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The Art of Divine Contentment, pt. 6
by Thomas Watson (1620-1686)
[Here we continue Mr Watson’s study on contentment. In this article, he continues to answer some excuses for not being content. In the original text of Mr Watson’s book, these were called “Apologies”. We have changed the word to “Excuses”, for readability’s sake, to be in line with the modern meaning of the words.]
I have learned, in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content (Philippians 4:11, AV).
The second excuse which discontent makes is this:
Excuse 2. I have a great part of my estate strangely melted away, and trading begins to fail.
God is pleased sometimes to bring his children very low, and cut them short in their estate; it fares with them as with that widow who had nothing in her house save “a pot of oil,” (II Kings 4:2); nevertheless be content.
1. God has taken away your estate, but not your potion. This is a sacred paradox. Honor and estate are no part of a Christian’s jointure, they are rather accessories than essentials; and are extrinsical and foreign; therefore the loss of these cannot denominate a man miserable; still the portion remains: “The Lord is my portion, saith my soul” (Lam. 3:24). Suppose one were worth a million of money, and he should chance to lose a pin off his sleeve, this is no part of his estate, nor can we say he is undone: the loss of sublunary comforts is not so much to a Christian’s portion, as the loss of a pin is to a million. “These things shall be added unto you,” (Matt. 6:33); they shall be cast in as overplus. When a man buys a piece of cloth, he has an inch or two given in to the measure; now though he lose his inch of cloth, yet he is not undone, for still the whole piece remains: our outward estate is not so much in regard of the portion, as an inch of cloth is to the whole piece; why then should a Christian be discontented when the title to his spiritual treasure remains? A thief may take away all my money that I have about me, but not my land; still a Christian has a title to the land of promise. Mary has chosen the better part, which shall not be taken from her.
2. Perhaps if your estate had not been lost, your soul had been lost; outward comforts do often quench inward heat. God cannot bestow a jewel upon us, but we fall so in love with it, that we forget Him that gave it. What a pity is it that we should commit idolatry with the creature! God is forced sometimes to drain away an estate; the plate and jewels are often cast overboard to save the passenger. Many a man may curse the time that ever he had such an estate, it has been an enchantment to draw away his heart from God. Some there are that will be rich (see I Tim. 6:9), and they fall into a snare. Riches are thorns (see Matt. 13:7). Are you angry that God has pulled away a thorn from you? Riches are compared to thick clay (see Hab. 2:6). Perhaps your affections, which are the feet of the soul, might have stuck so fast in this golden clay, that they could not have ascended up to heaven. Be content; if God bank up our outward comforts, it is that the stream of our love may run faster another way.
3. 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 you have not the full flesh-pots? Yet you have a promise: I will “bless her provision” (Ps. 132:15), and then a little goes a great way. Be content, you have 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 does not give him “power to eat thereof,” (Eccl. 6:2); he has the dominion of his estate, not the use; he holds more, but enjoys less; in a word, you have less gold than he, perhaps less guilt.
4. You did never so thrive in your spiritual trade, your heart was never so low, as since your condition was low; you were never so poor in spirit, never so rich in faith. You did never run the ways of God’s commandments so fast as since some of your golden weights were taken off. You never had such trading for heaven all your life. You did never make such adventures upon the promise as since you left off your sea adventures. This is the best kind of merchandise. O Christian, you never had such incomes of the Spirit, such spring-tides of joy; and what though weak in estate, if strong in assurance? Be content, what you have lost one way, you have gained another.
5. Be your losses what they will in this kind, remember in every loss there is only a suffering, but in every discontent there is a sin, and one sin is worse than a thousand sufferings. What! Because some of my revenues are gone, shall I part with some of my righteousness? Shall my faith and patience go too? Because I do not possess an estate, shall I not therefore possess my own spirit? O learn to be content.
The third excuse which discontent makes is this:
Excuse 3. It is sad with me in my relations; where I should find most comfort, there I have most grief.
This excuse or objection branches itself into two particulars, whereto I shall give a distinct reply.
1. My child goes on in rebellion; I fear I have brought forth a child who will perish forever. It is indeed sad to think of, but though you ought to be humbled, yet not discontented: for consider,
(1.) You may learn something out of your child’s undutifulness; the child’s sin is sometimes the parent’s sermon: the undutifulness of children to us may be a memento to put us in mind of our undutifulness once to God. Time was when we were rebellious children; how long did our hearts stand out as garrisons against God! How long did He parley with us, and beseech us, ere we would yield! He walked in the tenderness of His heart towards us, but we walked in the forwardness of our hearts towards Him. And since grace has been planted in our souls, how much of the wild olive is still in us! How many motions of the Spirit do we daily resist! How many unkindnesses and affronts have we put upon Christ! Let this open a spring of repentance; look upon your child’s rebellion, and mourn for your own rebellion.
(2.) Though to see him undutiful is your grief, yet not always your sin. Has a parent given the child, not only the milk of the breast, but the “sincere milk of the word,” (I Pet. 2:2)? Have you seasoned his tender years with religious education? You can do no more. Parents can only work knowledge, God must work grace; they can only lay the wood together, it is God must make it burn: a parent can only be a guide to show his child the way to heaven; the Spirit of God must be a loadstone to draw his heart into that way. “Am I in God’s stead,” said Jacob, “who hath withheld from thee the fruit of the womb?” (Gen. 30:2). Can I give children? So, is a parent in God’s stead to give grace? Who can help it, if a child having the light of conscience, scripture, education, these three torches in his hand, yet runs willfully into the deep ponds of sin? Weep for your child, pray for him, but do not sin for him, by discontent.
(3.) Say not, you have brought forth a child for Satan; God can reduce him; He has promised to turn the heart of the children to their parents (see Mal. 4:6), and to open springs of grace in the desert (see Isa. 35:6). When your child is going full sail to ruin, God can blow with a contrary wind of the Spirit, and alter his course. When Paul was breathing out persecution against the saints, and was sailing hell-ward, God turns him another way; he was going to Damascus, but God sends him to Ananias; before a persecutor, now a preacher. Though our children are for the present fallen, God can turn them from the power of Satan (see Acts 26:18), and bring them in at the twelfth hour. Monica was weeping for her son Augustine: at last God gave him to her in answer to prayer, and he became a famous instrument in the church of God.
2. The second branch of the objection is—but, my husband takes ill courses; where I looked for honey, behold a sting.
Answer. It is sad to have the living and the dead tied together; yet, let not your heart fret with discontent; mourn for his sin, but do not murmur. For,
(1.) God has placed you in your relation, and you cannot be discontented without quarrelling with God. What! For every cross that befalls us, shall we call the infinite wisdom of God in question? Oh the blasphemy of our hearts!
(2.) God can make you a gainer by your husband’s sin; perhaps you had never been so good, if he had not been so bad. The fire burns hottest in the coldest climate: God often turns the sins of others to our good, and makes our maladies our medicines. The more profane the husband is, oft the more holy the wife grows; the more earthly he is, the more heavenly she grows: God makes sometimes the husband’s sin a spur to the wife’s grace. His exorbitances are as a pair of bellows to blow up the flame of her zeal and devotion the more.
Is it not thus? Does not your husband’s wickedness send you to prayer? You perhaps had never prayed so much, if he had not sinned so much: his deadness quickens you the more; the stone of his heart is a hammer to break your heart. The apostle said, the unbelieving wife is sanctified by the believing husband (see I Cor. 7:14); but in this sense, the believing wife is sanctified by the unbelieving husband; she grows better; his sin is a whetstone to her grace, and a medicine for her security.