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John Flavel :: Second Season - How to Keep the Heart in Time of Adversity

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A Saint Indeed by John Flavel

Twelve Particular Seasons, which Especially Call for this Diligence in Keeping the Heart

Second Season - How to Keep the Heart in Time of Adversity

“The second special season in the life of a Christian requiring more than a common diligence to keep his heart is the time of adversity. When providence frowns upon you, and blasts your outward comforts, then look to your hearts, keep them with all diligence from repining against God, or fainting under his hand; for troubles, though sanctified, are troubles still; even sweet-briar, and holy thistle, have their prickles. Jonah was a good man, and yet how pettish was his heart under affliction? Job was the mirror of patience, yet how was his heart discomposed by trouble? You will find it as hard to get a composed spirit under great afflictions, as it is to fix quick silver. O the hurries and tumults which they occasion even in the best hearts! Well then, the second case will be this:”

Case 2. How a Christian under great afflictions may keep his heart from repining or desponding under the hand of God. Now, there are nine special helps I shall here offer, to keep thy heart in this condition; and the first shall be this, to work upon your hearts this great truth,

1. That, by these cross providences, God is faithfully pursuing the great design of electing love, upon the souls of his people; and orders all these afflictions as means sanctified to that end.

Afflictions fall out not by casualty, but by counsel, Job 5:6, Ephesians 1:11; by this counsel of God they are ordained as means of much spiritual good to saints, Isaiah 27:9. By this shall the iniquity of Jacob be purged, Hebrews 12:10. But he for our profitRomans 8:28, All things work together for our good. They are God’s workmen upon our hearts, to pull down the pride and carnal security of them; and being so, their nature is changed; they are turned into blessings and benefits. It is good for me that I have been afflicted, Psalms 119:71. And sure then, thou hast no reason to quarrel with, but rather to admire that God should concern himself so much in thy good, to use any means for the accomplishing of it, Philippians 3:11. Paul could bless God, if by any means he might attain the resurrection of the dead. My brethren, (saith James) count it all joy when you fall into divers temptations, James 1:2-3. My Father is about a design of love upon my soul, and do I well to be angry with him? All that he doth is in pursuance of, and in reference to, some eternal glorious ends upon my soul. O, it is my ignorance of God’s design, that makes me quarrel with him! He saith to thee in this case, as to Peter, What I do thou knowest not now, but hereafter thou shalt know it.

Help 2. Though God hath reserved to himself a liberty of afflicting his people, yet he hath tied up his own hands by promise, never to take away his loving-kindness from them. Can I look that scripture in the face, with a repining, discontented spirit? I will be his father, and he shall be my son; if he commit iniquity, I will chasten him with the rod of men, and with the stripes of the children of men: nevertheless, my mercy shall not depart away from him, 2 Samuel 7:14. O my heart! my haughty heart! dost thou well to be discontented, when God hath given thee the whole tree, with all the clusters of comfort growing on it, because he suffers the wind to blow down a few leaves? Christians have two sorts of goods, the goods of the throne, and the goods of the foot-stool; moveables and immovables: if God have secured these, never let my heart be troubled at the loss of those; indeed, if he had cut off his love, or discovenanted my soul, I had reason to be cast down; but this he hath not, nor can he do it.

Help 3. It is of marvellous efficacy to keep the heart from sinking under affliction, to call to mind, that thine own father hath the ordering of them: not a creature moves hand or tongue against thee, but by his permission. Suppose the cup be a bitter cup, yet it is the cup which thy father hath given thee to drink; and canst thou suspect poison to be in that cup which he delivers thee? Foolish man, put home the case to thine own heart, consult with thine own bowels; canst thou find in thy heart to give thy child that which would hurt and undo him? no, thou wouldst as soon hurt thyself as him; If thou then being evil knowest how to give good gifts to thy children, how much more doth God? Matthew 7:11. The very consideration of his nature, a God of love, pity and tender mercies, or of his relation to thee as a father, husband, friend, might be security enough, if he had not spoken a word, to quiet thee in this case; and yet you have his word too, (Jeremiah 25:6.) I will do you no hurt. You lie too near his heart to hurt you; nothing grieves him more than your groundless and unworthy suspicions of his designs do. Would it not grieve a faithful tender-hearted physician, when he hath studied the case of his patient, prepared the most excellent receipts to save his life, to hear him cry out, O he hath undone me! he hath poisoned me; because it gripes and pains him in the operation? O when will you be ingenuous!

Help 4. God respects you as much in a low, as in a high condition; and therefore it need not so much trouble you to be made low; nay, to speak home, he manifests more of his love, grace, and tenderness, in the time of affliction, than prosperity. As God did not at first choose you because you were high, so he will not forsake you because you are low; men may look shy upon you, and alter their respects, as your condition is altered: when providence hath blasted your estates, your summer friends may grow strange, as fearing you may be troublesome to them; but will God do so? No, no; I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee, Hebrews 13:5. Indeed if adversity and poverty could bar you from access to God, it were a sad condition; but you may go to God as freely as ever. My God (saith the Church) will hear me, Micah 7:7. Poor David, when stripped of all earthly comforts, could yet encourage himself in the Lord his God, and why cannot you? Suppose your husband or child had lost all at sea, and should come to you in rags; could you deny the relation, or refuse to entertain him? If you would not, much less will God: why then are you so troubled? though your condition be changed, your Father’s love and respects are not changed.

Help 5. And what if by the loss of outward comforts, God will preserve your souls from the ruining power of temptation? Sure then, you have little cause to sink your hearts by such sad thoughts about them. Are not these earthly enjoyments the things that make men shrink and warp in times of trial? For the love of these many have forsaken Christ in such an hour. He went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions, Matthew 19:22. And if this be God’s design, what have I done in quarrelling with him about it? We see mariners in a storm can throw overboard rich bales of silk, and precious things, to preserve the vessel and their lives with it; and everyone saith, they act prudently; we know it is usual for soldiers in a city besieged, to batter down or burn the fairest buildings without the walls, in which the enemy may shelter in the siege; and no man doubts but it is wisely done: such as have gangrened legs or arms, can willingly stretch them out to be cut off, and not only thank, but pay the surgeon for his pains: and must God only be repined at, for casting over what will sink you in a storm? For pulling down that which would advantage your enemy in the siege of temptation? for cutting off what would endanger your everlasting life? O inconsiderate, ungrateful man! are not these things, for which thou grievest, the very things that have ruined thousands of souls? well, what Christ doth in this, thou knowest not now, but hereafter thou mayest.

Help 6. It would much stay the heart under adversity, to consider, That God by such humbling providences, may be accomplishing that for which you have long prayed and waited: and should you be troubled at that? say, Christian, hast thou not many prayers depending before God upon such accounts as these; that he would keep thee from sin, discover to thee the emptiness and insufficiency of the creature; that he would kill and mortify thy lusts, that thy heart may never find rest in any enjoyment but Christ? Why now, by such humbling and impoverishing strokes, God may be fulfilling thy desire: wouldst thou be kept from sin? Lo, he hath hedged up thy way with thorns: wouldst thou see the creature’s vanity? Thy affliction is a fair glass to discover it; for the vanity of the creature is never so effectually and sensibly discovered, as in our own experience of it: wouldst thou have thy corruptions mortified? This is the way; now God takes away the food and fewel that maintained them; for as prosperity begat and fed them; so adversity, when sanctified, is a means to kill them. Wouldst thou have thy heart rest nowhere but in the bosom of God? What better way canst thou imagine providence should take to accomplish thy desire, than by pulling from under thy head, that soft pillow of creature-delights, on which thou rested before? And yet you fret at this, peevish child, how dost thou exercise thy father’s patience? If he delay to answer thy prayers, thou art ready to say he regards thee not; if he do that which really answers the scope and main end of them, but not in the way thou expected, thou quarrelleth with him for that; as if instead of answering, he were crossing all thy hopes and aims; is this ingenuous? is it not enough that God is so gracious to do what thou desirest, but thou must be so impudent to expect him to do it in the way which thou prescribest?

Help 7. Again, it may stay thy heart, if thou consider, That in these troubles, God is about that work, which, if thou didst see the design of, thy soul would rejoice. We, poor creatures, are bemisted with much ignorance, and are not able to discern how particular providences work towards God’s end; and therefore, like Israel in the wilderness, are often murmuring, because providence leads us about in a howling desert, where we are exposed to straits; though yet, then he led them, and is now leading us, by the right way to a city of habitations. If you could but see how God, in his secret counsel, has exactly laid the whole plot and design of thy salvation, even to the smallest means and circumstances; this way, and by these means, such a one shall be saved, and by no other; such a number of afflictions I appoint for this man, at this time, and in this order; they shall befal him thus, and thus they shall work for him. Could you, I say, but discern the admirable harmony of divine dispensations, their mutual relations to each other, together with the general respect and influence they all have into the last end; of all the conditions in the world, you would choose that you are now in, had you liberty to make your own choice. Providence is like a curious piece of arras, made of a thousand shreds, which single we know not what to make of, but put together, and stitched up orderly, they represent a beautiful history to the eye. As God works all things according to the counsel of his own will, so that counsel of God hath ordained this as the best way to bring about thy salvation: such a one hath a proud heart, so many humbling providences I appoint for him; such a one an earthly heart, so many impoverishing providences for him: did you but see this, I need say no more to support the most dejected heart.

Help 8. Further, it would much conduce to the settlement of your hearts, to consider, That by fretting and discontent, you do yourselves more injury than all the afflictions you lie under could do; your own discontent is that which arms your troubles with a sting, it is you that makes your burden heavy, by struggling under it. Could you but lie quiet under the hand of God, your condition would be much more easier and sweeter than it is; Impatiens aegrotus crudelem facit medicum. This makes God lay on more strokes, as a father will upon a stubborn child that receives not correction.

Besides, it unfits the soul to pray over its troubles, or take in the sense of that good which God intends by them: affliction is a pill, which being wrapped up in patience and quiet submission, may be easily swallowed; but discontent chews the pill, and so imbitters the soul: God throws away some comfort which he saw would hurt you, and you will throw away your peace after it: he shoots an arrow which sticks in your clothes, and was never intended to hurt, but only to fright you from sin, and you will thrust it onward to the piercing of your very hearts, by despondency and discontent.

Help 9. Lastly, if all this will not do, but thy heart (like Rachel) still refuses to be comforted, or quieted, then consider one thing more, which, if seriously pondered, will doubtless do the work; and that is this, Compare the condition thou art now in, (and art so much dissatisfied with) with that condition others are, and thyself deservest to be in: others are roaring in flames, howling under the scourge of vengeance, and amongst them I deserve to be. O my soul! is this hell? Is my condition as bad as the damned? O what would thousands now in hell give, to change conditions with me! It is a famous instance which Dr. Taylor gives us of the duke of Conde; I have read (saith he) that when the duke of Conde had entered voluntarily into the incommodities of a religious poverty, he was one day espied and pitied by a lord of Italy, who out of tenderness wished him to be more careful and nutritive of his person. The good duke answered, Sir, be not troubled, and think not that I am ill provided of conveniences, for I send an harbinger before me, who makes ready my lodgings, and takes care that I be royally entertained. The lord asked him who was his Harbinger? He answered, The knowledge of myself, and the consideration of what I deserve for my sins, which is eternal torments; and when with this knowledge I arrive at my lodging, how unprovided soever I find it, methinks it is ever better than I deserve. Why doth the living man complain? And thus the heart may be kept from desponding or repining under adversity.

First Season - How to Keep the Heart Humble in Prosperity ← Prior Section
Third Season - How to Keep the Heart in Time of Zion’s Troubles Next Section →

The Blue Letter Bible ministry and the BLB Institute hold to the historical, conservative Christian faith, which includes a firm belief in the inerrancy of Scripture. Since the text and audio content provided by BLB represent a range of evangelical traditions, all of the ideas and principles conveyed in the resource materials are not necessarily affirmed, in total, by this ministry.


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