Page images
PDF
EPUB

SERMON XXXVIII.

OF CONTENTMENT.

PHIL. iv. II.

I have learned, 6.

THESE words fignify how contentedness may be attain- SERM. ed, or how it is produced : it is not an endowment innate

XXXVIII. 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 queftion debated in Plato, ει διδακτον η αρετή, whether virtue be to be learned ; St. Paul plainly resolveth it in this case by his own experience and testimony. What Seneca faith in general of virtue (Nature giveth not virtue ; it is an art to become good a) 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 ftudious 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 sense, we must fettle our wild fancy, and suppress fond conceits; we must bend our ftiff and stubborn inclinations;

a Non dat natura virtutem, ars eft bonum fieri. Sen. Ep. 89.

Virtus etiamsi quofdam impetus ex natura fumit, tamen perficienda doctrina eft. Quintil, xii. 2.

SERM. we must repress, and restrain wanton desires; we, must XXXVIII. allay and still tumultuous paffions; we must cross our

humour and curb ,our temper: which to do is a hard chapter to learn ; much confideration, much practice, much 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, Mecænas? 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 inpossible to be learned, and which will baffle all study: there are examples, which fhew 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 satisfactign, or good use; all other sciences, in comparison thereto, jare dry, and fruitless curiosities; for were we masters of all other knowledge, yet wanted the skill of being content, we should not be wise or happy; happiness and discontent are årúsata, (things incompatible.)

But bow. then may this skill be learned ? I answer, chiefly, (diving grace concurring) by these three ways. 1, By, understanding the rules and precepts, wherein the practice thereof confifteth. 2. By diligent exercise, or application of those rules to practice; whereby the habit will be produced. 3. By seriously considering, and impressing upon our minds those rational inducementş Zsuggested by the nature and reason of things) which are apt to persuade the practice thereof. The firsi way I have already endeavoured to declare; the second wholly dependeth upon the will and endeavour of the learner; the third I shall now insist upon, propounding some rational confiderations, 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

18.

15.

or state; from the world, or general state of men here; SERM. from the particular state of other men in comparison to XXXVIII. ours; from the nature and consequences of the duty itself; every thing about us, well examined and pondered, will minister fomewhat inducing and affisting thereto.

I. In regard to God we may consider, that equity doth 1 Sam. iii. 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 acknowledging his good exercise thereof; that saying in the Gospel, Is it not lawful for me to do what I Matt

. Ir. 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 allign his ftation, 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 wife and good, it is likewise most just to acknowledge 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 effe& 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 ; fignifying, that in our opinion things ought not to be ordered according to his judgment and pleasure, but after our fancy and humour; 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

adversus

SERM. out of his hands, and manage it ourselves, modelling the XXXVIII. world according to our conceits and defires.

We do also, (fince we cannot but perceive the other atMultos in- tempt of difpofseffing God to be frivolous and fruitless,) in veni æquos effect, charge God with misdemeanour, with iniquity or homines, infirmity in his distribution and disposal of things ; intiDeos nemi-mating, that in our opinion he doth not order them fo nem. Sen. juftly or so wisely as might be, (not so well as we in our Ep. 93.

wisdom and justice should order them;) for did we conceive them managed for the best, we could not but judge it moft unreasonable to be aggrieved, or to complain: fo 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 injuftice that we can be guilty of, exceeding that which we commit in any other sort of disobedience. For as in any ftate feditious mutining is the greatest crime, as moft diredly violating the majesty, and fubverting the authority of the prince; fo in the world, none inay 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 fubject our mind to him that administereth all things, as good citizens to the law of the commonwealthb; 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 1 John v.10. 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 upon Matt.vi. 25, occasions to do us good; he hath promised to care for us,

and never to forsake us, or leave us deftitute; which word of his if we did not diftruft, and take him to be unfaithful, we could not be discontent: as no man is dif

الa

36.
Heb. xiii. 5.

• Την αυτού γνώμην υποτάσσειν το διοικούντι τα όλα, καθάπις οι αγαθοί «ediras tan véves rñs gróasws. Arr. i. 12.

19.

pleased with his condition, or fufpicious of want, who SERM. knoweth that he hath abundant fupply of all he can need XXXVIII. in a sure place; that he hath a person most able, most willing, most faithful, engaged to succour 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, fufped 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 faid, Can God furnish a table in the Pr. lxxviii. wilderness? Can he give bread also, can he provide flesh for his people ?) which conceits of God are also very unworthy, and injurious to him.

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 upon 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 bappiness, manifold fpiritual bleffings, 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 foever to our sensual conceits or appetites, are by God defigned 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 defert 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

Iniquus eft qui muneris sui arbitrium danti non relinquit, avidus qui non lucri loco habet quod accepit, sed damni quod reddidit, &c. Sen. ad Polyb. 19.

« PreviousContinue »