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Reading Classics Together

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.
June 18, 2009

Today we start reading another classic book—Jeremiah Burrough’s The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment. This follows some other great classics we’ve read together: 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 and Real Christianity by William Wilberforce.

The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment was first published in 1648 and, since then, has been regarded as a true classic of the Christian faith. It deals, quite obviously, with fighting for, finding and enjoying contentment in Christ. Over the next couple of months we will be reading a chapter or two per week and then gathering here on Thursdays to offer thoughts and reflections on it. I’d invite you to read along, if you so choose, or to simply read these weekly recaps. Visit this post for more information.

Summary

In the book’s first chapter Burroughs begins with Philippians 4:11 and seeks “to show what a great mystery there is in Christian contentment, and how many distinct lessons there are to be learned, that we may come to attain this heavenly disposition, to which St. Paul attained.” He demonstrates four things: what Christian contentment is, the art and mystery of it, what lessons must be learned to bring the heart to contentment, and in what qualities the glorious excellence of this grace chiefly consists.

Burroughs defines contentment in this way: Christian contentment is that sweet, inward, quiet, gracious frame of spirit, which freely submits to and delights in God’s wise and fatherly disposal in every condition. The bulk of the chapter is a point-by-point explanation of this definition. For example, he looks to the inward quality of contentment, saying that “if the attainment of true contentment were as easy as keeping quiet outwardly, it would not need much learning.” He looks to contentment as a frame of spirit, saying “the contentment of a man or woman who is rightly content does not come so much from outward arguments or from any outward help, as from the disposition of their own hearts. The disposition of their own hearts causes and brings forth this gracious contentment rather than any external thing.” And so it goes, through each word or each phrase of the definition.

As I read this week’s selection, I was immediately struck by the pastoral tone of Burroughs’ writing. I have seen this before in the other works of his that I’ve read, but it stood out to me afresh as I read The Rare Jewel. Though history has recorded the Puritans as being dour and sour and ruthless, the reality was anything but. In this book, Burroughs preaches directly to the hearts and souls of his readers and he does so in a way that is at once sensitive and passionate. He says things like, “If a man is to be free from discontent and worry it is not enough merely not to murmur but you must be active in sanctifying God’s name in the affliction.” He does not pass over the affliction heartlessly, but still teaches that even through the greatest affliction, the Christian will and must sanctify God’s name.

His passion comes out in a passage like this one. Can’t you hear him preaching this to his congregation, as he begs them, exhorts them, to submit themselves to the Lord?

But now comes the grace of contentment and sends it under, for to submit is to send under a thing. Now when the soul comes to see its own unruliness-Is the hand of God bringing an affliction and yet my heart is troubled and discontented-What, it says, will you be above God? Is this not God’s hand and must your will be regarded more than God’s? O under, under! get you under, O soul! Keep under! keep low! keep under God’s feet! You are under God’s feet, and keep under his feet! Keep under the authority of God, the majesty of God, the sovereignty of God, the power that God has over you! To keep under, that is to submit. The soul can submit to God at the time when it can send itself under the power and authority and sovereignty and dominion that God has over it. That is the sixth point, but even that is not enough. You have not attained this grace of contentment unless the next point is true of you.

There were several other quotes that stood out to me, often in just a line or two at a time. “When God casts us down, we must be content to lie till God bids us stand up, and God’s Spirit enters into us to enable us to stand up.” “In his submission he sees his sovereignty, but what makes him take pleasure is God’s wisdom.” “In contentment there is a compound of all graces, if the contentment is spiritual, if it is truly Christian.” And this one, slightly longer: “Now Christian quietness is opposed to all these things. When affliction comes, whatever it is, you do not murmur; though you feel it, though you make your cry to God, though you desire to be delivered, and seek it by all good means, yet you do not murmur or repine, you do not fret or vex yourself, there is not a tumultuousness of spirit in you, not an instability, there are not distracting fears in your hearts, no sinking discouragements, no unworthy shifts, no risings in rebellion against God in any way: This is quietness of spirit under an affliction, and that is the second thing, when the soul is so far able to bear an affliction as to keep quiet under it.”

All-in-all, chapter one was already very encouraging to me and I’m sure we’ve found here a classic book that has a lot to teach anyone who takes the time to read it. I’m glad that so many of you have chosen to read it with me. Let’s press on!

Next Week

Next week we’ll read chapters two and three. Please read those two chapters and check in on Thursday.

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 06, 2009

The Rare Jewel of Christian ContentmentI wanted to offer one more reminder that we’ll soon be starting to read our next classic Christian book together. We will be reading The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment by Jeremiah Burroughs. I chose this book for a few reasons, among them its status as a true classic of the faith and one that is both pastoral and applicable, even today. We live, after all, in a world that is profoundly discontent and it seems to me that many modern technologies and innovations really just lead us into greater and deeper discontentment. I think we need the message of this book as badly as any generation in history.

Here is what the publisher says about this book:

Burroughs’ writings, some published before and others after his death, were numerous, but The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment is one of the most valuable of them all. Its author was much concerned to promote:

1. peace among believers of various ‘persuasions’
2. peace and contentment in the hearts of individual believers during what he describes as ‘sad and sinking times’.

The Rare Jewel concentrates upon this second aim. It is marked by sanity, clarity, aptness of illustration, and warmth of appeal to the heart. ‘There is an ark that you may come into, and no men in the world may live such comfortable, cheerful and contented lives as the saints of God’. Burroughs presses his lesson home with all the fervor and cogency of a true and faithful minister of God.

So here is the plan. Beginning three weeks from today, June 18, we will begin to read this book together. Prior to June 18, then, I’d ask that anyone who wishes to participate secures a copy of the book and reads the first section titled “Christian Contentment Described.” On June 18, visit this site. I will post an article giving a few of my thoughts. You can read this and, if you choose, post a comment of your own. And so we’ll continue until the book is done.

This book is available as part of Banner of Truth’s Puritan Paperback series. I’ve arranged for Monergism Books to carry (hopefully) enough stock so everyone who wants one can get one. You can Buy It Here.

Buy It Here

You can also find it free online, if you would like to read it that way (though I wholly recommend that if at all possible you buy a printed copy). You can find the text right here or, if you want a real challenge, a much older edition here (note the download button at the top-right). Looking elsewhere you can even find a course in audio format that is drawn from the book: click here.

May 28, 2009

It is time to announce the next classic book of the Christian faith that we will be reading 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 and Real Christianity by William Wilberforce. 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 here to discuss it. It’s that easy.

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 be reading together is The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment by Jeremiah Burroughs. I chose this book for a few reasons, among them its status as a true classic of the faith and one that is both pastoral and applicable, even today. We live, after all, in a world that is profoundly discontent and it seems to me that many modern technologies and innovations really just lead us into greater and deeper discontentment. I think we need the message of this book as badly as any generation in history.

The Rare Jewel of Christian ContentmentIn one description of the book I found these words: “Burroughs’ exposition is always straightforward, often poetic. He begins by laying out a clear, precise, yet loving definition of contentment—‘that sweet, inward, quiet, gracious frame of spirit, which freely submits to and delights in God’s wise and fatherly disposal in every condition’—and proceeds to examine each part of this definition in detail, but not without a pastoral explanation of why he thinks it is an important endeavor—‘l shall break open this description, for it is a box of precious ointment, and very comforting and useful for troubled hearts in troubled times and conditions.’”

This sounds good to me! Here is what the publisher says:

Burroughs’ writings, some published before and others after his death, were numerous, but The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment is one of the most valuable of them all. Its author was much concerned to promote:

1. peace among believers of various ‘persuasions’
2. peace and contentment in the hearts of individual believers during what he describes as ‘sad and sinking times’.

The Rare Jewel concentrates upon this second aim. It is marked by sanity, clarity, aptness of illustration, and warmth of appeal to the heart. ‘There is an ark that you may come into, and no men in the world may live such comfortable, cheerful and contented lives as the saints of God’. Burroughs presses his lesson home with all the fervor and cogency of a true and faithful minister of God.

So here is the plan. Beginning three weeks from today, June 18, we will begin to read this book together. Prior to June 18, then, I’d ask that anyone who wishes to participate secures a copy of the book and reads the first section titled “Christian Contentment Described.” On June 18, visit this site. I will post an article giving a few of my thoughts. You can read this and, if you choose, post a comment of your own. And so we’ll continue until the book is done.

This book is available as part of Banner of Truth’s Puritan Paperback series. I’ve arranged for Monergism Books to carry (hopefully) enough stock so everyone who wants one can get one. You can Buy It Here.

Buy It Here

You can also find it free online, if you would like to read it that way (though I wholly recommend that if at all possible you buy a printed copy). You can find the text right here or, if you want a real challenge, a much older edition here (note the download button at the top-right). Looking elsewhere you can even find a course in audio format that is drawn from the book: click here.

Do let me know by leaving a comment if you are going to participate in this effort.

April 16, 2009

So this is it. As of today we’ve read the final chapter of William Wilberforce’s Real Christianity. This marks the seventh classic we’ve read together. I am going to offer a few closing remarks and then open it for discussion in case you’d like to reflect on the book. And then I guess we’ll have to start thinking about what comes next.

Discussion

In the book’s final chapter, Wilberforce offers “Practical Hints for Real Christianity.” To be honest, I was not entirely sure how the chapter title accurately summarizes the chapter contents. I guess I was expecting something a little bit more practical in nature than what was actually there. But no matter. This chapter seemed to tie up a few loose ends—to offer reflections on a variety of issues. Hence I will just offer some loosely connected quotes that stood out to me.

I enjoyed Wilberforce’s words about the dread of sin that is a sure characteristic of the true Christian. “Such a dread causes him to look back upon the vices of his own youthful days with shame and sorrow. Then instead of conceding to young people to be wild and thoughtless—a privilege of their age and circumstances(!)—he is prompted to warn them against what has proved to him to be a matter of such bitter reflection.” Too often I have seen Christians look back on their wild days of youth with a certain fondness or even jealousy rather than the shame that seems more fitting to one who truly understands how even then he was living in utter rebellion against his God.

His words on humility were worth highlighting. The more I read of the lives of great men, the more I see how they emphasized humility. This was true of Wilberforce. “In proportion as a Christian grows in grace, so he grows in humility. Humility is indeed the principle first and last of Christianity. By this principle it lives and thrives. As humility grows or declines, so Christianity must flourish or decay.”

Writing about people who have satisfy themselves with a kind of “general Christianity,” Wilberforce says “they feel a general penitence and humiliation from a general sense of sinfulness and have general desires for holiness.” Biting words, those, and ones worthy of reflection. Do you feel only a general dislike for sin and desire a general holiness?

I think the best words in this chapter came in the final section where Wilberforce challenged people to be true Christians because of the state of the times. He knew what a nation of such Christians could accomplish and desired that the people of his nation and of his time would turn to the Lord, putting aside their general Christianity, their counterfeit Christianity, and that they would truly embrace the Lord. The final five or six paragraphs stands as his challenge to them. It could as easily stand as a challenge to us today, as we live in nations that are quickly becoming post-Christian, looking more and more like the nation he describes throughout this book. “Let [Christians] boldly assert the cause of Christ in an age when so many who bear the name of Christian are ashamed of Him. Let them accept the duty to serve, if not actually save, their country. Let them serve not by political interference, but by that sure and radical benefit of restoring the influence of true religious and of raising the standard of morality.”

And so Real Christianity, written though it was hundreds of years ago, is applicable and relevant even today. Wilberforce’s challenge is one we can ignore, regarding it as trapped in a different nation and a different time. But we do well, I think, to see that nations come and go but the spiritual realities remain the same. At any time there are many who profess faith, but there is usually only a remnant who truly embrace that faith and who live lives subjected to the Scriptures. Our task, like Wilberforce’s, is to urge people to give up their counterfeit faith and to turn to the freedom, the beauty, of real Christianity. And all for the glory of God.

Now What?

Now what? That’s a good question. In a week or two I will announce the next book we will be taking on. I think we are going to go Puritan, though I am open to any and all of your suggestions.

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