Not that I speak in respect of want: for I have learned, in whatever state I am, therewith to be content.…
signifies self-sufficiency. Here it is not to be understood absolutely as if it taught independence in nature, not wanting anything outside of self. Paul did not mean to exclude God or His providence, but supposed them — "not as if we were sufficient of ourselves, but our sufficiency is of God." He did not desire or lack more than what God had supplied him with. His will suited his state, his desire. did not exceed his power. The object of contentment, then, is the present state of things, whatever it may be, wherein God has set us. Those of the highest fortune are most apt to respect the smallest things, whereas a poor estate is easily comforted by the accession of little. The formal object may seem to be a condition adverse to our sense — but since all men are in such a condition more or less, therefore any state may be the object of contentedness, and prince and peasant alike need to learn this lesson. To turn now to the acts wherein the practice consisted.
I. AS TO OUR OPINIONS AND JUDGMENTS. Contentedness requires that —
1. We should believe our condition, whatever it may be, to be determined by God, or at least that He permits it according to His pleasure.
2. Hence we should judge everything that happens to be thoroughly good, worthy of God's appointment, and not entertain harsh thoughts of Him.
3. We should even be satisfied in our minds that according to God's purpose all events conduce to the welfare not only of things in general but to ours in particular.
4. Hence we are to believe that our present condition is, all things considered, the best — better than we could have devised for ourselves.
II. AS TO THE DEPOSITIONS OF WILL AND AFFECTION.
1. We should entertain all occurrences, how grievous soever, with entire submission to the will of God.
2. We should bear all things with steady calmness and composedness of mind, quelling those excesses of passion which the sense of things disgustful is apt to excite.
3. We should bear the worst events with sweet cheerfulness and not succumb to discouragement. "As sorrowful, yet always rejoicing."
4. We should with faith and hope rely and wait on God for the removal or easement of our afflictions, or confide in Him for grace to support them well. "Why art thou cast down," etc.
5. We should not faint or languish. No adversity should impair the forces of our reason or spirit, enervate our courage, or slacken our industry. "If thou faint in adversity thy strength is small."
6. We should not be weary of our condition or have irksome longings for alterations, but with a quiet indifference and willingness lie under it during God's pleasure, considering "Him who endured such contradictions of sinners against Himself."
7. We should by adverse accidents be rendered lowly in our own eyes, meek in our temper, and sensible of our own unworthiness. "Be humble under the mighty hand of God." "To this man will I lock," etc.
8. It is required that we should, notwithstanding any hardness in our condition, be kindly affected towards others, being satisfied and pleased with their more prosperous state.
9. Contentedness implies freedom from anxiety in reference to provision for our needs, "casting our burden on the Lord."
10. It requires that we should curb our desires, and not affect more in quantity or better in quality than our nature or state require. "He," as Socrates said, "is nearest to the gods (who need nothing) that needs fewest things."
11. It imports that whatever our condition is our mind and affections should be squared accordingly. If we are rich we should get a bountiful heart; if poor we should be frugal; if high in dignity, well ballasted; if low, meek and steady.
III. From hence should arise CORRESPONDENT EXTERNAL DEMEANOUR.
1. We should restrain our tongues from all unseemly expressions implying displeasure at God's providence. "Wherefore doth a living man complain?" "Be still and know that I am God."
2. We should declare our satisfaction in God's dealings, acknowledging His wisdom, justice, and goodness, and blessing Him for all.
3. We should abstain from all unlawful courses towards the remedy of our needs, choosing quietly to abide under their presence rather than to violently relieve ourselves.
4. We should, notwithstanding adversity, proceed in our affairs with alacrity, courage, and industry, allowing no grievance to render us listless or lazy. Activity is a good way to divert and the readiest way to remove a good many ills.
5. We should behave ourselves fairly and kindly towards the instruments of our adversity, "being reviled" we should "bless," etc.
(I. Barrow, D. D.)
Parallel VersesKJV: Not that I speak in respect of want: for I have learned, in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content.