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John Flavel :: Third Season - How to Keep the Heart in Time of Zion’s Troubles

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A Saint Indeed by John Flavel

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

Third Season - How to Keep the Heart in Time of Zion’s Troubles


“The third season calling for more than ordinary diligence to keep the heart, is the time of Zion’s troubles: when the Church, like the ship in which Christ and his disciples were, is oppressed and ready to perish in the waves of persecution; then good souls are ready to sink, and be shipwrecked too, upon the billows of their own fears. I confess most men rather need the spur, than the reins in this case, and yet some sit down as overweighed with the sense of the church’s troubles. The loss of the Ark cost old Eli his life; the sad posture Jerusalem lay in, made good Nehemiah’s countenance change in the midst of all the pleasures and accommodations of the court, Nehemiah 2:2. Ah! this goes close to honest hearts,

But though God allow, yea, command the most awakened apprehensions of these calamities, and in such a day calls to mourning, weeping, and girding with sackcloth, Isaiah 22:12, and severely threatens the insensible, Amos 6:1, yet it will not please him to see you sit like pensive Elijah under the juniper tree. Ah Lord God! it is enough, take away my life also, 1 Kings 19:4. No, mourners in Zion, you may, and ought to be; but self-tormentors you must not be: complain to God you may, but to complain of God (though but by an unsuitable carriage and the language of your actions) you must not.”

Case 3. The third case that comes next to be spoken to, is this, How public and tender hearts may be relieved and supported when they are even overweighed with the burthensome sense of Zion’s troubles. “I grant, it is hard for him that preferreth Zion to his chief joy, to keep his heart that it sink not below the due sense of its troubles; and yet this ought and may be done by the use of such heart-establishing directions as these.”

Direction 1. Settle this great truth in your hearts, that no trouble befalls Zion, but by the permission of Zion’s God; and he permits nothing out of which he will not bring much good to his people.

There is as truly a principle of quietness in the permitting, as in the commanding will of God. See it in David, 2 Samuel 16:10, Let him alone, it may be God hath bidden him: And in Christ, John 19:11, Thou couldst have no power against me, except it were given thee from above; it should much calm our spirits that it is the will of God to suffer it; and had he not suffered it, it could never have been as it is.

This very consideration quieted Job, Eli, David, and Hezekiah; that the Lord did it, was enough to them, and why should it not be so to us? If the Lord will have Zion ploughed as a field, and her goodly stones lay in the dust; if it be his pleasure that Antichrist shall rage yet longer, and wear out the saints of the most High; if it be his will that a day of trouble, and of treading down, and of perplexity by the Lord God of hosts shall be upon the valley of vision, that the wicked shall devour the man that is more righteous than he, what are we that we should contest with God? Fit it is that we should be resigned up to that will whence we proceeded, and that he that made us should dispose of us as he pleaseth; he may do what seemeth him good without our consent: doth poor man stand upon equal ground, that he should capitulate with his creator, or that God should render him an account of any of his matters? It is every way as reasonable we be content, however God dispose of us, as that we be obedient to whatever he commands us.

But then, if we pursue this argument further, by considering that God’s permission do all meet at last in the real good of his people, this will much more quiet our spirits. Do the enemies carry away the good figs, even the best among the people, into captivity? This looks like a sad providence, but yet God sends them thither for their good, Jeremiah 24:5. Doth God take the Assyrian as a staff in his hand to beat his people with? Those blows are smart, and make them cry; but the end of his so doing is, That he may accomplish his whole work upon Mount Zion, Isaiah 10:12. If God can bring much good out of the worst and greatest evil of sin, much more out of temporal afflictions; and it is as evident that he will, as that he can do so. For it is inconsistent with the wisdom of a common agent to permit any thing (which he might prevent if he pleased) to cross his great design and end; and can it be imagined that the most wise God should do so?

Well then, as Luther said to Melancthon, Desinat Philipus esse rector mundi; so say I to you; let infinite wisdom, power and love alone; for by these all creatures are swayed, and all actions guided, in reference to the church: it is none of our work to rule the world, but to submit to him that doth; Non caeco impetu volvuntur rotae; the motions of providence are all judicious, the wheels are full of eyes: it is enough that the affairs of Zion are in a good hand.

Direction 2. Ponder this heart-supporting truth, in reference to Zion’s troubles: That how many troubles soever are upon her, yet her King is in her.

What? hath the Lord forsaken his churches? hath he sold them into the enemy’s hand? doth he not regard what evil befals them? that our hearts sink at this rate? Is it not too shameful an undervaluing of the great God, and too much magnifying of poor impotent men, to fear and tremble at creatures, whilst God is in the midst of us? The church’s enemies are many and mighty; let that be granted, yet that argument with which Caleb and Joshua strove to raise their own hearts, is of as much force now as it was then: The Lord is with us, fear them not, Numbers 14:9. The historian tells us, that when Antigonus overheard his soldiers reckoning how many their enemies were, and so discouraging one another, he suddenly steps in among them with this question, And how many (said he) do you reckon me for? Discouraged souls, how many do you reckon on the Lord for? Is he not an overmatch for all his enemies? Is not one Almighty more than many mighties? Doth his presence stand for nothing with us? If God be for us, who can be against us? Romans 8:31. What think you was the reason of that great exploration Gideon made in Judges 6? He questions, Judges 5:12-13, he desires a sign, Judges 6:17, and after that another, Judges 6:36; and what was the end of all this? but that he might be sure the Lord was with him, and that he might but write this motto upon his ensign? The sword of the Lord, and of Gideon. So then, if you can be well assured the Lord is with his people, you will get thereby above all his discouragements: and that he is so, you need not (with him) desire a sign from heaven; lo you have a sign before you, even their marvellous preservation amidst all their enemies. If God be not with his people, how is it that they are not swallowed up quick? Do their enemies want malice, power, or opportunity? No, but there is an invisible hand upon them. Well then, as it is, Exodus 33:14, let his presence give us rest; and though the mountains be hurled into the sea, though heaven and earth mingle together, fear not, God is in the midst of her, she shall not be moved.

Direction 3. Ponder the great advantages attending the people of God in an afflicted condition. If a low and an afflicted state in the world be really best for the church, then your dejections are not only irrational but ungrateful: indeed, if you estimate the happiness of the church by its worldly ease, splendor and prosperity, then such times will seem bad for it, but if you reckon its glory to consist in its humility, faith, patience and heavenly-mindedness, no condition in the world abounds so with advantages for these, as an afflicted condition doth. It was not persecutions and prisons, but worldliness and wantonness, that was the prison of the church; neither was it the earthly glory of its professors, but the blood of its martyrs, that was the seed of the church. The power of Godliness did never thrive better than in affliction, and never ran lower than in times of greatest prosperity: when we are left a poor and an afflicted people, then we learn to trust in the name of the Lord, Zephaniah 3:12. What say ye, sirs? Is it indeed for the saint’s advantage to be weaned from the love of, and delight in, ensnaring worldly vanities? To be quickened, and pressed forward with more haste to heaven, to have clearer discoveries of their own hearts, to be taught to pray more fervently, frequently, spiritually; to look and long for the rest to come more ardently? If these be for their advantage, experience teaches us that no condition is ordinarily blessed with such fruits as these, like an afflicted condition.

And is it well done, then, to repine and droop, because your Father consults more the advantage of your souls, than the pleasing of your humours? Because he will bring you a nearer way to heaven than you are willing to go? Is this a due requital of his love, who is pleased so much to concern himself in your welfare? Which is more than he will do for thousands in the world, upon whom he will not lay a rod, or send an affliction for their good, Hosea 4:17, Matthew 15:14. But alas! we judge by sense, and reckon things good or evil, according to what we, for the present, can taste and feel in them.

Direction 4. Take heed that you overlook not the many precious mercies which the people of God enjoy amidst all their trouble.

It is a pity that our tears, upon the account of our troubles, should so blear and blind our eyes, that we should not see our mercies and grounds of comfort. I will not insist upon the mercy of having your lives given you for a prey, nor yet upon the many outward comforts, temporal conveniences and accommodations, which you enjoy even above what Christ and his precious servants, of whom the world was not worthy, ever had.

But what say you to pardon of sin? interest in Christ? the covenant promise? and an eternity of happiness in the presence of God after a few days are over? O that ever a people entitled to such mercies as these, should droop under any temporal affliction, or be so much concerned for the frowns of men, and the loss of trifles! You have not the smiles of great men, but you have the favour of the great God; you are, it may be, cast back in your estates, but thereby furthered in spirituals. You cannot live so bravely, plentifully, and easily as before; but still you may live as holy and heavenly as ever: will you then grieve so much for these circumstantials, as to forget your substantials? Shall light troubles make you forget weighty mercies? remember, the church’s true riches are laid out of the reach of all its enemies: they may make you poor, but not miserable. What though God do not distinguish in his outward dispensations between his own and others? Yea, what though his judgments single out the best, and spare the worst? What though an Abel be killed in love, and a Cain survive in hatred; a bloody Dionysius die in his bed, and a good Josiah fall in battle? What though the belly of the wicked be filled with hidden treasures, and the teeth of the saints broken with gravel-stones; yet still here is much matter of praise? For electing love hath distinguished, though common providence did not; and whilst prosperity and impunity slay the wicked, even slaying and adversity shall benefit and save the righteous.

Direction 5. Believe that how low soever the church be plunged under the waters of adversity, it shall assuredly rise again. Fear not, for as sure as Christ arose the third day, notwithstanding the seal and watch that was upon him; so sure the church shall arise out of all her troubles, and lift up its victorious head over all its enemies: there is no fear of ruin in that people who thrive by their losses, and multiply by being diminished. O be not too quick to bury the church before she is dead! stay till Christ hath tried his skill, before you give it up for lost. The bush may be all in a flame, but shall never be consumed, and that because of the good will of Him that dwelleth in it.

Direction 6. Record the famous instances of God’s care and tenderness over his people in former straits. Christ hath not suffered it to be devoured yet; for above these 1600 years the Christian church hath lived in affliction, and yet it is not consumed: many a wave of persecution hath gone over it, and yet it is not drowned: many designs to ruin it, and hitherto none hath prospered; this is not the first time that Hamans and Ahithophels have plotted its ruin; that an Herod hath stretched out his hand to vex it; still it hath been preserved from, supported under, or delivered out of all its troubles; and is it not as dear to God as ever? Is he not as able to save it now as formerly?—Though we know not whence deliverance should arise, Yet the Lord knoweth how to deliver the godly out of temptations, 2 Peter 2:9.

Direction 7. If you can fetch no comfort from any of the former arguments, then, in the last place, Try whether you cannot draw some comfort out of your very trouble. Surely this trouble of yours is a good argument of your integrity; union is the ground of sympathy; if you had not some rich adventure in that ship, you would not tremble as you do when it is in danger; besides, this frame of spirit may afford you this argument, that if you are so sensible of the church’s troubles, Jesus Christ is much more sensible of, and solicitous about it, than you can be; and he will have an eye of favour upon them that mourn for it, Isaiah 57:18.

CONTENT DISCLAIMER:

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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