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You will say, it is true that if I could honor God in my low estate as much as in my prosperous estate then it would be something, but how can that be? Answer. You must know that the special honor which God has from his creatures in this world is the manifestation of the graces of his Spirit. It is true that God gets a great deal of honor when a man is in a public place, and so is able to do a great deal of good, to countenance godliness, and discountenance sin, but the main thing is in our showing forth virtues of him who has called us out of darkness into his marvellous light. If I can say that, through God’s mercy in my affliction, I find the graces of God’s Spirit working as strongly in me as ever they did when I had my wealth, I am where I was; indeed, I am in quite as good a condition, for I have the same good now that I had in my prosperous estate. I reckoned the good of it only in my enjoyment of God, and honoring of God, and now God has blessed the lack of it to stir up the graces of his Spirit in my soul. This is the work that God calls me to now, and I must consider God to be most honored when I do the work that he calls me to; he set me to work in my prosperous estate to honor him at that time in that condition, and now he sets me to work to honor him at this time in this condition. God is most honored when I can turn from one condition to another, according as he calls me to it.
Would you account yourselves to be honored by your servants, if when you set them about a work that has some excellence, they will go on and on, and you cannot get them off from it? However good the work may be, yet if you call them off to another work, you expect them to manifest enough respect to you, as to be content to come off from that, though they are set about a lesser work, if it is more useful to your ends. In the same way you were in a prosperous estate, and there God was calling you to some service that you took pleasure in; but suppose God said: ‘I will use you in a suffering condition, and I will have you to honor me in that way.’?
This is how you honor God, that you can turn this way or that way, as God calls you to it. Thus having learned this, that the good of the creature consists in the enjoyment of God in it, and the honoring of God by it, you can be content, because you have the same good that you had before, and that is the fifth lesson. 6. CHRIST TEACHES THE SOUL WHOM HE BRINGS INTO THIS SCHOOL IN THE KNOWLEDGE OF THEIR OWN HEARTS.
You must learn this or you will never learn contentment. You must learn to know your own hearts well, to be good students of your own hearts. You cannot all be scholars in the arts and sciences in the world, but you may all be students of your own hearts. Many of you cannot read in the Book, but God expects you every day to turn over a leaf in your own hearts. You will never get any skill in this mystery of contentment, except you study the book of your own hearts. Sailors have their books which they study, those who will be good navigators, and scholars have their books, those who study Logic have their books according to that, and those that study Rhetoric and Philosophy have their books according to that, and those that study Divinity have their books whereby they come to be helped in the study of Divinity, but a Christian, next to the Book of God, is to look into the book of his own heart, and to read over that, and this will help you to contentment in three ways: 1. By studying your heart you will come soon to discover wherein your discontent lies. When you are discontented you will find out the root of any discontent if you study your heart well. Many men and women are discontented, and the truth is they do not know why; they think this and the other thing is the cause. But a man or woman who knows their own heart will soon find out where the root of their discontent lies, that it lies in some corruption and disorder of the heart, that through God’s mercy I have now found out. It is similar to the case of a little child who is very awkward in the house, and when a stranger comes in he does not know what the matter is. Perhaps he will give the child a rattle, or a nut, or something of the sort to quiet it, but when the nurse comes she knows the temper and disposition of the child, and therefore knows how to calm it. It is just the same here: when we are strangers to our own hearts we are powerfully discontented, and do not know how to quiet ourselves, because we do not know wherein the disquiet lies, but if we are very well versed in our own hearts, when anything happens to unsettle us, we soon find out the cause of it, and so quickly become quiet. When a man has a watch, and understand the use of every wheel and pin, if it goes amiss he will soon find out the cause of it; but when someone has no skill in a watch, if it goes amiss he does not know what is the matter, and therefore cannot mend it. So indeed our hearts are as a watch, and there are many wheels and windings and turnings there, and we should labor to know our hearts well, that when they are out of tune, we may know what is the matter. 2. This knowledge of our hearts will help us to contentment, because by it we shall come to know what best suits our condition . A man who does not know his own heart does not think what need he has of affliction, and for that reason is uneasy, but when God comes with afflictions to the man or woman who have studied their own hearts, they can say, ‘I would not have been without this affliction for anything in the world, God has so suited this affliction to my condition, and has come in such a way that if this affliction had not come I am afraid I should have fallen into sin.’ When a poor countryman takes medicine, the medicine works, but he thinks it will kill him, because he does not know the bad humours that are in his body, and therefore he does not understand how suitable the medicine is for him. But if a doctor takes a purge, and it makes him extremely sick: ‘I like this the better’ he says, ‘it is only working on the humor that I know is the cause of my disease’, and because of that such a man who has knowledge and understanding of his body, and the cause of his disorder, is not troubled or disturbed. So would we be if we did but know the disorders of our own hearts. Carnal men and women do not know their own spirits, and therefore they fling and vex themselves at every affliction that befalls them, they do not know what disorders are in their hearts which may be healed by their afflictions, if it pleases God to give them a sanctified use of them. 3. By knowing their own hearts they know what they are able to manage , and by this means they come to be content. Perhaps the Lord takes away many comforts from them that they had before, or denies them some things that they hoped to have got. Now by knowing their hearts they know that they were not able to manage such wealth, and they were not able to manage such prosperity. God saw it, and, a poor soul says, ‘I am in some measure convinced by looking into my own heart that I was not able to manage such a condition.’ A man desires greedily to hold on to more than he is able to manage, and so undoes himself. Countrymen observe that if they over-stock their land, it will quickly spoil them, and so a wise husbandman who knows how much his ground will bear is not troubled that he has not as much stock as others - why? Because he knows he has not got enough ground for as great a stock, and that quiets him. Many men and women who do not know their own hearts would fain have as prosperous a position as others, but if they knew their own hearts they would know that they were not able to manage it.
Suppose one of your little children of three or four were crying for the coat of her sister who is twelve or perhaps even twenty, and said, ‘Why may not I have a coat as long as my sister’s?’ If she had, it would soon trip up her heels, and scratch her face. But when the child comes to understanding, she is not discontented because her coat is not as long as her sister’s, but says, ‘My coat fits me,’ and therein she is content. So if we come to understanding in the school of Christ we will not cry, Why have I not got such wealth as others have?, but, The Lord sees that I am not able to manage it and I see it myself by knowing my own heart. There are some children who, if they see a knife, will cry for it because they do not know their strength and that they are not able to manage it, but you know they are not able to manage it and therefore you will not give it them, and when they come to sufficient understanding to know that they are not able to manage it, they will not cry for it. Similarly we would not cry for some things if we knew that we were not able to manage them. When you vex and fret for what you have not got, I may say to you as Christ said, ‘You know not of what spirit you are.’ It was a saying of Cecolampadius to Parillus, when they were speaking about his extreme poverty, ‘Not so poor, though I have been very poor, yet I would be poorer; I could be willing to be poorer than I am.’ As if he were to say, The truth is, the Lord knew what was more suitable for me, and I knew that my own heart was such that a poor condition was more suitable to me than a rich. So certainly would we say, if we knew our own hearts, that such and such a condition is better for me than if it had been otherwise. 7. THE SEVENTH LESSON BY WHICH CHRIST TEACHES CONTENTMENT IS the burden of a prosperous outward condition. One who comes into Christ’s school to be instructed in this art never attains to any great skill in it until he comes to understand the burden that is in a prosperous condition.