The Mystery of Contentment continues…
Burroughs burrows deep. I have heard someone (I believe it was J.I. Packer actually) say that the Puritan writers often wrote in such a way as if they were turning a screw into the conscience. He remarked that they seem repetitive at times, but they are not really repeating themselves; they are exhaustive in the manner in which they will present their arguments, but although it may seem a little repetitious, the careful reader will note that each argument is carefully angled. And this is why he said to read them and to read them well would have an effect like someone turning a screw into the very conscience of the reader. I know that reading Owen and Watson are like this. And this analogy quickly sprang to mind today as I continued reading it Burrough’s Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment. Burroughs burrows deep indeed.
Today I read how contentment should be lived out practically by the believer, the one who trusts that the providence of His sovereign God carrying out His sovereign will is both just and merciful, wise and good to those He has called His own. I realized how infantile and ignorant I am in much of this, and I know I’m not alone. Today we will hear what Mr. Burroughs has to say about our attitudes in living wherever God has us.
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 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? Indeed, my circumstances have changed, I was not long since in a prosperous state, but God has changed my circumstances. The Lord has called me no more Naomi, but Marah. Now what am I to do? What can I think now are those duties that God requires of me in the circumstances that he has now put me into? 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.
Let me spend my thoughts in thinking what my duty is, ‘O’, says a man whose condition is changed and who has lost his wealth, ‘Had I but my wealth, as I had heretofore, how would I use it to his glory? God has made me see that I did not honor him with my possessions as I ought to have done. O if I had it again, I would do better than I did before.’ But this may be but a temptation. You should rather think, ‘What does God require of me in the circumstances I am now brought into?’ You should labor to bring your heart to quiet and contentment by setting your soul to work in the duties of your present condition. And the truth is, I know nothing more effective for quieting a Christian soul and getting contentment than this, setting your heart to work in the duties of the immediate circumstances that you are now in, and taking heed of your thoughts about other conditions as a mere temptation.
I cannot better compare the folly of those men and women who think they will get contentment by musing about other circumstances than to the way of children: perhaps they have climbed a hill and look a good way off and see another hill, and they think if they were on the top of that, they would be able to touch the clouds with their fingers; but when they are on the top of that hill, alas, they are as far from the clouds as they were before. So it is with many who think, If I were in such circumstances, then I should have contentment; and perhaps they get into circumstances, and they are as far from contentment as before. But then they think that if they were in other circumstances, they would be contented, but when they have got into those circumstances, they are still as far from contentment as before. No, no, let me consider what is the duty of my present circumstances, and content my heart with this, and say, ‘Well, though I am in a low position, yet I am serving the counsels of God in those circumstances where I am; it is the counsel of God that has brought me into these circumstances that I am in, and I desire to serve the counsel of God in these circumstances.
There is a remarkable Scripture concerning David, of whom it is said that he served his generation: ‘After David had served his generation according to the will of God, then he slept.’ It is a saying of Paul concerning him in Acts 13:36. In your Bibles it is, ‘After he had served his own generation according to the will of God’, but the word that is translated will, means the counsel of God, and so it may be translated as well, ‘That after David in his generation had served God’s counsel, then he fell asleep’. We ordinarily take the words thus, That David served his generation: that is, he did the work of his generation-that is to serve a man’s generation. But it is clearer if you read it thus, After David in his generation had served the counsel of God, then David fell asleep. 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.
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.
This too is a mystery to a carnal heart. It is not by having his own desires satisfied, but by melting his will and desires into God’s will. So that, in one sense, he comes to have his desires satisfied though he does not obtain the thing that he desired before; still he comes to be satisfied with this, because he makes his will to be at one with God’s will. This is a small degree higher than submitting to the will of God. You all say that you should submit to God’s will; a Christian has got beyond this. He can make God’s will and his own the same. It is said of believers that they are joined to the Lord, and are one spirit; that means, that whatever God’s will is, I do not only see good reason to submit to it, but God’s will is my will. When the soul can make over, as it were, its will to God, it must needs be contented. Others would fain get the thing they desire, but a gracious heart will say, ‘O what God would have, I would have too; I will not only yield to it, but I would have it too.’ A gracious heart has learned this art, not only to make the commanding will of God to be its own will-that is, what God commands me to do, I will do it-but to make the providential will of God and the operative will of God to be his will too. God commands this thing, which perhaps you who are Christians may have some skill in, but whatever God works you must will, as well as what God commands.
You must make God’s providential will and his operative will, your will as well as God’s will, and in this way you must come to contentment. A Christian makes over his will to God, and in making over his will to God, he has no other will but God’s. Suppose a man were to make over his debt to another man. If the man to whom I owe the debt be satisfied and contented, I am satisfied because I have made it over to him, and I need not be discontented and say, ‘My debt is not paid and I am not satisfied’. Yes, you are satisfied, for he to whom you made over your debt is satisfied. It is just the same, for all the world, between God and a Christian: a Christian heart makes over his will to God: now then if God’s will is satisfied, then I am satisfied, for I have no will of my own, it is melted into the will of God. This is the excellence of grace: grace does not only subject the will to God, but it melts the will into God’s will, so that they are now but one will. What a sweet satisfaction the soul must have in this condition, when all is made over to God. You will say, This is hard! I will express it a little more: A gracious heart must needs have satisfaction in this way, because godliness teaches him this, to see that his good is more in God than in himself. The good of my life and comforts and my happiness and my glory and my riches are more in God than in myself. We may perhaps speak more of that, when we come to the lessons that are to be learned. It is by this that a gracious heart gets contentment; he melts his will into God’s, for he says, ‘If God has glory, I have glory; God’s glory is my glory, and therefore God’s will is mine; if God has riches, then I have riches; if God is magnified, then I am magnified; if God is satisfied, then I am satisfied; God’s wisdom and holiness is mine, and therefore his will must needs be mine, and my will must needs be his.’ This is the art of a Christian’s contentment: he melts his will into the will of God, and makes over his will to God: ‘Oh Lord, thou shalt choose our inheritance for us’ (Psalm 47:4).