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A rare jewel

Books | New biography highlights Puritan author's secret to contentment

Issue: "Who will vote?," April 21, 2012

Psalm 16 tells us, "I have set the Lord always before me; because He is at my right hand, I shall not be shaken. Therefore my heart is glad, and my whole being rejoices." Philippians 4 has words familiar from reciting and singing: "Rejoice in the Lord always; again I say, rejoice."

But how do we do that, practically? I've written before about my favorite little Puritan book, Jeremiah Burroughs' The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment (WORLD, Jan. 17, 1998; Nov. 20, 1999). Now I can tell you that the first full-length biography of Burroughs, A Life of Gospel Peace (Reformation Heritage Books, 2011), is out-and it's good, since author Phillip Simpson seems content to place the spotlight on Burroughs and not, as some biographers do, use the subject as a way to show off.

I'll try to do the same by simply quoting a lot of Burroughs' wisdom, starting with this crucial understanding: "There is nothing that befalls you but there is a hand of God in it. ... When a certain passage of providence befalls me, that is one wheel, and it may be that if this wheel were stopped, a thousand other things might come to be stopped by this. ... When God has ordered a thing for the present to be thus and thus, how do you know how many things depend upon this thing? God may have some work to do twenty years hence that depends on this passage of providence that falls out this day or this week."

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Burroughs faced lots of affliction in mid-17th-century Britain, and explained well how we should regard it: "Am I the soul to whom the Lord has revealed the infinite excellence of Jesus Christ, and yet shall I think such a little affliction to be so grievous to me?" He suggested that we go with God and not fight Him: "Is God about to humble me? Is God about to break my heart, and to bring my heart down to Him? Let me join with God in this work of His."

Burroughs was consistently God-centered: "What's the end that God has set in all His ways? Surely, it is that His blessed name be magnified, that His glory may be set forth. Then that shall be the great design of my life." He emphasized that "the glory of God should be the chief matter we are to pray for." He noted that in the Lord's Prayer we should "first begin with the glory of God. Mind that in the chief place above all other things."

Burroughs offered practical advice to those with plans to shop until they drop: "A Christian comes to contentment, not so much by way of addition, as by way of subtraction. ... 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."

I'd be remiss if I did not quote Burroughs' excellent advice to husbands: "The husband ought to observe the temper of his wife, and consider what she is to be indulged in with regard of her temper. ... Do not be rash in contesting one with another. The husband is not to fall upon debating things when he sees the wife in a distemper."

He told wives also to be strategic "when there is any evil misconduct in a husband. ... You presently fly out in words against him, and then you try to debate the business when he is in a passion. Rather, you should observe the fittest time, when you see him to be in the most loving disposition, then in a loving way debate what has been unjust and amiss in him."

News we can all use.

Marvin Olasky
Marvin Olasky

Marvin is editor in chief of WORLD News Group and the author of more than 20 books, including The Tragedy of American Compassion. Follow Marvin on Twitter @MarvinOlasky.

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