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Reading Classics Together

September 03, 2009

Today we come to our eleventh reading in Jeremiah Burroughs’ classic work The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment. Around this time in “reading classics together” I tend to begin wondering how many people are still with me. But no matter, those of us who remain will press on!

Summary

After several chapters looking at the evils of a murmuring heart, Burroughs concludes his “negative” chapters by turning to “The Excuses of a Discontented Heart.” Here he imagines and then answers some of the excuses people will use to explain away their discontentment. To use his words, he “seeks to take away what every discontented heart has to say for himself.” I am guessing he wrote this book in an age before editors because I suspect an editor would have pared the list down a little from the thirteen he came up with. Nevertheless, here they are, my interpretation of the excuses we are likely to use to explain away our discontented hearts:

I. It is not discontentment but a sense of my condition. I am not discontent but rather just aware of the difficulty of the situation I’m in.

II. I am not troubled by my afflictions as much as I am troubled and discontented with my sin. Surely you can at least grant that I can be discontented with my sin!

III. I am not troubled by my afflictions as much as I am troubled by the fact that God has withdrawn his presence from me. How can I be quiet when the Lord withdraws himself from me?

IV. I can be content when I see that God is chastening me, but how can I be content when it is mere men who are being so unjust and unreasonable with me?

V. The affliction that has come upon me is one I had not expected. If I had been expecting it, I would have been better prepared and would be more content under it. I had armed myself against some afflictions, but not this one!

VI. If you only knew what I was going through, the greatness of this affliction, you would understand how I must be discontent through it.

VII. This affliction is far greater than what others have gone through. You just cannot cairly compare my afflictions (and therefore my reaction to it) to what others have faced.

VIII. I could remain content under any other affliction, but this particular one is just too much.

IX. This affliction keeps me from greater service to God and that troubles me, leading me to seem discontent. But it is my inability to serve that troubles me most.

X. I can bear the affliction but it is the uncertainly of it, the unsettledness of it, that leads me to be discontent.

XI. If I had never been in such a great condition in the past I could bear this. If God had always allowed me to be in a low condition, I could be content now. But since he blessed me so much in the past, it has made this affliction all the greater.

XII. I worked long and hard for a particular comfort and now God has taken it from me. It would be easier to deal with the affliction if only I hadn’t gone through such great pains to achieve it.

XIII. Though I know that my affliction is hard and though I feel some discontentment within, I thank God that I do not allow my discontentment to appear outwardly; I keep it all bottled up in my heart.

Let me provide just a few favorite quotes as they appear through the chapter:

“There is no sense of any affliction that will hinder the sense of God’s mercies.”

“You reason, I am disquiet because God is gone, when the truth is, God is gone because you are disquiet. Reason the other way, Oh, my disquiet has driven God away from me, and therefore if I would have the presence of God to come again to me, let my heart be quiet under the hand of God.”

“It is in this case of afflictions as in mercies: many times mercy comes unexpected… Set one against the other. I have many mercies that I never looked for, as well as afflictions that I never looked for; why should not the one rejoice me as much as the other disturbs me?”

And while there was not a single quote to pull out, I appreciated what Burroughs had to say about the suitableness of afflictions, that God may give us an affliction that is particularly difficult for us, one that is most contrary to us, because that is exactly what we need for purging out some kind of sin. Even afflictions are an expression of grace.

Next Week

Next week we’ll read chapter twelve. And after that we’ll have just one chapter remaining. Time flies.

Your Turn

The purpose of this program is to read these classics together. So if there is something you’d like to share about what you read, please feel free to do so. You can leave a comment or a link to your blog and we’ll make this a collaborative effort.
August 27, 2009

So, today we come to chapter 10 of The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment. We’re on the homestretch now and it seems that Burroughs is concentrating quite a bit on the negative aspects of the topic. This week he offers a series of “Aggravations of the Sin of Murmuring.”

Summary

In this chapter Burroughs considers eleven aggravations brought about by murmuring.

I. To murmur when we enjoy an abundance of mercy; the greater and more abundant the mercy that we enjoy, the greater and the vile is the sin of murmuring. When God has given us great mercies, such as those extended to Israel when he delivered them from Egypt, murmuring is all the greater sin, such as when Israel complained against God’s provision for them. And, when we are honest, we’ll see that all of us have far more mercy than affliction to the extent that any murmuring is done in the face of great blessing and favor. What right have we to murmur in comparison to the abundance of mercies?

II. When we murmur for small things. It is sometimes easier to stand up under a heavy burden than a light one. “To be discontented when the affliction is small and little that increases very much the sin of murmuring.” Sinful human nature often leaves us forgetting about the greatest blessings and focusing instead on the very small aggravations that remain.

III. For men of gifts and abilities to whom God has given wisdom, to be discontented and murmur, is more than if others do it. Said otherwise, to whom much is given, much is required.

IV. The consideration of the freeness of all God’s mercies to us. “If what we have were earned then it would be something, but when we consider that all is from God, for us to murmur at his dispensations is very evil.” Here he suggests rightly that if we go to a restaurant and pay for a meal we would have much more cause to have high expectations than if we receive free room and board from a friend. And what have we that is not a gift from God? “Now when we are at the table of God (for all God’s administrations to us are his table) and are free from lusts, for us to be finding fault and to be discontented is a great aggravation of our sin.”

V. For men and women to murmur and be discontented and impatient, when they have the things for the want of which they were discontented before. Isn’t this the way it is with children? They cry for something and, when they are finally given it, they toss it away and cry for something else. How much greater the sin with adults?

VI. For those men and women to be discontented and murmur whom God has raised from mean and low estates and positions. “If God by his providence does raise you, you are still as greedy of more as you were before, and as much discontented as you were before. … If you have taken a poor beggar boy, who lay begging at your door, into your house, and set him at your own table, could you bear that he should complain that some dish is not well dressed, or the like?” So it is so often with us and God.

VII. For those to be discontented who have been very great sinners and ungodly in their former life. “Consider, we who are such great sinners, guilty of such notorious sins that it is a wonder that we are out of Hell at the present, yet for us to be discontented and murmur, how exceedingly this increases our sin.”

VIII. For men who are of little use in the world to be discontented. If we do little work for God, why would we expect or demand that he come to us in some greatly encouraging way?

IX. For us to be discontented at a time when God is about to humble us. In the midst of adversity we should be asking ourselves how God is about to use a situation to humble us. And if that is his purpose in this time, how can we murmur against him for it? “Now I am discontented and murmuring, because I am afflicted; but that is why you are afflicted, because God would humble you. The great design God has in afflicting you, is to break and humble your heart; and will you maintain a spirit quite opposite to the work of God?”

X. The more palpable and remarkable the hand of God appears to bring about an affliction, the greater is the sin of murmuring and discontent under an affliction. When God is performing a work of extraordinary providence, it is an especially grievous sin to grumble. “When I see the Lord working in some remarkable way about an affliction beyond what anyone could have thought of, shall I resist such a remarkable hand of God? Shall I stand out against God, when I see he expresses his will in such a remarkable manner beyond what is ordinary?”

XI. To be discontented though God has been exercising us for a long time under afflictions, yet to still remain discontented. If many aggravations are given us to draw us closer to Christ, we sin to remain unchanged under his chastening hand. Ongoing discontent is an ongoing sin.

I was always taught that, when writing, the first point is to be the strongest, the final point the second strongest, and then the remaining points go strongest to weakest beginning with number two. In this chapter I thought many of the strongest points were in the middle and were ones which did not receive a lot of attention. Still, there was something to gain in each of the eleven. Burroughs sets out to show how murmuring against God is a terrible sin. And he proves it well.

Next Week

Next week we’ll read chapter eleven (as you’d expect).

Your Turn

The purpose of this program is to read these classics together. So if there is something you’d like to share about what you read, please feel free to do so. You can leave a comment or a link to your blog and we’ll make this a collaborative effort.
August 20, 2009

So after being just a little bit underwhelmed with chapter eight, I thought that Burroughs came back strong in chapter nine. Actually, I’m sure it is my fault and not his that I found the previous chapter slow-going, but I digress. There were a lot of things in this chapter, once again dealing with the evils of a murmuring heart, that hit me right between the eyes.

Summary

Some weeks I use this space to give a blow-by-blow account of the chapter while other times I use it to share a few of the things that most impacted me. Today I want to focus instead on just quotes. As I’ve said before, Burroughs is incredibly quotable and I thought I’d share just a few of his best quotes from this chapter. Even if you haven’t been reading the book, I’m sure you’ll enjoy the quotes! Here we go:

***

The Spirit of God extenuates evils and crosses, and magnifies and amplifies all mercies; and makes all mercies seem to be great, and all afflictions seem to be little. But the Devil goes quite contrary, says Luther, his rhetoric is quite otherwise: he lessens God’s mercies, and amplifies evil things. Thus, a godly man wonders at his cross that it is not more, a wicked man wonders his cross is so much: ‘Oh’, he says, ‘none was ever so afflicted as I am.’ If there is a cross, the Devil puts the soul to musing on it, and making it greater than it is, and so it brings discontent.

***

Oh, what baseness there is in a discontented spirit! A discontented spirit, out of envy to God’s grace, will make mercies that are great little, yea to be none at all.

***

This is the very reason why many mercies are denied to you, because of your discontent. You are discontented for want of them, and therefore you do not get them, you deprive yourselves of the enjoyment of your own desires, because of the discontent of your hearts, because you do not get your desires, and is not this a foolish thing?

***

If God gives the man or woman who is discontented for want of some good thing, that good thing before they are humbled for their discontent, such a man or woman can have no comfort from the mercy, but it will be rather an evil than a good to them.

***

If you murmur against those whom God makes instruments, because you have not got everything that you would have, against the Parliament, or such and such who are public instruments, it is against God.

***

You are never so prepared for present wrath as when you are in a murmuring, discontented fit. Those who stand by and see you in a murmuring, discontented fit, have cause to say: ‘Oh, let us go and take the censer, let us go to prayer, for we are afraid that wrath is gone out against this family, against this person.’ And it would be a very good thing for you, who are a godly wife, when you see your husband come home and start murmuring because things are not going according to his desire, to go to prayer, and say: ‘Lord, pardon the sin of my husband.’ And similarly for a husband to go to God in prayer, falling down and beseeching him that wrath may not come out against his family for the murmuring of his wife.

***

The Devil is the most discontented creature in the world, he is the proudest creature that is, and the most discontented creature, and the most dejected creature. Now, therefore, so much discontent as you have, so much of the spirit of Satan you have.

Next Week

Next week we’ll venture into chapter ten. We’ve got just four chapters remaining!

Your Turn

The purpose of this program is to read these classics together. So if there is something you’d like to share about what you read, please feel free to do so. You can leave a comment or a link to your blog and we’ll make this a collaborative effort.
August 14, 2009

The editorial schedule around here has been a bit out of whack this week, leaving “Reading Classics Together” to get pushed from Thursday to Friday. Please accept my apologies (those of you who were expecting it yesterday). So though we’re a day late, still we come to chapter eight, “The Evils of a Murmuring Spirit.” Here Burroughs turns from the positive (the excellence of contentment) to the negative (the evil of a murmuring spirit).

Summary

This is another good chapter, though for some reason it didn’t grab me quite as much as the last couple. Still, there was a lot of great content there. Burroughs offers five explanations for why a murmuring spirit, or a lack of contentment, is a great evil. He says, “When you hear of a duty that you should perform, you might labour to perform it, but first you must be humbled for the lack of it. Therefore I shall endeavour to get your hearts to be humbled for lack of this grace.” And humble us, he does.

First, this murmuring and discontentedness of yours reveals much corruption in the soul. He offers this solemn warning: “As contentment argues much grace, and strong grace, and beautiful grace, so murmuring argues much corruption, and strong corruption, and very vile corruptions in your heart.” Worldly men, he says, think that the greatness of an affliction is what makes their condition miserable when really it is the murmuring heart that brings misery. “When you are troubled for this affliction you need to turn your thoughts rather to be troubled for the murmuring of your heart, for that is the greatest trouble. There is an affliction upon you and that is grievous, but there is a murmuring heart within and that is more grievous.”

Second, the evil of murmuring is such that when God would speak of wicked men and describe them, and show the brand of a wicked and ungodly man or woman, he instances this sin in a more special manner. Here he turns to Jude to show how murmuring is a particularly offensive sin before God. “God will look upon you as ungodly,” says Burroughs, “for this sin as well as for any sin whatever.”

Third, God counts it rebellion. There is a contentedness in worship and thus there must be rebellion in a lack of contentedness. “Will you be a rebel against God? When you feel your heart discontented and murmuring against the dispensation of God towards you, you should check it thus: Oh, you wretched heart! What, will you be a rebel against God? Will you rise in rebellion against the infinite God? Yet you have done so. Charge your heart with this sin of rebellion.”

Fourth, it is a wickedness which is greatly contrary to grace, and especially contrary to the work of God, in bringing the soul home to himself. Burroughs says plainly, “I know no disorder more opposite and contrary to the work of God in the conversion of a sinner, than this is.” Here he gets into what seems a little bit like an excursus, giving six answers to this question: what is the work of God when a brings a sinner home to himself? I really enjoyed this quote, which was the highlight of the section: “This is the work of God in the soul, to disengage the heart from the creature, and how contrary is a murmuring heart to such a thing! Something which is glued to another cannot be taken off, but you must tear it; so it is a sign your heart is glued to the world, that when God would take you off, your heart tears. If God, by an affliction, should come to take anything in the world from you, and you can part from it with ease, without tearing, it is a sign then that your heart is not glued to the world.”

Fifth, murmuring and discontent is exceedingly below a Christian. He shows that murmuring is below the relation of a Christian, that it is below the high dignity God has put upon him, it is below the spirit of a Christian, it is below the profession of a Christian, it is below that special grace of faith, it is below those helps that a Christian has more than others have, it is below the expectation that God has of Christians and, finally, it is below what God has had from other Christians. “Read the latter part of the eleventh of the Hebrews, and you will find what great things God has had from his people. Therefore not to be content with smaller crosses must needs be a great evil.” Quite right!

Next Week

Just keep on keeping on. Next week we’ll read chapter nine.

Your Turn

The purpose of this program is to read these classics together. So if there is something you’d like to share about what you read, please feel free to do so. You can leave a comment or a link to your blog and we’ll make this a collaborative effort.
August 06, 2009

After a week’s absence (based on a week’s vacation) I am back today with the next chapter (Chapter 7) of Jeremiah Burroughs’ The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment. The topic for this reading is “The Excellence of Contentment.” I do trust that many of you continue to read the book with me.

Summary

Every week I feel the need to begin with an expression of my affection for this book. Today will be no different! What a great book this is. There, I said it again.

In this chapter Burroughs seeks to teach how contentment is an excellent virtue and an excellent fruit of the Spirit. He offers ten points:

By contentment we come to give God the worship that is due to him. He says “You worship God more by [contentment] than when you come to hear a sermon, or spend half an hour, or an hour, in prayer, or when you come to receive a sacrament.” “It is but one side of a Christian to endeavor to do what pleases God; you must as well endeavor to be pleased with what God does, and so you will come to be a complete Christian when you can do both.”

There is a great deal of strength of grace in contentment. “It is an argument of a gracious magnitude of spirit, that whatsoever befalls it, yet it is not always whining and complaining as others do, but it goes on in its way and course, and blesses God, and keeps in a constant tenor whatever befalls it. Such things as cause others to be dejected and fretted and vexed, and take away all the comfort of their lives make no alteration at all in the spirits of these men and women. This, I say, is a sign of a great deal of strength of grace.” How beautiful is contentment? “There is no work which God has made-the sun, moon, stars and all the world-in which so much of the glory of God appears as in a man who lives quietly in the midst of adversity.”

By contentment the soul is fitted to receive mercy and to do service. “If we would be vessels to receive God’s mercy, and would have the Lord pour his mercy into us, we must have quiet, still hearts. We must not have hearts hurrying up and down in trouble, discontent and vexing, but still and quiet hearts, if we receive mercy from the Lord.” He uses a universal metaphor: “If a child throws and kicks up and down for a thing, you do not give it him when he cries so, but first you will have the child quiet. Even though, perhaps, you intend him to have what he cries for, you will not give it him till he is quiet, and comes, and stands still before you, and is contented without it, and then you will give it him.”

As contentment makes fit to receive mercy, so fit to do service. “When the Lord has any great work for one of his servants to do, usually he first quiets their spirits, he brings their spirits into a quiet, sweet frame, to be contented with anything, and then he sets them about employment.”

Contentment delivers us from an abundance of temptations. “The Devil,” Burroughs says, “loves to fish in troubled waters.” Thus if we are content, we are better able to resist the Devil. “If a man is contented to be in a low condition, and to go meanly clothed if God sees fit, such a one is shot-free, you mighty say, from thousands of temptations of the Devil, that prevail against others to the damning of their souls.”

Another excellence is the abundant comforts in a man’s life that contentment will bring. “Contentment will make a man’s life exceedingly sweet and comfortable, nothing more so than the grace of contentment.”

Contentment draws comfort from those things we do not really possess. How can this be? “Certainly our contentment does not consist in getting the thing we desire, but in God’s fashioning our spirits to our conditions.” “There is more comfort even in the grace of contentment than there is in any possessions whatsoever; a man has more comfort in being content without a thing, than he can have in the thing that he in a discontented way desires.”

Contentment is a great blessing of God upon the soul. Quite simply, God extends special blessing to those who are content in him.

Those who are content may expect reward from God, that God will give them the good of all the things which they are contented to be without. This one was particularly interesting to me as its implications are incredibly far-reaching. Burroughs says, “There is such and such a mercy which you think would be very pleasant to you if you had it; but can you bring your heart to submit to God in it? Then you shall have the blessing of the mercy one way or another; if you do not have the thing itself, you shall have it made up one way or another; you will have a bill of exchange to receive something in lieu of it.”

By contentment the soul comes to an excellence near to God himself, yea, the nearest possible. “A contented man is a self-sufficient man, and what is the great glory of God, but to be happy and self-sufficient in himself? Indeed, he is said to be all-sufficient, but that is only a further addition of the word ‘all’, rather than of any matter, for to be sufficient is all-sufficient.”

There is a lot to chew on in this chapter and an unusual number of quotable phrases. I look forward to reading this chapter’s “opposite” next week as we look to the evils of a murmuring spirit.

Next Week

For next week, just press on with chapter 8, “The Evils of a Murmuring Spirit.”

Your Turn

The purpose of this program is to read these classics together. So if there is something you’d like to share about what you read, please feel free to do so. You can leave a comment or a link to your blog and we’ll make this a collaborative effort.
July 23, 2009

I am on vacation this week and will be giving just an abbreviated look at this chapter. But let me begin by saying that this book really is a treasure. This chapter and the one before it have been nothing short of excellent and I’m looking forward to seeing what comes next. There are not many books I read through more than once, but I am convinced that this will be one of them.

I am going to provide just a single extended quote. In this section Burroughs is teaching about the right knowledge of God’s providence, arguing that a proper understanding of God’s providence is critical to any who would find true contentment. He says, “there is an infinite variety of the works of God in an ordinary providence, and yet they all work in an orderly way. We put these two things together, for God in his providence causes a thousand thousand things to depend one upon another. There are an infinite number of wheels, as I may say, in the works of providence; put together all the works that ever God did from all eternity or ever will do, and they all make up but one work, and they have been as several wheels that have had their orderly motion to attain to the end that God from all eternity has appointed.”

He continues,

We, indeed, look at things by pieces, we look at one detail and do not consider the relation that one thing has to another, but God looks at all things at once, and sees the relation that one thing has to another. When a child looks at a clock, it looks first at one wheel, and then at another wheel: he does not look at them all together or the dependence that one has upon another; but the workman has his eyes on them all together and sees the dependence of all, one upon another: so it is in God’s providence. Now notice how this works to contentment: when a certain passage of providence befalls me, that is one wheel, and it may be that if this wheel were stopped, a thousand other things might come to be stopped by this. In a clock, stop but one wheel and you stop every wheel, because they are dependent upon one another. So when God has ordered a thing for the present to be thus and thus, how do you know how many things depend upon this thing? God may have some work to do twenty years hence that depends on this passage of providence that falls out this day or this week.

And here, by the way, we may see what a great deal of evil there is in discontent, for you would have God’s providence altered in such and such a detail: now if it were only in that detail, and that had relation to nothing else it would not be so much, but by your desire to have your will in such a detail, you may cross God in a thousand things that he has to bring about, because it is possible that a thousand things may depend upon that one thing that you would fain have otherwise than it is. It is just as if a child should cry out and say, ‘Let that one wheel stop’; though he says only one wheel, yet if that were to stop, it is as much as if he should say they must all stop.

That just smacked me right between the eyes.

And that’s all I’ve got to say. I’ll leave it to you to share what stood out to you through the rest of the chapter.

Next Week

For next week, just press on with chapter 7, “The Excellence of Contentment.”

Discussion

The purpose of this program is to read these classics together. So if there is something you’d like to share about what you read, please feel free to do so. You can leave a comment or a link to your blog and we’ll make this a collaborative effort.
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.

Summary

Having 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.

Next Week

For next week, just press on with chapter 6, “How Christ Teaches Contentment (Concluded).”

Discussion

The purpose of this program is to read these classics together. So if there is something you’d like to share about what you read, please feel free to do so. You can leave a comment or a link to your blog and we’ll make this a collaborative effort.
July 09, 2009

Today, in our effort to read together some of the Christian classics, we come to chapter four of Jeremiah Burroughs’ The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment. This is the third and final chapter that has dealt with “The Mystery of Contentment.”

Discussion

I am not a very good reader. Though I read a lot, I have a lot of trouble with retention and lose far more than I remember. Maybe this is part of why I read so much—I’m seeking to replace quality with quantity. So I tend to set reasonable expectations; if I can take one or two points from each chapter and just a few major points from each book, I am pleased. That is what I have done here. This chapter offered me a couple of things that resounded in my mind. It was a short chapter so I figure that two things is enough!

The first was the importance of being full of grace. Burroughs seeks to prove that a Christian finds contentment within, not from the natural man but from the Spirit who lives within. There is a mystery here, he says, so that only a Christian can understand it. Here is an illustration he provides:

As it is with a vessel that is full of liquor, if you strike it, it will make no great noise, but if it is empty then it makes a great noise; so it is with the heart, a heart that is full of grace and goodness within will bear a great many strokes, and never make any noise, but if an empty heart is struck it will make a noise. When some men and women are complaining so much, and always whining, it is a sign that there is an emptiness in their hearts. If their hearts were filled with grace they would not make such a noise. A man whose bones are filled with marrow, and his veins with good blood does not complain of the cold as others do. So a gracious heart, having the Spirit of God within him, and his heart filled with grace has that within him that makes him find contentment.

In times of suffering, when we are faced with a lack of contentment, there will be the temptation to complain bitterly, to whine and fuss. Those who are full of grace, full of the Lord, will respond with grace in a way that honors the Lord. Those who are empty will sound like a gong, loudly complaining about all they deserve that they have not been given. Do you know people, who at the smallest whisper of trouble begin to cry loudly and bitterly? Do you know people who under the heaviest burden display the grace that only God can give? It is these people who have found the rare jewel of contentment.

The other thing that stood out to me was the importance of prayer in the pursuit of contentment.

Other men or women are discontented, but how do they help themselves? By abuse, by bad language. Someone crosses them, and they have no way to help themselves but by abuse and by bitter words, and so they relieve themselves in that way when they are angry. But when a godly man is crossed, how does he relieve himself? He is aware of his cross as well as you, but he goes to God in prayer, and there opens his heart to God and lets out his sorrows and fears, and then can come away with a joyful countenance. Do you find that you can come away from prayer and not look sad? It is said of Hannah, that when she had been at prayer her countenance was no more said (1 Samuel 1:18), she was comforted: this is the right way to contentment.

It strikes me that prayer, then, is not only a means to greater contentment, but a mark of one who has found contentment. The fact that we should pray to God, not angrily in some kind of “imprecatory prayer,” but humbly and contentedly, this is a sign that our hearts are content before him and that they will remain content before him.

Do you wish to be content? Then pray! Are you already content? Then you will pray all the more.

Next Week

For next week, please read chapter 5, “How Christ Teaches Contentment,” and then return here on Thursday to join in the discussion.

Your Turn

The purpose of this program is to read these classics together. So if there is something you’d like to share about what you read, please feel free to do so. You can leave a comment or a link to your blog and we’ll make this a collaborative effort.
July 02, 2009

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!

Summary

This 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.

Next Week

For next week, simply read chapter 4. Then, on Thursday, swing back by this site and we can discuss the chapter together a little bit.

Your Turn

The purpose of this program is to read these classics together. So if there is something you’d like to share about what you read, please feel free to do so. You can leave a comment or a link to your blog and we’ll make this a collaborative effort.
June 25, 2009

Today we come to our second 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 two chapters in and you can still easily catch up.

Last week I had said that we would read chapters 2 and 3, but several participants in this program suggested that was hurrying things too much. I think they are right, so this week we will look only at chapter 2 and next week will turn to the third chapter. We will try to maintain a good, slow-for-summer pace of a chapter per week.

Summary

It is undoubtedly a little too early to get too excited about the book, but through the first couple of chapters I feel like this book is going to be one of my favorites. Everything Burroughs writes seems to smack me right between the eyes. He so clearly has that ability so many of the Puritan writers had to probe into the deepest recesses of the heart and to bring truth to bear on it.

In this chapter Burroughs looks to “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.”

He provides seven “things for opening the mystery of contentment,” though he assures that reader that much more could be side besides these.

First, it may be said of one who is contented in a Christian way that he is the most contended man in the world, and yet the most unsatisfied man in the world. A man who has learned how to be content can be satisfied with any low condition in the world and yet he cannot be at all satisfied in the enjoyment of all the world. It is worth sharing a lengthy quote here:

A carnal heart could be satisfied if he might but have outward peace, though it is not the pace of God; peace in the state, and his trading, would satisfy him. But mark how a godly heart goes beyond a carnal. All outward peace is not enough; I must have the peace of God. But suppose you have the peace of God. Will that not quiet you? No, I must have the God of peace; as the peace of God so the God of peace. That is, I must enjoy that God who gives me the peace; I must have the Cause as well as the effect. I must see from whence my peace comes, and enjoy the Fountain of my peace, as well as the stream of my peace. And so in other mercies: have I health from God? I must have the God of my health to be my portion, or else I am not satisfied. It is not life, but the God of my life; it is not riches, but the God of those riches, that I must have, the God of my preservation, as well as my preservation.

Second, a Christian comes to contentment not so much by way of addition as by way of subtraction. In other words, a Christian finds contentment by subtracting from his desires rather than adding to them. A carnal heart believes it can only be made content by adding such and such possessions; a Christian heart realizes that “the root of contentment consists in the suitableness and proportion of a man’s spirit to his possessions. … The heart is contented and there is comfort in those circumstances.”

Third, a Christian comes to contentment not so much by getting rid of the burden that is on him as by adding another burden to himself. This is to say that a Christian labors and burdens himself with his own sin. “The heavier the burden of your sin is to your heart, the lighter will the burden of your affliction be to your heart, and you shall come to be content.”

Fourth, it is not so much the removing of the affliction that is upon us as the changing of the affliction, the metamorphosing of the affliction, so that it is quite turned and changed into something else. “You shall be poor still as to your outward possessions, but this shall be altered; whereas before it was a natural evil to you, it comes now to be turned to a spiritual benefit to you. And so you come to be content.”

Fifth, a Christian comes to this contentment not by making up the wants of his circumstances, but by the performance of the work of his circumstances. “A carnal heart thinks, I must have my wants made up or else it is impossible that I should be content. But a gracious heart says, ‘What is the duty of the circumstances God has put me into?’” Burroughs says also, “I know nothing more effective for quieting a Christian soul and getting contentment than this, setting your heart to work in the duties of the immediate circumstances that you are in now, and taking heed of your thoughts about other conditions as a mere temptation.” Here he offers a great illustration about a child climbing a hill, but I will lead you to seek that out on your own.

Sixth, a gracious heart is contented by the melting of his will and desires into God’s will and desires; by this means he gets contentment. “In one sense, he comes to have his desires satisfied though he does not obtain the thing that he desired before.” He does this by making God’s will and his own the same.

Finally, the mystery consists not in bringing anything from outside to make my condition more comfortable, but in purging out something that is within. Those who are worldly demand what is outside themselves to bring out contentment; Christians know that contentment comes by putting to death the evil desires that lurk within.

As I read this week’s chapter, challenged at each of the seven points (and wishing that I could read it again and again) I realized that this is a book useful for arming me before trials come. Sure, it would be a book to read in the midst of a trial, but even better, I think, it is a book to read in times of peace, in times of relative contentment. Here we can arm ourselves for those tough times, those inevitable tough times, when we will be faced with great discontentment and will have to choose whether we will embrace the circumstances and find joy in them or whether we will become bitter, allowing our circumstances to master us.

What a treasure this book is. And we are only two chapters in.

Next Week

For next week, simply read chapter 3. Then, on Thursday, swing back by this site and we can discuss the chapter together a little bit.

Your Turn

The purpose of this program is to read these classics together. So if there is something you’d like to share about what you read, please feel free to do so. You can leave a comment or a link to your blog and we’ll make this a collaborative effort.

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