Irenicum, to the lovers of truth and peace heart-divisions opened in the causes and evils of them : with cautions that we may not be hurt by them, and endeavours to heal them
Burroughs, Jeremiah, 1599-1646.


The evill of Divisions, They hinder much good.

EVsebius reports of Constantine,* That he was more troubled with the dissentions of the Church, then with all the warres in his dominions, that he took them so to heart, that he could not sleep quietly for them; yea, although he had a spirit full of heroick valour, yet the dissentions of the Church were such e∣vils to him, as to cause him to cry and sob: Thus he writes in an Epistle to Alexander and Arius,*Let me enjoy the dayes in peace, and the nights without molstation, that the pleasure which riseth out of the pure light of concord and quiet life, may hence∣forth inviolably be conserved; if it otherwise happen, it behoveth us to sob and sigh, and to shed many a salt teare.

What heart that hath any tendernesse in it, bleeds not in the sense of those sore & dreadful heart-divisions there are amongst us! The evill there is in them, is beyond what tongue or pen can expresse: Take a view of it under these three Heads.

  • 1. The good they hinder.
  • 2. The sinne they cause.
  • 3. The misery they bring.

First, the quiet, comfort, sweetnesse of our spirits is hindered by divisions: They put the spirit out of tune; men who heretofore have had sweet spirit full of ingenuity, since they have interessed themselves in these Divisions, have lost their sweetnesse, their ingenuity is gone. When the Bee stings, she leaves her sting behinde her, and never gathers Honey more; men by stinging one another, doe not lose their stings, but they lose their honey, they are never like to have that sweetnesse in their hearts, that heretofore they had, Page  190 Shall I lose my sweetnesse, sayes the Fig-tree, and goe to be pro∣moted over the trees? Why doest thou not reason thus with thy spirit? Shall I lose my sweetnesse in contending, to get my will to be above others? God sorbid. There was a time that both my my selfe and others found much sweetnesse in the temper of spirit; there was nothing but peaceablenesse, quiet, calmnesse, contentednesse in it, and how comfortable was such a temper of spirit! me thought when my spirit was in that sweet frame, all things were sweet to me; but since I have been interested in quarrels and contentions, it hath beene farre otherwise with me. Prov. 15. 4. Perversnesse in the tongue causes a breach in the spirit. Contentions cause much perversnesse in mens tongues, and this causes a breach in their spirits. Your contending costs you deare: though it were in nothing else, yet the losse of this sweetnesse of spirit makes it very costly to you. All the wrong that you should have put up if you had not contended, had not been so great an evil to you, as this one thing is. There is nothing more contrary to ingenuity then quarrelsomnesse. It is repor∣ted of Melancthon, that when he was to dye he had this speech, and Strigelius at his death had the same:*I desire to depart this life for two causes: First, that I may enjoy the desired sight of the Sonne of God, and the Church in heaven. Secondly, that I may be delivered from the fierce and implacable hatred of Divines. There was much disputing, contending, quarrelling in those times, which was so tedious to the spirits of these good men, as it made them the willinger to dye, that they might be where their souls should be at rest. That Saint of God old M. Dod, never loved to meddle with controversies; he gave that reason, He found his heart the worse when he did. Men seldome come away from hot disputes, or any other contentions, but their spirits are altered for the worse. They finde it so, and others finde it in them. If a man has beene abroad, and met with company with whom he hath been contending, his wife, children, servants, finde that he comes not home with the same spirit that he went out with.

[ 2] Secondly, they hinder the freedome of a mans spirit, which a wise man sets a high price upon: the strength of many mens spirits is spent in contentions, they have no command of them to any thing 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, Page  191 he wishes he had never medled with it, he is weary of it, but knowes not how to come off fairely. I have read of Francis the first, King of France, consulting with his Captaines how to lead his Army over the Alpes, into Italy, whether this way or that way; Amarill his Foole sprung out of a corner where he sate unseene, and bad them rather take care which way they should bring their Army out of Italy back again. It is easie for one to interest himselfe in quarrels, but the difficulty is to be disengaged from them when you are in.

Thirdly, they hinder the good of the body; many men con∣tending [ 3] with their Brethren are so full of stomach, that they have no stomach, they hinder their sleep; men lye tossing up & downe a great part of the night, sometimes whole nights, mu∣sing, plodding and contriving, how they may make their party good, what advantages they may get of those they contend with. Have the thoughts about the breach sinne hath made be∣tween God and thy soul,* broke thy sleep so much as the thoughts of breaches between thee and thy neighbours and brethren? We reade of Moses, Deut. 34. 7. that he was an hundred and twenty yeeres old when he died, his eye was not dimme, nor his natu∣rall force abated. Some give this to be one reason of such a won∣derfull preservation of his health and strength, the meeknesse of his spirit: God witnesses of him, Numb. 12. 3. That he was the meekest man upon the face of the earth. That good old man Mr. Dod came very neere to Moses in the one and in the other.

Fourthly, they hinder mens judgements: if the water be mud∣die, we cannot see what lies at the bottome. These dissentions disturb the medium of our sight: you cannot weigh gold in the middest of blustring windes: you cannot consider and give a judgement upon truth, except the heart be calme. Gregory Na∣zianzen hath this similitude: As the earth, sayes he, is fixed to men whose braines and eyes are sound, but to those who have a vertigo in their heads it seems to turne round: so we are decei∣ved in our apprehensions of things,* we have not the same judg∣ment of things when we love, and when we doe not love.

Fiftly, they hinder the sweetnesse of Christian converse and [ 5] communion: you know your communion with the Saints was wont to be farre more sweet then now it is: ye were wont to have your hearts spring at the sight of one another: Ipse aspectus Page  192 boni viri delectat, sayes Seneca, The very sight of a good man de∣lights, the sight of a godly man was wont to delight us other∣wise then now it does: you look one upon another now sowre∣ly, with lowring countenance, and withdraw from one another: your comforts were wont to be double, treble, seven fold, an hundred fold, according to that society of Saints you conversed withall; one godly man accounted it the joy of his heart, that he had any thing that he could communicate to another godly man, and the other had the like joy that he had any thing to communicate to him; thus comforts were multiplyed; but now your comforts are single, Oh the sweetnesse, the sutablenesse there was wont to be in the spirits of Christians! Shall I say su∣tablenesse? it was a blessed onenesse of heart: they did as it were exchange soules one with another every day; their soules did close claspe one with, and cleave one to another. Oh how did they love to open their hearts one to another! what delight was there in pouring forth their spirits one into another! What cheerfulnesse was there wont to be in their meeting! they eate their bread together with singlenesse 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 one from another with their soules bound up one in another; their hearts warmed, enlarged, resolved, strengthened in Gods waies. But now they cannot meet together but they fall a jarring, con∣tending one with another, and part with spirits estranged from, sowred, and imbittered one against another: their hearts weak∣ned, and more unsetled in the things of God then before. Here∣tofore when they were absent one from another, yet the remem∣brance one of another was joyfull; but these dayes seeme to be gone. Where is there that opening of secrets one to another as formerly? every one is afraid of another. What sweet visits were there wont to be? what bearing one anothers burdens? what heart-encouraging Letters? It was with the Saints as in Tertullins time,* Christians called Brethren, and were ready to dye for one another: but now they are burdens to one anothers spirits, they bring evils one upon another. Those who heretofore were forward Professors, whose society was onely amongst the Saints, now they can suit well enough with those who are carnal, they close with them, their converse is most amongst them. Page  193 Oh Lord, what fire is it that is kindled amongst us! The nature of fire is, Congregare homogenea, & segregare heterogenea, to gather things of a like nature together, and separate things of a different: but our fire does quite contrary, it separates things that are Homogeneall, and joyns things Heterogeneall. Surely this is no other then the fire of hell.

Sixthly, they hinder our time. Abundance of time is spent [ 6] about our divisions, which we are not able to give account to God for. When men are engaged in contentions, they will fol∣low them night and day, whatsoever business be neglected, to be sure that must not: yea the choice of our time that was wont to be spent in meditation, reading, prayer, is now spent in con∣tending and wrangling. Those retired times that we were wont to converse with God in, are now spent in the workings of our thoughts about our divisions; and when we come abroad then a great part of our time is taken up in going first to this body, and then to the other, to help forward and foment matter of di∣vision. Of all the time of a mans life, that time that is spent in lawing and quarrelling is the worst, and happy it were for many that it might not be reckoned amongst the days, weeks, or mo∣neths of their lives.

Seventhly, they hinder our prayers. If two or three agree to∣gether [ 7] touching any thing they shall aske, it shall be done for them by my Father, sayes Christ, Mat. 18. 18. 1 Tim. 2. 8. I will that men pray, lifting up their hands without wrath. When Daniel was in a strait, he goes to his companions, and desires them to lift up prayers to God for him, Dan. 2. 17. There was a a sweet agreement between them. Hence their stock and trade in prayer went in common, but divisions do exceedingly hinder prayer, either one with another, or one for another. 1 Pet. 3. 7. the Apostle giving rules for a peaceable loving life between man & wife, the woman must be meek, and the man live with his wife as a man of knowledge; and they must walk together as the heires of life. Why so? That your prayers may not bee hindred. Private contentions in families are great hindrances of family-prayers: So our publick divisions and contentions are the great hindrances of the prayers of Christians in a more pub∣lick way. How were they wont to pour forth their hearts in prayer together? then their hearts closed, but now it is other∣wise. Page  194 Men do not walk now together as the heirs of life, there∣fore their prayers are hindred. God accepts not of 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 reconciliati∣on be made. It is the Spirit of God in the Saints that is the spirit of prayer: now Gods Spirit is a Dove-like, meek, quiet, and peaceable spirit.

[ 8] Eighthly, they hinder the use of our gifts: When Vessels are sowred 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 sowre vinegar spirits, that they are of little or no use in Church and Common-wealth.

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 hath 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, strengthning, comforting: No, their hearts are estranged from them, they care not to have any thing to do with them: but do you think, that you are so far your own men, that you may keep in, or imploy your talents as you please? Are you not the Stewards of Christ, are they not given to you for the edification of your Brethren, as well as for good to your selves? Can this satisfie your consciences? such a one differs from you, he hath angred you, therefore though you have opportunity of being useful to him, yet you refuse it, as if it were at your liberty to lay out your abilities for good, or not, Certainly, this is not according to the mind of Christ. 1 Cor. 12. 7. The manifestation of the spirit is given to every man to pro∣fit withall.

3. If you do make use of your gifts for the good of others, yet dissentions between you will hinder the profit of them, you are not like to do any good by them, except they be carryed on by the oyl of love, they wil not soak into mens hearts. When did you ever know a wrangling contentious Minister (though his gifts were never so excellent) do good amongst his people? And what comfort can a man have of his life, if he be laid aside by God as a useless man?

Page  195 4. These divisions cause men to make the gifts of others useless to themselves, whereas God puts opportunity into mens hands, to get much good by those excellent gifts their Bre∣thren have, yet if there be any difference between them, ei∣ther they will not acknowledge the gifts of GOD in them, or otherwise they have no mind to receive from them that good they might have, because their hearts are not with them.

Ninthly, they hinder our graces; how little of God and [ 9] Christ, little spiritualness appears in Professours of Religion since these rents and divisions have been amongst us, in compari∣son of what in former times hath appeared. As the members of the body (sayes Augustine) are not quickned, except they be joyned, so even the members of Christ do not receive of the quickning vertue of Christ, except they be joyned: Here is the reason of the deadness, coldness, emptiness, barrenness, vanity of your spirits, you are not joyned: O where are the heavenly Christians that were wont to be, those humble, those holy gra∣cious soules, who lived by faith, who were able to deny them∣selves, their whole lives were nothing else but a continuall ex∣ercise of self-denyall, who were not onely patient, but joyfull under afflictions? Where are those watchfull Christians who walked close with God, who enjoyed such spirituall communion with him, as made their faces shine in their holy heavenly con∣versations? Where are those tender, broken-hearted Christians that were wont to be, who lived upon the Word, to whom the Word was more sweet then honey and the honey comb? Now there is another kind of face of Professours of Religion, as if there were godliness in these dayes, not of the same kind with that which was formerly. If our fore-fathers, who were the most holy and gracious, should rise againe, they would not own those for Professours of Religion who now make a great noyse, keep a great stirr about Religion, as if they had got up higher then their fore-fathers had, and yet are loose, vain, fro∣thy, false in their way. Certainly, those holy, gracious Saints, whom these new Professours sleight, were they alive, they would abominate them, as the great disgrace of, and dishonour to Jesus Christ and his Saints.

Take but away their disputes, and for any else, how empty Page  196 and dry are they? If they ever had any grace, it is under a deal of rubbish, we cannot see it, and can these men be any other but an empty vine, seeing their hearts are so divided? The gra∣ces that they seemed to have had, are quite blasted; and if there were any in truth,* they are exceedingly weakned; Vinegar will dissolve Pearls. Pliny tells of Cleopatra Queen of Egypt, that in her wanton bravery, at a Supper she made for Marcus Antonius, she dissolv'd a Pearl in Vinegar, and drank it off, and prepared another, both which were valued worth neer five thousand pounds: Oh the many precious Pearls worth thou∣sands of gold and silver, that are dissolv'd by the Vinegar sowre∣ness of mens spirits in these sharp dissentions that are a∣mongst us!

[ 10] Our Divisions hinder the breaking forth of the lustre, the shine of Religion in the beauty and glory of it.

The fire of our contentions raises such a smoak, that it all besmothers us, it takes away our comliness, it makes us look black, no amiableness appears in the wayes of Religion to con∣vince men of the excellency of them. Scratch'd faces, rent and torn garments we account a shame to us; distracted, divided spirits, rending and tearing one another, and from one ano∣ther in our divided wayes, O how uncomely doth it render 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 then mad men, for making holes in whole cloth, which time of it self would tear too soon: the cuts, rents, 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 that do behold us.

[ 11] Our Divisions hinder our strength; If you untwist a Cable, how weak is it in the severall parts of it? a threefold cord is not easily broken, but a single one is: Divide a strong current into severall rivelets, and how shallow and weak will the course of the water be? That act that Plutarch reports to the King of Scythia, Scilurus, toward his Sons hath been very famous, to set out how divisions weaken wheresoever they are; he sayes 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, Page  197 bidding each of them to break it; they all answered, it was impossible for any man to do it;* then he causes 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 speaks to his Sonnes thus, If ye agree together, ye shall abide strong and unconquerable; but if ye divide your selves, con∣tending one with another, ye will be weak and easily over∣come.

They hinder our doing good in publick; that which concerns [ 12] many, must be done by many: But how can two, much less many, walk together, if they be 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 buil∣ding Babel, he comes down and confounds their tongues, so as they could not joyn together in it: Thus when the De∣vill would hinder the work of Jerusalem, he knows no way more likely then by dividing the hearts of those who are employed, if he can possibly, that thereby he might bring con∣fusion.

They hinder our own ends; none are more crossed in their [ 13] ends and designes, then contentious people; we have not the mutuall benefits of one anothers Estates, Houses, the many ways of accommodation and help for one another, as heretofore we were wont to have; now every man shifts for himselfe; scarce any man who knew what the heartiness of friendship meant, enjoyes those outward accommodations as he was wont.

They hinder the blessing of God, Psalm. 133. The Psalmist [ 14] commending the love of Brethren concludes, 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 then life, and this life for evermore. God dwels in Salem, sayes Lu∣ther, not in Babylon; where there is peace, not where there is confusion.

Lastly, yea they hinder all good. They are like the Torrid [ 15] Zone, nothing can prosper under it. When the Dog-star rises no plants thrive as an other times. When a fire is kindled in a Page  198 Town, the bels ring backward. When fires of contention are kindled in places, all things go awke. There is little joy in any thing.

Thus you see how great evill there is in our divisions in respect of what good we lose by them: now then consider whether it be possible that any gain we can get by them can recompense this loss; can any thing got by them quit the cost? But if it could be supposed our loss may be recompensed, yet I am sure nothing can countervail the evill there is in them, in respect of the sinfulness of them. That is the next head.