Thursday, June 25, 2009

The Rare Jewel of Christian Contenment - Part 2 - Opening the Mystery

In Part 2, Burroughs recognizes that though many would desire to be content, the desire itself does not make contentment any more real in experience. He writes "But you will object: What you speak of is very good, if we could attain to it; but is it possible for anyone to attain to this? It is possible if you get skill in the art of it; you may attain to it, and it will prove to be not such a difficult thing either, if you but understand the mystery of it."

For Burroughs, part of the 'skill' of attaining contentment is to understand the 'mystery' of it. He proceeds to explain, in 15 points, the mystery of contentment:

  1. The first thing is, to show that there is a great mystery in it.
  2. A Christian comes to contentment, not so much by way of addition, as by way of subtraction.
  3. A Christian comes to contentment, not so much by getting rid of the burden that is on him, as by adding another burden to himself.
  4. It is not so much the removing of the affliction that is upon us as the changing of the affliction, the metamorphosing of the affliction, so that it is quite turned and changed into something else.
  5. A Christian comes to this contentment not by making up the wants of his circumstances, but by the performance of the work of his circumstances.
  6. A gracious heart is contented by the melting of his will and desires into God's will and desires; by this means he gets contentment.
  7. The mystery consists not in bringing anything from outside to make my condition more comfortable, but in purging out something that is within.
  8. He lives upon the dew of God's blessing.
  9. Not only in good things does a Christian have the dew of God's blessing.
  10. A godly man has contentment as a mystery, because he sees all his afflictions sanctified in Jesus Christ, sanctified in a mediator.
  11. A gracious heart has contentment by getting strength from Jesus Christ; he is able to bear his burden by getting strength from someone else.
  12. A godly heart enjoys much of God in everything he has, and knows how to make up all wants in God himself.
  13. A gracious heart gets contentment from the covenant that God has made with him.
  14. He has contentment by realizing the glorious things of heaven to him.
  15. The last thing that I would mention is this, a godly man has contentment by opening and letting out his heart to God.

Some of these suggestions may be unclear, but the author does an excellent job of 'fleshing them out' with explanations, Scripture references, examples and analogies.

Some of his suggestions are very practical. In particular, I would like to consider his fifth point which reads: A Christian comes to this contentment not by making up the wants of his circumstances, but by the performance of the work of his circumstances. This really is a gem. Instead of worrying, complaining, whining, fretting or performing any other non-profitable and possibly detrimental actions, Burroughs implores the reader to be proactive in seeking contentment.

Burroughs explains it as such: This is the way of contentment. There are these circumstances that I am in, with many wants: I want this and the other comfort-well, how shall I come to be satisfied and content? A carnal heart thinks, I must have my wants made up or else it is impossible that I should be content. But a gracious heart says, 'What is the duty of the circumstances God has put me into?’"

This practical application of Burroughs' 'opening of the mystery of contentment' is doubly profitable. Firstly, it is part of process to learning the art of contentment. Secondly, it will be of benefit that one is actually doing something instead of moping or stewing over his or her difficult circumstances. "Let me exert my strength to perform the duties of my present circumstances. Others spend their thoughts on things that disturb and disquiet them, and so they grow more and more discontented."

Burroughs finishes this point with an appeal to the sovereignty of God: "O that should be the care of a Christian, to serve out God's counsels. What is the counsel of God? The circumstances that I am in, God has put me into by his own counsel, the counsel of his own will. Now I must serve God's counsel in my generation; whatever is the counsel of God in my circumstances, I must be careful to serve that. So I shall have my heart quieted for the present, and shall live and die peaceably and comfortably, if I am careful to serve God's counsel."

This is solid instruction. I hope to be able to apply this practically to situations I face. Along with the authors other suggestions, I think this point will help us uncover the 'rare jewel' that is Christian contentment.

1 comment:

  1. I like the point you hit on: "Be proactive in seeking contentment." We can't expect it to come to us without our thinking about it.

    And yes, I agree that this is definitely solid instruction. Nice summary!

    FYI: the on-line version of chapter 2 is the same as chapters 2-4 in the book. On-line Chapter 3 is the book chapter 5. So you're ahead of the game. ;-)