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Here then is the right use of that main duty of Christianity, to live by faith. Brute creatures live by sense; mere men, by reason; Christians, by faith. Now, faith is the substance of things hoped for; the evidence of things not seen; Heb. xi. 1. In our extremities, we hope for God's gracious deliverance: faith gives a subsistence to that deliverance, before it be. The mercies, that God hath reserved for us, do not yet shew themselves: faith is the evidence of them, though yet unseen.
It was the motto of the learned and godly Divine, Mr. Perkins, Fidei vita vera vita; "The true life, is the life of faith;" a word, which that worthy servant of God did both write and live.
Neither indeed is any other life truly vital, but this: for, hereby, we enjoy God, in all whatsoever occurrences. Are we abridged of means? we feed upon the cordial promises of our God. Do we sigh and groan under varieties of grievous persecutions? out of the worst of them we can pick out comforts; while we can hear our Saviour say, Blessed are they, which are persecuted for righteousness' sake; for theirs is the kingdom of heaven; Matth. v. 10. Are we deserted and abandoned of friends? we see him by us, who hath said, I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee; Heb. xiii. 5. Do we droop under spiritual desertions? we hear the God of Truth say, For a small moment have I forsaken thee; but with great mercy will I gather thee: in a little wrath, I hid my face from thee; but with everlasting kindness will I have mercy on thee, saith the Lord, thy Redeemer; Is. liv. 7, 8. Are we driven from home? If we take the wings of the morning, and remain in the uttermost parts of the sea; even there also shall thy hand lead us, and thy right-hand shall hold us; Ps. cxxxix. 8, 9, 10. Are we dungeoned up from the sight of the sun: Peradventure the darkness shall cover us; but then shall our night be turned into day; yea, the darkness is no darkness with thee; vv. 11, 12. Are we cast down upon the bed of sickness? He, that is our God, is the God of Salvation; and, unto God the Lord belong the issues from death; Ps. Ixviii.
It cannot be spoken, how injurious those men are to themselves, that will be managing their own cares; and plotting the prevention of their fears; and projecting their own, both indemnity and advantages: for, as they lay an unnecessary load upon their own shoulders, so they draw upon themselves the miseries of an unremediable disappointment. Alas, how can their weakness make good those events, which they vainly promise to themselves; or avert those judgments, they would escape; or uphold them in those evils, they must undergo? Whereas, if we put all this upon a gracious God, he contrives it with ease; looking for nothing from us, but our trust and thankfulness.
(3.) In the third place, it will be most requisite to furnish the soul with True Inward Riches: I mean not of mere moral virtues, which yet are truly precious when they are found in a good heart; but of a wealth as much above them, as gold is above dross; yea, as the thing, which is most precious, is above nothing.
And this shall be done, if we bring Christ home to the soul; if we can possess ourselves of him, who is God all-sufficient. For, such infinite contentment there is, in the Son of God made ours, that whosoever hath tasted of the sweetness of this comfort, is indifferent to all earthly things; and so, insensible of those extreme differences of events, wherewith others are perplexed. How can he be dejected with the want of anything, who is possessed of him, that possesseth all things? How can he be over-affected with trivial profits or pleasures, who is taken up with the God of all Comfort?
Is Christ mine, therefore? how can I fail of all contentment? How can he complain to want light, that dwells in the midst of the sun? How can he complain of thirst, out of whose belly flow rivers of living waters? John vii. 38. What can I wish, that my Christ is not to me? Would I have meat and drink? My flesh is meat indeed; and my blood is drink indeed; John vi. 55. Would I have clothing? But, put ye on the Lord Jesus Christ, saith the Apostle; Rom. xiii. 14. Would I have medicine? He is the Tree of Life, the leaves whereof are for the healing of the nations; Rev. xxii. 2. Would I have safety and protection? He truly is my strength and my salvation: he is my defence, so as I shall not fall. In God my health and my glory; the rock of my might; and in God is my trust; Ps. lxii. 6, 7. Would I have direction? I am the way, and the truth; John xiv. 6. Would I have life? Christ is to me to live; Phil. i. 21. I am the resurrection and the life; John xi. 25. Would I have all spiritual good things? We are in Christ Jesus, who of God is made unto us wisdom, and righteousness, and sanctifi cation, and redemption; 1 Cor. i. 30.
Oh, the happy condition of the man that is in Christ, and hath Christ in him! Shall I account him rich, that hath store of oxen, and sheep, and horses, and camels; that hath heaps of metals, and some spots of ground? and shall I not account him infinitely more rich, that owns and enjoys him, whose the earth is, and the fulness of it; whose heaven is, and the glory of it? Shall I justly account that man great, whom the king will honour and place near to himself? and shall I not esteem that man more honourable, whom the King of Heaven is pleased to admit unto such partnership of glory, as to profess, To him, that overcometh, will I grant to sit with me in my throne; even as I also overcame, and am set down with my Father in his throne; Rev. iii. 21.
It is a true word of St. Augustin, that every soul is either Christ's Spouse, or the Devil's Harlot. Now, if we be matched to Christ, the Lord of Glory; what a blessed union is here! What can he withhold from us, that hath given us himself? I could I could envy the devotion of that man, though otherwise misplaced, whom St. Bernard heard to spend the night in no other words, than, Deus meus et omnia; "My God, and all things." Certainly, he, who hath that God, hath more than all things: he, that wants him, whatever else he seems to possess, hath less than nothing.
Holy Resolutions for Contentment. (1.) That our present estate is best for us :-(2.) To abate of our Desires :-(3.) To digest smaller Inconveniences :-(4.) To be frequent and fervent in prayer.
AFTER these serious Considerations and meet Dispositions, shall, in the last place, follow certain firm RESOLUTIONS, for the full actuating our Contentment.
(1.) And, first, we must resolve, out of the unfailable grounds of Divine Providence formerly spoken of, That the present estate wherein we are, is certainly the best for us; and, therefore, we must herein absolutely captivate our understanding and will, to that of the Highest.
How unmeet judges are flesh and blood, of the best fitness of a condition for us! As some palates, which are none of the wholesomest, like nothing but sweetmeats; so our nature would be fed up, with the only delicacies of pleasures and prosperity: according to the false principle of Aristippus, that he only is happy, which is delighted. But the all-wise God knows another diet, more fit for our health; and, therefore, graciously tempers our dishes, with the tart sauces of affliction. The mother of the two sons of Zebedee and her ambitious children, are all for the chief peerage in the temporal kingdom of Christ; but he calls them to a bitter cup and a bloody baptism, rather: and this was a far greater honour, than that they sued for.
There is no earthly estate absolutely good for all persons; like as no gale can serve for all passengers. In Afric, they say, the north wind brings clouds, and the south wind clears up. That plant, which was starved in one soil, in another prospers: yea, that, which in some climate is poison, proves wholesome in another. Some one man, if he had another's blessings, would run wild ; and if he had some other man's crosses, would be desperate.
The infinite wisdom of the great Governor of the World allots every one his due proportion. The fitches are not thrashed with a thrashing instrument, neither is a cart-wheel turned about upon the cummin; but the fitches are beaten out with a staff, and the cummin with a rod, saith Isaiah; ch. xxviii. 27.
And, no otherwise, in matter of prosperity: Joseph's coat may be party-coloured; and Benjamin's mess may be five times so much as any of his brethren; Gen. xliii. 34. It is marvel if they, who did so much envy Joseph for his dream of superiority, did not also envy Benjamin for so large a service, and so rich gifts at his parting this, it seems, gave occasion for the good Patriarch's fear, when he charged them, See that you fall not out by the way; Gen, xlv. 24. But, there had been no reason for so impotent an envy:
while the gift is free, and each speeds above his desert, who can have cause to repine? It is enough, that Joseph knew a just reason of so unequal a distribution, though it were hidden from themselves. The elder brother may grudge the fat calf and the prime robe to the returned unthrift; but the father knows reason to make that difference.
God is infinitely just and infinitely merciful, in dispensing both his favours and punishment. In both kinds, every man hath that, which is fittest for him; because it is that, which God's will hath designed to him; and that will is the most absolute rule of justice.
Now, if we can so frame our will to his, as to think so too, how can we be other than contented? Do we suffer? There is more intended to us, than our smart. It was a good speech of Seneca, though a heathen, (what pity it is that he was so!) "I give thanks to my infirmity, which forces me not to be able to do that, which I ought not will to do." If we lose without, so as we gain within; if, in the perishing of the outward man, the inward man be renewed (2 Cor. iv. 16.), we have no cause to complain, much to rejoice. Do I live in a mean estate? If it were better, I should be worse; more proud, more careless: and what a woeful improvement were this! What a strange creature would man be, if he were what he would wish himself! Surely, he would be wickedly pleasant, carelessly profane, vainly proud, proudly oppressive, dissolutely wanton, impetuously self-willed; and, shortly, his own idol, and his own idolater. His Maker knows how to frame him better: it is our ignorance and unthankfulness, if we submit not to his good pleasure.
To conclude, we pray every day, Thy will be done: what hypocrites are we, if we pray one thing, and act another! if we murmur at what we wish! All is well between heaven and us, if we can think ourselves happy to be what God will have us.
(2.) Secondly, we must resolve To abate of our desires: for it is the illimitedness of our ambitious and covetous thoughts, that is guilty of our unquietness.
Every man would be and have, more than he is; and is, therefore, sick of what he is not. It was a true word of Democritus, "If we desire not much, we shall think a little much :" and it is suitable to one of the rules of St. Augustin; "It is better to need less, than to have more." Paul, "the richest poor man," as Ambrose * well, could say, As having all things, yet possessing nothing.
It is not for a Christian, to be of the dragon's temper, which, they say, is so ever thirsty, that no water will quench his drought; and, therefore, never hath his mouth shut: nor, with the daughters of the horse-leach, to cry always, Gite, give; Prov. xxx. 15. He must confine his desires; and that, to no over-large compass: and must say to them, as God doth to the sea, Hitherto shalt thou
* Ambros, de Vitiorum et Virtutum Conflictu.
come, and no further; and here shall thy proud waves be stayed ; Job xxxviii. 11.
What a cumber it is, for a man to have too much! to be in the case of Surena, the Parthian lord, that could never remove his family with less than a thousand camels! What is this, but, tortoiselike, to be clogged with a weighty shell, which we cannot drag after us, but with pain? Or, like the ostrich, to be so held down with a heavy body, that we can have no use of our wings? Whereas, the nimble lark rises and mounts, with ease; and sings cheerfully, in her flight.
How many have we known, that have found too much flesh a burden! and, when they have found their blood too rank, have been glad to pay for the letting it out! It was the word of that old and famous Lord Keeper Bacon, the eminent head of a noble and witty family, Mediocria firma. There is neither safety, nor true pleasure, in excess. It was a wise and just answer of Zeno, the philosopher; who, reproving the superfluity of a feast, and hearing by way of defence that the maker of it was a great rich man and might well spare it, said; "If thy cook shall_oversalt thy broth, and when he is chid for it, shall say, I have store enough of salt lying by me,' wouldest thou take this for a fair answer?"
My son, eat thou honey, saith Solomon; because it is good; Prov. xxiv. 13. but, to be sure, for the preventing of all immoderation, he adds soon after; Hast thou found honey? eat so much as is sufficient for thee, lest thou be filled therewith; Prov. xxv. 16. If our appetite carry us too far, we may easily surfeit. This, which is the emblem of pleasure, must be tasted, as Dionysius the Sophist said of old, on the tip of the finger; not to be supped up in the hollow
of the hand.
It is with our desires, as it is with weak stomachs; the quantity offends, even where the food is not unwholesome: and, if heed be not taken, one bit draws on another, till nature be over-laid. Both pleasures and profits, if way be given to them, have too much power to debauch the mind, and to work it to a kind of insatiableness, There is a thirst, that is caused with drunkenness; and the wanton appetite, like as they said of Messalina, may be wearied, but cannot be satisfied. It is good therefore, to give austere repulses to the first overtures of inordinate desires; and to give strong denials to the first unruly motions of our hearts: for, St. Chrysostom, well; "Pleasure is like a dog, which, being coyed and stroked, follows us at the heels; but if rated and beaten off, is driven away from us with ease."
It is for the Christian heart, to be taken up with other desires; such as, wherein there can be no danger of immoderateness: these are the holy longings after grace and goodness. This only covetousness, this ambition, is pleasing to God, and infinitely beneficial to the soul. Blessed are they, which hunger and thirst after righteousness; for they shall be filled; Matt. v. 6. Spiritual bless