More Excellencies of Contentment

The following is the next installment in Tim Challies' 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.

Since my overview and commentary were running a bit long, so I've divided Chapter 7 into two posts. Burroughs is here listing the excellencies of the Christian virtue of contentment.

Contentment will bring abundant comforts in a man’s life.
"Contentment will make a man's life exceedingly sweet and comfortable..."

Burroughs gives 3 reasons for this:
  • The Christian is independent of creation for his comfort. Our comfort, as Christians, comes from the God of all comfort, who has an endless supply. God has enough comfort to compensate for any lack of creature comforts, so we need not fear the loss of any earthly thing. (See 2 Cor.1:3-7) “In the multitude of my anxieties within me, Your comforts delight my soul.” Psalm 94:19
  • When a contented believer receives a blessing from God it is sweeter to him than it would be to a discontented person receiving the same thing. Because he received his blessing from God after having already “quieted his spirit,” he is assured that it is a blessing from the loving hand of God. This makes it much sweeter to him than something gained by desperate grasping and clawing.
  • Contentment keeps the comforts in and keeps out whatever would diminish the comfort. Burroughs uses the illustration of a ship’s lantern, which keeps the light in and the wind out to illuminate this rather tricky concept.
    "...when the comfort of a Christian is enlivened with the grace of contentment, it may be kept alight whatever storms or tempests come, still he can keep light in his soul."
    When contentment becomes the normal attitude of your heart, it becomes a barrier for the heart against the evil one’s onslaughts, and against earthly losses. Consider Job’s reaction to the loss of every earthly thing he held dear. First, upon losing his wealth and all his children in a single day, “…Job arose, tore his robe, and shaved his head; and he fell to the ground and worshiped. And he said: “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, And naked shall I return there. The LORD gave, and the LORD hath taken away; Blessed be the name of the LORD.” In all this Job did not sin nor charge God with wrong.” Job 1:20-22 Then, upon losing his health, “…his wife said to him, ‘Do you still hold fast to your integrity? Curse God and die!’ But he said to her, ‘You speak as one of the foolish women speaks. Shall we indeed accept good from God, and shall we not accept adversity?’ In all this Job did not sin with his lips.” ( Job 2:9-12) God had already testified of Job (in 1:8) that there was “none like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man, one who fears God and shuns evil”. His ability to be content with God alone was no doubt a factor in his stellar response to testing. The winds blew on his ship’s lantern, so to speak, but contentment with the purposes of God kept his light from being extinguished.
Contentment draws comfort from those things we do not really possess.

Burroughs uses a story from Plutarch of a conversation between Sineus and Pyrrhus to illustrate his point. Sineus wished for Pyrrhus to stop his warring with the Romans and asked him what he would do once he'd conquered them. Pyrrhus answered that he would then immediately conquer the rest of Italy. At that Sineus wondered what would come next after that, to which Pyrrhus replied that he'd keep conquering till there were none left to conquer, and "We will then be quiet, and take our ease, and have feasts every day, and be as merry with one another as we possibly can." To which Sineus replied, “What prevents us now from being as quiet, and merry together, since we enjoy that immediately without further travel and trouble which we would seek for abroad, with such shedding of blood, and manifest danger? can you not sit down and be merry now?"

"So,"
says Burroughs, "a man may think, if I had such a thing, then I would have another, and if I had that, then I should have more; and what if you had got all you desire? Then you would be content - why? You may be content now without them.....Certainly our contentment does not consist in getting the thing we desire, but in God’s fashioning our spirits to our condition.”

This passage brings to mind a spoiled and stubborn child refusing to be happy about anything because of the one thing he may not have. On Christmas morning he may be surrounded with gifts, yet they will mean nothing to him because they are not the thing he wanted. And that is what we are like when we refuse to be content until we get the next thing on our list, we are stubbornly refusing God, as well as ignoring the many blessings He's already surrounded us with. The truth of the matter is, if we will not be content with what we’ve been given thus far, we won’t be content once we have the next thing we’ve set our heart upon; and there always will be a next thing – because the heart is not set on God for its comfort, and is resisting His great love or us, as seen in the gift of His Son.

What is it that prevents you from being “quiet” and “merry” now? What’s keeping you from being content right now? Listen to your thoughts. Note those that begin with “I’ll be happy when…”, or “I won’t be happy until…”, or, "I can't possibly rest as long as..." Perhaps it's a couple of pounds you'd like to lose, or those wrinkles or gray hairs. Perhaps it's something more serious a painful physical condition, for which there is no help, or a terminal illness for which there is no cure. Perhaps it is your financial situation, unemployment, or a job you dislike. Perhaps its a difficult relation, who you must keep loving despite mistreatment. If you hear yourself saying, "I'll be happy when..." about those things, that is a whisper of discontent from your soul. The truth is, if you can not be content, "quiet", and "merry," now, in the exact circumstances in which you find yourself today, you've no reason to believe you'll be content once you've got those things or those changes you're so set on having. Contentment must come from your heart. It will never come at you from the outside. Seek the grace from God to be content without them – to be content now.

Burroughs gives a list of reasons it is even better to be content to remain as you are than to receive the thing you think you need to be content.
  • Contentment comes directly from the grace of God rather than some created thing.
    “…surely it is better to be content with the grace of God in my soul, than with enjoying an outward comfort?” Such comfort is infinitely sweeter, because it can’t be lost, or taken away, and it provides sweet fellowship with the Father that might otherwise have been missed.

  • Contentment benefits my soul, whereas the thing I’m desiring will only benefit me outwardly.
    Think, for instance, of the story Jesus told of the rich man and Lazarus. Upon their deaths Lazarus was taken into Abraham’s Bosom, and the rich man was taken into Hades where he cried out in his torment. Abraham’s response to the pleas of Lazarus for relief was, “Son, remember that in your lifetime you received your good things, and likewise Lazarus evil things; but now he is comforted and you are tormented.” (Luke 16:25) Or recall the story of the rich fool who laid up for himself so many riches he had to build larger storehouses for his wealth and then said to himself, “'Soul, you have many goods laid up for many years; take your ease, eat, drink, and be merry.' But God said to him, 'Fool! This night your soul well be required of you; then whose will those things be which you have provided?’ So is he who lays up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God.” (Luke 12:19-20) All that man did with his life accomplished nothing for his soul? What would have been beneficial to his soul would have been to be content with a simple life and to use his abundance to lay up for his soul treasures in heaven.

  • Contentment with what God chooses to give comes from love for God, rather than the self-love which I would be gratifying otherwise. As Burroughs says, “…is it not better to be contented out of love to God, than from a principle of self-love?” or as the parable we just read put it, to be “rich toward God”?

  • Contentment from God enables me to be content in all conditions, rather than the kind of contentment that can be gained from acquiring some desired object. “…when I have got this grace of contentment, I am prepared to be contented in all conditions….it is even a Heaven on earth. What is Heaven, but the rest and quiet of a man’s spirit; that is the special thing that makes the life of Heaven, there is rest and joy, and satisfaction in God…. A contented heart is always praising and blessing God.”

    And here Burroughs makes an amazing assertion and gives what is to me one of the most compelling arguments in favor of contentment in the whole book: "You have Heaven while you are on earth when you have a contented spirit; yea, in some regards it is better than Heaven...
"How is that, you will say? There is a kind of honor that God has in it, and an excellence that he does not have in Heaven, and it is this: In Heaven there is no overcoming of temptations. They are not put to any trials by afflictions. In Heaven they have exercise of grace, but they have nothing but encouragement to it, and indeed the grace of those who are there is perfect, and in that they excel us. But there is nothing to cross their grace, they have no trials at all to tempt them to do contrary; whereas for a man or woman to be in the midst of afflictions, temptations and troubles, and yet to have grace exercised, and to be satisfied in God and Christ and in the Word and promises in the midst of all they suffer; this may seem to be an honor that God receives from us, that he does not have from the angels and saints in Heaven. Is it so much for one who is in Heaven, who has nothing but good from God, has nothing to try him, no temptations; is it so much for such a one to be praising and blessing God, as for the poor soul who is in the midst of trials and temptations and afflictions and troubles? For this soul to go on praying, and blessing, and serving God, I say, is an excellence that you do not find in Heaven, and God will not have this kind of glory from you in Heaven. Therefore be contented, and prize this contentment, and be willing to live in this world as long as God shall please. Do not think, Oh, that I were delivered from all these afflictions and troubles here in this world! If you were, then you would have more ease yourself, but this is a way of honoring God, and manifesting the excellence of grace here, when you are in this conflict of temptation, which God shall not have from you in Heaven."
Once again I think of Job, as I have over and over throughout this study. As long as Job was awash in blessings, Satan would not acknowledge that his faith in God was of any consequence. In the same way the children of the devil – the unbelievers in this world- will think our faith in God of no consequence until they see it tested by adversity. Their hearts will say to them, "of course they believe in God, look at them, they’ve got it all! Anyone will follow someone who promises to keep giving them stuff." And so, it is when I suffer adversity and am yet content and full of joy that God is most glorified in my life here in this world.

Contentment is a great blessing of God upon the soul.


“It is the Lord who gives us all things to enjoy; we may have the thing and yet not enjoy it unless God comes in with his blessing. Now whatever you have, you enjoy it; many men have possessions and do not enjoy them.”

The ability to enjoy and be content with what you do have is itself a gift from God. (If you doubt this, ask anyone who’s ever suffered with depression.) Take a moment to think of the many blessings you enjoy in your life and thank God for them. Then go the next step and thank God for the grace He has given you to enable you to recognize these things as blessings and to enjoy them.

"Those who are content may expect reward from God, that God will give them the good of all the things which they are contented to be without."

"...if you do not have the thing itself, you shall have it made up one way or another; you will have a bill of exchange to receive something in lieu of it....You shall have a reward to your soul for whatever good thing you are content to be without."

"And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or lands, for my name's sake will receive a hundredfold and will inherit eternal life." Mt. 19:29

"Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you." 1 Peter 5: 6-7

"By contentment the soul comes to an excellence near to God himself, yea, the nearest possible."

Contentment is a God-like, or "godly" trait. It is a reflection of the divine nature. God is self-sufficient and, for us He is all-sufficient. Just as He is sufficient in Himself, we have all sufficiency in Him and derive our contentment from Him. As A.W. Pink says,

"He is an all-sufficient Being. He is all-sufficient in Himself and to Himself....He created all things, and that for Himself' (Col. 1:16), yet it was not in order to supply a lack, but that He might communicate life and happiness to angels and men, and admit them to the vision of His glory. True, He demands the allegiance and services of His intelligent creatures, yet He derives no benefit from their offices: all the advantage redounds to themselves (Job 22:2). He makes use of means and instruments to accomplish His ends, yet not from a deficiency of power, but oftentimes to more strikingly display His power through the feebleness of the instruments.

The all-sufficiency of God makes Him to be the Supreme Object which is ever to be sought unto. True happiness consists only in the enjoyment of God. His favor is life, and His lovingkindness is better than life. 'The Lord is my portion, sayeth my soul; therefore will I hope in Him; (Lam. 3:24)." ~ The Attributes of God

Or as Burroughs closes this chapter: "Suppose that God should keep you here, and all the creatures that are in the world were taken away, yet you still, having God to be your portion, would be as happy as you are now. Therefore contentment has a great deal of excellence in it."

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