The previous post in this series may be found here: https://memoirandremains.wordpress.com/2013/11/05/the-rare-jewel-of-christian-contentment-4/
Contentment is a gracious frame of spirit. “Contentment is a soul business.” By “frame of spirit”, Burroughs means that contentment suffuses throughout the soul and touches every aspect. It is not merely a contentment in this place or this time, it is a frame of the spirit which upholds the whole, just as a frame upholds a house:
That it is a grace that spreads itself through the whole soul. It is in the judgment, that is, the judgment of the soul of a man or woman tends to quiet the heart-in my judgment I am satisfied. It is one thing to be satisfied in one’s judgment and understanding, so as to be able to say, ‘This is the hand of God, and is what is suitable to my condition or best for me.
Although I do not see the reason for the thing, yet I am satisfied in my judgment about it.’ Then it is in the thoughts of a man or woman. As my judgment is satisfied, so my thoughts are kept in order, so that it goes through the whole soul.
Note how Burroughs understands and explains the process of learning contentment. It is often the case that we think contentment should just happen to us—a thunderbolt from a blue sky, like “falling in love”. However, Burroughs explains that the state of contentment does not just come about from no apparent source. Contentment flows from our understanding, our judgment about a circumstance.
Contentment is thus the result of theology: We rightly understand God, God’s goodness and sovereignty, and thus experience contentment as a result of that judgment.
Since contentment is a learned status, it is often partial. We face a trial and know we should experience contentment , but the corruption and chaos of sin still stirs and disturbs the heart:
Many a man may be satisfied in his judgment about a thing who cannot for his life rule his affections, nor his thoughts, nor his will. I do not doubt that many of you know this in your own experience, if you observe the workings of your own hearts.
To prove the point, Burroughs gives the example of Psalm 42, David contests with his soul,
O my soul, why art though disquieted?
Burroughs explains the status thus:
Sometimes, a great deal of disturbance is involved in getting contentment into people’s judgments, that is, to satisfy their judgment about their condition. If you come to many, whom the hand of God is upon perhaps in a grievous manner, and seek to satisfy them and tell them they have no cause to be so disquieted, ‘Oh, no cause?’ says the troubled spirit, ‘then there is no cause for anyone to be disquieted. There has never been such an affliction as I have.’ And they have a hundred things with which to evade the force of what is said to them, so that you cannot so much as get at their judgments to satisfy them. But there is a great deal of hope of attaining contentment, if once your judgments are satisfied, if you can sit down and say in your judgment, ‘I see good reason to be contented.’ Yet even when you have got so far, you may still have much to do with your hearts afterwards. There is such unruliness in our thoughts and affections that our judgments are not always able to rule our thoughts and affections. That is what makes me say that contentment is an inward, quiet, gracious frame of spirit-the whole soul, judgment, thoughts, will, affections and all are satisfied and quiet. I suppose that merely in opening this subject you begin to see that it is a lesson that you need to learn, and that if contentment is like this then it is not easily obtained.
We must understand the difficulty of becoming content, learning contentment, seeking contentment. If we do not understand that contentment results from effort, we will suffer greater harm for our lack of contentment. A poor disturbed soul may be troubled by some problem and then think, I am greatly distressed by this thing and should be content! He then become even more troubled and feels guilt for a lack of contentment.
But if we remember contentment is learned, we will be patient as we seek contentment.
The thing we seek is not a contentment which we put on, like clothing; but a contentment which arises from the heart, from the frame of our soul. The contentment becomes part of what we are as a human being:
It is the thing you bring that quiets them, not the disposition of their own spirits, not any good temper in their own hearts, but the external thing you bring them. But when a Christian is content in the right way, the quiet comes more from the temper and disposition of his own heart than from any external argument or from the possession of anything in the world.
Rather than being a fire which warms us when we are cold, it is our natural warmth which keeps us whole despite the cold.
We can also think of this contentment as a habit of the soul:
Contentment is not merely one act, just a flash in a good mood. You find many men and women who, if they are in a good mood, will be very quiet. But this will not hold. It is not a constant course. It is not the constant tenor of their spirits to be holy and gracious under affliction.
Contentment is “the frame of the heart.”