The late Rev. D. N. Macleod, Ullapool*
Preached on the Friday evening of a communion season in St. Jude’s Free Presbyterian Church, Glasgow, probably in 1936, taken down by a hearer, and now edited.
TEXT: “But godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into this world, and it is certain we can carry nothing out.”
1 Timothy 6: 6 and 7.
IN the beginning of this chapter the Apostle Paul gives instructions to this worthy minister, Timothy, regarding believing servants and how they were to behave towards their masters: “Let as many servants as are under the yoke count their own masters worthy of all honour, that the name of God and his doctrine be not blasphemed” (verse 1). Paul tells Timothy to teach servants that unworthy conduct on their part towards their masters would be a reproach to God and to the doctrine of His word. He was also to show the believing servants that they were not to despise their masters if they were fellow-believers (verse 2), “but rather do them service, because they are faithful and beloved, partakers of the benefit”. Paul instructs Timothy, “These things teach and exhort.”
Then he draws Timothy’s attention to another thing: that other teachers would probably come to them and teach different doctrines. He says of them; “If any man teach otherwise, and consent not to wholesome words, even the words of our Lord Jesus Christ, and to the doctrine which is according to godliness; he is proud, knowing nothing, but doting about questions and strifes of words, whereof cometh envy, strife, railings, evil surmisings, perverse disputings of men of corrupt minds, and destitute of the truth, supposing that gain is godliness: from such withdraw thyself” (verses 3-5). He was to have no fellowship with teachers who were guilty of making gain of godliness, teaching and preaching for filthy lucre and making merchandise of the people, thinking “that gain is godliness”. And therefore Paul makes the statement which we have in the sixth verse: “But godliness with contentment is great gain.”
In speaking to Timothy about those who suppose that gain is godliness, Paul shows that they are guilty of a great sin. It is a great sin (although many do not think so) to suppose that the use to be made of godliness is to get gain in a worldly way and with respect to worldly things. This is making merchandise of immortal souls, and professing godliness for the sake of filthy lucre. It is very plain that this is a most heinous sin in the sight of God. While we must not think that gain is godliness, it is true on the other hand that godliness is gain. The Apostle then gives several reasons why we should practise “godliness with contentment”. We would like to draw your attention to four things: first, what godliness is; secondly, what contentment is; thirdly, the gain which comes from godliness with contentment, and fourthly, reasons for being contented.
First, we are to think about what godliness is.
Godliness begins with the sinner being truly converted – being made a new creature and so receiving a new nature, and being brought from death into life, and from condemnation into the fellowship of God. A man is converted when he is set free from sin, guilt and condemnation, as he is regenerated and enabled to believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, who is the only Saviour of sinners, and whose name is the only name given under heaven whereby we must be saved. This is where godliness begins, and unless we have this beginning we have no godliness at all. Unless we are regenerated, turned again, made new creatures in Christ Jesus, effectually called, justified by His grace, adopted into His family, and have the work of sanctification begun in us, we are still ungodly, and strangers to godliness and to God, however much we may think otherwise.
It is impossible for us to have godliness so long as we are left in a state of nature in a state of sin and misery. We may have the name of being godly and have this reputation in the world and in the church of God. But this is the only kind of godliness which it is possible for us to have as long as we are in an unconverted state. It is just a mere name for having godliness, just an opinion that people have of us that we are godly. As for real godliness, we have none at all in an unregenerate state: and that is a matter, my dear friends, that is of the utmost importance for us to consider.
Ah! it is of the greatest importance to us, as we are on our way to the endless eternity, to have godliness. It is something to which we should give our most serious attention, because it is a thing, as I said, of the utmost importance to every one of us. We should know the answer to these questions: Are we godly or ungodly? Have we God in us or are we without God?
Godliness is also to have true, gracious fear of God in our hearts. “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom” (Ps 111:10). You can be sure of this, my dear fellow sinner: that where there is no true fear of God, there is no godliness. The true fear of God being in a man will mean that he has a true knowledge of God, faith in Him, love for Him, and obedience to Him; and he will have willing obedience to His Son Jesus Christ, who is set before us in the gospel as the sinner’s Saviour. This gracious fear is also to live in fear of offending Him, of provoking Him to anger, of being guilty of going contrary to Him in anything in even the smallest degree. Those who fear Him are afraid of transgressing His commandments or despising the gracious free offers of salvation which He makes in the everlasting gospel of Christ. Let us be sure of this; where this gracious fear is not present, there is no godliness.
Again, godliness is receiving the truth of God in faith and love. There is no godliness where there is no receiving of the Word of God in the love of it, and with faith in it as God’s infallible truth. The written word that has come out of His mouth is true and no lie, and it is that word which is willingly received and embraced by the godly with their whole heart and soul. It is loved and obeyed by them, and they believe it to be holy and unchanging in all its doctrines. The walk and conversation of the godly are in full agreement with the Word. Where there is not a full, free and willing acceptance of God’s Word in this manner, there is no godliness. You need not look for godliness where God’s Word is rejected and despised, where it is not received, believed and put into practice. Nor need you look for godliness where the words and actions are not in conformity to God’s Word, but are bent on the world, and against God’s Word. Such a life belies a profession of godliness because the words and actions are contrary to the Word of God. There is no godliness in that person.
Let us not be mistaken, dear friends: if we are without godliness it is a matter of the most serious consequence to us because we are on our way to the endless eternity. They shall have the most awful eternity who deceive themselves, thinking that they have godliness while their walk in the world is opposed to God’s word which is the rule of obedience. It is plain as plain as anything can be that they shall have a bitter eternity. At this moment we cannot realise the bitterness of such an eternity. There will be no eternity more terrible or more bitter than the eternity of the poor sinner that thought he had godliness while all the time he was a stranger to it. So much then about godliness.
Secondly, we are to consider what contentment is.
The Apostle next mentions contentment: a thing, my dear friends, of which even the best of us have but little, I fear. Let us faithfully examine ourselves with regard to it. Are we contented? Are we not rather discontented? Is this not our real condition in our unregenerate state? And are not even those of us who openly profess godliness found in the same condition to a great extent? As those who will soon stand before the judgement seat we must endeavour, in examining ourselves, to be faithful. Let us be faithful to ourselves. If one is not faithful to his own immortal soul, faithfully looking after its interests, he cannot be faithful to the souls of others. Faithfulness in these matters is like charity. It always begins at home; it begins with the sinner himself.
Now, the Holy Spirit teaches all those whom He convinces of sin and enables to believe in Jesus Christ for salvation, of their need of carefully and faithfully examining themselves. They need examination: and examine themselves they must with the greatest care and faithfulness. It is a mark of those who are regenerated by the Spirit that they feel their need of examining themselves, not once or twice, but again and again throughout their lives. This day of the communion season in this congregation is specially set apart for this very work of examining ourselves as to how we stand before God, and that is one reason why we are dwelling on self-examination so much. God, before whom we shall soon stand, will judge us, and from His judgement there can be no appeal. That being so, we must endeavour to grasp this: that self-examination must be done carefully and correctly, in dependence upon the Spirit Himself, in the light of God’s written word, and in faithfulness to one’s soul
Faithful self-examination is a mark, we say, of the truly regenerated person: of those who have that godliness with contentment which is gain. Godliness will not prove to be loss for us at the end if we are faithful to our souls, coming to God with all our sins and guilt, not sparing ourselves, or excusing ourselves, or making our own sin appear to be little. The godly draw near to God Himself to confess their sins to Him, to plead for His forgiveness, and to seek grace to enable them, with grief and hatred of their sins, to depart from them.
When the godly examine themselves in this way, they will discover that one of the duties in which they come far short is that of being contented. They find that they have much discontent and that they are so difficult to please. They have to confess that however much God gives to them, or whatever He does for them, they find discontent in their hearts. The Tenth Commandment is directly opposed to this sin of discontent, and draws our attention to it as a sin that is most displeasing to God and which He hates. Could it be otherwise? We ask again, Could it be otherwise than displeasing and dishonouring to God who is so good and gracious? Ah! what a kind and good God He is to His creatures how He remembers them continually! His hand is always open to them and He gives to them so freely, so willingly and so unexpectedly. There is none like Him for giving. Notwithstanding all this, men remain discontented under God’s dealings with them and gifts to them. Ah! my dear friends it is deplorable, we say again, it is deplorable that men in their natural state are discontented when God rules over them, cares for them, and is kind and merciful to them.
But what must we say when God’s very own children are discontented: when it is a matter of the greatest difficulty to please and satisfy them, and to bring them to praise God, and honour Him, and render to Him the sacrifice of thanksgiving, as they are bound to do? What a fearful thing it is, we say, for discontent to be prevalent among God’s own true children! It is bad enough when it is found in unbelievers, but, oh! what must we say when it is found among believers? Let us endeavour to give our serious attention to this fact: that we are not free of this sin. It is a sin which appears to some to be just a trifling thing, and not worthy of the least consideration. Let me assure you, my dear friends, that it is not a trifling thing in the sight of God; it is not a trifling thing to the Holy Spirit; it is not a trifling thing in the sight of our Saviour Jesus Christ. Far from it! We cannot fully realise how dishonouring to the three-in-one God is the sin of discontent, especially when it is found among His children. The children of God are not perfect. They are not perfect in all their graces, nor even in one of the graces, and they will not be perfect as long as they are on this side of death, but that is no excuse why we should think little of this prevailing sin to which we are so prone and ready to yield. All that we shall have in return for discontent is not gain but to be miserable, unhappy, dissatisfied and losing the benefit from living in God’s good and beautiful world for notwithstanding all the sin and misery that is in the world, as God’s creation it is good and beautiful. What people shall have for discontent, day after day, week after week and year after year, is misery, unhappiness, and being displeased and full of sorrow and grief, and some of them even feeling that life is not worth living.
If this is your feeling that life is not worth living may it not be because the evil of discontent is in you. There may be other sins to which you have given yourself and by which you have ruined yourself in soul, mind and body. You may also have wasted what God has given you of the good things of this life, and now you feel so miserable that you say life is not worth living. But is not this the chief reason for your misery: that discontent is in your heart and you listen to it? It is impossible to please the sinner who, by listening to his discontent, is wearied, harassed, filled with grief, and sees everything so dark and unpleasant that he says, “Life is not worth living.” Oh! search yourself as to how you are in the sight of God. Are you contented or discontented?
Thirdly, let us think of the gain resulting from godliness with contentment.
The Apostle says that godliness with contentment is gain. It is gain in a twofold way, for it has promise of the life that now is and of that which is to come.
It is gain in this life. “Godliness is profitable unto all things, having the promise of life that now is” 1Tim. 4:8. It is gain in this life, and ah! what great gain it is. What great gain it is in itself that you, a poor sinner, would be able by God’s grace to please Him and do His will. This is one of the things that the godly strive after with all their strength all the days of their lives: to do that which is pleasing to God. And they are certain that they will never please Him by being discontented. They know that if they are to please Him they must be contented; satisfied with His dealings with them, His ruling over them, and with what He is pleased to give them in providence and in grace. There can be no pleasing of God without comprehending these things. If we are not contented we will never be able to please Him.
Some may not be pleased to hear this being said, and may not believe it or care whether they please God or not. But we know that this instruction, “Teach these things”, is given to ministers today, as it was given to Timothy then. We endeavour to teach these things to our fellow sinners, and we have nothing at all to do with whether these things please or displease them. We leave that to the judgement on the great day. According to God’s word and by God’s authority we teach that there cannot be any pleasing of Him if we are discontented. We must be contented if we are to please Him and have His favour which is better than life. Should we have nothing more than what meets our need for today, and maybe along with that have the greatest sorrow and afflictions, or have to endure much pain and numerous trials, we must be content, for so it pleases God to put all that into our cup. This is what becomes us, and this is what we must endeavour to do if we are to please Him and have His favour. We must be contented and not grumble or grieve to excess over even these things. We must seek grace to be contented and to pass our sojourn in this world in godliness with contentment, whatever God is pleased to give us or do with us.
Whatever are the appearances to the contrary, godliness with contentment is gain. There is happiness in contentment which few of us know: there is joy in having even one moment of true contentment. Not many can believe or realise what is the happiness and calm, the rest of mind and peace of soul, that is the gain of those who have the grace of contentment. Only those who have godliness with contentment spend a happy life happier by far than the richest of the ungodly, even although they should be millionaires. Only they are truly happy who go every day to their God and ask Him for their daily bread, and who, when He gives them their daily bread, feel like this: “I see that God is as rich, kind and loving as ever He was. As I lie down for another night, I lie down satisfied, pleased and happy, confiding in Him and expecting that as I got today’s portion, so I will get tomorrow’s portion.”
When the Lord led the children of Israel for nearly 40 years in a dry and barren wilderness, He gave each of them an omer of manna each day and two omers on the day before the Sabbath, and He gave them water out of a flinty rock. He is the same yesterday, today and for ever! If we had faith in Him, and love and obedience to Him, we would honour and glorify Him, and sing praises to Him with our whole heart, even in the day that we have less or little of the good things of this life. This is grace, my dear friends, this is godliness. Godliness combined with contentment is great gain.
When godliness with contentment is great gain in this life, how much more it is gain in view of the life to come. With respect to eternity, godliness is exceedingly profitable. “Godliness is profitable unto all things”, for it not only has promise of the life that now is, but also of the life which is to come (1 Tim 4:8). Ah! how profitable for eternity is godliness with contentment when it shall issue in glory and honour. To them, who by patient continuance in well doing seek for glory and honour and immortality, God will render eternal life, (Rom 2:7). The godly, as they honour and glorify God in this life by having godliness with contentment, shall have the fulfilment of His promise: “Them that honour me I will honour” (1 Sam 2:30). But I must proceed to the last point.
Lastly, we are to consider several reasons why we should be contented.
The first reason is this: “For we brought nothing into this world.” Job said, “Naked came I out of my mother’s womb; and naked shall I return thither” (Job 1:21). We came into the world naked, with nothing that we could call our own, not having even food or drink. We were born in weakness and helplessness, and being unable to do the least thing for ourselves we required much attention. Before we came into the world, God made provision for us in the world; it awaited us when we came into the world. If we came into an empty world where there was no provision made for us, it would have meant death for us. But we came into a world that is full of God’s goodness and of all necessary things to make us contented. That which was good and suitable for us was already prepared for us. And who prepared it? The Creator prepared it before He created us. We brought nothing into this world.
The second reason why we should be contented is this: “It is certain we can carry nothing out.” We are going to leave this world as we came into it: possessing nothing, for we shall leave all possessions behind. Kings and queens must leave their vast possessions behind; the beggar has to part with his few belongings. We do not know at what moment we shall have to leave the world, but this is certain: as we came naked into the world, so we shall go naked out of it. We shall carry nothing away. Not the least thing! Not one cent! Nothing! Seeing that this is to be the end of all, whether rich or poor, ought we not to be contented? You have your worldly possessions for only a little while. Why give your heart to them? Why sell your soul for them, and why be so grieved over the loss of them so long as you have what will suffice, should it be, as some say, “only from hand to mouth”? Though you should have the greatest possessions, the day will come when, in the twinkling of an eye, you will leave them to others. One generation goes and another generation comes.
The third reason for being content is this: “And having food and raiment let us be therewith content.” “Having food”: not having to hunger, or be in want, or die of starvation far from it. You have as much as you need, at least for this day. God does not promise to give you another day, and you have enough for this day, and perhaps far more than you need or can use today. And also you have “raiment”: no want of clothing. Why then should you be discontented, and make your life as miserable as you do, and make others unhappy? Why be so harassed and full of care as Martha was, to whom Christ said, “Martha, Martha, thou art careful and troubled about many things but one thing is needful”? (Luke 10:40,41). Why not strive to be contented and to give God the honour and glory for His temporal benefits and spiritual blessings? As you lie down for another night, open your closed lips, open your mouth wide, and pour out your heart and soul in songs of praise to Him, seeing He has been so good and kind to you today? Has He not been the same, day after day, since you were born, and why should He not be the same tomorrow? Why is there all this discontent among us in God’s beautiful world and why is it that we are so difficult to please? My dear friends, be content with such things as you have. “Having food and raiment let us be therewith content.”
I will conclude by repeating these words: “But godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into this world and it is certain we can carry nothing out. And having food and raiment let us be therewith content.” * See “A Minister of God” – the next article – for a biographical account of the Rev. D. N. Macleod