Category Archives: Anthony Burgess

Confess your sins to one another (part 5)

I am grateful for my friend Travis who is working diligently to produce an electronic copy of the great (and forgotten) Puritan book: Anthony Burgess, Spiritual Refining, part 2. To commemorate his progress I wanted to post one of the many quotes that stand out in this priceless work. One especially fits in our series of learning to confess sins to one another.

This excerpt shows why, when we look for sermons to tickle our ears, we have thus failed to understand the purpose of the Word and preaching. The same is true of friendships.

Burgess writes,

“That one main end of the Word of God,
and preaching,
is to discover this deceitful heart.
It’s to make us know ourselves;
compared therefore to a glass,
that will show a deformed man all his unloveliness,
and this is a glass,
not to the face but the heart;
all those hidden and unknown lusts may there be brought to light.
And the Ministry that is compared to light;
as the sunbeams discover those many thousands of motes in the air,
which the darkness concealed;
thus the Ministry,
in a powerful and soul-saving way dispensed,
will make thee see thyself to be that beast,
that devil,
yea to have that dunghill,
that hell in thy heart,
thou didst not perceive:
look then for this benefit by preaching,
not what may fit thy ear,
may please thy fancy,
but what may discover the dark corners of thy soul,
what may bring glorious light into thy breast;
that thou mayest cry out;
O Lord, how long have I lived and did not know myself!
I thought all was well,
everything was in quiet;
but now I am like the Syrian army,
that being by the Prophet stricken blind,
and thought they were guided to their own camp,
as soon as ever they had their eyes opened,
they found themselves in the midst of the enemy’s camp:
Thus thy eyes being opened,
thou seest thyself to be in the power of all thy sins,
all thy enemies and the curses of God.”

- Anthony Burgess [d. 1664]
Spiritual Refining, Part II: A Treatise of Sin, pp. 19-20

O, that we would likewise no longer be superficial in our friendships but be willing to dive into difficult conversations for the purpose of discovering the “dark corners of thy soul.” Confess your sins to one another, Paul says. What an excellent standard for true friendship.

Personal sin and pastoral motive

Over 350 years ago a Christian named Anthony Burgess wrote a powerful book entitled Spiritual Refining, volume 2. It’s a book about the deceitfulness of sin (Jer. 17:9). I like it so much I began re-typesetting and updating the references. (So far the first three chapters are available here, more to come as time allows).

In it Burgess challenges his readers to take time to be still, and learn what is in their own hearts. This is how he put it,

“… the deceitfulness of the heart appears in those frequent and many commands to search the heart, to try it, ransack it and get to the bottom of it. Now if the heart was plain and open, if it had no depths, no secret windings, why would we need all these commands? You are commanded to make a private search as if for thieves and spies in your own heart. How often are these exhortations: ‘Let us test and examine our ways’ (Lam. 3:40); ‘Examine yourselves, to see whether you are in the faith … test yourselves’ (2 Cor. 13:5). A mining expert is careful to bring gold to the touchstone to see whether it is good or bad, so also Psalm 4:4, ‘ponder in your own hearts on your beds, and be silent.’ Dig into the heart and sweep it out with diligence just as the woman took a candle and swept her entire house to find her lost silver coin (Luke 15:8-10). Oh, the lusts and corruptions of the heart that do not appear at first but only appear after the second or third search. The lusts of your heart may lie in your heart like Achan’s wedge of gold, covered in earth and hid among other stuff (Jos. 7:21). You may live forty or more years and yet be a great stranger to your own heart, not knowing what sins lie there and what corruptions prevail over you. Therefore, Scripture presents as the first initial and preparative work of all commands to search our hearts. We must take time to be still, with much meditation and quietness making analysis and search into our hearts that those snakes and worms which lie underground may be brought to light. But how this duty is neglected! … To understand the motions of the planets and not of your own heart, or to know the natures and operations of herbs and plants, or to measure the dimensions of oceans but not study the depth and length and breadth of your own heart, is but a barren knowledge. We may say, ‘physician, heal yourself,’ ‘astronomer, measure your own heart,’ ‘philosopher, understand your own nature.’”

Surely, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?” (Jer. 17:9). It has been said of Sovereign Grace Ministries founder and leader, C.J. Mahaney that he is known for teaching his people to always be suspicious of their own hearts. We would do well to search the depths and remain suspicious of our own pastoral motives.

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