Puritan Sundays: Jeremiah Burroughs

I’ve benefited immensely from the Puritans, those English Protestant writers from the 16th and 17th centuries, the ones I lovingly call “the good old dead guys”. But I realize that not everyone knows about these authors and not everyone has the patience to read them. The language takes a while to get used to. So what I want to do is take every Sunday to introduce you to some of them. I haven’t read extensively, but I’ve read enough of them to know that more people need to be taking up these old books. There is a depth of understanding and an intensity of affection for the things of God that no modern writer can measure up to.

Today’s Puritan of choice is Jeremiah Burroughs. He lived from 1599-1646. Think about that. Only 47 years of life. But there was so much wisdom in all he wrote. The book I want to share with you today is called Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment. It is an extended treatise on Philippians 4:11 which says, “I have learned to be content in whatever state I am.” The more you read the Puritans the more you’ll recognize their style. They like to take one verse or a few verses and write a whole book on them, sometimes in the style of an outline. It seems like overkill, and maybe sometimes it is, but most of the time you end up being overwhelmed by all the sweetness they can squeeze out of such a small portion of Scripture.

Here is a short quote from the beginning of Rare Jewel:

“I offer the following description: Christian contentment is that sweet, inward, quiet, gracious frame of spirit, which freely submits to and delights in God’s wise and fatherly disposal in every condition. I shall break open this description, for it is a box of precious ointment, and very comforting and useful for troubled hearts, in troubled times and conditions.

I. Contentment is a sweet, inward heart-thing. It is a work of the Spirit indoors. It is not only that we do not seek to help ourselves by outward violence, or that we forbear from discontented and murmuring expressions with perverse words and bearing against God and others. But it is the inward submission of the heart…Not only must the tongue hold its peace; the soul must be silent. Many may sit silently, refraining from discontented expressions, yet inwardly they are bursting with discontent. This shows a complicated disorder and great perversity in their hearts. And notwithstanding their outward silence, God hears the peevish, fretful language of their souls. A shoe may be smooth and neat outside, while inside it pinches the flesh. Outwardly there may be great calmness and stillness, yet within amazing confusion, bitterness, disturbance and vexation.”

I hope you can perceive already the depth of insight Jeremiah Burroughs had into the heart. His illustrations can cut deeply and reveal the true condition of our souls. I will never think of an uncomfortable shoe the same way! I encourage you to pick this book up. It’s deep and it may require you to read only a couple pages at a time, but it is worth it. If you truly desire to learn contentment as Paul did, I can think of no better tutor in this art than Jeremiah Burroughs.

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