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