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The Secret of the Christian Life: Contentment

A Modern Presentation of a Classic Puritan Doctrine

Eighteen months ago, I finally cracked open a book that would largely reorient my view of the Christian life – Jeremiah Burroughs’ The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment (Banner of Truth, 1964). Burroughs’ printed sermons on Philippians 4 helpfully illuminated areas in which my heart was sinfully murmuring with discontentment, and equipped me with knee-strengthening truths which have aided in my learning “the secret” to being full in Christ in every situation. Along with countless other Christians, I’m deeply thankful for this Puritan pastor’s age-old admonishments, including, “A little in the world will content a Christian for his passage, but all the world, and ten thousand times more, will not content a Christian for his portion.” I pray you’ve already been helped by Burroughs, or other puritans, such as Thomas Watson and John Flavel, who’ve written on similar topics.

From Davis to Burroughs to Paul

I was thrilled to learn that Andrew Davis had recently written The Power of Christian Contentment: Finding Deeper, Richer Christ-Centered Joy (Baker, 2019) – an accessible, illustrative re-expression of Burroughs’ 1648 classic. By summarizing, clarifying, and expanding on The Rare Jewel, Davis hopes “that we will more consistently display Christian contentment so that, in the end, God will be glorified in our daily lives, we will be more joyful, we will be sources of inspiration, and those watching us will seek the Savior, through whom alone they can have this same supernatural contentment.” Davis accomplishes this goal through sharing personal anecdotes, tales from history, and simple exposition of Scripture.

Davis, like Burroughs, structures his book around the Apostle Paul’s closing words in Philippians 4:11-14:

Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret to facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me.

These few sentences showcase for us a steady and satisfied heart through unspeakable joy, excruciating suffering, and everything in-between. How could the Apostle write such words? He expresses a similar attitude earlier in the letter, “For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain. If I am to live in the flesh, that means fruitful labor for me. Yet which I shall choose I cannot tell. I am hard pressed between the two” (Phil 1:21-23).

Most of us rightly know Paul for his skilled theological depth and clarity, especially in outlining for us essential gospel truths. However, we would do well to not only study Paul’s glorious, gospel-saturated theological syllogisms, but also to see how these deep truths fuel his deep well of contentment in Christ. In The Power of Christian Contentment, Davis unpacks Paul’s experience for us, saying, “I know of no single individual who experienced more suffering than this man. And no other man attained such a clear understanding of Christian contentment.” The Apostle has exemplified and penned such a wonderful picture of contentment – an example worth our meditation and imitation.

A learned trait

Davis also follows a similar outline to Burroughs’ original, with six of the twelve chapters following the general format and content of chapters in The Rare Jewel. He begins the book, however, with a diagnosis and analysis of modern-day western culture’s pervasive discontentment. He writes, “Many Christians live such discontented lives that they are never asked by any similarly discontent unbelievers surrounding them to give a reason for the hope that they have (1 Pet. 3:15), because they don’t evidently have any hope.”

Davis also captures well the element of contentment I found most surprising when reading The Rare Jewel for the first time – that it is not an automatic achievement in the Christian life, but instead it’s learned. Davis writes, describing genuine Christians, writes:

On the day of their justification, they receive full forgiveness of sins, adoption into the family of God, the gift of the indwelling Holy Spirit, a secure place in heaven, inclusion in the body of Christ, and so forth. But the secret of Christian contentment ‘in any and every circumstance’ is not included in the original set of equipment… it is possible to be a genuine Christian yet sinfully discontent.

This realization has helped me, as I aim to grow in sanctification, to more pointedly set my sights on growing in Christian contentment. We would do well to not only study Paul’s glorious, gospel-saturated theological syllogisms, but also to see how these deep truths fuel his deep well of contentment in Christ. Click To Tweet

A practical guide

An aspect of Davis’ book I found especially practical were its sections containing specific application for the reader. He ends the chapter on contentment in suffering by sharing “Seven Prayerful Meditations to Help Sufferers Conquer.” In addition, his final chapter – How to Attain and Protect Christian Contentment – includes within it a guide containing practical next-steps, resource recommendations, and other points of application to help readers digest and grow in contentment.

Because of these sections, and the accessibility of the book in general, I would gladly recommend this book to two different audiences. First, to anyone eager to begin learning about Christian contentment, but feels a bit intimated by the Burroughs’ classic Puritan treatise. Secondly, I’d recommend this book to someone who is already familiar with Burroughs and desires a simpler explanation of contentment with more illustrative examples throughout. Davis uses simple, clear language to bring to life the sweet secret of the Christian life, making it accessible to any reader.

Our culture is more distracted and restless than ever before, and in need of the sweet and serious remedy found only in Christ. This give us all the more reason to read and recommend Andrew Davis, Jeremiah Burroughs, and others as they helpfully guide us in learning the secret and power of Christian contentment.

Image credit: David Le Batard

Matt Neidig

Matt Neidig is a recent graduate of Midwestern Seminary originally from Round Rock, TX. He and his wife Grace currently live in Kansas City, where he works in IT for a local hospital and where they both attend Emmaus Church. Matt hopes to pastor a church in the future.

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