[Reformation Heritage Books has graciously provided this biographical and reprint essay on the life and works of John Flavel. You can find this information and others in the book, Meet the Puritans.]
Jeremiah Burroughs (c. 1600-1646)
Jeremiah Burroughs (or Burroughes) was baptized in 1601 and admitted as a pensioner at Emmanuel College, Cambridge, in 1617. He graduated with a Bachelor of Arts degree in 1621 and a Master of Arts degree in 1624. His tutor was Thomas Hooker.
Burroughs’s ministry falls into four periods, all of which reveal him as a zealous and faithful pastor. First, from about 1627 until 1631, he was assistant to Edmund Calamy at Bury St. Edmunds, Suffolk. Both men became members of the Westminster Assembly. Both men strongly opposed King James’s Book of Sports. Both refused to read the king’s proclamation in church that dancing, archery, vaulting, and other games were lawful recreations on the Lord’s Day.
Second, from 1631 to 1636, Burroughs was rector of Tivetshall, Norfolk, a church that still stands today. Despite the best efforts of his patron, Burroughs was suspended in 1636 and deprived in 1637 for refusing to obey the injunctions of Bishop Matthew Wren, especially regarding the reading of the Book of Sports, and the requirements to bow at the name of Jesus and to read prayers rather than speak them extemporaneously.
Third, from 1638 to 1640, Burroughs lived in the Netherlands, where he was teacher of a congregation of English Independents at Rotterdam, formerly ministered by William Ames. William Bridge was the pastor and Sidrach Simpson had established a second like-minded church in the city. Thus, three future dissenting brethren were brought together, all of whom would serve as propagandists for congregationalism later in the 1640s.
In the final period from 1640 to his death in 1646, Burroughs achieved great recognition as a popular preacher and a leading Puritan in London. He returned to England during the Commonwealth period and became pastor of two of the largest congregations in London: Stepney and St. Giles, Cripplegate. At Stepney, he preached early in the morning and became known as “the morning star of Stepney.” He was invited to preach before the House of Commons and the House of Lords several times. Thomas Brooks called him “a prince of preachers.”
As a member of the Westminster Assembly, Burroughs sided with the Independents, but he remained moderate in tone, acting in accord with the motto on his study door: Opinionum varietas et opinantium unitas non sunt hasustata (“variety of opinion and unity of opinion are not incompatible”). Richard Baxter said, “If all the Episcopalians had been like Archbishop Ussher, all the Presbyterians like Stephen Marshall, and all the Independents like Jeremiah Burroughs, the breaches of the church would soon have been healed.”
In 1644, Burroughs and several colleagues presented to Parliament their Apologetical Narration, which defended Independency. It attempted to steer a middle course between Presbyterianism, which they regarded as too authoritarian, and Brownism, which they regarded as too democratic. This led to division between the Presbyterians and Independents. Burroughs served on the committee of accommodation, which tried to reconcile the differences, but on March 9, 1646, he declared on behalf of the Independents that presbyteries were “coercive institutions.” Burroughs said he would rather suffer or emigrate than submit to presbyteries. Ultimately, the division between Presbyterians and Independents helped promote the cause of prelacy after the death of Oliver Cromwell.
Burroughs pursued peace to the end. He died in 1646, two weeks after a fall from his horse. The last subject on which he preached became his Irenicum to the Lovers of Truth and Peace, an attempt to heal divisions between believers. Many of his friends believed that church troubles hastened his death. Burroughs was a prolific writer, highly esteemed by Puritan leaders of his day, some of whom published his writings after his death. Nearly all of his books are compilations of sermons.
The Evil of Evils, or The Exceeding Sinfulness of Sin (SDG; 345 pages; 1999).
This book, first printed in 1654, consists of sixty-seven short chapters that expose sin and urge believers to choose affliction over sin. Burroughs organizes his material around seven major thoughts: (1) there is more evil in the least sin than in the greatest affliction; (2) sin and God are contrary to each other; (3) sin is directly against our good; (4) sin opposes all that is good; (5) sin is the evil of all other evils; (6) sin has infinite dimension and character; and (7) sin makes us comfortable with the devil. Evil of Evils is invaluable for sensitizing our consciences to the “exceeding sinfulness of sin” (cf. Rom. 7:13).
The Excellency of a Gracious Spirit (SDG; 260 pages; 1995).
Based on Numbers 14:24 (“Caleb was of another spirit; he followed God fully”), this book is divided into two parts: (1) what this gracious spirit is, and (2) what it means to follow God fully. Burroughs says we must strive to live in the fear of the Lord to depart from evil and draw closer to Him. Living out of godly fear is the sum and substance of a gracious spirit.
An Exposition of the Prophecy of Hosea (SDG; 699 pages; 1990).
This mammoth exposition of Hosea is one of Burroughs’s finest works. This edition is a facsimile reprint of the 1863 James Sherman edition. Burroughs died before finishing the work, but two of his closest friends, Thomas Hall and Edward Reynolds, finished the commentary. Spurgeon called this work “masterly,” noting that it is “a vast treasure-house of experimental exposition.” No work on Hosea has since superseded this commentary.
Gospel Conversation (SDG; 310 pages; 1995).
This masterful treatise deals with the right living of believers. It includes seven sermons on Philippians 1:27 (“Let your conversation be as becometh the gospel of Christ”), three on John 18:36 (“My kingdom is not of this world”), and a sermon on Exodus 14:13, titled “The Saints’ Duty in Times of Extremity.”
Burroughs moves the reader to mourn his alienated state and yearn for the spring of holiness, union, and communion with Christ. He stresses there can be no works of sanctification before union with Christ. But once in Christ, the Christian must give evidence of that union by fervently pursuing the pious life to which God calls him. Good works are dangerous if they are made the foundation of justification, but are necessary and useful in sanctification. The conversation and conduct of believers must be on a higher plane than that of unbelievers.
Gospel Fear: Developing a Tender Heart that Trembles at the Word of God (SDG; 147 pages; 2001).
The concept of reverence has nearly been forgotten in our day, even by many who regard themselves as Christians. We are irreverent because we are ignorant of God and His holiness. As Burroughs writes, “The reason men worship God in a slight way is because they do not see God in His glory.” These sermons (on Isaiah 66:2, “he that trembleth at my word” and on 2 Kings 22:19, “because thine heart was tender”) are a corrective to prevailing ignorance. The entire volume shows our need for reverence and awe towards God and His Word.
Gospel Reconciliation (SDG; 379 pages; 1997).
There is no more important issue for any one than how to be right with God. In this treatise of eighty-one chapters on 2 Corinthians 5:19, 20 (“God was in Christ reconciling the world unto himself”), Burroughs answers questions about reconciliation. Christ’s atoning work is the only way for fallen sinners to be reconciled with God, for a finite creature can never satisfy the justice of an infinite God. Burroughs explains the consequences of our reconciliation in Christ, showing that this reconciliation is a deep mystery, that it is free, sure, full, honorable, firm, and eternal, but also a difficult work, for we are only saved by divine accomplishment, not by human achievement.
Gospel Remission (SDG; 310 pages; 1995).
Subtitled True Blessedness Consists in Pardon of Sin, this first-time reprint consists of a series of sermons on Psalm 32:1, which Burroughs preached after finishing his masterpiece on sin, The Evil of Evils. As a tender pastor, Burroughs knew that after hearing about the deadly nature of sin, his congregation would need to hear about the remission of sins offered in the gospel. Burroughs covers five areas of forgiveness: (1) the many gospel mysteries in remission; (2) the glorious effects proceeding from remission; (3) the great mistakes made about remission; (4) the true signs and symptoms of remission; and (5) the ways and means to obtain remission. Burroughs stresses the dishonor done to God by not resting on the mercy of His remission.
Gospel Worship (SDG; 400 pages; 1990).
Subtitled The Right Manner of Sanctifying the Name of God in General, this treatise on Leviticus 10:1-3 is a call to propriety and sobriety in the worship of God. It deals with the believer’s sanctification through “three great ordinances”: (1) hearing the Word, (2) receiving the Lord’s Supper, and (3) prayer. In a day that promotes man-made forms of worship, Gospel Worship is a call to biblical worship of the Triune God through the means that He has instituted. Burroughs shows how important worship is to God and teaches us how to “give unto the Lord the glory due unto his name” (Ps. 29:2). He makes plain that we do not need new forms of worship to be relevant, but to renew old forms of worship.
Hope (SDG; 150 pages; 2005).
This treatise on 1 John 3:3, “And every man that hath this hope in him purifieth himself,” first establishes that every believer is a hopeful person; second, explains that where true hope resides, it will purge the heart; and third, provides ten ways in which believers can purify themselves by hope. Burroughs also shows the origin, object, and ground of hope. The book concludes with an exhortation to put away sin. This is a timely, succinct masterpiece for our impure world, lost in sin and full of despair.
Appendixed to Hope is a 63-page sermon by Burroughs on the misery of those who have hope only in this life, based on Psalm 17:14b, “From men of the world, which have their portion in this life.”
Irenicum to the Lovers of Truth and Peace (SDG; 440 pages; 1998).
Subtitled, Heart-divisions opened in the causes and evils of them, with cautions that we may not be hurt by them, and endeavors to heal them, this volume contains the last sermons Burroughs preached before his death. Burroughs pleads for unity among his brethren, addresses the issues that seriously divided believers in his day, and offers practical ways to promote unity. He explains when one should plead his conscience, provides rules to know in what areas we are to bear with our brethren, and shows that “every difference in religion is not a differing religion.” He discusses the role of pride, self-love, envy, anger, rigidity, rashness, willfulness, inconsistency, jealousy, contentiousness, covetousness, and gossip in division. He concludes that the answer for division does not lie in blanket tolerance of all religions nor in a compromising attitude towards sin, but in a biblical striving for peace. Given the divisiveness of Christians in all generations, this treatise is extremely applicable.
The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment (BTT; 228 pages; 2000).
In this book on contentment (Philippians 4:1, “I have learned in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content”), Burroughs presents two major themes: (1) peace among believers of various persuasions, and (2) peace and contentment in the hearts of believers during “sad and sinking times.”
Burroughs expounds what Christian contentment is (chap. 1), unveils its mystery (chaps. 2-4), shows how Christ teaches it (chaps. 5-6), and describes ten of its fruits (chap. 7). He then addresses the evils and aggravations of discontentment (chaps. 8-11). He concludes by showing how to attain contentment (chaps. 12-13). This classic provides numerous practical remedies for the spiritual disease of discontent.
The Saints’ Happiness (SDG; 264 pages; 1988).
This book offers a detailed exposition of the Beatitudes in forty-one sermons. Though Burroughs does not match Thomas Watson in popular appeal or Robert Harris in exegetical skill on the Beatitudes, his work is a significant contribution for proper understanding of these important marks of spiritual life.
The Saints’ Treasury (SDG; 175 pages; 1994).
This is a compilation of five sermons on the holiness of God, Christ as all in all, faith’s enjoyment of heavenly things, the natural man’s bondage to the law and the believer’s liberty by the Gospel, and preparation for judgment.
A Treatise of Earthly-Mindedness (SDG; 220 pages; 1998).
A timely reprint for our earthly-minded age, this book contains two treatises: a serious warning against the evils of being earthly minded; an explanation on how to “get our hearts free from earthly-mindedness”; and a discussion on what it means to be heavenly-minded, with an accent on living godly in Christ Jesus. Several chapters deal with how to foster heavenly conversation and a heavenly walk.