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The Art of Divine Contentment, pt. 7
by Thomas Watson (1620-1686)
[Here we continue Mr Watson’s study on contentment. In this article, he continues to answer some excuses for not being content. In the original text of Mr Watson’s book, these were called “Apologies”. We have changed the word to “Excuses”, for readability’s sake, to be in line with the modern meaning of the words.]
I have learned, in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content (Philippians 4:11, AV).
Excuse 3. The next excuse that discontent makes is, but my friends have dealt very unkindly with me, and proved false.
It is sad, when a friend proves like a brook in summer (see Job 6:15) The traveller being parched with heat, comes to the brook, hoping to refresh himself, but the brook is dried up. Yet, be content:
1. Thou art not alone, others of the saints have been betrayed by friends; and when they have leaned upon them, they have been as a foot out of joint. This was true in the type David: “It was not an enemy that reproached me, but it was thou, O man, mine equal, my guide, and mine acquaintance; we took sweet counsel together” (Ps. 55:12-14). And in the antitype, Christ was betrayed by a friend: and why should we think it strange to have the same measure dealt out to us as Jesus Christ had? “The servant is not above his master” (Matt. 10:24).
2. A Christian may often read his sin in his punishment: hath not he dealt treacherously with God? How oft hath he grieved the Comforter, broken his vows, and through unbelief sided with Satan against God? How oft abused love, taken the jewels of God’s mercies, and made a golden calf of them, serving his own lusts? How oft made the free grace of God, which would have been a bolt to keep out sin, rather a key to open the door to it? These wounds hath the Lord received in the house of his friends. Look upon the unkindness of thy friend, and mourn for thy own unkindness against God; shall a Christian condemn that in another, which he hath been too guilty of himself?
3. Hath thy friend proved treacherous? Perhaps you did repose too much confidence in him. If you lay more weight upon a house than the pillars will bear, it must needs break. God saith, “Trust ye not in a friend” (Mic. 7:5) perhaps you did put more trust in him, than you did dare to put in God. Friends are as Venice-glasses: we may use them, but if we lean too hard upon them, they will break; behold matter of humility, but not of sullenness and discontent.
4. You have a friend in heaven who will never fail you; “there is a friend” — saith Solomon — “that sticketh closer than a brother” (Prov. 18:24). Such a friend is God; He is very studious and inquisitive on our behalf; He hath a debating with Himself, a consulting and projecting how He may do us good; He is the best friend which may give contentment in the midst of all discourtesies of friends. Consider, (1.) He is a loving friend. “God is love;” (1 John. 4:16) hence He is said sometimes to engrave us on the “palm of his hand,” (Is. 49:16) that we may never be out of His eye; and to carry us in His bosom, (Isa. 40:11) near to His heart. There is no stop or stint in His love; but as the river Nile, it overflows all the banks; His love is as far beyond our thoughts, as it is above our deserts. O the infinite love of God, in giving the Son of His love to be made flesh, which was more than if all the angels had been made worms! God in giving Christ to us gave His very heart to us: here is love penciled out in all its glory, and engraven as with the “point of a diamond.” All other love is hatred in comparison of the love of our Friend. (2.) He is a careful friend: “He careth for you” (1 Pe. 5:7) He minds and transacts our business as His own, He accounts His people’s interests and concernments as His interest. He provides for us, grace to enrich us, glory to ennoble us. It was David’s complaint, “no man careth for my soul” (Ps. 142:4). A Christian hath a friend that cares for him. (3.) He is a prudent friend. (Da. 2:20) A friend may sometimes err through ignorance or mistake, and give his friend poison instead of sugar; but “God is wise in heart” (Job 9:4). He is skilful as well as faithful; He knows what our disease is, and what physic is most proper to apply; He knows what will do us good, and what wind will be best to carry us to heaven. (4.) He is a faithful friend. And He is faithful in His promises; “in hope of eternal life which God that cannot lie hath promised” (Tit. 1:2). God’s people are “children that will not lie” (Is. 63:8); but God is a God that cannot lie; He will not deceive the faith of His people; nay, He cannot: He is called “the Truth;” He can as well cease to be God as cease to be true. The Lord may sometimes change His promise, as when He converts a temporal promise into a spiritual; but He can never break his promise. (5.) He is a compassionate friend, hence in Scripture we read of the yearning of His bowels (Jer. 31:20). God’s friendship is nothing else but compassion; for there is naturally no affection in us to desire His friendship, nor no goodness in us to deserve it; the loadstone is in Himself. When we were full of blood, He was full of bowels; when we were enemies, He sent an ambassador of peace; when our hearts were turned back from God, His heart was turned towards us. O the tenderness and sympathy of our Friend in heaven! We ourselves have some relentings of heart to those which are in misery; but it is God who begets all the mercies and bowels that are in us, therefore He is called “the Father of mercies” (2 Cor. 1:3). (6.) He is a constant friend: “His compassions fail not” (La. 3:22). Friends do often in adversity drop off as leaves in autumn; these are rather flatterers than friends. Joab was for a time faithful to king David’s house; he went not after Absalom’s treason; but within a while proved false to the crown, and went after the treason of Adonijah (1 Ki. 1:7). God is a friend forever: “having loved His own which were in the world, He loved them to the end” (John 13:1). What though I am despised? Yet God loves me. What though my friends cast me off? Yet God loves me; He loves to the end, and there is no end of that love. This methinks, in case of discourtesies and unkindnesses, is enough to charm down discontent.
Excuse 4. The next excuse is, I am under great reproaches.
Let not this discontent: for, 1. It is a sign there is some good in thee; saith Socrates, “What evil have I done, that this bad man commends me?” The applause of the wicked usually denotes some evil, and their censure imports some good. David wept and fasted, and that was turned to his “reproach”(see Ps. 38:20). As we must pass to heaven through the spikes of suffering, so through the clouds of reproach (I Pe. 4:14). 2. If your reproach be for God, as David’s was, “for thy sake I have born reproach” (Ps. 69:7), then it is rather matter of triumph, than dejection. Christ doth not say, when you are reproached be discontented; but rejoice (see Mat. 5:12). Wear your reproach as a diadem of honour, for now a spirit of “glory and of God rests upon you” (1 Pe. 4:14). Put your reproaches into the inventory of your riches; so did Moses (He. 11:26). It should be a Christian’s ambition to wear his Saviour’s livery, though it be sprinkled with blood and sullied with disgrace. 3. God will do us good by reproach: as David of Shimei’s cursing; “it may be the Lord will requite me good for his cursing this day” (2 Sa. 16:12). This puts us upon searching our sin: a child of God labours to read his sin in every stone of reproach that is cast at him; besides, now we have an opportunity to exercise patience and humility. 4. Jesus Christ was content to be reproached by us; He despised the shame of the cross (see He. 12:2). It may amaze us to think that He who was God could endure to be spit upon, to be crowned with thorns, in a kind of jeer; and when He was ready to bow His head upon the cross, to have the Jews in scorn, wag their heads and say, “He saved others, Himself He cannot save”(Matt. 27:42). The shame of the cross was as much as the blood of the cross; His name was crucified before His body. The sharp arrows of reproach that the world did shoot at Christ, went deeper into His heart than the spear; His suffering was so ignominious, that as if the sun did blush to behold, it withdrew its bright beams, and masked itself with a cloud; (and well it might when the Sun of Righteousness was in an eclipse); all this contumely and reproach did the God of glory endure or rather despise for us. O then let us be content to have our names eclipsed for Christ; let not reproach lie at our heart, but let us bind it as a crown about our head! Alas, what is reproach? This is but small shot. How will men stand at the mouth of a cannon? 5. Is not many a man contented to suffer reproach for maintaining his lust? And shall not we for maintaining the truth? Some glory in that which is their shame (see Ph. 3:19), and shall we be ashamed of that which is our glory? Be not troubled at these petty things. He whose heart is once divinely touched with the loadstone of God’s Spirit, doth account it his honour to be dishonoured for Christ (see Ac. 15:4) and doth as much despise the world’s censure, as he doth their praise. 6. We live in an age wherein men dare reproach God himself. The divinity of the Son of God is blasphemously reproached by the Socinian; the blessed Bible is reproached by the Antiscripturist, as if it were but a legend of lies, and every man’s faith a fable; the justice of God is called to the bar of reason by the Arminians; the wisdom of God in his providential actings, is taxed by the Atheist; the ordinances of God are decried by the Familists, as being too heavy a burden for a free-born conscience, and too low and carnal for a sublime seraphic spirit; the ways of God, which have the majesty of holiness shining in them, are calumniated by the profane; the mouths of men are open against God, as if He were an hard master, and the path of religion too strict and severe. If men cannot give God a good word, shall we be discontented or troubled that they speak hardly of us? Such as labour to bury the glory of religion, shall we wonder that “their throats are open sepulchres,” (Ro. 3:13), to bury our good name? O let us be contented, while we are in God’s scouring-house, to have our names sullied a little; the blacker we seem to be here, the brighter shall we shine when God hath set us upon the celestial shelf.