« AnteriorContinuar »
resent the smallest things: a little neglect, a slight word, an unpleasing look doth affect them more than reproaches, blows, wrongs do those of a mean condition.
Prosperity is a nice and squeamish thing, and it is hard to find any thing able to please men of a full and prosperous state, which being uncapable of bettering in substantial things, they can hardly find matter of solid delight. Whereas a poor estate is easily comforted by the accession of many things which it wanteth a good meal, a small gift, a little gain, or good success of his labor doth greatly please a poor man with a very solid pleasure: but a rich man hath nothing to please him, but a new toy, a puff of applause, success at a horse-race, at bowls, at hunting; in some petty sport and pastime, which can yield but a very thin and transitory satisfaction to any man not quite brutified and void of sense whence contentedness hath place, and is needful in every condition, be it in appearance never so prosperous, so plentiful, so pleasant. In the fulness of his sufficiency he shall be in straits.'
The formal object thereof may indeed seem to be a condition distasteful to our sense, or cross to our fancy; an adverse or strait condition, a condition of poverty, of disgrace, of any great inconvenience or distress incident to us in this world; but since the most men are absolutely in such a condition, exposed to so many wants and troubles; since many more are needy comparatively, wanting the conveniencies that others enjoy, and which themselves affect; since there are few, who in right estimation are not indigent and poor, that is, who do not desire and fancy themselves to want many things which they have not, (for wealth consisteth not so much in the possession of goods, as in apprehension of freedom from want, and in satisfaction of desires,), since care, trouble, disappointment, satiety, and discontent following them, do not only haunt cottages, and stick to the lowest sort of people, but do even frequent palaces, and pursue men of highest rank; therefore any state may be the object of contentedness, and the duty is of a very general concernment; princes themselves need to learn it; the lessons teaching it, and the arguments persuading it, may as well suit the rich and noble as the poor and the peasant; so our Apostle himself doth intimate in the words immediately following our text: I
know both how to be abased, and I know how to abound; every where and in all things I am instructed both to be full, and to be hungry; both to abound, and to suffer need :' he had the art not only to manage well both conditions, but to be satisfied in either.
But seeing real adversity, poverty, and disgrace have naturally the strongest influence in disturbing and disordering our minds; that contentedness is plainly most needful in such cases, as the proper support or medicine of our mind in them; that other states do need it only as they, by fancy or infirmity, do symbolise or conspire with these; therefore unto persons in these states we shall more explicitly apply our directions and persuasions, as to the proper and primary subjects of contentedness; the which by analogy, or parity of reason, may be extended to all others, who, by imaginary wants and distresses, do create displeasure to themselves. So much for the object, or the subject of the virtue.
2. The acts, wherein the practice thereof consisteth, (which are necessary ingredients, or constant symptoms of it,) belong either to the mind and understanding, or to the will and appe. tite, or to external demeanor and practice; being, 1. right opinions and judgments of mind; 2. fit dispositions and affections of heart; 3. outward good actions and behaviors, in regard to our condition and the events befalling us; the former being as the root and stock, the latter as the fruits and the flowers of the duty unto which may be reduced the correspondent negations, or absence of bad judgments, affections, and deportments in respect to the same objects.
(1.) As to our opinions and judgments of things, contentedness requireth that,
1. We should believe our condition, whatever it be, to be determined by God; and that all events befalling us do proceed from him; at least that he permitteth and ordereth them according to his judgment and pleasure: Ξὺν τῷ θεῷ πᾶς καὶ γελᾷ
dúperaι, all, as the prophet singeth, both good and evil, proceedeth out of the mouth of the Most High; that, 'affliction,' as Job said, 'cometh not forth of the dust, neither doth
Soph. Aj. Lor.
trouble spring out of the ground;' as a thing arising spontaneously, or sowed by the hand of some creature, but rather descendeth from him who saith, I form the light, and create darkness; I make peace, and create evil; I the Lord do all these things.'
We are apt, when any thing falleth out unpleasant to us, to exclaim against fortune, and to accuse our stars; or to inveigh against the second causes which immediately offend us, ascribing all to their influence; which proceeding doth argue in us a heathenish ignorance and infidelity, or at least much inconsiderateness, and impotency of mind; that our judgment is blinded and clouded, or perverted and seduced by ill passions; for that in truth there is not in the world any occurrence merely fortuitous or fatal, (all being guided and wielded by the powerful hand of the all-wise and almighty God,) there is no creature which in its agency doth not depend on God, as the instrument of his will, or subordinate thereto; wherefore on every event we should, raising our minds above all other causes, discern and acknowlege God's hand; as David did when Shimei cursed him: Let him,' said the good king, 'curse, because the Lord hath said unto him, Curse David;' so Job did, when he was rifled of his goods, The Lord,' said he, gave, and the Lord hath taken away;' as our Saviour did, when, in regard to the sore hardships he was designed to undergo, he said, 'The cup which my Father hath given me, shall I not drink?'
2. Hence we should always judge every thing which happeneth to be throughly good and fit, worthy (all things considered) to be appointed or permitted by that Governor of things; not entertaining any harsh thoughts of God, as if he were not enough wise, just, or benign in ordering us to be afflicted or crossed; but taking all occurrences to be well consistent with all God's holy perfections and attributes.
We are apt to conceit that the world is ill ordered, when we do not thrive and prosper therein; that every thing is irregular, which squareth not to the models of our fancy; that things had gone much better, if our designs had found success: but these are vain and perverse conceits; for that certainly is most good, which seemeth good to God; his will is a perfect
standard of right and convenience, his eye never aimeth wrong, his hand never faileth to hit the mark of what is best; · All his paths are mercy, and truth; he is righteous in all his ways, and holy in all his works;' so did king Hezekiah rightly judge, when, on denunciation of a sad doom to his country and posterity, he replied to the prophet; 'good is the word of the Lord, which thou hast spoken;' so even the Pagan sage discerned, when he thus rebuked a malecontent; You slave, do you forsooth desire any thing, but what is best? and is not that only best, which seemeth best to God?'
3. We should even be satisfied in our mind, that, according to God's purpose, all events do tend and conduce to our particular welfare; being not only good to us as members of the world, and in order to more general ends, but serving towards our private benefit and advantage. We may be ready perhaps to confess that whatever happeneth may be indeed just and fit in some distant and occult respects; but hardly can we be induced to allow that what we feel offensive to our sense and fancy is really good for us, or was meant for our benefit; we cannot easily discern any thing of love or favor in such matters: those sort of aphorisms, in holy Scripture, happy is the man whom God correcteth;' as many as I love, I rebuke and chasten;' sound strangely, and are huge paradoxes to us; such is our blindness of mind, and dulness of apprehension: but God knoweth with so exact a skilfulness to manage things, that every particular occurrence shall be advantageous to the person, whom it toucheth; and accordingly to each one he dispenseth that which is most suitable to him; whence, as frequently it is necessary for our good that we should be crossed, (for that indeed otherwise we should often much harm, sometimes we should quite undo ourselves,) so it always, when God so ordereth it, is to be deemed most profitable and wholesome for us: we are therefore in reason obliged to take the saddest accidents, and sharpest afflictions, coming on us by providence, to be no other than fatherly corrections, or friendly rebukes, designed to render us good and happy; as arguments therefore and instances of especial good-will toward us; conceiving under every dispensation that we do, as it were, hear God speaking to us, as he did to those in the prophet: I
know the thoughts, that I think toward you, thoughts of peace, and not of evil, to give you an expected end.'
4. Hence we are to believe that our present condition (whatever it be to carnal or worldly sense) is in right judgment, all things considered, the best; most proper, most desirable for us; better than we, if it were at our discretion and choice, should put ourselves into: for that God (the Saviour of all men,' who 'desireth that no man should perish;' who 'is good to all, and whose tender mercies are over all his works;' who exceedingly tendereth the welfare of his children and subjects) doth ever (here in this life, the time of merit and trial) with a most wise good-will design our best good; and by the most proper methods (such as do best suit our circumstances and capacities) doth aim to draw us unto happiness; and accordingly doth assign a station for us most befitting in order to that great end: we therefore should think ourselves well placed, because we are where God doth set us; that we have enough, because we have what God allotteth us.
There are other more particular judgments, which contentedness involveth, or which are required toward it; such as these: that nothing originally is due to us, but all cometh purely from divine favor and bounty; that all adversities are justly and deservedly inflicted on us, as the due wages, or natural fruits of our sins; that our happiness dependeth not on any present enjoyments or possessions, but may well subsist without them; that a competency (or so much as sufficeth to maintain our life without intolerable pain) ought to satisfy our desires: but these and the like judgments will come opportunely to be considered as motives to the practice of the duty.
2. From such acts of our mind, or intellective part, concerning things incident to us, should proceed the following dispositions of will and affection.
1. We should entertain all occurrences, how grievous soever to us, with intire submission, and resignation of our will to the will of God; wholly acquiescing in his good pleasure; saying in our hearts after our Lord, Let not my will, but thine be done;' with good Eli, It is the Lord, let him do what seemeth him good;' with David, ‘Behold here I am, let him do to me as seemeth good to him;' even with Socrates, 'If