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John Flavel :: Seventh Season - How a Christian May Keep His Heart from Revengeful Motions

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A Saint Indeed by John Flavel

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

Seventh Season - How a Christian May Keep His Heart from Revengeful Motions


“The seventh season calling for more than common diligence to keep the heart, is, when we receive injuries and abuses from men. Such is the depravedness and corruption of man in his collapsed state, that homo homini lupus, one man is become a wolf, a tiger, to another: they are, as the prophet complains, As the fishes of the sea, and as the creeping things, that have no ruler over them, Habakkuk 1:14; and as wicked men are cruel and oppressive one to another, so they conspire together to abuse and wrong the people of God, as the same prophet complains, The wicked devoureth the man that is more righteous than he, Habakkuk 1:13. Now when we are thus abused and wronged, it is hard to keep the heart from revengeful motions; to make it meekly and quietly to commit the cause to him that judgeth righteously; to exercise no other affection but pity towards them that abuse us. Surely the spirit that is in us lusteth to revenge, but it must not be so; you have choice helps in the gospel to keep down your hearts from such sinful motions against your enemies, and to sweeten your imbittered spirits.” The seventh case then shall be this,

Case 7. How a Christian may keep his heart from revengeful motions, under the greatest injuries and abuses from men.

The gospel, indeed, allows a liberty to vindicate our innocency, and assert our rights, but not to vent our corruptions, and invade God’s right. When, therefore, thou findest thy heart begin to be inflamed by revengeful motions, presently apply the following remedies; and the first is this,

Remedy 1. Urge upon thy heart the severe prohibitions of revenge by the law of God. Remember that this is forbidden fruit, how pleasant and luscious soever it be to our vitiated appetites. O, saith nature, revenge is sweet: O but, saith God, the effects thereof shall be bitter. How plainly hath God interdicted this flesh-pleasing sin. Say not, I will recompense evil, Proverbs 20:22. Say not, I will do so to him as he hath done to me, Proverbs 24:29. Romans 12:17, Recompense to no man evil for evil; and Romans 12:19, Avenge not yourselves, but rather give place to wrath. Nay, that is not all; but, Proverbs 25:21, If thine enemy hunger, feed him; if he thirst, give him drink. The word feed him, as critics observe, signifies to feed cheerfully and tenderly, as birds do their young ones: the scripture is a great friend to the peace and tranquility of human society, which can never be preserved, if revenge be not deposed. It was wont to be an argument urged by the Christians, to prove their religion to be supernatural and pure, that it forbids revenge, which is so sweet to nature; and verily it is a thousand pities such an argument should be lost. Well, then, awe your hearts with the authority of God in these scriptures, and when carnal reason saith, Mine enemy deserves to be hated, let conscience reply, But doth God deserve to be disobeyed? Thus, and thus, hath he done, and so he hath wronged me; but what hath God done, that I should wrong him? If he dare be so bold to break the peace, shall I be so wicked to break the precept? If he fears not to wrong me, shall not I fear to wrong God? O let the fear of God’s threatenings repress such sinful motions.

Remedy 2. Set before your eyes the most eminent patterns of meekness and forgiveness, that your souls may fall in love with them. This is the way to cut off those common pleas of the flesh for revenge: as thus, No man would bear such affront: Yes, such and such have borne as bad, and worse. I shall be reckoned a coward, a fool, if I pass by this: no matter, as long as I follow the examples of the wisest and holiest of men; never did any suffer more or greater abuses from men than Christ did, and never did any carry it more peaceably and forgivingly. He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth; he was brought as a lamb to the slaughterIsaiah 53:7. This pattern of our Lord the Apostle sets before you for your imitation. For even hereunto are you called, because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example that we should follow his steps: who when he was reviled, reviled not again; when he suffered, he threatened not, but committed himself to him that judgeth righteously, 1 Peter 2:21-23. To be of a meek forgiving spirit, is Christ-like, God-like; then shall you be the children of your Father which is in heaven, for he maketh his sun to rise upon the evil, and upon the good; and sendeth rain on the just, and unjust, Matthew 5:45. How eminently also did this Spirit of Christ rest upon his apostles? Never were there such men upon earth for true excellency of spirit. None were ever abused more, or suffered their abuses better. Being reviled, say they, we bless; being persecuted, we suffer it; being defamed, we intreat, 1 Corinthians 4:12-13. Mr. Calvin, though a man of a quick spirit, yet had attained such a degree of this Christ-like forgiveness, that when Luther had used some opprobrious language of him, the good man said no more but this, “although he should call me Devil, yet I will acknowledge him to be an eminent servant of Jesus Christ.”

I have often heard it reported of holy Mr. Dodd, that when one, enraged at his close, convincing doctrine, picked a quarrel with him, smote him on the face, and dashed out two of his teeth; this meek servant of Christ spat out the teeth and blood into his hand, and said, “See here, you have knocked out two of my teeth, and that without any just provocation; but on condition I might do your soul good, I would give you leave to dash out all the rest.” Here is the excellency of a Christian’s spirit, above all the attainments of moral Heathens: though they were excellent at many other things, yet they could never attain this forgiving spirit. It is the first office of justice (said Tully) to hurt no body, unless first provoked by an injury: whereupon Lactantius, O quam simplicem veramque sententiam duorum verborum adjectione, corrupit! What a dainty sentence spoiled the orator, by adding those two last words! Strive then for this excellency of spirit, which is the proper excellency of Christians; do some singular thing that others cannot do, and then you will have a testimony in their consciences. When Moses outdid the magicians, they were forced to confess the finger of God in that business.

Remedy 3. Consider well the quality of the person that hath wronged thee; either he is a good man, or a wicked man, that hath done thee the injury: if he be a good man, there is light and tenderness in his conscience, and that will bring him at last to a sense of the evil he hath done; however Christ hath forgiven him greater injuries than these, and why shouldst not thou? Will not Christ upbraid him with any of those wrongs done to him, but frankly forgive him all; and will thou take him by the throat for some petty abuse that he hath done to thee?

Or is he a wicked man? If so, truly you have more need to exercise pity than revenge towards him, and that upon a double account: for,
1. He is beside himself, so indeed is every unconverted sinner, Luke 15:17. Should you go into Bedlam, and there hear one rail at you, another mock you, and a third threaten you; would you say, I will be revenged upon them? No, you would rather go away pitying them. Alas, poor creatures! they are out of their wits, and know not what they do. Besides,

2.There is a day coming, if they repent not, when they will have more misery than you can find in your hearts to wish them; you need not study revenge, God’s vengeance sleepeth not, and will shortly take place upon them, and is not that enough? Have they not an eternity of misery coming? If they repent not, this must be the portion of their cup! and if ever they do repent, they will be ready to make you reparation.

Remedy 4. Keep down thy heart by this consideration, that by revenge thou canst but satisfy a lust, but by forgiveness thou shalt conquer a lust.

Suppose by revenge thou shouldst destroy one enemy, I will shew thee how, by forgiving, thou shalt conquer three; thine own lust, the devil’s temptation, and thine enemy’s heart; and is not this a more glorious conquest? If by revenge thou overcome thine enemy, yet, as Bernard saith, Infelix victoria, ubi superans virum succumbit vitio: unhappy victory, when, by overcoming another man, thou art overcome by thine own corruption. By this way you may obtain a glorious conquest indeed. What an honourable and dry victory did David this way obtain over Saul? And it came to pass, when David had made an end of speaking these words, that Saul lifted up his voice and wept; and he said to David, thou art more righteous than I, 1 Samuel 24:16-17.

It must be a very disingenuous nature indeed, upon which meekness and forgiveness will not work; a stony heart, which this fire will not melt. If thine enemy hunger, feed him; if he thirst, give him drink: for in so doing thou shalt heap coals of fire upon his head, Proverbs 25:21. Some will have it a sin-punishing fire, but others an heart-melting fire. To be sure, it will either melt his heart, or aggravate his misery. Augustine thinks that Stephen’s prayer for his enemies, was the great means of Paul’s conversion.

Remedy 5. Seriously propound this question to thy own heart, Have I got any good by the wrongs and injuries received, or have I not? If they have done you no good, turn the revenge upon yourselves: O that I should have such a bad heart, that can get no good out of such troubles! O that my spirit should be so unlike to Christ’s! the patience and meekness of other Christians, have turned all the injuries thrown at them into precious stones; the spirits of others have been raised in blessing God, when they have been loaded with reproaches from the world, they have bound them as an ornament to their necks. Superbussio, said Luther, quod vides nomen pessimum mihi crescere, I could even be proud upon it, that I have a bad name among wicked men. To the same purpose Jerom said sweetly, Gratius ago Deo meo quod dignus sum quem mundus oderit; I thank my God, that I am worthy to be hated of the world. Thus their hearts were provoked by injuries to magnify God, and bless him for them; if it work contrary with me, I have cause enough to be filled with self-displicency.

If you have got any good by them; if the reproaches and wrongs you have received, have made you search your hearts the more, watch your ways the more narrowly; if their wronging you, has made you see how you have wronged God, then let me say for them, as Paul did, Pray forgive them this wrong.

What, can you not find an heart to forgive one that hath been instrumental of so much good to you? That is strange! what though they meant it for evil? Yet if God hath turned it to good, you have no more reason to rage against the instrument, than he had who received a wound from his enemy, which only brake and let out that imposthume, which otherwise had been his death.

Remedy 6. It is of excellent use to keep the heart from revenge, to look up and eye the first cause by which all our troubles are ordered. This will calm and meeken our spirits quickly: never did a wicked tongue try the patience of a saint more than David’s was tried by that railing Shimei; yet the spirit of this good man was not at all poisoned with revenge, though he goes along cursing and casting stones at him all the way. Yea, though Abishai offered David, if he pleased, the head of that enemy; yet the king said, What have I to do with you, ye son of Zeruiah? So let him curse, because the Lord hath said unto him, curse David: who shall then say, ‘Wherefore hast thou done so?’ It may be God uses him as his rod to lash me; because I, by my sin, made his enemies to blaspheme him; and shall I be angry with the rod? How irrational were that? This also was it that quieted Job; he doth not rail and vow revenge upon the Chaldeans and Sabeans, but eyes God as the orderer of those troubles, and is quiet; The Lord hath taken away, blessed be his name, Job 1:21.

Objection. But you will say, To turn aside the right of a man, to subvert a man in his cause, the Lord approveth not, Lamentations 3:36.

Answer. True; but though it fall not under his approving, yet it doth under his permitting will, and there is a great argument for quiet submission in that: nay, he hath not only the permitting, but the ordering of all those troubles. Did we see more of an holy God, we should show less of a corrupt nature in such trials.

Remedy 7. Consider how you daily wrong God, and you will not be so easily inflamed with revenge against others that have wronged you.

You are daily grieving and wronging God, and yet he bears, forgives, and will not take vengeance upon you; and will you be so quick in avenging yourselves upon others? O what a sharp and terrible rebuke is that! O thou wicked and slothful servant! I forgave thee all that debt because thou desiredst me, shouldst not thou also have had compassion on thy fellow-servant, even as I had pity on thee? Matthew 18:32-33. None should be filled with bowels of pity, forbearance, and mercy, to such as wrong them, as those should be that have experienced the riches of mercy themselves; methinks the mercy of God to us should melt our very bowels into mercy over others; it is impossible we should be cruel to others, except we forget how kind Christ hath been to us. Those that have found mercy, should shew mercy: if kindness cannot work, methinks fear should. If ye forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive you your trespasses, Matthew 6:15.

Remedy 8. Lastly, Let the consideration of the day of the Lord, which draweth nigh, withhold your hearts from anticipating it by acts of revenge.

Why are you so quick? Is not the Lord at hand, to avenge all his abused servants? Be patient therefore, my brethren, unto the coming of the Lord. Behold, the husbandman waiteth…Be ye also patient, for the coming of the Lord draws nigh: grudge not one against another, brethren, lest ye be condemned. Behold the judge standeth at the door, James 5:7-9. This text affords three arguments against revenge; (1) The Lord’s near approach. (2) The example of the husbandman’s patience. (3) The danger we draw upon ourselves by anticipating God’s judgment: Vengeance is mine, saith the Lord; he will distribute justice more equally and impartially than you can: they who believe they have a God to right them, will not so much wrong themselves, as avenge their own wrongs.

Objection 1. But flesh and blood are not able to bear such abuses.

Solution. If you resolve to consult flesh and blood in such cases, and do no more but what that will enable you to do; never pretend to religion: Christians must do singular and supernatural things.

Objection 2. But if I put up with such abuses, I shall be reckoned a fool, and every one will trample upon me.

Solution. You may be reckoned so among fools, but God and good men will account it your wisdom, and the excellency of your spirits. It must be a base spirit indeed, that will trample upon a meek and forgiving Christian: and thus learn to keep your hearts from revenge under all your provocations.

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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