Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Holiness and contentment kiss each other

The following is the next 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 looking over the last part of Chapter One and the first part of Chapter Two I found there were two concepts that I think are altogether the most difficult. But I also I think they are also among the most important for us to grasp. Indeed they contain the key to gaining that one thing that can truly satisfy the godly person’s heart. And so I've decided to single them out for a post of their own.

Difficult Concept 1: Back in Chapter One we learned that the Christian kind of contentment submits to God’s disposal, but not only that, it takes pleasure in God’s disposal, no matter what that may happen to involve. The hard question is: “How can a person find pleasure in God’s dealings when there’s nothing seemingly pleasurable about them at all, or when they are downright and unthinkably painful?

Difficult Concept 2: Here in Chapter Two we are told something very strange: that “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.” Talk about a counter-intuitive statement! But he goes on to explain his meaning: that “the heavier the burden of your sin is to your heart, the lighter will the burden of your affliction be to your heart, and so you shall come to be content.”

Earlier in Chapter 2 we are told,

“A soul that is capable of God can be filled with nothing else but God; nothing but God can fill a soul that is capable of God. Though a gracious heart knows that it is capable of God, and is made for God, carnal hearts think without reference to God. But a gracious heart, being enlarged to be capable of God, and enjoying somewhat of him, can be filled by nothing in the world; it must only be God himself. Therefore you will observe, that whatever God may give to a gracious heart, a heart that is godly, unless he gives himself it will not do.”
In other words, for the Christian, only God will do. Nothing else will bring satisfaction. So then, how can we come to the satisfaction of our heart? How do we gain God? How do we obtain sweet fellowship and satisfying communion with Him? I think that in those two difficult concepts we will find the key to that ultimate one. And, to tie these all together I'd like to look to the Scriptures.

“Therefore we also, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.

“ For consider Him who endured such hostility from sinners against Himself, lest you become weary and discouraged in your souls. You have not yet resisted to bloodshed, striving against sin. And you have forgotten the exhortation which speaks to you as to sons:

“My son, do not despise the chastening of the LORD,
Nor be discouraged when you are rebuked by Him;
For whom the LORD loves He chastens,
And scourges every son whom He receives.”

“If you endure chastening, God deals with you as with sons; for what son is there whom a father does not chasten? But if you are without chastening, of which all have become partakers, then you are illegitimate and not sons. Furthermore, we have had human fathers who corrected us, and we paid them respect. Shall we not much more readily be in subjection to the Father of spirits and live? For they indeed for a few days chastened us as seemed best to them, but He for our profit, that we may partakers of His holiness. Now no chastening seems to be joyful for the present, but painful; nevertheless, afterward it yields the peaceable fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.

“Therefore strengthen the hands which hang down, and the feeble knees, and make straight paths for you feet, so that what is lame may not be dislocated, but rather be healed.

Pursue peace with all people, and holiness, without which no one will see the Lord; looking carefully lest anyone fall short of the grace of God; lest any root of bitterness springing up cause trouble, and by this many become defiled…(Heb. 12: 1-15, emphasis mine)

So now, with Hebrews 12 in mind, I’ll address our questions in reverse order, beginning with,“ How can adding to our burdens the burden of our sin ease our load of discontent?”

Think for a moment of the Beattitudes:

“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” (Mt. 5:3)

It is the spiritually bereft who gain God’s kingdom.

“Blessed are those who mourn, For they shall be comforted.” (Mt. 5:4)

Only when we mourn and grieve over our sin, can we know God’s comfort.

Only when we understand the depth of our depravity, can we really understand and receive the gospel. It is in the darkness of very bad news the light of the gospel shines so gloriously in our hearts. When we recall that we were once objects of God’s righteous fury, and that the only thing which makes us to differ from those who remain under His wrath is His mercy and grace toward us, and that it is only His grace that keeps us from falling and provides for our cleansing day by day, then we are able to face that first difficult question: How do we “submit to, and even take pleasure in, God’s disposal?” Then we are able to see and trust in the goodness of God toward us. We can trust Him as our Father and can begin to not only recognize and accept, but to be thankful for His chastening and correction in our lives.

Notice the emphasis on holiness in Hebrews 12. God's holiness is His highest quality. It is His beauty – and it is the quality that beautifies all His other attributes. His love is holy. His wisdom is holy. His wrath is holy. There is nothing He is or does that is not holy. The beauty of His holiness is what the angels around his throne are captivated by for all eternity. It is the absence of holiness in mankind which has separated us from Him. Yet God has chosen to make foul sinners like us holy! What an amazing gift to want to bestow on us! He wants us to be holy, because He is holy, and we are His. And so it is only right and good that we should “submit to, and even take pleasure in, God's disposal.”


“So we see this great doctrine running right through the Bible. Indeed, all God’s treatment of the Children of Israel under the old dispensation is but an extended commentary on this. It was because they were His people that He did those things unto them. ‘Ye only have I known of all the families of the earth; therefore I will punish you for all your iniquities’ (Amos 3:2). It was because they were His children that He so dealt with them.

“The question that obviously faces us therefore is, what is chastisement, what does it mean? It means to train. The fundamental meaning of the word is just that. It is the training through which a child is put, it is the method of training a child. We rather tend to confuse it with the word punishment. It includes correction, but it also includes instruction; it includes rebuke, indeed it may include a good deal of punishment, but the essential thing is, and the essential object of chastisement is, to train and to develop the child so as to produce a grown person. Well, now, if that is the meaning of chastisement let us consider for a moment the ways in which God does chastise.

“How does God chastise His children? He does so very largely through circumstances, all sorts and kinds of circumstances. Nothing is more important in the Christian life than we should realize that everything that happens to us is of significance if we can but see it. Nothing happens to us accidentally – a sparrow ‘shall not fall to the ground without your Father’, says our Lord, and if that is true of the sparrow how much more so of us? Nothing can happen to us apart from our Father. Circumstances are constantly affecting us and their purpose is to produce our sanctification –pleasant circumstances and unpleasant circumstances. We should, therefore be observant and always watching for lessons, seeking and asking questions.”

And he goes on later to say:

“Can you say that you thank God for things that have gone against you? That is a very good test of our whole profession. Can you see why certain things – things which were unpleasant and which made you feel very unhappy at the time they happened to you- can you look back and say ‘It is good for me that I was afflicted’, like the Psalmist in Psalm 119:71.

“I say then that God chastises for these particular reasons. But let me put it all positively. To be sanctified means that we display certain positive qualities. It is to be the kind of person who is exemplifying the Beatitudes and the Sermon on the Mount in his life, it is to be a person who is showing the fruits of the Spirit –love, joy, peace, etc. Now that is what sanctification means, God, in sanctifying us, is bringing us more and more into conformity with that condition. And it is very clear that in order to bring us there it is not enough that we be given the positive teaching of the Word; the element of chastisement is also necessary. The Word exhorts men to ‘look to Jesus’. You notice that it does so in the chapter before it comes to the chastisement. The author’s exhortation is: ‘Let us run with patience the race that is set before us looking unto Jesus …’. If we did that always nothing else would be necessary; if we always kept our gaze upon Him and tried to conform to Him, all would be well. But we do not, and therefore chastisement becomes necessary. And it is necessary in order to produce certain qualities in us. Here they are. Humility – it is in many ways the crowning virtue. Humility, the most priceless of all the gems, one of the most glorious of all the manifestations of the fruit of the Spirit – humility.….It is the last point at which we arrive, and, God knows, we all have to be humbled in order to arrive at humility. Failure can be very good for us there. It is very difficult to be humble if you are always successful, so God chastises us with failure at times in order to humble us, to keep us in a state of humility. Examine your life and see this kind of thing happening.” Martin Lloyd-Jones, Spiritual Depression

So, having addressed these two difficult questions, I mean now to let Scripture show how these are keys to open the door to our true contentment – God Himself.

“For thus says the High and Lofty One

Who inhabits eternity, whose name is Holy:

I dwell in the high and holy place,

and also with him who has a contrite and humble spirit,

To revive the spirit of the humble,

And to revive the heart of the contrite ones.

For I will not contend forever,

Nor will I always be angry;

For the spirit would fail before Me,

And the souls which I have made

For the iniquity of his covetousness

I was angry and struck him;

And he went on backsliding in

The way of his heart.

I have seen his ways, and will heal him;

I will also lead him,

And restore comforts to him

And to his mourners. ( Isaiah 57:15-17)

Notice the contrast between contrite humility and covetousness. It is clear from this that discontent is a symptom of sinful pride and leads to seperation from God. Christian contentment, on the other hand, stems from a contrite and holy spirit.

“Heaven is My throne, and earth is My footstool.

Where is the house that you will build me?

And where is the place of My rest?

For all those things My hand has made, and all those things exist,”

Says the LORD.

But on this one will I look;

On him who is poor and of a contrite spirit,

And who trembles at My word.” (Isaiah 66: 1-2)

And again:

The righteous cry out, and the LORD hears,

And delivers them out of all their troubles.

The LORD is near to those who have a broken heart.

And saves such as have a contrite spirit.

Many are the afflictions of the righteous,

But the LORD delivers him out of them all.” ( Psalm 34:17-19)


The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit,

a broken and a contrite heart- these, O God, You will not despise.” (Psalm 51: 17)

Think for a moment about the purpose of sacrifice – to enable us to approach God, to give us access to Him. Access to God is hindered by human pride and discontent, but open, through the sacrifice of Christ to those who are so broken that they see Him as their hope and will be content only in Him.

Finally, consider Luke 18: 9-14, the story of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector.

So you see, it is only through constant, humble, acknowledgement of our sin, and of our continual need for ongoing mercy and grace, can we accept with willingness, and even a unique kind of pleasure all that God brings to pass in our lives, even the difficult & unpleasant. And as were persevere we find that His chastisement and training lead us to ever deeper humility, through which we find unhindered access to Him, the only One who can ever satisfy hearts He is fashioning for Himself.

2 comments:

Jessica Watson said...

Laurie,
Taking pleasure in our afflictions is indeed the most difficult concept presented so far in the book. Because of our sinfulness and the ongoing work of sanctification in our souls, affliction is oh, so necessary, and if we would have God, essential. If we view our afflictions as the means to enabling us to have more of God, then they do become a pleasure. Much food for thought.

By the way, I noticed something on your sidebar that brought tears to my eyes, it so spoke to an issue I was dealing with today:"who I am and how I behave in my most difficult relationships, is the most reliable measure of my character." Thank you for the exhortation. Difficult relationships are something we must, by God's grace, learn to be content with as well, not only to submit to, but take pleasure in.

Lisa notes... said...

Laurie,
Wow--you put some great depth into this post and it is definitely worth reading. This book is so full that I'm having a hard time grasping it all. So I like how you zeroed in on two concepts.

And also reminded me that I must read Martin Lloyd-Jones very soon because I see his name popping up in so many places.

Thanks,
Lisa