We are pleased to present an updated version of Jeremiah Burrough's book, The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment
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The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment, by Jeremiah Burroughs, is a classic work of Puritan literature that has been widely read and studied since its first publication in 1648. In it, Burroughs examines the nature of Christian contentment and how it can be cultivated within the soul. He argues that contentment is essential for a Christian’s spiritual life, and that it can be found through the practice of prayer, meditation, and submission to the will of God.
Burroughs also encourages readers to practice self-denial, to be thankful for what they have, and to focus on the eternal rather than the temporal. Burroughs’ approach to contentment is both practical and theological. He provides practical advice on how to cultivate contentment in one’s life, and he also draws on Scripture to explain the importance of contentment for a Christian life. He argues that contentment is a sign of true faith and that it is a sign of a person’s complete submission to God’s will. He also explains that contentment is a sign of a person’s trust in God and his sovereignty.
The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment is an invaluable resource for anyone seeking to deepen their understanding of Christian contentment. Burroughs’ thoughtful analysis of the subject provides readers with an invaluable insight into the nature of contentment and how it can be cultivated in one’s life. His practical advice and theological reflections offer an invaluable guide for anyone seeking to become more content with their life and to live in accordance with God’s will.
Table of Contents:
- Chapter 1: Christian Contentment Described
- Chapter 2: The Mystery of Contentment
- Chapter 3: How Christ Teaches Contentment
- Chapter 4: The Excellence of Contentment
- Chapter 5: The Evils of a Murmuring Spirit
- Chapter 6: Aggravations of the Sin of Murmuring
- Chapter 7: The Excuses of a Discontented Heart
- Chapter 8: How to Attain Contentment
The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment
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Chapter 1: Christian Contentment Described
"I have learned, in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content." - Philippians 4:11
This text contains a very timely message to lift the spirits of the faithful in these difficult and trying times. For the 'hour of temptation' has already come upon the entire world to test its inhabitants. In particular, this is a time of great distress for us all.
Our great Apostle provides us with a practical example in this Gospel-text of how to live a life of faith. We can clearly see his own progress in the teachings of Christ, and what every Christian must learn in order to experience the power and growth of godliness in their own soul.
Paul is making a strong case to the Philippians that he is not after worldly wealth. He emphasizes that he is content with what he has, and that contentment in any situation is a skill that must be learned. "I'm not talking about needing anything," he says, "because I'm already satisfied with what I have. I've learned to be content in any circumstance." Contentment is a great art, a spiritual mystery that must be learned. And so in verse 12 he affirms: "I know how to be humbled, and I know how to be prosperous: I am experienced in all situations." The word which is translated "experienced" is derived from the word that signifies "mystery"; it is as if he had said, "I have mastered the mystery of this business." Contentment is to be learned as a great mystery, and those who are well-versed in this art, which is like a riddle to a natural man, have discovered a profound mystery. "I have mastered it"-I do not have to learn it now, nor did I have the skill at first; I have achieved it, though with much effort, and now, by the grace of God, I have become an expert in this art.
"No matter what situation I'm in" -The word "estate" isn't in the original, but simply "in what I am", meaning whatever happens to me, whether I have a lot or nothing at all.
The word "content" here has a lot of depth and meaning in the original. It's usually only used to describe God, who calls himself "God all-sufficient" because he is completely satisfied with himself. But God is generous and shares his fullness with us, so that through Christ we receive "grace for grace" (John 1:16). This means that we have the same grace as Christ, just in a different measure. Paul says that he has a self-sufficiency, which is what the word means.
But does Paul have self-sufficiency? you may ask. Are we really capable of being self-sufficient? Our Apostle states in another instance, "We are not capable of thinking anything on our own" (2 Corinthians 3:5).
Therefore, I find that I am content with what I have, thanks to the grace of Christ within me. Even though I may not have the material comforts and worldly conveniences to meet my needs, I have a more than sufficient portion between Christ and my soul that satisfies me in any situation. This interpretation aligns with the saying: "A good man is content with himself" (Proverbs 14:14) and with what Paul said about himself elsewhere, that "even though he had nothing, he had everything". It makes sense that he could say he was content in any situation, since he had access to the covenant and promise, which includes everything, and a connection to Christ, the source of all good.
Thus, you have the correct understanding of the text. I will not break down the words, as I am only trying to encourage the most important duty: calming and comforting the hearts of God's people during these tumultuous times.
The bottom line is this: It is a Christian's duty, glory, and excellence to be well-versed in the mystery of Christian contentment.
This important truth is clearly stated in the Bible, but let's look at a couple of other passages to reinforce it. In 1 Timothy 6:6 and 8, we can see both the obligation and the beauty of it: "Having food and clothing," he says in verse 8, "let us be content with that" - that's the obligation.
"But godliness combined with contentment is a great reward" (1 Tim 6:6) - this is the beauty and value of it; as if to suggest that godliness would not be rewarding unless it was accompanied by contentment. You can find the same advice in Hebrews: "Let your behavior be free from the love of money, and be satisfied with what you have" (Hebrews 13:5).
I don't see any other Apostle or Biblical author who has discussed this spiritual mystery of contentment as much as Paul has in his letters.
To back up and prove my conclusion, I will try to show four things:
- What the Nature of Christian Contentment Is
- The Art and Mystery of It
- The Lessons that Must be Learned to Bring the Heart to Contentment
- The Main Benefits of this Glorious Grace
I offer the following description: Christian contentment is that pleasant, internal, peaceful, and gracious state of mind, which willingly accepts and takes joy in God's wise and fatherly decisions in all circumstances.
I'm going to open up this description, for it is a box of valuable ointment, and it can be very comforting and helpful for those with troubled hearts in difficult times.
1. Is a sweet inner heart-thing, it is a work of the Spirit within us
It is not only that we do not resort to outward violence to help ourselves, or that we refrain from complaining and grumbling with harsh words and attitude towards God and others. But it is the inner submission of the heart. "Truly, my soul waits for God" (Psalm 62:1) and "My soul, wait only for God" (Psalm 62:5) - that is what your Bible says, but the words can also be translated as: "My soul, be silent before God. Be still, O my soul." Not only must the tongue be quiet; the soul must be silent. Many may sit in silence, not voicing their discontent, yet inwardly they are seething with discontent.
This demonstrates a complex disorder and extreme perversity in their hearts. Despite their outward silence, God is aware of the grumbling, irritable thoughts of their souls. A shoe may appear to be polished and tidy on the outside, but it may be pinching the foot on the inside. There may be an outward appearance of serenity and tranquility, yet within there is tremendous chaos, animosity, unrest, and frustration.
Some people are so weak that they cannot contain the turmoil within them, and it shows in their words and actions. Their spirits are like a raging sea, spewing out nothing but filth and causing distress to themselves and those around them. Others, however, can keep such inner turmoil in check, like Judas did when he betrayed Jesus with a kiss, though they still suffer inside, like a cancer. As David said of some people, their words may be as sweet as honey and butter, but they have war in their hearts.
When these people appear to be at peace, their inner turmoil is raging. They may seem to be silent, but their hearts are in turmoil, weighed down by distress and frustration. On the outside, they may appear to be tranquil, but on the inside, they are in a state of unrest. As it is said, "While I kept silence, my bones waxed old."
If achieving true contentment were as simple as appearing calm on the outside, it wouldn't require much effort. It could be achieved with less strength and skill than an Apostle had, or even less than an ordinary Christian has or can have. So, it's clear that there's more to it than can be achieved with ordinary abilities and the usual power of reason, which often tries to control our nature. It's a matter of the heart.
2. It is the stillness of the heart
All is calm and still here. To help you understand this better, I should add that this peaceful, gracious attitude is not opposed to acknowledging suffering:
1. God allows His people to be aware of what they are going through. Christ does not say, "Do not consider what is a cross to be a cross"; He says, "Take up your cross daily". It is like physical health: if you take medicine and can't keep it down, or if you don't feel anything and it doesn't affect you, then the medicine won't do any good and it suggests that you are very ill and may not recover. So it is with the spirits of men under afflictions: if they cannot cope with God's remedies and recover, or if they are unaffected by them as if they had taken a sip of beer, it is a worrying sign that their souls are in a perilous and almost irreparable state. Therefore, this inner peace is not contrary to being aware of one's afflictions, for there would be no true contentment if you were not aware and sensitive to your afflictions when God is angry.
2. This inner peace is not in opposition to being aware of your hardships, for there would be no true contentment if you weren't aware of and felt the weight of your troubles when God is angry.
It is not wrong to make a calm and orderly plea to God and to our friends. Even though a Christian should remain quiet under God's discipline, they can still express their grievances to God without compromising their contentment. As one of the ancients said, "We should not be shouting and screaming in a chaotic rage, but rather in a quiet, gentle, and submissive way, we can open our hearts to God."
Likewise, he may share his sorrowful situation with his Christian friends, explaining to them how God has treated him and how difficult his affliction is, so that they may offer words of comfort to his weary soul.
3. It is not against the law to seek help in difficult situations, nor to try to be freed from current hardships by using legal methods. I can make plans for my own rescue and use God's methods, trusting in Him because I don't know if He will change my situation. And so far as He leads me, I must follow His will; it is my duty, and God is mercifully understanding of our weaknesses. He will not be offended if we earnestly and persistently pray for deliverance until we know His plan. Certainly, seeking help in this way, with such submission and holy resignation to be delivered when, how, and as God wills, so that our wills are aligned with His-this is not contrary to the peace God desires us to have in a contented spirit.
But what, then, is this quietness of spirit opposed to?
1. It is opposed to complaining and grumbling about God's decisions, as the Israelites often did. If we cannot tolerate this kind of behavior in our children or servants, then God certainly cannot tolerate it in us.
2. To fretting and worrying, which is a step beyond complaining. I recall the words of a non-believer, "A wise person may be saddened by, but not be troubled by their hardships". There is a huge distinction between a healthy grieving and an unbalanced worry.
3. To tumultuousness of spirit, when the thoughts run wildly and are chaotic, so that the emotions are like an unruly mob, the Lord expects you to remain silent and not act impulsively, as it says in Acts 19:36, "Ye ought to be quiet and to do nothing rashly."
4. It is opposed to an unsettled and unstable spirit, which can cause us to forget the duties God has given us in our relationships with Him, ourselves, and others. We should prioritize our duties over getting distracted by every minor thing. As a Christian, we should value every service of God so much that even if it may seem insignificant or foolish to the world, we should still be willing to put in the effort and energy to fulfill it since God has commanded it. Luther famously said that ordinary works done in faith are more precious than heaven and earth. If a Christian understands this, they should not be distracted by minor issues. We can look to Nehemiah for an example of how to respond to any obstacles that may arise. When Sanballat, Geshem and Tobiah tried to stop him from building the wall, he replied, "I am doing a great work so that I cannot come down: why should the work cease, whilst I leave it, and come down to you?" (Nehemiah 6:3)."
5. It is opposed to anything that would be distracting and consume our hearts. A gracious heart values its connection with Christ and the work that God has given it so much that it won't let anything come in and choke it or make it dull. A Christian wants the Word of God to have such a strong influence that it can distinguish between soul and spirit (Hebrews 4:12), but they wouldn't let the fear and noise of bad news take such a hold in their soul that it would be like the twins in Rebekah's womb, struggling against each other. A great man will allow ordinary people to be in his presence, but he will not let them intrude on his private moments when he deliberately withdraws from worldly matters. Therefore, a well-tempered spirit may take an interest in the world and allow some ordinary worries and anxieties to enter the outskirts of the soul, only lightly touching the thoughts. However, it will not permit any intrusion into the inner sanctum, which should be kept solely for Jesus Christ as his inner temple.
6. When things don't go as planned and it seems like there's no hope, it can be discouraging. But we should remember that God can do the impossible. Just like He opened the eyes of the blind with clay and spit, He can work above, beyond, and even contrary to what we can see with our own eyes. As it says in 2 Kings 7:2, "If the Lord should open the windows of heaven, how could this be?" We should never underestimate what God can do. He often causes the most impressive accomplishments of mankind to wither away, and brings about the impossible, so that the glory of the achievement can be attributed to himself. If his people need miracles to be saved, God can provide them just as easily as he can provide them with daily bread. His blessings often come in ways that are hidden from his servants, as it is written, "You will not see the wind, nor will you see the rain, yet the valley will be filled with water" (2 Kings 3:17).
God wants us to trust in Him, even when we don't know how things will turn out; otherwise, we won't be able to remain calm. Even if you're facing a difficult situation, don't let it get you down. The more discouraged and overwhelmed you feel, the more you need to learn to be content.
7. It is opposed to trying to find relief and help through sinful means. We can see this in Saul's attempt to consult the witch of Endor, and offering sacrifice before Samuel arrived. Even the good King Jehoshaphat joined forces with Ahaziah (2 Chronicles 20:35). Asa also went to Ben-Hadad, King of Syria, for help, "not relying upon the Lord" (2 Chronicles 16:7, 8), despite the Lord having delivered the Ethiopian army of a million soldiers into his hands (2 Chronicles 14:12).
Good old Jacob joined his mother in deceiving Isaac; instead of waiting for God's timing and using God's methods, he was too eager and took matters into his own hands to get the blessing God had intended for him. This is something many of us do, due to our corrupted hearts and lack of faith, unable to fully trust and follow God in all things. That's why the Lord often sends us difficult trials, as we can see with Jacob, even though they eventually receive His mercy. If you're thinking, "I don't care how I'm delivered, as long as I'm freed from this," then you're likely being driven by your carnal heart.
Do you not often feel a stirring in your hearts when you face a difficulty or hardship? Don't you find yourself thinking, "If only I could be free of this, I wouldn't care"? This kind of anxious shifting away from contentment is contrary to the peace that God desires for us.
8. The last thing that quietness of spirit is the opposite of is desperate risings of the heart against God in rebellion. This is the most abominable thing. I hope many of you have learned to be content and to control your hearts from such outbursts. Unfortunately, not only wicked people, but even the saints of God can experience this when an affliction is long-lasting and very severe. It can feel like it is striking them in the master vein. They can find themselves having thoughts of rebellion against God and their affections can start to move in a rebellious direction. Especially is this true for those who have both moral failings and a lot of sadness. The Devil takes advantage of both their moral failings and their depression, and even though they may have a lot of grace underneath, they may still struggle with anger towards God during times of hardship.
Now, Christian quietness is opposed to all these things. When affliction comes, whatever it is, you don't complain; even though you feel it, even though you cry out to God, even though you desire to be delivered and seek it through all good means, you still don't complain or be resentful, you don't get angry or upset, there is no chaotic state of mind, no instability, no overwhelming fears, no disheartening discouragements, no unworthy attempts to escape, no rising up in rebellion against God in any way: This is the quietness of spirit under an affliction, and that is the second thing, when the soul is able to bear an affliction and remain calm.
3. It is an inward, peaceful, gracious state of mind
Contentment is an internal process. Firstly, it is a work of the soul; secondly, it is quiet and thirdly, it is a tranquil state of mind. When I say that contentment is a tranquil frame of mind, I mean three things:
1. It is a blessing that permeates the entire soul. My judgment is at peace, and I am content. It is one thing to be content with one's judgment and understanding, to be able to say, "This is the hand of God, and it is what is best for me, even if I don't understand why." Then, my thoughts are kept in order, so that it affects my entire being.
In some cases, there is a sense of partial satisfaction. It's not a feeling that encompasses the entire soul, but rather a part of it.
Many people can understand the logic behind a situation, but still struggle to control their emotions, thoughts, and will. I'm sure many of you can relate to this from personal experience. Can you not say when a certain affliction befalls you, "I can be thankful that I'm content with my understanding of it? I can see God's hand in it and I should be content, and in my judgment, I am satisfied with my current situation."
But I cannot, for the life of me, control my thoughts, desires, and emotions.
I feel my heart heavy and sad, more than it should be, yet my judgement is content. David expresses this in Psalm 42: "O my soul, why art thou disquieted?" He was troubled, but he didn't know why: "O my soul, why art thou cast down within me?" This psalm is a great one for those of us who feel a fretting, discontented sickness in our hearts to read and sing.
He says twice in that Psalm: "Why am I so downcast, O my soul?" and in verse 5, "Why am I so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will still praise him for the help he gives me." David had enough to calm him down, and what he had, made sense to him. But after it made sense to him, he couldn't get it to go any further. He couldn't get this grace of contentment to permeate his entire being.
Sometimes, it can be difficult to convince people that they are content with their situation. If you try to reassure someone who is going through a difficult time, they may respond with, "No cause? Then there's no reason for anyone to be disquieted. I've never experienced an affliction like mine." They may come up with a hundred different arguments to avoid accepting what you are saying, making it hard to even reach their understanding.
But there is a great deal of hope for attaining contentment, if you can come to the conclusion that "I can see why I should be content". Even when you reach that point, you may still have to work on your emotions. Our thoughts and feelings can be so unruly that our judgments are not always enough to control them.
I believe that contentment is an internal, peaceful, and gracious state of being. It's a feeling of satisfaction and peace that encompasses the entire soul, including our judgment, thoughts, will, and affections. Just by considering this concept, I'm sure you can see that it's something you need to learn, and that it's not something that can be easily achieved.
2. Spiritual contentment comes from within. It is not something that can be achieved through external means, but rather from the state of one's heart. The contentment of a person who is truly content does not come from external sources, but rather from the disposition of their own heart. This inner disposition is what brings about this blessed contentment, rather than anything from the outside.
Let me explain. When someone is upset, it could be a child, a man, or a woman. If you come and bring something to make them happy, it might calm them down and they'll be content. It's the thing you bring that soothes them, not their own disposition or good temper, but the external thing you bring them. But when a Christian is content in the right way, the peace comes more from the temper and disposition of their own heart than from any external argument or possession in the world.
I can explain this further with an analogy: Being content because of something external is like trying to warm your clothes by the fire. But being content because of an internal disposition of the soul is like the warmth your clothes get from your own body heat. If you're healthy, you put on your clothes and they may feel cold at first. But after a while, they get warm. How did that happen? Not from the fire, but from your own body heat. But if you're sick and your body heat has weakened, your clothes won't get warm, no matter how long you leave them near the fire. Even then, they'll soon be cold again.
Some people are very resilient and when they experience hardship, they may initially feel a bit of discomfort, but after some time, their positive attitude helps them to cope with it. They remain calm and don't express any dissatisfaction. On the other hand, there are those who find it difficult to cope with their hardships. They feel overwhelmed and struggle to cope with their situation. 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. We shall, however, have more to say on this when we explain the mystery of contentment.
3. It is the attitude of the spirit that reveals the habitual nature of this contentment. Contentment is not just a single instance, just a momentary good mood. You will find many people who, if they are in a good mood, will be very peaceful. But this is not sustainable. It is not a consistent pattern. It is not their constant state of being to be holy and gracious in the face of adversity.
Now I say that contentment is a peaceful state of mind, and by that I mean that you should find people in a good mood not only occasionally, but as the consistent attitude of their hearts. A Christian who can maintain a calm and steady demeanor as the consistent attitude of their heart has learned the lesson of contentment. Otherwise, their Christianity is worthless, for no one, however discontented they may be, will not be quiet when they are in a good mood.
Firstly, contentment is an internal matter; secondly, it is the peace of mind; and thirdly, it is the attitude of the heart.
4. It is the gracious nature of the heart
Indeed, contentment is a combination of many virtues, if it is spiritual and truly Christian. I can say with certainty that contentment is a mixture of many precious elements. We will discuss its value in more detail later. However, the gracious state of mind is in opposition to three things:
1. In contrast to the natural tendency of many people to be quiet and reserved, some are naturally more excitable and passionate. They are less able to contain their emotions and are more easily agitated.
2. In contrast to a strong determination, some people appear to remain unfazed no matter what comes their way. As a result, they are not as easily disturbed as others.
3. By way of distinction from the power of natural (though unsanctified) reason, which may bring some peace to the heart, I would say that a gracious frame of spirit is not just a physical stillness that comes from one's natural constitution and temperament, nor a strong determination, nor simply through the power of reason.
You may be wondering, how is the grace of contentment different from these things? We will discuss this in more detail when we get to the mystery of contentment and the lessons to be learned. For now, let's just say that these people are not just naturally calm and composed; they also lack enthusiasm and liveliness when it comes to anything good. Take note of them and you'll see what I mean.
But when contentment of heart comes from grace, the heart is very eager and enthusiastic in serving God. Indeed, the more a gracious heart can bring itself to be content, the more prepared it is for any service of God. And just as a contented heart is very active and diligent in the work of God, so he is very active and diligent in honoring God's name in the affliction that befalls him.
The difference is obvious: The one whose disposition is calm is not disturbed as others are, but also does not show any enthusiasm to glorify God's name in his suffering. On the other hand, the one whose contentment comes from grace is not troubled and keeps his heart at peace in the face of distress and hardship, while still being very eager to honor God's name in the affliction he is going through.
If a person wants to be free from worry and discontentment, it's not enough to simply not complain. Instead, they must actively strive to honor God's name in their affliction. This is different from simply having a strong determination not to be troubled. Do you make it a priority to honor God's name in your suffering, and is that the source of your determination? This is what brings peace to the heart and helps against discontentment in a kind heart. The desire and effort to honor God's name in affliction is what brings peace to the soul, and this is something that many people lack.
A quietness that comes from reason alone is not enough. It is said of Socrates that, even though he was not a believer, he never changed his expression no matter what happened to him. He achieved this control over his emotions solely through the power of reason and morality. But true contentment comes from principles that go beyond the power of reason. I cannot explain this until we explore the mystery of spiritual contentment.
I can give you one way to tell the difference between someone who is content in a natural way and someone who is content in a spiritual way: Those who are content in a natural way will accept their own suffering, but they won't be bothered if they sin against God. They don't care if they are suffering or if God is dishonored. However, a person with a gracious heart who is content with their own suffering will be deeply disturbed when God is dishonored.
5. Freely submitting to and finding contentment in God's will: It is a work of the Spirit done freely
There are four aspects to be explored in this freedom of spirit:
1. When it comes to being persuaded, the heart is easily swayed. When someone does something willingly, they don't need much convincing. Many people, when faced with hardship, may eventually come to terms with it, but only after a lot of effort. Even if they eventually accept their circumstances, it's not done with any enthusiasm. If I have to ask someone for something and it takes a lot of convincing, there's no real freedom in it. When someone is truly free to do something, all it takes is a suggestion and they'll do it right away.
If you have learned the art of contentment, you will not only be satisfied and find peace after a great commotion, but as soon as you recognize that it is God's will, your heart will respond quickly and accept it without hesitation.
2. It is freely, that is, not by compulsion. Not, as we say, patience through coercion.
Thus many will say that you should accept the situation: "This is the hand of God and you cannot do anything about it." However, this is too simplistic an expression for Christians.
When Christians visit one another, they should say, "Friend (or neighbor), you should must be content." Must be content is too simplistic for a Christian.
No, it should be, "Readily and freely I will be content." It is natural for me to be content with what God has given me. I find it easy to accept my circumstances. You should answer your friends who tell you to be content with this: No, I am willing to accept what God has given me, and I am freely content. That is the second point about freedom of spirit. Now a free act comes from a rational decision. That is freedom; it does not come from a lack of knowledge, because I know why my affliction is, but it comes from a wise and holy judgment.
Only rational creatures can act with freedom. Freedom of action is exclusive to rational creatures and is derived from this fact: true freedom is only achieved when one's judgment is in line with what they understand. Natural freedom is when one can use their judgment to determine what should be done and their understanding of the situation is in agreement with their judgment.
But if someone does something without understanding what they are doing, it cannot be said that they are doing it of their own free will. For example, if a child was born in prison and never left, they may be content, but why? Because they never knew anything different. Their contentment is not a free choice. However, for those who know that their current situation is difficult and still choose to be content with it, that is true freedom.
3. This freedom is in opposition to mere ignorance. A person may be content simply due to a lack of understanding. This is not freedom, any more than a person who is paralyzed and does not feel it when you pinch them is being patient willingly. But if someone can feel it when their flesh is pinched and yet still have the ability to control themselves and do it of their own volition, that is a different story. So it is here: many are content due to a lack of knowledge. They have a kind of numbness over them. But a gracious heart has enough understanding and yet is still content, and therefore is free.
6. Freely submitting to, and taking comfort in God's will
Submitting to God's will - what does that mean? The word submit simply means "to surrender". So when someone is discontent, their heart will be rebellious and they will try to rise above God as long as their discontentment remains.
But now comes the grace of contentment and encourages us to submit, for to submit is to accept something. Now when the soul comes to understand its own rebelliousness-Is God bringing an affliction and yet my heart is troubled and discontented-What, it says, will you be above God? Is this not God's hand and must your will be regarded more than God's? O submit, submit! Get you under, O soul! Stay humble! Keep low! Stay under God's feet!
You are under God's authority, and must remain so! Submit to God's majesty, sovereignty, and power over you! To submit is to willingly place yourself under God's authority. The soul can do this when it acknowledges the power and dominion God has over it. That is the sixth point, but it is not enough. You have not achieved contentment until the next point is true of you.
7. Relying on God's will
I'm content with what God does, as much as I can recognize God in it. Even though I may be aware of the hardship and wish that God would take it away, I'm still pleased with God's hand in it. That's a higher level of acceptance than just being content. I don't just accept it, I see the good in it. I can find the sweetness in this difficult situation, so I don't just submit to God's hand, I recognize that it's good that I'm going through this.
Acknowledging that I am suffering is possible for someone who is not truly content. I can be sure that God is being fair in this situation; He is righteous and just, and I should accept what He has done. The Lord has done what is right in all ways! But that is not enough. I must say, "The Lord's hand is good." This was the expression of Eli in the past: "The Lord's hand is good," even though it was a difficult and painful word. It was a word that brought great suffering to Eli and his family, yet he still said, "The Lord's hand is good." Perhaps some of you may say, like David, "It was good that I was afflicted," but you must come to this: "It is good that I am afflicted." Not just good when you see the good fruit it has borne, but to say when you are afflicted, "It is good that I am afflicted." Whatever the affliction, through the mercy of God, mine is a good condition. It is, indeed, the pinnacle of contentment to come to this point and to be able to say, "Well, my condition and afflictions are difficult and very painful; yet, through God's mercy, I am in a good condition, and the hand of God is good upon me despite it all." I could have given you several Scriptures about this, but I will give you one or two that are particularly striking. You may think it is a difficult lesson to come so far as not only to be at peace, but to take pleasure in affliction.
"The house of the righteous is full of wealth, but the income of the wicked brings trouble" (Proverbs 15:6). This verse shows us that even if we don't have much, we can still be content. Even if we don't have a fancy house, a comfortable bed, or a nice dish to eat from, we can still be wealthy in spirit. The Holy Spirit tells us that the house of the righteous is full of wealth. Let the most humble man be the most righteous man in the world - it may be that someone has come and taken all of his possessions away due to debt. Perhaps his house has been plundered and all is gone; yet still, "In the house of the righteous is much treasure." The righteous man can never be made so poor, to have his house so rifled and spoiled, but there will remain much treasure within. If he has but a dish or a spoon or anything in the world in his house, there will be much treasure so long as he is there. There is the presence of God and the blessing of God upon him, and therein is much treasure. But in the revenues of the wicked there is trouble.
There is more value in the home of the poorest person, if they are godly, than in the home of the wealthiest person in the world, who may have luxurious furnishings and finely crafted beds, chairs, couches, and cupboards of silverware and the like. No matter what they have, it cannot compare to the treasure found in the home of the most humble righteous soul.
It's no surprise, then, that Paul was satisfied, for if you read a few verses after my text: 'But I have everything I need and more. I am content' (Philippians 4:18). I have everything? Oh, poor man! What did Paul have that made him say he had it all? Was there ever a man more afflicted than Paul? Many times he had no clothes to cover his body and was left exposed. He had no food to eat, and was often left without clothing, put in jail and whipped and cruelly treated. Yet, Paul said, 'I have it all.' Yes, you will find it in 2 Corinthians: He professes there that he did possess all things: "As sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, and yet possessing all things" (2 Corinthians 6:10).
Mark his words carefully - he says "as having nothing" but also "possessing all things". He's not saying "possessing all things" but rather "as having nothing, yet possessing all things". In other words, even though I may not have much in this world, I still possess all things. So, as a Christian, I can take joy in whatever God has given me.
8. The eighth key to contentment is accepting and finding joy in God's plan.
The soul that has learned the lesson of contentment looks to God in all things. They don't focus on the people or instruments involved, or the "unreasonableness" of the situation, but rather look to God. A contented heart looks to God's will and sees the wisdom of God in everything. They take pleasure in God's wisdom, and submit to His sovereignty. The Lord knows how to arrange things better than I do.
He can see further into the future than I can; I can only see what is happening right now, but the Lord can see what will happen a long time from now. I can't be sure, but if it weren't for this affliction, I might have been destroyed. I know that God's love can be just as strong in an unfortunate situation as in a fortunate one. When I'm content and accept God's decisions, I can think of things like this.
9. The final thing to note is that this is in every state.
Now we shall expand on this a little.
- Submitting to God in whatever hardship comes our way.
- As for how long the suffering will last.
- Regarding the variety and changes of hardship: whatever they may be, we must still submit to God's will in every situation.
1. As for the type of suffering, many people will usually say that they must accept God's will in times of hardship. If you were to go around this congregation and ask each person, "Would you accept God's will in whatever situation He puts you in?", I'm sure they would all reply, "Of course!" But as the saying goes, general statements can be deceiving. In general, you would accept any situation; but what if it is the one that bothers you the most? - Then, anything but that!
We often think that any other condition is better than the one God has put us in. This is not contentment; it should be not only for any condition in general, but for the kind of suffering, including the one that bothers you the most. God, it may be, affects you through your child.-"Oh, if it had been in my possessions" you say, "I would be content!" Perhaps he affects you through your marriage. "Oh," you say, "I would rather have been affected in my health." And if he had affected you in your health-"Oh, then, if it had been in my business, I would not have cared."
We must not take matters into our own hands. No matter what hardships God has put us through, we must be content in them.
2. We must accept God's will in every hardship, no matter how long it lasts. "I could do that if it was only for a short time, but this has been going on for months, a year, or even longer. I'm at the end of my rope and don't know how to accept it." I may even be a spiritual struggle - you could surrender to God, you say, in any external hardship, but not in an internal struggle. If it feels like God has turned away from us- "Even if this were only for a short while, I could accept it. But to search for God for so long and still not find Him, how can I cope with this?" We must not try to decide when we will be saved, or how we will be saved - that is up to God.
I will provide you with a couple of Bible verses about this. To demonstrate that we should submit to God in both the timing and type of affliction, take a look at the end of the first chapter of Ezekiel: "When I saw it, I fell face down, and I heard a voice speaking." The prophet fell face down, but how long did he have to stay there? "He said to me, 'Son of man, stand up and I will speak to you.' And the spirit entered me when he spoke to me and set me on my feet." Ezekiel was thrown face down, and he had to stay there until God told him to stand up; not only that, but until God's spirit came into him and gave him the strength to stand up.
When God brings us down, we must accept our situation until He tells us to stand up again. We can look to Noah as an example; even though the waters had receded, God did not allow him to leave the Ark until He said so. Similarly, even if we are in great distress and consider other ways to escape, we should remain where we are until God opens the door. He put us in this situation and He will be the one to bring us out.
So, as we read in the Acts of Paul, when they had locked him up in prison and wanted to take him out, Paul said, "No, they locked us in, let them come and get us out." In a holy and gracious way, a soul should say, "This affliction I'm in was brought on by God, and I'm content to stay here until God brings me out himself." God expects us to not be willing to leave until He comes and gets us out.
In Joshua 4:10, there is an incredible story that could be very useful to us: We read about the priests carrying the ark and standing in the middle of the Jordan River (you know, when the Israelites went into the land of Canaan, they went through the Jordan). Going through the Jordan was a risky thing, but God had told them to go. They may have been scared of the water coming in on them. But note, it says, "The priests carrying the ark stood in the middle of the Jordan until Joshua had said everything the Lord commanded him to say to the people, according to all that Moses had commanded Joshua. And the people hurried and crossed over. And when all the people had crossed over, the ark of the Lord passed over, and the priests were in the presence of the people."
Now it was God's will that all the people should go first, so that they would be safe on land; but the priests had to remain until all the people had crossed, and then they would be allowed to go. But they had to stay until God told them to leave, even though they were in danger! It makes sense that there was a lot of risk in staying, for the text says that the people hurried across, but the priests had to stay until everyone else had gone, and wait until God called them out of that dangerous place.
And so often it is the case that God chooses to arrange things so that his ministers must remain in danger longer than the people, and likewise magistrates and those in public positions. This should make people be satisfied and content with the lower position into which God has put them. Though your position is low, yet you are not in the same danger as those who are in a higher position. God calls those in public positions to stand in the gap and place of danger for longer than other people, but we must be content to stay in our current situation until the Lord is pleased to call us out.
3. And then, to experience the full range of our condition, we must accept the particular hardship we face, as well as the time and all the circumstances surrounding it - for sometimes the circumstances can be even more difficult than the hardship itself. To further diversify our experience, God may test us with various hardships one after another, as we have recently seen with many who have been robbed and then later fallen ill and died. They had escaped with their lives, only to be struck by the plague. It is rare for one hardship to come alone; usually, hardships come in succession.
God may take away from one man his possessions, then his health, then his reputation, wife, child or beloved friend, and it can come in many forms; it is usually the case (you can find out for yourself) that one hardship rarely comes alone. This is difficult, when one hardship is followed by another, when there are many hardships, when there is a huge change in one's circumstances, up and down, here and there: that is indeed the test of a Christian. Therefore, one must accept God's will in these matters.
I remember it was said even of Cato, a Heathen, that no one saw him change, even though he lived in a time when the government was often changing. It is said of him that he remained the same, despite his changing circumstances and the variety of conditions he experienced. Oh, that the same could be said of many Christians! Even if their circumstances change, no one should be able to see them change. They should remain the same. Did you see how gracious, sweet, and holy their temper was before? They should still be the same. We should submit to God's will in every condition.
Contentment is an inner peace and acceptance of God's will in all circumstances. It is a gracious attitude that takes pleasure in whatever God has planned. In summary, it is composed of nine distinct elements"
First, contentment is something that comes from within the soul; Secondly, it is a calming of the heart; Thirdly, it is a state of mind; Fourthly, it is a blessed state; Fifthly, it is the free expression of this blessed state; Sixthly, it involves submitting to God and allowing Him to lead; Seventhly, it is finding joy in God's will; Eighthly, it is recognizing that everything is in God's hands; Ninthly, it is finding peace in any situation, no matter how difficult or how long it lasts.
Now those of you who have learned to be content, have learned to attain to these various things. I hope that the very opening of these things may so strongly impact your hearts that you may take a moment to reflect on what has been said. I say, that the very telling you what the lesson is may cause you to pause and say, "Lord, I see there is more to Christian contentment than I thought there was, and I have been far from learning this lesson. Indeed, I have only just begun to learn this lesson of contentment. I am only just starting out in Christ's school if I am in it at all."
We'll discuss this further later, but my main goal here is to demonstrate how mysterious Christian contentment is and how many lessons we must learn to achieve this.
Chapter 2: The Mystery of Contentment
You might be thinking, “This all sounds great, but is it actually possible to achieve contentment? Can anyone do it?” The answer is yes! You can learn the skill of contentment and it’s not as hard as you might think. When you watch someone doing something complicated, it can seem impossible to do. But that’s only because you don’t understand the art of it. With the right technique, it can be done easily. That’s what this book is all about – teaching you the art and mystery of contentment.
There is a great mystery and art to how a Christian can achieve contentment. What has been discussed so far reveals some of this mystery and art; that a person can be content with their affliction, yet still be fully aware of it. To be fully aware of an affliction and yet still strive to remove it through all lawful means while still being content is a mystery indeed. I find it difficult to comprehend how one can be aware of an affliction yet still be content. I feel the same pain and seek the same deliverance as those who are not content, yet my heart remains content. This is a mystery that a carnal heart cannot understand. However, grace teaches us how to combine sorrow and joy, creating contentment from the mixture of gracious joy and gracious sorrow. Grace also teaches us how to manage and order an affliction so that we can still feel it, yet remain content.
There are several ways to uncover the secret of contentment.