As my beloved readers know, I am a fan of ancient writers. It is my unquenchable belief that principles are set in stone, and these dear old authors knew their principles. I doubt they knew what political correctness was or, if they did, they had the courage to say with Luther, “Here I stand, I cannot do otherwise.” Every generation tries to move the boundary stones, but there are a few that can’t be budged, for God won’t allow it.
Recently I have been reading certain writings by Thomas Watson, who died in 1686. Two outstanding treatises are "The Beatitudes, An exposition of Matthew 5:1-12," and "The Art of Divine Contentment, an Exposition of Philippians 4:11." Since we live in the Age of Discontent, I’d like to share a few of Thomas Watson’s gems from the one on contentment. Mr. Watson’s writings can be downloaded from Internet. What constantly amazes me is the universality and applicability of these authors’ writings. Human nature has remained the same since Adam and Eve decided they knew best. We still make decisions on that tremulous limb of knowledge without wisdom.
“Our first parents, clothed with the white robe of innocency in paradise, had not learned to be content; they had aspiring hearts, and thinking their human nature too low and home spun, would be crowned with the Deity, and ‘be as gods.’ Though they had the choice of all the trees of the garden, yet none would content them but the tree of knowledge which they supposed would have been as eye salve to have made them omniscient” (Watson, Contentment).
The operative words here are “though they had the choice of all the trees. . .” Imagine, all those beautiful, majestic trees laden with diverse fruits, and these two wanted the one tree God had told them they could not have, on penalty of death (every parent knows that the secret to a child’s quicker obedience is to tell the child not to do something, and his/her great desire will then be to want or to do the exact opposite). This sounds so much like our ads on TV. We must have the latest gadget, or else our life will be valueless, headless, heartless, etc., etc., etc. I recently heard an astute speaker say that advertising is here for the express purpose of making us discontent, and that was the exact word he used.
Remember when you woke up healthy and ready for whatever the day offered? Just turn on TV and listen to the ads for medicines, and see how well you feel after hearing about every ailment from head to toe, with a few new illnesses thrown in for shock effect. My husband and I are among the aged now, and we laugh, literally, at the side effects of these new medicines that are supposed to make us young and vibrant again. Who can resist taking a medicine that gives you constipation and diarrhea at the same time--seriously, we actually heard that! The woman in the gospel who spent "all her living upon the physicians" (Luke 8:43) would be spending it even faster today. That wonderful hymn “He Touched Me” has been renamed “Advertising Will Kill Me.”
But I digress. The apostle Paul had "learned in every state to be content." We live in the state of Florida and during hurricane season we become discontented for a few months, praying that we will be spared the winds and water this year. This is when we should be content and grateful for the many months of beautiful weather. But, like the children in the marketplace, we groan. I imagine the folks in the Midwest states aren’t too happy during tornado season. We tease our son who lives in California, reminding him every chance we get about his four seasons, one being earthquakes. We had a minor one here in Florida recently so we took that teaser off the table.
“Care, when it is eccentric, either distrustful or distracting, is very dishonorable to God; it takes away his providence, as if he sat in heaven and minded not what became of things here below; like a man that makes a clock, and then leaves it to go for itself. Immoderate care takes the heart off from better things; and usually while we are thinking how we shall do to live, we forget how to die” (Watson, Contentment). Here Mr. Watson reminds us that we do a great dishonor to God Himself by not knowing--or indeed even caring--that He has the whole world in His capable hands.
Mr. Watson mentions Haman, the epitome of wickedness in the midst of much for which to be grateful. In Esther 3 we read about his perfidy. When I think of Haman I think of that saying, “Hoist by his own petard.” In building a gallows for Mordecai, he unwittingly built his own means of death. We would do well to remember this when we are tempted to take revenge into our own hands because we are discontented about this or that. Haman wasn’t content to do in Mordecai, he wanted to take out an entire nation while he was about his dastardly work. That should even things up! It is amazing to what lengths wounded pride will go. The man had everything and wanted more. “Justice is said to blindfold herself that she may hold the scales evenly, not knowing what has been put into each; but revenge shuts both eyes that it may see no scales at all. What monstrous disproportion between the offence and the penalty, to avenge a small personal affront received from one Jew by ‘causing to perish in one day all Jews, old and young’!” (Anonymous).
Following are a few choice quotes from “The Art of Divine Contentment, an Exposition of Philippians 4:11”:
“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, but the watch keeps its perfect motion: so it was with St. Paul, though God carried him into various conditions, yet he was not lifted up with the one, nor cast down with the other; the spring of his heart was not broken, the wheels of his affections were not disordered, but kept their constant motion towards heaven; still content. The ship that lies at anchor may sometimes be a little shaken, but never sinks; flesh and blood may have its fears and disquiets, but grace doth check them.”
“Murmuring is nothing else but the scum which boils off from a discontented heart.”
“Contentment is a divine thing; it becomes ours, not by acquisition, but infusion; it is a slip taken off from the tree of life, and planted by the Spirit of God in the soul; it is a fruit that grows not in the garden of philosophy, but is of an heavenly birth; it is therefore very observable that contentment is joined with godliness, and goes in equipage.”
“Contentment is an intrinsical thing; it lies within a man; not in the bark, but the root. Contentment hath both its fountain and stream in the soul."