Contentment is Quieting our Stormy Hearts in the Midst of our Storms

For the Lord’s Day, November 26, 2017

Dear Saints,

We continue with our devotion through Jeremiah Burroughs’, The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment. The next thing he teaches us is that contentment is “a quiet frame of spirit”.  He explains:

Methinks I feel my heart heavy and sad and more than it should be; yet my judgment is satisfied.  This seemed to be the position of David in Psalm 42: ‘O my soul, why art thou disquieted?’ … This is a very good psalm for those who feel a fretting, discontented sickness in their hearts at any time to read and sing.  He says … twice in that Psalm [and a third time in the following Psalm]: ‘Why art thou cast down, O my soul? … And why art thou disquieted within me? hope thou in God, for I shall yet praise him for the help of his countenance.’

Notice, the psalmists are not saying there’s no place for lament (as has been recently covered in these devotions).  Rather, they are asking, “Where and to whom will you go with your depression and what will you do with it: will you choose to wallow or rise?  That is, do you want to be consoled?” (As some have said, you can only help those who want to be helped.)  There is a way to rise above if you will take the path of contentment’s quieting.  I can testify that this is true, even in the most painful times.  Jennifer and I went to this Psalm often to seek comfort in our distress as she was dying in the hospital. It did not take away the shadow of the valley of death nor its difficulties for us, but it did bring us closer to God together and thus Him to us, and it did allow us to be able to say for ourselves our other theme verse at that time: 2 Corinthians 4:8-9 (You can revisit my sermons on Psalm 42 here and 2 Cor. 4:8-9 here during those trials to get us all through together.)  The way to get through depression is to discipline ourselves into a grateful expression of praise to God and in that moment He gives us more of Himself to quiet our hearts in Him and even find joy (Ps. 61:2; 71:23; 73:21-28).

Nonetheless, Burroughs admits ” … it is a lesson that you need to learn, and that if contentment is like this then it is not easily obtained.”  Once again, that is why contentment is a “rare jewel” per the title of his book, or “an art” according to Thomas Watson in the title of his book on the same subject and theme verse (Philippians 4:11).

Burroughs goes on to explain that contentment not only is a quiet frame of spirit, but this spiritual contentment also “comes from the frame of the soul”.  He writes:

The disposition of their own heats causes and brings forth this gracious contentment rather than any external thing … For if a man is to be free from discontent and worry it is not enough merely not to murmur but you must be active in sanctifying God’s name in the affliction.

The other tough lesson we continue to learn about those who will constantly murmur as we return to Numbers tomorrow (chapter 16) should be ample motivation to sanctify the Lord in our hearts through all difficulties so as to protect us from the demon of discontent (as Rev. Ted Donnelly has called it) and rather to trust God to turn our grief to gladness (see this Thanksgiving Day’s sermon).

One last nugget I’ve been meaning to share from my recent readings that is relevant for these devotions on contentment: in his book, Reset, David Murray writes: “Contentment is a wonderful cure for insomnia.”  Again, over the last year of working through our heavy loss that has had us greatly cast down, I have learned over time to experience that this is absolutely true and that Satan cannot destroy us and Jesus truly will lighten our burden and lift us up as we cast our cares upon Him: especially if we lay our head on our pillow at night having learnt more contentment during the day’s school of difficulties.

Semper Reformanda,

Pastor Grant

Contentment Disallows Murmuring Vexation

For Lord’s Day, November 5, 2017

Dear Saints,

First, a reminder to turn back your clocks tonight for Daylight Saving Time tomorrow.

We return to Jeremiah Burroughs’, The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment, as a follow-up to our Wednesday night lecture series with Thomas Watson’s, The Art of Divine Contentment. Each book has as its theme verse throughout: … I have learned, in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content. (Philippians 4:11). The last time I wrote, we considered both ministers’ answering of common questions of concern and allowing that there were some things that contentment did not exclude (such as godly lament and seeking to lawfully change one’s situation). Next Burroughs will have us consider to what Biblical contentment is opposed:

“I. It is opposed to murmuring and repining at the hand of God … [This is very important to consider as we return to our sermon series in the book of Numbers tomorrow.]

2. To vexing and fretting … [Consider the refrains of Psalm 37.]

3. To tumultuousness of spirit … [Consider Psalm 46:10.]

4. … to an unsettled and unstable spirit, whereby the heart is distracted from the present duty that God requires in our several relationships, towards God, ourselves and others … [Consider Psalm 42:5, 11 and Psalm 43:5.]

5. … to distracting, heart consuming cares … [Consider Philippians 4:6.]

6. … to sinking discouragements … So far as your heart sinks and you are discouraged under affliction, so much you need to learn this lesson of contentment. [Consider 2 Corinthians 4:7-10.]

7. It is opposed to sinful shiftings and shirkings to get relief and help … [Here singing the Psalms are extremely helpful, especially 42, 61, 71, and 73.]

8. … quietness of spirit is the opposite of … desperate risings of the heart against God by way of rebellion … [This is especially important considering our morning text tomorrow, Numbers 15:27-36, as well as its previous and following chapters.]

This is quietness of spirit under an affliction … when the soul is so far able to bear an affliction as to keep quiet under it.” [Remember our Wednesday night study of Matthew Henry’s book on 1 Peter 3:4 a while back.]

Similar to Burroughs, after resolving questions about how a Christian may lament to God about his condition, Thomas Watson also next warns in his book about what contentment properly excludes or “banishes”:

“1. It excludes a vexatious repining … [in Psalm 55:2] He doth not say I murmur [but I mourn] in my complaint. Murmuring is no better than mutiny in the heart …

2. It excludes an uneven discomposure … when his head and heart are so taken up, that he is not fit to pray or meditate … as when an army is routed …

3. It excludes a childish despondency … care is to the mind as a burden to the back; it loads the spirits, and, with overloading, sinks them.”

Beloved, it has been a while since I’ve been able to share an e-devotion with you to prepare for Sabbath worship. Let me remind you as I have been reminded that this is all something of which we all need to continually be good students. We are never done learning, so long as we are willing to learn by experience. May we more and more be able to say with Paul that we have learned to be content in all things through Christ through Whom we can.

Semper Reformanda,

Pastor Grant

It is Very Christ-like to Lament and Learn Contentment

For Lord’s Day, September 3, 2017

Dear Saints,

After a long hiatus, we return to our excerpts from Jeremiah Burroughs, The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment. Let us be good students to learn and become master artists.

Burroughs goes on to say that contentment, “is the quiet of the heart. All is sedate and still there.” Psalm 46:10, 107:29, and Matthew 8:26 come to mind about how God can calm the storms of our lives. However, that recognizes there are storms in our lives. Burroughs next explains that contentment is often:

I. To a due sense of affliction. God gives his people leave to be sensible of what they suffer. Christ does not say, “Do not count as a cross what is a cross”; he says, “Take up your cross daily”.

Frankly, a big part of what helps us fight and have the victory is that we are able to soberly acknowledge we are within many heavy battles until heaven. To do otherwise is to no deal with reality and possibly not really be Christians. Remember that Thomas Watson in his, The Art of Divine Contentment, spent time with “The resolving of some Questions” in chapter five, and the first question he then answered was this: “Whether a Christian may not be sensible of his condition, and yet be contented? Yes; for else he is not a saint, but a stoic.” Did you see what he just said? If you can’t openly suffer and lament, you very well may not be a Christian, but a pagan.

Watson went on to say, “Christ himself was sensible, when he sweat great drops of blood, and said, ‘Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me;’ yet he was contented, and sweetly submitted his will: ‘nevertheless, not as I will, but as thou wilt’ [Matt. 26:39]. The apostle bids us humble ourselves ‘under the mighty hand of God’ [1 Pet. 5:6], which we cannot do unless we are sensible of it.” (Incidentally, the third most listened to message on our SermonAudio page is the lecture in the series with Watson’s book on contentment that includes chapter 5 and learning you can and should be open about your suffering situation. That message was put up not long ago and I just began my eighth year here: seems like, similar to worry (the not so distant sermon on Matthew 6 is the second highest listened to message ever on our SermonAudio page) people need to know this; so do you and I.

In the same vein, Burroughs continues to explain what contentment is not:

2. It is not opposed to making in an orderly manner our moan and complaint to God, and to our friends.

3. It is not opposed to all lawful seeking or help in different circumstances, nor to endeavouring simply to be delivered out of present afflictions by the use of lawful means.

So beloved, as some of you are especially suffering right now, let us weep with you who weep openly as saints and not stoics: it helps alleviate the pain so we can suffer through to rejoice anew. It is not being discontent to lament.

Next time we will see what Burroughs says contentment is opposed to. For now, let us be sure we know what it is not opposed to so we are not wrongly suppressed, even by ourselves, from crying out for relief that we might get it in Christ, through Whom we can do all things as He strengthens us.

Semper Reformanda,

Pastor Grant

Contentment: Spiritually Internal thus Independent of Externals

For Lord’s Day, April 2, 2017

Dear Saints,

Here is our next installment of Jeremiah Borroughs’, The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment to supplement our Wednesday Night study of Thomas Watson’s, The Art of Divine Contentment (both based on Philippians 4:11).

Having described what Christian contentment is, Burroughs begins to help us look at it from various angles to appreciate its myriad aspects. First,

Contentment is a sweet, inward heart-thing.

It is a work of the Spirit indoors.

Contentment does not come from outside of us. It is a peace that is not of this world without but only from Christ within. As Watson put it in chapter 6, “Contentment is a divine thing: it becomes ours, not by acquisition, but infusion.” Further, “Contentment is an intrinsical thing; it lies within a man; not in the bark, but the root. Contentment hath both its fountain and stream in the soul”, and thus it “doth not depend upon externals.” So let us go inside our hearts and ask the Spirit of Christ abiding there to work out His gracious gift in us, including reminding us that we can do all things through Christ Who strengthens us: especially the thing of learning contentment and staying content (see verse 13 in its context with verse 11).

As Burroughs teaches that contentment “is the inward submission of the heart”, he contends that it isn’t simply outward compliance that appears to be at peace because it doesn’t make a fussy show with the body. It is more than that—much more. True contentment is a lack of fretting in our heart of hearts.  He writes:

Not only must the tongue hold its peace;

the soul must be silent.

Ah yes, a meek and quiet spirit is the truest test of our spiritual state (and precious in God’s sight: 1 Peter 3:4). Yet both Watson and Burroughs would encourage us to simply be motivated to continue mastering this fine art and mining for the rare jewel. Says Borroughs,

If the attainment of true contentment were as easy as keeping quiet outwardly, it would not need much learning.

God’s beloved, may our hearts open to God working this lesson in us where all His good works begin and grow: in our soul’s offering up its most private and precious places.

Semper Reformanda,

Pastor Grant

Affliction: The Moment We Need to Learn More Contentment

For Lord’s Day, February 26, 2017

Dear Saints,

Our next installment of Jeremiah Burroughs’, The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment deals with being content through affliction (which we saw from our recent Wednesday night studies with Watson’s book on the topic is the main classroom of learning contentment).  Burroughs writes:

So far as your heart sinks and you are discouraged under affliction, so much you need to learn this lesson of contentment.

His point?  The worse our affliction and deeper our agony, the greater we need to apply ourselves as learners of contentment, which is its own medicine.  In fact,

This is quietness of spirit under an affliction … when the soul is so far able to bear an affliction as to keep quiet under it.

This call to quietness and meekness of spirit does not mean we may not lament (we must not be stoics, as Watson and Plumer guided us this Wednesday night).  But in taking it to God we come to be still before God and go away calm within our storm glad to have been with God. Like we studied and sang Wednesday night in Psalm 73:21-28: Thus my heart was grieved, and I was pricked in my reins … Nevertheless I am continually with thee: thou hast holden me by my right hand. Thou shalt guide me with thy counsel, and afterward receive me to glory. Whom have I in heaven but thee? and there is none upon earth that I desire beside thee. My flesh and my heart faileth: but God is the strength of my heart, and my portion for ever … But it is good for me to draw near to God: I have put my trust in the Lord GOD, that I may declare all thy works.

This all makes me think of a subtle reminder the Lord sent to me early this morning while listening to Refnet.fm preparing for the day.  It was the time when they play lovely music, and the instrumental of “It is Well With My Soul” was beckoning my soul to embrace it; remembering and identifying with the writer’s personal situation behind that song, I did. And it helped and it is helping.

Let us learn contentment more when we need it more so we have more of it when we need it more in certain moments.  More on that in the next installment of Burroughs’ guidance on contentment.

Semper Reformanda,

Pastor Grant

Contentment: Christian Self-Sufficiency

For the Lord’s Day, February 19, 2017

Dear Saints,

Here is our next supplemental installment to Watson’s, Art of Divine Contentment on Wednesday nights from Burroughs’ Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment, Chapter 1, “Christian Contentment Described.”

His starting point for the book is the same as for Watson’s study on the same subject, Philippians 4:11, the second part: I have learned, in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content.

Burroughs writes, “Our great Apostle holds forth experimentally in this Gospel-text the very life and soul of all practical divinity.” Well then, we are wise to learn this lesson of contentment for our own soul’s practice of gaining godliness.

He notes that the word “content” technically can only be attributed to God because the LORD alone is self-sufficient (related to the attribute of God we have studied, His aseity). Yet, because Paul knows Jesus Christ personally and has His Spirit within him, Burroughs points out that he can say, “I have a self-sufficiency, which is what the word [contentment] means.” This is not the idea of self-reliant independency of God, but rather of being independent of the need for others to be satisfied within ourselves because of our sustaining relationship with God and within His Body.

Thus, we who know the grace of God in Jesus Christ can say verse 13 of the same chapter teaching us to build more Christ-esteem: “I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me.” And we in Christ can then indeed say for ourselves, “A good man is satisfied from himself” (Proverbs 14:14).

Lastly, Burroughs offers us the following description (notice, not a definition, which is probably the above as “self-sufficiency” in Christ’s adequately strengthening abundance):

Christian contentment is that sweet, inward, quiet, gracious frame of spirit, which freely submits to and delights in God’s wise and fatherly disposal in every condition.

Or, as Paul puts it, “in whatsoever state I am … I can do all things”: namely, be content. May we learn to put it that way for ourselves, that is, in our own growing exercise of Christian self-sufficiency.

Semper Reformanda,

Pastor Grant

Peaceful Contentment in Peacemaking

For Lord’s Day, February 12, 2017

Dear Saints,

Having begun our Wednesday Night study with Thomas Watson’s, The Art of Divine Contentment, let us begin our supplemental e-devotions with Jeremiah Burroughs’, The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment.

Before we actually get to his own words, I’d like to take a look at what was said about him in the forward by Michael Boland related to Burroughs’ work as a member of the Westminster Assembly. Boland shares that although Borroughs was part of the Independent minority (a very small one) that opposed the majority’s work on certain features of Westminster’s form of Presbyterian church government, he “deplored the deep division which ensued” related to the ‘Five Dissenting Brethren’. “One of his most famous works was Irenicum or Heart-Divisions Opened, in which he pleaded for the unity of all who loved the truth, and argued that what made comparatively minor differences into causes of rigid divisions was a wrong spirit and wrong motives.”

We may not be able to have organizational relations with all whom we should yet otherwise call and purpose to treat as brethren in organic ways. We should be eager for such friendship and fellowship and go out of our way to foster it as a church with other churches, especially with those most like-minded. This doesn’t mean we don’t have to draw lines at times that may cause some distance with some in certain regards. But may we have a right spirit and motive for all those whom God shed His own blood in ways that witness we endeavor to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace (Eph. 4:3) and trust that Christ will reward us with the fruit of more peaceful contentment which is not of this world.

Semper Reformanda,
Pastor Grant

PS: Have you had more classrooms for learning more contentment present themselves to you this week just as we saw how Paul’s practice lessons were procured? So did I. Let’s make sure we are good students of God’s precepts in these providences so that we grow more content in all these things.