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
But you will say, What are the reasons why God will be favorably, specially, and eminently present with his people in their greatest troubles, deepest distresses, and most deadly dangers? I answer there are these ten great reasons for it—
[1.] First, To awaken and convince the enemies of his people, and to render his suffering children glorious in the very eyes and consciences both of sinners and saints.[Ponder upon these scriptures, Micah 7:8-10, 16-17; Psalm 126:1-2; Exod. 8:19; Isaiah 60:13-14; Rev. 3:8-9; Acts 4:13, and 6:15; John 7:44-46, etc.] Dan. 3:24, "Then Nebuchadnezzar the king was astonished, and rose up in haste, and spoke and said unto his counselors, Did we not cast three men into 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." Now see what a majesty there is in this presence of Christ with his people in the fire, to convince Nebuchadnezzar, and to render the three champions very glorious in his eyes. Verse 28, "Then Nebuchadnezzar spoke and said, Blessed be the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, who has sent his angel, and delivered his servants that trusted in him, and have changed the king's word, and yielded their bodies, that they might not serve nor worship any God except their own God." Verse 29, "Therefore I make a decree, that every people, nation, and language which speak anything amiss against the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, shall be cut in pieces, and their houses shall be made a ash-heap, because there is no other God that can deliver after this sort." Verse 30, "Then the king promoted Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego in the province of Babylon."
The presence of the Lord with the three children commanded favor, respect, reverence, and honor from this great monarch, Nebuchadnezzar. The presence of God with his people is very majestic; the greatest monarchs have fallen down before it; not only Nebuchadnezzar—but also Darius, falls down before the special presence of God with Daniel when he was in the lions' den, Dan. 6:20 seq. And Herod falls down before the presence of God with John, Mark 6:20. And King Joash falls down before the presence of God with Jehoiada, 2 Kings 11:1-2. And Saul falls down before the presence of God with David: "You are more righteous than I," 1 Sam. 24:17, etc.
In the special presence of God with his people in their affliction there is such a sparkling luster, that none can behold it but must admire it, and bow before the graceful majesty of it. Such has been the special presence of God with the martyrs in their fiery trials, that many have been convinced and converted. I have read of a martyr of Paris who was burned for his faith, how the presence of God did so shine in his courage and constancy, that many did curiously inquire into that religion for which he so stoutly and resolutely suffered, so that the number of sufferers was much increased thereby. I read that Cecilia, a poor virgin, by her gracious behavior in her martyrdom, was the means of converting four hundred to Christ. It was the observation of Mr. John Lindsay, that the very smoke of Patrick Hamilton converted as many as it blew upon. And the very Hittites could say of Abraham, who had a very special presence of God with him, "You are a prince of God among us!" Gen. 23:6. Some say, he is called Prince of God, because God prospered him, and made him famous for his virtue and godliness. But the Hebrews commonly speak so of all things that are notable and excellent, because all excellency comes from God; as the angel of God, the mount of God, the city of God, the wrestlings of God, Exod. 3:2, and 4:37; Psalm 26:4; Gen. 30:8, etc. "You are a prince of God;" that is, You are a most excellent person. Seneca saw so much excellency that morality put upon a man, that he could say, "The very looks of a godly man delights one." And why then may not the sons of Heth call him a prince of God, from that majesty and glory that they saw shine forth in his graces, and in his gracious behavior and conversation, and because they did observe a special presence of God with him in all he did, it being no higher observation than what Abimelech had made before them? Gen. 21:22.
In Queen Mary's days, not of blessed but of abhorred memory—the people of God met—sometimes forty, sometimes a hundred, sometimes two hundred—together. The fiery persecutors of that day sent in one among them to spy out their practices and to give information of their names, that they might be brought to Smithfield shambles; but there was such a presence of God in the assembly of his people, that this informer was convinced and converted, and begged mercy for them all. 1 Cor. 14:24, "But if all prophesy, and there comes in one who believes not, or one unlearned, he is convinced of all, he is judged of all;" verse 25, "And thus are the secrets of his heart made manifest, and so falling down on his face, he will worship God, and report that God is in you of a truth." It may be before they came to the assembly of the saints, they had hard thoughts of the people of God: they thought that folly was in them, or that disloyalty was in them, or that madness and rebellion was in them, or that plots and designs against the government was in them, or that the devil was in them. Oh—but now such a majestic presence of God appears in the midst of his people, that the unbeliever is convinced, and confesses "that God is in them of a truth."
Blessed Bradford had such a special presence of God with him in his sufferings, as begot great reverence and admiration, not only in the hearts of his friends—but in the very hearts of very many papists also. Henry the Second, king of France, being present at the martyrdom of a poor tailor, who was burnt by him for his religion; the poor man had such a special presence of God with him in his sufferings, that his courage and boldness, his holy and gracious behavior, did so amaze and terrify the king, that he swore, at his going away, that he never more would be present at such a sight.
As the presence of God is the greatest ornament of the church triumphant, so the presence of God is the greatest ornament of the church militant. The redness of the rose, the whiteness of the lily, and all the beauties of sun, moon, and stars, are but deformities, compared to that beauty and glory which the presence of God puts upon his people, in all their troubles and trials. There is nothing in the world that will render the saints so amiable and lovely, so eminent and excellent in the eyes of their enemies—as the special presence of God with them in their greatest trials. Demetrius was so handsome of face and countenance, that no painter was able to draw him. The presence of God with his people in their greatest troubles, deepest distresses, and most deadly dangers—puts so rare a beauty and glory upon them, that no painter can ever be able to draw them. But,
[2.] A second reason why God will be specially present with his people in their greatest troubles, deepest distresses, and most deadly dangers—is drawn from the covenant of grace, and those precious promises which God has made—to be with his people.God's covenant is, that he will be with his people forever, and that he will never turn away from them to do them good, Jer. 32:40-41. That is a branch of the covenant: "I will never leave you, nor forsake you," Heb. 13:5. And that is a branch of the covenant: "I am your shield, and your exceeding great reward," Gen. 15:1; see Psalm 115:9-11. The shield is between the body and the thrust. Just so, says God, I will put myself in between you and harm. Though those kings whom you have even now vanquished, may rant high and threaten revenge—yet I will shield off all dangers that you may be incident to. Though God's people be in the waters and in the fires—yet his promise is to be with them; so the psalmist, "I will be with him in trouble, I will deliver him, and honor him," Isaiah 43:2; Psalm 91:15, and 50:15; Job 5:19; Hosea 2:14.
God will not fail to keep his people company in all their troubles. No storm, no danger, no distress, no fiery trial, can keep God and his people asunder. God is immutable in his nature, in his counsels, in his covenant, and in all his promises, Mal. 3:6. Though all creatures are subject to change—yet God is unchangeable; though angels and men, and all inferior creatures are dependent—yet God is independent. He is as the schoolmen say, altogether immutable, and therefore he will be sure to keep touch with his people. The precious promises of Scripture are the food of faith, and the very soul of faith. They are a mine of rich treasures, a garden full of choice flowers, able to enrich a suffering Christian with all celestial contentments, and to sweeten the deepest distresses. God has deeply engaged himself, both by covenant and promises, that he will be with his people in their greatest troubles, deepest distresses, and most deadly dangers; and therefore he will not fail them: Deut. 7:9, "Know therefore that the Lord your God, he is God, the faithful God, who keeps covenant," etc. God will never allow his faithfulness to fail, nor alter the thing that is gone out of his mouth, Psalm 89:33. All his precepts, threatenings, predictions, and promises are the issue of a most wise, holy, faithful, and righteous will—and therefore they shall certainly be made good to his people. But,
[3.] Thirdly, The Lord will be specially present with his people in their greatest troubles, deepest distresses, and most deadly dangers—because it makes most eminently for the advancement of his own honor and glory in the world.God never gets more honor than by helping his people when they are in severe distress. God's special presence with Israel at the Red Sea, makes Moses sing a song of praise, Exod. 15. A great part of the revenue of divine glory arises from the special presence of God with his people in their deepest distresses and most deadly dangers, as you may see by comparing these scriptures together. [Exod. 15; Judges 5; Psalm 23:4, 6; Isaiah 43:2, 5, 7.] It is the honor of a husband to be most present with his wife in her greatest troubles, and the honor of a father to be most present with his children in their deepest distresses, and the honor of commanders to be present with their soldiers in the heat of battle, when many fall on their right hand and on their left. Exod. 15:3, "The Lord is a man of war," that is, an excellent warrior, "the Lord is his name;" according to the Septuagint, "He breaks battles, and subdues war." God, like a brave commander, stands upon his honor, and therefore he will stand by his soldiers in the greatest dangers. The word ish, here used for man, signifies an eminent man, a mighty man, a famous warrior, or, as the Chaldee has it, An overcomer of battles. Now eminent warriors, mighty warriors, famous warriors, they always stick closest to their soldiers in their greatest dangers, as all know, who have read either Scripture or history. Now the Lord is such a man of wars, such a famous warrior, as that he will be sure to stick closest to his people in the greatest dangers. God is both in the vanguard and in the rear guard, Isaiah 52:12. And as there is nothing which more raises the honor, fame, and renown of great warriors in the world—than their presence with their soldiers when the bullets fly thickest; just so, there is nothing by which God gets himself a greater name, fame, and honor in the world—than by his special presence with his people in their greatest troubles, deepest distresses, and most deadly dangers. But,
[4.] Fourthly, The Lord will be specially present with his people in their greatest troubles, deepest distresses, and most deadly dangers—because then his people stand in most need of his presence.A believer needs the presence of God at all times—but never so much as in great troubles, deep distresses, and most deadly dangers. For now Satan will be stirring—he loves to fish in troubled waters. When earthly friends and earthly comforts and earthly succours will commonly fail us; when cares and fears will be multiplied upon us; when unbelief, which is virtually all evil, will be raising doubts and cavils and objections in the soul, [Job 2:9, and 19:13-17; Pa 88:18; Isaiah 41:17-18.] so that if God does not stand by us now, what could we do? how can we bear up? how can we stand fast? What was Samson, that man of strength, when his hair was gone—but as weak as water? Judges 16:19-20; and what is the strongest Christian when his God is gone—but as weak as weakness itself?
All our doing strength, and all our suffering strength, and all our bearing strength, and all our witnessing strength—lies in the special presence of God with our souls. All our comforts, and all our supports, and all our ease, and all our refreshments—flow from the presence of God with our souls in our greatest troubles and deepest distresses; and therefore, if God should leave us in a day of trouble—what would become of us? and where should we go? and where should we find rest? When does a man need a brother or friend—but in a day of adversity? "A brother is born for adversity," Proverbs 17:17. Though at other times brethren may jar and jangle and quarrel—yet in a day of adversity, in a strait, in a stress—brothers will stand together to help each other. Adversity breeds love and unity. Ridley and Hooper differed very much about ceremonies in the day of their liberty; but when they were both prisoners in the Tower, then they could agree well enough, and then they could be mutual comforts one to another. And when does a Christian most need the strength of God, the consolations of God, the supports of God, the teachings and quickenings of God, and the special singular presence of God—but when they are in the greatest troubles, deepest distresses, and most deadly dangers? When the people of God are in a low and afflicted condition, then the Lord knows that that is the season of seasons for him to grace them with his gracious presence, Isaiah 33:9-10. When calamities and dangers break in upon us, and when all heads and hands and hearts and counsels are set against us—now is the time for God to help us, for God to support us, for God to stand by us. But,
[5.] Fifthly, The Lord will be specially present with his people in their greatest troubles, deepest distresses, and most deadly dangers—because he dearly loves them.God entirely loves his people, and therefore he will not leave his people. People whom we entirely love we cannot leave, especially when they are in a distressed condition. "A friend loves at all times," says Solomon, and God is such a friend, Proverbs 17:17. God loves not by fits and starts, as many people do—but his love is like himself, sincere and steadfast. Because he loves them, he won't forsake them when they are in the greatest troubles and most terrible dangers, 1 Sam. 12:22, "For the Lord will not forsake his people for his great name's sake: because it has pleased the Lord to make you his people." He chose you for his love, and he still loves you for his choice, and therefore he won't forsake you. Discipline you he may—but forsake you he won't; for it will not stand with the glory of God to leave his people, to forsake the people of his love. Should I cast you off whom I love—then the heathen nations would say that I was mutable in my purposes, or unfaithful in my promises. Though David's parents forsook him—yet God did not forsake him—but took him up into his care and keeping, Psalm 27:10. It is the deriding question which the enemies of the saints put to them in the time of their greatest troubles, deep distresses, and most deadly dangers—Where is now your God? Psalm 79:10. But they may safely and groundedly return this answer when they are at lowest—our God is here; he is near unto us, he is round about us, and he is in the midst of us, Isaiah 52:12.
Witness that golden promise, that is more worth than a world, "I will never leave you, nor forsake you," Heb. 13:5, 11. God is a God of affections, a God of great pity, a God of tender compassion, and therefore he will not leave his people in a time of distress, Hosea 8:9; Mic. 7:19; Jer. 31:18-20. Parents' affections do most yearn towards their children when they are sick, and weak, and most in danger. It goes to the very heart of a man to leave a friend in misery. But what are the affections of men, compared to the affections of God! or the compassions of men, compared to the compassions of God! There is an ocean of love in the hearts of parents towards their children when they are in distress, 2 Sam. 19:6; and this love makes them sit by their children, and sit up with their children, and not stir from their children. God's love does so link his heart to his people in their deep distresses, that he cannot leave them, he cannot stir from them, Psalm 91:15.
Isaiah 43:4, "Since you were precious in my sight, you have been honorable, and I have loved you." Well, and what then? This love so endears and unites God to his people, that he cannot leave them, he cannot stir one foot from them: "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 Lord dearly loves his people, and he highly prizes his people, and he greatly delights in his people, and therefore he will be specially present with his people, both in the fire and in the water—both in the fire of persecution, and in the waters of affliction. God loves the persons of his people, and he loves the presence of his people, and he loves the graces of his people, and he loves the services of his people, and he loves the fellowship of his people; and therefore he will never leave his people—but stand by them, and be specially present with them, in their greatest troubles and deepest distresses.
Such is God's singular love to his covenant-people, that he will neither forsake them nor forget them—in their greatest troubles, deepest distresses, and most deadly dangers. The Jews were low—yes, very low, in Babylon; their distresses were great, and their dangers many; they looked upon themselves as so many dead men, "Our bones are dry, our hope is lost, and we are cut off for our parts," Ezek. 37:1-15. They looked upon themselves both as forsaken and forgotten by God. Behold, captive Zion lamentingly says, "The Lord has forsaken me, and my Lord has forgotten me!" Isaiah 49:13-18; Psalm 84:7; Isaiah 1:27; Heb. 12:22.
Zion is taken several ways in Scripture:
(1.) For the place properly so called, where they were accustomed to meet to worship the Lord; but this place was long ago destroyed.
(2.) For the blessed angels, "You are come to mount Zion, to the heavenly Jerusalem, to an innumerable company of angels.
(3.) For the congregation of saints, of believers, of which it is said, "The Lord loves the gates of Zion more than all the habitations of Jacob," Psalm 87:2.
The believing Jews being sorely oppressed and afflicted by a long captivity, Dan. 9:22; Lam. 4:6, and by many great and matchless miseries that did befall them in their captive state, they look upon God as one who had quite forsaken them and forgotten them; but they were under a very high mistake, and very erroneous in their complaint, as appears by God's answer to Zion: verse 15, "Can a woman forget her nursing child, that she should not have compassion on the son of her womb? yes, they may forget—yet will I not forget you." Verse 16, "Behold, I have engraved you upon the palms of my hands, your walls are continually before me." In these words, as in a crystal glass, you may see how dearly, how sweetly, how graciously, how readily, how resolutely God does engage himself that he will neither forsake Zion, nor yet forget Zion in her captive state. Now let us a little observe how this singular promise is amplified, and that, by an emphatic illustration; God's compassionate remembering of Zion far transcends the most compassionate remembrance of the tenderest mother to her dear nursing babe. Now this is laid down—
First, Interrogatively, "Can a woman," the most affectionate gender, "forget a nursing child, for having compassion on the son of her womb?" Can a woman, can a mother so forget as not to compassionate a child, which she naturally inclines to pity? A nursing child that hangs on her bosom, such as mothers are accustomed to be most watchful of, and to be most tenderly affected towards? her nursing child, which, together with the milk from the breast, draws love from her heart? her nursing child of her own womb, which her affections do more yearn over than they do over any other child in the world? And this is the "son of her womb," which the mother usually embraces with more warm affections than the daughter of her womb. Can a woman, yes, can a mother forget to exercise love, pity, and compassion to such a poor babe? Surely, very rarely.
Second, Affirmatively, "Yes, they may forget." It is possible that a woman may be so unwomanly, and that a mother may be so unmotherly in some cases, and in some extremities, as to forget her nursing child, yes, as to eat the fruit of her womb, as the pitiful women did boil and eat their own children in the siege of Samaria and Jerusalem, 2 Kings 6:24-30; Lam. 4:10. Extremity of hunger overmastered natural affections, and made the pitiful mothers require of their children those lives which not long before, they had given them.
Thirdly, Negatively, "Yet will I not forget you." God will be more constantly, immovably, and unchangeably mindful of Zion, and tender of Zion, and compassionate of Zion, and watchful over Zion—than any mother could be over her youngling; yes, he would be more motherly to his poor captives in Babylon, than any mother could be to her sucking babe. This precious promise is amplified by a convincing argumentation, and that partly from his "engraving of them upon the palms of his hands." This is an allusion, say some, to those who carry about with them, engraved on some tablet, or on the stone of some ring which they wear on their finger, the mark, name, or picture of some person they entirely love. Their portraiture, their memorial, was like a signet engraved upon his hand. God will as soon blot out of mind, and forget his own hands, as his Zion; and partly from his placing their walls still in his sight. The ruined demolished walls of Jerusalem were still before him as to their commiseration, and to their reparation, God being fully resolved in the fittest season to raise and rebuild them. Look! as the workman has his model or pattern constantly either before his eye, or in his thoughts, or in his brain, that he is to work by. "Just so," says God, "Zion is continually in my eye, Zion is still in my thoughts; I shall never forsake her, I shall never forget her." But,
[6.] Sixthly, The Lord will be specially present with his people in their greatest troubles, deepest distresses, and most deadly dangers—because of his propriety and interest in them, and his near and dear relation to them."But now, this is what the LORD says-- he who created you, O Jacob, he who formed you, O Israel: "Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have summoned you by name; you are mine. Isaiah 43:1 " "You are mine—for I have made you. You are mine—for I have chosen you. You are mine—for I have bought you, I have purchased you. You are mine—for I have called you. You are mine—for I have redeemed you. You are mine—for I have stamped my image upon you. You are mine—for I have put my Spirit into you!" Isaiah 15:16; 1 Cor. 6:20; 1 Pet. 1:18; Phil. 4:23-24.
Now mark what follows: verse 2, "When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze." God will certainly keep his own people, his own children, company, both in the fire and in the water; that is, in those various trials and troubles that they are incident to in this world, Isaiah 55:5; Psalm 103:13-14; Exod. 15:3; Mal. 4:2; Mat. 9:12; Psalm 23:1. When should a husband be with his wife—but when she is in greatest troubles? and a father with his child—but when he is in deep distresses? and a general with his army—but when they are in greatest dangers? When should the physician be most with his patient—but when he is most desperately sick? and when should the shepherd be nearest his sheep—but when they are sick, and the wolf is at hand? Now God, you know, stands in all these relations to his people, and therefore he will not fail to be near them when troubles, distresses, and dangers are growing upon them. But,
[7.] Seventhly, The Lord will be specially present with his people in their greatest troubles, deepest distresses, and most deadly dangers—because such times are commonly times of great and sore temptations.When God's hand is heaviest, then Satan will be busiest, Job 2:7-8; Mat. 9:4; Heb. 2:18. The devil is never more violent in his temptations, than when the saints are under afflictions: James 1:2, "My brethren, count it all joy, when you fall into various afflictions." verse 12, "Blessed is the man who endures affliction." 2 Pet. 2:9, "The Lord knows how to deliver the godly out of affliction." Thus God is said to tempt Abraham, Gen. 22:1, that is, he did test and prove the faith, the fear, the love, the obedience of Abraham. Afflictions are sometimes called temptations, partly because as afflictions will try what mettle we are made off, so will temptations; and partly because as afflictions are burdensome and grievous to us, so are temptations. But mainly afflictions are called temptations, because in time of affliction Satan will be sifting and winnowing of the saints. Now he will make use of all his devices, methods, depths, darts—yes, fiery darts—that he may vex, afflict, trouble, grieve, wound, torture, and torment those dear hearts that God would not have grieved and wounded. Therefore the Lord now steps in and stands by his people, and by his favorable, special, and refreshing presence, he bears up their heads above water, and keeps their hearts from fainting and sinking under Satan's most dangerous and desperate temptations, Luke 22:31; 2 Cor. 12:7; 2 Cor. 2:11; Eph. 6:11; Rev. 2:24; Eph. 6:16.
When a city is besieged, and the enemies have raised their batteries, and have made breaches upon their walls, and their provisions grow low, oh, then, if ever, there is need of support and relief! So here. But,
[8.] Eighthly, The Lord will be specially present with his people in their greatest troubles, deepest distresses, and most deadly dangers—because he highly prizes them, and sets an honorable value and esteem upon them.Isaiah 43:4, "Since you are precious and honored in my sight, and because I love you, I will give men in exchange for you, and people in exchange for your life," that is, for your preservation and protection. God sets such a mighty price upon his people, that to preserve them from ruin and destruction, he makes nothing of giving up to the sword and destruction, the most rich, strong, populous, and warlike nations in the world. Now the high price and value that he sets upon them, engages him to be present with them: verse 2, "When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze." Those we highly prize—we won't leave in a day of distress; no more will God. God prizes his people as his peculiar treasure: Exod. 19:5, as his "portion;" Deut. 32:9, as his "pleasant portion;" Jer. 12:10, as his "jewels;" Mal. 3:17, as his "glory;" Isaiah 4:5, as his "crown and royal diadem." Yes, he prizes the poorest, the lowest, and the weakest saint in the world, above a multitude, yes, above a world of unforgiven sinners.
Heb. 11:37-38, "Of whom the world was not worthy." Though they were not adorned in silks and velvets—but were clad "in sheep-skins and goat-skins;" yet they had that inward excellency, as that the world was not worthy of their company: and though they did not dwell in expensive houses, nor in stately palaces—but "in deserts and mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth;" yet the vile sinful persecuting world was not worthy of their presence, or prayers, or of their prudent counsels, or pious examples, etc. God sets a higher value upon a Job, though on a ash-heap—than upon an Ahab, though on his royal throne, Job 1:1, and 2:3. God values men by their inward excellencies, and not by their outward dignities and worldly glories. He sets a higher price upon a Lazarus in his tattered rags—than upon a rich Dives in his purple robes. Such people have most of our company whom we prize most, Job 2:11-13. Job's three friends did highly value him, and therefore in his deepest distresses, they own him, they pity him, they weep over him, they accompany him, and they keep close unto him. Because God highly prizes his people, he will be specially present with them in their greatest troubles and deepest distresses. But,
[9.] Ninthly, The Lord will be specially present with his people in their greatest troubles, deepest distresses, and most deadly dangers, because they won't leave him—but stick close to him, and to his interest, gospel, and glory; and will cleave fast to his word, worship, and ways, in their greatest troubles, deepest distresses, and most deadly dangers, come what will of it, Josh. 24; Jer. 13:11; Acts 11:23. "You may take away my life," said Basil, "but you cannot take away my comfort. You may take my head—but not my crown; yes, had I a thousand lives, I would lay them all down for my Savior's sake, who has done abundantly more for me!"
John Ardley professed to Bonner, when he told him of his soon burning, and how badly he could endure it, that "if he had as many lives as he had hairs on his head, he would lose them all in the fire before he would lose his Christ or part with his Christ." It was a common thing among the martyrs to make all haste to the fire, lest they should miss of that noble treatment. Gordius the martyr said, "It is to my loss if you abate me anything of my sufferings." "The sooner I die," said another, "the sooner I shall be happy."
Psalm 63:1, "O God, you are my God, early will I seek you; my soul thirsts for you in a dry and thirsty land, where there is no water;" verse 8, "My soul follows hard after you," etc. This notes,
(1.) The strength of his intention;
(2.) The strength of his affection;
(3.) The constancy of his pursuit.
And all this in a dry and barren wilderness, and in the face of all discouragements, and in the lack of all outward encouragements, Dan. 9:3; Psalm 119:20. Whatever the danger or distress is—the psalmist is peremptorily resolved to cleave close to the Lord, and to follow hard after the Lord. "All this happened to us, though we had not forgotten you or been false to your covenant. Our hearts had not turned back; our feet had not strayed from your path. But you crushed us and made us a haunt for jackals and covered us over with deep darkness." Psalms 44:17-19. See 2 Tim. 1:11-12, and 2:8-10; Eph. 6:19-20; Col. 4:3, 18, Romans 8:36. In the face of all dangers, deaths, distresses, miseries, etc., God's faithful servants will own the Lord, and cleave to his ways, and keep close to his worship and service, let persecutors do their worst.
"Yet for your sake we face death all day long; we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered." Psalms 44:22. It is probable that this psalm was penned upon the occasion of the horrible persecution of the church under Antiochus Epiphanes, unto which I guess Paul has reference towards the latter end of that 11th chapter to the Hebrews. In this 22d verse you have three things observable,
(1.) The greatness of their sufferings: "they were killed," amplified by a similitude, as sheep to the slaughter."
(2.) The cause: not for their sin—but "for your sake."
(3.) The continuance: how long, even "all the day long."
Their sufferings are great and long. That tyrant Antiochus made no more thought of taking away of their lives, than a butcher does of cutting the throats of the poor sheep, Dan. 11; and as butchers kill the sheep without making conscience of the effusion of their blood, even so did that tyrant Antiochus destroy the saints of the Most High, without making the least conscience of shedding innocent blood. And as butchers think well of their work, and are glad when they have butchered the poor sheep, so did this tyrant Antiochus; he thought he did God good service in butchering of the holy people, and rejoiced in that bloody service; and yet notwithstanding all the dreadful things that these blessed souls suffered, they still kept close to God, and close to his covenant, and close to his ways, and close to his worship. And Austin observes, "that though the heathen sought to suppress the growth of Christianity by binding—butchering, racking, stoning, burning, etc.—yet still they increased and multiplied, Exod. 1:12, and still they kept close to God and his ways."
The church was at first founded in blood, and it has thrived best when it has been moistened with blood. It was at first founded in the blood of Christ, and ever since it has been moistened or watered, as it were, with the blood of the martyrs. The church of Christ in all ages has been like the oak, which lives by it's own wounds; and the more limbs are cut off, the more new sprouts. Oh, how close to God, his ways and worship—did the saints keep in the ten persecutions! "They have followed the Lamb wherever he went," Rev. 14:4-5. If they would have complied with the ways of the world, and the worship of the world, and the customs of the world—they might have had ease, honor, riches, preferments, etc., Heb. 11:35; but nothing could work them off from God or his ways; and therefore he will certainly stand by them, and cleave to them, and be specially present with them in their greatest troubles, deepest distresses, and most deadly dangers. But,
[10.] Tenthly, The Lord will be specially present with his people in their greatest troubles, deepest distresses, and most deadly dangers—that they may be joyful and cheerful under all their troubles, and that they may glory in all their tribulations.Mat. 5:12; Luke 6:23. It is good to have a patient spirit—but it is better to have a joyful spirit in all our sufferings, troubles, distresses, etc., that we meet with in a way of well-doing, 2 Cor. 12:10. "His speech persuaded them. They called the apostles in and had them flogged. Then they ordered them not to speak in the name of Jesus, and let them go. The apostles left the Sanhedrin, rejoicing (Greek, "rejoice and leaping for joy,") because they had been counted worthy of suffering disgrace for the Name." Acts 5:40-41. They looked upon it as a high honor to be dishonored for Christ; and as a grace to be disgraced for Christ. It was the divine presence that made Paul and Silas to sing when they were beaten with many stripes, and cast into prison, into the inner prison. "After they had been severely flogged, they were thrown into prison, and the jailer was commanded to guard them carefully. Upon receiving such orders, he put them in the inner cell and fastened their feet in the stocks. About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God," Acts 16:23-25. The divine presence made Paul and Silas to glory in all their stripes, sores, and wounds, as old soldiers glory in their scars and wounds which they receive in battle for their prince and country, Eph. 6:17; Romans 5:3. The divine presence might well make Paul and Silas to say of their stripes and sores, as Munster once said of his ulcers, "These are the jewels and the precious ornaments with which God adorns his dearest servants."
It was the divine presence that made Ignatius say in the midst of all his sufferings, "I bear my bonds as so many spiritual pearls." Just so, 2 Cor. 7:4, "I am filled with comfort, I am exceeding joyful in all our tribulations." Greek, "I do overabound with joy." Verse 5, "For, when we had come into Macedonia, our flesh had no rest—but we were troubled on every side: without were fightings, within were fears;" verse 6, "Nevertheless God, who comforts those who are cast down, comforted us." It was the divine presence which filled the Corinthians with exceeding comfort and joy when their flesh had no rest, and when they were troubled on every side. This special presence of God with them in all their tribulations filled their souls with such an exuberancy of joy, that no good could match it nor no evil over match it. It was the divine presence that made the martyrs, both ancient and modern, so comfortable and cheerful under all their hideous sufferings. It was the divine presence that made Francisco Soyit say to his adversaries, "You deprive me of this life—and promote me to a heavenly life; which is as if you should rob me of pennies and furnish me with gold."
"Oh, how my heart leaps for joy," said one, "that I am so near the apprehension of eternal bliss! God forgive me my unthankfulness and unworthiness of so great glory. In all the days of my life I was never so merry as now I am in this dark dungeon." "Believe me, there is no such joy in the world as the people of Christ have under the cross," said blessed Philpot, who went to heaven in flames of fire. Let God but withdraw this special presence from his people in their sufferings, and you will quickly find their hearts to droop, their spirits to fail, and they overwhelmed in a sea of sorrows. It was this divine presence that made the primitive Christians to rejoice more when they were condemned, and to kiss the stake, and to thank the executioner, and to sing in the flames, and to desire to be with Christ. Just so, Justin Martyr, "We thank you for delivering us from hard taskmasters, that we may more sweetly enjoy the bosom of Jesus Christ."
The bee gathers the best honey of the bitterest herbs, and Christ made the best wine from water. Certainly the best, the purest, the strongest, and the sweetest joys, spring from the special presence of God with his people in their greatest troubles and deepest distresses. Only remember this—that that joy that flows from the divine presence in times of troubles and distress, is an inward joy, a spiritual joy, a joy which lies remote from a carnal eye. "The heart knows his own bitterness; and a stranger does not intermeddle with his joy," Proverbs 14:10. The joy of the saints in sufferings is a jewel that falls not under a stranger's eye. The joy of a Christian lies deep, it cannot be expressed, it cannot be painted. Look! as no man can paint the sweetness of the honeycomb, nor the sweetness of a cluster of grapes, nor the fragrancy of the rose of Sharon; so no man can paint out the sweetness and spiritualness of that joy that the divine presence raises in the soul—when a Christian is under the greatest troubles, deepest distresses, and most deadly dangers.
Holy joy is a treasure which lies deep; and it is not
every man who has a golden key to search into this treasury. Look! as a man
standing on the sea-shore sees a great heap of waters, one wave riding upon
the back of another, and making a dreadful noise—but all this while, though
he sees the water rolling, and hears it raging and roaring—yet he sees not
the wealth, the gold, the silver, the jewels, and incredible treasures which
lie buried there; just so, wicked men they see the needs of the saints—but
not their wealth; they see their poverty—but not their riches; they see
their miseries—but not their mercies; they see their conflicts—but not their
comforts; they see their sorrows—but not their joys. Oh, this blind world
cannot see the joys, the comforts, the consolations that the divine presence
raises in the souls of the saints, when they are at worst! Holy joy and
cheerfulness under great troubles and deep distresses, is an honor to God, a
glory to Christ, and a credit to religion; it stops the mouths of sinners,
and it encourages and strengthens weak saints; and therefore the Lord will
be specially present with his people in their greatest troubles, etc., that
they may grace their suffering condition with joy and cheerfulness. And let
thus much suffice for the reasons of the point.
But before I come to the useful application, to prevent the objections, and to allay the fears and doubts and disputes that may arise in the hearts of weak Christians concerning this special presence of God, I shall briefly lay down these followingPROPOSITIONS—
1. First, That Christ is many times really present, when he is seemingly absent.Gen. 28:16, "And Jacob said, Surely the Lord is in this place—and I knew it not." Choice Christians may have the presence of Christ really with them, when yet they may not be sensible of his presence, nor yet affected with it, Psalm 139. God is present everywhere—but especially with his saints; and not only then when they are apprehend him—but when they perceive no evidence of his presence. Being awakened, he perceived that God had very graciously and gloriously appeared to him; and therefore he falls admiring and extolling the singular goodness and the special kindness of God towards him: as if he had said, I thought that such strange and blessed apparitions were peculiar to the family of the faithful; I thought that God had only in this manner revealed himself in my father's house: I did not in the least think or imagine that such a divine revelation would happen to me in such a place; but now I find that that God, who is everywhere in respect of his general presence, he has, by the special testimonies of his presence, manifested himself to me also in this place.
Just so, Job, "Lo, he goes by me, and I see him not: he passes on also—but I perceive him not," [Consult these scriptures, Luke 24:32; John 20:13-15; Psalm 31:22; Cant. 3:1-5, and 5:6-8.] Job 9:11. Just so, Jonah, chapter 2:4, "Then I said, I am cast out of your sight; yet I will look again toward your holy temple." In times of sore afflictions God's children are very prone to have hard thoughts of God, and heavy thoughts of themselves. Unbelief raises fears, doubts, despondency, despair, and works a Christian many times, when he is under deep distresses, to draw very sad conclusions against his own soul, "I am cast out of your sight." But this was but an hour of temptation, and therefore he soon recollects and recovers himself again: "yet I will look again toward your holy temple." Here now faith has got the upper hand of unbelief. In the former part of the verse you have Jonah doubting and despairing, "I am cast out of your sight;" but in the latter part of the verse you have Jonah conquering and triumphing, "yet I will look again toward your holy temple."
When sense says a thing will never be, and when reason says such a thing can never be, faith gets above sense and reason, and says, "yes—but it shall be!" What do you tell me of a roaring, raging sea, of the belly of hell, of the weeds about my head, of the billows and waves passing over my head; for yet as low as I am, and as forlorn as I am, "I will yet look towards God's holy temple," I will eye God in the covenant of grace; though I am in the sea, though I am in the belly of hell—yet by faith "I will look toward your holy temple,"—toward which they were to pray, 1 Kings 8—and triumph over all those difficulties which formerly I looked upon as insuperable; I will pray and look, and look and pray; all which does clearly evidence a singular presence of God with him, even then when he peremptorily concludes that he was cast out of God's presence, out of his sight, out of his favor, out of his care, out of his heart.
The Lord is many times really present with his people when he is not sensibly present with his people: Judges 6:12,13 "When the angel of the Lord appeared to Gideon, he said—"The Lord is with you, mighty warrior." "But sir," Gideon replied, "if the Lord is with us, why has all this happened to us? Where are all his wonders that our fathers told us about when they said, 'Did not the Lord bring us up out of Egypt?' But now the Lord has abandoned us and put us into the hand of Midian." [God may sometimes appear terribly to those whom he loves entirely, Job 9:34.] God may be really present with his people, they may have his favorable presence with their inward man, when it goes very ill with their outward man. Certainly we must frame a new Bible before we can prove that he does not love us when he afflicts us, or that he has withdrawn his presence from us.
Christ had never more of the real presence of his Father than when he had least of his sensible presence, of his comfortable presence: "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" Mat. 27:46. Here is first a compellation or invocation of God twice repeated: "My God, my God." Secondly, the complaint itself, or matter complained of, concerning God's forsaking of him. Christ was forsaken of God in some sort, and he was very sensible of his Father's withdrawing, though it was but in part and for a time, "Why have you forsaken me?" This forsaking is not to be understood of his whole person—but of his human nature only, according to which and in the which he now suffered on the cross. Though the person of Christ suffered, and was forsaken—yet he was not forsaken in, or according to his whole person—but in respect of his human nature only. The godhead of Christ could not be forsaken, for then God should have forsaken himself, which is impossible. The personal union of the godhead with the manhood of Christ continued all the time of his passion and death, it was never dissolved, nor ever shall be. Yes, the godhead did uphold the manhood all the time of Christ's sufferings, so that he was not forsaken when he was forsaken; he was not forsaken wholly when he was forsaken in part. The love and favor of God the Father towards Jesus Christ did not ebb and flow, rise and fall; for God never loved Jesus Christ more or better than at the time of his sufferings, when he was most obedient to his Father's will. "Therefore does my Father love me, because I lay down my life for my sheep," John 10:17. Christ had never more of the supporting presence of his Father than when he had least of his comfortable presence. When Christ was in his grievous agony and distress of body and mind, the godhead did withdraw the comforting presence from the manhood; and so far, and so far only, was Christ forsaken. Though the union was not dissolved—yet there was a suspension of vision for the time, so as the human nature did neither see nor feel any present comfort from God. Now so far as the godhead did withdraw its comfortable presence, so far our Savior was forsaken, and no further; that was but in part, and therefore he was but in part forsaken. God was really present with Christ when in respect of his comfortable presence he was withdrawn from him. Just so, here. The husband may be in the house and the wife not know it; the sun may shine and I not see it; there may be fire in the room and I not feel it; so God may be really present with his people when he is not sensibly present with his people. But,
2. The second proposition is this—That the favorable, special, and eminent presence of God with his people in their greatest troubles, deepest distresses, and most deadly dangers—is only to be extended to his covenant-people, to those who are his people by special grace."They will be my people, and I will be their God. I will give them singleness of heart and action, so that they will always fear me... I will make an everlasting covenant with them: I will never stop doing good to them, and I will inspire them to fear me, so that they will never turn away from me." Jeremiah 32:38-40.
There are many precious promises of the divine presence, as I have already showed; but they are all given to God's covenant-people. We are all the people of God by creation, both good and bad, sinners and saints, bond and free, rich and poor, high and low; and we are all the people of God by outward profession. All who do make an outward profession of God, and perform external worship to God, they are all the people of God in this sense. All the carnal Israelites are frequently called the people of God—as well as the spiritual seed. Thus Cain was one of God's people as well as Abel, and Esau as well as Jacob. Now such as are only the people of God by creation, or by profession, these are strangers to God, these are enemies to God, Eph. 2:12; and will he be favorably present with these? Such as are only the people of God by creation and outward profession—they are dead in trespasses and sins—and can the living God take pleasure in being among the dead? Eph. 2:1; Col. 2:13. Such are under all the threatenings of the law, and under all the curses of the law, Gal. 3:10, even to the uttermost extent of them; such are not one moment secure; the threatenings of God and the curses of the law may light upon them, when in the house, when in the field, when waking, when sleeping, when alone, when in company, when rejoicing, when lamenting, when sick, when well, when boasting, when despairing, when upon the throne, when upon a sick-bed; and will God grace these with his gracious presence? Lev. 26; Deut. 28. Surely not! Such say to God, "Depart from us; for we desire not the knowledge of your ways. What is the Almighty, that we should serve him? and what profit would we have, if we pray unto him?" Job 21:14-15. Such queryings as this carry greatest contempt in them, and would lay the Almighty quite below the required duty as if Almighty were but an empty title; and will God ever honor such with his favorable presence, who bid him be packing, who reject his acquaintance, and are willing to be rid of his company? Surely not! Such as are only his people by creation, and an outward profession, such are under the wrath and displeasure of God. "God is angry with the wicked every day," Psalm 7:11; not with a paternal anger—but with a judicial anger, even to hatred and abhorment. "The wicked is an abomination to him, and he hates all workers of iniquity," Proverbs 3:32, and 15:9. And therefore to these he will never give his special presence. Such may well expect that God will pour on them the fierceness of that wrath and indignation, that they can neither decline nor withstand. Such wrath is like the tempest and whirlwind which breaks down all before it. It is like burning fire, and devouring flames, which consumes all. This wrath will break down all the sinner's arrogancies, and strangle all his vain hopes, and mar all his sensual joys, and fill him with amazing horrors, and make him drunk with the wine of astonishment. And will God dwell with these? will he keep house with these? Surely not!
By these short hints it is most evident that the special presence of God is entailed upon none outside of covenant, John 14:21, 23. God loves to keep house with none but his covenant-people. He will grace none with his gracious presence—but those who are his people by special grace, 1 Cor. 16-18. When wicked men are in great troubles, deep distresses, and most deadly dangers—God either leaves them, as he did Saul, 1 Sam. 28:15-16, etc.; or else pursues them to an utter overthrow, as he did Pharaoh, Exod. 14; or else cuts them off by an invisible hand, as he did Sennacherib's mighty army, Isaiah 37:36, and proud king Herod, Acts 12:23; or else he leaves them to be their own executioners, as he did Ahithophel and Judas, etc. But,
3. The third proposition is this, That a sincere Christian may enjoy the presence of the Lord in great troubles, deep distresses, and most deadly dangers, supporting and upholding of him—when he has not the presence of God quickening, comforting, and joying of him.Psalm 119:117: Psalm 37:24, "Though he falls, he shall not be utterly cast down; for the Lord upholds him with his hand," "upholding with his hand." There is not one moment wherein the Lord does not uphold his people by the hand. The root word signifies to sustain and bear up, as the tender mother does the little child, the weak child, the sick child. God's hand is still under his people, so that they can never fall below supporting grace. Psalm 63:8, "Your right hand upholds me;" or, "Your right hand underprops me." God never did, nor never will, lack a hand to uphold, a hand to underprop his poor people in their greatest troubles and deepest distresses. Though the saints have not always the comforting presence of God in their afflictions—yet they have always the supporting presence of God in their afflictions.
Christ in his bitter and bloody agony had much of the supporting presence of his Father, when he had none of the comforting presence of his Father with him. Mat. 27:46, "My God, my God," etc. Just so, the saints in their deep distresses have many times much of the supporting presence of God. His left hand is under their heads, and his right hand does embrace them, Cant. 2:6, when, in respect of his comforting presence, they may say with the weeping prophet, "The comforter who should relieve my soul, is far from me," Lam. 1:16.
When the love-sick spouse was ready to faint, Christ circles her with amiable embracements; "His left hand is under her head, and his right hand does embrace her." This is a posture and sign of the greatest love, which the sick fainting spouse here glories in. Christ's two hands are testimonies and witnesses of his great power and might, who is able to preserve his people, though lame cripples, from falling, and also to lift them up again when they are fallen ever so low, and likewise to support and uphold them, that they shall never finally and utterly be cast down. When the hearts of the saints are ready to faint and sink, then the Lord will employ all his power for their support, bearing them up as it were with both hands. He has put his left hand under my head, as a pillow to rest upon, and with his right hand he has embraced me, as a loving husband cherishes his sick wife, and does her all the help he can, Eph. 5:29. The best of saints would fail and faint in a day of trouble, if Christ did not put both his hands to keep them up. In days of sorrow, God's people stand in need of a whole Christ to support them and uphold them. "My head sinks, O my beloved, put your left hand, softer than pillows of roses, firmer than pillars of marble, under it; my heart fails and dies—oh let your right hand embrace me." But,
4. The fourth proposition is this—That all saints have not a like measure of the presence of the Lord in their troubles and trials, in their sorrows and sufferings.Some have more, and others have less of this presence of God in an evil day.
(1.) All saints have not alike work to do in an evil day.
(2.) All saints have not alike temptations to withstand in an evil day.
(3.) All saints have not alike testimony to give on an evil day.
(4.) All saints have not alike burdens to bear in an evil day.
(5.) All saints have not alike things to suffer in an evil day.
There are greater and there are lesser troubles, distresses, and dangers; and there are ordinary troubles, distresses, and dangers; and there are extraordinary troubles, distresses, and dangers. [Lam. 1:12, and 4:6; Dan. 9:12-13; 2 Cor. 11:21 to the end; Heb. 11:25 to the end.] Now, where the trouble, the distress, the danger, is ordinary—there an ordinary presence of God may suffice. But where the trouble, the distress, the danger, is extraordinary—there the people of God shall have an extraordinary presence of God with them, as you may see in the three Hebrew children, Daniel, the apostles, the primitive Christians, and the Book of Martyrs.
Some troubles, distresses, and dangers, are but of a short continuance, as Athanasius said of his banishment, "It is but a little cloud, and will quickly be gone." Others are of a longer continuance, and accordingly God suits his presence.
All saints have not alike secondary succours, supplies, reliefs, comforts, etc., in their troubles, distresses, and dangers. Some have a shelter, a friend at hand—others have not. Some have many friends—and others may have never a friend. Some are surrounded with outward comforts—and others have not one, not one penny, not one friend, not one day's work, etc. In a storm some have good harbors at hand—others are near the rocks, and in danger of being swallowed up in the sands. Just so here, and accordingly God lets out more or less of his presence among his people; some need more of his presence than others do—and accordingly God dispenses it among his saints. But,
5. The fifth proposition is this—That none of the saints have at all times, in all afflictions, distresses, and dangers, the same measure and degree of the presence of the Lord; but in one affliction they have more, in another less, of the divine presence. [Some scores of Psalms do evidence the truth of this proposition.] In one affliction, a Christian may have more of the enlightening presence of God than in another. And in another affliction, a Christian may have more of the comforting presence of God than in another. In this trouble a Christian may have more of the awakening presence of God than in another, and in that trouble a Christian may have more of the sanctifying presence of God than in another; and in this distress a Christian may have more of the supporting presence of God than in that. No one saint does at all times, nor in all troubles, need a like measure of the divine presence. The primitive Christians and the martyrs had sometimes more and sometimes less of the divine presence with them, as their condition did require. God, who is infinitely wise, does always suit the measures and degrees of his gracious, favorable, special presence to the necessities of his saints. This is so clear and great a truth, that there are many thousands that can seal to it from their own experience; and therefore I need not enlarge upon it. But,
6. The sixth and the last proposition is this—That many precious Christians, in their great troubles, deep distresses, and most deadly dangers, may have this favorable, special, and eminent presence of God with them—and yet fear and doubt, yes, peremptorily conclude that they have not this presence of God with them.[Jonah 2:4; Cant. 5:6-10; Psalm 88.] Psalm 77:7-10. These sad interrogatories argues much fear and doubt; but let me evidence the truth of this proposition, by an induction of particulars.
Thus, first: If Christ is not specially with you, why is it, that in your troubles, you so fearful of offending of him, and so careful and studious in pleasing of him? Gen. 39:9-10; Psalm 17:3-5; Dan. 3:16-17, and 6:10-13.
Secondly, If Christ is not specially with you, why is it, that under all your troubles, deep distresses, and most deadly dangers—you are still a-justifying of God, a-clearing of God, a-speaking well of God, a-giving a good report of God? Psalm 119:75; Ezra 9:13; Neh. 9:32-33; Dan. 9:12, 14.
Thirdly, If God is not specially with you, why is it, that you bear up so believingly, sweetly, stoutly, cheerfully, and patiently under your troubles, deep distresses, and greatest dangers? Gen. 49:23-24; 1 Sam. 30:6; Hab. 3:17-18; Acts 5:40-42, 16:25-26, and 27:22-26; Heb. 10:34.
Fourthly, If Christ is not specially present with you, why is it, that your thoughts, desires, hearts, thirstings and longings of soul, are so earnestly, so seriously, so frequently, and so constantly carried out after more and more of Christ, and after more and more of the presence of Christ, and after more and more communion with Christ? Psalm 139:17-18, 63:1, 8, 27:4, and 42:1-3; Exod. 33:13-16; Cant. 1:2.
Fifthly, If Christ is not specially present with you, why is it, that you are so affected and afflicted with the dishonors and indignities, wrongs and injuries, which are done to the Lord by others? Psalm 69:9, and 119:53, 136, 158; Jer. 9:1-2; Ezek. 9:4, 6; 2 Pet. 2:7-8. None but such that have the presence of the Lord specially with them can seriously and sincerely lament over the high dishonors that are done to the Lord by others.
Sixthly, If the Lord is not specially present with you under all your troubles and deep distresses, why do you not cast off prayer, and neglect hearing, and forsake the assembling of yourselves together, and turn your backs upon the table of the Lord, and take leave of closet duties? Job 15:4; Heb. 10:25.
Seventhly, If the Lord is not specially present with you under your great troubles and deep distresses, why don't you say with Pharaoh, "Who is the Lord, that I should obey his voice?" And with the king of Israel, "Behold, this evil is from the Lord—why should I wait for the Lord any longer?" Or with that pagan, "If the Lord would make windows in heaven, might this thing be?" Or like Saul—why don't you run to a witch? Or with Ahab, Why don't you sell yourselves to work evil in the sight of the Lord? Or like Ahaz—trespass most when you are distressed most? [Exod. 5:2; 2 Kings 6:32, and 7:2; 1 Sam. 28:15-16; 1 Kings 21:20; 2 Chron. 28:22; Isaiah 51:20, and 59:10-11.]
Why don't you fret, and faint, and act like a wild bull, full of fury? Why don't you grope for the wall, and stumble at noonday, and roar like bears?
Eighthly, If the Lord is not specially present with you in your greatest troubles and deepest distresses, why do you, with Moses, prefer suffering before sinning, and Christ's reproaches before Egypt's treasures? Heb. 11:25-26. Why do you scruple the sinning of yourselves out of your sorrows? Psalm 38:4; Gen. 39:9-10. Why do you look upon sin as your greatest burden? Why are you so tender in the point of transgression, and so stout in resistance of the most pleasing temptation?
Ninthly, If the Lord is not specially with you in your great troubles and deep distresses, why do you set so high a price upon those who have much of the presence of God with them in their troubles and trials? Psalm 16:3-4; Proverbs 12:26; Heb. 11:38. Why do you look upon them as more excellent than their neighbors? yes, as such worthies of whom this world is not worthy?
Tenthly and lastly, If the Lord is not specially present with you in your greatest troubles and deepest distresses, why is it, that you are somewhat bettered, somewhat amended, somewhat reformed by the rod—by the afflictions that have been, and still are, upon you? Psalm 119:67, 71; Hosea 5:14-15, and 6:1-2; Hosea 2:6-7. When the heart is more awakened, humbled, and softened by the rod, when the will is more compliant with the will of God in doing or suffering, when the mind is more raised and spiritualized, when the conscience is more quick and tender, and when the life is more strict and circumspect; then we may safely and roundly conclude that such people do undoubtedly enjoy the special and singular presence of God with them in their greatest troubles, deepest distresses, and most deadly dangers, Eph. 5:15.
And thus I have laid down these six propositions; which, if well weighed and improved—may many ways be of singular use to sincere Christians.