The Privy Key of Heaven

(A Discourse of Closet Prayer)

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

In what respects are afflictions like a rod?

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

I answer, In these seven respects afflictions are like unto a rod.

(1.) First, The rod is never made use of—but when no other means will prevail with the child. It is so here; God never takes up the rod, he never afflicts his people, until he has tried all fair ways and means to humble them and reform them, 2 Chron 36:15, seq., Matt 23:37-38. And when none of the offers of grace, the tenders of mercy, the wooings of Christ, the strivings of the Spirit, nor the smart debates of conscience, will awaken them, nor work upon them, then God takes up the rod, and sometimes whips them until the blood comes. But,

(2.) Secondly, Parents choose whatever rods they please, to correct their children with. The child shall not choose what rod he pleases to be corrected with. Oh, no! It is the prerogative of the father to choose the rod. The father may choose and use either a great rod or a little rod, a long rod or a short rod, a rod made of rosemary branches or a rod made up of a green birch. It is so here; God chooses what rod—whatever affliction he pleases, to exercise his people with, Lev 26; Deut 28; Lam 3:9-18. You read in the Scriptures of very many rods—but they are all of God's choosing: Amos 3:6, "Is there any evil in the city, and has not the Lord done it?" Though there be many rods to be found in the city—yet there is not one of them but is of God's choosing. Ruth 1:13, "It grieves me much for your sakes that the hand of the Lord is gone out against me." Ruth 1:21, "I went out full, and the Lord has brought me home again empty; why then call you me Naomi, seeing the Lord has testified against me, and the Almighty has afflicted me?" Isa 45:7, "I form the light, and create darkness: I make peace, and create evil: I, the Lord, do all these things." Mic 1:12, "For the inhabitants of Maroth waited carefully for good—but evil came down from the Lord unto the gates of Jerusalem." David was whipped with many rods—but they were all of God's own choosing, Psalm 39:9; and Job was whipped with many rods—but they were all of God's own choosing, Job 1. But,

(3.) Thirdly, Parents take no pleasure, they take no delight, to use the rod. Every lash the father gives the child, fetches blood from his own heart. The father corrects the child, and sighs over the child; he whips the child, and at the same time weeps over the child. Nothing goes more against the parents' heart, than the bringing of their children under the rod of correction. It is so here, Lam 3:33, "For he does not afflict willingly," or, as the Hebrew runs, "he does not afflict from his heart, nor grieve the children of men." You often read that God delights in mercy, Mic 7:15; but where do you once read that God delights in severity, or in dealing roughly with his people? God very rarely takes up the rod but when our sins have put a force upon him, 2 Chron 36:16; Jer 5:19. It is grievous to God to be a-grieving his people; it is a pain unto him to be a-punishing of them: Hos 11:8, "How can I give you up, Ephraim? How can I hand you over, Israel? How can I treat you like Admah? How can I make you like Zeboiim? My heart is changed within me; all my compassion is aroused."

My justice, says God, calls upon me to rain hell out of heaven upon you, as once I did upon Sodom and Gomorrah; but then mercy interposes her four several hows: how? how? how? how? how shall I give you up? God puts these four piteous interrogations to himself, because none else in heaven or earth could answer them. The prophet brings in God speaking after the manner of men, who, being provoked a thousand thousand ways by the vanities and follies of their children, think to give them up to take their own courses, and to look no more after them; but then their affections begin to work, and their hearts begin to melt, and they begin to interrogate themselves thus: "How shall we give up these children? for though they be disobedient children—yet they are our children; how can we turn them out of doors? how can we disown them? how can we disinherit them? for though they are rebellious children—yet they are our children, etc.

Afflictions are called God's work, yes, his "strange work;" his act, yes, "his strange act;" as if God were out of his element when he is afflicting or chastising his people, Isa 28:21. But,

(4.) Fourthly, The rod is smarting, grievous, and troublesome; and so are afflictions to our natures. Heb 12:11, "Now, no chastening for the present seems to be joyous—but grievous." Flesh and blood startles and is troubled at the least trouble. Affliction is a sort of remedy which makes most sick. Some write that tigers will grow mad, and tear their own flesh, and rend themselves in pieces, if they do but hear drums sound about them. Were not Job and Jeremiah such tigers, who, in the day of their afflictions, did more than curse the day of their birth? Job 3; Jer 20. Oh what a bitter cup, what a heavy burden was affliction to them! Job 10:1, "My soul is weary of my life." Job 7:15, "My soul chooses strangling and death rather than life." Psalm 6:6, "I am weary with my groaning." Psalm 69:1-3, "Save me, O God, for the waters have come up to my neck. I sink in the miry depths, where there is no foothold. I have come into the deep waters; the floods engulf me. I am worn out calling for help; my throat is parched. My eyes fail, looking for my God." Doubtless many good men have sat under Elijah his juniper, 1 Kings 19:4, wishing themselves out of the world, if it might stand with divine pleasure, that they might rest from their sins and sorrows, and be rid of their many burdens and bondages, looking upon life as little better than a hell, were it not for the hopes of a heaven hereafter. But,

(5.) Fifthly, When parents take up the rod into their hands, they will not lay it down until they have subdued the spirits of their children, and brought them to submit and to kiss the rod, and to sit still and quiet before them. It is so here: when God takes up the rod, he will not lay it down until he has brought us to lie quietly at his feet: Lev 26:40-42, "But if they will confess their sins and the sins of their fathers--their treachery against me and their hostility toward me, which made me hostile toward them so that I sent them into the land of their enemies--then when their uncircumcised hearts are humbled and they pay for their sin, I will remember my covenant with Jacob and my covenant with Isaac and my covenant with Abraham, and I will remember the land." When God takes up the rod, his children must either bow or break; they must say, the Lord is righteous; they must kiss the rod of correction—or else destruction will come like a whirlwind upon them, Isa 5:3,6.

It is reported of the lion, that he spares those creatures that fall down before him, and submit unto him; but as for those that endeavor to run from him, or to contend with him, those he tears in pieces. It is just so with the Lion of the tribe of Judah, as you may see in Hos 5:14-15. "For I will be like a lion to Ephraim, like a great lion to Judah. I will tear them to pieces and go away; I will carry them off, with no one to rescue them. Then I will go back to my place until they admit their guilt. And they will seek my face; in their misery they will earnestly seek me."

King Edward riding furiously after a servant of his that had highly displeased him, with a drawn sword in his hand as purposing to kill him, seeing him submit, and on bended knee pleading for his life, did not only put up his sword—but also spared him, and received him into his favor. The King of kings will never put up his sword when once he has drawn it—until his people fall on their knees, and submit unto him. God never left chastising of Ephraim until he had brought him to his bow, until he had made him submit, and kiss the rod, Jer 31:18-20. But,

(6.) Sixthly, Afflictions are called a rod, in respect to the hand which lays them on. Though affliction be a rod, it is a rod in a Father's hand. The sword is in the judge's hand, John 18:11, and the cudgel is in the master's hand; but the rod is in the father's hand, Heb 12:6-9. When Balaam's donkey offended him, he wished for a sword to slay him, Num 22:29; but so does not God. When we do most highly provoke him, he does not take up a sword to slay us—but only a rod to scourge us and chastise us, as kind fathers do their dearest children. But,

(7.) Seventhly and lastly, Afflictions are called a rod, in regard of the ends to which they serve. A rod is not to kill—but to cure; it is not for destruction—but for correction. When David gave a full commission to his soldiers against Absalom, it was not to slay him—but to restrain him; it was not to ruin him—but to reduce him to his former obedience. The application is easy. We can as well live without our daily bread—as without our daily rod.