The Privy Key of Heaven

(A Discourse of Closet Prayer)

by Thomas Brooks, published during
the awful plague of London in 1665.

God's purpose and end of taking up the rod


"The Lord's voice cries unto the city, and the man of wisdom shall hear your name: hear the rod, and him who has appointed it." Micah 6:9

Now, God's purpose and end of taking up the rod are these:

[1.] First and more generally, It is for the good of the child, and not for his hurt. It is so here. God takes up the rod—but it is for the good of his people: Gen 50:20, "But as for you, you thought evil against me; but God meant it unto good, to bring to pass, as it is this day, to save many people alive." Divine goodness did so overmaster the plotted malignity of Joseph's brethren as that it made a blessed medicine of a most deadly poison. Jer 24:5, "Thus says the Lord, the God of Israel, Like these good figs, so will I acknowledge those who are carried away captive of Judah, whom I have sent out of this place into the land of the Chaldeans for their good." When Israel was dismissed out of Egypt, Exod 40, it was with gold and earrings; and when Judah was dismissed out of Babylon, it was with great gifts, jewels, and all necessary utensils, Ezra 1. So Rom 8:28, "And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to his purpose." This text, like Moses's tree cast into the bitter waters of affliction, may make them sweet and wholesome to drink of. But,

[2.] Secondly, and more particularly, The rod is to make the child sensible of his folly and vanity. Prov 10:13, "In the lips of him who has understanding, wisdom is found; but the rod is for the back of him who is void of understanding." So it is here: God takes up the rod—but it is to make his people sensible of their folly and vanity; it is to make them look up to him, and to look into conscience, and to look out to their lives. God's house of correction is his school of instruction. His lashes are our lessons, his scourges are our schoolmasters, and his chastisements are our corrections. Hence both the Hebrews and Greeks express chastening and teaching by one and the same word, because teaching is the true end of chastening, according to that in the proverb, "Pain makes wit, and vexation gives understanding." [Isa 26:9; Psalm 94:12; Prov 3:12-13; Job 36:8-10]

Afflictions are a Christian's looking-glass, by which he may see how to dress his own soul, and to mend whatever is amiss. They are pills made up by a heavenly hand on purpose to clear our eyesight; 1 Kings 17:18, "And she said unto Elijah, What have I to do with you, O you man of God? Have you come unto me to call my sin to remembrance, and to slay my son?" If God had not taken away her son, her sin had not been brought to remembrance. It was the speech of a holy man in his sickness: "In this disease," said he, "I have learned how great God is, and what the evil of sin is. I never knew to purpose what God was before, nor what sin was before." The cross of affliction opens men's eyes, as the tasting of honey did Jonathan's. "Here," as that martyr phrased it, "we are still a-learning our A, B, Cs, and our lesson is never past Christ's cross, and our walking is still home by weeping-cross." But,

[3.] Thirdly, The rod is used to prevent further folly, mischief, and misery. Prov 23:13-14, "Withhold not correction from the child, for if you beat him with the rod, he shall not die. You shall beat him with the rod, and shall deliver his soul from hell." It is said of the ape, that she hugs her young ones to death; so many fond parents, by not correcting their children, they come to slay their children. The best way to prevent their being scourged with scorpions in hell, is to chastise them with the rod here. So God takes up the rod; he afflicts and chastises his dearest children—but it is to prevent soul-mischief and misery; it is to prevent pride, self-love, worldliness, etc.

Paul was one of the holiest men who ever lived on earth; he was called by some an earthly angel, and yet he needed the rod, he needed a thorn in the flesh, to prevent pride; witness the doubling of those words in one verse, "lest I should be exalted above measure, lest I should be exalted above measure," 2 Cor 12:7-9. If Paul had not been buffeted, who knows how highly he might have been exalted in his own pride? Prudent physicians often give their patients medicines to prevent diseases; and so does the physician of souls to his dearest servants, Job 40:4-5; Hos 2:6-7; Job 33:17,19; "He is chastened also with pain upon his bed, and the multitude of his bones with strong pain, that he may withdraw man from his purpose, and hide pride from man."

Afflictions are the Lord's drawing-plasters, by which he draws out the core of pride, earthliness, self-love, covetousness, etc. Pride was one of man's first sins, and is still the root and source of all other sins. Now, to prevent it, God many times chastens man with pain, yes, with strong pain, upon his bed: Job 34:31-32, "I have endured my punishment; I will no longer act wickedly. Teach me what I cannot see; if I have done wrong, I won't do it again." The burnt child dreads the fire. Sin is but a bitter sweet; it is an evil worse than hell itself. Look, as salt brine preserves things from putrefying, and as salt marshes keep the sheep from rotting, so sanctified rods, sanctified afflictions, preserves and keeps the people of God from sinning. But,

[4.] Fourthly, The rod is to purge out that vanity and folly that is bound up in the heart of the child. Prov 22:15, "Foolishness is bound in the heart of a child—but the rod of correction shall drive it far from him." The rod is an ordinance, as well as the word; and such parents that use it as an ordinance, praying and weeping over it, shall find it effectual for the chasing away of evil out of their children's heart. Eli and David were two very choice men, and yet, by their fondness on one hand, and neglect of this ordinance on the other hand, they ruined their sons; and whether they did not undo their souls, I shall not at this time stand to inquire. When Moses cast away his rod, it became a serpent, Exod 4:3; and so, when parents cast away the rod of correction, it is ten to one but that their children become the brood of the serpent: Prov 13:24, "He who spares his rod hates his son; but he who loves him chastens him betimes." Not only the care—but also the cure of the child, so far as the rod will reach, lies upon the hands of the parent.

Now afflictions are like a rod in this respect also, for, as they are sanctified, they cleanse and purge away the dross, the filth, and the scum of the Christian: Isa 1:25, "And I will turn my hand upon you, and purely purge away your dross, and take away all your tin;" Isa 27:9, "By this therefore shall the iniquity of Jacob be purged, and this is all the fruit, to take away his sin;" Dan 11:35, "And some of them of understanding shall fall" (that is, "into great afflictions"), "to try them, and to purge them, and to make them white, even to the time of the end." All the harm the fire did to the three children, or rather the three champions, was to burn off their cords, Dan 3:23-24. Our lusts are cords of vanity—but the fire of affliction shall burn them up: Zech 13:9, "And I will bring the third part through the fire, and will refine them as silver is refined, and will try them as gold is tried: they shall call on my name, and I will hear them: I will say, It is my people, and they shall say, The Lord is my God." Sharp afflictions are a fire—to purge out our dross, and to make our graces shine; they are a potion—to carry away ill humours; they are cold frosts—to destroy the vermin; they are a tempestuous sea—to purge the wine from its dregs; they are like the north wind—which dries up the vapors, that purges the blood, and quickens the spirits; they are a sharp corrosive—to eat out the dead flesh. Afflictions are compared to washing—which takes away the filth of the soul, as water does the filth of the body, Matt 10:38-39. God would not rub so hard, were it not to fetch out the dirt and spots that are in his people's hearts.

[5.] Fifthly, The rod serves to improve that good that is in the child: Prov 29:15, "The rod and reproof gives wisdom—but a child left to himself brings his mother to shame." So afflictions serve to improve our graces: Heb 12:10, "For they verily for a few days chastened us after their own pleasure—but he for our profit, that we might be partakers of his holiness;" that is, that we might more and more be partakers of his holiness. Heb 12:11, "Now no chastening for the present seems to be joyous—but grievous: nevertheless, afterward it yields the peaceable fruit of righteousness unto those who are exercised thereby." Hence it is that the saints glory in tribulation: Rom 5:3-4, "And not only so—but we glory in tribulations also, knowing that tribulation works patience, and patience experience, and experience hope." Grace always thrives most when saints are under the rod. When Christians are under the rod, then their graces do not only bud—but blossom and bring forth fruit, as Aaron's rod did, Num 17:8. The snuffing of the candle makes it burn the brighter. God beats and bruises his children, to make them burn the brighter; he bruises his spices, to make them send forth the greater aromatic fragrance.

Bernard compares afflictions to the teasle, which, though it be sharp and scratching, is to make the cloth more pure and fine. The Jews were always best when they were in an afflicted condition. Well-waters arising from deep springs are hotter in the winter than they are in the summer. Stars shine brightest in the darkest nights. Vines grow the better for bleeding, and gold shines the better for scouring. Juniper smells sweetest when in the fire; camomile, the more you tread it, the more you spread it. O sirs! this is a real and a rare truth—but seldom thought on, namely, that God will sometimes more carry on the growth and improvement of grace by a cross, by an affliction, than by an ordinance, James 1:3-4; James 4:8-9. Afflictions ripen the saint's graces, 2 Cor 1:5. Sooner or later, God will make every rod, yes, every twig in every rod, to be an ordinance to every afflicted saint.

By afflictions, God many times revives, quickens, and recovers the decayed graces of his people. By afflictions, God many times inflames that love which is cold, and he strengthens that faith which is failing, and he puts life into those hopes which are languishing, and new spirits into those joys and comforts which are withering and dying. Musk, say some, when it has lost its sweetness, if it be put into the sink among filth, it recovers its sweetness again. So does sharp afflictions recover and revive our decayed graces.

I have read a story of a sexton, who went into the church at night to rob a woman who had been buried the day before with a gold ring upon her finger. Now, when he had opened the grave and coffin, and loosed the sheet, he fell a-rubbing and chafing her finger to get off the gold ring; and with rubbing and chafing of it, her spirits returned, she having been but in a swoon before, and she revived, and lived many years after. Sharp afflictions are but the rubbing and chafing of our graces. The smarting rod abases the loveliness of the world, which entices us; it abates the lustiness of the flesh within, which incites us to vanity and folly; all which tend much to the recovering and reviving of decayed graces. But,

[6.] The sixth end to which the rod serves, and that is, To try the child, to make a discovery of the spirit of the child. Some parents never see so much of the badness of the hearts of their children, as they do when they bring them under the rod; and other parents never see so much of the goodness of the hearts of their children as they do when they chastise them with the rod. It is so here. When God afflicts some, oh the pride! the stoutness! the crossness! the hardness! the peevishness and stubbornness of spirit, that they discover! Isa 1:5; Jer 5:3; Exod 5:2; Jer 44:15-19. When he afflicts others, oh the murmuring! the roaring! the complaining! the howling! the fretting! the vexing! and the quarreling spirit that they discover! Amos 4:6-13; Num 14:27,29,36; Deut 1:27; Isa 58:3-4; Isa 59:11; Hos 7:14-15; Jon 4:1-5,8-9.

Sometimes when God afflicts his dearest people, oh what a spirit of faith! what a spirit of prayer! what a spirit of love! what a spirit of patience! what a spirit of meekness! what a spirit of humbleness! what a spirit of submissiveness do they discover! Job 13:15; 2 Chron 16:12; Isa 26:16-17; Hos 5:14-15; Job 1:20-22; Lev 10:1-3; 1 Sam 3:18; 2 Kings 20:16-19. And at other times, when God afflicts his poor people, oh what a spirit of unbelief! what a spirit of slavish fear! what a spirit of impatience! what a spirit of displeasedness, etc., do they discover! Gen 15:2-3; Gen 12:13,19; Gen 20:2,5; Gen 26:7-11; Psalm 31:22; Psalm 116:11; 1 Sam 21:10-15; Job 3:3-13; Jer 20:14-18. By sharp afflictions, God tries the graces of his people, and discovers what is in the hearts of his people, Deut 8:2; Psalm 66:10-11; Rev 3:18; 1 Pet 1:6-7. The fire tries the gold as well as the touchstone. Diseases try the skill of the physician, and tempests try the skill of the pilot. Every smarting rod is a touchstone, both to try our graces and to discover our spirits. Prudent fathers will sometimes cross their children, to try to discover the dispositions of their children, Heb 12:5-21. And so does the Father of spirits deal sometimes with his children.

The manner of the Psylli, which are a kind of people of that temper and constitution that no venom will hurt them, is this—if they suspect any child to be none of their own, they set an adder upon it to sting it; and if the child cries, and the flesh swells, they cast it away as a spurious child; but if it does not nor cry, nor is never the worse for it, then they account it for their own, and make very much of it. The application is easy. But,

[7.] The seventh and last end of the rod, is to prepare and fit the chastised for greater services, favors, and mercies. Many a child and many a servant had never been so fit for eminent services as they are, had they not been under a smarting rod. It is very usual with God to cast them into very great afflictions, and to lay them under grievous smarting rods, that so he may prepare and fit them for some high and eminent services in this world. Joseph would never have been so fit to be governor of Egypt, and to preserve the visible church of God alive in the world—if he had not been sold into Egypt, Gen 41:40-44; if his feet had not been hurt in the stocks, and if the irons had not entered into his soul, Gen 45:7-8. Moses would never have been so fit to be a leader and a deliverer of Israel as he was—if he had not been banished forty years in the wilderness before, Exod 2:15. Nor would David's crown have fit so well, nor so close, nor so long on his head as it did—had he not for some years before been hunted as a partridge in the wilderness, 1 Sam 26:20. Nor would the three children, or rather the three champions, have been fit for so high a rule—had they not been first cast into the fiery furnace, Dan 3:29-30. Nor would Daniel have been so fit for that exceeding high honor, and glory, and greatness to which he was exalted—had he not been first cast among the lions, Dan 6:25, et seq. And so if Esther had never been a poor captive maid, she would never have been a queen, and so would never have been instrumental in the preservation of the church of God in her day. Heman was one of the best and wisest men in the world in his day, 1 Kings 4:31; and this God brought him to by training of him up in the school of affliction, as you may evidently see in Psalm 88.

That verse of the apostle in 2 Cor 1:4, deserves to be written in letters of gold, "Who comforts us in all our tribulation, that we may be able to comfort those who are in any trouble, by the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted of God." Mark that word able. Oh, it is one of the hardest and noblest works in all Christianity to be able divinely to comfort others that are in troubles; and yet by sufferings God fits and prepares his people for this noble and difficult service.

Luther was of opinion that to comfort a distressed conscience was a greater work than to raise the dead to life. And yet by inward and outward sufferings, God fits his people for this great work.

And thus you see in what respects afflictions are compared to a rod.