Happy New Year to you all! Usually this time of year I do a year-end-wrap-up post of some kind summarizing some of the content I appreciated over the past year. This year, I want to share with you my “2022 Book of the Year.”
And the winner is, drum roll, please…
The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment, by Jeremiah Burroughs, 1599-1646.
It may seem ridiculous to give a book written over 370 years ago a prize in 2022, but some books are called “classics” for a reason. In light of the past few years, and the consistent draw of the human heart toward lust, greed, and murmuring, this book is still as relevant today as the day it was published. I was greatly assisted by the wisdom of Mr. Burroughs even though the world we live in is one he would hardly recognize. Human hearts nor the perfect character of God have changed and Burroughs had a helpful grasp of both that served me well.
A Short Review
The book is a collection of sermons given in the summer of 1645. It was published in 1646 only a few months before Burrough’s sudden death after complications from a fall from his horse.
The thrust of the book is seeking to understand and apply the Apostle Paul’s words in Philippians 4:11-13, though the number of other scripture references in the book is extensive,
“Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me.”
Jeremiah Burroughs wants to help Christians face the task of living as contented children of God in the hard things of life as well as the mundane. The title of the book alludes to the nature of the task ahead of each Christian desiring to follow in the Apostle’s example. This kind of contentment, satisfaction, peace, and stability of heart and mind, is a hard-won “jewel” that is only possible through dependence and experience of God through Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit.
Throughout the book, Burroughs uses the metaphor of a “school” that Christ invites us into to teach us the secret of Christian contentment. Burroughs views the lives we live exclusively through the lens of God’s gracious and loving providence, which means every aspect of our lives is given to us by God for a purpose. Jeremiah Burroughs intends that Christians should learn what God is trying to teach them in those purposefully given circumstances. This was my personal greatest takeaway from the book. Burroughs reminded me to consider every aspect of life as a gift from a loving father even when those gifts are stained by the reality of sin and brokenness. God’s purpose in discipling his children is never marred by sin even if our own experience of the world is. Jeremiah Burroughs trumpets the simple and transforming truth that guarded Job’s heart, “Shall we receive good from God, and shall we not receive evil (Job 2:10)?” It’s not a comfortable thought, but we are to be comfortable in the control and care of God our Father rather than in our own judgements.
The tone of the book is very pastoral. Burroughs is not afraid of correcting and calling his readers to repentance, but his love and desire for their maturity in Christ are clearly evident. And, although the book was written so long ago, the language is easy to understand even for someone not used to the puritan writing style. (For more on the language and other ways to engage with the book see below)
Here are a few quotes to whet your appetite:
“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.”
“My brethren, the reason why you have not got contentment in the things of the world is not because you have not got enough of them…. But the reason is because they are not things proportionable to that immortal soul of yours that is capable of God Himself. 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 if they had more then they would 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.”
"It is but one side of a Christian to endeavour to do what pleases God; you must as well endeavour to be pleased with what God does."
"One drop of the sweetness of heaven is enough to take away all the sourness and bitterness of all the afflictions in the world."
"I find a sufficiency of satisfaction in my own heart, through the grace of Christ that is in me. Though I have not outward comforts and worldly conveniences to supply my necessities, yet I have a sufficient portion between Christ and my soul abundantly to satisfy me in every condition."
“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.”
How to Read
If you are interested in reading this book (and I recommend you do) there are several easy ways to do that.
1) Printed book:
If you would like to get your hands on a hard copy of this book, I would suggest this newly released version. Everything is the same as the older versions, but my understanding is that the words look “better” on the page than some older printings.
2) Digital Versions
One of the great things about this book being so old is many Christian groups have made it their aim to get these works of Christian heritage into your hands. Monergism.com has several versions of this book for download for free (.pdf, ebook, and webpage). It also has a free version in modernized English.
As this book started as a series of sermons, listening to the chapters is a great way to process the content as you go about your day. There are several audiobook versions, I listened to this one.
We do not know what God has in store for us over the next year. We cannot control the tides of culture, politics, economics, or the world of viruses and microbes. But we have a God who does and he is calling us to tend the garden of our hearts to receive what He gives us with thankfulness and hope. I believe The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment will be a stepping stone for you in setting your heart at rest over the next year, and by God’s grace you will, “have learned in whatever situation… to be content.”