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.


Woe to the Idolater

In Luke 6:24-26, Jesus condemns people in general — and the Pharisees in particular — with four specific woes.  Here’s what he says:

But woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation. Woe to you who are full now, for you shall be hungry. Woe to you who laugh now, for you shall mourn and weep. Woe to you, when all people speak well of you, for so their fathers did to the false prophets.

Jesus is not condemning being rich, having a healthy plate for dinner, enjoying a good joke, or being commended by friends.  Contrary to popular opinion, Jesus is not a fun-sucker.

Instead, Jesus is condemning those who put their hope in those things. People who hope in riches usually don’t cheerfully donate to the homeless. People who hope in food don’t normally volunteer time at the food bank. People who get their kicks from insulting others aren’t selfless humanitarians. And people who love the praise don’t love to give credit to others when its their due.

Riches, food, humor, praise, and a thousand other things are all good. But when good things become ultimate things, they become idols. And idols will kill you.