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SERM. wardly disposition to learn it; we must, in doing it, deny our carnal sense, we must settle our wild fancy, and suppress fond conceits; we must bend our stiff and stubborn inclinations; we must repress and restrain wanton desires; we must allay and still tumultuous passions; we must cross our humour and curb our temper: which to do is a hard chapter to learn; much consideration, 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, Qui fit, Mecanas? 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 impossible to be learned, and which will baffle all study: there are examples, which shew 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 satisfaction, or good use; all other sciences, in comparison thereto, are 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 aσúorata, (things incompatible.)
But how then may this skill be learned? I answer, chiefly (divine grace concurring) by these three ways. 1. By understanding the rules and precepts, wherein the practice thereof consisteth. 2. By diligent exercise, or application of those rules to practice; whereby
the habit will be produced. 3. By seriously consider- SERM. ing, and impressing upon our minds those rational inducements (suggested by the nature and reason of things) which are apt to persuade the practice thereof. The first 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 considerations, 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 or state; from the world, or general state of men here; from the particular state of other men in comparison to ours; from the nature and consequences of the duty itself; every thing about us, well examined and pondered, will minister somewhat inducing and assisting there
I. In regard to God we may consider, that equity Sam. iii. doth 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 . 11. for me to do what I will with mine on? 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 Land, Owner, and Governor of all things, to assign his station, and alot his portion to every person, an he
SERM. judgeth good and convenient; it is most just that inviolably he should enjoy this right: he being also infinitely wise 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 effect 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; signifying, 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 out of his hands, and manage it ourselves, modelling the world according to our conceits and desires.
We do also, (since we cannot but perceive the other attempt of dispossessing God to be frivolous Multos in- and fruitless,) in effect, charge God with misdemeanadversus our, with iniquity or infirmity in his distribution and homines, disposal of things; intimating, that in our opinion he Deos nemi- doth not order them so justly or so wisely as might be, (not so well as we in our wisdom and justice should order them;) for did we conceive them managed for the best, we could not but judge it most unreasonable to be aggrieved, or to complain; so heinously insolent and unjust are we in being discontent. In earnest, which is most equal, that God should
nem. Sen. Ep. 93.
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 injustice that we can be guilty of, exceeding that which we commit in any other sort of disobedience. For as in any state seditious mutining is the greatest crime, as most directly violating the majesty, and subverting the authority of the prince; so in the world none may 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 subject our mind to him that administereth all things, as good citizens to the law of the commonwealth; 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 to God, than to give him the lie, by ques-1 Joh. v. 10. tioning his veracity or fidelity; this discontent plainly doth involve for God hath expressly declared himself ready upon all occasions to do us good; he hath promised to care for us, and never Matt. vi. to forsake us, or leave us destitute; which word of Heb.xiii. 5. his if we did not distrust, and take him to be unfaithful, we could not be discontent: as no man is displeased with his condition, or suspicious of want, who knoweth that he hath abundant supply of all he can need 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
b Τὴν αὐτοῦ γνώμην ὑποτάσσειν τῷ διοικοῦντι τὰ ὅλα, καθάπερ οἱ ἀγαθοὶ πολίται τῷ νόμῳ τῆς πόλεως. Arr. i. 12.
BARROW, VOL. II.
SERM. hath promised to help us, we could not be discontented for fear of any want.
We must at least, in so doing, suspect 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 Ps. lxxviii. promised for us, (like those infidels, who said, Can God furnish a table in the 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 happiness, manifold spiritual blessings, 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 soever to our sensual conceits or appetites, are by God designed 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 desert of ours) hath bestowed on us, and continueth to bestow, we fret, and quarrel, that he doth not in smaller matters
Iniquus est qui muneris sui arbitrium danti non relinquit, avidus qui non lucri loco habet quod accepit, sed damni quod reddidit, &c. Sen. ad Polyb. 29.