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But now, my brethren, because this discontented humor is tough, and very hard to word upon - there is none who is discontented but has something to say for their discontent - I shall therefore seek to take away what every discontented heart has to say for himself. 1. ONE THAT IS DISCONTENTED SAYS, ‘IT IS NOT DISCONTENT; IT IS A SENSE OF MY CONDITION.’
I hope you would have me sensible of my condition. Perhaps when God takes away a friend or some other comfort, they are inordinately sorrowful, and wringing their hands as if they were undone; but let anyone speak to them, and they say, ‘Would you not have me sensible of my affliction?’
Thus many would hide their sinful murmuring under God’s hand with this pretense, that it is but sensibleness of their affliction. To that I answer: 1. There is no sense of any affliction that will hinder the sense of God’s mercies. Nay, the more we are sensible of our afflictions, providing it is in a gracious manner, the more sensible we will be of God’s mercy. But you are so sensible of your affliction that it takes away the sense of all your mercies. Oh, this is sinful discontent, this is not to be sensible in a wicked way, you go beyond your bounds. By this rule you may come to know when your sorrows and troubles for your afflictions go beyond the bounds.
We may be sorrowful when God afflicts, but, oh, that I might know when my sorrow goes beyond the bounds of it! Truly, you may know it by this, does the sense of your afflictions take away the sense of your mercies? If it does, then it goes beyond the bounds. 2. If it were but a bare sense of an affliction it would not hinder you in the duties of your condition. The right sense of our afflictions will never hinder us in the performance of the duties of our condition; but you are so sensible of the affliction that you are made unfit for the performance of the duties of the condition that God has put you in. Surely it is more than mere sense of your affliction! 3. If it were but a mere sense of your affliction, then you could in this your condition bless God for the mercies that others have; but your discontentedness usually breeds envy at others. When anyone is discontented with their condition, they have an envious spirit at the conditions of those who are delivered from what afflictions they bear.
Certainly, then, it has turned sour when you are so sensible of your afflictions and insensible of mercies that you are unfit for the duties of your condition, and envious of others who are not afflicted as you are. 2. BUT A DISCONTENTED HEART WILL SAY, ‘I am not so much troubled with my afflictions, but it is for my sin rather than my affliction, and I hope you will give leave that we should be troubled and discontented with our sin. Were it not for sin that I see in myself, I should not be so discontented as I am. Oh! it is sin that is heavy upon me, and it is that which troubles me more than my afflictions.
Do not deceive your own heart, there is a very great deceit in this. There are many people who, when God’s hand is out against them, will say they are troubled for their sin, but the truth is, it is the affliction that troubles them rather than their sin. Their heart greatly deceives them in this very thing. 1. They were never troubled for their sin before this affliction came. But you will say, It is true I was not before, for my prosperity blinded me, but now God has opened my eyes by afflictions. Has he? Then your great care will be rather for the removing of your sin than your affliction. Are you more solicitous about the taking away of your sin than the taking away of your affliction? 2. If it is your sin that troubles you, then even if God should take away your afflictions, yet unless your sin is taken away, and your heart is better, this would not content you, you could not be satisfied. But we see usually that if God removes their afflictions, they have no more trouble for their sin. Oh, many deceive themselves in this, saying that they are so troubled for their sin, and especially those who are so troubled that they are in danger to miscarry, and to make away with themselves. There is not one in ten thousand who is in such a condition as this, and it is afflictions rather than sin that puts them to it. Indeed, you lay everything on this, as if it were the work of the Word, or the spirit of bondage. I remember I heard not long since of a divine who was judicious, and used to such things, to whom came a man mightily troubled for his sin, and he could not tell what to do, he was ready to despair. The divine looked upon him, and said, ‘Are you not in debt?’ He confessed that he was, and at length the minister began to find out that that was his trouble rather than his sin, and so was able to help him in that matter, that his creditors should not come on him, and then the man was pretty quiet, and would not do away with himself any longer.
It is usual that if anything befalls a man which crosses him, Oh, then, it is his sin that troubles him! Sometimes it is so with servants, if their masters cross them, then they are vexed and fret. Come to deal with them, Oh, then they will say they are sorrowful for their sin. But we must take heed of dallying with God, who is the seer and searcher of the secrets of all heart.
Many of you go sullen and dumpish up and down in your homes, and then you say, it is your sin that lies upon you, when God knows it is otherwise: it is because you cannot have your desires as you would have. 3. If you are troubled for your sin, then it will be your great care not to sin in your trouble, so as not, by your trouble, to increase your sin. But you are troubled in such a way that, the truth is, you increase your sin in your trouble, and since you said you were troubled for your sin you have committed more sin than you did before. 4. And then, lastly, if it is your sin that troubles you, then you have the more need to submit to God’s hand, and to accept the punishment of your iniquity, as in Leviticus 26:41. There is no consideration to take away murmuring, so much as to look upon my sin as the cause of my affliction. 3. ‘OH’, SAYS ANOTHER, ‘I FIND MY AFFLICTION IS SUCH THAT GOD WITHDRAWS HIMSELF FROM ME IN MY AFFLICTION. That is what troubles me, and can anybody be quiet then, can anybody be satisfied with such a condition, when the Lord withdraws himself? However great my affliction were, yet if I found not God withdrawing himself from me, I hope I could be content with any affliction, but I cannot find the presence of God with me in this affliction, as at other times I have found, and that is what troubles me, and makes me in such a condition as I am.’ Now to that I answer thus: 1. It is a very evil thing for men and women over every affliction to conclude that God is departed from them. It may be, when it comes to be examined, there is no other reason why you think that God is withdrawn and departed, but because he afflicts you. Now for you to make such a conclusion, that every time God lays an affliction upon you, he is departed, is a sinful disorder of your heart, and is very dishonorable to God, and grievous to his Spirit. In the 17th of Exodus, verse 7, you may see how God was displeased with such a disorder as this: ‘And he called the name of the place Massah, and Meribah, because of the chiding of the children of Israel, and because they tempted the Lord, saying, Is the Lord among us or not?’ Mark, they murmured because they were brought into afflictions: but see what the text says, ‘Therefore the place was called Massah and Meribah, because they tempted the Lord, saying, Is the Lord among us or not?’ This was tempting God. Sometimes we are afraid God is departed from us, and it is merely because we are afflicted. I beseech you to observe this Scripture: God calls it a tempting of him, when he afflicts anyone, for them to conclude and say that God is departed from them. If a child should cry out and say that his father is turned to be an enemy to him, because he corrects him, this would be taken ill. I beseech you consider this one place - it may be of very great use to you - that you may not be ready to think that God is departed, because you are afflicted. 2. If God is departed, the greatest sign of God’s departing is because you are so disturbed. You make your disquiet the fruit of God’s departing from you. If you could only cure your disquiet, if you could but quiet your own hearts and get them into a better frame of contentedness under God’s hand in affliction, then you would find God’s presence with you. Will you be thus disquieted till God comes again to you? Your disquiet drives him from you, and you can never expect God’s coming to manifest himself comfortably to your souls, till you have gotten your hearts quiet under your afflictions. Therefore you see here how you reason amiss: you reason, I am disquiet because God is gone, when the truth is, God is gone because you are disquiet. Reason the other way, Oh, my disquiet has driven God from me, and therefore ever I would have the presence of God to come again to me, let my heart be quiet under the hand of God. 3. Do you find God departing from you in your affliction? Will you therefore depart from God too? Is this your help? Can you help yourself that way? Because God is gone, will you go too? Do I, indeed, feel God departing from me? It may be so. It may be, God for your trial is departed a little from you. And is it so indeed? What an unwise course I take! I commit further sin and so I go further off from God; what a plight I am in! God goes from me, and I from God. If the child sees the mother going from it, it is not for the child to say, My mother is gone yonder and I will go the other way; no, but the child goes crying after the mother. So should the soul say, I see the Lord is withdrawing his presence from me, and now it is best for me to make after the Lord with all my might, and I am sure this murmuring humor is not a making after God, but by it I go further and further away from God, and what a distance there will be between God and me within a little while!
These are some of the reasonings and pleas of a murmuring and discontented heart. There are many others that we shall meet with, and endeavor to speak to your hearts in them, that this touch humor of discontent may, as it were, be cut with the word and softened with the word, so that it may pass away. For that is the way of physicians, when they meet with a body which has any tough humor, then they give that which has a piercing quality; when there is a tough humor which stops the water, that it cannot pass, they give something with a piercing quality which may make a passage for it. So you have need of such things as are piercing, to make a way through this tough humor in the spirits of men and women, whereby they come to live very uncomfortably to themselves and others, and very dishonorably unto God.
Now many pleas and reasonings still remain, for there is a great deal of ado with a discontented, murmuring heart. And I remember, I find that the same Hebrew word which signifies to lodge, to abide , signifies to murmur . They use one word for both, for murmuring is a disorder that lodges in men; where it gets in once it lodges, abides and continues, and therefore, that we may dislodge it and get it out, we will labor to show what are the further reasonings of a discontented heart. 4. ‘I THINK I COULD BE CONTENT WITH GOD’S HAND,’ SAYS ONE, ‘SO FAR AS I SEE THE HAND OF GOD IN A THING I CAN BE CONTENT. But when men deal so unreasonably and unjustly with me, I do not know how to bear it. I can bear that I should be in God’s hands, but not in the hands of men. When my friends or acquaintances deal so unrighteously with me, oh, this goes very hard with me, so that I do not know how to bear it from men.’ For taking away this reasoning, consider: 1. Though they are men who bring this cross on you, yet they are God’s instruments. God has a hand in it, and they can go no further than God would have them go. This was what quieted David when Shimei cursed him: God has a hand in it, he said, though Shimei is a base, wicked man, yet I look beyond him to God. So, do any of your friends deal injuriously with you, and wrongly with you? Look up to God, and see that man but as an instrument in God’s hands. 2. If this is your trouble that men do so wrong you, you ought rather to turn your hearts to pity them, than to murmur or be discontented. For the truth is, if you are wronged by other men, you have the better of it, for it is better to bear wrong than to do wrong a great deal. If they wrong you, you are in a better condition than they, because it is better to bear, than to do wrong. I remember it is said of Socrates that, as he was very patient when wrong was done to him, they asked him how he came to be so. He said, ‘If I meet a man in the street who is a diseased man, shall I be vexed and fretted with him because he is diseased? Those who wrong me I look upon as diseased men, and therefore pity them.’ 3. Though you meet with hard dealings from men, yet you meet with nothing but kind, good and righteous dealings from God. When you meet with unrighteous dealings from them, set one against the other. And that is an answer to the fourth plea. 5. ‘OH, BUT THE AFFLICTION THAT COMES UPON ME IS AN AFFLICTION WHICH I NEVER LOOKED FOR. I never thought I would meet with such an affliction, and that is what I cannot bear. That is what makes my heart so disturbed because it was altogether unlooked for and unexpected.’ For the answer of this: 1. It is your weakness and folly that you did not look for it and expect it. In Acts 20:22,23, see what St. Paul says concerning himself, ‘And now, behold, I go bound in the spirit unto Jerusalem, not knowing the things that shall befall me there, save that the Holy Ghost witnesseth in every city, saying that bonds and afflictions abide me.’ It is true, he says, I do not know the particular affliction that may befall me, but this I know, that the Spirit of God witnesses that bonds and afflictions shall abide me everywhere. I look for nothing else but bonds and afflictions wheresoever I go. So a Christian should do: he should look for afflictions wheresoever he is, in all conditions he should look to meet with afflictions; and therefore if any affliction should befall him, though indeed he could not foresee the particular evil, yet he should think, This is no more than I looked for in general. Therefore no affliction should come unexpectedly to a Christian. 2. A second answer I would give is this: Is it unexpected? Then the less provision you made for it before it came, the more careful should you be to sanctify God’s name in it, now it is come. It is in this case of afflictions as in mercies: many times mercy comes unexpected, and that might be a third answer to you. Set one against the other. I have many mercies that I never looked for, as well as afflictions that I never looked for, as well as afflictions that I never looked for; why should not the one rejoice me as much as the other disturbs me? As it is in mercies, when they come unexpected, the less preparation there was in me for receiving mercy, the more need I have to be careful now to give God the glory of the mercy, and to sanctify God’s name in the enjoyment of the mercy. Oh, so it should be with us now: we have had mercies this summer that we never expected, and therefore we were not prepared for them; now we should be so much the more careful to give God the glory of them. So when afflictions come that we did not expect, when it seems we did not lay in for them beforehand, we had need be the more careful to sanctify God’s name in them. We should have spent some pains before, to prepare for afflictions and we did not; then take so much the more pains to sanctify God in this affliction now. 6. ‘OH, BUT IT IS VERY GREAT, MY AFFLICTION IS EXCEEDING GREAT,’ Says someone, ‘and however you say we must be contented, you may say so who do not feel such great afflictions, but if you felt my affliction, which I feel, you would think it hard to bear and be content.’ To that I answer: 1. Let is be as great an affliction as it will, it is not as great as your sin. He has punished you less than your sins. 2. It might have been a great deal more, you might have been in Hell. And it is, if I remember, Bernard’s saying: he said, ‘It is an easier matter to be oppressed than to perish.’ You might have been in Hell, and therefore the greatness of the thing should not make you murmur, even grant it to be great. 3. It may be it is the greater because your heart murmurs so. Shackles upon a man’s legs, if his legs are sore, will pain him more. If the shoulder is sore, the burden is the greater. It is because your heart is so unsound that your affliction is great to you. 7. BUT HOWEVER YOU MAY LESSEN MY AFFLICTION, YET I AM SURE IT IS FAR GREATER THAN THE AFFLICTION OF OTHERS. 1. It may be it is your discontent that makes it greater, when indeed it is not so in itself. 2. If it were greater than others’, why is your eye evil because the eye of God is good? Why should you be discontented the more because God is gracious to others? 3. If your affliction greater than others’? Then in this you have an opportunity to honor God more than others. You should consider, does God afflict me more than other men? God gives me an opportunity in this to honor him in this affliction more than other men, to exercise more grace than other men. Let me labor to do it then. 4. If all afflictions were laid upon a heap together - this is a notable saying of Solon, that wise Heathen, he said - ’Suppose all the afflictions that are in the world were laid upon a heap, and every man should come and take a proportion of those afflictions, every one equally, there is scarce any man but would rather say, Let me have the afflictions that I had before, or else he would be likely to come to a greater share, a greater affliction if so be he should equally share with all the world.’ Now for you who are poor (who are not in extremity of poverty), if all the riches in the world were laid together and you should have an equal share, you would be poorer. But take all afflictions and sorrows whatsoever; if all the sorrows in the world were laid together in a heap, and you had but an equal share of them, your portion would be rather more than it is now for the present. And therefore do not complain that it is more than others’, and murmur because of that. 8. ANOTHER REASONING THAT MURMURING HEARTS HAVE IS THIS: Why, they think that if the affliction were any other than it is, then they would be more contented. 1. You must know that we are not to choose our own rod, that God shall beat us with. 2. It may be that if it were any other than it is, it would not be so suitable for you as this is. It may be, therefore, God chooses it because it is the most contrary to you, since it is most suitable for purging out the humor that is in you. If a patient comes to take medicine and finds himself sick by it, will he say, ‘Oh,! if it were any other potion I could bear it?’ It may be, if it were any other than it is, it would not suit your disease; yea, if it did not work as it does, it would not suit the disease. So when you say of an affliction, if it were any other than it is, you could bear it, do but answer yourself with this: It may be, if it were any other than it is, it would not be suitable for me. It would not get right to the sinful humor in my soul, and therefore God sees this to be the fittest and the most suitable for me. 3. Know that this is the excellence of grace in a Christian, to be fitted for any condition; not only to say, if it were this or that, but if it were any.
Now if a sailor has skill he does not say, ‘If it were any other wind but this, if the wind blew in any direction but this, I could manage my ship, I could show skill in other directions but not in this.’ Would not sailors laugh at such a one? It would be a shame for him to say that he has skill in any other direction but this. So it should be a shame for a Christian to say that he has skill in any other affliction but this. A Christian should be able to manage his ship, if the wind blows any way; to guide his soul any way. 4. The last answer is this, Know that the Lord has rewards and crowns for all graces, and for honoring them in all conditions. It may be, in such a way as you think you could honor God, God has a crown for that; and God has another crown to set upon the heads of those who honor him in such a way as this. He has several sorts of crowns, as I may say, in Heaven, and those crowns he must put upon somebody’s head, and therefore he exercises you in a variety of conditions, so that you might have the several rewards and crowns that God has to reward and crown those who are faithful in several conditions. 9. ‘OH, BUT THE CONDITION THAT GOD HAS PUT ME IN, MAKES ME UNSERVICEABLE, AND THIS TROUBLES ME.
It is true, if it were only an affliction and trouble to myself, it would not be so much, but I am put into such a condition by this affliction that I am unserviceable, and can do God no further service. God has put me into a mean position, and what good can I do? How burdensome is my life to me, because I can do no service for God! This is grievous to me.’
Indeed, if it is true that this is your great grief, it is a good sign. If you can say, as in the presence of God, ‘Above all afflictions in this world, I count to be laid aside and not to be employed in the service of God the greatest affliction. I would rather bear any trouble in the world if I might do more service, than be freed from trouble and be laid aside and do little service: can you say so? It is a good sign of grace for a man to account afflictions as great because he can do the Lord but little service. Few men account that an affliction at all.
But yet there may be a temptation in this. To murmur at God’s disposal, when your calling is low and mean and you can do little service, is many times a temptation to those who are poor, those who are servants and those who are of weak gifts, and must work hard to provide bread for their families. It is many times a grievous burden to them to think: The Lord uses other men in public service and I live in an obscure way, and to what purpose is my life?
To help against this temptation, that you may not murmur against this condition: 1. Do but consider that though your condition is low and mean, yet you are in the Body, you are a member of the Body, Though you are but a mean member, the toe and the finger have their use in the body; though it is not the eye, though it is not the head, or the heart, yet it has its use in the body.
There is an excellent expression, which I remember Augustine has about this: ‘It is better to be the meanest member in the body, than to be the highest and most important member and cut off from the body; it is better to be a little sprig in the tree joined to the root, than to be an arm cut off from the root.’ Other men who have but common gifts in the world,* who are not members of Jesus Christ, seem indeed to have more excellence than those who are godly, who are in a mean condition, with mean gifts and mean callings; but they are not of the body, they are not joined to the root, and therefore their condition is worse. [*Common gifts as distinct from the gift of salvation.] When a great arm of a tree is cut off it has a great many leaves on it, and seems a great deal more glorious than those little sprigs that are on the tree, but that little sprig is in a better condition. Why?
Because it is joined to the tree and gets sap from the root and flourishes, but the other will wither and die within a while. So it is with all men of the world: they are just like great boughs cut off from the tree; though they have excellent gifts, and have great wealth and pomp and glory in the world, they have no union with Jesus Christ the root. But others who live in a poor condition, a poor tradesman, a poor servant, a poor laboring-man who labors for his family every day, such a one, being godly, may say, ‘Though I have but little for the present, little glory, little credit, little comfort, yet I am joined to the Body, and there I have supply and that which will feed me with comfort, blessing and mercy to all eternity.’ So all who are in a poor condition in this world, if you are godly, just thing of that: though you are mean yet you are in the Body, and joined to the root. You are joined to the principle of comfort, good, blessing and mercy, which will hold out to eternity, when thousand thousands of glorious pompous men in the world shall wither and perish everlastingly. Therefore do not be troubled at your mean condition. 2. Though you have only a mean calling in this world, and so are not regarded as a man of use in the world, yet if you are a Christian, God has called you to a higher calling; your general calling is a high calling, though your particular calling is but low and mean.* [*The Puritans taught that believers have a twofold calling: their particular calling, which was to their daily occupation and work; and their general calling, to be Christians.] There is a place for that in the chapter before my text, Philippians 3:14: ‘I press towards the mark’, says the Apostle, ‘for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.’ So every Christian has a high calling of God in Christ Jesus: God has called him to the highest thing to which he has called any creature he has made. The angels in Heaven have not a higher calling than you have. You who perhaps spend your time in a poor business, in the meanest calling, if you are a dung-raker, to rake channels, or to clean places of filth, or any other thing in the world that is the meanest that can be conceived of, your general calling as a Christian advances you higher than any particular calling can advance any man in the world. Others, indeed, who are called to manage the affairs of the State are in a high calling, or ministers, they are in a high calling; but yours in some respects is higher. A poor servant who must be scraping all day about poor, mean things many times may have such a temptation as this: ‘Oh, what a poor condition has God put me into! Will God have regard to such a one who is in such a poor, low place as I am?’ Oh, yes, Christ has regard to the meanest member; as a man has as real a regard to his toe if it is in pain, and will look after it as truly and verily as any other member, so Christ has regard to his lowest and meanest ones. 3. You are in a high calling. Though your outward calling is low in respect of men, yet in respect of God you are in the same calling with the angels in Heaven, and in some degree called to that which is higher, for the Scripture says that the angels come to understand the mystery of the Gospel by the Church. You who are a Christian in that general calling of yours, you are joined with principalities and powers, and with angels, in the greatest work that God has called any creature to, and therefore let that comfort you in this. 4. You calling is low and mean; yet do not be discontented with that, for you have a principle within you (if you are a godly man or woman) of grace, which raises your lowest actions to be higher in God’s esteem, than all the brave, glorious actions that are done in the world. The principle of faith does it: if any man or woman goes on in obedience to God in a way of faith in the calling in which God has set them - doing this, I say, through a principle of faith - it raises this action, and makes it a more glorious action than all the glorious victories of Alexander and Caesar. All their triumphs and glorious pomp that they had in all their conquests were not so glorious as for you to do the lowest action out of faith. As Luther speaks of a poor milkmaid who is a believer, and does her work in faith: he compares that action to all the glorious actions of Caesar, and makes it a great deal more eminent and glorious in the eyes of God. Therefore faith raises your works which are but mean, and raises them to be very glorious.
Yes, and the truth is, it is more obedience to submit to God in a low calling, than to submit to him in a higher calling; for it is sheer obedience, mere obedience, that makes you go on in a low calling, but there may be much self-love that makes men go on in a higher calling, for there is riches, credit and account in the world, and rewards come in by that, which they do not in the other. To go on quietly in a low calling is more obedience to God. 5. Know further, in the last place, that there is likely to be more reward.
For when the Lord comes to reward, he does not examine what work men and women have been exercised in, but what their faithfulness has been. ‘Well done, good and faithful servant,’ said the Lord; he does not say, ‘Well done, good servant, for you have been faithful to me in public works, ruling cities and states, and affairs in kingdoms, and therefore you shall be rewarded.’ No, but, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant.’ Now you may be faithful in little as well as others are in more, by going on and working your day’s labor; when you get but a couple of shillings to maintain your family, you may be as faithful in this as those who rule a kingdom. God looks to a man’s faithfulness, and you may have as great a reward for your faithfulness who are a poor servant in the kitchen all the day, as another who sits upon the throne all day. As great a crown of glory you may have at the day of judgment, as a king who sits upon the throne, who has ruled for God upon his throne. Yes, your faithfulness may be rewarded by God with as great glory as a king who has swayed his scepter for God; because, I say, the Lord does not so much look at the work that is done, as at the faithfulness of our hearts in doing it. Then why should not every one of us go on comfortably and cheerfully in our low condition, for why may not I be faithful as well as another? It is true, I cannot come to be as rich a man and as honorable as others; but I may be as faithful as any other man: every one of you may reason thus with yourselves. What hinders you who are the poorest and meanest from being as faithful as the greatest? Yes, you may have as glorious a crown in Heaven, and therefore go on comfortably and cheerfully in your way. 10. THERE IS ANOTHER REASONING THAT SOME MAY HAVE AND IT IS THIS: ‘Oh, I could bear much affliction in some other way, but this is very grievous to me, the unsettledness of my condition. Even if my condition were low, yet if it were in a settled way, I could be content, but it is so unconstant, and so unsettled, that I never know what to trust to, but am tossed up and down in the world in an unsettled condition, and this is hard to be content with.’
Now to that I answer: 1 . The Psalmist says, ‘That every man in his settled estate is vanity’ ( Psalm 39:5). Your Bibles have it: ‘Every man at his best estate is vanity,’ the word is, ‘his settled estate’. You think, if you were but settled, then you could be content, but the truth is, man in his settled estate is vanity. 2. Perhaps God sees it is better for you to live in a continual dependence upon him, and not to know what your condition shall be on the morrow, than for you to have a more settled condition in terms of the comforts of the creature. Do but remember what we spoke of before, that Christ does not teach you to pray, ‘Lord, give me enough to serve me for two or three years,’ but, ‘This day our daily bread.’ This is to teach us that we must live upon God in a dependent condition every day for daily bread. Here was the difference between the land of Canaan and Egypt: the land of Canaan depended on God for the watering of it with showers from Heaven, but Egypt had a constant way of watering the country, that did not so much depend upon Heaven for water, but upon the river Nile, which at some certain time overflowed the country. Knowing that the watering of their country depended upon the river and not upon heaven, they grew more proud. And therefore the Scripture, to express Pharaoh’s pride, brings him in as saying: ‘The river is mine’: he could order the river as he pleased, for it was his. Canaan was a country which was to depend upon God, and though they had rain at one time, yet they never knew whether they should have it at another time, and lived always in dependence upon God, not knowing what should become of them. Now God thought this to be a better land for his people than Egypt, and this is given as one reason among others, that the Lord looked upon it as more suitable to the state of his people, who were to live by faith, that they should be continually depending upon Heaven, upon himself, and not have a constant settled way in the creature for their outward dependence. We find by experience that when those who are godly live in the greatest dependence upon God, and have not a settled income from the creature, they exercise faith more, and are in a better condition for their souls than before. Oh, many times it falls out that the worse your outward estate is the better your soul is, and the better your outward estate is the worse your soul is.
We read in Ezra 4:13, the objection that the enemies had against the people of Israel’s building of the wall of the city: their writing to Artaxerxes against them said, ‘Be it known unto the king, that if this city be builded, and the walls set up again, then will not they pay toll, tribute, and custom, and so thou shalt endamage the revenue of the kings.’ If the wall be built, they say, then they will refuse to pay toll, tribute and custom to the king, that is, so long as they live in such a condition where they have dependence wholly upon the king, and live at the king’s mercy, that is, they are in no city with walls, but the king may come upon them when he will, so long they will pay custom to the king; but if once they come to build a wall, and can defend themselves, and have not their dependence upon the king as before, then they will deny paying toll, tribute and custom. So it is thus, for all the world, between God and men’s souls: when a soul lives in mere dependence upon God, so that sensibly he sees that God has advantage of him every moment, Oh, then such a soul will pay toll and custom, that soul exercises faith, and begs every day his daily bread; but if God hedges that man about with wealth, with prosperity - perhaps an inheritance falls to him, perhaps he has a constant office that brings in so much yearly to him duly paid - he is not so sensible now of his dependence upon God, and he begins now to pay less toll and custom to God than before. God has less service from this man now than before. God sees it better for his people to live in a dependent condition. We are very loath in respect of God to be dependent, we would all be independents in this way, we would be dependent upon ourselves and have no dependence upon the Lord, but God sees it better for us to live in a depending condition. 3. This may be your comfort: though for outward things you are mightily unsettled, yet for the great things of your soul and eternal welfare there you are settled. There you have a settled way, a constant way of fetching supply: Of his fullness we receive grace for grace. You have there an abundance of treasure to go to, and get all that you stand in need of. And observe that now your condition is more settled in the Covenant of grace than it was in the Covenant of works: in the Covenant of works God gave man a stock to trade with, but he put it into his hand, so that he might trade, and gain or lose; but in the Covenant of grace, God makes sure: the stock is kept in the hand of Christ, and we must go to him for supply continually, for Christ keeps the stock. perhaps we may trifle away something in our trading, but God takes care that we never spend the stock. It is as when a man’s son goes bankrupt, having squandered away the capital that he gave him before; afterwards he puts his capital into a friend’s hand, and says, ‘You shall keep the stock and it shall not be at his disposal.’ So we are in a more settled condition in respect of our eternal estate than Adam was in innocence. Therefore let that comfort us in all our unsettled conditions in the matters of the world. 11. BUT THERE IS STILL ANOTHER REASONING WITH WHICH MANY MURMURING HEARTS THINK TO FEED THEIR HUMOR. THEY SAY, ‘If I never had been in a better condition then I could bear this affliction, if God had always kept me in such a low condition, I could be content. Oh, but there was a time when I prospered more, and my hands were full, and therefore now it is harder for me to be brought low, as at present.’ Perhaps a man had five or six hundred a year, but now has had nothing for a great while: if that man had not been born to so much, or had never prospered in any higher degree than he is now in, the affliction would have been less. Perhaps he has some money and friends to live on, but if he had never been in a higher condition, he would not have accounted it so great a thing to have been without it now.
This, many times, is our greatest wound, that once we were in a better condition; but it is the most unreasonable thing for us to murmur upon this ground of any. 1. For is your eye evil because God has been good to you heretofore? It is a bad thing for us to have our eye evil because God is good to others, but to look upon our condition with an evil eye now, because God was once good to us! - has God done you any wrong because he was formerly more good to you than he was to others? 2. Did God give you more prosperity before? It was to prepare you for affliction. We should look at all our outward prosperity as a preparation for afflictions. If you had done so, then it would not have been so difficult for you to endure afflictions now. If when you had great wealth, you made use of the mercy of God to prepare you for your afflicted estate, then the change of your estate would not be so grievous. Every Christian should say: ‘Have I wealth now? I should prepare for poverty. Have I health now? I should prepare for sickness. Have I liberty? Let me prepare myself for imprisonment. How do I know what God may call me to? Have I comfort and peace now in my conscience, does God shine upon me? While I have this let me prepare for God’s withdrawing from me. Am I delivered from temptations? Let me prepare now for the time of temptations.’ If you would do so, the change of your condition would not be so grievous to you.
Sailors who are in a calm prepare for storms; would they say, ‘If we never had calms we could bear storms, but we have had calms so many years or weeks together, that this is grievous? In your calm you are to prepare to storms, and the storm will be less.
You should reason quite contrary to what you do and say: ‘Now I am in an afflicted condition, but, blessed be God, I was in a comfortable condition, and, blessed be God, that he was before with me in his mercy’: this one consideration may help murmuring hearts. Do you murmur because once you were better? Know that God was before with you in mercy, and you should rather thing thus: I have lived for these many years, perhaps forty years or more, in a comfortable condition, I have lived in health, and peace, and plenty; what though the remaining part of my time should have some sorrow and affliction? The Lord has granted to me a comfortable sunshine all the day long towards evening, and what if at seven or eight o’clock at night it begins to rain? Let me thank God I have had such fair weather all day. If you are on a voyage, and you have a comfortable wind, and very fair weather for many months together, what if you have a little storm when you are within sight of land? Will you murmur and repine? Oh now, but you rather bless God that you have had such a comfortable voyage so long.
Oh, this consideration would help us all. If God should now say, ‘Well, you will never see comfortable days again in outward things in this world’, then, you have cause to fall down and bless God’s name that you have had so many comfortable days. Now you reason quite contrary: whereas you should bless God that you have had so much comfort, you make what you have had before an aggravation of your afflictions now, and so murmur and are discontented.
On what terms did you hold what God gave you before? Did you hold it so that you have in your papers, ‘To have and to hold for ever’? God gives no such thing, God gives to no man, I say, anything but grace to run upon that tenure. There is no such thing in all God’s writings for any outward comforts as, ‘To have and to hold for you and your heirs.’ Indeed, grave he gives to yourselves, to have and to hold for ever, though not for everyone who comes out of your loins to have and to hold for ever; but God does not give any outward thing upon such tenure as that. If God gives me an understanding of himself, and faith, and humility, and love, and patience, and such graces of his Spirit, he gives me them for ever, if he gives me himself, and his Christ, and his promises, and his covenant, he gives me them for ever. Who am I, therefore, that the sun should always shine upon me, that I must have fair weather all my days? What God gives to me, he gave it as a pledge of his love; let me return it to him as a pledge of my obedience. There is all the reason in the world for it: all that a godly man receives from God he receives as a pledge of god’s love to him; therefore when he comes into an afflicted condition, God says, ‘Return to me as a pledge of your obedience, what you had from me as a pledge of my love.’
We should cheerfully come to God and bless God that we have anything to render to him as a pledge of our obedience, and should say, ‘Oh, it is your love, O Lord, which has given us everything, which enables us to render a pledge of our obedience to you.’ When God calls for your wealth or any comforts that you have, God calls for it as a pledge of your obedience to him. 12. ANOTHER REASONING OF A MURMURING HEART IS THIS: ‘Oh, but after I have taken a great deal of pains for this comfort, yet then I am thwarted in it. To be thwarted now after all the labor and pains I have taken, oh, this goes very hard.’ I answer: 1 . The greater the cross, the more obedience and submission. 2. When you took a great deal of pains, was it not with submission to God? Did you take pains, with resolutions that you must have such a thing when you labored for it? Then know that you did not labor as a Christian, but if you labored and took pains, was it not with resignation to God?: ‘Lord, I am taking pains in my calling, but with submission; I depend wholly upon you for success and a blessing.’ And what did you aim at in your labor? Was it not that you might walk with God in the place where God had set you? A Christian should do so in his outward calling: I am diligent in my outward calling, but it is so that I might obey God in it. It is true, I do it that I might provide for my family, but the chief thing that I aim at is that I might yield obedience to God in the way where God has set me.
Now if God calls you to another condition, to obey him in, though it is by suffering, you will do it if your heart is right. 3. There will be more testimony of your love to God, if so be that you now yield up yourself to God in what cost you dear. ‘Shall I offer that to God’, said David, ‘that cost me nothing?’ Your outward comforts have cost you much, and you have taken great pains to obtain them and now, if you can submit to God in the want of them, in this, I say, your love is the more shown, that you can offer to God what cost you dear. 13. NOW THESE ARE THE PRINCIPAL REASONINGS OF A DISCONTENTED HEART. BUT THERE IS ONE PLEA MORE THAT MAY BE NAMED: SOME SAY, ‘Though I confess that my affliction is somewhat hard, and I feel some trouble within me, yet I thank God I do not break out in discontented ways to the dishonor of God; I keep it in, although I have much ado with my own heart.’ Oh, do not satisfy yourselves with that, for the disorders of your hearts, and their sinful workings are as words before God. ‘My soul, be silent to God’: we spoke of that in the beginning of the expounding of this Scripture. It is not enough for your tongue to be silent; but your soul must be silent. There may be a sullen discontentedness of heart as well as a discontentedness manifested in words, and if you do not mortify that inward sullenness, when you are afflicted a little more, it will break forth at last.
And thus the Lord, I hope, has met with the chief reasonings and please for our discontent in our conditions. I beseech you, in the name of God, consider these things, and because they concern your own hearts, you may so much the better remember them. I had thought to have made a little beginning to the next head, which is, Some way of helping you to this grace of contentment. It is a most excellent grace, of admirable use, as you have heard, and the contrary is very sinful and vile.