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1 TIMOTHY VI. 6.
Godliness with contentment is great gain.
The desire of gain, in one form or another, is universal : for, though no one can seek “ the true “ riches" for himself without disinterested love to God and his neighbour, yet love to himself and thirst after happiness cannot be extinguished; being essential to our nature as God originally constituted it, and not superinduced by the entrance of sin. If, however, the apostle's compendious maxim were generally believed, how many vain projects would be superseded! what fatigues, dangers, anxieties, envies, contentions, frauds, oppressions, wars, murders, and mischiefs might be prevented!
The context is worthy of our peculiar attention. The servants in those days were generally slaves ; and it frequently happened that Christians were the property of pagans, Such a condition is commonly thought very wretched, and slaves have seldom escaped cruel usage: yet the apostle elsewhere says, “ Art thou called being a servant ? care “ not for it.” The Christian slave is “ Christ's “ freed man;" for, “if the Son make you free, “then are ye free indeed :” but the ungodly master is in deplorable bondage ; “ for he that committeth “ sin, is the servant of sin.”
In this view of the subject the apostle here says, “Let as many servants as are under the yoke “ count their own masters worthy of all honour ; “ that the name of God and his doctrine be not
blasphemed.” For, if Christian servants behaved less respectfully to their masters than others did, the heathen would blame their religion, as teaching them to violate the duties of their station. “ And they,” says he, “ that have believing mas
ters, let them not despise them because they are “ brethren ; but rather do them service, because
they are faithful and beloved, partakers of the “ benefit." No doubt the involuntary servitude of those, who have not by atrocious crimes forfeited their liberty, is inconsistent with the moral law of God; and, if real Christianity should become universal, slavery must be finally abolished. But the apostles were not legislators or civil magistrates : as ministers of religion, they taught men how to act in their several situations, as matters then stood : and, when the rulers embraced the gospel, it was proper that they too should be taught their duty, and instructed to apply a legal and regular remedy to the evil.' But it would have exceedingly increased the opposition made to the gospel, if the preachers of it had attempted, by their own influence, to subvert the existing system in this respect; or had even required Christian masters indiscriminately to liberate their slaves. Whereas, if they were taught to use them as brethren, the ends of humanity would be effectually answered, as to the individuals concerned, and the example would have the most salutary tendency.
Having stated this matter, the apostle next shewed the sources and consequences of the contrary doctrine; exhorted Timothy to withdraw from vain disputers, who “supposed that gain was
godliness ;” and then subjoined the words of the text, “but godliness with contentment is great “gain;" for, says he, “ we brought nothing into “ this world, and it is certain we can carry nothing “ out. And, having food and raiment, let us be “ therewith content."
In considering the subject we may,
I. Notice the connexion between godliness and contentment:
II. Shew in what respects godliness with contentment is great gain :
III. Deduce some practical instructions.
I. We notice the connexion between godliness and contentment, as it is evidently implied in the text.
The word godliness frequently occurs in the writings of the apostles, and must therefore be understood according to the tenour of their doctrine. We must not consider it merely as a proper regulation of our affections and conduct towards God, according to the first table of the moral law; but as implying especially the dispositions and demeanour suited to a sinner under a dispensation of mercy, and invited to reconciliation with his offended God through the mediator of the new covenant.
When this has been duly attended to it will evidently appear, that deep humility and unfeigned repentance constitute an essential part of evangelical godliness ; for, unless we habitually possess
this frame of mind, we cannot sincerely make those confessions and supplications, or present those sacrifices of praise and thanksgiving, which are peculiar to Christianity. Now every reflecting man must perceive, that deep humility, accompanied with cheering hope, exceedingly tends to produce contentment. A vast proportion of the impatience and fretfulness of mankind results from a false estimate of their own merits and consequence. This induces them to consider their trials great, their comforts few and trivial, the least affront intolerable, and every kind and degree of respect inadequate, except unqualified adulation and submission. But such views of Jehovah and the adoring seraphim, as filled Isaiah with self-abasement; or such apprehensions of the divine majesty, as caused Job to “abhor himself, “and repent in dust and ashes;" would give them very different views in these respects. Did they enter into the feelings of the apostle, when he called himself the “chief of sinners,” and “less than “ the least of all saints ;” were they ready to own with the centurion, “Lord, I am not worthy that “ thou shouldest come under my roof;" or with John Baptist, “ I am not worthy to loose his shoe“ latchet ;” a total revolution would take place in all their sentiments and sensations about outward comforts and trials, and the usage they meet with from those around them. The sharpest affliction would then appear light and momentary, compared with their deserts ; the meanest provision would be received with lively gratitude; while with the patriarch they confessed, “we are not “ worthy of the least of all thy mercies :" the most unfavourable situation or disagreeable employment would be considered as better than they have a right to expect : and under the greatest injuries or affronts they would submit to the justice of God, who may correct or punish by whatever instruments he pleases.
Humble thoughts of themselves reconcile men to obscure stations, mean circumstances, and common occupations, as most suited to them: and, when they are evidently called to more public services, they enter on them with reluctance and diffidence; except as lively faith renders them superior to their fears, and a sense of duty engages them to proceed. Such men are ready to stoop, and “in honour to prefer others ;" they do not complain of being buried in situations, where they are undervalued or neglected. They “think so“berly of themselves, and as they ought to think ;" and this secures them from manifold disappointments and vexations, to which other men are exposed. That, it has been said, ' will break a proud 'man's heart, which will scarcely break a humble 'man's sleep:' and it is certain that many of the troubles of life affect our peace almost in exact proportion to the degree of our pride or humility. The common opinion, therefore, that self-abasement produces melancholy, and that a favourable opinion of ourselves tends to cheerfulness, is an egregious mistake. The former may indeed depress the spirits, when connected with misapprehension, ignorance, and unbelief; and the latter may produce a flow of agreeable sensations, when nothing occurs to ruffle the mind. Such a state, however, is so seldom to be expected in this chang