Tuesday, October 09, 2012
Of recent days I have been struggling with the impending problem of being unemployed. In many ways it has shaken me to my core.
I have found these words from Richard Sibbes sermon on Psalm 73 most helpful:
How To Be Shaken But Not Stirred!
God's dearest children are exercised with sharp spiritual conflicts.
God suffers their very faith in principles sometimes to be shaken. What is more clear than God's providence ? Not the noonday. Yet God suffers sometimes his own children to be exercised with conflicts of this kind, to doubt of principles written in the book of God, as it were, with a sunbeam, that have a lustre in themselves. There is nothing more clear than that God hath a particular special providence over his ; yet God's ways are so unsearchable and deep, that he doth spiritually exercise his children ; he suffers them to be exercised, as you see here he comes out of a conflict ; ' but it is good for me to draw near to God.' I will touch it. Therefore I will extend it only to God's people, that, if by reason of the remainders of corruption God suffer their rebellious hearts to cast mire and dirt, to cast in objections that are odious to the spiritual man, that part that is good, they may not be cast down too much and dejected. It is no otherwise with them than it hath been with God's dear children, as we see in Jeremiah, Habakkuk, and others. It is a clear truth. I only point at it that we might have it ready to comfort ourselves when such things rise in our souls. It is no otherwise with us than it hath been with other of God's dear children.
But we must not give liberty to ourselves to languish in such a course, to look to present things too much, but look into God's book, and there we shall find what is threatened to such and such ill courses, and what promises are made to good courses. And then apply God's truth to the example ; see how God hath met with wicked men in their richest and advanced his children when they were at the lowest, when they were even at the brink of despair.
Examples in this kind are pregnant and clear throughout the Scripture. The Lord saith, ' It shall go well with the righteous, and it shall [not] go well with the wicked,' Ps. xci. 8 ;
' Let him escape a thousand times. Doubtless there is a reward for the godly,' Ps. Iviii. 11. Let us look in the book of God, upon the predictions, and see the verifying of those predictions in the examples that act the rules, and bring them to the view : let us see the truths in the examples. This entering into God's sanctuary it is the way to free us from dangerous scandals, and to overcome dangerous conflicts ; for the conclusions of the sanctuary are clean contrary to sensible carnal reason. Carnal reason saith, Such a one is a happy man ; sure he is in great favour ; God loves him. Oh, but the sanctuary saith. It shall never go well with such a man. Carnal reason would say of Dives, Oh, a happy man ; but the sanctuary saith, * He had his good here,' and ' Lazarus had his ill here.' Carnal reason saith. Is there any providence that rules in the earth ? Is there a God in heaven, that suffers these things to go so confusedly ? Ay, but the word of God, the sanctuary, saith, there is a providence that rules all things sweetly, and that * all things are beautiful in their time,' Eccles. iii. 11.
We must not look upon things in their confusion, but knit things.
' Mark the end, mark the end of the righteous man,' Ps. xxxvii. 37. Look upon Joseph in prison. Here is a horrible scandal ! For where was God's providence to watch over a poor young man. But see him after, ' the second man in the kingdom.' Look on Lazarus at the rich man's door, and there is scandal; but see him after in Abraham's bosom. If we see Christ arraigned before Pilate, and crucified on the cross, here is a scandal, that innocency itself should be wronged. But stay awhile ! See him at the right hand of God, ' ruling principalities and powers, subjecting all things under his feet,' Eph. i. 21.
Thus the sanctuary teacheth us to knit one thing to another, and not brokenly to look upon things present, according to the dreams of men's devices ; but to look upon the catastrophe and winding up of the tragedy; not to look on the present conflict, but to go to the sanctuary, and see the end of all, see how God directs all things to a sweet end. * All the ways of God to his children are mercy and truth,' Ps xcviii. 3, though they seem never so full of anger and displeasure. Thus you see God's children are in conflict ofttimes, and sometimes they are foiled in the conflict ; yet by way of recovery they go into the sanctuary, and there they have spiritual eye-salve. They have another manner of judgment of things than ' flesh and blood hath.'
Again, we see, when he went into the sanctuary, the very sight of faith makes him draw near to God. Sometimes God represents heavenly truths to the eye of sense, in the examples of his justice. We see sometimes wicked men brought on the stage. God blesseth such a sight of faith, and such examples to bring his children nearer to him ; as we see immediately before the text, ' thou wilt destroy all that go a-whoring from thee ;' and then it follows, ' It is good for me to draw near to God.' So that the Spirit of God in us, and our spirits sanctified by the Spirit, takes advantage when we enter into the sanctuary, and see the diverse ends of good and bad, to draw us close to God.
Indeed, that is one reason why God suffers different conditions of men to be in the world, not so much to shew his justice to the wicked, as that his children, seeing of his justice and his mercy, and the manifestation and discovery of his providence in ordering his justice towards wicked men, it may make them cleave to his mercy more, and give a lustre to his mercy. ' It is good for me to cleave to the Lord.' I see what will become of all others.
Going into the Sanctuary causes us the run a different course to the world. They swim against the stream. As we say of the stars and planets, they have a motion of their own, contrary to that rapt motion, whereby they are carried and whirled about in four- and- twenty hours from east to west. They have a creeping motion and period of their own, as the moon hath a motion of her own backward from west to east, that [shej makes every month ; and the sun hath a several* motion from the rapt motion he is carried with that he goes about in a year. So God's children, they live and converse, and are carried with the same motion as the world is. They live among men, and converse as men do ; but notwithstanding, they have a contrary motion of their own, which they are
directed and carried to by the Spirit of God, as here the holy prophet saith, ' It is good for me to draw near to God.' As if he should say, For other men, be they great or small, be they of what condition they will, let them take what course they will, and let them see how they can justify their course, and take what benefit they can ; let them reap as they sow ; it do not matter much what course they take, I will look to myself; as for me, I am sure this is my best course, ' to draw near to God.' So the sanctified spirit of a holy man, he looks not to the stream of the times, what be the currents, and opinions, and courses of rising to preferment, of getting riches, of attaining to an imaginary present happiness here ; but he hath other thoughts, he hath another judgment of things, and therefore goes contrary to the world's course. Hear St Paul, Phil. ii. 21 saith he there, * All men seek their own,—I cannot speak of it without weeping,—whose end is damnation, whose belly is their god, who mind earthly things.' But what doth St Paul, when other men seek their own, and are carried after private ends ? Oh, saith he, * our conversation is in heaven, from whence w^e look for the Saviour, who shall change our vile bodies, and make them like his glorious body, according to his mighty power, whereby he is able to subdue all things to himself.' So you see the blessed apostle, led with the same Spirit as the man of God here, he considers not what men do, he fetcheth not the rules of his life from the example of the great ones of the world or from multitude. These are false, deceiving rules. But he fetcheth the rule of his life from the experimental goodness he had found by a contrary course to the world. Let the world take what course they will, ' it is good for me to draw near to God.'
I might add a little further, that the course and corrupt principles of the world are so far from shaking a child of God, that they settle him. They stir up his zeal the more. As we say, there is an increasing of contraries by contraries, as we see in winter the body is warmer by reason that the heat is kept in, and springs are warmer in winter because the heat is kept in ; so the Spirit of God, in the hearts of his children, works and boils when it is environed with contraries. It gathers strength and breaks out with more zeal, as David, Ps. cxix. 126, when he saw men did not keep God's law. We see how he complains to God, ' It is time. Lord, for thee to work.' Indeed, it is the nature of opposition to increase the contrary. Those that have the Spirit and grace of God in truth, they gather strength by opposition.
Therefore the use we are to make of it, is to discern of ourselves of what spirit we are, what principles we lead our lives by ; whether by examples of greatness, or multitude, or such like, it is an argument we are led by the spirit of the world and not by the Spirit of God. God's children, as they are severed from the world in condition, they are men of another world, so they are severed from the world in disposition, in their course and conversation. Therefore, from these grounds their course is contrary to the world. ' But it is good for me;' ' but' is, not in the original. It is, And it is good for me ;' but the other is aimed at. The sense is, ' But it is good for me to draw near to God,' and so it is in the last translation [b).
Thus you see what way we have^ made to the words. I do but touch these things, and it was necessary to say something of them, because the words are a triumphant conclusion upon the former premises.
And in the words, in general, observe this first of all, that God by his Spirit enableth his children to justify wisdom by their own experience. To make it good by their own experience : ' It is good for me to draw near to God.' And this is one reason why God suffers them to be shaken, and then in conflict to recover, that after recovery they may justify the truth. Nothing is so certain as that that is certain after doubting (c). Nothing is so fixed as that that is fixed after it hath been shaken, as the trees have the strongest roots, because they are most shaken with winds and tempests. Now God suffers the understanding, that is, the inward man, of the best men to be shaken, and after settles them, that so they may even from experience justify all truths ; that they may say it is naught, it is a bitter thing to sin. Satan hath abused me, and my own lust abused me, and enticed me away from God ; but I see no such good thing in sin as nature persuaded me before. As travellers will tell men you live poorly here. In such a country you may do wondrous well. There you shall have plenty and respect. And when they come there, and are pinched with hunger, and disrespect, they come home with shame enough to themselves that they were so beguiled ; so it is with God's children. Sometimes he suffers them to be foiled, and lets them have the reins of their lusts awhile, to taste a little of the forbidden tree ; that after they may say with experience, it is a bitter thing to forsake God, it is better [to] go to my ‘former husband,' as the church saith in Hosea, when God took her in hand a little, ii. 7. Sin will be bitter at the last. So the prodigal he was suffered to range till he was whipped awhile, and then he could confess it was better to be in his ' father's house.' God suffers his children to fall into some course of sin, that afterward, by experience, they may justify good things, and be able to say that God is good. And the judgment of such is more firm, and doth more good than those that have been kept from sinking at all. God, in his wise providence, suffers this.
We should labour, therefore, to justify in our own experience all that is good. What is the reason that men are ashamed of good courses so soon ? It may be they are persuaded a little to pray, and to sanctify the Lord's day, to retire themselves from vanity and such like. Ay, but if their judgments be not settled out of the book of God, and if they have not some experience, they will not maintain this ; therefore they are driven off. Now a Christian should be able to justify against all gainsayers whatsoever can be said, by his own experience. That to read the book of God, and to hear holy truths opened by men led with the Spirit of God, it is a good thing, I find God's Spirit sanctify me by it. To sanctify the Lord's day, I find it good by experience. That where there is the communion of saints, holy conference, &c., I can justify it, if there were no Scripture for it : I find it by experience to be a blessed way to bring me to a heavenly temper, to fit me for heaven. So there is no good course, but God's children should be able, both by Scripture, and likewise by their own experience, to answer all gainsayers. When either their own hearts, or others, shall oppose it, he may be able to say with the holy man here, it is no matter what you say, ‘it is good for me to draw near to God.' So much for the general. To come more particularly to the words.
' It is good for me to draw near to God.'
Here you have the justification of piety, of holy courses, which is set down by ' drawing near to God ; ' and the argument whereby it is justified, ' It is good.' This gloss put upon anything commends it to man; for naturally since the fall there is so much left in man, that he draws to that which is good ; but, when he comes to particulars, there is the error, he seeks heaven in the way of hell, he seeks happiness in the way of misery, he seeks light in the way of darkness, and life in the way and path of death : his lusts so hurry him and carry him the contrary way. But yet there is left this general foundation of religion in all men ; as the heathen could say, naturally all men from the principles of nature draw to that which is good. Here religious courses are justified and commended from that which hath the best, attractive, and most magnetical force. * It is good to draw near to God.' ' Good' hath a drawing force; for the understanding, that shews and discovers; but the will is the chief guide in man, and answerable to the discovery of good or ill in the understanding, there is a prosecution or aversation* in the will, which is that part in the soul of man that cleaves to good discovered.