Saturday, November 17, 2012

Contentment 1

"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."

This is the definition with which Jeremiah Burroughs begins his treatise in The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment.  He then amplifies every part of the definition in a way that demonstrates that "if contentment is like this then it is not easily obtained."  

1 - Contentment is inward: though at times we may be strong enough to restrain our outward expressions of discontent, we burst inwardly from discontent.  True contentment is a business of the heart.

2 - Contentment is quietness of heart: it is not opposed to being sensible of our afflictions...afterall, contentment is not an absence of affliction, or a pretense that no deprivation exists, or a blind  obliviousness to trouble!  Contentment can only be learned  when we know and feel that something is amiss.  Quietness of heart does not forbid making a complaint to God and to faithful friends; it is not opposed to grieving; and it is not opposed to seeking all lawful means of deliverance from the affliction. 

But it IS opposed to "murmuring and repining at the hand of God"; to vexation and fretting; to "tumultuousness of spirit"; to an instability that hinders us from our duties; to "heart consuming cares" and "sinking discouragements"; to seeking unlawful means of deliverance; and from "desperate risings of the heart against God by way of rebellion."

3 - Contentment is a gracious frame of the spirit: first and foremost, this frame of spirit springs from our judgement when we acknowledge "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 judgement about it."  This judgement then orders our thoughts.  We may still have much work to do to bring our wills and affections in line with our judgements, but it begins with a declaration of truth about our situation.

4 - Contentment is a gracious frame of the spiritthis is not "merely a stillness of the body which comes from natural constitution and temper [which some have, while others are naturally of a "hot and violent constitution"], nor a sturdy resolution of the will, nor merely through the strength of reason."    Burroughs argues that the distinguishing mark of a gracious frame is that it actively seeks to sanctify God's name in the affliction.

5 - Contentment freely submits: without coercion or constraint and not out of the stupidity of paralysis; the content soul is easily brought over...willingly brought to submission.

6 - Contentment freely submits:  "Is the hand of God bringing an affliction and yet my heart is troubled and discontented - What, it says, will you be above God?  O under, under! get you under, O soul!  Keep under!  keep low! keep under God's feet!"  The content soul sends itself under the power, authority, sovereignty, and dominion that God has over him.  

7 - Contentment delights in God's disposal: this is a degree beyond submission because not only do I place myself under the affliction as from God, but "I see that there is good in it.  I find there is honey in this rock."  The content soul declares, "It is good that I am afflicted" because it comes from the Lord's hand and the Lord's hand is good.  "Not just good when you see the good fruit it has wrought," but in the midst of deprivation, emptiness, nakedness, peril, poverty, starvation, persecution, the content soul takes pleasure in God's hand because he trusts His goodness.

8 - Contentment submits to and delights in God's disposal: "He does not look down at the instruments and means, so as to say such a man did it, that it was the unreasonableness of such and such  instruments...but he looks up to God.  The Lord knows how to order things...he sees further than I do I know but that had it not been for this affliction, I should have been undone."  A wise father knows what to give his children and he is not oblivious but attentive to their circumstances.  He knows what He is doing.  The content heart believes this.

9 - Contentment submits and delights in every condition:  we are prone to think we would be more content if our affliction had only come in a different form.  No, not my possessions!  or not my marriage! or not my health!  If only he had taken this or that other thing from me, I would be content!  "BUT WE MUST NOT BE OUR OWN CARVERS."  

Not only must we submit to the type of testing, but to the timing and duration of it. We may contentedly endure an affliction for a while, but when no relief comes - especially for those afflictions of the soul - or when one grief is added atop another, we grow weary and dissatisfied.  "When God casts us down, we must be content to lie till God bids us stand up, and God's Spirit enters into us to enable us to stand up."   Just as Noah had to remain in the ark after the waters had receded, we too have to stay where we are and wait for God to open the door.  He put us in and He will bring us out.

"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."

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