‘I have learned, in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content.’ Philippians 4:11
9. NOW WE SHALL ENLARGE ON THIS IS IN EVERY CONDITION.
SUBMITTING TO GOD IN WHATEVER AFFLICTION BEFALLS US: AS TO THE KIND OF AFFLICTION.
As to the kind of affliction. Many men and women will in general say that they must submit to God in affliction; I suppose that if you were to go now from one end of this congregation to the other, and speak thus to every soul: ‘Would you not submit to God’s disposal, in whatever condition he might place you?’, you would say, ‘God forbid that it should be otherwise!’ But we have a saying, There is a great deal of deceit in general statements. In general, you would submit to anything; but what if it is in this or that particular case which crosses you most?-Then, anything but that! We are usually apt to think that any condition is better than that condition in which God has placed us. Now, this is not contentment; it should be not only to any condition in general, but for the kind of affliction, including that which most crosses you. God, it may be, strikes you in your child.-‘Oh, if it had been in my possessions’ you say, ‘I would be content!’ Perhaps he strikes you in your marriage. ‘Oh,’ you say, ‘I would rather have been stricken in my health.’ And if he had struck you in your health -‘Oh, then, if it had been in my trading, I would not have cared.’ But we must not be our own carvers. Whatever particular afflictions God may place us in, we must be content in them.
SUBMITTING TO GOD AS TO THE TIME AND CONTINUANCE OF THE AFFLICTION.
There must be a submission to God in every affliction, as to the time and continuance of the affliction. ‘Perhaps I could submit and be content’, says someone, ‘but this affliction has been on me a long time, three months, a year, many years, and I do not know how to yield and submit to it, my patience is worn out and broken.’ I may even be a spiritual affliction-you could submit to God, you say, in any outward affliction, but not in a soul-affliction.
Or if it were the withdrawing of God’s face-‘Yet if this had been but for a little time I could submit; but to seek God for so long and still he does not appear, Oh how shall I bear this?‘ We must not be our own disposers for the time of deliverance any more than for the kind and way of deliverance.
We are to submit to God for the time as well as the kind of affliction, see the latter end of the first chapter of Ezekiel: ‘When I saw it I fell upon my face, and I heard a voice of one that spake.’ The Prophet was cast down upon his face, but how long must he lie upon his face? ‘And he said unto me, Son of man, stand upon thy feet and I will speak unto thee. And the spirit entered into me, when he spake unto me, and set me upon my feet.’ Ezekiel was cast down upon his face, and there he must lie till God should bid him to stand up; yea, and not only so, but till God’s Spirit came into him and enabled him to stand up. So when God casts us down, we must be content to lie till God bids us stand up, and God’s Spirit enters into us to enable us to stand up. You know how Noah was put into the Ark -certainly he knew there was much affliction in the Ark, with all kinds of creatures shut up with him for twelve months together -it was a mighty thing, yet God having shut him up, even though the waters were assuaged, Noah was not to come out of the Ark till God bid him.
So though we be shut up in great afflictions, and we may think of this and that and the other means to come out of that affliction, yet till God opens the door, we should be willing to stay; God has put us in, and God will bring us out. So we read in the Acts of Paul, when they had shut him in prison and would have sent for him out; ‘No’, says Paul, ‘they shut us in, let them come and fetch us out.’ So in a holy, gracious way should a soul say, ‘Well, this affliction that I am brought into, is by the hand of God, and I am content to be here till God brings me out himself.’ God requires it at our hands, that we should not be willing to come out till he comes and fetches us out. In Joshua 4:10 there is a remarkable story that may serve our purpose very well:
We read of the priests that they bore the ark and stood in the midst of Jordan (you know when the Children of Israel went into the land of Canaan they went through the river Jordan). Now to go through the river Jordan was a very dangerous thing, but God had told them to go. They might have been afraid of the water coming in upon them. But mark, it is said, ‘The priests that carried the ark stood in the midst of Jordan till every thing was finished that the Lord commanded Joshua to speak unto the people, according to all that Moses commanded Joshua, and the people hasted and passed over: And it came to pass when all the people were clean passed over, that the ark of the Lord passed over, and the priests in the presence of the people.’ Now it was God’s disposal that all the people should pass over first, that they should be safe on land; but the priests must stand still till all the people had passed over, and then they must have leave to go. But they must stay till God would have them to go, stay in all that danger! For certainly, to reason and sense, there was a great deal of danger in staying, for the text says that the people hasted over, but the priests they must stay till the people have gone, stay till God calls them out from that place of danger.
And so many times it proves the case that God is pleased to dispose of things so that his ministers must stay longer in danger than the people, and likewise magistrates and those in public places, which should make people to be satisfied and contented with a lower position into which God has put them. Though your position is low, yet you are not in the same danger as those who are in a higher position. God calls those in public positions to stand longer in the gap and place of danger than other people, but we must be content to stay even in Jordan till the Lord shall be pleased to call us out.
SUBMITTING TO GOD AS TO THE VARIETY AND CHANGES OF AFFLICTION: WHATEVER THEY ARE, YET THERE MUST BE A SUBMISSION TO GOD’S DISPOSAL IN EVERY CONDITION.
We must be content with the particular affliction, and the time, and all the circumstances about the affliction-for sometimes the circumstances are greater afflictions than the afflictions themselves-and for the variety. God may exercise us with various afflictions one after another, as has been very noticeable, even of late, that many who have been plundered and come away, afterwards have fallen sick and died; they had fled for their lives and afterwards the plague has come among them; and if not that affliction, it may be some other. It is very rarely that one affliction comes alone; commonly, afflictions are not single things, but they come one upon the neck of another. God may strike one man in his possessions, then in his body, then in his name, wife, child or dear friend, and so it comes in a variety of ways; it is the way of God ordinarily (you may find it by experience) that one affliction seldom comes alone. Now this is hard, when one affliction follows after another, when there is a variety of afflictions, when there is a mighty change in one’s condition, up and down, this way, and that: there indeed is the trial of a Christian. Now there must be submission to God’s disposal in them. I remember it was said even of Cato, who was a Heathen, that no man saw him to be changed, though he lived in a time when the commonwealth was so often changed; yet it is said of him, he was the same still, though his condition was changed, and he passed through a variety of conditions. Oh that the same could be said of many Christians, that though their circumstances are changed, yet that nobody could see them changed, they are the same! Did you see what a gracious, sweet and holy temper they were in before? They are in it still. Thus are we to submit to the disposal of God in every condition.
Contentment is the inward, quiet, gracious frame of spirit, freely submitting to and taking pleasure in God’s disposal in every condition: That is the description, and in it nine distinct things have been opened up which we summarize as follows: First, that contentment is a heart-work within the soul; Secondly, it is the quieting of the heart; Thirdly, it is the frame of the spirit; Fourthly, it is a gracious frame; Fifthly, it is the free working of this gracious frame; Sixth, there is in it a submission to God, sending the soul under God; Seventhly, there is a taking pleasure in the hand of God; Eighth, all is traced to God’s disposal; Ninth, in every condition, however hard it be and however long it continue.
I hope that the very opening of these things may so far work on your hearts that you may lay your hands upon your hearts on what has been said, I say, that the very telling you what the lesson is may cause you to lay your hands on your hearts and say, ‘Lord, I see there is more to Christian contentment than I thought there was, and I have been far from learning this lesson. Indeed, I have only learned my ABC in this lesson of contentment. I am only in the lower form in Christ’s school if I am in it at all.’ We shall speak of these things more later, but my particular aim in opening this point is to show what a great mystery there is in Christian contentment, and how many distinct lessons there are to be learned, that we may come to attain to this heavenly disposition, to which St. Paul attained.
Meet the author: Jeremiah Burroughs, 1600 – 1646 studied at Emmanuel College, Cambridge, and was graduated M.A. in 1624, but left the university because of non-conformity. He was assistant to Edmund Calamy at Bury St. Edmunds, and in 1631 became rector of Tivetshall, Norfolk. He was suspended for non-conformity in 1636 and soon afterward deprived, he went to Rotterdam (1637) and became “teacher” of the English church there. He returned to England in 1641 and served as preacher at Stepney and Cripplegate, London. He was a member of the Westminster Assembly and one of the few who opposed the Presbyterian majority. While one of the most distinguished of the English Independents, he was one of the most moderate, acting consistently in accordance with the motto on his study door (in Latin and Greek): “Opinionum varietas et opinantium unitas non sunt ασυστατα” (“Difference of belief and unity of believers are not inconsistent”).