« PreviousContinue »
REMEDY OF DISCONTENTMENT.
The Excellency of Contentation ; and how it is to be had.-The Con
trariety of Estates, wherein. Contentation is to be exercised. If there be any happiness to be found upon earth, it is in that, which we call Contentation. This is a flower, that grows not in every garden. The great Doctor of the Gentiles tells us, that he had it. I have learned, saith he, in what estate soever I am, therewith to be content: I know how to be abased, and I know how to abound * Lo, he could not have taken out this lesson, if he had not learnt it: and he could not have learnt it of any other, than his Master in Heaven. What face soever philosophy may set upon it, all morality cannot reach it; neither could his learned Gamaliel, at whose feet he sat, have put this skill into him: no, he learnt it. since he was a Christian, and now professeth it. So as it appears, there is a Divine Art of Contentation to be attained in the School of Christ : which whosoever hath learnt, hath taken a degree in heaven; and now knows, how to be happy, both in want and abundance.
The nature of man is extremely querulous. We know not what we would have; and, when we have it, we know not how to like it. We would be happy: yet we would not die. We would live long: yet we would not be old. We would be kept in order: yet we would not be chastized with affliction. We are loth to work : yet
of doing nothing. We have no list to stir: yet find long sitting painful t. We have no mind to leave our bed: yet find it à kind of sickness to lie long. We would marry; but would not be troubled with household cares : when once we are married, we wish we had kept single. If, therefore, grace have so mastered nature in us, as to render us content with whatever condition, we have attained to no small measure of perfection. Which way soever the wind blows, the skilful mariner knows how to turn his sails to meet it. The contrariety of estates to which we lie open here, gives us
* Phil. iv. 11. uxlov: Verse 12. Menúmuch.
+ Si sedeas, requies est magna laboris; si mullùm sedeas, labor est. Tert. Carm.
different occasions for the exercise of Contentation. I cannot blame their choice, who desire a middle estate, betwixt want and abundance; and to be free from those inconveniences, which attend both extremes. Wise Solomon was of this diet : Give me neither poverty nor riches; feed me with the food of my meet allowance ; Prov. xxx. 8. Lo, he, that had all, desired rather to have but enough. And, if any estate can afford contentment in this life, surely this is it, in the judgment and experience of the wisest heathen * But, forasmuch as this equal poise is hardly attainable by any man, and is more proper for our wishes and speculation than for our hopes, true wisdom must teach us so to compose ourselves, that we may be fit to entertain the discontentments and dangers of those excesses and defects, which we cannot but meet with in the course of our mortal life: and, surely, we shall find, that both extremes are enemies to this good temper of the soul: prosperity may discompose us, as well as an adverse condition: the sunshine may be as trou. blesome to the traveller, as the wind or rain. Neither know I whether is more hard to manage, of the two; a dejected estate, or a prosperous ; whether we may be more incommodated with a resty horse, or with a tired one.
PART THE FIRST.
CONTENTATION, IN KNOWING HOW TO WANT. Let us begin with that, which nature is wont to think most diffi. cult: that, contrary to the practice of learners, we may try to take out the hardest lesson first. Let us therefore learn, in the first place, UOI TO WANT.
WHAT IT IS TO KNOW HOW TO WANT, AND TO BE ABASED.
do not know how to want. COULD we teach men how not to want, we should have disciples enow. Every man seeks to have, and hates to lack. Could we give an antidote against poverty, it would be too precious. And why can we not teach men even this lesson tov? The Lord is my shepherd, saith David; therefore can I lack nothing ; Ps. xxiii. 1: and most sweetly, elsewhere; Oh, fear the Lord, ye that be his saints; for they, that fear him, lack nothing. The lions do lack and suffer hun.
* Senec. de Tranquil.
ger; but they, which seek the Lord, shall want no manner of thing that is good; Ps. xxxiv. 9, 10. Let God be true, and every man a liar. Certainly, if we were not wanting to God, in our fear of him, in our faithful reliance upon him, in our conscionable seeking of him, he, whose the earth is and the fulness of it, would not suffer our careful endeavours to go weeping away. But, if it so fall out, that bis most wise Providence finds it better for us to be held short in our worldly estate; as it may be the great Physician sees it most for our health to be kept fasting: it is no less worth our learning, to know how to want. For, there is many a one, that wants; but knows not how to want, and therefore his need makes him both offensive and miserable.
There are those, that are poor and proud; one of the Wise Man's three abominations; Ecclus. xxv. 2: foolish Laodiceans, that bear themselves for rich, increased with goods, and lacking nothing; when they are no other than wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked; Rev. iii. 17. These men know not how to want: their heart is too big for their purse : and, surely, pride, though every where odious; yet doth no where so ill, as in rags.
There are those, that are poor and envious; looking with an evil eye upon the better fare of others : as, surely, this vice dwells more commonly in cottages, than in palaces. How displeasedly doth the beggar look upon the larger alms of his neighbour : grudging to another whatever falls beside himself; and misliking his own dole, because the next hath more! whose eye, with the discontented labourers, is evil, because his master's is good; Matt. xx. 15. neither do these men know how to want.
There are those, that want distrustfully; measuring the merciful provision of the Almighty, by the line of their own sense: as the Samaritan peer, when, in the extremity of a present famine, he heard the Prophet foretel a sudden plenty ; Behold, if the Lord would make windows in heaven, might this thing be? 2 Kings vii
. 2. There are those, that want impatiently; repining at God's dealing with them, and making their own impotent anger guilty of a further addition to their misery : as the distressed king of Israel, in a desperate sense of that grievous dearth; Behold, this evil is of the Lord; what should I wait on the Lord any longer ? 2 Kings vi. 33. and those wretched ones, who, when the fourth angel had poured out his phial upon the sun, being scorched with the extremity of the heat, blasphemed the God of Heaven; Rev. xvi. 9, 11. In this kind, was that sinful techiness of Jonah. When I see a poor worm, that hath put itself out of the cool cell of the earth, wherein it was lodged; and now, being beaten upon by the sun-beams, lies wriggling upon the bare path, turning itself every way in vain, and not finding so much as the shade of a leaf to cover it; I cannot but think of that fretting prophet, when, wanting the protection of his gourd, he found himself scalded with that strong reflection ; looking up wrathfully towards that sun, from whom he smarted, could say to the God that made it, I do well to be angry, even to the death ; Jonah iv, 9.
Lastly, there are those, that are poor and dishonest, even out of the very suggestion of their want. It was the danger hereof, that made Agur, the son of Jakeh, pray against penury; Lest I be poor, and steal; and, by forswearing it, take the name of God in vain ; Prov. xxx. 9.
Who they are, that know how to want. These, and perhaps others, do and must want; but, in the mean time, they do that, which they know not how to do: There is a skill in wanting, which they have not.
THOSE ONLY KNOW HOW TO WANT, that have learnt to frame their mind to their estate; like to a skilful musician, that can let down his strings a peg lower, when the tune requires it; or like to some cunning spagirick, that can intend or remit the heat of his furnace, according to occasion: those, who, when they must be abased, can stoop submissly; like to a gentle reed, which, when the wind blows stiff, yields every way: those, that in an humble obeisance, can lay themselves low at the foot of the Almighty, and put their mouth in the dust; that can patiently put their necks under the yoke of the Highest, and can say, with the Prophet, Truly, this is my sorrow, and I must bear it; Jer. x. 19: those, that can smile upon their afflictions; rejoicing in tribulation; singing in the jail, with Paul and Silas, at midnight: lastly, those, that can improve misery to an advantage; being the richer for their want; hettered, with evils; strengthened, with infirmities; and can truly say to the Almighty, I know that of very faithfulness thou hast afflicted me : never could they have come out so pure metal, if they had not passed under the hand of the refiner; never had they proved so toward children, if they had not been beholden to the rod.
These are they, that know how to want, and to be abased; and hare effectually learned to be content with the meanest condition.
IIOW TO BE ATTAINED.
To which happy temper THAT WE MAY ATTAIN, there will be use of, 1. Certain CONSIDERATIONS: 2. Certain DISPOSITIONS : and 3. Certain RESOLUTIONS. These three shall be as the Grounds and Rules of this our Divine Art of Contentation.
Considerations for Conientment : which respect,
(1.) The DIVERSITIES OF LIFE; as [1.] Of the Valuation of Earthly
Things; viz. (a.) The Transitoriness of Life, Honour, Beauty, Strength, and Pleasure; (b.) Unsatisfying Condition of them; (c.) Danger of over-esteeming them :-[2.] Of Divine Providence over-ruling all Events :-[3.] Of the Worse Condition of Others : [4.] Of the Inconveniences of Great Estates ; viz. (a.) Expose to Envy ; (b.) Macerate with Cares; (c.) Danger of Distemper, both bodily and spiritual ; (d.) Torment in Parting ; (e.) Account to be rendered :-[5.] Of the Benefits of Poverty; viz. (a.) Freedom from Cares ; (b.) Freedom from Fears of Keeping ; (c.) Freedom from Fears of Losing :-[6.] Of how little will suffice Nature :-[7.] Of the Miseries of Discontentment :-[8.] Of the Vicissitudes of Favours and Crosses :-[9.] Examples of Contenta
tion, both within and without the Church of God. (2.) Death itself: wherein are to be considered, [1.] Remedies
against the Terrors of Death ; viz. (a.) Necessity and Benefit of Death ; (b.) Conscience of a well-led Life ; (c.) Final Peace with God; (d.) Efficacy of Christ's Death applied ; (e.) Comfortable Expectation of certain Resurrection, and immediate Vision of God: -[2.] Miseries and Inconveniences of the continued Conjunction of Soul and Body; viz. (a.) Defilement of Sin Original ; (b.). Proneness to Sin; (c.) Difficulty of doing well ; (d.) Dulness of Understanding ; (e.) Perpetual Conflicts ; (f.) Solicitude of Cares; (g.) Multiplicity of Passions ; (h.) Retardation of Glory.
THESE CONSIDERATIONS respect, either the Diversities of Life; or, Death itself.
(1.) Those which respect the Diversities of Life, are such as follow
[1.] The First Consideration shall be, of the Just Valuation of all these Earthly Things : which, doubtless, is such, as that the wise Christian cannot but set a low price upon them; in respect, first, of their Transitoriness; secondly, of their Insufficiency of Satisfaction; thirdly, the Danger of their Fruition,
(a.) At the best, they are but Glassy Stuff; which, the finer it is, is so much more brittle : yea, what other, than those gay bubbles, which children are wont to raise from the mixed soap and spittle of their walnut-shell; which seem to represent pleasing colours, but, in their flying up, instantly vanish? There is no remedy : either they must leave us, or we must leave them.
Well may we say that of the Psalmist, wliich Campian was re. ported to have often in his mouth; My soul is continually in my hands : and who knows, whether it will not expire, in our next breathing ? How many bare shut their eyes in a healthful sleep,