I thought it was time for a little Thomas Watson on contentment:
There are three things which contentment doth banish out of its diocese, and which can by no means consist with it.
1. It excludes vexatious repining; this is properly the daughter of discontent: ‘I mourn in my complaint.’ He doth not say I murmur in my complaint. Murmuring is no better than mutiny in the heart; it is a rising up against God. When the sea is rough and unquiet, it casts forth nothing but foam: when the heart is discontented, it cast forth the foam of anger, impatience, and sometimes little better than blasphemy. Murmuring is nothing else but the scum which boils off from a discontented heart.
2. It excludes an uneven discomposure: when a man saith, I am in such straits, that I know not how to evolve or get out, I shall be undone; when his head and heart are so taken up, that he is not fit to pray or meditate, he is not himself: just as when an army is routed, one man runs this way, and another that, the army is put into disorder; so a man’s thoughts run up and down distracted, discontent doth dislocate and unjoint the soul, it pulls off the wheels.
3. It excludes a childish despondency; and this is usually consequent upon the other. A man being in a hurry of mind, not knowing which way to extricate, or wind himself out of the present trouble, begins to faint and sink under it. For care is to the mind as a burden to the back; it loads the spirits, and, with overloading, sinks them. A despondent spirit is a discontented spirit.
9 thoughts on “What Contentment Rules Out”
I suppose contentment rules out feeling forlorn that Femina has been inaccessible all day, huh? 😉
The Art of Divine Contentment is available online in PDF here. You’ll need to create a CCEL account if you don’t have one.
This post and the previous one (about God doing it for you, not to you) raise a large question in my mind. How do you tell the difference between a situation where it is right to be content under a hard providence, and a situation where you should repent because God is judging you? For instance, it was right for Paul to be content with his “thorn in the flesh”, and it was right for Joseph not to despair in Egypt. But it was wrong for the Israelites in the divided kingdom not to recognize God’s hand in judging them when he sent them famine and defeat in battle – they should have awakened to their sin, repented and turned back to Him.
From the viewpoint of the person undergoing things like this, isn’t it sometimes hard to tell the difference? Is there a way to be sure you’re not just blind to your own sin and your contentment isn’t just arrogance?
I think they’re separate issues. On the one hand you have discerning whether suffering is discipline for a specific sin. It’s reasonable to do a self-examination in the face of any suffering. Sometimes we’ll find something that we need to repent of, and sometimes we won’t; sometimes there will be a clear connection between the suffering and the sin, and sometimes there won’t. But whether or not the suffering is the result of sin, we can receive it as discipline in a general sense — something God will use in His mysterious ways to help sanctify us. And whether or not the suffering is the result of sin, we need to submit to it and be content that God has chosen it for us.
One of the big differences between a circumstance being a judgment or a blessing is the presence of thanksgiving and faith. Two people can be suffering from the same affliction, but one is rejoicing in the hard providence and trusting God for grace and strength, while the other is chafing and miserable. A godly wife who has an unfaithful husband is suffering, but trusting God and thanking God for all He is doing in her life. This is her faith. Meanwhile, her husband may be a Christian also, but he knows that his broken relationship with his family is chastisement for his own sin and rebellion. If he repents, he can receive forgiveness, and then he can believe that God will use it all for good. But he would still understand that the wreckage is directly connected to and a result of his own sin. We are to humbly give thanks in all circumstances, and when we do that, we identify ourselves as children of God who know that He does all things well. We freely submit to His sovereign plan and His gracious wisdom. This is our faith, and it enables us to read the story graciously. If a storm hits a town, the Christians can thank God and acknowledge His power and authority over them. But those who are in rebellion against Him would be wise to see it as a judgment.
First, Valerie, I could just hug you for finding that PDF. Thank you!!! 🙂
Oh my, where to start. Let’s start with this:
“A despondent spirit is a discontented spirit.” Okay I want to ask a few questions about depression or “the melancholy” as Jonathan Edwards used to speak of it.
There are Christians that believe that for the most part just about any form of depression is a sin. There are other Christians that run for the Zoloft, Paxil or whatever else any doctor is willing to subscribe and don’t think of it any deeper than what the mainstream Evangelical self help books are feeding them. Okay so there are those two extremes.
Then we have the quote above from a godly man. We also have numerous examples of David in the Psalms where he is down, depressed, despondent, has the blues, being bipolar, down in the dumps, whatever you want to call it. And of course there are more examples then just David being depressed in the Bible. So okay, I’ve been trying to have a good, Christian, theologically sound understanding of depression for quite a few years now. My husband and I have had many many conversations on the subject. All of them good and robust conversations on when depression is a sin and when it’s not.
I know that sometimes depression is basically a temper tantrum against God and His Providences. An example would be something like this: “And Ahab came into his house heavy and displeased because of the word which Naboth the Jezreelite had spoken to him: for he had said, I will not give thee the inheritance of my fathers. And he laid him down upon his bed, and turned away his face, and would eat no bread. But Jezebel his wife came to him, and said unto him, why is thy spirit so sad, that thou eatest no bread.” 1 Kings 21:4-5 The New King James says: “So Ahab went into his house sullen…” I actually like that because that word does a better showing the state of his heart.
And then there is this cry: “Save me, O God for the waters are come in unto my soul. I sink in deep mire, where there is no standing: I am come into deep waters, where the floods overflow me. I am weary of my crying: my throat is dried: mine eyes fail while I wait for my God.” Psalm 69: 1-3 There are many such cries in the Psalms.
There is a darkness that engulfs the person that is truly depressed, the kind of darkness that is very difficult to see through. Sometimes all you can say is: “I am yours, save me” Psalm 119: 94
Besides depression there is also a quiet sadness that comes during times of heartache and pain. I think you can have both, I think they can overlap or you can oscillate between the two.
As Valerie would say: “What think ye?”
If you have time I would love to hear what you have to say about depression. I think many women would benefit from it. However, if you feel I have asked one of those volatile questions and you don’t think this is the forum, I would understand completely.
I would like to point out one other thing. I don’t think that it follows that if you are content then therefore you are never sad, or grieved, or dare I say even depressed or despondent. If I am wrong, I want to be corrected on this.
What is Thomas Watson saying when he says: “A despondent spirit is a discontented spirit.”
Here is one last thought: Unless what he means by despondency is an unresponsiveness to God, then I can see how that can be discontentment. But on the other hand I know that there are depressions when the darkness is so thick to the point where a person can hardly function. The person is so lost in the darkness that they do lose responsiveness. Is there a line here???? Did I just cross it 😉
Luma, I could just hug you back for asking such good questions! 😉
There are times when I’ve felt as if exhortations to contentment were a thin cover for “Go away and deal with it yourself, because I don’t want to expend the effort to understand your grief or comfort you in your affliction.” (Of course I don’t think Nancy is doing this at all by posting this quote.) If all downheartedness is sinful discontent, then the call to weep with those who weep is superfluous. If not, then it takes wisdom to discern what sort of downheartedness is in view — whether in oneself or in others. And I think that is a very rare sort of wisdom, indeed.
This is a great discussion. I too have thought a lot about depression and whether or not it is a result of sin. Some would say it is a chemical imbalance in the brain, a medical condition like diabetes. In any case, we do know that spiritual health affects bodily health.
Luma, I like your comment about Psalm 199:94, “I am yours, save me.” In Keep a Quiet Heart, Elisabeth Elliot talked about “An Old Prayer”: “Lord Jesus, Son of God, have mercy on us.” It was good, she said, when her husband “…was dying of cancer, when we seemed to have ‘used up’ all the other prayers.”
This reminds me of how God’s Word sustained me during my labors. I have my favorite verses that I run through and as labor progresses, it gets to where all I can say of a verse is a single word. But it’s enough to strengthen me because it helps me keep my eyes fixed on my Helper.
And when a person is in that darkness, it is the faith of his friends who intercede for him. I love the story (in Luke 5) of the friends who lowered their paralyzed friend through the roof tiling down to Jesus. Jesus, seeing their faith, said to the man, “Your sins are forgiven.”
You’re right about the story in Luke, I guess I had always thought of the paralytic and didn’t quite see that it was the faith of his friends that brought him there in the first place. Thank you for that.
I also have that book by Elizabeth Elliot and I do remember the part that you’re talking about. Actually, that’s a good encouragement book.