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

 

 

 

Hymn: Sweetly Resting

Cleft in a rock on Mount Horeb

“O my dove, in the clefts of the rock,

In the secret places of the cliff,

Let me see your face,

Let me hear your voice;

For your voice is sweet,

And your face is lovely.”

Song of Solomon 2:14 (NKJV)

There is no place safer than in God’s hands sheltered from the attacks of the world, the flesh, and the devil. The writer of this hymn sought her hiding place in the “rifted rock” that is Jesus Christ. He alone is our shield from the snares and sins and storms of life. May we flee to Him, our Savior and Protector, at the first signs of temptation!

 

Sweetly Resting

by Mary Dagworthy Yard James

In the rifted rock I’m resting,

Safely sheltered I abide;

There no foes nor storms molest me,

While within the cleft I hide.

Chorus

Now I’m resting, sweetly resting,

In the cleft once made for me;

Jesus, blessed Rock of Ages,

I will hide myself in Thee.

Long pursued by sin and Satan,

Weary, sad, I longed for rest;

Then I found this heav’nly shelter

Opened in my Savior’s breast.

[Chorus]

Peace which passeth understanding,

Joy the world can never give,

Now in Jesus I am finding,

In His smiles of love I live.

[Chorus]

In the rifted rock I’ll hide me,

Till the storms of life are past;

All secure in this blest refuge,

Heeding not the fiercest blast.

[Chorus]

 

* Mary Dagworthy Yard James (1810-1883) was born in Trenton, NJ, she married in 1834 and had a son who became a minister in the Methodist Episcopal Church. She became a prominent figure in the Wesleyan Holiness movement of the early 1800s, assisting Phoebe Palmer (also a hymnist) and often leading meetings at Ocean Grove, NJ, and elsewhere. Another of her hymns begins “All for Jesus, all for Jesus, All my being’s ransomed powers,” written in 1871. It was said that she strived to live a life as close to Christ as possible. She died in New York City in 1883.

“These things I have spoken unto you,

that in me ye might have peace.

In the world ye shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer;

I have overcome the world.”

John 16:33

 

The Mystery of Contentment

 

“He who loves silver

will not be satisfied with silver;

Nor he who loves abundance, with increase.

This also is vanity.”

Ecclesiastes 5:10

 

It is a mystery that a person can be content and dissatisfied at the same time. Here is how Jeremiah Burroughs puts it: “…he is the most contented man in the world, and yet the most unsatisfied man in the world; these two together must needs be mysterious. A man should be content with his affliction, and yet thoroughly sensible of his affliction too.”

The secret of Christian contentment lies in the object of the contentment. “Godliness teaches us this mystery. (I Timothy 6:6) Not to be satisfied with all the world for our portion, and yet to be content with the meanest condition in which we are. A little in the world will content a Christian for his passage, but all the world, and ten thousand times more, will not content a Christian for his portion. A carnal heart will be content with things of the world for his portion; and that is the difference between a carnal heart and a gracious heart.”

Lacking physical comforts, security, food, or money, the Apostle Paul explained why he was content: “I know both how to be abased, and I know how to abound: everywhere and in all things I am instructed both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need. I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me.” (Philippians 4:12-13)

King Solomon understood that physical riches and pleasure are only vanity—futility and emptiness of soul that he called an evil disease. (Ecclesiastes 6:2) That emptiness produces dissatisfaction with life under the sun. As Christians, we know this to be true, but sometimes we deceive ourselves into thinking that something more will make us content in our misery. Unraveling the mystery of contentment is not found in something. It is found in someone.

“And Jesus said unto them,

I am the bread of life:

he that cometh to me shall never hunger;

and he that believeth on me shall never thirst.”

John 6:35

Hymn: Thy Will Alone

“Then [Jesus] said to them, ‘My soul is exceedingly sorrowful, even to death. Stay here and watch.’ He went a little farther, and fell on the ground, and prayed that if it were possible, the hour might pass from Him. And He said, ‘Abba, Father, all things are possible for You. Take this cup away from Me; nevertheless, not what I will, but what You will.’” Mark 14:34-36 (NKJV)

 

Christian contentment in the face of tragedy and disaster is a spiritual matter. It is also a matter of the heart. Because contentment calls us to submit to God’s sovereignty, it is also a matter of the will. We choose to submit to whatever God has for our lives even though it may be unpleasant or painful. The night before Jesus went to the cross, He understood the torture and suffering He would endure because it was the Father’s will that His Son should give His life to atone for the sins of the whole world. (I John 2:2; 4:10) In spite of the unimaginable horror that would cause the Father to look away from His Son, Jesus loved us enough to submit to the Father’s will.

“Grace be to you and peace from God the Father, and from our Lord Jesus Christ, Who gave himself for our sins, that he might deliver us from this present evil world, according to the will of God and our Father: ” Galatians 1:3-4 (KJV)

 

Thy Will Alone

by Lottie Blackwood *

Thy will alone, dear Lord,

Is all I care to do

In all I act, or speak, or think,

While I remain below.

I care not what I do,

I care not where I go,

If thou wilt gently lead me, Lord,

Down thro’ this vale of woe.

I’m not afraid to trust,

I see thy smiling face;

Thou hast drawn apart the veil for me,

Within the holiest place.

Then help me trust thee, Lord,

To all thy will I bow;

A humble suppliant at the throne,

Thou dost receive me now.

 

* Lottie Blackwood – We know nothing about her except that she wrote hymns in the late 19th century. Internet searches turned up a few hymns, but nothing about her. Some of her hymns appear to have been republished with slightly different titles. “Jesus Saves Even Me” (sheet music, 1885); “Thy Will Alone Dear Lord” (hymnal, 1887); “Thy Precious Will be Done” (hymnal, 1888); “Thy Will Alone” (hymnal, 1900).

 

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!

 

Hymn: I Surrender All

“Now if we died with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with Him, knowing that Christ, having been raised from the dead, dies no more. Death no longer has dominion over Him. For the death that He died, He died to sin once for all; but the life that He lives, He lives to God. Likewise you also, reckon yourselves to be dead indeed to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Romans 6:8-11 (NKJV)

If there is one verse that holds the secret to Christian contentment, it is Romans 12:1. Surrendering of our lives to God each day sets the stage for a daily walk in the Spirit. The principles of surrender are explained in Chapter 6 of Romans: in the new birth, received from God as a free gift by faith in Jesus Christ, we became identified with Christ for all eternity. When He died, we died with Him. When He rose from the dead, we rose with Him. Now, we walk in newness of life where, again by faith, sin holds no power over us and we can live moment by moment in pure fellowship with our Savior. Sin breaks that moment fellowship, but never the bond of eternal life. Confession of our sin (I John 1:9) instantly returns us to fellowship and a walk of joy and contentment. Romans 6 and Romans 12:1-2 together form the foundation upon which a believer can build a life of spiritual contentment. The words of the hymn “I Surrender All” and the inspiration for it from the writer’s life are reminders of our need to submit every moment to whatever circumstances our loving, gracious God sends our way.

 

I Surrender All

by Judson W. Van De Venter *

All to Jesus I surrender,

All to Him I freely give;

I will ever love and trust Him,

In His presence daily live.

Refrain

I surrender all, I surrender all;

All to Thee, my blessed Savior,

I surrender all.

All to Jesus I surrender,

Make me, Savior, wholly Thine;

Let me feel Thy Holy Spirit,

Truly know that Thou art mine. [Refrain]

All to Jesus I surrender,

Lord, I give myself to Thee;

Fill me with Thy love and power,

Let Thy blessing fall on me. [Refrain]

 

* Judson W. Van De Venter (1855-1939) was born on a farm in Michigan. Following graduation from Hillsdale College, he became an art teacher and supervisor of art in the public schools of Sharon, Pennsylvania. He was, in addition, an accomplished musician, singer, and composer. He was also an active in his church’s evangelistic meetings. Recognizing his talent for the ministry, friends urged him to give up teaching and become an evangelist. Van De Venter wavered for five years between becoming a recognized artist or devoting himself to ministry. Finally, he surrendered his life to the Lord and full-time ministry, and wrote the text of this hymn. Following his decision to surrender his life to the Lord, Van De Venter traveled throughout the United States, England, and Scotland, doing evangelistic work. Toward the end of his life, Van De Venter moved to Florida, and was professor of hymnology at the Florida Bible Institute for four years in the 1920s. Van De Venter published more than 60 hymns in his lifetime, but “I Surrender All” is his most famous.

 

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…

Hymn: Peace, Peace! Wonderful Peace!

Therefore being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ: by whom also we have access by faith into this grace wherein we stand, and rejoice in hope of the glory of God.” Romans 5:1-2

Peace, especially peace with God, is a mark of spiritual contentment. This hymn epitomizes the peace of God that passes all understanding and penetrates deep into our spirit to govern all that we do.

 

Wonderful Peace

by Warren Donald Cornell *

Far away in the depths of my spirit tonight

Rolls a melody sweeter than psalm;

In celestial-like strains it unceasingly falls

O’er my soul like an infinite calm.

Refrain

Peace, peace! wonderful peace!

Coming down from the Father above,

Sweep over my spirit forever, I pray,

In fathomless billows of love.

What a treasure I have in this wonderful peace

Buried deep in the heart of my soul,

So secure that no power can mine it away

While the years of eternity roll. [Refrain]

I am resting tonight in this wonderful peace,

Resting sweetly in Jesus’ control,

For I’m kept from all danger by night and by day,

And His glory is flooding my soul. [Refrain]

And me thinks when I rise to that city of peace

Where the Author of peace I shall see,

That one strain of the song which the ransomed will sing

In that heavenly kingdom shall be: [Refrain]

Ah! soul, are you here without comfort and rest,

Marching down the rough pathway of time?

Make Jesus your friend ere the shadows grow dark

O accept this sweet peace so sublime! [Refrain]

 

* Warren Donald Cornell (1858-1936) was born in Whiteford, Michigan, where he trained as a school teacher and began teaching in Dallas Public Schools at age 19. Licensed by the Southern Methodists, he was appointed to preach in Denton and Gainesville, Texas. He married in 1880 and had five sons. In 1881 he removed to the Oshkosh, Wisconsin, area and spent most of his career preaching at various pastorates and in Berlin, Wisconsin. He was an eloquent preacher, poet, and evangelist. In 1894 he became minister of the People’s Christian Assn., in Fond du Lac, Wisconsin and pastored an independent church there. In 1905, he left the ministry and entered real estate. He took an interest in political and social issues, and became a touring lecturer for anti-socialist causes. By 1925 he and his family had moved to New York state, where he died in 1936.

Next – Submission to God is contentment

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.

 

 

Hymn: Like A River Glorious

Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.” Philippians 4:6-7 (NKJV)

We saw the last time that Christian Contentment isdefined 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.” As a matter of the heart, inner contentment is synonymous with inner peace with God. This hymn likens this peace to a slowly flowing river that is wide and vast as it moves along its path. May our lives be defined by peace and contentment as we wind along our journey in life.

 

Like A River Glorious

by Frances Ridley Havergal

Like a river glorious is God’s perfect peace,

over all victorious in its bright increase:

perfect, yet still flowing fuller every day;

perfect, yet still growing deeper all the way.

Chorus

Trusting in the Father, hearts are fully blest,

finding, as he promised, perfect peace and rest.

Hidden in the hollow of his mighty hand,

where no harm can follow, in his strength we stand.

We may trust him fully all for us to do;

those who trust him wholly find him wholly true.

[Chorus]

 

* Frances Ridley Havergal (1836-1879) was born in Astley, Worcestershire, Britain. Her father was the Rector of St. Nicholas Cathedral, Worcester. In August, 1850, she entered Mrs. Teed’s School, whose influence over her was most beneficial. In the following year she says, “I committed my soul to the Saviour, and earth and heaven seemed brighter from that moment.” In 1860 she left Worcester on her father resigning the Rectory of St. Nicholas, and resided at different periods in Britain, broken by visits to Switzerland, Scotland, and North Wales.

Simply and sweetly she sang the love of God, and His way of salvation. To this end, and for this object, her whole life and all her powers were consecrated. She lives and speaks in every line of her poetry. Her poems are permeated with the fragrance of her passionate love of Jesus. Her religious views and theological bias are distinctly set forth in her poems, and may be described as mildly Calvinistic, without the severe dogmatic tenet of reprobation. The burden of her writings is a free and full salvation, through the Redeemer’s merits, for every sinner who will receive it, and her life was devoted to the proclamation of this truth by personal labors, literary efforts, and earnest interest in Foreign Missions. She died in 1879 at the age of 43.