Contentment - Creating light out of darkness

The following is another installment in the series Reading the Classics Together - The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment. I'll try to make each post readable on its own, however I highly encourage your own study of this Puritan classic by Jeremiah Burroughs.

In Chapter Two, Point Four, Burroughs states that one of the ways by which a Christian finds contentment is “not so much the removing of the the changing of the affliction, the metamorphosing of the affliction, so that it is quite turned and changed into something else.” He says, “There is a power of grace to turn this affliction into good; it takes away the sting and poison of it....You do not find one godly man who came out of an affliction worse than when he went into it; though for a while he was shaken, yet at last he was better for an affliction. But a great many godly men, you find, have been worse for their prosperity.” These are certainly points we do well to remember during these tough economic times. The selfsame circumstances that may be a curse to the ungodly can be a blessing to the faithful.

My emphasis in this post, however, is taken from another statement, which Burroughs himself learned from Luther. Here's Luther: “A Christian becomes a mighty worker and a wonderful creator, that is... to create out of heaviness joy, out of terror comfort, out of sin righteousness, and out of death life.” And from this Burroughs goes on to say:

“It was God's prerogative and great power, his creating power to command the light to shine out of darkness. Now a Christian is partaker of the divine nature, so the Scripture says; grace is part of the divine nature, and, being part of the divine nature, it has an impression of God's omnipotent power, that is, to create light out of darkness, to bring good out of evil – by this way a Christian comes to be content. God has given a Christian such power that he can turn afflictions into mercies, can turn darkness into light.”

This is quite a statement, one worth stopping and pondering, first to assure that it is in fact true, and then to take it in.

How can a Christian create light out of darkness?

In a previous post we discussed man’s ultimate purpose, which is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever. We were created in His image, which means, at least in part, we are made to image forth His glory, not unlike how a mirror reflects back the glory of what is seen in it. We saw the evil of the fall wherein we ceased to live for the glory of our Creator. And we also saw that to be a Christian is to have the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. Those who are in Christ will reflect the glory of God in this world, as Christ does.

"But even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing, whose minds the god of this age has blinded, who do not believe, lest the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God, should shine on them. For we do not preach ourselves, but Christ Jesus the Lord, and ourselves your bondservants for Jesus' sake. For it is the God who commanded light to shine out of darkness, who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.
But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellence of the power may be of God and not of us. We are hard-pressed on every side, yet not crushed; we are perplexed, but not in despair; struck down, but not destroyed - always carrying about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus, that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our body. For we who live are always delivered to death for Jesus' sake, that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh.... Therefore we do not lose heart. Even though our outward man is perishing, yet the inward man is being renewed day by day. For out light affliction, which is but for a moment, is working for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory, while we do not look at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen. For the things which are seen are temporary, but the things which are not seen are eternal." 2 Corinthians 4: 3-11, 16-18

What is the treasure referred to in this passage – the one we contain in our “earthy vessels”? What is the light that God has caused to shine in our dark hearts? The treasure and the light refer to the same thing: the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.

Why does God place this treasure in “earthen vessels”? It is so “that the excellence of the power may be of God and not of us”. It is so that the glory is all Gods.

Why is it essential that we carry about the dying of the Lord Jesus in our bodies? So “that the life of Jesus may be manifested in our mortal flesh.”

Now consider Romans 8:10-18
“And if Christ is in you, the body is dead because of sin, but the Spirit is life because of righteousness. But if the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, He who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through His Spirit who dwells in you. Therefore, brethren, we are debtors – not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh. For if you live according to the flesh you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live. For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, these are the sons of God. For you did not receive the spirit of bondage again to fear but you received the Spirit of adoption by whom we cry out, ‘Abba, Father.’ The Spirit Himself bears witness with out spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs – heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ, if indeed we suffer with Him, that we may also be glorified together. For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us.”

(By the way, we hear many things attributed to the leading of the Holy Spirit, but notice here how Scripture tells us we can know we are being led by the Spirit of God – by the desire for holiness - by the putting to death the deeds of the body.)

And now look to Romans 8: 28-38

“And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose. For whom He foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brethren. Moreover whom He predestined, these He also called; whom He called, these He also justified; and whom He justified, these He also glorified. What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how shall He not with Him also freely give us all things? Who shall bring a charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is he who condemns? It is Christ who died, and furthermore is also risen, who is even at the right hand of God, who also makes intercession for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? As it is written:

‘For Your sake we are killed all the day lone;

We are accounted as sheep for the slaughter.’

Yet in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us. For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

From these passages it is clear that part of what it means to “be conformed to the image of His Son” is to suffer with Him. Do you see the pattern throughout these passages that glory comes from suffering, that life comes from dying, and that God calls forth light from darkness?

Consistently throughout Scripture it is the hope and anticipation of this future glory which comforts, encourages, and enables us to bring God glory in our present hardships, and it is the knowledge that God is glorified as we endure graciously which comforts us even further.

Finally, let's look to Romans 5

“Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom also we have access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and rejoice in hope of the glory of God. And not only that, but we also glory in tribulation, knowing that tribulation produces perseverance, and perseverance, character; and character, hope. Now hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit who was given to us. (v. 1-5)

D.A. Carson has this to say about the Romans 5 passage in his book, How Long O Lord:

“The word ‘hope’ does not here suggest mere possibility, but certain prospect: we rejoice in the prospect of one day seeing the glory of God.

So sweeping a vision changes all our priorities. Maximal comfort in this fallen world is now low on the agenda. The real question is how our current circumstances are tied to our faith in Jesus Christ, our peace with God, and our prospect of seeing him. So Paul insists that we rejoice not only in the hope of the glory of God, but ‘we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope”.

Here, then is a philosophy of suffering, a perspective that ties it both to the salvation we now enjoy and to the consummation of that salvation when the glory of God is fully revealed. Like the discipline of physical training, suffering produces perseverance. This is not a universal rule, for suffering can evoke muttering and unbelief. But when suffering is mingled with the faith of verses 1-2, and with delight in being reconciled to God, it then produces perseverance. The staying power of our faith is neither demonstrated nor developed until it is tested by suffering.

But as perseverance mushrooms, ‘character’ is formed. The word ‘character’ suggests ‘provedness,’ the kind of maturity that is attained by being ‘proved’ or ‘tested,’ like a metal refined by fire. And as character or ‘provedness’ is formed, hope blossoms; our anticipation of the glory of God (v.2) is nurtured and strengthened. This ‘ does not disappoint us’, as if it were illusory. Far from it! The object of this hope is certain, and already the hope is reinforced and proves satisfying ‘because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us’. This mention of the Holy Spirit anticipates the full discussion Paul offers in Romans 8. Here he is alluding to a theme he frequently develops: the Holy Spirit is given to the believer as the down payment and guarantee of the full inheritance that will one day be ours. This Holy Spirit is the agent who pours God’s love into our hearts: this is felt Christianity, and Paul elsewhere shows that this experience of the richness of God’s love is an essential part of Christian maturity, something for which to pray (cf. Eph. 3:14-21). Such experience of the love of God is not yet the perfection of the vision of God; but it is fully satisfying, and strengthens hope, and places our sufferings in a light where they make a certain existential ‘sense.’

“There is a certain kind of maturity that can be attained only through the discipline of suffering. ‘During the days of Jesus’ life on earth, he offered up prayers and petitions with loud cries and tears to the one who could save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverent submission. Although he was a son, he learned obedience from what he suffered, and, once made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him’ (Heb 5:7-9). The idea is not that Jesus was disobedient before he suffered, but that in his incarnate state he too had to learn lessons of obedience, levels of obedience, that could only be attained through suffering. In this sense he grew to ‘perfection’; not that he was morally imperfect before his suffering, but that the fullness, the perfection of his identity with the human race and of his human, temporal obedience to his heavenly Father could be attained only through the fires of suffering. This ‘perfection’ he achieved, not only with the result that ‘he became source of eternal salvation for all who obey him,’ but also with the result that he is able ‘to sympathize with our weaknesses’ since he ‘has been tempted in every way, just as we are – yet was without sin’ (Heb. 4:15). If even Jesus ‘learned obedience from what he suffered,’ what ghastly misapprehension is it – or arrogance! That assumes we should be exempt?” (emphasis mine.)

Tribulation is not darkness to the Christian. Grace makes it bright as the light of day in the believer. Troubles are our glory. It is through them that we triumph, and through which Christ is glorified in this dark world. The darker the world, the more hopeless all things look, the brighter the faith and hope of the Christian shine, the more the character of Christ is revealed in him, and the more God is glorified in this world.


Anonymous said…
So true!! I heard again yesterday morning, you and Blake have been through so much in the past several years. It's true, we have. If God had asked me to sign up ahead of time for these struggles, I would have asked to pass; however, we have grown so much in peace, faith, love for the Lord and each other - just to name a few. God is good, and knows exactly what we need even if we don't particularly want it! Contentment for me has come in giving Him sovreignty over my life. Glory!! Deb
Laurie M. said…
You are a bright and shining light in this dark world. And for all your suffering, you are a daily delight to me! Your joy infects me. Your delight and simple trust in the Lord is a balm to my soul - the oil of gladness squeezed out by the pressures God has ordained in your life, to be a comfort to many - me included.

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