As I journey again through The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment by Jeremiah Burroughs, this time with others in a Sunday School class, I am also reminded once again of how difficult, humbling, and yet freeing it can be to learn the art of contentment.
In a section on self-denial, Burroughs takes the reader to the cross and, in a manner of speaking, reminds him what his confession of faith should read in the chapter entitled “Me.” Though hard to profess and even self-brutal in its statements, Burroughs uses Scriptural truth to help the disciple in Christ’s school of contentment learn what it means to die to self. Paradoxically, in an age where the message is contentment will come through the acquiring of everything, Burroughs teaches – and more importantly, Scripture teaches - that we will not learn to be content until we see that we have, and even are, nothing. Burroughs effectively shows that contentment, that “sweet, inward, quiet, gracious frame of spirit, which freely submits to and delights in our God’s wise and fatherly disposal in every condition,” comes as we decrease and Christ increases.
So before the cross of Christ, can you confess the following summaries of what Burroughs teaches?
I am nothing. This is not a denial of our being made in the image of God. Rather, it is an acknowledgement that in the matter of our salvation we have no riches and no righteousness to bring to the table. As Paul said, “I no longer live, but Christ lives in me” (Galatians 2:20).
I deserve nothing. Except hell, that is. Our sin has made us completely and totally reliant upon God’s mercy.
I can do nothing. Jesus said this exactly. “Apart from me you can do nothing” (John 15:5). Without the Lord’s blood covering my life and the Spirit’s regenerating power in my heart, I have no ability to bring forth even one piece of good fruit.
I can receive nothing. As a corrupt and unclean vessel that is deceitful and desperately sick, my heart is incapable on its own of receiving goodness without the miraculous change Christ brings. As Burroughs says, “Like a musty bottle that spoils even good liquor that is poured into it” (or, to give a picture I recently experienced, like a grill with dozens of stinkbugs in the bottom ruining the taste of the hamburgers), my heart is not only empty of good but spoils good things placed within it.
I can use nothing. If God leaves me to myself, I cannot take the good gifts and abilities He grants and use them for good. I will “utterly spoil them” as Burroughs states.
I am worse than nothing. Man, this hurts to say. But “by sin we become a great deal worse than nothing. Sin makes us more vile than nothing, and contrary to all good…We are not empty pitchers in respect to good, but we are like pitchers filled with poison.” If you doubt this, read Romans 3:10-18.
I will come to nothing. Again, this could be misunderstood. Burroughs is not denying eternal life. Rather, he is expressing the truth that when I leave this world, “God can raise up someone else in my place to serve him.” We are like grass that fades and our glory is like its flower (I Peter 1:24-25).
A difficult confession, yes. But in a day where pastors in crystal cathedrals declare our greatest problem is the lack of self-worth, why is it when I read and apply Burroughs my heart grows more contented as I see the worth of self-lack?