Not that I speak in respect of want: for I have learned, in whatever state I am, therewith to be content.
I. I begin with the first: THE SCHOLAR AND HIS PROFICIENCY — "I have learned." Out of which I shall, by the by, observe two things by way of paraphrase.
1. The apostle doth not say, "I have heard that in every estate I should be content," but "I have learned." It is one thing to hear and another thing to learn, as it is one thing to eat and another thing to concoct. St. Paul was a practitioner. Christians hear much, but, it is to be feared, learn little. There are two things which keep us from learning.
1. Slighting what we hear. Who will learn that which he thinks is scarce worth learning?
2. Forgetting what we hear.
II. This word, "I have learned," is a word imports difficulty; IT SHOWS HOW HARDLY THE APOSTLE CAME BY CONTENTMENT OF MIND; it was not bred in nature. The business of religion is not so facile as most do imagine. There are two pregnant reasons why there must be so much study and exercitation.
1. Because spiritual things are against nature.
2. Because spiritual things are above nature.
III. I come to the main thing, THE LESSON ITSELF — "In whatsover state I am, therewith to be content."
1. It is a hard lesson. The angels in heaven have not learned it; they were not contented. They kept not their estate because they were not contented with their estate. Our first parents, clothed with the white robe of innocency in paradise, had not learned to be content; they had aspiring hearts. O then, if this lesson was so hard to learn in innocency, how hard shall we find it who are clogged with corruption?
2. It is of universal extent; it concerns all.
(1) It concerns rich men. Rich men have their discontents as well as others!
(2) The doctrine of contentment concerns poor men.It is much when poverty hath clipped our wings then to be content, but, though hard, it is excellent; and the apostle here had "learned in every state to be content." A contented spirit is like a watch: though you carry it up and down with you, yet the spring of it is not shaken nor the wheels out of order, but the watch keeps its perfect motion. So it was with St. Paul. Though God carried him into various conditions, yet he was not lift up with the one, nor cast down with the other; the spring of his heart was not broken, the wheels of his affections were not disordered, but kept their constant motion towards heaven; still content. The ship that lies at anchor may sometimes be a little shaken, but never sinks; flesh and blood may have its fears and disquiets, but grace doth check them; a Christian, having cast anchor in heaven, his heart never sinks; a gracious spirit is a contented spirit.
IV. THE RESOLVING OF SOME QUESTIONS. For the illustration of this doctrine I shall propound these questions.
1. Whether a Christian may not be sensible of his condition, and yet be contented? Yes; for else he is not a saint, but a stoic.
2. Whether a Christian may not lay open his grievances to God, and yet be contented?
3. What is it properly that contentment doth exclude? There are three things which contentment doth banish out of its diocese, and which can by no means consist with it.
(1) It excludes a vexatious repining; this is properly the daughter of discontent. Murmuring is nothing else but the scum which boils off from a discontented heart.
(2) It excludes an uneven discomposure: when a man saith, "I am in such straits that I know not how to evolve or get out, I shall be undone;" when his head and heart are so taken up that he is not fit to pray or meditate.
(3) It excludes a childish despondency; and this is usually consequent upon the other. A despondent spirit is a discontented spirit.
V. SHOWING THE NATURE OF CONTENTMENT. The nature of this will appear more clear in these three aphorisms.
1. Contentment is a divine thing; it becomes ours, not by acquisition, but infusion; it is a slip taken off from the tree of life, and planted by the Spirit of God in the soul; it is a fruit that grows not in the garden of philosophy, but is of a heavenly birth; it is therefore very observable that contentment is joined with godliness, and goes in equipage; "godliness with contentment is great gain."
2. Contentment is an intrinsical thing; it lies within a man; not in the bark, but the root. Contentment hath both its fountain and stream in the soul. The beam hath not its light from the air; the beams of comfort which a contented man hath do not arise from foreign comforts, but from within.
3. Contentment is a habitual thing; it shines with a fixed light in the firmament of the soul. Contentment doth not appear only now and then, as some stars which are seen but seldom; it is a settled temper of the heart. It is not casual, but constant. Aristotle, in his rhetoric, distinguisheth between colours in the face that arise from passion and those which arise from complexion; the pale face may look pale when it blusheth, but this is only a passion. He is said properly to be ruddy and sanguine who is constantly so; it is his complexion. He is not a contented man who is so upon an occasion, and perhaps when he is pleased, but who is so constantly; it is the habit and complexion of his soul.
VI. REASONS PRESSING TO HOLY CONTENTMENT.
1. The first is God's precept. It is charged upon us as a duty: "Be content with such things as you have."
2. The second reason enforcing contentment is God's promise, for He hath said, "I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee." Here God hath engaged Himself under hand and seal for our necessary provisions. True faith will take God's single bond without calling for witnesses.
3. Be content by virtue of a decree. Not chance or fortune, as the purblind heathens imagined; no, it is the wise God that hath by His providence fixed me in this orb. We stand oft in our own light; if we should sort or parcel out our own comforts, we should hit upon the wrong. Is it not well for the child that the parent doth choose for it? were it left to itself, it would perhaps choose a knife to cut its own finger. A man in a paroxysm calls for wine, which, if he had it, were little better than poison; it is well for the patient that he is at the physician's appointment. God sees, in His infinite wisdom, the same condition is not convenient for all; that which is good for one may be bad for another; one season of weather will not serve all men's occasions — one needs sunshine, another rain; one condition of life will not fit every man no more than one suit of apparel will fit everybody; prosperity is not fit for all, nor yet adversity.
VII. SHOWING HOW A CHRISTIAN MAY MAKE HIS LIFE COMFORTABLE. It shows how a Christian may come to lead a comfortable life, even a heaven upon earth, be the times what they will, by Christian contentment. A drop or two of vinegar will sour a whole glass of wine. Let a man have the affluence and confluence of worldly comforts, a drop or two of discontent will imbitter and poison all contentation is as necessary to keep the life comfortable as oil is necessary to keep the lamp burning; the clouds of discontent do often drop the showers of tears. Why dost thou complain of thy troubles. It is not trouble that troubles, but discontent; it is not the water without the ship, but the water that gets within the leak, which drowns it; it is not outward affliction that can make the life of a Christian sad; a contented mind would sail above these waters, but when there's a leak of discontent open, and trouble gets into the heart, then it is disquieted and sinks. Do therefore as the mariners, pump the water out and stop the spiritual leak in thy soul, and no trouble can hurt thee.
VIII. A CHECK TO THE DISCONTENTED CHRISTIAN. Every man is complaining that his estate is no better, though he seldom complains that his heart is no better. How is it that no man is contented? Very few Christians have learned St. Paul's lesson. Neither poor nor rich know how to be content; they can learn anything but this.
1. If men are poor, they learn to be envious; they malign those that are above them. Another's prosperity is an eyesore.
2. If men are rich, they learn to be covetous. God will supply our wants, but must He satisfy our lusts too? Many are discontented for a very trifle; another hath a better dress, a richer jewel, a newer fashion. Nero, not content with his empire, was troubled that the musician had more skill in playing than he.
IX. A SUASIVE TO CONTENTMENT. It exhorts us to labour far contentation; this is that which doth beautify and bespangle a Christian, and as a spiritual embroidery doth set him off in the eyes of the world. God is pleased sometimes to bring His children very low and cut them short in their estate; it fares with them as with that widow who had nothing in her house "save a pot of oil": but be content.
1. God hath taken away your estate, but not your portion. Mary hath chosen the better part, which shall not be taken from her.
2. Perhaps, if thy estate had not been lost, thy soul had been lost; outward comforts do often quench inward heat. God can bestow a jewel upon us, but we fall so in love with it, that we forget Him that gave it. What pity is it that we should commit idolatry with the creature! Be content. If God dam up our outward comforts, it is that the stream of our love may run faster another way.
3. If your estate be small, yet God can bless a little. It is not how much money we have, but how much blessing.
4. You did never so thrive in your spiritual trade; your heart was never so low as since your condition was low; you were never so poor in spirit, never so rich in faith. You did never run the ways of God's commandments so fast as since some of your golden weights were taken off.
5. Be your losses what they will in this kind, remember in every loss there is only a suffering, but in every discontent there is a sin, and one sin is worse than a thousand sufferings. The sixth apology that discontent makes is disrespect in the world. I have not that esteem from men as is suitable to my quality and grace. And doth this trouble? Consider — The world is an unequal judge; as it is full of change, so of partiality. Discontent arising from disrespect savours too much of pride; an humble Christian hath a lower opinion of himself than others can have of him. The next apology is, I meet with very great sufferings for the truth. Your sufferings are not so great as your sins. Put these two in the balance and see which weighs heaviest; where sin lies heavy, sufferings lie light. The next apology is the prosperity of the wicked.Well, be contented; for remember —
1. These are not the only things, nor the best things; they are mercies without the pale.
2. To see the wicked flourish is matter rather of pity than envy; it is all the heaven they must have. "Woe to ye that are rich, for ye have received your consolation." The next apology that discontent makes is lowness of parts and gifts. I cannot (saith the Christian) discourse with that fluency, nor pray with that elegancy, as others. Grace is beyond gifts. Thou comparest thy grace with another's gifts, there is a vast difference. Grace without gifts is infinitely better than gifts without grace. The twelfth apology that discontent makes for itself is this, It is not my trouble that troubles me, but it is my sins that do disquiet and discontent me. Be sure it be so. Do not prevaricate with God and thy own soul. In true mourning for sin when the present suffering is removed, yet the sorrow is not removed. But suppose the apology be real, that sin is the ground of your discontent; yet, I answer, a man's disquiet about sin may be beyond its bounds in these three cases.
1. When it is disheartening, that is, when it sets up sin above mercy.
2. When sorrow is indisposing it untunes the heart for prayer, meditation, holy conference: it cloisters up the soul. This is not sorrow, but rather sullenness, and doth render a man not so much penitential as cynical.
3. When it is out of season. I see no reason why a Christian should be discontented, unless for his discontent.
X. DIVINE MOTIVES TO CONTENTMENT. The first argument to contentation.
1. Consider the excellency of it. Contentment is a flower that doth not grow in every garden; it teacheth a man how in the midst of want to abound. Now there are in species these seven rare excellencies in contentment.
(1) A contented Christian carries heaven about him, for what is heaven but that sweet repose and full contentment that the soul shall have in God? In contentment there is the first fruits of heaven. The sails of a mill move with the wind, but the mill itself stands still, an emblem of contentment; when our outward estate moves with the wind of providence, yet the heart is settled through holy contentment.
2. Whatever is defective in the creature is made up in contentment. Wicked men are often disquieted in the enjoyment of all things; the contented Christian is well in the want of all things. He is poor in purse, but rich in promise.
3. Contentment makes a man in tune to serve God; it oils the wheels of the soul and makes it more agile and nimble; it composeth the heart and makes it fit for prayer, meditation, etc. How can he that is in a passion of grief or discontent "attend upon the Lord without distraction?" Contentment doth prepare and tune the heart.
4. Contentment is the spiritual arch or pillar of the soul; it fits a man to bear burdens; he whose heart is ready to sink under the least sin, by virtue of this hath a spirit invincible under sufferings. The contented Christian is like Samson that carried away the gates of the city upon his back. He can go away with his cross cheerfully, and makes nothing of it.
5. Contentment prevents many sins and temptations. It prevents many sins. In particular there are two sins which contentation prevents.
(2) It prevents murmuring.Contentment prevents many temptations; discontent is a devil that is always tempting. It puts a man upon indirect means. He that is poor and discontented will attempt anything; he will go to the devil for riches. Satan takes great advantage of our discontent; he loves to fish in these troubled waters.
6. Contentment sweetens every condition. Hath God taken away my comforts from me? It is well, the Comforter still abides. Thus contentment, as a honeycomb, drops sweetness into every condition. Contentation is full of consolation.
7. Contentment hath this excellency. It is the best commentator upon providence; it makes a fair interpretation of all God's dealings. The argument to contentation is, Consider the evil of discontent. Malcontent hath a mixture of grief and anger in it, and both these must needs raise a storm in the soul. Have you not seen the posture of a sick man? Sometimes he will sit up on his bed, by and by he will lie down, and when he is down he is not quiet; first he turns on the one side and then on the other; he is restless. This is just the emblem of a discontented spirit. Evil
1. The sordidness of it is worthy of a Christian.
(1) It is unworthy of his profession.
(2) It is unworthy of the relation we stand in to God. Evil
2. Consider the sinfulness of it, which appears in three things — the causes, the concomitants, the consequences of it.
(1) It is sinful in the causes, such as pride. The second cause of discontent is envy, which calls the sin of the devil. The third cause is covetousness. This is a radical sin. The fourth cause of discontent is jealousy, which is sometimes occasioned through melancholy and sometimes misapprehension. The fifth cause of discontent is distrust, which is a great degree of Atheism,
(2) Discontent is joined with a sullen melancholy. Cheerfulness credits religion. How can the discontented person be cheerful?
(3) It is sinful in its consequences, which are these.
(a) It makes a man very unlike the Spirit of God. The Spirit of God is a meek Spirit.
(b) It makes a man like the devil; the devil, being swelled with the poison of envy and malice, is never content; just so is the malcontent.
(c) Discontent disjoints the soul; it untunes the heart for duty.
(d) Discontent sometimes unfits for the very use of reason. Jonah, in a passion of discontent, spake no better than blasphemy and nonsense: "I do well to be angry even unto death." This humour doth even suspend the very acts of reason.
(e) Discontent does not only disquiet a man's self, but those who are near him. This evil spirit troubles families, parishes, etc.
Parallel VersesKJV: Not that I speak in respect of want: for I have learned, in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content.