Let your conversation be without covetousness; and be content with such things as ye have:for he hath said, I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee.Hebrews 13:5
NOTHING is cheaper than good advice. Everybody fancies he can give his neighbor good counsel and tell him exactly what he ought to do. Yet to practice the lesson that heads this paper is very hard. To talk of contentment in the day of health and prosperity is easy enough; but to be content in the midst of poverty,sickness, trouble, disappointments, and losses is a state of mind to which very few can attain
Let us turn to the Bible and see how it treats this great duty of contentment. Let us mark how the great Apostle
of the Gentiles speaks when he would persuade the Hebrew Christians to be content. He backs up his injunction by a beautiful motive. He does not say nakedly, Be content. He adds words that would ring in the ears of all who read his letter and nerve their hearts for a struggle: Be con-tent, he says, with such things as ye have: for he hath said, I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee.
Reader, I see things in this golden sentence, I venture to think, that deserve special notice. Give me your attention for a few minutes, and we will try to find out what they are.
Let us firs first examine the precept that St. Paul gives us: Be content with such things as ye have. These words are very simple. A little child might easily understand them. They contain no high doctrine; they involve no deep
metaphysical question; and yet, simple as they are, the duty that these words enjoin on us is one of the highest
practical importance to all classes.
Contentment is one of the rarest graces. Like all precious things, it is most uncommon. The old Puritan divine,who wrote a book about it, did well to call his book The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment.An Athenian philosopher is said to have gone into the market place at midday with a lantern in order to find out an honest man.I think he would have found it equally difficult to find one quite contented.
Before they fell, the fallen angels had heaven itself to dwell in and the immediate presence and favor of God; but
they were not content. Adam and Eve had the Garden of Eden to live in with a free grant of everything in it
excepting one tree; but they were not content. Ahab had his throne and kingdom, but so long as Naboths vineyard
was not his, he was not content. Haman was the chief favorite of the Persian king; but, so long as Mordecai sat at the gate, he was not content.
It is just the same everywhere in the present day. Murmuring, dissatisfaction, discontent with what we have
[these] meet us at every turn. To say with Jacob, I have enough (Gen 33:11), seems flatly contrary to the grain of
human nature. To say, I want more, seems the mother tongue of every child of Adam. Our little ones around our
family hearths are daily illustrations of the truth of what I am saying. They learn to ask for more much sooner
than they learn to be satisfied. They are far more ready to cry for what they want, than to say, Thank you, when
they have [received] it.
There are few readers of this very paper, I will venture to say, who do not want something or other different from
what they havesomething more or something less. What you have does not seem as good as what you have not. If you only had this or that thing granted, you fancy you would be quite happy.
Hear now with what power St. Pauls direction ought to come to all our consciences: Be content, he says, with such things as ye have not with such things as ye once used to have, not with such things as ye hope to have, but with such things as ye have now. With such things, whatever they may be, we are to be contentwith such a dwelling, such a position, such health, such income, such work, such circumstances as we have, we are to be content
To be content is to be rich and well-off. He is the rich man who has no wants and requires no more. I ask not what his income may be. A man may be rich in a cottage and poor in a palace.
To be content is to be independent. He is the independent man who hangs on no created things for comfort and has God for his portion. Such a man is the only one who is always happy. Nothing can come amiss or go wrong with such a man. Afflictions will not shake him, and sickness will not disturb his peace. He can gather grapes from thorns and figs from thistles, for he can get good out of evil. Like Paul and Silas, he will sing in prison with his feet fast in the stocks. Like Peter, he will sleep quietly in prospect of death the very night before his execution. Like Job, he will bless the Lord even when stripped of all his comforts.
Ah! Reader, if you would be truly happywho does not want this?seek it where alone it can be found. Seek it not in money. Seek it not in pleasure, in friends, or in learning. Seek it in having a will in perfect harmony with the will of God. Seek it in studying to be content.
You may say, It is fine talking: how can we be always content in such a world? I answer that you need to cast
away your pride and know your deserts in order to be thankful in any condition. If men really knew that they
deserve nothing and are debtors to Gods mercy every day, they would soon cease to complain. You may say,perhaps, that you have such crosses, trials, and troubles that it is impossible to be content. I answer that you would do well to remember your ignorance. Do you know best what is good for you or does God? Are you wiser than He is?
The things you want might ruin your soul. The things you have lost might have poisoned you. Remember,Rachel must needs36 have children: she had them and died (Gen 30:1; 35:16-19). Lot must needs live near Sodom,and all his goods were burned. Let these things sink down into your heart.
Let us, in the second place, examine the ground on which St. Paul builds his precept.That ground is one single
text of Scripture. It is striking to observe what a small foundation the Apostle seems to lay down when he bids us
be content. He holds out no promise of earthly good things and temporal rewards. He simply quotes a verse of Gods Word. The Master hath spoken, He hath said
The main point I want to impress on mens minds is this: we ought to make the texts and promises of the Bible our refuge in time of trouble and the fountain of our souls comfort. When St. Paul wanted to enforce a grace and
recommend a duty, he quoted a text. When you and I would give a reason for our hope, or when we feel that we
need strength and consolation, we must go to our Bibles and try to find out suitable texts. The lawyer uses old cases and decisions when he pleads his cause. Such a judge has said such a thing; and therefore, he argues, it is a settled point. The soldier on the battlefield takes up certain positions and does certain things; if you ask him
why, he will say, I have such and such orders from my general, and I obey them. The true Christian must always
use his Bible in like manner. The Bible must be his book of reference and precedents. The Bible must be to him his captains orders. If anyone asks him why he thinks as he does, lives as he does, feels as he does, all he has need
to reply is, God has spoken to such an effect: I have my orders, and that is enough.
Reader, I know not whether I make the point clear; but simple as it seems, it is one of great practical
importance. I want you to see the place and office of the Bible, and the unspeakable importance of knowing it well
and being acquainted with its contents. I want you to arm yourself with texts and verses of the Bible fastened down
in your memoryto read so [that you may] remember and to remember so [that you may] use what you read.
You and I have trouble and sorrow before us. It needs no prophetic eye to see that. Sicknesses, deaths, partings,
separations, disappointments are sure to come. What is to sustain us in the days of darkness, which are many?
Nothing [is] so able to do it as texts out of the Bible.
You and I, in all probability, may lie for months on a bed of sickness. Heavy days and weary nights, an aching body,
and an enfeebled mind may make life a burden. And what will support us? Nothing is likely to cheer and sustain us so much as verses out of the Bible.
You and I have death to look forward to. There will be friends to be left, home to be given up, the grave to be
visited, an unknown world to be entered, and the Last Judgment after all. What will sustain and comfort us when
our last moments draw nigh? Nothing, I firmly believe, is so able to help our heart in that solemn hour as texts out
of the Bible.
I want men to fill their minds with passages of Scripture while they are well and strong that they may have sure
help in the day of need. I want them to be diligent in studying their Bibles and becoming familiar with their
contents in order that the grand old Book may stand by them and talk with them when all earthly friends fail
I say to every reader: arm yourself with a thorough knowledge of Gods Word. Read it, and be able to say, I have hope because it is thus and thus written. I am not afraid because it is thus and thus written. Happy is that soul
who can say with Job, I have esteemed the words of his mouth more than my necessary food (Job 23:12).
Let us examine, [finally], the particular text St. Paul quotes in enforcing the duty of contentment. He tells the
Hebrews, He hath said, I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee. It matters little to what Person in the Trinity we ascribe these words, whether to Father, Son, or Holy Ghost. It all comes to the same in the end. They all are engaged to save man in the Covenant of Grace.Each of the three Persons says, as the other two, I will never
leave thee nor forsake thee.
There is great sweetness in this peculiar promise. It deserves close attention. God says to every man or woman
who is willing to commit his or her soul to the mercy that is in Christ, I will never leave thee, and never forsake
thee. I, the eternal Father, the mighty God, the King of kings, will never leave thee. The English language fails
to give the full meaning of the Greek. It implies, neverno neverno, nor ever!
Now, if I know anything of this world, it is a world of leaving, forsaking, parting, separation, failure, and
disappointment. Think how immense the comfort of finding something that will never leave nor fail.
Earthly good things leave us. Health, money, property, friendshipall make themselves wings and flee away. They
are here today and gone tomorrow. But God says, I will never leave thee.
We leave one another. We grow up in families full of affections and tender feelings, and then we are all thoroughly scattered. One follows his calling or profession one way, and another in another. We go north, south, east, and west and perhaps meet no more. We meet our nearest friends and relations only at rare intervals, and then to part again.But God says, I will never leave thee.
We are left by those we love. They die and diminish, and become fewer and fewer every year. The lovelierlike
flowersthe more frail, delicate, and short-lived they seem to be. But God says, I will never leave thee.
Separation is the universal law everywhere except between Christ and His people. Death and failure stamp every other thing, but there is none in the love of God to believers.
The closest relation on earththe marriage bondhas an end. To use the words of the Prayer-book service, it is only till death us do part. But the relation between Christ and the sinner that trusts in Him never ends. It lives when the body dies. It lives when flesh and heart fail. Once begun, it never withers. It is only made brighter and stronger by the grave. I am persuaded, says St. Paul, that neither life, nor death, nor things present, nor things to come, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord (Rom 8:38-39).
But this is not all. There is a peculiar depth of wisdom in the words, I will never leave nor forsake. Observe,
God does not say, My people shall always have pleasant things. They shall always be fed in green pastures and
have no trialsor trials very short and few. He neither says so, nor does He appoint such a lot to His people. On
the contrary, He sends them affliction and chastisement. He tries them by suffering. He purifies them by sorrow. He exercises their faith by disappointments. Still, in all things He promises, I will never leave thee nor forsake
Let every believer grasp these words and store them up in his heart. Keep them ready and have them fresh in your memory: you will want them one day. The Philistines will be upon you, the hand of sickness will lay you low,the king of terror will draw near, the valley of the shadow of death will open up before your eyes. Then comes the hour when you will find nothing as comforting as a text like thisnothing as cheering as a realizing sense of Gods companionship.
Stick to that word never. It is worth its weight in gold. Cling to it as a drowning man clings to a rope. Grasp it
firmly as a soldier attacked on all sides grasps his sword. God has said and will stand to it, I will never leave thee.
Never! Though your heart often faints, and you are sick of self and your many failures and infirmities: even then, the promise will not fail.
Never! Though the devil whispers, I shall have you at last. Yet a little time and your faith will fail, and you
will be mine. Even then, God will keep His word.
Never! Though waves of trouble go over your head, and all hope seems taken away. Even then the Word of God will stand.
Never! When the cold chill of death is creeping over you and friends can do no more, and you are starting on that journey from which there is no return. Even then, Christ will not forsake you.
Never! When the Day of Judgment38 comes, the books are opened, the dead are rising from their graves, and eternity is beginningeven then, the promise will bear all your weight. Christ will not leave His hold on your soul.
Oh, believing reader, trust in the Lord forever, for He says, I will never leave you. Lean back all your weight
upon Him: do not be afraid. Glory in His promise. Rejoice in the strength of your consolation. You may say boldly,
The Lord is my helper, and I will not fear (Heb 13:6).
I conclude this paper with three practical remarks.Consider them well, reader, and lay them to heart:
(1) Let me tell you why t there is so little contentment in the world. here The simple answer is because there is so little grace and true religion. Few know their own sin, few feel their desert, so few are content with such things as they have.Humility, self-knowledge, a clear sight of our own utter vileness and corruptionthese are the true roots of contentment.
(2) Let me show you, secondly, what you should do if you would be content content. You must know your own heart, seek God for your portion, take Christ for your Savior, and use Gods Word for your daily food. Contentment is not to be
learned at the feet of Gamaliel, but at the feet of Jesus Christ. He who has God for his friend and heaven for his
home can wait for his good things and be content with little here below.
(3) Let me tell yo you, lastly, that there is one thing with which we ought never to be content. That thing is a little religion,a little faith, a little hope, and a little grace. Let us never sit down satisfied with a little of these things. On the contrary, let us seek them more and more
One thing there is which should never satisfy and content us and that is anything that stands between our souls and Christ.
J. C. Ryle (1816 1816-1900): born at Macclesfield, Cheshire County, England