Having examined the “Distempers that Divide” from Jeremiah Burroughs’ Causes, Evils, and Cures of Heart and Church Divisions, we now turn to the section on Practices That Divide Us. I began this blog/review by looking at each of the distempers individually, but quickly realized that doing so for the remainder of the book would take forever, so I will merely give a summary overview of the sections from here on out, and highly encourage you to read Burroughs’ work on your own.
The “distempers” that Burroughs’ first addressed dealt with the inward attitudes that divide us (pride, self-love, envy, passion, rigidness, etc.). These inward evils are cause for the divisions between us as individuals and within the Church as well. Burroughs examines these inward attitudes that we might identify them in our own hearts and repent and be reconciled to one another.
Now we come to the Practices that Divide. These flow out of the inward attitudes; they are the manifestation of those attitudes in the habits and practices of our lives. Here is the list of practices Burroughs’ identifies as causes of division:
Associating with Whisperers – At some point in our lives we have been on both sides of this practice. We’ve all been in the association of whisperers, perhaps we’ve been the whisperers ourselves. Some bit of gossip, some hidden fault, some scandalous information about another just has to be passed. We move it along, tearing down another behind their back, or directly in front of them, but never give them the opportunity to defend themselves, or even seek forgiveness. So too, we have all been the object of the groups of whisperers; we see their glances, hear their hushed tones, and can only imagine what’s being said. This practice can never unite, “take heed of these men of evil tongues!”
Needless Disputes – We all know someone who has an opinion to share about everything, even if he doesn’t know what you are talking about. Burroughs writes, “When men have got a little knowledge, they think it is a fine thing to be arguing and disputing in matters of religions: unnecessary disputes are their necessary practice, for they shall be accounted as nobody, if they have not something to object against almost everything.” Rather than hold their tongue, those of little real knowledge will rush into disputes, only to prove beyond doubt how little they know. These disputes always come with anger, they drag us to the lowest level of behavior, so that we bite and devour one another. Paul writes in 2 Timothy 2:23 that we are “to have nothing to do with foolish, ignorant controversies; you know that they breed to quarrels.”
Not Keeping within the Bounds God Hath Set – In today’s vernacular: Meddling in others’ business. Burroughs reminds us that meddling is concerning ourselves with that which is not ours. He compares it to the gathering of manna in the wilderness: “When manna was gathered, and kept in that portion God would have it, it was very good; but when men must have more, and keep it longer than God would have them, then it bred worms.” Is that not the case when we meddle in other people’s affairs, business that does not pertain to us?
Propagating Evil Reports – Proverbs 16:27 says, “A worthless man plots evil, and his speech is like a scorching fire.” Scriptures, and history, are full of stories of the righteous being slandered by the evil reports of evil men: Moses, David, Nehemiah, Paul, Calvin, Bullinger, etc. And the practice continues. If we cannot attack their teaching, we will attack their person, and throw any accusation that may stick like mud and so tarnish them in the eyes of others.
Inordinate Cleaving to Some, Denying Due Respect to Others – Its a little lengthy title, but we know exactly what Burroughs is talking about. We have our cliques, our groups where we feel kinship and genuine fellowship. These are good gifts from God, but they can often be abused. The Corinthians did this: they played favorites with their pastors (“‘I follow Paul,’ or ‘I follow Apollos,’ or ‘I follow Cephas,’ or ‘I follow Christ’” 1 Cor 1:12). James warned us against playing favorites in the church (James 2:1-7).
Self-Isolation – Burroughs actually titled this section, “Because Men Cannot Join in All Things with Others, They Will Join in Nothing.” When we see the cliques and know we’re not a part of them, or of the ones we want to join, we isolate ourselves, we refuse to join in anything, and bring further harm to the Church. One slight, one offense, one oversight, and we are done! Here Burroughs writes, “If they be offended with a man in any one thing, in hearing or otherwise, they will go away in a touchy mood, resolving never to hear him more. There is a severe warning given here, “You think you have liberty in any froward mood to cast off that means of good which God offers to you; to partake of such men’s gifts and graces as you please… You may easily express your discontents to one another; you may easily say you are resolved you will never hear such a one any more; but you cannot so easily answer this to Jesus Christ.”
Commending What we Care Not For In Opposition to What We Dislike – The saying goes, “Misery makes strange bedfellows.” So often, to overcome misery, to keep from suffering, we turn to the things of the world, rather than the things of God, for our continuation of comfort. We joining ourselves with the wicked to advance our cause. We play nice with those who would otherwise persecute us in order to curry some favor down the road. We seek to strengthen ourselves by joining ourselves to those who having nothing in common with us. Think of the news of Chick-Fil-A this week, who have changed their position on their charitable giving in order to appease those who won’t be happy until their business is either closed, or completely disavows any connection to their Christian principles.
Revenge – This is an obvious point, but still important to state. Burroughs writes, “When any provoke you, you say you will be even with him. There is a way whereby you may be not even with him, but above him; that is, forgive him. Practicing revenge is the way to continue divisions to the end of the world. Such offend me, therefore I will offend them; and therefore they offend me again, and I them, and so it may run ad infinitum.”
Again, the purpose of Burroughs’ work is to expose those attitudes and practices that divide us one from another. Do you see these practices in your life? If so, repent, confess your sin, and be reconciled to one another, forgiving one another as Christ has forgiven you. “Now may the God of peace himself sanctify you completely, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Thess 5:23).