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
Therefore say, Thus saith the Lord GOD; Although I have cast them far off among the heathen, and although I have scattered them among the countries, yet will I be to them as a little sanctuary in the countries where they shall come.
~ Ezekiel 11:16
Thou shalt hide them in the secret of thy presence from the pride of man: thou shalt keep them secretly in a pavilion from the strife of tongues.
~ Psalm 31:20
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
God Hath a Special and Peculiar Care of His Own People in the Days of His Indignation, by John Flavel. The following contains Chapter Four 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 overpast.
Confirming the third proposition. viz. That God hath a special and peculiar care of his own people in the days of his indignation.
Sect. I. Propriety and relation engage care and solicitude in times of danger; we see God hath put such a storge, and inclination into the very creatures, that they will expose themselves to preserve their young; and it cannot be imagined that the Fountain of pity which dropt this tenderness into the bowels of the creatures, should not abound with it himself; is there such strong inclination in the very birds of the air, that they will hazard their own lives to save their young; much more is God solicitous for his people, Isa. 31:5. As birds flying, &c. to their nest when their young are in danger, so will the Lord of hosts defend Jerusalem. No mother is more solicitous for her dearest child in danger and distress, than the Lord is for his people, Isa. 40:15. “Can a woman forget her sucking child, that she should not have compassion on the son of her womb? Yea, they may forget, yet will not I forget thee.” A woman (the more affectionate sex) forget her child, a piece of herself, her sucking child, which, together with milk from her breast, draws love from the heart! This may rather be supposed, than that the Lord should forget his people.
Two things must here be cleared. 1. That it is so. 2. Why it is so. 1. That it is so, will appear from,
1. Scripture emblems.
2. Scripture promises.
3. Scripture instances.
1. Scripture emblems; and among many, I will, upon this occasion, single out two or three principal ones. In Ezek. 5:1, 2, 3. “And thou son of man, take thee a sharp knife, take thee a barber’s razor, and cause it to pass upon thine head, and upon thy beard, then take thee balances to weigh and divide the hair; thou shalt burn with fire a third part in the midst of the city, when the days of the siege are fulfilled; and thou shalt take a third part, and smite about it with a knife; and a third part thou shalt scatter in the wind, and I will draw out a sword after them; thou shalt also take thereof a few in number, and bind them in thy skirts.” You find this truth shadowed out in this excellent emblem; Jerusalem, the capital city, is the head; the numerous inhabitants are the hair; the King of Babylon the razor; the weighing it in balances is the exactness of God’s procedure in judgment with them; the fire, knife, and wind, are the various judgments to which the people were appointed; the hiding of a few in the prophet’s skirt, is the care of God for the preservation of his own remnant in the common calamity. This is one emblem clearing this point. And then Ezek. 9:3, 4. the same truth is presented to us in another emblem, as lively and significant as the former. “And behold, six men came from the way of the higher gate, which lieth towards the north, and every man a slaughter-weapon in his hand, and one among them was clothed in linen, with a writer’s inkhorn by his side, and they went in, and stood before the brazen altar; and the glory of the God of Israel was gone up from the cherub, whereupon he was, to the threshold of the house, and he called to the man clothed in linen, which had the writer’s inkhorn by his side; “and the Lord said unto him, go through the midst of the city, through the midst of Jerusalem, and set a mark upon the foreheads of the men that sigh, and cry for all the abominations that be done in the midst thereof.” The men that had the charge of the city are the angels appointed for that service; some with slaughter-weapons, whose work it was to destroy; but one among them had a writer’s inkhorn by his side, and he was employed to take the names and mark the persons of God’s faithful ones among them, whom the Lord intended to preserve and hide in that common overthrow and desolation of the city, and these were to be all marked, man by man, before the destroying angel was to begin his bloody work. Oh! see the tender care of God over his upright mourning servants! Once more, the same truth is represented in a third emblem, Mal. 3:17. “And they shall be mine, saith the Lord, in the day that I make up my jewels, and I will spare them as a man spareth his own son that serveth him:” where the world is compared to an house on fire; God to the master and father of the family, the wicked to the useless lumber therein; the saints to the children and jewels in the house; about these his first and principal care of preservation is exercised, these he will be sure to save, whatever become of the rest. Thus you have the chosen emblems that illustrate this comfortable truth.
2. As these scripture-emblems illustrate it, so there are many excellent scripture-promises to confirm it, Isa. 32:2. “A man shall be as an hiding-place from the wind, and a covert from the tempest: as rivers of water in a dry place.” This man is the man Christ Jesus; the tempests spoken of, are the miseries and calamities of war, which make the land on which it falls, an hot, dry and weary land; in the midst and rage whereof, Christ shall be to his faithful ones a covert for protection, a river of water for supply, and a shadow for refreshment; that is to say, whatsoever shall be necessary either for their safety or comfort. Christ is not only a shadow to his people from the wrath of God, but also from the rage of men. Again, Zech. 2:5. “I will be a wall of fire round about:” alluding to travellers in the desert, who, to prevent danger from wild beasts in the night, use to make a circular fire round about the place where they lie down to rest, and this fire was as a wall to secure them. You have the like gracious promise also made to the poor captivated church, in Ezek. 11:16. “Although I have cast them far off, among the Heathen, and scattered them among the countries, yet will I be to them as a little sanctuary in the countries where they shall come.”
A little sanctuary. The* word is variously rendered and expounded; some adverbially, and render it paulisper, a sanctuary for a little while, viz. during their danger, at the shortness of which this adverb points: so Junius. Others adjectively, as we translate it, templum paucorum, as Vatablus. There was but an handful of them, and God would be as a sanctuary to secure and protect that remnant.
3. And all these promises have in all ages been faithfully fulfilled to the saints. You have an excellent scripture for this, 2 Pet. 2:4, 5, 6. when the flood was brought upon the old world, there was one Noah a righteous man in it, and for him God provided an ark. When Sodom was overthrown, there was one Lot in it, a just man, and God secured him out of danger; upon which that comfortable conclusion is built, ver. 9. “The Lord knows how to deliver the godly.” When Jerusalem was destroyed, a Pella was provided as a refuge for the godly there. Remarkable is that place to this purpose, Isa. 25:4. “Thou hast been a strength to the poor, a strength to the needy in his distress, a refuge from the storm, a shadow from the heat, when the blast of the terrible ones is as a storm against the wall.” And this hath God been not only once or twice, but in all ages, Psal. 90:1. “Lord, thou hast been our dwelling-place in all generations;” or as the Hebrew, “in generations and generations.” What he hath been in former generations to his distressed people, that he is, and will be without alteration in all generations.
Section II. Yet we must remember, that all who are preserved in common calamities, are not the people of God; nor are all that are indeed his people preserved; he hath people enough to divide into two ranks, as the husbandman his corn, some for the mill, and some to reserve for seed. There be stars enough in the heaven to shine in both hemispheres, and there are saints enough in the world, some to shine in heaven, and some to preserve the church on earth.
1. All that are preserved are not the people of God. In the ark a wicked Ham was preserved; and those that were preserved in Egypt, many of them were afterwards destroyed for their unbelief, Jude 5. So Ezekiel’s vision, a part even of those hairs which were spared were afterwards cast into the fire, Ezek. 5:4. Preservation from the dominion of sin and the wrath to come, is peculiar to God’s own people; but as for temporal deliverances, we cannot infer that conclusion.
2. Nor yet can we say that all God’s people shall be preserved; that promise, Zeph. 2:3. leaves it upon a may-be; many a precious Christian hath fallen in the common calamity; they have been preserved in, but not from trouble.
But it is usual with God to preserve some in the sorest judgments: and the grounds of it are,
1. Because some must be left as a seed to propagate and preserve the church, which is perpetual, and can never fail; he never so overthrows nations as Sodom was overthrown, Isa. 1:9. This was the ground of that promise, Jer. 30:11. “For I am with thee, saith the Lord, to save thee, though I make a full end of all nations whither I have scattered thee, yet will I not make a full end of thee.” And of that plea, Amos 7:2. “O Lord God forgive, I beseech thee; by whom shall Jacob arise? for he is small.” Except the Lord had left a small remnant, we had been as Sodom. Remarkable to this purpose is that scripture, Isa. 6:13. “But yet in it shall be a tenth, and it shall return, and shall be eaten: as the teil-tree, and as an oak, whose substance is in them when they cast their leaves; so the holy seed shall be the substance thereof.” This preserved remnant is the holy seed by which the church is propagated and continued, Psal. 102:28.
2. Because God will, even in this world, own and reward the fears and sorrows of his people for the sins of the times, and sufferings of the church, with the joy and comfort of better times, and a participation of Sion’s consolation; so Isa. 66:10. Rejoice ye with Jerusalem, ye that have mourned for her. They that have sown in tears, do sometimes live to reap in joy, Psal. 125:6. They shall say as Isa. 25:9. “Lo this is our God, we have waited for him, and he is come to save us.” And those that live not to reap down in this world the harvest of their own prayers and tears, shall be no losers: a full and better reward shall be given them in heaven, Isa. 57:21.
3. Because the preserved remnant of saints are they that must actually give unto God the glory of all his providential administrations in the world, both of judgments and mercies upon others, and towards themselves: “They that go down to the pit do not celebrate his praise; the living, the living they praise him,” Isa. 38:18, 19. Thus when God turned back Zion’s captivity, the remnant of the saints that were preserved were they that recorded his praise, Psal. 126:1, 2. “Then was our mouth filled with laughter.” And fully to this sense is that scripture, Psal. 102:19, 20, 21. “He delivers those that are appointed to death,” i.e. that men had doomed to death, “that they may declare the name of the Lord in Zion, and his praise in Jerusalem.”
4. The hiding of the saints in evil days is the greatest discovery of the hand of God in the world; when he hides them, he shews himself, and that both to the saints, and to their enemies.
It is one of the most glorious mysteries of providence that ever the world beheld, viz. the strange and wonderful protection of poor helpless Christians from the rage and fury of their mighty and malicious enemies; though they walk visibly among them, yet they are, as it were, hid from their hands, but not from their eyes: So Jer. 1:18. you find God made that prophet, among the envious princes, and against an enraged and mighty king, as a defenced city, and as an iron pillar, and as a brazen wall. And indeed it was easier for them to conquer and take the strongest fort or garrison, than that single person, who yet walked day by day naked among them. So Luther, a poor monk, was made invincible; all the papal power could not touch him, for God hid him. All the world against one Athanasius, and yet not able to destroy him, for God hid him. This is the display of the glorious power of God in the world, and he hath much honour by it.
Well then, if there be a God that takes care of his own in evil days; do not you be distractingly careful what will become of you in such times; you cannot see how it is possible for you to escape: but, 2 Pet. 2:4, 5, 6. the Lord knows how to deliver when you do not. Little did Lot know the way and manner of his preservation till God opened it to him; nor Noah till God contrived it for him: there was no way to be contrived by them for escape: he that knew how to deliver them, can deliver you also.
Leave yourselves to God’s disposal, it shall certainly be to your advantage: the church is his peculiar care; Isa. 28:3. “I the Lord do keep it, I will water it every moment; lest any hurt it, I will keep it night and day.”
The more you commit yourselves to his care, the more you engage it, Isa. 26:2. “Thou wilt keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on thee, because he trusteth in thee.” He will certainly find a place of safety for his people under, or in heaven.
Neither be too much dejected when the number of visible professors seems but small; think not the church will perish when it is brought so low. This was Elijah’s case, he thought he had been left alone, that religion had been preserved in his single person, as the phœnix of the world; but see, 1 Kings 9:18. God hath enough left, if we we were all in our graves, to continue religion in the world; it concerns him more than you to look to that.