Hearken unto me, my people; and give ear unto me, O my nation: for a law shall proceed from me, and I will make my judgment to rest for a light of the people.
~ Isaiah 51:4
And I have put my words in thy mouth, and I have covered thee in the shadow of mine hand, that I may plant the heavens, and lay the foundations of the earth, and say unto Zion, Thou art my people.
~ Isaiah 51:16
And my people shall dwell in a peaceable habitation, and in sure dwellings, and in quiet resting places; When it shall hail, coming down on the forest; and the city shall be low in a low place.
~ Isaiah 32:18-19
And the LORD said unto Noah, Come thou and all thy house into the ark; for thee have I seen righteous before me in this generation.
~ Genesis 7:1
But thou, when thou prayest, enter into thy closet, and when thou hast shut thy door, pray to thy Father which is in secret; and thy Father which seeth in secret shall reward thee openly.
~ Matthew 6:6
Keep me as the apple of the eye, hide me under the shadow of thy wings, For in the time of trouble he shall hide me in his pavilion: in the secret of his tabernacle shall he hide me; he shall set me up upon a rock.
~ Psalm 17:8, Psalm 27:5
For a small moment have I forsaken thee; but with great mercies will I gather thee. In a little wrath I hid my face from thee for a moment; but with everlasting kindness will I have mercy on thee, saith the LORD thy Redeemer.
~ Isaiah 54:7-8
For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, worketh for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory;
~ 2 Corinthians 4:17
The Righteous Man’s Refuge, by John Flavel. The following contains Chapters Five and Six of his work.
Come my people, enter thou into thy chambers, and shut thy doors about thee: hide thyself as it were for a little moment, until the indignation be over-past. ISA. 26:20
Evincing the fourth proposition, viz. That God usually premonisheth the world, especially his own people, of his judgments before they befal them.
Sect. I. GOD first warns, and then smites, he delights not to surprize men; when indignation was coming, he tells his people of it in the text, and admonisheth them to hide themselves. “Surely the Lord will do nothing, but he revealeth his secrets to his servants the prophets,” Amos 3:7. Thus when the flood was to come upon the old world, he gave them 120 years warning of it, Gen. 6:3. compared with 1 Pet. 3:19. So when Sodom was to be destroyed, God would not hide it from Abraham; Gen. 18:17. “Shall I hide from Abraham the thing that I do?” The like discovery was made unto Lot, Gen. 19:12, 13, 14. So when the captivity was at hand, Ezekiel was commanded to give the Jews solemn warning of it from God, Ezek. 3:17. “Hear the word at my mouth, and give them warning from me.”
And when their city and temple were to be destroyed by the Romans, how plainly did Christ foretel them of it by his own mouth! Luke 19:43, 44. “Thine enemies shall cast a trench about thee, and compass thee round, and keep thee in on every side, and lay thee even with the ground, and thy children within thee, and they shall not leave in thee one stone upon another; because thou knewest not the time of thy visitation.” Josephus* also tells us, that a little before the execution of this judgment upon them, a voice was heard in the temple, Migremus hinc, i.e. Let us go hence; which voice Tacitus also in his annals, mentions, Audita major humana vox, excedere Deos, simul ingenus motus excedentium. It was more than a human voice, telling them God was departing from them, and withal there was heard the rushing noise, as of some that were going out of the temple.
And as there were extraordinary premonitions of approaching judgments, by revelation to the prophets of old, and signs from heaven, so there are still standing and ordinary rules by which the world may be admonished of God’s judgments before they come upon them.
And the general rule, by which men may discern the indignation of God before it comes, is this,
When the same provocations and evils are found in one nation, which have brought down the wrath of God upon another nation; this is an evident sign of God’s judgment at the door. For God is unchangeably holy and just, and will not favour that in one people, which he hath punished in another; nor bless that in one age, which he hath cursed in another. And therefore that which hath been a sign of judgment to one, must be so to all.
Here it is that the carcases of those sinners whose sins had cast them away, are, as it were, cast upon the scripture shore, for a warning to all others that they steer not the same ill course they did: 1 Cor. 10:9. “Now these things were our examples.” The Israelites are made examples to us, plainly intimating, that if we tread the same path, we must expect the same punishment. Let us therefore consider what were the evils that provoked God’s judgments against his ancient people, whom he was so loth to give up, Hos. 11:8. and so long ere he did give up, Jer. 15:9. and we shall find, by the concurrent accounts that the prophets give,
1. That God’s worship among men was generally mixed and corrupted with their own inventions; for so it is said, Psal. 106:40, 41. “They went a whoring after their own inventions.” And this so inflamed the wrath of God, who is a jealous God, and tender over his own honour, that he abhorred his own inheritance; yea, he expresses himself as a man doth, whose heart is broken by the unfaithfulness of his wife, Ezek. 6:9. Upon this account his professing people became the generation of his wrath, Jer. 7:29, 30.
2. Incorrigible obstinacy under gentler correction, Amos 4:6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12. Scarcity, mildews, pestilence, and sword, had been upon them; and still those that remained, though saved as a brand out of the fire, in which their fellow-sinners perished, would not return to God; and this hastened on the general ruin, ver. 12. This presages the ruin of nations indeed.
3. Stupidity and senselessness of God’s hand was a sad omen, and cause of that people’s ruin; so Isa. 26:10, 11. Lord when thy hand is lifted up, they will not see.” No, nor yet when his hand is laid on, Isa. 42:24, 25. It is not some small drop of God’s anger that passes without observation, but the fury of his anger; not some light skirmish of his judgments with them; but the strength of battle: not in a corner upon some particular person, or family, but that which set him on fire round about; yet all this could not awaken them. “He hath poured upon him the fury of his anger, and the strength of battle, and it hath set him on fire round about, yet he knew it not, and it burned him, yet he laid it not to heart.” Prodigious stupidity! to be in the midst of flames, yea, to be seized by them, and destroyed sooner than awakened. So you find again in Hos. 7:9. “Gray hairs were here and there upon Ephraim, yet he knew it not.” Youth and age are easily distinguished, and gray hairs do plainly distinguish them, being the plain tokens of a declining state, yet they took no notice of them. Such stupidity is evermore the forerunner of misery.
4. Persecution of God’s faithful ministers and people, was another forerunning sign of their ruin, 2 Chron. 36:16. “They mocked the messengers of God, and despised his words, and misused his prophets, until the wrath of the Lord arose against his people, till there was no remedy.” There were also a number of upright souls among them, that desired to worship God according to his own prescription, but a snare was laid for them in Mizpah, and a net spread upon Tabor; and therefore was judgment towards that people, Hos. 5:1. Mizpah and Tabor were places in the way lying betwixt Samaria and Jerusalem, where the true worship of God was, and there was informers or spies set by the priest, to intercept such as would venture to serve God at Jerusalem, according to his own prescription; this also foreboded the judgments of God upon that nation.
5. The decay of the life and power of godliness among them plainly foreshewed their ruin at hand, Hos. 4:18. Their drink is sour: where, under the metaphor of dead and sour drink, which hath lost its spirit, and is become flat, their formal, heartless, and perfunctory duties are severely taxed and condemned.
6. To conclude, the mutual animosities and feuds among that professing people, evidently shewed judgment to be at the door. Hos. 9:7. “The days of visitation are come, the days of recompence are come; Israel shall know it: the prophet is a fool, the spiritual man is mad, for the multitude of thine iniquity, and the great hatred.” This great, hatred was one of the greatest sins, and saddest signs upon them. This spirit of enmity sowed by the devil among them, hastened their calamity. If Ephraim will envy Judah, and Judah vex Ephraim, the common enemy shall part the fray: when the whole nation was under water, and the Roman armies under the very walls of Jerusalem, their own historians tells us, what bitter contentions and sharp conflicts continued among them to the very last; these things must be looked upon by all wise and considerate men, no otherwise than we look upon glaring meteors, and blazing comets portending judgment and ruin at the door. We have had indeed terrible signs in heaven, a dreadful rod of God shaken over us of late, which all men ought to behold with trembling; yet I must say those moral signs of judgments fore-mentioned, are much more terrible and portentous. According therefore to the evidence of these signs among us, let all upright hearts be affected and awakened with expectations of God’s righteous judgments. It is indeed below faith to expect evil days with despondency and distraction; but surely it is a noble exercise of faith, so to expect them, as to make due preparation for them.
Section 2. And if we enquire for what end God gives such warning to the world, and premonishes them from heaven of the judgments that are coming on the earth, know that he doth it upon a threefold account.
1. To prevent their execution.
2. To leave the careless inexcusable.
3. To make them more tolerable and easy to his own people.
1. Warning is given with a design to prevent the execution of judgments; this is plain from Amos 4:12. “Therefore will I do this unto thee;” there is warning given; “and because I will do this, prepare to meet thy God, O Israel:” there is the gracious designs of preventing it, by bringing them seasonably upon their knees at the foot of an angry God: you see the Lord expects it from all his children, that they fall at his feet in deep humiliation, and fervent intercession, whenever he goes forth in the way of judgment. What else was the design of God in sending Jonah to Nineveh with that dreadful message, but to excite them to repentance, and prevent their ruin? This Jonah guessed at, and therefore declined the message, to secure his credit, well knowing, that if they took warning and repented, the gracious nature of God would soon melt into compassion over them: free grace would make him appear as a liar among the people; for to that sense his own words sound, Jonah 4:2. “Was not this my saying, when I was yet in my country? Therefore I fled before unto Tarshish, for I knew that thou art a gracious God.” q. d. I thought before-hand it would come to this; I knew how willing thou art to be prevented by repentance; therefore to secure my credit, I fled to Tarshish.
2. He forewarns of judgments to leave the incorrigible wholly inexcusable, that those who have neither sense of sin, nor fear of judgment before, might have no cloak for their folly, nor plea for themselves afterward? “What wilt thou say when he shall punish thee?” Jer. 13:21, 22. What plea or apology is left thee, after so many fair warnings? You cannot say you were surprized before you were admonished, or ruined before you were warned.
3. God warns of judgments before they come, to make them the more easy to his people when they come indeed; thus in John 16:4. Christ foretold his disciples of their approaching sufferings, that when they come, they should not be found amazed at them, or unprovided for them; for unexpected miseries are astonishing to the best men, and destructive to wicked men, Luke 17:26, 27, 28.
Well then, if it be so, let all that are wise in heart consider the signs of the times, and seasonably hearken to God’s warnings. “The Lord’s voice crieth to the city, and the man of wisdom shall see thy name; hear ye the rod, and who hath appointed it,” Mic. 6:9. It is our wisdom to way-lay our troubles, and provide for the worst estate, whilst we enjoy the best: happy is he that is at once believing and praying for good days, and preparing for the worst. Noah’s example is our advantage, Heb. 11:7. “Who, by faith being warned of God, of things not seen as yet, moved with fear, prepared an ark.” Preventing mercies are the most ravishing mercies, Psal. 69:10. And preventing calamities are the sorest calamities, Amos 9:10.
And let us heartily beware the supineness and carelessness of the world in which we live, who take no notice of God’s warning, but put the evil day far from them, Amos 6:3. who will admit no fear till they are past all hope; they see God housing his saints apace, yet will not see the evil to come from which God takes them, Isa. 57:1, 2. “The righteous perisheth, and no man layeth it to heart; and merciful men are taken away, none considering that the righteous is taken away from the evil to come. He shall enter into peace: they shall rest in their beds, each one walking in his uprightness.” They hear the cry of sin which is gone up to heaven, but cry not for the abominations that are committed, nor tremble at the judgments that they will procure.
O careless sinners, drowned in stupidity, and sleeping like Jonah under the hatches, when others are upon their knees, and at their wits-end! Do saints tremble, and are you secure? Have not you more reason to be afraid than they? if judgments come, the greatest harm it can do them is but to hasten them to heaven: but as for you, it may hurry you away to hell: they only fear tribulation in the way; but you will not fear damnation in the end. Believe it reader, in days of common calamity both heaven and hell will fill apace.
Demonstrating the fifth proposition, viz. That God’s attributes, promises, and providences, are prepared for the security of his people, in the greatest distresses that can befal them in the world.
Sect. I. HAVING more briefly dispatched the foregoing preliminary propositions, it remains that we now more fully open this fifth proposition, which contains the main subject matter of this discourse; here therefore our meditations must fix and abide, and truly such is the deliciousness of the subject to spiritual hearts, that I judge it wholly needless to offer any other motive besides itself to engage your affections. Let us therefore view our chambers, and see how well God hath provided for his children in all the distresses that befal them in this world; it is our Father’s voice that calls to us, Come, my people, enter thou into thy chambers. And the —
1. Chamber which comes to be opened as a refuge to distressed believers in a stormy day, is that most secure and safe attribute of Divine Power: into this let us first enter by serious and believing meditation, and see how safe they are whom God hides under the protection thereof, in the worst and most dangerous days. In opening this attribute, we shall consider it,
1. In its own nature and properties.
2. With respect to the promises.
3. As it is actuated by providence in the behalf of distressed saints.
And then give you a comfortable prospect of their safe and happy condition, who take up their lodgings by faith in this attribute of God.
1. Let us consider the power of God in itself, and We shall find it represented to us in the scriptures, in these three lovely properties, viz.
1. Omnipotent Power. 2. Supreme Power 3. Everlasting Power
1. As an omnipotent and all-sufficient power, which hath no bounds or limits but the pleasure and will of God, Dan. 4:34, 35. “He doth according to his will in the armies of heaven, and among the inhabitants of the earth, and none can stay his hand, or say unto him, What dost thou?” So Psal. 135:6. “What-soever the Lord pleased that did he, in heaven, and in earth, in the seas, and in all deep places.” You see Divine pleasure is the only rule according to which Divine Power exerts itself in the world; we are not therefore to limit and restrain it in our narrow and shallow thoughts, and to think in this, or in that, the power of God may help or secure us; but to believe that he is able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we can ask or think. Thus those worthies, Dan. 3:17. by faith exalted the power of God above the order and common rule of second causes. “Our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and he will deliver us out of thine hand, O king.” Their faith resting itself upon the omnipotent power of God, expected deliverance from it in an extraordinary way; it is true, this is no standing rule for our faith ordinarily to work by; nor have we ground to expect such miraculous salvations, but yet when extraordinary difficulties press us, and the common ways and means of deliverance are shut up, we ought by faith to exalt the omnipotency of God, by ascribing the glory thereof to him, and leave ourselves to his good pleasure, without straitening or narrowing his Almighty Power, according to the mould of our poor, low thoughts and apprehensions of it: for so the Lord himself directeth our faith in difficult cases, Isa. 54:8, 9. “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the Lord; for as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts.” He speaks there of his pardoning mercy, which he will not have his people to contract and limit according to the model and platform of their own desponding, misgiving, and unbelieving thoughts; but to exalt and glorify it, according to its unbounded fulness; as it is in the thoughts of God, the fountain of that mercy; so it ought to be with respect to his power, about which his thoughts and ours do vastly differ; the power of God as we cast in the mould of our thoughts, is as vastly different and disproportionate from what it is in the thoughts of God the fountain thereof, as the earth is to the heavens, which is but a small inconsiderable point compared with them.
2. The power of God is a supreme and sovereign power, from which all creature-power is derived, and by which it is over-ruled, restrained, and limited at his pleasure. Nebuchadnezzar was a great monarch, he ruled over other kings, yet he held his kingdom from God; it was God that placed not only the crown upon his head, but his head upon his shoulders, Dan. 2:37. “Thou, O king, art a king of kings; for the God of heaven hath given thee a kingdom, power, and strength, and glory.” Hence it follows, that no creature can move tongue or hand against any of God’s people, but by virtue of a commission or permission from their God, albeit they think not so. Knowest thou not, saith Pilate unto Christ, that I have power to crucify thee, and power to release thee? Proud worm! what an ignorant and insolent boast was this of his own power! and how doth Christ spoil and shame it in his answer? John 19:11. Thou couldest have no power at all against me, except it were given thee from above.
Wicked men, like wild horses, would run over and trample under foot all the people of God in the world, were it not that the bridle of Divine Providence had a strong curb to restrain them: Ezek. 22:6. “The princes of Israel every one were in thee, to their power to shed blood.” And it was well for God’s Israel that their power was not as large as their wills were; this world is a raging and boisterous sea, which sorely tosses the passengers for heaven that sail upon it, but this is their comfort and security: “The Lord stilleth the noise of the sea, the noise of the waves, and the tumult of the people,” Psal. 65:7. Moral, as well as natural waves, are checked and bounded by Divine power. “Surely the wrath of man shall praise thee, and the remainder of wrath thou shalt restrain,” Psal. 76:10. As a man turns so much water into the channel as will drive the mill, and turns away the rest into another sluice.
Yea, not only the power of man, but the power of devils also is under the restraint and limitation of this power, Rev. 3:10. “Satan shall cast some of you into prison, and ye shall have tribulation ten days.” He would have cast them into their graves, yea, into hell if he could, but it must be only into a prison: He would have kept them in prison till they had died and rotted there, but it must be only for ten days. Oh glorious sovereign power! which thus keeps the reins of government in its own hand!
3. The power of God is an everlasting power; time doth not weaken or diminish it, as it doth all creature-powers, Isa. 40:28. “The Lord, the Creator of the ends of the earth, fainteth not, neither is weary,” Isa. 59:1. “The Lord’s hand is not shortened,” i.e. He hath as much power now as ever he had, and can do for his people as much as ever he did; time will decay the power of the strongest creature, and make him faint and feeble; but the Creator of the ends of the earth fainteth not. “Thou (saith the Psalmist) abideth for ever, thy years flee not,” Psal. 102:27. In God’s working there is no expence of his strength, he is able to do as much for his church now as ever he did, to act over- again all the glorious deliverances that ever he wrought for his people from the beginning of the world; to do as much for his church now, as he did at the Red-sea; and upon this ground the church builds its plea, Isa. 51:9, 10. “Awake, awake, put on strength, O arm of the Lord, awake as in the ancient days, as in the generations of old. Art thou not it that hath cut Rahab, and wounded the dragon?” q. d. Lord, why should not thy people at this day expect as glorious productions of thy power, as any of them found in former ages?
Sect. II. Let us view the power of God in the vast extent of its operations, and then you will find it working beyond the line,
1. Of creature-power, 2. Of creature-expectation, 3. Of human probability.
1. Beyond the line of all created power, even upon the hearts, thoughts, and minds of men, where no creature hath any jurisdiction. So Gen. 31:29. God bound up the spirit of Laban, and becalmed it towards Jacob. So Psal. 106:46. “He made them also to be pitied of all them that carried them captives.” Thus the Lord promised Jeremiah, Jer. 15:11. “I will cause the enemy to entreat thee well, in the time of evil.” This power of God softens the hearts of the most fierce and cruel enemies, and sweetens the spirits of the most bitter and enraged foes of his people.
2. Beyond the line of all creature-expectations, Eph. 3:20. “God is able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we can ask or think.” He doth so in spirituals; as appears by those two famous parables, Luke 15:19, 22. “And am no more worthy to be called thy son; make me as one of thy hired servants. But the Father said to his servants, bring forth the best robe, and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet.” The prodigal desired to be but as an hired servant, and lo, the fatted calf is killed for him, and music to his meat; and the gold ring upon his finger. And in Matth. 18:26, 27. the debtor did but desire patience, and the creditor forgave the debt. Oh! thinks a poor humbled sinner, if I might have but the least glimpse of hope, how sweet would it be! But God brings him to more than he expects, even the clear shining of assurance. It is so in temporals, the church confesses the Lord did things they looked not for, Isa. 64:3. And in both spirituals and temporals this power moves in an higher orb than our thoughts, Isa. 55:8, 9. “My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor my ways your ways; but as far as the heavens are above the earth, so are my thoughts above your thoughts.” The earth is but a punctum to the heavens; all its tallest cedars, mountains and pyramids cannot reach it: He speaks, as was said before, of God’s pitying, pardoning, and merciful thoughts, and shews that no creature can think of God, as he doth of the creature under sin, or under misery; our thoughts are not his thoughts; either first, by way of simple cogitation we cannot think such thoughts towards others in misery, by way of pity; or under sin against us by way of pardon, as God doth: Nor secondly, are our thoughts as God’s in respect of reflexive comprehension; i.e. We cannot conceive or comprehend what those thoughts of God towards us are; when we fall into sin or misery, just as he thinks them, they are altered, debased, and straitened as soon as ever they come into our thoughts. See an excellent instance in Gen. 48:11. “I had not thought to see thy face, and lo, God hath shewed me also thy seed.” A surprizing providence; and thus the divine power works in a sphere above all the thoughts, prayers, and expectations of men.
3. It works beyond all probabilities, and rational conjectures of men; this Almighty power hath created deliverances for the people of God, when things have been brought to the lowest ebb, and all the means of salvation have been hid from their eyes. We have divers famous instances of this in scripture, wherein we may observe a remarkable gradation in the working of this Almighty power: It is said in 2 Kings 14:26, 27. “The Lord saw the affliction of Israel, that it was very bitter, for there was not any shut up, or any left, nor any helper for Israel.” A deplorable state! How inevitable was their ruin to the eye of sense? Well might it be called a bitter affliction; yet from this immediate power arose for them a sweet and unexpected salvation: And if we look into 2 Cor. 1:9, 10. we shall find the apostles and choicest Christians of those times, giving up themselves as lost men; all ways of escaping being quite out of sight, for so much those words signify, We had the sentence of death in ourselves; i.e. We yielded ourselves for dead men. But though they were sentenced to death, yea, though they sentenced themselves, this power, which wrought above all their thoughts and rational conjectures, reprieved them. And yet one step farther, in Ezek. 37:4, 5, 6, 7. The people of God are there represented as actually dead, yea, as in their graves, yea, as rotted in their graves, and their very bones dry, like those that are dead of old; so utterly improbable was their recovery: Yet by the working of this Almighty power, which subdueth all things to itself, their graves in Babylon were opened, the breath of life came into them, bone came to bone, and there stood up a very great army; it was the working of his power above the thoughts of man’s heart, which gave the ground of that famous proverb, Gen. 22:14. “In the mount of the Lord it shall be seen.” And the ground of that famous promise, Zech. 14:7. “At evening time it shall be light;” i.e. Light shall unexpectedly spring up, when all men according to the course and order of nature, expect nothing but increasing darkness. How extensive is the power of God in its glorious operations!
Sect. III. Let us view the power of God in its relation to the promises, for so it becomes our sanctuary in the day of trouble; if the power of God be the chamber, it is the promise of God which is that golden key that opens it. And if we will consult the scriptures in this matter, we shall find the Almighty power of God made over to his people by promise, for many excellent ends and uses in the day of their trouble. As, —
1. To uphold and support them when their own strength fails, Isa. 41:10. “Fear thou not, for I am with thee, be not dismayed, for I am thy God: I will strengthen thee, yea, I will help thee, yea, I will uphold thee, with the right hand of my righteousness.” And which of the saints have not sensibly felt these everlasting arms underneath their spirits, when afflictions have pressed them above their own strength! So runs the promise to Paul, in 2 Cor. 12:9. “My grace is sufficient for thee, for my strength is made perfect in weakness;” i.e. It is made known in thy weakness. Our weakness adds nothing to God’s power, it doth not make his power perfect, but it hath the better advantage of its discovery, and puts forth itself more signally and conspicuously in our weakness; as the stars which never shine so gloriously as in the darkest night.
2. To preserve them in all their dangers, to which they lie exposed in soul and body, 1 Pet. 1:5. “You are kept (saith the apostle by the mighty power of God.” Kept as in a garrison; this is their arm every morning, as it is Isa. 33:2. “O Lord be gracious unto us, we have waited for thee, be thou their arm every morning, our salvation also in the time of trouble.” The arm is that member which is fitted for the defence of the body, and for that end so placed by the God of nature, that it may guard every part above and below it; but as good they were bound behind our backs, for any help they can give us in some cases: It is God’s arm that defends us and not our own. This invisible power of God makes the saints the world’s wonder. Psal. 71:7. “I am as a wonder to many, but thou art my strong refuge.” To see the poor defenceless creatures preserved in the midst of furious enemies, that is just matter of wonder; but God being their invisible refuge, that solves the wonder; to this end the power of God is by promise engaged to his people, Isa. 27:3. “I the Lord do keep it, I will water it every moment, lest any hurt it, I will keep it night and day.” And thus they subsist in the midst of dangers and troubles; as the burning bush (the emblem of the church) did amidst the devouring flames, Exod. 3:3.
3. To deliver them out of their distresses; so runs the promise, Psal. 91:14, 15. “Because he hath set his love upon me, therefore will I deliver him; I will set him on high, because he hath known my name; he shall call upon me, and I will answer him, I will be with him in trouble, I will deliver him and honour him.” And Jer. 30:7. “Alas for that day is great, so that none is like it: It is even the time of Jacob’s trouble; but ye shall be saved out of it.” And surely there can be no distress so great, no case of believers so forlorn, but, —
1. It is easy with God to save them out of it. Are they to the eye of sense lost, as hopeless as men in the grave? Yet see Ezek. 37:12. “O my people, I will open your graves, and cause you to come up out of your graves, and bring you into the land of Israel.” And he doth whatever he doth easily, with a word, Psal. 44:4. “Thou art my king, O God, command deliverances for Jacob.” And it requireth no more violent motion to do it, than he that swimmeth in the water uses, Isa. 25:11. A gentle easy motion of the hand doth it.
2. And as the power of God can deliver them easily, so speedily. Their deliverance is often wrought by way of surprizal. Isa. 17:14. “Behold, at evening-tide, trouble, and in the morning he is not.” So the church prays, in Psal. 136:14. “Turn again our captivity as the streams in the south.” The southern countries are dry, the streams there come not in a gentle and slow current, but being occasioned by violent sudden spouts of rain, they presently overflow the country, and as soon retire: So speedily can the power of God free his people from their dangers and fears.
3. Yea, such is the excellency of his delivering power, that he can save alone, without any contribution of creature-aids. So Isa. 59:16. “He wondered that there was no intercessor; therefore his hand brought salvation unto him, and his righteousness sustained him.” We read indeed, Judg. 5:23. of helping the Lord, but that is not to express his need, but their duty; we have continual need of God, but he hath no need of us: he uses instruments, but not out of necessity, his arm alone can save us, be the danger never so great, or the visible means of deliverance never so remote.
4. Once more, let us view this chamber of Divine Power, as it is continually opened by the hand of providence, to receive and secure the people of God in all their dangers. It is said, 2 Chron. 16:9. “The eyes of the Lord run to and fro throughout the whole earth, to shew himself strong in the behalf of them whose heart is perfect towards him.” Where you have an excellent account of the immediacy, universality, and efficacy of Divine Providence, as it uses and applies this Divine Power for the guard and defence of that people who are its charge; he doth not only set angels to watch for them, but his own eyes guard them, even those seven eyes of providence mentioned, Zech. 3:9. which never sleep nor slumber; for they are said to run continually to and fro, and that not in this or that particular place only, for the service of some more eminent and excellent persons; but through the whole earth. It is an encompassing and surrounding providence which hath its eye upon all whose hearts are upright; all the saints are within the line of its care and protection; the eye of providence discovereth all their dangers, and its arm defends them, for he shews himself strong in their behalf.
The secret, but the almighty efficacy of providence is also excellently described to us in Ezek. 1:8. where the angels are said to have their hands under their wings, working secretly and un-discernibly, but very effectually for the saints committed to their charge. Like unto which is that in Hab. 3:4. where it is said of God, “that he had horns coming out of his hands, and there was the hiding of his power.” The hand is the instrument of action, denoting God’s active power, and the horns coming out of them are the glorious rays and beams of that power shining forth in the salvation of his people. Oh that we could sun ourselves in those cheerful and reviving beams of Divine Power, by considering how gloriously they have broken forth, and shone out for the salvation of his people in all ages. So it did for Israel at the Red-sea, Exod. 15:6. So for Jehoshaphat in that great strait, 2 Chron. 20:12, 15. And so in the time of Hezekiah, 2 Kings 19:3, 7. Yea, in all ages from the beginning of the world the saints have been sheltered under these wings of Divine Power, Isa. 51:9, 10. Thus providence hath hanged and adorned this chamber of Divine Power with the delightful histories of the church’s manifold preservations by it.
Section IV. Having taken a short view of this glorious chamber of God’s power, absolutely in itself, and also in relation to his promises and providences, it remains now, that I press and persuade all the people of God under their fears and dangers, according to God’s gracious invitation, to enter into it, shut their doors, and to behold with delight this glorious attribute working for them in all their exigencies and distresses.
1. Enter into this chamber of Divine Power, all ye that fear the Lord, and hide yourselves there in those dangerous and distressful days; let me say to you as the prophet did to the poor distressed Jews, Zech. 9:12. “Turn ye to your strong hold, ye prisoners of hope.” Strong holds might they say; why, where are they? The walls of Jerusalem are in the dust, the temple burnt with fire, Sion an heap; what meanest thou in telling us of our strong holds? Why, admit all this, yet there is satis præsidii in uno Deo; refuge enough for you in God alone, as Calvin excellently notes upon that place. Christian, art thou not able to fetch a good subsistence for thy soul by faith, out of the Almighty Power of God? The renowned saints of old did so. Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob met with as many difficulties and plunges of trouble in their time, as ever you did, or shall meet with; yet, by the exercise of their faith upon this attribute, they lived comfortably, and why cannot you? Exod. 6:3. “I appeared (saith God) unto Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, by the name of God Almighty.” They kept house and feasted by faith upon this name of mine; O that we could do as Abraham did, Rom. 4:21. We have the same attribute, but, alas, we have not such a faith as his was to improve it. It is easy to believe the Almighty power of God in a calm, but not so easy to resign ourselves to it, and securely rest upon it in a storm of adversity; but oh what peace and rest would our faith procure us by the free use and exercise of it this way! to assist your faith in this difficulty wherein we find the faith of a Moses sometimes staggered, let me briefly offer you these four following encouragements.
1. Consider how your gracious God hath engaged this his Almighty Power, by promise and covenant for the security of his people. God pawned it, as it were, to Abraham, in that famous promise, Gen. 17:1. “I am the Almighty God, walk thou before me, and be thou perfect.” And Gen. 15:1. “Fear not, Abraham, I am thy shield.” Say not, this was Abraham’s peculiar privilege, for if thou consult Hosea 12:4. and Heb. 13:5, 6 you will find that believers in these days have as good a title to the promises made in those days, as those worthies had to whom they were immediately made.
2. If you be believers, your relation to God strongly engageth his power for you, as well as his own promises, “Surely, (saith God) they are my people, children that will not lie: so he became their Saviour,” Isa. 63:8. We say relations have the least of entity, but the greatest efficacy; you find it so in your own experience, let a wife, child, or friend be in imminent danger, and it shall engage all the power you have to succour and deliver them.
3. This glorious power of God is engaged for you by the very malice and wickedness of your enemies, who will be apt to impute the ruin of the saints to the defect of power in God; from whence those excellent arguments are drawn, Numb. 14:15, 16. “Now if thou shalt kill all this people as one man, then the nations which have heard the fame of thee, will speak, saying, Because the Lord was not able to bring this people into the land which he sware unto them, therefore he hath slain them in the wilderness.” And again, Deut. 32:26, 27 you will find the Lord improving this argument for them himself; if they do not plead it for themselves, he will. “I would scatter them into corners, I would make the remembrance of them to cease from among men, were it not that I feared the wrath of the enemy, lest their adversaries should behave themselves strangely, and lest they should say, Our hand is high, and the Lord hath not done all this.” O see how much you are beholden to the very rage of your enemies, for your deliverances from them!
4. To conclude, the very reliance of your souls by faith upon the power of God, your very leaning upon his arm engages it for your protection, Isa. 26:3. “Thou wilt keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on thee, because he trusteth in thee.” Puzzle not yourselves therefore any longer about qualifications: but know that the very acting of your faith on God, the recumbency of your souls upon him, is that which will engage him for your defence, how weak and defective soever thou art in other respects.
2. Having thus entered by faith into this chamber of Divine Power, the next counsel the text gives you, is, to shut the door behind you; i.e. after the acting of your faith, and the quiet repose of your souls upon God’s almighty power; then take heed lest unbelieving fears and jealousies creep in again, and disturb the rest of your souls in God; you find a sad instance of this in Moses, Numb. 11:21, 23. After so many glorious acts and triumphs of his faith, how were his heels tripped up by diffidence which crept in afterwards! Good men may be posed with difficult providences, and made to stagger. The Israelites had lived upon miracles many years, Psal. 78:20. “Can he give bread also?” Good Martha objects difficulty to Christ, John 11:39. “By this time he stinketh.” Oh! it is a glorious thing to give God the glory of his Almighty Power in difficult eases that we cannot comprehend. See Zech. 8:6. “If it be marvellous in the eyes of the remnant of this people in these days, should it be as marvellous in mine eyes? saith the Lord of hosts.” Difficulties are for men, but not for God; because it is marvellous in your eyes, must it be so in God’s! Various objections will be apt to arise in your hearts to drive you out of this your refuge. As, —
Object. 1. Oh! but the long continuance of our troubles and distresses will sink our very hearts, Isa. 40:27. “Why sayest thou, O Jacob, and speakest, O Israel, my way is hid from the Lord, and my judgment is passed over from my God.”
Sol. But, oh! wait upon God without fainting, Heb. 2:3. “The vision is yet for an appointed time, but at the end it shall speak and not lie: though it tarry, wait for it, because it will surely come, it will not tarry.”
Object. 2. Oh, but our former hopes and expectations of deliverance are frustrated, Jer. 8:15. “We looked for peace, but no good came: and for a time of health, and behold trouble.”
Sol. Oh, but yet be not discouraged: see how the Psalmist begins the 69th Psalm with trembling, and ends it with triumph; the husbandman waiteth, and so must you.
Object. 3. But there is no sign or appearance of our deliverance.
Sol. What then, this is no new thing, Psal. 74:9. “We see not our signs, there is no more any prophet, neither is there any among us that knoweth how long.”
Object. 4. But all things work contrary to our hope.
Sol. Why, so did things with Abraham; yet see, Rom. 4:18. “Against hope, he believed in hope.”
3. Observe farther with delight, the outgoings and glorious workings of Divine power for you and for the church in times of trouble: this is sweet entertainment for your souls, it is food for faith, Psal. 74:14. “Thou brakest the heads of Leviathan in pieces, and gavest him to be meat to the people inhabiting the wilderness.” And here I beseech you behold and admire,
1. Its mysterious and admirable protection of the saints in all their dangers. They feed as sheep in the midst of wolves, Luke 10:3. They lie among them that are set on fire, Psal. 57:4. “Their habitation is in the midst of deceit,” Jer. 9:6. Yet they are kept in safety by the mighty power of God.
2. Behold and admire it in casting the bonds of restraint upon your enemies, that though they would, yet they cannot hurt you; our dangers are visible, and our fears great, but our security and safety admirable, Isa. 51:13. “Thou hast feared continually every day, because of the fury of the oppressor, as if he were ready to destroy; and where is the fury of the oppressor?”
3. Behold its opening unexpected and unlikely refuges and securities for the saints in their distresses; Isa. 16:4. “Let mine outcasts dwell with thee, Moab, be thou a covert to them from the face of the spoiler; for the extortioner is at an end, the spoiler ceaseth, the oppressors are consumed out of the land.” Rev. 12:16. “The earth helped the woman, and the earth opened her mouth, and swallowed up the flood which the dragon cast out of his mouth.”
5. Behold it frustrating all the designs of our enemies against us, Isa. 54:17. “No weapon that is formed against thee shall prosper, and every tongue that shall rise against thee in judgment thou shalt condemn. Behold, I have created the smith,” Isa. 54:16. He that created the smith, can order as he pleaseth the weapon made by him; hence our enemies are not masters of their own designs.
Oh then, depend upon this power of God, for it is your security; there is a twofold dependence, the one natural and necessary, the other elective.
1. Natural dependence, so all do, and must depend upon him.
2. Elective and voluntary, and so we all ought to depend upon him; and for your encouragement take this scripture, Psal. 9:9, 10. “The Lord also will be a refuge for the oppressed, a refuge in times of trouble, and they that know thy name will put their trust in thee, for thou, Lord, hast not forsaken them that seek thee.” And thus of the first attribute of God, prepared for the safety of his people in times of trouble.