March 12, 2013

“An excellent art”

by Jesse Johnson

Rare jewellGod rules the world, and he largely does so through ruling our wills. And, God largely rules our wills through our desires. This is the foundation of much of Edward’s theology, as well as Piper’s Christian Hedonism.

Piper and Edwards often describe this truth in the context of salvation and of sanctification. But one of my favorite books, The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment, approaches this same theological chain (Sovereignty, human will, human desires) in the context of trials. Jeremiah Burroughs shows how God is glorified when the person suffering increases in his trust for God through trials. The following is an excerpt from the book (the whole book is available in PDF for free, but it is also in a Puritan Paperback). Know that in this section Burroughs uses comfort to mean joy/pleasure, and he uses creature to mean things that are created. Where he uses creature, we might us the term world:

“This indeed is an excellent art, to be able to draw from God what one had before [experiencing suffering] in the creature.

With that, Burroughs makes the profound point that through suffering, God actually takes away the pleasures of the world. Had we not suffered, we would still be content with finding pleasures in the world. But with suffering, God makes that impossible, and when the result is more joy found in God, God’s glory is magnified. He puts it in the form of a question, and I quote it here without comment: 

Christian, how did you enjoy comfort before? Was the creature anything to you but a conduit, a pipe, that conveyed God’s goodness to you? “The pipe is cut off,” says God, “come to me, the fountain, and drink immediately.” Though the beams are taken away, yet the sun remains the same in the firmament as ever it was.

What is it that satisfies God himself, but that he enjoys all fullness in himself; so he comes to have satisfaction in himself. Now if you enjoy God as your portion, if your soul can say with the Church in Lamentations 3:24: “The Lord is my portion, saith my soul”, why should you not be satisfied and contented like God?

Jeremiah_BurroughsGod is contented, he is in eternal contentment in himself; now if you have that God as your portion, why should you not be contented with him alone? Since God is contented with himself alone, if you have him, you may be contented with him alone, and it may be, that is the reason why your outward comforts are taken from you, that God may be all in all to you.

It may be that while you had these things they shared with God in your affection, a great part of the stream of your affection ran that way; God would have the full stream run to him now. You know when a man has water coming to his house, through several pipes, and he finds insufficient water comes into his wash-house, he will rather stop the other pipes that he may have all the water come in where he wants it. Perhaps, then, God had a stream of your affection running to him when you enjoyed these things; yes, but a great deal was allowed to escape to the creature, a great deal of your affections ran waste.

Now the Lord would not have the affections of his children to run waste; he does not care for other men’s affections, but yours are precious, and God would not have them to run waste; therefore he has cut off your other pipes that your heart might flow wholly to him…

So those affections that run towards the creature, God would have run towards himself, that so he may be all in all to you here in this world.”

Jesse Johnson

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Jesse is the Teaching Pastor at Immanuel Bible Church in Springfield, VA. He also leads The Master's Seminary Washington DC location.
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  • kevin2184

    If only I were contented with God alone. I know it will be so in heaven, but nevertheless, the practice starts now.

  • Jeff Clark

    That’s an interesting angle, and completely makes sense.

    “Delight yourself in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart.”

    If we are delighting in the Lord, our desire will be for the Lord and he will of course give us all of Himself to delight in.

    If we are delighting in the World, he may (justifiably) take away what we desire in order to refocus us on Himself.

  • AStev

    “Though the beams are taken away, yet the sun remains the same in the firmament as ever it was.”

    Praise God!

  • http://upwithmarriage.wordpres

    Since the world is only temporal and it’s eternity (God) that is the real, God does us a huge favour by doing whatever it takes to help us to see what is the truth of it, and become un-attached to the temporal. Usually we are so enamoured with ourselves and our ‘corner of the world’ we fail to see the big (eternal) picture and refuse to let go. It’s in this process of letting go that we find our ‘suffering’.