It has always greatly burdened my heart to see the many sad and terrible divisions which exist today amongst God's people. Divisions which have not only greatly hindered the testimony of God's church in this present world, but also the measure of success in our preaching of the glorious Gospel of Jesus Christ.
Seven years ago the Lord led me to a book called "Irenicum" by Jeremiah Burroughs (1599-1646). After reading through it the first time, being greatly moved by its deep and yet rich truths concerning divisions and the sorrows and dangers they create amongst God's people, I proceeded to read it a second time.
I was so moved by it's solid scriptural truths I felt led to begin our blog with a short portion of this book. Yet, like all other books, this is merely a book. Not divinely inspired, nor to be considered in any way equal with God's most Holy Word. Yet, it contents are strongly scriptural and therefore profitable for us all. May these words humble, encourage and excite you also, to seek such unity amongst God's people.
Pastor Audey Shepard
"Healing the divisions amongst God’s people"
"Healing the divisions amongst God’s people"
Chapter 27: The evil of divisions: they hinder much good
Eusebius reports that Constantine was more troubled with the dissensions of the church than with all the wars in his dominions that he took them so to heart that he could not sleep quietly because of them. Yea, although he had a spirit full of heroic valour, yet the dissensions of the church were such evils to him as to cause him to cry and sob. Thus he wrote in an epistle to Alexander and Arius; “Let me enjoy the days in peace and the nights without molestation, that the pleasure which rises out of the pure light of concord and quiet life may henceforth inviolably be conserved. If it otherwise happens, it behooves us to sob and sigh and to share many a salt tear”.What heart that has any tenderness in it bleeds not when it senses those sore and dreadful heart-divisions that are among us! The evil there is in them is beyond what tongue or pen can express. Take a view of it under these three headings:
1. The good they hinder;2. The sin they cause;3. The misery they bring.
In this chapter, let us expound the first of these three, with several observations.
First, the quiet, comfort and sweetness of our spirits are hindered by divisions. They put the spirit out of tune. Men who heretofore have had sweet spirits full of ingenuity, since they have interested themselves in these divisions have lost their sweetness; their ingenuity is gone. When the bee stings, she leaves her sting behind her and never gathers honey 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 that heretofore they had. Shall I lose my sweetness, says the fig tree, and go to be promoted over the trees? Why do you not reason thus with your spirit: Shall I lose my sweetness in contending to get my will to be above others? God forbid.There was a time that both I myself and others found much sweetness in the temper of spirit. There was nothing but peaceableness, quiet, calmness, and contentedness in it; and how comfortable was such a temper of spirit! I thought when my spirit was in that sweet frame, that all things were sweet to me. But since I have been involved in quarrels and contentions, it has been far otherwise with me. Proverbs 15:4 “Perverseness in the tongue causes a breach in the spirit”. Contentions cause much perverseness in men’s tongues, and this causes a breach in their spirits. Your contending costs you dearly. Though it was in nothing else, yet the loss of this sweetness of spirit makes it very costly to you. All the wrong that you would have endured if you had not contended would not have been so great an evil to you as this one thing is. There is nothing more contrary to ingenuity than quarrelsomeness. It is reported that when Melanchthon was to die he gave this speech, and Strigelius at his death said the same: “I desire to depart this life for two causes: first, that I may enjoy the desired sight of the Son of God and the church in heaven, and, second, that I may be delivered from the fierce and implacable hatred of divines.” There was much disputing, contending, and quarrelling in those times which were so tedious to the spirits of these good men that it made them the more willing to die that they might be where their souls should be at rest.
That saint of God, old Mr. (John) Dod, never loved to meddle with controversies. He gave the reason that he found his heart the worse when he did. Men seldom come away from hot disputes or any other contentions but their spirits are altered for the worse. They find it so, and others find it in them. If a man has been contending, his wife, children, and servants find that he comes not home with the same spirit that he went out with.
Second, divisions hinder the freedom of a man’s spirit, which a wise man sets a high price upon. The strength of many men’s spirits is spent in contentions; they have no control of them for anything else. When a man is once engaged in a contest, he knows not how to get off. 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.I have read of Francis the first, king of France, consulting with his captains how to lead his army over the Alps into Italy, whether this way or that way. Amarill, his fool, sprang out of a corner where he sat unseen and bade them rather take care which way they should bring their army out of Italy and back home again. It is easy for one to interest himself in quarrels, but the difficulty is to be disengaged from them once you are in.
Third, divisions hinder the good of the body. Many men, contending with their brethren, are so full of stomach that they have no stomach; they cannot sleep. Men lie tossing up and down a great part of the night, sometimes whole nights, musing, plotting and contriving how they may make their party good, what advantages they may get over those they contend with. Have the thoughts about the breach sin has made between God and your soul broken your sleep as much as the thoughts of breaches between you and your neighbours and brethren? We read in Deuteronomy 34:7 that Moses was 120 years old when he died; his eyes were not dim, nor his natural force abated. Some give this reason for such a wonderful preservation of his health and strength, the meekness of his spirit. God witnessed of him, in Numbers 12:3, that he was the meekest man upon the face of the earth. That good old man Mr. Dod came very near Moses in his strength and his meekness.
Fourth, these quarrels hinder men’s judgments. If the water is muddy, we cannot see what lies at the bottom. These dissentions disturb the medium of our sight. You cannot weigh gold in the middle of blustering winds. You cannot consider and give a judgment upon truth unless the heart is calm. Gregory Nazianzen had this similitude: “The earth is fixed to men whose brains and eyes are sound, but to those who have vertigo in their heads it seems to turn around.” So we are deceived in our apprehensions of things; we have not the same judgment of things when we love and when we do not love.
Fifth, divisions hinder the sweetness of Christian converse and communion. You know your communion with the saints was wont to be far sweeter than now it is. You are wont to have your hearts spring at the sight of one another. Seneca said that the very sight of a good man delights. The sight of a godly man was wont to delight us otherwise than now it does. You look one upon another now sourly, with lowering countenance, and you withdraw from one another. Your comforts were wont to be double, triple, sevenfold, a hundredfold, according to that society of saints you conversed with.One godly man accounted it the joy of his heart that he had anything that he could communicate to another godly man; and the other had the like joy that he had anything to communicate to him. Thus the comfort was multiplied. But now your comforts are bare. Oh, the sweetness, the suitableness there was wont to be in the spirits of Christians! Shall I say suitableness? It was a blessed oneness of heart. They did, as it were, exchange one with another every day. Their souls closely clasped with and cleaved one to another. Oh, how they loved to open their hearts one to another! What delight there was in pouring forth their spirits one into another! What cheerfulness was there wont to be in their meeting! They ate their bread together with singleness of heart and joy, praising the Lord.
There were no such merry meetings in the world as the meetings of the saints were wont to be. They parted from one another with their souls bound up one in another. Their hearts were warmed, enlarged, resolved, and strengthened in God’s ways. But now they cannot meet together but they fall a jarring, contending one with another, and part with spirits estranged, soured, and embittered against one another. Their hearts are weakened and more unsettled in the things of God than before. Heretofore, when they were absent one from another, the remembrance one of another was joyful. But these days seem to be gone.Where is there that opening of secrets one to another as formerly? Everyone is afraid of each other. What sweet visits were there wont to be? What bearing one another’s burdens? What heart encouraging letters? It was with the saints as in Tertullian’s time: Christians called each other brethren and were ready to die for one another. But now they are burdens to one another’s spirits; they bring evils one upon another. Those who heretofore were forward professors, whose society was only among the saints, now can suit well enough with those who are carnal. They close with them; their converse is mostly among them. Oh, Lord, what fire is it that is kindled amongst us! The nature of fire is to gather things of a like nature together, and separate things that are different. But our fire does quite the contrary: it separates things that are homogeneous and joins things heterogeneous. Surely this is no other than the fire of Hell.
Sixth, divisions hinder our time. Abundance of time is spent about our divisions, which we are not able to give account to God for. When men are engaged in contentions, they will pursue them night and day, whatsoever business is neglected, and to be sure these are not. Yea, the choice of our time that was wont to be spent in meditation, reading, and prayer is now spent in contending and wrangling. Those retired times when we were wont to converse with God are now spent in the workings of our thoughts about divisions. And when we go out, then a great part of our time is taken up in going first to this body and then to another, to help forward and foment matter of division. Of all the time of man’s life, the time that is spent in disputing and quarrelling is the worst; and the happy it would be for many that it might not be reckoned among the days, weeks, or months of their lives.
Seventh, divisions hinder our prayers. “If two or three agree together touching anything they shall ask, and it shall be done for them by my Father”, said Christ in Matthew 18:19. 1 Timothy 2:8 “I will that men pray, lifting up their hands without wrath”. When Daniel was in a crisis, he went to his companions and desired them to lift up prayers to God for him (Daniel 2:17). There was a secret agreement between them. Hence their stock and trade in prayer went in common, but divisions exceedingly hinder prayer, either one with another or one for another. In 1 Peter 3:7, the apostle gave rules for a peaceable, loving life between man and wife: the woman must be meek, and the man must live with his wife as a man of knowledge. And they must walk together as heirs of life. Why so? That your prayers may not be hindered. Private contentions in families are great hindrances of family prayers. So our public divisions and contentions are the great hindrances of the prayers of Christians in a more public way. How were they wont to pour forth their hearts in prayer together? Then their hearts closed, but now it is otherwise. Men do not walk now together as the heirs of life; therefore their prayers are hindered. God accepts not our gift if we offer it when our hearts are at a distance from our brethren. When breaches continue, and we are not reconciled, you know Christ requires us to leave our gift at the altar till reconciliation is made. It is the Spirit of God in the saints that is the spirit of prayer. God’s Spirit is a dove-like, meek, quiet, and peaceable spirit.
Eight, they hinder the use of our gifts. When vessels are soured with vinegar, they spoil liquor that is poured into them; they make it good for nothing. Many men have excellent gifts, but they are in such sour, vinegary spirits that they are of little or no use in the church and commonwealth.
(1) In these times of division, many men exercise their gifts and parts in little or nothing else but in matters of division. Do you think that God has given you such parts for no other end but this?
(2) They have no hearts to impart to their brethren their gifts in counselling, admonishing, strengthening, or comforting. No, their hearts are estranged from them; they care not to have anything to do with them. But do you think that you are so much your own men that you may keep in or employ your talents as you please? Are you not the stewards of Christ? Are your talents not given to you for the edification of your brethren as well as for the good to yourselves? Can this satisfy your consciences? Such a one differs from you; he has angered you, and therefore, though you have opportunity of being useful to him, you refuse it as if it were at your liberty to apply your abilities for good or not. Certainly, this is not according to the mind of Christ. 1 Corinthians 12:7: “The manifestation of the Spirit is given to every man to profit withal”.
(3) If you make use of your gifts for the good of others, yet dissensions between you will hinder their profit. You are not likely to do any good by them. Unless they are carried on by the oil of love, they will not soak into men's hearts. When did you ever know a wrangling, contentious minister (though his gifts were never so excellent) to do good among his people? And what comfort can a man have in his life if he is laid aside by God as a useless man?
(4) These divisions cause men to make the gifts of others useless to them selves, whereas God puts opportunity into men's hands to get much good by those excellent gifts their brethren have. Yet if there is any difference between them, either they will not acknowledge the gifts of God in them or else they have no mind to receive from them that good they might have, because their hearts are not with them.
Ninth, divisions hinder our graces. How little of God and Christ, how little spiritualness appears in professors of religion since these rents and divisions have been amongst us, in comparison to what in former times appeared. "As the members of the body" said Augustine, "are not quickened unless they are joined, so even the members of Christ do not receive of the quickening virtue of Christ unless they are joined. Here is the reason for deadness, coldness, emptiness, barrenness, and the vanity of your spirits: you are not joined. Oh, where are the heavenly Christians who were wont to be - those humble, holy, gracious souls who lived by faith, who were able to deny themselves? Their whole lives were nothing but a continual exercise of self-denial; they were not only patient, but joyful under afflictions. Where are those watchful Christians who walked closely with God, who enjoyed such spiritual communion with Him as made their faces shine in their holy, heavenly conversations? Where are those tender, broken-hearted Christians who were wont to be, who lived upon the Word, to whom the Word was more sweet than honey and the honeycomb?
Our divisions hinder the breaking forth of the lustre, the shine of religion in its beauty and glory! The fire of our contentions raises such a smoke that it smothers us; it takes away our comeliness; it makes us look black. No amiableness appears in the way of religion to convince men of the Excellency of them. Scratched faces, rent and torn garments, we account a shame to us. We are distracted, divided spirits, rendering and tearing one another, and separated from one another in our divided ways, Oh, how uncomely it renders us, and that profession of religion that we take upon us! The Turks were wont to wonder much at our English men for pinking and cutting their clothes, counting them little better than madmen for making holes in whole clothes, which in time of itself would tear too soon. The cuts, rents, and slashes that are in our spirit, in our divisions at this day, are much more uncomely, and may justly render us foolish and mad in the eyes of all who behold us.
Our divisions hinder our strength. 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. Divide a strong current into several rivulets and how shallow and weak will the curse of the water be! The act of Plutarch attributed to the king of Scythia, Scilurus, toward his sons, has been very famous to set how divisions cause weakness wherever they are. He said he had eighty sons, and when he was near death he caused a bundle of arrows to be brought and given them one by one, bidding each of them to break it. They all answered that it was impossible for any man to do it. Then he caused the arrows to be taken out one by one, and bade one of his sons break them; this any of them could easily do. Upon this he spoke to his sons thus: "If ye agree together, ye shall abide strong and unconquerable. But if ye divide yourselves, contending one with another, ye will be weak and easily overcome."
Divisions hinder our doing good in public. That which concerns many must be done by many. But how can two, much less many, walk together if they are not agreed? That which one does, the other seeks to undo. Now although God can turn whatsoever is contrary to His work to the furtherance of it, yet man cannot do so. When God would hinder the work of building Babel, He came down and confounded their tongues so that they could not join together in it. Thus, when the Devil would hinder the work of Jerusalem, he knew no way more likely than by dividing the hearts of those who were employed, if he could, that thereby he might bring confusion.
Divisions hinder our own ends. None are more crossed in their ends and designs than contentious people. We have not the mutual benefits of one another’s estates, houses, the many ways of accommodation, and the help for one another as heretofore we wont to have. Now every man shifts for himself. Scarcely any man who knew what the heartiness of friendship meant enjoys those outward accommodations as he was wont.
Divisions hinder the blessing of God (Psalm 133). The Psalmist, commending the love of brethren, concluded; "there the Lord commanded the blessing, even life for evermore." There! That is, where the love of brethren is there is a blessing, a blessing commanded by God. It comes with power, and this no less than life, and this life forevermore. "God dwells in Salem, said Luther, "not in Babylon - where there is peace, not where there is confusion."
Last, yea, they hinder all good. They are like the torrid zone: nothing can prosper under it. When the dog-star rises no plants thrive as in other times. When a fire is kindled in a town, the bells ring backward. When fires of contention are kindled in places, all things go awkwardly. There is little joy in anything.
Thus you see how great evil there is in our divisions, in respect of what good we lose by them. Now, then, consider whether it is possible that any gain we can get by them can recompense this loss. Can anything gotten by them justify the cost? But if it could be supposed that our loss may be recompensed, yet I am sure nothing can countervail the evil there is in them, in respect of the sinfulness of them.