The Evils of Division (part 1)

Over the past several posts, I’ve been giving an overview of Jeremiah Burroughs’ book, Causes, Evils, and Cures of Heart and Church Divisions. Though written in the 17th century, Burroughs’ could easily be addressing the Church today.  The divisions we face have the same causes, and bring the same pain and destruction to our hearts, and to the ministry of the Church, as it did so long ago.  Burroughs thoroughly explores those thoughts, words, and deeds that cause division, then explores the consequences of those divisions, finally turning to the healing cure in the grace of God in Jesus Christ.

We come today to Burroughs chapter on the Evils of Division, which he takes in two sections, 1) The goods they hinder, and 2) The sin they cause.  Today I’ll give a brief overview of the first part, and review the second next week.

The Good Our Divisions Hinder

Each of us has experienced a falling out in the family; whether your immediate family, or the family of faith.  Sin divides – the sins of others, and the sins of our own hearts.  We put our desires, our pride, our pain, before one another, and a chasm is created that pulls at the fabric of our union.

We know the pain of division, but have we ever stopped to consider just how our divisions really affect us?  Here Burroughs lists seven things that our sinful divisions hinder:

  1. The Quiet, Comfort, and Sweetness of our Spirits – “When the bee stings, she leaves her sting behind her, and never gathers honey any more. Men by stinging one another, do not lose their stings, but they lose their honey; they are never likely to have that sweetness in their hearts.” You know the experience, one argument with your spouse, one heated word with a coworker, and you are set on edge for the rest of the day.  I’m reminded of the old saying, “Never wrestle with a pig. You both get dirty and the pig likes it.” When we engage in contentions, it is inevitable that we will come way unscathed in spirit.
  2. They Hinder the Freedom of a Man’s Spirit – Contention is a great snare to a man: he wishes he had never meddled with it; he is weary of it: but knows not how to come off fairly.
  3. They Hinder the Sweetness of Christian Communion – Dietrich Bonhoeffer once wrote: “It is easily forgotten that the fellowship of Christian brethren is a gift of grace, a gift of the Kingdom of God that any day may be taken from us, that the time that still separates us from utter loneliness may be brief indeed. Therefore, let him who until now has had the privilege of living a common Christian life with other Christians praise God’s grace from the bottom of his heart. Let him thank God on his knees and declare: It is grace, nothing but grace, that we are allowed to live in community with Christian brethren” (Life Together). This sweet communion, this gift from God, quickly become tedious and soured by our divisions and fighting.  What was meant to be a source of joy and blessing has become jarring, embittered, and troubled.
  4. They Hinder our Time – When men are engaged in contentions, they will follow them night and day: whatever business be neglected, to be sure that must not.  Those times when we were to be in prayer to God, we spend trolling on social media, fuming and raging in gossip, plotting in our own thoughts.  So much of our time is wasted on our quarrels; time otherwise spent in building up one another and glorifying God.
  5. They Hinder our Prayers – Matthew 18:19 teaches, “if two of you agree on earth about anything they ask, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven.” 1 Peter 3:7 also teaches, “husbands, live with your wives in an understanding way, showing honor to the woman as the weaker vessel, since they are heirs with you of the grace of life, so that your prayers may not be hindered.”  Burroughs writes, “Private contentions in families are great hinderances of family prayer: so our public divisions and contentions are the great hindrances of the prayers of Christians in a more public way.”
  6. They Hinder the Use of our Gifts – “Many men have excellent gifts, but they are in such sour, vinegar spirits, that they are of little or no use in church and commonwealth.” In time of division, we we use the gifts God has given at all, it is only to advance our own side of the argument or to serve ourselves.  This is not why God has gifted the Church, and we become useless to ourselves and to others because of it.
  7. They Hinder our Graces – The reason the Church comes across as cold, dead, empty, barren is this: we are not united to one another. “If you untwist a cable, how weak is it in the several parts of it! A threefold cord is not easily broken; but a single one is.” What we need today are holy, humble, gracious souls – whose whole lives were “nothing but a continual exercise of self-denial; who were not only patient, but joyful, under afflictions.”  Instead, we quickly draw lines in the sand, choose sides, and bunker in for the fight with other Christians, and the beauty and glory of our faith are tarnished.

These are the goods that are hindered by our evil divisions.  We see these in our homes, our churches, our denominations, everywhere.  What goods we’ve lost in our divisions!

May we recognize how our divisions are hindering the work of the Church, repent and be healed, that Christ’s grace may be seen working in and through us.


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!