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present depraved state, it is not a temper to which we are naturally disposed: whether we look into our own hearts, or observe the world about us, we may easily perceive this. Whoever is possessed of it, is a learner before he attains it. And without doubt the apostle means, that he learned it in the school of Christ; by laying to heart the principles inculcated by Christianity, which were sufficient to animate such a temper, by improving. every other advantage tit to form him to it, and by the gracious teaching of the divine Spirit making all successful. Thus he learned it gradually, and became from time to time a better proficient. So may, so ought we to arrive at such a temper.
1. Christianity sets in view the most solid principles of contentment, and the strongest motives to it. Such as,
The perfections of the blessed God, whose providence disposes our lot. He is just and righteous in all his proceedings. As a perfect being, and "the judge of all the earth," he cannot but do right. If we firmly believe this, though we should not be able to account for some particular administrations, yet we shall readily impute that to our own ignorance and narrow views, rather than call in question so indisputable a principle: whatever occurs, we shall "ascribe righteousness to our Maker," Job xxxvi. 3. His almighty power is another reason to silence every murmur; for what advantage can it be to repine at our lot, when we are entirely in his hand, who "doth whatever pleaseth him in the armies of heaven, and among the inhabitants of the earth," Dan. iv. 3.5. Nor is this absolute power in the hands of a malevolent and unkind being, hut one of infinite goodness, who loves his creatures, and consults their good; and has unerring wisdom to judge in every case, and for every person, what is best for them. We "know not what is good for" ourselves in ** this life we have often found already, that if we had had our own desires, it must have been in anger, and to our real prejudice. What reason, therefore, have we to be content, and even to rejoice, that "our times are in God's hands 7" Christ, in his sermon upon the mount, strikes at the root of distrustful and discontented cares, by representing the bounty and the wisdom of providence: the bounty of it, as extending to the meanest creatures, to "the fowls of the air," Matt. vi. 26.; and the wisdom of it, in that "our heavenly Father knows what we need," ver. 32.
The relations in which we stand to God, still enforce,the argument to contentment. As we are his creatures, we are rightfully at his dispose. "Wo to him that strives with his Maker : let the potsherd strive with the potsherds of the earth: shall the clay say to him that fashioneth it, What makest thou?" Isa. xlv. J). We forget our condition and original, if we acquiesce not in the determination of the Author of our beings. This consideration, that all is derived from God, composed Job into a calm, Job. i. 21. "The Lord gave, and the Lord hath taken away ; blessed be the name of the Lord." If we consider ourselves, farther, as such who have offended him, and forfeited every benefit, even life itself, can there be any just reason for discontent, because we enjoy not all the comforts we can think of? It is grace, that we have any left. But especially, if we can justly hope, that we are his children in the most distinguishing sense, this may well reconcile us to any circumstances of our lot here. If we are brought into his family by Christ, so that he is our lather, our friend, and our God, we have a satisfying portion, how little soever we may enjoy of wordly good, and may justly say with Jacob, Gen. xxxiii. 11. "I have enough or, as it is in the Hebrew, " I have all things :" for if God and Christ be ours, "all things are ours," as far as God sees that they will conduce to our real interest, 1 Cor. iii. 21. "Distress, or famine, or nakedness, height, or depth, shall not separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord."
The fulness and extent of the divine promises, is a constant reason for contentment. These are breasts of consolation, from which we may draw refreshment in every state of lite; they are, either particularly suited to our circumstances, or more generally comprehend them. That one promise of "God's being with us," might carry a Christian cheerfully through life. Upon this principle the apostle recommends contentment, Heb. xiii. 5. "Let your conversation be without covetousness, and be content with such things as ye have ; tor he hath said, I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee." 1" the most solitary or mean condition, we cannot be alone or destitute, if "the Father is with us."
The various mercies which actually attend us in every
wtnte, if they be observed and seriously meditated upon, will strongly oblige to contentment. We are never in so low and uneasy circumstances in this world, tbat there are no mixtures of mercy and favour. If we have not abundance, yet have we not necessaries ?" Lack we any thing?" If we lose some dear relation, yet are not others left? If we have met with some disappointments yet are we stripped of our all? Have we no instances of a lower • and straiter condition than our own? Certainly we must be very ungrateful to God, to overlook the advantageous parts of our lot, because of some circumstances which we would not choose.
The shortness of our time below, and the approaches of death, loudly speak the reasonableness of contentment with our present condition. A traveller will be contented on the road with the accommodations he meets with, though they should not be the best, upon the prospect that he is going home, where he shall have bettor; especially if he expects to be soon at home: so a Christian should be easy with his lot in his short pilgrimage through this world; which he knows is shorter, compared with eternity, than the longest journey he can undertake, compared with the rest of his life on earth; and especially if we consider that we can carry nothing home with us, which will be of service beyond the grave, more than the poorest can; a consideration by which the apostle enforces contentment with a small allowance by the way, 1 Tim. vi. 7> 8, ** We brought nothing into this world, and it is certain we can carry nothing out. And," or, "therefore, having food or raiment, let us be therewith content."
If we look to the eternal world before us, the argument will gather farther strength. If we view the finished misery of sinners that have shot the gulph, who have not so much as a drop of water to cool their tongue, "Wherefore should a living man complain!" a man still among the living, and in the possession of some comforts, who yet is conscious that he deserves to have his lot with the other? On the other hand, if we can entertain hope of heaven as a state we are designed for, where every want shall be supplied, and where perfect unmixed happiness is ready for us; how unbecoming such expectants is it, to fret at our circumstances in the very short intervening passage.
Finally, the folly and mischief of discontent is fit to be re
presented to our minds, to fortify them against it. Fretting and uneasiness is not the way to amend our circumstances; which is an argument suggested by our Saviour, Matt. vi. 27. “Which of you, by taking thought,” or anxious carefulness, “can add one cubit to his stature ?” The word we translate stature, signifies, indifferently, either stature or age; and, accordingly, we may understand Christ to intimate, that we cannot, by our carefulness, add either to the growth of our bodies, or to the length of our lives ; and, therefore, we should, without anxious solicitude, rely upon God's providence, in the way of ordinary industry, for what he sees convenient for us. Discontent is not a likely way to obtain the favour of providence for bettering our condition, nor will it fit us to take the more proper steps on our part toward the accomplishments of our desires. It rather provokes God to walk the more contrary to us, and discomposes our own minds, so as to render them less apt for any prudent endeavours. It increases every uneasiness, instead of lessening it. It adds the weight of guilt to any burthen. It obstructs our enjoyment of the mercies we have, and our thankfulness for them ; and is often the parent of many great sins, which, otherwise, would be very remote from men's thoughts. And it is a great disparagement to our holy profession in the view of the world. 2. Christianity furnishes us with the brightest patterns of o to enforce the precepts of it, and prevent our espair of attaining it. Such a declaration as that in the text, is one of the most rsuasive recommendations of the practice. The apostle ad learned this, and yet he was now in low and strait circumstances: he had now learned to be content in any state, and he could say this, after he had passed through a great variety of difficulties, had been “in weariness and painfulness, in watchings often, in hunger and thirst, in fastings often, in cold and nakedness,” 2 Cor. xi. 27. We are to consider this apostle of the Gentiles as set forth herein, as well as in his obtaining mercy at first, “for a pattern to them which should after believe.” But especially the Lord Jesus is the great pattern of all his followers in this excellent grace. The Lord of glory stooped to the lowest abasement: “Though he was rich, yet for our sakes he became poor;” not only was found in fashion
as a man, but appeared in the world, from his cradle to his grave, in a state of meanness; in his younger years he passed for a carpenter's son; and when he came abroad into his public ministry, "had not a place" of his own " where to lay his head." Yet through the whole of his course, not one expression of discontent was heard: but his behaviour was perfectly suitable to one, that considered himself as come into the world to perform the work assigned him, and that was ready to leave it as soon as that was finished. We should all look upon ourselves in such a view, and look to the example of Jesus, to excite us to be like-minded.
3. Christianity directs us to the most effectual teacher, to make these considerations and helps successful for our actual learning the lesson of contentment; to impress the motives of the gospel upon our hearts and consciences; and, while we are beholding the amiableness of Christ's pattern, "to change us into the same image." And this is the good Spirit of God. Who teaches like him? Under his influences, Paul became such a proficient. And he is equally ready to perform his kind offices for us, if we desire his aids, and are heartily willing to learn of him.
Inference 1. The present state should be considered by us as a state of learning. There are many important lessons, which we are all concerned to learn in Christ's school ;. this of contentment among the rest: and there will be constant room, while we are in the body, for learning every one of them better. The apostle, indeed, in the text, says, that he had already learned to be content. But when he had declared in this very epistle, that "he had not alreadv attained," that is, perfectly, we cannot understand him, that he was become such a proficient in contentment, as to have no room left for farther improvement; but only that he had attained this skill in a competent measure. They are truly commendable who have made a proficiency above others, or above what they were themselves formerly, in any Christian excellence; but they should be still aspiring to the highest form.
2. More depends upon our own spirits, than upon our outward condition, in order to contentment. Paul could say, he had learned to be content, "in whatsoever state he was." This was not because he could choose his own condition, bat