This section replaces a previous version of this study guide found here
There is a Great Deal of Grace in Contentment:
The second point made by Burroughs has to do with the “grace” which is poured out in contentment.
To understand this argument, it will be necessary to understand that the Puritians routinely used the word “grace” in a different manner than it is typically used by contemporary Christians. In contemporary usage, the word “grace” often refers only to the initial act of God’s saving work, “For by grace you have been saved” (Eph. 2:8). More broadly, it is God’s mercy towards our remnant sin.
When Puritans used the word, they routinely referenced God’s grace as the various operations of God’s good will toward us and work in us.
Consider the following passage from John Owen:
If we neglect to make use of what we have received, God may justly hold his hand from giving us more. His graces, as well as his gifts, are bestowed on us to use, exercise, and trade with.
John Owen, The Works of John Owen, ed. William H. Goold, “The Mortification of Sin,” vol. 6 (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, n.d.), 13. And:
By causing our hearts to abound in grace and the fruits that are contrary to the flesh, and the fruits thereof and principles of them. So the apostle opposes the fruits of the flesh and of the Spirit: “The fruits of the flesh,” says he, “are so and so,” Gal. 5:19–21; “but,” says he, “the fruits of the Spirit are quite contrary, quite of another sort,” verses 22, 23. Yea; but what if these are in us and do abound, may not the other abound also? No, says he, verse 24, “They that are Christ’s have crucified the flesh with the affections and lusts.” But how? Why, verse 25, “By living in the Spirit and walking after the Spirit;”—that is, by the abounding of these graces of the Spirit in us, and walking according to them.
John Owen, at p. 19. Grace is something that God does in us and through. Grace is not merely the disposition of God nor just our realization of God’s disposition, but grace God’s good work. That is why Burroughs writes in this section, “That in Contentment there is much exercise of grace“.
Contentment is to be prized by the believer, because in action evidences much of God’s good work in our lives.
Before we analyze Burroughs’ argument, why would evidence of God working in one’s life be desirable? In this prayer from The Valley of Vision, the unknown author refers to his preconversion life as “graceless”:
O Lord, I am astonished at the difference between my receivings and my deservings,
between the state I am now in and my past gracelessness,
between the heaven I am bound for
and the hell I merit.
Edited by Arthur Bennett. The Valley of Vision (Kindle Locations 213-215). The Banner of Truth Trust. What does “graceless” mean? Does that help understand what clear knowledge of God’s grace would be a comfort and encouragement?
Much exercise of grace, There is a composition of grace in Contentment, there is faith, and there is humility, and love, and there is patience, and there is wisdom, and there is hope, all graces almost are compounded, it is in oil that hath the ingredients of all kind of graces, and therefore though you cannot see the particular grace, yet in this oil you have it all;
A What are the various things which Burroughs lists as separate graces? What makes up the “composition of grace”?
B Use your knowledge and a concordance to find passages in the Bible which extol each faith, humility, love, patience, wisdom.
C Exercise of faith:
1 What must one believe to exercise contentment when the present circumstances do not support any contentment? What must one believe about a difficult circumstance to be able to exercise contentment?
2 Read 1 Peter 1:3-9: What basis does Peter provide for the believer to exercise contentment in the midst of trials?
3 Read 2 Corinthians 4:7-18: What basis does Paul provide for the believer to exercise contentment?
4 Think of what makes it difficult to exercise contentment in the midst of difficulties: how then to do Peter & Paul provide a basis for contentment? How do the promises of God answer the trouble such that one can be contentment now where troubles are great?
5 What made the disciples troubled? Mark 4:35-41.
D Humility. How do you think that humility relates to the question of contentment? Consider it the opposite way, how does pride spur discontentment?
1 Read Isaiah 66:1-3. What makes a person humble? How is humility described in this passage?
2 Compare this aspect of humility (trembling) with faith which supports contentment: how does humility support faith and contentment?
1 Read Proverbs 1:20-33. What is promised here by humility?
2 Read 1 Corinthians 1:18-31.
a What is the wisdom of this world when faced by trouble?
b How does God’s wisdom display itself in this world: what did God’s greatest act of “wisdom” look like when played out on earth? (Read Psalm 2 and realize that the Psalm refers to the crucifixion of Christ. How did Christ’s death look to God (when on earth it looked like defeat)?
c How then does such wisdom relate to a contentment which is not dependent upon present appearances? Phil. 1:27-30, 3:7-11; 2 Corinthians 12:10
F Hope:Read Romans 5:1-5
1 What is the hope which Paul identifies in this passage
2 What produces this hope?
3 Understand that hope controls human direction, motivation, conduct, et cetera. We do what we hope. Hope is not merely motivation for something which we otherwise desire: hope is bound up in the desire itself. Our will is formed by our greatest desire/hope. We are discontentment, because our hope has been thwarted. (Imagine you wanted to get a ticket for some event. If you do not get the ticket, you are disappointed. Imagine now you hear some “sold-out” event which did not want to attend. You are not disappointed. This is a trivial example, but it helps illustrate the point).
4 Read Col. 1:24-28, compare this Paul’s words in Romans 5:1-5. Are suffering and hope contrary? If we obtain that for which we hope, how can be not be content?
5 Read 2 Corinthians 1:8-8, what does suffering produce? Do you see how suffering causes the loss of one hope so that it will be substituted by a better hope?
G How then do these elements help produce contentment in the believer?
H If our hope and faith are set upon God’s provision of what God promises, and if we are sufficiently humble to not substitute our own goals for God, will that produce contentment?