My Nothingness

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?

4 Comments

  1. Rose October 4, 2013 at 9:30 am #

    Why do we spend so much time and effort on considering who we are apart from Christ? Is that how you read the New Testament? In one congregation it went so far as pronouncing that the good news is that we are sinners. Seriously, that is neither good, nor news. We are constantly laying again a foundation for repentance. Shouldn’t we be meditating on who we are in Christ, forgetting what lies behind? It is in Christ that we find contentment, not apart from him.

    • Barry York October 4, 2013 at 4:16 pm #

      My nothingness is met by Christ being my everything. Thought that was clear.

      • Rose October 7, 2013 at 2:20 pm #

        On the one hand, my “nothingness (being) met…” is entirely obscured by 1) the paradox stated at the end of the second paragraph, 2) the italicized, bolded titles stated in the present(!) tense, and 3) the closing sentence that summarizes the essay by saying that I get contentment by contemplating self-lack (nothing about contemplating Christ being my everything).

        On the other hand, if one knows or looks up the context of the four verses that are quoted, it becomes clear that 1) “because you are sons (not nothing), God has sent forth the Spirit of His Son into your hearts, crying out, “Abba, Father!” Therefore you are no longer a slave but a son, and if a son, then an heir(!) of God through Christ,” 2) “If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit,” 3) God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given(!) to us,” and 4) “But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.” Wow! Having all that, we will surely be content, unless we spend all our time contemplating where we were/are(?) and thinking about all we lack/lacked.

        Is there some other reason why you thought “My nothingness is met by Christ being my everything,” whatever that might mean, was made clear in the essay? Or are you just annoyed by my comments? I’m kind of getting that vibe. Just delete, if you’re annoyed. No problem. I’m trying to think these things through. It’s helpful for me to pinpoint what it is that seems to be the problem with the preaching/teaching I’ve been hearing in contrast to the message I read in the Bible.

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  1. My Nothingness - October 15, 2013

    […] Seminary in Pittsburgh, Penn. He blogs, along with six friends, at Gentle Reformation, where this article first appeared, and is used with […]

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