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Means to obtain Content by way of considerations.
To these exercises and spiritual instruments if we add the following considerations concerning the nature and circumstance of human chance, we may better secure our peace. For as to children, who are afraid of vain images, we use to persuade confidence by making them to handle and look nearer such things that when, in such a familiarity, they perceive them innocent they may overcome their fears: so must timorous, fantastical, sad, and discontented persons be treated; they must be made to consider and on all sides to look upon the accident, and to take all its dimensions, and consider its consequences, and to behold the purpose of God, and the common mistakes of men, and their evil sentences they usually pass upon them. For then we shall perceive, that, like colts or unmanaged horses, we start at dead bones and lifeless blocks, things that are inactive as they are innocent. But if we secure our hopes and our fears, and make them moderate and within government, we may the sooner overcome the evil of the accident; for nothing that we feel is so bad as what we fear.
1. Consider that the universal providence of God hath so ordered it, that the good things of nature and fortune are divided, that we may know how to bear our own and relieve each other’s wants and imperfections. It is not for a man, but for a God to have all excellencies and all felicities.141141Non te ad omnia laeta genuit, O Agamemnon, Atreus, Opus est te gaugere et maercre: mortalis enim natus es, et ut haud veilis; superi sic constucrunt. He supports my poverty with his wealth, I counsel and instruct him with my learning and experience. He hath many friends, I many children; he hath no heir, I have no inheritance; and any one great blessing, together with the common portions of nature and necessity, is a fair fortune, if it be but health or strength, or the swiftness of Ahimanz. For it is an unreasonable discontent to be troubled that I have not so good cocks, or dogs, or horses, as my neighbor, being more troubled that I want one thing that I need not, than thankful for having received all that I need. Nero had this disease, that he was not content with the fortune of his whole empire, but put the fiddlers to death for being more skilful in the trade than he was; and Dionysius the elder was so angry at Philoxenus for singing, and with Plato for disputing better than he did, that he sold Plato a slave into Egina, and condemned the other to the quarries.
This consideration is to be enlarged by adding to it, that there are some instances of fortune and a fair condition that cannot stand with some others; but if you desire this, you must lose that, and unless you be content with one, you must lose the comfort of both. If you covet learning, you must have leisure and a retired life; if to be a politician, you must go abroad and get experience, and do all businesses, and keep all company, and have no leisure at all; if you will be rich, you must be frugal; if you will be popular, you must be bountiful; if a philosopher, you must despise riches. The Greek that designed to make the most exquisite picture that could be imagined, fancied the eye of Chioue, and the hair of Paegnium, and Tarsia’s lip, Philenitum’s chin, and the forehead of Delphia, and set all these upon Milphidippa’s neck, and thought that he should outdo both art and nature. But when he came to view the proportions, he found, that what was excellent in Tarsia did not agree with the other excellency of Philenium; and although singly they were rare pieces, yet in the whole they made a most ugly face. The dispersed excellencies and blessings of many men, if given to one, would not make a handsome, but a monstrous fortune. Use, therefore, that faculty which nature hath given thee, and thy education hath made actual, and thy calling hath made a duty. But if thou desirest to be a saint, refuse not his persecution; if thou wouldest be famous as Epaminondas or Fabricius, accept also of their poverty, for that added lustre to their persons, and envy to their fortune, and their virtue without it could not have been so excellent. Let Euphorion sleep quietly with his old rich wife, and let medius drink on with Alexander, and remember thou canst not have the riches of the first, unless you have the old wife too; nor the favour which the second had with his prince, unless you buy it at his price, that is, lay thy sobriety down at first, and thy health a little after, and then their condition, though it look splendidly, yet, when you handle it on all sides, it will prick your fingers.
2. Consider how many excellent personages in all ages have suffered as great or greater calamities than this which now tempts thee to impatience. Agis was the most noble of the Greeks, and yet his wife bore a child by Alcibiades; and Philip was prince of Ituraea, and yet his wife ran away with his brother Herod into Galilee; and certainly, in a great fortune, that was a great calamity. But these are but single instances. Almost all the ages of the world have noted that their most eminent scholars were most eminently poor, some by choice, but most by chance, and an inevitable decree of Providence; and in the whole sex of women God hath decreed the sharpest pains of childbirth, to show that there is no state exempt from sorrow, and et that the weakest persons have strength more than enough to bear the greatest evil; and the greatest queens, and the mothers of saints and apostles, have no charter of exemption from this sad sentence. But the Lord of men and angels was also the King of sufferings; and if thy coarse robe trouble thee, remember the swaddling-clothes of Jesus; if thy bed be uneasy, yet it is not worse than his manger; and it is no sadness to have a thin table if thou callest to mind that the King of heaven and earth was fed with a little breast-milk; and yet besides this, he suffered all the sorrows which we deserved. We therefore have great reason to sit down upon our own hearths, and warm ourselves at our own fires, and feed upon content at home; for it were a strange pride to expect to be more gently treated by the Divine Providence than the best and wisest men, than apostles and saints, nay, the Son of the eternal God, the heir of both the worlds.
This consideration may be enlarged by surveying all the states and families of the world: and he that at once saw Egina and Megara, Pyraus and Corinth, lie gasping in their ruins, and almost buried in their own heaps, had reason to blame Cicero for mourning impatiently the death of one woman. In the most beauteous and splendid fortune there are many cares and proper interruptions and allays: in the fortune of a prince there is not the coarse robe of beggary, but there are infinite cares; and the judge sits upon the tribunal with great ceremony and ostentation of fortune,142142Hie in foro beatus esse creditur, Cum foribus apertis sit suis miserrimus: Imperat mulier, jubet omnia, semper litigat. Multra adferunt ilt dolorem, nihil mihi — Ferre, quam sortem patiuntur omnes, Nemo recusat. and yet, at his house or in his breast there is something that causes him to sigh deeply. Pittacus was a wise and valiant man, but his wife overthrew the table when he had invited his friends; upon which the good man, to excuse her incivility and his own misfortune said, “that every man had one evil, and he was most happy that had but that alone.” And if nothing else happens, yet sicknesses so often do embitter the fortune and content of a family, that a physician in a few years, and with the practice upon a very few families, gets experience enough to administer to almost all diseases. And when thy little misfortune troubles thee, remember that thou hast known the best of kings and the best of men put to death publicly by his own subjects.
3. There are many accidents which are esteemed great calamities, and yet we have reason enough to bear them well and unconcernedly; for they neither touch our bodies nor our soul — or health and our virtue remain entire, our life and our reputation. It may be I am slighted, or I have received ill language; but my head aches not for it, neither hath it broken my thigh, nor taken away my virtue, unless I lose my charity or my patience. Inquire, therefore, what you are the worse, either in your soul or in your body, for what hath happened; for upon this very stock many evils will disappear, since the body and the soul make up the whole man. And when the daughter of Stilpo proved a wanton, he said it was none of his sin, and therefore there was no reason it should be his misery. And if an enemy hath taken all that from a prince whereby he was a king, he may refresh himself by considering all that is left him whereby he is a man.
4. Consider that sad accidents and a state of affliction is a school of virtue; it reduces our spirits to soberness, and our counsels to moderation; it corrects levity, and interrupts the confidence of sinning. ‘It is good for me (said David) that I have been afflicted, for thereby I have learned thy law.’ And ‘I know (O Lord) that thou of very faithfulness hast caused me to be troubled.’ For God, who in mercy and wisdom governs the world, would never have suffered so many sadnesses, and have sent them especially to the most virtuous and the wisest men, but that he intends they should be the seminary of comfort, the nursery of virtue, the exercise of wisdom, the trial of patience, the venturing for a crown, and the gate of glory.
5. Consider that afflictions are oftentimes the occasions of great temporal advantages; and we must not look upon them as they sit down heavily upon us, but as they serve some of God’s ends, and the purposes of universal Providence. And when a prince fights justly, and yet unprosperously, if he could see all those reasons for which God hath so ordered it, he would think it the most reasonable thing in the world, and that it would be very ill to have it otherwise. If a man could have opened one of the pages of the Divine counsel, and could have seen the event of Joseph’s being sold to the merchants of Amalek, he might, with much reason, have dried up the young man’s tears: and when God’s purposes are opened in the events of things, as it was in the case of Joseph, when he sustained his father’s family and became lord of Egypt, then we see what ill judgment we made of things, and that we were passionate as children, and transported with sense and mistaken interest. The case of Themistocles was almost like that of Joseph, for being banished into Egypt, he also grew in favour with the king, and told his wife “he had been undone, unless he had been undone”. For God esteems it one of his glories, that he brings good out of evil; and therefore it were but reason we should trust God to govern his own world as he pleases; and that we should patiently wait till the change cometh or the reason be discovered.
And this consideration is also of great use to them who envy the prosperity of the wicked, and the success of persecutors, and the baits of fishes, and the bread of dogs. God fails not to sow blessings in the long furrows which the ploughers plough upon the back of the church; and this success which troubles us will be a great glory to God, and a great benefit to his saints and servants, and a great ruin to the persecutors, who shall have but the fortune of Theramenes, one of the thirty tyrants of Athens, who escaped when his house fell upon him, and was shortly after put to death with torments by his colleagues in the country.
To which also may be added, that the great evils which happen to the best and wisest men are one of the great arguments upon the strength of which we can expect felicity to our souls and the joys of tolerable and eligible, when with so great advantages they minister to the faith and hope of a Christian. But if we consider what unspeakable tortures are provided for the wicked to all eternity, we should not be troubled to see them prosperous here, but rather wonder that their portion in this life is not bigger, and that ever they should be sick, or corssed, or affronted, or troubled with the contradiction and disease of their own vices, since, if they were fortunate beyond their own ambition, it could not make them recompense for one hour’s torment in hell, which yet they shall have for their eternal portion.
After all these considerations deriving from sense and experience, grace and reason, there are two remedies still remaining, and they are necessity and time.
6. For it is but reasonable to bear that accident patiently which God sends, since impatience does but entangle us, like the fluttering of a bird in a net, but cannot at all ease our trouble, or prevent the accident: it must be run through, and therefore it were better we compose ourselves to a patient than to a troubled and miserable suffering.
7. But, however, if you will not otherwise be cured, time at last will do it alone; and then consider, do you mean to mourn always, or but for a time? If always, you are miserable and foolish. If for a time, then why will you not apply those reasons to your grief at first with which you will cure it at last? or if you will not cure it with reason, see how little of a man there is in you, that you suffer time to do more with you than reason or religion! You suffer yourself to be cured, just as a beast or a tree is; let it alone, and the thing will heal itself: but this is neither honourable to thy person, nor to reputation to thy religion. However, be content to bear thy calamity, because thou art sure, in a little time, it will sit down gentle and easy, for to a moral man no evil is immortal. And here let the worst thing happen that can, it will end in death, and we commonly think that to be near enough.
8. Lastly, of those things which are reckoned amongst evils, some are better than their contraries; and to a good man the very worst is tolerable.
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