From Holy Living by Jeremy Taylor (1613-67) (paraphrased)
4. Never compare your condition with those who have more than you; but to secure your contentment, look upon those many with whom you would not want to exchange your fortune and condition. There are but a few kings in the world, but countless are those who are very miserable compared to you. It is a huge folly to grieve that some have more, rather than to rejoice for the many good things which God has placed in your hands.
5. We will be more content if in times of trouble, we recall what is pleasing and prosperous, so that by the remembrance of the better, the worse may be blotted out. And even at the worst, you have enough to keep you alive and to improve your hopes of heaven. If I be defeated in my lawsuit, yet my house is left me still and my land; or I may still have a virtuous wife, or hopeful children, or kind friends, or good hopes. Reckon the blessings which already you have received, and therefore be pleased in the changes and chances of life, to receive evil from the hand of God as well as good. Or else please yourself with hopes of the future. A change brings you into a sadness, and a change will bring you out again…
Suppose you were in as great a sadness as ever did load your spirit, would you not bear it cheerfully and nobly if you were sure that within a certain space of time a surprising and excellent fortune would relieve, enrich, and recompense you, so as to overflow all your hopes and desires? So then, when a sadness lies heavy upon you, remember that you are a Christian, created for the inheritance of Jesus, and that great fortune gives you a place in eternity. Now, if you are not a Christian and do not believe in eternity, then I cannot blame you for being sad, but even at that, would it be the loss of money that saddens you? What should a condemned man do with money, which in so great a sadness it is impossible for him to enjoy anyway? Does anyone despair over the particulars of a purchase when upon the gallows? If you really believe you are condemned, I do not say that would cure the sadness of your poverty, but that greater despair will swallow it up. But if you believe that you shall be saved, consider how great is that joy, how infinite is that change, how unspeakable is that glory, how excellent is the compensation, for all the sufferings in the world, even if they were all at once loaded upon your spirit! So let your present condition be what it will, if you compare it to your future condition, the present pain of a misfortune will be eased by the hope of that far bigger joy.
Here you are but a stranger, traveling to a country where the glories of a kingdom are prepared for you. It is, therefore, a huge folly to be much afflicted because you have a less convenient inn to lodge in by the way. This way of looking forwards and backwards is more than enough to support the spirit of a Christian…
Everyone has blessings enough in present possession to outweigh the evils of a great affliction. I may have all my possessions taken away, but even then I can still look about and see all that I have left. I still have the sun and moon, fire and water, a loving wife, and many friends to pity me and some to relieve me, and I can still enjoy a conversation; and, unless I give in to despair, I will still have my cheerful spirit, and a good conscience. And I can still have hope in the providence of God, and all the promises of the gospel, and my hopes of heaven; and still I sleep and eat and drink and read and meditate; I can walk in my neighbor’s pleasant fields, and see the variety of natural beauties, and delight in all that in which God delights, that is, in virtue and wisdom and in the whole creation. He that has so many causes of joy is very much in love with sorrow and peevishness if he can ignore all these pleasures, and choose only to sit down upon his little handful of thorns.
6. Enjoy the present, whatsoever it be, and be not anxious for the future. If it is well for you today, it is madness to make the present miserable by fearing that it may be ill tomorrow. If tomorrow you shall suffer want, your sorrow will come soon enough, but do not hasten it. Let the trouble come when it comes. And if it is bad today, do not increase it by worry about tomorrow. He, therefore, that enjoys the present if it be good, enjoys as much as is possible. Christ said, ‘Sufficient to the day is the evil thereof;’ sufficient but not intolerable. But if we look abroad, and bring into one day’s thoughts the evil of many days, certain and uncertain, our load will be as intolerable as it is unreasonable.
7. Let us prepare our minds against changes by always expecting them, so that we are not surprised when they come. Nothing is so great an enemy to tranquility and a contented spirit as the amazement and confusions that come when our fortunes are violently changed in a way we thought could never happen. ‘O death, how bitter art thou to a man that is at rest in his possessions!’ The rich man who had promised himself ease and enjoyment for many years, had a sad shock when his soul was surprised on the very first night by death. But the apostles, who faced death every day, went to their martyrdom in peace.
8. Consider that a state of affliction is a school of virtue. It reduces our spirits to soberness and interrupts the confidence of sinning. ‘It is good for me,’ said David, ‘that I have been afflicted, for thereby I have learned thy law.’
Lord, teach me the art of patience while I am well, and give me the use of it when I am sick. In that day, either lighten my burden or strengthen my back. Make me, who so often in my health have discovered my weakness in presuming on my own strength, to be strong in my sickness when I solely rely on your assistance. Amen.