Heidelberg 113: Being Content

jeremiah-burroughsIn a world in which we seem to be surrounded by death and corruption, it is most difficult to imagine what it must have been like to be without sin but we were created “in righteousness and true holiness.” We were not sinful. We did not have any moral, intellectual, psychological, or emotional corruption. We were not yet glorified but we were not sinful. The Lord made a covenant with us in which we were offered glory on the condition that we obey him completely, that we pass a test. The remarkable thing is that we were completely prepared for this test. We had no latent disability. The life offered to us was to be glorious beyond imagination. It was quite literally all good. Nevertheless and quite mysteriously we freely chose something other than what God had offered us. We chose to be discontent with what God had offered and we coveted equality with God. When the Evil One offered us equality with God, we had the freedom to choose contentment. We could have chosen contentment. We should have chosen contentment, eternal communion with God but we did not. We freely chose to covet what does not belong to us, what could never belong to us.

Thus, to us sinners, the tenth word in God’s moral law says: “You shall not covet your neighbor’s house, you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, nor his manservant, nor his maidservant, nor his ox, nor his donkey, nor anything that is your neighbor’s” (Ex 20:17; ESV).

We broke this law in the garden. In the Heidelberg Catechism we confess:

113. What does the tenth Commandment require?

That not even in the least inclination or thought against any commandment of God ever enter our heart, but that with our whole heart we continually hate all sin and take pleasure in all righteousness.

We treat the tenth commandment as a summary of the whole law because it is. Coveting is all about what you love, what you want, and who you are. In a sense, then, we are back to where we began since the first table is about the intellect, will, and affections. The tenth commandment shows us our hypocrisy. We frequently hear people say, “I’m not that guy” or “that’s not who I am.” Recently a husband and wife were convicted of heinous crimes (including torturing a young woman for 18 days) and were justly sentenced to a very long time in prison. At trial the woman said, “I made a bad choice, however, I am not a bad person.” A good person does not kidnap someone and torture them for 18 days. This is the ultimate in identity politics. The woman does not self-identify as a kidnapper and torturer but that is what she is. She did what she did because she is what she is.

Before the fall we had the power, by nature, to do what the law commands. After the fall, our intellect, our affections, and our will are all bent, corrupted, darkened so that, apart from God’s restraining mercies and his favor merited for believers by Christ, we not only lack the power to obey but even the slightest desire.

What we mean when they say, “I’m not that guy” is “I do not want to be thought of as the sort of person who did what I just did.” If, however, you did it, then you are that guy. “I’m not that guy” is a variation on Adam’s defense. Adam broke God’s law. He chose to believe and obey a lie rather than to believe and obey God’s truth. When the Lord came to inquire, as it were, Adam tried literally to cover up (Gen 3:7). He covered himself with a fig leaf. Why? Because he knew he was naked. How did he know that he was naked? Because he broke the covenant of works. He made a false covenant with a false god and ate from the tree of the knowledge of Good and Evil. He knew he was naked and he was ashamed.

The problem, of course, is never the law. God’s Word says,

What then shall we say? That the law is sin? By no means! Yet if it had not been for the law, I would not have known sin. For I would not have known what it is to covet if the law had not said, “You shall not covet.” But sin, seizing an opportunity through the commandment, produced in me all kinds of covetousness. For apart from the law, sin lies dead (Rom 7:7–8; ESV).

It is interesting that Paul, when he wants to explain how the law teaches us the greatness of our sin and misery, goes to the tenth commandment. Commit adultery, steal, lie, or murder someone and likely as not someone else will find out about it. Coveting is a sin that usually only God sees. It is the one with which we think we can get away but sin it is. In Romans 13 Paul lists coveting with the rest of the second table of the moral law: “For the commandments, “You shall not commit adultery, You shall not murder, You shall not steal, You shall not covet,” and any other commandment, are summed up in this word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”

The root of covetousness? James says:

But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death. Do not be deceived, my beloved brothers. Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change (James 1:14–17; ESV).

The root of covetousness is what we used to call concupiscence. Some of the medieval theologians taught (and some Reformed writers have implied) that we were created with concupiscence, that it was resident in the human heart even before the fall but that is wrong. We did not sin originally because we are creatures. No, the fall is a great mystery and we should not go blaming God or implying that the fault is in our finitude or createdness. After the fall, we were born with ungodly desires, with concupiscence. Good gifts from God but sinful, evil desires come from our corrupt hearts.

That’s exactly what our Lord Jesus taught in Matt 15:

And he called the people to him and said to them, “Hear and understand: it is not what goes into the mouth that defiles a person, but what comes out of the mouth; this defiles a person.” Then the disciples came and said to him, “Do you know that the Pharisees were offended when they heard this saying?” He answered, “Every plant that my heavenly Father has not planted will be rooted up. Do you not see that whatever goes into the mouth passes into the stomach and is expelled? 18 But what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this defiles a person. For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander. These are what defile a person. But to eat with unwashed hands does not defile anyone” (Matt 15:10–20).

When the 10th commandment says, “You shall not covet” it goes to the root of the 5th commandment: we desire to rule over authorities; to the sixth commandment: we desire to take life unjustly; to the seventh commandment: we desire to find sexual outside of the order God has established; to the 8th: we desire what God has no given, so we steal it; and to the 9th: we desire people to think what we want, not what is, so we lie and cover up. It’s all rooted in covetousness. James says:

What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you? 2 You desire and do not have, so you murder. You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel. You do not have, because you do not ask. 3 You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions. 4 You adulterous people! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God

(James 4:1-4; ESV).

We covet because we are corrupt. The only way out of the cycle of corruption is repentance, recognizing sin and our sinful nature, calling it what it is, turning from it in faith and calling upon the Savior in confidence. He is in the business of saving sinners. His Spirit is in the business of progressively, gradually sanctifying sinners.

The antithesis of coveting, of desiring what is not ours, is to rest in what in what has been given to us. Our Lord Jesus, the Last Adam (1 Cor 15:45) did just that.

who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men (Phil 2:6–7; ESV).

Adam, who was not in the “form of God” reached out his hand, as it were, to take what was not his. He was not content. He tried to fill himself. Jesus poured himself like a drink offering for us. He obeyed all the way to the cross. He took upon himself our sin and bore our judgment and died our death that we might be freely accepted by God, only for the sake of Christ’s righteousness imputed to us (sola gratia) and received through faith alone (sola fide).

Now, through faith in Christ, in union and communion with him, by grace alone, we are gradually learning contentment. Jeremiah Burroughs (1600–46) defined contentment thus:

contentment is an inward, quiet, gracious frame of spirit-the whole soul, judgment, thoughts, will, affections and all are satisfied and quiet.

This is the antithesis of our age. We are more like the Rolling Stones that we are Jeremiah Burroughs. We “can’t get no satisfaction.” We try and we try, but we “can’t get no satisfaction.” Perhaps it is because we, like Mick and, ahem, the boys, were looking for satisfaction in the wrong places. The Apostle Paul learned contentment under very difficult circumstances. “For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Cor 12:10; ESV). His circumstances were never going to provide contentment. He had to find it elsewhere.

Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me (Phil 4:11–13; ESV).

Christ is our contentment. We belong to Christ “with body and soul, both in life and in death.” What is your only comfort, contentment, in life and death? Christ for me and Christ in me, i.e., in our union with Christ.

The Stones were on to something. Living in the prosperous West presents a real challenge in this regard. We are offered a near constant barrage of products, each one promising happiness. Genuine capitalism is a great thing but we have never before had so much and been so discontent. In contrast:

But godliness with contentment is great gain, for we brought nothing into the world, and we cannot take anything out of the world. But if we have food and clothing, with these we will be content. But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation, into a snare, into many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils. It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs (1 Tim 6:5–10; ESV).

It is not easy for Adam’s children to learn contentment. It begins with Christ. By grace, daily we die a bit more to the false promises of this world and learn to accept that Christ’s promises are genuine and to rest in that and to accept whatever circumstances he provides are enough for the moment. The apple is shiny and seems full of promise but only Christ is true and full of life.

    Post authored by:

  • R. Scott Clark
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    R.Scott Clark is the President of the Heidelberg Reformation Association, the author and editor of, and contributor to several books and the author of many articles. He has taught church history and historical theology since 1997 at Westminster Seminary California. He has also taught at Wheaton College, Reformed Theological Seminary, and Concordia University. He has hosted the Heidelblog since 2007.

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2 comments

  1. Be content. Don’t play the lottery because then you’re not being content and you’re not trusting God. Took me a long time to realize that.

    That J. Burroughs quote on contentment is beautiful.

  2. Thank you! Excellent post and great points. Especially these two:

    “What we mean when they say, “I’m not that guy” is “I do not want to be thought of as the sort of person who did what I just did.” If, however, you did it, then you are that guy.”

    AND

    “This is the antithesis of our age. We are more like the Rolling Stones that we are Jeremiah Burroughs. We “can’t get no satisfaction.” We try and we try, but we “can’t get no satisfaction.”

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