Posts Tagged ‘Jeremiah Burroughs’

A Life of Gospel Peace: A Biography of Jeremiah Burroughs - Kindle ...Conflict is no stranger to Christians. Or pastors.

The gospel is not only central to restoring relationships broken by conflict, but is also intended to be central to the process of expressing disagreement and debate.

There is a reason that Phillip Simpson’s biography of Jeremiah Burroughs is called A Life of Gospel Peace. His attempts to communicate the necessity of the gospel in conflict, not just after conflict, is a major theme in the book. Does the gospel matter to how you disagree with other? It should.

In 1638 Burroughs was asked to write a preface to Richard Sibbes’ A Christian’s Portion. Sibbes had died three years earlier, but was a very influential pastor, and Thomas Goodwin pushed to have this work published. Sibbes sought peace with brothers and this made a deep impression on Burroughs. Seeking peace didn’t mean holding convictions loosely.

“Factions breed factions.” Richard Sibbes

In his preface to this posthumous work, Burroughs wrote the following:

“Men run so far one from another, some to one side and others to the other side of the circumference, that while they stand diametrically opposed, they leave the truth behind them in the center. Some will give too much to this or that ordinance, because others give too little, because others give too much. It is a spirit of opposition that causes division. Two spheres will but touch in a point; and so when men are swollen with pride and anger, they gather up one from another, and resolve not to adhere so much as in one point.”

This is one of my CavCorollaries: conflict tends to drive both parties to more extreme views. He uses the image of a circle. The disputants are on opposite sides of the circumference. As a result, neither ends up possessing the center of the circles, which represents the truth. One person’s perceived departure results in the other person’s opposite departure.

We see much of this in the discussions of legalism and antinomianism. They are both departures from the truth. The presence of one drives people to the other. Rather than stand on the gospel, people tend to move toward the opposite error. The problem is that often we don’t see ourselves actually doing that. We think we are standing for the truth. We are, part of it. When we put forward part of the truth as the whole truth we deny the truth.

Pride and anger flood our minds so we don’t see, and argue, clearly. Passion turns to emotion, and “truth” becomes more important than love (instead of equally important). This factionalism is a work of the flesh according to Paul in Galatians 5. We tend to forget we have indwelling sin in conflict, while reminding our opponent of their indwelling sin.

Simpson devotes a chapter to the long-running debates on church government during the Westminster Assembly. Burroughs was a dissenter (along with his friend Thomas Goodwin among others) arguing for Independency or a congregational form of government. In the course of this chapter we see this polarization at work. Members from each side began to neglect the commonality and stressed the differences. Eventually they were misrepresenting the differences.

The mission from Parliament was unity in 4 areas: one confession of faith, one catechism, one book of worship and one form of government. The disagreement was on which form of government. There was basic agreement on the others. Yet, Independents feared that a General Assembly would function as another form of episcopacy with dictates from on high, and lording it over the local congregation. They minimized the reality of representation in the General Assembly. The Presbyterians feared that Independency would open the door for the growing number of sects to find a place within the Church of England. They seemed to ignore that the Confession and catechisms would rule out such sects.

In the Westminster Assembly this protracted debate did get hot at times. Burroughs and others were able to maintain relationships with others on the other side of the debate. Burroughs and some of the Independents did favor fraternal associations.

The Apologists, as Burroughs and his cohorts became known, wrote:

“We knew and considered that it was the second-blow that makes the quarrel, and that the beginning of strife would have been as the breaking in of waters…”

It is always the second guy who gets caught. They were trying to uphold peace but were perceived as having created the quarrel by responding to the first blow. That was their perception, so it seems. They pleaded for toleration on this matter. I’m not sure how this could have functioned in light of Parliament’s expressed wishes. But understandably, the Apologist didn’t want to flee to another country again because their views have one again been ruled illegal.

As I read this, I wondered what the Presbyterianism they so feared actually looked like. Simpson could have been clearer in this area. I wonder if they were arguing against a straw man; a form of Presbyterianism unrecognizable not only to me (an American) but to their fellow members of the Assembly.

The rift seemed beyond repair. “For Burroughs, the way godly ministers behaved toward those with whom they disagreed was as important as the issue being debated.” Oh that we would also have similar sentiments. We can be so driven by “truth” that we forget love. It comes about winning, being right, instead of preserving the bond of unity by truth and love in the Spirit.

The next chapter focuses on how this debate left the rooms and flooded the nations through a series of books. Simpson begins the chapter this way:

“There have been men in every generation of Christians, it seems, who have found it their duty to publicize the errors of godly men to discredit them. … In short, they shout in the town square that there is a speck in the eye of a faithful preacher, while oblivious to the plank in their own eye.”

This is the discernment blogger. This is what floods so many of our Facebook groups.

IWhat to Do About a Neighbor's Barking Dog - Consumer Reports‘ll use Tim Keller as an example. I have some disagreements with Tim Keller including his views on creation, and how Redeemer has handled the issue of women deacons. However, I am deeply in his debt in terms of how to communicate the gospel. He is centered on the gospel and has a great deal of wisdom. I own most of his books and find them immensely helpful. The charges of being a feminist or holding to a social gospel are utterly unfounded. They have latched on to his pleas for the social implications of the gospel as if that is the gospel he preaches. He is very clear about Christ and Him crucified. He is routinely attacked online by people who usually have many sins of their own that are ignored. We tend to magnify the sins of the other and minimize ours. Tim, like Jonathan Edwards, generally avoids responding to these barking dogs (something I could learn more from).

Back to Burroughs! Thomas Edwards was a Presbyterian who took his disagreement with Burroughs on this issue to ungodly places. In his early days, Edwards was known as a “Young Luther”, a fiery reformer who spoke against the abuse of power by the Church of England. A sermon in 1628 would change his life. “He counseled listeners not to seek carnal advice when in doubt.” He would be imprisoned by ecclesiastical authorities until he recanted his error. Thomas Goodwin was the curate of the local church that signed his certificate of public recantation. Another signer was William Bridge, also an Independent at the Assembly in later years. This was the beginning, however, of over 20 years of trouble-making by Thomas Edwards.

Edwards became one of the most noxious opponents and critics of Congregationalists. Simpson notes: “What began in Edwards as an admirable zeal for truth had, over the years, degenerated into a lack of tolerance for godly ministers who differed from him in nonessential matters.” Burroughs himself put it this way: “It may be that he is angry with me because though my practice offends him not so much as others, yet I countenance and plead for those whom he cries out against as Schismatics.” Edwards was a hedge builder! He saw Congregationalism as allowing every sort of heretic and schismatic to be allowed to worship. Burroughs believed and advocated for no such thing. Some schismatics affirmed Burroughs in the misguided notion he’d tolerate their actual heresy. This is what likely enraged Edwards.

“He was, on the whole, a nasty sort of Christian.” David Masson, John Milton’s biographer on Edwards

Edwards was no longer able to disagree agreeably. He turned smaller disagreements into hills to die on, and condemned Burroughs and those like him. Think about that for a moment: calling a man a heretic because he holds to a different form of government. Refusing to recognize him as a brother for this sounds crazy, but I see similar denunciations on line often enough. I’ve been denounced for finer points of disagreement as though this somehow unraveled the entire gospel.

In 1644 Edwards would reply to the Congregationalists’ An Apologetical Narration with Antapologia: Or, A Full Answer to the Apologetical Narration of Mr. Goodwin, Mr. Nye, Mr. Sympson, Mr. Burroughs, Mr. Bridge, Members of the Assembly of Divines. You get the idea that there may have been some envy for their place in the Assembly. And the longer the title, the more angry the author seems to be.

“I can truly speak it that this present Antapologia is so far from being written out of any malice or ill will to the Apologists, that I love their persons, and value them as brethren; and besides that love I have for them as saints, I have a personal love, and a particular friendship to some of them…” Thomas Edwards

We see the power of self-deception. It’s not personal, it’s church government. His arguments against them referred to a schism in Rotterdam between Bridge and Simpson. This church split was addressed in An Apologetical Narration to show how sister churches can intervene to bring reconciliation. But Edwards used it to his advantage through conjecture, unsubstantiated claims and poor research. In other words, he didn’t prove anything but alleged much. Simpson argues that Edwards likely rushed to print and didn’t take the time to do proper research. Simpson’s source for this controversy was Ann Hughes’ Gangraena and the Struggle for the English Revolution. It argues that Edwards often “distorted their meaning through his deletions and juxtapositions.” There were selective quotes, and at times misquotes. This is a common problem in our controversies.

It seems to be person for Edwards because while he suffered deprivation in England, they were enjoying fruitful ministry in Rotterdam.

“On the contrary, you enjoyed wives, children, estates, suitable friends, good houses and full fare; I cannot imagine fewer miseries, had you been in England.” Thomas Edwards

Burroughs and the others initially refused to respond to Edwards. Edwards attacked Burroughs’ wife in addition to him. He also attacked them for not responding. He wrote a second book, Gangraena: Or a Catalogue and Discovery of Many of the Errors, Heresies, Blasphemies and Pernicious Practices of the Sectaries of This Time, Vented and Acted in England in These Last Four Years, in part to undermine the ministries of the Apologists. He sought to make them guilty by association for the false doctrines of the sects. This is a common problem among “discernment bloggers”. If an author uses a quote from another is it falsely charged that the author affirms all the other has ever said. That is just ridiculous and false. His attacks on Burroughs became more personal. He laid the growth of sects at the feet of the Independents.

“Edwards’s intent was clear; if Parliament failed to ‘thoroughly purge’ all of the sects listed in Gangraena, he warned, that would demonstrate their lack of love for God’s truth and a lack of zeal for the truth of God and His house. … In short, Edwards played upon fears and equated inaction with a lack of love for God and His truth.”

This sounds all to familiar to me. Lack of compliance to one’s view means that you obviously don’t love God and truth. Edwards brought up a story involving a Mr. Alley (actually Mr. Alle but he repeatedly misspelled it) which was proven to be false. But he kept repeating it as proof that Burroughs was a liar.

Burroughs could finally take no more. He wrote Irenicum to the Lovers of Truth and Peace: Heart-Divisions Opened in the Causes and Evils to Them; with Cautions that We May Not be Hurt by Them, and Endeavors to Heal Them. Yes, an excruciatingly long title. Yet it was an expression of gospel peace. Richard Baxter would recommend it to those wanting to escape the sin of schism.

“Many men are of such spirits as they love to be altogether busied about their brethren’s differences. Their discourses, their pens, and all their ways are about these, and that not to heal them but rather to widen them.”

The goal of many, like Edwards, seemed to widen differences not heal relationships. This is the nature in which polemical theology was often carried out, and is often carried out now as well. These were divisions of the head and the heart. The underlying culprit was our depravity, particularly pride.

“A proud man thinks himself too great to be crossed. … A minor offense is sufficient reason that such a man as he should make men who will presume to cross him instead of yield to him, or stoop under him.”

Burroughs lamented these expressions of our depravity, seeing them as a blight upon our faith. Men in conflict often dishonored God’s name, in part of claiming His name for their cause instead of seeking unity. The “unity” they want is the other to bow to their will instead of finding the common ground and places where they can submit to one another and/or extend grace to one another. We need to pray for greater self-awareness about our weaknesses and sins.

He notes that the first dividing principle is “There can be no agreement without uniformity.” This is the idea that we must have uniformity of faith (on non-essentials or thinking all is essential) and practice. Among brothers there will not be such uniformity, nor should there be. I cannot demand that your church be exactly like my church.

In Burroughs’ day such lack of uniformity was resolved by the use of force. Men could be thrown in jail (since it was a state church). Many today have similar notions; agree with me or one of us must leave (either the congregation or the denomination). Burroughs directed against such rash separation from fellow Christians (being truly schismatic). Burroughs considered such separation to be of greater offense than many of the disagreements people used to justify such separation.

Burroughs recommended that we put the best interpretations on our brother’s actions and words unless we have just cause. This would include refusing to impute motives to people without cause. This is what charity does. So often charity is like water in a desert, sorely lacking.

“If I must err, considering what our condition is here in this world, I will rather err by too much gentleness and mildness than by too much rigor and severity.”

Such an attitude is born of humility. There is far too humility as well. The flesh is proud and prone to schism, factions and divisions. Seeing this to be true, we ought to be humbled.

This doesn’t mean being a wimp. Burroughs, after all, stood his ground on his church polity. He argued for toleration, not that all would be conformed to his will. We can have strong arguments for our position, but we should careful we are not falling into the opposite error (or falsely accusing our brother of doing that).

“In your disputes let your arguments be as hard as you will, but let your words be soft. Soft words and hard arguments will make a good dispute. Gentle language gains much upon the hearts of men.”

The goal is to win our brother, not our argument. Too often my words have not been as soft as they should. I want to be more like John Newton, Jeremiah Burroughs and Roger Nicole. They knew what they believed and stood by it, but without demonizing the other person. They did so without falsely representing the other person’s views.

“Never contend unless you are sure you understand one another as to what you contend for.”

Too often I read people putting words into my mouth that have no place being there. I’m not sure who they are arguing with, but it isn’t (simply) me. This means we should ask more questions to ascertain what their position actually is. A prime example is the question of whether SSA is sin. There has been much talking past one another on that issue.

“So far as reason and conscience will give way, yield to those whom you contend with.”

Texas Death Match for the ROH World Title Signed for Survival of ...Find places you can compromise, in the best sense of the word. Concede when you can instead of making everything a Texas Death Match.

“Make up breaches as soon as possible. Address them, if possible, at the beginning … If you defer the setting a broken bone, it cannot be done without much difficulty and great pain.”

I know this first hand. Unfortunately it takes both parties. When it doesn’t happen one or both can become entrenched and it is like trying to dislodge a tick. Or to return to Burroughs’ illustration, re-breaking a bone to set it properly is very painful.

Sadly, and predictably, Thomas Edwards did not appreciate Burroughs’ book. His next book had the longest name for a book I’ve ever seen: over 100 words. Simpson calls it hard to read due to long sentences, triviality, long-windedness and a severe tone. He guessed at people’s motives often.

Burroughs initially refused to continue a public feud with an unreasonable man. He offered to meet privately, but Edwards refused. Reluctantly he wrote A Vindication of Mr. Burroughs, Against Mr. Edwards’ Foul Aspersions etc. Edwards’ works were making life and ministry miserable for Burroughs. But Edwards’ seemed more eager to print more than to sit down and settle the matter. Burrough’s thoughts were some I’ve had: “What have I done … that thus angers the man?”

This is not a story that ended well. After an accident, Burroughs would die. The men would never be reconciled. After his death, Edwards continued to complete his third volume of Gangraena. He tried to assure people it wasn’t personal. But when Cromwell came to power in 1653, Edwards left for Holland to continue he polemical attacks. He would die there.

“Let us all study peace, seek peace, follow peace, pursue peace, and the God of peace be with us.”


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When I was more regularly reading the Puritans, before I was doing sermon prep every week, Jeremiah Burroughs was one of my favorites. He had a profound influence on me. He was even more influential during his lifetime. He was known not simply as a great preacher, but also a man known for gospel peace. As a result, the title of Phillip Simpson’s biography, A Life of Gospel Peace, is quite appropriate.

Simpson has to focus on Burroughs’ public ministry because there is very little known about his personal life. I was over two thirds of the way through the book and wondering if he was ever married. Finally, on page 248, in the midst of a chapter on his response to a sharp critic, we discover that he was indeed married. We know not when, though guesses can be made. Simpson theorizes that the marriage took place during his exile in the Netherlands. There are no public records of children from this couple.

This lack of knowledge concerning his background is revealed by the fact that his early life and time at Cambridge takes up only 21 pages. His family had some means and a commitment to Christ. His younger brother, Samuel, immigrated to New England in 1630. His father Francis was an elder in their church and was listed as a bailiff in Colchester.

He was born a year before King Charles I was born. As a result the bulk of ministry took place during the days of persecution during Charles’ reign, and the English Civil War. Burrough’s headmaster at Emmanuel College, Cambridge was Laurence Chaderton, one of the translators of the King James Version of the Bible.

His grammar school education likely ended when he was 13-15. Yet he didn’t enter university until 1617. We don’t know what happened in those 3-5 years of his life. He may have become a tutor, as many did, to raise funds for university. His time in university was notable because it was a “Puritan” institution at the time, and he made a number of significant lifelong relationships. His first tutor was Thomas Hooker who invested in Burroughs spiritually as well as intellectually. His friends included Thomas Goodwin, William Bridge and Sydrach Simpson. Eventually Hooker would move to New England. Goodwin and Bridge would serve with Burroughs in the Netherlands during the worst of persecution from the king and the Church of England.

Burroughs’ early ministry took place in the Stour Valley in East Anglia, just northeast of London. It was a fertile area, and a hotbed of Puritans. There were a number of Huguenots there due to persecution in France.

There is much that is strange to us modern Americans. Priests were appointed and funded by the Church of England. Many parishes also hired a lecturer to preach according to their preferences. Many Puritans, like Burroughs, could not be priests but could make a living as a lecturer in Puritan parishes. This could lead to much tension with the priests. Burroughs began as a curate, sort of like an intern or assistant pastor though it soon became apparent he could not conform to the practices of the Church of England.

“Lectureships benefited parishes that did not have an able preacher; they also benefited Puritans who were, to some extent, able to function as lecturers without the same requirements as the regular ministers of a parish.”

Burroughs’ first position was in Stisted which was only 16 miles from Chelmsford where Hooker was now teaching at a seminary. As noted, later Hooker would eventually flee persecution to the New England and founded Connecticut. But through this seminary, Hooker helped lead a revival in the region.

Burroughs was then invited to a lectureship in Bury St. Edmunds working alongside Henry White, another capable preacher. John Winthrop, the future governor of Massachusetts with whom Samuel would cross the Atlantic, would come listen to Burroughs. Burroughs himself would still make monthly trips to Chelmsford.

No photo description available.

My collection of Burroughs’ books.

Problems emerged when Burroughs addressed the sins of an Alderman or councilman. He had committed a social faux pas. He would seek council from John Cotton. The manner in which Burroughs and White were paid changed from the people to city hall. It was settled upon a sum of 100 pounds per year to be given. Minister’s salaries were generally from 100-150 pounds. The two ministers were to split the money, which was not sustainable. The handwriting was on the wall.

We see some hemming and hawing from Burroughs in this time. He wanted the town to clarify things for him, something they were loathe to do. Even with another call in hand, he seemed reluctant to move. One issue for him, seems to be its more rural locale. He feared “a small country town might relegate him to obscurity and hinder his effect on advancing the kingdom of Christ.” This is a common struggle for many pastors. We want to be useful, but God appoints many to such locations and situations.

In Tivetshall, Lady Jane Corwallis Bacon, had the responsibility to choose the new rector upon Paul Chapman’s death. Chapman encouraged her to call Burroughs. And that she did. He was now a rector or priest in the Church of England. He also had responsibility of St. Mary’s as well as St. Margaret’s parishes. Soon old friend William Bridge invited him to a preaching opportunity in a rotating lectureship in Norwich. But soon Burroughs relationship with the Church of England was about to go south.

In 1633 Charles I re-issued the infamous Book of Sports and ordered that it be read in every church. This was an effort to purge the Puritans from the Church. Some Puritans refused to read it and faced charges. Others read it, and then taught their convictions. Burroughs didn’t have to decide until 1634. He would have a network of influential and wealthy friends. Some like Shepard and Hooker left England. For a time, the Shepard family stayed with Burroughs before they left. Soon Burroughs would be the one needing to remain hidden from Bishop Laud. Burroughs would be officially suspended from ministry and awaited formal charges. Unable to serve in a church, he would be housed by Robert Rich, the Second Earl of Warwick. He would lecture at Puritan gatherings but this was only a temporary fix.

Unlike Jonathan Edwards, Burroughs went on the offensive to defend his name. I suspect, based on later writings, that he regretted this. But his influential connections couldn’t get him out of this mess. He tried to resign his position, but they wouldn’t let him. He was then accused of bribing an official. At this time Burroughs and old friend William Greenhill visited Breda in Holland as they considered moving there. There were English congregational churches there for exiles and merchants. William Bridge was already there. They had to sneak back into England but the ship was discovered to carry seditious literature. The two men managed to elude authorities, and imprisonment.

During this time, as he preached at “underground” services, a group of 8 ships was prevented from sailing to New England. Among the men expected to travel on them were Oliver Cromwell and John Hampden. They heard a key sermon by Burroughs and resolved to stay and would later change the course of English history. As the noose of church sanction tightened, however, Burroughs received a call to Rotterdam.

Simpson’s account to Burrough’s time in Rotterdam focuses on a church conflict that arose. The Puritan exiles were able to practice congregationalism, with mixed results. And confusing responses. The congregation at Rotterdam voted to depose John Ward who among other things was recycling old sermons he preached in England. He also sided with Simpson who parted from Burroughs and Bridge to plant a new church. This new church would have problems with schismatic people who eventually formed the Quakers.

Burroughs and Bridge sought reconciliation to restore the honor of Jesus. Goodwin and Philip Nye would come to help them. Though independents, Bridge and Burroughs were rebuked for not seeking the help of other churches. Ward and Simpson also confessed their transgressions in the matter.

His labors among relatively wealthy merchants laid the seeds for what would become The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment, one of his most famous books.

Back in England, the Long Parliament declared a “jubilee” in 1641. Exiled Puritan ministers were allowed to return without consequence. Burroughs, longing for England, did not hesitate to return. The church, understandably, was hurt by his choice. He was gone from England for 3 years, but the reputation he’d gained in Rotterdam as the pastor of a church of 1,000 people would follow him home.

Burroughs would preach at Stepney, Cripplegate and Cornhill for the rest of his life. He preached unique sermons to each congregation each week for the remainder of his life. Yes, he had simultaneous lectureships at three large, wealthy and influential congregations. As lectureships, he was paid for preaching. If he didn’t preach, he didn’t get paid. Yet some would be envious of Burroughs. Simpson explores how this period resulted in a number of collections of sermons being published including Gospel Worship, Gospel Fear and Gospel Conversation. This was a very productive period of ministry for Burroughs. But it was about to get busier.

In 1642 Parliament was able to make a treaty with Scotland. One of Scotland’s complaints was that the reformation of the Church of England had gone too slowly. The Church of Scotland’s assembly insisted they reform so there was “one Confession of Faith, one Directory of Worship, one public catechism and one form of Church government.” Parliament formed the Westminster Assembly to accomplish this goal. Burroughs was appointed as one of the divines. Simpson details Burroughs contributions to the Assembly. These included praying and preaching in sessions of Parliament as a representative. At times the Assembly addressed the sins of members of Parliament.

One problem, though, was one form of government. Most of the divines were Presbyterian and wanted a Presbyterian form of government for the Church of England. Burroughs, Goodwin and others were Independents and wanted a congregational form of church government. From the Independents’ perspective, the Presbyterians were too hierarchical and seemed to become the monster they previously despised. Based on the various statements, the Presbyterianism they argued against seems very different than my experience of Presbyterianism here in America in the 20th and 21st centuries.

The stipulations of Parliament were important here. The Congregationalists were outnumbered. I’m not sure why they persisted even though they considered it a secondary doctrine rather than an essential one.

From the Presbyterian’s perspective, at least some of them, they wanted assurance that congregationalism would not give way to the various sects. In other words, as Independents how do you ensure uniformity of doctrine? Some saw this as a theoretical problem. Some viewed this as essential present, and imputed heresy to the Independents. One many in particular focused on Burroughs. Simpson covers this personal conflict in a subsequent chapter, and I’ll cover it in a subsequent post.

On October 30, 1646 Burroughs was riding his horse when he was thrown and landed on his back. It was an injury from which he would not recover as an infection set in after a few days. He would die on November 13 with the words, “I come, I come, I come.”

Burroughs’ legacy was furthered, initially, by more of this works being published. Charles I would be tried and then executed in 1649. After the reestablishment of the monarchy in 1660, Charles II began to bring back the days of old. He passed a new Act of Uniformity in 1662. This act including a licensing act which made it illegal to publish books not approved by the Archbishop. In 1665 came the Five Mile Act, prohibiting ousted Puritan pastors from preaching within 5 miles of their former congregations. Puritanism began to decline. Burroughs’ books became hard to find and his legacy almost lost.

Yet, Simpson tells of Burroughs’ likely influence in New England, and particularly those who led the “Presbyterian” revolution. Oh, the irony.

Simpson does a good job of compiling and communicating the information we do have on Burroughs. You discover a man dedicated to the Word of God and the people of God. He groups the subject matter well. You get a sense of his place within the web of influential Puritans. Burroughs was in the thick of things. Despite the limitations in source material regarding the personal aspects of his life, this is an interesting biography. It was worth reading.

Congratulations to my friend Boone Leigh who is mentioned in the Acknowledgements as a proof reader. See, some people like me read these things.

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I first read Desiring God in the late 1980’s after hearing about it from someone I knew. I was a young Christian at the time. Like Knowing God, it would be one of the books to lay the foundation for my life as a Christian.  But not all books hold up over time. So I am reviewing the revised edition from the perspective of an older Christian who has read this book a few times. Does it hold up? Why should I bother with a revised edition? Those are the questions I come to the book with.

Does it hold up? Classic books stand the test of time. There are books that are very popular when they are released, but 10 or 20 years later people won’t point to them as significant long term. This is a book people still talk about. This book is chock-full of good theology. Piper not only defends his assertions regarding Christian Hedonism, but he lays out lots of good theology. In other words, his theological distinctive (you can actually see similar teaching in Calvin, Burroughs, Owen and other Reformed pastors, not just Edwards) does not exist in a vacuum.  Piper has to work through the sovereignty of God, the character of God and the nature of salvation. I think I used more ink in my new copy than in my old one.

People often misunderstand his position based on the name. But the point is that a Christian Hedonist seeks their pleasure in God, one of the many things were are commanded to do in Scripture. Piper shows how Scripture not only teaches but feeds Christian Hedonism. He unpacks the doctrine to see how it plays out in marriage, money, missions and more. One subject that is missing would be work (perhaps in the 30th anniversary edition). This is a very practical theology book, but one that is rooted in theology.


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0a5b8d457c3755711406e2dd6c4dac8aRadical by David Platt is one of the books that has been enjoying lots of word of mouth among American Calvinists (mainly neo-Calvinists) since its release.  When I had the opportunity to get a review copy, I took it.  I wanted to read it to see what the buzz was about, and the topic interests me.

“I am convinced that we as Christ followers in American churches have embraced values and ideas that are not only unbiblical but that actually contradict the gospel we claim to believe.”

Years ago, I preached my Advent series from Revelation.  One of those sermons was on the dual strategies of the Evil One to destroy the church.  The Beast represents governments that persecute the church.  The Prostitute represents seduction, as the world seduces the church such that she slowly becomes like the world.  In some countries the church experiences persecution, but here in America we face the Seductress.  It goes without saying that the message was not well received by some.  So, that being said, I get what David Platt is trying to say in his book.

This is not a new subject.  Michael Horton has written numerous books on the subject of how American Christianity has been warped by American values (instead of the influence going the other way).  People like Ron Sider, Francis Chan and a host of others have tackled this subject in the 25 years since Christ rescued me.  In fact, this book is part Horton (he stresses some theological ideas contrary to American thought- Calvinism), part Francis Chan (a ‘radical’ approach) and part Ron Sider (“pack your bags, we’re going on a guilt trip).  Which makes this a difficult book to review.

“A command for us to be gospel-living, gospel-speaking people at every moment and in every context where we find ourselves.”

Radical is not as good as the hype nor as bad as most (poorly informed) critics make it out to be.  But let me start with some good things, because there are things I appreciate about the book.  There are things the American Church needs to reckon with regarding how we’ve been seduced by our corner of the world.

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Earlier, I had noted that the fear of God is not an Old Testament deal.  It is meant to characterize us in the New Covenant.  But I didn’t get into the source of true fear, which is the gospel.  Some of you might be scratching your head in confusion.  Some might be yelling at the screen in anger, debating with me.  Hold on a moment and let me explain.

Let’s start with a definition of the fear of God.  It is not, as many godly men have said, slavish fear.  It is not the fear of punishment and displeasure that drives people away.  When my son is guilty, he often wants to run and hide (usually covering his bottom just in case).  This is not the fear that is given to us in the gospel.  This the fear that perfect love casts out (1 John 4:18).

“The goodness as well as the greatness of God begets in the heart of His elect an awful reverence of His majesty. … Godly fear flows from a sense of the love and kindness of God to the soul.” John Bunyan

The fear I’m talking about is often called filial fear, or the fear of a son.  It is like a stew comprised of love, trust, awe, reverence and delight.  In various places obedience is attributed to love (John 14) and faith (Hebrews 11).  In my text this Sunday it is the fear of God.  Godly fear includes that love and faith or trust which are necessary for any true, God-honoring & God-pleasing obedience.  Without faith it is impossible to please Him (Hebrews 10), so true fear must include faith.  But the idea of awe and reverence point us to delight.


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The Fear of God is one of those topics that is greatly neglected, much to our own hurt.  My sermon text this week includes God’s great test of Abraham to see if he feared God.  Though we hate to think of such a thing, I suppose God tests us often to see if we fear/revere Him or if we’ve given ourselves to an idol of some sort.

“There flows from this fear of God a readiness and willingness, at God’s call, to give up our best enjoyments to His disposal.”  John Bunyan


20 Moses said to the people, “Do not be afraid. God has come to test you, so that the fear of God will be with you to keep you from sinning.”  Exodus 20

They were afraid that God was going to stomp on them.  After all, they were sinners.  But Moses tells them not to fear, but to fear God.  Sounds strange doesn’t it.  We rob God of glory when we fear anyone or anything instead of Him (like when we love anyone or anything instead of or beside Him).  The fear, or reverence, of God is what was to keep them (and us from sinning).

“Moses draws a contrast between being afraid of God and fearing God. … Simply being afraid of God will lead to distrust and disobedience of Him.  But fearing God will keep us from sinning.”  Jerry Bridges


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I’ve finally begun to read The Marrow of Modern Divinity by Edward Fisher.  It is the newer edition with Thomas Boston‘s notes.  So, you get 2 Puritans for the price of 1.  Hard to hate.

I am finding it a tough go at times.  Perhaps I’ve been slack in my reading of the Puritans lately.  Perhaps it is the layout.  The longer notes by Boston are laid out together, but cover a few different pages.  Since I don’t want to continually flip back and forth I sometimes lose the context.

The books starts with a few historical questions.  It briefly recounts the Marrow Controversy in the Church of Scotland and Thomas Boston’s involvement in that Controversy.  It also examines the identity of E.F. and which Edward Fisher probably wrote this important book that discusses the Christian’s relationship with the law.

The book is like Cur Deus Homo? in that it is in the form of a dialogue.  But instead of 2 characters, there are 4 to represent 2 erroneous views (legalism and antinomianism), the proper view and the new Christian who is caught in the crossfire.

One of the interesting aspects for me is that occasionally Boston disagrees with Fisher on finer points.  There are quite a few finer points I disagree with one or both on due to how they are using Scripture in particular instances.  These are non-essential to the arguments, however.  Boston does not require that Fisher agree with him on everything to recommend him as beneficial.  Sinclair Ferguson (his Pastoral Lessons on the Controversy are excellent!)and Philip Ryken also recommend the book (as well as a few other prominent Puritans like Burroughs) which goes to the point that a recommendation does not entail approval of every jot and tittle.  They agree with the main point, not every rabbit trail.


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