William B. Barcley
Reviewed by: Dick Ellis
Date posted: 06/12/2011
The Secret of Contentment, by William B. Barcley. Published by P&R, 2010. Paperback, 176 pages, list price $11.99. Reviewed by OP minister Dick Ellis.
This fine little book is fairly simple. It would be easy enough even for those who don't consider themselves readers. Its theology is standard, Reformed fare; readers will find comfort in the emphasis on God's sovereignty, which is always good and purposeful.
But it is deceptively simple because it is deeply challenging. We know theology better than we internalize and practice it. Barcley challenges us to examine our hearts closely to identify what we love most: the things of this world or God himself. Our anxieties and discontent reveal greater affection for this world than we like to admit. All along, Barcley takes us from theory, where we're often most comfortable, to practice, where we need to do uncomfortable things like dying to sin.
Barcley is unabashedly dependent upon Jeremiah Burroughs's The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment. His definition of contentment is even lifted verbatim from Burroughs: Christian contentment is that sweet, inward, quiet, gracious frame of spirit, which freely submits to and delights in God's wise and fatherly disposal in every condition. It would be hard to improve on that definition. The author's purpose is to make Burroughs's jewels accessible to a wider audience.
The book is loosely dependent on Paul's letter to the Philippians. For example, chapter 5, entitled "Finding Contentment in the Midst of Affliction," unfolds Philippians 1:12–26, in which Paul speaks of gladly suffering for the Philippians' joy and progress in the faith. He finds his contentment in theirs. Each brief chapter concludes with probing discussion questions, making it a useful tool for a Sunday school class or Bible study group.
Some of the most memorable phrases are quotations from Burroughs. "There is a heaven in the soul of a godly man," and "no soul shall ever come to heaven, but that soul which has heaven come to it first." The joy of heaven is unhindered knowledge of and fellowship with God. And therein lies our challenge: unexpected bills, the aggravation of thoughtless people, and our sins all obscure our vision of God.
The pursuit of contentment is a counterintuitive enterprise. Again, leaning on Burroughs, Barcley states that "there was never any man or woman so contented as a self-denying" one. You find contentment not by pursuing what you want, but by denying yourself as you develop a taste for what is truly good. We not only do what pleases God, but are pleased with what God does. We learn, and relearn, that what gives God glory and what is for our good coincide, rather than conflict.
We owe Mr. Barcley thanks for inviting us to "behold, by faith, the glory of God revealed in Jesus Christ," and to delight and rest in that glory. This is a simple, accessible book, but one you won't outgrow until you see the Lord Jesus and become like him.