Contentment is Soul Business
1 Timothy 6:6: “Now there is great gain in godliness with contentment.”
“Christian contentment is soul business.” Thus says the 17th century Puritan preacher Jeremiah Burroughs in the Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment. Here are some nuggets of wisdom from the 17th century about contentment. (Quotes from Burroughs are indented below.)
1. Contentment is gained, many times, by subtraction.
§ “A Christian comes to contentment, not so much by way of addition, as by way of subtraction. That is his way of contentment, and it is a way that the world has no skill in. I open it thus: not so much by adding to what he would have, or to what he has, not by adding more to his condition; but rather by subtracting from his desires, so as to make his desires and his circumstances even and equal.”
2. Contentment resides in being reconciled to the NOW of your present condition.
§ “And the truth is, I know nothing more effective for quieting a Christian soul and getting contentment than this, setting your heart to work in the duties of the immediate circumstances that you are now in, and taking heed of your thoughts about other conditions as a mere temptation.”
3. Contentment resides in molding our will and our desires to the providential will of God. (It is one thing to obey God’s commandments but an entirely different maturity is required to accept the providential will of God.)
4. Contentment resides in taking all of God’s blessings as tokens of the love of God. (Can I count my blessings “one by one”, knowing that every blessing is bestowed by a gracious and loving God?)
§ “Every good thing the people of God enjoy, they enjoy it in God’s love, as a token of God’s love, and coming from God’s eternal love to them, and this must need to be very sweet to them."
5. Contentment resides in contemplation and identification with the cross of Christ. (Aren’t my daily complaints and small afflictions rendered powerless in the contemplation of Christ who died on the cross for me?)
§ “The exercising of faith on what Christ endured, is the way to get contentment in the midst of our pains. Someone lies vexing and fretting himself, and cannot bear his pain: are you a Christian? Have you ever tried this way of getting contentment, to act your faith on all the pains and sufferings that Jesus Christ suffered: this would be the way of contentment, and a Christian gets contentment when under pains, in this way.”
6. Contentment resides in the appropriating the strength that comes from the outside. (Even though Burroughs defines contentment as “that sweet, inward, quiet gracious frame of spirit, which freely submits to and delights in God’s wise and fatherly disposal in every condition”, there is no contradiction in the “inward” grace of contentment because it ultimately is grounded on the strength which always comes from outside of one’s self.)
§ “A Christian finds satisfaction in every circumstance by getting strength from another, by going out of himself to Jesus Christ, by his faith acting upon Christ, and bringing the strength of Jesus Christ into his own soul, he is in this way enabled to bear whatever God lays on him, by the strength that he finds from Jesus Christ.”
7. Contentment resides in enjoying and making much of God. (Jonathan Edwards, Jon Piper, and Jeremiah Burroughs all acknowledge this truth. It’s a truth that has endured through many centuries. Wanting contentment is the surest path to loose contentment, if that "wanting" is a looking to self and not to Christ.)
§ “A godly heart enjoys much of God in everything he has, and knows how to make up all wants in God himself.”
8. Contentment resides in being properly burdened. (Contentment is not found by ignoring my concerns or afflictions but getting to the point where my sin is judged to be worse than my circumstances.)
9. The mystery of contentment resides in the following paradox: The Christian is the most contented person in all the world and also the most unsatisfied person in all the world. (That I was made for another world & that my soul is enlarged enough to be filled with God — therein lie both my dissatisfaction and my contentment.)
§ Godliness teaches us this mystery….A soul that is capable of God can be filled with nothing else but God; nothing but God can fill a soul that is capable of God….Therefore you will observe, that whatever God may give to a gracious heart, a heart that is godly, unless He gives Himself it will not do.”
10. Contentment resides in running swiftly to the Covenant of Grace. Contentment resides in appropriating the truth that God has bound himself to you in a covenant of grace. (Run swiftly, run often, run daily to the Covenant! Its objective, solid truth is the foundation for my contentment. God is for me. God loves me. God has bound himself to me eternally. May I preach to myself often about the Covenant of Grace.)
§ “It is a special sign of true grace in any soul, that when any affliction befalls him, in a kind of natural way he repairs immediately to the Covenant. Just as a child, as soon as ever it is in danger, need not be told to go to his father or mother, for nature tells him so; so it is with a gracious heart: as soon as it is in any trouble or affliction there is a new nature which carries him to the Covenant immediately, where he finds ease and rest. If you find that your heart works in this way, immediately running to the Covenant, it is an excellent sign of true grace.”