The Secret of Contentment

from May 25, 2011 Category: Book Reviews

The Secret of Contentment
After 24 years in pastoral ministry I’ve realized there are some constant issues with God’s people:

  • I’m going to have a certain percentage of people who seem to struggle with the  assurance of salvation over and over again (I’ve seen some people agonize for decades).
  • I’ve recognized that a (growing) number of marriages  are chronically troubled &need almost constant care.
  • I’ve found that a disturbingly large percentage of my people are going to grapple with discontentment. Which, paradoxically, seems to grow –the more affluent they become!

Each of these are pastoral issues that call for careful teaching of the Scriptures (both from the pulpit AND personally), wisdom and patience, and a measure of gracious sensitivity, but the final issue (discontentment ) is one that requires particular skill.

Thankfully, an excellent new resource that displays all of these characteristics is available:  Dr. Bill Barcley’s excellent book The Secret of Contentment (Presbyterian and Reformed, 2010).

Dr. Barcley repeatedly acknowledges his deep dependence on two Puritan classics on this subject: Jeremiah Burroughs The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment and Thomas Watson’s The Art of Divine Contentment. Barcley does for these classics what Kris Lundgaard did for John Owen on mortification, when he penned The Enemy Within. Barcley puts the best teaching and insights on contentment into a punchy, readable, brief (under 170 pages) format.

I would encourage this tome to you with the recommendation that Barcley’s work is eminently pastoral. I would strongly recommend to you pastors that you keep a few copies of Barcley’s book on hand to give out as “homework” to your members that are struggling in this area. Chapter Five alone is well-worth the price of the book: “Finding contentment in the midst of affliction”.

Dr. Barcley does more than tell you that you should be content; he convinces you that you should pursue contentment (Chapter 2) by giving you seven strong reasons why you should. He also holds the mirror up to your heart/face and shows you how discontentment looks, and it isn’t pretty! The Scripture has consistently harsh words for grumbling, murmuring and all other manifestations of discontentment. Barcley even shows you the current and future danger of the grumbling, discontented person (Chapter 3).

One of the excellent features of the book is its strong exegetical grounding. Dr. Barcley is an Adjunct Professor of New Testament at Reformed Theological Seminary, and it shows in his excellent handling of the foundational texts on the subject. In fact, an added bonus with the book is that you get a “mini-commentary” on the principle passages from Philippians!

Along the way Barcley addresses some thorny theological issues. One is the charge made against Puritan and Reformed thought that it is “overly introspective.” Barcley effectively debunks this old canard and fleshes out a full-orbed doctrine of sin  and repentance, and mortification (chapter 6). Another is Barcley’s wise demonstration of how important our eschatology is (chapter 7) and that it is at the core of our contentment! In addition, Barcley gives a wonderful treatment of the doctrine of “union with Christ” (chapter 8).

The second half of the book is where Barcley truly shines. Here he carefully takes you to “contentment school,” showing that you can (as Paul said in Philippians 4) learn to be contented, and lays out the means for attaining it.

Buy this book and savor it. Don’t read it hastily. Soak in it. Other suggested uses:

  • It would be perfect for a Sunday School or Bible Study Class, reading a chapter per week. There are even some helpful reflection questions at the end of each chapter.
  • As previously mentioned, pastors should master this material to use in counseling the perpetually disaffected and discontent, and to give out to them as homework.

Carl Robbins is Senior Minister of Woodruff Road Presbyterian Church in Simpsonville, SC.