Center for Biblical Theology and Eschatology
The Mystery of Contentment
But you will object: What you speak of is very good, if we could attain to it; but is it possible for anyone to attain to this? It is possible if you get skill in the art of it; you may attain to it, and it will prove to be not such a difficult thing either, if you but understand the mystery of it. There are many things that men do in their callings, that if a countryman comes and sees, he thinks it a mighty hard thing, and that he should never be able to do it. But that is because he does not understand the art of it; there is a twist of the hand by which you may do it with ease. Now that is the business of this book, to open to you the art and mystery of contentment.
There is a great mystery and art in what way a Christian comes to contentment. By what has been already opened to you there will appear some mystery and art, as that a man should be content with his affliction, and yet thoroughly sensible of his affliction too; to be thoroughly sensible of an affliction, and to endeavor to remove it by all lawful means, and yet to be content: there is a mystery in that. How to join these two together: to be sensible of an affliction as much as a man or woman who is not content; I am sensible of it as fully as they, and I seek ways to be delivered from it as well as they, and yet still my heart abides content-this is, I say, a mystery, that is very hard for a carnal heart to understand. But grace teaches such a mixture, teaches us how to make a mixture of sorrow and a mixture of joy together; and that makes contentment, the mingling of joy and sorrow, of gracious joy and gracious sorrow together. Grace teaches us how to moderate and to order an affliction so that there shall be a sense of it, and yet for all that contentment under it.
There are several things for opening the mystery of contentment.
1. THE FIRST THING IS, TO SHOW THAT THERE IS A GREAT MYSTERY IN IT.
It may be said of one who is contented in a Christian way that he is the most contented man in the world, and yet the most unsatisfied man in the world; these two together must needs be mysterious. I say, a contented man, just as he is the most contented, so he is the most unsatisfied man in the world.
You never learned the mystery of contentment unless it may be said of you that, just as you are the most contented man, so you are also the most unsatisfied man in the world.
You will say, 'How is that?' A man who has learned the art of contentment is the most contented with any low condition that he has in the world, and yet he cannot be satisfied with the enjoyment of all the world. He is contented if he has but a crust, but bread and water, that is, if God disposes of him, for the things of the world, to have but bread and water for his present condition, he can be satisfied with God's disposal in that; yet if God should give unto him Kingdoms and Empires, all the world to rule, if he should give it him for his portion, he would not be satisfied with that. Here is the mystery of it: though his heart is so enlarged that the enjoyment of all the world and ten thousand worlds cannot satisfy him for his portion; yet he has a heart quieted under God's disposal, if he gives him but bread and water. To join these two together must needs be a great art and mystery.
Though he is contented with God in a little, yet those things that would content other men will not content him. The men of the world seek after wealth, and think if they had thus much, and thus much, they would be content. They do not aim at great things; but if I had, perhaps some man thinks, only two or three hundred a year, then I should be well enough; if I had but a hundred a year, or a thousand a year, says another, then I should be satisfied. But a gracious heart says that if he had ten hundred thousand times so much a year, it would not satisfy him; if he had the quintessence of all the excellences of all the creatures in the world, it could not satisfy him; and yet this man can sing, and be merry and joyful when he has only a crust of bread and a little water in the world. Surely religion is a great mystery! Great is the mystery of godliness, not only in the doctrinal part of it, but in the practical part of it also.
Godliness teaches us this mystery, Not to be satisfied with all the world for our portion, and yet to be content with the meanest condition in which we are. When Luther was sent great gifts by Dukes and Princes, he refused them, and he says, 'I did vehemently protest that God should not put me off so; 'tis not that which will content me.' A little in the world will content a Christian for his passage. Mark, here lies the mystery of it, A little in the world will content a Christian for his passage, but all the world, and ten thousand times more, will not content a Christian for his portion. A carnal heart will be content with these things of the world for his portion; and that is the difference between a carnal heart and a gracious heart. But a gracious heart says, 'Lord, do with me what you will for my passage through this world; I will be content with that, but I cannot be content with all the world for my portion.' So there is the mystery of true contentment. A contented man, though he is most contented with the least things in the world, yet he is the most dissatisfied man that lives in the world.
A soul that is capable of God can be filled with nothing else but God; nothing but God can fill a soul that is capable of God. Though a gracious heart knows that it is capable of God, and was made for God, carnal hearts think without reference to God. But a gracious heart, being enlarged to be capable of God, and enjoying somewhat of him, can be filled by nothing in the world; it must only be God himself. Therefore you will observe, that whatever God may give to a gracious heart, a heart that is godly, unless he gives himself it will not do. A godly heart will not only have the mercy, but the God of that mercy as well; and then a little matter is enough in the world, so be it he has the God of the mercy which he enjoys. In
Philippians 4:7, 9 (I need go no further to show clear Scripture for this) compare verse 7 with verse 9: 'And the peace of God which passeth all understanding shall keep your hearts and minds through Jesus Christ.' The peace of God shall keep your hearts. Then in verse 9: 'Those things which ye have both learned, and received, and heard, and seen in me, do: and the God of peace shall be with you.' The peace of God shall keep you, and the God of peace shall be with you.
Here is what I would observe from this text. That the peace of God is not enough to a gracious heart except it may have the God of that peace. A carnal heart could be satisfied if he might but have outward peace, though it is not the pace of God; peace in the state, and his trading, would satisfy him. But mark how a godly heart goes beyond a carnal. All outward peace is not enough; I must have the peace of God. But suppose you have the peace of God. Will that not quiet you? No, I must have the God of peace; as the peace of God so the God of peace. That is, I must enjoy that God who gives me the peace; I must have the Cause as well as the effect. I must see from whence my peace comes, and enjoy the Fountain of my peace, as well as the stream of my peace. And so in other mercies: have I health from God? I must have the God of my health to be my portion, or else I am not satisfied. It is not life, but the God of my life; it is not riches, but the God of those riches, that I must have, the God of my preservation, as well as my preservation.
A gracious heart is not satisfied without this: to have the God of the mercy, as well as the mercy. In Psalm 73:25, 'Whom have I in heaven but thee, and there is none upon the earth that I desire beside thee.' There is nothing in heaven or earth that can satisfy me, but yourself. If God gave you not only earth but heaven, that you should rule over sun, moon and stars, and have the rule over the highest of the sons of men, it would not be enough to satisfy you, unless you had God himself. There lies the first mystery of contentment. And truly a contented man, though he is the most contented man in the world, is the most dissatisfied man in the world; that is, those things that will satisfy the world, will not satisfy him.
2. A CHRISTIAN COMES TO CONTENTMENT, NOT SO MUCH BY WAY OF ADDITION, AS BY WAY OF SUBTRACTION.
That is his way of contentment, and it is a way that the world has no skill in. I open it thus: not so much by adding to what he would have, or to what he has, not by adding more to his condition; but rather by subtracting from his desires, so as to make his desires and his circumstances even and equal.
A carnal heart knows no way to be contented but this: I have such and such possessions, and if I had this added to them, and the other comfort added that I have not now, then I should be contented. perhaps I have lost my possessions, if I could only have given to me something to make up my loss, then I should be a contented man. But contentment does not come in that way, it does not come, I say, by adding to what you want, but by subtracting from your desires. It is all one to a Christian, whether I get up to what I would have, or get my desires down to what I have, either to attain what I do desire, or to bring down my desires to what I have already attained. My wealth is the same, for it is as fitting for me to bring my desire down to my circumstances, as it is to raise up my circumstances to my desire.
Now I say that a heart that has no grace, and is not instructed in this mystery of contentment, knows of no way to get contentment, but to have his possessions raised up to his desires; but the Christian has another way to contentment, that is, he can bring his desires down to his possessions, and so he attains his contentment. Thus the Lord fashions the hearts of the children of men. If the heart of a man is fashioned to his circumstances, he may have as much contentment as if his circumstances were fashioned to his heart. Some men have a mighty large heart, but they have straitened circumstances, and they can never have contentment when they hearts are big and their circumstances are little. But though a man cannot bring his circumstances to be as great as his heart, yet if he can bring his heart to be as little as his circumstances, to make them even, this is the way to contentment. The world is infinitely deceived in thinking that contentment lies in having more than we already have. Here lies the bottom and root of all contentment, when there is an evenness and proportion between our hearts and our circumstances. That is why many godly men who are in low position live more sweet and comfortable lives than those who are richer.
Contentment is not always clothed with silk and purple and velvets, but it is sometimes in a home-spun suit, in mean circumstances, as well as in higher. Many men who once have had great estates, and God has brought them into a lower position have had more contentment in those circumstances than they had before. Now how can that possibly be? Quite easily, if you only understood that the root of contentment consists in the suitableness and proportion of a man's spirit to his possessions, an evenness where one end is not longer and bigger than the other. The heart is contented and there is comfort in those circumstances. But now let God give a man riches, no matter how great, yet if the Lord gives him up to the pride of his heart, he will never be contented: on the other hand, let God bring anyone into mean circumstances, and then let God but fashion and suit his heart to those circumstances and he will be content.
It is the same in walking: Suppose a man had a very long leg, and his other leg was short-why, though one of his legs was longer than usual, still he could not go as well as a man both of whose legs are shorter than his. I would compare a long leg, when one is longer than the other, to a man who has a high position and is very rich and a great man in the world, but he has a very proud heart, too, and that is longer and larger than his position. This man cannot but be troubled in his circumstances. Another man is in a mean position, his circumstances are low and his heart is low too, so that his heart and his circumstances are even. This man walks with abundantly more ease than the other. Thus a gracious heart thinks in this way: 'The Lord has been pleased to bring down my circumstances; now if the Lord brings down my heart and makes it equal to my circumstances, then I am well enough.' So when God brings down his circumstances, he does not so much labor to raise up his circumstances again as to bring his heart down to his circumstances. Even the heathen philosophers had a little glimpse of this: they could say that the best riches is poverty of desires-those are the words of a heathen. That is, if a man or woman have their desires cut short, and have no large desires, that man or woman is rich. So this is the art of contentment: not to seek to add to our circumstances, but to subtract form our desires. Another author has said, The way to be rich is not by increasing wealth, but by diminishing our desires. Certainly that man or woman is rich, who have their desires satisfied. Now a contented man has his desires satisfied, God satisfies them, that is, all considered, he is satisfied that his circumstances are for the present the best circumstances.
So he comes to this contentment by way of subtraction, and not addition.
3. A CHRISTIAN COMES TO CONTENTMENT, NOT SO MUCH BY GETTING RID OF THE BURDEN THAT IS ON HIM, AS BY ADDING ANOTHER BURDEN TO HIMSELF.
This is a way that flesh and blood has little skill in. You will say, 'How is this?' In this manner: are you afflicted, and is there a great load and burden on you because of your affliction? You think there is no way in the world to get contentment, but, O that this burden were but off! O it is a heavy load, and few know what a burden I have. What, do you think that there is no way for the contentment of your spirit, but to get rid of your burden? O you are deceived. The way of contentment is to add another burden, that is, to labor to load and burden your heart with your sin; the heavier the burden of your sin is to your heart, the lighter will the burden of your affliction be to your heart, and so you shall come to be content. If you burden were lightened, that would content you; you think there is no way to lighten it but to get it off. But you are deceived; for if you can get your heart to be more burdened with your sin, you will be less burdened with your afflictions.
You will say, this is a strange way for a man or woman to get ease to their condition, to lay a greater burden upon them when they are already burdened? You think there is no other way, when you are afflicted, but to be jolly and merry, and get into company. Oh now, you are deceived, your burden will come again. Alas, this is a poor way to get one's spirit quitted; poor man, the burden will be upon him again. If you would have your burden light, get alone and examine your heart for your sin, and charge your soul with your sin. If your burden is in your possessions, for the abuse of them, or if it is a burden upon your body, for the abuse of your health and strength, and the abuse of any mercies that now the Lord has taken away from you, that you have not honored God with those mercies that you have had, but you have walked wantonly and carelessly; if you so fall to bemoaning your sin before the Lord, you shall quickly find the burden of your affliction to be lighter than it was before. Do but try this piece of skill and art, to get your souls contented with any low circumstances that God puts you into.
Many times in a family, when any affliction befalls them, Oh, what an amount of discontent is there between man and wife! If they are crossed in their possessions at land, or have bad news from across the seas, or if those whom they trusted are ruined and the like, or perhaps something in the family causes strife between man and wife, in reference to the children or servants, and there is nothing but quarrelling and discontent among them, now they are many times burdened with their own discontent; and perhaps will say one to another, It is very uncomfortable for us to live so discontented as we do. But have you ever tried this way, husband and wife? Have you ever got alone and said, 'Come, Oh let us go and humble our souls before God together, let us go into our chamber and humble our souls before God for our sin, by which we have abused those mercies that God has taken away from us, and we have provoked God against us. Oh let us charge ourselves with our sin, and be humbled before the Lord together.'? Have you tried such a way as this? Oh you would find that the cloud would be taken away, and the sun would shine in upon you, and you would have a great deal more contentment than ever you had. If a man's estate is broken, either by plunderers, or any other way; how shall this man have contentment? How? By the breaking of his heart. God has broken your estate; Oh seek to him for the breaking of your heart likewise. Indeed, a broken estate and a whole heart, a hard heart, will not join together; there will be no contentment. But a broken estate and a broken heart will so suit one another, as that there will be more contentment than there was before.
Add therefore to the breaking of your estate, the breaking of your heart, and that is the way to be contented in a Christian manner, which is the third mystery in Christian contentment.
4. IT IS NOT SO MUCH THE REMOVING OF THE AFFLICTION THAT IS UPON US AS THE CHANGING OF THE AFFLICTION, THE METAMORPHOSING OF THE AFFLICTION, SO THAT IT IS QUITE TURNED AND CHANGED INTO SOMETHING ELSE.
I mean in regard of the use of it, though for the thing itself the affliction remains. The way of contentment to a carnal heart is only the removing of the affliction. O that it may be gone! 'No,' says a gracious heart, 'God has taught me a way to be content though the affliction itself still continues.' There is a power of grace to turn this affliction into good; it takes away the sting and poison of it. Take the case of poverty, a man's possessions are lost: Well, is there no way to be contented till your possessions are made up again? Till your poverty is removed? Yes, certainly, Christianity would teach contentment, though poverty continues. It will teach you how to turn your poverty to spiritual riches. You shall be poor still as to your outward possessions, but this shall be altered; whereas before it was a natural evil to you, it comes now to be turned to a spiritual benefit to you. And so you come to be content.
There is a saying of Ambrose, 'Even poverty itself is riches to holy men.' Godly men make their poverty turn to riches; they get more riches out of their poverty than ever they get out of their revenues. Out of all their trading in this world they never had such incomes as they have had out of their poverty. This a carnal heart will thing strange, that a man shall make poverty the most gainful trade that ever he had in the world. I am persuaded that many Christians have found it so, that they have got more good by their poverty, than ever they got by all their riches. You find it in Scripture.
Therefore thing not this strange that I am speaking of. You do not find one godly man who came out of an affliction worse than when he went into it; though for a while he was shaken, yet at last he was better for an affliction.
But a great many godly men, you find, have been worse for their prosperity. Scarcely one godly man that you read of in Scripture but was worse for prosperity (except for Daniel and Nehemiah-I do not read of any hurt they got by their prosperity); scarcely, I think, is there one example of a godly man who was not worse for his prosperity than better. Sao rather you see it is no strange thing to one who is gracious that they shall get good by their affliction.
Luther has a similar expression in his comment on the 5th chapter of the Galatians, the 17th verse: he says, 'Christian becomes a mighty worker and a wonderful creator, that is', he says, 'to create out of heaviness joy, out of terror comfort, out of sin righteousness, and out of death life.' He brings light out of darkness. It was God's prerogative and great power, his creating power to command the light to shine out of darkness. Now a Christian is partaker of the divine nature, so the Scripture says; grace is part of the divine nature, and, being part of the divine nature, it has an impression of God's omnipotent power, that is, to create light out of darkness, to bring good out of evil-by this a way a Christian comes to be content. God has given a Christian such power that he can turn afflictions into mercies, can turn darkness into light. If a man had the power that Christ had, when the water pots were filled, he could by a word turn the water into wine. If you who have nothing but water to drink had the power to turn it into wine, then you might be contented; certainly a Christian has receive this power from God, to work thus miraculously. It is the nature of grace to turn water into wine, that is, to turn the water of your affliction, into the wine of heavenly consolation.
If you understand this in a carnal way, I know it will be ridiculous for a minister to speak thus to you, and many carnal people are ready to make such expressions as these ridiculous, understanding them in a carnal way.
This is just like Nicodemus, in the third of John, 'What! can a man be born when he is old? can he enter the second time into his mother's womb and be born?' So when we say of grace, that it can turn water into wine, and turn poverty into riches, and make poverty a gainful trade, a carnal heart says, 'Let them have that trade if they will, and let them have water to drink, and see if they can turn it into wine.' Oh, take heed you do not speak in a scornful way of the ways of God; grace has the power to turn afflictions into mercies. Two men may have the same affliction; to one it shall be as gall and wormwood, yet it shall be wine and honey and delightfulness and joy and advantage and riches to the other. This is the mystery of contentment, not so much by removing the evil, as by metamorphosing the evil, by changing the evil into good.
5. A CHRISTIAN COMES TO THIS CONTENTMENT NOT BY MAKING UP THE WANTS OF HIS CIRCUMSTANCES, BUT BY THE PERFORMANCE OF THE WORK OF HIS CIRCUMSTANCES.
This is the way of contentment. There are these circumstances that I am in, with many wants: I want this and the other comfort-well, how shall I come to be satisfied and content? A carnal heart thinks, I must have my wants made up or else it is impossible that I should be content. But a gracious heart says, 'What is the duty of the circumstances God has put me into? Indeed, my circumstances have changed, I was not long since in a prosperous state, but God has changed my circumstances. The Lord has called me no more Naomi, but Marah. Now what am I to do? What can I think now are those duties that God requires of me in the circumstances that he has now put me into? Let me exert my strength to perform the duties of my present circumstances. Others spend their thoughts on things that disturb and disquiet them, and so they grow more and more discontented.
Let me spend my thoughts in thinking what my duty is, 'O', says a man whose condition is changed and who has lost his wealth, 'Had I but my wealth, as I had heretofore, how would I use it to his glory? God has made me see that I did not honor him with my possessions as I ought to have done. O if I had it again, I would do better than I did before.' But this may be but a temptation. You should rather think, 'What does God require of me in the circumstances I am now brought into?' You should labor to bring your heart to quiet and contentment by setting your soul to work in the duties of your present condition. And the truth is, I know nothing more effective for quieting a Christian soul and getting contentment than this, setting your heart to work in the duties of the immediate circumstances that you are now in, and taking heed of your thoughts about other conditions as a mere temptation.
I cannot better compare the folly of those men and women who think they will get contentment by musing about other circumstances than to the way of children: perhaps they have climbed a hill and look a good way off and see another hill, and they think if they were on the top of that, they would be able to touch the clouds with their fingers; but when they are on the top of that hill, alas, they are as far from the clouds as they were before. So it is with many who think, If I were in such circumstances, then I should have contentment; and perhaps they get into circumstances, and they are as far from contentment as before. But then they think that if they were in other circumstances, they would be contented, but when they have got into those circumstances, they are still as far from contentment as before. No, no, let me consider what is the duty of my present circumstances, and content my heart with this, and say, 'Well, though I am in a low position, yet I am serving the counsels of God in those circumstances where I am; it is the counsel of God that has brought me into these circumstances that I am in, and I desire to serve the counsel of God in these circumstances.
There is a remarkable Scripture concerning David, of whom it is said that he served his generation: 'After David had served his generation according to the will of God, then he slept.' It is a saying of Paul concerning him in Acts 13:36. In your Bibles it is, 'After he had served his own generation according to the will of God', but the word that is translated will, means the counsel of God, and so it may be translated as well, 'That after David in his generation had served God's counsel, then he fell asleep'. We ordinarily take the words thus, That David served his generation: that is, he did the work of his generation-that is to serve a man's generation. But it is clearer if you read it thus, After David in his generation had served the counsel of God, then David fell asleep. O that should be the care of a Christian, to serve out God's counsels. What is the counsel of God? The circumstances that I am in, God has put me into by his own counsel, the counsel of his own will. Now I must serve God's counsel in my generation; whatever is the counsel of God in my circumstances, I must be careful to serve that. So I shall have my heart quieted for the present, and shall live and die peaceably and comfortably, if I am careful to serve God's counsel.
6. A GRACIOUS HEART IS CONTENTED BY THE MELTING OF HIS WILL AND DESIRES INTO GOD'S WILL AND DESIRES; BY THIS MEANS HE GETS CONTENTMENT.
This too is a mystery to a carnal heart. It is not by having his own desires satisfied, but by melting his will and desires into God's will. So that, in one sense, he comes to have his desires satisfied though he does not obtain the thing that he desired before; still he comes to be satisfied with this, because he makes his will to be at one with God's will. This is a small degree higher than submitting to the will of God. You all say that you should submit to God's will; a Christian has got beyond this. He can make God's will and his own the same. It is said of believers that they are joined to the Lord, and are one spirit; that means, that whatever God's will is, I do not only see good reason to submit to it, but God's will is my will. When the soul can make over, as it were, its will to God, it must needs be contented. Others would fain get the thing they desire, but a gracious heart will say, 'O what God would have, I would have too; I will not only yield to it, but I would have it too.' A gracious heart has learned this art, not only to make the commanding will of God to be its own will-that is, what God commands me to do, I will do it-but to make the providential will of God and the operative will of God to be his will too. God commands this thing, which perhaps you who are Christians may have some skill in, but whatever God works you must will, as well as what God commands.
You must make God's providential will and his operative will, your will as well as God's will, and in this way you must come to contentment. A Christian makes over his will to God, and in making over his will to God, he has no other will but God's. Suppose a man were to make over his debt to another man. If the man to whom I owe the debt be satisfied and contented, I am satisfied because I have made it over to him, and I need not be discontented and say, 'My debt is not paid and I am not satisfied'. Yes, you are satisfied, for he to whom you made over your debt is satisfied. It is just the same, for all the world, between God and a Christian: a Christian heart makes over his will to God: now then if God's will is satisfied, then I am satisfied, for I have no will of my own, it is melted into the will of God. This is the excellence of grace: grace does not only subject the will to God, but it melts the will into God's will, so that they are now but one will. What a sweet satisfaction the soul must have in this condition, when all is made over to God. You will say, This is hard! I will express it a little more: A gracious heart must needs have satisfaction in this way, because godliness teaches him this, to see that his good is more in God than in himself. The good of my life and comforts and my happiness and my glory and my riches are more in God than in myself. We may perhaps speak more of that, when we come to the lessons that are to be learned. It is by this that a gracious heart gets contentment; he melts his will into God's, for he says, 'If God has glory, I have glory; God's glory is my glory, and therefore God's will is mine; if God has riches, then I have riches; if God is magnified, then I am magnified; if God is satisfied, then I am satisfied; God's wisdom and holiness is mine, and therefore his will must needs be mine, and my will must needs be his.' This is the art of a Christian's contentment: he melts his will into the will of God, and makes over his will to God: 'Oh Lord, thou shalt choose our inheritance for us' (Psalm 47:4).
7. THE MYSTERY CONSISTS NOT IN BRINGING ANYTHING FROM OUTSIDE TO MAKE MY CONDITION MORE COMFORTABLE, BUT IN PURGING OUT SOMETHING THAT IS WITHIN.
Now the men of the world, when they would have contentment, and lack anything, Oh, they must have something from outside to content them. But a godly man says: 'Let me get something out that is in already, and then I shall come to contentment.' Suppose a man has a fever, that makes what he drinks taste bitter: he says, 'You must put some sugar into my drink'; his wife puts some in, and still the drink tastes bitter. Why? Because the bitterness comes from a bitter choleric humor within. But let the physician come and give him a bitter portion to purge out the bitterness that is within, and then he can taste his drink well enough. It is just the same with men of the world: Oh such a mercy added to this mercy, then it would be sweet; but even if God should put a spoonful or two of sugar in, it would still be bitter. The way to contentment is to purge out your lusts and bitter humours.
'From whence are wars, and strifes? are they not from your lusts that are within you?' (James 4:1).
They are not so much from things outside, but from within. I have said sometimes, 'Not all the storms that are abroad can make an earthquake, but the vapours that have got within.' So if those lusts that are within, in your heart, were got out, your condition would be a contented condition. These are the mysterious ways of godliness, that the men of the world never think of. When did you ever think of such a way as this, to go and purge out the diseases of your heart that are within? Here are seven particulars now named, and there are many more. Without the understanding of these things, and the practice of them, you will never come to a true contentment in your life; Oh, you will be bunglers in this trade of Christianity. But the right perceiving of these things will help you to be instructed in it, as in a mystery.
The mystery of contentment may be shown even more. A gracious heart gets contentment in a mysterious way, a way that the world is not acquainted with.
8. HE LIVES UPON THE DEW OF GOD'S BLESSING.
Adrian Junius uses the simile of a grasshopper to describe a contented man, and says he has this motto, 'I am content with what I have, and hope for better.' A grasshopper leads and skips up and down, and lives on the dew.
A grasshopper does not live on the grass as other things do; you do not know what it feeds on. Other things though as little as grasshoppers, feed upon seeds or little flies and such things, but as for the grasshopper, you do not know what it feeds upon. In the same way a Christian can get food that the world does not know of; he is fed in a secret way by the dew of the blessing of God. A poor man or woman who has but a little with grace, lives a more contented life than his rich neighbor who has a great income; we find it so ordinarily-though they have but little, yet they have a secret blessing of God with it, which they cannot express to anyone else. If you were to come to them and say: 'How is it that you live as happily as you do?', they cannot tell you what they have; but they find there is a sweetness in what they do enjoy, and they know by experience that they never had such sweetness in former times. Even though they had a greater abundance in former times than they have now, yet they know they never had such sweetness; but how this comes about they cannot tell. We may mention some considerations, in what godly men enjoy, which make their condition sweet.
For example, Take these four or five considerations with which a godly man finds contentment in what he has, though it is ever so little.
1. Because in what he has, he has the love of God to him. If a king were to send a piece of meat from his own table, it would be a great deal more pleasant to a courtier than if he had twenty dishes as an ordinary allowance; if the king sends even a little thing and says, 'Go and carry it to that man as a token of my love', Oh, how delightful would that be to him! When your husbands are at sea and send you a token of their love, it is worth more than forty times what you already have in your houses. Every good thing the people of God enjoy, they enjoy it in God's love, as a token of God's love, and coming from God's eternal love to them, and this must needs be very sweet to them.
2. What they have is sanctified to them for good. Other men have what they enjoy in the way of common providence, but the saints have it in a special way. Others have what they have and no more: meat, and drink, and houses, and clothes, and money, and that is all. But a gracious heart finds contentment in this, I have it, and I have a sanctified use of it too; I find God goes along with what I have to draw my heart nearer to him, and sanctify my heart to him. If I find my heart drawn nearer to God by what I enjoy, that is much more than if I have it without sanctifying of my heart by it. There is a secret dew that goes along with it: the dew of God's love in it, and the dew of sanctification.
3. A gracious heart has what he has free of cost; he is not likely to be called to pay for it. The difference between what a godly man has and a wicked man, is this: A godly man is as a child in an inn, an inn-keeper has his child in the house, and provides his diet, and lodging, and what is needful for him. Now a stranger comes, and he has dinner and supper provided, and lodging, but the stranger must pay for everything. It may be that the child's fare is meaner than the fare of the stranger; the stranger has boiled and roast and baked, but he must pay for it, there must come a reckoning for it. Just so it is: many of God's people have only mean fare, but God as a Father provides it, and it is free of cost, they need not pay for what they have, it is paid for before; but the wicked in all their pomp, and pride, and finery: they have what they ask for, but there must come a reckoning for everything, they must pay for all at the conclusion, and is it not better to have a little free of cost, than to have to pay for everything? Grace shows a man that what he has, he has free of cost, from God as from a Father, and therefore it must needs be very sweet.
4. A godly man may very well be content, though he has only a little, for what he does have he has by right of Jesus Christ, by the purchase of Jesus Christ. He has a right to it, a different kind of right to that which a wicked man can have to what he has. Wicked men have certain outward things; I do not say they are usurpers of what they have; they have a right to it, and that before God, but how? It is a right by mere donation, that is, God by his free bounty gives it to them; but the right that the saints have is a right of purchase: it is paid for, and it is their own, and they may in a holy manner and holy way claim whatever they have need of. We cannot express the difference between the right of a holy man, and the right of the wicked more fully than by the following simile: a criminal is condemned to die, and yet by favor he has his supper provided overnight. Now though the criminal has forfeited all his right to all things, to every bit of bread, yet if he is given his supper he does not steal it. This is true though he has forfeited all rights by his fault, and after he has once been condemned he has no right to anything. So it is with the wicked: they have forfeited all their right to the comforts of this world, they are condemned by God as criminals, and are going to execution; but if God in his bounty gives them something to preserve them here in the world, they cannot be said to be thieves or robbers. But if a man is given a supper overnight before his execution, is that like the supper that he was wont to have in his own house, when he ate his own bread, and had his wife and children about him? Oh, a dish of green herbs at home would be a great deal better than any dainties in such a supper as that. But a child of God has not a right merely by donation; what he has is his own, through the purchase of Christ. Every bit of bread you eat, if you are a godly man or woman, Jesus Christ has bought it for you.
You go to market and buy your meat and drink with your money, but know that before you buy it, or pay money, Christ has bought it at the hand of God the Father with his blood. You have it at the hands of men for money, but Christ has bought it at the hand of his Father by his blood. Certainly it is a great deal better and sweeter now, though it is but a little.
5. There is another thing that shows the sweetness that is in the little that the Saints have, by which they come to have contentment, whereas others cannot, that is, Every little that they have is but as an earnest penny* for all the glory that is reserved for them; it is given them by God as the forerunner of those eternal mercies that the Lord intends for them. [*A first instalment which guarantees that the rest is to follow.] Now if a man has but twelve pence given to him as an earnest penny for some great possession that he must have, is that not better than if he had forty pounds given to him otherwise? So every comfort that the saints have in this world is an earnest penny to them of those eternal mercies that the Lord has provided for them.
Just as every affliction that the wicked have here is but the beginning of sorrows, and forerunner of those eternal sorrows that they are likely to have hereafter in Hell, so every comfort you have is a forerunner of those eternal mercies you shall have with God in Heaven. Not only are the consolations of God's Spirit the forerunners of those eternal comforts you shall have in Heaven, but when you sit at your table, and rejoice with your wife and children and friends, you may look upon every one of those but as a forerunner, yea the very earnest penny of eternal life to you. Now if this is so, it is no marvel that a Christian is contented, but this is a mystery to the wicked. I have what I have from the love of God, and I have it sanctified to me by God, and I have it free of cost from God by the purchase of the blood of Jesus Christ, and I have it as a forerunner of those eternal mercies that are reserved for me; and in this my soul rejoices. There is a secret dew of God's goodness and blessing upon him in his estate that others have not.
By all this you may see the meaning of that Scripture, 'Better is a little with righteousness than great revenues without right' (
Proverbs 16:8). A man who has but a little, yet if he has it with righteousness, it is better than a great deal without right, yea, better than the great revenues of the wicked- so you have it in another Scripture. That is the next thing in Christian contentment: the mystery is in this, that he lives on the dew of God's blessing, in all the good things that he enjoys.
9. NOT ONLY IN GOOD THINGS DOES A CHRISTIAN HAVE THE DEW OF GOD'S BLESSING.
And find them very sweet to him, but in all the afflictions, all the evils that befall him, he can see love, and can enjoy the sweetness of love in his afflictions as well as in his mercies. The truth is that the afflictions of God's people come from the same eternal love that Jesus Christ cam from. Jerome said, 'He is a happy man who is beaten when the stroke is a stroke of love.' All God's strokes are strokes of love and mercy, all God's ways are mercy and truth, to those that fear him and love him (
Psalm 25:10). The ways of God, the ways of affliction, as well as the ways of prosperity, are mercy and love to him. Grace gives a man an eye, a piercing eye to pierce the counsel of God, those eternal counsels of God for good to him, even in his afflictions; he can see the love of God in every affliction as well as in prosperity. Now this is a mystery to a carnal heart. They can see no such thing; perhaps them rich, but they thing God loves them when he prospers them and makes them rich, but they think God loves them not when he afflicts mystery, grace enables men to see love in the very frown of God's face, and so comes to receive contentment.
10. A GODLY MAN HAS CONTENTMENT AS A MYSTERY, because just as he sees all his afflictions come from the same love that Jesus Christ did, so he sees them all sanctified in Jesus Christ, sanctified in a Mediator. He sees, I say, all the sting and venom and poison of them taken out by the virtue of Jesus Christ, the Mediator between God and man. For instance, when a Christian would have contentment he works it out thus: what is my affliction? Is it poverty that God strikes me with?-Jesus Christ had not a house to hide his head in, the fowls of the air had nests, and the foxes holes, but the Son of man had not a hole to hide his head in; now my poverty is sanctified by Christ's poverty. I can see by faith the curse and sting and venom taken out of my poverty by the poverty of Jesus Christ.
Christ Jesus was poor in this world to deliver me from the curse of my poverty. So my poverty is not afflictive, if I can be contented in such a condition. That is the way, not to stand and repine, because I have not what others have; no, but I am poor, and Christ was poor, that he might bless my poverty to me.
And so again, am I disgraced or dishonored? Is my good name taken away? Why, Jesus Christ had dishonor put upon him; he was called Beelzebub, and a Samaritan, and they said he had a devil in him. All the foul aspersions that could be, were cast upon Jesus Christ, and this was for me, that I might have the disgrace that is cast upon me sanctified to me. Whereas another man's heart is overwhelmed with dishonor, and disgrace, and he seeks in this way to get contentment: perhaps you have been spoken ill of and you have no other way to ease and right yourselves, but if they abuse you, you will abuse them back; and so you think to ease yourselves. Oh, but a Christian has another way to ease himself: others abuse and speak ill of me, but did they not abuse Jesus Christ, and speak ill of him? And what am I in comparison of Christ? And the subjection of Christ to such an evil was for me, that though such a thing should come upon me, I might know that the curse of it is taken from me through Christ's subjection to that evil.
Thus, a Christian can be content when anybody speaks ill of him. Now, this is a mystery to you, to get contentment in this way. So if men jeer and scoff at you, did they not do so to Jesus Christ? They jeered and scoffed at him, and that when he was in his greatest extremity upon the Cross: they said, Here is the King of the Jews, and they bowed the knee, and said, Hail King of the Jews, and put a reed into his hand, and mocked him. Now I get contentment in the midst of scorns and jeers, by considering that Christ was scorned, and by acting faith upon what Christ suffered for me. Am I in great bodily pain?-Jesus Christ had as great pain in his body as I have (though it is true he did not have the same kind of sicknesses as we have, yet he had as great pain and tortures in his body, and that which was deadly to him, as much as any sickness is to us). The exercising of faith on what Christ endured, is the way to get contentment in the midst of our pains.
Someone lies vexing and fretting himself, and cannot bear his pain: are you a Christian? Have you ever tried this way of getting contentment, to act your faith on all the pains and sufferings that Jesus Christ suffered: this would be the way of contentment, and a Christian gets contentment when under pains, in this way. Sometimes one who is very godly and gracious, may be found bearing grievous pains and extremities very cheerfully, and you wonder at it. He gets it by acting his faith upon what pains Jesus Christ suffered. You are afraid of death-the way to get contentment is by exercising your faith on the death of Jesus Christ. It may be that you have inward troubles in your soul, and God withdraws himself from you; still your faith is to be exercised upon the sufferings that Jesus Christ endured in his soul. He poured forth his soul before God, and when he sweat drops of water and blood, he was in an agony in his very spirit, and he found even God himself about to forsake him. Now thus to act your faith on Jesus Christ brings contentment, and is not this a mystery to carnal hearts? A gracious heart finds contentment as a mystery; it is no marvel that St. Paul said, 'I am instructed in a mystery, to be contented in whatsoever condition I am in.'
11. THERE IS STILL A FURTHER MYSTERY, for I hope you will find this a very useful point and that before we have finished you will see how simple it is for one who is skilled in religion to get contentment, though it is hard for one who is carnal. I say, the eleventh mystery in contentment is this: A gracious heart has contentment by getting strength from Jesus Christ; he is able to bear his burden by getting strength from someone else. Now this is a riddle, and it would be counted ridiculous in the schools of the philosophers, to say, If there is a burden on you you must get strength form someone else. Indeed if you must have another come and stand under the burden, they could understand that; but that you should be strengthened by the strength of someone else, who is not near you as far as you can see, they would think ridiculous. But a Christian finds satisfaction in every circumstance by getting strength from another, by going out of himself to Jesus Christ, by his faith acting upon Christ, and bringing the strength of Jesus Christ into his own soul, he is thereby enabled to bear whatever God lays on him, by the strength that he finds from Jesus Christ. Of his fullness do we receive grace for grace; there is strength in Christ not only to sanctify and save us, but strength to support us under all our burdens and afflictions, and Christ expects that when we are under any burden, we should act our faith upon him to draw virtue and strength from him. Faith is the great grace that is to be acted under afflictions. It is true that other graces should be acted, but the grace of faith draws strength from Christ, in looking on him who has the fullness of all strength conveyed into the hearts of all believers.
Now if a man has a burden to bear, and yet can have strength added to him-if the burden is doubled, he can have his strength trebled-the burden will not be heavier but lighter than it was before to his natural strength.
Indeed, our afflictions may be heavy, and we cry out, Oh, we cannot bear them, we cannot bear such an affliction. Though you cannot tell how to bear it with your own strength, yet how can you tell what you will do with the strength of Jesus Christ? You say you cannot bear it? So you think that Christ could not bear it? But if Christ could bear it why may you not come to bear it? You will say, Can I have the strength of Christ? Yes, it is made over to you by faith: the Scripture says that the Lord is our strength, God himself is our strength, and Christ is our strength. There are many Scriptures to that effect, that Christ's strength is yours, made over to you, so that you may be able to bear whatever lies upon you, and therefore we find such a strange expression in the Epistle of St. Paul to the Colossians, praying for the saints: 'That they might be strengthened with all might according unto his glorious power', unto what? 'Unto all patience and longsuffering with joyfulness'-strengthened with all might, according to the power of God, the glorious power of God, unto all patience, and longsuffering with joyfulness. You must not therefore be content with a little strength, so that you are able to bear what a man might bear by the strength of reason and nature, but you should be strengthened with all might, according to the glorious power of God, unto all patience, and to all longsuffering.
Oh, you who are now under very heavy and sad afflictions more than usual, look at this Scripture, and consider how it is made good in you; and why may you not have this Scripture made good in you, if you are godly? You should not be quiet in your own spirits, unless in some measure you get this Scripture made good in you, so that you may with some comfort say, 'Through God's mercy, I find that strength coming into me that is spoken of in this Scripture.' You should labor when you are under any great affliction (you who are godly) to walk so that others may see such a Scripture made good in you. This is the glorious power of God that strengthens his servants to all longsuffering, and that with joyfulness. Alas, it may be that you do not exercise as much patience as a wise man or a wise woman who has only natural reason. But where is the power of God, the glorious power of God? Where is the strengthening with all might, unto all longsuffering and patience, and that with joyfulness? It is true, the spirit of a man may be able to sustain his infirmities, may be able to sustain and keep up his spirits, the natural spirit of a man can do that, but much more when the spirit is endued with grace and holiness, and when it is filled with the strength of Jesus Christ. This is the way a godly man gets contentment, the mystery of it, by getting strength from Jesus Christ.
12. A GODLY HEART ENJOYS MUCH OF GOD IN EVERYTHING HE HAS, AND KNOWS HOW TO MAKE UP ALL WANTS IN GOD HIMSELF.
That is another mystery, he has God in what he has. I spoke about that somewhat before, in showing the dew of God's blessing in what one has, for God is able to let out a great deal of his power in little things, and therefore the miracles that God has wrought, have been as much in the little things as in great. Now just as God lets out a great deal of his power in working miracles in smaller things, so he lets out a great deal of goodness and mercy, in comforting and rejoicing the hearts of his people, in little things, as well as in great. There may be as great riches in a pearl as in a great deal of lumber; but this is a different thing.
Further, just as a gracious heart lives upon God's dew in the little that he has, so when the little that he has shall be taken from him, what shall he do then? Then, you will say, If a man has nothing, nothing can be got out of nothing. But if the children of God have their little taken from them, they can make up all their wants in God himself. Such and such a man is a poor man, the plunderers came and took away everything that he had; what shall he do now that all is gone? But when all is gone, there is an art and skill that godliness teaches, to make up all those losses in God. Many men whose houses have been burnt go about gathering, and so get together by many hands a little; but a godly man knows where to go, to get up all, even in God himself, so that he may enjoy the quintessence of the same good and comfort as he had before, for a godly man does not live so much in himself as he lives in God. Now this is a mystery to a carnal heart. I say a gracious man does not live so much in himself as in God; he lives in God continually. If anything is cut off from the stream, he knows how to go to the fountain, and makes up all there. God is his all in all, while he lives; I say it is God who is his all in all. 'Am not I to thee' said Elkanah to Hannah, 'instead of ten children?' So says God to a gracious heart: 'You lack this, your estate is plundered-Why? Am not I to you instead of ten homes, and ten shops, I am to you instead of all; and not only instead of all, but come to me, and you shall have all again in me.' This indeed is an excellent art, to be able to draw from God what one had before in the creature. Christian, how did you enjoy comfort before? Was the creature anything to you but a conduit, a pipe, that conveyed God's goodness to you? 'The pipe is cut off,' says God, 'come to me, the fountain, and drink immediately.' Though the beams are taken away, yet the sun remains the same in the firmament as ever it was. What is it that satisfies God himself, but that he enjoys all fullness in himself; so he comes to have satisfaction in himself. Now if you enjoy God as your portion, if your soul can say with the Church in
Lamentations 3:24: 'The Lord is my portion, saith my soul', why should you not be satisfied and contented like God? God is contented, he is in eternal contentment in himself; now if you have that God as your portion, why should you not be contented with him alone? Since God is contented with himself alone, if you have him, you may be contented with him alone, and it may be, that is the reason why your outward comforts are taken from you, that God may be all in all to you. It may be that while you had these things they shared with God in your affection, a great part of the stream of your affection ran that way; God would have the full stream run to him now. You know when a man has water coming to his house, through several pipes, and he finds insufficient water comes into his wash-house, he will rather stop the other pipes that he may have all the water come in where he wants it. Perhaps, then, God had a stream of your affection running to him when you enjoyed these things; yes, but a great deal was allowed to escape to the creature, a great deal of your affections ran waste. Now the Lord would not have the affections of his children to run waste; he does not care for other men's affections, but yours are precious, and God would not have them to run waste; therefore he has cut off your other pipes that your heart might flow wholly to him. If you have children, and because you let your servants perhaps feed them and give them things, you perceive that your servants are stealing away the hearts of your children, you would hardly be able to bear it; you would be ready to send away such a servant. When the servant is gone, the child is at a great loss, it has not got the nurse, but the father or mother intends by sending her away, that the affections of the child might run more strongly towards himself or herself, and what loss is it to the child that the affections that ran in a rough channel before towards the servant, run now towards the mother? So those affections that run towards the creature, God would have run towards himself, that so he may be all in all to you here in this world.
A gracious heart can indeed tell how to enjoy God as all in all to him. That is the happiness of heaven to have God to be all in all. The saints in heaven do not have houses, and lands, and money, and met and drink, and clothes; you will say, they do not need them-why not? It is because God is all in all to them immediately. Now while you live in this world, you may come to enjoy much of God, you may have much of heaven, while we live in this life we may come to enjoy much of the very life that is in heaven, and what is that but the enjoyment of God to be all in all to us? There is one text in the Revelation that speaks of the glorious condition of the Church that is likely to be here even in this world: 'And I saw no temple therein, for the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are the temple of it, and the city had no need of the sun, neither of the moon to shine in it, for the glory of God did lighten it, and the Lamb is the light thereof' (Revelation 21:22).
They had no need of the sun or moon. It speaks of such a glorious condition that the Church is likely to be in here in this world; this does not speak of heaven, but of a glorious estate that the Church shall be in here, in this world; and that appears plainly, for it follows immediately in the 24th and 24th verses, 'And the Kings of the earth do bring their glory and honor into it'; why, the Kings of the earth shall not bring their glory and honor into heaven, but this is such a time, when the Kings of the earth shall bring their glory and honor to the Church. And in the 26th verse, 'And they shall bring the glory and honor of the nations into it'; therefore here it must mean this world and not heaven. Now is there is to be such a time here in this world, when God shall be all in all, and in comparison there shall be no such need of creatures as there is now, then the saints should labor to live as near that life as possibly they can, that is, to make up all in God.
Oh, that you would consider this mystery, that it may be a reality to the hearts of the saints in such times as these. They would find this privilege that they get by grace worth thousands of worlds. Hence is that statement of Jacob's that I have mentioned in another case; it is remarkable, and is very pertinent here. In that remarkable speech of Jacob, in Genesis 33, when his brother Esau met him, you find in one place that Esau refused Jacob's present; in the
8th verse, when Jacob gave his present to him, he refused it, and told Jacob that he had enough: 'What meanest thou by all this drove which I met? And he said, these are to find grace in thy sight: And Esau said, I have enough.' Now in the
11th verse Jacob urges it still, and, says Jacob, 'I beseech thee, take it, for I have enough.' Now in your Bible it is the same in English-I have enough, saith Esau, and I have enough, saith Jacob-but in the Hebrew Jacob's word is different from Esau's: Jacob's word signifies I have all things, and yet Jacob was poorer than Esau. Oh, this should be a shame to us that an Esau can say, I have enough. But a Christian should say, I have not only enough, but I have all.
How did he have all?-because he had God who was all. It was a remarkable saying of one, 'He has all things who has him that has all things'. Surely you have all things, because you have him for your portion who has all things: God has all things in himself, and you have God for your portion, and in that you have all, and this is the mystery of contentment. It makes up all its wants in God: this is what the men of the world have little skill in.
Now I have many other things still to open in the mystery of contentment. I should show likewise that a godly man not only makes up everything in God, but finds enough in himself to make up all-to make up everything in himself, not from himself, but in himself-and that may seem to be stranger than the other. To make up everything in God is something, nay, to make up everything in himself (not from himself but in himself)-a gracious heart has so much of God within himself, that he has enough there to make up all his outward wants. In Proverbs 14:14 we read, 'A good man shall be satisfied from himself', from that which is within himself-that is the meaning. A gracious man has a bird within his own bosom which makes him melody enough, though he lacks music. 'The Kingdom of heaven is within you' (Luke 17:21). He has a Kingdom within him, a Kingdom of God; you see him spoken ill of abroad, but he has a conscience within him that makes up the want of a name and credit, that is instead of a thousand witnesses.
13. A GRACIOUS HEART GETS CONTENTMENT FROM THE COVENANT THAT GOD HAS MADE WITH HIM.
Now this is a way of getting contentment that the men of the world do not know: they can get contentment, if they have the creature to satisfy them; but in getting contentment from the Covenant of grace they have little skill. I should have opened two things here, first, how to get contentment from the Covenant of grace in general (but I shall speak of that in the next sermon, and now, only a word on the second). Secondly, how he gets contentment form the particular branches of the Covenant, that is, from the particular promises that he has, for supplying every particular want. There is no condition that a godly man or woman can be in, but there is some promise or other in the Scripture to help him in that condition. And that is the way of his contentment, to go to the promises, and get from the promise, that which may supply. This is but a dry business to a carnal heart; but it is the most real thing in the world to a gracious heart: when he finds lack of contentment he repairs to the promise, and the Covenant, and falls to pleading the promises that God has made. As I should have shown several promises that God has made, whatever the affliction, I will only mention one, that is, the saddest affliction of all, in case of the visitation, and the plague (Psalm 91). Those whose friends cannot come to them by reason of the plague, and who cannot have other comforts, in other afflictions might have their friends and other things to comfort them-but in that they cannot. We read, 'There shall no evil befall thee, neither shall nay plague come nigh thy dwelling'; then there is a promise for the pestilence in the 5th and 6th verses, this is a Scripture to those who are in danger of it. You will say that this is a promise that the plague shall not come nigh them; but mark that these two are joined: there shall no evil befall thee, neither shall the plague come nigh thee, the evil of it shall not come nigh thee.
Objection: You will say, but it does come to many godly men, and how can they make use of this Scripture? It is rather a Scripture that may trouble them, because here is a promise that it shall not come nigh them, and yet it does come nigh them as well as others.
Answer: 1 . The promises of outward deliverance that were made to the people of God in the time of the law, were to be understood then a great deal more literally, and fulfilled more literally, than in the times of the gospel when God makes it up otherwise with as much mercy. Though God made a Covenant of grace and eternal life in Christ with them, yet I think there was another covenant too, which God speaks of as a distinct covenant for outward things, to deal with his people according to their ways, either in outward prosperity, or in outward afflictions, more so than now, in a more punctual, set way, than in the times of the gospel. Therefore when the children of Israel sinned against God, they were sure to have public judgments come upon them, and if they did well, always public mercies; the general, constant way of God was to deal with the people of the Jews according as they did well or ill, with outward judgments and outward mercies. But it is not so now in the times of the gospel; we cannot bring such a certain conclusion, that if God did deal so severely with men by such and such afflictions, he will deal so with them now, or that they shall have outward prosperity as they had then. Therefore, that is the first thing, for understanding this and all other texts of the kind.
2. Perhaps their faith does not attain to this promise; and God often brings many outward afflictions, because the faith of his people does not reach the promise, and that not only in the Old Testament, but in the times of the New Testament. Zacharias' time may be said to be in the time of the New Testament, when he was struck with dumbness because he did not believe; and that is given as the cause why he was struck with dumbness. But you will say now, has faith a warrant to believe deliverance, that it shall be fully delivered? I dare not say so, but it may act upon it, to believe that God will make it good in his own way. Perhaps you have not done as much, and so because of that, this promise is not fulfilled to you.
3. When God makes such a promise to his people, yet still it must be with this reservation, that God must have liberty for these three things.
i . That notwithstanding his promise, he will have liberty to make use of anything for your chastisement.
i i . That he must have liberty, to make use of your wealth, or liberties, or lives, for the furtherance of his own ends, if it is to be a stumbling block to wicked and ungodly men. God must have liberty, though he has made a promise to you he will not release the propriety that he has in your possessions and lives.
iii. God must have sufficient liberty to make use of what you have, to show that his ways are unsearchable, and his judgments past finding out. God reserves these three things in his hand still.
Objection: 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.' A Christian, then, whatever he lacks he can make it up, for he has a kingdom in himself: '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.
Thus we have done with the mystery of contentment. Now if you can but put these things together that we have spoken of, you may see fully what an art Christian contentment is.Next > How Christ Teaches Contentment
Index < Content