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9. All hearty charity doth greatly alleviate discontent. we bear such a good-will to our neighbor, as to have a sincere compassion of his evils and complacence in his good, our case will not much afflict us. If we can appropriate and enjoy the prosperity, the wealth, the reputation of our neighbor, by delighting in them, what can we want; what can displease us? if our heart is enlarged with pity for the misfortunes of others, it cannot be contracted with grief for our own; our sorrow, like water, being thus diffused, cannot be so deep, but it will be more fruitful; it will produce such effects as will comfort and please us : it is a stingy selfishness which maketh us so very sensible of crosses and so uncapable of comfort.
10. Again, if we will attain contentment, we must take heed of setting our affection on any worldly thing whatever, so as very highly to prize it, very passionately to affect it, very eagerly to pursue it; so as to conceive our happiness in any measure to hang on it or stick thereto; if there be any such thing, we shall be disappointed in the acquist or the retention of it; or we shall be dissatisfied in its enjoyment.
So to adhere in affection to any thing is an adulterous disloyalty toward our Maker and best Friend, from which it is expedient that we should be reclaimed; whence God, in just anger or in kind mercy, will be apt to cross us in our attempts to get it, or to deprive us of its possession; whence the displeasure will follow which always attendeth a separation from things we love. But if we be suffered to obtain or to retain it, we shall soon find dissatisfaction therein; being either disgusted with some bitterness in it, (such as doth lurk in every sensible good,) or being cloyed with its lusciousness; it after a small enjoyment will become either distasteful or insipid.
This, according to continual experience, is the nature of all things, pleasant only to sense or fancy, presently to satiate: no beauty can long please the eye, no melody the ear, no delicacy the palate, no curiosity the fancy; a little time doth waste away, a small use doth wear out the pleasure which at first they afford novelty commendeth and ingratiateth them; distance representeth them fair and lovely; the want or absence of them rendereth them desirable; but the presence of them dulleth
their grace, the possession of them deadeneth the appetite to them.
New objects with a gentle and grateful touch warble on the corporeal organs, or excite the spirits into a pleasant frisk of motion; but when use hath levigated the organs, and made the way so smooth and easy that the spirits pass without any stop, those objects are no longer felt, or very faintly; so that the pleasure ceaseth.
Only those things which reason (religious and sound reason) doth approve, do yield a lasting (undecaying, unalterable) satisfaction; if we set our affections on them, we cannot fail of content: in seeking them, we cannot be disappointed; for God (without any reservation or exception) hath promised to bestow them on those who seriously and diligently seek them: nor can we be dispossessed of them; God will not take them away, and they lie beyond the reach of any other hand: having them, then, we cannot but fully and durably be satisfied in the fruition of them; the longer we have them, the more we shall like them; the more we taste them, the better we shall relish them time wasteth not, but improveth the sense of their unfading beauty and indefectible sweetness.
11. It is of great influence toward contentedness with an earnest and impartial regard to contemplate things as they are in themselves, divested of tragical appearances, in which they are wrapt by our own inconsiderate fancy, or which vulgar prejudices do throw on them: as all things, looked on by the corporeal eye through a mist, do seem bigger than in reality they are; so to the eye of our mind all things (both good and evil) seem hugely enlarged, when viewed through the fogs of our dusky imagination, or of popular conceit. If we will esteem that very good, which with a gay appearance dazzleth our imagination, or which the common admiration and applause of men recommendeth, the most vain and worthless, the most dangerous, the most mischievous things often will appear such: and if we please to account those things greatly bad, which look ugly or horridly to imagination, which are defamed by the injudicious part of men, or which men commonly do loath, do fret at, do wail for, we shall take the best, most innocent, most useful, most wholesome things for such; and accordingly
these errors of our minds will be followed by a perverse practice, productive of dissatisfaction and displeasure to us. No man ever will be satisfied, who values things according to the price which fancy setteth on them, or according to the rate they bear in the common market; who distinguisheth not between good and famous, bad and infamous; who is affected accordingly with the want of those things which men call good, with the presence of those which they term bad.
But if we judge of things as God declareth, as impartial and cautious reason dictateth, as experience diligently observed (by their fruits and consequences) discovereth them to be, we shall have little cause to be affected by the want or presence of any such thing which is wont to produce discontent.
12. We should to this purpose take especial care to search through our condition, and pick thence the good that is therein, making the best we can of it, enjoying and improving it; but what is inconvenient or offensive therein declining it, diminishing it, tempering it so well as we may, always forbearing to aggravate it. There are in nature divers simples, which have in them some part or some juice very noxious, which being severed and cast away, the rest becometh wholesome food; neither indeed is there any thing in nature so venomous, but that from it, by art and industry, may be extracted somewhat medicinal and of good use when duly applied; so in most apparent evils lieth inclosed much good, which if we carefully separate, (casting away the intermixed dross and refuse,) we shall find benefit, and taste comfort thence; there is nothing so thoroughly bad, as, being well ordered and opportunely ministered, will not do us much good: so if from poverty we cast away or bear quietly that which a little pincheth the sense or grateth on the fancy, and enjoy the undistractedness of mind, the liberty, the leisure, the health, the security from envy, obloquy, strife, which it affordeth, how satisfactory may it become to us? The like conveniences are in disgrace, disappointment, and other such evils, which being improved may endear them to us: even sin itself (the worst of evils, the only true evil) may yield great benefits to us; it may render us sober and lowly in our own eyes, devout in imploring mercy, and thankful to God for it; merciful and charitable toward others
in our opinions and censures; more laborious in our good practice, and watchful over our steps: and if this deadly poison well administered yieldeth effects so exceedingly beneficial and salutary, what may other harmless (though unhandsome and unpleasant) things do, being skilfully managed?
13. It is a most effectual means of producing content and curing discontent, to rouse and fortify our faith in God, by, with most serious attention, reflecting on the arguments and experiments, which assure us concerning God's particular providence over all, over us. It is really infidelity (in whole or in part, no faith, or a small and weak faith) which is at the root, as of all sin, so particularly of discontent for how is it possible, did we firmly believe, and with any measure of attention consider that God taketh care of us, that he tendereth our good, that he is ready at hand to succor us, (how then, I say, is it possible,) that we should fear any want, or grievously resent any thing incident? But we, like St. Peter, are oλyóTLOTOL, of little faith,' therefore we cannot walk on the sea ;' but in despair sink down : sometimes our faith is buried in oblivion or carelessness; we forget, or mind not that there is a Providence; but look on things as if they fell out casually or fatally; thence expect no redress from heaven, so tumble into despair and disconsolateness. Sometimes, because God doth not in our time and our way relieve us or gratify us, we flip into profane doubt, questioning in our hearts whether he doth indeed regard us, or whether any relief is to be expected from him; not considering that only God can tell when and how it is best to proceed; that often it is not expedient our wishes should be granted; that we are not wise enough or just enough to appoint or choose for ourselves; that it is impossible for God to gratify every man; that it would be a mad world, if God in his government thereof should satisfy all our desires.
We forget how often God hath succored us in our needs and straits, how continually he hath provided for us, how patiently and mercifully he hath borne with us, what miracles of bounty and mercy he hath performed in our behalf; we are like that distrustful and inconsiderate people, who 'remembered not the hand of God, nor the day when he delivered them;
remembered not the multitude of his mercies;' but 'soon forgat his works, and waited not for his counsel;' They forgat God their Saviour, who had done great things in Egypt, wondrous works in the land of Ham, and terrible things in the Red Sea.'
From such dispositions in us our discontents do spring; and we cannot cure them, but by recollecting ourselves from such forgetfulness and negligence; by shaking off such wicked doubts and distrusts; by fixing our hearts and hopes on him, who alone can help us; who is our strength, the strength of our heart, of our life, of our salvation.'
Of him (to conclude) let us humbly implore, that he in mercy would bestow on us grace to submit in all things to his will, to acquiesce in all his dispensations, gladly to embrace and undergo whatever he allotteth to us; in every condition, and for all events befalling us, heartily to adore, thank, and bless him even so to the ever blessed God, our gracious Maker and Preserver, be eternally rendered all glory, thanksgiving, and praise. Amen.