But this thing commanded I them, saying, Obey my voice, and I will be your God, and ye shall be my people: and walk ye in all the ways that I have commanded you, that it may be well unto you.
~ Jeremiah 7:23
The name of the LORD is a strong tower: the righteous runneth into it, and is safe.
~ Proverbs 18:10
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 27:5
To the chief Musician, Altaschith, Michtam of David, when he fled from Saul in the cave. Be merciful unto me, O God, be merciful unto me: for my soul trusteth in thee: yea, in the shadow of thy wings will I make my refuge, until these calamities be overpast.
~ Psalm 57:1
The Love of God, As A Resting Place to Believing Souls in Evil Times, by John Flavel. The following contains an excerpt from Chapter Eleven of his work, “The Righteous Man’s Refuge”.
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
CHAPTER XI Opening the sixth and last chamber, viz. The love of God, as a resting-place to believing souls in evil times.
Sect. I. THOUGH all the attributes in the name or chambers of this house of God are glorious and excellent, yet this of love is transcendently glorious: Of this room it may be said as it was of Solomon’s royal chariot, Cant. 3:10. “The midst thereof is paved with love.” In this attribute the glory of God is signally and eminently manifested, 1 John 4:9, 10. And upon this foundation the hopes and comforts of all believers are built and founded, Rom. 8:35. “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?” He defies and despises them all, because neither of them alone, nor altogether by their united strength, can unclasp the arms of Divine love, in which belivers are safely enfolded. In this attribute God’s people, by faith, entrench themselves, and of it a believer saith, Hic murus aheneus esto, this shall be my stronghold and fortress in the day of trouble. And well may we so esteem and reckon it, if we consider,
1. That wherever the special love of God goes, there the special presence of God goes also, John 14:23. “He shall be loved of my Father, and we will come unto him, and make our abode with him.” And O how secure and safe must those be (however times govern) with whom God himself maketh his abode? For as the Psalmist speaks, Psal. 91:1. “He that dwells in the secret place of the Most High, shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty.” And he that is over-shadowed by an Almighty power, need not fear how many mighty enemies combine against him.
2. Wherever the special love of God is placed, that person becomes precious and highly valuable in the eyes of God; he appreciates and estimates such a man as his peculiar treasure, which naturally and necessarily draws and spreads the wing of Divine care over him for his protection, Deut. 23:12. “The beloved of the Lord shall dwell in safety by him, and the Lord shall cover him all the day long.” Things of greatest value are always kept in safest custody.
3. Upon whomsoever the special love of God is set, there all events and issues of troubles are sure to be over-ruled to the eternal advantage of that soul, Rom. 8:28. Which consideration alone is sufficient to unsting all the troubles in the world, and make the beloved of the Lord shout and triumph in the midst of tribulations.
But let us enter yet farther into this glorious chamber of Divine love, and more particularly view the admirable properties thereof; though, when all is done, it will be found a love passing knowledge; our thoughts may admire, but can never measure it.
1. And first, you will find it an ancient love whose spring is in eternity itself. Believer, God is thine ancient friend, who foresaw and loved thee before thou wast, yea, before this world was in being; the fruits and effects thereof thou gatherest in time, but the root that produces them was before all time, Prov. 8:22, 23. “The Lord possessed me in the beginning of his way, before his works of old. I was set up from everlasting, from the beginning, or ever the earth was.” Thus was the love of God contriving, and providing the best of mercies in Christ for us; while, as yet, there were no such creatures in the world, nor a world prepared to receive us.
2. The love of God to his people is a free, and altogether undeserved love. It must needs be so, seeing it preceded our very being; which had it not done, yet no motives had been found in us to allure it to us more than others, Deut. 7:7. “The Lord did not set his love upon you, nor chuse you, because ye were more in number than any people (for ye were the fewest of all people) but because the Lord loved you.” So that we cannot find one stone of our merit in the foundation of this love; for those whom it embraces in its arms are immerentes & male merentes, ill-deserving, as well as undeserving. We were loved of God before we were lovely in ourselves; it was freely pitched upon us, not purchased by us, Isa. 43:24.
3. The love, of God to believers is a bountiful love, streaming forth continually mercies both innumerable and invaluable to their souls and bodies, 2 Pet. 1:3. Christian, it would quickly weary thine arm, yea, let me say, the arm of an angel, but to write down the thousandth part of the mercies which have already flowed out of this precious fountain to thee; though all thou hast received or shalt receive in this world, are but the beginnings of mercy, and. first- fruits of the love of God to thee: it is the love of God which daily loads thee with benefits, as the expression is, Psal. 68:19. And if thou art daily loaded with mercies, what an heap of mercies will the mercies of thy whole life be?
4. The love of God to believers is a distinguishing love; not the portion of all, no, nor yet of many besides thee, 1 Cor. 1:26. The generality of the world dwell in the room of common providence, not in the chamber of special love, into which God hath admitted thee: this consideration should make thee break out in admiration, as it is, John 19:22. “Lord, how is it that thou wilt manifest thyself to me, and not to the world?”
5. The love of God to believers is a love transcendent to all creature- love; it moves in an higher sphere than the love of any creature doth, Rom. 5:6, 7, 8. We read of Jacob’s love to Rachel, which is so celebrated in the sacred story for the fervour of it; and yet all that it enabled him to suffer was but the summer’s heat and the winter’s cold; a trifle to what the love of Christ engaged, and enabled him to suffer for thy sake. We read also of the love of David to Absalom, which made him wish, Would God I had died for thee, O Absalom, my son, my son! This love was only manifested in a wish, which, haply might have been retracted too, had there been an exchange to be made indeed: but the life of Christ, worth millions of his life, was actually and willingly staked down for thy soul. We read of the love of one disciple manifested to another disciple in a cup of cold water; but Christ hath manifested his love to thee in pouring out his warmest heart-blood for thy redemption. O what a transcendent love is the Divine love!
6. To conclude, (though alas, little is said of the love of God) it is an everlasting and unchangeable love. Hills and mountains shall sooner start from their basis, than his loving-kindness depart from his people, Isa. 54:10. Though he afflict us, still he loves us, Psal. 89:32, 33. Nay, though we grieve him, yet still he loves us, Mark 16:7. Tell the disciples, and tell Peter. Peter had grieved Christ, denied Christ, yet will he not renounce nor cast off Peter.
Sect. II. Well then, if God hath opened to your souls such a chamber of love, where your souls may be ravished with daily delights, as well as secured from danger and ruin; O that you would enter into it by faith, and dwell for ever in the love of God! I mean, clear up your interest in it, and then solace your souls in the delights of it. Need I to use an argument, or spend one motive to press you to enter into such an heaven upon earth? If the deadness of thy heart doth need it, take into consideration, reader, these few that follow.
Motive 1. Ponder with thyself how sad and miserable the case will be with thee in the days of calamity and distress, if the love of God shall be clouded to thy soul. In those days such as love thee, will either be absent from thee, or impotent to help thee; all thy friends and familiars may be removed far off, and whither then wilt thou turn, should God be far off too? This was that evil which Jeremiah so vehemently deprecated, chap. 17. ver. 17. Be not a terror unto me, thou art my hope in the day of evil; q. d. O Lord, my soul depends upon refreshment and comfort from thee, when all the springs of earthly comfort are dried up. Shouldst thou be a terror to me in the day of evil, it will be the most terrible disappointment that ever befel my soul; if thou be kind, I care not who be cruel; if I have the love of God, I value not the hatred of men; but if God be a terror, who, or what can be a comforter? The love of God is the alone refuge to which the gracious soul retreats, upon all creature disappointments and failings. This, therefore, is the main thing to be feared against the evil day.
Motive 2. The knowledge and assurance of the love of God is a mercy attainable by a gracious soul, notwithstanding the imperfections of grace. Peter had his falls and failings as well as other Christians, yet when Christ puts the question home to him, John 21:15. “Simon, son of Jonas, lovest thou me more than these?” he was able to return a clear positive answer, “Yea, Lord, thou knowest that I love thee.” Study thy heart, Christian, and study the scriptures; if thou canst find the sincere love of God in thy heart, that scripture will clear the love of God to thy soul, John 4:19. “We love him, because he first loved us.” If thou lay thine hand upon a stone-wall, and feel it warm, thou mayest conclude the sun-beams have shone upon it; for warmth is not naturally in dead stones. Our love to God is but a reflex beam of his love to us; and we know there can be no reflex without a direct beam. Thousands of Christians do, at this day, actually possess the ravishing sense of Divine love, whose fears and complaints have been the same that thine now are; that God who indulged this favour to them, can do as much for thee.
Motive 3. Think how well thou wilt be provided for the worst and difficultest times, when the love of God shall be well secured to thy soul; when the love of God, i.e. the sense of his love, is once shed abroad in the heart by the Holy Ghost, which for that end, among others, is given unto us; we shall then be able to glory in tribulation, Rom. 5:3, 5. We may then bid defiance to all the adverse powers of hell and earth, and say, now do your worst; we are out of your reach, and above all your terrors and affrights. Be advised then to sit close to this work; clear but this point once, and the worst is past. Oh lie at the feet of God night and day, give him no rest, take no denial from him, fill thy mouth with pleas and arguments: Tell him, Lord, it is neither for corn, nor wine, that I seek thee, but only for thy love; bestow any other gifts upon whom thou wilt, only seal up thy love to my soul.
And, Lastly, I advise thee, reader, to be exceeding careful, when God admits thee into the sense of his love, to shut the door behind thee, lest thy soul be soon expelled thence by the subtilty of Satan, who envies nothing more, than such an happiness as this: That envious spirit totally despairs of the least drop of such a mercy, and therefore swells with envy at thy enjoyment of it. But if ever thou fasten thy hand of faith upon this mercy, loose not thy hold by every objection with which he will rap thy fingers.
1. If he object the many sharp afflictions, and manifold rods of God upon thee, call not the love of God in question for that; but remember what he saith, Heb. 12:6. “Whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth, and scourgeth every son whom he receiveth. Fatherly corrections are so far from being inconsistent with the love of God, that his love is rather questionable without them, than for them; they are love tokens, not marks of hatred.
2. Yield not up thy claim and title to the love of God, because he sometimes hides his face from thee; thou knowest the sun is up, and going on in its regular course, in the darkest and closest day. My God, my God, saith Christ himself, Why hast thou forsaken me? Believe he is still thy God, and his love is immutable, when the sense and manifestations thereof do fail.
3. Call not the love of God in question, because of thy great vileness and unworthiness. Say not, when thou most loathest thyself, God must needs loath thee too; he can love where thou loathest. “Return, return, O Shulamite, return, return, that we may look upon thee: What will ye see in the Shulamite? as it were the company of two armies” The spouse was exceeding beautiful in the eyes of others, when most base and vile in her own: What would you see in the Shulamite? Alas, there is nothing in me, at the best, but conflicts and wars betwixt grace and corruption, as it were betwixt two armies, Cant. 6:13.
3. Quit not thy claim to the love of God, because he seems to shut out thy prayers, and delays to answer thy long continued desires and importunities of thy soul in some cases. David would neither censure his God, no, nor call in question his interest in him, because of such a delay and silence, Psal. 22:1, 2. My God my God, The claim is doubled, ver. 1. and yet in the next breath he saith, “I cry in the day time but thou hearest not; and in the night-season, and am not silent.”
Thus I have offered you some advice and assistance, how to secure yourselves in these Divine attributes, viz. the power, wisdom, faithfulness, unchangeableness, care, and love of God, as in so many sanctuaries, and comfortable refuges in the days of common calamity. It is noted, even of the Egyptians, when the storm of hail was coming upon the land, Exod. 9:20. “He that feared the word of the Lord among the servants of Pharaoh, made his servants and his cattle flee into the houses.” Let not an Egyptian take more care of his beasts than Christians of their souls. Stormy days are coming, God hath provided you a refuge, and given you seasonable premonitions, and calls from heaven, to hasten into them before the times of desolations come. The Lord help us to hear his calls and comply with them, which will be as much our privilege, as it is our duty. And so much for the fifth proposition, viz. That God’s attributes, promises, and providences are prepared for the security of his people in the greatest distresses that befal them in the world.
That none but God’s own people are taken into these chambers of security, or can expect his special protection in evil times.
Sect I. THIS proposition describes and clears the qualified subject of this privilege. God’s own people, and none but such, can warrantably claim special protection in evil times, and this is consonant to the current account of scripture, Isa. 3:10, 11. “Say ye unto the righteous, it shall be well with him. Wo to the wicked, it shall be ill with him.” He speaks concerning the day of Jerusalem’s ruin, and Judah’s fall, as appears ver. 8. So great a difference will God make, even in this world, betwixt the righteous and the wicked. In Nah. 1 you have also a terrible day described, wherein Bashan, Carmel, and Lebanon, the most pleasant and fruitful places of the land shall languish, ver. 4. The mountains shall quake, the hills melt, the earth, and those that dwell therein, burnt up, ver. 5. The indignation and fury of God poured out like fire, ver. 6. The privileged people in this terrible day are God’s own people, they only are taken into security, ver. 7. The Lord is good, a strong-hold in the day of trouble, and he knoweth them that trust in him, i.e. he so knoweth them, as to care and provide for them in that evil day; and so throughout the whole scripture, you shall find the promises of protection still made to the people of God. When the Chaldean army, like a devouring fire, was ready to seize upon the land, the sinners in Zion were afraid, fearfulness surprized the hypocrites; for who among us (say they) shall dwell with devouring fire, and everlasting burnings? Yes, saith God, some there are that shall abide that day, viz. “He that walketh righteously, and speaketh uprightly; he shall dwell on high, his place of defence shall be the munition of rocks;” i.e. God will be a sanctuary to them, when others shall be as stubble before the flames, Isa. 33:14, 15, 16.
But for the right stating of this proposition, three things must be heedfully regarded.
1. That all good men are not always exempted from the stroke of outward calamities. In that sense the righteous may perish, and merciful men be taken away; yea, they may perish in love, and be taken away in mercy from the evil to come, Isa. 57:1, 2. Micah 7:1, 2.
2. That all wicked men are not always exposed to eternal miseries; but “a just man may perish in his righteousness, and a wicked man prolong his life in his wickedness,” Eccles. 7:15.
3. But in this sense we are to understand the proposition, That none but the people of God have right, by promise, to his special protection in evil days, that all such shall either be preserved from the stroke of calamities, or from the deadly sting, namely, eternal ruin by them: though they should fall by the hands of enemies, yet they die as Josiah did, in peace, 2 Kings 22:19, 20. If they be taken away, it is but out of the way of greater mischiefs: Death doth but lay the saints in their beds of rest, when it hurries away others into everlasting miseries: If they be not excused from troubles, yet their troubles are sure to be sanctified to their eternal good, Rom. 8:28. And the Lord will be with them in their troubles, Psal. 91:15. Isa. 41:10.
Two things remain to be considered, before we finish this last proposition: viz.
1. Who the people of God are?
2. Why this privilege is peculiar to them?
1. Who are the people of God? the scripture describes them two ways; negatively and positively. Negatively, in opposition to those who are not the people of God, but are, (1.) The servants of sin, obeying it in the lusts of it, which the people of God neither are, nor dare to do, Rom. 6:11, 12, &c. (2.) The men of this world have their portion in this life, savouring and minding the things of the world only, whereas the people of God are called out of the world, John 17:16. and principally study and labour after the higher concernments of the world to come, Rom. 8:5. (3.) The vassals of Satan, do his lusts, and are in subjection to his power, Acts 26:18. Eph. 2:2. from which bondage the people of God are made free. (4.) Nor yet are they their own, living wholly to themselves, and seeking only their own ends, as others do, 1 Cor. 6:19, 20. These, all these are not the people of God, God will not own them for such; they but deceive themselves in thinking and calling themselves so. But then positively, they are (1.) A people regenerated, and born again, John 1:13. Their regeneration gives them both the essence and denomination of the people of God: It is as impossible to be the children of God without regeneration, as it is to be the children of men without generation. (2.) They are a people in covenant with God, Ezek. 16:8. “I entered into a covenant with thee, and thou becamest mine.” For in this covenant they give themselves to the Lord, 2 Cor. 8:5. They avouch the Lord to be their God, and make over themselves to him to be his people, Jer. 31:33. devoting unto God all that they are, their souls and bodies, with every faculty and member inclusively, Rom. 12:1. Luke 10:27. All that they have, Rom. 11:36. all is dedicated and devoted to the Lord’s use and service, and these only are the people of God.
2. The last thing to be cleared is, Why the people of God, and none beside them, have this peculiar privilege of an hiding place in the day of trouble, and the grounds of it are,
1. Because they only have special interest in God, and propriety is the ground on which they claim and expect protection: I am thine, save me, Psal. 119:94. Upon this very ground it was that David encouraged himself in one of his greatest plunges and distresses of his whole life, 1 Sam. 30:6. “But David encouraged himself in the Lord his God.”
2. The people of God only are at peace with God; and where there is no peace there can be no protection: The harbours and garrisons of one kingdom never receive into their protection the subjects of another kingdom that are in open hostility against them, Now there is open war betwixt God and the wicked, Psal. 7:11. Zech. 11:8. Till they have peace with God they can claim no protection from God.
3. The promises of protection are made only to God’s people; and where there is no promise, there can be no warrantable claim to protection, 2 Cor. 1:20. 2 Pet. 1:4. Common providences may shelter them for a time, but the saints only have the keys of the promises, which open the chambers or attributes of God to them.
4. None but the people of God walk in the ways of God, and none but those that walk in his way can, groundedly, expect his protection; for so runs the promise, 2 Chron. 15:2. “I am with you whilst you are with me,” i.e. I am with you, by way of protection, direction, support, and salvation, whilst you are with me in the duties of obedience, and exercises of your graces; see that you love, fear, and obey me, and then, depend upon it, I will look after and take care of you.
5. To conclude, The people of God only flee to God for sanctuary, and cast themselves upon him for protection, Psal. 56:3. “At what time I am afraid, I will trust in thee.” Psal. 18:2. “The Lord is my rock, and my fortress, and my deliverer; my God, my strength, in whom I will trust, my buckler, and the horn of my salvation, and my high tower.” This their confidence in God, and reliance upon him, engage him to protect them in their dangers, Isa. 26:3. All others put themselves out of God’s protection by making flesh their arm, and so giving the honour of God to the creature, Jer. 17:5. And thus much for clearing this last proposition also. All that remains will be dispatched in a brief and close application of the point thus opened and confirmed.