Reading Classics Together - The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment (III)
Today we come to our third reading in Jeremiah Burroughs’ The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment. If you have not yet started the book but would like to read along with us, you’re not too late. We are only three chapters in and you can still easily catch up. Another couple of weeks and it may be difficult to catch up, so join in while you still can!
SummaryThis is going to be a bit of an abbreviated summary. We’ve got sick people in the home and I’ve got to split my day between work and doctoring (or, at least, running to the store to buy soda crackers and ginger ale).
Last week, in chapter two, Burroughs introduced “The Mystery of Contentment.” The business of this book, he says, is to do just this—to open to you the art and mystery of contentment. The mystery is this: how can a person be content with his affliction and yet thoroughly sensible of it at the same time, so that he even endeavors to remove it. “How to join these two together: to be sensible of an affliction as much as a man or woman who is not content; I am sensible of it as fully as they, and I seek ways to be delivered from it as well as they, and yet still my heart abides content—this is, I say, a mystery, that is very hard for a carnal heart to understand.” In the second chapter he provided seven “things for opening the mystery of contentment.” This week he continued with six more.
First, he (the Christian) lives upon the dew of God’s blessing. Like a person does not know what a grasshopper feeds upon (at least, he did not know back then), “in the same way a Christian can get food that the world does not know of; he is fed in a secret way by the dew of the blessing of God.” In other words, a Christian receives contentment in a way that is a mystery to the unbeliever. Here Burroughs offers five considerations of why a Christian finds contentment in what he has even though it may be only very little: all that he has is an expression of God’s love to him; what he has is sanctified to him for good; a gracious heart has what he has free of cost; what he has he has by right of Jesus Christ, by the purchase of Christ; and every bit of what he has is a down payment of sorts, a shadowing of the greater good that is to come. “Just as every affliction that the wicked have is but the beginning of sorrows, and forerunner of those eternal sorrows that they are likely to have hereafter in Hell, so every comfort you have is a forerunner of those eternal mercies you shall have with God in Heaven.”
Second, in all the afflictions, all the evils that befall him, the Christian can see the love, and can enjoy the sweetness of love in his afflictions as well as his mercies. Or, to quote Jerome, “He is a happy man who is beaten when the stroke is a stroke of love.”
Third, a godly man sees contentment as a mystery because just as he sees all his afflictions come from the same love that Jesus Christ did, so he sees them all sanctified in Jesus Christ, sanctified in a Mediator. The Christian can have all taken away from him and realize that Jesus, too, had no place to lay his head. He can be persecuted and realize that Jesus, too, was persecuted. And so “the exercising of faith on what Christ endured is the way to get contentment in the midst of our pains.”
Fourth, a gracious heart has contentment by getting strength from Jesus Christ; he is able to bear his burden by getting strength from someone else. Through faith a Christian is able to gain the strength of Christ. And so “faith is the great grace that is to be acted under afflictions.”
Fifth, a godly heart enjoys much of God in everything he has, and knows how to make up all wants in God himself. Here he uses an interesting and effective illustration that relies on pipes. “This indeed is an excellent art, to be able to draw from God what one had before in the creature. Christian, how did you enjoy comfort before? Was the creature anything to you but a conduit, a pipe, that conveyed God’s goodness to you? ‘The pipe is cut off,’ says God, ‘come to me, the fountain, and drink immediately.’” An extended quote will help, I think:
Now the Lord would not have the affections of his children to run waste; he does not care for other men’s affections, but yours are precious, and God would not have them to run waste; therefore he has cut off your other pipes that your heart might flow wholly to him. If you have children, and because you let your servants perhaps feed them and give them things, you perceive that your servants are stealing away the hearts of your children, you would hardly be able to bear it; you would be ready to send away such a servant. When the servant is gone, the child is at a great loss, it has not got the nurse, but the father or mother intends by sending her away, that the affections of the child might run more strongly towards himself or herself, and what loss is it to the child that the affections that ran in a rough channel before towards the servant, run now towards the mother? So those affections that run towards the creature, God would have run towards himself, that so he may be all in all to you here in this world.
Finally, for this chapter, a gracious heart gets contentment from the Covenant that God has made with him. This section will receive more attention in the next chapter.
And so Burroughs continues to do what he does so well—sharing biblical wisdom in a pointed, relevant, compassionate way. He uses occasional illustrations but useful ones. And through it all, he is pastoral, constantly drawing the Christian’s heart to the Savior. I continue to really enjoy this book.