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AND thus, in a word or two, I have finished the first two parts of the text, and showed you what there is in Peterís counsel and advice; and showed you also, to whom his advice is given: in which last, as you see, I have showed you both what the will of God is, and what to suffer according to it. And particularly, I have, in a few words, handled this last, to show you that our sufferings are ordered and disposed by him, that you might always, when you come into trouble for his name, not stagger nor be at a loss, but be stayed, composed, and settled in your minds, and say, ďThe will of the Lord be doneĒ ( Acts 21:14). I will also say unto you this by the way, that the will of God doth greatly work, even to order and dispose of the spirits of Christians, in order to willingness, disposedness, readiness, and resignation of ourselves to the mind of God. For with respect to this were those words last recited spoken. Paul saw that he had a call to go up to Jerusalem, there to bear his testimony for Christ and his gospel; but those unto whom he made know his purpose entreated him, with much earnestness, not to go up thither, for that, as they believed, it would endanger his life. But he answereth, What, mean ye to weep, and to break my heart? for I am ready, not to be bound only, but also to die at Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus. And when he would not be persuaded, says Luke, we ceased, saying, ďThe will of the Lord be done.Ē
From what has been thus discoursed, many things will follow; as, First. That the rod, as well as the child, is Godís; persecutors, as well as the persecuted, are his, and he has his own designs upon both . He has raised them up, and he has ordered them for himself, and for that work that he has for them to do. Hence Habakkuk, speaking of the churchís enemies, saith, ďThou hast ordained them for judgment; and, O mighty God, thou hast established them for correctionĒ ( Habakkuk 1:12).
Indeed, to be thus disposed of, is a sad lot; the lot is not fallen to them in pleasant places, they have not the goodly heritage; but the judgments of God are a great deep. The thing formed may not say to him that formed it, Why hast thou made me thus? To be appointed, to be ordained, to be established to be a persecutor, and a troubler of Godís church ó O tremendous judgment! O amazing anger!
Three things the people of God should learn from hence. (1.) Learn to pity and bewail the condition of the enemy ; I know thou canst not alter the counsel of God; appointed they are, established they are for their work, and do it they must and shall. But yet it becomes them that see their state, and that their day is coming, to pity and bewail their condition, yea, and to pray for them too; for who knows whether it is determined that they should remain implacable to the end, as Herod; or whether they may through grace obtain repentance of their doings, with Saul. And I say again, if thy prayer should have a casting hand in the conversion of any of them, it would be sweet to thy thoughts when the scene is over. (2.) Never grudge them their present advantages . ďFret not thyself because of evil men, neither be thou envious at the workers of iniquityĒ ( Proverbs 24:19).
Fret not, though they spoil thy resting-place. It is God that has bidden them do it, to try thy faith and patience thereby. Wish them no ill with what they get of thine; it is their wages for their work, and it will appear to them ere long that they have earned it dearly. Their time is to rejoice but as in a moment, in what thus is gotten by them; and then they, not repenting, are to perish for ever, like their own dung ( Job 20:5-7).
But wouldest thou change places with them? Wouldest thou sit upon their place of ease? Dost thou desire to be with them ( Proverbs 24:1)? O rest thyself contented; in thy patience possess thy soul, and pity and bewail them in the condition in which they are. (3.) Bless God that thy lot did fall on the other side , namely, to be one that should know the truth, profess it, suffer for it, and have grace to bear thee up thereunder, to Godís glory, and thy eternal comfort. This honor have not all his saints; all are not counted worthy thus to suffer shame for his name. Do this, I say, though they get all, and leave thee nothing but the shirt on thy back, the skin on thy bones, or an hole in the ground to be put in ( Hebrews 11:23-26). (4.) Labor to be patient under this mighty hand of God, and be not hasty to say, When will the rod be laid aside? mind thou thy duty, which is to let patience have its perfect work. And bear the indignation of the Lord, because thou hast sinned against him, until he please to awake, to arise, and to execute judgment for thee ( Micah 7:9).
But to pass this. Second. Are things thus ordered? then this should teach us that there is a cause . The rod is not gathered without a cause; the rod is fore-determined, because the sin of Godís people is foreseen, and ofttimes the nature of the sin, and the anger of the Father, is seen in the fashion of the rod. The rod of my anger, saith God. A bitter and hasty nation must be brought against Jerusalem; an enemy fierce and cruel must be brought against the land of Israel. Their sins called for such a rod, for their iniquities were grievous ( Habakkuk 1:6).
This should teach us with all earnestness to be sorry for our sins, and to do what we can to prevent these things, by falling upon our face in a way of prayer before God. If we would shorten such days, when they come upon us, let us be lovers of righteousness, and get more of the righteousness of faith, and of compliance with the whole will of God into our hearts. Then I say, the days shall be shortened, or we fare as well, because the more harmless and innocent we are, and suffer, the greater will our wages, our reward, and glory be, when pay-day shall come; and what if we wait a little for that?
These things are sent to better Godís people, and to make them white, to refine them as silver, and to purge them as gold, and to cause that they that bear some fruit, may bring forth more: we are afflicted, that we may grow ( John 15:2). It is also the will of God, that they that go to heaven should go thither hardly or with difficulty. The righteous shall scarcely be saved. That is, they shall, but yet with great difficulty, that it may be the sweeter.
Now that which makes the way to heaven so strait, so narrow, so hard, is the rod, the sword, the persecutor, that lies in the way, that marks where our haunt is, that mars our path, digs a pit, and that sets a net, a snare for us in the way ( 1 Samuel 23:22; Job 30:12-14; Psalm 9:15; Psalm 31:4; Psalm 35:7; <19B9110> Psalm 119:110; <19E005> Psalm 140:5; <19E203> Psalm 142:3).
This, I say, is that which puts us to it, but it is to try, as I said, our graces, and to make heaven the sweeter to us. To come frighted and hard pursued thither, will make the safety there the more with exceeding gladness to be embraced. And I say, get thy heart yet more possessed with the power of godliness; that the love of righteousness may be yet more with thee. For this blessedness, this happiness, he shall be sure of, that suffereth for righteousnessí sake. Third. Since the rod is Godís as well as the child, let us not look upon our troubles as if they came from, and were managed only by hell. It is true, a persecutor has a black mark upon him, but yet the Scriptures say that all the ways of the persecutor are Godís ( Daniel 5:23). Wherefore as we should, so again we should not, be afraid of men: we should be afraid of them, because they will hurt us; but we should not be afraid of them, as if they were let loose to do to us, and with us, what they will. Godís bridle is upon them, Godís hook is in their nose: yea, and God has determined the bounds of their rage, and if he lets them drive his church into the sea of troubles, it shall be but up to the neck, and so far it may go, and not be drowned ( 2 Kings 19:28; Isaiah 37:29; Isaiah 8:7,8). I say the Lord has hold of them, and orders them; nor do they at any time come out against his people but by his license and commission how far to go, and where to stop.
And now for two or three objections: ó Objection. 1. But may we not fly in a time of persecution? Your pressing upon us, that persecution is ordered and managed by God, makes us afraid to fly. Answer.. First, having regard to what was said afore about a call to suffer; thou mayest do in this even as it is in thy heart. If it is in thy heart to fly, fly: if it be in thy heart to stand, stand. Any thing but a denial of the truth. He that flies, has warrant to do so; he that stands, has warrant to do so. Yea, the same man may both fly and stand, as the call and working of God with his heart may be. Moses fled ( Exodus 2:15), Moses stood ( Hebrews 11:27). David fled ( 1 Samuel 19:12), David stood ( Samuel 24:8). Jeremiah fled ( Jeremiah 37:11,12), Jeremiah stood ( Jeremiah 38:17). Christ withdrew himself ( Luke 9:10), Christ stood ( John 18:1-8). Paul fled ( 2 Corinthians 11:33), Paul stood ( Acts 20:22,23).
There are therefore few rules in this case. The man himself is best able to judge concerning his present strength, and what weight this or that argument has upon his heart to stand or fly. I should be loath to impose upon any man in these things; only, if thou fliest, take two or three cautions with thee: ó (1.) Do not fly out of a slavish fear, but rather because flying is an ordinance of God, opening a door for the escape of some, which door is opened by Godís providence, and the escape countenanced by Godís Word ( Matthew 10:23). (2.) When thou art fled, do as much good as thou canst in all quarters where thou comest, for therefore the door was opened to thee, and thou bid to make thy escape ( Acts 8:1-5). (3.) Do not think thyself secure when thou art fled; it was providence that opened the door, and the Word that did bid thee escape: but whither, and wherefore, that thou knowest not yet. Uriah the prophet fled into Egypt, because there dwelt men that were to take him, that he might be brought again to Jerusalem to die there ( Jeremiah 26:21). (4.) Shouldest thou fly from where thou art, and be taken in another place; the most that can be made of it ó thy taking the opportunity to fly, as was propounded at first ó can be but this, thou wast willing to commit thyself to God in the way of his providence, as other good men have done, and thy being now apprehended has made thy call clear to suffer here or there, the which before thou wert in the dark about. (5.) If, therefore, when thou hast fled, thou art taken, be not offended at God or man: not at God, for thou art his servant, thy life and thy all are his; not at man, for he is but Godís rod, and is ordained, in this, to do thee good. Hast thou escaped? Laugh. Art thou taken? Laugh. I mean, be pleased which way soever things shall go, for that the scales are still in Godís hand. (6.) But fly not, in flying, from religion; fly not, in flying, for the sake of a trade; fly not, in flying, that thou mayest have ease for the flesh: this is wicked, and will yield neither peace nor profit to thy soul; neither now, nor at death, nor at the day of judgment. Objection. 2. But if I fly, some will blame me: what must I do now? Answer. And so many others if thou standest; fly not, therefore, as was said afore, out of a slavish fear; stand not, of a bravado. Do what thou dost in the fear of God, guiding thyself by his Word and providence; and as for this or that manís judgment, refer thy case to the judgment of God. Objection. 3. But if I be taken and suffer, my cause is like to be clothed with scandals, slanders, reproaches, and all manner of false, and evil speakings; what must I do? Answer. Saul charged David with rebellion ( 1 Samuel 22:8,13). Amos was charged with conspiring against the king ( Amos 7:10). Daniel was charged with despising the king; and so also were the three children ( Daniel 6:13; ( Daniel 3:12). Jesus Christ himself was accused of perverting the nation, of forbidding to give tribute to Caesar, and of saying that himself was Christ a king ( Luke 23:2). These things therefore have been. But, Canst thou, after a due examination of thyself, say that as to these things thou art innocent and clear? I say, will thy conscience justify thee here? Hast thou made it thy business to give unto God the things that are Godís, and unto Caesar the things that are his, according as God has commanded? If so, matter not what men shall say, nor with what lies and reproaches they slander thee, but for these things count thyself happy.
Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you ó and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely (lying) for my sake (saith Christ). Rejoice, and be exceeding glad: for great is your reward in heaven: for so persecuted they the prophets which were before you ( Matthew 5:11,12). Comfort thyself therefore in the innocency of thy soul, and say, I am counted a rebel, and yet am loyal; I am counted a deceiver, and yet am true ( Samuel 24:8-12, 2 Corinthians 6:8). Also refer thy cause to the day of judgment; for if thou canst rejoice at the thoughts that thou shalt be cleared of all slanders and evil speakings then, that will bear up thy heart as to what thou mayest suffer now. The answer of a good conscience will carry a man through hell to heaven. Count these slanders part of thy sufferings, and those for which God will give thee a reward, because thou art innocent, and for that they are laid upon thee for thy professionís sake.
But if thou be guilty, look to thyself; I am no comforter of such.