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!
SummaryAfter 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 I am not troubled by my afflictions as much as I am troubled by the fact that God has withdrawn his presence from me.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.