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PHILIPPIANS, CHAP. IV.-verse in.
I have learned, &c.
These words signify how contentedness may be attained, or how it is produced : it is not an endowment innate to us; it doth not arrive by chance into us; it is not to be purchased by any price; it springeth not up of itself, nor ariseth from the quality of any state; but it is a product of discipline; I have learned.'
It is a question debated in Plato, ei &daktov ý åpern, 'whether virtue be to be learned :' St. Paul plainly resolveth it in this case by his own experience and testimony. What Seneca saith in general of virtue (* Nature giveth not virtue ; it is an art to become goud' *) is most true of this virtue; it is an art, with which we are not born, no more than with any other art or science; the which, as other arts, cannot be acquired without studious application of mind and industrious exercise : no art indeed requireth more hard study and pain toward the acquiry of it, there being so many difficulties, so many obstacles in the way thereto : we have no great capacity, no towardly disposition to learn it; we must, in doing it, deny our carnal semse, we must settle our wild fancy, and suppress fond conceits; we must bend our stiff and stubborn inclinations; we must
repress and restrain wanton desires; we must allay and still tumultuous passions; we must cross our humor and curb
Non dat natura virtutem, ars est bonum fieri.-Sen. Ep. 89.
our temper: which to do is a hard chapter to learn ; much consideration, much practice, muck contention and diligence are required thereto.
Hence it is an art which we may observe few do much study; and of the students therein few are great proficients; so that, Quí fit, Mæcenas ? Horace's question, How comes it to pass, that nobody liveth content with the lot assigned by God? wanted not sufficient ground.
However it is not, like the quadrature of the circle, or the philosopher's stone, an art impossible to be learned, and which will baffle all study: there are examples which show it to be obtainable ; there are rules and precepts, by observing which we may arrive to it.
And it is certainly a most excellent piece of learning; most deserving our earnest study: no other science will yield so great satisfaction or good use; all other sciences, in comparison thereto, are dry and fruitless curiosities; for were we masters of all other knowlege, yet wanted the skill of being content, we should not be wise or happy; happiness and discontent are dovotara, (things incompatible.)
But how then may this skill be learned ? I answer, chiefly (divine grace concurring) by these three ways. 1. By understanding the rules and precepts, wherein the practice thereof consisteth. 2. By diligent exercise, or application of those rules to practice; whereby the habit will be produced. 3. By seriously considering, and impressing on our minds those rational inducements (suggested by the nature and reason of things) which are apt to persuade the practice thereof. The first way I have already endeavored to declare; the second wholly dependeth on the will and endeavor of the learner; the third I shall now insist on, propounding some rational considerations, apt, by God's help, to persuade contentedness, and serving to cure the malady of discontent. They may be drawn from several heads; from God, from ourselves; from our particular condition or state ; from the world, or general state of men bere ; from the particular state of other men in comparison to ours; from the nature and consequences of the duty itself; every thing about us, well examined and pondered, will minister somewhat inducing and assisting thereto.
I. In regard to God we may consider that equity doth exact, and gratitude requireth, and all reason dictateth, that we should be content; or that, in being discontented, we behave ourselves very unbeseemingly and unworthily, are very unjust, very ingrateful, and very foolish toward him.
1. Equity doth exact this duty of us, and in performing it we act justly toward God, both admitting his due right, and acknowleging his good exercise thereof; that saying in the gospel, · Is it not lawful for me to do what I will with mine own ?'is a most evident maxim of equity : it is therefore the natural right and prerogative of God, as the Creator and Preserver, and consequently the absolute Lord, Owner, and Governor of all things, to assign his station, and allot his portion to every person, as he judgeth good and convenient; it is most just that inviolably he should enjoy this right: he being also infinitely wise and good, it is likewise most just to acknowlege that he doth perfectly well manage this right. Now by contentful submission to God's disposal of things, we do worthily express our due regard to both these, avowing his right, and approving his exercise thereof; but by discontent and regret at what happeneth, we do in effect injure God in both those respects, disavowing his right, and impeaching his management. We do thereby so renounce his right, as (so far as conceit and wish do reach) to invade it, and usurp it to ourselves ; signifying that in our opinion things ought not to be ordered according to his judgment and pleasure, but after our fancy and humor; we claim to ourselves the privilege of controlling his estate, and dispensing his goods, so as to be our own carvers, and to assume to ourselves so much as we think good ; we imply that, if we were able, we would extort the power out of his hands, and manage it ourselves, modelling the world according to our conceits and desires.
We do also, (since we cannot but perceive the other attempt of dispossessing God to be frivolous and fruitless,) in effect, charge God with misdemeanor, with iniquity or infirmity in his distribution and disposal of things; intimating that in our opinion he doth not order them so justly or so wisely as might be, (not so well as we in our wisdom and justice should order them ;) for did we conceive them managed for the best, we
could not but judge it most unreasonable to be aggrieved or to complain : so heinously insolent and unjust are we in being discontent. In earnest, which is most equal, that God should have his will, or we? For shame we shall say, God: why then do we not contentedly let him have it?
It is indeed, if we consider it, the highest piece of injustice that we can be guilty of, exceeding that which we commit in any other sort of disobedience. For as in any state seditious mutining is the greatest crime, as most directly violating the majesty, and subverting the authority of the prince; so in the world, none may be supposed more to offend and wrong its sovereign Governor, than such malecontents, who dislike and blame his proceedings : even a heathen could teach us that it is our duty to subject our mind to him that administereth all things, as good citizens to the law of the commonwealth ;'* if we do not, we are rebellious and seditious, which is the highest pitch of injustice toward our most gracious Sovereign.
Again, there can be no greater injury or affront offered to God, than to give him the lie, by questioning his veracity or fidelity; this discontent plainly doth involve : for God hath expressly declared himself ready on all occasions to do us good; he hath promised to care for us,' and never to forsake us,' or leave us destitute; which word of his if we did not distrust, and take him to be unfaithful, we could not be discontent: as po man is displeased with his condition, or suspicious of want, who knoweth that he hath abundant supply of all he can need in a sure place; that he hath a person most able, most willing, most faithful, engaged to succor him; so, did we believe God to be true, who hath promised to help us, we could not be discontented for fear of any want.
We must at least, in so doing, suspect God to be deficient in goodness toward us, or unwilling to help us ; or we must apprehend him impotent, and unable to perform what he would, and what he hath promised for us, (like those infidels, who said, Can God furnish a table in the wilderness? Can he give bread also, can be provide flesh for his people ?') which conceits of God are also very unworthy and injurious to him.
Τήν αυτού γνώμην υποτάσσειν το διοικούντι τα όλα, καθάπερ οι αγαθοί πολίται τω νόμο της πόλεως.-Arr. i. 12.
2. Gratitude requireth of us this duty : for we having no right or title to any thing; all that we have coming from God's pure bounty ; he having on us all (whatever our condition comparatively is, or may seem to us) freely conferred many great benefits, common to all men among us, (our being, life,, reason, capacity of eternal happiness, manifold spiritual blessings, incomparably precious and excellent,) we in all reason should be thankful for these, without craving more, or complaining for the want of other things. Whereas also all events, how cross soever to our sensual conceits or appetites, are by God designed and dispensed for our good, gratitude requireth that we should thank God for them, and not murmur against them.
Surely if, instead of rendering God thanks for all the excellent gifts which he most liberally (without any previous obligation to us, or desert of ours) hath bestowed on us, and continueth to bestow, we fret and quarrel, that he doth not in smaller matters seem to cocker us, we are extremely ingrateful and disingenuous toward him. If any great person here should freely bestow on us gifts of huge value, (high preferment or much wealth,) but with good reason, as we might presume, should withhold from us some trifle that we fancy or dote on, should we not be very unworthy, if we should take it ill and be
angry with him for that cause? The case is plainly the same: God hath in the frankest manner bestowed on us innumerable and inestimable goods, in comparison whereto any comfort or convenience of our state here is very trivial and despicable : are we not therefore very ingrateful if we heinously resent the want of any such things; if on any such account. we disgust his Providence? Do we not deal, beyond all expression, unworthily with God, in so much undervaluing the goods which he hath given us, or doth offer us, and hath put in our reach ? He hath made us capable of the greatest goods imaginable, and faithfully on easy terms proffereth them to us; he even tendereth bimself (himself, the immense and all comprehending good, the fountain of all joy and bliss) to be fully enjoyed by us : his wisdom he offereth to instruct and guide us; his power, to protect and guard us; his fulness, to supply us; his goodness, to comfort us; he offereth his love and favor to us, in having which we virtually and in effect have all things; becoming thereby, in