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ings are the true riches; whereof we can never have enough. St. Ambrose * said truly, “ No man is indeed wealthy, that cannot carry away what he hath with him. What is left behind, is not ours; but other men’s. Contemn thou while thou art alive, that, which thou canst not enjoy, when thou art dead."
As for this earthly trash and the vain delights of the flesh, which we have so fondly doted on, we cannot carry them indeed away with us : but the sting of the guilty mis-enjoying of them, will be sure to stick by us; and, to our sorrow, attend us both in death and judgment. In sum therefore, if we would be truly contented, and happy, our hearts can never be enough enlarged, in our desires of spiritual and heavenly things ; never too much contracted, in our desires of earthly.
(3.) Our third resolution must be,to inure ourselves To digest smaller discontentments; and, by the exercise thereof, to enable ourselves for greater : as those, that drink medicinal waters, begin first with smaller quantities; and by degrees arise, at last, to the highest of their prescribed measure : or, as the wise Lacedemonians, by early scourgings of their boys, inured them, in their riper years, to more painful sufferings. A strong Milo takes up his calf at first ; and, by continual practice, is now able to carry it, when it is grown a buit.
Such is our self-love, that we affect ever to be served of the best; and that we are apt to take great exceptions at small failings. We would walk always in smooth and even paths, and would have no hindrances in our passage: but, there is no remedy ; we must meet with rubs, and perhaps cross shins, and take falls too in our way. Every one is willing and desirous to enjoy, as they say the city of Rhodes doth, a perpetual sunshine: but we cannot, if we be wise, but know, that we must meet with change of weather; with rainy days, and sometimes storms and tempests. It must be our wisdom, to make provision accordingly; and, some whiles, to abide a wetting; that, if need be, we may endure a drenching also.
It was the policy of Jacob, when he was to meet with his brother Esau, whom he feared an enemy, but found a friend; to send the droves first ; then, his handmaids, and their children ; then, Leah, with her children; and, at last, came Joseph and Rachael; Gen. xxxii. 14, &c. and xxxiji. 5, 6, &c. as one, that would adventure the less dear, in the first place; and, if it must be, to prepare himself for his dearest loss. St. Paul's companions in his perilous sea. voyage, first, lighten the ship of less necessaries: then, they cast out the tackling; then, the wheat; and, in the last place, themselves; Acts xxvii. 19, 19. It is the use, that wise Socrates made of the sharp tongues of his cross and unquiet wives, to prepare his patience for public sufferings. Surely, he, that cannot endure a frown, will hardly take a blow; and he, that doubles under a light cross, will sink under a heavier: and, contrarily, that good martyr prepares his whole body for the faggot, with burning his hand in the candle.
* Ambros. Epist. 27.
I remember Seneca, in one of his Epistles, rejoices much, to tell with what patient temper he took it, that, coming unexpectedly to his country-house, he found all things so discomposed, that no provision was ready for him; finding more contentment in his own quiet apprehension of these wants, than trouble in that unreadiness: and thus should we be affected, upon all occasions. Those, that promised me help, have disappointed me: that friend, on whom I relied, hath failed my trust: the sum, that I expected, comes not in at the day : my servant slackens the business enjoined him: the beast, that I esteemed highly, is lost: the vessel, in which I shipped some commodities, is wrecked: my diet and attendance must be abated : I must be dislodged of my former habitation : How do I put over these occurrences ? If I can make light work of these lesser crosses, I am in a good posture to entertain greater.
To this purpose, it will be not a little expedient, to thwart our appetite, in those things, wherein we placed much delight; and to torture our curiosity, in the delay of those contentments, which we too eagerly affected. It was a noble and exemplary government of these passions, which we find in King David; who, being extremely thirsty, and longing for a speedy refreshment, could say, 'Oh, that one would give me drink of the water of the well of Bethlehem ! but, when he saw that water purchased with the hazard of the lives of three of his Worthies, when it was brought to him he would not drink it, but poured it out unto the Lord; 2 Sam. xxiii. 15, 16, 17. Have I a mind to some one curious dish, above the rest ? I will put my knife to my throat; and not humour my palate, so far, as to taste of it. Do I receive a letter of news from a far country, over-night? it shall keep my pillow warm till the morning. Do my importunate recreations call me away ? they shall, against the hair, be forcibly adjourned till a further leisure,
Out of this ground it was, that the ancient votaries observed such austerity and rigour, in their diet, clothes, lodging; as those, that knew how requisite it is, that nature should be held short of her demands, and continually exercised with denials, Jest she grow too wanton and impetuous in her desires. That, which was of old given as a rule to Monastic persons, is fit to be extended to all Christians: They may not have a will of their own; but must frame themselves to such a condition and carrriage, as seems best to their Superior.
If, therefore, it please my God, to send me some little comfort, I shall take that as an earnest of more: and, if he exercise me with lesser crosses, I shall take them as preparatives to greater: and endeavour to be thankful for the one, and patient in the other; and contented with God's hand, in both.
(4.) Our last resolution must be, To be frequent and fervent in our prayers to the Father of all Mercies, that he will be pleased to work our hearts, by the power of his Spirit, to this constant state of Contentation; without which, we can neither consider the things that belong to our inward peace, nor dispose ourselves towards it, nor resolve ought for the effecting it; without which, all our Considerations, all our Dispositions, all our Resolutions, are vain and fruitless. Justly, therefore, doth the blessed Apostle, after his charge of avoiding all carefulness for these earthly things, enforce the necessity of our Prayers and Supplications, and making our requests known unto God; Phil. iv. 6. who both knows our need, and puts these requests into our mouths. When we have all done, they are the requests of our hearts, that must free them from cares, and frame them to a perfect contentment.
There may be a kind of dull and stupid neglect, which, possessing the soul, may make it insensible of evil events, in some natural dispositions; but a true temper of a quiet and peaceable estate of the squl, upon good grounds, can never be attained, without the inoperation of that Holy Spirit, from whom every good gift, and every perfect giving proceedeth ; James i. 17.
It is here contrary to these earthly occasions : with men, he, that is ever craving, is never contented; but, with God, he cannot want contentment, that prays always.
If we be not unacquainted with ourselves, we are so conscious of our own weakness, that we know every puff of temptation is able to blow us over: they are only our prayers, that must stay us from being carried away, with the violent assaults of discontentment; under which, a praying soul can no more miscarry, than an indevout soul can enjoy safety.
PART THE SECOND.
CONTENTATION, IN KNOWING HOW TO ABOUND.
The Difficulty of Knowing how to abound : and the IU Consequences
of Not Knowing it.
Let this be enough for the remedy of those distempers which arise from an Adverse condition.
As for PROSPERITY, every man thinks himself wise and able enough, to kuow how to govern it, and himself in it. A happy estate, we imagine, will easily manage itself, without too much care. Give me but sea-room, saith the confident mariner; and let me alone, whatever tempest arise.
Surely, the great Doctor of the Gentiles had never made this holy boast of his divine skill, I know how to abound, if it had been so easy a matter, as the world conceives it. Mere ignorance, and want of self-experience, is guilty of this error.
Many a one abounds in wealth and honour, wlio abounds no less in miseries and vexation. Many a one is carried away with an unruly greatness, to the destruction of body, soul, estate. The world abounds every where, with men, that do abound; and yet, do not know how to abound: and those, especially, in three ranks; the Proud, the Covetous, the Prodigal: the Proud is thereby transported to forget God; the Covetous, his neighbour; the Prodigal, himself.
Both wealth and honour are of a Swelling nature; raising a man up, not only above others, but above himself; equalling him to the powers immortal; yea, exalting him above all that is called God. Oh, that vile dust and ashes should be raised to that height of insolence, as to hold contestation with its Maker! Who is the Lord ? saith the king of Egypt; Exod. v. 2.
I shall be like to the Highest : I am ; and there is none besides me ; saith the king of Babylon; Isa. xiv. 14. xlvii. 8. The voice of God, and not of man, goes down with Herod; Acts xii. 22. And how will that Spirit trample upon men, that dare vie with the Almighty! Hence are all the heavy oppressions, bloody tyrannies, imperious domineerings, scornful insultations, merciless outrages, that are so rife amongst men, even from hence, that they know not how to abound.
The Covetous man abounds with bags, and no less with sorrows; verifying the experience of wise Solomon : There is a sore evil, which I have seen under the sun, riches kept for the owners thereof, to their hurt; Eccl. v. 13. What he hath got with unjustice, he keeps with care, leaves with grief, and reckons for with torment. I cannot better compare these money-mongers, than to bees: they are busy gatherers; but it is for themselves: their masters can have no part of their honey, till it be taken from them; and they have a sting ready for every one, that approaches their hive; and their lot, at the last, is burning. What maceration is there here, with fears and jealousies! What cruel extortion and oppression exercised upon others ! and all, from no other ground, than this, that they know not how to abound !
The Prodigal feasts and sports, like an Athenian; spends, like an emperor; and is ready to say, as Heliogabalus did of old, “ Those cates are best, that cost dearest * ;” caring more for an empty reputation of a short gallantry, than for the comfortable subsistence of himself, his family, bis posterity : like Cleopes, the vain Egyptian king, which was fain to prostitute his daughter for the finishing of his pyramid. This man lavisheth out, not his own means alone, but his poor neighbour's; running upon the score with all trades, that concern back or belly ; undoing more with his debts, than he can pleasure with his entertainments : none of all which should be done, if he knew how to abound.
* Ælius Lamprid.
Great skill, therefore, is required to the governing of a plentiful and prosperous estate; so as it may be safe and comfortable to the owner, and beneficial unto others. Every corporal may know how to order some few files; but, to marshal many troops in a regiment, many regiments in a whole body of an army, requires the skill of an experienced general. But the rules and limits of Christian Moderation, in the use of our honours, pleasures, profits, I have at large laid forth in a former Discourse. Thither I must crave leave to send the benevolent reader; beseeching God to bless unto him these and all other labours, to the happy furtherance of his grace and salvation. Amen.