Center for Biblical Theology and Eschatology
How Christ Teaches Contentment
Contentment is not such a poor business as many make it. They say, 'You must be content', and so on. But Paul needed to learn it, and it is a great art and mystery of godliness to be content in a Christian way, and it will be seen to be even more of a mystery when we come to show what lessons a gracious heart learns when it learns to be contented. I have learned to be contented; what lessons have you learned? Take a scholar who has great learning and understanding in arts and sciences; how did he begin? He began, as we say, his ABC, and then afterwards he came to his Testament, and Bible and accidence,* and so to his grammar, and afterwards to his other books. [*Accidence = the part of grammar dealing with inflexions.] So a Christian coming to contentment is as a scholar in Christ's school, and there are many lessons to teach the soul to bring it to this learning; every godly man or woman is a scholar. It cannot be said of any Christian that he is illiterate, but he is literate, a learned man, a learned woman. Now the lessons that Christ teaches to bring us to contentment are these:
1. THE LESSON OF SELF-DENIAL.
It is a hard lesson. You know that when a child is first taught, he complains: This is hard; it is just like that. I remember Bradford the martyr said, 'Whoever has not learned the lesson of the cross, has not learned his ABC in Christianity.' This is where Christ begins with his scholars, and those in the lowest form must begin with this; if you mean to be Christians at all, you must buckle to this or you can never be Christian. Just as no-one can be a scholar unless he learns his ABC, so you must learn the lesson of self-denial or you can never become a scholar in Christ's school, and be learned in this mystery of contentment. That is the first lesson that Christ teaches any soul, self-denial, which brings contentment, which brings down and softens a man's heart. You know how when you strike something soft it makes no noise, but if you strike a hard thing it makes a noise; so with the harts of men who are full of themselves, and hardened with self-love, if they receive a stroke they make a noise, but a self-denying Christian yields to God's hand, and makes no noise. When you strike a woolsack it makes no noise because it yields to the stroke; so a self-denying heart yields to the stroke and thereby comes to this contentment. now there are several things in this lesson of self-denial. I will not enter into the doctrine of self-denial, but only show you how Christ teaches self-denial and how that brings contentment.
1. Such a person learns to know that he is nothing. He comes to this, to be able to say, 'Well, I see I am nothing in myself.' That man or woman who indeed knows that he or she is nothing, and has learned it thoroughly will be able to bear anything. The way to be able to bear anything is to know that we are nothing in ourselves. God says to us, 'Wilt thou set thine eyes upon that which is not' (
Proverbs 23:5) speaking of riches. Why, blessed God, do not you do so? you have set your heart upon us and yet we are nothing. God would not have set our hearts upon riches, because they are nothing, and yet God is pleased to set his heart upon us, and we are nothing: that is God's grace, free grace, and therefore it does not much matter what I suffer, for I am as nothing.
2. I deserve nothing. I am nothing, and I deserve nothing. Suppose I lack this and that thing which others have? I am sure that I deserve nothing except it be Hell. You will answer any of your servants, who is not content: I wonder what you think you deserve? or your children: do you deserve it that you are so eager to have it? You would stop their mouths thus, and so we may easily stop our own mouths: we deserve nothing and therefore why should we be impatient if we do not get what we desire. If we had deserved anything we might be troubled, as in the case of a man who has deserved well of the state or of his friends, yet does not receive a suitable reward, it troubles him greatly, whereas if he is conscious that he has deserved nothing, he is content with a rebuff.
3. I can do nothing. Christ says, 'Without me you can do nothing' (John 15:5). Why should I make much of it, to be troubled and discontented if I have not got this and that, when the truth is that I can do nothing? If you were to come to one who is angry because he has not got such food as he desires, and is discontented with it, you would answer him, 'I marvel what you do or what use you are!' Should one who will sit still and be of no use, yet for all that have all the supply that he could possible desire? Do but consider of what use you are in the world, and if you consider what little need God has of you, and what little use you are, you will not be much discontented. if you have learned this lesson of self-denial, though God cuts you short of certain comforts, yet you will say, 'Since I do but little, why should I have much': this thought will bring down a man's spirit as much as anything.
4. I am so vile that I cannot of myself receive any good. I am not only an empty vessel, but a corrupt and unclean vessel: that would spoil anything that comes into it. So are all our hearts: every one of them is not only empty of good but is like a musty bottle that spoils even good liquor that is poured into it.
5. If God cleanses us in some measure, and puts into us some good liquor, some grace of his Spirit, yet we can make use of nothing when we have it, if God but withdraws himself. If God leaves us one moment after he has bestowed upon us the greatest gifts, and whatever abilities we can desire, if God should say, 'I will give you them, now go and trade', we cannot progress one foot further if God leaves us. Does God give us gifts and abilities? Then let us fear and tremble lest God should leave us to ourselves, for then how foully should we abuse those gifts and abilities. You think other men and women have memory and gifts and abilities and you would fain have them-but suppose God should give you these, and then leave you, you would utterly spoil them.
6. We are worse than nothing. By sin we become a great deal worse than nothing. Sin makes us more vile than nothing, and contrary to all good. It is a great deal worse to have a contrariety to all that is good, than merely to have an emptiness of all that is good. We are not empty pitchers in respect of good, but we are like pitchers filled with poison, and is it much for such as we are to be cut short of outward comforts? 7. If we perish we will be no loss. If God should annihilate me, what loss would it be to anyone? God can raise up someone else in my place to serve him in a different way.
Now put just these seven things together and then Christ has taught you self-denial. I may call these the several words in our lesson of self-denial.
Christ teaches the soul this, so that, as in the presence of God on a real sight of itself, it can say: 'Lord, I am nothing, Lord, I deserve nothing, Lord, I can do nothing, I can receive nothing, and can make use of nothing, I am worse than nothing, and if I come to nothing and perish I will be no loss at all and therefore is it such a great thing for me to be cut short here?' A man who is little in his own eyes will account every affliction as little, and every mercy as great. Consider Saul: There was a time, the Scripture says, when he was little in his own eyes, and then his afflictions were but little to him: when some would not have had him to be King but spoke contemptuously of him, he held his peace; but when Saul began to be big in his own eyes, then the affliction began to be great to him.
There was never any man or woman so contented as a self-denying man or woman. No-one ever denied himself as much as Jesus Christ did: he gave his cheeks to the smiters, he opened not his mouth, he was as a lamb when he was led to the slaughter, he made no noise in the street. He denied himself above all, and was willing to empty himself, and so he was the most contented that ever any was in the world; and the nearer we come to learning to deny ourselves as Christ did, the more contented shall we be, and by knowing much of our own vileness we shall learn to justify God.
Whatever the Lord shall lay upon us, yet he is righteous for he has to deal with a most wretched creature. A discontented heart is troubled because he has no more comfort, but a self-denying man rather wonders that he has as much as he has. Oh, says the one, I have but a little; Aye, says the man who has learned this lesson of self-denial, but I rather wonder that God bestows upon me the liberty of breathing in the air, knowing how vile I am, and knowing how much sin the Lord sees in me. And that is the way of contentment, by learning self-denial.
8. But there is a further thing in self-denial which brings contentment.
Thereby the soul comes to rejoice and take satisfaction in all God's ways; I beseech you to notice this. If a man is selfish and self-love prevails in his heart, he will be glad of those things that suit with his own ends, but a godly man who has denied himself will suit with and be glad of all things that shall suit with God's ends. A gracious heart says, God's ends are my ends and I have denied my own ends; so he comes to find contentment in all God's ends and ways, and his comforts are multiplied, whereas the comforts of other men are single. It is very rare that God's way shall suit with a man's particular end, but always God's ways suit with his own ends. if you will only have contentment when God's ways suit with your own ends, you can have it only now and then, but a self-denying man denies his own ends, and only looks at the ends of God and therein he is contented. When a man is selfish he cannot but have a great deal of trouble and vexation, for if I regard myself, my ends are so narrow that a hundred things will come and jostle me, and I cannot have room in those narrows ends of my own. You know in the City what a great deal of stir there is in narrow streets: since Thames street is so narrow they jostle and wrangle and fight one with another because the place is so narrow, but in the broad streets they can go quietly. Similarly men who are selfish meet and so jostle with one another, one man is for self in one thing, and another man is for self in another thing, and so they make a great deal of stir. But those whose hearts are enlarged and make public things their ends, and can deny themselves, have room to walk and never jostle with one another as others do. The lesson of self-denial is the first lesson that Jesus Christ teaches men who are seeking contentment.
2. THE VANITY OF THE CREATURE.
That is the second lesson in Christ's school, which he teaches those whom he would make scholars in this art: the vanity of the creature, that whatever there is in the creature has an emptiness in it. 'Vanity of vanities, all is vanity,' is the lesson that the wise man learned: the creature in itself can do us neither good nor hurt; it is all but as wind. There is nothing in the creature that is suitable for a gracious heart to feed upon for its good and happiness. My brethren, the reason why you have not got contentment in the things of the world is not because you have not got enough of them-that is not the reason-but the reason is, because they are not things proportionable to that immortal soul of yours that is capable of God himself. Many men think that when they are troubled and have not got contentment it is because they have but a little in the world, and that if they had more then they should be content. That is just as if a man were hungry, and to satisfy his craving stomach he should gape and hold open his mouth to take in the wind, and then should think that the reason why he is not satisfied is because he has not got enough of the wind; no, the reason is because the thing is not suitable to a craving stomach. Yet there is really the same madness in the world: the wind which a man takes in by gaping will as soon satisfy a craving stomach ready to starve, as all the comforts in the world can satisfy a soul who knows what true happiness means. You would be happy, and you seek after such and such comforts in the creature.
Well, have you got them? do you find your hearts satisfied as having the happiness that is suitable to you? No, no, it is not here, but you think it is because you lack such and such things. O poor deluded man! it is not because you have not got enough of it, but because it is not the thing that is proportionable to the immortal soul that God has given you. Why do you lay out money for that which is not bread, and your labor for that which satisfieth not? (Isaiah 55:2). You are mad people, you seek to satisfy your stomach with that which is not bread, you follow the win; you will never have contentment. All creatures in the world say contentment is not in us, riches say, contentment is not in me, pleasure says, contentment is not in me; if you look for contentment in the creature you will fail. No, contentment is higher. When you come into the school of Christ, Christ teaches you that there is a vanity in all things in the world, and the soul which, by coming into the school of Christ, by understanding the glorious mysteries of the Gospel, comes to see the vanity of all things in the world, is the soul that comes to true contentment. I could give you an abundance of proverbs from Heathens which show the vanity of all things in the world, and they did not learn the vanity of the creature in the right school. But when a soul comes into the School of Jesus Christ, and there comes to see vanity in all things in the world, then such a soul comes to have contentment. If you seek contentment elsewhere, like the unclean spirit you seek for rest but find none.
3. A THIRD LESSON WHICH CHRIST TEACHES A CHRISTIAN WHEN HE COMES INTO HIS SCHOOL IS THIS:
He teaches him to understand what is the one thing that is necessary, which he never understood before. You know what he said to Martha: 'O Martha thou cumberest thyself about many things, but there is one thing necessary.' Before, the soul sought after this and that, but now it says, I see that it is not necessary for me to be rich, but it is necessary for me to make my peace with God; it s not necessary that I should live a pleasurable life in this world, but it is absolutely necessary that I should have pardon of my sin; it is not necessary that I should have honor and preferment, but it is necessary that I should have God as my portion, and have my part in Jesus Christ, it is necessary that my soul should be saved in the day of Jesus Christ. The other things are pretty fine indeed, and I should be glad if God would give me them, a fine house, and income, and clothes, and advancement for my wife and children: these are comfortable things, but they are not the necessary things; I may have these and yet perish for ever, but the other is absolutely necessary. No matter how poor I am, I may have what is absolutely necessary: thus Christ instructs the soul. Many of you have had some thoughts about this, that it is indeed necessary for you to provide for your souls, but when you come to Christ's school, Christ causes the fear of eternity to fall upon you, and causes such a real sight of the great things of eternity, and the absolute necessity of those things, that it possesses your heart with fear and takes you off from all other things in the world.
It is said of Pompey, that when he was carrying corn to Rome at a time of dearth, he was in a great deal of danger from storms at sea, but he said, 'We must go on, it is necessary that Rome should be relieved, but it is not necessary that we should live.' So, certainly, when the soul is once taken up with the things that are of absolute necessity, it will not be much troubled about other things. What are the things that disquiet us here but some by-matters in this world? And it is because our hearts are not taken up with the one absolutely necessary thing. Who are the men who are most discontented, but idle persons, persons who have nothing to occupy their minds? Every little thing disquiets and discontents them; but in the case of a man who has business of great weight and consequence, if all things go well with his great business which is in his head, he is not aware of meaner things in the family. On the other hand a man who lies at home and has nothing to do finds fault with everything. So it is with the heart: when the heart of a man has nothing to do, but to be busy about creature-comforts, every little thing troubles him; but when the heart is taken up with the weighty things of eternity, with the great things of eternal life, the things of here below that disquieted it before are things now of no consequence to him in comparison with the other-how things fall out here is not much regarded by him, if the one thing that is necessary is provided for.
4. THE SOUL COMES TO UNDERSTAND IN WHAT RELATION IT STANDS TO THE WORLD.
By that I mean as follows, God comes to instruct the soul effectually through Christ by his Spirit, on what terms it lives here in the world, in what relation it stands. While I live in the world my condition is to be but a pilgrim, a stranger, a traveler, and a soldier. Now rightly to understand this, not only being taught it by rote, so that I can speak the words over, but when my soul is possessed with the consideration of this truth, that God has set me in this world, not as in my home but as a mere stranger and a pilgrim who is travelling to another home, and that I am here a soldier in my warfare, I say, a right understanding of this is a mighty help to contentment in whatever befalls one.
For instance, when a man is at home, if things are not according to his desire he will find fault and is not content; but if a man travels, perhaps he does not meet with conveniences as he desires-the servants in the house are not at his beck or are not as diligent as his own servants were, and his diet is not as at home, and his bed not as at home-yet this thought may moderate his spirit: I am a traveler and I must not be finding fault, I am in another man's house, and it would be bad manners to find fault in someone else's house, even though things are not as much to my liking as at home.
If a man meets with bad weather, he must be content; it is travellers' fare, we say. Both fair weather and foul are the common travellers' fare and we must be content with it. Of course, if a man were at home and the rain poured into his house, he would regard it as an intolerable hardship; but when he is travelling, he is not so troubled about rain and storms. When you are at sea, though you have not as many things as you have at home, you are not troubled at it; you are contented. Why? Because you are at sea.
You are not troubled when storms arise, and though many things are otherwise than you would have them at home you are still quieted with the fact that you are at sea. When sailors are at sea they do not care what clothes they have, though they are pitched and tarred, and but a clout about their necks, and any old clothes. They think of when they come home: then they shall have their fine silk stockings and suits, and laced bands, and such things, and shall be very fine. So they are contented while away, with the thought that it shall be different when they come home, and though they have nothing but salt meat, and a little hard fare, yet when they come to their houses then they shall have anything.
Thus it should be with us in this world, for the truth is, we are all in this world but as seafaring men, tossed up and down on the waves of the sea of this world, and our haven is Heaven; here we are travelling, and our home is a distant home in another world. Indeed some men have better comforts than others in travelling, and it is truly a great mercy of God to us in England that we can travel with such delight and comfort, much more so than they can in other countries, and through God's mercy we have as great comforts in our travelling to Heaven in England as in any place under Heaven. Though we meet with travellers' fare sometimes, yet it should not be grievous to us. The Scripture tells us plainly that we must behave ourselves here as pilgrims and strangers: 'Dearly beloved, I beseech you as strangers and pilgrims, abstain from fleshly lusts, which war against the soul' (1 Peter 2:11).
Consider what your condition is, you are pilgrims and strangers; so do not think to satisfy yourselves here. When a man comes into an inn and sees there a fair cupboard of plate, he is not troubled that it is not his own.- Why? Because he is going away. So let us not be troubled when we see that other men have great wealth, but we have not.-Why? We are going away to another country; you are, as it were, only lodging here, for a night. If you were to live a hundred years, in comparison to eternity it is not as much as a night, it is as though you were travelling, and had come to an inn. And what madness is it for a man to be discontented because he has not got what he sees there, seeing he may be going away again within less than a quarter of an hour? You find the same in David: this was the argument that took David's heart away from the things of this world, and set him on other things: 'I am a stranger in the earth, hide not thy commandments from me' (Psalm 119:19). I am a stranger in the earth-what then?-then, Lord, let me have the knowledge of your commandments and it is sufficient. As for the things of the earth I do not set store by them, whether I have much or little, but hide not thy commandments from me, Lord, let me know the rule that I should guide my life by.
Then again, we are not only travelers but soldiers: this is the condition in which we are here in this world, and therefore we ought to behave ourselves accordingly. The Apostle makes use of this argument in writing to Timothy: 'Thou therefore endure hardness as a good soldier of Jesus Christ' (2 Timothy 2:3).
The very thought of the condition of a soldier is enough to still his disquiet of heart. When he is away, he does not enjoy such comforts in his quarters as he has in his own home: perhaps a man who had his bed and curtains drawn about him, and all comforts in his chamber, has now sometimes to lie on straw and he thinks to himself, I am a soldier and it is suitable to my condition. He must have his bed warmed at home, but he must lie out in the fields when he is a soldier, and the very thought of the condition in which he stands, calms him in all things. Yes, and he goes rejoicing, to think that this is only suitable to the condition in which God has put him. So it should be with us in respect of this world. What an unseemly thing it would be to see a soldier go whining up and down with his finger in his eye, complaining, that he does not have hot meat every meal, and his bed warmed as he did at home! Now Christians know that they are in their warfare, they are here in this world fighting and combating with the enemies of their souls and their eternal welfare, and they must be willing to endure hardness here. A right understanding of this fact that God has put them into such a condition is what will make them content, especially when they consider that they are certain of the victory and that ere long they shall triumph with Jesus Christ; then all their sorrows shall be done away, and their tears wiped from their eyes. A soldier is content to endure hardness though he does not know that he shall have the victory, but a Christian knows himself to be a soldier, and knows that he shall conquer and triumph with Jesus Christ to all eternity.
And that is the fourth lesson that Christ teaches the soul when he brings it to his school to learn the art of contentment: he makes him understand thoroughly the relation in which he has placed him to this world.
5. CHRIST TEACHES US WHEREIN CONSISTS ANY GOOD THAT IS TO BE ENJOYED IN ANY CREATURE IN THE WORLD.
We have taught before that there is a vanity in the creature, that is, considered in itself, yet though there is a vanity in the creature in itself, in respect of satisfying the soul for its portion, yet there is some goodness in the creature, some desirableness. Now wherein does this consist? It consists not in the nature of the creature itself, for that is nothing but vanity, but it consists in its reference to the first being of all things: this is a lesson that Christ teaches. If there is any good in wealth or in any comfort in this world, it is not so much that it pleases my sense or that it suits my body, but that it has reference to God, the first being, that by these creatures somewhat of God's goodness might be conveyed to me, and I may have a sanctified use of the creature to draw me nearer to God, that I may enjoy more of God, and be made more serviceable for his glory in the place where he has set me: this is the good of the creature. Oh, that we were only instructed in this lesson, and understood, and thoroughly believed this! No creature in all the world has any goodness in it any further than it has reference to the first infinite supreme good of all, that so far as I can enjoy God in it, so far it is good to me, and so far as I do not enjoy God in it, so far there is no goodness in any creature. How easy it would be, if we really believed that, to be contented! Suppose a man had great wealth only a few years ago, and now it is all gone-I would only ask this man, When you had your wealth, in what did you reckon the good of that wealth to consist? A carnal heart would say, Anybody might know that: it brought me in so much a year, and I could have the best fare, and be a man of repute in the place where I live, and men regarded what I said; I might be clothed as I would, and lay up portions for my children: the good of my wealth consisted in this. Now such a man never came into the school of Christ to know in what the good of an estate consisted, so no marvel if he is disquieted when he has lost his estate. But when a Christian, who has been in the school of Christ, and has been instructed in the art of contentment, has some wealth, he thinks, In that I have wealth above my brethren, I have an opportunity to serve God the better, and I enjoy a great deal of God's mercy conveyed to my soul through the creature, and hereby I am enabled to do a great deal of good: in this I reckon the good of my wealth. And now that God has taken this away from me, if he will be pleased to make up the enjoyment of himself some other way, will call me to honor him by suffering, and if I may do God as much service now by suffering, that is, by showing forth the grace of his Spirit in my sufferings as I did in prosperity, I have as much of God as I had before. So if I may be led to God in my low condition, as much as I was in my prosperous condition, I have as much comfort and contentment as I had before.
Objection. You will say, it is true that if I could honor God in my low estate as much as in my prosperous estate then it would be something, but how can that be? Answer. You must know that the special honor which God has from his creatures in this world is the manifestation of the graces of his Spirit. It is true that God gets a great deal of honor when a man is in a public place, and so is able to do a great deal of good, to countenance godliness, and discountenance sin, but the main thing is in our showing forth virtues of him who has called us out of darkness into his marvellous light. If I can say that, through God's mercy in my affliction, I find the graces of God's Spirit working as strongly in me as ever they did when I had my wealth, I am where I was; indeed, I am in quite as good a condition, for I have the same good now that I had in my prosperous estate. I reckoned the good of it only in my enjoyment of God, and honoring of God, and now God has blessed the lack of it to stir up the graces of his Spirit in my soul. This is the work that God calls me to now, and I must consider God to be most honored when I do the work that he calls me to; he set me to work in my prosperous estate to honor him at that time in that condition, and now he sets me to work to honor him at this time in this condition. God is most honored when I can turn from one condition to another, according as he calls me to it.
Would you account yourselves to be honored by your servants, if when you set them about a work that has some excellence, they will go on and on, and you cannot get them off from it? However good the work may be, yet if you call them off to another work, you expect them to manifest enough respect to you, as to be content to come off from that, though they are set about a lesser work, if it is more useful to your ends. In the same way you were in a prosperous estate, and there God was calling you to some service that you took pleasure in; but suppose God said: 'I will use you in a suffering condition, and I will have you to honor me in that way.'? This is how you honor God, that you can turn this way or that way, as God calls you to it. Thus having learned this, that the good of the creature consists in the enjoyment of God in it, and the honoring of God by it, you can be content, because you have the same good that you had before, and that is the fifth lesson.
6. CHRIST TEACHES THE SOUL WHOM HE BRINGS INTO THIS SCHOOL IN THE KNOWLEDGE OF THEIR OWN HEARTS.
You must learn this or you will never learn contentment. You must learn to know your own hearts well, to be good students of your own hearts. You cannot all be scholars in the arts and sciences in the world, but you may all be students of your own hearts. Many of you cannot read in the Book, but God expects you every day to turn over a leaf in your own hearts. You will never get any skill in this mystery of contentment, except you study the book of your own hearts. Sailors have their books which they study, those who will be good navigators, and scholars have their books, those who study Logic have their books according to that, and those that study Rhetoric and Philosophy have their books according to that, and those that study Divinity have their books whereby they come to be helped in the study of Divinity, but a Christian, next to the Book of God, is to look into the book of his own heart, and to read over that, and this will help you to contentment in three ways: 1. By studying your heart you will come soon to discover wherein your discontent lies. When you are discontented you will find out the root of any discontent if you study your heart well. Many men and women are discontented, and the truth is they do not know why; they think this and the other thing is the cause. But a man or woman who knows their own heart will soon find out where the root of their discontent lies, that it lies in some corruption and disorder of the heart, that through God's mercy I have now found out. It is similar to the case of a little child who is very awkward in the house, and when a stranger comes in he does not know what the matter is. Perhaps he will give the child a rattle, or a nut, or something of the sort to quiet it, but when the nurse comes she knows the temper and disposition of the child, and therefore knows how to calm it. It is just the same here: when we are strangers to our own hearts we are powerfully discontented, and do not know how to quiet ourselves, because we do not know wherein the disquiet lies, but if we are very well versed in our own hearts, when anything happens to unsettle us, we soon find out the cause of it, and so quickly become quiet. When a man has a watch, and understand the use of every wheel and pin, if it goes amiss he will soon find out the cause of it; but when someone has no skill in a watch, if it goes amiss he does not know what is the matter, and therefore cannot mend it. So indeed our hearts are as a watch, and there are many wheels and windings and turnings there, and we should labor to know our hearts well, that when they are out of tune, we may know what is the matter.
2. This knowledge of our hearts will help us to contentment, because by it we shall come to know what best suits our condition. A man who does not know his own heart does not think what need he has of affliction, and for that reason is uneasy, but when God comes with afflictions to the man or woman who have studied their own hearts, they can say, 'I would not have been without this affliction for anything in the world, God has so suited this affliction to my condition, and has come in such a way that if this affliction had not come I am afraid I should have fallen into sin.' When a poor countryman takes medicine, the medicine works, but he thinks it will kill him, because he does not know the bad humours that are in his body, and therefore he does not understand how suitable the medicine is for him. But if a doctor takes a purge, and it makes him extremely sick: 'I like this the better' he says, 'it is only working on the humor that I know is the cause of my disease', and because of that such a man who has knowledge and understanding of his body, and the cause of his disorder, is not troubled or disturbed. So would we be if we did but know the disorders of our own hearts. Carnal men and women do not know their own spirits, and therefore they fling and vex themselves at every affliction that befalls them, they do not know what disorders are in their hearts which may be healed by their afflictions, if it pleases God to give them a sanctified use of them.
3. By knowing their own hearts they know what they are able to manage, and by this means they come to be content. Perhaps the Lord takes away many comforts from them that they had before, or denies them some things that they hoped to have got. Now by knowing their hearts they know that they were not able to manage such wealth, and they were not able to manage such prosperity. God saw it, and, a poor soul says, 'I am in some measure convinced by looking into my own heart that I was not able to manage such a condition.' A man desires greedily to hold on to more than he is able to manage, and so undoes himself. Countrymen observe that if they over-stock their land, it will quickly spoil them, and so a wise husbandman who knows how much his ground will bear is not troubled that he has not as much stock as others-why? Because he knows he has not got enough ground for as great a stock, and that quiets him. Many men and women who do not know their own hearts would fain have as prosperous a position as others, but if they knew their own hearts they would know that they were not able to manage it.
Suppose one of your little children of three or four were crying for the coat of her sister who is twelve or perhaps even twenty, and said, 'Why may not I have a coat as long as my sister's?' If she had, it would soon trip up her heels, and scratch her face. But when the child comes to understanding, she is not discontented because her coat is not as long as her sister's, but says, 'My coat fits me,' and therein she is content. So if we come to understanding in the school of Christ we will not cry, Why have I not got such wealth as others have?, but, The Lord sees that I am not able to manage it and I see it myself by knowing my own heart. There are some children who, if they see a knife, will cry for it because they do not know their strength and that they are not able to manage it, but you know they are not able to manage it and therefore you will not give it them, and when they come to sufficient understanding to know that they are not able to manage it, they will not cry for it. Similarly we would not cry for some things if we knew that we were not able to manage them. When you vex and fret for what you have not got, I may say to you as Christ said, 'You know not of what spirit you are.' It was a saying of Cecolampadius to Parillus, when they were speaking about his extreme poverty, 'Not so poor, though I have been very poor, yet I would be poorer; I could be willing to be poorer than I am.' As if he were to say, The truth is, the Lord knew what was more suitable for me, and I knew that my own heart was such that a poor condition was more suitable to me than a rich. So certainly would we say, if we knew our own hearts, that such and such a condition is better for me than if it had been otherwise.
7. THE SEVENTH LESSON BY WHICH CHRIST TEACHES CONTENTMENT IS the burden of a prosperous outward condition. One who comes into Christ's school to be instructed in this art never attains to any great skill in it until he comes to understand the burden that is in a prosperous condition.
Objection. You will say, 'What burden is there in a prosperous condition?' Answer. Yes, there is certainly a great burden, and it needs great strength to bear it. Just as men need strong brains to bear strong wine, so they need strong spirits to bear prosperous conditions, and not to do themselves hurt. Many men and women look at the shine and glitter of prosperity, but they little think of the burden. There is a fourfold burden in a prosperous condition.
1. There is a burden of trouble. A rose has its prickles, and the Scripture says that he that will be rich pierceth himself through with many sorrows (
1 Timothy 6:10). If a man's heart is set upon being rich, such a man will pierce himself through with many sorrows: he looks upon the delight and glory of riches which appears outwardly, but he does not consider what piercing sorrows he may meet with in them. The consideration of the trouble that is in a prosperous condition, I have many times thought of, and I cannot think of anything better to compare it with than to travelling in some open country, where round about is very fair and sandy ground, and you see a town a great way off in a valley and you thin, Oh how well situated that town is; but when you come and ride into the town, you ride through a dirty lane and through a lot of fearfully dirty holes. You could not see the dirty lane and holes when you were two or three miles off. In the same way, sometimes we look upon the prosperity of men and think, this man lives well and comfortably, but if we only knew what troubles he has in his family, in his possessions, in his dealings with men, we would not think his position so happy. A man may have a very fine new shoe, but nobody knows where it pinches him except the one who has it on; so you think certain men are happy, but they may have many troubles that you little think of.
2. There is a burden of danger in it. Men in a prosperous position are in a great deal of danger. You see sometimes in the evening that when you light up your candles, the moths and gnats will fly up and down in the candle and scorch their wings, and they fall down dead there. So there is a great deal of danger in a prosperous estate, for men who are set upon a pinnacle on high are in greater danger than other men are. Honey, we know, invites bees and wasps to it, and the sweet of prosperity invites the Devil and temptation. Men in a prosperous position are subject to many temptations that other men are not subject to. The Scripture calls the Devil Beelzebub, that is, the God of flies, and so Beelzebub comes where the honey of prosperity is. Yes, they are in very great danger of temptations who are in a prosperous condition. The dangers that men in a prosperous position have more than others should be considered by those who are lower. Think to yourself: though they are above me, yet they are in more danger than I am.
Tall trees are a great deal more broken than low shrubs, and you know when a ship has all its sails up in a storm, even the top sail, it is in more danger than one which has all its sails drawn in. Similarly, men who have their top sail and all up so finely, are more likely to be drowned, drowned in perdition, than other men. You know what the Scripture says, how hard it is for rich men to go into the Kingdom of Heaven; such a text should make poor people content with their state.
We have a striking example of this in the children of Kohath: you will find that they were in a more excellent position than the other Levites, but they were in more danger than the others, and more trouble. That the children of Kohath were in a higher position than the other Levites I will show you from the fourth chapter of Numbers. There you find what their position was: 'This shall be a service of the sons of Kohath in the tabernacle of the congregation, about the most holy things.' Mark this, the Levites were exercised about holy things, but the service of the sons of Kohath was about the most holy things of all. And you find in the 21st of Joshua that God honored the other Levites, which honor the children of Aaron (being of the families of the Kohathites, who were the children of Levi) had, for theirs was the first lot (
Joshua 21:10) and they were preferred before the other families of Levi. Those who were employed in the most honorable employment had the most honorable lot, the first lot fell to them. Thus you see how God honored the children of the Kohathites. But the other Levites might say, 'How has God preferred this family before us?' They are indeed honored more than the others. But notice the burden that comes with their honor; I will show you it out of two Scriptures. The first is
Numbers 7:6-9, 'And Moses took the wagons and four oxen he gave unto the sons of Gershom, according to their service, and four wagons and eight oxen he gave unto the sons of Merari according to their service, under the hand of Ithamar the son of Aaron the priest'; but in the ninth verse he says, 'Unto the sons of Kohath he gave none, because the service of the sanctuary that belonged unto them, was, that they should bear upon their shoulders.' Mark, the other Levites had oxen and wagons given to them, to make their service easier, but, he says, to the sons of Kohath he gave none, but they should bear their service on their shoulders. And that is the reason why God was so displeased, because they wanted more ease in God's service than God would have them, for whereas they should have carried it upon their shoulders, they would carry it upon a cart. Here you see the first burden that they had, beyond what the other Levites had. And indeed, those who are in a more honorable place than others have a burden to carry on their shoulders that those who are under them to not think of, while others have ways of easing their burden. Many times those who are employed in the ministry, or the magistracy, who sit at the stern to order the great affairs of the commonwealth and state, though you think they have a fine life, they lie awake when you are asleep. If you knew the burden that lay upon their spirits, you would think that your labor and burden were very little in comparison of theirs.
There is another burden of danger in more than the rest, and you will find it in Numbers 4:17: 'And the Lord spake unto Moses and unto Aaron saying, Cut ye not off the tribe of the families of the Kohathites from among the Levites, but thus do unto them that they may live and not die: When they approach unto the most holy things, Aaron and his sons shall go in and appoint them every one to his service and to his burden; but they shall not go in to see when the holy things are covered, lest they die.' Mark this text: the Lord says to Moses and Aaron, 'Cut ye not off the tribe of the families of the Kohathites from among the Levites', cut them not off- Why? What had they done? Had they done anything amiss? No, they had not done anything to provoke God; but the meaning is this: take great care to instruct the family of the Kohathites in the duty that they were to do, for, said God, they are in a great deal of danger, serving in the most holy things. If they go in to see the holy things more than God would have them do, it is as much as their lives are worth, and therefore, if you neglect them, and do not inform them thoroughly in their duty, they would be undone, said God. They are to administer in the most holy things, and if they should but dare to presume to do anything otherwise than God would have them, about those services, it would cost them their lives; and therefore do not be careless of them, for if you neglect them you will be a means of cutting them off. Thus you see the danger that the family of the Kohathites were in; they were preferred before others, but they were in more danger. So you think of certain men in a parish who bear the sway and are employed in public service, and carry all before them, but you do not consider their danger. And similarly ministers stand in the forefront of all the spite and malice of ungodly men; certainly God employs them in an honorable service, and a service that the angels would delight in, but though the service is honorable, above other works, yet the burden of danger is likewise greater than the danger of men in an inferior position. Now when the soul gets wisdom from Christ to think of the danger that it is in, then it will be content with the low estate in which it is. A poor man who is in a low condition, thinks, 'I am low and others are raised, but I know now what their burden is', and so, if he is rightly instructed in the school of Christ, he comes to be contented.
3. In a prosperous condition there is the burden of duty. You look only at the sweetness and comfort, the honor and respect that they have who are in a prosperous position, but you must consider the duty that they owe to God. God requires more duty at their hands than at yours. You are ready to be discontented because you have not got such gifts and abilities as others have, but God requires more duty of those who have greater wealth than of you who have not such wealth. Oh, you would fain have the honor, but can you carry the burden of the duty? 4. The last is the burden of account in a prosperous condition. Those who enjoy great wealth and a prosperous condition have a great account to give to God. We are all stewards, and one is a steward to a meaner man, perhaps but to an ordinary knight, another is a steward to a nobleman, an earl-now the steward of the meaner man has not so much as the other under his hand, and shall he be discontented because of this? No, he thinks, I have less, and I will have to give the less account. So your account, in comparison of the minister's and magistrate's, will be nothing: you are to give an account of your own souls and so are they, you are to give an account for your own family and so are they, but you will not have to give account for congregations, and for towns, and cities and countries. You think of princes and kings-Oh, what a glorious position they are in! But what do you think of a king who has to give account for the disorder and wickedness in a kingdom which he might possibly have prevented? What an abundance of glory might a prince bring to God if he bent his soul and all his thoughts to lift up the name of God in his kingdom! Now what God loses through the lack of this, that king, prince or governor must give an account for. There is a saying of Chrysostom on that place in Hebrews where it is said that men must give an account or their souls: he wonders that any man in a public place can be saved, because the account they have to give is so great. I remember I have read a saying of Philip, the King of Spain: though the story says of him that he had such a natural conscience that he professed he would not do anything against his conscience, no, not in secret, for gaining a world, yet when this man was to die, 'Oh', he said, 'that I had never been a king! Oh, that I had lived a solitary and private life all my days! Then I should have died a great deal more securely, I should with more confidence have gone before the throne of God to give my account. This is the fruit of my kingdom, because I had all the glory of it, it has made my account harder to give to God'. Thus he cried out when he was to die.
And therefore you who live in private positions, remember this: if you come to Christ's school and are taught this lesson, you will be quiet in your afflictions, or in your private position, because your account is not as great as others. There is a saying I remember meeting with in Latimer's sermons which he was wont to use: 'The half is more than the whole'; that is, when a man is in a mean condition, he is but half way towards the height of prosperity that others are in, yet, he says, this is safer though it is a meaner condition than others.
Those who are in a high and prosperous condition have annexed to it the burden of trouble, of danger, of duty, and of account. And thus you see how Christ trains up his scholars in his school, and though they are otherwise weak, yet by his Spirit he gives them wisdom to understand these things aright.
8. CHRIST TEACHES THEM WHAT A GREAT AND DREADFUL EVIL IT IS TO BE GIVEN UP TO ONE'S HEART'S DESIRES.
It is, indeed, a dreadful evil, one of the most hideous and fearful evils that can befall any man on the face of the earth, for God to give him up to his heart's desires. A kindred truth is that spiritual judgments are more fearful than any outward judgments. Now once the soul understands these things, a man will be content when God crosses him in his desires. You are crossed in your desires, and so you are discontented and vexed and fretted about it; is that your only misery, that you are crossed in your desires? No, no, you are infinitely mistaken; the greatest misery of all is for God to give you up to your heart's lusts and desires, to give you up to your own counsels. So you have it in Psalm 81:11, 12: 'But my people would not hearken to my voice, and Israel would none of me,'-what then?-'So I gave them up unto their own heart lust, and they walked in their own counsels.' 'Oh let me not have such a misery as that', said Bernard, 'for to give me what I would have, to give me my heart's desires is one of the most hideous judgments in the world.' In Scripture we have no certain, evident sign of a reprobate, we cannot say, unless we knew a man had committed the sin against the Holy Ghost, that he is a reprobate, for we do not know what God may work upon him, but the nearest of all and the blackest sign of a reprobate is this: for God to give a man up to his heart's desires. All the pain of diseases, all the calamities that can be thought of in the world are no judgments in comparison of this.
Now when the soul comes to understand this, it cries out, why am I so troubled that I have not got my desires? There is nothing that God conveys his wrath more through than a prosperous condition. I remember reading of a Jewish tradition about Uzziah: when God struck him with leprosy, they say that the beams of the sun darted upon the forehead of Uzziah, and he was struck with leprosy in this way. The Scripture says, indeed, that the priests looked upon him, but they say that there was a special light and beam of the sun on his forehead that revealed the leprosy to the priests, and they say that was the way of conveying of it. Whether that was true or not, I am sure that this is true, that the strong beams of the sun of prosperity upon many men make them to be leprous. Would any poor man in the country have been discontented that he was not in Uzziah's position? He was a great King, aye, but there was the leprosy in his forehead. The poor man might say, Though I live meanly in the country yet I thank God my body is whole and sound. Would not any man rather have homespun and skins of beasts to clothe himself with, tan to have satin and velvet that had plague in it? The Lord conveys the plague of his curse through prosperity, as much as through any thing in the world, and therefore when the soul comes to understand this, this makes it quiet and content.
And then, spiritual judgments are the greatest judgments of all. The Lord lays such and such an affliction upon my outward wealth, but what if he had taken away my life? A man's health is a greater mercy than his wealth, and you poor people should consider that. is the health of a man's body better than his wealth? What then is the health of a man's soul? That is a great deal better. The Lord has inflicted external judgments, but he has not inflicted spiritual judgments on you, he has not given you up to hardness of heart, and taken away the spirit of prayer from you in your afflicted condition. Oh, then, be of good comfort though you have outward afflictions upon you; still your soul, your more excellent part is not afflicted. Now when the soul comes to understand this, that here lies the sore wrath of God, to be given up to one's desires, and to have spiritual judgments: this quiets him, and contents him, though outward afflictions are on him. Perhaps one of a man's children has the fit of an ague or toothache, but his next door neighbor has the plague, or all his children have died of it. Now shall he be so discontented that his children have toothache when his neighbour's children are dead? Think thus: Lord, you have laid an afflicted condition upon me, but, Lord, you have not given me the plague of a hard heart.
Now if you take these eight things before mentioned, and lay them together, you may well apply that Scripture in the 29th of Isaiah, the last verse, where it says, 'They also that erred in spirit shall come to understanding; and they that murmured shall learn doctrine.' Have there been any of you, as I fear many may be found, who have erred in spirit, even in regard of this truth that we are now preaching of, and many who have murmured? Oh, that this day you might come to understand, that Christ would bring you into his school, and teach you understanding. 'And they that murmured shall learn doctrine'-what doctrine shall they learn? These doctrines that I have opened to you. And if you will but thoroughly study these lessons that I have set before your eyes, it will be a special help and means to cure your murmurings and repinings at the hand of God, and so you will come to learn Christian contentment. The Lord teach you thoroughly by his Spirit these lessons of contentment! I will only add one more lesson in the learning of contentment and then I shall come to the fourth head, the excellence of contentment.
9. THE NINE AND LAST LESSON WHICH CHRIST TEACHES Those whom he instructs in this art of contentment is the right knowledge of God's providence, and therein are four things.
1. The universality of providence, wherein the soul must be thoroughly instructed in to come to this art of contentment. To understand the universality of providence, that is, how the providence of God goes through the whole world and extends itself to everything. Not only that God by his providence rules the world, and governs all things in general, but that it reaches to every detail; not only to order the great affairs of kingdoms, but it reaches to every man's family; it reaches to every person in the family; it reaches to every condition; yea, to every happening, to everything that falls out concerning you in every particular: not one hair falls from your head, not a sparrow to the ground, without the providence of God. Nothing befalls you, good or evil, but there is a providence of the infinite eternal first Being in that thing; and therein is God's infiniteness, that it reaches to the least things, to the least worm that is under your feet.
Then much more does it reach to you who are a rational creature; the providence of God is more special towards rational creatures than any others. Now to understand in a spiritual way the universality of providence in every particular happening from morning to night every day, that there is nothing that befalls you but there is a hand of God in it-this is from God, and is a great help to contentment. Every man will grant the truth of the thing, that it is so, but as the Apostle says, in
Hebrews 11:3: 'By faith we understand that the worlds were made'; by faith we understand it. Why by faith? we can understand by reason that no finite thing can be from itself, and therefore that the world could not be of itself, but we understand it by faith in another way than by reason. So whatever we understand of God in providence, yet when Christ takes u into his school we come to understand it by faith in a better manner than we do by reason.
2. The efficacy that is in providence. That is, that the providence of God goes on in all things, with strength and power, and will not to be altered by our power. Suppose we are discontented and vexed and troubled, and we fret and rage, yet we need not think we will alter the course of providence by our discontent. Some of Job's friends, when they saw that he was impatient, said to him: 'Shall the earth be forsaken for thee? and shall the rock be removed out of his place?' (Job 18:4).
So I may say to every discontented, impatient heart: what, shall the providence of God change its course for you? Do you think it such a weak thing, that because it does not please you it must alter its course? Whether or not you are content the providence of God will go on, it has an efficacy of power, of virtue, to carry all things before it. Can you make one hair black or white with all the stir that you are making? When you are in a ship at sea which has all its sails spread with a full gale of wind, and is swiftly sailing, can you make it stand still by running up and down in the ship? No more can you make the providence of God alter and change its course with your vexing and fretting; it will go on with power, do what you can. Do but understand the power and efficacy of providence and it will be a mighty means helping you to learn this lesson of contentment.
3. The infinite variety of the works of providence, and yet the order of things, one working towards another. there is an infinite variety of the works of God in an ordinary providence, and yet they all work in an orderly way. We put these two things together, for God in his providence causes a thousand thousand things to depend one upon another. There are an infinite number of wheels, as I may say, in the works of providence; put together all the works that ever God did from all eternity or ever will do, and they all make up but one work, and they have been as several wheels that have had their orderly motion to attain to the end that God from all eternity has appointed.
We, indeed, look at things by pieces, we look at one detail and do not consider the relation that one thing has to another, but God looks at all things at once, and sees the relation that one thing has to another. When a child looks at a clock, it looks first at one wheel, and then at another wheel: he does not look at them all together or the dependence that one has upon another; but the workman has his eyes on them all together and sees the dependence of all, one upon another: so it is in God's providence. Now notice how this works to contentment: when a certain passage of providence befalls me, that is one wheel, and it may be that if this wheel were stopped, a thousand other things might come to be stopped by this. In a clock, stop but one wheel and you stop every wheel, because they are dependant upon one another. So when God has ordered a thing for the present to be thus and thus, how do you know how many things depend upon this thing? God may have some work to do twenty years hence that depends on this passage of providence that falls out this day or this week.
And here, by the way, we may see what a great deal of evil there is in discontent, for you would have God's providence altered in such and such a detail: now if it were only in that detail, and that had relation to nothing else it would not be so much, but by your desire to have your will in such a detail, you may cross God in a thousand things that he has to bring about, because it is possible that a thousand things may depend upon that one thing that you would fain have otherwise than it is. It is just as if a child should cry out and say, 'Let that one wheel stop'; though he says only one wheel, yet if that were to stop, it is as much as if he should say they must all stop.
So in providence: let but this one passage of providence stop-it is as much as if a thousand stopped. Let me therefore be quiet and content, for though I am crossed in some one particular thing God attains his end; at least, his end may be furthered in a thousand things by this one thing that I am crossed in. Therefore let a man consider, this is an act of providence, and how do I know what God is about to do, and how many things depend upon this providence? Now we are willing to be crossed in one thing, so that our friend may attain to what he desires in a thousand things. If you have a love and friendship to God, be willing to be crossed in a few things, that the Lord may have his work go on in general, in a thousand other things. Now that is the third thing to be understood in God's providence, which Christ teaches those whom he instructs in the art of contentment.
4. Christ teaches them the knowledge of providence, that is, The knowledge of God's usual way in his dealings with his people more particularly. The other is the knowledge of God in his providence in general. But the right understanding of the way of God in his providence towards his people and saints is a notable lesson to help us in the art of contentment. If we once get to know a man's way and course we may better suit, and be content to live with him, than before we got to know his way and course. When we come to live in a society with men and women, the men and women may be good, but till we come to know their way and course and disposition, many things may cross us, and we think they are very hard, but when we come to be acquainted with their way and spirits, then we can suit and cotton with them very well; the reason of our trouble is because we do not understand their way. So it is with you: those who are but as strangers to God, and do not understand the way of God are troubled with the providences of God, and they think them very strange and cannot tell what to make of them, because they do not understand the ordinary course and way of God towards his people. Sometimes if a stranger comes into a family and sees certain things done, he wonders what is the matter, but those who are acquainted with it are not at all troubled by it. When servants first come together and do not know one another, they may be froward and discontented, but when they get to be acquainted with one another's ways, then they are more contented; just so it is when we first come to understand God's ways.
But you will say, What do you understand by God's ways? By that I mean three things, and when we get to know them we shall not wonder so much at the providence of God, but be quiet and contented with them: 1. GOD'S ORDINARY COURSE IS THAT HIS PEOPLE IN THIS WORLD SHOULD BE IN AN AFFLICTED CONDITION.
God has revealed in his Word, and we may there find he has set it down as his ordinary way even from the beginning of the world to this day, but more especially in the times of the Gospel, that his people here should be in an afflicted condition. Now men who do not understand this stand and wonder to hear that the people of God are afflicted, and their enemies prosper in their way. When those who seek God in his way and seek for reformation are afflicted, wounded and spoiled, and their enemies prevail, they wonder at it; but one who is in the school of Christ is taught by Jesus Christ that God by his eternal counsels has set this as his course and way, to bring up his people in this world in an afflicted condition. Therefore the Apostle says, 'Account it not strange concerning the fiery trial' (1 Peter 4:12). We are not therefore to be discontented with it, seeing God has set such a course and way, and we know it is the will of God that it should be so.
2. USUALLY WHEN GOD INTENDS THE GREATEST MERCY TO ANY OF HIS PEOPLE HE BRINGS THEM INTO THE LOWEST CONDITION.
God seems to go quite across and work in a contrary way: when he intends the greatest mercies to his people he first usually brings them into a very low conditions. If it is a bodily mercy, an outward mercy that he intends to bestow, he brings them physically low, and outwardly low; if it is a mercy in their possessions that he intends to bestow, he brings them low in that and then raises them; and in their reputations, he brings them low there, and then raises them; and in their spirits God ordinarily brings their spirits low and then raises their spirits. Usually the people of God, before the greatest comforts, have the greatest afflictions and sorrows. Now those who understand God's ways think that when God brings his people into sad conditions, he is leaving and forsaking them, and that God does not intend any great good to them. But a child of God, who is instructed in this way of God, is not troubled; 'My condition is very low,' he says, 'but this is God's way when he intends the greatest mercy, to bring men under the greatest afflictions.' When he intended to raise Joseph to be second in the kingdom, God cast him into a dungeon a little before. So when God intended to raise David and set him upon the throne, he made him to be hunted as a partridge in the mountains (
1 Samuel 26:29). God dealt this way with his Son: Christ himself went into glory by suffering (Hebrews 2:10); and if God so deals with his own Son, much more with his people.
A little before daybreak you will observe it is darker than it was any time before, so God will make our conditions a little darker before the mercy comes. When God bestowed the last great mercy at Naseby* we were in a very low condition; God knew what he had to do beforehand, he knew that his time was coming for great mercies: it is the way of God to do so. [*In 1645, the parliamentary army won a decisive victory against the Royalists at Naseby, Northamptonshire. The messages which comprise this book were preached by Burroughs in that year.] Be instructed aright in this course and way that God is accustomed to walk in and that will greatly help us to contentment.
3. IT IS THE WAY OF GOD TO WORK BY CONTRARIES, TO TURN THE GREATEST EVIL INTO THE GREATEST GOOD.
To grant great good after great evil is one thing, and to turn great evil into the greatest good is another, and yet that is God's way: the greatest good that God intends for his people, he many times works out of the greatest evil, the greatest light is brought out of the greatest darkness. I remember, Luther has a striking expression for this: he says, 'It is the way of God: he humbles that he might exalt, he kills that he might make alive, he confounds that he might glorify.' This is the way of God, he says, but every one does not understand it. This is the art of arts, and the science of sciences, the knowledge of knowledges, to understand this, that God when he will bring life, brings it out of death, he brings joy out of sorrow, and he brings prosperity out of adversity, yea and many times brings grace out of sin, that is, makes use of sin to work furtherance of grace. it is the way of God to bring all good out of evil, not only to overcome the evil, but to make the evil work toward the good. Now when the soul comes to understand this, it will take away our murmuring and bring contentment into spirits. But I fear there are but few who understand it aright; perhaps they read of such things, and hear such things in a sermon, but they are not instructed in this by Jesus Christ, that this is the way of God, to bring the greatest good out of the greatest evil.
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