A Word in Season to Suffering Saints
The special presence of God with His people,
in their greatest troubles, deepest distresses,
and most deadly dangers.
By Thomas Brooks, London, 1675
"At my first defense, no one came to my support, but everyone deserted me. May it not be held against them. But the Lord stood at my side and gave me strength, so that through me the message might be fully proclaimed and all the Gentiles might hear it. And I was delivered from the lion's mouth." 2 Timothy 4:16-17
In my text you have three things which are most remarkable—
First, You have Paul's commemoration of that singular experience that he had of the favorable presence of Christ with him, and of his strengthening of him, "But the Lord stood at my side and gave me strength." Acts 23:11; though I was deserted by men—yet I was aided and assisted by Christ, 2 Tim. 4:16; though all men left me to shift for myself—yet the Lord stood by me, and strengthened me with wisdom, prudence, courage, and constancy, in the lack of all outward encouragements, and in the face of all outward discouragements, 2 Tim. 1:15.
Secondly, Here is the end for which the Lord stood by him, assisted, strengthened, and delivered him, namely—that he might preach the gospel to the nations, Romans 11:13; Phil. 4:22, that he might have more time, and further opportunity, to spread abroad the everlasting gospel among the Gentiles. Rome, at this time, was the queen of the world, and in its most flourishing condition; people from all parts of the world flocked to Rome. Now when they would hear and see Paul's prudence, courage, constancy, and boldness, in professing of Christ, and in preaching and professing the gospel—before that grand tyrant, that monster of mankind, Nero—they could not but be wrought upon, and the fame of the glorious gospel could not but by this means be spread all the world over.
Thirdly, Here is the greatness of the danger from which he was delivered, namely, "I was delivered from the lion's mouth." Some authors conceive these words to be a proverbial speech, noting some eminent, present, devouring danger; "I was delivered from the extreme hazard of death," even as a man rescued out of a lion's mouth, and pulled from between his teeth. Others more genuinely and properly, by "the lion's mouth," do understand Nero's rage and cruelty, who, for his potency in preying on the flock of Christ, is here fitly compared to a lion, which devoured and destroyed the flock of Christ. This cruel lion Nero, put a multitude of Christians to death, and made a bloody decree, that whoever confessed himself a Christian, he would, without any deliberation, be put to death as a convicted enemy of mankind. This bloody monster, Nero, raised the first bloody persecution. To pick a quarrel with the Christians he set the city of Rome on fire, and then charged it upon the Christians, under which pretense he exposed them to the fury of the people, who cruelly tormented them as if they had been common burners and destroyers of cities, and the deadly enemies of mankind! Yes, Nero himself caused them to be apprehended and clad in wild beasts' skins and torn in pieces with dogs; others were crucified; some he made bonfires of to light his night-sports. To be short, such horrid cruelty he used towards them as caused many of their enemies to pity them. But God found out this bloody persecutor at last, for being adjudged by the senate an enemy to mankind, he was condemned to be whipped to death, for the prevention whereof he cut his own throat.
The words being thus briefly opened, the main point I shall insist upon is this—namely, That when the people of God are in their greatest troubles, deepest distresses, and most deadly dangers—then the Lord will be most favorably, most specially, and most eminently present with them.
They learned say that God is five ways present—
(1.) In the humanity of Christ, by hypostatical union;
(2.) In the saints, by knowledge and love;
(3.) In the church, by his essence and direction;
(4.) In heaven, by his majesty and glory;
(5.) In hell, by his vindictive justice.
Hemingius says, There is a fourfold presence of God—
(1.) There is a presence of power in all men, even in the reprobates;
(2.) A presence of grace, only in the elect;
(3.) A presence of glory, in the angels, and saints departed;
(4.) A hypostatic presence of the Father with the Son.
But, if you please, you may take notice thatthere is a sixfold presence of the Lord—
1. First, There is a GENERAL presence of God, and thus he is present with all creatures. "Where shall I flee from your presence?" Psalm 139:7. Empedocles, the philosopher, said well, that "God is a circle, whose center is everywhere, and whose circumference is nowhere." God is not bound by any place, and not excluded from any place. Says another: "God is the soul of the world; his eye is in every corner, etc." To which purpose they so portrayed their goddess Minerva, that whichever way one cast his eye, she always beheld him. Though heaven is God's palace—yet it is not his prison. Diana's temple was burned down when she was busy at Alexander's birth, and could not be at two places together—but God is present both in paradise and in the wilderness at the same time. "God is higher than the heaven, deeper than hell, broader than the earth, and more diffuse than the sea!" —Bernard.
1 Kings 8:27, "But will God indeed dwell on the earth? behold, the heaven and heaven of heavens cannot contain you; how much less this house that I have built?" By the heaven of heavens is meant that which called the empyreal heaven, where the angels and the departed saints enjoy the glorious and beatific vision of God; and it is called the heaven of heavens, both because it is the highest and does contain the other heavens within its orb; and also by way of excellency, as the "most holy place" in the temple is called the "holy of holies," because it far surpasses all the rest in splendor and glory, Isaiah 66:1; Proverbs 5:21; Heb. 4:13; Job 26:6.
Jer. 23:24, "Can any hide himself in secret places that I should not see him? says the Lord. Do not I fill heaven and earth? says the Lord." Proverbs 15:3, "The eyes of the Lord are in every place, beholding the evil and the good." God is all eye. The poor heathen could say, "God is nearer to us than we are to ourselves." Repletively he is everywhere, though inclusively nowhere. Job 34:21, "For his eyes are upon the ways of man, and he sees all his goings;" verse 22, "There is no darkness, nor shadow of death where the workers of iniquity may hide themselves." Sinners shall never be able to shroud themselves nor their actions, from God's all-seeing eye.
The Rabbis called God Place, because he is in every place, though in the assemblies of his saints more eminently and gloriously. God is present with all his creatures—
(1.) Via productionis, by raising them up;
(2.) Via sustentationis, by sustaining and keeping of them up; they are his family, and he feeds and clothes them, Mat. 5:45; Acts 17:27-28; Psalm 33:13-14;
(3.) Vid inclinationis, by giving unto them power of motion; man could neither live nor move unless the Lord were with him;
(4.) Vid observationis, by taking notice of them; he observes and marks both their persons and their actions—he sees who they are, and how they are employed;
(5.) Vid ordinationis, by governing and ruling of them and all their actions, to the service of his glory and the good of his poor people, Acts 4:25-29.
But this is not that presence that we are to discourse of.
2. Secondly, There is a MIRACULOUS presence of Christ, and this some of the prophets of old had, and the apostles and others had in Christ's time; and by virtue of this miraculous presence of Christ with them, they cast out devils, healed diseases, and did many wonderful things, Mat. 7:22; Mark 3:15. But this is not the presence that falls within the compass of that main point we purpose to speak to.
3. Thirdly, There is a RELATIVE presence of Christ, and that is his presence in his ordinances, and with his churches. [See Psalm 46:4-5; Cant. 7:5; Joel 3:21; Zech. 2:10-11, and 8:3; Psalm 135:21.] Of this presence the Scripture speaks very largely. Exod. 20:24, "In all places where I record my name, I will come unto you, and I will bless you." Exod. 25:8, "And let them make me a sanctuary, that I may dwell among them." Exod. 29:45, "And I will dwell among the children of Israel, and will be their God." Lev. 26:11, 12 "And I will set my tabernacle among you. And I will walk among you, and will be your God, and you shall be my people." Psalm 76:1, 2 "In Judah is God known: his name is great in Israel. In Salem also is his tabernacle, and his dwelling-place in Zion." Isaiah 8:18, "From the Lord Almighty, who dwells in mount Zion." Psalm 9:11, "Sing praises to the Lord who dwells in Zion."
The churches are said to be the temples in which the Lord dwells, and the house of the living God, and the golden candlesticks among which he walks. [1 Cor. 3:16-17; 2 Cor. 6:16; Heb. 3:6; 1 Pet. 2:5; Rev. 2:1.] Oh, how much does it concern all the churches to prize their church state, and to keep close together, and to walk suitable to that gracious presence of God, which shines in the midst of them! But this is not that presence that falls under our present consideration. But,
4. Fourthly, There is a majestic and GLORIOUS presence of Christ, and thus he is said to be in heaven. Psalm 2:4, "He who sits in the heavens will laugh." Heb. 1:13, "But to which of the angels said he at any time, Sit on my right hand until I make your enemies your footstool?" chapter 9:24, "For Christ has not entered into the holy places made with hands, which are the figure of the true—but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God for us." Not that heaven is a place wherein Christ is shut up—but the court, as it were, where his majesty, in acts of wisdom, and power, and mercy, and grace and glory, does most of all appear. [Job 16:19; 2 Thes. 1:9; Psalm 16:11; 1 Tim. 6:14-16; Rev. 3:21.]
As the soul of man, though it be in every part of man—yet it does principally appear and manifest itself in the heart and mind; so here, etc. Monica, Austin's mother, standing one day and seeing the sun shine, raised this meditation, "Oh, if the sun be so bright, what is the light of Christ's presence in glory!" But this is not the presence we design now to discourse of.
5. Fifthly, There is a JUDICIAL or WRATHFUL presence of the Lord; and thus he is present with wicked men, sometimes blinding them, sometimes hardening them, sometimes leaving them to their own heart's lusts, sometimes giving them up to their own heart's lusts, sometimes filling their faces with shame, and their consciences with terrors. [See Exod. 9:14; Isaiah 6:9-10, and 64:1-4; Psalm 81:12; 2 Thes. 2:11-12; Psalm 68:2; Jer. 4:26; Ezek. 38:20; Hab. 1:12.] He is judicially present with wicked men by a particular observation of their persons and ways, Psalm 33:13-14; Job 34:21-22. He sees who they are, and how they are employed against his honor, his interest, his saints, his ways. He is judicially present with wicked men by a special detestation of their persons and ways, etc. But this is not that presence that at this time falls under our consideration; and therefore,
6. Sixthly and lastly, There is a GRACIOUS, a favorable, a special, or eminent presence of the Lordwith his faithful people in their greatest troubles, deepest distresses, and most deadly dangers, as the Scriptures do everywhere evidence. [The compassionate parent is most with the sick child; so here.] Take a taste of some: Gen. 39:20, "And Joseph's master took him, and put him into the prison, a place where the king's prisoners were bound, and he was there in the prison;" verse 21, "But the Lord was with Joseph, and showed him mercy, and gave him favor in the sight of the keeper of the prison." A prison cannot keep God away from his people. Witness the apostles and martyrs, whose prisons, by God's presence, became palaces; and their chains, by God's presence, became a music-school, Acts 16:25.
If men knew by experience the delight which is in suffering for Christ, they would desire with Chrysostom, if it were put to their choice, rather to be Paul a prisoner of Jesus Christ, than Paul enrapt up in the third heaven. Basil, in his oration for Barlaam, that famous martyr, says, "He delighted in his vile prison, as in a pleasant green meadow, and he took pleasure in the several inventions of tortures, as in several sweet flowers." Luther reports of that martyr, Agatha, that as she went to her prisons and tortures, she said she went to banquets and weddings. "The sun enlightens the world," says Cyprian, "but he who made the sun is a greater light to you in prison, etc." "Fire, sword, prisons, famines, are pleasure, they are all delightful to me," says Basil. "Paul rattles his chain which he bears for the gospel, and was as proud of it as a woman of her jewelry," says Chrysostom. [Eph. 6:20; 2 Tim. 1:16; Acts 15:26, 29; Phil. 1:7, 13-14, 16; Col. 4:3, 18; 2 Tim. 2:9, etc.]
Paul and Silas in a prison found more pleasure than pain, more joy than sorrow; and when they were whipped, it was with rosemary branches, as I may say. Paul greatly rejoiced in his sufferings for Christ, and therefore often sings out, "I, Paul, a prisoner of Jesus Christ," not I, Paul, enrapt up in the third heaven. Christ showed his great love to him in bringing him up in the third heaven, and he showed his great love to Christ in a cheerful suffering for him.
Eusebius tells of one who wrote to his friend from a stinking dungeon, and dated his letter "From my beautiful orchard." Mr. Glover the martyr, rejoiced in his imprisonment. "God forgive me," said Mr. Bradford when a prisoner, "of my unthankfulness for this exceeding great mercy, that among so many thousands he chooses me to be one in whom he will suffer." Philip, landgrave of Hesse, being a long time prisoner under Charles the Fifth, was asked what upheld him in his long imprisonment. He answered that he felt the divine consolations of the martyrs.
Gen. 49:23, "The archers," or, as the Hebrew here has it, the arrow-masters, "have sorely grieved him, and shot at him, and hated him." These arrow-masters were Joseph's barbarous brethren who sold him, his adulterous mistress that, harlot-like, "hunted for his precious life;" his injurious master who, without any desert of his, imprisoned him; the tumultuating Egyptians, who pined with hunger, perhaps spoke of stoning of him; and the envious courtiers and enchanters who spoke evil of him before Pharaoh, to bring him out of favor. But by divine assistance, and God's favorable preference, 1 Sam. 30:6, he proved too strong for them all. Verse 24, "But his bow abode in strength, and the arms of his hands were made strong by the hands of the mighty God of Jacob," etc.
Joseph is likened to a strong archer, who, as his many enemies shot at him—so his bow was steadfast, and his arms strong by the special presence of God with him. Such an eminent presence of God had Joseph with him, that he never lacked courage, comfort, or counsel when he was at his worst. The divine presence will make a man stand fast and firm under the greatest pressures. It made Joseph use his bow against his adversaries, as David did his sling against Goliath. He slung, says one, as if he had wrapped up God in his sling.
Psalm 23:4, "Yes, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil; for you are with me; your rod and your staff they comfort me." The presence of the Lord with his people in the most deadly dangers fills their souls full of courage, confidence, and comfort. That darkness which comes upon a dying man, a little before he gives up the life, is the greatest darkness; and yet let a Christian then have but God by the hand, and he will not fear the most hideous and horrid representations of death!
Dan. 3:24, "Then Nebuchadnezzar the king was astonished, and rose up in haste, and spoke and said unto his counselors, Did not we cast three men bound into the midst of the fire? They answered and said unto the king, True, O king;" verse 25, "He answered and said, Lo, I see four men loose, walking in the midst of the fire, and they have no hurt; and the form of the fourth is like the Son of God." The presence of the Son of God turned the fiery furnace into a garden of delights, a gallery of pleasure. This divine presence in the midst of fire and flame kept them from fainting, sinning, and shrinking, and filled their souls with comfort, peace, ease, and heavenly refreshing. We may very safely understand this fourth person to be, as the words do literally bear, the very true Son of God, our Lord and Savior, who is specially present with his people in their greatest extremities and most deadly dangers.
Zech. 1:8, "In a vision during the night, I saw a man sitting on a red horse that was standing among some myrtle trees in a small valley. Behind him were red, speckled, and white horses, each with its own rider." The man riding upon the red horse is the man Christ Jesus; it is the captain of the Lord's army, and the captain of our salvation. [Tim. 2:5; Josh. 4:14; Heb. 2:10. Among the Romans the crown or garland of those who did shout for victory, or ride in triumph, was made of myrtle, Plin., lib. xv. c. 29.] Christ is here represented in his kingly state, under the type of a man riding on a red horse, and having his royal attendants; for under the type of the other horses behind him, is represented his having angels for ministers, and all creatures ready for every dispensation; whether sad, represented by red; or comfortable, represented by white; or mixed of mercy and judgment, represented by speckled horses.
Christ is here represented as a man on horseback, ready to sally forth for the good of his people when they are at the lowest. The low, afflicted, and suffering state of the church is fitly compared to myrtle-trees which grow in a shady grove, in valleys, and bottoms, and by water-sides. Now, when his people are in a very low condition, then Christ appears on horseback, for his people's protection, and their enemies' confusion.
Christ will be sure to lodge with his people when they are at lowest. When the church is in danger, Christ is not asleep; he is always ready upon his red horse, watching all opportunities and advantages, to show his zeal and courage for his people, and his severity and fury against their enemies. The man who stood among the myrtle-trees, verse 10, is Christ Jesus, whose special residence is with his people when they are in the most low, dangerous, and forlorn condition. No troubles, no distresses, no dangers, can banish Christ from his people, or make him seek another lodging.
"But now, O Israel, the Lord who created you says—Do not be afraid, for I have ransomed you. I have called you by name; you are mine. When you go through deep waters and great trouble, I will be with you. When you go through rivers of difficulty, you will not drown! When you walk through the fire of oppression, you will not be burned up; the flames will not consume you. For I am the Lord, your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior." Isaiah 43:1-3
The Israelites went through the Red Sea, and were not drowned; and the three Hebrew children walked up and down in the fiery furnace, and were not so much as singed, Dan. 3:27. By "fire and water" we may well understand the various troubles, distresses, and dangers which may attend the people of God. Now in all these various troubles, etc., the Lord will be specially present with them, to protect and defend, to secure and deliver them out of all their various troubles, their deepest distresses, and most deadly dangers.
2 Cor. 4:9, "Persecuted—but not forsaken; cast down—but not destroyed." Persecuted by men—but not forsaken by God. The saints may be shaken—but not shattered; persecuted—but not conquered; cast down—but not cast off. Luther, speaking of his enemies, says, "They may show their teeth—but not devour me; they may kill me—but not hurt me, because of that favorable and special presence of Christ which is with me." Now this is that presence of the Lord that falls under our present consideration.
But for the further opening of this important point, let us a little inquire—HOW the Lord does manifest his favorable, his special, his eminent presence to his people in their greatest troubles, deepest distresses, and most deadly dangers? Now to this question I shall give these twelve answers—
(1.) First, The Lord does manifest his favorable, special, and eminent presence with his people in their greatest troubles, deepest distresses, and most deadly dangers—by raising their faith to more than an ordinary pitch at such a time.
Exodus 14:10-12 , "As Pharaoh and his army approached, the people of Israel could see them in the distance, marching toward them. The people began to panic, and they cried out to the Lord for help. Then they turned against Moses and complained, "Why did you bring us out here to die in the wilderness? Weren't there enough graves for us in Egypt? Why did you make us leave? Didn't we tell you to leave us alone while we were still in Egypt? Our Egyptian slavery was far better than dying out here in the wilderness!" Thus you see their great troubles, deep distresses, and most deadly dangers, they having a Red Sea before them, and a cruel, bloody, and enraged enemy just at the heels of them. Now in this extremity, see to what a high pitch Moses his faith rises: verse 13, "Do not be afraid. Stand firm and you will see the deliverance the Lord will bring you today. The Egyptians you see today you will never see again." He says they shall never see the Egyptians again, that is, in that manner as they saw those who day insulting against them and pursuing after them—for they saw them afterward—but drowned, and lying dead upon the shore, Exod. 14:14, "The Lord will fight for you; you need only to be still." A strong faith will help a Christian in difficult circumstances. Though Moses had received no particular promise how the Israelites should be delivered—yet he rested upon God's general promise before, that he would get himself honor upon Pharaoh and his army: "The Lord shall fight for you, and you shall be still." As if he had said, You shall be merely passive, and do nothing at all towards the subduing of your enemies, neither in words nor deeds; the Lord shall fight against your enemies, and defeat them himself by a strong hand and an outstretched arm; compose yourselves, act faith and hope in God, without doubting, murmuring, grudging, fainting, or fretting; for God defers his chief aid—until man's greatest need. When the enemy is highest, salvation is nearest; when the danger is greatest, the help of God is readiest, as at this time they found it.
2 Chron. 13:3, "Abijah went into battle with a force of four hundred thousand able fighting men, and Jeroboam drew up a battle line against him with eight hundred thousand able troops." Jeroboam was outnumbered, two to one. Verse 7, "Some worthless scoundrels gathered around him and opposed Rehoboam son of Solomon when he was young and indecisive and not strong enough to resist them." Rehoboam was no warrior, he was no expert prince in the use of arms; he was but young, not in age—but in experience, policy, and valor; he was chicken-hearted, he had no courage, no mettle. [2 Chron. 12:13. He was forty-one years old when he came to the crown.] Jeroboam takes hold of these advantages, and gathers eight hundred thousand Racas—brainless fellows, light and empty; men of no piety, civility, ingenuity, or common honesty.
Now see what a mighty spirit of faith God raised in the children of Judah: verse 17, "Abijah and his men inflicted heavy losses on them, so that there were five hundred thousand casualties among Israel's able men." A monstrous and matchless slaughter, the greatest number that ever we read slain in any battle; far beyond that of Tamerlane when he took Bajazet, or Atius the Roman prefect, when he fought with Attila and his Huns in the fields of Catalonia, where were slain on both sides one hundred sixty-five thousand: verse 18, "The men of Israel were subdued on that occasion, and the men of Judah were victorious because they relied on the Lord, the God of their fathers," because they relied upon the Lord God of their fathers. Strong faith never miscarries. God never has, nor never will, fail those who place their confidence upon him in their greatest dangers.
Esther 4:14, "For if you remain silent at this time, relief and deliverance for the Jews will arise from another place, but you and your father's family will perish. And who knows but that you have come to royal position for such a time as this?" Their great trouble, their deep distress, and their most deadly danger you have in Esther 3:13, "Dispatches were sent by couriers to all the king's provinces with the order to destroy, kill and annihilate all the Jews—young and old, women and little children—on a single day, the thirteenth day of the twelfth month, the month of Adar, and to plunder their goods." [Here are great aggravations of his cruelty, in that neither gender nor age are spared. Rage and malice knows no bounds.] Haman, that grand informer, with his wicked crew, would have robbed them of their lives and goods—but that they were prevented by a miraculous providence, as you know. Now in this deep distress and most deadly danger, at what rate does Mordecai believe? "For if you remain silent at this time, relief and deliverance for the Jews will arise from another place." This Mordecai speaks not by a spirit of prophecy—but by the power and force of his faith, grounded upon the precious promises of God's defending his church, hearing the cries of his people, arising for their relief and support, and grounded upon all the glorious attributes of God, namely, his power, love, wisdom, goodness, and all-sufficiency, etc., all which are engaged in the covenant of grace, to save, protect, and secure his people in their greatest troubles and most deadly dangers.
Mordecai's faith in this black, dark, dismal day, was a notable faith indeed, and worthy of highest commendation. Faith can look through the perspective of the promises, and see deliverance at a great distance, salvation at the door. What though sense says, "Deliverance will not come;" and what though reason says, "Deliverance cannot come;" yet a raised faith gets above all fears, and disputes, and says, "Deliverance will certainly come, redemption is at hand."
Num. 13:30, "Then Caleb silenced the people before Moses and said—We should go up and take possession of the land, for we can certainly do it." chapter 14:9, "Only do not rebel against the LORD. And do not be afraid of the people of the land, because we will swallow them up. Their protection is gone, but the LORD is with us. Do not be afraid of them." The spies by their lies did what they could to daunt and discourage the people, by crying up the strength of the Anakims, and the impossibility of the conquest, Num. 13:32-33. These hollow-hearted hypocritical spies blow hot and cold almost in a breath, Num. 13:23-28. First, they make a narrative of the fruitfulness of the land, and presently they conclude that it was a land that was not sufficient to nourish the inhabitants, yes, a land which devoured the inhabitants, verse 32. Liars have no iron memories.
But now behold to what a mighty pitch Caleb's faith is raised. "Let us go up at once, and possess it, for we are able to overcome it." Or, nearer the Hebrew, "Marching up, march up, subduing, subdue." Let us, says believing Caleb, march up to the land of Canaan courageously, resolutely, undauntedly, for the day is our own, the land is our own, all is our own. "They are bread for us," we shall make but a breakfast of them, we shall as easily and as surely root them out, and cut them down with our swords—as we cut the bread we eat. "Their defense is departed from them." In the Hebrew it is, "Their shadow is departed from them." The shadow you know guards a man from the scorching heat of the sun, Psalm 91:1, and 121:5-6. Caleb, by faith, saw God withdrawn from them; by the eye of his faith he looked upon them as a people without a fence, a shadow, a guard, a covert, a protection; and therefore, as a people that might easily be subdued and destroyed. His faith told him that it was not their strong cities, nor their high walls, nor their sons of Anak, that could preserve, shelter, secure, or defend them, seeing the Lord had forsaken them, and would be no longer as a shadow or a shelter to them. "And the Lord is with us," to make us victorious, to tread down our enemies, and to give us a quiet possession of the good land.
"Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego replied to the king—O Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to defend ourselves before you in this matter. If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to save us from it, and he will rescue us from your hand, O king." Daniel 3:16-17. In the fiery furnace they are protected by a divine providence, they escape death beyond all men's expectations, for the fire touched them not, neither could it burn during their abode in the furnace, for God so fortified their bodies that they could not be consumed by fire, which miracle made them in great estimation with the king, for that he saw that they were virtuous, and beloved of God, and for that cause they were highly honored by him.
Here is a fiery furnace before them, and a proud, boasting, tyrannical, enraged prince domineering over them, for not obeying his idolatrous will. Now to what a mighty pitch is their faith raised! "The God we serve is able to save us from it, and he will rescue us from your hand, O king!" Their faith was bottomed upon their propriety in God: "Our God;" and upon the power, providence, and all-sufficiency of God: "Is able to save us;" and upon the gracious readiness and willingness of God: "And he will rescue us from your hand, O king." When dangers are greatest, then God commonly raises the faith of his people highest; faith does most and best for us, when we are in impossible circumstances. Faith quenches the violence of fire, Heb. 11:34; as the apostle speaks, pointing at the faith of these three Hebrew children, or rather champions. Though now the fiery furnace was heated seven times hotter than it used to be at other times—yet such was the strength, and might, and power of their faith, that it so quenched the flames, that they had not one hair of their heads singed, nor their coats burned, nor the smell of fire found upon them, Dan. 3:27. And thus the blessed martyrs may be said by their faith, patience, and constancy to quench the violence of the fire, though their bodies were consumed to ashes in the fire.
Just so, in Dan. 6:16. Daniel is cast into the den of hungry, enraged lions; innocent Daniel is exposed to the cruel paws and hungry jaws of lions. This kind of capital punishment was not unusual among the Babylonians, the Medes and Persians, and among the Romans also, with whom it was a common saying in Tertullian's time, "Let the Christians be cast to the lions!" The faces of the lions are stern, and their voices are terrible, Amos 3:8; they are roaring and ravenous, they are greedy for their prey. They are vigilant and subtle. Lying in wait to get their prey, they sleep little, and when they sleep, it is with open eyes. They mind their prey much, and are cunning to catch it, Psalm 17:12. The lion hides himself, and when the prey comes near he suddenly surprises it. They are proud and stately, they go alone, they eat not with the lioness, much less with other creatures, they will not stoop to any, or turn away from any, they do what they will; they are most cruel, bloody, devouring creatures; they have terrible claws, sharp teeth, and are strong and mighty to crush and break the bones; and it is very dangerous to meddle with lions. [Proverbs 30:3; Neh. 2:12; 2 Kings 17:6; Proverbs 28:15; 1 Pet. 5:8.]
Num. 24:9, "Like a lion they crouch and lie down, like a lioness—who dares to rouse them?" Lions if offended and provoked are very revengeful. In the hunting or taking of lions, the lion observes who wounds him, and on him if possible he will be revenged. By these hints we may guess at the deadly danger that Daniel was in.
Josephus, to illustrate the history, says, that these informers pleaded before the king, saying that the lions were full and gorged, and therefore they would not touch Daniel; which the king hearing, being displeased with their injurious malice, cast them in to the lions den, to see whether they could likewise escape: but this being done, they were suddenly destroyed, before they came to the bottom of the den, Dan. 6:24. To what a fatal end came these informers! As to their wives and children that were cast into the den of lions, it is most probable that they were accessory to that wicked conspiracy against Daniel, by stirring up and provoking their husbands and fathers, to engage all their power, interest, and policy against him, and never to allow a poor captive to be advanced in honor and dignity above them. How just and righteous a thing was it with God, that those who had plotted together, and contrived together, the ruin and destruction of a holy innocent person, that these should suffer together, and go to the lion's den together, and be torn in pieces together. Sinners, look to yourselves; if you will sin with others, you must expect to suffer with others!
God secured Daniel in the midst of these dreadful dangers by the ministry of an angel. "My God has sent his angel, and has shut the lions' mouths, that they have not hurt me," Dan. 6:22. Others say, that God secured Daniel, by taking away the lions' hunger from them at that time, and by causing in them a satiety. And some tell us, that God secured him, by raising such a fantasy in the lions that they looked upon Daniel, not as a prey—but as on one who was a friend unto them. But now in the midst of this dreadful danger, how does Daniel's faith sparkle and shine: verse 23, "The king was overjoyed and gave orders to lift Daniel out of the den. And when Daniel was lifted from the den, no wound was found on him, because he had trusted in his God." Daniel in a fiery furnace looks upon God as his God, in the midst of the flames he acts faith upon the power of God, the promises of God, etc. Of all living creatures lions are most fierce, cruel, and irresistible—and yet such was the strength and force of Daniel's faith, that it stopped their mouths, see Heb. 11:33; Judges 14:6; 1 Sam. 17:34.
Though Daniel was but one man—yet such was the power of his faith, that it stopped the mouths of many lions. As Luther says of prayer, so may I say of faith; it has a kind of omnipotency in it; it is able to do all things. Thus you see by these famous instances to what a mighty pitch the Lord has raised the faith of his people, when they have been in the greatest troubles, deepest distresses, and most deadly dangers; and this is the first way wherein the Lord does manifest his favorable, his special, his eminent presence with his people, in their greatest troubles, deepest distresses, and most deadly dangers. But,
(2.) Secondly, The Lord does manifest his favorable, his special, his eminent presence with his people in their greatest troubles, deepest distresses, and most deadly dangers—by his teaching and instructing of them. Psalm 94:12, "Blessed is the man whom you chasten, O Lord, and teach him out of your law." This divine presence turns every lash into a happy lesson. In this psalm the Holy Spirit uses six arguments to prove that a man is blessed who is chastened.
[1.] Because he is instructed by being afflicted, as here.
[2.] Because the end why God lays affliction on his people is to give them rest from the days of adversity, verse 13.
[3.] Until the pit is dug for the wicked, in verse 13, until the cold grave holds his body, and hot hell holds his soul.
[4.] Because God will support them under all their afflictions. When God casts his people into the furnace of afflictions, his everlasting arms shall be underneath them. Though God may cast down his people—yet he will never cast off his people.
[5.] Because there shall be a glorious restoration: verse 15, "Judgment shall return unto righteousness."
[6.] Because all the upright in heart shall follow it, in verse 15, namely, in their affections they are carried out after it, earnestly desiring that dear day when God will unriddle his providences, and clear up his proceedings with the sons of men.
Jerome, writing to a sick friend, has this expression: "I account it a part of unhappiness not to know adversity; I judge you to be miserable, because you have not been miserable." Demetrius says, "Nothing seems more unhappy to me than he to whom no adversity has happened." "Freedom from punishment is the mother of security, the stepmother of virtue, the poison of religion, the moth of holiness," says Bernard. It was a speech of Gaspar Olevianus, in his sickness: "In this disease," says he, "I have learned how great God is, and what the evil of sin is. I never knew who God was before, nor what sin meant before." God's corrections are our instructions, his lashes our lessons, his scourges are our schoolmasters, his chastisements are our admonishments. [Isaiah 26:9; Proverbs 3:12-13, and 6:23.] And to note this, the Hebrews and Greeks both express chastening and teaching by one and the same word; because the latter is the true end of the former, according to that in the proverb, "Smart makes wit, and vexation gives understanding."
Job 36:8-10, "But if men are bound in chains, held fast by cords of affliction, he tells them what they have done—that they have sinned arrogantly. He makes them listen to correction and commands them to repent of their evil." Sanctified afflictions open men's ears to discipline, and turn them from iniquity, which is a piece of learning that a Christian can never pay too dearly for. Affliction is an excellent comment upon the Scriptures. Afflictions make way for the word of the Lord to come to the heart. Sanctified affliction is practical teaching.
Bernard had a brother of his, who was a riotous and profane soldier; Bernard gives him many good instructions and admonitions, etc.—but his brother slighted them, and made nothing of them. Bernard comes to him, and says, "God will make way to that hard heart of yours by some spear or lance." And so it fell out; for, going into the wars, he was wounded, and then he remembers his brother's instructions and admonitions, and then they got to his heart, and turned him from his sinful ways.
Job 33:16, "Then he opens the ears of men, and seals their instruction." "The eye that sin shuts, afflictions open," says Gregory. Troubles open men's eyes, as the tasting of honey did Jonathan's. By correction God seals up instruction; God sets on the one by the other; as when a schoolmaster would have a lesson learned indeed, he sets it on with a whipping. As Gideon taught the elders of the city and the men of Succoth with the thorns and briars of the wilderness, so God teaches his people by affliction many a holy and happy lesson, Judges 8:16.
By afflictions, troubles, distresses, and dangers—the Lord teaches his people to look upon sin as the most loathsome thing in the world, and to look upon holiness as the most lovely thing in the world. Sin is never so bitter, and holiness is never so sweet, as when our troubles are greatest and our dangers highest. By afflictions the Lord teaches his people to sit loose from this world, and to make sure the great things of that other world. By affliction God shows his people the vanity, vexation, emptiness, weakness, and nothingness of all created
things—and the choiceness, preciousness, and sweetness of communion with himself, and of interest in himself. "Before I was afflicted I went astray, but now I obey your word." Psalms 119:67. "I know, O LORD, that your laws are righteous, and in faithfulness you have afflicted me." Psalms 119:75
Christ, though he knew, "yet learned he obedience by the things which he suffered," Heb. 5:8; that is, he showed obedience more than before; not as if Christ were to go to school to learn, or as if by certain acts he were to fit himself for obedience; he did not learn that which he knew not before—but did that which he did not before. He who was put upon the trial of his obedience, he came to know by experience what a hard matter it was thus to obey God.
By God's favorable presence a man comes to learn many lessons in a time of adversity which he never learned in a day of prosperity; for we are like idle boys and bad scholars—who learn best when the rod is over us. Hezekiah was better upon his sick-bed than when he was showing of his treasures to the ambassadors of the king of Babylon, Isaiah 39:1-5; and David was a better man when he was in his wilderness-condition than when he sat upon his royal throne, Psalm 30:6-7. The Jews are ever best when in the worst condition; the Athenians would never mend until they were in mourning. When Munster lay sick, and his friends asked him how he did, and how he felt; he pointed to his sores and ulcers, whereof he was full, and said, "These are God's gems and jewels with which he decks his best friends, and to me they are more precious than all the gold and silver in the world." "Here," as that martyr phrased it, "we are but learning our A B Cs, and our lesson is never past Christ's cross, and our walking is still home by Weeping-Cross."
Usually men are worst in a prosperous condition. In a prosperous condition God speaks to us, and we mind him not: "I spoke to you in your prosperity—but you would not hear: and this has been your manner from your youth upwards," Jer. 2:21. Pope Martin reported of himself that, while he was a monk and lived in the cloister, he had some evidences for heaven; when he was a cardinal, he began to fear and doubt; but after he came to be pope, he utterly despaired. The Lord never shows more of his favorable, special, and eminent presence, than by teaching of his people many gracious and gospel lessons by their great troubles, deep distresses, and most deadly dangers. But
(3.) Thirdly, The Lord does manifest his favorable, his special, his eminent presence with his people, in their greatest troubles, deepest distresses, and most deadly dangers—by raising, strengthening, and actuating their suffering graces—namely, their faith, hope, love, patience, prudence, courage, boldness, zeal, constancy. Thus in the text, "The Lord stood by me, and strengthened me." He put new life, and strength, and vigor into all my graces. Although there are habits of grace always resident in the hearts of the saints—yet those habits are not always in exercise. The habits of grace cannot act of themselves, there must be renewed strength imparted to set them on work. "Make me to go in the path of your commandments, for therein do I delight," Psalm 119:35. Though David had a spirit of new life within him—yet he could not actually walk in the path of God's precepts, until by an additional force he was set agoing.
Cant. 4:16, "Awake, O north wind, and come you south wind, blow upon my garden, that the spices thereof may flow out." [Christ is the different winds, both cold and hot, moist and dry, binding and opening, north and south; and therefore whatever wind blows, it shall blow good to his people.] By the garden we may safely understand a sanctified soul, and by the spices in this garden we may understand the several graces planted in the soul. Now these spices can never flow out, and send forth their fragrant smell, until the north and south wind blows upon them. Habitual grace cannot operate, and function, and put forth itself into exercise, until by the concurrent presence and assistance of Christ it is empowered into act.
No saint can act that grace he has received, by his own strength, without the presence and assistance of Christ: 1 Cor. 15:10, "But by the grace of God, I am what I am; and his grace, which was bestowed upon me, was not in vain—but I labor more abundantly than they all—yet not I—but the grace of God, which was with me." He does not say, the grace of God which was in me, that habitual grace which I had; but the grace of God which was with me. So then it is not the strength of habitual grace, which will carry a man through doing or suffering work—but the auxiliary, the assisting, the conquering grace of Jesus Christ. It is his grace with us, more than his grace in us.
Just so, John 15:5, "Without me you can do nothing." You who are my disciples, you who have the Spirit of Jesus Christ, "Without me you can do nothing." The habits of grace, the actings of grace, and the perfecting of grace—are all from Jesus Christ. It is more emphatic in the original, for there you have two negatives, "cannot do nothing." He does not say, "Without me you cannot do many things," but, "Without me you can do nothing." Nor he does not say, "Without me you can do no great thing," but, "Without me you can do nothing." Nor he does not say, "Without me you can do no difficult thing," but, "Without me you can do nothing." Nor he does not say, "Without me you can do no spiritual thing," but, "Without me you can do nothing."
Whatever a saint may do by the power of gifts, or habits of grace received—yet he can do nothing in a lively spiritual acceptable way without the presence of Christ, without a constant dependence upon Christ, without a sweet and special communion and fellowship with Christ. If we cannot put forth a natural action without him—for in him we live, move, and have our being, Acts 17:28—how much less can we perform a spiritual action, in a spiritual manner—without his presence and assistance?
"While the King was at His table, my perfume spread its fragrance." Song of Songs 1:12. That is, let Jesus Christ be but present with us, and then our graces, which are compared to perfume, will send forth its fragrance. Sitting at the table with King Jesus intimates the sweetest friendship and fellowship with Him. It was held a great honor and happiness to stand before Solomon, 1 Kings 10:8; what is it then to sit with Christ at his table? "My spikenard sends forth the smell thereof;" that is, My faith is actuated, and all my other graces are exercised and increased. Christ's presence puts life into all our graces: Isaiah 41:10.
Luke 21:14-15, "Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, yes, I will uphold you with the right hand of my righteousness." 2 Cor. 12:10, "When I am weak, then am I strong." When I am weak in myself, then am I strong in Christ. If the sun shines upon the flower, how soon does the flower open. Just so, when the Sun of righteousness does but shine upon a Christian's graces, how do they open and act! Mal. 4:2. To show how the presence of Christ has acted the faith, love, courage, boldness, and patience, etc., of the saints in the Old and New Testament, the primitive Christians and the martyrs, in the latter ages of the world, when they have been in their greatest troubles, deepest distresses, and most deadly dangers, would take up more than a little time; besides, in my other writings I have opened these things more fully to you, and to them I must refer you. And therefore,
(4.) Fourthly, The Lord does manifest his favorable, special, and eminent presence with his people, in their greatest troubles, deepest distresses, and most deadly dangers—by laying a law of restraint upon every wicked man, and by bridling and checking their fury and insolency, that they shall not add afflictions to the afflicted, as otherwise they would; as he did upon Laban: Gen. 31:24, "And God came to Laban the Syrian in a dream by night, and said unto him, Take heed that you speak not to Jacob, either good or bad." Verse 29, "It is in the power of my hand to do you hurt; but the God of your fathers spoke unto me last night, saying, Take you heed that you speak not to Jacob, either good or bad." See what a law of restraint God laid upon Esau, Gen. 33:1-4; and upon Abimelech, Gen. 20:6-8, 17-18; and upon Benhadad, 1 Kings 20:1, 10, 29-30; and upon Haman, as you may see by comparing the 3rd and 6th chapters of Esther together; and upon Pharaoh, Exod. 15:9-10; and upon Sennacherib, Isaiah 37:28-29, 33-36; and upon Herod, Acts 12.
Maximinus set forth a proclamation engraved in brass for the utter abolishing of Christ and his religion: but he was eaten up by lice. Valens, about to sign an order for the banishment of godly Basil, was smitten with a sudden trembling of his hand that he could not sign the order; afterwards he was burned to death by the Goths.
Domitian, the author of the second persecution against the Christians, having drawn a catalogue of the names of such as he was to kill, in which was the name of his own wife and other friends; upon which he was, by the consent of his wife, slain by his own household servants with daggers in his privy-chamber. His body was buried without honor, his memory cursed to posterity, and his ensigns were thrown down and defaced. Julian vowed to make a sacrifice of the Christians upon his return from the wars; but, in a battle against the Persians, he was mortally wounded, and throwing his blood in the air, in a high contempt of Christ, he died with that desperate blasphemous expression in his mouth, "Galilean, you have overcome me!"
Felix, Earl of Wurttemberg, was a great persecutor of the saints, and did swear that before he died he would ride up to the spurs in the blood of the Lutherans; but the very same night, wherein he had thus sworn and vowed, he was choked in his own blood.
The judgments of God were so famous and frequent upon the persecutors of the saints in Bohemia, that it was used as a proverb among the adversaries themselves, that if any man were weary of his life, let him but attempt harm against the Christians—and he would not live a year to an end.
By these short hints you may see that all along God has made good that word that is more worth than a world, "Surely the wrath of man shall praise you; and the remainder of wrath shall you restrain" Hebrew, "Shall you gird," that is, curb, and keep within compass, as with a girdle. "The remainder of wrath shall you restrain," that is, those who are left alive of your wrathful enemies, that have still any malice against your people, you will curb and restrain, and not allow their wrath to be so great as formerly; or if they go about to recruit their forces, and to set again upon your people, you will set such bounds to their wrath that they shall not accomplish their desires, nor shall they proceed one step further than shall make specially for your glory and your people's good. The more eager and furious the enemies are against God's people, the more honor and glory will God get in protecting and securing his people, and in girding, binding, and tying up their enemies. Were it not for this favorable, special, and eminent presence of God with his people in their greatest troubles, deepest distresses, and most deadly dangers—wicked men would still be a-multiplying of their sorrows, increasing their troubles, and adding of burden to burden. It is this favorable presence of God, which binds wicked men over to their good behavior, and that chains them up from doing that mischief that they design and intend. But,
(5.) Fifthly, The Lord does manifest his favorable, special, and eminent presence with his people, in their greatest troubles, deepest distresses, and most deadly dangers—by guiding and leading them into those paths and waves which make most for their own peace and quiet, safety and security, contentment and satisfaction, happiness here, and blessedness hereafter. Exod. 12:21-22; Isaiah 63:12-14; Psalm 5:8. Deut. 32:10, "He found me in a desert land, and in the waste howling wilderness; he led him about, he instructed him, he kept him as the apple of his eye." [The apple of the eye, or the pupil, is the tenderest piece of the tenderest part. God esteems his people above all the world, Heb. 11:38.] A wilderness-condition is, you know, a condition of straits, needs, deep distresses, and most deadly dangers. Now when his people were in this condition, God instructs them by his words and works, and he takes them by the hand, as I may say, and leads them with all care, tenderness, gentleness, and sweetness, as a man would do a poor helpless infant, which he should find in a desert, in a waste howling wilderness. God never left leading of his people until he had brought them at last through the wilderness to the land of Canaan.
Ah! this leading presence of God turns a wilderness into a paradise, a desert into a Canaan. Let a Christian's troubles, distresses, and dangers, be ever so many and ever so great—yet as long as he has the guiding presence of God with him, he is safe from dangers in the midst of dangers. "The fire shall not burn him, nor the waters overflow him," Isaiah 43:2: Psalm 107:4, "They wandered in the wilderness in a solitary way; they found no city to dwell in." verse 5, "Hungry and thirsty, their soul fainted in them." verse 6, "Then they cried unto the Lord in their troubles, and he delivered them out of their distresses." Here you see their great troubles, deep distresses, and most deadly dangers; and now God gives them his hand, verse 7, "And he led them forth by the right way, that they might go to a city of habitation;" that is, to a state of settlement, say some, to Jerusalem, say others, or to that "city which has foundations, whose builder and maker is God," says another, Heb. 11:10.
In that 32nd Psalm you may see David's great troubles, deep distresses, and most deadly dangers: verse 3, "When I kept silence, my bones waxed old, through my roaring all the day long." verse 4, "For day and night your hand was heavy upon me: my moisture is turned into the drought of summer." But will God be his guide now? Oh yes, verse 8, "I will instruct you, and teach you in the way which you shall go: I will guide you with my eye." Let the hand of the Lord be ever so heavy upon a person—yet the presence of God guiding and instructing of him will keep him from utter fainting and sinking under that hand, Isaiah 30:21; Psalm 73:24. When the people of God are in their greatest troubles, deepest distresses, and most deadly dangers—he leads and guides them, Psalm 25:9, 12, and 5:8.
[1.] Into SUPERNATURAL ways: Proverbs 15:24, "The way of life is above to the wise." He has his feet where other men's heads are; and, like a heavenly eagle, delights himself in flying high.
[2.] Into GOOD ways, Jer. 6:16.
[3.] Into STRAIT and STRICT ways, Mat. 7:14. Hence they are called right or straight paths which lie between two extremes; or, if you will, which directly lead you to the view of heaven. They are paths which lie level with the rule and with the end. A man may see salvation and heaven at the end of them.
[4.] Into PLEASANT ways: Proverbs 3:17, "Her ways are ways of pleasantness, and all her paths are peace." Such as were those of Adam before his fall, strowed with roses and paved with peace. Some degree of comfort, pleasantness, and peace, follows every good action—as heat accompanies fire, as warm beams and influences issue from the sun.
[5.] Into RIGHT paths: Proverbs 4:11, "I have taught you in the way of wisdom; I have led you in right paths." Hosea 1:9, "The ways of the Lord are right, and the righteous shall walk in them." The ways of his will, the ways of his word, and the ways of his worship—are all right ways, they carry us on in a straight line unto a right end.
[6.] into OLD and ANCIENT ways: Jer. 6:16, "Ask for the old paths, where is the good way, and walk therein, and you shall find rest to your souls." Jer. 18:15, "They have caused them to stumble in their way from the ancient paths." The ways of holiness are of the greatest, highest, and ancientest antiquity. The first ways of Adam were ways of holiness. The ways of sin are of a later edition than the ways of holiness. God stamped his image of holiness upon man before ever Satan tried to tempt him. Holiness is of the ancientest house, of the greatest antiquity. Sin is but an upstart, holiness is the firstborn. The way of holiness is the oldest way, the way of holiness is gray-headed and of ancientest institution. All other ways are but of yesterday, they are but new ways, compared to the ways of holiness. The stamp of antiquity upon many things is a praise and an honor to them, as old gold, old friends, old manuscripts, old monuments, old scars, and old holiness. The stamp of antiquity upon the ways of holiness is the praise and honor of the ways of holiness.
[7.] Into paths of RIGHTEOUSNESS: Psalm 23:3, "He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name's sake;" or in plain, smooth, easy paths, or in sheep-tracks, wherein I may walk unweariedly and unblamably. Herein he alludes to the shepherd's care in leading his sheep gently in fair and plain ways, and not through deep mire, brambles, and briars, or over craggy ways—which would be hard and troublesome for them to go in. The word here used is metaphorical; sometimes respecting the blind—who cannot walk without a guide; sometimes little or weak children—who cannot go without a leader; and here the weak and wandering sheep—which stand in need of the shepherd to go in and out before them.
[8.] Into paths of SALVATION: Acts 16:17, "These men are the servants of the most high God, which show unto us the way of salvation."
[9.] Into ways of TRUTH: 2 Pet. 2:2, "And many shall follow their pernicious ways, by reason of whom the way of truth shall be evil spoken of." "The way of truth," that is, the true Christian religion revealed from heaven, which shows the way to true happiness, to eternal salvation.
[10.] Into ways of UPRIGHTNESS: Proverbs 2:13, "Who leave the paths of uprightness, to walk in the ways of darkness."
Now when the people of God are in their greatest troubles, deepest distresses, and most deadly dangers, the Lord by leading them
[1.] into supernatural ways,
[2.] into good ways,
[3.] into strict and straight ways,
[4.] into pleasant ways,
[5.] into right ways,
[6.] into old and ancient ways,
[7.] into righteous ways,
[8.] into ways of salvation,
[9.] into ways of truth, and
[10.] into ways of uprightness,
does gloriously manifest his favorable, his special, and his eminent presence with them.
There is nothing below a mighty presence of God, which can enable a Christian—especially when he is under great troubles, and in deep distresses, and most deadly dangers—to do these five things:
[1.] To approve of the ways of God;
[2.] To choose the ways of the Lord;
[3.] To highly prize them;
[4.] To delight and take pleasure in them;
[5.] To walk in them and to keep close to them.
And yet in all these five things the Lord does greatly and graciously help his poor people, when they are, as it were, in the very mouth of the lion. But,
(6.) Sixthly, The Lord does manifest his favorable presence, his special and eminent presence with his people, in their greatest troubles, deepest distresses, and most deadly dangers—by encouraging, emboldening, animating and heartening up his people in the midst of all their troubles, distresses, and dangers, and by putting new life, spirit, and mettle into them, when they are even in the very mouth of the lion. Josh. 1:6, "Be strong and of a good courage." Verse 7, "Only be strong and very courageous." Verse 9, "Be strong and of a good courage; be not afraid, neither be dismayed: for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go." 2 Chron. 13:12; Num. 13:32-33, compared with 14:9. Joshua was a sword-man as well as a book-man; he had his name changed from Oshea to Joshua, from Let God save, to God shall save, Num. 13:16. Christ will never lack a champion to stand up for his church. If Moses dies, Joshua shall stand up. There shall be a succession of sword-men and book-men, of rulers and teachers—to carry on Christ's work in the world until the top-stone is laid with grace unto it, Zech. 4:7; Mal. 2:15.
The giving of the Spirit is with the Lord, and therefore he can and will put such an anointing of his Spirit upon one and another as shall fit them to carry on his works in the world. Joshua was very valiant, and a man of singular good mettle—yet because he was sure to meet with such troubles, deep distresses, and deadly dangers, as would sink him, therefore he is pressed so frequently to be courageous: verse 6, "Be strong and of good courage." Verse 7, "Only be strong and very courageous." Verse 9, "Be strong and of good courage. Verse 18, "Only be strong and of good courage." Deut. 31:7, "And Moses called unto Joshua, and said unto him in the sight of all Israel, Be strong and of good courage," etc. [Moses had a special command from God to charge Joshua to be courageous, Deut. 1:38, and 3:28. God himself also lays the same command upon him, Deut. 31:23.] And why all this? Not because Joshua had revealed any faintheartedness or cowardice—but because the work he was to undertake was so weighty and perilous, in regard of those many and mighty nations whom he was to destroy, and plant the Israelites in their place. The work that Joshua was to undertake, was attended with many great difficulties and dangers, in respect of the enemies he was to encounter, as being men of giant-like statures and strength, and dwelling in cities with high walls and strongly fortified.
Now the main argument to raise his courage and mettle is drawn from God's special presence and assistance: Josh. 1:9, "For the Lord your God is with you wherever you go." We are not to understand it of God's general presence in all places—but of his special, favorable, special, and eminent presence—which God would manifest in his preservation, and protection, notwithstanding all the difficulties, schemes, dangers, and enemies which he was to encounter.
Just so, 2 Chron. 32:7, "Be strong and courageous, be not afraid nor dismayed for the king of Assyria, nor for all the multitude that is with him: for there are more with us than with him." Verse 8, "With him is an arm of flesh; but with us is the Lord our God to help us, and to fight our battles," etc. At this time the king of Assyria was the greatest monarch in the world, and the most formidable enemy Israel had. He had a mighty army, for there were a hundred eighty-five thousand of them slain in one night, verse 21. Now the great thing they were to mind and attend, was the favorable, special, and eminent presence of God with them, which raised all their hearts above all discouragements, fears, and dismayedness. What is the chaff, compared to the whirlwind? What are thorns and briars, compared to a consuming fire? What is an arm of flesh, compared to the arm, strength, and power of a God? What is weakness, compared to strength; and the nothing-creature, compared to the Lord Almighty
Now if the special special presence of God with his people in their greatest troubles and most deadly dangers won't put singular courage, life, and mettle into them—what will? Acts 23:10-11, "The dispute became so violent that the commander was afraid Paul would be torn to pieces by them. He ordered the troops to go down and take him away from them by force and bring him into the barracks. The following night the Lord stood near Paul and said, "Take courage! As you have testified about me in Jerusalem, so you must also testify in Rome." The favorable, special presence of the Lord with him turned his prison into a palace.
Mr. Philpot, being a prisoner for the testimony of Jesus, writes thus to his friends: "Though I tell you that I am in hell in the judgment of this world—yet assuredly I feel in the same, the consolation of heaven. I praise God; and this loathsome and horrible prison is as pleasant to me as the walks in the king's garden." When Paul was in great danger the Lord stood by him, to cheer, comfort, and encourage him, see Acts 27:23-24. Now God claps him on the back, and puts new life and mettle into him.
When Dionysius was given up by the executioner to be beheaded, he remained constant and courageous, saying, "Come life, come death, I will worship none but the God of heaven and earth."
When Chrysostom had told Eudoxia the empress that for her covetousness she would be called a second Jezebel, she thereupon sent him a threatening message, to which he gave this stout and resolute answer, "Go tell her, I fear nothing but sin."
When the executioner had kindled the fire behind Jerome of Prague, he bade him kindle it before his face; "For," said he, "if I had been afraid of it, I would not have come to this place, having had so many opportunities offered me to escape it." At the giving up of the life, he said, "This soul of mine, in flames of fire, O Christ, I offer you!"
The emperor, coming into Germany, sent for Luther to come to the city of Worms; but many of his friends, from the danger they apprehended hanging over his head, dissuaded him from going; to whom he gave this prudent, courageous, and resolute answer, "That these discouragements were cast in his way by Satan, who knew that by his profession of the truth in so illustrious a place, his kingdom would be shaken; and that, therefore, if he knew that there were as many devils in Worms as there were tiles on the houses—yet he would go."
The German knight, in his letter for Luther against the pontifical clergy, says, "I will go through with what I have undertaken against you, and will stir up men to seek their freedom. I neither care nor fear what may befall me, being prepared for either event, either to ruin you to the great benefit of my country, or myself to fall with a good conscience," etc.
William Flower the martyr said, "That the heavens should as soon fall as I will forsake my profession, or budge in the least degree from it."
Apollonius being asked, if he did not tremble at the sight of the tyrant, made this answer, "God, who gave him a dreadful countenance, has given also unto me an undaunted heart."
When Gardiner asked Rowland Taylor if he did not know him, etc., to whom he answered, "Yes, I know you, and all your greatness—yet you are but a mortal man; and if I should be afraid of your lordly looks, why don't you fear God, the Lord of us all?"
Basil affirms of the primitive Christians, that they had so much courage and magnanimity of spirit in their sufferings, that many heathens, seeing their heroic zeal, resoluteness, and undauntedness, turned Christians.
When one of the ancient martyrs was terrified with the threatenings of his persecutors, he replied, "There is nothing of visible things, nor anything of invisible things, that I fear; I will stand to my profession of the name of Christ, and contend earnestly for the faith once delivered to the saints, come of it what will."
By these instances, which may be of great use in this trying day, you may clearly see how the Lord has manifested his favorable, special, and eminent presence to his people in their greatest troubles, deepest distresses, and most deadly dangers—by raising up in them a spirit of courage, magnanimity, and holy gallantry. But,
(7.) Seventhly, The Lord does manifest his favorable, special, and eminent presence to his people in their greatest troubles, deepest distresses, and most deadly dangers—by preserving them from troubles in the midst of troubles; from dangers in the midst of dangers. Dan. 3:25, "He answered, and said, Lo, I see four men loose, walking in the midst of the fire, and they have no hurt, and the form of the fourth is like the Son of God." The presence of the Son of God preserves these three valiant champions from dangers in the midst of dangers. But give me permission to say, that these words, "One like the Son of God," does not argue that in this vision there was not a representation of the Son of God to come afterwards in the flesh—but rather that this great mystery was here showed for the greater comfort of the faithful, that they might courageously bear all their sufferings, having the Prince and Head both of angels and men present with them, herein to mitigate their pains, and carry them through with joy; this being a greater wonder of grace and love than to have the protection of a mere angel, concerning whose power also, whether he can change the nature of fire, that it shall not burn, is very doubtful and questionable, seeing this argues omnipotency, which is in God alone, and not communicable to any creature.
Where, by the way, you may observe a strong and solid argument to prove that Jesus is the Son of God against all gainsayers, thus: he whom Nebuchadnezzar saw in the fiery furnace was the Son of God in a human shape; but he was typically Jesus. The major is proved, because he did that which none but God could do, namely, he nullified the most fierce and raging fire, which burned up some coming but near it, and had no power, at the same instant of time, so much as to singe a hair of the heads of others. The minor is proved also, because God, appearing in a glorious human shape at any time, was not God the Father or Holy Spirit—but God the Son; for "no man has seen God at any time," John 1:18; 1 Tim. 6:16; 1 John 4:12; but the Son has revealed him, both when in him appearing in a human shape under the law, and when, under the Gospel, showing himself in the man Jesus, born of the Virgin Mary, and hypostatically united unto him: Exod. 3:2, "And the angel of the Lord," that is, Christ, the angel of the covenant, "appeared unto him in a flame of fire out of the midst of a bush; and he looked, and, behold, the bush burned with fire, and the bush was not consumed;" verse 3, "And Moses said, I will now turn aside, and see this great sight, why the bush is not burned." [Christ is called the Messenger or Angel of the Covenant, Mal. 3:1.] The Hebrew word Seneh which is here used signifies a dry bush, a bramble bush, whence the mount and wilderness is called Sinai, because of the great store of brambles which grew there. Now for a bush, a dry bush, a bramble bush, to be all on fire and yet not consumed, this must be a wonder of wonders; but all this is from the good will "of him who dwelt in the bush." Out of these two verses we may briefly observe these few things—
[1.] First, The low, and weak, and brittle estate of the church, represented by a bush, a dry bush, a bramble bush. What more brittle, weak, base, low, and despicable than a dry bush, a bramble bush? What is such a bush good for but the fire, or to stop a gap, or some such inferior use? A bush is a black, deformed, and unlovely thing. Corruption and affliction, sin and suffering, renders the saints very unlovely. The church is not compared to a strong, sturdy oak—but to a weak, brittle bush; and elsewhere to a vine, a dove, a lamb, a sheep, etc.—all frail, weak creatures. It is good for all saints to have low and humble thoughts of themselves, for here they are resembled to a dry bush, a bramble bush. But,
[2.] Secondly, A dry bush, a bramble bush, pricks, wounds, and vexes those who handle it roughly. This bush is in Hebrew called Seneh, as I have hinted before, which the Hebrews describe to be a shrub full of prickles, and without fruit, and so thick that a bird cannot enter without the ruffling and pulling off her feathers. Let the proud enemies of the church look to themselves, for this bramble bush will vex, prick, wound, tear, and conquer, when they have done their worst. In all the ages of the world this bramble bush, the church, has been a cup of trembling unto all the people round about, and a burdensome stone; so that all who burden themselves with it shall be cut in pieces, though all the people of the earth be gathered together against it, Zech. 12:2-3. But,
[3.] Thirdly, Consider the cruelties of the church's enemies is signified and represented by a fire. The bush burns with fire. In this resemblance is shadowed out the oppressed, afflicted, and persecuted estate of the Israelites in the Egyptian furnace; and by fire here is meant the most painful, terrifying, and tormenting afflictions and miseries which attended them. Great afflictions and persecutions are in Scripture commonly set out by fire, as the fiery trial, the fire of affliction, 1 Pet. 4:12; Lam. 2:3-4; Hab. 2:13. Fire is very painful and tormenting, in which respects hell torments are compared to fire; so are great afflictions, miseries, and sufferings; they are very painful and tormenting; they put people into sore pain and travail. Next to the pangs of conscience, and the pains of hell, there are none compared to these pains and pangs which are bred and fed by sore afflictions, by terrible trials.
It has been the lot and portion of God's dearest children, to be exercised with very great and grievous afflictions; and that in order to the discovery of sin, to the embittering of sin, to the preventing of sin, and to the purging away of sin; and in order to the trial of grace, the discovery of grace, the exercise of grace, and the increase of grace; and in order to the weaning of them from this world, and to the completing their conformity to Christ, the captain of their salvation, "who was made perfect through sufferings," Heb. 2:10; and to ripen them for heaven, and to work in them more affections of pity and compassion to those who are in misery, and who sigh and groan under their Egyptian taskmasters.
[4.] Fourthly, Consider the eminence of their preservation, though in the fire—yet unconsumed. The church of God was hot, yes, all in flames—and yet not consumed. This fire was a supernatural fire,
(1.) It continued without fuel to feed upon.
(2.) It kept below and ascended not.
(3.) It burned and consumed not.
All which shows it to be a supernatural work. Let the fire be ever so hot, so fierce, so furious, so spreading—the church shall have a being, and live and bear up in the midst of the flames. If the church like the sea loses in one place, it gains ground in another. When the worst of men and devils have done their worst, the Lord will have a name among his people on earth. The church, with the lamp in the story, laughs at all those winds, which would blow it out. Well may we stand amazed and wonder, that so flaming and terrible a fire, falling upon so contemptible a bush, and so dry and despicable a shrub, should not presently turn it into ashes; for why, is the fire too weak? Oh no! Is the bush so strong, as to defend and secure itself against devouring flames? Oh no! Or is the bush not apt to burn and consume by so fierce a fire? Oh no. It is not from the impotency of the fire, nor from the strength or constitution of the bush; for a dry bramble bush, in the matter of it is as combustible as any chaff, and as easily destroyed as any stubble; but because the natural force thereof was restrained by the glorious power of God!
There are two inseparable qualities of fire:
(1.) To give light.
(2.) To burn; and yet divine power divides and separates these two: for this fire gives light—but burns not. Oh, what a mighty, what an astonishing preservation is here! The afflictions and sufferings of the church are not a consuming fire—but a trying fire, as the fire in a furnace consumes the dross—but tries the gold, and puts a new luster, beauty, and glory upon it.
Hesiod speaks of thirty thousand demigods, which were keepers of men; but what are so many thousand gods, compared to that one God who neither slumbers nor sleeps—but day and night keeps his people as his jewels, as the apple of his eye; who keeps them in his pavilion, as a prince his favorite? [Psalm 121:4; Isaiah 27:3; Mal. 3:17; Zech. 2:8; Psalm 31:20.]
There was a dialogue between a heathen and a Jew; after the Jews returned from captivity—all nations round about them being enemies unto them—the heathen asked the Jew, "how he and his countrymen could hope for any safety, because," says he, "everyone of you is as a silly sheep compassed about with fifty wolves!" "Yes—but," says the Jew, "we are kept by such a shepherd, as can kill all these wolves when he pleases, and by that means preserve his sheep." But,
[5.] Fifthly, Consider how this eminent preservation of his people from dangers in the midst of dangers is effected and brought about, and that is by the presence of the Lord Jesus Christ, the great angel of the covenant; for Moses says expressly of this vision, that "The Lord appeared unto Moses, and God called unto him out of the midst of the bush, and said, Moses, Moses," etc., verse 4. This calling of Moses by his name, and the doubling of his name, in such a familiar and loving manner—was a sign of God's singular favor to Moses. Choice favorites God frequently called by name, as you may see in those instances of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, etc., and so our Lord Jesus Christ called Peter by his name, and Nathanael by his name, and Mary by her name, etc. [Scipio by way of favor called his citizens by their names; and so Cyrus upon the same ground called his soldiers by their names.] The same presence of the Son of God, which preserved the three Hebrew children, or rather champions, in that furious furnace of Nebuchadnezzar from burning or singeing, preserved the bush, though not from burning—yet from consuming, by restraining the natural force of the fire, and strengthening the bush against it. The bush, the church in the fire, came forth from the hottest furnace that ever was kindled, not blacker nor worser—but brighter and better, and more glorious than the sun in his strength; and all this from the presence of the angel of the covenant who dwelt in the bush. Divine presence can preserve a flaming bush from being consumed.
Witness our preservation to this day, though we have been as a burning bush. "God is in the midst of her, she shall not be moved, God shall help her, and that right early," Psalm 46:5. Heb., "When the morning appears," that is, in the nick of time, when help shall be most seasonable and best welcome. The presence of the Lord in the midst of his church, will secure her from being greatly moved in the midst of all those great dreadful confusions which are abroad in the world.
Hence the church is called, Jehovah shammah, "The Lord is there," Ezek. 48:35. His presence in heaven, makes it heaven; and his presence in the church, makes it happy and safe. Nothing shall disturb or harm those who have the presence of God in the midst of them. [Persecution is, as Calvin writes, the black angel which dogs the gospel at the heels.] The church is built upon a rock, she is invincible, Mat. 16:18. Jer. 1:8, "Do not be afraid of their faces, for I am with you, to deliver you, says the Lord." Verse 17-19, "Get yourself ready! Stand up and say to them whatever I command you. Do not be terrified by them, or I will terrify you before them. Today I have made you a fortified city, an iron pillar and a bronze wall to stand against the whole land--against the kings of Judah, its officials, its priests and the people of the land. They will fight against you but will not overcome you, for I am with you and will rescue you—declares the LORD." God's presence with his messengers is a guard, and a safeguard, all-sufficient against all opposition whatever.
Earthly princes and sovereigns are not accustomed to go with those whom they send on embassage—but God always goes along with those whom he sends, and will, by his powerful presence, protect and defend them against opposers, at all times and in all places, when all others fail and forsake us. Christ's presence is security sufficient, for "if he is with us, who can be against us?" They must first prevail against him, before they can prevail against those who withstand and oppose those whom he protects.
How does this come to pass—that Jeremiah, a man, a man alone, should bear up so stoutly, and stand so strong against kings, princes, priests, and people? It is from the special presence of God with him. "I am with you." And what can all the great ones of the world, and all the wicked ones of the world, do against one messenger of the Lord, who is armed with his glorious power? The ambassadors of the King of kings, and Lord of lords, must not be terrified with the multitude of opposers, nor with the grandeur or greatness of opposers; but set the presence of the Lord against them all, and say, "The number of opposers makes the Christian conquests the more illustrious." The more the Pharisees of old, and their successors of late time, have opposed the truth, the more it has prevailed; and it is observable that the reformation in Germany was much furthered by the papists' opposition, yes, when two kings, among many others, wrote against Luther, namely, Henry the Eighth of England, and Ludovicus of Hungary; this kingly title being entered into the controversy, making men more curious to examine the matter, stirred up a general inclination towards Luther's opinion.
Just so, Jer. 15:20, "And I will make you unto this people a fenced brazen wall; and they shall fight against you—but they shall not prevail against you: for I am with you to save you, and to deliver you, says the Lord." When the messengers of the Lord go on constantly and courageously in the faithful discharge of their duties, not relenting, or yielding, or complying with their greatest opposers, then they shall have such a special presence of the Lord with them, as shall sufficiently protect them against all their enemies' might and malice, wrath and rage. Verse 21, "And I will deliver you out of the hand of the wicked, and I will redeem you out of the hand of the terrible or violent ones." Though you should fall into the hand of the wicked's power, and into the hand of the terrible and violent ones—yet they shall not hurt you, nor harm you; they shall not have their wills upon you. When you are in their hands, I will lay a law of restraint upon their hearts, that they shall not harm you, nor triumph over you; I will be sure to secure you, and rescue you from dangers in the midst of dangers. "A gracious messenger of the Lord in the midst of all oppositions," as Chrysostom said of Peter, "is a man made all of fire walking in stubble—he overcomes and consumes all opposition; all difficulties are but whetstones to his fortitude." The moon will run her course though the dogs bark at it. Just so, will the faithful messengers of the Lord hold on in their way and work, let men and devils bark and do their worst.
Moulin, speaking of the French Protestants, said, "When papists hurt us for reading the Scriptures, we burn with zeal to be reading of them." He is a fool, we say, who will be laughed out of his coat—but he is a fool in folio, who will be laughed out of his skin, out of his profession, out of his religion, out of his principles, out of the ways of God, nay, out of his soul, out of his salvation, because he can't endure to be opposed, derided, or laughed at by lewd and wicked men. The divine presence will make a man set light by such paper-shot.
A gracious spirit is raised by opposition. The more opposition it meets with in a way of duty, the more resolute he is for it. So far is he from being afraid of the threatenings of men, of the frowns of men, or of losing this man's favor, or of incurring such a man's displeasure—that his spirit rises far more because of it. It is with such a man as it is with the fire in winter. The fire burns the hotter because of the coldness of the air; so it is with all the messengers of the Lord, who are inflamed in the way of their duty. Come to David, and tell him, Oh, there is a Goliath, and he has come out with a spear like a weaver's beam, and there is one who bears his shield goes before him! "Where is he?" says David. "I will fight with him," says he, [1 Sam. 17:411, compared with verse 26-27.] Difficulties and dangers do but whet and raise his spirit; he is not afraid of any uncircumcised Philistine.
Ah, my friends, this is a true noble spirit! Holy greatness of mind lies in this, when a man's spirit is borne up upon the greatness of his God, and the goodness of his cause; "and if that will not bear me up," says such a soul, "let me sink in it, I am content to perish." That is a good word, more worth than a world in a faithful minister's eye: Ezek. 3:8-9, "I will make you as unyielding and hardened as they are. I will make your forehead like the hardest stone, harder than flint. Do not be afraid of them or terrified by them, though they are a rebellious house." The flint is the hardest of stones; it preserves itself by its hardness from all injuries; no weather, no violence of hammer or fire will break it or conquer it. God engages himself to give the prophet such undaunted boldness, and invincible courage and constancy, as neither shame nor fear should prevail against.
Divine presence, divine assistance, does always accompany a divine call. Such whom God sends he assists, such whom he calls he encourages against all difficulties and discouragements; such as are called by Christ, and sent by Christ, shall never lack the strengthening, comforting, assisting, animating, and preserving presence of Christ. It is this divine presence which makes them persevere, and show themselves like men—like men of courage, like men of God, and which secures them from dangers in the midst of dangers. In the greatest storms the flint shrinks not, it fears not, it changes not its hue, no, not in the least. Divine presence will keep gracious men from shrinking, fearing, and changing their way, their work, their Lord, and Master—in the worst of storms that can beat upon them. In all winds and weather the flint is still the same, and so will all the faithful messengers of the Lord be, whatever wind may blow upon them. The special presence of God with them will keep them from fearing, fainting, flying, and preserve them from dangers in the midst of dangers! But,
(8.) Eighthly, The Lord does manifest his favorable, special, and eminent presence with his people in their greatest troubles, deepest distresses, and most deadly dangers—by frustrating and disappointing the plots, designs, counsels, and contrivances of their powerful, subtle, secret, and malicious adversaries, who would gladly be multiplying of their troubles, sorrows, sufferings, and miseries upon them. Neh. 4:8, "They all conspired together, to come and fight against Jerusalem, and to hinder it." Verse 11, "And our adversaries said, They shall not know, neither see, until we come in the midst among them, and slay them, and cause the work to cease." Verse 15, "And it came to pass, when our enemies knew that it was known unto us, and God had brought their counsels to nothing," etc. The craft of the church's enemies is always accompanied with cruelty; and their cruelty is seldom without craft. The devil lends them his seven heads to plot with, and his seven horns to harm with. But in the things wherein they intend to harm God's people, God is above them, and by his presence with his people he brings all their plots, counsels, and enterprises to nothing.
The enemies of the Jews, in Nehemiah's time, made great brags at first what they would do; but when they saw their plots discovered, and their purposes defeated, they are presently crestfallen, and have no mind nor courage to advance at all. So that to these plotters may be fitly applied that which Guicciardini says of Charles the Eighth, king of France, in his expedition against Naples, "That he came into the field like thunder and lightning—but went out like a snuff; more than a man at first, and less than a woman at last."
In all the ages of the world—the heads, the minds, the hands, the hearts, and the tongues of the wicked have been engaged against the godly; they have been still a-plotting and devising mischief against the favorites of heaven—and yet God's special presence with his people, in point of affection and protection, has blasted all their designs, and frustrated all their counsels. As the rage of wicked men against the saints have been endless, so it has been fruitless, because God has been in the midst of them. Haman plots against the lives, liberties, and estates of the Jews, Esther 3:8, seq.—but his plot was timely discovered and seasonably prevented, and the grand plotter and informer is detected, debased, condemned, and executed! Esther 7:10, "So they hanged Haman on the gallows that he had prepared for Mordecai. Then was the king's wrath pacified." The kings of Persia had absolute and unquestionable power to do whatever they desired. "Whom they would, they slew; and whom they would, they kept alive; whom they would, they set up; and whom they would, they put down," Dan. 5:19; Esther 7:9. So Haman is here, at the king's command, adjudged to be hanged. The truth is, it was a clear case, and the malefactor was self-condemned. "Hang him, therefore," says the king; a short and a just sentence, and soon executed. Ah, how soon is Haman fallen from the palace—to the gallows; from the highest stage of honor—to the lowest stair of disgrace; from feasting with the king—to be made a feast for crows; and so lies wrapped up in the sheet of perpetual infamy. "So let all your enemies perish, O Lord."
It is a good observation of Josephus upon Esther 7:10: "I cannot," says he, "but admire the Lord's wisdom, and acknowledge his justice, in that he not only punished him for his malice to the church—but, by turning his own mischief upon himself, has made him an example to all posterity; hanging him up in gibbets that others may take warning." Let all plotters and harmers beware of making a match with mischief—for they will have enough of it in the end. Haman was an agent for the devil, who paid him his wages at last, if you will, with a halter. Let all the enemies of the saints tremble at such ends, and be careful to avoid them by flying such like foul and heinous practices.
The bloody plot being thus laid by Haman, the king's minion, behold the footsteps of God's favorable, special, and eminent presence for his people and with his people in their deadly dangers, and that in raising up in them a very great spirit of faith, prayer, and mourning; and by raising an undaunted courage and resolution in Esther: "And so I will go in unto the king, and if I perish, I perish," Esther 4:16. This she speaks not rashly or desperately, as wasteful of her life—but as one willing to sacrifice her life for the honor of God, his cause and people. Esther had rather die than shrink from her duty. She thought it better to do worthily and perish for a kingdom, than unworthily and perish with a kingdom. Here was a mighty preference of God in raising Esther's heroic courage and resolution above all those visible dangers which attended her attempt of going in to the king against the known law of the land. And the king held out to Esther the golden scepter, chapter 5:2. He did not kick her out of his presence, as some Cambyses would have done; neither did he command her to the guillotine, as Henry the Eighth did his Anne Boleyne, upon a mere misapprehension of disloyalty; neither yet did he dismiss her, as he had Vashti for a less offence—but by holding out his scepter, shows his gracious respects unto her. This was the Lord's own work, and a great demonstration of his special presence with her, in giving her favor in the eyes of the great king. "So Esther drew near, and touched the top of the scepter" with her hand, says the Chaldee, with her mouth, says the common translation. This she did either in token of submission, or as a sign of reverence and subjection, or for the avoiding of danger; for, as Josephus says, "He who touched the king's scepter was out of the reach of evil," or, according to the custom of the times. God's favorable presence is transparent, in the king's extended favor to her. "On that night could not the king sleep," Heb., "the king's sleep fled away," Esther 6:1; and like a shadow it fled away so much the faster, as it was more followed. Crowns have their cares. Lo! he who commanded one hundred and twenty-seven provinces cannot command one hour's sleep. Herein appeared the special presence of God in keeping the king awake; for Mordecai might have been hanged before Esther had known anything of it—Haman being come early the next morning, verse 4, to beg this of the king—had not God kept him from sleep, and directed him to read in that place of the Chronicles where Mordecai's service was recorded, and so made way to his advancement and Haman's ruin. God's favorable presence shined upon his people in keeping the king from sleep, for excellent ends, and in putting small thoughts into his heart for great purposes.
God will appear for his poor people, in the nick and opportunity of time, when there is but a step between them and death. And further, the power, providence, presence, and goodness of God was made evident, in the behalf of his people, in directing the king to that very place where Mordecai's singular service, in discovering the barbarous and murderous plot which was laid against the king's life and crown, was recorded, Esther 6:2. That Mordecai should have no reward at the time of the occurrence—but that it should be deferred until a fitter opportunity, when God might be more glorified in the special preservation of his people, and in the famous overthrow of their enemies—was from that mighty hand of God, which was stretched out for the good of his people.
In this great story we may, as in a mirror, see how the Lord, by his wisdom, providence, presence, and grace—brings about and overrules the wills of men, the affairs of men, the counsels of men, the designs of men, the words and speeches of men—to the fulfilling of his own will and decree, and the promoting of his own honor and glory, and the good of his people—when vain men think least of doing his will, or serving his providence.
Here you may see the wisdom, prudence, and courage of Esther, striking while the iron was hot, charging the bloody decree upon Haman to his face, and that before the king, that things might the better stick and work, and painting him out in his own proper colors. "This adversary and enemy," that is, the cruel enemy, the bloody enemy, the utter enemy, the worst enemy, this sworn swordman of Satan, from whom Haman has drawn his ancient enmity, Gen. 3:15. "Is this wicked Haman," that is—as wicked a wretch as goes on two legs, a man of blood, a man made up of mischief and malice, a sink of wickedness, a very mystery of iniquity, a breathing devil. And now Queen Esther is plain with him, and calls a spade a spade. Though others styled him noble, great, serene, magnificent, etc., Esther gives him his own picture. "This adversary and enemy is this wicked Haman!" But what a mighty courage had Esther to speak at this rate before the king, and of his grand favorite, and before his face. Surely all this was from the special presence of God with her soul. This was a great work of faith, and a singular fruit of prayer.
"And now Haman stood up to make request for his life." Oh, what a strange turn of events, is here so suddenly! He who a little before was bowed unto by all men—is now upon his knees before a woman! He who was, the very day before, a professed enemy of the Jews, is now suppliant to a Jewess! He who a few weeks before had contrived the death and ruin of the Jews, is now begging hard for his own life! He who had provided a gallows for Mordecai, fears nothing more now, than that he himself should be hanged on it! Yesterday, oh the praise and bows that Haman had; and now the same man covers his face, in token of his irrecoverable ruin, Esther 7:8.
The king's indignation being up, the courtiers point at the gallows seventy-five feet high, that Haman had set up for Mordecai. All are now for Mordecai, there is not a courtier that has one good word for Haman. Ah, what a rare hand of God was there in all these things, for the good of his people, and the utter overthrow of their grand enemy! "Then Harbona, one of the eunuchs attending the king, said, 'A gallows seventy-five feet high stands by Haman's house. He had it made for Mordecai, who spoke up to help the king.' The king said, 'Hang him on it!' So they hanged Haman on the gallows he had prepared for Mordecai. Then the king's fury subsided." Esther 7:9-10
To sum all up in a little room, the breaking of the king's sleep, was the breaking of one of the most bloody designs that ever was laid against the people of God. Well, what though the king could not sleep, could he not lie still in his bed? No, he must have a book, and that book must be the Book of Chronicles, and that book must be opened where accidentally—not by turning to that place purposely—yet surely by God's providence directing him who read, to that very story concerning Mordecai, where was registered his faithfulness, in discovering and baffling the murder intended against the king; whereupon God sets this act of faithfulness so close upon the king's heart, that he could not rest until Mordecai was nobly rewarded for it! And Mordecai's reward must be Haman's ruin! Mordecai's advancement must be Haman's punishment!
In this famous instance you may run and read the favorable, special, and eminent presence of the Lord, in the miraculous preservation of his church from a total ruin and destruction, and in the disappointing the plots, designs, and counsels of their greatest enemies, and in taking of them in the very snares that they had laid for others; suitable to that of the psalmist, "They dig a pit to trap others and then fall into it themselves. They make trouble, but it backfires on them. They plan violence for others, but it falls on their own heads," Psalm 7:16-17.
Henry the Third of France was stabbed in the same chamber where he had helped to contrive the French massacre; and his brother, Charles the Ninth, had blood given him to drink, for he was worthy. There are no end of stories of this nature. Just so, Psalm 9:15, "The nations have fallen into the pit they dug for others. They have been caught in their own trap." The wicked are compared to hunters for their cruelty, and to fowlers for their craft; but see their success, they are sunk down in their own pit, caught in their own net. Thus it befell Pharaoh, Jabin, and Sisera, Sennacherib, Antiochus Epiphanes, Maxentius the tyrant, who fell into the Tiber, from his own false bridge laid for Constantine; the Spanish armada, etc. [Exod. 9:15; Judges 10:4; 2 Chron. 32; Euseb., lib. ix. c. 9.] verse 16, "The wicked have trapped themselves in their own snares." Goliath was killed with his own sword.
I have been the longer a-glancing at this famous story of Esther, because of its seasonableness and suitableness to the days and times wherein we live. The like is not found in all the Scripture, as worthy of present admiration, and of deep and perpetual meditation.
A further proof of this eighth particular, that is under our present consideration, you have in Isaiah 8:9, "Raise the war cry, you nations, and be shattered! Listen, all you distant lands. Prepare for battle, and be shattered! Prepare for battle, and be shattered!" Heb.— "And be shattered! And be shattered! And be shattered!" It is thrice repeated, to work it the deeper into the minds and hearts of those, who would either hear or read it; and to give the stronger assurance of the certainty of their being inevitably broken in pieces, who were adversaries and conspirators against the people of God. This speech is directed to the kings of Assyria, and other nations which combined with him against the people of God; but especially against the city of Jerusalem. It is a holy irony, or laughing to scorn the associating enemies of the church. Well says the prophet, Proceed as unanimously, as politically, and as powerfully in your combinations, consultations, and preparations as you can—yet be assured that all your associations shall be dissolved, and your counsels frustrated, and your attempts returned back upon yourselves to your own ruin and confusion: verse 10, "Take counsel together," (namely, about invading Judah, and surprising Jerusalem,) "and it shall come to nothing; speak the word, and it shall not stand; for God is with us." Isaiah 7:5-6.
"The LORD foils the plans of the nations; he thwarts the purposes of the peoples. But the plans of the LORD stand firm forever, the purposes of his heart through all generations. Blessed is the nation whose God is the LORD, the people he chose for his inheritance." Psalms 33:10-12. Consult, conclude, determine, resolve upon what you please, you shall never be able, by all your power and policy, to prevail against the people of God! For his favorable, special, and eminent presence is constantly with them—to assist, counsel, and protect them against all oppositions and assaults. God brings to nothing the counsel of the nations. Neither the devil nor his imps, nor any of their counsels, or enchantments, shall ever be able to stand before the presence of the Lord with his people! Let men and devils conspire, let them plot, consult, and determine—all shall be in vain, because there is no counsel against the Lord, there is no possibility of prevailing against the presence of the Lord with his people. His special presence will be their greatest safety and security in the midst of all plots, designs, dangers, etc. The special presence of God with his people mars and frustrates all the plots, counsels, and intricate contrivances of the world's wizards, as might be showed in those instances of Balaam, Pharaoh, Saul, Herod, with many others. But I must hasten, and therefore,
(9.) Ninthly, The Lord does manifest his favorable, special, and eminent presence with his people in their greatest troubles, deepest distresses, and most deadly dangers—by his sympathizing with them in all their troubles, trials, distresses, dangers, as you may clearly see by consulting these choice scriptures. [Exod. 2:23-25, and 3:7-10; Isaiah 37:28-29; Ezek. 35:7-10; Mat. 25:4, seq.; Deut. 32:9-11; John 14:9-10; Col. 1:15; Heb. 9:24; Romans 8:34.]
Isaiah 63:9, "In all their afflictions he was afflicted, and the angel of his presence saved them: in his love and in his pity he redeemed them; and he bore them, and carried them all the days of old." Christ is here in the Hebrew called "the angel of his face," either because he does exactly resemble God his Father, or because he appears before the face or in the presence of God for us. This angel took to heart their afflictions, he was himself grieved for them and with them. This angel secured and safeguarded them all the way through the wilderness, from Egypt to Canaan. This angel did not only lead them—but he also lifted them up and took them in his arms, as parents or nurses are accustomed to do with young and weakly children who are in danger. And this angel carried them, as the eagle does her young ones, that are unable yet to fly—on her wings. Oh the pity, the mercifulness, the sympathy, and admirable compassion of Christ to his people in their suffering state!
Zech. 2:8, "Whoever touches you, touches the apple of his eye." The eye is the tenderest piece of the tenderest part. The eye is kept most diligently, and strongly guarded by nature. A man can better bear a thump on the back, the biting of his finger, the cutting of his hand, the pricking of his leg, or a blow upon his arm—than a touch on the eye. Oh, that persecutors would be quiet, and let God's people alone, and take heed how they meddle with God's eyes. [It is here called the daughter of the eye, because it is as dear to a man as an only daughter. The eye and the good name will endure no jests.] There is no touching of them, to wrong or injure them—but you wrong and injure the Holy One of Israel, who will certainly revenge himself upon you. Those who strike at God's eyes, do through them strike at God himself, which he will never put up with. It is a dangerous thing to molest and trouble, to afflict or annoy the people of God; for God himself is very sensible of it, and accordingly he will certainly requite it. Acts 9:4, "Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?" Those who persecute the servants of Christ—they persecute Christ himself, who lives in them, and is mystically united to them.
Look! as there is by virtue of the natural union a mutual sympathy between the head and the members, the husband and the wife, so it is here between Christ and his saints, for he is a most sympathizing, compassionate, tender-hearted Savior, Heb. 4:15, and 5:2; Col. 1:24; Heb. 13:13; Isaiah 53:4. Those who shoot at the saints, hit Christ; their sufferings are held his, and their reproaches are counted his. He who bore the saints' griefs when he was on earth, really and properly, he bears them still now he is in heaven, in a way of sympathy. Christ in his glorified state, has a very tender sense of all the evil that is done to his children, his members, his spouse, and looks upon it as done to himself!
A great Lord said to another great Lord of the council, in king Henry the Eighth's days, concerning Cranmer, "Let him alone, for the king will not allow his finger to ache." So I say to the persecutors of the day, "Let the people of God alone, for if you do but make their finger ache, God will make your heads and hearts ache for it before he has done with you!" But,
(10.) Tenthly, The Lord does manifest his favorable, special, and eminent presence with his people in their greatest troubles, deepest distresses, and most deadly dangers—by pouring out upon them a greater spirit of prayer and supplication in their greatest troubles, deepest distresses, and most deadly dangers, than formerly they have had. Isaiah 26:16, "Lord, in trouble have they visited you; they poured out a prayer when your chastening was upon them." "They poured out their still prayer." Before they would say a prayer—but now they poured out a prayer. The Hebrew word signifies a soft or low kind of muttering which can hardly be heard. The prophet hereby would intimate to us, that in their great troubles and deepest distresses—they sighed or groaned unto God, and prayed in a still and silent manner. Saints never visit God more with their prayers—than when he visits them most with his rod. Saints never pray with that seriousness, that spiritualness, that heavenliness, that humbleness, that brokenness, that fervency, that frequency—as they do when they are under the mighty chastening hand of God; and all this is from that special presence of God, that it is with them in their greatest troubles, deepest distresses, etc.
When it was a day of great trouble, of great distress, of great danger to the people of God in Germany, God poured out a very great spirit of prayer upon Luther; at length he comes out of his closet triumphantly, saying to his fellow-laborers and friends, "We have overcome, we have overcome!" at which time it is observed that there came out a proclamation from Charles the Fifth that none should be further molested for the profession of the gospel. In days of troubles and distress Luther was so warm, zealous, and powerful in prayer, that made one of his best friends say, "That man could have from God whatever he pleased." Being once very warm in prayer, he let fall this transcendent rapture of a daring faith, "Let my will be done;" and then falls off sweetly, "My will, Lord, because it is your will." It is reported in the life of Luther, that when he prayed it was with so much reverence as if he were praying to God, and with so much boldness as if he had been speaking to his friend.
I have read of a fountain that at noonday is cold, and at midnight it grows warm; so many Christians are cold in praying, in hearing, etc., in the day of prosperity—but yet are warm and lively in praying and wrestling with God in the day of adversity. [2 Chron. 33:11-13 , Jonah 2; Dan. 6; Psalm 8:4; Luke 23:42; 2 Chron 20:1-13; Isaiah 37:14-22; Gen. 32:6-13, and verse 24-31. Now, under affliction, he oils the key of prayers with tears, Hosea 12:4.] Manasseh got more by prayer in his iron chains, than ever he got by his golden crown. Afflictions are like the pick at the nightingale's bosom—which awakens her, and which puts her upon her sweet and delightful singing. A sincere Christian never prays so sweetly—as when under God's rod.
One reports of Joachim, the father of the Virgin Mary, that he would often say, Prayer is my food and drink. When a Christian is in trouble, then prayer is his food and drink. Oh, what a spirit of prayer was upon Jonah—when he was in the whale's belly; and upon Daniel—when he was among the lions; and upon David--when fleeing in the wilderness; and upon the dying thief—when he was on the cross; and upon Jehoshaphat, when Moab and Ammon and others came against him to battle; and upon Hezekiah, when Sennacherib had invaded Judah; and upon Jacob, when his brother Esau came to meet him with four hundred bloody cut-throats at his heels! As there are two kinds of antidotes against poison—namely, hot and cold; so there are two kinds of antidotes against all the troubles of this life—namely, fervent prayer and holy patience, the one hot, the other cold; the one quenching, the other quickening. When a Christian under great troubles, deep distresses, and most extreme dangers, prays more for the sanctification of affliction than the removal of affliction; when he prays more to get off his sins than to get off his chains; when he prays more to get good by the rod than to get free from the rod; when he prays more that his afflictions may be a refining fire than a consuming fire, and that his heart may be low and his graces high, and that all his troubles may wean him more from this world, and ripen him the more for the glory of that upper world—it is a great demonstration of the special presence of God with him in all his troubles and deep distresses. But,
(11.) Eleventhly, The Lord does manifest his favorable, special, and eminent presence with his people in their greatest troubles, deepest distresses, and most deadly dangers—by drawing the hearts of his people nearer and closer to himself, by all the afflictions, troubles, distresses, and dangers which attend them in this world. Psalm 119:67, "Before I was afflicted I went astray, but now I obey your word." God brought David nearer to himself by Weeping-Cross, (Chrysostom.) Affliction is a fire to purge out our dross, and to make our graces shine. Affliction is the remedy which cures all our spiritual diseases.
By afflictions God humbles the hearts of his people, and betters the hearts of his people, and draws the hearts of his people nearer and closer to himself verse 71, "It was good for me to be afflicted." The saints gain by their crosses, troubles, and distresses. Their graces are more raised, their experiences are more multiplied, and their comforts are more augmented, and their communion with God is more heightened, Romans 5:3-4; 2 Cor. 1:3-5; Hosea 2:14. The waves did but lift Noah's ark nearer to heaven, and the higher the waters grew the more the ark was lifted up to heaven. The troubles and distresses which the saints meet with do but raise them in their fellowship with the Father, Son, and Spirit, Psalm 73:13-14, 28.
When Tiribazus, a noble Persian, was arrested, at first he drew out his sword to defend himself; but when they charged him in the king's name, and informed him that they came from the king to carry him to the king, he yielded willingly. So when afflictions arrest a noble Christian, he may murmur and struggle at the first; but when he considers it is sent from God, to bring him to the sight of God, the King of glory, he willingly and readily submits to the rod, and kisses the rod. All the stones that came thick about Stephen's ears did but knock him the closer to Christ the corner-stone, Acts 7:55, 60. Tiburtius saw paradise when he walked upon burning coals. "If there be any way to heaven on horseback, it is by the cross," said Bradford.
Hosea 2:6, "Therefore I will block her path with thornbushes; I will wall her in so that she cannot find her way." By afflictions, difficulties, and distresses, God hedges up his people's way. Well, what then? Mark, verse 7, "Then she will say—I will go back to my husband as at first, for then I was better off than now." That is, I will go back to to God: I have run away from him by my sins, and now I will return to him again by repentance. The grand design of God in all the afflictions which befall his people, is to bring them nearer and closer to himself. The church could have no rest at home, nor no comfort abroad, until by affliction she was brought into the presence and company of her first husband: Hosea 6:1, "Come and let us return unto the Lord, for he has torn, and he will heal us; he has smitten, and he will bind us up."
The great design of God in playing the lion's part with his people, Hosea 5:14, is to bring them nearer and closer to himself. And, behold, how sweetly this blessed design of God did take: "Come and let us return unto the Lord," etc. The power of God, the love of God, and the grace of God, are most gloriously manifested by bringing the hearts of his people nearer and closer to himself by all the troubles, distresses, and dangers which attend them. In the winter season all the sap of the tree runs down to the root, and when a man is sick all the blood goes to the heart; so in the winter of affliction, when the soul is running out more and more to God, and a-getting closer and nearer to God, it is a most sure evidence of the special presence of God with that soul. But,
(12.) Twelfthly and lastly, The Lord does manifest his favorable, special, and eminent presence with his people in their greatest troubles, deepest distresses, and most deadly dangers—by rendering them invincible and unconquerable under all their troubles, distresses, and dangers. Rev. 12:11, "And they overcame him by the blood of the Lamb, and by the word of their testimony, and they loved not their lives unto the death." Rev. 14:1-4; 2 Chron. 32:7, 8, 21-22. By virtue of Christ's blood the saints are made victorious both over Satan and all his instruments; they little value their lives—in respect of Christ and his truth; yes, they despised them in comparison of God's glory and the great things of the gospel. They made so little account of them, that they exposed them to all hazards and dangers for the cause of Christ. In the days of that bloody persecutor, Diocletian, the Christians showed glorious power in the faith of martyrdom. [Rupertus says that God did more gloriously triumph in Lawrence's patience and constancy, when he was broiled on the gridiron, than if he had saved his body from burning by a miracle. His faith and patience made him invincible.]
The valor of the martyrs, and the savageness of the persecutors, striving together, until both exceeding nature and belief, bred wonder and astonishment in beholders and readers. It was a good saying of Cyprian, speaking of the saints and martyrs in those days, They may kill them—but they cannot overcome them. Rev. 17:14, "These shall make war with the Lamb, and the Lamb shall overcome them: for he is the Lord of lords, and King of kings; and those who are with him are called, and chosen, and faithful." The presence of the Lamb has and will make the saints victorious in all the ages of the world. Modestus, lieutenant to Julian the emperor, said to Julian, "While they suffer they deride us," says he; "and the torments are more fearful to those who stand by, than to the tormented." There is no end in instances of this nature. There is nothing more clear in Scripture and in history than this—that the special presence of the Lord with his people, in all their great troubles, deep distresses, and most deadly dangers, has made them invincible and unconquerable.
But now others, who have been destitute of this favorable, special, and eminent presence of the Lord, in times of great troubles, deep distresses, and most deadly dangers, how have they fled when none have pursued them! How faint-hearted, how greatly daunted, and how sadly discouraged have they been! How have they turned their backs, and left the field, and run from their colors, without striking one stroke! Many in Cyprian's time were overcome before the encounter, for they revolted to idolatry before any persecution once assailed them. In the Palatinate, when there was a hot persecution, scarcely one professor of twenty stood out—but fell to popery as fast as leaves fall from the trees in autumn. And so in the persecution under Decius many professors that were rich and great in the world, they soon shrunk from Christ, and turned their backs upon his ways.
It is God's favorable, special, and eminent presence with his people, which makes them persevere in an evil day: Romans 8:31, "If God is for us, who can be against us?" that is, none; but this is a more forcible denying, "Who can?" Do you Paul ask, "Who can?" I will tell you. The devil can, and tyrants can, and persecutors can, and the whole world can; but they are as nothing, and can do nothing against us. Wicked men may set themselves against the saints—but they shall not prevail against the saints. What if all the world should strive to hinder the sun from rising or shining, or the wind from blowing, or the rain from falling; or, like those pygmies who went with their arrows and bows to repress the flowing of the sea. Ridiculous acts! Mere follies! All that wicked men can do against the people of God will be but as throwing stones against the wind. "If God is with us, who can be against us?" Methinks these are words of great resolution; as if he should say, "We have many enemies, and powerful enemies, and daring enemies, and malicious enemies, and designing enemies, and enraged enemies—yet let the proudest of them show their faces, and lift up their banners, I fear them not, I regard them not: Who can?" who dare be against us? Let me give a little light into this precious scripture, "If God be for us—who can be against us?" That is, none!