Jeremiah Burroughs and Contentment

21 September 2009 by Wes Bredenhof

One of my favourite Puritan books is Jeremiah Burroughs’ The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment.  Tim Challies recently featured this book as one of the classics that he reads through with some of his blog devotees.  As you read Burroughs’ Rare Jewel, you get a sense that this is a man who knows what he’s talking about.  Phil Simpson explains how Jeremiah Burroughs learned contentment.

Here’s my book review from last year:

The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment, Jeremiah Burroughs, Carlisle:  Banner of Truth Trust, 1998.  Paperback, 228 pages, $7.99.

Try this experiment sometime:  go to your average vanilla Christian bookstore and ask for a book on contentment.  Chances are they won’t be able to help you.  And if you go on-line and look for books on the subject, there are a few modern titles, but not very many.  Unfortunately, the health, wealth and prosperity “gospel” is far more popular and it’s way easier to find books by the likes of Joel Osteen and Joyce Meyer.  Contentment is out of style – it is indeed a “rare jewel.”  To learn from the Scriptures on this important topic, we’re best advised to go back four centuries to Jeremiah Burroughs, an English Puritan.

Now I know that when some of you hear or read “Puritan,” you’re tuned out.  How can a Puritan still speak to us today?  Weren’t the Puritans legalists?  Aren’t they impossible to understand?  I’ll be the first to admit that there are some Puritan works that are difficult reading, but let me assure you that Burroughs writes in a style that’s fairly easy to understand.  If that weren’t enough, this edition has been edited slightly for language and punctuation.  Moreover, forget all that you’ve heard about the Puritans.  Read one for yourself.  See what you’ve been missing.

Burroughs tackles the subject of contentment with an eye on the gospel.  He insists that contentment begins with a believer fixing his eyes on the promises of the covenant of grace, those promises fulfilled in Jesus Christ.  And flowing from that are many practical applications!  For instance, he explains that contentment comes not from addition but from subtraction (p.45).  One does not find joy by adding things, but by taking away from sinful desires.  Furthermore, Burroughs gives the Biblical warnings about prosperity and riches that we still need to hear today.  He outlines the many excellent blessings that come from contentment with God’s provision.  Like a surgeon, he gets to the heart and exposes the excuses that we make for our discontentedness and how evil it truly is.  He concludes with two chapters on “How to Attain Contentment.”

Christian bookstores are full of volumes on “Christian living.”  Sad to say, a lot of it is spiritual junk food – it tastes great but it will not truly nourish.  Burroughs may not be modern, but he knew the Bible and he knew how to apply the Bible to the hearts and lives of his listeners.  He gives true, nourishing soul food.  This is devotional reading through which you’ll grow as a believer.  Highly recommended.


For further reading on the Puritans, I can also recommend:  A Quest for Godliness: the Puritan Vision of the Christian Life, J.I. Packer, Wheaton: Crossway, 1990; Worldly Saints:  The Puritans As They Really Were, Leland Ryken, Grand Rapids: Academie, 1986.

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