Letter to one of an impatient and complaining spirit
From an anonymous work, published in 1855 by the Presbyterian Board of Publication, Philadelphia, under the title, Monitory Letters to Church Members.
It is quite likely that it has never occurred to you that you are liable to the charge which the subject of this letter would seem to imply. You do not pretend to deny that you are sometimes not perfectly satisfied with your lot, and you ask me, perhaps, to show you one, if I can, who never finds fault; but that you have more than your ordinary share of this infirmity, you are in no wise prepared to admit. Well, I have no wish to prove that yours is an extreme case; nor do I mean to say that I might not select many other individuals, to whom my remarks would apply with equal pertinence; but still I much insist that yours is a case of the kind that I have designated; and the fact that you share the evil in common with many others, is no reason why you should not have your attention seriously directed to it.
I will tell you candidly some of the ways in which I think your impatient and dissatisfied spirit discovers itself. I do not suppose that you ever allow yourself to think that you arraign Infinite Wisdom, or question the propriety of any of God’s dealings with you; but if you will notice particularly your own conduct, and scrutinize your feelings and motives, I think you will find it difficult to resist the conviction that many of your complaints terminate, not upon man, but upon God. I have heard you more than once express your disappointment, in not realizing a favourite plan, in terms that have evinced an almost angry dissatisfaction, when the disappointment had been entirely independent of any voluntary human agency. You expected to set out on a journey on a certain morning; and when the morning came, instead of leaving home, you were so ill as to be obliged to send for a physician. You took the disappointment so much to heart that your countenance looked almost like what we should imagine Cain’s to have been, after he slew his brother. Your arrangements for the day rendered it desirable to you that the weather should be fine; but the rain came pouring in torrents; and you showed clearly enough by your actions, that it should not have been so, if the government of the world had been in your hands. I have heard you complain bitterly of your neighbours, so that one might have supposed your lot had been cast in Sodom; when, after all, it seemed to me that any one who lived among human beings would find as much to complain of as yourself. You allow yourself to be unreasonably irritable in your own family, finding fault with whatever is not exactly according to your mind; insomuch that some of your guests have felt uneasy while sojourning under your roof. And I must not forget to say, that when you lost a child not long since, I could not discover, in anything that fell from you, the workings of a spirit of submission; — on the contrary, when I exhorted you to seek a refuge, in the hour of your calamity, in God’s gracious covenant, you answered me by reflecting bitterly upon some individual, who induced you to a course to which you thought you could refer indirectly the child’s illness and death. Now, it is upon such grounds as these that I am impelled to the conclusion that you have fallen into a habit of impatience that greatly needs to be corrected.
You cannot but see that the indulgence of this spirit is really nothing better than rebellion against God. For it is God who orders the circumstances of your earthly condition; and, in complaining of them, you virtually express your distrust of his wisdom and goodness. Many of the inconveniences and disappointments with which you find fault, are from the direct ordering of his providence, without the intervention of any other visible agency; and even where there are human instruments concerned, and culpably concerned, still God’s hand is to be acknowledged in this, as a part of that great and divinely arranged system, which will ultimately secure the greatest good to them who love him. You disobey, you rebel, as often as you complain. If it be admitted that you are a true Christian, just in proportion as you indulge this spirit, you not only fail to grow in grace, but you counteract God’s merciful purposes towards you. He designs that these crosses should act as a salutary discipline upon your spirit; that they should inspire you with fresh confidence in his wisdom, and grace, and faithfulness, and render the prospect of heaven more dear to you, by giving you a foretaste of its joys in the midst of tribulation. If you pervert them to a different purpose, where are you to look for any evidences, on which you can rely, of growth in grace? Rather, what reason have you to believe that the principle of grace has ever been implanted in your heart?
If you have respect to your own personal comfort, you will crucify this unhallowed temper, and cultivate the opposite spirit of contentment and submission. So long as your present state of mind continues, you can never have anything like true inward peace. While you live in this world, you will always be subject to vicissitude and disappointment, and you will be the sport of every adverse wind that blows. Let your earthly condition be what it may, you can never know anything like true independence; whereas, if you cultivate a spirit of quiet submission to the divine will, the consequence will be an all-pervading and habitual, if not an uninterrupted, tranquillity. What has he to fear whose heart is stayed upon God?
Then, again, this impatient spirit prevents you from enjoying the happiness which Providence intended should flow to you through your social relations. If you accustom yourself to find fault with your family, and friends, and neighbours, for everything they may say or do that does not entirely correspond with your wishes, it is impossible that they should take any comfort in your society, and they will very soon cause you to find it out. And this discovery will be a source of annoyance to you; it will beget increased jealousy and mortification on your part, and this again will react to produce, on the part of others, increasing reserve, if not positive alienation. Thus you sacrifice, in a great measure, your social as well as your spiritual enjoyment. You make enemies out of friends. You fail to make friends where it is in your power, and check in many a bosom the warm current of benevolent feeling which would otherwise flow out towards you.
In professing to be a Christian, you virtually acknowledge your obligation to live in the habitual estate of a benevolent spirit, and to do what you can to promote the happiness and well-being of your fellow men. But what becomes of this obligation, so long as you are continually finding fault with both God and man? In order to render those around you happy, there must be at least a degree of sunshine in your countenance; but, alas! it is a rare thing that the cloud of discontent is ever lifted from your brow. If you will make men happy, you must ordinarily come near to them; but who does not wish to have an everlasting fault-finder keep at a distance? Most of the good that men accomplish, is done in their social capacity; but so long as you complain of every thing, I do not know who would not rather do good by himself than to be associated with you. And even if you really try to make yourself, in some respects, useful, it seems to me that you have little right to expect the concurring favour of that Providence which you so often arraign, indirectly at least, on the charge of measuring out to you a hard lot.
Let me entreat you to lay this subject to heart, and endeavour to correct this unhappy trait in your religious and social character. Get your mind deeply imbued with a sense of God’s overruling and directing providence, extending even to the numbering of hairs and the falling of sparrows; and accustom yourself to connect the thought of perfect wisdom and goodness with even the most trying events. Dwell upon the example of Him whom you call Master and Lord; and mark the breathings of perfect submission and trust in God, when the great waters came over his soul. Think how much fewer afflictions and crosses you have than you deserve; and how few, too, in comparison with the number of your blessings. And recollect that the sufferings of the present are designed to increase the glory of the future; not merely through the power of contrast, but by forming the mind to a higher type of holiness, and infusing into it more of the spirit of heaven. Recollect, too, that the evils of which you are so prone to complain are of short continuance; and that if you endure them in a spirit of Christian patience, it will be but a little while before you will have the whole wilderness behind you, and will enter exultingly into that world, where not a thought shall miss its object, not a wish shall ever be disappointed.