The Evil of Earthly-Mindedness

If one characteristic could describe the Puritan movement as a whole—apart from their personal piety—I believe it would be the Puritans’ ability to penetrate both heart and mind. Their knack for bringing conviction to the stubborn, hope to the hopeless, and relief to the weary and heavy-laden ought to serve as the gold standard for any who aspire to the ministry of the Word. Oh, that gospel minsters in the modern day would speak to the heart as the Puritans did in theirs! Truly, these men were among the ablest students and physicians of the soul that the church has ever known.

In his incisive treatise, The Evil of Earthly-Mindedness, Jeremiah Burroughs flexes this surgeon-like precision as he dissects and exposes the foolishness of setting one’s mind on earthly things, directing the reader’s attention to a nobler and higher end—contemplation of heaven above and of our Lord Christ Jesus. In effect, Burroughs calls on the reader to obey the Apostle Paul’s injunction to the believers in Colossi:

“If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God” (Col 3:1-3).[1]

Christians are at their best when their minds are elsewhere—heaven must be in them before they are in heaven.[2]

If ever the world needed to heed Burroughs’s warning against the dangers of earthly mindedness, now is the time. We live in a sensualistic, materialistic, and distracted age. Consequently, Christians must be on guard against Satan’s many pernicious attempts to lure them away from the kingdom of light and bring them captive into the kingdom of darkness.

Against Satan’s enticements, I offer just one of Burroughs’s many insights wherein he pulls back the veil of earthly-mindedness and exposes it for how evil and foolish it truly is.

Burroughs writes,

The things of the world are not adequate objects to their hearts… By an adequate object, I mean that which is sufficient to take up the whole strength of the soul to lay it out fully. I’ll give you this example to show you what I mean by an adequate object. You have a child playing sports. This sport has as much in it as there is in his spirit; there is a kind of equality between his spirit and such a sport. A child receives enough benefit from a sport that it’s worth laying out all his strength and might upon it. Now, it may be, sometimes a man or woman will play with their child. They will play as the child does, but this sport is not an adequate object. A man or a woman will play with the child for a while, but there is not enough good in this play to fill their souls, though it is fully adequate to the desires of the child. These things are not fully adequate to the desires of a man or woman. They have other matters in their heads than these, and businesses of a higher nature.[3]

In short, Burroughs argues that earthly things are incapable of satisfying the desires of the Christian because his palate has acquired a taste for much finer fare. Through the Holy Spirit’s work of renewing our hearts, minds, and wills, believers now have the capacity to do what unbelievers do not—we can love God and earnestly desire obedience to his commands. Paul writes in Romans 8:5-8,

“For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit. For to set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace. For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God's law; indeed, it cannot. Those who are in the flesh cannot please God.”     

What was previously impossible has now become essential to our newfound lives—love and service to Christ and finding all our blessedness in him. Not surprisingly then, Christians will come to find that the things that once pleased them no longer do or not to the same degree. And how could they? The advancement of our nature entails an advancement in the objects that fulfill and satisfy that nature. Just as a parent finds more satisfaction in tackling a 1,000 piece jigsaw puzzle than one designed for their toddler, so too will the Christian find more satisfaction in pursuing the things of heaven than those of earth. Once we have experienced true fulfillment in Christ, we will be satisfied with nothing less. The incongruity then of expending our best energies in pursuing lesser, earthly enjoyments would be, as Burroughs says, like

“…men of excellent gifts spending their time on trifles and toys, catching flies or chasing feathers… you would say that they had begun to be dull-minded. So the soul of man, capable of such excellency as it is—of communion with God, with the Father, Son and Holy Ghost—to have its strength spent on such poor, trifling things that cannot profit in the evil day, oh, what a foolish lust!”[4]

While it is certainly true that the things of heaven will be dearer to the Christian’s heart than the things of earth, we mustn’t despise our material blessings—that would be more consistent with Gnosticism than Christianity. Richard Baxter writes,

“All love for earthly good is not a sin. Their sweetness is a drop of his love and they have his goodness imprinted on them. They kindle our love for him as love tokens from our dearest friend. Loving them is a duty, not a sin.”[5]

Loving earthly good is not an option; it is our duty. But, we must love and enjoy the earthly for the right reason, namely more love to Christ. Instead of fixating upon earthly objects as though the goodness we enjoy were inherent in them, we must remember

“…that there is no comfort, no good thing to be had in things of the earth any further than God will be pleased to let Himself through them. They are but channels to convey the blessings and goodness of God to us.”[6]

Every good and perfect gift is good and perfect because they connect us to the good and perfect Giver himself (James 1:17). With this connection in mind, let us cultivate the needful skill of using the earthly in a heavenly manner, treating all earthly goods and joys as vehicles to praise him who is both the source and the communicator of everything good in our lives.


Stephen Spinnenweber is the pastor of Westminster Presbyterian Church in Jacksonville, Florida.


Related Links

"Heaven on Earth: Capturing Jonathan Edward's Vision of Living in Between", review by David Owen Filson

"God's Gift in Troubled Times" by Simonetta Carr

"The Lord’s Prayer in Heaven" by Kevin White

This World is Not My Home by Mark Johnston

Philippians: Joy in Christ, with John Currie, Ray Ortlund & Philip Ryken


Notes

[1] All Scripture citations are in the ESV. All underlines are mine.

[2] Izaak Walton said of Richard Sibbes, “Of this blest man, let this praise be given, Heaven was in him, before he was in Heaven.”

[3] Jeremiah Burroughs, A Treatise of Earthly-Mindedness, 1st modern ed. (Orlando, FL: Soli Deo Gloria Publications, 2006), 13-14.

[4] Ibid., 37.

[5] Richard Baxter, Voices from the Past: Puritan Devotional Readings, ed. Richard Rushing (Carlisle, PA: Banner of Truth, 2015), 294.

[6] Burroughs, The Evil of Earthly Mindedness, 80.