Righteous’ Refuge

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. 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 51:4, 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

And ye shall take a bunch of hyssop, and dip it in the blood that is in the bason, and strike the lintel and the two side posts with the blood that is in the bason; and none of you shall go out at the door of his house until the morning. For the LORD will pass through to smite the Egyptians; and when he seeth the blood upon the lintel, and on the two side posts, the LORD will pass over the door, and will not suffer the destroyer to come in unto your houses to smite you.
~ Exodus 12:22-23

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 his anger endureth but a moment; in his favour is life: weeping may endure for a night, but joy cometh in the morning.
~ Psalm 30:5

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 his epistle to the reader and Chapter One from the text.

The Epistle to the Reader

Christian Reader,

If Heinsius, when he had shut up himself in the library at Leyden, reckoned himself placed in the very lap of eternity, because he conversed there with so many Divine souls, and professed he took his seat in it with so lofty a spirit and sweet content, that he heartily pitied all the great and rich men of the world, that were ignorant of the happiness he there daily enjoyed;” How much more may that soul rejoice in its own happiness, who hath shut himself up in the chambers of the Divine Attributes, and exerciseth pity for the exposed and miserable multitude that are left as a prey to the temptations and troubles of the world.

That the days are evil, is a truth preached to us by the convincing voice of sense; and that they are like to be worse, few can doubt that look into the moral causes of evil times, the impudent height of sin, or into the prophecies relating to these latter days; for whom the sharpest sufferings are appointed to make way for the sweetest mercies. A faithful† watchman of our own hath given us fresh and late warning in these words of truth: Hath God said nothing? doth faith see nothing of a flood coming upon us? Is there such a deluge of sin among us, and doth not that prophesy to us a deluge of wrath?

Lift up your eyes, Christians, stand, and look through the land, eastward and westward, northward and southward, and tell me what you see? Behold, a flood cometh: a flood of sin is already broken forth upon us, the fountains of the great deeps are broken up, and the windows of hell are opened, &c. In such an evil day as this is, happy is the soul that hath made God its refuge, even the most high God its habitation. He shall sit Noah-like, Mediis tranquillus in undis, safe from the fear of evil. In consideration of the distress of many unprovided souls for the misery that is coming on them, and not knowing how short my time will be useful to any, (for I know it cannot be long) I have endeavoured once more the assistance of poor Christians in these two small treatises, one of fear, the other of preparation for the worst of times; which, it may be, is the last help I shall this way be able to afford them. It is therefore my earnest request to all that fear the Lord, and tremble at his word, to redeem their time with double diligence, because the days are evil; to clear up their interest in Christ and the promises, lest the darkness of their spiritual estate, meeeting with such a night of outward darkness, overwhelm them with terrors insupportable. Some help is offered in this treatise to direct the gracious soul to its rest in God: May the blessings of his Spirit accompany them, and bless them to the soul of him that readeth; it will be a matter of joy beyond all earthly joys to the heart of,

Thy friend and servant in Christ,

JOHN FLAVEL.

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 I

Wherein the literal and real importance of the text is considered, the doctrine propounded, and the method of the following discourse stated.

Sect. I. Man being a prudent and prospecting creature, can never be satisfied with present safety, except he may also see himself well secured against future dangers. Upon all appearance of trouble, it is natural for him to seek a refuge, that he may be able to shun what he is loath to suffer, and survive those calamities which will ruin the defenceless and exposed multitude. Natural men seek refuge in natural things. “The rich man’s wealth is his strong city, and as an high wall in his own conceit,” Prov. 18:11. Hypocrites make lies their refuge, and under falsehood do they hide themselves, Isa. 28:15. not doubting but they shall stand dry and safe, when the over-flowing flood lays all others under water. But,

Godly men make God himself their hiding place, to him they have still betaken themselves in all ages, as often as calamities have befallen the world, Psal. 46:1. “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.” As chickens run under the wings of the hen for safety when the kite hovers over them, so do they fly to their God for sanctuary, Psal. 56:3. “At what time I am afraid I will trust in thee;” q. d. Lord, if a storm of trouble at any time overtake me, I will make bold to come under thy roof for shelter; and indeed not so bold as welcome: it is no presumption in them after so gracious an invitation from their God, “Come, my people, enter thou into thy chambers.”

My friends, a sound of trouble is in our ears, the clouds gather and blacken upon us more and more: Distress of nations with perplexity seems to be near, our day hastens to an end, and the shadows of the night are stretching forth upon us. What greater service therefore can I do for your souls, than by the light of this scripture (as with a candle in my hand) to lead you to your chambers, and shew you your lodgings in the attributes and promises of God, before I take my leave of you, and bid you good night.

O with what satisfaction should I part with you, were I but sure to leave you under Christ’s wings! It was Christ’s lamentation over Jerusalem that they should not be gathered under his wings, when the Roman eagle was ready to hover over that city; and you know how dear they paid for their obstinacy and infidelity. Be warned by that dreadful example, and among the rest of your mercies bless God heartily for this, that so sweet a voice sounds from heaven in your ears this day, this day of frights and troubles; “Come, my people, enter thou into thy chambers,” &c. This chapter contains a lovely song fitted for the lips of God’s Israel, notwithstanding their sad captivity; for their God was with them in Babylon, and cheered their hearts there with many promises of deliverance, and in the mystical sense it relates to the New Testament churches, of whose troubles, protections, and deliverances, the Jews in Babylon were a type. This chapter, though full of excellent and seasonable truths, will be too long to analise; it shall suffice to search back only to the 17th verse, where you find the poor captivated church under despondency of mind, comparing her condition to that of a woman in travail, who hath many sharp pains and bitter throes, yet cannot be delivered, much like that in 2 Kings 19:3. “The children are come to the birth, and there is no strength to bring forth.”

Against this discouragement a double relief is applied in the following verses; the one is a promise of full deliverance at last, the other an invitation into a sure sanctuary and place of defence for the present, until the time of their full deliverance came. The promise we have in verse 19. “Thy dead men shall live, together with my dead body shall they arise: awake and sing ye that dwell in the dust,” &c. Their captivity was a civil death, and Babylon as a grave to them. So it is elsewhere described, Ezek. 37:1, 2, 3, 14. “I will open your graves, and cause you to come out of your graves, and bring you into the land of Israel.” And therefore their deliverance is carried under the notion of a resurrection in that promise.

Object. Yea, (might they reply) the hopes of deliverance at last is some comfort, but alas, that may be far off: How shall we subsist till then?

Solut. Well enough, for as you have in that promise a sure ground of deliverance at last, so in the interim here is a gracious invitation into a place of security for the present, Come, my people, enter thou into thy chambers. In which invitation four things call for our close attention.

1. The form of the invitation, including in it the qualified subject, Come, my people. God’s own peculiar people, who have chosen God for their protection, and resigned up themselves sincerely to him in the covenant, are the persons here invited, the same which he before called the righteous nation that kept the truth, ver. 2. he means those that remained faithful to God, as many of them did in Babylon, witness their sorrow for Sion, Psal. 137 per totum; and their solemn appeal to God, that their hearts were not turned back, nor had their steps declined though they were sore broken in the place of dragons, and covered with the shadow of death, Psal. 44:18, 19, 20. These are the people invited to the chambers of security. And the form of invitation is full of tender compassion; Come, my people; like a tender father who sees a storm coming upon his children in the fields, and takes them by the hand saying, Come away, my dear children, hasten home with me, lest the storm over-take you; or as the Lord said to Noah before the deluge, Come thou and all thy house into the ark, and God shut him in, Gen. 7:1, 16. This is the form of invitation, Come, my people.

2. The privilege invited to; Enter thou into thy chambers. There is some variety, and indeed variety rather than contrariety in the exposition of these words. In this all are agreed, that by their chambers is not meant the chambers of their own houses, Ezek. 21:14. for alas, their houses were left unto them desolate; and if not, yet they could be no security to them now, when neither their own houses nor their fortified city was able to defend them before.

Grotius* expounds it of the grave, and makes these chambers the same with the chambers of death. Ite in cubicula, i.e. sepulchra vestra. The grave indeed is a place of security, where God sometimes hides some of his people in troublesome times, as it is plain in Isa. 57:1, 2. but I cannot allow this to be the sense of this text; God doth not comfort his captives with a natural against a civil death, but with protection in their troubles upon earth, as is evident from the scope of the whole chapter.

By chambers therefore, others understand the chambers of Divine Providence, where the saints are hid in evil days. So our Annotators on the place, and no doubt but this is in part the special intendment of the text.

Others understand the attributes and promises of God to be here meant, as well as his providence. And I conceive all three make the sense of the text full, i.e. the Divine attributes engaged in the promises, and exercised or actuated in the providences of God; these are the sanctuaries and refuges of God’s people in days of trouble.

Calvin understands it of the quiet repose of the believer’s mind in God, but that is rather the effect of his security, than the place of it. It is God’s attributes, or his name (which is the same thing) to which the righteous fly and are safe, Prov. 18:10.

Object. But you will, say, why are they called their chambers? Those attributes are not theirs, but God’s.

Solut. The answer is easy; though they be God’s properties, yet they are his people’s privileges and benefits; for when God makes over himself to them in covenant to be their God, he doth, as it were, deliver to them the keys of all his attributes for their benefit and security; and is as if he should say, my wisdom is yours, to contrive for your good; my power is yours, to protect your persons; my mercy yours, to forgive your sins; my all-sufficiency yours to supply your wants; all that I am, and all that I have, is for your benefit and comfort. These are the chambers provided for the saints’ lodgings, and into these they are invited to enter. Enter thou into thy chambers. By entering into them understand their actual faith exercised in acts of affiance and resignation to God in all their dangers. So Psal. 56:3. “At what time I am afraid (saith David) I will trust in thee:” q. d. Lord, if a storm come I will make bold to shelter myself from it under thy wings by faith; look, as unbelief shuts the doors of all God’s attributes and promises against us; so faith opens them all to the soul: and so much of the privilege invited to, which is the second thing.

3. We have here a needful caution for the securing of this privilege to ourselves in evil times, shut thy doors about thee. Or as the Syriac renders בעדך behind or after thee, i.e. saith Calvin, Diligenter cavendum ne ulla rimula diabolo ad nos pateat. Care must be taken that no passage be left open for the devil to creep in after us, and drive us out of our refuge; for so it falls out too often with God’s people when they are at rest in God’s name or promises, Satan creeps in by unbelieving doubts and puzzling objections, and beats them out of their refuge back again into trouble; it is therefore of great concernment, in such times especially, not to give place to the devil, as the phrase is, Eph. 4:17. but cleave to God by a resolved reliance.

4. Lastly, We are to note with what arguments or motives they are pressed to betake themselves to this refuge. There are two found in the text, the one working upon their fear, the other upon their hope. 1. That which works upon their fear is a supposition of a storm coming, the indignation of God will fall like a tempest; this is supposed in the text, and plainly expressed in the words following, “For the Lord cometh out of his place to punish the inhabitants of the earth,” ver. 21.

2. The other is fitted to work upon their hope, though his indignation fall like a storm, yet it will not continue long; it shall be but for a moment, better days and more comfortable dispensations will follow. From all which the general observation is this,

Doctrine.

That the attributes, promises, and providences of God, are the chambers of rest and security, in which his people are to hide themselves, when they foresee the storms of his indignation coming upon the world.

“The name of the Lord (saith Solomon) is a strong tower; the righteous run into it, and are safe,” Prov. 18:10. And his attributes are his name, Exod. 34:5. For by them he is known as a man is known by his name, and this his name is a strong tower for his people’s security; now what is the use and end of a tower in a city, but to receive and secure the inhabitants when the outworks are beaten to the ground, the wall scaled, and the houses left desolate?

And as it is here resembled to a tower, so in Isa. 33:16. it is shadowed out unto us by a munition of rocks, “His place of defence shall be a munition of rocks.” How secure is that person that is invironed with rocks on every side? Yea, you will say, but yet a rock is but a cold and barren refuge; though other enemies cannot, yet hunger and thirst can invade and kill him there. No, in this rock is a storehouse of provision, as well as a magazine for defence; so it follows, “Bread shall be given him, and his water shall be sure.”

And sometimes it is resembled to us by the wings of a fowl, spread with much tenderness over her young for their defence, Ps. 57:1. “Yea, in the shadow of thy wings will I make my refuge, until these calamities be overpast.” So Psal. 17:8. “Keep me as the apple of thine eye, hide me under the shadow of thy wings.” No part of the body hath more guards upon it than the apple of the eye. God is as careful to preserve his people as men are to preserve their eyes; and he that toucheth them toucheth the apple of his eye. But we need not go from one metaphor to another to shew you where the saint’s refuge is in time of danger; you have a whole bundle of them lying together in that one scripture, 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.” Where you find all kinds of defence, whether natural or artificial, under a pleasant variety of apt metaphors, ascribed to God for the security of his people.

Now for the casting of this great point into as easy and profitable a method as I can; I shall resolve this general truth into these following propositions, which are implied or expressed in the text and doctrine thence deduced; and the first is this;

Propositions

Prop. 1. That there are times and seasons appointed by God for the pouring out of his indignation upon the world.

Prop. 2. That God’s own people are concerned in, and ought to be affected with those judgments.

Prop. 3. That God hath a special and particular care of his people in the days of his indignation.

Prop. 4. That God usually premonishes the world, especially his own people, of his judgments before they befal them.

Prop. 5. 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.

Prop. 6. That none but God’s people are taken into those chambers of security, or can expect his special protection in evil times.

And then I shall apply the whole in the proper uses of it.

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