Jeremiah Burroughs: The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment
“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.” Philippians 4:11-13
Jeremiah Burroughs was a Puritan pastor in the Church of England during the seventeenth century, who learned firsthand the lesson Paul spoke of—being content in either plenty or want. He entered his first pastorate at the age of 26, and it ended in failure three and a half years later. Five years into his second pastorate he was suspended from the ministry by the Church of England for his refusal to participate in what he considered “the superstitions” of the Anglican church—a long list of rituals and requirements that had no biblical foundation. A year after his suspension he was formally deprived of his living, and had to be taken in by a family. He left England a year later for Holland, presuming that he’d never see his country again. Burroughs tasted trial, humiliation, and want.
But then in 1641, the new Parliament allowed all ejected ministers to return to England, and Burroughs was appointed to lectureships including two of England’s largest, wealthiest congregations. He was consequently very well paid.1
But he found his contentment neither in his neediness nor his prosperity. Rather, he writes in his book entitled, The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment:
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. . . . A little in the world will content a Christian for his passage, but all the world, and ten thousand times more, will not content a Christian for his portion. . . . A soul that is capable of God can be filled with nothing else but God . . . a gracious heart, being enlarged to be capable of God, and enjoying somewhat of him, can be filled by nothing in the world; it must only be God himself.
To my mind, few books might prove as liberating for the soul or as stimulating for the church’s mission as Burrough’s book on contentment.
You can read the whole thing online for free, or you can download it as an eBook of 99 cents. (There’s always the paper option, too). Whatever the format, read it, and reread it, and think deeply of the sweet and satisfying treasure we have in Jesus, and what difference that can and should make in our lives.
A few other quotes to chew on:
“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.”
“To be well skilled in the mystery of Christian contentment is the duty, glory and excellence of a Christian.”
“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.”
The way to contentment: “not by adding more to his condition, but by subtracting from his desires.”
“Here lies the bottom and root of all contentment, when there is an evenness and proportion between our hearts and our circumstances.”
“A gracious heart has contentment by getting strength from Jesus Christ; he is able to bear his burden by getting strength from someone else.”
1. This biographical sketch of Burroughs is drawn from Phil Simpson, “How Jeremiah Burroughs Learned Contentment.”