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Reading Classics Together

December 10, 2009

Today we come to our fifth reading in John Murray’s classic book Redemption Accomplished and Applied. I’ve made no secret of the fact that I’ve really been looking forward to reaching the book’s second section—the one dealing with the application of the atonement to God’s elect. This week’s reading begins this long-awaited discussion that really comprises the heart of the book and its most distinctively-Reformed teaching.

Summary
The first chapter of this new section provides Murray’s defense for the order in which he will discuss the various acts and processes that together comprise the way in which God has seen fit to save a people for himself. Murray dedicates a chapter to each of nine of these and seeks to do so in the logical order in which they occur. Hence in this chapter, as he provides his rationale for the order of the next nine chapters, he is at the same time providing a brief defense of the Reformed understanding of the order of salvation. Most theologians, Reformed or otherwise, agree with the general order. In any case, for example, justification must precede sanctification and perseverance must precede glorification. There are a couple of items, though, that generate a great deal of disagreement (with God’s call or election being the foremost among them). It is to these that Murray gives the bulk of his attention.

Carefully and logically, appealing to both Scripture and logic, Murray builds his case. Because this is just one small chapter in quite a short book he is unable to do an exhaustive examination of any one of the acts. Instead, then, he offers an overview. But even then it is one that would be difficult to refute.

As I’ve sought to summarize this chapter I’ve realized that no summary can do it justice. Murray moves very quickly and any summary I offer will either be far too long or far too short. Since this is a blog and most people only skim it anyway, I’ll err on the side of brevity. I’ll just skip to the end where we find that Murray settles on this order: calling, regeneration, faith and repentance, justification, adoption, sanctification, perseverance, glorification. He says, “When this order is carefully weighed we find that there is a logic which evinces and brings into clear focus the governing principle of salvation in all of its aspects, the grace of God in its sovereignty and efficacy. Salvation is of the Lord in its application as well as in its conception and accomplishment.” God is sovereign from beginning to end.

Before I turn to other things, I thought I’d make a note of this brief but useful definition of faith—one I felt was worthy of a highlight: “Faith is a whole-souled act of loving trust and self-commitment.” That just about says it, doesn’t it? I don’t know that I could come up with a better and more concise definition.

Next Week
For next Thursday please read the next chapter—“Effectual Calling.” This is likely to be one of the more challenging and contentious chapters in the book so be sure to read it well.

Your Turn
The purpose of this program is to read classics together. So if there are things that stood out to you in this chapter, if there are questions you had, this is the time and place to have your say. Feel free to post a comment below.

December 05, 2009

I am running late with this week’s entry in Reading Classics Together. I blame the Leadership series I was writing as I did not want to disrupt it by posting off-topic. I’ve asked Rebecca Stark who blogs at Rebecca Writes (her blog was one of the first I ever started reading on a regular basis) if she would provide this week’s summary. Polite Canadian that she is, she kindly agreed. So this week’s summary comes via Rebecca.

Summary
This chapter is a discussion of the extent of the atonement and makes the case for limited atonement (also called particular redemption or definite atonement). Murray starts out by noting and giving examples to prove that the use of universal terms (like all, world, etc.) in relation to the atonement doesn’t settle the question because those terms are frequently used in scripture to mean something less than every person who has ever lived.

Then he goes on to frame the question that is considered in this chapter, first laying out what it is not:

The question is not whether many benefits short of justification and salvation accrue to men from the death of Christ.

The death of Christ is designed, says Murray, to bring to all people certain benefits in this life. He doesn’t list these specifically, but I understand them to be all the things that come from common grace: God’s life-sustaining provisions and the indiscriminate proclamation of the gospel, for instance.

Rather, the question under discussion is this:

On whose behalf did [Christ] propitiate the wrath of God? Whom did he reconcile in the body of his flesh through death? …In whose stead and on whose behalf was he obedient unto death, even the death of the cross?

The saving efficacy of the atonement, Murray argues, applies to Christ’s own people. Christ did not come to merely make people redeemable, but to actually redeem. You’ll recognise this, of course, as the doctrine of limited atonement.

Once common objection to limited atonement is that it undercuts the offer of the gospel. Murray argues that this is not true; but rather, it is this efficacy of Christ’s atonement that gives the gospel its force.

It is because Christ procured and secured redemption that he is an all-sufficient and suitable Saviour. It is as such he is offered, and the faith that this offer demands is the faith of self-commitment to him as the one who is the eternal embodiment of the efficacy accruing from obedience completed and from redemption secured.

In the second section of this chapter, Murray looks at two scriptural arguments for limited atonement. First, there is Romans 8:31-39, where Paul connects the giving of Christ to the giving of all the gifts that come from saving grace, including justification, Christ’s intercession, and security in the love of Christ. Since these things are not given universally, Christ’s atonement cannot be universal.

And second, there are all the places in Paul’s writings where Christ’s death for believers is connected with their death with him and then with their being raised with him.

We have, therefore, the following sequence of propositions, established by the specific utterances of the apostle. All for whom Christ died also died in Christ. All who died in Christ rose again with Christ. This rising again in Christ is a rising to newness of life after the likeness of of Christ’s resurrection. To die with Christ is, therefore, to die to sin and to rise with him to the life of new obedience, to live not to ourselves but to him who died for us and rose again. The inference is inevitable that those for whom Christ died are those and those only who died to sin and live to righteousness.

I remember reading this chapter many years ago and finding these two scriptural arguments for limited atonement to be very strong ones. I still do.

And then, to end the chapter, Murray considers two texts used to argue against limited atonement. One is 2 Corinthians 5:14-15, which says that Christ died for all. But this is one of the passages  like those mentioned directly above where Paul connects Christ’s death to dying with him and rising with him, so rather than arguing against limited atonement, it actually argues for it.

There’s also 1 John 2:2, which is one of the most commonly used texts in support of unlimited atonement. Murray gives several reasons why “for the whole world” in this verse should not be taken universally.

To sum up and end the chapter:

[W]hen we examine the Scripture we find that the glory of the cross of Christ is bound up with the effectiveness of its accomplishment. Christ redeemed us to God by his blood, he gave himself a ransom that he might deliver us from all iniquity. The atonement is efficacious substitution.


Next Week
For next Thursday please read the next chapter. This moves us into the heart of the book—a look at the application of the atonement.

Your Turn
The purpose of this program is to read classics together. So if there are things that stood out to you in this chapter, if there are questions you had, this is the time and place to have your say. Feel free to post a comment below.

November 26, 2009

This is week three of our journey through John Murray’s Redemption Accomplished and Applied. It is Thanksgiving in the United States and it struck me this morning that there are few things we ought to be more thankful for than the perfection of the atonement—the very subject of this week’s chapter. The finality and perfection of Christ’s work gives us such peace and hope and joy that we ought to thank God for it every day, but perhaps this day more than any other.

I’m a bit under the weather and taking a sick day today so I will keep this brief.

Summary
This week’s chapter was shorter than the ones that came before it, but no less important. Here Murray sought to show how the atoning work of Christ was perfect, not so much in the fact that it accomplished what it was meant to accomplish but that it did so fully and finally. He begins the chapter this way: “In Protestant polemics this feature of the atoning work of Christ has been oriented against the Romish tenet that the work of satisfaction accomplished by Christ does not relieve the faithful of the necessity of making satisfaction for sins which they have committed.” Where the Roman Catholic Church teaches that baptism washes away all past sins and all original sin, they hold that when it comes to post-baptismal sins the faithful must make satisfaction either in this life or in purgatory. Protestants, on the other hand, contend that Christ’s work is the only satisfaction for sin and is absolutely perfect and final so that any attempt to add to it is itself sin. With this in the background, Murray seeks to show that the atonement was perfect in that it fully accomplished exactly what it was meant to accomplish.

Murray divides the chapter into four parts, looking at the historic objectivity of the atonement along with its finality, its uniqueness and its intrinsic efficacy.

Of all Murray said in this chapter, these words stood out to me. The truth contained here is just stunning when we stop to consider it. “The atonement is the provision of the Father’s love and grace. But there is equal need for remembering that the work wrought by Christ was in itself intrinsically adequate to meet all the exigencies created by our sin and all the demands of God’s holiness and justice. Christ discharged the debt of sin. He bore our sins and purged them. He did not make a token payment which God accepts in place of the whole. Our debts and not canceled; they are liquidated.” Our debts were not just canceled; they were liquidated. Thank God for that!

Next Week
For next Thursday please read chapter four, “The Extent of the Atonement.” We may as well read the Conclusion for the first section, too, since it is just a couple of pages.

Your Turn
The purpose of this program is to read classics together. So if there are things that stood out to you in this chapter, if there are questions you had, this is the time and place to have your say. Feel free to post a comment below.

November 19, 2009

This is week two of our reading project. We are reading our way through John Murray’s Redemption Accomplished and Applied, a classic text that provides a thorough treatment of the doctrine of the atonement. Murray is not a man to waste a word, so this book is dense; but he is also a brilliant theologian, so it is well worth the sometimes-difficult read. It is work, but the pay-off is huge.

If you would like to join in the fun, there is still lots of time to do so. You’re only two chapters behind. Simply find a copy of the book and get reading!

Summary
This week’s chapter dealt with the nature of the atonement. I’m not sure that I fully understood the big picture of this chapter but if I did, it went like this. Murray went looking for an “inclusive rubric” under which he could place the atonement. The atonement includes specific categories used to describe Christ’s work: things like sacrifice, propitiation, reconciliation and redemption. But he sought to find a heading under which he could place even these terms. The term he settled upon is obedience. “The Scripture…uses this term, or the concept it designates, with sufficient frequency to warrant the conclusion that obedience is generic and therefore embracive enough to be viewed as the unifying or integrating principle.” This leads to a discussion of the difference between Christ’s active obedience and his passive obedience. Murray offers some valuable keys to understanding passive obedience, which I will lead you to read or review on your own. A few things stood out to me in this section, including this: “When we speak of the death of our Lord on the cross as the supreme act of his obedience we are thinking not merely of the overt act of dying upon the tree but also of the disposition, will, and determinate volition which lay back of the overt act.” When we speak of Christ’s passive obedience, we do not speak of passivity, for in all things Christ had a determined will and a determined disposition.

After this discussion of obedience as the “inclusive category in terms of which the atoning work of Christ may be viewed and which establishes at the outset the active agency of Christ in the accomplishment of redemption” he turns to the specific categories the Bible uses to set forth the nature of the atonement.

First, he looks at sacrifice. He says it is a given that Christ’s work is construed as sacrifice so the only real question here is this: what notion of sacrifice governs this pervasive use of the term as it is applied to the work of Christ? This leads to a lengthy discourse on how the New Testament writers would have understood the term based on their cultural and religious setting. “The work of Christ,” he says, “is expiatory, expiatory indeed with a transcendent virtue, efficacy.” Last week I mentioned that Murray can be difficult to read. I leave this sentence as evidence: “It is this amazing conjuncture that the union in him of priestly office and piacular offering evinces.”

Second, he looks at propitiation saying “the idea of propitiation is so woven into the fabric of the Old Testament ritual that it would be impossible to regard that ritual as the pattern of the sacrifice if propitiation did not occupy a similar place in the one great sacrifice once offered.” In other words, sacrifice and propitiation are very closely related to one another. He offers a lengthy but helpful definition of propitiation which includes the idea of “covering.” He carefully shows that sin creates a situation in which we are estranged from God but, even more importantly, in which God is estranged from us. Then he says, “Vengeance is the reaction of the holiness of God to sin, and the covering is that which provides for the removal of divine displeasure which the sin evokes.” Further, “Propitiation presupposes the wrath and displeasure of God, and the purpose of propitiation is the removal of this displeasure.”

Third, he turns to reconciliation. “Reconciliation presupposes disrupted relations between God and men. It implies enmity and alienation. This alienation is twofold, our alienation from God and God’s alienation from us. The cause of the alienation is, of course, our sin, but the alienation consists not only in our unholy enmity against God but also in God’s holy alienation from us.”

Fourth and finally, he looks to redemption. He says, “The language of redemption is the language of purchase and more specifically of ransom. And ransom is the securing of a release by the payment of a price.” He warns, though, that we cannot follow this term too far into its parallels with human transactions, lest our constructions become artificial and fanciful. He looks here to law and sin as the means to understand why an act of redemption was necessary within God’s economy. Having shared what Scripture says he concludes “redemption from sin cannot be adequately conceived or formulated except as it comprehends the victory which Christ secured once for all over him who is the god of this world, the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that now works in the children of disobedience.”

So, at this point Murray has looked at both the necessity and the nature of the atonement. He continues to lay the groundwork for his eventual examination of the application of redemption. But before he can get there, there are a few more foundational matters to attend to. We will look at those over the next three weeks.

Next Week
For next Thursday please read chapter three, “The Perfection of the Atonement.”

Your Turn
The purpose of this program is to read classics together. So if there are things that stood out to you in this chapter, if there are questions you had, this is the time and place to have your say. Feel free to post a comment below.

November 12, 2009

Today we begin another iteration of Reading Classics Together—a project which affords us the structure and accountability to read through some of the classics of the Christian faith. This time around we are reading John Murray’s Redemption Accomplished and Applied. The structure of the program is simple. We read one chapter per week and then come here to discuss it. Each week I will create a post like this one to introduce the topic and I will give just a brief summary and perhaps a few reflections. And then we can discuss what we’ve read.

If you’d like to join in, all you need to do is find a copy of the book and begin to read along.

Summary

Redemption Accomplished and Applied is a book about the atonement. Most people, when they think of the book, think of the second section which discusses the ordo salutis—the order of salvation. But before Murray can get to the application of the atonement, he must first discuss its accomplishment. He does this in five chapters, the first of which is called “The Necessity of the Atonement.”

This week’s reading was dedicated to answering a simple question: was the atonement necessary? Murray actually asks several clarifying questions: “Why did God become man? Why, having become man, did he die? Why, having died, did he die the accursed death of the cross?” All of these, when put together, speak of necessity. Why was it necessary for Christ to die and was this the only way in which God could accomplish the redemption of his people?

Traditionally Christians have answered in one of two ways. Some have held to hypothetical necessity, a view which says that God could have forgiven sin and saved his people without atonement or satisfaction, but that this was the way he chose to do it. Others have held to consequent absolute necessity, a more traditionally Protestant understanding, which says that if atonement was to take place, it must happen in this way. Murray explains, “The word ‘consequent’ in this designation points to the fact that God’s will or decree to save any is of free and sovereign grace. To save lost men was not of absolute necessity but of the sovereign good pleasure of God. The terms ‘absolute necessity,’ however, indicate that God, having elected some to everlasting life out of his mere good pleasure, was under the necessity of accomplishing this purpose through the sacrifice of his own Son, a necessity arising from the perfections of his own nature.” So while it was not inherently necessary for God to save anyone, if he was to do so, because of his very nature, it had to happen this way.

The rest of the chapter is dedicated to providing five Scriptural proofs that this is the case. Murray shows 1) that there are passages which create a very strong presumption in favor of this inference; 2) that there are passages which definitely suggest that the only alternative to this way of atonement was perdition; 3) that there are passages which teach that the efficacy of Christ’s work is contingent upon the unique constitution of Christ’s person; 4) that the salvation of grace which we experience is a salvation that goes beyond forgiveness of sin but also to justification; 5) that the cross of Christ is the supreme demonstration of God’s love because of its supreme cost.

Having looked to these reasons Murray concludes, “we are constrained to conclude that the kind of necessity which the Scriptural considerations support is that which may be described as absolute or indispensable. … If we keep in view the gravity of sin and the exigencies arising from the holiness of God which must be met in salvation from it, then the doctrine of indispensable necessity makes Calvary intelligible to us and enhances the incomprehensible marvel of both Calvary itself and the sovereign purpose of love which Calvary fulfilled. The more we emphasize the inflexible demands of justice and holiness the more marvelous become the love of God and its provisions.”

Overall I enjoyed this chapter, though I was surprised at how difficult it was to read. I have read much older authors who were easier to understand than Murray! And though I did enjoy it, I find that I am primarily anticipating reading the second section of this book where we learn about Redemption Applied. Still, this chapter was very good and offered a useful defense of the Bible’s teaching that if we were to be saved, this was the only way.

Next Week

For next Thursday please read chapter two, “The Nature of the Atonement.”

Your Turn

The purpose of this program is to read classics together. So if there are things that stood out to you in this chapter, if there are questions you had, this is the time and place to have your say. Feel free to post a comment below.
November 05, 2009

A couple of weeks ago I announced that the next book we would read together as part of the Reading Classics Together program would be Redemption Accomplished and Applied by John Murray. We will begin reading that book on November 12, exactly one week from today. Actually, we will begin discussing the book on that date, so it would be best to start reading it before then. This is a final invitation to participate in the program and, for those who have already indicated interest, a final reminder that you’ll want to finish reading the first chapter in the next week.

This Reading Classics Together program exists to give us all a good excuse to read some of the classics of the faith. And this new book is, indeed, a classic, In Redemption Accomplished and Applied Murray explores the biblical passages dealing with the necessity, nature, perfection, and extent of the atonement, and goes on to identify the distinct steps in the Bible’s presentation of how the redemption accomplished by Christ is applied progressively to the life of the redeemed. It is, then, an overview of the biblical account of salvation as understood by Reformed Christians. Monergism Books says it is “One of the best, most concise, theologically sound and helpful expositions of the atonement ever produced. John Murray’s Redemption Accomplished and Applied should be required reading for every Christian. At just under 200 pages, Murray offers page after page of devotional and scholarly study that is nearly unparalleled in its clarity, usefulness and theological depth. Read this book, re-read this book and keep it close at hand.”

There is still time for you to order a copy of the book and read the first chapter before next Thursday.

If you are interested, you can purchase the book at:

Amazon | Westminster Books | Monergism Books

Check in one week from today and we will begin to discuss it together. I can’t wait!

October 22, 2009

It has been a few weeks now since we finished reading The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment, the most recent entry in Reading Classics Together.

The impetus for this project was the simple realization that, though many Christians want to read through the classics of the faith, few of us have the motivation to actually make it happen. This program allows us to read them together, providing both a level of accountability and the added of interest of comparing notes. Those who have participated in each of the programs will now have read 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, Real Christianity by William Wilberforce and The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment by Jeremiah Burroughs. That is quite a solid collection of classics! I have benefited immensely from reading these books and know that others have, too. The format is simple: every week we read a chapter or a section of a classic of the Christian faith and then on Thursday we check in at my blog to discuss it. It’s that easy: one chapter per week.

I’d love to have you participate in this next effort. Keep reading to find out how you can do that…

The next classic we will read together is Redemption Accomplished and Applied by John Murray. In this book Murray explores the biblical passages dealing with the necessity, nature, perfection, and extent of the atonement, and goes on to identify the distinct steps in the Bible’s presentation of how the redemption accomplished by Christ is applied progressively to the life of the redeemed. It is, then, an overview of the biblical account of salvation as understood by Reformed Christians. Monergism Books says it is “One of the best, most concise, theologically sound and helpful expositions of the atonement ever produced. John Murray’s Redemption Accomplished and Applied should be required reading for every Christian. At just under 200 pages, Murray offers page after page of devotional and scholarly study that is nearly unparalleled in its clarity, usefulness and theological depth. Read this book, re-read this book and keep it close at hand.”

At a time when so many people are discovering or re-discovering Reformed theology, this book offers us an opportunity to turn to Scripture to see if all that we are being taught, all that we believe, truly accords with Scripture. And even if you have no love for this New Calvinism, you may like to read along to at least ensure that you have a correct understanding of its theology.

We will begin reading the book on November 12. So if you would like to read along, read chapter 1 by November 12 and then check in here on that day.

You can purchase the book at:

Amazon | Westminster Books | Monergism Books

It is not unusual for the “next classic” to sell out really quickly at the various stores, so if you’d like to read along, go ahead and order it ASAP.

Do let me know if you are planning on participating. Obviously I will not hold you to anything; it is just nice to get a sense of how many people will be joining in the fun.

September 17, 2009

We made it! And honestly, it was barely even a challenge. There have been some classics that I’ve had to struggle to finish. Sometimes, by the end, it is hard work just to turn the next page. But that was not that case, at least for me, with The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment. I found it a joy to read from beginning to end and it is one I know I will return to in the future (though I may need a copy that is no quite so thoroughly highlighted). Today I am simply going to provide a very brief overview of the chapter and then offer a few of my favorite quotes.

In this final chapter, Burroughs concludes his thoughts on how to attain contentment. Here are the twelve directions he gives:

1. All the rules and helps in the world will do us little good unless we get a good temper within our hearts.

2. If you would get a contented life, do not grasp too much of the world, do not take in more of the business of the world than God calls you to.

3. Be sure of your call to every business you go about.

4. I must walk by rule in the work that I am called to.

5. Exercise much faith.

6. Labor to be spiritually minded.

7. Do not promise yourselves too much beforehand; do not reckon on too great things.

8. Labor to get your hearts mortified to the world, dead to the world.

9. Let not men and women pore too much upon their afflictions: that is, busy their thoughts too much to look down into their afflictions.

10. Make a good interpretation of God’s ways towards you.

11. Do not so much regard the fancies of other men, as what indeed you feel yourselves.

12. Be not inordinately taken up with the comforts of this world when you have them. When you have them, do not take too much satisfaction in them.

Let me share just a few favorite quotes that I had to highlight on my way through:

“You can never make a ship go steady, by propping it outside; you know there must be ballast within the ship, to make it go steady. And so, there is nothing outside us that can keep our hearts in a steady, constant way, but what is within us: grace is within the soul, and it will do this.”

“Nothing in the world will quiet the heart so much as this: when I meet with any cross, I know I am where God would have me, in my place and calling; I am about the work that God has set me.”

“Exercise faith, not only in the promise that all shall work together for good to them that fear God, but likewise exercise faith in God himself; as well as in his Word, in the attributes of God.”

“Let afflictions and troubles find you with a mortified heart to the world, and they will not break your bones; those whose bones are broken by crosses and afflictions are those who are alive to the world, but are not dead to the world. But no afflictions or troubles will break the bones of one who has a mortified heart and is dead to the world; that is, they will not be very grievous or painful to such a one as is mortified to the world.”

“You find many people, all of whose thoughts are taken up about what their crosses and afflictions are, they are altogether thinking and speaking of them. It is just with them as with a child who has a sore: his finger is always on the sore; so men’s and women’s thoughts are always on their afflictions.”

The Next Classic

Stay tuned and in a couple of weeks I’ll announce the next classic we’ll be reading together. Feel free to offer suggestions in the comments here.

But for now, I’d love to hear your concluding thoughts on The Rare Jewel

September 10, 2009

We’ve got just two readings left in this classic of the Christian faith, The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment. Thanks for hanging in with me through what has proven to be quite a lengthy read (twelve weeks down, one to go). A few people have asked what I intend to read when this book is complete. Truth be told, I do not yet know. Give me a couple more weeks and I will make an announcement. First things first though; let’s finish up this one.

In the final two chapters of The Rare Jewel, Burroughs first offers several considerations for contenting the heart in any afflicted condition and then offers several directions as to what should be done to prepare hearts for affliction. This week we look to the first of these, considerations for contenting a heart in the midst of affliction.

Summary

Burroughs offers ten things that he wants Christians to consider when facing some kind of an affliction that threatens to leave them feeling discontent before God. I will list each of these and offer the occasional comment.

1. We should consider, in all our wants and inclinations to discontent, the greatness of the mercies that we have, and the meanness of the things that we lack. What we have been given by God in salvation is so much greater than anything we may lack that there ought to be no comparison, no matter how great those things may appear in the moment. “I am discontented for want of what a dog may have, what a devil may have, what a reprobate may have; shall I be discontented for not having that, when God has given me what makes angels glorious?”

2. The consideration that God is beforehand with us with his mercies should content us. “We should bless God for what we have had, and not think that we are worse because we have had thus and thus. Previous graces should not be allowed to cause present or future discontent. Enjoy the graces God has given you today and hold to them loosely, knowing that he may see fit to remove them for his purposes.

3. The consideration of the abundance of mercies that God bestows and we enjoy. “Afflictions considered in themselves, we think very great, but let them be considered with the sea of God’s mercies we enjoy, and then they are not so much, they are nothing in comparison.” If you toss a pail full of water on the kitchen floor, it will look like a terrible mess; but if you pour that pail into the ocean, there is no sign of it. God’s mercies to us are as the ocean and our afflictions are as that bucket of water.

4. Consider the way of God towards all creatures. Everything in nature shows that there are times of plenty and times of want, times of much and times of little. Why should we expect that this will not be true of us?

5. The creatures suffer for us; why should not we be willing to suffer, to be serviceable to God? This may be Burroughs’ strangest line of reasoning. It seems to go like this: animals are delicious and, therefore, of great service to us. We are much closer to animals than we are to God. Therefore, we should not complain when God seems to treat us as we treat animals (which is to say, to accomplish our purposes ahead of theirs). “Every time the creature is upon your plates you may think, What! does God not make the creature suffer for my use, not only for my nourishment but for my delight? what am I, then, in respect of the infinite God?” While I understand his line of reasoning, I am not sure that I would have listed it in my top ten!

6. Consider that we have but a little time in this world. Just as a sailor who sees clear sky beyond an approaching storm will not much fear the storm, so we know that this storm of life will last but a little while and after it will be joys inexpressible.

7. Consider the condition that others have been in, who have been our betters. Many of our brothers and sisters who were much godlier than we are, and much more used of God, have had to suffer great things. But even more so, as our ultimate example, we look to Christ. “Above all, set Christ before us, who professes that the birds of the air had nests, and the foxes had holes, yet the Son of man had no place to hide his head, such a low condition was he in.”

8. Before your conversion, before God wrought upon your souls, you were contented with the world without grace, though you had no interest in God nor Christ; why cannot you now be contented with grace and spiritual things without the world? “If you yourselves were content with the world without grace, there is reason you should be content with grace without the world.” Now that is a sentence worth pondering.

9. When God has given you such contentments you have not given him the glory. And here is another sentence well worth pondering: “When God has let you have your heart’s desire, what have you done with your heart’s desire?” And if you have refused to give God praise for the great contentments he has given you, why now will you complain when they are taken away?

10. Consider all the experience that you have had of God’s doing good to you in the want of many comforts. The person who assesses past experiences of suffering will know that God makes affliction somehow beneficial. So many of our afflictions are actually great mercies. “Therefore, think thus to yourself: Lord, why may not this affliction work as great a good upon me as afflictions have done before?”

Burroughs wraps up with one more reflection that is much in the same vein. “I make no question but you find it so, that your worst voyages have proved your best. When you have met with the greatest crosses in a voyage, God has been pleased to turn them to a greater good to you in some other way.”

Next Week

Next week we’ll read the thirteenth (and final) chapter of this book.

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.
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.

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