What is Christian Contentment? (Part 2)
This is the second in a series on The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment by Jeremiah Burroughs (1599-1646). A small group at my church is going through this book together; it's been quite a blessing, so I thought I'd share some of the jewels from the chapters.
In this opening chapter, Burroughs unfolds his main biblical text for the book , Philippians 4:10-13, especially focusing on verse 11. Part 2 covers points 4-9.
4. Contentment is the gracious frame of the heart.
Contentment is anything but natural, and is unaided by the natural quietness of some persons, a sturdy resolution, or unsanctified reason. The naturally quiet person is of a very dull spirit in many things and has no liveliness in the things of God, whereas a truly content person is "very quick and lively in the service of God." A man of sturdy resolution may be free from worry and murmuring yet a truly content person make it a "matter of conscience tosanctify God's name in [their] affliction." Unsanctified reason is superseded by the strength of a gracious heart, which will be elaborated upon later.
In summary, it may be generalized that those "who are content in a natural way overcome themselves when outward afflictions befall them…They are just as content when they commit sin against God. …But a gracious heart that is contented with its own affliction, will rise up strongly when God is dishonored." Contentment is not lethargic, lackadaisical living.
5. Contentment is freely submitting to and taking pleasure in God’s disposal.
Contentment is chosen freely, in that "you will not only be content and quiet your hearts after a great ado, but as soon as you come to see that it is the hand of God" your heart will be content. It is not a forced submission, a "must" of duty. Rather if you are content you will say, "Readily and freely I will be content." And thus, contentment does not come through ignorance or an inability to feel or comprehend, but through eyes that understand and yet with sanctified judgment still chooses to be content.
6. Contentment is freely submitting to and taking pleasure in God’s disposal.
When you wrestle to be content, if you come "to see its own unruliness" you will find yourself asking, "Is the hand of God bringing an affliction and yet my heart is troubled and discontented?" Thus you ought to counsel yourself, "What…will you be above God? Is this not God's hand and must your will be regarded more than God's? O under, under! Get you under, O soul!" To be under authority, power, authority, sovereignty, dominion of God is to submit to Him.
7. Contentment is taking pleasure in God’s disposal.
To be well pleased with God's hand is higher than to merely submit to God's hand. When you are content you will say, "Not only do I see that I should be content in this affliction, but I see that there is good in it. I find there is honey in this rock, and so I do not only say, I must, or I will submit to God's hand. No, the hand of God is good, it is good that I am afflicted." To merely see the justice in the affliction is not enough; you must see the good.
What's more is that is it not enough to say, "It is good that I was afflicted." You must come to say, "It is good that I am afflicted." To say in the midst of the trial, "My condition and afflictions are so and so, and very grievous and sore; yet through God's mercy, I am in a good condition, and the hand of God is good upon me."
8. Contentment is submitting, and taking pleasure in God’s disposal.
"A contented heart looks to God's disposal, and submits to God's disposal, that is, he sees the wisdom of God in everything. In his submission he sees his sovereignty, but what makes him take pleasure is God's wisdom." When you are content, you say, "The Lord knows how to order things better than I. The Lord sees further than I do; I only see things at present but the Lord sees a great while from now. And how do I know that had it not been for this affliction, I should have been undone. I know that the love of God may as well stand with an affliction condition as with a prosperous condition."
9. Contentment is contentment in every condition.
Wemust be content no matter the circumstance. Now, we are quick to say that we would submit to God's disposal in general. Yet if we were to think of that particular case that crosses us most — betrayal of a spouse, death of a child, financial disaster, painful disease, poor relationships — then we cry, "Anything but that!" Now, that is not contentment; whatever "particular afflictions God may place us in, we must be content in them."
We must also be content no matter how long the affliction lasts. At the first outbreak of suffering, we may have a measure of contentment, but as the months, years, many years continue, and is seems that God has withdrawn His face, what then? When "God casts us down, we must be content to lie till God bids us stand up." Until"God opens the door, we should be willing to stay; God has put us in, and God will bring us out."
And, we must be content no matter the burden and variety of the afflictions. "It is very rarely that one affliction comes alone," but they come one after another. "God may strike one man in his possessions, then in his body, then in his name, wife, child, or dear friend."
This ends chapter 1, "Christian Contentment Described." The next chapter is titled "The Mystery of Contentment" in which Burroughs discusses some of the apparent tensions within contentment — to be content in affliction and yet fully aware of the suffering, to be content in trial and yet seek to remove it by all lawful means, etc.