I am reading through The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment by the Puritan preacher, Jeremiah Burroughs, published post-humously in 1648 (1). Dana and I have a special affinity for Jeremiah Burroughs. It was in studying his book, Gospel Worship, and in discussions with the teacher and his wife, Chris and Mary Axtel, that we realized our theology aligned joyfully to Reformed theology.
Burroughs spends the first third of The Rare Jewel defining godly contentment which is not to be confused with resignation or simple happiness. The contentment of which Burroughs speaks is the same that Paul claimed in Philippians 4:11-13, “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” (2). Paul’s contentment is a settled, pleased, resting in the sovereign, benevolent rule and reign of King Jesus in his life, no matter his circumstances.
In his first chapters, Burroughs dives deep into “the mystery of contentment” of which the world can only speculate and wonder. One of the fifteen mysteries identified by Burroughs is that the godly (Burrough’s word for the redeemed) live on the dew of God’s blessing, that the Christian can get food that the world does not know of; he is fed in a secret way by the dew of the blessing of God (pp. 56 – 60).
Burroughs observes that the poor man or woman who has but a little with grace, lives a more contented life than his rich neighbor who has a great income… though they have but a little, yet they have a secret blessing of God with it, which they cannot express to anyone else. If you were to come to them, Burroughs contends, and say, “How is it that you live as happily as you do?” they cannot tell you what they have; but they find there is a sweetness in what they enjoy and they know by experience that they never had such sweetness in former times. Even though they had a greater abundance in former times than they have now, yet they know they never had such sweetness; but how this comes about they cannot tell.
Burroughs identifies considerations with which a godly man finds contentment in what he has, “though it is ever so little.”
1. In what he has, he has the love of God to him. Every good thing the people of God enjoy, they enjoy it in God’s love, as a token of God’s love, and coming from God’s eternal love to them, and this can’t help but be sweet to them.
2. What they have is sanctified to them for good. A gracious heart (i.e. one who has received God’s grace) finds contentment in this: I have it and I have a sanctified use of it too. I find God goes along with what I have – to draw my heart nearer to him and sanctify my heart to him. If I find my heart drawn nearer to God by what I enjoy, that is much more than if I have it without any sanctifying of my heart by it. “There is a secret dew that goes along with it.”
3. A godly man may very well be content though he has only a little, for what he does have he has by right of Jesus Christ, by the purchase of Jesus Christ. A child of God has not a right merely by donation; what he has is his own, through the purchase of Christ. Every bit of bread you eat, if you are a godly man or woman, Jesus Christ has bought it for you. You go to market and buy your meat and drink with your money, but know that before you buy it, or pay money, Christ has bought it at the hand of God the Father with his blood. You have it at the hands of men for money, but Christ has bought it at the hand of his father by his blood.
4. Every little that they have is as an earnest payment for all the glory that is reserved for them; it is given them by God as the forerunner of those eternal mercies that the Lord intends for them. Just as every affliction the unsaved have here is but the beginning of sorrows, and forerunner of those eternal sorrows that they are likely to have hereafter in Hell, so every comfort the child of God has is a forerunner of those eternal mercies he shall have with God in Heaven. Not only are the consolations of God’s Spirit the forerunners of those eternal comforts you shall have in Heaven, but when you sit at your table and rejoice with your wife and children and friends you may look upon every one of those as a forerunner, yea, the very earnest payment of eternal life to you.
I can testify to this dew, this sweetness of life, which I first experienced shortly after the Lord saved me from my religion of works. I was in college at the time and I just remember walking through campus marveling at God’s creation – everything just seemed to invoke praise in my heart and was more beautiful, more awe-inspiring than I had ever known it to be prior to my conversion. My experience is echoed in the the second verse of George Wade Robinson’s hymn, “I am His and He is Mine”:
Heav’n above is softer blue, Earth around is sweeter green!
Something lives in every hue Christless eyes have never seen;
Birds with gladder songs o’erflow, flowers with deeper beauties shine,
Since I know, as now I know, I am His, and He is mine.
Since I know, as now I know, I am His, and He is mine.
“Christless eyes have never seen.” In his book A Praying Life (2), Dr. Paul Miller recounts an article he read in The New York Times Magazine by Dana Tierney. Dana and her husband, John, both rejected the faith presented to them in childhood. Yet Dana feels as if she’s missing out. When she watches her religious friends, she notices that they “have an expansiveness of spirit. When they walk along a stream, they don’t just see water falling over rocks; the sight fills them with ecstasy. [They] see a realm of hope beyond this world. I just see a babbling brook” (pp.109-110).
This dew of God’s blessing brings a sweet aroma to our celebrations as we remember the giver of all good things and know that he attends us in our joys. It lends eternal significance to our present realities, even our sufferings. It comforts us in difficult days – our Father, who controls the path of every speck of dust and particle of water, is working all of history to his great glory and our good. Oh, yes… “There is a secret dew of God’s goodness and blessing upon [God’s people] in his estate that others have not.”
Soul, then know thy full salvation
Rise o’er sin and fear and care
Joy to find in every station,
Something still to do or bear.
Think what Spirit dwells within thee,
Think what Father’s smiles are thine,
Think that Jesus died to win thee,
Child of heaven, canst thou repine?
~ “Jesus, I My Cross Have Taken”
(1) Burroughs, Jeremiah. The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment. Carlisle: Banner of Truth Trust, 1964. 56-60. Print. Puritan Paperbacks.
(2) My Dana is right to observe that the oft-claimed v. 13 of Philippians 4 is not meant by Paul to be an affirmation of how we can achieve great things because Christ will give us the strength to do so (often proclaimed loudly and with great conviction and determination). Instead, it is a testimony to the sufficiency of Christ, knowing he will attend us and strengthen us when we are “brought low.”
(3) Miller, Paul E. A Praying Life. Colorado Springs: NavPress, 2009. Print.
[Photo: Refreshing Dew by Dr. Pardington]