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The ships move upon the sea, and that is not still. Answer. But the seas move upon that which is still and immovable.
Nothing moves but it has something immovable that upholds it. The wheels in a coach move up and down, but the axle-tree does not move up and down; so it is with the heart of a man. As they say 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 in the service of God, for those who have unsteady, disturbed spirits which have 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 fit to do any service. That is the reason why, when the Lord has any great work 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 with anything, and then he sets them about employment. 5. CONTENTMENT DELIVERS US FROM AN ABUNDANCE OF TEMPTATIONS.
Oh, the temptations that men of discontented spirits are subject to! The Devil loves to fish in troubled waters. That is our proverb about men and women, their disposition is to fish in 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, there the Devil comes. He says, ‘There is good fishing for me’, when he sees men 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 poor you 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 he tempts them to unlawful courses. This is the special disorder that the Devil fastens upon, when he gets men and women to give their souls to him: it is from discontent, that is the ground of all who have been witches, and so have given up themselves to the Devil: the rise of it has been their discontent.
Therefore it is noticeable that those upon whom the Devil works, to make them witches, are usually old and melancholy people, and women especially, and those of the poorer sort who are discontented at home. Their neighbors trouble them and vex them, and their spirits are weak and they cannot bear it, so upon that the Devil fastens his temptations and draws them to anything. If they are poor, 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 temptation for the Devil when he meets with a discontented spirit!
Luther said of God, ‘God does not dwell in Babylon, but in Salem.’
Babylon signifies confusion, and Salem signifies peace; now God does not dwell in spirits that 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 remember reading of one Marius Curio who had bribes sent to him, to tempt him to be unfaithful to his country. When he was sitting at home at dinner with a dish of turnips, and they came and promised him rewards: said he, ‘That man who can be contented with this fare that I have will not be 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 content to 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 Parliament and the Kingdom, is because they cannot be contented to be in a low condition. If a man is contented to be in a low condition, and to go meanly clothed if God sees fit, such a one is shotfree, you mighty say, from thousands of temptations of the Devil, that prevail against others to the damning of their souls. Oh, in such times as these, when men are in danger of the loss of their wealth, I say men who have not got this grace are in a most lamentable condition, they are in more danger for their souls than they are for their outward possessions. You think it is a sad thing to be in danger of your outward possessions that you may lose everything in a night; but if you have not this contented spirit within 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 wont to do, they make themselves a prey to the Devil, but for such as can say, ‘let God do with me what he pleases, I am content to submit to his hand in it’, the Devil will scarcely meddle with such men. There was a notable saying of a philosopher who lived on mean fare: as he was eating herbs and roots, someone said to him, ‘If you would but please Dionysius, 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 flatter Dionysius.’ Temptations will no more prevail over a contented man, than a dart that is thrown against a brazen wall. 6. THE SIXTH EXCELLENCE IS THE ABUNDANT COMFORTS IN A MAN’S LIFE THAT CONTENTMENT WILL BRING.
Contentment will make a man’s life exceedingly sweet 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 of independent way , not depending upon any creature for his comfort. 2. If God raises the position of a contented man who is low, he has the love of God in it . It is abundantly more sweet then than if he had it and his heart was not contented; for God may grant a discontented man his desire, but he cannot say that it is from love. If a man has quieted his spirit first, and then God grants him his desire, he may have more comfort in it, and more assurance that he has the love of God in it. 3. This contentment is a comfort to a man’s spirit in this, that it keeps in his comforts, and keeps out whatever may damp his comforts, or put out the light of them . I may compare this grace of contentment to a sailor’s lantern: when a sailor is at sea, no matter how much provision he has in his ship, yet if he is thousands of leagues from land, or in a route where he will not meet with a ship for three or four months, he will be in a sad state if he has no lantern on his ship, nor anything by which to keep a candle alight in a storm. He would give a great deal to have a lantern, or something that might serve instead of one. When a storm comes in the night, and he can have no light above board, but it is puffed out at once, his state is very sad. So, many men have the light of comfort when there is no storm, but let any affliction come, any storm upon them, and their light is puffed out at once, and what can they do now? When the heart is 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 the midst of a storm and tempest. When you have a lantern in the midst of a storm you can carry light everywhere up and down the ship, to the top of the mast if you wish, and yet keep it alight; so when the comfort of a Christian is enlivened with the grace of contentment, it may be kept alight whatever storms or tempests come, still he can keep light in his soul. Oh this helps your comforts very much. 7. CONTENTMENT DRAWS COMFORT FROM THOSE THINGS WE DO NOT REALLY POSSESS.
Perhaps many who have not got outward things have more comfort than those who do possess them. A man who distils herbs, though he has not got the herbs themselves, yet having the water that 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 get it to himself. By the art of navigation we can bring in the riches of the East and West Indies to ourselves; so by the art of contentment we 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 had the thing itself.
You will find a noteworthy story in Plutarch to illustrate this: In the life of Pyrrhus, one Sineus came to him, and would fain have had him desist from the wars, and not war with the Romans. He said to him, ‘May it please your Majesty, it is reported that the Romans are very good men of war, and if it please the gods that we overcome them, what benefit shall we have of that victory?’ Pyrrhus answered him, ‘We shall then straightway conquer all the rest of Italy with ease.’ ‘Indeed that is likely which your Grace speaks,’ said Sineus, ‘but when we have won Italy, will our wars end then?’ ‘If the gods were pleased’, said Pyrrhus, ‘that the victory were achieved, the way would then be made open for us to attain great conquests, for who would not afterwards go into Africa, and so to Carthage?’ ‘But’, said Sineus, ‘when we have everything in our hands what shall we do in the end?’ Then Pyrrhus laughing, told him again, ‘We will then be quiet, and take our ease, and have feasts every day, and be as merry with one another as we possibly can.’ Said Sineus, ‘What prevents us now from being as quiet, and merry together, since we enjoy that immediately without further travel and trouble which we would seek for abroad, with such shedding of blood, and manifest danger? can you not sit down and be merry now?’ So a man may think, if I had such a thing, then I would have another, and if I had that, then I should have more; and what if you had got all you desire? Then you would be content - why? You may be content now without them.
Certainly our contentment does not consist in getting the thing we desire, but in God’s fashioning our spirits to 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 of land. I have known it in the country sometimes, that a man lives upon his own land, and yet lives very poorly; but you find another man who rents his land, and yet by his good husbandry, and by his care, lives better than he who has his own land. So a many by this art of contentment may 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 is in any possessions whatsoever; a man has more comfort in being content without a thing, than he can have in the thing that he in a discontented way 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 thing that you would fain have to cure your discontent, and that I shall show in several particulars: 1. I would fain have such a thing, and then I could be content; but if I had it, then it would be but the creature that helped my contentment, whereas now it is the grace of God in my soul that makes me content, and surely it is better to be content with the 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 my soul would not be better; but by contentment my soul is better. That would not be bettered by wealth, or lands, or friends; but contentment makes myself better, and therefore contentment is a better portion than the thing that I would fain have as my portion. 3. If I become content by having my desire satisfied, that is only self-love, but when I am contented with the hand of God, and am willing to be at his disposal, that comes form my love to God. In having my desire satisfied, I am contented through self-love, but through the grace of contentment I come to be contented out of love to God, and is it not better to be contented out of love to God, tan from a principle of self-love? 4. If I am contented because I have what I desire, perhaps I am contented in that one thing, but that 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 much the more coy and dainty and discontented if they cannot have other things that they want. But if I have once overcome my heart, and am contented through the grace of God in my heart, then this makes me content not only 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 does this prepare me to be contented in other things? No, but when I have got this grace of contentment, I am prepared to be contented in all conditions. Thus you see that contentment brings comfort to a man’s life, fills it full of comfort in this world; the truth is, it is even a Heaven on earth.
What is Heaven, but the rest and quiet of a man’s spirit; that is the special thing that makes the life of Heaven, there is rest and joy, and satisfaction in God. So it is in a contented spirit: there is rest and joy and satisfaction in God. In Heaven there is singing praises to God; a contented heart is always praising and blessing God. You have Heaven while you are on earth when you have a contented spirit; yea, in some regards it is better than Heaven.
How is that, you will say? There is a kind of honor that God has in it, and an excellence that he does not have in Heaven, and it is this: In Heaven there is no overcoming of temptations. They are not put to any trials by afflictions. In Heaven they have exercise of grace, but they have nothing but encouragement to it, and indeed the grace of those who are there is perfect, and in that they excel us. But there is nothing to cross their grace, they have no trials at all to tempt them to do contrary; whereas for a man or woman to be in the midst of afflictions, temptations and troubles, and yet to have grace exercised, and to be satisfied in God and Christ and in the Word and promises in the midst of all they suffer: this may seem to be an honor that God receives from us, that he does not have from the angels and saints in Heaven. Is it so much for one who is in Heaven, who has nothing but good from God, has nothing to try him, no temptations; is it so much for such a one to be praising and blessing God, as for the poor soul who is in the midst of trials and temptations and 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. Therefore be contented, and prize this contentment, and be willing to live in this world as long as God shall please. Do not think, Oh, that I were delivered from all these afflictions and troubles here in this world! If you were, then you would have more ease yourself, but this is a way of honoring God, and manifesting the excellence of grace here, when you are in this conflict of temptation, which God shall not have from you in Heaven.
So be satisfied and quiet, be contented with your contentment. I lack certain things that others have, but blessed be 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 the Lord has granted you. If the Lord should give you thousands in this world, it would not be such a rich portion as this, that he has given you a contented spirit. Oh, go away and praise the name of God, and say, ‘Why, Lord, it is true that I would be glad if I had these and these comforts which others have, but you have cut me short. Though I lack these, yet you have given me what is as good and better, you have given me a quiet, contented heart, to be willing to be at your disposal.’ 8. CONTENTMENT IS A GREAT BLESSING OF GOD UPON THE SOUL.
There is God’s blessing upon those who are content, upon them, and their possessions, and upon all that they have. We read in Deuteronomy of the blessing of Judah, the principal tribe: ‘And he said, hear, Lord, the voice of Judah, and bring him unto his people, let his hands be sufficient for him, and be thou an help to him from his enemies.’ Let his hands be sufficient for him, that is, 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 of your own, as every contented man has, that is the blessing of God upon you, the blessing of the principal tribe, of Judah, is upon you. It is the Lord who gives us all things to enjoy; we may have the thing and yet not enjoy it unless God comes in with his blessing. Now whatever you 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 it is God who through his blessing has fashioned your heart and made it suitable to your circumstances. 9. THOSE WHO ARE CONTENT MAY EXPECT REWARD FROM GOD That God will give them the good of all the things which they are contented to be without. This brings an abundance of good to a contented spirit. There is such and such a mercy which you think would be very pleasant to you if you had it; but can you bring your heart to submit to God in it? Then you shall have the blessing of the mercy one way or another; if you do not have the thing itself, you shall have it made up one way or another; you will have a bill of exchange to receive something in lieu of it. There is no comfort that any soul is content to be without, but the Lord will give either the comfort or something instead of it. You shall have a reward to your soul for whatever good thing you are content to be without. You know what the Scripture says of active obedience: the Lord accepts of his servants their will for the 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 the thing. You who complain of weakness, you cannot do as others do, you cannot do as much service as others do - if your hearts are upright with God, and would fain do the same service that you see others do, and would account it a great blessing of God, the greatest blessing in the world if you were able to do as others do - now you may comfort yourselves with this, that dealing with God in the Covenant of grace, you shall have from God the reward of all you would do. As a wicked man shall have the punishment for all the sin he would commit, so you shall have the reward for all the good you would do. Now may not we draw an argument from active obedience to passive: there is as good reason why you should expect 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 to be without such a comfort and mercy when God sees fit, you shall be no loser; certainly God will reward you either with the comfort or with what shall be as good to you as the comfort. Therefore consider, How many things have I that others lack? and can I bring my heart into a quiet, contented frame to lack what others have? I have the blessing of all that they have, and I shall either possess such things as others have, or else God will make it up one way or another, either here or hereafter in eternity to me. Oh what riches are here! With contentment you have all kinds of riches. 10. LASTLY, BY CONTENTMENT THE SOUL COMES 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. A contented man is a self-sufficient man, and what is the great glory of God, but to be happy and self-sufficient in himself? Indeed, he is said to be all-sufficient, but that is only a further addition of the word ‘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 sufficiency in 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 grace in general, so you do it in a more peculiar manner by this grace of Christian contentment, for what is the excellence and glory of God but this?
Suppose there were no creatures in the world, and that all the creatures in the world were annihilated: God would remain the same blessed God that he is now, he would not be in a worse condition if all creatures were gone; neither would a contented heart, if God should take away all creatures from him. A contented heart has enough in the lack of all creatures, and would not be more miserable than he is now. Suppose that God should keep you here, and all the creatures that are in the world 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 deal of excellence in it.