The One Book: Gospel Fear by Jeremiah Burroughs
Rare is that jewel of a book that alters one’s life, perhaps changing a perspective on some particular topic, or perhaps more importantly, altering one’s views about God or His unfailing Word. A book that causes us to reevaluate something at the core of our identity as a child of God is a gem indeed. Gospel Fear[i] by Jeremiah Burroughs is one such book, and one that I would wholeheartedly commend to the newborn infant Christian and the 80-year saint alike. And like a stream flowing through the pasture, it is a book that can be revisited again and again for refreshment of the soul and encouragement in our walk with the Savior. Perhaps this is ultimately the best indicator of a good book – one can read it every year and it never gets old. I hope by trudging through my frail argument that follows, you perhaps may be inclined to visit this stream even just once. And if you do, dear reader, I pray your soul be nurtured by it in the same way mine has.
Burroughs (1599-1646) exemplifies the Puritanism of the times well, with a deep love for his flock supplemented with powerful and theologically rich preaching. In fact, Thomas Brooks called Burroughs the Prince of Preachers for his passionate exposition of the Word to his flock. Published 28 years after his death by a group of friends who wanted the world to know Burroughs as they had, Gospel Fear is a collection of 7 sermons preached in the years 1643-1644. As is typical with this prince, these 7 sermons in Gospel Fear are built around only two passages: Isaiah 66:2 and 2 Kings 19:22.
Perhaps one could hardly imagine spending multiple sermons on just the simple phrases “…And that trembleth at My Word…” and “…Because thine heart was tender…,” but Burroughs deeply unpacks the meaning and significance of these words in Isaiah and 2 Kings. He explains them, shows their meaning and their relevance to his church, and yet not once is it tiresome or bland. The wellspring of truth in the Word of God is on full display in this man’s sermons. He says this about the authority and effect of God’s Word.
Nothing in the world has authority over men’s consciences but the Word of the Lord, and that has authority. It has authority to bind consciences, to awe and terrify men. So a gracious heart sees the great seal of heaven stamped upon every truth in God’s Word and, therefore, dares not trifle with it as it did before. It comes to the Word either as to a sovereign to receive laws, or as to a judge to receive the sentence of condemnation. That soul now looks upon the Word as backed with such authority that either it must yield unto it or else it binds that soul over to eternal death by such bonds that all the power of all creatures in heaven and earth cannot loose it again.[ii]
But Burroughs is not just high-minded theology. The heart of this pastor and love for his flock oozes from every page. Consider this plea from a pastor to his church. “Oh, the honor that would come to God, and the advantage to your own souls, if you entertained it with a trembling frame of heart! I’ll show you what reason a gracious heart has to thus tremble at God’s Word, what he sees in it, for he does not do it out of weakness of spirit, but when the Lord reveals that in His Word unto the heart, it cannot do otherwise.”[iii]
But take not my word in this matter of convincing you to read this one book. Thomas Brooks in his prologue to the book, says it far better than I could. “And now I shall conclude with a few words of counsel. Let him who casts his eye upon this book not borrow it, but buy it. Seriously read it. Highly prize it. Earnestly pray over it. Endeavor to have your heart and life made conformable to the matter contained in it. Lay it among your choicest treasures, and, when you are on the mount, remember him who unfeignedly and earnestly desires that this little piece may be highly blessed to the writer, reader, and hearer, and so I shall take leave and rest.”[iv]
Keith Kauffman attended University of Maryland (B.S.) and Capital Bible Seminary(M.Div.). Keith currently works at the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, MD, working in the Laboratory of Parasitic Diseases studying the immune response to Tuberculosis. Keith serves as an elder at Greenbelt Baptist Church.
[i] Burroughs, Jeremiah. Gospel Fear or The Heart Trembling at the Word of God Evidences a Blessed Frame of Spirit. Ed. Don Kistler. Soli Deo Gloria Publications: Orlando, 1991. This work was originally published in 1647, with this rare reprint with grammar, spelling, and reformatting edits taking place in 1991. It is part of a larger series by Soli Deo Gloria called the Gospel Life series by Burroughs. Each book in this series is a worthwhile read.
[ii] Ibid. 10.
[iii] Ibid. 7.
[iv] Ibid. xiv.