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Instruments or Exercises to procure Contentedness.
Upon the strength of these premises, we may reduce this virtue to practice by its proper instruments first, and then by some more special considerations or arguments of content.
1. When anything happens to our displeasure, let us endeavour to take off its trouble by turning it into spiritual or artificial advantage, and handle it on that side in which it may be useful to the designs of reason; for there is nothing but hath a double handle, or at least we have two hands to apprehend it. When an enemy reproaches us, let us look on him as an impartial relater of our faults, for he will tell thee truer than thy fondest friend will; and thou mayest call them precious balms, though they break thy head, and forgive his anger, while thou makest use of the plainness of his declamation. The ox, when he is weary, treads surest; and if there be nothing else in the disgrace, but that it makes us to walk warily, and tread sure for fear of our enemies, that is better than to be flattered into pride and carelessness. This is the charity of Christian philosophy, which expounds the sense of the Divine Providence fairly, and reconciles us to it by a charitable construction; and we may as well refuse all physic, if we consider it only as unpleasant in the taste; and we may find fault with the rich valleys of Thasus, because they are circled by sharp mountains; but so also we may be in charity with every unpleasant accident, because, though it taste bitter, it is intended for health and medicine.
If, therefore, thou fallest from thy employment in public, take sanctuary in an honest, retirement, being indifferent to thy gain abroad, or thy safety at home. If thou art out of favour with thy prince, secure the favour of the King of kings, and then there is no harm come to thee. And when Zeno Citiensis lost all his goods in a storm, he retired to the studies of philosophy, to his short cloak and a severe life, and gave thanks to fortune for his prosperous mischance. When the north wind blows hard, and it rains sadly none but fools sit down in it and cry; wise people defend themselves against it with a warm garment, or a good fire and a dry roof. When a storm of a sad mischance beats upon our spirits, turn it into some advantage by observing where it can serve another end, either of religion or prudence, of more safety or less envy: it will turn into something that is good, if we list to make it so; at least it may make us weary of the world’s vanity, and take off our confidence from uncertain riches, and make our spirits to dwell in those regions where content dwells essentially. If it does any good to our souls, it hath made more than sufficient recompense for all the temporal affliction. He that threw a stone at a dog, and hit his cruel step-mother, said, that although he intended it otherwise, yet the stone was not quite lost; and if we fail in the first design, if we bring it home to another equally to content us, or more to profit us, then we have put our conditions past the power of chance; and this was called, in the old Greek comedy, “a being revenged on fortune by becoming philosophers,” and turning the chance into reason or religion: for so a wise man shall overrule his stars, and have a greater influence upon his own content than all the constellations and planets of the firmament.
2. Never compare thy condition with those above thee; but, to secure thy content, look upon those thousands with whom thou wouldest net, for any interest, change thy fortune and condition. A soldier must not think himself unprosperous if he be not as successful as the son of Philip, or cannot grasp a fortune as big as the Roman empire. Be content that thou art not lessened as was Pyrrhus, or, if thou beest, that thou art not routed like Crassus; and when that comes to thee, it is a great prosperity that thou art not caged and made a spectacle like Bajazet, or thy eyes were not pulled out like Zedekiah’s, or that thou wert not flayed alive like Valentinian. If thou admirest the greatness of Xerxes, look also on those that digged the mountain Atho, or whose ears and noses were cut off because the Hellespont carried away the bridge. It is a fine thing (thou thinkest) to be carried on men’s shoulders; but give God thanks that thou art not forced to carry a rich fool upon thy shoulders, as those poor men do whom thou beholdest. There are but a few kings in mankind; but many thousands who are very miserable if compared to thee. However, it is a huge folly rather to grieve for the good of others than to rejoice for that good which God hath given us of our own.
And yet there is no wise or good man that would change persons or conditions entirely with any man in the world. It may be, he would have one man’s health added to himself, or the power of a second, or the learning of a third; but still he would receive these into his own person, because he loves that best, and therefore esteems it best, and therefore overvalues all that which he is, before all that which any other man in the world can be. Would any man be Dives to have his wealth, or Judas for his office, or Saul for his kingdom, or Absalom for his bounty, or Achitophel for his policy? It is likely he would wish all these, and yet he would be the same person still. For every man hath desires of his own, and objects just fitted o them, without which he cannot be, unless he were not himself. And let every man that loves himself so well auto love himself before all the world, consider if he have not something for which in the whole he values himself far more than he can value any man else. There is therefore no reason to take the finest feathers from all the winged nation to deck that bird that thinks already she is more valuable than any of the inhabitants of the air. Either change all or none. Cease to love yourself best, or be content with that portion of being and blessing for which you can love yourself so well.
3. It conduces much to our content, if we pass by those things which happen to our trouble, and consider that which is pleasing and prosperous - that, by the representation of the butter, the worse may be blotted out; and, at the worst, you have enough to keep you alive, and to keep up and to improve your hopes of heaven. If I be overthrown in my suit at law, yet my house is left me still and my land; or I have a virtuous wife, or hopeful children, or kind friends, or good hopes. If I have lost one child, it may be I have two or three still left me. Or else reckon the blessings which already you have received, and therefore be pleased, in the change and variety of affairs, to receive evil from the hand of God as well as good Antipater, of Tarsus, used this art to support his sorrows on his death-bed, and reckoned the good things of his past life, not forgetting to recount it as a blessing, an argument that God took care of him, that he had a prosperous journey from Cilicia to Athens. Or else please thyself with hopes of the future;137137La speranza e il pan de poveri. Non si male nunc, et olim sic erit.—Hor. ii. 10. for we were born with this sadness upon us, and it was a change that brought us into it, and a change may bring us out again. Harvest will come, and then every farmer is rich, at least for a month or two. It may be thou art entered into the cloud which will bring a gentle shower to refresh thy sorrows.
Now suppose thyself in as great a sadness as ever did load thy spirit, wouldest thou not bear it cheerfully and nobly if thou wert sure that within a certain space some strange excellent fortune would relieve thee, and enrich thee, and recompense thee, so as to overflow all thy hopes and thy desires and capacities? Now then, when a sadness lies heavy upon thee, remember that thou art a Christian designed to the inheritance of Jesus; and what dost thou think concerning thy great fortune, thy lot and portion of eternity? Dost thou think thou shalt be saved or damned? Indeed if thou thinkest thou shalt perish, I cannot blame thee to be sad, till thy heart-strings crack; but then why art thou troubled at the loss of thy money? What should a damned man do with money, which in so great a sadness it is impossible for him to enjoy? Did ever any man upon the rack afflict himself because he had received a cross answer from his mistress? or call for the particulars of a purchase upon the gallows? If thou dost really believe thou shalt be damned, I do not say it will cure the sadness of thy poverty, but it will swallow it up. But if thou believest thou shalt be saved, consider how great is that joy, how infinite is that change, how unspeakable is that glory, how excellent is the recompense, for all the sufferings in the world, if they were all laden upon thy spirit! So that let thy condition be what it will, if thou considerest thy own present condition, and comparest it to thy future possibility, thou canst not feel the present smart of a cross fortune to any great degree, either because thou hast a far bigger sorrow, or a far bigger joy. Here thou art but a stranger, travelling to the country where the glories of a kingdom are prepared for thee; it is, therefore, a huge folly to be much afflicted because thou hast a less convenient inn to lodge in by the way.
But these arts of looking forwards and backwards are more than enough to support the spirit of a Christian: there is no man but hath blessings enough in present possession to outweigh the evils of a great affliction. Tell the joints of thy body, and do not accuse the universal Providence for a lame leg, or the want of a finger, when all the rest is perfect, and you have a noble soul, a particle of divinity, the image of God himself; and by the want of a finger you may the better know how to estimate the remaining parts, and to account for every degree of the surviving blessings. Aristippus, in a great suit at law, lost a farm, and to a gentleman, who in civility pitied and deplored his loss; he answered, “I have two farms left still, and that is more than I have lost, and more than you have by one.” If you miss an office for which you stood candidate, then, besides that you are quit of the cares and the envy of it, you still have all those excellences which rendered you capable to receive it, and they are better than the best office in the commonwealth. If your estate be lessened, you need the less to care who governs the province, whether he be rude or gentle. I am crossed in my journey, and yet I escaped robbers; and I consider, that if I had been set upon by villains, I would have redeemed that evil by this which I now suffer, and have counted it a deliverance; or if I did fall into the hands of thieves, yet they did not steal my land. Or, I am fallen into the hands of publicans and sequestrators, and they have taken all from me: what now? let me look about me. They have left me the sun and moon, fire and water, a loving wife, and many friends to pity me, and some to relieve me, and I can still discourse; and, unless I list, they have not taken away my merry countenance, and my cheerful spirit, and a good conscience; they still have left me the providence of God, and all the promises of the gospel, and my religion, and my hopes of heaven, and my charity to them too; and still I sleep and digest, I eat and drink, I read and meditate; I can walk in my neighbour’s pleasant fields, and see the variety of natural beauties, and delight in all that in which God delights- that is, in virtue and wisdom, in the whole creation, and in God himself. And he that hath so many causes of joy, and so great, is very much in love with sorrow and peevishness, who loses all these pleasures, and chooses to sit down upon his little handful of thorns. Such a person is fit to bear Nero company in his funeral sorrow for the loss of one of Poppea’s hairs, or help to mourn for Lesbia’s sparrow; and because he loves it, he deserves to starve in the midst of plenty, and to want comfort while he is encircled with blessings.
4. Enjoy the present, whatsoever it be, and be not solicitous for the future; for if you take your foot from the present standing, and thrust it forward towards tomorrow’s event, you are in a restless condition: it is like refusing to quench your present thirst by fearing you shall want drink the next day. If it be well to-day, it is madness to make the present miserable by fearing it may be ill to-morrow — when your belly is full of to-day’s dinner, to fear you shall want the next day’s supper; for it may be you shall not, and then to what purpose was this day’s affliction? But if to-morrow you shall want, your sorrow will come time enough, though you do not hasten it: let your trouble tarry till its own day comes. But if it chance to be ill to-day, do not increase it by the care of to-morrow. He, therefore, that enjoys the present if it be good, enjoys as much as is possible; and if only that day’s trouble leans upon him, it is singular and finite. ‘Sufficient to the day (said Christ) is the evil thereof’: sufficient but not intolerable. But if we look abroad, and bring into one day’s thoughts the evil of many, certain and uncertain, what will be, and what will never be, our load will be as intolerable as it is unreasonable. To reprove this instrument of discontent, the ancients feigned that in hell stood a man twisting a rope of hay; and still he twisted on, suffering an ass to eat up all that was finished — so miserable is he who thrusts his passions forwards towards future events, and suffers all that he may enjoy to be lost and devoured by folly and inconsideration, thinking nothing fits to be enjoyed but that which is not or cannot be had. Just so, many young persons are loath to die, and therefore desire to live to old age, and when they are come thither, are troubled that they are come to that state of life, to which before they were come they were hugely afraid they should never come.
5. Let us prepare our minds against changes, always expecting them, that we be not surprised when they come; for nothing is so great an enemy to tranquillity and a contented spirit as the amazement and confusions of unreadiness and inconsideration; and when our fortunes are violently changed our spirits are unchanged, if they always stood in the suburbs and expectations of sorrows. ‘O death, how bitter art thou to a man that is at rest in his possessions!’ And to the rich man who had promised to himself ease and fulness for many years, it was a sad arrest that his soul was surprised the first night; but the apostles, who every day knocked at the gate of death, and looked upon it continually, went to their martyrdom in peace and evenness.
6. Let us often frame to ourselves, and represent to our considerations, the images of those blessings we have, just as we usually understand them when we want them. Consider how desirable health is to a sick man, or liberty to a prisoner; and if but a fit of the toothache seizes us with violence, all those troubles which in our health afflicted us disband instantly, and seem inconsiderable. He that in his health is troubled that he is in debt, and spends sleepless nights, and refuses meat because of his infelicity, let him fall into a fit of the stone or a high fever, he despises the arrest of all his first troubles, and is as a man unconcerned. Remember then that God hath given thee a blessing, the want of which is infinitely more trouble than thy present debt, or poverty, or loss; and therefore is now more to be valued in the possession, and ought to outweigh thy trouble. The very privative blessings, the blessings of immunity, safeguard, liberty, and integrity, which we commonly enjoy, deserve the thanksgiving of a whole life. If God should send a cancer upon thy face, or a wolf into thy side, if he should spread a crust of leprosy upon thy skin, what wouldest thou give to be but as now thou art? Wouldest thou not, on that condition, be as poor as I am, or as the meanest of thy brethren? Would you not choose your present loss or affliction as a thing extremely eligible, and a redemption to thee, if thou mightest exchange the other for this? Thou art quit from a thousand calamities, every one of which, if it were upon thee, would make thee insensible of thy present sorrow: and therefore let thy joy (which should be as great for thy freedom from them, as is thy sadness when thou feelest any of them) do the same cure upon thy discontent. For if we be not extremely foolish or vain, thankless or senseless, a great joy is more apt to cure sorrow and discontent than a great trouble is. I have known an affectionate wife, when she hath been in fear of parting with her beloved husband, heartily desire of God his life or society upon any conditions that were not sinful; and choose to beg with him rather than to feast without him; and the same person hath, upon that consideration, borne poverty nobly, when God hath heard her prayer in the other matter. What wise man in the world is there who does not prefer a small fortune with peace before a great one with contention and war and violence? And then he is no longer wise if he alters his opinion when he hath his wish.
7. If you will secure a contented spirit, you must measure your desires by your fortune and condition, not your fortunes by your desire — that is, be governed by your needs, not by your fancy; by nature, not by evil customs and ambitious principles.138138Assai bastra per chi non e ingordo. He that would shoot an arrow out of a plough, or hunt a hare with an elephant, is not unfortunate for missing the mark or prey; but he is foolish for choosing such unapt instruments: and so is he that runs after his content with appetites not springing from natural needs, but from artificial, fantastical, and violent necessities. These are not to be satisfied; or if they were, a man hath chosen an evil instrument towards his content: nature did not intend rest to a man by filling of such desires. Is that beast better that hath two or three mountains to graze on, than a little bee that feeds on dew or manna, and lives upon what falls every morning from the storehouse of heaven, clouds and providence? Can a man quench his thirst better out of a river than a full urn, or drink better from the fountain which is finely paved with marble than when it swells over the green turf?139139Quanto preaestantius esset Numen aquae, viridi si margine claugeret undas Herba, nec ingenuum violarent marmora tophum. Juv. iii. 20. Pride and artificial gluttonies do but adulterate nature, making our diet healthless, our appetites impatient and unsatisfiable, and the taste mixed, fantastical, and meretricious. But that which we miscall poverty is indeed nature; and its proportions are the just measures of a man and the best instruments of content. But when we create needs that God or nature never made, we have erected to ourselves an infinite stock of trouble that can have no period. Sempronius complained of want of clothes, and was much troubled for a new suit, being ashamed to appear in the theatre with his gown a little threadbare; but when he got it, and gave his old clothes to Codrus, the poor man was ravished with joy, and went and gave God thanks for his new purchase; and Codrus was made richly fine and cheerfully warm by that which Sempronius was ashamed to wear; and yet their natural needs were both alike, the difference only was that Sempronius had some artificial and fantastical necessities superinduced, which Codrus had not, and was harder to be relieved, and could not have joy at so cheap a rate, because he only lived according to nature, the other by pride and ill customs, and measures taken by other men’s eyes and tongues, and artificial needs. He that propounds to his fancy things greater than himself or his needs, and is discontent and troubled when he wails of such purchases, ought not to accuse Providence, or blame his fortune, but his folly. God and nature made no more needs than they mean to satisfy; and he that will make more must look for satisfaction where he can.
8. In all troubles and sadder accidents, let us take sanctuary in religion, and by innocence cast out anchors for our souls to keep them from shipwreck, though they be not kept from storm. For what philosophy shall comfort a villain that is haled to the rack for murdering his prince, or that is broken upon the wheel for sacrilege? His cup is full of pure and unmingled sorrow: his body is rent with torment, his name with ignominy, his soul with shame and sorrow, which are to last eternally. But when a man suffers in a good cause, or is afflicted, and yet walks not perversely with his God, then “Anytus and Melitus may kill me, but they cannot hurt me;” then St. Paul’s character is engraved in the forehead of our fortune; ‘We are troubled on every side, but not distressed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; cast down, but not destroyed. And who is he that will harm you, if ye be followers of that which is good?’ For indeed everything in the world is indifferent but sin, and all the scorchings of the sun are very tolerable in respect of the burnings of a fever or a calenture. The greatest evils are from within us, and from ourselves also we must look for our greatest good; for God is the fountain of it, but reaches it to us by our own hands; and when all things look sadly round about us, then only we shall find how excellent a fortune it is to have God to our friend; and of all friendships, that only is created to support us in our needs; for it is sin that turns an ague into a fever, and a fever to the plague, fear into despair, anger into rage, and loss into madness, and sorrow to amazement and confusion. But if either we were innocent, or else by the sadness are made penitent, we are put to school, or into the theatre, either to learn how, or else actually to combat for a crown; the accident may serve an end of mercy, but is not a messenger of wrath.
Let us not, therefore, be governed by external, and present, and seeming things; not let us make the same judgment of things that common and weak understandings do; nor make other men, and they not the wisest, to be judges of our felicity, so that we be happy or miserable as they please to think us: but let reason, and experience, and religion, and hope, relying upon the divine promises, be the measure of our judgment. No wise man did ever describe felicity without virtue,140140Beatitudo pendet a recis consilliis in affectionem animi constantern desinentibus.—Plut. and no good man did ever think virtue could depend upon the variety of a good or bad fortune. It is no evil to be poor, but to be vicious and impatient.
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