The Rare Jewel | Contentment Described: Part 1
Parenthetical page numbers are taken from the Puritan Paperback edition of this work, published by the Banner of Truth Trust.
We began this study with an introduction to the work, The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment, and a brief biography of its author, Jeremiah Burroughs. Throughout this classic Puritan book Burroughs seeks to show his readers the joy of Christian contentment. True and lasting contentment consists in knowing the Father’s great love for his children, resting in Christ alone for salvation, and having the “peace which passes all understanding” which can only come from the Holy Spirit. In this entry and the next we will look at the first chapter of The Rare Jewel, “Christian Contentment Described” (pages 17–40), in which Burroughs defines Christian contentment and then elaborates on this definition. The remainder of the book, chapters two through thirteen, is a further explanation and elaboration on this definition, so it’s important for our study to take some time to unpack it, which is why there will be two articles about this one chapter.
Before defining the subject of the book, Burroughs briefly exposits Philippians 4:11, where Paul writes “I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content.” Contentment is not something that is innate in Christians. We are indwelled by the Holy Spirit, “who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it” (Eph. 1:14), but we still must grow in our walk with Christ, and are called to many different tasks which are aimed at making us more like our precious savior. One of these tasks involves Christian contentment, and it is something that Paul himself had to learn. He was not content in all things as soon as he was regenerated by the power of the Holy Spirit when he came to faith in Christ. Neither were you, and neither was I.
Paul had to learn to be content in all things; it was a skill he had to acquire throughout his difficult life in service to Christ. Burroughs says that “to be well skilled in the mystery of Christian contentment is the duty, glory and excellence of a Christian” (19). Every Christian has as his or her duty the responsibility to grow in the skill of contentment, and our author proves to be a very helpful guide in this task, as he walks us through the Bible’s teaching on contentment.
But what is contentment, and how is it learned? True 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” (19). This definition is full of “precious ointment, and very comforting and useful for troubled hearts, in troubled times and conditions,” (20) and Burroughs spends the rest of chapter one elucidating it for his readers.
We certainly live in troubled times; this was true well before the coronavirus pandemic and it will be true until Christ returns to call his people home. Therefore, it is the Christian’s duty to learn, like the Apostle Paul, how to be content in all situations, knowing that our Heavenly Father holds us in his hands and is working all things together for good, for those who are called according to God’s good purpose.
Firstly, contentment is a work of God’s Spirit within the hearts of God’s children—it is a “sweet, inward heart-thing” (20). Even though Christians may appear quiet and serene on the outside, even though there may be “calm upon their tongues,” they may yet “have blustering storms upon their spirits,” with hearts “troubled and even worn away with anguish and vexation” (20). True contentment takes place on the inside; Christians cannot be “whitewashed tombs” like the Pharisees, only appearing clean on the outside while they are actually filled with “dead people’s bones and all uncleanness” (Matt. 23:27). This is a difficult thing to learn, and Burroughs notes that if it was possible to be truly content simply by appearing so on the outside, there would be very little learning required. Christian contentment is not something that “can be attained by common gifts and the ordinary power of reason;” rather, “it is a business of the heart” (21).
The second aspect of the definition Burroughs gives also has to do with the Christian’s heart—contentment is a quiet, stillness, and calm. Before seeing what this quietness entails, we learn that there are certain things to which this quietness is not opposed. Quietness of heart does not conflict with any troubles that our sovereign Lord may bring to us; “indeed, there would be no true contentment if you were not apprehensive and sensible of your afflictions” which come from God (21). Contentment also is not intended to turn Christians into Stoics; we are not called to endure trouble without complaint, but are in fact called to make our anxieties and worries known to God. Likewise, this quietness of heart does not mean that Christians must endure suffering without asking the Lord to take it from us—by earnest prayer we may and should run to our Heavenly Father when we are afflicted, asking him to take away our pain and suffering.
However, quietness of heart is opposed to certain things, and in pages 22 through 25 Burroughs shows us what quietness of heart must look like in the contented Christian: “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 discouragement, no unworthy shifts, no risings in rebellion against God in any way” (25). The contented heart is a calm and still heart; not dispassionate, uncaring, and aloof, but one which rests in the loving arms of our Heavenly Father, who does all things well.
Continuing to explain his definition, Burroughs notes that true contentment is “an inward, quiet, gracious frame of spirit” (25). Christian contentment is not only a heart business, it’s also a “soul business” (26). True and lasting contentment comes when “the whole soul, judgment, thoughts, will, affections and all are satisfied and quiet” (27). Again, Burroughs notes that contentment cannot come from outside of ourselves, by “outward arguments or from any outward help,” but is rather a work of God’s Spirit within our hearts, souls, and minds—it flows from within us but then works itself out in our actions (27). That is because “a contentment that results merely from external arguments” is fleeting, “but that which comes from the gracious temper of one’s spirit will last” (28). Christian contentment is shown not just here and there, but is the warp and woof of the Christian’s attitude—it is “not merely one act, just a flash in a good mood,” but must be “the constant tenor and temper of their hearts” (29). Without this constant heart and soul attitude, that person’s “Christianity is worth nothing, for no one, however furious in his discontent, will not be quiet when he is in a good mood.”
Hopefully as you’ve begun to read The Rare Jewel you have realized that, as Burroughs says, “merely in opening this subject you begin to see that it is a lesson that you need to learn, and that if contentment is like this then it is not easily obtained” (27). Next time, we will explore the remaining aspects of the definition of contentment in the first chapter. Christ Church, let us continue to strive for contentment as we study this great Puritan work, probing the depths of God’s Word as it points to the comforting doctrine of Christian contentment, that we may all, like Paul, learn to be content in every situation.