What is Christian Contentment? (Part 1)
A small group at my church is reading through The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment by Jeremiah Burroughs (1599-1646). It's been quite a blessing, and I encourage you to read it, as well! To that end, I'll be writing summaries of the chapter, and including some pertinent quotes, as jewels extracted from the mine. Enjoy!
Chapter 1: Christian Contentment Described (Part 1)
In this opening chapter, Burroughs unfolds his main biblical text for the book , Philippians 4:10-13, especially focusing on verse 11.
First, Burroughs describes how the "word rendered 'content' here has great elegance and fullness of meaning in the original. In the strict sense it is only attributed to God, who has styled himself 'God all-sufficient', in that he rests fully satisfied in and with himself alone." Thus it begs the question, "Does Paul mean he is self-sufficient?"
Of course not. "Therefore his meaning must be, I find a sufficiency of satisfaction in my own heart, through the grace of Christ that is in me. Though I have not outward comforts and worldly conveniences to supply my necessities, yet I have a sufficient portion between Christ and my soul abundantly to satisfy me in every condition."
Next, he defines contentment as such: "Christian contentment is that sweet, inward, quiet, gracious frame of spirit, which freely submits to and delights in God's wise and fatherly disposal in every condition."
Then, Burroughs proceeds to unpack his definition with 9 points (and their subpoints). This post will only cover the first three.
1. Contentment is a sweet, inward heart-thing . It is a work of the Spirit indoors
Conversely, contentment is not merely a quiet tongue, but a quiet soul. God hears our souls. "Outwardly there may be great calmness and stillness, yet within amazing confusion, bitterness, disturbance and vexation." Such a state is not contentment. When we say contentment, we are dealing with the heart.
2. It is the quiet of the heart
It is important that we understand that contentment does not preclude legitimate desire and wise action. Otherwise we risk falling into stoicism, isolationism, and false spiritualism. Burroughs says that the content heart is not opposed to the following:
Feeling a due sense of affliction: Contentment isn't pretending like affliction isn't real. It is quietness amidst the affliction.
Making our moan and complaint to God and to friends: Contentment isn't void of honest prayer to God and seeking comfort from Christians.
Seeking lawful help to change the circumstances: "Certainly seeking thus for help, with such submission and holy resignation of spirit, to be delivered when God wills, and as God wills, and how God wills, so that our wills are melted into the will of God-this is not opposed to the quietness which God requires in a contented spirit."
However, the content heart is opposed to the following:
Murmuring at God
Vexing and fretting
Tumultuousness of spirit
An unsettled and unstable spirit, such that we are distracted from our duties to our relationships
Distracting, heart-consuming cares: "A gracious heart so esteems its union with Christ and the work that God sets it about that it will not willingly suffer anything to come in to choke it or deaden it. A Christian is desirous that the Word of God should take such full possession as to divide between soul and spirit (Hebrews 4: 12), but he would not allow the fear and noise of evil tidings to take such a hold in his soul as to make a division and struggling there... So a well-tempered spirit may enquire after things outside in the world, and suffer some ordinary cares and fears to break into the suburbs of the soul, so as to touch lightly upon the thoughts. Yet it will not on any account allow an intrusion into the private room, which should be wholly reserved for Jesus Christ as his inward temple."
Sinking discouragements: “God would have us to depend on him though we do not see how the thing may be brought about; otherwise, we do not show a quiet spirit. Though an affliction is on you, do not let your heart sink under it. So far as your heart sinks and you are discouraged under affliction, so much you need to learn this lesson of contentment.”
Sinful shiftings and shirkings [sic] to get relief and help: "It may be that your carnal heart thinks, I do not care how I am delivered, if only I may be freed from it. It is not so many times in some of your hearts, when any cross or affliction befalls you? Do you not experience such workings of spirit as this? 'Oh, if I could only be delivered from this affliction in any way, I would not care'-your hearts are far from being quiet."
Desperate risings of the heart against God by way of rebellion
3. Contentment is an inward, quiet, gracious frame of spirit
This grace spreads itself through the whole soul: It is one thing to satisfied with a situation when one can say, "This is the hand of God, and is what is suitable to my condition or best for me. Although I do not see the reason for the thing, yet I am satisfied in my judgment about it." Yet is entirely a different thing come to this conclusion and to have your thoughts, will, and affections obey this judgment. David said, "And why art thou disquieted within me? Hope thou in God, for I shall yet praise him for the help of his countenance." He struggled to wrestle his thoughts, will, and affections to be alignment with what he believed to be true.
Spiritual contentment comes from the frame of the soul: Contentment comes not from external things, arguments, or help. If it is to last, it must come from within. "This will illustrate the different contentments of men. Some are very gracious, and when an affliction comes on them, though at first it seems a little cold, after they have borne it a while, the very temper of their hearts makes their afflictions easy. They are quiet under it and do not complain of any discontent. But now there are others that have an affliction upon them and have not this good temper in their hearts. Their afflictions are very cold and troublesome to them. Maybe, if you bring some external arguments to bear upon them like the fire that warms the clothes, they will be quiet for a while. But, alas, if they lack a gracious disposition in their own hearts, that warmth will not last long. The warmth of the fire, that is, a contentment that results merely from external arguments, will not last long. But that which comes from the gracious temper of one's spirit will last. When it comes from the spirit of a man or woman-that is true contentment."
It is the frame of spirit that shows the habitual character of this grace of contentment: Those who are truly content have are in a good mood as "the constant tenor and temper of their hearts.” If a Christian man cannot do this, then “his Christianity is worth nothing, for no one, however furious in his discontent, will not be quiet when he is in a good mood."
Part 2 will summarize some of the chapter’s next points. Yes, for reasons unknown to me, points 5-8 are redundant.
4. Contentment is the gracious frame of the heart
5. Contentment freely submits to and takes pleasure in God’s disposal
6. Contentment is freely submitting to and taking pleasure in God’s disposal
7. Contentment is taking pleasure in God’s disposal
8. Contentment is submitting, and taking pleasure in God’s disposal.
9. Contentment is contentment in every condition.