In the next two chapters Burroughs sets about unpacking what he refers to as “The Mystery of Contentment”. As he says, “to be thoroughly sensible of an affliction and to endeavor to remove it by all lawful means, and yet to be content; there is a mystery in that.”
As I read, I was over and over made aware of how impossible this deep contentment would be apart from the grace of God – and also how positively ludicrous most of these concepts would seem to an unbeliever. Some of the ideas will no doubt seem foreign to our post-modern, easy listening, prosperity minded American evangelical minds. Some of the concepts will rub us the wrong way simply because they reveal our sin, and cause conviction, discomfort, defensiveness, and possibly even anger. I also realized, however, that what I was reading was Scriptural truth which God would have me accept as from the hand of a loving Father, which He is. What follows is a brief overview of Chapter 2, comprised mainly of quotes which I hope will help convey Burroughs' main points. (And in-depth discussion of Point 4 will be comprise a separate post.)
The Mystery of Contentment
"...grace...teaches us how to make a mixture of sorrow and a mixture of joy together; and that makes contentment, the mingling of joy and sorrow, of gracious joy and gracious sorrow together. Grace teaches us how to moderate and to order an affliction so that there shall be a sense of it, and yet for all that contentment under it.”
A Christian is content, yet unsatisfied. “It may be said of one who is contented in a Christian way that he is the most contented man in the world, and yet the most unsatisfied man in the world...those things that will satisfy the world, will not satisfy him.”
“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...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. A godly heart will not only have the mercy, but the God of that mercy as well...”
He comes to contentment by subtraction... “not so much by adding to what he would have, or to what he has, not by adding more to his condition; but rather by subtracting from his desires, so as to make his desires and his circumstances even and equal....If the heart of a man is fashioned to his circumstances, he may have as much contentment as if his circumstances were fashioned to his heart.”
He comes to contentment by adding another burden to himself. “...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.” (I expound upon this point at greater length in a previous post: http://lauriemo.blogspot.com/2009/06/holiness-and-contentment-kiss-each.html)
Now here Burroughs takes a moment to give a bit of, well...unique, marital advice, advice I've never read anywhere else, which I doubt will fail when heeded: “But have you ever tried this way, husband and wife? Have you ever got alone and said, 'Come, Oh let us go and humble our souls before God for our sin, by which we have abused those mercies that God has taken away from us, and we have provoked God against us. Oh let us charge ourselves with our sin, and be humbled before the Lord together.'?” I say, give that one a try next time you find your family grumbling against your circumstances!
He comes to contentment by changing the affliction into something else. “There is a power of grace to turn this affliction into good; it takes away the sting and poison of it...whereas before it was a natural evil to you, it comes now to be turned to a spiritual benefit to you.” (I expound upon this point in a separate post.)
He comes to contentment by doing the work of his circumstances. “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, what is the duty of my present circumstances which I am in?...You should labour to bring your heart to quiet and contentment by setting your soul to work in the duties of your present condition...taking heed of your thoughts about other conditions as mere temptations.”In other words, whatever task that has been assigned to you in life, is your calling for the moment. It it is your ministry and the means by which you are called to glorify God in the here and now. Don't look around wishing a better calling. Be faithful in the one you've been given. Or, as the quaint old saying goes: “Bloom where you are planted.” Remember this, “...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.” (Notice how impossible it would be to be content without believing in the sovereignty of God over all circumstances.)Here I also found consideration of Matthew 25:14-30, and Matthew 6:19-34 helpful.
He comes to contentment by melting his will into God’s will. “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....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...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.'”
He comes to contentment by purging out what is within – not by bringing anything from outside to make his condition more comfortable. “The way to contentment is to purge out your lusts and bitter humours.”