Lessons from the school of Christ, continued from this post.
2. The vanity of the creature.
“You would be happy, and you seek after such and such comforts in the creature. Well, have you got them? do you find your hearts satisfied as having the happiness that is suitable to you? No, no, it is not here, but you think it is because you lack such and such things. O poor deluded man! it is not because you have not got enough of it, but because it is not the thing that is proportionable to the immortal soul that God has given you. ‘Why do you lay out money for that which is not bread, and your labour for that which satisfieth not?’ (Isaiah 55.2). You are mad people, you seek to satisfy your stomach with that which is not bread, you follow the wind; you will never have contentment.”
3. He teaches him to understand what is the one thing that is necessary, which he never understood before.
“So it is with the heart: when the heart of a man has nothing to do, but to be busy about creature-comforts, every little thing troubles him; but when the heart is taken up with the weighty things of eternity, with the great things of eternal life, the things of here below that disquieted it before are things now of no consequence to him in comparison with the other – how things fall out here is not much regarded by him, if the one thing necessary is provided for.”
4. The soul comes to understand in what relation it stands to the world.
“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 traveller, and a soldier.”
5. Christ teaches us wherein consists any good that is to be enjoyed in any creature in the world.
“No creature in all the world has any goodness in it any further than it has reference to the first infinite supreme good of all, that so far as I can enjoy God in it, so far it is good to me, and so far as I do not enjoy God in it, so far there is no goodness in any creature. How easy it would be, if we really believed that, to be contented!”
6. Christ teaches the soul whom he brings into this school in the knowledge of their own hearts.
“You must learn to know your own hearts well, to be good students of your own hearts. … You will come soon to discover wherein your discontent lies. … We shall come to know what best suits our condition. … By knowing their own hearts, they know what they are able to manage.”
7. The seventh lesson by which Christ teaches contentment is the burden of a prosperous outward condition.
Well, now, this is quite applicable to the “richer” nations, isn’t it? Americans, pay attention with me! Here I am discontent in not yet owning my own house, but I breeze past the praise-worthy fact that my husband and I can afford one in our mid-twenties. A fair warning as well to the majority of Americans who believe they deserve more in their bank account. Perhaps God knows they cannot bear prosperous conditions?
“Just as men need strong brains to bear strong wine, so they need strong spirits to bear prosperous conditions, and not to do themselves hurt.” Burroughs then lists four burdens of prosperity.
Trouble: “A man may have a very fine shoe, but nobody knows where it pinches him except the one who has it on; so you think certain men are happy, but they may have many troubles that you little think of.”
Danger: “Honey, we know, invites bees and wasps to it, and the sweet of prosperity invites the Devil and temptation.”
Duty: “You look only at the sweetness and comfort, the honour and respect that they have who are in a prosperous position, but you must consider the duty that they owe to God. God requires more duty at their hands than at yours. … Oh, you would fain have the honour, but can you carry the burden of the duty?”
Account: “You think of princes and kings — Oh, what a glorious position they are in! But what do you think of a king who has to give account for the disorder and wickedness in a kingdom which he might possibly have prevented?”
It’s the American dream to be prosperous. But can you properly deal with the trouble, danger, duty, and account that wealth inflicts?
8. Christ teaches them what a great and dreadful evil it is to be given up to ones’ heart’s desires.
Now here is some comfort for me (and others in similar positions). When God denies me my heart’s desires, He is showing me grace. Since we learned earlier that my heart is incapable of anything good, not only void of good but unable to maintain good, my heart’s desires are not naturally inclined to glorifying God. When God denies me one of my wants, He is, essentially, saving me from myself.
“A kindred truth is that spiritual judgments are more fearful than any outward judgments. Now once the soul understands these things, a man will be content when God crosses him in his desires. You are crossed in your desires, and so you are discontented and vexed and fretted about it; is that your only misery, that you are crossed in your desires? No, no, you are infinitely mistaken; the greatest misery of all is for God to give you up to your heart’s lusts and desires, to give you up to your own counsels.”
9. The ninth and last lesson which Christ teaches those whom he instructs in this art of contentment is the right knowledge of God’s providence, and therein are four things.
Burroughs then lists four facets of God’s providence.
- The universality of providence.
“Nothing befalls you, good or evil, but there is a providence of the infinite eternal first Being in that thing; and therein is God’s infiniteness, that it reaches to the least things, to the least worm that is under your feet. Then much more does it reach to you who are a rational creature; the providence of God is more special towards rational creatures than any other.”
- The efficacy that is in the providence.
Love this. “Suppose we are discontented and vexed and troubled, and we fret and rage, yet we need not think we will alter the course of providence by our discontent. Some of Job’s friends, when they saw that he was impatient, said to him: ‘Shall the earth be forsaken for thee? and shall the rock be removed out of his place?’ (Job 18.4). So I may say to every discontented, impatient heart: what, shall the providence of God change its course for you? Do you think it is such a weak thing, that because it does not please you it must alter its course? Whether or not you are content the providence of God will go on, it has an efficacy of power, of virtue, to carry all things before it. Can you make one hair black or white with all the stir that you are making? When you are in a ship at sea which has all its sails spread with a full gale of wind, and is swiftly sailing, can you make it stand still by running up and down the ship? No more can you make the providence of God alter and change its course with your vexing and fretting; it will go on with power, do what you can.”
- The infinite variety of the works of providence, and yet the order of things, one working towards another.
“We, indeed, look at things by pieces, we look at one detail and do not consider the relation that one thing has to another, but God looks at all things at once, and sees the relation that one thing has to another. … God may have some work to do twenty years hence that depends on this passage of providence that falls out this day or this week.”
- The knowledge of God’s usual way in his dealings with his people more particularly.
Burroughs breaks this down into three points, all of which smack contradictory to the ever-famous prosperity “gospel”.
“God’s ordinary course is that his people in this world should be in an afflicted condition.”
“Usually when God intends the greatest mercy to any of his people he brings them into the lowest condition.”
“It is the way of God to work by contraries, to turn the greatest evil into the greatest good.”
By learning these lessons, Burroughs encourages the reader, we can graduate the school of Christ with a knowledge and understanding of true contentment. Clearly, none of us will be masters in this art while on earth, but as Christians, we work to become more like Christ in His contentment to die on the cross for us.