A Treatise on Earthly-Mindedness
by Jeremiah Burroughs
Jeremiah Burroughs (1599-1646) is one of my favorite Puritan authors and (I dare say) one of the most overlooked.
In his extensive writings, Burroughs authored a very helpful book on discerning worldliness in a book now titled A Treatise on Earthly -Mindedness. It was retypeset and edited by Don Kistler and published in 1991 by Soli Deo Gloria.
Burroughs builds his argument from Paul’s sobering ‘enemies of the Cross’ statement — “their end is destruction, their god is their belly, and they glory in their shame, with minds set on earthly things. But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ” (Phil. 3:19-20).
Burroughs first discerns the seriousness and dangers of worldly thinking (pp. 3-92). His goal in this first section is to call this earthly-mindedness what it really is – adultery, idolatry and enmity. This earthly-mindedness suffocates the work of grace, opens the soul to further temptations (1 Tim. 6:9), stifles the hearing of preaching, breeds foolish lusts in the soul, spreads roots for future apostasy, deadens the heart for prayer, dishonors God, hinders our preparations for death, and ultimately drowns the soul into perdition.
The second section covers the implications of our citizenship in heaven (Phil. 3:20), and is filled with helpful practical advice on to living as foreigners in our sojourning through life on earth (pp. 93-178). This theme continues in the final section which helps discern what walking with God looks like in everyday life (pp. 179-259). The final chapter contains very useful wisdom on walking with God when His presence seems distant (pp. 254-259).
Throughout his works, Burroughs avoided a common Puritan pitfall. The Puritans frequently narrowed in so tightly on a particular topic that surrounding contexts and connections were forgotten. It’s not uncommon to read a Puritan on the topic of sin continue on and on without any mention of the Cross, God’s grace, and living in freedom and victory over sin. Even some of the great Puritan classics (such as the works of Richard Baxter and The Life of God in the Soul of Man by Henry Scougal) woefully assume the Cross.
Burroughs is quite the opposite. He’s hardly begun a lengthy diagnosis of worldliness in the heart before breaking into a short digression on the glorious work of grace in conversion (pp. 29-30)! This work of God transforms enemies of the Cross into those who now have quickened souls. Those once veiled by sin and blinded by the world now see the light of God’s glory! We are new creatures, creatures no longer content with worldliness but now transcending the circumstances of the world and clinging to eternal hope. This new life enlarges our heart and our spiritual appetite becomes so large that no earthly means could fill it. This grace severs our grip on the world, and we begin to experience God’s sanctifying grace in our souls. For Burroughs, even when discovering the depth and darkness of sinfulness in the heart, God’s grace is ever in view.
With careful pastoral balance, Burroughs encourages us to pursue excellence in our earthly calling, while exhorting us to carefully avoid the snares of worldly-mindedness.
“Considering what has been delivered, I beseech you, lay it seriously upon your heart, especially you who are young beginners in the way of religion, lest it proves to be with you as it has with many who are digging veins of gold and silver underground. While they are digging in those mines for riches, the earth, many times, falls upon them and buries them, so that they never come up out of the mine again. … Keep wide open some place to heaven, or otherwise, if you dig too deep, noxious gas vapors will come up from the earth, if it doesn’t fall on you first. There will be noxious gas vapors to choke you if there is not a wide hole to let in the air that comes from heaven to you. Those who are digging in mines are very careful to leave a place open for fresh air to come in. And so, though you may follow your calling and do the work God sets you here for as others do, be as diligent in your calling as any. But still keep a passage open to heaven so that there may be fresh gales of grace come into your soul” (p. 85).
Fitting of Burrough’s classic, Soli Deo Gloria published A Treatise on Earthly -Mindedness with an attractive dust-jacketed, durable cloth cover and Smyth-sewn binding. It’s an excellent work for those of us who sometimes find ourselves surrounded by the cares of this world, asphyxiating on temporal toxins rather than breathing fresh grace.
Title: A Treatise on Earthly-Mindedness
Author: Jeremiah Burroughs (1599-1646)
Editor: Don Kistler
Reading level: 2.0/5.0 > easy thanks to excellent editing (includes nice section and subpoint headings)
Boards: hardcover, embossed
Dust jacket: yes
Binding: Smyth sewn
Paper: white and clean
Topical index: no (would have been very useful)
Scriptural index: no (would have been very useful)
Text: perfect type
Publisher: Ligonier; Soli Deo Gloria
Year: original ed., 1649; edited ed., 1991
Price USD: $18.00 from Ligonier
As you know, I love sermon jams. Sermon jams are where sermonic highlight meets background music. Sermon jams are excellent for the gym, excellent for personal devotion, excellent to share with other listeners less likely to listen to entire sermons, and overall just an excellent way to reach the lost and share the faith.
One of my favorites is by Relevant Revolution. They took a Ravi Zacharias message and created the jam, Christ as Lord. We say ‘Well done!’
“Have you ever wondered what you would do to frighten Lazarus after he’d been raised from the dead? What would you do to threaten him? Lazarus, I’m gonna’ kill you? Caligula says, ‘I’m going to kill you.’ He says, ‘Ha, ha, ha.’ He says ‘stop ha, ha, ha-ing. I’m going to kill you as I’m killing all the Christians.’ He doubles over in uncontrollable laughter, comes up for air and says, ‘Caligula haven’t you heard? Death is dead! Death is dead!’
How do you frighten somebody who has already been there and knows the one who’s going to let him out? …
Behind the debris of the fallings of our solemn supermen and imperial diplomatists lies the gigantic figure of one person, because of whom, by whom, in whom, and through whom, mankind may still survive. The person of Jesus Christ.”
Download the free mp3 here.
In light of our recent discussion over Jonathan Edwards’ famous sermon (Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God) it occurred to me that John Calvin may help us answer the following questions:
– Where does a fear of God’s judgment arise in the natural man?
– Are sinners fearful of His wrath because the preacher builds up to a rhetorical climax of graphic content or is something greater at work?
– In our contemporary society — saturated with horror films, horror books and graphic entertainment — will a sermon on God’s wrath be marginalized to fictional fairytale?
These are serious concerns for the preacher and evangelist.
Early in the Institutes of the Christian Religion (1559) Calvin addresses God’s judgment as a way to prove that knowledge of God is etched on the hearts of all men. He writes,
“One reads of no one who burst forth into bolder or more unbridled contempt of deity than Gaius Caligula [Roman emperor between A.D. 37-41]; yet no one trembled more miserably when any sign of God’s wrath manifested itself; thus – albeit unwillingly – he shuddered at the God whom he professedly sought to despise. You may see now and again how this also happens to those like him; how he who is the boldest despiser of God is of all men the most startled at the rustle of a falling leaf [cf. Lev. 26:36]. Whence does this arise but from the vengeance of divine majesty, which strikes their consciences all the more violently the more they try to flee from it? Indeed, they seek out every subterfuge to hide themselves from the Lord’s presence, and to efface it again from their minds. But in spite of themselves they are always entrapped. Although it may sometimes seem to vanish for a moment, it returns at once and rushes in with new force. If for these there is any respite from anxiety of conscience, it is not much different from the sleep of drunken or frenzied persons, who do not rest peacefully even while sleeping because they are continually troubled with dire and dreadful dreams” (1.3.2; 1:45).
God’s presence remains close enough to even the hardest of sinners, close enough that God occasionally fills the sinners thoughts with a foretaste of His coming wrath. It may be silent for a time, but then this knowledge “rushes in with new force” like God’s immediate presence overcoming the Old Testament sinner (see Lev. 26:36). To put this more biblically, Paul in Romans 1:28-32 writes,
“And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a debased mind to do what ought not to be done. They were filled with all manner of unrighteousness, evil, covetousness, malice. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, maliciousness. They are gossips, slanderers, haters of God, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, foolish, faithless, heartless, ruthless. Though they know God’s decree that those who practice such things deserve to die, they not only do them but give approval to those who practice them.”
After explaining that “death” here cannot be limited to physical death, John Murray writes, “The most degraded of men, degraded because judicially abandoned of God, are not destitute of the knowledge of God and of his righteous judgments” [The Epistle to the Romans (Eerdmans: 1959) 1:52]. There are ever-present reminders that God is holy, that all sin must be punished, and that sinners are rightfully consumed by the second death. Somewhere in the recesses of the conscience, all sinners are reminded that a propensity to gossip is quickening God’s wrath. And this wrath is fully justified.
What all this suggests is that – while we appropriately stand in amazement at the work of God in blessing the sermons of Jonathan Edwards to spark revival – the true power of a sermon on God’s judgment is the divine whisper in our conscience that all of us rightfully deserve God’s wrath. Because of this profound universal truth, we cannot think that preaching graphic sermons on God’s judgment compete with the entertainment industry, or that these sermons will be marginalized by our hearers to the status of fiction.
As creatures of God, we are etched with His image. When the movie concludes, we resume our busy lives. When the sermon concludes, sinners remain under His authority and bound to the inescapable reality that all sinners deserve to face God’s wrath.
I cannot help but pause for a moment to note what incredibly dead hearts we have as sinners! We even encourage and approve of other sinners in their self-condemnation (v. 32). It must be a great Savior to save great sinners, self-condemned and patting others in approval of their self-condemnation. Indeed, Christ has saved us from ourselves, saved us from God’s judgment, saved us from our guilt and due penalty! He was crushed for our iniquities (Isa. 53:5, 10). What grace and mercy that sinners self-condemned now live in hope!
My simple conclusion is this: Sermons on God’s judgment will remain distinct from horror film entertainment because terrifying fiction and terrifying wrath are not easily confused. If anything, the horrors of graphic imagery seen on the big screen will stretch the sinner’s minds to the unfathomable terrors of God’s wrath to come. Preachers should unashamedly expound all of Scripture — which includes the graphic nature of hell — with the confidence that our sovereign God is already at work speaking to every soul.
Could Jonathan Edwards’ famous sermon Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God be preached today? This is the question posed to Edwardian scholars Harry S. Stout and Kenneth P. Minkema.
Notice how the discussion in the video veers off into a broader question: Can any graphic sermons on hell be preached today? That seems to be another question altogether. … This has me thinking: How does the rise in horror films and the graphic portrayal of evil on major films influenced the preaching of God’s eternal judgment in our culture? Are the horrors of hell now less real or more real?
Should ‘Sinners’ be preached today? One contemporary of Edwards was the famous hymn writer Isaac Watts (“When I Survey the Wondrous Cross,” “Alas and Did My Saviour Bleed”). After reading the text of ‘Sinners’ he wrote: “A most terrible [terrifying] sermon, which should have had a word of Gospel at the end of it, though I think ‘tis all true.” I agree with Watts. Strictly speaking I would not preach ‘Sinners.’ When it comes to explaining the beauty of the Cross, (perhaps) Edwards had the luxury of assuming this reality in his setting. But that is an assumption we cannot make today. Maybe no sermon better sets the groundwork to understand the love of Christ in His willingness to endure my eternal wrath as my substitute who drank the full cup of God’s eternal wrath I deserved. How can it be that thou my God shouldst die for me? But the sermon needs a ‘word of Gospel’ at the end.
‘Sinners’ in the hands of Mark Dever. In October of 2003 Mark Dever preached this sermon to his congregation (Capitol Hill Baptist Church; Washington, D.C.). His introduction is excellent and (from what I am told) the sermon was successful.
‘Sinners’ in the hands of Billy Graham. In 1949 Graham preached ‘Sinners’ and you can listen to some very loud excerpts over at the new online exhibit at the Jonathan Edwards Center at Yale University. Here is one …
Debatable. Since we are talking of the famous sermon, I am surprised how frequently writers suggest Edwards is remembered as a preacher of God’s wrath by an over-emphasis on this one sermon — Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God — over his greater corpus of sermons. I recently came across another reference by a very popular contemporary historian of the same opinion. However, apart from this famous sermon, entire books of manuscripts have been assembled with Edwards’ sermons on God’s judgment. One example is Unless You Repent: Fifteen previously unpublished sermons on the fate awaiting the impenitent (Soli Deo Gloria: 2005). Read our review here. Edwards frequently invited sinners to delight in God’s love but also warned them of God’s wrath — a balance modeled by Christ Himself. ‘Sinners’ is just one of many similar sermons.
The sermon itself. I would encourage you to read ‘Sinners’ if you never have (text here). On Wednesday July 8th, 1741 in Enfield, Connecticut the scene unfolded like this: “Edwards, who had been building the intensity of the sermon, had to stop and ask for silence so that he could be heard. The tumult only increased as the ‘shrieks and cries were piercing and amazing.’ As Edwards waited, the wails continued, so there was no way that he might be heard. He never finished the sermon. Wheelock offered a closing prayer, and the clergy went down among the people to minister among them individually. ‘Several souls were hopefully wrought upon that night,’ Stephen Williams recorded, ‘and oh the cheerfulness and pleasantness of their countenances.’ Finally the congregation was enough under control to sing an affecting hymn, hear a prayer, and be dispersed” (pp. 220-221). Read more on this sermon in George Marsden’s excellent biography, Jonathan Edwards: A Life (Yale: 2003) pp. 220-224.
Unbelief is Irrational
It’s not uncommon today for atheists to rise to their pulpits and boldly preach that belief in some god (let alone a specific god) is simply irrational. Dr. K. Scott Oliphant, professor of apologetics and systematic theology at Westminster Seminary, disagrees. In a recently published essay he points to Paul’s words in the first chapter of Romans to make his case that unbelief is irrational.
Oliphant’s proposition is this: Unbelief is irrational because, at its core, all sin is irrational. He argues, “Sin is essentially, and will remain, deeply unreasonable, utterly irrational … Given that unbelief is at root the quintessential sin, it is therefore, necessarily, quintessentially irrational” (pp. 59-60). He backs up this proposition exegetically from Romans 1:18-32.
Oliphant begins by pointing to Paul’s emphasis in Romans that all people are covenantally bound to Adam or to Christ, walking under condemnation or justification (Rom. 5:12-21). The first two chapters of Romans are devoted to revealing God’s wrath upon those in Adam. Specifically, God’s wrath is kindled against sinners who “suppress the truth” (1:18).
The act of suppressing divine truth is sinful or “unrighteousness” (1:18). So sin is by nature the suppressing of truth. “In other words, God’s wrath is revealed from heaven because, in our wickedness and unrighteousness (in Adam), we hold down (in our souls) that which we know to be the case” (p. 64)
So what knowledge is suppressed? Paul tells us we suppress the universal truths about God — that He exists, He is infinite, eternal, wise, unchanging, glorious and wise. Far from being a mere intellectual knowledge of God, there is included in this a very personal knowledge of God communicated from His Person to our person. So personal that Paul can write, “they know God’s decree that those who practice such things [sins] deserve to die” (Rom. 1:32). Every sinner that suppresses God’s truth and lives on in sin knows that sin is rightfully punished with death. But this and all truth about God is suppressed. The point is clear: God has spoken so openly and so clearly that every sinner knows these universal truths.
How do sinners suppress divine truth? By exchange. We take the glory of our great God and Creator and exchange His glory for superficial images of reality. The next step is to worship and serve the phantoms of reality we create. The truth of the created order becomes twisted into what we think is right. There is an exchange of the natural for the unnatural, like in the case of homosexual relationships (Rom. 1:26-27). Oliphant writes, “All of us, in Adam, are experts in inventing idols” and later he writes “we only retain that [knowledge] which will serve our own idolatrous purposes” (p. 69, 70). Paul tells us this idolatry – worshiping a false reality — is at the center of unbelief.
Paul then goes on to list all sorts of sins, not just homosexuality, but also unrighteousness, evil, covetousness, envy, murder, strife, deceit, maliciousness, gossip, slander, hatred of God, insolence, haughtiness, boastfulness, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, foolish, faithless, heartless, ruthless (Rom. 1:29-31). Oliphant writes, “All sin, as sin, is rooted in an irrationality that seeks in earnest to deny what is obvious and to create a world that is nothing more than a figment of a sinful imagination” (p. 72).
The sad reality is that for those outside God’s sovereign election, this personal knowledge of God will be drowned out by the noise and passions of the sinful heart. The witness of God’s existence in the heart becomes futile knowledge to an irrational mind. God reveals Himself all around, and blind sinners in Adam respond by suppressing this truth and living in a phantom irrationality.
Paul paints a humbling portrait of all unredeemed sinners. We did not learn Christ because we were more perceptive or less sinfully irrational. God alone opened our eyes. Oliphant says, “The truth that we know – that we retain, possess, and suppress – therefore, is truth that is, fundamentally and essentially, given by God to us. God is the one who ensures that this truth will get through to us. It is his action, not ours, that guarantees our possession of this truth” (p. 66).
This first chapter of Romans is useful to remind believers of our personal sin and irrationality. We are still tempted to live at the feet of a phantom shrine forged in our minds rather than live within reality. And rather than scoffing at the unbeliever, we can look at our own hearts and see where we — as seasoned idolaters! – continue to suppress truth and twist reality in favor of escapism, fantasy and worldly comforts.
But also armed with Paul’s teaching in Romans and brought under the humility of dead sinners raised to life by the power of God, we are prepared to think through apologetics, preaching and personal evangelism. All of our hearers have heard a personal message from a personal God and we are all without excuse (Rom. 1:20). Apparently evidence does not demand a verdict from irrational minds.
Understanding this awful irrationality of the sinful mind will cause us to once again pray like Spurgeon:
“‘Rise up, Lord!’ O God the Father, rise up! Pluck Thy right hand out of Thy bosom, and let Three eternal purposes be accomplished! O God the Son, rise up; show Thy wounds, and plead before Thy Father’s face, and let Thy blood-bought ones be saved! Rise up, O God the Holy Ghost; with solemn reverence, we do invoke Thine aid! Let those who have hitherto resisted Thee, now give way! Come Thou, and melt the ice; dissolve the granite: break the adamantine heart; cut Thou the iron sinew, and bow Thou the stiff neck!”
[This exegesis of Romans 1 can be found between pages 59-73 of P&R’s latest release edited by Oliphant and Lane G. Tipton titled, Revelation and Reason: New Essays in Reformed Apologetics (Philipsburg, NJ: P&R) 2007.]