More Dividing Distempers

This article is a continuation of reflections on Jeremiah Burroughs’ book “Causes, Evil, and Cures of Heart and Church Divisions.  

As we come to the end of Burroughs’ list of “Dividing Distempers” that plague the Christian and the Church alike, we find several brief comments on a variety of sinful attitudes.  Rather than deal with each individually, I thought it best to combine these last few in one article.


Ricky Nelson once sang, “Fools rush in where angels fear to tread.” This is what Burroughs means by rashness; engaging in an activity without careful examination. “Rash men quickly take hold of the sword of justice to hack and hew: they think that what they do is according to reason; but they do not wisely weigh things in the balance of justice.”  How much trouble and division do we often bring upon ourselves when we act rashly, without careful consideration? How many times have we had to take back what we have said and done because we spoke or acted too quickly?  When Tolkien’s “Treebeard” said, “Don’t be hasty;” we should listen. Perhaps most vividly, Burroughs describes rashness saying, “as over-hearty digestion causes wind, and brings much trouble to the body; so do over-hasty resolution to men’s spirits and societies.

Willfulness and Unconstancy

Next, Burroughs takes up two opposing distempers: Willfulness and Unconstancy.  By willfulness, Burroughs means an unthinking determination, like a two-year old in the toy aisle. “A man of willful stout spirit stands as a stake in the midst of a stream, lets all pass by him, but he stands where he was.” If this strong will is rooted in the truth, it is commendable. But often “stoutness of spirit comes from weakness rather than strength.  As a man’s judgment that is without prejudice is very strong, so a man’s prejudice that is without judgment is as strong.” Those who cling to their fixed opinion regardless of the light of reason are often unmovable, and will not be reconciled to anyone else.

While willfulness is a common cause of division, so too is Unconstancy.  This is a word that has fallen out of use, but refers to a lack of faithfulness or stability.  “A man must not be willful; not like a rusty lock that will not be stirred by any key: neither must he be one thing one day, and another another day; like a weather-cock, carried up and down with every wind.”

A Spirit of Contention

Finally, Burroughs offers thoughts on the Contentious Spirit.  There is, sadly, in some a strong disposition to contention. Like salamanders who love and live in the fire, the contentious person is never satisfied unless they are at odds with someone. I once knew a man who never seemed happier than when he was complaining about something. “A contentious spirit will always find matter for contention.”Proverbs 26:21 “As charcoal to hot embers and wood to fire, so is a quarrelsome man for kindling strife.”

With these, we come to the end of Burroughs discussion on the Distempers, or Attitudes, that Divide us (Pride, Self-Love, Envy, Passion, Rigidness, Rashness, Willfulness, Unconstancy, and Contention).  Next week we’ll pick up the next section on Practices that Divide us (Whispering, Needless Disputes, Meddling, Slander, Revenge, etc…). I pray that as we consider those attitudes and practices that divide us, we may repent of our divisive spirits and be reconciled and restored to one another.

Grace and Peace be with your hearts!

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