Jeremiah Burroughs, “Gospel Fear”

Burroughs, Jeremiah. Gospel Fear.  (Edited by Dr. Don Kistler. Orlando: Soli Deo Gloria Publications, 1991)

Gospel Fear or The Heart Trembling at the Word of God Evidences a Blessed Frame of Spirit

Delivered in several sermons from Isaiah 66:2 and 2 Kings 22:19

By Jeremiah Burroughs

To the Christian Reader:

“Luther said he could not live in paradise without the Word, but with the Word he could live in hell itself.” (viii)

“Ah, Christians, your hearts are never in so good a frame, so safe a frame, so sweet a frame, so happy a frame, so gospel a frame as when they are in a trembling frame…” (ix)

“So when a child of God fixes one eye upon the holiness and justice of God he trembles; and when at the same time he fixes his other eye upon the patience, the goodness, the graciousness, and readiness of God to forgive as a Father, he loves and joys.” (xii)

Sermon 1: (preached November 19th, 1643) “A Heart That Trembles at God’s Word is Precious in God’s Eyes”

“Junius was that famous divine whose works we have as a great blessing to the church.  He reports that before his conversion he was an atheist, but, on a rainy day, ‘I came home to my house and saw a New Testament lying before me.  I took it up, and there I met with that first chapter in John (which is a chapter that is as full of majesty as any), and I took the book and fell a reading: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.”’ And indeed, if you read the chapter you shall find that chapter goes on with an abundance of majesty. ‘Upon reading this,’ he says, ‘my body trembled, my soul presently was amazed, and for all the day I did not know where I was.  I was struck with such horror and amazement that it shook every joint of me and my heart trembled within me, and I knew not where I was all the day long.’” (14)

“Now there is a great deal of reverence to be given to the Word.  If a prisoner comes to be sentenced for his life, he looks upon those who are in power with a trembling heart, though he knows himself not to be guilty, and hopes the jury will give a good verdict.  Aye, but when he looks upon the jury and thinks, ‘These are the men who must sentence me for my life,’ he cannot but tremble.  So if you understand what the infinite consequence of an eternal estate is, you cannot but tremble at it.  When you take up the Book of God, this is the book that must cast you for your eternal estate.  Therefore, it is a Word to be trembled at.” (17)

Sermon 2: (Preached May 26, 1644) “What True Sanctified Trembling Is”

“God looks upon the heart that trembles at His Word with affection.  That heart is very lovely in God’s eye.” (25)

“…this heart not only fears the threats of God’s wrath, but fears the evil of departure from God, and the loss of the presence of God, the loss of the enjoyment of communion with God, to be forever cast out from the Lord, never to see His face or to enjoy any good in Him.  This the Word reveals, and this the soul trembles at as well as at hell.” (29)

“The more fear there is of God’s Word, the less fear there will be of any creature in the world.  It is the only way to free you from all fears whatsoever.” (36)

“Now the truth is that the Lord is more honored by a heart trembling at His Word than by a heart trembling at any manifestation of Himself in all His works.” (40)

Sermon 3: (Preached June 2, 1664) “The Application of the Doctrine”

“There are none fit, indeed, to hear the Word but such as have the fear of God upon them.” (44)

“If this is such a disposition that God so looks at, it should teach the ministers of God who have to deal with God’s Word that when they speak it, they must speak it in such a manner that it may gain fear and trembling, that the hearts of people may be struck with fear and trembling. They must not come to dally and to play with men’s fancies, nor with their own wit; but when they come to speak the Word of God, in God’s name, they should labor to speak it so that the hearts of their listeners may be struck with fear and trembling.  For, indeed, there is such a way of speaking the Word of God that will bring it with majesty to the hearts of the people to whom we speak.” (46)

“Those who write of Basil and Chrysostom, those two famous preachers in their time, tell us that these men did not account their honors to be in the hums of people, in their applause, but in their crying out, ‘What shall I do to be saved?’” (47)

“You wonder why some men are strict in their ways, why they will suffer anything in the world rather than go against any one sentence in the Word.  You wonder at it.  Why, because you do not see so much majesty and authority in God’s Word; your hearts have not been struck with fear and trembling.  But they see such a majesty and fear in the Word that they dare not go against it.  They would rather endure any evil in the world than go against the Word.  They are not do as you dare.” (47-48)

“In nature they say that the trembling of the heart is a disease. But in divinity it is no disease, but a very gracious disposition.” (48)

“God has pleasure in His own glory.  He is resolved that He will have glory to His name from every creature.  But God would rather have His glory from our souls in an active way than to force glory from us in a passive way.  And, therefore, if you have a heart to give glory to Him in an active way, you need not fear that God will force out His glory in a passive way.” (49)

“This disposition of your heart in trembling at God’s Word is accepted instead of obedience.  Though you cannot obey God’s Word as you would, yet the Lord will spare you.  That soul who finds many weaknesses, and is not able to obey many truths of God that it hears revealed in the Word, yet, if it trembles at it, peace be to that soul.” (51)

“Be sure that there is a time coming when the Lord will make His Word honorable before all the world, and, therefore, happy are those who tremble at it now in reverencing it.  Surely their hearts will be filled with comfort when God shall come and honor it before all the world.” (54)

“There are two things that wise men should never jest at: those who are in misery and holy things.” (58)

Sermon 4: (Preached June 9, 1644)  “A Tender Heart”

“‘Because thine heart was tender [or melted], and thou hast humbled thyself before the Lord, when thou hearest what I spake against this place, and against the inhabitants thereof, that they should become a desolation and a curse, and hast rent thy clothes, and wept before Me, I also have heard thee,’ saith the Lord.” – 2 Kings 22:19

“There are two gracious dispositions of the soul whereby the name of God is sanctified in the hearing of His Word: first, a trembling heart; second, a melting heart.” (63)

“…a heart truly sensible of the evil of sin cannot be at rest until it knows further God’s mind towards it, but it will be inquiring by all means possible to further know the mind of God concerning it.  ‘How can I sleep quietly when I perceive that wrath is out against me, until I know whether God is reconciled to me or not?’ This was the case of Josiah.” (66-67)

“First, when the Lord is pleased to humble any soul, He can do it with very little pains.
“Second, it is very acceptable to God for the souls of people immediately to relent and yield and humble themselves as soon as they hear God’s displeasure made out against them.” (72)

“When God is pleased to work upon the heart of a sinner, a very little matter will make his heart relent and yield to God.” (73)

“…when the Lord’s time comes to gain the heart of a man or woman, the least thing in the world will do then.  He will come in immediately.” (74)

“It may be that some of you are going on in sinful ways, and you have heard much against them, but your hearts are not stirred.  But if the Lord’s time has come, it takes but one look upon you to open your eyes; you need but one view of that God whom you have sinned against, and the thing will be done.” (74)

“The Lord may stand knocking at the door of your soul again and again, from time to time, and yet you may have one excuse or another to put Him off.  But when God’s time comes, He gives but one touch to your heart and the thing is done.” (75)

“It may be a use of a great deal of encouragement to all the ministers of God to preach to people.  It may be that sometimes even they are discouraged, and think to themselves, ‘Lord, how hard are the hearts of men, and how difficult it is to work upon the hearts of men! I have labored with all my might. I have studied and sought to invent all the arguments I possibly could, the most moving arguments that I could possibly imagine.  When I have been in my study, I have thought to myself, “Surely if the Lord is pleased to bless these truths that I am to deliver, they will work upon the hearts of people.”’  And when it comes to the preaching of that sermon, perhaps the minister finds that they are not at all stirred one whit.  ‘Why, Lord, what shall I do then? I cannot think ever to speak things that are more powerful than those that I have spoken, and those have done no good.  Therefore I am afraid I shall never do good.’” (80)

“Therefore, let ministers go on and sow their seed and preach still.  That which they have spoken (perhaps they have been delivering arguments that they thought would have moved the heart of a devil) has been opening the miserable condition of men and opening the riches of Jesus Christ.  Well, there must be no discouragement; go on and sow your seed in the morning, and in the evening withhold not your hand.  Go on and preach again and again, and let the Word of God be presented before the hearts of people.  Though it has not wrought at one time, yet it may work at another time.” (81)

Sermon 5: (Preached June 15, 1644) “Use and Application”

            “…Because thine heart was tender…” – 2 Kings 22:19

“…first: a tender heart is such a heart as easily yields to God, yield’s to God’s touch.” (98)

“Second….The heart of flesh is such a heart as is sensitive to what is said to it; it is sensitive to God’s displeasure.” (99)

“Third, it is also sensitive to its own vileness and wretchedness, so that it even loathes itself before the Lord.” (99)

  1. “Yea, likewise it is sensitive to al of God’s mercies, sensitive to all its unkindnesses against God, and all the kindness it receives from God.  The kindness of God breaks this heart and melts it.” (100)
  2. “Likewise, this heart is very sensitive to the mercy of others.  ‘Why should some of our brethren be in a harder condition than we are? We are as unworthy as they!’” (100)
  3. “Yea, a tender heart is both yieldable and searchable without any great noise.” (100)

“Fourth, it is such a heart as will take any impression from God or be cast into any mold that God would have it.” (101)

Sermon 6: (Preached June 23, 1644)
“The Preciousness of a Tender Heart”

            “…Because thine heart was tender…” – 2 Kings 22:19

“Does your heart begin to melt to God? Surely this comes from God’s heart melting towards you first, and that in the way of the covenant of grace.” (103)

“Now when we come to receive the sacrament, we come to have communion with Jesus Christ so that we receive of His fullness – and especially we come to have the seal of the covenant of grace set upon our hearts, for that’s the nature of a sacrament.  It is the seal of the righteousness of faith.  Now what fitter disposition of heart for a seal could there be than a soft heart?” (107)

“Many poor sinners complain and are troubled that they can do very little for God.  But can you offer up to God a tender heart and a contrite spirit? I say, this is instead of all sacrifices whatever before Him.” (108-09)

“…a tender heart is a disposition that makes a man or woman a very useful member in the church or commonwealth.  It makes them a useful companion, for one who is of a tender spirit is always one who is very harmless.  A sour spirit is one who is very troublesome where he lives, but a tender spirit yields to anything, if God shows him the reason.  He is of a quiet and gentle disposition.  Such a one is very sensible of the public good or public evil.  One who is of a tender spirit is as sensible of the good of others many times as of his own.  Come and propound anything to him that concerns the glory of God or the public good, and you will make him immediately sensible of it because he is of a tender spirit.  Whereas if you come to someone else and propound anything to him that does not concern their flesh and the satisfying of it, you cannot make them sensible of it.  But a tender spirit is sensible of anything you propound to him for God or for the good of others.  That’s the excellency of a tender spirit.” (109-110)

“…the Lord is exceedingly tender towards one who is of a tender heart in the time of his affliction… The Lord is as sensible of your condition as you are sensible of your burden.” (113)

“And be comforted in this: Jesus Christ’s sorrows are for you.  You have your portion in the sorrows of Jesus Christ.  You are of a mournful spirit yourself, but know that you must not rest in the tenderness of your heart, but rather look up to Christ who was of tender spirit.” “And the tenderness that is in your heart, if it is true, is but as the oil that came from Aaron’s head down to his garments, from Christ your Head down to His members.  Christ was one who was of a very tender spirit, and the tenderness that was in Christ is yours.  He was tender upon earth, and He is as tender now, and will be at the Day of Judgment, as of tender a heart as ever.  In this your soul should rejoice and be comforted.
“‘But, O Lord, did I but know that those comforts belonged to me, is it not possible to apply them too soon and be presumptuous?’
“I shall give you but one note that you may infallibly come to know whether these shall belong to you or not: Does the hearing of these things and the applying of these things upon your heart make your heart more tender, and mollify your heart the more towards God?  Do you find that, upon hearing this, you can have your heart made more tender by it, and not go away more hardened?  Do you find that upon this you can feel your heart to be so affected as to be more humbled, and the more to loathe and abhor yourselves before the Lord, the more you hear that the Lord looks upon you with an eye of acceptance?  Certainly, then, it belongs to you.  It is your portion and you may take it safely.”  (117-18)

Sermon 7: (Preached June 30, 1644) “Maintaining a Tender Heart”

“Take heed of earthliness and worldliness, of letting your heart go too much after lawful things.  It will harden your heart.  Though the things themselves are lawful, yet, if you let out your heart immoderately after them, you will in time grow earthly, stupid, and senseless.” (127)

“It is a grievous misery to be sick of a gall or kidney stone.  Oh, how dreadful are the shriekings of men who have a stone in the bladder or kidneys; but to have a stone in the heart is a great deal worse than to have a stone in your bladder.  And if you were acquainted with the things of God, you would account a hard heart even a greater misery.” (130)

“Nothing works upon a hard heart.  You think that if Christ were alive now and was on the face of the earth again, and we saw Him work miracles, then our hearts would be brought in.  No, if you had been alive among those Jews and had seen Christ and the miracles that He did, they would never have worked upon you with this heart.  A hard heart will stand out against all means of grace whatsoever.” (131)

1647: “Again, surely the hearts of men are mighty hard.  This appears in that they can so easily come into God’s presence, confess their sin before God, and judge themselves worthy to be destroyed for their sin, and yet go away and live in their sin after all this.  Here is the most dreadful hardness of heart, and how ordinary is this at this time!” (136)

“What! Come into God’s presence and open our sins, and yet not set ourselves against them with all our might?  Surely, our hearts are very hardened before the Lord.” (137)

“There may be a softness of heart that may come from softness of nature.  There may be some flashy workings of heart by hearing the Word.  There may be some sensibleness of the heart by the knowledge of the Law.

“As for the first, a plum or a cherry may be soft without, but hard within.  Second, we know that ice may be thawed in the day and frozen again in the night.  And, third, for the terrors of the Law, we know that the marblestone may melt in wet weather and, as it were, trickle down with tears, but be a stone still.   Finis.”  (138)

The Life of Jeremiah Burroughs (1599-1646) – Dr. Don Kistler

“Richard Baxter, who knew his great worth, said, ‘If all the Episcopalians had been like Archbishop Usher, all the Presbyterians like Stephen Marshall, and all the Independents like Jeremiah Burroughs, the breaches of the church would soon have been healed.’ …The historian Granger says, ‘he was a man of learning, candor, and modesty, and of an exemplary and irreproachable life.’” (141)

 

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