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Works of Arthur Pink: Pink, Arthur - An Exposition of Hebrews: 110. Contentment. Hebrews 13:5, 6
TOPIC: Pink, Arthur - An Exposition of Hebrews (Other Topics in this Collection)
SUBJECT: 110. Contentment. Hebrews 13:5, 6
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An Exposition of Hebrews
(Hebrews 13:5, 6)
Discontent, though few appear to realize it, is sinful, a grievous offense against the Most High. It is an impugning of His wisdom, a denial of His goodness, a rising up of my will against His. To murmur at our lot is to take issue with God’s sovereignty, quarrelling as it does with His providence, and therefore, is a being guilty of high treason against the King of the universe. Since God orders all the circumstances of human life, then every person ought to be entirely satisfied with the state and situation in which he is placed. One has no more excuse to grumble at his lot than has another. This truth Paul instructed Timothy to press upon others: "Let as many servants as are under the yoke, count their own masters worthy of all honor, that the name of God and His doctrine be not blasphemed" (1 Tim. 6:1).
"The wicked are like the troubled sea, when it cannot rest, whose waters cast up mire and dirt. There is no peace, saith my God, to the wicked" (Isa. 57:20, 21). The ungodly are total strangers to real contentment. No matter how much they have, they are ever lusting after more. But God exhorts His people, "Let your conversation be without covetousness; and be content with such things as ye have" (Heb. 13:5). As it is their bounden duty to avoid the vice of covetousness, so it is their personal responsibility to cultivate the virtue of contentment; and failure at either point is culpable. The contentment here exhorted unto is something other than a fatalistic indifference: it is a holy composure of mind, a resting in the Lord, a being pleased with what pleases Him—satisfied with the portion He has allotted. Anything short of this is evil.
Discontent is contrary to our prayers, and therefore must be most reprehensible. When we truly pray, we desire God to give or withhold, to bestow or take away, according as will be most for His glory and our highest good. Realizing that we know not what is best, we leave it with God. In real prayer we submit our understandings to the Divine wisdom, our wills to His good pleasure. But to be dissatisfied with our lot and complain at our portion is to exercise the very opposite spirit, indicating an unwillingness to be at God’s disposal, and leaning to our own understanding as though we knew better than He what was most conducive to our present and future well being. This is a tempting of God and a grieving of His Holy Spirit, and has a strong tendency to provoke Him to fight against us (Isa. 63:10).
When God does fight against us because of this sin, He often gives us what we were discontented for the want of, but accompanies the same with some sore affliction. For example, Rachel was in a most discontented frame when she said to Jacob "Give me children, else I die" (Gen. 30:1). The sequel is very solemn: she had children, and died in childbirth: see Genesis 35:16-18. Again, we are told that Israel "lusted exceedingly in the wilderness, and tempted God in the desert. And He gave them their request, but sent leanness into their soul" (Ps. 106:14, 15). These cases need to be taken to heart by us, for they are recorded for our learning and warning. God takes note of the discontent of our hearts as well as the murmuring of our lips. "Giving thanks always for all things unto God and the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ" (Eph. 5:20) is the standard which He has set before us.
Not only is discontent a grievous sin against God, but it unfits the Christian for the discharge of holy duties, preventing the exercise of those graces which are necessary in order thereunto. It silences the lips of supplication, for how can a murmurer pray? It destroys the spirit of submission, for complaining is a "fretting against the Lord." It quenches faith, hope and love. Discontent is the very essence of ingratitude, and therefore it stifles the voice of thanksgiving. There cannot be any rest of soul until we quietly resign our persons and portions to God’s good pleasure. Discontent corrodes the strings of the heart, and therefore it arrests all happy endeavor.
Discontent is usually over temporal matters, and this is a sad intimation that material things are sought after more eagerly than are spiritual things. It argues a lack of confidence in the care of our heavenly Father to provide for us the things which are needed. "Christian, let me ask thee this question, Didst thou give thyself to Christ for temporal, or for eternal comforts? Didst thou enter upon religion to save thine estate, or thy soul? Oh, why then shouldest thou be so sad, when thine eternal happiness is so safe? For shame, live like a child of God, an heir of Heaven, and let the world know, that thy hopes and happiness are in a better world; that thou art denied those acorns which thy Father giveth to His hogs, yet thou hast the children’s bread, and expectest thine inheritance when thou comest to age" (G. Swinnock, 1650). What cause have we all to be deeply humbled over our sinful repinings, to hang our heads with shame, and penitently confess the same unto God!
Yet notwithstanding both the sinfulness and injuriousness of discontent, many raise various objections to excuse the same. Some will plead their personal temperament in self-vindication, alleging that their natural temper makes them uneasy and anxious, so that they are quite unable to submit themselves unto the disposing providence of God. But, my dear reader, the corruption of our nature and its proneness to sin is no excuse for, but rather an aggravation of it, showing how much our hearts are opposed unto God. The more we yield to our natural inclinations, the more power they obtain over us. In such a case as the above we ought rather to be the more importunate with God, begging Him for His grace to restrain the inordinancy of our affections, to subdue our fears, and work in us willingness to acquiesce to His sovereign pleasure.
Others attempt to justify their discontent and uneasy frame of spirit by alleging that the injuries which others have done them ought to be resented, and that not to manifest discontent under them would be to encourage such people unto further insults and trampling upon them. To this it may be replied that while we complain of injuries done to us by men, and are prone to meditate revenge against them, we do not consider the great dishonor that we bring to God, and how much we provoke Him. It is written, "But if ye forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses" (Matthew 6:15). Remember that "What glory is it if, when ye be buffeted for your faults, ye shall take it patiently? but if when ye do well, and suffer for it, ye take it patiently, this is acceptable with God. For even hereunto were ye called: Because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that ye should follow His steps: who did no sin, neither was guile found in His mouth; who, when He was reviled, reviled not again" (1 Pet. 2:20-23).
Others seek to excuse their discontent by dwelling upon the magnitude of their trials, saying that their burden is insupportable, so that they are pressed out of measure, above their strength. Even so, none of our afflictions are as great as our sins; and the more we complain, the heavier do we make our burden. Others point to the altogether unexpectedness of their trouble, that it came upon them when they were quite unprepared, and that it is therefore more than flesh and blood can endure. But the Christian should daily expect afflictions in this world, at least so far as not to be unprovided for or think it strange he should be exercised by them (1 Pet. 4:12). With some the drastic change from affluence to poverty is so great they argue that it is impossible to bear up under it. But does not God say, "My grace is sufficient for thee" (2 Cor. 12:9)?
Yet no excuses are to be allowed to set aside or modify this Divine injunction, "Be content with such things as ye have." But before proceeding further let it be pointed out that contentment is not incompatible with honest effort to enlarge the provision of earthly things for ourselves and those dependent upon us, for God has given us six days out of seven to be industrious. Idleness must not be allowed to cloak itself under the guise of this grace: contentment and indolence are two vastly different things. "This contentment does not consist in a slothful neglect of the business of life, nor of a real nor pretended apathy to worldly interests. It is substantially a satisfaction with God as our portion and with what He is pleased to appoint for us. It is opposed to covetousness or the inordinate desire of wealth, and to unbelieving anxiety—dissatisfaction with what is present, distrust as to what is future" (John Brown).
Contentment is a tranquility of soul, a being satisfied with what God has apportioned. It is the opposite of a grasping spirit which is never appeased, with distrustful anxiety, with petulant murmurings. "It is a gracious disposedness of mind, arising solely from trust in and satisfaction with God alone, against all other things whatever appear to be evil" (John Owen). It is our duty to have the scales of our heart so equally poised in all God’s dealings with us as that they rise not in prosperity, nor sink in adversity. As the tree bendeth this way or that with the wind, yet still keeps its place, so we should yield according to the gales of Divine providence, yet still remaining steadfast and retaining our piety. The more composure of mind we preserve, the more shall we, on the one hand, "rejoice with trembling" (Ps. 2:11), and on the other, "faint not" when the chastening rod falls upon us.
As this spiritual grace of contentment is so glorifying to God, and so beneficial to ourselves, we will endeavor to mention some of the chief aids thereto. First, a realization of God’s goodness. A deep and fixed sense of His benevolence greatly tends to quieten the heart when outward circumstances are trying to us. If I have formed the habit of meditating daily upon God’s fatherly care—and surely I am constantly surrounded by proofs and tokens thereof—then I shall be less apt to chafe and fret when His providences cross my will. Has He not assured me that "all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are called according to His purpose" (Rom. 8:28)? What more then can I ask? O to rest in His love. Surely He is entitled to my confidence in His paternal solicitude. Remember that each murmur implies unthankfulness. Complaining is the basest of ingratitude. If the Lord provides for the ravens, will He overlook the needs of any of His children? O ye of little faith!
Second, a steady realization of God’s omniscience. A deep and fixed sense of His un-searchable wisdom is well calculated to allay our fears and compose our minds when everything appears to be going wrong with our circumstances. Settle it in your mind once for all, dear friend, that "the high and lofty One" makes no mistakes. His understanding is infinite, and His resources are without measure. He knows far better than we do what is for our well being and what will best promote our ultimate interests. Then let me not be found pitting my puny reason against the ways of the all-wise Jehovah. It is naught but pride and self-will which complains at His dealings with me. As another has said, "Now if one creature can and ought to be governed by another that is more wise than himself—as the client by his learned counsel, the patient by his skillful physician—much more should we be satisfied with the unerring dispositions of God." Remember that complaining never relieves a single woe or lightens a single burden; it is therefore most irrational.
Third, a steady realization of God’s supremacy. A deep and fixed sense of His absolute sovereignty, His indisputable right to do as He pleases in the ordering of all our affairs, should do much to subdue the spirit of rebellion and silence our foolish and wicked murmurings. It is not the Almighty’s pleasure to give unto all alike, but rather that some should have more and others less: "The Lord maketh poor, and maketh rich: He bringeth low, and lifteth up. He raiseth up the poor out of the dust, and lifteth up the beggar from the dunghill, to set them among princes" (1 Sam. 2:7, 8). Then quarrel not with the Most High because He distributes His gifts and favors unequally; but rather seek grace that thy will may be brought into subjection to His. It is written "Thou wilt keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on Thee" (Isa. 26:3). Consider how many lack some of the good things which thou enjoyest. "Woe unto him that striveth with his Maker.... Shall the clay say to Him that fashioneth it, What maketh Thou?" (Isa. 45:9).
Fourth, a steady realization of our ill-deserts. A deep and fixed sense of our utter unworthiness must do much to still our repinings when we are tempted to complain of the absence of those things our hearts covet. If we live under an habitual sense of our unworthiness, it will greatly reconcile us to deprivations. If we daily remind ourselves that we have forfeited all good and deserve all ill at the hands of God, then we shall heartily acknowledge "It is of the Lord’s mercies that we are not consumed" (Lam. 3:22). Nothing will more quickly compose the mind in the face of adversity and nothing will so prevent the heart being puffed up by prosperity, than the realization that "I am not worthy of the least of all the mercies" (Gen. 32:10) of God. Just so far as we really preserve a sense of our ill-deserts will we meekly submit to the allotments of Divine providence. Every Christian cordially assents to the truth "He hath not dealt with us after our sins, nor rewarded us according to our iniquities" (Ps. 103:10), then why complain if God withholds from us what He grants to others?
Fifth, weanedness from the world. The more dead we are to the things of time and sense, the less our hearts will crave them, and the smaller will be our disappointment when we do not have them. This world is the great impediment to the heavenly life, being the bait of the flesh and the snare of Satan by which he turns souls from God. The lighter we hold the world’s attractions, the more indifferent we are to either poverty or wealth, the greater will be our contentment. God has promised to supply all our needs, therefore "having food and raiment let us be therewith content" (1 Tim. 6:8). Superfluities are hindrances and not helps. "Better is little with the fear of the Lord, than great treasure and trouble therewith" (Prov. 15:16). Remember that the contented man is the only one who enjoys what he has. "Set your affection on things above, not on things on the earth" (Col. 3:2).
Sixth, fellowship with God. The more we cultivate communion with Him and are occupied with His perfections, the less shall we lust after the baubles which have such a hold upon the ungodly. Walking with God produces a peace and joy such as this poor world can neither give nor take away. "There be many that say, Who will show us any good? Lord, lift Thou up the light of Thy countenance upon us. Thou hast put gladness in my heart, more than in the time that their corn and their wine increased" (Ps. 4:6, 7). Walking in the way of God’s commands is a real antidote to discontent: "Great peace have they which love Thy law, and nothing shall offend them" (Ps. 119:165). Seventh, remembrance of what Christ suffered. "For consider Him that endured such contradiction of sinners against Himself, lest ye be wearied and faint in your minds" (Heb. 12:3). When tempted to complain at your lot, meditate upon Him who when here had not where to lay His head, who was constantly misunderstood by friends and hated by innumerable enemies. Contemplation of the cross of Christ is a wonderful composer of an agitated mind and a querulous spirit.
"Be content with such things as ye have: for He hath said, I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee." Here is an enforcement of what has just gone before, a reason for the duties enjoined, a motive supplied for the performance of them. One of the Divine promises is quoted, which if it be duly appropriated by us, we shall be dissuaded from covetousness and persuaded to contentment. Resting on this Divine assurance will both moderate our desires and alleviate our fears. "I will never leave thee nor forsake thee" is a guarantee of God’s continual provision and protection, and this rebukes all inordinate desires and condemns all anxious fears. The evils are closely connected, for in most instances covetousness, in the Christian, is rooted in a fear of want; while discontent generally arises from a suspicion that our present portion will prove to be inadequate for the supply of our needs. Each such disquietude is equally irrational and God-dishonoring.
Both covetousness and discontent proceed from unbelief. If I really trust God, will I have any qualms about the future or tremble at the prospect of starvation? Certainly not: the two things are incompatible, opposites—"I will trust, and not be afraid" (Isa. 12:2). Thus the apostle’s argument is clear and convincing: "Let your conversation be without covetousness; be content with such things as ye have: for He hath said, I will never leave thee nor forsake thee." The "for He hath said" is more forcible than "for God hath said:" it is the character of the One with whom we have to do that is here held up to our view. "He has said"—who has? Why, One whose power is omnipotent, whose wisdom is infinite, whose faithfulness is inviolable, whose love is unchanging. "All the efficacy, power and comfort of Divine promises arise from and are resolved into the excellencies of the Divine nature. He hath said it who is truth, and cannot deceive" (John Owen).
And what is it that He has said, which, if faith truly lays hold of, will subdue covetousness and work contentment? This, "I will never leave thee nor forsake thee." God’s presence, God’s providence, God’s protection, are here assured us. If due regard be paid to these inestimable blessings, the heart will be kept in peace. What more would we have save a conscious realization of the same? O for a felt sense of His presence, for a gracious manifestation thereof to the soul. What were all the wealth, honors, pleasures of the world worth, if He should totally and finally desert us! The comfort of our soul does not depend upon outward provisions, so much as on our appropriation and enjoyment of what is contained in the Divine promises. If we rested more on them, we would crave less of this world’s goods. What possible cause or ground for fear remains when God has pledged us His continual presence and assistance?
"I will never leave thee nor forsake thee." It is almost impossible to reproduce in English the emphasis of the original, in which no less than five negatives are used to increase the strength of the negation, according to the Greek idiom. Perhaps the nearest approximation is to render it, "I will never, no, never leave thee, nor ever forsake thee." In view of such assurance we should fear no want, dread no distress, nor have any trepidation about the future. At no time, under any circumstances conceivable or inconceivable, for any possible cause, will God utterly and finally forsake one of His own. Then how safe they are! how impossible for one of them to eternally perish! God has here graciously condescended to give the utmost security to the faith of believers in all their difficulties and trials. The continued presence of God with us ensures the continued supply of every need.
"For He hath said, I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee." These words were first spoken by Jehovah to the successor of Moses (Josh. 1:5), whose task it was to dispossess Canaan of all the heathen nations then inhabiting it. The fact that the Holy Spirit moved the apostle to apply unto Christians this promise made to Joshua, supplies clear proof that our modern dispensationalists wrongly divide the Word of Truth. Their practice of partitioning the Scriptures and their contention that what God said under one dispensation does not apply to those living in another, is here exposed as nothing less than an effort of Satan to rob God’s people of a part of their rightful and needful portion. This precious promise of God belongs as truly to me now as it did to Joshua of old. Let, then, this principle be tenaciously held by us: the Divine promises which were made upon special occasions to particular individuals are of general use for all the members of the household of faith.
What has just been affirmed is so obvious that it should require no further proof or illustration; but inasmuch as it is being repudiated in some influential quarters today, we will labor the point a little. Are not the needs of believers the same in one age as another? Is not God affected alike unto all His children?—does He not bear them the same love? If, then, He would not desert Joshua, then He will not any of us. Are not Christians now under the same everlasting Covenant of Grace as were the O.T. saints? then they have a common charter—"For the promise is unto you, and to your children, and to all that are afar off" (Acts 2:39). Let us not forget that "Whatsoever things were written aforetime, were written for our learning, that we through patience and comfort of the Scriptures might have hope" (Rom. 15:4).
"So that we may boldly say, The Lord is my Helper, and I will not fear what man shall do unto me" (verse 6). An inference is here drawn from the promise just quoted: a double conclusion is reached—confidence in God and courage against man. This intimates that we should make a varied and manifold use of the Divine promises. This twofold conclusion is based upon the character of the Promiser: because He is infinitely good, wise, faithful, powerful, and because He changes not, we may boldly or confidently declare with Abraham "God will provide" (Gen. 22:8), with Jonathan "there is no restraint to the Lord" (1 Sam. 14:6), with Jehoshaphat "None is able to withstand Thee" (2 Chron. 20:6), with Paul "If God be for us, who can be against us?" (Rom. 8:31).
"So that we may boldly say, The Lord is my Helper, and I will not fear what man shall do unto me." Once more the apostle confirms his argument by a Divine testimony, for he quotes from Psalm 118:6. In this citing of David’s language, Christians are again taught the suitability of O.T. language unto their own case, and the permissibility of appropriating the same unto themselves: "we may boldly say" just what the Psalmist did! It was in a time of sore distress that David expressed his confidence in the Lord, at a time when it appeared that his enemies were ready to swallow him up; but contrasting the omnipotency of Jehovah from the feebleness of the creature, his heart was emboldened. The believer is weak and unstable in himself, and constantly in need of assistance, but the Lord is ever ready to take his part and render all needed aid.
"The Lord is my Helper" implies, as W. Gouge pointed out, "a willing readiness and a ready willingness to afford us all needed succor." Those whom He forsakes not, He helps—both inwardly and outwardly. Note carefully the change from "we may boldly say" to "the Lord is my Helper:" general privileges are to be appropriated by us in particular. "Man can do much: he can fine, imprison, banish, reduce to a morsel of bread, yea, torture and put to death; yet as long as God is with us and standeth for us, we may boldly say, ‘I will not fear what man can do.’ Why? God will not see thee utterly perish. He can give joy in sorrow, life in death" (Thomas Manton). May the Lord graciously grant both writer and reader more faith in Himself, more reliance upon His promises, more consciousness of His presence, more assurance of His help, and then we shall enjoy more deliverance from covetousness, discontent, and the fear of man.