Much as we would like to start a new year with a sense of optimism, sometimes the outlook only seems forbidding. January blues may conspire with nagging feelings of being spiritually in a low place to make Christians discouraged. The Covenanting minister John Welwood (1649–1679) was aware of many reasons for pessimism, yet in the following updated letter he wrote of ways to turn every possible discouragement into a reason to take comfort.
8 July 1675
We have to live by faith
If I had things according to my own wishes, I would have the light of the Lord’s countenance shining over on me, and the upper hand over all my enemies. But when I was restless in this way and unsatisfied, I was taught to live by faith – a very profitable thing for us, and pleasing to God, but we are so backward to it, because we do not want to believe until we can see.
Yet the Lord is much displeased when we doubt His love, especially since we have so many evidences of it, since He has often manifested Himself to us, and worked in our souls. Unless He is actually smiling, we will not believe that He loves us! If He dandled us in His lap for twenty years, and then hide Himself from us, we would instantly be suspicious whether He had ever loved us at all. But it is much more pleasing to Him, and profitable and comforting to ourselves, to venture to believe that He does love us. He does not play tricks on His people. We may build on His Word and His work in our souls, for Christ is no dissembler.
I know nothing that should discourage a Christian. There is not one discouragement in all the Word of God, but many are His encouragements. But through our folly and unbelief we lose the comfort of them.
We don’t need to be discouraged by guilt
Should guilt discourage us? God “hath made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God through him.” Christ says to the Father, “If the Christian owes thee anything, put that on my account.”
Or by God’s wrath
Should wrath discourage us? “He hath redeemed us from the curse of the law, being made a curse for us,” and, “There is no condemnation to them that are in Christ Jesus.”
Or by our ignorance
Should our darkness and ignorance discourage us? He is continually with us, and leads us like a flock. Our safety lies not in our wisdom and leading, but His. Even if we are foolish, or pilot is skilful and careful.
Or by our sinfulness
Should a body of sin and death discourage us? We certainly have good reason to cry, “O wretched ones that we are!” It deadens and deceives us, and holds us back from duty. Yet His grace is sufficient for us. Not grace within us, but grace outside us is where our safety lies. He is the one that keeps us from temptations and delivers us from evil.
Or by our small progress
Should our little growth in grace and in the knowledge of Christ discourage us? Indeed it is our great complaint, “Our leanness, our leanness!” It’s fitting that folk grow downwards in low thoughts of themselves, for He dwells with the humble. The more folk have of grace, the more they see of corruption, and the more they have of faith, the more they see of unbelief.
But perhaps we make an idol of grace, and prize it more than its author, the Lord Jesus. He may well say to us, “Am I not worth more to you than never so much grace?” The God of all grace is ours – the fountain is ours – we are complete in Him, and He is fit to hold the purse-strings for us. It is better that He should hold our treasure than we ourselves. We would want to have as much as would serve us for all our journey right now. This is always the aim of our hearts. We want to have a stock of grace inside us, so that we would not need to rely on Christ, or be beholden to Him, for continual supply. We think it a poor life to live like beggars, but that’s because we think that what’s in our hand is surer, and will more easily be effective, than what is in Christ’s hand! But Adam had his stock in his own hand, and see how quickly he went bankrupt.
If we had never so much grace, we would ruin ourselves if Christ’s grace were not daily and moment-by-moment keeping us. It is not our grace and worthiness that commends us to God, but the righteousness of Christ. We are obliged to God for the grace we get, not He to us. If He chooses to keep us with little in hand, we ought to be content, and not fall out with Him because He will not fill our purses with money – after all, we have access to the treasure house!
Or by a sense of distance from the Lord
Does a sense of desertion discourage us? Sometimes there are many fogs and clouds in the air, but it is all bright above. Though to our senses His love changes, yet with Him there is no variableness, nor shadow of turning. He loves us just as much when He hides His face as when He smiles, and He has many wise and holy purposes in all the afflictions we meet with. They are to ballast us. Also they purge out our sins and make us partakers of His holiness. They keep us waking and watching.
Our Lord will not leave us nor forsake us. We may be sure of victory. And what an inheritance we are predestined to! It sits all wrong to be unthankful and discontent when the Lord has showed us that mercy, to teach and instruct us that we should not walk in the way of the world. He could have left us to run to the same excess of riot with them, to forget God and our own soul altogether. Is not God our Father? Is not Christ our husband? Is not the Spirit our constant companion? Are not angels our attendants? Are not the devil, the wicked, sin, death, and hell all under our feet? Is not the creation all working together for our good? And heaven our home?
Satan and our folly combine together to make us pore over the things that will sadden us and keep us from seeing our privileges. Here is our duty: to rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, and continue instant in prayer.
Now as for your situation, cast all your care upon him, for He careth for you. To trust Him honours Him greatly. Acknowledge Him in all your ways, and do nothing to offend Him. He is a shield to them that trust in Him. Remember also that afflictions are the gateway to heaven. Consider Him that endured such contradiction of sinners against Himself, lest ye be weary and faint in your mind.
Subscribe to our weekly newsletter and receive an updated article every week.