Following the recommendation of a fellow pastor, I have taken up a book by the great Puritan writer, Jeremiah Burroughs, and committed to reading just a section of his book each day. Burroughs (1600-1646) was one of the Independent members of the Westminster Assembly of Divines, and a Congregationalist. He was so highly regarded by his peers that they published 13 volumes of his sermons after his death. The book that caught my attention was “Causes, Evils, and Cures of Heart and Church Divisions.” Like a good Puritan writer, Burroughs thoroughly explores each topic in depth before moving on to the next, but does so in a way that is relatable and applicable to our lives today.
“Causes, Evils, and Cures of Heart and Church Divisions” examines the roots and effects of division in the body of Christ, and offers a forward-looking approach for healing the divisions. Burroughs’ study makes suggestions for greater unity, challenging the church to focus on moving ahead in its essential work. Just looking through the contents page will give some indication of where the book is going. Under the Causes of Divisions, Burroughs addresses Pride, Self-love, Envy, Passion, Jealousy, Whispering, Meddling, and Revenge, just to name a few.
As I read through this work, I’ll give a brief reflection on Burroughs’ work, and I pray that God may bring healing, to our divided hearts and churches, through this study.
The first cause that Burroughs address is pride, which he calls “the chief dividing distemper.” “It is the great incendiary in the soul of man, in families, in towns, in cities, in all societies, in church and state: this wind causes tempests to arise.” It is pride that hardens our hearts to the needs of those around us; pride that makes us blind to our own sinfulness; pride that keeps us from being useful to the Lord and His Church. If we are to identify what causes divisions in our relationships and in the Church, the chief and underlying cause will always be our pride.
How does pride work in us? This is one of the great strengths of the Puritan writers: they don’t just name the sin, they examine how the sin really affects us. Pride, Burroughs says, works in the following ways:
- Pride makes a man think too great to be crossed: its is beneath a proudful person to bear any injuries or offenses that others might cause.
- Pride makes men swell beyond their bounds: “the way to keep all things in union is for every man to keep within his bounds: the swelling beyond tends to the breaking all in pieces.”
- Pride hardens men’s hearts: “If you would have things cleave, you must have them soft; two flints will not join.”
- Pride causes men to despise others: Seeking honor for himself, a proud man cannot tolerate other’s success, and cares nothing for others’ sufferings.
- Pride causes every man to desire to be noticed: One way or another, either through good works that bring fame, or through clamor and opposition, a prideful person must be noticed. “Proud spirits will venture the setting the temple of God, yea, church and state, on fire, that they may have a name; whatever they do or suffer to get a name, they will rather venture, than die in obscurity; that above all things they cannot bear.”
- A proud man makes his will the rule of his actions, and would have it be the rule of other men’s too.
This, then, the perilous, pernicious and pervasive problem of pride. It is worked into each and every heart, and must be driven out by God’s redeeming and purifying Spirit of grace. Burroughs calls “every man look into his own heart, and see what pride hath been, and still is there, and be humbled before the Lord for this. All you contentious, froward, quarrelsome people, you are charged this day from God with being men and women of proud spirits, and what evil there is in our sad divisions, that pride in your bosom is a great cause of it.”
As we allow the Spirit to show us how deeply pride has set into our lives, we know that God’s work is not merely to crush us under the burden of sin. “The Lord humbles us, that he may reconcile us, not only to himself, but to one another.” When we realize how pride as come between us, and between us and God, it is so that we may repent, turn from our prideful ways, and be reconciled and restored by His great grace for us in Jesus Christ.