A Wealthy Believer Objects

“Always bearing about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus, that the life also of Jesus might be made manifest in our body. For we which live are always delivered unto death for Jesus’ sake, that the life also of Jesus might be made manifest in our mortal flesh.”  II Corinthians 4:10-11

Last week we saw how two wealthy believers reacted differently to the sudden loss of their wealth. The carnal man became depressed and discontented while the spiritual man remained content because he understood God’s purpose. Today, Jeremiah Burroughs addresses an objection of the carnal man who was distressed at his loss – Why did this happen to me? I could serve God better with my wealth if He had let me keep it!

The carnal man’s objection misses God’s ultimate purpose in the lives of believers. While God certainly wants us to honor Him with what He has given us (wealth, health, skills, intelligence, social status, etc.), that is not His higher purpose: to manifest Jesus Christ in the world. regardless of our wealth, health, skills, intelligence, social status, etc. The fact is that God doesn’t need those things to reveal who He is to those around us. God wants to work in and through us to make His glory known to the world and to draw souls to Himself. The spiritual man in Burrough’s illustration understands God’s purpose.

“You must know that the special honor which God has from his creatures in this world is the manifestation of the graces of his Spirit. It is true that God gets a great deal of honor when a man is in a public place, and so is able to do a great deal of good, to countenance godlessness, and discountenance sin, but the main thing is in our showing forth the virtues of him who has called us out of darkness and into his marvelous light. (I Peter 2:9b)

“If I can say that, through God’s mercy in my affliction, I find the graces of God’s Spirit working as strongly in me as ever they did when I had my wealth, I am where I was; indeed, I am in quite as good a condition, for I have the same good now that I had in my prosperous estate. I reckoned the good of it only in my enjoyment of God, and honoring of God, and now God has blessed the lack of it to stir up the graces of his Spirit in my soul.

“This is the work that God calls me to now, and I must consider God to be the most honored when I do the work that he calls me to; he set me to work in my prosperous estate to honor him at that time in that condition, and now he sets me to work to honor him at this time in this condition; God is most honored when I can turn from one condition to another, according as he calls me to it.”

Two Wealthy Men

 

“Then Job arose, and rent his mantle, and shaved his head, and fell down upon the ground, and worshipped, and said, Naked came I out of my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return thither: the LORD gave, and the LORD hath taken away; blessed be the name of the LORD. In all this Job sinned not, nor charged God foolishly.” Job 1:20-22

It is a mystery to me that Christians can view wealth in such contrasting ways. A brief story from Jeremiah Burroughs illustrates how two wealthy Christian men (one carnal and one spiritual) view their wealth and prosperity differently. Jesus told a parable that addressed the folly of a man consumed with his riches. The parable in Luke 12:16-23 did not end well for this man:  “But God said unto him, Thou fool, this night thy soul shall be required of thee: then whose shall those things be, which thou hast provided? So is he that layeth up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God.” (Luke 12:20-21) The second man in Burroughs’ illustration is spiritually content and when he loses his wealth is equally content as when he was rich. What a difference!

“If there is any good in wealth or in any comfort in this world, it is not so much that it pleases my sense or that it suits my body, but that it has reference to God, the First Being, that by these substances somewhat of God’s goodness might be conveyed to me, and I may have a sanctified use of the substance to draw me nearer to God, that I may enjoy more of God, and be made more serviceable for His glory in the place where He has set me: this is the good of the substance.

“Suppose that a man had great wealth only a few years ago, and now it is all gone. I would only ask this man, ‘When you had your wealth, in what did you reckon the good of that wealth to consist?’ A carnal heart would say, ‘Anybody might know that. It brought me in so much a year, and I could have the best fare, and be a man of repute in the place where I live, and men regard what I said; I might be clothed as I would, and lay up portions for my children: the good of my wealth consisted of this.’ “Now such a man never came into the school of Christ to know in what the good of an estate consisted, so no marvel if he is disquieted when he has lost his estate.

But when a Christian, who has been in the school of Christ, and has been instructed in the art of contentment, has some wealth, he thinks, ‘In that I have wealth above my brethren, I have an opportunity to serve God the better, and I enjoy a great deal of God’s mercy conveyed on my soul through the substance, and hereby I am enabled to do a great deal of good. In this I reckon the good of my wealth. And now that God has taken this away from me, if He will be pleased to make up the enjoyment of Himself some other way, will call me to honor Him by suffering, and if I may do God as much service now by suffering, that is by showing forth the grace of His Spirit in my sufferings as I did in prosperity, I have as much of God as I had before. So if I may be left to God in my low condition, as much as I was in my prosperous condition, I have as much comfort and contentment as I had before.’”

 

The Believer is a Sojourner in the World

“But God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world is crucified unto me, and I unto the world.” Galatians 6:14

In his book The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment, Jeremiah Burroughs observes that contentment comes only when the believer understands his relationship to the world. He explains, “By that I mean as follows: God comes to instruct the soul effectually through Christ by His Spirit, on what terms it lives here in the world, in what relation it stands. While I live in the world, my condition is to be but a pilgrim, a stranger, a traveler, 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 traveling to another home, and that I am here a soldier in my warfare. I say that a right understanding of this is a mighty help to contentment in whatever befalls one.”

“When you are at sea, though you have  not as many things as you have at home, you are not troubled at it; you are contented. Why? Because you are at sea. Thus it should be for 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 traveling, and our home is a distant home in another world. 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 night, it is as though you are traveling and had come to an inn.”

“Then again, we are not only travelers, but soldiers; this is the condition in which we are here in this world and therefore we ought to behave ourselves accordingly. The Apostle Paul makes us of this argument in writing to Timothy, ‘Thou therefore endure hardness as a good soldier of Jesus Christ,’ (II Timothy 2:3) When a soldier is away, he does not enjoy such comforts in his quarters as he has in his own home. He must lie out in the fields when he is a soldier and the very thought of the condition in which he stands calms him in all things. This only suitable to the condition in which God has put him. What an unseemly thing it would be to see a soldier go whining up and down with his finger in his eye, complaining that he does not have hot meat at every meal and his bed warmed as he had at home!”

And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God.” Romans 12:2

 

Contentment in the Strength of Another

“The LORD is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? the LORD is the strength of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?” Psalm 27:1

Jeremiah Burroughs continues on the mysteries of contentment… “There is still a further mystery, for I hope you will find this a very useful point and that before we have finished you will see how simple it is for one who is skilled in religion to get contentment, though it is hard for one who is carnal.

“I say that another mystery in contentment is this: A gracious heart has contentment by getting strength from Jesus Christ; he is able to bear his burdens by getting strength from someone else. Now this is a riddle, and it would be counted ridiculous in the schools of the philosophers to say. If there is a burden on you you must get strength from someone else.

“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 by bringing the strength of Jesus Christ into his own soul, he is thereby enabled to bear whatever God lays on him, by the strength that he finds from Jesus Christ.

“I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me.” Philippians 4:13

 “…strengthened with all might, according to his glorious power, unto all patience and longsuffering with joyfulness;” Colossians 1:11

“Indeed, our afflictions may be heavy, and we cry out, ‘Oh, we cannot bear them, we cannot bear such affliction!’ Though you cannot tell how to bear with your own strength, yet how can tell what you will do with the strength of Jesus Christ? You say you cannot bear it? So you think that Christ could not bear it?

“For we do not have a High Priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but was in all points tempted [tested, tried] as we are, yet without sin. Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” Hebrews 4:15 (NKJV)

“But if Christ could bear it, why may you not come to bear it? You will say, ‘Can I have the strength of Christ?’ Yes, it is made over to you by faith: the Scripture says that the Lord is our strength, God himself is our strength and Christ is our strength.”

“Behold, God is my salvation; I will trust, and not be afraid: for the LORD JEHOVAH is my strength and my song; he also is become my salvation.” Isaiah 12:2

“Trust ye in the LORD forever: for in the LORD JEHOVAH is everlasting strength.” Isaiah 26:4

 

The Dew of God’s Blessing

“A Song of degrees of David. Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity! It is like the precious ointment upon the head, that ran down upon the beard, even Aaron’s beard: that went down to the skirts of his garments; As the dew of Hermon, and as the dew that descended upon the mountains of Zion: for there the LORD commanded the blessing, even life for evermore.”  Psalm 133

Jeremiah Burroughs likens the blessings of God to the refreshing dew that covers lush vegetation in the morning. This refreshing mist is given to us freely by God as a blessing from His hand. How can we not be content with whatever He has graciously given us, whether much or little?

The contented Christian lives upon the dew of God’s blessing. The simile of a grasshopper describes the contented man, and says he has this motto, ‘I am content with what I have, and hope for better.’ The grasshopper leaps and skips up and down and lives on the dew. A grasshopper does not live on the grass as other things do; you do not know what it feeds on. Other things though as little as grasshoppers , feed upon seeds or little flies and such things, but as for the grasshopper, you do now know what it feeds upon. In the same way, a Christian can get food that the world does not know of; he is fed in a secret way by the dew of the blessings of God.”

What we have from God is a token of His love for us. “If a king were to send a piece of meat from his own table, it would be a great deal more pleasant to a courtier than if twenty dishes as an ordinary allowance; if the king sends even a little thing and says, ‘Go and carry it to that man as a token of my love,’ Oh, how delightful that would be to him!”

What we have from God is sanctified to us for good. “Other men have what they enjoy in the way of common providence, but the saints have it in a special way. There is a secret dew that goes along with it: the dew of God’s love. A gracious heart has what he has free of cost; he is not called to pay for it. Grace shows a man that what he has, he has free of cost, from God as from a Father, and therefore it must needs be very sweet. A godly man may very well be content, though he has only a little, for what he does have he has by right of Jesus Christ, by the purchase of Jesus Christ.”

Every bit of bread you eat, if you are a godly man or woman, Jesus Christ has bought it for you. You have it at the hands of men for money, but Christ has bought it at the hand of His Father. Certainly it is a great deal better and sweeter now, though it is but a little.” Indeed, even with few possessions or comforts,  “…godliness with contentment is great gain.” II Timothy 6:6

 

Metamorphosing the Affliction

“It is not so much the removing of the affliction that is upon us as the changing of the affliction, the metamorphosing of the affliction, so that it is quite turned and changed into something else.” – Jonathan Burroughs

In this example of the mystery of contentment, Burroughs focuses on a financial affliction—poverty, loss of employment, hunger, eviction, economic ruin. He encourages the believer to approach such an affliction with a gracious, spirit-filled attitude and seek a positive good through the affliction. The carnal believer looks for a quick and easy way out of the problem; the gracious believer asks God for divine help to grow spiritually through the trial.

 “I mean in regard to the use of it, though for the thing itself the affliction remains. The way of contentment to a carnal heart is only the removing of the affliction. ‘O that it may be gone!’ ‘No,’ says the gracious heart, ‘God has taught me a way to be content though the affliction itself still continues.’ There is a power of grace to turn this affliction into good; it takes away the sting and poison of it.

“Take the case of poverty when a man’s possessions are lost: Well, is there no way to be content until your possessions are made up again? Till your poverty is removed? Yes, certainly! Christianity would teach contentment, though poverty continues. It will teach you how to turn your poverty to spiritual riches.

“There is a saying… ‘Even poverty itself is riches to holy men.’ Godly men make their poverty turn to riches; they get more riches out of poverty than they do out of their revenues. Out of all their trading in this world they never had such incomes as they have had out of their poverty. This, a carnal heart will think, is strange: that a man shall make poverty the most gainful trade that ever he had in the world. I am persuaded that many Christians have found it so, that they have got more good by their poverty, than ever they got by all their riches.

“Therefore, think it not strange what I am speaking of. You do not find one godly man who came out of an affliction worse than when he went into; though for a while he was shaken, yet at last he was better for an affliction.”

It is good for me that I have been afflicted; that I might learn thy statutes.”

Psalm 119:71

Charles Spurgeon, in his magnificent commentary on the Psalms, The Treasury of David, elaborates on another aspect of affliction described by Burroughs as it applies to King David’s unique affliction in Psalm 119:71: “Even though the affliction came from bad men, it was overruled for good ends: though it was bad as it came from them, it was good for David. It benefited him in many ways, and he knew it. Whatever he may have thought while under the trial, he perceived himself to be the better for it when it was over. It was not good to the proud to be prosperous, for their hearts grew sensual and insensible; but affliction was good for the Psalmist. Our worst is better for us than the sinner’s best. It is bad for sinners to rejoice, and good for saints to sorrow. A thousand benefits have come to us through our pains and griefs, and among the rest is this — that we have thus been schooled in the law.”

 

The Mystery – Subtraction not Addition

“Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world. And the world passeth away, and the lust thereof: but he that doeth the will of God abideth forever.” I John 2:15-17 (KJV)

Some of Jeremiah Burrough’s “mysteries” about contentment may sound archaic or even contradictory, but his practical aphorisms deserve careful thought. This observation about Christian contentment is one we should consider:

“A Christian comes to contentment, not so much by way of addition, as by way of subtraction.” – Jeremiah Burroughs

The non-Christian, “…knows of no way to get contentment, but to have his possessions raised up to his desires; but the Christian has another way to contentment. That is, he can bring his desires [KJV – lusts] down to his possessions, and so he attains his contentment. The world is infinitely deceived in thinking that contentment lies in having more than we already have. Here lies the bottom and root of all contentment, when there is an evenness and proportion between our hearts and our circumstances.”

When I read this, I am forced to examine my desires against my circumstances. The cause and solution to my discontent is contained therein:

  • Is my discontent caused by my circumstances (pain, stress, loneliness, poverty, conflict, turmoil) that are too much to bear? Am I discontent because I lack something that I do not presently have? If my situation or possessions were to change, would I feel more content?

  • Or, are my desires (comfort, ease, family and friends, riches, peace and tranquility) so opposed to the actual circumstances that God has brought into my life that my desires are causing me to be discontent?

I must answer this question myself: What is the desire of my heart? Is my heart discontent because that desire is not satisfied? Could it be that my desire in life is misplaced? It’s time to do some spiritual math. That process begins with subtraction. Subtract from my desire to live a life of ease free from want or conflict. This is very difficult. However, it is possible when my desires are diminished to more closely match my circumstances and the desires of my Heavenly Father. When my heart’s desire lines up with the will of God in Jesus Christ, a new desire will overshadow and subtract from discontent with my circumstances.

“If ye then be risen with Christ, seek those things which are above,

where Christ sitteth on the right hand of God.

Set your affection on things above, not on things on the earth.”

Colossians 3:1-2 (KJV)

“If a man or woman has their [earthly] desires cut short, and have no large desires, that man or woman is rich. So this is the art of contentment; not to seek to add to our circumstances, but to subtract from our desires.” – Jeremiah Burroughs

 

 

 

More to Learn About Contentment

“Now all these things happened to them as examples, and they were written for our admonition, upon whom the ends of the ages have come. Therefore let him who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall.” 1 Corinthians 10:11-12 (NKJV)

“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.” Jeremiah Burroughs

 

We’ve looked at a number of things in Burrough’s definition of Christian contentment that might make us feel well-prepared in the subject. To summarize: Christian contentment is a heart matter; it is a quieting of the heart; it is a spiritual matter; it is graciously and freely submitting to God’s plan for us; there is a certain pleasure in seeing God at work in our life through trials; everything that happens is due to God’s wise sovereignty; every circumstance, no matter how difficult or how long it persists, is in God’s control.

We will look at I Corinthians 10 quoted in part above in a later lesson, but note that the lesson of verses 11-12 is that our experiences in life, like the Israelites wandering in the desert, can leave us with misconceptions about who God is and why God puts trials in our path. The more God showed His grace and care in their desert wanderings, the more the Israelites complained and grew bitter against Him. If you’ve been a believer for any length of time, you’ve had many opportunities to face difficulties. Some of us have not handled them well and others have come through with flying colors—thanks to God and His grace.

My point is that sometimes we can think that we can deal with problems that come our way in our own strength. We pray, read our Bibles, worship, fellowship, serve, love our families, and work hard. Things will happen along the way and we feel confident that we can deal with them! “…let him who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall.”

We have a way yet to go in our study of Christian contentment. We live in a sin-cursed earth surrounded by sinners like us! The next lessons are mini-insights from Jeremiah Burroughs on “The Mystery of Contentment.” You might be surprised that a believer in the middle of the most horrible crisis of their life can still be spiritually content. How can that possibly be? That is the mystery!

 

Submission to God is Contentment

“For thus says the High and Lofty One

Who inhabits eternity, whose name is Holy:

“I dwell in the high and holy place,

With him who has a contrite and humble spirit,

To revive the spirit of the humble,

And to revive the heart of the contrite ones.”

Isaiah 57:15

“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.” Jeremiah Burroughs

Burrough’s definition of Christian contentment ends with the thought that the believer’s spiritual attitude must be in submission to God’s sovereign will in all circumstances. When things go well we say “Praise the Lord!”. We (rightly) thank Him for recovery from an operation or illness, provision of a raise at our job, good grades at school, or the gracious settlement of a family argument. “This is God’s will,” we reason, because things have gone well. How about when the news from the doctor is not so good, we lose our job, our grades take a nosedive, or there is constant stress in our family? We ask, “Can this be God’s will?”

Burroughs has four practical insights to help us apply what he means when he says thatChristian contentment, “…freely submits to and delights in God’s wise and fatherly disposal in every condition.”

Christian contentment means…free submission to God’s work in our lives – Submission to God in our circumstances must be give freely, willingly. Burroughs tells us in his unique style: “This freedom is in opposition to mere stupidity.” He explains that, “many are contented…who have a dead paralysis about them. But a yielded heart has sense enough and yet is contented, and therefore free.” Those who are not content to let God perform his perfect work (Deuteronomy 32:4) believe that they know better than God! Remember that you are  not above God—He is above you! “Keep under the authority and sovereignty of God; the power that God has over you! To keep under, that is to submit. The soul can submit to God at the time when it can send itself under the power and sovereignty and dominion that God has over it.” Doing this freely is the difficult part…

 

Christian contentment means…delight in what God does – “I am well pleased in what God does, in so far as I can see God in it, though I may be sensible of the affliction, and may desire that God in His due time would remove it…Yet I am well pleased in so far as God’s hand is in it…that I see that there is good in it. I find that there is honey in the rock… and the hand of God is good.” “It is good for me that I have been afflicted; that I might learn thy statutes.” (Psalm 119:71)

Christian contentment means…God’s work is wise and fatherly – God has a good outcome in mind for our afflictions and troubles as He works in us to shape us into the men, women, children He wants. Joseph could say, even after so many difficult experiences in his life, “…you meant evil against me; but God meant it for good, in order to bring it about as it is this day, to save many people alive.” (Genesis 50:20) Likewise, God works today to work all things together for god in our lives. (Romans 8:28-30)

Christian contentment means…submission and delight in all that God does – It is difficult to remember these lessons on contentment during times of adversity. Burroughs notes that all trials are different and affect individuals differently:

(a) The kind of trouble impacts people differently: one person faces a deadly disease and another is in a crumbling marriage and another is in financial hardship; God can use any means to conform us to the image of His Son;

(b) The time and continuance of a hardship will be different for each believer: some trials can be seen approaching to give time for preparation while others strike without warning and when we are least prepared; some last but for an hour or a day and others last a lifetime;

(c) The circumstances of our suffering can make submission to God’s sovereignty easier or harder. Sometimes the circumstances surrounding a burden are harder to bear than the burden itself. All of this is still part of God’s plan;

(d) The variety of trials can compound our misery. Bearing one thorn in the flesh is difficult enough and yet bearing two or three or more in succession can be crushing. Job experienced more different calamities in one day than anyone else would face in a lifetime. (Job 1:13-19) Yet, “In all this Job sinned not, nor charged God foolishly.” (1:22)

 

Next time: Do we understand spiritual contentment? Not yet…

Contentment is a Matter of the Spirit

“For they that are after the flesh do mind the things of the flesh; but they that are after the Spirit the things of the Spirit. For to be carnally minded is death; but to be spiritually minded is life and peace. Because the carnal mind is enmity against God: for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be. So then they that are in the flesh cannot please God.” Romans 8:5-8

“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.” Jeremiah Burroughs

The term “frame of spirit” may sound unusual to us, especially in Burrough’s 17th century English. We would recognize the term used in the King James Version of the Bible when it speaks of the frame of the human physical body: “Like as a father pitieth his children, so the LORD pitieth them that fear him. For he knoweth our frame; he remembereth that we are dust. As for man, his days are as grass: as a flower of the field, so he flourisheth.” (Psalm 103:13-15 KJV)

The Apostle Paul reminds us that our bodies are a physical “framework” (a holy temple) which houses the believer’s inner spirit and the Holy Spirit as long as the mortal body is alive. (I Corinthians 3:16-17; 6:19) I believe that Burroughs refers to the former in his definition. I hasten to point out that the believer’s inner spirit and the Holy Spirit are intimately bound and sealed together for eternity. (Ephesians 1:13-14, 4:30; II Corinthians 1:22)

Burroughs gives us three helpful thoughts on contentment as a spiritual matter:

Spiritual contentment, “…is soul-business.” Not only is our contentment a matter of the heart, it is also a matter of the spirit or soul. (I suspect he uses little distinction between soul and spirit as his way of making these lessons more practical than theological.) Contentment is much more than a matter of the heart. It addresses deeper, eternal issues related to our spirit which has been regenerated by God’s power. Because our inner spirit is now capable of being in tune with the Holy Spirit, we can pursue spiritual contentment as we live and walk in the spirit. We walk in a heavenly, spiritual realm where everything has spiritual implications and ramifications.

“Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit Who is from God, that we might know the things that have been freely given to us by God. These things we also speak, not in words which man’s wisdom teaches but which the Holy Spirit teaches, comparing spiritual things with spiritual.” (I Corinthians 2:12-13 NKJV)

Spiritual contentment “…spreads itself though the whole soul.” This begs the question of whether part of me can be content and another part discontent. An example is someone who reasons that because he has enough money, he should be content. He might convince himself that this is the case even though it is faulty reasoning. When that same person faces a trouble or calamity he is discontent. This is because he lacked contentment in his spirit or soul. He can reason all he wants that he should be content, yet if contentment does not saturate his entire soul, he will come up short. Burroughs suggests that a spiritually content believer will say, “This is the hand of God and is suitable for my condition or is what is best for me. Although I do not see the reason for it, I am satisfied with it.’ Spiritual contentment will imbue every part of a believer’s life—spirit and soul.

“The frame of the spirit shows the habitual character of contentment.” Spiritual contentment is not something that shows itself from time to time when we are feeling in a good mood. Burroughs makes this very clear: “A Christian who, in the constant tenor and temper of his heart, can carry himself quietly with constancy has learned this lesson of contentment. Otherwise, his Christianity is worth nothing, [emphasis added] for no one, however furious in his discontent, will not be quiet when he is in a good mood.” We will have more to say about this in a future lesson.