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Reading Classics Together - The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment (V)
July 16, 2009
The more I read of this book the more comfortable I am declaring it one of the best books I’ve ever read. I hope that is no small praise as I’ve read an awful lot of books. But this, at least through the first half (or nearly half) is speaking to me in a way few books do. The teaching is powerful, the illustrations superb. I have read and enjoyed Burroughs in the past, but never as much as I am enjoying reading The Rare Jewel.
SummaryHaving dedicated three chapters to “The Mystery of Contentment,” Burroughs turns now to two chapters that explain “How Christ Teaches Contentment.” I had taken this to be a look at Christ’s modeling of contentment through his life and ministry, but this is not quite it. Instead, he shows how Christ teaches contentment through the Word and through the Spirit. In the first of these chapters he offers six ways Christ does this:
The Lesson of Self-Denial. “Just as no-one can be a scholar unless he learns his ABC, so you must learn the lesson of self-denial or you can never become a scholar in Christ’s school, and be learned in this mystery of contentment.” He looks at ways that Christ teaches self-denial and how each brings about contentment. 1) Such a person learns to know that he is nothing. 2) I deserve nothing. 3) I can do nothing. 4) I am so vile that I cannot of myself receive any good. 5) We can make use of nothing when we have it, if God but withdraws himself. 6) We are worse than nothing. 7) If we perish we will be no loss. 8) Through self-denial the soul comes to rejoice and take satisfaction in all God’s ways. (Has anyone else noticed that he has a bad habit of flipping between the first person singular and the first person plural? Where was his editor?)
Here is one of my favorite quotes from this section: “Christ teaches the soul this, so that, as in the presence of God on a real sight of itself, it can say: ‘Lord, I am nothing, Lord, I deserve nothing, Lord, I can do nothing, I can receive nothing, and can make use of nothing, I am worse than nothing, and if I come to nothing and perish I will be no loss at all and therefore is it such a great thing for me to be cut short here?’ A man who is little in his own eyes will account every affliction as little, and every mercy as great.”
The Vanity of the Creature. Let me just quote Burroughs here as he uses one of his trademark illustrations: “Many men think that when they are troubled and have not got contentment it is because they have but a little in the world, and that if they had more then they should be content. That is just as if a man were hungry, and to satisfy his craving stomach he should gape and hold open his mouth to take in the wind, and then should think that the reason why he is not satisfied is because he has not got enough of the wind; no, the reason is because the thing is not suitable to a craving stomach. Yet there is really the same madness in the world: the wind which a man takes in by gaping will as soon satisfy a craving stomach ready to starve, as all the comforts in the world can satisfy a soul who knows what true happiness means. You would be happy, and you seek after such and such comforts in the creature.”
To Know the One Thing Needful. Just as Jesus taught this lesson to Martha, he teaches it to us. “I see that it is not necessary for me to be rich, but it is necessary for me to make my peace with God; it s not necessary that I should live a pleasurable life in this world, but it is absolutely necessary that I should have pardon of my sin; it is not necessary that I should have honor and preferment, but it is necessary that I should have God as my portion, and have my part in Jesus Christ, it is necessary that my soul should be saved in the day of Jesus Christ.”
To Know One’s Relation to the World. Through the Spirit Christ teaches the Christian in what relation his soul is to the world. He teaches that the Christian is just a pilgrim, a sojourner, on this earth. His true home is in heaven. “Consider what your condition is, you are pilgrims and strangers; so do not think to satisfy yourselves here. When a man comes into an inn and sees there a fair cupboard of plate, he is not troubled that it is not his own.- Why? Because he is going away. So let us not be troubled when we see that other men have great wealth, but we have not.-Why? We are going away to another country; you are, as it were, only lodging here, for a night. If you were to live a hundred years, in comparison to eternity it is not as much as a night, it is as though you were travelling, and had come to an inn. And what madness is it for a man to be discontented because he has not got what he sees there, seeing he may be going away again within less than a quarter of an hour?”
Wherein the Good of the Creature Is. Christ teaches that the good of the creature consists in the enjoyment of God in anything, everything. “When a Christian, who has been in the school of Christ, and has been instructed in the art of contentment, has some wealth, he thinks, In that I have wealth above my brethren, I have an opportunity to serve God the better, and I enjoy a great deal of God’s mercy conveyed to my soul through the creature, and hereby I am enabled to do a great deal of good: in this I reckon the good of my wealth. And now that God has taken this away from me, if he will be pleased to make up the enjoyment of himself some other way, will call me to honor him by suffering, and if I may do God as much service now by suffering, that is, by showing forth the grace of his Spirit in my sufferings as I did in prosperity, I have as much of God as I had before. So if I may be led to God in my low condition, as much as I was in my prosperous condition, I have as much comfort and contentment as I had before.”
The Knowledge of One’s Own Heart. According to Burroughs, “a Christian, next to the Book of God, is to look into the book of his own heart, and to read over that, and this will help you to contentment in three ways.” The three ways are: 1) By studying your heart you will come soon to discover wherein your discontent lies. 2) This knowledge of our hearts will help us to contentment, because by it we shall come to know what best suits our condition. 3) By knowing their own hearts they know what they are able to manage, and by this means they come to be content. I particularly enjoyed this third point—that when we study our own hearts we will realize that some of what God takes from us, he takes because he knows we would not be able to manage it. He knows our limitations far better than we do. “We would not cry for some things if we knew that we were not able to manage them.”
This is growing long so I will stop here! But suffice it to say that I consider this the best chapter and I am (literally) excited to get to next week’s reading.