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Upon Contentment and Satisfaction
by William Spurstowe (1666)
It is our Savior’s maxim, that, “Man’s life consists not in the abundance of things which he possesseth” (Luke 12:15). If there be any happiness upon earth, it resides in that which we call contentment, which comes from the mind within, and not from the things without. Perfect satisfaction is to be had only in heaven, where we shall be happy, not by the confinement, but by the fruition of our desires. Then, said David, “I shall be satisfied, when I awake with thy likeness” (Ps. 17:15). How happy therefore is every godly man’s condition, who are the only persons that are instructed in the mystery of contentment while they live on earth, and shall be in heaven the sole possessors of perfect and everlasting blessedness? True it is, that philosophy hath greatly prized, and earnestly sought this rich jewel of contentment; but only Christianity has found it.
The Moralists have exercised their wits in giving of rules to attain it, and have let fall some sentences that may deserve to be put in the Christian’s register, but they could never look into the true grounds from whence sound contentment does arise, and upon which it is to be built. The highest of their precepts have not (as I may say) the root of the matter in them, and are therefore insufficient wholly to compose the mind to such a calm and even temper, as may, in the variety of changes, show and discover itself to be so reconciled to its present condition, as not to lose its inward peace and serenity, whatsoever the storms and cross accidents are from without.
What are the considerations which they prescribe as a support against poverty, sickness, imprisonment, loss of friends, banishment, and such like evils? Are they not persuasions drawn from the dignity of man, from the vanity and uncertainty of all outward things; from the shortness and frailty of life, from the befalling of the same things unto others? But alas! What slender props are these to bear the stress and weight of those armies of trials, which at once may assault the life of man. These may haply serve as secondary helps to alleviate the bitterness of some afflictions, when we are apt to think them greater than what others have felt, or longer than what others have endured. But to keep the mind in peace in the midst of all situations from without, there must be more effectual remedies than either nature or morality can suggest.
From whence then can true contentment arise but from godliness, which has a sufficiency to establish the heart? It is that alone which brings a man home to God, away from whom neither contentment, nor satisfaction can ever be had. It is that which acquaints a man with that great secret, of God’s special providence over his children, who rules the world, not only as a Lord, to make them sensible of his power, but as a loving Father to make them confident of his goodness, whereby he disposes all things for the best. O when faith has once apprehended this, how firmly can it rest upon the promises which are made to godliness, both of this life and that which is to some? How can it work far more contentment with the meanest food, than others have with the costliest delicacies; with the poorest raiment, than others have with their richest ornaments? It is faith only that teaches a Christian like a skillful musician, to let down a string a peg lower, when the tune requires it; or like an experienced chef to remit, or intend his fire as occasion serves. Such a one was Paul, who learned this heavenly art, not at Gamaliel’s feet, but in Christ’s School, the Holy Spirit of God being his teacher, so that he knew both how to be in need and how to abound, and in whatsoever state he was therewith to be content (see Phil. 4:11-13).
Let none then so far admire those heathen sages in those speculations of theirs concerning this mystery, as if they had attained to hit that mark at which they leveled, and had arrived at the utmost boundaries of it. Whenas in all their essays, they have fallen as far short of true contentment, as sick men’s slumberings and dreams, do of a found and healthful rest. Of all their precepts and rules I may say as Erasmus did of Seneca, in an epistle of his, “If you read them as the sayings of heathens, they speak Christianly; but if you look upon them as the sayings of Christians, they speak paganly.” And how could it be that they should ever do otherwise? They being wholly destitute of the light of grace, and the guidance of the Spirit, which are both requisite to this high and holy learning? The one as a principle, and the other as a teacher. But yet this I must say also, that they have done enough to shame many, who, enjoying the benefit of divine revelation, and living in the open sunshine of the Gospel, have profited thereby in so small a proportion beyond them.
Who can forbear blushing to see those who profess to be Christians, to live so contrary to the law and rule which they should walk by? To seek contentment, not by moderating their desires, but by satisfying them, which will still increase, as things come on: like to rivers, which the more they are fed, and the further they run, the wider they spread. Can it rationally be deemed by any, that those things which are sums in the desire, and ciphers in the fruition, should ever effect contentedness in the mind? Is not the deficiency that men see in their abundance the ground of their multiplying it? And can they ever, by the additions which they make, heal its deficiency? Why then should any try and attempt such fruitless projects, which cannot but end in disappointment?
Methinks I should not need to expostulate the matter with Christians: that anointing which teaches them all things, should instruct them in this, that Godliness is the only way to contentment in this life, and satisfaction in the other. But Lord, however others live, help me to bring my mind to my condition, which is as well my duty as my happiness while I am on earth; and to rest assured that in heaven thou wilt bring my estate to my mind, which is that I may enjoy thee in whose presence is fullness of joy, and at whose right hand there are pleasures for evermore.
This article is taken from: Spurstowe, William. The Spiritual Chymist: or, Six Decads of Divine Meditations on Several Subjects. London: Philip Chetwind, 1666. A PDF file of this book can be downloaded, free of charge, at http://www.ClassicChristianLibrary.com