J. C. Ryle, 1885
"Keep your lives free from the love of money and be
content with such things as you have, because God has said—Never will I
leave you; never will I forsake you." Hebrews 13:5
The words which head this paper are soon spoken, and
often cost the speaker very little. Nothing is cheaper than good advice!
Everybody imagines that he can give his neighbor good counsel, and tell
him exactly what he ought to do.
Yet to practice the lesson which 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 which would ring in the ears of all who read his
letter, and nerve their hearts for a struggle: "Be content with such things
as you have, because God has said—Never will I leave you; never will I
Reader, I see things in this golden sentence, which, I
venture to think, deserve special notice. Give me your attention for a few
minutes, and we will try to find out what they are.
1. Let us first examine the precept which Paul gives us,
"Be content with what you 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, as simple as they are—the duty which these
words enjoin on us, is one of the highest practical importance to all
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.
The fallen angels had heaven itself to dwell in, before
they fell, 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 Naboth's 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, meet us at every
turn. To say, with Jacob, "I have enough," 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 got 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
have—something more or something less. What you have—does not seem so good
as what you have not. If you only had this or that thing granted—you imagine
that you would be quite happy.
Hear now with what power Paul's direction ought to come
to all our consciences: "Be content," he says, "with such things as you
have," not with such things as you once used to have—not with such
things as you hope to have—but with such things as you have now.
With such things, whatever they may be, we are to be content—with such a
dwelling, such a position, such health, such income, such work, such
circumstances as we have, we are to be content.
Reader, a spirit of this kind is the secret of a light
heart and an easy mind. Few, I am afraid, have the least idea what a
shortcut to happiness, it is 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
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
Ah! reader, if you would be truly happy (who does not
want this?) seek it where alone it can be found. Seek it not in money, seek
it not in pleasure, nor in friends, nor in learning. Seek it in having a
will in perfect harmony with the will of God. Seek it in studying to be
You may say, It is fine talking—but 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 God's mercy every
day, they would soon cease to complain.
You may say, perhaps, that you have such crosses, and
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?
The things you want—might ruin your soul. The things you
have lost—might have poisoned you. Remember, Rachel must needs have
children—and she had them and died! Lot must needs live near Sodom—and all
his goods were burned. Let these things sink down into your heart.
2. Let us, in the second place, examine the ground on
which Paul builds his precept. That ground is one single text of
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 God's Word. The Master has spoken. "He has said."
It is striking, beside this, to observe that the text he
quotes was not originally addressed to the Hebrew Christians, but to Joshua;
and yet Paul applies it to them. This shows that Bible promises are the
common property of all believers! All have a right and title to them.
All believers make one mystical body; and in hundreds of cases that which
was spoken to one—may be fairly used by all.
But the main point I want to impress on men's minds is
this—that we ought to make the texts and promises of the Bible our refuge in
time of trouble, and the fountain of our soul's comfort.
When 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
battle-field takes up certain positions, and does certain things; and 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 captain's orders. If any one 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 it
is one which, simple as it seems, is 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
memory, to read so as to remember, and to remember so as to
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
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. And what will sustain
and comfort us when our last moments draw near? 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.
From the bottom of my heart I pity that man who never
reads his Bible. I wonder whence he expects to draw his consolation
by-and-by. I do implore him to change his plan—and to change it without
delay! One said on his death-bed, "If I had served my God half as well as I
have served my king, he would not have left me in my trouble." I fear it
will be said of many, one day, "If they had read their Bibles as diligently
as they read their newspapers, they would not have been devoid of
consolation when they needed it most."
The Bible applied to the heart by the Holy Spirit, is the
only treasury of consolation. Without it we have nothing to depend
on; "our feet will slide in due time" (Deut. 32:35). With it we are like
those who stand on a rock. That man is ready for anything—who has got a firm
hold of God's promises.
Once more, then, I say to every reader, arm yourself with
a thorough knowledge of God's 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).
3. Let us examine, in the last place, the particular text
Paul quotes in enforcing the duty of contentment. He tells the
Hebrews, "God has said—I will never leave you, nor forsake you."
It matters little to what person in the Trinity we
ascribe these words, whether to Father, Son, or Holy Spirit. 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
you, nor forsake you."
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
you, and never forsake you." I, the eternal Father, the mighty God, the King
of kings, "will never leave you." The English language fails to give the
full meaning of the Greek. It implies, "never—no never—no, nor ever leave
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 which will never leave
Earthly good things leave us. Health, money, property,
friendship, all make themselves wings and flee away. They are here today—and
gone tomorrow. But God says, "I will never leave you!"
We leave one another. We grow up in families full of
affection 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 and south, and 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 you."
We are left by those we love. They die and diminish, and
become fewer and fewer every year. The more lovely—like flowers—the more
frail, and delicate, and short-lived, they seem to be. But God says, "I will
never leave you."
Separation is the universal law everywhere—except between
Christ and his people. Death and failure stamp every other
thing; but there is no separation in the love of God to believers.
The closest relation on earth—the marriage bond—has an
end. Marriage is only "until death us do part." But the relation between
Christ and the sinner who 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
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!" (Romans 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 trials—or 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. But still, in all these things he
promises, "I will never leave—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
need 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 so comforting, as a text like this—nothing
so cheering, as a realizing sense of God's 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 you!"
"Never!" Though your heart often faints, and you are sick
of self, and your many failures and infirmities; even then the promise will
"Never!" Though the devil whispers, 'I shall have you
at last! In little while, 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 Judgment comes, and the books
are opened, and the dead are rising from their graves, and eternity is
beginning. Even 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."
I conclude this paper with three
practical remarks. Consider them well, reader, and lay them to
(1.) Let me tell you why there is so little contentment
in the world. The simple answer is, because there is so little
grace, and true religion. Few know their own sin; few feel their desert; and
so few are content with such things as they have. Humility, self-knowledge,
a clear sight of our own utter vileness and corruption, these are the true
roots of contentment.
(2.) Let me tell you, secondly, what you should do, if
you would be content. You must know your own heart, seek God for
your portion, take Christ for your Savior, and use God's Word for your daily
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
(3.) Let me tell 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.
When Alexander the Great visited the Greek philosopher
Diogenes, he asked him if there was anything that he wanted, and that he
could give him. He got this short answer: "I want nothing but that you
should stand from between me and the sun." Let the spirit of that answer run
through our religion. One thing there is which should never satisfy and
content us, and that is, "anything that stands between our souls and
"I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have
learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to
be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the
secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or
hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do everything through him
who gives me strength." Philippians 4:11-13