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But you will say, What good then is there in such a promise that God makes to his people? 1. That you are under the protection of God more than others. But what comfort is this if it befalls me? Answer: You have this comfort, that the evil of it shall be taken from you, that if God will make use of this affliction for other ends, yet he will do it so as to make it up to you in some other way. Perhaps you have given your children something, but afterwards if you have a use for that thing, you will come and say, ‘I must have it’. ‘Why, father?’ the child may say, ‘you gave it to me.’ ‘But I must have it’, says the father, ‘and I will make it up to you in some other way.’ The child does not think that the father’s love is ever a whit the less to him. So when there is any such promise as this, that God by his promise gives you his protection, and yet for all that, such a thing befalls you, it is only as if the father should say, ‘I gave you that indeed, but let me have it and I will make it up to you in some other way that shall be as good.’ God says, ‘Let me have your health and liberty, and life, and it shall be made up to you in some other way.’ 2. Whenever the plague or pestilence comes to those who are under such a promise, it is fear some special and notable work, and God requires them to search and examine in a special manner, to find out his meaning; there is so much to be learned in the promise that God has made concerning this particular evil, that the people of God may come to quiet and content their hearts in this affliction. I read in this Psalm that God has made a promise to his people, to deliver them from the plague and pestilence, and yet I find it has come. It may be that I have not made use of my faith in this promise heretofore; and if God brings afflictions upon me, yet he will make it up some other way. God made a promise to deliver me, or at least to deliver me from all the evil of it; now if this thing does befall me and yet I have a promise of God, certainly the evil of it is taken away. This promise tells me that if it does befall me yet it is for some notable end, and because God has a use for my life, and intends to bring about his glory some way that I do not know of. And if he will come in a fatherly way of chastisement, yet I will be satisfied in the thing. So a Christian heart, by reasoning out of the Word, comes to satisfy his soul in the midst of such a heavy hand of God, and in such a distressed condition as that. Now carnal hearts do not find that power in the Word, that healing virtue that is in it, to heal their distracting cares, and the troubles of their spirits; but when those who are godly come to hear the Word, they find in it, as it were, a plaster for all their wounds, and so they come to have ease and contentment in such conditions as are very grievous and miserable to others. But as for other particular promises, and more generally for the Covenant of grace, how and in what a mysterious way the saints work to get contentment and satisfaction to their souls, we shall refer to these things in the next chapter.
In the last chapter we spoke of several things in the mystery of contentment, and at the close we spoke of two more, but we did not have time to open either of them. I shall now open them a little more fully, then proceed to some few more.
That is the next thing then: a Christian heart not only has contentment in God, and certainly he who has God (who himself has all) must have all, but he is able to make up all his outward wants of creature comforts from what he finds in himself . That may seem to be more strange. It is true, perhaps, that even though men do not feel by experience shat it is to make up all in God, yet we may convince them that if they have him who has all things then they have all, for there is such a fullness in God, he being the infinite first being of all things, that may make up all their wants. But here is another thing, that is beyond that; I say a godly man can make up whatever he lacks without the creature, he can make it up in himself. In Proverbs 14:14 we read: ‘A good man shall be satisfied from himself.’ Suppose for example, that he lacks outward comforts, good cheer and feasting, a good conscience in a continual feast; so he can make up the lack of a feast by the peace that he has in his own conscience. If he lacks melody in the world, he has a bird within him that sings the most melodious songs in the world, and the most delightful. And then does he lack honor? He has his own conscience witnessing for him, that is as a thousand witnesses. The Scripture says (in Luke 17:21): ‘Neither shall they say, Lo here! or, Lo there! for behold the kingdom of God is within you.’
If a king meets with a great deal of trouble when he is abroad, he contents himself with this: ‘I have a Kingdom of my own.’ It is said here, the Kingdom of God is within a man; now if those of you who are learned look into the Commentary on this Gospel by a certain scholar, you will find he has a very strange idea about this text: he confesses that it is unutterable and so it is, the kingdom of God is within you, but he understands it that there is such a presence of God and Christ within the soul of a man, that when the body dies, he says, the soul goes into God and Christ, who are within him. The soul’s going into God and Christ, and enjoying that communion with God and Christ that is within itself, that is Heaven to it, he says. He confesses he is not able to express himself, and others cannot understand fully what he means; but certainly for the present, before death, there is a Kingdom of God within the soul, such a manifestation of God in the soul as is enough to content the heart of any godly man in the world, the Kingdom that he now has within him. He need not wait till afterwards, till he goes to Heaven; but certainly there is a Heaven in the soul of a godly man, he has Heaven already. Many times when you go to comfort your friends in their afflictions, you say, ‘Heaven will pay for all’; indeed, you may assuredly find Heaven pays for all already. There is a Heaven within the souls of the saints - that is a certain truth; no soul shall ever come to Heaven, but the soul which has Heaven come to it first. When you die, you hope you will go to Heaven; but if you will go to Heaven when you die, Heaven will come to you before you die.
Now this is a great mystery, to have the Kingdom of Heaven in the soul; no man can know this but that soul which has it. The Heaven which is within the soul for the present is like the white stone and the new name, that none but those that have it can understand it. It is a miserable condition, my brethren, to depend altogether upon creatures for our contentment. You know that rich men account it a great happiness, if they do not need to go to buy things by the penny as others do; they have all things for pleasure or profit on their own ground, and all their inheritance lies entire together, nobody comes within them, but they have everything within themselves: there lies their happiness. Whereas other, poorer people are fain to go from one market to another to provide the their necessities, great rich men have sheep and beeves, corn and clothing, and all things else of their own within themselves, and herein they place their happiness. But this is the happiness of a Christian, that he has that within himself which may satisfy him more than all these. There is a place in the first chapter of James that seems to allude to the condition of men who have all their wealth within themselves: ‘But let patience have her perfect work that ye may be perfect, and entire, wanting nothing’ ( James 1:4). The word there used signifies to have the whole inheritance to ourselves, not a broken inheritance, but that where all lies within themselves, not like a man who has a piece of his estate here, and a piece there, but one who has it all lying together. When the heart is patient under afflictions it finds itself in such an estate as this, finds its whole inheritance together, and all complete within itself.
Now to show this by further analogies: the one who is filled with good things is just like many a man who enjoys an abundance of comforts at home, in his own house. God grants him a pleasant home, a good wife, and fine walks and gardens, and he has all things at home that he could desire. Now such a man does not care much for going out. Other men are fain to go out and see friends, because they have quarrelling and contending at home. Many poor husbands will give this reason, if their wives moan, and complain of their faults and shortcomings. They make it their excuse to go out, because they can never be quiet at home. Now we account those men most happy who have everything at home. Those who have confined homes that are unpleasant and evil-smelling delight to go into the fresh air, but it is not so with many others that have good things at home. Those who have no good cheer at home are fain to go out to friends, but those whose tables are well furnished would as soon stay at home. So a carnal man has little contentment in his own spirit. It is Augustine who likens a bad conscience to a scolding wife: a man who has a bad conscience does not care to look into his own soul, but loves to be out, and to look into other things; he never looks to himself.
As it is with a vessel that is full of liquor, if you strike it, it will make no great noise, but if it is empty then it makes a great noise; so it is with the heart, a heart that is full of grace and goodness within will bear a great many strokes, and never make any noise, but if an empty heart is struck it will make a noise. When some men and women are complaining so much, and always whining, it is a sign that there is an emptiness in their hearts. If their hearts were filled with grace they would not make such a noise. A man whose bones are filled with marrow, and his veins with good blood does not complain of the cold as others do. So a gracious heart, having the Spirit of God within him, and his heart filled with grace has that within him that makes him find contentment. It was a saying of Seneca: ‘Those things that I suffer will be incredibly heavy when I cannot bear myself.’ But if I am no burden to myself, if all is quiet within my own heart, then I can bear anything. Many men through their wickedness have burdens outside, but the greatest burden is the wickedness of their own hearts. They are not burdened with their sins in a godly way, for that would ease their burden, but they still have their wickedness in its power, and so they are burdens to themselves. The disorders of men’s hearts are great burdens to them, but many times a godly man has enough within to content him. Virtue is content with itself, to live well - it is a saying of Cicero, in one of his Paradoxes - it finds enough within its own sphere for living happily. But how few are acquainted with this mystery! Many think, O if I had what another man has, how happily and comfortably should I live! But if you are a Christian, whatever your condition, you have enough within yourself. You will say, such and such men who have all things need not be beholden to anybody.
There are many who labor and take pains when they are young, that they might not be beholden to others; they love to live of themselves. Now a Christian may do so, not that he does not live upon God (I do not mean that), but upon what he has of God within himself: he can live upon that, although he does not enjoy the comforts that are outside himself. That is what I mean, and those who are godly and keep close to God in their communion with him will understand what I mean by saying that a Christian has the supply of all his wants within himself. Here you may see that the spirit of a Christian is a precious spirit; a godly spirit is precious, why? Because it has enough to make him happy within himself.
The next thing that the mystery of contentment consists in is this, That a gracious heart gets it supply of all things from the Covenant, and so comes to have contentment, which is a dry thing to a carnal spirit.
There are two things in this: 1 . He gets contentment from the Covenant in general , that is, from the great covenant that God has made with him in Christ. 2 . He gets it from the particular promises that God has made with him in the Covenant. 1. From the Covenant in general . I will give you one Scripture for that, which is very striking: ‘Although my house be not so with God, yet he hath made with me an everlasting covenant, ordered in all things, and sure: for this is all my salvation, and all my desire, although he make it not to grow’ ( 2 Samuel 23:5). It is a wonderful statement by David, who did not have the Covenant of Grace revealed as fully as we have. Mark what he says: ‘Although I find not my house so’, that is, so comfortable in every way as I would wish, although it is not so, what has he got to content his spirit? He says, ‘He has made with me an everlasting covenant,’ this is what helps in everything. Some men will say, I am not thus and thus with God, I do not find that God comes in so fully, or it is not with my house and family as I hoped it might be, perhaps there is this or that affliction upon my house.
Suppose the plague were to come into your house, and it is not so safe, and you do not enjoy such outward comfort in your house as you once did. Can you read this Scripture and say, Although my house is not so blessed with health as other men’s houses are, although my house is not so, yet he has made with me an everlasting covenant. I am still one in covenant with God, the Lord has made with me an everlasting covenant. As for these things in the world, I see they are but momentary, they are not everlasting. I see a family in which all was well only a week ago, and now everything is down, the plague has swept away a great many of them, and the rest are left in sadness and mourning. We see there is no resting in the things of this world, yet the Lord has made with me an everlasting covenant ordered in all things. I find disorder in my heart, in my family; but the everlasting covenant is ordered in all things, yes, and it is sure.
Alas, there is no certainty here in these things. We can be sure of nothing here, especially in these times; we know that a man can be sure of little that he has, and who can be sure of his wealth? Perhaps some of you have here lived well and comfortably before, all was well about you, and you thought your mountain was strong, but within a day or two you see everything taken away from you - there is no certainty in the things of this world; but he says, the Covenant is sure. What I venture at sea is not sure, but here is an insurance office indeed, a great insurance office for the saints, at which they are not charged, except in the exercising of grace, for they may go to this insurance office to insure everything that they venture, either to have the thing itself, or to be paid for it. In an insurance office you cannot be sure to have the very goods that you insured, but if they are lost the insurers pledge themselves to make it good to you. And this Covenant of grace that God has made with his people is God’s insurance office, and the saints in all their fears may and ought to go to the Covenant to insure all things, to insure their wealth and insure their lives. You will say, How are they sure?
Their lives and wealth go as well as other people’s do. But God pledges himself to make up all. And mark what follows, ‘This is all my salvation’ - Why, David, will you not have salvation from your enemies and from outward dangers, pestilence and plague? The frame of his spirit is quieted, as though to say: if that salvation comes, well and good, I shall praise God for it; but what I have in the Covenant, that is my salvation, I look upon that as enough. Yes, and he goes further, ‘This is all my salvation and all my desire’ - Why, David, is there not something else that you would like to have besides this Covenant? No, he says, it is all involved in this. Surely, those men or women must needs live contented lives who have all their desires? Now, says the holy man here, this is all my desire, though he make it not to grow. For all this Covenant, perhaps, you will not prosper in the world as other men do, true; but I can bear that. Though God does not make my house to grow, I have all my desires.
Thus you see how a godly heart finds contentment n the Covenant. Many of you speak of the Covenant of God, and of the Covenant of grace; but have you found it as effectual as this to your souls, have you sucked this sweetness from the Covenant, and contentment to your hearts in your sad conditions. It is a special sign of true grace in any soul, that when any affliction befalls him, in a kind of natural way he repairs immediately to the Covenant. Just as a child, as soon as ever it is in danger, need not be told to go to his father or mother, for nature tells him so; so it is with a gracious heart: as soon as it is in any trouble or affliction there is a new nature which carries him to the Covenant immediately, where he finds ease and rest. If you find that your hearts work in this way, immediately running to the Covenant, it is an excellent sign of true grace: so much for the general point. 2. But now for particular promises in the Covenant grace. A gracious heart looks upon every promise as coming from the root of the great Covenant, of grace in Christ. Other men look upon some particular promises, that God will help them in straits, and keep them and the like, but they do not look at the connection of such particular promises, to the root, the Covenant of grace. Christians miss a great deal of comfort which they might have from the particular promises in the gospel, if they would consider their connection to the root, the great Covenant that God has made with them in Christ. In the times of the law, they might rest more upon outward promises than we can in the time of the gospel. I gave you the reason why we who live in the times of the gospel cannot depend so much on a literal fulfillment of the outward promises that we find in the Old Testament, as they could in the time of the law. For there was a special covenant, that God pleased to call a New Covenant, by way of distinction from the other covenant, that is made with us in Christ for eternal life. So even the law, was given to them in a more peculiar way for an external covenant of outward blessings in the land of Canaan, and so God dealt with them in a more external covenant than he does now with his people. Yet godliness has the promise of this life, and that which is to come. We may make use of the promises for this life, but yet not so much to rest upon the literal performance of them as they of old might. But God will make them good in some way or other, in a spiritual way if not in an outward way. We must lay no more upon outward promises than this, and therefore if we lay more, we make the promise to bear more than it will bear.
To give some examples: to believe fully and confidently, that the plague shall not come nigh a certain house, is, I say, to lay more upon such a promise than it will bear. If you remember, I opened that promise in Psalm 91. Now if I had lived in the time of the law, perhaps I might have been somewhat more confident of the literal performance of the promise, than I can be now in the time of the gospel. The promise now bears no more than this, that God has a special protection over his people, and that he will deliver them from the evil of such an affliction, and if he does bring such an affliction, it is more than an ordinary providence it is a special providence that God has in it. I thought I would give you several promises for the contentment of the heart in the time of affliction: ‘When thou passest through the waters I will be with thee, and through the rivers, they shall not overflow thee; when thou walkest through the fire thou shalt not be burnt, neither shall the flame kindle upon thee’ ( Isaiah 43:2).
Certainly, though this promise was made in the time of the law, it will be made good to all the saints now, one way or other, either literally or in some other way. For we find clearly that the promise that was made to Joshua, ‘I will not fail thee nor forsake thee’ ( Joshua 1:5) is applied to Christians in the time of the Gospel.
So here is the way of faith in bringing contentment by the promises: the saints of God have an interest in all the promises that ever were made to our forefathers, from the beginning of the world they are their inheritance, and go on from one generation to another. By that they come to have contentment, because they inherit all the promises made in all the book of God. Hebrews 13:5 shows this plainly, that it is our inheritance, and we do not inherit less now than they did in Joshua’s time, but we inherit more.
For you will find in that place of Hebrews that more is said than is to Joshua. To Joshua God says, He will not leave him nor forsake him; but in this place in Hebrews in the Greek there are five negatives, I will not, not, not, not, not again. That is the force of it in the Greek. I say, there are five negatives in that little sentence; as if God should say, I will not leave you, no I will not, I will not, I will not, with such earnestness five times together. So that not only have we the same promises that they had, but we have them more enlarged and more full, though still not so much in the literal sense, for that, indeed is the least part of the promise. In Isaiah 54:17 God made a promise: That no weapon formed against his people should prosper, and every tongue that shall rise against them in judgment they shall condemn, and mark what follows, ‘This is the heritage of the servants of the Lord, and their righteousness is of me, saith the Lord.’ This is a good promise for a soldier, though still we ought not to lay too much upon the literal sense. True, it holds forth thus much, that God’s protection is in special manner over the soldier that are godly. ‘And every tongue that shall rise against thee in judgment thou shalt condemn’ - this is against false witness too. Oh you, whose friends never left you anything! you will say, My friends died and did not leave me a groat; but I thank God, he has provided for me. Though your father or mother died and left you no inheritance, you have an inheritance in the promise, ‘This is their heritage.’
So that there is no godly man or woman, but is a great heir.
Therefore when you look into the book of God and find any promise there, you may make it your own; just as an heir who rides over a lot of fields and meadows says, This meadow is my inheritance, and this corn field is my inheritance, and then he sees a fine house, and says, This fine house is my inheritance. He looks at them with a different eye from a stranger who rides over those fields. A carnal heart reads the promises, and reads them merely as stories, not that he has any great interest in them. But every time a godly man reads the Scriptures (remember this when you are reading the Scripture) and there meets with a promise, he ought to lay his hand upon it and say, This is part of my inheritance, it is mine, and I am to live upon it.
This will make you contented; it is a mysterious way of getting contentment. And there are several other promises that bring contentment ( Psalm 34:10, 37:6; Isaiah 58:10). So much for the mystery of contentment by way of the Covenant.
There are two or three things more that show how a godly man has contentment in a mysterious way different from any carnal heart in the world, as follows: 14. HE HAS CONTENTMENT BY REALIZING THE GLORIOUS THINGS OF HEAVEN TO HIM.
He has the kingdom of Heaven as present, and the glory that is to come; by faith he makes it present. So the martyrs had contentment in their sufferings, for some of them said, ‘Though we have but a hard breakfast, yet we shall have a good dinner, we shall very soon be in heaven.’ ‘Do but shut your eyes’, said one, ‘and you shall be in heaven at once.’ ‘We faint not’, says the Apostle ( 2 Corinthians 4:16). Why? Because these light afflictions that are but for a moment, work for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory. They see heaven before them and that contents them. When you sailors see the haven before you, though you were mightily troubled before you could see any land, yet when you come near the shore and can see a certain land-mark, that contents you greatly. A godly man in the midst of the waves and storms that he meets with can see the glory of heaven before him and so contents himself. One drop of the sweetness of heaven is enough to take away all the sourness and bitterness of all the afflictions in the world. We know that one drop of sourness, or one drop of gall will make bitter a great deal of honey. Put a spoonful of sugar into a cup of gall or wormwood, and it will not sweeten it; but if you put a spoonful of gall into a cup of sugar, it will embitter that. Now it is otherwise in heaven: one drop of sweetness will sweeten a great deal of sour affliction, but a great deal of sourness and gall will not embitter a soul who sees the glory of heaven that is to come. A carnal heart has no contentment but from what he sees before him in this world, but a godly hearts has contentment from what he sees laid up for him in the highest heavens. 15. THE LAST THING THAT I WOULD MENTION IS THIS, A godly man has contentment by opening and letting out his heart to God. Other men or women are discontented, but how do they help themselves? By abuse, by bad language. Someone crosses them, and they have no way to help themselves but by abuse and by bitter words, and so they relieve themselves in that way when they are angry. But when a godly man is crossed, how does he relieve himself? - He is aware of his cross as well as you, but he goes to God in prayer, and there opens his heart to God and lets out his sorrows and fears, and then can come away with a joyful countenance. Do you find that you can come away from prayer and not look sad? It is said of Hannah, that when she had been at prayer her countenance was no more said ( 1 Samuel 1:18), she was comforted: this is the right way to contentment.