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Contentment, Prosperity, and God’s Glory Review

Jeremiah Burroughs. Contentment, Prosperity, and God’s GloryGrand Rapids, MI: Reformation Heritage Books, 2013. $6.75 (Amazon), 119 pp.

This little book is a reprint of an appendix to The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment by Jeremiah Burroughs. Burroughs (1599-1646) was a member of Westminster Assembly and helped draft the Westminster Confession of Faith and the Larger Catechism.

Contentment, Prosperity, and God’s Glory has been edited by Philipp L. Simpson with the modern reader in mind: the English is smoother, making this great Puritan work accessible to almost any reader. Burrough’s text is one of several books available in the “Puritan Treasures for Today” series published by Reformation Heritage Books. 

The whole book is essentially an exposition of Philippians 4:12, where Paul says he has learned how to be content both in prosperity and in need. Burroughs main argument throughout the book is that prosperity is a far greater trial for the Christian than affliction. After all, he states, no man ever was led to conversion because of his prosperous estate (49). Therefore, Burroughs writes to help Christians learn how to honor God in fullness. This, he says, is a much better lesson to learn than simply “how [to] get full,” that is, how to be prosperous (10).

His argument takes shape in ten short chapters. Many readers may be turned off by the repetitiveness of Burroughs classic Puritan approach (he takes 119 pages to explain one verse!), but if you stick in there and follow Burrough’s biblical logic, you will be challenged, convicted, and motivated to honor God by being content and satisfied in him when prosperity comes. Here are ten quotes that really get to the heart of Burroughs’ main point:

  • “It’s better to know how to honor God with those good things I have than to know how I can get more. It’s better to know how I might behave myself in the enjoyment of those good things God has given me than to know how to get more of those good things” (10). 
  • “If you let out your heart in such a way that you rejoice in created things so as to make them your primary joy, your only joy, then such a joy is not right. But it is not so with the heart of man who knows how to be full [i.e. content]” (23).
  • “For someone with a grace-filled heart, it is not enough to have the peace of God; he must have the God of peace. It is not enough to have honor from God; he must have the God of that honor” (28).
  • “It is…harder to manage fullness [i.e. prosperity] than being poor; more skill is required to manage fullness than is required otherwise…Many have been melted under the heat of prosperity, losing their godly character, though they previously withstood the scorching heat of affliction” (35).
  • “Truly I can find no examples…in Scripture, where the prosperous estate of a man was the occasion leading to his conversion. Therefore, that shows that there is a great deal of danger in a fuller [i.e. more prosperous] condition” (49).
  • “Oh this is a sign of true humility, when you find your income to be more than it had been previously…and [you] sit down before the Lord…saying, ‘Oh, Lord, who am I, that Thou shouldest deal so graciously with me and that Thou shouldest make such a difference between me and others?'” (89).
  • “Do not be overly worried about the possibility of becoming poor, and do not be so impatient and impetuous in your desire for riches. Do not envy those who are above you. Observe the risks there are of misbehavior and spiritual failure when one enjoys abundance. It may well be that God saw you did not know how to abound, and therefore He has in mercy denied to you that which He has in wrath given to others. Remind yourselves of the examples of those who have failed in their fullness, and that will be a tremendous help to you” (109).
  • “Some of you have gloried in the fact that you have spent like kings; instead, let it be your glory that you give like kings” (113).
  • “Praise Him for His blessings, but especially praise Him if He has blessed His blessings to you. Learn to thank Him when these blessings point you to Him” (113).
  • “God’s grace so satisfies and strengthens the heart that the things that are outside of it in the world make very little difference to it. External things cannot alter a heart full of grace” (119).

By the world’s standards, everyone in America is rich. If you are reading this blog on any kind of electronic device, you already have more than billions of others. Prosperity is a blessing from God, but it is also a trial. It is a test of where our true joy lies. Burroughs sees this reality and he wants us to see it to. I heartily commend this little book to you for your joy as you seek to glorify God in the trial of prosperity.

Categories
Theology

Monday Miscellanies: Happiness and the End of Creation

A guest post by Jonathan Edwards

87. Happiness

‘Tis evident that the end of man’s creation must needs be happiness, from the motive of God’s creating the world, which could be nothing else but his goodness. If it be said that the end of man’s creation might be that He might manifest his power, wisdom, holiness or justice, so I say too. But the question is, why God would make known his power, wisdom, etc. What could move him to will, that there should be some beings that might know his power and wisdom? It could be nothing else but his goodness.

This is the question: what moved God to exercise and make known these attributes? We are not speaking of subordinate ends but of the ultimate end, of that motive into which all others may be resolved. ‘Tis a very proper question, to ask what attribute moved God to exert his power, but ’tis not proper to ask what moved God to exert his goodness; for this is the notion of goodness, an inclination to show goodness. Therefore such a question would be no more proper than this, [namely] what inclines God to exert his inclination to exert goodness—which is nonsense, for it is an asking and answering a question in the same words. God’s power is shown no otherwise than by his powerfully bringing about some end. The very notion of wisdom is, wisely contriving for an end; and if there be no end proposed, whatever is done is not wisdom. Wherefore, if God created the world merely from goodness, every whit of this goodness must necessarily ultimately terminate in the consciousness of the creation; for the world is no other way capable of receiving goodness in any measure. But intelligent beings are the consciousness of the world; the end, therefore, of their creation must necessarily be that they may receive the goodness of God, that is, that they may be happy.

It appears also from the nature of happiness, which is the perception of excellency; for intelligent beings are created to be the consciousness of the universe, they they may perceive what God is and does. This can be nothing else but to perceive the excellency of what he is and does. Yea, he is nothing but excellency; and all that he does, nothing but excellent.

92. End of Creation

How then can it be said that God has made all things for himself, if it is certain that the highest end of the creation was the communication of happiness? I answer, that which is done for the gratifying of a natural inclination of God may very properly be said to be done for God. God takes complacence [satisfaction] in communicating felicity [happiness], and he made all things for this complacence. His complacence in this, in making [us] happy, was the end of the creation. Revelation 4:11, “For thy pleasure they are and were created.” See No. 581.

Categories
Theology

Monday Miscellanies: Happiness in Heaven

A guest post by Jonathan Edwards

95. Happiness in Heaven

When the body enjoys the perfections of health and strength, the motion of the animal spirits are not only brisk and free, but also harmonious; there is a regular proportion in the motion from all parts of the body, that begets delight in the soul and makes the body feel pleasantly all over—God has so excellently contrived the nerves and parts of the human body. But few men since the fall, especially since the flood, have health to so great a perfection as to have much of this harmonious motion. When it is enjoyed, one whose nature is not very much vitiated and depraved is very much assisted thereby in every exercise of body or mind; and it fits one for the contemplation of more exalted and spiritual excellencies and harmonies, as music does.

But we need not doubt, but this harmony will be in its perfection in the bodies of the saints after the resurrection; and that, as every part of the bodies of the wicked shall be excruciated with intolerable pain, so every part of the saints’ refined bodies shall be as full of pleasure as they can hold; and that this will not take the mind off from, but prompt and help it in spiritual delights, to which even the delight of their spiritual bodies shall be but a shadow.

Categories
Theology

Monday Miscellanies: Happiness is the End of Creation

A guest post by Jonathan Edwards

3. Happiness is the End of Creation

As appears by this, because the creation had as good not be, as not rejoice in its being. For certainly it was the goodness of the Creator that moved him to create; and how can we conceive of another end proposed by goodness, than that he might delight in seeing the creatures he made rejoice in that being that he has given them?

It appears also by this, because the end of the creation is that the creation might glorify him. Now what is glorifying God, but a rejoicing at that glory he has displayed? An understanding of the perfections of God, merely, cannot be the end of the creation; for he had as good not understand it, as see it and not be at all moved with joy at the sight. Neither can the highest end of the creation be the declaring God’s glory to others; for the declaring God’s glory is good for nothing otherwise than to raise joy in ourselves and others at what is declared.

Wherefore, seeing happiness is the highest end of the creation of the universe, and intelligent beings are that consciousness of the creation that is to be the immediate subject of this happiness, how happy may we conclude will be those intelligent beings that are to be made eternally happy!

Categories
Life Theology

A Colloquy on Rejoicing

What drew me to post this whole prayer was the single line: “For whatever a man trusts in, from that he expects happiness.” (By the way, a “colloquy” is a conversation or discussion.)

Remember, O My Soul,
It is thy duty and privilege to rejoice in God:
He requires it of thee for all his favours of grace.
Rejoice then in the Giver and his goodness,
Be happy in him, O my heart, and in nothing but God,
for whatever a man trusts in,
from that he expects happiness.

He who is the ground of thy faith
should be the substance of thy joy.
Whence then come heaviness and dejection,
when joy is sown in thee,
promised by the Father,
bestowed by the Son,
inwrought by the Holy Spirit,
thine by grace,
thy birthright in believing?

Art thou seeking to rejoice in thyself
from an evil motive of pride and self-reputation?
Thou hast nothing of thine own but sin,
nothing to move God to be gracious,
or to continue his grace towards thee.
If thou forget this thou wilt lose thy joy.
Art thou grieving under a sense of indwelling sin?
Let godly sorrow work repentance,
as the true spirit which the Lord blesses,
and which creates fullest joy;
Sorrow for self opens rejoicing in God,
Self-loathing draws down divine delights.
Hast thou sought joys in some creature comfort?
Look not below God for happiness;
fall not asleep in Delilah’s lap.
Let God be all in all to thee,
and joy in the fountain that is always full.

The Valley of Vision: A Collection of Puritan Prayers and Devotions