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John Flavel :: Fifth Season - How a Christian May Keep His Heart from Repining

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A Saint Indeed by John Flavel

Twelve Particular Seasons, which Especially Call for this Diligence in Keeping the Heart

Fifth Season - How a Christian May Keep His Heart from Repining


“The fifth season to excite this diligence in keeping the heart, is the time of straits and outward pinching wants; although at such times we should complain to God, and not of God (the throne of grace being erected for a time of need, Hebrews 4:16) yet when the waters of relief run low, and wants begin to pinch hard, how prone are the best hearts to distrust the fountain! when the meal in the barrel and the oil in the cruse are almost spent, our faith and patience are almost spent too. Now it is difficult to keep down the proud and unbelieving heart in an holy quietude and sweet submission at the foot of God. It is an easy thing to talk of trusting God for daily bread, while we have a full barn or purse; but to say, as the prophet, Though the fig tree should not blossom, neither fruit be in the vine…yet I will rejoice in the Lord, Habakkuk 3:17. Surely this is not easy.” The fifth case therefore shall be this.

Case 5. How a Christian may keep his heart from distrusting God, or repining against him, when outward wants are either felt or feared.

This case deserves to be seriously pondered, and especially to be studied now, since it seems to be the design of providence to empty the people of God of their creature-fulness, and acquaint them with those straits which hitherto they have been altogether strangers to.

Now, to secure the heart from the before-mentioned dangers attending this condition, these following considerations, through the blessings of the spirit, may prove effectual. And the first is this,

Consideration 1. That if God reduce you to straits and necessities, yet he deals no otherwise therein with you, than he hath done with some of the choicest and holiest men that ever lived.

Your condition is not singular; though you have hitherto been strangers to wants, other saints have daily conversed and been familiarly acquainted with them. Hear what blessed Paul speaks, not of himself only, but in the names of other saints reduced to like exigencies. Even to this present hour we both hunger and thirst, and are naked and buffeted, and have no certain dwelling-place, 1 Corinthians 4:11. To see such a man as Paul going up and down the world with a naked back, and empty belly, and not a house to put his head in, one that was so far above thee in grace and holiness, one that did more service for God in a day, than perhaps thou hast done in all thy days; and yet thou repine as if hardly dealt with! have you forgot what necessities and straits even a David hath suffered? How great were his straits and necessities? Give I pray thee (saith he to Nabal) whatsoever cometh to thy hand, to thy servants, and to thy son David, 1 Samuel 25:8. Renowned Musculus was forced to dig in the town ditch for a maintenance. Famous Ainsworth (as I have been credibly informed) was forced to sell the bed he lay on to buy bread. But why speak I of these? Behold a greater than any of them, even the Son of God, who is the heir of all things, and by whom the worlds were made, yet sometimes would have been glad of any thing, having nothing to eat. And on the morrow, when they were come from Bethany, he was hungry; and seeing a fig-tree afar off, having leaves, he came if happily he might find [any thing] thereon. Mark 11:12.

Well then, hereby God hath set no mark of hatred upon you, neither can you infer the want of love from want of bread. When thy repining heart puts the question, was there ever any sorrow like unto mine? Ask these worthies, and they will tell thee, though they did not complain and fret as thou dost, yet they were driven to as great straits as thou art.

Consideration 2. If God leave you not in this necessitous condition without a promise, you have no reason to repine or despond under it.

That is a sad condition indeed, to which no promise belongs. I remember Mr. Calvin upon those words, Nevertheless the dimness shall not be such as was in her vexationIsaiah 9:1, solves the doubt in what sense the darkness of the captivity was not so great as the lesser incursions made by Tiglath Pileser. In the captivity the city was destroyed, and the temple burnt with fire, there was no comparison in the affliction; but yet the darkness should not be such, and the reason (saith he) is this, Hic certam permissionen esse additam, cum in prioribus nulla esset; i.e. there was a certain promise made to this, but none to the other.

It is better to be as low as hell with a promise, than in paradise without one. Even the darkness of hell itself would be comparatively no darkness at all, were there but a promise to enlighten it. Now God hath left many sweet promises for the faith of his poor people to feed on in this condition, such are these: O fear the Lord, ye his saints, for there is no want to them that fear him: the lions do lack and suffer hunger, but they that fear the Lord shall want nothing that is good, Psalms 34:9-10: The eye of the Lord is upon the righteous, to keep them alive in famine, Psalms 33:18-19. No good thing will he withhold from them that walk uprightly, Psalms 84:11. 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? Romans 8:32. When the poor and the needy seek water, and there is none, and their tongue faileth for thirst, I the Lord will hear them, I the God of Israel will not forsake them. Isaiah 41:17. Here you see, first, their extreme wants, water being put even for the necessaries of life. 2nd, Their certain relief, I the Lord will hear them; in which it is supposed that they cry unto him in their straits; and he hears their cry.

Having therefore these promises, why should not your distrustful hearts conclude like David’s, The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want? Psalms 23:1.

Objection. But these promises imply conditions; if they were absolute, they would afford more satisfaction.

Solution. What are those tacit conditions you speak of, but these? 1st, That either he will supply or sanctify your wants: 2nd, That you shall have so much as God sees fit for you. And doth this trouble you? Would you have the mercy, whether sanctified or no? Whether God sees it fit for you or no? Methinks the appetites of saints after earthly things should not be so ravenous, to seize greedily upon any enjoyment, not caring how they have it.

But oh, when wants pinch, and we see not whence supplies should come, then our faith in the promise shakes, and we, like murmuring Israel, cry, He gave bread, can he give water also? O unbelieving hearts! When did his promise fail? Whoever trusted them and was ashamed? May not God upbraid thee with thine unreasonable infidelity, as Jeremiah 2:31, Have I been a wilderness unto you?…Or as Christ said to his disciples, Since I was with you, lacked ye any thing? Yea, may you not upbraid yourselves, may you not say with good old Polycarp, Thus many years I have served Christ, and found him a good master? Indeed he may deny what your wantonness, but not what your real wants call for. He will not regard the cry of your lusts, nor yet despise the cry of your faith; though he will not indulge and humour your wanton appetites, yet he will not violate his own faithful promises. These promises are your best security for eternal life; and it is strange if they should not satisfy you for daily bread: remember ye the words of the Lord, and solace your hearts with them amidst all your wants. It is said of Epicurus, that in the dreadful fits of the cholic, he often refreshed himself, ob memoriam inventorum; by calling to mind his inventions in philosophy: and of Possidonius the philosopher, that in a great fit of the stone he solaced himself with discourses of moral virtue: and when the pain twinged him, he would say, Nihil agis dolor; quanvis sis molestus, nunquam confitebor te esse malum: O pain, thou dost nothing; though thou art a little troublesome, I will never confess thee to be evil. If upon such grounds as these they could support themselves under such grinding and racking pains, and even elude their diseases by them, how much rather should the precious promises of God, and the sweet experiences which have gone along step by step with them, make you to forget all your wants, and comfort you over every strait?

Consideration 3. If it be bad now, it might have been worse; hath God denied thee the comforts of this life? He might have denied thee Christ, peace and pardon also, and then thy case had been woeful indeed. You know God hath done so to millions in the world: how many such wretched objects may your eyes behold every day, that have no comfort in hand, nor yet in hope, are miserable here, and will be so to eternity: that have a bitter cup, and nothing to sweeten it; no, not so much as any hope that it will be better. But it is not so with you, though you be poor in this world, Yet rich in faith, and heirs of the kingdom which God hath promised, James 2:5. O learn to set spiritual riches over against temporal poverty; balance all your present troubles with your spiritual privileges. Indeed if God had denied your souls the robe of righteousness to clothe them, the hidden manna to feed them, the heavenly mansions to receive them: if your souls were left destitute, as well as your bodies, you might well be pensive; but this consideration hath enough to bring the considering soul to rest under any outward strait. It was bravely said by Luther, when want began to pinch him, Let us be contented with our hard fare (said he) for do not we feast with angels upon Christ the bread of life? And blessed be God (said Paul) who hath abounded to us in all spiritual blessings, Ephesians 1:3.

Consideration 4. This affliction, though great, is not such an affliction, but God hath far greater, with which he chastises the dearly beloved of his soul in this world; and should he remove this and inflict those, you would account your present state a very comfortable state, and bless God to be as now you are.

What think ye, sirs? Should God remove your present troubles, supply all your outward wants, give you the desire of your hearts in creature-comforts, but hide his face from you, shoot his arrows into your souls, and cause the venom of them to drink up your spirits? Should he leave you but a few days to the buffeting of Satan, and his blasphemous injections: should he hold your eyes but a few nights waking with horrors of conscience, tossing to and fro till the dawning of the day: should he lead you through the chambers of death, show you visions of darkness? And make his terrors set themselves in array against you? Then tell me if you would not count it a choice mercy to be back again in your former necessitous condition, with peace of conscience; and count bread and water, with God’s favour, a happy state? O then, take heed of repining. Say not God deals hardly with you, lest you provoke him to convince you, by your own sense and feeling, that he hath worse rods than these for unsubmissive and froward children.

Consideration 5. If it be bad now it will be better shortly.

O keep thy heart by that consideration: the meal in the barrel is almost spent; well, be it so, why should that trouble me, if I am almost beyond the need and use of all these things? The traveller hath spent almost all his money, but a shilling or two left: Well, saith he, though my money be almost spent, yet my journey is almost finished too; I am near home, and then shall be fully supplied. If there be no candles in the house, yet it is a comfort to think that it is almost day, and then there will be no need of candles. I am afraid, Christian, thou misreckonest thyself, when thou thinkest, my provision is almost spent, and you have a great way to travel; many years to live, and nothing to live upon; it may be not half so many as thou supposest: in this be confident, if thy provision be spent, either fresh supplies are coming (though thou seest not from whence) or thou art nearer thy journey’s end than thou reckonest thyself to be. Desponding soul, doth it become a man or woman travelling upon the road to that heavenly city, and almost arrived there, within a few days journey of his Father’s house, where all his wants shall be supplied, to talk on thus about a little meat, drink or clothes, which he fears he shall want by the way? It was a noble saying of the forty martyrs, famous in the ecclesiastical story, when turned out naked in a frosty night to be starved to death, with these words they comforted one another: The winter indeed is sharp and cold, but heaven is warm and comfortable; here we shiver for cold, but Abraham’s bosom will make amends for all.

Objection 1. But I may die for want.

Solution 1. Who ever did so? When were the righteous forsaken? 2nd. If so, your journey is ended, and you fully supplied.

Objection 2. But I am not sure of that, were I sure of heaven it were another matter.

Solution 2. Are you not sure of that? Then you have other matters to trouble yourselves about than these: methinks these should be the least of all your cares: I do not find that souls perplexed and troubled about the want of Christ, pardon of sin…are usually very anxious or solicitous about these things. He that seriously puts such questions as these, What shall I do to be saved? How shall I know my sin is pardoned? doth not usually trouble himself with, What shall I eat, what shall I drink, or wherewith shall I be clothed?

Consideration 6. Doth it become the children of such a Father to distrust his all-sufficiency, or repine at any of his dispensations?

Do you well to question his care and love upon every new exigence? Say, have you not been ashamed of this formerly? Hath not your Father’s seasonable provisions for you in former straits, put you to the blush, and made you resolve never to question his love and care any more? and yet will you renew your unworthy suspicions of him again? Disingenuous child! reason thus with thyself; if I perish for want of what is good and needful for me, it must either be because my Father knows not my wants, or hath not wherewith to supply them: or else regards not what becomes of me. Which of these shall I charge upon him? Not the first; for, My Father knows what I have need of, Matthew 6:32; my condition is not hid from him: nor the second, for the earth is the Lord’s, and the fulness of it, Psalms 24:1. His name is God all-sufficient, Genesis 27:1. Not the last, for, as a father pities his children, so the Lord pities them that fear him, Psalms 103:13. The Lord is exceeding pitiful, and of tender mercy, James 5:11. He hears the young ravens when they cry, Job 38:41. And will he not hear me? Consider (saith Christ) the fowls of the air, Matthew 6:26. Not the fowls at the door, that are every day fed by hand, but the fowls of the air, that have none to provide for them. Doth he feed and clothe his enemies, and will he forget his children? He heard the very cry of Ishmael in distress, Genesis 21:17. O my unbelieving heart! dost thou yet doubt? Remember Hagar and her child.

Consideration 7. Your poverty is not your sin, but your affliction only! if by sinful means you have not brought it upon yourselves; and if it be but an affliction, it may be born the easier for that.

It is hard indeed to bear an affliction coming upon us as the fruit and punishment of sin; when men are under trouble upon that account, they use to say, O! if it were but a single affliction coming from the hand of God by way of trial, I could bear it, but I have brought it upon myself by sin; it comes as the punishment of sin; the marks of God’s displeasure are upon it; it is the guilt within that troubles and galls more than the want without.

But it is not so here, and therefore you have no reason to be cast down under it.

Objection 1. But though there be no sting of guilt, yet this condition wants not other stings: as first, the discredit of religion; I cannot comply with mine engagements in the world, and thereby religion is like to suffer.

Solution 1. It is well you have an heart to discharge every duty, yet if God disable you by providence, it is no discredit to your profession, because you do not that which you cannot do, so long as it is your desire and endeavor to do what you can and ought to do; and in this case God’s will is, that lenity and forbearance be exercised towards you, Deuteronomy 24:12-13.

Objection 2. But it grieves me to behold the necessities of others whom I was wont to relieve and refresh, but now cannot.

Solution 2. If you cannot, it ceases to be your duty, and God accepts the drawing out of your soul to the hungry in compassion and desire to help them, though you cannot draw forth a full purse to relieve and supply them.

Objection 3. But I find such a condition full of temptations, a sore clog in the way to heaven.

Solution 3. Every condition in the world hath its clogs and attending temptations; and were you in a prosperous condition, you might there meet with more temptations and fewer advantages than you now have: for though I confess poverty hath its temptations as well as prosperity, yet I am confident prosperity hath not those excellent advantages that poverty hath: for here you have an opportunity to discover the sincerity of your love to God, when you can live upon him, find enough in him, and constantly follow him, even when all external inducements and motives fail. And thus I have shewed you how to keep your hearts from the temptations and dangers attending a poor and low condition in the world; when want pinches and the heart begins to sink, then improve, and bless God for these helps to keep it.

CONTENT DISCLAIMER:

The Blue Letter Bible ministry and the BLB Institute hold to the historical, conservative Christian faith, which includes a firm belief in the inerrancy of Scripture. Since the text and audio content provided by BLB represent a range of evangelical traditions, all of the ideas and principles conveyed in the resource materials are not necessarily affirmed, in total, by this ministry.

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