“I have learned, in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content.” — Philippians 4:11.
“I HAVE learned.” The Apostle doth not say, “I have heard, that in every estate I should be content,” but, “I have learned.” It is not enough for Christians to hear their duty, but they must learn their duty. It is one thing to hear, and another thing to learn; as it is one thing to eat, and another thing to digest food. Christians bear much, but, it is to be feared, learn little.
If your estate be small, yet God can bless a little. It is not how much money we have, but how much blessing. He that often curses the bags of gold, can bless the meal in the barrel, and the oil in the cruse. What if thou hast not the full flesh-pots? yet thou hast a promise, I will “bless her provision” (Ps. 132:15), and then a little goes a great way. Be content, that thou hast the dew of a blessing distilled: a dinner of green herbs, where love is, is sweet; I may add, where the love of God is. Another may have more estate than you, but more care; more riches, less rest; more revenues, but withal more occasions of expense: he has a greater inheritance, yet perhaps God doth not give him “power to eat thereof” (Ecc. 6:2); he holds more, but enjoys less; in a word, thou hast less gold then he, perhaps less guilt.
Discontent keeps a man from enjoying what he doth possess. A drop or two of vinegar will sour a whole glass of wine. Comfort depends upon contentment. It is not trouble that troubles, but discontent; it is not the water without the ship, but the water that gets within the leak which sinks it; it is not outward afflictions that can make the life of a Christian sad; a contented mind would sail above these waters; but when there is a leak of discontent open, and trouble gets into the heart, then it is disquieted and sinks.
The discontented person thinks everything he doth for God too much, and everything God doth for him too little.
There are no sins God’s people are more subject to than unbelief and impatience; they are ready, either to faint through unbelief, or to fret through impatience. When men fly out against God by discontent and impatience, it is a sign they do not believe “that all things work together for good, to them that love God.” Discontent is an ungrateful sin, because we have more mercies than afflictions; and it is an irrational sin, because afflictions work for good. Discontent is a sin which puts us upon sin. “Fret not thyself to do evil” (Ps. 37:8). He that frets will be ready to do evil: fretting Jonah was sinning (Jonah 4:9). The devil blows the coals of passion and discontent, and then warms himself at the fire.
“All things work together for good to them that love God.” Shall we be discontented at that which works for our good? If one friend should throw a bag of money at another, and in throwing it, should graze his head, he would not be troubled much, seeing by this means he had got a bag of money. So the Lord may bruise us by afflictions, but it is to enrich us; these afflictions work for us a weight of glory; and shall we be discontented?
Immoderate care takes the heart off from better things; and usually while we are thinking how we shall do to live, we forget how to die. We may sooner by our care add a furlong to our grief, than a foot to our comfort.
Remember thou art to be here but a day; thou hast but a short way to go, and what need a long provision for a short way? If a traveller has but enough to bring him to his journey’s end, he desires no more.
How hard it is for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of heaven! (Luke 18:24). His golden weights keep him from ascending up the hill of God. Be content then with a little; if you have but enough to pay for your passage to heaven, it sufficeth.
Humility is like the lead to the net, which keeps the soul down when it is rising through passion; and contentment is like the cork, which keeps the heart up when it is sinking through discouragement.
Is not many a man contented to suffer reproach for maintaining his lust? and shall not we for maintaining the truth? Some glory in that which is their shame (Phil. 3:19); and shall we be ashamed of that which is our glory?
What need he complain of the world’s emptiness that has God’s fulness? “The Lord is the portion of mine inheritance,” says David (Ps. 16:5); then let the lines fall where they will, in a sick bed, or prison, I will say, “The lines are fallen to me in pleasant places; yea, I have a goodly heritage.”
“The God which fed me all my life long to this day” (Gen. 48:15). Hath not God provided liberally for you. Thou never feedest, but mercy carves for thee; thou never goest to bed, but mercy draws the curtains, and sets a guard of angels about thee.
“The Lord is good to all” (Ps. 145:9). Sweet dewdrops are on the thistle, as well as on the rose. God’s mercy is free. To set up merit is to destroy mercy. Nothing can deserve mercy, nor force it. We may force God to punish us, but not to love us. “I will love them freely” (Hosea 14:4). Every link in the chain of salvation is wrought and interwoven with free grace. Election is free. “He has chosen us in Him . . . according to the good pleasure of His will” (Eph. 1:4-5). Justification is free, “Being justified freely by His grace” (Rom. 3:24). Salvation is free, “According to His mercy He saved us” (Titus 3:5). Say not then, I am unworthy; for mercy is free. If God should show mercy to such only as are worthy, He would show none at all. . . . God’s mercy is an overflowing mercy; it is infinite: “Plenteous in mercy” (Ps. 86:5). “Rich in mercy” (Eph. 2:4). “Multitude of Thy tender mercies” (Ps. 51:1). The vial of wrath drops, but the fountain of mercy runs. . . . God has morning mercies, His mercies “are new every morning” (Lam. 3:23). He has night mercies, “In the night His song shall be with me” (Ps. 42:8). God’s mercy is eternal, “The mercy of the Lord is from everlasting to everlasting” (Ps. 103:17). As His mercy is overflowing so it is everflowing.
Doth God give us a Christ, and will He deny us a crust? If God doth not give us what we crave, He will give us what we need.
Prosperity often deafens the ear against God. “I spake to thee in thy prosperity, but thou saidst, I will not hear” (Jer. 22:21). Soft pleasures harden the heart. Prosperity has its honey, and also its sting. Anxious care is the evil spirit that haunts the rich man; when his chests are full of money, his heart is full of care. Sunshine is pleasant, but sometimes it scorches. The spreading of a full table may be the spreading of a snare. Many have been sunk to hell with golden weights. “They that will be rich fall into many hurtful lusts, which drown men in perdition” (1 Tim. 6:9). The world’s golden sands are quicksands. What if we have less food we have less snare; if less dignity, less danger. As we lack the rich provisions of the world, so we lack the temptations. To give us Christ is more than if God had given us all the world. He can make more worlds, but He has no more Christs to bestow. If you have but daily bread enough to suffice nature, be content. Consider it is not having abundance that always makes life comfortable. A staff may help the traveller, but a bundle of staves will be a burden to him. The world is but a great inn. If God give you sufficient to pay for your charges in your inn, you may be content, you shall have enough when you come to your own country.
“What time I am afraid, I will trust in Thee” (Ps. 56:3). Faith cures the trembling in heart; it gets above fear as oil swims above the water. To trust in God makes Him to be a God to us. God will turn all evils to our good (Rom. 8:28). Joseph’s imprisonment was a means for his advancement. Out of the bitterest drug He will distil His glory and our salvation. In short, He will be our guide to death, our comfort in death, and our reward after death. “Happy is that people, whose God is the Lord” (Ps. 144:15).