing of the mercyone way or another; if you do not have the thing itself, you shall haveit made up one way or another; you will have a bill of exchange to receivesomething in lieu of it. There is no comfort that any soul is contentto be without, but the Lord will give either the comfort or somethinginstead of it. You shall have a reward to your soul for whatever goodthing you are content to be without. You know what the Scripture saysof active obedience: the Lord accepts of his servants their will forthe deed. Though we do not do a good thing, yet if our hearts are upright,to will to do it, we shall have the blessing, though we do not do thething. You who complain of weakness, you cannot do as others do, youcannot do as much service as others do-if your hearts are upright withGod, and would fain do the same service that you see others do, andwould account it a great blessing of God, the greatest blessing in theworld if you were able to do as others do-now you may comfort yourselveswith this, that dealing with God in the Covenant of grace, you shallhave from God the reward of all you would do. As a wicked man shallhave the punishment for all the sin he would commit, so you shall havethe reward for all the good you would do. Now may not we draw an argumentfrom active obedience to passive: there is as good reason why you shouldexpect that God will reward you for all that you are willing to suffer,as well as for all that you are willing to do. If you are willing tobe without such a comfort and mercy when God sees fit, you shall beno loser; certainly God will reward you either with the comfort or withwhat shall be as good to you as the comfort. Therefore consider, Howmany things have I that others lack? and can I bring my heart into aquiet, contented frame to lack what others have? I have the blessingof all that they have, and I shall either possess such things as othershave, or else God will make it up one way or another, either here orhereafter in eternity to me. Oh what riches are here! With contentmentyou have all kinds of riches.
10. LASTLY, BY CONTENTMENT THE SOULCOMES TO AN EXCELLENCE NEAR TO GOD HIMSELF, YEA, THE NEAREST POSSIBLE.
For this word, this is translated 'content',signifies a self-sufficiency, as I told you in opening the words. Acontented man is a self-sufficient man, and what is the great gloryof God, but to be happy and self-sufficient in himself? Indeed, he issaid to be all-sufficient, but that is only a further addition of theword 'all', rather than of any matter, for to be sufficient is all-sufficient.Now this is the glory of God, to be sufficient, to have sufficiencyin himself. El-shaddai means to be God having sufficiency in himself.And you come near to this. As you partake of the Divine nature by gracein general, so you do it in a more peculiar manner by this grace ofChristian contentment, for what is the excellence and glory of God butthis? Suppose there were no creatures in the world, and that all thecreatures in the world were annihilated: God would remain the same blessedGod that he is now, he would not be in a worse condition if all creatureswere gone; neither would a contented heart, if God should take awayall creatures from him. A contented heart has enough in the lack ofall creatures, and would not be more miserable than he is now. Supposethat God should keep you here, and all the creatures that are in theworld were taken away, yet you still, having God to be your portion,would be as happy as you are now.
Therefore contentment has a great dealof excellence in it.
The Evils of a Murmering Spirit
Thus we have showed inmany respects the excellence of this grace of contentment, laboringto present the beauty of it before your souls, that you may be in lovewith it. Now, my brethren, what remains but the practice of this? Forthis art of contentment is not a speculative thing, only for contemplation,but it is an art of divinity, and therefore practical. You are now tolabor to work upon your hearts, that this grace may be in you, thatyou may honor God and honor your profession with this grace of contentment,for there are none who more honor God, and honor their profession thanthose who have this grace of contentment.
Now that we may come to grips with thepractice, it is necessary that we should be humbled in our hearts becauseof our lack of contentment in the past. For there is no way to set aboutany duty that you should perform, you might labor to perform it, butfirst you must be humbled for the lack of it. Therefore I shall endeavorto get your hearts to be humbled for lack of this grace. 'Oh, had Ihad this grace of contentment, what a happy life I might have lived!What abundance of honor I might have brought to the name of God! Howmight I have honored my profession! What a great deal of comfort I mighthave enjoyed! But the Lord knows it has been far otherwise. Oh, howfar I have been from this grace of contentment which has been expoundedto me! I have had a murmuring, a vexing, and a fretting heart withinme. Every little cross has put me out of temper and out of frame. Oh,the boisterousness of my spirit! What evil God sees in the vexing andfretting of my heart, and murmuring and repining of my spirit!' Oh thatGod would make you see it! Now to the end that you might be humbledfor lack of it, I shall endeavor in these headlings to speak of it:First I shall set before you The evil of a murmuring spirit. There ismore evil in it than you are aware of.
In the second place, I will show yousome aggravations of this evil. It is altogether evil, but more so insome cases than others.
Thirdly, I shall labor to take awaythe excuses that any murmuring, discontented heart has for his disorder.
There are these three things in thisuse of humbling of the soul for the want of this grace of contentment.
For the present, the first: The greatevil that is in a murmuring, discontented heart.
1. THIS MURMURING AND DISCONTENTEDNESSOF YOURS REVEALS MUCH CORRUPTION IN THE SOUL.
As contentment argues much grace, andstrong grace, and beautiful grace, so murmuring argues much corruption,and strong corruption, and very vile corruptions in your heart. If aman's body is of such a temper that every scratch of a pin makes hisflesh to rankle and be a sore, you will surely say, this man's bodyis very corrupt, his blood and his flesh is corrupt, that every scratchof a pin shall make it rankle. So it is in your spirit, if every littletrouble and affliction makes you discontented, and makes you murmur,and even causes your spirit within you to rankle. Or like a wound ina man's body, the evil of the wound is not so much in the largenessof it, and the abundance of blood that comes out of it, but in the inflammationthat there is in it, or in a fretting and corrupting humor that is inthe wound.
When an unskilled man comes and seesa large wound in the flesh, he looks upon it as a dangerous wound, andwhen he sees a great deal of blood gush out, he thinks, these are theevils of it; but when a surgeon comes and sees a great gash, he says:'This will be healed within a few days, but there is a smaller woundand an inflammation or a septic sore in it, and this will cost time',he says, 'to cure.' So he does not lay balsam and healing salves uponit, but his great is to get out the septic inflammation, and the thingthat must heal this wound is some potion to purge. But the patient says,'What good will this do to my wound? You give me something to drink,and my wound is in my arm, or in my leg. What good will this do thatI am putting in my stomach?' Yes, it purges out the infection, and takesaway the inflammation, and till that is taken away the salves can dono good.
So it is, just for all the world, inthe souls of men: it may be that there is some affliction upon them,which I compare to the wound; now they think that the greatness of theaffliction is what makes their condition most miserable. Oh now, thereis a fretting humor, an inflammation in the heart, a murmuring spiritthat is within you, and that is the misery of your condition, and itmust be purged out of you before you can be healed. Let God do withyou what he will, till he purges out that fretting humor your woundwill not be healed. A murmuring heart is a very sinful heart; so whenyou are troubled for this affliction you had need to turn your thoughtsrather to be troubled for the murmuring of your heart, for that is thegreatest trouble. There is an affliction upon you and that is grievous,but there is a murmuring heart within and that is more grievous. Oh,that we could but convince men and women that murmuring spirit is agreater evil than any affliction, whatever the affliction! We shallshow more fully afterward that a murmuring spirit is the evil of theevil, and the misery of the misery.
2. THE EVIL OF MURMURING IS SUCH THATWHEN GOD WOULD SPEAK OF WICKED MEN AND DESCRIBE THEM, and show the brandof a wicked and ungodly man or woman, he instances this sin in a morespecial manner. I might name many Scriptures, but that Scripture inJude is a most remarkable one. In the 14th verse onwards, it is said,'That the Lord comes with ten thousands of his saints, to execute judgmentupon all, and to convince all that are ungodly among them, of all theirungodly deeds, which they have ungodly committed, and all of their hardspeeches, which ungodly sinners have spoken against him.' Mark herein this 15th verse mention is made four times of ungodly ones: all thatare ungodly among them, all their ungodly deeds which they have ungodlycommitted, and of all their hard speeches which ungodly sinners havespoken against him. This is in general, but now he comes in particularto show who these are: 'These are', he says, 'murmurers',-that is thevery first. Would you know who are ungodly men, whom God when he comeswith ten thousands of angels shall come to punish for all their ungodlydeeds that they do, and those that speak ungodly things against him?These ungodly ones are murmurers; murmurers in Scripture are put inthe forefront of all. You had need to look to your spirits; you maysee that this murmuring, which is the vice contrary to this contentment,is not as small a matter as you think. You think you are not as ungodlyas others, because you do not swear and drink as others do, but youmay be ungodly in murmuring. It is true there is no sin but some seedsand remainders of it are in those who are godly; but when men are underthe power of this sin of murmuring, it convicts them as ungodly, aswell as if they were under the power of drunkenness, or whoredom, orany other sin. God will look upon you as ungodly for this sin as wellas for any sin whatever. This one Scripture should make the heart shakeat the thought of the sin of murmuring.
3. AS WELL AS BEING MADE A BRAND OFUNGODLY MEN, YOU WILL FIND IN SCRIPTURE THAT GOD ACCOUNTS IT REBELLION.
It is contrary to the worship that isin contentedness. That is worshipping God, crouching to God and fallingdown before him, even as a dog would crouch when you hold a stick overhim; but a murmuring heart is a rebellious heart, as you will find,if you compare two Scripture together: they are both in the book ofNumbers. 'But on the morrow', says
Numbers 16:41, 'all the congregationof the children of Israel murmured against Moses and against Aaron,saying, Ye have killed the people of the Lord.' They all murmured; nowcompare this with chapter 17 and
verse 10: 'And the Lord said unto Moses,Bring Aaron's rod again before the testimony, to be kept for a tokenagainst the rebels.' In the 16th chapter they murmured against Mosesand Aaron, and in the 17th chapter we read, Bring the rod of Aaron again,before the testimony, for a token against the rebels. So you see thatto be a murmurer, and to be a rebel, in Scripture phrase is all one;it is rebellion against God. Just as it is the beginning of rebellionand sedition in a kingdom, when the people are discontented. When discontentcomes, it grows to murmuring, and you can go into no house almost, butthere is murmuring when men are discontented, so that within a littlewhile it breaks forth into sedition or rebellion. Murmuring is but asthe smoke of the fire: there is first a smoke and smouldering beforethe flame breaks forth; and so before open rebellion in a kingdom thereis first a smoke of murmuring, and then it breaks forth into open rebellion.But because it has the seeds of rebellion, it is accounted before theLord to be rebellion. Will you be a rebel against God? When you feelyour heart discontented and murmuring against the dispensation of Godtowards you, you should check it thus: Oh, you wretched heart! What,will you be a rebel against God? Will you rise in rebellion againstthe infinite God? Yet you have done so. Charge your heart with thissin of rebellion.
You who are guilty of this sin of murmuring,you are this day charged by the Lord, as being guilty of rebellion againsthim, and God expects that when you go home, you should humble your soulsbefore him for this sin, that you should charge your souls for beingguilty of rebellion against God.
Many of you may say, I never thoughtthat I was a rebel against God before, I thought that I had many infirmities,but now I see the Scripture speaks of sin in a different way than mendo, the Scripture makes men, though only murmurers, to be rebels againstGod. Oh, this rebellious heart that I have against the Lord, which hasmanifested itself in this way of murmuring against the Lord! That isa third point in the evil of discontent.
4. IT IS A WICKEDNESS WHICH IS GREATLYCONTRARY TO GRACE, AND ESPECIALLY CONTRARY TO THE WORK OF GOD, IN BRINGINGTHE SOUL HOME TO HIMSELF.
I know no disorder more opposite andcontrary to the work of God in the conversion of a sinner, than thisis.
Question. What is the work of God whenhe brings a sinner home to himself? Answer. 1. The usual way is forGod to make the soul to see, and be sensible of the dreadful evil thatis in sin, and the great breach that sin has made between God and it,for, certainly, Jesus Christ can never be known in his beauty and excellencetill the soul knows that. I do not say what secret work of the HolyGhost there may be in the soul, but before the soul can actually applyJesus Christ to itself, it is impossible but that it must come to knowthe evil of sin, and the excellence of Jesus Christ. A seed of faithmay be put into the soul, but the soul must first know Christ, and knowsin, and be made sensible of it. Now how contrary is this sin of murmuringto any such work of God! Has God made me see the dreadful evil of sin,and made my soul sensible of the evil of sin as the greatest burden?How can I be then so much troubled for every little affliction? Certainly,if I saw what the evil of sin was, that sight would swallow up all otherevils, and if I were burdened with the evil of sin, it would swallowup all other burdens. What! am I now murmuring against God's hand? sayssuch a soul, whereas a while ago the Lord made me see myself to be adamned wretch, and apprehend it as a wonder that I was not in Hell?
2. Yea, it is strongly contrary to thesight of the infinite excellence and glory of Jesus Christ, and of thethings of the Gospel. What! am I the soul to whom the Lord has revealedthe infinite excellence of Jesus Christ, and yet shall I think sucha little affliction to be so grievous to me, when I have had the sightof such glory in Christ as is worth more than ten thousand worlds? Atrue convert will say: 'Oh, the Lord at such a time gave me a sightof Christ that I would not be without for ten thousand, thousand worlds.'But has God given you that, and will you be discontented for a triflein comparison to that?
3. A third work when God brings thesoul home to himself is by taking the heart off from the creature, disengagingthe heart from all creature-comforts: that is the third work ordinarilythat the soul may perceive of itself. It is true, God's work may bealtogether in the seeds in him, but in the various actings of the soul,in turning to God, it may perceive these things in it. The disengagementof the heart from the creature is the calling of the soul from the world-'whomthe Lord hath called he hath justified'-what is the calling of the soulbut this? The soul which before was seeking for contentment in the world,and cleaving to the creature, is now called out in the world by theLord, who says: 'Oh Soul, your happiness is not here, your rest is nothere, your happiness is elsewhere, and your heart must be loosened fromall the things that are here below in the world.' This is the work ofGod in the soul, to disengage the heart from the creature, and how contraryis a murmuring heart to such a thing! Something which is glued to anothercannot be taken off, but you must tear it; so it is a sign your heartis glued to the world, that when God would take you off, your hearttears. If God, by an affliction, should come to take anything in theworld from you, and you can part from it with ease, without tearing,it is a sign then that your heart is not glued to the world.
4. A fourth work of God in convertinga sinner is this, the casting of the soul upon Jesus Christ for allits good. I see Jesus Christian the Gospel as the Fountain of all good,and God out of free grace tendering him to me for life and for salvation,and now my souls casts itself, rolls itself upon the infinite graceof God in Christ for all good. now have you done so? Has God convertedyou, and drawn you to his Son to cast your soul upon him for all yourgood, and yet you are discontented for the want of some little matterin a creature comfort? Are you he who has cast your soul upon JesusChrist for all good? As he says in another case, 'Is this thy faith?'5. The soul is subdued to God. And then it comes to receive Jesus Christas a King, to rule, to order, and dispose of him how he pleases, andso the heart is subdued unto God. Now how opposite is a murmuring, discontentedheart to a heart subdued to Jesus Christ as King, and receiving himas a Lord to rule and dispose of him as he pleases! 6. There is in thework of your turning to God the giving up of yourself to God in an everlastingcovenant. As you take Christ, the head of the Covenant, to be yours,so you give up yourself to Christ. In the work of conversion there isthe resignation of the soul wholly to God in an everlasting covenantto be his. Have you ever surrendered up yourself to God in an everlastingcovenant? Then, certainly, this fretting, murmuring heart of ours isstrongly opposite to it, certainly you forget this covenant of yours,and the resignation of yourself up to God. It would be of marvelloushelp to you to humble your souls when you are in a murmuring condition.
If you could but obtain so much libertyof your own spirits as to look back to see what the work of God wasin converting you, there is nothing would prevail more than to thinkof that. I am now in a murmuring, discontented way, but how did I feelmy soul working when God turned my soul to himself! Oh, how oppositeis this to that work, and how unbecoming! Oh, what shame and confusionwould come upon the spirits of men and women, if they could but comparethe work of corruption in their murmuring and discontent with the workof God that was upon their souls in conversion! Now we should laborto keep the work of God upon our souls which was present at our conversion;for conversion must not be only at one instant at first. Men are deceivedin this, if they think their conversion is finished merely at first;you must be in a way of conversion to God all the days of your life,and therefore Christ said to his disciples, 'Except ye be convertedand become as little children?' Ye be converted. Why? Were they notconverted before? Yes, they were converted, but they were still to continuethe work of conversion all the days of their lives. What work of Godthere is at the first conversion is to abide afterwards. There mustalways abide some sight and sense of sin; it may be not in the way whichyou had, which was rather a preparation than anything else, but thesight and sense of sin is to continue still, that is, you are stillto be sensible of the burden of sin as it is against the holiness, andgoodness, and mercy of God to you. And the sight of the excellence ofJesus Christ is to continue, and your calling away from the creature,and your casting of your soul upon Christ, and your receiving Christas King-still receive him day by day-and the subduing of your heart,and the surrendering of yourself up to God in a way of covenant. Nowif this were but daily continued, there would be no space nor time formurmuring to work upon your heart: that is the fourth point.
5. MURMURING AND DISCONTENT IS EXCEEDINGLYBELOW A CHRISTIAN.
Oh, it is too mean and base a disorderfor a Christian to give place to it.
Now it is below a Christian in manyrespects.
1. Below the relation of a Christian.How below the relation of a Christian? The relation in which you stand.Below what relation? you will say.
i . The relation in which you standto God. Do you not call God your father? and do you not stand in relationto him as a child? What! do you murmur? In
2 Samuel 13:4 there is a speech of Jonadabto Amnon: 'Why art thou, being the king's son, lean from day to day?wilt thou not tell me?'; and so he told him, but that was for a wickedcause. He perceived that his spirit was troubled, for otherwise he wasof a fat and plump temper of body, but because of trouble of spirithe even pined away. Why? What is the matter? You stand in this relationto the King and yet let anything trouble your heart-that is his meaning;is there anything that should disquiet your heart when you stand insuch a relation to the King, as the King's son? So I may say to a Christian:Are you the King's son, the son, the daughter, of the King of Heaven,and yet so disquieted and troubled, and vexed at every little thingthat happens? As if a King's son were to cry out that he is undone forlosing a toy; what an unworthy thing would this be! So do you: you cryout as if you were undone and yet are a King's son, you who stand insuch relation to God, as to a father, you dishonor your father in this;as if either he had not wisdom, or power, or mercy enough to providefor you.
i i . The relation in which you standto Jesus Christ. You are the spouse of Christ. What! One married toJesus Christ and yet troubled and discontented? Have you not enoughin him? Does not Christ say to his spouse, as Elkanah said to Hannah:'Am not I better to thee than ten sons?' (1 Samuel 1:8). So does notChrist your husband say to you, 'Am not I better to you than thousandsof riches and comforts, such comforts as you murmur for want of?' Hasnot God given you his Son and will he not with him give you all things?Has the love of God to you been such as to give you his Son in marriage?Why are you discontented and murmuring? Consider your relation to JesusChrist, as a spouse and married to him: his person is yours, and soall the riches of Jesus Christ are yours, as the riches of a husbandare his wife's.
Though some husbands are so vile thattheir wives may be forced to sue for maintenance, certainly Jesus Christwill never deny maintenance to his spouse, it is a dishonor for a husbandto have the wife to whining up and down. What! you are matched withChrist and are his spouse, and will you murmur now, and be discontentedin your spirit? You will observe that with those who are newly married,when there is discontent between the wife and the husband, their friendswill shake their heads say, 'They are not meeting with what they expected;you see ever since they were married together how the man looks, andthe woman looks, they are not so cheery as they used to be. Surely itis likely to prove an ill match.' But it is not so here, it shall notbe so between you and Christ. Oh, Jesus Christ does not love to seehis spouse with a scowling countenance; no man loves to see discontentin the face of his wife, and surely Christ does not love to see discontentin the face of his spouse.
iii. You stand in relation to Christ,not only as a spouse, but as a member. You are bone of his bone, andflesh of his flesh; and to have a member of Jesus Christ in a conditionof discontent exceedingly unworthy.
iv. He is your elder brother likewise,and so you are a co-heir with him.
v . The relation in which you standto the Spirit of God. You are the temple of the Holy Ghost, the HolyGhost is your Comforter. It is he who is appointed to convey all comfortsfrom the Father and the Son, to the souls of his people. And are youthe temple of the Holy Ghost, and does he dwell in you, and yet forall that you murmur for every little thing? vi. The relation in whichyou stand to the angels. You are made one body with them, for so Christhas joined principalities and powers with his Church: they are ministeringspirits for the good of his people, to supply what they need, and youand they are joined together, and Christ is the head of you and angels.
vii. The relation in which you standto the saints. You are of the same body with them, they and you makeup but one mystical body with Jesus Christ, and if they are happy youmust needs be happy.
Oh, how beneath a Christian is a murmuringspirit, especially when he considers the relations in which he stands!2. A Christian should consider, That murmuring and discontentednessis below the high dignity which God has put upon him. Do but considerthe high dignity which God has put upon you: the meanest Christian inthe world is a lord of heaven and earth. he has made us kings unto himself,kings to God, not kings to men to rule over them; and yet I say, everyChristian is lord of heaven and earth, yea of life and death. That is,as Christ is Lord of all, so he has made those who are his members lordsof all. 'All are yours', says the Apostle, 'even life and death, everything is yours.' It is a very strange expression, that death shouldbe theirs, death is yours, that is, you are, as it were, lords overit, you have what shall make death your servant, your slave, even deathitself, your greatest enemy is turned to be your slave. Faith makesa Christian as lord over all, lifted up in excellence above all creaturesthat ever God made, except the angels, and in some respect above them.
I say the poorest Christian who livesis raised to a position above all creatures in the world except angels,and above them in many respects too- and yet discontented! That youwho were as a firebrand of hell, and might have been scorching and yellingand roaring there to all eternity, yet that God should raise you tohave a higher excellence in you than there is in all the works of creationthat ever he made except angels, and other Christians, who are in yourposition! Indeed, you are nearer the Divine nature than the angels,because your nature is joined in a hypostatical union to the Divinenature, and in that respect your nature is more honored than the natureof the angels. And the death of Christ is yours. He died for you andnot for the angels, and therefore you are likely to be raised abovethe angels in many respects. You who are in such a position as this,you who are set apart to the end that God might manifest to all eternitywhat the infinite power of a Deity is able to raise a creature to-forthat is the position of a saint, a believer: his position is that heis set apart to the end that God might manifest to all eternity whathis infinite power is able to do to make a creature happy.
Are you in such a position? Oh, howlow and beneath this position is a murmuring and discontented heartfor want of some outward comforts here in this world! How unseemly itis that you should be a slave to every cross, that every afflictionshall be able to say to your soul, 'Bow down to us'! We accounted ita great slavery, when men said to our souls, 'Bow down', as the cruelprelates were wont to do, in imposing things upon men's consciences:in effect they said, 'Let your consciences, your souls, bow down tous, that we may tread upon them'. That is the greatest slavery in theworld, that one man should say to another, 'Let your consciences, yoursouls, bow down, that we may tread upon them'; but will you allow everyaffliction to say, 'Bow down that we may tread upon you'? Truly it isso, when your heart is overcome with murmuring and discontent; knowthat those afflictions which have caused your to murmur have said toyou, 'Bow down that we may tread upon you.' Nay, not afflictions, butthe very Devil prevails against you in this. Oh! how this is beneaththe happy position to which God has raised a Christian! What! will theson of a King let every base fellow come and bid him bow down, thathe may tread upon his neck? That is what you do in every affliction:the affliction, the cross and trouble that befalls you, says, 'Bow downthat we may come and tread upon you.' 3. Murmuring is below the spiritof a Christian. The spirit of every Christian should be like the spiritof his Father: every father loves to see his spirit in his child, lovesto see his image, not the image of his body only, to say, here is achild for all the world like his father, but he has the spirit of hisfather too. A father who is a man of spirit loves to see his spiritin his child, rather than the features of his body. Oh, the Lord whois our Father loves to see his Spirit in us. Great men love to see greatspirits in their children, and the great God loves to see a great spiritin his children. We are one spirit with God and with Christ, and onespirit with the Holy Ghost; therefore, we should have a spirit thatmight manifest the glory of the Father, Son and Holy Ghost in our spirits:that is the spirit of a Christian.
The spirit of a Christian should bea lion-like spirit; as Jesus Christ is the Lion of the tribe of Judah(so he is called) so we should manifest something of the lion-like spiritof Jesus Christ. He manifested his lion-like spirit in passing throughall afflictions and troubles whatsoever without any murmuring againstGod. When he came to drink that bitter cup, and even the dregs of it,he prayed indeed to God that if it were possible it might pass fromhim, but immediately: 'Not my will, but thy will be done.' As soon asever he mentioned the passing of the cup from him, though it was themost dreadful cup that ever was drunk since the world began, yet atthe mentioning of it: 'Not my will, but thy will be done.' Here Christshowed a lion-like spirit in going through all kinds of afflictionswhatsoever, without any murmuring against God in them. Now a murmuringspirit is a base, dejected spirit, cross and contrary to the spiritof a Christian, and it is very base.
I remember that the Heathens accountedit very base. Plutarch reports of a certain people, who used to manifesttheir disdain to men who were overmuch dejected by any affliction, andcondemned them to this punishment: to wear women's clothes all theirdays, or for a certain space of time at least, they should go in women'sclothes I token of shame and disgrace to them because they had sucheffeminate spirits. They thought it against a manly spirit, and therefore,seeing they did un-man themselves, they should go as women. Now, shallthey account it an unmanly spirit, to be overmuch dejected in afflictions?and shall not a Christian account it an unchristianlike spirit to beovermuch dejected by any affliction whatsoever? I remember someone elsecompares murmuring spirits to children, when they are weaning: whata great deal of stir you have with your children when you wean then!how perverse and vexing they are! So, when God would wean you from someoutward comforts in this world, oh, how fretting and discontented youare! Children will not sleep themselves nor let their mothers sleepwhen they are weaning; and so, when God would wean us from the world,and we fret, vex, and murmur, this is a childish spirit.
4. It is below the profession of a Christian.The profession of a Christian- what is that? A Christian's professionis to be dead to the world and to be alive to God, that is his profession,to have his life hid with Christ in God, to satisfy himself in God.What! is this your profession? And yet if you have not everything youwant, you murmur and are discontented. In that you even deny your profession.
5. It is below that special grace offaith. Faith is what overcomes the world; it makes all the promisesof God ours. Now when you look upon you the profession of religion didGod ever promise you that you would live at ease, and quiet, and haveno trouble? I remember Augustine has a similar expression: 'What! isthis your faith? Did I ever promise you (he says) that you should flourishin the world? Are you a Christian to that end? And is this your faith?I never made any such promise to you when you took upon you to be aChristian.' Oh, it is very contrary to your profession. You have nopromise for this, that you should not have such an affliction upon you.
And a Christian should live by his faith.It is said that the just live by faith; now you should not look afterany other life but the life that you have by faith. You have no groundfor your faith to believe that you should be delivered out of such anaffliction, and then why should you account it such a great evil tobe under this affliction? Certainly the good that we have in the groundfor our faith is enough to content our hearts here, and to all eternity.
A Christian should be satisfied withwhat God has made the object of his faith. The object of his faith ishigh enough to satisfy his soul, were it capable of a thousand timesmore than it is. Now if you may have the object of your faith you haveenough to content your soul. And know that when you are discontentedfor want of certain comforts, you should think thus: God never promisedme that I should have these comforts, at this time, and in such a wayas I would have. I am discontented because I have not these things whichGod never yet promised me, and therefore I sin much against the Gospel,and against the grace of faith.
6. It is below a Christian because itis below those helps that a Christian has more than others have. Theyhave the promises to help them, which others have not. It is not somuch for the heart of a Nabal to sink, because he has nothing but thecreature to uphold him. But it is much for a Christian, who has thepromises and ordinances to uphold his spirit, which others have not.
7. It is below the expectation thatGod has of Christians, for God expects not only that they should bepatient in afflictions, but that they should rejoice and triumph inthem. Now, Christians, when God expects this from you, and you havenot even attained to contentedness under afflictions! Oh, this is beneathwhat God expects from you.
8. It is below what God has had fromother Christians. Others have not only been contented with little trials,but they have triumphed over great afflictions, they have suffered thespoiling of their goods with joy. Read the latter part of the eleventhof the Hebrews, and you will find what great things God has had fromhis people. Therefore not to be content with smaller crosses must needsbe a great evil.
6. THE SIXTH EVIL IN A MURMURING SPIRITIS, By murmuring you undo your prayers, for it is exceedingly contraryto the prayer that you make to God. When you come to pray to God, youacknowledge his sovereignty over you, you come there to profess yourselvesto be at God's disposal. What do you pay for, unless you acknowledgethat you are at his disposal? Unless you will stand, as it were, athis disposal never come to petition him. If you will come to petitionhim and yet will be your own carver you go contrary to your prayers,to come as if you would beg your bread at your Father's gates everyday, and yet you must do what you list: this is the undoing of the prayersof a Christian. I remember reading that Latimer, speaking concerningPeter who denied his master, said: 'Peter forgot his Paternoster,* forthat was, Hallowed be thy name, and thy kingdom come.' [*Paternoster&emdash; The Lord's Prayer, so called because the Latin versionbegins: 'Pater noster' (Our Father).] So we may say, when you have murmuringand discontented hearts, you forget your prayers, you forget what youhave prayed for. What do you pray, but, Give us this day our daily bread?(For you must make the Lord's prayer a pattern for your prayers; thatis Christ's intention, that we should have it as a pattern and a directory,as it were, how to make our prayers.) Now God does not teach any ofyou to pray, Lord, give me so much a year, or let me have this kindof cloth, and so many dishes at my table. Christ does not teach youto pray so, but he teaches us to pray, 'Lord, give us our bread,' showingthat you should be content with a little. What, have you not bread toeat? I hope there are none of you here but have that.
Objection. But I do not know what wouldbecome of my children if I were to die. Or if I have bread now, I donot know where I shall get it from next week, or where I shall get provisionfor the winter.
Answer. Where did Christ teach us topray, Lord, give us provision for so long a time? No, but if we havebread for this day, Christ would have us content. Therefore when wemurmur because we have not so much variety as others have, we do, asit were, forget our Paternoster. It is against our prayers; we do notin our lives hold forth the acknowledgment of the sovereignty of Godover us as we seem to acknowledge in our prayers.
Therefore when at any time you findyour murmuring, then do but reflect yourselves and think thus: Is thisaccording to my prayers, in which I held forth the sovereign power andauthority that God has over me? 7. THE SEVENTH THING WHICH I ADD FORTHE EVIL OF DISCONTENT IS the woeful effects that come to a discontentedheart from murmuring. I will name you five; there are five evil effectsthat come from a murmuring spirit: 1. By murmuring and discontent inyour hearts, you come to lose a great deal of time. How many times domen and women, when they are discontented, let their thoughts run, andare musing and contriving, through their present discontentedness andlet their discontented thoughts work I in them for some hours together,and they spend their time in vain! When you are alone you should spendyour time in holy meditation, but you are spending your time in discontentedthoughts. You complain that you cannot meditate, you cannot think ongood things, but if you begin to think of them a little, soon your thoughtsare off from them. But if you are discontented with anything, then youcan go alone, and muse, and roll things up and down in your thoughtsto feed a discontented humor. Oh, labor to see this evil effect of murmuring,the losing of your time.
2. It unfits you for duty. If a manor woman is in a contented frame, you may turn such a one to anythingat any time, and he is fit to go to God at any time; but when one isin a discontented condition, then a man or woman is exceedingly unfitfor the service of God. And it causes many distractions in duty, itunfits for duty, and when you come to perform duties, oh, the distractionsthat are in your duties, when your spirits are discontented! When youhear any ill news from sea and cannot bear it, or of any ill from afriend, or any loss or cross, oh, what distractions do they cause inthe performance of holy duties! When you should be enjoying communionwith God, you are distracted in your thoughts about the trial that hasbefallen you, whereas had you but a quiet spirit, though great trialsbefell you, yet they would never hinder you in the performance of anyduty.
3. Consider what wicked risings of heartand resolutions of spirit there are many times in a discontented fit.In some discontented fits the heart rises against God, and against othersand sometimes it even has desperate resolutions what to do to help itself.If the Lord had suffered you to have done what you had sometimes thoughtto do, in a discontented fit, what wretched misery you would have broughtupon yourselves! Oh, it was a mercy of God that stopped you; had notGod stopped you, but let you go on when you thought to help yourselvesthis way and the other way, oh, it would have been ill with you. Dobut remember those risings of heart and wicked resolutions that sometimesyou have had in a discontented mood, and learn to be humbled for that.
4. Unthankfulness is an evil and a wickedeffect which comes from discontent. The Scripture ranks unthankfulnessamong very great sins. men and women, who are discontented, though theyenjoy many mercies from God, yet they are thankful for none of them,for this is the vile nature of discontent, to lessen every mercy ofGod. It makes those mercies they have from God as nothing to them, becausethey cannot have what they want.
Sometimes it is so even in spiritualthings: if they do not have all they desire, the comforts that theywould have, then what they do have is nothing to them. Do you thinkthat God will take this well? Suppose you were to give a friend or arelation some money to trade with and he came and said: 'What is thisyou have given me? There are only a few coins here.
This is no good to me.' This would beintolerable to you, that he should react to your gift like this, justbecause you have not given him as much money as he would like. It isjust the same when you are ready to say: 'All that God has given meis worthless. It is no good to me. It is only a few coins.' For youto say that what God gives you is nothing and only common gifts, allgiven in hypocrisy, and counterfeit, when they are the precious gracesof God's Spirit and worth more than thousands of worlds &emdash;how ungrateful it is! The graces of God's Spirit are nothing to a discontentedheart who cannot have all that he would have. And so for outward blessings:God has given you health of body, and strength, and has given you somecompetence for your family, some way of livelihood, yet because youare disappointed in something that you would have, therefore all isnothing to you. Oh, what unthankfulness in this! God expects that everyday you should spend some time in blessing his name for what mercy hehas granted to you. There is not one of you in the lowest conditionbut you have an abundance of mercies to bless God for, but discontentednessmakes them nothing. I remember an excellent saying that Luther has:'This is the rhetoric of the Spirit of God' he said, 'to extenuate evilthings, and to amplify good things: if a cross comes to make the crossbut little, but if there is a mercy to make the mercy great.' Thus,if there is a cross, where the Spirit of God prevails in the heart,the man or woman will wonder that it is no greater, and will bless Godthat though there is such a cross, yet that it is no greater, and willbless God that though there is such a cross, yet that it is no more:that is the work of the Spirit of God; and if there is a mercy, he wondersat God's goodness, that God granted so great a mercy.
The Spirit of God extenuates evils andcrosses, and magnifies and amplifies all mercies; and makes al merciesseem to be great, and all afflictions seem to be little. But the Devilgoes quite contrary, says Luther, his rhetoric is quite otherwise: helessens God's mercies, and amplifies evil things. Thus, a godly manwonders at his cross that it is not more, a wicked man wonders his crossis so much: 'Oh', he says, 'none was ever so afflicted as I am.' Ifthere is a cross, the Devil puts the soul to musing on it, and makingit greater than it is, and so it brings discontent.
And on the other side, if there is amercy, then it is the rhetoric of the Devil to lessen the mercy. 'Aye,indeed', he says, 'the thing is a good thing, but what is it? It isnot a great matter, and for all this, I may be miserable.' Thus therhetoric of Satan lessens God's mercies, and increases afflictions.
I will give you a striking example ofthis which we find in Scripture: it is the example of Korah, Dathanand Abiram in
Numbers 16:12, 13: 'And Moses sent tocall Dathan, and Abiram, the sons of Eliab: which said, We will notcome up: Is it a small thing that thou hast brought us up out of a landthat floweth with milk and honey, to kill us in the wilderness, exceptthou make thyself altogether a prince over us?' Mark, the slighted theland that they were going to, the land of Canaan; that was the landthat God promised them should flow with milk and honey.
But mark here their discontentedness,because they met with some troubles in the wilderness: oh, it was toslay them, they make their affliction in the wilderness greater thanit was, oh, it was to kill them, though indeed it was to carry themto the land of Canaan. But though their deliverance from Egypt was agreat mercy, they made it to be nothing, for they say 'You have broughtus out of a land that floweth with milk and honey' &emdash; whatland was that? It was the land of Egypt, the land of their bondage,but they call it a land that flowed with milk and honey, though it wasthe land of their most cruel and unbearable bondage; whereas they shouldhave blessed God as long as they lived for delivering them out of theland of Egypt. Yet, meeting with some cross they make their deliverancefrom Egypt no mercy, no, it was rather a misery to them. 'Oh', theysay, 'Egypt was a land that flowed with milk and honey.' Oh, what basenessthere is in a discontented spirit! A discontented spirit, out of envyto God's grace, will make mercies that are great little, yea to be noneat all. Would one ever have thought that such a word could have comefrom the mouth of an Israelite, who had been under bondage and criedunder it? and yet when they meet with a little cross in their way theysay, 'You have brought us out of the land that floweth with milk andhoney.' To say they were better before than now, and yet before, theycould not be contented either: this is the usual, unthankful expressionof a discontented heart.
It is so with us now when we meet withany cross in our estates, any taxation and trouble, especially if anyamong you have been where the enemy have prevailed, you are ready tosay: 'We had plenty before, and we are now brought to a condition ofhardship, we were better before when we had the Prelates and othersto domineer,' and so we are in danger of being brought into that bondageagain. Oh, let us take heed of this, of a discontented heart; thereis this woeful cursed fruit of discontent, to make men and women unthankfulfor all the mercies God has granted to them, and this is a sore andgrievous evil.
5. Finally, there is this evil effectin murmuring, it causes shiftings of spirit. Those who murmur and arediscontented are liable to temptations to shift for themselves in sinfuland ungodly ways; discontent is the ground of shifting courses and unlawfulways. How many of you are condemned by your consciences of this, thatin the time of your afflictions you have sought to shift for yourselvesby ways that were sinful against God, and your discontent was the bottomand ground of it? If you would avoid shifting for yourselves by wickedways, labor to mortify this sin of discontent, to mortify it at theroot.
8. THERE IS A GREAT DEAL OF FOLLY, EXTREMEFOLLY, IN A DISCONTENTED HEART; IT IS A FOOLISH SIN.
I shall open the folly of it in manyrespects.
1. It takes away the present comfortof what you have, because you have not something that you would have.What a foolish thing is this, that because I have not got what I want,I will not enjoy the comfort of what I have! Do you not account thisfolly in your children?: you give them some food and they are not contented,perhaps they say it is not enough, they cry for more, and if you donot immediately give them more they will throw away what they have.Though you account it folly in your children, yet you deal thus withGod: God gives you many mercies, but your see others have more merciesthan you and therefore you cry for more; but God does not give you whatyou want and because of that you throw away what you have &emdash;is not this folly in your hearts? It is unthankfulness.
2. By all your discontent you cannothelp yourselves, you cannot get anything by it. Who by taking care canadd one cubit to his stature, or make one hair that is white to be black?You may vex and trouble yourselves but you can get nothing by it. Doyou think that the Lord will come in mercy a whit the sooner becauseof the murmuring of your spirits? Oh, no, but mercy will be rather deferredthe longer for it; though the Lord was about to send mercy before, yetthis disorder of your hearts is enough to put him out of his courseof mercy, and though he had thoughts that you should have the thingbefore, yet now you shall not have it. If you had a mind to give somethingto your child, yet if you see him in a discontented, fretting mood youwill not give it him. And this is the very reason why many mercies aredenied to you, because of your discontent. You are discontented forwant of them, and therefore you do not get them, you deprive yourselvesof the enjoyment of your own desires, because of the discontent of yourhearts, because you do not get your desires, and is not this a foolishthing? 3. There are commonly many foolish attitudes that a discontentedheart is guilty of. They carry themselves foolishly towards God andtowards men.
Such expressions, and such kinds ofbehavior come from them, as to make their friends ashamed of them manytimes. Their carriages are so unseemly, they are a shame to themselvesand their friends.
4. Discontent and murmuring eats outthe good and sweetness of a mercy before it comes. It God should givea mercy for the want of which we are discontented, yet the blessingof the mercy is, as it were, eaten out before we come to have it. Discontentis like a worm that eats the meat out of the nut, and then when themeat is eaten out of it, you have the shell. If a child were to cryfor a nut of which the meat has been eaten out, and is all worm-eaten,what good would the nut be to the child? So you would fain have a certainoutward comfort and you are troubled for the want of it, but the verytrouble of your spirits is the worm that eats the blessing out of themercy.
Then perhaps God gives it to you, butwith a curse mixed with it, so that you were better not to have it thanhave it. If God gives the man or woman who is discontented for wantof some good thing, that good thing before they are humbled for theirdiscontent, such a man or woman can have no comfort from the mercy,but it will be rather an evil than a good to them.
Therefore for my part, if I should havea friend or brother or one who was as dear to me as my own soul, whomI saw discontented for the want of such a comfort, I would rather pray,'Lord, keep this thing from them, till you shall be pleased to humbletheir hearts for their discontent; let not them have the mercy tillthey come to be humbled for their discontent over the want of it, forif they have it before that time they will have it without any blessing.'Therefore it should be your care, when you find your hearts discontentedfor the want of anything, to be humbled for it, thinking thus with yourselves:Lord, if what I so immoderately desire were to come to me before I amhumbled for my discontent for want of it, I am certain I could haveno comfort from it, but I should rather have it as an affliction tome.
There are many things which you desireas your lives, and think that you would be happy if you had them, yetwhen they come you do not find such happiness in them, but they proveto be the greatest crosses and afflictions that you ever had, and onthis ground, because your hearts were immoderately set upon them beforeyou had them. As it was with Rachael: she must have children or elseshe died &emdash; 'Well', said God, 'seeing you must, you shallhave them,' but though she had a child she died according to what shesaid, 'Give me children or else I die.' So in regard of any other outwardcomforts, people may have the thing, but oftentimes they have it soas it proves the heaviest cross to them that they ever had in all theirlives.
The child whom you were discontentedfor the want of, may have been sick, and your hearts were out of temperfor fear that you should lose it; God restores it, but he restores itso as he makes it a cross to your hearts all the days of your lives.Someone observes concerning manna, 'When the people were contented withthe allowance that God allowed them, then it was very good, but whenthey would not be content with God's allowance, but would gather morethan God would have them, then, says the text, there were worms in it.'So when we are content with our conditions, and what God disposes ofus to be in, there is a blessing in it, then it is sweet to us, butif we must needs have more, and keep it longer than God would have usto have it, then there will be worms in it and it will be no good atall.
5. It makes our affliction a great dealworse than otherwise it would be. it in no way removes our afflictions,indeed, while they continue, they are a great deal the worse and heavier,for a discontented heart is a proud heart, and a proud heart will notpull down his sails when there comes a tempest and storm. If a sailor,when a tempest and storm comes, is perverse and refuses to pull downhis sails, but is discontented with the storm, is his condition anybetter because he is discontented and will not pull down his sails?Will this help him? Just so is it, for all the world, with a discontentedheart: a discontented heart is a proud heart, and he out of his prideis troubled with his affliction, and is not contented with God's disposal,and so he will not pull down his spirit at all, and make it bow to Godin this condition into which God has brought him. now is his conditionany better because he will not pull down his spirit? No, certainly,abundantly worse, it is a thousand to one but that the tempest and stormwill overwhelm his soul.
Thus you see what a great deal of follythere is in the sin of discontentment.
9. THERE IS A GREAT DEAL OF DANGER INTHE SIN OF DISCONTENT, FOR IT HIGHLY PROVOKES THE WRATH OF GOD.
It is a sin that much provokes God againsthis creature. We find most sad expressions in Scripture, and examplestoo, how God has been provoked against many for their discontent. InNumbers 14 you have a noteworthy text, and one would think that it wasenough for ever to make you fear murmuring: in the
26th verse, it is said, 'The Lord spakeunto Moses and unto Aaron saying' &emdash; what did he say? &emdash;'How long shall I bear with this evil congregation, which murmur againstme?' How long shall I bear with them? says God, this evil congregation,oh it is an evil congregation that murmur against me, and how long shallI bear with them? They murmur, and they have murmured; as those whohave murmuring spirits, and murmuring dispositions, they will murmuragain, and again. How long shall I bear with this evil congregationthat murmur against me? How justly may God speak this of many of youwho are this morning before the Lord: how long shall I bear with thiswicked man or woman who murmurs against me, and has usually in the courseof their lives murmured against me when anything falls out otherwisethan they would have it? And mark what follows after, 'I have heardthe murmurings of the children of Israel.' You murmur, and maybe othersdo not hear you, it may be that you do not speak at all, or but half-words;yet God hears the language of your murmuring hearts, and those mutteringspeeches, and those half-words that come from you. And observe furtherin this verse how the Lord repeats this sin of murmuring,' 'How longshall I bear with this evil congregation, which murmur against me?'
Secondly, 'I have heard their murmuring.'Thirdly, 'which they murmur against me'. Murmur, murmur, murmur &emdash;three times in one verse he repeats it, and this is to show his indignationagainst the thing. When you express indignation against a thing, yourepeat it over again, and again; now the Lord, because he would expresshis indignation against this sin, repeats it over again, and again,and it follows in the 28th verse, 'Say unto them, As truly as I live,saith the Lord, as ye have spoken in mine ears, so I will do to you.'Mark, God swears against a murmurer. Sometimes in your discontent perhapsyou will be ready to swear. Do you swear in your discontent? &emdash;So does God swear against you for your discontent. And what would Goddo to them? 'Doubtless your carcasses shall fall in the wilderness;and you shall not come into the land concerning which I sware, to makeyou dwell therein.' It is as if God should say, 'If I have any lifein me your lives shall go for it, as I live it shall cost you your lives.'A discontented, murmuring fit of yours may cost you your lives. Yousee how it provokes God; there is more evil in it than you were awareof. If may cost you your lives, and therefore look to yourselves, andlearn to be humbled at the very beginnings of such disorders in theheart. So in Psalm 106:24, 25: 'Yea, they despised the pleasant land,they believed not his word; but murmured in their tents, and hearkenednot unto the voice of the Lord. Therefore he lifted up his hand againstthem to overthrow them in the wilderness.' There are several thingsto be observed in this Scripture.
We spoke before of how a murmuring heartslights God's mercies, and so it is here: 'They despised the pleasantland.' And a murmuring heart is contrary to faith: 'they believed nothis word, but (says the text) they murmured in their tents, and hearkenednot to the voice of the Lord.' Many men and women will hearken to thevoice of their own base murmuring hearts, who will not hearken to thevoice of the Lord. If you would hearken to the voice of the Lord, therewould not be such murmuring as there is.
But mark what follows after it; youmust not think to please yourselves in your murmuring discontentedness,and think that no evil shall come of it: 'Therefore he lifted up hishand against them to overthrow them.' You who are discontented liftup your hearts against God, and you cause God to lift up his hand againstyou. Perhaps God lays his finger on you softly in some afflictions,in your families or elsewhere, and you cannot bear the hand of God,which lies upon you as tenderly as a tender-hearted nurse lays her handon a child. You cannot bear the tender hand of God which is upon youin a lesser affliction; it would be just for God to lift up his handagainst you in another kind of affliction. Oh, a murmuring spirit provokesGod exceedingly.
There is another place in
16th of Numbers: compare the 41st verse,and the 46th verse together: 'But on the morrow all the congregationof the children of Israel murmured against Moses and Aaron, saying,Ye have killed the people of the Lord,' and mark in the 46th verse:'And Moses said unto Aaron, Take a censer and put fire therein fromoff the altar, and put on incense, and go quickly unto the congregationand make atonement for them, for there is wrath gone out from the Lord,the plague is begun.' Mark how God's wrath is kindled: in the 41st verse,the congregation had murmured, and they murmured only against Mosesand Aaron (perhaps you murmur more directly against God) and that wasagainst God, in murmuring against God's ministers. it was against Godbut not so directly; if you murmur against those whom God makes instruments,because you have not got everything that you would have, against theParliament, or such and such who are public instruments, it is againstGod. It was only against Moses and Aaron that the Israelites murmured,and they said that Moses and Aaron had killed the people of the Lord,though it was the hand of God that was upon them for their former wickednessin murmuring. It is usual for wicked, vile hearts to deal thus withGod, when God's hand is a little upon them, to murmur again and again,and so to bring upon themselves infinite kinds of evils. But now theanger of God was quickly kindled: 'Oh', said Moses, 'go, take the censerquickly, for wrath is gone out from Jehovah, the plague is begun.' Sowhile you are murmuring in your families, the wrath of God may quicklygo out against you. In a morning or evening, when you are murmuring,the wrath of God may come quickly upon your families or persons. Youare never so prepared for present wrath as when you are in a murmuring,discontented fit. Those who stand by and see you in a murmuring, discontentedfit, have cause to say: 'Oh, let us go and take the censer, let us goto prayer, for we are afraid that wrath is gone out against this family,against this person.' And it would be a very good thing for you, whoare a godly wife, when you see your husband come home and start murmuringbecause things are not going according to his desire, to go to prayer,and say: 'Lord, pardon the sin of my husband.' And similarly for a husbandto go to God in prayer, falling down and beseeching him that wrath maynot come out against his family for the murmuring of his wife.
The truth is that at this day therehas been, at least lately, as much murmuring in England as there everwas, and eve in this very respect the plague has begun. This very judgmentcomes many times on those who are discontented in their families, andare always grumbling and murmuring at any thing that falls out amiss.
I say this text of Scripture in Numbersclearly holds forth that the Lord brings the plague upon men for thissin of murmuring; he does it in kingdoms and families, and on particularpersons. Though we cannot always point out the particular sin that Godbrings it for, yet we should examine how far we are guilty of the sinof murmuring, because the Scripture holds forth this so clearly, thatwhen Moses but heard that they murmured: 'Do they murmur?' he said,'go forth quickly and seek to pacify the anger of God, for wrath isgone out, and the plague is begun.' And you have a notable example ofGod's heavy displeasure against murmuring in 1 Corinthians 10:10: 'Neithermurmur ye as some of them also murmured, and were destroyed of the destroyer.'Take heed of murmuring as some of them did &emdash; he speaks ofthe people of Israel in the wilderness &emdash; for, he says, whatcame of it? They were destroyed of the destroyer. Now the destroyeris thought to be the fiery serpents that were sent among them. Theymurmured and God sent fiery serpents to sting them. What! do you thinkthat a certain cross and affliction stings you? Perhaps such an afflictionis upon you, and it seems to be grievous for the present; what! do yourmurmur and repine? God has greater crosses to bring upon you. Thosepeople who murmur for want of outward comforts, for want of water, andfor the want of bread, murmur, but the Lord sends fiery serpents amongthem. I would say to a murmuring heart, 'Woe to you that strive withyour maker! Woe to that man, that woman who strives against their maker!What else are you doing but striving against your maker? Your makerhas the absolute disposal of you, and will you strive against him? Whatis the murmuring, discontented heart of yours doing but wrangling andcontending and striving even with God himself? Oh, woe to him who strivesagainst his maker! I may further say to you, as God spoke to Job, whenhe was impatient (
Job 38:1, 2): 'Now God spake', saysthe text, 'out of the whirlwind, and said, Who is this that darkenethcounsel by words without knowledge?' So, do you speak against God'sway, and his providences which have taken place concerning your conditionand outward comforts? Who is this? Who is this that darkeneth counselby words without knowledge? Where is the man or woman whose heart isso bold and impudent that they dare to speak against the administrationof God's providence? 10. THERE IS A GREAT CURSE OF GOD UPON MURMURINGAND DISCONTENT; SO FAR AS IT PREVAILS IN ONE WHO IS WICKED, IT HAS THECURSE OF GOD UPON IT.
In Psalm 59:15, see what the curse ofGod is upon wicked and ungodly men: 'Let them wander up and down formeat, and grudge if they be not satisfied.' That is the imprecationand curse upon wicked and ungodly men, that if they are not satisfiedthey shall grudge. When you are not satisfied in your desires and findyour heart grudging against God, apply this Scripture &emdash; what!is the curse of the wicked upon me? This is the curse that is threatenedupon wicked and ungodly ones, that they shall grudge if they be notsatisfied.
And in Deuteronomy 28:67, it is threatenedas a curse of God upon men that they cannot be content with their presentcondition: 'But they shall say in the morning, Would God it were even!and at even, Would God it were morning!' So they lie tossing up anddown and cannot be content with any condition that they are in, becauseof the sore afflictions that are upon them.
Therefore it is further threatened asa curse upon them, in the 34th verse, that they should be mad for thesight of their eyes which they should see: this is but the extremityof their discontentedness, that is, they shall be so discontented, thatthey shall even be mad. Many men and women in discontented moods area mad sort of people, and though you may please yourselves with sucha mad kind of behavior, you should know that it is a curse of God uponmen to be given up to a kind of madness for evils which they imaginehave come upon them, and which they fear. In the 47th verse, there isa striking expression to show the curse of God on murmuring hearts:The Lord threatens the curses which shall be upon them, and says (verses45-47): 'The curses shall pursue thee, and they shall be upon thee fora sign, and for a wonder, and upon thy seed for ever: Because thou servedstnot the Lord thy God with joyfulness, and with gladness of heart, forthe abundance of all things.' God here threatens to bring this curseupon them, so as to make them a wonder and a sign to others. Why? Becausethey served not the Lord with joyfulness of heart, therefore God wouldbring such a curse upon them as would make them a wonder to all thatwere about them. Oh, how far are you, then, who have a murmuring heart,from serving the Lord with joyfulness! 11. THERE IS MUCH OF THE SPIRITOF SATAN IN A MURMURING SPIRIT.
The Devil is the most discontented creaturein the world, he is the proudest creature that is, and the most discontentedcreature, and the most dejected creature. Now, therefore, so much discontentas you have, so much of the spirit of Satan you have. It was the uncleanspirit that went up and down and found no rest; so when a man or woman'sspirit has no reset, it is a sign that it has much of the unclean spirit,of the spirit of Satan, and you should think with yourself, Oh, Lord,have I the spirit of Satan upon me? Satan is the most discontented spiritthat is, and oh! how much of his spirit have I upon me who can findno rest at all? 12. IF YOU HAVE A MURMURING SPIRIT, YOU MUST THEN HAVEDISQUIET ALL THE DAYS OF YOUR LIFE.
It is as if a man in a great crowd wereto complain that other folks touch him. While we are in this world Godhas so ordered things that afflictions must befall us; and if we willcomplain and be discontented at every cross and affliction, why, wemust complain and be discontented all the days of our lives! Indeed,God in just judgment will let things fall out on purpose to vex thosewho have vexing spirits and discontented hearts; and therefore it isnecessary that they should live disquieted all their days. People willnot be troubled much if they upset those who are continually murmuring.Oh, they will have disquiet all their days! 13. FINALLY, THERE IS THISFURTHER DREADFUL EVIL IN DISCONTENT AND MURMURING: God may justly withdrawhis care of you, and his protection over you, seeing God cannot pleaseyou in his administration.
We would say so to discontented servants:If you are not pleased, better yourselves when you will. If you havea servant not content with his diet and wages, and work, you say, Betteryourselves; so may God justly say to us &emdash; we who professourselves servants to him, to be in his work, and yet are discontentedwith this thing or that in God's household, God might justly say &emdash;Better yourselves. What is God should say to any of you, If my careover you does not please you, then take care of yourselves, if my protectionover you will not please you, then protect yourselves? Now all thingsthat befall you, befall you through a providence of God, and if youare those who belong to God, there is a protection of God over you,and a care of God. If God were to say, 'Well, you shall not have thebenefit of my protection any longer, and I will take no further careof you', would not this be a most dreadful judgment of God from Heavenupon you? Take heed what you do then in being discontented with God'swill towards you, for, indeed, on account of discontent this may befallyou. That is the reason why many people, over whom God's protectionhas been ver gracious for a time, when they have thriven abundantly,yet afterwards almost all who behold them may say of them that theylive as if God had cast off his care over them, and as if God did notcare what befell them.
Now then, my brethren, put all thesepoints together, those we spoke of in the last chapter, and these pointsthat have been added now in this chapter, for setting out a murmuringand discontented spirit. Oh, what an ugly face has this sin of murmuringand discontentedness! Oh, what cause is there that we should lay ourhands upon our hearts, and go away and be humbled before the Lord becauseof this! Whereas your thoughts were wont to be exercised about providingfor yourselves, and getting more comforts for yourselves, let the streamof your thoughts now be turned to humble yourselves for your discontentedness.Oh, that your hearts may break before God, for otherwise you will fallto it again! Oh, the wretchedness of man's heart! You find in Scripture,concerning the people of Israel, how strangely they fell to their murmuring,again and again. Do but observe three texts of Scripture for that, thefirst in the 15th of Exodus at the beginning. There you have Moses andthe congregation singing to God and blessing God for his mercy: 'Thensang Moses and the children of Israel this song unto the Lord, and spake,saying, I will sing unto the Lord, for he hath triumphed gloriously,the horse and his rider hath he thrown into the sea.' And then: 'TheLord is my strength and song, and he is become my salvation, he is myGod and I will prepare him an habitation, my father's God and I willexalt him.' So he goes on: 'and who is like unto thee, O Lord, amongstthe gods? who is like thee, glorious in holiness, fearful in praises,doing wonders?' Thus their hearts triumphed in God, but mark, beforethe chapter is ended, in the 23rd verse: 'When they came to Marah (inthe same chapter) they could not drink of the waters of Marah for theywere bitter, therefore the name of it was called Marah; and the peoplemurmured against Moses.' After so great a mercy as this, what unthankfulnesswas there in their murmuring! Then God gave them water, but in the verynext chapter they fell to their murmuring. You do not read that theywere humbled for their former murmuring, and therefore they murmur again(Exodus 16:1 ff.): 'All the congregation of the children of Israel cameto the wilderness of Sin, etc.
And the whole congregation' (in thesecond verse) 'of the children of Israel murmured against Moses andagainst Aaron in the wilderness, and the chlordane of Israel said untothem, Would to God we had died by the hand of the Lord in the land ofEgypt, when we sat by the flesh-pots, and when we did eat bread to thefull.' now they want flesh; they wanted water before, but now they wantmeat. They fell to murmuring again, they were not humbled for this murmuringagainst God, not even when God gave them flesh according to their desires,but they fell to murmuring again: they wanted somewhat else. In thevery next chapter (they did not go far), in the
17th of Exodus at the beginning: 'Andall the congregation of the children of Israel journeyed from the wildernessof Sin and pitched in Rephidim; and there was no water for the peopleto drink.' Then in the second verse: 'Wherefore the people did chidewith Moses, and said, Give us water that we may drink. And Moses saidunto them, Why chide ye with me? Wherefore do ye tempt the Lord?' Andin the third verse: 'And the people thirsted for water, and the peoplemurmured against Moses and said, Wherefore is this, that thou hast broughtus up out of Egypt, to kill us, and our children, and our cattle withthirst?' So one time after another, as soon as ever they had receivedthe mercy, then they were a little quieted, but they were not humbled.I bring these Scriptures to show this, that if we have not been humbledfor murmuring, when we meet with the next cross we will fall to murmuringagain.
Aggravation of the Sin of Murmuring
Now because it is veryhard to work upon a murmuring spirit, there are many aggravations whichwe must consider for the further setting out of the greatness of thissin.
1. To murmur when we enjoy an abundanceof mercy; the greater and the more abundant the mercy that we enjoy,the greater and viler is the sin of murmuring. For example, when Godhad newly delivered the people out of the house of bondage, for themto murmur, because they lack some few things that they desire, oh, tosin against God after a great mercy, is a great aggravation, and a mostabominable thing. Now, my brethren, the Lord granted to us this summer,heaped mercies upon us, one mercy upon another! What a condition werewe in at the beginning of this summer! And what a different conditionare we in now! Oh, what a mercy is it that the Lord has not taken advantageof us, that he has not made those Scriptures before mentioned good uponus for all our murmuring! The Lord has gone on with one mercy afteranother.
We hear of mercy in Bristol, and mercyto our brethren in Scotland. But if after this anything should befallus that is contrary to us, and we should be ready to murmur again atonce-Oh, let us not so requite God for those mercies of his! Oh, letus take heed of giving God any ill requital for his mercies! Oh, giveGod praise according to his excellent greatness, to his excellent goodnessand grace! And now has God given to you the contentment of your hearts?Take heed of being the cause of any grief to your brethren. Do not thinkthat because God has been gracious to you, that therefore he has givenyou liberty to bring them into bondage. Oh, let not there be such anill effect of God's mercy to you, as for you for to exclude, by petitioning,or any other way, your brethren whom the Lord has been pleased to makeinstruments of your peace; let not that be the fruit of it, nor to desireanything that yourselves do not yet understand. God is very jealousof the glory of his mercy, and if any ill use should be made of themercy of God after we enjoy it, Oh, it would go to the heart of God.Nothing is more grievous to the heart of God than the abuse of mercy,as, for example, if any way that is hard and rigid should be taken towardsour brethren, and those especially whom God has made such special instrumentsof good to us, who have been willing to venture their lives and allfor us; if now, when we have our turns served, we let God and his peopleand servants who helped to save us shift for themselves as well as theycan. This is a great aggravation of your sin, to sin against the merciesof God.
For men and women to be discontentedin the midst of mercies, in enjoyment of an abundance of mercies, aggravatesthe sin of discontent and murmuring. To be discontented in any afflictedcondition is sinful and evil, but to be discontented when we are inthe midst of God's mercies, when we are not able to count the merciesof God, still to be discontented because we have not got all we wouldhave, this is a greater evil. The Lord this summer has multiplied merciesone after another, the Lord has made this summer a continued miracleof mercy. Never did a Kingdom enjoy (in so little a space of time) suchmercies one upon another. Now the public mercies of God should quietour hearts and keep us from discontent. The sin of discontent for privateafflictions is exceedingly aggravated by the consideration of publicmercies to the land. When the Lord has been so merciful to the land,will you be fretting and murmuring, because you have not in your familyall the comforts that you would have? Just as it is a great aggravationof a man's evil for him to rejoice immediately in his own private comfortswhen the Church is in affliction; when the public suffers grievous andhard troubles, if any man shall then rejoice and give liberty to himself,at that time to satisfy his flesh to the uttermost in all outward comforts,this greatly aggravates his sin. So on the contrary for any man to beimmoderately troubled for any private afflictions when it goes wellwith the public, with the Churches, is a great aggravation of his sin.It may be that when the Church of God was lowest, and it went worstin other parts, yet you did abate none of the comforts of your flesh,but gave full liberty to satisfy your flesh as formerly: Know that thiswas your sin. So, on the other side, when we have received such merciesin public, all our private afflictions should be swallowed up in thepublic mercies. We should think with ourselves, Though we be afflictedfor our part, yet blessed be God, it goes well with the Church, andwith the public interest. Thus the consideration of that should mightilyquiet our hearts in all our private discontents, and if it does notdo so, know that our sin is much increased by the mercies of God whichare abroad. Now shall God's mercies aggravate our sins? This is a sadthing, it is to turn the mercies of God to be our misery. Did you notpray to God for these mercies which God sent of late to the public?these great victories that God has given, did you not pray for them?Now you have them, is not there enough in them to quiet your heart forsome private trouble you meet with in your family? Is not there goodnessenough there to cure your discontent? Certainly, such mercies were notso worthy to be prayed for, except they have so much excellence in themas to countervail some private afflictions.
Public mercies are the aggravation ofprivate discontent. It is so of public discontent too: if we receiveso many public mercies, and yet if every thing goes not in the publicaccording as we desire, we are discontented at that, it will greatlyaggravate our sin. God may say, 'What! shall I bestow such mercies uponpeople, and yet, if they have not everything they would have, they willbe discontented?' Oh, it is exceedingly evil. So in particular, withthe mercies that concern yourself, your family: if you would consider,you have many more mercies than afflictions-I dare boldly aver it concerninganyone in this congregation. Let your afflictions be what they will,there is not one of you, but has more mercies than afflictions.
Objection. You will say, Yes, but youdo not know what our afflictions are; our afflictions are such as youdo not conceive of, because you do not feel them.
Answer. Though I cannot know what yourafflictions are, yet I know what your mercies are, and I know they areso great that I am sure there can be no afflictions in this world asgreat as the mercies you have. If it were only this mercy, that youhave this day of grace and salvation continued to you: it is a greatermercy than any affliction. Set any affliction beside this mercy andsee which would weigh heaviest; this is certainly greater than any affliction.That you have the day of grace and salvation, that you are not now inhell, this is a greater mercy. That you have the sound of the Gospelstill in your ears, that you have the use of your reason: this is agreater mercy than your afflictions. That you have the use of your limbs,your senses, that you have the health of your bodies; health of bodyis a greater mercy than poverty is an affliction. No man who is rich,if he is wise, and has a sickly body, would not part with all his richesthat he might have his health. Therefore your mercies are more thanyour afflictions.
We find in Scripture how the Holy Ghostaggravates the sin of discontent from the consideration of mercies:you have a notable Scripture for this in the
16th of Numbers, verse 8 and following.it is a speech of Moses to Korah and his company, when they murmured:'And Moses said unto Korah, Hear, I pray you, ye sons of Levi' (thatis something, that you are sons of Levi), 'Seemeth it but a small thingunto you that the God of Israel hath separated you from the congregationof Israel, to bring you near to himself to do the service of the tabernacleof the Lord, and to stand before the congregation to minister unto them?'Korah and his company were murmuring, but mark how Moses aggravatesthis: "Seemeth it a small thing unto you that the God of Israelhath separated you from the congregation of Israel to bring you nearto himself to do the service of the tabernacle of the Lord? etc.' Yousee, it is a great honor that God puts upon a man, a great mercy thathe bestows upon any man, to separate him in the service for himself,to come near to him, to employ him in the service of the tabernacle,to minister to the congregation in holy things. This is a great mercy,and indeed, it is such a mercy that one would think there should benone upon whom God bestows such a mercy who would have a murmuring heartfor any affliction. It is true, many ministers of God meet with hardthings which might discourage them, and trouble and grieve their spirits;but this consideration, that God is pleased to employ them in such aservice near to himself, that though they cannot do good to themselves,yet they may do good to others, this should quiet them. And yet in the10th verse: 'And he hath brought thee near to him, and all thy brethrenthe sons of Levi with thee, and seek ye the priesthood also?' Have younot enough already? But still you are discontented with what you have,and must have more; do you seek still more? 'Seek ye the priesthoodalso? For which cause both thou and all thy company are gathered togetheragainst the Lord: and what is Aaron, that ye murmur against him?' What,has God given you such things, and yet will you be murmuring, becauseyou cannot have more? Methinks that this place should keep ministersfrom murmuring, no matter what afflictions and crosses, and unkind dealingsthey meet with from men, yet still they should go on with hearts quietand discomforted in the work that God has set them about, and laborto countervail all their afflictions by being more abundant in the workof the Lord. That is the first text of Scripture that shows how themercies we enjoy are aggravations of the sin of murmuring.
Then a second Scripture is in the 2ndof Job, verse 10. It is a speech of Job to his wife: What? said Job,when his wife would have him curse God and die, which was a degree beyondmurmuring, Why, he said, 'thou speakest as one of the foolish women.Shall we receive good at the hand of God and not evil?' You see, Jobhelped himself against all murmuring thoughts against the ways of God,with this consideration, that he had received so much good from theLord. What though we receive evil, yet do we not receive good as wellas evil? Let us set one against the other: that is the way we shouldgo. In the
7th chapter of Ecclesiastes, the 14thverse, you find a notable Scripture whereby you may see what courseis to be taken when the heart rises in murmuring: 'In the day of prosperitybe joyful, but in the day of adversity consider.' What should they consider?Mark what follows: 'God also hath set the one over against the other,to the end that man should find nothing after him.' 'God also hath setthe one over against the other,' thus, when you are in prosperity, thenindeed every man can be joyful, but what if afflictions befall you,what then? Then consider- consider what? 'That God hath set one overagainst the other'; you have a great deal of affliction, and you havehad a great deal of prosperity, you have many troubles, and you havehad many mercies: make one column of mercies, and one column of afflictions,and write one against the other, and see if God has not filled one columnas full as the other. You look altogether upon your afflictions, butlook upon your mercies also.
For instance, it may be God has afflictedyou in one child, but he has been merciful to you in another child:set one against the other. God afflicted David in Absalom, but he wasmerciful to David in Solomon, and, therefore, when David cried out:'Oh Absalom, my son, my son,' it would have quieted him. And it maybe God has been merciful to you in a wife, or in your husband: set thatagainst your affliction. It may be, God crosses you in your possessions,but that he employs you in his service. It may be, you are afflictedin some of your friends, but you have other friends who are great merciesto you, and therefore you should set one against the other; and it concernsyou to do so, for those mercies will be aggravations of your sins, andyou had better make God's mercies a means to lessen your sins, thanto be the aggravation of your sins. If you do not make the mercies ofGod help you against your murmuring, you will make them aggravationsof the sin of murmuring.
Take but this one further consideration,and if you will but work it on your hearts, I hope you may find a greatdeal of power in it. You find afflictions, and your hearts are troubledand murmur; consider how God's mercies aggravate this sin. in the midstof our sins we reckon that God should accept our services. Do but considerthus: if in the midst of our many sins we hope that God will acceptour poor services, why, then, should we not in the midst of our afflictionsbless God for his many mercies? Shall God be thus gracious to us that,notwithstanding our many sins, yet he will not cast away our poor dutiesand services that we perform? then why should not we in the midst ofour sufferings accept what mercies we have, and not slight them anddisregard them? If you, in the midst of God's mercies, are not willingto bear the afflictions that God lays upon you, then it is just withGod that, in the midst of your sins, he should not regard any of yourduties. Now is there not as much power in your manifold sins to causeGod to reject your duties and services, as there is power in afflictions(in the midst of many mercies) to take off your heart from being affectedwith God's mercies? And that is the first aggravation of the sin ofmurmuring, to murmur in the midst of mercies.
2. A SECOND AGGRAVATION OF THE SIN OFMURMURING IS, When we murmur for small things. Naaman's servant saidto him, Father (for so he called him), if the prophet had required youto do some great thing, would not you have done it? How much more thislittle thing.
So I say, if the Lord had required youto suffer some great thing, would not you have been willing to suffer?How much more this little thing! I remember reading in Seneca a Heathen,that he has this comparison which is a very fine one to set out thegreat evil of murmuring over small afflictions: he says, Suppose a manhas a very fine house to dwell in, and he has beautiful orchards andgardens, set about with handsome tall trees for ornament. If this manshould now murmur because the wind blows a few leaves off his trees,what a most unreasonable thing it would be, for him to be weeping, andwringing his hands over the loss of a few leaves, when he has plentyof all kinds of fruit? Thus it is with many, says Seneca, though theyhave a great many comforts about them, yet some little thing, the blowingoff of a few leaves from them is enough to disquiet him. So for us tomurmur, not because we have not got such a thing as we have need of,but because we have not got what possibly we might have: this is a verygreat sin.
Suppose God gives a woman a child whohas all his limbs and parts complete, a child who is very comely, withexcellent gifts, wit and memory, but maybe there is a wart growing onthe finger of the child, and she murmurs at it, and, Oh, what an afflictionthis is to her! She is so taken up with it, that she forgets to giveany thanks to God for her child, and all the goodness of God to herin the child is swallowed up in that. Would you not say that this wasfolly and a very great evil in a woman to do so? Truly, our afflictions,if we weighed them aright, are but such things in comparison of ourmercies Rebekah had a mighty desire to have children, but because shefound some trouble in her body when she was with child, said, 'Why amI thus?' As if she should say, I had rather have none, only becauseshe found a little pain and trouble in her body. To be discontentedwhen the affliction is small and little that increases very much thesin of murmuring. It is too much for anyone to murmur over the heaviestcross that can befall one in this world, but to be discontented andmurmur over some small things, that is worse. I have read of someonewho, when he lay upon a heap of damask-roses, complained that one ofthe rose leaves lay double under him. So we are ready thus for verysmall things to make complaints, and to be discontented with our condition,and that is a second aggravation.
3. FOR MEN OF GIFTS AND ABILITIES TOWHOM GOD HAS GIVEN WISDOM, TO BE DISCONTENTED AND MURMUR, IS MORE THANIF OTHERS DO IT.
Murmuring and discontentedness is toomuch in the weakest, yet we can bear with it sometimes in children andwomen who are weak, but for those who are men, men of understanding,who have wisdom, whom God employs in public service, that they shouldbe discontented with everything, is an exceedingly great evil. For men,to whom God has given gifts and wisdom, when things fall out amiss intheir families, to be always murmuring and repining, is a greater sinthan for women or children to do it.
4. THE CONSIDERATION OF THE FREENESSOF ALL GOD'S MERCIES TO US.
Whatever we have is free of cost. Whatthough we have not got all we would have, seeing what we have is free!If what we have were earned then it would be something, but when weconsider that all is from God, for us to murmur at his dispensationsis very evil. Suppose a man were entertained in a friend's family, anddid not pay for his board, but had it given him for nothing: you wouldnot expect him to be ready to find fault with everything in the house,with servants, or with the meat at table, or the like. If such a onewho has plentiful provision and all given him gratis, and pays nothingfor his board, should be discontented when a cup is not filled for himas he would have it, or when he has to wait a minute longer for a thingthan he would, we would reckon this a great evil. So it is with us:we are at God's table every day, and it is free, whatever we have. Itis accounted very unmannerly for a man at his friend's table to findfault with things, though at home he may be outspoken. Now when we areat the table of God (for all God's administrations to us are his table)and are free from lusts, for us to be finding fault and to be discontentedis a great aggravation of our sin.
5. FOR MEN AND WOMEN TO MURMUR AND BEDISCONTENTED AND IMPATIENT, when they have the things for the want ofwhich they were discontented before. So it is sometimes with children:they will cry for a thing, and when you give it them, then throw itaway; they are as much discontented as they were before. So it was withthe people of Israel, nothing would quiet them but they must have aking. Samuel would have persuaded them to the contrary, and told themwhat kind of king they would have. And when they had a king: 'What shalla king do to us?' (
Hosea 10:3); they were not contentedwhen they had one. So Rachel must have children or else she died, andwhen she had a little trouble she was discontented too. So that, aswe say, we are not well, either full or fasting.
6. FOR THOSE MEN AND WOMEN TO BE DISCONTENTEDAND MURMUR WHOM GOD HAS RAISED FROM MEAN AND LOW ESTATES AND POSITIONS.
This is a very great aggravation, ifyou are discontented now. There was a time when you were low enough,and perhaps when you were so low then you said, 'Oh, if God would deliverme from such an affliction, or give me but a little more wealth, I shouldthink myself in a good condition.' But if God by his providence doesraise you, you are still as greedy of more as you were before, and asmuch discontented as you were before. It is an evil thing for peoplewho had mean breeding, and poor beginnings to be so fastidious thatnothing can please them, whereas there was a time not long since whenthey were low and mean enough. But it is very common for those who areraised from a low and mean condition to be more nice and dainty andproud when they are raised than others who are of better breeding.
It is too much for a child to be discontentedin his father's house, but if you have taken a poor beggar boy, wholay begging at your door, into your house, and set him at your own table,could you bear that he should complain that some dish is not well dressed,or the like? You could not bear it if you children should do it, butyou could bear it a great deal better from them than to hear such aone do it. But you are a poor beggar, and God has, as it were, takenyou into his great family, and if the Lord has been pleased to raiseyou higher, so that now you have a competence, that you may live asa man, to be of use and service in the place where God has set you:now will you be discontented because you have not everything that youdesire? We know that when the prodigal came to himself, he said, 'Inmy father's house is bread enough'; he did not say, 'There is good cheerenough and a great deal of dainties.' No, he thought of nothing butbread, 'There is bread enough.' So it is common for men and women, whenthey are in a low condition, to think that if they may have bread anycompetence, they will be contented and bless God; but when they havetheir bread and things convenient, then they must have more or elsethey are not contented. Know that this is an exceedingly great aggravationto your discontent, when you are raised from a very low condition, andyet you cannot be contented with what you have.
7. FOR THOSE TO BE DISCONTENTED WHOHAVE BEEN VERY GREAT SINNERS AND UNGODLY IN THEIR FORMER LIFE.
For men and women who have much guiltinessupon them, the guilt of very many sins upon them, who have provokedGod exceedingly against them, and have brought themselves in a mostdreadful manner under the sentence of God's justice, and yet, God havingbeen pleased to reprieve them-for them to murmur and to be discontentedwith God's administrations towards them is exceedingly evil. Oh, itwere consideration enough to quiet any murmuring in our hearts, to thinkthus, We are but sinners, why should we not be sufferers who are sinners?But then consider, we who are such great sinners, guilty of such notorioussins that it is a wonder that we are out of Hell at the present, yetfor us to be discontented and murmur, how exceedingly this increasesour sin! Consider how we have crossed God in our sins; then if God shouldcross us in the way of our sufferings, should not we sit down quietwithout murmuring? Certainly you never knew what it was to be humbledfor your manifold sins, who are discontented at any administration ofGod towards you! 8. FOR MEN WHO ARE OF LITTLE USE IN THE WORLD TO BEDISCONTENTED.
If you have a beast that you make muchuse of, you will feed it well, but if you have but little use of himthen you turn him into the commons;* little provision serves his turnbecause you do not make use of him. [*Common grazing-ground.] If welived so as to be exceedingly useful to God and his Church, we mightexpect that God would be pleased to come in some encouraging way tous, but when our consciences tell us we live and do but little servicefor God, why, what if God should turn us upon the commons? We are beingfed according to our work. Why should any creature be serviceable toyou, who are so little serviceable to God? To meditate on this alonewould much help us-to think: I am discontented because such and suchcreatures are not serviceable to me, but why should I expect them tobe serviceable to me, when I am not serviceable to God? That is theeighth aggravation.
9. FOR US TO BE DISCONTENTED AT A TIMEWHEN GOD IS ABOUT TO HUMBLE US.
It should be the care of a Christianto observe what are God's ways towards him: What is God about to dowith me at this time? Is God about to raise me, to comfort me? Let meaccept God's goodness, and bless his name; let me join with the workof God, when he offers mercy to me, to take the mercy he offers. Butagain, is God about to humble me? Is God about to break my heart, andto bring my heart down to him? Let me join with God in this work ofhis: this is how a Christian should walk with God. It is said that Enochand Noah walked with God-walked with God, what is that? It is, To observewhat work God is now about, and to join with God in that work of his;so that, according as God turns this way or that way, the heart shouldturn with God, and having workings suitable to the workings of God towardshim.
Now I am discontented and murmuring,because I am afflicted; but that is why you are afflicted, because Godwould humble you. The great design God has in afflicting you, is tobreak and humble your heart; and will you maintain a spirit quite oppositeto the work of God? For you to murmur and be discontented is to resistthe work of God. God is doing you good if you could see it, and if heis pleased to sanctify your affliction to break that hard heart of yours,and humble that proud spirit of yours, it would be the greatest mercythat you ever had in all your life. Now will you still stand out againstGod? It is just as if you were to say, 'Well, the Lord is about to breakme, and humble me, but he shall not': this is the language of your murmuringand your discontentedness, though you dare not say so But though youdo not say so in words, yet it is certainly the language of the temperof your spirit. Oh, consider what an aggravation this is: I am discontentedwhen God is about to work such a work upon me as is for my good; yetI stand out against him and resist him. That is another aggravation.
10. THE MORE PALPABLE AND REMARKABLETHE HAND OF GOD APPEARS TO BRING ABOUT AN AFFLICTION, the greater isthe sin of murmuring and discontent under an affliction. It is a greatevil at any time to murmur and be discontented, but though it is a sin,when I see an ordinary providence working for me, not to submit to it,when I see an extraordinary providence working, that is a greater sin.That is to say, when I see the Lord working in some remarkable way aboutan affliction beyond what anyone could have thought of, shall I resistsuch a remarkable hand of God? shall I stand out against God, when Isee he expresses his will in such a remarkable manner that he wouldhave me to be in such a condition? Indeed, before the will of God isapparent, we may desire to avoid an affliction, and may use means forit, but when we see God expressing his will from heaven in a mannerbeyond what is ordinary and more remarkable, then certainly it is rightfor us to fall down and submit to him, and not to oppose God when hecomes with a mighty stream against us. It is our best way to fall downbefore him and not to resist, for just as it is an argument of a man'sdisobedience, when there is not only a command against a sin but whenGod reveals his command in a terrible way-the more solemn the commandof God is, the greater is the sin in breaking that command-so the moreremarkable the hand of God is in bringing an affliction upon us, thegreater is our sin in murmuring and being discontented. God expectsus to fall down when he, as it were, speaks from Heaven to us by nameand says, 'Well, I will have this spirit of yours down. Do you not seethat my hand is stretched out, my eyes are upon you, my thoughts areupon you, and I must have that proud spirit of yours down?' Oh, then,it is fitting for the creature to yield and submit to him. When youspeak in an ordinary manner to your servants or children, you expectthem to regard what you say, but when you make them stand still by you,and speak to them in a more solemn way, then if they should disregardwhat you say, you are very impatient. So, certainly, God cannot takeit well whenever he appears from Heaven in such a remarkable way tobring an affliction, if then we do not submit to him.
11. TO BE DISCONTENTED THOUGH GOD HASBEEN EXERCISING US FOR A LONG TIME UNDER AFFLICTIONS, YET STILL TO REMAINDISCONTENTED.
For a man or woman when an afflictionfirst befalls them, to have a murmuring heart, is an evil, but to havea murmuring heart when God has been a long time exercising them withaffliction is more evil. Though a heifer when the yoke is first putupon her wriggles up and down and will not be quiet, if after many monthsor years it will not draw quietly, the husbandman would rather fattenit and prepare it for the butcher than be troubled any longer with it.So though the Lord was content to pass by that discontented spirit ofyours at first, yet now that God has for a long time kept the yoke onyou-you have been under his afflicting hand, it may be, many years,and yet you remain discontented still-it would be just if God were tobear your murmuring no longer, and that your discontent under the afflictionwere but a preparation for your destruction.
So, you see, when a man or woman hasbeen long exercised with afflictions, and is still discontented, thatis an aggravation of the sin. Mark that text in
Hebrews 12:11: 'Now', says the Scripture,'no chastening for the present is joyous, but grievous, neverthelessafterward it yieldeth the peaceable fruit of righteousness unto themwhich are exercised thereby.' It is true our afflictions are not joyous,but grievous. Though at first when our affliction comes it is very grievous,afterwards, says the text, it yieldeth the peaceable fruit of righteousnessto those that are exercised thereby. When you have been a long timein the school of afflictions, you are a very dullard in Christ's schoolif you have not learned this contentment, 'I have learned', said St.Paul, 'in every estate therewith to be content.' Paul had learned thislesson quickly; you have been learning many years. Perhaps you may say,as Heman did, that you are afflicted from your youth up (
Psalm 88). Oh, it is a very evil thingif, having been exercised long with afflictions, you are not yet contented.The eye in a man's body is as tender as any part of his body, but yetthe eye is able to continue in and bear a great deal of cold, becauseit is more used to it. So those who are used to afflictions, those whomGod exercises much with afflictions (though they have tender spiritsotherwise) yet they should have learned contentedness by this time.A new cart may creak and make a noise, but after it has been used awhile it will not do so. So when you are first a Christian and newlycome into the work of Christ, perhaps you make a noise and cannot bearaffliction; but are you an old Christian and yet will you be a murmuringChristian? Oh, it is a shame for any who are old believers, who havebeen a long time in the school of Jesus Christ, to have murmuring anddiscontented spirits.
The Excuses of a Discontented Heart
But now, my brethren,because this discontented humor is tough, and very hard to word upon-thereis none who is discontented but has something to say for their discontent-Ishall therefore seek to take away what every discontented heart hasto say for himself.
1. ONE THAT IS DISCONTENTED SAYS, 'ITIS NOT DISCONTENT; IT IS A SENSE OF MY CONDITION.' I hope you wouldhave me sensible of my condition. Perhaps when God takes away a friendor some other comfort, they are inordinately sorrowful, and wringingtheir hands as if they were undone; but let anyone speak to them, andthey say, 'Would you not have me sensible of my affliction?' Thus manywould hide their sinful murmuring under God's hand with this pretense,that it is but sensibleness of their affliction. To that I answer: 1.There is no sense of any affliction that will hinder the sense of God'smercies. Nay, the more we are sensible of our afflictions, providingit is in a gracious manner, the more sensible we will be of God's mercy.But you are so sensible of your affliction that it takes away the senseof all your mercies. Oh, this is sinful discontent, this is not to besensible in a wicked way, you go beyond your bounds. By this rule youmay come to know when your sorrows and troubles for your afflictionsgo beyond the bounds.
We may be sorrowful when God afflicts,but, oh, that I might know when my sorrow goes beyond the bounds ofit! Truly, you may know it by this, does the sense of your afflictionstake away the sense of your mercies? If it does, then it goes beyondthe bounds.
2. If it were but a bare sense of anaffliction it would not hinder you in the duties of your condition.The right sense of our afflictions will never hinder us in the performanceof the duties of our condition; but you are so sensible of the afflictionthat you are made unfit for the performance of the duties of the conditionthat God has put you in. Surely it is more than mere sense of your affliction!3. If it were but a mere sense of your affliction, then you could inthis your condition bless God for the mercies that others have; butyour discontentedness usually breeds envy at others. When anyone isdiscontented with their condition, they have an envious spirit at theconditions of those who are delivered from what afflictions they bear.
Certainly, then, it has turned sourwhen you are so sensible of your afflictions and insensible of merciesthat you are unfit for the duties of your condition, and envious ofothers who are not afflicted as you are.
2. BUT A DISCONTENTED HEART WILL SAY,'I am not so much troubled with my afflictions, but it is for my sinrather than my affliction, and I hope you will give leave that we shouldbe troubled and discontented with our sin. Were it not for sin thatI see in myself, I should not be so discontented as I am. Oh! it issin that is heavy upon me, and it is that which troubles me more thanmy afflictions.
Do not deceive your own heart, thereis a very great deceit in this. There are many people who, when God'shand is out against them, will say they are troubled for their sin,but the truth is, it is the affliction that troubles them rather thantheir sin. Their heart greatly deceives them in this very thing.
1. They were never troubled for theirsin before this affliction came. But you will say, It is true I wasnot before, for my prosperity blinded me, but now God has opened myeyes by afflictions. Has he? Then your great care will be rather forthe removing of your sin than your affliction. Are you more solicitousabout the taking away of your sin than the taking away of your affliction?2. If it is your sin that troubles you, then even if God should takeaway your afflictions, yet unless your sin is taken away, and your heartis better, this would not content you, you could not be satisfied. Butwe see usually that if God removes their afflictions, they have no moretrouble for their sin. Oh, many deceive themselves in this, saying thatthey are so troubled for their sin, and especially those who are sotroubled that they are in danger to miscarry, and to make away withthemselves. There is not one in ten thousand who is in such a conditionas this, and it is afflictions rather than sin that puts them to it.Indeed, you lay everything on this, as if it were the work of the Word,or the spirit of bondage. I remember I heard not long since of a divinewho was judicious, and used to such things, to whom came a man mightilytroubled for his sin, and he could not tell what to do, he was readyto despair. The divine looked upon him, and said, 'Are you not in debt?'He confessed that he was, and at length the minister began to find outthat that was his trouble rather than his sin, and so was able to helphim in that matter, that his creditors should not come on him, and thenthe man was pretty quiet, and would not do away with himself any longer.
It is usual that if anything befallsa man which crosses him, Oh, then, it is his sin that troubles him!Sometimes it is so with servants, if their masters cross them, thenthey are vexed and fret. Come to deal with them, Oh, then they willsay they are sorrowful for their sin. But we must take heed of dallyingwith God, who is the seer and searcher of the secrets of all heart.
Many of you go sullen and dumpish upand down in your homes, and then you say, it is your sin that lies uponyou, when God knows it is otherwise: it is because you cannot have yourdesires as you would have.
3. If you are troubled for your sin,then it will be your great care not to sin in your trouble, so as not,by your trouble, to increase your sin. But you are troubled in sucha way that, the truth is, you increase your sin in your trouble, andsince you said you were troubled for your sin you have committed moresin than you did before.
4. And then, lastly, if it is your sinthat troubles you, then you have the more need to submit to God's hand,and to accept the punishment of your iniquity, as in
Leviticus 26:41. There is no considerationto take away murmuring, so much as to look upon my sin as the causeof my affliction.
3. 'OH', SAYS ANOTHER, 'I FIND MY AFFLICTIONIS SUCH THAT GOD WITHDRAWS HIMSELF FROM ME IN MY AFFLICTION.
That is what troubles me, and can anybodybe quiet then, can anybody be satisfied with such a condition, whenthe Lord withdraws himself? However great my affliction were, yet ifI found not God withdrawing himself from me, I hope I could be contentwith any affliction, but I cannot find the presence of God with me inthis affliction, as at other times I have found, and that is what troublesme, and makes me in such a condition as I am.' Now to that I answerthus: 1. It is a very evil thing for men and women over every afflictionto conclude that God is departed from them. It may be, when it comesto be examined, there is no other reason why you think that God is withdrawnand departed, but because he afflicts you. Now for you to make sucha conclusion, that every time God lays an affliction upon you, he isdeparted, is a sinful disorder of your heart, and is very dishonorableto God, and grievous to his Spirit. In the
17th of Exodus, verse 7, you may seehow God was displeased with such a disorder as this: 'And he calledthe name of the place Massah, and Meribah, because of the chiding ofthe children of Israel, and because they tempted the Lord, saying, Isthe Lord among us or not?' Mark, they murmured because they were broughtinto afflictions: but see what the text says, 'Therefore the place wascalled Massah and Meribah, because they tempted the Lord, saying, Isthe Lord among us or not?' This was tempting God. Sometimes we are afraidGod is departed from us, and it is merely because we are afflicted.I beseech you to observe this Scripture: God calls it a tempting ofhim, when he afflicts anyone, for them to conclude and say that Godis departed from them. If a child should cry out and say that his fatheris turned to be an enemy to him, because he corrects him, this wouldbe taken ill. I beseech you consider this one place- it may be of verygreat use to you-that you may not be ready to think that God is departed,because you are afflicted.
2. If God is departed, the greatestsign of God's departing is because you are so disturbed. You make yourdisquiet the fruit of God's departing from you. If you could only cureyour disquiet, if you could but quiet your own hearts and get them intoa better frame of contentedness under God's hand in affliction, thenyou would find God's presence with you. Will you be thus disquietedtill God comes again to you? Your disquiet drives him from you, andyou can never expect God's coming to manifest himself comfortably toyour souls, till you have gotten your hearts quiet under your afflictions.Therefore you see here how you reason amiss: you reason, I am disquietbecause God is gone, when the truth is, God is gone because you aredisquiet. Reason the other way, Oh, my disquiet has driven God fromme, and therefore ever I would have the presence of God to come againto me, let my heart be quiet under the hand of God.
3. Do you find God departing from youin your affliction? Will you therefore depart from God too? Is thisyour help? Can you help yourself that way? Because God is gone, willyou go too? Do I, indeed, feel God departing from me? It may be so.It may be, God for your trial is departed a little from you. And isit so indeed? What an unwise course I take! I commit further sin andso I go further off from God; what a plight I am in! God goes from me,and I from God. If the child sees the mother going from it, it is notfor the child to say, My mother is gone yonder and I will go the otherway; no, but the child goes crying after the mother. So should the soulsay, I see the Lord is withdrawing his presence from me, and now itis best for me to make after the Lord with all my might, and I am surethis murmuring humor is not a making after God, but by it I go furtherand further away from God, and what a distance there will be betweenGod and me within a little while! These are some of the reasonings andpleas of a murmuring and discontented heart. There are many others thatwe shall meet with, and endeavor to speak to your hearts in them, thatthis touch humor of discontent may, as it were, be cut with the wordand softened with the word, so that it may pass away. For that is theway of physicians, when they meet with a body which has any tough humor,then they give that which has a piercing quality; when there is a toughhumor which stops the water, that it cannot pass, they give somethingwith a piercing quality which may make a passage for it. So you haveneed of such things as are piercing, to make a way through this toughhumor in the spirits of men and women, whereby they come to live veryuncomfortably to themselves and others, and very dishonorably unto God.
Now many pleas and reasonings stillremain, for there is a great deal of ado with a discontented, murmuringheart. And I remember, I find that the same Hebrew word which signifiesto lodge, to abide, signifies to murmur. They use one word for both,for murmuring is a disorder that lodges in men; where it gets in onceit lodges, abides and continues, and therefore, that we may dislodgeit and get it out, we will labor to show what are the further reasoningsof a discontented heart.
4. 'I THINK I COULD BE CONTENT WITHGOD'S HAND,' SAYS ONE, 'SO FAR AS I SEE THE HAND OF GOD IN A THING ICAN BE CONTENT.
But when men deal so unreasonably andunjustly with me, I do not know how to bear it. I can bear that I shouldbe in God's hands, but not in the hands of men. When my friends or acquaintancesdeal so unrighteously with me, oh, this goes very hard with me, so thatI do not know how to bear it from men.' For taking away this reasoning,consider: 1. Though they are men who bring this cross on you, yet theyare God's instruments. God has a hand in it, and they can go no furtherthan God would have them go. This was what quieted David when Shimeicursed him: God has a hand in it, he said, though Shimei is a base,wicked man, yet I look beyond him to God. So, do any of your friendsdeal injuriously with you, and wrongly with you? Look up to God, andsee that man but as an instrument in God's hands.
2. If this is your trouble that mendo so wrong you, you ought rather to turn your hearts to pity them,than to murmur or be discontented. For the truth is, if you are wrongedby other men, you have the better of it, for it is better to bear wrongthan to do wrong a great deal. If they wrong you, you are in a bettercondition than they, because it is better to bear, than to do wrong.I remember it is said of Socrates that, as he was very patient whenwrong was done to him, they asked him how he came to be so. He said,'If I meet a man in the street who is a diseased man, shall I be vexedand fretted with him because he is diseased? Those who wrong me I lookupon as diseased men, and therefore pity them.' 3. Though you meet withhard dealings from men, yet you meet with nothing but kind, good andrighteous dealings from God. When you meet with unrighteous dealingsfrom them, set one against the other. And that is an answer to the fourthplea.
5. 'OH, BUT THE AFFLICTION THAT COMESUPON ME IS AN AFFLICTION WHICH I NEVER LOOKED FOR.
I never thought I would meet with suchan affliction, and that is what I cannot bear. That is what makes myheart so disturbed because it was altogether unlooked for and unexpected.'For the answer of this: 1. It is your weakness and folly that you didnot look for it and expect it. In Acts 20:22, 23, see what St. Paulsays concerning himself, 'And now, behold, I go bound in the spiritunto Jerusalem, not knowing the things that shall befall me there, savethat the Holy Ghost witnesseth in every city, saying that bonds andafflictions abide me.' It is true, he says, I do not know the particularaffliction that may befall me, but this I know, that the Spirit of Godwitnesses that bonds and afflictions shall abide me everywhere. I lookfor nothing else but bonds and afflictions wheresoever I go. So a Christianshould do: he should look for afflictions wheresoever he is, in allconditions he should look to meet with afflictions; and therefore ifany affliction should befall him, though indeed he could not foreseethe particular evil, yet he should think, This is no more than I lookedfor in general. Therefore no affliction should come unexpectedly toa Christian.
2. A second answer I would give is this:Is it unexpected? Then the less provision you made for it before itcame, the more careful should you be to sanctify God's name in it, nowit is come. It is in this case of afflictions as in mercies: many timesmercy comes unexpected, and that might be a third answer to you. Setone against the other. I have many mercies that I never looked for,as well as afflictions that I never looked for, as well as afflictionsthat I never looked for; why should not the one rejoice me as much asthe other disturbs me? As it is in mercies, when they come unexpected,the less preparation there was in me for receiving mercy, the more needI have to be careful now to give God the glory of the mercy, and tosanctify God's name in the enjoyment of the mercy. Oh, so it shouldbe with us now: we have had mercies this summer that we never expected,and therefore we were not prepared for them; now we should be so muchthe more careful to give God the glory of them. So when afflictionscome that we did not expect, when it seems we did not lay in for thembeforehand, we had need be the more careful to sanctify God's name inthem. We should have spent some pains before, to prepare for afflictionsand we did not; then take so much the more pains to sanctify God inthis affliction now.
6. 'OH, BUT IT IS VERY GREAT, MY AFFLICTIONIS EXCEEDING GREAT,' Says someone, 'and however you say we must be contented,you may say so who do not feel such great afflictions, but if you feltmy affliction, which I feel, you would think it hard to bear and becontent.' To that I answer: 1. Let is be as great an affliction as itwill, it is not as great as your sin. He has punished you less thanyour sins.
2. It might have been a great deal more,you might have been in Hell. And it is, if I remember, Bernard's saying:he said, 'It is an easier matter to be oppressed than to perish.' Youmight have been in Hell, and therefore the greatness of the thing shouldnot make you murmur, even grant it to be great.
3. It may be it is the greater becauseyour heart murmurs so. Shackles upon a man's legs, if his legs are sore,will pain him more. If the shoulder is sore, the burden is the greater.It is because your heart is so unsound that your affliction is greatto you.
7. BUT HOWEVER YOU MAY LESSEN MY AFFLICTION,YET I AM SURE IT IS FAR GREATER THAN THE AFFLICTION OF OTHERS.
1. It may be it is your discontent thatmakes it greater, when indeed it is not so in itself.
2. If it were greater than others',why is your eye evil because the eye of God is good? Why should yoube discontented the more because God is gracious to others? 3. If youraffliction greater than others'? Then in this you have an opportunityto honor God more than others. You should consider, does God afflictme more than other men? God gives me an opportunity in this to honorhim in this affliction more than other men, to exercise more grace thanother men. Let me labor to do it then.
4. If all afflictions were laid upona heap together-this is a notable saying of Solon, that wise Heathen,he said-'Suppose all the afflictions that are in the world were laidupon a heap, and every man should come and take a proportion of thoseafflictions, every one equally, there is scarce any man but would rathersay, Let me have the afflictions that I had before, or else he wouldbe likely to come to a greater share, a greater affliction if so behe should equally share with all the world.' Now for you who are poor(who are not in extremity of poverty), if all the riches in the worldwere laid together and you should have an equal share, you would bepoorer. But take all afflictions and sorrows whatsoever; if all thesorrows in the world were laid together in a heap, and you had but anequal share of them, your portion would be rather more than it is nowfor the present. And therefore do not complain that it is more thanothers', and murmur because of that.
8. ANOTHER REASONING THAT MURMURINGHEARTS HAVE IS THIS: Why, they think that if the affliction were anyother than it is, then they would be more contented.
1. You must know that we are not tochoose our own rod, that God shall beat us with.
2. It may be that if it were any otherthan it is, it would not be so suitable for you as this is. It may be,therefore, God chooses it because it is the most contrary to you, sinceit is most suitable for purging out the humor that is in you. If a patientcomes to take medicine and finds himself sick by it, will he say, 'Oh,!if it were any other potion I could bear it?' It may be, if it wereany other than it is, it would not suit your disease; yea, if it didnot work as it does, it would not suit the disease. So when you sayof an affliction, if it were any other than it is, you could bear it,do but answer yourself with this: It may be, if it were any other thanit is, it would not be suitable for me. It would not get right to thesinful humor in my soul, and therefore God sees this to be the fittestand the most suitable for me.
3. Know that this is the excellenceof grace in a Christian, to be fitted for any condition; not only tosay, if it were this or that, but if it were any.
Now if a sailor has skill he does notsay, 'If it were any other wind but this, if the wind blew in any directionbut this, I could manage my ship, I could show skill in other directionsbut not in this.' Would not sailors laugh at such a one? It would bea shame for him to say that he has skill in any other direction butthis. So it should be a shame for a Christian to say that he has skillin any other affliction but this. A Christian should be able to managehis ship, if the wind blows any way; to guide his soul any way.
4. The last answer is this, Know thatthe Lord has rewards and crowns for all graces, and for honoring themin all conditions. It may be, in such a way as you think you could honorGod, God has a crown for that; and God has another crown to set uponthe heads of those who honor him in such a way as this. He has severalsorts of crowns, as I may say, in Heaven, and those crowns he must putupon somebody's head, and therefore he exercises you in a variety ofconditions, so that you might have the several rewards and crowns thatGod has to reward and crown those who are faithful in several conditions.
9. 'OH, BUT THE CONDITION THAT GOD HASPUT ME IN, MAKES ME UNSERVICEABLE, AND THIS TROUBLES ME.
It is true, if it were only an afflictionand trouble to myself, it would not be so much, but I am put into sucha condition by this affliction that I am unserviceable, and can do Godno further service. God has put me into a mean position, and what goodcan I do? How burdensome is my life to me, because I can do no servicefor God! This is grievous to me.' Indeed, if it is true that this isyour great grief, it is a good sign. If you can say, as in the presenceof God, 'Above all afflictions in this world, I count to be laid asideand not to be employed in the service of God the greatest affliction.I would rather bear any trouble in the world if I might do more service,than be freed from trouble and be laid aside and do little service:can you say so? It is a good sign of grace for a man to account afflictionsas great because he can do the Lord but little service. Few men accountthat an affliction at all.
But yet there may be a temptation inthis. To murmur at God's disposal, when your calling is low and meanand you can do little service, is many times a temptation to those whoare poor, those who are servants and those who are of weak gifts, andmust work hard to provide bread for their families. It is many timesa grievous burden to them to think: The Lord uses other men in publicservice and I live in an obscure way, and to what purpose is my life?To help against this temptation, that you may not murmur against thiscondition: 1. Do but consider that though your condition is low andmean, yet you are in the Body, you are a member of the Body, Thoughyou are but a mean member, the toe and the finger have their use inthe body; though it is not the eye, though it is not the head, or theheart, yet it has its use in the body.
There is an excellent expression, whichI remember Augustine has about this: 'It is better to be the meanestmember in the body, than to be the highest and most important memberand cut off from the body; it is better to be a little sprig in thetree joined to the root, than to be an arm cut off from the root.' Othermen who have but common gifts in the world,* who are not members ofJesus Christ, seem indeed to have more excellence than those who aregodly, who are in a mean condition, with mean gifts and mean callings;but they are not of the body, they are not joined to the root, and thereforetheir condition is worse. [*Common gifts as distinct from the gift ofsalvation.] When a great arm of a tree is cut off it has a great manyleaves on it, and seems a great deal more glorious than those littlesprigs that are on the tree, but that little sprig is in a better condition.Why? Because it is joined to the tree and gets sap from the root andflourishes, but the other will wither and die within a while. So itis with all men of the world: they are just like great boughs cut offfrom the tree; though they have excellent gifts, and have great wealthand pomp and glory in the world, they have no union with Jesus Christthe root. But others who live in a poor condition, a poor tradesman,a poor servant, a poor laboring-man who labors for his family everyday, such a one, being godly, may say, 'Though I have but little forthe present, little glory, little credit, little comfort, yet I am joinedto the Body, and there I have supply and that which will feed me withcomfort, blessing and mercy to all eternity.' So all who are in a poorcondition in this world, if you are godly, just thing of that: thoughyou are mean yet you are in the Body, and joined to the root. You arejoined to the principle of comfort, good, blessing and mercy, whichwill hold out to eternity, when thousand thousands of glorious pompousmen in the world shall wither and perish everlastingly. Therefore donot be troubled at your mean condition.
2. Though you have only a mean callingin this world, and so are not regarded as a man of use in the world,yet if you are a Christian, God has called you to a higher calling;your general calling is a high calling, though your particular callingis but low and mean.* [*The Puritans taught that believers have a twofoldcalling: their particular calling, which was to their daily occupationand work; and their general calling, to be Christians.] There is a placefor that in the chapter before my text, Philippians 3:14: 'I press towardsthe mark', says the Apostle, 'for the prize of the high calling of Godin Christ Jesus.' So every Christian has a high calling of God in ChristJesus: God has called him to the highest thing to which he has calledany creature he has made. The angels in Heaven have not a higher callingthan you have. You who perhaps spend your time in a poor business, inthe meanest calling, if you are a dung-raker, to rake channels, or toclean places of filth, or any other thing in the world that is the meanestthat can be conceived of, your general calling as a Christian advancesyou higher than any particular calling can advance any man in the world.Others, indeed, who are called to manage the affairs of the State arein a high calling, or ministers, they are in a high calling; but yoursin some respects is higher. A poor servant who must be scraping allday about poor, mean things many times may have such a temptation asthis: 'Oh, what a poor condition has God put me into! Will God haveregard to such a one who is in such a poor, low place as I am?' Oh,yes, Christ has regard to the meanest member; as a man has as real aregard to his toe if it is in pain, and will look after it as trulyand verily as any other member, so Christ has regard to his lowest andmeanest ones.
3. You are in a high calling. Thoughyour outward calling is low in respect of men, yet in respect of Godyou are in the same calling with the angels in Heaven, and in some degreecalled to that which is higher, for the Scripture says that the angelscome to understand the mystery of the Gospel by the Church. You whoare a Christian in that general calling of yours, you are joined withprincipalities and powers, and with angels, in the greatest work thatGod has called any creature to, and therefore let that comfort you inthis.
4. You calling is low and mean; yetdo not be discontented with that, for you have a principle within you(if you are a godly man or woman) of grace, which raises your lowestactions to be higher in God's esteem, than all the brave, glorious actionsthat are done in the world. The principle of faith does it: if any manor woman goes on in obedience to God in a way of faith in the callingin which God has set them-doing this, I say, through a principle offaith-it raises this action, and makes it a more glorious action thanall the glorious victories of Alexander and Caesar. All their triumphsand glorious pomp that they had in all their conquests were not so gloriousas for you to do the lowest action out of faith. As Luther speaks ofa poor milkmaid who is a believer, and does her work in faith: he comparesthat action to all the glorious actions of Caesar, and makes it a greatdeal more eminent and glorious in the eyes of God. Therefore faith raisesyour works which are but mean, and raises them to be very glorious.
Yes, and the truth is, it is more obedienceto submit to God in a low calling, than to submit to him in a highercalling; for it is sheer obedience, mere obedience, that makes you goon in a low calling, but there may be much self-love that makes mengo on in a higher calling, for there is riches, credit and account inthe world, and rewards come in by that, which they do not in the other.To go on quietly in a low calling is more obedience to God.
5. Know further, in the last place,that there is likely to be more reward.
For when the Lord comes to reward, hedoes not examine what work men and women have been exercised in, butwhat their faithfulness has been.
'Well done, good and faithful servant,'said the Lord; he does not say, 'Well done, good servant, for you havebeen faithful to me in public works, ruling cities and states, and affairsin kingdoms, and therefore you shall be rewarded.' No, but, 'Well done,good and faithful servant.' Now you may be faithful in little as wellas others are in more, by going on and working your day's labor; whenyou get but a couple of shillings to maintain your family, you may beas faithful in this as those who rule a kingdom. God looks to a man'sfaithfulness, and you may have as great a reward for your faithfulnesswho are a poor servant in the kitchen all the day, as another who sitsupon the throne all day. As great a crown of glory you may have at theday of judgment, as a king who sits upon the throne, who has ruled forGod upon his throne. Yes, your faithfulness may be rewarded by God withas great glory as a king who has swayed his scepter for God; because,I say, the Lord does not so much look at the work that is done, as atthe faithfulness of our hearts in doing it. Then why should not everyone of us go on comfortably and cheerfully in our low condition, forwhy may not I be faithful as well as another? It is true, I cannot cometo be as rich a man and as honorable as others; but I may be as faithfulas any other man: every one of you may reason thus with yourselves.What hinders you who are the poorest and meanest from being as faithfulas the greatest? Yes, you may have as glorious a crown in Heaven, andtherefore go on comfortably and cheerfully in your way.
10. THERE IS ANOTHER REASONING THATSOME MAY HAVE AND IT IS THIS: 'Oh, I could bear much affliction in someother way, but this is very grievous to me, the unsettledness of mycondition. Even if my condition were low, yet if it were in a settledway, I could be content, but it is so unconstant, and so unsettled,that I never know what to trust to, but am tossed up and down in theworld in an unsettled condition, and this is hard to be content with.'Now to that I answer: 1 . The Psalmist says, 'That every man in hissettled estate is vanity' (Psalm 39:5). Your Bibles have it: 'Everyman at his best estate is vanity,' the word is, 'his settled estate'.You think, if you were but settled, then you could be content, but thetruth is, man in his settled estate is vanity.
2. Perhaps God sees it is better foryou to live in a continual dependence upon him, and not to know whatyour condition shall be on the morrow, than for you to have a more settledcondition in terms of the comforts of the creature. Do but rememberwhat we spoke of before, that Christ does not teach you to pray, 'Lord,give me enough to serve me for two or three years,' but, 'This day ourdaily bread.' This is to teach us that we must live upon God in a dependentcondition every day for daily bread. Here was the difference betweenthe land of Canaan and Egypt: the land of Canaan depended on God forthe watering of it with showers from Heaven, but Egypt had a constantway of watering the country, that did not so much depend upon Heavenfor water, but upon the river Nile, which at some certain time overflowedthe country. Knowing that the watering of their country depended uponthe river and not upon heaven, they grew more proud. And therefore theScripture, to express Pharaoh's pride, brings him in as saying: 'Theriver is mine': he could order the river as he pleased, for it was his.Canaan was a country which was to depend upon God, and though they hadrain at one time, yet they never knew whether they should have it atanother time, and lived always in dependence upon God, not knowing whatshould become of them. Now God thought this to be a better land forhis people than Egypt, and this is given as one reason among others,that the Lord looked upon it as more suitable to the state of his people,who were to live by faith, that they should be continually dependingupon Heaven, upon himself, and not have a constant settled way in thecreature for their outward dependence. We find by experience that whenthose who are godly live in the greatest dependence upon God, and havenot a settled income from the creature, they exercise faith more, andare in a better condition for their souls than before. Oh, many timesit falls out that the worse your outward estate is the better your soulis, and the better your outward estate is the worse your soul is.
We read in Ezra 4:13, the objectionthat the enemies had against the people of Israel's building of thewall of the city: their writing to Artaxerxes against them said, 'Beit known unto the king, that if this city be builded, and the wallsset up again, then will not they pay toll, tribute, and custom, andso thou shalt endamage the revenue of the kings.' If the wall be built,they say, then they will refuse to pay toll, tribute and custom to theking, that is, so long as they live in such a condition where they havedependence wholly upon the king, and live at the king's mercy, thatis, they are in no city with walls, but the king may come upon themwhen he will, so long they will pay custom to the king; but if oncethey come to build a wall, and can defend themselves, and have not theirdependence upon the king as before, then they will deny paying toll,tribute and custom. So it is thus, for all the world, between God andmen's souls: when a soul lives in mere dependence upon God, so thatsensibly he sees that God has advantage of him every moment, Oh, thensuch a soul will pay toll and custom, that soul exercises faith, andbegs every day his daily bread; but if God hedges that man about withwealth, with prosperity-perhaps an inheritance falls to him, perhapshe has a constant office that brings in so much yearly to him duly paid-heis not so sensible now of his dependence upon God, and he begins nowto pay less toll and custom to God than before. God has less servicefrom this man now than before. God sees it better for his people tolive in a dependent condition. We are very loath in respect of God tobe dependent, we would all be independents in this way, we would bedependent upon ourselves and have no dependence upon the Lord, but Godsees it better for us to live in a depending condition.
3. This may be your comfort: thoughfor outward things you are mightily unsettled, yet for the great thingsof your soul and eternal welfare there you are settled. There you havea settled way, a constant way of fetching supply: Of his fullness wereceive grace for grace. You have there an abundance of treasure togo to, and get all that you stand in need of. And observe that now yourcondition is more settled in the Covenant of grace than it was in theCovenant of works: in the Covenant of works God gave man a stock totrade with, but he put it into his hand, so that he might trade, andgain or lose; but in the Covenant of grace, God makes sure: the stockis kept in the hand of Christ, and we must go to him for supply continually,for Christ keeps the stock. perhaps we may trifle away something inour trading, but God takes care that we never spend the stock. It isas when a man's son goes bankrupt, having squandered away the capitalthat he gave him before; afterwards he puts his capital into a friend'shand, and says, 'You shall keep the stock and it shall not be at hisdisposal.' So we are in a more settled condition in respect of our eternalestate than Adam was in innocence. Therefore let that comfort us inall our unsettled conditions in the matters of the world.
11. BUT THERE IS STILL ANOTHER REASONINGWITH WHICH MANY MURMURING HEARTS THINK TO FEED THEIR HUMOR. THEY SAY,'If I never had been in a better condition then I could bear this affliction,if God had always kept me in such a low condition, I could be content.Oh, but there was a time when I prospered more, and my hands were full,and therefore now it is harder for me to be brought low, as at present.'Perhaps a man had five or six hundred a year, but now has had nothingfor a great while: if that man had not been born to so much, or hadnever prospered in any higher degree than he is now in, the afflictionwould have been less. Perhaps he has some money and friends to liveon, but if he had never been in a higher condition, he would not haveaccounted it so great a thing to have been without it now.
This, many times, is our greatest wound,that once we were in a better condition; but it is the most unreasonablething for us to murmur upon this ground of any.
1. For is your eye evil because Godhas been good to you heretofore? It is a bad thing for us to have oureye evil because God is good to others, but to look upon our conditionwith an evil eye now, because God was once good to us!-has God doneyou any wrong because he was formerly more good to you than he was toothers? 2. Did God give you more prosperity before? It was to prepareyou for affliction. We should look at all our outward prosperity asa preparation for afflictions. If you had done so, then it would nothave been so difficult for you to endure afflictions now. If when youhad great wealth, you made use of the mercy of God to prepare you foryour afflicted estate, then the change of your estate would not be sogrievous. Every Christian should say: 'Have I wealth now? I should preparefor poverty. Have I health now? I should prepare for sickness. HaveI liberty? Let me prepare myself for imprisonment. How do I know whatGod may call me to? Have I comfort and peace now in my conscience, doesGod shine upon me? While I have this let me prepare for God's withdrawingfrom me. Am I delivered from temptations? Let me prepare now for thetime of temptations.' If you would do so, the change of your conditionwould not be so grievous to you.
Sailors who are in a calm prepare forstorms; would they say, 'If we never had calms we could bear storms,but we have had calms so many years or weeks together, that this isgrievous? In your calm you are to prepare to storms, and the storm willbe less.
You should reason quite contrary towhat you do and say: 'Now I am in an afflicted condition, but, blessedbe God, I was in a comfortable condition, and, blessed be God, thathe was before with me in his mercy': this one consideration may helpmurmuring hearts. Do you murmur because once you were better? Know thatGod was before with you in mercy, and you should rather thing thus:I have lived for these many years, perhaps forty years or more, in acomfortable condition, I have lived in health, and peace, and plenty;what though the remaining part of my time should have some sorrow andaffliction? The Lord has granted to me a comfortable sunshine all theday long towards evening, and what if at seven or eight o'clock at nightit begins to rain? Let me thank God I have had such fair weather allday. If you are on a voyage, and you have a comfortable wind, and veryfair weather for many months together, what if you have a little stormwhen you are within sight of land? Will you murmur and repine? Oh now,but you rather bless God that you have had such a comfortable voyageso long.
Oh, this consideration would help usall. If God should now say, 'Well, you will never see comfortable daysagain in outward things in this world', then, you have cause to falldown and bless God's name that you have had so many comfortable days.Now you reason quite contrary: whereas you should bless God that youhave had so much comfort, you make what you have had before an aggravationof your afflictions now, and so murmur and are discontented.
On what terms did you hold what Godgave you before? Did you hold it so that you have in your papers, 'Tohave and to hold for ever'? God gives no such thing, God gives to noman, I say, anything but grace to run upon that tenure. There is nosuch thing in all God's writings for any outward comforts as, 'To haveand to hold for you and your heirs.' Indeed, grave he gives to yourselves,to have and to hold for ever, though not for everyone who comes outof your loins to have and to hold for ever; but God does not give anyoutward thing upon such tenure as that. If God gives me an understandingof himself, and faith, and humility, and love, and patience, and suchgraces of his Spirit, he gives me them for ever, if he gives me himself,and his Christ, and his promises, and his covenant, he gives me themfor ever. Who am I, therefore, that the sun should always shine uponme, that I must have fair weather all my days? What God gives to me,he gave it as a pledge of his love; let me return it to him as a pledgeof my obedience. There is all the reason in the world for it: all thata godly man receives from God he receives as a pledge of god's loveto him; therefore when he comes into an afflicted condition, God says,'Return to me as a pledge of your obedience, what you had from me asa pledge of my love.' We should cheerfully come to God and bless Godthat we have anything to render to him as a pledge of our obedience,and should say, 'Oh, it is your love, O Lord, which has given us everything,which enables us to render a pledge of our obedience to you.' When Godcalls for your wealth or any comforts that you have, God calls for itas a pledge of your obedience to him.
12. ANOTHER REASONING OF A MURMURINGHEART IS THIS: 'Oh, but after I have taken a great deal of pains forthis comfort, yet then I am thwarted in it. To be thwarted now afterall the labor and pains I have taken, oh, this goes very hard.' I answer:1 . The greater the cross, the more obedience and submission.
2. When you took a great deal of pains,was it not with submission to God? Did you take pains, with resolutionsthat you must have such a thing when you labored for it? Then know thatyou did not labor as a Christian, but if you labored and took pains,was it not with resignation to God?: 'Lord, I am taking pains in mycalling, but with submission; I depend wholly upon you for success anda blessing.' And what did you aim at in your labor? Was it not thatyou might walk with God in the place where God had set you? A Christianshould do so in his outward calling: I am diligent in my outward calling,but it is so that I might obey God in it. It is true, I do it that Imight provide for my family, but the chief thing that I aim at is thatI might yield obedience to God in the way where God has set me.
Now if God calls you to another condition,to obey him in, though it is by suffering, you will do it if your heartis right.
3. There will be more testimony of yourlove to God, if so be that you now yield up yourself to God in whatcost you dear. 'Shall I offer that to God', said David, 'that cost menothing?' Your outward comforts have cost you much, and you have takengreat pains to obtain them and now, if you can submit to God in thewant of them, in this, I say, your love is the more shown, that youcan offer to God what cost you dear.
13. NOW THESE ARE THE PRINCIPAL REASONINGSOF A DISCONTENTED HEART. BUT THERE IS ONE PLEA MORE THAT MAY BE NAMED:SOME SAY, 'Though I confess that my affliction is somewhat hard, andI feel some trouble within me, yet I thank God I do not break out indiscontented ways to the dishonor of God; I keep it in, although I havemuch ado with my own heart.' Oh, do not satisfy yourselves with that,for the disorders of your hearts, and their sinful workings are as wordsbefore God. 'My soul, be silent to God': we spoke of that in the beginningof the expounding of this Scripture. It is not enough for your tongueto be silent; but your soul must be silent. There may be a sullen discontentednessof heart as well as a discontentedness manifested in words, and if youdo not mortify that inward sullenness, when you are afflicted a littlemore, it will break forth at last.
And thus the Lord, I hope, has met withthe chief reasonings and please for our discontent in our conditions.I beseech you, in the name of God, consider these things, and becausethey concern your own hearts, you may so much the better remember them.I had thought to have made a little beginning to the next head, whichis, Some way of helping you to this grace of contentment. It is a mostexcellent grace, of admirable use, as you have heard, and the contraryis very sinful and vile.
How to Attain Contentment
Now we are coming to the close of this point of contentment which Jesus Christ teaches those who are in his school. We have opened the point to you, and showed you wherein the art, and skill, and mystery of Christian contentment lies, and many things in the way of application, rebuking the want of it. In the last chapter, I finished that point of showing the various reasonings of a murmuring and discontented heart. I shall now, being desirous to make an end, leave what was said, and proceed to what remains. There are only these two things, for working your hearts to this grace of Christian contentment:
1 . TO PROPOUND SEVERAL CONSIDERATIONS FOR CONTENTING THE HEART IN ANY AFFLICTED CONDITION.
2 . TO PROPOUND DIRECTIONS, WHAT SHOULD BE DONE FOR WORKING OUR HEARTS TO THIS.
1. CONSIDERATIONS TO CONTENT THE HEART IN ANY AFFLICTED CONDITION.
1. We should consider, in all our wants and inclinations to discontent, the greatness of the mercies that we have, and the meanness of the things we lack. The things we lack, if we are godly, are things of very small moment in comparison to the things we have, and the things we have are things of very great moment. For the most part, the things for the want of which people are discontented and murmur are such things as reprobates have, or may have. Why should you be troubled so much for the want of something which a man or woman may have and yet be a reprobate? as, that your wealth is not so great, your health not so perfect, your credit not so much; you may have all those things and still be a reprobate! Now will you be discontented for what a reprobate may have? I will give you the example of a couple of godly men, meeting together, Anthony and Didymus: Didymus was blind, and yet a man of very excellent gifts and graces: Anthony asked him if he was not troubled at his want of sight. He confessed he was, 'But', he said, 'should you be troubled at the want of what flies and dogs have, and not rather rejoice and be thankful that you have what angels have?' God has given you those good things that make angels glorious; is not that enough for you, though you lack what a fly has? And so a Christian should reason the case with himself: what am I discontented for? I am discontented for want of what a dog may have, what a devil may have, what a reprobate may have; shall I be discontented for not having that, when God has given me what makes angels glorious? 'Blessed be God,' says the Apostle in Ephesians 1:3, 'who hath blessed us with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places.' It may be you have not such great blessings in earthly places as some others have, but if the Lord has blessed you in heavenly places, that should content you. There are blessings in heaven, and he has set you here for the present, as it were in heaven, in a heavenly place. The consideration of the greatness of the mercies that we have, and the littleness of the things that God has denied us, is a very powerful consideration to work this grace of contentment.
2. The consideration that God is beforehand with us with his mercies should content us. I spoke of this as an aggravation of our discontent, but now I shall use it as a consideration to help us to contentment. You lack many comforts now, but has not God been beforehand with you heretofore? Oh, you have had mercy enough already to make you spend all the strength you have and time you shall live, to bless God for what you have had already. I remember reading of a good man who had lived to fifty years of age and enjoyed his health for eight and forty years exceedingly well, and lived in prosperity, but the last two years his body was exceedingly diseased, he had the strangury, and was in great pain. But he reasoned the case with himself thus: 'Oh, Lord, you might have made all my life a life of torment and pain, but you have left me have eight and forty years in health. I will praise your mercies for what I have had, and will praise your justice for what now I feel.' Oh, it is a good consideration for us, to think that God is beforehand with us, in the way of mercy. Suppose God should now take away your wealth from some of you who have lived comfortably a great while; you will say, 'That aggravates our misery, that we have had wealth.' But it is through your unthankfulness that it does so.
We should bless God for what we have had, and not think that we are worse because we have had thus and thus. We might always have been miserable who has no other great aggravation of his misery, but that once he was happy. If there is nothing else to make you miserable, then that is no aggravation that you may not bear, for there is much mercy in that you had it once. Therefore let that content you.
3. The consideration of the abundance of mercies that God bestows and we enjoy. It is a saying of Luther: 'The sea of God's mercies should swallow up all our particular afflictions.' Name any affliction that is upon you: there is a sea of mercy to swallow I up. If you pour a pailful of water on the floor of your house, it make a great show, but if you throw it into the sea, there is no sign of it. So, afflictions considered in themselves, we think are very great, but let them be considered with the sea of god's mercies we enjoy, and then they are not so much, they are nothing in comparison.
4. Consider the way of God towards all creatures. God carries on all creatures in a vicissitude of several conditions: thus, we do not always have summer, but winter succeeds summer; we do not always have day, but day and night; we do not always have fair weather, but fair and foul; the vegetative creatures do not always flourish, but the sap is in the root and they seem to be dead. There is a vicissitude of all things in the world: the sun does not shine always on us here, but darkness comes after light. Now seeing God has so ordered things with all creatures, that there is a mixture of conditions, why should be thing it much that there should be a vicissitude of conditions with us, sometimes in a way of prosperity, and sometimes in a way of affliction? 5. The creatures suffer for us; why should not we be willing to suffer, to be serviceable to God? God subjects other creatures, they are fain to lose their lives for us, to lose whatever beauty and excellence they have, to be serviceable to us; why should not we be willing to part with anything in service for God? Certainly, there is not as great a distance between other creatures and mankind, as there is between mankind and God. This is an expression of the martyr, Master Hooper, which we read of in the Book of Martyrs: in laboring to work his own heart, and the hearts of others to contentedness in the midst of his sufferings, he has this comparison, and you may be put in mind of it every day: he said, 'I look upon the creature and see what it suffers to be useful to me. Thus, the brute beasts must die, must be roasted in the fire, and boiled, must come on to the plate, be hacked all in pieces, must be chewed in the mouth, and in the stomach turned to that which is loathsome, if one should behold it; and all to nourish me, to be useful to my body, and shall not I be willing to be made anything for God, for his service? What an abundance of alterations the creature undergoes to be made useful to me, to preserve me! Then, if God will do so with me for his use, as he subjects the creatures to me for my use, why should I not reset contented? If God will take away my wealth, and make me poor, if God will take away life, hack me to pieces, put me in prison-whatever he does, yet I shall not suffer more for God than the creature does for me. And surely I am infinitely more bound to God than the creature is to me, and there is not so much distance between me and the creature, as between me and God!' Such considerations as these wrought the heart of that martyr to contentedness in his sufferings. And every time the creature is upon your plates you may think, What! does God make the creature suffer for my use, not only for my nourishment, but for my delight? what am I, then, in respect of the infinite God? 6. Consider that we have but a little time in this world. If you are godly you will never suffer except in this world. Why, do but shut your eyes and soon another life is come, as that martyr said to his fellow martyr, 'Do but shut your eyes', he said, 'and the next time they are opened you shall be in another world.' When he was banished, Athanasius said, 'It is but a little cloud and it will be over, notwithstanding, soon.' These afflictions are but for a moment. When a sailor is at sea he does not think it much if a storm arises, especially if he can see the Heavens clear beyond it; he says, 'It will be over soon.' Consider, we have not long to live, it may be over before our days are at an end. But supposing it should not, death will put an end to all, all afflictions and troubles will soon be at an end by death.
7. Consider the condition that others have been in, who have been our betters. We made some use of this before to show the evil of discontent.
But, further, it is a mighty argument to work on our hearts a contentedness in any condition. You many times consider who are above you; but consider who are under you.
Jacob, who was the heir of both Abraham and Isaac, for the blessing was on him and the promise ran in him, yet was in a poor, mean condition.
Abraham, his grandfather, was able to make a kind of army of his own household, three hundred, to fight with a king, yet Jacob his grandchild goes over Jordan with a staff, and lives in a very poor and mean condition for a long time. Moses might have had all the treasure in Egypt, and some historians say of him, Pharaoh's daughter adopted him for her son, because Pharaoh had no heir for the crown, and so he was likely to have come to the crown. Yet what a low condition he lived in, when he went to live with Jethro his father-in-law forty years on end! Afterwards when he returned to Egypt, with his wife and children, and all that he had, he had only one beast to carry him; he went back to Egypt from his father-in-law in a mean condition.
And we know how Elijah was fed with ravens, and how he had to shift for his life from time to time, and run into the wilderness up and down; and so did Elisha: he was many times in a low condition; the prophets of God were hid in a cave by Obadiah, and there fed with bread and water; and the prophet Jeremiah put into a dungeon, and oh, how he was used! And it would be endless to name the particulars of the great sufferings of the people of God.
In former time, we have sometimes made use of this argument in other ways: the great instruments of God in the first Reformation lived in great straits, in a very low condition. Even Luther himself, when he was about to die, though he was a man of such public use, and was a great man in the courts of princes, said, 'Lord, I have neither house nor lands, nor estate, to leave anything to wife or children, but I commit them to thee.' And so Musculus who was a very choice instrument of God in his time, though he was a man who was worth even a kingdom for the excellence of his spirit, and learning, for he was one of the most learned men of his time, yet sometimes was forced to dig in the common ditch to get bread for his family. What would we do, if we were in such a condition as these men were? But, above all, set Christ before us, who professes that the birds of the air had nests, and the foxes had holes, yet the Son of man had no place to hide his head, such a low condition was he in. The consideration of such things as these is very useful. It is likewise useful for men and women of wealth to go to poor people's houses and see how they live, to go to hospitals, and to see the wounds of soldiers and others, and to see the lamentable condition that people live in who live in some alms-houses, and what poor fare they have, and what straits they are put to. You hear sometimes of them, but if you went to see them it would not only stir up charity in yourselves towards them, but stir up thankfulness in your hearts towards God, it would be a special means to help you against any discontent. You would go away and see cause to bless God and say, 'If I were in such a condition as they are in what should I do? How could I bear it? And yet what reason is there that God so orders and disposes of things that they should be so low in their conditions and I so high? I know no reason but free grace: God will have mercy upon whom he will have mercy.' These are good considerations for the furtherance of contentment.
8. Before your conversion, before God wrought upon your souls, you were contented with the world without grace, though you had no interest in God nor Christ; why cannot you now be contented with grace and spiritual things without the world? If you yourselves were content with the world without grace, there is reason you should be content with grace without the world. Certainly there is infinitely more reason. You see that many men of the world have a kind of contentment; they do not murmur or repine with the world, though they have no interest in God and Christ. Then cannot you have as much contentment with God and Christ, without the world, as they can, with the world, without God and Christ? It is an infinite shame that this should be so.
9. Yea, consider, when God has given you such contentments you have not given him the glory. When God has let you have your heart's desire, what have you done with your heart's desire? You have not been any the better for it; it may be you have been worse many times. Therefore let that satisfy you-I meet with crosses, but when I had contentment and all things coming in, God got but little or no glory from me, and therefore let that be a means now to quiet me in my discontented thoughts.
10. Finally, consider all the experience that you have had of God's doing good to you in the want of many comforts. When God crosses you, have you never had experience of abundance of good in afflictions? It is true, when ministers only tell men that God will work good out of their afflictions, they hear them speak, and think they speak like good men, but they feel little or no good; they feel nothing but pain. But when we cannot only say to you that God has said he will work good out of your afflictions, but we can say to you, that you yourselves have found it so by experience, that God has made former afflictions to be great benefits to you, and that you would not have been without them, or without the good that came by them for a world, such experiences will exceedingly quiet the heart and bring it to contentment. Therefore think thus with yourself: Lord, why may not this affliction work as great a good upon me as afflictions have done before? Perhaps you may find many other considerations, besides, in your own meditations; these are the principal ones that I have thought of.
I will add only one word to this, of one who once was a great merchant and trader-his name was Zeno-and it happened once that he suffered shipwreck, and he said, 'I never made a better voyage and sailed better than at the time that I suffered shipwreck.' Now this was a strange saying that he had never made a better voyage! It would be a strange paradox to you who are seamen, to say that it is a good voyage, when you suffer shipwreck.
But he meant because he got so much good by it; God was pleased to bless it so far to him that he gained much to his soul by it, so much soul-riches that he made account that it was the best voyage that ever he had. Truly, sometimes it is so, yes, to you who are godly; I make no question but you find it so, that your worst voyages have proved your best. When you have met with the greatest crosses in a voyage, God has been pleased to turn them to a greater good to you, in some other way. It is true, we may desire crosses that they may be turned to other advantages; but when God in his providence so orders things, that you meet with bad voyages, you may expect that God will turn them to a greater good, and I do not doubt but that those who have been exercised in the ways of godliness any long time have abundant experiences, which they have gained by them.
You know sometimes it is better to be in a little ship, for they have an advantage over greater ones in storms many times: in a storm a little ship can thrust into a shallow place and so be safe, but your great ships cannot, they must be abroad and tossed up and down in the storm and tempest, and so many times split against the rocks. And so, it may be, God sees there is a storm coming, and if you are in your great ship you may be split upon rocks and lands. God, therefore, puts you into a smaller vessel that you may be more safe. We will lay aside speaking of those considerations now, but I would not have you lay them aside, and put them out of your thoughts, but labor (those especially that most concern you) to make use of them in a needful time, when you find any discontentedness of spirit arising in you.
The main thing that I intend by way of appliance, is to propound directions, what to do for helping our hearts to contentment. For, as for any further considerations, we have already spoken largely of them, because we have opened most things in showing what the lessons are that Christ teaches men, when he brings them into his school, to teach them this art. I say, we have spoken there of the special things that are most considerable for helping us to this grace of contentment. Therefore, now, all that I shall further do about this point, will be the giving of some directions, what course to take that we may come to attain this grace of contentment.
1. All the rules and helps in the world will do us little good unless we get a good temper within our hearts. You can never make a ship go steady, by propping it outside; you know there must be ballast within the ship, to make it go steady. And so, there is nothing outside us that can keep our hearts in a steady, constant way, but what is within us: grace is within the soul, and it will do this.
2. If you would get a contented life, do not grasp too much of the world, do not take in more of the business of the world than God calls you to. Do not be greedy of taking in a great deal of the world, for if a man goes among thorns, when he may take a simpler way, he has no reason to complain that he is pricked with them. You go among thorns-is it your way? Must you of necessity go among them? Then it I another matter. But if you voluntarily choose that way, when you may go another, then you have no cause to complain. If men and women will thrust themselves on things of the world which they do not need, then o wonder that they are pricked and meet with what disturbs them. For such is the nature of all things here in this world, that everything has some prick or other in it. We will meet with disappointments and discontentments in everything we meddle with, and therefore those who have least to do in the world, that is, unless God calls them to it (we must put in that), are likely to meet with many things that will dissatisfy them.
3. Be sure of your call to every business you go about. Though it is the least business, be sure of your call to it; then, whatever you meet with, you may quiet your heart with this: I know I am where God would have me.
Nothing in the world will quiet the heart so much as this: when I meet with any cross, I know I am where God would have me, in my place and calling; I am about the work that God has set me. Oh, this will quiet and content you when you meet with trouble. What God calls a man to, in that he may have comfort whatever befalls him. God will look to you, and see you blessed if you are in the work God calls you to.
4. What has just been said is especially true if I add: That I walk by rule in the work that I am called to. I am called to such a business, but I must manage this work that I am called to by rule. I must walk by the Word, order myself in this business according to God's mind as far as I am able.
Now add this to the other, and then the quiet and peace of the soul may be made even perfect in a way. When I know that I have not put myself on the work, but God has called me to it, and I walk by the rule of the Word in it, then, whatever may come, God will take care of me there. It was a saying of a heathen: 'If you will subject all things to yourself, subject yourself to reason and by that you will make all things to be under you.' I may add a little more to it: if you will subject all things under you, subject yourself to God, and then, the truth is, all things are under you.
It has been as many times we have hinted: the reason why many of our gentry have been so malignant among us is, because they are willing to be slaves themselves under some above them at Court, so that they may keep their neighbors under, to be slaves to them, for, you know, any man before who was great at Court, could crush any countryman with whom he was angry. If there were an arbitrary government, then all those who would be willing to be vassals and slaves to the Prince could make all others vassals and slaves under them. Now be willing to be a vassal to God, to be absolutely under God's command, and then, I say, all things in the world are under you. 'All things are yours,' says the Apostle, 'life and death, every thing is yours, and you are Christ's, and Christ is God's.' All things in the world are serviceable to that man or woman who is serviceable to God. It is a mighty commendation of God's service: be willing to be serviceable to God yourself and God makes all things in the world your servants, for so they are. You will say, 'How are they my servants? I cannot command them.' They are servants in this, that God orders them all to work for your good. There is nothing the world but, says God, it shall work for your good, and be serviceable to you, if you will be serviceable to me.' Who would not be now God's servant? Subject yourself to God, and all things shall be subjected to you.
So long as we keep within our bounds, we are under protection, but if once we break our bounds, we must expect it to be with us as it is with the deer in the park: while the deer keep within the pale, no dogs come after them, and they can feed quietly, but let the deer get outside the pale, and then every dog in the country will be hunting after them. So it is with men: let men and women keep within the bounds of the command of God, of the rule that God has set them in his Word, and then they are protected by God, and they may go about their business in peace, and never be troubled for anything, but cast all their care upon God. God provides for them. But if they go beyond the pale, if they pass their bounds, then they may expect to meet with troubles, and afflictions, and discontent. And therefore that is a fourth direction: walk by rule.
5. Exercise much faith; that is the way for contentedness. After you have done with all the considerations that reason may suggest to you, if you find that these do not do it, Oh, then, call for the grace of faith. A man may go very far with the use of reason alone to help him to contentment, but when reason is at a nonplus, then set faith at work. It was a saying of the reverend divine, Master Perkins, whom God made so useful in his time: 'The life of faith', he said, 'is a true life, indeed the only life.' Exercise faith, not only in the promise that all shall work together for good to them that fear God, but likewise exercise faith in God himself; as well as in his Word, in the attributes of God. It was a saying of Socrates, a heathen: 'Since God is so careful for you, what need you be careful for any thing yourselves?'-it was a strange saying for a heathen.
Oh, Christian, if you have any faith, in the time of extremity think thus: this is the time that God calls for the exercise of faith. What can you do with your faith, if you cannot quiet your heart in discontent. There was a saying of one Dionysius, who had been a king, and afterwards was brought to such a low condition as to get his living by being a schoolmaster: someone comes and asks him, 'What have you got by your philosophy from Plato and others?' 'What have I got,' he says, 'I have got this, that though my condition is changed from so high a condition to low, yet I can be content.' So what do you get by being a believer, a Christian? What can you do by your faith? I can do this: I can in all states cast my care upon God, cast my burden upon God, I can commit my way to God in peace: faith can do this.
Therefore, when reason can go no higher, let faith get on the shoulders of reason and say, 'I see land though reason cannot see it, I see good that will come out of all this evil.' Exercise faith by often resigning yourself to God, by giving yourself up to God and his ways. The more you in a believing way surrender up yourself to God, the more quiet and peace you will have.
6. Labor to be spiritually minded. That is, be often in meditation of the things that are above. 'If we be risen with Christ,' say the Scriptures, 'let us seek the things that are above, where Christ is, that sits at the right hand of God.' Be much in spiritual thoughts, in conversing with things above.
Many Christians who have an interest in the things of Heaven converse but very little with them; their meditations are not much upon heavenly things.
Some give this as the reason why Adam did not see his nakedness, they think that he had so much converse with God and with things above sense, that he did not so much mind or think of what nakedness was. Whether that were so or not I will not say, but this I say, and am certain of, the reason why we are so troubled with our nakedness, with any wants that we have, is because we converse so little with God, so little with spiritual things; conversing with spiritual things would lift us above the things of the world.
Those who are bitten or struck by a snake, it is because they tread on the ground; if they could be lifted up above the earth they need never fear being stung by the snakes which are crawling underneath. So I may compare the sinful distemper of murmuring, and the temptations and evils that come from that, to snakes that crawl up and down below; but if we could get higher we should not be stung by them. A heavenly conversation is the way to contentment.
7. Do not promise yourselves too much beforehand; do not reckon on too great things. It is good for us to take hold very low, and not think to pitch too high. Do not soar too high in your thoughts beforehand, to think, Oh, if I had this and this, and imagine great matters to yourselves; but be as good Jacob: you know he was a man who lived a very contented life in a mean condition, and he said, 'Lord, if I may but have clothes to put on, and meat to eat.' He looked no higher, he was content with that. So if we would not pitch our thoughts high, and think that we might have what others have, so much and so much, we would not be troubled so much when we meet with disappointments. So Paul says, 'If we have but meat and drink and clothing, let us therewith be content.' He did not soar too high aloft. Those who look at high things in the world meet with disappointments, and so they come to be discontented. Be as high as you will in spiritual meditations; God gives liberty there to any one of you to be as high as you will, above angels. But, for your outward estate, God would not have you aim at high things; 'Seekest thou great things?' said the Lord to Baruch, 'seek them not' (
Jeremiah 45:5), you shall have your life for a prey. In these times especially, it would be a very great evil for anyone to aim at great things; seek them not, be willing to take hold low, and to creep low, and if God raises you, you will have cause to bless him, but if you should not be raised, there would not be much trouble. One who creeps low cannot fall far, but it is those who are on high whose fall bruises them most. That is a good rule: do not promise yourselves great things, neither aim at any great things in the world.
8. Labor to get your hearts mortified to the world, dead to the world. We must not content ourselves that we have gotten some reasoning about the vanity of the creature, and such things as these, but we must exercise mortification, and be crucified to the world. Paul said, 'I die daily', we should die daily to the world. We are baptized into the death of Christ, that is to signify that we have taken such a profession as to profess to be even as dead men to the world. Now no crosses that fall out in the world trouble those who are dead; if our hearts were dead to the world we should not be much troubled with the changes of the world, nor the tossings about of worldly things. It is very noteworthy in those soldiers who came to break the bones of Christ, that they broke the legs of one who was crucified with him, and of the other, but when they came to Christ, they found he was dead, and so they did not break his legs; there was a providence in it, to fulfill a prophecy, but because they found he was dead, they did not break his bones. Let afflictions and troubles find you with a mortified heart to the world, and they will not break your bones; those whose bones are broken by crosses and afflictions are those who are alive to the world, but are not dead to the world. But no afflictions or troubles will break the bones of one who has a mortified heart and is dead to the world; that is, they will not be very grievous or painful to such a one as is mortified to the world. This, I fear, is a mystery and riddle to many, for one to be dead to the world, to be mortified to the world. Now it is not my work to open to you what mortification is, or death to the world is, but only what it is to have our hearts so taken off from the things of the world, as that we use them as if we used them not, not accounting that our lives, our comforts, our happiness consist in these things. The things in which our happiness consists are of a different kind, and we may be happy with out these: this is a kind of deadness to the world.
9. Let not men and women pore too much upon their afflictions: that is, busy their thoughts too much to look down into their afflictions. You find many people, all of whose thoughts are taken up about what their crosses and afflictions are, they are altogether thinking and speaking of them. it is just with them as with a child who has a sore: his finger is always on the sore; so men's and women's thoughts are always on their afflictions. When they awake in the night their thoughts are on their afflictions, and when they converse with others-it may be even when they are praying to God-they are thinking of their afflictions. Oh, no marvel that you live a discontented life, if your thoughts are always poring over such things. You should rather labor to have your thoughts on those things that may comfort you. There are many who, if you propound any rule to them to do them good, will take it well while they are with you, and thank you for it, but when they are gone they soon forget it. It is very noteworthy of Jacob, that when his wife died in child-birth, she called the child Ben-oni, that is, a son of sorrows; but Jacob thought with himself, If I should call this child Ben-oni, every time that I name him it will put me in mind of the death of my dear wife, and of that affliction, and that will be a continued affliction to me, therefore I will not have my child have that name, and so the text says that Jacob called his name Benjamin, the son of my right hand. Now this is to show us thus much, that when afflictions befall us we should not give way to having our thoughts continually upon them, but rather upon those things that may stir up our thankfulness to God for mercies.
There is a comparison made by Basil, a learned man: It is in this case as with men and women who have sore eyes: now it is not good for them to be always looking into the fire, or at the beams of the sun. 'No', he says, 'one who has sore eyes must get things that are suitable to him, and such objects as are fit for one with such weak eyes.' Therefore they get green colors, as being a more easy color and better for weak eyes, and they hang green sarsenet before their eyes because it is more suitable to them. It is the very same with weak spirits. A man or woman who has a weak spirit must not be looking into the fire of their afflictions, upon those things that deject, that cast them down, but they ought to be looking rather on that which may be suitable for healing and helping them; they should consider those things rather than the other. It will be of very great use and benefit to you, if you lay it to heart, not to be poring always on afflictions, but on mercies.
10. I beseech you to observe this, though you should forget many of the others: Make a good interpretation of God's ways towards you. If any good interpretation can be made of God's ways towards you, make it. You think it much if you have a friend who always makes bad interpretations of your ways towards him; you would take that badly. If you should converse with people with whom you cannot speak a word, but they are ready to make a bad interpretation of it, and to take it in an ill sense, you would think their company very tedious to you. It is very tedious to the Spirit of God when we make such bad interpretations of his ways towards us. When God deals with us otherwise than we would have him do, if one sense worse than another can be put upon it, we will be sure to do it. Thus, when an affliction befalls you, many good senses may be made of God's works towards you. You should think thus: it may be, God intends only to try me by this, it may be, God saw my heart was too much set on the creature, and so he intends to show me what is in my heart, it may be, that God saw that if my wealth did continue, I should fall into sin, that the better my position were the worse my soul would be, it may be, God intended only to exercise some grace, it may be, God intends to prepare me for some great work which he has for me: thus you should reason.
But we, on the contrary, make bad interpretations of God's thus dealing with us, and say, God does not mean this; surely, the Lord means by this to manifest his wrath and displeasure against me, and this is but a furtherance of further evils that he intends toward me! Just as they did in the wilderness: 'God hath brought us hither to slay us.' This is the worst interpretation that you can possibly make of God's ways; oh, why will you make these worst interpretations, when there may be better? In
1 Corinthians 13:5, when the Scripture speaks of love, it says, 'Love thinketh no evil.' Love is of that nature that if ten interpretations may be made of a thing, nine of them bad and one good, love will take that which is good and leave the other nine. And so, though ten interpretations might be presented to you concerning God's way towards you, and if but one is good and nine bad, you should take that one which is good, and leave the other nine.
I beseech you to consider that God does not deal by you as you deal with him. Should God make the worst interpretation of all your ways towards him, as you do of his towards you, it would be very ill with you. God is pleased to manifest his love thus to us, to make the best interpretations of what we do, and therefore God puts a sense upon the action of his people that one would think could hardly be. For example, God is pleased to call those perfect who have any uprightness of heart in them, he accounteth them perfect: 'Be ye perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect'; uprightness in God's sense is perfection. Now, alas, when we look into our own hearts we can scarce see any good at all there, and yet God is pleased to make such an interpretation as to say, It is perfect. When we look into our own hearts, we can see nothing but uncleanness; God calls you his saints, he calls the meanest Christian who has the least grace under the greatest corruption his saint. You say we cannot be saint here, but yet I God's esteem we are saints. You know the usual title the Holy Ghost gives, in several of the Epistles, to those who had any grace, any uprightness, is, to the saints in such a place; you see what an interpretation God puts upon them, they are saints to him. And so I might name in many other particulars, how God makes the best interpretation of things; if there is an abundance of evil and a little good, God rather passes by the evil and takes notice of the good.
I have sometimes made use of a very notable place in Peter, concerning Sarah: Sarah had a speech to her husband in Genesis 18:12, she called her husband lord. There was only that one good word in a bad, unbelieving speech; but yet when the Apostle mentions that speech in
1 Peter 3:6, the Holy Ghost leaves all the bad, and commends her for calling her husband 'lord', for putting a reverent title upon her husband. Thus how graciously God deals with us! If there is but one good word among a great many ill, what an interpretation God makes! So should we do, if there is only one good interpretation that we can make of a thing we should rather make use of the good one than the bad. Oh, my brethren (I would I could now speak only to such as are godly), retain good thoughts of God, take heed of judging God to be a hard master, make good interpretations of his ways, and that is a special means to help you to contentment in all one's course.
11. Do not so much regard the fancies of other men, as what indeed you feel yourselves. For the reason of our discontentment many times is rather from the fancies of other men than from what we find we lack ourselves.
We think poverty to be such a great evil-Why? because it is so esteemed by others, rather then that people feel it so themselves, unless they are in an extremity of poverty. I will give you a clear demonstration that almost all the discontent in the world is rather from the fancies of others than from the evil that is on themselves. You may think your wealth to be small and you are thereupon discontented, and it is a grievous affliction to you; but if all men in the world were poorer than you, then you would not be discontented, then you would rejoice in your estates though you had not a penny more than you have. Take a man who can get but his twelve pence a day, and you will say, This is but a poor thing to maintain a family. But suppose there were no man in the world that had more than this, yea, that all other men but yourselves had somewhat less wages than you, then you would think your condition pretty good. You would have no more then than you have now; therefore it appears by this that it is rather from the fancies of other men than what you feel that makes you think your condition to be so grievous, for if all the men in the world looked upon you as happy, more happy than themselves, then you would be contented. Oh, do not let your happiness depend upon the fancies of other men. There is a saying of Chrysostom I remember in this very case: 'Let us not make the people in this case to be our lords; as we must not make men to be the lords of our faith, so not the lords of our comforts.' That is, our comfort should not depend more upon their imaginations, than upon what we feel in ourselves.
It may be, others think you to be in an afflicted condition, yea, but I thank God, for myself I do not so apprehend it. Were it not for the disgrace, disregard and slightings of other men, my condition would not be so bad to me as it is now. This is what makes my condition afflictive.
12. Be not inordinately taken up with the comforts of this world when you have them. When you have them, do not take too much satisfaction in them.
It is a certain rule: however inordinate any man or woman is in sorrow when a comfort is taken from them, so were they immoderate in their rejoicing in the comfort when they had it. For instance, God takes away a child and you are inordinately sorrowful, beyond what God allows in a natural or Christian way; now though I never knew before how your heart was towards the child, yet when I see this, though you are a mere stranger to me, I may without breach of charity conclude that your heart was immoderately set upon your child or husband, or upon any other comfort that I see you grieving for when God has taken it away. If you hear ill tidings about your estates, and your hearts are dejected immoderately, and you are in a discontented mood because of such and such a cross, certainly your hearts were immoderately set upon the world. So, likewise, for your reputation, if you hear others report this or that ill of you, and you hearts are dejected because you think you suffer in your name, your hearts were inordinately set upon your name and reputation. Now, therefore, the way for you not to be immoderate in your sorrow for afflictions is not to be immoderate in your love and delights when you have prosperity.
These are the principal directions for our help, that we may live quiet and contented lives.
My brethren, to conclude this point, if I were to tell you that I could show you a way never to be in want of anything, I do not doubt but then we should have much flocking to such a sermon, when a man should undertake to manifest to people how they should never be in want any more. But what I have been preaching to you now comes to as much. It countervails this, and is in effect all one. Is it not almost all one, never to be in want, or never to be without contentment? That man or woman who is never without a contented spirit, truly can never be said to want much. Oh, the Word holds forth a way full of comfort and peace to the people of God even in this world. You may live happy lives in the midst of all the storms and tempests in the world. There is an ark that you may come into, and no men in the world may live such comfortable, cheerful and contented lives as the saints of God. Oh, that we had learned this lesson.
I have spent many sermons over this lesson of contentment, but I am afraid that you will be longer in learning it than I have been preaching of it; it is a harder thing to learn it than it is to preach or speak of it. I remember I have read of one man reading of that place in the
39th Psalm, 'I will take heed that I offend not with my tongue'; he said, I have been these thirty-eight years learning this lesson and have not learned it thoroughly. The truth is, there are many, I am afraid, who have been professors near eight and thirty years, who have hardly learned this lesson. It would be a good lesson, for young professors to begin to learn this early. But this lesson of Christian contentment is as hard, and perhaps you may be many years learning it. I am afraid there are some Christians who have not yet learned not to offend grossly with their tongues. The Scripture says that all a man's religion is in vain if he cannot bridle his tongue; therefore one would think that those who make any profession of godliness should quickly learn this lesson, such a lesson that, unless learned, makes all their religion vain. But this lesson of Christian contentment may take more time to learn, and there are many who are learning it all the days of their lives and yet are not proficient.
But God forbid that it should be said of any of us concerning this lesson, as the Apostle says of widows, in Timothy, That they were ever learning and never came to the knowledge of the truth. Oh let us not be ever learning this lesson of contentment and yet not come to have skill in it. You would think it much if you had been at sea twenty years, and yet had attained to no skill in your art of navigation; you will say, I have used the sea twenty or thirty years and I hope I may know by this time what concerns the sea. Oh, that you would but say so in respect of the art of Christianity! When anything is spoken concerning the duty of a Christian, Oh, that Christians could but say, I have been a Christian so long, and I hope I am not wanting in a thing that is so necessary for a Christian. Here is a necessary lesson for a Christian, that Paul said, he had learned in all estate therewith to be content.
Oh, do not be content with yourselves till you have learned this lesson of Christian contentment, and have obtained some better skill in it than before.
Now there is in the text another lesson, which is a hard lesson: 'I have learned to abound.' That does not so nearly concern us at this time, because the times are afflictive times, and there is now, more than ordinarily, an uncertainty in all things in the world. In such times as these are, there are few who have such an abundance that they need to be much taught in that lesson.