The Excellence of Contentment
Having concluded our study of the lessons we are to learn, we come to the next sub-division, which is, the excellence of this grace of contentment.
There is, indeed, a great deal of excellence in contentment; that is, as it were, another lesson for us to learn.
The apostle says 'I have learned', as if he should say: Blessed be God for this! Oh! it is a mercy of God to 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 had a sight of the great excellence that is in contentment. I remember reading of Antisthenes, who desired of his gods (speaking after the heathenish way) nothing in this world to make his life happy but contentment, and if 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 be able to bear any wrong, any injuries that he met with, and to continue in a quiet temper of spirit whatsoever befell him; for that was the temper of Socrates: whatever befell him he continued the same man, whatever cross befell him, however great, nobody could perceive any alteration of his spirit. This a heathen attained to by the strength of nature, and a common work of the Spirit. now Antisthenes saw such an excellence in this spirit that, as Solomon when God said to him: 'What shall I give thee?' asked of him wisdom, so he said: 'If the gods should put it to me to know what I would have, I would desire this thing, that I might have the spirit of Socrates.' He saw what a great excellence there was in this; and certainly a Christian may see an abundance of excellence in it. I shall labor to set it out to you in this chapter that you might be in love with this grace of contentment.
1. By contentment we come to give God the worship that is due to him. It is a special part of the divine worship that we owe to God, to be content in a Christian way, as has been shown to you. I say it is a special part of the divine worship that the creature owes to the infinite Creator, in that I tender the respect that is due from 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 if a dog should come crouching to you, and be willing to lie down at your feet. So the creature in the apprehension of its own baseness, and the infinite excellence that is in God above it, when it comes to worship God, 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 to you, and by holding your hand over him, you can make him lie down at your feet, then consider, thus should you do before the Lord: you should come crouching to him, and lie down at his feet, even on your backs or bellies, to lie down in the dust before him so as to be willing that he should do with you what he will. Just as sometimes you may turn a dog this way or that way, up and down, with your hand, and there he lies before you, according to your showing him with your hand; so when the creature shall come and lie down thus before the Lord, then a creature worships God and tenders the worship that is due to him. Now in what disposition of heart do we thus crouch to God more than when we have this state of contentment in all the conditions that God disposes us to? This is crouching to God's disposal, to be like the poor woman of Canaan, who when Christ said, 'It is not fit to give children's meat to dogs', said 'The dogs have crumbs', I am a dog I confess, but let me have only a crumb. And so when the soul shall be in such a disposition as to lie down and say, 'Lord, I am but as a dog, yet let me have a crumb', then it highly honors God. It may be that some of you have not your table spread as others have, but God gives you crumbs; now, says the poor woman, dogs have crumbs, and when you can find your hearts thus submitting to God, to be but as a dog, and can be contented and bless God for any crumb, I say this is a great worship of God.
You worship God more by this than when you 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's worship, but they are only external acts of worship, to hear and pray and receive sacraments. But this is the soul's worship, to subject itself thus to God. You who often will worship God by hearing, and praying, and receiving sacraments, and yet afterwards will be froward and discontented-know that 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: in active obedience we worship God by doing what pleases God, but by passive obedience 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; why should 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 passive obedience, and passive in his active obedience; so the saints are passive in their active obedience, they are first passive in the reception of grace, and then active. And when they come to passive obedience, they are active, they put forth grace in active obedience. When they performed actions to God, then the soul says: 'Oh! that I could do what pleases God!' When they come to suffer any cross: 'Oh, that what God does might please me!' I labor to do what pleases God, and I labor that what God does shall please me: here is a Christian indeed, who shall endeavor both these. It is but one side of a Christian to endeavor to do what pleases 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 EXERCISE OF GRACE.
There is much strength of grace, yea, there is much beauty of grace in contentment; there is much exercise of grace, strength of grace, and beauty of grace: I put all these together.
1. Much exercise of grace. There is a 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 ingredients of every kind of grace; and therefore, though you cannot see the particular grace; yet in this oil you have it all.
God sees the graces of his Spirit exercised in a special manner, and this pleases God at the heart to see the graces of his Spirit exercised. In one action that you do you may exercise one grace especially, but in contentment you exercise a great many graces at once.
2. There is a great deal of strength of grace in contentment. It argues a great deal of strength in the body for it to be able to endure hard weather and whatever comes, and yet not 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 cannot do 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 strength of grace in this, when it is as spiritual as has been shown to you in the explication of this point. If a man is distempered in his body, and has many obstructions, has an ill stomach, and his spleen and liver obstructed, and yet for all this his brain is not disordered, it is an argument of a great strength of brain; though many evil fumes may arise from his corrupt stomach, yet still his brain is not disordered but he continues in the free exercise of his reason and understanding. Every one may understand that this man has a very strong brain, when such things do not upset him. If other people who have a weak brain do not digest but one meal's meat, the fumes that arise from their stomach disorder their brain and make them unfit for everything, whereas these have strong heads, and strong brains, and though their stomachs are ill and they cannot digest meat, yet they still have the free use of their 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; but there are other men, who though things fume up, still keep in a steady way, and have the use of reason and of their graces, and possess their souls in patience.
I remember it is reported of the eagle that it is not like other fowls: when other fowls are hungry they make a noise; but the eagle is never heard to make noise though it lacks food. Now it is from the magnitude of its spirit that it will not make such complaints as other fowls do when they lack food, because it is above hunger, and above thirst. Similarly it is an argument of a gracious magnitude of spirit, that whatsoever befalls it, yet it is not always whining and complaining as others do, but it goes on in its way and course, and blesses God, and keeps in a constant tenor whatever befalls it. 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 all in the spirits of these men and women. This, I say, is a sign of a great deal of strength of grace.
3. It is also an argument of a great deal of beauty of grace. There is a saying of Seneca, a heathen, 'When you go out into groves and woods, and see the tallness of the trees and 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, that strikes a kind of fear of a God in you, but', he said, 'do you see a man who is quiet in tempests, and who lives happily in the midst of adversities, why do not you worship that man?' He thinks him a man worthy of such honor who will be quiet and live a happy life, though in the midst of adversities. The glory of God appears here more than in any of his works. There is no work which God has made-the sun, moon, stars and all the world-in which so much of the glory of God appears as in a man who lives quietly in the midst of adversity. That was what convinced the king: when he saw that the three children could walk in the midst of the fiery furnace and not be touched, the king was mightily convinced by this, that surely their God was the great God indeed, and that they were highly beloved of their God who could walk in the midst of the furnace and not be touched, whereas the others who came only to the mouth of the furnace were devoured. So when a Christian can walk in the midst of fiery trials, without his garments being singed, and has comfort and joy in the midst of everything (when like Paul in the stocks he can sing, which wrought upon the jailor) it will convince men, when they see the power of grace in the midst of afflictions. When they can behave themselves in a gracious and holy manner in such afflictions as would make others roar: Oh, this is the glory of a Christian.
It is what is said to be the glory of Christ, (for it is thought by interpreters to be meant of Christ) in Micah 5:5: 'And this man shall be the peace when the Assyrian shall come into our land, and when he shall tread in our palaces.' This man shall be the peace when the Assyrian shall come into our land-for one to be in peace when there are no enemies is no great thing, but the text says, when the Assyrian shall come into our land, then this man shall be the peace. That is, when all shall be in a hubbub and uproar, yet then this man shall be peace. That is the trial of grace, when you find Jesus Christ to be peace in your hearts when the Assyrian shall come into the land. You may think you find peace in Christ when you have no outward troubles, but is Christ your peace when the Assyrian comes into the land, when the enemy comes? Suppose you should hear the enemy come marching to the city and they had taken the works, and were plundering, what would be your peace? Jesus Christ would be peace to the soul when the enemy comes into the city, and into your houses. If any of you have been where the enemy has come, what has been the peace of your souls? What is said of Christ may be applied to this grace of contentment: when the Assyrian, the plunderers, the enemies, when any affliction, trouble, distress befalls such a heart, then this grace of contentment bring peace to the soul; it brings peace to the soul at the time when the Assyrian comes into the land. The grace of contentment is an excellent grace: there is much beauty, much strength in it, there is a great deal of worth in this grace, and therefore be in love with it.
3. BY CONTENTMENT THE SOUL IS FITTED TO RECEIVE MERCY, AND TO DO SERVICE.
I will put these two together: contentment makes the soul fit to receive mercy, and to do service. No man or woman in the world is as fit to receive the grace of God, and to do the work of God, as those who have contented spirits.
Those who are contented are fitted to receive 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 you may pour it in and not lose any. So if we would be vessels to receive God's mercy, and would have the Lord pour his mercy into us, we must have quiet, still hearts. We must not have hearts hurrying up and down in trouble, discontent and vexing, but still and quiet hearts, if we receive mercy from the Lord. If a child throws and kicks up and down for a thing, you do not give it him when he cries so, but first you will have the child quiet. Even though, perhaps, you intend him to have what 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 you will give it him. And truly so does the Lord deal with us, for our dealings with him are just as your froward children's are with you. As soon as you want a thing from God, if you cannot have it you are disquieted at once and all in an uproar, as it were, in your spirits. God intends mercy to you, but he says, 'You shall not have it yet, I will see you quiet first, and then in the quietness of your hearts come to me, and see what I will do with you.' I appeal to you who are in any way acquainted with the ways of God, have you not found this to be the way of God towards you/ When you were troubled for want, perhaps, of some spiritual comfort and your hearts were vexed at it, you got nothing from God all that while; 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 what he will, I am under his feet, and am resolved to do what I can to honor him, 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 I will be content.' 'Are you in this frame?' says God, 'now you shall have comfort, now I will give you the mercy.' A prisoner must not think he will get rid of his chains by pulling and tearing; he may gall his flesh and rend it to the very bone, but certainly he will not be unfettered sooner. If he wants his fetters taken off he must quietly give up himself to some man to take them off. If a beggar knocks once or twice at the door and you do not come, and thereupon he is vexed and troubled and thinks 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 you hear two or three beggars at your door, and out of your window you hear them say, 'Let us be content to stay, perhaps they are busy, it is right that we should stay, it is well if we get anything in the end, we deserve nothing at all, and therefore we may well wait a while', you would then quickly send them an alms. So God deals with the heart: when it is in a disquiet mood then God does not give; but when the heart lies down quietly 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 delivered from Babylon but by your sitting still.' 4. AS CONTENTMENT MAKES FIT TO RECEIVE MERCY, SO FIT TO DO SERVICE.
O the quiet fruits of righteousness, the peaceable fruits of righteousness! They indeed prosper and multiply most when they come to be peaceable fruits of righteousness. As the philosophers say of everything that moves, nothing moves but upon something that is immovable. A thing which moves upon the earth, could not move if the earth were not still.
Objection. 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 shot-free, 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.