I’ve recently had an interest in the Puritans, and this was the first full-length book by one that I picked up — I’m so glad I did.
What did I get from reading this book? Mostly, I was humbled. First, by Burroughs’ grasp of the Word: See his exposition of Philippians 4:7, 9 in Chapter 2 on wanting not just the peace of God, but the God of peace. The verses he quotes are not obscure per se, but will give you a fresh perspective and make you love God’s Word more. Second, by how little I know God and love Him and live in gratitude of His mercies. Much of the book discusses how we are to think upon undeserved grace and spiritual blessings in times of worldly afflictions, and my eyes have been opened more to how much I truly have in Christ. Third, by the severity of sin, and the lengths to which man will go to rationalise his behaviour and heart. Fourth, by how far I still need to go in teaching and counselling.
Honestly, the book wasn’t always easy reading. Burroughs is repetitive, and he loves his object lessons — the illustrations are apt, but when there’re 13 points in 1 chapter, and each point gets its own metaphor, it does get tiring. But it’s rewarding.
My favourite chapter was ‘The Excuses of A Murmuring Heart’ (ch.11); while reading it, I felt that Burroughs was digging deep down into all of our murmuring hearts and gouging out into plain view the sins that underlie our complaints. He addresses excuses we make for being discontent —’I am upset because of my sin, not my suffering’, ‘I am upset because I can’t feel God’s presence’, ‘It’s the uncertainty I can’t stand’— and thoroughly exposes them for the lies they are. Throughout the book, his tone is fatherly and entreating; but in this chapter he reveals himself to be counsellor and pastor, using God’s word to pierce soul and spirit, to discern the heart’s thoughts and intentions (Heb 4:12). I recommend also chapters 2, 3, 5, 8.
John Piper is probably more reliable when he says of the Puritans, ‘no one comes close to the skill they have in taking the razor-like scalpel of Scripture, and lancing the boils of my corruption, cutting out the cancers of my God-belittling habits of mind, and amputating the limbs of my disobedience’. So… start with this book (:
A few favourite quotes follow to whet your appetite — and trust me, paring them down was tough.
A man who has learned the art of contentment is the most contented with any low condition that he has in the world, and yet he cannot be satisfied with the enjoyment of all the world… Mark, here lies the mystery of it, 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. (ch. 2)
Christian, how did you enjoy comfort before? Was the creature anything to you but a conduit, a pipe, that conveyed God’s goodness to you? ‘The pipe is cut off,’ says God, ‘come to me, the fountain, and drink immediately.’ Though the beams are taken away, yet the sun remains the same in the firmament as ever it was. (ch. 3)
As it is with a vessel that is full of liquor, if you strike it, it will make no great noise, but if it is empty then it makes a great noise; so it is within the heart, a heart that is full of grace and goodness within will bear a great many strokes, and never make any noise, but if an empty heart is struck it will make a noise. (ch. 4)
God would not have us set our hearts upon riches (Prov 23:5), because they are nothing, and yet God is pleased to set His heart upon us, and we are nothing: that is God’s grace, free grace, and therefore it does not much matter what I suffer, for I am as nothing. (ch. 5)
Note this, I beseech you: in active obedience we worship God by doing what pleases God, but by passive obedience we do as well worship God by being pleased with what God does. (ch. 7)
What! am I the soul to whom the Lord has revealed the infinite excellence of Jesus Christ, and yet shall I think such a little affliction to be so grievous to me, when I have had the sight of such glory in Christ as is worth more than ten thousand worlds? (ch. 8)
For you to murmur and be discontented is to resist the work of God. God is doing you good if you could see it, and if he is pleased to sanctify your affliction to break that hard heart of yours, and humble that proud spirit of yours, it would be the greatest mercy that you ever had in your life. Now will you still stand out against God? (ch. 10)
If God gives me an understanding of himself, and faith, and humility, and love, and patience, and such graces of his Spirit, he gives me them forever, if he gives me himself, and his Christ, and his promises, and His covenant, he gives me them forever.
Who am I, therefore, that the sun should always shine upon me, that I must have fair weather all my days? What God gives to me, he gave it as a pledge of his love; let me return it to him as a pledge of my obedience. (ch. 11)