‘I have learned, in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content.’ Philippians 4:11
THE FIFTH CHARACTERISTIC IS CONTENTMENT IS FREELY SUBMITTING TO AND TAKING PLEASURE IN GOD’S DISPOSAL.
It is a free work of the spirit. There are four things to be explained in this freedom of spirit:
1. That the heart is readily brought over. When someone does a thing freely, he does not need a lot of moving to get him to do it. Many men and women, when afflictions are heavy upon them, may be brought to a state of contentment with great ado. At last, perhaps, they may be brought to quiet their hearts in their affliction, but only with a great deal of trouble, and not at all freely. If I desire a thing of someone else and I get it with much ado and a great deal of trouble, there is no freedom of spirit here. When a man is free in a thing, only mention it and immediately he does it. So if you have learned this art of contentment you will not only be content and quiet your hearts after a great ado, but as soon as you come to see that it is the hand of God your heart acts readily and closes at once.
2. It is freely, that is, not by constraint. Not, as we say, patience by force. Thus many will say that you must be content: ‘This is the hand of God and you cannot help it.’ Oh, but this is too low an expression for Christians.
Yet when Christians come to visit one another, they say, ‘Friend (or neighbor), you must be content.’ Must be content is too low for a Christian. No, it should be, ‘Readily and freely I will be content.’ 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. Oh, you should answer your friends so who come and tell you that you must be content: No, I am willing to yield to God, and I am freely content. That is the second point about freedom of spirit. Now a free act comes in a rational manner. That is freedom; it does not come through ignorance, because I know of no better condition or because I do not know why my affliction is, but it comes through a sanctified judgment. That is why no creature but a rational creature can do an act of freedom. Liberty of action is only in rational creatures and comes from hence, for that is only freedom that is done in a rational way. Natural freedom is when I, by my judgment, see what is to be done, understand the thing, and my judgment agrees with what I understand: that is done freely.
But if a man does something, not understanding what he is doing, he cannot be said to do it freely. Suppose a child was born in prison and never went outside of it. He is content, but why? Because he never knew anything better. His being content is not a free act. But for men and women who know better, who know that the condition they are in is an afflicted and sad condition, and still by a sanctified judgment can bring their hearts to contentment-this is freedom.
3. This freedom is in opposition to mere stupidity. A man or woman may be contented merely from lack of sense. This is not free, any more than a man who is paralysed in a deadly way and does not feel it when you nip him is patient freely. But if someone should have their flesh pinched and feel it, and yet for all that can control themselves and do it freely, that is another matter. So it is here: many are contented out of mere stupidity. They have a dead paralysis upon them. But a gracious heart has sense enough, and yet is contented, and therefore is free.