The Rare Jewel | Contentment Described: Part 2
Parenthetical page numbers are taken from the Puritan Paperback edition of this work, published by the Banner of Truth Trust.
Last time we looked at the beginning of the first chapter of Jeremiah Burroughs’ The Rare Jewel of Christ Contentment. There we expounded the first part of the definition of contentment which Burroughs uses throughout the entire book. 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” (19).
Picking up from where we left off last entry, we see that the fourth aspect of this definition of contentment is that true Christian contentment is “the gracious frame of the heart” (29). There are some people who are naturally more quiet than others, but their quiet constitutions do not guarantee true and lasting contentment. Likewise, contentment does not come from brute strength or force—just because someone has the ability to ignore troubles, “come what may” (29), does not mean that person is content. People who have these qualities, says Burroughs, are typically “of a very dull spirit in any good matter” (30). While they can appear content when bad things come their way, they cannot muster the “quickness [or] liveliness of spirit” when the Lord providentially graces them with particularly good things.
Remember, contentment must be learned, so the natural inclinations of some are opposed to true Christian contentment because their sense of contentment is fleeting. Christians must be those in whom the “contentment of heart springs from grace,” so that our hearts are “very quick and lively in the service of God” (30). Contentment is a Christian virtue, and something that all Christians must learn: “the more any gracious heart can bring itself to be in a contented disposition, the more fit it is for any service of God” (30). The content Christian is one who is more ready, willing, and able to serve the Lord in all things and any situation.
The fifth aspect of the definition of contentment is “freely submitting to and taking pleasure in God’s disposal” (31). In much of The Rare Jewel, Burroughs reminds his readers that contentment is a mystery; it is a “free work of the Spirit” and therefore is a part of the believer’s sanctification. While we need to learn contentment, we also must not “quench the Spirit” (1 Thess. 5:19) by downplaying His role in our growth in contentment. We are in danger of quenching the Spirit when we rely on ourselves to learn contentment, when we disregard or ignore God’s Word and how it commands us to grow in our love and service to Christ, or when we divorce ourselves from God’s means of grace: the Word, the Sacraments, and prayer. The Spirit’s role is to point Christians away from themselves and to Christ, so that we will grow in Christlikeness and all godliness. That is the task of true Christian preaching, to point us to Christ who has accomplished salvation for us and to, at the same time, show us how we must now live in light of what Christ has done for us.
Christian contentment cannot be lasting if it is not free—contentment cannot be acquired by compulsion or force, but the Christian is one who is willing to be content in all things, come what may. The man or woman of God should be one who says “it is suitable to my heart to yield to God and to be content. I find it a thing that comes naturally that my soul should be content” (32). Even if they be afflicted by all sorts of physical, spiritual, or emotional troubles, contented Christians will still “by a sanctified judgment...bring their hearts to contentment” (32).
Not only is contentment free, it is a free submission to God’s good will—“contentment is freely submitting to and taking pleasure in God’s disposal” (33). Christians must situate themselves under the care and providential guidance of their Heavenly Father. It is he who guides and directs all things, and we must submit ourselves to his will. But this submission cannot be mere assent to God’s will—that is, a Christian isn’t truly content by the fact that he or she simply acknowledges God’s sovereignty in all situations. The theology of the Protestant Reformers, especially that which was solidified by works such as the Westminster Standards and the Three Forms of Unity, have a thoroughly biblical understanding of God’s providence and sovereignty. But that does not mean that every Christian who claims to follow those traditions is truly content in all things. Mere acknowledgment of God’s sovereignty doesn’t make one content—the Christian must be able to say,
not only do I see that I should be content in this affliction, but I see that there is good in it. I find there is honey in this rock, and so I do not only say, I must, or I will submit to God’s hand. No, the hand of God is good, ‘it is good that I am afflicted.’ To acknowledge that it is just that I am afflicted is possible in one who is not truly contented. I may be convinced that God deals justly in this matter, he is righteous and just and it is right that I should submit to what he has done; O the Lord has done righteously in all ways! But that is not enough! You must say, “Good is the hand of the Lord” (33-34).
Is this true of you? Can you say, in whatever affliction God providentially sends your way, “good is the hand of the Lord”? This is a difficult teaching, but it is one with which we must wrestle, and we must work with the Holy Spirit of Christ to grow in grace and obedience to the will of our Heavenly Father.
Burroughs reiterates the fact that it is not in retrospect that Christian contentment is to be found, but to be truly content is to praise God for his provision, grace, mercy, and love even in the midst of suffering. True contentment does not only say “it is good that I was afflicted,” but the content Christian will be able to say “it is good that I am afflicted” (34). Often we can look back on hardships and see how God providentially used that affliction for our good and his glory, but this acknowledgment isn’t true and lasting contentment: “It is, indeed, the top and the height of this art of contentment to come to this pitch and to be able to say, ‘Well, my condition and afflictions are so and so, and very grievous and sore; yet, through God’s mercy, I am in a good condition, and the hand of God is good upon me notwithstanding’” (34).
Though “it is a hard lesson to come so far as not only to be quiet but to take pleasure in affliction,” Christians must remember that “in the house of the righteous is much treasure,” and that “the righteous man can never be made so poor, to have his house so rifled and spoiled, but there will remain much treasure within” (34–35). Christian, no matter what comes your way know that your Heavenly Father holds you in the palm of his hand, and no one can take you out of his hand (John 10:28–30). This comforting truth should bolster our contentment; because God has you in his hand, you can be truly content even in the midst of trials, tribulation, and any affliction. If you are in Christ, though you may lose all your possessions, “be content with what you have,” for you know that our great Triune God will “never leave you nor forsake you” (Heb. 13:5).