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The Art of Divine Contentment, pt. 8
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 fifth excuse that discontent makes is disrespect in the world. I have not that esteem from men as is suitable to my quality and grace.
And is this trouble? Consider, 1. The world is an unequal judge; as it is full of change so of partiality. The world gives her respects, as she doth her places of preferment; more by favour often, than desert. Hast thou the ground of real worth in thee; that is best worth that is in him that hath it; honour is in him that gives it; better deserve respect, and not have it, than have it and not deserve it. 2. Hast thou grace? God respects thee, and His judgment is best worth prizing. A believer is a person of honour, being born of God: since thou wast precious in mine eyes, “thou hast been honourable, and I have loved thee” (Is. 43:4). Let the world think what they will of you; perhaps in their eyes you are a cast-away, in God’s eyes, a dove (Song of Sol. 2:14), a spouse (Song of Sol. 5:1), a jewel (Mal. 3:17). Others account you the dregs of offscouring of the world, (1 Cor. 4:14), but God will give whole kingdoms for your ransom (see Is. 43:3). Let this make you content: no matter with what oblique eyes I am looked upon in the world, if God thinks well of me. It is better that God approve, than man applaud. The world may put us in their rubric and God put us in His black book. Is a man the better when his fellow-prisoners commend him, if his judge condemn him? O labour to keep in with God; prize His love! Let my fellow-subjects frown, I am contented, being a favourite of the king of heaven. 3. If you are a child of God, you must look for disrespect. A believer is in the world, but not of the world; we are here in a pilgrim condition, out of our own country, therefore must not look for the respects and acclamations of the world; it is sufficient that we shall have honour in our own country (see Heb. 13. 14). It is dangerous to be the world’s favourite. 4. Discontent arising from disrespect, savours too much of pride; a humble Christian hath a lower opinion of himself than others can have of him. He that is taken up about the thoughts of his sins, and how he hath provoked God, cries out, as Agur, “I am more brutish than any man” (Pr. 30. 2), and therefore is contented, though he be set among “the dogs of my flock.” (Job 30. 1) Though he be low in the thoughts of others, yet he is thankful that he is not laid in “the lowest hell” (Ps. 86. 13). A proud man sets a high value upon himself; and is angry with others, because they will not come up to his price: take heed of pride! O had others a window to look into their breast, as Crates once expressed it, or did thy heart stand where thy face doth, thou wouldst wonder to have so much respect.
The next excuse is, I meet with very great sufferings for the truth.
Consider, 1. Your sufferings are not so great as your sins: put these two in the balance, and see which weighs heaviest; where sin lies heavy, sufferings lie light. A carnal spirit makes more of his sufferings, and less of his sins; he looks upon one at the great end of the perspective, but upon the other at the little end of the perspective. The carnal heart cries out, take away the frogs: but a gracious heart cries out, “take away the iniquity” (2 Sa. 24. 10). The one saith, never any one suffered as I have done; but the other saith, never one sinned as I have done (Mi. 7. 7). 2. Are thou under sufferings? Thou hast an opportunity to show the valour and constancy of thy mind. Some of God’s saints would have accounted it a great favour to have been honoured with martyrdom. One said, “I am in prison till I be in prison” (Laurence Saunders). Thou countest that a trouble, which others would have worn as an ensign of their glory. 3. Even those who have gone only upon moral principles, have shown much constancy and contentment in their sufferings. Curtius, being bravely mounted and in armour, threw himself into a great gulf, that the city of Rome might, according to the oracle, be delivered from the pestilence; and we, having a divine oracle, “that they who kill the body cannot hurt the soul,” shall we not with much constancy and patience devote ourselves to injuries for religion, and rather suffer for the truth than the truth suffer for us? The Decii, among the Romans, vowed themselves to death, that their legions and soldiers might be crowned with the honour of the victory. O what should we be content to suffer, to make the truth victorious! Regulus having sworn that he would return to Carthage, though he knew there was a furnace heating for him there, yet not daring to infringe his oath, he did adventure to go; we then who are Christians, having made a vow to Christ in baptism, and so often renewed in the blessed sacrament, should with much contentment rather choose to suffer, than violate our sacred oath. Thus the blessed martyrs, with what courage and cheerfulness did they yield up their souls to God? And when the fire was set to their bodies, yet their spirits were not at all fired with passion or discontent. Though others hurt the body, let them not the mind through discontent; show by your heroic courage, that you are above those troubles which you cannot be without.
The next excuse is, the prosperity of the wicked. I confess it is so often, that the evil enjoy all the good, and the good endure all the evil, that David, though a good man, stumbled at this, and had like to have fallen (see Ps. 73. 2).
Well, be contented; for remember, 1. These are not the only things, nor the best things; they are mercies without the pale; these are but acorns with which God feeds swine; ye who are believers have more choice fruit, the olive, the pomegranate, the fruit which grows on the true vine Jesus Christ; others have the fat of the earth, you have the dew of heaven; they have a south-land, you have those springs of living water which are clarified with Christ’s blood, and indulcerated with His love. 2. To see the wicked flourish is matter rather of pity than envy; it is all the heaven they must have; “woe to you that are rich, for ye have received your consolation” (Lu. 6. 24). Hence it was that David made it his solemn prayer, “deliver me from the wicked, from men of the world, which have their portion in this life, and whose belly thou fillest with thy hid treasure” (Ps. 17. 15). The words (methinks) are David’s litany; from men of the world, which have their portion in this life, “good Lord, deliver me.” When the wicked have eaten of their dainty dishes, there comes in a sad reckoning which will spoil all. The world is first musical and then tragical; if you would have a man fry and blaze in hell, let him have enough of the fat of the earth. O remember, forever, sand of mercy that runs out of the wicked, God puts a drop of wrath into his vial! Therefore as that soldier said to his fellow, “Do you envy my grapes? they cost me dear, I must die for them;” so I say, “Do you envy the wicked? Alas their prosperity is like Haman’s banquet before execution.” If a man were to be hanged, would one envy to see him walk to the gallows through pleasant fields and fine galleries, or to see him go up the ladder in clothes of gold? The wicked may flourish in their bravery a while; but, when they flourish as the grass, “it is, that they shall be destroyed for ever” (Ps. 92. 7), the proud grass shall be mown down. Whatever a sinner enjoys, he hath a curse with it (Mal. 2. 2), and shall we envy? What if poisoned bread be given the dogs? The long furrows in the backs of the godly have a seed of blessing in them, when the table of the wicked becomes a snare, and their honour their halter.