I mentioned on the blog on Saturday that I read a book last week called The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment by the Puritan pastor Jeremiah Burroughs. I want to quote a passage from that book which really struck me in how it encourages us to interpret our experience of temporal blessings on this earth in terms of the realities of eternal life and eternal death. This is from chapter 3:
“A godly man may very well be content, though he has only a little, for what he does have he has by right of Jesus Christ, by the purchase of Jesus Christ. He has a right to it, a different kind of right to that which a wicked man can have to what he has. Wicked men have certain outward things; I do not say they are usurpers of what they have; they have a right to it, and that before God, but how? It is a right by mere donation, that is, God by his free bounty gives it to them; but the right that the saints have is a right of purchase: it is paid for, and it is their own, and they may in a holy manner and holy way claim whatever they have need of.”
Unbelievers, he says, can own things in a sense. You can say of someone who doesn’t have Jesus, “this is his wife, this is his house,” etc. But these things aren’t properly his because his relationship with the giver of all good things is fundamentally broken. Whatever state of blessedness an lost person enjoys is doomed to fall away from him permanently one day. But there is something different in the relationship that a child of God has with God’s blessings.
Burroughs continues, “a child of God has not a right merely by donation; what he has is his own, through the purchase of Christ. Every bit of bread you eat, if you are a godly man or woman, Jesus Christ has bought it for you.
For some folks this sounds too proud of a way to talk about the blessing of God. They would say that everything God gives them is an unmerited gift of grace and not a response to any rightful claim of theirs. This would be true if we were all left to our own works, our own resumes, and our own reputation in our relationship to God. In and of ourselves, the only thing we have any right to claim for ourselves from God is the punishment that our sin deserves, which Paul calls “the wages of sin” in Romans 3:23.
So when Paul goes on in the early part of Romans chapter 4 to say that “to the one who works, wages are not credited as a gift but as an obligation,” he is making a point about what attitude we should have toward God’s blessings. In this world, a person who does work under a contract can lay claim to his wages as one who has a right to them. The employer can’t act as though he’s doing anything generous or magnanimous by paying up; he’s just paying what he owes the worker. What Paul is saying is that the salvation that God offers us in Jesus doesn’t operate on these terms, because we are all already sinners who fall short of God’s glory. We haven’t earned our salvation. How, then, does it end up that we have any rightful claim upon God’s blessings?
It’s because of what Paul says in 2 Corinthians 5:21 when he lays out for us the great legal exchange that has taken place between us and Jesus on the cross in these terms: “For our sake [God] made Him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God.” Jesus didn’t just become sin for us on the cross; we became His righteousness before God.
We know that Jesus lived a perfect life. He “knew no sin.” Because of Jesus’ perfect life, He has a claim on God’s blessings by way of right. Jesus deserves God’s blessing. But He willingly abandoned that condition on the cross so that we could have it, so that He could be punished in our place, and so that we, in His place, could claim God’s blessings as though we had all lived perfect lives. When we say that we are saved by grace, not works, lest any man should boast, what we mean is that we are saved by Jesus’ good works which are put to our account by God’s free grace instead of being saved by our works. We didn’t do anything to earn the rights of access to God and His blessings that we have, but they are absolutely ours, now and forever, by faith in Jesus. If salvation was just God being good to us in spite of no good we’ve done, there would be no firmness to our present and eternal hope.
And while we do not experience in this life the perfection of blessing which Jesus earned for us in His perfect life and gave to us on the cross, we do experience a kind of firstfruits of our eternal inheritance in Jesus. Even if we have less than the people around us who are not in Christ, we can actually get our hopes up and really get into and enjoy God’s blessings, because we know that for us, while earthly blessings may come and go, whatever we do have is (as Burroughs goes on to say) “an earnest penny for all the glory that is reserved” for us. That is to say, it’s a down payment on our eternal inheritance.
What a better way to look at music and marriage and good food and all the things we have to enjoy on earth than to a. try to find the ultimate fulfillment of our hopes in them or b. deny ourselves or despise what God has given us in this life because we are concerned with “heavenly” things! There is a “foretaste of glory divine” in earthly blessings, and we can consider them ours by right through the rights that grace has given us.
How does all of this help us in contentment? Should knowing that God’s blessings are ours by right in Jesus make us more demanding of immediate blessing? I would think not. If we can see our eternal inheritance not set up against but instead through the smallest of earthly blessings, how can we not be content, even though our earthly blessings may be small, as God has through them conveyed a sight, however dim, of what we will enjoy for eternity? (I want to explore these thoughts further both in comparison and contrast to so-called “prosperity Gospel” teachings, but that will have to wait for another time.)
“Just as every affliction that the wicked have here is but the beginning of sorrows, and forerunner of those eternal sorrows that they are likely to have hereafter in Hell, so every comfort you have is a forerunner of those eternal mercies you shall have with God in Heaven. Not only are the consolations of God’s Spirit the forerunners of those eternal comforts you shall have in Heaven, but when you sit at your table, and rejoice with your wife and children and friends, you may look upon every one of those but as a forerunner, yea the very earnest penny of eternal life to you. Now if this is so, it is no marvel that a Christian is contented, but this is a mystery to the wicked. I have what I have from the love of God, and I have it sanctified to me by God, and I have it free of cost from God by the purchase of the blood of Jesus Christ, and I have it as a forerunner of those eternal mercies that are reserved for me; and in this my soul rejoices. There is a secret dew of God’s goodness and blessing upon him in his estate that others have not.”
Notice: Scripture quotations, unless otherwise stated, are from the ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved. May not copy or download more than 500 consecutive verses of the ESV Bible or more than one half of any book of the ESV Bible.