Jeremiah Burroughs' The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment is of the great Puritan classics. I first read it over a decade ago, but still return to it when thinking about contentment. Here are my notes. Don't get distracted by the Puritaneque outlining. There are some real gems here. But, better yet, read the whole thing for yourself!
1. Christian Contentment Described
“Christian contentment is that sweet, inward, gracious frame of spirit, which freely submits to and delights in God’s wise and fatherly disposal in every condition.”
- It is inward
- It is quiet
- It is a frame of spirit
- It is a gracious frame
- It freely submits to God's disposal
- It submits to God's disposal
- It takes pleasure in God's disposal
- It submits and takes pleasure in God's disposal
- It does this in every condition
2. The Mystery of Contentment
I. A contented Christian is the most contented man in the world, and yet the most unsatisfied man in the world.
II. A Christian comes to contentment, not so much by way of addition, as by way of subtraction.
III. A Christian comes to contentment, not so much by getting rid of the burden that is on him, as by adding another burden to himself.
IV. It is not so much the removing of the afflction that is upon us as the changing of the affliction, the metamorphosing of the affliction, so that it is quite turned and changed into something else.
V. A Christian comes to this contentment not by making up the wants of his circumstances, but by the performance of the work of his circumstances.
VI. A gracious heart is contented by the melting of his will and desires into God's will and desires; by this means he gets contentment.
VII. The mystery consists not in bringing anything from outside to make my condition more comfortable, but in purging out something that is within.
VIII. He lives upon the dew of God's blessing.
- Because in what he has, he has the love of God to him.
- What they have is sanctified to them for good.
- A gracious heart has what he has free of cost; he is not likely to be called to pay for it.
- 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.
- Every little that they have is but as an earnest penny 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.
IX. Not only in good things does a Christian have the dew of God's blessing, and find them very sweet to him, but in all the afflictions, all the evils that befall him, he can see love, and can enjoy the sweetness of love in his afflictiosn as well as in his mercies.
X. A godly man has contentment as a mystery, because just as he sees all his afflictions come from the same love that Jesus Christ did, so he sees them all sanctified in Jesus Christ, sanctified in a Mediator.
XI. A gracious heart has contentment by getting strength from Jesus Christ; he is able to bear his burden by getting strength from someone else.
XII. A godly heart enjoys much of God in everything he has, and knows how to make up all wants in God himself.
XIII. A gracious heart gets contentment from the Covenant that God has made with him.
XIV. He has contentment by realizing the glorious things of Heaven to him.
XV. A godly man has contentment by opening and letting out his heart to God.
3. How Christ Teaches Contentment
I. The lesson of self-denial.
- Such a person learns to know that he is nothing.
- I deserve nothing.
- I can do nothing.
- I am so vile that I cannot of myself receive any good.
- We can make use of nothing when we have it, if God but withdraws himself.
- We are worse than nothing.
- If we perish we will be no loss.
- Thereby the soul comes to rejoice and take satisfaction in all God's ways.
II. The vanity of the creature.
III. He teaches him to understand what is the one thing that is necessary, which he never understood before.
IV. The soul comes to understand in what relation it stands to the world.
V. Christ teaches us wherein consists any good that is to be enjoyed in any creature in the world.
VI. Christ teaches the soul whom he brings into this school in the knowledge of their own hearts.
- By studying your heart you will come soon to discover wherein your discontent lies.
- This knowledge of our hearts will help us to contentment, because by it we shall come to know what best suits our condition.
- By knowing their own hearts they know what tehy are able to manage, and by this means they come to be content.
VII. The burden of a prosperous outward condition.
- There is a burden of trouble.
- There is a burden of danger.
- There is a burden of duty.
- There is a burden of accountability.
VIII. Christ teaches them what a great and dreadful evil it is to be given up to one's heart's desires.
IX. The right knowledge of Godís providence.
- The universality of providence.
- The efficacy that is in providence.
- The infinite variety of the works of providence, and yet the order of things, one working towards another.
- The knowledge of God's usual way in his dealings with his people more particularly.
- God's ordinary course is that his people in this world should be in an afflicted condition.
- Usually when God intends the greatest mercy to any of his people he brings them into the lowest condition.
- It is the way of God to work by contraries, to turn the greatest evil into the greatest good.
4. The Excellence of Contentment
I. By contentment we come to give God the worship that is due to him.
II. In contentment ther is much exercise of grace.
- Much exercise of grace.
- There is a great deal of grace in contentment.
- It is also an argument of a great deal of beauty of grace.
III. By contentment the soul is fitted to receive mercy, and to do service.
IV. As contentment makes fit to receive mercy, so fit to do service.
V. Contentment delivers us from an abundance of temptations.
VI. The abundant comforts in a manís life that contentment will bring.
- What a man has he has has in a kind of independent way, not depending upon the creature for his comfort.
- If God raises the position of a contented man who is low, he as the love of God in it.
- This contentment is a comfort to a manís spirit in this, that it keeps in his comforts, and keeps out whatever may damp his comforts, or put out the light of them.
VII. Contentment draws comfort from those things we do not really possess.
- I would fain have such a thing, and then I could be content; but if I had it, then it would be but the creature that helped my contentment, whereas now it is the grace of God in my soul that makes me content, and surely it is better to be content with the grace of God in my soul, than with enjoying an outward comfort?
- If I had such a thing, granted my position might be better, but my soul woul dnot be better; but by contentment my soul is better.
- If I become content by having my desire satisfied, that is only self-love, but when I am contented with the hand of God, and am willing to be at his disposal, that comes from my love to God.
- If I am contented because I have what I desire, perhaps I am contented in that one thing, but that one thing does not furnish me with contentment in another thing . . . but when I have got this grace of contentment, I am prepared to be contented in all conditions.
VIII. Contentment is a great blessing of God upon the soul.
IX. Those who are content may expect reward from God, that God will give them the good of all the things which they are contented to be without.
X. Lastly, by contentment the soul comes to an excellence near to God himself, yea, the nearest possible.
5. The Evils of a Murmuring Spirit
I This murmuring and discontentedness of heart reveals much corruption in the soul.
II. The evil of murmuring is such that when God would speak of wicked men and describe them, and show the brand of a wicked and ungodly man or woman, he instances this sin in a more special manner.
III. God accounts it rebellion.
IV. It is a wickedness which is greatly contrary to grace, and especially contrary to the work of God, in bringing the soul home to himself.
- The usual way (to bring a soul to Himself) is for God to make the soul to see, and be sensible of the dreadful evil that is in sin. How contrary is this sin of murmuring to any such work of God!
- It is strongly contrary to the sight of the infinite excellence and glory of Jesus Christ, and of the things of the Gospel.
- A third work when God brings the soul home to himself is by taking the heart off from the creature, disengaging the heart from all creature-comforts . . . how contrary is a murmuring heart to such a thing!
- A fourth work of God in converting a sinner is this, the casting of the soul upon Jesus Christ for all its good . . . has God converted you, and drawn you to his Son to cast your soul upon him for all your good, and yet you are discontented for the want of some little matter in a creature comfort?
- The soul is subdued to God . . . now how opposite is a murmuring, discontented heart to a heart subdued to Jesus Christ as a King, and receiving as a Lord to rule and dispose of him as he pleases!
- There is in the work of your turning to God the giving up of yourself to God in an everlasting covenant.
V. Murmuring and discontent is exceedingly below a Christian.
- Below the relation of a Christian.
- A Christian should consider that a murmuring and discontentedness is below the high dignity which God has put upon him.
- Murmuring is below the spirit of a Christian.
- It is below the profession of a Christian.
- It is below that special grace of faith.
- It is below a Christian because it is below those helps that a Christian has more than others have.
- It is below the expectation that God has of Christians.
- It is below what God has had from other Christians.
VI. By murmuring you undo your prayers, for it is exceedingly contrary to the prayers that you make to God.
VII. The woeful effects that come to a discontented heart from murmuring.
- By murmuring and discontent in your hearts, you come to lose a great deal of time.
- It unfits you for duty.
- Consider what wicked risings of heart and resolutions of spirit there are many times in a discontented fit.
- Unthankfulness is an evil and a wicked effect which comes from discontent.
- It causes shiftings of spirit.
- It takes away the present comfort of what you have, because you have not something that you would have.
- By all your discontent you cannot help yourselves, you cannot get anything by it.
- There are commonly many foolish attitudes that a discontented heart is guilty of. They carry themselves foolishly towards God and towards men.
- Discontent and murmuring eats out the good and sweetness of a mercy before it comes.
- It makes our affliction a great deal worse than otherwise it would be.
IX. There is a great deal of danger in the sin of discontent, for it highly provokes the wrath of God.
X. There is a great curse of God upon murmuring and discontent; so far as it prevails in one who is wicked, it has the curse of God upon it.
XI. There is much of the spirit of Satan in a murmuring spirit.
XII. If you have a murmuring spirit, you must then have disquiet all the days of your life.
XIII. God may justly withdraw his care of you, and his protection over you, seeing God cannot please you in his administrations.
6. Aggravations of the Sin of Murmuring.
I. To murmur when we enjoy an abundance of meryc; the greater and more abundant the mercy that we enjoy, the greater and the viler is the sin of murmuring.
II. When we murmur for small things.
III. For men of gifts and abilities to whom God has given wisdom, to be discontented and murmur, is more than if others do it.
IV. The consideration of the freeness of all God's mercies to us.
V. For men and women to murmur and be discontented and impatient, when they have the things for the want of which they were discontented before.
VI. For those men and women to be discontented and murmur whom God has raised from mean and low estates and positions.
VIII. For those tobe discontented who have been very great sinners and ungodly in their former life.
VIII. For men who are of little use in the world to be discontented.
IX. For us to be discontented at a time when God is about to humble us.
X. The more palpable and remarkable the hand of God appears to bring about an affliction, the greater is the sin of the murmuring and discontent under an affliction.
XI. To be discontented though God has been exercising us for a long time under afflictions, yet still to remain discontented.
7. The Excuses of a Discontented Heart
I. One that is discontented says, "It is not discontent; it is a sense of my condition." To that I answer:
- There is no sense of any affliction that will hinder the sense of God's mercies.
- If it were but a bare sense of an affliction it would not hinder you in the duties of your condition.
- If it were but a mere sense of your affliction, then you could in this your condition bless God for the mercies that others have; but your discontentedness usually breeds envy of others.
II. "I am not so much troubled with my afflictions, but is for my sin rather than my affliction, and I hope you will give leave that we should be troubled and discontented with our sin." (You may be self-deceived, for . . .)
- They were never troubled for their sin before this affliction came.
- If it is your sin that troubles you, then even if God should take away your afflictions, yet unless your sin is taken away, and your heart is better, this would not content you, you could not be satisfied.
- If you are troubled for your sin, then it will be your great care not to sin in your trouble, so as not, by your trouble, to increase your sin.
- If it is your sin that troubles you, then you have the more need to submit to God's hand, and to accept the punishment of your iniquity.
III. "I find my affliction is such that God withdraws from me in my affliction. That is what troubles me, and can anybody be quite then, can anybody be satisfed with such a condition, when the Lord withdraws himself?"
- It is a very evil thing for men and women over every affliction to conclude that God is departed from them.
- If God is departed, the greatest sign of God's departing is because you are so disturbed. You make your disquiet the fruit of God's departing, and if it is examined, your disquiet is the cause of God's departing from you. If you could only cure your disquiet . . . then you would find God's presence with you.
- Do you find God departing from you in your affliction? Will you therefore depart from God too?
IV. "I think I could be content with Godís hand so far as I see the hand of God in a thing I can be content. But when men deal so unreasonably and unjustly with me, I do not know how to bear it." To take away this reasoning, consider:
- Though they are men who bring this cross to you, yet they are Godís instruments.
- If this is your trouble that men do so wrong to you, you ought rather to turn your hearts to pity them, than to murmur or be discontented.
- Though you meet with hard dealings from men, yet you meetin with nothing but kind, good and righteous dealings from God . . . set the one against the other.
V. "But the affliction that comes upon me is an affliction which I never looked for. I never thought I would meet with such an affliction, and that is what I cannot bear."
- It is your weakness and folly that you did not look for it and expect it.
- Is it unexpected? Then the less provision you made for it before it came, the more careful should you be to sanctify God's name in it, now it is come.
VI. "But it is very great, my affliction is exceeding great and however you say we must be contented, you may say so who do not feel such great afflictions, but if you felt my affliction, which I feel, you would think it hard to bear and be content." To that I answer:
- Let it be as great an affliction as it will, it is is not as great as your sin.
- It might have been a great deal more, you might have been in Hell.
- It may be it is the greater because your heart murmurs so.
VII. "But however you may lessen my affliction, yet I am sure it is far greater than the affliction of others."
- It may be it is your discontent that makes it greater, when indeed it is not so in itself.
- If it were greater than others, why is your eye evil because the eye of God is good? Why should you be discontented the more because God is gracious to others.
- Is your affliction greater than others? Then in this you have an opportunity to honor God more than others.
- If all afflictions were laid upon a heap together . . . and every man should come and take a proportion of those afflictions, every one equally, there is scarce any man but would rather say, Let me have the afflictions that I had before, or else he would be likely to come to a greater share, a greater affliction if so be he should equally share with all the world.
VIII. They think that if the affliction were any other than it is, then they would be more contented.
- You must know that we are not to choose our own rod that God shall beat us with.
- It may be that if it were any other than it is, it would not be so suitable to you as this is.
- Know that this is the excellence of grace in a Christian, to be fitted for any condition.
- Know that the Lord has rewards and crowns for all graces and for honoring them in all conditions.
IX. "Oh, but the condition that God has put me in, makes me unserviceable, and this troubles me."
- Do but consider that though your condition is low and mean, yet you are in the Body, you are a member of the Body.
- Though you have only a mean calling in this world, and so are not regarded as a man of use in the world, yet if you are a Christian, God has called you to a higher calling.
- You are in a high calling.
- Your calling is low and mean; yet do not be discontented with that, for you have a principle within you of grace, which raises your lowest actions to be higher in God's esteem, than all the brave, glorious actions that are done in the world.
- Know further that there is likely to be more reward.
X. "Oh, I could bear much affliciton in some other way, but this is very grievous to me, the unsettledness of my condition."
- The Psalmist says, "that every man in his settled estate is vanity" (Psalm 39:5).
- Perhaps God sees it better for you to live in a continual dependence upon him, and not to know what your condition shall be on the morrow, than for you to have a more settled condition in terms of the comforts of the creature.
- This may be your comfort: though for outward things you are mightily unsettled, yet for the great things of your soul and eternal welfare there you are settled.
XI. "If I had never been in a better condition then I could bear this affliction, if God had always kept me in such a low condition, I could be content."
- Is your eye evil because God has been good to you heretofore?
- Did God give you more prosperity before? It was to prepare you for afflictions. We should look at all our outward prosperity as a preparation for afflictions.
XII. "But after I had taken a great deal of pains for this comfort, yet then I am thwarted in it. To be thwarted now after all the labour and pains I have taken, oh, this goes very hard."
- The greater the cross, the more obedience and submission.
- When you took a great deal of pains, was it not with submission to God?
- There will be more testimony of your love to God, if so be that you now yield up yourself to God in what cost you dear.
XIII. "Though I confess that my affliction is somewhat hard, and I feel some trouble within me, yet I thank God I do not break out in discontented ways to the dishonor of God; I keep it in, although I have much ado with my own heart."
Oh, do not satisfy yourselves with that, for the disorders of your hearts, and their sinful workings are as words before God.
8. How to Attain Contentment
I. Considerations to content the heart in any afflicted condition.
- We should consider, in all our wants and inclinations to discontent, the greatness of the mercies that we have, and the meanness of things that we lack.
- The consideration that God is beforehand with us with his mercies should content us.
- The consideration of the abundance of mercies that God bestows and we enjoy. It is a saying of Luther: "The sea of God's mercies should swallow up all our particular afflictions."
- Consider the way of God towards all creatures.
- The creature suffer for us; why should not we be willing to suffer, to be serviceable to God?
- Consider that we have but a little time in this world.
- Consider the condition that others have been in, who have been our betters.
- Before your conversion, before God wrought upon your souls, you were contented with the world without grace, though you had no interest in God nor Christ; why cannot you now be contented with grace and spiritual things without the world?
- Consider when God has given you such contentedness you have not given him the glory.
- Consider all the experience that you have had of God's doing good to you in the want of many comforts.
II. Directions: what to do for helping our hearts to contentment.
- All the rules and helps in the world will do us little good unless we get a good temper within our hearts.
- If you would get a contented life, do not grasp too much of the world, do not take in more of the business of the world than God calls you to do.
- Be sure of your call to every business you go about.
- I am to walk by rule in the work that I am called to.
- Exercise much faith.
- Labour to be spiritually minded.
- Do not promise yourselves too much beforehand; do not reckon on too great things.
- Labour to get your hearts mortified to the world, dead to the world.
- Let not men and women pore too much upon their afflictions.
- I beseech you to observe this though you should forget many of the others: make a good interpretation of God's ways towards you.
- Do not so much regard the fancies of other men, as what indeed you feel yourselves.
- Be not inordinately taken up with the comforts of this world when you have them.