An educational look at how Christians used to think about natural disasters and judgments from God. Here is Thomas Brooks writing about the Great Fire of London, September 2–5, 1666:
By Thomas Brooks, 1670
A serious discourse concerning “The Great Fire”
which recently turned our once renowned City
into a ruinous heap. Also the several lessons
that are incumbent upon those whose houses
have escaped the consuming flames.
Question. But, sir, What are those DUTIES which are incumbent upon those whose houses have been burnt up, and laid in ashes? I answer,
1. First, See the hand of the Lord in this recent dreadful fire. Acknowledge the Lord to be the author of all judgments, and of this in particular, Lev. 26:41, and Micah 7:9. It is a high point of Christian prudence and piety to acknowledge the Lord to be the author of all personal or national sufferings that befall us. “What man is wise enough to understand this? Who has been instructed by the Lord and can explain it? Why has the land been ruined and laid waste like a desert that no one can cross? The Lord said, “It is because they have forsaken my law, which I set before them; they have not obeyed me or followed my law. Instead, they have followed the stubbornness of their hearts; they have followed the Baals, as their fathers taught them.” Therefore, this is what the Lord Almighty, the God of Israel, says: “See, I will make this people eat bitter food and drink poisoned water.” Jeremiah 9:12-15
It is very great wisdom to know from whom all our afflictions come, and for what all our afflictions come upon us. God looks that we should observe his hand in all our sufferings. “Heed the rod and the One who appointed it!” Micah 6:9. God claims all sorts of afflictions as his own special administration: Amos 3:6, “When disaster comes to a city, has not the Lord caused it?” “I form the light and create darkness, I bring prosperity and create disaster; I, the Lord, do all these things,” Isaiah 45:7. God takes it very heinously, and looks upon it as a very great indignity which is put upon his power, providence, and justice—when men will neither see nor acknowledge his hand in those severe afflictions and sad sufferings that he brings upon them. Of such the prophet Isaiah complains, chapter 26:11, “Lord, when your hand is lifted up, they will not see.” The hand, the power of the Lord was so remarkable and conspicuous in the judgments which were inflicted upon them, as might very well wring an acknowledgment out of them—that it was the Lord who had stirred his wrath and indignation against them; and yet they willfully and desperately shut their eyes against all the severities of God, and would not behold that dreadful hand of his, which was stretched out against them.
O sirs! God looks upon himself as reproached and slandered by such who will not see his hand in the amazing judgments that he inflicts upon them: Jer. 5:12, “They have lied about the Lord; they said—He will do nothing! No harm will come to us; we will never see sword or famine.” Such was the atheism of the Jews, that they slighted divine warnings, and despised all those dreadful threatenings of the sword, famine, and fire, which should have led them to repentance, and so tacitly said, “The Lord is not God.” Such who either say, that God is not omniscient, or that he is not omnipotent, or that he is not so just as to execute the judgments that he has threatened—such belie the Lord—such deny him to be God. Many feel the rod, that cannot hear it; and many experience the smart of the rod, that do not see the hand which holds the rod; and this is sad.
How can the natural man, without faith’s prospective, look so high as to see the hand of the Lord in wasting and destroying judgments? By common experience we find that natural men are mightily apt to father the evil of all their sufferings upon secondary causes. Sometimes they cry out, “This is from a disorder in nature!” And at other times they cry out, “This is from bad luck!” Sometimes they cry out of the malice, plots, envy, and rage of men; and at other times they cry out of chance and bad fortune—and so fix upon anything rather than the hand of God.
But now a gracious Christian under all his sufferings, he overlooks all secondary causes—and fixes his eye upon the hand of God. You know what Joseph said to his vicious brethren, who sold him for a slave: “It was not you—but God who sent me into Egypt!” Gen. 45:7. Job met with many severe losses and sad crosses—but under them all he overlooked all instruments, all secondary causes; he overlooks the Sabeans, and the Chaldeans, and Satan, and fixes his eye upon the hand of God: “The Lord has given, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord!” Job 1:21. Judas, and Annas, and Caiaphas, and Pilate, and Herod, and the bloody soldiers, had all a deep hand in the sufferings of Christ—but yet he overlooks them all, and fixes his eye upon his Father’s hand. “The cup which my Father has given me, shall I not drink it,” John 18:11. This cup was the cup of his sufferings. Now in all his sad sufferings, he had still an eye to his Father’s hand. Let us in all our sufferings write after this copy that Christ has set before us. But of this I have spoken very largely already, and therefore let this touch suffice here.
2. Secondly, Labor to justify the Lord in all that he has done. Say, “the Lord is righteous, though he has laid our city desolate!” When Jerusalem was laid desolate, and the wall thereof broken down, and the gates thereof were burned with fire, Nehemiah justifies the Lord: chapter 9:33, “Howbeit you are just in all that is brought upon us; for you have done right—but we have done wickedly.” [Neh. 1:4. Just so, Mauricius the emperor justified God when he saw his wife and children butchered before his eyes by the traitor Phocas, and knew that himself should soon after be stewed in his own broth, cried out, “Just are you, O Lord, and just are all your judgments!”] The same spirit was upon Jeremiah: Lam. 1:1, 4, 18, “How deserted lies the city, once so full of people! How like a widow is she, who once was great among the nations! She who was queen among the provinces has now become a slave. The roads to Zion mourn, for no one comes to her appointed feasts. All her gateways are desolate, her priests groan, her maidens grieve, and she is in bitter anguish. The Lord is righteous!”
The same spirit was upon David: Psalm 119:75, “I know, O Lord, that your judgments are right, and that you in faithfulness have afflicted me.” So Psalm 145:17, “The Lord is righteous in all his ways, and holy in all his works.” This maxim we must live and die by, though we do not always see the reason of his proceedings. It is granted on all sides, that the will of God is the chief, the most perfect and infallible rule of divine justice, and that God is a law to himself: “Shall not the Judge of all the earth do right?” Gen. 18:25. In this negative question is emphatically implied an affirmative position, which is—that God, above all others, must and will do right; because from his judgment there is no appeal. Abraham, considering the nature and justice of God, was confidently assured that God could not do otherwise but right.
Has God turned you out of house and home, and marred all your pleasant things, and stripped you naked as the day wherein you were born? Why, if he has, he has done you no wrong; he can do you no wrong; he is a law to himself, and his righteous will is the rule of all justice. God can as soon cease to be, as he can cease to do that which is just and right.
Just so, Psalm 97:2, “Clouds and thick darkness surround him; righteousness and justice are the foundation of his throne.” Clouds and thick darkness imply the mysteriousness and the dreadfulness of God’s administrations. Though God is very dreadful in his administrations—yet righteousness and justice are the foundation of his throne. It has been a day of God’s wrath in London, a day of trouble and distress, a day of wasting and desolation, a day of darkness and gloominess, a day of clouds and thick darkness, as it was once in Jerusalem, Zeph. 1:15; yet righteousness and justice are the foundation of his throne! God’s seat of judgment is always founded in righteousness and justice.
Just so, Dan. 9:12, “You have fulfilled the words spoken against us and against our rulers by bringing upon us great disaster. Under the whole heaven nothing has ever been done like what has been done to Jerusalem.” Verse 14, “The Lord did not hesitate to bring the disaster upon us, for the Lord our God is righteous in everything he does; yet we have not obeyed him.” God is only righteous, he is perfectly righteous, he is exemplarily righteous, he is everlastingly righteous, he is infinitely righteous, and no unrighteousness dwells in him, Psalm 92:15; Job 36:23. There are four things that God cannot do:
(1.) He cannot lie;
(2.) He cannot die;
(3.) He cannot deny himself;
(4.) He cannot look upon iniquity and not loathe it; he cannot behold iniquity and approve of it or delight in it.
God has a sovereignty over all your persons and concerns in this world, and therefore he may do with you and all that is yours as he pleases. Upon this account you ought to say, “The Lord is righteous, though he has laid our habitations desolate, and burned up our houses before our eyes!” It is true, God has dealt severely with London; but he might have dealt more severely with it, Lam. 3:22. He might have burnt up every house, and he might have consumed every inhabitant in London’s flames. He might have made good that sad word upon them, “They shall go from one fire—and another fire shall devour them,” Ezek. 15:7. The citizens of London may say with good Ezra, “God has punished us less than our iniquities deserve!” and therefore it highly concerns them to say, “The Lord is righteous. All that God does is good!” You know what Hezekiah said: 2 Kings 20:19, “The word of the Lord you have spoken is good.” This was a hard word, a sad word, that all Hezekiah’s treasure should be carried into Babylon, and his sons also, and made servants there, and yet he says, “The word of the Lord you have spoken is good.” Whatever God does, is good. “God, in that he is good,” says Luther, “can give nothing, do nothing—but that which is good. Others do evil frequently, he cannot possibly do anything evil.” Upon this account also it concerns us to say, “The Lord is righteous, though our city is laid desolate!” It is better to be under a fiery rod, than to be wallowing in the mire of sin! It is better that London should be laid desolate, than that God should say, “England, farewell!” That is a Christian worth gold who can seriously, heartily, and habitually say, “The Lord is righteous, though all our pleasant things are laid desolate!”
OBJECTION. I would say, The Lord is righteous; but by this fiery dispensation I am turned out of house and home.
Now, in ANSWER to this objection, give me permission to inquire—
[1.] First, Give me permission to inquire—Whether your house was dedicated to the Lord by fasting and prayer or not? Deut. 20:5. If it were only dedicated to the service of sin, Satan, or the world—it is no wonder that the Lord has turned it into a heap! But,
[2.] Secondly, Give me permission to inquire—Whether you had set up Christ and holiness and holy rules in your house or not? See Psalm 101. Did you in good earnest resolve with Joshua, “That you and your house would serve the Lord,” Joshua 24:15. If not, it is no wonder if the Lord has laid your habitations desolate! But,
[3.] Thirdly, Give me permission to inquire—Whether you did labor and endeavor to the utmost of what you were able, that Christ might have a church in your house or not? Col. 4:15, “Give my greetings to the brothers at Laodicea, and to Nympha and the church in her house.” That is, the church which meets together in her house. 1 Cor. 16:19, “The churches in the province of Asia send you greetings. Aquila and Priscilla greet you warmly in the Lord, and so does the church that meets at their house.” Phil. 2, “And to our beloved Apphia, and Archippus our fellow-soldier, and to the church in your house.” Philemon’s house was a public meeting-house, where the faithful had their assemblies; and so continued for many years after. Some understand this last scripture of the church which kept their assemblies in Philemon’s house. Others understand it of his household, which was as a little church in his house.
Romans 16:5, “Likewise greet the church that is in their house.” Chrysostom by the church in their house understands their Christian family, who were so godly, as to make their whole house the church. Origen interprets it of the faithful and ready ministry of these servants of the Lord, in entertaining of the saints in their house. Theophylact thinks it to be called the church in their house, because the faithful were entertained there. It seems that their house was a place for the saints to assemble in. “There the congregation used to come together,” says Justin Martyr. The last thing in their praise was, that they had a church in their house; either for that their family, for their godly order observed in it, was a church; or else for the faithful gathered together in their house to celebrate their assemblies; for they might not have in most places the free use of their Christian religion, through the malice of the Jews on the one hand, and the rage of the Gentiles on the other hand. Consult Acts 13 and 14, [Wilson.] In this great city of Rome there were divers assemblies of believers, which were held in some private men’s houses, where they might meet safest—the state then, and some hundred years after, not permitting them any public temples or buildings to meet in, as our English Annotators observe upon the place.
In each particular family last cited, there was a church of Christ. Now have you burnt citizens made it your business to erect a church of Christ in your particular families? if so, well it is with you, though you have lost all. If not, do not wonder that God has laid your houses desolate! Adam had a church in his house, so had Abraham, and Jacob, and Joshua, and David, and Cornelius. Well governed families may in some sense be well reputed churches.
Ah London, London! it may be there might have been more houses standing within your walls than now there is—if every particular house had been as a particular church to Christ. As for such houses where there were no exercises of religion; as for such houses where idleness, cheating, lying, cursing, swearing, slandering, gaming, drunkenness, uncleanness, and riotousness were rampant—they were rather the devil’s chapel than Christ’s church! And therefore it was just with God to lay such habitations desolate. But,
[4.] Fourthly, Give me permission to inquire—Whether you were friends or enemies to God’s house, 2 Tim. 1:20; Num. 12:7; Joshua 1:2. Now God’s house is his church, and his church is his house: Heb. 3:5-6, “And Moses truly was faithful in all his house, as a servant; but Christ as a Son over his own house; whose house are we;” 1 Pet. 2:5, “You also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.” Just so, 1 Tim. 3:15, “That you may know how you ought to behave yourself in the house of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth.” Proverbs 9:1, “Wisdom has built her house, she has hewn out her seven pillars.” Wisdom—the Hebrew word is plural, wisdoms; wisdoms has built her a house. By wisdoms some understand the trinity of persons; but most conclude that by wisdoms is meant our Lord Jesus Christ, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge, Col. 2:3. The word is plural for honor’s sake. As princes write, ‘We command;’ the Lord Jesus Christ is said to be wisdoms in the plural number, to note that he is the sovereign and supreme wisdom, and that he is instead of all wisdoms, and comprehends all wisdoms in himself, all the world being fools in comparison of him. “Wisdoms has built her a house”—
(1.) Some take this house to be the human nature of Christ—which was not then built;
(2.) Others understand it of the work of grace in man’s soul—but this the Spirit commonly works in this house by the ministry of the word, Gal. 5:22-23;
(3.) Others by this house understand heaven, that upper house, that house of state in which Christ says there are many mansions—but this cannot be the meaning, because the house in the text is such a house to which wisdom does immediately invite and call all her guests; but
(4.) and lastly, Others by house understand the church of Christ on earth, for the church militant is a house built up of many lively stones, 1 Pet. 2:5.
Now by these scriptures it is very plain that God’s house is his church, and his church his house. Now if you were enemies to God’s house, if you hated his house, and designed and endeavored to pull down his house, no wonder that the Lord has laid your houses desolate, Mat. 23:37-38; Zech. 12:2-3, 6, 9. Such who cry out concerning his house, “Raze it, raze it even to its foundation!” Psalm 137:7, may one day lack a house to live in.
It is observable that Christ his apostles, and particular churches, and primitive Christians, frequently used to meet in private houses: John 20:19, “On the evening of that first day of the week, when the disciples were together, with the doors locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said—Peace be with you!” Verse 26, “A week later his disciples were in the house again, and Thomas was with them. Though the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said—Peace be with you!” Luke 24:33. This was the usual manner of salutation among the Jews, whereby they wished one another all happiness and prosperity. The doors of the room where they were together were shut for the more secrecy and security, to avoid danger from the Jews. Acts 1:13-14, “And when they were come in, they went up into an upper room . . . These all continued with one accord in prayer and supplication, with the women, and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with his brethren.” Acts 20:7-8, “On the first day of the week we came together to break bread. Paul spoke to the people and, because he intended to leave the next day, kept on talking until midnight. There were many lamps in the upstairs room where we were meeting.”
Acts 5:42, “And daily in the temple, and in every house, they ceased not to teach and preach Jesus Christ.” Acts 12:12, “And when he had considered the things, he came to the house of Mary the mother of John, whose surname was Mark; where many were gathered together praying”—or where many thronged to pray, as it runs in the original. Acts 20:20, “And how I kept back nothing that was profitable unto you—but have showed you, and have taught you publicly, and from house to house.” Acts 28:30-31, “And Paul dwelt two whole years in his own hired house, and received all who came in unto him: preaching the kingdom of God, and teaching those things which concern the Lord Jesus Christ, with all confidence.” Luke 10:38-39, “As Jesus and his disciples were on their way, he came to a village where a woman named Martha opened her home to him. She had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet listening to what he said.”
Beloved, by these scriptures it is most evident and clear that our Lord Jesus Christ, and his disciples and apostles, and those Christians that lived in their times, frequently met in private houses, and there performed acts of public worship—namely, such as preaching, hearing, praying, breaking of bread, etc. How the primitive Christians in those hot times of persecution met in the nights, and in woods, and houses, and obscure places, they best understand who have read the writings of Tertullian, Cyprian, Chrysostom, Theodoret, Austin, Eusebius, Justin Martyr, Pliny, etc. But this to some being an unpleasing theme, I shall not enlarge myself upon it. Only remember this—that there was never yet any town, city, or country, kingdom or commonwealth, which did ever fare the worse for a holy praying people. Frequent and fervent prayer, be it in public or in private, in a synagogue or in an upper room, never did, nor ever will, bring misery or mischief upon those places where such exercises are kept up, James 5:17-18.
Such conventicles of ‘jolly fellows,’ as some call them—where there is nothing but swearing and cursing, and carousing and gaming, and all manner of filthiness and profaneness—are the only conventicles that bring desolating judgments upon princes, people, and nations, as is most evident throughout the scriptures. [Several hundred scriptures might be produced to make good the assertion. Remember what one Achan did, and what one Manasseh did, 2 Kings 21:11-12; Eccles. 9:18. “One sinner destroys much good.” Oh, then, what a world of good will a rabble of sinners destroy!] Take two texts for all: 1 Sam. 1:12, 25, “But if you shall still do wickedly, you shall be consumed, both you and your kings.” When princes and people continue to do wickedly together, then they shall be consumed together. Zeph. 1:12-13, “At that time I will search Jerusalem with lamps and punish those who are complacent, who are like wine left on its dregs, who think, ‘The Lord will do nothing, either good or bad.’ Their wealth will be plundered, their houses demolished. They will build houses but not live in them; they will plant vineyards but not drink the wine.” verse 17-18, “I will bring distress on the people and they will walk like blind men, because they have sinned against the Lord. Their blood will be poured out like dust and their entrails like filth. Neither their silver nor their gold will be able to save them on the day of the Lord’s wrath. In the fire of his jealousy the whole world will be consumed, for he will make a sudden end of all who live in the earth.”
Now, if any of you whose houses are laid desolate, have had your spirits embittered and engaged against the poor people of God, for practicing as Christ and his apostles did, then lay your hands upon your mouths, and say, “The Lord is righteous, though he has turned us out of house and home, and laid all our pleasant things desolate!”
O sirs, this is and this must be for a lamentation, that there are so many ale-houses, and gaming-houses, and whore-houses, which are usually stuffed with vain people, yes, with the very worst of the worst of men. Certainly these houses are the very suburbs and seminaries of hell. “Where have you been?” “In hell,” said Erasmus merrily— comparing ale-houses to hell. Doubtless they are the nurseries of all sin, and the synagogue of incarnate devils. In the above-mentioned houses, how notoriously is the name of God blasphemed, and how shamefully are the precious fruits of the earth abused! and how many hundred families, are there impoverished! and how many thousand children, are there impoisoned! and how is all manner of wickedness and lewdness, are there encouraged and increased!
But when, oh when shall the sword of the magistrate be turned against these conventicles of hell? Certainly the horrid wickednesses which are daily committed in such houses, if not prevented by a faithful, zealous, and constant execution of the laws in force, will arm divine vengeance against the land. Magistrates should not bear the sword of justice in vain; for they are ministers of God to revenge and execute wrath upon those who do evil. By their office they are bound to be a terror to evil-doers, and encouragers of those who do well; and oh, that all in power and authority would forever resolve against being Satan’s drudges!
Rev. 2:10, “Do not be afraid of what you are about to suffer. I tell you, the devil will put some of you in prison to test you, and you will suffer persecution for ten days. Be faithful, even to the point of death, and I will give you the crown of life.” [The devil in Diocletian, say some; the devil in Trajan, say others—for he reigned next after this book of Revelation was written, and was very cruel against the Christians, delivering them over to prisons and death, and all to drive them through fear from the profession of Christ.] The devil by his imps and instruments whom he acts and agitates, the devil by engaging the civil and the military power of the world against the people of God, should so far prevail as to clap them up in prison. The prison in this text notes, by a synecdoche, the adjuncts and consequences—as namely, torments, punishments, and all sorts of martyrdom. This one punishment, imprisonment, says Brightman, contains confiscation of goods, banishments, slaughters, fires, rankings, or whatever exquisite torment beside, as the history teaches. The heathen emperors, with those wicked governors, officers, and soldiers that were under them, were the great instruments in Satan’s hand, to practice the greatest cruelties upon the saints in those days. Some they cast into prisons, some they banished, multitudes they slew with the sword; some of the precious servants of Christ they beat with stripes to death, others they branded in their foreheads, others were tortured and racked. Yes, and many holy women in that day had their breasts cut off, and others of them had their breasts burnt with a hot iron, and sometimes with eggs roasted as hot as could be. These, with many other torments, the people of God were exercised with, as all know, who have read the lamentable stories of those sad times.
OBJECTION 1. I would justify the Lord, I would say he is righteous, though my house be burnt up: but I have lost my goods, I have lost my estate, yes, I have lost my all as to this world; and how then can I say the Lord is righteous? how can I justify that God which has even stripped me as naked as the day wherein I was born? etc.
To this I ANSWER.
[1.] First, Did you gain your estate by just or unjust ways and means? If by unjust ways and means, then be silent before the Lord. If by just ways and means, then know that the Lord will store up in himself, and in his Son, and inf his Spirit, and inf his grace, and in heaven’s glory—that shall make up all your losses to you. But,
[2.] Secondly, Did you improve your estates for the glory of God, and the good of others, or did you not? If not, why do you complain? If you did, the reward that shall attend you at the long run, may very well bear up your spirits under all your losses. Consult these scriptures: 1 Cor. 1:15; 2 Cor. 9:6; Eccles. 11:1; Gal. 6:7-8; Isaiah 32:20, and 55:10; Proverbs 11:18; Rev. 22:12. But,
[3.] Thirdly, What trade did you drive Christ-wards, and heavenwards, and holiness-wards? [The stars which have least circuit are nearest the pole—and men who are least perplexed with business are commonly nearest to God.] If you did drive either no trade heavenwards, or but a slender or inconstant trade heaven-wards, and holiness-wards, never wonder that God by a fiery dispensation has spoiled your civil trade. Doubtless there were many citizens who did drive a close, secret, sinful trade, who had their by-ways and back doors—some to uncleanness, others to merry-meetings, and others to secret gaming. Now if you were one of those who did drive a secret trade of sin, never murmur because your house is burnt, and your trade destroyed—but rather repent of your secret trade of sin, and wonder that your body is not in the grave, and that your soul is not a-burning in everlasting flames!
Many there were in London, who had so great a trade, so full a trade, so constant a trade—that they had no time to mind the everlasting concerns of their precious souls, and the great things of eternity. [There were many who sacrificed their precious time either to Morpheus the god of sleep, or to Bacchus the god of wine, or to Venus the goddess of beauty—as if all were due to the bed, the tavern, and the brothel house.] They had so much to do on earth—that they had no time to look up to heaven. Sir Thomas More says, “There is a devil called business, which carries more souls to hell than all the other devils in hell!” Many citizens had so many irons in the fire, and were cumbered about with so many things, that they wholly neglected the one thing necessary; and therefore it was but just with God to visit them with a fiery rod.
Look! as much earth puts out the fire, so much worldly business puts out the fire of heavenly affections. Look! as the earth swallowed up Korah, Dathan, and Abiram, so much worldly business swallows up so much precious time, that many men have no time to secure their interest in Christ, to make their calling and election sure, to lay up treasure in heaven, to provide for eternity! And if this have been any of your cases who are now burnt up, it highly concerns you to justify the Lord, and to say he is righteous, though he has burnt up your habitations, and destroyed your trade, Num. 22:32, and 2 Pet. 1:10.
It is sad when a crowd of worldly business, shall crowd God and Christ and duty out of doors. Many citizens drove so great a public trade in their shops, that their private trade to heaven was quite laid by. Such who were so busy about their farm and their merchandise, see Luke 14:16, 22, that they had no leisure to attend their souls’ concernments, had their city set on fire about their ears: Mat. 22:5, “But they paid no attention”—that is, of all the free, rich, and noble offers of grace and mercy that God had made to them—”and went off–one to his field, another to his business.” Verse 7, “But when the king heard thereof, he was enraged; and he sent forth his armies”—that is, the Romans—”and destroyed those murderers, and burnt up their city.”
It is observable that the Jews, who were commanded six days to labor, were also commanded to offer morning and evening sacrifice daily, Exod. 20:9; Exod. 29:38-39; Num. 28:3; Deut. 6:6-8. They had their morning sacrifice when they entered upon their work, and they had their evening sacrifice when they ended their work. Their particular callings did not steal away their hearts from their general devotions. The Jews divided the day into three parts, the first, to prayer; the second, for the reading of the law; the third, for the works of their lawful callings. Although they were days appointed for work—yet they gave God his part, they gave God a share of every day. God, who is the Lord of all time, has reserved to himself a part of our time every day. And therefore men’s particular callings ought to give way to their general calling. But alas! before London was in flames, many men’s—Oh, that I could not say most men’s!—particular callings swallowed up their general calling. The noise is such in a mill, as hinders all fellowship between man and man: so many of the burnt citizens had such a multitude of worldly businesses lying upon their hands, and that made such a noise, as that all fellowship between God and them was hindered. Seneca, one of the most refined heathens, could say, “I do not give—but only lend myself to my business.” I am afraid this heathen will one day rise in judgment against those burnt citizens who have not lended themselves to their business—but wholly given up themselves to their business, as if they had no God to honor, no souls to save, no hell to escape, nor no heaven to make sure. But,
[4.] Fourthly, Job lost all, and recovered all again: he lost a fair estate, and God doubles his estate to him. [Compare the first and last chapters of Job together.] So David lost all, and recovered all again: 1 Sam. 30:18, “And David recovered all that the Amalekites had carried away; and David rescued his two wives.” Verse 19, “And there was nothing lacking to them, neither small nor great, neither sons nor daughters, neither spoil, nor anything that they had taken to them.” David recovered all. Here the end was better than the beginning; but the contrary befell the Amalekites, who a little before had framed comedies out of poor Ziklag’s tragedies. In the beginning of the chapter you may see that David had lost all that he had, verse 1-5. All the spoil that he had taken from others were gone—his corn gone, his cattle gone, his wives gone, and his city burnt with fire, and turned into a ruinous heap, so that he had not a house, a habitation in all the world to put his head in; he had nothing left him but a poor, grieved, maddened, and enraged army. The people spoke of stoning of him, verse 6: but what was the outcome? Why, David recovers all again. O sirs, when a Christian is in greatest distress, when he has lost all, when he is not worth one penny in all the world—yet then he has a God to go to at last. David encouraged himself in the Lord his God. A Christian’s case is never so desperate but he has still a God to go to. When a Christian has lost all, the best way to recover all again is to encourage himself in the Lord his God. God sometimes strips his people of outward mercies, and then restores to them again those very mercies that he had stripped them of. If God has taken away all—yet remember that God has a thousand thousand ways to make up all your losses to you, which you know not of; therefore do not murmur, do not fret, do not faint, do not limit the Holy One of Israel.
If you made no improvement of your house, your estate, your trade, then it is your wisdom and your work rather to be displeased with yourself for your non-improvement of mercies, than to be discontented at that hand of heaven that has deprived you of your mercies. Remember, O you burnt citizens of London, that you are not the first that have lost your all. Besides the instances already cited, you must remember what they suffered in the tenth and eleventh chapters of the Hebrews; and you must remember that in the ten persecutions many thousands of the people of God were stripped of their all; and so were very many also in the Marian days. Who shrugs or complains of a common lot? It was by grace, that you enjoyed your house, your estate, your trade so long; and therefore it concerns you to be rather thankful that your mercies were continued so long unto you, than to murmur because you are now stripped of all. But,
[5.] Fifthly, When all is gone—yet mercy may be near, and you not see it. When Hagar’s bottle was empty, the well of water was near, though she saw it not, Gen. 21:19. Mercies many times are never nearer to us than when, with Hagar, we sit down and weep because our bottle is empty, because our streams of mercy are dried up. The well was there before—but she saw it not, until her eyes were opened. Though mercy is near, though it is even at the door—yet until the great God shall irradiate both our eyes, and the object—we can neither see our mercies, nor suck the breasts of mercy. Christ, the spring of mercy, the fountain of mercy, was near the disciples, yes, he talked with the disciples, and yet they knew him not, Luke 24:15. Look! as dangers are nearest to wicked men when they see them not, when they fear them not—As Haman was nearest the gallows when he thought himself the only man who the king would honor, Esther 6. And so when Sisera dreamed of a kingdom, Jael was near with her hammer and her nail, ready to fasten him to the ground, Judges 4. And so when Agag said, “Surely the bitterness of death is past, Samuel stood ready with his drawn sword to cut him in pieces in Gilgal,” 1 Sam. 15:32-33. Just so, when Pharaoh said, “They are entangled in the land, the wilderness has shut them in. I will pursue, I will overtake, I will divide the spoil; my lust shall be satisfied upon them; I will draw my sword, my hand shall destroy them,” Exod. 14:3, and 15:9-10; but presently God blows with his wind, and the sea covered them, and they sank as lead in the mighty waters. Soon after Sennacherib had sent a blasphemous letter to king Hezekiah, “the angel of the Lord went forth and smote in the camp of the Assyrians, a hundred and eighty-five thousand: and when they arose early in the morning, behold, they were all dead corpses,” Isaiah 37: and within five and fifty days after, Sennacherib himself was butchered by his own sons, Tobit 1:21. No sooner had the people applauded Herod, and given him the honor due to God—but he was smitten by the angel of the Lord, or eaten up with worms, or with vermin—with lice, as his grandfather Herod had been before him, Acts 12:22-23. Roffensis had a cardinal’s hat sent him; but his head was cut off before it came: the axe was nearer his head than his hat. The heathen historian could not but observe, that as soon as Alexander the Great had summoned a world parliament before him, he was summoned himself by death to appear before God in the other world. Now as you see by these instances that dangers are nearest the wicked when they see them not, when they fear them not; so mercies are very near to the people of God when they see them not, when they expect them not. The Israelites found it so in Asa his time, and in Jehoshaphat’s time, and in Pharaoh’s time, and in Hezekiah’s time, and in Esther’s time, and in the time of the judges, as is evident throughout the book of Judges. [Psalm 126:2-3; 2 Chron. 14, and 20; Exod. 15; 2 Kings 19; Esther 6:8; 1 Kings 17:12-16.]
When there was but a handful of meal in the barrel, and a little oil in the cruse, supply was at hand. Her barrel and cruse had no bottom, who out of a little gave a little. In all the ages of the world God has made that word good: Isaiah 41:17, “When the poor and needy seek water, and there is none, and their tongue fails for thirst, I the Lord will hear them, I the God of Israel will not forsake them.” Verse 18, “I will open rivers in high places, and fountains in the midst of the valleys: I will make the wilderness a pool of water, and the dry land springs of water.” Chrysostom observes, That it is very delightful to the mother to have her breasts drawn. Oh how much more, then, is it delightful to God to have his breasts of mercy drawn! As many times the mother’s breasts are drawn, and near the child, though the child sees them not; so God’s breasts of mercy are many times drawn, and near his people, and yet they see them not. Geographers write that the city of Syracuse, in Sicily, is so curiously situated, that the sun is never out of sight. Certainly the mercies of God are never out of sight, though sometimes the people of God are so clouded and benighted that they cannot see their mercies, though they are near them, yes, though they stand before them. But,
[6.] Sixthly, I answer, That God many times, by taking away some outward mercies, comforts, and contentments, does but make way for greater and better mercies to come in the room of those he has taken away. He took from David an Absalom, and gave him a Solomon, Psalm 71:20-21; he took from him a scoffing Michal, and gave him a prudent Abigail, 1 Sam. 25; he took away from Isaac his mother Sarah, and made up his loss by giving of him Rebekah to wife, Gen. 24:67; he took away much from Job—but laid twice as much in the room of all the mercies that he had stripped him of. The Lord many times takes away small mercies to make room for greater mercies, and many times takes away great mercies to make room for greater mercies, yes, the greatest of mercies. But,
[7.] Seventhly and lastly, Though you have lost all your outward comforts in this world—yet if you are a believer, there are ten choice jewels that you shall never, that you can never lose—
[1.] That you shall never totally or finally lose your God, Hosea 2:19-20.
[2.] You shall never lose your saving interest in Christ. Whatever your outward losses are—yet your interest in Christ still holds good, Rom 8:33, seq.
[3.] You shall never lose the Spirit of grace: John 14:16, “And I will ask the Father, and he shall give you another Comforter, that he may abide with you forever.”
[4.] You shall never lose the seed of grace, the habits of grace: 1 John 3:9, “Whoever is born of God, does not commit sin”—that is, does not give himself over to a voluntary serving of sin; he does not make a trade of sin; he sins not totally, finally, maliciously, habitually, studiously, resolutely, willfully, delightfully, deadly; he does not make it his work to sin, he cannot follow his lusts as a workman follows his trade, “for his seed remains in him.” The seed of God, the seed of grace, is an abiding seed, 1 Cor 1:8; Luke 22:32.
[5.] You shall never lose the forgiveness of your sins, though you may lose the sense and assurance of your forgiveness: Jer. 31:34, “For I will forgive their iniquity, and remember their sin no more;” Micah 7:19.
[6.] You shall never lose your interest in the covenant of grace, Psalm 89:30, 35; Jer. 31:31, 38; Isaiah 54:10. Once in covenant—forever in covenant.
[7.] You shall never lose your union with Christ, John 15:1, 6. In John 17, Christ prayed that we “might be one, as he and his Father are one;” not essentially, nor personally—but spiritually, so as no other creature is united to God. There can be no divorce between Christ and the believing soul. Christ hates divorce, Mal. 2:16. Sin may for a time seemingly separate between Christ and the believer—but it can never finally separate between Christ and the believer. Look! as it is impossible for the leaven that is in the dough to be separated from the dough after it is once mixed; it turns the nature of the dough into itself: so it is impossible for the saints ever to be separated from Christ; for Christ is in the saints, as nearly and as really as the leaven is in the very dough, [Luther.] Christ and believers are so incorporated as if Christ and they were one lump. Our union with the Lord is so near and so glorious, that it makes us one spirit with him. In this blessed union, the saints are not only joined to the graces and benefits which flow from Christ—but to the person of Christ, to Christ himself, who is first given for us and to us, and then with him we receive all other spiritual blessings and favors, 1 Cor. 6:17; Romans 8:32; 1 Cor. 3:21-23.
[8.] You shall never lose your inward peace, either totally or finally. It is true, by sin, and Satan, and the world, and divine withdrawings, your peace may be somewhat interrupted—but it shall never be finally lost. The greatest storms in this life, which beat upon a believer, will in time blow over, and the Sun of righteousness, the Prince of peace, [Psalm 30:5; Mal. 4:2; Isaiah 9:6. shalom; under this word the Jews comprehend all peace, prosperity, and happy success.] will shine as gloriously upon him as ever: John 14:27, “Peace I leave with you,”—it is a good inheritance,—”my peace I give unto you; not as the world gives, give I unto you.” “My peace I give unto you”—that is, that peace with God and peace with conscience that I have purchased with my blood I give unto you. Men may wish me peace—but it is only Christ who can give me peace. The peace that Christ gives is founded upon his blood, upon his imputed righteousness, upon his intercession, and upon a covenant of peace; and therefore it must needs be a lasting peace, an abiding peace.
When a tyrant thus threatened a Christian, “I will take away your house,” the Christian replied, “You can not take away my peace.” When the tyrant threatened to break up his school, the Christian answered, “I shall still keep whole my peace.” When the tyrant threatened to confiscate all his goods, the Christian answered—”you cannot rob me of my peace.” When the tyrant threatened to banish him out of his own country, the Christian replied—”yet I shall carry my peace with me.”
[9.] You shall never lose your title to heaven. Luke 12:32, “Fear not, little flock,”—here are two diminutives in the original; the word translated flock signifies a little flock; but that the exceeding littleness of it might appear, Christ adds another word, so that the words in the original run thus, “Fear not, little little-flock.” And indeed in all the ages of the world the flock of Christ have been but little in their own eyes, and little in the world’s eyes, and little in their enemies’ eyes, and but little in comparison of that world of wolves that has still surrounded them,—”for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.” You need neither fear the loss of earthly things or the lack of earthly things, for you have a kind, a tender, a loving Father, whose pleasure it is to give you the kingdom—that is, the heavenly kingdom that is prepared and reserved for you.
[10. and lastly], You shall never lose your crown of life, your crown of glory, your incorruptible crown, your crown of righteousness, Rev. 2:10; James 1:12; 1 Pet. 5:4; 1 Cor. 9:25. 2 Tim. 4:8, “Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day–and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing.” A crown is the top of royalty. Here it notes that everlasting glory that is laid up for the saints. Now this crown is called a crown of righteousness: partly because it is purchased by the righteousness of Christ; and partly because he is righteous that has promised it; and partly because it is a just and righteous thing with God to crown them with glory at last, who have for his honor, been crowned with shame and reproach in this world; and partly because they come to this crown in the use of righteous ways and means. And this crown is said to be stored up, to note our sure and certain enjoyment of it, as the Greek word does import.
And let thus much suffice for answer to this second objection.
OBJECTION 2. I would justify the Lord, I would say he is righteous though my house be burnt up, and I am turned out of all; but this troubles me—I have not an estate to do that good that formerly I have done. I was once full—but the Lord has made me empty. I was once Naomi, that is, beautiful—but now God has made me Marah, i.e bitter, Ruth 1:20-21. The Lord has testified against me, and the Almighty has afflicted me, and consumed me on every hand. I have fed the poor, I have clothed the naked, I have received those who were in bonds: the blessing of him who was ready to perish came upon me. But now I can do little or nothing for others; and this troubles me, Job 29:13.
[1.] I answer, Firstly, Your condition is no lower than was the condition of Christ and his apostles in this world. “Silver and gold have we none,” Acts 3:6. Salvian says that Christ was mendicorum maximus—the greatest beggar in the world, as one who shares in all his saints’ necessities. Both Christ and his followers, when they were in world, they were maintained by the charity others. They had no lands nor lordships—but lived upon others’ charity. But of this before; therefore let this touch suffice here. But,
[2.] Secondly, God many times in this life returns his people’s charity with interest upon interest, Mat. 19:27-30; 2 Cor. 9:6-14; Heb. 6:10. Their scattering is their increasing, their spending is their lending, their layings out are but layings up for themselves: Proverbs 11:24, “There is who scatters, and yet increases;” verse 25, “The liberal soul shall be made fat; he who waters shall he watered also himself.” It is fabled of Midas, that whatever he touched he turned it into gold. This is most true of charity; whatever the hand of charity touches it turns it into gold, be it but a cup of cold water, Mat. 10:42. More—it turns into heaven itself. I have read of one who, having given to a poor man, and considering with himself whether he had not injured himself by giving beyond his ability, presently corrected himself with those thoughts, that he had lent it to one who would pay well again; and within an hour after he had it restored above sevenfold, in a way which he never thought of. However God may carry it towards his people in this world—yet he will be sure to repay their charity in the eternal world.
This is certain, namely, that one day’s being in heaven will make us a sufficient recompense for whatever we have given, or do give, or shall give in this world. But,
[3.] Thirdly, If the constant frame and disposition of your hearts be to do as much good as ever you did, or more good than ever you did, then you may be confident that the Lord accepts of your will for the deed: 2 Cor. 8:12, “For if there be first a willing mind, it is accepted according to that a man has, and not according to that he has not.” God prefers a willing mind before a worthy work. God measures all his people, not by their works—but by their wills. When the will is strongly inclined and biased to works of charity, so that a man would gladly be a-giving to the poor, and a-supplying the needs and necessities of the needy—but cannot for lack of an estate; in this case God accepts of the will for the deed. David had a purpose and a will to build God a house, and God took it so kindly at his hands, that he despatches an ambassador to him to tell him how highly he received with pleasure, his purpose and good-will to build him a house, 2 Chron. 6:8.
The widow’s will was in her two mites which she cast into God’s treasury, and therefore Christ sets a more honorable value upon them than he does upon all the vast sums that others cast in, Mark 12:41-44. Many princes and queens, lords and ladies are forgotten, when this poor widow, who had a will to be nobly charitable, has her name written in letters of gold, and her charity put upon record for all eternity. The king of Persia did lovingly accept of the poor man’s handful of water, because his good-will was in it, and put it into a golden vessel, and gave the poor man the vessel of gold. And do you think that the King of kings will be outdone by the king of Persia? Surely not! But,
[4.] Fourthly and lastly—there are more ways of doing good to others, than one. If you can not do so much good to others as formerly you have done by your purse—yet you may do more good to others than ever yet you have done by your pen, your services, your prayers, your gifts, your graces, your examples. Though you are less serviceable to their bodies—yet if you are more serviceable than ever to their souls, you have no reason to complain. There is no love, no compassion, no pity, no charity, no mercy, compared to that which reaches immortal souls, and which will turn most to a man’s account in the great day of our Lord Jesus.
OBJECTION 3. I would justify the Lord, I would say he is righteous, though my house be burned up, and I am turned out of all; but God has punished the righteous with the wicked, if not more than the wicked. This fiery rod has fallen heavier upon many saints than upon many sinners, etc. How, then, can I justify God? How, then, can I say that the Lord is righteous? etc.
[1.] Firstly, In all ages of the world, God’s dearest children have been deep sharers with the wicked in all common calamities. Abraham and his family were by famine driven into Egypt as well as others, and Isaac and his family were by famine driven into the Philistines’ country as well as others, and Jacob and his family by famine were driven into Egypt as well as others, and in David’s time there was a famine for three years, and in Elijah’s time there was a severe famine in Samaria, Gen. 26, and 42; 2 Sam. 21:1; 1 Kings 18:2; Mat. 5:4-5. The difference which God puts between his own and others, is not seen in the administration of these outward things: Eccles. 9:2, “All share a common destiny–the righteous and the wicked, the good and the bad, the clean and the unclean, those who offer sacrifices and those who do not. As it is with the good man, so with the sinner; as it is with those who take oaths, so with those who are afraid to take them.” The privileges of the saints do not lie in temporals—but in spirituals and eternals; otherwise, religion would not be a matter of faith—but sense: and men would serve God not for himself—but for the mirthful and gallant things of this world. But,
[2.] Secondly, There are as many mysteries in providences as there are in prophecies; and many texts of providence are as hard to understand as many texts of Scriptures are. God’s “way is in the sea, his paths are in the great waters, and his footsteps are not known;” “His judgments are unsearchable, and his ways are past finding out.” And yet when clouds and darkness are round about him, “righteousness and justice are the habitation of his throne,” Psalm 77:19; Romans 11:33; Psalm 97:2, and 36:6. When his judgments are a great deep—yet then his righteousness is like the great mountains. There are many mysteries in nature which we are ignorant of; and why, then, should we wonder that there are many mysteries in providence that we do not understand? Let a man but seriously consider how many possible deaths lurk in his own bodies, and the innumerable hosts of external dangers which beleaguers him on every side; how many invisible arrows fly about his ears continually, and yet how few have hit him, and that none hitherto have mortally wounded him; and it will doubtless so far affect his heart, as to work him to conclude, that great, and many, and mysterious are the providences which daily attend upon him.
I have read of a father and his son, who being shipwrecked at sea, the son sailed to shore upon the back of his dead father. What a strange, mysterious providence was this! Vives reports of a Jew, that having gone over a deep river on a narrow plank in a dark night, and coming the next day to see what danger he had escaped, fell down dead with astonishment. Should God many times but open to us the mysteriousness of his providences, they would be matter of amazement and astonishment to us. I have read that Marcia, a Roman princess, being great with child, had the babe in her killed with lightning, she herself escaping the danger. What a mysterious providence was this! God’s providence towards his servants is as a wheel in the midst of a wheel, whose motion, and work, and end in working, is not discerned by a common eye, Ezek. 1:16. The actings of divine providence are many times so dark, intricate, and mysterious—that it will confound men of the most raised parts, and of the choicest experiences, and of the greatest graces, to be able to discern the ways of God in them. There are many mysteries in the works of God—as well as in the word of God. But,
[3.] Thirdly, Sometimes God’s own people sin with others, and therefore they smart with others. Thus Moses and Aaron sinned with others, and therefore they were shut out of Canaan, and their carcasses fell in the wilderness as well as others, Num. 20. Psalm 106:35-36, “but they mingled with the nations and adopted their customs. They worshiped their idols, which became a snare to them.” verse 40, “Therefore the Lord was angry with his people and abhorred his inheritance.” Jer. 9:25-26, “The days are coming,” declares the Lord, “when I will punish all who are circumcised only in the flesh– Egypt, Judah, Edom, Ammon, Moab and all who live in the desert in distant places. For all these nations are really uncircumcised, and even the whole house of Israel is uncircumcised in heart.” See Romans 2:28-29. Such as were outwardly—but not inwardly, circumcised, should be sure to be punished in the day of God’s wrath, with those who were neither inwardly nor outwardly circumcised.
When the good and the bad join in common provocations, no wonder if they suffer in common desolations, Ezek. 9:6; Rev. 18:4; 1 Peter 4:17. Though gross impieties, like pitch or gunpowder, enrages the fire—yet the sins, the infirmities of God’s people add to the flame. Not only Manasseh his bloodshed—but also good Hezekiah’s pride and vanity of spirit, boasting and glorying in his worldly riches, brought on the Babylonish captivity upon the Jews, 2 Chron. 32. But,
[4.] Fourthly, The people of God many times suffer in common calamities, as they are parts and members of that public body that is punished, 2 Sam. 24:10-18. The sins of a city, a society, a company, or a nation, may involve all the members in the same judgment. Though Lot was not guilty of the sins of Sodom—yet Lot was carried away in the captivity of Sodom, as residing with them, Gen. 14:12, 16. [Common calamities make no discrimination between persons and persons, or houses and houses. All common judgments work according to their commission and according to their nature, without distinguishing the righteous from the wicked.] And so though many of the precious servants of the Lord in London were not guilty of those gross impieties that their neighbors were guilty of—yet, residing either with them or near them, they were burnt up and destroyed with them: Achan’s family were not guilty of Achan’s sacrilege, and yet Achan’s family were destroyed for Achan’s sacrilege. The burning of London was a national judgment, and this national judgment was a product of national sins, as I have formerly proved.
Now mark, though the people of God may be personally innocent—yet because they are members of a guilty body, they are liable to undergo the temporal smart of national judgments. Doubtless a whole city may be laid desolate for the wickedness of one man, or of a few men, who dwells in it: Eccles. 9:18, “One sinner destroys much good.” But,
[5.] Fifthly, When godly men who cannot be justly charged with public sins, do yet fall with wicked men by public judgments, you must remember that God has several different ends in inflicting one and the same judgments, both upon the good and upon the bad. The metal and the dross go both into the fire together—but the dross is consumed, and the metal refined, Zech. 13:9; Eccles. 8:12-13. The stalk and the ear of corn fall upon the threshing-floor under one and the same flail; but the one is shattered in pieces, the other is preserved. From one and the same olive, and from under one and the same press is crushed out both oil and dregs—but the one stored up for use, the other thrown out as unserviceable. The same judgments that befall the wicked may befall the righteous—but not upon the same account. The righteous are cast into the furnace for trial—but the wicked for their ruin. The righteous are signally sanctified by fiery dispensations—but the wicked are signally worsened by the same dispensations, Jer. 24:1-3, 5. The very self-same judgment that is as a loadstone to draw the righteous towards heaven, will be as a millstone to sink the wicked down to hell. The pillar of fire that went before Israel had a light side and a dark side; the light side was towards God’s people, and the dark side was towards the Egyptians, Exod. 14:20. The flames of London will prove such a pillar both to the righteous and the wicked. That will certainly be made good upon the righteous and the wicked, whose habitations have been destroyed by London’s flames, that the Greek epigram speaks of the silver axe, the ensign of justice—
“That sword that cuts the bad in twain,
The good does wound and heal again.”
Those dreadful judgments that have been the axe of God’s revenging justice, to wound and break the wicked in pieces, shall be righteous men’s cures and their golden restoratives. But,
[6.] Sixthly and lastly, God sometimes wraps up his own people with the wicked in desolating judgments, that he may before all the world wipe off that reproach which atheists and wicked men are apt to cast upon him, as if he were partial, as if he were a respecter of people, and as if his ways were not just and equal, Ezek. 18:25, 29, and 33:20. God, to stop the mouth of iniquity, the mouth of blasphemy, has made his own people as desolate as others by that fiery calamity that has passed upon them. Such men who have been eyewitnesses of God’s impartial dealing with his own people in those days when London was in flames, must say that God is neither partial nor unjust. And let thus much suffice, by way of answer to this objection.
3. The third duty which lies upon those whose houses have been burnt up, is for them in patience to possess their own souls, and quietly to acquiesce in what the Lord has done. Luke 21:19. O sirs! hold your peace, and bridle your passions, and quietly submit to the stroke of divine justice. When Aaron’s sons were devoured by fire, Aaron held his peace. [Lev. 10:2-3. The Hebrew word signifies silence or stillness; it signifies a staying of the heart, a quieting of the mind. Aaron’s mind was quiet and still; all his unruly affections and passions were stilled and allayed. Oleaster observes that Joshua, in speaking to the sun, “Stand still in Gibeon,” uses the same word, that is here used, Joshua 12:10. Just so, that this phrase, “Aaron held his peace,” imports thus much, That Aaron stood still, or kept from further vexing, or troubling, or disquieting of himself; though at first his heart was in a strange violent motion—yet he recovers himself, and stands still before the Lord.] And will not you hold your peace, now your houses are devoured by fire? What were your houses, compared to Aaron’s sons? All the houses in the world are not so near and dear to a man—as his children are. In this story concerning Aaron and his sons, there are many things remarkable. As,
[1.] That he had lost two of his sons, yes, two of his eldest sons, together at a clap.
[2.] These two were the most honorable of the sons of Aaron: as we may see, Exod. 24:1, in that they alone, with their father and the seventy elders are appointed to come up to the Lord.
[3.] They were cut off by a sudden and unexpected death, when neither themselves nor their father thought their ruin had been so near. What misery to that of being suddenly surprised by a doleful death?
[4.] They were cut off by a way which might seem to testify God’s hot displeasure against them; for they were devoured by fire from God. They sinned by fire, and they perished by fire. Look! as fire came from the Lord before in mercy, so now fire is sent from the Lord in judgment. Certainly the manner of their death pointed out the sin for which they were smitten. Now what father had not rather lose all his children at once, by an ordinary stroke of death, than to see one of them destroyed by God’s immediate hand in such a dreadful manner?
[5.] They were thus smitten by the Lord on the very first day of their entering upon that high honor of their priestly function, and when their hearts were doubtless full of joy. Now to be suddenly thunderstruck in such a sunshine day of mercy, as this seemed to be, must needs add weight to their calamity and misery.
[6.] They were cut off with such great severity for a very small offence, if reason may be permitted to sit as judge in the case. They were made monuments of divine vengeance, only for taking fire to burn the incense from one place, when they should have taken it from another. And this they did, say some, not purposely—but through mistake, and at such a time when they had much work lying upon their hands, and were but newly entered upon their new employment. Now notwithstanding all this—Aaron held his peace. It may be, at first, when he saw his sons devoured by fire, his heart began to wrangle, and his passions began to work; but when he considered the righteousness of God on the one hand, and the glory that God would get to himself on the other hand, he presently checks himself, and lays his hand upon his mouth, and stands still and silent before the Lord.
Though it be not easy in great afflictions, with Aaron, to hold our peace—yet it is very advantageous; which the heathens seemed to intimate in placing the image of Angeronia, with the mouth bound, upon the altar of Volupia—to show that those who prudently and patiently bear and conceal their troubles, sorrows, and anxieties, they shall attain to comfort at last. What the apostle says of the distressed Hebrews, after the confiscation of their goods, “You have need of patience,” Heb. 10:34, 36, the same I may say to you, who have lost your houses, your shops, your trades, your all—You have need, yes, you have great need of patience! Though your mercies are few, and your miseries are many, though your mercies are small, and your miseries are great—yet look that your spirit be quiet, and that you sweetly acquiesce in the will of God.
Now that God has laid his fiery rod upon your backs—it will be your greatest wisdom to lay your hands upon your mouths, and to say with David, “I was silent; I would not open my mouth, for you are the one who has done this.” Psalm 39:9. To be patient and silent under the sharpest providences and the sorest judgments, is as much a Christian’s glory as it is his duty. The patient Christian feels the lack of nothing. Patience will give contentment in the midst of need. No loss, no cross, no affliction will sit heavy upon a patient soul. Dionysius says that this benefit he had by the study of philosophy—namely, that he bore with patience all those alterations and changes that he met with in his outward condition. Now shall nature do more than grace? shall the study of philosophy do more than the study of Christ, Scripture, and a man’s own heart? But,
4. The fourth duty which lies upon those whose houses have been burnt up, is to set up the Lord in a more eminent degree than ever, as the great object of their fear. Oh how should we fear and tremble before the great God, who is able to turn the most serviceable and useful creatures to us—to be the means of destroying of us! Heb. 12:28, “Let us have grace whereby we may serve God acceptably, with reverence and godly fear;” verse 29, “For our God is a consuming fire.” Here are two arguments to work the saints to set up God as the great object of their fear. The first is drawn from the dreadfulness of God’s majesty, “He is a consuming fire.” The second is drawn from the relation which is between God and his people, “Our God.” What a strange title is this of the great God, that we meet with in this place! and yet this is one of the titles of God, expressing his nature, and in which he glories, that he is called “a consuming fire.” These words, “God is a consuming fire,” are not to be taken properly—but metaphorically. Fire, we know, is a very dreadful and dreadful creature; and so may very well serve to set forth to us the dreadfulness and dreadfulness of God. Now God is here said to be a consuming or devouring fire. The word in the original is doubly compounded, and so the signification is augmented and increased, to note to us the exceeding dreadfulness of the fire that is here meant.
When God would set forth himself to be most fearful and dreadful to men, he does it by this resemblance of fire, which of all things is most dreadful and intolerable: Deut. 4:24, “For the Lord your God is a consuming fire, even a jealous God.” The Hebrew word, that is here rendered consuming, does properly signify devouring or eating; it comes from a word which signifies to devour and eat; and by a metaphor, it signifies to consume or destroy. God is a devouring fire, an eating fire; and sinners, and all they have, are but bread and food for divine wrath to feed upon!
Deut. 9:3, “But be assured today that the Lord your God is the one who goes across ahead of you like a devouring fire. He will destroy them; he will subdue them before you. And you will drive them out and annihilate them quickly, as the Lord has promised you.” See Psalm 50:3; Isaiah 33:14; Deut. 28:58. What more violent, what more irresistible, what more dreadful—than fire! Oh how much therefore does it concern us to set up that God as the great object of our fear, who has armed and commanded this dreadful creature, the fire, to destroy us in many or in most of our outward concernments as to this world! Jer. 10:11, “At his wrath the earth shall tremble, and the nations shall not be able to abide his indignation.” Job 13:11, “Would not his splendor terrify you? Would not the dread of him fall on you?” Psalm 119:120, “My flesh trembles in fear of you.” Hab. 3:5, “Before him went the pestilence, and burning coals went forth at his feet;” verse 16, “When I heard, my belly trembled; my lips quivered at the voice: rottenness entered into my bones, and I trembled in myself, that I might rest in the day of trouble.”
Ah London, London! it highly concerns you to tremble and quiver, and stand in awe of that great and glorious God, who has sent so many thousands to their long homes by a sweeping pestilence, and who has by a dreadful fire turned your ancient monuments and your stately buildings into a ruinous heap! That Christian is more worth than the gold of Ophir, who fears more the hand that has laid on the fiery rod, than the rod itself. That prudent and faithful counsel which the prophet Isaiah gives, should always lie warm upon every burnt citizen’s heart: Isaiah 8:13, “The Lord Almighty is the one you are to regard as holy, he is the one you are to fear, he is the one you are to dread.” But,
5. The fifth duty which lies upon those whose houses have been burnt up, is to be contented with their present condition. [The poets bring in their idols, each one content with his own office and estate—Mars with war, Minerva with sciences, Mercury with eloquence, Cupid with love, Jupiter with heaven, and Pluto with hell.] When a man’s mind is brought down to his means—all is well. Contentment of mind under all the turns and changes of this life, makes a believer master both of the world of unruly desires within himself, and of temptations in the world outside of himself. Contentment in a man’s present condition—will yield him a little heaven in the midst of all the great hells, which he meets with in this world. Contentment is a hidden treasure, which the believer will carry with him to the eternal heaven, where an exceeding weight of glory and contentment, with full satisfaction to his desires, will be added to that little stock of contentment that he has obtained in this world. Contentment in every condition, is no other but the house of God, and the gate of heaven, as Jacob once speaks of that gracious manifestation of God, Gen. 28. God dwells in a contented heart, and a contented heart dwells in God. Contentment is that porch wherein the believer waits for an entrance into a house not made with hands—but one eternal in the heaven, 2 Cor. 5:1.
Oh labor much with God, that your hearts may be brought fully under the power of these divine commands—”But godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it. But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that.” 1 Timothy 6:6-8. Keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have, because God has said—Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.” Hebrews 13:5 So Beza and others, “Be content with things present.” The believing Hebrews had been plundered of all they had in this world, Heb. 10:34, when the apostle gave forth this royal command; and yet the apostle requires them to be content. It is as much the duty of a Christian to be content when he has nothing, as when all the world smiles upon him. Christians are soldiers, strangers, travelers, pilgrims—and therefore it concerns them to make do with little things, yes, with anything in this world. The Israelites had no mirthful clothes, nor no new clothes in their wilderness condition; but God made their old clothes to be all clothes to them, and that was enough. Jacob did not ask God for dainties or ornaments—but for food and clothing. Gen. 28:20, “Then Jacob made a vow, saying, “If God will be with me and will watch over me on this journey I am taking and will give me food to eat and clothes to wear, then shall the Lord be my God.”
Nature is content with a little, grace with less; though nothing will satisfy those men’s hearts, whose lusts are their masters. We shall never lack a penny in our purses, for our necessities, until we get to heaven; and therefore let us be content with our present portion in this world.
“I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.” Philippians 4:11-12. In these words you have first the vicissitude of Paul’s outward condition: at one time he abounds, at another he is abased: at one time he is full, and at another time he suffers need. You have the sweet and gracious composure of his spirit, and this is expressed in two singular acts. The first is his contentment of mind in all conditions: “I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation.” The second is his prudent and pertinent behavior with his present condition: “I know both how to be abased, and how to abound.” You have the way how he attained this contentment of mind in all conditions: “I have learned,” says he, “I am instructed;” this lesson of contentment he did not learn at the feet of Dr. Gamaliel—but in the school of Jesus Christ. Contentment in every condition is too high a lesson for any effectually to teach—but Jesus Christ.
O Sirs! in the grave it is all the same—to one who has had all, and to another who has had none. What folly is it to lay up goods for many years, when we cannot lay up one day for the enjoyment of our goods! Christ, who never miscalled any, calls him “fool!” who had much of the world under his hands—but nothing of God or heaven in his heart.
Zopyrus the Persian was contented to sustain the cutting off his nose, and ears, and lips, to further the enterprise of king Darius, against proud Babylon. Just so, Christians should be contented to be anything, to do anything, or to suffer anything, to further or promote the glory of God in this world.
All this whole world is not proportionable to the precious soul. All the riches of the Indies cannot pacify conscience, nor secure eternity, nor prevent death, nor bring you off victorious in the day of judgment; and therefore be contented with a little. All the good things of this world, are but cold comforts: they cannot stretch to eternity, they will not go with us into the eternal world; and therefore why should the lack of such things either trouble our thoughts, or break our hearts? The whole world is but a paradise for fools; it is a beautiful but deceitful harlot; it is a dreamed sweetness, and a very ocean of gall. There is nothing to be found in it that has not mutability and uncertainty, vanity and vexation stamped upon it. And therefore he cannot be truly happy who enjoys it; nor can he be miserable who lacks it. And why then should not he be contented, who has but a little of it? The greatest outward happiness is but honeyed poison; and therefore do not mutter or murmur because you have but little of the world.
All your crosses and losses shall be so tempered by a hand of heaven, as that they shall become wholesome medicines. They shall be steps to your future glory. All your present trials are your only hell; your heaven is to come. And therefore be contented in the midst of all your sorrows and sufferings. Remember that many times they who have most of the world in their hands, have least of God, of Christ, of the Spirit, of grace, of heaven in their hearts. [It is only an infinite good and infinite God, which can fill and satisfy the soul of man.] And remember, that a man were better to have much of God—with a little of the world; than to have much of the world—with a little of God. God alone is a thousand thousand felicities, and a world of happiness, the only life and light.
Algerius the martyr, being swallowed up in a sweet fruition of God, found more light in his dungeon, than with all which was in the world. O sirs! if upon casting up of your accounts for the eternal world, you find that heaven is your home; the world your footstool; the angels your attendants; your Creator your father; your Judge your brother, the Holy Spirit your comforter; if you find that God is ever with you, ever before you, ever within you, ever round about you, and ever a-making of necessary provision for you—why should you not be contented with your present condition, with your present proportion, be it more or be it less? But,
6. The sixth duty which lies upon those whose houses have been burnt up—is to mourn, to lie low, to keep humble under this dreadful judgment of fire, under this mighty hand of God. When Ziklag was burnt by the Amalekites, “David and the people lifted up their voices and wept, until they had no power to weep,” 1 Sam. 30:1-4. They wept their utmost; they wept themselves even blind. They did not stoically slight that fiery rod—but prudently laid it to heart. Tears are called the blood of the soul. Now a shower of tears, a shower of blood, they poured out to quench those flames that the Amalekites had kindled. When they saw their city laid desolate by fire, their sorrow was so great that they were over burdened with the weight of it; and therefore they sought ease in venting their sorrow in a shower of tears.
Just so, when Nehemiah understood that the wall of Jerusalem was broken down, and the gates thereof were burnt with fire, he sat down and wept, and mourned, certain days, Neh. 1:3-4. Some authors report that the Jews to this day come yearly to the place where Jerusalem, the city of their fathers, stood, which was by Titus and Adrian destroyed by fire and sword, and upon the day of the destruction of it weep over it. Oh how well does it befit all burnt citizens to stand and weep over the ashes of London, and greatly to abase themselves under that mighty hand of God, which has been lifted up against them! [Deut. 8:16; Lev. 26:40-42; Luke 14:11; Dan. 5:22.
Augustine says that the first, second, and third virtue of a Christian, is humility. “If I were asked,” says he, “what is the readiest way to attain true happiness, I would answer, The first, the second, the third thing is, humility, humility, humility.” Humility does not only entitle to happiness—but to the highest degree of happiness, Mat. 18:4.] 1 Pet. 5:6, “Humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that he may exalt you in due time.” Ah London, London! how has the mighty hand of the Lord been lifted up against you! how has he by flames of fire laid all your glory in the dust! The Lord, by fire, sword, and pestilence, has greatly humbled you. And oh, when shall it once be that you will be humble under the mighty hand of God! It is one thing to be humbled by judgments; it is another thing to be humble under judgments. There have been many nations, cities, and particular people, who have been greatly humbled by amazing and astonishing judgments, who yet never had so much grace as to lie humble under those judgments. When God’s hand is lifted up very high, he expects that our hearts should fall very low. To be poor and proud is to be doubly miserable. If men’s spirits are high when their estates are low, the next blow will be more dreadful.
God has laid our habitations in dust and ashes, and he expects that we should even humble ourselves in dust and ashes. The only way to avoid cannon shot, is to fall down flat on the ground: the application is easy. Humility exalts: he who is most humble shall be most honorable. Moses in his wilderness-condition was the meekest man on earth, and God made him the most honorable, calling him up unto himself in the mount, and making of him the leader of his people Israel. Gideon was very little in his own eyes, “the least in his father’s house” in his own apprehension; and God exalted him, making him the deliverer of his Israel. He who is little in his own account, is always high in God’s esteem. When one asked the philosopher what God was a-doing? he answered, that his whole work was to lift up the humble and cast down the proud. Those brave creatures, the lion and the eagle, were not offered in sacrifice unto God—but the poor lamb and dove were offered in sacrifice: to note to us, that God regards not your brave, high, lofty spirits, and that he is all for such who are of a dove-like and a lamb-like spirit.
They say if dust is sprinkled upon the wings of bees, their noises, humming, and risings will quickly cease. The Lord, in the recent fiery dispensation, has sprinkled dust and ashes upon us all. And oh, that our proud noises, hummings, and risings of heart might cease from before the Lord, who has risen out of his holy place! Ah London, London! you have been proud of your trade, and proud of your strength, and proud of your riches, and proud of your stately buildings and edifices—but God has now laid all your glory in dust and ashes; and therefore it highly concerns you to humble yourself under the mighty hand of God. God has abased you, and therefore make it your work to be base in your own eyes.
When Nehemiah understood that the Chaldeans, who were a generation of idolaters, had made Jerusalem desolate by fire, he greatly humbled himself under the mighty hand of God. [There is nothing more evident in history than this—namely, that those dreadful fires that have been kindled among the Christians have been still kindled by idolatrous hands.] He looked through all active causes to the efficient cause, and accordingly he abased himself before the Lord: as you may see Neh. 1:3-4, “They said to me, “Those who survived the exile and are back in the province are in great trouble and disgrace. The wall of Jerusalem is broken down, and its gates have been burned with fire.” When I heard these things, I sat down and wept. For some days I mourned and fasted and prayed before the God of heaven.” When Nehemiah heard that the wall of Jerusalem was broken down, and that the gates thereof were burnt with fire, his grief was so great that he could not stand under it, and therefore he sits down and weeps. Who is there who is a man, who is an Englishman, who is a Christian, who is a Protestant—who can behold the ruins of London, and not—at least the frame of his spirit—sit down and weep over those ruins?
The way of ways to be truly, yes, highly exalted, is to be thoroughly humbled. The highest heavens and the lowest hearts do both alike please the most high God, Isaiah 57:15. God will certainly make it his work to exalt those who make it their great work to abase themselves. Such who are low in their own eyes, and can be content to be low in the eyes of others, such are most high and honorable in the eye of God, in the esteem and account of God. The lowly Christian is always the most lovely Christian. Now God has laid your city low, your all low, he expects that your hearts should lie low under his mighty hand. All the world cannot long keep up those men who do not labor to keep down their hearts under judgments inflicted or judgments feared. Remember the sad catastrophe of Herod the Great, of Agrippa the Great, of Pompey the Great, and of Alexander the Great. If your spirits remain great under great judgments, it is an evident sign that more raging judgments lie at your doors. But,
7. The seventh duty which lies upon those whose houses have been burnt up—is to bless a taking God as well as a giving God; it is to encourage themselves in the Lord their God, though he has stripped them of all their worldly goods. Thus did Job when he had lost his all: “The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord,” Job 1:21. One brings in holy Job standing by the ruined house, under whose walls his ten children lay dead and buried, and lifting up his heart and hands towards heaven, saying, “Naked came I out of my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return there: the Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord.” Behold a spectacle—a spectacle worthy of God himself, were he never so intent upon his work in heaven—yet worthy of his cognisance!
When Ziklag was burnt with fire, and David plundered by the Amalekites, and his wives carried captive—yet then he “encouraged himself in the Lord his God,” 1 Sam. 30:1-3, 6. “His God” notes:
[1.] His nearness and dearness to God. Saints are very near and dear to God.
[2.] “His God” notes his relation to God. God is the saint’s Father.
[3.] “His God” notes his rights to God. The whole of God, is the believer’s. All God has, and all he can do, is the believer’s, Psalm 148:14; Eph. 2:13; 2 Cor. 6:18.
From these, and such other like considerations, David encouraged himself in the Lord his God when all was gone; and so should we.
“You sympathized with those in prison and joyfully accepted the confiscation of your property, because you knew that you yourselves had better and lasting possessions.” Hebrews 10:34. And to this duty James exhorts: chapter 1:2, “Count it all joy, my brethren, when you fall into divers temptations,” or tribulations, or afflictions. A Christian in his choicest deliberation ought to count it all joy when he falls into divers tribulations. The words are emphatic; the apostle does not say, “be patient or quiet when you fall into divers temptations or afflictions” —but “be joyful.” Nor the apostle does not say, “be joyful with a little joy” —but be “joyful with exceeding great joy;” the words are a Hebraism. All joy is full joy; all joy is perfect joy. And this befits the saints when they fall, or are begirt round, not with some—but with divers, that is, with any kind of affliction or tribulation. An omnipotent God will certainly turn his people’s misery into felicity; and therefore it concerns them to be divinely merry in the midst of their greatest misery. Oh, that all burnt citizens would seriously consider of these three things—
[1.] That this fiery rod has been a rod in a father’s hand.
[2.] That this fiery rod shall sooner or later be like Aaron’s rod. Choice fruit will one day grow upon this burnt tree! No man can tell what good God may do England by that fiery rod which he has laid upon London.
[3.] That this fiery rod that has been laid upon London has not been laid on,
1. According to the greatness of God’s anger; nor
2. According to the greatness of his power; nor
3. According to the strictness of his justice; nor
4. According to the demerits of our sins; nor
5. According to the expectations of men of a Romish faith; who, it is to be feared, did hope to see every house laid desolate, and London made an Aceldama, a field of blood, Acts 1:19; nor
6. According to the extensiveness of many of your fears; for many of you have feared worse things than yet you feel.
Now, upon all these considerations, how highly does it concern the people of God to be thankful and cheerful; yes, and to encourage themselves in the Lord under that fiery dispensation that has lately passed upon them!
QUESTION. But what is there considerable in GOD, to encourage the soul under heavy crosses, and great losses, and fiery trials?
[1.] First, There is his gracious, his special, and peculiar PRESENCE. Dan. 3:24-25. Psalm 23:4, “Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.” Psalm 91:15, “He will call upon me, and I will answer him; I will be with him in trouble.” Oh, the precious presence of God with a man’s spirit will sweeten every fiery dispensation, and take off much of the bitterness and dreadfulness of it. In the gracious presence of God with our spirits lies,
(1.) Our greatest happiness.
(2.) Our greatest honor.
(3.) Our greatest profit and advantage.
(4.) Our greatest joy and delight.
(5.) Our greatest safety and security.
The bush, which was a type of the church, consumed not all the while it burned with fire, because God was in the midst of it. The gracious presence of God with a man’s spirit will make heavy afflictions light, and long afflictions short, and bitter afflictions sweet, 2 Cor. 4:16-18. God’s gracious presence makes every burden light, Psalm 55:22. He who has the presence of God with his spirit, can bear a burden without a burden, Deut. 33:27, 29. What burden can sink that man, who has everlasting arms under him, and over him, and round about him? But,
[2.] Secondly, There is WISDOM in God to encourage them under all their trials. Jer. 24:5; Romans 8:28. There is wisdom in God so to temper and order all judgments, afflictions, crosses, and losses—as to make them work kindly and sweetly for their good. While God is near us, wisdom and counsel is at hand. God is that wise and skillful physician, who can turn poison into cordials, diseases into remedies, crosses into crowns, and the greatest losses into the greatest gains. What can hurt us, while an infinite wise God stands by us? But,
[3.] Thirdly, There is strength, POWER, and omnipotency in God to encourage them. Proverbs 18:10; Psalm 46:1-2; Isaiah 26:4; Psalm 3:17. There is nothing too high for him, nor anything too hard for him: he is able easily and speedily to bring to pass all his wise plans and purposes. You read of many who have been mighty—but you read but of one Almighty: Rev. 4:8, “Holy, holy, holy, Lord God Almighty.” Chapter 11:17, “We give you thanks, Lord God Almighty.” Chapter 15:3, “Great and marvelous are your works, Lord God Almighty.” Chapter 16:7, “And I heard another out of the altar say, etc., even so, Lord God Almighty, true and righteous are your judgments.” Under all your fiery trials an almighty God can do mighty things for you. And therefore it concerns you to encourage yourselves in him, even when you are stripped of all.
O Christians, it highly concerns you to bear all your losses cheerfully and thankfully, “In everything give thanks,” says the apostle; “for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you,” 1 Thes. 5:18. Chrysostom speaks excellently: “This,” says he, “is the very will of God, to give thanks always;” this argues a soul rightly instructed. Have you suffered any evil? if you will, it is no evil. Give thanks to God, and then you have turned the evil into good. Say as Job said when he had lost all, “The Lord has given, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord.”
What evil have you suffered? What! is it a disease? This is no strange thing to us, seeing our bodies are mortal and naturally born to suffer. What! do you lack money? this may be gotten here, and lost here. Whatever evils or losses therefore do oppress you, give thanks, and you have changed the nature of them. Job then did more deeply wound the devil, when, being stripped out of all, he gave thanks to God, than if he had distributed all to the poor and needy. For it is much more to be stripped of all, and yet to bear it patiently, generously, and thankfully, than for a rich man to give alms, as it here happened to righteous Job. But has fire suddenly taken hold upon your house, destroyed your house, and consumed your whole substance? Remember the sufferings of Job. Give thanks to God, who could, though he did not, have hindered that affliction; and you shall be sure to receive as equal a reward, as if you had put all into the bosom of the indigent. This he repeats over again, and says your reward, being thankful, is equal to his who gave all he had to the poor.
To wind up your hearts to thankfulness and cheerfulness under this recent desolating judgment, consider,
(1.) God might have taken away all. It is good to bless him for what he has left.
(2.) He has taken away more from others than he has taken away from you— consequently, be thankful.
(3.) You are unworthy of the least mercy, you deserve to be stripped of every mercy; and therefore be thankful for anything that is left. God has a sovereign right over all you have, and might have stripped you as naked as the day wherein you were born.
(4.) God has left you better and greater mercies than any those were that he has stripped you of—namely, your lives, your limbs, your friends, your relations, yes, and the means of grace, which is better than all, and more than all other mercies— consequently, be thankful.
(5.) The Lord has given those choice things to you, as shall never be taken from you—namely, himself, his Son, his Spirit, which shall abide with you forever; his grace, which is an abiding seed; and his peace, which none can give to you nor take from you— consequently, be thankful, though God has laid all your pleasant things desolate, John 16; 1 John 3:9.
(6.) Thankfulness under crosses and losses, speak out much integrity and sincerity of spirit. Hypocrites and profane people are more apt to blaspheme than to bless a taking God— consequently, be thankful. Ingratitude is a monster in nature, a solecism in manners, a paradox in grace, damming up the course of donations divine and human. If there be any sin in the world against the Holy Spirit, said one—it is ingratitude. The laws of Persia, Macedonia, and Athens, condemned the ungrateful to death; and unthankfulness may well be styled the epitome of vices. Ingratitude was so hateful to the Egyptians, that they used to make eunuchs of ungrateful people, that no posterity of theirs might remain. Well, sirs, remember this—the best way to get much, is to be thankful for a little. God loves to sow much where he reaps much. Thankfulness for one mercy, makes way for another mercy—as many thousand Christians have experienced. The Lord’s payment for all his blessings, is our thankfulness. Our returns must be according to our receipts. Godly men should be like the bells, which ring as pleasantly at a funeral as at a wedding. They should be as thankful when it goes ill with them, as when it goes well with them. Cicero complained of old that it was a hard thing to find a thankful man. Oh how hard a thing is it to find burnt citizens really, cordially, frequently, and practically thankful that they are alive, that they are out of the grave, out of hell, and that yet they have bread to eat, and clothes to wear—though their habitations are laid in ashes, and all their pleasant things destroyed! But,
8. The eighth duty which lies upon those whose houses have been burnt up—is to keep in their hearts a constant remembrance of the recent dreadful conflagration. God expects that his children should commemorate his judgments, as well as his mercies. The severe judgment that God inflicted upon Sodom is mentioned thirteen times in the blessed Scripture, and all to work us to mind it, and to abhor those sins that laid that city desolate, Isaiah 26:8-9; Psalm 119:30, 120. The Lord looks that his people should keep up fresh in their memories such judgments that have been long before executed: Jer. 7:12, “Go now to the place in Shiloh where I first made a dwelling for my Name, and see what I did to it because of the wickedness of my people Israel.” The ark of old stood at Shiloh—but after it was taken and carried away by the Philistines it was never brought back, and from that time Shiloh lay ever after desolate, 1 Sam. 4:10-11. And this the Lord would have engraved upon their memories, and upon their hearts. Though stony hearts are bad—yet iron memories are good!
Luke 17:32, “Remember Lot’s wife.” Consider her sin and her punishment; so that fearing the one, you may learn to take heed of the other!
2 Pet. 2:6, “He condemned the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah by burning them to ashes, and made them an example of what is going to happen to the ungodly.” Why has God turned those rich and populous cities into ashes, and set them up as burning beacons—but to warn all the world that they live not ungodly, and to work them to keep alive in their memories the desolating judgments of God? The Rabbis say that the Jews at this day, when they are to build a house, they are to leave one part of it unfinished and lying crude, in remembrance that Jerusalem and the temple are at present desolate. Oh let the remembrance of London’s desolation by fire be forever kept up in all your hearts. To this purpose consider,
[1.] That the burning of London is a very great judgment, as I have formerly proved. Now great judgments, like great mercies, should be always kept up fresh in our memories.
[2.] The burning of London is a national judgment, as I have formerly proved. Now national judgments should be always fresh in our memories.
[3.] It is a judgment that carries much of the wrath and anger of the Lord in it: Amos 3:6, “When a trumpet sounds in a city, do not the people tremble? When disaster comes to a city, has not the Lord caused it?” Verse 8, “The lion has roared—who will not fear? The Sovereign Lord has spoken—who can but prophesy?” Now the more anger and wrath we read in any judgment, the more highly it concerns us to remember that judgment.
[4.] A serious commemoration of God’s judgments is a thing that is highly pleasing to the Lord. God delights as much in the glory of his justice, as he does in the glory of his mercy or grace. Now when we commemorate his judgments, we glorify his justice which has inflicted them.
[5.] Severe judgments contribute much to the enlightening of men’s understandings, and to the awakening of their consciences, and the reforming of their lives, and to work men to judge them, and justify the Lord. And therefore it highly concerns you to keep up the remembrance of London’s desolation by fire always fresh and flourishing in your souls, Hosea 5:14-15, and 6:1-3; Jer. 24:1-6, and 22:8-9.
[6.] Sharp judgments are teaching things. All God’s rods have a voice. “Hear the rod, and him who has appointed it,” Micah 6:9. Look! as Gideon taught the men of Succoth by thorns and briers, so God, by piercing judgments, teaches both sinners and saints to take heed of despising his patience and long-suffering, and to cease from doing evil and to learn to do well, Isaiah 1:16, 17; and to fear and fly from all such sinful courses or practices that bring destructive judgments upon the most glorious cities in the world. And upon this account, how deeply does it concern us to have always the recent fiery dispensation in our thoughts and upon our hearts!
[7.] All God’s judgments are his messengers; they are all at his command. The centurion had not such a sovereign power over his servants, as the great God has over all sorts of judgments. If the Lord does but hiss for the fly of Egypt and the bee of Assyria, they shall come and do their office, Ezek. 14:13, 15, 17, 19; Mat. 21:8; Isaiah 7:18-19. Now all God’s messengers, as well as his mercies, should still be kept in our eye. But,
[8.] and lastly, Consider a serious commemoration of the judgments of God will difference and distinguish you from all profane people and unsound professors: Psalm 10:5, “Your judgments are far above out of his sight.” Your judgments, that is, the plagues and punishments which you lay upon the ungodly, are high above his sight; that is, he fears them not, he thinks not of them, he minds them not, he does not seriously consider of them, he is not kindly or deeply affected with them, he regards them no more than a tale that is told, or than foreign wars wherein he is not concerned. Others carry the words thus: He casts your judgments out of his sight, he will not so much as once mind them; they are too high for him to set them before him; they are hidden before him; they are above the reach of his understanding and apprehension.
Both mercies and judgments have much of God in them. They speak, and speak aloud; but wicked men can neither see, nor hear, nor understand the voice of God either in the one or in the other. I have read of such a pestilential disease once at Athens, as took away the memories of those who were infected with it, so that they forgot even their own names. One pestilential disease or another usually so seizes upon wicked men, that they easily and usually forget the judgments of God. If God sets in with these eight arguments, they will contribute more to the enabling of you to keep the recent fiery dispensations of God fresh in your memories, than all the pillars of brass or stone in the world. But,
9. The ninth duty which lies upon those whose houses have been burnt up—is to see the vanity, mutability, and uncertainty of all worldly comforts and enjoyments, and accordingly to sit loose from them, and to get their affections weaned from them. 1 Tim. 6:17; 1 John 2:17; Heb. 11:25. Behold, in four days’ time a glorious city is turned into a ruinous heap, and a little world of wealth is laid in ashes, and many hundreds of families almost reduced to beggary. And are not these loud sermons of the vanity, mutability, and uncertainty of all earthly things? That is good advice Solomon gives: Proverbs 23:4-5, “Do not wear yourself out to get rich; have the wisdom to show restraint. Cast but a glance at riches, and they are gone, for they will surely sprout wings and fly off to the sky like an eagle.” [He says not, they take wing—but they sprout them; and not the wings of a hawk, to fly away and to come again to a man’s fist—but the wings of an eagle, to fly quite away.]
The only thing certain about riches—is that they are uncertain. Riches, like bad servants, never stay long with one master. Did not the citizens of London see their riches flying away from them upon the wings of the fire and of the wind, when their own and their neighbors’ habitations were all in flames? O sirs, what certainty can there be in those things which balls of fire, storms at sea, false oaths, or treacherous friends may in a few days, yes, in a day, an hour, deprive us of? God can soon clap a pair of wings upon all a man has in this world. And therefore he acts safest and wisest, who sits most loose from the things of the world. “Riches are not forever; and the crown does not endure to every generation,” Proverbs 27:4. This, Adoni-bezek, Belshazzar, and many other great princes have found by experience, as Scripture and histories do sufficiently testify.
In all the ages of the world the testimony of Solomon holds good: Eccles. 1:2, “Vanity of vanities, says the Preacher, vanity of vanities; all is vanity.” The things of this world are not only vain—but vanity in the abstract. They are excessive vanity; vanity of vanities; yes, they are a heap of vanity; vanity of vanities. [All in heaven write ‘vanity of vanities’ upon all worldly things; and all in hell write ‘vanity of vanities’ upon all worldly things: and why should not all on earth write ‘vanity of vanities’ upon all worldly things? 1 Kings 9:13; Gen. 3.] And this the burnt citizens have found by sad experience. The world is all shadow and vanity. The world is like Jonah’s gourd, a man may sit under its shadow for a while—but it soon withers, decays, and dies. He who shall but weigh man’s pains with his pay, his miseries with his mercies, his sorrows with his joys, his crosses with his comforts, his needs with his enjoyments, etc., may well cry out, Oh the vanity and uncertainty of all these earthly things!
Thus the world in all its bravery is no better than the cities which Solomon gave to Hiram, which he called ‘Cabul,’ that is, displeasing or dirty. All the great, the mirthful, the glorious things of the world, may fitly be resembled to the fruit that undid us all, which was fair to the sight, smooth in handling, sweet in taste—but deadly in operation.
A man may be happy that is not wealthy; witness Lazarus, and those worthies of whom this world was not worthy, Heb. 11. But how hard a thing is it for a man who is wealthy to be happy: Mat. 19:24, “It is easier for a camel,”—or a thick cable-rope, as some render it—”to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God.” There are several expositions upon these words.
[1.] First, Some say that there was a little gate in Jerusalem called the Needle’s-eye, which was so low and little that it was impossible for a camel to enter in at it with his burden, and therefore when camels came that way they took off their loads, and the camels themselves were forced to stoop before they could pass through the gate. Some think that our Savior alludes to this. But,
[2.] Secondly, Others interpret it of a cable-rope or cord, and then thus they expound the words: A man cannot by any means possible put a cable through a needle’s eye—but if he untwist it, he may by thread and thread put it through.
[3.] Thirdly, Others say these words are a proverbial speech, for the Talmud had a proverb, “Are you of Pambeditha, who can cause an elephant to go through a needle’s eye?” Those of Pambeditha were great braggers; they would boast to others that they could do very great things and very strange things. Hence came that proverb among them, It is easier to cause an elephant to go through a needle’s eye, than to do thus or thus. Now our Savior uses the word camel because he was better known to them. It was usual, say others, with the Jews to say, when difficult matters were promised, Have you been at Pambeditha, where camels go through the eyes of needles? But,
[4.] Fourthly and lastly, The plain and simple meaning of this proverbial speech is doubtless this—namely, that it is as impossible for such a rich man to be saved, who trusts in his riches, and who set a higher price upon his riches than upon Christ, and who will rather part with Christ than part with his riches, and who will rather go to hell rich than to heaven poor—as it is for a camel to go through the eye of a needle. The proverbial speech, say others, notes the difficulty of rich men’s being saved.
Hab. 2:6, “Woe to him who ladens himself with thick clay.” Thick clay will sooner break a man’s back—than satisfy his heart. And oh what a folly and madness is it for a man to be still a-loading of himself with the clay of this world! In Gen. 13:2, it is said that Abraham was very rich in cattle, in silver, and in gold; the word signifies—he was very heavy, to show that riches, that gold and silver—which is the great God of the world, the paradise, the all in all, the great Diana that all the world magnifies and worships—are but heavy burdens, and rather a hindrance than a help to heaven and happiness. Though the rich man in the Gospel fared and lived like a gentleman, a noble, a knight; yet when he died he went to hell, Luke 16. Though mammon, as Aretius and many others observe, is a Syriac word, and signifies riches—yet Irenaeus derives mammon of mum, that signifies a spot, and hon, that signifies riches; to show that riches have their spots: and yet, oh how in love are men with these spots! how laborious, how industrious are men to add spots to spots, bags to bags, houses to houses, and lands to lands, and estates to estates—as if there were no hell to escape, nor any heaven to make sure of! Isaiah 5:8.
O sirs, the voice of God in that fiery dispensation that has lately passed upon us seems to be this, “O you citizens of London, whose habitations and glory I have laid in dust and ashes, sit loose from this world, and set your affections upon things above! Live in this world as pilgrims and strangers. Remember this is not your resting-place; never more be inordinate in your love to the world, nor in your delight in the world, nor in your pursuit of the world! Col. 3:1; Heb. 11:13; Jer. 1:6; Micah 2:10. Never spend so many thoughts upon the world, nor ever send forth so many wishes after the world, nor ever spend so much precious time to gain the world, as you have formerly done. Take off your thoughts, take off your hearts, take off your hands—from all these uncertain things. Remember it will not be long before you must all go to your long home, and a little of the world will serve you, until you get to heaven. Remember I have burnt up your city, I have poured contempt upon your city, I have stained the pride and glory of your city; so that seeing you have here no continuing city, you may seek one to come, Heb. 13:14. Remember I have destroyed your houses, so that you may make sure a house not made with hands—but one eternal in the heavens, 2 Cor. 5:1. I have taken away your uncertain riches, so that you may make sure more durable riches, Proverbs 8:18. I have spoiled many of your thriving trades, so that you might drive a more thriving trade towards heaven, Phil. 3:20. Oh, that I had no just grounds to be jealous that many who have been great losers by the fire are now more mad upon the world, and more eagerly carried after the world, than ever they have been! as if the great design of God in setting them on fire round about was only to enlarge their desires more after the world, and more effectually to engage them to moil and toil as in the fire, to lay up treasure for another fire to consume. Before I close up this particular, let me offer a few things to your consideration—
[1.] First, Are there none of the burnt citizens who seek the world in the first place—and Christ and heaven in the last place? who are first for earth—and then for heaven? first for the world—and then for Christ? Mat. 6:33; John 6:27; first for the food which perishes—and then for the food which endures unto everlasting life? The old poet’s note was, first for money and then for Christ. But,
[2.] Secondly, Are there none of the burnt citizens whose love, and hearts, and affections are running more out after the world than they are after God, and Christ, and the great things of eternity? 1 Tim. 6:9, and Jer. 17:11. Are there none of the burnt citizens who are peremptorily resolved to gain the world, whatever it costs them?
The Gnostics were a sort of professors who made no use of their religion but to their secular advantages, and therefore when the world and their religion stood in competition, they made no scruple, no bones of renouncing their profession to enjoy the world. Oh the deadness, the barrenness, the listlessness, the heartlessness to anything that is divine and heavenly–which always attends such professors who are resolved to be rich, or great, or somebody in the world! Oh the time, the thoughts, the strength, the spirits that these men spend upon the world–while their souls lie a-bleeding, and eternity is posting on upon them! Men who are highly and fully resolved to be rich–will certainly forget God, undervalue Christ, grieve the Spirit, slight ordinances, and neglect such gracious opportunities as might make them happy forever. Rich Felix had no leisure to hear poor Paul, though the hearing of a sermon might have saved his soul, Acts 24:24-25. But,
[3.] Thirdly, Are there none of the burnt citizens who spend the first of their time, and the best of their time, and the most of their time about the things of the world, and who ordinarily put off Christ and their souls with the least, and last, and worst of their time? The world shall freely have many hours, when Christ can hardly get one. Are there none who will have their eating times, and their drinking times, and their sleeping times, and their buying times, and their selling times, and their feasting times, and their sporting times, yes, and their sinning times—who yet can spare no time to hear, or read, or pray, or mourn, or repent, or reform, or to set up Christ in their families, or to wait upon him in their closets? Are there not many who will have time for everything but to honor the Lord, and to secure their interest in Christ, and to make themselves happy forever?
Look! as Pharaoh’s lean cows ate up the fat cows, so many now are fallen into such a crowd of worldly business, as eats up all that precious time which should be spent in holy and heavenly exercises.
[4.] Fourthly, Are there none of the burnt citizens who daily prefer the world before Christ; yes, the worst of the world before the best of Christ? The Gergesenes preferred their swine before a Savior; they had rather lose Christ than lose their hogs, Mat. 8:28-34, seq. They had rather that the devil should still possess their souls, than that Jesus should drown their pigs. They preferred their swine before their salvation, and presented a wretched petition for their own damnation. “For they besought him”—who had all love, and life, and light, and grace, and glory, and fullness in himself, Col. 1:19, and 2:3—”that he would depart out of their coasts.” Though there is no misery, no plague, no curse, no wrath, no hell, compared to Christ’s departure from a people—yet men who are mad upon the world will desire this. [Hosea 9:12. The Reubenites preferred the country that was commodious for the feeding of their cattle, though it were far from the temple, far from the means of grace, before their interest in the land of Canaan.]
Bernard had rather be in his chimney-corner with Christ, than in heaven without him, at so high a rate he valued Christ. There was a godly man who once cried out, “I had rather have one Christ than a thousand worlds!” Another mourned because he could not prize Christ enough. But how few burnt citizens are of these men’s minds! It was a sweet prayer of one, “Make your Son dear, very dear, exceeding dear, only dear and precious to me, or not at all.” But do all burnt citizens lift up such a prayer? I suppose you have either read or heard of that rich and wretched cardinal who professed that he would not leave his part in Paris, for a part in paradise. But,
[5.] Fifthly, Are there no burnt citizens who follow the world so close, that they gain no good by the word? like Ezekiel’s hearers, and like the stony ground, Ezek. 33:31-33, and Mat. 13:22. Some say that nothing will grow where gold grows. Certainly, where an inordinate love of the world grows, there nothing will grow that is good. A heart filled either with the love of the world, or with the profits of the world, or with the pleasures of the world, or with the honors of the world, or with the cares of the world, or with the business of the world—is a heart incapacitated to receive any divine counsel or comfort from the word!
The poets tells us of Lycaon’s being turned into a wolf; but when a worldling is wrought upon by the word, there is a wolf turned into a man; yes, an incarnate devil turned into a glorious saint. Therefore the Holy Spirit, speaking of Zaccheus, whose soul was set upon the world, brings him in with an Behold! Luke 19:2, as if it were a wonder of wonders that ever such a worldling should be subdued by grace, and brought in to Christ. But,
[6.] Sixthly, Are there no burnt citizens who are very angry and impatient when they meet with opposition, disappointments, or procrastination in their earnest pursuing after the things of the world? Are there no burnt citizens who are so intent and mad upon the world, that they will hotly seek the world, though the Lord draws, and conscience draws, and the Scriptures draw them away from the world? But,
[7.] Seventhly, Are there no burnt citizens who are grown cold, very cold, yes, even stark cold, in their pursuit after God, and Christ, and heaven, and holiness, who once were for taking the kingdom of heaven by storm, who were so eagerly and earnestly set upon making a prey or a prize of the great things of that upper world, that they were highly and fully resolved to make sure of them, whatever pains or perils they run through? [Mat. 11:12. As a castle or town is taken by storm.] Aristotle observes, that dogs cannot hunt where the smell of sweet flowers is, because the sweet scent diverts the smell. Ah, how has the scent of the sweet flowers of this world hindered many a forward professor from hunting after God and Christ and the great things of eternity! The Arabic proverb says, “That the world is a carcass, and those who hunt after it are dogs.” Ah, how many are there who once set their faces towards heaven, who now hunt more after earth than heaven; who hunt more after terrestrial than celestial things; who hunt more after nothingnesses and emptinesses, than they do after those fulnesses and sweetnesses which are in God, in Christ, in the covenant, in heaven, and in those paths which lead to eternal happiness! When one desired to know what kind of man Basil was, there was presented to him in a dream, says the history, a pillar of fire, with this motto, “Basil is such a one, all on a-light fire for God.” Before London was in flames, there were some who for a time were all on a-light fire for God, who now are grown either cold, or lukewarm, like the lukewarm Laodiceans, Rev. 3:14, 19. But,
[8.] Eighthly, Are there no burnt citizens whose hearts are filled with solicitous cares, and who are inordinately troubled, grieved, dejected, and overwhelmed upon the account of their recent losses? And what does this speak out but an inordinate love of these earthly things? 2 Cor. 7:10. When Jonah’s gourd withered, Jonah was much enraged and dejected, Jonah 4:6, seq. It is said of Adam that he turned his face towards the garden of Eden, and from his heart lamented his fall. Ah, how many are there in this day who, turning their faces towards their recent lost mercies, their lost shops, trades, houses, riches, do so bitterly and excessively lament and mourn, that with Rachel, they refuse to be comforted, Jer. 31:15, and with Jacob, they will go down into the grave mourning! Gen. 37:35. [One cries out, “How shall I live, now that I have lost my trade?” Another cries out, “What shall I do when I am old?” Another cries out, “What shall I and my six children do?” Another cries out, “I have but a handful of meal in the barrel, and a little oil in the cruse, and when that is spent I must lie down and die!” 1 Kings 17:12, etc.]
Heraclitus the philosopher was always weeping; but such a frame of spirit is no honor to God, nor no ornament to religion. (1.) There is a holy sadness, which arises from the sense of our sins and our Savior’s sufferings: this is commendable. (2.) There is a natural sadness, which sometimes arises from sickness; weakness, and indisposition of body; this is to be pitied and cured. (3.) There is a sinful sadness, which usually is very furious, and has no ears, and is rather cured by miracle than precept. This usually flows from the loss of such near and dear comforts upon which men have inordinately set their hearts, and in the enjoyment of which they have promised themselves no small felicity. Oh, that such sad souls would seriously remember that there is nothing beyond remedy—but the tears of the damned! A man who may, notwithstanding all his losses and crosses, be found walking in the way to paradise, should never place himself in the condition of a little hell. And he who may or can hope for that great-all, ought not to be excessively sad for any losses or crosses which he meets with in this world. But,
[9.] Ninthly, Are there no burnt citizens who, to gain the world, do very easily and frequently fall down before the temptations of the world? And what does this speak out—but their inordinate love to the world? That man who is as soon conquered as tempted, vanquished as assaulted by the world—that man is doubtless in love with the world, yes, bewitched by the world. Num. 22:15-23; Josh. 7:20-22; Jude 11. The champions could not wring an apple out of Milo’s hand by strong hand—but a fair maid by fair means got it immediately. The easy conquests that the temptations of the world make upon many men, is a fair and a full evidence that their hearts are greatly endeared to it. Luther was a man weaned from the world; and therefore when honors, preferments, and riches were offered to him, he despised them. Just so, when Basil was tempted with money and preferment, he answered, “The fashion of this world passes away, as the waters of a river that runs by a city, or as a fair picture drawn upon the ice, that melts away with it.” “Give money,” said he, “that may last forever, and glory that may eternally flourish.” [In Queen Mary’s time, when some offered a certain martyr money, he refused it, saying, “I am going to a country where money will be worthless.”]
I have read of a godly Christian, who being tempted with offers of money to desert his religion, gave this excellent answer, “Let not any think that he will embrace other men’s goods to forsake Christ, who has forsaken his own proper goods to follow Christ.” It was an excellent answer of one of the martyrs, when he was offered riches and honors if he would recant, “Do but offer me something that is better than my Lord Jesus Christ, and I will consider your offer.” Thus you see that men who are crucified to this world do not only resist—but also triumph over all the glittering temptations of a tempting and enticing world. And oh, that such a spirit might rest upon all those whose habitations are laid desolate But,
[10.] Tenthly and lastly, Are there no burnt citizens who go to the utmost of their line and liberty, for the gaining of the things of this world? Ah, how near the pit’s brink, how near the borders of sin, how near the flames of vengeance, how near the infernal fire—do many venture to gain the things of this world! And what does this speak out—but an inordinate love of this world? O sirs, what do all these things evidence—but this, that though God has fired many men out of their houses—yet the inordinate love of this world is not fired out of their hearts!
O sirs, to moderate your affections to the things of this world, and to put a stop to your too eager pursuit after earthly things, seriously and frequently dwell upon these ten maxims—
[1.] First, That the shortest, surest, and safest way to be rich, is to be content with your present portion, Eccles. 5:12. The philosopher could say, “He who is content lacks nothing; and he who lacks contentment enjoys nothing.”
“One might have riches—yet be very poor;
One might have little—yet have all and more.”
[2.] Secondly, He who is not contented with a little, will never be satisfied with much. He who is not content with pounds, will never be satisfied with hundreds; and he who is not content with a few hundreds, will never be satisfied with many thousands: [“Much treasure stops not a miser’s mouth,” says the proverb.] “Whoever loves money never has money enough; whoever loves wealth is never satisfied with his income.” Ecclesiastes 5:10. Money of itself, cannot satisfy any desire of nature. If a man be hungry, it cannot feed him; if naked, it cannot clothe him; if cold, it cannot warm him; if sick, it cannot recover him. A circle cannot fill a triangle; no more can the whole world fill the heart of man. A man may as soon fill a chest with grace, as a heart with wealth. The soul of man may be busied about earthly things—but it can never be filled nor satisfied with earthly things. Air shall as soon fill the body, as money shall satisfy the mind. There is many a worldling who has enough of the world to sink him, who will never have enough of the world to satisfy him. The more a hydropical man drinks, the more he thirsts. Just so, the more money is increased—the more the love of money is increased; and the more the love of money is increased—the more the soul is unsatisfied. It is only an infinite God, and an infinite good, which can fill and satisfy the precious and immortal soul of man, Gen. 15:1.
Look! as nothing fits the ear but sounds, and as nothing fits the smell but odors, so nothing fits the soul but God. Nothing below the great God can fit and fill an immortal soul. Nothing can content the soul of man, but the fruition of God. Nature has taught all men to seek after a summum bonum—a highest good. God never rested until he made man; and man can never rest until he enjoys his God. Every man has a soul within him of a vast capacity, and nothing can fill it to the brim but he who is fullness itself. Should we knock at every creature’s door for happiness, they would all answer us, “that happiness is not in them.”
The man in Plutarch that heard the philosophers wrangle about summum bonum, one placing of it in this, and another in that, went to the market and bought up all that was good, hoping among all he should not miss of happiness; and yet he missed of it. The soul of man is of so glorious a make, that nothing below him who made it can satisfy it. The sum of all that the creatures amount to, according to Solomon’s reckoning, is vanity and vexation of spirit. Vanity and vexation is the very quintessence of the creature, and all that can possibly be extracted out of it. Now if vanity can satisfy, or if vexation can give contentment; if you can gather grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles, then go on and dote upon the world still, and be always enamored with a shadow of perishing beauty. Oramuzes the enchanter boasted that in his egg all the happiness in the world was included; but being broken, there was nothing in it but wind and emptiness. But,
[3.] Thirdly, It is infinitely better to have much of God, of Christ, of the Spirit of holiness and of heaven in our hearts, with a little of the world in our hands, than to have much of the world in our hands, and but a little of God and Christ in our hearts, 2 Cor. 6:10. It is infinitely better to be rich towards God, and poor towards the world, than to be poor towards God, and to be rich towards the world. There are some very rich, who yet are very poor; there are others who are very poor, and yet are very rich, Eccles. 5:12; Proverbs 11:24. It is infinitely better to be poor men and rich Christians, than to be rich men and poor Christians. But,
[4.] Fourthly, The best and surest way under heaven to gain much of the world, is to mind the world less—and God, and Christ, and grace, and heaven more. “So give your servant a discerning heart to govern your people and to distinguish between right and wrong. For who is able to govern this great people of yours?” The Lord was pleased that Solomon had asked for this. So God said to him, “Since you have asked for this and not for long life or wealth for yourself, nor have asked for the death of your enemies but for discernment in administering justice, I will do what you have asked. I will give you a wise and discerning heart, so that there will never have been anyone like you, nor will there ever be. Moreover, I will give you what you have not asked for–both riches and honor–so that in your lifetime you will have no equal among kings.” 1 Kings 3:9-13. This is more generally and fully expressed in 2 Chron. 1:11-12, “God said to Solomon, “Since this is your heart’s desire and you have not asked for wealth, riches or honor, nor for the death of your enemies, and since you have not asked for a long life but for wisdom and knowledge to govern my people over whom I have made you king, therefore wisdom and knowledge will be given you. And I will also give you wealth, riches and honor, such as no king who was before you ever had and none after you will have.” Solomon desired wisdom of the Lord, and the Lord granted him his desire—and cast in riches, and wealth, and honor to boot—which he did not so much as once desire.
God won’t be lacking to them in temporals, who in their desires and prayers are most carried out after spirituals! [The short cut to riches is by their contempt: it is great riches not to desire riches. “He has most that covets least,” say Socrates and Seneca.] Mat. 6:33, “First seek the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added to you,” or over-added. He who before all, and above all other things—seeks grace and glory, shall have the things of this world cast in to boot—as an extra handful into the sack of grain, or an extra inch to an ell of cloth, or as paper and packthread is thrown into the bargain.
1 Tim. 4:8, “Godliness is profitable unto all things, having the promise of the life that now is, and of that which is to come.” There is earth as well as heaven; bread as well as grace; and raiment as well as righteousness; and the lower springs as well as the upper springs—to be found in the precious promises, 2 Pet. 1:4. Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob, and Joseph, and Job, and Nehemiah, and Mordecai, and David, and Hezekiah, and Josiah, and Jehoshaphat, and Daniel, and the three children, or rather champions, made it their business to be holy, to walk with God, to maintain communion with God, and to exalt and glorify God—and you know how the Lord heaped up the good things and the great things of this world upon them. I truly believe, that if men were more holy, they would be more outwardly happy; if they did but more seriously and earnestly press after the great things of that upper world, the Lord would more abundantly cast in the things of this lower world upon them. But when men are immoderately carried out in seeking after the great things of this world, it is just with God to blast their endeavors, and to curse their mercies to them, Jer. 45:5; Mal. 2:2. But,
[5.] Fifthly, It is better to get a little of the world, than to get much of the world; it is better to get a little of the world justly and honestly, than to get much of the world unjustly and dishonestly. A little of the world blessed by God—is better than much of the world cursed by God. Solomon’s dinner of green herbs, Daniel’s vegetables, barley loaves, and a few fishes, and John’s rough garment—blessed; are better and greater mercies than Dives’ riches, purple robes, and dainty fare—cursed, Gen. 22; Proverbs 3:33, and 15:17; Dan. 1. But,
[6.] Sixthly, The greatest outward gain cannot offset the least spiritual loss, Psalm 30:6-7; be it but a grain of grace, or a cast of God’s countenance, or an hour’s communion with him, etc. Suppose a man could heap up silver as the dust, and gold as the streams of the brook, that he could gain as much as the devil promised Christ—namely, all the kingdoms of the world, and the glory of them; yet all these could not make up the least spiritual loss, Job 22:24, and 27:16; Mat. 4:1-11. He who shall exchange the least spiritual favor for the greatest outward good, shall but, with Glaucus and Diomedes, exchange gold for copper; he shall, with the rooster in the fable, part with a diamond for a grain of barley. Chrysostom compares such to workers in mines, who, for a little wages, do always hazard, and sometimes lose their lives. Menot, a French preacher, compares them to a huntsman, who ruins an expensive horse, in pursuit of a worthless rabbit. Pareus compares them to a man who with much ado wins Venice, and as soon as it is won, is hanged up at the gates of the city. When such a one shall at last compute what he has gained and what he has lost, he will certainly conclude that he has but a miserable bargain of it. But,
[7.] The seventh maxim is this—namely, A little that a righteous man has, is better than the riches of many wicked, Psalm 37:16, “Better the little that the righteous have than the wealth of many wicked.” The righteous man’s mite is better than the wicked man’s millions. “A little,” that is, a necessary and lowly portion, though yet but very little; one little piece of gold is more worth than a bag of pennies; one little box of diamonds is more worth than many loads of pebbles. And so a little that a righteous man has is better than the abundance of the wicked—is better than the riches of many wicked. Hamon, which is the word here used, is from Hamah, which signifies multitude of riches, or great plenty, or store of riches; from this Hebrew word Hamon, riches are called mammon, Luke 16:9, 11, 13. The little that the righteous man has, is better than the multitude or store of riches that the wicked have. Out of these words you may observe these following particulars—
(1.) Here is the righteous man’s portion, and the wicked man’s portion, as to this world; the righteous man has but little, the wicked has much.
(2.) The righteous man has but little—but the wicked has riches.
(3.) The righteous man’s little, is a better portion than the riches of the wicked.
(4.) The righteous man’s little, is better than the multitude of riches that the wicked have.
(5.) The righteous man’s little, is better than the multitude of riches that many wicked men enjoy. Now, for their sakes who have been burnt up, and have but little of the world left them, I shall make good this blessed truth by an induction of these eleven particulars—
[1.] First, The righteous man has a better tenure to his little, than wicked men have to their multitude of riches. The righteous man holds his tenure by virtue of his marriage-union with Christ, who is the heir of all things, Heb. 1:2. We had an equal right in the first Adam to all the good things of this world; but, in his fall, we lost our original right to the good things of this world. But now the righteous man, by the second Adam, has recovered his right to all he enjoys: Romans 8:32, “How shall he not with him, also freely give us all things?” 1 Cor. 3:21, “All things are yours! whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas or the world or life or death or the present or the future–all are yours!” But how come they to be interested in this large charter? the apostle answers it in verse 23, “You are Christ’s; and Christ is God’s.” All comes to us by Jesus Christ. All the grain in Egypt came through Joseph’s hands, Gen. 41. Just so, all we have, be it little or much, we have it through Christ’s hands, upon the account of our marriage-union with Christ. We may say, as Hamor and Shechem said to their people, “Shall not all their cattle, and substance, and every beast of the field, be ours?” Gen. 34:23. Just so, being married to Christ, and become one with him, all comes to be ours, through him who is the heir of all. By virtue of our marriage-union with Christ, our title to the creatures is not only restored—but strengthened.
That little we have, is bestowed upon us by Christ, in a more firm and better way than ever. In the first Adam our tenure was lower, and baser, and more uncertain than now it is; for our title, our tenure by Christ, is more honorable, and stronger, and sweeter, and more lasting than ever it was before. For now we hold all we have in Christ. Christ is our head and husband, and by him we hold all we have.
[2.] Secondly, That little a righteous man has, he has through the covenant and through precious promises, 2 Peter 1:4. Now a little mercy reached out to a man through the covenant, and as a fruit of the promise—is more worth than a world of blessings which flow in upon a man merely by a general providence. There are no mercies so sweet, so sure, so firm, so lasting—as those which flow in upon us through the covenant of grace. Oh, this sweetens every drop, and sip, and crust, and crumb of mercy, which a godly man enjoys: “All the paths of the Lord are mercy and truth to such as keep his covenant,” Psalm 25:10. This is a sweet promise, a precious promise, a soul-satisfying promise, a promise more worth than all the riches of the Indies. Mark, all the paths of the Lord to his people are not only mercy—but they are mercy and truth; that is, they are sure mercies that stream in upon them through the covenant. [Consult these scriptures: Joshua 23:14-15, and 1 Tim. 4:8.]
Well, sirs, you must remember this—that the least mercy, the least blessing flowing in upon us through the promise, is more worth than a thousand blessings that flow in upon us from a general providence. The least blessing flowing in upon us through the covenant, is better than ten thousand blessings which are the mere products of a general providence. For,
First, Such as enjoy all they have only from a general providence, they enjoy their mercies from that common source or spring that feeds the birds of the air and the beasts of the field, Psalm 145:15-16. The same common bounty of God which feeds and clothes the wicked—feeds the birds and beasts which perish. But,
Secondly, There is no certainty of the continuance of such mercies which are only the product of a common providence, Isaiah 33:16; but now the mercies which flow in upon the saints through the covenant of grace, they shall be sure to us—so long as the continuance of them may be for our good and God’s glory, chapter 55:3. Now the least mercies held by covenant are infinitely better than the greatest riches in the world, which only drop upon us out of the hand of a common providence.
Thirdly, The righteous man has his little, from the special love and favor of God. All his little flows in upon him from that very same love which moved the Lord to bestow Christ upon him, Psalm 146:8, and Proverbs 15:17. All the righteous man’s little, comes from a reconciled God as well as a bountiful God; from a tender Father as well as a merciful Creator. A dinner of green herbs, Daniel’s vegetables, barley loaves, a few fishes, yes, Lazarus’ scraps, crusts, and rags, and John’s garment of camel’s hair—from the love of a reconciled God—is infinitely better than all the riches and dainties of the wicked, which are all mixed and mingled with crosses and curses. All the mercies and abundance which wicked men have—is in wrath and from wrath; there is wrath in every cup they drink in, and in every dish they eat in, and in every bed they lie on, and in every stool they sit on, Proverbs 3:33; Mal. 2:2; Psalm 78:30-31. But the little the righteous man has, flows from the sweetest springs of divine love; so that they may well say as Gideon did, “The gleanings of the grapes of Ephraim, is it not better than the vintage of Abiezer?” Judges 8:2. The very gleanings of the righteous, are better than the greatest vintages of the wicked. The abundance of the wicked, flows in upon them from the bitter streams of divine wrath. A little water flowing from a sweet spring is much better than a great deal that flows from the salt sea. The loving-kindness of God does raise the least estate above the greatest estate in the world; yes, it raises it above life itself—which is the best of all temporal blessings, Psalm 63:3. Ten pounds given by a king out of favor and respect, is a better gift than a thousand given in wrath and displeasure. But,
Fourthly, The little that the righteous man has, is blessed and sanctified to him, as you may see by comparing these scriptures together. [Deut. 28:8-9; P. 3:8; Gen. 22:17, and 26:12; Proverbs 10:22; Deut. 28:16-20; Proverbs 3:33; Mal. 2:2.] A little blessed unto a man, is better than all the world cursed unto him. Now all the blessings and mercies that the wicked do enjoy, though they are materially blessings—yet they are formally curses; as all the crosses that befalls a righteous man, though they are materially crosses—yet they are formally blessings. The habitations, relations, honors, riches, etc., of the wicked are all cursed unto them. There is poison in every cup the wicked man drinks, and snares in every dish he puts his fingers in, the plague in all the clothes he wears, and a curse upon the house in which he dwells: Zech. 5:3-4, “Then he said unto me, “This is the curse that is going out over the whole land; for according to what it says on one side, every thief will be banished, and according to what it says on the other, everyone who swears falsely will be banished. The Lord Almighty declares, ‘I will send it out, and it will enter the house of the thief and the house of him who swears falsely by my name. It will remain in his house and destroy it, both its timbers and its stones.'” So Job 24:18, “Their portion is cursed in the earth.” Ps 106:15, “He sent leanness into their souls.” All the blessings of the wicked have their but, as the cup in Benjamin’s sack, which proved a snare to him rather than a mercy. Oh the curses and vexations which attend all the blessings of the wicked!
It may be said of the “little that a righteous man has,” Proverbs 3:33, as it was once said of Jacob’s garment, “It is like a field which the Lord has blessed. He blesses the habitations of the just.” Esau had a fair estate left him, and Jacob a less; yet Jacob’s was a better estate than Esau’s, because his little was blessed to him, when Esau’s much was cursed to him. One little draught of clear water, is better than a sea of brackish salt water. The application is easy. But,
Fifthly, A little improved and well improved, is better than a great deal which is either not improved or but ill improved. Every estate is as it is improved. A little farm well improved, is much better than a great farm which is either not improved or ill improved. A little money, a little stock in a shop well improved, is better than a great deal of money, a great stock, that is either not improved or ill improved. Now here give me permission to show you briefly how a godly man improves his little. Take me thus—
FIRST, A godly man improves his little to the stirring up of his heart to thankfulness, and to be much in admiring and blessing of God for a little. Every drop the dove drinks he lifts up his head to heaven. Every bird in his kind, says Ambrose, does chirp forth thankfulness to his Maker. Just so, the righteous man will bless God much for a little; yes, he will bless God very much for a very little, Psalm 103:1-3, and 116:12-13. But,
SECONDLY, A righteous man improves his little to the humbling and abasing of himself before the Lord, as one who is much below the least of mercies: Gen. 32:10, “I am not worthy of the least of all the mercies which you have showed unto your servant,” 2 Sam. 7:18. A righteous man labors to have his heart lie low under the sense of the least sin, and under the smart of the least rod, and under the sight of the least mercy. But,
THIRDLY, A righteous man improves his little to the arming and fencing of himself against sinful temptations. Little mercies are many times great arguments to keep a gracious soul from sin, Gen. 39:7-10. But,
FOURTHLY, A righteous man improves his little to the relief and refreshing of others who are in need, and whose pinching necessities call for supplies, 2 Cor. 8:1-4; Heb. 6:10. A poor man begging at a Christian’s door who was very poor, he spoke to his wife to give him something; she answered that she had but threepence in the house; says he, “give him that, for if we never sow, we shall never reap.” There was another Christian who having given a little of his little to a man, began to think whether he had injured himself; but presently he corrected himself with these thoughts, that he had lent it one that would pay all again with advantage, with interest upon interest; within an hour after he had it restored above sevenfold, in a way which he never thought of. But,
FIFTHLY, A righteous man improves his little to the stirring up and provoking of his own heart to look after better and greater mercies—namely, spiritual and eternal favors. “Oh,” says the righteous man, “if there be so much sweetness in a few drops, and sips, and small draughts, and crusts, and scraps—what is in those everlasting springs of pleasure and delight which are at God’s right hand!” Psalm 16:11; John 4:10-11, 14, and 6:4; Rev. 19:8. “If there be so much pleasantness in a piece of bread, and so much warmth in a coarse suit of clothes—what sweetness is there in the waters of life! and what pleasantness is there in that bread of life that came down from heaven! and what warmth is there in that fine linen, that is the righteousness of the saints!” etc. A righteous man looks upon his least temporals to be a strong engagement upon him to seek after eternals. But now wicked men are so far from improving their much, their riches, their great riches, that they either hide their talents, as that evil servant did his, Mat. 25, or else they prove jailers to their mercies, and make them servants to their lusts, pride, drunkenness, uncleanness, etc. Compare these scriptures together: Job 21:1-10; Amos 6:1-7; Psalm 73; Hosea 4:7; Jer. 2:31, and 5:7-9; Deut. 32:13-18; James 5:1-6. But,
SIXTHLY, The few mercies, the least mercies which the righteous man has, are pledges of more mercies, of better mercies, and of greater mercies than any which they now enjoy. Now a farthing given as a pledge of a thousand a year, is better than many pounds given as a present reward. Wicked men have outward blessings as their portion, their heaven, their all: “Son, remember that you in your lifetime received your good things,” Psalm 17:14; Luke 16:25. But now that little that a godly man has, he has it as a pledge of heaven, and of eternal favors and mercies. The little mercies the saints enjoy, are doors of hope to let in greater and better mercies; those mercies a righteous man has, are but inlets to further mercies. When Rachel had a son, she called his name Joseph, saying, “The Lord shall add to me another son,” Gen. 30:24. Every mercy that a righteous man enjoys may well be called Joseph, because it is a certain pledge of some further and greater mercy, which is to be added to those which the righteous man already enjoys. But,
SEVENTHLY, The righteous man enjoys his little, with a great deal of comfort, peace, quiet, and contentment. The righteous man with his little, sits Noah-like, quiet and still in the midst of all the hurries, distractions, dilemmas, and confusions which are in the world, Phil. 4:12-13; Proverbs 10:22, and 15:16-17. Though the righteous man has but necessities from hand to mouth—yet seeing that God feeds him from heaven as it were with manna—he is quiet and cheerful. But wicked men have abundance of vexation with their worldly abundance: as you see in Haman, Esther 5:9-13, “Haman went out that day happy and in high spirits. But when he saw Mordecai at the king’s gate and observed that he neither rose nor showed fear in his presence, he was filled with rage against Mordecai. Nevertheless, Haman restrained himself and went home. Calling together his friends and Zeresh, his wife, Haman boasted to them about his vast wealth, his many sons, and all the ways the king had honored him and how he had elevated him above the other nobles and officials. “And that’s not all,” Haman added. “I’m the only person Queen Esther invited to accompany the king to the banquet she gave. And she has invited me along with the king tomorrow. But all this gives me no satisfaction as long as I see that Jew Mordecai sitting at the king’s gate!” Esther 5:9-13. [If I had an enemy, says Latimer, to whom I might lawfully wish evil, I would chiefly wish him great store of riches; for then he would never enjoy quietness.]
It is seldom seen that God allows contentment unto the greatest darlings of the world. They always have something to complain of, which shall give an unsavory taste to their sweetest morsels, and make their felicity miserable. It was not simply Mordecai’s sitting at the king’s gate—but Mordecai’s refusing to stand up, or to move either hat, head, or hand, or to bow any part of his body, which damped all Haman’s joy, and which filled him with rage and vexation of spirit.
The lack of little things—such as a pin or a hat—will exceedingly vex and discompose a worldly spirit. Just so, Ahab, though a king—yet when he was sick for Naboth’s vineyard, his heart did more afflict and vex itself with greedy longing for that bit of earth, than the vast and spacious compass of a kingdom could counter-comfort, 1 Kings 21:4. And so Alexander the Great, in the midst of all his glory, he was exceedingly vexed and discontented, because he could not make ivy to grow in his garden in Babylon.
Contentment is a flower which does not grow in nature’s garden. All the honors, riches, pleasures, profits, and preferments of this world cannot yield a worldly man, one day’s contentment; they are all surrounded with briers and thorns. “You look upon my crown and my purple robes,” said that great king, Cyrus—”but did you but know how they were lined with thorns, you would never stoop to take them up!” Charles the Fifth, emperor of Germany, whom of all men the world judged most happy, cried out at last with grief and detestation to all his honors, pleasures, trophies, riches: “Get you hence; let me hear no more of you!”
Who can sum up the many grievances, fears, jealousies, disgraces, interruptions, temptations, and vexations—which men meet with in their very pursuit after the things of this world! Oh how sweet is it to lack these bitter-sweets! Riches are compared to thorns; and indeed all the comforts the wicked enjoy, they have more or less of the thorn in them. And indeed riches may well be called thorns; because they pierce both head and heart—the one with care of getting, and the other with grief in parting with them. The world and all its glory, is like a beautiful harlot: a paradise to the eye—but painfulness to the soul. A wicked man under all his enjoyments,
(1.) Enjoys not the peace of his conscience upon any just or solid grounds.
(2.) He enjoys not the peace of contentment upon any sober or righteous grounds. But a righteous man, with his little, enjoys both peace of conscience and peace of contentment; and this makes every bitter sweet, and every little sweet to be exceeding sweet. A dish of green herbs, with peace of conscience and peace of contentment, is a noble feast, a continual feast to a gracious soul. But,
EIGHTHLY, The righteous man sees God, and acknowledges God, and enjoys God in his little, Job 1:21; Gen. 27:28, and 33:10-11. Look! as he who cannot see God in the least affliction, in the least judgment, will never be truly humbled; so he who cannot see God in the least mercy will never be truly thankful nor cheerful. In every crust, crumb, drop, and sip of mercy which a righteous man enjoys, he sees much of the love of his God, and the care of his God, and the wisdom of his God, and the power of his God, and the faithfulness of his God, and the goodness of his God, in making the least provision for him.
I have read of the Jews, how that when they read the little book of Esther they let fall the book on the ground, and they give this reason for that ceremony, “because the name of God is not to be found in all that history.” So a righteous man is ready to let that mercy drop out of his hand, out of his mouth, wherein he cannot read his God, and see his God, and taste his God, and enjoy his God. But now wicked men may say, as Elisha did in another case, “Here is the mantle of Elijah—but where is the God of Elijah? Here is abundance of riches and honors and dignities, etc.—but where is the God of all these comforts?” 2 Kings 2:14. But alas! they mind not God, they see not God, they acknowledge not God in all they have, in all they enjoy; as you may see by comparing these scriptures together. [Hosea 2:5, 8-9; Isaiah 1:3-4; Jer. 2:6; Esther 5:10-12; Luke 12:19.]
Wicked men are like the the mule which drinks from the brook—but never think of the spring. They are like to the swine which eats up the fruit—but never looks to the tree from whence the fruit falls. They are like such barren ground that swallows up the seed—but returns nothing to the sower. I have read of a great cardinal, who, writing down in his diary what such a noble did for him, and how far such a prince favored him, and what encouragement he had from such a king, and how such a pope preferred him—but not one word of God in all: one reading of it, took his pen and wrote underneath, “Here God did nothing.” But,
NINTHLY, The little the righteous man has is enough; enough to satisfy him, enough to content him, enough to meet his necessities until he gets to heaven, Psalm 23:1-2: Phil. 4:12-13; 1 Tim. 6:6: Gen. 33:11, “I have enough,” says Jacob to Esau: Gen. 45:28, “Israel said, it is enough; Joseph my son is yet alive.” Though the righteous man has but little—yet he has enough for his place and calling in which God has placed him, and enough for his necessities, whether it be great or small; he has enough to satisfy nature, enough to preserve natural life. [If you live according to nature, you will never be poor. If you live according to popular opinion, you will never be rich.]
“Give me neither poverty nor riches, but give me only my daily bread.” Proverbs 30:8. Agur asks only for daily bread, necessary for his life–not for his lusts. He prays for enough to satisfy necessity–not luxury. He asks for bread–not for delicacies. He begs that nature may be sustained–not pampered. A little will satisfy nature, and less will satisfy grace; yet nothing will satisfy a wicked man’s lusts!
Jacob vows that the Lord should be his God, if he would but give him bread to eat, and raiment to put on. This was the first holy vow that ever we read of; hence Jacob is called the father of vows, Gen. 28:20-21. He begs not dainties to feed him, nor silks nor satins to clothe him; but bread to feed him, though never so coarse, and clothes to cover him, though never so mean. Job is only for necessary food, [“He is rich enough—who lacks not bread; and high enough in dignity—who is not forced to serve.” Jerome. John 6:9-15; 1 Kings 17:12, and 3:4-6; Proverbs 30:15-16; Psalm 17:14.] Job 23:12. A little will satisfy a temperate Christian. Luther made many a meal of bread and a red herring; and Junius made many a meal of bread and an egg. Nature laps only, like those three hundred soldiers, Judges 7:6. When Christ fed the people graciously, miraculously–he did not feed them with delicacies. He fed them with barley loaves and fish–a frugal, temperate, sober diet. If the handful of meal in the barrel, and the oil in the cruse does not fail, and if the brook and the running water do not fail, Elijah can be well enough contented.
But wicked men never have enough, they are never satisfied. They are like those four things that Solomon speaks of, which are never satisfied—namely, the grave, the barren womb, the earth, and the fire. That is an observable passage of the psalmist, “You fill their bellies with your hidden treasures.” To a worldly wicked man all these outward things are but a bellyful; and how soon is the belly emptied after it is once filled! Though rich men have riches enough to sink them—yet they have never enough to satisfy them. Like him who wished for a thousand sheep in his flock, and when he had them, he wished for other cattle without number. When Alexander had all the crowns and scepters of the princes of the world piled up at his gates, he wishes for another world to conquer: “The eye is not satisfied with seeing, nor the ear with hearing.” “He who loves silver shall not be satisfied with silver; nor he who loves abundance with increase,” Eccles. 1:8, and 5:10.There is enough in silver and abundance, to vex and fret the soul of man–but not to satisfy the soul of man.
God himself is the only center of centers, and as the soul can never rest until it returns to him, as the dove to the ark, so it can never be filled, stilled, or satisfied—but in the enjoyment of him. [The poor heathen could say, “I desire neither more nor less than enough. For one can as well die from excess—as from hunger.”] All the beauty of the world is but deformity, all the brightness of the world is but blackness, all the light of the world is but bitterness; and therefore it is impossible for all the pleasure and glory of this world to give absolute satisfaction to the soul of man.
Solomon, the wisest prince who ever sat upon a throne, after his most diligent, critical, and impartial search into all the creatures, gives this as the sum total of his inquiries, “Vanity of vanities, all is vanity.” And how then can any of these things, yes, all these things heaped up together, satisfy the soul of man! Hab. 2:5, “He is as greedy as the grave and like death is never satisfied, he gathers to himself all the nations and takes captive all the peoples.” This is spoken of the king of Babylon, who had gathered to him all nations and people, yes, and all their vast treasures also, Isaiah 10:13, “By the strength of my hand I have done this, and by my wisdom, because I have understanding. I removed the boundaries of nations, I plundered their treasures; like a mighty one I subdued their kings. As one reaches into a nest, so my hand reached for the wealth of the nations; as men gather abandoned eggs, so I gathered all the countries; not one flapped a wing, or opened its mouth to chirp.” And yet for all this, he could not be satisfied. The desires of worldlings are boundless and endless, and there is no satisfying of them. It is not all the gold of Ophir, or Peru, nor all the pearls or mines of India; it is not Joseph’s chains, nor David’s crowns, nor Haman’s honors, nor Daniel’s dignities, nor Dives’ riches—which can satisfy an immortal soul.
TENTHLY, The little that the righteous man has is more stable, durable, and lasting, than the riches of the wicked; and therefore his little is better than their much, his mite is better than their millions, Job 5:20-22. Psalm 34:9-10, “Fear the Lord, you his saints, for those who fear him lack nothing. The lions may grow weak and hungry, but those who seek the Lord lack no good thing.” Those who are separated from the world’s lusts—can live with a little. Such as set up God as the object of their fear, have no cause to fear the lack of anything. When David was a captive among the Philistines, he lacked nothing. Paul had nothing, and yet possessed all things, 2 Cor. 6:10. A godly man may lack many good things that he thinks to be good for him—but he shall never lack any good thing that the Lord knows to be good for him, Heb. 13:5, 6; Proverbs 10:3.
We do not esteem of tenure for life as we do of freehold, because life is a most uncertain thing. Ten pound a year forever is better than a hundred in hand. All the promises are God’s bonds, and a Christian may put them in suit when he will, and hold God to his word; and that not only for his spiritual and eternal life—but also for his natural life, his temporal life; but the wicked cannot do so. The temporal estate of the wicked is seldom long-lived, as you may see by comparing these scriptures together. [Proverbs 10:3; Psalm 37:34-36; Jer. 17:11; Job 20:20, seq.]
Alexander the Great, conqueror of the world, caused to be painted on a table a sword in the compass of a wheel, showing thereby that what he had gotten by the sword was subject to be turned about the wheel of providence. There is no more hold to be had of riches, honors, or preferments, than Saul had of Samuel’s lap. They do but like the rainbow show themselves in all their dainty colors, and then vanish away. There are so many sins, and so many crosses, and so many curses, which usually attend the riches of the wicked, that it is very rare to see their estates long lived. Hence their great estates are compared to the chaff, which a puff of wind disperses; to the grass, which the scorching sun quickly withers; to the tops of corn, which are soon cut off; and to the unripe grape: Job 15:33, “He will be like a vine stripped of its unripe grapes, like an olive tree shedding its blossoms.” Every day’s experience confirms us in this truth. But,
ELEVENTHLY and lastly—The little that the righteous man has, is better than the riches of the wicked, in respect of his last reckoning, in respect of his last accounts. God will never call his children in the great day, either to the book or to the bar, for the mercies that he has given them, be they few or be they many, be they great or be they small. Though the clothier brings his customer to the book for what he has, and for what he wears—yet he never brings his child to the book for what he has and for what he wears. Though the innkeeper brings his guests to the bar for the provisions they have—yet he never bring their children to the bar for the provisions they make for them. In the great day, the Lord will take an exact account of all the good that his children have done for others, Mat. 25—but he will never bring them to an account for what he has done for them. Christ in this great day will,
(1.) Remember all the individual offices of love and friendship that has been showed to any of his members.
(2.) He will mention many good things which his children did, which they themselves never realized, verse 37.
(3.) The least and lowest acts of love and pity that have been showed to Christ’s suffering servants, shall be interpreted as a special kindness showed to himself, verse 40.
(4.) The recompense that Christ will give to his people in that day shall be exceeding great, verse 44, 46. Here is no calling of them to the book or to the bar, to give an account for the mercies that they were entrusted with. But oh the sad, the great accounts that the wicked have to give up for all their lands and lordships, for all their honors, offices, dignities, and riches! “To whom much is given, much shall be required,” Luke 12:48. Christ in the great day will reckon with all the grandees of the world for every thousand, for every hundred, for every pound, yes, for every penny that he has entrusted them with. All princes, nobles, and people who are not interested in the Lord Jesus, shall be brought to the book, to the bar, in the great day, to give an account of all they have received and done in the flesh, Rev. 6:15-17; Luke 16:2; Eccles. 12:14. But Christ’s darlings shall then be the only welcome guests: Mat. 25:34, “Then shall the King say to them on his right hand, Come, you blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.” Before the world was founded the saints were crowned in God’s eternal counsel. Here is no mention made of the book or the bar—but of a kingdom, a crown, a diadem.
Now by these eleven arguments it is most evident that the little that the righteous man has is better than the riches of the wicked. The righteous man’s mite is better than the wicked man’s millions. [Some of the more refined heathen have had some kind of dread and fear in their spirits upon the consideration of a day of account, as the writings of Plato and Tully, etc., do sufficiently evidence.] But,
[8.] The eighth maxim that I shall lay down, to put a stop to your too eager pursuit after the things of this world, is this, namely—That the life of man consists not in the enjoyment of these earthly things, which he is so apt inordinately to desire. Luke 12:15, “And he said unto them—Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; a man’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.” Whether we consider man’s life in the length and continuance of it, or in the comfort of it—it consists not in riches; for no man lives a day longer or merrier for his riches. Though possessions are useful to sustain life—yet no man is able to prolong his life, or to make it anything more happy or comfortable to him, by possessing more than he needs or uses. It is not the golden crown which can cure the headache, nor the velvet slipper which can ease a man of the gout, nor the purple robe that can fray away a burning fever. Mark, the life of man is so far from consisting in the enjoyment of these earthly things, that many times they hasten a man to his eternal home, Jer. 17:11. Many a man’s coffer has hastened him to his coffin; and as many a man has lost his finger for his ring’s sake, so many a man has lost his life for his purse’s sake.
In all the ages of the world many a man has deeply suffered for his means. Naboth lost his life for his vineyard’s sake, 1 Kings 21. Quintus Aurelius, in the days of Sylla, lost his life by reason of his lands. Many a man’s means have hanged him. Many a man has deeply suffered for his means’ sake. The Romans ripped up the bellies of the Jews to search for gold. When Zelimus, emperor of Constantinople, had taken Egypt, he found a great deal of treasure there; and the soldiers asking of him what they should do with the citizens of Egypt, having found a great treasure among them; “Oh,” says the emperor, “hang them all up, for they are too rich to be made slaves!”] The American Indians would have been more safe, had they had less gold: they thought gold was the Spaniards’ God. But how the Spaniards played the devil to get their gold, I shall not at this time take pleasure to relate.
Now if our temporal life consists not in any of these earthly things, then certainly our spiritual life consists not in any of these earthly things. For what pious duty is there that a believer cannot do, though he has neither money in his bag nor dainties on his table. And as our spiritual life consists not in any of these earthly things, so our eternal life consists not in any of these earthly things: for as all the treasures of this world cannot bring a soul to heaven, so they cannot keep a soul from dropping down to hell. But,
[9.] The ninth maxim that I shall lay down to put a stop to your too eager pursuit after the things of this world, is this—namely, That there is no rest to be found in any earthly enjoyments. Rest is the center at which all intellectual natures, as well as natural bodies, aim at. A man who is inordinately in love with the world can never be at rest. The drunkard sometimes rests from his cups, and the unclean person from his filthiness, and the swearer from his oaths, and the idolater from his idols—but the worldling is never at rest; his head and heart are still a-plodding and a-plotting how to get, and how to keep, the things of this world.
Eccles. 5:12, “The sleep of the laboring man is sweet, whether he eat little or much; but the abundance of the rich will not allow him to sleep.” [He who is rich in conscience, says Austin, sleeps more soundly than he who is richly clothed in purple, Luke 12:20.] These three vultures—care of getting, fear of keeping, and grief of losing—feed day and night upon the heart of a rich and wretched worldling, so that his sleep departs from him. Sometimes his abundance lies like a lump of lead heavy upon his heart, so that he cannot rest. Sometimes his conscience does so lash, and lance, and gall him for what he has got by indirect ways and means, that he cannot sleep. Sometimes God himself will not allow him to sleep. Sometimes God shows him the handwriting upon the wall, Dan. 5:5-6; sometimes he terrifies him with dreams, and sometimes he throws handfuls of hell-fire in his face, as once he did into Judas’s, Mat. 26:24; and this hinders his rest. Sometimes by their excessive eating and drinking, their gluttony, their delicious fare, they overcharge nature, which causes indigestion and malignant vapors, whereby sleep is wholly removed, or else much disturbed. Earthly riches are an evil master, a treacherous servant, fathers of flattery, sons of grief, a cause of fear to those who have them, and a cause of sorrow to those who lack them; and therefore what rest is there to be found in the enjoyment of them? [Augustine.]
All the good things of this world have more or less of the thorn in them; and therefore what rest can they give? Achan’s golden wedge proved a wedge to cleave him, and his garment a garment to shroud him. In Spain they lived happily until fire made some mountains vomit gold; but what miserable discords have followed ever since! It is only heaven, which is above all winds and storms and tempests. God has not cast man out of one paradise, for him to think to find out another paradise in this world. But,
[10.] The tenth and last maxim that I shall lay down to put a stop to your too eager pursuit after the things of this world, is this—namely, That it is a very high point of Christian wisdom and prudence, always to look upon the good things and the great things of this world as a man will certainly look upon them when he comes to die. Oh, with what a disdainful eye, with what a contemptible eye, with what a scornful eye, and with what a weaned heart and cold affections do men look upon all the pomp, state, bravery, and glory of the world, when their soul sits upon their trembling lips, and there is but a short step between them and eternity! He who looks upon the world while he has it under his hand, as he will assuredly look upon it when he is to take his leave of it, he will,
(1.) Never sin to get the world. Nor,
(2.) He will never grieve inordinately to part with the world. Nor,
(3.) He will never envy those who enjoy much of the world. Nor,
(4.) He will never dote upon the world, he will never be enamored with the world.
I have read of a man, who, lying in a burning fever, professed that if he had all the world at his dispose, he would give it all for one draught of beer; at so low a rate do men value the world at such a time as that is. King Lysimachus lost his kingdom for one draught of water to quench his thirst. If men were but so wise to value the world at no higher a rate in health than they do in sickness, in the day of life than they do at the hour of death, they would never be fond of it, they would never be so deeply in love with it.
Now, oh, that these ten maxims may be so blessed to the reader as to crucify the world to him, and him unto the world! Gal. 6:14. Fix your heart on God, let him be your portion; fix your affections upon Christ, he is your redemption; fix your affections on heaven, let that be your mansion. Oh take that counsel, “Love not the world, nor the things of the world,” 1 John 2:15. Mark, he does not say, have not the world, nor the things of the world—but “love not the world, nor the things of the world.” Nor he does not say, use not the world, nor the things of the world—but “love not the world, nor the things of the world.” Nor he does not say, take no moderate care for the world, nor the things of the world—but “love not the world, nor the things of the world.” But to prevent all mistakes, give me permission to premise these three things—
[1.] First, It is lawful to desire earthly things, so far as they may be furtherances of us in our journey to heaven. [As Mr. Tyndale the martyr said, “I desire these earthly things so far as they may be helps to the keeping of God’s commandments.”] As a passenger when he comes to a deep river desires a boat—but not for the boat’s sake—but that he may pass over the river; or as the traveler desires his inn, not for the inn’s sake—but as it is a help, a furtherance to him in his journey homewards; or as the patient desires medicine, not for medicine’s sake—but in order to his health. Just so, a Christian may lawfully desire earthly things in order to his glorifying of God; and as they may be a help to him in his Christian course, and a furtherance to him in his heavenly race, Heb. 12:1. But,
[2.] Secondly, We may desire earthly things in subordination to the will of God. “Lord, if it is your pleasure, give me this and that earthly comfort; yet not my will—but your will be done. Lord, you are the wise physician of bodies, souls, and nations: if it may stand with your glory, give your sick patient life, health, and strength; yet not my will—but your will be done.” But,
[3.] Thirdly, We may desire such a measure of earthly things, and such a number of earthly things, as may be suitable to the place, calling, relation, and condition wherein the providence of God has set us, Proverbs 30:8-9, and 1 Tim. 6:8. A few of these earthly things, may be sufficient to the order, place, calling, and of life wherein some men are placed—but not sufficient for a king, a noble, a magistrate, a general, etc. These must have their counselors, their guards, variety of attendance, and variety of the creatures, etc. A little portion of these earthly things is sufficient for some, and a great and large portion of these earthly things is but sufficient for others. Less may serve the servant than the master, the child than the father, the peasant than the prince, etc. The too eager pursuit of most men after the things of this world, to make up the losses that they sustained by the fire, has been the true cause why I have insisted so largely upon this ninth duty which we are to learn by that fiery dispensation that has passed upon us.
10. The tenth duty which lies upon those whose houses have been burnt up, is to be very importunate with God to take away those sins that have laid our city desolate, and to keep off from sin for the time to come, and to look narrowly to your hearts, that you do not charge the Lord foolishly, because he has brought you under his fiery rod, Mal. 2:15.
Job 1:16, “While he was yet speaking, there came also another, and said, The fire of God is fallen from heaven, and has burnt up the sheep, and the servants, and consumed them, and I only am escaped alone to tell you;” verse 22, “In all this Job sinned not, nor charged God foolishly.” The fire of God, that is, a great, fierce, and dreadful fire that fell from heaven and consumed Job’s sheep and servants, was a more dreadful judgment than all the former judgments that befell them, because God seemed to fight against Job with his own bare hand by fire from heaven, as once he did against Sodom. “In all this Job sinned not;” that is, in all this that Job suffered, acted, and uttered—there was not anything that was materially sinful. Satan he said, that if God would but touch all that he had, Job would curse him to his face; but when it came to the proof, there was no such thing. For Job had a fair and full victory over him, and Satan was proved a foul liar. For Job sinned not in thought, word, or deed; Job did neither speak nor do anything that was dishonorable to God, or a reproach to his religion, or a wound to his conscience. Under this fiery trial Job did not so much as entertain one hard thought concerning God, nor let fall one hard word concerning God. Under all the evils that befell Job, Job still thinks well of God, and speaks well of God, and behaves well towards God. Certainly Job had a great deal of God within him, which kept him from sinning under such great and grievous sufferings.
O sirs, it is a far greater mercy to be kept from sinnings under our sufferings, than it is to be delivered from the greatest sufferings. Job’s heart was so well seasoned with grace, that he would admit of no insolent or unsavory thoughts of God, or of his severest providences: “In all this Job sinned not, nor charged God foolishly,” or with folly. Some refer the former part of this verse to the mind, and the latter to the mouth; showing that Job, though he had lost all, neither thought in his heart, nor uttered with his mouth, anything unfit and unworthy of God. The meek, humble, patient, and gracious behavior of Job under all his severe losses and crosses is here owned, renowned, crowned, and chronicled by God himself. [Proverbs 6:16-17; Jer. 49:4; Romans 1:18; Heb. 6:6; Eph. 4:30; Mat. 26:15; Psalm 30:6-7; 49:1-2; Mal. 2:2; Jer. 4:18.]
O sirs, sinning is worse than suffering; it is better to see a people bleeding than blaspheming, burning than cursing; for by men’s sins God is dishonored—but by their sufferings God is glorified. Oh, that the Christian reader would seriously consider of these twelve things—
(1.) That there is nothing that the great God hates—but sin.
(2.) That there is nothing that God has revealed his wrath from heaven against—but sin.
(3.) That there is nothing that crucifies the Lord of glory afresh—but sin.
(4.) That there is nothing that grieves the Spirit of grace—but sin.
(5.) That there is nothing that wounds the conscience—but sin.
(6.) That there is nothing that clouds the face of God—but sin.
(7.) That there is nothing that hinders the return of prayer—but sin.
(8.) That there is nothing that interrupts our communion with God—but sin.
(9.) That there is nothing that embitters our mercies—but sin.
(10.) That there is nothing that puts a sting into all our troubles and trials—but sin.
(11.) That there is nothing that renders us unserviceable in our places, stations, and conditions—but sin.
(12.) That there is nothing that makes death the king of terrors, and the terror of kings, to be so formidable and dreadful to men—as sin.
And therefore under all your sorrows and sufferings, crosses and losses, make it your great business to arm yourselves against sin, and to pray against sin, and to watch against sin, and to turn from sin, and to cease from sin, and to get rid of sin, and to stand forever in defiance of sin, 2 Chron. 7:14; Isaiah 16:17, and 55:7; Hosea 14:8; Isaiah 30:22. Assuredly every gracious heart had rather be rid of his sins than of his sufferings: Job 7:21, “And why do you not take away my iniquity?” Though Job had many loads, many burdens upon him—yet none lay so heavy upon him as his sin. Hosea 14:2, “Take away all iniquity, and receive us graciously.” It is not, take away our captivity, and receive us graciously—but take away our iniquity, and receive us graciously; nor is it to take away this or that particular iniquity, and receive us graciously—but take away all iniquity, and receive us graciously; take away the stain and sting of sin, the crime and curse of sin, the power and punishment of sin—that we may never more hear of it, nor ever more feel of it, nor ever more be troubled any with it. Though their bondage was great, very great, yes, greater than any people under heaven were exercised with—yet their sins were a more unsupportable burden to their spirits than their bondage was, Dan. 9:11-13. And therefore they cry out, “Take away all iniquity, and receive us graciously.”
And this was the usual method of David; [See Psalm 79:1, 5, 8, 25:7, 32:4-5, and 38:3-4.] when he was under severe troubles and trials, he was more importunate with God to be purged and pardoned, than he was to be eased under his troubles, or delivered from his troubles: Psalm 51:2, “Wash away all my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin.” Verse 7, “Cleanse me with hyssop, and I will be clean; wash me, and I will be whiter than snow.” Verse 9, “Hide your face from my sins and blot out all my iniquity.” Verse 14, “Save me from bloodguilt, O God.” When Pharaoh was under the hand of the Lord, he was all for removing of the plagues, the frogs, the locusts, etc., Exod. 10. But when David was under the hand of the Lord, he was all for the removing of his sins, and for the cleansing, purging, and washing away of his sins.
Oh, that all the burnt citizens of London would be more earnest and importunate with God to pardon, and purge, and take away all those iniquities that have brought the fiery rod upon them, than they are studious and industrious to have their credits repaired, their houses rebuilt, their trades restored, and all their losses made up to them! Oh, that they might all be driven by what they have felt, seriously to consider what they have done! “No man says, What have I done?” Jer. 8:6; Hosea 6:1-3; Isaiah 56:6; Ezek. 36:33, 37. Oh, that they would all blame themselves more, and their sins more, and turn to him who has so sorely smitten them, and lay hold on his strength, and make peace with him, so that he may yet build up their waste places, and make up their breaches, and repair their losses, and never turn away from doing of them good! Jer. 32:41-44. But,
11. The eleventh duty which they are to learn that have been burnt up, is to prepare and fit for greater troubles and trials. The anger of the Lord is not yet turned away—but his hand is stretched out still, Isaiah 9:12; Rev. 11:18. The nations are angry, the face of the times seems sorely to threaten us with greater troubles than any we have yet encountered with. Ah London, London! ah England, England! the clouds that hang over you seem every day to be blacker and blacker, and thicker and thicker! You have suffered much, and you have cause to fear that you may suffer more; you have been brought low, yes, you are this day brought very low in the eyes of the nations round about you, and yet you may be brought lower before the day of your exaltation comes. [Deut. 28:43; 2 Chron. 28:18-19; Deut. 32:36; Pa. 79:8, 136:23, and 142:6; lea. 26:10-11.] When God intends to raise a person, a city, a nation high, very high, he then usually brings them low, very low; and when they are at lowest, then the day of their exaltation is nearest. It is commonly darkest a little before break of day. The hand of the Lord has been lifted up high, yes, very high, over us and against us; but who repents? who reforms? who returns to the Most High? who smites upon his thigh? who says, ‘What have I done?’ Jer. 8:6; who finds out the plague of his own heart? who ceases from doing evil? who stirs up himself to take hold of God? who stands in the gap? who wrestles and weeps, and weeps and wrestles to turn away those judgments that this day threaten us? Isaiah 1:16-18; Psalm 106; Hosea 12:4.
Just so long as sin remains rampant, and men continue impenitent, there is reason to fear a worse scourge than any yet we have been under. Pharaoh’s stubbornness did but increase his plagues, Exod. 9:17; the more stout and unyielding we are under judgments, the more chains God will still put on, Eccles. 5:8. When his hand is lifted up, we must either bow or break. Such as have been under the sharp rebukes of God, and will not take Christ’s warning to go their way and sin no more, John 5:14, have reason to fear that a worse thing will come upon them. The face of present providences looks dismal; dreadful sufferings seem to be near, very near, even at our very doors. Yet to prevent fainting, we must remember that God never lacks chambers to hide his people in until his indignation is past, Isaiah 26:20. God has ways enough to preserve his wheat, even when the whirlwind carries away the chaff. God can find an ark for his Noahs, when a flood of wrath sweeps away sinners on every hand; and God can provide a Zoar for his Lots, when he rains fire and brimstone upon all round about them.
Look! as God many times by lesser mercies fits his people for greater mercies; so God many times by lesser judgments fits his people for greater judgments: and who can tell—but that the design of God by the recent judgments of fire, sword, and pestilence, is to prepare and fit his people for greater judgments? That God might have inflicted greater judgments than any yet he has inflicted upon us, I have already proved by an induction of particulars. That greater judgments may be prevented, and our present mercies continued and increased, it highly concerns us to repent, and to turn to the Most High.
There are seven sorts of men who have high cause to fear worser judgments than any yet have been inflicted upon them—
(1.) Such who scorn and deride at the judgments of God, Isaiah 5:19; Jer. 17:15, and 20:8; 2 Pet. 3:3-5.
(2.) Such who put off the judgments of God to others, who cry out, Oh! these judgments concern such and such—but not us.
(3.) Such who are no ways bettered nor reclaimed by judgments.
(4.) Such as grow worser and worser under all the warnings and judgments, as Pharaoh and Ahaz did, Isaiah 1:5; Jer. 5:3; 2 Chron. 28:22-23.
(5.) Such as make no preparations to meet God when he is in the way of his judgments, Amos 4:12.
(6.) Such who are careless Gallios, that do not so much as mind or regard the warnings of God, the judgments of God, Isaiah 5:12-13.
(7.) Such as put the evil day far from them, as they did in Isaiah 22:12-13, and as they did in Amos 6:3, and as the inhabitants of Jerusalem did a little before their city was laid desolate. Some writers tell us, that though the Jews had a great many warnings, by prodigious signs and fearful apparitions, before Jerusalem was besieged and the city destroyed—yet most of them expounded the meaning of them in a more favorable sense to themselves than ever God intended, until the dreadful vengeance of God overtook them to the utmost. It is the greatest wisdom and prudence in the world—to prepare and fit for the worst. The best way on earth to prevent judgments from falling upon us, or if they do fall, to sweeten them to us—is to prepare for them. But,
12. The twelfth duty which lies upon those whose houses have been burnt up, is to secure the everlasting welfare of their precious and immortal souls. O sirs, London’s ashes tell you to your faces that you cannot secure your houses, your shops, your estates, your trades; but the eternal well-being of your souls may be secured! Every burnt citizen carries a jewel, a pearl of great price, a rich treasure about him—namely, a divine soul, which is worth more than all the world, Mat. 16:26. There is much of the power, wisdom, majesty, and glory of God stamped upon the stately fabric of this world, Psalm 19:1-2; but there is more of the power, wisdom, majesty, and glory of God stamped upon an immortal soul. The soul is the glory of the creation. What Job speaks of wisdom is very applicable to the precious soul of man, chapter 28:13, 16-17. “Man knows not the price thereof: it cannot be valued with the gold of Ophir, with the precious onyx, or the sapphire. The gold and the crystal cannot equal it; and the exchange of it shall not be for jewels of fine gold.” The soul is a beam of God, a heavenly spark, a celestial plant; it is the beauty of man, the wonder of angels, the envy of devils, and the glory of God. [Epictetus, and many others of the more refined heathens, have long since said that the body was but the organ, the soul was the man.]
Oh how richly and gloriously has God embroidered the soul. “The king’s daughter is all glorious within: her clothing is of wrought gold,” Psalm 45:13. The soul is divinely inlaid and enameled by God’s own hand. The soul is of an angelic nature, it is of a divine offspring; it is a spiritual substance, capable of the knowledge of God, and of union with God, and of communion with God, and of an eternal fruition of God. The soul is an immortal substance, and that not only by the grace and favor of God, as the body of Adam was in the state of innocency, and as the bodies of saints shall be at the resurrection—but by its own nature, having no internal principle of corruption, so as it cannot by anything from within itself cease to be; neither can it be annihilated by anything from without. “Fear not them which kill the body—but are not able to kill the soul.” Mat. 10:28.
O sirs, the soul being immortal, it must be immortally happy, or immortally miserable. Certainly there is no wisdom, compared to that of securing the everlasting welfare of your souls. All the honors, riches, greatness, and glory of this world are but chips, feathers, trifles, pebbles, compared to your precious and immortal souls; and therefore before all, and above all other things, make sure work for your souls! If they are safe, all is safe; but if they are lost, all is lost, and you undone in both worlds. Chrysostom observes, that whereas God has given many other things double, two eyes to see with, two ears to hear with, two hands to work with, and two feet to walk with, to the intent that the failing of the one might be supplied by the other, he has given us but one soul; if that is lost, have you another soul to give in recompense for it? If you save your souls, though you should lose all you have in this world, your loss would be a gainful loss; but if you lose your precious souls, though you should gain all the world—yet your very gains will undo you forever!
You have found, by the recent dreadful fire, that there is no securing of the things of this world; and therefore make it your business, your work, to get a Christ for your souls, grace for your souls, and a heaven for your souls, so that, though all goes to wreck here on earth—yet your souls may be saved in the day of Christ. What desperate madness and folly would it have been in any, when London was in flames, to mind more and endeavor more to save their pillows than their jewels; their goods in their shops, than their children in their cradles, or their wives in their beds! But it is a thousand times greater madness and folly for men to mind more and endeavor more to secure their temporal estates, than they do to secure their eternal estates. But,
13. The thirteenth duty which is incumbent upon those whose houses have been burnt up, is to get a God for their portion. Psalm 16:5, and 63:26. You have lost your earthly portion, your earthly possessions; oh, that you would now labor with all your might to get God for your portion! Psalm 119:57; Jer. 10:16; Lam. 3:24. If the loss of your earthly portions shall be so sanctified to you as to work you to make God your portion, then your unspeakable losses will prove inconceivable gain unto you. O sirs, God is the most absolute, needful, and necessary portion. The lack or the loss of earthly portions may afflict and trouble you—but the lack of God for your portion will certainly damn you. It is not absolutely necessary that you should have a portion in gold, or silver, or jewels, or goods, or houses, or lands, or estates; but it is absolutely necessary that you should have God for your portion. Suppose that, with the apostles, you have no certain dwelling-place, nor any gold or silver in your purses, 1 Cor. 4:11; Acts 3:6; suppose, with Lazarus, you have never a rag to hang on your backs, nor ever a dry crust to put in your bellies, Luke 16:20-21; suppose, with Job, you should be stripped of all your worldly comforts in a day; yet if God be your portion, you are happy, you are really happy, you are remarkably happy, you are greatly happy, you are unspeakably happy, you are eternally happy. However it may go with you in this world—yet you shall be sure to be glorious in the eternal world. To have God for your portion, O man, is the one thing necessary; for without it you are forever and ever undone. If God is not your portion, you can never enjoy communion with God in this world; if God is not your portion, you can never be saved by him in the eternal world. Will you consider a little what an excellent transcendent portion God is—
(1.) He is a present portion; he is a portion in hand, he is a portion in possession.
(2.) God is an immense portion; he is a vast large portion, he is the greatest portion of all portions.
(3.) God is an all-sufficient portion.
(4.) God is a pure and unmixed portion; God is an unmixed good, he has nothing in him but goodness.
(5.) God is a glorious, a happy, and a blessed portion; he is so in himself, and he makes them so too who enjoy him for their portion.
(6.) God is a special portion—a portion peculiar to his people.
(7.) God is a universal portion, he is a portion that includes all other portions.
(8.) God is a safe portion, a secure portion, a portion that none can rob a believer of.
(9.) God is a suitable portion; no object is so suitable and adequate to the heart as he is.
(10.) God is an incomprehensible portion.
(11.) God is an inexhaustible portion; a portion that can never be spent, a spring that can never be drawn dry.
(12.) God is a soul-satisfying portion; he is a portion that gives the soul full satisfaction and contentment.
(13.) God is a permanent portion, an indeficient portion, a never-failing portion, a lasting, yes, an everlasting portion.
(14 and lastly.) God is an incomparable portion, God is a portion more precious than all those things which are esteemed most precious. Nothing can make that man miserable, who has God for his portion; nor can anything can make that man happy, who has not God for his portion. O sirs, why do you think that God, by his recent fiery dispensations, has stripped you of your earthly portions—but effectually to stir you up to make him your only portion? etc. But,
14. The fourteenth duty which is incumbent upon those whose houses have been burnt up, is to make God their habitation, to make God their dwelling-place. Psalm 90:1, “Lord, you have been our dwelling-place,” or place of retreat, “in all generations,” or in generation after generation, as the Hebrew runs. It is a Hebraism, setting forth God to be the dwelling-place of his people in all generations, before the flood and after the flood. [Ponder seriously on these scriptures, Psalm 91:2, 9-10, 71:3, and 57:1; 2 Cor. 6:8-10; Ezek. 11:16.] Israel, in all their troubles and travels in their wilderness condition, were not houseless nor harborless. God was both their hiding-place and their dwelling-place. He who dwells in God cannot be unhoused, because God is stronger than all. A Christian takes up in God, as in his mansion-house. It was a witty saying of that learned man, Picus Mirandola, namely, that God created the earth for beasts to inhabit, the sea for fishes, the air for fowls, the heavens for angels and stars; and therefore man has no place to dwell and abide in—but God alone.
Now that the great God has burnt up your dwelling-places, make him your dwelling-place, your habitation, your shelter, your place of retreat, your city of refuge. Certainly they dwell most safely, most securely, most nobly, most contentedly, most delightfully, and most happily—who dwell in God, who live under the wing of God, and whose constant abode is under the shadow of the Almighty. Let the loss of your habitations lead you by the hand to make choice of God for your habitation. There is no security against temporal, spiritual, and eternal judgments—but by making God your dwelling-place. How deplorable is the condition of that man who has neither a house to dwell in, nor a God to dwell in! Who can neither say, “This house is mine!” nor, “This God is mine!” Who has neither a house made with hands, nor yet one eternal in the heavens! It is a very great mercy for God to dwell with us—but it is a far greater mercy for God to dwell in us, and for us to dwell in God, 2 Cor. 5:1-2; 1 John 4:13, and 3:24. For God to dwell with us, argues much happiness—but for we to dwell in God, this argues more happiness, yes, the height of happiness.
There is no study, no care, no wisdom, no prudence, no understanding, compared to that which works men to make God their habitation. No storms, no tempests, no afflictions, no sufferings, no judgments can reach that man, or hurt that man, who has made God his dwelling-place. He who has God for his habitation can never be miserable; and he who has not God for his habitation can never be happy. That God who has once burnt you out of your habitations, can again burn you out of your habitations; and if he should, how sad would it be that God has once and again burnt you out of your habitations, and yet you have not made him your habitation etc. But,
15. The fifteenth duty which is incumbent upon those whose houses have been burnt up, is to make sure an abiding city, a city that has foundations, whose builder and maker is God. “For here we do not have an enduring city, but we are looking for the city that is to come.” Hebrews 13:14. These words are a reason of his former exhortation to the believing Hebrews to renounce the world, verse 13, and to take up Christ’s cross and follow him; as is clear by this causal particle “for.” It is a probable conjecture made by some, as Estius observes, that Paul speaks prophetically of the destruction of the city of Jerusalem, which was then at hand, and which in a short time neither that city, nor the country about it, would be an abiding place for them; but driven from thence they should be, and be forced to wander up and down; and therefore they were to look for no other abiding place but heaven. “Here we have no continuing city.” The adverb translated “here,” is sometimes used for place, and this more strictly for the particular place where one is. In this instance, the reference is to earth, for it is opposed to heaven. For the present we have no abiding city—but there is an abiding city to come, and that is the city which we seek after. This earthly Jerusalem is no abiding city for us; this old world, the glory of which is wearing off, is no abiding city for us; but Jerusalem that is above, the heavenly city, the city of the great King, the city of the King of kings, Rev. 21:2, and 1:5-6.
This world is a wilderness, and believers, as pilgrims and strangers, must pass through it to their heavenly Canaan. This world is no place for believers to continue in; they must pass through it to an abiding city, to a continuing city, to a city which has foundations: “For he was looking forward to the city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God.” Hebrews 11:10. The plural number is here used, foundations, for emphasis sake; this city is said to have foundations, to show that it is a firm, stable, immovable, and enduring city, which the apostle opposes to the tabernacles or tents wherein Abraham and the other patriarchs dwelt while they were on earth, which had no foundations—but were movable, and carried from place to place, and easily pulled down, or overthrown, or burnt up; but heaven is an immovable, firm, stable, and everlasting city.
(1.) Heaven is a city which is built upon the foundation of God’s eternal good-will and pleasure.
(2.) Heaven is a city which is built upon God’s election to eternal glory.
(3.) Heaven is a city which is built upon the foundation of Christ’s eternal merits and purchase.
(4.) Heaven is a city which is built upon the foundation of God’s everlasting covenant of free, rich, infinite, sovereign, and glorious grace.
(5.) Heaven is a city which is built upon the immutable stability of God’s promise and oath. [Eph. 1:3-6; 2 Tim. 2:10; 1 Pet. 1:2-5; Romans 9:11, and 11:5, 7; 2 Pet. 1:4; Heb. 6:17-20.] Heaven is built upon the foundation of great and precious promises, and upon his oath who is faithfulness itself and cannot lie.
Now, oh what a strong city, what a glorious city, what a continuing city, what a lasting, yes, what an everlasting city must heaven needs be—which is founded upon such strong and immovable foundations as they are! Heaven has foundations—but the earth has none: the earth hangs upon nothing, as Job speaks, chapter 26:7; Nineveh, Babylon, Jerusalem, Athens, Corinth, Troy, and those famous cities of Asia, were strong and stately cities in their times; but where are they now? Both Scripture and history does sufficiently evidence that in all the ages of the world there has been no firm, stable, or continuing city to be found: and the divine wisdom and providence has so ordered, and that partly to work men to put a difference between the things of this world and the things of the world to come; and partly to wean them from the world, and all the glory thereof; and partly to awaken them and stir them up to make sure of a kingdom which cannot be shaken, riches which cannot corrupt, an inheritance which cannot fade away—a house not made with hands—but one eternal in the heavens; and a city which has foundations, whose builder and maker is God, Heb. 2:5; Col. 3:1; Heb. 12:28; 1 Pet. 1:4; 2 Cor. 5:1-2.
Heaven is styled a city, to set out the excellency, glory, and benefits thereof. The resemblance between heaven and a city holds in these respects among others—
[1.] First, A city is a place of safety and security; so is heaven a place of the greatest safety and security, Neh. 3:1; Jer. 35:11. A soul in heaven is a soul out of gun-shot. No devil shall there tempt, no wicked men shall there assault, no fire-balls shall be there cast about to disturb the peace of the heavenly inhabitants.
[2.] Secondly, A city is made up of many habitations; so in heaven there are many habitations, many mansions, John 14:2. In our common cities, many times the inhabitants are much shut up and straitened for lack of room; but in heaven there is elbow-room enough, not only for God and Christ and the angels, those glistening and shining courtiers—but also for all believers, for all the elect of God.
[3.] Thirdly, A city has sundry degrees of people appertaining unto it, as chief magistrates and other officers of sundry sorts, with a multitude of commoners; so in heaven there is God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit, and an innumerable company of angels and saints, Heb. 12:22-23.
[4.] Fourthly, In a city you have all manner of provisions and useful commodities; so in heaven there is nothing lacking that is needful or useful.
[5.] Fifthly, A city has laws, statutes, and orders for the better government thereof. It is so in heaven; and indeed there is no government, compared to the government that is in heaven. Certainly there is no government that is managed with that love, wisdom, prudence, holiness, and righteousness, etc., as the government of heaven is managed with.
[6.] Sixthly, Every city has its peculiar privileges and immunities; so it is in heaven. Heaven is a place of the greatest privileges and immunities, Rev. 3:12.
[7.] Seventhly, Cities are commonly very populous; and so is heaven a very populous city, Dan. 7:10; Rev. 5:11, and 7:9.
[8.] Eighthly, None but freemen may trade, and keep open shop in a city; so none shall have anything to do in heaven—but such whose name are written in the Lamb’s book of life, Rev. 21:27. Believers are the only people who are enrolled as freemen in the records of the heavenly city.
[9.] Ninthly, Cities are full of earthly riches; and so is heaven of glorious riches: there are no riches, compared to the riches of the heavenly Jerusalem, Isaiah 23:8; Rev. 21. All the riches of the most famous cities in the world are but dross, compared to the riches of heaven.
O sirs, how should the consideration of these things work us all to look and long, and to prepare and fit for this heavenly city, this continuing city, this city which has foundations, whose builder and maker is God! The Scriptures, by frequently calling believers pilgrims, sojourners, strangers, does sufficiently evidence that there is no abiding for them in this world. “And they admitted that they were strangers and pilgrims on earth.” Hebrews 11:13. “To God’s elect, strangers in the world,” 1 Peter 1:1. “Live your lives as strangers here in reverent fear.” 1 Peter 1:17. “Dear friends, I urge you, as strangers and pilgrims in the world,” 1 Peter 2:11. This world is not their country, their city, their home, their habitation; and therefore they are not to place their hopes or hearts or affections upon things below, Col. 3:1-2. Heaven is their chief city, their best country, their most desirable home, and their everlasting habitation; and therefore the hopes, desires, breathings, longings, and workings of their souls should still be heaven-ward, glory-ward, Luke 16:9; Rev. 22:17.
Oh, when shall grace be swallowed up in glory? when shall we take possession of our eternal mansions? John 14:2-4; when shall we be with Christ, which for us is best of all? Phil. 1:23. The recent fire has turned all ranks and sorts of men out of the houses where they once dwelt, and it will not be long before death will turn the same people out of their present habitations, and carry them to their long homes. Death will turn princes out of their most stately palaces, and great men out of their most sumptuous edifices, and rich men out of their most pleasant houses, and warlike men out of their strongest castles, and poor men out of their poorest cottages, Eccles. 12:5. The prince’s palace, the great man’s edifice, the rich man’s house, the warlike man’s castle, and the poor man’s cottage, are of no long continuance. Oh how should this awaken and alarm all sorts and ranks of men to seek after a city which has foundations, to make sure their interest in the new Jerusalem which is above, in those heavenly mansions which no time can wear nor flames consume!
And thus I have done with those duties which are incumbent upon those whose houses have been burnt up by that recent dreadful fire that has turned London into a ruinous heap!