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Reading Classics Together - The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment (I)
June 18, 2009
Today we start reading another classic book—Jeremiah Burrough’s The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment. This follows some other great classics we’ve read together: Holiness by J.C. Ryle, Overcoming Sin and Temptation by John Owen, The Seven Sayings of the Savior on the Cross by A.W. Pink, The Religious Affections by Jonathan Edwards, Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis and Real Christianity by William Wilberforce.
The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment was first published in 1648 and, since then, has been regarded as a true classic of the Christian faith. It deals, quite obviously, with fighting for, finding and enjoying contentment in Christ. Over the next couple of months we will be reading a chapter or two per week and then gathering here on Thursdays to offer thoughts and reflections on it. I’d invite you to read along, if you so choose, or to simply read these weekly recaps. Visit this post for more information.
In the book’s first chapter Burroughs begins with Philippians 4:11 and seeks “to show what a great mystery there is in Christian contentment, and how many distinct lessons there are to be learned, that we may come to attain this heavenly disposition, to which St. Paul attained.” He demonstrates four things: what Christian contentment is, the art and mystery of it, what lessons must be learned to bring the heart to contentment, and in what qualities the glorious excellence of this grace chiefly consists.
Burroughs defines contentment in this way: Christian contentment is that sweet, inward, quiet, gracious frame of spirit, which freely submits to and delights in God’s wise and fatherly disposal in every condition. The bulk of the chapter is a point-by-point explanation of this definition. For example, he looks to the inward quality of contentment, saying that “if the attainment of true contentment were as easy as keeping quiet outwardly, it would not need much learning.” He looks to contentment as a frame of spirit, saying “the contentment of a man or woman who is rightly content does not come so much from outward arguments or from any outward help, as from the disposition of their own hearts. The disposition of their own hearts causes and brings forth this gracious contentment rather than any external thing.” And so it goes, through each word or each phrase of the definition.
As I read this week’s selection, I was immediately struck by the pastoral tone of Burroughs’ writing. I have seen this before in the other works of his that I’ve read, but it stood out to me afresh as I read The Rare Jewel. Though history has recorded the Puritans as being dour and sour and ruthless, the reality was anything but. In this book, Burroughs preaches directly to the hearts and souls of his readers and he does so in a way that is at once sensitive and passionate. He says things like, “If a man is to be free from discontent and worry it is not enough merely not to murmur but you must be active in sanctifying God’s name in the affliction.” He does not pass over the affliction heartlessly, but still teaches that even through the greatest affliction, the Christian will and must sanctify God’s name.
His passion comes out in a passage like this one. Can’t you hear him preaching this to his congregation, as he begs them, exhorts them, to submit themselves to the Lord?
But now comes the grace of contentment and sends it under, for to submit is to send under a thing. Now when the soul comes to see its own unruliness-Is the hand of God bringing an affliction and yet my heart is troubled and discontented-What, it says, will you be above God? Is this not God’s hand and must your will be regarded more than God’s? O under, under! get you under, O soul! Keep under! keep low! keep under God’s feet! You are under God’s feet, and keep under his feet! Keep under the authority of God, the majesty of God, the sovereignty of God, the power that God has over you! To keep under, that is to submit. The soul can submit to God at the time when it can send itself under the power and authority and sovereignty and dominion that God has over it. That is the sixth point, but even that is not enough. You have not attained this grace of contentment unless the next point is true of you.
There were several other quotes that stood out to me, often in just a line or two at a time. “When God casts us down, we must be content to lie till God bids us stand up, and God’s Spirit enters into us to enable us to stand up.” “In his submission he sees his sovereignty, but what makes him take pleasure is God’s wisdom.” “In contentment there is a compound of all graces, if the contentment is spiritual, if it is truly Christian.” And this one, slightly longer: “Now Christian quietness is opposed to all these things. When affliction comes, whatever it is, you do not murmur; though you feel it, though you make your cry to God, though you desire to be delivered, and seek it by all good means, yet you do not murmur or repine, you do not fret or vex yourself, there is not a tumultuousness of spirit in you, not an instability, there are not distracting fears in your hearts, no sinking discouragements, no unworthy shifts, no risings in rebellion against God in any way: This is quietness of spirit under an affliction, and that is the second thing, when the soul is so far able to bear an affliction as to keep quiet under it.”
All-in-all, chapter one was already very encouraging to me and I’m sure we’ve found here a classic book that has a lot to teach anyone who takes the time to read it. I’m glad that so many of you have chosen to read it with me. Let’s press on!