Contentment is profoundly simple but incredibly difficult to practice. In a culture dominated by distractions such as social media, true contentment can seem impossible to achieve. Our joys are often smothered by discontentment and covetousness.
In Spurgeon’s view, discontentment was man’s natural disposition. Covetousness was so pervasive that he remarked “no class of society is free from it.” That meant that no matter how many possessions a man accumulated he would never be satisfied. This sad fact led Spurgeon to lament “I once thought that a million would satisfy any mortal man; but I have been assured by one who has considerable experience in that direction that he who has one million is unable to see any reason why he should not have two or ten.” In truth, people who are satisfied in life with their belongings are rare. Spurgeon commented, “It is a very rare thing to meet with people who say that they have enough.”
Envy kills contentment and spoils the enjoyment of what it hoards. The green serpent of envy was a deceptive creature. Its soft hissing promised wealth, but its poisoned fangs only “make men poor.” Indeed, grace can never exist “where there is abiding covetousness.” As Spurgeon said, “none of all the vices is more contrary to true religion than covetousness.” The only remedy for the vice of covetousness was salvation in the Lord Jesus Christ. Only Christ could conquer covetousness. Only those who could cry “‘The Lord is my helper’” would find freedom from the barbed manacles of greed.
Spurgeon knew that believers must make a conscious choice to be content. He encouraged them to “shake off the dust of discontentment and sorrow, and let us sing together unto God” because in him, “there are fathomless depths of infinite delight.” Spurgeon knew that “covetousness, discontent and murmuring, are as natural to man as thorns are to the soil.” In contrast, “contentment is one of the flowers of heaven.” Indeed, by being “specially careful and watchful” in discipline one can cultivate this God-given grace as contentment “will not grow in us by nature.” Spurgeon knew that “the new nature alone” could produce grace and contentment in the heart.
In Spurgeon’s view, a man may place his trust in his gain, but material wealth had no power to make him content because “a man’s contentment is in his mind.” Spurgeon lamented that “men with vast estates which they are scarcely able to ride over may have that old horseleech in their hearts, which always cries, ‘Give, give! more, more!’” He believed that a man should trust “not in the extent of his possessions” but in the grace of God. On the other hand, according to Spurgeon, believers possess a “a sweet contentment in God,” a “True contentment” which is “absolutely essential to happiness.”
Nonetheless, Spurgeon did not consider contentment a spiritual gift. While true contentment was a work of grace, Spurgeon also saw contentment as a discipline, one “possessed by some men who make no pretense to spiritual attainments.” However, such “natural” contentment was fragile and the learning difficult. Nonetheless, learning contentment, in all its forms, “was far better than much that is acquired in the schools.” But, only God himself could “teach you how to be full,” truly full. Indeed, when a man’s soul is “full of God” he “is a truly rich man.” He is truly content.
Furthermore, such contentment, being “full of God” enabled believers to trust God during hardship. This is why Spurgeon said, “one ought not to murmur” if one is a believer in Jesus Christ. Murmuring was an “easy thing,” indeed, “anyone can murmur, anyone can grumble, anyone can complain,” but Christians “ought to be content.” After all, believers’ “delight in God” would “sweeten it all” because, in Spurgeon’s experience, delighting in God was “more than half the battle.”
For Spurgeon, “a promise from the mouth of God is better than a bond signed and sealed by the wealthiest of men,” and the richness of God’s promises provided comfort for the believer. For example, Spurgeon was convinced that no true believer “shall ever be lost” because “None that [Jesus] has purchased with his blood, and made to be his own, shall ever wander away so as to perish at last.” He knew that “The curse of the law shall not touch us,” and he rejoiced in the surety of God’s promises. So confident was Spurgeon in his promise-keeping God that he asserted “[God] would keep a promise to the devil if he had made one; and if he has
made a promise to you who are ever so vile, he will keep that promise to you.” Indeed, believers’ promised assurance of their blessed reward meant that “contentment should be natural to those who are born of the Spirit of God.” This total assurance in final deliverance enabled Spurgeon to say that “Content with the divine will is better than increase of riches, or removal of affliction.”
But, it may surprise readers to know that Spurgeon did allow for one kind of discontentment and dissatisfaction. Spurgeon admonished his hearers not to be content with “littleness of grace” or “spiritual poverty,” that is stagnation in their sanctification. Rather than being content with “littleness of grace” believers should long for more of God because “we must be full of his light if we are to illuminate the darkness of others.” After all, “We cannot reveal to the world what the Lord has not revealed to us.” In recognition of Spurgeon’s remarkable contentment in the midst of difficulty and suffering, here are ten quotes from the “Prince of Preachers.”
1. “Contentment in all states is not a natural propensity of man.”
“You will see at once from reading the text, upon the very surface, that contentment in all states is not a natural propensity of man. Ill weeds grow apace; covetousness, discontent and murmuring, are as natural to man as thorns are to the soil. You have no need to sow thistles and brambles; they come up naturally enough, because they are indigenous to earth, upon which rests the curse; so you have no need to teach men to complain, they complain fast enough without any education.”
2. “Rest assured my dear hearers, it is harder to know how to be full than it is to know how to be hungry.”
“When men have too much of God’s mercies —strange that we should have to say this, and yet it is a great fact — when men have much of God’s providential mercies, it often happens that they have but little of God’s grace, and little gratitude for the bounties they have received. They are full, and they forget God; satisfied with earth, they are content to do without heaven. Rest assured, my dear hearers, it is harder to know how to be full than it is to know how to be hungry. To know how to be hungry is a sharp lesson, but to know how to be full is the harder lesson after all. So desperate is the tendency of human nature to pride and forgetfulness of God!”
3. “Curb desire, and you have struck at the root of half your sorrow. He smarts not under poverty who has learned to be content.”
“Curb desire, and you have struck at the root of half your sorrow. He smarts not under poverty who has learned to be content, he frets not under affliction who is submissive to the Father’s will, and lays aside his own. When your desires are held within bounds your temptations to rebel are ended.”
4. “It is so very easy a thing to be covetous, that no class of society is free from it.”
“It is so very easy a thing to be covetous, that no class of society is free from it. A man may be very poor and covetous withal, and a man may be exceedingly rich and still may think that he is not half rich enough. It is not possible to satisfy the greedy. If God gave them one whole world to themselves they would cry for another; and if it were possible for them to possess heaven as they now are, they would feel themselves in hell, because others were in heaven too, for their greed is such that they must have everything or else they have nothing.”
5. “True contentment is absolutely essential to happiness.”
“True contentment is absolutely essential to happiness. There is a plant called selfishness, and if you will pull it up by its roots you will find that it grows in the soil of misery. Were self completely renounced, and Christ fully received as all in all, sorrow would be so sweetly accepted by us that the sting of it would be taken away. We must be satisfied with what God appoints, or else we shall be constantly the prey of discomfort and the victims of disappointment.”
6. “Content with the divine will is better than increase of riches, or removal of affliction.”
“Pray to your great Lord so to strengthen and ease your heart that your only care may be to please him, and that you may be released from all other care. By this means will you be greatly helped, for if the burden be lightened, it comes to much the same thing as if the strength were multiplied. Content with the divine will is better than increase of riches, or removal of affliction, for with wealth no peace may come; and out of prosperity no joy in the Lord may arise, but contentment is peace itself.”
7. “Ah, you will never have enough till you get Christ; but when you have him, you will be full to the brim. Contentment is the peculiar jewel of the beloved of the Lord Jesus.”
“Some of you are laboring after happiness. You think to find it in gain —hoarding up your pence and your pounds and seeking for rest in the abundance of your beloved wealth. Ah, you will never have enough till you get Christ; but when you have him, you will be full to the brim. Contentment is the peculiar jewel of the beloved of the Lord Jesus. All the Indies could not fill a human heart: the soul is insatiable till it finds the Savior, and then it leans on his bosom and enters into perfect peace.”
8. “None of all the vices is more contrary to true religion than covetousness.”
“It is marvellous to some of us, that a man whose object in life is merely to get money, and who withholds what he has from the cause of God, should take up the profession of being a Christian man, because none of all the vices is more contrary to true religion than covetousness.”
9. “It is a very rare thing to meet with people who say that they have enough.”
“It is a very rare thing to meet with people who say that they have enough, for those who have most generally desire more, and those who have little feel that contentment is a thing which cannot reasonably be expected from them. For any person honestly and truthfully to say, ‘I have enough,’ is so unusual a circumstance that I do not remember having heard it often. I have done so a few times, at long intervals.”
10. “Praising God is singularly beneficial to ourselves. If we had more of it we should be greatly blest.”
“Praising God is singularly beneficial to ourselves. If we had more of it we should be greatly blest. What would lift us so much above the trials of life, what would help us to bear the burden and heat of the day, so well as songs of praise unto the Most High? The soldier marches without weariness when the band is playing inspiriting strains; the sailor, as he pulls the rope or lifts the anchor, utters a cheery cry to aid his toil; let us try the animating power of hymns of praise. Nothing would oil the wheels of the chariot of life so well as more of the praising of God. Praise would end murmuring, and nurse contentment. If our mouths were filled with the praises of God, there would he no room for grumbling.”