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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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