The Spiritual Chymist
It is our Savior’s maxim that Man’s life consists not in the abundance of things which he possesses.
If there be any happiness upon earth it is in that we call contentment which comes from the mind within and not from things without. Perfect satisfaction is to be had only in heaven, where we shall be happy, not by contentment but by the fruition of our desires. Then, says David, I shall be satisfied when I awake with thy likeness. [Psalm 17:15] How happy therefore is every godly man’s condition who are the only persons that are instructed in the mystery of contentment while they live on earth and shall be in heaven the sole possessors of perfect an everlasting blessedness. True it is, that philosophy has greatly priced and earnestly sought this rich jewel of contentment; the Christian has only found it.
The Moralists have exercised their wits in giving rules to attain it (and have let fall some sentences that may deserve to be put into the Christian’s register), but they could never look into the true grounds from whence sound contentment does arise, and upon which it is to be built. The highest of their precepts have not (as I may say) the root of the matter in them, and are therefore insufficient wholly to compose the mind to such a calm and even temper, as may in the variety of changes show and discover [disclose] itself to be so reconciled to its present condition as to not lose inward peace and serenity, whatsoever the storms and cross accidents are from without.
What are the considerations which they prescribe as a support against poverty, sickness, imprisonment, loss of friends, banishment, and such like evils? Are they not persuasions drawn from the dignity of man, from vanity and uncertainly in all outward things; from the shortness and frailty of life, from the befalling of the same things unto others? But alas! what slender props are these to bear the stress and weight of those armies of trials which at once may assault the life of man. These may haply serve as secondary helps to alleviate the bitterness of some afflictions, when we are apt to think them greater than what others have felt or longer than others have endured.
But to keep the mind in peace in the midst of all aestuations from without [outside of us], there must be more effectual remedies than either Nature or morality can suggest. From whence then can true contentment arise but from godliness, which has a sufficiency to establish the heart? It is that alone which brings man home to God, out of whom neither contentment nor satisfaction can ever be had. It is that which acquaints a man with that great secret of God’s special providence over his children who rules the world not only as a Lord to make them sensible of his power, but as a loving Father to make them confident of his goodness, whereby he disposes all things for the best.
O when faith has once apprehended this, how firmly can it rest upon the promises which are made to godliness, both of this life and that which is to come? How can it work far more contentment with the meanest [basest, poor quality] feed than other have with the costliest delicacies; with the poorest raiment [clothing] than other have with their richest ornaments? It is faith only that teaches a Christian, like a skillful musicians to let down the string a peg lower when the tune requires it; or like an experienced spgirick [alchemist, chemist] to remit or intend his furnace [raise or lower the flame] as occasion serves.
Such a one was Paul, who learned this heavenly art [Phil. 4:11]not at Gamaliel’s feet but in Christ’s school, the Holy Spirit of God being his teacher, so that he knew both how to want [be in lack] and how to abound, and in whatsoever state therewith to be content [Phil. 4:11].
Let none then so far admire those heathen sages in those speculations of theirs concerning this mystery, as if they had attained to hit that mark at which they leveled [aimed] and had arrived at the utmost boundaries of it. When as in all their essays [tries, attempts] they have fallen as far short of true contentment as sick men’s slumbering and dreams do of a sound and healthful rest.
Of all their precepts and rules I may as as Erasmus [the humanist scholar] did of Seneca [Roman philosopher] in an epistle of his, Si legas cum et paganum, scripsit Christiane si ut Christianum scripsit paganice; If read them as they sayings of Heathen, they speak Christianly; but if you look upon them as sayings of Christians, they speak Paganly. And how could it be otherwise? They being wholly destitute of the light of grace and the guidance of the Spirit, which are both requisite to this high and holy learning? The one as a principle, the other as a teacher.
But yet this I must also say, that they have done enough to shame many, who, enjoying the benefit of Divine Revelation and living in the open sunshine of the Gospel, have profited thereby in so small a proportion beyond them. Who can forbear blushing to see those who profess to be Christians to live so contrary to the law and rule which they should walk by?
To see contentment, not by moderating their desires but by satisfying them, which will still increase as things come on; like unto rivers which the more they are fed and the further they run, the wider they can spread. Can it rationally be deemed by any that those things which are sums in the desire and cyphers in the fruition should ever effect contentedness in the mind? Is not the deficiency that men see in their abundance the ground [reason, source] of them multiplying it? And can they ever, by the additions which they make heal its deficiency? Why then should any try and attempt such fruitless projects which cannot but end in disappointment? Methinks I should not need to expostulate the matter with Christians: That anointing which teaches them all things should instruct them in this, that godliness is the only way to contentment in this life and satisfaction in the other.
But Lord, however others live,
help me to bring my mind to my condition
which is as well my duty as my happiness while I am on earth;
and to rest assured that in heaven thou wilt bring my estate to my mind,
which is that I may enjoy thee
in whose presence is fullness of joy
and at whose right hand there are pleasures forevermore.