Saturday, July 01, 2006

The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment

A few of you reading this post may recognize the title. It's the name of a book written by an English Puritan named Jeremiah Burroughs and published a few years after his death in 1646. Burroughs was one of the members of the Westminster Assembly. Because I'm preaching on contentment tomorrow, I thought I'd review this book, which I read some years ago. It's a classic work on this important topic.

Here are a few nuggets from Burroughs that are worth pondering:
  • "[A] contented man, just as he is the most contented, so he is the most unsatisfied man in the world. You will say, 'How is that?' A man who has learned the art of contentment is the most contented with any low condition that he has in the world, and yet he cannot be satisfied with the enjoyment of all the world. . . though his heart is so enlarged that the enjoyment of all the world and ten thousand worlds cannot satisfy him for his portion; yet he has a heart quieted under God's disposal, if he gives him but bread and water."

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

  • "Murmuring and discontent is exceedingly below a Christian."

  • "[Contentment] is a quiet frame of spirit, and by that I mean that you should find men and women in a good mood not only at this or that time, but as the constant tenor and temper of their hearts. A Christian who, in the constant tenor and temper of his heart, can carry himself quietly with constancy has learned this lesson of contentment. Otherwise his Christianity is worth nothing, for no one, however furious in his discontent, will not be quiet when he is in a good mood."

  • "A Christian comes to contentment, not so much by way of addition, as by way of subtraction . . . not so much by adding to what he would have, or to what he has, not by adding more to his condition; but rather by subtracting from his desires, so as to make his desires and his circumstances even and equal. . . . [A] heart that has no grace, and is not instructed in this mystery of contentment, knows of no way to get contentment, but to have his possessions raised up to his desires; but the Christian has another way to contentment, that is, he can bring his desires down to his possessions, and so he attains his contentment."
That last quote is really good. Let's apply it thus: I'd love a new car to replace our '95 Nissan Quest minivan. It's got 200,000 miles on it. It's beat up. The air conditioner does not work very well and would cost more to fix than the car is worth. The shocks need to be replaced. It's loud and it's clumsy. In other words, it's old.

The problem with the car is, it won't die! We're still paying on our other car and I don't want to take another loan. So what Burroughs would say I need to do, rather than finding contentment by adding a new car, is find contentment by subtracting my desire for a new car and trying to enjoy my old car.

Okay, here I go. Nissan minivan, I like you. You are a great vehicle. You're big enough to haul stuff and small enough to feel like a car (kind of). You have a really good stereo. You also have a separate rear air conditioner, which helps a bit. You have a removable back seat which is great for moving days and big home improvement projects. When I sit in you I feel superior to other people because I'm up higher than they are (uh oh, that's probably not a godly source of contentment). You've faithfully carried my family and me practically all over the country. You have a lot of exterior lights, which I think is cool. You have motorized mirrors and a rear window wiper that sprays washer fluid really well. You're fun at the beach because I can open up your huge rear door and have a great place to sit and put on sunscreen. When my neighborhood floods I can drive right through the deepest water because your body is up high (there I go gloating again). You have automatic front seat belts so I don't have to reach back and pull the belt across my shoulder. And last but not least, you're paid for.

There. I feel better already. I'm content...sort of.


Matthaeus Flexibilis said...

"You have...a rear window wiper that sprays washer fluid really well." Funny. :-) I'd also recommend Burroughs' A Treatise on Earthly-Mindedness, which is a few sermons on another theme in Philippians related to contentment, namely, keeping our eyes on the goal, not our present circumstances. I also see that Soli Deo Gloria books recently published the sixth and final volume in Burroughs' series on living the Gospel. I haven't read them, but Burroughs is always profitable, IME.

Mike said...

Thanks for the book ideas! Glad someone else has found Burroughs.

Matthaeus Flexibilis said...

I also found a series of Sunday school classes on several different Puritan books, among which is a course on on The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment. They also have a course on Jonathan Edwards' Charity and Its Fruits, which is one of the most profitable books I've ever read. (I haven't listened to these, but I might burn them to CD for the old commute.)