Thomas Watson- The Art of Divine Contentment (Chapter 4-6)
Chapter 4: The Second Branch of the Text
As we continue through this great Puritan classic, the author Thomas Watson focuses our attention on the second half of the verse Philippians 4:11…
Philippians 4:11 (ESV)
11 Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content.
In the original language the final branch of this verse, as Watson puts it, has four words, in every state content. This text is like a precious jewel: little in quantity but great in worth and value. What does Paul mean by this phrase, in every state content? I know people who are in comfort and ease and I know people who are struggling. What Paul has learned is that he can be content and satisfied no matter his situation or state. What exactly did Paul learn?
The author states his main proposition like this: a gracious spirit is a contented spirit. He goes so far to say that until we have learned this we have not learned to be Christians. Beloved, to be content in this life is one of the most vital traits we can possess. The thing that Paul learned and that we must also learn is the art of contentment does not depend on our current situation whether it is good or bad. He learned whether he was in need or in plenty to be content.
Watson explains from Scripture why our situation does not determine whether or not we’re content. He gives us a few examples. The art of contentment really has nothing to do with our state in life.
1. The angels in heaven had not learned what Paul did and they had it all.
Jude 6 (ESV)
6 And the angels who did not stay within their own position of authority, but left their proper dwelling, he has kept in eternal chains under gloomy darkness until the judgment of the great day—
Though their state was high and glorious they were not happy with that but wanted more and more even to the point of desiring to be like God. This relentless desire for more and not being content with what God gave them cost them everything. These angels were thrown down out of heaven and are currently in chains waiting their eternal judgment. I pray we see here that it doesn’t matter what we have or the state we’re in, discontent can come upon us if we’re not careful.
2. Adam and Eve were clothed with innocence in paradise and they had not learned to be content. They too were not happy with what God had given them. They were not satisfied with their humanity but also wanted to be like God. They had all they could ever need and that was not enough.
Genesis 3:4–5 (ESV)
4 But the serpent said to the woman, “You will not surely die. 5 For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”
3. The Rich for the most part are not content. One would think that those whom God has given large estates to would be content. Even though as Watson suggests, they have great estates they still want more. If the rich are satisfied with their wealth then fame and honor seek them out. They desire more recognition and it goes on and on. Watson so poetically writes of the rich, They never go so cheerfully as when the wind of honor and applause fills their sails. If this wind is down, they are discontented.
4. The Poor are often discontent. If the rich are discontent then perhaps the poor might be content with what they have and their state. Watson comments, on how hard is it when the livelihood is gone, when a great estate is boiled away almost to nothing, then to be content? Many can attest to the fact that the poor are longing for more or longing for what others have. They are not content either.
2 Corinthians 6:1-10 (ESV)
6 Working together with him, then, we appeal to you not to receive the grace of God in vain. 2 For he says,
“In a favorable time I listened to you,
and in a day of salvation I have helped you.”
Behold, now is the favorable time; behold, now is the day of salvation. 3 We put no obstacle in anyone’s way, so that no fault may be found with our ministry, 4 but as servants of God we commend ourselves in every way: by great endurance, in afflictions, hardships, calamities, 5 beatings, imprisonments, riots, labors, sleepless nights, hunger; 6 by purity, knowledge, patience, kindness, the Holy Spirit, genuine love; 7 by truthful speech, and the power of God; with the weapons of righteousness for the right hand and for the left; 8 through honor and dishonor, through slander and praise. We are treated as impostors, and yet are true; 9 as unknown, and yet well known; as dying, and behold, we live; as punished, and yet not killed; 10 as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, yet possessing everything.
There was sadness and distress in Paul’s life but there was also contentment and joy through it all. Notice he wasn’t joyful once the distress abated by was joyful the entire time.
Our author writes, whichever way Providence blew, he had such skill and dexterity that he knew how to steer his course. His outward state really didn’t matter it was his inner state that kept him on course…Let God throw the Apostle whichever way He would, he fell upon the foundation of contentment.
Chapter 5: Resolving Some Questions
Question 1. May not a Christian be sensible of his condition and yet be content?
Answer. Yes, otherwise he is not a saint.
Rachel did well to weep for her children (she was aware of her condition), but her fault was that she refused to be comforted (that was her discontent). Jeremiah 31:15.
Christ Himself was sensible of His condition when at the Garden of Gethsemane He prayed that the cup could pass from Him (Matthew 26:39), yet He sweetly submitted to the Father’s will for Him. Jesus was always content to be under the Father’s authority.
Question 2. May a Christian lay open his grievances to God and still be content?
Jeremiah 20:12 (ESV)
12 O Lord of hosts, who tests the righteous,
who sees the heart and the mind,
let me see your vengeance upon them,
for to you have I committed my cause.
David also poured out his complaint to the Lord…
Psalm 142:2 (ESV)
2 I pour out my complaint before him;
I tell my trouble before him.
When the burden is upon us, prayer gives vent; it eases the heart.
Hannah’s spirit was burdened. She said, I am a woman of troubled spirit (1 Samuel 1:15). Having prayed and wept she went away and was sad no more. These examples show the difference between a complaint and discontent. In one we complain to God; in the other we complain of God.
Question 3. What then, does contentment exclude?
Answer. There are three things contentment excludes and which can by no means consist with it.
1. It excludes vexatious repining; this is the daughter of discontent. Vexatious repining is a 1600’s way of saying fretful complaining. The Scriptures call this murmuring. According to Watson, murmuring is mutiny of the heart. The main difference between voicing a complaint to God in prayer and murmuring is that in murmuring we are gossiping to others a complaint against God rather than taking it to God in humble prayer. To murmur is to complain to others about a situation that you should take to God. It’s mutiny because it’s gaining momentum and a level of satisfaction by getting others to side with you against God. So, beloved contentment bans vexatious repining.
2. It excludes an uneven discomposure. This is a hopeless state. It is I give up, nothing can be done, I’m helpless and hopeless and I’m throwing in the towel. A person may say, I am in such straits that I do not know how to move or get out. I shall be undone. Contentment banishes this.
3. It excludes childish despondency. This is a frantic running to and fro trying to fix a problem in one’s own power without seeking the face of God. A man enters a current trouble and begins to faint and sink under it and yet his mind is racing to discover, on his own, a solution. Contentment banishes this.
Chapter 6: The Nature of Contentment
A more clear and precise definition of divine contentment is in order now. We have learn what contentment is not, now let’s learn what it is. Divine contentment is a sweet temper of spirit whereby a Christian carries himself in an equal poise in every condition. The nature of this will come into focus as Watson gives us three additional short observations.
1. Contentment is a divine thing; it becomes ours, not by acquisition, but by infusion. He writes that it’s like a small branch taken off the Tree of Life and planted within our hearts whereby it grows and we become mature believers.
Paul writes to Timothy that contentment and godliness go together. One cannot be godly without being content.
1 Timothy 6:6–8 (ESV)
6 But godliness with contentment is great gain, 7 for we brought nothing into the world, and we cannot take anything out of the world. 8 But if we have food and clothing, with these we will be content.
2. Contentment is an intrinsic thing, once placed by God it lays within our inner being. Contentment is to be found within the soul. Because it lies within the soul it does not rely on external circumstance, which ebb and flow. Because it is within the soul of the Christian is never comes and goes but is more constant. Contentment being within our souls is also founded upon God’s love, which never changes. So, our circumstances go from good to bad to worse and good again God’s love for us is constant. When our contentment is found in Him, it too remains constant.
3. Contentment is a habitual thing; it shines with a fixed light in the firmament of the soul. Because God has placed His love within us and contentment is founded in God then it can become who we are. We are content.