Tuesday, July 28, 2009

The Excellence of Contentment - Part 1

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.

The Excellence of Contentment

Chapter Seven washed over me like a cool shower at the end of a long hot day. After all those sometimes difficult lessons on how to be content, I was ready for some refreshment. Here Burroughs seemed to invite us to cease our strivings to stand back for a while and admire this grace of contentment in all its beauty, to look at the glorious fruits of contentment in the lives of who've mastered it. Here we’ll find encouragement, and invigoration to continue our quest.

By contentment we come to give God the worship that is due to him.
"The word that the Greeks have that signifies, 'to worship' is the same as to come and crouch before someone, as if a dog should come crouching to you, and be willing to lie down at your feet. So the creature in the apprehension of its own baseness, and the infinite excellence that is in God above it, when it comes to worship God, comes and crouches to this God, and lies down at the feet of God: then the creature worships God....Now in what disposition of heart do we thus crouch to God more than when we have this state of contentment in all the conditions that God disposes us to?...You worship God more by this than when you come to hear a sermon, or spend half and hour, or an hour, in prayer, or when you come to receive a sacrament...this is the soul's worship, to subject itself thus to God....in active obedience we worship God by doing what pleases God, but by passive obedience we do as well worship God by being pleased with what God does."
Honestly, Burroughs' illustration of a dog before its master has made me cringe a bit every time I've read it. But all it takes is a moment of comparing myself with the Almighty to remember how infinitely higher and wonderful He is in comparison to me, than I am when compared to my dog. My dog and I have this in common: we are both creatures of this same Creator. As a mere creature I really have no right to be offended when put on the same level as another mere creature.

Keeping that in mind, read the familiar story of the faith of a Canaanite woman in Matthew 15:21-28. How much clearer it now seems that Jesus would exclaim of her: "O woman, great is your faith!" The Canaanite woman had the attitude of true worship - the posture of genuine faith. This Gentile woman understood and accepted her position as a dependent creature. She knew she had no special standing before God. She didn’t complain at unfairness that she didn’t get to be born a Jew. She did not argue against the status she found herself in. She acknowledged her unworthy and undeserving status and appealed to God’s unmerited favor. She was content with “crumbs” because she knew it was more than she deserved. She knew she was undeserving of God’s goodness, and at the same time she counted on that very goodness. And to Christ that attitude was evidence of great faith. Another story in Scripture comes to mind which also illustrates that true faith and worship involve the understanding and willing acceptance of our positions as creatures under the authority of our Creator. It is the story of the Centurion in Matthew 8:5-13. Here once again we find Jesus marveling: "Truly, I tell you, with no one in Israel have I found such faith." These two Gentiles understood who God is and who they were, and with this God was pleased.

Reflect for a moment on how a discontented heart affects your worship. What does your discontent reveal about how you really view God? Or to think of it another way, if you were to complain out loud to an unbeliever about all the things with which you are dissatisfied, what would they think your attitude is toward your God? It is hypocritical to claim that God is good, and to claim to love and trust Him, and claim to believe in His sovereignty and then to murmur against Him in discontentment. In Burroughs' words, “God does not regard such worship…”

In contentment there is much exercise of grace

…yea, there is much beauty of grace in contentment.” Beauty holds special meaning for women. I don’t really know why it’s so, but we women love beautiful things and we desire to be beautiful ourselves. I hope my female readers are beginning to see how truly lovely a jewel this contentment is - how beautiful in the sight of God - and to desire to adorn themselves with it. "Do not let your adorning be external - the braiding of hair and the putting on of gold jewelry, or the clothing you wear - but let your adorning be the hidden person of the heart with the imperishable beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which in God's sight is very precious. For this is how the holy women who hoped in God used to adorn themselves, by submitting to their own husbands, as Sarah obeyed Abraham, calling him lord. And you are her children, if you do good and do not fear anything that is frightening." (1 Peter 3:3-6) This is a lovely description of what Christian contentment looks like in the life of a woman.

Next Burroughs lists five components of the exercise of grace in contentment:

1. "Much exercise of grace. There is a compound of grace in contentment: there is faith, and there is humility, and love, and there is patience, and there is wisdom, and there is hope: almost all graces are compounded. It is an oil which has the ingredients of every kind of grace; and therefore, though you cannot see the particular grace, yet in this oil you have it all...this pleases God at the heart to see the graces of his Spirit exercised."

In other words, contentment is like a fantastic gourmet dish made up of various flavorful and subtle ingredients which together combine into something more unique and wonderful to the taste than any one of the ingredients on its own. Though you may not be able to discern each ingredient, the dish would not be complete if any one were left out.

2. "There is a great deal of strength of grace in contentment."
As Burroughs says: "...it is an argument of a gracious magnitude of spirit, that whatsoever befalls it, yet it is not always whining and complaining as others do, but it goes on in its way and course, and blesses God, and keeps in a constant tenor whatever befalls it. Such things as cause others to be dejected and fretted and vexed, and take away all the comfort of their lives make no alteration at all in the spirits of these men and woman." Reflect for a moment on how this Christian strength is distinct from good old-fashioned Stoicism. (My emphasis in bold is a hint.)

3. It is also an argument of a great deal of beauty of grace.
After all these weeks of learning contentment we are probably ready to embrace the truth of Burroughs’ sweeping statement:
“The glory of God appears here more than in any of his works. There is no work which God has made – the sun, moon, stars and all the world – in which so much of the glory of God appears as in a man who lives quietly in the midst of adversity.”
That is a very large assertion. But if it is true, and I believe it is, and it is also true that the chief end of our existence is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever, then we’re beginning to see just how integral contentment is to our very purpose and meaning in life. We cannot fulfill our purpose in life - we cannot glorify God without it. As Burroughs puts it,
"...when a Christian can walk in the midst of fiery trials, without his garments being singed, and has comfort and joy in the midst of everything (when like Paul in the stocks he can sing, which wrought upon the jailor) it will convince men, when they see the power of grace in the midst of afflictions. When they can behave themselves in a gracious and holy manner in such affliction as would make others roar; Oh, this is the glory of a Christian."
"...this is the glory of a Christian." I found myself here pondering that if God is glorified in our response to trials, what glory is being robbed Him by those who preach and believe that God wants us healthy and wealthy and prosperous in every way here in this life?

By contentment the soul is fitted to receive mercy, and to do service.
"...if we would be vessels to receive God's mercy, and would have the Lord pour his mercy into us, we must have quiet, still hearts. We must not have hearts hurrying up and down in trouble, discontent and vexing, but still and quiet hearts, if we receive mercy from the Lord. If a child throws and kicks up and down for a thing, you do not give it him when he cries so, but first you will have the child quiet. Even though, perhaps, you intend him to have what he cries for you will not give it him till he is quiet, and comes, and stands still before you, and is contented without it, and then you will give it hem. And truly so does the Lord deal with us, for our dealings with him are just as your froward children's are with you."
And suddenly new light was shed for me on a passage in James over which I've sometimes puzzled. See if it doesn't do the same for you:

"Count it all joy my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing. If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him. But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind. For that person must not suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord; he is a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways." James 1:2-8.

As contentment makes fit to receive mercy, so fit to do service.

"Oh the quiet fruits of righteousness, the peaceable fruits of righteousness! They indeed prosper and multiply most when they come to be peaceable fruits of righteousness. As the philosophers say of everything that moves, nothing moves but upon something that is immovable. A thing which moves upon the earth, could not move if the earth were not still."
While we might find his reference to the unmoving earth amusing, I think his point is still clear: "...those who have unsteady, disturbed spirits which have no steadfastness at all in them are not fit to do service for God, but such as have steadfastness in their spirits are men and women fit to do any service."

Contentment delivers us from an abundance of temptations.
"The Devil loves to fish in troubled waters....when he sees men and women go up and down discontented, and he can get them alone, then he comes with his temptations: 'Will you suffer such a thing?' he says, 'take this shift, this indirect way, do you not see how poor you are, others are well off, you do not know what to do for the winter, to provide fuel and get bread for you and your children', and so he tempts them to unlawful courses. This is the special disorder that the Devil fastens upon, when he gets men and women to give their souls to him: it is from discontent, that is the ground of all who have been witches..."
I left in that bit about the witches intentionally. We don’t hear much talk of witches in our day and the term may seem antiquated; so as you finish reading think instead of some modern day practitioners: psychics, mediums, channels, astrologers or, readers of tarot cards, tea leaves, etc. Any of these practices would have been included in the category of witchcraft in Burroughs’ time; and if you read with that in mind you will find his words as relevant in our day as they were in his.

"...it is noticeable that those upon whom the Devil works, to make them witches, are usually old and melancholy people, and women especially, and those of the poorer sort who are discontented at home. Their neighbors trouble them and vex them, and their spirits are weak and they cannot bear it, so upon that the Devil fastens his temptations and draws them to anything. If they are poor, then he promises them money..."
Such folk are also easy prey for the false gospel of the health, wealth, and prosperity preachers. These are the folks targeted by unscrupulous television evangelists who promise answers to prayer in exchange for monetary donations.

Further on Burroughs speaks again as though he lived in our own times, with our crumbling economy: “Oh, in such times as these, when men are in danger of the loss of their wealth, I say men who have not got this grace are in a most lamentable condition, they are in more danger for their souls than they are for their outward possessions.” It is as the apostle Paul told young Timothy: "But if we have food and clothing, with these we will be content. But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation, into a snare, into many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils. It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs." 1 Tim. 6:8-10

(Look for the conclusion of this chapter in my next post.)

Monday, July 27, 2009

When Life is Caught in the Act of Rhyming...

On this Saturday evening just past, Paul read me a little story written by one of his literary heroes (to whom he also bears a striking resemblance), Alexander Woollcott. I liked it so well I wanted to share it here.

Reunion in Paris
by Alexander Woollcott

This is a story - a true story - of an adventure which befell Anne Parrish one June day in Paris. I mean the Anne Parrish, the one who wrote the Perennial Bachelor, the maliciously surgical All Kneeling, and that uncomfortably penetrating and richly entertaining novel called Loads of Love. Although she comes of Philadelphia and Delaware people and has used their backgrounds and folkways for her books, she herself grew up out in Colorado Springs and it was not until one summer about ten years ago that she first experienced the enchantment of Paris. It was all new to her - the placid sidewalk cafes, the beckoning bookstalls along the river wall, the breath-taking panorama of the city from the steps of Sacre-coeur, the twisting alleys of the Marais, murmurous with the footfall of two thousand years.

No day was long enough for her. But to her husband Paris was an old story and one Sunday, after they had been to Notre-Dame for Mass, then to the bird-market, all a-twitter in the June sunlight, and finally (with detours to a dozen bookstalls) to the Deux-Magots for lunch, he swore he had seen all of Paris he could bear to see that day. Not one more bookstall, even if there was another only just across the way, all stocked, no doubt, with First Folios of Shakespeare, unrecognized by the witless bookseller, who would part with them at two francs each. Even so, he would sit him down at this table on the quai and take no further needless steps that day. From where he sat, obdurately sipping his fine, he could see her a-prowl on the riverbank, watch her as she hovered over the rows of books. At last he saw her pounce on one, wave it in triumph, haggle with the vendor, and come back with her purchase under her arm.

Just see what she had found for a franc! It was a flat, pallid, dingy English book for children, called Jack Frost and Other Stories. He inspected it without enthusiasm, implying by his manner that, personally, he would rather have had the franc. But she explained that, valueless as this admittedly insipid volume might seem to him, she was delighted to have it because it was a book she had been brought up on in her nursery days and she had not seen a copy since. For her it would provide material for just such a debauch of memory as I myself might enjoy if ever I could come upon a certain dilapidated volume of Chatterbox, from which I was wrenched by a harsh circumstance nearly forty years ago. But he was skeptical. Could she, for instance, recall a single story in the lot? Yes, she could. After a spasm of concentration, she fished up out of her memory the fact that one of the stories concerned a little girl named Dorothy - she could even remember the pen-and-ink illustration - a little girl named Dorothy who did not like her own nose.

This bit of testimony confounded him, for indeed there was such an item in the inane collection. There, you see! While she was basking in this triumph, he turned the dog's-eared pages in quest of further data. There was a moment of silence while her glance drifted along the river to the close-packed green of its islands and the tower beyond. This silence was broken abruptly by his admitting, in a strained voice, that after all he was inclined to think she had known the book in her younger days. He handed it to her, open at the fly-leaf. On the fly-leaf was penciled in an ungainly, childish scrawl: "Anne Parrish, 209 N. Weber Street, Colorado Springs."

Well, that is the story. How and when the book had first passed out of her possession, she could not recall, if indeed she ever knew. She did not remember having seen or thought of it in twenty years. She could only surmise by what seemingly capricious circumstances and against what dismaying, incalculable odds it had made its journey across five thousand miles of land and sea to take up its place on the bank of the Seine and wait there for the right day and hour and moment in June when she would come drifting by and reach out her hand for it.

Surely the finding of it gave her more deeply nourishing pleasure than any collector's item - any mere First Folio, for instance - could possibly have afforded her. Pleasure for her and pleasure, too, I think, for all of us. In fact, what interests me most about this story is a result of my own experience in hearing it and, from time to time, telling it. There is something so curiously tickling, so warming to the foolish heart in the phenomenon we call coincidence that the most indifferent stranger is somehow delighted by Anne Parrish's adventure, delighted and cheered by a strong and probably valid sense of good fortune.

I know that when I myself first heard it, I walked down the street in quite a glow, for all the world as if I had just found a tidy sum on the pavement. I had to keep reminding myself that my affairs were, when examined separately and coldly, in just about as parlous a state as they had been before. If the tidings of so uncommon a coincidence thus have all the tingle of good news, if they come to us with the force of a boon and a benison, it is, I suppose, because they carry with them the reassuring intimation that this is, after all, and ordered universe, that there is, after all, a design to our existence. When we thus catch life in the very act of rhyming, our inordiante pleasure is a measure, perhaps, of how frightened we really are by the mystery of its uncharted seas. At least, I know that when I first heard the tale, I carried it about with me as a talisman, more than half disposed to believe that when the oblivious Anne Parrish crossed the street to that bookstall, somewhere in fathomless space a star chuckled - chuckled and skipped in its course."

When you "catch life in the very act of rhyming" it's time to start looking about for the Poet.

A Godly Discontent

Though Christians are to be marked by their contentedness in all circumstances, they are also be known for a peculiar kind of discontent:
"The child of God will never be content to be the slave of his lower impulses, but will ever strive, and with ultimate success, to live on the plane of his higher endowments. The regenerated soul will never abide the remnants of sin that vex his members, but will have no rest until he eradicates them to the last shred." ~BB Warfield
"Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted. In your struggle against sin you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood." Heb. 12:3-4

Monday Meanderings

Like a girl wandering here and there picking flowers from field and garden, I've been collecting odds and ends in my basket over the last few days to share with my friends. I've enjoyed it so much, I think I may do this every Monday:

Glasgow Museum of Modern Art exhibit welcoming guests to interact with the Bible turns ugly.

For anyone in the process of seriously evaluating the need for health care reform in America, here is an insurance insider perspective that should be taken into careful consideration.

Ever wonder about the eschatology of Islam? Here's a fascinating little overview.

It will take about 3 minutes to hear John Piper describe why the kind of Christian I was until the age of forty is at the heart of what's wrong with evangelicalism in America today. I could add a few points of my own, but his point gets to the ultimate heart of the matter:

And, well, just for fun, how about another version of the Roller Skate song. I've never yet heard a version of this song that hasn't made me smile.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

How Christ Teaches Contentment - Part Two

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.

In Chapter Six we wrap up our these lessons on “How Christ Teaches Contentment.” But before we move on to the final three points, I'd like to make a quick review of Christ’s lesson plan so far:

  1. The lesson of self-denial: that we are nothing, deserve nothing, can do nothing, cannot even receive any good because of our vileness, can make use of nothing when we have it, are worse than nothing, and will be no loss if we perish. AND it is by realizing all of the above that our souls come to rejoice and take satisfaction in all of God’s ways.

  2. The vanity of the creature: that if we look for contentment in the creature we will fail.

  3. To know the one thing needful: that it is necessary to have peace with God,to have pardon of sin, to have God as our portion, that our souls should be saved on the day of Jesus Christ.

  4. To know one’s relation to the world: that we are mere strangers and pilgrims traveling to another home – a glorious destination.

  5. To know wherein the good of the creature is: that it points us to God, and insofar as we can enjoy God in it, it is good.

  6. The knowledge of one’s own heart: so that we can quickly discover the root of any discontent, and thereby know how to quiet ourselves; so that we can come to know what is best for us, and know what we would best do without.

And now I'll move on to the remaining lessons need to learn in Christ’s school of contentment, which are:

  • The burden of a prosperous condition
  • The evil of being given up to one’s heart’s desires
  • The right knowledge of God’s providence

7. "The burden of a prosperous outward condition"

“Men in a prosperous position are in a great deal of danger…prosperity invites the Devil and temptation. Men in a prosperous position are subject to many temptations that other men are not subject to.”

"Now there is great gain in godliness with contentment, for we brought nothing into the world, and we cannot take anything out of the world. But if we have food and clothing, with these we will be content. But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation, into a snare, into many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils. It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs. But as for you, O man of God, flee these things. Pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, steadfastness, gentleness." 1 Timothy 6: 6-11

Ponder for a moment the people in your acquaintance who are more wealthy than you. Consider their particular troubles and how many of them are a result of their wealth or the power or influence or status they have as a result of their wealth. Think also of the lives of the countless famous people we cannot help being aware of, and the troubles in their lives that are due largely to their wealth and fame. Do you think their wealth and fame are really worth the pain they bring?

"Jesus...said, 'How difficult it is for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God! For it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God." Luke 18: 24-25 (See also Luke 12:13-21)

According to Burroughs, the burdens of outward prosperity are fourfold:
  • trouble: "A rose has its prickles, and the Scripture says that he that will be rich pierceth himself through with many sorrows" (1 Tim. 6:10)
  • danger: "Men in prosperous position are in a great deal of danger...Honey, we know, invites bees and wasps to it, and the sweet of prosperity invites the Devil and temptation."
  • duty: "God requires more duty of those who have greater wealth than of you who have not such wealth." (Luke 16:1-17)
  • account: "You think of princes and kings - Oh, what a glorious position they are in! But what do you think of a king who has to give account for the disorder and wickedness in a kingdom which he might possibly have prevented? What an abundance of glory might a prince bring to God if he bent his soul and all his thoughts to lift up the name of God in his kingdom! Now what God loses through the lack of this, that king, prince or governor must give an account for." (Luke 19: 11-27)
Every one reading this right now is, percentage-wise, among the wealthiest people in the world. We have access to electricity, computers, and internet service. Beyond that, we have many articles of clothing, for many kinds of weather. We have homes with roofs, walls, and indoor plumbing. We have food aplenty - even food enough to be able to take in animals as pets (instead of butchering them for food). We have far more than mere food and clothing, with which the apostle has told Timothy to be content. So I have to ask, “Why are we so often dissatisfied?
Considering the burdens, risks, and biblical warning associated with wealth, why would we as Christians seek it? I think if we truly take this to heart we will do as Paul commanded Timothy and "flee these things" as we would a poisonous snake, or a murderer.

8. The evil of being given up to one’s heart’s desires:

"It is indeed a dreadful evil, one of the most hideous and fearful evils that can befall any man on the face of the earth, for God to give him up to his heart's desires."

“There is nothing that God conveys his wrath more through than a prosperous condition...The Lord conveys the plague of his curse through prosperity, as much as through any thing in the world.”

(See Psalm 81: 11-12, Rom. 1: 18-32, Rom. 2:3-5 and Heb. 12: 1-11)

Since a prosperous, un-afflicted condition can sometimes be an evidence of God's wrath rather than His favor, we can find contentment in our difficult circumstances:

"The Lord has inflicted external judgments, but he has not inflicted spiritual judgments on you, he has not given you up to hardness of heart, and taken away the spirit of prayer from you in your afflicted condition. Oh, then, be of good comfort through you have outward afflictions upon you; still your soul, your more excellent part is not afflicted."

9. "The right knowledge of God’s providence"

Since this final lesson is, I think, one of the most foundational of all, I'm going to donate a little extra space to it. Burroughs makes four points about the nature of God’s providence which will greatly help us on the road to contentment:

  • It is universal (Isaiah 40: 21-31; Luke 12: 22-34)
    "...the providence of God goes through the whole world and extends itself to everything. Not only that God by his providence rules the world, and governs all things in general, but that it reaches to every detail; not only to order the great affairs of kingdoms, but it reaches to every man's family; it reaches to every person in the family; it reaches to every condition; yea, to every happening, to everything that falls out concerning you in every particular...Nothing befalls you, good or evil, bu ther is a providence of the infinite eternal first Being in that thing..."
  • It is efficacious (Isaiah 46:9-11; Ps. 33: 10-11; Ps. 115:3; Luke 12:25)
    "...the providence of God goes on in all things, with strength and power, and will not to be altered by our power. Suppose we are discontented and vexed and troubled, and we fret and rage, yet we need not think we will alter the course of providence by our discontent."
  • It is orderly in its infinite variety (Heb. 1:3; Col. 1:15-17)
    "God in his providence causes a thousand thousand things to depend one upon another. There are an infinite number of wheels, as I may say, in the works of providence; put together all the works that ever God did from all eternity or ever will do, and they all make up but one work, and they have been as several wheels that have had their orderly motion to attain the end that God from all eternity has appointed...when a certain passage of providence befalls me that is one wheel, and it may be that if this wheel were stopped a thousand other things might come to be stopped by this...it is possible that a thousand things may depend upon that one thing that you would fain have otherwise than it is...if you have a love and friendship to God, be willing to be crossed in a few things that the Lord may have his work go on in general, in a thousand other things."
    In other words, everything that comes to pass in our lives is part of God's great plan which will culminate in His glory. If we love God and are devoted to the glory of His name, we can take great comfort in this.
  • It is special as it pertains to His people – God has an ordinary way of dealing with His people. If we have an understanding of God's general ways in dealing with us, the circumstances we encounter will not seem quite so strange and we can accustom ourselves to them and find contentment.
  1. God’s ordinary course is that his people in this world should be in an afflicted condition. (See 1 Peter 4:12-14 and Heb. 12: 3-11; Heb. 13:13; John 15:18-21)) It is a great comfort to know, when things are difficult, that it is God’s will that it be so, and that He means it for our good and His glory.
    “For to this you were called, because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that you should follow His steps: ‘Who committed no sin, Nor was deceit found in His mouth’; who, when He was reviled, did not revile in return; when He suffered, He did not threaten, but committed Himself to Him who judges Righteously; who Himself bore our sins in His won body on the tree, that we, having died to sins, might live for righteousness…” Peter 2:21-24
    "God by his eternal counsels has set this as his course and way, to bring up his people in this world in an afflicted condition."
  1. Usually when God intends the greatest mercy to any of his people he brings them into the lowest condition.

    “Usually the people of God, before the greatest comforts, have the greatest afflictions and sorrows....God dealt this way with his Son: Christ himself went into glory by suffering (Hebrews 2.10); and if God so deals with his own Son, much more with his people."

  1. "It is the way of God to work by contraries, to turn the greatest evil into the greatest good."

    “It is the way of God to bring all good out of evil, not only to overcome the evil, but to make the evil work toward the good...God when he will bring life, brings it out of death, he brings joy out of sorrow, and he brings prosperity out of adversity, yea and many times brings grace out of sin, that is, makes use of sin to work furtherance of grace. It is the way of God to bring all good out of evil, not only to overcome the evil, but to make the evil work toward the good."

God chose to use the fall of mankind for the display of His magnificent sacrificial love & grace.

God used the sin of Joseph’s brothers to bring about their salvation from famine.

God used the slavery of His people to bring judgement on the heads of their captors.

God used David’s adultery to bring forth a Messiah.

God chose to take from a rebellious sinful world a bride for His Son.

God used the sins of Jews and Gentiles alike to bring about the death of the Messiah.

God used the death of the Messiah to save Jews and Gentiles alike.

God uses our sufferings to form the character of Christ in us.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Contentment comes to travelers

"In A Preface to Christian Theology, John Mackay illustrated two kinds of interest in Christian things by picturing persons sitting on the high front balcony of a Spanish house watching travelers go by on the road below. The 'balconeers' can overhear the travelers' talk and chat with them; they may comment critically on the way that the travelers walk; or they may discuss questions about the road, how it can exist at all or lead any where, what might be seen from different points along it, and so forth; but they are onlookers, and their problems are theoretical only. The travelers by contrast face problems which though they have their theoretical angle, are essentially practical - problems of the 'which-way-to-go' and 'how-to-make-it' type, problems which call not merely for comprehension but for decision and action too.

"Balconeers and travelers may think over the same area, yet their problems differ. Thus (for instance) in relation to evil, the balconeer's problem is to find a theoretical explanation of how evil can consist with God's sovereignty and goodness, but the traveler's problem is how to master evil and bring good out of it. Or again, in relation to sin, the balconeer asks whether racial sinfulness and personal perversity are really credible, while the traveler, knowing sin from within, asks what hope there is of deliverance...." J.I. Packer, 1973 Preface to Knowing God

If you are a regular reader of this blog you know that I've undertaken a lengthy series of posts on the subject of Christian contentment using the Puritan Classic, The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment as my text. In Chapter Five, author Jeremiah Burroughs states that "to know one’s relation to the world" is a necessary part of Christian contentment:

....While I live in the world my condition is to be but a pilgrim, a stranger, a traveller, and a soldier...God has set me in this world,not as in my home but as a mere stranger and a pilgrim who is travelling to another h0me, and that I am here a soldier in my warfare. I say, a right understanding of this is a mighty help to contentment in whatever befalls one."

"Thus it should be with us in this world, for the truth is, we are all in this world but as seafaring men, tossed up and down on the waves of the sea of this world, and our haven is Heaven: here we are travelling, and our home is a distant home in another world....I am a traveller and I must not be finding fault. I am in another man's house, and it would be bad manners to find fault in someone else's house, even though things are not as much to my liking as at home...We are going away to another country; you are, as it were, only lodging here, for a night. If you were to live a hundred years, in comparison to eternity it is not as much as a nigh, it is as though you were travelling, and had come to an inn. And what madness is it for a man to be discontented because he has not got what he sees there, seeing he may be going away again within less than a quarter of an hour?"

And so I'll say what Packer says about his classic Knowing God is also true of The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment:
"Now this is a book for travelers, and it is with travelers' questions that it deals."
If you are not a traveler Burroughs' text is not for you. If you are not a traveler, Christian contentment is impossible for you. You must be a traveler and remember at all times that you are one or you will never be content in your circumstances. Abraham, the father of the faithful, was the original traveler:
"By faith Abraham obeyed when he as called to go out to a place that he was to receive as an inheritance. And when he went out, not knowing where he was going. By faith he went to live in the land of promise, as in a foreign land, living in tents with Isaac and Jacob, heirs with him of the same promise. For he was looking forward to the city that has foundations, whose designer and builder is God....These all died in faith, not having received the things promised, but having seen them and greeted them from afar, and having acknowledged that they were strangers and exiles on the earth. For people who speak thus make it clear that they are seeking a homeland. If they had been thinking of that land from which they had gone out, they would have had opportunity to return. But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, an heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared for them a city." ( Heb. 11:8-10, 13- 16)
His travel was not led on by restless wanderlust, but by the call of God, and it led him to a life of contentment and obedience even when appearances and circumstances seemed designed to lead him to believe that God's promises were not only not being fulfilled, but were being withdrawn (see Gen. 22:2). If he had not desired "a better country, that is, an heavenly one" he would certainly have grown discontent with the demands of his traveling life and gone back to that land from which he had gone out.

That was exactly what the Israelites longed to do as they wandered in the wilderness. They preferred a return to Egypt, the land of their slavery, to facing what seemed like an uncertain future only because they would not believe the promises of God. If they'd believed God, they would have been content with His provision in their wilderness wanderings and would have comforted themselves with joyful anticipation of the Promised Land. God certainly had shown Himself able to do wondrous things on their behalf. And so, because of their ongoing unbelief and distrust of the God who had miraculously delivered them, they grumbled and complained about their status as wanderers. Rather than celebrating their freedom from slavery, relishing the ongoing and visible presence of God in their midst, and rejoicing that they were on the path to a glorious future, they wanted the small and immediate comforts of life. They wanted what they wanted today and were not content to do without some small comforts now in exchange for a magnificent future. And because of their unbelief and complaining, God was rightly angry. (See Heb. 3: 7-15.)

And so, if we are not content to live this life as pilgrims, we will not be content at all. If we cannot live for the joy that has been set before us, we can never be truly happy in this life. If we will not be content as travelers, we can never live the life of godliness we have been called to.
"For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age, waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works." Titus 2:11-14

"Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul." 1 Peter 2:11

"So Jesus also suffered outside the gate in order to sanctify the people through his own blood. Therefore let us go to him outside the camp and bear the reproach he endured. For here we have no lasting city, but wee seek the city that is to come." Heb. 13:12-14
For the Israelites God painted a beautiful picture of the land to which He would lead them. It would be a land flowing with milk and honey, a mountain where God Himself would make His abode and reign forever. (Ex. 15:17,18) Those promises were meant to carry the faithful through hardship; and those promises did carry the faithful through, though there were but a remnant of the people saved (see Rom. 11:1-5).

God's promises are still meant to carry His people through. Only now we have even greater promises, we have a New Covenant which does not depend upon our obedience to the Law for its accomplishment, we have a much richer understanding of God's character and purposes, and we have the promise of eternal life in an eternal city, where war, weeping, sickness, and dying are no more, and where we will not only see Christ in His glory but become like Him ourselves (1 John 2,3). The promises of our homeland are too numerous in Scripture to list here, but suffice it to say that we have even less excuse than did the Israelites in the wilderness when we find ourselves grumbling in discontent against our circumstances. So let us look to these promises of our future home, the country of our true and lasting citizenship, and may they bring us contentment with our temporary struggles (and they are all temporary), and victory in our ongoing battle against sin, because footholds are difficult for sin to find in the heart of a contented soul.
“Let the aim of believers in judging mortal life, then, be that while they understand it to be of itself nothing but misery, they may with greater eagerness and dispatch betake themselves to meditate upon that eternal life to come. When it comes to a comparison with the life to come, the present life can not only be safely neglected but, compared to the former, must be utterly despised and loathed. For, if heaven is our homeland, what else is the earth but our place of exile? If departure from the world is entry into life, what else is the world but a sepulcher? And what else is it for us to remain in life but to be immersed in death? If to be freed from the body is to be released into perfect freedom, what else is the body but a prison? If to enjoy the presence of God is the summit of happiness, is not to be without this, misery? But until we leave the world ‘we are away from the Lord’ (2 Cor. 5:6). Therefore, if the earthly life be compared with the heavenly, it is doubtless to be at once despised and trampled under foot….For it is like a sentry post at which the Lord has posted us, which we must hold until he recalls us.” John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion; Book III, Ch. IX, 4.
So let us continue as long as we live to compare this earthly life with the heavenly and so come to expect less from it and be content with what we have. Let us spend our lives as travelers finding strength from thoughts of our Promised Land:

"Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me. In my Father's house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also." John 14:1-3

"Father, I desire that they also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory that you have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world." John 17:24-25

"For this we declare to you by a word from the Lord, that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will not precede those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of and archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord. Therefore encourage one another with these words." 1 Thessalonians 4: 15-18

"Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passes away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, "Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away."

And he who was seated on the throne said, 'Behold, I am making all things new.' Also he said, 'Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.' And he said to me, 'It is done1 I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. To the thirsty I will give from the spring of the water of life without payment. The one who conquers will have this heritage, and I will be his God and he will be my son. But as for the cowardly, the faithless, the detestable, as for murderers, the sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars, their portion will be in the lake that burns with fire and sulfur, which is the second death." Rev. 21: 1-9

May thoughts of Heaven beautify your life on earth for as long as you sojourn here.

Smile! It's Monday!

I'm working on another Contentment post, which should be up later in the day. (If you're discontent with my steady stream of posts on contentment...well, it just proves how much you need to read them!) In the meantime, here's something to put a smile on your face:

Thanks to my dear Paul for giving me a smile this Monday.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Contentment and Self-denial

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.

In the first part of his chapter "How Christ Teaches Contentment", Burroughs begins listing a series of lessons Christ teaches His people in order to teach them contentment. The first of these lessons is "the lesson of self-denial." And since our author admits "it is a hard lesson" and I agree; and also says that
“Whoever has not learned the lesson of the cross, has not learned his ABC in Christianity”, and then insists this, the strongest statement of all: " ...if you mean to be Christians at all you must buckle to this or you can never be Christians." I thought it was time to put on the brakes and look into this matter more carefully. He's not saying you can't be content unless you deny yourself - he's saying you can not even be a Christian unless you do! According to Jeremiah Burroughs you cannot be a Christian at all if you do not deny yourself! You cannot just have Jesus as your Savior; He must be your Lord too, or you are not a Christian. Stop and let that sink in.

It is never a good idea to just let such statements float past us, or, on the other hand, to swallow them unquestioningly. Where does Burroughs get such ideas? What gives him the right to make such harsh statements? Is what he says even scriptural? Is he accurately representing the heart of the gospel in saying such things?
There's only one way to find out. We must turn to Scripture.

First let's listen to Jesus Himself explaining what being a Christian will require of us:
“Do not think that I came to bring peace on earth. I did not come to bring peace but a sword. For I have come to ‘set a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law’; and ‘a man’s enemies will be those of his own household.’ He who loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me. And he who loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me. And he who does not take his cross and follow after Me is not worthy of Me. He who finds his life will lose it, and he who loses his life for My sake will find it.” Matthew 10: 34-39

And again:

“From that time Jesus began to show to His disciples that He must go to Jerusalem, and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and be raised the third day. Then Peter took Him aside and began to rebuke Him, saying, ‘Far be it from You, Lord; this shall not happen to You!’ But He turned and said to Peter, ‘Get behind Me, Satan! You are an offense to Me, for you are not mindful of the things of God, but the things of men.’ Then Jesus said to His disciples, ‘If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me. For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it. For what profit is it to a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul? Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul?” Matthew 16:21-26

And again:

“Now great multitudes went with Him. And He turned and said to them, ‘If anyone comes to Me and does not hate his father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and his own life also, he cannot be My disciple. And whoever does not bear his cross and come after Me cannot be My disciple. For which of you, intending to build a tower, does not sit down first and count the cost, whether he has enough to finish it – lest, after he has laid the foundation, and is not able to finish, all who see it begin to mock him, saying, ‘This man began to build and was not able to finish.’ Or what king, going to make war against another king does not sit down first and consider whether he is able with ten thousand to meet him who comes against him with twenty thousand? Or else, while the other is still a great way off, he sends a delegation and asks conditions of peace. So likewise, whoever of you does not forsake all that he has cannot be My disciple. ‘Salt is good; but if the salt has lost its flavor, how shall it be seasoned? It is neither fit for the land nor for the dunghill, but men throw it out. He who has ears to hear, let him hear!” Luke 14:25-34

(Take note of that last statement about salt with no flavor being useless. Salt with no saltiness is not salt at all. It is useless. The implication is that a person claiming to be a disciple, but who has not forsaken all that he has, is useless.)

Indeed Christ's words were even harder than Burroughs'. What are we to make of this talk about hating people? (I think it a good idea to clear that up before we move on!) I found J.M. Boice very helpful in explaining this:

“We recognize that there is a certain amount of Semitic hyperbole in these statements. The One who told us to love each other is not advocating that we cultivate a literal animosity toward the members of our own family. Moreover, this is only one side of the story. Jesus also said, ‘There is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or lands, for my sake and for the gospel, who will not receive a hundred-fold now in this time, houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, with persecutions, and in the age to come eternal life.’ (Mk. 10:29-30). But even this is to be with persecutions, and it does not eliminate the elements of death and denial.

We do not work ourselves up to death and denial, however. Rather, we need them before we can start out at all. Paul shows this by introducing self-sacrifice as the initial principle of the Christian life in his most formal treatment of that life. ’I appeal to you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship’ (Rom. 12:1).”

And further:

Self-denial should not be difficult for any Christian to understand for this is what it means to become a Christian. It means to have turned your back on any attempt to please God through your own human abilities and efforts, and instead to have accepted by faith what God has done in Christ for your salvation. No one can save himself or herself. So we stop trying. We die to our efforts. We must say no to them. When we have done this, we receive God’s salvation as a free gift. Living the Christian life is, therefore, only a matter of continuing in the way we have started. Yet this is difficult to apply. This principle is so uncongenial that even Christians quickly forget it and try to live by other standards.

It can hardly be otherwise, given our own natural dispositions and the culture in which we live. (Now he quotes Francis A. Schaeffer.) ‘We are surrounded by a world that says No to nothing. When we are surrounded with this sort of mentality, in which everything is judged by bigness and by success, then suddenly to be told that in the Christian life there is to be this strong negative aspect of saying No to things and No to self, must seem hard. And if it does not feel hard to us, we are not really letting it speak to us.’” J.M. Boice, Foundations of the Christian Faith

So, with all that explained we can turn back to our book, and our discussion of it. Yes, these statements are strong, and they are meant to be. The Christian life is serious business. It’s life and death business. We must be willing to give up this life, and everything in it, to gain the life to come. And if we don’t, in the end we will lose both. Christ is saying that He must be everything to us – that He must be enough for us. We must be satisfied with Him. This is the essence of what it means to be a Christian.

It is now becoming much clearer why contentment is so essential to godliness.

"Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God. But exhort one another every day as long as it is called 'today,' that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. For we have come to share in Christ. If indeed we hold our original confidence firm to the end. As it is said, 'Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden you hearts as in the rebellion.' For who were those who heard and yet rebelled? Was it not all those who left Egypt led by Moses? And with whom was he provoked for forty years? Was it not with those who sinned, whose bodies fell in the wilderness? And to whom did he swear that they would not enter his rest, but to those who were disobedient? Who we see that they were unable to enter because of unbelief." (Heb. 3:12-19)

So, what was the sin that kept the Israelites from entering God's rest? Unbelief. And do you remember how that unbelief manifested itself in the lives of those people? What behavior was it that so provoked God against them? It was their grumbling and complaining against the difficulties of their circumstances in spite of God's promises to provide for them and the great miracles he had performed in delivering them (Num. 11:1-3; Num. 14:1-12). Listen to what God had to say about their behavior:

"And the LORD spoke to Moses and Aaron, saying, 'How long shall this wicked congregation grumble against me? I have heard the grumblings of the people of Israel, which they grumble against me. Say to them, 'As I live, declares the LORD, what you have said in my hearing I will do to you: your dead bodies shall fall in this wilderness..."(Num. 14:26-29)
The complaining and grumbling which come from discontented hearts are a testimony to unbelief and not to be treated lightly. We must take discontent seriously. If it characterizes who we are, we may not be even be Christians. But for even for those who are Christians, it must be dealt with as a most serious sin, and viewed as a sign of a deeper spiritual problem.

And so, rather than grumbling at difficult circumstances, the self-denying, believing, soul looks at life this way:

“O Lord, you know what is the better way; let this or that be done as you shall please. Give what you will, and how much you will, and when you will. Do with me as you know, and as best pleases you, and is most for your honor. Set me where you will, and deal with me in all things just as you will….When could it be ill with me, when you are present? I had rather be poor for you, than rich without you. I rather choose to be a pilgrim on earth with you, than without you to posses heaven. Where you are, there is heaven; and where you are not, there is death and hell.” Thomas a Kempis, The Imitation of Christ

The Christian finds joy and contentment in seeing God glorified, regardless of what loss or difficulty or pain that may require of him. In fact true Christians can even find comfort in the very fact that they are suffering difficulties, seeing it as another example of God's care for them:

"And have you forgotten the exhortation that addresses you as sons?
'My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord,
nor be weary when reproved by him.
For the Lord disciplines the one he loves,
and chastises every son whom he receives.'
It is for discipline that you have to endure. God is treating you as sons. For what son is there whom his father does not discipline. If you are left without discipline, in which all have participated, then you are illegitimate children and not sons...he disciplines us for our good, that we may share his holiness. For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it." (Heb. 12: 5-8, 10-11)

Yesterday I finished reading a work called "The Sovereignty and Goodness of God." It is the autobiographical account of the kidnap and captivity of Puritan Mary Rowlandson by Native Americans in New England in February of 1676. Her ordeal began with a massacre in which about 13 English people were murdered, among them her sister and sister's children, and from which she and her own three children were taken hostage. (Her husband had been away in another town.) She and her daughter had been shot, and the child later died in her arms. Her other two children had been parcelled out among the Indians and taken she knew not where. Eleven weeks later she was ransomed and a few weeks after that, so were her surviving children.

I will let her closing words close today's discussion on contentment and self-denial. See if she doesn't, after all she endured, testify to the truth of Burroughs' assertion that: “A gracious heart says, God’s ends are my ends and I have denied my own ends; so he comes to find contentment in all God’s ends and ways, and his comforts are multiplied.”

"Before I knew what affliction meant, I was ready sometimes to wish for it. When I lived in prosperity, having the comforts of the World about me, my heart chearfull: and taking little care for any thing; and yet seeing many, whom I preferred before my self, under many tryals and afflictions, in sickness, weakness, poverty, losses, crosses, and cares of the World, I should be sometimes jealous least I should have my portion in this life, and that Scripture would come to my mind, Heb. 12.6. For whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth, and scourgeth every Son whom he receiveth. But now I see the Lord had his time to scourge and chasten me. The portion of some is to have their affictions by drops, now one drop and then another; but the dregs of the Cup, the Wine of astonishment: like a sweeping rain that leaveth no food, did the Lord prepare to be my portion. Affliction I wanted, and affliction I had, full measure (I thought) pressed down and running over; yet I see, when God calls a Person to any thing, and through never so many difficulties, yet he is fully able to carry them through and make them see, and say they have been gainers thereby. And I hope I can say in some measure, As David did, It is good for me that I have been afflicted (Ps. 119:71). The Lord had shewed me the vanity of these outward things. That they are the Vanity of vanities, and vexation of spirit (Ecc. 1:2,14); that they are but a shadow, a blast, a bubble, and things of no continuance. That we must rely on God himself, and our whole dependance must be upon him. If trouble from smaller matters begin to arise in me, I have something at hand to check my self with, and say, why am I troubled? It was but the other day that if I had had the world, I would have given it for my freedom, or to have been a Servant to a Christian. [She had been sold as a slave among the Indians.] I have learned to look beyond present and smaller troubles, and to be quieted under them as Moses said, Exod. 14.3. Stand still and see the Salvation of the Lord." (All empasis in italics and odd spellings in the original. Explanation in brackets mine.)

Some Science for Saturday

Watch and be amazed at a part of the process of human vision you have likely never considered before, and which science has yet to figure out.

(ht to: NPR's Talk of the Nation & Science Friday)

Friday, July 17, 2009

A quick thought...

"Is it not far easier to be an earnest Christian if you confine your attention to the Bible and not risk being led astray by the thought of the world? Shut yourself up in an intellectual monastery, you will find it easier to be a Christian, just as it is easier to be a good soldier in comfortable winter quarters than it is on a field of battle. You save yourself - but the Lords enemies remain in possession of the field." - J. Gresham Machen

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

The Rare Jewel - Chapter Five

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.

How Christ Teaches Contentment

You may have thought we'd already made a lot of progress in this business of Christan contentment by now (and I think we have!), but according to Burroughs we are just now, here in Chapter Five beginning our lessons. This is where some difficult lessons begin. We've up till now just installed the new tires, but this is where the rubber starts meeting the road. If I’m any indicator, this is where things start hitting pretty close to home. If you're feeling convicted, like you’ve got a lot more work to do than you ever anticipated, you’re not alone.

Just as anyone in this life who has ever become a great scholar began first with his alphabet and worked up from there, so...
"...a Christian coming to contentment is as a scholar in Christ's school, and there are many lessons to teach the soul to bring it to this learning; every godly man or woman is a scholar. It cannot be said of any Christian that he is illiterate, but he is literate, a learned man, a learned woman. Now the lessons that Christ teaches to bring us to contentment are these..."
According to Burroughs, these are just the ABC’s of Christian living and contentment, only the start. We well begin here laying a foundation for all other godliness. If we try to build a “Christian” life without this foundation, it will not stand. (Remember, godliness is gain if it is with contentment. 1 Tim. 6:6) This is seriously humbling stuff.

I.The Lesson of Self-denial

“This is where Christ begins with his scholars, and those in the lowest form must begin with this; if you mean to be Christians at all, you must buckle to this or you can never be Christians.”
Mr. Burroughs is referring to the saying of a martyr that “Whoever has not learned the lesson of the cross, has not learned his ABC in Christianity”.

This is a very strong statement. We don’t hear much of this kind of talk from modern pulpits. But is it true? Does it accurately represent the heart of Christ in the matter? Read the following Scriptures and see what you think: Matthew 10: 34-39; Matthew 16:21-26; Luke 9:23-26; Luke 14:25-34

Now Burroughs begins with a list of outlooks a self-denying (Christian) person has toward his life which ultimately result in his contentment:

1. "Such a person learns to know that he is nothing. This should serve to remind us that all we receive is of grace."
(Rom. 7:18; John 15:5)

When we know we are deserving of nothing, and have no value in and of ourselves, we recognize grace when we see it and rejoice in it for the free gift that it is. That grace is then sufficient for us so that we no longer put our hopes in expectations for this life which lead to disappointment.
"That man or woman who indeed knows that he or she is nothing, and has learned it thoroughly will be able to bear anything."

2. "Such a person knows that he deserves nothing…except it be hell. "
(See Romans 6: 23 & Luke 17: 7-10)

If we could but remember this one thing, and keep it before our eyes in this day and age of entitlement, we would already have come far toward contentment and being salt and light to a dark and corrupt world. This kind of thinking is exactly opposed to what the world is telling us.

Just think of all the things we tend to think we “should have,” things that when we are forced to do without bring discontent. Think of all the things we actually think we have a “right” to be disgruntled about. Think, if you will, of things beyond the flat-screen TV’s to things more basic like a good night's sleep, health insurance, employment suited to one's level of education, freedom of speech, freedom to worship, indoor plumbing and clean water, polite treatment, good service, freedom from physical pain, reliable transportation, air conditioning, heating. May the Lord bring these things to which we feel entitled to our attention so we can, instead of feeling entitled to them, be deeply thankful for them. Every one of these things is a mercy to us who by our sin have earned death. (Rom. 6:23)

3. “I can do nothing.”
"Do but consider of what use you are in the world, and if you consider what little need God has of you, and what little use you are, you will not be much discontented...though God cuts you short of certain comforts, yet you will say, 'Since I do but little, why should I have much.'"
This section brought to my mind God’s scathing words to Job, at the end of his ordeal:
“Who is this who darkens counsel by words without knowledge? Now prepare yourself like a man; I will question you, and you shall answer Me. ‘Where were you when I laid the foundations of the earth? Tell Me, if you have understanding….” (Job 38: 2-4)


Job 42:5-6: “I have heard of You by the hearing of the ear, But now my eye sees You. Therefore, I abhor myself, And repent in dust and ashes.”
As looking at the galaxies from our earthly perspective gives us the sense that everything revolves around us, from our vantage points, each of us seems to be the center of our universe. As Copernicus called the earth’s scientists to a more accurate view of reality, Christ is calling His people to a Copernican Revolution of our own. No matter how it looks to us, we are not the center of our universe. We are not vital to its existence. It existed before us, and God will continue to sustain it after we’ve died. This is all very humbling. We are not as important as we like to think. (See 1 Cor. 3:6-7; 1 Cor. 4:7; Rom. 7:18)

4. “I am so vile that I cannot of myself receive any good.”
"I am not only an empty vessel, but a corrupt and unclean vessel; that would spoil anything that comes into it. So are all our hearts: every one of them is not only empty of good but is like a musty bottle that spoils even good liquor that is poured into it."
As my own pastor is fond of saying, “If sin were the color blue, everything we do, apart from Christ, is some shade of blue.” These are hard words, and run contrary not only to our personal pride, but to the teaching of popular psychology and self-help writers, and the bulk of modern evangelical teaching as well. Lest you think this statement is too strong, read Romans 7:14–25 & Rom 8:1-4 (Thank God there is now also a new law at work within us!)

5. “…we can make use of nothing when we have it, if God but withdraws himself.”

Put simply, we must remember that we depend entirely upon God and the power of His Holy Spirit at work within us for the ability to do any good thing at all.
(Read Philippians 2:12-13, Romans 8:6-9, and 1 Corinthians 4:7

6.“We are worse than nothing.”
"Sin makes us more vile than nothing, and contrary to all good....We are not empty pitchers in respect of good, but we are like pitchers filled with poison..."
Once again Burroughs is resorting to very harsh words. In case you think he’s overstating his case here, read Romans 3: 9-19 and Romans 7:18.

7. “If we perish we will be no loss.”

It's easy to think at this point that these last couple of thoughts sound like nothing more than a depressed soul working up itself up to suicide. So to show why this is not the case here I'll offer a clue from the text:
“A man who is little in his own eyes will account every affliction as little, and every mercy as great."

A man who has a high opinion and/or strong love of his self will feel life not worth living if he cannot have or achieve what he thinks he “should” have. He will not be able to be thankful for so-called small mercies, like breath, family, flowers, etc, because they don’t measure up to what he actually thinks he deserves or thinks he could aspire to if he just had the right opportunities, or abilities, or the appreciation of which he thinks he’s been shortchanged.

8. It is by self-denial that “the soul comes to rejoice and take satisfaction in all God’s ways…”
"If a man is selfish and self-love prevails in heart, he will be glad of those things that suit with his own ends, but a godly man who has denied himself will suit with and be glad of all things that shall suit with God's ends."
Christ Himself took this path to joy as He submitted His own great and perfect self as an example to us:
"Do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father." Philippians 2:3-11

"So Jesus also suffered outside the gate in order to sanctify the people through his own blood. Therefore let us go to him outside the camp and bear the reproach he endured. For here we have no lasting city, but we seek the city that is to come. Through him then let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that acknowledge his name." Heb. 13:12-15

We need to, like Christ, find our pleasure in the will of the Father, in seeing His will accomplished and Him glorified.

As Burroughs says: “A gracious heart says, God’s ends are my ends and I have denied my own ends; so he comes to find contentment in all God’s ends and ways, and his comforts are multiplied.”

II. The vanity of the creature. "That is the second lesson in Christ's school..."
“If you look for contentment in the creature you will fail.”
"The devil said to him, 'If you are the Son of God, command this stone to become bread.' And Jesus answered him, 'It is written, 'Man shall not live by bread alone.'" Luke 4: 3-4

I ask you to prayerfully read as well John 6: 26-50, where we learn that Jesus is the Bread of Life, and Luke 12: 13-34. How much of your time and resources do you invest toward things that are merely temporal as it compares with your investment in things which are eternal. How do they stack up? Are you laboring for food that perishes?

III. To know the one thing needful
“it is not necessary for me to be rich, but it is necessary for me to make my peace with God…”
Above we read the parable of the rich fool, which illustrates this point as well. Now continue reading in Luke 12: 35-56.

The above passage makes clear Burroughs point that Christ’s intention is to cause...
“the fear of eternity to fall upon you, and causes such a real sight of the great things of eternity, and the absolute necessity of those things, that it possesses your heart with fear and takes you off from all other things in the world....when the soul is once taken up with the things that are of absolute necessity, it will not be much troubled about other things.”
And here follows a fantastic illustration for this point:
"Who are the men who are most discontented, but the idle persons, persons who have nothing to occupy their minds? Every little thing disquiets and discontents them; but in the case of a man who has business of great weight and consequence, if all things go well with his great business which is in his head, he is not aware of meaner things in the family. On the other hand a man who lies at home and has nothing to do finds fault with everything. So it is with the heart..."
IV. To know one’s relation to the world
“God has set me in this world, not as in my home, but as a mere stranger and a pilgrim who is traveling to another home, and that I am here a soldier in my warfare. I say, a right understanding of this is a mighty help to contentment in whatever befalls one....If you were to live a hundred years, in comparison to eternity it is not as much as a night, it is as though you were traveling, and had come to an inn. And what madness is it for a man to be discontented because he has not got what he sees there, seeing he may be going away again within less than quarter of an hour?”
This is a profoundly scriptural theme. We are likened to pilgrims, to soldiers, to aliens throughout Scripture. Our stay here is temporary. For a deeper understanding, please read:
2 Timothy 2:3-4; Hebrews 11:8-16; Hebrews 13:12-15; 1 Peter 1:17; 1 Peter 2:11

And lest we forget what our goal is and lose hope, I think this is probably a good time for a little reminder of what we are looking forward to. Read: John 14: 1-4; John 17: 24-26; 1 Thess. 4:15-18; Rev. 21:9-27

V. Wherein the good of the creature is
"...so far as I can enjoy God in it, so far it is good to me, and so far as I do not enjoy God in it, so far there is no goodness in any creature."
In the previous points we we discussed the vanity/emptiness of the creature, and how contentment can never be found in it. Now we learn that there is value in the creature after all.

When God finished His work in creation He proclaimed that it was good. And it is, though it suffers from the curse of sin as we do, and groans as we do awaiting our redemption. The Scripture testifies to the special role creation has in God’s self-revelation:
"The heavens declare the glory of God,
and the sky above proclaims his handiwork
Day to day pours out speech,
and night to night reveals knowledge... (Ps. 19:1,2)

"When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers,
the moon and the stars, which you have set in place,
what is man that you are mindful of him,
and the son of man that you care for him?" (Ps. 8: 3,4)

"For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. Fro what can be know about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse." (Rom. 1: 18-20)

And as Calvin so eloquently testifies:

“Indeed, this life, however crammed with infinite miseries it may be, is still rightly to be counted among those blessings of God which are not to be spurned. Therefore, if we recognize in it no divine benefit, we are already guilty of grave ingratitude toward God himself. For believers especially, this ought to be a testimony of divine benevolence, wholly destined, as it is, to promote their salvation. For before he shows us openly the inheritance of eternal glory, God wills by lesser proofs to show himself to be our Father. These are the benefits that are daily conferred on us by him. Since, therefore, this life serves us in understanding God’s goodness, should we despise it as if it had not grain of good in itself?…nature itself also exhorts us to give thanks to the Lord because he has brought us into its light, granted us the use of it, and provided all the necessary means to preserve it… When we are certain that the earthly life we live is a gift of God’s kindness, as we are beholden to him for it we ought to remember it and be thankful.” Institutes of the Christian Religion, Book 3, Ch. IX, 3.

VI. The knowledge of one’s own heart
“You must learn this or you will never learn contentment. You must learn to know your own hearts well, to be good students of your own hearts.”
Here Burroughs once again echos Calvin, who opens his Institutes this way:
"I. Without knowledge of self there is no knowledge of God -
Nearly all the wisdom we possess, that is to say, true and sound wisdom, consists of two parts: the knowledge of God and of ourselves."
Our author lists three ways in which learning our own hearts will help us to contentment:
1. “…you will soon discover wherein your discontent lies”
“…If we are very well versed in our own hearts, when anything happens to unsettle us, we soon find out the cause of it, and so quickly become quiet.”
2.“…we shall come to know what best suits our condition.”
“…when God comes with afflictions to the man or woman who have studied their own hearts, they can say, ‘I would not have been without this affliction for anything in the world, God has so suited this affliction to my condition and has come in such a way that if this affliction had not come I am afraid I should have fallen into sin.’”
Can you look at your life as a believer and remember times when you could actually look at your affliction, while you were yet in the middle of it and see some of the good it was doing for you and take comfort in that?

3.“By knowing their own hearts they know what they are able to manage…”

In our day it’s popular, even in song, to say, “Thank God for unanswered prayer.” That’s a bit of what the author is saying here. God knows what is best for us to have, and what He does not want us to have because it would not suit us or the purpose He has for us in our lives, particularly our holiness.
"A man desires greedily to hold on to more than he is able to manage, and so undoes himself....we would not cry for some things if we knew that we were not able to manage them. When you vex and fret for what you have not got, I may say to you as Christ said, 'You know not of what spirit you are.'" (quoted from Luke 9:55, see Geneva Bible)