We met Thomas Watson last month as we enjoyed several quotes from his book, The Godly Man’s Picture. This month we have the opportunity to glean a few more faith-nourishing morsels from Watson’s book, The Art of Divine Contentment. In this excellent little work, Watson uses keen exegetical insight and countless apt illustrations to unearth the riches of Paul’s statements concerning his own fight for contentment. We find these statements near the end of his letter to the Philippians:
Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me.Philippians 4:11-13
Although he was an apostle, a recipient of divine revelation, and Christ’s chosen vessel to carry the gospel to the Gentiles, contentment was something that Paul learned over the course of his Christian life. This fact alone should provide us with some comfort, for a state of contentment is not something that comes to us naturally, but must be apprehended through faith in Christ as it is tested in the gauntlet of life. Paul learned it, and so must we.
But Paul’s statement that he learned contentment also challenges us because we are reminded that it is “not enough for Christians to hear their duty, but they must learn their duty” (3). Learning implies that the student is taking what he has been taught and puting it into action, learning how to be content in each and every circumstance. To obey is to learn (Ps 119:100), and we only learn as we seek sincere obedience. Moreover, learning requires serious effort. “The business of religion,” Watson warns, “is not as easy as most imagine” (7). That’s because sinning comes naturally. Contentment? This requires, “holy industry” (7).
The following are some of the quotes I found most helpful in Watson’s excellent little book. May they spur us on to exercise some “holy industry” in cultivating contentment.
Distrustful care is dishonorable to God. “Care, when it is either distrustful or distracting, is very dishonorable to God. It takes away his providence, as if He sat in heaven and did not mind what became of things here below, like a man who makes a clock and then leaves it to go by itself. Immoderate care takes the heart off from better things, and usually, while we are thinking how we shall live, we forget how to die” (1).
A contented spirit is like a watch. “A contented spirit is like a watch. Though you carry it up and down with you, yet the spring of it is not shaken, nor the wheels out of order. The watch keeps its perfect motion. So it was with Paul. Though God had carried him into various conditions, he was not lifted pup with one, nor cast down with the other. The spring of his heart was not broken; the wheels of his affections not disorderd, but kept their constant motion toward heaven” (15).
An angry heart is a discontented heart. “When the heart is discontented, it casts forth the foam of anger, impatience, and sometimes little better than blasphemy. Murmuring is nothing else but the scum that boils off a discontented heart” (18).
Contentment is not dependent on circumstances. “Hence I gather that outward troubles cannot hinder this blessed contentment. It is a spiritual thing and arises from spiritual grounds, namely the apprehension of God’s love. When there is a tempest without, there may be music within” (20).
Recognize God’s providence: “Be content by virtue of a decree. Whatever our condition is, God, the great Umpire of the world, has decreed that condition for us, and by His providence has ordered all things that go along with it” (23).
Contentment is necessary for comfort. Contentment is as necessary to keep the life comfortable as oil is necessary to keep the lamp burning. The clouds of discontent often drop the showers of tears. Would we have comfort in our lives? We may have it if we will. A Christian may carve out what condition he will for himself. Why do you complain of your troubles? It is not trouble that troubles, but discontent” (27).
God is a prudent friend. He is a prudent friend….He is skillful as well as faithful. He knows what our disease is, and what medicine is most proper to apply. He knows what will do us good, and what wind will be best to carry us to heaven” (42).
Your sin is worse than your suffering. Your sufferings are not as great as your sins. Put these two in the balance and see which weighs heaviest. Where sin lies heavy, sufferings lie light. A carnal spirit make s more of his sufferings and less of his sins” (47).
Contentment is a piece of heaven. “A contented Christian carries heaven with him. For what is heaven but that sweet repose and full contentment that the soul shall have in God” (58).
Suffering brings God near to us. “These afflictions bring more of God’s immediate presence into the soul. When we are most assulted, we shall be most assisted. “I will be with thee in trouble” (Psalm 91:15). It cannot be bad with that man whom God, by his gracious presence, is sweetening the present trial” (78).
Discontent is rooted in pride. A discontented man is a proud man; he thinks himself better than others, and therefore finds fault with the wisdom of God that he is not above others” (81).
Discontent does not make things better. “Discontent does not ease our burden, but makes the cross heavier. A contented spirit goes cheerfully under its affliction. Discontent makes our grief as unbearable as it is unreasonable” 87).
Don’t always be content. “[A man] must not be content in his natural state….he must not be content in such a condition wherein God is apparently dishonored….we are [also] not to content ourselves with a little grace” (99-102).
The humble man is the contented man. “The humble man is the contented man. If his state is low, his heart is lower than his state. Therefore, be content. If his esteem in the world is low, he who is little in his own eyes will not be troubled much to be little in the eyes of others. He has a meaner opinion of himself than others can have of him. The humble man studies his own unworthiness. He looks upon himself as less than the least of God’s mercies, and then a little will content him” (114).