Saturday, May 04, 2013
Contentment, Prosperity, and God’s Glory, Jeremiah Burroughs
Published in the Puritan Treasures for Today Series from Reformation Heritage Books.
This is a deceptively small book. But first, something about the author. Burroughs was a Puritan pastor (1599-1646). He is perhaps best known today for his treatise The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment. This present book began as an appendix to that work, originally titled Four Useful Discourses. The Jewel focused on learning to be content in impoverished circumstances. This work focuses on being content in enriched circumstances.
This book is a careful abridgment of the original treatise, which was delivered as a series of sermons to Burroughs’s congregation at Stepney. The abridgment is very well done. The language has been modernized, and difficult language has been smoothed out. It has been reduced significantly in size, from a 284-page seventeenth century printing, to 119 pages.
Burroughs begins by making the point that contentment is in many ways more difficult for the rich than it is for the poor. We trust in our riches, rather than trusting in God. Riches become idols for us, so that we are unwilling to let them go. We abuse our riches by using them to indulge our lusts rather than by using them for the service of God. The chapters lead the reader through these considerations, teaching carefully not only the dangers, but the glorious possibilities for the rich Christian, if he will only learn to be content in his fullness.
I began by saying that this is a deceptively small book. It can be read quickly, being only 119 pages in about a 4 x 6 page size. But the reader will be better served by reading it slowly, a couple of pages a day, savoring the richness, meditating on Burroughs’s applications. The set-up of the book aids in this “slow read” approach, as each of the ten chapters is divided into smaller sections of a page or two each. Thus, while it could be read in a couple of afternoons, or even a single evening for the faster reader, it will prove more profitable by being savored over the course of a month or so of daily meditation.
An illustration of the kinds of dangers of riches that Burroughs warns about: I read a story online a couple of months ago. A woman had won ten million dollars in the lottery several years ago. Where was she today? Broke, back in the job she left when she won the lottery. All the money was gone. She did not know how to be rich, or to be content in her riches.
Since most American Christians are rich, especially by Puritan standards, most would benefit from giving this book a careful read. And for those who are not rich, an understanding of the dangers of riches may help them to be more content in their poverty.