Like many other Christians I enjoy reading books. Since a lot of my favorite authors are from centuries ago I become more curious about the author himself. Thankfully, many good biographies complement the bevy of quality Christian resources.
Over the last several years I have become drawn to the writings of Jeremiah Burroughs. He was a 17th-century English Puritan pastor. Perhaps you have heard of his classic book, The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment. More than four centuries later this book remains a treasure for Christians working to be content in this world. This book led me to other books and sermons. I was beginning to benefit greatly from Burroughs, so I decided to get to know him better in a biography. To my surprise and disappointment there was nothing. Nobody wrote a book about Jeremiah Burroughs.
This absence continued until 2013 when Phillip Simpson published a biography on Burroughs. It was worth the wait.
Simpson writes A Life of Gospel Peace: A Biography of Jeremiah Burroughs like he knew the man. So intimately familiar with Burroughs’s life and work, Simpson seems to at times even engage in some speculation about what Burroughs was thinking. It was great! Simpson spends time in the details of the time (17th-century England), the man, his ministry, and his writing. He manages to capture all in a precise collection of such a godly and influential man.
When you read Burroughs it is helpful to keep in mind the time he spent being discipled by veteran pastors (Thomas Hooker and others). It is also encouraging to consider the adversity that he faced in ministry (both in his churches as well as his contributions to the Westminster Assembly). When you read of Burroughs’s peaceful but unbending faithfulness you have a number of real-life examples of his pursuit of contentment.
My only caveat about this book—and this may be a positive or a negative depending upon your preferences— is that it is very detailed. I love this; it’s 336 pages, but it could’ve been 736 pages for all I care! I gobbled it all up. Others may get weighed down in the notes from the Westminster Assembly where Burroughs and four other “dissenting brethren” made their case for congregational church polity instead of the Presbyterian model. I found the exchanges riveting, but others may want to fast-forward through. Whatever you preference, there is plenty here for you.
Here are three takeaways from the book that are emphasized in Burroughs’s other writings:
1. God uses the real-life circumstances to work out doctrinal implications and bless his church. Burroughs went through the ringer. Yet it was this ringer that forged his books, which have helped so many for centuries.
2. Even amid persistent and pervasive conflict, the pursuit of peace is always endearing and commendable. (Hint: read Irenicum.)
3. There is great return on hard work. Burroughs died at 47. He is said to have been focused like a laser on his tasks. He was unwilling to waste his time. He was known to say to one who was engaging in trivial discussions, “You’ll excuse me if I ask you to be short with me, for my work is great, and my time is short.” I am so grateful that this brother pulled away from the urgent to work on the important. We are his beneficiaries.
I love Jeremiah Burroughs and thank God for him. Therefore, I thank God for Phillip Simpson’s book. It is a fitting complement to the work of this English Puritan.
Also, if you are interested in reading more from Burroughs, see this page.