Reading Classics Together - The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment (II)
Last week I had said that we would read chapters 2 and 3, but several participants in this program suggested that was hurrying things too much. I think they are right, so this week we will look only at chapter 2 and next week will turn to the third chapter. We will try to maintain a good, slow-for-summer pace of a chapter per week.
SummaryIt is undoubtedly a little too early to get too excited about the book, but through the first couple of chapters I feel like this book is going to be one of my favorites. Everything Burroughs writes seems to smack me right between the eyes. He so clearly has that ability so many of the Puritan writers had to probe into the deepest recesses of the heart and to bring truth to bear on it.
In this chapter Burroughs looks to “The Mystery of Contentment.” The business of this book, he says, is to do just this—to open to you the art and mystery of contentment. The mystery is this: how can a person be content with his affliction and yet thoroughly sensible of it at the same time, so that he even endeavors to remove it. “How to join these two together: to be sensible of an affliction as much as a man or woman who is not content; I am sensible of it as fully as they, and I seek ways to be delivered from it as well as they, and yet still my heart abides content—this is, I say, a mystery, that is very hard for a carnal heart to understand.”
He provides seven “things for opening the mystery of contentment,” though he assures that reader that much more could be side besides these.
First, it may be said of one who is contented in a Christian way that he is the most contended man in the world, and yet the most unsatisfied man in the world. A man who has learned how to be content can be satisfied with any low condition in the world and yet he cannot be at all satisfied in the enjoyment of all the world. It is worth sharing a lengthy quote here:
A carnal heart could be satisfied if he might but have outward peace, though it is not the pace of God; peace in the state, and his trading, would satisfy him. But mark how a godly heart goes beyond a carnal. All outward peace is not enough; I must have the peace of God. But suppose you have the peace of God. Will that not quiet you? No, I must have the God of peace; as the peace of God so the God of peace. That is, I must enjoy that God who gives me the peace; I must have the Cause as well as the effect. I must see from whence my peace comes, and enjoy the Fountain of my peace, as well as the stream of my peace. And so in other mercies: have I health from God? I must have the God of my health to be my portion, or else I am not satisfied. It is not life, but the God of my life; it is not riches, but the God of those riches, that I must have, the God of my preservation, as well as my preservation.
Second, a Christian comes to contentment not so much by way of addition as by way of subtraction. In other words, a Christian finds contentment by subtracting from his desires rather than adding to them. A carnal heart believes it can only be made content by adding such and such possessions; a Christian heart realizes that “the root of contentment consists in the suitableness and proportion of a man’s spirit to his possessions. … The heart is contented and there is comfort in those circumstances.”
Third, 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. This is to say that a Christian labors and burdens himself with his own sin. “The heavier the burden of your sin is to your heart, the lighter will the burden of your affliction be to your heart, and you shall come to be content.”
Fourth, 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. “You shall be poor still as to your outward possessions, but this shall be altered; whereas before it was a natural evil to you, it comes now to be turned to a spiritual benefit to you. And so you come to be content.”
Fifth, 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. “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?’” Burroughs says also, “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 in now, and taking heed of your thoughts about other conditions as a mere temptation.” Here he offers a great illustration about a child climbing a hill, but I will lead you to seek that out on your own.
Sixth, 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. “In one sense, he comes to have his desires satisfied though he does not obtain the thing that he desired before.” He does this by making God’s will and his own the same.
Finally, the mystery consists not in bringing anything from outside to make my condition more comfortable, but in purging out something that is within. Those who are worldly demand what is outside themselves to bring out contentment; Christians know that contentment comes by putting to death the evil desires that lurk within.
As I read this week’s chapter, challenged at each of the seven points (and wishing that I could read it again and again) I realized that this is a book useful for arming me before trials come. Sure, it would be a book to read in the midst of a trial, but even better, I think, it is a book to read in times of peace, in times of relative contentment. Here we can arm ourselves for those tough times, those inevitable tough times, when we will be faced with great discontentment and will have to choose whether we will embrace the circumstances and find joy in them or whether we will become bitter, allowing our circumstances to master us.
What a treasure this book is. And we are only two chapters in.