The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment Excerpts by Jeremiah Burroughs
“The holiness of God is the height of God’s excellency.” One of the best works on contentment outside the Bible.
Being Dead, Yet They Speak – (Below are excerpts from “The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment”, by Jeremiah Burroughs, 1599-1646)
“A Christian comes to contentment, not so much by way of addition, as by way of subtraction. That is his way of contentment, and it is a way that the world has no skill in. I open it thus: 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.”
“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 the children of God have their little taken from them, they can make up all their wants in God Himself… If anything is cut off from the stream (a godly man) knows how to go to the fountain, and makes up all there. God is his all in all.”
“Since God is contented with Himself alone, if you have Him, you may be contented with Him alone, and it may be, that is the reason why your outward comforts are taken from you, that God may be all in all to you. It may be that while you had these things they shared with God in your affection, a great part of the stream of your affection ran that way: God would have the full stream run to Him now.”
Christian Contentment Described
‘I have learned, in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content.’ Philippians 4:11
This text contains a very timely cordial to revive the drooping spirits of the saints in these sad and sinking times. For the ‘hour of temptation’ has already come upon all the world to try the inhabitants of the earth. In particular, this is the day of Jacob’s trouble in our own bowels.
Our great Apostle holds forth experimentally in this Gospel-text the very life and soul of all practical divinity. In it we may plainly read his own proficiency in the school of Christ, and what lesson every Christian who would prove the power and growth of godliness in his own soul must necessarily learn from him.
These words are brought in by Paul as a clear argument to persuade the Philippians that he did not seek after great things in the world and that he sought not ‘theirs’ but ‘them’. He did not long for great wealth. His heart was taken up with better things. ‘I do not speak’, he says, ‘in respect of want, for whether I have or have not my heart is fully satisfied, I have enough: I have learned in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content.’
‘I have learned’ -Contentment in every condition is great art, a spiritual mystery. It is to be learned and to be learned as a mystery. And so in verse 12, he affirms: ‘I know how to be abased, and I know how to abound: everywhere and in all things, I am instructed.’
The word which is translated ‘instructed’ is derived from the word that signifies ‘mystery’; it is just as if he had said, ‘I have learned the mystery of this business.’
Contentment is to be learned as a great mystery, and those who are thoroughly trained in this art, which is like Samson’s riddle to a natural man, have learned a deep mystery. ‘I have learned it’-I do not have to learn it now, nor did I have the art at first; I have attained it, though with much ado, and now, by the grace of God, I have become the master of this art.
‘In whatsoever state I am’-The word ‘estate’ is not in the original, but simply ‘in what I am’, that is, in whatever concerns or befalls me, whether I have little or nothing at all.
‘Therewith to be content’-The word rendered ‘content’ here has great elegance and fullness of meaning in the original. In the strict sense, it is only attributed to God, who has styled himself ‘God all-sufficient’, in that he rests fully satisfied in and with himself alone.
But he is pleased freely to communicate his fullness to the creature, so that from God in Christ the saints receive ‘grace for grace’ (John 1:16). As a result, there is in them the same grace that is in Christ, according to their measure. In this sense, Paul says, I have self-sufficiency, which is what the word means.
But has Paul got self-sufficiency? you will say. How are we sufficient of ourselves! Our Apostle affirms in another case, ‘That we are not sufficient of ourselves to think anything as of ourselves’ (2 Corinthians 3:5).
Therefore his meaning must be, 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.
This interpretation agrees with that place: ‘A good man is satisfied with himself’ (Proverbs 14:14) and also with what Paul avers of himself in another place, that ‘though he had nothing yet he possessed all things’. Because he had a right to the covenant and promise, which virtually contains everything, and an interest in Christ, the fountain and good of all, it is no marvel that he said that in whatsoever state he was in, he was content.
Thus you have the true interpretation of the text. I shall not make any division of the words, because I take them only to promote the one most necessary duty, viz. quieting and comforting the hearts of God’s people under the troubles and changes they meet within these heart-shaking times.
The doctrinal conclusion briefly is this: That to be well skilled in the mystery of Christian contentment is the duty, glory, and excellence of a Christian.
Jeremiah Burroughs (1599-1646)