Home > Bible Study, Christian Authors, Philippians, sanctification > Puritan Works: Jeremiah Burroughs, The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment

Puritan Works: Jeremiah Burroughs, The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment


jeremiahburroughsOver the Christmas weekend I finished reading another Puritan work, the last one for the year 2016 — a classic, recommended book on a topic I often struggle with:  contentment.  The complete book is available online here.

Starting from the key text of Philippians 4:11, “I have learned, in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content,” Burroughs expands on what it means (and what it does not mean) to be content, and that it is something to be learned.  As usual with the Puritans, this work consists of a collection of sermons on the topic, with good thoughts for meditation, positive as well as negative (why not to grumble) considerations.  Much of the content references the particular hardships of the 17th century, with frequent mention of the recent plague (the plague of London), as well as the situation of discontent for people in poverty, or who once had more abundance in material benefit than they do now.  While the particular circumstances, the secondary causes of discontentment, are quite different in our age, the precepts and the heart issue are timeless, part of the fallen human condition in every age.  The lesson of contentment includes being thankful for what we have, being content with less than perhaps we once had, content with less than others have, and recognizing the perils and additional responsibilities of those who do have more in material goods.  Also, the lesson of God’s providence, that our will should be the same as God’s providential will and operative will.

Burroughs concludes by noting the tendency of that age, and thus he did not see the need to address the second part of the text, about learning to abound:

Now there is in the text another lesson, which is a hard lesson: ‘I have learned to abound.’ That does not so nearly concern us at this time, because the times are afflictive times, and there is now, more than ordinarily, an uncertainty in all things in the world. In such times as these are, there are few who have such an abundance that they need to be much taught in that lesson.

Topics addressed in this book include the difference between natural contentment and godly (gracious) contentment, noting that some people are naturally more at ease and contented than others, and the quality of difference between these types of contentment:

The one whose disposition is quiet, is not disquieted as others are, but neither does he show any activeness of spirit to sanctify the name of God in his affliction. … he whose contentment is of grace is not disquieted and keeps his heart quiet with regard to vexation and trouble, and at the same time is not dull or heavy but very active to sanctify God’s name in the affliction that he is experiencing. … the desire and care your soul has to sanctify God’s name in an affliction is what quietens the soul, and this is what others lack.

and

Those who are content in a natural way overcomes themselves when outward afflictions befall them and are content. They are just as content when they commit sin against God. When they have outward crosses or when God is dishonored, it is all one to them, whether they themselves are crossed or whether God is crossed. But a gracious heart that is contented with its own affliction, will rise up strongly when God is dishonored.”

As to motives for thankfulness, a good reminder of a most basic yet important point:

Set any affliction beside this mercy and see which would weigh heaviest; this is certainly greater than any affliction. That you have the day of grace and salvation, that you are not now in hell, this is a greater mercy. That you have the sound of the Gospel still in your ears, that you have the use of your reason: this is a greater mercy than your afflictions. That you have the use of your limbs, your senses, that you have the health of your bodies; health of body is a greater mercy than poverty is an affliction. … Therefore your mercies are more than your afflictions.

The lesson of contentment, though, is one of those things that is easier to read and study, but harder in actual practice – as I experienced even during the weeks of reading Burroughs’ book.  Just when I think I’ve learned contentment in the overall big picture, the major areas of life outside of my control, I stumbled and fell into discontent one afternoon over a very trivial matter; the Romans 7 struggle, hating self and weeping over sin – though not despairing.  Burroughs’ conclusion also recognizes the difficulty of fully learning the lesson of contentment:

I am afraid that you will be longer in learning it than I have been preaching of it; it is a harder thing to learn it than it is to preach or speak of it. … this lesson of Christian contentment may take more time to learn, and there are many who are learning it all the days of their lives and yet are not proficient.  But God forbid that it should be said of any of us concerning this lesson, as the Apostle says of widows, in Timothy, That they were ever learning and never came to the knowledge of the truth. Oh let us not be ever learning this lesson of contentment and yet not come to have skill in it. … Here is a necessary lesson for a Christian, that Paul said, he had learned in all estate therewith to be content.  Oh, do not be content with yourselves till you have learned this lesson of Christian contentment, and have obtained some better skill in it than before.

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  1. December 30, 2016 at 8:09 am

    Reblogged this on Talmidimblogging.

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