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Discontentment – a Brakel

July 3, 2010

Discontentment: A Characteristic of the Unconverted

The unconverted are discontented.

(1) Something is always wrong. He either has no child or he has one too many. He has learned the wrong trade, for ―if I were a storekeeper, knew a trade, or had such and such a skill, then I would be much better off. In whatever I begin, I go against the stream; where will it ultimately end? Such and such get all the customers and enjoy love and esteem; however, they turn their backs upon me. Everyone opposes me; they shortchange me, deal with me and my family in an ungodly manner. They slander me, rob me of my honor, and everyone is after me. They are always surrounded by bears so that neither day nor night can they find rest due to external and internal unrest.

(2) Another person may be lethargic and lazy—and thus insensitive.

(3) Another person has a sweet and tender disposition and can endure everything.

(4) Others use reason and perceive how matters are, or else they perceive that there is no way out. Therefore, patience par force; that is, there is nothing to be done about it. Or they will engage themselves in such a manner that all will go well.

(5) Others, when the shore eludes them, hold on to a floating patch of grass and occupy themselves with one thing or another.

(6) Others become completely discouraged and despondent and would be inclined to hang themselves in order to bring their suffering to an end.

(7) Others, even though they can handle the present, are concerned about the future. Every evil tiding causes them to tremble, robbing them of the peaceful enjoyment of the present.

(8) Others want to find their satisfaction in eating and drinking, money, prestige, and the gratification of their sinful lusts.

(9) Others seek gratification in the work of their hands and burrow as moles in the earth to derive their gratification from that. Or they seek it in men by being obsequious, flattering, and by worshiping them in order to gain their favor. Every unconverted person seeks rest in this manner without finding it, and his contentment is nothing but unrest.

(10) Another will fare somewhat better and, according to his saying, is satisfied with the will of God—even though he has never sought nor obtained reconciliation with God and therefore cannot expect God‘s help or favor.

All whose disposition agrees with what has just been stated ought to know:

(1) That you are without God and Christ, and that God is not for you, but against you. If He stirs things up, who will then quiet matters down? If He forsakes you, what will then be of assistance to you? Then you cannot but be filled with fear—within and without.

(2) That all your tossing and turning, and all your contentment

and discontentment, are nothing but sin and filth in which you wallow as a swine wallows in the mud. It makes you increasingly abominable in the eyes of God and increasingly a stench for the truly godly. And if you imagine your current circumstances to be either satisfactory or unsatisfactory, the outcome of all that you pursue will have evil consequences for you and will issue forth nothing but discontent, sorrow, terror, apprehension, and fear—until eternal damnation will rob you of all that with which you now occupy yourself to some degree. The wrath of God and the fire of hell will then forever occupy you. Therefore, turn to the Lord and seek reconciliation with God in Christ. He will then be your satisfaction, and being satisfied in Him, all things will work together for good.

The Godly: Also Subject to Discontentment

I shall now address the godly. It is sad that those who have God as a reconciled God, who have chosen God to be their only and all-sufficient portion (while rejecting all that is not God), yet have so much discontentment, because they, both according to body and soul, do not fare in this world as their nature would desire to have it.

(1) Their eyes and heart look too much to that which is of the world; that is, to that which is lofty, beautiful, and good, as well as to food, drink, and clothing—as if that could yield them any satisfaction.

(2) They also want to have their way, and if this does not occur and men do not yield to them, they are sorrowful, fretful, and angry.

(3) They eat their bread with discontentment since the quantity and the taste is not such as they would desire it to be.

(4) They tremble and quiver as far as the future is concerned. They say, ―What shall we eat and wherewithal shall we be clothed?

(5) Anxiety troubles the heart, and concerns take away the joy of life.

(6) They waver in regard to God‘s providence.

(7) They immediately perceive God as being angry with them.

(8) They reject their spiritual state.

(9) They make themselves vulnerable to the assaults of the devil who then easily gets hold of them, tossing them to and fro.

(10) Spiritual life will lose its vigor, and if the Lord were not faithful and immutable, they would be corrupted in body and soul—so severely can worldly tribulations injure them. In such a condition they delight in being pitied and desire to be comforted, but in a manner concurring with the receipt of their desire—then they would be encouraged. Sorrow must first disappear, the matter must first be attained, they must first see and possess that from which they will live, and then comfort will have an effect. Then they would be able to live carefree and serve the Lord.

The Godly Exhorted Not to Be Fretful

What shall I say? Shall I pity you? That I shall do, but in such a manner that I shall neither harm nor encourage you in your sin. Rather, I shall do so by stirring you up to overcome these unproductive anxieties, this wicked discontentment, and these concerns which drag you down.

First, as we uncover all this, you yourself will perceive that you are yet very carnal and that you focus your attention upon things which are insignificant. Are you then still of this world as others are whose portion is in this life? Is that which is of the world able to satisfy you? When you entered into the covenant of grace, did you not stipulate that whatever would befall you according to the body would be to your satisfaction, or did you change your mind and have you rescinded this? Why should there be more concern for your body than for your soul? Why should bodily deficiencies be more grievous than the deficiencies of the soul? Be ashamed before God and man that you are yet so carnal.

Secondly, do you not perceive that this is idolatry? There is a secret departure from God, a neglect of depending upon Him, and a secret denial of God‘s providence. There is a secret accusation of cruelty and unwillingness on His part to care for you, of mutability, and of not being faithful to His promises. Under pretense of being concerned about necessities, there is a desire to rely upon temporal things and a living by bread alone—and even if one does not solely put his trust in temporal things, it is nevertheless partially true. God and the things of this world together must grant you satisfaction. Or else, do you serve God in order that He would give you temporal things? What an evil disposition this is! How far removed this is from Asaph‘s disposition: ―Whom have I in heaven but Thee? and there is none upon earth that I desire beside Thee. My flesh and my heart faileth: but God is the strength of my heart, and my portion for ever (Ps 73:25-26)! Upon coming before God, be therefore ashamed about your sinful disposition.

Thirdly, these concerns and anxieties which cause one to tremble issue forth from a proud heart—relative both to God and to man. It is pride relative to God, as it implies that one is worthy of something and that God is obligated to serve us according to our wishes. If one were truly conscious of his sinfulness and guilt, and would reflect upon this, he would come to a lower place and sink away in amazement that God has still borne with us—yes, and has given us so much above others who have much less than we do—considering that we have sinned so grievously and are perhaps even more sinful than they are.

It is also a manifestation of pride relative to our neighbor, for we look toward those who are superior to us and ask, ―Why not I as well as he? Very seldom does the concern truly pertain to what is presently lacking, for as far as temporal needs are concerned, little suffices. Instead, it pertains to our lust to possess, to have as much as the other, and the retention of dignity by not being despised due to being poor and having to depend on the church or others. It is true that this, when considered in and of itself, should not be a matter of indifference to us. It is God‘s will that we have desires for our well-being and that our journey through this world be with dignity. However, we must overcome and deny these desires when God wishes to humble us and keep us humble. Therefore, concealed under the cover of being concerned about necessities, dignity, and being able to serve God, is pride. God wishes to be served by the one while having a higher position in the world, and by the other while in a more lowly position. The will of God must be our delight in whatever circumstances we are. Discouragement about being in a lower position is nothing but pride. Therefore, become humble and you will be delivered from many unprofitable cares.

Fourthly, all your concerns are in vain and you will not gain one penny by them. God has already decreed from eternity how much you will have. There is a ―convenient portion (Prov 30:8) which God has appointed for everyone and which He gives at His time. No one will take away this portion from you nor will it be diminished. With all your concerns and anxiety you will neither add one nickel nor break or change the determinate counsel of God. There were covetous Israelites who gathered much manna; however, when they came home, they had no more than their measure. There were others who, either due to lack of strength or being at a location where not much had fallen, had gathered little. When they came home their measure was also full. The one had no leftovers and the other did not lack anything (2 Cor 8:15). ―Therefore I say unto you, Take no thought for your life, what ye shall eat, or what ye shall drink; nor yet for your body, what ye shall put on. Is not the life more than meat, and the body than raiment? Which of you by taking thought can add one cubit unto his stature? For after all these things do the Gentiles seek (Matt 6:25, 27, 32).

Fifthly, you dishonor God and harm yourself, for by way of these nagging concerns you show that it does not suffice you to have God alone as your portion and that you cannot be satisfied with Him unless you have as many temporal goods as you deem necessary. Would it not be a dishonor to a father who has sufficient wealth if he were to permit his children to suffer want in spite of their cries and supplications? Are you then not also the cause that others by means of your dissatisfaction and fruitless concerns would begin to think about the Lord in this manner, as if He had neither love, mercy, compassion, nor care for His children? You would glorify Him, on the contrary, if you would be satisfied with your present circumstances, and if your felicity consisted in the enjoyment of God Himself. As far as you yourself are concerned—you bring yourself into continual unrest, apprehension, fear, and anxiety. You rob yourself of delighting and rejoicing in God. You impede your growth, since your disposition displeases God, and renders you unfit to appropriately use the means for spiritual growth. Your concerns will cause the Word and your good inner motions to be choked, thus rendering them unfruitful (Matt 13:22). Unbelief has opportunity to surface and will toss the anxious soul to and fro. The desire for religious exercise decreases and free access to God is hindered. The thoughts that these adversities come upon you in God‘s wrath cause the soul to tremble. Thus, to a great extent quietness, dependence upon God, a childlike confidence in God, and walking with God disappear. Would you lose all this for a greater or lesser quantity of bread, for getting your way, for your own honor, and for the future, of which you do not know how it will be? Oh, these matters are too insignificant to permit the well-being of your soul to dissipate.

Sixthly, after the Lord will have delivered you from your perplexity—which He certainly will do in His time—then, due to your previous dissatisfaction and grumbling, you will have made yourself incapable of being truly grateful to the Lord, and a sense of shame about your prior distrust will cause your soul new grief. It can also happen that the Lord, upon having fulfilled your inordinate desire, will send a leanness into your soul. You will then be confounded and wish that you were in the previous strait when you were in a better spiritual condition. Therefore conduct yourself well while you are in a school in which you can learn much that you cannot learn in a time of prosperity. Take heed therefore, and be on guard not to be murmurers and complainers about your condition while walking according to your lusts (Jude 16). Rather, possess your soul in patience and be satisfied with the present. You will then be fit to serve the Lord in both prosperity and adversity.

Exhortation to Strive for Contentment

Therefore, children of God—either rich, of the middle class, of limited means, insignificant, poor, oppressed, or tossed with tempest—whoever you may be and whatever your circumstances may be, you are all in need of an exhortation, for no circumstances in and of themselves yield contentment. Learn to adjust your desires to your circumstances—regardless of what they may be—and do not endeavor to adjust your circumstances to your desires, for there would be no end to that. Cast dissatisfaction far away from you as being a harmful pestilence for your spiritual life, and possess your soul in contentment.

To that end you must first of all meditate upon all forceful exhortations. Hear them from the mouth of the Lord, speaking to you in this way: ―Commit thy way unto the Lord; trust also in Him; and He shall bring it to pass (Ps 37:5); ―Cast thy burden upon the Lord, and He shall sustain thee: He shall never suffer the righteous to be moved (Ps 55:22); ―Be content with such things as ye have: for He hath said, I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee (Heb 13:5); ―Therefore take no thought … for your heavenly Father knoweth that ye have need of all these things (Matt 6:31-32); ―Bread shall be given him; his waters shall be sure (Isa 33:16); ―Casting all your care upon Him; for He careth for you (1 Pet 5:7). Do not readily pass over these texts, but give attention to each one—yes, to every individual word. Take note of these words as being addressed to you by the God of heaven. He not only commands you to take no thought, but also to be content. Does not the command of God suffice so as to motivate you to render obedience? Is not His exhortation sufficient to stir you up? Take also notice, however, of the promises which the omnipotent, good, and true God makes in addition to this: ―He shall bring it to pass; He shall sustain thee; He shall not forsake thee; your heavenly Father knoweth that ye have need of all these things; He careth for you. Are the promises of God not enough for you? Would He say it and not do it? Therefore, be satisfied, delight yourself, and rejoice in His promises, which will most certainly be fulfilled. It is true that the Lord does not always fulfill His promises when we judge it to be most suitable for us. However, the Lord will most certainly do it at His time. It is thus best if we do not receive it at our time; there is yet something to be learned by us and we must first be capable of using the promises well. It is the Lord‘s wisdom and goodness that He postpones the matter; however, the fulfillment is beyond doubt. He has not promised to give you a certain quantity, but rather as much as you will have need of. That ought to be sufficient for you and He will most certainly give it to you. Therefore, ―though it tarry, wait for it; because it will surely come, it will not tarry (Hab 2:3). Even if you do not perceive any means by which or from where it will come, He is almighty. He can also do it without means and sustain you and your children without food. Or else He will provide the means—even if ravens would have to bring it to you; even if He would cause bread to rain down from heaven; even if He would have to multiply flour and oil; or even if He would have to close the mouths of the lions and cause the fire to have no power. Therefore, be still and see the salvation of the Lord.

Secondly, is not God, who is your Father, sovereign? Would you wish that He were not so? You will indeed reply, ―No I am glad that He is so and do not wish to stand above Him. I approve of His sovereignty, and even if He were to kill me, I would worship His sovereign majesty. However, here the will of God stands over against your will. You say, ―I wish to have this, and God says, ―I do not wish to give this to you; such and such is the measure that you will have. Whose will shall have the upper hand, however—God‘s will or yours? Since you know that you cannot prevail against God, will you therefore fret and grumble, as children sometimes do toward their parents? That would indeed be a striving against God. Since He is sovereign, however, His will is supreme, and you approve of it with delight, subject your will to His will, and will what He wills. Delight yourself in your circumstances, since it is the will of God concerning you—especially since God is your Father to whom you pray daily, ―Thy will be done. Since you subject yourself to His will in prayer, should you then not also subject yourself to His will in His dealings with you—even if they are not according to your desires? Submit yourself therefore to God and glorify Him in doing so.

Thirdly, did not God, by saying, ―I am your God! cause Himself to be your portion so that you would enjoy all felicity in Him? If you have the all-sufficient One as your salvation, are you then still in need of anything else? Is He not better to you than a thousand worlds, a piece of money, or a piece of bread? Therefore, speak and practice what the godly did. ―The Lord is my portion, saith my soul; therefore will I hope in Him (Lam 3:24). As you consider God—the only blessed God, the God of full salvation—to be your portion, turn to Him in times of distress, take refuge with Him, delight yourself in Him by faith—even if it pleases Him not to give you the measure of enjoying Him as you would desire. This is laid away for you in eternity. Delight yourself in having Him as your portion, and let this satisfy you while foregoing the things of the world which you would desire to have. To that end, hold before yourself the example of Habakkuk: ―Although … the fields shall yield no meat … yet I will rejoice in the Lord (Hab 3:17-18).

Fourthly, the very God who has given you what is most precious to Him, namely, His own Son Jesus Christ, in order to deliver you from your wretched state and to bring you to eternal glory (which He has laid away as an inheritance for you (Rom 8:32))—would He permit that you would truly lack anything as far as the needs of your body? ―He that spared not His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how shall He not with Him also freely give us all things (Rom 8:32). Behold, Christ has been given you as a Savior, you are partakers of all the benefits of the covenant of grace, and salvation is your eternal inheritance. Is that not sufficient for you? Must a piece of money and a piece of bread yet be added to this before you will be satisfied? Be ashamed that you think such thoughts. Would He who has given you that which is superior and eternal deny you that which is needful for your body? Would not He who has given you your life and body, also give you food and clothing? ―Is not the life more than meat, and the body than raiment (Matt 6:25). How do you dare to think such a thing? Therefore, be content with your present circumstances, and it will suffice you. Adjust your desires to your circumstances.

Fifthly, what is the world to you? What is it that you are so desirous for? What is it that you are so concerned about? Is it not all transitory? You yourself will not remain here eternally, and you, as well as all that exists in the world, do but exist for a moment. Why then do you trouble yourself so much about it? When death comes, it will not grieve you that you had so little in this life, nor will it render you joy if you had an abundance; you will not die any more peacefully because of it. If you were to consider every day as being your last and you were to imagine continually that you are presently dying, you would not be disquieted by whether you have either more or less—which you presently are doing. Therefore, remain focused upon the transitory nature of your existence and the insignificance of all that is of the world. Simultaneously focus upon the promises of God: He, as an added benefit, will bestow the things of the world upon you as you have need of them, and will care for you. You will then learn to be content.

Sixthly, has a godly person ever lacked anything? If you read the entire Bible, you will not find a single example. Consider your own case. God cared for you when you were small. He provided clothing for your convenience, breasts to be suckled, a bosom at which you could be cherished, bread and clothing as you grew up, and He has nourished you from the moment of your existence until now. And when you came into perplexing circumstances, did He not frequently deliver you? Would God then cease at this moment? He who grants the young ravens food when they cry to Him, provides food for the birds of heaven and sustains all that lives, who grants the ungodly food and gladness, would He forget you? Would He refuse to give you that which you need? Therefore, be content, trust in Him, and be satisfied with His dispensation. Even if the measure is not according to your desires, it will be as much as you have need of. That is sufficient and that ought to be sufficient for you.

The Blessed Benefits Issuing Forth from Contentment

Seventhly, contentment engenders many good things. ―And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God (Rom 8:28).

(1) There will be a quiet spirit, which is of great price in the sight of God (1 Pet 3:4). There will be a great inner delight. A contented person tramples upon all that is of the world, lives above that which is visible, and is beyond the reach of all the arrows of the enemies.

(2) There will be alienation from the world. Man by nature is greatly occupied with his body and with making provision for it by way of temporal things. There is still much to be found of this in a regenerate person. If, however, he becomes content with the will of God, he then begins to disassociate himself from the world and does not seek gratification in it, but sojourns in it as a stranger.

(3) It is a state in which there is prayer and communion with God. Since God is the believer‘s portion he delights himself in this and observes God‘s hand in all that he encounters, believing that it is to his advantage—even when a knife is used to cut open a boil. If he is in need of something, he prays in faith and believingly anticipates that which he has need of.

(4) There is a frequent experience of the help of God. To perceive that God looks upon him, hears his prayer, and delivers him, is ten times more precious to a believer, yielding him incomparably more joy than if he were to be translated from a state of extreme poverty to extreme wealth. This experience strengthens him in believing that the Lord will also deliver him time and again in the future. He who has delivered me from the bear and the lion will also deliver me from this Philistine. He who has delivered me from six troubles will not forsake me in the seventh.

(5) There will be gratitude. If we lack everything and see no way out, and God then grants us His help, a piece of bread will taste better than all delicacies enjoyed in prosperity. Then a shelter behind which there is refuge against rain and wind is more delightful and convenient than a palace previously would have been. The soul then lifts herself up to the Lord, acknowledging Him as the Giver. Then the soul will rejoice in the Lord and acknowledge herself not worthy of the least of all the Lord‘s mercies. The confession will be, ―Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all His benefits. Who redeemeth thy life from destruction; who crowneth thee with lovingkindness and tender mercies (Ps 103:2, 4).

(6) There is a longing for the state of glory. Then the believer will perceive that it is not to be found here below, but in heaven. He will therefore long to depart and to be with Christ. He will comfort himself with this expectation and will thus be strengthened and encouraged to endure all tribulations. He will then rejoice that rest has been laid away for him, and he will be hastening to enter into that rest.

(7) There is the manifestation of holiness. As the cares of this world are the thorns which choke the good seed, contentment likewise renders one fit to deny self, to be humble, to trust in God, to delight himself in God as being his portion, to freely own the Lord‘s cause, and to demonstrate that there is an all-sufficiency in God. Here is the fountain of all godliness.

Objection: Some may perhaps say, ―I would indeed be content if I but knew that I was a child of God, that the Lord was near to me, and that He would cause me to sense His goodness.

Answer: This is as much as to say, ―If I were only in heaven, I would be satisfied. No, we must find satisfaction here below in the will of God, by faith. Unbelief concerning your state issues forth from discontent and not from your lack. As long as you are not satisfied except your desire be fulfilled, so long will you also be tossed to and fro as far as your spiritual state is concerned, and your soul will be as ―a wave of the sea driven with the wind and tossed (James 1:6). In order for faith to be exercised, you must be content with the present, and upon being content you must then exercise faith; these two belong together. May the Lord grant you both!

Objection: Others will say, ―The Lord does not hear me, I am not delivered, and my perplexity becomes greater all the time. How can I then be content?

Answer: Do you now see that your contentment is contingent upon possession? No, not to possess and yet to be satisfied with the will of God, trusting that there will be deliverance—that is true contentment. The reason the Lord does not give it to you is because you do not yet need it. The Lord wants to teach you to be content with Him alone. He wishes to guide you into the proper use of what is good. He wishes to comfort and help you in a different manner from what you would prescribe to God in your foolishness.

Guidelines for Learning How to Be Content

If you wish to learn how to be content, then practice the following:

(1) Always consider what you deserve, and you will then be happy that you are not yet in hell.

(2) Look at others, and you will not want to exchange your condition with theirs. The one will have much less, and will be much more wretched than you are according to the body and will be an example to you as far as contentment is concerned. The other person will be without grace, and you would certainly not wish to trade places with him.

(3) Live only by the day and do not take upon you the difficulties of two, ten, or a hundred days. This would be too great a burden for you. Sufficient to the day is the evil thereof.

(4) Your difficulty is perhaps not as great as you make it out to be—this in consequence of your desire being excessive. You must therefore make more of an effort to adjust your desire to your circumstances—considering it to be the will of God—rather than seeking to improve your circumstances in accordance with your desire.

(5) Make use of the means with all diligence and faithfulness so that your conscience will not accuse you, and leave the outcome to the Lord. Trust in His promise and He will make it well.

(6) Let your focus continually be upon heaven, and consider the insignificance of all that is upon earth. The nearer you are to God, the more you will be at a distance from the creature. Everything will pass away, but he that doeth the will of God shall abide forever.

Source: The Christian’s reasonable service, vol 3, a Brakel

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